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The laughing warrior

By: Nadeem F. Paracha

Born in 1956, Fauzia Wahab was enjoying a fiery career as a passionate human rights worker and one of the most prominent voices of reason in the often chaotic, judgmental and fiercely patriarchal world of Pakistani politics and sociology, when her life was cut short on June 17, 2012.

Belonging to Pakistan’s largest political outfit, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Fauzia’s fame was nothing like that of former PPP Chairperson, late Benazir Bhutto, and nor was she known so well outside of Pakistan like the country’s other famous women activists and democrats like Benazir or Asma Jahangir.

Fauzia’s fame was largely local, rooted deep in whatever that is left of the tradition of progressive politics and liberalism in the country’s urban middle-classes – a tradition that was triggered by the rise of the PPP in the late 1960s and gave large sections of the Pakistani middle-classes a left-leaning and almost revolutionary dimension.

Although Fauzia was in school when leftist student organisations and trade, labour and journalist unions rose to successfully challenge the rule of Pakistan’s first military dictator, Ayub Khan, in the late 1960s, she was quick to join politics when she entered college in 1972 and then the Karachi University in 1975.

A glimpse into her career as a student politician can be an insightful exercise to understand the kind of a charisma she possessed that continued to make her stand out without requiring her to be a leading political figure or an ideologue.

A PPP colleague of hers once described Fauzia as a smiling rebel who had a natural knack of balancing her traditional side with her rebellious streak without looking or sounding contradictory or confused.

The same colleague (who was talking to me late last year in an informal chat), thought that Fauzia’s first act of rebellion was actually against her own ethnic background.

Coming from an educated Urdu-speaking family settled in Karachi, Fauzia did not automatically support the Jamat-e-Islami (JI) or the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP) like most Urdu-speakers of Sindh and its capital, Karachi, did till the late 1970s.

Instead, when she joined college, she at once jumped into the ranks of leftist and progressive student groups, but without waving Mao’s Red Book or Marx’s Das Kapital.

Another colleague of hers who was with her in a progressive student group at Karachi University and then later joined the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM), told me that Fauzia was always more interested in solving the problems of the students and challenging those who used faith to impose their politics than she was in leftist theory.

It was this attitude of hers that placed her in the leading ranks of the Progressive Students Alliance at the Karachi University – an alliance comprising of various left-wing, liberal and Sindhi, Baloch and Pashtun student groups.

But battling opposing student groups, especially those on the right, through student union elections and campaigning, was where it all started and ended for Fauzia – in 1978 she met and married another passionate progressive student politician, Wahab Siddiqui, who soon went on to become an accomplished journalist.

After marriage, Fauzia gladly became a housewife, raising her children and supporting her husband’s career as a journalist. But her love for politics, the liberal ideals that had driven her as a student and her romance for Karachi remained intact.

Some early recruits of the MQM claim that Fauzia almost joined the MQM when it suddenly rose to become Karachi’s leading party in the late 1980s. Though this was never mentioned by Fauzia herself, it is however true that she eventually became a kind of a pioneer of a little known but important strain in the workings of the PPP in Karachi, Sindh.

I can vouch for this because I, as an active member of the PPP’s student-wing, the PSF (in the 1980s), too got involved in what Fauzia would ultimately represent within the PPP as a Karachiite.

When Benazir returned to Pakistan from exile in 1986 and then went on to become the country’s first woman prime minister in 1988, she at once recognised the importance of having the MQM as a ‘natural ideological partner’ and a party that could keep governments afloat with the seats that it was able to win in Karachi and Hyderabad.

I was at the Karachi University in 1989 when Benazir constituted a team of Sindhi and Urdu-speaking members of the PPP to negotiate a coalition deal with MQM chief Altaf Hussain. I remember how this policy created a kind of a rift within the ranks of the PSF in Karachi.

One faction was totally against Benazir’s move, while the other faction saw it as a way to unite secular forces so they could reclaim the political space they had lost to the ‘reactionaries’ and religionists during Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship.

Though a Punjabi from my father’s side, I was born and bred in Karachi. So I decided to side with the latter group and was ultimately ‘expelled’ from the university by the former faction.

Of course, the coalition collapsed and dozens of students lost their lives in the deadly clashes that followed between the PSF and MQM’s student-wing the APMSO.

However, even while an operation was underway against MQM militants under the second Benazir regime (1993-96), I am witness to the fact that Benazir’s idea of creating a bridge (made up of ideological similarities as well as pragmatism) between Karachi chapters of the PPP and MQM was very much alive.

And here is where Fauzia came in. After the tragic sudden death of her husband in 1993, Fauzia found herself returning to politics. Her husband had played an active role as a journalist against the Zia dictatorship and this drew the attention of Benazir who made Fauzia the Information Secretary of the PPP’s women’s wing in Sindh.

An articulate and educated person from a respected Urdu-speaking middle-class family, Fauzia was to become that bridge between the PPP and Urdu-speakers in Karachi. Later on, Fauzia, along with another prominent PPP Karachite, Faisal Raza Abidi, would play a prominent role in helping Asif Ali Zardari strike a coalition with the MQM after the 2008 elections.

Though a passionate Karachite and proud of her ethnic background, Fauzia was first and foremost a Pakistani who wanted to use the platform of a large political party to continue raising human rights issues, especially those related to women.

Fauzia became a close confidant of Benazir Bhutto. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Fauzia was the person Benazir banked on to continue building links between the PPP and Urdu-speakers in Karachi as well as being one of the faces in the PPP the MQM was most comfortable with.

But it wasn’t until during the Musharraf dictatorship that Fauzia was thrown into the limelight of Pakistani politics. Being made an MNA during the 2002 elections, she played an active political role against the Musharraf regime.

This was also due to the eruption of privately owned TV news channels in the country. Fauzia became a prominent fixture in most political talk shows, passionately criticising the Musharraf regime and articulating her party’s understanding of the situation.

After Benazir’s shocking assassination in 2007, Fauzia managed to survive the PPP’s new chairperson Asif Ali Zardari’s changes within the party structure. In fact she became an even more prominent figure in the party.

Along with Faisal Raza Abidi and Qamar Zaman Kaira, Fauzia became one of the fiercest defenders of the PPP regime’s polices in the electronic media. But unlike many other politicians who also became regular fixtures on TV talk shows, Fauzia retained a cheerful witty attitude.

However, she wasn’t only about defending her party’s regime. Along with famous human rights activist and lawyer, Asma Jahangir, Fauzia was one of the few prominent Pakistani women who never held back while lambasting crimes of hate committed by religious nuts and terrorists.

She openly condemned the murder of Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, by a crackpot who wrongly accused Taseer of committing blasphemy. She was threatened by a number of fanatical clerics and their supporters for this.

Fauzia continued highlighting the threat to Pakistanis, especially women and those belonging to minority religions, faced from radical religious groups. She continued to remain a target of the abuse and menacing threats that came her way from religious outfits.

But she marched on, still holding her balanced mantle that seamlessly mixed passionate oratory with reason and hearty wit.

Continue reading The laughing warrior

A prominent Sindh-Dost writer Professor Afaq Siddiqui passes away

KARACHI: Sindh’s prominent poet, writer and researcher, Professor Afaq Siddiqui passed away in Karachi, Sindh on Sunday, June 17, 2012. He was 86.

The immigrants who came from India to Sindh, unfortunately they didn’t accept or adopt Sindhi language and Sindh’s evergreen secular culture of love, peace, tolerance and communal harmony. However, there were many who accepted Sindhi language, culture, and values, And, Sindh loves them, accept them and embrace them as her own children! One such great immigrant was Professor Afaq Siddiqui. His work was highly appreciated all over Sindh. He received more than 60 International awards. Amongst the various awards that he received, one is the Pride of Performance and the other is Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai Excellence Award, which is the highest award of Sindh. He merged himself in the secular Sufi culture of Sindh. He was a prominent Sindh Dost researcher, poet and writer. Professor Siddiqui wrote 40 books, 18 of which are in Sindhi. He also translated “Shah Jo Rasalao”. Sindh & Sindhis are truly indebted to this proud son of Sindh and to other Urdu speaking Sindhis who made Sindh their home.

Professor Siddiqui was born in 1928 in a house of a police officer in India. He migrated to Sindh after partition of the sub-continent. “He will be laid to rest in Sakhi Hassan graveyard in Karachi Sindh.

Courtesy: Sindhi e-lists/ e-groups, + facebook and internet.

‘Taliban are Pakistani military without uniform’ says Hyrbyar Marri

In the wake of the first anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s killing by American elite troops, DW takes a closer look at Pakistan’s “other” war in a rare interview with a prominent Baloch leader.

Hyrbyar Marri is the fifth son of Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, a veteran national leader and the head of the largest Baloch clan. In the late 1990s Hyrbar Marri went into exile in Britain. In 2007, he was arrested under a warrant issued by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and held in Belmarsh – a maximum security prison in southeast London. Prominent British human rights advocates such as Peter Thatchell campaigned for Marri and accused the British executive of collaborating with Musharraf’s regime. Marri was eventually acquitted in 2008 by a British jury and remains in Britain where he has recently been granted asylum.

DW: What’s the current situation in Pakistani-controlled Balochistan?

Continue reading ‘Taliban are Pakistani military without uniform’ says Hyrbyar Marri

Tribute to Comrade Sobho Gianchandani

Sobho Gianchandani is a prominent Sindhi revolutionary who remains a source of inspiration for many generations of Sindhi activists, writers and social reformers. Mr. Gianchandani, known lovingly as Comrade Sobho, has been associated with many political  and campaign groups, including the Indian National Congress and Khudai Khidmatgar and is the founder of many progressive, democratic and nationalist campaigns in Sindh. After the partition, Pakistani authorities pressured himlike millions of other Sindhi Hindus — to leave Sindh and migrate to India, but Sobho refused, and in consequence he was forbidden to travel abroad until 1998. Sobho was imprisoned for more than a year during the British rule, and after the partition, he fell under the wrath of Pakistani establishment and has many jail sentences to his credit, including one in 1971 for opposing military sponsored genocide in Bangladesh. Comrade Sobho and G. M. Syed were close associates and comrades in different aspects of the Sindhi rights movement. The G. M. Syed Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award is bestowed on Mr. Gianchandani in appreciation of his life-long struggle for emancipation for Sindhis and other oppressed peoples of South Asia and in recognition of his grass-roots efforts to promote tolerance, justice, communal harmony and peace. …..

Read more » ChagataiKhan

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More » THE MAN FROM MOEN–JO-DARO – Interview with Comrade Sobho Gianchandani

Pro-democracy protest: Protestors threaten civilian unrest if govt toppled

LAHORE: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Civil Society Network and Center for Peace protested against the judiciary and army on Thursday, warning the two institutions of civilian unrest if they tried to topple the PPP led coalition government.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Abdullah Malik, advisor to the Punjab governor, said that “The participants sensing the current democratic to be in danger have decided to come out on the roads to show their solidarity with the democracy.”

He added that only people had the right to change the government through their vote in a democracy and not the judge or the generals.

PPP members along with prominent representatives of civil society demonstrated in favour of the current democratic government at the Liberty roundabout.

Participants warned the judiciary and army that if it tried to topple the PPP led coalition government by using the Memogate affair as an excuse, then the civil society will protest on the streets.

Civil Society Network and Center for Peace members, including IA Rehman, Hussain Naqi, Shah Taj Qizilbash, Abdullah Malik along with South Asia Free Media Association’s (SAFMA) Anjum Rashid, Imtiazul Haq, Shoaib Adil and Amina Malik participated in the demonstration.

Other PPP members at the protest included Deputy Parliamentary Leader in the Punjab Assembly, Azma Bukhari and Altaf Qureshi. …

Read more » The Express Tribune

Split in Sindh PPP Imminent; Nawaz-Mirza under Pressure for Alliance; Fahmida Mirza Offers to Resign

– Split in Sindh PPP Imminent; President Offers Aitzaz An Important Position, May Play Prominent Role in Future; Nawaz-Mirza under Pressure for Alliance; Fahmida Mirza Offers to Resign

Aitzaz May Play Prominent Role in Future; How Fasih Bokhari Was Nominated as Chairman NAB?

By Aijaz Ahmed

Islamabad: There seldom comes a cooling off interval in Pakistani politics – at least not these days. With every passing moment, the temperature gets higher and the hectic moves and counter moves by the stakeholders create more and more confusion. Amidst all that, the moves by one of the players, Zulfikar Mirza may soon result in split within his own party.

On his return from Malaysia, Zulfikar Mirza dropped another bombshell; he addressed a press conference along with the leaders of the Peoples Amn Committee and announced that following in the footsteps of Imran Khan, he would carry three suitcases to London, UK, filled with evidence against Altaf Hussain of MQM. The statement of Mirza created another storm in the troubled city of Karachi, Sindh and prompted MQM demands for his arrest. The rampant political crisis is destined to lead towards a final showdown within the PPP ranks as well as between the PPP and its love-hate partner the MQM.

A group of PPP dissidents from Sindh is getting united with a resolve to fight against any effort for passing the proposed Local Government Ordinance, which was first introduced by military dictator Musharraf and then reintroduced by Babar Awan known as Mr. Tughral in the political circles of Islamabad.

The move is not only to oppose the local government ordinance bill, but the built in opposition to the government-MQM alliance is also coming to the fore. The group emerging around Mirza in Sindh will ultimately gain strength, and the people in the province having sympathies with PPP will by and large go with Mirza team, says a PPP leader from the political team of the president, Zardari.

The central leadership of the party is trying its best to control the damage caused by Mirza, but for the first time in the history of the party, it appears that all the efforts by the leadership are going in vain as dissent in the party is visibly increasing.

The game does not end there; rather another innings of the long and tiring game of politics is being started again, and the umpires of the game have become, as always, the main players of the innings now. There are clear indications that the behind-the-scene players who ‘encouraged’ Mirza to go up in the arms to such an extent where he put his relationship with the president at stake are trying to bring Mirza and Nawaz Sharif closer on some point of mutual interests and that is the opposition of MQM and elimination of corruption, sources in the power circle of Islamabad have revealed. ….

Read more » Indus Herald

M.F. Husain dies; famous Indian painter, 95, was in exile after death threats from Hindu hardliners

India’s most prominent painter, M.F. Hussain, dies in self-imposed exile at age 95

By Associated Press

NEW DELHI — M.F. Hussain, a former movie billboard artist who rose to become India’s most sought-after painter before going into self-imposed exile during an uproar over nude images of Hindu icons, died Thursday. He was 95.

CNN-IBN TV channel quoted a friend, Arun Vadehra, as saying that Hussain, often described as India’s Picasso, died at the Royal Brompton hospital in London. His lawyer, Akhil Sibal, confirmed the death to The Associated Press.

Hussain had lived in Dubai since 2006 after receiving death threats from Hindu hard-liners in India for a nude painting of a woman shaped like India’s map, often depicted as “Mother India” in popular arts, folklore and literature. A nude of Hindu goddess Saraswati also angered the hard-liners. ….

Read more: Washington Post

 

Afghan Stonings, on Video, Finally Get Authorities’ Notice

By ROD NORDLAND

KABUL, Afghanistan — Police officers investigating the double murder of a couple who were stoned to death in a prominent case five months ago could hardly have asked for more abundant evidence.

There were hundreds of witnesses. The date, time and place of the attack were well known, and so were the identities of the killers. The crime had even been captured on cellphone videos, and at least one of the recordings reached the authorities within days.

Now one of those videos showing the full horror of the killings has been broadcast on Afghan television to the shame of Afghan authorities, who have yet to make a single arrest in the deaths of the 19-year-old woman, Siddiqa, and her fiancé, Khayyam, 25, who had tried to elope against their families’ wishes.

The broadcast has suddenly prompted at least the appearance of action by the government. Over the weekend, a Ministry of Interior investigating commission arrived in Kunduz Province, where the stoning was carried out by the Taliban in a village that has since come back under government control. …

Read more : The New York Times