Articles on this Page
- 04/01/18--00:00: _Has Farooq Sattar a...
- 04/02/18--05:37: _Dear West Indies, y...
- 04/03/18--05:47: _Malala vs APS survi...
- 04/06/18--03:43: _Karachi – the city ...
- 04/23/18--03:46: _In the absence of p...
- 04/30/18--03:51: _The run for allegia...
- 05/02/18--02:42: _100 is a ‘century’,...
- 05/04/18--05:18: _How a visit to Baba...
- 05/09/18--05:33: _In #PPPvsPTI, Bilaw...
- 05/10/18--03:36: _The reality of publ...
- 05/11/18--05:16: _The tale of May 12,...
- 05/21/18--03:59: _Imran Khan is right...
- 05/23/18--04:11: _Why Karachi’s Burns...
- 05/28/18--02:50: _When the gun is the...
- 06/13/18--04:44: _NA-247: A dictator,...
- 06/18/18--00:00: _I am one of the ‘en...
- 06/30/18--23:00: _The disgruntled PTI...
- 07/03/18--03:04: _Dear Shehbaz Sharif...
- 07/06/18--03:38: _Tête-a-tête with Be...
- 07/07/18--03:07: _Paradise from a dif...
- 04/01/18--00:00: Has Farooq Sattar and Amir Khan’s “leadership” ended MQM-P for good?
- 04/06/18--03:43: Karachi – the city where your ‘mochi’ can also mend your soul
- 05/02/18--02:42: 100 is a ‘century’, not a tournament!
- 05/21/18--03:59: Imran Khan is right, Pakistan should have more than four provinces
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) recently removed Farooq Sattar from the convenership of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P). Interestingly, the petition was not filed by any rival party; rather, it was filed by the Rabita Committee of MQM-P. They also challenged the intra-party election held by the Sattar group. Sattar decided to challenge the decision of the ECP in the Supreme Court of Pakistan and subsequently, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) restored him back to his position. The damage, however, has been done, and it is deep. Back in the day, the MQM used to have a unique attraction for the youth of Karachi, and I was one of those who started supporting the party since its very first parliamentary election. I have witnessed the many ups and downs of the MQM living in Karachi and through the mainstream media. However, I ended up joining the party system itself a year before the 2013 elections. During those times, the party leadership was going through a crucial period in London. Even though Altaf Hussain and his team managed to win the 2013 election in Karachi, deep in my heart I remained dissatisfied with the result. What followed after was the start of MQM’s downfall. An unpleasant event took place when almost 50 workers assailed the senior leaders outside the Karachi headquarters. Sadly, this event marked the meltdown of MQM’s prodigious discipline. After massive propaganda and crackdown, winning the NA-246 seat was a great opportunity for the MQM to settle its differences with the forces that were currently not in favour of the party. Nevertheless, the senior leadership in London missed a great opportunity due to an impetuous speech. It is true that the absentee leadership of the MQM is in itself a major issue: including Hussain’s infamous speeches that usually landed the party in hot water. Despite this, Hussain was somehow able to keep the house under control and the vote bank intact, while permanently residing in London. This was proven in the local body elections of 2015. However, the damage done by Sattar and Amir Khan to MQM is irreparable in many ways. In a year they have brought the party to its knees, and have transformed into nothing more than tools. It is important to look back a year and question, how many issues of the people of urban Sindh have been raised and resolved by the MQM? Whether it is the garbage disposal issue or the cases of missing persons in Karachi, the people have been left alone on the streets without any representation or voice. Maintaining a healthy work relationship with powerful forces is different, but becoming a pawn in the game is unimaginable for a party like the MQM. It’s almost as if they’ve turned to another Muhajir Qaumi Movement (Haqiqi) without violence. Pakistani political parties are already divided on the basis of ethnicity; the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has inherently become a party for Sindh, while the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) roars for Punjab. Similarly, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has failed to garner support outside the confines of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P); therefore, all the divisions within the MQM have left voters in urban Sindh in the middle of nowhere. MQM-P is close to its second birthday after splitting from its leadership, but they are still unable to resolve petty issues of party constitution and convenership – making their voters and supporters a laughing stock in front of the country. Their take on the senate nominations left many like me in shock, not expecting such behaviour from leaders like Faisal Subzwari, Sattar and Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. Their brawl not only cost them the senate seats, but also left me in pain, as I thought back to the days when the MQM took pride in its cultural values. Above all, the appointment of Kamran Tessori as the deputy convener shattered the last hopes of supporters like me, who always saw merit-based and middle class leadership as the pride of the party. I wrapped up my journey with the MQM in the beginning of 2017. It is not only me, but many people from Karachi, who have stopped taking interest in politics; not because we have lost awareness, but because the non-serious behaviour by the leadership of the MQM has broken our hearts. Many people in Karachi are still optimistic about the MQM, but repair is only possible if this leadership comes out of personal interests and puts the supporters first. Sattar should run the party with a democratic structure and not like his private entity, which is the only way other party leaders will accept him and trust him in the future. Similarly, Khan should also show some flexibility in creating working space for Sattar; after all, he has given 35 years to the party and can be a great asset for parliamentary expertise. At the end of the day, Sattar’s removal or restoration is not a victory or a loss for any one group – I see it as a complete loss for both groups, and more importantly, for their supporters. MQM’s supporters and its vote bank remain untied on the name of one man, and this particular individual needs to be fearless and pat the backs of the senior leaders to show strength. Otherwise, the MQM will only be left in books of political history, and Karachi will once again start voting for a third party, leaving the MQM in a place much like the Jamat-e-Islami (JI).
It’s slowly creeping in, one match at a time. Flags are being rolled out. Hats, paint and whistles are being bought. There are inconceivable traffic jams, and mercifully long ticket lines. You’re afraid to be excited, for fear of it being taken away. You silently pray everything goes smoothly. Putting on your green jerseys, you wear your flashiest smile and plead with the cameras, convincing every foreigner that you are safe, and they will be too. You look around at the sea of green around you, and fight back the tears as, after almost a decade, you once again hear the roars at Karachi’s National Stadium. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiqQNupjaq0 Nine years is a long time. Governments have changed, the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has been launched, Pakistan spectacularly won the Champions Trophy final last year, we managed to win two Oscars and a Nobel Peace Prize, and yet, our stadiums were left abandoned. There were rumblings of too much cricket happening in the world, including right next door, and yet tragically none was taking place in our own backyard. We were nomads, as our team played in empty grounds in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), racking up wins in sheer silence. In 2015, Zimbabwe gave us a shot with three T20s in Lahore, and we celebrated with the kind of thirst and obsession that can only emerge after losing something you really love. Cricket has been ‘coming home’ to Lahore for some time now, with the World XI, the PSL Final 2017 and the Sri Lankan Tour, but Karachi had remained in the shadows until recently. Yesterday, the West Indies team took a chance on Karachi, and played only the second T20 International ever on the soil of the National Stadium. This was a moment so deep and so relevant, that when the national anthem stopped playing midway, you could hear an entire stadium sing as one with pride. https://twitter.com/sawerapasha/status/980461035483226119 https://twitter.com/westindies/status/980175608784281602 My 17-year-old brother walked into the National Stadium for the first time in his life yesterday. He was eight-years-old, the last time a match was played here. This is a moment that can never be taken away from this great city. The jazba (passion) it feels for this sport was once taken for granted. No one is taking it for granted any longer. There was much speculation before the match. Would water be available? Could we take our car? What time would the gates close? We were ready to brave the heat and any hurdle that came along the way, as long as we made it there before the toss. Things went smoothly – far better than we had expected – and we were comfortably seated in a nearly packed stadium for the next four hours. Perhaps the greatest let down of the night was that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was unable to fill all 28,000 seats in a city of approximately 20 million. With no marketing for this series and the PSL final played only seven days earlier, the impact could be felt on game day. The Iqbal Qasim and Nasimul Ghani enclosures were virtually completely empty – the once general stands now having been converted to VIP. Mismanagement of ticket sales also took place, with false rumours of all three matches being sold out being spread early on in the week, only for new to later emerge that tickets were still available the night before. However, none of this could dampen the spirits of the crowd. They were here to celebrate. To thank West Indies. To cheer on Shoaib Malik’s sixes. To watch the enigma that is Mohammad Amir bowl. To marvel at Sarfraz Ahmed’s first match on his home turf. Hussain Talat continued his PSL form in his international debut, getting awarded the Man of the Match. Hasan Ali’s signature pose had the spectators on their feet. Malik’s hat-trick had us on the edge of our seats. As an entire stadium chanted Amir’s name, you could feel the goosebumps as he turned to acknowledge the crowd. https://twitter.com/76Shadabkhan/status/980521464280514560 This was as much a novelty for the players as it was for us. From the hilarious signs carried by the crowd, to the immense respect shown to the opposing team, the magnitude of yesterday’s match was lost on no one. We cheered when West Indies took our wickets, we danced to their boundaries – cricket was winning, Karachi was on a high, and we would remain eternally grateful. https://twitter.com/nakaamrade/status/980518113396523009 It doesn’t matter which of their stars came. After all, nobody will ever care for the scorecard at the end of this series. We left the stadium with our voices hoarse and the beginning of Monday blues, but the adrenaline we felt is still alive and pumping. Nine years of history was overcome with one match, in a city that had been waiting with baited breath for this very moment. As Pakistan scored 203 and bowled out the visitors for 60, we walked out looking on to the floodlights, as this was our moment. Cricket wasn’t just home – it had finally arrived in Karachi.
It was in 2014 – while I was studying for my Masters in Europe – that a German classmate of mine, upon getting to know I am from Pakistan, showed me a picture of Malala Yousafzai receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. I can recall chatter in the classroom of European students about Malala’s bravery, and the hardships she faced as she pursued an education in Pakistan. This was one of the rare moments of my life when I took great pride in belonging to the same country as Malala, and for all the activism that I do, including this very piece, I believe that I would rather say #IamMalala than #IamnotMalala. Malala recently returned to Pakistan for a short trip, and true to its form, social media was filled with absurd and derogatory memes comparing Malala to the victims of the Army Public School (APS) attack. This was an exercise trying very hard to prove the point that out of the two heroes, we have to choose just one. Admittedly, both Malala and the APS victims are our heroes, and given the shortage of heroes in this country, I suggest we accept them both, rather than forming an unnecessary competition to pick one. https://twitter.com/Irumkhan40/status/979234985726136321 https://twitter.com/born___Soldier/status/979287016474017792 https://twitter.com/ZebaQadar/status/979317859569553409 To the people who have seen these memes and are comparing one with the other, I would just like to assert that the comparison is invalid. Malala spent 15 years of her life in one of the most remote areas of Pakistan. She has seen shelling, gunfire, and witnessed actual warfare during her childhood; yet she stayed in her own village, continued her education, openly challenged the Taliban, and eventually, invited a bullet in her head for her activism. For Malala, this bullet was not accidental, it was a certainty; a threat to silence her for speaking up about the atrocities of the Taliban. What the Taliban could not silence, they tried to eliminate entirely. This is an extraordinary case of bravery. As a Pakistani man who has lived in Karachi, I wouldn’t even leave my home in 2012 when the city resembled Mogadishu. I was too afraid, and wanted to avoid any danger to my health or my property. It takes only a few special, daring ones among us who challenge the fear and push the bar further for the rest of us. Out of all the people protesting against Malala, especially the private school teachers and students, none have ever volunteered to teach or study at a public school in Swat, or any other region where there is an ongoing military operation. These are well-fed, fortunate Pakistanis who have the luxury to reside in urban centres, who shamelessly charge a lot of money for education in a poor country, and yet denounce a girl from a rural area who stands up for education. The APS attack was an atrocity of a different vein, as the school was a symbol of security for children in an urban centre. The land was relatively safe and there were no imminent threats, rather, it was considered the safest environment for children to study in an unsafe country. The attack was shocking and broke the country, but it does seem unfair to bring up a comparison that does justice to neither of our heroes. For instance, when it comes to Kashmir and Palestine, which region would you support to be liberated first? Which cause deserves your attention and your activism? The answer is both, because both of them contain people who are suffering and striving to achieve freedom. If we can see that and support both, then why is it that when it comes to Malala, our so-called private schools are running a shameful campaign and unnecessarily maligning a girl who is only standing up and doing the right thing? After all, what is it that we hate Malala for? Do we hate her for speaking up, or do we hate her for surviving? It is very easy to comment on Malala and her family, and how they left the country once she was shot. However, it is also easy to imagine the same people who attack Malala booking a one-way ticket out of the country the first chance they get if it was their family or their children being directly threatened or attacked. Everyone wants to protect their children, and Malala’s parents are no different. What is pinching our society is that Malala was brave enough to stay and endure, and was brave enough to stand up to the Taliban, until she had to leave the country in a coma to quite literally save her life. Many of us who are criticising Malala have lived a life of privilege. We live in cities, drive on roads and send our kids to school in vans without the fear they will be stopped and attacked with guns. We do not hear gunfire, or let our children witness any kind of violent content. Our kids are not growing up seeing military operations from the windows of their houses. In fact, we are privileged enough to have the option of escaping whenever we want. Malala, on the other hand, lived in a conflict zone and spent the early years of her teenage life facing harsh realities. Despite this, she continued the fight for her education and went out that day to give her exam. Before being shot in the head, the shooter inquired who Malala was. Any kid, or for that matter, any adult would lie in that moment, but Malala bravely addressed the man by saying, “I am Malala.” Comparing an innocent girl shot in the head to other innocent children shot at school – how has it come to this? Is there a competition over how we let our children get shot in this country? Has our hate for Malala increased so much that nothing remains sacred – not even the victims of APS? Would we have cared about Malala had she died that day, or would we have respected her more if she had stayed and was targeted once again by the Taliban? Malala is a symbol of bravery – we can hate her for it, but we cannot deny it. A Nobel laureate and a good human being, she has experienced the true danger that emerged under the rule of the Taliban in our country, and survived. The Taliban were defeated, and Malala emerged victorious. In every sense of the word, Malala is a hero, and if our own ignorance stands in the way of us recognising that, then we really are not worthy of heroes in this country.
