Blog Archive

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sectarianism

The Hindu/30th November, 2006
The scientist Pakistan chose to forget
Nirupama Subramanian
Abdus Salam's 10th death anniversary saw a small but earnest campaign for undoing the injustice to a man held in high esteem by the scientific community worldwide but virtually unknown in Pakistan.
THE TIMING seems right. Pakistan has made bold to amend the controversial Zia-ul-Haq era Hudood Ordinances for the better; President Pervez Musharraf says he wants to get rid of obscurantism and make Pakistan a nation of "enlightened moderates." He even visited a Hindu temple in Karachi recently. Taking the President at his word, admirers, followers and friends of Abdus Salam now want him to take an even bolder step — honour the Nobel Laureate who continues to be denied recognition by his country because the Ahmediyya sect to which he belonged is, in the eyes of law, "non-Muslim."
Dr. Salam died on November 21, 1996 in England at the age of 70. By then, he had lived abroad for many years retaining his Pakistani nationality until the very end. Before his death, he expressed a wish to be buried in Rabhwa in the Punjab province, where Pakistan's Ahmediyya sect has its headquarters. His wish was fulfilled, but not without a bizarre twist. A magistrate, out to enforce the law, had the word "Muslim" erased from the inscription on the tombstone which said: "Abdus Salam The First Muslim Nobel Laureate." What remained read thus: "Abdus Salam The First Nobel Laureate"(!) A comical outcome, if it were not so tragic. Later, the name of the town was changed to Chenab Nagar.
This last week, the 10th anniversary of his death, saw a small but earnest campaign — so far confined to mainstream English newspapers — for undoing the injustice to a man held in high esteem by the scientific community worldwide but virtually unknown in Pakistan.
The world famous physicist's story should have been an inspiring tale of success of a small-town boy who shone because of his sheer brilliance, going from school to college in Lahore and then to Cambridge where he got a double first in Mathematics and Physics in 1949 and later a Ph.D. The Nobel Prize came in 1979, Dr. Salam sharing it with Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg "for their contribution in the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current."
But he finds just a passing mention in school textbooks and children are generally taught nothing about him. Pervez Hoodbhoy, physicist, commentator, and close associate of Dr. Salam, speaking a year after his death, said: "Fake heroes are to be found spattered all over the place but Salam is never to be found."
The scientist left the country in 1954 when the violent beginnings of an anti-Ahmediyya movement coincided with his appointment as lecturer in Cambridge. He took his intention of setting up a centre for research in theoretical physics (in Pakistan) to Trieste in Italy, where he founded the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in 1964. He continued to be its director until 1994. The ICTP was dedicated to science education in the developing world and in 1997, on his first death anniversary, was named after him.
Through ICTP, Dr. Salam reached out to budding physicists in Pakistan for whom he set up scholarships from his award monies. A firm believer that developing countries needed to invest more in education, particularly in the sciences, he also founded the Third World Academy of Sciences.
In the early years, he continued to be associated with Pakistan in many capacities, helping to prepare the building blocks of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, serving as its member and also as a member of the Scientific Commission of Pakistan, and as Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of Pakistan.
But he resigned in 1974 after the National Assembly adopted the Second Amendment Bill that declared Ahmediyyas as a non-Muslim minority, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the Prime Minister. Also known as Qadianis, the Ahmediyyas are followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, a 19th century religious leader. Orthodox Muslims say Ahmediyyas reject the belief that Prophet Mohammed was the last prophet, and are thus non-Muslims. Ahmediyyas are not permitted in mosques and they cannot call themselves Muslim. Pakistan's blasphemy law hangs over the community — as indeed it does over all minorities — like the proverbial sword of Damocles.
But Dr. Salam considered himself a Muslim, and religion was as much a part of him as physics. Writing in remembrance of the scientist, Khalid Hassan, Washington correspondent of the Daily Times, who was then the press secretary to Bhutto, recalled that the Prime Minister had asked Dr. Salam why he had resigned. Dr. Salam's reply was he could not possibly continue after his entire community had been declared non-Muslim.
