Monday, September 27, 2010

Rights in South Asia By I.A. Rehman

Whenever activists get together to take stock of the situation of human rights in South Asia, they find little cheer other than in their own struggle. A two-day conference in the Indian capital last week did not prove to be an exception.

The devastation caused in Pakistan by floods weighed heavily on the minds of delegates coming from all attending Saarc states. This offered a measure of mutual understanding that human rights campaigners in the region have succeeded in developing despite the efforts of slow-moving bureaucrats in nearly all parts of South Asia to reduce the space for civil society organisations as much as possible.

However, expression of sympathy and solidarity with the flood-affected masses was accompanied by serious concerns about the inability of the international community, especially its South Asian component, to extend adequate succour to Pakistanis faced with an unprecedented disaster. A particularly sore point was the failure of Saarc to operationalise, or even to recall, the protocol on regional disaster management. It was not possible to understand why no member state could invoke the regional accord.

Allegations were made, with considerable vigour, that Pakistan had not devised a clear policy for accepting aid in kind from civil society organisations and elements (such as doctors, pharmaceutical dealers and farmers) in the neighbouring countries. This is something the Pakistan establishment must immediately address and remove any obstacles, real or imagined, to the flow of people-to-people aid supplies from across South Asia, including India. For one does not wish to believe any state authority will be guided by confrontationists to the extent of spurning aid offers from neighbours. Cross-border cooperation in humanitarian endeavours will surely strengthen the concept of South Asian identity and a shared destiny, a fact that was amply confirmed when Edhi and some other Pakistanis went to the Indian state of Gujarat a few years ago to provide relief to earthquake victims.

It was impossible for even the most cautious human rights activists from the region to ignore the wave of killings in the Kashmir Valley and Sri Lanka’s march towards authoritarianism, the large number of extra-legal killings there and the unbearable strain on the media. But the conference was perhaps held back by the danger of its intervention causing more harm than good, particularly in view of the highly charged climate in which these issues were being approached by the parties concerned. They therefore contented themselves with regretting the loss of life in Kashmir and extra-democratic trends in Sri Lanka and called for sincere efforts to avoid derogation of human rights in any form and in any situation.

On Afghanistan, however, the discussion was considerably frank and candid. There was a fair measure of accord on the urgency of allowing the Afghan people much greater say in shaping their destiny than they have apparently been granted so far. It was strongly argued that some of the external actors strutting across the ravaged Afghan landscape were part of the problem and not its solution. The common view was that instead of competing for an exclusive right to courting Afghanistan, India and Pakistan should respect each other’s interests in the area and jointly lead a South Asian initiative to secure peace, justice and democracy in the war-torn land.

The release and repatriation of about 450 Indian fishermen that had been held in Pakistan was the only matter that brought some comfort to the delegates. The initiative taken by civil society organisations was lauded and the prompt and sympathetic intervention by the apex courts of both Pakistan and India was considered a good augury for the resolution of matters related to the imprisonment of a Saarc country’s nationals in another country in the region. Essentially the issue concerned Pakistani and Indian prisoners in each other’s jails, a stigma the two governments have been extraordinarily tardy in erasing.

The conference therefore made an emphatic demand for a South Asian convention/protocol to address the issue of prisoners, including such matters as their trial in an alien land, consular access, relief for those who suffer heavily for unintended violation of cross-border traffic rules, and repatriation of prisoners to their home countries immediately after the completion of their sentences and even before that.

The central issue the conference tried to tackle was terrorism. There was complete unanimity among the participants that terrorism presented the gravest threat to the stability, integrity and representative rule of all South Asian countries, including any faction or group that expected to benefit from any brand of terrorism. The participants agreed that instead of allowing themselves to be divided by terrorism, the South Asian states should forge a united front against the menace.

At the same time the conference strongly criticised the abuse of due process and basic rights through counter-terrorism measures. The specific matters that came under attack were extra-legal killings, unlawful detention, interference with judicial processes, an increasing premium on impunity and involuntary disappearances. The conference called upon all South Asian states to ratify and implement the UN Convention on Involuntary Disappearances and work out a strategy to jointly deal with both terrorism and counter-terrorism activities in a rational manner and with due respect for all citizens’ basic entitlements.

The strains on democratic norms in the various parts of South Asia generated a lively debate. In the end an agreement was reached on the need to regenerate healthy and transparent politics across South Asia. It was necessary for the people, especially the youth, to end their indifference or apathy to politics and free their political parties and state institutions from the stranglehold of inefficient, corrupt and self-serving cliques.

The human rights activists who tried to examine the afflictions causing distress and worse to their societies had no illusions about their importance or strength. They were, however, fortified by the belief that the voice of those who shared the hard-pressed communities’ aspirations and anxieties had a better claim to public space in the media and elsewhere than the antics and harangues of spurious politicos that no person sound of head and heart could own.

Talking about change By Cyril Almeida

Hold on to your hats, everybody, change is a coming. It’s the consensus in Islamabad: change is in the air and it will be very bad for Zardari & co and marginally good for the rest of us.

