Of Journalism

May 23, 2010

Red or dead

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 1:52 pm

By Fawad Ali Shah
May 23, 2010
KARACHI: They are known by their smart red caps, raucous rallies where drummers play it loud and speeches in Pashto that are peppered with jabs at the ruling establishment.
The Pakhtun are also known for their unbreachable code of honour and their belief in an eye for an eye. So what happened to these men in Karachi? Scores of Pakhtun-backed Awami National Party activists have been killed in the recent targeted attacks in Karachi. The party’s Sindh president Shahi Syed, a barrel-chested, acid-tongued businessman has been in meeting after meeting with the ruling coalition in an attempt to get a grip on the situation.
Statements after statements are issued. But what, if anything at all, is going on in the party ranks?
“They [ANP leaders] are in the government but have failed to provide security to their activists,” said Muhammad Ilyas, an ANP man of the Pir Mosque unit in Pirabad SITE Town. “They are pressuring us against lodging FIRs against the sector incharges of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).” The party’s men from Mangopir, Pirabad, SITE, Pathan Colony and Malir say they have lost more than 20 “friends” in the recent target killing carried out by the “criminals of a rival political party”.
They are angry and bitter that the party leaders had not supported them.
“One of our elders was killed last night,” says Ilyas as his voice trembles. “He wasn’t enemies with anyone. He was killed just because he used to visit our unit .” While the ANP blames the MQM for the killings and holds the Pakistan Peoples Party responsible for failing to take action, a fair amount of the cadre’s ire is directed at Shahi Syed. “He and the others want to be in the government and save their skins,” says Ilyas, adding bitterly that “they didn’t even attend the funerals”.
The target killings in which mostly Pakhtun lost their lives has surfaced sporadically in Karachi. Each time the ruling parties put their heads together and the shots stop being fired. However, this month’s repetition of the bloodbath has nearly brought the party’s rank and file to its wits end. “From now on we will not follow the orders of the leadership,” thundered one activist. “We will take revenge. And if someone tries to enter our areas we will give a tit-fortat response.”
This is precisely what the government and the ANP has been trying to avoid, and indeed, for this young man’s angry words, further bloodshed has been largely avoided. But it is this sentiment that the government fears can get out of control. “We cannot wait anymore and see our friends getting killed,” says 32-year-old Ghulam Khan, an activist from unit No. 2 in Manghopir. “If our leaders are cowards and cannot protect us why should we sacrifice our lives for them?”
He says he was attacked and one of his comrades in arms was killed and four others were injured. Some of the violence has played out in Qasba Colony and Katti Pahar area. “We are settled in the mounds and they come uphill and attack us,” says Ghulam Khan. “But because of the party leadership we stayed quiet. Shahi Syed assured us that the police and security forces would come to our rescue but there was no development and now we are preparing to defend ourselves. Let them fire us from the party, we don’t care any more.”
Watching from the sidelines is the PakhtoonKhwa Milli Awami Party whose leaders have also criticized the ANP for “playing a double game”. “Pakhtoons are getting killed and the ANP does not care,” says Sher Ali, a provincial leader of the Balochistan-based PkMAP. “They are sitting in the government and are satisfied with that.” He was injured during an attempt at a target killing in Baldia. “They just count the bodies of the Pakhtoons and later on claim that they were their members. Why does the ANP present itself as the lone representative of the Pakhtoons. Why has the Pakhtoon Action Committee for all the Pakhtun from different political outfits been sidelined.”
A split has already taken place.
The Pakhtoon Students Federation (PkSF) leaders had also criticised the ANP leadership for ignoring the casualities of its activists and staying silent in the wake of earlier target killings of Pakhtoon students. Once considered the right arm of the ANP, the PkSF went its own way. “I joined the ANP as it claimed to be the protector of the rights of the Pakhtoons, and some of my friends are their local leaders,” says Anwar. “But now I am disappointed.”
For his part, the ANP’s Shahi Syed says that the party’s ideology is based on Bacha Khan’s philosophy of peace. “We condemn the killings and I am in constant contact with the chief minister and Rehman Malik,” he says, adding that he will not allow his party to be hijacked by “barbarians”. A further reaction comes in the shape of a stern warning that anyone who does not toe the party line, or follow the orders of the central leadership will be kicked out.
In part, his reasoning also holds water. “Let the security forces and courts punish the criminals,” he says. Political analyst Dr Muhammad Nazeer who has watching these developments told The Express Tribune that the ANP’s policies could negatively affect its vote bank in the coming local government elections. “A major chunk of its votes could go to the Jamaat-i- Islami.” Indeed, if these target killings are an effort to split the ANP, they could be spot on.


October 27, 2009

Coups, UNASUR, and the U.S.

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 10:19 am

From a talk given in Caracas, Venezuela on August 29 (updated September 9)

October 2009By Noam Chomsky

The last time I had the opportunity to speak in Caracas—at long-distance that time—was about a year ago, right after the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) meeting in Santiago in September 2008. That meeting was called “with the purpose of considering the situation in the Republic of Bolivia,” after an uprising backed by the traditional elites who had lost power in the impressive democratic elections of 2005. UNASUR condemned the violence and the massacre of peasants by the quasi-secessionist elements, and declared, “Their fullest and decided support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales, whose mandate was ratified by a wide margin in the recent referendum.” These are the words of the final Declaration, which also warned that the participating governments—all of the South American Republics—”energetically reject and do not recognize any situation that implies an intent of civil coup d’état, the rupture of institutional order, or that compromises the territorial integrity of the Republic of Bolivia.” In response, President Morales thanked UNASUR for its support and observed that, “For the first time in South America’s history, the countries of our region are deciding how to resolve our problems, without the presence of the United States.”

True, and a fact of historic significance.

It is instructive to compare the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) with that of the African Union (AU). The latter permits intervention by African states within the Union itself in exceptional circumstances. In contrast, the Charter of the OAS bars intervention “for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state.” The reasons for the difference are clear. The OAS Charter seeks to deter intervention from the “colossus of the North”—and has failed to do so. That is an enduring problem in the Western hemisphere, nowhere near solution, though there has been significant progress. After the collapse of the apartheid states, the AU has faced no comparable problem.

South American Process of Integration

Last year’s UNASUR meeting in Santiago took a step forward in the difficult process of integration that is taking place in South America. This process has two aspects: external and internal. The external process establishes bonds among countries that had been largely separated from one another since the early European conquests, each one oriented towards the West. The internal process seeks to integrate the vast impoverished and oppressed majorities into the societies that took shape under colonial and neocolonial domination. These societies have typically been ruled by small Europeanized elites who had amassed enormous wealth and were linked to the imperial societies in many ways: export of capital, import of luxury goods, education, and many other dimensions. The ruling sectors assumed little responsibility for the fate of their own countries and their suffering people. These critical factors sharply distinguish Latin America from the developmental states of East Asia. The processes of internal integration in South America, quite naturally, are arousing great concern among the traditional rulers at home and abroad, and strong opposition if they go beyond minor reforms of the worst abuses.

