BY | January 16, 2012

By Pradipta Tapadar

Kolkata: Pakistani social activist Salima Hashmi, the daughter of renowned Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, feels civil society in her country is under pressure and extremely vulnerable, with extremism and fundamentalism on the rise, while tension continues between the civilian government and the military.

“Civil society in Pakistan is under pressure today. Civil society is vulnerable in Pakistan as they are under pressure from extremists. People are vulnerable. The whole of this region is in great turmoil,” Hashmi told IANS in an interview. She was in the city to participate in Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2012.

Pakistan has been plagued by home-grown fundamentalism from a section of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Civil society groups have time and again been the target of attack for voicing concern over the growing extremism and intolerance.

Hashmi, who herself lost cousin Salmaan Taseer, governor of the Punjab province, to the bullets of an assassin after he spoke out against the country’s blasphemy laws, feels the biggest challenge before civil society in Pakistan is to form networks with like-minded people, both in the country and in the region.

“We need friends. We need to build networks with similar minded people, both in the country and in the region. We don’t want any more war rhetoric from our friends,” said the multifaceted woman – an acclaimed painter, artist, writer, anti-nuclear weapon activist and a professor who served for four years as head of the National College of Arts.

Asked about the increase of fundamentalism and influence of the Taliban in Pakistani society, Hashmi said: “It’s going to be a long drawn struggle. People understand what extremism means. And because of the killings that have been inflicted on the common people they don’t have any friends any more.”

Hashmi, during her childhood, had witnessed the wrath of army on civil society when her father was imprisoned for his political views and had to go into self-exile during the military regime of Zia-ul Haq.

Tha activist, who has been at the forefront of opposing military regimes – both in 1980s during the rule of General Zia and in the beginning of the 21st century during the reign of Pervez Musharraf, says the return to a civilian government was the result of a huge struggle of the common masses of Pakistan. However, she declined to speak much on the issue.

“I won’t like to comment on the issue sitting on this side of the border. For any country like Pakistan which had many years of military dictatorship, the return to the civilian government was a huge struggle because you were trying to reverse history,” said Hashmi, who was imprisoned during Musharraf’s rule.

Her remarks come against the backdrop of tension after Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani accused army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha of violating the constitution, by directly communicating with the Supreme Court on the memo scandal.

The issue of the memo — allegedly from the Pakistani government seeking US assistance to stop a possible military coup following the killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden last year — is being investigated by a three-member court-appointed panel.

On the future of India-Pakistan relations which have been marked by an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion since independence, Hashmi told IANS: “It is not possible for either country to develop unless they come to terms with the fact that they are Siamese twins. We need visionaries who understand that this fight is all about nothing.”

The activist, who has been a vehement critic of nuclear tests in both Pakistan and India, says artists on both sides of the border are the only hope in mending the bridges by winning the hearts of the masses. (IANS)

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