Evolution of a war
A book scripting the evolution of Pakistan military's ambition to use civilian insurgents as an instrument of defence and foreign policy
By Nadeem Omar Tarar
The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir
By Arif Jamal
Published by Melville House Publishing, 2009
Pages: 352 (hardcover)
The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir is a myth-busting and brutal exposť of Pakistan's secret war against India. It provides crucial information on the keyfacets of militancy including recruitment, organisational structure, ideological base, and its transnational character. The author Arif Jamal, a journalist scholar from Lahore and New York, has not only made use of his journalist acumen and scholarly skills but more importantly his personal courage and professional integrity.
Jamal prefaces the book by validating the sources of his information which, given the clandestine nature of the subject, are as important as the findings of the study. He has been successful in interviewing most of the key players in the jihad networks as well as access organisational and popular literature of jihad. His use of first hand accounts and selective use of secondary sources turns it into a highly original work.
The author is especially well placed, to write such a book. Having begun his professional career in Pakistan in 1986 as a journalist with leading national and international media organisations, Arif Jamal has written hundreds of investigative and interpretive articles in English, focusing on Pakistan army and militant Islamic organisations. He holds a Masters in International Relations and has been a fellow at distinguished institutions including Harvard University and the University College of London, UK. He is presently associated with Center for International Cooperation, New York University , USA.
The book has broken the scholarly silence on military's involvement with militant Islamic groups and Pakistan's establishment's proxy war with India as it analyses the history of the jihad in Kashmir and the role of the Pakistan Army in shaping it since 1988. Scripting the evolution of the Pakistan's military ambition to use civilian insurgents/jihads as an instrument of defense and foreign policy against India in Kashmir, the author provides a rather useful index of the names of the 'principal characters' from the warring regions, India, Pakistan and Kashmir, who would play out the script of jihad in Kashmir, a story which can compete with the best known political thrillers of our times.
In the first two chapters, the author outlines the formative phase of the Kashmir conflict and the evolution of the policy of using cross border Islamic militancy as an instrument of foreign policy, by focusing on Pakistan's first jihad under direct military command. It led to partition of Kashmir into Pakistani and Indian occupied Kashmirs within a year of independence in 1947. Chapter 3 discusses how CIA money, destined for the Afghan mujahideen in the 80s, was funneled to Kashmiri jihadis under Zia, creating a vital nexus of power and patronage of Islamic militants by the Pakistani military. Jamat-i-Islami (JI), provided ideological strength and human resource, in addition to coordinating jihadi network with various brands of Islamic militants across the world, fuelling a more than twenty-five year insurgency. Pakistani government and ISI support for militant groups who left Afghanistan to fight Indian rule in Kashmir has been the cause of much friction with India.
Chapter 4 and 5 demystify the notion of jihad as a selfless struggle for the glory of Islam by exposing the vicious competitions among various militant organisations fighting for share in the spoils of holy war. With the ascent of secular mission of JKLF, the Kashmiri nationalist militants in the 80s, JI fought back to take a lead role in the Kashmir Jihad with the help of ISI in post-Zia period. Chapter 5 builds on the factional struggle within the jihadi network and the hegemony of Hizbul Mujihadeen and its allied organisations on the reign of terror that they unleashed in Indian held Kashmir. They looted shops, bombed cinemas, targeted unveiled Muslim women and kidnapped, tortured and murdered Hindu businessmen and officials. In the process of conflict, Kashmiri society, which largely avoided communal riots at the time of partition, was convulsed into brutal violence, rising fundamentalism and communalism, and the flight of nearly the entire Hindu population from the Valley.
Chapter 6 outlines the military adventure of President Musharraf, the infamous Kargil war, as a logical corollary to Pakistan's policy of using jihadis as a strategic tool in the war against India. As Musharraf claimed it in his biography, it was waged to internationalise the Kashmir issue. On the contrary, it ended up isolating Pakistan internationally and for which Pakistan bore an enormous human cost. The financial cost of the war, met through Pakistani taxpayer's money, excluding the compensation rose to $700 million. Jamal analyses how the role of jihadis was overstated by the military and the sacrifices of Northern Light Infantry (NLI) drawn from Gilgit Baltistan/Norther Areas were ignored by the media.
