Articles on this Page
- 07/08/18--00:00: _The status quo vs t...
- 07/09/18--04:55: _PML-N’s new manifes...
- 07/16/18--05:45: _I wanted to change ...
- 07/20/18--03:55: _Despite everything,...
- 07/21/18--01:57: _#ETBlogsAsks: If YO...
- 07/21/18--22:00: _If Lahore couldn’t ...
- 07/21/18--23:00: _Hospitals, schools,...
- 07/23/18--05:12: _The rise of ‘aam sh...
- 07/26/18--02:44: _Election or selecti...
- 07/29/18--00:00: _The desire for chan...
- 08/03/18--03:12: _My wanderlust took ...
- 08/05/18--00:00: _The political catch...
- 08/11/18--01:09: _If religious partie...
- 08/13/18--22:00: _5 stories that prov...
- 08/18/18--22:00: _Young and wise: Whe...
- 08/22/18--22:00: _Hide my terrorist b...
- 08/25/18--02:56: _The diaspora of Nay...
- 08/30/18--04:37: _A Rs10 tip on a Rs4...
- 09/08/18--02:49: _A dark conversation...
- 09/19/18--22:00: _Pakistan is ‘Asia’s...
- 07/20/18--03:55: Despite everything, I will still vote for PML-N
- 07/21/18--22:00: If Lahore couldn’t handle the rains, what hope does Karachi have?
- 07/23/18--05:12: The rise of ‘aam shehri’
- 08/13/18--22:00: 5 stories that prove the trauma of Partition did not end in 1947
- 08/22/18--22:00: Hide my terrorist bakra
- 08/30/18--04:37: A Rs10 tip on a Rs4,000 bill is an insult, not a favour
In the scorching heat of May 2013, my brother and I stood in line for eight hours straight at our designated polling station to vote for the one party we believed would bring revolutionary change for all of us – the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Perhaps if it hadn’t been for PTI, I wouldn’t have had the passion and resilience to believe in the power of my vote. Even though polling in NA-250 started later than the other constituencies of Karachi – a way to sabotage PTI’s vote back from this seat by the ruling party in the city at the time – nonetheless, I persevered and made sure I cast my vote for the bat on the ballot paper. However, in my fervour of voting for PTI, I had missed out on getting to know the actual candidate for whom I was voting: Dr Arif Alvi. Even though he was one of the oldest members of the party, having founded it alongside Imran Khan and the rest, I was largely unaware of his merits and political acumen. It was the five years that ensued afterwards that made me realise how apt Dr Alvi was for this constituency. Before we move forward, it is important to discuss the administrative dynamics that are prevalent in the area in question. Being a representative from NA-250 (now changed to NA-247) comes with its drawbacks. The MNA or MPA has to constantly deal with authorities like the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC), who are often directly responsible for implementing infrastructural changes in the area. Following up with these groups and making sure that grievances of citizens are addressed on time is often a Herculean task. But even with all these constraints, Dr Alvi was able to work for the electorate who voted him into power, by making sure he was on top of most major matters in his area. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="431"] Photo: Facebook/ Dr Arif Alvi[/caption] During his tenure, he was able to upgrade multiple primary and secondary level schools to cater for higher education by working on their infrastructure and facilitating the Department of Education. Additionally, he pushed for and implemented a swifter route for people to reach the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), making the hospital more accessible to all. Speaking of routes, Alvi’s advocacy was a prime factor behind the removal of barriers and opening of the road leading from Bilawal Chowrangi to Sea View, which was previously closed for public use. Alvi ran multiple cleaning drives in Burns Road and adjacent areas, and mobilised cleaning trucks that would sweep the streets every morning. He also made sure that, in collaboration with city authorities, dumpsters and garbage disposal units were readily available in all areas for better hygiene. Perhaps the most important issue for people from his constituency is the availability of running water in the area; for this, he has hosted multiple protests and sit-ins in front of the CBC to make sure the water shortage was addressed. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Facebook/ Dr Arif Alvi[/caption] Keeping PTI’s general performance in mind, Dr Alvi has shown more merit and active participation in his constituency than most PTI MNAs. However, while his personal performance is riveting, I feel uncomfortable voting for him this year because of his affiliation with Imran and his party. PTI and its leaders have, time and again, made claims they were unable to stick to. Especially keeping in mind how we were promised a “Naya Pakistan”, but all we have seen are old faces recycled under the new packaging of the PTI banner. This is not what real change looks like, and despite Dr Alvi’s performance, a vote for him would be a vote for PTI – and I cannot abide by that anymore. So what happens next? Do we simply let go of the idea of voting and enjoy a nice day off on Wednesday, July 25, 2018? Not necessarily. Being one of the biggest and formidable constituencies of Karachi, NA-247 enjoys a wide range of excellent candidates who are standing for elections this year from this seat. Having this privilege, it would be a mistake to waste one’s vote. With powerhouses like Dr Farooq Sattar (Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan) and Ms Fauzia Kasuri (Pak Sarzameen Party) running from this seat, one enjoys many options to vote for – all of whom have enough political capital to implement effective change in the constituency. And then there is, of course, Mr Jibran Nasir – Karachi’s knight in shining armour, and perhaps the one person who is truly worth my vote. Mimicking a political career similar to Dr Alvi, who belonged to an established profession and fought against dictators like Ayub Khan to implement the rule of law, Nasir has also highlighted his efforts to fight against VIP culture, archaic policies and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. This strapping young human rights activist and lawyer has time and again shown resilience against the powers that be, and has used his voice to fight for the voiceless. His commitment to justice and equality for all resounds with my liberal beliefs, making him a prime choice for my vote. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Civil society activists led by Jibran Nasir lead a protest outside National Press Club. Photo: INP[/caption] From demanding the arrest of Abdul Aziz, the Lal Masjid cleric, after the gruesome Army Public School attack in 2014, to protesting against the chief minister and provincial government to ban extremist organisations from propagating their hatred, Nasir has shown his clear understanding of what Pakistan direly needs right now – a strong opposition to extremism in all forms and at all levels. The fact that he has been threatened by various extremist organisations, including a defamatory campaign run against him by Aamir Liaquat in 2017, and has often been questioned about his faith and religious leanings, shows he is doing something right. Only a true challenge to the status quo would elicit such strong reactions against him. https://soundcloud.com/the-express-tribune/lal-masjid-protesters-receive-threats-allegedly-from-taliban#t=0:00 While both Dr Alvi and Nasir are excellent candidates, Nasir’s views and his liberal beliefs are incomparable; neither Dr Alvi nor his party can match them – not with his party’s current ideas and choice of alliances. Yes, Nasir is a one-man show and might not create a huge ripple effect even if he wins, but he is one of us, the common folks, and we all need to mimic his audacity to challenge the powers around us with nothing but courage and an unwavering trust in our constitutional rights. Voting for Nasir would be an investment into Pakistan’s future. That is why my vote will go to Nasir this year. Better luck next time, PTI.
It is the month of the General Elections, and all parties are busy in attempts to attract voters before the big day. Something that plays a major factor in whether voters are attracted to a political party or not is the election manifesto, as it gives the people an opportunity to become familiar with the vision and aims of political parties before they decide their vote. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has also unveiled its manifesto, and it seems quite a decent one, especially compared to the manifestos of the other leading political parties out there. https://www.facebook.com/etribune/videos/2403335823016763/ As PML-N is already in hot water and fighting a political survival battle after the verdict against Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, it needed a sound and logical manifesto to highlight what will be the centre of its politics in the future. It seems that Shehbaz Sharif has come up with the manifesto alongside his team, which is significant because Shehbaz is now the face of the party and his vision will determine the survival of PML-N. More importantly, Shehbaz’s narrative focuses on developmental projects, and leaves no room for any confrontation with the powers that be. The manifesto is detail-oriented and focuses on mega infrastructure projects, health and organisational reforms, as well as the elimination of extremism. Since PML-N has been able to deliver a few infrastructure projects in the province of Punjab, they have highlighted all projects like the Metro Bus, the Orange Train, the network of roads, the boost in the tourism industry, the computerisation of almost all government offices in Punjab, as well as the empowerment of women and minorities. However, there remain grounds on which PML-N was not able to deliver on their manifesto of the 2013 Elections. Over the past five years, there has been very little development in the field of education, health and the agriculture sector. Though a few good hospitals have been built by the PML-N government, most of rural Punjab remains deprived of this basic facility. Alarmingly, the clean drinking water problem has barely been addressed. On the other hand, PML-N’s performance on bringing the economy to track has been good enough. During its tenure, PML-N was able to bring the budget deficit from 8.2% to 4.6%. Likewise, the industrial growth rate has been increased to 5.8% while the services sector to 6.4%. The inclusion of 11,000 megawatt of electricity in the national grid and the entirety of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), all lies under the belt of the PML-N government, and it will give the party the electoral edge it desperately needs at the moment. However, contrary to the slogans of the ruling party, it was not able to alleviate poverty, neither were the jobs created sufficient to address the unemployment issue in the country. During its five-year stint, PML-N was unable to raise awareness regarding the climate change issue, which is worrying given the growing implications of global warming, especially the water crisis. However, in light of its failures, this time around the party is focusing more on social and environmental issues, with a particular shift towards reducing poverty. Unlike the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), PML-N enjoys an edge through its track record in Punjab for the past five years. All three major parties had an equal opportunity to perform in their respective provinces, but it seems only PML-N was able to deliver the most out of the three, despite being in charge of the central province. From motorways, underpasses and bridges and projects like the Orange Line and Metro Bus Service to CPEC and delivering more electricity, their performance is visible for all to see, and is arguably the best among all other parties competing for the throne. Both PTI and PPP are struggling to convince voters through their track record, as both parties have not added even a single megaproject under their belt in the last five years. The PTI’s ‘billion tree tsunami’ is limited to social media alone, while the 350 dams that were promised are still non-existent despite five years in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The Peshawar Metro Bus Project has not been managed properly, and as a result remains incomplete as the cost of the project increases with each passing day. On the other hand, Karachi has a serious and growing water and sewage problem which remains unaddressed by the PPP government. Circumstances are worse in the interior areas of Sindh, where PPP has nothing to show for the past five years, as it has taken no steps to improve conditions in Thar or facilitate the deteriorating conditions of poor farmers. Nevertheless, this does not mean to imply that PML-N’s performance in the last five years was flawless, or that its model of governance is impeccable. The party badly needs to focus on social and structural reforms, and its attention towards alleviation of poverty is urgently required. In spite of the need of improvement in governance and to change its priorities, PML-N still stands far ahead from its major rivals PTI and PPP, in terms of the performance. So this leaves PML-N with an edge, as it can easily highlight its track record of development and progress, but the problem is that like always, the party has wasted time by sticking to Nawaz’s narrative. From the very beginning, Shehbaz was of the view that instead of confronting institutions, the party should focus on its progressive work and ask for votes on the basis of its performance. With Nawaz now out of the picture, it seems Shehbaz has come to PML-N's rescue by giving a solid manifesto only highlighting what the party has managed to accomplish thus far. Though the manifesto looks good, is it too late for PML-N to change its narrative entirely? Will Shehbaz’s performance and his vision be good enough to attract voters and to resolve the rift between the PML-N and the establishment? Only time can answer these pertinent questions. For now, both Shehbaz and PML-N are pinning all their hopes on the voters to elect them again, not on the basis of the campaign against them, but on the basis of their performance over the past five years.
