Tagged with " iRant"
Mar 31, 2009 - published work    21 Comments

No news is good news


Waking up on a Monday morning is an ordeal in any case; waking up to ghastly news is a double whammy. Picking up the newspaper on a Sunday is easier – you can easily forego the news section and go directly to the magazine (or sports section if you are a man) and have breakfast in peace. But no such luck on a Monday. On Mondays, you have to grow up and read the news as it happened the day before.

I braced myself and picked up the Monday edition of Dawn and saw that while US President Obama ruled out deploying troops inside Pakistan, his Defence Secretary Robert Gates clearly stated that Pakistan needs to do more otherwise US troops will have to take matters in their own hands. Does this mean that Obama was speaking for the world media while Gates was speaking to the people who are running, or rather attempting to run, the country called Pakistan?

Another news item reports that a former nazim, district police officer and three other people were killed in Lower Dir – an area adjacent to the troubled Swat valley – while resisting the kidnapping of a local bank manager. In Khyber Agency, 10 khasadars and six religious activists were kidnapped. The Bara-based Lashkar-e-Islam accused Taliban militants of the crime. It seems that army forces and civilians were not enough of a target and now the Taliban are spreading their wings and targeting other Islamist groups.

The front page proved to be too dreadful, so I turned the page only to learn that Pakistan is one of the least popular countries in the world and keeps sterling company with Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and Israel.

National news turned out to be a disaster, full of stories about crime against women. In Dadu, a young girl was gang-raped and killed. In Sukkur, a jirga decided to marry off two girls – one of them a minor – to punish their brother, while a mother of two in Layyah fears for her life after being accused of having an extra-marital affair, a punishable crime in Pakistan. What these news stories suggest is that in case you escape regular siege-and-hostage situations and frequent suicide bombings and if you happen to be a woman, chances are, you may not survive the alternative justice system, discriminatory laws and good ol’ patriarchy and misogyny.

The newspaper also carried a report about the YouTube video of ATM robbery incidents in Karachi that are being circulated via email and Facebook: people armed with pistols can be seen robbing citizens using ATM machines. The message the clip gives to people is that working hard is pointless – just get hold of a weapon of your choice and rob anyone at will, safe in the knowledge that no one will apprehend you.

A sad picture of a child working in a recycling plant in Hyderabad and the Economic & Business Review’s analysis of economic doom and the Pakistani rupees’ abysmal standing against world currencies completed the dismal picture. I shook my head and skimmed through the paper once more, looking desperately for just one positive report, but failed to find any good news.

Putting aside the paper, I switched on the TV and witnessed what was perhaps the most disturbing live footage of armed terrorists attacking a police training academy in Lahore. Even though police recaptured the academy with the help of army and paramilitary forces after an eight-hour siege, it left questions about the vulnerability of our security apparatus and the government’s will to bolster it.

While the country is in complete chaos, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is doing his bit to increase European tourism in Pakistan by bringing his firang friends from university – in identical outfits of white kurta-pajama complete with a red silk shawl more appropriate for a mehndi function – to attend daddy’s address to the parliament. We have heard of disaster tourism and poverty tourism in the past, but Bilawal takes the cake for innovative thinking and introducing political tourism in Pakistan.

At times when the country needs a leader to takes charge and do something to combat militancy, everyone from the president to the coterie of ministers are busy issuing rhetorical messages. Pakistan is perhaps the only country in the world where the president and prime minister only ‘condemn’ acts of terror instead of taking concrete actions against them. Someone needs to tell them that condemnation just won’t cut it anymore.

Originally written for Dawn.com


Mar 25, 2009 - published work    25 Comments

Keeping up with the Joneses


If analyses and common sense are to be believed, the world is facing a financial mess because people spent more wealth than they created. Then they thought that if they put off payments for some time, they would just vanish into thin air. The tragedy is that none of the debts vanished into thin air and all those deferred payments finally caught up with us.

While there are some who have tightened their belts and cancelled those dreaded shiny plastic cards that promised the earth, the moon and more, there are others who continue to spend as lavishly as they previously did, with no regards to an economy in the toilet. They not only want to keep up with Joneses, they want to leave them far, far behind.

Going to the numerous lawn – the summery cotton fabric preferred by ladies in Pakistan – exhibitions in the city, you could have thought that the financial crunch is nothing but a figment of someone’s imagination. The number of exhibitions has gone up, the number of designers coming up with their wares has gone up, and the volume of cloth being sold has definitely gone up. I encountered women who flew in to Karachi from Larkana and Quetta to buy the desired cloth at one of the exhibitions.

