The Charsadda suicide bombing has added one more complex case to the list of unresolved acts of terrorism piling up in the files maintained by government intelligence and law-enforcement departments
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
An attack on federal interior minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao was waiting to happen. There was no doubt that he was on the hit-list of the militants due to his close association with President General Pervez Musharraf but the intelligence agencies that are supposed to know such things were caught unawares when a suicide bomber struck at a public meeting in the minister's native Charsadda.
Not surprisingly, a politically-motivated blame-game has started pitting the federal and provincial governments against each other. The point of contention is the rather lax security at the Station Koroona venue of the meeting. A few federal ministers and Sherpao's PPP-S have charged the MMA-led government in NWFP with negligence for failing to provide proper security on the occasion. Chief minister Akram Durrani hit back by blaming the federal interior ministry for its failure to notify the provincial government about Sherpao's plans to address the public meeting. He also ensured that the letter received from the interior ministry about Sherpao's engagements on the weekend was published in the newspapers to show that the provincial government was kept in the dark about the Charsadda meeting.
Sherpao, however, insisted that the NWFP government knew beforehand that he was going to address the public meeting at Charsadda but still proper security arrangements were not made. If chief minister Durrani's claim is true, was it pride or over-confidence that restrained the interior minister's staff from informing the provincial government about his plans to speak at the public meeting at Charsadda? Perhaps one could expect such a situation to develop in view of the bitter political rivalry between the MMA and the PPP-S in the NWFP.
The district police officer for Charsadda, Feroz Shah, maintained that his force foiled the attempt on the life of the interior minister with two of his young cops sacrificing their lives in the process and a few others getting injured. He insisted security at the public meeting wasn't lax as alleged by the PPP-S leaders. Besides, he and other senior police and intelligence officials are reminding everyone that preventing suicide attacks was an almost impossible task.
It is true the suicide bombers are a determined lot ready to take their own lives and those of anyone in sight. But the intelligence agencies, which are forever keen to protect the interest of the military-dominated government through intimidation or pampering of its opponents and manipulating elections, should be doing more to infiltrate and break up the suicide cells and neutralise the sponsors of these inhuman operations. One would expect the several intelligence organisations operating in the country to protect the country and the nation instead of a set of rulers who want to remain in power by hook or by crook.
It was 32 years ago on February 8, 1975 that Aftab Sherpao's elder brother Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao was killed in a bomb explosion at a students' function in the history department of University of Peshawar. He was then the senior minister in the PPP-led provincial government in the NWFP. Ironically, the elder Sherpao held the portfolio of provincial interior minister at that time. Aftab Sherpao was interior minister for the whole of Pakistan when he survived the suicide bombing at Charsadda on April 28. Their portfolios, which empowered them to head the law-enforcing agencies, didn't provide them enough protection to thwart bombers. Rather, the high-profile position earned for them the enmity of many people including militants and political opponents.
There were largescale arrests after the 1975 bombing that killed Hayat Sherpao. The Pakhtun nationalists, then grouped in the National Awami Party (NAP), faced the ire of prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as he suspected their hand in the bombing. The Frontier witnessed political polarisation at the time and bombings at public places created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. Most victims of those bombings were civilians.
The situation is no different today as innocent people face the brunt of the suicide bombings even if the target is a minister or personnel of the law-enforcement agencies. Aftab Sherpao, his son Sikandar Sherpao, two PPP-S MPAs, Arshad Khan and Alamzeb Umarzai, and former provincial minister Hashim Khan, who recently quit the ANP, survived the devastating blast but it killed up to 35 innocent people and injured more than 50. The casualties included political workers, policemen, and commoners who had come with applications seeking the interior minister's help in solution of their problems.
Several among the dead were from Station Koroona, a locality of mostly poor people near the Railway Ground who had invited Sherpao to announce joining the PPP-S in his presence. The stage secretary just before the blast had announced the names of about 80 men from the locality who had joined the PPP-S. Not long after that, the festive occasion turned into a killing field as survivors collected body organs in bags and the cries of pain of the dying and the injured filled the air.
