A New Age Islam reader sent the following letter to the editor:
Here is a letter sent by Pakistan’s foremost progressive intellectual and physicist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy to a friend:
I am sharing with you some lines that I have just written for family and friends who are warning me:
Whatever one might think of Governor Salman Taseer‘s politics, he was killed this Wednesday for what was certainly the best act of his life: trying to save the life of an illiterate, poor, peasant Christian woman.
But rose petals are being showered upon his murderer. He is being called a ghazi, lawyers are demonstrating spontaneously for his release, clerics refused to perform his funeral rites. Most shockingly, the interior minister – his political colleague and the ultimate coward – has said that he too would kill a blasphemer with his own hands.
Pakistan once had a violent, rabidly religious lunatic fringe. This fringe has morphed into a majority. The liberals are now the fringe. We are now a nation of butchers and primitive savages. Europe’s Dark Ages have descended upon us.
Sane people are being terrified into silence. After the assassination, FM-99 (Urdu) called me for an interview. The producer tearfully told me (offline) that she couldn’t find a single religious scholar ready to condemn Taseer’s murder. She said even ordinary people like me are in short supply.
I am deeply depressed today. So depressed that I can barely type these lines.
Yesterday a TV program on blasphemy (Samaa, hosted by Asma Shirazi) was broadcast (it’ll be rebroadcast today). Asma had pleaded that I participate. So I did – knowing fully well what was up ahead. But I could not bear to watch the broadcast and turned it off after a few minutes.
My opponents were Farid Paracha (spokesman, Jamaat-e-Islami) and Maulana Sialvi (Sunni Tehreek, a Barelvi and supposed moderate). There were around 100 students in the audience, drawn from colleges across Pindi and Islamabad.
Even as the mullahs frothed and screamed around me (and at me), I managed to say the obvious: that the culture of religious extremism was resulting in a bloodbath in which the majority of victims are Muslims; that non-Muslims were fleeing Pakistan; that the self-appointed “thaikaydars” of Islam in Pakistan were deliberately ignoring the case of other Muslim countries like Indonesia which do not have the death penalty for blasphemy; that debating the details of Blasphemy Law 295-C did not constitute blasphemy; that American Muslims were very far from being the objects of persecution; that harping on drone attacks was an irrelevancy to the present discussion on blasphemy.
The response? Not a single clap for me. Thunderous applause whenever my opponents called for death for blasphemers. And loud cheers for Qadri, the murderer. When I directly addressed Sialvi and said he had Salman Taseer’s blood on his hand, he exclaimed “How I wish I did!” (kaash ke main hota!).
Islamofascism is a reality. This country is destined to drown in blood from civil war. I wish people would stop writing rubbish about Pakistan having an image problem. It’s the truth that’s really the problem.
Am I afraid? Yes, I’d be crazy not to be. And never more than at the present time. The battle for sanity has been lost. Many friends have written to me to leave Pakistan. How can I? One must keep fighting as long as possible. It is what we owe to future generations.
Now that we have transformed our blog into a multi-author, newspaper-like format, we would love for you to contribute your work. You can either email us your writings (email@example.com) or register with the website as a contributor and upload your content directly.
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Let us work together to fight the forces of intolerance and hate that seem to have claimed the Pakistani public sphere.
Just passed through the final hurdle at Chicago International. On my way to Abu Dhabi. Though I had bought my ticket from American airlines, my two main flights are with Eitehad Airlines, which probably is an Emirate airline.
So, even though I got my boarding passes at DFW, when I tried to pass through the security area, they informed me that I had to go back to get new boarding passes. That took about three hours. But now, finally, I am past the security checks and all other hassles and waiting for my flight to Abu Dhabi.
The International terminal at Chicago is quite unimpressive, congested, and crowded. There are not even any good places to eat. The wait did help in one way though: I was able to smoke my fill before boarding my plan.
