Archive for the ‘Countdown Interviews’ Category

Countdown Interviews- General V. P. Malik: 2

Chrestomather | June 24, 2013 in Countdown Interviews | Comments (0)

 

[I interviewed General Ved Prakash Malik in New Delhi in August 1998, a few months after India conducted nuclear tests at Pokhran. Gen. Malik, who was born in Dera Ismail Khan, in what is now Pakistan, was the 19th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army. The room I interviewed him in had also been used by the Commanders-in-Chief of the pre-Independence Indian Army. The board in the picture below includes the names of Gen. Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Gen. Claude Auchinleck and Gen. Sir George Stewart White, who commanded a sepoy brigade in the Third Anglo-Burmese War, which led to the deposition of King Thebaw, the last king of Burma (as described in The Glass Palace.)  It was odd to see this name there, because I was then still working on the book: it was a reminder of the continuities and ruptures of India’s military history,  which was actually one of the central themes of the novel.]

 

AG.     Do you feel that it was an increased sense of security threat inside India that led to these tests?

Gen. V.P. Malik.  No there is no immediate threat. This has been debated over a long time. To go back to history, a country in our neighbourhood tested its first weapon in 1964 there after they have carried out 45-46 tests. If we are talking of a regional environment then there is another country –  although they had not tested overtly there were very credible statements made by their Prime Minister, ex-PMs and chiefs and ex-chiefs saying ‘that we have it’. I can quote those statements—starting from ’90, ’92, ’94. Not only in theirown country, but even when they have gone abroad they have made those statements.

 

Gen V.P. Malik

Gen V.P. Malik

Then there has been the pressure that we shall have people who have it and we shall have others who will not have it. So a lot of these factors came into play when the decision was taken—but if you’re asking whether there was any military threat, immediately, no. Our threat today primarily is in terms of terrorism, militancy, a proxy war as we call it—sponsored by a neighbour—which has got nothing to do with the nuclear tests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AG.     You must be aware that some military theorists believe that a nation that acquires nuclear weapons only increases its vulnerability. After these explosions there have been many more skirmishes along the border: do you think there is any connection?

Gen. V.P. Malik. No, I don’t think there is any connection whatsoever. Although we heard these voices in our neighbourhood that we have it, now of course they say we heightened it. As I said please do not connect nuclear weapons with militancy or terrorism. In the last few years the intensity of proxy war has gone up, it has been going up for quite sometime. If so many massacres are taking place now—that has got nothing to do with nuclear weapons. [It is] because they think Jammu and Kashmir is their problem and because they want to internationalise that problem and put more and more pressure on us.

I don’t think any sane military man would look at nuclear weapons for a thing like this. I haven’t seen any such statement from any professional on either side of the border. Some other people might have said it, but no military professional has connected these 2 issues.

AG.   There is a point of view that says that conventional armies increasingly find it difficult to deal with low-intensity warfare: their tactics and strategies are such that conventional armies find it impossible to respond. Is this the case?

 

Indian & Pakistani soldiers at the Wagah border crossing, 1998

Indian & Pakistani soldiers at the Wagah border crossing, 1998

Gen. V.P. Malik. Well, its not easy—because lately the number of low-intensity conflicts that are happening in the world has risen, especially after the end of the Cold War.There must be around 35 or 36 places where such conflicts are going on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far as terrorists are concerned, they have no accountability, they can win or they can lose. As far as armies are concerned, they are accountable for a lot of things including human rights. Also since they are last instrument of the nation, they have to win, they cannot afford to lose, so there is a pressure on the armies. But let me also say that the Indian army hasn’t done too badly—we had a problem in Punjab which we managed to overcome…..But the peculiar situation in Jammu and Kashmir is that it is very heavily sponsored from outside. So it might take time, but I’m an optimist. In a way we’ve gained quite a lot because elections were held, first the state assembly and thereafter the Parliamentary elections, and in J and K today you have an elected Chief Minister, and  representatives in the Lok Sabha. In the whole of the state it is the writ of the civil authority which runs—barring these incidents created by the militants and the situation even as far as tourism is concerned in the state, this year I believe we have had the largest number of tourists in many years. So today the situation there is that the locals are less interested in carrying on with those who were brainwashed.

