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.

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.