Archive for September 5th, 2010

Who is a Pakistani?

By Saleem H Ali for The Express Tribune

The recent exchange of polarised articles, following the Sialkot tragedy, have left me perplexed. Both sides have exhibited tremendous scorn for each other and questioned the authenticity of the ‘other’s’ commitment to Pakistan. The existential conflict which these articles exhibited remind me of a painting by the famous French artist Paul Gauguin which hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston titled: D’où Venons Nous? Que Sommes Nous? Où Allons Nous? Which translates as Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Gauguin painted this huge canvas in 1897 while living as a French expatriate in Tahiti.  He questioned his own identity in this colonial.

The crises that are befalling Pakistan are also leading the country to ask such similar questions. So what exactly does it mean to be a Pakistani? First, let us be clear that nationalism is an inherently synthetic phenomenon and there is nothing ‘natural’ about any form of nationalism. Those who suggest that somehow a larger Indian subcontinent was “natural nationalism” following colonial departure forget the motley assemblage of bitterly divided princely states that existed during much of the subcontinent’s history.

Human rights laws and international norms are increasingly critical of nationalism along ethnic lines. At a practical level, the most defining “natural” element of nationalism is language — because communication is the most essential element of human relations. We can look different and overcome our prejudices if we can communicate effectively.

Language is clearly a fracturing factor in Pakistani perceptions of their identity. Most of the readers of Pakistan’s English newspapers rarely read an Urdu daily. Gone are the days when poets like Faiz could be professors of English but write poetry in Urdu, allowing for an exchange of ideas across social strata that had been defined by language. A few veteran journalists such as Khaled Ahmed have to translate Urdu articles for the ‘Angraizi-walas’ who stumble through an occasional headline in the vernacular press. We are further divided by supremacist views about provincial languages. The only way out is for more Pakistanis to become multilingual at levels of proficiency that allow us to interact with the popular culture of communities across the nation.

Another fracture that is apparent regarding Pakistani identity is connection to the physical land and residence within the country. Often resident Pakistanis dismiss those of us who live abroad as being unauthentic “sell-outs” and somehow lesser citizens. Yet in a world of structural inequality, diaspora communities are a seminal way of development. Consider the citizens of Lebanon — 70 per cent of whom reside outside their country but share a passion for their homeland. No doubt empathy and connection are important and getting a good dose of load shedding and local angst is often needed for an expatriate’s reality check. However, we should not question each other’s commitment and sincerity in this regard.

Perhaps the most potent fracture in Pakistan’s identity crisis remains religion. Pakistan, Israel, and East Timor are the only three countries to have been formed in modern times on the primary basis of religious nationalism. This is where we need to exert the most effort in peace-building. Such action does not mean we disparage religion, but rather that embrace a more pluralistic understanding of our dominant faith.

Going back to Gauguin’s painting, we should move beyond his first two questions and spend more time in considering his third question: Where are we going? Let’s quell the cynicism, sarcasm and innuendo and work on clear solutions for the problems that will define the future of Pakistan.

-Saleem H Ali is a professor of environmental planning at the University of Vermont, USA

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Republican Accuses Indian American Challenger of Playing Race Card

As Reported By The Hindu

A Democratic Indian American Congressional candidate for the November elections to the US House of Representatives has been accused by his rival of playing the race card.

“The only one who has played the race card here is him, by going to Indian-American groups to raise money,” Mark Campbell, spokesman of sitting Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach, told Congressional newspaper ‘The Hill’ in an interview.

As per latest news reports, Geralch is facing a tough challenge from Democrat Manan Tridevi in his Pennsylvania 6th District. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine is headed to Philadelphia to raise money for him.

Cutting across party lines, the community, which has one of the highest per capita incomes across all the ethnic groups in the US, are contributing significantly for all the six Indian American candidates who are running for a record number of Congressional seats this year.

“Dr Manan Trivedi is running a campaign focused on the Pennsylvania families and businesses struggling in this economy. Gerlach, on the other hand, is making these ethnic charges to distract voters from his record of supporting the economic policies that created this recession,” Kathy Kulkarni, president of the Indian American Leadership Initiative (IALI), said in a statement.

Noting that Trivedi is now one of the Democratic Party’s top Congressional candidates, IALI said: “Let’s make Jim Gerlach regret the day his campaign attacked the Indian American community.”

It also urged the community to make a generous contribution to Trivedi’s campaign.

Terming it as an incredible accusation to make in an American political campaign where it is quite common for candidates from both parties to seek support from ethnic organisations, IALI said: “You would never see Gerlach attack an Italian American, Jewish American or Greek American candidate for raising money from their ethnic communities.”

