Archive for ::World Around Us

Mukhtaran Mai Weds…breaking all taboos

It was nice to see a follow up and update on Mukhtaran Mai’s life in this NYT article on March 17, 2009.  I just recently wrote about her in the Nicolas Kristof post here.

mukhtarwedding

So it seems that she has married a younger police constable (she is his second wife) after he has been pursuing her hand in marriage for the past few years.  Her will and resolve as a strong woman, rooted in her belief that she will lead her life on her own terms continues to resonate as she takes this new step in her life.  Read on….

There are several news stories on her:

Here’s the full report from the New York Times:

Rape Victims’ Advocate Marries

By SALMAN MASOOD
Published: March 17, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Mukhtar Mai, the resilient Pakistani who was
gang raped in 2002 on the orders of a village council but became a
symbol of hope for voiceless and oppressed women, has married.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Ms. Mukhtar, 37, said her new
husband is a police constable who was assigned to guard her in the
wake of the attack and who has been asking for her hand for several
years. She is his second wife.
She said the constable, Nasir Abbas Gabol, 30, and she married Sunday
in a simple ceremony in her dusty farming village, Meerwala, in the
southern part of Punjab Province.
“He says he madly fell in love with me,” Ms. Mukhtar said with a big
laugh when asked what finally persuaded her to say yes.
Pakistani rape victims often commit suicide, but Ms. Mukhtar, who is
also know as Mukhtaran Bibi, instead successfully challenged her
attackers in court, winning international renown for her bravery. She
runs several schools, an ambulance service and a women’s aid group in
her village and has written an autobiography. By marrying, she has
defeated another stigma against rape victims in conservative Pakistani
society.
The village council ordered her rape as a punishment for actions
attributed to her younger brother. He was accused of having illicit
relations with a woman from a rival clan, but later investigations
revealed that the boy had himself been molested by three of those
clan’s tribesmen, and the accusation against him had been a cover-up.
Mr. Gabol was one of a group of police officers deployed to protect
her after she was threatened by the rapists’ relatives to try to stop
her from pressing charges.
Mr. Gabol had a hard time persuading Ms. Mukhtar to marry. He had been
calling her off and on since 2003 but formally proposed a year and a
half ago, she said. “But I told my parents I don’t want to get
married.”
Finally, four months ago, he tried to kill himself by taking sleeping
pills. “The morning after he attempted suicide, his wife and parents
met my parents but I still refused,” Ms. Mukhtar said.
Mr. Gabol then threatened to divorce his first wife, Shumaila.
Ms. Shumaila, along with Mr. Gabol’s parents and sisters, joined
forces to try to talk Ms. Mukhtar into marrying him, taking on the
status of second wife. In Pakistan, which follows Islamic law, a man
can legally have up to four wives.
It was her concern about Ms. Shumaila, Ms. Mukhtar said, that moved
her to relent.
“I am a woman and can understand the pain and difficulties faced by
another woman,” Ms. Mukhtar said. “She is a good woman.”
In the end, Ms. Mukhtar put a few conditions on Mr. Gabol. He had to
transfer the ownership of his ancestral house to his first wife, agree
to give her a plot of land and a monthly stipend of roughly $125.
Asked if she had plans to leave her village to live with her husband
in his village, Ms. Mukhtar said no. “I have seen pain and happiness
in Meerwala. I cannot think of leaving this place.”
Her husband, she said, “can come here whenever he wants and finds it
convenient.”

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Let the people speak today…

[Updated note to this post: Amid the jubilence, it seems suicide attackers have struck again in Rawalpindi, killing at least 10 and injuring over 20.  Let Pakistanis not loose the momentum to demand en masse, their right to be safeguarded against this grave threat which looms, to demand that the powers that be, stop pandering to the religious extremists and begin to take strong action with urgency to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty and its people.  I hope we are not left waiting in vain (or worse) for the people, the masses, the ruling educated elite to speak up and march (now!) against the terror and atrocities being committed by Muslims upon Muslims as the country celebrates the dawn of this new day… ]

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A historic, emotional and proud day in the history of Pakistan- March 16, 2009.

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Hundreds of thousands marched the “Long March” towards the capital to demand the restoration of Paksitan’s legitimate Judiciary – for two years the lawyers movement forged tirelessly, beaten down on, but they have prevailed.  Never in the history of Pakistan, have PCO Judges been reinstated.  Never did the masses feel their voice and presence would matter.   Technology, media and the will to fight for a country mired in political dysfunction have given birth to a new hope and a voice to the people.

Skeptics who felt powerless in the face of the corrupt and ruling elite, feel they may have a chance after this historic day.  The task now is for more long marches to come – to demand the rulers to stop pandering to the Islamic extremists and protect them from this abhorrent homegrown violence; to demand justice for equal access to education, health, civil services, employment and the bare necessities of life needed to sustain the poorest of the poor, as well as the vast,  middle class – many of whom comprised the lawyers movement from the start.  The long march has only just begun.

I think it is best for those voices to speak for themselves.  The following are quotes from today’s (March 16, 2009) NYT’s article on this historic event:

Javed Ali Khan: “We’re watching history,” said Javed Ali Khan, a 45-year-old who had traveled for days with his wife and six children to participate in a national march of lawyers and opposition political parties.

…….

Hassan Akhtar, a lawyer who grew up in England, gushed: “It’s really wonderful. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. I couldn’t even dream of this.”

…….

“Justice,” said Mr. Khan’s wife, Rubina Javed, smiling broadly. “We came for justice.” “Justice is the solution to the common man’s problems,” Ms. Javed said, seated on a blue scarf on the grass with two daughters and four sons, ages 6 to 18, around her. “I want justice in schools, on roads, in transportation. Now the common man is speaking.”

Ms. Javed’s daughters both wore stickers of Mr. Chaudhry stuck to the fronts of their brightly colored dresses, with the words, “My Hero,” in English, in bold script. The family earns about $250 a month, too little to send the children to private school. Most Pakistanis consider their country’s public school system to be broken.

…….

“The ruling elite can get away with anything,” said Muhammad Ali, a software engineer. “They are like kings here.”

…….

“This movement has given an awareness to the common people in Pakistan of their rights,” said Shamoon Azhar, 26, a doctoral student at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, sitting on the lawn with a large group of his friends. “This is about awareness. It’s given people confidence. It’s shown people it can happen.”

…….

“The feudal system, it was in the past,” said Mazhar Iqbal, a private school manager. “There was no media then. No education. The poor were poor forever. Now is the time to wake up. It’s been 60 years and we’ve been wasting our time.”

…….

Saif Abbas, a consultant who used to work for the Asian Development Bank in Islamabad, was more clear-eyed about the meaning of the march. Pakistan is still a poor country with a vast illiterate population, and a corrupt, unresponsive ruling class, he said.

“This country has to take control of its own future, and that’s education,” he said, holding a flag. “Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet.”  He continued:  “The next government is going to fear the people who pushed this one against the wall,” […] A revolution it is not, he said. “But it’s a good beginning.”

…….

Indeed it finally is.

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Celebrating the Power of One

Wishing all a celebratory International Women’s Day.

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Nicholas Kristof is an Op-Ed Columnist for the New York Times.  To many, he is just a man who speaks his peace via the news media – but to millions of others, he may as well be their hero and savior.

Nicholas Kristof: Courtesy NYT

Nicholas Kristof: Courtesy NYT

I first took notice of Mr. Kristof when my husband would read me his columns on occasion and comment on his keen ability to find incredible stories to report and comment on.  But he did not only just report – he changed lives.

One such life was that of a Pakistani village woman by the name of Mukhtaran Mai.  In short, she became the victim of gang rape as a form of honor revenge by the ruling tribesmen – the revenge was issued by the tribal council.  While the perpetrators, thought she would succumb to the shame and horror and commit suicide, Mukhtaran Mai instead spoke up, and took her case to court where her rapists were arrested and charged. She took settlement money provided to her by the government following the court case, and opened a center for refuge and education, the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization.

Nicholas Kristof became involved in reporting this story in September 2004 (the incident itself occured in June 2002).   He has since reported on Mukhtaran Mai’s case, its setbacks, and the fact that President Musharraf (Pakistan’s President during that time) had ordered that she not be able to leave the country to share her story in the US and the West, so as not to malign Pakistan’s image abroad.  Kristof has written over 30 op-ed and blog pieces relating to Mukhtaran Mai.  He continues to write of her progress and plight in the ongoing legal case which changed her life and many other women’s lives Mukhtaran Mai has touched – all because this one person shared her painful yet inspirational story with the world.

Here is a link to a comprehensive list: NYT Articles on Mukhtaran Mai by N. Kristof.

Kristof also was able to raise close to $133,000 from his readers for her endeavors of running a school for girls and women in her village. Mukhtar Mai began to work to educate girls, and to promote education with a view towards raising awareness to prevent future honor crimes. Out of this work grew the organization Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization. The main focus of her work is to educate young girls, and to educate the community about women’s rights and gender issues. Her organization teaches young girls, and tries to make sure they stay in school, rather than work or get married. In Fall 2007, a high school was to be started by her group. The Organization also provides shelter and legal help for people, often women, who are victims of violence or injustice. [ref: Wikipedia]

His most recent piece appeared just days ago on March 2, 2009 – from his “On the Ground” Blog entry, asking us, the readers to call upon the highest of Pakistani officials to inquire if there indeed is any political interference occurring in her continuing case, and to request the government’s assurance that the judiciary will maintain their independence in the face of alleged political pressure.  [Do go to the article and act upon this request, I’m sure it will only help put some sort of pressure].

