Zamir Niazi, the lone warrior
It is as if the word was a caged bird and Zamir Niazi set it free. The glasnost that we see today owes much to his lone warrior role. His irrefutable catalogue of black laws gagging the Press exposed the 'chains' and the state of 'siege' in which Pakistani press functioned.
In not daring to add another chapter to that volume of shame lies the source of the present liberalism. Our training though in self-censorship and our culture of pampering the crown make us quite lightly and casually to heap all credit for the current openness on the president.
Part of this credit he undoubtedly shares in as much as he allows lot of rope to his critics, only mildly rebuking them as 'pseudos' from time to time. But neither does he scrap the black laws that bide their time and await their turn, nor does he do anything to bring fairness to the distribution of charities, favours and inducements that many champions of press freedom ironically agitate for.
Freedom of expression as we find today is a baby of many fathers. It has grown over time. The spread of electronic media through the satellite communication systems, the internet etc. has made censorship a thing of the past.
The invasion of these technological advancements happily for us started at a time when through divine intervention a quasi-democratic structure of sorts had come into being and its frequent jolting by the real power wielders had collaterally unhinged and loosened their own control mechanisms.
The awe that they were held in earlier had waned and the establishment itself had its faith in its ideology badly shaken. It was not possible any more to apply the same instruments of control with the same confidence as an Ayub or Zia could. The official vision had got blurred. It was time something happened.But things have a way of happening together. Zamir Niazi happened to Press freedom when technology was just beginning to loosen the nuts and bolts of the dictatorial hold on information.
He became the human dimension of this new force that was threatening the old order and opening the doors to a new era. But this was also the time when journalists could be publicly spread- eagled on the infamous tiktiki (then a holy artefact that could not be desecrated or its originator blasphemed).
Blissfully unconcerned Zamir Niazi was busy methodically listing the daily diet charts for the editors. Authorities were not unaware of what he was doing. The Press in Chains could not find any publisher.
When at last the book exploded on the scene the controllers for once were in a flap. It was not a story, it was a record. Fiddling with the Quaid's speeches was an ideological necessity.
This was too mundane. Niazi could be left alone for foreign consumption and as an example for locals to see that books were just so much trivia. Yet, willy-nilly, a crack had been allowed to be opened in the crust. It has been widening since and is now too big for repair.
Courage is a quality of the spirit, not to any measure is it a manifestation of a robust physique (as we saw recently) or even of health, good digestion or mental stability. Intelligence would be a doubtful sole ingredient as it tends to make one clever, even cunning - all too subtle masks for cowardice.
But that would not qualify stupidity either as a constituent of courage; though of bravery, that we so much laud, it may be. In the mental make up courage is a state of liberation from the fear of loss and, on a more evanescent level, indifference to gain.
Zamir Niazi's figure, frail of frame, mere skin and bone, bedridden with a malignancy, emerges in this light, standing for the rights of those even who despite having all the advantages of health and wealth did not have the heart to stand up to the powers that be.
But then courage is not a one time show of grit. Unless it is sustained and shows itself as a trait of character, it could be in its overt expression an act of bravado. Zamir Niazi was not a dreamy eyed romantic, an armchair revolutionary or a fire brand anarchist.
He believed in himself and had deep respect for the vocation he had chosen. He had realized that all one could do was work. One had little time to waste if one wanted things done in this life. So we find him working to the last breath of his life, putting the last iota of his energy into the next para, the next line. Work can be that sacred for some.
There may be few others but certainly there are not many of this breed left; they are not what one may comfortably call an endangered lot, but a species already on the verge of extinction.
Such commitment in such pain; such intense application of what is left of strength and the remains of time; such enormous achievement and such humility! People with much less output of any kind develop gargantuan egos.
Makers of lamentable verses, pointless tales and absurd canvasses strut about cockily and expect you to rise from your seats when they approach. They are hurt if our awe of them appears diminished to them.
