Symphony of sorrow
A new documentary about the harrowing accounts of people that were displaced in Bajaur
By Adil Zareef
"Larsha Peskhawar ta kamez tor mala rawra
Taza taza guloona dre saloor mala rawra -- da Bajaur guloona"
(When in Peshawar bring me a black shirt
Fetch me a few fresh flowers -- Bajaur flowers)
This lovely folk song has echoed in the collective memory of Pukhtuns since time immemorial. The Bajaur flowers conjure up a sight of gleaming blue streams, fruit orchards, lush forests and wild flowers. For that matter Swat, Dir, Kurrum, Parachinar and Waziristan sketched a beautiful natural imagery until recently. Slowly and inexorably, these memories are turning into gruesome realities -- of gunfire, smoke, bombs and death of countless innocent lives.
Samar Minallah always beckons to a call of distress, especially from her ancestral Pukhtunkhwa. To identify the horrors of war, she made a documentary on the wretched state of refugees, rendering them 'homeless in their homeland'. The Bajaur Guloona a 25 minute film, opens with kaleidoscopic landscapes of the fabled land and a heartbreaking commentary by the filmmaker:
"I lived in Bajaur for two years. The Bajaur of my memory, was where women exchanged stories while washing clothes at streams, sang songs of joy at weddings, women like Kashmiray Malaka bravely managed tribes. Despite their poverty they symbolised hope. What I did not realise was that the reason behind their hope was an unconditional love for their homeland. As their homes were lost, the smiles faded too. The people of today's Bajaur, young and old, all bear the same expression on their faces. An expression reflecting the sadness and misery that is embodied by the endless tents in various camps set up," reminiscences, the elderly Sharif Khan. "The hillsides of Bajaur bloom all year long. They are sweet as a rose, where even the bees are happy. The honey from these bees is better than honey from any other place. Our children grieve away from home, no longer able to wander about freely without a care. This place can never be home. To everyone their homeland seems as beautiful as Kashmir. Even poetry has been written for the flowers of Bajaur!"
"When civilian habitations came in the way of the military operations, people were forced to flee, leaving all their possessions behind," says Samiullah Turabi, President Bajaur Youth Movement.
"The carefree people of Bajaur were forced to flee to our camp after they experienced terror. Many were relieved to be reunited with their loved ones at the camp but this joy cannot make up for the grief of leaving behind their homes," says Rahim Shah sub-inspector police at Pir Piyaee Camp. "Every kind of bomb imaginable has been used on civilians, leaving behind the stench of death and separation of families. It is the older people who have suffered the most. We could flee but they could not. We should have at least been warned before these indiscriminate attacks."
The attacks have displaced many people within their country. Many who could not physically make the journey have been left behind. "While my family and I rushed out of our houses, our neighbour's house was bombed. I saw the father, his wife and daughters blown to pieces," says Shukur-ullah. Rahim Shah adds, "A local headmaster's wife and children also fell victim to bombing. They did not get enough time to vacate their house. Their bodies lay unattended. They couldn't even be buried with honour."
A mother of five, Zainab Bibi, recollects, "The planes and blasts surrounded us everywhere. The thundering sounds followed us. Our homes were also being hit .We left everything behind, our belongings, animals even the bread in the oven."
An unnoticed aspect of displacement is that the honour of women, who are culturally kept protected from strangers, now seems at risk. This has further confined them to the stifling environment of tents. Shamshad Khan says, "Look at the living conditions here and you will realise why two of the children died of cholera in a nearby tent. All the children are at risk."
The main victims of the present living conditions at the refugee camps are children. Abdur Rehman had to pay the price with the death of his daughter and niece. He says, "Aerial attacks would continue day and night.We decided to flee. We had to walk for four five days. When we arrived here, it was not only hot but the living conditions were terrible. During the day the children would be pestered by flies and at night by mosquitoes. As a result, two girls Khalida, 4, and Tahira, 5, died and we buried them here. We buried them here because we could not afford to take them back. The displacement has made us sad. Back home, when civilians die of the military attacks, people are too afraid to bury them. They lie simply there in the open. In our camp, the majority of the children are sick. We all want to go home because one's home is the best place to live. I hope the government is able to bring peace there. Our animals are probably hungry and thirsty. One buffalo costs us Rs30,000 to Rs40,000. We cannot take such a big loss."
