An Unlikely Romance Ends in Tragedy
Young American idealist killed by Indian rickshaw driver husband

Erin White & Bunty Sharma (Credit:
Erin White & Bunty Sharma

A devoted American social worker has been stabbed to death by her Indian husband of five months – who then returned to their home and blew himself up.

Erin Willinger, 35, a yoga teacher and psychologist from New York, was found dumped in a bush with multiple stab wounds to her face and body in the city of Agra on Thursday night, according to Indian news reports.

Her husband, 32-year-old Bunty Sharma, returned to their home, where he is believed to have ignited cooking gas, causing a massive explosion that killed him.

The tragedy comes just months after the couple met and married – but accused each other of lying about previous marriages, while Willinger also accused her new husband of infidelity.

Willinger had visited Agra – which is about 120 miles south of New Delhi – with a group of Americans in July and chose to stay after telling the Indo-Asian News Service she wanted to help make the city worthy of ‘such a beautiful monument as the Taj Mahal’.

But within weeks, their marriage began to crumble and by December, they started living separately.

Both accused the other of hiding previous marriages and Willinger, who went by the alias Kiran Sharma and also uses the name Erin White, accused her new husband of greed, infidelity and cruelty, the Hindustan Times reported.

White approached the Agra Police’s Mediation Cell for Family Matters in January, asking for help and the couple was put in touch with a counselor, who encouraged them to start living together again.

But the arguments continued and on Thursday evening, Bunty reportedly drove Willinger to a quieter section of the city and stabbed her to death in his taxi cab.

He then shoved her body in bushes along the road, the Hindustan Times reported.

He then returned home and locked himself in his room on the second floor.

Local residents then said they heard a loud explosion and saw flames erupting from the room. When they rushed inside to rescue him, they found his charred body on the floor.

Authorities believe Bunty sparked the blast by igniting gas he had released from a cooking gas cylinder in the apartment.

The union home ministry and the American embassy in New Delhi have been informed.

A State Department official confirmed Willinger’s death.

‘We offer our condolences to her family and loved ones on their loss,’ the official told MailOnline.

‘We are in contact with her family and are providing all appropriate consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of those affected, we decline further comment.’

Before her death, Willinger had revealed that she was deeply in love with Indian culture and wanted to improve civic conditions in Agra.

On the day she was killed, she addressed a press conference to promote her campaign ‘Agra Sunder Hai’, and several local NGOs pledged support to her.

She had said she hoped to help Agra with improving its water, plastic waste and garbage disposal.

She said that she wanted to stay in Agra until ’60 or maybe more – as long as the body permits’.

‘This city needs a push,’ she said. ‘The city is dirty and no one wants to stay back here for a night. You have to teach people to be conscious of hygiene, health and sensibilities of others. You have to build trust and reach out.’

She spoke of taking money from the rich to give resources to the poor, and said she hoped to get actors and other celebrities on board to help make programs more attractive.

And she was confident that her idea was going to be a success.

‘I am talking with so many [students, businessmen and professionals] and they all agree that the time for change has indeed come,’ she said.

‘You need role models. A democratic society needs inspiring heroes to move ahead. You need success stories to diffuse the clouds of negativity all around.

India and Pakistan Talk, but Tensions Are High

Nawaz Sharif & Manmohan Singh at UN (Credit:
Nawaz Sharif & Manmohan Singh at UN

LONDON, Sept 27 — The leaders of Pakistan and India held their first official meeting in New York on Sunday, leaving with renewed promises of mutual restraint in Kashmir but little real hope for a fresh start in relations.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan shook hands for the cameras at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan before their long-anticipated meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. But despite the smiles, violence back home formed the backdrop to the encounter.

A series of cross-border artillery exchanges in the disputed territory of Kashmir over the past two months has led to the death of at least eight soldiers on both sides, and plunged diplomatic relations to their lowest ebb in years. In the latest episode, on Thursday, a militant raid on an Indian Army base in Indian-controlled Kashmir resulted in the deaths of at least 10 people, causing an outcry in India.

India’s national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon, said that Mr. Singh and Mr. Sharif agreed during their meeting on Sunday to dial back tensions in Kashmir, the disputed territory that has triggered three wars between Pakistan and India since 1947.

The leaders pledged to push senior military officers to find “effective means” of restoring a 2003 cease-fire in Kashmir, Mr. Menon said.

