‘Al-Jazeera: An Island of Pro-Empire Intrigue’ by Sukant Chandan

The Empire admits: without Al-Jazeera, they could not have bombed Libya.

How did Al-Jazeera, once dubbed the ‘terror network’ by some and whose staff were martyred by US bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, end up becoming the media war propagandist for yet another Western war against a small state of the Global South, Libya? We will not know the full details for some time; perhaps some wikileaks will help us understand later. But this much is already certain: the station is betraying gross political bias against its pan-Arab and pan-Islamic anti-imperialist constituency, reflected by its discriminatory reporting on the region based on Qatar’s interests and its relations and service to the West.

Al-Jazeera’s Smashing of Western Hegemony in Media
In the late 1990s, Al-Jazeera delivered a historic blow to Western hegemony in the media thitherto wielded through Sky, CNN, and the BBC. The emergence of Al-Jazeera was a part of the world process of growing multi-polarity — the beginning of the end of the ‘New World Order’ phase of US hegemony. In the Arab world the Gulf region started to see great political upheaval in the 1990s when the people of the region realized that their main national resource — oil — was not going to last for ever and that, if they don’t use this oil to develop their countries, then they will be left with nothing but sand dunes. It was these factors which led to the emergence of a vibrant pro-democracy movement in the Gulf, especially in ‘Saudi’ Arabia.

All media try to appear independent, but no large media ever is, including Al-Jazeera. It played a crucial agit-prop role in the early 2000s during the intense battles between the Empire and the oppressed peoples’ struggles in Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Having myself undertaken international solidarity work with medical staff during the height of the siege of Ramallah in April 2002, I can attest that, for those under the Zionist state’s military curfew and occupation in Palestine, Al-Jazeera was almost the eyes and ears of the people in Ramallah, keeping us informed about the solidarity protests across the region and internationally and also keeping us buoyed up in reporting the resistance in Afghanistan, the Tora Bora battle at the time to be precise.

There were always political contradictions within the station, the patron of the station being the Gulf monarchy of Qatar, who hosts the US Army’s regional Central Command — Centcom. Despite the contradictions in the station, it seems clear that Western powers were not going to allow Al-Jazeera Arabic to launch an English-language station with the same assertive, nay militant position towards Western foreign policy. Al-Jazeera English (AJE), launched in November 2006, had to tread carefully, not crossing the invisible ideological lines drawn by the United States too, not just by Qatar’s ruling class. The programming of AJE since 2006 has kept the reporting on the region within the bounds of liberal opposition to the West (any flirtation with radicalism being restricted to what’s tolerated by Qatar’s warm relations with Hizbullah and Hamas), never encouraging African unity (no pan-Africanism in its editorial line), and being consistently negative in relation to China. (In contrast, AJE reporting on Latin America has been more varied, though clearly more positive toward the ‘Good Left’ of Brazil than the ‘Bad Left’ of Venezuela.)

Recently, AJE was instrumental in the publication of the Palestine Papers, which taught no one anything new about the failure of the peace process, but whose effect was a deepening of the schism between Fatah and Hamas. A very short while later, Tunisia and then Egypt erupted into the people’s uprisings, and the subsequent turmoil in the region began.

Al-Jazeera Reporting on the Region and Western Hegemony
AJE started to lose its pretence of “every angle, every side” during the reporting from Tahrir Square. Millions watched with pride, inspiration, and nervousness the battle of the masses at Tahrir with AJE playing the agit-prop role in the struggle. However, there were two interrelated areas in which AJE’s reporting became suspect. Firstly, few of its guests, analysts and opinion-makers, went beyond a liberal agenda. Many of the guests were from Western NGOs and think tanks, neither of which have ever made any significant contribution to the liberation of any country of the Global South. AJE made sure there was no radical anti-imperialist analysis on its station. Is it that there are hardly any Nasserites, anti-imperialist Islamists, or revolutionary leftists left in Egypt? Of course not, Egypt is rich in revolutionary experience and thinking, as is the general Arab world, leading one to the conclusion that there is a clear decision to censor these voices from the station.

Perhaps looking at the last successful revolution in Egypt is illustrative of this point. The Egyptian Revolution led by President Gamal Abdel Nasser openly stated that the central aim of the struggle was to fight imperialism and Zionism and to develop a non-aligned foreign policy, for socialist-oriented wealth distribution and land reform at home. All of these issues were stripped from AJE’s reporting from Egypt, handed over to liberals.

Secondly, the reporting from Tahrir was even more interesting as we had the opportunity to compare AJE’s reporting with Iran’s English-language Press TV, who were both in the same place, at the same time, and amongst the same people. Whereas AJE censored out just about all the anti-imperialist and pro-Palestinian/anti-Zionist slogans and sentiments of the masses at Tahrir, Press TV accentuated these voices from Tahrir, voices which were very loud and massive in their numbers. One thing is for certain, despite a changing situation in the region, the West, especially the USA, wants to make sure that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt will never turn anti-imperialist, and AJE has been an integral part of keeping these struggles within the boundaries set by the West.

It has been, however, on the reporting of Libya and the Gulf where AJE has completely exposed its agenda, which is very much a reactionary Gulf and pro-West agenda. Still riding on the good will from the reporting in Tunisia and Egypt, in the first few days of the Libyan uprising, AJE turned all its attention and agit-prop to the Libyan rebellion and said nothing negative about the concurrent visit of British Prime Minister Cameron’s arm-selling trip to the Gulf — far from it, AJE actually handed over airtime to Cameron to conduct war propaganda against Libya. It was clear from that point on that AJE would do anything to protect the Gulf area from uprisings, and focus on those regimes that the West have had in their sights for regime change: Libya and Syria (and to a lesser extent, for the time being at least, Algeria). And protecting the Gulf regimes has been exactly what AJE has been doing. AJE has downplayed any disturbances in Arabia, whereas similar levels of protests in Libya were reported to be mass uprisings of all the Libyan people, when now it is clearer and clearer that the uprising in Libya has little mass support outside of Benghazi, and even there it’s not exactly universal. AJE has hardly reported from large protests in Morocco or in Bahrain, often dismissing the Bahraini protests as some Shia sectarian issue with links to Iran. Perhaps AJE’s reporting is understandable when we consider that Bahrain hosts the USA’s largest naval fleet in the region; AJE doesn’t want to jeopardize its friends in the US and Bahraini governments. AJE even cut short Nasrallah’s speech a few days ago probably due to the fact that Nasrallah talked too much about the just struggle of the Bahraini people.

It has become quite clear that the Libyan rebels are hook line and sinker beholden to Western interests in Libya, but they have been portrayed as patriotic and heroic revolutionaries by AJE. From once supporting resistance in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine, to then supporting a movement which literally dances on the skulls of Libyans who have been incinerated by French, British, and US bombs, is quite a turnaround.

The Financial Times in Britain is the newspaper which represents the intelligent voice of the British elite more than any other, and on March 20 they ran a story on page three under the heading “Al-Jazeera’s Backing Is key for Coalition”:

Desperate to distinguish between Libya and other western interventions in the Muslim world, which have sharpened anti-western sentiment, the three leading powers in the Libya campaign are drawing legitimacy for their actions by stressing that they are born out of Arab requests. While some people ask where are the Arab jets, the international coalition — for now at least — has a more powerful weapon on its side: the al-Jazeera television channel. . . . Al-Jazeera’s owners, the Qatari royal family, are among those backing the international effort. . . . Indeed the Libya crisis represents a rare moment of unity between the people and their leaders in the Arab world, with al-Arabiya, the Saudi-backed channel also on the side of the rebels.

A rare moment of unity between the Arab masses and the most reactionary pro-West rulers in the region? AJE was fundamental in the conduct of a war by the West for regime change against an old enemy? These developments in AJE may eventually make the channel the focus of sharp and extensive Arab criticism, perhaps even vocal and visible protest. Already a growing number of analysts and commentators are starting to question AJE’s agenda. After all, Qatar’s and AJE’s moves are far from subtle, to say the least:

Although Doha has often used al-Jazeera to deflect criticism of previous partnerships with the US, its rulers have been more open about their support for the Libyan rebels, though Qatar’s specific role is still uncertain. “Qatar will participate in military action because we believe there must be Arab states undertaking this action, because the situation there is intolerable,” Sheikh Hamid bin Jassem, the prime minister, told al-Jazeera on Saturday. (Financial Times, March 20, 2010)

Qatari military involvement in Bahrain and Libya is hardly a friendly act of Pan-Arab unity and struggle; rather it is a brazen counter-revolutionary one, playing a junior role to Western aggression. Unfortunately things get from abysmal to even worse.

Al-Jazeera’s Shameful Reporting on Palestine
While the West is ensuring as best it can that the current turmoil in the region does not orient itself towards anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism, any aggressive acts by the Zionist state may still become the catalyst that radicalizes people’s movements in the region in exactly those directions. Therefore, the West has to very carefully manage the perceptions of the Zionist state, its attack-dog in the region. To its shame, AJE has begun to line with the West on this image management, too: it grossly underplayed the reporting of the recent Zionist airstrike on Palestinians in Gaza resulting in the death of eight people including several children, while giving comparatively extensive coverage of the possible Palestinian resistance attack in Jerusalem which has resulted in the death of one person. Respected commentator on Arab politics As’ad AbuKhalil takes up this issue:

The sinister role of Aljazeera (Arabic) has gotten worse — much worse. Yesterday, I was seething all day because it could not break from its annoying, obsessive non-stop coverage of the Libya story to report extensively about the Israeli murder of Palestinian children. Aljazeera and Al-Arabiyyah (station of King Fahd’s brother-in-law) barely covered the story and both were covering extensively the Libya story and the “successes” of Western bombing of Libya. Worse, today, as news of the explosion in Jerusalem came, Aljazeera did end its Libya coverage (albeit temporarily) and provided non-stop live coverage of the news of the explosion. It seems that Aljazeera now operates according to the Western standards by which Israeli victims are more precious than Palestinian victims.

The fact that AJE, having contributed to a deepening split within the Palestinian political family through the publication of the Palestine Papers, has descended to this level in reporting on Palestine leaves one with the feeling that AJE no longer has the Palestinians’ interests in its editorial line.

The Arab region is seeing the development of people’s movements, incorporating many political influences, albeit saddled with the inevitable counter-revolutionary meddling of Western intelligence and Western intelligence-influenced forces. The potential for justice, development, and independence might now become a little greater if a fledgling anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist movement could develop. But here we are up against AJE and Al-Jazeera Arabic (both promoting the exact same narratives), making themselves useful to the successful conduct of a Western war of aggression against Libya, a small Islamic, Arab, African, and Third Worldist nation. They are both giving cover to Western powers’ arms sales to the region, belittling the people’s movements in the Gulf (even using the sectarian card through the ‘I’ and ‘S’ words: Iran and Shia), i.e. in the most important strategic area for the West, and now even playing along with the West in its reporting of the Palestinian Revolution. AJE and Al-Jazeera Arabic have in the past few months, and more so in the past several weeks, shown themselves as being little more than a slightly more liberal version of Western neo-colonialist hegemony in the region, a valuable tool for a Gulf state loyal to the West; and they are getting away with it for the most part as they are still basking in the reflected glory of the sacrifices of other people’s struggles in the region.

Multi-polar Media Crucial
Before the arrival of Al-Jazeera, and especially AJE, English-language satellite media was dominated by a West hostile in its reporting to our people’s rights. Western media, reflecting Western foreign policy, has always been and generally remains hostile to the Global South’s struggle for independence, the right to successfully exercise power to use our natural wealth and environment, developing a world of mutual cooperation and friendship, i.e., a multi-polar world which is the most important democratizing development in international relations ever seen in the history of humanity.

With this trend of growing multi-polarity we are seeing the emergence of greater numbers of satellite stations of the emerging powers: AJE representing the Arab and Islamic world (notwithstanding the critical analysis of it here), Press TV of Iran; Russia Today of Russia; NDTV of India; CCTV-9 of China; and so on. In the Libyan crisis Russia Today was the sole critical voice from the start of the pro-West rebellion there. China’s position against aggression against Libya has been probably the most crucial of any emerging world power in the BRIC nations (all of whom have been against the aggression against Libya), and CCTV-9 of course conveyed the Chinese position. Just as we need to develop a multi-polar world, we also need more multi-polar media. One looks forward to the African Union or ASEAN having its own channel. There have been murmurings between the Venezuelan state and the Non-Aligned Movement to start an English-language channel also. Perhaps Venezuela, with the progressive Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), could promote much-needed internationalist, pro-working peoples, pro-Global South creative and professional English-language programming to the world. This is something that is increasingly important, as we are still not winning the media battle in line with the deep anti-imperialist changes occurring in the world. Meanwhile, the power of Sky, Hollywood, deeply misogynistic, violent, and racist gaming, videos, film, and music is shaping the mind of every adult, youth, and child who has a laptop or smart mobile anywhere in the world. In other words, it is still the West which is using media to its benefit through interfering maliciously in others people’s affairs, with AJE now joining in this agenda too.

Vigilance is important in understanding the real agenda behind stations, but especially so in the case of AJE of late, whose obvious politicking is surprising in its audacity. Every nation in the Global South has its agenda, and Qatar, the state behind AJE, has its own. Qatar has not always supported the regional resistance; in the past decade it has had friendly relations with Hizbullah and Hamas, but it still supported the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. One must remain cognizant of the great danger posed by Qatar’s close proximity to Western hegemony and also its relations with the most reactionary, undemocratic, and brutal states in the Arabian peninsula. That is an inescapable fact. The real challenge lies in the ability of the viewers to critically reflect on AJE, despite its reputation of having introduced a more in-depth and intelligent discourse to the mainstream.

AJE has crossed several red lines of anti-imperialism, and anti-imperialism is absolutely central to every successful Arab struggle, from the battles led by Saladin centuries ago, to more recently Nasser and to our contemporary Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah. It remains to be seen how much the staff at different levels of AJE, as well as the different senior sections of the Qatari monarchy, deal with the inevitable backlash against them. Can AJE disentangle itself from the neo-colonial and despotic pro-Western and pro-Zionist Gulf and Arab regimes? How will people respond when they are told by AJE that, despite all the people’s movements rising against the firmly pro-Western regimes of Morocco, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and generally in the Arabian peninsula, actually the real ‘revolutions’ are happening only in the West’s official enemies, against the regimes of Libya and Syria? In the last decade, history has begun to move faster, so we will know the answers to these and many other questions sooner than we might think.

Contact Sukant at sukant.chandan@gmail.com



‘Pakistan Today: A Travelogue’ by Hassan Gardezi

Periods of national unrest have not been uncommon or unfamiliar occurrences in the history of Pakistan. But the political and economic turbulence the country is facing today is bound to come as a shock to any visitor who has been away from the country for even a couple of years. It is as if all the contradictions that were being nurtured within the institutional structure of the state since the creation of the country have suddenly come to a head, threatening to spell the collapse of the entire edifice.

“How does Pakistan look to you today?” was the question most frequently asked, with some variation, everywhere I went this time, whether it was a meeting with old students, colleagues and political comrades in Lahore, a chat at the “tea” before or after a talk I was invited to give somewhere, a social meeting in Islamabad, or a gathering of close relatives in Multan.

Pakistan’s existential situation of course does not look very good today and everyone in the country knows this. The question being asked was perhaps more of an expression of common anxiety about what is happening in the country, a subterfuge rather than a real question.

The problems behind Pakistan’s latest crisis are not really new. But the one that is being most palpably felt is that of religious extremism accompanied by unprecedented acts of terrorism. Bombs planted or carried on the person of suicidal individuals went off almost every day in some part of the country when I was there, killing and maiming their hapless victims. The biggest carnage took place in the heart of Peshawar on Dec. 5 when a powerful bomb went off in the Qisa Khwani bazar crowded with Eid shoppers, killing scores of women and children and lighting up a huge fire. It was intended to destroy a shia imambara. These acts of terror are being committed by Islamic extremists, gnerally known as Pakistani Taliban, who are most active in the seven agencies of the Federally Administered Areas (FATA) and also control a substantial part of the northerly settled districts of NWFP province, renamed Pakhtunkhwa.

The leaders of the Awami National Party (ANP) which heads the provincial government and their relatives are the latest individual targets of terrorist killings (ostensibly for hobnobbing with Afghanistan’s president, Karzai). The national chairman of the party, Isfandyar Wali, survived a murderous attack on October 2, which killed four of his companions. Peshawar, the seat of provincial government, is virtually a war zone. Neither the once formidable Frontier Corps nor the Pakistan army seem to be able to establish the writ of the government over vast northerly tracts of the province. It has also become impossible for the Pakistani truck convoys to carry supplies for the NATO troops in Afghanistan from the Karachi port through the Peshawar terminals.

The operations of Pakistan army in trying to restore governmental control in FATA and adjoining settled districts of Pakhtunkhwa are neither effective nor hold much credibility in the eyes of the people, despite heavy casualties suffered by soldiers in fighting with the Islamic militants. Many questions are being raised regarding the involvement of the armed forces on the northwestern front. Are they serious in eradicating the menace of Islamic terrorists inside Pakistan? Is the army rank and file willing to kill their Muslim brothers while for decades they have been regimented to fight “Hindu India?” What role did the army and its intelligence services play in creating and nurturing the Islamic insurgents or jihadis as a foreign policy tool in the first place? Whose “war on terror” is the Pakistan army fighting any way? Is it serving the imperial interests of the United States on the northwestern front? and so on go the questions.

In October 2008 the newly elected government decided to hold an in-camera session of the national parliament under tight security to get “everyone on board” on the rationale of fighting the menace of “extremism, militancy and terrorism.” After two weeks of deliberations and extensive briefings on the situation provided by the army High Command, the parliament passed a resolution hailed as representing the consensus of its members. Somewhere in this resolution it was written down that the “nation stands united to combat this growing menace” by addressing its “root causes.”

It appeared that addressing the root causes of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan would be a great opportunity for the elected representatives of the people to face the truth and make a beginning to move towards establishing a new political culture of peace and tolerance. But when I reached Pakistan in November, everyone was talking about the menace of terrorism and religious extremism but there was no sign anywhere of addressing its root causes.

I brought this issue to the first of the talks I was invited to give at the Lahore School of Economics. Any honest attempt to trace the roots of religious extremism and associated terrorism would inevitably lead to two interrelated fundamentals of state policy that have been pursued by every Pakistani government, which has ruled the country since independence, I said. One of these fundamentals is the Islamisation of Pakistani state and society while the other is catering to the global strategic interests of the Unites States of America.

Moves to Islamise the state of Pakistan began as the first order of business for the founding fathers of Pakistan (the worthy exception being Muhammad Ali Jinnah) whatever their political motives, and they were certainly not spiritual. Assembled in the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, these men came up with a document known as the Objectives Resolution in 1949, which declared that “Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone but He has delegated it to the state of Pakistan . . .” It further proclaimed that “Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in accordance with the teachings of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.” With these beginnings, all subsequent rulers of Pakistan made their own contributions to inject Islam into the affairs of the state, thereby empowering a parasitic and rabidly patriarchal class of mullahs. It was however left to General Zia-ul-Haq to effectively demonstrate what it meant for the Muslims of Pakistan to order their lives in accordance with the teachings of Islam after his coup d’etat in 1977.

Islamisation of the Pakistani state and political culture was also a useful asset for the United States to exploit in its aim to keep the country tied to its Cold War military alliances against Soviet communism. Ultimately, with Zia the most ardently Islamist dictator in power, the United States was able to mobilize Pakistan army, intelligence services and Islamist parties to launch its proxy war, designed as Jihad, to overthrow the infant Marxist government of Afghanistan backed by the Soviet Union. This was the critical event which, through various political turns and twists unfolded into today’s global terrorism with Pakistan as its epicentre.

Thus it is reasonable to conclude that the mess that Pakistan is currently in is of its own making, with the opportunistic backing of the United States, I said in my submission to the small professorial circle that had gathered to hear me in the brightly lit library of Lahore School of Economics. How to get out of this mess? The only logical course that I could see was the reversal by the state of its Islamisation, and Americanisation policies.

On the sunny morning of November 21, I was sitting among a hall full of students at the campus of the newly established University of Gujarat. I was invited to speak on the current political and economic crisis, but my mind was picturing the young men and women siting in front of me as little playful toddlers when Gen. Zia had let lose an orgy of public floggings to implement his primitive sharia laws taken from the books of Jamat-e-Islami, his new found political ally. Do these young people remember all that? I was wondering. Was there anything in their history and Pakistan Studies textbooks about a military dictator who had installed himself as the Islamic ruler, Amir-ul-Momineen, of the wretchedly poor people of Pakistan? Do they know who created and fostered the present day Islamic extremists terrorizing the people, killing them in their mosques, imambaras, and bazars while taking over the northern areas of Pakistan?

Once I got up to speak I pretty much repeated to my young audience what I had said at the Lahore School of Economics about the roots of Islamic extremism and terrorism in today’s Pakistan. Injecting the beliefs and rituals of a particular religion in the affairs of a modern, pluralistic, state is like playing with fire, I said. And the proof is all around us today as the country’s mosques, imambaras, bazars and hotels burn, set on fire by the bombs and explosives of religious zealots. It is time for the people of Pakistan to make it very clear that most of them are Muslims, they were born Muslims, they have learned their faith from their elders, and neither the state mullah nor any jihadi has the right to tell them how to practice their faith.

But is it realistic to suggest that Pakistan dismantle its Islamisation project and break its ties with the only superpower on earth? Yes it is, if the government is a democracy run by the consent of the majority. The majority of the people of Pakistan have never endorsed Islamic rule as they have rejected the Islamist parties in every election held in Pakistan which was not rigged. Religious fervour that is observed today in Pakistan is largely confined to the small middle class, always ready to compromise to protect its precarious existence. The people in general are fed up with the mayhem created by the Islamic militants. Several recent public opinion poles have also confirmed that an overwhelming majority of the adult population does not want the United States to interfere in the affairs of Pakistan.

After a brief stay at the beautifully laid out campus of the University of Gujrat, which incidentally is headed by a noteworthy academic and not a retired military heavy-weight, I was driven to Islamabad.

Islamabad, as the capital of Pakistan has many reasons to be visited, but lately I have been going there to spend a few restful days with a friend, sheltered by the Marghala hills, and to browse through the stores selling used and new books in the F/6 and F/7 markets. But it looks like what used to be the the most calm and cloistered capital city in the world is now wide open to scarification by a new breed of militant Islamists. Last time I was there a large area of the city was fenced off where once was a mosque called Lal Masjid. This time my friend drove me by an enormous pile of debris which once was the imposing structure of Merriot Hotel surrounded by the shinny cars of its clients. It was indeed a grim reminder of the deadly power weilded by the men of God in today’s Pakistan.

Next I took a bus to Multan and was hardly in that city of the saints for long when the news broke out of November 26 terrorist attacks on Mumbai hotels. The irate Indian prime minister immediately called up his Pakistani counterpart, naming not only the rabidly anti-Indian jihadist outfit, the Laskar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), as the perpetrator but also accusing Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence agency (ISI) as having directed the atrocity. The Pakistani prime minister, a fellow Multani not known for much political astuteness, denied all accusations and even offered to send the director of the ISI to help in finding out the culprits. However, the poor fellow had to retract his offer soon thereafter and went into the denial mode.

Within the next few days all signs of official or unofficial contrition vanished from Pakistan’s media coverage, washed away by a tide of national jingoism. Indian admonitions that Pakistan rein in its Islamic militants were met by a chorus of patriotic war cries vouching to defend Pakistan from its perennial enemy, India. If on the one hand spokespersons of the venerable Lawyer’s Movement were issuing patriotic statements, on the other hand there were the villainous terrorists, the likes of Baitullah Mehsud and Mangal Bagh, voicing eagerness to march their lashkers to the Indian border to defend Pakistan. The rest of this drama is still to unfold.

I had yet to go to Karachi to participate in a discussion panel on Dada Amir Haider Khan’s book of memoirs, ‘Chains to Lose’, which I was finally able to get published last year. But Karachi was once again in the grip of riots. This time the riots were sparked by MQM’s fears that Pakhtun refugees from Waziristan and the districts of Pakhtunkhwa, displaced by Pakistan army’s anti-terrorist operations and constant missile attacks launched from the US predatory drones, were flocking to Karachi and taking control of local markets.

In any case I was able to make it to the Karachi event, thanks to an interlude of peace in the city in preparation for the Eid holidays. The book discussion was organized by Dr. Jaffer Ahmed, the able and tireless director of Karachi University’s Pakistan Studies Centre, the publisher of the ‘Chains to Lose’. Some half a dozen people, journalists, writers, political activists, presented their very well informed and perceptive reviews. Zahida Hina was one of them whose presentation in Urdu caught the general sense of the house. She said:
‘Dada’s memoir is a great historical document if one seeks to understand a glorious 20th century movement in South Asia for freedom from world colonialism and imperialism.’

If our generation has no idea of who Dada Amir Haider Khan is, it cannot be blamed. This generation has never been told anything about our great compatriots. We make giants out of dwarfs and treat our persons of great stature like lowly creatures. . . .
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan shoved Dada behind bars, locked him in solitary confinements, kept him in the torture chambers of the Lahore Fort, and finally banished him to the far-flung Pothohar village where he was born . . . He was a dangerous man indeed because he talked about people’s rule, he was a leader whose politics was above race and language, religion and sect. We can well imagine what a terrorist he was. In our books, only the commanders of lashkars and extremist organizations are considered honourable and trustworthy.

Feeling happy that Dada’s contributions, a committed communist, to make Pakistan, South Asia and the world a better place for humanity are becoming known, I returned to Lahore on December 6. Next evening there was a sitting with some like-minded comrades arranged by Awami Jamhori Forum. It turned out to be a free-wheeling discussion of the present global economic crisis, war on terror and the rise of Islamic terrorism in Pakistan, terrorist attacks on Mumbai hotels, the US elections and the victory of Obama.

Perhaps the most serious concern was the position and the role of the socialist left in all this. I maintained that the greatest asset of the socialist left is its set of values. These values of freedom, peace, opposition to all wars, human rights, respect for nature and all life, economic, racial and gender equality, religious and ethnic tolerance, are together a powerful antidote to the present global crisis. There is every chance for the socialist left to succeed in its own right if it stops wasting its resources to support the lesser evil in political contests. I gave the example of very active and resourceful anti-war and anti-poverty groups in the United States who squandered their assets by supporting Barack Obama as the lesser evil in the contest between the two mainstream bourgeois parties. There is no sush thing as more or less evil, I said. All war is evil whether it is more or less, all poverty and all inequality is evil whether it is more or less. A similar mistake was made in the last elections in Pakistan when parties calling themselves “communist” rushed to suppoert the PPP.

I better end here. My apologies if I have bored you with my long story. If you do have any questions and comments I will be glad to receive them. I wish you a very happy new year.



Contact Uddari

‘Sexual abuse of children by aid workers and UN peacekeepers’?

A children’s rights organization has released a research report pointing to cases of child sexual abuse by aid workers and UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, Southern Sudan and Haiti, and how most remain unreported.

Save the Children UK research titled ‘No One to Turn To’ (The under-reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers and peacekeepers, Tuesday 27 May 2008) suggests that the perpetrators can be found in ‘every type of humanitarian, peace and security organisation, at every grade of staff, and among both locally recruited and international staff’. The children interviewed report many types of abuse ‘including trading food for sex, rape, child prostitution, pornography, indecent sexual assault and trafficking of children for sex’.

Save the Children UK has made the following recommendations to the UN Task Force on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse. An effective local complaints mechanisms to be set up by the UN in countries where there is a significant international presence; The establishment of a new global watchdog to monitor and evaluate the efforts of international agencies regarding this issue; An increased investment in tackling the underlying causes of sexual abuse, for example support for legal reforms, public education and awareness raising, and the development of national child protection systems. (Source: www.alertnet.org)

This heart-clenching report involves the most vulnerable young persons growing up in some of the most threatening situations of war, hunger, poverty, homelessness and violence. We, as adults are sending them help that includes such aggregated threats as sexual abuse. It is as if what was happening with our young on the ground was not enough to pervert them away from life.

Though the research references three countries, the universality of its findings is implied. View it here in English and French.

It is hard to stay away from the thoughts of children in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Darfur, Tibet and other areas where populations are at war; in Sichuan province of China, and areas hit by earthquakes and other calamities; in short, in situations of acute vulnerability and need.

As well, we must remind ourselves of sexual, emotional and physical abuse suffered by children growing up in oppressive family and social structure in Pakistan, Iran and many countries under Muslim Laws; of children living in the so-called ‘Polygamy Compounds’, ‘Reservations’ and ‘Ghettoes’ within advanced democratic societies such as the United States and Canada.

And a word of caution perhaps, that the most sexual, physical and emotional abuse suffered by our children may not come from aid workers and UN peacekeepers but from individuals in our own families, communities, schools, religious institutions and other social and economic structures.

I support the recommendations of Save the Children UK to increase vigilance over our children worldwide, to create situation to afford more power and voice to our children within their countries, and to assure that we don’t send wolves to take care of lambs from our privileged overseas human rights positions.

Here is an unexpected Punjabi poem titled Dil ‘Heart’:
Fauzia Rafiq

Uthan behn, jagan sawn
Likhan likhan, paRhan paRhan
Rinnan pinnan, khawan pewan
Ishq muhabtaN
Duftar rozi, mail mulqataN
Eh sarae kam
main Thehr ke kraN gi
dil hali Thaleya nahiN

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