Tag Archives: karachi

Another 45

update (March 4th, 2013): Unknown men opened fire on a funeral procession of the dead from Abbas Town. 1 killed and another 14 injured, including personnel from the para-military, Rangers.

update (March 4th, 2013): Another two explosions heard near PECHS, a well-to-do location in Karachi. Officials are claiming that it was an electrical PMT blast caused by malfunctioning electrical transformer.

update (March 4th, 2013): Police tear-gassed protesters at Teen Talwar who were demonstrating against the attack on Shia.

To the 163 dead in successive blasts in Quetta this January and February, Pakistanis now add another 45. All three attacks have targeted the Shia community, but while the sectarian organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) did take responsibility for the previous murders, no group has come forward to own the latest attack in a predominantly Shia neighborhood in Pakistan’s teeming metropolis, Karachi. In fact, ASWJ, widely believed to be linked to the LeJ, has reportedly condemned the attack, a move many regard as a political feint than a genuine reprobation of the violence.

Pictures of the latest attack by Dawn here and BBC here.

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I. War in a New York minute

While some early reports claimed that it was NYC (attempted) car bomber Faisal Shahzad’s wife and parents or his relatives who were picked up from Karachi where they had been residing, other news now suggests that anywhere between five to eight men were arrested in connection with the Times Square car bomb attempt. One of the men detained in Karachi may be his father-in-law; Shahzad’s parents meanwhile left their Peshawar home once they learned of their son’s arrest. The family was seen leaving their well-to-do home in Hayatabad. Two of the men have reportedly been identified as Tauhid Ahmed and Muhammad Rehan who says he travelled with Shahzad to Peshawar where they stayed for about two weeks in July.Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik claims that no arrests have been made in connection with this case, but some people are being detained for questioning. Rehman also said that no official request has been made by the US, but Pakistan intends to cooperate fully.

Shahzad is the son of  retired air vice-marshal and deputy director general of the civil aviation authority, Baharul Haq. Shahzad’s cousin, Kifayat Ali expressed disbelief about the former’s arrest, according to al-Jazeera

“This is a conspiracy so the [Americans] can bomb more Pashtuns,” Ali said, referring to a major ethnic group in Peshawar and the nearby tribal areas of Pakistan and southwest Afghanistan.

Family members in the family’s village of Mohib Banda, near Pabbi in Nowshera district echoed Ali’s denial about their relative. Another cousin, Sameerul Haq also charged conspiracy and reportedly said Shahzad had gone to the US for the sole purpose of studying. A villager who claimed to be Shahzad’s childhood friend told the News, “I don’t think Faisal had links with any militant group.” Interviews conducted with relatives and those familiar with Shahzad by the AP had similar findings.

Earlier this morning, when I visited North Nazimabad, a relatively quiet, upper middle class neighborhood of Karachi, neighbors were tight-lipped. Sources claim that the detentions of people from Nazimabad were made by military intelligence, not the local police. I was told that officials dressed in civilian clothing came looking for people connected with Faisal Shahzad and enquired about Shahzad in the neighborhood. If true, the involvement of military intelligence in these detentions poses some serious problems: the establishment is well-known for disappearing people. Jeremy Schahill raises concerns on the American side where American intelligence planes may have been used to locate Shahzad. The trouble with this, explains Scahill is that:

If true, that could mean that secretive programs such as “Power Geyser” or “Granite Shadow,” remain in effect. These were the unclassified names for reportedly classified, compartmentalized programs under the Bush administration that allegedly gave US military special forces sweeping authority to operate on US soil in cases involving WMD incidents or terror attacks.

See Scahill’s full post here.

[Post in progress…]

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Workers Occupation at PC

PC workers strikeSign the petition HERE in solidarity with the PC workers. For updates, please see here.

What’s going on at the Pearl Continental in Karachi?

150 workers of the Pearl Continental Hotel in Karachi have occupied the basement of the hotel since last week. The occupation began when four workers, all of them union activists who have worked at the PC for at least 20 years, were fired by the hotel which has a long history of union-busting. Following their dismissal, the four workers immediately occupied the basement of the PC Hotel backed by 150 of their colleagues who feel that these workers have been targeted due for their union activism. They are demanding that the Hashwani group which owns the PC abide by the law, give workers their rights and put an end to its aggressive union-busting practices.

Food has become scarce while they have been on strike and management has refused to allow outside deliveries to be made. The current Human Resources Director at the PC is a retired Major Zia Jan who came to the PC after busting a union at the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC). Major Zia recently told the striking workers that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for fighting the PC. The management also brought someone from the Labor Department who accused the workers of engaging in an illegal dharna and told them they must stop immediately.

The workers are being filmed and monitored by security. They have been threatened with police action. The families of the workers who protested outside the hotel in solidarity have already been baton-charged by the police.