Both Mr. Singh and Mr. Sharif personally favor normalizing relations, but both are hamstrung by domestic considerations — especially hard-line elements in their respective military and political establishments — that drastically limit their room to maneuver.

Mr. Singh’s party faces an electoral challenge early next year against Hindu parties that have called for a tougher stance against Pakistan. Under fire at home for meeting with Mr. Sharif, he established a tough tone in an address to the United Nations on Saturday in which he called Pakistan the “epicenter of terrorism” in South Asia.

For any progress to occur, he said, Pakistan has to first ensure that the “terrorist machine” operating from its soil is shut down. That was a reference to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group that was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, in which 166 people were killed, and whose leadership still enjoys free movement within Pakistan.

Mr. Sharif, 63, was more optimistic, telling the United Nations on Friday that he wanted “a new beginning” with India, and deploring the resources both countries have spent on their nuclear-arms race — a pointed statement given that it was Mr. Sharif who ordered Pakistan’s first nuclear test during his last stint in power in the late 1990s.

Mr. Sharif’s push for a new peace initiative can be seen in part as an attempt to continue the business of that previous term, in which he staked much on reaching out to India in a process that was derailed by a nuclear crisis and a military coup in 1999. Now, as then, he has framed better relations with India as an economic necessity for both countries.

“We stand ready to re-engage with India in a substantive and purposeful dialogue,” he said during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.

For Mr. Singh, 81, whose lack of personal political power has made him a deeply cautious prime minister, meeting with Mr. Sharif was a bold move.

On Sunday at a large rally in New Delhi, Narendra Modi, who is the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, questioned Mr. Singh’s ability to undertake the meeting effectively.

“I wonder if he will meet the Pakistan P.M. confidently today?” Mr. Modi asked. “Will he be able to ask him when Pakistan will stop aiding terrorism? Will he be able to question Nawaz Sharif on the Indian soldiers who were brutally killed?”

Analysts said Sunday’s meeting met its low expectations, and could at best stabilize relations until the political climate in both countries improved.

“This can help border incidents from escalating until India’s election season is over and more serious business can be transacted between the two countries,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States.

Stephen P. Cohen, an American academic who recently published a book on the India-Pakistan conflict, said the leaders appeared as “two men with tired ideas and constraints that they cannot overcome, afraid to take the bold measures that could liberate them.”

But even with the best intentions, Pakistani and Indian leaders have frequently found their efforts at diplomacy undone by the spoiling tactics of hard-liners.

In 1999, Mr. Sharif made impressive strides toward peace with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s prime minister. Months later, the Pakistani military carried out a covert operation in the disputed territory of Kashmir that spectacularly upended the peace drive and, for a brief period, edged the two countries toward a nuclear conflict. A coup deposed Mr. Sharif soon afterward.

In November 2008, Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, told an Indian conference that Pakistan was ready for a more moderate nuclear weapons policy, and called for closer economic ties between the countries. Days later came the militants’ coordinated attacks in Mumbai.

The long conflict between India and Pakistan has become a major preoccupation of the security establishment in both countries, and has found expression through proxy forces in third countries like Afghanistan.

Indian officials have for years demanded that Pakistan take action against Lashkar-e-Taiba and its founder, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who lives openly in Lahore. Mr. Menon, the Indian security adviser, said in New York that Mr. Sharif had promised to take action against those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Mr. Menon said the tone of the talks was friendly, but added: “As for how useful and productive the meeting was, I think the only proof will be in the months to come.”

Gardiner Harris contributed reporting from New Delhi, and Somini Sengupta from New York.

Secrets of the Thar Desert

Peacock in Thar (Credit: Fayyaz Naich)
Peacock in Thar (Credit: Fayyaz Naich)
The secret to the spiritual tranquility of rural Sindh appears to emanate from deep inside the Tharparkar desert, that straddles the Indo Pak border. Although Hindus make up some 40 percent of the desert, their shrines and idols – as well as Jain temples, are as much a part of the landscape as the mosques for the majority Muslim populace. Indeed, the sacredness with which local people treat all life, appears to draw from ancient Sindhi civilization that existed long before Pakistan was carved out of India.

Although the Indian and Pakistan army patrols both sides of the Thar border, there is commonality between the religious groups that have stayed behind since 1947. The Tharis share grinding poverty — living as they do, in cone shaped huts, drinking shallow ground water and subsisting on wild plants and herbs. They are herders and growers in a small market economy, where there is little money to buy the goods found in the cities.