Just step out of your house and you will see cars that are bigger, shinier and faster than anything you have seen before. There are times when all you see are Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) on the roads. Plying those huge monstrosities on the congested Karachi roads borders on cruelty, yet people keep on doing it to show off that they can afford a huge, fuel-guzzling vehicle – the economic, social and environmental fall outs be damned. Granted that most of them are bought with public funds as is painfully obvious by their green government number plates, but one must admit that to justify such excesses in times like this would take some earth-shattering logic and creative accounting on part of the government officials. To spend our tax money to buy vehicles to transport the ample selves of numerous begum sahibas and secretary sahibs must call for some extraordinary skills.

As if SUVs in general and Hummers in particular were not bad enough, a family in Germany has bought a six-tonne armoured tank to use for shopping and day trips. The tank is armed with a disabled 30mm gun and has three-inch thick armour plating. The owner Joachim Schoeneich has even fitted a baby seat to the British-built Fox tank for his toddler son Paul and is only concerned about finding the right parking space for his abnormal mode of transportation
Have the executives at the military industry gone completely bonkers? They are selling a battle tank for £24,000! That’s cheaper than a Lamborghini. They have been selling Hummers for quite some time, and now comes the tank – guess what will follow this? Will they start selling mini versions of rockets that children can hop on, like a witch’s broom, to get to school? Are we looking into a future where the rich and environmentally unaware would take thrill trips in F-16 fighter jets to impress ladies? One must feel sorry for Schoeneich’s two year old son, Paul. If daddy has bought a tank for shopping and day trips, the poor kid will probably have to buy a space ship to go work.

Originally published at Dawn.com

Mar 19, 2009 - published work    12 Comments

Failed State? Not really

Latest iRant from Dawn.com.

Sometime back, Newsweek named Pakistan the most dangerous place on earth. Now, the American magazine Foreign Policy has come up with its own most dangerous place. Surprisingly, it is not Pakistan. They name Somalia as the most dangerous country. In addition to a detailed article about the perils to life in Mogadishu, the Somalian capital, they came up with a chart of 60 countries that pass for failed states. They have graded the countries on indicators of instability that are as varied as human flight, human rights, economy and factionalized elite among others.

There are no marks for guessing that Pakistan gets an honourable mention in the top ten. It is the ninth most failed state after Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Chad, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Ivory Coast – all fairly failed states. What did get my goat, however, was that Pakistan is considered more failed than Central African Republic, which came in tenth. Central African Republic? No one would even know where the country is if its name were not so geographically specific.

But it’s not just the good ol’ Central African Republic – Pakistan is more failed a state than Ethiopia (16), Liberia (34), which is famous for its blood diamonds and child soldiers, and Malawi (29), a heaven for celebrities looking to adopt kids without much ado.

The chart is designed with the maximum point of 10 for any indicator – the more failed a state is, the higher the score would be on most indicators. According to the chart, out of the 12 indicators of instability, Pakistan’s least worrisome performance has been in economy and – believe it or not – public services. It is a known fact that electricity –rather, the lack thereof – has wreaked havoc with our lives and economy. If that’s come out smelling of roses, imagine how bad the score would be on other indicators.

Group grievances, security apparatus and external intervention were among the higher scoring indicators. I personally think the chart is biased and is part of an international conspiracy to besmirch the good name of Pakistan. For instance, it has been suggested that US Drones that are said to be flying from Afghanistan are actually taking off from our own airfields. If that’s the case, then the level of external intervention is not as high as has been indicated in the chart.

Similarly, if the number of times traffic is blocked in the main cities of Pakistan to clear passage for high-ranking officials is any indicator of our security apparatus at work, it seems to be working just fine – that is, for the government officials, if not for all Pakistanis. Pakistan may score high in group grievances, but that is to be expected in a multi-ethnic country. If Baloch people have any issues with the federal government about royalty of its resources and the fate of its missing persons, it’s not that big a deal. After all, they comprise only 4 percent of the population.

Pakistan also scored high on delegitimization of the state. This was perhaps correct in the past, but it has been taken care of since last month. We have officially signed deals with dissident groups in Swat and Bajaur Agency and handed over districts and cities to them. Now they are the ones who are officially administering those areas and government of Pakistan cannot be held responsible for the deligitimization of the state.