 

 


Countdown Interviews- General V. P. Malik: 1

Chrestomather | June 20, 2013 in Countdown Interviews | Comments (0)

 

 

[I interviewed General Ved Prakash Malik in New Delhi in August 1998, a few months after India conducted nuclear tests at Pokharan. Gen. Malik, who was born in Dera Ismail Khan, in what is now Pakistan, was the 19th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army. The room I interviewed him in had also been used by the Commanders-in-Chief of the pre-Independence Indian Army. The board in the picture below includes the names of Gen. Horatio Herbert Kitchener, Gen. Claude Auchinleck and Gen. Sir George Stewart White, who commanded a sepoy brigade in the Third Anglo-Burmese War, which led to the deposition of King Thebaw, the last king of Burma (as described in The Glass Palace.)  It was odd to see this name there, because I was then still working on the book: it was a reminder of the continuities and ruptures of India’s military history,  which was actually one of the central themes of the novel.]

 

AG.:  What was exactly the military logic behind the testing at this time. Are there any pressing security reasons?

Gen. V.P. Malik.: Nuclear weapons are not military weapons. So the first thing I’d like you to notice is that these are political weapons and they must be viewed as such, they are today weapons to deter others from using this weapon—those who have it.

 

IMG_0016

Gen. V.P. Malik, 1998

So firstly it is not a military weapon so far as we are concerned. Secondly it is a weapon to deter others so that we do not become a victim. It is to prevent or safeguard, to ensure that no one who has it should use it on us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AG.: There has been a lot of talk recently about command and control systems and whether there are any in place at the moment. Can you comment on this?

Gen. V.P. Malik.:  Well, it’s being discussed. All I can tell you is that whatever command and control that can be put, the whole thing would be put totally under the control of a political authority.

AG.     So it will essentially be under civilian control.

Gen. V.P. Malik.:  Yes.

AG.:  So in effect you’re saying that army will have no control over those weapons? Is there going to be a separate strategic force just for nuclear weapons—as there were in Russia and the USA?

Gen. V.P. Malik.: Lot of people go back to those days of the Cold War—but there are a few ways in which our policies are clearly different. For instance we believe in no first use, so its not the same environment in which the USA or the erstwhile Soviet Union looked at each other during the Cold War.we will have minimum deterrence and the ultimate authority shall lie with civilian authorities. At the lower level, if and when the advice is sought, naturally it’s only then that the military will come in — but I wouldn’t like to comment on that now.

AG. If some day we do have nuclear weapons we will require procedures that would require marrying of nuclear warheads to delivery systems. Would that be under civilian control as well?

Gen. V.P. Malik.: Well, we are working on all those things where civilians, military, scientists all will be involved.

AG.     What about tactical nuclear weapons?

Gen. V.P. Malik.: I don’t think we are thinking on those lines—the scientists, the technologists say they have the capability, but when we are talking about minimum deterrence, you’ll agree with me—we are not thinking about large numbers.

AG.:  As far as control of nuclear weapons are concerned, you say that the army will be conceding a large part of its authority to civilian authorities. Is this something that the army welcomes?

Gen. V.P. Malik.:  There has never been any dispute on that aspect. We are a democratic country, the army is an instrument for the services. And we are quite happy in giving  control to civilian authorities—I don’t think the question of ‘giving away’ arises at all. And it changes nothing.

AG.     I only meant that in a management sense—

Gen. V.P. Malik.: Well in any crisis situation, we have very close interaction with the departments and civil authorities. We have a system of the cabinet committee headed by the P.M. So when there are serious events taking place, we get our orders when we need to, either from the concerned minister or from the cabinet committee headed by the P.M..

 

 

 


Countdown Interviews – Asma Jahangir: 8

Chrestomather | June 17, 2013 in Countdown Interviews | Comments (0)

 

 

 

Asma Jahangir on her early life:“I went to school here [in Lahore] and then college – Kinnaird College [in Lahore] – and then I took my law here. I am completely indigenous. I was born in a household where my father was in politics and he was always in the opposition. And so I have seen him go in and out of jail. He was one of the few West Pakistanis who were from the Awami League – [which had most if its support in what was then East Pakistan].

