Tag Archives: Declan Walsh

On Eve of Pivotal Election, Pakistan Orders Times Reporter to Leave

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Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has ordered the expulsion of the Islamabad bureau chief for The New York Times on the eve of national elections, the newspaper said Friday. The Times has strongly protested the move and is seeking his reinstatement.

The ministry did not give any detailed explanation for the expulsion order, which was delivered by police officers in the form of a two-sentence letter to the bureau chief, Declan Walsh, at 12:30 a.m. Thursday local time at his home.

“It is informed that your visa is hereby canceled in view of your undesirable activities,” the order stated. “You are therefore advised to leave the country within 72 hours.”

The timing of the order means that Mr. Walsh must exit Pakistan on the night of the elections, the first in the country’s history in which one elected civilian government completes its term and hands over power to another elected government.

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Sindh: The Sehwan Sharif festival

sehwa-sharif-festival.jpg The greatest party on earth?

By Declan Walsh

(Women dance outside the ‘golden gate’ at the central Shrine of the Sehwan Sharif festival. Around 1 million people attend the three day event that combines partying and prayer to mark the death of the Sufi mystic Lal Shahbaz Qalander, who died 755 years ago. Photograph Declan Walsh.)

Pakistan’s tourism ministry designated 2007 as “Destination Pakistan”, the year when tourists were urged to discover the country’s sights and delights. Their timing couldn’t have been worse. A military ruler clinging to power, al-Qaida fanatics hiding in the mountains, suicide bombings booming across the cities – in 2007, Pakistan has become a byword for peril and turmoil.

But there is another Pakistan, one the majority of its 165 million people are more familiar with. It is the thrusting software entrepreneurs and brash new television stations. It is the kite flyers and partygoers and the strangers who insist you sit for a cup of tea. And it is Sehwan Sharif.

A sleepy town on the Indus river, Sehwan Sharif is on the heroin smuggling route that runs through Sindh from Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea. In summer it is a sauna – stepping from my air-conditioned car last month, the heat carried a five-knuckle wallop.

I joined about 1 million people who come to Sehwan Sharif for three days every year, to mark the death of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, an ancient Sufi mystic. It is one of south Asia’s greatest parties.

A giant, infectious drumbeat fills the night air. Red-clad women spin like dervishes and old men dance like teenagers. Men kiss the railings of the shrine; some burst into tears. A conga line of worshippers pushes into a glittering shrine at the heart of festival. The soft aroma of hashish and cooked bread wafts through the tiny alleyways; old men with watery eyes suck on clay pipes; barefoot families doze on the rooftops.

A million people – it’s enough to give an embassy security officer a heart attack. Yet I’ve rarely felt so secure. Impromptu singing sessions erupt by the roadside. People offer strangers a bed, a meal, or a drag from their joint. Smiles and handshakes are everywhere. Qalandar, a sort of medieval hippy, would have approved. Wandering through this area almost 800 years ago, he preached tolerance between Hindus and Muslims and peace to all men. Legend had it that he could transform himself into a falcon.

One night I met Muhammad Fiaz, a burly bus driver from Gujrat with glitter on his cheeks. He had taken his annual holiday to come and sit at the feet of a pir, or holy man. He brushed off any talk of politics. “Musharraf and his lot are one thing,” he said. “This is entirely another”.

Thursday October 4, 2007

Courtesy: The Guardian

Source – http://www.guardian.co.uk/pakistan/Story/0,,2183119,00.html