Aftab Sherpao miraculously survived the bombing even though he was barely three to four yards from where the suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt. He was obviously the target and that is the reason the bomber made every effort to reach him at conclusion of the public meeting. As luck would have it, he missed his target by a few yards or minutes. But he succeeded in spreading mayhem at the venue and inflicting death and destruction on a scale never seen in Charsadda in the past. This was to be expected because the bomber had packed up to eight kilos of explosives in his suicide jacket and made it even more devastating by inserting nails and bolts into it. The detonator, fuse and jacket were stated to be Russian-made, all legacy of the never-ending Afghan conflict.
No real headway has been made in the investigations about the identity of the suicide bomber and his handlers. Confusing initial statements were made by the police officers and investigators about the bomber. It was said there could be two suicide bombers but later the statement was changed and it was stated that the second person who escaped appeared to be facilitator assigned to trigger the explosion in case of any hesitation by the suicide bomber.
As two severed heads were found from the scene of explosion, the attention initially was focused on a man in his 30s with a small beard but subsequently Sherpao pointed out that he was a participant in the public meeting and not the suicide bomber as certain police investigators had claimed. The head of this man had pellets embedded into it and thus it became clear that a suicide bomber would not have such shrapnels in certain parts of the body. From his features, this man was eventually found to be from Shabqadr in Charsadda and was obviously not the suicide bomber. The attention then shifted to the second severed head found there. As Sherpao pointed out, this head was of a young man aged 17 or 18 years who was most likely the suicide bomber. His sketches were now being prepared and would be publicised in the hope of motivating the public to provide information about him and help in his identification.
The Inspector General of Police, NWFP, Mohammad Sharif Virk, said the head of the bomber found at the site of the blast had features that resembled those of Afghans. Another senior police officer qualified the statement by saying that he could be an Afghan Tajik. Brig (Retd) Javed Iqbal Cheema, head of the crisis management cell in the interior ministry, later said it had not been established if the suicide bomber was an Afghan or Pakistani.
Without pointing accusing fingers at the Afghan government, the assertion by the Frontier Police officers made it clear that they suspected the hand of Afghans in the bombing. It is no secret that the police and intelligence agencies have long suspected some Afghan involvement in the bomb explosions now taking place fairly regularly in the NWFP. If their assessment is correct, it is then fallout of the disturbed conditions in Afghanistan where the increase in Taliban attacks has prompted the weak and embattled Afghan government to criticise Pakistan for providing sanctuaries to Taliban fighters on its territory in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of Balochistan.
It could be termed tit-for-tat response similar to the situation in the 1980s when Peshawar, as the headquarters of the Afghan mujahideen groups fighting their 'jehad' in neighbouring Afghanistan, used to suffer bomb explosions on a regular basis. Nationalist politicians such as the late Wali Khan would often remark at the time that Islamabad should not expect receiving bouquets of flowers from Kabul if Pakistan continued to send bombs into Afghanistan.
There have been 16 bomb explosions in Peshawar alone since September 18 last year and some like those in Bazaar Dalgaran near the historic Qissa Khwani Bazaar which killed the city police chief Malik Mohammad Saad and 15 others and the one near Shabistan (formerly Firdous) Cinema were quite deadly. Then there have been suicide and other bombings in Hangu, Dera Ismail Khan, Dargai and other places in the NWFP. Rockets have been fired at different times at Bannu, Peshawar, Hangu and Kohat. JUI-F and MMA leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman's house in Dera Ismail Khan was also attacked with a rocket and chief minister Durrani's uncle was killed in his native Bannu. The MMA leadership, including chief minister Durrani, publicly voiced concern that intelligence agencies run by the federal government could be behind some of these attacks to destabilise the provincial government and show it in a bad light.
