Upsurge of Democratic Movement in Pakistan

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Just look at this front page banner headline of ‘Daily Times’ from Lahore on 2oth April 2007—‘Civil Society rallies against extremism’ with the sub heading ‘Thousands march in blistering heat in Lahore. Protests also in Islamabad, Karachi and Peshawar’. Accompanying colour picture from Peshawar shows burqa clad women of a human rights group demonstrating against religious extremism. There are two cartoons also pasted in the picture showing the abject surrender of President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz before Lal Masjid’s extremist mullahs. Front page of the paper also carries a box item from Islamabad—‘Extremism concerns minorities’. The news refers to All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) in condemnation of students of Jamia Hafsa and Lal Masjid administration to impose ‘Talibanisation’. Page two of national news of the paper again carries banner headline-‘Peaceful rallies against violent Mullahs’ with the upper sub heading in red letters-‘ Mullahgardi band karo ‘. Apart from news there are two colour pictures, in one of which women are carrying banners like-‘No to religious extremism Yes to life’. There are women in salwar-kameez without any burqa, many with bobbed hair at Islamabad. Karachi picture shows women and men together protesting. The other report from Peshawar says-‘Women demonstrate against Islamabad clerics’. These were the days when issue of Chief Justice of Pakistani Supreme Court Iftikhar Mohamad Chaudhary’s case, being referred to judicial council, was hotting up. Lot much news in the papers was presented, including on front page about Chief justice’s issue as well.

I was in Lahore from 12th April to 20th April 2007. This was my first ever visit to Pakistan or to any foreign country, in connection with an international seminar on Dr. Ambedkar , which was held on 13th April. There was another international seminar on Dr. Ambedkar in Karachi as well on 14th April. In Lahore another seminar on Baisakhi on 13th April itself, in which large number of Sikh pilgrimage from India participated. In both these seminars in Lahore, Governor of west Punjab was present. I am referring to these events to show that Pakistani society is not exactly like, as being projected in Indian media. In fact during my stay and extensive meetings with different strata of people in Lahore and surrounding areas, I did not feel much difference in Pakistani society than Indian society. I watched Pakistani TV, listened to Pakistani radio and scanned Pakistani newspapers and I have no hesitation in saying that standard of Pakistani newspapers is much better than our newspapers, leaving aside the exception of ‘The Hindu’ or ‘The Tribune’ like papers. From media and from exchanges with people, this is my firm observation that there is a definite urge for democratic structuring of Pakistani society among people, particularly among urban intelligentsia.

In Lahore, I used to read ‘Dawn’, founded by Mohammad Ali Jinnah from Karachi, which now has editions from Lahore and Islamabad as well. Presumably ‘Dawn’ is the best daily published from Pakistan, keeping in view its news content and quality of views expressed through editorials/edit page articles and even through letters. This is the only daily of Pakistan, which devotes almost three quarter of a page to letters of readers , some of which are in the size of small articles. Presently edited by Abbas Nasir, ‘Dawn’ can be compared to ‘The Hindu’ of India. I wonder why these two papers have not entered into an exchange arrangement, as The Hindu has with The Guardian. Both the papers should give serious thought to this as both have serious concern in promoting democratic institutions in their respective countries and due to historical reasons, developments in both the countries deeply affect each other. Exchange of news and views among The Hindu and Dawn, particularly exchange of views, can certainly help in strengthening of democratic movements in both the countries and societies.

Another paper I keenly watched in Lahore was ‘Daily Times’, edited by Najam Sethi, who is well known in India for his democratic credentials. This paper can be compared to ‘The Tribune’ of Chandigarh, which itself was major paper of Lahore in pre-partition days. Probably Daily Times and The Tribune should also enter in exchange of news and views, as both are reprenstative papers of both sides of Punjab. Particularly Punjabi readers of east and west Punjab and Delhi will be too happy to be enriched by this exchange of views.

Another major paper published from Lahore and other centers is ‘The News’, published from Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and London. This paper can be compared to our The Asian Age. ‘The Nation’ is another English paper from the group of ‘Jung’ group of publications. One more paper ‘The Post’, which I could not scan in Lahore, but about which I was told as being a good paper. After my return, I scanned it on internet and found the observation true. I could not read Urdu, so I can’t make any observation, but ‘Jung’, ‘Ausaf’ and many other Urdu papers are quite popular in Lahore. I was not able to check whether any Punjabi daily was published from Lahore. It should have been, as Pakistani side of Punjab, called west Punjab is three times bigger than Indian side of Punjab, called east Punjab. The total population of Pakistan is around 17 crores, out of which Punjab alone counts for nine crores, more than half of total population. After the split of Bangla Desh from Pakistan, it is now left with only four provinces-Punjab, Sindh, NWFP(North West Frontier Province) and Baluchistan. Sindh is the second largest province and its capital Karachi is number one city of Pakistan in terms of population. Lahore with population of nearly one crore, is second largest and Faislabad(Earlier name Lyallpur) is the third largest city of Pakistan. While Lahore is capital of pre-partition and post-partition Punjab, Faislabad has developed into an internationally renowned textile city of post partition Punjab. Lyallpur is the district, where Bhagat Singh was born in village Chak no. 105 Bange of Jadanawala tehsil.