Most of the refugees are as concerned for their animals as they are for their children. The livestock is their main source of livelihood. Zainab Bibi says, "I miss home. We want to return home because Ramzan has arrived and it's becoming dark and gloomy. My agony at leaving behind my little daughter and a son is unbearable. We left them behind. I had to leave her to tend the animals because they could die of thirst. We are poor people. We cannot afford to lose them. They are both very young -- just little older than this boy. My own daughter Nihar has been left behind. I worry about how she will cope. She must be hiding in the mountains trying to save herself from the attacks. She was screaming hysterically when we were coming here. My little son consoled her, saying we will be reunited soon."
Nihar and her brother are still in Bajaur tending to the animals amidst devastation. Poverty has forced the little brother and sister to pay a heavy price. A heavy sacrifice to protect their parent's main source of income.
Saeed Khan says,"I am concerned for the children of Bajaur. We had always wanted them to follow a better path. Do you think it is possible now? 400,000 people have been displaced. In this camp alone, there are around 1400 people. 913 of them are children. Without schools what do you expect them to become? We request the country to ponder over the issue. Are they not being forced to become Taliban?"
Overwhelmed by emotions Shukur-ullah asks, "Aren't we also Pakistanis? Doesn't the army belong to us as well? The police, the army, are they all not like our children, our brothers? Can anyone dare to spend even a short while in these tents? Why does this injustice prevail? Why does no one stand up?"
"Conflict in Bajaur gets messier day by day. When it comes to 'war against terror' international laws are far from being observed," says Samar Minallah. "The displaced refugees have indeed themselves become victims of terror, hopelessness and uncertainty. The world needs to invest in the children who can be the real ambassadors of peace -- provided their trust is won. Today they all wait for the world, the media that sits as silent spectator to come forward and heal their wounds," concludes Samar Minallah.
The documentary Bajaur Guloona: Homeless in the Homeland was screened in the Peshawar Press Club last month. It will be screened at Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad Press Club
South Asian Women & Media's two-day national conference in Lahore discusses various possible solutions to the challenges faced by female journalists
By Sarah Sikandar and Naila Inayat
South Asian Women & Media (SAWM) recently organised a two-day (10-11 Oct) national conference, titled 'Women in Media: Challenges and Opportunities.' The conference was attended by a large number of women from different media organisations in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi and Hyderabad. Leading women activists and professionals also participated in the conference that aimed to create an awareness about women issues and stressed on the need for bringing a positive change.
A word about SAWM: One of the main aims of the organisation is to fight gender-based violence and promote women's rights in South Asia. It also seeks to promote independence of media in the region, besides working for discrimination against women in the workplace. The organisation provides a forum to female media persons from all across the region, where they can interact and openly discuss their problems.
The inaugural session was chaired by Saida Fazal. Chief guest Tahira Mazhar Ali said that the role of women in media was important but their role at the time of conflict and war was even more important. She stressed on the need to create an awareness about women's rights.
A woman, Tahira pointed out, can never improve her life until and unless she identifies the issues herself. Man, according to her, is not the sole oppressor because women face hostility even from people of their own gender.
She expressed pleasure at seeing a number of young women confidently talking about their issues.
Later, Nighat Saeed Khan and Dr Rubina Saigol presented papers at the inaugural session. In 'The Women Question Pakistan', Nighat spoke of the struggle women in Pakistan have waged in their journey to emancipation which she felt "is yet to be achieved". She gave references to the participation of women in historical movements such as Marxism.
Dr Saigol, in her paper, titled 'Media Independence and Women', discussed the prevalent patriarchal values in the corporate media of Pakistan. She said that the patriarchal attitude ingrained in our society did not go away when one became a TV anchor. It has to be accompanied by a sense of responsibility at being a public person whose show is watched by millions.
"It seems that the male anchors are seldom trained to develop a sensitivity for the issues of women's rights. Their age-old thinking begins to show through once they are on television," she said.
The second session, titled 'Women in Visual/Performing Arts', was chaired by Kishwar Naheed. Salima Hashmi spoke on the 'Anatomy of Censuring Women Artistes'. Her presentation focused on censorship as a means "to silence and commoditise" women. She showed paintings, mostly by young Pakistani painters, that presented the outcome of unnecessary censorship on the growth of women as human beings. This censorship comes not only from the dictatorial governments but begins with the hegemony of the male in the household. From the chastity belt and birth chambers to the very phenomenon of burqa, Salima highlighted the acceptance of the sense of 'inferiority' of women.
