Archive for the ‘INDIA PAKISTAN’ Category
Don’t trigger a war : Voices from India and Pakistan
Villagers asked to evacuate are enraged at the media hype; their homes are almost empty and crop is being wasted
“Hun jang na lava deo!” (Now, don’t trigger a war!) – shouts an enraged villager, Kulwant Singh, at us. He is the caretaker of the local gurdwara of village Daoke on the India-Pakistan border.
We smile awkwardly; the villagers are visibly angry, especially the elderly. “Media nu TRP di payi rendi hai, aasan da koi nai sochda,” (media is concerned about TRPs, nobody thinks of us border villagers!) they say.
Some join the chorus as they see our cameras and notebooks. Villagers are keenly watching the high decibel rhetoric belted out by TV channels, where 80 per cent of news is on the India-Pakistan trajectory, in the heightened tension of the last two weeks.
Villagers in the border belt with Pakistan were ordered to evacuate after Indian armed forces carried out “surgical strikes” on September 29, in retaliation for the September 18 attack in Uri, Jammu & Kashmir, attributed to Pakistan’s terrorist network.
Daoke is situated bang on the border where the international boundary’s barbed wire fence is a mere crow’s flight away. So close to the border that one milkman Bitu’s mobile number shows the country code of +92 (Pakistan).
Even as hectic activity was noticed, as ripe paddy crop is being harvested speedily in villages, due to panic, their anger is not amiss.
Many villagers owning fields beyond the barbed wire fencing on the Indian side of the border are barred from tending to their fields by the Border Security Force. They rue the accrued losses and moan that their loans will remain unpaid, as no one can tend to their standing, ripened crops.
With many of the village’s women and children having left for safer places, much of the responsibility and burden of household chores, livestock and fields has fallen upon the frail shoulders of the elderly, while fields within the barbed area with newly ripened paddy are being managed by sons whose wives and children are staying with relatives in the cities.
Daoke’s Satwant Kaur cries: “In this old age, when I needed rest and comfort, I have been pushed to tend to cooking, cleaning and all house chores alone, as both my daughter-in-laws and their children were sent to their maternal homes. An old woman is expected to deal with everything!”
The reluctance of the villagers to evacuate has reasons. Whenever tensions build up between India and Pakistan, they fall in the first line of evacuation. At places, a mere road separates the defence drain and the fields of villages.
“Besides the cumbersome drill of packing and transporting belongings and requesting city counterparts to help, crops too suffer,” says one Gurmeet. The biggest reason, however, as Gurmeet puts it: “This time it is unlike earlier evacuations, which were serious. This one is merely precautionary and anticipatory.”
They are also loath to evacuate because they know they will get the whiff of any serious preparations for an attack through tip-offs from across the border, where they have contacts.
The contacts are through the ignominious drug trade. Villages Hawellian, Narli, Bharopal and Daoke are well known for their drug links. Incidentally, the controversial film Udta Punjab on the drug menace in Punjab, is peppered with mentions of these villages in conversations.
After evacuation orders by local deputy commissioners (DC), the villagers of Bharopal, similarly poised on the India-Pakistan border, are also restless. Many villagers owning fields beyond the barbed wire fencing on the Indian side of the border are barred from tending to their fields by the Border Security Force. They rue the accrued losses and moan that their loans will remain unpaid, as no one can tend to their standing, ripened crops. The
situation is alike in Kakkar, Rajatal, Neshta, Pandhori, Manj, Kawe, Bachiwind, and Ranian along the border, where very few have left homes.
Punjab’s chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had deputed DCs to supervise evacuation, on the possibility of retaliation by Pakistan, and declared: “These are precautionary steps to prevent civilian loss in case of any misadventure from across the border.”
Badal claimed to have released Rs 1 crore for each border district. When asked about the compensation, the villagers of Bharopal exclaimed: “Not a drop of compensation arrived on our doorstep!”
Amritsar’s DC said 15 camps and a score of buses were spared to ferry people. The villagers of Daoke are ignorant of any such travel arrangements.
Following recent incidents, 11 government school buildings were notified for residents of the border belt. Arrangement at Khasa school for about 500 people has no takers. In Chhabal village of Tarn Taran, about 30 rooms are in readiness to accommodate 250 people. Very few have arrived in relief camps falling in the adjoining district of Tarn Taran along the border.
They preferred to take refuge in gurdwaras nearby where food is assured via langars. All private and government educational institutions within 10km radius of the international border remain shut. Those living near the border have been asked to switch off lights at night.
Many of the villagers have witnessed three wars, including 1965, 1971, Kargil in 1999 and the army stand-off in the aftermath of the Parliament attack in 2001-02.
Jasbir Singh (82), a village elder of Bharopal, had even witnessed the Partition of 1947. Village Neshtha’s Balwant Singh articulates: “We will not move out till the time shots are fired, the artillery is moved in and the defence canal is filled with water. How much baggage can we take? Our livestock, grain and household items were looted when we left the last time following the Parliament attack.”
This journalist saw patrolling by horse-mounted Army personnel, besides police and armoured vehicles of the BSF in border villages. In the stand-off in 2001-02, when villages were evacuated, India and Pakistan’s soldiers stood eye-to-eye.
