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DAWN - Features; April 12, 2003

April 12, 2003


To heaven with compliments

By A.B.S. Jafri

AS thousand in Pakistan and elsewhere are in mourning for Abdullah Malik, let it be said that his demise is not only the passing away of an individual, or an institution but almost an age and a culture. He was a journalist of commitment, a progressive political thinker and activist, a man of style in so many ways — whether at home, in office, in club or in jail. Above all, a gentleman with whom values and friends mattered above all.

Thinking of Abdullah Malik, a fellow worker would be transported into reverie, or set out on a journey down a memory lane that is all sunshine. Abdullah Malik was one star in a scintillating galaxy which was virtually the Milky Way of Pakistan’s journalism and political elite. Under one roof of the Progressive Papers Limited, Lahore, sat and worked Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Maulana Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, Syed Sibte Hasan, Mazhar Ali Khan, Ahmad Ali Khan, Khawaja Asif, Zuhair Siddiqui, Prof Safdar Mir, Hameed Sheikh, Tahird Mirza, Aziz Siddiqui, I A Rahman, Alys Faiz, Anwar Ali, Amjad Husain, Amir Hussain Shah, Shamim Rizvi, Zaheer Babur, Hameed Hashmi, Ahmad Bashir, Hameed Akhtar — indeed so many more, each one adorable. Among this constellation Abdullah Malik had a position, status and claim all his own. On his face, Abdullah Malik wore two jewels: pride touched with humility, and a beaming smile. All in all, he was unfailingly a heart-winning and heart warming presence.

It would be incorrect to say that his passing away is anybody’s personal loss. No it is a grief shared by countless people who had the privilege and delight of having known him. Those who knew him more intimately treasure and cherish that association.

As I wallowed in his this pool of sorrow, a Ghalib verse crossed my mind. It is:

Maqdoor ho to khak sey puchoon ke aye laeem;

Too ney woh ganjhai garan maya kiya kiyay

(Were it in my power, I would ask heartless earth

What hast thee done to those priceless jewels.)

Then suddenly something absolutely wonderful flashed across my fancy. As we bid Abdullah Malik farewell, I thought, up there in the heavens so many would be preparing to welcome our dear Malik with flowers and kisses. I heard some voice say “The Earth duly delivers to heaven all the jewels you consign to it.” Imagine what a gift we have sent to Heaven, and celebrate.

Abdullah Malik has arrived at the destination. And what a journey it has been. Those who have been his fellow travellers would remember him with joy and gratitude and wish to join him once again on the journey in the hereafter. It is so good to hope so.

It pays to be ‘embedded’

IT CLEARLY pays to be ‘embedded’ with the US-led forces that have invaded Iraq. For one thing, there would be no chance of being killed by US M1A1 Abrams tank since you would most likely be travelling with it. Unfortunately, this was a luxury not available to three journalists killed when just such a tank shelled the Palestine Hotel in the heart of Baghdad and when a US plane bombed the Al Jazeera offices.

From the accounts of eyewitnesses, and quite contrary to the US Central Command’s assertion that the tank fired after rockets were fired from the hotel, it seems that the whole incident was premeditated. And even in the case of the Al Jazeera attack, which killed its chief correspondent in Baghdad, Tarek Ayoub, the action seems to have been deliberate.

Mr Ayoub’s wife, Dima Tahbob, told the Iranian news agency IRNA on April 9 in a telephone interview that the US had enough sophisticated technology to be able to differentiate between civilian and military buildings. She said that at the time the attack took place, US warplanes were flying at a very low altitude, and how could they fail to notice the satellite antennas on the building’s roof?

The independent Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders) wrote a stinging letter to US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, condemning the incident and doubting the US military’s claim that Abrams tanks would have fired at a building in “self-defence” after snipers fired on it. RSF asked the US defence secretary to provide evidence that the Al Jazeera offices and the Palestine Hotel were not deliberately fired at by US forces.