 

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

So one has seen that whole aspect of what is treason and what is a traitor as compared with people’s basic rights. During the [Bangladesh] war and before that he was in jail for many years. During Ayub Khan’s time he was in jail for many years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was a teenager I used to look after a number of things when he was in jail – my mother couldn’t do everything and we didn’t have a political party to fall back on really here. It was at the end of Ayub Khan’s period that I got really motivated. I began as a campaigner when I organised a procession of women during Ayub Khan’s time –  that was my first public exposure as such. And then when my father went to jail during Yahya Khan’s period and then he was released and the first day Mr Bhutto came to power he arrested him again. I had just turned eighteen at that time and I filed a petition against his arrest which became a very celebrated case in India and Pakistan. It changed constitutional history because it was the first case that said that a military intervention is unconstitutional. The case started in 1970 but the judgement was in 1972. They declared Yahya Khan’s government illegal and consequently the martial law orders under which my father was arrested were also illegal. So they released him. This made me very interested in law because I was very much involved in that case as a petitioner. And the lawyers were very kind to me. I was all of eighteen but they used tell me what the arguments were. By this time my father was under house arrest and I had to go back and tell him what happened. And if I didn’t answer his questions properly he would get very frustrated because he wanted to know the arguments. So I really had to talk to the lawyers before I came home. It made me very interested. Plus, even before that, my father used to be in jails outside of Lahore and he never wanted us to come and meet him there for some odd reason. So every time he was called to court in Lahore was when we children used to see him. So for me the courts became a place where you met your father. I made up my mind to be a lawyer. At that time I thought it was a haven for justice. Where the rule of law was upheld. It was only after I became a lawyer that I realised how it was upheld.”

AG: “But it hasn’t diminished your idealism?”

Asma Jahangir:“Absolutely it has diminished my idealism to the extent that that was not idealism – I was misinformed. I don’t think there is any such thing as the rule of law that is being upheld by the courts of Pakistan. I have no misconception about that at all. But I still think and I’m a firm believer that these are institutions that are made with our money and we have to keep knocking. Every knock must be a knock at their conscience. And we must keep knocking and keep knocking until their conscience responds… I am not an idealist at all. I am a very practical person. You need [to choose] the right case. You need the right bench. You need the right timing. You [should have] groomed public opinion before [taking the case]. An activist must never be an idealist. They must be very practical and they must strategise each part of their actions. Particularly in the courts. Because once you get a judgment from the Supreme Court, it takes perhaps half a generation to get it overturned.”

Asma Jahangir On death threats: “I should make clear that I enjoy what I do and death threats are a part of the work. It’s not something you don’t foresee.”

AG: “And you had a death threat today?”

Asma Jahangir: “I’m told that the government has put out a circular about three people whose lives are in danger and I’m one of them. I’ve had attacks on [my person]; I’ve had people coming into my mother’s house to kill me, and they’ve taken my brother and his family hostage. I’ve had a man arrested from the courtroom with a gun; I’ve had my car broken by a mob [while defending a Christian] in a blasphemy case; I’ve had other death threats – like slogans written on buses, saying ‘kill her, we are your maut (death) Asma Jahangir’.”

AG: “Doesn’t it frighten you?”

Asma Jahangir: “To be very honest when my mother’s house was attacked and my brother and his wife and my nephew were taken hostage it really did frighten me. I met those who came to kill me subsequently in the police station and the kind of venom they had against me…

AG: “What was this based on?”

Asma Jahangir: “They actually believed that I was some kind of demon. They believed that by defending a case of blasphemy I was encouraging blasphemy against the Holy Prophet. That I stood against all decent norms. That I was a kind of devil incarnated that wd wreck the whole social fabric of Pakistan.”

AG: “What was it like to meet them?”

Asma Jahangir: “It was strange. First of all they had a very different impression of [what I was like], even visually. And slowly and gradually as the ice was broken [it became clear] that this perception had been given to them by some mullahs, preaching in the mosque, by two or three lawyers, by one newspaper. They said that when one [particular] militant group met they would vow to kill me. [They thought] I wanted women to become behaya [licentious] and once this happened they would have no control over their sisters and mothers. [But after the meeting] they got bail and turned up at my office with some sweetmeats and wanted me to have them. I couldn’t because here were men who wanted not only to kill me, but to kill my sister and my children as well. And [that they should] want me to have sweets after they got bail was, I think, a bit crude on their part… A few months ago I was in court and this young man comes up to me and complains to me, you are a human rights person but our case is not getting anywhere and can’t you do anything about it. And suddenly I saw that this was one of the men who came to kill me. And he was complaining to me about his own trial where I was the complainant. I was quite taken aback and I said to him casually, in Punjabi, na le chot to na le chattar: ja apna case aap kar [go and fight your own case].”

