Archive for the 'Pakistan' Category

Five reasons Pakistan is better off than you think

Mosharraf Zaidi in Foreign Policy:

1. Feisty democracy

This first-ever transition from one elected government to the next is a big deal, partially because Pakistanis are depressingly familiar with military interventions preceding power transfers. But it’s also important because Pakistan’s recent experience with democracy has been so unpleasant.

The word “democracy” has become a tragic punchline in Pakistan, ever since President Asif Ali Zardari appealed to rioters reacting to his wife Benazir Bhutto’s December 2007 assassination by stating that “democracy is the best revenge.” Elected to succeed his wife, Zardari now oversees a notoriously inept government: his nominees for prime minister have all been investigated, indicted, or convicted for corruption.

2. Activist judges

When then President Pervez Musharraf tried to fire him in 2007, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry refused to go quietly into the sun. Like his predecessors, Musharraf had used the judiciary to help him discredit and imprison political opponents, and then disposed the judges that grow a conscience or chose a different team. More:

And in New Yorker, Basharat Peer on Pakistan’s heady vote

Noam Chomsky on Pakistan elections

Interview by Ayyaz Mallick. In Dawn:

Coming to election issues, what do you think, sitting afar and as an observer, are the basic issues that need to be handled by whoever is voted into power?

NC: Well, first of all, the internal issues. Pakistan is not a unified country. In large parts of the country, the state is regarded as a Punjabi state, not their (the people’s) state. In fact, I think the last serious effort to deal with this was probably in the 1970s, when during the Bhutto regime some sort of arrangement of federalism was instituted for devolving power so that people feel the government is responding to them and not just some special interests focused on a particular region and class. Now that’s a major problem.

Another problem is the confrontation with India. Pakistan just cannot survive if it continues to do so (continue this confrontation). Pakistan will never be able to match the Indian militarily and the effort to do so is taking an immense toll on the society. It’s also extremely dangerous with all the weapons development. The two countries have already come close to nuclear confrontation twice and this could get worse. So dealing with the relationship with India is extremely important.

And that of course focuses right away on Kashmir. Some kind of settlement in Kashmir is crucial for both countries. It’s also tearing India apart with horrible atrocities in the region which is controlled by Indian armed forces. This is feeding right back into society even in the domain of elementary civil rights. A good American friend of mine who has lived in India for many years, working as a journalist, was recently denied entry to the country because he wrote on Kashmir. This is a reflection of fractures within society. Pakistan, too, has to focus on the Lashkar [Lashkar-i-Taiba] and other similar groups and work towards some sort of sensible compromise on Kashmir.

And of course this goes beyond. There is Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan which will also be a very tricky issue in the coming years. Then there is a large part of Pakistan which is being torn apart from American drone attacks. The country is being invaded constantly by a terrorist superpower. Again, this is not a small problem. More:

The mood in Pakistan on eve of elections

Salman Hameed in Irtiqa (via 3quarksdaily):

Pak-pollPakistan’s elections are scheduled for May 11th. There have already been a tremendous number of casualties – mostly by the Taliban (of the Pakistani flavor) targeting the relatively more secular parties. Here is from the horse’s mouth:

“Taliban shura had decided to target those secular political parties which were part of the previous coalition government and involved in the operation in Swat, Fata and other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwah,”adding that “the organisation followed the instructions of the Taliban shura and that it was the shura that decided which political parties to target, where and when.”

To another query that the Taliban were making ground and paving way for some parties to win the elections and denying space to others, he said: “neither we are against nor in favour of the PTI, PML- N, JI and JUI-F,” adding that “We are against the secular and democratic system which is against the ideology of Islam but we are not expecting any good from the other parties either, who are the supporters of the same system, but why they are not targeted is our own prerogative to decide.”

Shamefully, none of the parties not targeted by the Taliban have unequivocally condemned this Taliban assault on democracy. But to add to the uncertainty, just a few hours ago, Imran Khan of PTI also got injured when he fell off a lifter while getting on a stage for a political rally. This is big news as he is one of the leading contenders in the upcoming elections.

But what are the major concerns of Pakistanis? The Pew forum has a new survey out that focuses on Pakistan. Perhaps, not surprisingly, crime and terrorism is at the top at 95 and 93% respectively. But note that even Sunni-Shia tensions are labeled as a “very big problem” by over half of the respondents, and the conflict between the government with the judiciary and the military is not considered that much of a problem. More:


How a single spy helped turn Pakistan against the US

What really happened after Raymond Davis killed two men in the street in Lahore. Mark Mazetti in The New York Times Magazine:

The burly American was escorted by Pakistani policemen into a crowded interrogation room. Amid a clatter of ringing mobile phones and cross talk among the cops speaking a mishmash of Urdu, Punjabi and English, the investigator tried to decipher the facts of the case.

“America, you from America?”


“You’re from America, and you belong to the American Embassy?”

“Yes,” the American voice said loudly above the chatter. “My passport — at the site I showed the police officer. . . . It’s somewhere. It’s lost.”

