Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Hide and Seek

In a statement at the end of a three-day summit here, they welcomed Pakistan’s progress in restoring democracy since its reinstatement to the Commonwealth in 2004, and gave it two years to resolve the issue of Musharraf’s dual role.
Commonwealth leaders “reiterated that until the two offices are separated, the process of democratisation in Pakistan will not be irreversible,” the statement said.

The statement “noted that the holding by the same person of the offices of head of state and chief of army staff is incompatible with the basic principles of democracy”,
Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri was reported as saying on Saturday that the Commonwealth had praised Pakistan’s progress on democracy and it “fully supported” Gen Musharraf’s decision to stay chief of the army and president until 2007.

Story here.

But the Commonwealth knows very well, that Musharraf isn't going to relinquish either office. There will always be pressing concerns. So what's the point of the charade? It's just a silly game of cat and mouse.

But then what has this whole democratic set-up given us? Without even debating how 'democratic' the whole set up, I would like to question the democratic aspirations of our legislators. The National Assembly barely manages to maintain Quorum and just scraps enough meets to satisfy the constitutional requirements- and then what do our esteemed legislators do in the house? Stage walk-outs? Exchange allegations? When have we seen a constructive debate in the National Assembly? What is that one piece of legislation that our legislators have presented their voters with? So then why does the National Assembly meet? To satisfy the ones in the Commenwealth? To waste taxpayers' money?

Really, what is the purpose of this whole charade? Why do we bother?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Tagged and...

Sayan tagged and asked me to continue the "silly" game. And the results are...

Your Inner European is French!

Smart and sophisticated.

You have the best of everything - at least, *you* think so.

Who's Your Inner European?

*big huge grin*

Sunday, November 20, 2005

More Faiz...

Following up on Faiz. Came across this by him.


Faiz, the Pindi Conspiracy and Patriotism.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz is regarded as most illustirous Urdu poet of the sub-continent after Iqbal and Ghalib. Somehow Faiz took more of the limelight than either of the two. For one, Faiz was the marxist, the revolutionary, the social worker and the poet. Wiki says very little on him:
Faiz was a member of the Anjuman Tarraqi Pasand Mussanafin-e-Hind (Progressive Writers' Movement), and an avowed Marxist. In 1962 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union.
The website dedicated to Faiz shed a little more light:
Lecturer in English at M. A. O. College, Amritsar in 1935 and then at Hailey College of Commerce, Lahore. Joined the Army as Captain in 1942 and worked in the department of Public Relations in Delhi. Was promoted to the rank of Major in 1943, and Lieut. Colonel in 1944. Resigned from The Army in 1947 and returned to Lahore, where, in 1959 appointed as Secretary, Pakistan Arts Council and worked in that capacity till 1962
In March 9th, arrested under Safety Act and charged in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case, and having borne the hardships of imprisonment for four years and one month in the jails of Sargodha, Montgomery (now Sahiwal) Hyderabad and Karachi, was released on April 2nd, 1955.

He passed away in 1984 and spent a lot of time in the jails. In Selected English Writings of Faiz he recounts some of his experiences. Shedding some light on the "Rawalpindi Conspiracy", he writes:

At the end of 1950, I met an old friend of mine from the army who had been appointed Chief of General Staff, General Akbar Khan. I met him by chance in Murree, where I was holidaying for 10 days and he said to me, “Look, we people in the army, particularly we who fought in Kashmir are very disgruntled because this country is going to the dogs. We have made no constitution for four years, there is so much corruption, there is so much nepotism, no elections are being held... and there is no hope and we want to do something.”

I said, “Do what?” He said, “Overthrow the government and we want to have a non-party government and have elections and a constitution...” and this that and the other. I said, “All right!” He said, “Well, we want your advice.” I said, “Well this is an army exercise, I can’t give you any advice.” He said, “Anyway, you come to our meeting and listen to my plan.”

Then in a very stupid way, I went to his meeting along with two civilian friends and we listened to this plan...This was discussed for about five or six hours and eventually — there were about 14 or 16 officers there — they decided after a good deal of discussion that it was not on, for the simple reason that there was no issue before the country on which you could mobilize the people. Secondly, suppose the plan was discovered before it went off. Besides, it was too risky. So it was decided that nothing should be done.