In early August, UNASUR met in Ecuador, which assumed the presidency of the organization. The announced goal of the meeting was to carry forward the process of integration, but the meeting took place under the shadow of renewed U.S. military intervention. Colombia did not attend, in reaction to broad concern in the region over its decision to accept U.S. military bases. The host of the meeting, President Correa of Ecuador, had announced that the U.S. military would no longer be permitted to use its Manta base, the last major U.S. base remaining in South America.

Bases and Coups

Establishing U.S. bases in Colombia is only one part of a much broader effort to restore Washington’s capacity for military intervention. In recent years, total U.S. military and police aid in the hemisphere has come to exceed economic and social aid. That is a new phenomenon. Even at the height of the Cold War, economic aid far exceeded military aid. Predictably, these programs have “strengthened military forces at the expense of civilian authorities, exacerbated human rights problems and generated significant social conflict and even political instability,” according to a study by the Washington Office on Latin America. By 2003, the number of Latin Americans troops trained by U.S. programs had increased by more than 50 percent. It has probably become higher since. Police are trained in light infantry tactics. The U.S. Southern Military Command (SOUTHCOM) has more personnel in Latin America than most key civilian federal agencies combined. That again is a new development. The focus now is on street gangs and “radical populism”: I do not have to explain what that phrase means in the Latin American context. Military training is being shifted from the State Department to the Pentagon. That shift is of some importance. It frees military training from human rights and democracy conditionalities under congressional supervision, which has always been weak, but was at least a deterrent to some of the worst abuses.

Military bases are also being established where possible to support what are called “forward operations”—meaning military intervention of one or another sort. In a related development, the U.S. Fourth Fleet, disbanded in 1950, was reactivated a few weeks after Colombia’s invasion of Ecuador in March 2008. With responsibility for the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the surrounding waters, the Fleet’s “various operations…include counter-illicit trafficking, Theater Security Cooperation, military-to-military interaction and bilateral and multinational training,” the official announcement says. Quite properly, these moves elicited protest and concern from the governments of Brazil, Venezuela, and others.

In past years the U.S. routinely helped carry out military coups in Latin America or invaded outright. Examples are too numerous and familiar to review and are awful to contemplate. That capacity has declined, but has not disappeared. In the new century there have already been three military coups: in Venezuela, Haiti, and now Honduras.

The first, in Venezuela, was openly supported by Washington. After a popular uprising restored the elected government, Washington immediately turned to a second plan to undermine the elected government: by funding groups of its choice within Venezuela, while refusing to identify recipients. Funding after the failed coup reached $26 million by 2006. The facts were reported by wire services, but ignored by the mainstream media. Law professor Bill Monning of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California said that, “We would scream bloody murder if any outside force were interfering in our internal political system.” He is, of course, correct: such actions would never be tolerated for a moment. But the imperial mentality allows them to proceed, even with praise, when Washington is the agent.

The pretext, invariably, is “supporting democracy.” In the real world, the measures employed have been a standard device to undermine democracy. Examples are numerous. To mention just a few, that is how the ground was prepared for the U.S.-backed military coup in Haiti after its first democratic election in 1990, bitterly opposed by Washington. And in another part of the world, it is happening right now in Palestine where the outcome of a free election in January 2006 was counter to Washington’s wishes. At once, the U.S. and Israel, with Europe tagging politely along as usual, turned to severe punishment of the population for the crime of voting “the wrong way” in a free election, and also began to institute the standard devices to undermine an unwanted government: “democracy promotion” and military force. In this case, the military force is a collaborationist paramilitary army under the command of U.S. General Keith Dayton, trained in Jordan with Israeli participation. The Dayton army received great acclaim from liberals in the government and the press when it succeeded in suppressing protests in the West Bank during the murderous and destructive U.S.-backed Israeli military campaign in Gaza earlier this year. Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, was one of many close to the Obama administration who saw in this success a sign that Israel may at last have a “legitimate negotiating partner” for its U.S.-backed programs of taking over what is of value in the occupied territories, under the guise of a “political settlement.”

All of this is routine, and very familiar in Latin America, where U.S. invasions have regularly left what remains of the country under the rule of brutal National Guards and collaborationist elites. The policies were initially developed with considerable sophistication a century ago after the U.S. conquest of the Philippines, which left hundreds of thousands of corpses. And these measures have often been successful for long periods. In the original testing ground, the Philippines, the impact still remains a century later, one reason for the continuing ugly record of state violence, and the failure of the Philippines to join the remarkable economic development of East and Southeast Asia in recent years.

Returning to coups in Latin America in the new millennium, the first one, in Venezuela, was unsuccessful. The second was in Haiti two years later. The U.S. and France intervened to remove the elected president and dispatched him off to Central Africa, actions that precipitated yet another reign of terror in this tortured country, once the richest colony in the world and the source of much of France’s wealth, destroyed over the centuries by France and then the U.S. I should add that the harrowing history, in Haiti and elsewhere, is almost unknown in the U.S.—worse, it is replaced by fairy tales of noble missions that have sometimes failed because of the unworthiness of the beneficiaries. These are among the prerogatives of power, and facts that cannot be ignored by the traditional victims.

The third coup is of course the one taking place right now in Honduras, where an openly class-based military coup ousted left-leaning President Zelaya. This coup was unusual in that the U.S. did not carry it out or directly support it, but rather joined the Organization of American States in criticizing it, though weakly. Washington did not withdraw its ambassador in protest as Latin American and European countries did, and made only limited use of its enormous military and economic influence, as it could easily have done by simple means—for example by canceling all U.S. visas and freezing U.S. bank accounts of leaders of the coup regime. A group of leading U.S. Latin American scholars recently reported that “not only does the administration continue to prop up the regime with aid money through the Millennium Challenge Account and other sources, but the U.S. continues to train Honduran military students at the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation—the notorious institution formerly known as the School of the Americas,” from which much of the top Honduran military has graduated. Amnesty International has just released a long and detailed account of extremely serious human rights violations by the coup regime. If such a report were issued concerning an official enemy, it would be front-page news. In this case it was scarcely reported, consistent with the downplaying of coups to which U.S. political and economic power centers are basically sympathetic, as in this case.

The U.S. surely hopes to maintain and probably expand its military base at Soto Cano (Palmerola) in Honduras, a major base for the U.S.-run terrorist war in Nicaragua in the 1980s. There are unconfirmed rumors of plans for other bases. (The best source of information and analysis is the consistently outstanding work by Mark Weisbrot at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who also reviews the media’s refusal to rise to minimal journalistic standards by reporting the basic facts.)

Imperial Mentality and Drug Wars

The justification offered for the new military bases in Colombia is the “war on drugs.” The fact that the justification is even offered is remarkable. Suppose, for example, that Colombia, or China, or many others claimed the right to establish military bases in Mexico to implement their programs to eradicate tobacco in the U.S., by fumigation in North Carolina and Kentucky, interdiction by sea and air forces, and dispatch of inspectors to the U.S. to ensure it was eradicating this poison—which is, in fact, far more lethal even than alcohol, which in turn is far more lethal than cocaine or heroin, incomparably more than cannabis. The toll of tobacco use is truly fearsome, including “passive smokers” who are seriously affected though they do not use tobacco themselves. The death toll overwhelms the lethal effects of other dangerous substances.

