Thursday, January 10, 2008

Urgent - Blood required for blast victims

There was a bomb blast outside the Lahore high court today. Blood is needed for the injured. Most have been taken to Mayo hospital.
All those interested in donating blood - please contact - Zainab - 0334-4009309.
Also, all of those who can, please visit the wounded, who are at Mayo and Services Hospital, Lahore.
Will send out more details as they come in.

UPDATE - 56 injured in Mayo hosp, 8 in Services hosp, 6 in Ganga Ram. Blood required in Services hospital.

Suicide attack outside Lahore High Court

A suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday among police deployed in front of the Lahore High Court ahead of a planned protest by lawyers, killing at least 22 people and wounding dozens more, officials and witnesses said. A press photographer said he saw more than 25 dead and wounded people, including police and civilians. Lahore chief of police operations Aftab Cheema said the bomber arrived on a motorbike, parked it near the police guards before running up to the barrier they were manning and blew himself up. He said 19 policemen and one civilian were killed. Another police official said more than 50 others were wounded, including passersby.

PHR Demands United Nations Investigation into Murder of Benazir Bhutto

WASHINGTON DC, USA, 7 January 2008 ( - Physicians forHuman Rights (PHR) called today for a credible and independent investigation by the United Nations into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto - the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Opposition leader and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) ex-Chairwoman - killed on Thursday, 27 December 2007 in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, including disturbing allegations of intimidation and harassment of doctors involved in the case.
PHR urged Pakistan to invite the UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions to investigate these reports, and monitor the Pakistani and UK (Scotland Yard Police) governments' investigation of Bhutto's killing. Additionally, PHR called on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to ensure that the overall investigation into Bhutto's death is independently monitored and reviewed. If the Special Rapporteur is not invited by Pakistan to observe the inquiry, the UNSC must take other, appropriate actions to ensure that an independent investigation is made of the murder, that all forensic data is handled and preserved properly, and that all the perpetrators are brought to justice.
"There must be a credible and independent UN investigation of the Bhutto case, including whether health professionals involved have been intimidated or coerced by the Pakistani government," stated Frank Donaghue, Chief Executive Officer of PHR. "Protecting the medical independence and neutrality of all health professionals is essential for determining the facts of what happened to the former Prime Minister."
Press reports have said that doctors who tried to treat Bhutto and examined her body soon after her death had been under intense pressureto keep their findings quiet. Some of the doctors have reportedly gone into hiding. The UN Special Rapporteur should determine whether health professionals were coerced or intimidated, medical records were changed or destroyed and whether any other evidence or witnesses have been tampered with. The UN Special Rapporteur should also be allowed to freely monitor the overall investigation into Bhutto's death by the Pakistani Government of Pervez Musharraf and he should make his findings public.
"The UN Security Council must ensure that the overall investigation into Bhutto's assassination is independently monitored and that all evidence is reviewed and made public by outside investigators," stated Donaghue. "Given the far-reaching implications of Bhutto's death for Pakistan and for the [South Asian] region, the UN must act to make sure that there is no interference, nor perception of interference, in the ongoing inquiry."
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) mobilizes the health professions to advance the health and dignity of all people by protecting human rights. As a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Dirty Tricks Brigade

By Beena Sarwar
(Courtesy DAWN)
IMMEDIATELY following Benazir Bhutto’s tragic assassination on Dec 27, speculation began on who would head the party. There was barely time to grieve.

Pressures on the party leadership included insistent questioning by journalists, particularly the insatiable 24/7 broadcast media, the forthcoming elections then barely two weeks away, and crucially, the disinformation campaign started by the dirty tricks brigade that is always quick to swing into action.