 

 

 

 


Countdown Interviews – Asma Jahangir: 7

Chrestomather | June 14, 2013 in Countdown Interviews | Comments (0)

 

 

AG:What can be done about human rights?

Asma Jahangir:“A lack of institutions, and an institutional response.

 

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

At some point you have to depend on state institutions for relief. You can take a movement that far but not beyond; beyond that is a wall if you’re not getting discussion in parliament; if you’re not getting relief from the courts. That is one. The second is a mind-set. And that I have no doubt cannot change that quickly. And that mind-set when you change it, you have to then marginalise more reactionary forces. There are [such reactionary forces] in every society, whether in Scandinavia or Germany or Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But by bringing in a politics of tolerance in government and outside of government, in institutions, you marginalise those sections. And this is what the West does. It’s not that the West does not have prejudices or that it does not have biases, or that they don’t want to kill a black person or a Muslim or whatever. But the people [who think like that] are marginalised. Nobody will get up – no political leader – and say, let’s just get these Muslims. They may even think that, but they just can’t say it. But here you have outright demands for things like that, because it is accepted, it is welcomed and nobody will speak against it.”

AG:“Do you see any possibility of a Taliban-type movement spreading to Pakistan?”

Asma Jahangir:“Well I think that if the Taliban win we are in trouble; if the Taliban lose we are in trouble. If they win and they are in control of Afghanistan, our policies will have to be influenced because we are trying to get to the Central Asian republics and we will have to have that interaction with the government [in Afghanistan]. Plus the fact that the Taliban are Pakhtoons and they are sitting in the North West Frontier Province. Already you can see the influence in the North West Frontier Province and Peshawar. And we have a porous border with them. Their interest is to keep it porous. So you will have that influce. If they lose the war – a large number of the Taliban come from Pakistan as you’ve seen in the people who have died [in the recent American bombings of Bin Laden’s camp in Afghanistan]. Now they will obviously come back and they will bring back the comrades who have fought with them .These are going to be unemployed, desperate people [with] an agenda [of their own]. How are they going to amalgamate in this society? It is difficult for me to see. When you begin to convince yourself that you’re doing this for your religion and for God, it becomes even more dangerous, because then you are a desperado. Will the government of Pakistan be able to contain these people? The government of Pakistan will be very dependant on the army, which is the only organised force that cd contain the Taliban. [The Taliban] are very well armed and trained. [They have] ideology on their minds and [they are] used to power. No jobs, no future. Now when a government in Pakistan starts depending so heavily on the army, they are not overpowering the army, the army will overpower politics. I don’t know how long it wd be before the army started having friction [within itself] about how they would like to deal with the Taliban. This is something I cannot predict. This is a problem that shd be discussed now by our political leadership. The sad part is that our political leadership addresses a problem after it has happened.”

 

 

 

 


Countdown Interviews – Asma Jahangir: 6

Chrestomather | June 13, 2013 in Countdown Interviews | Comments (0)

 

 

 

countdown

AG:“When these blasts happened in Pokhran, did you feel that they were an act of hostility directed at Pakistan?”

 

 

 

Asma Jahangir:“Well frankly I felt angry. I felt angry at the Indian leadership because I felt that they were going to start a nuclear race in the region. And yes, I felt that my security was threatened. But I felt that if we do the same it’ll be doubly threatened. I have never felt so insecure, so unhappy in my life as [I was] after we tested our own nuclear device. I felt doubly insecure. I am not convinced of the argument that it is a deterrent.”

 

AG:“Do you feel that a nuclear war is a possibility?”

Asma Jahangir:“If you ask me, anything is a possibility between India and Pakistan.

 

India-Pakistan border post., Wagah, 1998

India-Pakistan border post., Wagah, 1998

Because our policies are irrational. Our decision-making is ad hoc. We have been surrounded by disinformation [about] each other. We have a historical enmity. We have this whole emotionalism of jihad against each other – on our part it is jihad; on your part there is a lobby that will never accept the existence of Pakistan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are fatalistic nations who believe that whatever has happened – famine, accidents, drought – it is the will of God. We learn to accept every catastrophe. And that is not, I’m afraid, a very helpful frame of mind. And then our decision-making is done by a few opinion makers on both sides. It’s not the ordinary woman living in a village in Bihar whose voice is going to be heard, who is going to say, for God’s sake I don’t want this nuclear bomb, I want my cow and milk for my children. She is nowhere, she doesn’t figure anywhere. It worries me. It really worries me. And the possibility of a mistake: can you imagine? Plus, look at the education of our people in terms of what a nuclear bomb is. If we knew what a nuclear bomb is we wouldn’t have people on the road distributing sweetmeats. We wouldn’t have people celebrating and dancing. They think that it’s a kite-flying contest, like an India-Pakistan bokaata: it’s a really amazing and frightening reaction.”