What are the workers demands?

1.    Give us our jobs back!
Firing of union activists while negotiations are ongoing is illegal.

2.    Recognize our union!
The courts already do. It’s time for the PC to abide by the law.

3.    Come to the negotiating table!
The PC refuses to negotiate the charter of demands. The 2002 and 2006 demands are still pending.

What’s the history of the workers struggle at the PC?

The PC workers’ struggle has been going on since 2001.  In the wake of the post-9.11 slump in business, owners of the PC Hotel, the Hashwani Group, began aggressively union-busting, slashing workers salaries and provident funds and even firing those who protested. 300 workers were sacked. PC then accused four workers—all union activists—of starting a fire in the hotel and had them locked up for 2 months in a secret prison in Karachi. They were acquitted in court, but the Hashwani Group attempted to fire them anyway on false charges of absenteeism. The workers got a stay order from the court, one of them in 2002 and the other three in 2006. That order was cancelled in Feb 2010. Before a notification of the cancellation had even been issued, the workers were fired.

The PC-Four have a long history trying to get the PC to recognize the workers union so that they can bargain for their rights and fair wages. The workers who clean the rooms, make the meals and run the hotel only get Rs. 7800 per month for nine hour shifts each day–after they’ve been working there for at least 14 years. A one night stay at the PC costs Rs. 20,000. The Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Union is already recognized by the courts, but the PC management refuses to accept the union or come to the negotiating table. The union, which is recognized by the workers of the PC as their bargaining unit, has issued two Charter of Demands, the standard list of workers demands which unions issue every two years to the employer as a starting point for negotiations. Both the 2004 and the 2006 Charter of Demands were never resolved as the PC failed to come to the negotiating table. Instead, the management of the PC constantly harassed the workers trying to terrorize them into rejecting their own union.

Why are the PC management’s actions illegal?

Pakistan’s labor law says that while negotiations about union demands are ongoing, the employer is NOT allowed to transfer or fire workers. All four workers are activists of a legally recognized union, the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Union. The PC has chosen not to recognize the union and refuses to bargain or come to the negotiating table.

What evidence is there that the PC is violating workers’ rights and union-busting?

PC’s anti-union rampages have even been the subject of an investigation by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO). The investigation concluded that “grave violations of union rights had been committed by the hotel management and local authorities.” ILO requested the government to fully investigate the detention and take other actions. The NGO, PILER, the International Food Union and the Labor Party of Pakistan (LPP) have all supported the workers.

The current Human Resources Director at the PC is a retired Major Zia Jan who came to the PC after busting a union at the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC). Major Zia recently told the striking workers that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for fighting the PC.

Who are the PC-Four?

Mohammad Noor, President of the PC Hotel Workers Union
Job at PC: Storekeeper since 1987
He has a family with 4 children to support.

Shah Nawaz, Vice President of the PC Hotel Workers Union
Job at PC: Houseman for 20 + years
He has a family with 5 children to support.

Rao Mohammad Ashfaq, union activist of the PC Hotel Workers Union
Job at PC: Store cleaner for 21  years
He has a family with 4 children to support.

Ubaid ur-Rehman, union activist of the PC Hotel Workers Union
Job at PC: Waiter for 20 years
He has a family with 3 children to support.

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Food for Thought

organic-farmingI’ve asked S. to write a blog about the politics of food in Pakistan as he’s starting an organic farm here. But, while we wait for that, I thought I’d share photos of the greenhouse he’s set up here to test organic seeds. So here it is:

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Field Notes: Fashionistas and Fanatics

saree_608Speaking of fashion shows, I got a call to cover the week long Pakistan fashion week that happened in Karachi last week for a European channel. While I didn’t write the pitch, I understood what it was. It began with “Under the shadow of the Taliban…” You get the point.

I took the assignment because I’m a broke freelancer trying to get started, and if nothing else, it makes for some field notes. I’m interested in the process of “professionalization” in the MSM and what that extracts. The question is this: Given the framing, how far can one go in reworking a story? It’s the master’s house and master’s tools question, the tension between individual agency and the discursive networks in which we become subjects and enact ourselves.

Here’s a bit of what I wrote in a prior blogpost, funnily enough, before I knew that I would be covering a fashion show shortly:

So, for example with Pakistan, the story is quite simply, the Taliban. Now, the stories around that can be of basically two types: 1) follow the narrative straight. These are stories about the latest statements, advances, losses, and crisis instigated by the Taliban and the Army or government’s response to them, or the US aiding monetarily or militarily that fight -or- 2) seemingly disrupt the narrative. These are the stories that are about a brewery in Murree or a high-end fashion show in Lahore, or a sex toys factory in Karachi. The implicit story arc is: Yes, Pakistan has the Taliban and they’re all Muslim, but look, they’ve got fashion and sex and alcohol too! The story works by  juxtaposing the broader ‘truth’ of what is Pakistan with local exceptions (alcohol, fashion, sex). But, at heart, it’s a reinforcing maneouvre because really, they’re only newsworthy precisely because they function as exceptions to the larger rule, Taliban.

This story finally didn’t run. They wanted a “conservative” criticizing the event and well, the ubiquity of the story made it unnecessary for them to run it. But, as you can see in the video below, the framing is the key issue, and once the frame is the Taliban, there’s little room for maneouvring. The script you see here is the result of an initial script I wrote, that was re-written (not by me), and which I in turn, changed in places during the final voiceover.


EuroNews (video)

Pakistan’s Fashionistas Defy Taliban AP

KARACHI, Pakistan — Some women strode the catwalk in vicious spiked bracelets and body armor. Others had their heads covered, burqa-style, but with shoulders — and tattoos — exposed. Male models wore long, Islamic robes as well as shorts and sequined T-shirts.

As surging militant violence grabs headlines around the world, Pakistan’s top designers and models are taking part in the country’s first-ever fashion week. While the mix of couture and high-street fashions would not have been out of place in Milan or New York, many designers reflected the turmoil, contradictions and tensions coursing through the society.

Islamic robes? really? Oh wait, I get it. It’s an Islamic country (duh) and they’re wearing robe like things. Islamic + robe = Islamic robes! TaDA! The MSM is as sharp as ever.

AP is a newswire service, so this story is not a singular event. It was multiplied and amplified many times over. Some examples include: NYT, CBS, Boston.com, NPR, Forbes, and The Guardian. As an unscientific measure, there are 59,900 web hits for “Pakistan’s Fashionistas Defy Taliban,” the headline for the AP story, a veritable echo chamber reverberating with a singular message. Undoubtedly, not all of them are AP’s story,  but even if one accounts for that by taking out a few thousand, that still leaves the mass of repetitions. As Goebbels said, “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is born in mind constantly: it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”

But there is no singular propagandist here. It occurs on a technical plane. As Adorno and Horkheimer argued,

Interested parties like to explain the culture industry in technological terms. Its millions of participants, they argue, demand reproduction processes which inevitably lead to the use of standard products to meet the same needs at countless locations….In reality, a cycle of manipulation and retroactive need is unifying the system ever more tightly. What is not mentioned is that the basis on which technology is gaining power over society is the power of those whose economic position in society is strongest. Technical rationality today is the rationality of domination. (emphasis added)

The headline also topped stories written by others:

Pakistan’s Fashionistas Defy TalibanTelegraph (UK)

Bare shoulders, backless gowns and pouting models are wowing Pakistan’s glitterati as Karachi fashion week shows the world a different side of the Taliban-troubled nation.

While women in much of Muslim, conservative Pakistan opt for headscarves over baggy shalwar khamis or even burkas, on the catwalks of financial capital Karachi, designers are exposing midriffs and flashing cleavage.

‘Fashion Week’ First for PakistanBBC

Pakistan is hosting its first ever fashion week in the city of Karachi against a backdrop of heavy security.

Around 30 Pakistani designers are taking part in the event which ends on Saturday.

The shows are taking place in the luxury Marriott hotel. Last year, the hotel’s branch in the capital Islamabad was devastated by a massive truck bomb.

Of course the truck bomb at the Marriott happened neither in Karachi -if we are going to be so concerned about being there and experience- nor did it have anything to do with a fashion show. But, kudos still to Elettra Neysmith of the BBC. It takes a full five paragraphs before we get to the obligatory ‘Pakistan is conservative’ line, and even here, the article attempts to dispel the idea that all of Pakistan is wearing a burqa:

While women in much of Muslim, conservative Pakistan wear headscarves and baggy shalwar-kameez (pyjama and long tunic), in the financial hub of Karachi, jeans and T-shirts are more likely to be seen.

Five Days of Fashion Show the Flip Side of Coin that is PakistanDaily Times (Lahore-based daily)

In a country fighting a bloody war against itself, Pakistan organised its first fashion week, with an elite segment of society scoring a “victory of sorts” – as CNN described it – to assert itself to Pakistan and the world in bold colours and striking poses. The international network’s description of the five-day celebrations of style sums up the organisers’ aim magnificently: “A model strikes a pose, shows a side of Pakistan the world rarely sees… with some of the attitude you may expect from the world of high fashion.”

The entire story is CNN’s video script for the fashion show. Note the circulation here: an international media outlet, CNN, reports the story which then gets mirrored back for local consumption in a national daily. We see ourselves as others see us?

A critique on Counterpunch: Moderns, Models and Martyrs.

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