But Islamabad is a funny old town. The more convinced everyone is something is about to happen, the less likely something will in fact happen.

First things first: things are bad in Pakistan. The economy is a mess, the security situation is tenuous and governance is beside the point for the government. Some of the problems may be structural but try telling that to poor, hungry, unemployed people with no electricity or gas, rudimentary health and education facilities and little by way of protection from the police or the lower judiciary. And that was before the floods.

In any case, when you have a chateau-owning political dilettante with sticky fingers and a perma-grin, why bother looking beyond him for systemic reasons and explanations? Out with him, in with something, anything else — it’s simple, visceral, enough for anyone to latch on to as their mantra.

So, much of the talk about a change in Islamabad wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the genuine grassroots unhappiness with the government’s style and substance.

Onwards, then, to the next step: that little business about change itself. Here’s where things, predictably, become complicated.

The PML-N has the only shot at constitutional, working-within-the-system change: forcing a mid-term election. But even before all that talk of a need to kiss-and-make-up with the MQM and wean the independents away from the government to get the no-confidence motion that would trigger an election, there’s a simple problem: Mian Sahib appears content for the time being to let the government sink further on its own. Possibly, the thinking could be, why try and choke a drowning man?

Which is why the talk of ‘change’ is so vague and conspiratorial — there’s no firm peg to hang it on. But it is real, and it has got the government circles unsettled. Where could this much touted change come from?

A coup? Scratch that. The Indispensable has carefully rehabilitated the image of his beloved institution, to the point where the ostensibly apolitical general is being urged to clean up politics. (Must we never learn?) But there’s little incentive for the Indispensable.

He controls what he cares about most: foreign policy and national security. His budget will remain largely untouched. And he knows there is no silver bullet to all that ails Pakistan; in fact, that is a challenge possibly greater than Hercules’s twelve Labours, and no Hercules is the Indispensable.

A ‘soft’ coup? A judiciary-military combine to nudge out the dirty politicians through a quasi-legal disqualification route perhaps? The problem: holding hands with an army chief may be a bit too much for the born-again independent jurist CJ Iftikhar to swallow.Work your way down the list of ‘options’ — a quick job given the paucity of said ‘options’ — and you can’t help but scratch your head. An apocryphal tale has it that one of Zardari’s advisers once mockingly boasted, “They want him out, but how are they going to do it?” (Add necessary colour to aforementioned comment.) Like it or not, the logic is sound.

So why then do the rumours refuse to die down? And what’s with all the defiant statements by the government, betraying more than a hint of uncertainty, if not panic?

This much is clear: lots of very important and powerful people don’t care very much for the present government, or more specifically Zardari and his buddies. Some of those important and powerful people would rather be rid of what they see as an aberration, even by Pakistani standards; others are content to let the government shoot itself in the foot, and hopefully elsewhere, because the cost of ousting them isn’t worth it.

Combine the public’s unhappiness with the elite’s dislike and it becomes clear why rumour and speculation continue to swirl around the government. This time, though, there appears to be something more at work.

Think of it this way. If a kid asks Santa Claus for a bicycle but finds only a pair of socks under the tree come Christmas Day, the kid will be pretty disappointed. But politics isn’t always so straightforward: sometimes you demand the head when a strip of flesh will suffice because the former is the only way of getting the latter.

If the goal is in fact to oust Zardari, then all the talk of ‘change’ isn’t likely to change anything until kingdom come, or certainly until September 2013, which is when Zardari’s term expires.

But if the goal is to get rid of some of the water bugs (thank you, Bob Woodward, for that wonderful euphemism) crawling around their protector Zardari then the ‘change is in the air’ drumbeat is slightly more likely to yield some kind of result.

After all, a few key ministries reshuffled, a few advisers axed and a few of the greasier characters cut loose and the governance crisis could ease up. If nothing else, some of the structural problems in the economy could finally be tackled — giving fewer sleepless nights to the uniforms armed with calculators and big dreams.

Sometimes you need the threat of the bogeyman to get obstinate kids to behave. Threaten some vague but ominous sounding ‘change’ and hope that the worst offenders will at least temporarily shape up and behave.

The problem with the approach? Zardari. He’s about as likely to do something at the behest of his enemies and critics as he is to produce evidence of his chateau being a generation-old family property. The more he is squeezed, the more he will baulk at doing what’s necessary — even if he would have done it anyway.

And since there’s no fait accompli to present him with this time (like there was at the time of the Long March and the failed attempt to take over in Punjab) and there’s little to no leverage against him available (ousting him is too costly), Zardari can afford to dig in his heels.

Still believe change is really in the air?

Justice denied and delayed By Irfan Husain

ON and off, readers have written to suggest that I do a column on how the higher judiciary in Pakistan is so preoccupied with cases of a political and constitutional nature that it has little time for meaningful reforms in the lower courts.