The highest scoring indicator for Pakistan is the curiously titled factionalized elites. Contrary to scoring in the chart, the Pakistani elite does not seem all that factionalized. The elite has been quite focused, coherent and persistent in evading the taxes while piling indirect ones on the poor people of Pakistan. It can also be thanked for upholding the flight of Pakistani capital out of the country, investing in the Middle East, signing over parts of the country to militants, selling public goods, and denying external intervention in matters of governance. If anything, they have proven to be the most consistently performing group of the country.

The link for the chart was sent to me by fellow blogger Desi Che

PS: Those looking for laughs should check out the comments section in dawn blog, I personally think common sense is the rarest commodity these days.


Mar 11, 2009 - published work    44 Comments

Profits in times of recession


The global recession and liquidity crunch is making things difficult for everyone; small fish like us don’t stand a chance when giants like Coca-Cola are announcing dips in their profits. Job sites and Labour department and employment exchanges, especially in the United States of America and UK, are busy advertising the kind of skills that are still in demand and locations where people can retrain for those skills in order to get a job.

Things work a little differently here in Pakistan. The government is busy pacifying the militants, establishing governor’s rule and ensuring the availability of riot police for the impending long march. The opposition, on the other hand, has to make sure that they riot as much as they can during the long march, protest against the aforementioned governor’s rule and criticize government on every television channel that asks them to voice their opinion. The employment of common people is not something that is high on the agenda of either the government or the opposition parties.

However, after much deliberation, a new list of occupations is devised which can bring in richer dividends for the people, even in times of slump and economic decline.

Flag and Banner Industry: Whether it is election time, Muharram, Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi, political rally, long march, short march or just the month of March, there is always a demand for a banner or two. Whether you are in business of providing cloth to the banner-and-flag maker or work as the darzi who sews the jhandas, there is steady employment in this business. Occasional employment is also available for hoisting the flags and banners across the length and breadth of the country.

Crowd provider: Just like flag and banner industry, potential for running a human resource agency for providing crowds for political meetings, marches, jalsas and dharnas is tremendous. Not only the possibilities for providing general public for rallies are enormous, one can create a niche speciality for providing people who are good at slogan chanting, rallying the mob and flag bearing. Of course the charges for specific human resource would be much higher than just general crowd provision.

Hijab Industry: Hijab industry is the fastest growing industry in the country. With imposition of Shariat in Swat and Fata and its probable spread to other areas, burqas would be mandatory for women if they are to leave their homes to go to the weddings and funerals of relatives. Quite a few people have already built empires out of manufacturing and selling Hijab-related clothing. Hijab not only has a huge market in the country, but it sells like hot cakes in other countries as well and can generate much needed foreign exchange for the country. Canada is one such country where the business of hijab is booming, thanks to the immigration of Farhat Hashmi to the greener environs of Mississauga. Toronto and Vancouver are the new hotspots for the trendiest in hijab wear. This scribe met a sister duo in Rabi Centre Karachi who were buying tonnes of black georgette. One of the sisters is running a very successful hijab boutique in Vancouver and the other sister is the manufacturer who exports the hijab wear from Karachi; both of them are doing very well while busy in God’s business. If your business if affected by anti-dumping duties or you cannot compete with the low cost of production for knitwear, you can always switch to hijab wear and make loads of money for yourself and your country.

Madrassa teacher: As more and more people are facing the axe and their purchasing power is declining, they will soon be pulling their children out of the regular schools and put them in Madrassas funded with Saudi petrodollars. The higher the enrolment in such Madrassas would be, the demand for teachers would accelerate in the same proportion.

Disclaimer: Invest your time and money in the aforementioned occupations at your own risk; we cannot guarantee that the market for them will stay stable.

Originally published in Dawn.com


Mar 3, 2009 - published work    36 Comments

The school of political nonsense

Traditionally, students of politics are taught courses such as political theory, international relations, comparative politics, constitutional law, national politics, institutionalism and diplomacy among others. But in Pakistan’s case, most of these courses would be outmoded. Here, in this great country of ours, constitution and law is more of a joke. There is no rhyme, reason or theory to the politics on display and the less said about institutionalism, the better.

As a sophomore student, I remember studying courses on political ethics and the art of diplomacy, but in the current Pakistani political scenario, those courses are not only redundant, but the universities may be accused of imparting foreign influences to our students. If a university starts running a politics program to teach politics – Pakistan style – modern and newly-devised courses such as Political Opportunism and Political Anarchy would be more appropriate and students will have plenty of live examples to research and document. If a university takes this plunge and redesigns its curriculum, there are certain courses that would definitely make the final cut.