AG:“But despite all these problems I know that you’ve been involved in reaching out to India, in people-to-people contacts. What is it that keeps you interested in doing that?”

Asma Jahangir:“Because I have a great faith in people’s own instincts. And I think once you break the barriers of disinformation, people’s own instincts are what we have to depend on. I feel hopeful. I can give you a recent example of two young colleagues from my office, two young chaps, lawyers, who went to India and who’ve just come back. They were amazed. I’ve been there myself, so I could relate. They said, we went into their temples, nobody stopped us. One young chap was staying with a Hindu family who had moved during partition. People had scared them that once they go the police wd hound them. These were two people who were not aware: who had less trust in what I was saying than in Pakistan television’s propaganda. So they came back really amazed. They said we went to the Supreme Court, and they knew about laws passed in Pakistan; there were people who were very worried about our country; and the language, the cultural habits, the body language. All of that is very much alike, particularly when you talk about Delhi and Lahore, there is far less difference than between Lahore and Quetta.”

 

 


Countdown Interviews – Asma Jahangir: 5

Chrestomather | June 5, 2013 in Countdown Interviews | Comments (0)

 

 

 

Electioneering, Kashmir, 1998

Electioneering, Kashmir, 1998

AG:“Would you say Kashmir is the principal problem between India and Pakistan or would you say that problems would remain even without Kashmir?”

Asma Jahangir:“I think if the Kashmir issue is solved tomorrow we would still have problems:

 

 

 

 

 

we would have problems on our water disputes; we would have problems on our influence in the region. India is a very large country. India has political ambitions in the region. Ours is a smaller country, but because of our past history of being aligned with the USA and the policies we have had a hand in, we have got used to having an influence, which we are not likely to give up. We’ve got used to a strategy where we like to be seen as a very influential country. Then there is a problem of perception. India wants to push a perception of South Asian identity; Pakistan wants a South Asian identity and yet does not want it. It wants to leave the door open to an identity as a Middle Eastern country. So I think even in terms of foreign policy there will be friction; in terms of hegemony in South Asia there will be friction. India unfortunately in the past has annoyed many of its neighbours. If Pakistan tomorrow has a more reasonable leadership, a leadership that is looking toward South Asia as an identity, they have the possibility of more or less isolating India, which is going to make India very unhappy. So that historical animosity is not going to go away that quickly. That will only go when both countries recognise each other’s strengths instead of trying to exploit each others’ weaknesses. The last point, which is very important, is that we have a large Muslim minority in India. And you have Hindus in Pakistan. And the question of minorities will always remain on the agenda of India and Pakistan. When the Muslims in Bombay are hit, it hurts the Muslims in Pakistan; when the Hindus in Sindh are persecuted it annoys India. So that again will be a point of friction. If there is keen interest in ending this animosity – and I would say this is very much linked with the Kashmir issue – both countries leadership must sign an accord protecting minorities.”

 

 

Villagers, Pokhran, 1998

Villagers, Pokhran, 1998

AG:“That’s a very good point. Now what about the nuclear blasts? What was your response when you woke up on May 11th and read about the Indian nuclear tests at Pokhran ?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asma Jahangir:“After the Indian test the debate was going on, on whether Pakistan should react in a similar fashion or not. Very few of us at that time took the stand that we should not react by testing a nuclear bomb. And there are reasons for it: the reason is that we should de-link our foreign policy from India. We cannot have a foreign policy just in reaction to India. Secondly we felt that Pakistan was not going to gain anything by a test. That this was a good opportunity for us to go a separate way completely. More importantly, people like us are against nuclearisation. So you cannot condemn India for nuclearisation if you are going to follow the same path. And perhaps Pakistan should have taken the moral high ground at that point. Frankly if I had had anything to do with decision-making, I wd have said, let us take the moral high ground now. India with a new leadership that was seen as very conservative, I think Pakistan cd have been seen to be a more reasonable country at that time. If I had anything to do with the leadership of Pakistan I would have gone first of all to Tokyo and led a huge procession against nuclearisation; I would have gone to Ireland and led a procession against nuclearisation. Everywhere in the major capitals of the world you would have got strong support and it would really have decimated India’s image in many ways and brought Pakistan an image in the international community as a far more reasonable country. And a leadership can always control domestic opinion, particularly in our countries. And the people of our countries – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh – are very wise in their perception. If you show to them how this issue is linked to your little kitchen at home, they understand it. How if we do this, you cannot have your aspirations of sending your child to school. But if we don’t do it, maybe we can fulfil that aspiration. I think put to the people like that – the people of our countries are not stupid. There are always a few handfuls of people who are gung-ho; who would distribute sweets . But the same people who distributed sweets in India and Pakistan are the same people who would come out and riot when they saw an economic crunch coming close to them. To take that kind of extreme public opinion [into account] in deciding the life of a nation, is not wise for leadership.”

 

 


Countdown Interviews – Asma Jahangir: 4

Chrestomather | June 3, 2013 in Countdown Interviews | Comments (0)

 

 

IMG_0056

Kashmir, 1998

AG:“To come to Kashmir, how do you think this issue could be settled between India and Pakistan?”

Asma Jahangir:“Frankly, I don’t think the two governments are sincere about settling the issue. On the one hand, it’s a complicated issue whether Pakistan should be interfering or not. Pakistan gives the example of Bangladesh where people were really being oppressed and were going to lose many lives. If the government of Pakistan were to intervene I would be happier; I am not happy at the idea of vigilantes intervening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s like me putting up an army and saying I want to fight a war in Bosnia. The answer I get to that is, no, Bosnia is not a disputed territory and Kashmir is. But let the government of Pakistan be in charge of what they are doing there. At the same time I have read, particularly in the past two, three years a number of reports, even by the Indian NGOs about the kind of intervention the [Indian] army has had in the Valley, and you cannot expect people not to be antagonistic – the number of people that have been killed, the number of women that have been raped. These are not exaggerated figures, because they have come from Indian NGOs themselves.  Unless those people themselves are in the process of dialogue you will not be able to have a long-lasting solution there. Because let us even presume tomorrow that India and Pakistan for whatever reason, decide the issue – it will not be closed. The issue will come up time and again unless there is an interaction with the leaders of the Kashmiri movement themselves. And perhaps the question then is who are the genuine leaders? A mechanism ought to be put in place – certainly not without India and Pakistan – to ascertain who are the genuine leaders there. [In the process] even their (the Kashmiris’ ] own perceptions of where they want to go may change. When people are confronted with [such a situation] then the rhetoric finishes. Then it is reality [that they are dealing with] and in a situation of [confronting] reality they may take a very, very different stance.

AG:“You just said that the leaders in the two countries are not interested in solving the situation. What exactly do you mean by that?”

 

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

Asma Jahangir:“In our country we feel that if we solve the situation with anything short of having Kashmir with us it will be very unpopular with the people of Pakistan because of the high profile that we have given this issue and because of the rhetoric that we have had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Frankly it is not within Pakistan’s power to have both sides of Kashmir [with it] – even the Kashmiris may not agree with that. So who wants to take that risk? [Especially] after the expectations of people have been raised that Kashmir will be a part of Pakistan? Similarly on the part of the Indians. The Indian government will not wish to see any part of Kashmir [leave] India’s hands [or even] go into neutral hands. And that is a risk they will have to take if they want to come to talks and say, okay, these talks are for a solution. It’s a messy situation where the governments don’t have the courage, the confidence, or the moral conviction to face the realities.

 

 


Countdown Interviews – Asma Jahangir: 3

Chrestomather | May 31, 2013 in Countdown Interviews | Comments (0)

 

 

Shortly before August 29, 1998, when I interviewed Asma Jahangir

 

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

in Lahore, a Constitutional Amendment was introduced in Pakistan’s Parliament, the Majlis-e-Shoora, proposing the establishment of sharia’a law in Pakistan. Over several days, there were protests by lawyers and other related groups. I asked Asma Jahangir what she thought of the proposed amendment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asma Jahangir: “If consitutional amendments are to be carried out, according to this amendment, it will be by a simple majority – in other words, twenty-seven members of the National Assembly could actually carry out a consitutional amendment. This is a mockery of law-making. So you could get up in the morning and hear that a constitutional amendment has been carried out that has an impact on me as a citizen, as a woman, as a lawyer.”