"But Salam, that's all politics," Bhutto told him adding, "Give me time; I will change it, believe me." Salam said to Bhutto: "All right, Zulfi, write it down on a piece of paper and it will remain between the two of us, forever and always." According to Hassan, Bhutto's reply was "classic Bhutto": "Salam, I can't do that. I'm a politician."
Dr. Salam's life mission was fighting the prejudice against science in the Islamic world, and to get Muslim countries to invest in science education. He even wanted to start an Islamic Science Foundation, the funds of which would be pooled in by Muslim countries. In Hassan's account, the scientist visited every Muslim capital in the world after his Nobel, asking them to set aside one per cent of their GNP for scientific education. He found no takers. Instead, in Libya, he was whisked off his plane to meet Col. Gaddafi, who asked him if he could make him a nuclear bomb. "I am not that kind of a scientist," Salam replied, and Gaddafi lost interest in him immediately.
After winning the Nobel, Dr. Salam visited his home country where Islamic references in a speech he gave were deleted. Of course, India made sure he got a warmer welcome when he went to meet his primary school teacher.
Earlier this week, the Daily Times said Pakistan "needs to feel guilty about what it has done to the greatest scientist it ever produced in comparison to the lionisation of Dr. A.Q. Khan who has brought ignominy and the label of "rogue state" to Pakistan by selling the country's nuclear technology for personal gain."
Corrective steps
Pakistan did take some tentative corrective steps. In 1998, a commemorative stamp was issued in his name as part of a series of stamps honouring the scientists of Pakistan and Government College, Lahore, his alma mater — now a university — has named a department after him.
Farhatullah Babar, a senior leader of the Pakistan People's Party, writing in The News recalled that in January 1996 when Dr. Salam's friends organised a function to honour him — he was already terminally ill — on his 70th birthday in Islamabad, there were objections that it would amount to "defaming Pakistan." According to Mr. Babar, when the press clippings about the objections were put up to Benazir Bhutto, then Prime Minister, she sent the file back with "Rubbish" written on it, and the function was held. She also wrote him a letter greeting him on his birthday and recalling his services to science and Pakistan "which will never be forgotten."
But Dr. Hoodbhoy has referred to another incident in 1988, when Dr. Salam waited two days in a hotel room in Islamabad to meet Ms. Bhutto during her first tenure as Prime Minister. "Suddenly the phone rang and Salam's face momentarily lit up. Then I saw his face fall as BB's secretary told him that the meeting had been called off."
Clearly, there is a feeling that mere tokenism is not enough to honour Dr. Salam's memory and that a grand gesture is important not just for the scientist but in the context of increasing and violent sectarianism in Pakistan, and the widespread acknowledgment that it has done great harm to the nation's fabric. No one is yet talking of scrapping the Second Amendment but in an editorial, the Daily Times asked: "Can we redeem ourselves by doing something in Dr. Salam's memory on this 10th anniversary of his passing that would please his soul and cleanse ours?"
There is little reason to be optimistic that this will happen as even Pakistan's scientific community, with few exceptions, does not support the idea. Just last week at a function organised to remember Dr. Salam at the National Centre for Science in Islamabad's Qauid-e-Azam University, when Dr. Hoodbhoy spoke about how no streets or institutions in Pakistan were named after the scientist, whereas those who had perfected reverse engineering were famous, a prominent scientist walked out and later asked him: "What did Dr. Salam do for Pakistan?"
Says Dr. Hoodbhoy: "It relates to a very deep problem in Pakistan, and it's not going to go away unless we go back to the way it was before 1974."
But then did anyone imagine that the 1979 Hudood Ordinances would one day be changed?
© Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu

Sectarianism in Pakistan

The Hindu/9th Sept, 2008
In Pakistan, a Shia-Sunni war to oust Taliban
Nirupama Subramanian
According to Shia leaders and independent analysts, the Taliban control the Sunni tribes in Kurram and want to battle the Shias until they have control of the region.
— Photo: AFP Pakistani Shia Muslims shout anti-Taliban slogans during a protest in Karachi on Monday.
