Monthly Archives: October 2010

Defending Arundhati Roy

By having made the statement that “Kashmir is not an integral part of India”, the acclaimed Indian novelist and human rights activist Arundhati Roy has angered the Indian government yet again. Earlier on by championing the Naxalite insurgency and by casting doubt on Pakistan’s alleged involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks she had made herself unpopular with Indian nationalists and Hindu extremists alike.

But this time the outspoken and brilliant lady might really be in some real trouble as the long arms of the law (i.e. qanoon kay lambay haath) will aim to charge her with sedition as set out in section 124A of India’s Penal Code 1860. If found guilty Roy could be sentenced to a life’s term in prison.

Just to be really Eurocentric, and also because of the fact the Convention is a “living instrument” to be followed universally, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 sets out a person’s right to free speech as:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.”

Moreover, the constitution of the world’s largest democracy is far from silent on the rights which Roy enjoys and it is worthwhile setting them out fully so that we can defend her in cyberspace. In the Constitution of India 1950 “fundamental rights” are enumerated in Articles 12-35. More specifically Article 19 establishes that: Continue reading

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Imperialism and the Settler State

Bin the Israeli war machine

Today Palestine lies at the heart of the global misunderstanding which was once fashionably called the “war on terror”. The problem, however, is more dated than that. History, through the Balfour Declaration in 1917, testifies to the fact that the Palestinians – the majority inhabitants of the land of Palestine – were relegated to marginality by Britain’s insistence on “the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jewish people.” Moreover, by way of his infamous letter of 2 November 1917 to Walter Rothschild, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour also reduced the indigenous majority Arab inhabitants to be the “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” whose rights would be protected by His Majesty’s Government. Yet His Majesty’s Government failed to honour its pledge.

The sole purpose of the present writing is to express solidarity with the people of Palestine. The historical subject matter, however, is so complex that it is not an easy task to write anything on the issue at all. For the sake of simplicity, since Pakistan does not recognise Israel, we will make things simple for ourselves by excluding Palestinian bashing (that they are Muslim Arab terrorists) from our analysis. In fact our objective is to repudiate the depiction and caricature of the Arabs as a “terrorists”, a label which has lastingly been stuck on them by a mixture of historical events, poor leadership, and propaganda. We will seek dispel this myth and argue the point from the Arab point-of-view. In any event, apart from killing innocent people, the Israeli state is apt at defending its criminal behaviour by employing the Harvard and Yale gurus and pundits which it uses to disguise its murderous actions. So we can let it be their lot to do this dirty work themselves. But one thing is certain, no matter how demonic an image of the Arab the Israelis and Americans manage to conjure up, they will never be able to wash clean the blood which Israel has spilt to support its six decade long existence. Expressions such as Dier Yassin, Sabra, Chatilla, Qana, and Operation Cast Lead etc are not just household expressions for Israeli atrocities in the Occupied Territories, they also globally used metaphors for murder, loot, and destruction. The characteristic which connects these horrific events is that they were Israeli crimes against humanity whose perpetrators should be brought to justice. Continue reading

Mrs Clinton, Tax, and the Floods

Although, in the past, one found it difficult to be a fan of Mrs Clinton it seems that she is making herself amenable to being liked in her newer face as the American Secretary of State. When she came to speak at an obscure American liberal arts institution called Vassar College in the early 1990s almost no one went to hear her speak because everyone had had a late night partying.

On a more serious note Pakistan has suffered catastrophic floods. This calamity displaced more than one-tenth of the country’s 160 million strong population. The flooding left up to 2,000 people dead and affected up to 20 million.

Consequently, on the streets of western capitals such as London, efforts for collecting relief funds for Pakistan’s floods are numerously observable. And quite rightly Mrs Clinton observed that the elite in Pakistan is not concerned about the predicament that the country finds itself in. The Pakistani rich are more concerned with their private armies and barbed wire protected premises.

In every country the issue of how public money is collected and spent lies at the heart of political debate and in turn free and fair political debates fashion democracy. In our country this seems not to be the case. Having observed Pakistan’s tendency in not collecting taxes due from the rich, Mrs Clinton also said that the Pakistani government had to expand its tax base so more revenue could be collected to help reconstruction efforts with the floods.

Mrs Clinton found it “absolutely unacceptable” that well-to-do Pakistanis avoided paying their fair share of taxes. And no doubt the poor of Pakistan will agree. Like the the legendary Benazir Bhutto, Mrs Clinton is quick to learn how be become popular in Pakistan.

Mrs Clinton said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable for those with means in Pakistan not to be doing their fair share to help their own people while taxpayers in Europe, the United States and other contributing countries are all chipping in.”

The EU and US have contributed some $450m (£280m) each to the Pakistan flood aid effort and the EU has also offered a trade deal to lift certain duties.

Mrs Clinton went on: “The most important step Pakistan can take is to pass meaningful reforms to expand its tax base.

“The government must require that the economically affluent and elite support the government and people of Pakistan.”

The rich in Pakistani society are the worst offenders. Landlords and industrialists routinely just pay the tax man and not the tax the government should be paid. In fact many Pakistani businessmen in the cotton trade (incidentally 15% of the cotton crop was destroyed by the floods) routinely boast about evading taxes in the expensive restaurants and clubs of South Kensington.