One wonders if making a reasonably good couplet of which the last two words rhyme is such a heroic feat. Doesn't work into which goes sweat and labour and conviction and balance and taste and above all selfless purpose and the good of most men such as that of Zamir Niazi's rise to the level of immortal poems or great paintings.
And yet Zamir Niazi hasn't the vaguest arch of a high brow on his innocent face except, perhaps, the lingering satisfaction of being able to live without expectation of reward or recognition. When he returned the Pride of Performance (PoP) award it was not pomposity that Sartre was accused of but a gesture of faith in one's convictions.
In the Web of Censorship he mentions the crush 400 of our salivating intellectuals made to reach Islamabad on Gen Zia's call, the man they professed they hated. The sight of those who were left out in the cold through oversight or manipulation of rivals was the most tragicomic of shows when the feast ended and the fortunate four hundred came out wearing the distinct scowl of achievement on their faces.
The CMLA had accorded them recognition! If only the writers, the intellectuals and the professors and poets had rejected his call, if only. This would have been a most telling statement.
Rejecting a PoP award if it were a piece of paper or a medallion would not have been that great a deed of disinterest if it had not meant the loss of the cash also that it carried.
That too perhaps a dying man could afford to lose. But generally a decision of this kind is made in consultation with one's family, particularly one's wife and children who can always do a thing or two with the money. Zamir Niazi's family stood with him. They shared his self-respect and agreed with the logic of his convictions.
Zamir Niazi has passed into eternity. But it is not just a manner of saying when we say that he lives as we say about so many who die without living. Zamir Niazi lives in the running ink of our pens. He is unstoppable.
In Memory of Martyrs
I am not yet done with Muhammad Saeed's book, Lahore: A Memoir. It has a chapter, "In Memory of Martyrs". It begins thus: Just across the road, in the triangular grassy plot, people started gathering for congregational prayers in the 50's. It was a humble beginning.
On a Friday in August, 1960, I stepped across the road to offer my Juma prayer. It was an extremely sultry day: people were sweating and the trees overhead stood motionless, not a leaf stirred. Lahore's summer was at its worst.
Some years later, I again happened to visit the mosque. It was now a marble structure -- soft, cool and soothing to touch -- dedicated to the martyrs of 1965 war. I felt inclined to stay a little longer after the prayers were over and the faithful had gone.
In an atmosphere like this one's mind is liable to fall into another train of thoughts. I had returned from Pasrur after burying a relative. Near his grave I had noticed a group of identical graves situated perilously on the sandy, sunken country pathway.
It was a "martyrs enclosure". A nephew who had witnessed the burial told me that these graves contained as much flesh and bones as the Indian cannon -- balls could not carry with them.
The scattered remains were gathered from the battlefield of Chawinda, nearby. There was hardly a grave among them that contained a complete human frame. Such was Chawinda's war -- harvest for us: for the enemy, it was a disaster.
Undoubtedly the valour of these martyrs saved that town -- virtually a watch-tower of Lahore alongwith Kasur -- from the catastrophe that had almost overtaken it. Though perilously close to the battle-field, Lahore kept its nerve splendidly.
I remember a relative suddenly breaking off my distant call from Rawalpindi saying: "Ring you back presently. I am watching a dog-fight overhead." Recalling the Chawinda encounter, moment by moment, a cousin said:
"Somewhat perturbed by the night-long rumblings of heavy vehicles around my town, I went upstairs early in the morning on September 8, to see what it was all about. Presently, a cloud of dust was seen rolling upon the town from the north.
It halted on the periphery of the town only to reveal the presence of a large number of Indian tanks. Having drawn up perilously close to the outskirts of the town, these monsters were tidying up for the final assault like beasts of prey. The unsuspecting town that had gone to a peaceful sleep the previous evening, woke up face to face with death.
It was a grim prospect. I ran downstairs to find people blissfully ignorant of the peril that was preparing to overtake them in a moment. I again ran upstairs. The Indians seemed to be grouping and re-forming themselves with an ease begotten of a triumphal march.
