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DAWN - Features; December 24, 2001

December 24, 2001


Livestock investors show interest

BALOCHISTAN and its traditional agrarian society is known for its livestock development, quality of meat, wool and other byproducts and it produces these for domestic market in other provinces. It is unfortunate that the livestock sector received less or no attention from the government and its planners in Islamabad. The reason is known. Its problems and needs were ignored or never considered on a priority basis. The provincial rulers, too, ignored the sector which multiplied the problems faced by the flock owners in remote regions of the province.

The prolonged drought, spreading over four years, played havoc with the flocks, killing more than 30 per cent livestock. The flock owners were found desperate at the end of the drought and they had to sell their flocks at throwaway prices.

Quetta and other major centres of population witnessed the fall in the meat prices. Mutton was sold at Rs50 per kilogram last summer as the owners had no hope for their survival. The butchers, too, bought a sheep or a goat at Rs100, forcing the flock owners to move to other areas to escape the effects of drought in Balochistan and its surrounding regions.

With the end of a short-lived honeymoon by the butchers in autumn, the price of mutton shot up and now it is being sold at Rs130 per kilogram in Quetta. It is much higher in the protein-deficient areas close to Iran and Afghan borders or in the coastal areas.

The crisis deepened as the influx of the Afghans from the neighbouring regions overburdened the meagre resources of water and pastoral land.

At present, the situation has taken a different turn. The Afghan war became a factor in short supply of flocks to the local market for the past three months, since the Sept 11 attacks in New York and Washington and Oct 8 bombing of Afghanistan by the US and British warplanes.

Yet another valid reason is that the neighbouring Iranian market is booming with more than double price for the mutton and beef. It is a big attraction for the smugglers and traders to export the flocks to Iran. Recently, the government has lifted all restrictions on export of mutton and beef to other countries, ignoring the drought n Balochistan and neighbouring regions. The southern Iran, mainly regions close to the Pakistan border, was also affected by drought and the prolonged dry spell.

Since southern Iran is closer to Pakistan than central Iran, bulk of the meat imports were directed from this region, causing a serious shortfall for the local population. Leaders of public opinion and independent economists suggested that the federal government should suspend the legal export of meat and flocks to Iran till the market situation improves.

Balochistan is a promising land in the context of developing livestock. No organized efforts were undertaken to improve the livestock sector though over 70 per cent rural population of Balochistan are drawing their sizable family earnings from this sector.

There are reports that a Saudi prince owning big companies has shown his keen interest in making significant investment in developing livestock in the province. Saudi Arabia will be needing at least six million flocks as sacrificial animals during the Haj season. Balochistan has got the potentials to meet the requirements of over 2.5 million pilgrims to Makkah annually.

The federal government is yet to guarantee protection of foreign investment in such a large track of land in Balochistan.

It has already hampered the significant investment in energy sector, mainly in the field of oil and gas exploration. Once adequate guarantee is given, it is hoped that significant investment will be made to develop livestock in the province, with a new opening for quality mutton market in the Gulf region, if not anywhere else.

The Balochistan government should also play its greater role in improving the economic lot of the common people in the remote region by developing the livestock sector. Better feed and better marketing facilities will create an impact on the provincial economy, making people less dependent on other sectors.

The provincial government should give greater emphasis on better marketing of flocks to Sindh and Punjab, ensuring an increased earning for the families engaged in this sector. This winter the rain prospect is better and should help in better management and availability of feed in the drought-affected regions. It is hoped the dry spell is finally over with the advent of the New Year.

In the name of the people: Mein Kampf good, Satanic Verses BADIN:

RELIGIOUS extremism is reprehensible in all its forms. There have been quite a few palpable responses in India to religious terrorist attacks for the last few years. The audacious attack on the parliament house on Dec 13 has triggered calls for war and vendetta.

War may happen or not happen, but one reaction that has come to stay in India in response to a perceived growth of Muslim terrorism is the spurt in the availability of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf at railway stations and even in respectable bookstores in Delhi. Other rabid arrivals on the book-shops include the fanatical testament of Nathuram Godse justifying why he killed Mahatma Gandhi. The perverse use of literature in political mobilization is not new to India. In the name of the secular people of this country, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses still remains banned, as though this book is more harmful for the public than the other two mentioned above. Whatever be the logic of these decisions, they worry us.

