DAWN - Features; March 6, 2006

Published March 6, 2006

Let’s ask Mbongeni Ngema about the nuclear deal

MBONGENI NGEMA will be watching Monday’s IAEA meeting with keen interest. The popular and controversial South African playwright-musician represents a generation of black nationalists who fought the white man’s apartheid in their colonized homeland with blood and grit.

When black power took control of South Africa’s destiny shortly before the turn of the century, Mbongeni saw his leader Nelson Mandela magnanimously cast away years of anger and prejudice that were ingrained if also nursed against his white tormentors. He also saw Mandela sagely endorse the dissolution of South Africa’s formidable nuclear arsenal because to the new democratic South Africa nuclear weapons were as immoral as apartheid itself.

It is with this perspective that Mbongeni will watch the IAEA deliberations closely and see whether India has learnt anything from Mandela. He will be disappointed if India yet again betrays a fellow Third World country such as Iran for a few crumbs of racial privilege at the nuclear high table.

Mbongeni has his fears about Indians because he has seen them being co-opted by the apartheid system in South Africa, Indians who became conniving members of a tricameral parliament merely to savour the crumbs flung at them by the white supremacists. The crumbs of course were not given to indulge an eager loyalist or an obsequious doorman but to weaken the resolve of the black majority to fight injustice.

Needless to say, the political activist in Mbongeni Ngema would be aware that there have always been two kinds of Indians — those that had joined the fight against colonialism and thus against the white man’s racism that came with it. He must be familiar with the contributions of Nehru, Jinnah and Bhagat Singh in South Asia’s battle for human freedoms.

In South Africa too Indians had fought shoulder to shoulder with Mandela’s African National Congress. These heroes included Yusuf Dadoo, Moulvi and Yusuf Cachalia and of course Ahmed Kathrada, among countless others. But Indians had also betrayed the black majority when several of their flock lunged for the opportunity whereby they were upgraded a notch or two in the racial heap. The tricameral system of governance was the white man’s last gambit against the turning tide of the black resolve for freedom.

A similar gambit was unfolding in South Asia last week during the visit here by America’s President Bush. During that visit Mbongeni will have seen a glimpse of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf riveted to their quest for a nuclear regime that in a very essential way has been assembled with large components from Botha’s tricameral system of racial segregation. When he saw the prime minister of India embracing the American president last week in the name of enlightened national interest, Mbongeni will have winced.

Before May 1998 India had been fighting against the global architecture of nuclear apartheid. Those are the words Indian leaders and perhaps Pakistanis too used to describe the Big Five who had arrogated to themselves the exclusive right to hold the world hostage to their terror-instilling nuclear prowess.

But today, here was an Indian leader who was arguing to receive racial privileges that Mbongeni saw being vended in South Africa, for that is what it virtually means to endorse the Neocon theory of rogue states and responsible states. By accepting the theory proffered by Messrs Bush and Blair that India is a responsible state, Dr Singh was implicitly accepting the theory that there are rogue states too. In fact by his demeanour he was going a step further, to actually insinuate that Iran was indeed a rogue state that did not deserve to be trusted with nuclear technology that India could have, no matter how illegally. President Bush heaped abuse on Iran from Indian soil and Prime Minister Singh didn’t object.

We don’t need a nuclear physicist to see that acceptance of the theory of rogue states is to drive a deep wedge between Third World countries; it is like sounding the death knell of the Non-Aligned Movement, to name just one platform where developing countries would meet in a huddle to avert an Iraq or an Afghanistan from happening. Here was a prime minister who claimed to be a follower of Nehru but who was beginning to speak the language of some other mentor.

Jean Paul Sartre may have never heard of Manmohan Singh, but he had a fair idea of what he would be like. In the introduction to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, he describes the prototype thus: “The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed.

These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed. From Paris, from London, from Amsterdam we would utter the words (Parthenon! Brotherhood!) and somewhere in Africa or Asia lips would open (...thenon! ...therhood!) It was the golden age.”

When Mbongeni wrote AmaNdiya, Zulu for Indians, the angry song was banned by South Africa’s radio stations and record shops. The South African Human Rights Commission advised Mbongeni to choose some other, less abrasive method to highlight his criticism of Indians who had colluded with the apartheid regime, and many of whom still continue to harbour anti-black racist feelings. As India, under the stewardship of Manmohan Singh, and assisted by his undeclared mentor Atal Behari Vajpayee, lead this country to the Sugar-Candy Mountain promised by Messrs Bush and Blair, Mbongeni will smile to himself. Deep in his heart he would be aware that he was not too wrong in arriving at the conclusions about a few Indians, which made him belt out an angry song against the racist instincts they harbour — like the Indians who supported last week’s nuclear deal.

* * * * *

TAILPIECE: An elite unit of guard dogs belonging to George Bush’s security team checked into the five-star luxury of top hotels in Delhi during the president’s visit to India. While Mr Bush enjoyed the grand comfort of the Maurya Sheraton’s presidential suite, 17 dogs belonging to the K9 squad of the US Secret Service rested their weary noses in deluxe rooms nearby costing $200 a night.