Down into the street I rushed with a sense that everything was lost. But now fortune turned. Round the corner I saw a soldier with an apparatus tied to his back. He said: "Don't worry. We are in complete control of the situation. Just see what happens".
Scarcely had he uttered these words than an aircraft with the sweep of a hawk appeared in the sky and let a dart fly from its underbelly. The dart tearing its way through the dusty atmosphere plunged straight into a tank with the skill of a consummate diver.
Instantaneously, the tank went up in flames. The aircraft was gone. In a moment it returned to repeat the performance. Another tank was left crippled and blazing. The whole assembly was thrown into utter disarray.
Hot on the heels of these darts, whistled something more terrible. It was a gigantic ball of fire and smoke that flew past our roof parapets to land in the midst of the tanks.
With this, the combat deepened. Our batteries were in action. Panic gripped the Indian tanks and they turned tail and were seen hurriedly disappearing beyond the horizon. Thus the valour and skill of a few saved the life and honour of many."
This incident related to me by one of my relations signified the initiation of Chawinda into the fraternity of world's great battle-fields. Chawinda was not unfamiliar to me. I, too, had some memories of it which years later, quite surprisingly, neathy fit into its September role.
I do not remember exactly when I first saw Chawinda. It must have been before World War-I when as an infant I toddled down its dusty streets. Ever since then, I have often wandered through its tortuous, narrow lanes, bathed in its placid ponds, sat under its shady banyan trees and enjoyed the sedative drone of Persian wheels working in its fields.
From the days it passed into British hands in 1849 along with other sister Sikh principalities of Pasrur and Kalaswala, Chawinda had little to offer to the outside world, except to the surveyor of the Narowal railway line, who, in 1916, swung a loop to encompass it in order to connect it with Sialkot and through it with the world beyond.
Over the past half century it had continued to be just a sleepy little town. The few educationists and administrators which it produced bade farewell to it to flourish in better environs.
With the constant process of its cream overflowing the edges, the town remained by and large obscure and backward. At any rate it was seldom mentioned beyond its immediate confines.
In the late Twenties, it attained some fame for being the centre of Islamic activities in this region.In the wake of the notorious Saghatan-Shuddi campaign there arose a frantic scramble among various religious communities for the pagan Batwals and Sansis.
The Arya Samaj-a revivalist movement among the Hindus-was the most provocatively aggressive in "reclaiming" them to the Vedic faith. The Muslim platform, consequently, attracted people like Ataullah Shah Bukhari and Zafar Ali Khan-the unparalleled orators of the day.
In the mid-Thirties I happened to visit Chawinda again. I saw amidst a knot of social workers a venerable old man, waiting for the train at the station, now riddled with bullets.
As a zealous autograph-hunter I immediately slipped pen and paper into his hand. After a thoughtful pause he put down: And in Allah should the Believers put their trust= xiv; 12-and signed 'Sir Rahim Bakhsh'.
Little did I realise then that Chawinda one day would have to live up to this great motto, for only a few furlongs from where these words were written a treacherous and titanic force was to clash with a people who, though less in number and lighter in arms, where determined not to yield an inch of their sacred land.
The dusty road leading to Badiana, along which had rolled down over the ages rickety village vehicles would turn into a vital artery of war and the mounds where gleeful bunches of children played down the generations far deep into moon-lit nights would come to serve as vantage points for complex military operations.
Standing alongside the mosque, where a dozen helmeted soldiers offered one of the sublimest prayers during the war, I heard, 58 years ago, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan telling the Muslims of Chawinda how the ravines and valleys of the Danube once reverberated to the clatter of Muslim cavalries.
The speaker and his enchanted audience didn't know that Chawinda, too, was destined to become one day a battlefield as proud as those of Hungary and Austria. Chawinda, in fact, stands now among the galaxy of Yermuk, Panipat and Gallipoli.