Musharraf wore Kargil as a badge of honour despite repeated criticism of professional failures even from his very own military quarters. Claiming a degree of success in highlighting the Kashmir issue through Kargil, Musharraf went on to initiate peace process with India, epitomised by Agra Summit in 2001.
Jamal argues in chapter 7 that the failure of Agra Summit to lead to a peaceful resolution of conflicts between India and Pakistan rejoiced Islamic militants. Acquiring another lease of life, they attacked Red Fort and later that year on the Indian parliament, the very symbol of Indian sovereignty. In post 9/11 world, when Arab Islamic militancy under al-Qaeda came under an US-led international scrutiny, ISI tried to protect its jihadi networks in Pakistan and Kashmir by asking them to keep a low profile and camouflaging their organisational nomenclature. They were advised to drop names that smack of al-Qaeda -- Laskar, Jaish, and Sepah -- thereby allowing them to survive despite Musharraf's pronounced commitments to be a close American ally in international war on terror.
Extending the discussion of jihadi network further, the last chapter provides a substantiative account of ISI's official involvement in forming All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in 1993 in a bid to give a political face to jihad. Tracking its career over a decade Jamal, with profound penetration, analyses its impact on aggravating the Kashmir conflict, while counting its failure to live up to its original mandate.
A net result of shadow war with Kashmir has meant that Pakistani military has trained nearly half a million insurgents as a matter of defence policy, who now pose a grave threat to the peace and security of Pakistan. The nexus of power and patronage that was built up over Kashmir jihad fuels the militancy on Pakistani soil and abroad.
Coupled with threats of increasing "Talibinization" that mar the democratic future of Pakistan, the infrastructure of Jihad factory can not be effectively dismantled without finding solutions to Kashmir conflict. Despite numerous attempts in continuing formal peace talks between India and Pakistan in the last five years, militant attacks continue to hinder progress towards a sustainable solution on Kashmir. Talks are effectively put on hold since 2008 after India accused the ISI and Pakistani authorities of being complicit in the Mumbai Attacks.
Through a thick description of jihadi network, Arif Jamal underscores the global implications of a regional conflict. He argues that global jihad is an off-shoot of Kashmir conflict. Without peaceful resolution of Kashmir conflict, the international terror networks cannot be uprooted. In the light of Jamal's book, Barack Obama's singular focus on battling Taliban in Afghanistan and their sympathisers in Pakistan inherited from Bush administration can prove to be disastrous policy oversight for Pakistan as well as the international community.
A migrant's tale
Calais, the La Jungle badland border between Britain and France, currently houses thousands of immigrants desperate to reach Britain. Living in utterly squalid conditions, these immigrants are dreaming to be able to reach Britain one day and be joined by their existing thriving communities. Afghans, Iraqis, Africans and Chinese youth, some as young as 9 years old dumped out by their parents from third world's poverty, and Pakistanis are a significant number amongst this group.
A 25 year old man from Rawalpindi reached Britain two months ago after paying Rs900,000 to an agent who made him travel through land routes via Iran and Turkey into France's Calais and onto Britain over 15 months, three police encounters and living without food for days on end.
The only brother of four sisters, who have reached the age of marriage but cannot get married due to poor financial circumstances, got his fingers completely burnt in Calais as he was told by his fellow travellers that doing so will make it impossible for the authorities to finger print him anywhere in Europe.
Now working in a takeaway for 14 hours a day and earning 210 pounds a week, he is determined to plough on.
"It's very simple. I will not get involved in any kind of violation of the law. UK police doesn't bother those who don't commit crimes. I have to first earn back the Rs900,000 that I paid to the agent. Then I have my sisters to marry off and other family members to support. I am happy that I am working and I cannot think of returning to Pakistan."
He blames politicians of Pakistan for making a mess of the country and turning it into a living hell for poor people. "If I am ever caught, they will have to literally drag me to the plane to Pakistan. I don't want to go back to Pakistan. It has no solution for my financial problem."
