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    If you are stressed or feel a strong need to get out of your city for some fresh air, there is nothing better than a weekend getaway – a break from work, the constant emails and the unending phone calls. Believe me, a vacation is all you need to reenergise yourself, even if it is just for two days. While there are many places one can go to get relaxed and enjoy ones vacation, travelling to Islamabad is a good option to consider, especially if it is for a short period. And keeping the duration in mind, it would help if you know where to go and what to do to make the most of your oh-so-precious time. Kohsar Market – Street 1 Café: One of the best dining places in Islamabad, Street 1 Café, is the place to go if you’re looking for great food and an even better atmosphere. With the city being so small, you are bound to bump into someone you know. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="438"] Photo: Manaal Khalid[/caption] Margalla Road: Margalla Road is the long road that makes Islamabad as peaceful as it is. With no ‘khaddas’ or speed breakers (unlike any road in Karachi), whether you are listening to pop, house or rock, Margalla Road is the place for long drives, lined with tall trees, and beautiful hills as a backdrop. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="588"] Photo: Manaal Khalid[/caption] Afghani Fries – Jinnah Market: Anything you are looking for, be it books, food or clothes, Jinnah Market in F7 is the place. But more importantly, the yummy Afghani fries with that spicy green chutney will make your day. No matter how many times I visit Islamabad, I find myself getting a big fat plate every time. They are way too delicious to pass up. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Manaal Khalid[/caption] Trail 5: No better way to enjoy the scenery than going for a hike at 6am to Trail 5. A stream runs throughout the trek and there are great views of the hills and city after an hour’s walk. Wake up early, take a couple of friends, and enjoy some much-needed nature time with fresh air, green grass and a cool breeze. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="696"] Photo: Manaal Khalid[/caption] Chaaye Khana Breakfast: Islamabad is a foodie’s heaven. With food galore, you can find the most exquisite of cuisines here. And if you are in a mood for some amazing breakfast, Chaaye Khana cafe is the place for you. French toasts, omelet, pancakes and waffles – yum! [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="589"] Photo: Manaal Khalid[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="584"] Photo: Manaal Khalid[/caption] View from Monal: The view of the capital city from Monal is breathtakingly amazing. The winding road up to the restaurant is an enjoyable ride as well and the food itself is pretty good too. Monal should be a must-go place on your list. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="592"] Photo: Manaal Khalid[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="550"] Photo: Manaal Khalid[/caption] Savour Pulao: Head over to Savour Foods on Jinnah Avenue (Blue Area between F7 and G7) to enjoy a nice, economical lunch or dinner. For around Rs150, you can get a plate of the famous chicken pulao, two shami kababs, fresh salad and raita. You haven’t visited Islamabad if you haven’t eaten this delicacy. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="516"] Photo: Savour pulao page[/caption] I’m beginning to realise that my list has more to do with food, but that is what you get when foodies travel. Enjoy the peace and scenery of Islamabad but don’t miss out on the food; you can hit the gym once you get back home. This post originally appeared here.


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    I sat there, bewildered; you expect it, consciously, yet subconsciously you believe you’ll be immune from it, somehow, by some grand scheme of the universe. Once the calm after the storm had washed over, it was replaced with a racing pulse and bouts of anger. Inadvertently, I uttered a curse directed at that hooded figure that only moments ago had stood in the figure of a knell beside me. After four years in Karachi, I somehow believed I had become equipped in the tools of avoiding being mugged. I barely used my phone while in the car or in public transport, carrying my wallet in such a way that important cards are kept in a different pocket till I could safely replace them. The sun had only begun to set and there was still daylight. We were in a traffic jam and I was already fretting about being stuck in the embouteillage for another good half an hour, so with nothing else to entertain me, I turned to my phone to play music and sing along – whiling away the time. I was looking at the screen when I heard a heavy knocking at the window. I thought it was a beggar and I decided to concentrate on finding the song I was looking for. The thump returned, heavier than a human hand could produce this time. I looked up only to take in, at that moment, the handle of a revolver, and a hooded figure. Gingerly, I pressed the button to lower the window, and with deep breaths I let what I had prepared for in my mind multiple times over, occur. The revolver slithered past the open window and a voice muttered “phone dou” (give your phone) followed by a “wallet dou” (give your wallet). I fumbled and gave my phone, but insisted that I did not have my “purse”. He repeated it with greater force, and then my eyes fell on a trembling hand; an unsteady disposition that this clearly unskilled mugger held. Without a second thought I reached into my back pocket and handed the wallet, with a feeble, failed attempt at slipping the debit card out – simply because it’s a pain to get one renewed and it would be useless to the man in a few hours. With the handing over of the wallet, I finally took in the features of my fated mugger in the time it took him to remove the revolver and dash to the car behind us. My initial anger subsided within an hour; however, it was replaced by anger directed elsewhere – the elusive authorities that be. He was hardly a year or two older than I was. A young chap, scared as hell, decent features. He wore the thug costume quite well, it must be noted. I realised that here I was, 22, chasing my dreams, forging paths to a future, building relationships and experiencing the best of what I possibly can. Yet there he was, possibly not even dreaming, far from the countenance that a 22-year-old should have. Far from the experiences any young adult should be coerced into by circumstance. True, he could find work – there are a million arguments, rightly so, as to what he did was utterly despicable and wrong – but there’s a foreboding sense of knowing: are the options available truly equitable to this quick fix? With an increasing number of street urchins, especially in Karachi, forging their lives on the streets with no shelter, no foster care or system in place to protect them from clearly neglectful parents, it’s no wonder that these children eventually find their way into the hands of those who offer them protection, take them under their wing and use them to do the scat work, giving them a percentage for their loot. More so, where are the vocational training programs and employment opportunities supported by the government for those people who are denied education? For those young adults who could possibly be used in other areas where employment is offered with shelter and food (ideally state-sponsored)? Mobilising this section of human resource and allocating it where it could do more good than harm should be the priority of our government right now. I blame myself for perpetuating a vicious cycle of not participating in bridging the divide between the different socio-economic strata, I blame those who turn to illegal ways to obtain a living for the personal decision they undertook, and I blame the “elusive authorities that be” for focusing on all the wrong infrastructure and not utilising what is there and (re-)allocating it and creating opportunities; for not forming programs from the grassroots to avoid the street crime levels that are prevalent at the moment instead of tackling it with arms and force when it is prevalent. It might be a foolhardy question but when will we start laying foundations the fruits of which will be reaped by generations to come? I’ll leave it at this Greek proverb, which perhaps some elusive old man might read it, perhaps something in him might stir and change:

    “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.”


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    “Respect for law is dying. The whole system of justice is breaking down… nobody wants a good police force as then, they would become subject to the law”.
    This is Karachi in the 1980s, as described by a senior police official in the book, Breaking the Curfew, published in 1989. It was written by Emma Duncan, a journalist for The Economist, during her escapade to Pakistan in the late ‘80s. The Karachi sketched in the book, when compared to the Karachi of today, sounds more like Zurich, as our elders recall. The saddest part is that the symptoms were there for all to see even then, yet no one called the doctor. And they still haven’t. The city’s problems are, more or less, the same. They’ve just multiplied exponentially and one must agree that if not the whole country, then Karachi, at least, has descended into chaos. Around 2,300 people were reportedly killed in targeted-killings and other crimes in 2013, which included more than 100 police officials. Last year’s tally stood at a horrific 2909. And this year is likely to be record-breaking yet again. The horrific ethnic and sectarian strife presently plaguing Karachi is predicted towards the end of the book, when the writer observes “a different set of cracks appearing all over the country, especially in Karachi”  as one’s ethnicity and religion take precedence over everything else, and terms it “a result of the failure of nation-building”. I had been meaning to read the book for a while and could not put it down after I had been through the first few pages, as it seemed to describe today’s Pakistan rather than the one that existed more than two decades ago. The writer has divided the book into chapters each for the important sections of society: Businessmen, Landlords, Tribal Chiefs, Urban Upstarts, Politicians, Religious Leaders, Civil Servants, and Soldiers, among a few others. The state of affairs reflected in Duncan’s narrative is startling and upsetting, as it seems as if nothing has changed for the better. After reading the 300 pages, I realised that things have been dismal for a long time now and was amazed to know at how we’ve stomached this wretched state of affairs for this long. Duncan describes a Pakistan where ‘connections’ mean everything while corruption, lawlessness and nepotism are rampant. Where the ‘new (mostly illegal) money’ lot can be gauged by their fleet of Land Cruisers, palatial houses and armed guards and where the courts are completely non-functional and people cast their vote to whomever can protect them and grant them the most favours. Duncan reveals a reprehensible system; one that serves the powerful and has been adjusted to buy the poor and middle classes as the status quo. Assessing the functioning of politics, especially tribal politics, she outlines the pursuit of power, rather than the amassing of wealth, as the primary reason for winning elections and sitting in the government, saying,
    “One of the ways of generating support is to be able to hand out jobs and opportunities for making money – that favours business. The politician and the constituent are the beneficiaries of that system: good government is often the victim”.
    I think every Pakistani who is a tad aware of politics in our country can vouch for that testimony, the only bolt being that this was diagnosed decades ago. The kind of jungle that our country has become is a transformation that takes years and years. Looking over the horizon, one can see everything but the state. For those who can afford the generators, tankers and cylinders have replaced electricity, water and gas shortages and the absence of police protection has led to CCTV cameras, private security guards and barbed wires. Commenting on the same in the ‘80s, Duncan terms it as “the ultimate failure of a State: an inability to protect its citizens”. That failure, detected by her in the ‘80s, is an absolute reality now. An army officer, while talking to the author, admitted that military rule is as bad as democracy if it isn’t supplemented by economic reforms.
    “What the country needs is a good leader. It hasn’t had one since Jinnah.”
    And almost 30 years later, we are yet to find that leader. As a maiden voter, I was optimistic about the elections and casting the ballot in 2013, never mind the mismanagement and confusion at the polling booth and vulnerability of ECP staff in most of the areas. Even Duncan ends her book on a positive note, hoping that continued democracy may turn the system around. I just hope that we still have time to make amends.