A very important element of her presentation was garment as a tool of silence. She also discussed the use of female body as a "product" that has to be "utilised".
Madiha Gohar's analysis of the situation was more subjective when she shared her experiences in media. Her speech focused around the struggle of an artist, especially a woman, to survive in the claws of censorship. She pointed out the imminent danger of "covert censorship" which, according to her, would be even more hostile.
Rukhsana Noor, screenwriter and journalist, shared her experiences in the "male-dominated field of film". She emphasised the need for subject-based films and highlighted the indispensable role of film in shaping the attitude of the masses.
Sultana Siddiqui, General Manager Hum TV, spoke of the importance of "positive projection" of woman on television. She rejected the negative portrayal of women in most of the soaps being made these days. She also said that the women work in the technical field and not just editorial and correspondence.
The participants of the conference were exceedingly critical of the media's role in shaping the attitude of the masses.
The second day of the conference discussed serious issues such as discrimination and harassment at workplace, challenges in print and electronic media, and reporting in conflict areas.
Most participants identified sexual harassment as the biggest concern. According to Zebunnisa Burki, who has been coordinating Sawm since the organisation was launched in April this year, "Practically, every journalist who is here has a tale to tell. I think our complaints' cell will be the most active part of our association."
The relatively newer issue of sexual harassment is linked with the age-old problem of gender discrimination, commented Rubina Jamil who heads the 22-year old Punjab-based Working Women's Organisation (WWO).
WWO is among those civil society organisations which got together a few years ago to form Aasha -- Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (www.aasha.org.pk) -- in collaboration with the International Labor Organisation (ILO) and Pakistan's Ministry of Women Development.
Aasha developed a code of conduct for the workplace and a procedure to deal with harassment and discrimination. Geo TV, the largest private television network in Pakistan, is among the few media organisations Aasha lists as a 'progressive employer'.
The second biggest issue that the delegates identified was gender discrimination. They said that women are paid less than their male colleagues for equal work and have to fight harder for political or other high profile assignments.
Talking about the challenges in electronic media, Saima Mohsin, a senior anchor at Dawn News, said, "Let me tell you, the challenges that women face here are not that far off from media anywhere in the world."
She came to Pakistan a year and a half ago from London, where she had worked with Sky TV, ITV and BBC. "Women are not taken seriously anywhere without a fight.
"It has taken years for women in the West to achieve what women in Pakistan have managed in a short time," she added. "Women are making a mark in the media industry here that has catapulted them into visibility everywhere. But few women are invited as experts in high-profile news shows.
"Issues of representation, harassment and discrimination pale into irrelevance for women journalists like Aaj TV's Farzana Ali who work in conflict areas."
"We have picked up the flesh of our own people with our own hands after a bomb blast," Ali, the petite mother of an eight-year old boy, told conference participants in a chilling reminder of the unprecedented challenges that journalists -- male and female – face in an era of unmitigated violence.
-- Additional reporting by Beena Sarwar
By Shoaib Hashmi
The younger lot are much younger, but the older lot were contemporaries. I have been visiting my favourite people. Popularly known as the 'Peeroos', they are the Pirzada brothers who run the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop named after their esteemed father, and which they started as a small puppet troupe with half a dozen of their friends, and have worked into the largest international puppet festival in the world. As a corollary they also arrange international festivals of theatre and music.
It is a remarkable achievement considering that they have no official or private sponsors, and in as far as officialdom has any role in their accomplishment, it is only to try to put a spanner in the works! All these years they have had to borrow premises to stage their hundreds of performances, three or four theatres and dozens of tents with little willing help from authority.
So it is gratifying to report that they now have their own permanent premises. Along the road leading out of town, and not too far they have established a complex, the kingpin of which is the Puppet Museum, three floors of meticulously displayed puppets from all over the world. For some years, it has become a tradition for visiting troupes to present all or most of their puppets to their hosts as gifts. This has now become a wonderful and varied collection, quite masterfully displayed in the museum.