As the Supreme Court struggles valiantly to deal with such knotty issues as Musharraf’s controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance and the 18th Amendment, its backlog of pending cases has grown to 17,500. But compared to the provincial high courts, where some 150,000 cases are awaiting judgment, it is a model of efficiency. Going down to the lower courts, a recent news item in this paper informed us that some 1.1 million cases are clogging the system.

One reason the Taliban takeover of Swat last year was initially welcomed by many locals was that they promised to provide swift justice. Even though this turned into a nightmare of public flogging and executions, the fact is that millions of Pakistanis caught up in the legal system would even put up with ignorant clerics on the bench if they could just get a quick decision.

In the UK, the country that bequeathed Pakistan the system we suffer under, cases are decided fairly quickly once they are admitted for hearing. So how come we have made such a mess of things? One reason is that for every litigant who wants a quick decision, there is another who wants to slow the proceedings down to snail’s pace.

An old lawyer friend recounted his experience with one case. He had been flying into Karachi from Lahore so often for court hearings in this particular case that he decided to rent a flat to avoid staying in a hotel on each trip. When I asked him why he had to visit Karachi so often, he said the high court judge on the bench had such a heavy case-load every day that his particular case almost invariably got put off each time. So he would take a book and read at the back of the courtroom — if the case did come up for hearing and he wasn’t present, he could get charged with contempt. This went on for years, and of course, the cost was passed on to the client.

Now multiply this case by the hundreds of courts across the country, and you will begin to get an idea of what hundreds of thousands of litigants go through for years. Of course, many benefit by these endless delays: those with a weak case and deep pockets keep spending money to block a decision. Those with a good case suffer the inconvenience and expense of unending litigation.

A few years ago, the Asian Development Bank lent Pakistan $20mn to finance judicial reforms. The stated aim of the project, called Access to Justice, was to “contribute to poverty reduction and good governance through improved rule of law”. Part of the loan went towards the computerisation of the higher courts, and no doubt a sizeable chunk went to the inevitable consultants, transport and study tours abroad. One project goal was to produce “greater efficiency, timeliness and effectiveness in judicial and police services”. I hope the Pakistani taxpayer will consider the $20mn as money well spent as he repays this loan.

I wonder if our fiercely independent chief justice has any time to spare from his judicial activism to look into the huge backlog of cases that has built up over the years, and the impact it has on our society and our economy. It is certainly true that our media is fascinated with the comings and goings of politicians and bureaucrats who are constantly summoned before the higher judiciary in high-profile cases involving the government. In addition, suo motu cases that put the state under much-needed scrutiny make equally thrilling courtroom drama.

What is not very exciting is the nitty-gritty of working out targets for judges to reduce their backlog, and clean up the corruption endemic in the system. After all, thousands of lawyers make a living from the same venality and inefficiency they have been dealing with – and profiting from – over the decades. Changing the status quo is hard work, especially when so many are benefiting from it.

So while our legal fraternity was at the vanguard of calls for the restoration of the chief justice three years ago, it’s not exactly storming the capital to demand judicial reforms that would make life easier for their clients. And yet, this one issue goes to the heart of our failing society. If we could somehow fix our courts, so many other things might fall into place.

Among other problems, there are far too many lawyers in Pakistan. Many people I know have earned law degrees for want of something better to do. It used to be possible to take the LLB degree privately without actually having to go to law school. And anyone with this qualification can set up shop as a lawyer. Of course he doesn’t command the kind of fees our legal superstars do, but he can still issue legal notices.

So far, none of my lawyer friends have been able to satisfactorily explain why judges tolerate these delays. Why can’t the court clerk be instructed to keep the list of cases manageably short? Why are feeble excuses from lawyers about illness accepted, especially when the same lawyers then appear before another bench? Fake medical certificates are routinely used to support absences. Court clerks are bribed to put a case at the top or the bottom of the list of cases to be heard. All judges are aware of these realities, but choose to ignore them.

The truth is that the desire for change has to come from the top of the judicial pyramid. Unfortunately, despite the independence the higher judiciary now enjoys, it has chosen to use this authority to wrest power from the executive and from the legislative branches.

It is certainly true that judicial activism is a welcome new phenomenon in a country where judges have normally accepted dictation from the executive, especially when a general is running the show. However, this newfound judicial independence needs to be judiciously used. Long-term legal reforms would provide the chief justice with an enduring legacy.

Opportunity within reach By Huma Yusuf

It has been a good week for Sino-Pak relations. China reiterated its commitment to expanding the Chashma nuclear energy complex by building two additional reactors, and pooh-poohed any talk of seeking approval from the Nuclear Suppliers Group for the project.

Moreover, while addressing a United Nations anti-poverty summit, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao announced $200mn — in addition to the $47mn already pledged — in emergency flood aid for Pakistan.

