5000 Rally in Raigarh to Protests Arrests

Live reporting by Bhan Sahu on CGNet Swara (audio in Hindi):

Bhan Sahu is reporting live from a rally in Raigarh in Chhattisgarh where around 5,000 men and women have assembled to protest the arrest of social activists Ramesh Agrawal and Harihar Patel. Both were arrested on 28th May on a complaint of misbehavior by an employee of Jindal steel in a public hearing a year back. Meanwhile high court has rejected their bail application. Bhan says people are expressing their sorrow and anger in the rally and the atmosphere is very charged.

India’s Health Minister is a homophobe


TRIKONE condemns Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s homophobic remarks about Men who have sex with Men (MSMs)

San Francisco — Trikone, a non-profit organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of South Asian descent strongly condemns Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s remarks about homosexual acts committed by Men who have sex with Men (MSM) being unnatural. On July 4, 2011, while speaking at a HIV/AIDS conference in rural India, Mr. Azad called sexual acts of men who have sex with men (MSM) “unnatural”. In his speech, Mr. Azad also happened to mention the difficulty in “detecting” MSMs in general population. He went on to say that the act of men having sex with men should not be happening in our country. The Health Minister’s comments caused a massive uproar across the country and drew sharp criticism from international agencies such as the UNAIDS. With mounting pressure, Mr. Azad issued an insincere clarification, accusing the media of taking his words out of context, that he meant “HIV/AIDS” was unnatural and transported from the west.

People across the country and the broader diaspora have come together to condemn Azad’s insensitive remarks. From this unified and unambiguous response, we can confidently say that the nation is unwilling to tolerate ignorant comments towards homosexuality. Mr. Azad has rightly come under fire for his insensitive comments and his issued clarification has done little to throw clear light on his ability to lead as the country’s health minister. Trikone strongly condemns criminalizing either homosexual conduct or HIV transmission. Such antiquated attitudes only curtail the efforts of valiant community organizers in the country, who are working on the ground, adopting grass roots strategies to encourage and establish models of testing and safe-sex practices. The Health Minister’s insensitive remarks concerning homosexuality or HIV/AIDS clearly jeopardizes the gains made in the past decade.

Like our sister organizations in India, we at Trikone have lost our faith in Mr.Azad to lead the country as the Health Minister or provide much needed services to the queer community. His personal judgments and remarks over the last weekend have cast looming questions in his ability to think and lead with clarity and in clear resonance with the medical and scientific community – a Health Minister’s prerogative for governance.
Unless an unequivocal apology is issued by the Health Minister and corrective actions suggested, we demand his ouster.

As organizations in India and abroad continue to work passionately to combat homophobia and educate people about homosexuality, we at Trikone not only condemn Ghulam Nabi Azad’s remarks but also request the Government of India to provide sensitivity training about queer issues on an on going basis to all public servants. We will be happy to put together an advisory panel or provide references if need be.

A solidarity march is being planned in San Francisco, California. On Wednesday, 07/13/2011 at 9 am, members of the Trikone community plan to peacefully assemble at the intersection of Geary and Arguello, a few hundred feet away from the Indian Consulate and our representative will hand over a letter of grievances to the Consulate General.

Harsha Mallajosyula (Trikone Advocacy Director), 408-332-7468,

The Bengal Famine in art

I read the following piece with quite a bit of interest. I know a few things about contemporary Indian art (I spent a summer being a tour guide for “The Edge of Desire” – a fantastic exhibit of contemporary Indian art) but I hadn’t heard of Chittoprasad Bhattacharya. Doing a google search for his works doesn’t really come up with all that much, but I found a few things which give you sense of his technique. (I would have given the author of the piece credit, but he/she wasn’t named on the Mangalorean.com website):

New Delhi, July 7 (IANS) Artist Chittoprasad Bhattacharya chronicled the great Bengal famine of 1943-1944 with sketches of abject human suffering that he experienced as an artist struggling to survive the hunger epidemic.

Largely unsung outside his home turf, the artist, born in 1915 at Naihati in West Bengal, translated almost all major political movements against oppression and urban poverty in Bengal in ink-on-paper drawings and lino-cuts etchings. Chittoprasad also created a large body of scrapboard illustrations for children.

Now, the first retrospective of the artist’s work in the capital July 9-Aug 11 will bring to audiences the intensity and diversity of his art that drew from the Bengali social life and everyday realities.

The exhibition will include drawings, paintings, linoleum cuts and other prints, the artist’s writings in original, his letters, published writings and drawings in communist party journals, manuscripts, posters, puppets and photographs.

This retrospective will be accompanied by the release of five books researched by art-historian Sanjoy Kumar Mallik, which will include a reproduction of the lone surviving copy of “Hungry Bengal”, a written and visual account of the famine by Chittoprasad published by the Mumbai-based People’s Publishing House.

The book, which was the culmination of an expedition by Chittoprasad, depicted the pangs of hunger across the early 20th century Bengal brought about by chronic crop failures and a series of oppressive measures by the British colonialists, who forced the diversion of grain to feed the allied forces during World War II.

All the copies of “The Hungry Bengal” were seized and burnt by the British when it was originally published by Chittoprasad in 1943, barring one.

An early contemporary pioneer from the Bengal School of Art, the artist was an active communist.

The first two books focus on his art and life while the third comprises his political sketches. The fourth is an anthology of the letters he wrote to friends and family that shed light on his career, art practice, his interest in literature and cinema, in people, politics and nature.

The fifth book in the series is a reproduction of “Hungry Bengal”.

“In my art work, I represent the tradition of moralists and political reformers. To save people means to save art itself. The activity of an artist means the active denial of death,” Chittoprasad often said about his work.

The most striking feature about Chittoprasad’s studies of human figures in pain were the eyes.

Chittoprasad, also a story-teller and poet, illustrated “Indian Fables and Fairy Tales” and “With Puppets to Calcutta” by Czech writer Norbert Fryd.

The retrospective exhibition, presented by the Delhi Art Gallery, will move to Kolkata Aug 30.

“Though Chittoprasad is best known for his body of work on the famine, like me you will probably be surprised by the extensiveness of his oeuvre, his willingness to constantly experiment, and remain oblivious to the demands of the market. This exhibition, and set of books, is my humble homage to one of India’s greatest, but unsung artists,” said Ashish Anand, director of the Delhi Art Gallery.

