Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Memorable Moment: Pakistan Snapshots

The US is keen to invade Pakistan with a single-minded view towards routing out Islamists in FATA. Meanwhile, Pakistanis are motivated by another cause –the fight to reinstate the Supreme Court judges that Musharraf deposed last year. This is the democracy movement in Pakistan today and many Pakistanis connect it with their own struggle for daily necessities. This isn't about votes and governments; it's about food, electricity, rights.

She smiles easily. It would be hard to guess that Mukhtar Mai is a gang-rape survivor and activist for women's rights. She puts the issue bluntly. “If something can happen to the Chief Justice, then you can see what will happen to the rest of the public.” She sits up on her bed. It's late night and the darkness is heavy in the village where Mukhtar Mai makes her home, a spread of concrete, enclosed rooms and open terraces overlooking her school where 300 girls and another 300 boys come for a primary education.

At the moment, you can’t see any of it though because there's loadshedding, a term for a rolling blackout. These planned power outages happen upwards of 12 hours per day across Pakistan. One hour on. One hour off. On. Off. The heat pushes us all outside and I feel my way to a rough stone step. It's difficult to see how businesses, hospitals, daily life can function with this sort of instability.

Tractors roll in the distance harvesting wheat. Old songs float out from them into the dense black night. It’s a sweet sound in a country where the wheat crisis currently tops the list of problems.
I grab my cell phone for light. It flicks on. Amidst fields, in this tiny village that isn't even a dot on a map, I have a signal.

Peshawar, NWFP
At the smuggler’s bazaar on the border between Peshawar and Khyber Agency, DVDs calling for death to America and are available for purchase if you know how to ask for them. A vendor who sells them also hands out a bonus DVD to ensure repeat customers. It’s pornography and it may be the real seller.

The frustration with corrupt politicians is more palpable here. One man says, "Look at what happened with the judges” He grows impassioned. “This is not a democracy, this is a dictatorship. They’ve deceived us. They’ve deceived the poor and tried to finish the poor.” He forcefully marks his point in the air. “They want to end the poor but the poor will fight. The poor will commit suicide bombings and the poor will make America flee from here and make him [Musharraf] run too.”

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