Jiabao’s announcement helped close the gap between US and Chinese support for Pakistan’s flood relief effort. The US has provided approximately $345mn in relief aid, as well as food, infrastructure and air support valued at $60mn. By “stepping up to the plate”, to borrow a phrase from US special envoy Richard Holbrooke regarding China’s initially underwhelming response to the Pakistan floods, Beijing has reinvigorated Islamabad to continue the close allegiance in good conscience.

Given that Pakistan is still recovering from the Chinese snub of Oct 2008, when Beijing refrained from offering Islamabad an economic bailout, this week’s aid announcement will help keep an old friendship on track.

But it is important for Pakistanis to keep these Chinese overtures in perspective. Beijing’s partnership with Islamabad is, after all, an aspect — albeit an historical and important one — of its broader, geo-strategic goal to emerge as the dominant power in Asia. That goal received a fillip last month when China officially overtook Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy.

So this week while China was proffering gifts to Pakistan, it was slamming its fists elsewhere in Asia. Demanding the immediate release of the captain of a Chinese trawler that collided with Japanese Coast Guard vessels earlier this month, Beijing warned Tokyo of the possibility of “further action” to follow the suspension of high-level government talks and economic ties. The threat worked: Japan agreed on Friday to release the captain, and the international community was reminded of Beijing’s commitment to defending its territorial claim over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Beijing’s diplomatic stand-off with Tokyo follows other aggressive posturing regarding China’s maritime influence. Recently, China has objected to the US carrying out naval exercises with South Korea in the Yellow Sea, which Beijing has declared its exclusive military operations’ zone. China is also entangled in a series of disputes with the array of South-East Asian countries over islands and maritime boundaries in the South China Sea.

For Pakistan, Beijing’s regional aspirations are primarily relevant with regards to the effect that China’s actions have on Indian foreign policy. In recent years, Beijing and New Delhi have been coming head to head in what The Economist has described as the “contest of the century”. Indeed, while the Pakistan Army continues to think of India as its perennial enemy, the Indians have been reorienting their international security concerns with an eye to China.

Many of India’s worries about China’s territorial ambitions stem from the dispute over Arunachal Pradesh, along India’s north-eastern rim. Since 2006, there have been numerous reports of Chinese military incursions along that contested border. The Indian media has also reported on China’s relocation of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles towards the Indian border. And like much of South-East Asia, India is keeping close tabs on the modernisation of the Chinese navy. New Delhi also fears Chinese attempts to sideline India in the procurement of essential energy supplies.

Increasingly, in thinktanks across India, security discussions about Pakistan now fall within the broader ambit of Chinese expansionism, and are tied to fears of encirclement by China (these fears are exacerbated by China’s strengthening relations with other South Asian states). It was this underlying anxiety that sparked a flurry of speculation in Indian and some international media outlets earlier this month that China had taken control of Gilgit-Baltistan (thereby potentially sandwiching Indian-held Kashmir between Chinese military might).

Despite strong rejections from both Beijing and Islamabad of such reports, the blogsphere is still abuzz with conspiracy theories of a Chinese ‘occupation’ of the region, spurred no doubt by Selig Harrison’s controversial article on the subject.

Of course, for many Pakistanis, the economic development angle of the Islamabad-Beijing relationship is probably more important than the security dimension. Pakistan is quite happy to let China traverse its territory to gain access to Gwadar, and through that port, to the Gulf. After all, Chinese investment means infrastructure development for Pakistan, as well as added benefits such as the civilian nuclear power deals.

China’s current incarnation as pushy and power-loving has, however, led many Asian states, including India and Japan, to turn to the US to maintain a balance of power in the region. This trend could prove beneficial to Pakistan in coming years. The fact is, while the US intervenes to check Chinese ambitions, Washington cannot risk open confrontation with Beijing. Ever since US President Barack Obama described America’s ties with China as the “most important bilateral relationship”, the emphasis has been on interdependence and cooperation.

One of the few things that the US and China agree on is the need for security, stability, and prosperity in Pakistan. As such, Pakistan is uniquely situated to take advantage of the geopolitical tussle currently underway in Asia. Drawing on decades-old allegiances, Islamabad can create circumstances in which the US and China can work together effectively. But such trilateral cooperation must occur on terms that privilege Pakistan’s national interests, rather than make it a pawn in an Asian power struggle.

To kick off this process, Islamabad should consider acknowledging US concerns about the Chinese proposal to build nuclear reactors without NSG approval by offering to place the expanded Chashma site under the scrutiny of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Such small steps, when taken in the broader context, could help the cause of regional stability.

Fat chance By Nadeem F. Paracha

The day Yousuf Raza Gilani took oath as prime minister, I got a call from a journalist friend, who said: “I know you must be really happy, but a year from now this nation will be whining for another uniformed messiah!”

Of course, I knew that. But somehow this time round I did feel that maybe, just maybe, things might turn out to be a tad different. But, alas, such is not the case. Chants for a uniformed saviour are getting louder by the hour. And I am convinced these are not radiating from the masses. They are coming from animated armchair patriots.

