Friday 31 July 2009

Musharraf's Mediterranean Cruise: next stop Adiala Jail or Attock

Adiala Jail in the city of Rawalpindi Pakistan is more of a Belmarsh with a sprinkle of Guantanamo bay for political prisoners under military dictators. Though ex General Musharraf preferred the Attock Jail when he incarcerated Nawaz Sharif after throwing him out of office. He would have preferred the same treatment for the superior judiciary that he threw out of office on 3 November 2007 if the civil society supported by an independent media (he can take credit for them being independent) had not erupted in protest all across the country. I wonder which one would he choose for himself - wishful thinking I know.

How the world has changed - the same judiciary returned to office due to people power has today declared his actions on that fateful day and other decisions taken as a consequence of that as unconstitutional. I am not there to see the jubilation on the streets but my heart is there dancing with my fellow Lahoris.

Judicial activism that began under Chief Justice Iftikhar is now steadying into much needed judicial restraint with the courage and foresight to take the decisions like today. Judiciary in Pakistan is trying hard to wash away the sins of its past. Cynics are saying that this is being done in the absence of any dictatorship - but remember this judiciary stood up to a tyrant.

Any sane person in Pakistan would have immediately sensed that this is also the beginning of an essential political and constitutional quagmire. In its deliberations over the last few days the Apex court has given clear message with regards to differentiation of responsibilities between the parliament, judiciary and other constitutional institutions.

Parliament, the other institution that has had the dubious honour of being the rubber stamp for dictators still has to deliver its end of the bargain - but I don't expect this to happen until those who directly benefited from the actions of 03 November are a part of it. Beauty of democracy is that given time and allowed to take its course it can filter out filth fast.

For now lets send a message to the captain of Mediterranean Cruise taking Musharraf on a joyride that the next stop might be a port near Adiala Jail - can't help being wishful today.

Three cheers to People's Chief Justice.

A dogs tail! Musharraf defies courts to go on a cruise

Can't help a chuckle! There is an old saying in Pakistan that a dogs tail can never be straightened - i.e. bad behaviour blamed on your genetic make up cannot change.

What reminded me of this saying was the piece of news this morning that in response to invitation [read: polite summons] to appear before the Supreme Court of Pakistan, to argue his side of the story on why he imposed Martial Law in Pakistan on 3 November 2007 and sacked and incarcerated the independent judiciary, he has decided to go on a Mediterranean and Caribbean cruise [paid for by whom!]. Message is loud and clear - the ex general might be out of power in Pakistan, out of favour with the US, but has not lost the stiffness in his neck.

I wrote earlier that it should be the people of Pakistan who through a due judicial process bring the tyrant to the dock. It is interesting to note that Musharraf himself still suffers from delusion of grandeur, a self belief that he still is the Messiah for Pakistan and that a vast majority of Pakistanis (read: pseudo intellectuals) still love him. There are columnists in Pakistan who since the invitation (it really was an invitation) from the Supreme Court, and increasing demands from legal fraternity to bring him to the dock, have started shouting victimisation. One such opinion really goes towards insulting the collective intelligence of the nation suggesting that if Musharraf is brought to court he will suddenly become a martyr and a popular shepherd for Pakistani lambs.

There are those in Pakistan who have a stake in Musharraf staying on a world cruise and safe from the long arms of the law. Those who benefited from the National Reconciliation Ordinance (read: blanket amnesty and permission for large scale corruption) do not want Musharraf in the dock and his actions post 3 November reversed. And there are those who don't want to close the door for future hopefuls for the vacant post of a benevolent dictator.

I had listed what I believe to be the charge sheet against Musharraf. For the future of democracy in Pakistan Musharraf and his cronies need to be brought to justice even if it means opening up a Pandora's box of constitutional anomalies. It should, however, be through a due judicial process without a hint of victimisation - a tough call, I think not.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

If your cow dies, that is a tragedy; if your wife dies, you can always get another

Last time I got this angry was when president Karzai of Afghanistan signed a bill making it legal to rape your wife. Inspiration for the post today comes from Dr. Kristof's column in the New York Times on July 18th writing about the great work Dr. Shershah Syed is doing in Karachi in the field of maternal health. In this column a reference to a third world male chauvinistic view "If your cow dies, that is a tragedy; if your wife dies, you can always get another" made me feel sick. Passionate male patriots will deny the existence of this view altogether but it is a fact that many traditional societies including rural areas of Pakistan have similar kinds of views about their woman - the cow gets replaced with a horse in Belarus, for example.

What struck a chord with me in Dr Shershah's interview was story of Ashrafi, a woman from rural Sind. Her plight, though deeply moving personal story, is representative of a vast majority of woman in Pakistan (and other developing countries) who suffer due to poverty, ignorance and lack of education.

Ashrafi "tried to deliver at home with the help of [a 'DAI'] an untrained birth attendant. But her pelvis wasn’t big enough to accommodate the baby’s head, so four exhausting days of labour produced nothing. Finally, the family took Ashrafi to a clinic, and the baby was delivered dead. Then she found that she was dribbling urine and stool through her vagina. She smelled, and the salts in her urine left sores on her thighs.

