A Passion for Pashtuns: My Life in Pakistan
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There was truth here and there. But he never really addressed the fact that the suspects belong to the MQM or that the witnesses who accused the MQM have been murdered. Subzwari had his eye on his watch. The British high commissioner was on his way. The MQM has brilliantly and effectively courted the West. The Americans want violent Islam to be taken out by violent secularists and if human rights are violated, so what. If a commonwealth country calls them a terrorist organization, why does Britain differ?
In any riots the British organizations, whether BP or others, will not be affected. When I mentioned that Pakistanis believe the British have a sort of pact with the MQM, that they have given protection to men accused of running a militia in Karachi, embassy spokesman Jonathan Williams said the British engage with the MQM because it is a democratically elected party. Today the MQM is on the demographic defensive , and that is in part why the last few years have been filled with violence. According to a government census, Muhajirs made up 48 percent of the population of Karachi while Pashtuns constituted about 11 percent.
Since the earthquake in and the continuing Pakistani army operations in the tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pashtuns have migrated in huge numbers to Karachi and shifted the balance. Estimates say the Pashtuns now make up more than 20 percent of the population. The hundreds of killings recorded each year in Karachi are not random. The ANP was founded in on the nonviolent principles of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Pashtun leader who lived from to and led a movement against the British and then the Pakistani government. The factionalization, splinter groups, and temporary alliances are mind-boggling and have turned parts of Karachi into bloody ganglands.
According to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, people were victims of targeted killings in just the first half of If word goes down to workers that journalists can be targeted, anyone can shoot. Sometimes the cable wars look like kids fighting over a toy in a playground. But there was a cricket final between Bangladesh and Pakistan, and Geo went with the program that would bring in more viewers: cricket.
The next day, threats rained on Geo TV. Everyone goes to and from neighborhoods, and no one wants to become a Wali Khan Babar. But in this city, these things happen. ANP officials did not respond to requests for comment. If you kill your rivals in an ethnically diverse neighborhood, they leave, you win the elections, and you reap more extortion money.
And this, one managing editor speculated, may have been what killed Wali Khan Babar. That could be enough. The government has not only been beholden to coalition partners, it has counted on them to carry out its dirty tricks. Michael Mullen, chairman of the U. The army assumed Zardari was behind it. A senator close to the president started getting friendly with me, inviting me to places outside the city. My kids were studying in Lahore, and there was suspicious stuff going on.
The traditional harassment of journalists by government institutions has evolved into something more personal, Malick said. Your only recourse is court, and courts are defiant. The media is way more powerful. Even before the May murder of Asia Times Online reporter Saleem Shahzad —a landmark killing widely believed to be the work of ISI agents—it was apparent that investigative journalism in Pakistan had become a game of Russian roulette.
Today there are some 90 TV stations and more than radio stations. No one is big enough to not be knocked off. Journalists for a time banded together, demanding government action. But once a case goes to court, the family is usually the one left to pursue it. As the journalist Najam Sethi explained, police have no forensic expertise and are under no internal pressure to pursue such cases.
To date, the journalists union has not taken it upon itself to be the plaintiff in court on behalf of a fellow journalist. I asked the journalists at the Karachi Press Club about the Babar investigation. They smiled and shifted in their chairs. And actually the judge and prosecutor are under threat, and the previous prosecutors fled to the U.
I eventually tracked down those two prosecutors in Texas, where they were keeping such a low profile that they barely had access to the Internet. They fled Karachi in December and flew to Houston, where they had friends. The prosecutors panicked, convinced the lawyer was after them, and called a distant friend in a small town. The prosecutors had worked very closely with the press in Karachi. This was, after all, the new civilian-led Pakistan and there was faith in the idea of transparency.