It is ludicrous for Gerlach to say an Indian American candidate should live by different rules, Kulkarni said.

“His campaign statement shows disdain for the Indian American community and the Congressman should apologise immediately,” Kulkarni demanded.

In an election which has seen the largest number of Indian Americans running for office, this is not the first time that a candidate has experienced an attack by his/her political opponent in racial or ethnic lines.

Last month in Kansas, Republican Mike Pompeo apologised to his main rival Democrat Raj Goyle after his campaign tweeted a link to a blog post that included a racial slur aimed at Goyle and labelled President Obama as a Muslim.

The Pompeo campaign said the link to the post was sent in an error. “The statements of the blogger in no way reflect my views,” the Republican said in a statement. “There is no place in campaigns or in public discourse for language of this nature,” he added.

In California, Democratic nominee and Indian American Ami Bera returned the USD 250 received from a donor affiliated with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CARI), a group whom his Republican rivals alleged is linked with terrorists.

CARI, however, has denied these charges.

Bera has alleged that his rival Republican Congressman Dan Lungren’s campaign has been using the diversionary tactics of “fear and race” in order to deflect from jobs, the economy and healthcare — what his campaign is all about.

Lungern’s campaign denies such an allegation.

“Was it race-baiting when Barbara Boxer withdrew an award from the very same CAIR executive director? Bera is a rookie candidate making rookie mistakes,” a spokesman of Lungern told ’The Hill’

The other three Indian Americans running for the Congress are Reshma Saujani, who is giving a tough primary challenge to Congressman Carolyn Maloney in New York; Ravi Sangisetty, running for the seat left open by Congressman Charlie Melancon and Surya Yalamanchili who is challenging Republican Congressman Jean Schmidt in Ohio.

While all the six Indian American candidates running for the seats in US House of Representative are Democrats, leading the community is the Republican Nikki Haley who is running for the gubernatorial race.

What Are Chinese Troops Doing in Kashmir?

By Randeep Ramesh for The Guardian

The claim that more than 7,000 Chinese troops have been handed “de facto control” of Gilgit-Baltistan, a northern part of Kashmir, by Islamabad, has set alarm bells ringing in Delhi. India – which, like its nuclear-armed rival Pakistan, claims the entire state – has long been worried that the People’s Liberation Army was working on roads and railway projects in the Karakoram mountains.

What is true is that China plans a massive highway linking western China to the port it is building at Gwadar, Pakistan, on the shore of the Arabian Sea. The benefits are obvious: the journey time from factory gate in, say, China’s wild west, to container ships bound for the Gulf will be cut from weeks to a few days. Eventually it may even become a key energy supply route.

All of this troubles Delhi, which has long asked for China to keep its nose out of Kashmiri affairs. However, the rise of the Middle Kingdom and its need to secure passage through its own troublesome provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet through to Pakistan make this unlikely. But India suspects, too, that China is intent on becoming the hegemon of much of the eastern hemisphere – able to dictate to smaller powers the rules of the game.

In Kashmir this had led to a round of tit-for-tat diplomatic incidents. So when India refuses to allow a Chinese diplomat to visit its troubled north-eastern state of Manipur for a talk, China responds by blocking the visa of a top Indian general because it appears his command includes Kashmir.

The Himalayan state is a piece of real estate whose sovereignty has long been contested. With its demography as varied as its topography, its various peoples have long been imbued with a stubborn streak of independence.

So it may be unsurprising that when heavy rains washed away villages in the Pakistan’s “Northern Areas” and Islamabad’s response was to sit on its hands, the simmering revolt against Pakistani rule flared again. In response Pakistan, so the claim goes, turned to its all-weather friend China, which was more than happy to send boots flying.

All this is dismissed in Beijing but only after referring to Gilgit as a “northern part of Pakistan”, which simply angered Delhi further. While Pakistan’s problem in its part of Kashmir has been of too little government action, India’s rule in its portion of the state has been heavy-handed and self-defeating.

Faced with a largely nonviolent revolt which began in 2008, the Indian authorities have provoked a much larger crisis with a regime of curfews and the killings of teenagers shot dead with nothing but slogans in their mouths and rocks in their hands. It is time for India to admit that its political and military strategy has failed to stabilise Kashmir.

The actions of both Pakistan and India vitiate claims that somehow either could keep the entire state happy. China has little sympathy with separatist claims – and holds sway over large chunks of the former Kashmiri kingdom.

The only way out of this mess is for Islamabad and Delhi to start rebuilding a peace process that will eventually lead to self-governance on both sides of the de facto border and a withdrawal of substantial numbers of Indian, Pakistani and, yes, even Chinese troops from Kashmir.

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