The organization’s secretary-general Robert Menard said: “We are appalled at what happened because it was known that both places contained journalists. Film shot by the French TV station France 3 and descriptions by journalists show the neighbourhood was very quiet at that hour and that the US tank crew took their time, waiting for a couple of minutes and adjusting their gun before opening fire. This evidence does not match the US version of an attack in self-defence and we can only conclude that the US Army deliberately and without warning targeted journalists.” “We are concerned at the US Army’s increasingly hostile attitude towards journalists, especially those non-embedded in its military units. Army officials have also remained deplorably silent and refused to give any details about what happened when a British ITNTV crew was fired at near Basra on March, 22 killing one journalist and leaving two others missing. Many non-embedded journalists have complained about being refused entry to Iraq from Kuwait, threatened with withdrawal of accreditation and being held and interrogated for several hours. One group of non-embedded journalists was held in secret for two days and roughed up by US military police.”

Clearly, the American forces seem to have a different standard for embedded journalists, and an entirely different one for those not embedded. Probably, the US military needs the former type since they would seem more pliable and easier to manipulate. In any case, being embedded means that the information being given or reported is subject to military censorship.

Further credence to the fact that the US military was blatantly lying is given by what Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent on April 9. He said that the “facts... should speak for themselves. Unfortunately for the Americans they make it look very like murder”.

Mr Fisk says that a US fighter jet bombed the Al Jazeera offices on the banks of the Tigris at 7.45 am local. At that time, Mr Ayoub was on the roof with his second cameraman, an Iraqi called Zuheir, reporting a battle near the bureau between American and Iraqi troops. Their colleague Maher Abdullah recalled later that the plane was flying so low that they thought it would land on the roof. “We actually heard the rocket being launched. It was a direct hit - the missile actually exploded against our electrical generator. Tariq died almost at once. Zuheir was injured,” he said.

Mr Fisk notes that in 2001, the US had fired a cruise missile at the Al Jazeera offices in Kabul and that no explanation was ever given for this attack. He then adds that the Qatar-based network (ironically also the forward headquarters of the US Central Command), had given the Pentagon the co-ordinates of its Baghdad office two months ago and had received assurances that the bureau would not be attacked. On April 7, two days before the attack, the US State Department’s spokesman in Doha, an Arab-American called Nabil Khouri, visited the Al Jazeera offices in the city and, according to a source within the Qatari satellite channel, told the network that its Baghdad office was safe from any US attack.

Sky Television’s David Chater said this on air to audiences around the world: “I was about to go out on to the balcony when there was a huge explosion, then shouts and screams from people along our corridor. They were shouting, ‘Somebody’s been hit. Can somebody find a doctor?’ They were saying they could see blood and bone. There was a great sense of panic because these walls are very thin. We saw the tanks up on the bridge. They started firing across the bank. The shells were landing either side of us at what we thought were military targets. Then we were hit. We are in the middle of a tank battle. I don’t understand why they were doing that. There was no fire coming out of this hotel — everyone knows it’s full of journalists. Everybody is putting on flak jackets. Everybody is running for cover. We now feel extremely vulnerable and we are now going to say goodbye to you. The line was cut but minutes later Mr Chater resumed his report, saying journalists had been watching US forces from their balconies and the troops had surely been aware of their presence. “They knew exactly what this hotel is. They know the press corps is here. I don’t know why they are trying to target journalists.” And then his telling remark: “What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to carry on if American shells are targeting Western journalists?” — OMAR R. QURAISHI


End of a progressive Lahori

Lahore is about people ... truly remarkable people ... the simple, the unknown Lahoris, all of them from one mohallah or the other of the old walled city. Some make a name, others pass away unknown. But they all remain remarkable, a model of calm in these days of “undue haste”.