Instead of institutionalism, universities here should start teaching a course on Political Dynasties which could be popular in neighboring countries as well. Bhuttos of PPP are the most famous example although Khans of ANP are not far behind. The party has been passed on, from father to son, for three generations (from Ghaffar Khan to his son Wali Khan and now over to his son Asfandyar Wali Khan). Though these parties may be the pioneers taught about in Political Dynasties 101, PML-N and JUI – F takes the cake as the parties that are formed around the names of their leaders. It is open to wonder what will happen to these fine political institutions if there is no Nawaz Sharif or Maulana Fazlur Rehman around to ably guide and lead them.

Another popular course suitable for politics in Pakistan would be Political Suicide 101. We have all witnessed how former president of the country, Pervez Musharraf, was responsible for his own ouster. The civilian politicians couldn’t harm him much in the first eight years of his rule, but as soon as he overestimated his grandiosity and dismissed the CJ in an unceremonious manner, he brought about his own demise. Z.A. Bhutto is another fine example of political failure about whom, a certain Mr. Rushdie in his book Shame wrote: ‘Some men are so great that they can be unmade only by themselves.’ The current president, it appears, has not learned from the history and is hell-bent on making the same mistakes. Although he is not half as great as Bhutto and not as powerful as President Musharraf was in his heyday, it looks more likely that he too will be undone by himself.

Political Anarchy would be another appropriate course for students of politics in Pakistan. Currently, the biggest proponent for the school of Political Anarchy is Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who openly calls for civil disobedience among the civil servants and is aiming to push the country into further chaos. His reasons for doing so are, of course, purely personal and can only benefit him and his party. The rest of the country can go to the dogs. Meanwhile, Jamaat-i-Islami, with its history of long marches, remains the traditional flag-bearer of Political Anarchy.

The course on Political Authoritarianism has many contenders in Pakistan. The latest in line is the recently-deposed chief minister of Punjab, who, after assuming office, demolished the democratic local government set up and brought back Babu Raj to run a highly centralized government in Punjab. Previously, just about every leader who assumed power tried his/her hands at Political Authoritarianism; one such leader also wished to be called Amir-ul-Momineen before he was unceremoniously removed and relieved of his ‘Heavy mandate’.

The undisputed pioneer in the field of Political Communication has got to be MQM supremo Altaf Hussain. Hussain has been commanding his party in absentia since the early 90s, when he moved to the UK to live in self-imposed exile. Mr. Hussain has been taught as a case study in communication in modern politics in a few British universities and could be a good source on all methods of political communications. After all, he is the man who is said to be in control of a city as huge and chaotic as Karachi sitting in his office in London.

The other courses which can be taught as electives are courses on Political Inactivity, Political Nuisance and last but not the least, a course on Political Nonsense. After all, adherents of schools of Political Nonsense abound in just about every political party, big or small, in Pakistan.

Originally published at Dawn.com

Feb 20, 2009 - published work    33 Comments

All in the family

The final installment of the series.

What quips, quirks, snafus and scandals does Pakistan’s future hold? Tazeen Javed time travels to 2021 and blogs about what makes the Land of the Pure tick – or is it explode? – in the coming decade.

April 1, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The newly-elected government of Mr Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has completed its first 100 days in office. The landmark event was celebrated by a national holiday here on Tuesday, which takes the tally of Bhutto family-related national holidays to seven (the other holidays were birthdays and death anniversaries of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the annual commemoration of Mr Asif Ali Zardari’s 10-year anniversary in the presidential office, and the wedding anniversary of Prime Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari).

The notable constitutional amendment passed under PM Bhutto-Zardari’s parliament is the imposition of tax on royalties of all creative art forms, including sales of books, music records and art. However, it has not improved the condition of the national exchequer as only two books were published in the country last year and the pirated version of all the music created in Pakistan is available online, which results in absolutely no sales for the recording labels.

While addressing the nation, PM Bhutto-Zardari shared the good news that Pakistan has entered the Guinness Book of World Records for a single family holding the maximum number of ministries and other official positions in a country. In addition to the office of the president (held by the father of the prime minister) and that of a federal minister (his younger sister Asifa Bhutto-Zardari fills that spot), various ministerial posts are occupied by an assortment of uncles, aunties and cousins.