Kurram is not the average tribal area on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Pashto-speaking population has higher literacy rates than in the other six agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Area. Even a Pakistan government internet site on Kurram expresses surprise that “a significant” number of people from the region are employed abroad. But perhaps the most important difference is that Kurram is the only tribal region in FATA with a significant Shia population.
The almost equal numbers of Shia and Sunni — each sect claims it is the majority — in a region with an estimated population of over 500,000 never made for an entirely peaceful place. But since April 2007, Kurram has been the scene of one carnage after another. Hundreds have been killed in sectarian fighting in the last 17 months, and all attempts to broker ceasefires have failed. The reason, according to Shia community leaders and independent analysts, is that Taliban militants now control the Sunni tribes and want to battle the Shia until they have control of the entire agency for additional access routes into Afghanistan.
Last weekend, Kurram exploded once again. The Shia Turi tribe called a unilateral ceasefire five days earlier, but the Sunni Bangash kept attacking Turi targets. On Sunday, the Turi retaliated with a powerful attack in the predominantly Sunni Lower Kurram, on the Bangash stronghold of Bagzai. The ensuing battle left over 100 dead in two days. Over 400 have been killed in the region since the beginning of August, and according to unofficial estimates, the number of dead since April 2007 is over 1,500.
After the fighting, six Sunni tribes called a unilateral ceasefire, but the Shias say they do not trust the announcement. “There have been so many ceasefire announcements. Making peace is not in the hands of the Sunni tribes anymore. They have come under the thumb of the Taliban, and they have to do what the Taliban ask them to do,” Ali Akbar, secretary-general of the Anjuman Hussainia, a Shia community group in the predominantly Shia Parachinar, the main town in Kurram, told The Hindu. According to him, the Taliban wanted to convert Kurram into “another Waziristan or Bajaur,” but the Turi would not let them. “We were forced to take action in Bagzai, and we have cleaned up the place,” he said. But, he said, the Taliban had several other strongholds in Lower Kurram.
Allama Jawwad Hadi, another Shia leader in Parachinar, said the Shia tribes would not accept any truce call by the Sunni tribes unless it was accompanied by guarantees that they will not give room to the Taliban. “[The Sunni tribesmen] have to pledge that they will not allow the Taliban into their villages, that they will not give any more opportunities for the Taliban to make their own strongholds here, or to launch attacks on the Turi. Only then there can be peace in Kurram,” he said. According to him, the Turis were the only force that was preventing the Taliban from taking over Kurram, which they wanted “to use for their activities.”
“Kurram shares borders with Afghanistan on three sides. This is why the Taliban want control of this agency. From here, there are so many routes they can use. The Sunnis must accept the leadership of the Turi because only they can stop the Taliban,” he said.
The present troubles in Kurram date back to April 2007, when according to a Parachinar journalist who did not want to be named, the Sunnis took out a rally in the main town at which, for the first time, they raised slogans against Hussein, the Shia martyr. Three days later, when the Shias took out a rally in protest, gunmen fired at them; 80 people died.
A suicide attack in August punctured an uneasy truce but the fragile peace held until November, when fighting broke out once again in Parachinar, a Shia-majority town. A week of clashes left some 100 people dead, with the Shias simultaneously “cleansing” the town of Sunnis. The government’s token efforts could not stop the fighting. Since then, Parachinar has been cut off from the rest of Pakistan. Sunni tribes have blockaded the road link from the town to the NWFP capital, Peshawar.
“Now to go to Peshawar, we must first cross into Afghanistan, and then cross back into Pakistan. The journey by car costs Rs.7,000 and takes two days. When the road was open, an express bus could take us in two hours,” the Parachinar journalist said. Military aircraft have ferried some stranded civilians to and from the town but the service is erratic.
Since the first week of August, the town has gone without electricity. Diesel, smuggled in from Afghanistan, costs Rs.100 a litre and medicines are in short supply. Traders bringing in medicines and food supplies from Afghanistan are charging sky-high prices. A 100-kg bag of atta costs Rs.5,500 — more than double the price in the rest of the country.