On Thursday at the funeral of Abdullah Malik, one got to meet journalists of every age, of every inclination, of every hue and shade, friends that had not been met for almost 25 years when The Pakistan Times was the only English-language newspaper, and Imroze was a sister Urdu daily of a class that few can imagine today. Abdullah Malik wrote in both of them and they were both progressive in every sense of word. Once again, that entire “family” of journalists of Lahore had gathered like they used to in those days when tolerance was an expected virtue. The imam at the namaz-i-janaza conducted the longest funeral prayer I have ever experienced, and everyone had a word or two to say about that. Controversy in the house of Abdullah Malik is the accepted norm, and religion was a deeply personal matter, never discussed as an issue, at least never publicily. That was bad manners.

Funerals bring people of a lifetime together like no other occasion does. Everything is forgiven. It is a remarkable social binder in our social scheme of things. The man from Kacha Chabak Sawaran —- the original cavalry precinct —- that Kakayzai area where people are known to be born to argue, but in the end fold up every argument in great dignity, just as Abdullah Malik had managed to fold up a full life like very few do manage. On Wednesday last, Abdullah Malik folded up his life, in great dignity. For that matter he had always been a man of great dignity, and his utter Lahori upbringing ensured that he had no complexes. Ejaz Batalvi, now looking rather weak, was telling former president Rafiq Tarar: “He belonged to a class and age where the demarcation was clear. Initially either you were for the British or you were against them and for freedom. Later on, either you were for freedom and democracy or you were against it. He was clear-headed and simple”. The bearded former president nodded in agreement, of not awe, at probably Pakistan’s most respected lawyer and teacher.

I have had the opportunity of seeing and meeting Abdullah Malik since I was a little child, for he was a fried of my father and lived just across the road from my grandfather’s house in J-Block in Model Town. My grandmother had taught him inside the walled city as a schoolteacher, and Malik Sahib was ever so respectful. Even when she was old and tottered over to get an injection from the doctor, he would remain standing till she left, his head bowed in immense respect. He was a remarkable old Lahori to the core.

But then his funeral also brought back memories of another funeral I had attended in November, 1984, in the same graveyard in G-Block, Model Town, that of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. What I remember most was the way in which another very great Punjabi poet arrived to attend to his departed friend, and I am talking about that great Lahori poet, Ustad Daman. The great man was very ill, almost unable to walk. But he managed to attend the funeral in a rickshaw. Those who had seen his wrestler-like figure in better days could not believe their eyes to see the skeleton like Daman arriving with the help of two people. There was a close friendship between Faiz and Daman and only a few days prior to Faiz’s death both of them had attended a dinner together at Munnoo Bhai’s residence. At Faiz’s funeral, Ustad Daman kept repeating that it was his turn now. He joined his friend in death only 13 days later on December 3.

Ustad Daman, whose real name was Chiragh Din, belonged to Lahori Gate, inside the old city. He adopted Damdam as his pseudonym, following in the footsteps of his mentor Ustad Hamdam but changed it to Daman after some time. Daman was first introduced to public recital of his poetry from the stage of the All India Congress at a meeting held at Mochi Gate. The star speaker of the gathering was Jawaharlal Nehru, who developed a personal rapport with Daman instantly. Many years later when Daman went to Delhi to participate in an Indo-Pak mushaira, he stole the show with his verses that brought tears to the eyes of the audience. Lali ankhian di pai dasdi ai Roay tuosi vi o, roay asi vi aan (The redness of the eyes tells us, that both of us have wept)

The partition of the Punjab had jolted Daman badly. He felt shattered by the loss of friends and pupils, many of them being Hindus and Sikhs. His miseries were compounded by the death of his wife at the same time in riot-stricken Lahore. It is said that Daman had to hire labourers to carry her coffin to the graveyard. The incident made him an introvert and he shifted to a closet in the city. In Delhi, Pandit Nehru virtually begged Ustad Daman, even to the extent of touching his feet, to stay on in India, promising him a handsome pension and a life of great respect. But Daman was a Lahori to the core, and like every self-respecting Lahori, he could not do without the city. He returned to utter poverty and oppression. He lived the rest of his life as a hermit.