On Darfur.  Again, for years, Kristof has been the almost only resounding, continuous and unrelenting voice on the genocide in Sudan in the news media at large.  Just the other day, at a panel discussion after the showing of a documentary celebrating International Woman’s Day (entitled, “A Powerful Noise” – which also celebrate the power of 3 different women, each making their mark and voices heard) in NYC, panelist Madeleine Albright told fellow panelist Nicholas Kristof how in debt the world is to him for keeping the topic of Darfur alive and in the news media for all these years.  In fact, he has visited this war torn region over 8 times at much risk to himself.  His recent tactic has involved taking Hollywood heartthrob, George Clooney with him on the current reporting cycle, in the hopes that it will attract media attention and possibly entice the paparazzi to follow Clooney to Darfur.  Here is an excerpt from the February 19, 2009 NYT Op Ed piece: Read the rest of this entry »

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Starting from behind zero. Is there a reset button?

We may need a quick fix to rid Pakistan of the rise of the new brand of Talibanization, but perhaps we will have to step back much further and start from scratch, in the hopes of attempting to rebuild a breaking  nation.  Many say it is too late, but we cannot know if we do not try.

education_pakistan_1

EDUCATION.           As obvious as it may seem, but seemingly never hailed as a priority in many underdeveloped countries – including Pakistan.  Countries at war, in economic turmoil and on the cusp of religious implosion do not see investment in any human capital as necessary or a priority.  Perhaps the fear is that too much knowledge and awareness can backfire?

Everyone knows about the multiplier effect of educating a child, a girl and how in turn that child goes on to bring pride, knowledge, vocation and income to the family and its greater community.  It being International Women’s Day today and having just viewed the live broadcast of the documentary (“A Powerful Noise”) shown across 450 US movie theatres this week in its honor, I was reminded about how important the investment in people was.  but this was certainly not the first time I realized this…Having grown up with a father whose main mission was to promote education and health of women and children (he devoted his entire adult career at UNICEF in many parts of Asia for over 35years), and having seen the immediate benefits of those efforts, this led me in my studies to pursue the root causes of underdevelopment in emerging countries.  My senior thesis in college simply argued that NGOs and grassroots educational programs which were either initiated by local non-governmental organizations or local populations themselves, would be the most effective way out of poverty and access to income generation, national economic growth and eventually a decline in social strife and civil unrest alike.   Change from within, is when true change can occur.  People have to want to help themselves – and many populations do.  But that is only half the battle.  Lack of adequate fiscal investment in infrastructure and education programs by the government in Pakistan, have essentially destroyed the chances of attaining access to education for children, and has resulted in one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world.

I am constantly reminded of how important it is for countries, especially emerging countries, to enable access to schooling at the most basic level: Universal Primary Education.  Many wonderful NGOs – not the government – in Pakistan champion this cause, including DIL (Developments in Literacy), TCF (The Citizens Foundation), AKRSP (Agha Khan Rural Support Programs), Behbud Association, among several others.  But naturally, these organizations cannot meet the immense need to fill the deep canyons.  The void left by the failure of lack of government spending on human capital investment, has been rapidly filled by the extremist elements and their brand of ‘madrassas’ or schools which teach in this case, Islamic studies and the Qur’an.  As Mr. Dalrymple aptly states in his March 8, 2009 piece in the UK Guardian, “Wahhabi fundamentalism has advanced so quickly in Pakistan partly because the Saudis have financed the building of so many madrasas, which have filled the vacuum left by the collapse of state education.”  He continues in his article to get at the essence of why this nation has gone so far astray: “The Pakistani government could finance schools that taught Pakistanis to respect their own religious traditions, rather than buying fleets of American F-16 fighters and handing over education to the Saudis.”

It is clear to us, that State education has no sense of urgency to improve or allow the greater population of Pakistanis access to at minimum, universal primary education.  The small droplets provided by international and local NGOs cannot meet the vast and ever growing demand and needs of the people –  We are keenly aware at the same time, that their needs go beyond educational access, but are basic human needs like food, shelter and medicine. According to UNESCO, the current literacy rate in Pakistan is about 49%. Statistics from over 10 years ago show the following trends in literacy according to UNESCO : “In 1951, there were nearly 22 million who couldn’t read in Pakistan, while the 1998 census results showed that the illiterate population has risen to 48 million.”  Today’s population is estimated to be about 172 million – about 50% of them are illiterate.  Do the math and therein lies the problem.

Without the commitment and investment in universal primary education, girls education, adult literacy, and income generating adult vocational training, there is little hope for Pakistan.  While this is the very long and tedious path, it could end up being the most long lasting solution.  We need a reset button and this could be it.

Then again, I confess that I am uncertain if Pakistan has any time left to even begin to contemplate, let alone implement this philosophy, given how fast the time bomb is ticking…but try, we must, as the will of the people will be required to overcome so many of these hurdles facing Pakistan.

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Will Cricket be the last straw to wake up Pakistanis?

With the recent attack on the Sri Lankan Cricket team in my birth city of Lahore, it begs the question: When will Pakistan wake up and realize that we have a problem – and actually act on it?

grief_by_firesign24_7

In response to a friend’s blog post, (Sportz Insight), I penned my thoughts here:

To the blogger:  …written from the heart – a lovely piece. Sadly, it may be too late perhaps, that we are all finally waking up to what has been building up for years and years. The madrassas sprouting everywhere in Islamabad’s backyards, and the general re-Islamization of moderate Pakistanis has been percolating for the past several years…the more violent and blatant infiltration is evident in the more recent past with hundreds of suicide bombings, kidnappings (of many ‘wealthy’ folks kids – whose ransoms fund the militants, no doubt), blowing up of hotels and the like. But it has not seemed to put any sense of trepidation or impending doom in the minds of the average (well, let me correct myself, the wealthy, educated, governing elite) until now, when it has hit home: CRICKET. Is this the wake up call, or will it be shoved behind us in our short term memories again like all the other incidents of late? Apathy is the norm. 200 schools demolished in Swat didn’t wake any of us up – none of us were up in arms about it (just a ‘sigh, this is horrible’ at most). No one protested when 500 music shops were closed and burnt down in Mingora. No mass street protests or condemnation of our politicians was made when those 5 unfortunate women were buried alive (with the Baluchi minister, Zehri, approving of it!) or when the dancer, Shabana was dragged and killed in the city square in Swat recently. Are we human? It seems like we as Pakistanis are immune to anything violent or that which does not directly inflict harm on us. There are not cries of mass protest or indignation -anywhere. (“hum kiya kar laengay?” is the mantra).  Why is this? Why do our people feel that their voice en masse cannot make a difference? Is it in our DNA? There are countless examples throughout the history of man where people’s movement, even beginning with the voice of one person have led to change, reform and restitution. I know in my heart, that ultimately Pakistanis have the will – I for the first time saw this in my lifetime when the whole nation seemed to come together in October 2005 after the massive earthquake. Where are those hearts and minds now?? We need to put forth a movement and voices – March to the President’s House/Parliament/ISI with 100,000 people like you and me, shopkeepers, teachers, CEOs, industrialists, university professors, jamadars, doctors, company presidents, drivers, and children and demand to be protected and tell them to take action and no longer feed the beast with appeasement. We may snicker and be cynical – but ultimately, that is exactly what we’re best at doing as Pakistanis. So, I agree with you – it is up to “us”. If we let the media report on how bad the situation has become (tsk, tsk), how India may be to blame and just sit sit sit, then my friend, we need to be ready to right off Pakistan as we know it.

05 March 2009 18:32

[with some minor edits]

A parting thought from our recent history:

If a skinny, black kid from the South Side of Chicago was able to organize his communities and ultimately an entire nation, why can’t we?  The whole world, including all the cynics and naysayers out there were all grandstanding and patting each other on their backs as they watched in amazement on Election night, what one person and his organized followers managed to do for the United States.  People who had never voted, never volunteered, never phone-banked, never stood up for anything in their lives – the old, young children, blind, once racists – all pitched in.  This is the message we should be sending to our children – not one which says, ‘me, what can I do??!’.

Post Script:

On Bravery: Actually, I do want to say that there are times when we CAN acutally take a lesson from a child.  Fear is another factor which most likely what keeps people from banning together to demand and protest.  But then we can gain strength from this fearless young 11 year old girl in Pakistan who has taken on the Taliban with her poetry.

On Activism (the counterproductive kind) : While there have been ‘protests’ in Pakistan, mainly ‘activists’ coming out and burning Indian flags in Lahore there have been no mass protests against the rise of the growing local terrorism – other than peaceful candlelight vigils.  The psyche of Paksitanis and an unresponsive, disfunctional government, unfortunately continue to stand in the way.

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A Must Read: Israel 1948 to Gaza 2009

Israeli Oxford Professor of International Relations, Avi Shlaim, wrote this detailed chronical of what makes Israel tick, why they are opting for land vs. peace and insight into the underlying objectives for each and every one of the wars.

Source: AP. A child injured in the Israeli bombardment of a UN school yesterday is taken to Shifa hospital in Gaza City

From UK’s January 7, 2009 Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/07/gaza-israel-palestine

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Another good piece in today’s UK’s Independent by Robert Fisk trying to answer “Why they hate the West so much”

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-why-do-they-hate-the-west-so-much-we-will-ask-1230046.html

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Mumbai Bombings – Some perspective

What happened in Mumbai at the tail end of November was a horrifying tale of terror for the people of Mumbai and the Indian nation. Sadly, these kinds of attacks have plagued India and Pakistan in recent history, and continues to even as recently as this September, when the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan was bombed, then burnt down to ashes within hours. Rather than pointing fingers, we need to come to understand the underpinnings of why this violence is claiming the lives of the innocent – and where this venomous and deep seeded anger culminates from. We must look back to the historical context, to even begin to understand the ‘why’ in all this madness.