How valiantly Lahore, Chawinda- and particularly Sialkot-stood up to the Indian aggression was evident from the telegram which our friend Abdul Akhyar sent from Karachi to Mr Majid: 'I wish I were born in Sialkot."
Taxing times for communalism
BY a deliberately understated design Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram appears to have hit hard at the financial foundations of Hindu communal groups, among others, when he decreed a turnover tax for all deliverable transactions at the country's bourses.
For far too long rightwing Hindu militants were using their base in Mauritius to bring funds by exploiting the double taxation avoidance treaty between the two countries.
The imposition of the new tax, coupled with a lowering of capital gains tax to one-third of the original 30 per cent, is expected to remove the charm of what came to be known as the Mauritius route to money-laundering and market manipulation. That a few foreign institutional investors were also misusing the Mauritius nexus is another aspect of the same story.
Much like its other religious counterparts, Hindu communalism operates on a wide canvass of global networks and its financial clout is formidable. In the United States the Vajpayee administration, which globally shored up Hindu revivalism as no other government did, had stationed a full-time parallel ambassador to cater to the needs of an increasingly vocal and politically determined community of expatriates.
Nearly two years ago, after the Gujarat massacres, a US-based NGO - The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate - had reported that several Silicon Valley companies were found to have donated large sums of money to the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF). The companies were said to be oblivious of the IDRF's links with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, which fuels communal hatred.
Among the large US corporations mentioned by the 91-page report are Cisco, Sun, Oracle and Hewlett-Packard. The report, which took years to prepare, presented a mass of "incontrovertible evidence" to support its claim. They are an expose of the false pretexts under which the RSS affiliates would collect huge amounts of money from unsuspecting NRIs and US corporations.
Earlier this year, in London, an NGO called Awaaz had made the starling disclosure of how under the cloak of humanitarian charity, massive donations from the British public were used to fund RSS-backed organizations. The disclosure came in a report by Awaaz South Asia Watch that was launched just before the second anniversary of the horrific 2002 Gujarat carnage.
The report - In Bad Faith? British Charity and Hindu Extremism - claimed RSS branches in the UK had been raisinglarge amounts of money in the name of charity for natural disasters like the Gujarat earthquake and the Orissa super cyclone. Virtually all the money raised went to RSS- sponsored groups, including groups that have incited anti- minority violence.
The report says it was no coincidence that the two Indian states where Hindutva networks, violence and hatred have grown phenomenally in recent years, both had natural and human tragedies (the Gujarat earthquake 2001, the Orissa cyclone 1999) followed by massive amounts of funding to Hindutva organizations from overseas under the guise of humanitarian charity. It is ironic that the RSS-affiliates have attacked foreign funding of minority groups when they themselves use such funding to expand their own influence.
The report demonstrates that the UK-based Sewa International sent two million pound sterling raised for Gujarat earthquake relief to its Indian counterpart, Sewa Bharati. Sewa Bharati is a part of the RSS groups and proudly proclaims its association with them and its desire to expand Hindutva networks.
Much of the earthquake money was spent on building RSS schools that indoctrinate children into Hindutva and promote anti- minority hatred. Money from the UK was also given to other 'Sangh Parivar' organizations (such as the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram) that are involved or implicated in serious, large-scale anti-minority violence.
Most British donors were kept in the dark about the nature, history and ideas of the RSS. British individuals raised funds and donated in good faith to Sewa International's Gujarat earthquake appeals but would probably not have done so had they known that the organization raising the money was closely linked to the fascist-inspired and extremist RSS.
Sewa International is not registered as a British charity, but is the fundraising arm of the registered charity Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the UK branch of the RSS.
The report exposes the connections of the HSS, Sewa International and the Kalyan Ashram Trust (another UK-registered charity) to Sangh Parivar violence or extremism in India.
"Sewa International has tried to dupe politicians, donors and the general public. Its main purpose is to fund, expand and glorify hate-driven RSS organizations, several of which have been at the forefront of large-scale violence, pogroms or hate campaigns in India.