Fields along the barbed wire fencing and beyond were heavily mined and many casualties of defence personnel and villagers were reported due to accidents during movement of artillery, besides incidents of fire in mined fields.
BSF deputy commandant HS Sidhu confirms: “The evacuation exercise is a precautionary measure. BSF has enhanced vigil and augmented forces along the India-Pakistan border. Media hype and the acrimony between the two nations cannot be ignored.”
Other precautionary measures include sounding hospitals and keeping medicine supply in readiness. Unconfirmed reports are also trickling in of fortifying of ICP (integrated checkpost, Attari-Wagah) and cleaning of bunkers on the border.
Even as anxiety prevails in villages, India-Pakistan trade seemed untouched by any tension. Balwinder Singh, in-charge of the port at Attari-Wagah, revealed that as many as 190 trucks carrying cement, gypsum, rock salt, dry fruit and dry dates arrived from Pakistan and 55 trucks with tomatoes from Maharashtra, cotton and buffalo meat drove to Pakistan.
Passenger count on the international route seemed affected. Four times-weekly Punj-Aab Express, the Amritsar-Lahore bus, didn’t ply as no passenger was booked on it. Passenger flow via the bi-weekly Samjhauta Express train between the two countries remained at about 150 persons on both sides on Thursday. Besides this, only five passengers each crossed from either side via Sada-E-Sarhad Delhi-Lahore bus on Saturday.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN DAILYO
Indus Water Treaty
Is India warming for the “One Cut”
Pak President Gen Zia-Ul-Haq’s declaration ‘to bleed India through a thousand cuts’ was the guideline Pakistan diligently followed. India, as a nation recipient of maximum impact of terror from the neighbour, latest being the Uri Attack, seems planning to inflict ‘one cut’ via the Indus Water Treaty (IWT). The lower riparian state of Pakistan is solely dependent on one –Indus Water Basin, whose key player is India.
The ‘cut’ may not come as impatiently as public tempers following the Uri attack, but by systematic evolution of river projects over the years that India could formulate within the parameters and stipulations of the IWT.
There could soon be a beginning, as Dr Medha Bisht, of South Asian University, informed during her address at the International River Symposium by International Water Management Institute, (IWMI) in Delhi recently,-“As many as 20 mini dams are in the pipeline for river Chenab, one of the three western river waters vested with Pakistan under IWT.” There are also proposals for harnessing water through mini dams on Jhelum.
Taking serious note of the possibilities, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was briefed about IWT’s Indian centric options. Following it, it was declared that India will be dramatically reconfiguring the usage of its share of the waters.
An inter-ministerial expert group has already been put on the job to figure out India’s non-consumptive use, apart from plans to commission flood reservoirs, dams and exploit the entitled water share.
Economically and domestically Pakistan is widely dependent on the Indus basin. If indeed India could unilaterally scrap the treaty and divert the waters flow to Pakistan it would mean an immediate tactical retaliation. Alas, by doing so, India may only succeed in large submersion of its own lands.
As Amitabh Sinha in his write up in Indian Express aptly pointed out “Turning off Indus tap, easier said than done”
Indus Waters Treaty and beyond
After a decade of World Bank-brokered negotiations, six rivers of the Indus basin were notified as ‘eastern’ and ‘western’. Sutlej, Beas and Ravi as eastern; Jhelum, Chenab and Indus designated western. Under the IWT signed on 19th September, 1960 in Karachi with signatories- Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru and Pak President Ayub Khan, the control of the eastern rivers were vested with India and three western ones with Pakistan. Despite Pakistan’s apprehensions, since ‘source rivers’ flowed through India, and the potential to create droughts and famines in Pakistan at times of war,both countries managed their shared river waters amicably, irrespective of wars and chilly relations, to be hailed as global model of water sharing and cooperation.
So much so, “Two anti-aircraft guns stationed and in readiness at all times, at Bhakra Dam, have never had a chance to boom against air-space violation in the restricted area during any of the wars”, articulated Tarlochan Singh Chief Engineer, Bhakra Dam, during a field trip to the high security dam organized by IWMI.
Under IWT India is entitled for non-consumptive right to use 20% of the waters of western rivers. Which spells out – domestic purposes, irrigation and hydropower production, as specified in the Treaty.
Merely by making optimum use of the stipulated usage of 20% under IWT of western rivers, India could utilize its non-consumptive option for domestic use, irrigation, hydro-electricity, that could cause a dent in quantity of water flow to the partner country. Presently India has merely utilized 3% or 4% of its sanctioned entitlement.
It is indeed a testament to India’s diplomatic patience that Pakistan’s repeated attempts to internationalize the IWT by taking the matter to the International Court of Arbitration, Hague; has been met with stoic resilience on the Indian side.
Jammu & Kashmir and IWT
The “generosity” of the Indus Waters Treaty has been a source of grievance for state of Jammu and Kashmir, a power-starved state. In 2003, late Mufti Mohammad Syeed had passed a resolution in the J&K Assembly seeking a review of the treaty, but the resolution fell through.