In June, militants attacked a convoy of trucks that was transporting food and medicines to Parachinar near Pir Qayyum in Lower Kurram. They burnt several of the trucks and killed 12 truck drivers. Independent analysts say the Taliban started moving into Kurram when the Pakistan security forces began military operations in other tribal agencies and in parts of the NWFP such as Darra Adam Khel and Hangu.
“The Kurram issue is basically sectarian, and the Taliban have weighed in on the side of the Sunnis. They are trying to gain control of a small triangle of land [in Kurram] because it gives them an alternate route into Afghanistan,” said Brigadier (retd.) Mahmood Shah, who used to be Secretary FATA, the senior-most government official administering the tribal areas. Brig. Shah said the Taliban were thwarting all attempts at brokering peace between the two communities. Those familiar with the area also spoke of the presence in Kurram of a large number of “external elements” — cadres from banned Punjabi-dominated outfits such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, who had joined hands with the Tehreek-e-Taliban.
There have also been allegations that Iran and Afghanistan are assisting the Shias with money, manpower and weapons. A group called the Reforms Committee of Parachinar told journalists in Peshawar recently that the two countries had supplied two Shia militant groups with large quantities of medicines, mortar launchers and other weapons. Brig. Shah said the area involved was so small, and the government’s priorities in the region were so many that thus far, it was being treated as a “local issue,” even though the political agent, the official in-charge of the agency, had been knocking at the doors of the federal government for help. The government deployed the Frontier Corps in the region two weeks ago, but that had no effect on the fighting.
“If the government can apportion some force — a brigade would do — it can bring the area under control,” he said adding that presently, security forces had only a “token presence” in Kurram. But he also stressed the need for an overall policy to tackle militancy in the entire region, and following up on that, an area-specific policy. “There is a need to put pressure on all sides, and then take up operations on priority,” he said. Otherwise, the former official said, when the security forces hit in one place, the militants would simply set up camp in another, as in Kurram.

Trading Across The LoC


The Hindu/22nd Sept, 2008
PoK eyes cross-LoC trade for economic progress on its side
Nirupama Subramanian
As efforts gather pace to quickly open up the Line of Control for intra-Kashmir trade, the initiative has stirred visions in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir not just of “de facto unification” but of the emergence of their side as a “trade hub” that could help it shake off its present under-development and poverty.
But PoK businessmen and others are saying that for this to become a reality, cross-border trade has to be more than a symbolic gesture by India and Pakistan towards Kashmiris.
Indian and Pakistani officials will meet in New Delhi on Monday to discuss the details of the cross-LoC trade, including items that the two sides will be permitted to trade and the arrangements at the crossing point such as serviceable roads, parking areas and customs facilities.
A delegation of PoK businessmen and traders was also due to reach Srinagar for a meeting on Sunday with Valley business leaders, but put off its visit apparently on the advice of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry to arrive after the Eid festival.
India is keen to get the initiative off the ground as one way of defusing the two-month-old crisis in the Valley. The Pakistan government, criticised by Kashmiris for doing nothing to help them in their latest protest against New Delhi, also sees this as a chance to redeem its image in the Valley.
Fired by the spirit of the recent “Muzzafarabad chalo” rally in the Valley that ended in violence when Indian security forces stopped the marchers, the PoK government, its civil society and businessmen are all rallying behind the move to open the LoC to trade.
They see Kashmiris in the Valley as under siege by chauvinist Hindus in Jammu and there is a feeling that “we must do whatever we can to help our brother Kashmiris” on the other side.
Shah Ghulam Qadir, Speaker of the PoK Assembly, told The Hindu that it was a long- awaited development that “will reunite two brothers separated long ago.” He said it was the “best way” to deal with “Jammu extremists” who had blockaded the Valley.
Ershad Mahmud, an independent analyst who writes extensively on Kashmir affairs, said PoK was looking forward to cross-LoC trade “as an opportunity for de facto reunification of the Jammu and Kashmir state.”
But beyond emotions, people in PoK are also looking at what cross border trade can do to improve their own lot.