There is also Peeru's Cafe fast becoming the 'in' place for Lahoris and visitors as an eaterie, with remarkably good food to boot! And within the same premises they have managed to fit in three or four performance spaces where there is something happening every day. This time around, they had a couple of German puppeteers come and hold a nine week workshop for enthusiastic students from three universities. The outcome was a cute little performance which they created and presented.
It was called 'The newspaperman' and I must confess I was a bit wary, as I am of all amateur performances, especially by 'art' students who being trained to think in the abstract tend to go overboard and can easily become obscure and difficult to follow. Blissfully these students concentrated instead on letting their imagination run riot with the 'newspaper'.
First they were able to put together a remarkably entertaining capsule of the newspaper profession as it has come to dominate our lives. Then, even better, they used actual newspapers to create a host of puppets, human and animal to manipulate. I think the technique comes from Japan, where in the 'Noh' -- or is it 'Kabuki'? -- groups of puppeteers, dressed in black, specialise in manipulating a single limb of the puppet at a time. The dozen young people did a riveting job of it. Bully for them and the Peeroos!
Despite official claims of economic stability, people say they had valid reasons to believe bankruptcy rumours to be true
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
The rumours of certain Pakistani banks going bankrupt and the government of Pakistan mulling freezing of foreign currency accounts and sealing lockers created unprecedented panic among the general public in the second week of October.
It all started with the exchange of warning messages through mobile phones. But the moment these rumours were aired by electronic channels there was no way people could be stopped from thronging banks to withdraw their cash and valuables deposited there.
The worst-hit during this fiasco was Bank Alfalah. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bashir Tahir of Abu Dhabi group, that owns Bank Alfalah, had to fly all the way from Abu Dhabi to Islamabad to address a well-attended press conference. There he announced that the bank was in a healthy financial position and did not default as it had share capital of well above $8 billion against the State Bank of Pakistan's requirement of $4 billion. Though rumour was rife that all the local and foreign commercial banks were at the brink of collapse, Bank Alfalah was singled out by the rumour-mongers on grounds that its management had directors of the now-defunct Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) on its board.
An official in a leading Pakistani bank tells TNS that no doubt the banks were facing liquidity crunch but that was for reasons different than those explained by certain unscrupulous elements. He says every year depositors withdraw cash worth Rs 50 billion to Rs 60 billion on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr. This also happened this year and when banks opened after relatively longer holidays people could not get cash immediately. He says for the same reasons ATMs of several banks remained empty and could not cater to the cash needs of account holders.
Therefore time was ripe for a bunch of people who manipulated the circumstances and started spreading these rumours. The general public which was also wondering as to why the banks were not giving out cash apparently got the answer in this rumour and withdrew all the money they had deposited in the banks, the official adds. He says the freezing of forex accounts by ex-premier Nawaz Sharif in 1998 had made people over-cautious. That's why they wasted no time in emptying their lockers of cash, gold, foreign currency, bonds or whatever they contained, he adds.
Muhammad Jamil, a wholesale grain dealer in Akbari Mandi, Lahore tells TNS that it was none other than the bank manager of the branch where he maintained his account who asked him to withdraw cash from there. He says that he was warned by the manager that the bank was facing tough time as the government was tightening its noose around the neck of its owner for allegedly having made billions in a shaky privatisation deal in the past. "You tell me, was I wrong in withdrawing my hard-earned money in these circumstances," he questions.
SBP Chief Spokesman Syed Wasimuddin also dispels all such rumours and says that foreign currency accounts are already enjoying protection under Foreign Currency Accounts (Protection) Ordinance 2001. In a statement issued to TNS, he says the general public is, therefore, requested not to pay any attention to such rumours and continue their business normally.
However, the argument does not bode well with many who say any law or even the Constitution of the country can be modified just like that. For example Raza-ul-Karim Advocate, tells TNS that ideally a law can only be modified by a joint session of the Parliament but the possibility is there that the president can repeal it anytime on its own. "This is quite likely as President Zardari still enjoys all the powers that Gen (r) Musharraf did," he adds.
Raza goes on to say that the growth of telecom sector and media has raised awareness level of people to a great extent. Now every other person knows that Pakistan hardly has any foreign reserves to pay for a month or two's exports and its stock market has been shut down to arrest further capital flight from the country, he adds. Besides, the media is saying extensively that the country is at a risk of major default. In such a situation, the government has all the justification to take unpopular decisions and simply say that the "nation will have to swallow yet another bitter pill," he adds. They did all this just to avoid tasting another such dreaded pill, he adds.
