Tagged with " Pakistan"
Jun 28, 2012 - Uncategorized    9 Comments

Khan Sahib’s heart to heart with Julian Assange

There is delusional, and there is delusional to the extent that people stop mocking you and start smiling at you in sympathy.  Khan sahib’s latest heart to heartwith Julian Assange falls into the later category.  Staying true to his character, Imran Khan started his statements with “Look Julian” & “You see Julian,” and treated him like he does Hamid Mir with “dekho Hamid” & “suno Hamid.” 
For starters, he seems to believe he is next in line in the quest to power and that his political rallies are changing the way people do politics in Pakistan. I wish it was the truth and I wish things had changed but the fact remains that barring a few urban pockets, politics is still heavily dependent on caste and clan allegiances. 
So confident he is of his jalsas that he thinks all the electable people are now turning to him because the vote bank belongs to him. Assange should have asked him that if the other people were that electable, then how come the vote bank belongs to him and if the vote bank belongs to him then he does not need electable lotas from other parties and can easily get dedicated and patriotic Pakistanis to contest elections and make it to the parliament. 
Khan sahib also believes that political establishment is scared of him because he is the most popular leader since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Had establishment been that scared of him, why would they provide him with protocol and security for all his jalsas all over the country? And I have a feeling that supporters of Mian Nawaz Sharif, Benzir Bhutto and Altaf Hussain will take exception to him declaring himself as the most popular one since ZAB, esp considering Mian sahib has enjoyed two third  majority in the parliament at one point in time. 
His most contradictory statements however were reserved for Pak-US relations. He wants Pakistan to do away with the client patron relationship the country has with US but at the same time he also says that Americans are very unhappy with Pakistan because we have not delivered to them. 
Doncha think Khan Sahib would be quite at home on the prime ministerial kursi?
If you are too tired to go through the whole interview, read the juiciest excerpts here.

This all pervasive misogyny

Every country has its fair share of misogynist politicians trying to tell women not to drive or have abortions, wear or not to wear burqa or contest elections, but Pakistan beats them all with the likes of Sheikh Alauddin who not only is openly misogynist, he is also ill mannered enough to call his colleagues – female members of Punjab Assembly – all kinds of names, names so impolite that not only some of the TV channels refused to air his tirade against women MPAs before censoring it, but the speaker of the assembly also had to get those nasty bits removed from the records. 
Women MPAs protested against his spiel about the non virtuous nature of his female colleagues, but when he refused to stop, Seemal Kamran, an MPA Pakistan Muslim League-Q threw a shoe at Alauddin and all hell broke loose. Ms. Kamran was barred from entering the assembly premises by the Speaker next day, was involved in a skirmish with the security guards and when she later tried to file an FIR against Sheikh Alauddin for harassment and misconduct at workplace, she was told that an FIR can only be filed against an MPA after directions from the speaker of the assembly.
It is sad to realize that misogyny is seeped so deep in our society that a woman as powerful as one sitting in the assembly cannot file a report against a co worker for workplace misconduct and harassment despite video evidence. It is so ironic that a place that is supposed to make laws for workplace harassment houses some of the worst offenders who have no qualms in calling their colleagues circus whores (the exact words of Sheikh Alauddin were maut ke kuwo-on mein nachnay wali aurtain among other things).
While some TV channels showed restrain and did not air the abusive language of Shaikh Alauddin, some other TV channels aired selective footage where Seemal Kamran threw a shoe at him but aired it with sensational copy and did not show the abusive and misogynist behavior and speaker’s lack of response which prompted that incident. People who have witnessed the assembly proceedings say that Kamran’s response may seem a little over the top but the women in Punjab assembly are only returning the favour after putting up with four years of verbal & physical abuse during assembly sessions. No wonder legislation against misogynist practices, domestic violence runs into snags repeatedly because our assemblies are full of people who consider misogyny a way of life.
It is also to be noted that Shiekh Alauddin’s rant against women MPAs has openly mocked the constitutional provision of reserved seats for women by calling them the group that violates the sanctity of the house. Election commission of Pakistan should take notice of this at soonest of it wants its authority as the supreme body for electoral process to be respected. 
Women rights groups demands action against Member Punjab Assembly, Sheikh Allauddin for using abusive language for women members of the house on 20th June 2012 which of course is an appropriate demand, but it is not just the action of one man, the incident represented a mindset that cannot accept women either in public spaces or in a position of power. We must condemn people like Alauddin for their reprehensible behavior but the society in general and women’s groups in particular need to look for ways to redress the way we view women in public spaces and positions of power and deal with this all pervasive misogyny. 
Originally written for  The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.
Jun 8, 2012 - PTI    3 Comments