While much of Pakistan suffers from communal and sectarian killings, there is a sanctity for life in the desert. In Bhodesar, mosque and mandir (Hindu temple) coexist side by side, and are visited by people of both religions. In the mandir’s the Hindu way of life is present, with women praying indoors… while men play devotional songs in more open spaces. Water and food is shared among the creatures that live around; big dodo birds that are extinct elsewhere, mix with the common crows with impunity.

In Islamkot, there is a water fountain, where peacocks come to drink water in the early mornings and evenings, even as they sit on top of trees under the blazing sun.

It is in the poetry and songs sung by faqirs (dervishes) in undulating sands lit by the moon, that carries the message of peace between the communities. Whether it is the songs of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai or Shaikh Ayaz, the intoxication with which the sufis render their songs, to the accompaniment of harmonium and drums, carries away listeners. The peacocks crying out from behind the veil of darkness seem to be as much part of the music troupe.

We witnessed one such performance near the desert’s border with India.. where a sturdy rows of lights were the only evidence of the division of Sindh. We had crossed the salty lowland that stretches to the Rann of Kutch… which was invaded by Indian troops in the 1965 war and only partially returned to Pakistan. It was a reminder of the territorial hostility that remains between the two neighbors. Lurching over ditches and marshes, our four wheel drive rumbled near the Indo Pak border and settled on the sands to hear musicians.

The verses I had heard earlier from our hosts came to mind,
“Hindu banay ga, na Musalman banay ga
Insaan ki aulad hai, insaan banay ga”
(You will be neither a Hindu, nor a Muslim
You are descended from a human, you will be a human)

But these ideals aside, it is the realpolitik of partition that dominates the reality for Hindus and Muslims on both sides. Over the last decade, the army transformed the Tharparkar desert from undulating sand dunes — formerly traversed by giant crab like vehicles — into a region accessible by metal roads. The roads from Mithi, Islamkot to Nangarparkar have brought security check posts and Rangers , and restrictions on cameras, laptops and other equipment.

In this border race, India has reportedly acquired more sophisticated equipment to monitor border activity. It is this technological race that is keeping Pakistan’s armed forces on its toes.

For the ordinary Tharis, life goes on as it might have centuries ago. As a local medical practitioner, Dr Khatau Mal puts it, new roads means that he now receives more victims of motor bike accidents as compared to snake bite. With endemic poverty, the doctor says the only reason more Hindus don’t migrate to India is that they are too poor to afford the journey.

Today, drinking water is still a precious commodity. Those with access to underground wells are lucky. The Tharis use donkeys, or people to turn pulleys.. tied with ropes to a bucket.. turning it clock wise and anti clockwise to draw water from the deep wells.

There is a well in Bhalva that would have been common place, but for the legend that it was the spot where Marvi filled water when Umar Soomro — the King of Umarkot — kidnapped her in the 14th century. That became the inspiration for Bhitai’s poetry of the young woman’s resistance to Umar’s wealth and power, and her success in eventually returning to her own people in Thar.

In the last three years, the heavy downpours in Sindh have changed the desert into large swathes of green. It has led to mushrooming of wild plants, which provide fodder for animals and food for people. The rains have left streams of water trickling down from the Karoonjhar hills – filling the dams and lakes below.

It is also the non governmental organizations that are starting to make a difference. Thardeep Rural Development Program is one such NGO that is putting down roots here. It has earmarked villages throughout the desert where people are being empowered to improve their access to water sources, education and the means of earning a livelihood.

The TRDP has a model rest house in Nangarparkar, which is already implementing environmentally friendly policies like using solar power, water conservation and local building materials. The impressive building – which opens up to the Karoonjhar hills – will have a convention center as well. It is a work in progress that promises to improve the quality of life for all the desert people.

Meanwhile, in a country wracked by sectarianism and intolerance , there is much to be learnt from Tharparkar. This “green desert,” that stretches to the Indian border, embodies the spiritual strength with which Sindh has learnt to deal with its adversities.

Why Pakistan Celebrates Independence Day on Aug 14

Independence Day (Credit:
Independence Day (Credit:

Bangalore, Aug 14: The separate states of India and Pakistan were created at midnight on August 15, 1947. Yet while India celebrates that day as its independence day, Pakistan celebrates its independence day a day before. Why it is so?Reason 1:Pakistan’s first independence day was also celebrated on August 15 but later on it was advanced to August 14. One of the reasons is that British Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, who had chosen August 15 to commemorate the surrender of Japan to the Allies Power marking the end of World War II in 1945, sought to transfer power to Pakistan on August 14 so that he could be present in New Delhi to observe India’s maiden independence day celebrations.