1. What regions of Pakistan and sectors of the population are affected most by the tragic flooding?
Vast swaths of land in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (previously the Northwest Frontier Province), Southern Punjab (the Siraiki region of the Punjab), Sindh, and Balochistan have been devastated by the recent floods. These floods are considered to be the worst in the entire world during the past hundred years. It is not an exaggeration that fifteen million families have been rendered homeless, and hundreds of thousands of homes have been wiped off the face of the earth. Hundreds of villages are no more. Standing crops over thousands of acres, cattle, infrastructure, and productive assets of millions of families have been lost due to flooding. A woman from a very well off and respected family of a rural district contacted by phone said “Everything is gone. We are beggars”. Scores of women from small farm and landless families burst into tears when asked about their plight. “There is no food, no water, no medicine, no help” most of them narrated. If they do not receive assistance soon, they may reach the point where they think that there is “no hope”. Such a situation will add another dimension to the crisis because desperate minds are fertile ground for militants. This is a great humanitarian crisis to which the world’s conscience needs to respond. The scale of this tragedy is so enormous that the country’s entire population is reeling in shock.
2. What does the devastation in Pakistan look like to you on the ground?
Thousands of human settlements are under ten or fifteen-foot deep water. Dead cattle can be found everywhere. Innumerable people are stranded in areas surrounded by water. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, children, and elderly people who managed to move out of their houses leaving behind their assets accumulated over a life time have squatted along the roads. Tents are in extremely short supply, so the homeless sit under the burning sun without any shade to cover their heads. They often seem overwhelmed and unable to decide what to do. There are shortages of food, safe drinking water, and medicine. Whenever food arrives, scrambling for it leads to scuffles, and inevitably, the poor, weak, and households headed by women are hurt the most. There is no organized, visible, and dependable government assistance available.
3. What can be done to counter “donor fatigue” and the perception that indigenous aid organizations are untrustworthy?
Please be assured that the media are underestimating the resilience, resourcefulness, and capacity of the people to cope with the disaster due to the presence of hundreds of formal and informal institutions and mechanisms that help people on a day-to-day basis. Credible, effective, and trustworthy actors certainly abound. They include philanthropists, NGOs, custodians of shrines, voluntary associations, government agencies, and, yes, the army. Some politicians also have played very active and constructive roles in reaching out to people. All tiers of the government cannot be trusted and government cannot reach out everywhere given the enormous scale of this tragedy.
Two factors are key here. One is that DCOs, those in charge of districts, enjoy much less power, respect, and authority than did their predecessors, the Deputy Commissioners (DCs). Therefore, they are much less effective. Another is that elected local government officials were released from their jobs a few months ago. New local elections were not held because the ruling parties in each province wanted elections when they could achieve “favourable” results. Establishing links among doers, donors, and communities in need is the most important step. It is not transparency of government and relief assistance alone but sharing of information in general that is most critical. We need information gathering, analysis, packaging, and dissemination through electronic, print, and verbal means in a big way. Mainstream and alternative media have to play active roles to build links and trust. Once trust and links are established, donor fatigue will go away.
4. In what areas is need greatest this week (e.g., shelter, food, medicine, etc.)? In what areas will need be greatest a month and three months from now?
As images circulated across the globe show, affected people and communities have lost everything. The greatest need this week is for tents, food, water, and medicine. One to three months from now the need will be greatest for productive assets like seed, cattle, ploughing instruments, water pumps to drain out trapped water, building materials, and credit.
A package to meet the basic food requirements of a family of 5-7 people includes 20 kg flour, 5 kg sugar, 5 kg oil, 1 kg tea, 5 kg pulses and lentils, 3 kg dry milk, and a few boxes of matches. It meets a family’s food needs for one week and costs Rs. 3200 (US $38). This is the cost of 5 lunches on the go in the USA. Millions of families need help. However, even making a donation to help a single family is like lighting a candle.
5. What can US-based educators do to best represent and encourage interest in the tremendous challenges now faced by ordinary Pakistanis?
Please link up with credible charities, NGOs, and autonomous government departments. Disseminate information on effective local actors to donors, volunteers, and technical experts who can help the affected communities, and raise and disburse funds. One way to identify effective local organizations is through the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP). The PCP accredits NGOs in a thorough and rigorous process, and a list of accredited NGOs is displayed on their website. Another way to identify credible organizations is through the UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. It has a district and function-wise list of credible NGOs in the field.) The World Bank-supported multi-million dollar Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) is another source for finding credible partners. Their partners are well scrutinized and selected after a careful appraisal process. Last and not least is the National Centre for Human Development (NCHD), which is headed by a former civil society activist and media professional who is highly respected for her competence, integrity, and commitment to the downtrodden.