Khan vs Khan

It was rumored a couple of months back that A.Q.Khan would be joining Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaaf and I for one was looking forward to it. Not only the two man share the same surname, they both discovered the power of right wing dogma and stupidity on the op-ed pages of The News; Khan junior did it back in 1990s when he wrote op-eds on sanctity of “Chador and Chardeewari”and declare jeans as an almost haram piece of clothing and Khan senior did it in the 21st century when he decided to copy webpages of western universities and pass it of genuine piece of analysis. 
They both are also fond of giving headline worthy quotes to newspapers and have narcissist tendencies which meant that we would have been entertained on regular basis. Sadly Khan the scientist has decided not to join politics following advice from people who clearly do not want the newspaper readers of Pakistan to be entertained. 
I have a feeling that Khan vs Khan in PTI would have been more entertaining than spy vs spy.
Jun 4, 2012 - published work, Sindh    7 Comments

Fate and fatalism

If I am asked to use one word that describes Pakistanis most accurately, I would be compelled to respond with ‘fatalistic’. No other country has faced as much and varied chaos — natural and man made — as we have; from drone attacks to floods, targeted killings, earthquakes, suicide bombings, honour killings, disease, poverty and everything in between, we have faced it all and still go on with our lives in a business-as-usual manner, believing it to be “God’s will”.

Most Pakistanis have a defeatist approach towards doom and death. Yes, death is inevitable, but the way we readily accept it in all its forms does speak volumes about the fatalism that pervades our society. It can be said that such a stoic approach to life is a coping mechanism for the majority. This attitude stops us from being proactive about bringing positive change and makes us unprepared for things like floods, fires and earthquakes. And while such an attitude helps us get through these disasters, it also ensures that we live in the worst possible conditions and somehow continue to exist despite everything.

The preponderance of matters related to religion in all spheres of life has also contributed to this aspect of fatalism. For instance, Shah Waliullah, a Muslim scholar from the 19th century, who has heavily influenced scholars in the Indian subcontinent, declared fate to be a fundamental article of faith and that anyone who disbelieved it should not be entitled to be called a Muslim. So, in order to retain purity of faith, acknowledgement of everything as a God’s way of testing humans is accepted, be it corrupt leaders or a broken down administrative system, or young children dying.

I recently visited a village in Hingorno near Mirpur Khas, where stagnant water around a cluster of houses stood like a sad reminder of the devastation that the floods brought in last year. Quite a few of the villagers lost their homes and almost all had lost assets like livestock and furniture. Except for one family, all others have rebuilt part of their homes despite abject poverty and some even have saved up enough to buy a goat or two. I was later informed that the neighbours in that poor village have decided to contribute some money and labour to help that family build a room before the next rainy season.

It may not be much but this, I think, is the saving grace of Pakistani fatalism: a commitment to one another and the spirit of community. Most of us are mindful of the fact that while our life stories are heartbreaking, that of our neighbour’s might be even worse.

But can I really blame the people of Pakistan for their stoicism? Would I retain any glimmer of hope if I lose my house in floods, a son to hepatitis C or a daughter to childbirth? What if half of my family is blown up in a bomb blast during their yearly shopping excursion in the city before Eid? How can I live through the trauma of being caught in crossfire between militants and the armed forces and see my friends and family die all around me? How can I ever hope to not die and get on with my life? I, too, will need repeated doses of fatalism to survive.

Resignation to one’s fate is a necessary evil and, perhaps, a powerful tool of survival but one must ponder if this is what is stopping us from taking charge of our individual and collective lives and preventing us from bringing in the changes that we need.

First published in The Express Tribune.

Stagnant water that stands four feet deep a year after the rains in Hingorno
May 26, 2012 - population, published work    2 Comments

Where are the health stories in the newspapers?