Ms. Arundhati Roy (author and Booker Prize winner of “God of Small Things”) provides some of this in context.

From UK’s Guardian (December 13, 2008) : THE MONSTER IN THE MIRROR

The monster in the mirror

The Mumbai attacks have been dubbed ‘India’s 9/11’, and there are calls for a 9/11-style response, including an attack on Pakistan. Instead, the country must fight terrorism with justice, or face civil war

Azam Amir Kasab filmed on CCTV inside the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station in Mumbai

Azam Amir Kasab, the face of the Mumbai attacks. Photograph: Reuters

We’ve forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were watching “India’s 9/11”. Like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old Hollywood film, we’re expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though we know it’s all been said and done before.

As tension in the region builds, US Senator John McCain has warned Pakistan that if it didn’t act fast to arrest the “Bad Guys” he had personal information that India would launch air strikes on “terrorist camps” in Pakistan and that Washington could do nothing because Mumbai was India’s 9/11.

But November isn’t September, 2008 isn’t 2001, Pakistan isn’t Afghanistan and India isn’t America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so that we can arrive at our own conclusions.

It’s odd how in the last week of November thousands of people in Kashmir supervised by thousands of Indian troops lined up to cast their vote, while the richest quarters of India’s richest city ended up looking like war-torn Kupwara – one of Kashmir’s most ravaged districts.

The Mumbai attacks are only the most recent of a spate of terrorist attacks on Indian towns and cities this year. Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Guwahati, Jaipur and Malegaon have all seen serial bomb blasts in which hundreds of ordinary people have been killed and wounded. If the police are right about the people they have arrested as suspects, both Hindu and Muslim, all Indian nationals, it obviously indicates that something’s going very badly wrong in this country.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Smith Grad Building Bridges

Farah Pandith is working to build bridges with Muslims overseas and to help spread the word of integration and tolerance to young people…

From the Boston Globe (Saturday, May 17, 2008)

This recent article in the Boston Globe was just shared with me.  In times of mounting misunderstandings, misperceptions and judgement, Smith Alum, Farah Pandith shares her personal and professional journey from an opportunity on one given day at Smith – to the White House and beyond.  

Article in it’s entirety:

The Messenger

Farah Pandith is working to build bridges with Muslims overseas and to help spread the word of integration and tolerance to young people

By Irene Sege

Globe Staff / May 17, 2008

NORTHAMPTON – Eighteen years after she graduated from Smith College, Farah Pandith, her hair neatly coifed in a flip, her tailored pink jacket and dark skirt accented with a string of pearls, her White House folder in hand, visits her alma mater. A flyer advertising a talk by former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin catches her attention, and, with a nod of approval, she reads aloud the title of Kunin’s book: “Pearls, Politics, and Power.”
“I’m glad to see that Smith is still bringing in good people to inspire their students,” Pandith says. “I remember when Betty Friedan came in. Gloria Steinem.”On this sunny spring Friday, it’s Pandith who’s bringing pearls, politics, and power to Smith women. Here to meet with students a day in advance of addressing a model United Nations, Pandith is senior adviser to the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, charged with working to counteract the radicalization percolating in some segments of Europe’s Muslim communities.

Pandith, 40, brings to the task a resume that includes stints as director for Middle East regional initiatives for the National Security Council, chief of staff for the Bureau for Asia and the Near East at the US Agency for International Development, and vice president for international business at ML Strategies in Boston. Born in Kashmir, in India, and bred since infancy in Braintree and Milton, she also draws on her personal experiences as a Muslim American.

“When you have a population in Western Europe that is 20 million strong in Muslims, how are we Americans thinking about what’s taking place in Europe?” Pandith asks. “How are we Americans thinking about what’s taking place in Europe in terms of demographics and how are we getting to know that next generation and the generation after it? Are we building bridges of dialogue?”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Help Victims in Burma (Cyclone) and China (Earthquake)

The devastation of the now two (2) natural disasters: Cyclone in Burma and Earthquake in China are putting international aid agencies and relief organizations on call.  Not since the Asian Tsunami and the Earthquake in Pakistan (& Kashmir) has the urgency of massive aid and relief been called upon in recent years.

I urge you to help in whatever way you are able to.  You can get the latest news on your media outlets.  Below are a list of bonafide and vetted organizations which are working diligently to get the needed supplies and relief workers to their sources. 

 

Cylone in Burma (Myanmar) – May 2, 2008

As many as 1.9 million people in Myanmar are struggling to survive after the most devastating cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, according to the latest UN assessment.  With the military junta slowly and reluctantly allowing aid agencies to deliver relief supplies and provide medical care, the need for funds to continue this relief effort are sorely needed.

On Monday (May 12) the official toll rose to 31,938 dead and 29,770 missing, while the UN’s humanitarian agency reported that up to 100,000 people are dead or missing.

 

Earthquake in Western China – May 12, 2008

According to Government sources, the latest death toll from the quake stands at 8,600 after a series of large earthquakes struck the Wenchuan district of Sichuan at approximately 14:30 hrs (Beijing Time) on May 12.

It is reported that cell phone networks have been substantially affected by the earthquakes. There are additional reports that approximately 5,000 have died in Beichan county alone in Sichuan, with another 10,000 wounded. Reports of additional casualties have also been received from Gansu and Yunnan provinces.

Some ‘on the ground’ agencies which are getting aid to the survivors and injured in both Burma and China:

 

Here are some good news trackers on the disasters:

Burma (Myanmar):

BBC Burma Coverage

 

China:

BBC China Coverage

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World Food Crisis, Rising Prices, Rationing in the US?

The impact of the world food shortages and price crisis are slowly beginning to hit home here in the US it seems.  After consistent reporting in the NYT Editorials (and here) news features in other papers, recent periodical features like the one in TIME Magazine and in the past few days, actual reporting of this crisis on local US news channels, seems to be bringing the reality closer to home.  Just today it was reported that the large warehouse, bulk shopping stores: Sam’s Club and Costco have put limits by rationing the number of bags of rice (imported) each customer can purchase.  Just last week where I usually bought ‘Buy one 10lb. bag of Basmati Rice, Get One Free’, no longer was giving the 2nd bag away for free.  Ouch. 

Ears of wheat growing in a field

Photograph: Steve Satushek/Getty Images

I never think of rice or grain shortage as a reality anyone in the US would ever have to face.  Food doesn’t run out or get rationed here.  We’ve had our fuel shortages of course, but nothing like this.  Many of us are noticing how much more food is costing these days.  Just do a survey of your weekly grocery bill and observe. At least a 10-20% increase in certain food purchases.  Add the near $4/gallon of gas price to that and even the upper middle class is feeling the pinch.

What is happening around the world is far more brutal.  Hundreds of millions are going to bed hungry.  And millions are unable to afford to buy the scarce staples of rice or wheat priced beyond their means.  Riots and killings are widespread in countries which never had to deal with severe food shortages and exponential price increases.  In many countries like Vietnam, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Haiti, food accounts for half if not more of a family’s income spending. The lack of purchasing power coupled with food shortage related price hikes is wreaking havoc in dozens of countries around the world currently.

Why this crisis?  There are many reasons and also some very sound arguments for this question.  The high cost of oil is fueling higher production costs for farmers in grain exporting countries to produce their crops, thus raising the price of the commodities.  Due to droughts in large exporting countries like Austrailia, they have had a wheat shortage which has hiked up prices and reduced their wheat exports.  Another promoter of the current shortages and pricing crisis of wheat, rice and other staple commodities is the fact that subsidies have been given to farmers who convert their crops into biofuels like ethanol made from corn and other grains, outplacing land for grain and rice crops. 

Here is another good analysis of the current food crisis and the reasons why the world is in such a vulnerable state.

 

Tomorrow I think I may need to go and buy a couple of bags of rice…

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Psst, Pass this on to Candidate Obama (…and Hillary): A Foreign Policy Road Map

If these candidates want to score some Bush-bashing points on the foreign policy front, there is excellent fodder coming out of Pakistani politics these days.  How better to make the case stronger that Bush’s foreign policy agenda: supporting a dictator, not actual democratic institutions, has continued to fail, as has been illustrated in the more recent aftermath of the post-dictatorship under the freshly minted (and freely elected) new leadership.  A new day has dawned in Pakistan, with some hope for the future (again).

As the new leadership, primarily comprised of a coalition between two political parties – the PPP (Benazir Bhutto’s Party, now led by Asif Zardari) and PML-N (Nawaz Sharif’s Party) has quickly and deftly shown, that they are working hard to promote the idea of what a ‘democratically’ elected parliament can do.  The new PM and this parliament have released the judges, foremost among them, the chairman of the Bar Association (Aitzaz Ahsan) and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Iftikhar Chaudhury) from the house arrest they had been illegally put under: by Bush’s foremost ally, Pervez Musharraf.  The new Speaker of the House is the nation’s first female speaker, Dr. Fehmida Mirza. Fahmida MirzaFahmida MirzaFahmida MirzaFahmida Mirza

 The new coalition government, headed by Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani, with the legal community and members of parliament sent a clear message to the US through their envoy’s (Negroponte’s) ill-timed arrival in Pakistan: “It is no longer a one-man-show”.  If the US wants to subvert terrorism and extremism, then the institutions of democracy: an independant judiciary, constitutional order, a free media, rule of law, equal opportunity and access to medical care, education, social services and economic mobility – must be supported and nurtured.  Without these basic musts in a society (which Pakistanis are working harder than ever to develop, maintain and build), the extremist elements will continue to be fueled in their absence.  Essentially, this is the argument which Senator Joseph Biden (US, Democrat, Delaware) has been vociferously making.  He has been, as they say, ‘spot on’, from the start. He gets the political nuances and also understands what is at stake for the United States.  A possible cabinet post, Secretary of State?  Here is a brief glimpse of his ‘new approach for Pakistan’:

BIDEN:  “With this election, the moderate majority has regained its voice.  The United States should seize the moment to move from a policy focused on a personality – Mr. Musharraf – to one based on an entire country – Pakistan.”
BIDEN:  “We must:  1) Triple non-military assistance and sustain it for a decade; 2) Give the new government – if it is formed consistent with democratic principles – a democracy dividend of $1 billion above this annual assistance to jump start progress; 3) Demand transparency and accountability in the military aid we continue to provide; and 4) Engage with Pakistanis on issues important to them, rather than just on those topics of interest to us.”

