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Reflections on RJA’s Hunger Strike

Those of you familiar with our blog must be aware that for the past few weeks we covered Raja Jahangir Akhtar’s (RJA) fast against corruption. The news of his intended fast had come to me during Ramadan, through a dear friend in Pakistan, and we immediately posted his first press release on the blog. In fact, and I am proud to say this, The Pakistan Forum was the first major blog to post information about RJA’s intended initiative.

Since then we covered the story both in its early as well as culminating phase. As you know, RJA has ended his strike today after the politicians promised to seriously consider and legislate an anti-corruption bill. I do hope they live up to their promise; If not, we will be there to hold them accountable on the pages of this blog.

Personally, RJA’s actions have given me a new kind of hope: I mean here is a 68-year-old  citizen of Pakistan who has forced, through personal will and lateral solidarities, the Pakistani politicians to listen. And he accomplished this when one of the major TV networks (Geo TV) was shamelessly avoiding any mention of him in their so-called news.

A hunger strike is a performative act: it presupposes an audience of like-minded people and a means of communication to spread the message. In a way it is an act that introduces an anomaly within the discursive space of power, a sort of breakage: the kind that forces power to stop in the tracks of its normative drive. A hunger strike cannot be an end in itself but is always caught up with the future that it may unleash: Gandhi’s Satyagraha relied quite heavily on such public performances, but succeeded only because the press covered it.

What we saw in the last few weeks is unprecedented. Young people joined the movement and brought the tools of their time to fray: a Facebook page, a live stream, a blog. Countless webs of transnational solidarity woven together through techne but made possible because one man stood up and said: “enough!” This is the greatest lesson that I have learned: that one person can unleash so much power of good.

There were quite a few detractors: some venal members of a forum called The Defense Forum, some tired youth on Facebook asking silly questions without offering to do anything themselves, but then that is the nature of such actions: the nay-sayers, the fatalists, and the minions of power, when threatened, always resort to cowardly, malicious tactics or, like Geo TV, pretend to not notice at all.

But this has been an enlightening experience for all of us who were involved and I am specially grateful to my friend from Pakistan (whose name I cannot mention) for providing us all the information that we needed.

My thanks to Raja Jahangir Akhtar for putting his life on the line for a just cause: Thank you from our heart and may you live long and continue working for Pakistan.

To our politicians: beware, we are watching what you do to OUR country and our patience is not endless!

 

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Editorials

Geo TV’s Shameful Silence on the Hunger Strike

Those of you who come to our blog often must be aware that for the past few days we have constantly been covering the anti-corruption hunger strike by Raja Jahangir Akhtar. An Islamabad based businessman and lifetime activist, Raja is on the fifth day of his hunger strike, a fact hard to miss around Islamabad. While the strike is now being covered by bloggers, national and international newspapers, the major Pakistani news channel, Geo TV, has been stramgely silent about the strike.

I just checked their website, and while they are covering what Indian Film actors are up to and even the news about a british farmer who has, it is being reported, “grown the largest onion” (I am not making this up; please check the screen shot), there is no mention of RJA’s strike for Pakistan.

 

As a scholar and editor and a Pakistani citizen I find this silence by Geo TV not only troubling but also deeply shameful. Obviously, since it is impossible to miss the strike, Geo TV has made a decision not to cover it and the reasons must be political.

I take this opportunity to request those who run this TV network to live up to their responsibility of informing Pakistani people about things that are important, especially if someone is putting his life on the line for the cause of Pakistan.

If they remain silent about it, then their’s would be a legacy of shame!

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Raja Jahangir Akhtar: Hunger Strike, Part 2

ISLAMABAD: Raja Jahangir Akhtar, a renowned   political and social worker, who has announced to go on hunger strike unto death to press for acceptance of his demands, has written an open letter to all political leaders of Pakistan. Some of his main demands include:

  • All headquarters of defense forces situated in civilian areas may be shifted outside the domain of civilian population so that in the event of war valuable civilian lives remain safe. Hiroshima is the worst example. It was GHQ of Japan’s defense forces when America used nuclear weapon   during World War II.
  • Every district in Pakistan may be provided with infrastructure for education from primary to intermediate level. Children of marginalized sections of society be provided with free education.
  • A network of new engineering universities may be set up to help all students who secure 900 marks in F.Sc seek engineering degree.

 

Following is the text of his open letter:-

“An open letter to all political leaders

In my capacity as a humble political and social worker, I have been waging struggle for the past 48 years to express my views on the economic situation of Pakistan. For my candid views on country’s economy, I have been put behind the bars many a time, and once a military court sentenced me to one year’s imprisonment and 10 flogs’ punishment.

I feel totally disappointed over Pakistan’s current critical economic situation. And more disappointing for me is pathetic and insensitive attitude of our national political leadership about this grave economic situation. Therefore, as protest against apathy of the national political leadership, I have decided to go on hunger strike till death from 12 September 2011 at Super Market Islamabad.

I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that in fact our national political leadership is solely responsible for the current economic crisis. Majority of our political leaders believe that our army is facing an external threat and is duty-bound to defend our geographical (and according to some our ideological) borders. I have an opposite view. I firmly believe that Pakistan faces no external threat. Whatever threat we face is from within. We need to divert all our resources to end poverty, promote education and improve public health.

I claim with full confidence that India and Afghanistan, though never so friendly to Pakistan, never ever had any aggressive designs against Pakistan from 1947 to 1965, the period during which our country’s economy was at its peak. Pakistan’s currency was 1: 1.25 stronger than India’s. We must also keep in mind the fact that the 1965 War against India started after we launched Operation Gibraltar in Occupied Kashmir.

I dare claim that both the government and the opposition political parties have no practicable solution to resolve our current economic crisis. Therefore, I humbly suggest that we can salvage our economy by cutting the size of our army, which is not required in its present strength as we face no external threat. Therefore one way to meet our current economic challenges to end our confrontation with India and Afghanistan like the Soviet Union did against America and other western countries. We can do this by maintaining the strength of our army at a level which existed before the 1965 war. We should give a golden shake hand to the rest of the army which can serve the country in a better way.

Therefore, I request the national political leadership to support me if they agree with my viewpoint; and if they don’t, they should convince me about their views and solution (if they have any) for Pakistan’s economic survival”.

 

Your’s sincerely,

Mahmood Ali Hamdani

Media Coordinator

Email: mahamdani@hotmail.com

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Raja Jahangir Akhtar: A Hunger Strike Till “Death”


According to our sources in Pakistan, a local bussinessman and a lifetime activist has declared his intent to go on an indefinite hunger strike unless some of his demands about Islamabad and Pakistan are considered by the authorities. Mr. Raja, as is obvious from his press release, understands the futility of this gestures but hopes that his “death” will somehow mobilize the people.

I do not have a lot of details,  but provided below is a Youtube interview and images of his statements and list of demands:

Press Release