Monday, November 15, 2010

Pashto filmmakers dream of post-Taliban renaissance.
Spinning tales of love and revenge packed with testosterone, filmmakers from Pakistan’s Taliban-hit northwest dream of stamping out militancy and restoring their culture to a bygone era.

Coming from an area known as a Taliban and Al-Qaeda stronghold infamous for religious seminaries that recuit young men into “holy war”, Pashtun actors say they are promoting the benign side of their heritage.

Clad in traditional white shalwar kameez and topi prayer cap, director Ajab Gul says he uses cinema to promote pride in his warrior culture and provide an outlet for young men at risk of being lured by militant mullahs.

“The young generation is illiterate and unemployed and having a lot of problems. They need to be involved,” says the 45-year-old former actor.

“If you do not entertain and pay attention to the youth they will end up into terrorism.”

Filmmakers brush aside fears of Islamist attacks, but working with ageing equipment and desperate to keep their loss-hit industry alive, they admit the sector is in financial crisis. But it was not always that way.

The first Pashto film, made in India in the 1930s, was an adaptation of the Sufi love story, “Laila Majnu” and preceded the industry’s 1970s heyday when a series of classical cultural tales were adapted for the big screen.

But in the 1980s a new type of Pashto film was born that Gul and his actors say damaged the industry with its sexed-up love scenes — heavy on dancing and light on plot, in poor imitation of Bollywood cinema.

In one such trailer a woman in heavy make-up and a figure-hugging dress clutches the vest of her beefy beau and gazes beseechingly at the sky, while he, his hairy chest on display, stares moodily into the camera.

The scene switches to a fast action sequence in which men with fake beards and moustaches wage battle, throwing scarcely believable punches and firing pistols as their enemies are covered in splashes of red paint.

The new style offended cultural mores in an increasingly conservative Muslim society and their poor quality turned a generation of Pashtun moviegoers off films made in their own language.

“1980-1998 were very bad years for the Pashtun film industry, with very bad movies that weren’t suitable to our culture,” said Gul.

Pakistan has suffered increasing Islamisation, economic malaise and cultural marginalisation, but so great is suspicion of India it is perhaps unsurprising that filmmakers blame their rivals for conspiring in their decline.

“The main reason was RAW (Indian intelligence) trying to kill us off because they couldn’t compete with Pashtun culture and language,” says Gul.

His team, who work in Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore because of a lack of studios in the northwest, say they are trying to return Pashto film to its chaste roots while giving their own take on the community’s social problems.

Actress Rahila Agha, 39, who has worked in the industry for 11 years, plays a mother in Gul’s latest film, in which her two sons – one a police officer and another a traffic cop — are fighting.

“It’s about Pashtun traditions and rivalries,” says Gul.

Agha, who is not Pashtun but comes from the traditionally more moderate province of Punjab, says film plays a vital role in the Pashtun community.

“I’ve worked with many heroes,” says the buxom 39-year-old, fluttering her heavily made-up eyelashes. “People like me, that’s the reason I’m here.”

But the cinema refuses to tackle religious or cultural taboos head on.

“We cannot because of security,” says Gul.

“That’s our restriction, we can’t touch taboos… because we represent almost two million people, we have to live in that culture.”

Another convention unchallenged is male dominance in a society in which women often keep purdah, meaning that they are kept out of sight of men, and in which they are subject to arranged marriage, frequently as teenagers.

“In these movies women also have desires, but they accept the man’s supremacy,” says Gul. “This is the culture and this should be.”

But the industry is in dire straits, with only a dozen movies now made each year, down from 40 in its heyday. Gul says he often expects a 50 percent loss on each film distributed.

A lead actor in one of Gul’s movies now commands a fee of up to 200,000 Pakistani rupees (2,332 dollars).

Gul blames security fears among would-be moviegoers and poor equipment affecting production values, which contrast miserably with the big-budget and wildly popular Bollywood smash hits that play in cinemas across Pakistan.

