Tuesday, February 13, 2018

#happyvalentinesday2018 - Afshan Zebi - Lokan do do yaar banaye

Documentary on Dr Abdus Salam screened at Mumbai International Film Festival

By Mayank Chhaya 

The baffling and paradoxical life of Dr. Abdus Salam, the first Pakistani and Muslim to win a Nobel Prize for Physics, is a subject of a compelling documentary by New York-based Indian American filmmaker Anand Kamalakar.

Salam (1926-1996) is a dichotomous figure in the world of science. He once said: “I would never have started to work on the subject (physics) if I was not a Muslim.” Yet, in his lifetime, not only was he shunned by Pakistan, the place of his birth, because he belonged to the outlawed Ahmadiyya sect, but had the misfortune of standing up for science in a country that had no particular interest in it.

He received his Ph.D in quantum electrodynamics at 24 and went on to do pioneering work in physics. It was only because of Pakistan’s strategic interest in developing nuclear weapons, in whose early development Dr. Salam played a crucial role, that he had a brief period of official patronage.

The documentary ‘Salam’ — produced by Omar Vandal, a doctorate in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenes, and Zakir Thaver, a science/education media producer — was screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival on January 29. Kamalakar answered email questions from IANS. Excerpts:

Q: What prompted you to chronicle the life of Dr. Abdus Salam?

A: The producers Zakir and Omar have always been troubled by the fact that Abdus Salam was not given his rightful place in Pakistan’s history because of his religious beliefs. They have been attempting to make a film to shine a light on his illustrious career since their youth. After almost 10 years of collecting archival material � they approached me through an acquaintance and I was taken by their commitment and the layered story of Salam.

Q: When did you discover that science, particularly physics, and Islam were not necessarily adversarial in Dr. Salam’s estimation but, in fact, complementary?

A: I discovered this while viewing the archival interviews. This aspect always fascinated me about his story. Salam went through a complicated evolution on this subject. We have tried to reveal the best we can on where he stood on this at various stages in his life. He was contradictory and controversial on this subject at many stages in his life.

Q: I ask specifically because that is at the core of his ironic and even somewhat tragic life. Here was a man who considered himself devout Muslim and precisely for that reason, chose to pursue physics, but his own country and culture, revolving around Islam, rejected him so thoroughly. How did you approach that strange dichotomy?

A: This aspect is what drew me to make this film. How did Salam reconcile working in an area of physics, which essentially attempts to prove the absence of god, and here he is, a devout Muslim who attributes his talents to his belief in Islam and god� In this sense, Salam was a bit ambivalent but found a way to rationalise this approach. We reveal this duality in many instances in the film� But we wanted to respect his position and give it credence as he was able to walk that line and be a man of science and religion at the same time.

Q: Were you surprised to discover that he saw no contradiction between a pure physicist and a devout Muslim?

A: More than surprised I was fascinated. One of the reasons the producers and I found common ground is because we are all rationalists. We subscribe to the logic of science more than anything. So when we found that Salam saw no contradiction but in fact believed that the religious text in fact encouraged science and informed his explorations, and reality did not reflect that, it was an intriguing area to explore, especially in a time when Islam is often viewed as a regressive religion in the mainstream.

Q: Since you were dealing with a very sensitive theme, what kind of challenges did you face in obtaining archival audio-visual material as well as interviews?

A: We really did not face any great difficulty in procuring archival material as such. We did face difficulty though in interviewing people with the extreme point of view on the Ahmadi issue. We ended up using clips from YouTube to show the extremist view. I was denied a visa to visit Lahore. I had to hire a cameraman there and manage the shoot remotely. We never received a clear answer why I was denied a visa, even though I am a US citizen. We concluded probably because this issue is still controversial there and I am of Indian origin.

Q: Have you been able to resolve the extent of Salam’s involvement in Pakistan’s nuclear bomb? Journalist and author Tariq Ali says it is not clear whether Salam was involved in Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. Both sides — the Ahmadiyya and the Pakistan establishment — have their own reasons to deny it.