The idea that outsiders should interfere with U.S. production and distribution of these murderous poisons is plainly unthinkable. Nevertheless, the U.S. justification for carrying out such policies in South America is accepted as plausible. The fact that it is even regarded as worthy of discussion is yet another illustration of the depth of the imperial mentality, and the abiding truth of the doctrine of Thucydides that the strong do as they wish and the weak suffer as they must—while the intellectual classes spin tales about the nobility of power. Leading themes of history, to the present day.

Despite the outlandish assumptions, let us agree to adopt the imperial mentality that reigns in the West—virtually unchallenged, in fact, not even noticed. Even after this extreme concession, it requires real effort to take the “war on drugs” pretext seriously. The war has been waged for close to 40 years and intensively for a decade in Colombia. There has been no notable impact on drug use or even street prices. The reasons are reasonably well understood. Studies by official and quasi-official governmental organizations provide good evidence that prevention and treatment are far more effective than forceful measures in reducing drug abuse: one major study finds prevention and treatment to have been 10 times as effective as drug interdiction and 23 times as effective as “supply-side” out-of-country operations, such as fumigation in Colombia, more accurately described as chemical warfare. The historical record supports these conclusions. There is ample evidence that changes in cultural attitudes and perceptions have been very effective in curtailing harmful practices. Nevertheless, despite what is known, policy is overwhelmingly directed to the least effective measures, with the support of the doctrinal institutions.

These and other facts leave us with only two credible hypotheses: either U.S. leaders have been systematically insane for the past 40 years; or the purpose of the drug war is quite different from what is proclaimed. We can exclude the possibility of collective insanity. To determine the real reasons we can follow the model of the legal system, which takes predictable outcome to be evidence of intent, particularly when practices persist over a long period and in the face of constant failure to approach the announced objectives. In this case, the predictable outcome is not obscure, both abroad and at home.

Abroad, the “supply-side approach” has been the basis for U.S.-backed counterinsurgency strategy in Colombia and elsewhere, with a fearful toll among victims of chemical warfare and militarization of conflicts, but enormous profits for domestic and foreign elites. Colombia has a shocking record of human rights violations, by far the worst in the hemisphere since the end of Reagan’s Central American terror wars in the 1980s, and also the second-largest internal displacement of populations in the world, after Sudan. Meanwhile, domestic elites and multinationals profit from the forced displacement of peasants and indigenous people, which clears land for mining, agribusiness production and ranching, infrastructure development for industry, and much else. There is a great deal more to say about this, but I will put it aside.

At home, the drug war coincided with the initiation of neoliberal programs, the financialization of the economy, and the attack on government social welfare systems, real, even though limited by international standards. One immediate consequence of the war on drugs has been the extraordinary growth in scale and severity of incarceration in the past 30 years, placing the U.S. far in the lead worldwide. The victims are overwhelmingly African-American males and other minorities, a great many of them sentenced on victimless drug charges. Drug use is about the same as in privileged white sectors, which are mostly immune.

In short, while abroad the war on drugs is a thin cover for counterinsurgency, at home it functions as a civilized counterpart to Latin America limpieza social cleansing, removing a population that has become superfluous with the dismantling of the domestic productive system in the course of the neo-liberal financialization of the economy. A secondary gain is that like the “war on crime,” the “war on drugs” serves to frighten the population into obedience as domestic policies are implemented to benefit extreme wealth at the expense of the large majority, leading to staggering inequality that is breaking historical records, and stagnation of real wages for the majority while benefits decline and working hours increase.

These processes conform well to the history of prohibition, which has been well studied by legal scholars. I cannot go into the very interesting details here, but quite generally, prohibition has been aimed at control of what are called “the dangerous classes”—those who threaten the rights and well-being of the privileged dominant minorities. These observations hold worldwide, where the topics have been studied. They have special meaning in the U.S. in the context of the history of African-Americans, much of which remains generally unknown. It is, of course, known that slaves were formally freed during the American Civil War, and that after ten years of relative freedom, the gains were mostly obliterated by 1877 as Reconstruction was brought to an end.

But the horrifying story is only now being researched seriously, most recently in a study called “Slavery by another name” by Wall Street Journal editor Douglas Blackmon. His work fills out the bare bones with shocking detail, showing how after Reconstruction African-American life was effectively criminalized, so that black males virtually became a permanent slave labor force. Conditions, however, were far worse than under slavery, for good capitalist reasons. Slaves were property, a capital investment, and were therefore cared for by their masters. Those criminalized for merely existing are similar to wage laborers, in that the masters have no responsibility for them, except to make sure that enough are available. That was, in fact, one of the arguments used by slave owners to claim that they were more moral than those who hired labor. The argument was understood well enough by northern workers, who regarded wage labor as preferable to literal slavery only in that it was temporary, a position shared by Abraham Lincoln among others.

Criminalized black slavery provided much of the basis for the American industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century. It continued until World War II, when free labor was needed for war industry. During the postwar boom, which relied substantially on the dynamic state sector that had been established under the highly successful semi-command economy of World War II, African-American workers gained a certain degree of freedom for the first time since post-Civil War Reconstruction. But since the 1970s that process is being reversed, thanks in no small measure to the “war on drugs,” which in some respects is a contemporary analogue to the criminalization of black life after the Civil War—and also provides a fine disciplined labor force, often in private prisons, in gross violation of international labor regulations.

For such reasons as these, we can expect that the “war on drugs” will continue until popular understanding and activism reach a point where the fundamental driving factors can be discerned and seriously addressed.

Last February, the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy issued its analysis of the U.S. “war on drugs” in the past decades. The Commission, led by former Latin American presidents Cardoso, Zedillo, and Gavíria, concluded that the drug war had been a complete failure and urged a drastic change of policy, away from criminalization and “supply-side” operations and towards much less costly and more effective measures of education, prevention, and treatment. Their report had no detectable impact, just as earlier studies and the historical record have had none. That again reinforces the natural conclusion that the “drug war”—like the “war on crime” and “the war on terror”—has quite sensible goals, which are being achieved, and therefore continue in the face of a costly failure of announced goals.

Returning to the UNASUR meeting, a dose of realism, and skepticism about propaganda, would be helpful in evaluating the pretexts offered for the establishment of U.S. military bases in Colombia, retention of the base in Honduras, and the accompanying steps towards militarization. It is very much to be hoped that South America will bar moves towards militarization and intervention, and will devote its energies to the programs of integration in both their external and internal aspects—establishing effective political and economic organizations, overcoming the terrible internal problems of deprivation and suffering, and strengthening varied links to the outside world.

But Latin America’s problems go far beyond. The countries cannot hope to progress without overcoming their reliance on primary product exports, including crucially oil, but also minerals and food products. And all these problems, challenging enough in themselves, are overshadowed by a critical global concern: the looming environmental crisis.