The war against terror must be fought significantly differently than how it has been so badly mishandled by the Bush Administration.  Surprisingly, the western and US press is finally getting it.  We need our current Presidential Candidates to jump onto this bandwagon.  It can only help them!

Two articles on the topic appeared in two publications (Huffington Post, and a Canadian source MWC).  Do read.

  1. U.S. Must Quit Bush’s Chicken Little Politics in Pakistan, Cold Turkey
  2. Pakistan Demonstrates the Wisdom of America’s Founding Fathers

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NYT Op-Ed on the Obama – Hillary Face-Off

Well written Op-Ed piece by Frank Rich of the New York Times (February 24, 2008) weighing in on the Obama – Hillary face-off.   Puts both races in comparitive perspective.

Op-Ed Columnist

The Audacity of Hopelessness  

Published: February 24, 2008
WHEN people one day look back at the remarkable implosion of the Hillary Clinton campaign, they may notice that it both began and ended in the long dark shadow of Iraq.  

It’s not just that her candidacy’s central premise — the priceless value of “experience” — was fatally poisoned from the start by her still ill-explained vote to authorize the fiasco. Senator Clinton then compounded that 2002 misjudgment by pursuing a 2008 campaign strategy that uncannily mimicked the disastrous Bush Iraq war plan. After promising a cakewalk to the nomination — “It will be me,” Mrs. Clinton told Katie Couric in November — she was routed by an insurgency.

The Clinton camp was certain that its moneyed arsenal of political shock-and-awe would take out Barack Hussein Obama in a flash. The race would “be over by Feb. 5,” Mrs. Clinton assured George Stephanopoulos just before New Year’s. But once the Obama forces outwitted her, leaving her mission unaccomplished on Super Tuesday, there was no contingency plan. She had neither the boots on the ground nor the money to recoup.

That’s why she has been losing battle after battle by double digits in every corner of the country ever since. And no matter how much bad stuff happened, she kept to the Bush playbook, stubbornly clinging to her own Rumsfeld, her chief strategist, Mark Penn. Like his prototype, Mr. Penn is bigger on loyalty and arrogance than strategic brilliance. But he’s actually not even all that loyal. Mr. Penn, whose operation has billed several million dollars in fees to the Clinton campaign so far, has never given up his day job as chief executive of the public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller. His top client there, Microsoft, is simultaneously engaged in a demanding campaign of its own to acquire Yahoo.

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Managing Risk via Blogging? TSA’s Evolution of Security Blog Launched

We all travel – some are traveling now.  Others just got off a plane.  And then there are many who are up right now, packing their carry on luggage, wondering what viscous items to place in the 3 oz containers and how many ziplock bags to pack up!

Well, the new Transportation Authority Association is now officially ‘blogging‘ about the ups and downs of being the checker and checked, the NYT reported on this news item today.

While many are ranting and raving about their individual tussles, encounters and sheer frustration of the disparity of checks at airports across the country – the TSA is tackling the issues head on by rebutting but also trying to listen to the ‘complaints’ and try to make the process more seamless and consistent – Are they actually espousing the concept of customer service?  We’ll see….  I think we all have at least one good TSA security line story to recount! 

Enjoy their new blog!  Evolution of Security (http://www.tsa.gov/blog).

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Yes We Can!

Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am’s music video inspired by Barack Obama’s message of hope:  Yes We Can!

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Democratic Primary 101

Hopefully it’s not too late for anyone reading this – even if Feb 5 (super ‘duper’ Tuesday) has come and gone, there is still time to vote your mind in the remaining primary voting states.

Been talking to many friends – most of my female ones, at least – and they seem to be on the fence whether to vote for a first potential woman leader of the free world or the first person of color?  A seemingly tough decision, but for some and personally for myself – it has nothing to do with either of these monumental moments at history’s doorstep (though I have to say, it does make it more exciting).

Obama for President 2.25My choice, is for Mr. Barack Obama – because I feel he will make a better leader based on his values (if you have read about his life – he has humble beginnings, a personal and living understanding of the world we live in, in addition to his early life struggles – he understands first hand, where the majority of America and potentially the world is coming from), his solid stance & clarity on policy and his ability to take leadership actions.  Most importantly, he has the gift of being able to inspire hope, provide a turning point amidst apathy towards politics and the current leadership’s stand on almost any issue.  Obama has character and a deep sense of humanity which he so effortlessly displays.  He has rallied young voters and has raised funds rivaling Hillary Clinton’s – despite lacking all the pomp and celebrity his oponents have been banking on.  The single most defining character statement for me, at least, was his clarity of judgement with his opposition of the Iraq war from day one – and not pandering to what was the popular thing to do as Hilary Clinton and so many others did – and now find themselves having to wriggle out and reinvent their reasons for their ‘for war’ vote.  In our world today, it is ever more important to mend the bridges which have been burned over the past 7+ years in international relations.  Having a keen understanding and sensitivity to the world beyond our borders will only make America stonger inside and out. 

My 7 year old daughter was asking me about the candidates (after constantly reading all the campaign signs posted around town) and also piping up when mom and dad were discussing dad’s volunteering this weekend to help her school-friend’s mother (the neighborhood precinct captain for Obama’s campaign) canvass our immediate neighborhood to garner support (and a nod for a vote!) for Barack Obama.  When telling her why her dad and I were supporting Obama, I found it a little difficult – as a graduate of a woman’s college & a mother talking to her young daughter – not standing up for a candidate who could potentially be the first women U.S. president…but then thought again to tell her why I felt Obama was the better one to be a leader of America.  (I told her in her mom’s native country, Pakistan, there already had been a women leader – a prime minister – several years ago, so that absolved some of my feminist guilt!). 

So back to why Obama?  I found an interesting piece comparing the democratic candidates (an ‘Election Guide’)  in the New York Times – ironically on the big policy issues, the positions on Health Care, Abortion, Climate Change, and Immigration were resoundlingly similar.  The big differences again were: 1) on his strong stance against going to war in Iraq from the onset and a comprehensive plan to withdraw from Iraq; 2) insistence upon  engaging in direct diplomacy with open communications with all world leaders to ensure America gets it right in foreign policy issues; 3) while both candidates are for repealing the Bush Tax cuts for households over $250,000, Hillary Clinton wants to ‘jumpstart’ the economy with a $70 Billion stimulous package, Barack Obama proposes a plan for tax relief (cut $80 Billion in taxes) for the middle and working classes and the elderly who make less than $50,000.  It boils down to the nitty gritty, of course, but I feel it is very important to believe in someone who sincerely believes in bringing about the changes and having the intellectual and practical ability to take a well thought out stand.  Just think for a moment, if Clinton wins the primary….and subsequently the role of president, we would have had the Bush and Clinton dynasty running America for 24 years (potentially even 28 years!) – Is this good for America?

While the road to becoming the nominee for the Democratic party is still up for grabs, polls (!) are showing a closing of the gap between Obama and Clinton – especially in the key states of California, New Jersey and Arizona as of February 4th.  Hot off the press (2/4/08): nationally, the USA Today/ Gallup Poll is showing a fierce dead heat competition: 45% (Clinton) to 44% (Obama).  So, there is time in case you are still undecided and have yet to cast your vote.  Interestingly,  while I was writing, I received a ‘taped’ phone message from actress Scarlett Johansson, urging me to cast my vote tomorrow if I am still wavering!  I have come across people who say, “Well, there isn’t a candidate who is worth voting for – I ask them candidly if they have actually spent the time to even read or learn about the policy positions each candidate has (I’ll admit, I’ve been brushing up on this more recently since the race tightened) –  or are they going with their gut?  I urge you to use the upper domain of your body and cast your decision accordingly. Please go and be counted and heard.  It is really empowering and gives you a legitimate license to either applaud or criticize what goes on in your country – without becoming one of those Monday morning quater-backers…

Note: As many know, it is the amount of Delegates the candidates pick up by state vs. winning by more votes.  For the Democratic Primary, it is not winner takes all…(more details below from the NYT):
 

Super Tuesday: Democratic Preview

As the candidates head into Super Tuesday, one of the main factors is how delegates are awarded in each state. There are hundreds of places for candidates to pick up delegates, since in many states delegates are awarded based not on the statewide vote, but rather on the result in each Congressional district. For the Democrats, delegates are won in proportion to a candidate’s percentage of the vote, making it difficult for Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama to pull very far ahead.   Republican preview »
— Amanda Cox, Farhana Hossain and Ford Fessenden   

Oh, and if you’re registered as an Independant or Non-Partisan in California, you are able to cast a vote for your Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.  Just remember to ask for a ballot for the Democratic Primary when you check in to vote! 