A country where 58% of the population is food insecure and over 43% children are malnourished, health is an outstanding concern all the time. Add the repeated misery of floods of 2010 and 2011 and displacement of population in hundreds of thousands because of military operations in KPK and FATA and it becomes an ever more pressing concern. When a matter is that critical, you expect to see highlighted everywhere. Unfortunately, the Pakistani media is, by and large, silent on this issue.
Let’s start with the health issues of children. Not only neonatal mortality is responsible for 57% of all deaths in children younger than 5 years in the country, the country also has the dubious distinction of having the highest neonatal mortality rate in the region. Nearly two million children less than five years of age die of pneumonia. Similar number dies of diarrhea every year. According to UN figures, around 432,000 children die before reaching the age of five in Pakistan and the majority of these lives are taken by pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, malaria, tuberculosis and tetanus. But if you go through any newspaper in Pakistan or watch any news bulletin on any of the TV channels, you would think that the only disease killing children in Pakistan is Polio.
Pick any newspaper, almost 90 per cent of the news items about children’s health cover stories about polio vaccination drive of the government, its success, failures and the political mileage politicians get out of it. Half of such stories would be based on statements by political personalities such as Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, Farzana Raja and Shehnaz Wazir Ali during various campaign launches. Ironically we are not even doing that very well and Pakistan is one of the three countries — the other two being Nigeria and Afghanistan — in the world which still has the disease. Pakistan has not done much to meet the millennium development goal of reducing childhood mortality by 2015 and control of infectious disease which should have been the topmost priority remains neglected.
Health experts have noted that the higher occurrence of communicable diseases among children and acute malnutrition in the country is primarily due to poverty, higher illiteracy rate among mothers and the government’s lack of commitment towards ensuring food security to each and every citizen. They also attributed it to the inherent problems in infant feeding practices and access to “right” foods, a problem that can be addressed if media makes it a priority and educated masses about it. Unfortunately media is busy pursuing its own agenda and is content with airing stories of nurses fighting it out with traders in the streets of Lahore during protests for increase in their wages. 
As far as health issues of adults are concerned, one sees stories only about cases of criminal negligence, medical malpractice, lack of infrastructure, absentee doctors and protests and strikes by medical and paramedical staff. There is hardly any coverage given to issues relating to nutrition, health policy, legislation and drug pricing policies, etc.
With the devolution of the ministry of health following the Eighteenth Amendment, Pakistan faces the challenge of developing a reliable provincial infrastructure that would integrate the efforts of various stakeholders in promoting better health outcomes. Unfortunately, we are not even at the stage where a workable policy is developed and budgetary priorities are reassessed, so developing a workable provincial infrastructure remains a distant dream.

Written originally for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version. 