However, another resolution in late June this year, with PDP-BJP coalition in the saddle, is of significance. The state assembly united on revision of the IWT, citing that the source state has been treated shabbily as a non-entity in the Treaty whereas its water resources meant rich dividends to bolster its ailing economy. It has demanded compensation in lieu of usage of its waters. This makes Jammu & Kashmir stand strongly behind a proposal for a revisit of the IWT.
Pakistan is ill at ease with such a revisit, as it least expects 1960s generosity to continue, due to changed conditions and multiple reasons viz-a-viz climate change, ecological, geographical, economical and most of all political and diplomatic chill due to years of mistrust.
Prof Shakil A Romshoo HoD Earth Sciences, Kashmir University, contends – “Jammu &Kashmir is naturally endowed as water surplus state. Add to that, the state’s vision to encourage horticulture, weaning it from agriculture has paid huge dividends as the government sanctions 6% to7% higher support price. This, as horticulture is less water guzzling, than agricultural crops, has further made the state, water economical.” However, J&K’s demand for larger stake in share of power is considered a genuine demand.
India has yet to avail of its entitlement to build storage for up to 3.6 million acre feet on western rivers. India has built no storage facilities so far, apart from a small attempt in north Kashmir, the government has done precious little to store the permitted water under the treaty.
Out of the crop area of 13,43,477 acres that India is entitled to irrigate using water of western rivers, only 7,92,426 acres was being irrigated. Government needs to scale up the irrigation by another 5 lakh acres. At least 36 major tributaries flow into Jhelum River, which originates in south Kashmir.
India can up-the-ante, but cannot tame river courses at a press of a button or by turning off the tap. It has to systematically and thoughtfully traverse the course, keeping climate change and larger ecological parameters and perspectives in mind. In the long term India can utilize the allotted use under the Treaty itself, without causing itself any blemish of unilaterally abrogating the Treaty and simultaneously can inflict the ‘one cut’ for the recalcitrant neighbour.
Water, after all, is haughty mistress; it follows its own ways and whims
Loathe be one, who can rein its lithe flow!
A journalist based in Punjab, the author can be reached at email@example.com
FIRST PUBLISHED IN DAILY KASHMIR IMAGES ON 30TH SEPTEMBER 2016
The pain will be ours alone, Kashmir !
O the pretense of strength, of willpower, fervor, sacrifice
Peep in my empty womb
Am I hoping for sunshine?
Will rainbows hug me?
“Mama I have a head-ache, a tummy-ache, a tooth-ache, ear-ache!” Mama would pop a tablet, kiss me, say –“All will be well” while stroking my forehead. The fake-ache was for a pesky teacher, a test, punishment, home-work or just about anything to skip school.
Soon she’s busy in daily chores and peeps. “Are you better?” –“No!” I lie gleefully and let out a suitable groan, till well past school time. I lie in bed. TVs are nonexistent, radio is a spoiler, comics and novels are under censorship. To speak, to move out, even to look out the window, all my fundamental rights are curtailed. One little lie, and a vast abyss of nothingness- agony, insanity, unbearable.
Another time, an accident: Bystanders gather on the spot, exclaim their –‘Hawwws..! And Haiiis..!’ Call up my husband’s pager. At the doctor -“We’ll have to plaster the ankle, it’s a hairline fracture, but the wrist can be just bandaged,” I insert -“No, Doc plaster my wrist too!” –He winks at his assistant – “Two plasters!” I am excited–“Now, I really look like an accident victim!”
Relatives visit, inquire, listen to my story, and exclaim -“Oh how terrible!” I continue – How a woman trying to pick her child in the front seat drove right across and bolted my rickshaw- “I felt as if I was flying, and landed with a thud, you know!” And adding a little spice – “You know, I checked my neck, I also checked my diamond ring, only after checking, I, started howling loudly, Hee Hee!” “You are brave!” one says. I have turned my adversity into an opportunity, I pat myself. I glow in the make-belief glory of compliments. They write something cute on my plaster with pierced hearts, smilies and leave. Fourth day, there are no doorbells. I look at my plaster, read the messages all in a minute. Only one minute passes in my long road to recovery. My pains, my helplessness all get magnified in my solitude.
Another accident: I slip from the stairs; the shattered glass embeds in my hand and punctures a blood vessel. Blood spouts like a tap, running down the stairs.
Sitting on the stairs, my head swims due to blood loss, I calmly hold my bleeding hand and ask my house help,–“Go, get all the ice in the refrigerator and a towel!”
He stands staring. I urge –“Hurry, don’t look at me!”
Rushed to a hospital with blood all over, a nurse presses the bleeding punctured vessel, the bleeding stops as the glass shard blocks the blood flow. The cutting foreign body drives excruciating pain the whole night. Next day I am operated, but the wrongly pressed shard has cut my nerves too. The same evening driving a car managed with a plastered hand, I reach The Tribune office for work. I brush it aside as a cut, when colleagues inquire. I am able to function better without self-pity and borrowed strengths now. I work from that day onwards with one hand, my focus only on work and on recovery. It takes six months and physiotherapy to get the hand to function.