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Excerpt from Obama’s speech given in Springfield, Illinois (February 10, 2007) – announcing his decision to run for President of the United States.  I remember listening to his words and feeling moved and a sense of hopefulness for this nation…

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A Past No More?

Yes, it has been a while since I posted an entry, again.  

Having recently returned from a trip to Pakistan to visit family after three years, I suppose I feel the urge to document it.  The political, social and economic scene changes every time I visit – and this time more than it ever has in my lifetime, at least.  One does not have to look far – local dailies, international news media, web logs – all include fresh daily news items tainted with ‘Pakistan’ in their headlines.  It is needless to say that the nation is under seige, from both internal and external powers that be.  Hope is distant and intangible for the time being.

The family trip to Pakistan included visits to grandparents in both Islamabad, the capital city, and to the historic city of Lahore.  I was pleasantly surprized that my young children found some excitment and interest in the places we took them to (other than requisite family ‘meet and greets’ over tea and dinner events). 

In Islamabad, they enthusiastically enjoyed visiting Faisal Masjid with their grandmother (Shah Faisal Mosque – world’s largest mosque, which also houses the world’s largest cantelever roof), running in their socks on the grand marbled floor expanse around the main prayer hall.  They were ‘wow’ed by the largess of the structure and took time to take in the serenity of the interior prayer hall – (well, in all honesty, that lasted only a few minutes before the little one decided he wanted to run into the center of the carpeted prayer area!).  They also visited newly renovated “Lok Virsa”, a premier museum of ethnology and cultural heritage which chronicles the history of the various eras of the Indus Valley civilizations, and Badshahi Masjid, Lahoremodern day Pakistani ethnic geography.  While the children were still a bit young to fully appreciate the value of such a museum, they did enjoy the life-size dioramas of village scenes from the Punjab, Northern Karakorum Mountains as well as relics from the ancient civilizations of Harrapa and Mohenjodaro. 

Lahore of course had it’s own ‘living’ history – not that which is bottled up in showcase glasses in a museum.  They enjoyed a memorable trip with their cousin to the older side of Lahore by the walled city and Lahore Fort. The sheer awe they displayed upon entering the Badshahi Masjid is evoked in the attached photograph above.  Again, the tremendous expanse and majesty of the monument was enough to inspire reckless abandon as witnessed through a child.  We moved next to the Lahore Fort (Shahi Qila), citadel of the city of Lahore.  It’s actual ‘build date’ is not very clear (sometime before 1025 A.D. sources say), but the hands of many Mughal rulers have touched it, including Auranzeb, Shah Jahan (of Sheesh Mahal and Diwan-e-Khas fame here) and Jehangir and Akbar as well – during the greater part of the 1600s.  The children most enjoyed the Diwan-e-Aam Jharoka (or Royal Balcony) – where my husband told them that the emperors used to hold court and speak to the people from the elevated marble pulpit.  Each one of them re-enacted the role of the emperor, pretending to make some pivotal proclamation!  The best part (for me at least) was when I saw the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors) under repair with scaffolding and tall gates barricading entry to the visitors.  A sign near it read, “Under Renovation and Restoration, managed and funded in collaboration with UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee”.   Does this mean there is some hope that my children may someday be able to share with their children, a piece of this history from my birth country’s heritage? 

——————-

In a country where there is an absence of Rule of Law, where lawlessness and unchecked violence is rampant, where the poor person earning barely $16/month cannot afford a kilo of wheat if available, where electricity is shut off daily, (execpt in the VIP sectors) for hours on end, and where the rich get richer, driving their BMWs and Benzs, is there any reason why national heritage preservation will be considered a priority?  There are much more pressing issues facing the country at this juncture in time, as its future hangs tenuously.  Sadly, it is only in my dreams for now, that I may envision the survival of Pakistan’s historical heritage and national treasures.  

The article below details similar thoughts on the sad state of preservation of such glorious treasures. 

(Story Source:  The Guardian, January 11, 2008)

Here in the city of Kim, Pakistan’s magnificent history is being left to rot

Musharraf has allowed one of the wonders of Asia to disintegrate; and a country that neglects its past endangers its future

Simon Jenkins in Lahore
Friday January 11, 2008
The Guardian

Poor Lahore. Yesterday this jewelled city of the Raj was hit by a suicide bomber aimed at lawyers protesting at President Pervez Musharraf’s imprisonment of his top judiciary. As body parts scattered the tree-lined Mall, Kipling’s “city of dreadful night” became the city of dreadful day. Nor could the outrage have happened in a more symbolic spot. Just up the road from the bombed Victorian high court stands “Kim’s gun”, the great 18th-century Zam-Zammah cannon, pointing towards the scene.
While the historic cities of Pakistan’s great rival, India, soar up the league table of celebrity, nothing better displays Pakistan’s current misery than the state of Lahore, joint capital of many an Indian empire and of British Punjab. Splendid Victorian palaces still line the boulevards of the Mall: the high court, the governor’s house, the general post office, the government college and Lahore’s museum, Kim’s “Wonder House”. Even the art college built by Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, survives, with students squatting under giant fans in its corbelled hall.
The style of these and other buildings is the “Anglo-Saracenic” (or Mughal-Gothic) with which the engineer/architects of the Raj paid their respects to a local culture over which they intended to rule for ever. Bursting with imperial confidence, the buildings are the glory of Punjab and the most remarkable group of 19th-century public buildings anywhere, complementing Lutyens’s Edwardian Rajpath at the eastern end of the Grand Trunk Road in what today is India.
A mile away across this now sprawling 8 million-strong metropolis heaves and sweats Lahore’s walled city, old and unchanged. Here, on a wet January night, one can easily imagine the fleet young Kim darting through the mud and huddles of humanity, over the rooftops on some mystery “woman’s errand”. At its heart lies Lahore fort, its gates, gardens, mosques and decorative finishes the finest Mughal monument after the Taj Mahal. Crowded outside its walls are scruffy courtyard houses (havelis), markets, food stalls, brothels and alleys of unimaginable dirt and decrepitude. Buried within are shrines, mosques and derelict palaces. Only a few structures have been restored by enthusiasts, such as the exotic Cuckoo’s Den restaurant by the fort.
In no other world city have I seen so much magnificence so neglected. Pakistan’s ancient sites, those of the Indus civilisation and Taxila and Moenjodaro, are well guarded. Limited preservation is being done on Lahore fort and Shah Jahan’s exquisite Shalimar Garden in the suburbs. But saving Lahore itself has become a desperate struggle conducted by a few lone warriors, such as the Karachi architect Yasmin Lari, and Lahore’s Kamil Mumtaz.
Yesterday’s blast at the high court followed persistent attempts by the government to demolish the building, despite its handsome moulded brick walls and terracotta, marble and teak inside. The authorities also tried to demolish old Tollington market on the Mall. Looking like an East Anglian railway station, it was saved by public outcry and is now a thriving art centre.
Such carelessness is not for want of help. The World Bank offered $10m to restore the old city, which the authorities used to pay for drains. A so-called Sustainable Development Walled City project has hired offices and bureaucrats, but seems to have lost the will to conserve anything. Nobody is trying to stop a hotel company from buying up a street of havelis and demolishing them – houses that in Marrakech would be worth millions and might one day be so in Lahore. There is no protection for these structures, and if there were a well-placed bribe would negate it.
Even a modest project initiated by Lari to restore the royal route through the walled city from the Delhi Gate to the fort has ground to a halt, from a mix of corruption and inertia. The gate itself was demolished by the British in the 19th century but rebuilt, probably at Curzon’s instigation, in the 20th. Through the murk of the royal route can be seen Mughal arches, lattice-work panels and classical porticos. All Pakistan’s history is here, but disintegrating beneath encroaching shanties, cobwebs of wires and piles of rubbish. Meanwhile the dictatorship is spending $1bn on a new army headquarters in Islamabad.
Islamabad, five hours north of Lahore, offers a glaring contrast. This is Pakistan’s own Chandigarh, Canberra or Brasilia, a new city built from scratch in the 1960s and with all the mind-numbing tedium that only 20th-century planning could inflict on humanity. Everything there before – natural or manmade – was simply bulldozed. A grid was imposed on the wide Potohar plateau. Each square was given a letter and number and allocated to commercial, retail or residential use, Soviet-style.
Embarrassed at the resulting soullessness, the city authorities are now seeking to recapture some of the character they destroyed, as are the planners of Britain’s not dissimilar Milton Keynes. Anything surviving from the past, a village, a historic landmark, even a tree, is seized on to lend character to a settlement that lacks any sense of place.
The result has been the virtual demolition and rebuilding of a 16th-century village, Saidpur, on a hillside overlooking the city. A Hindu shrine has been stripped bare and made into a museum. “Illegal residents” have been cleared and their belongings dumped on the road, to make way for an ersatz tourism village of restaurants and boutiques: anything to suggest that Islamabad has a history. Elsewhere on the city outskirts, an old British station has been restored as a museum. At the pleading of a local artist, Fauzia Minallah, surviving banyans have been left standing, in one case in the middle of a motorway. These magnificent trees, she points out, constitute the nearest Islamabad has to “a national heritage”.
Pakistan used to pride itself on its cities being cleaner and more modern than India’s. This is no longer so. While Islamabad seeks to create a past for itself, Lahore’s past is collapsing around it. Hovering over its ancient walls is a sense of utter neglect, so much so that some 400 buildings have been scheduled for demolition as dangerous.
The reason is rule by distant dictator. Some dictators take pride in their past, eager to make their mark on the nation’s narrative. This was true of the Shah of Persia and even of Saddam Hussein. It is sad that present-day Pakistan, once a prized province of India’s Mauryan, Mughal and British empires, should not only have cut itself off from that narrative but find itself at the mercy of an insecure and philistine soldier, for 10 years the puppet of London and Washington.
Though eager to be admired abroad, Musharraf has allowed one of the great cities of Asia to decline into squalor. For centuries the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi through Punjab carried the history of the subcontinent streaming beneath the walls of Lahore. But while India is at least fighting to rescue what remains of its past, Lahore is left to languish.