PML-N's decision to form a chapter in Azad Kashmir might further marginalise the political space of Kashmiris
By Ershad Mahmud
Azad Kashmir looks ready to host Pakistan Muslim League-N in its political landscape. A series of public and backchannel manoeuvres are being launched by PML-N and its promising local allies to form its chapter in Azad Kashmir. Two parties have reportedly decided to merge in PML-N -- the splinter group of Muslim Conference, commonly known as forward block, led by Raja Farooq Hayder and People Muslim League led by president Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry.
PML-N chairman, Mian Nawaz Sharif, is reported to have held meetings with several socio-political stakeholders in the region to evaluate different aspects of this initiative before formally announcing it. On the other hand, PML-N spokesman Siddiqul Farooq holds that the decision has already been made by the high command but its announcement is yet to be made. Senator Raja Zafar ul Haq heads the committee which will make detailed presentation before the party's Central Executive Council in the next few weeks.
Sources close to Nawaz Sharif reveal that the top leadership of the party is weighing the options of how to start the initiative. Some members of the party like Raja Zafar ul Haq, Zafar Iqbal Jhagra and Siddiqul Farooq are for establishing the party's branch in AJK. Khawaja Saad Rafique and Khurram Dastgir Khan, however, do not support the decision. Chaudhry Nisar Ali is reportedly undecided in the matter so far.
Nawaz Sharif's decision to extend his party up to Azad Kashmir is questionable especially since the people of Kashmir have no role in Pakistan's domestic politics. Due to the disputed nature of the region, AJK has a separate constitution and governance system. They do not elect representatives for the National Assembly or Senate. No wonder, mainstream parties in Pakistan hardly show any interest in AJK's local politics.
In the mid 1970s, the then prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, had established People's Party in Azad Kashmir in the backdrop of Simla agreement wherein both Indira Ghandi and Bhutto agreed to solve the Kashmir issue by maintaining status quo. He failed to persuade the local stakeholders to accept province-like status.
Historically, Muslim League has always supported Muslim Conference in AJK politics but when Nawaz Sharif was overthrown by Pervez Musharraf, this changed -- Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan and his son Sardar Attique wasted no time and joined the Musharraf camp. They were rewarded by Musharraf in 2006 state assembly elections when Attique was made PM. During the Lawyers' Movement, Sardar Attique remained a staunch supporter of Musharraf.
When Musharraf was compelled to quit presidency, anti-Attique lobby within the Muslim Conference got an opportunity to dislodge him, just eight months ago. The breakaway faction of Muslim Conference led coalition government comprises People's Party, People Muslim League and MQM. People's Party engineered another split into forward block and made Friends Group within few weeks after the government formation. This sent shock waves into a Muslim Conference's Farooq Hayder camp and ignited intense power struggle within the coalition government which badly affected the government working. Farooq Hadyer group believes that People's Party can sweep upcoming state elections if a broad-based platform is not established to pitch tough resistance against it.
Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry has long been trying to obtain Nawaz Sharif's support. He left People's Party in 2006 and formed his own People Muslim League expecting support from Chaudhrys of Gujrat. They ditched him at the eleventh hour since establishment had already made Sardar Attique as their prime choice. His nascent party managed to secure only three assembly seats out of 49.
Sultan Mahmood's second choice was Nawaz Sharif to whom he extended full support. Mahmood maintains good socio-political connections in Britain where over half a million people are from Azad Kashmir, mostly from Mirpur division, settled. His wealthy Jatt clan too extended wholehearted support to Barrister Sultan during his long innings in politics without questioning his ideological commitment. Sultan Mahmood made available huge logistic and human resource to PML-N in London when Nawaz Sharif was running anti-Musharraf campaign in exile.
Lord Nazir Ahamd, who is from Mirpur, and a member of House of Lords, has consistently been taking interest not only in Pakistani but also in AJK politics. He, too, became close ally of democratic leadership of Pakistan, particularly Nawaz Sharif. He also backs Sultan Mahmood to get top position in AJK politics. On Lord Nazir's invitation, Nawaz Sharif is going to Mirpur in the first week of October to address a public gathering where he is expected to announce the formation of PML-N.
AJK elections are due in 2011 but the possibility of midterm elections cannot be ruled out due to the fragile working relationship among coalition partners. Political settings in Islamabad have always had enormous impact on AJK elections or set the voting trend. Usually AJK voters follow Islamabad and Punjab's pattern. The southern part of today's AJK is closely knit with the bordering districts of Punjab particularly with Jhelum, Gujrat and Sailkot.
