From Isloo to Suli

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Living in Kurdistan – part 1 When I first landed in Sulaymaniyah/Slemani/Suli, I was really pleasantly surprised, especially since I had only a little idea about this city in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The first thing I noticed was the … Continue reading

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Clamping down on our own freedom

Ever since I made a decision to not watch Pakistani channels (mostly news), I admit, I’ve breathed a sigh of relief on not being bombarded by images of bombings; shootings; overly dramatic crime reports; cunning talk show hosts; sobbing, hapless heroines in soaps; and silly, insipid morning shows who have nothing better to do than celebrate make-believe “shadis” all the time. Crappy programming produced to deliver the highest ratings and profit, and to fill the ever-demanding 24/7 tv slots. But, at the end of the day, if that’s what increases ratings, who can blame the channels? I suppose there is a completely different debate somewhere here on the responsibility of media, and the power to re-shape people’s opinions and tastes by offering more quality content. But, I’m not talking about that right now.  I would have half the channels closed down  just because of the content I’ve mentioned above. As a friend’s facebook status read on rumored orders* of Geo’s suspension by some PEMRA members;

If only this was done for just being a lousy channel with no standards and creating the likes of Aamir Liaquat and pathetic shadi morning shows. 

But, closing down a media channel? That’s not a real solution, is it? As it is, my solution is to switch to something else, or not watch the channel at all. I feel a lot calmer, and see a lot of positives around me since I’ve stopped listening to news prophesying imminent doom every hour of every day.

I have kept myself far away from the news of the media storm brewing in Pakistan – from Hamid Mir’s shooting leading to Geo’s clash with the army, to the latest episode of the offensive content on Geo’s insipid morning show. I haven’t watched the video. It’s ironic how many times people would have replayed it while passing censure on it. Don’t take me wrong. From what I’ve heard, I too take strong offence at what was shown, and believe some action should be taken. But, it seems to me more a case of sheer stupidity and a complete lack of judgement, common sense and respect. It scares the hell out of me how the word ‘blasphemy’ is being bandied about in the country. Some lawyers protest against someone named after a caliph, it’s blasphemy; the land mafia wants to grab a prime location in Islamabad, blame blasphemy on an adolescent girl; you don’t like a person of the opposite sect, blame him/her with blasphemy; you have an enmity with a family member, get a maulvi to produce a blasphemy fatwa against them. If we’re not too careful about this, very soon talking against the bureaucracy, the government, the clergy, the Army etc. will be labeled blasphemy too! We’re going towards extremely insane positions on this issue – and it’s worrisome that other channels and seemingly mature journalists are fanning this emotion only to gain points.

Media freedom – whatever it may denote – is important to democracy. Freedom of speech and tolerance define and evolve a society. The independence of media in the recent decade – along with a couple of other historical landmarks like the public drive for Chief Justice’s restoration and transfer of government from one democracy to another – are the best things that have happened for the country. No matter how twisted or corrupt or unfruitful it may seem to us because it did not bring us all the benefits and good change we wanted; they were, and are, concrete and positive steps in the right direction.

If a channel has crossed some limits of propriety, deal with it according to a proper legal framework. Which is why it is SO important to have a proper framework for broadcast and other media, and a fully functioning, reputable, strong institution that can implement that, like the way it is in the developed part of the world. PEMRA should be allowed the independence and authority to make a fair decision – and for once, they should act like the institution they are supposed to be.

Banning or closing down something, like YouTube, is never, at least in my opinion, the right response. It shows immaturity and intolerance. As a society, we need to learn to deal with things rationally – not emotionally – and to think of long term consequences of our actions.

One channel closes down, tomorrow it could be another and so on. With time, we may see strict action for speaking against politicians, policies, the army, and other institutions. Ironically, all the competing TV channels are supporting this closure, not realizing what could be in store for them in future. Most of their content is also similar to Geo’s. However, despite all their weaknesses or failings, we shouldn’t forget that this vibrant media is responsible also for bringing up so many of our issues into limelight, and for strengthening democracy, and making it okay to talk about policies and issues and offices which were considered totally off limits some years ago. We forget that dozens of responsible journalists have lost their lives while bringing the truth out in the open. As public, we may be clamping down on our own biggest source of freedom and liberty, and strengthening the anti-democratic and authoritarian thought in the country. And, we are probably forgetting also that thousands of honest, sensible, and hard working people, can lose their jobs. So many should not perish for complete lack of judgement and sensibility by a few.

I am all for penalizing Geo and any other channels when they show improper or ill conceived content, but it shouldn’t be limited to just one organisation (especially when they’re being isolated and targeted by the other institutions already) or one type of content. Responsible journalism and content must be encouraged and promoted, and irresponsible content be penalized under a proper legal framework.