While growing up in Karachi in the turbulent 90s, my neighbourhood used to be a perpetual warzone. Acting tough was the only way of surviving. Our future outlook used to be so bleak that career orientation was not even a fleeting thought in my mind. As time passed by and I was faced with the prospect of monetary meltdown at the domestic front, I used to wonder why no one ever extended a helping hand to me and to numerous others who stood at the brink of an abyss that had already consumed hundreds, if not thousands, from our generation due to crime, politics and drugs. I remember keeping a handgun in my school bag while I was in the ninth grade; it is not a glory story, but downright embarrassing as I think about it now. I just wanted to look tough and cool back then. One may call it my cowardice, or the corporal punishment meted out by my mother, that kept me at bay and reformed me before I could have harmed others like those around me were doing. However, there remains an itch or guilt for the unsavoury contributions that led to the downward spiral of my surroundings. After a nightmarish transition from a rebel youth to a lowly paid blue collar worker, I crawled my way up into the world of white collared individuals, lamenting and criticising everyone except myself for the trials and tribulations I went through. Later on when prosperity prevailed, there was a strong and insatiable urge to spread goodness and provide positive direction to our youth, enabling them to brace the turbulent times ahead. After an online search I came across The Citizens Foundation School’s (TCF) Career Counselling program, where young volunteers from all walks of life are supposed to impart career counselling to ninth and 10th graders from underprivileged backgrounds. After shifting to Lahore due to a job relocation, I volunteered in the “Rahbar Program”. In Rahbar, each volunteer is required to work with eighth or ninth graders for six Saturdays. It turned out to be a wonderful experience to be able to mentor these students, who by and large have very little to look forward to past matriculation. After matriculation most of them drop out of school, mainly because boys have to earn so they can support their families, while most of the girls get married. The wisdom behind signing up volunteers from diverse professional and educational backgrounds is to let these kids from the backwaters of our society attain awareness about the opportunities that lie ahead. Most of them are destined to miss out on these opportunities, not because they are anywhere less in pedigree, but due to belonging from the lower strata of society they are condemned by circumstance. All the volunteers went in the program to impress the kids of their achievements, but came out of it enthused by what they had witnessed. The talent and ambition we observed was so immense and had such a powerful impact on me in particular, that even today I remain part of this program. What these underprivileged school kids need is a little bit of belief and confidence in themselves. They need to be assured that despite facing numerous hardships and constraints; they do have a chance to be a useful part of our society. I listened to inspiring stories of eighth and ninth graders, who despite facing their own hurdles, attend school. They study even though there is prevalent illiteracy in most of the families. They study in post-apocalyptic slums and sub-rural surroundings, where clean water is a rare commodity and the sight of garbage and open drains are aplenty. Each pair of hands, whether young or old, contributes towards the meagre joint-income these households muster to make ends meet. So a male child in school would mean less income and a female child studying would mean less help for her mother in doing household chores, and also a bit of a burden when it comes to her marriage. While mentoring these students, I also observed some sensitive issues which I believe have led to polarisation in this society. Once I asked my mentees to tell us all one secret which their other friends do not know. All the kids spoke about trivial tit bits, except one who later confided that despite being a Muslim he lives in a Christian colony, which is embarrassing. I asked the reason why, to which this kid bemoaned that Christians are smelly. In response, I narrated a quote from a brilliant novel, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif,
“If they (Christians) have unpleasant body odour, it is because of cleaning the smut defecated by the Muslims.”We also take our mentees out for trips to factories so they can get some exposure. They can observe people working in various departments, and be informed and made aware about different professions. We visited a food processing unit where we were served snacks, but one of my mentees didn’t touch the food. On the following Saturday all the mentees spoke highly of the aforementioned exposure trip, except this innocuous boy who didn’t eat anything. Upon asking the reason for this, he questioned why we took him to a factory belonging to a minority sect, and claimed they are apostates. Befuddled by the acerbic remarks of an 11-year-old who knew very little about the real cause and effect of such mental state, I cursed my stars for not judging it earlier. But God gave me strength, and I explained to him that we should make efforts to harmonise and not divide. Later on this kid exhibited remorse, and I believe I prevented one more young kid from becoming a sacrificial lamb in the quagmire of hate as he grows up. Being outraged, saddened, sickened or berating our society is not good enough. We need to be involved in practical participation in order to become agents of positive change. By volunteering to help those who are underprivileged, we can lessen the class divide and polarisation of our society. I urge everyone to make volunteering a permanent part of their lives. Addressing the inhibitions, insecurities and fear of the unknown amongst the underprivileged school-going children not only motivates them to keep striving for better, but also helps in building up their confidence and shaping their character at a very early age. In conclusion, I am sharing a beautiful song by Ali Azmat, which sums up why it is important to find a purpose; a mission in life which could trigger a positive change within an individual and society at large. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1gpqXGXTYA&feature=youtu.be
When I moved back to Pakistan after completing my undergraduate studies in the US, I was not a supporter of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). In fact, my newsfeed was flowing so much with remonstrations about the ‘Jangla Bus’ (Green Line Metro Bus) that it was hard to even contemplate that possibility. One day, I decided to test out this infamous bus service, from Model Town to Lahore Fort, expecting to witness how utterly senseless the project truly was. Handed a yellow plastic token, I entered through the turnstile and awaited my ride. It pulled in and the doors parted with a hiss, just as they used to in Boston, London and New York. But inside was such a massive mesh of people that I thought it would be better to take the next bus. When the next one too was bursting at the seams, I stepped in with one deep breath. From Model Town all the way to Lahore Fort, not a single passenger got off. To the contrary, and quite miraculously, more kept piling on. It smelled of a hard day’s work inside. All the commuters had hung shoulders and tired expressions, yet seemed to enjoy the ride. Three stops down the line, they would disembark at Shahdara, just outside the city; all for Rs20. For me, a new story was writ that day; a story missing from my Facebook newsfeed even today. Here was a project that was the scorn of the rich – and yet it was packed. For a meagre Rs20, gardeners, plumbers, waiters, students and salesmen alike rode in an air-conditioned bus. Neither confined by their locality, nor inhibited by the expensive commute they would otherwise have to take aboard a van, followed by a rickshaw, and then possibly a tonga (light carriage), they could now seek work wherever it was available. Those who used the service had clearly voted in its favour. For them, this was a need, not a luxury. That was the first time I thought to myself, these guys are doing something right. All of a sudden, I started seeing it elsewhere too. I saw signs of free Wifi in public parks, markets and universities. I saw that the government took the first step in starting what can today be called an infectious start-up culture in Punjab. I also saw the truck from the Lahore Waste Management Company that would clean the road in front of my house every day. I have seen those trucks in every corner of the city I have been to. The green jumpsuits of the staff once again remind me of workers in cities the rich frequently flock to when the sun lays its heavy weight on the plains during summer. There is dignity in their uniform; there is pride in their service, just as there is in more developed countries. This development was there for me to see all along, but I only noticed it after that bus ride. I was, however, still unsure whether PML-N’s vision for Pakistan matched mine. It was only when Nawaz Sharif celebrated Diwali – the first Pakistani premier to dare to do so – that I found my vision was not too dissimilar from his. This was followed up by a ‘Christmas Train’ from Peshawar to Karachi, taking the nativity scene through small towns and villages in a resounding celebration of diversity. A vote can be cast for many reasons or none at all. It is an expression of choice after all. So in this upcoming election, I choose to vote for PML-N. Their performance and intentions over the past five years have me convinced. But starting July 26, they – or whoever comes to power – will have to start convincing me and everyone else all over again.
With General Elections upon us, we took to the streets of Karachi to ask people the political party of their choice, with a twist: our very own Game of Politics (GoP). Everyone wonders who they’ll vote for, but how often do we question who we would NEVER vote for? Talking to a variety of people, across gender, age and social class, we noticed some interesting patterns in what people said, and interestingly, even what they didn’t say. Women were largely uncomfortable with answering questions pertaining to politics and being on camera as well; amidst a group of friends with both boys and girls, the boys would either put themselves forward or the girls would push their male friends forward to do the talking. We did encounter one woman who seemed interested in answering our questions, but before she could consent, her male relative (brother, husband, not clear) answered for her and walked away. A lot of people refused to answer the question, warning us that it might be dangerous to even talk about this here. One man went on the extent of saying:
“Yeh Karachi hai beta, yahan aesi baatain nai karsaktay hum log.” (This is Karachi, you cannot discuss these things here)These are the aftereffects of a city that has been terrified for far too long. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)’s influence might have died down but Karachiites still hold onto the fear and refuse to say anything that might get them into trouble or even cost them their life. Men in general had a lot of feelings over what parties should be removed from Pakistan's landscape, and were enthusiastic about speaking up. On the other hand, several women were either apolitical or sheepishly admitted to having no knowledge of or interest in politics. One university student told us that her family was voting for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which is why she would too, despite not having any particular inclinations or interest in the party. Across social class, while those stemming from middle to lower class backgrounds tended to have political opinions and share their grievances and the reason why they would want a party out, people belonging to the upper class either thought the question was unfair – that every party deserves to compete – or were politically neutral and did not have particularly strong opinions on who to eliminate. A lot of the people belonging to the upper class even saw the elections as useless. They believed that there was no point to voting and that Pakistan was headed toward its inevitable doom We also came across a woman who showed her grievance on not being able to cast her vote. Her identity card was not made, despite going to National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) offices multiple times. She mentioned how she has never been able to vote because of this and thought that her ID card issues were due to the fact that she worked as a maid and was not taken seriously. We went in with the hypothesis that people might want to get rid of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) considering the party's current standing and corruption charges on its leader. Our hypothesis proved right, 29.4% people wanted PML-N to be ousted from politics. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was just behind, with 23.5% people claiming they do not want to give any further chances to the Bhutto party. In PTI's case, 11.7% of the people refused to vote for the party while the other 11.7% wanted to get rid of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). One person wanted Karachi’s most popular party, MQM, to finally pack up their bags, while another person, hailing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), wanted to eliminate Awami National Party (ANP). Moreover, 11.7% of the people did not want to eliminate anyone. Surprisingly, even though Karachi arguably owes a lot to Mustafa Kamal, his party, Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), was not mentioned by anyone we interviewed. This is either a cause to rejoice for the newbie because people did not seem to think the party deserved to be kicked out of the political arena, or it could be a cause of concern that the party is not noticeable enough to Karachiites. Across the country, most political parties have certain regions where they are strong, giving voters in the region the option to choose between a couple of parties. In Sindh, however, particularly in Karachi, this is not the case. Every political party – be it PML-N or PPP, who are unlikely to win, or PTI, MQM or even PSP, who stand a chance – is running a strong campaign with the possibility of getting elected. An independent candidate even having a small shot at winning an important constituency like NA-247 and PS-111 is proof that Karachi is entirely unique when it comes to electioneering and voting patterns. May the best party for Pakistan win! [poll id="784"]
Karachi has a love-hate relationship with the monsoon season. While Karachiites long for rain throughout the year, we shudder at the very thought of prolonged downpour, flooding, destruction and power outages that are inevitably associated with it. The last time this city truly got to enjoy the rainy season was during Mustafa Kamal’s tenure, when despite drains heavily clogged with rainwater – especially the Gujjar Nala and Neher-e-Khayyam – alternate drainage arrangements were made and the citizens were spared the entire rain-related trauma. Things are much, much different now. With monsoon rains that are imminent and expected any day now, infrastructure that is crumbling, a mayor in office with plenty of excuses to not do enough for the relief of Karachiites, along with a lack of ownership by the citizens, the city will surely descend into utter chaos if it rains heavily. After all, the entire country witnessed the state of developed cities like Lahore and Islamabad during this monsoon season in Punjab. When a city like Lahore – with all possible funds spent for development and former Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif’s personal attention to details – couldn’t bear the brunt of nature and was unprepared, how can Karachi – the disowned and severely ignored city – survive? https://twitter.com/i_aliarif/status/1004126796017819653 Karachi is home to immigrants from all over the country, who come down to this port city in search of jobs. Their uncontrolled influx has further choked the housing and infrastructure of the city, as they mostly settle down in encroached areas. Punjab, on the other hand, hasn’t experienced this influx as yet, and thus the common man on the streets owns the city and appreciates all the good work done by the government. Then how did the recent rains wreak havoc in the immaculately-managed city of Lahore? [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Men watch a sinkhole form on Mall Road. Photo: M Shehzad/ Express[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] A man pushes his car on a flooded road in Lahore. Photo: M Shehzad/ Express[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Water levels rise in a Lahore parking lot. Photo: M Shehzad/ Express[/caption] From where I view this, Shehbaz has created a facade by laying down an excellent road network, bridges, underpasses and advanced mass transit systems, but did not bother putting in extended effort on underground drainage systems, simply because they are not visible and could not translate into votes. Back in the day, Kamal took the risk and worked on the underground infrastructure first, before moving to the ground level. However, the drainage system of Karachi today needs a complete overhaul, since the system hasn’t been maintained or repaired since Kamal left. From widening of existing drains to removal of encroachments, serious efforts are needed to keep devastation at bay from the city. During Kamal’s era, he came to the rescue when Clifton was badly flooded, and despite not being responsible for areas falling under cantonments, he worked on footings and laid down a system that has kept Clifton from submerging in the years to come. Similarly, Gulistan-e-Jauhar is a neighbourhood that was ignored by all previous provincial as well as local governments. It was Kamal and his team that laid down a very effective drainage system which remains functional to date and has kept the area from flooding. What Karachi needs is similar leadership and ruthless accountability against all those who are involved in corruption and choose to do nothing while the city slowly nears its doom. Throughout the world, drainage systems have a specific capacity, after which they cease to fulfil their purpose. Once the threshold is met, streets get flooded and evacuations have to take place. For instance, last year, we saw Hurricane Harvey bring destruction to several cities in Texas, mainly Houston. Even a developed country like the US, possessing state-of-the-art infrastructure, could not handle the intense rains, eventually causing massive flooding, evacuations, destruction of property and deaths. Nonetheless, the rescue services and city administration in Houston was fully functional and despite the havoc, order was soon restored, inquiries were initiated and compensations were made. It may sound like a reach, but we need such efficient systems in place in a major metropolitan city like Karachi, where a single day of economic shutdown takes the entire country a few steps back. Ensuring proper drainage for rainwater is the only solution. In order to prepare for the upcoming monsoon spell, here are some basic steps the current caretaker government of Sindh should take: 1. Gujjar Nala is a major rainwater channel that has been heavily encroached. All previous governments could not address this issue due to “political” implications. Now is the chance to take the bull by its horns and get it cleared of all encroachments, which have led to it being narrowed to only a few feet. 2. All the rainwater drains running throughout the city must be cleaned and widened. 3. The government should start educating the masses through electronic and print media about the implications of encroaching on rainwater drains, and how it negatively affects the whole city. On another note, we need civic awareness programs at a public level to make Karachiites realise that if they want a decent living style, they will have to own this city, avoid dumping trash in drains and more readily contribute towards a cleaner and greener Karachi.