Leader of opposition, Mr Hamza Shahbaz called it a black day in the history of Pakistani politics and vowed that when his party assumes office, it will purge the government of the element of nepotism. He said that only a handful of positions would be held by his immediate family and substantiated the claim with the fact that in his family, women do not participate in politics, which automatically decreases the number of family members seeking official positions.

Meanwhile, Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussein sent flowers to the prime minister on this auspicious day. In a televised phone call from London to the PM secretariat, Mr Hussein said that Bhutto-Zardari would make a historic leader. Hussein added that PM Bilawal’s achievements have been exemplary since he was a little kid and had a famous chowk named after him in the port city of Karachi at the ripe-old age of five. He performed fateha for the PM’s martyred mother and cried a little while remembering the shaheed leader.

The evergreen Pir Pagaro congratulated the young prime minister and said that there would be a phoenix rising, adding that Sindh will be waterlogged and papers will fly. When asked about Pir Sahib’s message, the prime minister said that the Pir never made much sense – even in his lucid days – and that it would be futile to expect such an old man to make any sense at all.

Jamaat-e-Islami’s amir Qazi Hussein Ahmed initially announced a long march to protest the lavish celebrations to observe the first 100 days of the government, but had to retract after his party members refused yet another long march. One young member of the JI, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that per diem provided to long march participants has remained the same for the past five years and it has become almost impossible to recruit anyone to take part in long march at the old rates. Imran Khan, who now runs a successful media consultancy, agreed with the Jamaat’s new direction and suggested an online virtual march as a less expensive option. It is still not known if Jamaat plans to go virtual.


Feb 19, 2009 - published work    17 Comments

TV 2020: Anchors away

The fourth installment of iRant, with a brand new logo.

What quips, quirks, snafus and scandals does Pakistan’s future hold? Tazeen Javed time travels to 2020 and blogs about what makes the Land of the Pure tick – or is it explode? – in the coming decade.

April 1, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The centre for ethno-historical research in Quaid-e-Azam University is holding an exhibition of tools, gadgets and other items of daily use from earlier periods to educate youngsters about lifestyles in their parents’ times. A series of seminars is also being held alongside the exhibition to educate the youth about the norms and practices of previous generations.

The seminar on ‘Television Viewing Habits of the Past’ was quite popular amongst the young crowd. Not only were they amazed to see huge LCD televisions from the old days, but they were also fascinated by the concept of family TV viewing. When they were told that PTV continues to sell itself as a family channel, they were suitably surprised – not because family viewing is still considered a saleable point, but because they did not know that we have a TV channel called PTV. Indeed, a quick survey of the seminar participants revealed that an overwhelming majority of 92 percent had no idea what PTV is.

Youngsters were dumbfounded when they were told that biggest entertainment during the earlier part of the century was watching current affairs programs and talk shows on TV. They were shown clips of big names such as Hamid Mir, Shahid Masood, Talat Hussein, Zaid Hamid and Nadia Khan, who in their time commanded huge salaries. Unfortunately, their huge salaries proved to be their undoing – the channels that employed these anchors collapsed because they had nothing left to run operations after paying those enormous salaries.

Youngsters were curious to hear about the current status of the erstwhile anchors, so the institute prepared an interesting documentary detailing their current lives. Mr Masood is currently heading Muqtadra Qaumi Zaban. Although he is not a man of letters and has never studied Urdu formally, he was given this post because of the sheer verbosity of the TV monologues that he passed off as news analysis (his close ties with the president also helped).

Mr Mir finally found his true vocation: he is now an inspirational guru and lectures on politics, current affairs, war and peace. His most frequent guest speaker is none other than Imran Khan, who is an expert on religion and justice. Mr Khan started his career as a cricketer and later turned into a philanthropist. He tried his hands at politics, failed at it miserably, hosted a TV show, but met failure there too as he did not let any of his guests speak. He later took on the job as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s spokesman, but became redundant after they went under because of rampant infighting. Apart from the lecture tours which are immensely popular, Mir and Khan now run a media and politics consultancy where they provide services to political parties and young politicians on dealing with the media.

Mr Hussein used his popularity with female fans to full advantage and his foray into the world of acting and performing arts proved to be extremely successful. Not only is he acting on TV, film and the stage in Pakistan, he is working on a film in India and another in Bangladesh. It is also rumoured that he will feature in a German film soon. In addition, he has just launched an accessories label for men and women called ‘Interaption.’