In a way, some good might come out of it after all. It has brought into focus suddenly the kind of content that’s being shown, and our capabilities – or lack thereof – of dealing with offensive content. In future, hopefully, this will lead to a more defined and practical code of conduct for all kinds of media in the country. A code that will not suppress freedom of speech, but ensures that content is not derogatory or offensive or discriminatory – and most of all, plain stupid!

* PEMRA’s officials have denied the reports saying the members’ announcement had no official validity according to this report on DAWN. 

 

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The end or the beginning?

Active women participants  keeping the energy alive on the last night of their peaceful protest

Active women participants keeping the energy alive on the last night of their peaceful protest

The Long March ends and I am sitting with several newspapers, most of them with headlines like “The Farce Concludes” and “The ‘game’ is over” etc. Everyone can have their opinions about what transpired on the roads of Islamabad and the resulting ‘declaration’, but I am surprised that the media and most people think that “nothing” was achieved. I mean, seriously, what were you expecting? Complete “change” in five days? A lot of people actually seem disappointed that everything ended well and  that the opposing parties actually agreed on something! It’s a different argument on whether whatever’s been agreed will be implemented or not. I wonder what people were expecting, and what their twitter and facebook updates would have said had the protest turned violent or decided to sit there further to get ‘everything’ agreed! I think they would have found fault with that too.

Last night, while the negotiations were going on, we decided to visit the protest site and meet and talk to people ourselves and see how they were doing, rather than relying on media reports only. I am not a supporter of Tahir ul Qadri or Minhaj-ul-Quran, and don’t necessarily agree with everything that TuQ spoke about, but I can now say that I’m a fan of the actual ‘people’ who were out there. You had to see it to belive it. As a Pakistani and especially as a woman, I would think a hundred times before venturing anywhere near a protest or a jalsa  – especially if it’s several thousand strong. We (those accompanying me included both young and elderly) all agreed that not once did we feel worried, harrassed or uncomfortable and that is saying a ‘lot’ when you’re surrounded by several thousand men in Pakistan! In fact, I found myself roaming alone freely without worry among the vast sea of people.

A young participant of the Long March in Islamabad: Jan 2013

A young participant of the Long March in Islamabad: Jan 2013

What struck me the most was how pleasant and welcoming everyone was. You could see the deprived sleep and exhaustion in the womens’ eyes. There’s no denying that they were cold and tired but they were genuinely committed and happy. From the point where we parked our cars to the heart of the jalsa, every single man and woman we met said ‘Welcome’, ‘Mubarak ho (congratulations)’, and ‘thank you to Islamabad for hosting and co-operating with us’ and these included everyone from students, mothers, elderly, bus drivers, and organisers etc.

When we entered, we were checked at least at six different places thoroughly in the most patient and civil manner by the dharna organisers not by the police! And, at one point the young men and women on security checks were stopping everyone to see if anyone had accidentally dropped their cell phone on the checking lines and were getting that announced so the person could collect their phone! That alone was so impressive! Can you believe anyone wanting to return a mobile phone dropped among 50k plus people?

The people mostly included representatives of the middle class, and most women were young and educated. I met a young girl who was very eloquent. She had studied from the Minhaj-ul-Quran school and college, and was now teaching there herself and was president of the Association in Chishtian. A poor woman with tears of thankfulness and joy from Gujranwala said she was not a member of Minhaj-ul-Quran and her family had sold their motorcycle to come join the dharna because they decided they could not sit at home anymore  no matter what. A poor woman from Abbotabad said, “Hamain fakhar hai kay hum aaye. Tabdeeli tab hi aaye gi jab hum ghareebon main jazba aa jaye ga”. When we praised some young girls on their courage, they said, “Aakhir hamari tarbiat kis nay ki hai” referring to their organisation MuQ with a lot of humility and grace. How many students from our schools are reared to respect their teachers and institutions like that nowadays?

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It was amazing to see the ‘khush ikhlaaqi’ of the people. Everyone hugged us and shook our hands and embarrased us by thanking us (Islamabad-ites) for hosting them so graciously. Isn’t it an achievement in Pakistan that if people sit through rain and cold for four days and three nights, there was not a single incident of people where they fought over food, water, shelter, umbrellas or tents? How can you forget what happened at political jalsas (PPP, PMLN, and even PTI) in Ramazan where people broke the fast before Iftar when there was a mad rush to get the food. When we were there, people were distributing biscuits and eggs among the cold protesters and everyone took it with thanks and not one child or man or woman leapt to snatch it. And, you think NOTHING was achieved from it? I achieved a  lot as scales fell from my eyes. Sitting in our comfortable homes, happy with our facebook and twitter updates, how many of us have experienced such high level of ikhlaq and committment from the masses? It was an achievement because I realised there are masses amongst us who are fully aware, educated and committed, and if one organisation can build so much character, it is possible to do it in the entire country if we  showed the political will.