Its claim to be a non-sectarian, non- political, non-religious humanitarian charity is a sham," said Awaaz spokesperson Suresh Grover in a statement made available to this writer.
Clearly, in the long battle ahead with Hindu communalism, Mr Chidambaram has taken the first crucial step to target its vast financial resources. There would be howls of protest from everyone thus affected. But as long as the United Progressive Alliance remains committed to its fight for secularism, Mr Chidambaram would feel pleased with his critical contribution to the cause.
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Remember Kumar Baadal, the gutsy reporter of Tehelka.com news portal? He was hounded on the flimsiest of charges relating to animal poaching. But many believed that the Vajpayee government - more specifically the then defence minister George Fernandes - orchestrated his gruelling days in jail. It was widely known that Mr Fernandes was seeking to get even with the portal following the sensational defence scandal that it broke.
Well Baadal is back in business. In his first major story carried in the latest edition of Tehelka's recently launched weekly newspaper, Baadal has (guess what?) taken on the defence ministry.
According to his story, the defence ministry, under Mr Fernandes to be sure, had flouted all rules to allot 6.10 acres of army land worth over Rs 140 million in the southern Secunderabad Cantonment area to a businessman. A residential colony is now coming up there.
To rub in the point, Baadal writes acidly: "While the Indian army was in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with its Pakistani counterparts soon after the attack on the Indian parliament, the ministry of defence was quietly striking a deal with a businessman.
"The sanction letter to facilitate this out-of-turn handover was sent by the defence ministry in a hush-hush manner (dated January 28, 2002, a copy of the letter is with Tehelka), without sending a copy to the army headquarters or the comptroller and auditor general (CAG), as is the norm. It was instead sent directly to the Secunderabad Cantonment Board," writes Baadal, not without a hint of glee.
In and out
The scramble for portfolios came to an end when Sindh Chief Minister Dr Ghulam Arbab Rahim announced the names of his ministers last Thursday. While over a dozen hopefuls succeeded in elbowing their way into the cabinet, the list of former ministers and advisers whose relentless pursuit of power came to naught this time makes an instructive read.
Six ministers of the Mahar cabinet didn't make it - at least in this round. These are former revenue and rural development minister Altaf Hussain Unar, who was elected as an independent, Dr Saeeda Malik (women development) and Irfan Gul Magsi (Auqaf, religious and minority affairs) of the PML, minerals and mines minister Osman Malkani, who defected from the PPP to join the Patriots, Syed Shakir Ali (excise and taxation), and Naeem Ishtiaq (sports and youth), both from the Muttahida.
Three advisers to the Sindh chief minister who enjoyed the status of ministers - all belonging to the Muttahida Quami Movement - are also out, fuelling speculation that they no longer enjoy the trust of MQM supremo Altaf Hussain. They are Aftab Shaikh (home affairs), Waseem Akhtar (local government) and Noman Sehgal (health).
Six other advisers in the previous government who now have no access to the corridors of power are Ghulam Rasool Unar (political affairs), Abdul Majeed Jamali (development of human resources), Mir Naseer Khoso (special education), Syed Manzoor Hussain Shah (Karachi affairs), Ali Nawaz Talpur (NGOs), and Mumtaz Anwar (media development).
But political analysts feel sure that we haven't seen the last of the jostling for power in Sindh. It may intensify when the chief minister looks around for four more ministers to expand his cabinet - not necessarily to make it a more effective body but to keep his coalition partners happy.
Survival of the fittest
Time was when Karachi was a major civil aviation hub between the East and the West. All major airlines flying between the two hemispheres transited here for refuelling, catering services and for taking on fresh crew.
This was before the Arabs struck oil and petro-dollars began to roll in. The Gulf states developed their own airports, which attracted many airlines. Although Karachi lost its status as a major hub, the exodus of Pakistanis to the Gulf meant a steady stream of traffic, and the modest Karachi airport was expanded.