Current warnings by the best-informed investigators rely on the British Stern report, which is very highly regarded by leading scientists and numerous Nobel laureates in economics. On this basis, some have concluded, realistically, that “2009 may well turn out to be the decisive year in the human relationship with our home planet.”

In December, a conference in Copenhagen is “to sign a new global accord on global warming,” which will tell us “whether or not our political systems are up to the unprecedented challenge that climate change represents.” I am quoting Bill McKibben, one of the most knowledgeable researchers. He is mildly hopeful, but that may be optimistic unless there are really large-scale public campaigns to overcome the insistence of the managers of the state-corporate sector on privileging short-term gain for the few over the hope that their grandchildren will have a decent future.

At least some of the barriers are beginning to crumble, in part, because the business world perceives new opportunities for profit in alternative energy. Even the Wall Street Journal, one of the most stalwart deniers, has recently published a supplement with dire warnings about “climate disaster,” urging that none of the options being considered may be sufficient and that it may be necessary to undertake more radical measures of geoengineering, “cooling the planet” in some manner.

Meanwhile, however, the energy industries are vigorously pursuing their own agenda. They are organizing major propaganda campaigns to defeat even the mild proposals being considered in Congress. They are quite openly following the script of the corporate campaigns that have virtually destroyed the very limited health care reforms proposed by the Obama administration so effectively that the business press now exults that the insurance companies have won—and everyone else will suffer.

The picture might be much grimmer even than what the Stern report predicts. A group of MIT scientists have just released the results of what they describe as, “The most comprehensive modeling yet carried out on the likelihood of how much hotter the Earth’s climate will get in this century, [showing] that without rapid and massive action, the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated six years ago—and could be even worse than that [because the model] does not fully incorporate other positive feedbacks that can occur, for example, if increased temperatures caused a large-scale melting of permafrost in arctic regions and subsequent release of large quantities of methane.” The leader of the project, a prominent earth scientist, says that, “There’s no way the world can or should take these risks,” and that, “The least-cost option to lower the risk is to start now and steadily transform the global energy system over the coming decades to low or zero greenhouse gas-emitting technologies.” There is little sign of that.

While new technologies are essential, the problems go far beyond. It will be necessary to reverse the huge state-corporate social engineering projects of the post-World War II period, or at least severely ameliorate their harmful effects. These projects quite purposefully promoted an energy-wasting and environmentally destructive fossil fuel-based economy. The state-corporate programs, which included massive projects of suburbanization along with destruction and then gentrification of inner cities, began with a conspiracy by manufacturing and energy industries to buy up and destroy efficient electric public transportation systems in Los Angeles and dozens of other cities; they were convicted of criminal conspiracy and given a light tap on the wrist. The Federal government then joined in, relocating infrastructure and capital stock to suburban areas and creating the interstate highway system, under the usual pretext of “defense.” Railroads were displaced by government-subsidized motor and air transport.

The public played almost no role, apart from choice within the narrowly structured framework of options designed by state-corporate managers. One result is atomization of society and entrapment of isolated individuals with self-destructive ambitions and crushing debt. A central component of these processes is the vigorous campaign of the business world to “fabricate consumers,” in the words of the distinguished political economist Thorstein Veblen, and to direct people “to the superficial things of life, like fashionable consumption” (in the words of the business press). The campaign grew out of the recognition a century ago that it was no longer as easy as before to discipline the population by force, and that it would therefore be necessary to resort to propaganda and indoctrination to curtail democratic achievements and to ensure that the “opulent minority” is protected from the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders,” the population. These are crucial features of really existing democracy under contemporary state capitalism, a “democratic deficit” that is at the root of many of today’s crises.

While state-corporate power was promoting privatization of life and maximal waste of energy, it was also undermining the efficient choices that the market does not provide—another destructive built-in market inefficiency. To put it simply, if I want to get home from work, the market offers me a choice between a Ford and a Toyota, but not between a car and a subway. That’s a social decision and in a democratic society would be the decision of an organized public. But that’s just what the dedicated elite attack on democracy seeks to undermine.

The consequences are right before our eyes, in ways that are sometimes surreal—no less surreal than the huge resources being poured into militarization of the world while a billion people are going hungry and the rich countries are cutting back sharply on financing meager food aid. The business press recently reported that Obama’s transportation secretary is in Europe seeking to contract with Spanish and other European manufacturers to build high-speed rail projects in the U.S., using federal funds that were authorized by Congress to stimulate the U.S. economy. Spain and other European countries are hoping to get U.S. taxpayer funding for the high-speed rail and related infrastructure that is badly needed in the U.S. At the same time, Washington is busy dismantling leading sectors of U.S. industry, ruining the lives of the workforce, families, and communities.

It is difficult to conjure up a more damning indictment of the economic system that has been constructed by state-corporate managers, particularly during the neoliberal era. Surely the auto industry could be reconstructed to produce what the country needs, using its highly skilled workforce—and what the world needs—and soon, if we are to have some hope of averting major catastrophe. It has been done before, after all. During World War II, the semi-command economy not only ended the Great Depression, but also initiated the most spectacular period of growth in economic history, virtually quadrupling industrial production in four years as the economy was retooled for war, and laying the basis for the “golden age” that followed.

But all such matters are off the agenda and will continue to be until the severe democratic deficit is overcome. In a sane world, workers and communities would take over the abandoned factories, convert them to socially useful production, and run the factories themselves. That has been tried, but was blocked in the courts. To succeed, such efforts would require a level of popular support and working class consciousness that is not manifest in recent years, but that could be reawakened and could have large-scale effects.

These issues should be very prominent right here in Venezuela, as in other oil-producing countries. They were discussed by President Chavez at the meeting of the UN General Assembly in September 2005. I will quote his words, which unfortunately were not reported, at least in the U.S. press: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are facing an unprecedented energy crisis in which an unstoppable increase of energy is perilously reaching record highs, as well as the incapacity of increased oil supply and the perspective of a decline in the proven reserves of fuel worldwide…. It is unpractical and unethical to sacrifice the human race by appealing in an insane manner to the validity of a socioeconomic model that has a galloping destructive capacity. It would be suicidal to spread it and impose it as an infallible remedy for the evils which are caused precisely by them.”

These words point in the right direction. To avoid the suicide of the species there must be coordinated efforts of producers and users, and radical changes in prevailing socioeconomic models and global organization. These are very large and urgent challenges. There can be no delay in recognizing and understanding them, and acting decisively to address them.

October 25, 2009

THE OTHER COLUMN: Good-22 DT! —Ejaz Haider

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 1:08 pm

THE OTHER COLUMN: Good-22 DT! —Ejaz Haider

Aren’t such pieces supposed to be poetic and infused with some degree of sentiment? If you are disappointed I shall beg your forgiveness, dear reader

Saying goodbye is never easy and I am particularly bad at it.