Secondly, something for those who cannot think beyond the ‘clerics’, ‘maulvis’, and ‘religious jalsas’! It was one of the most liberal and open jalsas of its kind. Despite such a huge number of women, I did not find a single man ogling the girls there. Men and women stood adjacent to each other and sang and danced, and ‘yes’ danced! There was a group of young girls who were beating a drum and singing and dancing with it openly. There was another group of young girls who’d made a train and were moving through the crowd singing and chanting slogans. Because me and my sister had a camera, so many women and men came to us asking to take their photos. The men were happy, got photos taken, said ‘mubarak’ and went away singing without any ogling, jeering or leering. Truck drivers leaned out of windows and asked for their photos to be taken too. How many of us would actually go around alone in a crowd of thousands talking to bus drivers and taking their photos so comfortably? All of this was achieved through the long march, and shown  to the world too – a different side of Pakistani masses who are religious but not conservative; where men and women were treated equally and participated equally as well.

Lastly, for those who talk about the garbage and dirt. Obviously, if you have thousands and thousands of people congregrated somewhere for days on end, there’s likely to be litter, especially if it’s rained and your clothes and blankets are drenched on the road. But, we were stood beside the portable bathroom containers and I swear to you with honesty, there was no stench or smell outside! That’s a lot more than our average public toilets! I can’t say anything about the men’s side but I am telling you honestly of what I experienced on the women’s side. And when the final announcement was made for people to leave, everyone got up without being frantic or chaotic, started wrapping up their tents and bedding and calmly started leaving. There was no mad rush. This was achieved!

And at the end, on the actual agreement. I think that a lot of maturity was shown on both sides to end things peacefully. That was an achivement! That’s maturity. Democracy is not about hatred. It’s about welcoming and agreeing and coming to solutions until the last possible moment. It’s a long process. If people were unrealistic enough to belive that 100% of demands would be met in four days, that’s their problem. Even if this ends up in bringing some little positive change to the election laws, it will ultimaltely be in the benefit of everyone in the country. Even if some corrupt people and offenders are sidelined or forced to declare their taxes, it’s an achievement. After all, nobody has lost anything because of the Long March. And, even if some little is ultimately gained, it will be for the benefit of everyone, not just the protesters. If nothing else, it has certainly jolted people whether they liked or disliked it, and made them realize that elections are coming up and we’re responsible for the decisions we make for the next five years of our lives. That’s an achievement — at least for me.

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The March in January….blanks and question marks

It’s the third night of Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Long March and I’ve just been watching the late night talk  shows and the media’s analyses. I will talk about how amazed and sick I am at the u-turn the media has taken suddenly to protect the very politicians they’ve been bickering about ad nauseam the last five years, but before I do that I will really try to put my thoughts in order and pen them down with some coherence on the sudden whirlwind of

events in the last few days – starting from the tragic protest by the Hazara community and later Minhaj-ul-Quran’s long march to demand free and fair elections in the country.

Before even talking about Tahir-ul-Qadri and his march, I am very alarmed by the fact that the suspended Balochistan Assembly not only managed to convene a session but have also passed a resolution against the imposed Governor Rule. Not a single one of these petty members of assembly had the humanity or moral courage to condole with the protesters sitting with the bodies of their loved ones on Alamdar Road. Alarmingly, as far as I am aware, there has been no response by the Government or any questions by the media on this development. How was a suspended assembly allowed to convene and pass a resolution, and that too with an incomplete quorum? What action has been taken against them so far? None. I can almost see a ploy by the government to defuse the situation at a time when the entire country was out on the streets demanding justice for those killed in the barbaric attacks in Quetta, and considering the kind of inept, cruel, and corrupt government this is, I don’t really have much expectation either. I hope to God I’m proved wrong in this instance. The implications are frightening for minorities.

On to Dr. Qadri. When I first heard of the long march on the media a couple of days ago, I  dismissed it, and was in fact quite skeptical. Except for some of his religious lectures aired on TV, I hadn’t really heard him or knew much about him like most of my friends. I also asked the same questions: Why now? What agenda? Who’s agenda? I hadn’t even thought that he would actually bring a huge crowd down to Islamabad. But, even when they started, despite my skepticism, I was really irked at the government trying to stop a perfectly legal protest through blockades and containers. It was not the Long March, but the government’s antics of putting up blockades, closing down petrol stations, and sealing the Red Zone that led to conjecture and fear in the capital. And it also showed that despite the fact that they were taking it lightly on surface, the Government was actually worried. I think they just like to remind every one of their importance (read: nuisance value) now and then anyway.