Ashrafi had heard that doctors in Karachi might be able to cure her, and she asked if someone could take her. Instead, Ashrafi’s husband divorced her. Embarrassed and humiliated, Ashrafi fell into a deep depression. She locked herself up in her parents’ home and refused to see anyone.

Thirteen years passed. Ashrafi says she didn’t leave the house once. I asked her, and a cousin of hers whom I reached by telephone, how she spent her days. The answer: sewing, caring for her sick mother — and crying. Her case turned out to require a series of operations because of the long wait. But after six months of surgeries, she should be repaired and ready to go home by the end of this month."

Moving description of Ashrafi's life and the work that Dr. Shershah is doing in Karachi encouraged a number of caring people to comment and share the extent of the problem across the world. I find it unacceptable that in 2009 "two million women today are walking the earth dripping urine and/or faeces because of an un-repaired childbirth injury called obstetric fistula. Quite often it is because a family and a nation have allowed a very young girl to be married". "The problem of fistulas is worldwide, and tied both to girls getting married and pregnant at very young ages, and inadequate and absent care before, during, and after childbirth".

Concerned about the scale of maternal health problems in Pakistan I support a UK based charity International Foundation for Mother and Child (IFMCH) hoping that IFMCH and a number of other very active charities on the ground and heroes like Dr Shershah might be able to bring a change to this situation. It is, however, vital to marshal voices to bring maternal and infant mortality high on the government agenda. Dr Shershah believes that a government, that despite dire economic situation decided to become a nuclear power because it was deemed to be a priority, can change the maternal health situation if only it was on their list of things to do. Unless this happens "there will be more young women bleeding to death for lack of trained caregivers at their births. There will be more Ashrafi Akbars, locked away behind doors for dozens of years because of an injury that no woman should ever have to sustain in giving birth to a child"

I personally know a large number of Pakistani professionals who are on the verge of leaving it all behind and heading to Pakistan to contribute to making a change hand on. I sign off sharing an email from a Pakistani doctor working abroad on similar crossroads.

"A few summers back , I was waiting for someone at the Baltimore airport. A weathered out, white woman in a long dress came over and started talking to me.

She asked me if I was from India. I told her that I am from Pakistan. She then started a conversation about monsoon, and being an expert in BS, I went on my authority mode about the monsoons. She kept correcting me, at which I had to ask her how does she know about it. She told me that she has been working in Chennai, for the last some years and in the monsoon season. In fact she lived there all those years and had just come back home to leave again.
I was a little peeved at the direction the conversation was going , so I tried to change the subject. Then she asked me what do I do for a living. I told her that I am a physician. Her next question was that What are you doing here ? I told her that I am waiting for someone. She looked at me and said, No, In USA, in this country? Why are you here ?

The next few minutes were one of the most difficult in my life, blaming myself for not judging the situation, and trying to find a way out of this quagmire. Using all my skills, I tried my best rationalization, but knowing pretty well it is not gonna sell, I kept on.

I found out that she was a missionary working in the poorest regions of India, living with them and helping them with their daily lives. Working in the small clinic, set up by her group.
Her question was plain and simple, why are you not helping your people? She opened up the wounds that I had suppressed deep down in a dark corner of my mind.The rationalization was strong , but proved once again to be the weakest, especially when there was a strong argument sitting next to me.

I have not forgotten that evening to this day, and I have five different plans that I am working on, in my subconscious all the time.
The seven inches of rain in Karachi, without electricity, has put a lot of clauses on those plans!!

Saturday 18 July 2009

Support Swat children in need - interfaith charity event in Cheshire

An interfaith group of caring professionals in Altrincham, Cheshire UK are organising a charity fund raising event towards the end of August. I highly recommend readers to join the event by being there if you can or by donating from a distance. They have a Facebook group for the event and are in the process of setting up on-line purchase of tickets and donations for those who might like to contribute remotely.

The event is being supported by International Foundation for Mother and Child Health (IFMCH) an international charity set up to improve life expectancy among mothers and young children in Pakistan.

At the beginning of military action in Swat when the relief effort to help the internally displaced people (IDP)s from Swat region was not very organised Dr. Nazir Ahmad a close friend of mine and a very well respected Cheshire psychiatrist personally raised over 2500 pounds and disbursed these funds among the IDPs that were not the radar of relief agencies for not being in the government established camps. Dr Nazir Ahmad is advising this interfaith group on disbursing proceeds from the Iftar charity event without wasting any money on running costs that accompany big charities.

I am writing this post as an invite to all concerned and caring citizens to come forward and join in person, on-line, or in at least in your prayers. Lets not forget the plight of the IDPs, children and mothers in Swat, they need our help now more than ever.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

War against Taliban or war against Email - twisted priorities

Sir Tim Berners-Lee creator of the Internet spoke to BBC last September and said that internet needs a way to help people separate rumour from real science. He said that he was increasingly worried about the way the web has been used to spread disinformation.