Reason 2:Also in 1948, Pakistan decided to celebrate its Independence Day on August 14 because 27 Ramadan, an auspicious date of the Islamic lunar calendar, coincided with it. Hence the Pakistanis decided to celebrate their Independence Day a day before the actual date. But otherwise, August 15 is the actual Independence Day for both India and Pakistan (Even South Korea observes its Liberation Day on August 15). The Indian Independence Act of 1947 clearly said: “As from the fifteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and forty-seven, two independent Dominions shall be set up in India, to be known respectively as India and Pakistan.

“Even Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah had declared August 15 as the birthday of the independent and sovereign state of Pakistan. The first commemorative postage stamps of Pakistan which were released in July 1948 also mentioned 15 August 1947 as its Independence Day.OneIndia News

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Spoilers threaten Pakistan India Peace Process

Indo Pak peace process threatened (Credit:
Indo Pak peace process threatened (Credit:

ISLAMABAD: Deadly violence over the last week along the disputed Kashmir border between Pakistan and India threatens to sabotage recent efforts by the nuclear-armed rivals to improve ties, illustrating how vulnerable the normalization process is to spoilers from both sides.

The most dangerous of these potential spoilers are Islamic militants who have historically been nurtured by the Pakistani military to fight a covert war over Kashmir and may feel threatened by any indication the government is cozying up to India.

The Pakistani army and its militant proxies have a history of using violence to sabotage outreach to India by civilian leaders, and suspicion about the generals’ intentions still runs high in New Delhi.

But many Pakistani analysts believe the army’s leaders have little interest in rocking the boat now, raising the worrying possibility that the recent violence was sparked by militants who have gone rogue or are operating in cooperation with lower level military officials sympathetic to their cause.

”This has really pulled the rug from under the feet of Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh,” the prime ministers of Pakistan and India, said Moeed Yusuf, a Pakistan expert at the United States Institute of Peace. Both leaders have expressed a desire to improve ties, especially to increase cross-border trade.

The US is likely watching the current tension closely, both because of the nuclear arms on both sides and the spillover effect that conflict between the two countries has in neighboring Afghanistan.

The US has long suspected Pakistan of supporting Taliban militants in Afghanistan to counter Indian influence.

Majority Muslim Pakistan and predominantly Hindu India have fought three major wars since they both gained independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. The disputed territory is divided between the two countries but claimed in its entirety by both.

A 2003 cease-fire agreement has largely calmed the disputed border between the countries, although they occasionally accuse each other of violating it by firing mortars or gunshots, and several soldiers were killed on each side in January in cross-border attacks.

The latest round of violence began last Tuesday when, according to the Indian military, 20 heavily-armed militants and Pakistani soldiers crossed the Kashmir border and killed five Indian troops.

The Pakistani military has denied that its soldiers killed any Indian troops and accused Indian soldiers of killing a pair of civilians and wounding two others along the border over the last week.

The latest accusation came Wednesday when a Pakistani military official said Indian troops shelled the Battal sector of Pakistan-held Kashmir on Tuesday night, killing one civilian and seriously wounding another.

An Indian army officer denied the allegation, saying there was no shelling or exchange of gunfire in the sector. Both the Pakistani and Indian officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military policy.

Pakistan’s new prime minister, Sharif, took office in June with a pledge to improve relations with India to help turn around his country’s stuttering economy.

Trade between the two countries is around $2 billion per year and could go as high as $11 billion once trade is normalized, according to some estimates.

Pakistani Finance Minister Muhammad Ishaq Dar indicated earlier this week that the government was backing off granting most favored nation trading status to India in the wake of the violence on the Kashmir border.

But Sharif has expressed hope that the normalization process would continue and said he looks forward to meeting with his Indian counterpart on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York in September.

”Pakistan will continue to respond to the situation with restraint and responsibility in the hope that steps would be taken by India to help reduce tensions,” Sharif said Wednesday. ”Our objective is peace. For that, what we need is more diplomacy.”

Sharif, who has served as prime minister twice before, has experience being undermined in his efforts to reach out to India.

He signed a landmark agreement with the country in February 1999 that sought to avoid nuclear conflict, but the goodwill didn’t last long.

