Sunday, November 7, 2010

Michelle Obama Dances in India

A Pakistani film hotbed threatened by fundamentalism

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

The ancient city of Peshawar in Pakistan’s northwest has long been a cultural crossroads. In the last few decades, it also become a centre for popular Pashto cinema. These are ultra-low-budget movies made by locals for locals, revenge stories filled with blazing guns, broad slapstick and Bollywood-style dance numbers, are financed and sold by local shop-owners. In other words, they’re not coming soon to multiplex near you.

In the highly entertaining, intimate and eye-opening The Miscreants of Taliwood, George Gittoes – a respected Australian war artist who has worked in many of the world’s hot zones – takes us deep into this filmmaking frontier. The final film in a documentary trilogy exploring popular culture in the context of war, Miscreants contrasts Pashto movies and their makers with the complex social and political struggles in a region few Westerners know beyond the nightly news.

The film was well received at last year’s Telluride festival, and it receives its Canadian premiere this weekend at Toronto’s International Diaspora Film Festival, which presents a slate of mostly foreign movies focusing on outsider stories.

Miscreants opens with the homegrown movie industry on the brink of being shut down by the ruling MMA Islamic fundamentalist coalition, which has been burning DVDs and systematically shutting down shops that sell DVDs (often with bombs) over several years. “The culture will come to a standstill,” says one eloquent shopkeeper. “The people will lose entertainment.” All that may be left to watch, people worry, are videos made by the Taliban of increasingly horrific executions.

Gittoes’ investigations land him on the front lines – including at the Red Mosque siege in Islamabad in 2007. And he later played a variety of Western characters in Pashto movies and even made one himself. An act of personal activism, the film was made in the local style and became a best-seller, all proceeds going to the players.

In addition to asides about male sexual behaviour, the status of women and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Gittoes interviews Peshawar University professors and even, in one edgy scene, an MMA leader. But the most memorable characters are the film folk, in particular Javed Musazai, a tall, burly fellow who supports an large extended family through his acting.

A sprawling, personal performance-art essay, Miscreants of Taliwood makes a convincing case for popular entertainment as a basic human right.

Michelle Obama & Kids Dance To Bollywood Hits

Obama says Progress by Pakistan in tackling terror not quick as we like.

US President Barack Obama on Sunday said the progress by Pakistan in fighting terrorism is not quick as "we would like" and asserted that they were working with Islamabad to eradicate extremism which is a "cancer".

Noting that there are going to be some elements in Pakistan that are affiliated with Taliban, al-Qaida and LeT, he said they are "irreconcilable" and there needs to be a military response to those who perpetrate violence like they did in Mumbai and New York in a "significant, ongoing" way.

Obama also observed that it would surprise Indians when he says this that it is in India's interest that Pakistan remains "peaceful, stable and prosperous" and that the US will work with Islamabad to reject extremism which is a "cancer" which threatens to engulf it.

Interacting with students of St Xaviers College in a typical US town-hall style meeting, he expressed confidence that in time, trust develops between India and Pakistan and dialogue begins perhaps from "less controversial issues building upto more controversial issues".

"India and Pakistan can prosper and live side by side, this will not happen tomorrow but needs to be the ultimate goal. The US can be a partner but cannot impose this process. India and Pakistan have their own understanding," he said.

He made these comments when a girl student asked why Pakistan was not being declared a terrorist state by the US.

Obama reacted that it was a good question and said "I must admit that I was expecting it".

Read more: Progress by Pakistan in tackling terror not quick as we like: Obama - The Times of India

Mosques stained red with blood


Terror always seems to be lurking in every nook and corner for the people of Pakistan. Friday, one of Islam’s holy days, has been stained red with blood too many times and the massacre in Darra Adam Khel is no exception. With 67 dead — mercilessly including 11 children — and more than 100 worshippers injured, the suicide attack in Waali Mosque is one of the deadliest this year. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have denied responsibility for the attack, citing it as one carried out by “foreign hands”. Quite a ridiculous claim considering that the TTP’s modus operandi has been to target the masses when they are at their most vulnerable; holy places, whether mosques, shrines or Ahmedi places of worship have been favoured targets for their blood sport. Denying responsibility due to the political fallout of such incidents by no means means that the militants have turned over a new leaf. The fact that the mosque was a regular meeting place for leaders belonging to an anti-Taliban lashkar — none of whom are reported as being amongst the dead — shows the motive that the TTP would have: trying to silence opposing voices.

Darra Adam Khel was not enough for the militants. Another mosque in the Badaber area of Peshawar was attacked with hand grenades tossed inside the mosque’s compound. Four fatalities, some 24 injured. With a slight lull in the terror storm, Pakistan was beginning to harbour illusions that the militants had been restrained. However, this seems more like a deliberate pause on the terrorist’s part as the attack at Darra Adam Khel has seen them come out once again in full force. Also, we should not assume that the militants are confined to carrying out their activities in just FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — where a cluster of attacks have taken place — as terror cells have been shown to exist throughout the country. More vigilance is needed and more resources need to be given to those who are entrusted with law enforcement in areas sensitive to terror attacks. Local police and security apparatus need to be on even higher alert, especially when gatherings in places of worship convene. It is imperative to pre-empt such attacks before they happen and that is why our intelligence agencies need to step up. Otherwise, once a suicide bomber is deployed, he is almost unstoppable.

The militants have been on the receiving end of a pounding by army offensives and massive US aerial drone strikes, of late concentrated in North Waziristan (NW). A recent report by the Wall Street Journal indicates that these strikes are forcing the insurgents to find sanctuaries elsewhere, particularly in Kurram and Orakzai Agency, where they are said to be regrouping. Another view also exists, one that claims the militants are being allowed to leave, rather than being forced. With the army’s policy of saving the Afghan Taliban for a rainy day, it is said that the militants are being given safe passage to leave NW and relocate before a full-scale operation is launched. If this is true, the military should not be surprised if terror attacks continue. *

Obama announces $10bn worth Indo-US deals