Following the floods, the entire infrastructure of the country needs to be rebuilt with a total reconstruction bill that could potentially be tens of billions of dollars.

But it is hoped that the American foreign minister is not just using the occasion of meeting EU official to pay lip service to the victims of the flood.

Pakistani Law and Democracy will return to the theme of Pakistan’s tax system to duly expand on it later.

For Abbu

On 22 September 2010 Fatehyab Ali Khan, my father, suffered a cardiac arrest in Karachi. On the 20 September I had been to see my rheumatologist in London and she had given me an injection in my right knee. In my last conversation with my father on 21 September 2010 I discussed my injection with him. He told me that he was not feeling well (“betay meri tabyit theek nahin hai”). I informed him that Dr Nutall who administered the injection to my right knee was beautiful and that she wore red lipstick which complemented her long brown hair. Even in his illness my father was tickled by my description of the doctor. Goodness knows he saw so many of them towards the end of his life. In June 2010 I saw my father for the last time. I made him promise that he won’t die. He told me that he would try but that he could not control time.

Regrettably, and very unexpectedly, because of the cardiac arrest of 22 September 2010, I lost my father on 26 September 2010. Fatehyab Ali Khan was 74 years of age when he died and most people who called to commiserate called his “a good innings”. I was making arrangements for him and my mother, Dr Masuma Hasan, to visit me in London soon. But alas this was not to be. My fear, which I sought to mitigate through prayer (odd for a non-religious person), finally materialised. I had lost a parent and it was daddy who went first. He had promised my mother this: that he would die first. He also said it did not matter who died first between him and my mother because either way throngs of people would attend the funeral. And this was to be the case at his.

Since I was working in London and unable to return home because my visa application is under consideration by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, I could not even return home to bury and mourn the loss of my father. Instead, I just sat in the new rented flat I moved into near London’s Turnpike Lane tube station crying as I made sense of the ton of belongings which I had placed in plastic bags for the purposes of moving house.

But I cannot say that I was entirely alone. People who I had never known called me from all over the world to share the loss of my father and to celebrate his achievements in fighting injustice in Pakistan.

Then there were those who I did know and who knew him. My childhood friend from our neighbourhood in Karachi Kubair Ahmed Shirazee offered me great advice and was a great source of strength for me in such testing times. Kubair’s older brother Agha Abid Shirazee was murdered in Karachi just the month before. Moreover, Kubair lost his father when he was very a very young lad.

My friend told me that “Asad don’t worry … uncle was a great dad, and the only thing for you to remember and cherish is that when you were growing up your father was always around and that is all that counts.

Moreover, in our eulogy we remembered how there were the parties in which Benazir Bhutto was the chief guest and how daddy did get quite angry with us when we polished off all the champagne! All the meetings which took place over the decades in our house in KDA Scheme 1 in Karachi where we played and grew up were also revisited by us in a central London local whose name momentarily escapes me.

So as a helpless person who could not participate in the last rites of his father, I thought of what I could do to honour the memory of one of the few national politicians in Pakistan who was honest?

Miraj Muhammed Khan said in his recent speech in the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs that Fatehyab  was a man who loved his principles and loved his wife Masuma; most importantly Miraj said that his old friend loved directly from the heart (“dil se mohabat karta tha”). I can add to that my father loved Pakistan, its people, its hustle and bustle, its frontier towns, and most of all its politics. He was also caring family man and loved his children and family.

It was him who set precedents in a despotic and dictatorial state which have enabled its downtrodden citizens to fight for their rights and to not be scared of standing in the path of some big general’s loaded gun: Both Ayub and Zia would no doubt be forced to agree. That too armed only with a copy of the 1973 Constitution as Mr IA Rehman wrote on his death.

In the Sindh High Court random people informed me that my father was a “legend and a hero” when I visited the bar room there with the great man himself in 2008. People just sat around us and asked for permission to be allowed to leave. It was not something which I, a cheeky and insolent younger son, had expected! Having abhorred and repudiated dictatorship for decades made him a national hero and Fatehyab Ali Khan will always be remembered for his contribution to Pakistan’s politics. He took great relish in introducing me to members of the Sindh High Court bar as a “barrister” because he had obtained admission in Cambridge University and Middle Temple to read law but was not allowed to travel because the government refused to issue him a passport because of his student politics. Revenge for him by introducing his younger son as a barrister was bitter sweet indeed.

In order to remedy my non-attendance at his funeral I have chosen to write in memory of Fatehyab Ali Khan on this site. I have chosen to keep the domain name as “mazdoorkissan” because this was the name of his NWFP Hashtnagar based party which is a secular and socialist outfit.

I will use this space not only to write about legal and democratic issues connected to Pakistan, but also global political and legal events which are inevitably connected to Pakistan’s future. I am sure that my father would have approved of this and I hope to write this blog to represent the views taken by moderate and right-minded Pakistanis.

Anyone who wishes to contribute to this website can contact me with their work and I will be happy to add it on as long as it resonates with democracy which for me is an acceptance of all people irrespective of their race, religion, and gender etc.

The contents of this space will represent the poor of Pakistan, its mazdoors and kissans and it is my objective that their voices will be heard from here.

Thanks.

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