But when the new state-of-the-art Jinnah Terminal was built, the Civil Aviation Authority in its twisted wisdom raised landing and ground handling fees by a over hundred per cent. This drove off the remaining foreign airlines, and at the same time, a decline set in, in the number of migrants to the Gulf.
The result is that today we have an underutilized white elephant on our hands, much like the motorway in Punjab. The CAA rethought its decision and reduced the charges a few years ago, but the airlines have remained wary of its policy shifts.
All European carriers but one have stopped transiting Karachi and have chosen Dubai instead. No American airline is interested in starting a service to Karachi, and a couple of Far-Eastern ones that still come here keep rethinking if they really need Karachi on their network. Those that still use Karachi are making hay.
But, for those who have seen the glory of the old Karachi airport - with its foreign airline-run hotels and restaurants - it is sad to walk into the departure lounge with all its modern facilities, including Internet on-the-house, and find it almost deserted. Even the duty free shops at the Jinnah Terminal are a non-starter for obvious reasons.
Help in emergencies
In the midst of strife and discord in Karachi, there are groups of conscientious individuals who work hard to establish philanthropic organizations and run them with the support of like-minded friends.
One such group recently managed to set up a state-of-the-art emergency operation theatre (EOT) at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. The new EOT, which will begin functioning this week, may turn out to be the envy of many private hospitals.
It all started about a year and a half ago when the Neurology Research and Patient Welfare Fund at the JPMC decided to initiate an EOT project. Its committee members included senior professors and committed people from all walks of life.
In July 2003, an independent charitable trust, the Accident and Emergency Foundation, was formed. The trust then set about establishing the EOT - the entire project funded by public donations and without a single fund-raising event having to be held.
The JPMC is the largest public-sector hospital in terms of patient turnover, with its accident and emergency department receiving over 400 patients a day. Of these, 15-20 require emergency operations.
With the increasing population and proliferation of violence in the city, the workload on the JPMC has been rising. The existing EOT on the first floor of the main block has been struggling to cope with the ever-increasing workload.
It takes a patient a good 10 minutes to be wheeled from the accident and emergency department to the main building from where he is taken up on an elevator and then again wheeled through long corridors before finally reaching the operation theatres. Furthermore, the two theatres are ill equipped, and depend a lot on the main theatres whose machines are used for emergencies when the theatres close at 2pm.
The new EOT, located on top of the casualty department, has two fully equipped theatres, a recovery area for six people, which can be increased to eight and which houses state-of-the-art emergency equipment including monitors, piped oxygen and suction, infusion pumps and defibrillator. Built at a cost of Rs21.3 million, it is a free-standing facility with on-site sterilization conveniences.
You never know
Sandspit, like its neighbour Hawkesbay, has become a crowded beach. Buses and other forms of transport run right next to where the row of huts begins, enabling many more people to make the trip to the beach than was previously the case. But few people have access to the huts, and many picnickers have to do with the shadows cast by the huts.
"Huts" too has become a misnomer. These are houses now, some of them smart, but most outright monstrosities that defile the coastline as much as anything else. New money, with its poor taste, is much in evidence in the shape and decor of these buildings. The approach to the beaches has been commercialized, and you have to thread your way through a maze of trucks and containers parked on both sides of the road.
But you can still have a lot of fun despite all this. The waves are dangerous in this monsoon season, but as they roll in and break on the shore, the power of the sea is fascinating to watch.
Where there used to be the occasional camel for joy rides, now you have ponies too, and snake charmers and bandarwallahs. If you are not careful, the monkeys can rush up to steal your food or climb up into your lap, with their masters more bemused than concerned at the antics of their animals.
On a recent Sunday, there was a wizened middle-aged person who would dart out from the shade of a hut with a string and small net and throw his line into the breaking waves. He would go back to fix bait on his line and then rush out again.
After several such futile trips, he was asked what he was trying to catch. "Magarmuch (crocodile)," he chuckled, then added, less jocularly, that you never knew, some fish might bite. His bored family apparently didn't agree.