Benazir may use her expected arrest to get sympathy vote

THE chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party, Benazir Bhutto, who is living in self-exile in London is planning to return to Pakistan ahead of the October polls. There is no doubt that there would be quite a scene, the moment she reaches there. The government has already made it clear she be arrested on her arrival, as there are corruption cases against her.

Here in London, Ms Bhutto made her big public appearance in Trafalgar Square last week, addressing a PPP rally to mark the start of the party’s election campaign. This political rally looked more like a funfair than a typical political public meeting as men, women and children — mostly from Kashmiri origin — had gathered to listen to their leader who appeared on the stage with her fresh-looking face and a colourful scarf.

Almost everybody present there was expecting that she would make an announcement regarding her much-publicized return to Pakistan, besides touching on other issues. But to a degree of surprise Ms Bhutto didn’t say anything clearly about her return to Pakistan, leaving almost everybody guessing about it. As an observer of political parties this was not surprising for this correspondent, as good politicians are those who can keep all options open for themselves and that nothing is the last word in politics.

We know that Ms Bhutto is not an exception. People at home are curious as to what would happen when Ms Bhutto reaches Pakistan and is arrested on arrival. There is no doubt that she has the potential of creating quite a big problem for the government as the political situation in the country is getting more and more explosive after leading politicians have been barred from taking part in the election. Ms Bhutto knows that it is the right time to stage her comeback as the popularity graph of the present government is not where it used to be two years ago.

She knows if she stays away from the October elections, it would mean the end of her political career. There is no doubt that she will fight for her political survival. Apart from this, she has high hopes of doing well in the elections in the absence of her arch rival Nawaz Sharif. The PPP believes that in the present political scenario it has potential of showing good results as the Pakistan Muslim League is divided and is in disarray in the absence of Nawaz Sharif.

But the PPP has its own weak side. The corruption charges against Ms Bhutto could affect her popularity outside Sindh and to win majority seats in Punjab would not be as easy as many of the PPP leaders think. The last general election in the country has shown that the PPP has turned to be a major political party in the Sindh province only. In Punjab the PML (N) still has its hold.

To break this hold Ms Bhutto needs sympathy vote. And sympathy vote could only be possible if she is put in jail while the election is held. The PPP has already had this experience during the rule of Gen Ziaul Haq when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged and (his daughter) Ms Bhutto became the first Muslim woman prime minister of the world after she won the election, seen by many as victory on sympathy votes.

RACIAL HATRED: Many participants in the PPP London rally were from the Bradford city, which has a huge population of Pakistanis. The city is known as one of the trouble spots of Britain which has seen one of the worst disturbances last year. Racial disturbance is not a new thing in the area and now it is feared that the trouble could spread to other cities where both white and Asian British live side by side.

A new report by the Leicester University reveals that Britain is becoming increasingly Islamophobic. This new study by the university shows there is greater hatred of Muslims than there is of other ethnic minorities. Many of the Muslim inhabitants of Bradford held a rally on Wednesday to voice concern over their plight.

Bradford’s Asian community believes that more than 100 people convicted of rioting are serving unduly harsh sentences because of anti-Muslim paranoia since Sept 11. The inhabitants of Bradford are trying their best to show that they are vindicated by this new study. But another report has blamed the ethnic separation of the two communities in the same city on racial hatred.

Other reports have put a part of the blame for the problem on those Asians and Muslims who are avoiding to integrate into the mainstream British society. September 11 has not only changed the world, it has left British society more divided on ethnic lines. Research carried out by academics at the Leicester University shows a massive increase in discrimination experienced by both black and white Muslims in the wake of Sept 11.

The research has been led by Dr Lorraine Sheridan of the university’s school of psychology. She says Muslim women felt particularly vulnerable. “Islamophobia has always existed,

but Sept 11 appears to have given people the chance to vent their spleen”. Dr Sheridan says: “It reminds me of Nazi Germany and the attitude towards Jewish people. Muslims are vulnerable because their dress makes them easy to identify, especially women.”