In May 1999, the Pakistani army chief at the time, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, quietly sent soldiers into an area of Indian-held Kashmir called Kargil, sparking a conflict that cost hundreds of lives and could have led to nuclear war.

Sharif said the army acted without his knowledge. Five months later, Musharraf toppled Sharif in a coup and sent him into exile in Saudi Arabia, not allowing him to return until 2007.

Yusuf, the Pakistani expert, said he believes the army’s leaders are now on the same page as Sharif in terms of gradually improving ties with India because the military has its hands full fighting a deadly Taliban insurgency.

India fumes after Sarabjit Singh dies in Pakistan

Sarabjit Singh  (Credit
Sarabjit Singh

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI, May 2- India reacted furiously to Thursday’s death in a Pakistani jail of convicted spy Sarabjit Singh, who was badly beaten last week by fellow inmates, the latest incident to strain relations between the neighbours.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have fought three wars since the partition of British-ruled India in 1947, although they began a peace process in 2004. They remain deeply suspicious of each other.

Singh was arrested in Pakistan in 1991 and sentenced to death for spying and carrying out four bomb blasts that killed 14 people. His family says he was an innocent farmer who was arrested after drunkenly wandering over the border.

Singh was hospitalized with a head injury on Friday after two fellow prisoners attacked him in jail in the eastern city of Lahore. India’s government and his family had pleaded with Pakistan to let him return to India for treatment.

“The criminals responsible for the barbaric and murderous attack on him must be brought to justice,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement.

“It is particularly regrettable that the government of Pakistan did not heed the pleas of the government of India, Sarabjit’s family and of civil society in India and Pakistan to take a humanitarian view of this case.”

Pakistan said it provided the best treatment for Singh, who it said had been comatose and on a ventilator following injuries sustained during a “scuffle” with fellow inmates.

“A sustainable and long lasting relationship between two countries has to be between people. That relation has been hurt by what has happened today,” Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters.

The latest flare-up follows an outbreak of violence in the disputed territory of Kashmir in January, where two Pakistani and two Indian soldiers were killed. It was the worst clash there since India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire nearly a decade ago, leading to angry reactions from both sides.

Indian opposition parties and Sarabjit Singh’s family came down hard on the government for being too soft with Pakistan. Parliament was adjourned for two hours after MPs shouted anti-Pakistan slogans.

“(The) centre is unable to give a strong answer to Pakistan’s inhuman acts. Beheading of our soldiers and now Sarabjit’s death are 2 recent examples,” Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, widely tipped as a prime ministerial candidate, wrote on Twitter.

Despite the recent strains, India and Pakistan’s relations have improved after nose-diving in 2008 when gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai in a three-day rampage that India blamed on a Pakistani militant group. Last year, India hanged Pakistani citizen Ajmal Kasab, who was convicted of taking part in that attack.

(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in ISLAMABAD and Anurag Kotoky in NEW DELHI; Editing by Nick Macfie)


Siachen Glacier shrinking due to rising temperatures

Siachen Glacier (Credit:
Siachen Glacier (Credit:
Siachen Glacier (Credit:

Karachi, Jan. 4: The Siachen Glacier has reduced by 5.9 km in longitudinal extent between 1989 and 2009 because of rising temperatures, researchers say.

Human presence at Siachen may also be affecting the neighbouring glaciers of Gangotri, Miyar, Milan and Janapa which feed Ganges, Chenab and Sutlej rivers, the Dawn reported.

According to the study by Dr Ghulam Rasul of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindukush together make the largest mountain chain on earth and they are the custodian of the third largest ice reserves after the Polar Regions.

The glaciers in these mountain ranges feed 1.7 billion people through seven large Asian river systems, including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Mekong and Yangtze.

These ranges are a blessing for South Asia as they protect it from the cold surges in winter associated with northerly winds.

The study says that since temperature maxima has been increasing at a greater rate, the thinning of ice and retreat of glacial extent has taken place simultaneously at an alarming rate. The decay estimates calculated by remote sensing techniques show that Siachen Glacier has reduced by 5.9km in longitudinal extent from 1989 to 2009. Thinning of its ice mass is evaluated at 17 percent.

A sharp decline in the mass of all glaciers has been seen since the 1990s. Accelerated melting process of seasonal snow and that of glacier ice from mountain glaciers have been adding to greater volume of water into the sea than normal discharges, it says.

Both precipitation and thermal regimes in Pakistan have suffered changes, especially in the recent two decades in line with a sharp jump in global atmospheric temperatures.