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    I write this from the #IamSabeen vigil at Do Talwar. It has been 17 days since I have been present here daily from 8pm to 9pm. I come to celebrate Sabeen, to grieve her death, to find comfort in fellow protesters and to tell the world that I have not forgotten her. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Nadra Huma Quraishi/Karachi Heart Beats #IamSabeen Facebook page[/caption] Perhaps all that they gather, the people who stream by, is that I lost someone that meant a great deal to me; enough that myself and others are compelled to come here every day. No, she meant even more than that to me and for a few seconds, as they circle Do Talwar, these people’s lives revolve around Sabeen. For those seconds, I share something with our audience. For my life not only revolves around Sabeen, but is transformed by her. Every day I meet new people who feel compelled to come to the vigil. They are also in her orbit. With every day, I grow to appreciate more deeply how essential Sabeen was to so many of us. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Nadra Huma Quraishi/Karachi Heart Beats #IamSabeen Facebook page[/caption] I met Sabeen somewhere in 1999/2000 and her effect on my life was instant. I fell in admiration with her. I fell in respect with her. I fell in love with her. Her tenacity, courage and impetus were contagious to say the least. She was a doer who inspired action, despised mediocrity and tardiness. She was not a perfectionist, but she was a catalyst; a game changer. She stood for all of us, for our rights, security, freedom and thought. I did not see her often, but I did not need to. She was an effective communicator, she was an efficient muezzin. Her religion was love. Her loss is personal but it is also political. When I tell people about the tragedy, they often offer up names of people snatched away from them. I learn and am reminded of other injustices: the murder of two Karachi University professors, Dr Wahidur Rehman and Dr Shakeel Auj; the killing of Parveen Rahman; the murder of HRCP lawyer Rashid Rehman; the brutal killing of reporter Saleem ShehzadSalman Taseer and many others; Shia, Ismaili, Bora, Baloch, Hindu and Christian killings. Immense as my grief is, I am confronted with the fact that there is a long history of enforced silences on those who speak up in this country. Through this collective sorrow, I am able to grasp more fully the human tragedy behind missing persons in Balochistan, Sindh, and nationwide. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="214"] Photo: Nadra Huma Quraishi/Karachi Heart Beats #IamSabeen Facebook page[/caption] I want justice for Sabeen. Nonetheless, I also want justice for those people who have been killed for speaking, resisting or even simply existing. I want justice for the 145 victims of the Army Public School massacre, the 45 Ismailis gunned down at Safoora Goth, the thousands who have lost their lives to terrorism, sectarian violence, opaque state-led wars and patriarchal violence. I want the State to know that it is duty bound to provide us safety. On Saturday, May 16, I will be joining a memorial march organised by the Concerned Citizens of Peace to commemorate the five-month anniversary of the APS attack and to remember all those who have been killed in acts of violence, random or planned. In a national climate where silence and censorship are becoming the norm, enforced through violence, intimidation, and perverse laws, we will march for freedom of expression and freedom from oppression. I urge you all to join me and become us; the people who stood for their own civic rights. Many have said to me that protests are futile and they do not accomplish anything. I say to them that we may all be members of the same country by dint of our NICs, but we cannot be a community until we share in each other’s grief and honour each other’s losses. Come and become a part of the community with those who have lost people they cared about and those who are losing the country they care about. I believe nothing will change until we’re all willing to die for each other rather than live for ourselves. In numbers we will draw strength and solace. In speaking we will push back the walls of silence drawing around us, even if temporarily. In showing up, we will celebrate the great courage and lasting influence of those who have been killed. This is change enough for me; I pray this is change for us.

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    A couple of days ago, Karachi witnessed an unprecedented act of barbarism when a bus full of Ismailis – one of the most peaceful community in Pakistan – was targeted and shot at, resulting in the deaths of 45 people, with numerous injured. My heart goes out to the victims and their families in their difficult time. As soon as the attack took place, commiserations, condolences and compensations began to pour in from all over the country. However, I feel that it is useless now to even listen to what our leaders have to say, since they repeat the same message that they had rehearsed in a previous attack. Their words are virtually the same – baseless, unsubstantial. Perhaps the only exception to this is the chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, who is seen giving due diligence to the incident by postponing his visit to Sri Lanka and flying to Karachi. Perhaps he knows that our shameless political leadership is nothing but a bunch of impotent and incompetent candidates elected only to overburden the exchequer. Following the headlines, news and an amateurish analysis with my friend, I am left mulling over the following questions: 1. What is the role of our media? Is it just to break exclusive news stories? The reporting by our media personnel was pathetic, uncouth and bordered on creating hysteria amongst the masses. Do they have no other purpose except to increase their channel’s ratings? Why do they need to play such tragic music in the background and show footages in slow motion? Do they find pride in trying to make a mockery out of genuine human emotions? Do our media houses have no shame? Have you ever seen such a display on BBC or CNN? In an ideal Pakistan, this would not happen. News anchors would be more sensitive towards people’s emotions and news would be just that, news, not a sequel from a Bollywood blockbuster. While this has been said a million times, I feel someone has to remind this again to the media powers that: train your journalists. Make them understand that everything is not about breaking the news the fastest. Make them learn that before they go on their news coverage spree, they should understand that they are humans first and as such they need to treat the loss of others in the same way as any human would – with empathy. 2. What is the role of our police department? Is it just to suspend/transfer SHOs and/or DSPs whenever something this happens? Does it help in making the police department better in any way? I feel that instead of suspending them for some face-saving, they should first be probed into by their higher-ups. And it is only after preliminary enquiry that such a suspension be issued so as to not make a mockery of the role of this department. Presently, it appears as if suspension only saves them. We have countless examples from the past of good-for-nothing suspensions. In an ideal Pakistan, the police system would not only be efficient in protecting its citizen, it would also be able to initiate a comprehensive inquiry. 3. Why wasn’t helped called for immediately? The whole incident must have taken at least three to five minutes; you do not have to be an FBI agent to figure out that this is enough time for someone to call for help. I assume there would have been someone from the LEAs nearby the place of incident who could have apprised/alerted the department using a phone or a cordless. Although, I did not expect the police to reach the spot on time or precisely understand the whereabouts of where the carnage was being carried out but it was surely within the capabilities of the police to have taken steps that could have at least made it far more difficult for the perpetrators to flee from the scene. Did no near-by police station hear the gunshots? Can’t you tell the direction if you hear multiple gunshots being fired? I think anyone can. And when it comes to security providers, they are professionals, so it should be even easier for them. If you think it is useless, please be noted, a panicked criminal is more likely to leave substantial evidence/clues than the one who manages to escape without any hurdles. I would be utterly shocked if I get to learn that not even a single police mobile was patrolling in that area at the time. There has to be one as the road directly links to the main highway. Should I consider this a gross failure in deployment of our security forces at such a crucial point? From my personal observation, I can tell you that a police mobile can be seen on snap checking underneath the bridge passing through the main highway. So why was nothing done? 4. Why are we not investing in hi-tech technology? Or at least making it mandatory for private vehicles to have cameras and tracking devices fitted in? Imagine how easy it would be to identify criminals and even in some cases be able to tell the possible routes taken to escape the scene. There are companies which are now providing video recording cameras which can be used to see the routes taken by criminals in an event that they manage to run away. So even if the CCTV cameras are not working or present, there is still a very good chance for security official to track down the criminals. The only thing our government needs to do is make this mandatory for bus owners – especially for public buses. 5. Have we learnt nothing from the attacks on APS, GHQ, Quetta Faisal Base and the likes? Why are our intelligence agencies unable to ward off terrorist activities when all we hear is a post-incident statement claiming that they knew it was going to happen? In an ideal Pakistan, this would not be a valid excuse. 6. Lastly, what criteria is there to qualify for the post of an interior minister, or a chief minister? Also, in case if they fail to do their jobs and do not resign voluntarily, why aren’t they forced to do so? Why not terminate incompetent ministers? In case there is no provision in our constitution to terminate a minister for failing to perform his duties, there is always an option available to furnish a bill in the parliament to legislate the same. This is a need of the hour. Pakistan doesn’t have to be ideal to undertake at least this. Accountability is of key importance for any nation to survive. If laymen like myself and my friend could come up with these questions – and their perspective solutions as well – then why the same can’t be done by our think-tanks? Or are they too incompetent to do even that? We demand justice and immediate apprehension of the perpetrators. May the killers rot in hell and peace prevail. Too much blood has been spilled. This needs to end now.


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    The demand by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Dr Farooq Sattar for Governor Sindh Dr Ishratul Ebad to resign is just another proof that the political parties, and in this case the MQM, don’t understand their own political system that they chose to call ‘democracy’. The reason why this demand has come after so many years of Dr Ebad in office is a charge sheet prepared by Sattar a few days ago during a press conference, where he said that Dr Ebad had failed to meet people’s expectations, as the murder of innocent civilians in the urban areas of Sindh continues, including the extrajudicial killings of MQM workers, and that these were the matters which the incumbent governor had failed to take notice of. Dr Sattar also complained that after the 2013 general elections, a targeted operation was launched in Karachi and as governor, Dr Ebad had failed to check whether the operation was getting the desired results. MQM fails to understand the position of a governor in a political system like Pakistan’s, where real power lies with the prime minister and parliament at the centre and the chief ministers and assemblies in the provinces. The president of the country, and the governors of the provinces who are appointed by the president as his representatives at the provincial level, have only few powers and rather representative obligations like opening a newly constructed road or building or administering the oath of office to the chief minister, his cabinet or the chief justice of the high court in a province. The idea is that the president as well as the governors should be people politically neutral because they have to represent the whole spectrum of politics present in the country or province. It has not been handled like this in Pakistan because the idea of political neutrality is not understood and accepted and perhaps the incumbents also don’t understand. These are prestigious positions and one is heaved into them in Pakistan by a political party and that party expects loyalty and favours in return. But this is against the spirit of the position. The so-called ‘charge sheet’ against Governor Ebad thus is actually a sheet of praise for him because it testifies that he did not favour the party to which he belonged at one time and that he tried to keep his neutrality as required by the post. If the MQM in the precarious situation in which it finds itself needs a good and clean politician and wants Ebad back, they should have asked him in a decent way to resign and rejoin MQM. The ongoing killing of workers of MQM and others as well as the ongoing operation in Karachi and its results do not come into the responsibility of the governor and keeping away was the politically right way. The MQM is just illustrating its ignorance by issuing such a charge sheet against Governor Ebad because the complaint actions fall beyond his jurisdiction. We, just a couple of months ago, saw the resignation of the Punjab governor who was considered to be a loyalist of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and who resigned in frustration because even he seems not to have understood the position he was taking. In January, Governor Punjab Chaudhry Sarwar announced his resignation while voicing his frustration about the helplessness he was feeling in this position. He had come with an idea to ‘deliver goodies to the masses’, but whatever he had in mind he was not able to achieve because in that position he had no powers to do so. The constitution of Pakistan says that,

    “Subject to the Constitution, in the performance of his functions, the Governor shall act [on and] in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet, or the Chief Minister.”
    Which means he has no decision-making powers of his own. This is so since the 18th amendment was passed in 2010, which has taken most of the previous powers away from the president and governors and made them a 100 per cent dependent on the ‘advice’ of the prime minister, the chief ministers and the cabinets. In light of this new situation, one could scrap the position of the governor and president and take this financial burden away from the exchequer. Or – as that has been proposed many a time – we could reorganise Pakistan’s political system into a presidential rule where the position of president and governors would carry main political impact and adopt proportional representation system as electoral system. This latest would provide for elections in two tiers held on party basis and not on constituency basis and where candidates are running the show to ruin it as is the case of recounting of ballots and formation of judicial commission and then seeking the Apex Court’s relief to politicise national institutions to gain time and divide the nation into different camps. The best thing in the proportional representation system is that the first round of voting is held in which all parties are allowed to contest and then two parties securing the highest number of votes in the first round contest the second round of voting in which any one party securing more than 50% is declared elected to form a government and the leader of this party is elected president for a fixed term. From the list of these two parties, members of parliament are chosen keeping in view the percentage of the votes received by each party. The cabinet formed by the president is not restricted to the parliament only but he can include any citizen whom he considers fit for the job of office. To resolve the issue of concentration of power at the centre or provincial headquarters, we can look into an old suggestion given by Retired Air Marshal Asgher Khan to appoint Lt. Governors with administrative powers at the divisional level in the country, which is also a workable proposal if we are serious in mending our fences and not trying to settle old scores at the cost of innocent blood of people. There are many options how the current system could technically be improved but any political system however wonderful it might be will only work if the people running it are sincere, have fear of God and accept the rules of the game. This is a major draw-back in Pakistan, where everybody is bending the rules of the game for their own favour. God bless humanity and Pakistan.

