Khush Amdeed (Welcome)

Welcome to Chowraha - crossroads!

Chowraha is the crossroads of thoughts, events, opinions and feelings...all that have been shaped by individuals living in an increasingly complex world inter-connected through various means of communications.

This blog is about the crossroads in society - whether it is those of a diaspora community, global media complicating the structure of nations and cultures, or individuals finding parallels in spaces unknown to them.

Note:
The above picture is courtesy a much-admired photographer (Ali Khurshid) whose work is a source of inspiration and reaffirms the belief in the complex beauty of this world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cluster bombs - a step closer to history

In 2006, Israel's indiscriminate use of several million cluster bombs against the Lebanese civilian population raised much outcry across the world. Most of these were fired in the last 72 hours of the conflict.

UN officials estimate that southern Lebanon is saturated with 1 million unexploded bomblets, far outnumbering the 650,000 people living in that impoverished region. This devastation against humanity, which led to many Lebanese wounded, homeless or dead, galvanized much public and diplomatic opinion.


Cluster bombs are volatile explosives dispersed in tens and hundreds of lethal bomblets over a wide area by aircraft or by rocket. Many of these bomblets do not even explode on impact. Thus, they remain fatal for the civilian population, particularly for children who may mistake these lethal explosives for innocent toys.

Michael Slackman of the International Herald Tribune, when writing on the Israeli usage of cluster bombs in Lebanon, said, "They are stuck in the branches of olive trees and the broad leaves of banana trees. They are on rooftops, mixed in with rubble, littered across fields, farms, driveways, roads and outside schools" (Oct. 6, 2006).

At this moment, more than 100 world leaders have gathered in Dublin for a diplomatic conference to negotiate the details of a ban on cluster bombs. For over four decades, these explosives have been used by industrialized nations in "wars" against poorer nations, from Laos to Lebanon, causing much devastation among their civilian populations. Representatives from countries around the world are deliberating what a cluster bomb treaty should cover -- they are wondering whether cluster bombs should be banned fully or not.

Not surprisingly, influential powers like Britain, France and Germany do not want to see a "complete ban" on cluster bombs. The British government is calling for a ban but is asking for some exemptions that would allow it to retain some cluster munitions in its arsenal.

If a treaty is formed calling for a comprehensive ban on cluster bombs, countries with clashing interests like Britain have the option of walking away from signing the negotiation. Although every country has an equal vote, Ireland, the chairing country, is faced with the challenge of balancing the interests of the majority smaller nations versus the major users like Britain, whose signature will lend a sense of legitimacy to the treaty. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop the more powerful countries in the future, for example, from undertaking coalition operations in partnership with the United States, which is not signing the cluster ban treaty.

The treaty is scheduled to be signed in November. It will be the most significant step since the mine ban treaty signed 10 years ago. Despite the fact that the United States, Russia and China have not signed the mine ban treaty and will not sign the cluster ban either, they will find their future actions affected by the outcome of this treaty.

Treaties like these are highly influential in manipulating the mind-sets of the public at large. Just as land mines are derided the world over today, cluster bombs have and will become more detestable by the masses. A survey by a coalition group -- Oxfam, Amnesty International and Landmine Action -- disclosed that 8 out of 10 Britons believe that cluster bombs should be banned.

Organizations like Human Rights Watch, Handicap International and others have combined their energies to give voice to the millions of people around the world calling for a complete ban on cluster bombs. These humanitarian organizations, coupled with the power of the public, will make even the most powerful country think twice before using a menacing weapon like cluster bombs against the innocent population of a country. This is the lesson learned from the process leading to the ban on landmines that came into effect in 1997.

We need to realize that what we want is a complete ban on cluster bombs -- no exceptions. We have to make a resolution for a more peaceful today and a more secure tomorrow for our children. Public outcry, like the one that followed the bombing of Lebanon, can combine to create unstoppable momentum. We don't want the influential powers to undermine moves toward a total ban on the use of cluster bombs. With our voices combined, and our hands joined, together we can make the painful memories of cluster bombs a distant fact from our history.