The results of the study by one of the leading universities of Great Britain is no doubt worrying. For any prosperous and stable society, equality and justice is a must. Britain is home to one million plus Muslims. The Muslims must be fully faithful to this country which is now their own country and non-Muslim white British should know that ordinary Muslim of this country have nothing to do with the Sept 11 attacks on America. They should know that by marginalizing Muslims from the mainstream British society could be detrimental to the stability of this country.

Re-emergence of deadly cotton virus

The spread of economically pernicious cotton leaf curl virus (CLCV) in the fields of Punjab has raised questions about the claims of agricultural scientists that the menace has been wiped out completely from the country.

The matter becomes even serious with the reports that the menace has also caught this year the CLCV-resistant varieties like CIM-446, CIM-109 and the latest addition to the CIM family, CIM-473. Karishma, another CLCV-tolerant variety, is the main casualty.

Punjab’s official cotton sowing target for the year 2002-2003 was 5.765m acres but the crop has been sown on 5.332m acres, which showed a decline of 11.7 per cent as compared to cotton sown last year. However, the unofficial sources say that the gap between the target and the area sown is more than what is being officially projected.

The Punjab produces almost 80 per cent of the country’s total silver fibre. Therefore, farm experts forecast a shortfall in cotton production in the wake of decrease in acreage. Right now, the situation looks grim with the resurgence of the deadly virus.

Although the provincial agriculture department authorities have been keeping the actual situation about CLCV spread in the cotton fields a secret, as in a press conference here on Saturday last, agriculture minister Syed Khursheed Zaman Qureshi, while belittling the CLCV attack, said “there is some information from Vehari and Burewala area about the virus attack which is being looked into.”

But at a meeting of the Cotton Crop Management Group on Aug 3 last, the director of the pest warning and quality control of pesticides department, Dr Ijaz Pervez, presented a report which revealed the spread of CLCV in the Punjab on 18 per cent of the total area under cotton. The report said that in the first week of July its (CLCV’s) spread was 6.1pc, 10.2pc in the second, 14.2pc in the third and 18pc in the last week.

The districts where its spread was reported up to 20.1 per cent and above were Rahim Yar Khan, Vehari, Khanewal and Rajanpur, 10.1 to 20 per cent in Bahawalpur, Muzaffargarh, Multan, Lodhran and Leiah, 5.1 to 10 per cent in Bahawalpur, and up to 5 per cent in Toba Tek Singh and Mianwali. This is, of course, an alarming situation because both CLCV resistant and tolerant varieties have fallen prey to the virus. It may be added here that there is no remedy to the CLCV once it infests the field and the growers have to destroy the standing crop.

But in the following weekly meetings of the CCMG, the agriculture department authorities started avoiding the CLCV issue, at least before the entire house. Sources said in the Aug 24 meeting the participants could hardly control their snigger when Dr Ijaz Pervez claimed that the CLCV incidence had come down to the 16 per cent from earlier 18. Sources said everyone knew that the virus-affected field could not be cured.

The CLCV was first noticed in the Pakistani cotton fields in mid 1980s. But, then its incidence were said to be on a very limited scale.

In the year 1991-92, the country hit the magic figures of 12.8m bales viz-a-viz cotton production. But in the following years, the CLCV did not let the country repeat this performance.

To combat the menace, the government allocated huge funds for research, which, according to one score, were Rs 35m. During the last four or five years, the intensity and spread of the virus in cotton fields had been marginalised. For instance, its incidence during the previous year was said to be 2.4 per cent.

Scientists were decorated with highly-acclaimed national media for doing the miracle as cotton was the mainstay of country’s agro-based economy. But, the resurgence of CLCV this year, that too, at a large scale had belied the claims of scientists that the virus had been eradicated from the country.

Analysts are now raising questions about the research done to combat the virus. Specially, they are questioning the method the scientists adopted to produce CLCV-resistant varieties. They said if the scientists produced the so-called CLCV-resistant varieties through ‘back-crossing’ then where did the huge research funds go and if they claimed that they had incorporated CLCV-resistant characters through genetically engineering, then how did the virus reemerge particularly in the varieties that had been labelled as CLCV-resistant.

