A new look at old freedom movement myths

Hamza-Alavi-17-05-1996-1

By Zubeida Mustafa
Professor Hamza Alavi has recently been in town. The suave, soft-spoken scholar, who says he developed a social conscience and became a socialist even before he had ever heard the word, has lived abroad for over three decades in pursuit of his academic career. Now he plans returning permanently to the city of his birth. That is, if he does not change his mind at the eleventh hour as he has done before. Continue reading “A new look at old freedom movement myths”

Remembrances of things past

Chris-Abbas-07-05-1996-2

By Zubeida Mustafa

As she lays out before you her rich treasure of teaching aids, you are struck by her deep fascination for them. Oblivious of your presence, she chatters on, speaking more to herself as a child would, explaining the use of the board games, flash cards, cubes and charts she has herself devised for her students. Crafted from little odds and ends one normally throws away — ice-cream sticks, milk cartons, strings and shoe boxes — these sturdy but inexpensive little kits open up a wondrous world of learning for young curious minds and restless fingers. Continue reading “Remembrances of things past”

Book industry in the throes

By Zubeida Mustafa

HOW would one describe the state of the publishing industry in Pakistan today? Some feel that it has picked up, with a variety of books seeing the light of day. But others, especially those in this trade, are not so optimistic about its prospects and say the future of books in the country continues to be as grim as before, suffering as the industry does from utter neglect at the hands of the government.

The answer to the question, thus, would depend on how you look at the matter and what yardstick you use to measure success or failure. But there are no two opinions about the fact that the political climate has never been so good for book publishing as it is today. The advent of democracy has made it easier for writers to express their opinions freely and many historical events have been recorded which was not possible when the Continue reading “Book industry in the throes”

Reading habits of the young

95-27-02-1996a

By Zubeida Mustafa

TWENTY years ago the National Book Council of Pakistan conducted a survey on the reading habits of children. Interestingly it found that one out of seven children in the 11-15 years age group did not read books apart from their course book. The children interviewed came mainly from middle-class backgrounds.

In 1981, another survey found that one out of five students did not want to read books. These findings were quite alarming. We do not know if the situation is any better today. Given the longer TV transmission hours, the variety of programmes on the dish which so many households now have and the easy availability of the VCR, children are more easily distracted and less likely to be interested in books. Moreover the reading material has become so prohibitively expensive that many people of modest means can be forgiven for worrying about their bread and butter rather than buying books to read. To ascertain present trends, we decided to conduct a mini-survey. Only children from relatively affluent homes were selected. Since they study in private English medium schools of Karachi they can be expected to have access to good literature and the resources to acquire it. Hence they can have no valid excuse for not reading. Much to our relief we found that children have not abandoned the age-old hobby of reading for pleasure altogether. Quite a substantial majority of youngsters (aged 13-15 years) are reading on an average more than two books a month. Continue reading “Reading habits of the young”

Many myths dispelled

By Zubeida Mustafa

OUT OF AFGHANISTAN: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal by Diego Cordovez and Selig Harrison. Published by Oxford University, New York.450 pp. $35/-.

In December 1979 the Soviet army entered Afghanistan and installed a pro-Soviet government in Kabul. This was no ordinary event. The USSR was at that time a superpower locked in a cold war with the United States. Its entryinto Afghanistan introduced a grim dimension to the power struggle between Moscow and Washington. In fact this event will go down in history as a  4 .turning point in the international politics of the twentieth century.The series of developments that followed transformed the pattern of the global political, economic and security system.

As is normal practice when such momentous events occur, there comes a spate of writings to report, analyse and interpret the happenings. The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan produced a similar impact on the wielders ofthe pen. But there was a difference. Given the deep polarization between the two sides which naturally influenced the thinking of writers and scholars as well, the literature on Afghanistan has tended to proceed from fixed andpre-detennined premises.

For instance it has always been believed that the Soviet Union “invaded” Afghanistan as a part of its expansionist policy designed to extend its controlBy Zubeida Mustafa over Asia. The Saur revolution of 1978 was seen as having been the result of Moscow’s machinations.

Similarly, another myth is that all the sides involved in the Afghancrisis acted as monolithic powers which took decisions with unanimityin their ranks. The battle lines were perceived as being 0sharply drawn — the Soviets and their protege in Kabul were being challenged by the mujahideen and their supporters in Islamabad. And now comes Out ofAfghanistan to dispel many of these myths. Written by Diego Cordovez, the UN representative who was the driving force behind the proximity talks onAfghanistan, and Selig Harrison, a researcher who has worked onthis region, the book tells the inside story that has never beentold before.

In a nutshell what emerges clearly is that Moscow was not the only power to be blamed for the protracted Afghan crisis which defied all attempts at  resolution for nearly a decade. Others also contributed to the mess. The Soviet Union was not a monolithic  power where the decision to invade Afghanistan was taken without much dissension. If the pro-interventionists succeeded in prevailing over those who hesitated it was because the fear wasreal in Moscow that the Americans would use Afghanistan to neutralise Soviet power. Haf izullah Amin’s ambivalence promoted the suspicion thathe was angling for American support. Small wonder, the Russians first ensured the elimination of Amin before installing their man (Babrak Karmal) in Kabul.

It is clear that the Americanstried to exploit the Soviet dilemma in Afghanistan to their own advantage. The Reagan Administration was divided between the bleeders and the dealers. The first were the hardlinerswho did not want to end the war since their strategy wasto drain the Soviets through a protracted war. The dealers werethe moderates who wanted to negotiate. The first school provedto be more influential and they hampered the peace process atevery stage. Even indirectly, their impact was an adverse onefor they gave encouragement to the hardliners in Moscow andweakened the hands of those advocating a Soviet withdrawalfrom Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s role emerges in a sorry light. General Ziaul Haq’spolicies helped prolong the Soviet occupation since that suitedhis regime. Pakistan could obtain massive military aid as thefront-line state.lt also assumed uhe key position of the power brokeramong the various mujahideen factions. But regrettably Islamabad did not use this position for the cause of peace. At time it actually promoted discord among the guerillas and prevented them from uniting on a common platform. It also persistently changed its stance in the negotiations and thus blocked progress.

Initially, Islamabad demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops while refusing to consider the issue of who should rule in Kabul When the Soviet Union indicated its willingness to pull out its forces, General Zia developedcold feet since he had convinced himself that the Russians would never leave Afghanistan.

Therefore, the issue of the composition of the government inKabul came up and became the focus of controversy. It has yet tobe resolved. The in-fighting in Washington, Moscow, Islamabad and Kabulmade a settlement in Afghanistan more difficult. In Pakistan’s casethe divisiveness was so great that the ISI could chalk out its own’Afghan policy which was at loggerheads with the government’s.As a result peace became difficult to enforce — and.still is —since a number of forces were working at cross-purposes andthere was no responsible authority which could prevail over them.Out of Afghanistan is an excellent book. Written in a lucid stylemarked with clarity, it makes interesting reading.Although thecentrepiece of the book is Afghanistan, it gives a masterlyinsight into the Soviet system on the eve of the collapse ofCommunism, establishing the Kennan thesis that it was notAmerican military power and strategic policy that broughtabout the disintegration of the USSR but the political, economicand social changes that took place in the country as a result ofurbanistaion and industrialisation. This is a book which isstrongly recommended as compulsory reading for every scholarand general reader interested in South and Central Asia.

SIUT on life-saving mission

94-20-01-1996a                                                                                                                                     KARACHI: The light at the end of the tunnel for Karim Dad is growing dim-. He is a 36-year-old farm worker from Tando Jan Mohammad and has lived on dialysis for the last five years. A patient of end-stage kidney failure, Karim Dad could not have survived had he not been visiting the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, Civil Hospital, Karachi, twice a week to be hooked on to the dialysis machine which removes impurities from his blood. (This function is normally performed by the kidneys in a healthy person.)

SIUT has spent Rs 400,000 on Karim Dad so far and not charged him a penny. In the private sector, Karim Dad would have had to pay Rs 1,000,000 for dialysis to stay alive — something beyond his means.

Nizamuddin, a 30-year vegetable vendor from Orangi Town, is in the same boat. A patient of kidney failure, he has been coming for free dialysis to SIUT since July 1990. Continue reading “SIUT on life-saving mission”