Can the FATA Reforms Break Colonial Legacy?


*Originally published on Tanqeed.

(This article is essentially a watered-down version of a research paper I penned on how colonial is the post-colonial in terms of the FCR in FATA)

September 05, 2015 — In order to return to their homes from which they were forcibly displaced, the Pakistani government demanded that the people of North Waziristan sign a compulsory and non-negotiable social agreement. That contract demands their allegiance and loyalty to the Pakistani constitution and to the Frontier Crimes Regulations, the colonial era law that is still used to govern the countries Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Most crucially, the agreement entailed that should the tribes fail their responsibilities as categorized in the FCR, they will be subject to severe punishments that include cancellation of their national identity card, passport and other legal documents as well as possible confiscation or razing of their homes. While alarming, the origin of the obligations and punishments in this contract rests in a longer colonial history. In that regard, far from being unusual, it is a window into what has been the normal state of affairs for FATA since at least the British colonial era.

With the FATA reforms process now underway, it is critical to examine the basic logics which have functioned in the governance of this territory. Only by analyzing them can we undo them.

Essential to this analysis is the link between the long history of modern imperialism and Orientalism. As Edward Said expounded, Orientalism is a “a style of thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction made between “the Orient” and (most of the time) ‘the Occident’.” It constructs an essential difference between the East and the West, and imagines the “Orient” as the absolute Other of the “Occident,” in the process stereotyping the customs and “minds” of the former.

That reasoning is evident in colonial documents. For instance, in his 1933 book, The Martial Races of India, General George MacMunn, a British general classified the Pashtuns as a “martial race” but an “untutored” people leading “a wild life….carrying out a blood feud that has been in progress for generations, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Such writing was not mere description; it could be codified into law. The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 defined entire tribes as criminal and punished them accordingly on the basis of a racialized and essentialized understanding of criminality. Where “frontier law” was concerned, in particular the Murderous Outrages Regulations that were the forerunner of the FCR, historian Mark Condos writes that, “Arguments for the creation and preservation of…law invariably centred around claims about the purportedly ‘exceptional’ character of frontier governance, particularly the idea that this was a region that existed in a perpetual state of war and crisis.”

Some scholars have also pointed out that, in addition to Orientalist attitudes, the FCR was established in FATA because the British made a cost-benefit analysis. Scholars Sarfaraz Khan and Abdul Hamid Khan note that one of the reasons that the standard legal and administrative system that the British empire sought to institute in the rest of India was not extended to the frontier was “because of its worthlessness in the context of procuring raw material or generating revenue.” Other experts have also pointed out that, at the time, much of that territory was operating at a deficit because of low crop yields and security problems. Instead, the British developed what came to be known as “indirect governance” by co-opting local tribal elders and maliks to collaborate with colonial officials.

Since 1947, there have been a number of amendments made to the FCR most of which have been insignificant in terms of substantial reform. In 1996, the people of FATA were given the right to vote. Since then, the most substantive set of amendments have been the presidential package of 2011 introduced by then president Asif Ali Zardari. It removed women, children below 16, people above 65, and entire tribes, from the clause of collective responsibility, arrest and punishment; provided appeal mechanisms and time frames for the disposal of cases; allowed for inspections of jails, and introduced provisions for bail. The amendment package also introduced checks on the powers of political agents, punishment and compensation for false prosecutions and extended the Political Parties Act 2002 to FATA. For the first time, political parties could operate in FATA.

But despite these amendments, some core issues remain. Article 247 of Pakistan’s constitution, which states that FATA is to be governed by federally, invalidates the application and operation of laws made by the national parliament in FATA, unless the president intervenes and consents. It also removes FATA from the jurisdiction of Pakistani courts. The president is the ultimate authority for the creation of ordinances and the passage for amendments in FATA. Such a set-up essentially excludes FATA from the political, social and economic mainstream of Pakistan.

This system of governance in FATA produced the conditions for the current quagmire. Several analysts have argued that the Pakistani state has kept FATA under the FCR for the purpose of fostering the growth of strategic assets of the state, namely Islamist fighters who can be called upon to do the bidding of the establishment. Additionally, its use as a battleground for policies of “strategic depth”, which aim to diminish Indian influence in Afghanistan, has created an environment suitable for criminals, thieves, smugglers and terrorists.

Since 9/11, FATA has acquired new significance, and the political discourse has further entrenched essentialist ideas about the territory and its people. The place is still treated as “exceptional” and in a “state of war”, which bears a degree of resemblance to the colonial assumption of the frontier belt as a periphery of exceptional circumstances and conditions in need of exceptional legal-political regimes. It is the entrenched interests in FATA that have furthered this view. As Sarfraz Khan and Abdul Hamid Khan write, “those powerful having stakes in status quo, prefer [the] existing arrangement in the name of tribal autonomy and preservation of its culture.” These powerful include the political agents, other bureaucrats appointed in FATA and the maliks, all of whom enjoy a considerable degree of power, status and authority which would be diminished, if not entirely terminated, if the FCR is abolished in FATA in favor of the mainstream constitutional order.