Shoot me or save me

2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In commemoration, human rights activists in over 60 countries around the world recognize that arms play a vital role in patronizing Human Rights and their control is absolutely essential in order to safeguard the basic rights of the peoples of world. An International Control Arms Week of Action is hence being held between the 13th and 19th of September.

A campaign initiated by prominent and reputable organizations, and human rights activists around the world, it aims at bringing to the notice of governments worldwide that the citizens of the world are peace-loving and they are waiting and hoping that their governments too will contribute positively in controlling arms.

Lives shattered but not forgotten:

Each day lives are being shattered, families broken and peace destroyed thanks to the evil of small arms. According to figures by Amnesty International, Oxfam and Iansa, 245,000 lives have been lost by gunshots since January 2008 alone. About 1000 lives are lost by way of small arms each day!

Each year, an alarming number of 1 million guns are either lost or stolen, with no account as to which hands they go into and what use they are being brought to. 12 billion bullets are produced each day. Amongst small arms, Kalashnikovs are the most popular and hence most widely spread across the globe. It is estimated that there are between 50 and 70 million of them all over the world being used by soldiers, fighters, and gangs inflicting horrendous pain and suffering. The spread of these weapons continues largely unchecked by governments, threatening safety and lives of millions.

Unchecked arms; unchecked injustice:

The above figures are evidence as to how arms directly violate international humanitarian law and domestic human rights law, hence proving to be the factor behind conflicts around the world. The unchecked spread of arms around the world implies harrowing facts that we are surrounded by:

i. A human being, a group of people, a tribe, an ethnicity, a nation is being suppressed by another of its like by the usage of small arms. As long as it is unchecked, it implies that the authorities either want or choose to ignore this injustice to one by the hands of another.

ii. The disrespect for a human life and how easy it is for us as individuals, and as groups to allow the loss of a life.

iii. Since one person is hurting or killing another person, a group of people is suppressing another group and so on, using these arms human rights are being violated. Since human rights are being violated, there is no curtailing of the frustration and bitterness amongst various groups of people, whether victims or guilty. This means that hatred is only breeding further hatred, hence minimizing if not eradicating our options to world peace.

iv. The greater the intensity of frustration, and dissatisfaction, the more the use of arms and hence the deadlier will be the conflicts in the world.

Why an Arms Trade Treaty?

What the world wants to see is a Global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Thanks to technological advancement, today’s world is known as a global village. Our economies are global, our communication is global and our politics is global. In this age of globalization arms trade is also carried out in a globalized fashion. Arms companies are now operating from a large number of location spread across the world. Components are being delivered from another part of the world, manufactured elsewhere and perhaps assembled in a third place. Assembly of products is often carried out in countries with lax controls on where the arms may reach eventually. Each year, at least a third of a million people are killed directly with conventional weapons and many more are injured, are displaced or lose their lives a result of armed violence. Rapidly widening loopholes in national controls demonstrate how this globalised trade also needs global rules – hence the urgency of an effective Arms Trade Treaty.

Women – suffering yet again:

Countless women and girls have been shot and killed or injured in every region of the world while millions more live in the constant fear of armed violence. Apart from suffering directly in deadly conflicts, their lives are shattered when they see lives around them being lost – whether it may of their fathers, children or husbands. Thanks to the havoc created by small arms, they are turned into single mothers running entire households. The economic, physical, social pressures on her stay on for a life time making her more vulnerable and degraded.

I am a child with a gunshot or a gun

Child soldiers is a tragic production of our peace-less conflict raged world. Vulnerable to manipulation, child soldiers make great resources to gang leaders who need maximum number of followers with guns. In a report released by IANSA, between the year 2001 and 2004 alone thousands of child soldiers were used in the armed forces of over 10 countries. The same report shares the harrowing fact that even today, at least 30 thousand children are fighting in the DRC. Of these 12,000 are girls.

On the other hand, children growing up in homes with single mothers and shattered homes, memories of dead fathers, experiences of injuries and repercussions of deadly conflicts or homicidal cases, are children not growing up in the most ideal environment. They need protection on a physical and mental level – they too have a right to grow like every other happy child in this world.