Another time, I am advised for urgent surgery. “Report back in a week and we shall operate!” the doctor says emotionlessly. “It can be delayed a little, plus we don’t have patient space” the doctor at Ganga Ram Hospital Delhi, adds.
I return to Amritsar that evening. In a week I arrange all my daily wear, toiletries, towels, others, keep a neat guest room downstairs to take me. I even place a walking stick.
My house help assists me for two days. Third day she’s in a hurry, fourth, she skips. By the fifth day I have learned to manage everything- the pain, the chores, indigenously working out solutions. People visit. My Mum admires-“You are brave”, I take it casually. Now, only focused on recovery. I am back in good health in no time.
These may be minor incidents but what stayed with me –“You have to bear your own pain, all alone!”
“O Mother, O Kashmir, my pain was just a scratch, yours- Mammoth!
Listen to my little prayers.
They shall come, pay sympathies, some justifying, some calling exalted divinity, some soothing, some listening, some talking memorials, some anger- revenge, some lullabys.
The broken promises, history, anger, restrictions, all, meaningless.
In the dark cold screaming silences- Mother, you’ll wonder –“Which piece of mother-land demands a price of your children.”
No fruit, sweet; no sound, soothing; no rainbows, – Only raw, clutching, solitary, tearing, pain.
The pain will always be our own. To Bear, All Alone!”
The writer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
FIRST PUBLISHED IN DAILY KASHMIR IMAGES ON AUGUST 10, 2016
Gulmarg- Land of Lord Ghorawalla !
“Helicopter service in Gulmarg; flying you on top of the world;
Places where we fly: Mont Apharwat, Frozen Lake, Sunshine, Tosa Maidan and Srinagar Airport.
Rs 7500/ per person.”
Much as I was elated by this small red billboard, I noticed on the way back from Gulmarg, Kashmir, owing to my senior citizen parents – not in the best of health, who could see some exotic places if they so desired, it got me thinking about the place Gulmarg –the famed ‘Meadow of flowers’.
Gulmarg waters do not speak. They take side lanes, quietly dolloping down from crevices and flow silently downstream, moistening lush undulating daisy slopes, embellished with hues and shades of wild swinging flowers in the softest breeze. Rolling hilltops are a fairyland where children would love to roll downhill and play antique games of L-O-N-D-O-N —London.
‘The meadow of flowers’ appears to open as a large cine screen after a Deodar tree-lined ribboned road enters a passage cut through the hills. I feel immersed into the spectacular beauty of the vista of Gulmarg, that appears like Switzerland, where no condescending boundary walls rupture the beatific scenery perched at an approximate altitude of 2650 m and located merely 56 km north of Srinagar- the Capital of Jammu& Kashmir, a simple 90 minute drive.
However, after a day and a night stay at Gulmarg, I realized that other than the exotic flowers, Gulmarg can boast of the best talkers and fighters in the region. They are the famous Ghorawallas or Horse owners of Gulmarg, whose fame spreads throughout the Kashmir valley.
The verdant greens, sugary air and exotic flowers of the valley have done little to sweeten their moods, disposure or decency. Hence like the naturally growing pitcher plant – or insectivorous plant on Gulmarg slopes and crevices, the famed Ghorawallas of Gulmarg have learnt to trap their prey by fear, falsehood or fallacy. While the pitcher plant may remain a silent spectator to its squirming prey, this variety is highly advanced. It is loudmouthed, threatening, ready to turn anything into a big street brawl, capable of mob terror, fleecing, uses Pakistan slogans to instill fear and even resorts to violence with ‘Kashmiri’ drivers from other regions besides tourists.
One wearing pheran or loose cloak, kohled eyed and henna reddened beard and hair, possessed a rare knack of odd combinations. Seeing the Poop litter in this scenic valley, I suggested poop bags could be used for Ghoras or horses like in European countries to keep the place clean. The smarting Ghorawalla took it as a jibe–“The dayyy Poop bags will arrive in Gulmarg, Kashmir will go to Pakistan!” he declared.
Interestingly, although Government claims a stronghold on the Gondola services of Gulmarg, the Ghorawallas have the real say on plying to the Gondola site. If access to gondola and everything in-between feels so cumbersome in Gulmarg where the lords and Masters are the Ghorawallas, a shake of the grey cells should be of priority to Helicopter Service in the region, for a hassle-free, better and more lucrative business turnover. Perhaps the Heli services which has found few takers till now, and Ghorawallas should sit in a bilateral meeting to chalk out the strategies for the smooth operation, with Ghorawalla as a shareholder of the profit.
After all, the Ghorawallas in Gulmarg have united and created a solid vote-bank of the sitting Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and therefore are supposedly given a free rein to loot the tourists while whispers abound that the police and bureaucracy are told to lie low and quietly collect their ‘cuts’ for being cooperative in ‘smart’ deals.
If you wish to use the circumbulation road of this scenic window of flowers – “Either you hire a a horse or Ghora or pay for a Snow Vehicle PVC,” a Ghorawalla literally barks to incoming tourists. Interestingly, like local warlords many of these Ghorawallas own both these modes of transport.