This is “Fish Seller in Bombay”:

This one is clearly part of the Bengal Famine series, but I couldn’t find anything other than a small image:

This one (Untitled) is fantastic (Linocut on paper):

Someone will have to explain to me why the Jamini Roy-style eyes persist as a feature of figure drawings, but they’re still pretty.

The magical realism of body counts

An excellent piece from Al-Jazeera:

The US government, and a pliant mainstream media, are making sure the public remain ignorant of civilian casualties.

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad Last Modified: 13 Jun 2011 17:59




Gravediggers of Afghanistan and Pakistan have been kept busy as the US drone war has expanded, but civilian deaths remain undercounted as mendacious officials build a myth of technological accuracy and violent ‘justice’ [REUTERS]

A gypsy named Melquiades who died many years ago in Singapore returned to live with the family of Colonel Aureliano Buendia in Macondo, because he could no longer bear the tedium of death. These are the kinds of characters that populate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magnificent work One Hundred Years of Solitude. Today they also seem to occupy the tribal badlands of Pakistan’s north-western frontier.

On June 3, when Ilyas Kashmiri was killed in a US drone strike, he had already been dead for over a year. In September 2009, the CIA claimed that it killed Kashmiri along with two other senior Taliban leaders in North Waziristan. But the lure of the limelight was seemingly irresistible even in death, because on October 9, Kashmiri returned to give an interview  to the late Syed Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times Online.

Baitullah Mehsud, the former commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also rose from the dead many times. On at least 16 occasions, Mehsud was in the gun-sights when CIA drones loosed their Hellfire missiles. Yet, until August 2009, he proved unable to settle into the afterlife. Mullah Sangeen also experienced at least two resurrections.

Death is clearly not what it used to be.

Or perhaps the people who were killed in the other attacks were not Kashmiri, Sangeen or Mehsud. Indeed, the attack on a funeral procession on June 23, 2009, which killed Sangeen was supposedly aimed at the TTP chief. It killed 83 people  who certainly were not who they were supposed to be.

These are not isolated events. At the end of 2009, the Pakistani daily Dawn calculated  that, of the 708 people killed in 44 drone attacks that year, only 5 were known militants. Earlier that year, The News, Pakistan’s other major English-language daily, had calculated  that between January 14, 2006, and April 8, 2009, 60 drone attacks killed 701 people – of whom only 14 were known militants.

The US has come a long way since July 2001 when it rebuked the Israeli government for its policy of “targeted assassination”, which it said were really “extrajudicial killings”. In September of that year, CIA director George Tenet confessed that it would be a “terrible mistake” for someone in his position to fire a weapon such as the predator drone. By 2009, such qualms were obsolete. Indeed, the new CIA director Leon Panetta declared predator drones “the only game in town”. The catalyst was 9/11 – and lifting the ban on extrajudicial killings was just one of the many illegal policies it licensed.

Many of the post-9/11 criminalities were eventually rolled back, yet the policy of extrajudicial killings not only survived the Bush years, it was intensified. During his eight years in office, Bush ordered a total of 45 drone strikes in Pakistan; in fewer than three years, Obama has ordered more than 200. On his third day in office the president ordered two drone strikes, one of which incinerated a pro-government tribal leader along with his whole family, including three children. Obama has since also expanded the drone war in Afghanistan.

The politics of body counts

The new tactic has many sceptics, and not all of them are antiwar activists. Criticism has also been voiced from within the CIA and the military. Yet drones have been embraced with remarkable warmth by Obama and the US intelligentsia. This partly has to do with an existing US tendency to see technology as a panacea for all problems, including military ones. But the tactic is also made palatable by a routine exaggeration of its accuracy and a downplaying of its human cost.

Take, for example, the statistics produced by the Long War Journal  (LWJ), a website maintained by individuals associated with the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies , a think-tank advocating the “war on terror” which was founded two days after the 9/11 attacks. The statistics have been often quoted in the Western media though all they show is the boundless credulity of LWJ proprietors. Relying solely on media reports – which in turn rely almost exclusively on unnamed Pakistani and US officials – the website claims that a mere seven percent of the 1,954 people killed in Pakistan so far have been civilians. It claims – for example – that, of the 73 people killed in 2007, none were civilians, even though it couldn’t name a single individual killed.

The more widely cited New America Foundation  (NAF) study fares only slightly better.  Employing a seemingly rigorous method, the project records every drone attack along with its intended target and presumed outcome. Of the 1,542 to 2,541 people killed in Pakistan by drones since 2004, it claims between 1,249 and 1,960 were militants.

Like the LWJ, the NAF also relies on media reports and errs conspicuously on the side of official claims. For example, its data shows that, of the 287 Pakistanis killed so far this year, 251 were militants. This of course cannot be true, since a single incident – the March 17 killing of 38 pro-government tribal elders at a gathering in Datta Khel, North Waziristan – undermines these calculations. The slaughter even managed to provoke a rare outburst  from the Pakistani military chief General Ashfaq Kiyani, a tacit supporter of the drone war.

These civilian deaths were only acknowledged because the victims were known notables with favourable relations with the Pakistani government – otherwise, as Wazir Malik Gulabat Khan has pointed out , the government never investigates how many of those killed are actual militants.

But beyond the reliance on official sources, there is also a fundamental question of honesty. Take two of the most tragic incidents of the drone war. On January 13, 2006, a drone struck the village of Damadola in Bajaur, killing 18 villagers, mainly women and children. US and Pakistani officials initially claimed that four “al-Qaeda terrorists” were among the dead, a claim which they later retracted . Yet if you visit the NAF database, you will find that it lists all 18 as “militants” – and none as civilians. On October 30, another drone strike hit Chenagai, also in Bajaur, killing 82 children at a seminary . But if you visit the NAF database, you find that it lists “up to 80” militants killed – and again no civilians. The editors, however, note that they have excluded these figures altogether from their list of fatalities.

These two incidents alone should void the NAF study’s credibility, but there are other reasons why its figures should be taken with a grain of salt. In its annual report on the CIA assassination program , the Islamabad-based Conflict Monitoring Center highlights several. Besides the tendency to exaggerate success and downplay failure in order to avoid adverse public reaction, neither the US nor the Pakistan government has a mechanism in place to verify the identity of those killed. There is also a concern that the drones are no longer targeting only high value suspects; under expanded authority granted by Bush and continued under Obama the agency can target all suspected militants based on “pattern of life” analysis  collected from surveillance cameras. In the tribal areas, where traditionally most adult males carry guns and ammunition, this makes everybody a potential target. A year before Osama bin Laden was killed, a CIA officer told Jane Mayer  of the New Yorker, that because of the drone surveillance, “no tall man with a beard is safe anywhere in Southwest Asia”.

But human intelligence is no less defective, since in Pakistan as in Afghanistan, informants have often settled scores with rival tribes by denouncing them as “Taliban”‘

None of this, however, has deterred the NAF project’s Peter Bergen from making confident claims about the presumed success of the strategy. He now claims that only six per cent  of those killed were civilians, even though he can only name 35 high value targets among the more than two thousand killed.

It is of course possible that the dead included unnamed foot soldiers, but one can only conclude this by placing extraordinary faith in the veracity of unnamed CIA and Pakistani officials. A rare case-by-case analysis of nine attacks by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict  (CIVIC), however, uncovered 30 civilian deaths, including 14 women and children, unreported in the media. Testimonies of survivors collected by Voices for Creative Non-Violence (VCNV) paint an even bleaker picture.

My own conversations around Peshawar with FATA residents and Frontier Constabulary (FC) men revealed that the drones are sometimes successful in reaching their targets – but the human cost is invariably steep. There has been no accounting of the psychological costs of the war.

Because of the secrecy around the program, there is no way to confirm if there are any safeguards in place to avoid civilian casualties; or, if there are, how well they are being enforced. As a consequence, there is no oversight, accountability or redress. The drone war in Pakistan is, in this respect, very different to the drone war in Afghanistan. The latter is under the command of the military and is therefore subject to the minimal constraints of military rules of engagement. The CIA however has none, so is entirely unaccountable.

The possibility of oversight is further diminished by the fact that the CIA employs private contractors (read “mercenaries”) who operate in an even murkier legal terrain. With no democratic checks or institutional barriers, the drones are, in effect, operating in a heart of darkness. This was brought home last year when the CIA went on a rampage  after one of its bases in Khost was blown up by a Jordanian militant.

The politics of expertise

The pro-war propaganda is not always successful in maintaining its veneer of sophistication. Last May, during an exchange on MSNBC  between Colonel Tony Shaffer, a Defence Intelligence Agency veteran advocating “boots on the ground”, and Christine Fair, an eccentric US academic much in favour in national security circles for her ultra-hawkish views, it dropped altogether. When Shaffer suggested that civilian casualties resulting from the drone attacks were increasing anti-Americanism in Pakistan, Fair took “extreme exception” and retorted categorically that “the drones are not killing innocent civilians”. She dismissed Pakistani press reports as “deeply unreliable and dubious” and claimed that “a number of surveys on the ground in FATA” had shown that residents “generally welcome the drone strikes”.

As a matter of fact, the only known survey  “on the ground in FATA” at the time was carried out by a “letterhead organisation” named the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy whose conclusions can fairly be described as deeply unreliable and dubious. It claimed that 55 per cent of respondents in a survey it carried out in “parts of FATA that are often hit by American drones” (among which it curiously included Parachinar, which has never been hit and whose overwhelmingly Shia population is deeply hostile to the virulently anti-Shia Taliban) did not think that the attacks caused “fear and terror in the common people”; 52 per cent found them “accurate in their strikes”; and 58 per cent did not think they increased anti-Americanism.

The survey got much play in the media, quoted among others in both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Its conclusions were found particularly agreeable by proponents of drone escalation and the label of an “institute” gave them an ostensibly academic pedigree. Few wondered why the survey’s claims were so at odds with known public opinion in the wider region where, according to a Gallup/Al Jazeera poll conducted around the same period, only nine per cent of people showed support for the drone attacks. Those who did wonder, such as the journalists I spoke to in Peshawar, were universally dismissive. But the Institute had served its purpose and, typical of many LHOs, it vanished after a year (Web Archive shows that its website only existed between 2008-2009).

Ironically, Aryana’s claims were discredited just a year later by a survey in FATA by an institution no less enthusiastic about the drones. A poll conducted by the NAF and Terror Free Tomorrow found that 76 per cent of respondents opposed the drone attacks; 40 per cent held the US most responsible for the violence in the region (as opposed to seven per cent for al-Qaeda and 11 per cent for the TTP); 59 per cent considered suicide attacks against the US forces justified; 48 per cent believed the drones mainly killed civilians (only 16 per cent thought otherwise); and 77 per cent said their opinion of the US would improve if it withdrew its forces (72 per cent if it brokered Middle East peace).

Magical realism in politics

In a context where life is so devalued that a general could say without reproof that he doesn’t “do body counts”, any attempt to pierce the otherwise impenetrable wall of obfuscation and denial should be welcome. And indeed, if the NAF were only tallying drone attacks and compiling a list of official claims, while issuing a strong disclaimer about their unverifiability, it would be a worthwhile exercise indeed. But that is not what it is doing. It has been using its fallible statistics to make bold assertions about the strategy’s success and effectively endorsing official claims about the guilt of the dead. The NAF has made no effort to suggest that its civilian casualty figures might be a serious undercount. Yet, because of the certainty it seemingly brings to the debate, it has become de rigueur for commentators to quote the NAF figures in their discussions on Obama’s war.

In this, the NAF study has a precedent. A similar exercise using more or less the same methodology also produced statistics on civilian casualties in Iraq, and ended up becoming one of the most widely cited reports. Like the NAF, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) project initially compiled its data solely from media reports (later it claims to have added morgue and hospital records), producing a predictably low number. Though in Iraq the media were less constrained than in FATA, the study was nevertheless based on the assumption that journalists in Iraq were recording every fatality caused by the invasion. Of course, no journalist had made such a commitment and – except for a few independent journalists – most were competing for politically significant stories.

But like the NAF, IBC did not confine itself to merely recording the data; nor did it concede the inherent limitation of the methods which made its statistics a definite undercount. Instead it waged a sustained campaign against the two highly regarded scientific mortality surveys carried out by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, volunteering its “expert opinion” to any establishment hack eager to cast doubt on the reports’ findings.

The value of projects such as Aryana, the NAF, and IBC are that they provide a serviceable number for proponents of a strategy which would otherwise be unpalatable if its real human cost were known. When the upper and lower limits for a disputed statistic are set, the figure that ultimately prevails is a function of political power. To produce an artificially low figure without necessary caveats in a situation where the apparent success, continuation and potential extension of a strategy depend on its low cost cannot possibly be an innocent act.

Once the low figures receive official sanction, quoting them becomes one way for journalists to signal their dependability. This also forces others who might know better to adopt the low figures, lest their seriousness as commentators be brought into question. Over time, as the lower figure congeals into conventional wisdom, the victims suffer a double death, erased from memory as they were from life.

