Apr 13, 2015 - Personal    10 Comments

Ammi & me

I have never been too attached or addicted to anything that I would feel actual physical craving for it if it is not in my life. Not even for caffeine. I have been drinking tea & coffee since I was a teenager and I love a cup or two every day, but I have lived without either for months without losing my sanity. I have lived without internet for three months in a remote Sri Lankan corner and survived to tell the tale. I have given up meat for over a year and had no trouble doing that too. I have spent one year in practically 3 pairs of jeans and one pair of boots.  In short, I can live without pretty much anything if I put my mind to it. Giving up things, places, even people has never been much of a problem for me. I may miss them, I definitely reminisce about them, but I survive and get by.

The only thing that I have ever felt actual physical longing for is my mother. I lost ammi when I was a teenager and even though it has been quite a while, I still miss her presence in my life.

Some days, out of nowhere, I get this craving to talk to my mother that just wouldn’t go away. I have sisters and a bunch of most wonderful friends with whom I can talk about anything under the sun – in addition, I get along very well with my nieces. I even have access to free shrinks where I live but some days, you just know no one else but your mother would do. You don’t even need a massive trigger for that longing to jump at you out of nothing and engulf you. It has happened to me at the oddest places and times. Once I was driving down in my car and my iPod shuffled to Munni Begum and it reminded me of the time when my father had a thing for Munni Begum and ammi would just indulgently laugh at him perking up when Munni Begum was on TV. Despite being a total daddy’s girl I took ammi’s status as the sole recipient of his romantic affections very seriously. Any time Abba would express that he liked Munni Begum or the fact that one of my aunts cooked excellent Haleem, I would jump at him and make sure that he would admit that ammi’s Haleem was the best – esp better than the aforementioned aunt’s – and that Munni Begum has nothing on my mom.

Considering I lost ammi when I was still a teenager, I have not really talked to her about a lot of things. I always wonder what kind of relationship I would have had with her as an adult – woman to woman – had she lived to see me become the person I am today. Would I become the person I am if she had been around or I would I have turned out to be a fundamentally different person? Would she have approved of my life choices or not? I would really have liked to become her friend because my mother was a genuinely cool no nonsense person and I like to think we would have hit it off with as adults. I think I would have liked to pamper her a bit because she was the one who took care of everyone around her when she was alive.

Ever since I moved to Toronto, I have started attending a lot of literary events. 70% of the attendees of such events are retired women – aged between 60 to 75 – and sometimes, we get talking. Whenever I talk to them about anything, I always wonder if Ammi would have liked to attend such events and it would have been so cool if Ammi could have been here with me and we would be this cool mother/daughter duo doing things together.

Some days I read a book and just want to talk to her about it. Some days I feel on top of the world and want to share that joy with her, some days I hate everything and just want that unconditional support that one can only get from a mother. There are days when I want to bitch about people in my life and sometimes I just want to complain about my hair or gel based nail polish and I only want to do that with ammi but she obviously is not around and I have not mastered the art of talking with the people on the other side.

It is Ammi’s birthday today and I want to wish her happy birthday. I obviously cannot and that’s okay. This is life, sometimes your parents die earlier than others. Chin up and move on, but do take my word when I say that you must enjoy the time you have.  If you are still a kid and live with your parents, just go over to your mom’s room and give her a hug. If your mom lives in the same city, just drive over – get a take away that she likes – and share it with her. If you live far from your mom, give her a call and let her know how important she is. Just do it, NOW because sooner or later, she is not gonna be around and then you will miss her and that would be an absolutely wretched feeling.

Enjoy her company while you can, have fun with her, gossip about the relatives and neighbours and mutual friends, buy her a spa day ticket, take a vacation together or just watch TV with her – you are lucky to have this privilege for as long as you have, savour it, enjoy it and tell her she is special.


PS: Special shout out to my Ammi,  Happy birthday mom.

What Pakistan needs to do in wake of Peshawar incident

Though extremely tragic, the Peshawar incident managed to do something that national tragedies like death of Benazir Bhutto, siege of Mehran Base and many suicide attacks couldn’t do. It made people question many long held beliefs and there emerged some dissenting voices which are questioning the way things have been run so far. It is not much, but it is encouraging. If we really want to address the issue of terrorism that is plaguing the country for a good quarter of a century, we will not only need to revamp our policies and strategies but will also have to let go of long held ideologies.

For starters, the people of Pakistan in general and the armed forces in particular need to understand that Pakistan does not face an existential threat from India. There are other smaller countries neighbouring India and they are surviving all right. Former East Pakistan and India’s eastern neighbour Bangladesh is doing extremely well despite being a much smaller Muslim country (In comparison with India) in the sub-continent. In fact, Bangladesh is outperforming Pakistan in key indicators of education, women’s contribution in GDP, maternal and child health, and value added exports. It is about time that we also divert out attention and resources from seeing India as a menace to our survival and pursue a policy of economic cooperation which will benefit everyone. Cold War real politics and support of Western allies allowed Pakistan an artificial parity with India. But the story of 21stcentury is very different. India is an economic and political power with the highest growth rate in the region. Its defence budget is three times that of Pakistan and as soon as Pakistani military understands its status and place in the new regional dynamics, the better it would be for both the region and the country.

