Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’
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
Sartaj Aziz, shouldn’t you have brought PoK representatives?
While the factories of terror thrive, India and Pakistan are too terrified to talk. The talk tables between the two nations have tumbled, rounded, squared, turned or reversed but no edges have been found. How long will the K-issue be dragged, and peace remain, its captive?
When it suits Pakistan, the core is relegated to the back burner, as during the International Conference of SAFMA in early 2013, held in Lahore, when Nawaz Sharif was a PM-in-waiting. Neither the public nor even the media in Pakistan came in support of the ‘core’ issue of Kashmir in presence of the media representatives from eight countries.
At SAFMA, Nawaz was a mute spectator as speaker after speaker from Pakistan decried the standstill situation between India and Pakistan being hemmed by the issue of Kashmir. They spoke on moving forward on other agreeable issues while keeping Kashmir on the sidelines. A Kashmiri in the delegation even asked the establishment – “one lakh Kashmiris killed and now Kashmir becomes a non-issue?”- He was told dismissively-“Talks can’t become hostage to Kashmir. There is no question of transfer of territory”.
One senior Pakistani television journalist even bluntly told the Kashmiri media at SAFMA– “If my child is crying in Baluchistan, should I run after a Kashmiri child or look after my own?” And continued in the same tone – “Kashmir doesn’t sell in Pakistan anymore! If I announce a TV discussion based on Kashmir in the promos, the Channel’s TRP falls drastically”.
Najam Sethi a prominent Pakistani journalist had noted “People in Pakistan want to carry on with their lives. Only the political compulsion makes Kashmir an issue.” People in Pakistan had seen the gameplay of country’s politicians calling wolf on Kashmir every time internal problems arose, as diversionary tactics.
As soon as Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister of Pakistan; Hamid Gul- former ISI’s chief (who passed away recently) – decried the new PM’s friendly overtures to India – “What dosti, dosti (friendship, friendship) is Nawaz talking about? He (Nawaz) is denigrating the Quaid-e-Azam’s two nation formula.” Hamid went on to denigrate almost every ruler of prominence in Pakistan, including Gen. Pervez Musharaff, a former army chief, besides Bhutto and his family.
This brings us to the point – How many peace-opposing powerful personalities like Gul would be in the theological state of Pakistan, to pull the strings of Nawaz, anytime he makes a peace overture to India, like attending the swearing in ceremony of Indian PM Narendra Modi? Are the army generals in Pakistan willing to let peace prevail, which in turn will reduce their position of prominence in their country?
How many of those may reside on the Indian side too to hamper any progress on Indo-Pak talks? Apart from that, there would be nations with a vested interest or agenda, to continue the spell of hostility and violence between the warring neighbors. Their interest could range from arms, ammunition supply to matters of faith, power, fear etc.
It has been a tradition that Pakistan has been holding conferences with Kashmiri leaders of Hurriyat in the past. However with the changed government in India, the new incumbency appears to be in no mood to toe the line and continue to allow the practice.
Several vital questions have arisen on the current scenario on various social networking sites. A high level Indian diplomat of Kashmiri origin, wishing to remain anonymous asked – “What is the Pakistani take on Kashmir- does it want Kashmir to accede to Pakistan in toto? Is Pakistan for independence of Kashmir, as demanded by Kashmiris? In that case, independence to Kashmir means Pakistan may have to concede the territory held by it with all stakes withdrawn from it, even the Kashmir territories ceded to China. Is Pakistan willing to do that?”
Moderate elements on both sides feel, “The issue of Kashmir should be solved bilaterally as per the Simla Agreement. Even Washington and London have categorically announced – ‘Both India and Pakistan must resolve their issues bilaterally, including Kashmir,’ ruling out any scope for third party mediation.
A cartoonist in Pakistan asks –“Is Kashmir, more important than pressing domestic issues while insurgency is going on its backyard? Will Kashmir solve that for Pakistan?”
On another tangent –“Is Jammu & Kashmir, as a whole, willing to attach itself with Pakistan and willing to be ruled by it?”