Garcia Marquez once said that he owed his style, which combines fantastic scenarios with painstaking detail, as much to Kafka as to his grandmother who would tell the most improbable stories in perfect deadpan. The same style also obtains in the world of think tankery today – an apparent rigour of method obscuring a fanciful underlying reality. So the make-believe world of the news media requires us to suspend disbelief and accept these operators not for who they are, but in the roles that they have been assigned. This is one reason why most pressure groups today have established their own think tanks, so that they can use their their pseudo-academic veneer to credential lobbyists for the media. This show may yet go on, but is it not time we looked for the exit?

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a Glasgow-based sociologist, born in Chitral and raised in Abbottabad and Peshawar. He is the co-editor of Pulsemedia.org . He can be reached at idrees@pulsemedia.org.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Bangladesh steals from its citizens to give to the oil giants

Bangladesh’s government signed a deal with ConocoPhillips last year to explore possibilities for deep-sea drilling in the Bay of Bengal.  There are some 7.3 trillion cubic feet of known gas reserves in the Bay. The deal will last nine years and will involve some production sharing with PetraBangla, the nationalized petroleum processing corporation.

Bangladesh is projected to run out of its current natural gas reserves in less than 4 years, and so it is anxious to try and find new energy sources domestically.  Depending on international petroleum markets leaves the nation vulnerable.

There are a number of problems with this deal (not the least of which is the treacherous game that is played with the ecosystem every time energy corporations go hunting for profits in ever deeper waters).

The Bay of Bengal is disputed territory and Burma, India, and Bangladesh all have made competing claims about territorial boundaries.  Because all three countries are oil-dependent and energy-poor, the discovery of series petroleum reserves in the Bay of Bengal will only intensify competition between the three nations.  The Burmese military junta, for instance, sent warships into the Bay as a warning to Bangladesh not to go hunting for oil.

At the same time, ConocoPhillips is undergoing a major restructuring of its operations to restore profitability and investor confidence.  They’re already planning on selling some $17 billion in assets and need new finds in order to prove their long-term profitability.  The Bangladesh deal comes at a crucial time for them; it’s hard to imagine that ConocoPhillips won’t take advantage of Bangladesh’s relatively lax environmental restrictions in the pursuit of “exploration success.”

A citizen’s network called the Committee to Protect Oil-Gas and Mineral Resources, with allies drawn from leftist parties, workers, environmentalists and professionals staged a demonstration and clashed with riot police on Tuesday protesting that the contract would hamper national interests.

Prof Anu Mohammad, leader of the citizen’s network argue that the deal with Texas based corporation would lose ownership of the blocks once the contract was signed, which is nearly 150 miles away from the coast. It which would be suicidal for the nation, observed the economic professor of a state university.

ConocoPhillips would get to keep 80 percent of the profits, while Bangladesh would get 20%.  There are a number of other clauses that make this a sweetheart deal for ConocoPhillips.

But there are other reasons to be worried.  Deals struck with other Canadian (Niko Resources) and American companies in Magurchara and Tengratila in the 1990s resulted in unsafe processing facilities and massive explosions in 2003 and 2005.  ConocoPhillips itself has a record of major accidents, too, in 2004, 2006, and 2008.

Some of the details of the current deal were uncovered through WikiLeaks:

The controversy further deepened after whistleblower site Wikileaks revealed that U.S. Ambassador John F. Moriarty in 2010 pressured the Bangladesh prime minister’s energy advisor to award the contracts to Conoco Phillips, Halliburton and another American company.

Over the weekend there was a student demonstration at Dhaka University.  On Tuesday, they organized a protest in Dhaka and 6-hour strike that was joined by some 600 students, activists, and union members.  More than a hundred protesters were arrested including several left-wing bloggers (all appear to have been released).  There is a call for a black flag march this Thursday if the deal moves forward.

Class Struggle in India

Industry near Mumbai, India

Image via Wikipedia

Notes from my presentation at Socialism 2011

Thesis 1: India Shining is the name given to aggressive neoliberalism in India so that middle-class prosperity is supposed to mask the absolute immiseration of immense majorities of the population; the devastation of state-led social spending has made people increasingly vulnerable while given a free hand to corporations in India to do what they can.

Thesis 2: the last thirty years have been a one-side class war in India which the working class, the peasantry, and the poor have lost decisively

Thesis 3: there are five main areas of class struggle in India (broadly understood): the fight between indigenous people and the state-corporate combine over land; the fight of national minorities against the state for greater autonomy and resources; the fight of the peasantry and poor farmers against the state and the large landlords and agri-business; the fight of the urban poor for greater access to rights and jobs; and most importantly, the fight of labor against capital

Thesis 4: there have been four main ways the class struggle has been contained over the last thirty years: state coercion and force; the diverting of class anger into electoral politics; ideologically through either state-led Pakistan-phobia or populist-chauvinist communalism that is also called Hindutva; the maintenance of an immense reserve army of the unemployed.

Thesis 5: the development of a revolutionary left in India has absolutely been paralyzed by the persistence of mass Stalinist and Maoist parties

Thesis 6: in the absence of major working class fight back the center of gravity has shifted to a civil-rights campaign in defense of indigenous peoples against land grabs, largely produced by the nexus of urban middle-class intellectuals and the indigenous poor – this has an anti-capitalist but not a revolutionary socialist character.

Thesis 7: the development of an independent left in India and the development of mass working class activity is a dialectical process, the beginnings of which are more possible now given the exposure of the CPM as vulnerable in the last state elections.

Thesis 8: the only way that the Indian and Pakistani working class can win real social transformation will be the elimination of the national boundaries between them on the basis of real equality

At the outset let me say two things.  The idea behind pitching this talk was to think about how the Arab Spring might eventually turn into the Indian and Pakistani summer (and make that awful phrase mean something better).  Of course, the spread of struggle is neither spontaneous nor automatic and it rests on developments both structural and organizational that have happened in the various countries in which the mood of revolt has quickly met with the everyday experiences of people living under the brutal heel of both neoliberal capitalism and aggressive American imperialism.  But if you were to do a thumbnail sketch of the countries in which the protests have broken out, I think that you would find enough similarities between India and Pakistan and the countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Europe to make the question more than simply academic.

Increasing rates of absolute immiseration – depending on how you calculate it between 60 and 80% of the population of the Indian subcontinent lives in poverty (every year there is a big debate about this, but the economists change the way that they calculate poverty, sometimes ideologically to drive the numbers down); there is massive inequality (Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India built a 27-story skyscraper/mansion for himself and his family worth 1 billion dollars US – it’s spitting distance from some of India’s largest slums in Mumbai); massive growth but horribly uneven: 40% of the gains of growth go to something like 1% of the population; the last twenty or so years have been spent liquidating all state industries and social services and giving massive amounts of what can only be graft to corporate interests both foreign and domestic (in fact, much of the growth of the last twenty years has been the product of a massive giveaway of industries on the cheap to private capital); massive assaults on civil liberties; high rates of unemployment among educated young people (something like 20-30% of college graduates can’t find work); immense social polarization with spectacular spending at the very top and farmers who can’t make enough to feed their own families at the bottom; an enormous ratcheting up of absolute levels of exploitation in manufacturing in the interests of accumulation under the alibi of competition; and the lack of any real political alternative to the neoliberal agenda.  This should all make for explosive social conditions.

At the same time, there is a kind of disconnect between that picture and the picture laid out by the financial experts in the US and the political elites in India, which is a picture that has come to be called “India Shining” in which the vast majority of people are benefiting from economic growth and India is now one of the growing powers in the world.  This claim gets repeated over and over so often that it doesn’t ever really get investigated, because despite the fact that the Indian economy has grown somewhere between 12 and 15 times in the last twenty years, that growth has been predicated on some economic choices that cannot be continued indefinitely.  Much of India’s growth has been financed on credit, transferring wealth from the middle and working classes to the rich, which has contributed to inflation (9.6% over the last 12 months and even that doesn’t tell the whole story as food prices are quite high) on the one hand and real-estate speculation on the other.  Much of the growth has been in the finance and service sector rather in manufacturing, which is also some indication that there are limits to profitable investment in accumulation.  And between 2004 and 2010 the Indian economy generated no more than 2 million jobs for the 55 million people who entered the job market.  There has also been an decline in foreign direct investment into India partly because of the rotting infrastructure but also because of corruption, which has prompted the media shenanigans of people like Ana Hazare and the various political parties to come out and condemn corruption (even though they are all on the till).

Let me just say very quickly, that while there are differences between the BJP, the Congress, and the Communist Parties, at one level or another one is merely choosing between different kinds of neoliberalism not between neoliberalism and its alternatives.  Alongside these processes you also have some very intense levels of struggle that I will talk about in some detail, but just to sketch it out at the beginning: massive resistance to land dispossession through massive social movements or all out military confrontation with the state; a long tradition of labor struggle that is beginning to come up against the leadership of the unions which is connected usually either to the Congress Party or the Communists and therefore unwilling to lead most strikes to successful conclusions; long-standing grievances about national liberation in Kashmir and in the Northeast, places like Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Manipur.  Ultimately, I want to say that these are all part of a struggle between a state allied very closely to capital and ordinary people trying to exist, which sometimes takes the form of economic struggle at the shop floor, sometimes gets routed into political processes, and sometimes becomes open armed conflict.  There are also openly fascistic forces in India which attack these struggles: the far-right parties in the urban areas and the paramilitary groups like Salwa Judum in the rural areas.

To make matters worse, just like Tunisia, India is the darling of the international economic punditocracy.  It’s enviable rate of growth has meant that the economy has doubled every five years for the last twenty years.  This is the image of “India Shining” that the elite in India want to project, growing middle class, fancy technology, slick malls and high rises, Bollywood, and they therefore chafe if you talk about “Slumdog Millionaire” which will be my catchall for poverty with anything other than an air of ironic disdain for a putative Orientalism.  All of this seems like an explosive combination.  In fact, wages for some sections of the new middle-class have gone up for the last 20 years, but we’re really talking about the highly skilled workers in manufacturing or the managerial and clerical workers that make up the army of India’s new high-tech service industries.  Real wages among workers have stagnated over the last 25 years.  There’s almost universal agreement that this is because the vast army of the unemployed, which politely gets called the informal sector, exerts a downward pressure on wages, as employers always have a labor surplus from which to hire.

To be clear, I’m making predictions about any of this – as I read it, the organizational development of a far left in India is so much farther behind than it is in places like Egypt and Greece that you can’t really expect it to happen soon, but at the same time, I thought that about Egypt six months ago.  So what I want to do in the rest of this presentation is really lay out how India came to look the way that it looks and what the primary axes of struggle are in India.

1947-1991: From independence onwards, India pursues a strategy of Import Substitution Investment or ISI to try to get industrial development in India to replace external competition.  So this means a few things: first the raising of tariffs – some as high as 100% — to allow Indian industry the ability to develop, and second the direct control over certain sections of the economy to ensure development and industrialization: construction, infrastructure, communications, mining, etc.  These were done through a series of 5-year plans and the goal was to try to get Indian economic development internally with some gestures towards social redistribution.  Land reform was implemented (though incompletely) and there was investment in education and social services.  Up until the 1980s, though, India performed quite badly economically, growing at 3% a year, what some economists called in a marvelously racist way, the Hindu rate of growth.  The real problem was that India was pursuing a kind of weak state capitalism, which could take advantage of few of the benefits of trade or competition but without the development to be able to meet the needs of its population.

Under Rajiv Gandhi, the process of changing the economy commences more fully.  He ends what was called the “License Raj” because of India’s investment-averse regulatory regime which prevented the free movement of capital; privatizes many of the nationalized industries; and more or less enforces labor discipline on the working class.  But Rajiv Gandhi’s plans are financed through massive increase in public debt by borrowing for international sources which leads to a bailout by the IMF in 1991 and a more aggressive series of neoliberal reforms.  Incidentally this is exactly the period that leads up to the Mandir-Masjid-Mandal crisis of the early 1990s.

In 1991, under pressure from IMF but also indigenous interests in favor of liberalization, India pursues a full-scale liberalization of the economy.  Tariffs and duties are lowered to zero, state industries are fully privatized, international trade was encouraged, and everything was done to cultivate foreign direct investment.  One of the more brutal aspects of this period was the wholescale transfer of investment from the countryside to the urban areas when food subsidies and development schemes for India’s farmers were removed.  This not only impoverished farmers, but it also pushed them into the cities into the slums.  The other that has happened is that ideologically the state has moved over to backing capital at almost every point, so development schemes are now in the interests of big business rather than poverty reduction with the idea that the benefits of growth will trickle down at some stage.

One of the main features of this has been an accelerated push for raw material inputs for the development of manufacturing in India (iron and bauxite, etc.) and taking advantage of natural resources for infrastructural developments (rivers, dams, forests) which all happen to be right underneath the land that adivasis live on.  I’ll say more about this minute.

The resulting picture is one of untenable and protracted crisis all over India.  I want to point to the five main areas along which resistance and suffering are happening: 1) the persistent crisis in agriculture in India, 2) the still unresolved national liberation struggles (Kashmir, and the northeast), 3) the process of accumulation by dispossession that is happening in the “red corridor”; 4) the fight of the urban poor against things like slum demolitions, and 5) the exploitation of labor by capital.

However, it is clear that dualism in the economy (whatever be the terms one uses to describe it) has persisted, even hardened. The vast under-employed labour force in agriculture, despite being available to industry at subsistence wages, has not been, and is not being, absorbed in industry. This fact stands out particularly starkly against the current boom in corporate profits and investment. Of the population between 15 and 64, less than 60 per cent was ‘usually employed’ in 2004-05. More than half of India’s workforce remains self-employed, and the share of wage employment in the economy has actually declined during the last decade.  It was once anticipated that with the spread of new technology from the original areas of the Green Revolution (Punjab, Haryana, western U.P., and pockets elsewhere) the rest of India would catch up with the growth in these original Green Revolution (GR) regions, and regional disparities in agriculture would diminish. However, the liberalisation period witnessed disparate trends: in the GR centres, growth slowed;  in regions without irrigation but with heavy rainfall, crop prices collapsed and so farm incomes declined despite some production growth; and in dryland regions both production and incomes declined. Production in rainfed agriculture, which accounts for 60 per cent of cultivated area, is not only much lower than in the irrigated area, but is more or less stagnant. The bulk of growth has come from expansion of irrigated area and increased production of irrigated land; since the growth of irrigated area has come to a virtual halt under the neo-liberal policy of restricting public sector investment, agricultural disparities have widened.

Manufacturing not keeping up with population growth – means that people who are moving to the cities are caught in a permanent low-wage trap against an enormous reserve army of the unemployed.

Where manufacturing has been able to absorb rural labor, its practices are barbarically exploitative.  Textile manufacturers in Tamil Nadu for instance, recruit young girls from rural areas and place them in gender-segregated labor camps from which they are not permitted to leave in exchange for 3-year contracts and a promise of 30,000 to 60,000 rupees upon completion of the contract – this not only makes them vulnerable to extreme economic exploitation but also sexual exploitation;  those of us who have been involved in the antisweatshop movement in the US will see this as a familiar pattern.  It’s not accidental that the financial and economic planners in India have tried to help Indian textile manufacturers try to pick up the fallout from the collapse of the Chinese textile manufacturing industry.

Capital – land (usually adivasi controlled) – national liberation (can extend the analysis to large chunks of the northeast, much of the red-corridor) – doesn’t explain Kashmir

State hands over land to capital in exchange for “development”; deals are cut with multinational corporations and indigenous capital to develop manufacturing, real estate, or technology.

State uses its eminent domain powers to take land that people use for their subsistence, occasionally using colonial laws which required papers to prove ownership of land to displace and dispossess the local population

Local resistance then keeps the basic infrastructural inputs stalled as long as it can, but more often than not it fails.

Primitive accumulation or accumulation by dispossession.

Farmers – land

One significant feature was the participation of agricultural workers. Agriculture, which is still the mainstay of the Indian economy, provides nearly 60% of total employment. Aggressive liberalisation has deprived the small peasants and the rural workforce of their livelihood. The doing away of agricultural and food subsidies has resulted in the large-scale pauperisation of the rural people. Obeying the dictates of the WTO, the Indian government withdrew the restrictions on the import of agricultural commodities. As a result, the rural economy is in shambles. The dumping of cheap agricultural products has driven many farmers and peasants to distress suicides in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa and even in Punjab.

Immiserated peasants then try as hard as they can to get to the cities.  Some of the better-off farmers can afford to send a son or two to college, where the majority of them become skilled blue-collar workers and the lucky ones get white-collar jobs.  Otherwise they migrate as entire family to the city where they join the ranks of the slumdwellers.  In Bombay for instance, almost half of the population is composed of migrants who are all a part of the informal economy.  60% of Bombay lives illegally because housing prices are so high (the real estate bubble has not yet burst in India).

Capital – labor

The contradiction of growth in India is such that the consumption patterns of the top 20% of the population make up for the declining or stagnant consumption of the bottom 80% — so it looks like the country is doing better off as a whole.

One of the key problems continues to be the domination of unions by the various political parties (and the proliferation of large trade union federations).  So in India there is the All-India Federation of Trade Unions (run by the CPIML-Janashakti), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (run by the CPIML), All India United Trade Union Center run by the Socialist Unity Center, the All India Trade Union Congress (run by the CP) – roughly 2 million members, the Hindustan Mazdoor Sabha run by the BJP, Center of Indian Trade Unions (CPIM), United Trade Union Congress (Run by the Revolutionary Socialist Party), the Indian National Trade Union Congress (run by the Congress Party).  Now since many of these parties are no longer revolutionary parties in the long run, they tend to play a dampening rather than developing role on class struggle.  Which is not to say that workers don’t fight back, they do, but that their fights are limited from the top.  In 2006, there was an attempt to form a federation of Independent Trade Unions called the New Trade Union Initiative, but that is still too new to tell the story of.

But there have still been major bits of resistance: in 2005, more than 29.6 million days of labor were lost to striking activity in 456 industrial disputes – some of these are industry-wide and so they get aggregated; in 2006, 20.3 million days in 430 disputes, in 2007 27.1 million days in 389 disputes, fast-forward to last year, though, and the number drops off quickly to 1.7 million days in 99 disputes.

All of this is really to point out that the coming years will see the intensification of struggle in India, but it will require two things.  First, the development of an independent left and second a more serious fight from labor against capital.  Those two processes are inter-related, of course, and whatever we can do to support them from abroad will be instrumental in bringing Tahrir Square to India.

Thoughts on nationalism and culture (in response to KN Panikkar)

The most recent issue of Frontline has a very interesting reprint of a lecture by K.N. Panikkar, a scholar whose work I very much admire.  (Incidentally, his father was also quite an important historian).  The lecture (“Role of Culture and Language in the Making of a Nation”) was given at the University of Mumbai , and I suppose that accounts for the general tone of the piece which is directed at making a criticism of religious nationalism (i.e. Hindutva-style chauvinism).   There is also a critique of “modernist” nationalism in the piece, by which I’m assuming Pannikar means Congress-style nationalism, in which the demands of ethnic minorities and the low caste were not taken seriously.

Because I work on theories of nationalism and on much of the same material that Panikkar covers I found the essay interesting, but there are some problems with it as there are with most left-wing defenses of nationalism.  Here’s the problem as I see it: no matter how you slice it, nationalism has both progressive and reactionary content that cannot be willed away; the progressive content opens the door to the more chauvinist content in periods of economic hardship or political demobilization.  The nation-state similarly has both a progressive and reactionary use: it is a useful demand in the fight against colonialism and empire, but also an effective tool for the consolidation of national capital and the disciplining of a labor force.  Culture is the primary way that the progressive credentials of the nation-state are shored up so that the reactionary project can continue (sometimes openly, sometimes quietly).

So when Panikkar defends a particular variety of cultural nationalism (secular, composite, progressive) you want to be on board.  In fact, it’s hard not to subscribe to many of the claims that he makes in the face of the ideological rot that is allowed to pass for culture in much of India.  Here are the concluding parts of the lecture:

In the making of the nation, culture affords multiple possibilities. A popular and revivalist tendency is to romanticise the past and attribute to it a religious character, which in turn opens the doors to a supremacist ideology. An alternative view would recognise the culturally plural character of society as evolved through complex historical experience. More ideally, it could lead to a multicultural society by accepting the equality of all constituent cultures of the nation. All these possibilities are inherent in the relationship between culture and nation. As Ernest Gellner observed, “Nations as a natural, god-given way of classifying men, as an inherent though long-delayed political destiny, are a myth; nationalism, which sometimes takes pre-existing cultures and turns them into nations, sometimes invents them, and often obliterates pre-existing cultures: that is reality, for better or worse, and in general, an inescapable one.”  India is not yet a nation; it is a nation in the making, as Surendranath Banerjea, an early nationalist leader, observed almost 200 years ago. Even when all objective conditions are met, a nation like India can achieve nationhood, even if inadequately, only when cultural equality is established.

This view is elegant, and it has all of the hallmarks of much of Indian secularism over the last 60 years, but it also has some of its main contradictions.  For instance, the more you want to talk about the composite culture of India, the more you find yourself doing weird things like defending feudalism and certain “good” kings or valorizing certain literary texts, even when they were composed by people deeply embedded in class and religious chauvinism.  Yes, I love Tagore, but you can’t take the landlord out of the poetry no matter how hard you try.  So the process of equality that Panikkar is describing is based on the occlusion of class differentiation that persists in and through cultural “tradition” and not merely picking one, more egalitarian version of nationalism over another.

But it’s the place where he ends that gives me the most trouble, because the implicit assumption is that the nation-state is here to stay (if you read the rest of the essay, you get the sense that Panikkar prefers the nation-state as a bulwark against the ravages of global capitalism, a title it has yet to earn in any serious way).  I think that nation-states are engines of capitalist accumulation, and even in the fight against imperialism, they become the demand of a developing bourgeoisie that needs a different state form in order to accumulate successfully.  But in order to do that, the bourgeoisie needs the “nation” to get behind its demands and so it is willing to enter into a compromise with the more radical section of the middle-class (these are the cultural figures that Panikkar references) to develop a story about the nation that is compelling.  And the middle-class of course does this happily.  They chafe at the racism of empire as well as the restrictions of religion, the problems of sexism, and the oppressions of all marginalized sections of society and they try to unite all of them together into as large a unit as possible.  I’ll characterize it like this: the most capacious and effective bond of solidarity that any middle-class can imagine is cultural.  That is both its strength and its weakness.

About the problems of this kind of capacious solidarity, Panikkar provides a helpful description:

The attempts to relate culture and nationalism during the colonial period betrayed two general tendencies. The first was homogenisation and the second was exclusion. As a part of the first, a national culture was invented which invariably comprised the practices of the upper castes. The revival of Hindu classical tradition, be it in music or dance, privileged an Indian culture which was earlier the preserve of the upper castes. What is national, therefore, came to be equated with the Brahminical. In the process, the cultural practices of the lower castes were excluded from the national. Nationalism by definition is inclusive, but Indian nationalism did not develop an inclusive character based on equality. Secondly, the cultural perspective was very elitist, as a result of which culture was defined in terms of either mental refinement or the creative. Everyday practices and the creative elements within them were not reckoned as culture. As a result, the symbolic representation of the nation was confined to the achievements of the privileged, and the life of ordinary people did not figure in the nationalist pantheon. While Koodiyattam, Kathakali, Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Carnatic music and several other upper-caste forms were accorded national status, the dances of tribal people and Dalit music did not receive the same consideration.

The idea that nationalism could “develop an inclusive character based on equality” is a non-starter, though.  Nationalism attempts to build a provisional unity precisely by masking diverging aspirations in anticolonial struggles.  This is both what makes it elegant and dangerous – it is simultaneously a necessary tool in fighting against empire and an intellectual dead-end for solving problems of inequality and oppression in the nation-state.  In other places, I’ve preferred to talk about this problem as a specific problem of class and the confidence that certain sections of the middle class have in thinking about the ability of class struggle to alter radically social and political structures in the present.

If you look at what is developing in Egypt, for instance, you can also see what was developing in India in the late colonial period.  As the struggle for political change heats up, the debates between various visions of the future open up.  Nationalists try as hard as they can to paper over these differences, but it’s hard to pretend that they don’t exist or that they all share something in common that can be called “nationalism.”  Gramsci’s essays on Italian reunification are perhaps the most useful for me in thinking about this problem, where the middle-class radicals essentially fail to see in the nation-state the conditions for the reversing of all their radical aspirations, and the goal for Gramsci and others, was the creation of an organized collective that understood both the need for the nation-state and the impending betrayal by the bourgeoisie so that it could fight against both.

In the end, Panikkar’s essay is a product of the pessimism that seeped into middle-class radicals in the 1980s and 1990s in India when nationalism meant aggressive neoliberalism and cultural/religious chauvinism, neither of which could be effectively resisted.  And so intellectuals retreated into the domain of culture to find resistance there.  The idea that there could be more durable bonds of solidarity that were imagined not in isolated cultural artifacts but in the kinds of collaborative actions on the shop-floor, in urban slums, in the forests, etc. in which new kinds of culture were being forged, too, seems never to enter Panikkar’s thinking, since for him nationalism is still necessary as a way for him to relate to the broader masses in India and imagine that they all have the same interests.