Moving again to newspapers after this interlude. As all papers carry city supplements from where they are published, Lahore city supplement of ‘Daily Time’ of 20th April carries another banner headline—‘Thumbs down on Talibanisation’. More than sixty percent of the page is devoted to this and related stories and it carries five color photographs of Lahore demonstrations alone , in which men including some very old, women including some very young girls ,carrying banners like-‘ No to Taliban culture’ are given prominence. Some box items read like-‘We were n’t in the rally but we reject Talibanisation’,’ Students reject extremism with one voice’. Five short comments given in box item, include that of Prof. Salima Hashmi of ‘ Women’s Action Forum’.Salima, artist/scholar daughter of poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Dean, Visual Arts faculty of Beaconhead University Lahore, says-‘ Providing rights to the people is necessary for peace and stability in the country. Conflicts can be resolved by limiting the involvements of ‘hidden hands’ in matters of national importance.’ The editorial of the day advises Pakistan Government for ‘learning from India and China’.

The same day (20th April) International’ The News’ headline reads-‘ SC serves notices on president, SJC’, which includes box item’ Nation will hear good news, says Bhagwandas’. On the right side color picture from Lahore is displayed with the caption-‘ Women Action Forum activists protest against rise in religious extremism in the country on Thursday’. Single column news from Lahore/Peshawar is given headline A ‘Civil society group’s protest extremism’. Ironically last full page of the paper carries photographs of Abhishek-Aishwarya marriage. In fact even the more respected ‘Dawn’ also made Abhishek-Aishwarya marriage as its first page colour story.

Some random headlines and photographs are being presented here from ‘Dawn’ of 13th April to 16th April 2007 to get the feel of Pakistani society in broad sense. On the second page (national) of 13th April Dawn, there are color pictures of Sikh devotees from India taking a dip at Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hasan Abdal(near Taxila) and an elderly Sikh reciting Guru Granth Sahib. The same page carries another color photograph people from Khurram agency are protesting before Parliament in Islamabad against Talibanisation. Editorial page carries articles—‘The essence of democracy’ by Syed Sharifudin. ‘Islamabad Diary’ by Aiyaz Amir says-‘your one ‘no’ has made you immortal’. This is appreciation of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary of Pakistani Supreme Court, who had refused to submit to the diktats of President Parvez Musharraf. At page twelve(national) there is a news item from Karachi ‘Honor Killings show no sign of decline’ This refers to murder of 1305 men, women and children during year 2006 in the name of ‘karo-kari’(honor killing). This number includes 792 women and 34 underage girls. Largest number of honor killings takes place in Sindh(718 in 2006). Major cities of these tragic killings are-Karachi, Hyderabad (Sindh), Sukkur, Jacobabad, Lahore and Multan. A very touching serial on ‘karo-kari’ killings in Sindh was shown on Pakistani TV, few years ago. Metropolitan (Lahore) supplement of the day focuses ‘Gateway to a life gone forever’, regular feature on Lahore during 1947-2007. There is a new item about President Parvez Musharraf opening new block of Ganga Ram hospital in Lahore. Ganga Ram hospital is equally known in Delhi as well. In fact seminar on Dr. Ambedkar in Lahore was organized by Ganga Ram foundation.

14th April issue of Dawn carries front page story on chief justice related matters including ‘Protest rallies in Islamabad’. On second page story from Karachi says’ Media men injured in clash with lawyers’. ‘Journalists beaten by PPP MNA’ (MP) from Karachi. On page four from Peshawar ‘Solidarity with CJ expressed: Lawyers boycott court hearing’. In the ‘Letters to the editor’ page, there is an interesting letter from Tariq Mahmood of Peshawar’ Urdu and Hindi: different yet similar’. The writer has traced historic relation between two languages and informed the readers that University of Peshawar has proposed to introduce the study of Devnagri script in M.A. Urdu syllabus. Would the Hindutva hate agency like to open its eyes to such developments in Pakistan? The editorial page of this day carries Kuldip Nayyar’s ‘ Letter from New Delhi’, article by Tariq Fatmi’s ‘Iran’s show of maturity’, Irfan Hussain’s ‘Reaping what we sowed’. This is in reference to Mullahs role in attempting Talibanisation in context of Lal Masjid incident. The writer has criticized Musharraf by lacking ‘the courage to take the bull by horns and tell the mullahs that while obviously Islam is the faith of the majority, Pakistan will be governed as democratic secular country.’ Out of three editorial pieces, one is focused on ‘Increasing disappearances’, that is like our ‘fake encounters’. On the letters page-Dr. Saeed Ahmed has written on ‘Islam and Secularism’. On page twelve (national) there is news as well as photograph of ‘Alliance for restoration of Democracy’ in Karachi—‘ARD rally vows-Struggle to continue till removal of Musharraf’. Photograph of huge rally is given side by. Other headline on the page includes ‘Lawyers protest continues’ and ‘Attack on judiciary boomerangs’ (both from Karachi).