Arshad Afridi, the provincial senior vice president of the Qaumi Watan Party’s youth wing, concurs. “Maliks, MNAs [member of national assembly] and bureaucrats in the FATA Secretariat are the ones propagating that the people of FATA want FCR to be retained because it has empowered them. [The] MNA brings a political agent of their choice and they collectively rule the agency. Maliks are the so-called elders who misuse their power in jirgas.” Afridi also adds that apart from the legal power vested in these groups under the existing framework of the FCR, these people also thrive through the illegal activities available in FATA.

The retention of an anachronistic colonial instrument like the FCR was condemned by the late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice Alvin Robert Cornelius as “obnoxious to all recognised modern principles governing the dispensation of justice”. The people of FATA are still bound by a colonial set of relations, barred from the share of any political, social or economic development and participation in the rest of the country; dehumanized and virtually treated as second-class citizens. And while Pakistan’s use of the FCR may be informed by the post-colonial state’s own dispositions and distinct reasons, in that they differ from the exact imperial calculations of the British in implementing the FCR, but for the people of FATA the post-colonial has only been a continuity of the colonial. It is clear that the FATA reforms will only be successful if they can constitute a break from this lingering colonial continuity and its relics.

– Hafsa Khawaja

Looking to Turkey


*Originally published in Pakistan Today. Slightly edited version below:

Lenin is reported to have said, There are decades where nothing happens—and there are weeks where decades happen.” 2016 appears to be one of these weeks. Spanning a number of events, from attacks on European soil in Belgium and France, the occurrence of Brexit, to the looming specter of a Trump presidency in the United States, this year has been marked by several waves of shock, and further ripples were added to these when Turkey dramatically foiled a coup attempt on the 15th of July.

A Dark Moment in Turkey

As news of the coup was revealed, Turkish people flooded outside to mount a challenge, in what was perhaps the most remarkable moment of the botched coup.

People poured out on the streets and roads, blocking the way of rolling tanks, pushing them back, protesting, resisting.

More than two hundred and fifty lives were ultimately lost but history is sure to record the bravery of Turkish protesters as an incredible act of tremendous courage, rendered in the name of defending democracy. Around the world, people were watching—some more intently than others.

Pakistan and Turkey both share phases of history deeply pockmarked by a series of coups and military regimes. Any upset in the civilian-military relations in Turkey thus inevitably evokes interest in Pakistan’s political and public sphere. And while one must always tread carefully and cautiously in pulling parallels between peoples, histories, countries, and events, the recent developments in Turkey do offer something for Pakistan to consider.

Turkey, Pakistan, and the Military

Turkey’s main opposition parties, the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (M.H.P) have been vehemently critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan . Due to the tensions which collapsed the peace process between the AKP government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2015, the relationship in the case of the HDP, whose members Erdogan has previously called to “face prosecution, accusing them of being the PKK’s political wing”, has been even more strained.

Despite these tensions, it is important to note that within hours of news breaking that a coup was being attempted, all three parties strongly denounced the coup and voiced unequivocal support for the democratically-elected government of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In contrast to Turkey, Pakistan’s political parties are known to have distributed mithais (sweetmeats)  on the occasion of coups ousting   rivals; a display of petty opportunism at best. Such a political attitude may be attributed to the nature of Pakistan’s political culture which has historically been stunted by decades of military dictatorship and repression; and subsequently disadvantaged by the denial of an uninterrupted, smooth, and gradual . The prospect of gains from collaboration with military governments also propelled this political expediency.  However, this attitude was, appeared for the most part, on the decline following the Charter of Democracy of 2006 which was signed between the late Benazir Bhutto and now-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The CoD formed an alliance between the Pakistan’s People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to end General Musharraf’s military regime, and enshrined a collective pledge to the principle of civilian democratic rule and its restoration in Pakistan.

More recently, a maturation of political attitudes was witnessed during Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri’s PTI-PAT sit-in of 2014 in the capital.  The public protest was organized by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and centered on claims of widespread rigging by Nawaz Sharif’s party in the general elections of 2013. The sit-in, which lasted from August 2014 to December 2014, was eventually joined by the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, led by Canada-based Islamic cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri. Together the parties and their gathered supporters exerted pressure upon what they called the “illegitimate” PML-N government, calling for the prime minister’s resignation and fresh polls across the country.

In wake of this sit-in, political temperatures in Pakistan rose alarmingly. However, they ended up fostering a welcome climate of political unity, solidarity, and practicality by bringing together an entire spectrum of parties under the umbrella of protecting Pakistan’s nascent democracy from imminent danger.

Similarly, the galvanization of masses in Turkey against the coup was also an answer to the surreal call given on a mobile-video app by a Facetiming  Erdogan on CNN Turk for the people to take to the  . While large segments of Turkish society mobilized in defense of democracy alone, the public’s support for Erdogan’s AKP – which helped it garner half of the vote in the elections of 2015 – was also clearly significant in terms of the witnessed mobilization.