Poor and getting poorer:

Most developing countries have many faculties of the country to satisfy. With booming populations, their education needs extra attention, and social care has to be improved. At the same time, a self-sustaining economy can save from the budget deficits that many countries face. Inappropriate arms purchases are a drain on social and economic resources something which the developing countries can hardly afford, hence adversely impacting the sustainable development of these countries.

Resources spent on armed conflicts are at the opportunity cost of buying food, a basic human right, for the people of the country. A Survey by the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation showed that between 1993 and 2003, conflicts caused 35% of the food emergencies.

Armed conflicts raise the level of insecurity in the country – people live fearing for their lives, for the economic future of the country and for their children’s future. Money is spent on rebuilding infrastructure whereas it could have been spent on social care human development had the conflicts not been occurring. Conflicts adversely affect the tourism of the country while also increasing the risk for investors wishing to invest in the country.

A conflicted nation is also impacted by brain drain. The educated elite of the country can afford to send their young children, if not entire families, to another country in order to be safe. Similarly young men of working age are either affected by gun deaths or injuries, hence not being a resource to the country.

War on “terror”

The war on “terror” has given the world a new perspective. “terror”ism has been marked a grave threat and it has become the aim of governments to keep their countries clean of “terror”ists. With such a vision, one would expect that the governments would take more of an interest in controlling arms, for fear they may end up in the wrong hands. However, we do not see this happening.

The US government has in fact increased its military aid to other countries. Strangely enough, some of these countries were said to have poor human rights records in the eyes of the State Department. These include countries in Latin America, Central Asia, South and South East Asia and the Middle East. What is further disturbing is that war on ““terror”ism” has become a tool to repress all those elements of the countries which the establishments fear. The result is an increase in attacks against the establishment, in suicide bombs, in fuelled conflicts within the countries. These tribal, ethnic, political group armed rivalries are used by the establishment many a times to distract people from the main weaknesses of the government and for the governments to use as an excuse to further repress the citizens.

As a result of the war on “terror”, today there is some armed operation or the other happening in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Syria, Colombia, Armenia, Azerbaijan etc. As a result, there is an increased supply of arms either via trade or military aid. With more weapons in the country, there is an increased trend of arms reaching the wrong hands, in a barter for money within the countries themselves. All of these factors combined, are further fuelling the lack of peace within countries.

What can the governments do?

There is an imperative need for a global Arms Trade Treaty, in order to protect basic human rights and lives, in order to prevent families from breaking and in order to save our women and children from abuse and vulnerability. It is the responsibility of the governments to ensure that the supply of arms is reduced, trade curtailed and violators of international law receive justice.

The Controlling Small Arms campaign precedes an important UN meeting which will be held next month where member states will decide on whether to move work forward with an international Arms Trade Treaty. In 2006 amongst 154 countries, the US was the only country to have voted against it.

While the governments contemplate their next steps, the world is watching and waiting for an Arms Trade Treaty.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bail Hearing Before September 11th (Dr. Afia Part III)

In a recent development of the case of Dr. Afia Siddiqui, her lawyer has demanded the American government to immediately allow Dr. Afia to be hospitalized in order for her to be treated for her critical health condition.

 

In a press conference held recently Elizabeth Fink shared that Dr. Afia’s health was deteriorating and the US officials had been approached in this regard. The lawyer further said Dr. Afia was being incarcerated and abused on the name of search by US authorities. This fact was first made public by UK House of Lords Member, Lord Nazir Ahmed who raised the issue in the House. He referred to her as Prisoner 650, as was disclosed by Moazzam Beg in his book when talking about the only female prisoner in Bagram jail (For background, refer to Part I of this series).

Lord Nazir brought to the notice of House of Lords the condition of this prisoner saying that she was physically tortured and repeatedly raped by officers in the Bagram prison. It was further disclosed that Dr. Afia or Prisoner 650 was being forced to share the same toilet facilities as her male counterparts where she would have to attend to her bathing and other needs in full view of the male prisoners.