Anyhow some assurances, though a little late, have come from Advisor to Prime Minister on Finance, Shaukat Tareen. His declaration that the government is neither going to seal bank lockers nor freeze foreign currency accounts has restored people's confidence in the country's banking system to some extent. Similarly, his assertions that the value of rupee would improve within four to six weeks and the decreasing trend oil prices in the international market would reduce the country's import bill have been quite welcome ones. However, his announcement that certain players (mainly some banks) who had created this situation to further their goals will be punished is not being taken seriously. Many say that like always these players will go scot-free with pockets full.
Mushtaq Ahmed, a capital market analyst, tells TNS that in his opinion the banks had to suffer mainly due to their unending greed to make hefty profits. He says they made huge investments in the stock market themselves as well as gave loans to investors after pledging their shares. When the stock market crashed their investments were gone. Similarly the pledged shares lost their value and selling them off to recover loan money was no more a feasible option for the banks, he adds.
He says rumours about sealing of lockers were believed to be true mainly for the reason that people had withdrawn money from real estate and the stock market to buy gold and dollars and stuff them into their lockers. These two commodities are the government's two most-sought-after ones and people had all the reason in the world to doubt government's decision, Mushtaq adds.
Anyhow, regardless of the economic situation of the country and the economic challenges it faces, there is a dire need to bring the rumour factories to a halt. This can be done by taking measures to build trust between the government and the general public or by taking decisions that give preference to the benefit of people over that of the state. The government's act of not freezing people's bank accounts and taking control of bank lockers despite huge financial crunch is one such right step in the right direction.
The notion that everything wrong with Pakistan was India's fault was the most popular perception of the 90s and its now creeping back in
By Ammar Ali Jan
As a child of the nineties, I remember how India was the number one whipping boy with our establishment and the government-controlled media. Every night, on PTV Khabarnama, we would hear about the atrocities being committed by the Indian army against the "freedom fighters" in Jammu and Kashmir. Not only was there an outright condemnation of everything Indian, there was also a plethora of songs and TV serials (my childhood favourite being Alpha Bravo Charlie) in favour of the jawans. At the same time, we were told that everything wrong that happened in Pakistan was somehow a "Hindu" conspiracy. Like many other kids my age, I believed the only way to be patriotic was to hate India and to love the Pakistani military.
This depiction of India as enemy number one has been the main reason for the army's enormous influence in all the decision-making in Islamabad .This concerted effort to glorify the army was being carried out when the establishment was also busy vilifying all politicians as corrupt and "national security threats". This perception ensured the smooth takeover by the military on Oct 12, 1999. The fact that Musharraf could not act as strongly as he promised vis-a-vis India not only meant that public attention was diverted from the "Indian" threat, it also undermined the rais'on d'etre(reason for being) for a powerful national security state.
However, with the return to civilian rule, we are witnessing another attempt by the establishment to demonise the Indian state and to portray the civilian government as "weak" on national security. Unfortunately, people like Ansar Abbasi and Shireen Mazari, who otherwise supported the democratic movement against the generals, have started taking an extraordinarily hawkish line on India in their recent articles. From the Balochistan insurgency to suicide bombings to the trouble in the tribal regions, everything is being blamed on the Indians. Knowing the disastrous consequences (read military takeover) of a view that depicts civilians as weak on national security, it is important to demonstrate the problems with this hypothesis and also to show how no one but our own national security apparatus has to be blamed for the mess we find ourselves in today.
To begin with, we must review the history of our India policy. Immediately after partition, Pakistan went to war with India in 1948 over the disputed territory of Kashmir. This resulted in the formulation of India as an existentialist threat for the new state, at least in the minds of our establishment. Pakistan moved closer to the US with the signing of the Baghdad pact in 1954 in order to counter India's strategic partnership with the Soviet Union. Relying on our friend Uncle Sam, our establishment tried to "liberate" Kashmir by launching operation Gibraltar in 1965. In this operation, the Pakistan army sent in fighters and arms into Kashmir in order to ignite a rebellion in the State. This adventure was a terrible failure and lead to the 'surprise' attack on Lahore by the Indians.