You need not worry Sir Tim because having won the war (according to the Interior Ministry) against Taliban in Swat valley, government of Pakistan has now declared war on email. It has been reported that government is launching a campaign against circulation of "ill-motivated" and concocted stories through emails and text messages against civilian leadership and security forces of the country. So, sending "indecent", "provocative" and "ill-motivated" stories and text messages through e-mails and SMS is now an offence under the Cyber Crime Act and its violators could be sent behind bars for 14 years besides confiscation of their property. Similarly, any Pakistani living abroad and in violation of this act may be charged and will be liable to deportation to Pakistan.

So what is the commotion about. Lets first define a chain email message: normally an email chain contains a message that, either through overt instruction or through compelling content, encourages the reader to pass it on. My daughter recently received one that commanded "This is real deal, try ignoring it, and the first thing you'll notice is having a horrible day starting tomorrow morning - and it only gets worse from there" scaring a child into forwarding it to all her friends. Surely, government of Pakistan is not worried about such messages, is it!

One that I received was forwarded by a very knowledgeable friend and gave a very systematic breakdown of salaries and benefits available to the members of Parliament in Pakistan. Now this one had content in it that excited me to write a blog post about politicians benefiting from a very small number of tax payers that Pakistan has. Before using the content I did some quick research to confirm authenticity and found that the same message (word by word and number by number) was being circulated in India and linked to Indian politicians. In ten minutes research I was able to find the content (still the same numbers) in a three year old blog post. The message in the email was highly exaggerated but given the global context and mistrust in politicians all across the world it made a good read - nothing more.

But not every recipient of such chain emails would really spend time in checking the authenticity of the content - there are other important things in life after all. But we should be mindful that "for some reason we tend to believe things that we read more than things that we are told. One consequence of this is that email is often treated more seriously than it deserves. The ease with which email can propagate tempts us to not think about it as seriously as we might if we had" to spend money and say share a document by post.

Referring back to Sir Tim "over the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly and suddenly a cult which was 12 people who had some deep personal issues suddenly find a formula which is very believable," he said. "A sort of conspiracy theory of sorts and which you can imagine spreading to thousands of people and being deeply damaging."

Politicians like Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab province know it too well having been at the receiving end of malicious email campaign directed at his family. Personal photographs of his grown up children were hacked and sent around the world to prove that the family was morally decayed according to "Pakistani" standards.

But is introduction of such draconian rules the way to control these chain mails and texts? Has control ever worked in the ever fluid boundaries of the Internet. China and Iran are good examples - more controlling an environment the more power you give to the underground voices. Is it not better for the Government of Pakistan to change its own policies and bring some transparency and openness in its policy making and communications. And for once recruit some real communicators for change. Lack of trust in the government and politicians will always fuel more chain mails and on-line cults then any laws can stop. Incarceration of those who use the cyberspace to speak their minds will create more heroes then villains.

Finally, could someone tell me whether the government with all its might has been able to stop the FM radio channels run by Taliban in the North West! That's the kind of propaganda stopping which should stay in focus.

Saturday 4 July 2009

Might is right - would US ever face Hague for "Crimes against humanity" committed in Pakistan

Number of innocent non-combatant civilians killed in Pakistan by US drones has by all calculations surpassed the number of US soldiers killed in the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan put together. Until now US air force and drones had demonstrated a knack for attacking Pushtun marriage parties killing, in most cases, innocent non-combatant women and children. Now these botched attacks have begun targeting funeral prayers and processions as well.

US has never officially declared war against the state of Pakistan. Government of Pakistan has always protested, on paper, against these attacks as acts of aggression. Though public perception in Pakistan overwhelming supports the notion that Government of Pakistan has always been in cohorts with US on these attacks - differences, if any, primarily have been around Pakistan authorities not knowing in advance when these attacks are carried out, and that US has not been keen on targeting any Taliban militants who carry out attacks within Pakistan.

Indiscriminate killing of civilians carried out against a nation that US is not at war with can only be described as a "crime against humanity". Rome Statute of the International criminal court describes "crimes against humanity" as follows:

"1. For the purpose of this Statute, "crime against humanity" means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

(a) Murder;
(b) Extermination;
(c) Enslavement;
(d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population;
(e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
(f) Torture;
(g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;
(i) Enforced disappearance of persons;
(j) The crime of apartheid;
(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health."

According to this definition killing of civilians in Pakistan by US military using unmanned drones, kidnapping, enforced disappearance of persons, torture, rape, enslavement of prisoners like Dr. Afia Siddiqui at the hands of US authorities can all be charged as "crimes against humanity" in the International Criminal Court.

But will it ever happen. Over the last few decades only people brought to stand trial at the International Criminal Court for "war crimes" or "crimes against humanity" have been from countries who dared cross path with the US or from weak and pariah states. Principle of might is right applies when it comes to US and her allies. Regimes and dictators can get away with genocide for as long as you are working towards achievement of US strategic interests. Even organisations like Amnesty International with a global voice are quite. Question is for how long...