On both sides, the same Jatt cast is settled. On the other hand, central parts of AJK, Poonch division and Muzaffarabad, maintain close ties with the Rawalpindi division and always prefer to develop economic and social bonds in and around Rawalpindi region, due to its geographic proximity. Besides Kashmiri refugees, a huge number of locals, too, relocated their families to Rawalpindi to avail the city's facilities such as education and healthcare. Nine out of 12 refugee seats are also located in Punjab.
In Punjab, PML-N is not only the ruling party but also has a popularity base which would expectedly reflect into AJK's refugees seats provided Muslim League shows interest. If Nawaz Sharif seriously forms PML-N in AJK, it can emerge as a major political contestant within months, says Tariq Naqash, a senior journalist based in Muzaffarabad.
There is some tough opposition in Azad Kahmir and Pakistan to PML-N's decision. A professor at National Defence University Islamabad puts his views in a very interesting way. On the condition of anonymity he states: "It would be the last nail in the coffin of AJK autonomy and the second step would be the breakup of AJK into different pieces to merge them into Rawalpindi and Hazara divisions respectively".
Former prime minister Sardar Attique Ahmad sees this development as "a major departure from the League's historic stand to back Muslim Conference as a regional partner." Chaudhary Latif Abar, Secretary General of Peoples Party's AJK chapter believes it as "an exercise to steal the PPP's turn to rule".
People's Party Azad Kashmir has been caught in a catch 22 position. It is neither satisfied with incumbent PM Sardar Yaqub Khan nor demands for fresh mandate. It fears that in the North of Azad Kashmir, Muslim Conference may give it tough competition while in South, Sultan Mahmood still maintains strong position. Likewise, the Punjab government may not like to give a walkover to PPP in refugees' constituencies situated in the province.
Above all, PPP not only lacks charismatic leadership but its current president Chaudhry Abdul Majid has no potential to run hectic pre-election campaign due to bad health and age factor. In this backdrop, PPP prefers to continue with coalition government instead of pressing for midterm elections. In this grace period PPP would want to put its house in order. However, the fact can't be denied that the party has strong base in different parts of AJK and refugees constituencies. Additionally, anti-incumbency factor can help People's Party, if skillfully exploited, as people have reached to a saturation point to see Muslim Conference-led governments with different name tags in the last eight years.
Establishment has been playing neutral up until now. Mian Nawaz Sharif very clearly mentioned in his meeting with Muslim Conference and People's Muslim League assembly members last week that "those who want to keep open channels with military and intelligence agencies would not have any place in his party," quoted Raja Farooq Hayder. On the other hand, Asif Ali Zardari also maintains strong hold over local party cadre and leadership. It shows that the upcoming AJK election will be a test match between Zardari and Nawaz loyalists which would determine future electoral battles in the rest of the country.
Unfortunately, the era of regional political personalities and parties is about to end. Now, AJK politics will have to follow dictates of Raiwind and Larkana and their space to run local affairs independently will be further marginalised, says Syed Arif Bahar, an expert on AJK affairs. He also believes that PML-N has the potential to positively contribute in regional politics if it introduces new middle class faces. If, however, the same lot overnight becomes Leagues leaders it would be like old wine in a new bottle.
The writer is an Islamabad-based analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
In search of a consensus document
The 1973 constitution has been amended so extensively that it can no longer be accepted as a document adopted by the people's representatives on the basis of a consensus among them. Perhaps, holding an all-parties convention will show a way out
By I. A. Rehman
Sixty-two years after the state came into being and after experimenting with four constitutions, Pakistan is once again trying to hammer out a basic law that can satisfy various communities and groups and adequately meet the demands of democratic governance. The task is likely to be as difficult as ever -- and because of the same problems that had dogged the earlier efforts in this regard.
Constitution-making has always been an unusually difficult undertaking in Pakistan. The state's peculiar geography, wide variations in the populations of the units of the federation, and the contest between democrats and clerics on the role of religion in state affairs posed problems the ruling elite could not overcome for nine years. The use of the Government of India Act of 1935 as Pakistan's constitution through all these years further complicated matters. Extra-democratic measures practised for almost a decade acquired the halo of tradition and convention.