There are two or three images from history that come to mind that either partially or wholly capture the essence of what may be happening in India today. The first image is rooted in the Iranian revolution in which the state was shaken and rattled so badly with sheer street power of frenzied mobs that it collapsed on its knees.

In this scenario it is tempting to see Jaswant Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee as the Westward-leaning liberal arm of the otherwise Hindutva-led revolution, something akin to Abol Hasan Bani-Sadr who eventually became president and was later forced by the mullahs to flee to Paris to save his life, and Sadeq Qotbzadeh, who was named foreign minister but was executed in the wake of mysterious charges of treason, again by the mullahs.

I have shared this thought with one of the two leaders from India when they were in the opposition and I got an indulgent smile in reply. Just replace the mullahs with semi-naked, trishul-wielding sadhus, and you don’t have to go too far to find among them a replica of Sadeq Khalkhali, the laughing executioner of Tehran, or the backroom power-brokers who formed the hub of the secret Iran-Contra deal, a deal incidentally in which the current American president’s father was seen as a key player.

The second image of the political crossroads facing India today derives from William L. Shirer’s classic on the making of Adolf Hitler. The very first paragraph of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich brings images that look ominously close to some recent events in Delhi.

The book opens thus: “On the very eve of the birth of the Third Reich a feverish tension gripped Berlin. The Weimar Republic, it seemed obvious to almost everyone, was about to expire. For more than a year it had been fast crumbling. Gen Kurt von Schleicher, who like his immediate predecessor, Franz von Papen, cared little for the Republic and less for its democracy, and who, also like him, had ruled as chancellor by presidential decree without recourse to parliament, had come to the end of his rope after fifty-seven days in office.”

The terror of National Socialism did not flow as much from Hitler’s disciplined and systematic thrust towards power as from the fact that ordinary people quickly began to believe and think like him. The terrorist attack on Delhi’s parliament house was an example of ordinary gullible people accepting half-truths about who or what might be behind the attack. For days after the attack most eyewitness accounts by journalists who claimed to have seen it all, gave the wrong picture about which direction or gate the terrorists entered the parliament from.

Not that there were no exceptions to the way the attack was played out in the Indian media. There was a pocket-cartoon, for example, in the Indian Express, I think, that showed a bust of Gen Musharraf being worshipped by Indian politicians. It said thank you for saving George Fernandes, thank you for burying the coffin scandal and so on.

And yet in most other space in print, on TV and radio we were told ad nauseum that the attack on Indian democracy was the handiwork of Pervez Musharraf. If that was indeed true then Gen Musharraf has ended up uniting the country as seldom seen before. Every Indian knows from experience that calamity unites this country, and not breaks it up, as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee would have us believe. Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination helped the Congress Party to unite the country behind it for quite a few long innings.

Similarly, Indira Gandhi’s assassination gave an unprecedented number of deputies to her son Rajiv in the ensuing election. And Rajiv Gandhi’s tragic death was ironically a god- send for the troubled Congress party which was able to cobble together a majority for one last gasp, thanks to his martyrdom. In the melee of emotional journalism, the more credible view that the terrorists who attacked the parliament building on Dec 13 were the same ones who could be plotting at this point in time to remove Gen Musharraf from power hardly got any space, except perhaps in a commentary by Shekhar Gupta, Editor of The Indian Express. On the basis of completely unconvincing hype, the country has been mobilized to go to war. Anyone opposed to this is a traitor.

The third and perhaps the most compelling image of the remarkable times we are passing through is rooted in Eric Blair’s celebrated spoof on the Bolshevik Revolution and its bizarre subversion by its own leadership. In the Animal Farm, the pigs lead a revolution of assorted animals kept under slavish conditions at the farmhouse of Mr Jones. The revolution targets every symbol that reminds them of human beings. In the end though, after the revolution is successfully staged and consolidated the pigs have a cultural makeover and are seen dressing up as humans, smoking and drinking and generally having fun. Volte face is a mild term.

Nothing could be more symbolic of this transformation in India than a key minister in Mr Vajpayee’s cabinet who was a major human rights activist as a journalist and has now become an apologist for exactly the kind of things he once campaigned against. I will leave the reader with two excerpts from the writings of Arun Shourie. The first from a column in The Indian Express he wrote in 1980 and the other from his recent burgeonings on an anti-terrorist law he once opposed but now canvasses for.