As a country, we need to let go of our collective religious and nationalist denial. To say that Pakistanis and Muslims cannot commit such heinous acts is the denial of highest order. Musilms have a long history of turning against each other. Yazid’s army that attacked Imam Hussain’s family was Muslim, and so were Mughals who fought against Delhi Sultanate. Closer to home, the army that killed many Bangladeshi civilians in 1971 was financed out of that taxes paid by those very civilians. Why do we make this exception for Taliban and try to come up with clues that perpetrators of suicide bombings were either Indian or Israeli agents even Taliban openly admit it that they have committed those crimes and their dead bodies get buried in Bonir and Kahuta! This denial does not offer way out of the quagmire we have dug ourselves in, it only make us look moronic in front of the world.

Military power is not the only way to strengthen a country, investing in its people is the way to go in the modern world and Pakistan – with its youth boom – would do well in diverting resources towards building that future instead of fortifying its geographical boundaries against dormant threats. It must be noted that it could not keep those boundaries intact even during the cold war era.

With the formation of European Union, it has been established that we are living in a post nation state society where most threats to a country are non-national. Clinging to 1980s notion of strategic depth has brought too much grief to the country. It is about time that this idea is put to rest once and for all and a more stringent counter terrorism policy is devised against all the groups that has the capacity and inclination to use force against the country. You do not only need expensive and modern hardware to survive in 21st century, you need an understanding of changing patterns of modern society and willingness to take measures to address those new problems.

Pakistan army needs to get rid of its slogan of ‘Jihad fi Sabeel Allah’. No other Muslim country’s army has that slogan because the army’s allegiance should not be to a religion but to the country and its tax paying population. Army’s first and foremost duty is the defence of its people – both at the borders and within the country – and not the safety and security of the militant groups that are used to create ruckus in neighbouring countries.

The world thinks of Pakistan as Jihad Central. Not only Pakistan trained jihadis are fighting in Afghanistan, they are also waging the “Holy war” in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria and elsewhere. It is in Pakistan’s national interest that we distance ourselves from this policy of jihad and concentrate on reclaiming and rebuilding the country because if we continue the way we are going, we may not even have a country to save after a while. Pakistani army has created the militant groups that are either active in other countries or are preparing themselves for acts of terrorism. The problem with these groups is that they modify and mutate with the passage of time and change of leadership, even if they were loyal to the state at one point, it is quite obvious that many of them have gone rogue and need to be dealt with as a national priority.

Wars between countries cannot be fought by ideology driven groups. States traditionally have gone to war for something tangible and then have achieved peace through dialogue and bargaining. Unfortunately, there is no bargaining with the religious ideologue. It is their way or the highway.

Take the case of extremist groups in Pakistan. They all want their version of Shariah implemented in the country and would not stop at anything else. Even when the majority of the population does not agree with their version of Islam, there is no room for dialogue or bargaining because they genuinely believe their version is unassailable and supreme and if the state opposes their decree, they go to war with the state.

One such example of the difference between a state ordered responsibility and an ideologue’s action is that of the murder of Salmaan Taseer. Former governor of Punjab was murdered by the police constable who was supposed to guard him. His official duty was to save Salmaan Taseer against any probable attacks but his personal ideology propelled him to disregard his official orders and murder the man he was sworn to protect. It means that when ideology trumps state’s official business, chaos ensues.

Most of us who raised voice against extremist right wing forces in the country have been labelled unpatriotic liberal fascists in the past. Some of us were killed or attacked or have received threats to life for our nonconformist views. Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were murdered in broad day light, Raza Rumi was attacked and driven out of the country and the rest of us have been threatened to keep quiet by someone or the other. It is about time the national narrative embrace the moderate and dissenting voices and involve them in dialogue which is most necessary for a healthy society. Pakistan have been poorer for drowning down those voices in the past, it should not repeat that mistake.

Originally written for The Nation


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Dec 23, 2014 - Humour, Pakistan    No Comments

Fighting terrorism, one naan bread at a time

tandoor choi nisar

People who criticize Pakistan’s counter terrorism policy were in for a shock when, in a bold move, the interior minister of the country announced the very innovative Tandoor Surveillance Counter Terrorism Strategy.

Yes, Choi Nisar wants his countrymen to keep an eye on anyone buying more than 50 naans. The strategy was not as well received as it was expected. However, it was later revealed that according to some intelligence reports that the home ministry was privy to, the terrorists buy naans in bulk and the figure of 50 naans as a bench mark was put forth after much analyses.

Following this news, it is reported that there has been a bit of excitement around the country’s many thousands of tandoors and people are either altering their eating habits or they are altering their naan buying ways in order to accommodate the ruling.

