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.

The Fight Against Discrimination

June 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

By Sofia Checa, Sahar Shafqat and Saadia Toor (for Action for a Progressive Pakistan)
June 06, 2010

Friday’s slaughter of Ahmadis in Lahore is a sharp reminder of the state of siege that Pakistan’s religious minorities constantly live in. Given the institutionalised discrimination and hateful rhetoric against religious minorities, this latest attack should not surprise us, even if it still — thankfully — has the capacity to horrify us. After all, this venomous bigotry and its prevalence at all levels of our society is precisely the reason why violence against minorities has been so exponentially on the rise in Pakistan over the past few years. From organised pogroms such as the one in Gojra to the more ‘private’, individualised forms of violence such as that visited on the 13-year-old maid Shazia, this violence is now becoming commonplace — not just in terms of frequency, but in terms of acceptability. The more heinous incidents, such as Gojra, even engender some action from civil society groups such as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. But the general lack of concerted mobilisation against this spreading cancer is a clear indication that even progressives are either becoming desensitised to it, or are rendered immobile by the sheer speed and intensity with which it is growing. But immobilisation and desensitisation in the face of violent injustice are privileges; they can only be indulged in by people who have a choice. As progressive members of the majority community, and as people of conscience, it is incumbent on us that we not just refuse to abandon the fight against this extreme and widespread violent chauvinism that becomes more brazen by the day, but that we lead it. If we do not do this, we have no right to call ourselves progressives.

Every day as we read the news and watch it unfold on our television sets, we know that the monster is becoming stronger and stronger. We can feel it flex its muscles, ever more brazenly. Let us take the targeted killing of three members of an Ahmadi family near Abdullahpur on April 1 as just one recent example. The Ahmadi community in the area has been under attack for the past few months in particular, facing abductions and receiving death threats. When the police were informed about these threats, they allegedly told the victims to limit their movements and hire bodyguards.

More recently, the strengthening of militant religious groups in the border regions has also forced many minorities (mostly Sikhs and Hindus) to move to other areas, abandoning their homes, businesses, and livelihoods. Far from being isolated incidents, these are in fact part of a pattern of organised violence against religious minorities in Pakistan that has intensified in the last few years. In addition to death threats, damage to homes, businesses, places of worship, the settling of scores through the use of blasphemy laws, we are seeing increasingly organised and targeted killings of minority communities. In September 2008, at least two Ahmadis were killed in cold blood after a popular televangelist declared that Islam sanctioned the killing of Ahmadis. In July 2009, eight Christians were killed and over 50 homes burned in the town of Gojra. This violence against minorities is also expanding — unsurprisingly — to include sexual violence. In Rawalpindi in March of this year, a Christian woman was allegedly raped and her husband burned for refusing to convert to Islam. In January of this year, a 17-year-old girl belonging to a Christian family near Nagar Park was raped; jirga members told her to convert to Islam and marry the alleged rapist. And of course there is the horrific case of young Shazia – subjected to extreme violence by her employers which probably resulted in her death.

Where, we must ask ourselves, is this coming from? It is in part the result of discriminatory legislation such as the infamous Blasphemy Law and Article 26 (3) of the Constitution of Pakistan which declares Ahmadis non-Muslims, the state’s refusal to go after the perpetrators of such violence, the carte blanche given to religious groups which openly target minorities, the media platform given to hate-mongers such as Aamir Liaquat (Aalam Online) and the silent complicity of the Muslim majority. Politicians are increasingly involved in such incidents of organised violence against minorities — in the case of Gojra, the HRCP’s fact-finding mission established that members of the PML(N) were involved in the rally which preceded the violence. Needless to say, no action was brought against them.

The government of Pakistan must take responsibility for extending the rights and protections of citizenship equally to all Pakistanis — regardless of religious affiliation. Pakistan must be a state grounded in principles of justice and fairness which includes respect for the rights of minorities as equal citizens. All legal, administrative and social discrimination on the basis of religion or sect must end, including the repeal of the anti-Ahmadi laws and Blasphemy laws. Elected officials implicated in religious violence must resign immediately and legal action must be taken against them. The judiciary, which has played an admirable role in Pakistan’s recent history, must step forward to ensure that religious minorities are protected. The offices of the president and prime minister should be open to all citizens, not just Muslims. And ultimately, there must be a separation of religion and state in Pakistan, so that all people are free to practice their faith without fear of persecution. That is the Pakistan that the Quaid envisioned.