They got really jittery and by this time, I had forgotten all about it. Nothing had happened, you see, nothing was going to be done. Suddenly, one fine morning at about four o’clock, I found my house surrounded by soldiers. Somebody came up and said, “Come along.” I said, “What has happened?” He said, “You are under arrest.”For four months, I was in solitary confinement; I do not know what had happened until after four months. A special Act was passed by the Constituent Assembly; it was called the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Act. Then we were brought to trial, a secret trial under this Act, which was passed only for this particular case.

More interesting stuff comes later on...

So for eight years I returned to teaching and administration and then came back. In between there were two wars, the 1965 war with India and the 1971 war in Bangladesh. These two were difficult periods for me because I was under a great deal of pressure to write war songs, but I said, “Look here, I am not writing any war songs!” They said, “Well, why not? It is your patriotic duty.” I said, “Look, firstly, because I consider these wars to be a very wanton waste of precious lives and secondly, because I know that Pakistan is not going to get anything out of either this war or that war. I am not going to write any war songs.”

But I did write poems about both wars. In the first war, I wrote two poems, one was called “Black-out” and the theme was that it is autumn with the lights — physical lights — which have gone out, the light of reason has gone out, the light of love has gone out, and all the lights in the hearts of people have gone out. And the second poem was an elegy for a fallen soldier and his mother mourning for her son. This infuriated my patriotic friends even more.

Narrating both incidents, he raised interesting questions and this collection of his writings tops my reading list. I have just realised how preciously little I know about this guy! My only connection to him has always been bol ke lab azaad hain or Shoaib Hashmi! Time to change all that I guess.

You can read more of the excerpts here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Children in Strife

Two striking images I came across today:

This one captured a young boy reuniting with his family. He was amongst the 25 Pakistanis released by India yesterday. When we will quit playing with innocent lives like this? [Source]

And the other one brought some hope...life will reign even after Oct 8...

The young teaching the young in a makeshift camp in Islamabad. Rock on, girl! :) [Source]

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Regulating the internet?

The second phase of the World Summit on Information Society has kicked off in Tunis. The main aim of the conference is to figure out how international governance of the internet can be carried out. Currently, the US and the ICANN manage the technical and the administrative aspects of the digital sphere. Other parties have limited influence on the process. But now the UN is trying to establish an international body that can at least take over the administrative affairs of the Internet.

I dug up the Declaration of Principles from the last phase of the Summit. This document declares the following on the issue:
48. The Internet has evolved into a global facility available to the public and its governance should constitute a core issue of the Information Society agenda. The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations. It should ensure an equitable distribution of resources, facilitate access for all and ensure a stable and secure functioning of the Internet, taking into account multilingualism.

49. The management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations. In this respect it is recognized that:
a. Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues;

But well that is just what the US doesn't want to

On the one side, you had the US. Americans officials had strongly reiterated that it would not give up control over the net's technical functions, including the domain name addressing system.

They argued that the internet grew out of US military and academic research, and that the US government had both the responsibility, and the ability, to keep the internet open, stable and secure.

On the other side, you had nations making the case that the relationship between ICANN and the US Department of Commerce essentially amounted to American control of what has become a truly global communications and economic resource.

The time had come, they argued, to internationalise the discussion surrounding the net.

Well, of course we have to internationalise the discussion. But that raises an interesting related question... If we leave out the international end for the time being- how far should the governments be allowed to go with "controlling" this medium at the domestic level? We know that there isn't much they can do on the international front- but it's a different story within their own states. The freedom and the avenues that the Internet has provided the common man, does not need any mentioning... so if the government was suddenly sweep in and start regulating it all, how much difference would it make? The governments currently do regulate the net traffic, but I am wondering whether government interference at the local/domestic level would change? Given that all of a sudden when it can play a role on the international end of it - would it want to further its entrenchments domestically as well? What would that signal for net users? I think that if we can have free print and electronic media then it shouldn't be too much of an issue. But the internet is a far more powerful medium. So then what?