The Sheraton and Le Meridien do not usually accept animals as guests but made an exception after pressure from Indian and US security officials. Le Meridien said that it had seven canine guests including German shepherds, Dutch shepherds and labradors.

Trouble broke out in parliament when pictures were flashed of some of these dogs sniffing around at Mahatma Gandhi’s shrine before President Bush visited it. Indians and foreign visitors are required to take off their shoes outside the shrine as a mark of respect to Mahatma Gandhi’s memory. To have dogs sniffing for explosives there was seen by the MPs as a grave sacrilege.


Recurring terrorism

Thursday’s powerful bomb blast that killed four people, including an American consulate official, not only caused loss of life and property, it also shattered people’s confidence in the ability of our law-enforcement agencies to curb terrorism.

Just on December 15 last year, a day after the Sindh governor said that the law and order situation in the province was ideal for foreign investment, a powerful bomb had gone off in the high security zone in front of the PIDC House, across two five-star hotels.

On Wednesday, a day before the latest incident, the police chief had formed a “foreigners’ security cell” under the supervision of a DIG and other senior officers.

That the terrorists chose such a highly sensitive part of the city, a spot next to the Marriot Hotel, close to the American consulate and the chief minister’s house, and just a day before the arrival of US President George W. Bush in Islamabad, shows how organized the group behind the bombing was. How a terrorist with such a huge quantity of explosives could slip through security seems quite inexplicable, and has yet to be satisfactorily explained.

Of course, after every such incident, security is “tightened further” when it is the general public that suffers. People begin to believe that this time it is “tight” enough to prevent more acts of terrorism. Police, Rangers and other law-enforcement agencies are alerted and cameras are installed. Roads are made off-limits first to rickshaws, taxies and high-roofs and later they are closed to all traffic. This shifts the traffic load to other, already choked roads.

It is reported that the group behind the suicide bombing is a new one -– ‘previously unheard of’, as the jargon goes. But not many facts have been brought to light. We will catch them, we will get them, the authorities claim after every terrorist attack or sectarian killing. But it is clear how woefully inadequate our police and intelligence services are.

Meanwhile, Friday’s shutdown and wheeljam passed off relatively peacefully. Activists of the Imamia Students Organization who wanted to go to the US consulate were tear-gassed and beaten back.

During the last few weeks, Karachi has been awash with anti-blasphemy rallies, demonstrations and conferences. Religious, political activists, students, and even government functionaries are contributing their bit to this surge of outrage against the publication of blasphemous cartoons in some European countries. Those who cannot afford to physically participate in these events register their presence through press statements and writings in newspapers. That all these events have largely been peaceful in Karachi, is a relief.

There are people who want these protests to now move towards a conclusion. There isn’t anything left to say. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal appears to have run out of ideas to make the protests meaningful, having thrown in women, schoolchildren and processionists in shrouds. With the joining of hands by opposition parties, these protests have taken a political turn rather than become a movement organized to prevent future publication of blasphemous material.

Goodwill and determination

IT is not usual to find an English-medium co-educational school functioning in a low-income neighbourhood. One such school, that strives to provide education of the same standard as in the elitist educational institutions, is functioning in a bungalow in Darus Salam Society.

It opened two years ago with only a handful of students and now has over 500 pupils. The children there all come from Korangi and Landhi. The fee is reasonable. The management had to add extra rooms and floors to the building to accommodate them all but this is the least of their problems.

Last week the school held its second annual sports day and it had to cope with the children’s parents. Some of them were cross when their children didn’t finish first, second or third in the sport events. Some encouraged them to write ‘1’, ‘2’ or ‘3’ on the back of their hands like the teachers had done for the winners and told them to go and grab a cup.

At the end of the day, one parent was heard telling a senior teacher that she was glad this sports thing was over so that her children could concentrate on their studies. Extra-curricular activities, quite obviously, seemed irrelevant to her. Maintaining discipline among the parents was another problem. Some of them forced themselves inside the school building to make sure their children drank all kinds of energy drinks so that they were strong for the contests.

Thus, the challenge for the management of such schools in not merely to focus on the students’ studies, but also to try and change their and their parents’ mindset. If there were more good schools in inner city areas, they could have a liberalising effect. The goodwill and determination of this particular school has prompted some parents whose children studied in nearby madressahs to move them to the school.

Telephone bills

Last Friday scores of telephone bills for February were found in a roadside eatery in Korangi. The bills were supposed to be distributed in the locality. But the young man who was assigned the job kept the bills in a paan kiosk, whose owner sold the bills and had a kebab-paratha meal.

Every month many people do not receive their telephone bills and to avoid the non-payment surcharge have to get duplicate bills issued.

All this is quite a hassle and a time consuming exercise. In this case the PTCL has promised that consumers whose phone numbers appeared in this newspaper or those going to a certain official will be exempted from the surcharge. But that is not the answer to a recurring problem. There should be no surcharge if a consumer does not receive his bill and manages to notify non- receipt. And the foremost duty of the telecom authorities is to improve their bill delivery system.

— Karachian

email: karachi_notebook@hotmail.com



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