In 1980, Shourie wrote: “Things work at two levels in India, that of paper and that of fact. On paper, for instance, we have section 167 of the Indian Penal Code under which a public servant is to be hauled up for preparing a false document; we have section 192 of the same code under which the punishment for fabricating evidence that leads to conviction for murder is the same as for murder itself.... That is what is on paper. In practice we have the police lockup.... Hauling a person in without “arresting” him and without registering a charge has become common practice in states such as Punjab and Haryana. The man is formally “arrested” and charges are registered only later when he has confessed to the crime under the customary methods....”

Whatever Mr Shourie’s belief in the use or relevance of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) today, I don’t believe that he believes that the police he has described the 1980 article have become more civilized and human-rights savvy to be able to handle the draconian bit of legislation with any credibility. His campaign in support of POTO could be considered part of his duty to his government. But look what the former journalist wrote only last week about his own former avtar:

“Among the technologies the terrorists have mastered is that of using the instruments of mass media. They use these to arouse sympathy for their cause — look at the shrewd way in which Hamas in Palestine, the Taliban in Afghanistan generate revulsion at what their opponents do by giving selective access to Western media to photograph civilian casualties. They are as adept at using the mass media as Greens and other activists for creating the echo-effect that so often leads policymakers to desist from taking stern measures.... Wars are won by overpowering the opponent with overwhelming force. And so it must be in the case of terrorism, and of the states that sponsor it: not “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”; for an eye, both eyes, for a tooth, the whole jaw.”

The pigs were looking like humans, George Orwell concludes in his book. And then they looked like pigs again and so it went on until it was getting to be difficult to say which was which.

Dial ‘K’ again for murder

ALAS! This city is no stranger to murders. More significantly, to murders of VIPs. A brother of sitting prime minister was done to death close to his house. A chief minister of Sindh saw his brother killed. A philanthropist was killed in his office. Even a business executive with no political antecedents was shot dead. Not a single of these murders has been effectively prosecuted. Conviction of a killer in Karachi is asking for the moon.

And now we have a killing that in Shakespeare’s words would be “murder most foul.” A senior citizen, who helped the needy get blood to save lives, has had his life extinguished. That he was an elder brother of the Interior Minister is being highlighted. Would the killing of this noble gentlemen be any the less shocking were he not so related?

Killing human beings is a commonplace in Karachi. Even so, there have been fewer killings in Karachi during the past 18 months or so, than was the case during the four elected governments of two prime ministers. Both are sitting it out abroad in what looks like a cross between exile and absconding. Half a decade ago, (in 1996) a book on this city’s career carried the expression “Killing Fields of Karachi ...” as its title. Killing is not new here.

It is about time the government addressed the question everyone is asking. Why the killers remain untracked and unpunished? Every human enterprise carries an element of risk and hazard. In this city killing, now a profession, carries only reward, no hazard. Any wonder killing is so common? Even petty motorcycle thieves freely use the gun and get away with it, the police looking the other way.

Now, the police can object to this observation. If they are not looking the other way, how come the killer escapes every time he strikes? Next time you hear about a killing, the report would be that they came on motorcycle, killed and escaped. There was a time, newspapers used to say “police investigating”. Now they do not say even that.

There is absolutely no way to stop murders if you so consistently fail to catch the murderer. No particular crime can be committed repeatedly without the assurance of state protection. You know what the ‘State’ should mean in this context. All major crime, committed frequently in a familiar style, is convertible into cash. No criminal can hope to make that sort of cash without sharing it, be it cash from drugs or from a blood sport like murder.

Killing came to Karachi in a big way, courtesy dictator Zia. He left behind a heap of anger and an appetite for revenge. The government(s) that followed went berserk, throwing respect for law and political decency to the winds. When the government joins in the ‘blood sport’ you have the state ‘red in tooth and claw.’ Recall what this city was like when Jam Sadiq or Abdullah Shah were merrily painting the city literally ‘red.’ One interior minister was blithely issuing “shoot-at-sight” orders to the forces of law — and order.

Prospects of making quick money have brought all manner of people from all corners to this city. For all we know, there are more idle (but armed) Afghan Taliban (refugees?) in Karachi than in Peshawar. Everybody knows that cars stolen or snatched at gunpoint in Karachi safely land in far off places. It is a meticulously organized commerce - all profit, no loss.

With all this said and done, something remains to be said — and to be done. Last Friday’s murder may have more to it than killings that have gone before. Instinctively, one would link it to the Pakistan government’s steps to rein in the runaway fanatics. This is a classic case of the government doing too little, too late.