Colonel SG Mehdi, who was heading the SSG just before the 1965 war, wrote a fascinating article in 1998 that demonstrated how childish the entire plan was and why he opposed this needless provocation on part of the Pakistani military high command. He also states in the same article that if a thorough inquiry had been conducted into the failures of the 1965 war, we could have avoided the 1971 debacle. However, our official historians celebrate the 6th of Sept as Defence day by narrating the heroics of the Pakistan army in saving Pakistan from a disaster. They never explain how the army high command created that disaster to begin with.
During this time, our establishment played the India card to quell any opposition to the state. Wali Khan, leader of the National Awami Party (NAP), was declared an Indian agent and hence incarcerated. Nationalist leaders in Balochistan, Sindh and East Pakistan met the same fate. In fact, a military operation was launched against the people of East Pakistan on charges that they had joined "Hindu" India in a conspiracy to break the "Muslim" Pakistan.
This nonsensical conspiracy theory for the 1971 war is endlessly repeated in our history books. What this analysis ignores is the treatment meted out to the Bengalis by the Pakistani state. They were denied provincial autonomy and control over their resources, their leadership was jailed, their demands were rejected and on top of all that, a brutal military operation (termed genocide by the Bengalis) was launched against the eastern wing resulting in thousands of casualties.
Keeping in mind the track record of the establishment in dealing with its subjects, is it fair to put the entire blame of this defeat on the shoulders of a foreign player?
Those who thought the '71 defeat would instill some sense into our establishment were to be disappointed. Rather than attempting to improve the relationship between the two countries, ZA Bhutto's government devised the "strategic depth" policy in which Afghanistan was supposed to give strategic depth to Pakistan in case of a war with India. Islamabad needed a friendly government in Kabul and for this purpose Rabbani's men were trained in Pakistan to set-up a friendly regime in Afghanistan. During General Zia's time, this theory was implemented by added intensity, especially after the Soviet invasion. The Pakistani state, in collaboration with the US, set-up a network of training camps inside Pakistan to wage the Afghan "Jihad". Thousands of youngsters were trained and sent to "liberate" Afghanistan from the Soviet occupation. madrassahs mushroomed all over the country, giving "strategic depth" to the Mullahs in our society. Anyone who opposed this made in Washington policy was thrown into Zia's notorious jails as a communist sympathiser or an Indian/Hindu agent.
After a victory in a shattered Afghanistan, our establishment now took upon its shoulders the task of liberating its Kashmiri brethren. The boys from the Afghan Jihad were redirected to Kashmir in 1989 and for the next 13 years, our state gave full support to the Kashmiri "freedom fighters". This, of course, changed in 2002 when General Musharraf declared these groups as terrorists and rounded up its cadres. Many remain missing even today.
Today, we are witnessing the blowback effect of an incredibly short-sighted policy by our establishment. The tribal areas are in a complete rebellion, the list of suicide bombings is increasing at an alarming rate and a security threat is posed by the madrassahs as demonstrated by the Lal Masjid crisis. Those jihadis nurtured by the state for the past thirty years, supposedly to protect us from the Indian threat, have been a threat to the very survival of the Pakistani state.
In such circumstances, those who are blaming India for all the security problems being faced by Pakistan are delusional at best. We can't be sure what role India is playing in escalating these tensions, but we should have a consensus that the role played by our security apparatus, the agencies that are suppose to protect us, has been terrible to say the least. While those in charge of the security apparatus have made a fortune for themselves, as shown by Ayesha Siddiqui in her book Military Inc., they failed miserably in their real job of protecting Pakistanis by adopting policies without a clear vision.
Even if we take the hawkish line that some journalists and political parties are taking these days, have the army generals fared any better than the civilians even on that account when they were in power? Ayub Khan conceded defeat at Tashkent in 1966, General Niazi surrendered his ninety thousand soldiers to the Indian army at Dhaka, General Zia conceded defeat on Siachin and General Musharraf banned all those groups whom he use to refer to as freedom fighters. Not a heroic record by any stretch of the word!
This does not mean that the Indian security apparatus is any better. They have consistently pointed their fingers at Pakistan whenever something goes wrong. The Indian establishment, much like ours, has failed to recognise its own mistakes, especially in Kashmir where the Indian army has been particularly brutal.
