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DAWN - Features; March 19, 2003

March 19, 2003


Zamir Niazi — gardening the desert

Zamir Niazi’s books, The Press in Chains, The Press Under Siege, and The Web of Censorship, have gone a long way in loosening the state’s grip on the management of news and, to a considerable extent, the freedom of_expression. The openness of the last few years owes, of course, a lot to establishment’s loss of control on sources of information but the force of the tide of repressive laws had been broken when a frail insignificant copy reviser had slapped his methodical catalogue of curbs in the face of the most wilful of autocrats. All the wily walrus could do was tweak his tusk. He did present The Press in Chains as a token of his liberal regime to the outside world but the book had caused the control machinery to falter and loosen its grip on the throttle under the accumulated weight of the sins it had for the first time to confess. Since then just as Zamir Niazi’s exposure of the forces of repression has been relentless, the ability of the establishment apparatus to exercise controls has been curtailed on a daily basis by the stunning advancement of information technologies.

Baghbani-i-sehra is a compilation of Zamir Niazi’s interviews that our indefatigable fighter of lost causes, Rahat Saeed — who edits quarterly Irtiqa journal of undying hope in bipeds — has pieced together to present a round up of the author’s reasons for taking on forces far mightier and inscrutable than himself. These interviews the compiler calls masahebey which is a beautiful equivalent of the English term provided Muqtadera, our national language authority, would permit it. The kindly, soft-spoken Prof Fateh Mohammad Malik, is not averse to adding new words to the lexicon but is opposed to replacing foreign words that have gained common acceptance. But that is another issue altogether. What is of interest in these “masahebaat” is Mr Niazi’s tragic realization that “somewhere journalism too has lost something. This lost thing is the integrity of the written word. In consequence journalism has been deprived of its credibility.”

But Zamir Niazi sees hope in those thousands of young men and women who despite having grown in the flickering light of TV screens, instead of the flash of swords, have a fresh approach to life and whose thought is young. He has words of encouragement for even that new crowd of “computer gorillas” who are not afraid of breaking tradition and have scant regard for political charlatans, usurpers, slimy flatterers and the corrupt officialdom, all of whom together are sucking the blood of this poor nation.

Zamir Niazi started his journalistic career with Dawn in 1953 as a sub-editor and started collecting pieces of press advice that were issued from time to time to suppress certain news so that these could be presented to the public in a certain way. These written advices together with related background material and its analyses have appeared in the shape of the three books that unmask the ugly face of lies, canards, distortions of truth, cover-ups and disinformation on which a largely unsuspecting public has been fed during the last four decades or so. When the first two books were published, in 1986 and 1992, there was so much fear of the establishment no publisher would touch the manuscripts. The Karachi Press Club published them at last. The study of these three books is now essential for anybody who wants to know how governments suppress facts and fictionalize reality to shape public opinion in a certain way.

Zamir Niazi blames Ayub and Zia for this state of affairs. The former for his Press and Publications Ordinance and the latter for the brutal suppression of opinion that included public lashing of journalists and armed attacks on newspapers that has now become a favourite tool in the hands of any pressure group that wants to curb the voice of dissent. But Zamir Niazi does not agree with those who think that journalists cannot be separated from the general society as a group and that the weaknesses that one sees in other sections of the society will naturally also be found among them. Niazi thinks that three groups of people, the judiciary, the teachers and those holding the pen, have to remain above the dirt and filth of common life. If they swam with the current, all would be lost.

When asked if today’s journalist was doing his job ethically, Zamir Niazi said no, not many. Most were openly siding with one or the other political party, working as propagandists and camp followers. This was against the dignity of a journalist, against his/her integrity. What was sacrosanct for a journalist was the truth of the information he/she was giving to the public. An honest mistake he/she could make, but knowing a thing to be wrong and then misinforming the reader would be a travesty of his/her profession. Commenting on the loss of credibility Niazi thought that the printed word did not enjoy the same trust as that did in the earlier days. This was the result of the disinformation policies of the government. Lies were planted officially. Politicians and their parties did the same. The habit crept into the work of the journalists who were their camp followers. Then many journalists left the profession and became ministers and ambassadors. Now who would take them seriously, if they returned to the profession? But they would not. The profession has nothing for them any more. They have used it so thoroughly. And on that Mr Niazi need lose no hour of his precious sleep.

What goes around, comes around

IN the last session (4th) which was summoned by the president, the combined opposition had kicked up such a rumpus over LFO that for three days in a row the Speaker was left with no option but to call it a day without disposing off any business while the ruling alliance looked on helplessly.