On the jumpy video footage of the interrogation, he reached beneath his checkered flannel shirt and produced a jumble of identification badges hanging around his neck. “This is an old badge. This is Islamabad.” He showed the badge to the man across the desk and then flipped to a more recent one proving his employment in the American Consulate in Lahore.

“You are working at the consulate general in Lahore?” the policeman asked.


“As a . . . ?”

“I, I just work as a consultant there.”

“Consultant?” The man behind the desk paused for a moment and then shot a question in Urdu to another policeman. “And what’s the name?”

“Raymond Davis,” the officer responded.

“Raymond Davis,” the American confirmed. “Can I sit down?”

“Please do. Give you water?” the officer asked.

“Do you have a bottle? A bottle of water?” Davis asked.

Another officer in the room laughed. “You want water?” he asked. “No money, no water.”

Another policeman walked into the room and asked for an update. “Is he understanding everything? And he just killed two men?” More:

Taliban in Karachi: the real story

Fahim Zaman and Naziha Syed Ali in Dawn:

ON the evening of March 13, Director Orangi Pilot Project Perween Rahman was shot and killed by masked men half a kilometre from her office just off Manghopir Road in Karachi. The police were quick to point a finger at the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

In an “encounter” the very next day, they killed Qari Bilal who they claimed was a leader of the TTP and the mastermind behind Ms Rahman’s murder. Many in the development sector, however, believe she was targeted because she had fallen foul of the city’s land mafia because she was placing their activities on record. They may both well be right, even if Qari Bilal was falsely accused by law-enforcement agencies.

The latest players in Karachi’s land grab — for long the domain of those with close links to the major political parties and forces amongst the establishment here — are TTP elements who have been putting down their roots in various parts of the city over the past couple of years.

Large swathes of Pakhtun neighborhoods in districts west and east, as well as pockets in districts Malir, central and south are reported to be under the influence of the TTP. While all 30 or so of its factions have a presence in the city, the most influence is wielded by the Hakimullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah factions.

According to local police and residents of the affected areas, elements belonging to the TTP have entrenched themselves in these areas after having terrorised the local Pakhtun population into submission, and driven out the ANP from most of its traditional strongholds. More:

To fight India, we fought ourselves: Mohsin Hamid


ON Monday, my mother’s and sister’s eye doctor was assassinated. He was a Shiite. He was shot six times while driving to drop his son off at school. His son, age 12, was executed with a single shot to the head.

Tuesday, I attended a protest in front of the Governor’s House in Lahore demanding that more be done to protect Pakistan’s Shiites from sectarian extremists. These extremists are responsible for increasingly frequent attacks, including bombings this year that killed more than 200 people, most of them Hazara Shiites, in the city of Quetta.

As I stood in the anguished crowd in Lahore, similar protests were being held throughout Pakistan. Roads were shut. Demonstrators blocked access to airports. My father was trapped in one for the evening, yet he said most of his fellow travelers bore the delay without anger. They sympathized with the protesters’ objectives. More:

Missing: the boy on the bicycle

Mohamed Hanif in Dawn:

Six years after Hafiz Saeed Rehman went missing from Sariab Road Quetta, the police dug up a grave to look for him. The High Court ordered that a body be exhumed because Quetta police, after giving half a dozen other explanations for his disappearance, had started saying that Hafiz Saeed had been killed. His father Allah Bakhsh Bangulzai who has been campaigning for his son’s release for nine years, didn’t believe the police. “I knew it wasn’t his grave, I knew my son wasn’t dead,” insists Allah Bakhsh, who runs a small grocery store near his house. Allah Baksh Bangulzai’s faith wasn’t just the faith of a father who can’t bring himself to believe that his eldest son might be dead. He had seen with his own eyes the body that was buried in that grave. Nine year earlier looking for his newly disappeared son Allah Baksh had done the rounds of the mortuaries. “They showed me two bodies,” says Allah Baksh. He had a really good look. “They were both my son’s age. One boy had his throat slit. Another one had his legs cut off just below his knees. I was relieved neither of them was my son.”

Hafiz Saeed became one of almost 1300 disappeared Baloch citizens whose families have been holding almost a perpetual vigil for their release. They travel from distant villages and towns to hold three-month-long protest camps outside Islamabad and Karachi Press Club but our press usually ignores them. When Voice of Missing Baloch Persons recently held a rally to mark one thousand days of their protest, no TV channels covered it.More:

Not talking about Pakistan

Taymiya R. Zaman in Tanqeed:

I drew a secret line around the borders of Pakistan and rarely stepped over it. In the fall of 2007, I began teaching Islamic history at a small liberal arts college in San Francisco; even though my classes on South Asia and the Middle East could easily have included Pakistan, I made sure to exclude Pakistan from all my syllabi. To avoid ever having to talk about Pakistan, I changed the name of a course a predecessor had titled “History of South and Southeast Asia,” to “Indian Civilizations.” This now meant that the course took a leisurely route through the Indus Valley Civilization, the coming of the Aryans, the spread of Jainism and Buddhism in North India, the rise of the Mughal Empire and concluded with British colonial rule and the formation of India and Pakistan in 1947. But, after an emotionally charged lecture on Partition, I would begin a section on modern Indiaand say nothing of Pakistan after the moment of its creation. My class, “The Modern Middle East,” covered American wars in Afghanistan but my syllabus screeched to a halt at the Pakistan border. Although the country inevitably featured in class discussions about U.S. foreign policy, I assigned no readings on Pakistan. In my other classes, I stayed away from the twentieth century, which meant that the question of Pakistan never arose.

