|A. Press conference at National Press Center (NPC)
The National Press Center, is a venue of many important international conferences held in Washington DC. Today it had an unusually large number of people with South Asian features. The visitors who arrived this morning at NPC, appeared to be quite intrigued with some folks wearing Sindhi topis and shalwar Kamiz> This was a scene quite uncommon in the history of NPC. The press conference hall was full with many standing at the back and outside in the hall area.
Mr. ZAHID MAKHDOOM from WSI, introduced the three representatives of each organization and Dr. Irye Gorfeke, who is President off the “Doctors Against Torture". Mr. Makhdoom began his briefing about on what Sindh and Sindhis were facing at the hands of non-representative and dictatorial regime in Pakistan. In particular, he elaborated on the dreadful project called the Greater Thal Canal (GTC) and what it is going do to Sindh. He urged the USA Government and American people to bring about pressure on Musharraf to stop Thal canal and divert excessive amount of resources (that are currently being spent on the military and to sustain the nuclear program) to education, health and welfare of the people of Pakistan. He added that the General and his military should return to their barracks. He characterized the present regime as running a country where there is no law and the fairness is in the short supply. A regime that has created an abundance of poverty and exploitation. While talking about the water rights of lower riparian area in Sindh, he mentioned an incident from his visit to a mountainous region in Indonesia. This is an area where agriculture land is organized in multiple upper and lower tracks. He asked a farmer, "how do you distribute your water?". He was told that the rights of the family that owns the lowest track hold the most weight and that determines how much water is distributed. But, in Pakistan, the upper riparian interests (because they control the military power) make all decisions. Concerning water distribution. He added that diversion of water amounts to a crime against humanity because the welfare of the whole province was being scarified because of the benefit to a few hundred mostly military officers, who hold lands in the GTC area. He appealed to the media to publicize the plight of Sindh and Sindhis.
DR. INYE GORFEKE from “Doctors Against Torture” organization– In 1989, she visited Pakistan ito investigate the cases of official torture in Pakistan. She said the security forces in Pakistan and other such countries predominantly torture two groups of people. The first group generally consists of people who struggle for democratic, economic and cultural rights and the other group is that of criminals, who are subjected to torture to extract confessions. While talking about her organization, she said that they had more than 250 rehabilitation centers world-wide and about 33 of these centers are located in the USA. Providing figures on the prevalence of torture, she said, there are 3 billion people in the countries, where torture is practiced at the government level. Commenting on the Pakistan situation, she said that according to the recent US State department, three forms of torture are currently common in Pakistan. These are “beatings”, “electric shock”, and “denying food and drink” to the victinms. He urged the people of Pakistan to provide help to heal the mental and physical abuses of these torture victims in their communities.
DR. SAGHIR SHAIKH from WSC condemned General Musharraf and his dictatorialregime and past rulers for their help in increasing the domination of Sindhis by other ethnic groups. He stated that economic conditions in Sindh, particularly, in rural areas, are fast going from bad to worse. He said official economic apartheid is largely responsible for the immense increase in poverty levels in Sindh and Balochistan. He cited a study done by the Asian Development Bank, that shows that poverty in Sindh and Baluchistan is around 54 %, which is almost twice as much as in Punjab and in North West Frontier provinces. He said people of Sindh are shocked that the 600-million GTC project will only bring benefit to 1.53 million acres of area but destroy the livelihood of millions of the people in Sindh. He added that callous nature of the government is quite evident as the General Musharraf inaugurated the project without consultation with the people and representatives of the Sindh province. In spite of the fact that three Provincial assemblies have passed unanimous resolutions in their Parliaments and the large demonstrations that are currently underway in the towns and villages of Sindh, the government of Pakistan is determined to carryout this project of economic apartheid. He appealed to the American government and media to conduct their own investigations as there was no doubt in his mind that the Indus Water system can no longer sustain any new major project such as GTC without causing immense damage to Sindh and it’s people.
AZIZ NAREJO from SANA started his briefing that the people of Sindh and Pakistan have suffered a lot under various military regimes. He added that the present one is more torturous as it seems has the support of the American and other Western governments. He briefly went over the history of the military regimes in Pakistan and how “totalitarian” and “unitary” systems imposed by the military have destroyed the democratic and judicial institutions in Pakistan. He was very critical of the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence” (ISI) agency. He added that it does not answer to any civilian authority and has been instrumental in carrying out the plots to harm the interests of smaller provinces of Pakistan. The ISI agency engages in proxy wars. He added that some reports in the western media have concluded that the terrorist attack of 9/11 may have been a manifestation of such proxy wars. The agency has now positioned them in way that allows them to blackmail America and secure their support for dreadful conspiracies against smaller provinces.Touching on the subject of press restrictions in Pakistan. He cited many recent cases of brutality by the Pakistan government against the Pakistani press and media that have resulted in the firing, resignation and departure many leading journalists.
He added that according to Pakistan constitution, by overthrowing the democratically elected government, General Musharraf and other his crony generals have committed a crime of high treason. He continued that his regime has created divisions among the provinces and is unwittingly laying the foundation for the disintegration of Pakistan. “How can such a government be a friend of the people of Pakistan and the USA?” he asked. He concluded his presentation with a remark that people of Sindh and the rest of Pakistan do not want a big military force, they don’t want nuclear bombs, and they don’t want the military rule.
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION: A 30-minute Q&A session followed the briefings by the four representatives. The questions by media and other attendees touched upon on many aspects of the issues faced by Sindhis and the root causes for such problems.
The following are some of the key points made at this session:
- The hegemony of military in Pakistan is the root cause of many of the problems faced by Pakistan in general and Sindhis in particular.
- A loose co-federation of the Pakistani provinces offers the best alternative for restoring peace, justice, and fairness in Pakistan.
- The three Sindhi organizations (SANA, WSC, and WSI) must expand their cooperation further and must continue to to joint sponsorship of other events after the great of success of today's event.
- Sindhis must not under-estimate the power of torture that would be leashed against them as they come out in streets to protest the economic apartheid policies.
- The US government holds a lot of clout and influence over the Pakistan government. The US Government must use this power to pursue the Pakistani government to end the economic apartheid and restore full democracy.
- The World Bank and IMF organizations should include conditions in their loan agreements that require the Pakistan government to shift resources from the wasteful military to the civilian sectors.
- Sindhis should approach private sector in USA and other developed countries to invest in Sindh.
- Re-organization of Pakistani military by reducing its size and making sure that it becomes a representative organization of all provinces. This is essential if Pakistan is become a progressive, secular, and respected country in the world.
B. Protest march and Vigil at the MCPherson square (Washington DC)
Scores of people carrying many placards marched around the square. Here is a sample of the demands and appeals that were written on the placards:
STOP THAL CANAL
SAY NO TO THAL CANAL
WE WILL FIGHT FOR WATER RIGHTS OF SINDH UNTIL DEATH
RESTORE DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN
SEND MUSHARRAF AND HIS MILITARY BACK TO BARRACKS
BUSH, PLEASE ASK MUSHARRAF TO STOP THAL CANAL
After several rounds of walks around the square, the demonstrators gathered around a stage where several speakers denounced the Greater Thal Canal and demanded that the Pakistan government should cancel this project immediately. The session was moderated by KHALID HASHMANI. The speakers urged the American government and the people of Pakistan and USA to press Musharraf to restore democracy, press freedom, and human rights. Here is a brief overview of the speakers and the main points made in their speeches:
SANI PANHWAR: The current President of Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) congratulated the participants on the success of today’s events. He was sure that the Pakistan and US governments will hear our message and hoped that something good will come out of it. He assured that the three Sindhi organizations (SANA, WSC, and WSI) would continue to work together and will not rest until the rights of Sindhis are restored. He said that Sindhis of Los Angles are organizing another protest and vigil on June 27th to drive the point once again that Greater Thal Canal is not acceptable to Sindhis.
REV. CLEVELAND SPARROW, who is a member of DC Mayor’s interfaith council, was happy to have met so many wonderful and peaceful Sindhis. He admired the values of Sindhis that encourage respect, tolerance, and justice for all. He said that the problems of Sindhis were in a way were the same as faced by the citizens of DC. They continue to pay taxes but have no representation in their central decision making institutions. He was confident that soon both the people of DC and Sindh would have a full say in all major decisions that affect their lives.
DR. WALTER LANDRY, who is a Director of “Think-Tank for National Self-determination” (TNS) spoke about the economic, human, political, and cultural rights of indigenous people in various parts of the world. He added the right of self-determination is an inalienable right of all people. He was saddened to know that the great people of Sindh who have always welcome others and shared what ever they had with immigrant communities are now on the verge of loosing of their identity and their water rights. He hoped that sanity would prevail among the Pakistan government officials. He urged President Bush to ask General Musharraf to accept the demands of people of Sindh.
DODO MEHRI, who is a leader of the Sindh National Council (SNC) gave an eloquent speech in Sindhi language. A translator provided translation of his speech in real-time for the benefit of those who did not understand Sindhi. Mr. Mehri traced the history of the water issue between Sindh and Punjab that has originated from the days when the British ruled India. He cited a trail of broken promises and violations that Punjab had committed to misuse the canals that were previously built to only be used in the times of flood. He added that the central government spent millions of dollars that were provided to it in the form of loans and grants by the World Bank and IMF after Pakistan and India signed the Indus Water Treaty in 1960. He said that the root cause for building the Greater Thal Canal is that the military officialsare are being allotted more and more land in the non-cultivable areas. This gives incentive to the military government to conspire to divert more water to irrigate their lands at the expense of the poor people of Sindhi. The Sindhis are being pushed into unbearable poverty with each passing day.
EDWIN, is a delegate of Anbazonia in the USA. His organization is fighting for the right of self-determination in Cameroon for Anbazonia. He talked about the similarity between the issues faced by the people of Anbazonia and Sindh. He wished Sindhis well in their struggle to stop the Thal canal and to gain their dignity and their rights.
Last but not the least, MUNAWAR LAGHARI, who was the key organizer of the today’s events thanked every one who had made this day a historic day for the North American Sindhis. He expressed gratitude to the leaders of SANA, WSC and other non-affiliated volunteers who participated and helped in various ways.
He promised that he would do his very best to nourish the spirit of the Sindhi unity that has been achieved on the North American scene. He hoped that following this example, Sindhis, all over the world would unite to overcome the economic, cultural, and political threats that are faced by Sindh and Sindhis today.