Q1. Could you share a brief history of the kind of work you did before joining the Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center? In 1968, I joined the struggle for social change in Pakistan as a campus activist at Punjab University, Lahore. I hailed from an extremely conservative religious family in Multan and my father was Ameer of Jamaa’t Islami Multan (an extreme right wing religious political party). He taught me to be rational, disciplined, honest, and hard working. However, my compassion for the downtrodden and sinners urged me to seek new avenues for serving humanity. At the age of 17, I turned into a fire brand communist and organized the largest left wing students’ organization in the Punjab, which was known as the Nationalist Students Organization. I was its Chief Convener in early 1970s. Soon after graduating from the University, I joined the South Asian Institute and chose research and teaching as my career. In 1979, Pakistan’s popular elected Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was hanged by the military dictator General Zia ul Haq. After Bhutto’s death, several cases were registered against me in different police stations of the Punjab on charges of sedition, inciting people to rebellion, and disturbing law and order. The police raided various places to arrest me, and they locked up my brother when they failed to find me.
I went into self exile in 1980 and lived in North America for the next seven years. During this period, I gradually got disillusioned with Marxist politics. My stay in North America enriched my life and understanding of human potential, but my thirst for finding the truth kept me restless. In spite of my intense and short-lived love affairs with socialism, capitalism, and other contemporary rationalist ideologies I always thought there was something missing in all these ideologies. There was something wrong in their assessment of human potential. In 1986, I happened to meet a Sufi teacher and my life changed forever. Sufism is based on sound understanding of human limitations and brings into play human potential through love, compassion, tolerance, and infinite faith in Allah’s mercy. Sufis kindle the light of hope in the lives of the wretched of earth. Sufi thinking is nicely captured in a statement of the great Sufi Master Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani. Shaikh once was asked that if his good disciples will go to paradise, what will happen to his bad disciples. The Shaikh replied, “My good disciples love me and I love my bad disciples.” Akhter Hameed Khan followed the same thinking in working for social change. Through his love, wisdom, and knowledge, he lit up thousands of hearts with the glow of hope, self confidence, self pride, and passion for change.
Q.2 Can you briefly discuss the Center’s mission and its major accomplishments.
The Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center (AHKRC) in Islamabad is a repository of knowledge on rural development and poverty alleviation. It was established to commemorate the life-long services of the great development activist Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan. The Center’s main objectives are to accumulate, generate, and disseminate research-based knowledge for policy advocacy with the government, influence public opinion, create reading materials for higher education, and assist policy makers and CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) in future programming.
The principal objective of the AHKRC is to promote a macro and micro level understanding of the causes and processes of change in the rural areas of the south in general and in Pakistan in particular. The purposes of stressing this objective are to promote the use of such understanding to develop and/or support rural development initiatives and programmes; to influence government, donor, media, and NGO policies; and to facilitate necessary human resource development to make all this possible.
AHKRC is supporting the International Islamic University (IIU) in running a masters’ degree Programme on Rural Development, and the Director of AHKRC is represented on IIU’s Board of Studies. Recently, AHKRC also formed a unique partnership with Maggie Ronkin at Georgetown University and Nadeem Akbar, Islamabad Director of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, to create a videoconferenced summer course for US-based undergraduates on Justice and Peace in Pakistanin 2010.
AHKRC has started a research group to support the work of leading scholars from local universities who seek to understand and analyze development programmes led by development icons from Pakistan. The goals achieved by the support will include reviewing literature on the programmes; formulating research questions in consultation with practitioners; consolidating and analyzing existing data andcollecting additional data in light of the research questions; undertaking comparisons with similar programmes, and anchoring the research process in the field.