Outside the classroom too, I was something of an expert at not talking about Pakistan. This was a feat, given the interest that Pakistan generated. Being Pakistani meant that well-meaning students would frequently tackle me in corridors and ask me what I thought about “the current situation” in Pakistan. More

Tariq Ali on upcoming elections in Pakistan

Tariq Ali in the London Review of Books:

Pakistan is preparing for elections in May and June, and an all-party caretaker government will soon take over to supervise the process. Meanwhile, things continue as eventfully as usual. There has been yet another clash between the Supreme Court and the Zardari government; a previously obscure Muslim cleric returned from Canada to lead what he hoped would be a ‘million-strong’ anti-corruption march to Islamabad; and two factories in Lahore and Karachi have burned to a cinder with the workers still inside. Add to all this Sunni vigilantes regularly targeting and killing Shia; the Pakistani Taliban striking security targets; the military responding with indiscriminate killings; and the regular drone attacks, courtesy of Obama.

On 15 January, the Supreme Court, having last year got rid of one prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, for contempt of court, ordered the arrest of his successor, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, and 16 other men on charges of corruption linked to kickbacks handed out by the power companies contracted to supplement the country’s inadequate electricity supply. These so-called Rental Power Projects gave rise to the nickname ‘Raja Rental’ that Ashraf acquired when he was Zardari’s minister for water and power. After all, nine firms had received a government advance of 22 billion rupees so it was only fair that the minister and his officials be rewarded. It was a surprisingly honest report by the usually tame National Accountability Bureau (NAB), set up by General Musharraf in 1999 to investigate corruption, which led the Supreme Court to order last March that all the RPP contracts be declared null and void. The judges are now livid because they believe the NAB is deliberately dragging its feet. More:

Why Maulana Qadri and cricketer Khan can’t save Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Express Tribune:

Pakistan has two angry messiahs, the Maulana and the Cricketer. Both are men of fine oratory — the former being more gifted. They promise to kick wicked leaders out of government, reward the righteous, and deliver a new Pakistan. Before a coup-plagued nation that has spent many decades under military rule, they preach to adulating under-30 crowds about the corruption of the present rulers. But neither dares to touch Pakistan’s real issues. Both are careful to castigate only the corruption of civilians; there is nary a word about the others.

Inspired by his fiery rhetoric, for four days the Maulana’s youthful Lashkar-e-Qadri had occupied D-Chowk, Islamabad’s version of Tahrir Square. The cheering, chanting, flag-waving crowd was joyous at the verdict ordering the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. The precise timing owed to another one of Pakistan’s putative saviours — the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan.

In this age of discontent, assorted demagogues have mastered the art of mobilising the credulous masses. Corruption, say the Maulana and the Cricketer, is Pakistan’s central problem. Utopia will come if honest and pious men — perhaps themselves — are in power. But is crookedness and dishonesty the real issue? Countries which are perfectly viable and livable may still have corrupt governments. More:

RIP: Ardeshir Cowasjee, veteran Pakistani columnist

In Dawn:

One of Pakistan’s oldest and most renowned columnists, Ardeshir Cowasjee, passed away in Karachi on Saturday at the age of 86.

Cowasjee, whose weekly columns graced the Dawn newspaper from 1988 to 2011, was suffering from chest illness and had been admitted in a Karachi hospital’s intensive care unit for the past 12 days.

Born on April 13, 1926 to Rustom Faqir Cowasjee and Mucca Rustomjee, Ardeshir joined the family shipping business after completing his education from the Bai Virbaiji Soparivala Parsi (BVS) High School and DJ Sindh Govt Science College.

He had two children with wife Nancy Dinshaw. His daughter lives in Karachi and works in the family business and his son is an architect in the US. Their mother passed away in 1992.

“Now, old at 85, tired, and disillusioned with a country that just cannot pull itself together in any way and get on with life in this day and age, I have decided to call it a day,” he wrote in a column in December 2011 for Dawn. More:

Mourning Cowasjee: Tributes in Dawn

From Cowasjee’s last column, Winding down, in Dawn on 25 December 2011:

On this last Sunday of this year, this is my final column in this space. Now, old at 85, tired, and disillusioned with a country that just cannot pull itself together in any way and get on with life in this day and age, I have decided to call it a day.

To quote Winston Churchill (without at all making any even vague comparison) “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter”. The weekly writing has been a long and rewarding haul, and the column can record a few incidents where it has made a difference. I must also thank all those readers who have responded, generally favourably and with common sense.