Almost all these cases remain unresolved and the attackers or their patrons are still at large. Militants are suspected to be behind these attacks but there is no conclusive evidence as to which group or commander is masterminding these operations. It is worth noting that the Charsadda bombing took place a day after six missiles were fired at a makeshift madrasa in Saidgi village near the Pak-Afghan border in North Waziristan. The attack, for which the villagers blamed the pilotless, CIA-operated US planes, killed three people and injured nine others, including six young madrasa students.
Not long ago, pro-Taliban commander Baitullah Mahsud had warned that every bombing raid in Waziristan would be avenged. Though he subsequently explained that he gave the statement in a fit of rage after the killing of eight civilians in the bombing raid at Zamazola in Shak Toi in South Waziristan, Baitullah Mahsud remained a suspect in the eyes of government functionaries. There was a spate of suicide bombings after that statement in Mir Ali in North Waziristan, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, Hangu, Peshawar and Islamabad. However, the government later revived its contacts with Baitullah Mahsud by sending a jirga of tribal elders and Ulema to his hideout and seeking his assurances that the February 2005 peace accord between him and the political administration of South Waziristan was intact.
Surprisingly, the government appeared to be working at cross-purposes with President General Pervez Musharraf declaring Baitullah Mahsud a marked man and threatening to eliminate him and the Governor of NWFP, Lt Gen (Retd) Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai, making peace overtures to the wanted pro-Taliban military commander by sending jirgas of elders to him.
The Charsadda suicide bombing has added one more complex case to the list of unresolved acts of terrorism piling up in the files maintained by several government intelligence and law-enforcement departments. The government failure to track down the perpetrators of the earlier bombings and terrorist and criminal acts cannot inspire confidence in the ability of the investigators to identify and apprehend the planners of the Charsadda bombing. With suicide bombers poised to strike at new targets, there is every possibility that the earlier incidents would be forgotten and attention diverted to fresh acts of terrorism.
Kasur Gharane ke Namwar Fankaar
By M.A.Sheikh and Ghulam Haider
Pakistan Classical Music Guild, Lahore 2006
Price Rs 80 Pages 85
By Sarwat Ali
Kasur has been one of the centres of music in the subcontinent. Many of the greats of music be they classical, semi classical, film or folk, both vocalists and instrumentalists trace their musical lineage to the town of Kasur. But it has not been given the recognition that it deserves and the reasons for that may be many. Kasur has never been the capital of an empire or a state. Many of the centres became famous for being the capitals of states or empires where music was lavishly patronised, one example being Gwalior which produced many a great musician but more importantly being the capital that housed the court, it attracted an even larger number of outstanding musicians who liked to be called Gwaliori.
Gharanas are traditionally associated with kheyal gaiki. Earlier dhrupad had been classified in terms of vanis. There were no gharanas as such before kheyal became a major form of singing in the nineteenth century. A Gharana denotes some stylistic peculiarity that has outlived its original proponents. Thus stylistic peculiarity crystallises over three generations to establish itself. It is not necessary, as is generally believed, for a gharana to be totally linked to blood relationships, though it has been observed, more often than not, to be the case.
Ghulam Haider and M.A Sheikh have laid claim to Kasur being a gharana by virtue of the contributions that the Kasur musicians have made in the past and continue to do so in the present. It is said that Ali Buksh, the father of Kale Khan and Bare Ghulam Ali/ Barkat Ali Khan started to sing the sargam in kheyal which then became a stylistic peculiarity of most kheyal gaiki. Also in reference to Maadan-e-Mausiqi, a 'Kasuri bahiraveen' is mentioned, the creator of which has been assumed to be a gaik from Kasur as well as jangala bhairveen, which Bare Ghulam Ali Khan made famous is again assumed to be the same kasuri bhairaveen or kasuri jangala.