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  • 05/22/15--03:58: Is Pakistan a failing state?
  • More than 45 people are shot dead in cold blood by six or eight armed men, who reached the spot on motorcycles. At practically every traffic signal in Karachi, one can see armed policemen stopping motorcyclists, checking the vehicles’ papers and letting them go after extorting some money. Yet on the day of the mass killing, no one stopped the killers, while the police station nearby was nearly empty. Isn’t this a glaring sign of failure of the state? Dr Bernadette Dean, who had been living in the country for many years and was advising the provincial government on revision of syllabi, received death threats from a religious party. She left Pakistan but was too scared to name the said religious political party. We are all aware that in Karachi there is only one particular party deeply worried about teaching our children subjects which will train them to think and question, yet newspapers also dared not name it. In which other country would such a situation be tolerated? And you think Pakistan is not a failing state? In Lahore, a cleric in a madrassa accuses a federal minister of blasphemy because the latter said seminaries produce illiterate students. Government takes no action against the cleric. Students of another seminary in Islamabad are caught installing banners calling for the hanging of the federal minister. When police intervene, they beat up the cops. The students are chased and their madrassa is identified. Again, no action will be taken against those running that madrassa. Is this how governments in civilised countries react? The federal finance minister says his government is helpless and cannot take any action against smugglers and those selling smuggled goods in Bara markets. What kind of government is this? Do you want more evidence that Pakistan is a failing state? Senior police officers are being routinely killed, while those policemen who are not ghost employees are guarding the ministers and parliamentarians. There is no development in the city, so one wonders what they do with all our tax money. The whole city is without water for days because government departments have been filled with political appointees who will never be held accountable for their negligence. And yet you refuse to realise that we are living in a failing state? A very rich person pays only Rs26 as income tax, his 20-billion dollar IT company fails to file returns for two years, and the tax hounds do nothing. However, if a common man fails to file a return even though he is earning just enough to barely stay alive, the income tax department springs into action and threatens to auction his house. It will be a miracle if the rich man is given adequate punishment; most people believe he will be let off after a long investigation. Some believe that he is innocent, others that his company is being victimised by business rivals, that it is a conspiracy against the country. Is this how citizens of a successful state respond in such a situation? A graduate from a prestigious institution turns into an extremist after going on four-month long evangelical tours organised by an ostensibly peaceful group. Others arrested along with him have also, allegedly, been indulging in terrorism for many years. The police, however, were not even aware of their existence until now, after several murders and killings – including the one of 47 people in a bus. No one will ask the police why they did nothing for all these years, despite the murders of a foreign female principal and several other people. The killer of a provincial governor is garlanded by lawyers who give him the status of a hero. Not a failed state? Think again! It’s time to wake up. They have infiltrated our institutions, our schools and colleges, our universities, our police departments, our armed forces and perhaps even our judiciary. They have dedicated themselves to our destruction, and the only way to prevent them is to raise our voices and urge our leaders to do more to fight extremism in the country leading to terrorism. But of course, first we have to discard our conspiracy theories and admit that our country is failing and is in great danger of disintegration.

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    Armed with a hundred bucks and an appetite to match, a bunch of school kids still in uniform converge on their favourite burger joint on Karachi’s Boat Basin. Even before walking in, a distinct aroma fills their nostrils; the perfect way to kick off the weekend on a hot Thursday afternoon. After placing their order, they wait on remarkably uncomfortable chairs and pass time by discussing the classroom cutie. Soon, food arrives. Drenched wrappers are torn off and the first bite sends them on a short trip to burger heaven. As long as Karachiites from my generation can remember, there have been burgers — not the dwellers on the supposed ‘right’ side of the bridge, but the more traditional beef patty between two buns. Chicken in similar form can be called a sandwich at best so let’s not even bother. Back in the early 90s, three of the best burgers in town could be found adjacently—Mr Burger, Chips and Amin’s Little American restaurant. Two of those establishments, though struggling, are still running while the lure of the United States was too much for the ‘Little American’ in Amin to resist. At least that’s what rumours suggested at the time when the charming little place closed its doors forever. Lesser known (and hugely underrated) was Mr Big Mac in Mohammad Ali Society. At the risk of committing blasphemy, a few dared to tell their friends it was a juicier, fresher and tastier Mr Burger — which it actually was. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Mr Burger Facebook page[/caption] However, there was nothing quite like sinking one’s teeth into a Mr Big with cheese or a roast beef burger from Chips. The former would send a burst of flavours and juices shooting into all corners of one’s palate, while the latter’s succulent diced beef was unique to Karachi—and will remain for all time to come. Fast forward a couple of decades, the burgerscape of Karachi is littered with numerous establishments, all claiming to be king. And then there’s Burger King itself which is one of the latest foreign chains to hit the city’s fast food scene. When McDonalds opened its doors to Karachi in the late 90s, foreign franchises were a novelty and hundreds stood in endless queues to get their first bite of a Big Mac—and it did not disappoint. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="570"] Photo: Burger King Facebook page[/caption] It seemed the writing was on the wall. The likes of Mr Burger and Chips would find it difficult to compete with huge corporations and their even bigger ambitions. For a time, that was exactly the case. The quarter pounders of McDonalds and zingers of KFC popped up in every nook and cranny of the city. A new generation was raised on chicken nuggets as Mr Burger just didn’t cut it for their parents. However, holding its own during the foreign invasion was Copper Kettle’s Son of a Botch; a juicy powerhouse of a burger served with the best batter-coated French fries Karachi had ever tasted. CK kicked off a mid-tier restaurant phenomenon that would dominate Karachi’s food scene over the coming decades. However, since this is an article about burgers, that story is best told on another day. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Copper Kettle’s Facebook page[/caption] But then something happened. The new generation grew up with a hatred for processed food. Once again, Karachiites developed a love for freshly cut meat and vegetables between their buns. A niche was formed and entrepreneurial food lovers, some of whom were possibly among the students at Boat Basin two decades ago, jumped on the bandwagon. Quality became the name of the game and some of the new establishments provided just that. Although it was on the pricier side, Gun Smoke gave foodies something they had craved for decades—an upscale burger. With its different takes on the same jumbo beef patty, their product soon had Karachiites turning up their noses on international chains and local small fry alike. The flatbread-savvy cafes followed suit some time later, but Gunsmoke’s product at its prime was a sight to behold and a taste to savour. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] Photo: Gun Smoke Facebook page[/caption] Getting into the mix with their takeout kiosks or delivery services were the more affordable Burger Inc, Burger Shack, GBC, Burger Lab, OMG and OPTP. Of these, Burger Inc, OMG and GBC delivered on their slogans of top-notch ingredients, while Burger Shack’s innovativeness created its own cult following and spawned plenty of pepperoni-laden full houses and big bangs. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="587"] Photo: Burger Inc Facebook page[/caption] The other quick pickups which half-heartedly tried to emulate the same success fell, unsurprisingly, by the wayside. After all, the city was now teeming with connoisseurs. Karachi now knew whether it wanted its burgers charbroiled, chargrilled, rare, medium, with jalapenos or without. Waiting along the sidelines and taking meticulous notes were the owners of The Chosen Bun and The Sauce. Both the establishments incorporated the best of all their peers had to offer—prime beef, fresh veggies and super sauces—and rolled them into the complete package. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="474"] Photo: The Chosen Bun Facebook page[/caption] However, all of this came at a cost. With newly-developed taste buds, the burgeratti set off on their journey to find the ultimate beef between their buns without as much as affording a glance to the heroes of yore. On Sunday, May 24, 2015, Chips will close its doors; probably forever. As word spread, Karachi’s love for this brave—not to mention legendary—establishment oozed from all corners. Facebook was abuzz with statuses aplenty; all professing their undying love for the roast beef burger and Chips’ one-of-a-kind pizza. It was the only equivalent Karachi had to a friendly neighbourhood diner; the one joint you could sit on your own and never feel awkward. If Karachi was Batman’s Gotham, he would say a Mr Burger with cheese or Chips’ roast beef may not be the burger that Karachi wants, but the one it needs. How much longer can we afford to turn our noses up where it all began? The people rushing to Chips to get a final taste may not know where they are going, but they sure know where they have been.

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  • 05/22/15--12:01: The baba near the seashore
  • He was 14, as he walked alongside the beach, barefooted, with his slippers placed under his armpits. The powdery sand tickled between his toes as he walked, until the dry soil met the wet mud and eventually the water. He was one of the few people in the brightly lit city of Karachi who would wake up before dawn and come to the beach. He had his reasons to do so. He would wake his aged grandfather up for the morning prayers, prepare a bucket of warm water for his ablution and make tea for him after he was done praying. He would then catch the local bus – if they were still running – or walk to the beach. His expeditions to the coast were wonderful. It was usually deserted at that time, which made him feel like he owned the waters and the sand. He would sit at the edge of the waterline, where the water came at him, wet his legs and left him unharmed. He loved every part of that. His grandfather would say that the morning prayers would cleanse his sins, had he committed any, but he always felt the sea before him was what would free him from the evils he had or had not done. But recently, a new activity had caught his pleasure. He had met an interesting fellow with the same interests as him. The fellow was an old man with grey hair and he walked with a camel alongside him at all times. He used to travel from a far place, but he managed to take out enough time from his endeavours as a camel rider to accompany the boy at dawn. The first time they met, the boy was alarmed. He had heard of kidnappers along the coastline who committed crimes for ransom. He was very presumptuous of the old baba upon their first meeting. However, the baba was very kind; he gave the boy a ride along the beach on his camel for free, gave him hugs and shared a piece of bread with him. The boy liked the fruity bun that the baba had offered him and that became their customary breakfast. What the boy enjoyed the most though were the talks he had with the baba after the fun and games were over. When the sun had come out a fair distance in the sky, the clouds were no longer auburn and the sea was no longer dark. They would just talk. And it was no ordinary talk. The baba allowed the boy to ask one question a day, and the baba promised to tell the truth and share as much information he knew about the topic. This intrigued the boy. Upon their first meeting, the boy had asked the first thing that came to his mind.