But on the first day of the current session which was requisitioned by the combined opposition it asserted its authority for all to see by allowing Speaker Amir Hussain to manage the house the way it wanted, but making it clear again and again that it reserved the right to go back to its rumpus ways on LFO after an agreed resolution on Iraq was adopted by the house.

The ruling alliance could do nothing about it but tag along dragging its feet with the reluctance of a spoiled child being led to the first day of his school.

Clearly, the combined opposition holds the whip in hand in the lower house. It has even succeeded in getting separate benches allotted for the opposition groups without having first resolved the issue of the leader of the opposition. The first bench on the left side of the aisle, the traditional seat of the leader of the opposition, therefore, did not carry a name tag.

As those who hold the strings of the ruling alliance from the outside are not likely to tolerate such an equation in the NA for long a showdown between the establishment and the opposition is not being ruled out in the not-so-far-off a future by informed circles.

According to parliament grapevine, the legal eagles of the establishment have already been tasked to find out how the president could turn the tables on the opposition without the need to dissolve the newly-elected assemblies. Dissolution of the new parliament is being regarded as something to be avoided at all costs.

One of the officially certified Jadoogars (magicians) is said to have suggested that the opposition leaders should be de-seated one by one and references against them be sent to the appropriate authority to stop them from getting re-elected in the bye-polls.

This proposal is said to have appealed to the establishment and the person who made this proposal is said to have been told to fine tune it before being considered for adoption.

Meanwhile, things are said to be getting out of hand even in the provinces. Parliament corridors were buzzing on Tuesday with stories of reported rifts between all the President’s men in the provinces and the respective elected chief ministers. At least three governors are said to have become too intrusive curtailing drastically the political ability of their CMs to respond to even the most genuine demands of their constituencies.

The allegations against each other by the NWFP governor and the provincial chief minister of kidnapping and forcible confinement of the National Assembly members from Fata immediately prior to the senate elections have already brought to the fore the rift between Lt-Gen (retd) Iftikhar Shah and Mohammad Ikram Durrani into the open. In fact a privilege motion awaits a full-scale washing of the dirty linen in the National Assembly.

The Punjab government being more resourceful and more adept at taking care of such matters through political positioning, is said to have taken up the issue with the president. At the same time interested quarters have started circulating stories of an imminent change of Punjab governor. Though contradicted immediately, one newspaper story even named Secretary National Security Council, Tariq Aziz as the next Punjab governor. Few disbelieved this story because of the very high stakes Mr Aziz has managed to carve up for himself in the Punjab during the elections to the NA, PA and the Senate.

The rift between the Sindh governor Ishratul Ibad and the chief minister Mir Ali Maher is also said to have been brought to the personal notice of the president. Being a political novice as well as a political non-entity and having no significant backing within the provincial assembly, Mr Maher is said to have already lost to Mr Ishratul Ibad. The Sindh governor, though himself a novice in corporate management not only has the backing of a very powerful president but his party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, has the numbers inside the house to remove the carpet from under Maher’s feet any time it wanted to and also possesses enough street power to bring urban Sindh to a standstill with the signal from London.

Tailpiece: Prime Minister Jamali is happy to have received an invitation to visit the US in its hour of crisis. At the same time, however, he is said be overly saddened by the fact that the US leadership has not yet telephoned him for consultation on their Iraq-war strategy.

Tribute to a mother: Alys Faiz

By Moneeza Hashmi

THE last Eid was the first time she did not join us for the traditional family breakfast. Even though it was in the next room, she had not felt up to it, and preferred to eat her few spoonfuls of porridge next door.

It was also the first time in 56 years and six months that she looked at me with no sign of recognition despite my insistence on telling her who I was.

It was also the first time that I saw her without her bearings, slightly confused, trying to grapple with the haze in her head, trying to make sense of the chaos she must have been feeling. I gave up after a few attempts and came home with an overwhelming sense of sadness that day.

This was not the same woman who had ruled my childhood with an iron discipline and taught me all the rules of honesty, hard work and dedication by simply following them herself. This was not the same woman of whom we were all mortally afraid should we dare to break any ground rules laid down by her.

She was tough, determined and strong. Bringing up two daughters with a husband who was in solitary confinement — jailed on false charges with a possible death sentence — could not have been the way she planned to spend her youth. Bicycling to work and back in the blazing hot afternoons of June could also not have been what she bargained for when she gave up her religion, her family and her culture to be with the man she loved.

Spending long hours outside courtrooms, leading processions, arguing with lawyers and fighting for her husband’s freedom were again probably not a part of her agenda as a young, upright, tall, attractive woman when she landed in the subcontinent to visit her sister way back in 1939.