I read military history and strategy at a rather early age, courtesy my father, a fine infantry officer with an appetite for books. Carl von Clausewitz, among other writers, was an obvious choice and his dialectical approach to theorising about war remains my favourite. Clausewitz talks about the exit point (strategy), more forcefully than the entry point. I have often quoted him but outside of analyses exits are never easy. And a situation that touches a personal chord makes it that much more difficult.

Still, one has to exit at some point, getting off the bus at the terminus, so to speak. And this is the time to say adieux to Daily Times, a newspaper that I, with Najam Sethi and Khaled Ahmed, raised and reared with the affection of a parent.

I remember the call from NS. This was when The Friday Times’ offices were on the Mall, for some reason now increasingly referred to as Maal Road. NS wanted to know why I was reluctant to join him in a new and exciting venture. I was making money on the side, had a fellowship lined up at the Brookings Institution and, frankly, was too lazy to commit myself to work at a daily paper.

I ended up working 7 days a week from end-September 2001 to wit!

One evening I drove to meet with NS at the DT offices, operating out of a warehouse that has since been converted into a nice building. NS talked me into it, as he usually does into most things, and the bribe was a plate of chikkurh-chholas and much excitement about the challenge of bringing out a new paper. “Partner, we can do this!” said NS. His “partner” opening gambit always works and he knows it. Before long he had roped in Khaled too. It was the beginning of a long but very satisfying haul.

Most people were sceptical. There is no space for another English-language newspaper, they said. Frankly, at that point I can’t think of any encouraging words from any quarter. I would tend to think that we made it work; we managed to bring out a paper that was tightly edited, which didn’t hem and haw about issues — whether readers agreed with us or not — and, since I am leaving, would add that I managed to start quite a few controversies and debates on these pages, the longest running being the “grundnorm” debate in the early years of this paper.

I must also take the credit, or the blame — depending on how one looks at it — for starting the transitionists versus transformationists debate, terms that were lapped up by many people without of course any reference to me, a trait that serves to distinguish us Pakistanis from others in ways that, were one to study the phenomenon, could help solve many a mystery about why we are what we are!

I have loved my stay at DT, not least because I had virtual carte blanche. The editor, Najam Sethi, and the publisher, Salmaan Taseer, now the Punjab governor, never ever interfered with my work to the extent that they never even got to read what I wrote until it was printed the next day. If they had any problems with my writing over the nearly eight years that I have worked at DT, I don’t know about it. That says much about both NS and ST. I thank both of them for giving me the freedom to do what I pleased and I pat myself for having used it to the full!

I am sure you don’t like this goodbye piece. Aren’t such pieces supposed to be poetic and infused with some degree of sentiment? If you are disappointed, I beg your forgiveness, dear reader. More than two years ago, on February 25, 2007, I had decided to stop writing this column and finished the piece with this:

“And pray, how does one bid adieux? Should I make it sound sentimental and thank the readers for having put up with me for three years? Or, argh…say like Rilke that ‘I would like to step out of my [column]/and go walking beneath the enormous sky’. Nah, none of that. Woof bloody woof, I say, and while I am a good dog, or have been so far, I do need to fend for myself.”

At the time the late Khalid Hasan wrote to chide me and said that I did not have the prerogative to make that decision. He thought it was up to the readers to decide whether I should stay on or quit. A similar email I received from Major Kamran Shafi (Retd). I had no option but to bow to them and return to the column. KH is no more, blessed be him wherever he is and where souls like him go when they leave this abode; and Micky is not writing for my pages anymore, having discovered a new dawn! Guess that settles the issue this time!

But I will be remiss if I didn’t mention how this column began. I used to write occasional analyses for DT when NS said to me that I should do something different for the paper. One day I sat back, thought about it and wrote a freewheeling column about the tale of two apologies, one coming from AQ Khan, the other from Justin Timberlake. The common denominator was WMD, weapons of mass destruction in one case and wardrobe malfunction disorder in the other. It was a hit and NS told me to continue it. I did and since then have always lamented that it got more readers than what I like doing best — deadpan analyses. Such are the absurdities of this business!

In any case, dear reader, I loved every moment of my stay at DT and I must thank you for making it work for me. The feedback did much for my vanity and that is my only reason for being in this profession. In some ways it’s like being an officer in the army. Salutes is what you get; to hell with the money!

ps: The caption is owed to the rickshaw-wallah who had 22-22 written on the backsad of the rickshaw and told Chaudhry Qasim Nauman, my colleague, that it meant bye-bye!

Ejaz Haider is op-ed editor of Daily Times, consulting editor of The Friday Times and host of Samaa TV’s programme “Siyasiyat”. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk

September 25, 2009

The eunuch’s side of the story

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 4:12 pm
Tags: , , ,



By Fawad Ali Shah @Daily Times, September 25

KARACHI: The body of Haseena, 57, which lay on a bed in the lawn of a five-marla house in Gizri, was surrounded by mourners.
“Tum hamay chor kar mat ja behen. Mat jaa,” cried Bijli, a niece of the deceased, pleading with her aunt to wake up from her eternal sleep. Haseena, born in a respectable Bahawalpur family, was a eunuch, and like most eunuchs, was disowned at the age of five. She was since living with people who she had no sort of blood relation with, but people who understood her pain and accepted her with open arms. One look at her wrinkled face speaks volumes about the troubles and miseries she suffered throughout her life, all due to no fault of her own. According to doctors, she died because her ventricles completely refused passing blood to the rest of the body, a phenomenon they have been unable to explain. Maybe the tussle between heart and mind finally took its toll, as her logical thinking pressured her to accept the stares and abuse hurled at her by society, while her heart pushed her towards revolting against the ‘two-gender’ society.
She could not, however, follow her heart, as the mind had a useful ally in shape of the stomach, and together they forced her to take the walk of shame everyday, begging the same discriminating society for her survival.
Although she passed away early in the morning, according to the traditions of her community, she was to be buried at night. This ritual also comes down to the eunuch community’s exploitation by society, as they believe that their souls are cleansed upon departing the body and the preying eyes of society may mark them again. “They abuse us everyday. We do not want them to see us,” says Bijli, as her eyes turn from white to red, “Their glances contaminate our souls.”
Anjali, 78, the guru or head of the area eunuchs, sits in a corner reciting the holy Quran and trying to console the mourning colleagues. A mixture of jasmine and sweat renders a unique smell, as the temperature rises in the evening. As night falls and the tears dry up, preparations for the burial kick off. She is to be buried in a graveyard near Mohajir Camp, where she would lay in peace along with 81 of her community members.
Only eunuchs are allowed to attend the funeral prayers, which are headed by a male maulana. According to the guru, Anjali, in the funeral prayers, they are considered to be females. She reveals that a grave has been booked and they will travel to the graveyard via buses. The body is taken in an ambulance and the procession follows in other vehicles.
According to her, Haseena had travelled from her home town in Punjab to Karachi in order to earn some extra money, believing the misconception that people in Karachi are less biased towards eunuchs. Haseena used to dance till the age of 35 and had been begging since after. “She always had a smile on her face,” the guru recalls. However, she did bear a grudge against the people of her hometown, as she had requested Anjali to ensure that her body is not taken to Bahawalpur. “According to our traditions, it is necessary that the body be taken back to the hometown,” Anjali said, staring at the dead body and trying to console the inconsolable Bijli, whose tears have not ceased for a minute.
The procession of 31 human beings, who are practically unrecognised by the other two genders, start their journey towards the graveyard in complete silence. Reciting verses from the holy Quran, they bury the body. Without casting a look at her face for the last time, the procession returns. A human came and went, without any identity.