Mourning a man who mourned for Pakistan: Nadeem F. Paracha in Dawn

Old man by the sea: when Nirupama Subramanian of The Hindu met him


Two fires

C. M. Naim in The South Asian Idea:

On Tuesday, September 11, 2012, a horrific fire in a garment factory in the Baldia Township in Karachi killed at least 259 persons, male and female. As I read about it on subsequent days I was reminded of another fire that occurred a century earlier—to be exact, on Saturday, November 25, 1911—in New York City. It too was in a garment factory, and took 146 lives, mostly young females. Named after the shirtwaist factory where it occurred, it is known in American history as the Triangle Fire. To refresh my memory I took to the books and soon realized that the Triangle Fire had a few lessons for the present day Pakistan.*

 The Triangle Waist Factory (TWF) was situated on the top three floors of a ten-story building in the Washington Square area in Manhattan. The neighborhood was far from being a slum; though it had a several buildings with similar factories, it also had a few mansions of the rich, and some buildings of the New York University. TWF was owned by two Jewish men, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who were related to each other through marriage. They had immigrated to the United States only a couple of decades earlier, and through hard work as well as exploitation of immigrant labor in the garment industry—most of them were women, and a large number also Jewish—the two, by 1911, had become millionaires. Their success had come in particular from the popularity of a new female garment called “shirtwaist,” i.e. a shirt or bodice that reached only to the waist and was could be worn with any tailored skirt. It allowed more choice and freedom to its wearer, while adding a modish flair to otherwise more sober costumes. Shirtwaists were mostly made of sheer cotton fabrics. Unfortunately, the latter were also highly combustible. More here:

Young, beautiful and gossiped about

Young and glamorous women politicians in Pakistan have been hounded for years by rumour and unwanted gossip, writes Mariana Baabar in Outlook.
  •  The Bangladeshi tabloid Blitz, which claims to be the “only anti-jihadist newspaper in the Muslim world”, was started in 2003 by Salah Uddin Sohail Choudhury
  • Preetha Memon, who authored l’affaire Hina-Bilawal, also wrote a 2,900-word story on the “fourth richest politician in the world”, Sonia Gandhi, last week
  • Among Blitz’s five most-viewed pieces is news of Kareena Kapoor embracing Islam in the run-up to her wedding with Saif Ali Khan
  • Blitz says it is looking for reporters in at least 80 countries
  • “Mr Speaker, please stop this yellow taxi from leaving the House,” Muslim League MP Sheikh Rashid Ahmed called out, as the then prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, left her seat to go out of Parliament. Benazir, then in her first term as PM (1988-90) and clad in a yellow kamiz shalwar suit with her trademark white duppata over her head, did not bother to respond as she exited. more

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Hina Rabbani Khar

In The Telegraph, London:

Ms Rabbani Khar and her husband have dismissed the claims as “reprehensible” and “trash”, but they have been reported widely in Pakistan where they spawned conspiracy theories among Islamabad’s political classes.

Senior PPP figures on Thursday said they believed the claims were part of a plot by the country’s feared Inter-Service Intelligence [ISI] agency to damage Ms Rabbani Khar’s reputation because it blames her for her part in facilitating a UN investigation into thousands of missing people detained by the security forces.

In Dawn, Pakistan:

The ISPR spokesman said it is handiwork of those who want to weaken the state by creating misunderstanding between various institutions. It is not something new because such people have been fabricating misleading and impish stories in the past as well, he added.

In The News, Pakistan:

According to The Blitz Weekly, the married foreign minister, who has two young children with her millionaire husband, and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the PPP Co-Chairman,want to marry and have been regularly talking on the telephone and sending cards to each other. The tabloid claimed President Zardari was firmly opposed to their alleged relationship and had sought details of their mobile telephone conversations to establish the facts.

Pakistan drone attack love song

Jon Boone from Islamabad in The Guardian:

In the long history of love songs the attention of a beautiful woman has been compared to many things – but perhaps only in Pakistan’s tribal belt would it be likened to the deadly missile strike of a remotely controlled US drone.

In a sign of how the routine hunting down and killing of militants by unmanned CIA planes has leached into the popular imagination, drones have been given a starring role in a new romantic song.

In most respects the track, which is proving popular in the largely Pashtun city of Peshawar, is faithful to standard themes of the genre. The lyrics mention rosebuds and wine. o blaring music it celebrates the allures of a temptress with “sweet lips” and a “smile fresh as early dew” which “ensnares lovers with amorous pangs”.

Then the repeated chorus: “My gaze is as fatal as a drone attack”.

The hit for singer Sitara Younis follows her success last year with another love ballad, which warns a besotted man to keep his distance: “Don’t chase me, I’m an illusion, a suicide bomb.” More:

The good life in the world’s most violent city

Mohammed Hanif in The New Republic:

EARLY MORNING one day this past July, a bomb went off two streets from my house in Karachi. I was asleep. “There was a bomb blast outside the Chinese consulate,” my wife informed me when I woke up. Nobody had died, I was told. It was a motorcycle bomb—as in someone had fitted a bomb into a motorcycle and parked it outside the consulate. My first reaction was, why would anyone explode a bomb outside the Chinese consulate? Since our childhood, we have been told that the Chinese are our best friends and our friendship is taller than the Himalayas and deeper than the Arabian Sea. Maybe someone was jealous of our friendship. It didn’t really occur to me that the bomb had gone off in my own neighborhood.