Militants have launched attacks on music stores and other cultural institutions in the northwest, although cinemas have been largely untouched so far, residents say because of the films’ waning popularity.

Gul Akbar Khan Afridi, 70, chairman of the Pashtun film association, says a safer environment could turn the industry’s fortunes around.

“Because of the security situation people are not coming to the cinemas. If the situation improves, the film industry will be better,” he says, hopefully.

U.S. Plan Offers Path to Ending Combat in Afghanistan

New York Times
The Obama administration has developed a plan to begin transferring security duties in select areas of Afghanistan to that country’s forces over the next 18 to 24 months, with an eye toward ending the American combat mission there by 2014, officials said Sunday.

The phased four-year plan to wind down American and allied fighting in Afghanistan will be presented at a NATO summit meeting in Lisbon later this week, the officials said. It will reflect the most concrete vision for transition in Afghanistan assembled by civilian and military officials since President Obama took office last year.

In many respects, the concept follows the precedent set in Iraq, where a similar troop surge and strategy shift under President George W. Bush in 2007 enabled American-led coalition forces to eventually hand over security duties to the Iraqis region by region. By last summer, Mr. Obama was able to pull out two-thirds of United States forces from Iraq and declare America’s combat mission there over.

“Iraq is a pretty decent blueprint for how to transition in Afghanistan,” one American official said Sunday, insisting like others on anonymity to discuss the strategy before its presentation. “But the key will be constructing an Afghan force that is truly capable of taking the lead.”

The new transition planning comes as prospects for last year’s troop increase in Afghanistan and reformulated strategy there remain uncertain. American forces in Afghanistan have tripled under Mr. Obama, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander, has expressed confidence that they are making progress. But the last of the reinforcements arrived only recently, and officials in Washington have said it is too early to say whether the strategy will work.

Any such transition risks declaring Afghan units combat-ready before they really are, and officials emphasized Sunday that any transition would be based on local conditions, not a dictate from Washington, and would be a process, not an event. “This will be ground-up,” one official said.

The American government is already assessing which areas could be safely handed over to Afghan security forces and will be ready to identify them late this year or early next year, officials said. Every few months, more areas will begin the transition, with the last at the end of 2012. Those will almost certainly include the toughest areas, like Khost in the east and Kandahar in the south.

Even after Afghan forces have assumed the lead in a province, some American or NATO forces may remain or be positioned “over the horizon” elsewhere in Afghanistan ready to respond quickly if necessary. By the end of 2014, American and NATO combat forces could be withdrawn if conditions warrant, although tens of thousands very likely will remain for training, mentoring and other assistance, just as 50,000 American troops are still in Iraq.

The plan came amid escalating pressure from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to reduce the visibility of American troops, to halt night raids unless carried out by Afghan soldiers or police officers and to begin withdrawing foreign forces by next year. “The time has come to reduce military operations,” Mr. Karzai told The Washington Post in an interview that stirred renewed concern among American officials on Sunday. “The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan.”

While Mr. Obama last year set July 2011 as the start of a withdrawal, he left undetermined the pace and schedule for pulling out the 100,000 American troops now in Afghanistan. The vow to begin bringing troops home helped mute anger among his liberal base but prompted some in the region to assume that America was rushing for the exits.

To emphasize America’s long-term commitment to the country, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have stressed in recent days that 2014 will be the critical date for Afghanistan to take full control of security, a date first set by Mr. Karzai.

The plan’s success depends in part on building an Afghan Army and police force genuinely able to defend their own country. The combined forces today have about 264,000 men, with a goal of 350,000 by 2013. Yet attrition has been a problem for years, with many soldiers and police officers simply walking away, some winding up with the insurgents.

The transition plan may draw skepticism among Republicans, who have complained about Mr. Obama’s previously announced intention to begin withdrawing some forces from the troop increase starting next July.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama’s Republican opponent in 2008, said Sunday that the president appeared to be basing his war planning on the politics of his liberal base. “You don’t fight and conduct wars that way,” Mr. McCain said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “You win, and then you leave. And that’s what we’ve done in Iraq.”