May 19, 2012 - published work, Satire, Urdu    4 Comments

The amazing art of writing an Urdu column

I write a weekly column for this newspaper, an English language daily, and at times it becomes difficult to comment on things with a perspective that is fresh, relevant and not dated – week after week. Not only that, but one is also required to be coherent and appear sane most of the time (there are some exceptions to the rule though).
I envy op-ed writers of Urdu newspapers; most of them are not encumbered with notions of relevance and coherence. If one reads Urdu op-ed pieces for a week, it becomes clear that art of writing an Urdu op-ed is quite straight forward. It mostly starts with a story of a brave kingof the days long gone and how he took care of his people and somehow linking it to governance issues of a country fighting a multipronged war, battling an energy crisis of epic proportions and is saddled with a population of over 180 million people. Most of the times, the king would not have name and even when there is a name, that particular incident would not be part of the history. I know, I have checked. At times, I have even looked into Dastan-e-Amir Hamza for references mentioned in one of the pieces but the stories were so fantastical that I could not find them in centuries old tales of Amir Hamza.
Introspection is alien to Urdu columnists. Pakistan is never to be blamed for its ills, it is always some foreign powers who are trying to sabotage the fort of Islam and our Islamic bomb (the last I checked, inanimate objects were not practicing any faith but I digress).  The foreign country bashing is not limited to but is generally aimed at United States of America and India – depending on what the topic of conversation is. The really good writers do not just go ahead and blame India for all slights and transgressions – imagined and real – they invent a fictional white Caucasian character they have met in trips abroad and make him say that India is a horrible place where everyone is evil and Pakistan is the ultimate Shangri-La.  After all, the hidden racist within us would agree more with a learned white man than a Pakistani, even if that Pakistan happens to be an esteemed columnist traveling to the foreign lands inhabited by learned white people.
Some Urdu columnists also like to reproduce the fan mail they get, usually from cities like Layyah and Narowal. English op-ed writers cannot do that because they generally do not get fan mail from Layyah. What they do get – and this generalization is solely based on the mail I and two of my columnist friends get – is hate mail for being (a) liberal fascist, (b) English medium elite or best of all, (c) an agent of the foreign variety.
At times I envy the Urdu columnists. I really like the idea of starting a piece with a fairy tale or two but it is not as simple. For starters, I like to be historically correct and even though I write for a newspaper, my editor is cyber savvy and always asks me to provide hyper links for the internet edition to provide context and to substantiate my argument which puts any fantasies I may harbor about introducing fictional characters in my op-ed pieces to sleep. As fantastical historical characters and fan mail from Layyah are not viable choices, one is only left with the option of blaming it all on the “unholy” trinity of India, Israel and USA. This is how one masters the art of becoming an Urdu columnist.
First published in The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.
PS: After reading the comments on the Tribune website, I think I must point out that this is a satire and I do NOT (a) think I have the authority to declare any country/person/idea unholy/evil, it was just written to get a certain point across(b) intend to start a language war (c) represent every person who writes in English in Pakistan.
PPS: I have been trying to get published in Urdu, but failed, So before anyone goes and blames me for not writing in Urdu, find me an editor who is willing to publish me in Urdu.
PPPS: I envy Urdu op-ed writers. They get fan mail (postal variety) from Layyah and I get hate mail (electronic variety) from Lahore and Raiwind. I really really want to get postal fan mail from places like Naushki, Layyah and Kamaliya (meri choti choti khuwahishat).

Trash TV is just trash, even when the characters wear Prada

One of the advantages of growing older is that you are not generally ashamed about the questionable things you do; like eating nutella straight from the jar, reading Ansar Abbasi’s pearls of wisdom in Jang every week and watching trash tv like Gossip Girl. 
I just finished watching the season finale of the tv series and I am marveling at the fact that people who wrote and produced the show still have jobs. I mean one usually watches soap like crap with suspension of logic, such as resurrection of Daddy Bass from the dead (he was not really dead but was hiding in Bermuda Triangle or a tanning salon if his skin tone is any indication) or Mummy van der Woodson’s accessories  – or was it Bass or Humphery; I lost count and order of her multiple husbands – (She was wearing gigantic earrings while she was still in her gown/robe/not dressed in the morning and is lacing her coffee with something alcoholic) but to caricaturize the characters to the extent that they have done in this show – everyone has lied, schemed and cheated on their spouses and significant others at some point or the other – requires a suicidal level of crazy.
I always bemoan the fact that Pakistani television shows women as either helpless creatures, scheming bitches or victims; but with shows such as Gossip Girl, it looks like that American tv featuring the lives and exploits of rich and powerful of New York is just as lame and with characters with similar flaws. There are two leading female characters who have failed The Bechdel Test in every goddamned episode. If they are not talking about a guy they are dating or want to date then they are scheming with each other and against each other. One of them is a very smart Ivy league student, yet she gives into an abusive relationship time and again (we have seen her suitor being manipulative and violent in the past. He also had the dubious honour of trading her for a piece of real estate and cheating her with an underage girl. He also has an obsession with bow ties and colour purple, but I digress) and can only defines herself through her boyfriends. The other one is not so smart – yet she too ends up in the same Ivy league school (suspension of logic, I tell ya) and has a peculiar obsession with a guy who used to be her boyfriend – turned step sibling – turned best friend’s boy friend (yes, it is as incestuous as it sounds) and slips into her old bad ways of riding trains and hooking up with her drug dealer who looked suspiciously like a pop singer when the said boyfriend turned step sibling turned bestie’s boyfriend spurned her advances for the 537494th time.
What happened to women’s liberation and feminism? Are those ideas so last century that no one wants to portray female characters on TV who are smart, independent and do not define themselves through a man? I know it is asking a lot from the local television writers and producers who are still busy peddling stories about polygamist feudal lords, jahez ki lanat, baap ki izzat and saas bahu tamasha but if the first world’s emancipated women are subject to this crap then there is no hope.
Perhaps my younger snootier self was right in sticking to TV shows with people like Tina Fey
 PS: Watch this awesomesauce video on Blechdel Test if you are interested.
PPS: Tina Fey is like my most gigantic girl crush. 
PPPS: This post is kinda suicidal as I am publicly admitting to watching trash TV. I have a feeling that my sister is going to have a field day when she wakes up in the morning.