If Kashmir is an issue, then shouldn’t a delegation of leaders of Pakistan occupied Kashmir have ideally accompanied the National Security Advisor of Pakistan Sartaj Aziz for NSA talks? How is it that Aziz wants to talk Kashmir and only one side of Kashmir is invited for the talks? Has Sartaj Aziz allowed PoK to talk to India about its future? If the delegation of PoK comprises of its elected members, would it not be appropriate to include the elected representatives from the Indian side too, i.e. the elected Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his colleagues in the cabinet, to join the discussion
A 3-point agenda was set up by India and Pakistan in Ufa, Russia as told to the media during a press conference by Pak NSA Sartaj Aziz soon after cancellation of NSA talks, as follows:
• Call for all discussion on issues related to terrorism
• Call for reviewing progress on actual decisions made in Ufa, i.e. prompt release of fishermen, discussions for better arrangements for religious tourism and activation of mechanism for restoring peace across the LoC and the working boundary.
• Intended to explore all ‘outstanding issues’.
In the above agenda there is no mention of any issue specifically- no Kashmir, no Siachin, and no Sir Creek. However, these were mere discussions and Kashmir could be brought into the discussion without needling India with an invite to Hurriyat Conference- a non-representative body, with no representative from either Jammu or the Ladakh regions.
Despite these hiccups, the horizon throws no alternative to talks. “We cannot perpetually remain in the past” like Pakistani TV anchor for popular programme ‘Jirga’, Saleem Safi described former ISI chief Hamid Gul’s obsession.
Dossiers on Intelligence activities pertaining to RAW (India) and alternatively to ISI (Pakistan), need to see the light of wisdom, irrespective of political incumbents. This is vital to formulate a roadmap to revive the stalled peace process and retain the flavor of the nascent goodwill generated by Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India.
Sharp rhetoric, to arouse jingoistic euphoria by both, has only served to blunt and weaken pro-peace lobbies in both countries. A result oriented engagement between the two countries is the key challenge for both Islamabad and Delhi, and let the gesture of peace not be labeled as a weakness but as strength of character and statesmanship.
PUBLISHED ON 26 AUGUST 2015
Rashmi Talwar is an Award winning writer, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
India got a little corner in Islamic Heart to make a Hindu Temple ../ Rashmi Talwar / Rising Kashmir
India got a little corner in Islamic Heart to make a Hindu Temple
Politics is chess. When direct approach fails, the rival can be checkmated by opening another front. Perhaps this is the stratagem used by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi against a belligerent Pakistan, a neighbor who continues to violate ceasefire, needles India on Kashmir, ignites anti nation sentiments, blueprints terrorist strikes in India, and is perpetually in denial mode of any wrongdoing.
By attaining the ‘natural strategic partnership’ with United Arab Emirates and adding counter terrorism as core area of security cooperation, the Indian PM has drafted a new chapter with the gulf country located in a critical region. No wonder the Indian PM laid out his priorities promptly when approached with a prospect of a gulf visit. He became the first Prime Minister to visit UAE in 34 years.
It was an opportune moment. The focus of discussion and political endorsement against terrorism are breakthroughs for Delhi, given Pakistan’s proximity with the Arab nation. The gulf nation always had strained relations with India, owing to its closeness with Pakistan – a country on the same religious tangent. This, despite the large human resource pool of 2.5 million Indians contributing to UAE’s success story and workforce of 7 million, as also commerce ties, geographical proximity, mutual interdependence in trade and travel and endless other common factors. So much so that today, India has already become UAE’s second largest trading partner while UAE is India’s third largest.
By resolving to combat terrorism and broad-basing terrorism’s causes and nurseries, India is hoping UAE has successfully rethought its traditional support to India’s neighbor and would engage a balanced approach towards disputes between India and Pakistan. Apart from this, the talks took in a strong stand against the broad spectrum of sub-continental and Middle East terrorism.
Earlier, UAE’s disinclination towards India’s difficulties in dealing with cross-border terrorism had put their relationship in cold storage. However, the shared bonds in matters of faith with Pakistan, surprisingly, didn’t prove to be any hurdle for forging Delhi’s engagement with UAE leaders. Rather, Pakistan believes, the Indian PM has stepped into the recent breach in relationships between Pakistan and UAE on the former’s refusal to actively join the Yemen war against the Houthi fighters.