It seems that this humiliation continues in the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn where Dr. Afia is being held now. Lawyer Elizabeth has shared that the authorities continue to strip search Dr. Afia each time she leaves her detention room to meet with her attorneys, sympathizers, Pakistani diplomats or family and friends.

Thanks to the public pressure applied on the United States and Pakistani officials since the disclosure of Dr. Afia’s case and the joining hands of the human rights activists, well-wishers and concerned citizens around the world, Afia Siddiqui now  faces the prospect of a Political Trial. Whereas it is a ray of hope for the detained woman, it is obvious that the America government was not left with many options to protect itself from embarrassment.

It is interesting to point out here that the court where her case is being held and will be listened to in the future too, is not even half a mile away from Ground Zero - the site where the World Trade Center stood previously. The location plays a tremendous role in winning the emotional appeal of the Americans hurt by the 9/11 memories. It will further play a massive role in continuing to display Dr. Afia as a dangerous terrorist. The bail hearing is scheduled to be held right after the American Labor Day weekend, during the time when the Republican Convention will be held and very interestingly just before the September 11th. It will not be surprising if the Republicans use terror as their playing card to win the favors in the upcoming elections. It should, therefore, not be difficult to figure out how the venue and dates have been selected to manipulate the case against the Prisoner.

 

Earlier it was also revealed that the US officials had admitted to holding the custody of Dr. Afia’s eldest son, Ahmed. The whereabouts of her other children has still not been disclosed. The youngest child is supposed to be 5 years old now. (For further details, please refer to Part II of this series). Perhaps the only reason behind holding innocent young children for 5 years with their mother is because if left free, they could bear witness to the inhumanity subjected to Prisoner 650.  

 

A public campaign has been launched for the release of her children. Dr. Afia’s sympathizers are being asked to send post cards on her address. It has been further arranged via Barnes & Nobles that the general public may buy books, newspapers and magazines for her which the publishers can directly mail on her address. This is being encouraged in order to keep her morale boosted as well as to show the massive support for her justice. Dr. Afia’s team is also encouraging donations for her cause.

 

In a case which has made much head way and yet questions such as Who exactly was responsible for her disappearance? Why was she detained with no charge at Bagram, where her other children are etc remaining unanswered, it becomes more important for the general public to remain aware of the details of the case. It further makes us responsible for raising our voices, expressing our concerns and keeping the mainstream media on its toes about the case. This is the only check we have to ensure that we do not turn immune to the injustice several such prisoners are being subjected to around the world. It is to keep reminding ourselves that in public lies the real power and hope for the future. 

 

 

 

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saving the Children of Ethiopia


The global food crisis has swerved many countries' progress towards decline. African countries are amongst the worst hit by the crisis and the development that had taken place in many of its countries is being adversely affected in recent months. 

Ethiopia, ranked amongst the world's 10 least developed countries, is hit by its most severe calamity ever. Conditions prevailing from its 2003 food crisis and the ones before, have only been coupled with new challenges to present a far worst situation for the Ethiopians. 

International aid organization, Oxfam, calls the current Ethiopian food situation a "a toxic cocktail." One of the world's hungriest nations, Ethiopia has always faced trouble with drought causing its entire crops to fail. This time around these have been met with spiking energy prices and global inflation. 

If 10 pounds of corn flour cost 'x' amount of money three years ago, the cost is multiplied by five this time around. All Ethiopians, may it be rural settlers or dwellers of urban centres, face annual food-price inflation of more than 75 percent. Armed rebellion in the Somali region has further disrupted food delivery. Plagues and insects are not helping the given situation.

Children, as always, are amongst the most pitiful victims. 900,000 Ethiopians, one-thirds of whom are children alone are under high risk of malnutrition. Save the Children, another humanitarian aid organization, has established family clinics all over the country, where parents are constantly visiting with their starved and weak children. 

These children are being given Plumpy'Nut (a vitamin-fortified peanut paste) for immediate protein provision. Some are even being kept for as long as a month for their recovery. The situation thanks to the work put together by the various organizations and government will save the children from dying but may not be enough to stop the cycle of poverty. 