Effervescent Nadia Khan, for her part, is running a successful finishing school for girls where they are taught to sharpen their claws to deal with future mothers-in-law. Her school has a separate wing for people who want to break into the TV industry despite being not very bright. She teaches aspiring anchors how to become successful with limited skill and knowledge. There are additional classes which are open for everyone titled ‘How to Take Pride in Stupidity’.

The only exception in this group is that of Mr Hamid. He took the demise of the Taliban a little more seriously than the rest. He now wears a straitjacket and lives in a padded room in a big hospital in Hyderabad. Those who live in the vicinity of the big hospital do hear someone screaming, ‘Inshallah, dushman ko khatam kar dain gay,’ at times. It is rumoured that whenever Hamid surfaces from his medicine-induced stupor, he does fancy that he is back in 2009 and makes such claims. But the good doctors at the hospital take care of his situation and send him back to where belongs, in deep sleep.


Feb 18, 2009 - published work    17 Comments

Pakistan’s cultural renaissance

The third installment of what future holds for us.

What quips, quirks, snafus and scandals does Pakistan’s future hold? Tazeen Javed time travels to 2019 and blogs about what makes the Land of the Pure tick – or is it explode? – in the coming decade.

April 1, 2019

KARACHI: The wait is finally over. After a tussle that lasted for over a decade, 2019 will see the second installment of the fashion week being held in Pakistan. The idea first surfaced in 2006 and Karachi did come up with a fashion week in 2008, but it fizzled out after just one event. In a time like this, when major fashion capitals have wrapped up the idea of actually having a fashion week as obsolete and most big designers have taken to use holograms to showcase their ware, the fashionistas in Pakistan seems quite excited about being able to claim that they too have taken part in/attended/organized an event where fashion reigns supreme.

Several reasons were cited for this decade-long delay: security concerns in the country, infighting in the fashion council of Pakistan. But the most pertinent reason was that there were only three models who were at least five feet, eight inches tall – a standard that is followed everywhere in the world except Pakistan. As one cannot have a fashion week with just three models, we kept delaying the event. It didn’t help that no new girl joined the fashion industry in the past decade because of threats from various jihadi groups. Now that the militants have all fought and killed each other, things are much calmer and a new breed of models have joined in to make the fashion week a possibility.

Of course, the fashion industry is not the only one that has gained momentum after the jihadi burnout. The film industry is also in for a revival and is attracting financing from all over the world after Shaan was declared the most prolific actor of all time. He has continued to work throughout the jihadi period and single-handedly ran the film industry while in exile in Timbuktu. He recently returned home and was interviewed by none other than Oprah who is visiting Pakistan as the cultural envoy of US President Condoleezza Rice. Shaan has not only worked in more than 4,000 films as the leading actor, he also wrote, produced, and directed at least half of them. He is also the only actor known to have played the proverbial college boy well into his fifties. As all his films required him to be involved in a blood bath before the credits rolled, he is being considered to become the spokesperson for the National Blood Donation Drive. As he only wanted farm fresh ketchup to be used for blood in all his films, he is also responsible for introducing tomato farming and the ketchup industry to the dusty deserts of Timbuktu. Members of the Association of Tomato Growers and Ketchup Makers in Timbuktu came all the way to Lahore to pay tribute to the legendary actor, secretly hoping that Oprah would also give them a two-minute slot in her show.

The music industry is not far behind either. All the bands that were underground for the past decade have finally seen the light of day and are making themselves heard. Although they were underground for political and security reasons, they took their state of being underground a little too musically and all they now produce is hard rock and grunge – the type of music underground bands have been associated with in previous years. The only performers of good old pop music are the children of pop musicians-turned-naat khwaans who have been busy selling their Naat and Hamd CDs and DVDs for the past dozen years. Pakistan has also seen a surge in rap and hip hop music after the successful debut of the first female Pakistani rap artist Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari, who was nominated for two Grammys last year. Bhutto-Zardari is the daughter of the slain former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto and longest elected president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari (11 years and counting).

Apart from all the new and exciting musicians, the only band to have lasted this long is Noorie. When contacted, Ali Noor – the lead vocalist – said that the reason the band survived is because all band members hail from his family. In the past, they have had band members who were not part of their family, but they could not survive the family-like atmosphere of their jamming sessions. Currently, the band comprises of Ali Noor, his brother, his nephew, his son-in-law, and his nephew’s mother-in-law. After all, it is all about loving your family and your nephew’s mother-in-law.