Then a friend wrote from London: Heard there was a bomb blast in your neighborhood, hope the family is safe, and the dogs not too traumatized. It was nice of her to write, but my first reaction was that the blast was two streets away. For me, the explosion might as well have happened in another city. None of my friends in Karachi called to check on me. They had probably seen the news on television, had found out that nobody died in the blast, and had promptly forgotten about it. I hadn’t even heard the blast. Maybe I have learned to block out small motorcycle bombs.

You live in a city not because it’s the prettiest, most peaceful place in the world; nor do you choose a place because it’s exciting. Karachi, for me, is a perpetually shifting combination of nice memories and minor tragedies, commerce and convenience, familiarity and strangeness, and, ultimately, the coincidences that brought me here. The air, as someone said, is easier on your skin. But all that the outside world sees is a bloody-minded sentimentality that keeps one in a place even when it’s blowing up bit by bit. When I visit my hometown in central Punjab, I am often asked by my family: How can you live in a city like Karachi with all its rampant violence? I can’t really confess to the folks in my village that, unlike in the rest of Pakistan, in Karachi you can buy beer without much hassle. (Alcohol is illegal throughout the country.) More:

The undercities of Karachi

Jan Bremen in New Left Review:

The largest port on the Arabian Sea, Karachi today has a population over 20 million, on a par with Mumbai, and ranks as the world’s eighth biggest city. Commanding the north-east quadrant of the ocean, with a hinterland stretching up the Indus Valley to Afghanistan, it has been the principal entry-point for US arms and supplies in the ‘war on terror’, while refugees—and heroin—have flowed in the opposite direction. From the bloodstained birth of Pakistan with the Partition of British India, the city’s explosive growth has more often been fuelled by the ‘push’ of geopolitical, agrarian and ecological crises than by the ‘pull’ of economic development. Life in its sprawling katchi abadis, or ‘unpaved settlements’, has much in common with that of other giant undercities, such as Mumbai’s, with the exception that violence plays a significantly greater role here. The vast majority of Karachiites are not only entangled in competition with each other, in a desperate struggle for survival, but must also contend with a brutal climate of aggression fuelled by gangsterized political groupings, the most influential of which also control the armed force of the state. In what conditions do its inhabitants live and what could drive increasing numbers of newcomers to try to survive here?

On the eve of Independence in 1947, the seaport of Karachi had fewer than half a million inhabitants, mostly Hindus, living within the old city walls or in fishing villages along the coast. The British had built up the docks and warehouse districts, constructed a military cantonment and laid out tree-lined streets for themselves to the south of the ‘native’ city, areas still known as Clifton and Defence. Partition led to an exodus of some of the city’s Hindus to India, and the arrival from that country of a much larger number of Muslims: around half a million Urdu-speaking Mohajirs (refugees), who abandoned property and possessions south of the new border to flee to what was now the capital of Pakistan. Initially the Mohajirs were settled in temporary shelters, in parks and on open state land. With the conservative modernization policies that began in the early 1950s, and intensified under the military regime of General Ayub Khan from 1958–68, new satellite townships were built around the city and heavy industry developed, with the aid of foreign loans. The different sectors of Karachi’s fast-growing working class had distinct ethnic bases: dock workers were drawn from the Makrani-Baluch labourers of old Karachi; Mohajirs predominated in heavy industry and multinational firms; villagers from the North-West Frontier, Hazara and southern Punjab were recruited by jobbers for the textile districts, where numerous small factories operated in intolerable conditions. More:

Imran Khan interviewed by The Economist

Development and decay in Indian PM’s Pakistani village

AFP in  :

GAH, Pakistan: For years, Ghulam Muhammad Khan thought his brilliant classmate had been killed in the bloodbath that gave birth to India and Pakistan in 1947, the deadliest end to British colonial rule in history.

But when the world’s biggest democracy elected the softly-spoken Manmohan Singh as prime minister in 2004 and he told an interviewer he had been born in a remote Pakistani village, Khan was over the moon.

“He was our class monitor and we played together. He was a gentle and brilliant child. Our teacher always advised us to get his help if we couldn’t understand something,” Khan recalled, striding through village maize fields.

Even more incredibly, Singh wanted to help the 2,500 villagers in Gah, on a plateau of muddy rock and bushy forest 100 kilometres southeast of Islamabad near the ultra-modern motorway that runs almost to the Indian border.

“I never imagined Manmohan would one day bring so many blessings to our village. He did what our own government still refuses to do,” recalled Khan, who is Singh’s last surviving classmate left in the village.

But the last eight years is a tale of generosity, squandered opportunity and political short-termism that leaves Pakistan with an embarrassing predicament now that President Asif Ali Zardari has invited Singh to visit later this year.