From the Indus to the Himalayas, Pakistan should be the object of every traveller’s desire. Today it is awash with pessimists ready to declare its 60-year-old creation doomed and its further Balkanisation, begun with Bangladesh in 1972, inevitable. I am not sure, but any country that neglects its past loses touch with its present and endangers its future. In Pakistan the bulldozer is doing as much to hasten that danger as any suicide bomber.

simon.jenkins@guardian.co.uk

A few more personal snaps on the go…will these treasures (Tollington Market and Kim’s Gun)  still be standing in the years to come?

   Zam Zamaah

  

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Three Cups of Tea in Baltistan.

I had read Three Cups of Tea (by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin) a while ago and thought I must post an entry on this remarkable man and his promise to a people in a country far from his own.  I was happy to see that ATP (All Things Pakistan) just posted a book review on their blog as a Guest Post from Babar Bhatti.  You can read it here

Here are some thoughts of mine on this inspirational story…

A truly inspiring read, as is Mr. Mortenson. I had the pleasure of meeting him at one of his readings last March when his book came out. His manner of speaking and recounting his time spent in Pakistan evoked the true and deep bond he had developed with the people there. He returned several times to the Balti region and continued to build (to date I believe almost 60 schools have been built in Pakistan & Afghanistan through his Central Asia Institute). And he returned once again to help rebuild schools after the October 8, 2005 Earthquake shattered the uncountable schools lost that day. Imagine.

His unimaginable survival against so many natural odds and then his commitment to keeping his ‘promise’ to the people who saved him,and that he returned with hope and passion to build schools is remarkable. For me personally, I felt I got a window into a world which I probably would never get to know on such a personalized and detailed level as narrated by Mortenson, even through his American eyes.

One source of his inspiration I found truly moving…was when he had his ephiphany about being able to raise money to fulfil his promise to build schools in Baltistan. The students at his mother’s elementary school had spontaneously launched a “Pennies for Pakistan” drive, upon learning about other children far away in Pakistan, who sat outside in the cold weather without teachers to come to learn/school. The elementary school children couldn’t believe such a place could exist in the world…They collected two 40 gallon trash cans – 62,345 pennies:$623.45! In Mortenson’s words: “Children had taken the first step toward building the school. And they did it with something that’s basically worthless in our society- pennies. But overseas, pennies can move mountains.”

This led to the development of the Pennies for Peace program by his institute:  Pennies for Peace 

I urge anyone with children living in the US or outside Pakistan to take your children on a virtual visit. There are so many ways to spread positive values and impressions to so many who think otherwise, and what better way than to have our children pave the way for their generation to better understand each other and people around the world, AND to instill in them, civic values by helping those less fortunate…one penny at a time.

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Images of Iran Unbeknownst to most…

…Iran Peace Train – a la Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens).   Check out the photo essay below.

Are our lives really that ‘different’? 

 http://www.lucasgray.com/video/peacetrain.html

This site has some more beautiful images of Tehran.

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Abdul Sattar Edhi for the Nobel Peace Prize

covernavedhi.gifSelfless.  Compassionate.  Love of humanity.  Unshakable principles.  There are few people in the world – or at least those we may have heard of – who can exemplify such characteristics in earnest.  Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife, Bilqis Edhi live and work in Pakistan, and have irrevocably changed the course of lives for hundreds of thousands of people in the close to 60 years of their selfless dedication to the poor, indigent, battered, women, children and families who have suffered unimaginable tragedies, accidents, natural disasters and abandonment. 

In a current campaign to nominate Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi for the Nobel Peace Prize, I hope that anyone reading this post who may never had heard of Edhi, learn about him, but also be moved to nominate him or find the proper protocol to do so.  At Adil’s Blog, “All Things Pakistan“, he is taking the initiative to formally submit a bonafide application for the nomination of Dr. Edhi for the Peace Prize.  If you have any personal stories or would like to share an inspiring story relating to his work, do place your comments below or preferably on All Things Pakistan’s entry on Nominating Abdul Sattar Edhi, so that it can be included in some way to support the nomination of Dr. Edhi. 

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to 94 individuals and 19 organizations since 1901.  There are many well known and respected international and movement leaders among the praiseworthy individuals and numerous humanitarian and UN agencies have been bestowed the honor of being recognized by the Nobel Foundation.  I respect all winners like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, International Commitee of the Red Cross , UNICEF et al. – and their lifelong work and the work of the organizations to no end.  It is however, the lesser known, the obscure, who work on their cause or life’s calling with such dedication and passion in some lesser known corner of the world, which I find to be the more intriguing and inspiring Nobel Peace Prize contenders.  People like Rigoberta Menchu (1992, Guatemala. Campaigner for indigenous human rights), Wangari Maathai (2004, Kenya. For her contribution to sustainable development and democracy), and last year’s laureate, Muhammad Yunus & Grameen Bank (2006, Bangladesh. For their efforts to create eco/social benefits though microcredit) (my previous post here) have done so much without prior large scale international recognition.  This is one way we learn what goes on in parts of the world that don’t make the daily news headlines.  It seems in more recent years, the winners have been ‘hidden finds’ and not the usual heads of states or international leaders.  This trend has its merits, as it relies on people to nominate individuals/entities which are doing so much good, but the rest of the world may not know of it.  Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi, Mrs. Bilqis Edhi and their foundation are definitely one of those hidden finds which the Nobel Foundation must consider and not ignore.

There are plenty of sources (some listed above, as well as this very well researched article written in the issue of Saudi Aramco World in 2004-same link as photo above, as well as this comprehensive recent article relating to his nomination in Hong Kong’s The Standard – Weekendfrom December 16, 2006) whereby you can read about his life’s work, his philosophy and remarkable achievements in bringing comfort to people is desperate needs.  During the worst ever natural disaster in Pakistan, the October 8, 2006 earthquake in Northern Pakistan, Edhi had a fleet of 300 ambulances at work and later committed to build 10,000 one room tin apartments for those who lost everything in the quake.

As in many developing countries where the social, health and emergency services are dependant on marginally funded government budgets, Edhi has filled this gaping hole.  What is remarkable is that one person has made this difference.   With an annual budget of close to $35 million (according to the recent HK Standard article and $10 million in 2004, per Saudi Aramco’s article), makes the Edhi Foundation one of the largest welfare charities in the world.  His principles refuse him to accept contributions and donations made by governments (international or domestic) (from Saudi Aramco World):

In the 1980’s, when Pakistan’s then-President Zia ul-Haq sent him a check for 500,000 rupees (then more than $30,000), Edhi sent it back. Last year [2003], the Italian government offered him a million-dollar donation. He refused. “Governments set conditions that I cannot accept,” he says, declining to give any details.

His foundation survives on the private contributions from Pakistanis living in Pakistan and abroad.   In a nation where people are doubly reluctant and wary to donate their monies to just ‘any’ charity organzation, Edhi’s foundation is not among them.  There is an unbelievable amount of trust, which is why people will donate to his organization.  They see his ambulances at work and in action.  They know that Edhi’s volunteers are usually the first at site at an accident or other catastrophe.  They see results, and it is as simple as that.   The Edhi Foundation also holds the record for having the largest volunteer ambulance fleet/service in the world (over 700).  There are over 300 Edhi centers which work around the clock and provide an unbelieveable variety of desperately needed social, medical and educational services not available to most of the country’s poorer population. 

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Slate’s Green Challenge

Online Magazine, Slate is having a ‘Green Challenge’ (in collaboration with treehugger.com), to ask readers to go on an eight-week, ‘carbon-free’ diet.   While it is already in it’s 3rd week, you can still join the challenge which will end by December 11…Go to the Slate article and take the initial quiz to determine your current carbon output.  With human carbon dioxide emissions at 6 tons per person (22 tons per person in America!), how can you not consider?  Global warming, fossil fuel emissions, deforestation all contribute to the carbon output.  There are a lot of things  one individual can do (take buses, turn off unnecessary electrical equipment, use cold water in the washing machine, keep thermostat on 68 degrees, line dry, do full load dishwashing runs…etc.) on a daily basis to make their contribution to mother earth and her future survival.

For the next eight weeks, Slate, in collaboration with eco-Web site treehugger, invites you to consider your own individual contribution to global warming—and challenges you to go on a carbon diet. The goal is to reduce the amount of CO2 that you put into the atmosphere by 20 percent. If you’re a carbon glutton who doesn’t bother to turn off the lights when you leave the house, you may find this diet pretty painless. (And just think of the fringe benefits—lower heating bills, poorer oil barons.) But even if you’re already a svelte recycler or a carpooler, there’s a lot more you can do.

Based on the individual carbon output quiz I took, my family emits almost 4 cars worth of carbon emisions annually.  Yikes.  Here are my results:

Results

Your annual carbon emissions are 36,489 lbs. That’s equivalent to the emissions from 3.58 passenger cars.  Average carbon emissions per year, per person:
United States: 44,312
Qatar: 17,064
France: 13,668
India: 2,645
Kenya: 440

OK, now you know your current carbon load. You’re ready to begin the Slate Green Challenge.  