75,000 children are said to be malnourished according to government estimates. Some people are having to resort to eating famine foods such as cactus and roots in order to survive. 

Poverty only brings out the worst in people. A staff member from Oxfam America reports that in one village he witnessed people pounding their animals' food pellets into a porridge for their children. 

Ethiopians are caught in a vicious cycle where food calamity is leading them to take actions that will yield longer term harm. Their families are taking lesser intake of protein-rich food while also skipping meals. Children are being pulled out of schools and livestock, even family assets, are being sold. 

This crisis is further undermining the progress in terms of school enrollment that had taken place in recent decades. In an estimate, the World Bank claims that the rise in prices may even reverse the progress made in overall poverty reduction to have taken place in the last seven years worldwide! More than a hundred million people may plunge into poverty. 

At least 14 million Ethiopians are in need of assistance may it be in the form of food aid or cash. This government estimates forms 18 percent of the nation. Of these, as mentioned earlier in the article, 900,000 are in danger of malnourishment. 

Hunger is said to have spread over two-thirds of the country whereas the emergency food ration has been reduced by one-third since the start of the crisis. Whereas, wealthier countries around the world have stepped up their aid to Ethiopia, there need to be made more concerted efforts to save the children and families. 

Between Sept. 1 and 8, 2008, the Coordinator of U.N Emergency Relief is expected to visit Ethiopia in order to assess the situation. It is hoped, that from here onwards the report on Ethiopia will bring the world leaders to step up their efforts in order to save the humanity in need. 


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Developments in the case of Dr. Afia [Dr. Afia - Part II]

Various news clippings, blogs, alerts from human rights organizations around the world are speaking of a woman illegally abducted along with her three young children by American and Pakistani Intelligence and now facing trial in the United States. How did she reach this stage where there seems to be a ray of hope for her tragedy? Purely thanks to the voices that rose around the world asking where and how Dr. Afia was. Not only do we now know where Dr. Afia is but also recently the US officials have admitted to detaining one of her children in their custody. Unfortunately, even now, it is unclear where the other children are. 

 Dr. Afia was ‘lost‘for almost five years from the face of earth as far as her family, friends, sympathisers and the general public was concerned. An MIT grad with a PhD in neurology, she returned in Feb 2003 to Pakistan, with her children aged between three and a half months and 7 years,  after residing in the United States for almost 10 years. At this point the United States had begun declaring her as a terrorist based on the claim that that the post box was hired for an alleged Al-Qaeda member named Majid Khan (Newsweek International, June 23, 2003). Her family denies these claims saying that the post box was co that she could receive her job inquiries and letters, since she was looking for a suitable job.

In March 2003, on her way to the airport in order to fly to Rawalpindi from Karachi, she was kidnapped by intelligence along with her children. The Pakistani government immediately denied her arrest .  The FBI, on the other hand, claims In the same Newsweek article, authored by eight journalists, that Dr. Afia Siddiqui was arrested. In a letter published in Dawn Newspaper, April 2003, there are claims by the victim’s family, that unidentifiable men visited their home during the same time warning them against speaking up about their daughter who was safe in their custody.

Since the Newsweek International article, there has been quiet on her subject and denial by both American and Pakistani officials. Her name only resurfaced in early July when the US authorities indicted her in New York based on charges that she had “attempted” killing US officials. They deny having any thing to do with her disappearance for 5 years and claim to have arrested her on July 17th 2008.

As Pakistan celebrated its independence this August, Dr. Afia Siddiqui and her three children could only wish for the word “freedom.” The silence on her story has been shattered successfully only to reveal bitter truths about the case. FBI has indeed accepted arresting Dr. Afia announcing only as little as “Dr. Afia Siddiqui is alive, she is in Afghanistan but she is injured.” Dr. Afia’s sister and brother were visited in the United States to be told of their sister’s whereabouts. At this point, they had absolutely nothing to say about her children, the eldest being 12 year old now, who were unlawfully abducted with their mother.