When Pakistan was born, it had no religious fanatics anywhere. The founder was asserting that Pakistan shall never fall into the hands of mullahs. Dictator Zia not only handed it over to mullahs, he set in motion a process of limitless proliferation of mullahs. As prime minister, Benazir Bhutto handed over her foreign ministry to an established extremist, now under detention.

Until lately, the Interior Minister was eulogizing the services of the ‘deni’ madrassas for giving “free education.” Now you see what “education” these institutions were imparting for “free.” How enlightened are their graduates and what is their performance? What have they done to Afghanistan? What are they doing here?

Even now, the government appears to be vacillating, instead of being earnest about the menace that religious quacks are to this country. Tomorrow (December 25) the nation celebrates the Founder’s birthday — the founder who had visualized this country to be a model of multi-faith state. See what we have to show for all that advice given to us by the Quaid-i-Azam. Today’s Pakistan is the very antithesis of the Quaid’s vision.

Not a matter of pride for anyone of us. Let us hope the latest tragedy will at last give the Interior Minister the strength he needs to act firmly.

A walk along the sea

It was known that Napier Road was Karachi’s answer to Lahore’s Heera Mandi but once a place is exposed and gets a bad reputation, the world’s oldest profession spreads in a new direction. And that is exactly what seems to have happened in Karachi.

Prostitution these days seems to be doing thriving business in DHA’s Phases 5 and 6, areas both close to the sea. In fact, a friend said he came across a bunch of pimps the other day while walking along Seaview beach, though sometimes even eunuchs have been known, so he says, to walk the area looking for potential customers.

Apparently, single men is what they are after, and if your one of them (a single man, that is) and just loitering about, chances are you will be approached. Apparently, the price ranges depends on what sort of customer you happen to look like. Those with unkempt dirty appearances will probably be passed over. On the other hand, a mobile phone in hand and you might just be the right candidate — mind you, all these predictions are being insisted upon by the friend who says he was approached, and yes, he does carry a mobile with him. The friend also says that all this soliciting happens not really close to the restaurants and eating areas where the majority of the crowd is made up of families or married (or un-married) couples but usually near more secluded places like taxi stands and the like.

‘Rates’ vary according to the complexion and looks of the girl. A very pretty girl will be referred to as a ‘chickni’ (so much for using non-sexist/gender-sensitive or politically correct lingo). The friend says that women from as far afield as Bangladesh, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Central Asia are part of this racket. Once a deal is stuck at the beach, things move to the many rented houses and apartments nearby.

Most discourteous

A trip to the local supermarket can become quite a harrowing experience. On my way home from work, I often stop by this place which is supposed to be one of Karachi’s best places to shop (no prize for guessing what the name is but since this column would be accused of promoting the place I rather not take its name). You often start right from the back since that’s where most of the goodies — chocolates, cakes, savouries, sandwiches and all — are.

It takes me usually around 15-20 minutes to go around the place, see if they have something new in the beverages sections, go by the magazines section, see how many people I know this time in the ‘who’s who’ pictures section of the fashion mags, and then head for the counter. Now, anyone who’s been to this place will know that around seven or eight in the evening the line at the counter can be quite long, as in there might be few customers in line but they have usually several dozen things in their baskets or trolleys.

This happened right after Eid. I had been waiting in line for around ten minutes or so and finally my turn came. My basket had around ten different items so it wouldn’t have taken all that long. Just then, this rather morose looking peroxide blonde came right next to me, stood in front of the register, dangled out her arm and said crassly: “Yeh, please lay lein”. Now some of us have probably experienced road rage driving at some time or the other in Karachi, so they might be able to relate to it. Others might have to experience this themselves to know just how felt at that point in time.

First of all, she didn’t wait in line like I did, and then if she’s in such a great hurry the least she could do is ask the person (moi) who’s waiting at the counter. No, nothing of the sort happened. I gave several dirty looks to this woman. That didn’t work at all, so I told her that perhaps she should wait in the line like everyone else. Even then, no reply, not even an apology. But since I had ten things and she one, on my own I told her to go ahead. And even the woman did not have the decency to say ‘thank you’.

A friend at work has coined a very apt phrase for my response to this kind of uncouth behaviour (which by the way is becoming all too common even among the most educated of us). He calls it ‘supermarket rage’ as opposed to road rage.