Some journalists pushed the Fatima Bhutto versus Bilawal Zardari angle. Others pounced on the even younger Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (“Junior”) as the probable head of the party. Some rushed for quotable quotes to Benazir’s disgruntled uncle, Mumtaz Bhutto, known for his running feud with her. Hard-headed reporters, noses to the ground, understood the popular sentiment of the party — whoever next headed the PPP had to be a Bhutto. At the funeral, party workers raised slogans for Sanam Bhutto, Benazir’s last remaining sibling, to lead the party despite Sanam’s clear disinterest in these matters.

Cyberspace and drawing-room chatter, meanwhile, buzzed with the hopeful comments of the intellectual elite in Pakistan and abroad. ‘Civil society’ was excited at the prospect of the PPP finally ‘democratising’ — perhaps now a non-Bhutto would head the party. Perhaps now they would hold intra-party elections. Perhaps now some respected leader like Makhdoom Amin Fahim or, even better, Aitzaz Ahsan would be asked to don the mantle.

Not surprisingly, this well-meaning debate primarily took place among elitist groups who are not party members, and who reviled the PPP for its insistence on electoral politics. The polls boycott lobby held that participating in elections would ‘legitimise’ the Musharraf regime. The boycott move is believed to have originated with the dirty tricks brigade, known for its tactic of initiating “a cute slogan that raises an emotive response” as one political activist put it. Besides the fact that the president in any case claims legitimacy, they were unable to answer the question Benazir Bhutto had raised when pressurised to boycott: “Boycott, and then what?”

These people had also rejected, even vilified, Ms Bhutto for her ‘deal’ with President Gen (as he was then) Musharraf. She saw no way to proceed except through politics and defended herself in an email of Dec 3, 2007, made public after her death: “I still remain committed to the freedom and vitality of democracy, as [sic] the great Quaid-i-Awam had dreamt of. Yes, it is true that you have to deal sometimes with the Devil if you can’t face it, but everything is a means to an end.”

The dirty tricks brigade was quick to capitalise on the elite indignation when the PPP ended speculation with the announcement that Benazir Bhutto had left a will nominating as the party head her husband Asif Ali Zardari, the much maligned ‘Mr 10 per cent’ (a term known to have been coined by the dirty tricks brigade, although there is no shortage of contenders for such labels). There was further indignation at dynastic politics when Zardari was smart enough to pass the PPP’s leadership mantle on to 19-year-old Bilawal.

Why could the party not rise above negative traditions and do the ‘right’ thing? Perhaps its leaders felt constrained by their constituency — which is not the intellectual elite. This constituency of PPP workers was on the whole relieved at the quick decisions announced at the soyem (all of which, incidentally, counter the patriarchal model): Bilawal made the party’s symbolic head; Benazir and Zardari’s children taking on the Bhutto name; Benazir buried by her father’s grave as she had wished; her husband’s stated desire to also be buried there rather than at his own ancestral graveyard. Whatever the motivations behind these steps, their symbolism in perpetuating the ‘Bhutto factor’ and satiating the desire to atone for the martyrdom cannot be underrated.

The dirty tricks brigade, whose efforts to rig the elections Ms Bhutto had been about to reveal, continued undeterred. By Jan 1, in tactics reminiscent of the whispering campaign started against Benazir herself after Murtaza’s murder, a message was being circulated via SMS and on the internet implying that Asif Zardari was behind his wife’s death as the chief beneficiary — “all wealths [sic] of hers and her political power is now in Zardari’s hands”.

The unsigned message demanded that he be interrogated along with Rehman Malik “who used to manage Benazir [sic] foreign investment portfolio”. Those close to Benazir Bhutto scoff at these allegations, noting that she was too intelligent a woman to leave her “wealths” accessible to anyone other than her children.

On Jan 2, an Urdu newspaper in Karachi distributed free supplements with the (false) report that Fatima Bhutto had announced herself as the ‘real Bhutto’, suggesting that she should be leading the party. Such attempts to fan discord are of course not limited to Pakistan. PTI leader Imran Khan’s ex-wife Jemima Khan, who has developed into a political analyst since returning to the UK, wrote in the Telegraph, “If a Bhutto must run Pakistan, why not Fatima?”