Three of the most unwelcome conventions established during this period were: (i) that the centre had a right to deny or curtail the rights of the federating units; (ii) that the only way the advocates of a religious state could be kept at bay was by offering them concessions; and (iii) that the head of state was entitled to use the constitution, by tampering with its scheme of governance or otherwise, to his personal advantage. These points need some elaboration.
The provisional constitution of Pakistan which remained in force from August 14, 1947 to March 23, 1956, did not offer the federating units a fair deal; it envisaged an all-powerful centre. The 1956 constitution retained the colonial scheme of the federating units being the centre's vassals. Besides, the new polity was based on extinction of the identity of three federating units in the western wing. The 1962 constitution did offer some palliatives to East Bengal but these could not meet its demands for autonomy. The 1973 constitution increased the federating units' powers but it was not sincerely implemented and the tension between the centre and the federating units grew. General Ziaul Haq encroached on the rights of the federating units by taking a leap towards a religious dispensation. Finally, General Musharraf alienated the federating units by taking over some of their functions and providing for the centre's seizure of their natural resources.
As a result of all these developments the federating units are clamouring for maximum possible autonomy and this matter has become the top priority issue for all those who wish to radically revise the constitution.
The need to remove from the constitution the belief-related provisions that are in conflict with the requisites of a democratic dispensation is the second priority issue for the defenders of democratic values. This matter too has been hanging fire for a long time.
The religio-political elements started asking for a religious state soon after independence. The ruling party did not agree with them but some of its leaders believed that religion could not be separated from politics. Thanks to them, Objectives Resolution was adopted in 1949. Throughout the subsequent sixty years the state has been yielding ground to the advocates of a theocratic polity.
The 1956 constitution established the principle of Islamisation of laws. The author of the 1962 constitution tried to reverse the process, but his flirtation with liberals was quite brief and the Islamic features of the constitution were soon revived. In the 1973 constitution first Islam was declared the state religion and later on the state was given the authority to define a Muslim. Zia made a modified version of the Objectives Resolution a substantive part of the constitution while its 1973 version was retained as a preamble to the basic law. Above all he created a Federal Shariat Court which started encroaching on parliament's functions as a law-making body. Musharraf made a half-hearted bid to dilute some of the belief-related provisions of the constitution but did not go beyond replacing the separate electorates with joint lists.
The issue now is which of the interpolations made by Zia and Musharraf are compatible with democratic norms and can thus be retained and which ones ought to be deleted.
The third major issue relates to the powers of the head of the state: Before 1956, when the first indigenous constitution was adopted, Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad had started the practice of bending the constitution for self-aggrandisement. Governor-General Iskander Mirza was reported to have assented to the Constitution Bill (the 1956 constitution) only after he had been assured that he would be the first president of the republic. He was never happy with the 1956 constitution and was easily persuaded to abrogate it barely 30 months after its enforcement.
Ayub Khan, the self-appointed head of state, was not shy of enforcing his own handiwork as the constitution of 1962, which was largely designed to suit his ambition. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto agreed to become prime minister instead of president against his wishes. In the 1973 constitution he insisted on transferring some of the president's prerogatives to the prime minister. General Zia decreed that Pakistan could survive only if the president's powers were increased, a proposition Musharraf welcomed with open arms.
A regular campaign has been launched to reduce the burden of decision-making on the president. The fact is that the constitution of 1973 has been amended so extensively, especially by Generals Zia and Musharraf, that it can no longer be accepted as a document adopted by the people's representatives on the basis of a consensus among them. Besides, it is necessary to ensure that the constitution reflects the developments that have taken place over the past few decades in the field of human rights and the worldwide movement towards participatory democracy.
There is a broad agreement among political actors that the constitution, as it stands today, cannot serve the interests of a democratic federation, nor can it sustain a parliamentary form of government. However, the country is divided on two issues; i) whether it is necessary to draft a new constitution or whether amendments to the present one can serve the purpose; and ii) whether all the desired changes in the basic law should be put in a single bill or whether the repeal of the 17th amendment should be taken up first and other amendments may follow in due course.