Little doubt exists about Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic ambitions and his bid for greater power, evidenced by the sharp streaks of authoritarianism he has exhibited without inhibition when “running roughshod over political rivals, tossing enemies into jail and intimidating the media.” His heavy-handed tactics to repress the Taksim Square protests of   also proved to be ample evidence of his shriveling sense of restraint in dealing with opposition. Erdogan’s oppressive and intolerant tendencies have been emboldened after the coup attempt; most sharply demonstrated by the recent purges, which The New York Times aptly characterizes and reveals as being of an “unprecedented scale” and comprising the dismissal of 9,000 police officers, 21,700 officials of the Ministry of Education, the forced resignations of 1,500 university deans, the suspension of 21,000 private school teachers, the detention of 10,012 soldiers and 2,745 members of the judiciary, and the shutdown of more than 100 media outlets.

So, how has Erdogan been able to consolidate power? In part, the AKP government has overseen solid economic and national development in Turkey during its tenure, while positioning itself as the representative of a large constituency in Turkey , comprising Muslims who have long felt ignored and marginalized by the secular elites and the state, and the segments of society which benefitted from the economic policies of the AKP government. But its greatest asset is the same force that allowed the government to resist the coup—the loyalty of the state police and a large contingent of the military.

It is now clear that the loyalty of the state police and a split within the Turkish military itself, with the acting chief of staff Umit Dundar against the audacious initiative to topple the government, also enabled the failure of the coup.

In her interview with Isaac Chotiner of Slate magazine, Professor  Jenny White, of Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies, spoke about the supremacy of the military at the time of the AKP’s assumption of power in 2003 and the systematic program of defanging it by the government:

“Initially, when Erdogan came to power in 2003, the army was still all-powerful. They still had a position above the government…together with the Gülen Movement, they [the AKP] initiated a series of high-profile court cases against the generals. They put a lot of the high-ranking officers in jail. All of the heads of the different forces eventually resigned. And at that point, Erdogan reached back into the chain of command and promoted someone up. The end result of that was that the military chief of staff was loyal to Erdogan. After that there was no more uppity-ness. They were demoralized.”

Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has seen three military coups in 1958, 1977 and 1999, and in the sixty-nine years of its existence, it has been subjected to three decades of military regimes. The last of these was headed by General Pervez Musharraf who resigned in 2008 succumbing to immense political and public pressure and protests which grew after his controversial imposition of emergency on 3rd November 2007 and the ensuing measures.

Pakistan has been under two different democratically-elected governments, one after the other, since 2008. Yet even as the popularity of democratically elected governments waxes and wanes, there appears to be no end in sight to the popularity of the military as an institution in Pakistan. The poster-boy for this traditional reverence for the army is the powerful Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Shareef today, who is often the subject of frequent and curious #ThankYouRaheelShareef hashtags and trends on social media which heap appreciation on his efforts against terrorism, and hail him as a  strong and upright general who has nothing but the best interests of Pakistan at heart. And while Nawaz Sharif and his government may have ostensibly survived the political crisis of 2014, posed by the impasse engendered by the Khan-Qadri protest sit-in, most believe the crisis was staging ground for the army to launch a soft coup; as a result of which the government ceded power over main matters of the state, such as foreign policy and security issues, to the army in exchange for the security and stability of their tenure.

In 1995 the late Eqbal Ahmad penned an article titled “The Signals Soldiers Pick”, offering an incisive analysis of the civil-military imbalance in Pakistan and the environments conducive to tilt that in either’s favor which still resonate. He emphasized that the end of military intervention in politics hinges upon the legitimacy of the civilian system of power [being] established over a period of time.” He also stated that, ‘We [Pakistan] have been lacking both the political framework and leaders capable of investing the civilian system of government with authority, and taming the warrior class.’

In comparison to the AKP, it is patent that Pakistan’s democratically elected governments have not only been unable to enjoy hardly any period of uninterrupted power, most of which were cut short by instability and coups, to establish a democratic foothold – it was only in 2013, after 66 years, that the country had its first ever transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another. When in power, they have been beset by charges of corruption and incompetence, and the threats of military intervention have always hung dangerously close to them. Democratic governments in Pakistan have also continually manifested a complete lack of political vision in terms of their quality of performance and governance, which invest the democratic system with credibility, popular support and legitimacy; that firmly confer upon it the empowering authority it often lacks. This is a challenge further compounded by their lack of imagination, will and courage to take on the military and establish ascendancy of the civilian democratic set-up in the Pakistani state’s equilibrium of power.

Evidently, smooth democratic continuity; a solid establishment of government credibility and stability; and the political will and vision to subdue unbridled military encroachments on the domain of state power are pivotal to democratic durability and authority in Pakistan. The road to it, however, remains rocky.

Lessons for Pakistan from Turkey

The failure of the coup in Turkey owes a great deal to democratic fervor. London-based British and Turkish writer and academic Ziya Meral was quick to praise the “many amazing journalists, academics, activists who are fierce critiques of AKP consistently spoke against the coup attempt.” According to Mustafa Akyol, this occurrence underscores “…that Turkish society has internalized electoral democracy, and Turkey’s secularists, despite their objections to the Erdogan government’s Islamism, seek solutions in democratic politics.”