A: I think this is answered in the film quite succinctly. He definitely was involved in the initial stages but then changed his mind.

Q: In the light of the way Salam was treated how do you think it impacted the future of science in Pakistan?

A: We address this is in the film with great emphasis. I think this is the greatest tragedy of his life. The younger generation of Pakistan has suffered the most and science in general has taken a back seat as a result of Salam being exiled. The casualty of any kind of intolerance towards knowledge, intelligence and brilliance are the young. Pakistan has suffered irreparable damage by distancing Salam and his legacy. At its core, this is what the message of our film is. Any kind of intolerance is damaging to the human spirit and soul.


Video Report - #Afghanistan - No Change in Pakistan’s Anti-Terror Policy

په پاکستان کې د افغان کډوالو ژوند

#AsmaJahangir - #Pakistan - Calling a spade a spade: Asma Jahangir’s bold stance on Balochistan

By Malik Siraj Akbar
On Asma Jahangir’s death, the former Balochistan chief minister, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, tweeted: “Balochistan is forever in your debt.”
His remarks echoed the broader sentiments of the people of Balochistan who widely treated the iconic human rights defender as their champion and dependable spokesperson at the national level.
Besides her tremendous work in all areas of human rights, one of Asma’s most outstanding contributions was her persistent effort to encourage all sides in the Balochistan conflict to de-escalate tensions, provide space for confidence-building measures and find a peaceful resolution.
This engagement earned her the status of a nonpartisan investigator and a uniquely qualified negotiator.
The Baloch people admired her for courageously calling a spade a spade while people elsewhere in Pakistan trusted her as a credible source who tried her best to accurately describe the situation by risking her own life by often traveling to some dangerous parts of the province.
Speaking up to power on Balochistan has always required enormous courage and has come with official reprisal. She put herself forward; spoke the truth by confronting powerful elements in the government who often disputed her position.
When tensions between the military regime under General Musharraf and the Baloch nationalists escalated, triggering a standoff between the chief of the Bugti tribe, Nawab Akbar Bugti, and the army, Asma led a fact-finding mission of the Human Right Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) to Balochistan in 2005-06.
The fact that government entities and disgruntled opposition parties agreed to talk to her during an extremely charged situation reflected the overwhelming informal authority and trust she enjoyed.
The mission met with aggrieved stakeholders, spoke to senior government and military officers and called upon “all parties engaged in the conflict to give up violence, and open dialogue on the issues of the province.”
HRCP’s Human Rights Violations: Conflict in Balochistan report included shocking revelations about cases of missing persons, torture, and other prevalent grievances of the people of Balochistan. The report talked about the development of the Gwadar Port, the controversy surrounding it, and demands of the local population seeking inclusion and representation in the mega projects. Asma kept on visiting Balochistan from time to time, continuing to listen to the perspectives of the local people, and also producing neutral and professionally researched reports about the causes and implications of the unrest in Balochistan. In 2009, she spent another week in Balochistan speaking to all stakeholders, ranging from the Baloch nationalists to senior government officials. She seemed upset and agitated over the unchanged situation and continued human rights violations in the province despite the installation of a new democratic government led by the Pakistan People’s Party.
“It is still the military that calls the shots in Balochistan,” she had said at a press conference in Quetta. “The decision-making is firmly in the hands of elements that were in command before February 2008. The provincial government is dysfunctional in critical areas.”
She also noted that enforced disappearances continued under the PPP government as well.
“If Balochistan is not demilitarised and confidence building measures are not taken,” she warned, “the country may dearly regret the consequences.”
She was apparently upset with and critical of the military’s handling of Balochistan. It is not as if other politicians and journalists did not know what was going on there; it just required Asma’s level of courage to publicly call out the powerful that misuse their official authority.
In one widely circulated clip from a show on a private news channel, she berated the military leadership for its authoritarian policy in Balochistan.
Putting things in perspective, she explained that the people of Balochistan had stood up for their rights because Islamabad treated the region as a colony, extracted its mineral resources without sharing the benefits with the local people, and, on top of that, illegally picked up Baloch activists and tortured them in official custody. “Why should the Baloch feel obligated to stay with us when we don’t treat them as equal citizens and keep referring to them as anti-national and traitors?” she had questioned during the show. Asma regretted that we learned no lessons from the East Pakistan debacle and were repeating the old mistakes in Balochistan when military force is being used to address a political crisis.
She pointed out that in Balochistan, the establishment was busy pitting one tribe against the other, taking away the province’s resources and then employing violence against the local people to silence them.
“After all, Balochistan is not our colony,” she reminded us. “We must treat them with respect.”
When she visited Balochistan again in 2013 on yet another HRCP mission and produced the report Balochistan: Giving the People a Chance, she was further perturbed over the status quo.
She noted that not much had changed in spite of devolution of power to the provinces under the 18th Amendment.
This time the inspector general of the Frontier Corps, seemingly upset with her public stance on Balochistan, did not meet with the HRCP delegation despite repeated requests. Asma reminded that the government had entirely disregarded HRCP’s earlier recommendations meant to provide guidelines to all parties to end the conflict.
She cited the issue of disappearances as one of the significant factors that fueled resentment in Balochistan and also singled out different state actors for acting beyond their constitutional mandate while operating in the country’s largest province.
With Asma’s death, Balochistan has lost a true friend, a regular visitor and a vocal defender of people’s rights.
Her departure takes away a national icon who cared for the democratic rights of the smaller provinces.
She served as an interlocutor between the rest of the country and those living in the periphery and complaining about their constitutional rights not being sufficiently protected.
Although Asma did not live to see a permanent peaceful solution to the ongoing Balochistan conflict, she left an impeccable legacy that teaches us about the power of compassion, travel and dialogue while dealing with underrepresented communities.

Pakistan still not cracking down on militants, US intel chief says

By Nicole Gaouette

Pakistan is holding back on cooperation with the US while failing to take tougher action against militant groups, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers Tuesday.
Instead, he said, it's only trying to appear tougher.
"Ongoing Pakistani military operations against the Taliban and associated groups probably reflect the desire to appear more proactive and responsive to our requests for more actions against these groups," Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee during a hearing about worldwide threats.
But, Coats added crucially, the actions Pakistan has taken to date "do not reflect a significant escalation of pressure against these groups and are unlikely to have a lasting effect."
    Coats also told the committee that intelligence agencies believe Islamabad isn't likely to change its behavior soon -- continuing to slow walk cooperation with the US, while maintaining ties with the Taliban and the Haqqani network.
    Pakistan "will maintain ties to these militants while restricting counter terrorism cooperation with the United States," Coats said.
    President Donald Trump has very publicly emphasized US concern about Pakistan's reliability and integrity. His first tweet of 2018 put Islamabad in the crosshairs for its "lies and deceit."
    "The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools," Trump tweeted on January 1. "They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!"
    The online blast previewed a January 8 announcement that the US would freeze security assistance to Pakistan -- close to $1 billion -- over its failure to clamp down on terror groups within its borders.
    The Treasury Department on January 26 announced terror designations on members of the Taliban, the Haqqani Group and other groups, in an effort to boost pressure on the militants' abilities to operate. The designations "highlight, once again, the importance of Pakistan as a safe haven for the Taliban's senior leadership," according to Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He noted that five of the six men listed have been based in Pakistan.

    Exclusive: U.S. pushes motion to put Pakistan on global terrorist - financing watchlist

    By Drazen Jorgic, Asif Shahzad
    The United States has put forward a motion to place Pakistan on a global terrorist-financing watchlist with an anti-money-laundering monitoring group, according to a senior Pakistani official.
    Pakistan has been scrambling in recent months to avert being added to a list of countries deemed non-compliant with terrorist financing regulations by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a measure that officials fear could hurt its economy.
    The United States has been threatening to get tough with Islamabad over its alleged ties with Islamist militants, and last month President Donald Trump’s administration suspended aid worth about $2 billion.
    Islamabad, which denies assisting militants in Afghanistan and India, has reacted angrily to U.S. threats of further punitive measures.
    A meeting of FATF member states is due to take place next week in Paris, where the organization could adopt the motion on Pakistan. The FATF, an intergovernmental body based in Paris, sets global standards for fighting illicit finance.
    Pakistan’s de facto finance minister, Miftah Ismail, told Reuters that the United States and Britain put forward the motion several weeks ago, and later persuaded France and Germany to co-sponsor it.
    “We are now working with the U.S., UK, Germany and France for the nomination to be withdrawn,” Ismail said, speaking by telephone from Europe. “We are also quite hopeful that even if the U.S. did not withdraw the nomination that we will prevail and not be put on the watchlist.”
    Pakistan had been on the FATF watchlist from 2012 to 2015.
    A senior U.S. official who follows U.S. policy in the region said Pakistan has “always been selective” in cracking down on militants who use its territory as a base.
    “It is time for that to stop, and so we are working with our allies, who also are affected, to see effective action against groups such as the Haqqanis and elements of the Taliban,” said the official, referring to militants operating along the border with Afghanistan.
    The FATF had previously warned Islamabad it could be put back on the watchlist without further efforts to crack down on the flow of funds to militants.
    Pakistani officials and Western diplomats say that being put on the FATF watchlist could deal a blow to Pakistan’s economy as it would make it harder for foreign investors and companies to do business in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.
    “If you’re put on a terror watchlist, you’re made to go through all the (extra) scrutiny,” Pakistan’s former counterterrorism chief, Khawaja Khalid Farooq, told Reuters. “It can hurt the economy very badly.” Officials also fear it would be harder and more expensive for Pakistan to borrow money from international debt markets if it was put on the FATF monitoring list.
    Ismail said the FATF motion focused on Hafiz Saeed, a Pakistan-based Islamist whom India accuses of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. That suggested the United States had put forward the motion at India’s behest, he said. A spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said the United States was “absolutely not” acting on behalf of India.
    State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said ”the U.S. has consistently expressed our long-standing concern about ongoing deficiencies in Pakistan’s implementation of its anti-money laundering/counterterrorism finance regime.
    “In addition to broader systemic concerns, this also includes Pakistan’s non-compliance with its commitments under UN Security Council Resolution 1267,” she added. Resolution 1267 requires all states to freeze the assets of people and organizations on a list established by the resolution, including Saeed and his “Islamic charities.” Washington has designated Saeed a terrorist.
    Saeed has repeatedly denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks and says the charitable organizations he founded and controls have no ties with militants. On Monday, Pakistan announced it had amended its anti-terrorism law to ban militant groups and organizations that are listed as “terrorists” by the United Nations, a move seen to be targeting those charities.
    Pakistan’s attorney general, Ashtar Ausaf, told Reuters the law changes approved by the country’s president were meant to reflect obligations under the U.N. Security Council charter.
    “We have to march with the changing times,” Ausaf said, adding that the new laws would enable the government to track fundraising activities of all the U.N.-proscribed groups and take punitive action such as freezing their assets.
    In December, Pakistan’s government drew up plans to seize control of Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation charities. Critics say previous such efforts have faded once pressure on Pakistan eased.
    Washington and the U.N. say JuD and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation are a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group, which Saeed founded in 1987.
    Ismail said Pakistan had already taken over some parts of Saeed’s organizations and that he believed other FATF nations would recognize Pakistan had made serious efforts to deal with militant financing. He added that moves to put Islamabad on the FATF watchlist were counter-productive when Pakistan was already undergoing “mutual evaluation” by experts from other countries, who are measuring progress in curbing illicit fund flows.
    “It’s a very intrusive process and...we are happy to work with them, but while we are being given mutual evaluation, it makes no sense for us to be now put on the watchlist,” Ismail said.

    #AsmaJahangir - US expresses grief at demise of Asma Jahangir

    The US State Department on Tuesday expressed grief at the demise of Pakistan’s eminent human rights campaigner Asma Jahangir.
    Asma Jahangir died of cardiac arrest in Lahore on Sunday at the age of 66.
    “We join Pakistan and others around the world in mourning the untimely death of Pakistani human rights and democracy advocate, Asma Jahangir,” a statement by the US State Department said.
    “For years, she courageously defended the rights of those who did not have a voice, and championed the rule of law, democracy, and human rights including freedom of religion or belief.”
    “Her work in Pakistan, including as a founder and chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, and with the United Nations and groups such as the International Crisis Group and the South Asia Forum for Human Rights, made her a global icon in human rights.
    “Most recently she served as the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, tirelessly fighting on behalf of the Iranian people as they demanded freedom, dignity, and respect for human rights.
    “As the third UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, she improved the world’s understanding of the plight of religious minorities worldwide through her in-depth research and sustained engagements and fought for the protection of the persecuted.
    “Her death is a great loss to the world and she will be missed as a champion of her country, its people, and the millions more around the world on whose behalf she spoke.”

    #AsmaJahangir - ‘An indomitable will’ – why Asma Jahangir was Pakistan’s social conscience

    Moni Mohsin
    The formidable human rights lawyer and activist died on Sunday having spent her life fighting against religious extremism and for the rights of women and oppressed minorities.
    She stood a smidgen over 5ft and had fine, delicate bones. But the bird-like frame contained a courageous heart, an indomitable will and an unflagging social conscience. The death of Asma Jahangir, the Pakistani activist, lawyer and human rights campaigner who passed away on Sunday after suffering a cardiac arrest at her home in Lahore, has left a nation reeling with a profound sense of loss.
    Looking through social media I am not surprised by the number of tributes to her, but by the fact that they come from her detractors as well as her supporters. The conservatives who branded her a traitor until last week are now acknowledging her courage. Whether that is out of political expediency or genuine feeling I cannot say. But for the besieged liberal community and the religious minorities of Pakistan, she was indispensable. When plainclothes security men barrelled into my sister’s home one night in 1999, dragging away my journalist brother-in-law at gunpoint, the first person she called was Asma. That’s how it was. If you wanted someone in your corner, you called Asma. And she would respond at once.
    When I heard the news of her death, my first thought, regrettably, was for myself: “Who will have our backs now?” I was not the only one. A legal watchdog and a political fighter, Jahangir patrolled the rights of secular liberals, religious minorities, the politically disenfranchised, wronged women, abused children; she even fought for the constitutional rights of the very same religious extremists and hard-right nationalists who would have had her silenced.
    Jahangir was six years old when her politician father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, opposed Ayub Khan’s martial law in 1958. In 1971, when her father was arrested by another military dictator, Yahya Khan, the teenage girl filed a petition for his release in the Lahore high court: Asma Jilani v the government of the Punjab.
    “Courts were not new to me,” she joked with her customary levity. “Even before his detention, my father was fighting many cases. He remained in jail in Multan. He remained in jail in Bannu. But we were not allowed to go see him there. We always saw him in courts. So for me, the courts were a place where you dressed up to see your father. It had a very nice feeling to it.” The Lahore high court dismissed her petition. Undaunted, Jahangir appealed to the supreme court. In 1972, after Khan’s dictatorship had ended, the court decided it had been illegal and declared him a usurper. Jahangir had won her first case.
    She began her legal career as a family lawyer. In 1980, along with her sister Hina Jilani and two friends, she set up a firm specialising in divorce, maintenance payments and custodial cases. It was her work with women that brought her to politics. She realised early on that while it was important to fight for oppressed individuals, what was needed was institutional reform and societal change. So when Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s third military dictator, amended the constitution to discriminate against women and religious minorities under the guise of an Islamising agenda, Jahangir publicly challenged his ordinance, questioning its moral underpinnings. He was a brutal dictator with a taste for public floggings who responded by slapping a blasphemy case against her, yet she did not shy away from the fight. Many years later, she wrote: “We may fight terrorism through brute force, but the terror that is unleashed in the name of religion can only be challenged through moral courage.”
    She was never lacking in that moral courage. Or in the energy required to pursue the goals she set herself. The list of her accomplishments goes on and on. A founder member of Women’s Action Forum and of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; a long-serving UN special rapporteur on human rights; the first woman president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. She opened the first legal aid centre and refuge for battered women in Pakistan. She took on cases that nobody else would touch. She fought for poor Christians accused of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death, but which also put their defenders at risk of assassination at the hands of religious fanatics. In representing bonded labourers, she fought against institutionalised slavery, and in speaking for girls who wanted to marry of their own choice, took on centuries of misogynistic custom, earning the wrath of mullahs, urbane senators and tribal leaders alike.
    What rattled her nationalist detractors the most was her consistent critique of human rights abuses in Pakistan. They labelled her a traitor and accused her of being an Indian spy or an American agent. Why couldn’t she highlight similar abuses in other countries? Why must she spread negative propaganda against Pakistan? The fact was that she did call out human rights abuses wherever she found them. She alerted the world to the plight of the Rohingyas, the Palestinians and the Kashmiris, but she was most exercised by atrocities at home. As she said in one interview: “I think it sounds very hollow if I keep talking about the rights of Kashmiris, but do not talk about the rights of a woman in Lahore who is battered to death.”
    Jahangir fought on many fronts, but perhaps her greatest ire was reserved for religious extremists and military dictators. She lampooned mullahs mercilessly, mocking their frizzy beards and fuzzy thinking. When other activists called out the ISI, Pakistan’s feared intelligence service, they did so cautiously, referring to it as “the deep state”, “the establishment” or “the powers that be”, knowing what every schoolchild in Pakistan knows: forced disappearances are a fact of life. But Jahangir alone had the courage to go on live television and say: “These duffers, these duffer generals ... need to return to their barracks and stay there.” Her commitment to democracy was unwavering. She knew that however corrupt, venal or inefficient civilian leaders might be, they were always preferable to military dictators. “However flawed democracy is,” she told the New Yorker, “it is still the only answer.” Activism such as hers did not come without a price. She had stints in jail, was placed under house arrest and was beaten when she took part in rallies. The rightwing media waged a vicious personal campaign against her, impugning her integrity and her faith. On social media she was trolled endlessly, with threats of sexual violence directed not just at her but her daughters. Her life was always in danger. She was the target not just of religious extremists, but the ISI and, at times, even her political opponents, who hated her persistence.
    But while others in her place might have lain low for a while or quietly left the country for a spot of “family time”, Jahangir’s response was to go on the front foot. In 2012, she publicly accused intelligence and security agencies of trying to kill her and in so doing turned the spotlight on them. If there was one thing that made her anxious, it was the safety of her three children, whom she eventually sent abroad. But for herself, there was no question of going anywhere. She stayed in Lahore right till the very end, fighting the good fight.

    No one should expect Pakistan to sever ties with China, Iran: Bilawal Bhutto

    • Bilawal urges US, NATO to admit failures in Afghanistan

    Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that they wanted good relations with all countries especially with the neighbours and that no one should expect Pakistan to sever ties with China and Iran.
    He said this during an interview with the Russian media in Washington. Bilawal said that the war in Afghanistan is being stretched too far and the United States (US) has forgotten for what reasons and purpose it had come to the Afghan land.
    “More than 75 percent area in Afghanistan is witnessing terror attacks while the militants control over 45 percent of the Afghan land,” he said, adding that Pakistan wanted peace in Afghanistan but the peace process should be led by the Afghan people.
    He said that the US and NATO had failed in Afghanistan and both should admit their failures and devise the future strategy to deal with the situation.
    Responding to query regarding Arab spring movements Bilawal said that these movements have restored democracy and appeased the western world. He, however, said that it is the right of the people of a country to decide their fate including those in Syria.
    Bilawal said that Pakistan and Russia are coming closer to each other and PPP wants their relationship to be based on respect and equality.