I’ll Be Your Mirror

December 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ll Be Your Mirror

Here we go again, again

September 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

The current war of words between the U.S. and Pakistani governments is just the latest installment of the soap opera that is U.S.-Pakistani relations. The pattern is typical, predictable, and actually quite stable: the U.S. makes demands on Pakistan; Pakistan rebuffs the demand; the U.S. responds with “evidence” of Pakistani complicity in fomenting terror (usually in Afghanistan but also in India); Pakistan negotiates on the initial demand, giving in to some of what the U.S. wants but still rejecting some part of the demand.

So too is the case with the latest “revelation” last week by Admiral Mike Mullen and other U.S. officials that the Pakistani government is actively sponsoring terror in Afghanistan via the Haqqani clan. According to this formulation, the Haqqani network is a state asset that is activated by the ISI in order to maintain leverage against Afghanistan and, by extension, the United States. That is seemingly explosive stuff, but predictably, as early as the next day, we were seeing statements by U.S. and Pakistani officials that they were still interested in “working with each other.” And today, we see that the U.S. State Department spokesperson has stated that “State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said that the US government was committed to its relationship with Pakistan and wants to work constructively with Pakistan on the Haqqani Network.” Ah yes, “work constructively” – that lovely phrase that hides the ugliness of just how much pressure is applied to other countries in order to coerce them to do the bidding of the U.S.

On the same day, Republican Senator Mark Kirk did his part to play the role of bad cop by stating that the U.S. government should “cut military assistance to Pakistan in the light of the allegations made by the US administration and military about Pakistan having links with the Haqqani network.” We have lost count of the number of times that Some Important Person or the other has called for cuts to U.S. aid to Pakistan in the last couple of years. It’s amusing to note that despite such threats and protests, the aid continues to flow, mostly in very generous proportions (Pakistan still remains the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel). Maybe, just maybe, there’s something in it for the Americans?

All of this is certainly not to minimize the sheer venality and, frankly, stupidity of the Pakistan establishment, in its attempt to manipulate various domestic and foreign actors and try to maintain leverage against the U.S. The Army, the ISI, Zardari and the other civilian politicians – they would sell their own mothers down the river before they would do what’s right for the Pakistani people. And sadly it’s the Pakistani people who continue to pay the price of this absurd but very costly soap opera.

Strange bird-like drone found in Pakistan

August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Perhaps file this under conspiracy-theory-that-is-revealed-to-be-true-in-due-time? A strange bird-like drone has apparently crashed and been captured in Baluchistan.

Leaders issued court summons in Mehran base attack case

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Sindh High Court has issued notices to a number of political leaders in connection with the case of the attacks on the Mehran naval base in Karachi. Notices have been issued to President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, and most interestingly, Chief of the Armed Services General Kayani. The case is the result of a court petition brought about by a private citizen who alleges that the lapse in security was the responsibility of the named officials.

Update from Sukkur

August 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

Saqib sends this harrowing update on a week of relief work in Sindh (updated)

I have been trying to write about my time in Sukker but didn’t quite know how. I am here in the middle of it but it is tough to express in terms of straightforward reporting. There is misery and then there is news of things getting worse. So I am taking the easier way out and writing about my time here.

Its been a draining week. I have been in Sukkur for about 7 days now. The first few were spent in the office and the last 3 in the warehouse. Through a WFP program, SRSO is targeting to deliver 1 month ration to about 42,000+ families in 5 districts: Kashmore, Ghotki, Shikarpur, Khairpur and Sukkur. In about 5 days now since we started, hundreds of trucks have been in and out of the warehouse and food has been dispatched for close to 11,000 families.

The first few days here were hard, seeing and hearing about people being homeless, children taking shelter under little sheets of plastics, people crowded into petrol stations for want of light and bathrooms. I visited camps in Sukkur and some in Kashmore, where government provides them water from a tanker once a day but not much else. Camps need drinking water supply, latrines and food supplies – the very basics, which are somehow missed by our government. SRSO has been going around installing hand pumps for water and dry latrines. Hand pumps can apparently be set up in a couple of hours, provided there is ground water (and there is ground water these days) and dry latrines. The last camp I saw had a water pump with the water slightly brackish but drinkable. Dry latrines are a 3 or 4 feet hole in the ground with a squat toilet attached on a wooden frame that sits on top of the hole. A green sheet goes around for privacy.