Many Pakistanis took to social media during the coup attempt, praising the perpetrators and encouraging Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Shareef to lead a similar coup. The existence of this pro-military rule sentiment accentuates the flakey faith some segments of Pakistanis feel towards democratic governments, and the persistence of the military’s age-old, and well-crafted, popularity among the people as the “most trust-worthy institution” in the country – as was also revealed by a survey held last year – especially in contrast to political actors and leaders.

In response to a tweet stressing Erdogan’s authoritarianism, Al Jazeera’s Mohammad Alsaafin replied with, “[Erdogan is] not champion of democracy, but democratically elected.” Alsaafin’s comment contains a principal point; that it is essential to protect, improve and strengthen democracy as the institutional framework for the state and its citizens, despite its imperfections and problems.

As Erdogan unleashes his purges and pillory, the impression that he will entirely squander the support and goodwill he has garnered after the attempted coup, rather than use it for a moment of sensible reflection, is increasingly being lent weight. Nevertheless it is evident that unequivocal political support, the support of the masses and the allegiance of state organs to the belief in democratic civilian supremacy are key to a worthy effort and solid fight, if not bulwark, against the audacity of military adventurism. It is also important for Pakistan to understand that democracy means much more than a current government or a certain crop of leaders. To borrow the idea from Mustafa Akyol’s analysis, the solution to democratic problems must be sought in democratic politics.

Turkey may have had more coups than Pakistan, a gulf of different dynamics, and more turbulent experiences to reach this point, but it is never too late for Pakistan to pick a lesson or two.

-Hafsa Khawaja

You, Pakistan


INTERVIEWER

Yes, before 1968, you said, “I love America.”

JAMES BALDWIN

Long before then. I still do, though that feeling has changed in the face of it. I think that it is a spiritual disaster to pretend that one doesn’t love one’s country. You may disapprove of it, you may be forced to leave it, you may live your whole life as a battle, yet I don’t think you can escape it. There isn’t any other place to go—you don’t pull up your roots and put them down someplace else. At least not in a single lifetime, or, if you do, you’ll be aware of precisely what it means, knowing that your real roots are always elsewhere. If you try to pretend you don’t see the immediate reality that formed you I think you’ll go blind.”

You break me often, into pieces, into shards, into tatters and tears.

There are times when I want to escape you, perhaps not physically, but certainly emotionally. There are times I want to close my eyes, my ears, my mind and my heart to your suffering, for my own sanity and survival; only to wake up with seething pain realizing that your suffering and mine are inseparable and one.

Each gash and each scar you have is mine, because your soil is my skin. I feel it, I live it. How can I rid myself of my skin but crush my soul? How can one ever disentangle from one’s roots?

Kamel Daoud wrote, “How he must have suffered, poor man! To be the child of a place that never gave you birth” but I wonder, how much does one suffer, to be the child of a place that did give you birth; a place tormented and tortured.

Yet there is no other music to which my heart beats as strongly, to which my heart celebrates and aches, but that of your turmoil, triumph and tumult’s rhythms and rhymes.

You, Pakistan, are my pride and my pain.

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I can’t help hoping about you, because to let go of hope for all that one has is too big a risk to take.

And so I hope and pray today, may fate and future heal your many wounds and that of your many children.

Today I think of Edhi, NFAK, Eqbal Ahmad, Faiz, Habib Jalib, Malala, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Gulgee, Jahangir Khan and countless others who shone brightly upon the world, with their truths and talents, with your name. I celebrate them.

But today I also remember the irreplaceable Sabeen Mahmud, the courageous Shuja Khanzada, the incomparable Amjad Sabri, those taken in the Quetta attack, the 144 that perished in Peshawar, and the 50,000 souls that were usurped from you. Today I think of the Shia, the Ahmedi, the Christians, the Baloch, the people of FATA, the poor, the deprived, the marginalized; all those who seek your justice, your peace; who seek that you to own them as yours. Today I remember them, I mourn them and I honor them, and I pray, I plead: may you be kinder to your people, and may your people be kinder to you.

Against all your afflictions and misfortunes, may you, Pakistan, forever and always prevail.

Faithfully yours.

Remembering Edhi: Let Us Be His Legacy


“So many years later there were many who still complained and questioned, “Why must you pick up Christians and Hindus in your ambulance?” And I was still saying, “Because the ambulance is more Muslim than you.”

“The Holy Book should open in your souls, not on your laps. Open your heart and see God’s people. In their plight you will find Him.”

“There is no such thing as an illegitimate human being” [On the issue of infants and children being abandoned because they are illegitimate].

Edhi & Bilqees Edhi also take care of the small daughter of the thief jailed for burglary of the foundation in 2014.”

“Day after day, for decades, Edhi and his wife rescued abandoned babies, drug addicts, and victims of political and gang violence. He did God’s Work.

No matter how worse things took a turn for in Pakistan, Abdul Sattar Edhi was one individual, one icon, one saint who gave me, and all, strength and hope. Hope, that there is good in Pakistan, that there is good in this world. And strength, that in him resided the embodiment of all that Pakistan could be. The best Pakistan could be.