Za’abeel Palace, Dubai remained seriously engaged with Delhi before the two Nations arrived at a joint statement denouncing terrorism and a closer cooperation by the Arab nation to deal with it.
Outstanding concerns that had hardly been discussed before were thrashed including issues of disassembling criminal and terrorist networks from money laundering, disallowing religious hues to percolate disputes in the political spectrum, besides bringing perpetrators of vicious terrorism to book.
It is an open secret that Pakistan has been erring on all above factors. These issues found acceptability and entered into an agreement flashed in the joint statement between Emirates and India.
Pakistan is seen to be guilty on many counts including free run to accused of violent terrorist acts in India such as Hafiz Sayeed, ZR Lakhvi; giving jihadi color to disputes between India and Pakistan, especially in Jammu & Kashmir as also money laundering alliances with terrorist groups of ‘Bhai’ culture of Dawood Ibrahim.
Pakistan had enjoyed fraternal relations with UAE, founded on shared religion, traditions, deep-rooted cultural affinities, geographic proximity and economic interests. UAE is a major economic donor to Pakistan and main supporter of Pakistan’s position on Jammu & Kashmir and Afghanistan.
Today, UAE and other Arab nations have woken up to dangers of supporting terrorist networks of Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Islamic or non-Islamic nations. Its fear about being targeted owing to its prosperity or something as absurd as boredom or over excited extremists on a whim to destroy appears real.
India has grabbed the opportune moment to checkmate Pakistan, closing in a deal with rival’s ally and attempt to rid its stratosphere of violent tribulations. The two nations rejected extremism and any link between religion and terrorism. They condemned efforts, including by states, to use religion to justify, support and sponsor terrorism against other countries or inciting hatred besides perpetrating and justifying terrorism.
The agreement incorporates cooperation in counter terrorism operations, intelligence sharing as well as control, regulate and share information on flow of funds that could have a bearing on activities of radicalization including on cyber-sphere. To strengthen cooperation in law enforcement, anti-money laundering, drug trafficking, other trans-national crimes, extradition arrangements, as well as police training.
The hand of support from UAE clearly means the threat perception in the Gulf countries is in the line of fire. India not only got a hand of cooperation for an arch rival’s friend but also a little corner in the Islamic heart to make a Hindu Temple.
However all this may turn out to be hogwash, given the fact that Pakistan continues to be bellicose over any efforts at dialogue. It tacitly impinges on the dialogue route with an invite to Hurriyat leaders, days ahead of National Security Advisors-NSA talks in Delhi on August 23 between Sartaj Aziz of Pakistan and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval.
It is exactly, the same month a year back, when chances of Foreign Secretary level talks were frittered away due to the same gameplay. The invite to Syed Ali Shah Geelani for talks is scheduled for the same day as the NSA meeting. Other separatist leaders Yasin Mallik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq too have invites but for reception of Aziz. Sources say they feel slighted by Pakistan with the kind of prominence Geelani is commanding.
With recent brazen attacks in Gurdaspur and Udhampur simmering in India, and diplomatic engagements between the two being hampered, hurdles have arisen between India and Pakistan with near negligible breakthroughs in the near future.
This cold war reflects badly on publics of both countries who are cheery on people to people relationships, but are stalled to meet due to diplomatic and political stand offs. Such stinging calisthenics seem to be puppetry exercises, slowly drawing out the Queens on both sides of the chessboard. It remains to be seen who can ultimately save its King.
Rashmi Talwar is an Award winning writer, and can be reached at email@example.com
Why Pak expelled Indian Journalists?
May 19th saw two Indian journalists working in Pakistan cross over to their home country from Pakistan. Snehesh Alex Philips of Press Trust of India came through Wagah-Attari Indo- Pak Joint Check Post land route in Amritsar, and Meena Menon from ‘The Hindu’ via Karachi to Mumbai flight. The two, Snehesh and Meena are completely baffled by their unceremonious and sudden ouster from Pakistan, refusing extension of visa, barely nine months after their tenure in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The move to oust Indians by Pak’s foreign office despite Islamabad government’s perceived desire for healthier relations with India is indeed ironic. Infact, newly re-elected Pak PM Nawaz Sharief’s friendly overtures towards India, especially the desire to re-build relations came soon after Sharief’s utterance in Muzaffrabad (Pak Occupied Kashmir) calling ‘Kashmir a flashpoint that could trigger a 4th war between the two nuclear powers at anytime, on Dec 3rd last year’ that peeved India and had to be glossed over. Mending fences after the loud rhetoric, Nawaz tried to smoothen frayed nerves in India. However his desires on cordial relations seem to have ‘irked’ the ‘establishment’ aka ‘Military /Security’, says Mehmal Sarfraz, Deputy Secretary General of the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA).
