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.

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.

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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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.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Cause

"When a cause comes along and you know in your bones that it is just, yet refuse to defend it -- at that moment you begin to die. And I have never seen so many corpses walking around talking about justice."

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Wednesday, May 14, 2008