Karachi is home to the most diverse of populations across Pakistan. Muslims, non-Muslims, Shia, Sunni, Muhajir, Balochi, Sindhi, Pashtun, Kashmiri, and also many other minority groups; many a people have found home here. Some of them love Karachi, others hate it. But Karachi has embraced them all – giving them the freedom to be themselves. Some folks weave dreams during the day. Some have adopted a nocturnal lifestyle and work during the night. Some read Jane Austen, while some unfalteringly quote Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Some revere and find solace in its shrines. And yet, others destroy the very sanctity of those shrines. Some try to restore its glory, while others try to slaughter this goose to steal all its golden eggs. All of this happens at once, and this diversity is what makes Karachi both beautiful and painful. Vibrant and colourful, yet unpredictable and violent: Karachi is as much love as it is traumatic. This plurality is most evident in the older, more “established” vicinities of the city – where walking craftsmen are seen in abundance. Each of these daily wagers boasts of the most unique skill sets, and in the process, trigger a pulsating energy from within themselves. It’s easy to overlook their presence in the crowd, for their existence has been internalised into the very fabric that makes up the city. So behind every ‘kachraywala’ (garbage-man), ‘rehriwala’ (peddler), ‘phalwala’ (fruit vendor), ‘makaiwala’ (corn seller) and ‘bandarwala’ (monkey charmer) is a story waiting to be told. And this is where Khan comes into play. Khan is the resident mochi (cobbler) in the older part of Clifton, where I live. He deals in an assortment of wares: from mending and polishing footwear, re-doing broken zippers and refurbishing an aged leather handbag, making it seem almost as good as new. Not one of his most regular customers, I visit his location on a strictly need-be bases; a need which arose recently on my way home from work. While I waited for my shoe, I took a few minutes to get to know him. Referred to simply as Khan, the man is reluctant to talk about his craft, which is one of the oldest jobs in the city and usually provides opportunity to settlers coming from the northern areas of the country. 42-year-old Khan took over his father’s mochi business after the latter retired four years ago. As he converses with another customer and the adjoining bun kebab wala, it appears that he has a knack for mending souls, too. Hailing from Peshawar, Khan’s family has been in this business forever and moved to Karachi some four decades ago, when they felt they would have better business here. Being the only mochis in the area for a very long time now gave his family a monopolistic edge in terms of experience, no competition, and a general awareness of the area they worked in. Sporting a pensive look, Khan gave me a puzzled expression when I asked him how “business” was faring these days. He smiled at first, then shrugged his shoulders and shook his head with despair. Pointing to an upcoming shopping mall nearby, he asked,
“barre barre dukaan khulgaye hain. Kaise muqabla hoga unse?” (Big shopping malls have opened here. How do I compete with them?)He talks about a time when a cobbler’s business was a dignified business, so to speak. That was apparently when an entire network of mochis existed, each of whom specialised in a particular technique – polishing, mending, or repairing, and no mochi had any qualms about referring a customer to the needed specialist. To quote him, business started declining in the 90s when Bata and Servis became household names. People were suddenly able to polish their own shoes, and shoe stores encouraged people to return to them to get miscellaneous repair work done. If business and resource conditions are conducive, Khan wants to set up his own shop soon. However, as our conversation progresses, I detect a hint of cynicism. He revealed his family has been working in this area since a time when roti cost only 10 ana’s (1/6th of a rupee), and bus fares even less. According to Khan, now even Rs 600 is not nearly enough to survive! I notice Khan has a very typical Pathan look; with a fair complexion and coloured eyes. He then gives me a 100 watt smile and discloses that when he initially set up his stall, the area was sparsely populated and everything was vacant. He saw the entire area flourish right before his eyes. Lost in the alleys of nostalgia, Khan busied himself in finishing up my sandal. In the seven minutes I spent conversing with Khan, I had a sudden ‘aha!’ moment, wherein I realised the very irony of his existence. His “labour” is an integral part of our daily lives; we refer to him by his profession, yet are simultaneously and completely oblivious to his absolute anonymity. I tried to put myself in his shoes and wonder what dreams he, and all those whose professions are stuck under the anonymity of being a ‘wala’, dream of. This had me thinking: Khan appeared to have a strong sense of ownership of his business, coupled with pride and love for the same. Can we somehow emulate these same qualities within our own everyday affairs? And can we then have a domino effect to trigger these same virtues across everyone we work with? Khan suddenly seemed many, many miles away from me. I didn’t have the answers to any of my own questions, yet all this time I took his life as a mochi at face value, sparking a sense of shame and perhaps even embarrassment within me. I quickly looked around to see if anyone noticed, but this is Karachi, after all. Nobody seemed to care, or even know, as I breathed a sigh of relief. In the meantime, as Khan packed my sandals and I paid the meagre amount he quoted – I was ready to finally go home.
Pakistanis are an opinionated people; from fruit vendors to domestic workers, all are as articulate in politics as any academic or political analyst. But these opinions vary, and they vary drastically on almost every major issue confronting the country. Be it Malala Yousafzai, Imran Khan or even kite flying, we hold extreme, polar opposite views on each matter. The recent judicial activism of the Supreme Court, demonstrated by the Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, is no exception. There are, as usual, two sides – one fervently supports the actions of the Chief Justice, while at the other end are those who criticise him for bringing the superior judiciary in disrepute. Let us discuss how these diverging fault lines came to appear. It began with the verdict of the Panama case, with the nation divided as to the authenticity of the judgment. Some called it an unprecedented landmark decision that would lead to the elimination of corruption and exploitation from our society, whereas others bemoaned it for being a travesty of justice. Once the Supreme Court had adjudicated upon Panamagate, the Chief Justice started to focus on social welfare issues, including the provision of basic facilities such as clean drinking water, improving healthcare facilities and the educational structure of legal and medical professions in Pakistan. These actions have had a divisive effect as well – there are people who say he is a beacon of hope for the people, and then there are those who are calling him out for interfering in the domain of other institutions. It is noteworthy that both sides hold some merit in their respective arguments. Those who support the actions of the Chief Justice are right in pointing out that were it not for his suo motus, no one in the government would have paid any attention to the miserable conditions of public hospitals throughout the country. To take one example, in Sindh, the duo of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has been ruling Karachi for the last 30 years. Yet, both parties have failed to resolve the water crisis of the city. But no one cared, no one took notice, and no one was held accountable. It was the current Chief Justice who raised this matter, grilled public officials on their apathetic approach towards their duties, and sought immediate reports on the provision of drinking water to the City of Lights. He is being admired because there is no one besides him who is taking up these issues with the government. Perhaps the indifference of provincial governments to the plight of the masses stems from the lack of appreciation on part of the people over the importance of their vote. Due to intermittent derailment of the democratic process in the country, Pakistanis have not been able to fully grasp the notion of living in a democratic society. A society where those elected to govern are answerable and accountable for their actions, and where town hall meetings are a norm so the link between politicians and constituents remains intact. In the absence of these systems, someone had to take up the mantle of speaking for the silent, and bringing to light issues that have deliberately been brushed under the carpet for far too long. This is where the Chief Justice’s role is so admirable. On the flip side, the reasoning states it is not the judiciary’s role to tell the elected representatives of the people how to govern. If there are issues, the government will deal with them. It is said the judiciary’s recent activism is in fact an intrusion by one organ onto the affairs of another, which is causing harm to democracy in the country by giving a bad name to the executive and legislative branches of the state. Secondly, fingers are raised towards the Chief Justice to first put his own house in order before blaming others for incompetence. The fact is that the lower judiciary is suffering from numerous problems inhibiting speedy justice, including century-old, worn out civil and criminal procedural laws, a culture of adjournments, ineffective case management, and pervasive corruption. All of these factors have combined to utterly tarnish the image of the courts, so much so that an aggrieved person would think twice before approaching the court of law for relief. However, what was heartening to observe was how recently, while speaking at a judicial gathering in Quetta, the Chief Justice was swift in accepting this argument as fair, and vowed to bring cogent legal reforms in the judicial system to address this issue. This acceptance of fault holds great significance for the nation, because rarely do we see the head of a state institution openly admitting the shortcomings of his organisation, and it is only when one admits a fault can they go about fixing the problem. Of all the Chief Justices of Pakistan in recent memory, the incumbent seems the most determined to actually bring about significant change in the system of justice. Although the Chief Justice has rejected the criticism of his approach in belting out justice with a stern hand, if he is able to succeed in this epic reformatory mission, he would be doing the nation an incalculable favour for generations to come. On the other hand, since every coin has two sides, if he does not live up to this promise of re-structuring the judicial organ, it is inevitable he may well be remembered by the masses as the “Panama Judge” who spoke of lofty ideals of change but was unable to translate that vision into anything meaningful.
With only a few months to the next general elections, politicians are fast jumping ships to maximise their chances of getting re-elected. These career politicians, or “electables”, are the evergreen lot who choose to associate with the political party likeliest to win, as opposed to aligning with a certain ideology. If their allegiances are so fickle, and if they jump ship at the slightest hint of turbulence, why do political parties accept these mercurial characters in their folds? The answer lies in the dynamics of electoral politics. In order to win, any candidate relies on the sum of their personal vote bank and the vote bank of the party that issued them the ticket. In some constituencies, mostly in urban areas, the bulk of this sum comes from the party vote bank. Asad Umar, for instance, won the NA-48 by-election in 2013 primarily because voters in the constituency sided with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). In other constituencies, particularly in parts of South Punjab, interior Sindh and Balochistan, some candidates are so influential that they win without the support of any political party. Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, for example, won NA-194 in 2013 purely because of his personal vote bank, defeating candidates supported by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the PTI. Most constituencies, however, are somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, where winning an election needs the resources, campaign machinery and election-day efficiency of the electable, as well as the political party’s vote bank. The significant role played by electables in Punjab’s politics dates back to the 1920’s when the Unionist Party was created, which was a group of influential landlords and pirs. In 1937, the Unionists won 95 provincial legislative assembly seats, while the All India Muslim League (AIML) could win only one seat. The following decade saw an exodus of scions of powerful political families to the Muslim League, with names like Mumtaz Daultana and Feroze Khan Noon joining the party. In the fateful February 1946 polls, AIML won 73 seats, whilst the Unionists only managed to get 20. Subsequent generations of these families sided with Ayub Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The February 1985 elections, held on a non-party basis, obviated the need for electables to woo a political party. Wealthy landlords and industrialists, on the basis of their personal power and influence, got elected from urban and rural constituencies. Once in the assemblies, they created yet another iteration of the Muslim League. In 2002, they deserted their then-leader Nawaz Sharif, and created the Pakistan Muslim League-QuaideAzam (PML-Q), since winning the election required support of the powerful military establishment. The marriage of convenience between political parties and electables is perhaps best exemplified by how these same electables migrated back to Nawaz’s PML-N a decade later, where they were gleefully accepted back. Now, wherever dictated by the harsh realities of electoral politics, the same lot is unabashedly switching to PTI. For five years, Imran Khan’s PTI was successfully able to portray itself as the most effective opposition party; on the floor of the house, in the courts and on the streets, they have been fighting the PML-N tooth and nail. While PTI stole the limelight, PPP in Punjab has slowly faded into oblivion. In the last two major by-elections – NA-120 Lahore and NA-154 Lodhran – PPP’s candidates bagged 1,414 and 3,175 votes respectively, which was less than 2% of the total votes polled. It is therefore no surprise that stalwarts such as Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Nazar Gondal and Nadeem Afzal Chan have defected to PTI. Apart from a handful of constituencies, PPP’s future in Punjab appears even bleaker than their recent past, and PTI is expected to bag the lion’s share of the anti-PML-N vote. On the other hand, since July 2017, Nawaz has been in the eye of a politico-legal storm. The apex court initially disqualified him as the prime minister, then as the party chief, and most recently, closed the door on him to Parliamentary politics for life. Regular National Accountability Bureau (NAB) hearings and an impending conviction have taken the wind out of PML-N’s sails. No surprise then that six MNA’s who had been on the treasury benches for almost five years, suddenly revolted to create the Janoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz (JPSM), and announced to contest the next elections under the same banner. Even before the interim setup has taken over, several sitting MNA’s such as Raza Hayat Hiraj, Mian Tariq Mehmood, Nisar Jutt and Chaudhary Bilal Virk have left the PML-N for PTI. If media reports are to be believed, once the assemblies complete their constitutional term, 20 to 50 more electables are ready to leave the PML-N, either to contest the next elections independently or on PTI’s ticket. While there have been no major shifts in the political landscape in interior Sindh so far, the situation in Karachi has been tumultuous. After Altaf Hussain’s infamous August 22, 2016 speech, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) found itself rudderless, and in a short span of time was split further into MQM-Bahadurabad and MQM-PIB. This, coupled with Mustafa Kamal’s clean image and Anis Kaimkhani’s organisational expertise, has led to a number of MQM-P workers and leaders joining the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP). With the likes of Anis Advocate, Raza Haroon, Shabbir Kaimkhani and Dr Sagheer Ahmed in PSP, for the first time in three decades, urban Sindh’s mandate may go to a party other than the MQM. In Punjab, apart from a handful of constituencies, no political party has the vote bank to win National Assembly seats without the support of electables. With powerful constituency politicians deserting PML-N and PPP, unlike 2013, no single political party will win a landslide victory in the province that remains the key battleground. Similarly, in Karachi, with seasoned workers and parliamentarians leaving MQM-P for PSP, the latter is expected to play a key role in the post-election scenario. Thus far, the PSP has demonstrated political leanings very different from those of MQM-P, and is less likely to enter into an alliance with PML-N or PPP. Consequently, these shifting loyalties will likely lead to a hung Parliament in the upcoming elections, and therefore, it will be independent candidates from south Punjab and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as well as political parties from smaller provinces, who will determine who forms the next government.
Pink balls, day-night Tests, four-day Tests. I thought they liked to tinker with Test cricket only, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. A few months back, there was a 10-10 tournament in the UAE; not to mention a tournament played on ice in freezing temperature somewhere in Europe. And now, it’s the ‘100 balls’ proposed tournament in England. Who would’ve thought that cricket administrators would toy with the shortest and the most ‘lucrative’ format, the T20. There is a misconception that T20 came into being in 2000s. The T20 format has a history, of course not as rich as ODI and Test cricket, but the format evolved over the years; unlike the ‘100’ which perhaps is nothing more than someone’s imagination at the moment. In the mid-70s, a few Karachi lads installed some lights on a street of Nazimabad and played a cricket match, consisting of 20 overs each. The idea spread like wildfire and it became the most loved format at the club level in the city and later in all parts of country; especially in the holy month of Ramazan when aspiring cricketers played their heart out till the time of dawn. Moreover, Karachi Gymkhana has a long history of hosting 20-20 matches in the metropolis city of Pakistan – Karachi. There is even a 1978 clipping of an Australian newspaper doing rounds on social media, which suggests that 20-overs cricket was being played at some level in Australia in that era. https://twitter.com/AndrewGigacz/status/486479521298669569 One of the reasons of T20’s unprecedented success is that ‘they’ did leave the idea to marinate before implementing it in the domestic structure. Remember Cricket Max? It was nothing more than a festival that died a death in New Zealand. I’m afraid the fate of ‘the 100’ looks no different. According to Andrew Strauss, England director of cricket, the 100 format will attract ‘mums and kids’ towards cricket. He should just watch the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Pakistan Super League (PSL) to change his opinion. The subcontinent could be the best ‘test case’ as far as women and kids are concerned. The passion and verve of women and children in both the leagues is immense. Most of the Indian and Pakistani women take great interest in the games of their respective leagues. In the recent PSL final in Karachi, despite many security hardships, women and children flocked to the National Stadium in Karachi. I’ve seen a seven-year-old boy convert to cricket after watching the Women’s World Cup 2017 tournament. And it wasn’t a ‘smash bang wallop’, but a 50-overs per side tournament. Falling in love with cricket is like falling in love with a boy or a girl. It’s the moment which counts, not the gimmickry surrounding it. Most coaches all over the world would say “stick to the basics”; I wish organisers would pay heed to this advice. Strauss also reckons that ‘The 100’ will reduce the duration of the match. I’m absolutely flabbergasted to think that a difference of mere 20 balls would make a huge difference of innings playing time. It’s the ‘strategic’ time outs and gimmickry in T20s which makes the duration of innings exceed the average time. Interestingly, a cricket nation which is contemplating to make the game shorter has the best average time per innings in T20 tournaments. Out of all the T20 leagues around the world, the NatWest Blast in England consumed the least amount of average time (85 minutes) to complete an innings in 2017-18. https://twitter.com/RicFinlay/status/986034923935969280 According to organisers, the tournament could have 15 six-ball overs in an innings with the final over consisting 10 balls. Isn’t it ironic that a format supposed to ‘simplify’ cricket for women and children will only make things more complicated?
A sense of excitement ran through me as I set foot on the Pakistan's soil. I was participating in the Urs celebrations of Qalandar Baba Auliya, the grand master and founder of Silsila Azeemiyya, commemorated every year on January 27th. In particular, the topic for the International Spiritual Workshop, ‘Man and Human’, had gripped my attention, as I had not seen them as two different points of existence. As I was driven through the streets of Karachi, my heart paced in anticipation of meeting the current patriarch of the Silsila, Khwaja Shamsuddin Azeemi, a renowned Sufi saint and spiritual scholar. Setting foot into the festive yet spiritual atmosphere at the Surjani Township, it seemed to be charged by the energy and love of the benevolent saint, and I began reminiscing over his strive towards the enormous task of humanising mankind for over 60 years! Baba Auliya constantly reminded people of their true existence beyond their body, and brought their focus back to the surge of divine lights within them – their soul. While completing the registration formalities, I remembered his message,
“By the will of God, may my passion be your passion.”What was the passion he wished to instil in us, I wondered? The annual platform aims to rebuild faith and dependency on the automated divine system ordained for the care of mankind. It attempts to save us from the clutches of the egoistic, independent and stressful life of loneliness. It urges the participants to leave their minds behind and operate through their hearts. Staunchly upholding gender equality, the scholar encouraged women like myself to recognise ourselves beyond the limited roles we are expected to play. He even stated the future of spirituality in this world lies in the hearts of women. As I prepared myself to attend the intense full day workshop, I noticed each table, with six to eight participants, being led by a coordinator. It was a perfect demonstration of unity in diversity. People of various nationalities, socioeconomic statuses, and educational and religious backgrounds sat together and contemplated on their existence as individuals, as well as their impact on each other collectively as a society. The coordinators facilitated the exchange of views till we all came to a mutual consensus of our existence as souls, and agreed that love is the universal language that brings this world together. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The workshop venue[/caption] Halfway through the day, I was ushered to the langar (communal meal). I saw this as another platform that brought everyone together. This was a practical lesson that the body and mind needs nothing more but a piece of bread as fodder to survive. The rest of what we need is the high and vibrant spiritual energy emanating from the hearts of people around us. In sum, the workshop intends to regenerate each participant into an experience of humility, unity in diversity, acceptance and love. The workshop pushed me into deep contemplation throughout the night. The profound wisdom we encountered diluted boundaries between rich and poor, educated and illiterate, wise and ignorant, aware and unaware, and believers and non-believers, until we all came to the conclusion of our unified origin as a collective consciousness. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Attending a speech by Khwaja Shamsuddin[/caption] Oh, how beautiful it was to feel human again, in the real sense! The drive to the mazaar (shrine) of Qalandar Baba Auliya the next morning was an uplifting experience on its own. The atmosphere echoed with prayers and songs of devotion. I observed stillness in the faces of those in a deep meditative trance. Eyes lost in ecstasy, no one appeared to be themselves. The light in everyone’s eyes seemed to take their existence to another dimension. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Hazoor Qalandar Baba Auliya’s mazaar[/caption] Everyone was treated equally and fairly throughout. No one was considered more accomplished, or branded a failure. The highlight of the eventful day was the address by Shamsuddin, our spiritual scholar. His message reverberated in the air.
“Hold on to the rope towards God Almighty tightly and together. Think, speak, act and live as the Prophets and men of God do. They lived in the care of God Almighty. This body is only a garment of the soul. Unless you discover yourself, you can never discover God in your heart. One who dies without discovering his soul has not ended his life different from any other creature in this world. Man is created the vicegerent of God, and it is time we all took this responsibility bestowed upon us seriously by performing muraqaba (meditation), zikr (remembrance), and tafakkur (contemplation) on the clues left for us in this universe through God’s marvellous creations.”[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Khwaja Shamsuddin’s address on the final day[/caption] Our hearts were collectively touched by the simplicity with which the profound message was delivered. I found an exuberant joy present in the entire gathering as we realised what we seek is within our own selves to begin with. The participants who showed up fragmented, returned as complete individuals. Voids ceased to exist, as a feeling of completeness took over hearts. Our differences melted, and oneness transpired. The two days of this event – the highlight of the whole year for most of us – passed by in the blink of an eye. The mind thereafter only tries to replay the memory of the visit, knowing the saint has again brought us one step closer to the Divine, and to ourselves. Words fall short. I only know it as Urs, a ceremony of reunion with the Divine and ourselves, and Silsila, an attempt to bead each one of our souls into a formidable and strong chain. All photos: Anuradha Kamath
Finally the people of Karachi can sigh in relief, as the tussle between Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has come to an end, with both parties agreeing to change the venue of their jalsa on May 12th. This conflict between the two parties over what was undoubtedly a petty issue, brought about a violence that the streets of Karachi, though familiar with, have not witnessed in a while. The clashes between workers of both parties over holding their jalsa at the Hakeem Saeed Shaheed ground left several people injured on both sides, while many vehicles were also damaged or set on fire. It is ironic that violence would break out over a jalsa both parties want to conduct on May 12th. For those who don’t remember, this day has a significance in Pakistan’s history, as on May 12, 2007, over 45 people were killed and hundreds were injured when riots erupted between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), backed by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, and the political activists of PPP, Awami National Party (ANP), and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), amongst others, who were all backing the return of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Every year, this day is observed as a black day in the country, and is commemorated to make a point against oppression and violence. What we saw on the roads of Karachi recently was the opposite of the spirit of commemorating this black day, as political workers physically fought and threw stones at each other. The simplest solution was to check which party had official permission to hold a jalsa at the ground, but everyone let their emotions get the best of them, and the leadership present did not intervene while public property was destroyed and workers were beaten up. As per the record of the local government, it was PPP which applied first for permission to hold a jalsa at the venue and got approval from the local authorities, which is why it made sense for them to get the venue. However, once this information was revealed, instead of stepping back, PTI chose to impose their will by suggesting that since they announced their jalsa first, the ground was rightfully theirs. According to our law, as well as basic common sense, this is incorrect, as a mere announcement cannot be equivalent to legal permission. https://twitter.com/BBhuttoZardari/status/993825327121133568 Furthermore, once the situation worsened and the clashes took place, instead of trying to solve the matter peacefully, PTI came up with another petty demand: it would not hold the jalsa at that venue and would look for another, but only if PPP did the same. This was a poor and childish demand by PTI, and is not a good look for a party eyeing a win in the next general elections. Ruling the country requires a cool temperament and skills to resolve conflicts peacefully, and this messy conflict revealed both to be missing within the ranks of PTI, which came out looking worse for wear. The party’s attitude and unwillingness to abide by the law, which clearly did not give them permission to hold a rally, offers a glimpse of what conditions will be like when PTI has some actual power. It also suggests that the days of violence in Karachi are not over yet, and that elements of violence will unfortunately prevail in the local politics of the city for days to come in the wake of upcoming election campaigns. On the one hand, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari made a strong political move in good faith by announcing that PPP will step back to ensure peace and will hold their jalsa elsewhere. This was a sane and robust approach from Bilawal, who should be admired for defusing the tension in the city. However, one does wonder why it took him so long to react, and why the intervention did not take place once violence ensued. Nonetheless, his delayed intervention was better than no response at all. https://twitter.com/BBhuttoZardari/status/993825346112966658 https://twitter.com/BBhuttoZardari/status/993825352903548928 On the other hand, Imran Khan unsurprisingly accused his opponents of attacking PTI workers, and accused PPP of using force against the party. As usual, he chose not to speak about the role of his workers and leadership. If Imran cannot discourage violence or denounce party workers who engage in hooliganism, then how can he claim he is good for Karachi? Completely ignoring the city as he focuses on Punjab, and leaving it to second-tier leadership, will certainly not help his cause. The reality on ground reveals Imran will not be able to grab a majority by winning in Punjab alone, as he is not in the position to get a clean sweep in the province. Imran needs Karachi, and if he cannot take advantage of the space left behind by MQM, then he will witness a repeat of 2013, this time with PPP taking away votes that could have gone to PTI. In fact, Bilawal’s retreat has given PPP a political edge over its opponents. https://twitter.com/ImranKhanPTI/status/993725789051981824 Over the years, we have witnessed how the violence of MQM’s workers was never discouraged, and left to their own devices, and how they almost ruined Karachi. Now that conditions have improved, both Imran and Bilawal need to be better at dejecting such behaviour and taking strict action against those involved. This form of mob violence and burning property is inherently fascist in nature, and if these leaders are incapable of handling their own workers, how can they handle the turmoil that comes alongside the city of Karachi? PPP is an old political party, and should thus behave in accordance with its stature. At the same time, PTI is emerging as one of the biggest parties in the country, and needs to learn the art of politics accordingly; it cannot cry 'foul play' every time, and present itself as the victim in every situation. PTI is on its way to developing a reputation, and if this tendency to bring Karachi to a lockdown does not cease, it will not be long before they are labelled as another MQM in the country. Both PTI and Imran can learn from the young Bilawal – politics is not always about being on the offensive. Sometimes, politics is the art of a tactical retreat, where the one to step back is the one who gains political points; in this case, Bilawal. The tragedy that took place on May 12, 2007 reminds us how quickly the inability to understand an opponent’s point of view can lead an entire city to the path of violence. Hopefully, both parties in this case will learn the lesson from this unfortunate incident, and infuse tolerance within their workers and supporters, especially as they commemorate one of the blackest days in our history. In a bid to fill the vacuum created by the absence of MQM, both parties will have to understand the solution is not to become like MQM, by creating another monster in Karachi. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said,
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”
On March 18th at 11pm, my nana (maternal grandfather) developed an acute shortness of breath, and was admitted to the Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) at the People’s Medical College and Hospital in Nawabshah. Arriving at the hospital, the first thing I noticed was that there was no wheelchair available to take a critical patient inside the ward. Being a fourth year medical student aware of the poor hospital conditions in my city, I took my own blood pressure apparatus and oximeter with me, and immediately checked his vitals; something the doctor, who had not yet arrived, had not done. Even though my nana’s oxygen saturation had dropped to 68%, instead of putting an oxygen mask first, the doctor was keen on conducting an Electrocardiography (ECG). I tried to be patient, but seeing my nana’s deteriorating condition, I shouted at the staff to put a mask on him. However, none of the staff members responded to the severity of the occasion. I then went to the doctor, urging him to accelerate the process, but to my disgust he arrogantly replied,
“You are not at Aga Khan Hospital, where you can get everything available.”I was infuriated! What kind of humanity are they serving, when they don’t even know how to behave with the concerned and worried family of a patient? This was the moment I realised the class differences that exist in our society. We had always preferred private care in the past and were thus anxious about not being provided quality care at a public hospital, which is where we ended up during this emergency. However, for the underprivileged, this is their only option. They trust the doctors, and this itself is a huge responsibility. Being a medical student myself, I could tell where the doctors were messing up in their treatment, making me think of the hundreds of people who come here every day and trust this incompetent hospital to do its best when it comes to saving the lives of their loved ones. My cousin and I then took our nana to the hospital bed, where I fixed the oxygen issue by myself. In the meantime, we remained in contact with our uncle, who is a physician, and he kept guiding us about the procedure to follow. In medical school, when we are on our rounds, our attendings tell us to ask the patient as many pertinent questions as possible, particularly when it comes to drug history. In comparison, we were hardly asked any questions about his history at all. The next blunder the hospital made was to put my nana on Moxifloxacin without inquiring about his history of allergies, for my nana was allergic to the Fluoroquinolone group of antibiotics. This mistake drained all the hope out of me, as I stared at the innocent face of my grandfather, who was fighting for his life with every breath. I then requested the staff to keep antihistamines ready, in case of an allergic reaction. Four hours passed by, and the doctor hardly paid my nana a visit. The CCU is a special care unit, which is why the doctor has to monitor the patient’s vitals every now and then. However, in this unit, things were quite the opposite. I was surprised to see this happen, even though I wasn’t new to this. I saw it often. Only when my own loved one was suffering did I realise the real agony of having a deeply flawed healthcare system. After a while, my nana’s oxygen saturation began to stabilise, and we were finalising arrangements to shift him to a private hospital in Karachi. Like most things in life, this did not go as planned. Suddenly, my nana’s condition deteriorated again as he went into cardiac arrest, once again putting his life in the hands of these inept ‘professionals’. The doctor proceeded to give CPR, but the bed my nana was lying on, in the CCU, had a defective crank and would not lower. We had to physically carry my nana to the bed next to him while the doctor was performing CPR simultaneously, and that was the moment we lost him. The doctor kept on doing CPR and defibrillation, but my nana was gone. With him, I lost my greatest inspiration. Since his death, I find it hard to sleep, for I keep replaying the events of that day in my head. After all, is fixing a broken bed at a hospital really that hard? In cardiac emergencies, you cannot afford even a single minute of delay. If the bed was not broken, would my nana still be alive? Whenever you ask any medical student or doctor their reason for choosing this profession, they will enthusiastically tell you they want to serve humanity. Now, I have begun questioning our objective. Looking at the current state of our hospitals, I do not think we are serving humanity at all! Not only that, we are growing increasingly apathetic about it all. Recently, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that Pakistan possesses the highest infant mortality rate in the world, and no one bats an eye. Not a single statement was released from the Health Department. Weeks after my nana’s death, the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD) was inaugurated in Nawabshah, alongside several centres in other parts of Sindh. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) promises the hospital will provide state-of-the-art care without any cost. Building new hospitals is well and good, and much needed, but what about existing healthcare? Why is no one interested in the state of our public hospitals? An Acute Emergency Care unit with no wheel chairs, very few working monitors, broken beds and smelly oxygen masks, which I am sure have been used by hundreds of patients without being cleaned. His entire life, my nana took extra care of cleanliness. He used to boil water before drinking, and would take it with him wherever he went. Show him a dirty spot, and he would start cleaning it himself. That same man ended up dying in the dirtiest hospital in the country. Minutes before his death, his last image was of an overflowing dustbin and a stray cat sleeping by the side of his bed. He kept looking at me, as if wanting to complain. How uncomfortable was he in his last moments? Why did he deserve to go like this? My grandmother keeps asking me,
“Did he get the right treatment?”I reply in the affirmative, for I do not want her to live with the same regret I will live with for the rest of my life. Medical negligence is a growing epidemic in Pakistan. Doctors fail to take detailed history from their patients, and make diagnosis without lab tests; prescribing antibiotics unnecessarily, or suggesting treatments without asking for all possible symptoms. To add to this, when you go to the hospital, the instruments are unsterilised, the floors are dirty, and the place is overcrowded and understaffed. During our five years of medical education, we are not sensitised to our additional healthcare issues, or what we as future doctors can do to change it. Instead, we are expected to mingle in the same environment, and conduct the same ill practices. Not once in my three years as a student have I seen anyone raising their voice about our malfunctioned healthcare system. And even when someone does, it does not get the attention or awareness it deserves. Seeing what hospitals are like from the perspective of someone bringing in a loved one, I have lost my faith in our medical education system. Doctors are converted into robots; to go on with our day, to work within this existing flawed system without complaining. If you are a future or a practicing doctor, at least try to play your part in improving the quality of Pakistan’s healthcare system. No matter how tired, busy or desensitised you are, please do not neglect a patient. For you, they might just be another unwell human to fix, but to somebody else, they mean everything!
What started as a casual chat over tea amid the winter season, turned out to be quite a tumultuous tale of violence and mayhem that erupted on May 12, 2007 in Karachi, narrated by one of the perpetrators himself. While sitting at roadside cafe in a dingy locality of Hyderabad and sipping tea with my friends, I somehow ended up chatting with this ordinary-looking chap (who would later identify himself as one of the perpetrators), a man who claimed to be distantly acquainted with one of my friends. The story he proceeded to narrate in a disdainful manner, as if sharing just another college prank gone haywire, was nothing short of a plot straight out of a Bollywood mafia noir. On May 11, 2007, the perpetrator, along with seven other party workers, was summoned to reach Karachi from Hyderabad for an assignment. Subsequently, they reached Karachi during the late hours of May 11th. They were ordered to spend the night somewhere near Shahrah-e-Faisal, completely unaware of what was expected of them the next day. Of course, the only art they had an expertise in was creating mayhem in urban areas. Pelting stones, burning tires, and later “graduating” into full throttle arson attacks were all tricks ingrained in these men from an early age. All such nefarious activities were considered perfectly kosher, since they were sticking it out for the sake of an ideology they had pledged to uphold. Slowly but gradually, their cell phones started to ring, and a horrific assignment was charged upon them. They were ordered to obstruct party workers supporting the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, with the objective to prove he was not welcome in Karachi. To the majority of these men, this assignment seemed routine, but for some of them, it was like being confined inside a ‘hurt locker’. The incessant ringing of cell phones created a queer crescendo, perturbing some amongst the pack who were nervous. The voices from the other side of the receivers became frantic and brash, ordering the pack to “go for the kill” and to “take no prisoners”. By now, all the members of the group were having their own brainstorming session on how to go about the high and mighty “mission” they were about to carry out. A few men who had a morsel of conscience left in them were at a loss as to why such heavy-handed treatment was needed, and wished they could magically disappear. Or in the worst case, they prayed this “tour of duty” would be their last! The next morning, as the group waited for the moment of action with bated breath, a speeding van came along, loaded with automatic assault rifles, pump-action shot guns, as well as handguns and cartridges stacked on the floor of the vehicle. This was just an hour before the action began. Soon, the workers of the opposing political parties appeared on Shahrah-e-Faisal, chanting slogans while carrying welcoming banners or waving their respective party flags. When this pack received the order over the phone to aim and shoot, one of them retorted to his handler, informing him that the protestors had not threatened or attacked them in any way, since they were positioned on a flyover about 40-feet high. This was to no avail, for the man was told to shut up, leading one of his comrades to start shooting straight at the defenceless agitators, who were caught off guard by these men. https://www.facebook.com/sohailsami.arain/videos/1764746856897013/ These shooters emptied hundreds of cartridges that day, slugging them out as if gathering booty would get them a medal of honour. A supply van appeared again after an hour or so with more weapons, and one of the goons inside patted the back of the man in charge of these shooters. Later, they returned unharmed to Hyderabad, with their commanders joyously lauding them over the phone. I was at a loss for words as I heard this story, failing to believe my ears or grasp what just transpired. Knowing not much could be done, I quickly bid farewell to this ungodly gathering and made my way home. However, I could not help dwelling on this incident, and how the events of that Black Saturday live on more than a decade later. As a commoner who has lived in Karachi his entire life and commutes to work every day, I had an inkling that the ruling party in Karachi back then was unwelcoming towards political opponents, but also took comfort in the fact that the violence of the 90’s was over, and naively believed mass violence to be a thing of the past. However, all such preconceived notions evaporated around midday on May 12th, as I witnessed violence of the worst kind near Guru Mandir, which was littered with empty cartridges, stones, burning vehicles and dozens of seemingly angry men running around and shooting straight, with any and all moving things being ‘targets’. May 12th was supposed to exhibit Karachi’s solidarity with the deposed chief justice and against the tyranny of Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship, but those who were brave enough to come out and welcome justice were instead tormented with naked aggression. Perhaps many political parties were there to gain political mileage, but there is no denying that in the aftermath of that day, social and political polarisation in Karachi increased manifold. I still remember living in fear, and avoiding transit through areas dominated by certain groups, for no apparent reason or rhyme; just the fear of facing violence. Since then, a bloody trail of civilians attacked in targeted killings went on unabated and unaccounted for several years, until the Karachi Operation took place under the National Action Plan (NAP) and finally put an end to this pandemonium. The recent clash between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) over holding a jalsa at the same venue, in Karachi on May 12th, reopened the agonising wounds from 11 years ago. The age-old proverb “violence begets violence” still fails to get through the heads of these political bigwigs. The culture of violence and intolerance which has evolved in Karachi after decades of lawlessness has torn apart the cosmopolitan social fabric the city of lights was once known for. Further immaturity exhibited by the political parties who claim to have a strong following in Karachi may not bode well during the upcoming General Elections. Eleven years after the Black Saturday, Karachiites still hope the relative peace and stability that has been achieved will continue in the future. There now lies a political vacuum after the fragmentation of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which is why any wrong step or hastiness shown by the PPP or PTI may result in the deterioration of the already delicately balanced law and order situation of Karachi. Volatility may be in Karachi’s very nature, for violence is definitely easy to trigger, but Karachiites have had enough of this violent form of politics.
Whenever I make any comments about Pakistan having more provinces and smaller units, the reaction is always the same,
“You want to divide the country? Are you a RAW agent or what?”So when Imran Khan promised the creation of a South Punjab, it was a pleasant surprise to hear him say something intelligent for once. Imran made this promise recently as he welcomed turncoats from South Punjab into his party; defectors who enjoyed the perks and privileges of being MNAs for the past five years while saying nothing about creating a new province, until now. While supporting the demand by the Janoobi Punjab Suba Mahaaz (JPSM) for a South Punjab province, Imran said,
“I believe that it is very difficult to administer big units.”He went on to say,
“The power is centred in Lahore and there is a growing sense of deprivation in south Punjab areas.”So according to Imran, and rightly so, Punjab should be divided. But if he really is sincere when he says the country should have more provinces, why does he want the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to be merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P)? Why not have more provinces to make K-P itself more manageable? And why does he say nothing about Sindh being divided into smaller provinces as well? In fact, when it comes to Karachi, Imran holds a diametrically opposite view:
“Karachi cannot be a separate province,” he said.He knows that if he says otherwise, his party will get no votes from the rural areas of Sindh. So it seems Imran is just paying lip service to the cause of smaller provinces, and he will continue to do so as long as his party remains in the opposition. Devolution of power by having more provinces is good for democracy and strengthens the country. Unfortunately, neither Nawaz Sharif nor Asif Ali Zardari want power to be given to local bodies. The Sharif brothers have spent more than half of Punjab’s budget on the beautification of Lahore, whereas the less is said about Sindh, the better. Although Karachi contributes most of the revenue for its province, hardly anything is spent on the city, and the mounds of garbage accumulating have made it the dirtiest city in the region. Of course, if even some of the revenue contributed by the people of Karachi had been spent on the welfare of the city, would the rulers of Sindh have been able to siphon away billions to foreign countries? After all, Rs2 billion in cash was allegedly recovered from a raid at Information Minister Sharjeel Memon’s house. Where did he get such a huge amount of money, and that too in cash? One problem faced by the common man is that the rulers are inaccessible to the public at large. Gwadar is about 800 kilometres from Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, while Zhob is about half that distance from Quetta. People in these two cities have to spend a considerable amount of time to get their personal problems heard by ministers. Similarly, Multan is 300 kilometres away from Lahore, and the distance between the Kashmore District and Karachi is 600 kilometres. Dividing the country into more provinces could ease the problems faced by its people, as having more provinces will bring the seats of the government closer to the citizens. There is no reason why Pakistan (with more than 200 million people) should have only four large administrative units. Having four provinces made sense in 1947, when the population was only 30 million. Switzerland has a population of eight million, less than half of Karachi’s, yet it is divided into 26 parts, known as cantons. No wonder Switzerland is one of the most efficient societies in the world. Turkey, with a population of 81 million, has 81 provinces, while Taiwan, with 23 million, has 22. Having only four provinces has encouraged corruption and ensured Pakistan remains backward and underdeveloped. This situation cannot continue for long, and unless more provinces are created, the people will be forced to come out on the streets. Those who live in Karachi know what it is to have rulers who know nothing about their problems. The city used to have a Karachi Building Control Authority once, which was the largest contributor to its revenue. The greedy rulers of the province, belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), renamed it to the Sindh Building Control Authority so they could have control over this lucrative department. Out of the 27 directors of this moneymaking entity, 22 are outsiders posted in Karachi, no doubt after paying a handsome sum to get the job. In fact, practically all those who preside over Karachi’s destiny have had their origins in other cities of Sindh. Consequently, you meet very few genuine Karachiites working in the departments of the Sindh government. Most policemen in Karachi are unable to make themselves understood because they cannot speak the national language fluently, as they have spent their lives in villages and small towns far away from Karachi and have been appointed for being party activists. If Karachi were made a separate province, its elected ministers would be aware of what the people need, and since they would be easily accessible to voters throughout the year, they would ensure that taxes paid by the people are spent wisely and not siphoned away into foreign bank accounts. I have no doubt that in every provincial capital, government servants are appointed by ministers from their own constituencies and not on merit. Conversely, having more provinces would mean more employment for those who are residents, and street crime would decrease as a result. Ideally, all those cities or divisions with populations between 10 and 20 million should be made provinces. Karachi, Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Hyderabad, Multan and Rawalpindi would all fall under this category. The cities having less than a million residents can be merged with smaller neighbouring towns to make more provinces. Due to its small population and large area, the present six divisions of Balochistan can be made provinces, while K-P can be split into three provinces. Sindh can have five: Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana, Sukkur and Mirpurkhas. Having more units would mean the transfer of funds to more people who can use them wisely. As we have seen in Punjab, most of the funds have been spent in Lahore, central and north Punjab; all part of the core constituency of the Sharif brothers. South Punjab has therefore seen very little development in the past five years. Even though a federal system of government works best when control and authority are decentralised, as is the case when more provinces are created, it is doubtful that the present mindset and greed of our politicians will allow them to agree to the formation of more provinces. Our citizens will thus be compelled to go on living as they have in the past, with poor healthcare, without proper education for their children, with battered roads and heaps of garbage lying everywhere.
Ramazan cannot be complete in our household without the presence of iftaari from Burns Road, Karachi. This Ramazan, as I went to Burns Road on the first day of fasting to buy items for iftaar, I was once again reminded of the strong sense of nostalgia that comes alongside the aroma of the food at this street. While in the other markets of the city the process of buying iftaar can start at around 4pm, here customers will start pouring in at around 2:30pm. There is no doubt Burns Road is the original food street of Karachi. It was not set up purposefully by any government, rather it evolved naturally. People who migrated to Pakistan from India were settled in large numbers near this street, Pakistan Chowk, and other adjoining areas. It is believed some families who probably had food businesses in India before Partition are responsible for launching the foundation of Burns Road as the hub of food in Karachi. The street derived its name from British doctor James Burns, and although its name was changed to ‘Muhammad bin Qasim Road' after Partition, people generally remain unaware of this change and the road continues to enjoy its fame with its old name. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Getty[/caption] My first interaction with this street took place alongside my father and uncles, as it was a family tradition to go there early in the morning to buy nihari for breakfast. In the good old days, nihari used to be consumed for breakfast with naan or homemade parathas in Karachi as well. I still remember my college days, when I could eat a plate of nihari with two nans from Malik Nihari House for the meagre amount of Rs20, or could eat halwa puri for Rs5. Today, reasonably good nihari is available at every nook and corner of the city, a dish that once used to be a specialty of Burns Road, with people congregating in large numbers to Malik Nihari House, Waheed Restaurant or Sabri Nihari to buy the food item. Although Sabri Nihari is located a bit away from the main area, it deserves an honourable mention for being the main nihari place of yesteryear, located at the corner of the Jamia Cloth Market. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Ali Anas[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Sibtain Naqvi[/caption] Rabri is another specialty of the street. Today, a huge shop named Delhi Rabri House is located at the heart of Burns Road, but the old people of Karachi know the foundation of this establishment was laid on a push cart. Starting off in the mid-50s, a cart was parked at the corner lane that houses the Waheed Kabab House for decades, and sold rabri throughout the year, along with gajar ka halwa during the winters. Another personal favourite is the renowned Waheed Kabab House, the oldest and most famous barbeque place, serving the dhagey waley kebabs that were to die for. I remember my father bringing them home and helping my mother fry them in butter; a simple treat that created happy memories of my childhood. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Ali Anas[/caption] Matkey waley dahi barey is also a specialty of Burns Road. A big red matka (clay pot) is fixed outside the shop, and the shopkeeper has been selling this special item here for decades. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Getty[/caption] A discussion of the past is incomplete without mentioning Fresco Sweets, a shop popular for its dahi phulki and samosas. And of course, during the holy month of Ramazan, their speciality is Khajla and Pheni, while on Eid, people flock to get some of their famous Kachoris. The uniqueness of Fresco is that even today, they use real ghee when preparing their food. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Khurram Zia Khan[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Khurram Zia Khan[/caption] Burns Road was developed in an era when the concept of eating outside with families was minimal, which is why to this day, shops don’t have a decent sitting area for families, and the concept of takeaway is more common. In the good old days, when plastic shopping bags were not common, customers would bring their own pots to carry food in. So much water has gone under the bridge, and Karachi has transformed over the years, for better or for worse. However, despite it all, Burns Road still maintains its stature as the pioneer food street of the country. Its uniqueness can be highlighted by the fact that no big food chains have been able to make any inroads into the area, despite the large crowds the street manages to attract on a daily basis. Today, the public has the convenient option of restaurants that deliver, but what they cannot deliver is the essence of Karachi one can only find in the food at Burns Road. True food lovers prefer to step out of their houses and work places to especially visit this street and eat food that feels like home. Despite everything that has changed, Burns Road remains the identity of Karachi, and in my view, will remain so for many decades to come. Amongst all the food centres of our country, Burns Road is to food what Sachin Tendulkar is to cricket, and what Cristiano Ronaldo is to football – the ultimate icon.
Friday, May 18th. My 17-year-old says to me,
“A 17-year-old Pakistani exchange student died in the Santa Fe school shooting. I saw it on social media.”https://twitter.com/kharyp/status/997953584212799488 I immediately checked the headlines on leading newspapers from Pakistan, unreported at the time. It was a little after 4pm in the US. The first thought that crossed my mind was, do her parents know? What if they don’t? What if they find out from social media? Why did this have to happen? https://twitter.com/MJibranNasir/status/997597422468632577 https://twitter.com/ImranKhanPTI/status/997746377781317632 The why has been asked countless times since the Columbine school shooting some 20 years ago, and the answer is so obvious. The solution is easy – ban the damned guns – but tragically, no one wants to do the right thing. I looked to my daughters – both are high schoolers. They looked pensive, sad, and for some reason, more disappointed than angry.
“Do you want to have a conversation about this?” I asked.Shaking her head, my 16-year-old answered my question.
“As a Muslim-American of Pakistani descent, whose parents were born and lived there until their marriage, I am heavily impacted by Sabika Sheikh’s death – one of the few in the last half a year or so. It really caused me to think, to mourn, and to want to act. I love my parents’ home country, a place under a lot of scrutiny in the US, and Sabika’s undying desire to learn, to mend relations, and to grow up and become a diplomat should not, and will not be forgotten. I, as an American teen, have grown numb to the weekly attacks on schools and the idiocy and ignorance of our federal and local governments. Every time I hear of one of these attacks, I know these victims, and kids like me, will be spoken of briefly instead of being avenged. Sabika could have been my friend or colleague, and more importantly, she is of my culture and people; a very powerful similarity that unites us in a way that America’s people know not how.”https://twitter.com/kumailn/status/998169994394513408 https://twitter.com/mxrbz/status/998351410688389120 An 18-year-old high school senior of Caucasian descent, responded to my question, well, with a question of his own.
“How are these shootings any different from the shootings in third world countries? You tell me? Sabika was killed in the US, she wasn’t killed in Pakistan; her country trusted our country to take care of her, and look what we did? We sent her back in a coffin – how pathetic are we? How hypocritical are we for judging other countries?” He asked, with tears in his eyes.Being questioned instead, I told the impassioned youth about the Peshawar school massacre. He looked at me and said,
“How is that massacre any different from the ones we have in the US? The crazed killed children there, the crazed kill children here; countless families were left mourning there, and countless families are left mourning here. However, this time, the Americans let an exchange student die. She came to experience American culture, to learn, to grow. What must the people of Pakistan be thinking? I’m so sorry Pakistan, for not taking care of one of your own. Can you imagine if an American student had been killed in Pakistan in an incident such as this? Apparently America likes its guns more than its children!”https://twitter.com/russ_ari/status/997591544923344896 https://twitter.com/blakersdozen/status/998300377723342848 This exchange took me back to a conversation I had with a friend some three decades ago. Sitting in her sprawling garden in Karachi in the spring of the 80s, we sat chatting, whiling away our wonder years. She was a big fan of Louis L’amour, the bestselling American novelist famed for writing western novels, while I was a fan of western movies. Therefore, we expectedly were discussing Texas, and that’s when Samira said,
“I’d never want to live in Texas, never!” “Why?” I asked, surprised. “Oh, I’ll tell you why. Because in Texas, they say the gun is the law.”I gaped at Samira, aghast. I wondered, is she this naïve? Does she actually believe the gun is the law in Texas, or the US as a whole? On returning home, I laughed myself silly, and remember relating the entire episode to my family, adding rather arrogantly and condescendingly,
“Samira is so naïve. She believes the 18th and 19th century US of L’amour is what the 20th century US is like.”Thirty years down the road, and all I can say is touché, Samira! The gun is the law in Texas; the gun is the law in the US. You were right. And to bring about change, a drastic measure has been suggested by Arne Duncan, the Education Secretary under President Barack Obama. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="582"] Photo: Screenshot[/caption] Parents, will you join Duncan? Will you be the change-makers? How far are you willing to go to save your children? How far? Ponder and answer. Don’t let children die – be the change you want to see.
With elections looming a mere 44 days from now, political parties have pitched their best candidates in the most powerful constituencies. With Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan standing from five different seats (how insecure?) in three provinces for the National Assembly (NA), the power show for the General Election of 2018 will be unforgettable. For Karachi, though, the one NA seat that wreaked havoc and chaos in 2013 was the NA-250 (now NA-247). Being part of the NA-250 constituency myself, I remember the painful series of events that took place in the last elections. Dr Arif Alvi won the seat, alleged that there was mass rigging in the constituency. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), agreeing to entertain Alvi’s whims, ordered re-polling in 43 polling stations only, of which I was unfortunately a part of. To Alvi’s dismay, however, the seat lost much of its worth when he won, because the finances and sweat to hold re-polling drowned the ‘victory’. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)’s Khushbakht Shujaat was a close second but the party boycotted the re-polling because it advocated recheck of the entire constituency and not just selected polls. Flash forward: Alvi – the sole candidate – made it to the NA seat from Karachi. Flash forward five years: we have to make a decision again. This year, however, the NA-250 has been revised under fresh delimitation to NA-247 and includes Defence and Clifton majorly. While the PTI may have won the spat with MQM in 2013, I dare to wonder whether they can achieve the same this time. This year’s contenders are: 1. Former President and Chief of All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) General (retd) Pervez Musharraf 2. Alvi – the undisputed champion of the seat 3. Farooq Sattar – the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P)’s messiah 4. Mustafa Kamal – the new emerging voice for a united Sindh 5. Mohammad Jibran Nasir – the rights activist trying to do ‘right’ 6. Abdul Aziz Memon – Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)’s hope 7. Javed Hanif – MQM-P’s messiah’s helper To all those from the NA-247 reading this: impressed, aren’t you? In the list, it can clearly be seen that five of the most powerful people in the country will be running for a single “hot seat” in Karachi. All five of them will be hoisting and waving flags of their contribution to the country and to the society. Karachi South’s most important seat will witness a power battle. After Alvi’s hue, cry and eventual victory, the PTI treated the seat as a symbol of respect. Needless to say, Alvi will be returning (tears intact) to beat every bush until he reclaims his throne. However, the unexpected entrance was of the former president who attempted to contest the elections in 2013 also, but was disqualified instead. Musharraf now returns as a new wave of possibility, as the APML prepare for his arrival. He’s wanted in a treason case and is currently under much protection of the courts. The former military dictator that stabilised the economy but ran away after a series of avoidable mishaps will again try to charm Pakistanis to vote for him. But will we? Jibran Nasir was one of the contenders in the 2013 elections too, but the way he has groomed and polished himself in the last five years is commendable. From filing petitions in high-profile cases and being bold and honest, Nasir has won the hearts of the youth. One event for which I will respect Nasir indefinitely is when he filed the civil society application to ensure that convict Shahrukh Jatoi stayed in jail after a ‘brilliant’ bench of the Sindh High Court freed him. Nasir approached the Supreme Court and fought for the petition to be heard. Moreover, he also filed petitions in the high-profile Naqeebullah Mehsud murder case. But Karachi loves Kamal – our former mayor. Served Karachi from 2005 to 2010, Kamal has gathered support from a large majority of Sindh, with the MQM consistently hammering their own foundation in the province. Kamal even managed to reach out to the Muhajirs but with the promise of a united Sindh, where all kinds of people reside. And then comes the star of Karachi, the man whose name has been – at one point in time – plastered all over the city: Sattar. The MQM leader (not the convener) has stood by the city and the party through the most difficult times. When a certain UK personality passed comments that shook the nation, it was Sattar that saved the party from further embarrassment. However, with his never-ending strife with Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and Amir Khan, Sattar has lost much credibility. MQM-P’s Hanif will also be contesting for the seat, strengthening MQM-P’s chances or at least the party will be able to eat away significant votes with Sattar and Hanif’s joint candidature. Former PPP MNA Memon is also contesting for the seat making him the only PPP candidate in the constituency. In many ways, this seat is a fight for many things. The questions remain who deserves it and why? Should we trust a former military dictator when we know his history? Should we consider a former mayor? Should we trust an activist-lawyer? After conducting a mini survey of my own, I learnt that the youth of Karachi are backing up the independent Nasir in his fight against struggles for justice and equality. And while he may mirror the good in society, the vote should be determined by careful analysis of all aspects of each candidate. Considering that NA-247 has evolved into Karachi’s hottest electoral seat, the nominees look confident. It’s up to the voters to decide who runs the constituency this time. After all, choosing a representative for the NA is no small thing; your vote contributes to a larger representational vote in the NA. The choice is yours, but do choose wisely. Let the games begin!
There was a post making its rounds on Facebook that caught my attention, which said,
“If you were to meet your eight-year-old self today, what advice would you give?”And then a slightly more chilling question,
“What would your eight-year-old self say about you?”I remember myself at eight, naïve and highly impressionable, living in a world of make-believe, convinced that life was as simple as being one of the good guys and standing up against all forces of evil. But with time and growth came the realisation that things aren’t so simple. This is a blog I may perhaps be better off not writing. I should turn my back on this. I tell myself ‘this’ does not concern me. Politics is not my field. I have very little understanding of it. But that’s the thing; it absolutely does concern me. Because, I am tired of my life being crippled by the savage kind of privilege that makes you believe that something doesn’t matter because it does not affect you personally. I am one of the entitled millennials, living a life of privilege. I have lived quietly in this city, keeping my head down. I am one of those people, who if they were to get an off for ‘some protest or another’, they would simply be happy with the prospect of a holiday and not bother about discovering any more. But I can trace the beginning of my social awareness to one event. The time in 2013 when Mohammad Jibran Nasir announced he was going to run as an independent candidate for the elections. I have never met him. But the idea of someone having the audacity to take that step, with no political background or ‘family dynasty’ backing him up, threw me. For the first time, I was forced to wonder, am I living in an all too blissful comfort-zone? I have followed him throughout the years on social media and heard him speak and act uprightly. I remember his videos from 2013. The guy who reached out to the people then was young, passionate and vibrant. But the man who recently announced his independent candidacy looked haggard, as if time had weighed heavily on him. And indeed, it has. Since the campaign against Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid, he has faced numerous death threats and eviction, and given the reactive and intolerant natures of us Pakistanis, continues to face abuse daily on social media for his outspoken critique. https://twitter.com/MJibranNasir/status/1005039149206966272 However, I began to notice how whenever he would post about a cause, the movement would spread like wildfire on social media. This is the same social media that was available to us long before Nasir was known to so many. However, there were few individuals who were rallying for a cause as fervently and giving others the opportunity to rally behind them. These would make perhaps the most profound reasons to vote for him: he is someone who makes the best of the resources he has, and proves that you don’t necessarily need ‘power’ to help people. He gives a voice to the voiceless, without any security escort by his side. He doesn’t shy away from talking about issues that are less than popular including enforced disappearances, minority rights, child abuse and so on. The support he offers his fellow citizens is widespread: from campaigning for justice to setting up heatstroke shelters. Moreover, having recently filed his nomination papers and declaring his assets unflinchingly this early on, is not only proof that he is all for transparency but totally committed in every way. https://twitter.com/MJibranNasir/status/1006498928186052608 A friend who lives abroad once told me that when faced with an issue regarding community development, she didn’t hesitate to write to her local MP. I cant imagine doing that here. I simply wouldn’t be comfortable. But that may change if someone like Nasir were to be the MP. There are many achievements that speak in his favour not least of all, the case of the murder of Shahzeb Khan and attempted murder of Khadija Siddiqi. But for me, it were more subtle things I noticed that convinced me; if there is one man who cares about others more than his own ego, it is him. https://twitter.com/MJibranNasir/status/959015852694786048 https://twitter.com/MJibranNasir/status/1003636810969501699 It is him not shying from duties that most would consider ‘lowly’ and actively participating in cleaning drives of government hospitals. It is him refusing to attack other people’s personal lives (even though it’s something we and our politicians engage in daily), and even walking out of a live TV show because another interviewee’s personality was being attacked. https://www.facebook.com/GoGreenPK/photos/a.185792631439027.44779.140519015966389/921656971185919/?type=3&theater https://twitter.com/MJibranNasir/status/544114519169966080 https://twitter.com/MJibranNasir/status/544052932887339008 https://twitter.com/maryamful/status/672385385465561089 The focus so far has been one man but that is solely because through his initiative, I have gained insight into a lot of the issues the country is facing. However, I must emphasise that this blog is not about glorifying any individual. Glory belongs only to the Creator. All the creation can do is try. This is a man who is trying. I would tell my eight-year-old self to side with him and to use my right to vote well and cast it in his favour. I would tell my eight-year-old self that sometimes, it’s about trying to recognise the one who is doing good and is on the side of good.
Dave Chapelle, a successful American comedian and democrat, phrased it perfectly when voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016:
“It felt like the right thing to do, but it didn’t feel as good, as it should have.”He was referring to how good it felt to vote for Barack Obama, the first African-American president, and how good it ought to have felt to vote for Clinton, the first woman president, but it wasn’t, because of the corruption scandals that plagued her candidacy. I feel this statement resonates with a lot of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s supporters, Imran Khan, who to a lot of voters, is not the philanthropist they voted for in 2013. He’s turned into a politician. And hence, it just doesn’t feel as good as it should have to elect him into office. Fauzia Kasuri, who defected to Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), was a long-time worker of PTI. She highlighted the issue perfectly when she said that by embracing the very people the PTI meant to root out of the system, it became the very plagued system that it meant to wage war upon. While it is true that elections are not won without candidates, PTI’s audacity to completely dispose of its original candidates has made some voters wary, to say the least. The allotment of tickets is perhaps always shady business and voters are likely to be displeased in the process. But political dynasties like Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are not accountable on the same level as PTI is to its supporters, hence their leadership, unlike PTI’s, may do as it pleases. The central executive committees of these parties do not have to worry about voters leaving, but perhaps their candidates resigning. PML-N and PPP can bank on ethnicity and reliable candidates, hence it is difficult, though not impossible, to penetrate into their vote bank. While it is true that PTI has more electables than it previously had in 2013, it still relies upon support from urban areas and regions in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa (K-P), where voters have never voted for the same party into office twice. And hence, it has to be very conscious about the image that it projects. This brings us to PTI’s gamble. PTI’s dismal performance in the last elections has led it to change its strategy drastically. It no longer struggles to appease its social media followers. It is forgoing the left for the right, giving up on loyal middle-class party members and searching for candidates on the right. PTI’s mishaps PTI’s struggling to get to the finish line. A couple of weeks ago, it seemed that all PTI had to do was maintain momentum till the elections. But it just couldn’t do that. PTI welcomed Farooq Bandial with open arms, only to expel him a few hours later, because of the backlash PTI faced upon his entry from ‘social media’ on his criminal past. And rightly so. However, this was not the end of it. Another name on which PTI did a “U-turn” was on Orya Maqbool Jan's choice as caretaker chief minister Punjab owing to his hard-line approach. Then, Imran did himself no favours by giving a below average HARDtalk interview to BBC and then leaving for Umrah with someone whose name was on the Exit Control List (ECL). All of these mishaps may not retract votes in K-P but the urban youth may care about Imran’s views on feminism and his complicity in taking in incorporating candidates who have never struggled for justice a day in their life. Although PTI is not completely aloof of the feedback it receives, it is willing and able to take in some very questionable personalities who have never endorsed PTI’s motto or agenda. And slowly, Imran just does not seem so different from the others when viewed with an objective lens or even a liberal one. The mishap waiting to happen Perhaps it is unjustified to call it a mishap. PML-N may not be favoured by the state, but it has the electorate on its side. Thus, with each passing day, a PTI-PPP collation is becoming a necessity if Imran is to become the premier. And the unsavoury collation with someone whose entire tenure was marked with corruption is not something most PTI voters signed up for. Thus, the mishap waiting to happen is the unsurprising collation that would be forced down insafians’ throats. The dilemma So in the trade-off between getting into power and being true to its cause, who gets traded off? It seems that PTI is favouring the former, as Imran recently exclaimed that in order for a viable candidate to contest in an election, he ought to have 2,000 workers under his belt. And freshmen candidates, who represent that party’s true cause, just do not have that. Thus, this very dilemma represents PTI’s transformation from a philanthropic party to a mainstream one. Perhaps, Imran realised that he needed to become part of the system in order to reform it, at least that’s what PTI’s voters are perhaps telling themselves. And that brings us to the disgruntled PTI voter. The reason PTI has not been focusing on them lately is because these urban youth voters are never going to vote for PML-N or PPP, so either they abstain or they vote for PTI regretfully. And this represents a never ending chain of events. A new party grows, taps into the urban voters, and as the middle class helps it grow, it realises that this loyal class cannot win it seats in the national assembly, hence the party shifts its focus to electables in the process. And this shift creates a vacuum over time which will later on be filled by another party. For instance, a recent poll showed young voters in Karachi shifting their confidence to Jibran Nasir. Why won’t this chain ever end? Because the ruling party, the one that controls the assembly, would never seek to uplift the middle-class since it does not represent its interests. This is not a cynical analysis but a very pragmatic one; would you rather invest in a group that has given you seats to form a government or one that has proven to be too dispersed to deliver constituencies? It is true PML-N via its laptop scheme, Danish schools, Metro bus and Orange Line has focused considerably on urban voters, however, these serve more as talking points for all of Punjab. A metro bus built in Lahore serves as an aspiration to PML-N voters in other areas. It serves to highlight Shehbaz Sharif in a positive light throughout Pakistan. Thus, urban voters, specially our youth which is almost a majority, relied on PTI. They still want Imran as the prime minister, but with each passing day, they ask themselves, at what cost? They are contemplating that maybe the system destroyed the man who wanted to rule this country with good faith and strong ideals. And what’s left is no different than what was already there. It is still hopeful, though not happy. And they will most probably still vote for PTI, because there is no one else, thus the disgruntled PTI voter.
Shehbaz Sharif’s pre-election visit and recent comments regarding “Kiranchi”, stereotyping an entire community, seem to have created some ripples in an already charged up political environment in Karachi. At a time when Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is badly fragmented; Pak Sarzameen party (PSP) is cementing its position in the upcoming elections; Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is an utter failure even after two consecutive terms in Sindh; Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is suffering from several in-house ticket issuance problems, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is trying to fill up the current void by Shehbaz’s visit to Karachi and quite recently, a jalsa in PPP-stronghold Lyari. After the systematic dismantling of MQM, due to some verbal vitriol by its London-based supreme leader, the party has lost its hold on areas that were once considered as its strongholds. Further fragmentation within the party has left the Karachi electoral battlefield open for some positive and healthy competition, which was earlier nearly impossible due to the element of fear and intimidation that prevailed during all the previous election years. After the fall of Nawaz Sharif and the rise of Shehbaz, PML-N seems to have taken a non-confrontational approach and the focus is entirely on the upcoming elections. Shehbaz’s claim to fame is the remarkable development he carried out in Lahore, which he intends to replicate in Karachi if given a chance from NA-249. But is it fair to say that he will turn Karachi into Lahore? I do not believe that it is. https://twitter.com/xSaimaAnsarix/status/1012675415486451712 Karachi is home to hordes of migrants, reaching the metropolis almost on a daily basis in search of work. This has caused an exponential rise in the population for which the city’s resources aren’t enough. Karachi has a population that is large enough to be a country with a separate government setup and several provinces within. While Lahore enjoys unity of command and not a very diverse populace, Karachi provides refuge to job seekers from north of Pakistan to interior Sindh and Balochistan. Moreover, the plethora of Afghan refugees have now started their businesses in Karachi and a number of them are also allegedly involved in crime in the city. The residents of Lahore own their city, while the residents of Karachi who originally hail from other provinces, prefer to associate themselves with their home towns and villages rather than fully integrating into the Karachi lifestyle. They then treat the city like a temporary abode and hence, that leads to a number of civic problems that this city has been facing. As if this wasn’t enough, the previous federal government directed most of its resources towards Lahore, at a time when Karachi was yearning for their attention. The Green Bus project is still moving at snail’s pace, the entire city is a garbage dump, and the water crisis seems to be getting worse. This criminal neglect by both the provincial and federal government has brought Karachi to the situation where it is today. The PPP government could not address the issues of sanitation, health, education and infrastructure even after staying in power for a decade. MQM was a complete disappointment, right after General (retired) Pervez Musharraf stepped down followed by the departure of Mustafa Kamal (the two gentlemen who actually did something for the city). Shehbaz needs to realise that Karachi is not the same as Lahore and it will not take the same things to build up this city. Unlike Lahore, the work will not start from ground zero; it will start from “underground”, thanks to the previous politicians who have dragged this city down to the drains, quite literally. Basing his campaign on turning Karachi into Lahore will not be fruitful because these two cities have always been at loggerheads. It is not very smart to appeal to Karachi by comparing it to Lahore; Karachiites will not take that well! Karachi has its own problems and its own identity. It does not want to be like Lahore; it just wants to be the city that it deserved to be. Who advised Shehbaz that Karachi wants to be like Lahore? Saying that he wants to fix and better the port city without any comparisons would have sufficed. During his campaign, he addressed the Urdu-speaking community as paan-eaters (betel leaf eaters) and mocked the funny pronunciation they have when it comes to Urdu grammar. Safe to say, Karachi was not pleased, especially because the comments were coming from a Lahori. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRb5E_YQ1Oc However, while many from the Urdu-speaking community are objecting to this, I would rather deem it as a wakeup call for the members of a community that once took pride in its manners, culture and language. Urdu speakers were known for being fluent in rich Urdu, exhibiting flawless grammar and nuances. That culture has been replaced by Urdu slang and distorted pronunciations. The “aareeya hai, jaareeya hai, tairay ko, mairay ko” has further caused a gradual decline in the quality of spoken Urdu in our neighbourhoods. Paan and gutka were never a symbol for us Karachiites but are now the identity of the Urdu-speaking community, hence the mention by Shehbaz in his recent statement. https://twitter.com/iam_sidrah/status/1011679303996755970 The people of Karachi will have to vote for people based on the candidates’ previous performance and not on the basis of language, caste, sects or peer pressure. Vote for the candidate's vision, his achievements. This city badly needs a complete revival and we need leaders like Musharraf, Imran Khan, Kamal, Naimatullah Khan, Shehbaz and so on to bring that change. In future, this city will have to be governed with a completely different strategy and governance model. The current provincial model, with a rural centric party managing the affairs of this great urban centre, seems to have backfired miserably. Our city needs experts and professionals for its revival, just like any sick industry that requires professional intervention to kick-start it back to life.
In this technology-saturated modern biosphere, women motorcycling are still not a welcome sight. In a conservative society like Pakistan, it is unfortunate that people are more vocal and contemptuous about women riding bikes than they are about the harassment they face in their commutes generally. In a traditionalist patriarchal society where domination is believed to be a masculine realm, the general perception still is that women riding bikes and claiming public spaces or independence are against the orthodox status quo. The ill-norms, taboos and misogynistic expectations ballooned in society are holding women back from empowering themselves. Not many women dare to wipe out gender stereotypes and grasp freedom of soul owing to limitations. A number of parents still worry that no one will marry their daughter for as petty a reason as riding a bike. In such a hostile atmosphere, every single woman on wheels is an inspiration and 22-year-old Beenish Afreen is one such symbol of change. Hailing from Karachi’s middle class family and working as a sales executive after completing her graduation, Afreen perceives herself as a rebel who embraced her passion with open arms. From denunciation to enthusiastic waves, she faced traditional barriers but feels that bike riding is very liberating. In one way or another, she fought conservatism and societal dogmatism and is now busy in reclaiming women’s rights on the roads. I met Afreen at an exhibition and we conversed about her insights on women motorcycling. Here is my tête-a-tête with Karachi’s woman biker who shares her experiences. What prompted you to start bike riding and what was your parents’ reaction? Growing up a tomboy made me think differently. I was not interested in dolls; quite the reverse actually, playing cricket and football was my favourite. As a child, I quickly learned how to start my father’s motorcycle. I was well aware of some of the mechanisms of a bike but due to my short height, I wasn’t able to reach the foot rest. However, at the age of 14, I fully focused on testing my bike riding skills. My parents were not shocked to learn about my passion for motorcycling so there was not a strong resistance from their side. How did you get your first bike and what do you ride now? I saved money from my salary and luckily within a short span of time, I was able to buy my own Scooty 70cc bike. I still use it for my daily commute. With the passage of time, I focused on practicing to explore my hidden talent and now I can easily ride all heavy bikes, whether it’s a Hayabusa, Ninja, Z1000 or a Harley Davidson. Tell us about the challenges you have faced as a woman biker? Being a woman biker in Pakistan is not an easy task. I faced a lot of criticism and challenges. Our society still thinks that a girl should be married at an early age; her ultimate end is to be an obedient housewife and daughter-in-law. I confronted such kind of mentality, people used to say that I am a girl and so I can’t do things that are associated with men. However, instead of discouraging, these annotations kept me motivated to reach my goals. Do you think that your life has been changed due to bike riding? Yes, so many things have been changed in my life just because of my motorcycling. It made me more confident and it opens up several opportunities for me. I have empowered myself through bike riding. I don’t need to request others for support and neither do I face any transport problems. In fact, I have owned my public space and feel absolutely blessed to be able to do what I really enjoy. You have travelled from Karachi to Kashmir on your bike. Tell me what was the reaction of people that you met on the road? How did they treat you? Some people showed their extreme dislike towards my biking as it was a disgrace and shame that a girl is riding a bike. But then, there were those who were very encouraging; they appreciated my effort, made videos and took selfies with me. Overall, I can say that people who accepted me as a woman biker were the real force to boost my moral. Do you think Pakistan’s riding scenario is different for women as compared to men? I have observed that traffic police’s attitude is very encouraging towards women motorcyclists. They deal very politely with them if there is no license, helmet or if other safety gears are missing. Instead of challan (ticket), they would give a last warning, appreciate you and let you go. I am not saying they should not challan women bikers, but I feel that this kind of behaviour is very encouraging. Having a license, wearing a helmet or safety gear is essential for all bikers. All of us should promote safe riding. On the contrary, women riders are not an everyday occurrence, so people on roads stare at you and pass negative remarks. Sometimes, women bikers are chased by men on bikes and cars. What can one anticipate for women bike riding in the next three to five years? If there is some kind of support from government or private sector, you will see that women bikers will multiply in numbers. Women are eager to learn it; they perceive it as an inexpensive safe transport facility. A little bit of backing can change the road scene, with lots of confident women bikers taking over. Do you agree that women, irrespective of their age, should be encouraged to learn riding? Yes, every woman should be encouraged to learn biking. Pakistan’s women face a lot of transport issues. Their immobility is hampering their liberation. They are dependent on others for their social mobility. If women have their own motorcycle or scooty, they can go wherever they want and engage themselves in new working conditions. I strongly feel that there should be an equal platform for women bikers of all ages throughout the country. Do you have any bike club? I don’t have any proper bike club. As a private instructor, I train and give free classes to girls who are passionate about bike riding. You wouldn’t believe that majority of lower class girls want to learn bike riding so that they wouldn’t face transport humiliation. But due to limited resources, these girls are deprived of the chance of liberation. What kind of support or encouragement would you like to see from the government? There is no appropriate support for women bikers in Sindh. However, the government of Punjab has worked tremendously to support the cause by launching motorbike subsidy scheme for women and providing free motorcycle training. Through this platform, I would like to appeal to the Sindh government and other related people to open up institutes or clubs for women riders. Such institutes can become a chain of change. Irrespective of the class difference, women are eager to learn bike riding. However, due to inadequate measures, not only their talent is dying but a large segment of society is immobile. The government’s support can really empower women and bring a lot of change in society. Do you have some words for aspiring women bikers? As a biker, I would like to say that ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’. Instead of listening to negativity, focus on your own endowment. It is no doubt that there are a lot of hindrances and societal discouragement, but again, if one has an empowering mindset, such things can actually help to enflame your desire to achieve your objectives. All I can say is that we, as women, are taking new steps in the right direction which our future generations will proudly follow. So, if you want to achieve it, you can! Thank you Afreen! Let’s all give a big round of applause to this amazing, strong lady who loves to keep going on despite all the obstacles. We need more women like her, who are role models for us. We as a society should be more accepting and try to encourage women to be independent. There are, of course, problems that a woman has to face on the roads but that should not be the reason why we do not let women live their lives. Stand up for the women if they get harassed on roads and encourage them to keep going. It is time women take on the world; let them be free! All photos: Beenish Afreen
Whenever the phrase ‘vacation to the Maldives’ rings our ears, turquoise waters and luxurious resorts instantly flash into our minds. In order to fully utilise their vacations, the general preference of tourists is to spend time relaxing and soaking in the beauty of beaches. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Land of clear waters. Photo: Ahsan Nadeem[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Turquoise waters. Photo: Ahsan Nadeem[/caption] Conversely, my idea of traveling and vacationing is slightly different, for my chief aim is always to explore the historical and cultural aspects of different places. Therefore, my very brief yet unique trip to the land of the clear blue waters – the Maldives – persuaded me to pen down and share my experience of a wonderland from a different perspective. In pursuance of one of my uncountable goals in life – to visit the island country at least once in my life before it vanishes from the world due to prospective global environmental effects – I, along with my parents, undertook the much anticipated journey via Karachi to Colombo, and from there we made our way to the Hulhulé Island (Airport Island of the Maldives). [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] Waiting for take off. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] Taking off. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Maldives. Photo: Ahsan Nadeem[/caption] To my extreme disappointment, we landed in Maldives during a night of the crescent moon, hence there was no extraordinarily picturesque landing. Our immigration process was relatively prompt. We were received by our hotel representative at the airport, who led us to our ferry. It took us 10-15 minutes to reach the island of Malé, from where we took a five-minute bus ride to our cosy and comfortable hotel. As mentioned earlier, since our preference was to explore Maldives as a country and not spend our vacation at some picturesque or serene spot, we chose a mediocre yet ideally situated hotel with a spectacular view of the ocean and landing airplanes, within the main capital city of Malé, in order to better understand the cultural and social order of the country. However, it is pertinent to mention here that after interacting with the locals, we realised we were lucky to visit during the local holiday season, as the tiny capital was less crowded then. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] The view from our hotel. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] A cloudy view. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] We were informed by our hotel staff that Malé is the world’s smallest capital, and that its total area is about five kilometres only. The climate is tropical, and the temperature hovers between 25 to 33 degrees around the year. However, according to my observation and from the local perspective, this uniformity of weather, climate and terrain can create an unpleasant monotony. I would add here that despite the non-severity of the heated weather, the water of the ocean at the three islands I experienced was lukewarm, unlike the seawater of Karachi, which is cold even when the temperature outside is 42 degrees. We also came to discover that throughout Malé, the taxis, irrespective of the distance (be it one kilometre or five) would charge a fixed fare of 25 Rufiyaa, which in my view is a good policy preventing the exploitation of innocent tourists. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] Malé. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] Generally, the public with whom we interacted, such as taxi drivers, hotel staff, children and common people travelling with us in ferries or people I met at my favourite spot, the Artificial Beach, all were unhappy with the hustle bustle and crowded environment of the capital city, and would prefer to live in their native islands, which they suggested were less crowded and more peaceful. Here I feel obliged to describe my aforementioned favourite spot, the Artificial Beach! Since Malé does not have any beach of its own, this beach has been humanly crafted out of the reclaimed land of sea in order to fill the gap. To continue, how can the cultural exploration of any land be complete without tasting its local cuisine? However, as none of us are real foodies, our focus was not on trying popular Maldivian seafood or local dishes. Instead, being fruit-lovers, we preferred spending on local fruits such as Jackfruit, Rambutan, locally grown bananas and pineapples, which we don’t find in Pakistan. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Jackfruit. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rambutan. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] We also had ice cream from the famous Seagull Café. Here I feel worth mentioning the subway-like bun we bought from a roadside restaurant called ‘Submarine’, which was huge and really delicious. Since the roads in Malé are non-spacious and streets are narrow, scooties and cycles are more commonly spotted than luxurious cars, and people often choose to walk to cover the small distances. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] Narrow streets of Male. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] The market area. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] I noticed that, unlike the rest of the commonwealth nations, Maldivians are more fond of football than of cricket, and we spotted plenty of football grounds in the city. Indian culture is also visibly dominant in their eating habits, language and daily activities. We also happened to visit a number of attractions within the capital. The first was the National Museum of Maldives, where the guide introduced us to the Buddhist era, the rise of Islam, and the colonial as well as modern Maldivian history and culture. Next up was the Old Friday Mosque, constructed in 1656, as well as the Grand Friday Mosque situated nearby. However, since in Muslim culture women are not encouraged to enter mosques, my mother and I were not allowed to offer prayers inside. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] Outside the mosque. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Old Friday Mosque. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Outside the Grand Mosque. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] We later visited a number of parks, as well as the National Football Stadium. We also got the opportunity to briefly visit the neighbouring islands of Villingili (approximately a five-minute ferry ride from Malé) and Hulhumalé (approximately a 15-minute ferry ride and 10-minute speedboat ride from Malé). The latter is an artificial island built to meet industrial, housing and commercial requirements; it is also connected via the causeway to the Airport Island. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] Hulhumalé Island. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] Boats at the Hulhumalé Island. Photo: Sara Aslam Basar[/caption] My deepest regret out of the entire trip, however, was not getting enough time to visit the popular underwater Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, situated at the Rangali Island. To sum up, I would strongly recommend everyone interested in or planning to visit the Maldives, to reserve at least a few days to explore the generally ignored cultural and historical aspect of this beautiful island nation. For me, it was indeed a memorable journey, not only filled with pleasure and relaxation, but also with intellectual enrichment. Lastly, I wish to formally thank my parents who helped turn a long-awaited dream into a pleasant and memorable reality.