One worried looking customer at Indus Biryani was found arguing with the proprietor over the rates. When asked, he said that he had a going away party for his mother in law at his residence, after finding out about the Naan limit of under fifty, he changed the menu from salan and naan combo to pulao and biryani dishes, but Biryani proprietors are now asking twice the price if someone is looking to buy a Deg without prior order. “I just wanted to celebrate the fact that my mother in law is finally leaving, but I never wanted to shell out this much money.” He added and then eventually paid the inflated biryani prices to avoid Choi Nisar’s tandoori wrath.

Another family living in Bhati Gate area had to come up with innovative ways to buy naan. With 27 family members, getting 50 naans or above was an everyday occurrence for them, but now they cannot do it without alerting the authorities. Since the announcement, they either send two kids with separate orders or send the same kid twice. The mothers in that large joint family are not happy with the situation and believe that all the teen age boys tasked with buying naans at the local tandoor may boycott because of increased trips to the naan shop.

Another family living in Model Town was just as annoyed with this new tandoor surveillance system. “It looks like Choi Sahab has never been to a dawat hosted by Butts, otherwise he would never put the cap on just 50 naans.”

The Police has also been active with the flurry of activity around the tandoors. Several people have reported that their neighbours or relatives have bought more than 50 naans. While some cases were authentic, quite a few were false. In one case, counting revealed that only 49 naans were bought, however a neighbour told the police that the boy who brought the naans did buy 50 naans, he just ate one on the way home. Some social science researchers now want to probe that what it is about the number 50 that makes people buying 50 naans unsafe and people buying 49 naans a non-threatening okay.

Some people are considering launching a naan related civil disobedience. Even though they have small families and not that many naan eaters at home, they are going to tandoors en masse and order 100 or more naans to rebel against the executive order of the interior minister.

All Pakistan Tandoor federation is considering filing a constitutional petition against the Interior minister. The federation believes that this attack on tandoor business has nothing to do with fighting terrorism but it is to support the newly launched Biryani chain owned by the relatives of the interior minister.

There are some forces in the country who hailed this announcement. “Have you ever waited in line to buy 2 naans when all the four men in front of you have the order of 30 naans or above?” asked an agitated customer at in front of a Tandoor in Tariq Road Karachi. “No one used to pay heed to customers buying less than 10 naans before, but after this decree, single men who only buy two naans have become valued customers,” he responded with glee.

If Tandoori counter terrorism techniques are successful in Pakistan, chances are that other countries may replicate the same model and Pakistani government would be able to drum up some serious business in fighting terrorism, one naan bread at a time.


Naans and tandoors dominated the social media trends in Pakistan after the announcement

Oct 4, 2014 - Feminism, India    1 Comment

Here is to the future


indian scientist

Last month, India became the first Asian nation to reach Mars when its orbiter entered the planet’s orbit and this is the picture that was seen around the world to mark this historic event. It shows a group of female scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) congratulating one another on the mission’s success.
Female desi scientists in their colorful saris celebrating their success is so amazingly beautiful. I hope young girls everywhere see this realize that they can be so much more than they are lead to believe.

Ahmed Shehzad – the traveling evangelist

dude bro

Anyone who follows cricket in Pakistan would remember the disastrous tour of Australia in 2009-2010. Under the captaincy of Mohammed Yousuf, Pakistan lost all three Test matches, all five one-day internationals and the only T20 match of that tour.

Many reasons were cited behind that calamitous tour, including a ball tampering incident involving Shahid Afridi; but one which was not discussed openly and was only whispered for a long time afterward was that batsman Mohammad Yousuf – a former Christian who had converted to Islam in 2005 – was more interested in Tableegh (religious preaching) than in playing cricket.

Later on, a number of tales came up. One of these described Yousuf as having spent the better part of his time running after Australian cricketers to preach to them the virtues of embracing Islam and how it had improved the quality of his life and how it would ensure them a place in heaven.

His efforts obviously did not pay off, for none of the Aussie cricketers converted, as far as we know. But his tableeghi stints did cost Pakistan the series – it was the most shameful showing of Pakistani cricket team in recent times – and his position as the captain of the national team and his career as a cricketer ended soon after. I am not saying that the two were directly related, but Yousuf’s well-built career died after that.

The latest entrant into the preacher zone is Ahmed Shehzad.

During the last one day international on Pakistan’s latest tour of Sri Lanka, Shehzad was recorded on camera telling Tillakaratne Dilshan,

after he scored a 50 and won the match for his team, that “if you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, straight to heaven.”

Apparently Dilshan must have said something along the lines of “Thanks, but no thanks,” to which he later added, “Then be ready for the fire.” Presumably hellfire.

For starters, that was rude, uncalled for and totally inappropriate. It was not like Dilshan and Shehzad were indulging in a heart to heart chat over drinks about existentialist angst and wondering if there is a heaven or hell.