 

Moazzam Beg, a Guantanamo released-prisoner from Great Britain, was amongst the first to speak about supposed Dr. Afia in his book called the Enemy Combatant. He mentions her as a certain Prisoner 650.  She happened to be the only female prisoner in Bagram (located in Afghanistan), one of the most traumatic jails next to Guantanamo for the prisoners of “War on Terror.” In the same book, other prisoners from Guantanamo, who had been through Bagram, have admitted to hearing the screams of the same woman.

Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban and later turned to Islam after her  release, believes that Prisoner 650 may be Dr. Afia Siddiqui. She calls her the Grey Lady.  In a press conference on July 6, 2008 Ridley, said “I call her the ‘grey lady’ because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continues to haunt those who heard her,” While in Bagram, Dr. Afia was being made to share the same cell as her male counterparts, having been constantly inducted to mental torture of having to use the toilet in public, perhaps even being raped by the soldiers (according to several articles written on her abduction).

 

This last month has made more headway than the last five years in the case of Dr. Afia and her children. She now faces trial in New York. Human rights activists, sympathizers, concerned public at large has been rallying for her cause in the United States, in UK and of course in Pakistan. Pakistanis around the world have been voicing their concern for her fair trial and for her children’s release.  Dr. Fawzia Siddiqui, sister of Dr. Afia, has been making public speeches in the United States reaffirming that her sister was innocent and illegally abducted. She announced to having received a letter “from the office of US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Michael J Gracia late Friday in which he acknowledged of having in custody Aafia Siddiqui’s eldest son, Ahmed, who will turn 12 years old in November.” { http://www.freshnews.in/us-admits-holding-teenage-son-of-pakistani-scientist-58060}

Ahmed’s disclosure is better than not hearing any thing about all three children. Afia’s family is hopeful that this is a positive sign in the development of her case. The least that Dr. Afia., her children, her family and the story of such prisoners in Afghanistan and Guantanamo expect is public anger and call for justice. The only hope, after all, lies in this too. 

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pakistan Sells its Mothers for Money [Where is Dr. Afia - Part I]

May it be economic situation, political dilemmas or the sad reality of a hegemonic world, there are countries surrendering their innocent citizens to the global power so they could win favors in return. Caught in between these power-based bargains are families of men and women, and in this case even three young children.

 

Dr. Afia has been ‘lost‘ for five years from the face of earth as far as her family, friends, sympathisers and the general public is concerned. In the last month, after hundreds and thousands of people protesting across the globe, and human rights organizations taking up the cause there are some talks about the mother who was kidnapped by FBI and Pakistani Intelligence along with her three children. 

 

Dr. Afia Siddiqui, an MIT grad with a PhD in neurology, decided to return to Pakistan with her children in 2002 after living in the United States for over a decade.   Her uncle in a letter that recently appeared in reputable Pakistani newspaper “Dawn” recollects “Having failed to get a suitable job, she again visited the U.S. on a valid visa in February 2003 to search for a job and to submit an application to the U.S.

immigration authorities. She moved there freely and came back to Karachi by the end of February 2003 after renting a post office box in her name in Maryland for the receipt of her mail.”

 

In March 2003, on her way to the airport in order to fly to Rawalpindi from Karachi, she was kidnapped by intelligence along with her children aged between three and a half months and seven years.   The FBI, on the other hand, has been claiming since Dr. Afia’s story has made surface that the post box was hired for an alleged Al-Qaeda member named Majid Khan (Newsweek International, June 23, 2003). In the same Newsweek article, authored by eight journalists, it is said that Dr. Afia Siddiqui is arrested. Despite this mini research paper published in Newsweek, the Interior Ministry in Pakistan at the time claimed that Dr. Afia Siddiqui had not been arrested.  There are claims by the victim’s family, that unidentifiable men visited their home during the same time warning them against speaking up about their daughter who was safe in their custody.

