Feudal Military

It is the usual story about a feudal landlord’s repression, killing, torture and expulsion of tenant farmers, something that probably has happened countless times in Punjab’s history. But there is a twist. The landlord in this case is the Pakistan army. The same army which is one of the biggest landlord as well as industrial conglomerate in Pakistan.

Via Danial, I found a recent Human Rights Watch report on this issue.

Approximately 68,000 acres of state-owned agricultural land in Punjab are now the site of the most significant popular protest movement that Pakistan has witnessed in recent times. Spread out over ten districts, this land is tilled by the almost one million descendants of migrants settled in the area by the British Raj a century ago.

The problems in the affected districts result from a straightforward disagreement. Traditionally, farmers have been sharecroppers, handing over part of their produce as rent to the military, which acts as landlord through military-run farms. In 2000, the military unilaterally tried to change the rules, demanding that the farmers sign new rental contracts requiring them to pay rent in cash. The farmers have refused, fearing that cash rents would, when times were lean, place them at risk of being evicted from land that their families have lived on for generations. Instead, as the situation has grown more polarized, they have begun demanding outright ownership of the land.

This dispute—-over some of Pakistan’s most fertile land—-has led to an extraordinarily tense standoff between the Pakistani army, paramilitary and police forces, and the tenant farmers. Since 2002, tenant farmers resisting efforts by the military to undercut their legal rights to the land—-especially those from the movement’s epicenter in the Okara district, where the military claims to own at least 17,000 acres and where farmers are in direct confrontation with military authorities—-have been subjected to a campaign of killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, “forced divorces,” and summary dismissals from employment. Twice, paramilitary forces literally besieged villages in the area of dispute, preventing people, food and public services from entering or leaving for extended periods of time.

[…]Torture, beatings, kidnappings, and arbitrary arrests of tenant farmers and their families became increasingly commonplace between May 11, 2003 and June 12, 2003, when the Rangers mounted its second siege on parts of Okara district. While the abuses are ongoing, most of the violations identified in this report are from the period of the siege.

[…]It should be emphasized that though the number of violations may have decreased since this period, similar violations continue with impunity to the present.

The land in question in Okara actually does not belong to the army.

Ironically, the Pakistani military does not actually have legal title to land at the heart of the dispute—-the Okara Military Farms. Although the military has had long-term leases to the land in the past and has exerted effective control over it, in some cases for decades, formal title to the land continues to rest with the government of Punjab province. Repeated attempts by the military to effect a permanent transfer of the land to the federal ministry of defense have been rebuffed by the Punjab provincial body that holds title to the land.

This point was emphasized to Human Rights Watch by Chief Minister Ilahi. In his government’s view, the land belongs to Punjab province and not to the army. However, he indicated that this was a “sensitive issue” given the “transition” from military to civilian rule currently underway in Pakistan. When presented with this claim, the Federal Interior Minister disagreed: “The Punjab Chief Minister is wrong,” he said flatly, neither offering nor suggesting proof. “I know that the army owns this land.”

And we also hear the most common excuse for problems in Pakistan —- RAW:

Officers of the Pakistan Rangers […] are adamant that the farmers are ready and willing to cooperate with the authorities in signing new contracts and that it is only a handful of troublemakers, including outside parties, who have incited the otherwise peaceful tenants into conflict. Some also suggested that these outside influences had links to RAW, the Indian intelligence agency. “Its nothing we cannot deal with. These people only understand the language of the stick” explained an army major serving with the Rangers on promise of anonymity.

That last quote is something one hears from everyone in authority irrespective of time and place.

According to the Human Rights Watch,

The armed unit responsible for most of the abuses against the farmers is the Pakistan Rangers, a paramilitary force normally used for border security. To coerce the farmers into signing new tenancy agreements, the Rangers set up “torture cells,” a term commonly used in Pakistan by officials and citizens alike to describe areas within detention centers that are used for coercive interrogations of suspects.

The Rangers have tortured the children of farmers to coerce them into signing tenancy agreements, according to testimony by 30 children interviewed by Human Rights Watch. Because the Rangers have targeted children of recalcitrant farmers for kidnapping and torture, schools in the affected areas have periodically closed down.

In some cases, the paramilitary forces have even forced young couples to divorce by torturing husbands or other male relatives, as a means of publicly shaming their families. On military farms, employees who are related to farmers who have refused to sign the new contracts have been fired or barred from work and threatened with torture.

This whole conflict had slipped my mind since I had first heard about it two years ago. Here is some coverage of the issue by BBC Urdu:

You might also want to read Pervez Hoodbhoy’s report of his trip to Okara in September 2002. He also wrote an op-ed about the issue in Dawn on May 22, 2003. Ardeshir Cowasjee, the famous columnist for Dawn also wrote an article about the Okara military farms as well as other cases of the army gobbling up land in Pakistan last year.