I can still see her crying inconsolably when she heard her mother was dead in England and she had been denied a passport to visit her. I can see her red eyes when she came home without my father because his release orders from jail had yet again been revoked. I can see her shouting angrily at the policemen who came to take my father forcibly away in the middle of the night screaming at them “Show me your warrant!”. Memories of strength, memories of struggle, memories of resolution, memories of determination are all I have left.

Someone once said to me: “It must have been difficult for her to have lived in the shadow of such a great man”. What many people do not understand is that she was a part of that man and they were both a part of me. And now they are both gone. And the road ahead looks very silent, very empty and very dark.

God rest their souls in peace. — Ameen.

The writer is the daughter of Alys and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

A flurry of books on ancient India

A CURSORY look at Pakistani publishers’ catalogues or a visit to Urdu Bazaar in Karachi should take book-lovers by surprise. Scores of books on ancient India, Hindu mythology, religion, philosophy, epics and the Bhagti movement are nowadays available in Urdu - either in translation or original.

Quite an interesting departure. Titles on Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharat, Bhagwad Gita, Tulsidas, Bhagat Kabir, Mirabai, Guru Nanak and even on revivalist movements within Hinduism such as Arya Samaj are available. It is a good sign that while passing through one of the most tense periods in Indo-Pak relations, our publishers are publishing books on Hinduism.

Knowing our publishers as one ought to, it is but natural that they are publishing such books only to meet a demand in commercial quantity. Whatever be the reason, even Indian publishers are busy cashing in on an increasing demand for Urdu books on Hindu religion and philosophy. Knowing that a good book creates an hunger for piracy, some of the publishers encourage swap deals — one Indian title in exchange for one Pakistani without being fussy on other details knowing that technicalities of the IPRs (intellectual property rights) in the book trade don’t go well with the authors.

Relations between Pakistan and India are so sore at the moment that there is no possibility of having any ideal atmosphere for IPR’s compliance so a free- for-all atmosphere is helping less-known living Urdu writers across the borders. In case their works tantalize the book pirates across the borders they would prefer their works to reach out their readers even though no financial benefits accrue to them. As for dead writers, it is only the publishers — like the Darul Musannifeen or the Khuda Bakhsh Literary Publications — which could point their fingers at the pirates only to get some response in return as has been the case with the Darul Musannifeen.

So, without caring about the exact legal status of the explosion of books which provide ‘knowledge’ about our big neighbour but also about the religion of our Hindu compatriots, I think it is a good sign. Now there is hardly any Veda or an introduction work on the Upanishads or the Puranas or epics such as Ramayana or Mahabharat — or the Arya Samaj classic Satyarth Prakash, a resourceful bookseller could satisfy readers’ thirst for literature on Hinduism. I have got hold of different editions of Kabir, Mirabai, Guru Nanak’s Dohas, Bhajans and Ashlokas, a Karachi publisher has brought out beautiful books on Kabir and Mirabai, and it could be said that production-wise they are the best.

Now after having said it all, the question arises whether it is the stand- off between India and Pakistan (which is still on in spite of statements to the contrary) which has possibly created the desire to know what is, after all the corpus of knowledge to which most people living on this side of the border have not been well disposed so far.

Ever since Emperor Akbar’s effort to get some Sanskrit classics translated followed by Dara Shikoh’s translation of Upanishads — Majma-ul-Bahrain (Meeting of two seas alluding to Islam and Hinduism) — scores of Hindu poets composing Persian poetry and Muslim poets composing poetry in Brij, Avadhi and other regional dialects have made their presence felt so far. Who can forget the Hindu poet Chandar Bhan Brahman, composing the historic dialogue in Persian between Baba Lal and Dara Shikoh, at Batala, a place 60 miles east of Lahore.

Now the stand-off has successfully given rise to a radical shift towards knowing our neighbour, whether it be our friend or tormentor. The fact remains that each one of us has shaped the psyche of the other. The ‘love-and-hate’ relationship between the two neighbours evokes memories of the Mahabharat with a contemporary Lord Krishna exhorting one to have a go at the other.

The city of Lahore, named after Laho, son of Rama, is witnessing an interesting upsurge in publications on Hinduism in the faint hope of filling in the vacuum caused by an ominous stand-off between the two countries of the subcontinent. Who knows the mind, fed on this minor renaissance of a specific nature, should learn to behave more self assuredly dispelling ‘fear’ which keeps on creating one stand-off after another.