All modern states avoid replacement of their constitutions with wholly new texts. The reason is that the process of rewriting a constitution can give rise to controversies that may threaten a state's basic assumptions. This danger is particularly great in Pakistan as the area of national consensus has shrunk significantly and the issues that divide the people have increased many times over. It can be safely argued that any attempt to draft a new constitution in the existing political environment is bound to take more time than what is available. Also the task of resolving the contentious issues pending since long as well as the problems that will crop up during the constitutional reform exercise will run into insurmountable obstacles. However strong the arguments of the parties that are demanding a new constitution may be, this course cannot be recommended.
As for the differences between those who are pleading for a piecemeal reform process and those who wish to put all reform ideas in a single package, much can be said on both sides. A way out can be found by holding an all-parties convention to discuss all constitution reform proposals and separating the issues on which a consensus already exists, or can easily be secured, from matters on which long, bitter and frustrating controversies cannot be avoided. Issues falling in the first category may be taken up forthwith while attempts to secure national accord on issues falling in the latter category should continue outside the parliament.
The case of Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan is a litmus test for the independence of the judiciary
By Foqia Sadiq Khan
The litmus test of an independent judiciary -- restored through Lawyers' Movement with the support of PML-N, Imran Khan and Jamaat-e-Islami -- is its ability to move against some of those who helped it get restored.
One case of immense importance awaits Supreme Court's attention -- Octogenarian Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan's case regarding ISI's role in the disbursement of Mehran Bank's Rs150 million to politicians before the 1990 elections. Lest they forget, columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee has recently nudged the body to take it up. The case started in 1996 and has been allowed to go dormant these last thirteen years. Asghar Khan who is in his late 80s keeps knocking the door of the apex court.
Would the recharged judiciary have the courage to take up this case against the establishment? Will Nawaz Sharif's role, who allegedly benefited from the largesse dished out by the then Director General of the ISI, General (r) Asad Durrani on the directives of then Chief of Army Staff Aslam Beg be questioned by the court? Asghar Khan's petition challenges the fundamental pillars of power of Pakistani state. The decision of Asghar Khan's case is imperative if we are to turn over a new leaf in Pakistan's history.
There is a divide in literature on the independence of judiciary and rule of law. The neo-classical-inspired approaches to "good governance" assert that you need the rule of law for economic development. They are of the view that unless you have the rule of law, economic development cannot be ushered in and developing countries will not catch up with the progress of industrialised nations. This view is not sustained by some political economists such as Mushtaq Khan of University of London who opine that never in the history has the rule of law preceded capitalist transformation. Once countries reach a certain stage of socio-economic development, the rule of law follows. We need to think how this debate is linked to Pakistan. Can Pakistan have the rule of law despite the fact that it has not fully undergone the process of capitalist transformation?
Pakistan is an interesting case study. Not a single capitalist class faction has won ascendance. Punjabi industrialist-turned-politician Nawaz Sharif and his party is in prominence. However, they have to negotiate with large landholdings based PPP, political monopolists MQM and army which has become an organisational class in Pakistan. The independence and proliferation of bourgeoisie media and mobilisation of professional middle classes such as the lawyers reflect a new class configuration in Pakistan. It shows that not a single class is powerful enough to impose the rule of law favourable to it. We are seeing factional fights and political mud-slinging to carve out an established political niche. The question is whether the resurgent middle classes which got judiciary restored would be able to ensure an across the board rule of law despite factional fights and political instability?
Lawyers' Movement and independence of media is somewhat reminiscent of the Progressive Era in the United States from 1890 to 1920s. In this era, income tax, direct election of Senators, Prohibition and Women's suffrage were granted. Muckrakers were journalists who exposed corruption and citizen participation was extended in political decision making. Primary elections started in 16 states. Journalists, social workers, politicians, academicians, feminists and other got together to set the system right. It was an expression of middle class dynamics asserting to push socially progressive political agenda. The configuration of forces is quite different in the Progressive Era of Pakistan that started from 2007. Lawyers and journalists are expressing affirmation of middle classes in the political make-up. It is a revolt of the "salariat" classes. It has become a challenging battlefield where journalists are digging up dirt on other fellow journalists and now politicians are being dragged in corruption cases.