I really started paying heed to what Dr. Qadri was saying during his speeches. You know, like most people, I was dismissing his initiative and his allegedly “unconstitutional and illegal” demands without even hearing them, but just taking the cue from the media and anchor persons. I later realised that not a single anchor or talk show has actually analysed or discussed MuQ’s demands…they’ve just skimmed through them repeatedly calling and labelling them “unconstitutional and illegal” so that’s what my mind retained as well, until I actually heard Dr. Qadri explain what they want. Even today, while airing the speech, Express TV had this animation playing on the side which read: Inqilaab ya Intikhaab (Revolution or Elections), which could be very misleading.

Minhaj ul Quran's long march participants on the third day of protest in Islamabad. Photo: The Nation

Minhaj ul Quran’s long march participants on the third day of protest in Islamabad. Photo: The Nation

Today, in all honesty, I heard for the first time a well prepared, logical, and comprehensive argument and speech backed by solid facts by a leader in Pakistan. We are so used to hearing emotional rhetoric all the time that it was actually quite refreshing to hear someone talking passionately but logically about their purpose. And, it has led me to believe, at least in my personal opinion, that there is nothing really outrageous, illegal or unconstitutional about his demands. For God’s sake, he read out all the demands from the Constitution of Pakistan directly. So what do I think, or what I think I think now….???

There’s nothing really too far-fetched or unconstitutional about Dr. Qadri’s demands. How many times have we sat at restaurants, coffee shops, and in our drawing rooms debating exactly the same things? In all honestly, how many times have you yourself said: Kia faida elections ka? Phir wohi chor Zardari aur Sharif wapas aa jaeein gay. They’ve only demanded the following:

  • Electoral reforms, meaning the elections should be conducted fairly and transparently in the true spirit of the Constitution of Pakistan. Mostly, this means that candidates should be scrutinised by the ECP before being allowed to run in the elections.
  • An impartial, neutral and non-political Election Commission. The current one should be dissolved and it should be ensured that all five members (other than the Chief as well) should be impartial and non-political.
  • Announcement of an impartial and neutral caretaker government so elections are actually transparent.
  • Lastly, that the current assembly should be dissolved now so that the above can take place, because they don’t trust  this government and don’t think that they are honestly capable to take the above steps to ensure transparency and free elections. Neither do I! Fair enough.

They have reiterated again and again that they want elections in 90 days too. I may not agree with everything they’ve said, especially in praise of the Army. But, whether people think it’s a conspiracy, or backed by “the establishment” (jo kay pata nahin kis chiriya ka naam hai) or the “boots” – my questions are: why is everyone so focussed on who’s behind and not what they’re asking for? Isn’t that what we and the  media have been asking for, forever? Why have the government and the opposition allowed things to come to a point where this has happened? Why do our politicians not have the same foresight as the “conspirators” or the “establishment”? Who do they let themselves be exploited again and again through their own corruption, apathy, inefficiency and simple incompetence? Do we really want a repeat telecast of the last five years of democratic rule?

I also don’t really agree with the way Dr. Qadri’s personality has come into so much limelight since the Long March. Again, I may be wrong, but I haven’t yet forgotten how Malala Yousufzai was portrayed when an unstoppable wave of sympathy emerged for her in the country and what impact and confusion it led to; neither have I forgotten how Imran Khan’s past was maligned when he started asking for tax reforms. There is always propaganda at work when anything of this scale takes place in Pakistan. So, I don’t go for personalities – I think it’s more logical to look at what they’re asking for. If it’s likely to challenge the status quo (politicians, bureaucracy, army, elite and the religious right), it’s likely to result in a personal propaganda so to be honest I won’t pay much heed to that. I also don’t think we should forget that it’s just the political parties that felt threatened. Maybe I’m reading too much into the situation, but I would be surprised if the religious right wasn’t rattled by two big, peaceful and impactful campaigns led by the moderate minority sects. Maulana Fazl ur Rehman’s reaction showed that. But, I’ll leave it at that.