* * * * *

Prof A. Q. Zia: In the death of Prof Abdul Qavi Zia in Sudbury, Canada, the Urdu-lovers have lost the gem of a person. He earned for him a good name in Canada as a professor of history.

Born in Lucknow he spent his youthful years in Hyderabad (Sindh) before settling in Canada as a professor of history. His contributions to Urdu literature are by way of three or four important monographs and collections of poetry. He acted as an efficient PR man for Urdu. Having visited Sudbury University on a lecture tour of Canadian Universities some time ago, I am personally aware of the esteem and affection which Prof Zia enjoyed from his colleagues and students.

Prof Zia was a servant of Urdu and he took time to give lectures on Urdu language and literature at the platform of CASA — a rare service knowing it well that he was, in fact, the Anjuman Taraqqui-i-Urdu in Canada. Born in Lucknow, first settled in Hyderabad (Sindh) and finally moved to Sudbury — northern part of Canada, he now lies buried in Canada exhorting all those Pakistanis who have made Canada their home that they owed something to their country of origin.

As a poet Prof Zia was steeped in Taghazzul, but he remained steadfast as a poet who believed that a poet had to believe in the maxim: Politics is the Destiny of Man. He was a great admirer of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ali Sardar Jafri.

Maisoon Hussein:a tribute

KARACHI: “Death ends a life, not a relationship” so it has been said. And we at Dawn, who worked with Maisoon Hussein for over two decades, feel her relationship with the paper will never cease. She herself would not want it to. When she was diagnosed with cancer by her doctor last year in March, Maisoon not only battled the affliction courageously, she also continued her association with the paper she had come to love in the over two decades of her professional life.

In the last few months, her illness notwithstanding, Maisoon lived a full life and, since she was not burdened with the routines of everyday work, she wrote more and after greater investigation and study. Some of her best pieces of writings, which created an impact, were on the conditions in prisons. She wrote four investigative pieces last year, visiting prisons as far apart as in Landhi and the Karachi Central Jail where she met various officials to write about the problems of the inmates and the judicial procedures, which often created avoidable problems. And all this when that dreaded disease was consuming her on the inside.

There were projects she readily agreed to take up. They were in some ways related to human rights, women, children and the minorities and so were of special interest to her.

One can describe Maisoon’s writings as models of good journalism. They created a powerful impact because there was absolutely no sensationalism in them — for Maisoon it would be too unkind to cash in on someone else’s misery to write a gripping story — but she always reached the heart of the matter to explain to the readers the significance of the issue at hand.

Once a doctor who had done a survey and prepared a report on violence against women asked me who the best person would be to write about it. I suggested Maisoon’s name but warned her not to be in too much of a hurry to see it in print. Maisoon took her time to study the report, interview the author and then write a piece with compassion and insight. It was one of the best pieces written on the subject in the paper.

I remember, we visited together the women’s shelter set up with the assistance of Amnesty to see how it was working. Maisoon was to write about it. But for her, one visit was not enough. It was her wont to get answers to all her questions before she put pen to paper. No superficial and shoddy reporting would do for her. Hence she went again and again and talked to different people before she wrote her story, which won wide acclaim. But it also brought her some harsh words from certain quarters, which she was too polite to even talk about, let alone protest against.

That was just like Maisoon — quiet, kind and never discourteous. But when it came to being fairminded she stood firm as a rock. While looking after the Letters column — her last assignment — she would go conscientiously through the massive pile of letters which land in our office every day. Not one was discarded without a reason. “How can I do that,” she would say.

Forever helpful, she did not make a public display of her charity. She was so uncomplaining that we, who would lose patience so soon, marvelled at her. Small wonder, she fitted so well the role of ‘Nishat Apa’ for the Children’s Dawn which she edited for ten years. While she went about doing her professional duties in a silent, unassuming manner, the humanist in her was always active. She was collecting donations and goods for prison inmates and others, who needed help.

But behind that gentle exterior there was a woman of steel. She would stand by her convictions and refuse to be browbeaten into something she did not believe in or felt it went against her integrity. She refused to let her illness get her down. She visited China with a friend and wrote about it and attended the lecture by Dr Ghada Karmi, the Palestinian activist, last month although the steep decline in her health had begun. When some of us visited her last week, she looked frail but was as warm and loving as ever. She seemed determined to fight off her disease. But there comes a time when one has to call it a day. So adieu, dear friend and colleague. — Zubeida Mustafa

Will Kenya’s upsurge revive cricket, lovely cricket?

AUSTRALIA and lately India play their cricket with intensity. Kenya plays it with zest, with a joyful exuberance, to the beat of drums. Kenya has won the hearts of all cricket fans. Will it lead the revival of cricket, lovely cricket?