    “What happens when we’re dead?”
    The baba had smiled.
    “When we’re dead,” he said, “two things happen simultaneously. Instantly, our souls are separated from our body. Then gradually, our bodies are separated from this world. We bury them under the mud and the clay to remind the body where it came from. The soul is taken far above in the skies where it replenishes it sins and the deeds done good pay-off.”
    The baba looked at the boy, who looked at the burning sun with awe, wondering how far the souls could really travel.
    “Farther than just that sun, boy. Farther than the farthest star you may lay your eyes upon.” “But does it hurt baba?” “Only one per day, boy”
    The baba chuckled and the boy was left curious for the entire day. Their encounters grew rapid as the boy managed to make it a daily habit to come to the beach to meet the baba with the camel and learn something extraordinary. He had learned about the stars, the moon, the light, the sun, the sea, the earth, and the dead and the living. He had learned about the great people of the past and the few greats in the present. He had learned more than his fair share of learning, all from the baba. Nonetheless, today was special. Today the boy had nagged enough courage to ask about the daunting question that respired in his heart. Today the boy was going to ask about love. The boy had never felt nervous when asking the baba about anything. But today, he felt a sensation in his stomach, like butterflies flying here and there. However, he was confident the baba would answer his question. The baba never hesitated in answering anything that he asked. If the baba can describe the stars that glide far in the cosmos, he could certainly answer a simple question about love. So it happened. The atmosphere was perfect for the boy. The sun had started to peek, the clouds were orange, the sky was auburn and the sea was dark. Ripples of water would wet the boy under his legs and push him aback. He waited for the baba that fine morning, with the butterflies still flying rampant in his stomach, before he heard the soft trotting of the camel and the baba beside it.
    “Salam,” greeted the baba with a wide smile.
    He pulled out some fruit bread from his knapsack and sat beside the boy. The boy also smiled generously at the baba and accepted the offer of bread. There was some silence as the baba consumed the bread and the boy also nibbled on his part a little. Both of them would silently listen to the sea as it conveyed its messages through torrents and waves, far across the oceans and extravagantly beneath their feet.
    “Baba, what is love?” the boy said almost abruptly.
    He had found that eating while butterflies flew around in his tummy was a difficult ordeal. The baba wrinkled his already wrinkly forehead.
    “What has a boy your age to do with something as intricate as love?”
    Now the boy had his forehead wrinkled.
    “Baba, you have told me about the vast spaces in the universe, about the people who have come thousands of years before us, done wonderful things for the earth and now you decide that what I have asked is complicated?”
    The baba gave some thought on what the boy had demanded. He rested his bread on his lap and looked at the boy.
    “What is it that you want to know?” “I just want to know what love is.” “That is such a vague question though. That is like if you asked what the sky is. I can tell you what the sky consists of:  stars, planets and infinite galaxies, but I cannot tell you what the sky is.”
    He looked at the boy. The boy was underwhelmed. He realised that he had only one question and it was wasted on this. Nevertheless, the baba insisted that he ask again.
    “I want to know how one knows he is in love. I hear everyone talking about this. My dada (paternal grandfather) loves God, the politicians love Pakistan and I love this fruit bun. However, how does one know he is in… love?”
    The baba remained quiet for some time, formulating his thoughts to form an appropriate response. The boy looked out at the vast ocean in front of him as the sun began rising through the horizon.
    “Love is delicate boy. There are various types of love in this world, some stronger than others. Your dada loves God because of the many bounties God has bestowed upon your dada. That love is discovered through years of worship. The politicians love Pakistan for their greed. They love it until the country feeds them and makes them rich and nothing beyond that. You love the fruit bun for the taste it leaves on your tongue and because it fills your appetite.”
    The baba looked at the boy. The boy’s eyes gleamed slightly as the sun made its way into the sky.
    “Ask more my boy, I feel generous today.”
    The boy jumped from joy. He had rallied a bunch of questions in his head already.
    “How do I acquire true love baba?”
    The baba smiled.
    “Love is forever present in your heart, in everyone’s heart. It is like the air you breathe in. If you contain it within yourself, you will die. You must inhale and exhale; share your mortality with the world. That is love. It is ever present in you and it grows once it is given away.”
    The boy seemed to grasp the concept of this phenomenon, but ambiguously. The boy thought about another question to ask the baba but he shook it off. The old baba could see that the boy was troubled so he asked him,
    “What is it young boy?”
    The boy shook his head.
    “Nothing baba, it is irrelevant.” “Nothing is irrelevant today boy. Speak your heart, for I may not be this generous tomorrow.”
    The baba gave a reassuring nod.
    “Baba I want to fall in love. I want to see a beautiful girl and feel as bright as the sun before us. I want her voice to flow through my body like the sea flows on the sand, I want to look at her as fondly as the clouds stare at the sky and weep like they do when I miss her.”
    The baba frowned again.
    “Boy, you do not know what you are wishing for. Very few have found what you have described and I would also argue they have only found a part of it.”
    The baba placed his hand on the boy’s back.
    “What you must truly find is the love you have stored within you, the illuminating light that brightens your eyes, which you consume day after day. If you do not spread that love, you will be left cold and crippled by my age, with only a camel as your company.”
    The boy looked at the baba, who looked sad. His old sunken eyes told various tales of bereavement and selfishness that led him to where he is now. However, the boy was more enthusiastic about the idea of love than the baba gave him credit for.
    “Baba I will not be in that position. I will find love and I will share it. I will hold onto it like my dada holds on to his faith, like the politicians hold on to greed and like I hold on to this fruit bun. I will not let it slip away.”
    The boy stood up from excitement and the baba followed. The sun had found a high enough place in the sky to ponder upon the action on the beach.
    “Boy,” said baba, “today I have taught you all that I know. You have extracted every ounce of information that my old mind has stored and I have nothing more to give to you.”
    The baba placed a hand on the shoulder of the boy.
    “Your life should be full of excitement. You must follow your heart but consult your brain. You must find God and you must be a faithful man, but son, you must always share with the world, what is in here.”
    The baba placed his hand on his heart. The two hugged once again and the baba cued the camel that it was time to leave. With the sun slowly making its voyage across the sky, the baba gathered his things and said farewell to the boy, never to be seen again. The boy stood there, eyeing the baba as he left. The water trickled beneath his feet and he felt the power of the oceans, the light of the sun and the vastness of the sky all in the centre of his palm. The warm gentle heat on his back melted his adolescence away. His life had begun and he had never been more ready for it.


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    The recent attack on the Ismaili Muslims in Karachi brought a lot of things into perspective. Firstly, it exposed the ineffectiveness of various military, rangers and police operations, and, secondly, it unveiled the dangers our minority communities are exposed to. But seeing this attack in isolation would not be of any help. We need to understand how religion has facilitated the state and, by extension, the militant organisations over the past decades and how it has led to the conundrum that we find ourselves in now. The first time Islam came to serve the government was in 1953, for Mumtaz Daultana, which led to the victimisation of Ahmadis. After this, while almost every government took religion’s aid to stay in power, it was during Ziaul Haq’s era that the scope of religion was extended as an agent to fight the American war against Russia. This step essentially led to the establishment of the first international religious jihadi organisation, the Haqqani Network – according to Stanford University. And the number of jihadi organisations has grown rapidly since then. According to the South Asian Terrorism Portal, currently in Pakistan, there are 48 domestic, national and transnational militant jihadi organisations operating. This alone shows how fertile the country has become for religious organisations that have devoted themselves to eradicating ‘lesser Muslims’ – like the Twelver Shias, the Bohri Shias, Ismailis, Ahmadis and the Barelvi Muslims. Countries across the globe chalk out cohesive and well-planned strategies to eradicate radicalisation of any orientation. However, in Pakistan, it is the opposite; here, the state has been reduced to issuing mere condemnations after every brutal killing. And, similarly, it has no power whatsoever to conduct operations against those extremist elements with which it shares cordial relations and considers as ‘strategic assets’. The terms ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’ are a manifestation of this unrealistic approach. The state has adopted a dualistic approach here. It sponsors extremist organisations and also condemns the killings of innocent citizens by those very organisations. While it is not to say that India might not be involved in training actors who could disrupt peace in Pakistan, it is the state’s responsibility to ensure the security of minorities from all of its enemies. The ordinary man is least concerned about who carries the attack out; their sole worry is about their own security – a primary right which the state has failed to give them. Ismailis have been targeted previously as well – in Chitral, Gilgit. In Chitral, many Ismailis were killed during Zia’s regime and Ismaili jamatkhanas (worship places) were set on fire during the same period. A number of Ismailis, who have been killed individually, have never been reported on mainstream media. In Karachi, the Ismaili jamatkhanas have been attacked previously and many Ismailis have fled Karachi due to security reasons from Garden and adjoining areas. In 2014, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released a 50-minute long audio message threatening Ismailis to stop their work as they were supposedly “promoting western culture” in Pakistan. After the Karachi incident, the media in Pakistan stopped mentioning the words ‘Ismaili Muslims’; instead, it carefully adopted the words ‘Ismaili community’ – the Urdu newspapers used the word ‘Ismaili bradari’ – to refer to the minority. The news analysis projected the philanthropic work of Ismailis and their imam, and asked the government to protect “a community that is economically contributing for the betterment of the country”. One wonders if “contributing economically” is the reason for the state to protect its citizens or is it the nature of the social contract that a citizen has with the state under which the government is solely responsible for the protection of its citizens. That still needs to be answered. States do not protect minorities because they contribute towards the betterment of the economy, health, education, or art; they do so because they are citizens of the state. Coming from an Ismaili background, it was interesting to note that many prominent news anchors and journalists have literally no knowledge of Ismaili history. The Ismailis were mentioned as Aga Khanis in each report, which is not the religious identity of Ismailis. Aga Khan is an honour title bestowed on Hasan Ali Shah, the 46th imam of Nizari Ismailis, by Persian King Fath-Ali Shah Qajar. It was funny to note one journalist asking naively why Ismailis were being killed as they were neither Sunnis nor Shias. Such is our understanding of various Islamic sects. Moreover, in almost all newspaper reports, the attack was not condemned as an attack against an Islamic sect – it was condemned because the “Ismailis were peaceful people”. This sums up very well how informative and free our media is. The attack on Ismailis, and other minority groups in Pakistan, is a result of the failed Afghan-jihad policy of the state. And unfortunately, the state has no interest in learning from its past mistakes as it still debates in its parliament about the Yemen issue and seems enthusiastic to fight another war despite having lost 50,000 of its citizens. In the meantime, militant organisations are mobilising masses to protect the Harmain Sharaifin at the cost of their lives. Pointing all fingers towards RAW and India is giving safe passage to the extremists who are subverting peace of the country and are brutally killing members of minority communities. The state has zero interest in dealing with these militant organisations. This attitude of the state must send a clear message to minorities that their killings will continue in the near and distant future. Some people will light up vigils, some TV channels will air talk-shows, and some newspapers will highlight their ‘peaceful attitude’ and their ‘great services’ for the nation. But no one will try to discuss the real problem, and in turn, its solution. Legendary Urdu poet Jaun Elia once said,

    Hamara aik hi to mud’da tha, Hamra aur koi mud’da nahi” (We had only one desire, We don’t have any other desire).
    The minorities in Pakistan had and have only one desire – the right to live freely as a citizen of the state. But does the state have the same desire?