We often complain of lack of recreational activities in Karachi – a city which can easily be labelled a foodie’s paradise, but with few other entertainment outlets available. Any new addition to the leisure scene in the city is always welcomed with arms wide open – and Askari Parks’ opening was no exception to this reception. One might recall Funland in Clifton, the Sindbad franchise across Karachi, Aladdin Water Park in Gulshan, Nisar Shaheed Park in Defence and Go Aish in Gulshan. While taking rides at these parks, we race at breakneck speeds through the twists and turns or suddenly plunge to the ground, but what is it about these places that we enjoy? Is it the temporary reprieve from our otherwise stressful lives or the thrill in riding on danger’s edge – that we are comfortable in overlooking the danger involved? But what if it turns out that the danger is real? Do accidents happen? And who is responsible for making sure these rides are safe? I guess none of these concerns were addressed at Askari Park last weekend. https://twitter.com/SumairaJajja/status/1018590065176514562 What happened at Askari Park? Whose oversight led to the accident: management, state or consumer? A part of their frisbee pendulum ride collapsed to the ground; an initial report claimed that the swing fell apart after its ball bearings slipped because of broken bolts. This type of ride features a circular gondola that rotates as it swings back and forth. Riders are seated on the gondola facing inward or outward, depending on the model. Eye witnesses said,
“It was around 40 feet above the ground when it crashed. There was a loud bang and people ran here and there.”He added that the park’s management suddenly disappeared from the scene. Over the years, we have regularly seen amusement park accidents in Pakistan, including: 1. The death of an employee on the Crazy Plane ride at Sinbad in 2011 2. Thirty-five, including children injured in Pirate Ship accident 3. Aladdin Park deaths in 2004 In the case of Askari Park, there were reports quoting the park’s Managing Director Shafqat Jafri saying that the machinery had been imported from China. Two days prior to the park's opening, he claimed that no officials had visited the park yet as there were no laws governing such rides in the country. The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) team, he had said at the time, would visit the park in a few days. Ironically, the same ride was rumoured to have been opened for trial on Sunday, and people at the park were being enticed to try this new attraction. They immediately closed down the ride, after the accident happened. This makes me wonder which party is responsible for keeping a check and balance on parks of this magnitude – if there is any body, that is. https://twitter.com/meemelif/status/1018586079694348288 Fire-fighting activities were executed almost immediately – including police deployment, experts arriving for inspection and closing the park until the inquiry was completed. Injured were moved to Liaquat National Hospital – whose treatment cost would apparently be borne by the provincial government. But is that truly enough? Or is that even the point? Shouldn’t these things be done as a significant pre-cursor to opening large amusement parks – ensuring security checks, as far as it is possible and practicable? Closure of amusement rides across the province for three days and reopening to the public after completion of technical inspection should not have to happen, if regular checks were established in the first place. https://twitter.com/falamb3/status/1018638877483925504 What constitutes a “serious injury” on a joy ride? A serious injury is one that results in immediate admission and hospitalisation of more than 24 hours beyond observation. Management has a huge role in ensuring safety when launching their amusement parks. This responsibility includes inspection/maintenance of rides, blanket application of safety procedures and ensuring that no attraction has design faults. https://twitter.com/Oh_My_Mascara/status/1018570822766747648 The next biggest and most important thing to be done is to ensure “qualified” people are employed to operate these rides; these people should know the basics behind the rides they are responsible for, applying height/weight restrictions to people using the rides and being able to run emergency drills if needed. I believe this gives much food for thought. Even though there is an inherent risk in getting on an amusement park ride, park owners do have the same duty as other businesses to ensure the reasonable safety of their customers. With news of the accident, social media was full of condemnations and backlash against park management, demanding boycott and thorough enquiry. https://twitter.com/UmerTariiiq/status/1018570156300210177 This accident was not the first of its kind in Pakistan; and till such time ownership is not taken, by society at large, I doubt this accident will be the last. There must be regulation in place, for periodic inspection, use, erection and design of all rides and similar amusements they operate. And with this, let’s pray for Kashaf who went on a ride, thinking it would be the best moment of her life, and ended up passing away in the accident at Askari Park. We cannot let more of our children meet the same unfortunate fate. If we want safe spaces for our children, let’s start from here.
With the General Elections only a couple of days away, politics is in its prime – rallies are being held, politicians are still being convicted and disqualified, and the ludicrous valuation of assets are making waves on national television and drawing rooms alike. Unlike 2013 though, excitement beckons with the launch of mainstream candidacies by fresh challengers, who are mounting pressure against the status quo. Jibran Nasir, a popular social activist, is taking on age-old tested candidates, prospectively Pak Sarzameen Party’s (PSP) Fauzia Kasuri and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Dr Arif Alvi in NA-247, Karachi. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="424"] Photo: Facebook/ Jibran Nasir[/caption] Prominent leaders of the leftist Awami Workers Party – Ismat Raza Shahjahan and Ammar Rashid – are prospectively taking on Asad Umar and Imran Khan, amongst other experienced personnel such as Mian Aslam in NA-54 and NA-53, Islamabad. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arLsZjhYanw [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Facebook/ Ammar Rashid[/caption] And, in a truly David versus Goliath fashion, a college principal named Liaquat Mirani is mounting a noteworthy candidacy against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and PTI for PS-13 in Larkana – the birthplace of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Liaquat Mirani during his campaign. Photo: Express[/caption] What is happening? Pakistani politics is notorious for its barriers to entry; whether they derive from feudalism, wealth, caste, ethnicity, patronage, backing or connections. However, who are these progressives, how did they get here, and do their campaigns even matter? What is progressive politics? Progressive politics is a rising phenomenon, in which grassroots mobilisation and anti-status quo movements start to mount a challenge against complacent leaders. Think of Bernie Sanders starting a political movement for the reform of the Democratic Party in the US, urging for Democratic Socialism in an era where both the Republican and Democratic parties were mostly in the pocket of Wall Street corporations. Sanders amassed his campaign funding through grassroots donations and denied corporate funding, which he said had harmed America by allowing corporations to take over policy-making in Congress. This is precisely what progressive politics is about: being anti-status quo, and more in touch with the public. Subsequently, rich oligarchs or feudal lords suddenly start making less sense. People slowly move towards candidates they identify more with, whose policies are more relevant for their everyday lives, rather than simply being blinded by charisma, wealth or influence. It is a true wave of unclichéd change through real people, who are closer to issues rather than personalities, be it feudal or celebrity. It is about social equality. It is about representation. It is about dismantling the status quo. How is progressive politics making its way into Pakistan? Grassroots mobilisation is something that Nasir, Shahjahan, Rashid and Mirani have in common, despite their variety of geography – Karachi, Islamabad and Larkana. Nasir talks about his lack of assets, implying that he is more in touch with the policy issues of Karachi than rich oligarchs. In a critical statement, he stated that most ministers get water tankers and thus cannot even fix the water crisis in their own homes, so how can they be expected to fix the issues of the public? Nasir has been running a strong social media campaign – asking for volunteers and donations from grassroots mobilisation vis-à-vis Facebook. Shahjahan and Rashid are albeit less active on social media, but are utilising it to mainstream the Awami Workers Party and gather funding through what they call awaami chanda (crowdfund) in a manner similar to Nasir. They have also launched grassroots door to door campaign in Islamabad, ranging from the I-10 to the F-11. https://www.instagram.com/p/BkVRw4wgu8s/ However, most notably, Mirani has been carrying a loudspeaker in Larkana telling people that the rich VIPs in their expensive cars have done nothing for the community. He chants that he is their teacher on a donkey ride, and people should vote for him based on his community service track record. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejI69L9gzmE Social media – the great equaliser The potential of social media as a political tool first showed potency during the Arab Spring. When Tunisia’s Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the governor’s office due to the state’s tyranny and brutality, his video and story were shared. When the Egyptian police carried out the coldblooded murder of Khaled Said, citizens on Facebook heard and launched ‘We are Khaled Said’! In the face of oppression by the state, common people united and played their part in removing some of the most powerful political regimes – equalising their strength with mobilisation. The same equaliser exists in Pakistan; not for violence, but for peaceful democratisation through mobilisation and accountability. With internet penetration growing in Pakistan, no longer can politicians hide their scandalous corruption charges. More so, people like Nasir, Shahjahan, Rashid and Mirani have a platform to build a base, gather funding, and argue for issues that make sense for their communities – issues that may have been ignored by the current political status quo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChaW_kYxDcM https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=l4vJsD7-rD0 Liaquat Mirani from Larkana stated,
“I am amazed at (the) social media boom. The youth has now stood up against bad governance, corruption and nepotism.”Do progressive campaigns matter? Looking away from home, recently in the US, a 28-year-old progressive named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated 10-time elect Joe Crowley in the New York Primary Election for the Democratic Party. Mr Crowley was a heavyweight fundraiser for the Democrats, who did not even bother to turn up for the election speech; such was his complacency in governing and his entitlement to govern. What happened next was an upset. Despite his $3 million campaign, Ocasio-Cortez defeated him with a $300,000 campaign funded through grassroots mobilisation. The very same methodology is being used by Nasir, Rashid and Shahjahan. https://twitter.com/AmmarRashidT/status/1021296612327518208 https://twitter.com/ismatshahjehan/status/1021305244297424896 Will the Pakistani progressives achieve the same success? The topic of their victory remains a pessimistic subject due to the seemingly insurmountable odds, given their opponents and the maturity of Pakistan’s democracy. But their heroics through grassroots mobilisation are strengthening Pakistan’s democracy – they are paving the way for a future without dynasty politics or feudalism; a future in which you and I can contest elections without any preconceived advantages. And for that, they deserve not only to be lauded, but also to be voted in power.