Lastly, the role of the media in all of this has left my mind reeling! Either they’ve transformed overnight or something has gone very wrong, at least to my mind. How can every popular anchor person tow the same line? Really? The politicians you hated until three days ago are your best friends now? Spare me please! It’s sick. Not the fact that they are not entitled to their opinions. If they talk about saving the democratic system, it will make sense but it seems that they are towing the government and opposition lines (not that they are different or separate) and really being blatantly negative in their analysis. And, I’m truly not saying this because of some bias. It is so apparent. Do you really want to talk about clothes, maulvism, and english speeches instead of analysing the demands of the protesters?  Do you really think Qamar Zaman Kaira was funny in his speech today when he mimicked TuQ? Even his good oratory seems to irk them, as I read in an article today. Even that’s supposed to be his fault?  Maybe, I’m wrong but do tell me if you don’t feel that the media is openly biased in this instance. From Hamid Mir to Najam Sethi, I felt that nobody was actually discussing what the protestors want but were bent upon proving how wrong and illegal they were. I was quite amazed…really! Or, maybe I am wrong, but I just can’t stop feeling that most of it was ‘fed’!

SO, WHAT NOW?

Since this drama’s started unfolding, every morning I feel good and hopeful that whether the dharna succeeds or not, just the fact that it has happened, has to be good for Pakistan in the long run. It has made Pakistanis question the status quo and has exposed the political parties who’ve run scrambling for cover and each other’s support, and others like the MQM who really don’t know what they want. But, after watching tv and listening to people, by evening I am as dejected and confused as everyone else. How long will the protest last? Will these thousands of people actually leave? What happens if they do, and what if they don’t? Does this provide more impetus to the govt to think that they can do whatever they want with the people if they are patient enough – or does this make them think again about whatever they have been doing? What will happen with the PM’s arrest orders and how will that play out?

I can only hope and pray and console myself with the thought that all this is good for democracy. But, at the same time, I now know that I won’t be content with just the tag of democracy.  It has to work for us too! I also pray and hope well for the thousands camped out on the road in the cold and their aspirations. I pray for their safety. There are still too many blanks and question marks, and every day a new drama unfolds. I’m just afraid we’ll never be able to fill in these blanks. All I hope for is that if nothing else, people will now think twice before voting for a candidate. And, all that I pray for is that months or years down the line, we don’t have to regret that we didn’t speak out when we should have.

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Falling in love with Lahore all over again

Sitting at Andaaz restaurant’s rooftop in interior Lahore with the towering minarets of the Badshahi mosque right in front; glasses clink and Nusrat Fateh Ali’s melodius qawwali plays in the background. A light breeze blows, dispelling the heat and mosquitoes momentarily. I feel relaxed and the sight of the truly majestic Fort and Mosque with the vibrant Food Street charm me. A pretty waitress serves us green tea, kheer and sheesha in an old, traditional silver huqqah. It’s apparently a very old house, now coverted into a restaurant. We had to climb four storeys to get our green tea, which was much needed after a very delicious and very oily nihari. As you climb the several storeys to the rooftop, the walls and rooms boast an amazing collection of old relics – cameras, stamps, and many portraits and paintings from eighteenth and nineteenth century Britan, for some reason!

I look up and see the waitress standing in one corner. She shuffles slightly from one foot to another. She’s probably tired after making dozens of trips up and down the four storeys for customers. I wonder if she lives nearby, and whether she finds anything charming about the whole environment. Maybe not. I think too much! I shrug away my thoughts.

I am, however, thoroughly charmed by the whole atmosphere, enough to make me pen down my thoughts immediately. There is something inherently ancient and modern, comforting and inviting about the whole place. But, at the same time it is isolated in a way, still retaining its distinct ancient, individual personality which is so richly reflected in its inhabitants. Melodious qawwali hits my ears again. Nusrat Fateh Ali is the greatest.

I look to my left and the majestic Mosque’s towers loom above us in their diffused yellow light. In the mosque’s background the dome of the Sikh Gurdwarah gleams silver in the night. In the street below, the Food Street glitters with the traditional colorful lights – chatter and music wafts up in the air right next to the Badshahi Mosque. On the right, there’s an Imambargah opposite the mosque and ‘alams’ fly over most houses – white energy savers glowing and black masts billowing in the light breeze. Pause. Rewind. Errr….mosque, imambargah, gurdwarah, restaurants, music, and harmony! Amazing, all encompassing, all inviting harmony. THIS is the old Lahore, the original Lahore. Everyone goes about their businesses in a strongly bound cultural environment. This is diversity. This is tolerance. This is hope. I fall in love with Lahore all over again.

A mosquito bite breaks the charm temporarily. I look at my watch. It’s almost midnight. Better get home before the spell is broken.

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It’s been ages since I wrote here. Nothing compelled me to write, I guess. Shows how insensitive I’ve become. Nothing less than a Cricket World Cup defeat to India or OBL’s death would build an urge in me to vent it all out – or I guess there’s so much happening all around us that by the time we’ve absorbed (or not) one thing, we’re swept into something else even more outrageous!