Is Bilawal about to run the country? Aren’t there other more important issues at hand than who heads the PPP? Fatima Bhutto doesn’t even belong to the party. Neither does Ms Khan, although this hasn’t stopped her or others from nominating its leadership. Such presumption when it comes to the PPP is in sharp contrast to the restraint regarding other political parties.

Such efforts to deepen existing rifts are not just dishonest but downright dangerous at this point. The establishment delayed the elections that were to have been held on Jan 8 without taking the major opposition parties into confidence. The interim provides an opportunity for them to further target and weaken the opposition.

Already stunned at the loss of their leader, the PPP is now reeling from the registration of tens of thousands of FIRs against its workers. Its electoral candidates face charges that include attempted murder. All this only contributes towards the existing uncertainty and may generate more violence that could provide the establishment a pretext to further postpone elections. This must not be allowed to happen.

Although some go as far as to say that character assassination is the first step towards physical assassination, it is clear that political engagement and organisation are necessary for change. Those who vilified Ms Bhutto for pursuing these politics are now making her into an icon while continuing to vilify her party. It is time to make some choices: continue perpetuating the vilification campaign or focus on the more fundamental issue of taking politics in Pakistan beyond military interference.

The writer is a journalist and documentary film-maker based in Karachi.

Democratic and Political spaces

by S. Akbar Zaidi
(Courtesy DAWN)

Those of us who were hoping that political parties would take a principled stand and boycott a sham structure and system which merely legitimises and endorses President Musharraf's political arrangement were called naïve, or worse, once the main political parties decided to participate in the 2008 elections.

Questions were raised about issues relating to individual and public or political morality, where a number of people argued that while it was acceptable as individuals to take certain principled positions privately, in politics the game is not so much about such individual dilemmas but about opportunities. The arguments stated that political actors are in the game to achieve political power, and their morality or principles should not be constrained by that goal. Hence, when they have the opportunity to acquire power, their principles could be set aside.

In any other language such behaviour would be called the crassest form of opportunism, but in the language of politics it is known as tactics. The argument goes that rather than hold on to some principled stand and sit on the sidelines and watch the political process unfold, political actors are better off if they protest,yet accept and play by the rules of the game, for they would otherwise be completely marginalised in the process which they are hoping to influence. If the opportunity to influence the larger political process arises, whether through collaboration, collusion or compromise, political actors are required to be political rather than moralists.
This politics of opportunism based on collaboration, or these so-called political tactics, deserves far greater scrutiny in our public discourse than it has received. If politics is to be devoid of principles and determined merely by the possibility of opportunity, then the political stand of some actors against military intervention, or in defence of a persecuted judiciary or a hounded media, must be quickly dismissed as mere adventurism. However, even political parties sitting on the fence waiting for their collaborative opportunity would have a problem in dismissing such principled political activism asnaïve, for perhaps the same political parties are the greatest beneficiaries of such principled activism.

Let us set aside this complicated problem of the relationship between individual morality and political praxis for a moment, and proceed with a discussion on the difference between the praxis of politics and the practice of democratic politics. This might sound like a trivial difference, but the arguments of morality and the real-life politics of much of the last twelve months allow us to make a marked distinction between the two. Importantly, one must emphasise the point that while political actors and democratic actors are two different entities, which often overlap, they are mutually dependent on each other, linked and influencing one another.

The military in Pakistan is the most important political actor in Pakistan, and is obviously an undemocratic one. No problem distinguishing between politics and democracy here. Because of the power of the barrel of many guns, it has been the most dominant institution in the country for some decades now, and since 1999 has been judge, jury, arbitrator and prosecutor in Pakistan's mainstream political process. Individuals from the military have determined and set the rules of all the games related to politics, and whatever politics thathas been played in Pakistan has taken place under those rules.

By accepting the political rules of the military, one can no longer call the process, nor those who collaborate with the military, democratic. Political, certainly, but not democratic.

Yet, importantly, one must also add that the circumstances, even of a praetorian system in which some representation and participation takes place, expand both political and democratic spaces.

Political parties and other actors who claim some democratic licence, lose that license and their credibility when they collaborate with a military regime, whatever justification they conjure up, even though their collaborationist action unintentionally creates democratic spaces. In fact, and ironically, while individual decisions(morality?) of collaboration lead to the compromise of their democratic principles, the unintended consequences do create democratic spaces.

The support for Chief Executive Musharraf in 1999 by civil society actors is one example when many champions of democracy, for personal and selfish reasons, gave up their democratic license to have perhaps their only opportunity to participate in a political process, although in this case their politics did not open the way for democracy.

On the other hand, political decisions, like the Nov 3 martial law and the earlier clampdown on the judiciary and continued pressure and arm-twisting of the media, have created far more space for democratic politics than could have been expected, despite the absence of political actors in this democratic space.

The main argument here is that political parties and actors are more concerned with access to, and preferably capturing, power than with the modalities of getting there. If deals can be struck and compromises made, one ought to be clear about the undemocratic nature of that politics.
One can certainly live with such collaboration, for this too pushes the political spaces forward and creates new spaces in which others, perhaps more inclined towards democratic ideals and hence not necessarily focused on acquiring power, can manoeuvre. Political spaces do expand democratic spaces and do feed off each other, but one needs to be able to distinguish between the two.

And it is the question of morality which perhaps helps in making that distinction possible. If individual morality, such as compromise with the military, leads to more democratic spaces for everyone, should one condemn the compromise? If, on the other hand, holding steadfast to principles causes a political party or other democratic forces to lose out on the political process, by boycotting an election for example, does one celebrate the morality and laugh at their 'political' naiveté? The answers are probably to be found in an understanding of recent political processes in the country.

In an unequal relationship, the former COASdetermined the rules of all the games played in the country, as well as who would be allowed to play by those rules. Those who were allowed to participate in those political games accepted his terms. Because the relationship between representatives of the military and of political parties was so one-sided, the democratic space increased only slowly on account of this liaison. Political representatives were always subservient to the rules of the game. And in fact democratic spaces were opened up despite the presence of political actors.

The vast democratic space that has been opening up - where on earth does a military general impose martial law for six weeks, and two weeks after imposing it inform his adversaries that hewill lift it on a specific date? - has been on account of those who have been taking individual and political moral stands, and who haven't been playing by the rules. While political action and processes do lead to democratic spaces, they do so largely inadvertently. Agency, in expanding the broader democratic process, on the other hand, comes from principled stands.

SAC signs MOU with CMKP

The Students Action Committee (Lahore) signed a memorandum of understanding, MOU,with the CMKP, Communist Mazdoor Kisaan Party, which says that the CMKP will work with SAC towards reinstating the judiciary as it was on the 2nd of Nov. 2007.

Another milestone for the Students Action Committee, that has been struggling for the country's basic rights; is the CMKP's promise to vote only for a political party that promises and ensures the pre 3rd Nov. 2007 martial law judiciary returned to its rightful status.

Yesterday representatives from Students Action Committee Lahore and Islamabad met with Mian Nawaz Sharif and presented a MOU which states that PML-N will work for the restoration of the judiciary.

The memorandum states that the SAC is a nonpartisan organization and does not endorse any single political party in Pakistan. It seeks collaboration on points of mutual agreement with all individuals and organizations, including political parties, which work towards the revival of the constitution and restoration of the judiciary to their Nov 2 nd form and for student rights in Pakistan.

The SAC is working towads signing this MOU with all political parties, in a significant move to achieve one of its primary fundamental objectives: restoration of the judiciary.

SAC is a nonpartisan organization and does not endorse any single political party in Pakistan. The Students Action Committee will work towards the revival of the constitution and restoration of the judiciary to their Nov 2 nd form and for student rights in Pakistan.