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Indigenous languages, cultures face danger from globalization: scholar

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on December 16, 2009

ISLAMABAD: Noted linguist, Prof Dr Tariq Rahman, has endorsed the aspiration of Pamiri people for saving the 3,000 years old Wakhi language and culture. As he put it, languages endow prestige, pride and power to a people who speak it.

He was speaking as the chief guest at a seminar on “Wakhi language” on the third day of the Wakhi Cultural Festival at the Heritage Museum here on Friday.

“Your people are giving a call for the right to educate children in your Wakhi mother tongue from becoming obsolete, and it is a cause we support,” he said.

Prof Rahman recalled UNESCO concern about the danger confronting indigenous cultures and languages. Among the 6,000 languages in the world, 2,500 are about to disappear or have already ceased to exist. According to UNESCO about 3,000 languages lose their carriers every year. Smaller community languages face danger from globalisation that wanted to impose a monolithic world culture across the globe.

“This in turn provokes reaction of the kind that we find reflected in religious extremism and terrorism,” Dr Rahman said.

He suggested a three-tier scheme for education in the mother tongue, with a bridge opening to a more appealing language, such as Urdu, and also rounded off with education in English. But the system must be applied uniformly throughout the country, including in the schools in which the children of the elite receive education.

He said that economic and cultural trends influence attitudes of people towards their language. No language is superior or inferior intrinsically. It was the political and economic power of a nation that determines the position of a language.

He said that due to globalization the powerful economies were influencing minority cultures and resist their promotion.

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He emphasised pluralism in the globalised world with space for all cultures.

The seminar was addressed by a number of experts including, Asmatullah Mushfiq, Nazir Ahmad Bulbul, Fazal Amin Beg, Azam Beg and Shambi Khan. They expressed the fear that the Wakhi language will die unless it received proper attention for its conservation and preservation as was being done in Xinjiang, China and Tajikistan. There the Wakhi language was being used and researched extensively.

Nazir Ahmad Bulbul lamented that the younger generation was prone to developing feelings of inferiority when they come to the cities in search of work or education and stop using their language with which the culture also suffers. Once a small community language goes into disuse among the young, it dies with the death of the elderly speakers. Once that happens, the nation loses its individuality and in course of time it also dies with its peculiar culture, character and moral attributes.

The speakers highlighted the history, rich cultural heritage and traditions and evolution of Wakhi language over the centuries. They also presented recommendations for promotion of Wakhi and other local languages of Giglit-Baltistan as all the dialects spoken in the region were in danger of extinction.

The speakers lauded efforts of Lok Virsa and GECA for their combined efforts for promotion of Wakhi culture and language.

Director of Lok Virsa Khalid Javaid vowed to play his role to promote the Wakhi language and culture.

In his presentation Fazal Amin Beg traced the history of the language and said the Wakhi language belonged to the Iranian group of languages, assimilating a number of Persian and Arabic words, but recently it had been overwhelmed by the spread of modern information technology. He also complimented those women of letters who had contributed to the richness of these languages with their literary and poetical work.

Azam Beg Tajik also paid tributes to Wakhi scholar Haqiqat Ali for his pioneering work on the script of the Wakhi language. The assembly resolved unanimously that all Gojali should speak their own language and disseminate it through publications and propagation on electronic media.

Tayib Jan,Vice-Chairman Education com mittee of the Gojal Educational and Cultural Association thanked the chief guest and other guest speakers for the valuable contribution for the promotion of Wakhi language.

Neelum Nigar, secretary of the education committee in her introductory remarks explained about the Wakhi language in -historical perspective.–Coutesy Dawn

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Posted in 5584, Culture, Education, GECA, Gilgit-Baltistan, Hunza-Gojal, Society | Leave a Comment »

Wakhi artists enthrall audience

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on December 11, 2009

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Posted in 5584, Art, Culture, Education, GECA, Gilgit-Baltistan, Hunza-Gojal, Pamir, Society, Tourism | 1 Comment »

Aga Khan discusses Pakistan’s economic, social uplift with Zardari

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on October 13, 2009

By Our Special Reporter

ISLAMABAD, Oct 13: Prince Karim Aga Khan, founder of the Aga Khan Development Network and spiritual leader of the Ismaili community, here on Tuesday met with President Asif Ali Zardari and discussed matters of mutual interest, including economic and social development of the country.

His Highness Prince Aga Khan discusses economic and development issues with Presidents Asif Ali Zardari at the Aiwan-i-Sadar in Islamabad on Tuesday.

His Highness Prince Aga Khan discusses economic and development issues with Presidents Asif Ali Zardari at the Aiwan-i-Sadar in Islamabad on Tuesday.

The two leaders discussed possibilities of cooperation in communication links between Pakistan and Central Asian states.

Sources told GBT that President Zardari sought help of the Aga Khan in the construction of Pak-Tajikistan road through Chitral.

The two leaders also discussed the possibility of cooperation in developing education city in Karachi.

The meeting was also attended by Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting and Acting Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan, Qamar Zaman Kaira as well as representatives of the Aga Khan Development Network.

Earlier on his arrival at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport from Tajikstan, the Aga Khan was received by Mr Kaira and the Aga Khan National Council for Pakistan president Iqbal Waljee and other officials.

In Tajikstan the Aga Khan and Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Asadullo Gulomov inaugurated an urban park in Khorog, the main city of mountainous Gorno-Badakshan Automomous Oblast (province).
“The park is not only a place of beauty to be enjoyed by many generations of future citizens and visitors to Khorog,” said the Aga Khan, “it is also one of the earliest symbols of the processes of change for which I hope and pray in this region.”

Interim Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan Qamar Zaman Kaira and The Aga Khan National Council President Iqbal Waljee recieve Prince Aga Khan on his arrival at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport on Tuesday.

Interim Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan Qamar Zaman Kaira and The Aga Khan National Council President Iqbal Waljee recieve Prince Aga Khan on his arrival at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport on Tuesday.

The revitalization of the $4 million Khorog Park, the main municipal green space, was undertaken over the last five years by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), in collaboration with the Governorate of GBAO.

The first phase of the park construction was completed in 2007. The project has created 65 jobs and employed an additional 120 people during the five years of construction. Forty people were trained in stone masonry during this period. Local sourcing of construction materials has also had a significant impact on the local economy.

Posted in Education, GECA, Gilgit-Baltistan, Hunza-Gojal | 7 Comments »

Faheem Hussain – as I knew him

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on October 3, 2009

by Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy

It was mid-October 1973 when, after a grueling 26-hour train ride from Karachi, I reached the physics department of Islamabad University (or Quaid-i-Azam University, as it is now known). As I dumped my luggage and “hold-all” in front of the chairman’s office, a tall, handsome man with twinkling eyes looked at me curiously. He was wearing a bright orange Che Guevara t-shirt and shocking green pants. His long beard, though shorter than mine, was just as unruly and unkempt. We struck up a conversation. At 23, I had just graduated from MIT and was to be a lecturer in the department; he had already been teaching as associate professor for five years. The conversation turned out to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Together with Abdul Hameed Nayyar – also bearded at the time – we became known as the Sufis of Physics. Thirty six years later, when Faheem Hussain lost his battle against prostate cancer, our sadness was beyond measure.

Revolutionary, humanist, and scientist, Faheem Hussain embodied the political and social ferment of the late 1960’s. With a Ph.D that he received in 1966 from Imperial College London, he had been well-placed for a solid career anywhere in the world. In a profession where names matter, he had worked under the famous P.T. Mathews in the group headed by the even better known Abdus Salam. After his degree, Faheem spent two years at the University of Chicago. This gave him a chance to work with some of the world’s best physicists, but also brought him into contact with the American anti-Vietnam war movement and a powerful wave of revolutionary Marxist thinking. Even decades later, Faheem would describe himself as an “unreconstructed Marxist”. Participating in the mass anti-war demonstrations at UC had stirred his moral soul; he felt the urge to do more than just physics. Now married to Jane Steinfels, a like-minded soul who he met in Chicago, Faheem decided to return to Pakistan.

Faheem and Jane made an amazing couple. Fully immersed in the outstanding causes of the times, they seemed to have a limitless amount of revolutionary energy. Long before I knew them, they had been protesting against the Pakistan Army’s actions in East Pakistan. As Faheem would recount, this was a lonely fight. Many Marxists in those times, inspired by Mao’s China, chose to understand the issue in geopolitical terms rather than as a popular struggle for independence. Some leftists ended up supporting the army’s mass murder of Bengalis.

With Bangladesh now a reality, things moved on. Bhutto’s rhetoric of socialism and justice for the poor had inspired nascent trade union movements to sprout across Pakistan’s cities. Many, however, quickly turned into organizations for labour control rather than emancipation. There were genuinely independent ones too, such as the Peoples Labour Federation (PLF), an independent Rawalpindibased trade union that saw through Bhutto’s shallow rhetoric. In the early 1970’s, Faheem and Jane were highly influential in this organization, sometimes providing security and cover to its hunted leadership. Iqbal Bali, who passed away in the middle of this year, would vividly recount those days.

Very soon, I joined the small group of leftwing activists that looked up to this couple for instruction and guidance. We formed study groups operating under the PLF, both for self-education and for spreading the message through small study groups of industrial workers. Some, including myself, branched out further, working in distant villages. Gathering material support for the Baloch nationalists, who were fighting an army rejuvenated by Bhutto, was yet another goal for the group. The dream was to bring about a socialist revolution in Pakistan.

All this crashed to an end with Bhutto’s death by hanging in 1979 and the subsequent consolidation of General Zia-ul-Haq’s coup. Pakistan’s Dark Age had just begun. Although Bhutto’s regime had turned repressive and violent in its last desperate days, it was gentle in comparison with what was to follow. With dissent savagely muzzled, the only option was to operate underground. On 3 November 1981, three of our QAU colleagues and friends were caught, imprisoned, and savaged by the military regime. Jamil Omar, a lecturer in computer science and the “ring leader” – was tortured. Two others – Tariq Ahsan and Mohammed Salim – were also imprisoned and their careers destroyed. Their crime was involvement in the secret publication of “Jamhoori Pakistan”, a 4-page newsletter that demanded return to democracy and the end of army rule. A triumphant Zia-ul-Haq went on Pakistan Television, congratulated the men who had succeeded in arresting the teachers, and pledged to “eliminate the cancer of politics” from Quaid-e-Azam University.

Although Faheem was not directly involved in “Jamhoori Pakistan”, we knew he was being closely watched by the intelligence and could have chosen to hide. Instead, with characteristic fearlessness, he did all that was possible to help locate the abducted teachers, and then to secure their release. Tariq Ahsan wrote to me from Canada that “His solidarity during those long years was an invaluable source of support for our families and friends.”

But the struggle took its toll. By the mid 1980’s, Faheem was in the doldrums. Situated in an academically barren environment, he was able to publish little research of worth. Politically, there was no chance of doing anything significant in the climate of repression. Things had gone downhill in personal terms as well – his marriage with Jane was coming apart. To the great sorrow of their friends, the couple parted ways and Jane returned to America. Encouraged by Faheem, she had written school books on Pakistani history that are still sold and used today. In 1989, Faheem left QAU formally but his involvement in academic and political matters had already dropped off in the year or two before that.

From this low point in his life, Faheem struggled upwards. Initially in Germany, and then elsewhere later, he now concentrated solely upon his profession and was able to learn an impressive amount of new physics. Professor Abdus Salam, who by now had received aNobel Prize for his work, invited Faheem to become a permanent member of the theoretical physics group at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy. Faheem remained there until his retirement in 2004. Getting this position was no mean achievement: theoretical physics is a fiercely competitive and notoriously difficult subject. Faheem was the first Pakistani to publish a research paper in one of its most challenging areas – superstring theory.

With a cheerful and positive disposition, and an abiding concern for the welfare of others, Faheem quickly became popular at the ICTP. His laughter would resonate in the institute’s corridors. With time, he took on administrative responsibilities as well and was instrumental in setting up a “Diploma Programme” that admits students from third world countries for advanced studies in various areas. Now married to Sara, a beautiful and even-tempered Italian woman, he was equally comfortable with Italians and Pakistanis or, for that matter, Indians. To Faheem, a cultural amphibian, differences between nations carried no meaning.

And then came retirement time. What to do? I wrote to Faheem: come back! He agreed. Finding money was not a problem – Pakistan’s higher education was experiencing a budgetary boom. But his old university, plagued by base rivalries and a contemptuous disdain for learning, refused. Specious arguments were given to prevent one of its own founding members, now one of Pakistan’s most distinguished and active physicists, from being taken on the faculty. Initially at the National Centre for Physics in Islamabad, Faheem was eventually offered a position at the newly established science faculty of LUMS in Lahore.

Faheem’s unpretentious mannerisms and gentleness of spirit ensured that LUMS too was enamored of him. Asad Naqvi, one of Pakistan’s leading physicists and a faculty member at LUMS, wrote to me upon hearing of Faheem’s death: “I am lost after hearing this. I only knew him for about 5 years, and in that short time, I had grown really fond of him. We are all poorer today, having lost such a lovely person who touched us so deeply.”

Surely, there shall be many other such tributes from Faheem’s many friends. But, to be true to him as well as my own self, I must admit that in later years we did disagree on some important things – “unreconstructed Marxism” to me is an anachronism, a relic of the 1960’s and still earlier, meaningless in a world that has become far more complex than Marx could have possibly imagined. Nor can I reflexively support today’s so-called “anti-imperialism” of the left that ends up supporting the forces of regressive fundamentalism. But let these issues stand wherever they do. Why is it necessary for friends to agree upon everything?

From atoms to atoms – death is inevitable, the final victory of entropy over order. Meaningless? No! To have lived a full life, to have experienced its richness, to have struggled not just for one-self but for others as well, and to have earned the respect and love of those around you. That is a life worth living for. Faheem, my friend, you are gone. May you now rest in peace, with a job well done.

The writer is Chairman, Department of Physics Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.

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