Hence merely days after the ouster of two journalists, the Pak PM is again at pains to push the perceived enmity under the carpet, by being the first to congratulate and extend an invitation to the Indian PM designate Narinder Modi after the stupendous win of Bharatiya Janta Party headed by Modi.
Pak ‘establishments’ have always played spoilsports whenever popular home governments have shown a leaning towards bettering Indo-Pak ties. Hence, the assassination attempt of Geo TV anchor Hamid Mir, who was badly injured on April 19th this year in an armed attack, near Karachi airport, was hardly surprising. ISI agency was fuming about Mir’s coverage of the issue of Baluchistan and his criticism of the spy agency. Hamid was termed a pro-India agent in Pakistan by many, as Baluchistan is an issue that India takes up in retort to Pakistan. The subsequent move by Pak Defense Ministry’s cancellation of the broadcasting license of three – Geo News, Geo Entertainment and Geo Tez TV out of five TV channels owned and operated by Geo/Jang group, through ‘Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’ (PEMRA), have clearly spelled out the persons behind the murderous attack.
While Indian Journalist Snehesh Alex Philips snapped “Its a million dollar question!” when I asked him ‘why’ he was shown the door by Pakistan, along with Meena, the answer, it seems is not so mysterious. SAFMA Gen Sect Mehmal adds – “This happened last year too with Rezaul and Anita Joshua. The ‘establishment’ wants to throw around its weight by not letting Nawaz’s government to get its own way vis-à-vis peace with India. The timing seems too suspicious, when India is looking forward to NDA led by BJP- seen as a Hindu nationalist party.”
Pakistan’s army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s terming Kashmir as the “jugular vein” of Pakistan, on May 1st at GHQ Rawalpindi, also comes in the same sequence, as peace with India is seen as a weakening of the military establishment in Pakistan. Interestingly, Gen Sharief is mentored by ex- Pak President Parvez Musharaff –the architect of Kargil war when Nawaz was the PM of Pakistan. While two statements regarding Kashmir have been made by Pakistan consecutively, to rabble rouse Kashmiris in India, it had little effect in Jammu & Kashmir where most separatists sloganeer for ‘Independence’ rather than melting in Pakistan.
India has termed the ouster of two journalists as a retrograde step. Snehesh Philip’s father, AJ Philips- a noted columnist and senior Journalist-writer stated that the signs were obvious when his son’s wife was not given a visa after she visited India in January this year. Although there is a written agreement between Pakistan-India governments for a reciprocal arrangement allowing two correspondents from each country to be stationed in the other’s capital, the timing of the ouster is being speculated viz-a-viz a new government under Narinder Modi. Modi’s potential foreign policy has caused both anxiety and hope among regional observers. Many fear he might react badly to any incident of terrorism within India, routinely blamed on Pakistan, or a flare-up over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Like it or not, if Sharif is to deliver on his promises and ensure Pakistan’s progress, he will have to deal with NDA (National Democratic Alliance (NDA). By the journalists’ ouster, Pakistan’s ‘establishments’ have provided more fodder to anti-Pak rhetoric by the newly formed BJP-led Indian government which would further demoralize the elected government of Sharief.
Murtaza Solangi, a former head of state-run Radio Pakistan, pitches that he fears the decision to oust Indian journalists was a sign that the country’s powerful military establishment was reasserting over key areas of foreign policy, in particular the relationship with India. “It seems like foreign policy and national security is going out of the domain of Mr Sharif,” he said. In other words – “The government has been told ‘these things are not your job’.” A case in point is about another journalist. Despite repeated public promises by PM Sharief to look into the case of Declan Walsh, a New York Times journalist, expelled shortly before Sharif’s election, the Pak PM has not been able to arrange his return.