Visible changes in hydrological cycle have been observed in the form of changing precipitation patterns, cropping patterns, droughts, water availability periods, frequency and intensity of heat waves, precipitation events and weather-induced natural disasters.

According to the study, both minimum and maximum temperatures have increased in summer and winter almost throughout Pakistan.

Late onset and early winter ending will reduce the length of growing season for crops which will complete their biological life quickly causing reduction in yields as plants will gain accelerated maturity without reaching proper height and size.

Early winter means that temperatures will start rising in February when wheat crop reaches the grain formation stage.

The study lists recent extreme weather events which caused great losses to the socio-economic sector. They are: cloudburst events (2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011), prolonged droughts (1999-2002), historic river flooding (2010), tropical cyclones (1999, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011), severe urban flooding (2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011), heatwaves in spring (2006, 2007, 2010), snowmelt flooding (2005, 2007, 2010) and drought at sowing stage (2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011).

About the floods of 2010 and 2011, the study says that such back-to-back occurrence of the history’s worst flooding is at least a unique phenomenon in case of Pakistan.

In 2010, intense precipitation concentrated over the elevated plains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to interaction of three weather systems from east, south and north.

Similarly, another historic climatic anomaly occurred in 2011 when the monsoon axis set its orientation from head of Bay of Bengal to southern Sindh which was commonly found parallel to the Himalayas in case of heavy precipitation in Pakistan.

The study has been published in Nature-Pakistan.

Karachi – A Former Business Hub of the Indo Subcontinent

Ellphinstone St, Karachi (Credit:
Ellphinstone St, Karachi  (Credit:
Ellphinstone St, Karachi (Credit:

Karachi, the first Capital of Pakistan and its financial hub, is a leading Industrial centre and great Seaport. Karachi accounts for a lion’s share in the GDP and generates 65% of Pakistan’s total revenue.

According to legend, Karachi was named after ‘Mai-Kolachi’, a Sindhi – Baloch fisher-woman.   Initially it was a small village named ‘Kolachi jo goth’ (The village of Kolachi).   Soon it grew into a bigger village and the short name Kolachi remained to mark its identity. It was only in 19th Century, it got its present name, Karachi.

The British had their sights set upon Karachi when they opened up a factory in 1795.   The factory was soon shut down due to differences with the then rulers, the Talpurs.   However, this village lying by the mouth of the Indus river had caught the attention of the British East India Company, who, after sending a couple of exploratory missions to the area, conquered the town on February 3, 1839.   In 1840, it was made capital of Sindh and was added to Bombay Presidency.

Soon after the arrival of British, Karachi was connected to rest of India by rail.   Many public projects were launched like ‘The Empress Market’, ‘Frere Hall’ etc.   A large number of Hindu Sindhis, Parsis, Gujaratis and Kutchis settled in the city when the British embarked upon a large-scale modernization of the city, and it was made the business hub of the subcontinent.   In 1914, Karachi became the largest grain exporting port of the British Empire.

A little fort was constructed for protection and it had two main gateways: one facing the sea, known as Kharo Dar(Brackish Gate) and the other facing the adjoining Lyari river, known as the Mitho Dar (Sweet Gate).   These places are now known as Kharadar and Meethadar.

In the 1941 census, Karachi had 51% Hindus, 43% Muslims and rest of the 6% were Parsis, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Jains, and Bahais.   73% of the Karachites stated their mother tongue as Sindhi, 6.2% stated Urdu/Hindi. Gujarati and Balochi were the two other major languages spoken in Karachi.   This was a city where people from all religions, languages, colors, races lived very peacefully and made it one of the most prominent and prosperous cities in Asia.

Sindhi Hindus and Parsis constructed the finest schools, colleges, libraries, hospitals, public and elite clubs during British rule.   Historical places like Dayaram Jethmal College (DJ Science College), Narayan Jagannath Vaidya School (NJV High school), Hindu gymkhana etc were constructed by Sindhi Hindus and Jahanghir Kothari Parade, Edulji Dinshaw dispensaries were constructed by Parsis.

The partition of India and formation of Pakistan changed the fate of Karachi and transformed it totally.   Despite partition, the non-Muslims (Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Jews & Sikhs) living in the city did not want to leave for India, and preferred to stay back. However the situation became so adverse that they were forced to flee their livelihood and homes.   Majority of the Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs and Jains left for India in Feb-March 1948, when the city witnessed Hindu-Muslim riots.