Without such changes, Pakistan has no hope of reversing the current trend of violence against minorities, and certainly no claim to being a representative state. These are ambitious demands, but our survival as a state and a society hangs in the balance. It is up to each of us to rise up and demand equality for all Pakistanis. This is not going to be easy, and there is no reason it should be — after all, the reactionaries are well-organised, they are armed, they are ruthless and they have the power of the state behind them. But we have repeatedly stood up for what is right, against the power of our state.

The only way to fight the forces of hate is to mobilise. Make no mistake, dear fellow Pakistanis — we are in the desert of the real, and this is the hour of our reckoning. The world is watching us and judging us; but our biggest judge will be our individual and collective conscience.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 6th, 2010 (link here).

Standing up for Ahmadis

June 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

The massacre of Ahmadis in Lahore last Friday is a terrible reminder of the awful conditions religious minorities live in in Pakistan. Due to the legal discrimination, social opprobrium, and repeated violence against their communities, Ahmadis – and Christians, and Hindus, and Shias, and everyone else who doesn’t fit the rightwing’s notions of “Pakistani” – are living in a state of fear and hopelessness.

There is plenty to be done, but there are some very small things that we can all start doing right now. Stop engaging in the casual slur-filled conversations that hurl deep venom against minorities. Call people out when they denigrate Ahmadis, or when the conspiracy theories about Ahmadis are trotted out. Refuse to dignify the euphemism “places of worship” instead of the mosques which Ahmadis worship in. Do not ever use the term “Qadiani” which is pejorative and only meant to demonize. And lastly, refuse to “otherize” Ahmadis. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that Ahmadis are some kind of exotic group that is totally distinct and separate from society. Remember that Ahmadis are Muslims, and Pakistanis – they are not just one of us, they ARE us.

Sometimes the task before us seems overwhelming, and we feel helpless. But all of us CAN make a change in how we speak and what we tolerate from our friends and family. So stand up today for Ahmadis – and for all other religious minorities.

NYT puzzles over Pakistan

April 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

That same old chaos theory story on Pakistan, but we should note it nevertheless.

1) Sabrina Tavernise lends that special Alice-in-a-wonderland feel to her reporting on a potentially historic amendment that is making its way through the Pakistani parliament right now. If passed, it would strip the President of powers that the position has accrued over the years due to revisions to the constitution by unaccountable politicians and dictators. Tavernise is quick to manipulate the story about a significant positive political change in Pakistan into the “chaos theory” narrative the western media has reserved for Pakistan. She writes:

On paper, the changes restore the country’s democracy to its original form — a parliamentary system run by a prime minister — and undo the accumulated powers that the country’s military autocrats had vested in the presidency. (emphasis mine.)

But this is Pakistan — a chaotic, 62-year-old country, where no elected government has ever lasted a full term and the rule of law is often up for grabs — and it is far from certain that in practice the new laws will be respected. (emphasis mine.)

Down the hole, Alice goes. This is Wonderland and things don’t ever change here. Never ever ever. Never ever? Not ever. Get it?

Last year, Tavernise brought us this lovely liner regnant with Orientalism: “On a spring night in Lahore, I came face to face with all that is puzzling about Pakistan.” Wow, where? Was it at the intersection of Ignorance and Hubris? Try and get off that. It’s really overcrowded.

2) The Lede blog posted live video footage of the bomb blasts at the US Consulate in Peshawar (h/t jdw) and then noted:

Readers who watch the footage from Pakistani television above may notice one sign of how routine bombings have become in the country. At one stage, as images of the latest attack were broadcast, the crawl at the bottom of the screen gave updates on a celebrity drama, the planned marriage of a Pakistani cricket star, Shoaib Malik, to an Indian tennis player, Sania Mirza.

When a commenter called out the blog’s writer, Robert Mackey on his spurious concluson based on news tickers which are equally random everywhere else, he responded saying, “I explained in the post what the point of the the trivial news in the crawl seemed to be to me. I made no statement that this sort of trivia was unique to Pakistan and not found in most if not all other countries.” Even to Mackey his response must sound lame; it’s certainly not an answer.

Here’s a snapshot of CNN vs. al-Jazeera on the day the Wikileaks video was posted. Pots and kettles. Enough said.

cross-posted here along with other non-PK related material. -M.T.

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