Conversations with Badami Bagh residents

March 15, 2013

By Ahsan Waheed

Badami Bagh is no less than a ravaged town awaiting life once again. Along the sides of the roads are little yellow tents set up for the Christian families who lost their homes when an angry mob set fire to the entire residential area.

These little tents are filled with people. It is as if the little tents have become portable homes for the citizens who have nothing else left. Little toys, water bottles, a pile of clothes – Badami Bagh residents have begun to reconstruct their lives within the temporary homes provided to them since there is no knowing when their real homes will be ready for them to go back to.

Read more…

Pres Zardari oped in Sunday’s Washington Post

March 7, 2011

By Asif Ali Zardari
Washington Post

Just days before her assassination, my wife, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, wrote presciently of the war within Islam and the potential for a clash between Islam and the West: “There is an internal tension within Muslim society. The failure to resolve that tension peacefully and rationally threatens to degenerate into a collision course of values spilling into a clash between Islam and the West. It is finding a solution to this internal debate within Islam – about democracy, about human rights, about the role of women in society, about respect for other religions and cultures, about technology and modernity – that shall shape future relations between Islam and the West.”

Two months ago my friend Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was cut down for standing up against religious intolerance and against those who would use debate about our laws to divide our people. On Tuesday, another leading member of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minority affairs and the only Christian in our cabinet, was murdered by extremists tied to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

These assassinations painfully reinforce my wife’s words and serve as a warning that the battle between extremism and moderation in Pakistan affects the success of the civilized world’s confrontation with the terrorist menace.

A small but increasingly belligerent minority is intent on undoing the very principles of tolerance upon which our nation was founded in 1947; principles by which Pakistan’s founder, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, lived and died; and principles that are repeated over and over in the Koran. The extremists who murdered my wife and friends are the same who blew up the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad and who have blown up girls’ schools in the Swat Valley.

We will not be intimidated, nor will we retreat. Such acts will not deter the government from our calibrated and consistent efforts to eliminate extremism and terrorism. It is not only the future of Pakistan that is at stake but peace in our region and possibly the world.

Our nation is pressed by overlapping threats. We have lost more soldiers in the war against terrorism than all of NATO combined. We have lost 10 times the number of civilians who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Two thousand police officers have been killed. Our economic growth was stifled by the priorities of past dictatorial regimes that unfortunately were supported by the West. The worst floods in our history put millions out of their homes. The religious fanaticism behind our assassinations is a tinderbox poised to explode across Pakistan. The embers are fanned by the opportunism of those who seek advantages in domestic politics by violently polarizing society.

We in Pakistan know our challenges and seek the trust and confidence of our international allies, who sometimes lose patience and pile pressure on those of us who are already on the front lines of what is undeniably a long war. Our concern that we avoid steps that inadvertently help the fanatics is misinterpreted abroad as inaction or even cowardice. Instead of understanding the perilous situation in which we find ourselves, some well-meaning critics tend to forget the distinction between courage and foolhardiness. We are fighting terrorists for the soul of Pakistan and have paid a heavy price. Our desire to confront and deal with the menace in a manner that is effective in our context should not become the basis for questioning our commitment or ignoring our sacrifices.

If Pakistan and the United States are to work together against terrorism, we must avoid political incidents that could further inflame tensions and provide extremists or opportunists with a pretext for destabilizing our fledgling democracy. The Raymond Davis incident in Lahore, which directly resulted in the deaths of three Pakistani men and the suicide of a Pakistani woman, is a prime example of the unanticipated consequences of problematic behavior. We need not go into the legal, moral and political intricacies of this case. Suffice it to say that the actions of Davis and others like him inflame passions in our country and undermine respect and support for the United States among our people. We are committed to peaceful adjudication of the Davis case in accordance with the law. But it is in no one’s interest to allow this matter to be manipulated and exploited to weaken the government of Pakistan and damage further the U.S. image in our country.

Similarly counterproductive are threats to apply sanctions to Pakistan over the Davis affair by cutting off Kerry-Lugar development funds that were designed to build infrastructure, strengthen education and create jobs. It is a threat, written out of the playbook of America’s enemies, whose only result will be to undermine U.S. strategic interests in South and Central Asia. In an incendiary environment, hot rhetoric and dysfunctional warnings can start fires that will be difficult to extinguish.

The writer is president of Pakistan.

Traffic fine fuels French debate over burka

April 28, 2010

Emma Alberici

A Muslim woman fined for wearing an Islamic head veil while driving in France has launched an appeal, claiming her human rights have been infringed.

France wants to become the first country to ban the veil in official buildings and on the streets. (Reuters: Jean-Paul Pelissier)

Tensions are rising between the French government and the country’s Muslim community as president Nicolas Sarkozy’s government prepares to push ahead with a ban on wearing the traditional Muslim veil in public.

Read the rest of this entry »

Operation Green Hunt: Its Stated And Unstated Targets of India

March 22, 2010

Kumar Sanjay Singh

Every conscious citizen is aware that the proposed operation Green Hunt, ostensibly to deal with the Maoist armed struggle, is an event with ominous portents. It can be argued that the events that are unfolding have consequences that go much beyond the attempted military solution to problems that are essentially political and economic in nature.

That the intended target of the government is much larger than the stated target is becoming obvious in the statements and actions of the state. Witness how in the aftermath of the Silda action the Home Minister Mr. P C Chidambaram tried to steam roll all the critiques of the government into Maoist sympathisers, completely ignoring the fact that criticising the human rights violation of the government is not tantamount to a support of the Maoists. More recently, the charge sheet on Mr. Kobad Ghandy, filed by the Delhi Police, mentioned some prominent democratic and civil liberties organisations and activists as fronts of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Obviously, the intended targets of the state are not simply the Maoist party but all such organisations and individual that have been critical of the state’s developmental policy and track record on human rights. A fact testified by the assault of rights activists and Gandhian organisations in Chhattisgarh.

The manner in which the central government wants to deploy paramilitary forces in the so-called sensitive states betrays the state’s unstated agenda in three respects. First, the attempt to cajole and pressurise the reluctant chief ministers of Bihar and Jharkhand through media propaganda and other kinds of pressure and persuasion is a testimony of the attempt to redefine centre-state relationship in the favour of the centre; even on the issue of law and order which is a state subject.

Second, deployment of armed paramilitary forces through a central fiat amounts to imposition of armed paramilitary forces over civilian administration. This is permissible only under emergency. Yet the government is not declaring emergency since such a declaration obliges the government for a mandatory review of the declaration every six months. The government has therefore imposed a de facto emergency without actually declaring it. Thus it has claimed unfettered power without any legal or time bound restraint, in other words it has claimed impunity in the area of operation Green Hunt. Experience of use of armed and paramilitary forces provided with impunity, for instance in the north eastern states and J& K has been that the number of civilian casualty and the erosion of human rights is unacceptably high. In other words the casualty, repression and oppression of the civilian population living in the areas of operation green hunt will be dramatically higher than the stated targets of operation green hunt. In fact, the plight of the civilian population is further compounded since they have been also targeted in some instance by the guerrilla forces.

Third, the initiation of the inter-state counter naxal operation is actually a part of the oft stated plan of the centre to restructure and centralise internal security apparatus. Thus, this is a decisive shift of law and order and policing from the state subject. Over the period of last more than two decades several issues of state subject have been taken over by the centre, for instance forest, roads, port management and now policing. These are portents of a shift towards a more unitary form of governments. Could this also be seen as imposition of a Presidential form of government by stealth? It ought to be pointed out here that this idea had been mooted by Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee during their respective tenures as Prime Minister.

To cut a long story short the current operation while stated to be against the Communist Party of India (Maoist) has a much larger unstated target. It threatens to trespass the safety and security of the indigenous and tribal people in the operation area, it seeks to trespass on the fundamental rights of the citizens of the country and finally, it seeks to redefine the structure of governance of the country. It is evident, therefore, the current offensive is quite comprehensive and seeks to impact upon a cross section of political process and the life and rights of common citizens. It stands to reason that such a challenge requires a resistance that is imaginative and flexible enough to include the opinions of all the stake holders that are to be impacted.

The danger of majority tyranny

March 3, 2010

Thomas W. Bechtler

Switzerland’s democracy lies nearer to the dividing line between direct democracy and tyranny of the majority than most. Last year’s decision to outlaw minarets reflects the dangers of crossing that line

Has the minaret poll in Switzerland helped in creating an atmosphere against all things foreign and “different”? Minarets, headscarves, Jewish cemeteries, German professors, international law – judging from recent debate in Switzerland one might wonder if they are all contrary to Swiss values.

Who better to define and postulate what is quintessentially “Swiss” than the people themselves in a referendum, just like the one held on 29 November. But this argument brings a queasy feeling and reminds us that there are limits on popular sovereignty.

The “yes”‘ to banning minarets has brought these limits to mind, causing a real shock and deep disappointment for many people. I cannot remember any referendum that has divided our country both politically and ethically in a similar manner.

In the widely held discussions after the event there were repeated suggestions that political parties had underestimated the fears some Swiss have that Muslims might segregate themselves and not respect Swiss customs and laws. Are such fears real or simply nothing more than a clever fabrication?

Obviously the responsibility for our political culture has fallen by the wayside. A solution has been found for a problem that our country is not faced with. The sad game of discrimination has once again been played successfully. And, just as in our national playwright and novelist Max Frisch’s play “The Fire Raisers,” normal citizens and “arsonists” have become one, this time through a plebiscite.

It is an undisputed fact that Swiss politics are closely linked to the will of the people than almost anywhere else. The fact that the Swiss are able to take an active role in deciding issues is a part of our national identity and is undeniably one of our country’s special qualities.

Democratically reached decisions reflect the will of the people in a given moment, though, not necessarily a superior wisdom or power. Democratic decisions can be wrong, unjust and impractical, violate the country’s constitution and even violate basic human rights. They can even relate to issues for which the democratic system is quite simply inadequate.

Ironically it was freedom-loving Switzerland,of all countries, that voted for a measure based on religious discrimination that violates both our own constitution and Swiss values and also breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. This is a country renowned for its role in the development of international law, a state whose neutrality has international roots, a nation that stands for tolerance and open-mindedness whose prosperity is based on the global economic network and is home to the International Red Cross!

The issue boils down to two different conceptions of democracy. Under an absolutist interpretation, the people decide, no ifs or buts. In a comparison from the world of art, (Brunnellesci), the central perspective converges in a point determining the order of the composition. Anything that may stand in the way of democracy is deemed suspect: judges, elected representatives, even international law.

In contrast, representatives of a liberal rule of law tend to set out from the interaction of various elements, as is visible – using the analogy of the arts once again – in the popular artist Alexander Calder’s mobiles. The parts are in a constant balance, jointly ensuring the stability of the whole (“checks and balances”). The democratic principle is essentially the basis for the decisions of democratically elected representatives and of the people in direct democracy decision making.

The principle of separation of powers, which forms the basis for judges’ decisions in individual cases, is just as important in a functioning democracy. Human rights and democracy, rule of law and popular sovereignty are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually dependent.

International law is also of equal importance. A more stringent formal and substantive examination of the content of referendums – be it through parliament, the Federal Council, the Federal Court or a special body – is in fact urgently needed.

Any argument that the European Court of Human Rights has no place assessing an issue decided directly by the Swiss people, ignores the role Switzerland played in developing the Court, and the fact that the court is part of the Council of Europe, a body that Switzerland currently chairs.

The debate about the limits of popular sovereignty will surely go on in Switzerland for some time to come. We need to make sure that the discussion is characterized by clarity of analysis, precision in drawing these borders and public education. An absolutized concept of democracy can threaten freedom and is susceptible to misuse. An enlightened people recognizes and acknowledges the limits of its sovereignty and knows that these limitations are what strengthen democracy and freedom.

India: Before Night Falls

March 3, 2010

What is more embarrassing for AMU- gay love or violation of human rights?


Illustration: UZMA MOHSIN

WHEN SECTION 377 of the Indian Penal Code was read down last year, decriminalising homosexuallity in India, confetti flew. Even those who felt the law had little relevance in the daily lives of the LGBT community in India smiled a bit. Less than a year later, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) professor Shrinivas Ramachandra Siras, a Marathi scholar, has been suspended for alleged homosexual activity. The university says they have a video recording of the professor inside his home in sexual intercourse with a young rickshaw-puller. The university, clearly not a fan of that ancient sexual preference – ‘rough trade’ – termed this gross misconduct, taking care to emphasise the occupation of the professor’s alleged lover. Outrage against AMU has flown thick but the university is unembarrassed.

The video recording is suitably shrouded in mystery but AMU’s spokesperson confirms usefully, ‘the video clips are really indecent’. If it came from local reporters, as the first rumour had it, where did these reporters spring from? More than one report says that the video recording was a ‘sting’ paid for by the University. AMU’s statement is that the recording accompanied an anonymous complaint. So far, Siras does not seem to have engaged any legal counsel. Activists are in a rage, but there is no case without Siras. The 64-year-old Siras has chosen to resign and leave Aligarh for hometown Nagpur rather than combat the university. He is on the verge of retirement, after 22 years in AMU.

Vice-chancellor (VC) Abdul Aziz seems to not know that between February 8 and 10, AMU, a government institution, has violated pretty much every fundamental right you can lay your hands upon. He continues to issue statements – no one wants their child to be gay; AMU is an institution of international repute and its students go out with character.

AMU was also in the news this week when it proudly signed a Memorandum of Understanding with George Washington University (GWU) Law School – presumably neither party worried too much about GWU’s stated policy that it will not discriminate against employees or students for sexual orientation. Because, an international reputation for AMU does not stretch that far. Homosexuality is not good for students, the VC explains with a logic as eminently reasonable as one advising against junk food or videogames. In such morally ambiguous times as ours, it must be a source of comfort to be Abdul Aziz.

More than one report claims that the video recording was a ‘sting’ paid for by the University

The VC, who has a PhD in Marine Biology from the University of Kerala, is a very big fish, even by his own estimation. His list of achievements reads like the opening line of Snoopy’s novel: ‘It was a dark and stormy night’. His online resume says ‘he took charge at a time when the University was passing through one of the darkest periods in its history, dotted by murders of two students in quick succession, violent clashes between student groups, looting and destruction of property, regional fighting and constant disruption of academic activities. There was complete breakdown of rule of law and everyone was under constant threat of assault and humiliation. With firm and well-thought-out initiatives, the University has been brought back to normal level of functioning in the last two years.’ After which, presumably, the angels sang hosannas but the resume does not state that.

The hero of the JM Coetzee’s novel Disgrace, David Lurie, an English professor, is dismissed from his university job when he seduces a student. He makes no attempt to defend himself and goes off into the hinterlands of post-apartheid South Africa where he is broken bit by bit. Coetzee’s infuriatingly fatalistic hero says at some point, “One gets used to things getting harder; one ceases to be surprised that what used to be as hard as hard can be grows harder yet.”


February 26, 2010

Amnesty International

Indian authorities have given local communities scant or misleading information about the potential impact of a proposed alumina refinery expansion and mining project to be operated by subsidiaries of UK-based company Vedanta Resources in Orissa, Amnesty International said in a new report published on Tuesday.

There has been no process to seek the community’s informed consent.

The Amnesty International report, Don’t Mine Us out of Existence: Bauxite Mine and Refinery Devastate Lives in India documents how an alumina refinery operated by a subsidiary of UK-based FTSE 100 company Vedanta Resources in Orissa, is causing air and water pollution that threatens the health of local people and their access to water.

“People are living in the shadow of a massive refinery, breathing polluted air and afraid to drink from and bathe in a river that is one of the main sources of water in the region,” said Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, Amnesty International’s researcher on South Asia. “It is shocking how those who are most affected by the project have been provided with the least information.”

Villagers wash in the river Vamsadhara at Chattarpur.

Adivasi (Indigenous), Dalit, women and other marginalised communities in the remote part of Orissa where the refinery is located have described to Amnesty International how authorities told them that the refinery would transform the area into a Mumbai or Dubai.

The Orissa State Pollution Control Board has documented air and water pollution from Vedanta Aluminium’s refinery in Lanjigarh, Orissa. Amnesty International found that the pollution threatens the health of local people and their access to clean water yet there has been no health monitoring.

“We used to bathe in the river but now I am scared of taking my children there. Both my sons have had rashes and blisters,” a local woman told Amnesty International. The organization recorded many similar accounts from people living around the refinery.

Despite these concerns and the environmentally sensitive location of the refinery near a river and villages, the government is considering a proposal for a six-fold expansion of the refinery. Neither the Indian authorities nor Vedanta have shared information on the extent of pollution and its possible effects with local communities.

The Orissa Mining Corporation and another Vedanta Resources subsidiary also plan to mine bauxite in the nearby Niyamgiri Hills. The proposed mine threatens the very existence of the Dongria Kondh, an 8,000 strong protected indigenous community that has lived on the Niyamgiri hills for centuries. The hills are considered sacred by the Dongria Kondh and are essential for their economic, physical and cultural survival, yet no process to seek the community’s informed consent has been established.

A Dongria Kondh man told Amnesty International, “We have seen what happens to other Adivasis when they are forced to leave their traditional lands, they lose everything.”

“The people of Orissa are among the poorest in India and their health is being threatened by pollution from the refinery. Their voices are being ignored by Vedanta Resources and its partner companies as well as by Orissa’s government. There has been inadequate consultation with local people about the changes on the ground and yet it’s their lives and futures which hang in the balance,” said Ramesh Gopalakrishnan.

Amnesty International is calling on the Government of India and Vedanta Resources to ensure that there is no expansion of the refinery and mining does not go ahead until existing problems are resolved. Amnesty International is also calling for full consultation with local people and for the Indian authorities to set up a process to seek the free, prior and informed consent of the Dongria Kondh.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 129 other followers