The big question is whether rule-of-law forces won independence in the true sense where they can take on some of their mentors as well? If yes, we should be able to see flurry of activity in the Supreme Court to tackle Asghar Khan's petition which not only challenges the establishment and the ISI, but also challenges politicians like Nawaz Sharif. There is no preordained "one to one correspondence" between Asghar Khan's case and the independence of judiciary. It is an important litmus test, nonetheless.
The writer, presently based in London, is interested in development and governance issues.
Meera's marriage and our
obsession with English
By Omar R Quraishi
Some time back, when I was a reporter with Dawn and had been posted at Lahore, I had the fortune to work with some of Pakistan's best journalists. The late Tahir Mirza was the resident editor when I was sent by Ahmed Ali Khan (he needs no introduction and those who have been in this profession for some time would know what kind of journalist and man he was) to Lahore for a two-year reporting stint. Along with Mirza sahib was another Mirza, the inimitable ZIM, who quickly -- and despite an age gap of four to five decades -- became my good friend and professional guide.
It was at that time that out of my own interest partially, I did some reporting on the cinema industry. Soon I realised that most of our actresses were not particularly good at conversing in English. But what I never really understood was the reason why media would make such an issue of it -- as in how many Pakistani journalists themselves (those who work in the English press) speak good English and write good English (very few, the latter)? And even if we do both reasonably well, what right do we have to pass judgment on others who don't speak the language that well? Surely, it isn't our mother tongue and surely one wouldn't expect Simon Cowell to be fluent in Urdu?
The yardstick for a lot of us are Indian actors and actresses, many of whom are quite fluent in English. But then again, India has a far better mainstream system of education, one that does a reasonably good job of educating their schoolchildren in not just math, the sciences but English as well (after all it's not for nothing that India has the world's largest English newspapers).
I was reminded of all this by something more recent that happened in Lahore, Defence to be precise, quite close to where I used to live. And yes, one is speaking of Meera's alleged marriage with a man by the name of Ateequr Rahman. The television channels have been full of it, as have been much of the Urdu press. The English press, by and large, has stuck to the basic of reporting but many more people watch television channels than read English newspapers. And this is where quality of reporting comes in, or rather lack thereof.
With reference to Meera's marriage, or otherwise, most television channels seem to think that by playing an audio tape of her talking to an unidentified man -- albeit in a manner that he seems known to her -- automatically means that she and the man are in some kind of relationship. And even if they are in a relationship what business really is it of anybody else especially since it is something that has not been publicised by the actress. Having said that, one can understand that television channels need news and what better than revelations of a hidden marriage contracted by a leading actress -- especially one who is always trying to come in the news on one pretext or the other.
The first problem with reporting this matter was the manner in which several television news presenters tried to -- while they were reading out the news report -- make fun of the way Meera speaks English or pronounces English words. I wonder whether their news producers asked them to pull this silly stunt because the presenters only ended up making fools of themselves. In all likelihood most of them speak English not like a Cambridge/Oxford graduate (or even with a decent comprehendible Pakistani accent) and here they were making fun of someone else who spoke English in a funny way, or tried to use English words unnecessarily.
On the second count, how many of us are guilty of the same thing while talking in Urdu -- as if we are trying to somehow legitimise ourselves and at the same time trying to tell all those listening to us that we know English. So what's the big deal if Meera, or any other actor or actress, is doing the same thing? Furthermore, expecting someone whose mother tongue is not language X to be fluent in X and then making fun of him\her just because they are not fluent is a perfect example of hypocritical and classicists behaviour.
The other issue was when a widely-watched television channel ran -- for several hours -- footage of Meera and her alleged husband. Claiming that it was "exclusive" and thereby implying proof that she indeed was married, all it showed was the actress and a very unremarkable and plain-looking man in some European or North American country talking to each other outdoors. In fact, it seemed as if they were trying to rehearse some lines because several times the man was prompted by Meera to repeat what he was saying -- and what he was saying it seemed as if he was rehearsing some lines. By no stretch of imagination could one assume that the two were married -- unless of course, in the Pakistani public's eye a man and woman having a casual and relaxed conversation implies that they are married.
The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News. Email: email@example.com