Perchance if you were able to push in a currency note as a chai-paani into the rough hands of the loudest protesting Ghorawalla, as a clearance to use your own taxi for the roundabout road, he will give you a free show of his stained toothed smile, even pull out his gruff hand to shake yours most vigorously, salute you and will assure you, there would be no Ghorawalla to stop or hassle you. The next, you know, another Ghorawalla, a short distance ahead will stop your vehicle, put his hand out for a bakshish (bribe) and dial a number on his cellphone to tell the next Ghorawalla about the welcome and protocol to be meted to you for plying your own vehicle. By the end of the route you could be lighter by a few hundred currency notes, for having indulged and navigated in a drive around.
Tourists on a day tour, a one and a half hour drive from Srinagar, are in for the best theatrics. If they decide to hire none of the above transport modes, they will be made to feel like a celebrity as the Ghorawallas will stalk them throughout their trek. They’ll urge them for a free test ride on the horse and then hold out their hand for the price.
By chance if you do settle a deal for a horse, marking out the territory of the ride, another surprise awaits you. Ghorawalla will refuse pointblank that he was a party to this deal and may ask two to five times more. If you feel strongly up for justice, and are not ready to give up without a fight, you’ll witness the speed with which tens of other Ghorawallas surround you and curse your riches for holding back payment to a poor Ghorawalla! Until you decide to call curtains.
When I requested a security man to let me pass by the barricade by paying a fee of Rs 50, as was mentioned there, because my parents could neither climb a horse nor take the PVC or snow vehicle, the police personnel asked me to make a deal, a deal with a Ghorawalla! The Lord Ghorawalla stood with his foot on a rock and picked his tooth staring at me. If there is the slightest of feelings that flits past you, that there is any rule of law here, please feign a memory lapse. The best recourse would be to equip yourself to beg or cry or whimper. These emotional froths just might work.
Two barricades in the circular road cuts a road through the stunning valley. Only if you are on night stay showing your booking on the cellphone, would you be allowed to ply your vehicle or taxi in the area. But this too has a clause and your night booking is ‘not yet’ a lucky ticket!
“You are fortunate if you booked a stay inside the barricaded area, else all those booked in hotels or huts or guest houses outside the barricade are barred from passing and treated at par with other day tourists.”
Once a Ghorawallas told me to take the horse instead of the Gondola, up the hill on the Gondola Kangoori route as I had failed to purchase an online ticket. “It is a big blunder,” He shook his head and continued-“Why didn’t you buy ticket online and now Gondola ticket counter is closed for three days, until previous bookings are cleared”. He told me he could extricate few tickets in the black. He also suggested that going on his horse was the best adventure I could have, would cost less than Gondola and the views would be breathtaking by the royal horse ride. Adding,-“Many a times the Gondola develops faults mid-air, and was hardly safe.” I decided to check and found readily available Gondola tickets not only for Phase-I but also Phase –II for one fourth the price and an assurance that breakdowns are rarest of rare cases. Ghorawalla during our conversation had also explained that I might like to fill the tummy of his animal as a sadkaa or offering to the Divine, with an extra for horse-feed as his ‘poor’ horse did not relish mountain grass on this slope.
This takes me to the red billboard for Heli services –“Are the tourists visiting Gulmarg being freely allowed access to the Helicopter service or will they have to kowtow to the Lord Ghorawalla in the land of bloom showers?
For all you know, the Ghorawalla may just find another story using his trading skills, to strike a deal with a naive tourist claiming his horse has wings! “So you don’t really need a helicopter at that cost when it flits away so quickly, you miss all the beauty na, and the views are stunning from my flying horse!” he may add.
Author can be emailed at email@example.com
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR
Afghan girl exposes the US
No veil, no dupatta, not even a scarf, Heela Faryal (not her real name), in her early twenties, came wearing a buttoned Purple long sleeved Kurta and straight black pants with silver slippers. Curious Karachi college girls went up to Heela- Afghanistan’s lone woman participant in a conference on women, but the latter swiftly turned, avoiding any selfies with the excited girls. It was not for her to exchange phone numbers or emails. She remained quiet even as her glowing face with a halo of dark curly hair on her shoulders failed to hide her youthful enthusiasm.
Heela, appeared stoic, as the only international speaker other than me from India, but her eyes were soft and smiling, choosing to get photographed only with speakers who had been informed to avoid any publication of her photograph owing to threat to her life.
Real time yardstick of a progressive nation comes from how their women are treated. The land of Heela’s forefathers in Afghanistan had been so unforgiving; it made her highly strung and secretive. Losing trust in human beings and simple humanity can be very, very shattering. This was Heela Faryal member of secret action group for women RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan).
“No, I can’t tell you my real name,” she pleaded even though I was an international speaker like her. “No, I cannot even give you my phone number, please”, she supplicated, when I asked her.
She traveled to Karachi from Kabul, Afghanistan for the “‘Hum Aurtaen’ – No more Violence” programme by Tehrik-E- Niswan, a woman’s cultural action group based in Pakistan, headed by its stunning danseuse, actor and director Sheema Kermani.
Heela, a Muslim, yet didn’t feel one with those in Pakistan- who had freely come to attend the conference. In her country Afghanistan women were ensconced in the home space, treated brutally and worse than any other nation.