September 1, 2009

A lonely bear’s probable last birthday

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 3:34 pm

Last Birthday?

Last Birthday?

By Fawad Ali Shah

KARACHI: It’s Emma’s 27th birthday today. The bear caged in a well, at Karachi Zoo, is trying to sip something out of an empty plastic bottle.
She is not doing so to celebrate her birthday, but probably out of hunger.
Sadly, zoologists and veterinarians predict that Emma would not be alive to enjoy her next birthday.
“The average age of these bears is 26 years and Emma is 27. Her body has lost shape and from her physical condition, it could easily be said that her time is over,” says Mian Adil, a zoologist, who has been doing research on animals in Germany for the last 17 years.
Although she is 27 years old, her mental status is that of a two-and-a-half-year old bear.
She was born on July 11, 1982 in Balochistan, but she was not given a chance to be with her parents, or more specifically with her mother. She was abducted from the jungle by some people and was shifted to Peshawar. After living there for two years, she was gifted to the Karachi Zoo, where she has been a source of amusement for visitors for the last 25 years.
Emma belongs to the sub-species of the Asiatic or Himalayan black bears. She is medium-sized, and has ears that are proportionately larger than the rest of her head. Her kind has a distinct white patch on its chest, sometimes shaped like a V and also has white fur on its chins.
The black bears of Balochistan prefer eating olives and fruits, but just like the other neglected animals at the Karachi Zoo, Emma has never really been given the food that she would like to eat. But on the other hand, she isn’t fussy and contently eats whatever the zookeepers and visitors give her.
The zoo administrators say that for the last two years, the numbers of people visiting the bear have decreased while Zawair, who takes care of Emma, told Daily Times that she likes to “remain in her cage and sleep.”
Emma’s caretaker says that during the night she is usually found banging her head against the wall of her prison like cage. During the day, she usually likes to sleep and sometimes comes out for a little walk.
What is surprising is the fact that Zawair has been taking care of Emma for five years now, and still has no idea about the bear’s eating preferences.
To defend his ignorance about Emma, he says that she has been eating whatever he has been giving her, and as she was never offered the life of a wild animal, she probably has no specific demands.
Emma is a sad example of how human beings are heartless creatures who leave no stones unturned for personal amusement. Emma has been deteriorating for the past 27 years, right in front of the administration. She has seen the worst of the human race, which has taken her away from her life in the jungle, put her in a cage, pelted her with stones to grab her attention and then left her to rot where she is. She has not aged well…her fur has shed in patches, showing her black hide.
Her sorry condition is not enough for the zoo to improve her living conditions here, let alone admit that it was a mistake to take her away from the jungle in the first place.
The zoo administration still insists that the fact that Emma was brought to the zoo was for her benefit. “Her life was endangered in the forest,” they argue, “We brought her here in order to protect her species.”
One might consider giving the administration the benefit of the doubt at this point, but one amusing question remains…how will her species be protected if she has no offspring. And even more amusing is the question that how will she have offspring if she does not have a mate.
When the zoo administration was asked this question their meek reply was the most expected, standard answer that is given in the country, “We did not have enough money to bring a mate for her.”
Emma reached puberty at the age of four and has lived a lonely life, her only companions being her various caretakers and visitors, whom she could have done without.
How Emma will react if she could understand that she would not live to see her next birthday is a mystery, but one is forced to think that she will be jubilant in her passing, especially after seeing her miserable living conditions.


Injustice is blind

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 3:28 pm

By Fawad Ali Shah

KARACHI: Zunaira, 57, is combing the city court buildings to find a man of an average height with black eyes. “His name is Mudassar and he is a highly qualified lawyer,” says the woman, standing in the lawyers’ rest room with tears in her eyes.
The widow maintains that a week ago, the SITE police, in a robbery case, had arrested her only son, Javed. “We have no other relatives so I came to the courts to hire a lawyer for my son,” she states, wiping her tears. “I gave 10,000 rupees in advance to this lawyer who called himself Mudassar,” she reveals. “He promised me that he would start legal proceedings in the court on Wednesday but he is absent today.”
Zunaira put her house up as collateral in order to get a loan of Rs 10,000 from a local businessman. She has now started asking the people in black and white about the profile of the lawyer, but nobody knows him. She walks towards the court where the lawyer had promised to meet her; finding no lawyer there, a realization dawns on her and she yells, “I have been ruined.”
A court reader comes out of the court of Judicial Magistrate-X and asks her why is she crying and she narrates her ordeal. He asks her if she has any contact number or address of the lawyer, she unruffled her duppata and took out a visiting card. The court reader tries to call on the cell number given on the card, but it is not responding.
“I came to the court to find a lawyer, I asked around for one and an old man pointed towards Mudassar and said that he was a genius,” reveals Zunaira, when the reader asked her where she found the lawyer. The lawyer had asked for money in advance and had promised that he would release her son in two days, said Zunaira, who earns her livelihood by stitching clothes.
This scribe contacted Advocate Ijaz, a member of the Karachi Bar Council, and asked about the lawyer. “Many fraudulent people come here disguised as lawyers and con innocent people,” he remarked. Muhammad Khalil, the constable on duty in the city court, said that such cases happen often in the courts. “It is not a new matter,” he said, adding that the police try to keep such fraudulent people away from the courts but it was practically impossible.
Zunaira is not ready to accept the fact that she has been robbed. “No, the lawyer did not look like a fraud,” she says, but her eyes betray her denial. It is difficult to read her mind; to know for sure whether she is thinking about her home her husband left for her, which she put on collateral or about her imprisoned son suffering for a crime he did or did not commit.
“I have been ruined,” she says, breaking into tears as people, young and old, wearing black coats pass her by. “Maula taso tol taba ka chi singa muz taba kam,” (God will ruin you all the way you ruined me), she shouts, her voice getting lost in the murmurs of the people in black.