Anyway, the other day my family members tried to convince me to start writing again. I said I don’t really know what to write about. My sister-in-law then gave me an idea of reviewing books. That caught my attention. Why did I never think of that before? Probably because once you’ve read a good book, you want to savour it for a long time, without having to dissect everything into black or white, good or bad etc. Or, maybe that’s just me! But, haven’t you ever read a book, and then caught yourself going over some great dialogue or scene, or reminiscing about a favorite character at work, while brushing your teeth, or pretending to have a conversation with someone when you aren’t listening a word of what they’re saying? Okay – so maybe, this happens more when you’re halfway through the book and you’re caught in a traffic jam back from work and you’re exasperated because you can’t wait to get back, grab the book, snuggle into bed, while praying fervently no guests decide to drop by that evening! And also because it’s futile to explain to someone completely uninterested in books or reading – like my husband – to understand your bubbling enthusiasm about a fictitious character and plot. Sigh…! But, I must appreciate his extreme patience when I go into hibernation with a book! (Secretly, I think he probably enjoys that time as well when he has complete freedom to watch endless talk shows and movies on laptop without me bickering about it!).

Which brings me to another point…I have a confession to make! I am unashamedly and completely a fiction fan. Yes! So, most of the time I will NOT be reviewing anything on being a perfect manager or the ‘seven effective habits’ or something philosophical about how capitalism is crumbling, and probably never anything about how perfectly normal people turn into terrorists in this region! Sorry if I sound insensitive but I’m sick of it. I hear and see enough in real life around me to want to read about it as well! (Ok, books like the ‘Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ don’t fall into that category). But, currently my books are an escape from all this so I’m not reading them. You will probably get espionage, action, mysteries, vampires (and I don’t mean the Twilight Saga….no offense), witty wizards, family sagas, maybe even an occasional PG Wodehouse (yeah, once in a while you do want to go over your old book collection) and Imran Khan’s biography! And, it’s entirely possible that you don’t get anything at all, because I might not be inspired to write again for ages because our generator will be fixed and I will have better things to do when there’s no electricity unlike today! That means you will be spared so you may want to wish a speedy recovery to our generator.

So, I’ve just finished ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ by Stieg Larsson. But, electricity’s back, several sets of cousins have come over to enjoy ‘aaloo kay parathay’ with chatni to celebrate the first rain of the winter season. That settles it for me!

Au revoir.

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A moment of shame and glory!

  • Osama bin Laden killed in the city of Abbotabad – not in some remote mountains of Tora Bora
  • 8 hours gone, and still no statement from Pakistani government or the ISPR!
  • “This event has left us strategically naked in front of the world” – Dr. Rafat Hussain on Dawn TV.

I was sound asleep as our office is closed today, when I was woken up with the ringing of my cell phone. It was my boss at work early in the morning on a holiday. I was a bit puzzled. When the call finished, I noticed some messages, and when I read them, I jumped out of my bed and ran out to the TV lounge.

      Sure enough, there was my father in law sitting in front of the TV which was blaring out the ‘breaking news’ that Osama was killed! My immediate reaction was of joy and relief that finally the most wanted terrorist in the world was dead (and hopefully already rotting in hell!). However, as I sat glued to the TV, the reality started dawning on me on how damning this news would be for an already tarnished image of Pakistan in the world. Osama was killed not in the remote and inaccessible mountains of Tora Bora, but very much in a central city in a big house, only a kilometer away from the illustrious Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul.

How could THE terrorist#1 in the world hide in a big house dead in the center of a city in which there are probably more residences for the military than the civilians? So, while this is no doubt a great moment in the history, something to be celebrated, I felt it is simultaneously one of shame for me at least, and I would think for many, many other Pakistanis as well. Aside from the media headlines and more allegations from the world, and I think we can expect several from India and Afghanistan at least, this is an extremely big question mark for the citizens of Pakistan.

As I sat listening to news, several images flashed through my mind, which I (like my fellow countrymen) had buried deep down in some dark recesses of mind – probably to retain my sanity: terrorists firing indsicriminately on young children and army officers in a mosque in Rawalpindi killing sons and fathers in front of each other; terrorists firing indiscriminately on an Ahmedi mosque in central Lahore; FIA buildings razed to ground by suicide bombers; innocent devotees screaming from pain and shock in Data Darbar, and in the Ashura procession in Karachi. And countless others …. it’s telling that although I can see images I don’t even remember some of the other bigger attacks. After all, they’re all the same – brazen and cruel attacks on innocent people. And then, how can you forget the funerals with coffins covered with the Pakistani flag, and interviews of those brave wives, parents, and children of the countless armymen killed at the Pak-Afghan border fighting those who considered Osama bin Laden their ‘wali’ and ‘leader’?

