Archive for January 6th, 2011

Pakistanis, Indians want peace, friendship, says poll

As Reported by SANA (South Asian News Agency)

Despite a history of conflicts, mistrust and estranged relationship, an overwhelming number of Pakistanis and Indians want peace and friendship between the nuclear-armed South Asian nations, a survey conducted on both sides of the border has revealed.

The survey – conducted by independent research agencies and sponsored by the Jang Group of Pakistan and The Times of India on the first anniversary of their joint peace initiative ‘Aman Ki Asha’ – showed that 70 per cent of Pakistanis and 74 per cent of Indians want peaceful relations.

Although, the process of composite dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi remains stalled since the 2008 Mumbai carnage, 72 per cent Pakistanis and 66 per cent Indians hope to see ’sustainable friendly relations’ in their lifetime. Compared with last year, the number of Indians hoping to see peace in their lifetime has surged by 17 per cent.

The optimism at the people’s level appears in a stark contrast to the current bitter official positions. The Indian government accuses Pakistan of harbouring terrorists and not doing enough against the alleged sponsors of the Mumbai attack, while Islamabad says that New Delhi has been using this incident as a ‘propaganda’ tool to avoid talks on the core issue of Kashmir. Islamabad also blames India for instigating violence in Balochistan.

According to the survey, awareness of the Kashmir problem as being central to the state of relations between the two countries, particularly in India, has increased. The survey results show that 77 per cent Pakistanis and 87 per cent of Indians feel that peace can be achieved by settling the protracted Kashmir dispute.

The scientific survey covered 10 Pakistani cities and 42 villages, covering a cross-section of people from rural and urban areas. Pakistani cities where the survey was carried out were: Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Multan, Faisalabad, Hyderabad and Sukkur. In India, the survey was conducted in six cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad (Deccan) and Chennai. Adult population, both male and female, were represented in the survey.

This was the second survey on Pakistan-India relations. The first survey was conducted in December 2009; just before the Aman Ki Asha peace campaign was launched. Survey results show a consistent and marked improvement in perceptions about each other by people in both countries.

The survey showed that the issue of Pakistan-India relations featured in the thoughts of 73 per cent Pakistanis and 68 per cent Indians. The survey results said apart from settling the Kashmir dispute, 80 per cent Pakistanis and 91 per cent Indians think ’stronger relations and better defence’ would also contribute in achieving the goal of peace.

The survey tracked the impact of the Aman Ki Asha campaign in India by asking a similar set of questions to two groups of people – one aware of this peace campaign and the other not aware of it. On all four questions asked – perceiving Pakistan as a high threat to India, as a sponsor of terror, desire for peace and being hopeful for achieving sustainable peace – there was a marked difference in the responses of the two groups. The group that was aware of the Aman Ki Asha initiative had a much better perception of Pakistan.

Around 77 per cent of Pakistanis and 87 per cent Indians consider that international pressure may help in bringing peace, while 71 per cent Pakistanis and 72 per cent Indians pin hopes on greater people-to-people contact to pave the way for friendly relations. Eighty-one per cent Pakistanis and Indians see people-to-people contact as an effective ‘instrument of peace’.

An increase in business has also been tipped as a vehicle of peace by 67 per cent Pakistanis and 69 per cent Indians, the survey said. Among other steps needed to promote peace, 32 per cent Pakistanis pinned hopes on sports, 28 per cent on business, 22 per cent on tourism, 20 per cent on travel for health treatment and 13 per cent each on culture and higher education. The data from the Indian side regarding this questionnaire was not available.

For 51 per cent of Pakistanis, business can help bring peace, while 46 and 45 per cent of respondents said that it can also be done through sports and tourism respectively.

AMAN KI ASHA: The first of its kind peace drive ‘Aman Ki Asha’ was seen by a vast majority as articulating the aspirations of the people. Around 87 per cent Pakistanis and 74 per cent Indians were of the view that this sustained campaign ‘developed tremendous awareness about the Indo-Pak relationship’. Around 85 per cent Pakistanis and 61 per cent Indians said Aman Ki Asha communicated ‘peoples’ desire for peace to their governments, while 80 per cent Pakistanis and 86 per cent Indians said it ‘helped bring the people of the two countries together’.

The Jang Group and The Times of India have held a series of events over the last 12 months that involved a broad section of people, including students, intellectuals, artists, businessmen, doctors, information technology experts and ordinary citizens in an attempt to boost people-to-people ties.

In Pakistan, the recall of the ‘Aman Ki Asha’ campaign has been around an impressive 92 per cent. Shahrukh Hasan, Group Managing Director of the Jang Group, said this media-led civil society movement had made a huge contribution for peace at a time when tensions remained high between the two countries.

“The survey results should lay to rest any misgivings or apprehensions people may have had about the objectives or chances of success of the campaign,” he said. “The survey results show that Aman Ki Asha has brought about a sea change in perceptions in India about Pakistan. Every negative perception has decreased and every positive perception has improved. The Jang Group feels vindicated and is delighted that we have helped put across Pakistan’s point of view through honest dialogue, seminars, people-to-people contacts and cultural events.”

According to the survey, the terror perception in India about Pakistan is down to 42 per cent from 75 a year ago, of bomb threats to 29 per cent from 54 and awareness about the Kashmir dispute rising to 17 per cent from a mere four per cent. Hasan hoped that the Pakistani and Indian governments would continue to facilitate the Aman Ki Asha peace campaign and take advantage of the access to the hearts and minds of the people of the two countries that the Jang Group and the Times of India provided.