At the funeral of Abdullah Malik I stood watching the place where the great Ustad had alighted from that rickshaw. I remember Abdullah Malki once telling me, with reference to this incident: “A day will come, when we are not around, when the people of Lahore will lament the way or illiterate elite rulers have treated the finest men and women of this city”. -Aya-naan azaadian Huthon barbad Hona -Ho-aye Tusi wi O, Ho-aye usi Wi Aaa’n. — Majid Sheikh

Crass insensitivity of US pilots

By A.R. Siddiqi

IN its issue of April 2, Washington Post ran an article by Lyndsey Lyton headlined ‘US pilots insulated from the realities of their targets’. Layton quoted one Commander Jeff Penfield, as saying “My job is to hit whatever target I have been assigned to hit. I do not think about human life. I am hard at things, and there are people I don’t think about.”

Targets, friends or foe, could include anything from a soft skin vehicle like a jeep or an armoured fighting vehicle or a column of civilian stragglers, running helter skelter for shelter — almost anything that Commander Penfield and his buddies may decide to take out. Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) must be observed according to the rules of engagement. However, raging combat has its own dynamics to push such niceties into the limbo.

The vast firepower at their command and the absence of any real threat from the enemy, has made the US warriors soldiers extraordinarily insensitive to human life and suffering. It is like wishing ‘happy huntings’ to a big game hunter before he proceeds on his mission. In the context of Iraq war, without an enemy to match, “happy huntings” translates itself into a killing spree with impunity, regardless of the nature of the target.

On board the USS Abraham Lincoln (what a snub to the memory of the great American leader of all times!) the Washington Post writer recorded one of his own agonizing experiences as follows:

“On one recent afternoon, a half dozen Safer Hornet pilots were clustering round a television in one corner of their ‘ready’ room where they spend most of their time when not flying or sleeping.

“They were watching video from the cockpits of a Super Hornet during a bombing sortie the night before. The television showed abstract images — a bright light darting north on the dark green screen, pausing over the target framed in a white, then bursts of white and orange.

“The men delighted in the explosions, which reflected on their faces. Their backs were turned from another television, across but small room. It was tuned to CNN which showed new footage of bloody, bandaged Iraqi men lying on beds, casualties of US assaults.

“The pilots never glanced at the screen...”.

I have before me three recent issues of Time and Newsweek. The cover page of the Time special issue, titled “Gulf War-II, Baghdad March 31, 2003”, might have been a wall of inferno. A huge building flash rising from the burning civilian “targets” along the Tigris reflected dazzlingly in the calm waters of the historic river.

“Exclusive” photos inside might be a dark, surrealistic vista of ghostly shadows and the real life photographs of the wounded and badly-bandaged Iraqi victims of unchallenged US bombings visible to the immense joy of the pilots at the end of their killing mission.

Newsweek issue of the same date shows the Tigris on fire. The cover page is emblazoned in huge, block letters with the legend, “Shock and awe”. What a gift from the world’s only superpower to the rest of the world.

Yet another issue of Newsweek (April 7) shows a slightly wounded American soldier being helped by another undoubtedly to the nearby field hospital or ambulance. The main title raises the question mark: “How Bloody?”

The bottom line reads “Wounded US Marine in Al Nasiriya, Iraq”. Thus the alarm a single wounded GI would raise not a whole lot of Iraqis would, with festering wounds and no help of any kind nearby.

According to the US Defence Secretary, this (Iraq’s) is a war of a kind “we have never seen before!” How very true.

And how shocking to hear President Bush rule out the possibility of a “second guess” on how long the war would last. “It’s not a matter of timetable, it’s a matter of victory. And the Iraqi people have got to know that, see?”

In the words of the Newsweek staff writer, the president sounded “less like Winston Churchill than James Cagney”.