Another thing that struck me was that the UN Declaration talked of upholding the sovereignty of nation States and that the policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. Over the last decade or so, we have truly seen the concept of sovereign states being challenged. The states are no longer the traditional sovereign actors - so many other entities have no come into play- and of course that sovereignty has be threatened. Then is this another pretext that can be used to curb Internet freedom? The mere fact that this clause exists in the Declaration implies that governments are already sensitive over this issue. So then if we do have internet governance - what would be its form? How far would it penetrate? Actually how far can it penerate?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Wish there were more of him...

Just read an excellent article by Mohatir Mohamad- the former Prime Minister of Malaysia. He has all of his points so right! I just wish all of the Muslim leaders had his foresight and the will to change things. Nonetheless, it gives one hope to read such stuff. All is not lost.

Some excerpts:

According to the Koran, a Muslim is anyone who bears witness that “there is no God (Allah) but Allah, and that Muhammad is his Rasul (Messenger).” If no other qualification is added, then all those who subscribe to these precepts must be regarded as Muslims. But because we Muslims like to add qualifications that often derive from sources other than the Koran, our religion’s unity has been broken

But perhaps the greatest problem is the progressive isolation of Islamic scholarship — and much of Islamic life — from the rest of the modern world. We live in an age of science in which people can see around corners, hear and see things happening in outer space and clone animals. And all of these things seem to contradict our belief in the Koran.

This is so because those who interpret the Koran are learned only in religion, in its laws and practices, and thus are usually unable to understand today’s scientific miracles. The fatwas (legal opinions concerning Islamic law) that they issue appear unreasonable and those with scientific knowledge cannot accept them.

and then he says:
Failure to understand and interpret the true and fundamental message of the Koran has brought only misfortune to Muslims. By limiting our reading to religious works and neglecting modern science, we destroyed Islamic civilisation and lost our way in the world.
Pursue the whole article here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ijtihad and Islam

Irshad Manji wrote a rather nice piece for the LA Times. She looks at the reasons owing to which the concept of Ijithad no longer exists in the Muslim world. Why of all a sudden, it is considered blasphemous to even think contrary to the prevalent beliefs?

She dates the decline of Ijtihad to the decline of the Muslim Empires of Spain and the Middle East and the emergence of dissident groups all over the Muslim Empire. That is very true, for once these groups began emerge they had to acquire some sort of legitimacy for their rule and what better way to do it than to become guardians and custodians of the Great Religion? Anyone who dared to contradict them was contradicting the word of God and that was a big no no. Thus free-thinking and constant reinterpretation of religion, all but vanished.

Manji points three main characteristics of the Muslim intelligentsia since the 12th century:

For hundreds of years since, three equations have informed mainstream Islamic practice. First, unity equals uniformity. In order to be strong, members of the worldwide Muslim ummah, or nation, must think alike.

Second, debate equals division. Diversity of interpretation is no longer a tribute to God's majesty. It is a hammer blow to the unity that Muslims must exhibit to those intent on dividing us.

Third, division equals heresy. Soon after the gates of ijtihad closed, innovation came to be defined as a crime by dint of being fitna — that which divides.

And then she hits the crux of the problem when she says that:

The good news is that the gates of ijtihad were shut not for spiritual or theological reasons but for entirely political ones. This means there is no blasphemy in seeking to resuscitate Islam's tradition of independent thinking.

Yet, even today the Muslim world is still hesitant to open the gates of Ijtihad again. And again it is mere politics that acts as the hindering block. Also equally importantly, it has also become a question of survival for the crop of half-cooked Mullahs that litter the streets of the Muslim world. The Muslims of today have ended up placing the Mullahs on this high pedestal- to whom they take every single query related to their religious domain. They would rather take the word of the Mullah instead of investigating the issue on their own. And of course, if the common men were able to get together and work out these issues in the rational light of the principles of Islam- then where would the Mullahs and the Maulvis go? No wonder they declare, ijtihad a blasphemous act.