Tailors and weddings

The busiest wedding season is upon us. The weather has suddenly taken a very pleasant turn — it’s downright chilly at night these days — which means that people can now dress up and not sweat half their weight away. So anyone who thought that the shopping season was over because Eid is behind us had better think again. Obviously, the people selling their stuff at Hydery, Jubilee, Rabi Centre, Dolmen Centre, Gulfway and Ashiana are not complaining. Lots of shaadis mean lots of dholkis, lots of mehdnis/mayuns and lots of new clothes.

This, by the way, brings with it disappointment for many. After all, the city has a limited number of good tailors and an unlimited number of girls, young women, and begums who all want the best fitted outfit and they want it in time. This means that some girls, young women or begums will inevitably be left quite unsatisfied in that either they will not get their joras on time or what they do get will be terribly made.

One such designer of women’s clothes has apparently become embroiled in several disputes with her discerning clients. One of them says that her outfit had many flaws and on her insistence the designer took it back to correct i. However, when she got her jora back, the faults had multiplied and now my friend is in quite a fix as to what to do, since taking it back again to the designer would not be the wisest thing to do. In any case, what does the designer really care because she will have made her sweet little bundle. Maybe a special court should be created to take to task such incompetent and rogue tailors or even a campaign to perhaps we advocate a campaign to wipe out this kind of ‘terror’. And I even have a name for it, we could call it Operation Nuptial Justice.

Exploring the timber market

The timber market is a fascinating place to visit, if one ever manages to find the time. It’s probably one of those places which has managed to retain a sense of timelessness over these years, unaffected and untouched by commercialism. But then how could it be affected in that way since after all it’s a wholesale market and the sort of people who visit, say, The Point, wouldn’t probably want to visit Timber Market.

The place has a matchbox maze of small shops which sell wooden planks or they specialize in furniture. Then there are the wood yards, or barn-like warehouses that sell piles of timber logs stacked roof high. These are probably used in the construction of houses and other commercial buildings. One such intriguing warehouse — an exquisite meld of the man-made and the natural — has ancient gnarled trees winding out of the barn-like wooden mud Structure. This is one shop where you could spend a lot of time, simply because it’s so different from anything you would have ever seen in Karachi. The owner refused to divulge any information about the place’s history and also flatly denied a request for a photograph to be taken.

One of the employees did say that the wood found in the shop had come from Afghanistan but later he went back on that, saying that I should speak to the Timber Association. The Paper Market is supposed to be dodgy terrain because some of the shops allegedly deal in smuggled paper and that obviously makes them chary of journalists.

—By Karachian

Musharraf’s three awesome assignments

President George W. Bush wants President General Pervez Musharraf to stop the fleeing Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership from entering into Pakistan. Prime Minister Vajpayee wants him to stop the Jihadis belonging to Lashkar-i-Tayyaba and Jaishe Mohammad from crossing over the Line of Control (LoC) into the Indian held Kashmir. And he has assigned to himself the task of stopping former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from coming back to power in Pakistan.

Since Pakistan is a member of the US-led coalition against international terrorism, Gen Musharraf can hardly refuse to oblige President Bush. So he has, according to a newspaper report, moved over 50,000 soldiers and 150,000 para-military troops to the border with Afghanistan in order to stop infiltration of anti-Afghan warriors into the tribal areas. He would, however, very much like not to oblige Mr Vajpayee but by plugging the Durand Line, he is in effect doing exactly what the Indian prime minister desires. With no trained Jihadis coming in from Afghanistan, he has nobody to stop from crossing over to the IHK. What is worrisome for the President is the fact that in the process he is unwillingly creating the political space for a triumphant return of both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. With no veterans of Afghanistan and Kashmir to serve him as his political arm inside the country, he seems hardly in a position to politically stop the return of the leaders of the two major political parties.

While preparing the roadmap to democracy which he announced on August 14 this year the President naturally could not have made any allowances for the September 11 tragedy and its after-effects on global, regional and domestic politics. Pumped up by so much world attention with so many high profile visitors coming all the way from the four corners of the world to meet him and the number of telephone calls he received from the world leaders during this period, the President, perhaps, believes that he needs not worry about his democracy roadmap. He, perhaps, believes that the map would remain untouched in the aftermath of the global war against terrorism.

