Tag Archive for 'Pakistan'

The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean

The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World traces a truly unique and fascinating story of struggles and achievements across a variety of societies, cultures, religions, languages and times:

The history of India’s Africans, called Siddis, is the best known in the region—largely because of the documentation on those who rose to high positions as military commanders.

African ivory was the most sought-after commodity among Indian merchants; ivory was carried from the inland to the East African coast, where it was sold, loaded onto dhows, and transported to the ports of southern Arabia. From there they would continue across the Arabian Sea, stopping along the Makran coast, before continuing on to western India. Given India’s large population, its indigenous slaves, and a caste system among Hindus in which most labor-intensive tasks were traditionally performed by specific groups, African males were employed in very specialized jobs, almost always having to do with some aspect of security—as soldiers, palace guards, or personal bodyguards. They were generally deemed more trustworthy than indigenous people to serve in those capacities, but in a number of cases Africans rebelled against their Muslim or Hindu rulers. During the 15th and 16th centuries, African slave-soldiers seized power in the Bengal sultanate, parts of the Deccan, and the sultanate of Gujarat. However, several centuries before these rebellions, an Abyssinian attained high rank in alliance with the female ruler of Delhi.

In 1236 an Abyssinian named Jalal-ud-din Yakut served in the important imperial post of master of the royal stable, an honor conferred by the Delhi sultana Raziya. In India, where Africans were known for their equestrian skills and their ability to tame wild horses, they served in the cavalry, unlike in the Middle East, where they were limited to service in the infantry. More:

The Delhi Durbar and the Indian diplomat

Rafia Zakaria at Chapati Mystery:

A ripe 110 years ago, in the year 1903, the Second Imperial Durbar was held in Delhi, to celebrate the coronation of King Edward the VII and Queen Alexandria as Emperor and Empress of India. Neither could attend, but Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of the Indian colony, decided that it would be a great opportunity to appropriate the spectacle as homage to the British rule of India. To insure that the spectacle would be appropriately, spectacular he ordered all the minion Maharajas of the Empire to arrive in their traditional garb, with large retinues, silks and elephants and punkahs; so they would look like Maharajas. In this neat directive, the Indian love of protocol was thus successfully employed in the service of Empire. That the arriving “rulers’ were not “rulers” but vassals of Empire, that their retinues and turbans and everything else meant nothing at all in relation to their ability to rule themselves, was the farce behind it all.

The British left and Pakistan and India exchanged their misgivings against the British Empire with petty barbs and nuclear weapons directed at each other. It is a consuming concern; and has occupied millions on either side with its continuing pettiness and puffery for a near century. On either side; the love of pomp and protocol has remained; flagellated into democratic norms on one side and military machinations on the other. Indians and Pakistani leaders are united in their love of appropriating the discriminatory racism that was once heaped on them on the lesser others of their respective countries. Importance, value, worth on either side of the border equals never being mistaken for those ordinary hordes; And nowhere is this most visible than in the constellations of power, the subcontinent elected office means command over convoys of cars, flashing lights, security details and never, ever, the ignominy of being treated “just like everyone else” More:

Riazuddin: The man who designed Pakistan’s bomb

Theoretical physicist Riazuddin died in September.Pervez Hoodbhoy in Newsweek:

When Riazuddin—that was his full name—died in September at age 82 in Islamabad, international science organizations extolled his contributions to high-energy physics. But in Pakistan, except for a few newspaper lines and a small reference held a month later at Quaid-e-Azam University, where he had taught for decades, his passing was little noticed. In fact, very few Pakistanis have heard of the self-effacing and modest scientist who drove the early design and development of Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Riazuddin never laid any claim to fathering the bomb—a job that requires the efforts of many—and after setting the nuclear ball rolling, he stepped aside. But without his theoretical work, Pakistan’s much celebrated bomb makers, who knew little of the sophisticated physics critically needed to understand a fission explosion, would have been shooting in the dark.

A bomb maker and peacenik, conformist and rebel, quiet but firm, religious yet liberal, Riazuddin was one of a kind. Mentored by Dr. Abdus Salam, his seminal role in designing the bomb is known to none except a select few. More:

Meet Pakistan’s “Burka Avenger”

AP/Dawn:

Meet Burka Avenger: a mild-mannered teacher with secret martial arts skills who uses a flowing black burka to hide her identity as she fights local thugs seeking to shut down the girls’ school where she works.