The model village that Singh dreamt of lies in tatters. Buildings that cost tens of thousands of dollars stand empty and unfinished. The only question is what, if anything, will Pakistan do to fix it? More:

Imran Khan must be doing something right

Pankaj Mishra in the NYT Magazine:

On a cool evening in March, Imran Khan, followed by his dogs, walked around the extensive lawns of his estate, sniffling with an incipient cold. “My ex-wife, Jemima, designed the house — it is really paradise for me,” Khan said of the villa, which sprawls on a ridge overlooking Himalayan foothills and Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. “My greatest regret is that she is not here to enjoy it,” he added, unexpectedly poignantly. We walked through the living room and then sat in his dimly lighted bedroom, the voices of servants echoing in the empty house, the mournful azans drifting up from multiple mosques in the city below.

Khan, once Pakistan’s greatest sportsman and now its most popular politician since Benazir Bhutto, exuded an Olympian solitude that evening; it had been a long day, he explained, of meetings with his party’s senior leaders. The previous two months, he said, had been the most difficult in his life. His party was expanding amazingly fast and attracting “electables” — experienced men from the governing and main opposition parties. But the young people who constituted his base wanted change; they did not want to see old political faces. “I was being pulled apart in different directions,” Khan said. “I thought I was going mad.”

Khan’s granitic handsomeness, which first glamorized international cricket and has sustained the British media’s long fascination with his public and private lives, is now, as he nears 60, a bit craggy. There are lines and dark patches around his eyes. The stylishly barbered hair, thinning at the top, is flecked with gray, and his unmodulated baritone, ubiquitous across Pakistan’s TV channels, can sound irritably didactic.

“The public contact is never easy for me,” he said. “I am basically a private person.” More:

The condemned: Ahmadi persecution in Pakistan

Rabia Mehmood in The Express Tribune:

The short documentary is a collection of testimonies in which those Ahmadis who have faced persecution narrate the target killings of loved ones, discrimination at the hands of fellow students and what it is like to live in jail as a blasphemy convict.

Rabwah, is a town of District Jhang with the highest population of Ahmadis in Pakistan. The town is also home to some who have been convicted of blasphemy and under the anti-Ahmadi Ordinance of 1984, making them prisoners in this town.

A major chunk of the report was filmed in Rabwah and identities of some community members have been hidden for the sake of their security. The young man who shares the story of the horrors his family faced after his brother was accused of blasphemy has now left Pakistan. Therefore, we took the risk of showing his face on-camera. The town still provides a sense of security for the rest, so the condemned could speak with hidden faces. More here.

Pakistan revels in boast of water-run car

Declan Walsh from Islamabad in NYT:

In a nation thirsting for energy, he loomed like a messiah: a small-town engineer who claimed he could run a car on water.

The assertion — based on the premise that he had discovered a way to easily split the oxygen and hydrogen atoms in water molecules with almost no energy — would, if proven, represent a stunning breakthrough for physics and a near-magical solution to Pakistan’s desperate power crisis.

“By the grace of Allah, I have managed to make a formula that converts less voltage into more energy,” the professed inventor, Agha Waqar Ahmad, said in a telephone interview. “This invention will solve our country’s energy crisis and provide jobs to hundreds of thousands of people.”

Established scientists have debunked his spectacular claims, first made one month ago, saying they violate ironclad laws of physics. But across Pakistan, where crippling electricity cuts have left millions drenched in the sweat of a powerless summer, and where there is hunger for tales of homegrown glory, the shimmering mirage of a “water car” received a broad and serious embrace.

Federal ministers lauded Mr. Ahmad and his vehicle, sometimes at cabinet meetings. The stand-in minister for religious affairs, Khursheed Shah, appeared on television with him and took a ride in his small Suzuki rental, which was hooked up to a contraption that Mr. Ahmad described as a “water kit.” Respected talk show hosts suggested he should get state financing and protection. more

Pakistan’t true brew

From Come Con Ella [via 3quarksdaily]:

as a little girl growing up in pakistan, i thought doctor’s brandy was so named because it could only be obtained by prescription. this naiveté can be explained by a combination of facts – a teetotaller uncle who would consume brandy for stubborn coughs, and bhutto’s prohibition, which provoked the local population to use medical certificates to secure alcohol. so it was with much surprise that i recently discovered that doctor’s brandy is actually a french brandy, produced under licence by murree brewery in pakistan.

2012 has proved to be an interesting year for pakistan. alongside the staple flow of pessimistic news, one of its most successful businesses, murree brewery, has captured the imagination of the local and international press. for the latter in particular, the existence of murree brewery is a paradox. the telegraph opens on the line ‘pakistan is one of the last countries in asia where you would expect to discover a flourishing – and legal – brewery, especially these days’ in an article titled ‘ale under the veil: the only brewery in pakistan’. the economist follows suit on how an unlikely outfit in pakistan is flourishing under the banner ‘hope in the hops’. even the guardian cannot help itself with its description of murree brewery as ‘a raj-era oddity in an increasingly conservative islamic country’ under the more neutral title of ‘pakistan and india start new era of trade co-operation with a beer’.

murree brewery, however, is far from an oddity and a contradiction. since its inception in 1860, the only period when it ceased productions was after bhutto’s declaration of prohibition of alcohol. a subsequent court order led to the resumption of operations on the basis that bhutto’s laws breached the rights of minorities. aside from this it has always enjoyed the support of the government, military or otherwise. the greater paradox perhaps is that a powerful leader like bhutto, who loved his drink, felt compelled to appease the religious right through prohibition. until his ban in 1977 alcohol was freely available in army messes, clubs and from licensed stores.

but that of course is not the pakistan of today. More:

Could Pakistan’s judicial soap opera be a re-run of the same old thing?