The Kenyan captain Steve Tikolo tries hard to look suitably grim but a broad grin keeps breaking out and the sanctity of the occasion is replaced by a celebration.

I have a special interest in Kenya. In 1956, along with A.H. Kardar and Hamid Jalal, I was instrumental in taking a cricket team to the then East Africa under the banner of the Cricket Writers Club.

It was the first international cricket team to tour East Africa. We played against Asians and Englishmen.

I had asked my host whether Kenyans (the blacks) played cricket. “Leave alone play, they are not even allowed to watch cricket,” he had told me.

The British ruled East Africa with an iron hand. The Kenyans made up the population but were not considered as people.

In less than 50 years, the Kenyan who had not seen a cricket match has learnt fast and well enough to have a team in the semifinal of the World Cup. A stunning achievement.

Unlike Zimbabwe, which has many white players, the Kenya team has no white player and it has an Indian coach.

Sandeep Patil too was a happy cricketer in his glory-days. Perhaps, he imparted his brand of cricket to his charges.

Many people have moaned that the World Cup has been devalued by the unexpected progress of such teams as Kenya. On the contrary, it has been enriched by it.

Kenya has brought colour and dignity to the World Cup, national pride without the smell of money and without the fear of failure. When Kenya has won; the game of cricket has won.

A fall-out from the World Cup was to be expected. There was never any doubt that Andy Flower would leave his country and pursue his cricket in other pastures.

Once he had made his political statement by wearing a black armband, he had shut the door on himself. Henry Olonga can be considered as collateral damage.

Andy Flower deserved a better farewell than being given out leg-before when he had clearly got an inside edge. Zimbabwe will never be able to find a player who will fill those boots. Andy Flower was one of the great batsmen in international cricket.

Allan Donald retired, an extremely dignified exit, Nasser Hussain has opted out of the one-day game.

But the real shocker has been the sacking of Shaun Pollock with an ominous “with immediate effect.” I have no idea how the United Cricket Board of South Africa works but Pollock deserved more respect.

There is no indication whether any of the Pakistan senior players intend to retire. Saeed Anwar did but withdrew his decision. There is actually no formal requirement for a player to announce his retirement.

Sometimes, the decision is made for him by not being picked and the player just fades away.

There is, of course, a clamour for rebuilding the team and implied in the clamour is that several senior players should be axed. My view is simple: It should be a purely cricket decision. I cannot help feeling that in some of the calls, there is some personal agenda, some settling of old scores.

The PCB must be guided solely by the best interests of the game in Pakistan. There are many young players whose progress is being halted.

Room must be found for them. But performance in the World Cup should not be sole yardstick. The Sharjah tournament provides a good opportunity to blood these young players because there is nothing at stake.

But a young team needs some experienced players to provide some ballast.

In any case, the PCB should make clear that it has the future in mind, the near-future rather than a distant one. Australia is often cited as an example of a team with a strong bench.

This is because Australia does not put rookies in the team. They do not believe in on-the-job training, the replacements for Shane Warne and Jason Gillespie were not spring chickens. Brad Hogg is in his thirties.

A case in point is Brett Lee. It was made perfectly clear to him that his job was not just to bowl fast. He was also expected to take wickets. He was banished to domestic cricket and when he had performed well, he was brought back to the Australian team, a far better and somewhat chastened bowler.

The yardstick we should apply is that there is no such thing as automatic selection. There is also no place in the team for players with an 'attitude’. They become a problem for the whole team. No player is bigger than the game.

I read that Shahid Afridi has been 'banned’ for sledging. It is not clear whether he was reported by the ICC or whether the PCB took the decision on its own.

We have all been watching the World Cup on television and though we may not be lip-readers, we have a pretty good idea of what is being said on the field.

Indeed sledging is now called verbals and seems to have become accepted, if not respectable. If that is the reason for 'banning’ him, then he must consider himself unlucky.

It is possible that he may have done something else that warrants punishment. But he obviously did not get into a brawl with his fellow players with a photograph of the brawl appearing in newspapers.

The manager has dismissed this as something that happens or words to that calming effect. Discipline has to be even-handed.

The more I see the World Cup matches, the more I am convinced that the teams that have progressed have been those with self- belief and it is only a team with self-belief that is able to raise its game when the chips are down. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

No such thing happened, the inspiration was not there when it mattered. Weighed in the balance, we were found wanting. No wonder the cricket public feels short-changed.

But we need to resolve the present with an eye on the future. World Cup 2003 should provide lessons, not painful memories. It is over and done with as far as we are concerned.