Hence it seems that power may actually be slipping out from the hands of Sharief and it was up to Pak PM to handle this mess or fall into ignominy, with fears of another bloodless military coup hanging over his head, yet again.
Indian journalists complained of heavy surveillance and being confined to Islamabad
Achutha Menon: Good beginning, Mr Sheriff, with BP Govt.!
Snehesh Alex Philip: Had a lovely run since August in this case, not even a year ;). Came with an open mind without bias.
Snehesh Alex Philip: I take back home some great moments besides a bit of disappointment. Glad that I saw different sides of Pak and not the usual.
A.J. Philip (Philip’s father): Snehesh says the Pakistanis feared his Facebook-addict father’s posts led to his “expulsion”. I wish it was not a humorous comment and, for once, he was serious!
Snehesh Alex Philip: It is a joke I cracked with my dad.
Snehesh had retweeted some posts lauding Modi’s victory as anticipated by exit polls.
Meena Menon had retweeted: PM’s special envoy stirs hornet’s nest with Kashmir remarks days before Manmohan Singh demits office
Meena had even kept her tweet name @mee’namo’
The author can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON MAY 24, 2014
Gun & Warlords, Biggest worry of Pakistan: Ch Ahmed Javed Hassan
Army in Pakistan may have fewer weapons than civilians
If any footsteps tiptoed in Pakistan with fancy footwear it was either from Bata or Pakistan’s foremost Servis shoes. While many became paupers due to Indo-Pak partition, Servis Industries never gave up and entered the newly born Pakistan’s market with its brand of shoes that competed with the only other brand existing at the time.
Today into big time, the scion of the Servis Industries has held high the flag of his company. Chaudhary Ahmed Javed Hassan owner of ‘Servis Shoes’ is a popular figure across both partitioned borders of India and Pakistan. His Dahlia flower saplings come in hundreds from India during the planting season, people bring him Amritsaris fish, ladoos and mathees from India and as a grand patriarch, he distributes the goodies among all his friends and relatives. As he talked about their multi-billion dollar company that still rules the local and international markets, he also revealed to RASHMI TALWAR in his palatial home in Lahore, Pakistan, how unlicensed guns were the biggest trauma and challenge of Pakistan.
Q: What is the success story of Servis Industries more popularly known as Service Shoes now?
Ans: The story of ‘Servis’ began with three freshers from college, who set up the Servis Industries before partition in 1941 in Lahore. They were Ch Nazar Muhammad, Chaudhary Muhammad Hussain (my father) – both from Gujarat and Chaudhary Muhammad Saeed from Gujranwala. They flourished and their products of handbags and sports goods became popular all over India.
Then partition happened and only Bata was there in the shoe industry when we entered. Initially we started with military boots for the army as well as canvas beddings and hold-alls in 1948-49, soon after partition. Then came daily shoes and later fancy shoes. The material for footwear was imported from Europe and it used to be very costly. I joined the family business in 1966 by which time Servis shoes had arrived and established.
Q: How do you describe your company’s presence in terms of global status?
Ans: From a single retail footwear outlet, our brand has more than 400 stores in Pakistan. More than 2000 dealer-base, and a growing international footprint in Europe, Middle East, and many other regions of the world. Today, the the company produces world-class shoes, tyres, tubes, and rubber in its units in Gujarat and Muridke. Servis is an exporter of footwear has also developed brand partnerships with international brands like Hush Puppies, Nike, Urban Sole, Pierre Cardin. Our proudest moment was that Servis won FPCCI Trophy for six times for ‘Best Export Performance’.
Q: Your Lahore factory faced closure in Pakistan under President Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law?
Ans: We took on governments during all martial law regimes in Pakistan. We did not abide by any instructions that went contrary to law. One particular incident is when we preferred to close our Lahore unit instead of bowing down to pressure.
This was during the reign of Lt Gen Ghulam Jilani Khan who was then the 14th governor of Punjab province during the military rule of President Gen Zia-ul- Haq, when we defied and eventually declared a shut down of our unit.