Mehreen Zahra-Malik in HImal Southasian:

A coup by any other name would smell as foul, wouldn’t it? In a country whose political history is the story of uncountable civilians dethroned by military coups, the question of whether the Supreme Court’s ruling to send Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani home was the beginning of the end for another civilian government is not one borne of an over-imaginative or conspiratorial mind. Not here in Pakistan, where unelected forces are always waiting in the wings to ‘rescue’ Pakistanis from their elected leaders.

This time, however, a democratically elected prime minister has not been sent home for the usual reasons. Transparency International claims Pakistan lost USD 94 billion through corruption, tax evasion and bad governance during the four years of Gilani’s tenure, while Gilani’s fingerprints seem to be all over at least three of the most high-profile financial scandals hogging the headlines. But the former prime minister was not handed his walking papers for earning the title of ‘most corrupt prime minister in Pakistan’s history’. Since 2008, when the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) came to power, hundreds have fallen victim to sectarian militant groups around the country, while the numbers for suicide bombings and other incidents of terrorism have only gone up and up. And yet, Gilani wasn’t ousted for failing in his fundamental duty to provide citizens with the protection of life and property promised in the constitution. He wasn’t ousted for not having any answers, as chief executive of the country, to the question of what Osama bin Laden was doing living for years only a stone’s throw away from Pakistan’s elite military academy. He wasn’t ousted because swathes of Pakistan suffer up to 22 hours of power outages everyday, forcing industries to shut down and pushing rioters to clash with the police and burn properties across the country.

Instead, Gilani was ousted because he refused to send a written request to Swiss authorities asking that they reopen decades-old corruption investigations against his boss, the co-chairperson of the PPP and the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari. More:

Dasht-e-Tanhai sung by Meesha Shafi

Dasht-e-Tanhai is an Urdu ghazal written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz. It was originally sung by the legendary Iqbal Bano. [via 3quarksdaily]:

The man who was burned for blasphemy

Nadeem F. Paracha at Dawn.blogs:

On Wednesday, 4th of July, a frenzied mob broke into a police station in Bahawalpur (South Punjab). The mob’s target was a ‘malang’ (vagabond), the sort that have been found in and around numerous shrines of Sufi saints in the sub-continent for centuries.

 The malang, whom many people of the area also described to be a man not very sound of mind, had been taken into custody by the area’s police after some people accused him of desecrating the sanctity of the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

So on Wednesday as the malang sat behind bars at a police lock-up and as most of the cops kept giving him sideways glances, cracking vague, pitying grins at the malang’s state of mind and habit of talking to himself, the mob surrounded the police station, demanding that the ‘blasphemer’ be handed over.

The cops refused, pleading that the case against the man shall be decided by the courts. As if already surprised that their fellow Muslims in uniforms hadn’t lynched the ‘blasphemer’ themselves, the mob thrust forward in an attempt to break into the police station.

A few cops rushed out with batons and teargas canisters trying to push the mob back that by now had grown to over a hundred enraged men with an audience of another hundred or so onlookers who, as usual, hang around such situations like silent, inanimate zombies. More:

In troubled Pakistan, still time for high society

Declan Walsh from Karachi in NYT:

Can celebrity and fashion save Pakistan from its dark image? That’s the proposition of Hello! Pakistan, a glossy new magazine that has opened a new window into the lives of the country’s gilded elite, and rekindled an old debate about their role in a troubled society.

Hello! Pakistan is the local edition of the British celebrity magazine Hello!, famous for its soft-focus interviews with movie stars and lavish photo spreads of aristocrats and minor royalty. But the Pakistani publishers promise something different: an emphasis on their country’s “soft side” that cuts across the relentless Western focus on burqas, bombs and the Taliban.

“We’re not out to save the world,” said Zahraa Saifullah Khan, 29, the magazine’s Pakistan-born, England-educated publisher. “But this is a starting point, to show that we’re not all a bunch of terrorists with beards.”

Many young Pakistani professionals, tired of their country’s portrayal as a caldron of chaos, would applaud that idea. But not all agree that airbrushed images of the moneyed upper-crust is the way to achieve it.

“It’s life within the bubble,” said Shakir Husain, a software entrepreneur who set up Fashionistas Against the Taliban, a satirical Facebook group that has acquired cult status in Pakistani social media. “And that bubble is filled with self-congratulatory nonsense.” More:

Jemima Khan talks to Pervez Musharraf

In New Statesman:

General Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, former chief executive of Pakistan, former army chief and former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, is watching the England v West Indies Test series in his neat, unostentatious flat off the Edgware Road in west London. He has spent the past three years living between here and Dubai, in self-imposed exile, watching cricket, keeping fit, playing golf, giving lectures for large fees and plotting his return to Pakistani politics. There are no armed guards, no entourage and no fanfare. His private secretary, Anjum Choudhry, a friend I’ve known as “Jim” for many years, sits quietly and reads a paper at the dining room table as the general, in a brown suit and pink shirt, welcomes me into his home and invites me to ask him anything I want. Which, given the rumpus that resulted from my last interview with him (when, on the eve of the 2007 presidential election, he told me a number of things that he later regretted), is very trusting indeed.