 

As Pakistan celebrated its independence this August, Dr. Afia Siddiqui and her three children could only wish for the word “freedom.” The silence on her story has been shattered successfully only to reveal bitter truths about the case. FBI has indeed accepted arresting Dr. Afia announcing only as little as “Dr. Afia Siddiqui is alive, she is in Afghanistan but she is injured.” They have absolutely nothing to say about her children, the eldest being 12 year old now, who were unlawfully abducted with their mother.

 

Moazzam Beg, a Guantanamo released-prisoner from Great Britain, in his book called the Enemy Combatant mentions a certain Prisoner 650.  She happens to be the only female prisoner in Bagram, one of the most traumatic jails next to Guantanamo for the prisoners of “War on Terror.” Other prisoners from Guantanamo, who had been through Bagram, admit to hearing the screams of the same woman. One even claimed to seeing her.

 

Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban and later turned to Islam after her  release, believes that Prisoner 650 may be Dr. Afia Siddiqui. She calls her the Grey Lady.  In a press conference on July 6, 2008 Ridley, said “I call her the ‘grey lady’ because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continues to haunt those who heard her,” Ms Ridley said at a press conference.

The Grey Lady has lost her mental state of mind. She is being made to share the same cell as her male counterparts, having been constantly inducted to mental torture of having to use the toilet in public, perhaps even being raped by the soldiers (according to several articles written on her abduction).

 

It is indeed a pitiful moment for Pakistanis, human rights activists, sympathizers of humanity across the world - An intelligent young woman, a mother of three absolutely innocent children losing her sanity by the hand of barbaric torture. What is more pitiful is the relative silence still – the Western world and media dominated by the likes, reveals little of the sad story. Whether she is an innocent mother of three or the most dangerous terrorist threatening world security, Dr. Afia does not deserve the kind of imprisonment she is going through. It is clear that the responsibility of her condition lies solely on the FBI and the Pakistani Agencies handing her over to FBI with her children. What is also clearer is that today’s world can only be improved with the power of the public’s voices combined. With nothing clear on the charges behind her, her illegal detention, the family and public being unaware of her conditions for five years, and the torture this Prisoner 650 is going through being caught incommunicado in a jail for men, the little she deserves is our voices calling for justice.  

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Positive Change - bit by bit


When I sat with Saba Hameed last summer, our meeting which was supposed to last an hour turned into a day’s event. Our conversation which ranged from poetry to politics, and wealth (or the lack of it) to education was more fruitful than many conversations I have engaged in with people I may meet every day of my life. The confidence in her face, the calmness in her smile and the glimmer in her eyes was stronger than that I had ever seen before and yet deep down I was not sure where fate would take her next. Given the limited opportunities she had being born in a farmer’s family in a small conservative village of Punjab, I could only wish that her intelligence and spark for life would meet its rewards.

When a month later I learned of her results in grade 12th, I had tears of joy, rather elation, in my eyes. My anxiety for her and the girls of her community had been turned wrong. Saba had secured third position in her board examinations all across Punjab. Saba had proved that her hard work and her passion to learn would reap its rewards despite her background. As she stood next to her more privileged counterparts to receive an award from the ministry of education, she smiled with pride. She had proven that the real hope for Pakistan lay in educating its masses, educating those who may not have the same opportunities for life as the more financially blessed ones.

I was not just extremely happy for her but also for myself and my colleagues, for the people supporting the cause of education and for every other girl receiving education against all odds. Saba is a friend of mine – a friend who has taught me to be grateful for what I have and to be hopeful for my country. Saba has been with TCF since grade 6 and her journey till grade 12th has not been an easy one. There have been periods when her mother has felt that Saba has studied enough and moments when she herself was not sure how long she could carry on. With the support of her principal and teachers and the trust her father had reposed in her, Saba continued through her academic career steadfastly making the path towards schooling for the younger members of her family easier. I can only imagine how proud her family and community must be. I can only smile when I think how her children will have a mother convinced of her family’s need for education. I can only be proud of saying that she will be an intelligent young woman, an educated woman leading the future of Pakistan towards real enlightenment.