To break the back of this pseudo-clergy, the masses need to be informed that it is okay to rationally interpret religious edicts, that it does not amount to fitna and it is not against the principles of their religion.

Irshad Manji's article can be found here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Just amazing

Over the last few days, we have been letting the little kitties out for a while. Of course we always did so when Mano herself is around but still someone used to keep an eye on the pesky little things.

But today since no one else was around to keep an eye on them, I decided to let Mano take care of them herself and settled on the side to continue with my readings. But its was just so amazing to see the way she looked after them, the way made sure they didnt wander off.. she would run after them or meow sharply whenever they would venture into areas that she deemed were unsafe. I even caught her scowling at Mownie and dragging her back. And then Mimi decided to climb up a tree and Mano was up after her in a jiffy! I only noticed when they were both half way up the tree. But Mano had at least made sure that she didn't climb up any further.

All of this was just one of the more pronounced displays of motherhood by Mano. There are so many little things that she does- like coming back in early from her wanderings of the outside world and heading straight to check on the kitties (instead of rushing for the food bowl, as she used to) and she would let the kitties eat whatever you put down to her and just contently watch them... It's amazing! At the end of the day, she is just an animal. Yet there is enough sense, compassion and intelligence in her to take care of the little ones.

Probably this is qudrat at her finest! And it just amazes me.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Goblet of Fire!!

The fourth movie in the Harry Potter series is set to be released on November 18th. Goblet of Fire marks the return of Voldermort to human form. It's bound to be an interesting journey and boy, am I looking forward to it! The other day I downloaded the trailer for the movie. The whole 34 Mb and that was no mean feat given the amazing cable connection that I use. But it was worth the effort. The trailers works as the perfect appetizer with glimpses of all the main incidents of the book. You even get a glimpse to the battle of wands that leads to cool phenomenum of Priori Incantatem. The movie promises to be way better than Prisoner of Azkaban. Although the PoA was a lot more darker than the prior two movies, yet it deviated somewhat from the original storyline. It neglected some parts of the book that I felt were integral to the book. And that was a bummer!

But from the trailer GoF promises to be a lot more satisfying. I haven't read anything that talks of cuts to the story and I hope they don't deviate from the actual plot line. GoF does seem to herald in the true 'growing up' of the kids! What not with the Yule Ball and Rita Skeeter lurking around evry corner :P Probably that's whats so amazing about this series. It's not just a fantasy story for 11-12 year olds. It's a lot more. It's just amazing how the characters and the story has attained more depth with each new book. It's not just that the books have grown darker each time, but the themes too. From the concept behind the Mirror of the Erised in the Philopsopher's Stone... to Harry letting Pettigrew go in PoA... to the ritual using which Voldermort rises again in GoF... to the battle at the Ministry in the Order of the Phoenix. It's been truly amazing stuff.

So then, I guess it's quite evident that I can hardly wait for the movie. I just hope I am able to land a copy that is not a cinema print!!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Seismic Activity in Pakistan

The October 8th Earthquake has triggered off unprecedented seismic activity in Pakistan. Since the devastating earthquake, there have been over a thousand aftershocks and more than 250 of them measured 4.5+ on the Richter scale. This is freaky enough and then there are reports of increased seismic/volcanic-like activity in the Allai region in NWFP. This was the main story on the Daily Times today.

The reports from Allai, a community of some 150,000 people in the NWFP’s Battagram district, are being taken seriously. The military ordered a seismic survey of the area a few days ago, and while the team has reported that volcanic activity is ‘unlikely’, the evacuation is still going ahead as a precaution. Locals believe that the mysterious smoke and a series of unexplained, loud blasts heard frequently in the area, sometimes at intervals of only a few hours, are the result of volcanic activity deep within the mountains.

Fazl Rabbani of the National Centre of Excellence in Geology at Peshawar University is conducting a more detailed geological survey of Allai with a team of experts and told IRIN on Saturday: "I don’t see a possibility of volcanic activity, but we would like to see first-hand the fissures and cracks appearing in the mountain’s face, the water which people say has changed colour and the smoke from the mountain."