Robots, Bourne, Sun and Windows

As Before Sunset ended, Amber exclaimed “that’s it?” It is a good movie about 2 people who meet after 9 years. The whole movie is basically those two talking with Paris in the background. It is a sequel to Before Sunrise which tells the story of those two characters meeting for the first time in a train in Europe. The movies are good. However, they are too alike. It is probably not a good idea to see both together like we did. May be we should have waited 9 years to see the sequel.

The Bourne Supremacy is better than The Bourne Identity (opposite of the novels by Robert Ludlum.) The camera takes you in close and the action feels like you are part of it. The last chase scene is especially good. The plot is entirely different from the book but that is expected since Ludlum’s story was closely tied to the Cold War. I can’t really say if the books were better than the movies or vice versa since I read the books in high school a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Facing Windows is an Italian romantic movie about a married woman, the guy who lives in the apartment facing their window and an old guy with his Holocaust memories. It is a decent movie, much better than the regular Hollywood romantic fare.

I, Robot is not exactly Asimov’s work. If you drum that into your head before seeing it, you would enjoy the movie. There is, however, an interesting subversion of Asimov in the movie plot. Does anyone remember the zeroth law or R. Daneel Olivaw?

Pakistan and Darfur

The humanitarian crisis in Darfur engendered by the Janjaweed militia and the Sudanese government has finally caught some international attention. While the US is threatening sanctions and France has moved troops to the Chad-Sudan border, Pakistan has responded with mealy-mouthed statements.

Pakistan has called for renewed efforts to find a political solution to the Darfur crisis as the United States threatened to impose UN sanctions on Sudan.

[…]Pakistan’s Ambassador Munir Akram, in a closed-door session of the Council, spoke of Pakistan’s close relationship with Sudan, saying: “We are as concerned as anyone else with regard to the fate of the people on both sides (of the conflict) as all are Muslims.”

So what is Pakistan doing to save the poor Muslims of Darfur who are being killed and made to flee their homes? Pakistani officials can’t even say a word about their sufferings.

Issuing caveat against hasty action, Mr Akram said: “Why rebels had come to the negotiating table with pre-conditions? Was it because they (rebels) believed that they had the unconditional support of a certain major power and that the government of Sudan was going to bear the brunt?

While the rebel preconditions might not have been very wise, the Pakistani ambassador’s attitude is what’s known as knee-jerk anti-Americanism.

“If that was the case, there would be little incentive for the rebels to be reasonable,” the Mr Akram said. “The Council’s action should be measured and balanced so as not to adversely the political negotiations.”

Pakistan’s chief delegate said there was a lot of talk of sanctions and also of what the western media has been calling “bad guys” – a reference to those members who oppose the US stand – and added: “Our people feel much more for the people of Sudan than those who are writing those editorials.”

Here’s a simple definition: Those being killed, raped and thrown out of their houses and villages are the victims and the perpetrators are the bad guys. Is that so difficult to understand, Mr. Ambassador?

Then Musharraf decided to play some role by issuing similar meaningless statements and talking to everybody.

Over the past week, President Gen Pervez Musharraf contacted several world leaders to help addresshumanitarian crisis at Darfur, Sudan.

[…]In his contacts with world leaders, the president emphasized that the situation should not be allowed to spin out of control in order to save Sudan and the international community from a grave tragedy.

[…]The president telephoned President Omar Hasan Ahmad Al-Bashir of Sudan to underline that the implementation of commitments between the UN and the Sudanese government provided the framework for a viable solution to the Darfur crisis.

President Bashir appreciated President Musharraf’s keen interest and briefed him about efforts the Sudanese government was making to resolve the problem. The president also conveyed to President Bashir the concern of the Islamic world on the issue and its consequences for the brotherly people of Sudan.

Later, the President spoke to UN Secretry-General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin Powell to underscore the need for a diplomatic solution to the issue instead of sanctions or threat of sanctions.

[…]During the past few weeks, leaders of Sweden, Finland, Germany and the US telephoned the president and requested him to play a greater role in defusing the situation in Darfun, the press release said.

Time and again, Pakistan’s official statements on the Darfur crisis have had the underlying assumption that there are two equal sides to the conflict, something that is clearly wrong.

“We hope and expect that SLA and JEM will adopt a realistic and constructive position in the dialogue which is to be undertaken under the auspices of the African Union (AU) mediation,” said Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, Masood Khalid.

He said that parties must negotiate in good faith in this dialogue.

In a statement in explanation of vote after adoption of the resolution on Darfur in the Security Council, Pakistan said “the people and government of Pakistan are as concerned about the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan as other members of the international community.”

But if they are so concerned, why didn’t they vote for the UN resolution?

The US-drafted resolution passed by a vote of 13-0. China and Pakistan abstained, saying they preferred to let negotiations continue.

[…]Masood Khalid said, all the people suffering as a result of this crisis are part of the Islamic Ummah, and therefore, Pakistan fully shares the humanitarian objectives of the resolution.

Who are “all the people”?

