WASHINGTON DIARY: Conference, conference everywhere -Dr Manzur Ejaz
Daily Times, July 4, 2007
If these gatherings of Sindhi expatriates and the usually pro-establishment health professionals of APPNA are any indication, the Musharraf government has lost the goodwill it had among the immigrant Pakistani community in North America
Speaking at the annual conference of the Sindhi Association of North America (SANA), in Orlando, Florida, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, President of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), left his audience in no doubt that his party was suspicious of the ongoing mass movement for an independent judiciary.
However, Bushra Aitzaz Ahsan, representing her husband and not the PPP, was highly praised for her powerful and forthright anti-establishment speech at SANA and a day before at Association of Pakistani Physicians for Democracy and Justice (APPJD). Ahsan Iqbal, leader of PML (N), almost stole the show at both fora.
If these gatherings of Sindhi expatriates and the usually pro-establishment health professionals of APPNA are any indication, the Musharraf government has lost the goodwill it had among the immigrant Pakistani community in North America.
Though SANA’s members, successful professionals and business people, were proud to have Makhdoom Amin Fahim at their gathering, they were greatly disappointed by his speech. He was confronted by Najma Memon, the daughter of Fateh Memon, who was forced to abandon candidacy of Larkana election when he asserted that Zulifqar Ali Bhutto was very upset at being elected unopposed in the 1977 election. She claimed that there is undeniable proof that ZA Bhutto coerced her father to leave the race and go to Saudi Arabia as Ambassador of Pakistan. The audience was also very upset at Makhdoom Fahim’s acknowledgment that he tried to intervene for one of his relatives to get him elected unopposed.
Most of all, his remark that the PPP wants the military rule to end but not at the price of creating conditions in the street that may invite another martial-law, was unsettling for many in the audience. It left them perplexed. But the politically savvy got a confirmation that PPP leadership is not only looking for a deal but is also suspicious of the movement led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his lead attorney, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan. It was reported in this column a few weeks back that the PPP Chairperson, Benazir Bhutto, believes that the anti-establishment movement of the last few months is a conspiracy against her and Musharraf.
Ahsan Iqbal, representing PML (N) at this conference, rebutted Makhdoom Fahim immediately when he said that the mass movement was an exemplary model of non-violent movements because “not a single light bulb has been broken” despite mammoth gatherings. He convincingly argued that pro-military claims have no merit when they blame the politicians for inviting intervention or political instability forcing the armed services to take over.
Furthermore, if the military has intervened on the invitation of the politicians, it should leave now because there is a consensus among the political parties to send it back to the barracks. He also rejected the Musharraf government’s claims of economic progress. In his view, if injection of 65 billion dollars into the economy during the post 9/11 period is discounted, the present government’s performance is far worse than the heavily sanctioned civilian governments preceding military rule.
Bushra Aitzaz Ahsan’s extempore speech at SANA was so moving and timely that some Sindhi expatriates from the audience remarked that “she is much better than Benazir Bhutto”. Bushra Aitzaz Ahsan, who read her husband’s paper at the APPJD conference a day earlier, came out as a clear -headed forthright leader because she did not try to portray the Chief Justice as an angel. On the contrary, she faulted the Chief Justice for remaining part of the establishment and frequently visiting it. However, she praised him for standing up to Gen Musharraf and fighting back. Her speech and tenor prompted some political observers to say “here is another candidate for the next elections”.
Like its past conferences, SANA’s conference this year was very successful. There were several seminars, workshops and forum discussions. Engr Naseer Memon and Zulifqar Halepoto and Mohammad Khan Sial presented Sindh’s water problem with convincing facts and figures. They claimed that Sindhis were never consulted when Pakistan signed the Indus Basin Treaty with India, and they showed that Sindh is facing an ecological disaster at the present time.
SANA’s conference not only highlighted the problems Sindh is facing but also presented other serious issues confronting Pakistan and the rest of the world. SANA’s president, Aziz Narejo, presented a forward-looking agenda in his speech. Noticeably, by inviting Dr Russell Means, a prominent American-Indian leader and Hollywood actor, SANA reaffirmed Sindhis’ commitment to the land’s ancient history and its solidarity with other indigenous people all around the world.
A few miles away from SANA’s conference, the Association of Pakistani Physicians in North America (APPNA) was holding its annual gathering at the mammoth Rosen Single Creek Resort. According to estimates, about two and a half thousand hotel rooms were booked by APPNA members, who had travelled from every corner of the US. It is the largest gathering of Pakistani Americans, where thousands of physicians undertake all sorts of activities, from arranging marriages to political fora. This year was no different.
However, APPJD emerged as a new political entity with a reform agenda in Pakistan. They invited speakers from all political parties and some commentators like myself and Hasan Abbas, author of Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America, to speak on “Justice and Democracy in Pakistan”. Interestingly, PPP was not represented by anyone because Makhdoom Fahim decided not to participate despite the fact that he was in the US. The event was very well attended and leaders of political parties used the occasion to further their party’s agenda.
While Ahsan Iqbal and Ali Zaidi of Pakistan Tahreek-i-Insaf argued for the restoration of genuine democracy, Dr Maqbool Siddiqi of MQM successfully deflected the audience’s attention from 12th May incident by highlighting the role of feudalism in Pakistan. However, when he remarked that Karachi was the 10th cleanest city in the world, he was simply laughed out by the audience. The forum concluded with resolutions for the end of military rule, independence of judiciary and media and a demand for inquiry into May 12 incidents in Karachi.
APPJD forum was an indicator that a pro-active segment of progressive-minded Pakistani-American physicians like Dr M Taqi, Dr Naveed Iqbal and Dr Shahid Latif are trying to change the direction of APPNA. A similar trend was observed in Dow Graduate Association of North America (DOGANA), where a progressive panel of candidates defeated the Islamists whose allegiance was allegedly with the Jamaat-i-Islami and other religious parties. The victory of a leading progressive activist, Dr Zafar Iqbal, showed that the DOGANA is going to take human rights and restoration of democracy in Pakistan more seriously.
The case of Dr Safar Sarki, a Pakistani American who has disappeared in Pakistan, was taken up at SANA’s conference and at various fora of APPNA, including APPJD. His wife pleaded with the physicians and Sindhi expatriates to force the Musharraf government to free him.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org