I saw in him the Muslim I wish to be, the human I wanted to be. I saw in him the magnificent beauty and purity of humanity.

I knew for every Mumtaz Qadri, there was Edhi. For every Malik Ishaq, there was Edhi.
There was never need for another human being, for he was enough. He was no man, he was an institution.

As we writhed in the pain of our wounds, he healed us.

But he was no hope for the helpless, the beggared, the oppressed, the lowest of the lowest. For the poor laying on the footpaths in the scorching heat, for the beggar limping his way amid traffic, for the infant abandoned for no crime but his birth, for the addicts ostracized, for the victims of a cruel society and an apathetic state -for those who had no one – he was there, he was their everything. He had no education, no riches but he was their food, their clothes, their shelter, their parents, their dignity; their salvation sent from God. 

Edhi healed.

All and everyone.

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(My apologies for lack of credits to whoever this image originally belongs to, I found this on the internet years ago and haven’t been able to trace its owner)

He was Pakistan’s soul and heart, a soul and heart unblemished by hate and division. A heart and soul that did nothing but give kindness and love; and that gave generously and selflessly.

He was one of the greatest Pakistanis, if not the greatest alone. And certainly one of the greatest human beings. To walk the same land as Edhi, what an honor it has been. To breathe the same air as Edhi, what a privilege it has been.

Pakistan is infinitely poorer today. Pakistan is orphaned today.
God knows how this void will ever fill, how this void will ever heal. More than ever, it was today, at this moment in time marked by bigotry, distrust and hate that we needed Edhi Sb’s unblemished humanity and love, his unparalleled courage, his matchless integrity and honesty, his radiant humility and dignity, and his towering principles.

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We needed Edhi now, desperately, but we also needed him forever.

 

As per his wishes, his healthy organs will be donated. Even in death, he has given, he has helped. He has served right till the end, and beyond.

The only befitting tribute to him would be our realization of the humanity he espoused and practiced; a humanity higher than the petty matters of race, ethnicity, class, gender, religion, sect, politics and prejudice. A humanity higher than the flimsy divisions we have constructed between ourselves; on maps, in borders, in our minds and in our hearts. There is no better tribute to him that our espousal of his principles and his ideals; it is no tribute, it is a duty and a responsibility owed to a man to whom we will forever be indebted.

Raise your voice, stand up, work and act for a tolerant, humane and peaceful Pakistan and world.

For if only we would all strive for even a speck of the incredible humanity he personified and possessed, Pakistan would be a much better place.

Let our actions, not our fortune, lay claim to Abdul Sattar Edhi and his life. Let us be his legacy.

Let us mourn but let us also honor him. Let us be his legacy, in words, actions, in life and in spirit.

Thank you and farewell messenger of humanity, farewell Edhi Sahab.

—–

Side Note:
I do not wish to write about anything other than the great man and the great loss we have been faced with today, but I find it difficult to sidestep the growing set of comments condemning the Nobel Peace Prize in wake of Edhi Sb’s demise.

You are doing no service to Edhi by reducing his life & work to the trifling recognition of a prize he never sought; he sought nothing. Edhi was in no need of any prize or recognition, and especially not validation. If you want to recognize him, carry the spirit of his work forward. Do not reduce the man and his legacy to some prize or reward, he was above all of these. Do not project the smallness of our minds and hearts onto the greatness of the man. Do not dishonor him like this, please.

—-

Also:

Let us not forget the role Dr. Adeeb Rizvi and SIUT have played in caring for Edhi. Dr. Rizvi is a man in the same league as Edhi’s, he is an incredible human being, an institution and a living legend.

Original Link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154226167180915&set=a.10152469851790915.1073741828.642145914&type=3&theater

Photo Credits: Usman Ali on Facebook. “Dr Adeeb Rizvi, the doctor who looked after Edhi Sb for last 10 years came to Edhi Sahab’s Janaza without any protocol. He sat down on ground and didn’t make any attempt to move to front rows. People shook hands with him and took pictures. He was so easily accessible. The man whose stature is close to Edhi Sb was sitting like a common man. If there was anyone who deserved VVIP protocol today, Adeeb Rizvi Sb was the first person who should have been considered for it.”

A pity he isn’t known much (although known very well to those who threaten him) but he has been aptly called “Pakistan’s Miracle Doctor” and has saved thousands of lives while ushering in a new era for Pakistan’s healthcare system with SIUT.

Below are excerpts from BBC’s coverage of his work:
“But one public sector hospital in Karachi provides free specialised healthcare to millions, led by a man whose dream was inspired by the UK’s National Health Service. Now the hospital says it has the distinction of performing the highest number of successful renal transplants, dialysis sessions and treatment of kidney stone disease anywhere in the world.
He could have opted to set up his own private hospital. He could have built up his own lucrative empire while keeping his day job at the poorly run government hospital – a path taken by many highly qualified physicians in Pakistan.”

 

Who was Amjad Sabri? He Will Never Know


Amid mourning,

The music died,

Amid grief,

The conversation stopped,

Amid lives trampled,

A heritage crumbled,

All was lost,

Silence reigned,

Nothing remained.

All was lost.

Amjad Sabri's fanbase comprises of seasoned listeners and the youth alike. He frequently performed at colleges and universities. —Photo by Shahzaib Arif Shaikh (Taken by Dawn: In photos: Amjad Sabri— The powerhouse performer)

Amjad Sabri’s fanbase comprises of seasoned listeners and the youth alike. He frequently performed at colleges and universities. —Photo by Shahzaib Arif Shaikh
(Taken by Dawn: In photos: Amjad Sabri— The powerhouse performer)

I don’t have anything profound to say because there is nothing more profound, more jarring than loss.

Kuch kehne ko alfaaz nahi, jab na insaan na koi awaz rahi.

Seeing the news, my 15 year-old brother asked me yesterday who was Amjad Sabri?

Who was Amjad Sabri?

“And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the backyard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man. I’ve never gotten over his death. Often I think what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands? He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”

So wrote Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451.

Since I’ve read it, it has made me think of my friend Bassem Sabry.

It has made me think of Sabeen.

It has made me think of those no longer among us. And of the many taken from us.

And yesterday, it made me think of Amjad Sabri.

It struck me.

Knowing never again would we hear the majesty of his voice, the magic, the tradition, the feeling, the beauty. Knowing the many souls who won’t know him after this, whose souls will be starved from the stirring that he alone evoked; their hearts hollow from being unmoved. Knowing he would never again sing. Knowing the many messages of love, peace and harmony he will never again recite. Knowing all the melodies, rhymes, rhythms and messages that his voice will never turn touch, they will never come to be for he is no longer there. 

From Sabeen Mahmud to Amjad Sabri, to all in between and before, this is true.

Kaise bharain gay yeh zakhm, kaise bharay gi yeh khalah?

Kaun wapas la sakay ga baap ki shafqat un bachon kay saro’on par?

We are poorer today than we were yesterday.

This is a poverty of permanence. No amount of riches, no amount of wealth can even paper over this poverty; a poverty of culture, of art, of tradition, of heritage, a poverty of humanity.

And this hit me sharp when my own brother asked me.

Who was Amjad Sabri?

He will never really know.

Every political item yesterday in the news bulletin infuriated me. All these “leaders” & “governments”, the whole circus, making a joke out of Pakistan as we keep losing our best. The creators, healers, musicians, artists. Our assets, our traditions, our institutions.

Shadeed muzamat. Afsos ka izhar. Tehkikaat ka hukm jari. 

Yeh roz ki rasmayein.

Their apathy, their indifference, their incompetence – Pakistan pays for those every single day. In blood. They keep engaging in their political manoeuvres and gimmicks while Pakistan continually bleeds in a pool of its own blood.

But it’s not just them, it is us.

My mother remarked in wake of the attack, kay mulk kay aise halaat kay dauran kuch bolna hi nahi chahiye. I disagreed, akhir Amjad Sabri ka kia qasoor tha? What was it that he spoke to have had his life cut short? Iss mulk kay halaat satar saal se aise hi hain, kitni daer tak bayawaz bethay gay ham? Zinda hain kay murda hai ham?

Kyun koi nikalta nahi? Kyun koi manta nahi kay iss zulm ka aik chehra aur soch hai? Kyun bhool jatay hain ham?

As a friend, Sajjad Hussain, wrote:

When you’re politically correct and resort to meaningless euphemisms, you call the confused, callous, compromised and complicit majority a ‘silent majority’.

You, yes you, are complicit.

Amjad Sabri kee zindagi kay baab kay sath Qawwali ka aik sunhera baab hamesha kay liye band hogaya. Iss mulk main kitne aur baab band hon’gay? Umeed aur insaaniat kay baab tau kab kay band ho chukay. Kab hoga iss zulm ka baab khatam?

Alfaaz nahi iss sanehay se mutaliq. Jis mulk main kuch reh hi na jaye zulm kay ilawa, kuch kehne ko baqi kia reh jata hai.

No other voice today can describe the irreparable void we’ve been left with, except his own.

Rest in peace, Amjad Sabri.

“Āj bhi mere Rabb tere ghar main

Gūnjtī hai azān-e-Bilālī

Bhar do jholi meri ya Ilāhi

Laut kar mai na jāunga khālī…”

 

 

P.S: Please have some sense of respect and decency in this moment of grief. There is nothing in sharing or viewing graphic images, except perhaps the gratification of some twisted and sick voyeurism. Think of a loved one in such a position.
None of us ever wants to be seen in any state or condition we consider unfavorable or bad, let us not do that to a man who can no longer control it and whose last moments were marked by violence. Kissi kay dardnaak lamhe aur halat ko tamashai ban kar dekhna aik beyhuuda, bayhiss aur bayreham amal hai.
This was a man who gave us much joy and brought us much pride. Show him respect, let him be remembered in all his might and glory, and please remember him as that.

PEMRA’s Bans: Perpetually Problematic


*First posted on The Nation’s Blog.