Their experience in Karachi explains much of how justice works in Pakistan, and what must be done to chip away at impunity. Here is their story. Born and raised in Sindh in the s, Buriro and fellow prosecutor Mobashir Mirza joined the PPP student wing at university during the turbulent anti-Zia days and never left the party. They worked in pitiful offices with no copy machines, no computers, no phones, not even light bulbs, and certainly no protection.
In they brought Time magazine to their rundown offices and explained that the government was obviously more interested in fighting terrorism through military means—and often through extrajudicial killings—than through the courts. Nevertheless, they managed to prosecute many cases and, perhaps as important, to cultivate a transparent relationship with the Karachi press corps.
The prosecutors were put to the test in with the highly publicized murder trial of six members of the Pakistan Rangers, a paramilitary security force overseen by the Interior Ministry. On June 8, , just a month after the U. The video shows a civilian dragging Shah in front of the Rangers who then shoot him. It shows them all standing around as Shah begs for help, bleeding into unconsciousness. Shah later died of his wounds. The video was broadcast on Pakistani television stations and went viral, causing an outcry throughout Pakistan. He called the director general of the Rangers and the inspector general of police and removed them from their posts.
Interior Minister Malik, whose ministry oversaw the Rangers, issued a quick statement defending the men and saying that the young Shah had been armed with a pistol and was caught trying to rob someone. The case nevertheless was transferred from the High Court to the anti-terrorism court, and the prosecutor general assigned it to Buriro and Mirza. By then the Karachi press corps had taken to the streets to demand justice because Shah was the brother of a colleague, Samaa TV crime reporter Syed Salik Shah.
He was now under threat and being pressured to pronounce his video a fake. Forced to leave Awaz, he went into hiding, moving from one house to the next. At that moment, Imtiaz Faran, the president of the Karachi Press Club, invited the two prosecutors to discuss the case. All these parks have a certain area where you park your car. His brother, Syed Sarfaraz Shah, happened to go to the park in the evening when an agent of the Rangers was collecting these illegal parking fees. When Shah interfered with the agent—asking him, why are you taking illegal fees?
The Rangers shot Shah without warning, Buriro said, and to cover their tracks filed what is known as a First Information Report. A Joint Investigation Team, composed of civilian and military intelligence bodies, concluded in its report that the Rangers were innocent, that Shah was a thief, and that the case should be referred back to the regular courts. I am not your subordinate.
This report has been made to save the Rangers in this case.
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You are going against the government and the agencies so be careful or you will face dire consequences in future. Buriro decided just to do his job. He examined 20 witnesses including Soomro, who had filmed the murder. Buriro produced the video in open court. The prosecutors withstood anonymous phone threats; they turned down bribes to let the case return to the regular courts, where it would fade away. The security apparatus was especially furious that uniformed men were being tried in the anti-terrorism court.
The prosecutors were excoriated for not damaging evidence in the case as instructed.
The year was a bad one for military officials. It was too much in the wake of Abbottabad to have uniformed officers on trial before civilian prosecutors affiliated with the PPP. It was a matter of ghairat —honor. The judge sentenced one Ranger to death, and the others, including the civilian who had dragged Shah before the Rangers, to life in prison.
But then we have the pushback that comes from the army and establishment. They managed to prosecute the Rangers. The trial concluded on August 12, The defense appealed. The experience of Buriro and Mirza was no exception. What type of training? Why did we give a briefing on the Rangers case in America? Why were you invited? Buriro and Mirza were trouble for the army and the intelligence.
They understood the relationship between the jihadis and the agencies, and they knew how uninterested the establishment was in prosecuting terrorists.
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Every week, the prosecutors would get a visit from ISI and military intelligence officers to discuss the terrorism cases, to find out how many were being tried, how many pending. He is working for Islam. Why are you working against him? They should withdraw it. The MQM behaves with a little more subtlety but not much. As soon as Buriro inherited the case, he began getting anonymous threatening phone calls. Still, he studied the case thoroughly. If an offender or defendant gives a statement before the police in an interrogation, that statement is not admissible before the court of law.