To read the entire article in Slate, click, here. 

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Grameen Bank Microcredit -> Grassroot Development = Nobel Peace Prize 2006

Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank (first time a financial institution awarded the Peace Prize) in Bangladesh have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006.  This is a monumental acknowledgement that working from the roots up does and has made a difference in lives of so many in the impoverished parts of the world.  In the world of economic and social development of the so called, ‘third world countries’ or less pejoratively, developing nations of the world, the best or even only way many view that progress and poverty alleviation will occur is through grassroots development and locally inspired movements where the people themselves are involved in their own plight and hence success.  Often, the imposition (a segment of the study of anthropology namely, development anthropology, rests on this tenet) of a top down or ‘their’ view of what development or progress should be, comes from the outside – a remote international agency, or even urban government agencies, which are disconnected from the indigenous culture or societal norms of the region or people they claim to be helping.  

With Yunus and the Grameen Bank, providing small loans (microcredit) without collateral to the most impoverished on terms which were relevant to the people of those villages, made the initiative sustainable and a success.   Almost 97% of the loan recepients are women, which has positive development implications.  They used the funds to purchase egg-laying hens, cows or materials which they could sell for a return.  For many, their lives have turned around, as they are now able to sustain their small enterprizes.  Without the threat of predatory lending institutions, Grameen’s track record has been equally astonishing, with very high payback rates—over 98 percent. More than half of Grameen borrowers in Bangladesh (close to 50 million) have risen out of acute poverty thanks to their loan, as measured by such standards as having all children of school age in school, all household members eating three meals a day, a sanitary toilet, a rainproof house, clean drinking water and the ability to repay a 300 taka (Bangladeshi currency)-a-week (8 USD) loan.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Documentary Film: Rebuilding @ 73°E

Came across this blog today on the 1st anniversary of the deadly earthquake in Pakistan.   It is a wonderful documentary produced by Nasir Aziz, from Seattle, WA after the October 8, 2005 Earthquake in Pakistan.  It is the story of how a group of concerned Americans and Pakistanis living abroad made a world of difference in the lives of close to 700 families in a village left in ruins. 

It is moving, inspiring and selfless.  It reminds us again, how one person or a group of individuals committed to a cause, can radically change the lives of so many other human beings in such a profound way.  

You can view the 26 minute film here or on a larger screen on Google VDO, here

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One year on…Pakistan Earthquake struck on October 8, 2005

How irreversibly the lives of millions changed on this morning one year ago in the Northern Areas of Pakistan (and parts of India) after the 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit the livlihoods of those living in these most heavenly mountain ranges and valleys.  According to UNICEF, over 16,000 children died in schools on that fateful day, as they were crushed by the faultily constructed roofs of their 2, 3, 4 storey cement school buildings. (Estimates say, in total, almost 35,000 children died). The death toll total was over 80,000 (in Pakistan, and about 1,500 in India) and close to 200,000 succumbed to their injuries (according to ReliefWeb/UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)).  About 11,000 children were left orphaned.  Several thousands more lost their limbs or the ability to walk or move again.  Close to 3.5 million became homeless and without proper shelter.  Government estimates say some 600,000 houses, 6,298 schools and 796 health facilities were demolished, about 6,440 km of roads damaged and 50-70 per cent of water supply, sanitation, telecom and power infrastructure made non-operational.  Then winter came and the suffering and urgency to help the second round of victims continued.  With the passing of time, spring came and snows melted.  Some roads were made passable again.  Some were lucky to move to ‘temporary’ tin roof shelters vs. the damp, frigid tents where millions slept each night, barely making it through the relentless snows.  Many dead were finally given a proper burial in the earth, in exchange for the concrete graves they had been left in during the winter months, before heavy machinery could remove all the boulders and bricks from over them. 

The world gave again – well, as much as their pockets allowed them to, after a year of giving had ensued, beginning first with the Tsunami of December 26, 2004, and later with Hurricane Katrina.  And Pakistani’s in Pakistan and abroad gave – in kind, in currency and in humanity by either volunteering, providing medical assistance, moving supplies to the hard hit areas or building temorary shelters.  It was an unprecedented response to the tragedy. There were fund raisers, volunteer organizations, international vigils, media campaigns, letters to wealthy corporations, & emails to NATO and US government officials to appeal for more aid, helicopters, media attention.  Still, now, in retrospect, it did not seem to be enough.  Yesterday’s stories of heroism, activism and humanity, now a year later, seem to be filled with stories of neglect, unfulfilled promises and despair.  People were still without basic dry/winterized shelters, food and proper medical facilities months after the earthquake.  A year later, an estimated 1.8 million people are still displaced and not yet permanently rehabilitated.  

There were over 2ooo aftershocks since the earthquake struck, and the harsh winter was followed by monsoons.  While the traumatized survived aftershocks, flu, pneumonia and worse, the monsoons wreaked even more havoc.   Massive landslides and torrential floods swept away whole sides of mountains – those villages or homes which may have survived the destruction from the earthquake now were permanently gone after the monsoons – thanks to the timber mafia which have systematically deforested much of the spectacular Kaghan Valley mountains.

According to various estimates, there are at least 35,000 to 40,000 people still living in tents/camps, and who will face another uncertain, cold and unprotected harsh winter.  While organizations like Refugees International, and various UN entities continue their work alongside many local NGOs like Sungi, Rural Support Programmes, etc. are still working towards aiding the displaced victims of the October 2005 earthquake, much of the international donations have yet to be realized and the government entity (ERRA) has yet to fully deliver to the people. 

The ruined city of Balakot is still under rubble for the most part, as the city has been virutally left untouched by any reconstruction efforts, as it is felt that it’s precarious location on a dangerous fault line could possibly be the site of yet another powerful quake years from now.  The government wants to move the city to another location 20km south, to a town called Bakryal.  Estimates say that not even 1 in every 2 inhabitants of Balakot survived the earthquake, as it was situated at the epicenter.   People here are still living in tents and gearing up for another fierce winter, as their city has not been rehabilitated.  The frustration is rampant (from The News):

However, the earthquake victims, by and large, are deeply frustrated at the slow pace of work by government departments and by their indifference towards the plight of the common man.

“We are being told time and again that houses made of fibre glass will be imported from Saudi Arabia but we don’t know when the promise will be translated into a reality,” said Mohammad Khalid Khan, a teacher at a tent school in Balakot.

“Most of the children have come out of trauma but now the question is how to survive against the odds, especially when the winter is fast approaching,” he said. “The relief phase was good but the reconstruction phase is moving at a snail’s pace,” he said.

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A day of Firsts: Iranian-born female space tourist blasts off into orbit

The first female tourist, first female Muslim and first Iranian went into orbit early Monday, from Baikonur, KHAZAKHSTAN.  Anousheh Ansari (age 40) is an Iranian-American telecom entrepreneur.  She hopes that her trip will inspire women and Iranians to pursue their dreams. 

While space tourists typically pay their way (as much as $20M!) to get a seat on space missions, it still takes courage to pursue this endeavor.  She has paved the way as far as ‘firsts’ go, and for that she deserves her day of fame.  Whether or not it is the best way to get a Muslim woman into space, is a matter for later debate! 

“By reaching this dream I’ve had since childhood, I hope to tangibly demonstrate to young people all over the world that there is no limit to what they can accomplish,” said Anousheh Ansari, chairman and co-founder of Prodea Systems, Inc.

On another note, there are reports that a Pakistani woman, Numera Aslam/Saleem will be the sent by NASA in a space mission sometime in July 2008, when commercial operations are supposed to begin.

Article from Reuters follows.  You can also view her Blog and her Official website.

From: REUTERS, September 18, 2006 

By Shamil Zhumatov

anousheh-ansari1.jpgBAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – A Russian Soyuz spacecraft blasted off on Monday carrying a woman set to notch up three space records: the first female tourist, first female Muslim, and first Iranian in orbit.

Anousheh Ansari, 40, an Iranian-American telecommunications entrepreneur, joined a Russian cosmonaut and U.S. astronaut in the cramped interior of Soyuz TMA-9 for a flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Soviet-designed spacecraft lifted off into a clear blue sky at 0409 GMT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“The flight is normal, the crew feel fine,” a flight controller at Mission Control near Moscow said.

Unlike American Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian Mikhail Tyurin, who are starting a six-month stint in space, Ansari will return to earth in 10 days with the outgoing U.S.-Russian crew.

Ansari, a U.S. citizen based in Dallas, Texas who left Iran in 1984, has said she wants to be an example to her compatriots.

“I think my flight has become a sort of ray of hope for young Iranians living in Iran, helping them to look forward to something positive, because everything they’ve been hearing is all so very depressing and talks of war and talks of bloodshed,” Ansari told Reuters last week.

FLAG

She has been told, however, to remove an Iranian flag from her spacesuit and, at the insistence of the Russian and U.S. governments, promise that there will be no political messages during her trip.

Looking relaxed and smiling at a pre-launch news conference at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Sunday, Ansari said she would still pack another Iranian flag for her trip.

The United States and Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations since students took 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. President Bush has called the Islamic Republic part of an “axis of evil”.

Ansari has not said how much her ticket cost but previous space tourists have paid the Russian space programme about $20 million.

She had originally been scheduled to join a later Soyuz mission but took the place of Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto when Russian space officials said last month he was not able to fly for unspecified medical reasons.

Several hours before the Soyuz blast off, the U.S. space Shuttle Atlantis undocked from the ISS.

The Soyuz craft will dock with the space station early on Wednesday. Atlantis is scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida a few hours later.

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow)

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Maid in India turns into Best Selling Author – Her Difficult Life: Documented.