They were walking back to the dressing room after putting in a day in the cricket ground. You cannot just ambush people in the middle of their business and frighten them with eternal hell fires.

Dilshan obviously was more mature and magnanimous. He neither responded to Shehzad after that, nor did he file a formal complaint against the cricketer.

The tragedy of it all is that neither Shehzad, nor his team manager, Moin Khan seem to be showing any remorse. Khan, who has once been arrested for alleged spousal assault and battery, tried to downplay the enormity of this and said that it was just “general banter and nothing more and players do banter with each other from time and time.” Shehzad was no better and believed to have said that it was a personal chat and there was nothing more to it.

However, in a surprising show of responsible behaviour, PCB has set up a three-member committee to probe the incident and had already summoned Shehzad to their headquarters in Lahore.

The incident may not seem that attention worthy, but it was very uncouth and impolite.

Had that conversation, no matter how intrusive and insensitive it was, taken place in private without cameras and Shehzad not wearing Pakistani colors, it would have been a personal matter.

But he chose to do that on the cricket field, in front of cameras rolling while representing Team Pakistan. He should be disciplined for his religious fervour and his desire to be on a ‘mission’ while he is getting paid to do something else – that is, playing cricket to the best of his ability.

I do wonder what Shehzad was thinking, if he was thinking at all, when he approached Dilshan with his message.

Was he planning to secure a sports ministry in a TTP or ISIS-lead government in the future? If that ever comes to fruition, Shehzad must know that they would, in all likelihood, ban sports of all kinds.

Was he trying to secure a corner plot in Jannat by converting a non-Muslim brother and show him the righteous path?

Honestly, after this incident, the only person in need of enlightenment seems to be Shehzad, not Dilshan, who let the matter go quietly and with dignity.

To counter such incidents from happening in future, PCB must prepare a starter kit which has to list acceptable and objectionable conduct and it should detail that randomly telling people that their faith, or lack thereof, will make them burn in hell fires of eternity is never a good opener for polite conversation.

Secondly, they must limit access of influencers like Tariq Jameel and co. who constantly barrage or guilt young cricketers with additional responsibility of tableegh when they cannot even do what they are paid to do with a modicum of responsibility – play cricket.

Thirdly, they must set an example with Ahmed Shehzad and send out a message that preaching should be left to the likes of Tariq Jameel, Saeed Anwar or Aamir Liaquat, cricketers should concentrate on playing well for their country, especially when they are on tours as they are ambassadors of the country and behaviour such as that will not help them in winning people over.

It is about time Muslims in general and cricketers in particular let go of the notion that we, as Muslims, are the chosen one and it is our duty to bring others to the righteous path. Leave it for the professional evangelists and concentrate on doing what we can do well to earn our place in paradise.


First published in Dawn

Commuter chronicles

There are people who have used public transport all their lives and then there are those who drive to work come rain or hail. As someone who drove the length of Shahrah-e-Faisal for most of her professional life, the idea of sitting in a subway, reading a paper and getting to work without hurling curse words at fellow drivers was quite fascinating for me. So when I moved to Toronto, I decided that I wouldn’t buy a car and very happily got in the queue to buy my first monthly pass, blissfully unsuspecting of the jungle that is the underground.

I was expecting the usual suspects when I first started commuting through the subway: loud snorers, pesky cell phone talkers (only on the buses and not in the subway for obvious reasons), people with multiple kids who have no control over their own offspring, and loud gossipers. Well, I encountered them all and then some more.

There is a whole new category of commuters I opened up my eyes to once I started commuting regularly by the subway: the expert make-up appliers. These are women who whip out their lipsticks and apply them without mirrors. Sometimes you see some painting their nails while balancing their morning cups of coffee, others decide to moisturize major parts of their body in front of an audience. Once a woman asked me to hold a small mirror for her because she needed both her hands to apply mascara perfectly. While I was holding the mirror – because how can one refuse a sister some vanity – she told me how this seriously loaded single guy was coming in for a deposition at her office and how she wanted her lashes be in mint condition to ensnare him with her womanly wiles. I should point out that that the phrase ‘womanly wiles’ is not really a part of my vocabulary, it was the woman with the mascara who used that term. I was suitably impressed – both with her make-up skills and her repertoire of womanly wiles.

Some people catch up on their TV viewing on the commute back from work. You would spot people watching new episodes of Mad Men, True Detective, Agents of Shield or one of those many vampire/zombie shows on their tablets. It is like an unwritten rule of subway commuting, for the morning commute, you either read the newspaper or hold on to the caffeine of your choice like your life is depending on it. You gossip, watch TV, look bored, play cross word puzzle or just randomly stare at people during the evening commute. However, one day, I spotted a woman watching ‘How to lose a guy in 10 days’ on the way to work – in the morning! Watching Kate Hudson is generally painful but watching her before 8.00 am is masochism of next level.

The other day I was sitting in the subway when a woman complimented me on my earrings. I thanked her and checked which ones I was wearing. Turned out, I was wearing a pair of golf club earrings that my sister got me when I was in high school. She then asked me if I was a golfer. When I told her that I’ve never played golf, she was offended and said that I should not be allowed to wear something that beautiful if I was not an avid golfer. I did not know how to respond to that. She then asked me if I would sell her those earrings. By this time she had started scaring me a bit so I just took them off and told her she could take them for free (they are quite old anyways). Genuinely offended at that she told me she could not take off things off a person (though she had no qualms in harassing a perfect stranger for wearing a golf club in her ears despite not being a golfer). I then put my earrings in my pocket and told her that if it was any consolation, I have earrings with daggers but that does not mean I am an international assassin. That weirded her out enough to leave me alone. I bet she tells people during lulls in dinner parties that she met a brown international assassin in the subway once.

My trend of attracting old ladies of all kinds at airports and airplanes has followed me to the underground train world. I have met my fair share of old ladies who have asked me about ways to use phone apps, download songs on one’s phone and its effect on the data plan, complain about their grandkids who do not talk on phone like normal people but just text. I wanted to tell them that they should count their lucky stars that their grandkids still talk to them and do not insist on snapchat but held myself back because that would require a fresh round of explanations.

There are some other people who would love to tell others how open-minded they are, at times embarrassingly so. Apparently the best way to tell perfect strangers how you are not a narrow minded wasp (White Anglo Saxon Person) is to whip your phone out and show them highly inappropriate photographs of you canoodling with your boyfriend of colour. I mean why are Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian judged for doing it in front of the camera! I think half the world’s population would like the other half to know that they are getting some.

There are some of those nosey types who shamelessly read whatever you are reading on your phone. At times, you want to scream at them, “Take your own phone out asshole!”


Last week, a very cheerful guy sat next to me in the bus. He smiled and said hi, I responded with a smile and a hi. He then commented on the good weather and told me how glad he was that I was in Canada and not in my country. Now, I know Pakistan is not really a choice tourist destination but it stung a little, so I asked him why he was particularly glad that I was not in my country.

“Oh they raped and killed and then hung two girls in your country, right?  At least you are safe here,” said he waving a copy of Metro (the free newspaper that is available at every subway station and bus terminal in Toronto) in my face. I agreed with him that it was indeed a tragic incident but not one that happens to all the women in India. I mean it’s a country of 1.2 billion people and more than half of them are women who are obviously not dead. I then told him I am not an Indian. “Oh so what country are you from?” he asked, and when I told him Pakistan (should’ve known better) he smiled even more and said, “Ah you are from the country where they killed the pregnant lady with bricks. That’s tragic too.” The man’s cheery tone as he rattled off this latest piece of tidbit to emerge from my country forced me to get off earlier than I had to, quickly trying to put as much distance as I could between me and his joyfully morbid fascination with tragic deaths in South Asia.

One day, I just happened to pick up Foucault for light summer reading and I swear I was not trying to be a pretentious shmuck. I always had to read him under duress and I believe that one ends up hating the best of writers if they become part of the syllabus, so I picked his ‘The Order of Things’ and was reading it in the bus when a really old man sat down next to me. He started off with no preamble.

“You look like someone who has been to a college, right?”

“Yes, far too many if you ask me,” I replied.

“Yeah, like you have some kind of masters degree?”

“I actually have two masters degrees,” I grimaced.

“So you must be one of those people who do nothing but make quarter of a million for going to college for many years,” he looked at me as if I am responsible for shrinking his retirement investment or something.

I have a lot of patience for older folks but if someone overestimates my finances, it does get my goat. I mean If I was making that kind of money, wouldn’t I be driving a BMW convertible and not listening to his crap!

I hate driving and I realize I hate public transport with the same gusto. I now want Harry Potter’s broom to take me places. A flying carpet would do as well.

First published in The Friday Times 

The republic of hate

Following the announcement and a TV report that Veena Malik wishes to join politics in Pakistan, some of us wondered what route she would take and what political party she would care to join. We had her pondering over her options in an interview published last week in The Friday Times. I, for one, wanted Veena Malik to get what she wanted and wished that people would forget about her past transgressions like they have done for other male politicians of Pakistan such as Imran Khan, Sheikh Rasheed, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Maulan Sami-ul-Haq (he even earned the not so respectable moniker of Maulana Sandwich because of his shenanigans) and Yousuf Raza Gilani to name a few.

But that was a few weeks ago, things changed drastically following the hunt against Geo after the attack on Hamid Mir and the all-out campaign invoking the blasphemy law against their morning show team for airing a particular song/qawali during the channel’s live morning transmissions. Veena Malik, her husband Asad Khattak and the host of the show had to leave the country as they were facing threats to their lives for partaking in the supposed blasphemy.

One of the most fascinating and horrifying aspects of this whole fiasco was how social media was used to incite hatred and to ridicule all the people involved in this incident. Not only did pages managed by hate groups fan the flames but regular folks like bankers, students, housewives who apparently used to hang on to every word the morning show host used to say, joined in the vicious attack. It looked as if it was a race to the bottom among all Pakistanis and everyone needed to out-ridicule and out-insult these people on the social media. One cursory look on twitter and facebook and so many images pop up where Hamid Mir’s face is photoshopped on the body of a Hindu priest or Shaista Wahidi is called ‘nangay liberal’ for wearing a burqa while fleeing the country. My personal favourite is one of a visiting card with logos of CIA, RAW and Mossad, Hamid Mir’s face and the word ‘Agent’ in bold print. Talk about being subtle – or NOT.

hamid mirghaddar_hamid-mir-is-a-mossad-agent-of-israel

One of the most recurring sentiment among the people commenting on facebook was that they were all glad that Veena and Shaista had to flee the country and how Pakistan is so much better off now that these two women are not here and are not spreading their brand of ‘behayae’ and ‘beghaerati’. What’s most tragic was the fact that majority of those commenting were women who were probably the most avid consumers of Shaista Wahidi’s morning show and Veena Malik’s performances in Hum Sab Umeed se Hain and Big Boss.


All citizens, no matter how amazing or terrible their citizenship experiences have a very personal relationship with their country. Being told that you are not welcome in your own country because a powerful group perceives you to be anti-state or anti-religion or they just hate you because you want to practice what you believe in is cruel and should be a punishable crime because it is out rightly discriminatory. Unfortunately, everyone is so busy in outshouting the other in condemnation of those who are different or belong to a minority that it has become a valid social activity to collectively revile them at leisure.

Incitement of hatred against a person or a group of people is not something new in Pakistan. If anything, we have developed it as an art form. In the sixties, the hatred was focused against Bengalis, in the seventies, it was against the government of Balochistan and the Ahmadis (they were declared non Muslims in the constitution in 1974), in the nineties, MQM a Karachi-based political party was targeted and military operations against the party claimed many civilian lives who had nothing to do with party politics. In the present day Pakistan, hate speech against Ahmadis and Shias is not only the norm, it actually has gained currency among supposedly non violent Muslims. Seemingly progressive people balk at the idea of interacting with an Ahmadi, making friends with one is almost unimaginable.

In a post 9/11 world, hating anything that is perceived to be against mainstream Islam has gained immense popularity in Pakistan. In a race to prove oneself holier than the other religious sect or group, every Muslim is out for the blood of those who do not subscribe to what they consider is the right way of practicing religion. Honor killings citing Hudood as an excuse, random killings citing Blasphemy law as the reason have become so common that people do not even question them. In the land of the pure, a heinous crime like murder gets the makeover of avenging the honour of the family or the honour of the Prophet, the murderer gets garlanded and the victim does not get justice and everyone believes this is how things are supposed to be and there is nothing wrong with the society where murder gets social and legal sanction in the name of religion.

Junaid Hafeez 1

Take the example of two recent murders in Punjab. Rashid Rehman, the human rights activist and lawyer was gunned down in his office for representing a young man Junaid Hafeez in court who was facing blasphemy charges. The opposing council along with members of the clergy had threatened Rehman repeatedly during press conferences covered by the media but following his murder, not a single one of those people were apprehended by the police. Chances are that the officer investigating that case will now be threatened by the same group. If he is smart and values his life, he probably will look the other way and life will just go on for everyone except Rashid Rehman’s family and Junaid Hafeez who in all likelihood will not get a lawyer again.


The other murder, of Dr Ali Mahdi Qamar, was followed by a fatwa. This time, the fatwa was against a hospital Tahir Medical Center. Yes, we have progressed (read regressed) to the point that we are now issuing fatwas against buildings, institutions and other inanimate objects. The reason behind the fatwa was that the hospital was run by an Ahmadi charity. As the fatwa also declared any interaction with a ‘Qadiani’ haraam, getting free or paid treatment at the hospital was probably a Gunah-e-Kabira. Dr Qamar, a heart surgeon, flew in from Ohio for a week to conduct free surgeries in that hospital. The problem was that man donating his time and services was an Ahmadi. The fatwa-issuing body probably thought that their target audience may be lured to the said medical centre because there was an American surgeon performing free surgeries so they decided to take that threat away. Dr Ali Mahdi Qamar was shot dead on his second day in Pakistan. After that, people would obviously stay away from that hospital, Islam was saved and some people called dibs on a corner plot in jannat.


The day is not far when Ahmadis would be required to wear a sign on their bodies like Jews did in Nazi Germany and the people would rejoice in that. What would happen when other groups would be subjected to this kind of criminal discrimination but there would be no one to question the tyranny of conformity?

Originally published in The Friday Times 

All photographs are taken from various facebook groups and pages.


Another victim of misogyny or is it Shariah!

Just about everyone, including UN Commission on Human Rights, has heard and condemned how Farzana Iqbal was pelted with stones and bricks outside Lahore High Court. Farzana was attacked by her family including her father, brothers and former fiance because she chose a marry a man she loved and her family did not approve of that union. She died as a result of that attack, her unborn child also died with her. As if that was not tragic enough, the newspaper report manage to push in a quote by a useless policeman  judging the husband for fleeing the scene to save his life and not being there to die with his wife.  The exact line was

A police official said Muhammad Iqbal was not near Farzana as she was attacked but did not try to prevent the attack, instead saving himself from the members of her family.

It was a brutal crime – a horrific murder – that was committed in front of many witnesses but given the way shariah has literally screwed with most laws in Pakistan, the murderers would not be apprehended because this is how qisas and diyat roll. Your family, instead of state has the power to pardon or seek money instead of justice. As most honour killings are committed by families, they decide pardon.  Husbands, fathers and brothers kill their female family members with impunity because they know that they can get away with it. At times, when they feel like killing someone else, they kill a female member of the family along with the other person to save their hides citing honour killing as a valid reason.

A good 15 years ago, I was interning for a human rights organization and I was given the task to go to court with one of the lawyers and to report on the way court works from a layperson’s view. I was quite excited because I had never seen a real court room before. My colleague was representing a woman seeking khula because her husband was violent and a serial rapist. I naively suggested that getting divorced under those circumstances would not be difficult. My colleague, who spent most of her professional life dealing with douches of all variety was a lot less optimistic. We went in the court room and my colleague presented a couple of witnesses who testified that the husband was indeed a sadistic violent man. The judge seemed uninterested through out and looked outside the tiny window during most of the proceedings. The minute we stepped out of the court room and into the veranda, the husband grabbed his wife and started beating her right there, in that corridor, in front of literally hundreds of people.

My colleague and I tried to stop that man, but after he pushed my colleague too hard, I did not go after him and tried to get the police constables on the duty to stop him, they did nothing more that to verbally ask him to not beat his wife. In the mean time, my lawyer colleague caught hold of the judge presiding that case and asked him to order the police or other court officials to stop it. The judge’s response was something that I will not forget till the day I die. He asked my colleague if the couple are still under nikah which was stupid because the lawyer was arguing for dissolution of that same nikah only a few minutes back. He then went on and said that as long as the woman is married to that man, he cannot do anything about it as it is a domestic matter, in any case, the religion allows it  (Jab tak yeh aurat apnay shuhar ke nikah mein hain, hum kuch nahen kar saktay, yeh gherloo azdawaji mamla hai, waisay bhi  mazhab ne ijazat dee huee hai). The husband also got his message across that he basically owns his wife so he left his sobbing wife behind and walked out of the court as if he did not break multiple laws in front of many witnesses. That was the day I realized for the first time that I was a second degree citizen in my own country and it was not just misogyny but the argument supporting misogyny that is at fault. Yes, I am talking about religious legislation and religious sanction that basically endorses every misogynist idea – be it polygamy, underage marriage, making husbands and fathers wali, Qanoon-e-shahadat, qisas, diyat, hudood to name a few.

The incident that happened 15 years back in Karachi High Court is responsible in a way for what happened with Farzana outside Lahore High Court. If that  judge had taken action against public display of violence against the wife back then, it would have set a precedent and perhaps more judges would have shown sensitivity in matters of gender discrimination.

Every one and his dog has condemned this murder but condemnation is cheap, it did not save Farzana and nor will it save future Farzanas. Everything is set against women – the legislation is against women when they get half the share in inheritance and their witness is considered to be half of that of a man. The society favours men, the economy favours men by recognizing their labour and paying them more for the same job, the familial set up is designed to put men on the pedestal and it all is rooted in religion. As long as religion forms the core of the legislation and how we conduct ourselves in public and private spaces, things will not change. Continue to blame the tool, (man and misogyny) because that is necessary and take measures to deal with it but also blame the argument (religion and how it supports that men are superior, women are subservient etc) that feeds that tool. Unless we are brave enough to address that, things will remain the same.

May 25, 2014 - Bollywood, Politics    1 Comment

Narendra Modi, channeling his inner Jeetendra

Fear not Gujaratis, your state will now be famous for things other than Dandia in every Sanjay Leela Bhansali film and a comic relief character in Karan Johar’s. The state has produced a politician who will be swearing in as India’s newest Prime Minister on May 26th 2014.

Apart from the fact that the newly elected PM will get to rule sorry serve over one-seventh of the world population, India’s growing power makes that person very important on a global scale. A lot has been said about his role in communal riots, his economic policies, his tea boy past and rags to riches story and why Indians across the country decided to vote for him. Among other things, his sartorial choices have also been discussed. His multicolored kurtas invoked many comments, some even about his sexuality (the fact that he lives with his mother and has been separated from his wife after a brief marriage also contributes to it). It is not just his kurta, his tailor has also been covered by national and international press. People have seen him in kurtas of every color imaginable but for me, the look that must’ve sold some of Bollywood inspired voters is the one where he was channeling his inner Jeetendra.

Modster nodi kurtas big hit

Imagine Modi Sarkar strolling down the gardens of White House, like a boss, for a joint press conference with President Obama in his glorious white suit and pink shirt and those glasses that were probably worn by Shahrukh Khan in Don2. What a fine mix of iconic styles of Jeetu ji and Shahrukh Khan, now that would be one fine example of life imitating art.

NM white suit

Immy K and his band of morons against Geo

Those who know me and have been reading my blog for sometime know that there is no love lost between Imran Khan and yours truly. I mock his supporters (because what else can one do with those who flaunt their stupidity), I lament the fact that some people in my family voted for his party and I mourn the collective short sightedness of my people who do not see how terrible it is to have a dim-witted man in position of power and influence.

Latest in the list of his stupidities is his self righteous fight against Geo Television Network. Before anyone get their panties in a twist, let me iterate that I am not a fan of Geo either (I have worked for the organization and know it inside out) but the witch hunt against Geo that is being spearheaded by Imran Khan and his band of morons (I refuse to call PTI a political party) at the behest of Pakistani Voldemort is rather vulgar and in incredibly bad taste.

Imran Khan accused Geo Network of three gross violations (according to him). First was telecasting a programme against Ahl-e-Bait (family of prophet) in the morning show (they aired a qawwali which is quite common at Shia weddings), one PTI parliamentarian moved a resolution against it in Punjab assembly because there is nothing more worthy of the attention of a legislator than something that was aired on a morning show targeting house wives. Second was running a campaign against Imran Khan. What Mr Khan considered a campaign against him was this tweet by The News staffer Umer Cheema about the pregnancy of a barely legal girl and a politician. It was exactly worded like this: “Pregnancy of a 21-year girl is causing sleepless nights to a leader. His political future in her hands…the most powerful lady these days” on April 29th. No politician was named in that tweet but apparently Imran Khan went to every Tv channel and said that Umer Cheema tweeted about him. The man doth protests too much, does he not? One wonders why? Umer Cheema did follow up with a couple of other teeli tweets. I bet Imran Khan was not too pleased to be called a senior citizen and I am only assuming that because Cheema again did not name anyone.

Mr Khan is also blaming Geo for getting foreign funding which is oversimplification of a contract between the channel, the government and a donor agency. Even a simpleton like Imran Khan should understand how the whole funding process works; after all, his government in KPK has taken a lot of foreign funding to run various projects in their province. No donor agency funds a private organization directly and one or more government departments are always involved.

As someone who was part of Geo when they ran the first Zara Sochiye Campaign (2006) and then worked as an independent consultant during the Education Emergency campaign (2011), I know exactly how Geo got funding for both of them. For the first Zara Sochiye Campaign (which I believe was brilliant) Geo was contacted by the government to pave the public opinion before it launched Women Protection Bill in the parliament. The fact that the said bill was passed and the number of women in Pakistani jails booked under Hudood ordinance came down drastically should be considered a success – both for the government and the channel that ran the campaign. The second Zara Sochiye campaign was paid for by DfID which Geo President Imran Aslam openly talks about in this BBC interview. It should also be noted that various government departments including Prime Minister’s Task Force for Education (it has been disbanded after the promulgation of 18th amendment and education becoming a provincial subject) facilitated the contract between DfID and Geo. The Task Force was actually housed inside the PM’s secretariat at that time so yes, the government was involved in everything. Many other TV channels that are now part of the witch hunt against Geo wanted to do that campaign. The Alif Ailan campaign which was a follow up to that earlier campaign ran on all TV channels was also foreign funded, but I don’t see anyone protesting against that. Why this duplicity?

If Mr. Khan is so adamant about running campaigns against foreign funding, he should first run it against Pakistan Army because the armed forces of Pakistan get the lion’s share of all foreign funding that comes to the country. Then it is the national and provincial governments including the one run by Khan sahab’s party. Private organizations and non profits are far down this chain and get very small amounts in comparison.

People who run Geo’s editorial staff are obviously not the sharpest people around, otherwise they would not have run that 8 hour long transmission against ISI following the attack on Hamid Mir, but the witch hunt that followed them after that is worst that those 8 hours of transmission. Forget about upholding the sanctity of free speech in Pakistan, we all know that it is but a sham, but it should be noted that Geo is not a two bit organization, it probably employs more people than there are card carrying members of PTI. Going after their livelihood because some people did not like what went on during those 8 hours of transmission in this manner is downright cruel. Geo was not the best employer in the industry but it definitely was one of the better and relatively more professional ones. In case Geo is closed down, the media industry is not big enough to absorb all those people. For their sake alone if for nothing else, I hope this witch hunt is called off and their livelihoods are not compromised.

Let’s wish that sanity prevails but my cynicism tells me that it would not be the case.