[Urdu trailer here]

The Urdu language show is the brainchild of one of Pakistan’s biggest pop stars, Aaron Haroon Rashid — known to many as simply Haroon — who conceived of it as a way to emphasize the importance of girls’ education and teach children other lessons, such as protecting the environment and not discriminating against others. This last point is critical in a country where Islamist militants wage repeated attacks on religious minorities. More here

The Bin Laden Files

A series of Al Jazeera reports on leaked files from the Abbottabad Commission which reveals Osama bin Laden’s life on the run and the “collective failure” of the Pakistani military and government to locate him. (Read here)

 

 

A deadly triangle: India vs Pakistan in Afghanistan

The Brookings Essay by William Dalrymple:

 AT SIX O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING of February 26, 2010, Major Mitali Madhumita was awakened by the ringing of her mobile phone. Mitali, a 35-year-old Indian army officer from Orissa, had been in Kabul less than a year. Fluent in Dari, the most widely spoken language in Afghanistan, she was there to teach English to the first women officer cadets to be recruited to the Afghan National Army.

It was a sensitive posting, not so much because of gender issues as political ones: India’s regional rival, Pakistan, was extremely touchy about India providing military assistance to the government in Afghanistan and had made it very clear that it regarded the presence of any Indian troops or military trainers there as an unacceptable provocation. For this reason everyone on the small Indian army English Language Training Team, including Mitali, and all the Indian army doctors and nurses staffing the new Indira Gandhi Kabul Children’s Hospital, had been sent to Afghanistan unarmed, and in civilian dress. They were being put up not in an army barracks, or at the Indian Embassy, but in a series of small, discreet guest houses dotted around the city’s diplomatic quarter.

The phone call was from a girlfriend of Mitali’s who worked for Air India at Kabul airport. Breathless, she said she had just heard that two of the Indian guest houses, the Park and the Hamid, were under attack by militants. As the only woman on her team, Mitali had been staying in separate lodgings about two miles away from the rest of her colleagues, who were all in the Hamid. Within seconds, Mitali was pulling on her clothes, along with the hijab she was required to wear, and running, alone and unarmed, through the empty morning streets of Kabul toward the Hamid. More:

“Everybody Hurts” by Sachal Studios, Lahore

“Everybody Hurts” is a part of a new forthcoming album ‘JAZZ AND ALL THAT’ from the Sachal Studios, Lahore with an international collaboration due for release in the Summer of 2013.

Meet the woman behind Pakistan’s first hackathon

In Wired:

Sabeen Mahmud has short-cropped hair and rectangular glasses; she’d fit right in hunched over a laptop at Philz or behind the counter at one of Apple’s Genius Bars. Her resume matches her style. She’s founded a small tech company, opened a hip coffee shop and organized a successful hackathon. But Mahmud doesn’t hail from the Bay – she lives in Karachi, a city more closely associated with extreme violence then entrepreneurs.

“Fear is just a line in your head,” Mahmud says. “You can choose what side of that line you want to be on.”

Mahmud represents something new in this ancient city. Mahmud “fell in passionately in love” with the first Mac she saw, teaching herself MacPaint and MacDraw in college in 1992, and devoting countless hours to Tetris. In 2006, Mahmud decided Karachi was sorely missing a space where people could gather around shared interests, an interdisciplinary space for collaboration and brainstorming. Despite the fact that in Pakistan, many women are not allowed to finish primary school, much less graduate from college and start their own company, she decided to start The Second Floor café, not letting the fact that she didn’t have any money or experience faze her. “I was living with my mother and my grandmother at the time,” she says, laughing. “I had done zero market research. I just hoped people would show up.” More:

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

Coke Studio

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Bilal Tanweer in Chapati Mystery: (via 3quarksdaily):

There are no billboards on the streets. For the last four years, a week or so before the new season of Coke Studio is launched, most of the important billboards in major Pakistani cities are taken up by snazzy advertisements announcing the featured artists of the season. It’s the biggest annual ad campaign for any TV program and this is Season 5. It’s being touted by many to be the mother of all seasons, mainly on the basis of a wildly circulating promotional video of Episode 1 of the new season. The first artist on the promo video is a rapper: Bohemia. The video shows him in a hoodie and dark glasses, slamming out a rap number in Punjabi. ‘This is an opportunity for me to tell you what rap is—it’s poetry, it’s a message,’ he says in a close-up shot of his 3-second interview. The video cuts back to the song. By his side are the Viccaji sisters – Zoe and Rachel – who do backing vocals and harmonies but they appear to be in a more prominent role for this number.[sepoy notes: Bohemia was featured on CM a long time before "Coke Studio"] 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:

Time Person of the Year 2012 runner-up: Malala Yousafzai, the Fighter

From Time magazine:

malala-TimeAyesha Mir didn’t go to school on Tuesday, Nov. 27, the day after a security guard found a shrapnel-packed bomb under her family’s car. The 17-year-old Pakistani girl assumed, as did most people who learned about the bomb, that it was intended for her father, the television news presenter Hamid Mir, who often takes on the Taliban in his nightly news broadcasts. Traumatized by the near miss, Ayesha spent most of the day curled up in a corner of her couch, unsure whom to be angrier with: the would-be assassins or her father for putting himself in danger. She desperately wanted someone to help her make sense of things. At around 10:30 p.m., she got her wish. Ayesha’s father had just come home from work, and he handed her his BlackBerry. “She wants to speak to you,” he said. The voice on the phone was weak and cracked, but it still carried the confidence that Ayesha and millions of other Pakistanis had come to know through several high-profile speeches and TV appearances.