Baby Halder is being hailed as a best selling writer.  Her humble and cruel life story give us a window to a world we have never imagined or want to experience.  Her courage and determination are inspiring.

Article is from the August 07, 2006 edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

(Photograph) UNLIKELY AUTHOR: Baby Halder’s employer encouraged her to write after finding her looking at his book collection.
SCOTT BALDAUF

Indian housemaid pens Dickensian memoir of poverty

By Scott Baldauf | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The hardships of Baby Halder – abandoned at 4, married off at 12, a mother herself by age 13 – could fill a book.

Small surprise then that Ms. Halder’s breathtaking memoir, “A Life Less Ordinary,” is causing a stir in the Indian publishing industry. Halder’s book offers a window into a world that shocks many Indians, one in which women, and particularly poor ill-educated women, remain second-class citizens.

Still in its first printing of 3,500 books after three months, admirable for a first-time author in India, Halder’s personal memories as a poor domestic worker aspiring to a better life seems to be selling best in bookstores that cater to foreigners in India. But the book’s buzz also has the potential to stir debate about the social responsibilities of India’s wealthy as the country moves toward greater individual opportunity and fewer collective obligations.

“The semifeudal contract that existed before between rich and poor, between master and servant, has broken down. And nothing has come to replace it,” says Nandu Ram, a sociology professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and specialist in caste issues.

Many older prejudices have waned, as citizens of lower castes are taking greater part in the political process, and as more of those of humble background prove themselves in the today’s marketplace. But the waning of caste prejudice has not meant that more Indians are suddenly doing more for those less fortunate, says Mr. Ram. “There is a generation gap of our younger people who are becoming more and more self-centered, with not much consideration for the poor, for even the older members of their own family.”

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New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh Uncovers Washington’s Interests In Middle East War

From The New Yorker, investigative journalist, Seymour M. Hersh on Lebanon, Hezbullah, Israel, Condi, Rummy, Cheney (where IS he?) and more….piecing it all together.  Article in it’s entirety from the August 21, 2006 issue of The New Yorker follows. 

As many know, Mr. Hersh was the journalist who broke (amonst many others) the My Lai massacre story in Vietnam and the more recent Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. In this article he traces how the attack on Lebanon had been planned months ago, along with several high level discussions which took place between US and Israeli officials, on the various scenarios which may lie ahead.   

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In the days after Hezbollah crossed from Lebanon into Israel, on July 12th, to kidnap two soldiers, triggering an Israeli air attack on Lebanon and a full-scale war, the Bush Administration seemed strangely passive. “It’s a moment of clarification,” President George W. Bush said at the G-8 summit, in St. Petersburg, on July 16th. “It’s now become clear why we don’t have peace in the Middle East.” He described the relationship between Hezbollah and its supporters in Iran and Syria as one of the “root causes of instability,” and subsequently said that it was up to those countries to end the crisis. Two days later, despite calls from several governments for the United States to take the lead in negotiations to end the fighting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a ceasefire should be put off until “the conditions are conducive.”

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

Israeli military and intelligence experts I spoke to emphasized that the country’s immediate security issues were reason enough to confront Hezbollah, regardless of what the Bush Administration wanted. Shabtai Shavit, a national-security adviser to the Knesset who headed the Mossad, Israel’s foreign-intelligence service, from 1989 to 1996, told me, “We do what we think is best for us, and if it happens to meet America’s requirements, that’s just part of a relationship between two friends. Hezbollah is armed to the teeth and trained in the most advanced technology of guerrilla warfare. It was just a matter of time. We had to address it.”

Hezbollah is seen by Israelis as a profound threat—a terrorist organization, operating on their border, with a military arsenal that, with help from Iran and Syria, has grown stronger since the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon ended, in 2000. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has said he does not believe that Israel is a “legal state.” Israeli intelligence estimated at the outset of the air war that Hezbollah had roughly five hundred medium-range Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets and a few dozen long-range Zelzal rockets; the Zelzals, with a range of about two hundred kilometres, could reach Tel Aviv. (One rocket hit Haifa the day after the kidnappings.) It also has more than twelve thousand shorter-range rockets. Since the conflict began, more than three thousand of these have been fired at Israel.

According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12th kidnappings. “It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,” he said, “but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.”

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What about Gaza?

Photo essay from the online publication of Slate:

A Photographer in Gaza: How to take pictures of a war.

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Call for Ceasefire – Amnesty International Vigil: Monday August 7

                                    Ceasefire - Lebanon/Israel

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Historical Context – Understanding the ‘Why’ in the ME Crises

In a personal, yet historically documented opinion column submitted by Karma Nabulsi (Professor of Politics and International Relations at Oxford) to the Guardian, puts the roots and future consequences of the almost 60 year war which has displaced and killed too many in the Middle East over that piece of land…

The refugees’ fury will be felt for generations to come

Israel is seeking to cast itself as the victim even as it expels the people of Lebanon and Gaza from their homes

Karma Nabulsi
Wednesday August 2, 2006
The Guardian

People walk the dusty, broken roads in scorching summer heat, taking shelter in the basements of empty buildings. In Gaza and Lebanon, in the refugee camps of Khan Younis, Rafah and Jabaliya, in Tyre and Beirut, in Nabatiyeh and Sidon, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children seek refuge. As they flee, they risk the indiscriminate wrath of an enemy driven by an existential mania that can not be assuaged, only stopped. Ambulances are struck, humanitarian relief convoys are struck, UN observers are struck. Warning leaflets are dropped from the sky urging people to abandon their homes, just as they were in 1996, 1982, 1978, 1967 and 1948. The ultimately impossible decision in Gaza and Lebanon today is: where does a refugee go?

In Beirut in July 1982, after surviving a bomb that destroyed a seven-floor apartment block next door to me, burying alive more than 40 people taking refuge in its cellar, some of us began to sleep on the roof; there is no refuge from this terror, there is only resistance. Fifteen of the 37 children killed in Qana on Sunday were disabled; their families could take them no further north, according to the Lebanese MP Bahia Hariri.

From June to August 1982, Israeli aircraft flying over Lebanon dropped “smart bombs” on children’s hospitals in Shatila camp, Gaza hospital, Acre hospital and 11 of the country’s orphanages, killing dozens of disabled children. They had nowhere else to shelter. The roofs had been painted with huge white crosses visible from the sky.

That war did not give Israel the security it claims to seek, and nor will this one. In 1948 Palestinians fled after hearing news of the massacres in villages by Haganah forces and receiving leaflets dropped from the sky telling them to run for their lives. This week their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are being killed with impunity in the refugee camps of Gaza, where they are trapped. Last Friday alone more than 30 Palestinians were killed, with no international condemnation and barely a mention in the press. In Qana they were also trapped. “We couldn’t get out of our neighbourhood because there are only two roads leading out and the Israelis bombed them both several days ago,” said Mohammad Shalhoub, a disabled 41-year-old survivor.

The US and Britain are claiming that no ceasefire is possible until there is an international force that will implement United Nations resolution 1559. Yet the Lebanese prime minister issued a seven-point plan in Rome last week, consistent with international law and agreed by all elected parties in Lebanon (including Hizbullah), that had as its first requirement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. It is implementation of the dozens of UN resolutions that Israel has flouted for more than 50 years with protection from the US – and now from Britain – that will stop this conflict.

The capture of a soldier from an occupying army in Gaza, and of two soldiers on the Lebanese border by local resistance, in an attempt to force the release of thousands of illegally detained Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners, should have been dealt with by Israel in the framework of the laws of war and with a proportional response. Instead, by launching this massive attack, Israel has destroyed the social and economic infrastructure of a sovereign nation, Lebanon, just as it is destroying the infrastructure of a democratically elected administration in occupied Palestine.

It is producing generations of refugees who will also resist. Power stations, bridges, key manufacturing and food factories in Lebanon are ruined, the entire industrial estate of Gaza pulverised. The ancient city centre of Nablus has been demolished. Whole villages in south Lebanon and sections of refugee camps in Gaza have been obliterated. These too are war crimes. If Britain will not stop Israel, nor condemn it, then under the Geneva conventions it is complicit in those crimes.

Before seeking the implementation of UN resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah, Britain must seek with more sincerity the implementation of UN security council resolutions 242 and 338, which demand the immediate withdrawal of Israel from lands illegally occupied in the 1967 war, including the Golan Heights, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. There is hardly a statesman or citizen in the world today who cannot see that it will take outside intervention to stop Israel inflicting this terror. Calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and working towards the implementation of all UN resolutions addressing this conflict, will restore to the international community – and Britain in particular – the legitimacy it has squandered by allowing months of war crimes to go by, witnessed but uncondemned and unconstrained.

Israel has failed to understand that it cannot expel a people and call itself the victim; that it cannot conquer its neighbours and treat any and all resistance to that conquest as terrorism; that it cannot arm itself as a regional superpower and annihilate the institutional fabric of two peoples without incurring the fury of their children in the years that follow.

· Karma Nabulsi teaches politics and international relations at Oxford University. She is the author of Traditions of War: Occupation, Resistance and the Law karmanabulsi@hotmail.com

And the children are paying again.  Haunting.  Here is another report in again, the Guardian.

Children flee the village of Aitaroun in South Lebanon. Photograph: Sean Smith/Guardian

Children flee the village of Aitaroun in South Lebanon. Photograph: Sean Smith/Guardian

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Majority Looses?

How do we teach our children the meaning of ‘democracy’?

A telling visual from UK’s The Independent on the standoff in the Middle East.

Independent Graphic

Also posted in the 3 Quarks Daily filter blog

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