That is why of and on he keeps on talking about his determination to keep Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from coming back to power. And perhaps that is again the reason why the redoubtable Tanveer Naqvi, the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) chief sounded so smug while being interviewed on BBC’s Hard Talk. The two want to restore ‘genuine’ democracy in the country by making irreversible transfer of power to civilians through the undemocratic method of pre-poll rigging. According to information gathered from various informed and inspired sources, the roadmap to democracy envisages the General to remain president for two terms after the 2002 elections which he would not contest. He will also head the National Security Council as its chairman with the majority of the NSC members coming from the armed forces. For the job of prime minister he has a number of names on his list including Omar Asghar Khan, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Hamid Nasir Chattha, Aftab Shaban Mirani and Makhdoom Amin Fahim. And he believes that the newly-elected parliament will okay any constitutional amendment that he will introduce before and after the elections. He does not consider the PML(N) to be of any threat to his plans as under the infamous deal he struck with Nawaz Sharif in December last year, the former PM is not expected to return home in a hurry. He has assigned the job of taking care of the PML(N) remnants to Mian Azhar and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain in the Punjab, to the Shiekh brothers in Sindh, to about-to-return Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao in the NWFP and to, perhaps, Zafarullah Jamali (not yet final) in Balochistan.

The PPP, however, continues to remain intractable so far. Attempts to cut a deal with Benazir Bhutto have not yet borne any fruit. And Ms Benazir has also made it very clear that she would accept no intermediary whatever his rank shuttling between her and the President to fine tune the deal. She wants a direct one- on-one negotiations with the President. She has also made it clear that she was not prepared to accept any deal in return for the release of Asif Ali Zardari. She wants him to go through the entire process of law and get his name cleared from the courts. That is why with Asif having been given bail in the cases pending against him, he is still not being released and the NAB is leaking stories to the press creating the impression that he would be arrested soon on some still-to-be-concocted charges. What Gen Musharraf wants from Benazir is her party’s complete support for his roadmap to democracy, his constitutional amendments, two terms for his presidency, her consent to remain out of electoral politics for the next two elections and a name for the post of prime minister in case her party wins the elections. Here too Musharraf has confined her to only three choices (Hamid Nasir Chattha, Aftab Shaban Mirani or Makhdoom Amin Fahim).

The regime has sent word to BB that she could meet the President only if she returned to Pakistan. But BB does not want to take the risk. She fears that if she returned she would either be arrested and put behind the bars and forgotten or her meeting with the President would be so arranged that after it is over it would be given a distorted interpretation by the government’s spin doctors to malign her costing her politically. Musharraf does not want to meet her in Dubai. That is where, informed circles say, the talks are stuck. One more thing, before any such meeting could be arranged the regime wants the PPP to start recognizing him as the President of the country. It is, however, not known if Musharraf actually met BB, would she be willing to give into all the demands of the military regime or to what extent she would like to go and in return for what? The question of his tenure as the COAS is also to be sorted out in the negotiations.

But as they say man proposes and God disposes, and God seems to have disposed of Musharraf’s roadmap to democracy by arranging the September 11 tragedy. It would be too naive on his part and on the part of his NRB chief to still press on with their roadmap to democracy. This map was prepared when the religious right was on the side of the military regime and it was enjoying a high political pre-eminence in the country by successfully managing two low intensity wars, one on its northern borders and the other on its eastern borders. Today the religious right is in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the regime and one of the two wars has vanished in thin air threatening to extinguish the other war too. This is not the right environment to try to do what Aslam Beg and Hamid Gul tried to do in 1988 and succeeded. —Onlooker

I want to say Amen, too

A COLLECTION of noted Indian author and journalist Khushwant Singh’s columns, More Malicious Gossip, first appeared in 1991. So this is the tenth anniversary year for the book. One particular piece “House of Praise: Amritsar”, is of some relevance today. He wrote:

Amritsar’s sanctity has survived three centuries of tobacco vending in its streets. It is therefore difficult to comprehend the logic behind the demand of the hot-headed fanatics that its sacred character can only be preserved if tobacco is tabooed. If they directed their energies to cleaning up their streets, they would win universal support. This city of eight lakh has no drainage system worth speaking of; many parts are unspeakably filthy with sewers overflowing and garbage strewn about everywhere. The stench of human excreta and urine pervades most of its narrow and sunless lanes. The sacred-wallahs are not much bothered with this; all they are looking out for are quarrels; and no one is willing to pick up a quarrel over garbage removal from his doorstep.