In their desperate hand waving, the reactive fools have totally missed out on certain vital facts. The changing scenario of international politics apart, even the rapidly changing political and judicial dynamics of Pakistan (mostly achieved in the last two years) have tightened the back doors from where military usurpers usually come in.

To begin with, exactly how would a Bonapartist manage to override a regenerated judiciary whose sole existence is founded on the chucking out of a wayward military dictator? Secondly, much of the constitution today is such that it would take a Herculean task for a new dictator to retard it the way his uniformed predecessors did. Thirdly, the main opposition party (the PML-N) is in no mood to accommodate any such manoeuvres, or behave in the manner opposition parties did on the eve of Ziaul Haq’s take-over in 1977.

All this means that another military take-over can only preside over an unprecedented disaster. Every military coup in this country has actually taken the country ever so close to balkanisation. Ayub and Yahya's dictatorships generated the very circumstances that saw the country's eastern wing break away. Zia’s dictatorship presided over an explosion of ethnic and sectarian movements. By the time of his death, even sections from central Punjab were voicing slogans like ‘Jaag Punjabi jaag’.

Dictatorships enforce an artificial ‘unity’ founded on a hasty concoction of nationalism mainly based on a singular, state-constructed variation of faith and patriotism. Cultures and traditions of the many ethnicities, religions and Muslim sects that populate this country are consciously undermined and repressed, if not downright insulted and socially disenfranchised.

In other words, dictatorships in Pakistan have always sat pretty on ethnic and sectarian volcanoes that rumble away, threatening to set off that one final explosion. Like it or not, democracy (no matter how dysfunctional or incompetent), with its inherent respect for ethnic, religious and sectarian plurality and whatever semblance of voice and power it gives to the figurative common man, is still our finest bet.

Another military coup may very well mean the end of Pakistan as we know it. The impact might not be immediate, but this country then is more likely to break. So keeping this in mind, I believe it is those who, in the name of order and patriotism are wailing away for a military messiah, are committing treason no less. Not even a leader with a mad cult following can be taken seriously on any such suggestion that will put the nation on the path of collective suicide.

Now that reminds me of a much sillier form of such delusional wisdom appearing from some quarters. The French Revolution. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I can understand a freckled teenaged middle-class gung-ho suggesting such a revolution in Pakistan, but when I see grown up men say this, I do wonder if they are really in their senses. The French were one (ethnic) nation. So were the Iranians, the Chinese and the Cubans. We are not. We are not even a single Muslim nation, if you know what I mean.

Our nationhood should mean a democratic appreciation of the fact that we are a country dotted with various ethnicities and sects. That's what a real, tolerant Pakistani should stand for. Otherwise, if a revolution (just like a coup) is attempted under the banner of a single ideology in this country, it will only result in utter carnage brought on by civil war and the consequent and ugly balkanisation of the republic.

Speaking from my own experience as a former Marxist student ‘revolutionary’, the whole concept of a revolution (especially in a diverse and complex country like Pakistan), is nothing more than a youthful, naive, middle-class fantasy. But what happens when well-known middle-aged men like Imran Khan and Altaf Hussain start talking about it? Never mind Imran, he's turned political naivete into a media-savvy art form, but what about an experienced leader like Altaf Hussain?

He has started reminding me of Mao Tse Tung, when he began uttering his gibberish about a ‘Cultural Revolution’ in 1966-67. Well, he might have done it out of boredom (one of the perils of the figurehead syndrome?), but he almost destroyed the revolution he himself helped create, pushing China back at least ten years!

A healthy continuous democracy is the real revolution. But only if you would notice.

View from US: America in a flux By Anjum Niaz

“Oh yeah”! Many of you back home will see the headline above and say. With a yawn, you’ll add “Who cares? So, what else is new?” Well I have something new for you:

Today, one in every seven Americans is poor. Yes, poor. A family of four earning $21,954 annually comes under the poverty line. Some more news: An upstart: the Tea Party, led by the likes of TV celebrity Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin threatens to upstage the Democrats and the Republicans in coming years.

Dinesh D’Souza, is adding all the fuel he can collect against the current White House incumbent. The Indian-born Catholic is Obama’s latest bogey man. In his cover article for Forbes magazine called “How Obama thinks” D’Souza disingenuously tries tying him to Pakistan: “…we have been blinded to his (Obama’s) real agenda because, across the political spectrum, we all seek to fit him into some version of American history. In the process, we ignore Obama’s own history. Here is a man who spent his formative years—the first 17 years of his life—off the American mainland, in Hawaii, Indonesia and Pakistan, with multiple subsequent journeys to Africa.”

Wrong! Other than just visiting Pakistan once as a student, Obama never lived here. Forbes, don’t you check your facts?

So, I reach out to my Lucknow-born Indian friend whom we’ll call AK (he’s shy of seeing his name in print) to get his worldview on Pakistan, India and of course, America. He lives in Philadelphia; has a doctorate in business; was once a journalist. Is sophisticated.

Q: Your take on Pakistani-Americans? Be frank...?

A: Friendly, sociable and fun loving. A lot like my Indian Muslim friends.