AG: “What will it mean for women?”

Asma Jahangir: “It will mean that our lives will be in the hands of the federal government, which does not make me very happy.”

AG: “One of the things that intrigues me about this amendment is what sort of Islamic legal system is going to be put into place? Is it to be Maliki law or Hanafi law…?”

Asma Jahangir: “Absolutely. It says that every sect can interpret it for themselves, which really means also planting sectarianism. How are they going to do it? If I am a Maliki and I’m married to someone who is Shafi’I? Then what personal law will apply? Mine or his? Or if I have a contract? If I’m a Sunni and I have a contract with a Shi’a? It’ll be pure confusion – it’ll be a free-for-all; it’ll create havoc for the legal system.

AG:“From what you’re saying, it sounds as though the legal system will collapse.”

Asma Jahangir:“It will collapse. The legal system will collapse, the judiciary will collapse. [We will be left] to the dictates of a handful of people.”

AG:“Would you say that what has happened in Pakistan is the result of having a very small ruling class?”

Asma Jahangir: “Countries which have a ruling elite that is devoid of all values, which gives leadership only to the agenda that everybody is for themselves – that is the disaster of Pakistan. If you look at the ruling classes of Pakistan and compare them to the ruling classes of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, you will find very few people who are actually worried, who are actually taking an interest, who actually interact with the people of this country. They live like foreigners here. And that is I think the unfortunate part. Most of the ruling classes of Pakistan  have always sided with the establishment. The few exceptions are freaks really. Even Mr Bhutto was from the establishment. Benazir is the first removed in one way. If you look at it that way, it’s pathetic.”

AG: “What could be the future of the Mohajir movement?”

Asma Jahangir: “Let me say this – and there have been reports of the Human Rights Commission saying the same thing – every ethnic group has the right to make demands. You may disagree with them and say that they want more than their fair share. But disagreement has to be intellectual and it has to be through dialogue. The fact that we resist a movement to start with and begin with the lowest kind of attack on their integrity, tends to harden the situation. I or you may believe that this movement was put up; we may believe that this was a terrorist movement, but the responsibility of the government is to engage in dialogue, not to start dubbing them one thing or another. In every movement there are all kinds of people, and you want to bring a dialogue forward in order to encourage those people who want a peaceful settlement. I think there has not been enough reaching out. You can’t kill a movement through state terrorism, if I may use that word, because then you’re really strengthening the movement.”

 

 


Countdown Interviews – Asma Jahangir: 2

Chrestomather | May 29, 2013 in Countdown Interviews | Comments (0)

 

 

 

countdown

[This is part 2 of an interview with the Pakistani lawyer and human rights activist, Asma Jahangir. It was conducted in Lahore on August 29, 1998, f0r my essay Countdown, which was published as a book by my Indian publisher, Ravi Dayal, in 1999.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AG: “What would you say needs to change in Pakistan?”

 

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

Asma Jahangir: “First of all, the intrusion of religion and religious orthodoxy into the politics of Pakistan. This has never been resolved; there were always strange compromises. Secondly, the whole question of provincial autonomy (needs to be addressed).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This has hounded Pakistan’s politics, even to the extent of having lost one part of Pakistan because of the majority-empowered province’s mentality of trying to push their decisions on others. Previously these issues were sort of muffled, or they had not come to the surface because there was always a dictatorship and the smaller provinces were threatened with being called traitors if they said anything against the federation or the power of the federation. With the democratic process – and I must give credit to the Press particularly – people have begun to speak up and a debate has been generated.

“The added problem that we have is that Pakistan’s foreign policy was central to the Cold War. We have still not mentally reconciled ourselves, as a nation, to the post-Cold War scenario. We cannot think that we’ll make mistakes and somebody will come to our rescue. These rescue operations have finished, and that is something we have still not comprehended fairly and squarely. We always want to use some card or the other and it becomes a matter of habit. After this we will use the card of the Taliban and the Afghan situation; we will use the card of being an Islamic country which can go either way. But there comes a time when the world focuses on changes and people begin to leave you to your own devices.”

 

AG: “Meeting people here in Pakistan, I get the sense that there is a very powerful groundswell of anti-American sentiment. Yet Pakistan was one of America’s closest allies for much of the last half-century. How does one account for this?”

Asma Jahangir: “The Americans supported Zia ul-Haq, who was one of the most ruthless dictators in our part of the world. They supported his Islamisation process until the American people woke up to what he was doing to women. When Zia ul-Haq came to power he was completely backed by the Americans to back the jihad in Afghanistan. The American centre used to send scholars to lecture us on this. To the extent that we’ve heard lectures there where scholars have told us how great Saudi Arabian society was, and that women could operate within their own sphere of life. After a while people said, well, if it is such a great and romantic system, perhaps the United States needs to import it themselves.

At that time we did not have that violent a society where kalashnikovs were easily available and we did not have this rampant a drug culture in our country. This all started with the Afghan war and the jihad. And this so-called jihad did create a very strong network of orthodoxy in our country and we are still suffering under that. So even liberals are a little bitter at the fact that these problems were created by the West. I’m not saying that one can rest on the premise that it’s the West that creates problems, and that it’s the West that can do away with our problems. We are to blame for our own follies. Except that in the case of Zia ul-Haq, it was not as though people here weren’t struggling against him. Several people got flogged, including lawyers. Several people got executed – even boys as old as fifteen. People went to jail. I do not recall any of my colleagues in the Human Rights Commission who did not go to jail at that time.

People like us are not happy with West-bashing. The Islamists are very militant against the West because they feel that the U.S. picked them up, they made them into the custodians of the country and now they’re backing off. So they feel let down on another level. They continue West-bashing to the point where they dub people like myself as Western agents, having conveniently forgotten that then years ago they were the ones who were the direct beneficiaries of the jihad policy of the West.”

 

 

 


Countdown Interviews – Asma Jahangir: 1

Chrestomather | May 27, 2013 in Countdown Interviews | Comments (0)

 

 

 

My essay Countdown,  was written against the background of  the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests of  May 1998. It appeared in The New Yorker  of October 19, 1998.

 

countdown

In 1999 my Indian publisher Ravi Dayal issued an expanded version as a short book, under the same title (Countdown, Ravi Dayal, New Delhi, 1999).

It was also included in my essay collection Incendiary Circumstances (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

 

 

 

 

 

In the course of writing Countdown I travelled to many places – Kathmandu, Lahore, Islamabad, New Delhi, Bombay, Pokhran, Leh and the Siachen Glacier – and interviewed a great many people: activists, journalists, soldiers, generals, strategic thinkers, diplomats, experts, politicians, physicists and of course, many bystanders and ordinary citizens. For most of these interviews I took notes; only a few were recorded and later transcribed. As is so often the case only small fragments of these interviews made their way into Countdown. Re-reading these interviews now it seems to me that there is much in them that is still relevant so they will appear on this site as an extended series of posts.

 

 

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

Asma Jahangir, Lahore 1998

 

 

 

Asma Jahangir is to my mind one of the most admirable figures of our time.  As far as I am concerned if anyone deserves the Nobel Prize for Peace it is Asma Jahangir.

I met Asma when I traveled to Lahore in August 1998. Before the meeting, a friend said: “If you put Asma on one side and a million men on the other, there would still be no doubt about who would win.” This led me to expect someone larger than life, but Asma Jahangir proved to be a slight, diminutive woman with the wiry intensity of a high-tension cable.

Asma is the daughter of an opposition politician who was one of the most vocal critics of the Pakistan army’s operations in what is now Bangladesh. She spent her teenage years consulting with lawyers on behalf of her frequently-imprisoned father. “When my father was called to court was when we, his children, used to see him,” she told me. “For me the court was a place where justice was given and where you met your father.”

For her defence of the rights of religious minorities, Asma has received many death threats. Members of her family have been attacked and taken hostage, her home has been broken into. As we spoke, a unit of black-uniformed bodyguards stood outside, drowsing beside their kalashnikovs.

My interview with Asma was recorded on August 29, 1998; she was then 46.

AG: “Travelling around Pakistan the last few days, I’ve got a sense of impending crisis, really deep crisis. Do you think I’m wrong?”

Asma Jahangir: “Well, I cannot recall any one month when Pakistan has not gone from crisis to crisis – and I mean from way back, from the 1960s up to now. But at that time (in the 1960s) the crisis was more related to domestic politics and it didn’t seem as though it was going to be insurmountable. Over the years I think people are getting the feeling that we have looked away from a lot of problems and we have got ourselves into a situation where it is becoming impossible for our leaders to take stock of things and to reconcile themselves to the fact that we have to change everything around for the country to survive at a comfortable level.”

to be continued…

 

 



ucuz ukash