The desperation and need is so strong here that after a while I did not want to see it anymore. Somehow then I ended up doing warehousing for the WFP/SRSO project. The warehouse is a world of its own, four walls, huge compound, small offices with intermittent electricity, lot of people doing labor, drivers, contractors, trucks and rations. There are characters here, H the 22 year old who suddenly found himself to be “the logistics guy”, NP the guy who is actually supposed to be in-charge of logistics but does not quite know what it means, the 2 guys doing ration counts on and off the trucks who seem to be always together and then there is the contractor, B. B is big, and he is the contractor for trucks and labor, and also president of transport for Sukkur. An admin told me that he is also a part-time kidnapper, has slapped a politician and not someone to mess with. B laughs and gets pissed off at people in about equal measure and told SRSO the first day they would not be able to mobilize 5 trucks without him. I don’t know how the contract negotiations went but there are 45 trucks at our disposal running round the clock and B is present at the warehouse 24/7, where his chelas do malish as he lolls about on the charpai at night.

Sukkur is hot but it’s the humidity that gets you. Its like a sauna room without the shade. You sweat all the time and in the sun you sweat profusely. I noticed for 2 days running now that I don’t use the bathroom all day although I try to drink a fair amount of water. Its all sweated out which I think explains the constant headache that is immune to Ponstons. In this heat the labor works all day and night, loading and unloading trucks. Over five days they have handled over 1000 tons of ration. My estimate is that about 30 to 40 people are rotating so that’s about 5 to 7 tons per person per day of lifting, moving, loading. Then the drivers, who drive non-stop, all the way to places like Kashmore, normally 2 hours from Sukkur but now about 6 to 8 because the shorter routes are cut off by water. Poor in Pakistan work very hard for very little – the poorer you are the harder you work for a pittance.  The office staff at the warehouse is working on next to no sleep because trucks are leaving at bizarre times. I came back at 11pm and 10 loaded trucks were getting ready to leave while another 5 were being loaded and will leave sometime in the very early morning. The staff got a break last night and got about 6 hours of sleep in the small office of the warehouse after going almost 48 hours without any. The generator in the warehouse is attached to the godowns but not to the office so we are usually sweating away even when inside.

The roads are getting worse all the time. As you near Kashmore there is now apparently a patch (long one by all accounts) which is overrun by water. The police allow only one truck to pass at a time because weight and water supposedly make roads sink. This creates a bottleneck which can be as long as 40 to 50 trucks all lined up for hours. Food delivery is getting more precarious in places like Kashmore and Shikarpur because trucks get attacked by people who have not eaten for days. A government truck got looted on the Guddu barrage and they got some rations from one of our trucks which were right behind. Last night, we lost 6 bags of flour and 1 cooking-oil can at the Sukkur toll plaza traffic jam. We have figured out that not only transportation but the actual delivery at camps is safer in the dead of night or very early morning when people are sleeping or sleepy and the roads empty. Yesterday there were 3 to 4 women at the warehouse gate with about 8 to 9 young children around them begging for a bag for flour and it felt horrible not to give them one. They pleaded with the guard for over 1.5 hour.

Dr. Sono, the SRSO CEO, came back from Jacobabad today and I went to pick him up from Panu Aqil Cantonment where he returning in a helicopter because Jacobabad city is water locked. Fortunately for most of the people there, the town was evacuated before the floods hit but unfortunately not everyone got out. The DCO and the air force with a small number of police are the only government left in the city. According to the DCO there are about 10,000 families still stuck there with no food, no shops, nothing. Dr. Sono said thousands of people were lined up on the roads and were attacking every car (he had the air force/police escort) and about 200 showed up at the building where he was meeting the DCO. They were demanding that the people inside give them the food that they believed was being hidden in the building. These people have not eaten for at least 4 days and when the DCO tried to distribute the little food that was brought on the helicopter, he was mobbed and his clothes torn. 10,000 families (x 7 people) locked in a town, hungry and nowhere to go.  Government has been trying to run airlifts but how do you get so many people out? How do you figure out who goes first? Dr. Sono thinks food needs to get in before you can even think about organizing anything sane because people there are going crazy from hunger quite literally. Someone needs to figure out some kind of land access if this many people are to come out but I don’t really know what the water situation is like and if its even possible.

In other news the bridge between Moro and Dadu got damaged by water and the towns are cut off from each other. I also heard of more breaches in bunds but I forget where. This situation will take a long time to fix unless massive amounts of aid, with proper organization and political will come into play. Considering its Pakistan we are likely to be 0 on all three counts and will go through this time without epidurals. Where this all ends up is anybody’s guess but I don’t think this country is going to be the same ever again. This is a major turning point and its for the worse.

I fly back tomorrow morning and I will sleep for a few days after this. Next week if things align I will be back in Sukkur.

