Pakistan has been nominated as one of the 10 worst humanitarian crises in the world by MSF. There are several wars and crisis situations going on in the country, and the new civilian government has been able to maintain control during the growing instability. The situation in NWFP, where civilians have been targeted in the war between the government and militants, is the main reason quoted by MSF. But also the lack of response to the earthquake in Balochistan, the unrest in the border to Afghanistan and a general problem of not being able to ensure secure working conditions for its staff, are other circumstances that have made MSF to voice his harsh critique to the government.
Understandably, it has not been an easy task for PM Yousaf Raza Gilani to take control after Pakistan had been misruled by the Chief of the Army Pervez Musharraf for almost 10 year. Few people show trust in the establishment, poverty is widespread and there have been a constant debate between Islamic fundamentalists and more secular parties.
But also the current President of Pakistan is a problem. Asif Ali Zardari, late Benazir Bhutto’s husband, has been charged for corruption several times and can prove to be a big burden for Pakistan, as well as for himself. Sten Widmalm at Uppsala University claims that a change in the constitution, wherein the power of the president to dissolve the parliament needs to be eliminated, is required to take place, in order to secure democracy in the country. President Zardari, however, will most likely not impose any strategies that will reduce his own power. He has also been widely criticised for not reinstating the judges who were discharged under Musharraf last year.
Since the death of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi, today exactly one year ago, Pakistan has undergone a massive political change. The fact that an elected government is leading the country proves that we are walking the right way. Nevertheless, as the problems highlighted by MSF shows, a considerable amount of work is needed before we can reach the end of our journey.
There have been busy times, both here in front of my workstation and in Kashmir. I find that if I don’t blog for one or two days, it gets harder and harder to start again. But with a bit of free time before my first review meeting I have the opportunity to update myself and the blog on the most recent events in the area.
You who have followed the news know that Pakistan has clamped down on Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), an Islamic charity organisation alleged to be the front of LeT, by initially raiding one of their camps in AJK and now arresting several of their members around Pakistan as well as freezing their bank accounts. As JuD was one of the more efficient organisers in the disaster relief after the earthquake that struck AJK in 2005, this move is not popular among many Kashmiris, who have protested with anti-US and anti-Indian slogans.
India, on its side, has continued the verbal attack on Pakistan, calling Pakistan the “epicentre of terrorism”. The PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh, seems eager to present an image of India as strong, as he stated that India had professed “the utmost restraint so far”, but that this should not be “misconstrued” as a sign of weakness.
In IJK, the fourth round of state elections took place on 7 December, with an average turnout of 59%. However, protests are still going on, and today the Coordination Committee has planned to organise protests in Srinagar after the Friday prayers.
During the last couple of days I have read several journalists and bloggers referring to the attacks in Mumbai last week as “India’s 9/11” (a quick Google search received 34,300 results, among at least the first 10 referred to Mumbai), or asking “Is Mumbai like Oklahoma City?” or stating “This is India’s Columbine”.
All these events were extremely tragic and obviously there are cross-cutting similarities, such as Islamic fundamentalism in the Twin Tower-case or young disillusioned nationals as in the other two cases. But even when I tried to make this brief generalisation here, we can see that it doesn’t work.
Islamic fundamentalism with connections to Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba, yes, but the targets were not only “Western”, but also Indian local such as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
Young, yes. But nationals? Hm. There are still uncertainties, rumours and guesses. But there seem to have been at least one Pakistani, a couple of British nationals of Pakistani background and a Maldivian.
Obviously it was a well-coordinated attack in style with September 11, but that doesn’t justifying the simplification of the motivations behind Mumbai. And whilst acknowledging the complexity of 9/11 for its own reasons, Mumbai is complex in itself.
My point is that we need to look at each case separately, to avoid simplifications that reduce our thinking to totalities such as “All terrorists are Muslims”, or “All Christians are fanatics”. Instead we must highlight the socio-economic structures and intersectional injustices that excludes individuals and groups from participating as equal individuals in our societies. We must never justify terrorism, but we must also never reduce it to only violence. It’s much more complex than that.
So, the third round of State Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir has gone through. The Indian government reported a pretty high turnout, with 79% in Karnah constituency as the highest and 53.56% in Langate as the lowest. All figures, except Langate – which remained the same-. were higher than in 2002. But one may wonder how accurate these figures are. Allegations of fixed elections or tampered voting results are frequent in Kashmir. Also, often people have been forced out of their homes to vote, sometimes even under gunpoint.
In the constituency of Trehgam the Indian army attacked and abused a large crowd of women protesting against the elections and for independence. When the police cornered the group and snatched their banners, the crowd responded with stone-throwing, which exaggerated the protests. Yet, despite the violent abuse by the policemen, the anti-election protestors managed to get their voices heard, as the queues to the voting booths dispersed.
In Greater Kashmir these voices were cited.
Khalida: “We want Azadi and we will fight for it till our last breath. Voting will do us no good…”
Abdul Hameed: “We support the call given by CC and we would not cast our vote come what may. We have gathered here to see the people who come out to vote ignoring the sacrifices that Kashmiris have made all these years … All these years we have seen what Indian government is all about but every Kashmiri should understand that by casting the vote they are playing into the hands of India…”
But some other people regarded the voting as an important part of the democratisation and development process of the state.
Kaiser Malik: “I have been casting vote since I became eligible for voting. It is necessary to elect the representative who would work for our development. But this does not mean we don’t want Azadi.”
Sara: “We vote because we don’t want the same people to win again. They have ignored us all these years…”
And as the curfew is still imposed, despite some local clashes as those described above the Kashmir Valley has generally remained quiet. Policemen are stationed around Srinagar to keep people inside their houses. There were complaints about people not being allowed outside to buy milk and bread. Obviously Delhi fears more attacks after last week’s tragic rampage in Mumbai, both from militant Islamic groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and from secular or moderate pro-freedom orgainsations such as The Jammu and Kashmir Coordination Committee and Hurriyat.
However, one may wonder how far democracy can pushed in order for democracy to remain?
The Srinagar based online newspaper the Kashmir Observer has been down for a couple of weeks now. Does anybody know why? I found it a great source for news and analysis directly from the Valley and I miss their uptodate reporting. Now I mainly rely on Greater Kashmir, which also is very comprehensive, as well as Pakistani based Dawn and various Indian newspapers.
Please join this petition and show you’re against communal violence – in India, in Pakistan and all over the world.
“We citizens of India, and countries around the world, from all faiths, backgrounds and walks of life, declare with one voice that the terrorist attacks in Mumbai have not divided us, will not divide us, and that we stand together, as one people, against all violent extremists who shamefully target the innocent. We call upon all our political and religious leaders to come together at this moment, and take effective action to prevent the spread of violence”
A couple of years ago I read a beautiful declaration of love to the city of Mumbai. It is called ‘Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found’ and was written by Suketu Mehta, an India-born, U.S. educated writer returning to his childhood home and rediscovering the politics, entertainment, criminality and friendships that are Mumbai.