As a citizen of Pakistan; as someone who’s lived with fear and insecurity; as a national of a country who’s given mindless and countless scarifices for a war and ideology that’s eating up our society alive – I need the truth and the whole truth. I need answers from our President; our Prime Minister; the Chief of the Army Staff; the Interior Minister (who’s an expert on gving immediate and ridiculous comments on everything) who have all gone completely mum over this incident. This is not just another Al Qaeda operative killed in Karachi or Faisalabad. This is big….big enough to ruin our credibility in front of the whole world if we cannot explain this. This is no time for spinning conspiracy theories, or drawing back in defence, or even protesting CIA operations within the territory of Pakistan. They have probably just proved why they need to do it!

Washington has just said that Pakistan was not aware of the operation. That’s a comment of huge significance. We need to hear our government’s version, and the real and true version. No concoctions this time, please. There are two possibilities and both are heavily loaded: we either have an extremely incompetent intelligence who couldn’t detect that Osama’s been living in Abbotabad; or that they knew….I can’t even bear to think further down that line.

Whatever our official line is going to be, it will hold a lot of significance and future implications. However, no matter how hard the truth is, that’s what we need to hear now! NOTHING ELSE WILL DO!!!

And by the way, have I ever mentioned my utter and complete disgust with the several (retired) military ‘analysts’ appearing on talk shows for cheap popularity. As a first step, can we have this bunch of aging, pompous nincompoops fired immediately please?

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Posted in Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The most awesome flight in the world, literally!

Landing in Skardu

It was a clear sunny day, and for once, the flight for Skardu was announced in the ‘nasal’ voice over decaying PA systems at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport almost as soon as we arrived at the busy, chaotic ‘domestic departures’ lounge. I sighed with relief. I was totally exhausted, and was looking forward to a long, relaxed weekend with friends in Skardu. But, I’ve been unusually unlucky with Skardu flights, and was in no mood for a rickety 23 hour drive to Skardu no matter how tempting the destination seemed!

…and so we took off. Unfortunately, the flight was full (actually almost bursting at seams!) so I couldn’t get a window seat. But, I hunched forward throughout the flight to peek through the window. I’m sure it irritated the hell out of the person who actually had the window seat. Then, the pilot announced in a patchy voice that we could see Nanga Parbat on the left side. I actually stood up and hunched over the guy sitting at the window! No matter how many times I’ve glimpsed at the same sight before, it actually takes my breath away, completely. The ‘killer mountain’ beckons, as it towers over the entire mountain range. What an incredibly unexplainable feeling it must be to conquer this beast!

The flight back to Islamabad was even more amazing. Surprisingly, it was a crystal clear day yet again! How lucky can you get with flights to and from Skardu? Although I was pretty sad at leaving Skardu after a great weekend, I was looking forward to the flight again, especially since I’d finally gotten a window seat this time. And, I just love the small, quaint Skardu airport with it’s brightly painted green roof, and the runway surrounded by snowy peaks; and obviously no dogs sniffing at your heels is a bonus! (OK, that’s an exaggeration, but you know what I mean, right?!)

Uff…nothing can beat this sensational flight over the world’s mightiest mountain ranges. It’s just awesome, literally! You can’t help but stare at the snowy white mountains beneath you in total awe. You can gaze at unending layers of snowy peaks, barren slopes, lakes, and pine forests at length.

Flying over mighty mountain ranges

..and then came the biggest surprise of all. Never before I’d been able to glimpse at the most beautiful peak of all, K-2, during one of these flights. But, it was such a clear, sunny day that the pilot announced that we could see K-2 on the right side…and sure enough, there it was! It just stood there majestically like a pyramid, completely dwarfing every other peak around it. I could also see Broad Peak next to it. I stared at the peak for 10 minutes until it disappeared from sight. It is a beautiful sight….such a perfect pyramid. No wonder, it’s considered to be one of the most beautiful peaks. It’s just exhilarating flying past the world’s second highest peak. That was a treat for me!

…and to top it all, the landing, both in Skardu and Islamabad, were ‘perfect’, not a single jump and jerk! I had to mention it because I hadn’t experienced such perfect landing before. Now, can you think of any other flight in the world that can top this? If you do, I’d love to hear about it!