May 11, 2012 - published work, religion, Society    3 Comments

The fatwa factory

There is so much that needs to be done in Pakistan that one does not know where to start. The country is suffering the worst energy crisis of its history; it is food insecure like never before and almost half the children in the country are malnourished and stunted. In short, we are teeming millions who cannot feed themselves, have limited access to energy and will be dumber and weaker in future because of stunted mental and physical growth of our children. At such a juncture of history, what is it that we do most? We issue fatwas promoting misogyny and obscurantism; against hygiene, education, health and progress.
The latest in the line of outrageous fatwas is issued by a former legislator. Maulana Abdul Haleem, of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur Rehman, came up with a series of misogynist fatwas, clearly detailing what should be the priorities of his political and religious followers. For starters, the fatwa declares formal education for women to be unIslamic. As just declaring the act of going to school and getting some education irreligious was not enough, he also had to reprimand the parents who send their girls to schools in Kohistan and asked them to terminate their education. He told them, in no uncertain terms, that failure to do so will earn them a spot in eternal hellfire.
The fatwa does not end here. It goes on to declare all the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the region as ‘hubs of immodesty’. He first blames the women working in those NGOs for mobilizing local women on health and hygiene issues and then calls on the local men to marry the unmarried NGO workers – forcefully if they have to – to make them stay at home. Maulana Haleem’s religious credentials are dubious at best as this is the guy who thinks growing poppy for heroine production is shariah compliant. 
In short, a former legislator issues random fatwas during a Friday sermon inciting hatred against a group of people (NGO workers) and declaring the constitutional rights of getting education for half the population haram and no one barring a few bloggers and tweeters raised an eye brow. A non issue like memogate which does not affect the life of any Pakistani other than our former ambassador to USA, gets yards of column space and thousands of minutes of airtime. A religious decree that can affect life and livelihood and future of many Pakistani is not worth pondering or protesting.
Had it been just one fatwa from one cleric in one remote corner, we would have had the luxury to ignore it. Unfortunately we churn out one religious edict after another for most ludicrous of purposes. If declaring vegetarian items like potato chips and hair implant services halal is considered viable marketing gimmick, then abduction of minor girls from minority communities also get a sanction in a fatwa (and a court judgment). Fatwas are so commonplace than even KESC had to resort to seek a fatwa a few years back to get people pay for the electricity. As KESC is still laden with hundreds and thousands of unpaid bills, we all know how effective that fatwa turned out to be. 
A country like ours can ill afford adventurism of any kind, but most dangerous is the practice of resorting to fatwa to get a point across. Not only it breeds a narrow and rigid view of the things, it does not leave any room for dialogue, debate and consultation, making us an even more intolerant bunch. 

Written for Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.

Subliminally ridiculous

A couple of years back, a Dutch friend left Pakistan after having lived here for a few years, when I asked him how does he find life back home, his answer was: boring and mundane. When I asked him to elaborate, he said that he missed the uncertainty of the not getting hot water in the middle of a shower because of gas load shedding, the random strikes for reasons that had nothing to with Pakistani people and the fickle cabbies of Lahore who can charge anything between Rs 150 to 750 for the same distance depending upon the skin color the customer, time of day and (night) and the state you are in (inebriated or sober).
Life in most other countries is humdrum and monotonous; if you are Icelandic, you know you are famous for feminist politicians and banking crisis. In Finland, you know that you export one brand of cell phones and multiple types of fish. Pakistanis have transcended beyond tangible goods and have now started exporting djinns to kill errant housewives. If you are from Swaziland your claim to fame could be the two dozen wives of your king and crushing poverty. But if you are a Pakistani, you have hundreds of parliamentarians who are polygamists. In a society where nothing is predictable, the only thing you can be sure about is that 265 days out of 365, shit is going to hit the fan, you get a hundred day respite because there is no electricity for the fan on those days.
Pakistan is at the top of all things ridiculous, so ridiculous that we can be called subliminally ridiculous. Every country – other than Iceland of course – has some misogynist politicians trying to tell women not to drive or have abortions, wear or not to wear burqa or contest elections, but Pakistan beats them all with the likes of Samina Khawar Hayat, a woman who is not only a misogynist politician but she also advocates and promotes polygamy by trying to make it mandatory for the well off men.
Reams of newsprint and hours upon hours of airtime were devoted to discuss the dent to Pakistani sovereignty (which is as mythical as fire breathing dragons) when US troops landed in Abbotabad to capture Bin Laden but no one barring an odd blogger or a piece in an English daily asked if Osama and his assorted wives living and procreating in Pakistan mocked the sovereignty of the country or not.
The latest entrant in the list – but certainly not the most ridiculous – is the 37 second long sentence handed out to the Prime Minister. While expert are calling it a symbolic sentence, most of us masses are stupefied at the ingenuity of the judges who came up with the sentences. Apart from a tv anchor or two who may suffer brain aneurysm while discussing this sentence, law journals across the world would be commissioning academic research on what could be entered in Guinness Book of world records as the shortest possible sentence, a record that can only be broken by something just as subliminally ridiculous happening in Pakistan. Of course no one will ask the esteemed court about the about the hundreds of thousands of rupees of tax payers money spent on a conviction that lasted less time than it took to write the sentence.
Other countries may be just as ludicrous as we are if not more, what tips the scale in our favour on the ridiculous meter is that we do not even try. To top it all, we do not even have the decency of being charming and quirky about it. 
Apr 12, 2012 - rant, Society, women    6 Comments

I want my space in national narrative and I want it NOW!

Bytes for All arranged a country wide forum on social media initiatives by youth on regional peace and security and I moderated a session with Senior Vice Chairperson of Awami National Party and member national assembly Bushra Gohar on role of women parliamentarians and politicians in democratic processes.
Before I express my disappointment on the Caucus’ official song and Ms. Gohar’s rather poor defence of it, I must point out that I have great respect for Bushra Gohar as a person and a professional capable woman. Ms. Gohar wanted to talk about the Women Caucus in the parliament and she opened her presentation with this Tina Sani song prepared for the Caucus which basically cements the patriarchal notion that only a woman who is covered in a chador is virtuous and worthy of respect and can be the face of a Pakistani woman. The song lyrics go like this: Anchal ko parcham bana rahain hain, hum waqt ke mailay daman pe umeed ujalay jaga rahain hain(the director of the video was so incredibly smart that he showed a woman washing clothes during the words waqt ke mailay daman pe – someone kill me already). When I asked Ms Gohar about the contributions of women who do not abide by the chadorand chardeewari philosophy and do not really have the so called anchals, ghooghatsand what not to turn into parchams? Should they be excluded from the national narrative because they do not conform to the majority’s idea of what is considered appropriate for women?  Bushra Gohar, much to my surprise, defended this song and said that that the song meant to convey the message of empowerment by turning women’s dupattas into national flag!!!
I know that no one knows there exist a song like this (the last I checked it had only 37 views on youtube and it was uploaded a good six months ago), no one actually cares about it and me fretting over it is kinda useless but I am sick and tired of being kept out of the national narrative because I am a woman who does not believe in chador and chardeewari. I live and work in Pakistan, I contribute to the economy and pay taxes which pays for the salaries of the police and army and the mostly useless executive but neither am I safe in this country, nor am I called the Qaum ki beti. Who is called Qaum ki beti? A woman named Aafia Siddiqui – an alleged terrorist whose legal defense fees is paid for by the very same taxes that I pay every year –and I am able to pay those taxes because I work and called a maghrabi aurat (westernized woman) who leaves the sanctity of her home everyday to go to work. You know what is most ironic? The so called Qaum ki beti has not even lived in this country for ages, she is a bloody US citizen.

I know it’s a silly song but I am tired of being relegated to sidelines because I am a woman and I make my own choices based on informed ideas rather than propaganda. I want my rightful space in the national narrative and I want it NOW!