Q: Room for improvement?

A: My suggestion — Muslim or not — don’t wear your religion on your sleeve as a badge of honour and try to fit in. Religion is private. Try to meld in. The Chinese and Japanese play the assimilation game. As soon as they arrive they pick Anglo names.

Q: What about Indians?

A: The less refined have no appreciation for American/western culture (unlike the educated ones) and may not even speak the language fluently. The one aspect of some Indians that I detest is their loud criticism of everything American.

Q: What’s the reason for an underlying bias/ distrust/ prejudice between Indians and Pakistanis in the US?

A: Perhaps our history or the Internet. Sure, we have a few chauvinistic bigots just as there are ‘Muslim’ bigots in Pakistan. At work, there is little of this. Perhaps in social life there’s more. My step mom says not all Pakistani doctors where she lives reciprocate her friendship; they are not rude but merely diffident. I have noticed that among some of my Indian friends, Mumbai 26/11 had a negative effect on their attitudes. But I like Muslims. I’d wait for my Muslim pals in college to return with all kinds of goodies from Pakistan. Oh, yeah, I am forgetting cricket matches.

Kashmir is cited in Pakistan — politicians and the press — as the main underlying cause of Indo-Pakistan tensions.

To Indians, everything was hunky dory until 1988-89 when Pakistanis started sending in Jihadis. In my opinion, the insistence by Pakistan to act on Kashmir will keep alive the religious basis for Pakistan’s existence and the extremist ferment within it.

Q: Why are some Indians so biased? I get ugly emails from them whenever I praise Pakistanis or mention Indo-Pak hostility?
A: I consider myself American now, though I do maintain good friendships with American-Indian friends and relatives. Perhaps those you mention are less confident of themselves. Or, they feel somehow “superior” as their country is now more in the news because of “positive” things instead of poverty and train accidents. My contention is that the Partition thing fractured the fragile normality among Muslims and Hindus that had started to gel in after Aurangzeb. The gentler Sufi tradition was quite similar to the more ancient meditative and spiritual traditions of India in sharp contrast to the alien and militant version that came with the initial Arab invasion 1,300 years ago.

Q: Indians are better entrenched in the American system than Pakistanis here...?

A: Indians are more organised politically as a group. There is already one governor and probably a second one in Nikki Haley. There are some large contributors (businessmen and doctors) who’ve been donating to both Republicans and Democrats. Pakistanis, because of a confluence of events — 9/11, wars in the Middle East, war on terror — are perhaps not as bold. Since I am in the tech business, most of our IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) graduates ended up in top American institutions where they got their masters and PhDs and then were hired by American companies. IBM’s Thomas Watson Labs head was an Indian. This “ brain drain” to the U.S. — their undergraduate education heavily subsidised by the Indian Government — within 20 years paid big dividends in the presence of a large engineering and business contingent in the US, especially in Silicon Valley. These guys also helped fuel the economy in India and helped contribute to the American technology economy. Eventually the economic ties with the US have been built on this.

Perhaps reflective of their population sizes, Chinese and Indian students are among the top in many countries, besides the US. This also reflects the value Chinese and Indian cultures place on quality education.

Food for worms By Ardeshir Cowasjee

For some months prior to the alarming ‘demand’ (yes, in Pakistan politicians and others who feel they are of import always ‘demand’), the rumour mills were churning out scenarios of a ‘change’ in the present stunningly alarming dispensation.

What that good British citizen, who dwells happily in the Mill Hill area of North London ‘demanded’ was that certain army generals, whose patriotism would spur them on, should step in and do something, anything, to bring about ‘change’.

He subsequently clarified that he had not ‘meant’ that the country revert to the 1958, 1977 or 1999 modes but that the mighty military (which denotes just the army) should oversee a type of transition from an unwieldy government (the identities of the majority of its members are unknown to the public) to a tighter form of government less tainted by gross corruption scandals and equally gross incompetence, which could usher in some sort of competence (even a modicum would do at this stage). His next clarion call from London was for a revolution, which he said he would be willing to lead if the Karachi chapter of his party were to ‘allow’ him to return to what was once his homeland.

Now, any sort of revolution, be it along the lines of an uprising or of the national mindset (which is desperately needed) is not on the cards. Revolutions demand national cohesion, a common goal and vitally, a charismatic leadership. Pakistan is endowed with none of these attributes.

Anyhow, the utterances of Altaf Bhai of London Town certainly make an impact. His ‘demand’ and suggestion hold the media transfixed. Millions of words, written and spoken, are being devoted to them — all to no avail as it would seem impossible, in this morass in which we exist, to locate individuals available, able or willing to step in on a rescue mission (if there is one it will have to be arranged in Washington).

The sad fact is that right now, in the government, there is not one credible figure amongst those who were shot into empty slots via the ballot boxes which were visited, it has been calculated, by some 30 per cent of the great unwashed electorate under thrall of the feudals that control them.

So, Altaf Bhai’s request is not unreasonable it may be unrealistic. We have the White House, the army and the Supreme Court as bodies of men possibly capable of devising a team which could provide some sort of governance to replace the void in a country seen to be fast imploding. The scorn heaped upon the present so-called leadership is humiliating for the state and a large slice of public opinion — the media, internet, street talk — is firmly convinced that they can no longer stomach the government or parliament.

This does not denote that there is a clamour for martial law. But we do remember the mid-1993 situation when the presidential-prime ministerial relationship was such that the country was at a virtual standstill and violence a real and present danger. The army chief of the time, a most honourable general (yes, there are such men) stepped in and without raising his swagger stick, sent both the president and prime minister home. All was calm and collected; he organised an interim government of technocrats who constitutionally announced elections. The short-term problem was solved, the long-term problem remained.

As has been pointed out the president-prime minister situation today is quite different. As opposed to confrontation there is placidity, with the party chief president in full charge with his coterie of sycophants doing what they fancy.

Not only have we men and women placed in positions for which they are manifestly unfit but we have on our hands a national tragedy, the floods plus ongoing killings, bombings, and other sickening violence, all of which the nation has become so inured to that death and destruction are now a part of life.

As for priorities, for both the government and the nation they are skewed to the extreme. The national mindset is fixated upon concepts such as honour and dignity (of both of which we are bereft), the chips on the shoulders the nation bears are so glaring and confidence in the state is so shattered as to make us undecipherable in the eyes of the world. How, asks one friend from Britain, is the west to determine the sense of ethical values in the Islamic Republic if on the one hand it has to deal with the arousal of national ‘pride’ and indignation over some perceived slight or honest criticism, and on the other hand its inhabitants remain immune to the deep schisms existing in the land and to acceptance when Pakistanis kill and maim their co-religionists and fellow citizens?

We are also witnessing the reaction of the world to the floods’ begging bowl. Pledges are made, but hard cash is a rarity and when it comes in, dissatisfaction is expressed as to how it has been spent and into which pockets it has landed. This is a shaming fact. We are regarded as mendicants armed with suicide belts.

To repeat, ad nauseam: we are not living in the country envisaged by its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Somewhere along the way, there should have been some heeding of what it was he told us he wanted. But no, Pakistan is a travesty of all the man stood for. Ninety per cent of the disaster that is Pakistan today hinges upon two factors enunciated by Jinnah, two factors ignored and thrown to the wicked winds: the first duty of any government is to impose and maintain law and order and, emphatically, religion is not the business of the state.

How people like Sunita Jatav make India beautiful By Jawed Naqvi

The fuss about Delhi’s Commonwealth Games is just that: fuss. Heavens will not fall if an athlete finds a stray dog sleeping in his or her bed. Or if a visitor lands in hospital in this season of dengue fever. Or if Delhiites are put to inconvenience for a few days by commuting restrictions that the events logistics demand. These are small box item stories.

Much of the criticism of the event’s shabby handling has been aired by the western media for pretty much the same reason that saw them going to town over a hair in a soup bowl during the spectacular Beijing Olympics. This is not to say that Delhi Commonwealth show in any way comes close to the Beijing extravaganza. A few in the western media enjoy making developing countries like India and China look small.

Their Indian collaborators fare no better. They are evidently embarrassed that “their” fair name has been besmirched in the melee. To them the Commonwealth fiasco has sullied the image of India Shining. It has hurt the pride of their class more than anything involving corruption or ineptness generally. Now we hear the Delhi government has deputed dog-catchers to remove stray animals from around sports complexes and athletes’ residences.

There is far greater, widespread and entrenched corruption that an average Indian has to face on a daily basis than the sordid Commonwealth saga represents. And it starts at the top of the politico-corporate heap. It is foolish to expect the squalor that most people live in in this superpower-in-the-making to be in the news for the upper crust Indian media. That ordinary Indians – as opposed to those flaunted on TV – are a beautiful people who imbue even their suffering with a humane narrative hardly gets mentioned.

What the media have not told us is that 500 metres from the main stadium, under the Lodi Road flyover, live families of street hawkers and beggars. And it is a common sight, particularly late in the night, to see these dispossessed citizens of the country sharing their hard-earned bread with street dogs. Animal rights activists, buoyed by the recent surge in their income, may have identified Maneka Gandhi as their icon. The rest of the country will soon know that it is Sunita Jatav, the Dalit woman from Morena, the upper caste dacoit dominated region of Madhya Pradesh, who really makes India invincible and beautiful.

Sunita’s story was first recounted by historian Romila Thapar on Friday, when the ageing scholar chaired a discussion about the corporate nature and essential prejudices of the media. The main speaker was P. Sainath, author of the ground-breaking book Everybody Loves a Good Drought. Sainath recalled that there was hardly any Dalit journalist in the so-called mainstream media leaving the field open to incestuous prejudices to flourish. Sunita Jatav was subjected to the same prejudice. What was her story? Here’s the BBC version:

“Police in India are investigating claims that a Dalit woman has been ordered to pay compensation to the high-caste owners of a dog she fed.

“The woman says the village council wants her to pay a fine of 15,000 rupees ($330) for feeding the dog, which the owners have now kicked out. They are reported to have said the dog is “untouchable”, but deny being motivated by caste considerations. Although widespread, discrimination against Dalits is an offence in India. Dalits, who make up nearly 20 per cent of the Indian population, say little has changed despite the government enacting various laws banning caste-based discrimination.

“The incident took place in Malikpur village in Morena district in central Madhya Pradesh state. “I made some roti [Indian bread] and took it to my husband who works in a farm. After I had fed him, we had some leftovers which I gave to the dog,” the Dalit woman, Sunita Jatav, said. She said the owner of the dog, Amrutlal Kirari, saw her feeding him. “He got very angry and said ‘You’ve fed my dog, it has become an untouchable now’.”

“Mrs Jatav said Mr Kirari left the dog, a black mongrel called Sheru, tied to a pole outside her house.

“On Monday, the village council met and decided that Sheru had been defiled and hence Mr Kirari should be paid 15,000 rupees as compensation, Mrs Jatav alleged. On Tuesday, she approached the district collector of Morena who ordered an inquiry into the incident. Senior police officer in the area, Baldev Singh, told the BBC that he was investigating the matter. He said Mr Kirari had alleged that after eating the bread, Sheru fell ill.

“Mr Kirari said he abandoned the dog at Mrs Jatav’s house so she could look after it and nurse it back to health, Mr Singh added. Dalits - formerly untouchables - are considered at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. Any discrimination against them is an offence and punishable by law.”

Sunita Jatav’s story captures the unsung Indian who comprises more than 840 million that earn less than 20 rupees a day. In their poverty they are giving. With a range of prejudices stalking them they remain generous. Where Amrutlal Kirari represents the abrasive Indian, who spurs the ascendant polity, Sunita Jatav symbolises the underclass whose pride is not tied to a national flag or political slogans, and who brings to life India’s fabled but relentlessly abused humaneness.

Sainath, a Tamil Brahmin who speaks and campaigns for India’s Dalits, had forwarded me another vignette about the state of play in this realm.

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) under the Constitution of free India started functioning from January 26, 1950. The UPSC conducted its first examination to recruit personnel for the IAS and Central Services the same year. The First Report of the UPSC does not mention the number of SC/ST (Dalit/Tribal) candidates. But it discloses that Achyutananda Das was the country’s first Dalit (SC) to make it to the IAS in 1950 itself. He was, in fact, the topper of his batch in the written examination.

Achyutananda Das, from West Bengal, secured 613 out of 1050 marks in written examination whereas N. Krishnan from Madras secured 602. But in the interview, Krishnan secured 260 out of 300 as against 110 by Achyutananda Das. Thus Achyutananda was left miles behind by the upper caste Krishnan due to the latter’s performance in the viva-voce test.

But the case of Aniruddha Dasgupta, also from West Bengal, is both interesting and revealing. The margin of difference of marks between Achyutananda Das and N. Krishnan in written papers being eleven only so in the interview if the latter outstripped the former, there is not much surprise perhaps. But the written and viva-voce marks of Aniruddha Dasgupta in comparison with those of Achyutananda Das raise a number of issues.

Dasgupta secured the highest marks in viva-voce among all successful candidates recommended for appointment to the IAS, IPS, IFS, etc. But it was also he who got the lowest aggregate as well as the lowest average of all those qualified for appointment to the IAS and Allied Services. Further, he scored the lowest marks of all the qualified candidates in General Knowledge.

Dasgupta scored 26.66 per cent in General Knowledge, 47.04 per cent in written aggregate but an astounding 88.33 per cent in Personality Test as against 52.66 per cent, 58.38 per cent and 36.66 per cent respectively scored by Achyutananda Das. The margin of difference of marks between Das and Dasgupta in written examination was as vast as 119. Reduced into percentage, Das was an unbridgeable 11.33 per cent ahead of Dasgupta.

Any candidate strong in General Knowledge is usually expected to face the Selection Board very confidently and to perform competently. Aniruddha Dasgupta’s poorest (26.66 per cent) score amongst all successful candidates in General Knowledge notwithstanding; he must have thrown up the biggest surprise by scoring the highest marks in the interview.

His viva-voce score of 265 which was followed by Krishnan with 260, not only helped him make up the vast gap between him and Achyutananda Das but he left the latter far behind.

In the ultimate count, Krishnan topped; Aniruddha Dasgupta occupied the 22nd position in the merit list and Achyutananda Das was assigned the 48th position. As they lose patience with lingering prejudices, India’s Dalits, like Sunita Jatav, still continue to sanctify a fairer if more elusive interpretation of the idea of India. They know their struggle is Olympian in its challenges and they don’t seem to mind that they don’t have a voice in the mainstream media. They will probably find more compelling ways to press home their point.