The problem is that they do and they don’t – or rather, that they won’t until they manufacture it for themselves, piecing things together from the past and understanding them anew.  It might involve Odissi dance and Kumarasambhava or it might not – but it will involve a common resistance to the state and national capital, both of which are also good at using the cultural past to preserve their vision of the present.  Without a dialectical understanding of the relationship between culture and the nation, anti-imperialists become liberals, hoping that ideas can change the nation.

I imagine, too, that part of Panikkar’s complaint is also rooted in the ways that contemporary India increasingly appears to be discarding its interest in culture.  Take this piece in DNA India describing the difference between Indian and UK education:

Knowledge just for the sake of knowledge? Na, not anymore. Ask David Levinson, senior careers adviser in the Newcastle University, he would say: As everywhere else, education is witnessing a sea change in the UK as well. “Gone are the days of narrow mindedness and traditional thinking, now, educational institutions are changing to teach students how to apply the knowledge acquired and are preparing them for careers.” Levinson explains: “Earlier, it used to be like, people study English literature and become clerks, politicians or whatever they want to. That trend is waning.”

It’s true – one used to study English to get a job in the IAS or ICS in India but then you felt absolutely destroyed by the banality of the position you got (read Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English, August to get a sense of that).  And part of Panikkar’s plea seems to be connected to the fact that most people in India no longer take either history or literature seriously any more.  I don’t think they ever did (education and literacy have never been really directed at the kinds of liberal humanism that Panikkar imagines) so bemoaning it doesn’t really help.

And I came across this piece, too, about farmer suicides in India:

In Maharashtra’s Gondia district, 25,000 tonnes of rice procured by cooperative societies are lying in the open. “It’s difficult to carry on,” a distraught Harne, a postgraduate in Marathi literature, scribbled in his signed parting note. “I have unpaid loans.” Harne was meticulous in keeping records. His ledger showed he had suffered losses of about Rs 10,000 for each of the six acres he cultivated —- Rs 60,000 in all. Together with his outstanding loans of around Rs 2.5 lakh, the going had looked tough.

Postgraduates in literature are massively indebted.  The conditions in India look not dissimilar from the ones that produced the conflicts in Egypt and Tunisia.  They will produce explosive political movements – the aim of which needs to be the abolition of the state form and free flourishing of culture, nationalist or otherwise.

The drone attacks in Pakistan are inhuman

One more reason to stop the drone attacks in Pakistanfrom today’s edition of the Guardian UK:

Pakistan’s civilian victims of drone strikes deserve justice

If the US believes in the rule of law, it should not be hindering my advocacy of claims against the CIA for wrongful death and injury

Unmanned MQ-1 Predator drone aircraft

The unmanned Predator drone aircraft: Mirza Shahzad Akbar represents Pakistanis who are suing the CIA and US defence department on claims that they, as innocent bystanders, have been injured or lost relatives in drone attacks. Photograph: Sipa Press / Rex Features

I am a Pakistani lawyer who is suing the CIA for killing innocent civilians through drone strikes in my home country. This month, the US state department prevented me from travelling to the United States to participate in a conference hosted by the human rights programme at Columbia University law school in New York City.

I have been granted US visas before and no reason was given by the state department for refusal on this occasion: despite repeated enquiries, we were merely told there was a “problem” with my application. If seeking justice through the law – instead of violence – is the reason for banning my travel, then mine is another story of how government measures in the name of “national security” have gone too far.

Although I have previously held consultancies with USAID, and helped the FBI investigate a terrorism case involving a Pakistani diplomat, my relationship with the US government changed dramatically in 2010, when I decided to take on the case of Karim Khan. Karim Khan was away from home on New Year’s Eve 2009 when two missiles fired from what we believe was a CIA-operated drone struck his family home in North Waziristan and killed his son, aged 18, and his brother, aged 35. Informed over the phone of their deaths, he rushed back to find his home destroyed and his brother’s family – now a widow and two-year-old son – devastated.

Khan believes his son and brother were innocent victims. His brother, who had taken the surname Iqbal in honour of the famous Pakistani poet, was a schoolteacher who had returned to their ancestral village, shortly after finishing his master’s degree in English literature, because he believed education was vital for his countrymen’s improvement. Khan’s teenage son helped out at another government school in the area.

To avenge their deaths, Khan could have joined the Taliban insurgency against the United States. Instead, he put his trust in the legal system. In November 2010, we initiated legal notices against the CIA and the US secretary of defence for their wrongful deaths. Since then, more than 35 families from Pakistan have come forward and joined us in our legal proceedings.

So, why would the US government want to prevent me from discussing these cases at Columbia law school? Perhaps, it is because our legal challenge disrupts the narrative of “precision strikes” against “high-value targets” as an unqualified success against terrorism, at minimal cost to civilian life.

As a lawyer in Pakistan, my experiences tell a different story. A 17-year-old boy named Sadaullah – another victim of the drone attacks – sought my help shortly after we filed Karim Khan’s case. In September 2009, when he was 15 years old, Sadaullah was serving food at a family iftar, the traditional breaking of the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan, when missiles from a drone struck his grandfather’s home and killed four of his relatives. Falling debris knocked Sadaullah out, but he survived. When he awoke in a Peshawar hospital, he found that both his legs had been amputated and shrapnel had penetrated his eye, rendering it useless. Pakistani media reported that the strike had killed Ilyas Kashmiri, a militant leader. But months later, Ilyas Kahsmiri was seen alive in Afghanistan. It was only a few weeks ago that the militant was reportedly killed in yet another drone strike.

The New America Foundation, a US thinktank, estimates that the drone campaign has killed 35 high-value targets. But for every assassination, it seems a more ferocious and extremist leader has emerged. Thus, Pakistanis continue to be victims of terrorism. Suicide attacks are becoming more indiscriminate and claiming more lives – at least 6,302 have died since 2008, according to news reports.

This chaos within Pakistan makes Karim Khan’s story all the more powerful as a rejection of retributive violence in favour of the rule of law. As they seek investigation, judgment and redress for any wrong done, my clients’ impulses are a testament to how dearly people the world over – and not just in the west – value the principle of due process and the right to plead a cause.

Instead of preventing me from speaking with American colleagues about these legal cases, the US government should support our attempt at justice within the law – even if it disagrees with our view of the facts. Let us debate and sometimes disagree; after all, that is how American justice is supposed to be done.