A year after the attacks: Muslims in US

THE thought about the Muslims in the US approaching the commemoration of Sept 11 attacks evokes a dichotomy of feelings. On the one hand, they will be grieving the loss of lives in the attacks and on the other they will express resentment at being profiled as a religious group which is victim of discrimination and subject to incarceration.

As the hijackers who plugged the aeroplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were all Muslims, the backlash — boxing everyone from the Islamic faith as being a suspect — has left on them the onus of proving that they are good Americans.

“The events were probably more traumatizing to us as a faith community than any other single faith community,” Talib Abdur Rashid, imam of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, told a newspaper. “On the one hand, we were victimized just like other people,” because, he said, “there were a lot of Muslims killed, and on the other hand we are being blamed and vilified in the media and attacked in the streets.”

At the same time, he said: “The non-Muslim public in America still wants to know ‘What is Islam?’ ‘Who are Muslims?’ and ‘What do you all feel about Sept. 11?’ These events coming up are going to be yet another opportunity for us to just tell our non-Muslim neighbours how we feel and how we have been affected,” added the imam who plans to take part in an interfaith service on Sept 10 at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Imam Abdur Rashid acknowledged that many Muslim leaders were less than forceful in condemning the attacks. “We haven’t had a lot to say about it,” he said. “Now we see we do have a lot to say about it.”

Indeed in the weeks before the anniversary of the attacks the atmosphere has been complicated by statements and actions that many Muslims find offensive. Among them are the North Carolina Legislature’s efforts to block the use of public funds for the assigned reading of excerpts from the holy Quran at the University of North Carolina unless other religions receive equal time; and comments about Islam by Franklin Graham, the evangelist and son of Billy Graham, who said the Muslims had not apologized for the attacks sufficiently, that terrorism is part of mainstream Islam, and that the Quran “preaches violence.”

“I’m getting the sense more and more; every day we almost have to apologize for our religion,” said a lawyer who has many Muslim clients. “It bothers me a great deal. I’ve lived in this country my entire life, and I consider myself an American,” she said. “I don’t want to have to prove I am a good Muslim. I care about people. There is no ‘but’ to what happened,” she said. “But why am I put in this position of justifying myself?”

Other Muslims are concerned that their genuine wish for remembrance will be overlooked.

“My fear is playing into those stereotypes, that Muslims and Arabs are not seeing this as something very important or compelling,” Debbie Almontaser, a public school teacher told a newspaper.

But the debate on understanding Islam at the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill school attended by some 4,000 people, freshmen and the media evoked immense controversy in what is called the bible belt of America. After the US Federal Court cleared the challenge mounted by fundamentalist Christian and Jewish groups who sought to bar the discussion, hundreds of students and faculty members wore typical Muslim dresses to prove their tolerance toward Islam. Students flooded courses on Islam and the Middle East, and the university set about hiring an Islamic studies specialist.

When the Islamic study course was assigned in the early spring, the book, Approaching the Quran: The Early Revelations, by Michael A. Sells, a professor of religion at Haverford College, caused little outrage. The book is a translation of 35 early suras (chapters), of the Quran, accompanied by commentary and a glossary of Islamic terms.

In a report the New York Times said that of 20 freshmen in one discussion group, only five had ever met a Muslim. All said they considered themselves Christian or Jewish, and except for one all were from North Carolina. For this group, the biggest debate seemed to be about whether the book provided a complete picture of Islam. In particular, as critics had noted, it does not touch on the Islamic notion of holy war. “From what I knew from the news, I would have perceived them to be a violent people,” said Mary Allison Lee, “so I see one thing on TV, and another in the book.” She added, “I’m not sure what to think.”

Whether or not the Chapel Hill debate managed to correct the incorrect perceptions about Islam but the effort on the part of the university was commendable and even if it changed opinions of a few, it served its goal.

PRIVATE EYES: One would never know that when you walk on the streets of New York, you are being watched and monitored at every corner. Some of the security cameras are mounted by the New York City police department, some are placed at vantage points by the department stores.

“I’m just an average person who is trying to figure out what is going on in the city I was born in and love,” said one native of the city’s Brooklyn borough. “I don’t think I’m paranoid — I think the people who are paranoid fill the streets with cameras.”