Khalil Jibran in his play Satan makes the point that the priest needs Satan if he wants to remain in business. The same is true for the establishments of India and Pakistan. They need to create fear of the other in order to justify their own existence. What we need is a genuine, people's peace movement in both these countries that can challenge this concept of a national security state. Especially in Pakistan, we need to stop blaming India for the current mess we find ourselves in. Identifying the real culprits will facilitate true accountability, weaken the grip of the army on our state and consequently, will help the democratisation of our State and society.
My vote for Obama
By Omar R. Quraishi
Yes, many Pakistanis may be surprised to read that how come a fellow citizen should be expressing support for Barack Husein Obama (that is his full name by the way) given his many statements of late vis-a-vis Pakistan and how, according to him, it is not doing its bit in the war on terror.
First of all, one needs to understand that foreign policy -- whether the administration in Washington is Republican or Democrat -- is often unchanging or at least when change does take place it usually happens in a bipartisan manner. Yes, there may be nuances, and in this Obama may take a more proactive approach to Pakistan and dealing with the problem of militancy in FATA, that may not be a necessarily bad thing.
Furthermore, at least, one knows where Obama stands on this issue -- and also that at the same time as he has said that he will not hesitate going in FATA to capture al Qaeda leaders if there is solid intelligence to this effect, he has said that he intends to closely work with the government of Pakistan. Besides, a foreign government that is hostile or unfriendly towards Islamabad does not necessarily mean that that is bad for Pakistanis in general, especially in situations where the government in Islamabad and its citizens do not see eye to eye. Besides, taking the militants on with full force is something that should be very much in the interest of every Pakistan, now that these elements are threatening to increase their influence throughout the country and in the process trying to influence everyone's way of life.
In any case, the Republican administration of George W. Bush has all along said that they would respect Pakistan's sovereignty and would not take unilateral action but one has seen that this policy has often been practised in the breach. Of course, Islamabad/Rawalpindi itself may have a role to play in this but the fact remains that the Republicans tend to say one thing and do another. Besides, they are responsible for Iraq's invasion and occupation.
Besides, Obama's Pakistan connection is not altogether non-existent. His mother is said to have been posted to Pakistan and he had a couple of college friends who were apparently from Karachi. In fact, he even visited Karachi in the 1980s and stayed with one of them. Of course, this doesn't mean that he is necessarily going to be Pakistan's best friend but suggests that he has probably has more knowledge on Pakistan than George W. Bush, and certainly more than Sarah Palin (readers should remember that John McCain is in his seventies and a cancer survivor) who thinks that by standing outside her home Alaska and looking at the Bering Straits and being able to see Russia, gives her foreign policy experience!
Then there is of course the fact that America has never had a non-white president, or for that matter only one president who has been Catholic -- John F Kennedy -- and the rest all being Protestants (which is quite a shocker given that around a quarter of all Americans -- or the largest single denomination -- are Catholic). So it is a big deal for a black man, whose father was Muslim and was born in Kenya to be elected to the most powerful office in the world. He is much younger than McCain and far more intelligent and sophisticated, and also a very good speaker.
There is much debate within America on this as well that perhaps the time has indeed come to elect a black man, and in a way for the country to atone and make amends for its many past sins against black people in particular and non-whites in general (of course, a lot more than just electing an African-American as president needs to be done on this score).
By the time, this appears in print, the third and last of the presidential debates will be over. It remains to be seen, of course, whether Obama will maintain his almost-ten-point lead over McCain. The question of course is that are the polls reliable because if they are then he should win comfortably. But will white America be able to reconcile with electing its first black president? In the past, for instance a gubernatorial election in California and a mayoral race for New York where black candidates had significant double-digit leads in the run-up to the election but the end was very tight (the first one lost while the second won by a narrow margin). And why would this happen because, as a polling expert wrote on a US blog, it could be that voters did not want to present themselves as prejudiced or racist when in some cases they may be just that. And given that the voting booth gives them complete privacy, they may behave differently.
Of course, to this one would say that there have been many elections in America -- statewide and local -- where polls involving white and non-white candidates have got it right. Besides, as Michelle Obama has said, if this were indeed the case then her husband wouldn't have even been the Democratic Party's presidential candidate in the first place.
The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News.
Email: [email protected]