In this way, Musharraf differs from most politicians I have met. He is unguarded, forthcoming and at times appears disarmingly naive. He tells me of his imminent return to Pakistan to contest elections, as his housekeeper offers samosas, meethi (Pakistani sweets) and chai. “I think one can look after one’s security. There will be danger but not as much as all my family and all my friends think.” Already there have been many attempts on his life.

Musharraf thinks that politically he is in with a good chance. In October 2010, he launched a new party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, of which he is the president, and he plans to return to contest elections in Pakistan next year. He tells me that according to a recent, informal poll, conducted by a friend from Lahore, 91 per cent of respondents want him to be president and Imran Khan, the leader of Tehreek-e-Insaf (“Movement for Justice”), to be prime minister. “I strongly believe this is the feeling. Even my own supporters tell me Imran is the person who should be with us. I think we can turn the tables if we are together. If he is alone and if I am alone I don’t think we can turn the tables.”

I pass this on to Imran later. He laughs, and says: “And then did he wake up . . . ?” More:

What’s wrong with Pakistan?

Robert D. Kaplan in Foreign Policy: [See FP's "Failed States" index here]

The root cause of these manifold failures, in many minds, is the very artificiality of Pakistan itself: a cartographic puzzle piece sandwiched between India and Central Asia that splits apart what the British Empire ruled as one indivisible subcontinent. Pakistan claims to represent the Indian subcontinent’s Muslims, but more Muslims live in India and Bangladesh put together than in Pakistan. In the absence of any geographical reason for its existence, Pakistan, so the assumption goes, can fall back only on Islamic extremism as an organizing principle of the state.

But this core assumption about what ails Pakistan is false. Pakistan, which presents more nightmare scenarios for American policymakers than perhaps any other country, does have geographical logic. The vision of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in the 1940s did not constitute a mere power grab at the expense of India’s Hindu-dominated Congress party. There was much history and geography behind his drive to create a separate Muslim state anchored in the subcontinent’s northwest, abutting southern Central Asia. Understanding this legacy properly leads to a very troubling scenario about where Pakistan — and by extension, Afghanistan and India — may now be headed. Pakistan’s present and future, for better or worse, are still best understood through its geography.

THE MUSLIM EXPERIENCE in South Asia begins with the concept of al-Hind, the Arabic word for India. Al-Hind invokes the vast tracts of the northern and northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent that came under mainly Turko-Islamic rule in the Middle Ages and were protected from the horse-borne Mongols by lack of sufficient pastureland. The process of Muslim conquest began in Sindh, the desert tract south and east of Iran and Afghanistan, adjacent to the Arabian Sea, easily accessible to the Middle East by land and maritime routes. More

Pakistan blocks Twitter over “blasphemous content”

[Update: Twitter access was restored after eight hours]


Pakistan on Sunday blocked access to Twitter in response to “blasphemous” material posted by users on the microblogging and social networking website, a senior government official said.

“This has been done under the directions of the Ministry of Information Technology. It’s because of blasphemous content,” said Mohammed Yaseen, chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

“They (the ministry) have been discussing with them (Twitter) for some time now, requesting them to remove some particular content,” he said.

Pakistan blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and about 1,000 other websites for nearly two weeks in May 2010 over blasphemous content.

Any representation of the Prophet Mohammad is deemed un-Islamic and blasphemous by many Muslims, who constitute the overwhelming majority in Pakistan. More:

The Peshawar Bomb Disposal Squad

Kiran Nazish in The Express Tribune:

Just as I had almost given up hope that he would tell me his story, he looked up and spoke: “I can’t remember exactly which wire I was on when the explosion took place, but I was almost done defusing the bomb.”

I tried to make sense of what he had said, and he looked as confused as I felt, but then he explained further. “There were two bombs planted in this girls’ school, but we knew of just one. While I was defusing this one,” he stretched out his hands, as if working on an invisible bomb, “there was an explosion from the other side.” His eyes grew wide and he leaned forward as he spoke, “Eleven young girls were killed, and so many were injured. I just lost one finger from the shrapnel.” He shook his head, seeming disappointed at having lost ‘just’ one finger.

Saleem Khan, 45, has defused more than a hundred bombs in his time with the Peshawar Bomb Disposal Squad and once he starts telling his tale, it’s not hard to see why the loss of a finger seems like a small thing to him.

Many of his friends in the squad have lost an arm or a leg while defusing bombs, but some have lost much more. Two of his best friends died in blasts while on duty — friends he had grown up with. One of them, an eager young man called Mushtaram, joined the Peshawar bomb disposal squad because he could not find any other means to support his wife and four-year-old son. More: