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Archive for October, 2007

Pakistan’s top judge has accused Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz of violating a Supreme Court judgement. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry criticised Mr Aziz while hearing a contempt case against him and several senior government officials.

He said Mr Aziz had arranged for the immediate deportation of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif upon his return to the country in September.

Earlier the court said Mr Sharif had an inalienable right to return from exile.

Mr Chaudhry has in recent years passed several judgements against the government.

President Pervez Musharraf tried to sack him last March, provoking a storm of protests from Pakistan’s legal community and opposition parties.

Nawaz Sharif was deposed by Gen Musharraf in a 1999 coup and went into exile the following year.

He flew into Islamabad on 10 September, after the Supreme Court ruled in August that he was entitled to return.

But hours after landing he was flown back to exile in Saudi Arabia.

‘Prepare plane’

“By 6 September arrangements were being made to violate the order of this court… by the prime minister,” Chief Justice Chaudhry said on Tuesday.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrives at Islamabad airport 10/9/07

Mr Sharif was deported hours after landing in Islamabad

He was speaking after hearing evidence from the senior official of the Foreign Ministry and the chairman of Pakistan International Airlines.

They said they had been ordered to have a plane ready on 10 September to fly an important person from Islamabad to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

It is not clear if Prime Minister Aziz would be immune from prosecution for contempt.

The offence can carry up to six months imprisonment, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Judge Chaudhry said that his August ruling on Mr Sharif’s “inalienable right” to return to Pakistan “is very much intact… and is required to be implemented in letter and spirit”.

The case has been adjourned until 8 November.

Mr Sharif says he will return again to Pakistan before parliamentary elections expected to take place in January.

Mr Sharif’s rival, Benazir Bhutto, returned to Pakistan after years of self-imposed exile on 18 October. Several hours later she survived an assassination attempt that left more than 130 people dead.

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New Season, Season 2, Episode 4 Part 1 of 3
Aired Oct 24 2007

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Free online streaming of ep.6

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John Abraham, Ayesha Takia, Bipasha Basu

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Photo: Tariq Saeed/IRIN
A significant number of masseurs working in Lahore are actually male sex workers

LAHORE, 21 September 2006 (IRIN) – Under the illuminated Minar-e-Pakistan, the towering monument that marks the birth of the country, Pervaiz Din lays out the accessories of his trade. The tiny bottles of massage oil and aromatic colognes tinkle cheerfully as he pulls them out of a cloth bag and sets them out on a tray. Through much of the balmy September night, Pervaiz will await customers who seek a soothing roadside massage, a head rub – or something more.

“Some nights I get lucky. I get two or even three ‘good customers’ and I return home happy,” Pervaiz tells IRIN.

The ‘good’ customers he refers to are men who seek sex and will pay less than US $8 or so for a few hours with Pervaiz. They also pay for the room usually rented out in a cheap, ‘bazaar’ hotel, although some take him to the rooms or apartments in which they live.

“I have some ‘regulars’ who drop by several times a month. They really enjoy my services,” Pervaiz said.

Pervaiz is one of the hundreds of male sex workers (MSWs) in Lahore, the teeming capital of the Punjab province, and with a population of 8 million Pakistan’s second largest city after Karachi. Beneath its lush trees, and the domes and minarets of the Mughal buildings scattered across its older parts, scores of MSWs operate.

Although the precise number of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Lahore is unknown, according to the Pakistan National AIDS Programme, on the basis of findings by international agencies in 2002, they number around 38,000.

This number includes male transsexuals or ‘hijras’, who live in large family groups and have devised their own, unique system of leadership, inter-marriage and complex rituals, and a significant number of masseurs, like Pervaiz, who can be found in many parts of Lahore and other major cities, congregating at selected spots as dusk falls each evening.

The vast grounds surrounding the Minar-e-Pakistan and the banks of the city’s canal are two of their favourite places.

While such behaviour is strictly illegal, homosexuality is fairly widespread in Pakistan. Under the country’s Islamic laws, sodomy carries a penalty of whipping, imprisonment or even death – but the fact on the ground is that it is also for the large part silently accepted.

This uncomfortable compromise means there are strongly entrenched taboos about talking publicly about sex between men, and the result is that levels of awareness about the risk of HIV infection among male sex workers is extremely low.

The social marginalisation of communities such as the hijras and the fact that few male sex workers have access to healthcare or contact with awareness-raising programmes, makes them all the more vulnerable.

“There are groups working with women prostitutes and helping them, but no one offers to help us. We are social outcasts,” maintained Hanif, a friend of Pervaiz and also a MSW. He refused to give his full name.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), at the end of 2005 Pakistan had a total of between only 70,000 to 80,000 HIV-infected persons, from a population of 150 million. As such the prevalence rate is low (0.1 percent).

However, the World Bank, UNAIDS and other international agencies have consistently pointed out that because of the existence of various high-risk behaviours, coupled with a lack of awareness, and the fact that 50 percent of the population remains illiterate, the possibilities of a full-blown epidemic remain very real. Among the behaviours considered to be high-risk is sex between men.

UNAIDS reports that according to a study conducted in 2005, HIV prevalence was 4 percent among MSWs and 2 percent among hijras. Other sexually transmitted diseases occurred far more frequently, again suggesting a high risk of HIV infection.

The AIDS Prevention Association of Pakistan (APAP) has been working over the past several years to raise awareness about AIDS. To do so, it has set up camps at the shrines of ‘Sufi’ (traditional religious preachers) saints, where hijras, eunuchs and MSWs traditionally gather, especially during festivities held to mark birth anniversaries.

“Currently, we are focusing on young people at seminary schools, where male-to-male sex is known to occur,” explained Dr Hamid Bhatti at APAP. The organisation is also attempting to take AIDS awareness outside major cities and is working in smaller towns, such as Okara.

The challenge will inevitably be a long one though. Despite a heightened commitment by the government of Pakistan to combating AIDS, levels of awareness remain low – while social taboos mean that marginalised communities, such as MSWs, remain most at risk of falling victim to an infection that is feared could assume the proportions of an epidemic in the years to come.

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HOCKEY PEOPLE

In a shambles
By Islahuddin
The recent performance of the Pakistan junior hockey team in Singapore is a reminder of the importance of keeping a constant and active junior string. In fact, if the revival of the game in the country is our target, then the game has to be taken even beyond the junior string and right up to college and school levels.

Whatever experts might say, the fact remains that hockey at grassroots level in Pakistan is in shambles. Talent is on the verge of drying up — if not already dried up.

While this can be proved by a number of examples, just a brief real-life pointer would do the trick. Go back two or three decades and you would recall young boys playing hockey on the streets or grounds just as they used to play cricket. In fact, the pattern had a seasonal touch about it. The boys would play cricket when it was cricket season and would bring out their hockey sticks the moment an international hockey contest involving Pakistan would kick off. Even though on a much smaller scale, the same applied to football. All this, alas, doesn’t happen anymore.

Now only diehards pick up their sticks. The cricket season has become a year-long thing and with media extensively covering cricket, the euphoria never ends. Interestingly, most of the good teams in world hockey — Holland, Germany, South Korea, Spain, and even emerging ones like Malaysia, China and Japan — have no serious cricketing outfits in their ranks. Australia being the only country to have its cricket and hockey teams doing equally well on the international circuit, others like Pakistan, India and England have all suffered dwindling fortunes in hockey.

I have drawn this comparison not with an intention to find a lame excuse for our present situation where fresh talent in field hockey in Pakistan is hard to find. In fact, the intention is to point out the lax attitude of different administrations to stem the tide by devising effective strategies to popularise the game in the country, something that the Australians were able to do with great success.

Successive PHF managements have committed the folly of depending on different departments to fill the gap. They failed to realise the basic fact that departments only pick up players from among those who graduate through club level and even below that. So, they do their own talent-hunt, from within a restricted pool.

As such, they cannot take up what the task of the federation is: to popularise the game at grassroots level and to groom young boys through serious competitions at school, college, board and club levels. It used to be a common sight during national tournaments to watch a limited pool of players who outshone others. All of them, however, happened to be the same faces that were either part of the national outfit or made it to national camps whenever they were held.