Appearing on the same program, the president’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, said any pullout would be driven by strategy. “We’ve always said it would be based on conditions on the ground, and that is still the case,” he said. “But it’s important to let the Afghans know that they have to pick up the pace in terms of training up the military, training up their police, being ready to accept responsibility.”

While Mr. Karzai has criticized the American military, his latest remarks appeared to go further. But a spokesman for Mr. Karzai, Waheed Omer, said “the president has just talked in line with the transition strategy of NATO.”

On the ground, the tempo of Special Operations raids has greatly increased, resulting in what the United States military says is a sixfold increase in captures and killings of Taliban commanders, but also in an increase in night raids that sometimes lead to civilian casualties.

“It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly,” Mr. Karzai said, suggesting they should by next year begin drawing down and confining themselves to their bases.

Mr. Omer said the suggestion that American troops be confined to bases referred to a long-term strategic partnership after 2014. But he said “the president does hold the view that there needs to be a reduction in visibility and intrusiveness.” He also said the “visibility and presence” of Afghan forces must increase.

A senior NATO official said that discussions about night raids had been held with Mr. Karzai, and that tactics had been adapted to recognize his sensitivity, including using Afghan partners.

The official said General Petraeus “is spending a considerable amount of time working with President Karzai and his national security team to build upon the progress we’ve made to date, ensuring the eventual transition to Afghan lead by the end of 2014.”

Pakistan selling land in Balochistan to Arabs.

QUETTA: Balochistan Assembly Speaker Aslam Bhootani has claimed that the federal government is using its influence to get thousands of acres of land allotted and sold to Arab Sheikhs from UAE for hunting.

The land is located close to the Coastal Highway and in Lyari Tehsil where the government is building a dam or water reservoir, the biggest in Balochistan. Addressing a news conference at the Quetta Press Club on Friday, he said that earlier the provincial government had taken back the 70,000 acres of land from an institution of the federal government after a lot of efforts made by Chief Minister Aslam Raisani. Now the same prized land is being allotted to the oil Sheikhs for hunting, the speaker said.

“Arab sheikhs who occasionally visit the area for hunting purposes want exclusive control over the vast tract of valuable land. Now they want to set up their private buildings and airport,” he said, adding that he was on an official visit to India when the incident took place and when he returned he informed the CM regarding the matter, who then stopped the summery from being issued. “If I will not protect the interests of the people then there is no justification for me to remain in office or be a member of the assembly,” he said.

“We acknowledge the efforts made by the PM to address the grievances of Balochistan, but it does not mean we can allow any one to sell our lands,” he said. The speaker demanded the federal government or the PM office not pressurise the provincial government on the issue because “we will not allow any one to become the owner of our land”.

Bhootani appreciated the efforts made by the Balochistan CM, who intervened in the matter and stopped the summery. “I hope that the problem will be addressed amicably.”

Pakistan for sale

Daily Times

A bombshell by Balochistan Assembly speaker Mohammad Aslam Bhoothani was dropped on Friday that the office of the prime minister was ‘pushing’ to sell 70,000 acres of land in Balochistan. According to Mr Bhoothani and media reports, the Prime Minister’s House is pressurising the Balochistan government via the Revenue Department to quickly approve the summary for selling the land to Arab sheikhs.

Politicians or people in power in Pakistan have a history of selling national assets to foreign companies and countries for a quick buck. Gwadar Port and Reko Diq projects are the biggest examples. In the past, governments had turned a blind eye to the fate of children being smuggled to the Middle East as camel jockeys. We are still coming to terms with the decision of the Musharraf regime to ‘sell’ Pakistani nationals post-9/11. A few days ago, the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court prevented 53 falcons from being illegally exported to Qatar. Less than a week ago 28 hunting licences were granted to numerous Gulf States luminaries for the Houbara Bustard. The Houbara Bustard is listed as an endangered species by international conservation bodies. Pakistan is a country of contradictions. It is most evident in the difference between our dealings with the US and Arab countries. It is all right for the Arabs to buy vast patches of land and hunt wildlife that is protected in their own countries but it becomes a matter of national sovereignty when US planes enter Pakistani airspace.