In the not so distant past, because of the contribution of the musicians of Kasur it was referred to as Choti Gawalior. It is said that Kasur was given in jagir to Mian Tan Sen who also visited the area. He sang on the request of the local musicians. But when they wanted to give him a nazrana he gave them a nazrana instead, certifying their prowess in music. Since then Kasur has been called Choti Gwaliori.
The contribution of Kasur has been attributed to the singers being extremely melodic as they never sang the dhrupad but expressed themselves in forms which probably could be labelled closer to kheyal. Most of the vocalists either played or were engaged with string instruments and this made their sense of melody finer and sharper.
Ghulam Haider and M.A Sheikh also dispute the mythological explanation that Kasur, like Lahore, was founded by the sons of Ram Qashv and Lahvr. It was founded by the Khawashgi Pathans who had migrated from Kandahar with the conquering armies of Babar and called it Rohewal. It was destroyed by the changing course of the river Sutlej and another settlement was established which was called Kasur. The twelve sardars of the Khushwagi Pathans built twelve fortresses and the place known as Barakot forms the oldest part of Kasur.
The more verifiable dates about the history of town, however, do not go beyond the times of Muhammed Shah Rangeela. The families of musicians settled in Kasur could be divided into kalawants, sarodis, naqbis and qawwals. Some had probably migrated from Delhi due to the anti-music bias of Emperor Aurangzeb like the qawalbachas who settled in a place called Takya Wan Shah while the older kalawants resided in Kot Rukan Din Khan.
The various musicians of Kasur divided into various types owe a lot to the first known musician Kalawant Fazil Pirdad (1712-1773), who is considered to be the ancestor of the kalawants who had settled in Kasur since the days of Babar. Those who called themselves kalawant included Ali Buksh Khan Kasuri, Kale Khan, Bare Ghulam Ali Khan, Barkat Ali Khan, Mubarak Ali Khan, Amanat Ali Kasuri, Illahi Buksh Dalla, Hussain Bulsh Dalla, Bare Chajjo Khan, Haider Buksh Faloosa, Khadim Hussain Phoya, Pir Buksh Khan, Mian Jhandi Mota, Buddhe Khan, Manzoor Hussain, Basher Ali Mahi, Safdar Hussain and Buddhe Khan Beenkaar.
The sarodis were originally pathans and sang 'sehre' and 'shahane' on the occasion of marriages. The famous musicians of this clan have been Haji Amir Buksh, his sons sarangi nawaz Mian Ghulam Muhammed, Ali Buksh Kasuri, Khalifa Fazal Hussain, Chote Kale Khan (sarangi nawaz) and tabla maestros Baba Himmat Kasuri, Mian Fateh Din and Mian Karam Ilahi.
Then among the naqibi, the 'sanagos' were Bare Buddhe Khan Kasuri, Mian Chajjo Khan, Mian Khairaat Ali, Mian Nabi Buksh Thatha and Chote Ghulam Ali Khan.
The qawals were patronised by the shrines of Hazrat Abdul Baqi and Bulleh Shah. The famous qawwals were Muhammed Samdo and Baba Dhanna. The qawwals did not always stick to qawwali but branched of into other forms of singing like Chiragh Din Khan, Nawab Din Khan, Faqir Hussain, Mian Wazir Khan, Pir Buksh Khan, Boote Khan, Sadiq Ali Mando, Ghulam Haider Khan Iqbal Haider Khan, Allah Ditta Khan , Hussain Buksh, Fateh Din, Matto Khan and Ghulam Haider. Among the female vocalists the most famous have been Noor Jehan, Taranum Naz, Samina Iqbal and Afshaan.
Though it is more of a booklet it contains invaluable information about one of the most important centres of our music. It contains genealogical tables of musicians and some of the dates too have been identified. In Pakistan most of the information is oral, shared by many but very little is written down and documented. Most of the books on music are either written by Indians or foreigners which only focus on India and treat Pakistan as if no music exists or the little music that exists is of no great value and worth. All this is fortified by the lack of any research on our music, the listing of musicians and the musical forms that are in Pakistan.