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    “Ugg raha hai dar-o-deewar se sabzah Ghalib! Hum bayabaan mein hein aur ghar mein bahar aayee hai” (Greenery is growing out of the doors and walls, Ghalib I am in wilderness and spring has arrived at my house.)
    In his remarkable yet slightly partial treatise to the game in Pakistan, The Wounded Tiger Peter Oborne identifies two events as being game-changing in the history of the sport in the land of the pure. First was the ‘Test match’ victory over the touring MCC side in Karachi in 1951 which established an Abdul Hafeez Kardar-led Pakistan side as a force in international cricket and second, of course, was the 1992 World Cup win. However, May 22, 2015 saw a third occasion added to the list as a pitifully divided nation sung the qaumi tarana (national anthem) with such fervour that even the most pessimist of Lahoris could not help but grin at the enormity of what was transpiring. [fbvideo link="https://www.facebook.com/imranahmadk/videos/10152747610851673/"][/fbvideo] There was awkward romanticism about landing in Lahore from New York just 20 minutes before the second T20 was due to start. Fresh off the Jeddah (umrah) flight, passengers stood glued to the television set where Ramiz Raja and Shahid Afridi exchanged pleasantries at the toss. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Zimbabwe won the toss and elected to bat first on a flat pitch. Photo: Twitter[/caption] Even though I had last been here a year ago, the large Haier advertisements that dotted the drive from the airport till home signalled that the biggest change here had taken place just a week ago. For that one moment when Anwar Ali jogged in to bowl was a culmination of many feelings – of nervousness, of agony, of impatience, of a collective schizophrenia and, at times, of seething envy. As the lanky 27-year-old’s delivery gently drifted down the leg side for a half-hearted appeal, Pakistan breathed a huge sigh of relief. For after all the calamitous uncertainty leading up to that one delivery with retractions and confusions galore, once it had been released, cricket was well and truly home. As Cricinfo’s Habeel Obaid puts it,
    “A group of boys in a country obsessed with manhood entered (Gaddafi Stadium) with tears in their eyes”.
    Yes, the occasion was nothing short of momentous and the thunderous tumult at the Gaddafi Stadium did well to compliment it. But what were the social implications of it? Six years is no small amount of time and yet once the tickets were sold, festivities at the Gaddafi resumed like clockwork. The vendors were back as were the animated supporters. The ruckus of traffic jams was only second to the crowd firing up Pakistan’s proudest export; fast bowlers. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Mukhtar Ahmed scored a quick-fire 83 to lead Pakistan home in the first T20. Photo: File/AFP[/caption] The country’s favourite pastime was back and they were out in their best to support their men. But this was bigger than cricket. It was an opportunity for Pakistan to transform its national identity. Every once in a while an enthusiastic 20-something would raise a poster with “Pakistan is SAFE” or something along those compassionate lines to the camera. It was an opportunity to dispel misconceptions, to show the cricketing world and beyond that everyone lost out when our stadiums were left to rot. As a nation that is hopelessly in love with the game, the zealous hospitality off the pitch and support on it leave one to wonder how many times this would multiply if a more prominent nation were to tour. The massive impact of this, by other means low key tour would increase tenfold if a Sri Lankan side or even a Bangladeshi team were to be bold enough. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Pakistani batsman Mukhtar Ahmed plays a shot during the second and final International T20 cricket match between Pakistan and Zimbabwe at the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore on May 24, 2015. Photo: AFP[/caption] It makes me shudder to think that an entire generation of Pakistanis stood at the cusp of being robbed of cricket as we have known it and this series was just in time to save that. The implications this has for the game itself have already been discussed in great detail and whichever way the wind may blow for those discussing it, one thing is certain: it is all immensely positive in an otherwise sea of desolate uncertainty. As a tall Mukhtar Ahmed effortlessly dispatched the white cherry over midwicket, one thing was certain – Kamran Khan’s morality and Mullah Omar’s lack thereof seemed far, far away.


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    Dear Khaled Hosseini, I regularly follow your page and have read all your books. I must say, it’s been an honour. Recently, I saw a short video, some narrations, and a few pictures of your work regarding Syrian refugees. I am impatiently awaiting a detailed account and I am more than desperate to uncover the reality about the Syrian refugees. Being a Kashmiri and residing in Karachi and Lahore, I dare invite your pen to a misery which is larger than the academic and legal definition of a refugee. The United Nations (UN) probably calls them Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and hence the title drops to a lower level of mercy and compassion. Reasons for the UN doing so are understandable in a political context, yet the misery we encounter knows no politics and understands no legalities. Our world has nothing to offer them except pushing them back into the same callous hands that further their pain and agony. Even if our crisis is a worldly concern, everyone seems comfortable in conveniently ignoring it. It seems as if they are suffering from an illness, probably collective dementia. Kashmir is not a story about a border dispute between two countries or an administrative anomaly – it is the dying question of the lives and deaths of millions, elbowed away by political hoodwinking, lost in the labyrinth of officialdom and it is slowly fading away from our memories, even its own natives. Kashmir is definitely on the UN agenda and resolutions were passed by the Security Council pledging a plebiscite for all the parts of Kashmir which have conveniently been divided amongst India, Pakistan and China. Amongst the backdrop of the Middle East and South Asia’s ambitious nuclear plans, Kashmir remains a burning and forgotten landscape. The people of Kashmir who were displaced during the uprising in the early 90s are now living in various camps which are not worthy of even being called a camp. They mock the official name of Azad Kashmir (free Kashmir) to Azab Kashmir (painful Kashmir). Amongst the long list of things they have lost, their wits stay intact. Kashmiri refugees are on top of every ‘to-do list’ of every new government in Pakistani Kashmir. These refugees get a monthly allowance from the government budget and have limited access to basic health and education, somewhat lesser than what common Kashmiri citizens have. Their camps certainly do not compare to the hellish Jalozai camp. One can see a few tin roofs, broken or choked drains in the streets, houses which have not been plastered, a private school, few old versions of rusted Suzuki vans and a mosque with loudspeakers. Yet they are in misery, pain and suffering and none of this suffering is physical. They are in their own country, have a Kashmiri nationality, and speak the same language, a language rich with history and literature. Yet, they remain to be strangers in their own homeland, living a parallel life along river Jhelum in shackles called the Mohajir Camp. They are lesser citizens, probably sons and daughters of a lesser God. And all this is because Kashmir is a novelty, a messed up story of a nation which once had borders stretching up to central Asia, but now it is torn into pieces. Who will tell their story to the world? Multitudes have stories of despair and solitude to share – from travelogues to historical anecdotes to poems, like birdsongs composed by unsung poets in a rich language, Urdu. Has anyone read or heard them? Will anyone ever get a chance to? Who can afford the pain of understanding words which cry out and images which narrate the century-old story of tyranny, cruelty and injustice? Are you the one, Khaled Hosseini? A Concerned Kashmiri Citizen  

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    I’ve been writing since I was in my mother’s womb. According to her, I never kicked – but she felt constant scribbling on her tummy. I probably came out of her holding a novel called My Nine Months in the Womb by Saba Khalid, which she probably threw away because it was too graphic for her Jamaat-e-Islami sensibilities. While girls were playing with Barbies, I was busy picking up my favourite books, cutting out the author’s name, putting my own name instead and then pretending to be the centre of attention of my very extravagant book party! By the age of eight, I had written (and stapled together) my first horror novel. This one was found by my evil older sister, who laughed hysterically while reading it; I didn’t write for the next five years. However, writing would always seduce me. Call me back. Tempt me, tease me and torture me. Soon enough, I was back in its arms. I wrote to live, I lived to write. Whenever I encountered grief, it led to another half-finished novel. And boy, were they plenty of half-finished novels! I helped with literature assignments; I helped with everyone’s scholarship, job entrance and admission essays. I might as well be the reason why some people are in YaleIndus and even LUMS (Yea, thanks Farida, for not inviting me to your graduation party). Nevertheless, all I needed was the slightest push, “yaar tum tou bari achi writer ho!”, then I’d be putty in their hands, spending hours editing, revising their drafts, giving them feedback and making their writing more interesting. I wrote on good days and bad days, merely every day. Some days I wrote brilliantly yet some days my writing made me cringe. I quit jobs to pursue my writing. Some days writing paid, other days it didn’t pay at all. Some pieces were taken, some were trashed. I fought with editors to be given a chance to write; however, some let me while others ignored me. I loved to read but dreaded going into bookshops because my book was still not there. Plus I constantly felt that I was not doing enough to put it out there. Therefore, I took more chances and made real-life mistakes in order to write something interesting and out of the box. When girls wooed guys by putting on red lipstick, I sent them sentimental pieces inspired by their love and attention. By the age of 30, I had accumulated quite a bit of material; good, bad, sad, angry, dirty and insane. After all, I had reached the centre of my orbital path; that tiny space between overextended youth and snubbed adulthood. From the point of living your life trying to be something you’re not, to the point of giving up and arriving at that perfect stage where you accept yourself as it is. I’m me, no special snowflake and that’s still brilliant! I finally had the time and patience to put a book together. I had this renewed confidence that it would be published. So, I sat down to write, edit and finalise; the words, the chapters, the plot, it all came in like water in a faucet that hadn’t been opened in a long time. First, it came out slow and dirty then it came out gushing until it spilled all over. I crossed all my daily deadlines. I was ecstatic. This was a book true to me. This was a book about my journey. This was a book that spoke my truth. However, I soon realised that speaking my truth meant speaking the truth about a lot of other people in my life who were close to me and who I loved despite all the differences. Speaking my truth meant that I would reveal personal details of my past relationships that would put me under immense judgment. Disclosing utter honesty meant possibly to escape from here because our people are easily offended and can even lead to being killed because it is so difficult for people to hear another person’s perspective. I could easily use a pseudonym. Yet the narcissist in me wanted to finally see my name on the cover of a book. I could easily call it fiction. Though, we all know how we tell our own stories through the characters we create. Thus, again, I sit here with an almost-finished novel, not knowing whether to trash it or to save it, whether to speak up or shut up. I question myself on whether I’m finally a brave woman at 31, or still the same little eight-year-old girl, terrified of people laughing at her. I’m hoping I will be the former; but the people around me are convinced I’ll be the latter! The piece originally appeared here.