Metropolitan page carries the item’ Lawyers rally on the Mall’ along with color photograph of procession. The news of Dr. Ambedkar seminar in Lahore is given with photograph.( This writer had participated in this seminar) Second page of the

Edition carries the news of fourth Indo-Pak theatre festival-‘Punj Pani flows back in the annals of history’. The festival started on 18th April and continued up to 23rd. The title of festival was ‘Reinterpreting History’. Indian theatre groups from Amritsar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Bhopal and kolkata along with Pakistani groups participated in the festival, which attracted good crowds. Famous Urdu writer Manto’s daughters came to watch presentation based upon Manto stories.Madeeha Gauhar and her husband Shahid Nadeem from Ajoka theatre are holding this festival regularly in India and Pakistan. They plan to hold festival of plays based on Bhagat Singh during martyr’s birth centenary in September ’07 at Lahore.

Dawn of 15th April carries report of workshop at Peshawar-‘Extremism a threat to nation-workshop told’. On edit page, editorial takes to task the authorities over’ Whither Madrassa reforms’ and ‘ Harassing students on the campus’- a boy and girl were beaten at Punjab University Lahore campus by Islamia Jamaite Tulba, a variety of ABVP or Bajrang Dal moral police. Kunwar Idris in edit page article has criticized political parties for ‘Surrendering to the Militants’. Even the headings of letters are overflowing with democratic aspirations- ‘Confronting the sectarian Threat’,’ Let us be rational’ etc. On page twelve (national) news items from Karachi says-‘Dr. Ambedkar remembered’, the seminar in which Indian scholars also participated. Religious affairs minister of Sindh province-Kishanchand Parwani was the chief guest at seminar. Another headline says’ Talibanization antithesis of freedom’.

International news coverage of Dawn is very rich. Two full pages plus news on other pages are devoted to world news.

Metropolitan supplement carries the news ‘Lahore bar condemns the torture of journalists’. Sunday edition of Dawn carries twelve page book review supplement in Blitz size, titled as –‘Books and Authors’. There is review of 14 books in 15th April edition, along with three general articles on literature. Books received and ‘In Brief’, four books are introduced. Book reviews are focused on English and Urdu books. There is an advertisement from Sang-e-meel publications of Lahore, which has brought 18 publications on 1857 to mark the 150th anniversary of the event. These books are mostly British records of those days, including-‘The Mutiny Records’(1856-57) by Edward H. Hilton, ‘The History of Indian Mutiny’ by John Kaye, ‘ Punjab and Delhi in 1857’ by J. Cave Brown( This book has also been published in India by Punjab Language Deptt. Patiala(Punjab) )etc. Incidentally there is not much enthusiasm in Pakistan to celebrate 150th anniversary of 1857 freedom struggle. There was more enthusiasm during 1957, at hundredth anniversary of the event in Pakistan. In contrast, India is celebrating the event at big level- both at Governmental and non-governmental level. Though Tipu Sultan is much revered in Pakistan as Sultan Tipu, not many functions seemed to had been held in 2006, at the two hundredth anniversary of his glorious struggle against British colonialism. Bahadur Shah Zafar is also held in esteem in Pakistan.

Reviews on books relating to Jinnah and Fidel Castro have also been carried in this issue. On the whole book review section of Dawn is quite good.

The issue of 15th April of Dawn also carries some advertisements like-‘Are You Ready?’ which says-‘ Are women ready to confine to their homes?’ ‘ Are women ready to wear unislamic shuttlecock Burqa?’ ‘ Are Female students ready to be deprived of their right to education?’ This is call for rally against Islamic fundamentalism at Karachi on 15th April by MQM. Another interesting advertisement of 15th April is-‘Divine Divas’ on city Fm 89 on Sunday, which include mix of melodies by Lata Mangeshkar, Noorjahan, Asha , Runa Laila and Abida Parveen. All Pakistani Women’s Association (APWA) has also given advertisement in support of Karachi rally by saying-‘Islam is a religion of love and peace’ ‘A Mosque is a place for worship, Not a Garrison, whereas a Madrassa is a seat for learning, not a repository of arsenal’.