Before springing to any conclusion about our music we should at least know what is being composed and sung here. There is no worthwhile directory, nor is there any documentation of music. This book has brought in black and white a fairly long list of truly outstanding musicians who have contributed so immensely. It is hoped that more such seminal work will be done not only by the reputed team of M.A. Sheikh and Ghulam Haider but by other scholars and musicologists as well.
The prints from Wales, currently on display at Alhamra Art Gallery, Lahore are a welcome break from artwork in which great ideas are lost to inadequate execution by the artists
By Quddus Mirza
A person eager to see an exhibition sometimes reaches the gallery when the works of art are not yet installed or even arranged. In that situation, one encounters unexpected scenes, such as the cleaning up of gallery space, unpacking of art pieces, preparation of labels or fixing of the lights. Activities that are essential prior to an exhibition, but not necessarily remembered by a visitor once he/she starts viewing the show.
Going to Alhamra Art Gallery before the opening of Welsh prints exhibition was a similar experience. The curator along with the gallery staff was unpacking the works. Prints were stacked against the walls and empty crates, in which the works were sent, were scattered all over the floor. In this uncommon display -- of art works and shipping crates -- it was the wooden box that appeared impressive, accomplished and to some extent 'beautiful'.
Probably the attraction felt for the packing items was due to long conditioning of seeing art works wrapped in the newspapers with a string. In our surroundings, when the works of art are borrowed for a show, these are collected, packed and sent as insignificant and valueless objects -- like stale fruit. Due to this careless attitude, normally an artist or a collector is reluctant to give his/her work for the purpose of an exhibition to an art organisation or institute.
In these circumstances, looking at the immaculate packing to ensure the safe travel of prints from UK to Pakistan was a great surprise to all those present at the venue. Actually the fabrication of the boxes and the care that was put into sending the works in such a manner that not even a single glass frame was broken during the transportation of these 94 pieces, was a sign of how the work of art is treated in other places.The handling of art works in different manners in the West and here reflects the difference in attitude towards art and reveals distinct ideas of professionalism.
In many cases we are content to compromise on quality. Often electricity sockets are stuffed with match sticks to 'secure' the plug, wooden doors never fit in the door frames and a locally manufactured shoe always pinches. These are a few illustrations and one can collect many others in our society, in which the phrase: 'chaley ga' (will do) has become a much loved term.
Compared to these examples, in most of European societies every job is carried out with utmost care, no matter how minor the task. There is no concept of finishing a work in an unsatisfactory way or making a product that is not up to standards.
Besides the physical handling of art pieces, the attitude of professionalism is evident in the making of art too. The kind of sloppiness, which we are used to seeing in our studios -- of independent artists and in the art institutions as well -- is not found in the works executed abroad, especially in the West.
While this does not imply that the works, which are created in the West, are better in terms of ideas, subjects, imagery or concerns, it means that the technique and method of creating works close to perfection, gives them an illusion of being superior and perfect. Yet when we see most of the art produced in our studios, in whatever style or genre, a sense of urgency in finishing the piece is apparent. That conveys a kind of incompetence on the part of painter, print maker or sculptor. Hence in most cases, the great ideas and interesting images are lost to the inadequate execution by the artists.
This becomes sharply evident, when one looks at the prints from Wales, currently on display at Alhamra Art Gallery in Lahore. These works are part of the touring exhibition 'Contemporary Welsh Printmakers'. Organised by Swansea Print Workshop, the show has already been held at V.M Gallery in Karachi. The exhibition includes works created individually and during the workshop conducted by two Pakistani artists Sameera Khan and Aleem Dad Khan. The current display is part of the project in which another exhibition, of Pakistani prints, was curated by Sarah Hopkins and Sameera Khan.
