Peshawar Blues

October 21, 2012 § 4 Comments

Excerpts from my article on Peshawar which appears in the special Pakistan issue of Critical Muslim.

In Peshawar no one walks as a potential victim. It must be part of human nature to never imagine oneself in the day’s plane crash or car wreck. Death always seems escapable; not so the burden of existence. The astronomical rise in the cost of living is putting a visible strain on most people. Inflation has remained in double-digits since 2008, second only to Vietnam in Asia. Prices of some commodities are comparable to those in Britain. Bananas are cheaper at Sainsbury’s in London.

The free flow of dollars in Afghanistan has created a further distortion, raising prices and emptying markets of commodities which are flowing freely across the border. Smuggling is rife. According to Sayad Waqar Husain of the Institute of Management Sciences, with 141 transit points along the Durand Line, and with dysfunctional customs regulation, there are now 133 illegal markets in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) alone where trade in non-custom paid goods is booming. Property prices have also risen and rents are high. Real estate prices amplified by inflation are making people invest in the only commodity which is likely to keep its price. With an exploding population, accommodation is always scarce and buyers always at hand.

Although Pakistan’s cumulative birth rate has declined in recent years, the fertility rate in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is still the country’s highest. In 1809, when the first British envoy to Kabul Monstuart Elphinstone visited the city, it had a population of about 100,000. Following the Sikh conquest in 1832, the number fell to 80,000, dwindling further to 63,079 by 1891. After independence, however, the population began to increase steadily reaching 109,715 in 1951, and 166,273 by 1961. But by 2010, the number had shot up to 3,625,000. This figure very likely excludes the large number of unregistered Afghan refugees who at one time numbered in the millions. All of this places an enormous strain on the city’s resources. Water, which had always been abundant, is now scarce. The city’s sanitation system is overwhelmed—it is impossible to escape the vague odour of raw sewage in most parts of the city. Where oncePeshawar dazzled visitors with its verdure, today it is permanently covered under a coat of dust; the varieties of flowers which were eulogized by everyone from Babar to Elphinstone have today receded into private enclosures.

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A Schoolgirl’s Odyssey

October 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

Al Jazeera’s 2009 documentary about the courageous Swati girl Malala Yousafzai who was critically injured in a cowardly assassination attempt by the Pakistani Taliban.

On October 9, 2012, masked gunmen ambushed a van carrying schoolgirls home in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. They shot 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai at point blank range in the head and neck leaving her in critical condition. The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack and vowed to “finish the chapter” in Malala’s story. Bringing and end to education for girls has long been one of their goals. The young activist was only 11 when she first stood up to the Taliban and despite numerous threats she continued to speak out against them.

This documentary filmed in 2009 follows the journey of Malala and her father as the deteriorating security situation forces them to leave not just their home in Swat Valley but their life’s passion.

Living Under Drones

September 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

An important new report from the Stanford and New York University law schools finds drone use has caused widespread post-tramatic stress disorder and an overall breakdown of functional society in North Waziristan. In addition, the report finds the use of a “double tap” procedure, in which a drone strikes once and strikes again not long after, has led to deaths of rescuers and medical professionals. Follow the conversation #UnderDrones

Don’t miss Glenn Greenwald’s commentary on the report.

Misreporting Drone Statistics

July 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

On CNN’s website, Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland recently wrote an article including the following graph in which they claim that of the 153 people killed in Pakistan by US drones, none were civilians. These are highly dubious statistics, as I have pointed out elsewhere. And following is a report by IPS News’s Zoha Arshad which challenges these claims with comments from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Chris Wood and me.

Chris Woods of the Bureau for Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) believes that NAF has not only underestimated the number of strikes and civilian deaths, but adds that civilian death percentages need to be treated with extreme caution.

“It (NAF) relies only on a small number of media reports immediately following a strike. Sometimes we learn crucial facts days, weeks or even months after an initial attack,” he told IPS.

“In February of this year, for example, a major investigation by Associated Press, based on 80 eyewitness testimonies from civilians in Waziristan, found previously unknown evidence of civilian deaths in 20 percent of the sampled strikes. Unfortunately, NAF has not incorporated these important findings into its data,” said Woods.

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Julian Assange interviews Imran Khan

June 19, 2012 § 3 Comments

No country has ever been bombed by its own ally, like Pakistan has been bombed by the US, Pakistani politician Imran Khan tells Julian Assange. He says it is time to put an end to the US-Pakistani ‘client-master’ relationship. ­In the ninth episode of his show, Julian Assange talks to Imran Khan, whose political party was ignored for years and which US State Department cables called “Pakistan’s one-man party.”

Imran Khan: Next man in?

June 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

Pakistanis are understandably cynical about politics. But during my recent visit I was surprised to find people invigorated with a new found idealism which is enabling a break with politics as usual. At the centre of all these expectations is the person Imran Khan who has been riding on the crest of a human tsunami. In this episode of Al Jazeera’s People & Power, you get to witness some of this new found energy.

Once an international cricket star, Pakistan’s Imran Khan is now playing for a greater prize – to be his country’s next prime minister. But can he upset the political status quo? People & Power has hit the campaign trail to find out.

Will Americans challenge Obama’s drone war?

May 30, 2012 § 2 Comments

by Medea Benjamin

Shakira, 4, was disfigured in one of Obama’s drone attacks.

On May 29, The New York Times published an extraordinarily in-depth look at the intimate role President Obama has played in authorizing US drone attacks overseas, particularly in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is chilling to read the cold, macabre ease with which the President and his staff decide who will live or die. The fate of people living thousands of miles away is decided by a group of Americans, elected and unelected, who don’t speak their language, don’t know their culture, don’t understand their motives or values. While purporting to represent the world’s greatest democracy, US leaders are putting people on a hit list who are as young as 17, people who are given no chance to surrender, and certainly no chance to be tried in a court of law.

Who is furnishing the President and his aides with this list of terrorist suspects to choose from, like baseball cards? The kind of intelligence used to put people on drone hit lists is the same kind of intelligence that put people in Guantanamo. Remember how the American public was assured that the prisoners locked up in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst,” only to find out that hundreds were innocent people who had been sold to the US military by bounty hunters?

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