05 Dec, 2007

We’ve only been in this city…

05 Dec, 2007

We’ve only been in this city of 15 million for about four days but it feels as if we never left—other than the fact that the weather and fruits in August are very different from what one experiences in the Karachi ‘winter’. During most of the year, the weather is hot. There is extreme humidity or dryness and people shy away from sunshine. But for a few weeks between December and January, one can sit outside, pore through newspapers while peeling fresh oranges or eating mountains of guavas.

My personal winter passion is roasted pine nuts, which become an addiction for me; I sit outside and peel and eat and peel and eat more until my fingers hurt and my thumbs are tattooed with the pine nuts’ brown shells. The picture painted above is only a very small window in life in Pakistan this December 2007.

Outside our quiet home in Clifton, Karachi, trouble brews. The lawyers’ movement to resist the government is loud and there are demonstrations every day in Lahore, Islamabad and sometimes even Karachi, a more fragmented city where it’s hard to mobilize—especially since the city is filled with MQM, supporters of Musharraf. Nonetheless, in just the few days that I’ve been here, I’ve talked and met with people who are taking risks speaking out. The Peoples Resistance is a grassroots movement –of which my sister is an active participant—is collecting ideas of how to galvanize forces against Musharraf.

A hot debate in the group’s listserv is whether there should be support for a boycott of the upcoming January elections. The group is comprised of activists, academics, journalists—and of course, lawyers, who are leading the movement in this country. Everyday there are new issues about which one is angry and wants to take to the streets: yesterday, police completely surrounded the Lahore University of Management Sciences, where students were about to stage a protest, an act that is currently forbidden by Musharraf’s ‘state of emergency’ when no more than six people can gather publicly. Students were only able to exit by driving out in cars, two or three at a time. At a larger scale, there was a human chain formed around the home of Justice M.A. Shahid in Pakistan, so he could resist the government move to evict him from his residence (government property). Justice M.A. Shahid is one of the judges who refused to take the new Oath to join the Supreme Court. Today, he suffered chest pains and was moved to a hospital.

According to my sister, Beena Sarwar, there is a rumor that tonight, at 2:00 am, police will try to evict Justice M.A. Shahid from his official residence tonight, around 2 am: “Heavy force expected, protesters to be arrested. Vigil outside his house continues. Lawyers and other activists are gearing up for the fight.”

In Islamabad yesterday, police baton charged a protest organized by the Islamabad Student Action Committee, where between 700-1000 protestors gathered. Pictures of the rally are available on the Pak Voices website. Also, Code Pink/ Global Exchange peace activists Medea Benjamin and Tighe Barry are expected to be deported from Pakistan later tonight. They were arrested yesterday for “visa expiration”—a false accusation. The two US activists have been in Pakistan to learn more as well as spread information about the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan.

To get updated information, visit these sites or join Beena Sarwar’s yahoo list (bsarwar1@yahoo.co.uk) Pak Voices Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Teeth Maestro On a different note, David Barsamian, producer of Alternative Radio (from Boulder, CO, USA), is presently in the country. He was invited as a guest of the Eqbal Ahmed Distinguished speaker series and he gave a talk yesterday at Karachi’s Arts Council as well as another one two days ago at T2F. He’s now left for Peshawar. No doubt when he returns to the States, he will have many stories to share. It was wonderful to see him—in a space completely different from Houston, where he and I have spent time before.