J. Brown, a part performance artist, part privacy advocate, a freelance copy editor, who has been giving free walking tours of Manhattan’s focussed on such areas as Times Square, Chelsea, the United Nations, Washington Square Park and the Fifth Avenue.

Brown told his tour groups there are roughly 5,000 cameras watching the streets of Manhattan. And those are just the ones he can see. Standing on 16th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, he points out 16 cameras — some that swivel, some cone-shaped, some encased in a box. Most are easy to spot.

“This block is a kind of an open-air museum of different cameras,” he said.

Brown told a newspaper that 90 per cent of Manhattan’s surveillance cameras belong to private companies concerned about protecting property and lower insurance rates.

Others, he claims, are police cameras — such as one at Eighth Avenue and 14th Street, which at first glance looks like a streetlight.

The police don’t dispute his claim, but won’t discuss their methods. “Any security-related issues we don’t comment on,” said officer John Sullivan, a spokesman.

On a recent Sunday, Brown did a little dance in front of one camera, holding up a copy of the Constitution — which he claims outlaws such surveillance. He then smacked an eye-level sticker on the pole that read: “You Are Being Watched, Surveillance Camera Notice.”

He went through a similar routine in front of the city’s traffic light-scofflaw cameras at Ninth Avenue and 20th Street, and yet again outside an office of American District Telegraph, a 130-year-old international electronic security provider.

MUSHARRAF VISIT: As President General Pervez Musharraf’s UN visit approaches, the zealous Information Minister Nisar Memon has decided to come little bit earlier to look things over himself vis-a-vis media coverage. Reportedly, he is very unhappy with the way in which President Musharraf’s press conference in New York went during his September 2000 visit, in which some local ethnic media journalists walked out in protest.

Mr Memon has written a letter to the press attache at the Pakistan mission and the consul-general in New York that all his appointments and functions should be coordinated in collaboration with a reporter of a large Pakistani newspaper who is at present involved in a spat with the community here. Such an unprecedented demand by an official of the government has never been made before, but that’s his prerogative.

At this time the Pakistani community is bitterly divided over the rights to hold melas and parades on the occasion of the Pakistan Day parade. Many Pakistanis who style themselves as community leaders have even come to blows over the issues and the local media is riddled with reports with many a local columnist jumping in to accuse one another of wrongdoing. (One does not wish to enter into a debate to side with one party or another, suffice it to say that everyone has an axe to grind) For the information minister to weigh in on such matters with one side or another, which he has already done, is not going to help President Musharraf’s visit plans. But then the information minister is a wise man who believes he knows better than anyone how to handle the media. Is this a part of the information minister’s job description?

Poet Ehsan Jafri’s gruesome death in Gujarat riots

The latest issue of Monthly Hayat and some other publications from India have shed light on the gruesome and tragic elimination of poet Ehsan Jafri and his family in Ahmedabad in what could be described the most organized communal riot in independent India’s history.

Very few people are growing mindful of the great industry of rhetoric which has recently raised its head in the West, Israel and India. It is the creation of a language - one may call it rhetoric — which could ignore the worst of crimes the friends commit and bloat out of proportion the wrongdoings of ‘enemies’ so much that the martyrs of one group may appear ‘insects or cockroaches’ and the terrorists of the others as the legitimate users of force to serve law and order. We could see the difference of the tone of the western media in regard to the excesses committed by the Israel’s brutal state oppression in the occupied territories of Palestine and the Palestinians’ frustration-led self-destroying freedom-fighters.

Israel has gone to the extent of using F-16 bombers on the civilian population of Gaza and we don’t see any Picasso challenging the world conscience on the Israeli atrocities. What Franco was doing in Spain has no comparison with what Israel is doing today. The western media is busy describing the acts of ‘genocide’ as the aftermath of innocent incursions — only unavoidable killings — as if the first cause — the occupation of a nation’s territory — was not a crime good enough to shake the moral fabric of a civilization which prides on its moral values.

Frankly enough the above example is not the only one. We are also witnessing the BJP government’s rhetoric of what it is doing in Gujarat. I think that the most potent armoury in the arsenal of the most powerful civilization is the language which is serving its global purpose and the more we study this ‘differential’ the better served we are as the target audience of that language.