Our electoral process is far from perfect. A great democracy would have middle class and lower class representatives, performance-based elections, and sustainable policies on the manifesto. We have none of that. But arguably, we can still call our system a democracy. And that is why we need to salvage what we can. This was probably the worst possible outcome of the election. The worst. Not because Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) couldn’t get a majority, or Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) did so poorly, but because a total of six parties rejected the result. If we are to convert those figures in votes, then perhaps around half of the population has rejected this election. People and leaders are calling this a selection rather than an election. https://twitter.com/CMShehbaz/status/1022199708041834496 Now, Imran Khan was expected to win; his media management, performance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), ambitious campaign and Nawaz Sharif’s conviction perhaps sealed that win. So why can’t half the population accept the results? There are two narratives that seek to answer this question. First, that Imran has delivered such a knockout blow to status quo candidates in Karachi, Punjab and K-P, that it is simply not acceptable to them that they have lost. And no one wants to admit defeat. It’s like boxing, where fighters even in the most lopsided matches rarely concede defeat. The second narrative is that these parties have reasonable grounds to complain and allege rigging. If the votes are being counted without the presence of polling agents, then it certainly does not point towards transparency and a free and fair election. https://twitter.com/BBhuttoZardari/status/1022200080554778625 This narrative also rejects the election outright. https://twitter.com/abidifactor/status/1022159663415091200 https://twitter.com/faisalsubzwari/status/1022195880512905216 The truth probably lies in the middle, that there may have been inaccuracies in the vote count, but not to the extent that opposition alleges; it probably made a marginal difference in a select few seats. But that is just my opinion, the truth could be anywhere on this spectrum. So what should Imran do? Well, he’s certainly familiar with the art of appeasement. That’s what he should do. Right after the 2013 General Elections, Imran alleged rigging and asked for re-verification of votes in four constituencies. His opponents did not grant him this minor wish, but that was a mistake. After all, no one knows rigging claims like Imran does. Since he's all about fair elections, he should grant his opponents' request to show he won fair and square. Why? Because he is the prime minister select of this country, and needs to act like it. If he really has won the elections, and has won it fairly, then there should be no cause for concern for him. However, the matter is a bit different this time around. He needs to appease six different parties. Some, however, are a bit more relevant than others. Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) are unlikely to cook up a storm. The PML-N along with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Milli Muslim League (MML), certainly hurts the elections' credibility. So he might need to do more for the opposition-to-be. One reasonable remedy could be that he opens up two constituencies for each party. And before doing that, they agree upon a few rules. For instance, at what extent an inaccuracy will be deemed to have made the elections tainted? Perhaps, these are questions for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) or the judiciary to answer, but there needs to be prior agreement on them. Imran fought a brilliant campaign, but he needs to stop fighting now. Accusations such as the ones levelled against him go into history books. For the betterment of Pakistan, this needs to be a clean victory, one that his supporters and party can be truly proud of, one that is not tainted. Concessions, after a brilliant victory might seem unfair, but it’s what is perhaps needed for Imran to proudly claim that that the country chose him, it is the people who chose him, and no one else.
I began writing this in the morning after the 2018 Pakistani General Elections. This was my third time voting in an election, and my first time voting in Pakistan. On Election Day, I was moved. The morning after, I felt uneasy. I woke up to the headlines heralding Imran Khan as the prime minister of Pakistan amidst strong allegations of rigging. Not feeling particularly loyal to any party, and knowing with a level of certainty that the candidates I had voted for would not win – and they did not – I wasn’t keen on staying up all night biting my nails and watching newscasters get unnecessarily excited over limited information about the results. I figured I’d find out in the morning. On Election Day, I thought I witnessed democracy in progress, and I was swept away by the beauty of it. From wealthy businessmen to working class labourers, all stood in the same line awaiting their turn to vote – the nation was uniting, with each citizen having an equal say. A bride walked into the polling station in her wedding dress, elderly in wheelchairs, members of the transgender community going together, long lines of women, and celebrities and politicians showing off their inked thumbs on social media. In a country with such extreme inequality, it can be uplifting to witness a process this unifying. However, as I waited in line to cast my vote, the ease of with which I could brandish my identification card and stand at the polling booth felt heavy. A few months ago, while visiting Machar Colony, I met with members of the Bengali community whose families have lived there for generations but are unable to vote because of lack of identification cards issued. Shaikh Muhammad Siraj, a community activist told me:
“We want to work for this country, for its betterment. We want to vote for a good leader for the country who will do good work for the public and be useful to the nation. But we aren’t able to do so.”An estimated 1.2 million Bengali Pakistanis were unable to vote in this election. While the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has done much to get women registered to vote, having registered 3.8 million women to electoral rolls in the past months, millions more across the country remain unregistered. The Ahmadi community too remains excluded from the electoral process, forced to choose between their religious beliefs and their right to vote. In Quetta, 31 voters were murdered as they attempted to exercise their right to vote. And here I was, having spent the majority of my life outside of Pakistan, casually strolling into a local polling booth. I slipped my ballots into their respective boxes, uncomfortable with how much privilege existed in this seemingly simple action. It was an emotional experience to feel included in the electoral process of my birth country, and tempting to think that democracy could be this simple. The first time I voted was in the Canadian Federal Elections to vote out former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which we successfully managed to do through strategic voting. The second time I voted was in the British Columbia (BC) provincial elections to vote out Christy Clark and bring in the New Democratic Party (NDP). Each time I voted, it was for change, for someone new, out of frustration of the status quo. When I spoke with Donald Trump supporters south of the border, I was told that they too wanted change. He is different, they would say. No matter the policies, to them, change was a virtue in of itself. Hilary Clinton seemed like she’d be more of the same. Barack Obama won in 2008 under the campaign slogan “change”. The desire for change among Pakistanis is similar. Imran, eager to finally become prime minister, capitalised on this common desire, and he too promised change in the form of a naya Pakistan. As I listened to his speech to the nation, I desperately wanted to believe him. I recognise this tendency in me, to want to focus on the positive, to hope for a desirable outcome despite all the evidence suggesting otherwise. It exists in many of us. Being critical often calls for an energy that doesn’t always feel sustainable when you’re constantly surrounded by things that demand active critical deconstruction. When you’re surrounded by cynics who have good reason to be cynical, and when there are so many things going wrong and opportunities to celebrate seem rare. Today, I ask myself: how can one remain hopeful without closing one’s eyes? Can we not admire the long lines winding outside polling stations, but also refuse to forget or abandon the millions excluded from the process? Can we really call this election fair? Who are we betraying when we make this claim? I asked a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporter why he was voting for PTI, and he responded,
“Because Imran Khan’s different; he’s new and I want a change. Who else would I support otherwise?”The youth supporting Imran really do want a naya Pakistan. They are tired of the same old. They want to hold on this new, shimmering idea of change, of the possibilities that one can conjure with the adjective “new”. There is so much for the imagination in this singular word. When I imagine what 'naya' could mean, I imagine clean streets, strong and open governance, viable public transport, water equality, accountable leadership, better hospitals, schools, universities, fair elections, and social welfare. I imagine strolling along pristine, peaceful, tree-lined streets of Karachi at night, feeling safe. I imagine Karachi afternoons where every child is in a classroom rather than working on the streets. I can understand the desire to close one’s eyes to all the facts that betray the hope that this is not going to be a new Pakistan. If not much worse, it will be the same old. It is difficult to let go of hope when it feels so rare. And while Justin Trudeau is a different prime minister from Stephen Harper, so many of his promises remain broken. He promised electoral reform, which never happened. He promised to work to protect the environment and work with indigenous communities, a promise he broke with his approval of major pipeline projects. The BC NDP, while fulfilling some promises, broke others. After each election that I’ve voted in, I have seen how some things improved, many that I hoped would, didn’t. Change can be slow, can be a mirage, can be a betrayal, it can even be worthwhile. It cannot guarantee progress; it is simply a turn. New does not automatically mean better. The election of Trump in the United States brought some of the biggest changes to the country as his voters had hoped, but those changes were often for the worse, as has been the case in many countries around the world that are seeing a rise in authoritarianism and fascism in their attempts to change the status quo. Perhaps it was this sense of false hope and the lack of caution on the part of so many around me, which made me feel uneasy the morning after election. Things don’t change so easily, and not all change is for the better. Let us go into this “new” Pakistan with our eyes fully wide open. Let us find things to celebrate, but let us not delude ourselves.