I wonder if any Indian paper had carried such strongly worded advertisement against Hindu fundamentalists like VHP, Bajrang Dal. It would have led to an attack on the paper, if any paper had carried it.

Dawn of 16th April is full of news of democratic movements. Lead story says-’15 SHC judges attend reception for CJ. In Hyderabad CJ is shown waving to lawyers in color photograph. On left side of the front page, a color photograph of huge rally is given and the news item says-‘Massive rally against ‘Lal Masjid Sharia’. On page nine more photographs and news are carried. In one color photograph, large number of women protestors are sitting, including Salma Agha, heroine of popular Hindi film ‘Nikah’, listening to speeches. The news item says=’ Massive turn out at Muttehida rally’. An interesting part of this rally was that MQM chief Altaf Hussain addressed the rally from London on telephone for almost 45 minutes. This day’s editorial page articles include-‘ Enough of Military Rule’ by A.Z.K. Sherdil and ‘ Towards the dark alleys of Obscurantism’ by Mohammad Ali Sidiqi. Both articles espouse democratic views. Metropolitan supplement carries a front page color photograph of ‘Sikh pilgrimage performing rituals at Ranjeet Singh Samadhi’ in Lahore. News item’ Peasant groups formed to hold demos’ is on inside page, also the feature story’ Baba Munshi still going strong at 120’.

By illustrating the news of democratic movements from the Pakistani newspapers of one weak, one does not overlook the fact that there are undemocratic and oppressive streaks as well in Pakistani society, as has been brought out by the news of ‘karo-kari’ killings etc. However the emphasis on projecting news of democratic movements is to underline the fact that Pakistani people are yearning for democratization of their nation and society. In fact a lot of democratization has already been achieved due to the pressure of democratic movements. There is military rule in Pakistan, yet neither media is muzzled nor are processions or political meetings banned. Even the election process at various levels has not been stopped. Pakistani society has evolved a system of assemblies from Tehsil to national level. Thus people elect district assemble, state assembly and national assembly. The elections to various unions etc are also not restricted. Pakistani universities have more active teachers associations than even ours. There is no Pakistani University deprived of teachers association as Punjabi University Patiala and BHU, a central university of Benars have been deprived of teachers association since many years now. Electronic media is full of coverage of political events and sometimes suffer the attacks from vested interests, as Indian media too suffers, like recent attack on Dinkaran office in Madurai in Tamilnadu.

Not only media, even the intelligentsia in general in Pakistan is expressing their views quite freely. My meetings with Punjabi writers, artists, historians and NGO activists like Najam hussain Syeed, Zubair Ahmed, Salima Hashmi, Dr. Naazish, Prof. Manzoor Ahmad, Prof. Aijajudin, Prof. Mubark Ali, Dr. Tehseen etc. made me realize that Pakistani intelligentsia is free in their expression as are their Indian counterparts. Though I could not contact, but I was told that there is strong presence of Atheists in Lahore, like the presence of many rationalist groups in our country. All these individuals and groups wish to strengthen democratic institutions in Pakistan. Women’s participation in shaping Pakistani society is also spectacular. Despite the killing of a woman minister earlier, Nilofar Bakhtiars have not been silenced. Mukhtar Mai stood her ground as much as Bhanwari Devi in India. But Mukhtar Mai has created a niche in Pakistani society, whereas Bhanwari Devi has been forced into oblivion. Women move in the dresses they like-jeans or salwars with bobbed hair if they wish, with or without burqas. They work in offices, professional institutions, even in political parties.

There is very little anti Indian feeling in Lahore or surrounding areas, in fact people are rather more friendly and affectionate towards Indians. Sometimes they do not even charge them by saying-Aap hamare mehman hain(You are our guests). People share the memories of their ancestral places, left in India by their elders or Indians talk about the places left by their elders in Pakistan.

It is in the interests of both the countries and societies to understand each other better. Even if the reality of partition can not be overlooked, both nations have more in common and less in difference; from language to culture. And on both sides, people do realize it now. This is time for the leadership in both the countries to make the borders ‘meaningless’ in the words of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which are echoed by President Musharraf in other context. On both sides people wish to do away with visa regime and want to restore pre-1965 open exchange of people. I am sure hundreds of Lahoris will rush to Amritsar for their morning ‘Lassi’ and hundreds of Amritsaris will rush to Gwalmandi food joints in Lahore for their night non-vegetarian delicacies, if the borders are really ‘meaningless’. The distance of Lahore to Amritsar being just about 30 kilometers or so. And would the Prime Minister not like to visit his birth place as frequently as he wishes?

Democratic institutions in both the countries would be strengthened by the free exchange of people and in the age of globalization and liberal economy, it is the businessmen on both sides to earn immense profits by the open borders. Even though the globalized liberal economy is bad for the poorer people all over the world, yet it may be welcome to a limited extent, in this region if it can bring the people of India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh closer to each other.