Male prostitution, a hidden shame: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 3:06 pm

By Fawad Ali Shah

KARACHI: Male prostitution remains a taboo in our cultural setup and it is as well hidden in our society as are the problems that are caused by it.
Despite the fact that the phenomenon is increasing by the minute, no government body or NGO has conducted a survey to find out exactly how many men are in this business.
People are also as blissfully ignorant of the diseases that male prostitution contributes to the city.
The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) Regional Promotion Manager Salam Dharejo, told Daily Times that although there are many organisations working in the city for the protection of children and women’s rights, no one has ever dared to address the issue of male prostitution because of the strong social taboo attached to it.
However, he said that there was a need for the collection of the exact numbers of males in the prostitution business as well as their customers to spread awareness about the diseases that sprout from the phenomenon. “There are almost 30,000 street children in the country, who are usually the victims of sexual abuse, as time progresses these children are so used to being exploited that they decide to use the exploitation to earn quick money,” he added. Male-prostitutes are without a doubt spreading many diseases however, no one cares about it, as the issue for most people is non-existent, Dharejo adds.
There are many organisations such as War against Rape (WAR), Hamdard and Green Star health centres that are working across the city for many sex-related causes but none of them have bothered to think outside the box and address the issue.
Ironically, even the health department of the province also has no data or records related to male prostitution. The health department officials claim that the department has never been asked by the higher authorities to work on the issue and that is the only excuse they have to offer.
While most the city remains shut to the idea of male prostitution, many young men have become its victims. One such boy is Riaz Khan, 19. He is often seen standing at the footpath between the boundary of Jahangir Park and Dr Daudpota road, looking for customers. On a usual day in the business, the roads are jammed and the nearby shops are packed with clients. On Khan’s left, a barber works, unaware of his surroundings and on his right many other teenage boys are lined up, waiting for customers.
“I started this business when I was 11,” says the clean-shaved boy, wearing black clothes with embroidery on the front. He has a womanish touch to his voice. His hands are running through his hair. After completing his sentence, he winks.
Riaz is one the hundreds of teenagers who provide sexual satisfaction to homosexuals. Nowadays, Jahangir Park is where all the action goes down and it can also be referred to as the central point of their business. Most of the teenaged male prostitutes start their business in the afternoon and the dealing reaches its peak in the evening.
This scribe observed the activities of these male prostitutes for four days at Jahangir Park. Their customers, pederast, are from all parts of the society. You can see people coming, dealing and picking these ‘chokras’ in cars as well as in rickshaws. Although to people they are simply male prostitutes but all of them have reasons for joining the profession.
Riaz did not join the profession by his own free will. When he was in class three, he was a victim of the sexual thirst of one of his neighbours. “He took me to his house by offering me a parrot that he had and once there he sexually abused me,” the youngster says, wrinkling his forehead while he takes a puff of opium ‘to lessen his tension’. “I did not know what he was going to do,” he says in a childish voice. Though he was not given the parrot but he got Rs 1 for toffees. The man, who was a taxi driver by profession, then started sexually harassing him on a regular basis and whenever he opposed the driver, he threatened him. “He told me that if I disobeyed him he will tell my father about what happened, who in turn will kill me,” says the boy, but ironically he starts laughing as he lets out a stream of smoke.
The taxi-driver, a married man, also made him popular with his accomplices. “Every time they used me, I got Rs 10 to 20 as a reward,” the fair-skinned boy revealed. At the age of 13, he was addicted to homosexuality. Consequently, an innocent schoolboy had turned into a male prostitute. He was beautiful and people started hiring his services for the whole night since then he knew what his price was. He could not pass a day without having sex with some male.
At the age of 17, his parents threw him out of house as soon as they found out about his addiction. He took shelter with a male pimp. He was happy with the knowledge that he is not only getting sexual satisfaction but also money for it. Going back home was never an option but now he will not do so even if given the choice.
“I am satisfied with my present profession,” the youngster adds. He is not ashamed of what he does and is perfectly comfortable with the thought of working as a male prostitute in the long run.
All the male prostitutes at Jahangir Park mostly wear skin-tight shirts and pants. They are clean-shaven and all of them have a feminine touch to their voices and actions.
One can find any kind of male prostitute in the area depending on the choice. Their prices range from Rs 50 to 1000, depending on their age and skin colour. The male-prostitutes mostly belong to the underdeveloped areas of Karachi like Banaras, Metroville and Ittehad Colony.
The customers can be as young as 23 years of age or as old as 65. Half of the customers, Riaz claims are married. Most these youngsters are kicked out by their parents and share quarters with each other or are living with pimps. They provide services at night. “Before going off with a customer, we inject opium which heightens our instincts and the pleasure,” claims Riaz, with a smile just turning the corners of his mouth. Meanwhile a person winks to Riaz and he walks towards him. Psychologists opine that having homosexual sex with males is addictive. “After boys are abused a few times they get addicted to it,” says Sultan Jabbar, a psychologist, who is doing a research on gays for the last ten years.
“They are first bribed or threatened to do the job,” he says, “however, at the end of the day they end up being commercially involved in the sex provision.” He says that those addicted to having sex with children do not stop even after they get married.
“It is all about the addiction,” he adds with remorse, once they get addicted, they continue using children till the end of their lives.


Swat dancers looking forward to journey home

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 2:59 pm

By Fawad Ali Shah

KJourney back homeARACHI: Zarmeena, 27, at her three-room flat in Banaras, decorated with musical instruments and pictures of her homeland Swat valley, is preparing to return to her war-torn native area.
“My family members in Swat say that the place is peaceful now and the barbaric people [Taliban] have been flushed out,” she says, as her fingers play with the wires of ‘Sitar’, producing light music.
Zarmeena is one of the dozens of artists, who migrated to Karachi after the sudden appearance of the Taliban in the once culturally and artistically rich Swat area. Foreigners used to enjoy dance and musical nights in Mingora before moving to other parts of the green valley of Swat.
But the streets of Mingora, once known for the richness of the art and natural beauty, lost their charm when the Taliban appeared and banned music and dance in the area describing them as ‘un-Islamic’.
“Now the situation is much different,” she says. “Previously they would hang musicians and artists in the streets but this time it would be safe to return.”
The singer-cum-dancer claims that she earns a decent amount of money in Karachi by performing in weddings and musical programmes at homes.
“But this does not mean that we would desert our homeland for money,” she says with empty eyes staring at the roof.
“I cannot live without Mingora…I learnt this art over there and my sister [Shabana] died at the hands of terrorists,” the middle-aged performer goes on to say, as tears appear from the corners of her deep brownish eyes.
“I hope the situation will improve and we will return to Mingora within a month,” she hopes.
One of the three rooms of her flat has been reserved for clients, whereas the other two are for personal use, and are filled with luggage as she claims the flat was too small as compared to their house in the Banar Bazaar of Mingora.
Zarmeena has four family members living with her. She introduces them as her mother, uncle and two sisters. Fatima, Zarmeena’s mother, claims to be the dance master and the teacher of the girls. Zareen Gul, who wears a thin beard, deals with the clients.
Fatima, 45, mother of the girl, wearing a dark green suit decorated with artificial flowers, prays that the Taliban do not appear again.
“We hope they are gone and do not appear again,” her voice trebles with emotions as she utters these words.
Fatima still remembers how she received threatening letters from the “animals”, and how they butchered her colleague Shabana.
“Whenever I remember those incidents, my body shivers,” the dance teacher says, paying tribute to the artists who braved the Taliban and never surrendered to their demands. She denies the impression that they migrated from Swat in order to earn some extra money. Rather, she says that they migrated to the big city in order to protect their art.
“During the Taliban era, we had two options…either to die or leave the art of singing and dancing,” Fatima says.
The artists of Mingora would not only entertain foreigners, but were famous all across the province for their dance and singing. Usually, well-off families of the province and the neighboring Punjab province would hire their services for weddings and other parties.
“I performed in Lahore, Peshawar and Nowshera and was appreciated by the people,” Fatima says. She also says that the locals of Swat were moderate people and the sudden Talibanisation was an external phenomenon. The artist says their sudden shifting to Karachi and now their return to Swat would not affect their routine lives.
“We usually perform at night time, whether it’s in Mingora or in Karachi,” she explains. Zarmeena and her two sisters, Zubeida and Rukhsana, were busy in their dance practice.
Zarmeena plays the Sitar whereas her uncle plays the traditional Mangay (urn).
The flat presents a compact picture of the homes in the Banar Bazaar in Mingora, but the only difference is the environment outside. In Karachi, there is a lot of traffic and the music is lost in the noise, where as in Mingora, roads are silent.
“We don’t fear whatever happens…we will go back to Swat wait and for a month before starting our business,” vows Zarmeena, promising to brave the fear created by Taliban and entertain the war-stricken people of the area. It appears that the Swat is ready to receive its heritage back.