The communal forces in neighbouring India — as documented by the Communist Party of India’s publications should open the eyes of every — is being produced by the Communal Press. Even the Judiciary, it has been claimed, has been ‘communalized’ according to an article published in Monthly Hayat, New Delhi’s August issue. Hayat has quoted numerous instances to prove that it is the hate literature being produced by Bhajpa writers that is out to distort history, religion and civil society.

I would like to take only one instance — the death of a progressive poet who has been a member of Indian Parliament, Ehsan Jafri. He fell victim, along with his family members, to the killers in the worst communal riot in India’s history. The 1947 riots have turned pale on comparison. In Gujarat, the IT revolution was behind the forces of communalism. The victims were done away with according to a set plan. Even the Dalits and untouchables were inducted in the ranks of rioters as they could do this ‘dirty’ work better than the high-caste members of the Bhajpa Parivar.

Ehsan Jafri’s family had moved from UP in 1935 and he was educated and brought up in Gujarat. He commanded great respect from the poor working class. He was an Urdu poet as well, warming up big political rallies and meetings with his fire-brand poetry. The people he lived among — the labourers — sent him to the Indian Parliament as their member in the ‘70s. He fought for the rights of the working class all his life and, in the end, it was sizable number of the Dalits, serving the BJP Parivar, who ‘gheraoed’ his house. What a coincidence!

What resistance Jafri could offer to the mad rioters. They didn’t spare even those of their co-religionists who wanted to protect their Muslim neighbours. I have come across some brilliant and shocking poems from some Gujrati language poets on this tragedy. A poetess has described the last shrieks of a beloved trying to save her lover in an imagery which has benumbed me.

Ehsan Jafri was not a well-known poet. He served as a secretary of the Progressive Writers Association, Ahmedabad from 1954 - 1962. He was loved and respected for his commitment — and devotion to the common masses. He had written a Ghazal, a couplet of which is given below:

Haun Qatl Bhi Ehsan Aur Qatil Bhi Banein Ham Ham Pe Yeh Sitam Gardish-i-Ayyam Bahut Hai (Ehsan, let not fate be so cruel as to get us killed and exhort others to call us the killers).

This couplet sums up the tragedy more pungently than anyone else could possibly do. The hate rhetoric is so ‘developed’ that it was capable of distorting the facts without any feeling of remorse. Perhaps Ehsan Jafri had a premonition of what was going to be his lot or the lot of people like him. He composed a little before his death the following couplet:

Shula Bharkati Chaman Se Guzri Kis Ke Daman Ki Hawa Dekho Tu

Ehsan Jafri lived in Gulmarg Society, Ahmedabad, when his house was gheraoed with the intention to burst into it. Ehsan used his licensed revolver and fired in the air. The Gujarat police are on record as saying that no one was killed by Ehsan’s use of arm as a last resort to ward off the rioters. The law of the land allows this kind of legal use but Nirandar Modi has not allowed even Amnesty International, the Human Rights Group and some of India’s independent investigation teams on the ground of imagined deterioration of the law and order problem. One would try to know what was at the back of Nirendar Modi’s mind when he advised the governor to disband the assembly. Perhaps, only to cash in on the bravado which the State police have shown in eliminating more than 2,000 innocent civilians who were quite a productive lot, contributing to their country’s economy. They were mostly medium-sized traders, manufacturers and skilled workers.

I was surprised when some well-known advocates of the One Nation Theory ruefully accepted that they were not right to begin with. The manufacturing of Rhetoric — unabated as it is at present and likely to continue doing overtime to achieve its objective — is snatching argument after argument from them. There was a communal problem then, they contend, and there is a communal problem even today.

The death of Ehsan Jafri only proves the point that the people of good intentions should continue their noble work even if they do it at the risk of elimination because there is yet no other way left for the humanists to save humanity, come what may.

Noted poet Muslim Shamim, Secretary General of the Progressive Writers Association, Pakistan, did well to condole the death of the poet but he has also deemed it pertinent to condole the death of Indian secularism in Gujarat. He said that it was painful to think that economically and educationally backward Muslim community of India was being discriminated against in a country which was considered to be a mainstay of democracy and socialism.

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