Gilani started issuing us instructions about whom to employ and whom to dismiss. When Gilani ordered us to take back 15 employees out of the 200 we had dismissed. We told him we shall re-employ 185 back but would not take back the select 15 he had specified. Eventually we sold off the Lahore unit after the closure and set up at Muridke.
Q: How do you describe the period from Gen Ayub Khan to Bhutto’s times?
Ans: Gen Ayub was the military dictator from 1958 until he was forced to resign in 1969. During Gen Ayub’s times, earlier, things were cheap and rather peaceful.
Post the 1965 war and during 1966, street protests started due to general scarcity following the war. Instead of appeasing the public by some benevolent means, Gen Ayub started making petty money and became unpopular. I too became a student leader then and led a street demonstration in Gujarat.
Then came Yahya Khan in 1969, Yahya dissolved the Ayub government and declared martial law for the second time in Pakistan’s history. Eventhough in 1970 he held the first free elections, that saw Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s political party Awami League party in East Pakistan win the majority but Yahya was pressured by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose party had won in West Pakistan but had less votes. Under this pressure, Yahya decided to delay handing over the reins of power to Mujib. Thus, civil unrest erupted all over East Pakistan, Yahya tried to smother the rebellion and also fell into disgrace over the defeat in 1971 war against India and Bhutto came to power and formed the government with his Pakistan’s People’s Party and placed Yahya under house arrest. This is of course history. but on the economic front Bhutto nationalized industries such as Ghee manufacturing, foundaries, banks; healthcare, educational and therefore new entrepreneurs were discouraged to set in new industry or other service facilities. Hence unemployment rose sharply. Bhutto’s aura fell and he was dethroned by Zia-ul –Haq in a bloodless coup by alleging rigging in elections that Bhutto won. Since it was the case of ‘my (Zia’s) neck or his (Bhutto’s) neck’. Zia got Bhutto executed.
Q: Did any emotional wave of sympathy come after Bhutto was hanged?
Ans: Not much because then as Bhutto had become unpopular and Zia ruled with an iron hand. Later Benazir unleashed the emotional quotient by reminding people of the Bhutto legacy of sacrifices. Later she too was assassinated and that catapulted her husband Asif Ali Zardari to power, as the world knows.
Q: How did you manage during Zia-ul-Haq’s regime?
Ans: Zia was no maulvi. He was a liar and never stood by his words. It was the worst period for Pakistan. He exploited religious sentiments to fight the war against Russian occupation of Afghanistan for America. He created the Punjabi Taliban, exploited youth and made them fanatics by saying ‘Jihad karo, Jannat mein Hurrein hongi tumhare liye’ (Fight the Jihad and you will be treated to beautiful women in the Heavenly Paradise). He deliberately created illiteracy to exploit youth. America used him and then lumped him off in an air crash along with one of their own Ambassadors.
During Zia’s reign came the ‘weaponry’. As America provided arms and ammunition to Pakistan to fight the Russians, the guns found their way into homes of warlords and private armies came into power especially in the rural belts. Every house had guns including automatic or semiautomatic. Obviously these guns went into wrong hands. Even though government can try but these guns will never be surrendered now or ever. They are used freely and the assailants dare and slip away. If police or security comes after them, they give them back in a formidable fight.
Even in villages they have Uzis’, Kalashnikovs, AK series, anti-tank guns and shoulder missiles and launchers. Fighters from Chechnya also joined in the fight. That time ISI too got a free hand. It was not reporting to anyone and was getting back channel support from America.
Zia always had double standards. Today Pakistan faces the biggest challenge of domestic arms and ammunition. In Pakistan, cities have smaller sophisticated weapons and crime is abundant. The availability of arms is not an issue. They are easily available to whosoever has the price to pay for them. The general feeling is if one doesn’t keep arms and ammunition one becomes vulnerable to those who do. This is the vicious circle that Pakistan faces and no solution can be found to it. The arms are hidden, whenever government announces civilians to surrender weapons. These very guns from America were diverted to fight in Kashmir. Interestingly army in Pakistan may have fewer weapons and civilians may have more.
Q: Do you also keep guns? (I ask sheepishly)
Ans: I do not wish to comment on that.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE FRONTLINE ON APRIL 4, 2014