Pakistan Floods: A Ground Report

August 14, 2010 § 2 Comments

One of our comrades, Saqib Khan, has been out in Sukkur for days now working on flood relief. He sends this update:

So I have been in Sukkur these past 4 days with SRSO. The overall picture is pretty dismal here and as usual the government is largely missing from the picture. There are some tents (shamyana) etc. but they are not really providing any services except water once a day. SRSO is estimating 300,000+ in 2000+ villages affected but I think nobody really has a handle on how many (and that est. was 3 days ago). The actual numbers are probably much higher.
I have now heard of 3 different instances of breaches in bund walls to divert water because some minister was trying to save his crops (or even more cynically trying to drown a rival party member’s fields). The breach near Guddu barrage was deliberate though to try and save Sukkur barrage but our irrigation department really had no idea what they were doing. Entire southern part of Kashmor district was inundated and the water has now flooded through Jacobabad. We are expecting more of that flood to reach Sukkur sometime in the morning.
The number of dead in newspapers I think are gross understatements. I spent a day with WFP worker from Swat who was really pissed that the media is saying 1700 dead in Kyber Pakhtoon. He said its probably closer to 170,000. I think its similar here that no one really knows how many are dead or missing.
SRSO is trying to do relief work here with WFP, USAID and UNICEF. So far they are targeting about 63000 families in 5 districts: Sukkur, Kashmor, Shikarpur, Ghotki and Kairpur, places on both sides of the Indus. They will likely add Jacobabad now. The work is mainly 1 months food supply per family but since there are no designated areas for people to gather, its hard to organize. People have just gathered wherever they are able to. I have no idea how the rehab work will take place because water is everywhere and disease is going to be rampant. This is going to take at least 7 to 8 months before things will start to normalize.
You can check out SRSO web page for more information: http://www.srso.com.pk/ and I do believe they have something for donations up there too. I have also heard that the Sindh government has been running trains from here to Karachi and camps are being set up there – so I think Edhi and the usual/major donation centers are also a good place to give.

The War on Minorities

July 12, 2010 § 1 Comment

APP has written repeatedly about the shameful, persistent persecution of Pakistan’s minorities. A society so mangled by the trafficking of reactionary ideology in a climate of perpetual insecurity is, it goes without saying, a truly sad and frightening spectacle. In the past few days, four ongoing cases were brought to our attention.

In Karachi, 60 Hindus were forced from their homes after a boy sought relief from the unrelenting heat by drinking from a water cooler outside a mosque. Monday’s story in The Hindu notes the leading role of “influential tribesmen of the area” in organizing the mob of 150 that launched the initial attack. As many as 400 families, the story notes, are currently fearing eviction.

In Mansehra, a local jirga has sentenced a woman to death by stoning, for the alleged crime of being seen walking in a field with another man. WAF reports that “the accused woman was captured by the Jirga members and reportedly is being held at a secret place in Manjakot, pending the Rajm punishment. As usual, it is the woman who is made to bear the brunt of such atrocious barbarism, injustice, and inhuman, unIslamic sentences.”

In Faisalabad, two brothers–Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel–are being held in the Civil Lines Police Station on blasphemy charges, after it was alleged that they authored a pamphlet that made untoward remarks about Muhammad. On Saturday, some 400 protesters stoned the Catholic Church in Waris Pura, demanding that they be sentenced to death.

And finally in Jhelum, the establishment refuses to press charges in the horrific murder of a Christian family. The incident itself took place on June 21, and makes for chilling reading:

Khan became furious and said, “Are we lying to you? You call us liars, how dare you insult us,” Murtaza said. “Someone from the crowd hit something hard on her head, and she started bleeding. The children started crying and shouted for help. Razia kept shouting for help, ‘Please have mercy on us, please let my husband come, then we can talk.’” Jamshed Masih said his daughter telephoned police as the mob attacked his wife and children. He said he later learned that “the people kept shouting, ‘This family has committed blasphemy, they should be killed.” Before police arrived, his family was murdered, he said.

Asked to file a murder case against Maulana Mafooz Khan, the man behind the mob, the SHO pleaded helplessness, saying “I am a poor man… and I was pressured by higher authorities not to file the FIR.”

It is truly disheartening to think how little can be done about all this–beyond the obligatory petitions, faxes and well-intentioned e-chatter, of course–until we succeed in the long-term task of cultivating a meaningful means of propagating an alternative common-sense.

It is no less sobering to ask after our shrill liberals, for whom this frightening pattern of minority persecution invariably finds itself contorted into a manic call for strong-fisted (military) action. On even cursory inspection, of course, this line of reasoning dissolves into farce–elite and establishment complicity in these and countless other cases is clear. The myopia and short-termism of the ongoing War for Civilization, for example, is illuminated by this Mansehra jirga’s stoning verdict. While the problem of Taliban barbarity is all-too-real, this episode shows the problem to be rooted in a set of factors (the mores of a underdeveloped rural society, decades of aggressively touted fundamentalist morality) that means such madness is (a) scarcely confined to the TTP groups on whom our State is ready to declare war, and (b) never amenable to resolution by F-16 (apologies due to Lord Curzon).

All told, it is a long road that lies ahead of us.

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