Dancing to the beat of threats

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 2:54 pm



By Fawad Ali Shah

KARACHI: Swat, the hub of foreign tourists throughout history, has remained a host to dancers and musicians of all parts of NWFP, as here they could easily earn their livelihood.
Usually before visiting the lush green valleys of Swat, foreign visitors would love to stay at Mingora and enjoy dance programmes at night. However, now the bazaars of Mingora are deserted. To the people of Mingora the drumbeats, the sound of payals and the sweet melody of sitars, remain no more than a sweet dream.
After some of their colleagues suffered the brutality of the local version of the Taliban, the dancers and actors of Swat started shifting to Karachi in order to secure their lives and profession.
The artists claim that the terrorists forcefully made them abandon their businesses and those who refused to succumb to their pressure were killed. Beside these threats, the worsening law and order situation in the area made it very difficult for the artists to earn a living.
Saba Naz, 19, a dancer from Swat is one of those artists, who along with her colleagues, shifted from Swat to Karachi. The dancer, sitting in a flat at Sohrab Goth, surrounded by her madam (or ‘mother’ as she calls her) and friends, reveals that their business was badly affected by the recent crisis. The Taliban fired at our house, the teenager told Daily Times, adding that the terrorists kidnapped one of colleagues, and then killed her, brutally.
Saba used to entertain visitors at a local hotel in Mingora. Her services were also hired for weddings. She claims to be a ‘dance master’. “After our houses were struck by terrorists, we quit our jobs for some time and started attending weddings,” the dancer narrates her sorrow tale with her eyes fixed on empty walls and her fingers unconsciously tightening around the arm of the chair that she was sitting on.
She said that the number of dancers in Mingora was around 550. According to her, half of them have shifted to Karachi as they think that here, their businesses will thrive.
“Taliban are enemies of art and culture,” she adds with anger. She adds that now the sound of drums, remind her of the beheaded body of her colleague and her house on fire.
Gul Sanga, 23, another internally displaced artist, has taken shelter in the Banaras area. The house, which is on rent, has four rooms, out of which three will be occupied by her ‘family’ while the fourth one will be used to put on dance shows. “Five years earlier our business was doing fine but soon after the Taliban appeared, our business collapsed,” Rehana shared her experience of Swat, while sitting with her ‘mother’. Her eyes were not shining like they would have once and her mother attributes it to the fact that the terrorists killed Rehana’s sisters.
“Dance is my life,” she said and added that she could not live without dancing while she thoughtfully ran her fingers through her hair. It may be remembered that not only in Swat, which is a part of the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas, these girls used to attend wedding ceremonies in the settled areas of NWFP.
Gulzaara’s mother, 43, who was once a renowned dancer herself, said that the extremists have destroyed the beauty, culture and tourism of Swat.
Zulfiqar, who is the dancer’s administrator and gives himself the title of a choreographer, said that he wished that the entire dancing industry should have shifted to Karachi some four to five years ago. “Karachi has a huge market,” he said while fidgeting with his cap. He added with a hint of pride that the people of the city would have never come across such good dances and dancers. “We will give them variety,” he affirms.
Shabana was one the traditional dancers, who used to perform at Mingora city’s Banar Bazaar. Unlike her other colleagues, she refused to be dictated by the Taliban.
On January 2, she was kidnapped by the members of the terrorist group and was killed at the city’s green square. Besides her dead body, the murderers left a letter, threatening people that whoever will not abide by the laws of the Taliban would meet the same fate. The CDs containing her dances and some money were also thrown along with her dead body. After this incident, no one dared to be in the business and most professionals left the area for their own good. Shabana remains an example of the level Taliban will stoop to in order to make sure that the people obey their rules.


‘Either hang me or release me’

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 2:42 pm

Miserable conditions of elders in Pakistani prisons

Miserable conditions of elders in Pakistani prisons

By Fawad Ali Shah

KARACHI: For the past nine years, 85-year old Abdul Latif has been lying in a dungeon of the Central Jail. His white hair is caked with the dirt of his cell. His weathered shoes tell a tale of the hard times they have gone through. “Either hang me or release me,” the prisoner asked the authorities in a letter.
Latif is one of the hundreds of aged prisoners in the country who are slowly fading away, as they wait for their fate to be decided by the authorities; their cases are pending due to some reason or the other.
“Maaf karo baba,” a tired Latif says. “Tamasha na banao.” His cellmates say that he is an extremely moody person who sometimes suddenly bursts into tears and sometimes smiles for no reason. The aged man still wants to do his work himself. Time has eaten away his strength but has fueled his ego.
Jibran, a friend of Latif’s in jail, says that when Latif first entered the jail he was a polite man, however, time and experience has changed him and now he is rude to everyone who approaches him.
When standing in court he stares at children, trying to remember what his children and grandchildren look like. A police officer, Muhammad Jibran, who guards Latif’s cell, said that he talks less, however, in prison he is a typical elder who knows the art of storytelling. “His favourite story is that of entering Karachi for the first time and looking at the roads in awe and amazement,” Jibran, who has become friends with Latif says.
According to the police, Latif had allegedly killed the brother-in-law and uncle of his daughter. He was living with his son-in-law and on some domestic dispute he got angry and stabbed the two persons.
An FIR (177/2000) had been lodged against him at the Khwaja Ajmeer Nagri Police Station, under CrPC (302). The police officials claim that, since then, his trial is underway. Court officials of the Additional District and Sessions Judge Muhammad Yameen Khan claim that his case has been in pending because witnesses in the case, both officials and non-officials, have not been appearing in court.
However, they say the case will be decided soon, as the court has issued non-bailable warrants for the witnesses of the case.
Sleeping on the stone cold dirty cell in the Central Jail, Latif wonders, asking God whether he will get even a ghost of a chance to see and play with his children and chat with his old friends.
“Sometimes he wakes up trembling and cries or he gets up laughing and names some people,” his prison mates revealed. The old man doesn’t like it when someone asks him his story. “I want to either die or be free, that’s it.”


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