Though numbers are difficult to get, it is widely acknowledged that PoK’s economy is underdeveloped. Over 80 per cent of its estimated 3.5 million population lives off agriculture and a majority of them are subsistence farmers. Fruit and vegetable cultivation is not as advanced as on the Indian side or as extensive.
There is very little industry in the region. Poverty has increased since the 2005 earthquake that tore up areas of PoK, taking with it not just lives but also livelihoods, especially those of small businessmen, artisans, weavers and the like. An expected post-quake construction boom did not take off, and the people are yet recover fully from the after-effects of the disaster.
With few opportunities in PoK, the urban population is mainly employed in the services sector in Pakistan. Under these circumstances, intra-Kashmir trade is being viewed as a step with potential for positive change for PoK.
“We are quite excited about the prospects,” said Zulfiqar Abbasi, president of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Chamber of Commerce. “Cross LoC trade is a real window of opportunity for us.”
Economic cooperation between the two Kashmirs, Mr. Abbasi said, would act as a spur for the development of local industry on the Pakistan side of Kashmir, that could serve the needs of the bigger Kashmiri market on the other side, while also providing the local population with employment opportunities as they set up businesses to trade in goods arriving from Jammu and Kashmir. The businessman, who owns a steel mill in Mirpur, said for “meaningful trade,” there should be no restrictions on what can be traded between the two Kashmirs.
But the lists being discussed so far include fruit, vegetables, dry fruit, furniture, carpets, rugs and shawls. The items have been a subject of fierce discussions between officials, and have not yet been finalised. Neither India nor Pakistan want that the duty-free access agreed for made-in-Kashmir goods should turn into a back door for free trade in goods manufactured in each other’s countries.
Even with a restricted list, it is accepted that for now, Srinagar will have more to send to Muzaffarabad than the other way around. But going by what Kashmiris on the Pakistan side say, this is not discouraging them.
“This side of Kashmir has very little to offer. It is well known that all the Kashmiri heritage was inherited by the Indian side. The artisans are more skilled on the other side, the weavers also. In terms of industry also, Azad Kashmir is no comparison to the other side,” said Colonel (retd) Masood-ul-Hassan, a former head of the PoK government’s Small Industries Corporation and a native of Muzaffarabad.
But, said Col. Hassan, the Pakistani side of Kashmir had nothing to fear.
“The flow of goods will be one way, but this should not be seen as exploitation of our market. What the other side sends will fulfil the needs of Kashmiris on this side,” he said.
Depending on volumes, the ultimate market for the J &K goods has to be Pakistan as the small PoK population does not have the capacity to absorb imports from the Kashmir Valley or Jammu, according to Mr. Mahmud, the Kashmir affairs analyst.
“The hope is that AJK can emerge as a trade corridor or a regional trade hub,” he said. Traders in PoK are still coming to grips with all the possible effects of intra-Kashmir on them, but according to him, they see themselves primarily as “a bridge between Kashmiri traders and Punjabi traders” in Pakistan.
Mr. Abbasi believes PoK can also become a bridge for Kashmiri goods to markets in the Gulf countries and Europe via the PoK Kashmiris settled in these countries.
But for all this to come true, PoK businessmen are urging India and Pakistan to ensure that the cross-border initiative goes beyond symbolism. There is concern that the cross-LoC trade may go the way of the cross-Loc bus services that began with fanfare, but go virtually empty because of the difficult procedures to obtain a permit to cross the LoC.
The restrictive list of items for trade is already being viewed as a handicap, but Mr. Abbasi said businessmen were still ready to take the plunge but wants the two governments to take some “minimum” steps: a more user-friendly permit system to enable businessmen on both sides to interact freely and frequently — possibly give businessmen a multiple-entry permit — and better road infrastructure on either side.
At present, the Aman bridge at the LoC on the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad road can take not more than five trucks a day.
“If they do not take these steps, the quantity of trade will be very less and meaningless. It will boil down to traders going in the bus between Srinagar-Muzaffarabad with a couple of suitcases stuffed with shawls and carpets,” he said.
Indian and Pakistani officials are saying that once a beginning is made, the wrinkles can be ironed out. That is also the view of some politicians in PoK.
“Let us take the first step. You need a ladder to reach the roof. Some years ago, did we imagine there would be a bus service connecting the two sides? Now, that bus service is going to become weekly, which means there will be more people coming and going,” said Mr. Qadir, the PoK assembly speaker.
“Cross-LoC trade is something that no one is objecting to,” he said, “so let’s make a beginning.”

The Blast at Marriott

The Hindu/22nd Sept, 2008
A beloved landmark
Nirupama Subramanian
ISLAMABAD: Anyone who has visited Pakistan’s capital even briefly could not have missed the Marriott.
Architecturally unattractive, the hotel was still the most beloved of this small city’s landmarks, and for its wealthy, one of the few centres of its limited social life.
“It is the face of Islamabad, it is the house of Islamabad,” said Sadruddin Hashwani, owner of the Marriott, after the hotel’s destruction.
He was not exaggerating. The hotel was an integral part of everyone’s memories. Most people living and working in the capital, rich or poor, had to go past the building at least once every day because of its location en route to everywhere.
The moneyed got married in its banquet rooms, threw lunches and dinners and socialised in its restaurants. One of only two big hotels in the city, it was a popular venue for diplomatic receptions. NGOs held seminars and workshops in the hotel.
Its health club was a huge draw with foreigners and locals alike.
After nightfall, the illuminated building was a magnet in a city where establishments shut down early.
Visiting delegations from abroad chose the 290-room hotel for its proximity to government offices. Several India-Pakistan talks have been held in the hotel, and visiting Indian officials always stayed there. And its lobby was always swarming with men from the Pakistani intelligence keeping tabs on who was meeting who.
On Sunday, the day after the blast outside the hotel that killed 60 people and left 266 wounded, hundreds of people poured out of their homes, coming from faraway neighbourhoods, to see for themselves what remains of one of the most familiar buildings in Islamabad.Gutted building
The Pakistan Army had cordoned off the area and did not let anyone without authorisation to get through. But still, people milled around, taking in the sight of the gutted building from which plumes of black smoke were rising even on Sunday afternoon.
The fire-fighters were able to bring the flames under control only on Sunday morning, 13 hours after the explosion on Saturday.
Rehman Malik, who functions as Interior Minister, said the city administration was not equipped to fight a fire like the one that destroyed the hotel.
Mr. Hashwani told journalists he hoped to reopen the hotel in four months.
Islamabad’s residents would like to share his optimism, as without the hotel, the city does seem truly incomplete.

The blast at Marriott

The Hindu/22nd Sept, 2008
Chilling images on hotel CCTV footage
Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: A five-minute chain of events at the gates of the Marriott Hotel until the moment of Saturday’s blast, which killed 53 persons and injured 266, has been captured in chilling detail by the hotel’s closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras.
On Sunday, Rehman Malik, who functions as Interior Minister, made public the footage from the CCTV, which shows the dumper truck packed with bricks turning into the well-lit security barrier at the main gate of the hotel and trying to gain entry.
“Our experts are saying that he wanted to drive the truck into the lobby. If that had happened it would have been disastrous.”
After what appeared to be a minute during which the truck waited at the security boom — according to officials, there was possibly an argument between the truck driver and security guards over allowing it to enter — there’s a bright flash of light over the windscreen of the truck.
Officials said this was a “first explosion.” Mr. Malik said the flash of light could have come from a possible tyre burst when the guards opened fire at the driver. But media analysts said it was most likely caused by the driver detonating explosives strapped on him. It was impossible to tell from the footage if there was just one person in the truck. The CCTV footage shows cars whizzing past the hotel as this first explosion took place. The guards scattered as it occurred, but some returned thinking the worst was over. With exceptional calm, one guard took out a fire extinguisher from near the barrier and started squirting it on the fire in the front portion of the truck. By this time, thick white smoke had begun emanating from the back of the truck. The footage stops when the guard with the fire extinguisher suddenly decides to run.
Mr. Malik, who also raised the possibility that the driver abandoned the vehicle in the seconds before the blast, said the footage was a “valuable” bit of evidence and investigators were closely studying it for clues.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008