It has to be before a judicial magistrate. The police had violated and damaged the entire case. The police officers are afraid. Those who took park in the crackdown against the MQM in the s have almost all been murdered in retaliation. The message inevitably trickles down to the entire police body. On one hand are practical problems such as inadequate criminal justice training, insufficient funding for forensics, deficient security. And then there are the power politics: The civilian government gets its arm twisted by the groups with which it has formed alliances, like the religious parties, which back the jihadis, or the MQM, which has its own militant wing.
According to the anti-terrorism court, if any [officer] is conducting defective investigations, he is liable to be convicted by the court. The judges and prosecutors understand that everything going on in the courts is reported to the MQM. The institutional protection for the MQM goes right to the top. MQM has the whole police in their hands.
They have a kind of power to instill fear.
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Which may be one of the many reasons Buriro and Mirza were fired just a few weeks after their return from the United States. It is better for you. The prosecutors kept looking to the judicial system for protection, but it was in vain. As the two prepared to file an appeal with the bar association, their superiors told them to drop the matter. With little left to lose, Buriro, Mirza, and colleagues called a news conference.
It's strange that today, when we think of polo, we may picture Princes William and Harry, or possibly Zara Phillips. Super-elegant model Jodie Kidd may spring to mind, being the daughter of a famed former show-jumper, Johnny Kidd. It's all very English and upper class, with ties to the English aristocracy, but that's not how it all started, and not what sparked my polo passion. Polo actually originated far beyond the green hills of Surrey and Sussex in Persia -- now modern day Iran -- where it was played by nomadic warriors.
In fact the game is so old it predates recorded history -- the first games in recorded history date from BC. The modern version we'd recognize in the west has its roots in northern India. This is where my love of polo really begins: with its rich, colorful and above all, long, history.
I've always been fascinated with polo because of my Pashtun heritage. My ancestors were part of the Pashtun Lodhi dynasty which ruled India before the Mughuls. The Pashtun people -- an ancient ethnic group with roots in Pakistan and Afghanistan -- were known for being lovers of poetry, music and of course, sport. They inherited polo from the Mongolians in the 13th century.
Some Pashtuns would play a somewhat unusual game called buzkashi -- literally "goat-dragging" in Persian. It wasn't a team sport, more an "every-man-for-himself" pursuit where men mounted on horseback dragged a headless goat or calf carcass behind them towards a goal. Far less disciplined than polo, it nevertheless paved the way for the game to take root. And it could be vicious. When it had grown into a fully-fledged "sport of kings" among the Lodhis, polo was still known to be a brutal pastime. History tells of one match watched by the great Lodhi King Sikander, who stormed off back to his palace in disgust when two players took to clubbing each other round the head with their "mallets" instead of the ball.
Modern day Pakistan is the epicenter of "high" polo -- literally.
The Shandur Polo Festival has been held annually on the Shandur Top -- the highest polo ground in the world standing tall at 3, meters. Located in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan's mountainous northern territories, with its flat top, Shandur is sometimes known as the "Roof of the World". It was first chosen as the location for this hotly-anticipated sporting event because it was thought to represent a ridge between heaven and hell. At the heart of polo is its unlikely pairings; first and foremost being the linking together of human and horse, working in harmony.
By all accounts the early versions of polo could be chaotic, using small ponies who trotted around rather freely. As the game evolved, it became slick and tight-knit, with the player being able to work in tandem with their horse in a relationship that relies as much on intuition as it does on formal training and signals between player and horse.
I've been a keen horsewoman since childhood -- getting up at dawn and trudging through mud in my early formative years to care for the horses I rode. And I've handed my equestrian obsession down to my year-old daughter, who's also hopefully inherited some of that warrior spirit. She plays polo at Cowdray Park Polo Academy and she's fast and fearless, quickly learning how to master that unique relationship between human and horse that has been honed over centuries of play, from Persia via Pakistan to the west.