On stage, UK-read Heela, delivered her written content in English, without flinching she stirred the youthful women audience, with the unfolding of instances of Afghan women laid silent by horrendous torture and heinous killings over minor aberrations.
She introduced herself as a member of RAWA- oldest organization in Afghanistan that fights for rights of women, social rights and freedom while taking a stand against the Afghan fundamentalists and their international backers.
Naturally she was on their hit-list!
Heela related to the audience about Afghanistan’s most horrific crime ever committed against a 26-year woman in 2015. – “It was not inside the darkness and closed doors of her husband or father’s home. It was in broad daylight, in central Kabul, under the nose of local policemen and government, when Farkhunda, a young Islamic studies student, was encircled and lynched by a mob who accused her of burning the Quran. Brutally kicked, her hair yanked, spitted upon, punched and stomped, veil ripped off her face, bludgeoned with stones outside the mosque, the mob then dragged her motionless body some 300 meters into a street and her corpse was run over with a car and set afire. Her bloodied clothes couldn’t catch fire and the men threw their own clothing topis and scarves to burn her. The hideous remains were thrown in the dry Kabul River. Farkhunda’s crime: She had argued with a mullah, who then falsely accused her of burning the Quran.”
The audience was deathly silent and attentive. It was a chilling account.
It was on record, that a number of prominent public officials turned to social networking site Facebook immediately after Farkhunda’s gruesome killing, to endorse the act. The Deputy Minister for Culture & Information Afghanistan -Simin Ghazal Hasanzada approved the execution, wrote- “Working for the infidels.” The official spokesman of Kabul police Hashmat Stanekzai wrote “Farkhunda- thought, like several other unbelievers, that this kind of action and insult will get them U.S. or European citizenship. But before reaching their target, they lost their life.” Zalmai Zabuli, chief of the complaints commission of upper house of parliament, posted a picture of Farkhunda with this message: “This is the horrible and hated person who was punished by our Muslim compatriots for her action. Thus, they proved to her masters that Afghans want only Islam and cannot tolerate imperialism, apostasy, and spies.”
Pausing and taking a deep breath, Heela took up for another 19-year- old Rukhshana, stoned to death in a mud pit by a Taliban kangaroo court in a Mullah-dominated western province of Afghanistan, for eloping last year. “Her screams echoed as an angry crowd of Taliban threw rocks at her, ending her in a stoned silence”.
“Treatment of women in Afghanistan would put even cannibals to shame”, some whispered in the audience.
She spoke out about women in Afghanistan crushed by several demonic forces including – the US and its allies, Jehadists, Taliban, and now the ISIS.” Coming down heavily on America she contended- “The US used women’s rights as an excuse to invade my country Afghanistan and continues to kill innocent women and children and conduct their terrifying drone attacks and chilling night raids in all parts of Afghanistan. The biggest crime the US has committed is the installation of fundamentalists in a puppet government.”
Without a blink, she pointed to the alleged black sheep in the government made with US support- “Afghanistan’s National Unity Government is headed by long-time CIA mercenaries-Ashraf Ghani (current President of Afghanistan) and Abdullah Abdullah (CE of Afghanistan), after US Secretary of state-John Kerry brokered a deal.” And added-“Abdullah Abdullah is one of the leaders of the most infamous fundamentalist parties of Afghanistan, Shoraye Nizar.”
She further accused–“Afghanistan’s current government, Parliament, and judiciary are all occupied at highest positions by criminals, heinous fundamentalists and warlords implicated in grave war crimes, and enjoy unconditional backing of western powers”. Adding more names to the alleged black list she pointed out – Mohammad Noor (Governor of Balkh Province ), Karim Khalil Dostum (former Vice President of Afghanistan), Mohammed Mohaqiq (a politician), Sarwar Danish (former Vice President of Afghanistan), Ustad Murad, Ahmad Khan, Alimi Balkhi (Minister of Refugees& Repatriation ), Taj M. Mujahid.”
The names except for Afghanistan’s present president Ashraf Ghani didn’t register with the Pakistani audience much, but most understood they were one of the top crème of the government in Afghanistan.
Taking a piercing dig at the Afghanistan Parliament, Heela lamented-“In 2009 Afghanistan Parliament attempted to legalize marital rape!”
The question in many minds arose –“How could they even ‘attempt’ such a law with the US looking over their shoulder?”
The audience was clearly reminded of a recent protest against the new Pakistani law called the ‘Punjab Protection of women against violence, Act’ that saw a coalition of 30 religious and political parties declaring the law un-Islamic and an attempt to secularize Pakistan- a country evolved on theological lines.
Heela meantime, quoting a UN report said -“According to United Nations, the Taliban’s reach is widest today since 2001. The suicide attacks by Taliban, and constant war with Afghan government has made life hell and civilian deaths in 2015 were highest, majority being women.
While public executions, stoning and amputation are widespread, the Taliban are welcomed with open arms to join the government instead of putting them on trial,” she trailed off in a stoic voice.
I am sure it was not hard in Pakistan to understand how their political dispensations segregation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban to further their agendas in many countries, had aggravated the situation beyond control in their own backyards. The Easter attack in Lahore killing 72 and injuring hundreds was recent incident hard to ignore.
Heela took on the ISIS with the same venom, and said –“If this was not enough, the branch of ISIS in Afghanistan has begun taking root and already started committing atrocities.” And asked “What was the conclusive result of US and its allies, long presence in Afghanistan?”
She only saw blank faces as no one knew the answer.
And continued –“Afghanistan is under the thumb of four brutal forces-The USA and allies; Jihadists; Taliban and now the ISIS. The prime victims are always women.” Castigating foreign funds for inhuman use, she vented –“Islamic fundamentalism comes in many brands and forms and killers are created by misogynists or women-haters, and almost always funded by foreign sponsors to further their interests in other countries.” Afghanistan’s with its $60 billion dollars in foreign aid, is 3rd most corrupt country and has devoured all its Aid and funds.
This was not far from the truth, as a well-documented fact had surfaced that US Pentagon auditors were perplexed over the missing US military equipment worth $420 million in year 2013. The report also stated that between 2006- 2010, equipment valued at nearly $240 million could not be accounted for.
Heela struck the USA’s warped policies, due to which an alarming rise was seen in narcoticproduction in Afghanistan –“Thanks to US invasion; Afghanistan has risen to become a narco-producing state of more than 90% of world’s opium. Women have not escaped the effects of this drug production and about 890,000 out of an unofficial figure of 3.5 million addicts are women including children, in Afghanistan.”
She also criticized the US for falsely and consistently trumpeting gains made by women of Afghanistan buttressing them with instances of presence of females in the Parliament and the relative freedom of women in a few urban cities. “What remains unsaid is that most of these female officials are tied to fundamentalist parties and share their misogynist mindset. These are mere cosmetic changes, only used for propaganda purposes to justify the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan to the people of the world. It is merely to peddle the fact that supposed gains will be lost if foreign troops withdraw,” she boomed.
Her revelation about Afghanistan realpolitik was indeed stark and shocking. In India and many other countries, the US viewpoint was believed, however we were shaken out of our opinions with the facts put across by this young citizen of the beleaguered nation.
And Heela continued –“Despite US and allies presence, which accounts for medical help too, Afghanistan still has the highest maternal mortality rate with one out of nine deaths during childbirth. 57% afghan brides are under 16, about 87% women are illiterate and merely 5%girls attend secondary schools,” she held these counts as offhand and said the ground reality was much worse. ‘Afghanistan is rightfully called the ‘worst place to be a woman’.
Heela concluded with a call for an organized progressive grassroots movement for greater freedom to women in Afghanistan.
She got a resounding applause at the end of it. It was not about delivery of a written piece it was a solidarity gesture with the female sex that few men along with women in Pakistan had also watched and an acknowledgment of Heela’s bravery in exposing the wrongs in her society without fear.
The youngest member of RAWA was not only daring but possessed the wherewithal for survival and anonymity. She couldn’t have stopped many giggly young Pakistani girls from taking her picture during her stage address but with a single stroke she swiped all her pictures from my iPhone with function of ‘airdrop’ leaving me with no pictures of her and smoothly evaded to give me her contact number.
Her act did not fray me; rather it brought a smile and reminded me of a phrase- “Desperate times need desperate means”! And conversely compelled me to salute this heroic young woman of Afghanistan! Just a few days after this address, Heela’s friend request entered my Facebook inbox, naturally picture-less.
The Author can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON 17TH APRIL 2016
And then they came ….
India-Pakistan’s bonhomie has always spelt good tidings for Kashmir. It was on Christmas this time. Christmas –a special day just for family, like Diwali and Eid. Yet Christmas of 2015 leaped on to script history, with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi diverting his sleigh (Air orce One) to neighboring Pakistan and his surprise Santa-isque-halt in Pakistan, on this festive day. Only three other Indian Prime Ministers have visited the perceived belligerent neighbor in the past.
In the spirit of jingle-bells, the PM’s reindeers didn’t mind bypassing the capital city of Islamabad, instead, cozied up to vibrant Lahore in equal comfort. Modi extended birthday and wedding wishes in the same breath, to a Grandfather-Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and his granddaughter- Mehr-un-Nisa on her wedding day.
Just a week later India faced an attack at Pathankot, allegedly by terrorists deemed to belong to Pak based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, controlled by Maulana Masood Azhar, who was released in lieu of hijacked Indian plane IC-814 on Christmas day of 1999. Many pawns and paws have come under a cloud and an alert has been loudly sounded in Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and Delhi. This comes as third in the series of attacks with the first in Udhampur, then Dina Nagar in Gurdaspur and now Pathankot.
Only a week back, India and Pakistan were warmed over the Indian PM’s visit and media threw up interesting Santa Clauses between India and Pakistan- Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Nawaz Sharif share birthdays on Christmas. Dr Manmohan Singh, former Indian PM’s desire to straddle the three regions of Kabul, Islamabad and New Delhi, all in a day-trip for his three daily meals, was recalled but it was Modi’s unusual step that took the limelight, touted as –‘dreams come true for those who dare’!