The present show at Alhamra represents prints in different technique and mediums. Yet the unifying element in all of these works is the professional execution of the prints, with precision in colours, mark making and sophistication of the printing process. (Somehow the visual of a print is in harmony with its frames and packing crates; and whether it is the wooden works or images on paper, everything reflects a maturity in handling the materials and tools). In the large display, certain prints stand out due to unique visuals and interesting subjects. These range from expressive lines to restrained marks and fantastical imagery to industrial views, like the prints by Sarah Hopkins, Robert MacDonald, Lynne Bebb and Kate Bassett. Their works primarily denote how the print making has moved away from the orthodox definition of print to be a wood cut, lithograph or intaglio print, and record the impact of digital and computer technology in the tradition of print making. Probably, the exhibition, not only a testimony of professional approach towards constructing an object for or of art also signifies the changing time and shifting notions of art and tradition in a contemporary culture, which is not ashamed of its heritage nor hesitant in adapting new ideas and practices.
(The exhibition is being held from May 2-12, 2007 at the Alhamra Art Gallery, Lahore).
The youthful fundo
I've just finished reading Mohsin Hamid's new book 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' and I have to say that it is a surprisingly effective book.
For one thing, the entire narrative is in the first person and although it is a story recounted by a Pakistani to an American at a Lahore cafe, the entire conversation is described by the words and responses of just one person: the Pakistani. Hence, his is the only voice in the text and all events and characters are as perceived by him. The way the narrator insists on telling his story is reminiscent, of course, of Coleridge's mariner in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' where the nameless 'wedding guest' is accosted by the mariner ("He holds him with his glittering eye, The Wedding-Guest stood still"), and is forced to listen to the man's story ("The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone: He cannot choose but hear; And thus spake on that ancient man, The bright-eyed Mariner").
The way the young Pakistani 'fundamentalist' narrates his story to the American is similarly compulsive in tone except that he approaches the edgy foreigner by declaring "Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America". Do these words have a rather sinister ring to them? We are not quite sure. Anyway, one reads on and on and learns the story of the Lahori, Changez, who wins an academic scholarship to Princeton, excels there, is recruited by a 'valuation' firm called 'Underwood Samson' who, of course, only recruit the brightest and best.
Changez seems to be doing well, working with the creme de la creme, earning good money, living in NYC, and getting close to a (rather disturbed) fellow Princetonian, the waspish beautiful Erica, yet there is an underlying sense of his always feeling like an outsider and somehow entirely alien in America. Despite all his material success and promise, Changez's life is profoundly altered after 9/11. What changes everything is first and foremost his own reaction to the attacks as he see them happen on a television screen. After that follow the usual immigration and security woes and the surreal airport encounters with US immigration authorities.
Changez changes. Or rather he reaches a new stage in his relationship with America as he reflects on its global outlook and its role in the world. If you were American you would say he 'goes over to the dark side', but as we know ,eventually we all realised that Darth Veda wasn't merely a villain with heavy breathing, rather he was Anakin, a good person and a tragic hero driven by terrible events and circumstances.
The dialogue/monologue that forms this book deals with global issues yet in terms of geography the men merely move from a cafe near the NCA to the area outside the Foreigner's hotel room.
This is Mohsin Hamid's second novel. His first novel 'Moth Smoke' was published seven years ago and also examined issues of identity and relationships between individuals from very different worlds and social classes. Moth Smoke's Daru and 'Fundamentalist's' Changez both become very disillusioned when they realise the limitations of the glittering prizes of success and achievement. Their experiences challenge accepted notions of meritocracy and democracy, power and exploitation. They are, they eventually realise, outsiders and that is what they will always be unless they sacrifice a good part of their identity and conscience.
Mohsin Hamid's second book is a strong, original creation, and even though I felt that the second part of the narrative is a little abrupt, this is a book worth reading.
Have a look, it is a strangely compelling story and I suppose, what Changez omits from his narrative is just as significant as what he does not.