And finally, here is Pakistan’s weak defence of its absentation from the Security Council vote.

Pakistan said on Saturday that it had abstained from the UN Security Council vote on the Sudan issue as it considered the final text of the resolution inadequate to resolve the crisis.

The foreign office, in a press release, appreciated the improvement made in the draft in response to Pakistan’s proposals. Yet, it pointed out, the final text lacked the ‘delicate balance’ that the complex situation in Sudan required.

The FO regretted that no compromise had been possible despite efforts and consistent counselling by Pakistan for a calibrated response.

[…]Pakistan emphasized that the cooperation of the government of Sudan was critical in realizing the objectives of saving lives, addressing the humanitarian crisis, and stabilizing peace in the Darfur region.

“Our collective endeavours must encourage that cooperation, not complicate it,” it maintains.

[…]Pakistan did not believe that the threat or imposition of sanctions on Sudan was advisable under this resolution.

Pakistan hoped that the Security Council would not take any drastic measures.

[…]Pakistan also did not believe that the adoption of the entire resolution under Chapter VII was necessary. It welcomed the emphasis on the need for a political solution to the crisis and hoped that all parties must participate in the dialogue in good faith.

Pakistan said that a solution to the Darfur crisis must be found within the unity and territorial integrity of Sudan.

The foreign office said that President Musharraf in two telephonic conversations with his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Beshir had emphasized the need for a visible action for speedy disarmament of the Janjaweed militia. The president had been invited to visit Sudan, it said.

I must say I am disappointed, even though I didn’t expect much.

Breastfeeding Class

When we registered for the class at St Peters, we asked if it was for women only or for couples. Since the breastfeeding class was open to couples, we both attended it. However, when we got there, I wondered what I was doing there. There were only 3 of us guys while there were 13 women. Most women had come alone, but one had come with her mother.

I also had no idea what I was supposed to do. It turned out though that my presence was useful since Amber was a very bad student that day. If I hadn’t been paying attention, we wouldn’t have gotten how to position the baby for nursing or the other information the instructor (a lactation consultant at the hospital) provided.

Amber asked the instructor about breast pumps and feeding the baby after she goes back to work. The instructor recommended a couple of pumps and also suggested how to get the baby used to drinking expressed milk from the bottle during the day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months and then supplementing breast milk with solid food until at least 1 year of age.

Strangely, despite the many benefits of breastfeeding, only about 3 in 10 babies are being breastfed at 6 months of age in the United States. Breastfeeding declined in the US for about two-thirds of the last century, but has since recovered somewhat. The overall rates still remain quite low as this article points out.

More than two thirds of mothers breastfed in the early 1900s […]. However, both the incidence and duration of breastfeeding declined in successive cohorts, beginning in the first decades of the 1900s […]. Initiation rates in the 1911–1915 cohort were nearly 70% of women, and nearly 50% in the 1926—1930 cohort; however, in the 1946—1950 cohort, only 25% initiation rates were noted […]. Initiation of breastfeeding reached its nadir in 1972, when only 22% of women breastfed […].

By 1975, however, breastfeeding initiation began to increase, from 33.4% in that year to 54% in 1980, and subsequently to 59.7% in 1984 […]. There was a dip in breastfeeding initiation rates in the late 1980s, followed by a return in the mid-1990s to the high levels observed in the early 1980s […]. Thus, after a dramatic increase in the 1970s, breastfeeding rates remained relatively static from the early 1980s to 1995. As of 1995, 60% of new mothers initiated breastfeeding, with 20% still breast-feeding at 6 mo. […]In 1997, 62.4% of mothers initiated breastfeeding, and 26% continued to 6 mo; newly reported was a 14.5% breastfeeding rate at 12 mo.

In Pakistan, according to UNICEF, the percentage of children who are:

exclusively breastfed (< 4 months) 16%
breastfed with complementary food (6-9 months) 31%
still breastfeeding (20-23 months) 56%

According to the World Health Organization, no more than 35% of infants worldwide are exclusively breastfed during the first four months of life.

In other pregnancy news, our baby is due this month. In fact, since more than 36 weeks are gone, she could be born any time now and not be a preemie.

Personality Quiz

Here are my results for the 20 Questions to a Better Personality Quiz. I think it’s all wrong, but it’s fun.

Wackiness: 24/100
Rationality: 58/100
Constructiveness: 66/100
Leadership: 38/100

You are an SRCF—Sober Rational Constructive Follower. This makes you a White House staffer. You are a tremendous asset to any employer, cool under pressure, productive, and a great communicator. You feel the need to right wrongs, take up slack, mediate disputes and keep the peace. This comes from a secret fear that business can’t go on without you—or worse, that it can.

If you have a weakness, it is your inability to say “no.” While your peers respect you, they find it difficult to resist taking advantage of your positive attitude and eagerness to take on work. You depend on a good manager to keep you from sinking under the weight and burning out.

Via Natalie Davis’ All Facts and Opinions.