“Why is Ahmadi such a taboo word? Ideological stances aside, my only goal is that when an Ahmadi is killed or persecuted, the media shouldn’t be scared to talk about it,” he had said.

It seemed too good to be true. A conversation about a pressing issue being initiated by a prominent TV actor with a large fan-following on national television during Ramzan.

And indeed it was.

A few days back, a video emerged of Hamza Ali Abbasi hosting a channel’s Ramzan transmission in which he questioned the seated Islamic scholars whether the state has any right to define who is and isn’t a Muslim, and if the state has the right to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims. He further elaborated his intention to host an entire programme on the Ahmadis and the controversial Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan. Hamza was treading on dangerous ground, one which is bloodied with risk and loss.

Social media immediately became abuzz with contention, praise on one hand and condemnation on the other. The latter was taken an alarming notch further when death threats starting pouring in from numerous ends and a certain “Maulana” Kaukab Noorani Okarvi appeared on a show to declare that anyone who discusses the two issues, of Ahmedis and the Blasphemy Law, warranted an end to be put to his life, “ussi muqaam par ussey goli maar di jaaye.”

The absence of any action on part of the government concerning what is an unambiguous signal for murder also indicates the level of its commitment in combatting extremism and safeguarding the lives of its citizens. But even more indicative is perhaps the possibility that either the government agrees with Noorani’s ideology or that it does not have the courage to take action against the expression of a belief, that those who speak of the Ahmadi issue and Blasphemy Law should be killed, which has a great deal of currency and supporters in the society.

But on a more immediate level, what should’ve been an active and responsible response by both PEMRA and other government authorities in light of the call for cold-blooded murder issued on national TV, resulted instead in PEMRA issuing a ban on both the programmes: of the targeted and the perpetrator; thereby essentially equating a discussion on an issue with incitement to murder.

In issuing the ban, it stated: “During these transmissions, ratings remain the focus under the guise of Ramazan shows,” read the Pemra statement, adding that “provocative conversations took place during the shows which has led to much anger”. “Even after clear instructions from Pemra, unfortunately TV channel owners, anchors and audience indulged in non-serious and irresponsible conversations,” added the statement. It is rather curious that the objection of “non-serious and irresponsible conversations” was not invoked in the case of the majority of shows dominating channels in Ramzan which shamelessly make a vulgar mockery and joke of the month. But this is also says volumes about our observation of Ramzan and the hypocrisy, which PEMRA’s decision reeks of, when televised circuses pass for popular Ramzan transmission programmes and a show attempting to go against this norm by broaching serious issues, with a clear set of risks attached to it, is dismissed as “provocative” in the pursuit of “ratings”.

PEMRA is not new to this exercise of farce and regressive thought.

Only recently did it announce and later revoke a ban on contraceptives’ and family planning advertisements. This was followed by its decision to issue notice to Udaari regarding its portrayal of child abuse in the drama.

What is common in this string of actions and decisions by PEMRA, apart from the absurdity of it all, is the idea of silence and denial that the Pakistani society and state thrives on. What exactly is being prevented by these bans? How flimsy and weak are the foundations and ideas of this society and state which are shaken and threatened by mere discussions and simple questions?

Hamza Ali Abbasi’s discussion sought to question and address the difficulties, the discrimination and the plight of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan which is sanctioned constitutionally and imposed stringently by many of its citizens socially and culturally. PEMRA’s ban, however, serves to preserve the state’s monopoly of narrative on the issue. This is the same monopoly that has under its grip issues ranging from the Second Amendment to Balochistan. These are narratives hailed as the truth; narratives that are dominant through years of indoctrination and imposition yet still weak to be confronted by mere question and inquiry. A question and inquiry which seeks to establish that a people have the right not to be killed irrespective of their beliefs and one’s own agreement or disagreement with those. But let alone raising voice in this regard, even the right of that voice is denied to us.

This is deliberate silencing.

The recent notice to Udaari demonstrates the same, but not with regards to state narrative but a cultural and social narrative. The portrayal of child abuse is a cause of discomfort for many, who would rather indulge in their ignorance and indifference to the ghastly acts that are committed every single day against children.

Jasmeen Manzoor tweeted on the matter:  @jasmeenmanzoor

“No idea what message our dramas are giving to public by showing a 10 year old girl raped by her step father #disgusting #pathetic”

It is ridiculous that the depiction of a problem offends and hurts the sensitivities and sensibilities of people more than the realization that this depiction is an everyday reality in Pakistan hurting, harming and destroying hundreds of children and their lives. This is denial. What message are our dramas giving to the public by showing a 10 year old girl raped by her step father? They are giving a message of awareness, of consciousness, of cautiousness, and yes, of disgust, because this does happen in Pakistan. It is not a remote reality or a figment of dramatic imagination. And what message are we giving by calling these efforts “pathetic”? That the plight of abused children in Pakistan is trivial, irrelevant, worthless; that their plight is pathetic for denial, for us, is divine.

Perhaps this is why debates and discussions in Pakistan are seldom ever more than ugly degenerations into polarized demagoguery, tub-thumbing and crass behaviour, such as one witnessed by Marvi Sirmed recently, because we are not familiar with the practice and norm of civilized discussion, debate and disagreement conducive to the healthy development of a society and nation.

We conveniently cling onto silence, denial, dogma and indifference, for they do not offer us the discomfort reality in this country entails. We would rather ignore than cure the plagues and problems Pakistan and many Pakistanis, other than ourselves, face.

What Pakistan needs today is awareness and tolerance, the starting point of which is respecting and engaging differing points of view, opinions, questions and discussions. But for that to happen, there needs to be a basic ability to listen and to learn; an ability which clearly doesn’t exist if the answer to a question and the response to a discussion are death threats and bans.

-Hafsa Khawaja

Seeking Validation for National Tragedies


Just when things in Pakistan appeared to be taking a turn for the better, it took but a single moment to shatter the sliver of optimism many among us were beginning to nurture; revealing the long road it will take for us to ever escape being prisoners of carnage.

Sunday. Holiday. Easter.

Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park. Lahore. 70+ killed.

50,000 and counting.

For every inch of this country is soaked with the blood of its people,
Every corner with fear and ordeal.

Where laughter and mirth were to resonate, screams and cries ensued.

On the ground made for childhoods to blossom, many were plucked before they bloomed.

Days like these may be wished to pass, but their trauma and pain will forever refuse to budge.

Lahore is what is called the “heart of Pakistan”. It is a city festooned with history, diversity and life. Life, most of all. Life, which was taken on the 27th of March.

From hotels, restaurants, shrines, mosques, to schools and parks, there really is no quarter of the Pakistani society, culture, state and the national imagination that terrorism has not breached. Lahore has just been another victim. It has changed drastically, engulfed in an architecture of fear and a cultural life throttled. Security checkpoints, snipers on roofs, high walls; a fortress for a city. Maybe someday this architecture of security and fear could be dismantled and we could once again recreate Lahore and Pakistan, but the architecture of fear and loss which has been constructed in our collective national mind will be an enduring casualty of terrorism and extremism, and increasingly difficult to move past – at least for the younger generation, to which the attack in Iqbal Town struck another blow.

Rafia Zakaria recently wrote on ‘The Playgrounds of Pakistan’ in The New York Times:

“For much of the world, the deaths of Pakistani children are forgettable. They are, after all, the progeny of poor distant others destined to perish in ever more alarming ways. It may not be said, but it is believed that they are complicit in their own deaths, guilty somehow — even at 2 or 4 or 6 years of age — of belonging to a nation that the world has appointed as its own boogeyman, a repository of all its vilest trepidations.

In the media, too, it seems. Two days after Sunday’s attack, Lahore has disappeared from the top headlines. Pakistan’s pain has already been extinguished from the global news cycle, its catastrophe a news item and not — as in Paris or Brussels — a news event. The world has many demands on its meager stores of empathy. The children’s names, their pictures, the terrain of the park where they fell to bits will never be familiar to a mourning world. Efforts to make the dead children of Pakistan real and innocent, worthy of a tear and not just a tweet, start, sputter and fizzle.”

However in Pakistan, a particularly confounding observation was made during the outpouring of grief and shock after the blast: the disproportionate amount of focus by many on global outrage and solidarity (or the perceived lack thereof) than the tragedy itself. While it is entirely understandable the concern many have, and rightly so, regarding a lack of greater global outrage and regarding the recent Lahore attack, it is shameful if it is let to overshadow the loss of lives that has occurred, compared to which nothing is more horrible. In such a time, when schools aren’t safe, playgrounds aren’t safe, the ghastly attack and loss of lives should be the sole focus of our attention, concern and emotion, instead of some search for global acts of support or double standards.

Certainly it is true that attacks in our part of the world fail to capture the sort of shock events in other parts of the world too because bombs and blasts in Pakistan are no longer an ‘anomaly’. But an obsessive focus and debate on the aspect of international acknowledgement and recognition in wake of the tragedy must not trump the sense of grief, empathy and anger that we should experience. Attacks in Pakistan might not be news for the rest of the world, but what matters most is that we shouldn’t become accustomed to their continued occurrence. We shouldn’t treat what is abominable and unacceptable as normal. It is we, whose outrage and condemnation matters most when it is teetering on the edge of apathy and exhaustion, because our battles are not over. We have lost too much and too many to merely look past them. We need not await international recognition of our grief and the gravity of its horror as validation of the tragedies that befall us.

It is a grossly misguided priority if it is the reaction to a tragedy than the occurrence of the tragedy itself. If you are bemoaning the lack of a Facebook filter or the lack of famous landmarks lighting up in green and white at the moment, you are losing sight of sense. This is a trivialization of the lives brutally taken, which deserve our mourning and our respect.

Mourn them, reflect, empathize, grieve, show respect.

Pray for them.

Visit the bereaved, the injured lying in hospitals.

Rush to their help.

Connect to your own humanity before seeking it from others.

As Mosharraf Zaidi put it: Why should Pakistanis seek empathy at Eiffel Tower? Start at home. If we can’t agree on enemy & victim here, why fixate on ‪#‎JeSuisElsewhere.

-Hafsa Khawaja