Just a couple of days ago, I had read this piece, which discusses mud volcanoes:

Mud volcanoes, according to Australian vulcanologist John Seach who runs a website on volcanoes, are not true volcanoes of the more common magmatic fiery, lava-spitting kind. They occur when mud and sand under the surface are squeezed upwards by compressive forces and expelled at the surface, particularly along zones of weakness or fractures in the Earth’s crust. The attendant phenomena of mud volcanoes include explosion, clouds of smoke, bubbling of water, outburst of mud, and the discharge and ignition of emitted gas (usually inert carbon dioxide or methane).

According to a German scientist, G. Delisle, who has researched extensively on mud volcanoes in Pakistan recently, there are two known groups of mud volcanoes. These are located onshore along the moderately seismic active Makran coast in Balochistan. They are known as the Chandragup mud volcanoes, which spewed gas that self-ignited following the 1945 quake, and the Jebel-u-Ghurab mud volcanoes nearby.

The good news is that mud volcanoes are generally not considered to be dangerous, and in some countries like Azerbaijan where the gas eruptions from mud volcanoes are more frequent and violent than those in Pakistan, they are actually a tourist attraction. Since the local experts have ruled out the chance of any volcanic activity in Alai, could the phenomenon reported by villagers in Alai be akin to that of a mud volcano, although there does not seem to be any reported existence of mud volcanoes in northern Pakistan?

There are, however, thermal or hot springs in northern Pakistan, another surface manifestation of tectonic movements beneath the Earth. (Like mud volcanoes, hot springs have also become well known tourist attractions in many countries.)

These might just turn out to be mud-volcanoes and hopefully they would. But given this sudden rise in underground activity in Pakistan - will we awaken to the possible threat and take some precautionary measures at least? There is a lot of talk these days about building guidelines and contingency plans and all that relief management stuff. But I wonder if all of this interest would last? Or would it all die off in a few months time and we will be back to normal? Maybe we ought to look at means by which we can sustain interest in all of these activities- so that the government, the builders et al. don't forget it all. Precaution is the only way to prepare against any similar recurrence.


On a tangential note. The official death toll from the earthquake has jumped to 73,000! I had to pinch myself, when I heard that. This means that the causality count is higher than the injured count, which stands at 69,000. And this is even before the winter has properly set it. God forbid any further deaths. These have been crippling enough.

But I have been wondering about one thing. We have been hearing that if further deaths have to be prevent there is an immediate need for thousands of tents And these tents haven't been forthcoming- the national production capacity has been fully over-stretched and the international supply is struggling to keep up. In the light of all this - why can't the affected and the relief workers just start setting up small huts? Start clearing up the debris and reconstructing already! We don't need to import cements and bricks and all those things needed to rebuild, do we? So why are we just sitting there crying that there aren't enough tents to go around?! Wouldn't your basic instinct tell you to rebuild from whatever you can scavenge from the debris? Its nearly been a month now - and why are people still waiting for outside help? If they haven't bothered to show well then forget them and move on with life! That's better than dying in the cold, isn't it?! All you need is some sort of shelter and that doesn't necessarily need to be imported. :\

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Awaiting Chand Raat

Eid is almost here. It's the time to have all those get-togethers, time for channa-chaat and sewaain, time to dress up, time for all those chorrian and of course time for eidee!! But most of all, it is the time for Chaand Raat...

Following the iftar of the 29th Roza- its the time when everyone would rush out to try and spot the first crescent of the Shawal moon. The time when, more often than not, no one would succeed in this endeavor- so then it would be the time to turn on the TV and wait for the official announcement. The time when there is this uncertainty of a few hours - that's the real fun of it! You want it to be Eid tomorrow, you want to start preparing for Eid tomorrow... and so you wait for the Ruet-e-Hilal announcement. When it finally comes (and if its positive) then activity ensues in the kitchen, the TV starts playing all those special Eid shows, clothes are brought out- ironed, prepared for early next morning. And then you sit awake long into the night - applying Mehndi, cleaning up and just talking! It's Eid tomorrow!

This is what Eid is all about. So here's to this Eid! :)