The Real Blasphemers

As Reported by Cafe Pyala

Mera azm itna buland hai ke paraye shaulon ka dar nahin

Mujhe khauf aatish-e-gul se hai, ye kaheen chaman ko jala ne de

[My resolve is so strong that I do not fear the flames from without

I fear only the radiance of the flowers, that it might burn my garden down] 

— Shakeel Badayuni couplet referenced by Salmaan Taseer on Twitter, 8 hours before his assassination 

I had been hoping that I could post something light-hearted, more entertaining at the start to the new year, but today’s Pakistan it seems is not the place for these sort of things any more. Four days into January and we already have yet another tragedy that has evoked not only pain and sadness but also immense amounts of disgust at the depths to which we, the unfortunate inhabitants of this blighted country, have sunk.

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer‘s brutal and senseless murder in Islamabad today (Tuesday) is not only an intensely heavy blow for his family and friends – to whom our thoughts go out to – but also to the hopes for a saner public discourse about issues that certain people endeavour to keep out of the conversation altogether. He often said things that many think but are unwilling to say in public out of fear or aversion to stoking argument. Whatever anyone may have thought about Taseer’s personal life (not that it’s any of anyone’s concern) or his business practices, there is absolutely no doubt that he was a brave and outspoken man who did not compromise his personal beliefs for the sake of cowardly politics. Along with barely a couple of other politicians on the national level (Sherry Rehman being one), his was a rare voice that was willing to take on the rightist mullah mindset in the public domain.

And contrary to what his detractors claimed, he did so with full awareness of the moral responsibilities of a public figure. In a recent interview, he was asked why he chose to raise the issue of the unjust blasphemy laws when he knew that he would receive brickbats from the rightist parties and become the target of the extremists. He replied: “Because if even I don’t, how will others get over their fears?” On December 31, he tweeted: “I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy.Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing”

In Salmaan Taseer’s untimely death we have all lost a truly courageous individual. Those within his party who opposed his just stand on the abhorrent misuse of blasphemy laws, moral pygmies such as Babar Awan, should hang their heads in shame.

At the same time, one must also feel disgust at those who have either valourized Taseer’s self-confessed lunatic murderer Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, or used their weasely arguments to somehow try and justify the outrage. So-called-intellectuals like Irfan Siddiqui and bigots like Jamaat-e-Islami‘s oily Fareed Parachaand the ever-slimy Ansar Abbasi tried their best to claim (on Geo) that Taseer was somehow himself responsible for his fate because he had raised a “sensitive” issue.

I am not of the opinion that one should not speak ill of the dead only because he or she is dead, curse Zia ul Haq with every breath as far as I am concerned. But these gentlemen’s basic argument was this: even expressing your opinion about a warped law made by a warped dictator and endorsed by his warped proteges is enough to condemn you to death, so everyone should keep quiet about the misuse of religion and leave it all up to the mullah brigade. It’s time to tell them to shut the hell up themselves.

But the disgust does not end with a couple of morons trying to silence all discussion about religion to and other fanatics praising a criminal. The bigger issue, as we have been saying all along, is the refusal of society to see the inter-linkages of such acts of terrorism with the mindset that has been cultivated through the military establishment’s promotion of jihadi outfits, the propping up of so-called religious parties whose only agenda is bigotry, the pusillanimous and opportunistic silence over the treatment of minorities such as Ahmadis, Shias, Hindus and Christians and indeed all dissenters (religious scholar Javed Ghamdi being one), the valourization of criminals such as the illiterate Ilm Deen (dubbedshaheed [martyr] because he was hanged in 1929 for murdering a publisher), the rejection of rationality and logic, the marginalization of the arts and cultural traditions as something alien to our society, and the tolerance for hate-speech and incitements to violence such as that of this monkey.

It is this mindset, which has been cultivated by the state looking the other way at – if not directly promoting – acts of radicalization, that allows an entire police squad to see nothing wrong in one of their own planning to commit the murder of someone they are assigned to protect. (We now hear via Geo that Qadri had in fact confided to his colleagues in the Punjab ‘Elite Force’ about his plans and had even requested them not to shoot at him, a request they honoured.)

Our real disgust should be directed at all those parts of society that cannot put two and two together despite the evidence staring them in the face. We will inevitably hear a lot in the media about security lapses and administrative efficiency lapses that led to a criminal being part of a protective force (incidentally, Geo is also reporting through its sources that Qadri had been sacked from the Punjab Police’s Special Branch a few months ago because he was dubbed a ‘security risk’). But the only void that I think we really need to focus on is the one in our society’s collective brain.

So how do we deal with all this? I have heard a lot of dismay and hopelessness today and I can completely understand the feeling. For many people, this is another nail in the coffin of the idea of a viable future for Pakistan. The only option to counter this feeling of despondency, in my opinion, is to become more assertive and louder and to shame those who would stifle dissent.

The problem of course is that wishy-washy liberalism cannot fight fanaticism. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Simply put, we can either shut up, resign ourselves to our fate and disconnect from this country and society or we can fight back and refuse to cede the space that the bastards want us to. Nobody ever said it would be easy.

As a start, let us declare Qadri, all those who support Qadri and murderers like him, the Khatm-e-Nabuwatmovement and its ilk as outside the pale of Islam. Let’s see how they like being referred to as blasphemers andmurtids

Nobody said this fight would not be dirty.

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