AHKRC facilitated the publication of Shoaib Sultan Khan’s book “Aga Khan Rural Support Programme: A Journey through Grass Roots Development” and the Urdu translation of “Rural Development in Pakistan” by Oxford University Press in 2009 and 2010. The Center plans to publish a volume commemorating Dr. Khan’s remarkable intellectual, social, and literary achievements and “RSPs–Growth and Change” by Mahmood Hassan Khan in 2010. The Director and AHKRC-affiliated scholars are widely published in national and international research journals. The Director received UNDP’s award for being one of the ten most prolific contributors to the Global Poverty Reduction Network in 2008 and 2009.
Q3. What prompted you to this kind of work?
Pakistan allocates much less of its GDP to social development than do other countries at the same level of income. A large part of this modest budget is not even spent during each financial year. The amount which is spent produces much lower results than its potential. This low performance is not due to lack of resources. It is caused by the lack of administrative infrastructure below the district level, the disconnect between the socio-economic reality of the poor and technical solutions of the formal sector, and the progressive deterioration of the government’s planning capacity. There is no social infrastructure below the district level to fill the gap caused by the absence of administrative infrastructure.
However, during the past 25 years, some very innovative experiments by CSOs have created the possibility of replicating their successful experiments by government and NGOs on a large scale. This, in turn, has produced the need to create a repository of knowledge on sustainable social development. I believe deeply in the effectiveness of discourses of knowledge in solving human problems, which cannot be handled by discourses of power. AHKRC offered me the opportunity to undertake this work. The opportunity, in fact, is why I resigned from a position with the UN and joined AHKRC.
Q4. Are there any particular experiences that you would like to share with our readers?
From my school days, I grew up with friends who belonged to the working class–sons of street vendors, donkey cart drivers, bicycle mechanics, wood cutters, and domestic servants. Most of them were very bright, hard working, intelligent, and well behaved. As I started moving to higher levels of study, many began to drop out of school because they had to help their parents earn a living. It made me very sad at that time and it makes me sad even now. The motivation to turn life around has been with me since. However, my Sufi teachers as well Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan made me realize that profound and meaningful change begins with self-change. The importance of this teaching is ignored by most revolutionary and political ideologies. All authoritarian and extremist ideologies overlook this truth and use enormous force to “change” others. That gives rise to intolerance, violence, and extremism. I was attracted to the work of Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan because it helps me to be what I am. He taught people humility, simplicity, hard work, patience, love, and care through his personal example.
Q5. How did you get involved in the course on Justice and Peace in Pakistan?
I met Maggie Ronkin through Nadeem Akbar last year, and she shared her vision of starting a course to open channels of communication between undergraduates on North American campuses and Pakistani civil society. This idea touched my heart. The need to do away with stereotyping by means of both Pakistani and American images is equally important. Pakistan is an amazing melting pot like the USA, and both societies need to understand each other well. Pakistan is a very diverse, vibrant, and complex country brimming with talent. It has a rich cultural heritage and has been at the crossroads of many civilizations–Arab, Persian, Chinese, Central Asian, European, and Hindu. Pakistanis’ broad mindedness, hospitality, and enormous capacity to assimilate positive external influences is not widely known in the Western world. The commercialization and sensationalism of the media has largely strengthened and perpetuated negative stereotyping of Pakistanis. This has severely hampered the potential for meaningful interaction between Pakistanis and people in other parts of the world. Not only is this Pakistan’s loss; it is the loss of the entire global community. We must make efforts to change the situation in both nations’ schooling, because reducing human choices for interaction reduces human freedom.
Please visit our website on Justice and Peace in Pakistan at http://www.justpak.com and spread the word about our summer course!
It is now the second year of Pakistaniaat’s publication. I thought I should take this opportunity to reflect upon our first year and share some thoughts about our future. The Decision to Start a Journal Pakistaniaat, as might be obvious by now, was not really launched on a whim. As a scholar of Pakistani origin living and working in the United States, I had felt a sort of responsibility to my mother country. Finally, after a long process of thought, I decided to launch an academic journal focused primarily on all aspects of Pakistani life. I am grateful to Jenny, my wife, for bearing with me during the whole process and by letting me use her computer to launch the journal.
This decision was also facilitated greatly with my experience of having published in the Postcolonial Text, a wonderful online journal in my field of study. I found the software that the Postcolonial Text used to be very user-friendly and ideally suited for a launching a new open-access journal. The software, called the Open Journal Systems (OJS), was developed by John Willinsky (Stanford University, USA & University of British Columbia, Canada) and made freely available to whole world for publication of academic journals online. Thousands of journals now use this software to publish there content.
The Pakistaniaat website was launched in January 2009, not yet using OJS, but sustained by Audra and Mike of Karma CMS. With the help of Karma CMS I was able to launch the journal in the hope that I will be able to find, eventually, a company with an affordable OJS platform. Besides these technical aspects of the journal, I also needed to put together a professional editorial team. Thus, the launching of the journal had tow immediate fronts, technical and administrative, but the most important aspect of this experience was to start attracting good submissions. I am gratified to say in hindsight that for Pakistaniaat all three important strands of the launching process came together.
Assembling an Editorial Team
A good journal, it goes without saying, must have a highly professional editorial team. I was lucky to find from amongst my friends and colleagues a brilliant team of scholars and writers to head various sections of the journal. Deborah Hall, Valdosta State University, a close friend of mine from Florida State was the first one to join us as our Fiction Editor. Jana Russ, an accomplished poet and a Lecturer at the University of Akron rendered her support as the Poetry Editor. We were also lucky to garner the support of David Waterman, Université de La Rochelle, France, an emerging scholarly voice on Pakistan Studies, as our Review Editor. Mahwash Shoaib, an accomplished translator, and Yusaf Alamgirian, a journalist and writer from Pakistan, joined us respectively as our Translation and Urdu editors. We were also lucky to have Waqar Haider Hashmi, a dear friend, who handles our contacts with Pakistan. But we also needed, besides these brilliant scholars and writers, a computer wizard to join us as out layout editor. The layout editor has the crucial job of formatting all submissions into the wonderful and professional format in which they are made available to the public. My colleague and friend Jason W. Ellis volunteered to perform the task of our Layout Editor, thus completing my search for an editorial team. I was also, simultaneously reaching out to the senior scholars of Pakistan Studies to join our Editorial Board.
During the early stage of launching the journal, I wrote approximately 5000 emails. Some of those emails were addressed to senior scholars, requesting them to join our editorial board. The board was crucial to us in two respects: it would would give us a chance to draw on the expertise support of these scholars for the progress of the journal, and it would also allow us to rely on the scholarly prestige of these scholars to bolster the image of of our newly launched journal. The following scholars were kind enough to join our editorial borad and I am grateful to them for lending us their support:
We received our first submission two weeks after we launched the journal. It was an Interview of Fawzia Afzal-Khan by Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal. The rest followed at an amazingly astonishing pace. I would specially like to thank Dr. Muhammad Umar Memon (University of Wisconsin, Madison, United States) and editor of the Annual of Urdu Studies who has supported us throughout by contributing his works to the journal and by supporting us in our quest for funding. Now in our second year, we keep receiving submissions related to Pakistan from all over the world, but this has been made possible by those brave few who took the risk of sharing their work with Pakistaniaat during its first formative year.
Financial Support and Move to OJS
We started the journal with no promise of institutional support. Help came from various places. Ron Corthell, Chair of Kent State English Department, was the first one to give us financial support by paying our hosting fees to Karma CMS. In March we finally found a wonderful hosting company with and OJS Platform. Scholarly Exchange, a non profit organization, provides the hosting free of charge for the “First Year” and then makes it available for the subsequent years at a very affordable rate. Our transition to OJS was facilitated by Julian Fisher of Scholarly Exchange, and we are grateful for his constant support throughout our first year. During our first year, we were also lucky to garner the support of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, who adopted us as one of their “supported” journals and gave us enough funding to host and run the journal for the year 2010.
Besides the institutions, we also got a lot of help from individuals who either subscribed to our print version or donated for our cause. Here are the names of these generous friends of Pakistaniaat:
We are now publishing three issues/ Year and the future looks really bright. The journal is now self-sustaining and has already garnered attention from all over the world. I have no doubt that we will continue publishing quality works from/about Pakistan.
Ways of Helping Us
The best way you can help Pakistaniaat is by sending us you work and by passing the word around. You can also help us:
It just occurred to me today that after having published two successful issues using the Open Access Platform provided by Scholarly Exchange (SE), our hosting company, I have not publicly acknowledged our debt of gratitude to this wonderful not-for-profit organization.
Here is some information about them cited directly from their website:
Scholarly Exchange emerged in 2002 to promote innovative, cost-efficient electronic-first approaches to scholarly publishing.
Its founders were the first to
* produce a comprehensive manuscript tracking system
* introduce a complete editorial-and-publishing e-platform
Scholarly Exchange is the first to
* offer a Software-as-a-Service e-publishing model
* experiment with alternative revenue models for open access journals
I am especially grateful to Julian Fisher, one of the three founders of SE, who has helped me personally throughout this first year of Pakistaniaat’s publication. What I also like about SE is their very philosophy of providing their platform free of charge for the first year so that a new journal can establish itself without worrying much about the costs.
Those of you interested in launching an OJS journal with the best support available, please do consider Scholarly Exchange–We at Pakistaniaat highly recommend them.
So here it is: Thank you people of SE for making it possible for us to launch and sustain Pakistaniaat in its first year. We hope to count on your support for many years to come.
Yesterday’s bombing of the National Bank was so close to my home that had I been there I would have felt the tremor and heard the blast from my room. What the newspapers have failed to mention is that this particular bank branch primarily dealt with the pension accounts of army retirees. So, most of the people killed were probably those who had served their country honorably and were there to collect their monthly pension: my own pension account is (was) also in this branch. So, in a way the bombs hit home in more than one way for me.
We should also know that quite a few people go to this bank branch to collect the pensions for widows and spouses of retired/fallen army soldiers. Thus, the bomb killed those whose personal lives, in one way or the other, were linked to serving their country. This is the true face of Taliban: the killers of women, children, and defenseless retirees. If this is how they deal with their so-called enemies, what can we construe from this? What kind of an ‘Islamic’ system will they implement if they were given this chance? Would their justice system be based on the same principle of dearth, torture, and total disregard of human life?
A bigger question that we must now ask of these bearded cowards is simply this: What kind of a Jihad is this? And which book are they reading to understand it? For as for as I am concerned there is nothing Islamic about this kind of cowardly war. And if all these idiots are so interested in fighting, why aren’t they in in the mountains? it should not be hard to find thirty thousand Pakistan soldiers to match their own jihadist vigor with. Or maybe, for these cowards, unsuspecting, defenseless civilians are a better target.
While this is a tragedy for us and for the city of Rawalpindi, this incident should also be added to the Taliban and Alqaeda “Roll of Shame.”
Those of you not familiar with the area and the operational strategy of the Pakistan army may benefit from this brief operational analysis. The Pakistan army is conducting Advance-to-Contact operations on three axes:
East: Jandola-Kotkai-Sararogha axis.
South-West: Wana-Shakai axis
North: Razmak-Makeen-Sararogha axis.
The purpose of an Advance-to-Contact operation always is to move into the hostile territory, seek resistance, clear it, and then consolidate cleared ground. All these actions are meant to enable the reduction of the ultimate ‘enemy’ position: Sararogha.
The three advancing columns should eventually link up around Sararogha, and, having cleared and consolidated the three major approaches to the area, the final battle will then be fought for the capture of Sararogha, the Taliban strong-point.
At this point, one can say that this is a brilliantly conceived operation and is progressing quite well toward its final tactical objective. Since the troops are establishing posts of captured heights, one could surmise that this operation is aimed wresting control of the area from the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) and not just a show of force. Once could also assume that the operation will continue as the popular will is in favor of the military action.
What the United States Must Do:
First of all, start insinuating in the policy statements that the Pakistan Army has undertaken this operation under pressure from the US. This might gain some political points for the current US administration, but will end up eroding the popular support for the Pakistan army.
It is crucial at this time for the US to provide necessary equipment to the Pakistan army without any strings attached. The Pakistan army could use more of these: helicopter gunships, communication interception equipment, IED detection and clearing equipment.
Also, massive aid will be needed to provide for the people displaced due to the military operation.