A refreshing thing about present-day Amritsaris is their goodwill towards Pakistan. The credit should really go to the Pakistanis of whom nearby 500 pass through the city every day. Their conduct and expression of cordiality have paid dividends. Amritsaris now go out of their way to he hospitable to the visitors. What is more, no one believes that there can be another war with Pakistan. “Never!” said my host Dalbir Singh, newly elected president of the Rotary. Later, he qualified his statement: “In any case, there cannot be a war for the next two months because the terrain is far too wet for tank operations. I hope by then the two countries will have smoothed out their minor irritants.” The 80-year-old journalist, Sethi, was equally sanguine: “I meet a lot of Pakistanis from Lahore and can assure you they are dead set against a war with India. Over the last ten years their attitude towards India has changed: they hanker for us to take their hand of friendship.

To this Khushwant Singh had said: Amen. So do I. But can I really do so? Look at what LK Advani and Jaswant Singh are saying and doing or are planning to do. And if it comes to war, who will wage a jihad against India? The dozens of sectarian organizations that we have? I tell you they will run away at the first opportunity —- and not to Wagah but to sanctuaries which are as far away as possible.

Khushwant Singh wrote of the many parts of Amritsar which were “unspeakably filthy with sewers overflowing and garbage strewn about everywhere.” That was more than

ten years ago. Today, I can show him parts of Lahore which filthier than the Amritsar of a decade or so ago. And I can show him more garbage than he has ever seen in life. And I am only talking of Lahore, not of Gujranwala and similar other “health resorts” in the Punjab and the rest of the country. If appears, then, that the only thing the Indians and Pakistanis can share is filth and garbage and overflowing sewers. Advani and Jaswant Singh are welcome to take any amount of human excreta and take it home as an after-shave antiseptic. But perhaps it is another kind of filth we should be talking about —filth that grows in the minds and souls of men.

Years ago, a friend did a piece for a weekly magazine which, unfortunately, no longer exists. In it he had described Lahore as a dead buffalo whose bloated body was floating in a pond and ugly, green-and-blue flies were trying to settle over it and the buzzing noise they were making was horrendous.

I am reminded here of Nasir Kazmi, the poet, who once wrote

Woh shairon ka shehr, woh Lahore bujh gaya

Ugte thay jis me she’r woh kheti hi jal gayie

And then he had said:

Ab toa khush ho jaien arbab-i-havas

Jaisey woh thay, hum bhi waisey ho gaey

And finally,

Yeh aap hum toa bojh hein zamin ka

Zamin ka bojh uthaney waley kya hooay.

As I am fond of saying, if the way to hell is paved with good intentions, the way to heaven must be paved with evil intent.


THE following piece appeared in The Statesman, the old Indian newspaper, on April 25, 1890:

When Rudyard Kipling is clever, he is very clever; and when he is foolish, he is very foolish. There is a sketch over his name in this month’s Longman’s Magazine entitled “ For one night only.” Which reads as if it had been written for the purpose of ascertaining how far a newly discovered genius may go in the way of writing nonsense, without being called to order. It is so much cheaper to write nonsense than sense that this knowledge is certainly worth acquiring. On the other hand, the experiment is a dangerous one and may be tried once too often.

No small measure of Rudyard Kipling’s astonishing success is probably to be attributed to the novelty of his style, which is unlike anything the reading public are acquainted with. But the charm of novelty is in its very nature evanescent. A fear has been expressed lest he should exhaust himself. The real fear to our thinking is less he should exhaust his public. When they come to turn from the manner to what he himself delights in calling the “invardness” of the thing, will it stand the test of examination? That is the question on which, in the long run, his success must depend. One point in his favour so far is that he has no particular theory of life to thrust on his readers. Another is that he exhibits a thorough-going contempt for humbug of all kinds, except, of course, his own tricks of expression.

Then on February 15, 1891, the paper told us:

According to race or religion, the number of pupils during the past two years may be classified as under:

1888-89 1889-90

Hindoos 2,413,588 2,458,448

Mahomedans 832,449 854,498

Europeans/Eurasians 23,948 25,082

Native Christians 74,376 81,780

Other religions 199,760 206,397


ARE you a Sherlock Holmes fan? Well, they have a Holmes museum in London, at the most famous address in fiction: If you ever happen to visit London, don’t forget 221-B, Baker Street.

PS: If you go to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, don’t forget to buy a hip flask for me and nice little glass that goes with it. Of course, you know what are hip flasks for, don’t you?