Soon the effect of the partition was showing on Karachi, names of many historical places were changed, like ‘Ram Bagh’ to ‘Aaram bagh’, ‘Gandhi garden’ to ‘Karachi zoological garden’, ‘Victoria Road’ to ‘Abdullah Haroon Road’, ‘Hindu gymkhana’ to ‘National Academy of Performing arts’, ‘Bunder road’ to ‘MA Jinnah Road’.   Laloo Khet, which was the farm of a Hindu landlord named Lalchand, was renamed Liaquatabad.

I fail to understand what message Pakistan was trying to give the world by changing the names of such historical places. This act of insanity in renaming places reminds me of what Hassan Nisar, Pakistan’s renowned analyst had to say, “Jo qoumein apni tareekh ko mashq karti hai tarekh un ko mashq kar deti hai” (Those nations which distort their history; are vandalized by history itself).

History was distorted, non-Muslims were forced to leave city for India, and the people who took pride in their City were no longer there and were replaced by new immigrants who started influencing the very culture of the City.   Despite this initial set back, Karachi limped back to normal and it remained peaceful to a large extent till the 1970s.   The city had clubs, pubs, and discos. Shopping areas used to remain open the whole night (especially Tariq road).

However, this city had to face much tougher times during Bhutto’s and later Zia’s regimes, when forced Islamization was thrust upon the citizens of Karachi.   All the above mentioned establishments were closed, and instead, we were only left with selected liquor shops which were supposed to cater to only non-Muslims.

The once peaceful Karachi is today amongst the most dangerous and unsafe metropolitan cities in the world.   A Metro, where a person can’t flaunt an expensive cell phone.   A city which is becoming popular and infamous for target killings.   Statistics show that the number of people, who have lost their lives in incidents of target killing, during the last 3 years, outnumber those who have been killed due to terrorism.  This is an alarming trend.   This is also a city where you can carry an AK47 without any license, and no one would dare question you if you belong to any political party.

As a final word, I would like to make an appeal, “Save my Karachi from the mobsters, pseudo nationalists and religious bigots, who are bent upon ruining the very fabric of this great city”.

Hindus from Pakistan flee to India, citing religious persecution

Indo Pak border at Wagah (Credit:

NEW DELHI, Aug 15 — More than 250 Pakistani Hindus have arrived in India over the past two weeks bearing tales of religious persecution, according to Indian border officials, fueling perceptions of growing discrimination against minorities in Pakistan.

The Pakistani Hindus, who came by road and rail with valid pilgrimage visas from Sindh, Baluchistan and Punjab provinces, have reported incidents of kidnapping, looting and forced religious conversion, the officials said.

Pakistan has 2.7 million Hindus in a majority-Muslim population of 180 million. They represent those who chose to stay after the sectarian blood bath that accompanied the 1947 partition of the subcontinent at the end of British rule.

The Pakistani Hindus’ allegations of persecution and expressed desire to stay in India pose a diplomatic quandary for the New Delhi government: Should India welcome them and open the floodgates? Or should it stay aloof, treating this as an internal Pakistani matter — and shielding itself from allegations of Muslim mistreatment in India.

“As far as we know, the families have come on a pilgrimage. So far, no family that is based in Pakistan has approached us for asylum,” Preneet Kaur, India’s deputy foreign minister, told the Headlines Today news channel in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Kaur noted that India and Pakistan had agreed in 1972 not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. But she added, “However, we do request Pakistan, on humanitarian grounds, to look after the interests of minorities.”

India does not have a national refugee law; it deals with arrivals from neighboring countries on an ad hoc basis. Thousands of Pakistani Hindus who have come here in the past two decades have still not received Indian citizenship.

But the country may be unable to maintain that detachment for long, in view of the steady stream of Pakistani Hindus who say they are being harassed by new Muslim fundamentalist groups in Pakistan’s Sindh province.

“They barge into our homes in broad daylight, snatch jewelry from the women, money from our shops, and kidnap Hindu girls and convert them to Islam,” Mukesh Kumar Ahuja, a young Hindu from Pakistan, told Indian reporters in the northern state of Punjab. “We want India to let us stay and ease visa rules for our relatives who are still in Pakistan.”

Tejinder Goggi, a hotel owner and peace activist in Punjab, said he saw at least 100 Pakistani Hindus arrive last week with bedding, pots and pans stuffed into jute sacks and cardboard cartons.