Just after inaugurating the new Parliament House in Kabul, initiated by India in 2007, Modi
spoke to Nawaz Sharif and conveyed his greetings on the latter’s birthday. Nawaz responded in typical Punjabi heartiness- ‘Since you would be flying over my country, why don’t you drop by and also bless my granddaughter Mehr-un-Nisa at her wedding’. Modi accepted spontaneously. The Christmas bonhomie lived up to its name and the spontaneity of India-Pak PM meet, appeared to have thawed some snow back home in Kashmir too. Post this visit, Kashmir’s perceived icy -‘Radical-Modi’ gave way to momentary warmth for the PM. Warmth that helped tiny tendrils of a new sapling to emerge from under the sheets of snow in Kashmir, due to thisout-of-the-box approach seen as– path-breaking, unconventional, strong and decisive.
Following the India-Pak Christmas, Pak Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhary briefed the media – “As a part of the comprehensive dialogue, the foreign secretaries of the two countries will meet in mid-January 2016”, he said. Some peace doves on both sides called it “a coup of sorts by the two leaders away from the media glare and the highly polarized domestic politics”.
The impromptu visit of PM also left Kashmiri separatists wide-mouthed. Separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani shook his head and said ‘we have no issues on better ties between India and Pakistan’. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Hurriyat Conference’s Chairman took on positive note -“It’s a good development that leaders of two nations have started meeting and talking. We welcome it,” Mirwaiz told a Kashmir based newspaper. “We now hope that the two countries show political will to resolve all pending issues, including the core issue of Kashmir.”
Omar Abdullah, former chief Minister Jammu & Kashmir, posted on a social networking site twitter – “Indo-Pakistan relations have been plagued by knee-jerk reactions and a lack of consistency, looking towards two prime ministers to correct this, this time”, he tweeted.
All this, even as intelligence inputs had already put forces on alert, on a possible terrorist attack with a fresh infiltration from across the border, even before the PMs Meet.
Modi’s Tarzan-visit maybe a cause for cheer and be termed a diplomatic accomplishment in Indo-Pak relations, but has also caused a flutter. ‘Will it be stamped as a walk on haloed steps of predecessor Vajpayee, so popular with Kashmiris and Pakistanis, or will it become just a flash in the pan?’ cynics wondered and waited on both sides.
The cynics were not entirely off mark as the Pathankot attack was aimed to scuttle the nascent goodwill engaged in by both countries. The continuance of hostilities between the two neighbors serves the vested interests of many in both countries including Pakistan Army, the terror groups on one side and the Hindutva brigade on the other.
Political observers opine – ‘The Indian PM’s visit somewhat negated the growing clout of Pakistan army chief -Gen Raheel Sharif, who compelled Pakistani political leadership to change the discussion agenda decided at the Ufa joint conference and forced to make Kashmir the number one agenda point.’ Many however assert the General’s involvement in giving clearance to Indian Prime Minister’s flight in Pakistan, however reluctant it maybe, was tacit, and enclosed the blessings of his recent US hosts. But the slight to the Pak general’s growing clout, with the nation’s political leadership taking its own chances, couldn’t have gone well with the army chief.
Pathankot Attack may thus be listed as captive sketch of recent events. Many feel the attack, though a handiwork of ultras on the forefront has the implicit support of Pak army. Indian involvement in harboring and plotting the attack too cannot be ruled out. When PM visited Pakistan, a lobby in India was silenced, that of Sangh Parivar, who indulged in political rhetoric, communal and anti-Pak statements unmindful of the caustic harm to India’s foreign and domestic policies. But with Pathankot attack the Sangh found another nail to hit.
Modi’s acceptance of Nawaz Sharif’s invitation, greetings, personal reception, the Jhaapis and a Heli-visit to Sharif’s Raiwind house, may have created goodwill for both leaders in Pakistan and India, but had an expected spillover. Precisely for this reason, the impromptu option was exercised. Because, had the visit been announced and then implemented, a terror-attack would have been timed to coincide before the visit. If nothing at all, the visit still stamps the peace overtures of India and puts the ball in the court of Pakistan to respond suitably and with equal vigor.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh told ANI: “Pakistan is our neighbour and we want peace, but any terrorist attack on India will get a befitting response.” Indian analysts take this as the Home Minister showing restraint and indicating Delhi’s will to continue talks with Pakistan. Every time a peace process is about to start, the same pattern of attacks are seen. Dr. Ajai Sahni, Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, Delhi opines –“It (the attack) may lead to a momentary pause in the peace dialogue and battering from the opposition for not pursuing a harder line with Pakistan, but I don’t think it will have a long- term impact.”
“The moment Modi touched down in Lahore (and probably even before), something like this was doomed to happen,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert in Washington while confiding to a newspaper. And added “At this point, there’s sufficient goodwill in India-Pakistan relations to weather this attack. Saboteurs won’t win this one.” Given the history, geography, regional and global geopolitics, India and Pakistan have little choice but to remain engaged even in conflict situations, just as during Kargil war when engagement at political and military level continued.
All this, while Kashmir awaits the next move, wondering whether it will have to shiver in icy weather this New Year or will the warm jingle belled Kangri under the pheran ward off the chill between the two nations? It’s still hard to say.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com