Victory, yes. But what kind of victory? Over the dead bodies of Iraqi civilians, victory over the debris of Baghdad’s imposing cityscape and the ruins of Babylon and Ninevah? Liberation from a single tyrant and his cohorts at the cost of the nation and the country itself. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” would better be renamed Operation Iraqi Liberation (O.I.L.) to bring out its underlying objective and focus.

Robert Fisk would identify oil as “all important in this illegitimate conflict. No wonder, General Franks admitted that the first concern, prior to the war, was the protection of the southern oil fields.”

Back to the extraordinary insensitivity of the US pilots once again. The same redoubtable Commander Penfield also appears in an earlier Reuters report (dated March 28) substantiating the essence of Washington Post’s perceptive story. And more. Reporting from USS Abraham Lincoln, the Reuters man held the US pilots responsible for the attack on a Baghdad market that killed 40 civilians.

The following quote from his dispatch should alert the USAF commander to the excesses committed by their pilots in the performance of their missions.

“American pilots who bombed Baghdad on Friday (March 28) (speaking of the full threat of a successful attack in the face of a fierce anti-aircraft fire (without downing a single intruder).

“It was all nice and calm in the city (before the bombing run). At the end of the mission, what I felt more than anything else was exhilaration...”

Even death and destruction would have a fascinating aspect, for one up in the air in the safety of his flying machine without the enemy in sight.

Review report nothing more than an eyewash

By Tanvir Ahmad

THE eagerly-awaited report of the Review Committee of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), made public on Friday,is hardly anything but an eyewash. And it has very conveniently taken the cricket board off the hook.

Those of us who were expecting actions like rolling of heads, pinning of responsibility on some of the highly paid PCB officials and broad-based corrective measures at all levels have been utterly disappointed.

But the very composition of the committee was a confirmation of our fears that it was just going to be ritual and that one should not expect recommendation of drastic nature. Also, one should not have expected from the members of the committee to see beyond their noses.

Inquiry commissions and review committees following a national debacle or disaster is the order of the day in third world countries. This is the best and time-tested method of calming down public anger and frustration.

In most cases the commissions either don’t submit their reports for years or the reports, even if submitted, are not made public for years. The PCB should, at least, be given the credit of not only appointing a committee to inquire into the causes of the national cricket team’s failure in the World Cup 2003 but the committee has submitted its report in about a month’s time — a record by Pakistani standards.

But the “findings” of the committee are neither revealing nor startling. Most of the “causes” enumerated in the report have been mentioned in media reports, not only after the event but in some cases even before the team had left for South Africa.

The report is full of anomalies and self-contradictions. It lays great emphasis on the “age factor” but at the same time it admits that “no (young) replacements were available”. What is the option before the selectors if replacements were not available. It has pointed out the “star-syndrome hype” as one of the factors for the poor performance. But if we see the media hype which was on in India even before the start of World Cup, the committee’s argument appears very weak and unconvincing. Such build-up of national teams is now almost in all country, with so many TV channels and host of newspapers, competing among themselves for gaining viewership and readership. A professional team is never expected to be under handicap from such projections.

As far as the committee’s assertion about sending “too many” officials is concerned, Pakistani print media had been pointing out this factor even before the event had started. It was felt that the team was “top heavy” and may buckle up under their pressure.

A very interesting point raised in the report is about the send-off ceremony, held in Lahore. How could that ceremony have adversely affected the team’s moral and performance is anybody’s guess. It seems that the committee was incapable of looking into the real reasons or was under mandate not to mention those causes and make some sort of a lukewarm observation to pacify the people. My contention is confirmed from the following observation made in the report: “The media hype, the flashy send off, the statements from top to bottom that we would win the World Cup was inappropriate and placed the team under gratuitous handicap......”

To conclude, the report is a disappointment and would hardly help those in the PCB who want to make a new beginning after the World Cup failure.