The sitting PHF hierarchy has at least shown enough signs that it understands the basic problem. It has enlarged the pool through specific talent-hunt plans that have brought to the fore quite a few fresh faces that are now taking part in the national camps.

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An increasing number of football clubs are looking to local Asian communities to boost their falling attendances. The British Asians in Football Forum says many smaller clubs see it as a way of raising both coffers and community relations.

“The penny’s dropped with regards the potential of the Asian community,” said Abdul “Butch” Fazal of the forum.

“We’re a wealthy community and that brown pound counts. Most Asian football fans are second or third generation British. They’re established, in good jobs and earning nice money.”

And he added that unlike their parents or grandparents, football is not frowned upon.

Changing look

Luton Town Football Club chief executive John Mitchell believes clubs have neglected the potential of an Asian-British fan base and have work to do to spark interest in the game at a local level.

“There’s no easy solution,” he said.

“Over the years there has been a change in the local community that hasn’t been recognised but now we want to do something about it.”

He said Luton Town is working with local Asian business leaders, resident groups and children’s football teams.

I’ve never really had the chance to go to live games, but since my boys have been playing all the family enjoy it much more and we’ve been looking to go to some matches.

Football dad Irtiza Shah

But Mr Fazal said the entire look of some clubs needs to change.

“Clubs are actually desperate now to get Asian players and spectators in, but they’ve got to change that under-representation in every strata of the game from administration to coaching to players, the lot.”

‘Racism remains’

Hamza Shah plays for an under-nines football team and his father says he is going to be an Asian David Beckham.

Along with six of his friends and three of their fathers, he recently saw his first proper football match, courtesy of Luton Town’s outreach programme.

Hamza’s dad, Syed, says the group loves football but have been put off in the past.

“Football should be a showcase for unification because everyone likes football,” he said of the game’s potential.

“A few years ago there weren’t very many black players and now there are no Asians.”

He said racism remains a reality in today’s game.

Young fans

Fans of the future are being invited to watch local football matches

“There does seem to be an elitism and inherent racism within the sport and you see that and your enthusiasm flags.”

But Irtiza Shah, who was at the same match with his sons and nephews, says they are all keen to attend.

“I’ve never really had the chance to go to live games, but since my boys have been playing all the family enjoy it much more and we’ve been looking to go to some matches.”

The Luton Town ground is in Bury Park, which is home to a large number of ethnic minority migrants.

Yet few seem loyal to the local club.

“I support Manchester United,” said one resident of Kenilworth Road.

“My house is just next to the stadium and I park my car in their car park. I’m a bit ashamed. I really should go.”

Other locals admitted to supporting Liverpool and Chelsea, but not the Hatters.

Luton is not the only club looking to fill its seats with a new generation of Asian fan.

Similar initiatives are being run at Bradford, Oldham, Blackburn, Leicester and others.

‘Affordable fun’

West Bromwich Albion’s owners believe part of the problem is the sport’s image as an expensive outing.

This they put down to the reputation of the big earning, big spending Premier League clubs.

In order to send a message about the affordability of the local game, they’ve been training ethnic minority community coaches who go into schools wearing the club strip and teach football during lunch breaks.

boy going through turnstile

The Hatters outreach programme helps bring in the uninitiated

Abdur Obeed is one of those coaches and on a recent playground visit, he was surrounded by dozens of children eager to play.

He mixed up a team of girls and boys and soon a boisterous game was under way, with a young girl in a head scarf emerging among the most enthusiastic .

“Lots of these kids have parents that are into football,” said Mr Obeed.

“Their grandparents and their families probably weren’t so keen but now they’re supporting their children because they love football and that’s why we’re seeing more young Asians playing.”

Eight-year-old Bilal Amar, one of the first-timers at a Luton match, sounds a positive note for the future of local Asian football support.

“I like Luton, they’re a good team,” he said.

“They’ve got some good talent. It’s more exciting than the TV. I want to go again. I think my dad will say yes.”

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