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    When I made the decision to move to the notorious land called Pakistan, because of my husband’s job, there were mixed reactions from the community (to say the least). My non-Pakistani and non-Muslim friends were terrified for my safety and were keen on reminding me of the short list of communities; their concerns involved my husband’s salary, the tough humidity, and the eternal inconvenience of load-shedding Ignoring all concerns, I decided to take on the adventure and assured my friends that I was happy and ready for anything. Boy did I lie. I was terrified – but very much in love. I had been living in the American Bubble As Americans, we value our privacy, our personal space, our neatly scheduled routines and our mood swings. After struggling through some awkward social encounters and unannounced guests coming to my house at midnight for kava (green tea), I soon realised that if I wanted to accumulate the least amount of stress and still be happy, I would have to pop my American bubble. As a new bride, I was treated like a princess. No, seriously; I was a princess. My mother-in-law’s relatives and friends would come to see me and my job was simply to change into gorgeous dresses adorned with gems and embroidery, look flawless and smile. Yes, for a brief five months, I got a small taste of what it feels like in Kate Middleton’s (shoes) sari. Another struggle was controlling my mood swings. Not only could a nosy neighbour or a sister-in-law come unannounced at any time, they expected the gracious hostess (me) to welcome them with open arms, leave all that I was doing, give them company in the living room and whip up some bangin’ samosas. At one occasion I remember comforting my two-month-old daughter, with my post-partum hormones all over the place. The doorbell rang and relatives surprised us. And I mean really surprised us. When I blamed my hormones to be the cause of the messy house and my dishevelled state, the jolly ‘auntie’ told me that today’s generation blames everything on hormones, PMS and a crying baby. Code for: I’ll hold the baby; now go make some tea for us. Would you like a maid with that? My mother-in-law prides herself in the fact that she raised eight children and worked as an entrepreneur without hiring a maid or housekeeper. My father-in-law remembers it a bit differently. According to him, even though ami (mother) never hired anyone, she had tons of help in the form of her sisters, sisters-in-law and neighbours who took care of babysitting, cooking, cleaning and even being part-time masseuses. So, there are two kinds of help in Pakistan: your paid employees or the help network made up of relatives and friends. Almost everyone I know has a part-time maid. At first, I found it strange that women could entrust their entire household duties to a stranger as I was raised to be independent in every sense. Code for: We Americans don’t know how to delegate well or ask for help. In the past five years, I went through five man-servants until I learned how to train, trust and delegate. Trust me; this is one of the greatest blessings of living in Pakistan. Labour is cheap, which means that you can always find someone to work for you and this is one of the reasons why most middle-class families are able to afford housekeepers. It is also the reason why the women have active social lives and always seem to be enjoying themselves through long Skype chats with friends, hosting kitty parties or simply going shopping. Pakistani kids are just as much spoiled as American kids I remember teaching at a private, international school two-years-ago as a Mathematics and Social Studies teacher for grades three, four and five. I was told to speak English slowly as the children were getting confused because of my accent. However, I soon realised that their English was far better than I expected. In fact, their grammar was much better than most Americans. I remember my excitement as I brought in my iPad on the third day expecting them to hover around me in a circle, impressed and intrigued in every way. But boy was I wrong. There they sat, their bored faces staring back at me. Thankfully, one of the fifth graders sensed my wonder and enlightened me to the fact that every single child in that room had an iPad at home. The surprises were not exclusive to private elementary schools. On a visit to my aunt’s house, I found her stressing over her son’s job. He had just graduated college and was looking for his dream job (which might take a while). I suggested that in the meantime, he work as a waiter or become a delivery guy for Pizza Hut. My aunt and my cousin stared at me in disbelief and simply started laughing.  Utterly puzzled, I asked them what was funny. Apparently, it was beneath them to work in such a low level job. My uncle and aunt decided to support their son until a more suitable position opened. Where did the burqas go? Let me tell you something; Pakistani women are strong, beautiful and very up-to-date. In fact, wearing a hijab, I’m considered very conservative (and inferior) in many parts of the country. My first time strolling through Islamabad shopping malls, I was baffled. Women and girls of all ages adorned themselves in the latest American and Pakistani fashions, with some even wearing sleeveless dresses. Speaking flawless English, a girl sitting behind me at Thank God It’s Friday (TGIF) – yes, the American restaurant – politely asked me: “Do you wear the hijab even in America?” She was shocked when I replied in the affirmative. Even conservative areas like Kohat and Peshawar have relaxed their cultural customs when it comes to the once-traditional black burqa. In fact, the newer generations deem it old-fashioned and opt for a more modern look based on Dubai-based designers. Women are avid drivers, hold public offices, celebrities, models, have their own morning shows, can be found jogging in the local park, bargaining confidently with shopkeepers, debating fearlessly on college campuses, and even riding motorcycles on Islamabad Highway. I hear Karachi is even more modernised. It makes me wonder why we ever thought that Malala Yousafzai was the measuring stick for all Pakistani women. Even in the smaller villages, women have countless freedoms and girls are happily and actively pursuing their education. In fact, the list of restrictions seems to be diminishing and I simply wonder why these success stories fail to be heard on a global platform. They don’t hate us As a newbie to Pakistan, I was discouraged by many friends and family members to not show open support for Americans. In fact, avoid bringing the topic up at all. Naturally, I was terrified and tried my best to cover up my accent while speaking Urdu. However, as I began to travel and meet more people within the country, I realised something – Pakistani people don’t hate Americans. In fact, they love our lifestyles, our movies, our cities, our food, and our education systems. Whenever people heard me speaking English in my Jersey accent, they wanted to know everything about my life in New Jersey. To their disappointment, I had never met Angelina Jolie. The women respected me more as a mother and treated me as a perpetual guest in their country. In the conservative towns, even the local religious leaders spoke fondly of Americans and focused on the fact that Americans sent the most aid to Pakistan throughout the year. As I waited at the American embassy with my husband to get his visit visa, I was shocked to see the crowds in the waiting room, all applying for a chance to visit the States. The one lesson that I learned was that it is the politicians and media that play with our emotions. The public and the common men are eloquently tolerant and united by the eternal bond of humanity and yearning to learn from each other. So what? My aim is not to defend Pakistan nor do I have a political agenda. I am simply surprised at the perception the international world has of Pakistanis. When I am away from Pakistan, I am only shown bearded men and women in burqas. Even entertainment such as Homeland focuses on the dark side of Pakistan, never shedding light on the greater good. On the contrary, when I am in Pakistan, I am only shown the vibrant Cherry Blossom festivals of Washington, DC or the ferocious life of Times Square. Never do I see reports of the gun violence, police brutality or Islamophobic campaigns in America. I encourage you all to travel around the world. Seize those opportunities and make new ones. In these past five years, I have grown in ways I never thought I could and learned that there are two sides to everything and everyone. Our minds can only open when our bodies make the effort. This post originally appeared here. 

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    “You just have to wear a burqa inside the school; you are free to take it off when you leave the school premises,”said the principal of a Karachi-based school owned by a certain musician-turned-religious-revolutionary while interviewing a candidate. “It’s just a garment,” thought the candidate, and a garment that was helping her get a higher salary than all the other schools.
    So she signed the teaching contract and took the burqa home with her. All day at home, that burqa in her bag haunted her. How could she don something all day that represented something she hadn’t fully accepted in her heart? Wasn’t she lying to impressionable children? Wasn’t it hypocritical of her to wear it? Wasn’t it hypocritical of the senior staff at this school to force her to wear something she wasn’t convinced of yet?
    “I just take it like a uniform,” said another teacher to her in the teacher’s lounge the next day. “But who am I doing purdah (covering) from?”
    She questioned fumbling around with a confusing shroud that overwhelmed her entire being.
    “Umm, maybe from the male staff,” said the other teacher. “So why don’t they just hire female staff only then?”
    The other teacher thought for a minute.
    “Maybe it’s from the students,” she said after a pause. “But my students are younger than five-years-old” “Maybe it’s to show the parents that their children are in good hands,” she offered once again.
    She rolled her eyes at the idea that only a person in a burqa is best suited to teach ‘morality’ to kids. Who will teach morality to the burqa-wearing principal who wanted her to don a burqa from 9am to 2pm? But a job is a job, so she wore the burqa like any uniform. After all, it wasn’t like she was teaching at a madarssa or anything. It was a popular school with a good name attended by children from the upper middle class background. How bad could it be? Soon enough, she found out it wasn’t just a uniform. The classes were gender-segregated from grade three onwards and the books had absolutely no pictures. If there were faces, the eyes were all blurred. Children were not allowed to clap, dance or hear music.
    “How do I encourage the students when they do something right?” she asked the principal about the ban on clapping. “Just say Alhumdullilah” she replied with great emphasis on the last word. “Can I clap and say Alhumdullilah?” she argued. “There will be no clapping,” the principal said sternly.
    The Bismillahs, Alhumdullilahs and MashaAllah were always uttered with an Arabic accent. Montessoris were strange there too – no dolls, action figures or stuffed toys. She could understand not wanting to keep Barbies in the play group as kids learnt negative body image from such toys – but you couldn’t even find cute little baby dollies here. If there was a picture of a pig in a school book, teachers were supposed to skip that page and students were penalised if they said ‘pig’ while looking at the picture of a pig. The letter P was for everything else but ‘pig’. Lord knows how many times her students said ‘pig’ to each other and giggled just because they were told not to. She wondered what would happen to these ‘protected’ and ‘indoctrinated’ children once they graduated from this school. How would they react and respond to pictures of real people, pigs, dolls, clapping, and women without burqas? Would they judge other children for clapping or playing with dolls? Their cousins, friends and neighbourhood kids? How would it feel if she ran into one of her young students and her family at a shopping mall, and she was dressed in her regular jeans and crop top? What would the child think about her? Would she end up teaching and bringing up a tiny Taliban here? That day she handed over her burqa to the school principal.
    “My morality and ethics don’t allow me to continue this job,” she said and left the school building.
    This post originally appeared here. 


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    I had written in an article on this very forum some time back that many Indians and Pakistanis validate their deep-rooted nationalist prejudices by exaggerating the problems of the religious minorities on the other side of the border. As an Indian, I have written articles informing my fellow countrymen that Pakistan has had a Christian Chief Justice, Justice Cornelius, and he remains one of their most respected judges till date, and the tiny Zoroastrian community in Pakistan, like its Indian counterpart, has produced many remarkable personalities, including prominent judges. These include Justice Dorab Patel, who has also served as chief justice, and Justice Rustam S Sidhwa who served in the Supreme Court of Pakistan as also the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Other than judges, there have been businessmen such as the well-known Avari group in Pakistan, sportspersons like Goshpi Avari, a woman who won Pakistan a gold medal in sailing in the Asian Games, journalists like Ardershir Cowasjee, who is affectionately referred to as the old guardian of the city of Karachi, academicians like Godrej Sidhwa and diplomats like Jamsheed Marker, who has been Pakistan’s top envoy to the United States and more than a dozen other countries, more countries than any diplomat in the world and had earned the distinction of being the world’s longest serving ambassador. While there indeed has been violence against the Pakistani Hindus – including abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of girls, mostly in rural areas by Muslim extremists (usually not their neighbours) – Hindus do go to schools, colleges and offices alongside Muslims in Pakistan, making Muslim friends. I once interacted with a school going Pakistani Hindu boy in Karachi who tops in academics and is a prefect. Hindus also pray alongside Muslims in Sufi shrines in that country. William Dalrymple has mentioned this composite Sufi culture in the province of Sindh in Pakistan in his highly acclaimed book ‘Nine Lives’, in which he mentions how a Sufi shrine at Sehwan is still being managed by a Hindu. Many Pakistani Hindus based in the urban areas are prosperous businessmen, and people from that community have been civil servants, including diplomats, and there are reservations for Hindus and other religious minorities in government jobs and even legislatures, actors, sportspersons (two have made it in the cricket team, namely Anil Dalpat and more recently, Danish Kaneria), politicians, there are seats reserved for them in the legislatures, including cabinet ministers and even Chief Justice Rana Bhagwandas, and a very prominent fashion designer in Pakistan happens to be a Karachi-based Hindu, Deepak Perwani. Diwali is openly celebrated in the political party offices in Pakistan, once even with Muslim politicians dressed up as characters from the Ramayan, which would certainly be abhorrent to fanatic Muslims, and Pakistan has had a deputy attorney general openly visiting places of worship of diverse faiths. Pakistan also observes a National Minority Day. It is also noteworthy that Hindu temples have been renovated by the government, often with large amounts being pumped in for the purpose. In fact, there are even many functioning Hindu temples, including grand ISKCON temples, in Pakistan. Also, though it is undoubtedly true that many Pakistani Hindus have sought refuge in India in recent years, the liberals in the Pakistani media have explored the reason for the same lying in Muslim extremism, and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has made great efforts to document the problems of the religious minorities and has taken steps to safeguard their rights. Likewise, I have also written about the exaggerated portrayals of Indian Muslim victimhood, and this article is an example of the same, wherein I have dealt with the subject at some length. However, I may point out that unlike liberal Muslim intellectuals in Pakistan, most of whom are intellectually honest and though possibly sometimes resorting to hyperbole, do condemn those unjustifiably bashing their religious grouping and country. In India, among the liberal segment of the Hindus, there is a section that seeks to exaggerate minority victimhood beyond all reasonable limits, trying to showcase some rather baseless intellectually elitist superiority complex of being among the few Hindus in India who know what secularism or liberalism means. This piece by Sanjay Kumar exemplifies this trend. While I am not an uncritical admirer of Narendra Modi or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as you can see here, lies and exaggerations are certainly unacceptable. The incident of Mohamed Zeshan being denied a job based on his religion has only rightfully attracted much attention, but to draw sweeping conclusions from the same would be totally erroneous. For one, in Zeshan’s case, two Hindu applicants who were offered the job simultaneously refused the offer in protest, something even Kumar mentioned, and there was an uproar on social media by very many Hindus. I too, among many other Hindus, commented on Zeshan’s Facebook status condemning the incident and I specifically told him to take the matter to court and assuring him of the moral support of millions of tolerant Hindus, as you can see here, and within a few hours, he got an apology e-mail from the company. The company has claimed that the offensive e-mail had been sent by a newly inducted employee and what she wrote was actually not in line with company policy. To be honest, while I did believe that openly citing not recruiting Muslims to be a reason in writing was obviously something that employee did of her own accord, I did not buy this claim of the company actually not being discriminatory till I learnt that the company claimed it already had 71 Muslim employees. Nonetheless, the matter has gone to the National Commission for Minorities, which will hopefully punish whoever may be guilty, and indeed, the Indian judiciary has convicted many Hindu rioters, be it in connection with the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 or even the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 or the anti-Christian riots in the Kandhamal district of the province of Odisha in 2008. India has also seen terrorism by some Muslims and Sikhs and in India’s northeast, some Christians as well. While instances of discrimination and hate crimes, which may not always be along religious fault-lines, for instance, the Sindhi-Mohajir clashes in Karachi, do indeed unfortunately take place in very many pluralistic countries, even in the developed world, it is important that the victims get justice. Some say that in India, Hindu victims of hate crimes by Muslim extremists inevitably get justice faster than Muslim victims of hate crimes by Hindu extremists, but that is a myth, as I have discussed here. While this one instance of discrimination in employment amongst some others is obviously wrong, it is noteworthy that there are many Muslims employed in very many public sector and private sector companies, many of whom have been hired after Modi became prime minister, and many of India’s leading businessmen happen to be Muslims too. Indian Muslims have excelled in all walks of life, including not only politics, cinema, music and other fine arts, business, sports, the judiciary, media and academia, but they have also occupied prominent positions in the Indian security forces, even winning gallantry awards, and intelligence agencies,  for instance, the current Intelligence Bureau chief is Ibrahim Khan, a Muslim, and many such prominent Muslim public figures in India have been very devout Muslims and even hailed from economically downtrodden backgrounds. A classic example being Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, a much loved personality in India who was the architect of India’s nuclear missile programme and went on to become India’s president, who was the son of a not-so-well-off Muslim cleric, and the same is true for cricketers Irfan Pathan and Yusuf Pathan as well. It may also be noted that religion-based discrimination in India is actually not confined to being done by Hindus alone, and as you can see here, there are several Indian companies that state in their advertisements that they want only or preferably Muslim or Christian employees. I recall encountering one such advertisement of a software company asking for only Christian employees on the defunct social networking site Orkut, and when I asked them the rationale, they said they want employees who can join them in prayer breaks during work, which hardly makes any sense in terms of justifying discrimination. Kumar has also claimed that this is the hallmark of the Modi era of national politics in India, as if Modi instructed that human resource employee to send that e-mail. Or is he suggesting that Modi’s policies give a green signal to such a mind-set? In that case, would he then care to explain why the BJP is often represented on television news debates by Aijaz Ilmi, a Muslim? Or why the BJP has been keen to induct new Muslim faces like MJ Akbar and Shazia Ilmi, the latter being someone who had earlier even actually told Muslims to be more communal? Would Kumar care to explain why bureaucrat Syed Akbaruddin continued as the spokesman of India’s foreign ministry, and is believed to have become among Modi’s favourite bureaucrats, and why he got a further promotion? Would Kumar also explain why the BJP government is launching schemes for the religious minorities like Nayi Manzil as also another one named after India’s great national hero and first education minister Maulana Azad? How does any of this suggest an indication of not having space for Muslims in workplaces? And if Kumar claims that these are token initiatives by the BJP to prove its secularism, doesn’t that also show the strength of Indian secularism that compels the BJP to take such initiatives? He has even further stated about Modi that,

    “There are two Muslim names in his ministry but both of them hold only minor posts.”
    But while one holds a union cabinet minister rank like all the other union cabinet ministers and one holds a union minister of state rank like all other union ministers of state, how do their posts become “minor”. Or is it that our Kumar, whose heart bleeds so much for India’s religious minorities, ironically holds their portfolio of minority affairs to be a minor matter? And if he strangely does, let it be known that Indian democracy has a long tradition of cabinet reshuffles; so, Najma Heptullah, who is the cabinet minister for minority affairs, may get another portfolio subsequently, which possibly may not be “minor” as per Kumar. He has also called all conversions by Hindu missionaries “forced” without any basis, and while they may be financially incentivised, that too, not necessarily, the way many conversions by Christian missionaries are believed to be, how can Kumar just call all of them forced? In the province of Kerala governed by the Congress party, the provincial government there accepted that none of the conversions by Hindu missionaries there were forced. Kumar has further alleged that after the carnage in 2002, where hundreds of innocent Hindus fell prey to attacks by Muslim rioters too even leading many Hindus to shift to relief camps, something documented by Human Rights Watch and even some Indian media houses widely accepted as secular, Modi made no attempt to reach out to Muslims or demonstrate any commitment to religious pluralism. The chief minister of Gujarat, and Kumar has subtly suggested that Modi’s emergence of India’s prime minister was owing to some hard-line Hindu rightist image, and that no one in India condemned Hindu rightist leader, Pravin Togadia’s disgusting remark that Muslims should be evicted from Hindu-majority localities – though it was widely condemned, and even Modi clearly said it was a petty and irresponsible remark. These are again lies, which I have busted in this article. While any communalism is obviously wrong and needs to be addressed, I myself have written a book aimed at addressing and dispelling anti-Muslim prejudices among sections of Hindus, exaggerations and lies do no good, and actually only deepen the divide, when made by those claiming to be champions of secularism, turning Hindus off secularism. These exaggerations and lies also obviously also strengthen Muslim communalism, and both the communalisms feed off each other by stereotyping the other religious grouping, pointing only to its communalists.


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    During a chat with a local, who in his opinion, highlights the major causes and precursors (whether correct or not) of the shift in trend of the traditional voters in Gilgit-Baltistan. It was 10:45am when I received his call,

    “Doctor sahib, I am outside waiting for you, no one else turned in today.”
    Askari (name changed), is around 50-years-old and is a van driver from my company. He belongs to the Gilgit-Baltistan area and has characteristic facial features of a Balti. As I stood up, switching off the news being aired, the last few remarks I heard were from Syed Mehdi Shah of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), citing one of the reasons that he thought was a precursor of their defeat in the current elections.
    “This time around, the religious parties played their cards well like Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) and…” “But you weren’t even second placed in this election, after ruling and governing the area for so many years”, interrupted the anchor. “Well they (government) installed a governor that they should not have done and it was done in an undemocratic way. He already did 15 days back what he was being brought for into the fold.”
    As I sat beside my driver in the empty van, I knew what the topic of conversation would be during the entire journey to the office on the crowded roads of Karachi – politics, one thing we should generally not talk about. Before I could even start, Askari had a grin on his face and a light in his otherwise old eyes, suggestive of triumph. He said,
    “Dr Sahib, udhar elections hogaye.” (Elections are already completed there.)
    For the ease of readers, I will narrate the rest of the conversation that took place between us in English.
    “Yes Askari, I heard that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is emerging as a winner there”, I said. “Well Mehdi Shah lost. We loved PPP and it’s Asif Ali Zardari who was the reason of the defeat. There hasn’t been any development since he came onto the scene,” he said. “But I heard Mehdi Shah saying that it was the Shias who triggered his defeat”, I narrated from the TV show. “What the hell? Isn’t he a Shia himself?” Askari, a follower of the same faith, pounced on to what I said. “No sorry, I meant he said that the religious parties in this election cut PPP’s share of seats and votes as well,” I instantly clarified. “Yes. That’s right. But PPP should know why a loyal voter for generations as well as commoners dwelling amongst all the atrocities was still voting for PPP. And why this time around that’s not the case.” “Zardari’s PPP is doing nothing there. PPP was supposed to be a Shia party, but years back, during Muharram, blasts took place during Muharram processions and no one cared. Instead, a dozen of mourners were taken into custody. Yes, they were involved in minor stealing cases subsequent to the explosion, which was wrong, but what were the circumstances that propelled them into committing these shameful acts?” “Dr Sahib, we love Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter. The night Bhutto died everyone back there cried like it was Ashura. It was a Shaam-e-Ghariban for us. How old were you when he was hanged by Ziaul Haq?” he threw the question at me. “Aah, I was born in 82” I replied.
    I somewhat felt embarrassed of the lack of being there during ‘that’ time.
    “Well, then you really know nothing,” he said.
    He tightened his grip around the steering, which somewhat reflected on him taking the driving seat in our short conversation as well.
    “During my teens, Bhutto came to our area. He stood with us and ate what we were eating back then. Standing amongst us, he showed his disbelief and even cried for us. He then held a handful of wheat in one hand and remarked that this is what you will eat from now on,” he continued.
    I could tell Askari’s eyes were welling up.
    “Since then a ration card was issued to every family which allowed them 10 kilograms of wheat and one kilogram of sugar per person. I can easily recall when the shipment for wheat and sugar would arrive in our area and it would be heaped outside. As a kid, I would make my way through the people and sneak a fist full of sugar, run away from the scene and enjoy it under shade of a tree. It would be like Eid for me. Sometimes, I would do it twice or even thrice. This ration card was continued till Bhutto was hanged. The night we all cried. Everyone was so loyal, obliged and indebted to him for his generosities that they continued loving and voting for his daughter.  Her husband, however, ensured that no developmental work continued in our area during her tenure, unlike Bhutto who coerced the Chinese to build roads. Not even a single road was developed in the past five years. None of the previous roads were maintained or widened for that matter. Mehdi Shah, himself, owns a couple of dozen shops in the main Skardu market, renting them out and easily earning four to five hundred thousand, as I have heard,” Askari explained.
    I inquired from Askari regarding where he lives as I suddenly realised that this could be a very good discussion to pen down for the readers, what an average local voter bases his decisions on when he goes to cast his vote and how he thinks, regardless of the authenticity of the facts he comes across.
    “I lived in Kharmang Valley, it is around a 90-minute drive from Skardu while going towards Kargil,” he further continued with the description of his area and adjoining areas north of Skardu. “You see Dr Sahib, we don’t like Nawaz Sharif, but even if he fulfils half of the 10 to 12 promises he has made to us, then he will win the following elections as well. As compared to the last four to five years, he is likely to do something at least, anything at all.” “So what else can you recall about Bhutto?” I cunningly inquired to take out more of whatever he believed in and was being told till now. “The trees along the roadside were being marked by the government authorities.  Those were considered to be government property. We were allowed to have fruit that would drop from it, but could not harvest or cut it down. Bhutto stopped that practice. He ensured that in the future, no trees are marked that way and people would be allowed to cut those at will,” Askari’s face beamed as he could recall the triumph again.

    A woman stands in a queue to cast her vote during an election of the Legislative assembly for Northern Areas in Gilgit-BaltistanA woman stands in a queue to cast her vote during an election of the Legislative assembly for Northern Areas in Gilgit-Baltistan

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    It happens like clockwork whenever Bilawal Bhutto Zardari makes the news on social media. Invariably, the top Facebook/Twitter comment on any story regarding BBZ is a joke about his supposedly effeminate demeanour. Those who wouldn’t mock someone for other variations in physical characteristics such as skin colour, height, and weight, also join in. It’s an issue with many cultures, but it rears its ugly head often in one as throbbingly pseudo masculine as ours. The jests aren’t only limited to top Facebook comments; Pakistani creators of internet comics often find BBZ’s mannerisms an easy source of entertainment for their easily amused readers. These comics are shared and re-shared countless times, only to be followed by a contradictory comic preaching tolerance and respect for the delicious variety in God’s creations. It is as if the message is to respect everyone, except those who don’t wear their manliness on their sleeves. For them, our hatred rises from deeper murkier waters. It is personal hatred, a symptom of our own demons. I am not fond of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Their five years of governance are an easily forgettable period for Pakistan. I am also not quite convinced if BBZ is his party’s saviour. I had hoped he would prove to be a revolutionary young politician polished by his time at Oxford University, but his mantra heavy speeches revealed how most of his education was spent memorising tired party jargons. Yet, I strongly feel that while we have every right to criticise a politician for their mistakes, physical features aren’t fair game. I am sure everyone would agree. But strangely, while we are somewhat more respectful of other uncommon characteristics, those who don’t satisfy our traditional definition of manliness are considered fair game for mockery. So here I am, about to defend the chairman of a political party I dislike. I am like Johnnie Cochran defending OJ Simpson, except I am not defending OJ for a homicide; I am defending him for being black. More than that, I am here to do some soul searching, to dive deep into these treacherous waters which give rise to such feelings. Unfortunately, our nation has a masculinity problem, and it begins with our upbringing. For many of us, the mask comes on early; the seeds of masculinity sown in childhood. As children, we boys are taught not to cry. To varying degrees depending on the environment, this is reinforced regularly through our schooling years until it is ingrained deep within our psyche. We are trained to be unyielding, competitive, and tough. Crying is for girls, we are told. Feelings and emotions are for women. Rather than getting trained to ride the dragon, we are told to lock the creature up in a cold dark room. Meanwhile, it grows silently, sometimes seething with fury. Growing up, I loved reading, writing, drawing, and for a few months sowing clothes for my action figures (they were ninja outfits). I was often criticised by authority figures for not playing more sports, or proving my masculinity by climbing trees. Today I still can’t climb a tree (probably because I am not an elf); though if you are a ninja in need of a suit, do drop me an email for rates. For children whose upbringing is relentlessly masculine, emotions are left suppressed, hidden behind a grim mask of masculinity. Whenever the going gets tough, the mask comes on, leaving the increasingly fragile soul unseen behind the seemingly tough exterior. Certainly, Pakistan isn’t alone in its masculine culture, yet our progress is slow. Andy Murray won hearts worldwide after breaking into tears when he lost his first Wimbledon finale. Meanwhile, Wahab Riaz, who after proving his manhood by nearly depriving Shane Watson of his own several times, became the target of a mean spirited internet meme when he shed tears at the end of the game. We should encourage men like Wahab Riaz, a real man who wears his heart on his sleeve and gives it his all for his nation. Clearly expressing emotions is considered to be the opposite of what a man does. A large number of our children grow up observing a physical distance between their parents; displays of affection are discouraged. It is reported that the lioness of Karachi, Sabeen Mahmud, was assassinated because she favoured Valentine’s Day. Are we so threatened by love? When we pick on BBZ for what we have been conditioned to believe are less masculine traits, we don’t hate on him, but rather, we hate on ourselves. Every time we laugh at a BBZ joke, in our hearts is a critical authority figure who encouraged us in our development phase to be the alpha male. Some equate such displays of pseudo-masculinity with mental toughness, but mental toughness is sometimes nothing but a mask, hiding unresolved emotions. Such unresolved emotions can result in varying levels of social misbehaviour, including bottled up anger. Those who wear the mask tightly may find it leads to professional success, but when they come home at night, they often find themselves alone, even when surrounded by people. People who cannot fake love such as a spouse or a child don’t form real relationships with the ones who wear the heaviest of masks. In essence, the mask is a ticking time bomb. The prize? Our soul. When we encourage our children to wear masks, we deprive them of an important life skill; processing emotions in a healthy manner. If you are lucky, you may keep the mask on your whole life with little incident, but the longer you wear it, the more difficult it becomes to take off. For men who wear masks and have sons and daughters, I encourage you to give your wife a tight hug and a big kiss (on the cheek) in front of your children every evening. For your growing daughters it will be a lesson in how to a pick a man when she is older. A man who respects her, treats her as an equal, and is not so frightened by his emotions that she doesn’t feel loved. For your sons, it may be a lesson in how to treat someone else’s daughter, to value all life, and to not be afraid of those different from him. PLEASE NOTE: The Express Tribune’s Blogs Desk reserves the right to change, select and/or edit the title of posts submitted to The Express Tribune’s Blogs Page.


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    Noori is back! After 10 years of crappy commercial songs and a few good coke studio productions, after 10 years of dormancy, Noori is back. Noori, for me, is synonymous with nostalgia. It reminds of the long drives on GT Road travelling between cities. It reminds of riding my bicycle late at night while playing chor-police in the neighbourhood. It reminds me of the heavy torrential rains of Punjab that used to wet the earth for weeks on end (Oh God, let it rain in Karachi). It reminds me of the all-nighters I pulled off during my matriculation exams where every inch of my existence would pull me towards the bed like gravity but  Sari Raat Jaga Re and Neend Aye Na were more than enough of a motivation to keep me glued to the chair. https://soundcloud.com/nooriworld/saari-raat-jaga https://soundcloud.com/nooriworld/neend-aaye-na Ah yes, memories, good and bad, attached to every lyric of (almost) every Noori song, pretty much sums up my childhood (and teenage years). When I first heard of Aik Tha Badshah being launched, I was thrilled, exhilarated, the English Dictionary does not have enough synonyms to show how excited I was. But, sadly, all I could do was to wait, since clearly I wasn’t important enough to be invited to the launch in Karachi. I watched the teaser again and again until the video was officially released; and it was quite different from what I expected. [embed width="620"]https://vimeo.com/130798125[/embed] I remember one of the Noori brothers stating in an interview that they had been experimenting with new sounds, inspired by the recent success of the local Indie bands, and that they had decided to break away from the traditional Noori sound which was their signature statement thus far. Aik Tha Badshah is quite different from the stuff they used to make; it has a queer haunting feel to it, with the lyrics and music a bit ‘darker’ you could say; it’s a step away from their old music. However, the questions that need to be asked here are, is the newly transformed Noori as good as the old Noori we all used to worship? And what, exactly, are they trying to prove with this strange rather medieval video? [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="574"] Photo: Screenshot[/caption] All bands evolve; their music changes with time, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Take Linkin Park, for example; they used to produce amazing music, supercharged with Chester Bennignton’s wide vocal range and Mike Shinoda’s simple yet meaningful rhymes. Linkin Park used to dominate the contemporary rockalternate rock scene. But, ever since they tried to change, their music has lost its touch, the originality that made them great. Yes, their new songs are good too but even the most diehard fans wouldn’t mind them reverting back to their old ways. Will Noori go down the same path as Linkin Park or will their fate be different? Well, Ali Noor answered that question for us. During a Q&A session with the media, he said that this song was released ahead of the album, Begum Gul Bakaoli Sarfarosh (which is set to be released in September) since it is different from the rest of the tracks of the album. Perhaps they wanted to see how their fans would take the change in their theme. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="433"] Photo: Screenshot[/caption] Now, for the strange slightly psychedelic video, we see Ali Hamza sitting on the throne while the four elements – earth, wind, water and fire dance around him in circles; he is shown as this draconian medieval figure moving the pieces on the chess board when Ali Noor emerges from the water and dethrones his brother, and then abdicates the throne himself to live as a common man. What Noori would have you believe is that the video is about corruption and how power breeds evil. However, I see a deeper subliminal message behind the song as a whole; even the name Aik tha Badshah is there for a reason. I believe this is Noori declaring war on all the would-be rock bands of Pakistan. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Screenshot[/caption] This is Noori telling the world that once upon a time there was king of Pakistani rock, who ruled over the hearts and minds of the Pakistani youth, and now that king is back, replacing the false idols that forced their pawns to worship them. This is Noori flipping over the chessboard and setting the pawns free to choose who they follow – a clean board with a new beginning. This is Noori coming back to life after a deep slumber of 10 years. And, oh my, what a comeback they’ve made!

    noori cover copynoori cover copy

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    A friend’s recent encounter with the police has left me fuming. He was waiting for his sister outside a restaurant on a busy road, when a transvestite tried to get into his car. Seconds after he told the transvestite to go away, a police mobile stopped next to his car, as if waiting to pounce on him and hurled a series of accusatory and demeaning questions at him. He had not been committing a crime nor attempting to do so, then why was he dealt with like a culprit? And would he have been treated the same way had he been in an expensive-looking Prado? Admittedly, what I have just mentioned is an age-old debate but that only means that each and every one of us needs to stand against this deplorable behaviour on part of our police. Personally, I refuse to remain passive towards all this nonsense and I say this not only because I am a citizen of this country and someone who has fallen prey to the corruption embedded in our law enforcement system, but also by virtue of the fact that in the past one year, I have personally interacted with police officers of all ranks as part of my job at a local public policy think tank. Despite several people discouraging us and even warning us regarding women’s safety at thaanas (police station), a female colleague and I visited a number of police stations in Karachi. I would be lying if I said that we ever felt unsafe or even remotely insecure at any of our meetings with the police officers. In fact, some of them were extremely respectful. I do not know whether this was due to the fact that we are lawyers or because we consider ourselves to be alpha-females, but I highly doubt that we would have felt the same way had we been accused of a crime or had been a victim of one. To quote one example of my own encounter with the police a couple of years back, a few girlfriends and I were stopped and interrogated by them because we were travelling in a yellow cab at night. The use of public transport by women in Karachi, especially at night, is a big no-no, but you’d think that in the worst case scenario, there will always be a police mobile or two that you could go running to for protection – except they’re not always around to protect you. The only reason we were released from their penetrating eyes and crudely phrased questioning was because we spoke confidently and appeared to be from influential families. But not everyone is as lucky. More often than not, the common man is completely unaware of his rights and unless you throw in a few names like your dad’s friend who is an IG or someone in the top ranks, you’re done for. They will either threaten to call your family or take you to the police station for a crime that you definitely have not committed, or even pressure you for a bribe. Sometimes, all of this is done in the course of a few minutes for absolutely no reason. If their excuse is that they must take precautions in order to prevent criminal activity, then I wonder who truly believes that. Undoubtedly, there are good men, and even women now, in the police force who work tirelessly to improve the state of affairs, but I can only count them on my fingertips. Simply put, the reason why the conviction rate is so low in Pakistan is not just because the courts are not doing their fair bit of the work – although I will leave that debate for another day – but also because most cases are not even handed over to the public prosecutor. Why? Because half the time they are not genuine to begin with. If I have really partaken in a crime, I should be tried for it. An uncle in the government should not have to come and save the day. And if I have not committed a crime, then I should not be harassed for it. More importantly, I should not need any uncles in the government at all to serve me the justice that is my fundamental right. I am not the first person to complain of this routine oppression and I will surely not be the last. I have heard and witnessed countless horror stories of harassment by the police and as much as I’d like to, I will never grow accustomed to them. These people are supposed to be our saviours and our heroes, not villains whom we need saving from. It is impediment that the common man is aware of his basic rights, such as under what circumstances and by what section of the law his/her vehicle can be searched and if charges are levelled against anyone, they should know which clause(s) of the relevant statute is applicable in their case. This may seem like an insignificant measure to take for survival in Pakistan but knowing your rights is the first step to attaining them. Next time a cop tries to throw you off, let them know you cannot and will not be so easily conned. And if that doesn’t work, call that uncle of yours in the government.


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