Posted in Northern Areas | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Still very much in the game

Cricket at its best

On Wednesday night I was devastated! During most of the second innings until the 40th over and Shahid Afridi’s wicket, I couldn’t breathe, but at his dismissal, I grew calm and resigned myself to fate. But, no matter how prepared or resigned you are, it hurts like hell. You forget all the past defeats, even that of our undignified exit from the 2007 WC at the hands of the Irish, and Bob Woolmer’s death. You forget the humiliating tour to the UK and the spot fixing scandal followed by the test defeat. You are only conscious of what’s happening at that moment…! And that was hurtful. Despite the fact that I felt very very proud of Afridi at the presentation ceremony, I could still not get over the crushing blow. And, although I’m usually a fan of Dhoni and Yuvraj and generally like the Indian cricket team, I hated every blue shirt at that point, and felt like killing Misbah. I just couldn’t take the sight of the cheering Mohali crowd. All I remembered was the immensely, and now rarely, happy faces of teenagers on bikes and cars with music, bajas, and flags displaying pure joy earlier the same evening….and then went off to a fitful sleep full of nightmares about cricket and dropped catches.

I woke up the next morning to a dull ache…and suddenly remembered why I was feeling so low. So I sternly told myself to get a life and tried to shrug away the despondency.  Then I got to the office and all we talked about was how proud we all are of Pakistan but how we threw it away; how we gave lifelines to Sachin; and how the batsmen foolishly threw away their wickets. And, there I was again…staring at my computer screen, not being able to do any work, and the dull ache had started again. Since I couldn’t get work done anyway, I did what I’ve been doing for days now…peeked at Cricinfo, just to see what the verdict was on the ‘greatest match ever’ in the history of the world! I devoured every article and word on Pakistan’s performance, and strangely, I found out that despite criticism on poor fielding and batting, everyone had a good word and a pat on the back for the great man Afridi and how he’d led his team to victory despite all odds. Somehow, it was a relief to see such a positive reaction, again very rare, to a big defeat to our team.

But, what really got me going were the comments on several articles and blogs on the website by cricket fans. The Pakistani fans were being brave despite being heartbroken and had congratulated the skipper and the team for making it to the semis ahead of the giants like the Aussies and the South Africans.  The Indian fans, on the other fans, turned out to be the real surprise.  At times, I was just amazed at their generous and gracious comments. Afridi must have done something right in India to have earned so much respect from our archrivals. I’ve selected a few quotes to share with you, just to give you a glimpse into what has really restored my spirits today.

“India should relent on its politically inspired ban on the generously spirited Pakistani players and invite them to play in the IPL.”

“…Indian fans may begrudge their resilience when playing against India, but they will accept Afridi, Gul, Umar Akmal and Wahab Riaz as the best of the best and enjoy watching them play for their teams.”

“…Afridi…was so magnanimous in his speech that this game probably did much more about Indo-Pak relationship than those gentleman and their predecessors have been able to achieve so far.”

“I’m an Indian, but was proud to see the Pakistanis fight back despite the pressure… And the way the team behaved, esp. Afridi, I’ve a new-found respect for these guys. Great work Pakistan, and all the best for future!”

“Although, I am Indian at heart, I could not help admiring the resilience and courage shown by this team. I have cheered every victory of theirs, every boundary and wicket taken, barring the one against India. Even so, I am saddened at their departure from this World Cup. This is the team that brought joy and passion with their game, and backed it up with unquestionable commitment. It will be a travesty of justice if this talented bunch of cricketers have to go home to face brickbats and inquisitions, instead of being welcomed back with open arms for proudly upholding the flag of their country.”

“The relative success of Pakistan indicates how poorer world cricket will be without their presence. High time India starts supporting regular cricket with Pakistan. Inviting them for the IPL would also be a good place to start.”

“To me, the greatest moment was Shahid Afridi’s post match comments. As an Indian, I have always envied and feared his presence in the field. Yesterday, he turned out to be the finest statesman of the game. His measured talk, his demeanour during the match, composed yet passionate, just deserves praise. For the first time, after possibly Wasim Akram, I really felt for a Pakistani captain. Wish Afridi all the success for the future.”

….and this is just a sample. Afridi’s composure during the match, and the humble speech delivered with a brave smile at the end won millions of hearts in India and at home. So cricket did win in the end! I find my spirits quite restored now. I’m looking forward to the finals with some excitement…and I will concede that after reading these comments today, I find my heart melting a bit towards Dhoni XI. Where I am totally rooting for Sri Lanka in the finals, I will probably not begrudge India the cup as much as I’d have done before, if they go on to win this match.

From all this, I’ve learnt that as nations, we (Indo-Pak) have after all matured a little. Despite all the hype and being titled “the” clash/war/battle, it was played in good sprit and harmony. At the end, the fans were gracious on both sides. It is a signal that we should start playing more cricket with India…maybe even have our own local version of the ‘Ashes’. I now know that it will only bring us closer.

…and so, I now look forward to the West Indian tour, and four years of good Pakistani cricket until 2015. One would hope that the errant PCB will have the good sense of keeping Afridi as the one-day captain until then.

Posted in cricket | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments