Monday, February 4, 2008

Amin for Missing Persons' Recovery

Senior Vice Chairman of the PPP, Makhdoom Amin Fahim Monday said his party would take steps for the recovery of all missing persons of the country if voted to power. Talking to newsmen, he said the registration of fake cases against PPP workers and transfer and postings of government officers on the eve of elections were underway, but the Election Commission seemed to be helpless in this regard. He said inflation had broken the back of the poor masses and stressed on the importance of an independent judiciary for the provision of justice to the common man.

Kurd re-arrested in Quetta

Ali Ahmed Kurd, a leading figure in the lawyers’ movement, was re-arrested on Monday after being freed from 3 months of detainment without charge. He was arrested as he attempted to leave Quetta to address lawyers in Lahore. “The rulers are scared that I will create problems for them and under this fear they have again detained me. This detention is illegal,” Kurd said. “Our struggle for the independence of judiciary will continue and such steps cannot deter us,” he said.

Suicide Bomber in Rawalpindi kills six

(Courtesy DAWN)

RAWALPINDI, Feb 4 (Agencies): A suicide bomber on a motorcycle rammed into a bus carrying defence forces personnel, detonating a blast Monday that killed six people and wounded 30 others in Rawalpindi's R.A.Bazar area, police said. The bomb went off during the morning rush hour outside the army's National Logistics Cell, where the army has its headquarters. The bus was destroyed and several people wounded in the explosion, police official Abdul Waheed said. Several vehicles were badly damaged. An eye witness said a bus carrying army medical trainees had been targeted. He said about 25 people had been injured. Television footage showed the mangled wreckage of the vehicle, which troops later covered with a white tent.

Devolution gives too much power to local govts: Arif Hasan

By Qasim A. Moini
(Courtesy DAWN)

KARACHI, Feb 3: Discussing the major changes that have shaped Pakistan since independence, renowned architect and urban planner Arif Hasan criticised President Musharraf's devolution of power plan, initiated in 2001, saying that it had largely failed and had handed power back to the old elites.
He was speaking at a lecture titled 'Urbanisation, politics, public and national interests,' held at the office of an NGO here on Sunday.
"Civil society organisations – in their romanticism – had opted for this," he said, referring to the devolution plan in his highly informative speech, which was punctuated with statistics and interesting personal anecdotes. "But I had my reservations." He claimed the devolution of power initiative had given too much money and power to the district governments, with no proper checks in place from the central bureaucracy. "The result is the citizen has to go grovelling to the nazim to get his job done."
Mr Hasan said one of the few good things witnessed during the Ziaul Haq era was the entry of traders and entrepreneurs at the level of local politics, whereas today power was back in the hands of the feudals and other traditional wielders of authority.
Along with devolution, the six other major factors that he reckoned had shaped the country since partition were the constitution of pre-partition society, the migration from India, Ayub Khan's 'Green Revolution,' urbanization, the Zia era and globalization.
Mr Hasan intricately wove all the factors together and ably described their inter-connectedness, which was responsible for the present chaos. He said at the time of partition, the major identifier in society was caste affiliation, while society was managed by panchayats, though this system was not uniform,
Describing the massive migration from India at partition, he quoted a study which says that in the early 1950s, 48 per cent of the urban population in Pakistan said that they had come from India. "This caused huge urbanization, whereby the population in some cities increased by 100 per cent. The Hindu traders left while poor, rural Muslims came in. However in the NWFP and Balochistan, de-urbanization was witnessed as there was no one to replace the Hindu middle class," said Arif Hasan.
"The old relationship between the caste and the mohalla disappeared and the old values were replaced by a fiercely upwardly mobile culture. We moved from being a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual society into a uni-religious one trying to become uni-lingual," he said.
The Green Revolution, which was initiated in the late '50s but it took off and experienced incredible growth in the '60s, changed rural society, he said. "Before this, the feudal order financed agriculture and also worked with the establishment. With the Green Revolution, new people came into the scenario, such as salesmen, mechanics, etc. Small farms were bought up by larger farmers. This changed the position of the feudals, as the banks and informal sector became the financiers. Cash changed everything. However, the feudals continued to control the politics of the country," observed Mr Hasan.
He said the old system functioned on the basis of clan and tribal affiliations; but the introduction of cash weakened this system. The panchayat and jirga were challenged for the first time.
"Industrialisation in the Ayub era also increased urbanization. Subsistence fishing was replaced by commercial fishing; traditional fishermen had to take loans to keep up. The same happened in the carpet industry. We moved towards a capitalist system without the proper infrastructure," he added.
He said that though there was currently a major construction boom in the country, there was not enough qualified manpower, such as surveyors or equipment operators, to fill these jobs.
"The institutes to train these people do not exist. They have nearly all learnt through the shagirdi system; the polytechnics have no money and have obsolete equipment. We have abandoned middle level education, such as technical colleges. Thus, our universities are castles built on sand," he said.
Changing values
Arif Hasan said that the increase in the number of working women was fuelling immense social change, altering the attitudes of how the relationship between men and women was viewed. He cited a recent survey, which studied the way young couples use public spaces as rendezvous, and said that out of 100 couples surveyed, only 28 were married. "There is a need for new societal values; most people are quite modern but fear tradition," he said.
Coming to the policies of the Zia era and their repercussions today, he said these policies consolidated the religious establishment. Apart from the growing presence of religion in the public sphere, he said Gen Zia's policies "stifled the universities and killed off the youths as extra-curricula activities were banned. The custodians of the religious establishment became the guardians of morality."
This was also the time, he said, when the westernised elite stepped out of public life and built their own world, which resulted in ghettoisation. "People turned to ethnic and clan organisations" due to the political vacuum, he added. "The Zia era coincided with the period of urban consolidation in Pakistan."
As for globalization, he said we had failed to capitalize on the phenomenon and resultantly, Pakistan had turned into an under-developed country from once being a mid-level developing country.
The lecture was organised by the People's Resistance and the Green Economics and Globalisation Initiative in the Shirkat Gah's office.

Punjab College doles out meager apology to SAC

Today as a disappointing conclusion to the battle for justice between the Students Action Committee (Lahore) representatives and the Punjab College establishment, a negotiation was held at the Muslim Town police station.

Mediated by SP Mansoor Haq, the two sides had a face off with five on each panel. The victims were represented by Azhar Siddique, Punjab Bar Council Media Advisor; Firdous Butt, Vice President High court Bar; Advocate Irshad, VP Lahore Bar; Saeeda Diep and Usman Gill, the latter two involved with the earlier altercations.

Punjab College had on their panel: Principal Agha Tahir, Vice President Naveed, Prof. Jameel, Prof. Farooq (Advocate), and Prof. Rasheed. According to the SAC representatives who had been assaulted earlier, all five of the Punjab College personnel present in the panel had been present at the time of the beating and some had been physically involved in the assault itself.

Without pushing for the filing of an FIR on the behalf of the teachers and students calculatedly beaten up, the SP focused for a low key, almost negligible result of a verbal apology.

For the SAC, settling for such a trifling recourse is not a matter of few resources but the futility of pursuing the matter in courts where justice is hard to find, where justices are behind bars with the support of the present judicial system.

When District Nazims and caretaker cabinet Ministers have the might to unleash brute directives, the authenticity of the current regime and its components is obviously brought into question.

The question is, if the current judicial system was impartial or non partisan, would SAC representatives, only armed with words, have to walk away with mere apologies instead of just legal recourse?

Pakistan's Forgotten Man

Aitzaz Ahsan
(Courtesy Newsweek)
If we lock up our judges and subvert the law, those who believe in a more brutal kind of justice will triumph.

In the past months, as the crisis in Pakistan has worsened, key figures in the Bush administration, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have spoken out about the need for free and fair elections and have condemned extremism. Yet they've continued through-out to support the man who poll after poll show to be the least popular public figure in Pakistan, less so even than Osama bin Laden: President Pervez Musharraf. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte went so far as to call Musharraf an "indispensable ally" just days after the general declared de facto martial law and suspended Pakistan's Constitution.

All the while, U.S. officials have ignored a man who lives a mere stone's throw from Musharraf. This man's exclusion might seem understandable: barbed wire surrounds his home, the phone lines are cut and the gate is padlocked from the outside. Yet he is no dangerous criminal. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is the chief justice of Pakistan. He's also one of the most popular figures in the country, according to recent polls, and its best hope for returning to a democratic path.

Chaudhry was an unlikely figure to become public enemy No. 1. He was appointed chief justice in June 2005 by Musharraf himself. Once on the bench, though Chaudhry proved independent, he was no iconoclast. Yet he acted in ways that made Pakistan's powerful elites nervous. He expanded the jurisdiction of his court in the domain of human rights, refusing to tolerate police abuses. He reached out to victims of forced marriages and Pakistan's unjust rape laws. He blocked a number of land developments that would have harmed the environment. And in the process, he made some powerful enemies: many of the developers he stymied were Musharraf cronies or Army officers.

The chief justice made himself even more unpopular in 2006 when he began to probe into a growing scandal over missing persons. In the years since September 11, Pakistan had suffered a disturbing number of forced disappearances, as individuals were yanked off the streets, allegedly by security personnel. As the number of victims grew, mothers, wives and daughters of the disappeared began to picket the Supreme Court. Finally the justices took notice and in 2006, after several hearings and much prodding by the court, some 200 missing people were released from custody. Musharraf was reportedly angry with the move and told the Americans that Chaudhry had ordered the release of 60 terrorists arrested during the Red Mosque crackdown. In fact, it was three other justices, none of whom were fired, who had released those captives; Chaudhry wasn't even involved in that decision.

It was probably the matter of Musharraf's own future that sealed Chaudhry's fate. Late last year Musharraf began to worry that if the chief justice insisted on following the letter of the law, Musharraf would be barred from running for another term as president (since the Constitution disqualifies anyone in uniform from standing for the office, and Musharraf was still head of the Army). To prevent any objections, on Nov. 3 Musharraf fired the Supreme Court judges, had them arrested and also detained the attorney pleading the case against him: me.

This was not the first time Musharraf had moved against the chief justice. He had first ordered him to resign in March 2007, and when Chaudhry refused, had removed and detained him, though the justice was unanimously reinstated by 13 members of his own bench in July.It was Chaudhry's campaign to get back onto the court that turned him into a national hero. After he was sacked, bar associations across the country invited him to speak. As he traveled the country, millions came out to receive him. Wherever he went, men, women and children poured out to cheer him on for having defied the increasingly unpopular general. Showing solidarity became a way to denounce the president. Ordinary citizens cheered Chaudhry with defiance in their eyes. I know—for I was his driver during this tour.

Chaudhry's brave stance soon won him accolades around the world: Harvard Law School gave him its highest award, the Medal of Freedom, and the New York City Bar Association made him a rare honorary member.

Yet U.S. officials remain unmoved, despite a letter Chaudhry sent to Western leaders last week protesting his treatment. Blind to the overwhelming support Chaudhry enjoys at home and abroad, Washington continues to pay lip service to the need for an independent judiciary in Pakistan while doing nothing to support one. This strategy is dangerously shortsighted. The United States has every reason to worry about terrorism and instability in Pakistan. But allowing Musharraf to continue arresting judges and peaceful protesters will only strengthen the terrorists' hand. If we lock up our judges and subvert the legal process, then those who believe in a more brutal kind of justice will triumph. It's therefore high time to take a stand. From now on no dignitary should visit the president on his hill without making it a point to inquire about the prisoner on the hill nearby. Due process and democratic principles demand nothing less.

Ahsan, a former minister for law, justice and the interior in Pakistan, is currently president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. He has been detained without charge since Nov. 3.

With Extreme Prejudice?

On two consecutive days, 1st and 2nd February, the staff (security personnel as well as faculty members) of Punjab College, Muslim Town have tried to deny the rights of free speech and of free association of pro-democracy activists, and members of the Student Action Committee (SAC) Lahore - even going to the extent of brutal, un-restrained physical assault. In the face of this practical demonstration of the fascist attitudes nurtured in the so-called institutes of higher education that constitute the Punjab Group of Colleges, owned and run by the Nazim (Mayor) of Lahore, Mian Amir Mehmood, the activists have shown a remarkable degree of calm and fortitude, refusing to be provoked, and yet refusing to bow down to the dictates of the civilian collaborators of Army rule.

As already reported in some newspapers (e.g. Dawn), on Friday 1st February, Raheem-ul-Haque (adjunct faculty at Punjab University, former Project Manager at Techlogix) and Saeeda Diep (a veteran political, and not merely social, activist) were distributing flyers on the public side-lane in front of the two sections of the segregated Punjab College. The flyers, published by the Students Action Committee, laid out the basic demands of the Committee and also urged students to join hands with other sections of the public in a protest demonstration in Nasser Bagh on Saturday, the 2nd. The two activists were handing out flyers to all the students, boys and girls, consistent with their belief that information and debate are as much the right of women as of men. While Raheem was distributing some flyers outside the girls' section of the college, he leaned over the chain at the exit and handed a few to some students standing there. He then continued distributing the pamphlets to other students as they left for home or arrived for class. It is important to note two things here: at no point did either Raheem or Diep trespass on the private property of the college, unless, of course, in his extraordinary legislative zeal, the President decides to declare into existence a new law against aerial trespassing, "Thou shalt not lean into, or otherwise violate the airspace of, another's property"; not a single student had actually complained against the actions of the pro-democracy campaigners.

Soon thereafter, one of the security guards employed by the College told Raheem to stop handing out the flyers. Raheem defended his acts, saying that he was well within his rights to do as he pleased in a public space and that he was distributing flyers to the girls in the same way that he was distributing them to the boys. The guard slapped Raheem. Instead of hitting back, Raheem asked him why he'd hit him. He got two more punches for his trouble - this time the guard broke his spectacles. Again Raheem tried to reason with the guard, protesting that he was not doing anything wrong. He then walked over to consult with Diep. The guard followed, and the ensuing discussion quickly heated up with the guard pushing Diep and insulting both activists in abusive language. People gathered around them, which prevented the guard from following up his verbal threats with further physical aggression. Realizing that the situation could spiral out of control, some staff members from the College extricated the guard from the crowd.

Incensed and humiliated, the two activists decided to bring this action to the notice of the larger public. Some friends and one reporter arrived on the spot in short order. At this point, the group decided to report the matter to the police. At the nearby Muslim Town police station, which is also the office of the Superintendant Police Saddar Division, the police hummed and hawed for two hours before finally announcing that they needed a medico-legal report from the nearest government hospital. The physician at Jinnah Hospital diagnosed a perforated left ear drum and prescribed some antibiotics. Armed with the report, the group headed back to the police station, where they were informed that such an injury, not visible to the naked eye, was not serious enough to be the subject of their hallowed "First Investigation Report" (FIR)!

That evening, members of the Students Action Committee gathered outside Aitezaz Ahsan's house to celebrate his release, prepared a press release and vowed to go back the following day to the same college to concretely demonstrate the strength of their resolve.

The next day, Hassan Rehman (FAST-NU graduate student) and Umayr Hassan (FAST-NU faculty member) accompanied Raheem-ul-Haque and Saeeda Diep to Punjab College. They arrived at 11.30 AM and started handing out the flyers urging students to attend the protest demonstration that would start in a few hours time. It seemed that they had proven their point and were about to disperse (in fact, Hassan Rehman had already left) when the Principal of the College arrived in his black Mercedes. Some of the security guards (there were at least ten of them in total) called Raheem to meet the Principal. Raheem and Diep - infuriated - argued with him that their guards had no right to tell them what to do on public property and that, in fact, they (the College) was illegally encroaching upon public property (the green belt between the service lane and the main road serves as a parking lot for the College). Raheem mentioned that he had taken several photographs of the encroachment. Another SAC member, Shehryar (software engineer by profession) arrived while the argument was going on.

At some point, as he leaned either to say or after having said something to the Principal, the Principal grabbed Shehryar by his collar and then told the guards to thrash him. All of the guards fell upon Shehryar, punching, slapping, and then picking him up to be taken inside the College premises. Diep and Raheem went to save Shehryar and were similarly assaulted. Diep was dragged along with Shehryar while Raheem and Umayr were slapped and pushed into the premises through another gate.

Inside their offices, the four were forced to sit on the sofa and not allowed to go out. Raheem, infuriated, railed against the teachers present, who either remained silent spectators or told the activists to shut up or taunted their professionalism or called them Indian agents/NGO people. They claimed they were puncturing car tires and instigating students inside the campus. A female teacher suggested that Diep (being a female) could accompany her elsewhere - Diep angrily refused. Shehryar struggled against the goon squad and was beaten again. The other three tried to protect him as Raheem was punched and his nose started bleeding profusely. Diep tried calling Usman Gill (SAC activist and recent graduate from FAST-NU) and while she was talking to him, the guards tried to confiscate her cell phone - Diep refused but could not complete the call. This and more went on for more than an hour, with the College personnel alternating between beating up the activists and apologizing to them. There were twenty or thirty of them in all, some staff, some faculty and some who looked like hired thugs in plain clothes, who attacked and tormented the trapped pro-democracy campaigners.

Suddenly, Shehryar fell on all fours, gasping and indicating that he had difficulty breathing. It was a clever hoax, but no one including friends realised it then and started to panic. They clamoured for an ambulance to be called, warning the administration of the trouble they would bring upon themselves were one of them to die on the premises. As Shehryar lay limp on the floor, Umayr went outside to tell someone to call an ambulance. Usman Gill was outside and Umayr shouted to him telling him to call the ambulance. As he came nearer to the College boundary wall, someone behind Umayr told the guards outside to bring Usman inside. A guard grabbed Usman by the collar and tried to push him toward the gate - Usman resisted and was released just outside the gate as the police had arrived by that time. Usman, Umayr, Raheem and Diep's driver carried Sheryar outside and laid him in Umayr's car as Shehryar and Diep were driven away to safety.

The rest of the SAC members waited for the senior police officer (already aware of the incident the previous day) to arrive while the activist and College administration argued the case with the officer present. In particular, the activists demanded that the College return Shehryar's cell phone and Raheem's camera (used to photograph the College fa├žade as well as the encroachment - hence the reason the guards to grab it from Raheem's car, as witnessed by Umayr's driver. The camera cost approx. $1000.) When the senior police officer arrived, the same argument persisted: the students demanded the retrieval of their property while the college personnel complained that the SAC members had been interfering inside their College. They now also claimed that the activists had damaged their property - a door glass was broken when the guards were scuffling inside with Shehryar. It was not clear who broke it. All parties now went inside the offices and the officer then had a word in private with the Principal. Outside, Umayr narrated their tale to a plainclothes Special Branch (police intelligence) representative. Outside, again, the officer had managed to recover the cell phone and asked the administrators to look for the missing camera asked the activists to come to the police station to lodge a complaint while his junior stayed back to look for the camera. Raheem and Usman went with him in the police mobile car.

By this time, Diep had managed to inform the SAC members attending the big rally at Nasser Bagh. However, once the activists had managed to free themselves, they sent messages to the SAC members to attend the rally which was the more important event, and to come over to the Muslim Town police station afterwards.

Shehryar and Raheem got medical treatment. Shehryar had a broken finger and Raheem had a bloody nose swollen as after a boxing match.

Around 20 - 25 SAC members had gathered at the Muslim Town police station by 4:30 PM. The SP allowed some SAC members to enter his office to take part in the discussion as the SAC lawyers presented their case and pressed for an FIR to be lodged against the staff of Punjab College. After much prevarication, during which he must have realised that SAC had a solid case and that he would have to file a report, he invited the group to go over to the College with him to talk to the College administration. Here a comic twist presented itself: the SP never showed up. He climbed into his official brand new 2.4D Toyota Hilux and disappeared. While the SAC members waited outside the College, they started raising slogans against the military dictatorship, against the Nazim and against oppression. About the same time, students started leaving for home and were quite surprised to encounter the SAC group in full cry. Some of them stopped to ask what had happened - they either knew nothing at all, or had been fed lies by the administration to the effect that the people beaten up earlier that day had been teasing female students. The SAC members disabused them of this fiction and even handed them their new flyers.

Eventually a DSP arrived and started negotiations with the SAC lawyers. At first, it seemed that he merely wanted SAC to leave the College and move to a less "disturbing" location, such as the police station. But the SAC members flatly refused and demanded that some resolution be arrived at, otherwise they were willing to stake out the premises for as long as it took. Eventually, the DSP asked that Diep and Raheem tell him exactly what happened. At this point, Diep started narrating how they were dragged into the premises and beaten by College personnel. As she was showing him the path, the College personnel got infuriated. Banking on the fact that they were employed by Mian Amir Mehmood, they took an aggressive attitude towards the DSP and virtually ordered him off the premises, daring him to challenge their authority. Humbled and humiliated,, the officer left the premises. Some SAC members were enraged at this concrete proof of the adage "he who has the stick, has the buffalo". After a brief verbal altercation with the College personnel, other SAC members intervened and defused the situation. At this point, the SAC and the lawyers conferred and it was decided that while the lawyers negotiated with the police, the SAC members would head to the Lahore Press Club.

At the Press Club, the Students Action Committee staged a small demonstration, prepared a new press release, and informed various media channels (newspapers and television) of the events of the day.

The SAC held a protest demonstration at the Press Club in support of their injured colleagues on Sunday, 3rd February.