Saba wants to be a lecturer in a college or university. She has a passion for reading Urdu poetry and she is an excellent orator. The eloquence of her words and the conviction in her speech taught me that education was not just a matter of reading and rote-learning – education’s end result is enlightenment and wisdom, a destiny that is only reached when the journey entails passion for learning and the love for teaching and a heart for sharing. She was a source of encouragement for me – a source of optimism in the future. She is an agent of positive change for me.


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Also published in:

Ohmynews: http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?article_class=7&no=382676&rel_no=1

Chowk: http://www.chowk.com/articles/14162

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cluster bombs - a step closer to history

In 2006, Israeli indiscriminate use of several million cluster bombs against Lebanese civilian population raised much outcry across the world. Most of these were fired in the last seventy two hours of the conflict. UN officials estimates claim that southern Lebanon is saturated with 1 million unexploded bomblets, far outnumbering the 650,000 people living in the impoverished region of Southern Lebanon. This devastation against humanity, which led to many Lebanese wounded, homeless or dead, galvanized much public and diplomatic opinion.

Cluster bombs are volatile explosives dispersed in tens and hundreds of lethal bomblets over a wide area either via aircraft or in a land-based system via rockets. Many of these bomblets do not even explode on impact, hence remaining fatal for the civilian population, particularly for the children who may mistake these lethal explosives for innocent toys. Michael Slackman of International Herald Tribune, when speaking of the Israeli usage of cluster bombs in Lebanon, quotes on October 6, 2006 “They are stuck in the branches of olive trees and the broad leaves of banana trees. They are on rooftops, mixed in with rubble, littered across fields, farms, driveways, roads and outside schools.”

At this moment, right now, more than 100 world leaders, collected in Dublin for a diplomatic conference, are negotiating over the details of a ban on cluster bombs. For over four decades, these explosives have been used by industrialized nations in “wars” against poorer nations spreading from Laos to Lebanon, causing much devastation amongst their civilian populations. Representatives from countries like UK, France, and Germany along with others from around the globe are deliberating over the details that a cluster bomb treaty should cover - they are wondering whether cluster bombs should be banned fully or not.

Not surprisingly enough, influential powers like Britian, France and Germany do not want to see a "complete ban" on cluster bombs! The British Government is calling for a ban but is asking for some exemptions that would allow it to retain some cluster munitions in its arsenal.

If a treaty is formed calling out for a comprehensive ban on cluster bombs, countries with clashing interests like Britain have the option of walking away from signing the negotiation. Although every country has an equal vote, Ireland, the chairing country, is faced with the challenge of balancing the interests of the majority smaller nations versus the major users like Britain, whose signature will lend a sense of legitimacy to the treaty. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop the more powerful countries, in the future, to undertake coalition operations in partnership with the United States for example which is not signing the Cluster Ban treaty.

The treaty scheduled to be signed in November this year will be the most significant step since the Mine Ban treaty signed ten years ago. Despite the fact that the United States, Russia and China have not signed the Mine Ban treaty and will not sign the Cluster Ban either, they will find their future actions affected by the outcome of this Treaty.

Treaties like these are highly influential in manipulating the mind-sets of the public at large. Just as land-mines are derided the world over today, cluster bombs have and will become more detestable by the masses. A survey by coalition group of Oxfam, Amnesty, and Landmine Action disclosed that eight out of ten Britons believe that cluster bombs should be banned. Organizations like these, Human Rights Watch, Handicap International and others have combined their energies to resound the voices of the millions around the world calling for a comprehensive and hence complete ban on cluster bombs. These humanitarian organizations coupled with the power of the public, will make even the most powerful country think twice before using a menacing weapon like cluster bomb against innocent population of a country. This is the lesson learnt from the process leading to the ban on landmines that came into effect in 1997.

We need to realize that what we want is a complete ban on cluster bombs - no exceptions. We have to make a resolution for a more peaceful today and a more secure tomorrow for our children. Public outcry, like the one that followed the bombing of Lebanon, can combine to create unstoppable momentum. We don't want the influential powers to undermine moves towards a total ban on the use of cluster bombs. With our voices combined, and our hands joined, together we can make the painful memories of cluster bombs a distant fact from our history.