When questioned what if the Arabs pay a good amount for the land, Mr Bhoothani was correct in asking: “Would the government sell the whole of Balochistan if some outsider paid a handsome amount?” Or as a matter of fact, the rest of the country? There is already great justifiable resentment in Balochistan, Sindh and southern Punjab towards the violations of human rights and exploitation of the people and natural resources of these regions by the federation and Punjab. That resentment is fuelled by actual or proposed transfers of land in thse regions to Arab moneybags.

The problem is much deeper in Pakistan. Money has become the be all and end all in Pakistani society. It no longer matters whether money is made by legal or illegal means. We need to wake up and realise that money is not everything. There are some things money cannot buy, such as self-respect and dignity — a lesson our leaders would do well to learn. *

Musharraf’s mumbo-jumbo

EDITORIAL: Daily Times

Former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf only opens his mouth to change feet. On a speaking tour of the US, Musharraf pronounced that “civilian governments [in Pakistan] have never performed”. He said that an elected government has to deliver to the people and to the state but “if that is not happening, that is the problem in Pakistan”. By dislodging Nawaz Sharif’s government in a military coup in 1999, Mr Musharraf remained in power for nine years. He then formed a quislings party, the PML-Q, to legitimise his military rule while continuing an elaborate pretence that a civilian government was in place. Musharraf should ask himself why his handpicked government was not able to ‘deliver’ or ‘perform’ when it was in power. The numerous crises that our country is facing today are mostly due to Musharraf’s policies. That said, Musharraf needs to familiarise himself with the historical perspective of why democratically elected governments in Pakistan have had a hard time performing their duties.

First, it must be said that making a sweeping statement about civilian governments having “never performed” in Pakistan’s history is factually incorrect. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s first term was marked with relative success. Even Ms Benazir Bhutto’s and Mian Nawaz Sharif’s respective two stints in power — though incomplete each time — were not without some pro-people policies and reforms. Secondly, Musharraf conveniently ignored the real cause of why civil governments have had a hard time performing to the best of their abilities. Pakistan has been ruled by military dictators for more than half of its history since it came into being in 1947. Even when no military ruler is in power, the real power lies with our security establishment. Then there is the problem of continuity. As soon as a democratically elected government comes into power, the undemocratic forces launch a defamation campaign against it. Most of the civilian government’s tenure is wasted in defending itself while the shadows lurking in the dark remain busy in hatching conspiracies to destabilise it further. Another factor in the underperformance of civilian governments is that our establishment controls the foreign and security policies — two of the most important policies for any government. When a government is not able to decide on important issues like its diplomatic ties and defence policies, how can we expect it to perform well? As if that is not enough, there is always the fear of another military coup. We have seen in the past how our army chiefs have unceremoniously and unconstitutionally removed civilian governments. In a country where civilians are subservient to the whims and wishes of the high and mighty military establishment, the chances of a civilian government delivering on its promises is perhaps expecting too much. Military rule is inherently bad. Development cannot take place in its truest sense unless democracy is allowed to take root in Pakistan.

It is ironic that a man who toppled a civilian government is now being so dismissive of democracy. Mr Musharraf not only needs to brush up on history but also needs to come out of his delusional world where everything is hunky-dory as long as he or his military compatriots are in power. The icing on the cake is that Mr Musharraf recently launched his own political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), in London. If he thinks that civilian governments are unable to deliver to the people, then why has he decided to enter politics as a ‘civilian’? General (retd) Musharraf should stick to delivering half-baked lectures all over the globe instead of trying his hand at politics.

Blast hits Peshawar, 3 injured

At least 3 people, including a policeman, were injured when a blast hit the Adezai area of Peshawar on Monday.

Initial reports suggest that the explosion occurred near the main market of Adezai in Peshawar. No causality was reported whereas 3 people were injured in the incident.

Police and rescue official immediately rushed to the site of blast and the area has been cordoned off following the attack. The injured have been shifted to the nearby hospital.

Security officials have started a probe into the nature of the blast which is yet to be determined.

Pakistan terrorists getting outside funding: Holbrooke

Terrorists in Pakistan are getting funding from outside the country, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke has said.

Sources of funding for terrorists come from outside the country as well as through extortion of NATO supply convoys, Holbrooke said at the Special Radio Roundtable discussion Sunday.

Without elaborating on the funding sources, he said he was aware of the sacrifices made by the Pakistan Army in the war against terror and that too in difficult terrain.

The army is battling heavily armed Taliban guerrillas in the rugged mountainous Waziristan region. The fight against terror has been a challenge for the army as the militants are well-entrenched.

Holbrooke, who is here to represent the US at the Pakistan Development Forum, said this was a serious issue and they were working to address it. The forum is an international consortium that provides economic aid to Pakistan.

The US has provided billions in assistance to help Pakistan cope with the aftermath of the recent floods, Daily Times quoted Holbrooke as saying.

Pakistan was one of the most under-taxed countries in the world, the US envoy said. He added that it was the obligation of the rich to contribute from their income for the welfare of the people and mitigate the sufferings of people in distress.

Pakistan warned, Reform or risk aid

Britain has warned Pakistan that its failure to reform its corrupt and wasteful government has put in jeopardy its chances of emerging as the biggest recipient of British foreign aid. Foreign aid donations to Pakistan have fallen far short of a UN target over corruption fears. The country's officials have rebuffed efforts to ensure aid spending on recovery from the devastating floods it suffered in August is not tainted by corruption.

A row over Pakistan's demands that aid payments are handed over to the government in cash is threating to derail efforts to raise billions of pounds to rebuild schools, roads, power plants and homes.

Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, is attending the Pakistan Development Forum in Islamabad on Monday and will demand four sweeping reforms across four sectors in return for continued growth in British aid payment.
Britain stands ready to increase its support to Pakistan as part of the aid review but this will be dependent on a commitment to put in place much-needed reforms," he said. "If Pakistan takes this opportunity to grasp the nettle of reform as it is starting to do, then it has the chance to come back stronger."

But Pakistani officials rejected out of hand efforts by foreign countries to impose conditions on how it spends aid. "That is not acceptable," said Salman Siddique, the Finance Secretary.

Mr Siddique said that Pakistan had already submitted a bill to introduce a VAT for the first time and had imposed a 10 per cent flood tax on the incomes of the wealthy. But even after the measures, Pakistan has one of the world's lowest tax takes at just 10 per cent of GDP.

Mr Mitchell is to demand a root and branch overhaul of the tax system, an overhaul of government spending to eliminate waste, a "transparent" system to dispense rebuilding aid free from political interference and a campaign to drive out corrupt officials.

Without a plan to radically shake up the bureaucracy, Pakistan is facing a humiliating blow to its efforts to finance the reconstruction of the flood ravaged economy.

Almost 2,000 people died and extensive damage was caused across a swathe of territory the size of England. A World Bank report said that $9.7 billion (£6 billion) worth of damage was caused as 20 million people lost their homes and their livelihood.

Aid agencies said there was a danger that a stand-off over reforms would harm the victims of the floods. "It is very important we don't play politics with people's lives," said Shaheen Chughtai, an Oxfam adviser. "Overall the majority of aid in Pakistan goes to the people who need it. We can be ambitious by making an investment in rebuilding now that ensures Pakistan is better able to withstand the next disaster."

The United Nations however only received $800 million of the $2 billion, the biggest appeal in its history, it called for to provide immediate relief.

It is expected to encounter even less enthusiasm as it appeals for billions today and tomorrow at the Pakistan Development forum.

''Price of Peace''...20 F-35 stealth jets to bribe Israel?