“They are worried about their daughters because 20 girls were kidnapped and married to Muslim boys in the past year,” Goggi said.

An immigration officer said that only half of those who have come to India in the past year have returned to Pakistan.

“They come for pilgrimage on a 30-day visa, and they keep extending it,” the officer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the politically sensitive issue. “They produce medical certificates to say they are ill, or report a marriage or death in the family.”

On Monday, several Indian lawmakers raised the issue in Parliament and urged the government to take it up with Pakistan.

“If persecuted Hindus don’t come to India, where will they go?” asked Prakash Javadekar, spokesman for the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Hindu protests have been growing in Pakistan. Last week, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari set up a three-member panel to address the Hindus’ grievances, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik has promised to examine the situation. “The government will first look into the matter and then allow them to leave Pakistan,” Malik said of those seeking visas. He did, however, question why India had given such a large number of visas to the Hindus.

Not all Pakistani Hindus want to leave. “I was born in Pakistan,” Kanhaiya Nagpal, a retired professor, said in a telephone interview from Karachi. “I like to live here. This is my country.”

Nagpal said he had participated in a demonstration organized by several Hindu groups Monday to protest harassment. But he added: “The solution is not to run away. If the rule of law is followed in Pakistan, then everything will be all right.”

Nisar Mehdi in Karachi contributed to this report.

India formally allows foreign investment from Pakistan

Indo Pak trade reps Sharma & Faheem (Credit:
NEW DELHI, Aug 1: India on Wednesday overturned its ban on foreign investment from Pakistan in a move designed to build goodwill amid a renewed push for a peace settlement between the two neighbours.

“The government of India has reviewed the policy… and decided to permit a citizen of Pakistan or an entity incorporated in Pakistan to make investments in India,” said a statement from the Indian commerce ministry.

India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since independence, are channeling their peace efforts into “trade diplomacy”.

The aim is to build enough trust to tackle the more troublesome issues that divide them, such as the disputed territory of Kashmir.

“We welcome this decision,” Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Moazzam Khan told AFP.

“It will definitely benefit Pakistani investors and industrialists. We hope this decision will be fruitful for the people of both countries.” Pakistani businessmen also welcomed the move.

“We do appreciate this action by the government of India, but what will be more interesting for me is when the Indian authorities lift its ban on Indian investors investing in Pakistan,” said Majyd Aziz, involved in the import and export of minerals and in shipping.

“For a better economic future in South Asia, it will be a huge step when businessmen from both the countries can freely invest in each other’s country.” Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the board of investment in Sindh province, said it was the “right decision taken at the right time”.

“Allowing our country to invest in India is a great confidence booster and will pave the way for more cordial bilateral relations,” he said.

The warming commercial ties underline the new relevance of the private sector in the peace process, analysts said.

Pakistani citizens and companies will be allowed to invest in all sectors apart from defence, space and atomic energy, a government statement said. All propositions must be notified to the Indian government, it added.

The decision to accept foreign direct investment from Pakistan was taken in April when the trade ministers of the South Asian rivals met in New Delhi.

They also discussed ways to ease visa curbs on business travel and the possibility of allowing banks from both countries to open cross-border branches.

The improved relations between the rivals stem from Pakistan’s decision to grant India “Most Favoured Nation (MFN)” status by year end, meaning Indian exports will be treated the same as those from other nations.

MFN status will mean India can export 6,800 items to Pakistan, up from around 2,000 at present, and the countries aim to lift bilateral trade to $6 billion within three years, officials have said.

Official bilateral trade is just $2.7 billion and heavily tilted in New Delhi’s favour, according to most recent figures, but unofficial trade routed through third countries is estimated at up to $10 billion.

In further progress, the neighbours opened a second trading gate in April along their heavily militarised border, increasing the number of trucks able to cross daily to 600 from 150.

Pakistan has called for a “new era” in economic collaboration with India to build “a legacy of peace and prosperity for our future generations”.

The two countries have said there are many sectors with huge trade potential, from information technology to engineering, education and health.

The two nations have voiced hopes that boosting trade can help peace talks which India warily resumed last year after suspending them after the 2008 attack by Islamist gunmen on Mumbai that killed 166 people.

“Commerce is an excellent way to bring countries together,” Indian strategic analyst Uday Bhaskar told AFP recently.

“Once you institutionalise trade, it becomes hard to slow the momentum for cross-border exchanges.”