The sole person to whom this positive and much-needed change can be attributed is our young and dynamic Minister for Cultural Affairs Asifa Bhutto-Zardari. When asked what made her work so hard for the revival of the performing arts, she said it is in her blood. With a sister who is a rap artist and a cousin who is married to Hollywood royalty, performing arts and its promotion at all levels is a cause very close to the minister’s heart. Like Ali Noor, our esteemed minister also believes that it is all about loving your family.


Feb 17, 2009 - published work    21 Comments

Short Order Fatwa

Here is the second installment of iRant published today.

What quips, quirks, snafus and scandals does Pakistan’s future hold? Tazeen Javed time travels to 2018 and blogs about what makes the Land of the Pure tick – or is it explode? – in the coming decade.

Short-Order Fatwa

April 1, 2018

MURIDKE: The fatwa capital of Pakistan, Muridke, has been under the media spotlight for over a week. Muridke Institute of Instant Religious Decrees (MIIRD) has beaten Egypt’s Jamia Azhar and India’s Dar-ul-uloom Deoband for issuing the maximum number of fatwas. Unlike the other two institutions which are centuries old, MIIRD has surpassed the feat in just five short years. The institute prides itself on its speedy delivery of fatwas. This bastion of religious declarations is home to 225 scholars who address queries through a call centre that takes questions both via phone and online and responds to them in the shortest possible time.

The website of the institute very clearly indicates that every religious query will be answered in less than 180 minutes. The religious call centre is operated like any other call centre – scholars work on eight-hour rotational shifts. The scholar who issues the maximum number of fatwas in a month’s time gets selected as the scholar of the month and gets his photo streamed on all the televisions in the institute as well as on its website. Maulana Faish Hoshiyari has been selected scholar of the month for eight consecutive months and now has a 123 Facebook pages devoted to him with over a couple of millions fans to date.

Apart from the online fatwas, the institute is running a 24-hour religious TV channel called ‘Akhirat’, which not only helps in the proliferation of the aforementioned fatwas, but also airs other programs. One such program is ‘Banking: The Halal-Haram Dichotomy’, which repeats the premise that interest taken by other banks is haram but profit on investment taken by halal banks is perfectly fine.

Another important and highly rated program is ‘Halal Dating’, where religious-minded folks are hooked up under the ever-vigilant eyes of the Maulana, who is also the executive producer of the show. Another program that enjoys immense popularity amongst the masses is ‘Istakhara for all Seasons’. Not surprisingly, the program that has broken all records in religious TV viewing is ‘Halal Food Guide’, which combines two main passions of Pakistanis – food and religion. The cooking show features famous chefs who prepare food with halal ingredients. The food shown in the programs is also available across the nation at MIIRD restaurants called ‘Al Halal’. That is why the institute, at times, is affectionately referred to as ‘Fast Food Fatwa’.

Interestingly, the institute was the first religious school to go on Twitter and pioneered the custom of delivering the latest ‘fatwa of the day’ right into their subscribers’ cell phones.

In addition to adding their name to the Guinness Book of World Records for maximum number of fatwas, the institute has also pioneered the MIIRD clothing line which consists of topis, kifayas, pagris, burqas, hijabs, kurtas, and pajama designs. All born-again Muslim celebrities-turned-designers contribute to the line. It is believed that MIIRD will be the biggest clothing label in Pakistan soon. Moreover, the institute has just launched a chain of saloons where men can get their beards trimmed in true halal fashion while women can get their hair dyed with henna – in separate sections of course.

After completing taking over the Hajj and Umrah travel business, MIIRD’s board of directors are now planning to commence the first all halal airline, which will offer separate sections for male and female travelers and Jama’at prayer sessions for men during the flight. The in-flight entertainment programme will exclusively broadcast snippets from Akhirat, the institute’s television channel.

It is said that after achieving the feat of issuing the maximum number of fatwas and building an empire based on the Pakistani masses’ incessant need to seek religious approval for all things trivial, MIIRD will be taught as a business model at Harvard Business School

When contacted, the CEO of MIIRD Empire, Al Haaj Mufti Sheikh Syed Maulana Mujawar, about being taught at Harvard Business School as a business model, a feat that no other Pakistani company or business plan has ever achieved, Mufti Mujawar said that he is extremely pleased to put Pakistan on the business map while serving his people and fulfilling their socio-religious needs. When it was pointed out that some segments of society are not too pleased with the instant fatwa empire and think that various – and at times, conflicting – fatwas are adding to anarchy in the society, the esteemed Mufti dismissed it as mere heresy. ‘Society is chaotic because it the natural state of being and peace can only be achieved in afterlife,’ he says.