Back in April this year, I felt really low and sort of depressed, as I kept getting a strong urge to visit a new place, somewhere I’d never been before. I made my way to Google and found that Cambodia offers e-visas for Pakistani citizens. Thus, I ended up applying for a visa on a whim sometime in the evening, and found it waiting for me when I checked my inbox in the morning; the whole process taking only seven hours to complete. My wife and I took a connecting flight, which gave us a six-hour layover in Bangkok. Thankfully the airport in Bangkok is quite good, and you don’t get tired of waiting even as the hours pile on. From Bangkok, we took a Thai flight – Thai Smile, a budget airline by Thai Airways – to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. As we went to the gate to board our flight, two crew members approached us with smiling faces and courteously asked us for our details. I showed them our hotel bookings, visa, return tickets, as well as the funds we possessed. They took all our documents and returned after 15 minutes, apologising for the inconvenience. Apparently, we had to be enquired due to our nationality, as they had to send our details along to immigration in Cambodia. After an hour long flight, we arrived at the Phnom Penh airport. When the immigration officer saw our Pakistani passport, he referred us to a senior officer, who took our passports to a room and came out after 10 minutes to stamp them and allow us to enter the country. Sometimes it feels rather embarrassing and offensive to travel with a green passport. As our total journey had extended over 18 hours, we took a nap as soon as we reached our hotel. By the time we went outside, it was almost evening. Luckily, the Night Market, which is a flea market for tourists, was just a five-minute walk away from our hotel. We saw several garment, souvenir and handicraft shops, along with a great food court where we tried fresh sea food and other local Khmer delicacies. Cambodia was ruled by the Khmer Empire from the ninth century onwards, comprising of present day Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. In the latter half of the 20th century, Cambodia saw the emergence of the Khmer Rouge, a communist party that became responsible for the Cambodian genocide. We asked around and decided to visit the killing fields and S21 Prison for our first day of sightseeing; places converted into museums to commemorate the horrors of the regime. As you enter the fields, you can see a building resembling a large stupa, inside which there exist hundreds of skulls, bones, and the clothes of the people killed during the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. They have even segregated the remains on the basis of gender, age, and the way they were killed. It was really heart-wrenching to see remains of such horrors, as we also saw a place where they used to offload trucks full of prisoners who would then be executed in the most inhumane manner. There was a tree where they hanged a large loudspeaker to play loud music and speeches, which they used to suppress the screaming of the people being killed. On the right side of stupa, they have fenced an area where mass graves were later discovered, and a pond where the regime used to throw the bodies after killing them. We stayed at the fields for three hours, and only saw silent visitors with tears in their eyes. After the fields, we went to the S21 prison, which used to be a school but was transformed by the Khmer Rouge into a prison, and has now been turned into a museum. We saw tiny cells where prisoners were chained and torture rooms which were once class rooms. The modus operandi of the Khmer Rouge was to take photographs of dying prisoners after severely torturing them in order to spread fear amongst the people. There exist several accounts, but we were informed by our tour guide that almost 3 million innocent people lost their lives. For the next day, we were advised to visit a huge complex in which reside the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. The Royal Palace, of course, is the residence of the King. We saw large green lawns, a few stupas of previous kings, a monastery, museums, as well as a new building being erected facing the riverside park so the king can address his people. A popular building inside the complex is the Silver Pagoda, and as the name suggests, the entire floor of the temple is made of pure silver. Our guide informed us that approximately 5,000 bricks of silver were used, with each weighing approximately one kilogram. There is a statue of Buddha, which is made of pure gold and decorated with a 25 karat diamond on his forehead. We also saw lotus flowers everywhere, in large vases and in ponds, as they are considered sacred in Buddhism. The next day we took a tour of Angkor Wat, a huge complex surrounded by manmade lakes. Once a home for crocodiles, legend dictates these lakes were made to prevent foreign aggression. Angkor Wat is so important to Khmer traditions that they have made it a symbol of Cambodia, also displaying it on its national flag. There are five towers of the main temple, and it took us around three to four hours to visit them all. The walls are beautifully engraved with Apsara, Hindu Gods, Buddhist scriptures, Sanskrit scriptures, lotus flowers and so on. Alarmingly, many statues were missing their heads, and we were told they were stolen by smugglers and thieves. Later on, we visited the Bayon Temple, which is popular for its architecture and gigantic smiling faces carved on towers. There are about 212 smiling faces on 53 towers, with four on each tower. Standing at the entrance feels like you’re on the movie set of Indiana Jones. Our final destination was Ta Prohm, which is undoubtedly a wonderful, picturesque site. It was built as a monastery in the 12th century, but was abandoned after the fall of Khmer Empire, after which nature took its course. Huge roots belonging to large trees have covered almost all the buildings, destroying some of them. This temple is also famous for shooting purposes as Hollywood blockbuster Tomb Raider was shot here. We also went to Koh Rong Samleom, a beautiful yet peaceful island with little to no indigenous people; the only visible population is tourists and the staff of resorts. This island was like visiting heaven on earth! The amalgamation of white sands, clean beaches, and bars near shores is amazing, while sipping on chilled drinks in such an ambiance is a feeling that cannot be explained in words. Our 15 days visiting a new land seemingly passed by in the blink of an eye. While it made us sad to discover the horrific events lying in Cambodia’s past, we were lucky enough to see some awe-inspiring places and meet some really friendly people. Most importantly, the trip ended up scratching my itch to see a new place, as Cambodia ended up being unlike any other place I have travelled to, with such history. With enough memories to keep me going for a while, I will surely visit it again! All photos: Muhammad Ali Panhwar
The General Elections held over a week ago broke the shackles that had bound the city of Karachi for so long. The public came out and voted for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and rejected the mandate of two powerful political dynasties that have ruled at the federal level for the last three decades. Not only this, the public voted out the most prominent and influential party of Karachi, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). The city of lights has been voting for the Altaf Hussain-led MQM in all kinds of elections, be they general or local body. However, except for the brief tenure of former mayor Mustafa Kamal, MQM’s performance for Karachi’s betterment has remained below par. Before the elections, Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) was said to replace MQM in Karachi, but they unfortunately failed miserably. According to the general public, since PSP was a part of MQM before breaking away from them, they would be more or less the same. Hence, they rejected the dolphin’s mandate. Additionally, apart from the jalsas and rallies carried out by Imran Khan, the local leadership of Karachi failed to connect with its voters or to establish a momentum. This is why people of Karachi, inspired by Imran’s charisma, turned towards him and voted for PTI in large numbers. Imran’s charisma first attracted the people of Karachi in the General Elections of 2013, when PTI, against all odds, bagged more than 500,000 votes in the city. In these elections, PTI managed to garner more than a million votes, which adds on to PTI’s success in Karachi over the years. What works for PTI is the fact that the party emerged as a one-nation party; it did not do politics on the basis of ethnicity, language or religion. In fact, once Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was the only party that could garner votes from all of the provinces. However, PTI has replaced PPP in this regard, further proving it to be party of the entire nation. The elections are now over and the process of government formation is in full swing. Many people in Karachi are disappointed seeing PTI and MQM-P come together to form the government. They feel helpless to a degree, as the party they had voted out has reentered their lives. While it is understandable that PTI has no other choice and has to form coalitions by the second week of August, Karachiites still feel the change that was promised has slipped away from their fingers. Irrespective of MQM-P’s inclusion in the government at the federal level, I am of the view that the mandate of Karachi is now firmly in the hands of PTI, and it is their responsibility to solve the problems of Karachi. The city is back in the mainstream political arena after voting for a national level party, and this is a good sign for its future. Even though Karachi is the biggest city of Pakistan, it has suffered a lot of setbacks due to a lack of planning and non-seriousness of local bodies. Karachi has always been an important city; so important, in fact, that it was declared the federal capital after the creation of Pakistan. A lot of people migrated here from other parts of the country in search of better opportunities and better livelihood. Even though Karachi is no longer the capital, the influx of people in search of greener pastures continues to this day. However, because of the overflowing population, the city suffers from many shortages; electricity, water, health facilities and so on. This, along with the crime and violence, makes Karachi an obvious challenge for any government. The rural and urban divide of the leadership has also contributed in Karachi’s downfall. The city received the first jolt when a quota system was introduced by the first government of PPP in 1973, which proved to be discriminatory. In 1988, when PPP, led by Benazir Bhutto, came into power after a long reign of dictatorship, it signed a 20-point agreement with MQM for the betterment of Karachi; a development celebrated by the public. Abolishing the quota system was part of the agreement, however, no action was taken to remove it. After a year-and-a-half, MQM pulled out of the federal government, citing that the government was unwilling to fulfill its promises. The quota system was initially introduced for 10 years, but is still applicable in Sindh. Instead of helping the rural population, it has only deprived the population of urban Sindh and created a divide between ethnicities. Over the last 30 years, PPP has come into power on both provincial and federal level on numerous occasions. In fact, in 2018 they will be forming their third successive government in Sindh. Yet the people of Karachi have no hope from them. Due to poor performance in Karachi, PPP’s popularity graph is falling. The defeat of Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari from Lyari, an area that has always voted for PPP, is the major example of its falling popularity. I believe the people of Karachi are at fault if they expect PPP to develop the city, when it has not even done anything concrete for the province that has always voted for them. Though PPP fared better in the provincial assembly in 2018 than it did in 2013, one knows its parliamentarians (many of whom reside in Karachi) will not be making any efforts to improve the quality of life for its people. Moreover, after the 18th amendment, health and education has also become a provincial subject. The PTI-led government will face a lot of problems as they would need the support of PPP’s provincial government to work in these sectors. If the federal government brings any improvement using its discretionary powers, then they will be blamed for disturbing the province’s autonomy. This will be a great test for the PTI government; how to help the people of Sindh and Karachi, if PPP does not allow them to interfere. Karachi saw humongous development in infrastructure during the tenure of its two city nazims, Naimatullah Khan and Kamal. Their success was only possible because the local body system introduced in 2001 gave more power to the city’s mayor. Unfortunately, the new system introduced by the previous PPP regime cut down the powers of the city government and enhanced the powers of the provincial government. Keeping in mind the success of previous local body systems, MQM and PTI, who are going to be allies at the federal level, should strive to introduce a new and more dynamic local body system, not just for Karachi but for other parts of Sindh as well. PTI’s manifesto also carries a clause to form a South Punjab province. I hope they are able to do this, as making one province may pave the way for other provinces in the country. In my view, dividing large provinces into smaller administrative units will help in running them in a more efficient way, reducing the suffering of the people living in far flung areas. Sindh has a lot of resentment about dividing the province. If the people of Sindh are stubborn about making more provinces, then in my view it is better to shift the capital of Sindh from Karachi to Sukkur. PPP has won major seats from interior Sindh, and shifting the capital will help in reducing the pressure on the depleting resources of Karachi. It will take a majority of the Sindh Assembly closer to its people, and maybe they will finally put efforts into development of interior Sindh. Karachi has suffered a lot due to the tug of war between MQM and PPP for the ownership of the city. Unfortunately both parties are only interested in governing, and neither has any interest in solving the problems faced by its residents. For the first time in more than three decades, a party will form government because of Karachi’s acceptance of its mandate. I hope PTI takes ownership of Karachi and works towards solving the problem of the financial hub of Pakistan.
The 2018 Elections are over, giving a healthy but controversial victory to Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). These elections were, according to many independent correspondents, one of the “dirtiest” in living memory, mainly due to the tactics employed by mainstream parties and the extreme political polarisation in the electorate. Besides other things, one crucial aspect that truly distinguished these elections from previous ones was the intense whipping up of religious sensitivities – like bringing up the Finality of Prophethood (pbuh) – by several parties. Although this issue had been raised earlier as well, it took centre stage during the elections. Due to the nature of these religion-infused campaigns, people were expecting religious parties to gain some ground, as the battle was being fought around their typical slogans and they were better equipped to capitalise on it. Some were even expecting them to win more seats this time. However, the results have apparently shown that, by and large, Pakistan does not vote Islamist, as religious parties have collectively not been able to even cross the threshold of 10% of the total seats. Despite its revival, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) could only win 12 seats, whereas the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) could not even win a single seat in the National Assembly. Despite a highly charged campaign, it could only win two seats in the Sindh Assembly. This result has apparently allayed the fears of moderates and reassured the world that in Pakistan, religious extremism is only at the fringe. However, would it be true to infer that since Pakistan does not vote for religious parties, its voter is thus more “moderate”? I have often seen overzealous Pakistanis taunting Indians on social media over how their country is more “extreme” as it voted for a “religious” party like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whereas Pakistanis never vote in overwhelming numbers for similar kinds of extremist parties. By this logic, for them, Pakistan is more religiously “tolerant’ than India. I wish this was true. The problem is that these aggregate numbers hide a far more complex story. Yes, religious parties do not get seats, but that does not mean the Pakistani electorate does not give weight to religious sloganeering and is immune to the weaponisation of sensitive religious matters. If anything, this election actually saw mainstream parties like the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) actively whipping up religion for electoral gains. If religion was not a factor, then these parties would not have spent so much effort in pandering to it. Both Imran and Shehbaz Sharif courted influential pirs, with the former going to the Khatam-e-Nabuwat conference and alleging that Nawaz Sharif had deliberately changed the oath-taking to appease some western powers! There is a reason as to why both mainstream parties played so hard on this wicket. In Pakistan, an ordinary voter may not be voting for religious parties, but religion nevertheless is a critical factor in his or her decision-making calculus. In other words, while religion may not be the only factor, it is definitely a very critical factor. This is why mainstream conservative parties like the PML-N and PTI constantly use religious sloganeering. In fact, one reason as to why religious parties don’t get that many votes is that religion is not their exclusive domain, as all parties are using it. In other words, the difference between mainstream parties and religious parties has blurred to some extent, leaving the latter not much to sell. Secondly, another fact which many are overlooking is that while religious parties did not get too many seats, they nevertheless did take a good number of votes in certain pockets of the country. It should be remembered that Pakistan follows the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system, in which the candidate with the most votes in a constituency wins. This system has often worked to the disadvantage of religious parties, whose vote is substantial but thinly spread across the country. For example, despite being a new party, TLP still got more than 2.2 million votes in this election. However, since this vote was spread all across the country, it could not translate into many seats. If Pakistan was following the proportional representation system, then TLP would have ended with more than 10 seats in the National Assembly. TLP’s performance in some urban areas of Punjab and in Karachi is an indicator that their message resonates with millions. This is a cause for worry, as their entire campaign was based on a single issue upon which they incited hate and violence against other parties, particularly the PML-N. In Punjab, TLP has dented the PML-N’s vote bank considerably, resulting in PTI winning some closely fought seats. Moreover, the presence of TLP forced both PTI and PML-N to also adopt a more hard-line stance. This election is a grim reminder that in Pakistan, religious parties always end up affecting the political discourse more than their actual electoral strength. Further, the way this election was fought, I fear this will become a permanent template for the future as well. Yes, the religious groups may not have won many seats, but there is nothing to take comfort from within these results.
As I think of the Partition that happened 71 years ago, it feels like a memory. Though I do not possess any personal narrative of it, yet it feels like I do have one – so personal that it invokes emotions. This owes to the Partition of 1947 being a national memory in both India and Pakistan to this day. A memory that, as Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal notes, “continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future”. Despite this eminence, it feels like there is a dearth of narratives; stories that remain to be told and heard, dialogues that need to take place. The memory of the Partition itself cannot be sealed off, and this article is an attempt towards this. I bring together lived and inherited memories and delve into the everyday lives of six families to explore how they encountered the Partition, and the meaning(s) they attach to it. ‘Deciding’ to migrate The Partition recorded one of the largest mass migrations in human history. But why did people migrate? The Partition that entailed a separate nation for Muslims was seen as an escape from a predicted oppressive future for Muslims, argues Sualeha Batool, a banking professional from Karachi. Batool places the Partition as a desired end to the cycle of oppression. She argues that Muslims had ruled over India for centuries and must have oppressed Hindus in their time, so now when the Hindus got the chance to rule, they would oppress Muslims. This bleak future for Muslims was apparent from the views of the Hindu leaders. There was thus a strong sense of fear and insecurity among Muslims over staying in India, she argues. One reason for migrating was the hope for a better life. Batool shares that while her mother’s family migrated during the Partition fearing the violence that broke out, her father had migrated in the 1960s after a family feud. He shifted to Hyderabad (Pakistan) to stay with some relatives and finally moved to Karachi to start a new life. There were also those who only had the option to migrate. Tulika Bathija, a Mumbai-based educator and peace activist, stumbled upon her family’s history when she found an old passport belonging to her grandfather that mentioned Shikarpur, and eventually discovered that her family – both paternal and maternal – had migrated from Pakistan. Since the Sindhi migrants were scattered, they migrated from different routes. While her paternal grandfather’s family migrated from a border in Sindh, her mother’s family migrated from the Punjab side, and what they experienced sowed seeds of hatred for years to come. One of her uncles crossed the border in a train full of corpses, with blood dripping on his left shoulder throughout the journey. The scene remained etched in his mind and shaped his being for the time to come. When he came to India, he said,
“We Hindus need to protect ourselves.”Bathija’s maternal grandmother also has both sweet and bitter memories. She misses her ancestral place (Sukkur), and talks fondly about it, but is also entangled in a feeling of loss and betrayal. She feels her home and her life was snatched from her by Muslims. Another family trying to make sense of their crumbling world belonged to Vikram Kalra, a Delhi-based heritage artist, who grew up with the nostalgia of being a Lahori. He recounts that Partition came as a big shock to his family. However, the fate of Lahore remained undecided till the last moment. When eventually Lahore was decided upon, there was chaos and tension across the city. Seeing this, his family members decided to ‘move to India’ for a few days. Confident this chaos will be short-lived, his uncle paid the electricity bill before leaving Lahore so that when they came back, they would not be in darkness. Witnessing the Partition We tend to think of Partition-related violence in terms of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, but what about the experiences of other communities? While a Parsi from Karachi believes their community was unaffected, there were some who felt threatened and thus migrated. One such story is that of the in-laws of Mani Mehta, who is now in her 80s and lives in Nagpur. Her father-in-law worked as a manager in the military club in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, while her husband was studying at a boarding school in Bombay. When violence broke out in Rawalpindi, her in-laws decided to move to India. While her father-in-law decided to come later, his wife and children left and boarded a train to reach India. When the train was in Peshawar, a mob of Sikhs entered the compartment and killed all the Muslim passengers on board. When they came towards Mehta’s family, one of the children – who was nine-years-old at the time – mustered the courage to tell them they were Parsis. Hearing this, the Sikhs took mercy and told them they will ensure they reach India safely. As for her father-in-law, he had used the name “Nosherwan” – a name common for both Muslims and Parsis – to pass off as a Muslim, and after some months he moved to India. While her own family had not migrated, Mehta talked about the Bombay of that time hosting the refugees from Parsi and other communities. Besides this, during and post-migration, Parsis from different parts in Pakistan shifted to Karachi. Coping with the trauma Those who migrated, especially those who were forced to, struggled to start afresh in a land that was not just new but also hostile. Bathija shares that her paternal grandfather was in the shipping business and had contacts in Bombay. When violence broke out, they reluctantly decided to move to Bombay. However, life was not easy after migration. They had to live in rehabilitation camps and start from scratch, doing menial jobs to survive. Post-migration, the Sindhi community also re-invented itself to survive and integrate with the local community. This was also a response to the trauma it faced. According to Bathija, upon migration, Sindhis went from a culture and heritage of religious syncretism to simply seeming more “Hindu”. We know that with time, our borders have only grown stricter. However, this is true not just for both countries, but for the divided families as well. Like Vikram Kalra’s family, the family of Raza, a research student from Lahore, had also thought of the violence during Partition as a temporary disturbance, and hoped to return to Alwar after normalcy was restored – but it never happened. His grandmother died a few years after the Partition, and his family believes it was due to the trauma of being away from her son who had stayed back in India. This also affected Raza’s mother, whose mother died shortly after her birth, leaving her in the care of her eldest sister. Raza’s mother wanted to visit her mother’s ancestral home in India, in the hope that she will be able to experience the essence of her mother there. However, the cruel visa policy did not allow such a visit to take place. A few years ago, the governments of India and Pakistan announced visa on arrival for senior citizens. Raza recounts that he shared this news with his mother and told her that for her, it was now only a matter of a few more years. However, his mother passed away without living her only dream.
The long-awaited wish of Imran Khan to become the prime minister of Pakistan has finally come true, and I pray that he delivers what he has promised. Change is indeed needed and perhaps at a much faster rate than the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) anticipates. Given the state of Pakistan’s crippling economy, the new government may not even have time to enjoy the “honeymoon period” and would have to start their work from the very first day. All of us know that Imran has many problems which he will have to sort out in his own time, however in my opinion, the biggest challenge for him will be to organise and keep his party intact. We know the kind of people that surround him; they are opportunists and may interfere or stop him from doing anything that is against their will and personal agenda. But today is not about the Kaptaan. Today I’d like to discuss a man who has gone through a lot of positive change in the past few years: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari . Yesterday, in the Parliament, amidst loud protests from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) MNAs, Bilawal showed the composure and calmness one would expect from a leader. He delivered his maiden speech in the Parliament amongst many senior and experienced politicians of the country. However, not for a second did it feel like he has never done this before. He put his points and his party’s position forward like a seasoned politician does. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEb5D91nn_c He made it clear that even though his party has reservations regarding General Elections 2018, they will put democracy first and support the ruling party as it tries to create a better Pakistan. He also made it clear to the new government that his party will not hesitate to oppose them every step of the way if they go back on their promises. While congratulating Imran, he urged him to forget the woes of the past and emerge as a leader, not just for his supporters, but for every Pakistani. His speech spoke volumes of the kind of leader Bilawal has the potential to be. His speech was praised by almost everyone, including his fiercest rivals. But this is not the first time that Bilawal and his party have seemed like the mature ones in this political diaspora. Looking back at the election campaign, a horrific incident in Balochistan shook Pakistan. A terrorist attack took the lives of more than 150 people, including a member of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), Siraj Raisani. Similarly, at Awami National Party’s (ANP) corner meeting in Peshawar, a suicide attack led to the demise of Haroon Bilour. Every party condemned the attacks but no one had the courtesy to halt their election campaign to show respect for the deceased and also to make sure their workers and supporters who attend their jalsas are safe. Bilawal was the only leader of a mainstream political party who openly said that he cannot risk the lives of his people and thus won’t resume his campaign until and unless the government gives him the surety of a safe campaigning environment. Honestly speaking, I did not expect such a mature decision from Bilawal. This shows his growth in politics. https://twitter.com/BBhuttoZardari/status/1018053734008582144 With him now in the Parliament, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has a good chance of reviving the position they had at the time when Shaheed Benazir Bhutto was amongst us. With such a strong family background, there are many expectations attached with Bilawal. In order to protest the unfair elections, Maulana Fazlur Rehman announced a juvenile protest where his party refused to enter the Parliament and take oath. Bilawal’s decision to not support Rehman, highlights that his party believes in democracy and will focus on doing constructive opposition inside the Parliament. His political maturity is a ray of hope for PPP supporters who believe that under Bilawal’s leadership, PPP and Sindh will prosper. When it comes to electoral politics, I believe Bilawal has taken the lead here as well. Even though PPP is only the third largest political force in the Parliament, for me, they have surpassed every other party. Where on one hand Imran has achieved success with the help of numerous electables on his side, Bilawal gave the party ticket to a person belonging to the Hindu community, Mahesh Malani. He became the first non-Muslim to be elected on a general seat since 2002, beating Arbab Zakaullah from NA-222 Tharparkar. It was indeed a proud moment for me for I had never witnessed something like this before. Secondly, it was again Bilawal’s political wisdom that he selected Tanzeela Qambrani, an activist belonging to the Sheedi community, and gave her representation in the Sindh assembly. If we go back in time to the Senate Elections, it was PPP who gave Krishna Kohli the opportunity to become the first ever Thari Hindu woman to be elected in Pakistan’s Senate. These are some actions that should be highly appreciated and other parties should also follow the footsteps of PPP in this regard. Yes, you can criticise PPP’s performance in Sindh but they are the only party in Pakistan that will be forming government in the second most populated province of the country, for the third time in a row. People can say that Sindhis only vote for PPP because they believed in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his ideology but they should also understand that the people of Sindh aren’t blind. If they are repeatedly voting a party in, they must have seen something. The educational reforms by the Murad Ali Shah-led government have been remarkable. The education budget of Sindh has increased from Rs120.5 billion in 2013-14 to Rs205 billion in 2018-19. They have set up 28 colleges and 50 schools where the Cambridge system of education is followed. With the increase in budget, they have created more than 20,000 jobs in the last five years. Sindh Government Children Hospital had been under the health department since 2003 but it failed to efficiently cater to patients. Realising this, the Sindh government, under a public-private partnership, handed over control of the hospital to an NGO. It’s the first ever government health facility which is providing international standard quality healthcare services to children under the age of 12. Moreover, the Sindh government has so far opened six satellite centres of National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD) in Karachi, Larkana, Tando Muhammad Khan, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Sehwan. These are remarkable steps taken in regard to healthcare reforms and credit should be given where it’s due. However, one can’t forget the flaws of the Sindh government. Karachi is home to more than 16 million people and yet it lacks a proper transport system. Although PPP has long desired to provide the citizens of Sindh with a proper inter-city transport system, they have always failed. Many projects in the province are nothing more than words on paper. For example, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Diesel Buses project, Larkana Intercity Project, Intercity Bus Project for Karachi and many more haven’t seen the light of the day. A party that has been in power in Sindh for 10 years should at least be able to provide a proper transport system to the people. Since Bilawal is now an MNA and will represent his party in Parliament, he can convey his message through a proper channel and as eloquently as his first speech. He can now aware the people of this country of the performance of PPP in Sindh and change the narrative that his party has done nothing for the betterment of people who voted for them. Under the current circumstances, where PTI has formed the government and PML-N is in splits after the arrest of Nawaz Sharif, PPP under the young leadership of Bilawal and judicious guidance of Asif Ali Zardari can try to re-build their party’s reputation in other provinces. If they are successful, PPP can be one of the most promising contenders of forming the government in the next General Elections.
Bakra Eid or Eidul Azha is here. With the new government being sworn in, there is more news coverage of the political situation in the country rather than the festival which always garners great interest in Pakistan. One serious issue, which pops its head every year during Eidul Azha, is of course of the collection and utilisation of animal hides. As early as food stalls pop up all over the city, volunteers from different organisations start visiting houses, requesting the donation of the animal hides to their ‘deserving’ organisation. As mundane as this sounds, anyone living in Pakistan knows that it isn’t. Here is a little history into the phenomenon. If you are a resident of Karachi, historically your animal hides belonged to Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). This was of course from the days when they were Muhajir Qaumi Movement and continued way after they became Muttahida. Their workers or ‘karkunaan’ would show up at your door and humbly request you for your hide and customary as it was in those days, you obliged. Their hold over the hide collection was only broken when certain other players decided to show up to the party. Parties such the Awami National Party (ANP) and Jeay Sindh Qaumi Muhaaz (JSQM) that had the street muscle to push over the MQM in their areas of influence, did so successfully. However, the most troublesome of these players were the right-wing religious organisations (who were later banned and put on schedule). Despite the banned organisations such as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), formerly Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, have been active in collecting hides openly in the country and their volunteers can be seen peddling their propaganda outside mosques. In 2012, the interior ministry specifically banned certain terrorist and terrorist sympathising organisations from collecting hides but implementation of this ban is of course where the issue lies. Hides are lucrative business. The estimated value of the whopping 12 million hides collected during the three days of Eid in 2016 was Rs8.5 billion. With such a massive amount of money in play, everyone wants a piece of this pie. This year, the problem has been hugely complicated by the fact that ‘some’ of the banned organisations have been given a free hand by the people in power. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) allowed numerous right-wing organisations to not only contest elections, but they also unfroze their accounts and financials to do so. This unfreezing of assets not only allows every terrorist sympathiser access to white money but also to maintain the backend channels they have developed from the time when the freeze was in place. These organisations contested elections in July and also formed political alliances with mainstream parties as any other secular party would. The worst part is that the heavy-handed tactics of these organisations are now on full display with the tacit support of the law enforcement agencies (LEAs). As per the LEAs, no banned organisation was allowed to take out a rally on August 14, 2018, as per the guidelines of the National Action Plan (NAP). However, a banned organisation in question, ASWJ, did take out a rally on Independence Day as they had announced in pamphlets and posters. A friend, who was present when the rally passed Jail Chowrangi, went to the nearby PIB police station to complain. Firstly, they were not allowed to lodge a complaint but once they started posting a live video of the refusal of the police, their cellphones were confiscated and they were taken to the Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI). The ASI went through their written complaint and after a barrage of abusive language, locked them up for writing the complaint, which he termed as ‘sectarian’ in nature against a ‘religious organisation’. They spent two hours in the lockup before family members came for them. A complaint has been lodged against the actions of the ASI. There is another aspect to this issue, which relates to national security and the security of the region. It is alleged that some of the banned organisations have been brought into the mainstream to calm the nerves of ‘certain groups’ associated with them. Rumour has it that this ‘regularisation’ or ‘mainstreaming’ has been done to employ these organisations to re-establish contacts with ‘organisations’ whose footprint expands numerous countries in South Asia, to counteract other ‘players’ in the region. Recently, a high-level meeting of all the heads of intelligence of four South Asian countries took place in Islamabad just after the elections. Intelligence heads from Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan discussed the terrorist threat posed to the region by the return of the Islamic State (IS) terrorists, who have been defeated in Iraq and Syria, to Afghanistan. There are strong rumours of the IS popping up again by certain western countries, to be infiltrated later into our region. Our new Prime Minister Imran Khan mentioned the NAP in his inaugural speech, saying that terrorists will not be spared as peace is crucial to economic progress. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was recently sworn-in, is also planning his first visit to discuss peace and terrorism related issues with his counterparts in Afghanistan. With the new government planning to get a grip on terrorists and their allies, only time will tell if they will be able to do so or not, and will we be inadvertently funding their cause through our religious sacrifice?
Some years ago, summer of 2012 to be precise, I hosted an informal morning tea for Maleeha Lodhi, and while discussing the upcoming 2013 elections, she said to me,
“It is not the Pakistan that this diaspora may have left 20 years ago, it’s a different Pakistan. The public is more desperate, the crises are much more and the conscious awareness that every vote counts is on everyone’s mind.”Hence, to me, her statement implied that Imran Khan was going to be elected prime minister in the 2013 elections, but history tells us a different tale. Imran fell, and with him fell all our hopes. But come this July 26, 2018, our fervour is back in business. Our zeal is all the more profound after listening to Prime Minister Imran’s first address to the nation, and the nation at large, as referred to the Pakistani diaspora. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta-ANSAJ4bc He talked to us directly, and we understood everything he said. To the sceptics who have an issue with Imran, why don’t you listen to his speech? He’s talking like you and I do while sitting in our drawing rooms, he’s talking like an average Pakistani. Tell me one thing he said wrong, and I’ll tell you a thousand things he said right! I’ve heard him speak on several occasions, at intimate gatherings, addressing a small number of people in a drawing room, and what struck me most about his speech on TV was the sincerity and authenticity he displayed. It is exactly how he is in person. He appears idealistic, passionate, almost unreal, and on giving it a closer thought, I realised it is because he talks like a common man, something entirely alien to us when coming from a politician. He talks how you and I talk when we exasperatedly exclaim,
“You know what, if I was ever elected, this is how I would solve, or begin solving the issues that are facing Pakistan.”And that is a powerful feeling. It’s a feeling of trust. It’s a feeling of relatability. It’s a feeling an average Pakistani understands and admires, because it’s their feeling too. He mentioned all the right issues plaguing our country like child sexual abuse, corruption, maternal health and even the stunted growth of children. Listening to him making all these promises, I thought to myself, if he’s able to deliver even one-fourth or one-third of what he’s saying, which is no less than delivering unicorns and rainbows given the time frame, it will be beyond anything I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. Imran referred to all the ills ailing my beautiful country, and said he’ll try to find a fix; he acknowledged all the menaces, and asked for my help. I understood him, as did all the others I spoke to before writing this blog. Here is what the diaspora had to say: Salman Akhtar, Cardiologist, Las Vegas, Nevada:
“I hope that we can contribute monetarily, or as direct investment in the new Pakistan. The new government should come up with a sensible plan with enough transparency that makes all the expatriates comfortable that the effort is not to fill the coffers of some professional politician, or his cronies. With a humanitarian at the helm of the nation, the time is ripe for all of us to pay back to the motherland what is due. I am what I am today because of all the opportunities that my country provided for me, and the free professional education that was available. Seeing the nation crippled by debt, and the looting by the two major parties over the last few decades, it’s been heart-wrenching. It is time we pitch in.”Muneezah Hamid, Teacher, Houston:
“We, the diaspora, support Imran not because he’ll fix everything in a jiffy, but because he’s the best choice at this moment in time. Lyari not voting for Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Karachi getting rid of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and the emerging Jibran Nasir force are very positive changes! No popular leader is faultless; neither was Barack Obama just to give an example from recent history. Yet, a change (in spite of his faults) is better than the old corrupt order. Keep an open mind, support good effort and do our own civic duties, wherever we may live, is what is needed at this time. What surprises me is that there was no clamour for accountability for precious governments. Imran is not a saint, nor has he come from a different world, but he promises something no one has ever promised before. I have lived more than half my life in Pakistan. My two daughters were born in the US and we moved back to Pakistan to raise them there until they were in their late teens. We suffered through many governments and the injustices that came with each. We do not condone the blasphemy law, nor violence against minorities. Hold Imran’s feet to fire, by all means. We too hope for a better Pakistan, but all we are saying is that he seemed like the best option at this time. As for Aamir Liaquat Hussain, well, he is a despicable character, but maybe a necessary evil at this time to win over the MQM vote. Are you not rejoicing the loosening hold of MQM in Karachi? I certainly am. Let’s be fair and objective in our analysis. Imran’s speech was wonderful; I’m a big supporter for now.”Ayesha Jamil, Banker, London:
“I am very surprised that I am writing this next line. I was impressed and moved by Imran’s speech to the nation after he was sworn in as the prime minister. There it is. I have admired Imran for his cricketing career and his philanthropy, but his politics has often confused me. However, that speech and the ideas he encapsulated, it was the first time I heard a politician speak about issues that have concerned me about Pakistan. The way he spoke was open, frank, and he used Urdu I understood. There was no air of superiority. As someone who has spent most of her life abroad, listening to the PTV news in my childhood was like listening to another language, which felt as if we were being pushed away. Hence, listening to the Urdu spoken by Imran was in itself a breath of fresh air. After having supported and believed Pakistani politicians in my 20s, in my 40s I have to admit I lost hope. However, Imran’s speech gave me hope again, and I truly pray that he can succeed and create a Pakistan that gives its citizens among other things, clean water, healthcare, education, equality, sanitation, religious freedom and prosperity. I do hope that right-wing elements in the party don’t hold too much sway over him, and that we can create what this country called Pakistan was truly meant to be.”Amna Mumtaz, Lawyer, Singapore:
“We have to be realistic, Imran and his party are far from perfect, they are all from here and from us after all, but one cannot challenge the guts he has displayed. We are so down and out that Imran looks like a true hero just for saying the things he has said. No one has even done that, lest they be held to it! Let’s hold him and all after him to their words. The onus is on us as much as them.”To all the cynics who are unwilling to give him a chance, or compare him to others in the past, it’s interesting to me how we admire heroes in history books, movies and fiction. Heroes, who are gutsy and warrior-like, but have personal failings. Heroes who shake up the corrupt status quo, but are fighting their own demons too. Heroes who are Robin Hood, they take from the corrupt and give to the weak in society. Heroes who are compassionate, and ready to face the battlefield, and the Goliath within the country, and without! We admire the kings, Akbar, Babar and Saladin. Gladiators who are ready to fight, brave-hearts who are patriots yet flawed humans. If we are ready to admire the characters we have only read about, why are we held back from supporting our real life hero, Imran. Give him a chance; we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. There are no losers this time. We are all on the same team! Pakistan Zindabad!
Tipping is unique to the food industry. As a doctor, never once did a patient hand me an extra Rs20 note as a thank you for a good knee exam. The reason is that we expect a doctor to receive adequate compensation for his work through the bill alone. It was when I put down my stethoscope and took a hiatus, serving chai to paying customers at my own café, did I develop a greater appreciation for this art. Tipping persists in the food industry because we don’t expect the labour to be paid what they are due. Serving food and drinks at a restaurant or a café is considered menial or even dishonourable work. Restaurant owners are thus usually happy passing a chunk of their responsibility to the customer when it comes to rewarding the servers. This may be unfair because all labour is equally important, but this is the world we live in and servers expect to be tipped for their service. While we endlessly debate on the appropriate amount to tip a waiter at a restaurant, we all lean on the side of under-compensating the server’s hard work. A picture uploaded recently by Easy by Fatsos is making the rounds on social media. This restaurant in Karachi photographed a Rs10 tip received on a Rs3,840 bill, with a sarcastic caption aimed at poor tipping habits. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="337"] Photo: Easy by Fatsos[/caption] The post has successfully struck a nerve. Nobody wants their kanjoosi (lack of generosity) displayed on the internet, and the most obvious counterattack was that the restaurant’s service isn’t worth more than a Rs10 tip. A barrage of nit-picky posts appeared on Facebook, about how the restaurant is “overrated”, its food “unpleasant”, or its environment “unclean”. We live in an age where every disgruntled customer sells himself or herself as a qualified food critic online. The difference is that a food critic has greater empathy and deeper appreciation for the hard work that goes into running an eatery. A professional food critic’s word isn’t revenge against an overpriced meal, but a detailed examination that is more than just a narration of one’s personal experience. If someone leaves you Rs10 as a tip, which is less than 0.3% of the bill, you’d probably feel slighted. In some way, it is possibly worse than not tipping at all, because one can at least blame a non-tip on one’s forgetfulness. But instead of the customer, social media aimed its guns at the restaurant. A defiant review appeared on Facebook, published on SWOT’s Karachi page, proudly announcing a customer’s refusal to tip the servers at Easy. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2330709266945878&set=pcb.2066662080051598&type=3&theater&ifg=1 Let’s be clear. Your server is usually not responsible for anything more than table service. It’s not your waiter’s job to make your food taste better. It’s not your waiter’s job to fix the establishment’s air conditioner. Your waiter’s job is to greet you, take your order, serve your food, and listen patiently to you complain about water dripping from the air conditioner, or as you call it, “rain”. That’s labour, and it deserves respectful compensation. If you have issues with the establishment’s performance as a whole – from ambience to the taste of the food – you don’t take that out on the poor server while quietly paying the establishment the bill in full. As a doctor, one becomes accustomed to a certain level of respect in society. About a month ago, I chose a simpler life; opening up a worker-owned café in which I serve tables myself. The contrast is sometimes jarring, and I’m often forced to signal that I am the owner, as that’s the only way I can get a modicum of respect. Serving food and beverages to smug, finicky customers all day long is gruelling work, and a tip is a great way of showing you acknowledge this labour. For a sizeable party of customers to leave the serving staff Rs10 as tip is representative of one’s elitist disrespect for the worker. It’s worth reminding that you’re tipping the worker, not the owner who refuses to fix their AC. As an owner, I’ve never asked for a tip, nor have I ever complained about not receiving it. But then again, I’m in a privileged position to be the owner and not a paid server. Ideally, we shouldn’t have to tip. Ideally, we shouldn’t be a third world capitalist country with dirt-cheap labour, instead of one where all work is equally respected and fairly compensated. Until then, be generous in tipping the server for his or her effort. If you can afford a Rs4,000 dinner, you can surely find a crunched-up Rs100 note or two in your wallet.
Wandering across the city of lights without a clue about your destination has a certain edge to it. When it comes to digging up possible stories hidden somewhere within this metropolitan, the best possible course of action is always to take a walk in this crowded coastal expanse. Carrying the burden of writer’s block, I decided to journey through this city in search of inspiration. It took a significant part of the day for my restlessness to triumph over my determination, and with a sense of certain defeat, I paused for a cigarette at the nearest cabin I could land my eyes on. Dusk was almost upon the metropolitan, the crowd starting to disperse as yet another day neared its end. Some emerged as victors while others did not, but somewhere a forgotten portion of this city’s population faced certain defeat, like they have most days in their lives. It was at this point of the hour that I encountered an individual. I was immediately baffled, as I contemplated how to address the person standing right beside me. Do I address them as ‘he’ or ‘she’? Should I even approach them in the first place? I kept questioning myself until I finally decided to stop second guessing my instinct and turned to greet her. Yes, she was a transgender, and calling her by the right pronoun seemed the very least I could do. Calling her a ‘he’ just didn’t make sense. She happened to stop at the same shop I did, to buy a cigarette after a tiring day of begging for a living. A brief introduction was all it took for me to realise that she too had a lot burning up inside her, and the fact that someone was going to narrate her tale was perhaps the one good thing that happened to her that day. After some polite conversation with Saima – her preferred name – I tried to get further insight regarding the humiliation and denial her community faces on a daily basis. The following conversation began with reluctance from both sides, but quickly streamed towards a subject I personally felt more discomfort in confronting, but to my surprise, Saima was more keen and straightforward in answering my questions than I was in asking them. I decided to begin with a simple question.
Where did it all start? I never asked the people who brought me up about my parents or how I ended up with them. They are the only parents I know, and my community is the only family I have. I started begging when I was eight-years-old. I didn’t need makeup or fancy clothes back then, being a child was enough to get out on the streets and beg. Later, when I grew up and my body started developing in both a manly and an unmanly manner, I knew it was time to alter my style. How do you cope with the daily humiliation and neglect? Humiliation and neglect are a significant part of my daily routine. Over the years, we have learnt to deal with the comments and abuse thrown our way, and frankly, we have evolved to become better at replying to bricks with stones. However, what really hurts is the ignorance we receive from people who drive their fancy vehicles and treat us as if we don’t exist. There are still some people in this country who deny our very existence, which is very difficult to cope with. How does it feel to be treated differently when you go out on the streets? The moment I was old enough to understand where I was and what was going on in my surroundings, I was told by my guardians about how different I am in comparison to other people my age and gender. This, I believe, is the best thing about my community. We don’t give false hopes to our children – we crystallise the harsh realities of their existence and the difficulties they’ll face in the world beyond those walls, which in turn results in very few surprises and even fewer disappointments. When I first went out on the streets, I knew I was different and hence the abuse and mockery didn’t have as big of an impact on me as it should have. Have you ever felt self-pity in your life? Well, I wouldn’t label it self-pity, but there have been several incidents on the streets that were immensely painful. One particular time I went up to a vehicle with a family inside. The husband looked away the very moment he laid eyes on me, so I went up to his wife and asked for some money. Her daughter was sitting on her lap, and upon looking at me, she pointed her finger at me and said to her daughter, “If you don’t listen to your parents, you’ll end up like this.”Saima couldn’t speak any further, and I had all my answers. I smiled; pouring all the affection I had within me in it, and paid for her cigarette. She smiled back, and it was enough. This was the first time I engaged in a conversation with a transgender, and I found her to be honest, sympathetic and strong; traits that are seldom witnessed in people today. I never saw her after that evening, but that casual encounter brought to the fore a reality that is often ignored as we go about our daily lives. Yes, Pakistan has provided legal protection to transgender people, namely by letting them self-identify their gender on their passports, and through the Transgender Protection Act. We now have more trans rights and more transgender people occupying public spaces, such as Marvia Malik and Kami Sid. Yet, the ground reality remains that hatred, disgust and contempt is all we have offered this community, who a decade ago were not even deemed human. Progressive implications on the state level can only be considered partial accomplishments until our society and the individuals residing within it alter their perspectives to be more inclusive and treat people with the respect they deserve. Life should only be as hard as one person can bear, so the least we can do is try and take some burden off the shoulders of our transgender community.
“The thing about tourism is that the reality of a place is quite different from the mythology of it” – Martin Parr.Pakistan, unfortunately, is a country that has been at the receiving end of such mythology and perception for a good while now, even as things on ground have changed quite drastically over the last few years. According to the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), terror-related incidents have declined 58%, from 2,060 incidents in 2010 to 681 in 2017. These figures are testament to the success of our Army during the massive military operations conducted in the northern areas of the country in the past several years. However, where the army has succeeded, the nation – the people, the media and the government – has collectively failed to put forward a positive image of Pakistan. After all, it’s hard to imagine why the tourism industry of a country that is home to five out of 14 of the highest peaks in the world, a country with mesmerising valleys, breath-taking meadows, and stunning lakes, has been neglected and left underdeveloped. And this is just for the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) and Azad Kashmir. Our tourism opportunities do not end here. Pakistan is home to a lot of historical sites, from the Indus Valley Civilisation’s presence in Mohenjo Daro and Harappa to the remnants of the Mughal Era such as the Badshahi Mosque and the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. Last year, the British Backpacker Society ranked Pakistan as the top travel destination in the world, describing it as one of the friendliest and most beautiful countries on earth. We have so much to offer and yet no one’s biting, but we only have ourselves and our inaction to blame for that. https://twitter.com/vobonline/status/946858374632747008 The following are seven steps that Pakistan can easily act on to promote tourism in the country. 1. Make the visa policy easier All Pakistanis are aware that travelling internationally with a green passport can be a nightmare. However, not many know that travelling to Pakistan on a foreign passport is not a simple task either. There are lots of formalities the applicants have go through when applying for a Pakistani visa. First, there’s a Letter of Invitation you have to obtain from someone in Pakistan, assuring they will take care of your stay in the country. Then there’s a lengthy Visa Application Form (around six pages), as well as supporting documents. With the country seeing better days now in terms of security, at the very least the process can be made simpler by letting go of the formality of a letter, so that people do not instantly get turned off by the idea of visiting Pakistan if they do not know anyone here to vouch for their safety. The application form should also be made concise, as we don’t want paperwork to be the reason why foreigners don’t want to come to our beautiful country. Lastly, the process can also be made available online to facilitate foreigners further. 2. Develop the hospitality industry Anyone who has travelled up north has witnessed the lack of quality accommodation options there. With the exception of few areas, there are hardly any international hotel chains, while the local hotels and lodges aren’t always the best places to stay at. They also rarely have an online presence, which is absolutely necessary in an era in which hotel bookings are mostly done online. The situation is even worse in cities that are not Lahore, Karachi or Islamabad. The government should thus incentivise foreign hotel chains to come and invest in an evolving tourist destination, and for local hotels to establish a reliable name that tourists can trust. Existing hotels should also build their online presence, for this will surely attract foreigners when they are planning a trip to Pakistan and surveying accommodation options online. 3. Rejuvenate air travel There was a time not too long ago when Pakistan was considered the regional hub for many international airlines, such as the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Lufthansa,and Cathay Pacific. Sadly, most of these airlines no longer operate in Pakistan. Most foreign airlines currently operating in the country are either Middle Eastern or East Asian. The new government needs to chalk out a plan to attract more foreign airlines into resuming operations in Pakistan, as a lot of tourism is lost mainly because direct flights to Pakistan are no longer available from many destinations around the world. 4. Promote your culture Whenever you travel to any popular tourist destination around the globe, the one thing you’ll notice is that each will have tours and events designated to showcase their local culture and history. This is a department where the country’s leading schools of performing arts can play a role. They can train young artists to perform small shows showcasing local culture at popular tourist destinations. This will not only attract tourists towards our culture, but also ensure a livelihood for local people. 5. Partner with travel channels The role of the media is most critical in promoting tourism in a country. While we have seen local media groups partnering with foreign media groups to bring in news and movie channels, we are yet to see anyone partner with travel and adventure channels like National Geographic or Discovery and bring them to Pakistan. A case in point is that of India, where local media groups have partnered with prominent foreign channels and have invested in a lot of local content for these channels, ultimately promoting their culture with products ranging from documentaries on temples to their national game reserves. This is all for the sole purpose of promoting India as a tourist destination. So why can’t Pakistan do the same? 6. Developing tourism across all provinces Tourism in Pakistan, be it domestic or international, is most commonly associated with either a visit to the northern areas, or major metropolitan centres like Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. One reason for this is that we haven’t developed many tourist spots in areas belonging to South Punjab, Sindh, and especially Balochistan. Multan, for instance, can be a tourist heaven if we begin promoting it as the city of Sufis and saints. Similarly, Gwadar has the potential to be developed along the lines of Goa, for it is evident that clear sandy beaches can attract a lot of potential tourism. This beach could become a great alternative to popular Southeast Asian beach destinations like Thailand, Phuket and Bali. 7. Rebranding Pakistan The last step we need to take, arguably the most important one, is the need to rebrand Pakistan and project a different image to the world to alter existing perceptions. Almost everyone who visits Pakistan praises the nation for its beauty, potential, and friendly people. However, that is not an image most people in the world are aware of at the moment. Going with something along the lines of “Malaysia Truly Asia” could perhaps be a good idea for rebranding. Thus, the announcement by Raja Khurram Nawaz, a leader belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to promote tourism by showcasing Pakistan as “Asia’s Best Kept Secret” is a step in the right direction. If the government manages to pull it off, this could very well be a small step that proves to be a giant leap for this country.