PS: While you guys are at it, have a look at this live blogging session.


Feb 16, 2009 - published work    29 Comments

The First Rant

Dawn launched its new website and I have been asked to write a series of blogs about what Pakistan would be like a decade down the road. Here is the first installment of iRant.

Shoaib Akhtar: Conscience of the Superstars

What quips, quirks, snafus and scandals does Pakistan’s future hold? Tazeen Javed time travels to 2017 and blogs about what makes the Land of the Pure tick – or is it explode? – in the coming decade.

April 1, 2017

LAHORE: The last remaining super star of Pakistani cricket, Shoaib Akhtar, is still battling it out with the Pakistan Cricket Board. When the TV cameras caught up with Akhtar outside the cricket board offices, he vowed to make it back to the team and shared with the media his new fitness regime, which consists of him walking 100 meters without either a walking stick or power enhancing drugs. He also blamed the board for his poor performance and lack of consistency and said that he spent a better part of the day getting the cricket board to pay his old unpaid medicals bills dating back to 2009 – as a result, he cannot concentrate on his game.

Apart from the long drawn out battle with the cricket board on unpaid medical bills, Akhtar is involved in 11 other cases and is being considered for an award for his role in keeping the lawyers community afloat. He is a joint contender for the award along with Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has been fighting for a free judiciary for a whole decade. Of the 11 lawsuits that Akhtar has been fighting, one is against Kolkata Knight Riders for unceremoniously dumping him eight years ago. The team has changed ownership twice since then (Shahrukh Khan’s wife got the team in divorce settlement, but later sold it to Karan Johar. The erstwhile Mrs Khan was of the opinion that Johar can appreciate dirty, sweaty men a lot more than she ever could). But Akhtar is still battling on.

Other legal cases include, but are not limited to, a hit-and-run incident on Rawalpindi-Lahore Motorway, growing marijuana in his backyard and gifting it to neighbours’ under-age kids, two cases of assault against teammates, three paternity cases in two countries, and a couple of lawsuits against a cola giant for dropping him and causing him irreversible emotional damage. In order to pay for his ever-mounting legal fees, Akhtar has decided to auction his infamous bat with which he assaulted a former teammate. It is rumoured that the former teammate, who now supplies soft drugs to the whole of the Middle East since their legalization following 2010’s Dubai’s real estate market crash, will be buying that bat for nostalgic reasons.

Last but not least is his ongoing battle with the Indian judicial system, which has repeatedly denied his attempts at adopting an Indian orphan. It was almost nine years ago when Akhtar first revealed the intention to adopt a child from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. When asked why he singled out Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, he said that as he was always partial to the name Teresa and would want it to be part of his adoptive child’s life. When contacted, a member of Indian judiciary revealed that it is not his history of violence and substance abuse that is hindering his chance at adoption, they are more concerned about the probable influence of Akhtar’s former teammates who are now running Hajj and Umrah tours and have close ties with Osama Bin Laden and Junaid Jamshed. It is heard that the state of Malawi slackened its adoption laws, especially for celebrities from far far away lands. Akhtar, being the philanthropist softie he is, does not mind adopting a child from Malawi, as long as it get the same media coverage as an adoption would get in Mumbai. Unfortunately, adoption agencies in Malawi cannot guarantee that as they do not take care of adoption-related PR. It is clearly stated in the standard adoption contract that the celebrity is required to arrange his own post-adoption press junket and cute baby photos.

Like the original playboy of Pakistani cricket, Imran Khan, Akhtar is also building a hospital. Unlike Khan, who built the hospital in honour of his mother who perished from cancer, Akhtar’s hospital would be devoted to cure skin diseases. It is still unknown if it is being built to honour a particular person or if it is something he likes to be associated with? Some detractors of the national hero said that there would be a special ward in the hospital for the ‘thick skinned’, to honour the cricketer himself.

Akhtar believes that he is the most misunderstood celebrity of our times and blames the cricket board and media for the PR debacle that is his life. Although many would disagree, Akhtar fills a huge vacuum in Pakistan’s media industry. We do not have people like Prince Harry and Paris Hilton, but we need people who can fill the air-time of local TV channels and serve as tabloid fodder. Akhtar is doing just that. Who can help but be charmed by such social service?

PS: Can someone please fwd this link to Shoaib Akhtar if they happen to know him?