“This is Malala,” said the girl on the other end of the line. Malala Yousafzai, 15, was calling from the hospital in Birmingham, England, where under heavy guard she has been undergoing treatment since Oct. 16. “I understand that what happened was tragic, but you need to stay strong,” Malala told Ayesha. “You cannot give up.” It was one of the few times Malala had called anyone in Pakistan since she was flown to England for specialized medical treatment after a Taliban assassin climbed onto her school bus, called out for her by name and shot her in the head on Oct. 9. Her brain is protected by a titanium plate that replaced a section of her skull removed to allow for swelling. But she spoke rapidly to the older girl in Urdu, encouraging her to stand up for her father even if doing so brought risks. As an outspoken champion of girls’ right to an education, Malala knew all about risk — and fear and consequences — when it comes to taking on the Taliban. “The way she spoke was so inspirational,” Ayesha says. “She made me realize that my father was fighting our enemies and that it was something I should be proud of, not afraid.” The next day Ayesha returned to school. And with that call, Malala began to return to what she seems born to do — passing her courage on to others. More

RIP: Dave Brubeck

Take Five comes full circle: By Naresh Fernandes at tajmahalfoxtrot.com

 

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

 

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:

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 ghosts of Partition

Yaqoob Khan Banghash in The Tribune (Pakistan)

Every country’s Independence Day is a defining moment in its history. The events of the day are the culmination of years of struggle and the day hearkens to a new beginning. The same is true for Pakistan, except that we have yet to move on from our ‘1947’ moment. This is not because historians keep writing about it but that in our collective memory, we still have to reconcile with the events of 1947 and move forward. Let me highlight just a few aspects.

First, and here I am utilising the work of Professor Gurharpal Singh — of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London — is the legacy of violence. Since Pakistan was born in violence, violence has become intrinsic to the body politic of the country. Let us not forget that it was not the constitutional brilliance of Mohammad Ali Jinnah which finally convinced the Congress, especially Nehru and Patel, and Mountbatten to agree to a partition, but the deteriorating law and order situation in the Muslim majority provinces, which was directly related to the ‘Direct Action’, called by Jinnah in late 1946. Hence, Pakistan was literally fought for on the streets of Calcutta, Lahore, Rawalpindi, etc. This ‘violence’, which was largely planned, then became so integral to the imagination of the country that since then, both the state and the people have utilised it repeatedly. This is not to say that other countries are not born in violence and bloodshed; they are, but the degree to which this violence has seeped into the mindset of official and public in Pakistan, is destabilising. more

India and Pakistan: the great wall of silence

“India and Pakistan are divided by a great wall of silence, which liberals are anxious to breach, which ideologues are determined to strengthen, and which people are condemned to suffer,” writes M.J. Akbar in India Today

What is the difference between Indians and Pakistanis? The answer is uncomplicated: There is no difference. We are the same people, with similar personality strengths, and parallel collective weaknesses. Why then have the two nations moved along such dramatically different arcs in the six decades of their existence?

India and Pakistan are not separated by a mere boundary. They are defined by radically opposed ideas. India believes in a secular state where all faiths are equal; Pakistan in the notion that a state can be founded on the basis of religion.

The two-nation theory, which was the basis of Pakistan, did not separate all Muslims of the subcontinent from Hindus; nearly as many Muslims live in India at this moment, without any hindrance to the exercise of their faith, as live in Pakistan. Pakistan was created on an assumption, which had no basis in either the political or social history of Indian Muslims, that they could not live as equals in a united, Hindu majority India. It was a concept that flourished in the wasteland of an inferiority complex. more

Haunted by the homeland by Mohammed Hanif

Mohammed Hanif is the author of Our Lady of Alice Bhatti and A Case of Exploding Mangoes. In Dawn:

This is the story of two boys who were forced to leave Pakistan long after the partition. The first one was so young that he didn’t know why he was leaving, the second old enough to know exactly why he had to leave, but still couldn’t stop asking: why?

Earlier this year I met a 14-year-old unaccompanied Hazara boy on a Karachi-Bangkok flight. A group of happy Pakistani businessmen were trying their Chinese language skills on him. The boy looked bewildered, he turned to me and said, in Urdu: what language are they speaking? I gingerly told the group to back off, that the kid was a Pakistani. The businessmen seemed well travelled but were quite shocked that a Chinese looking kid could speak fluent Urdu. They left us alone and started to trade the do’s and don’t of haggling in Bangkok brothels.

“Going on vacation?” I asked the boy. “All by yourself?”

“I am in class nine.” He didn’t want to be treated like a kid.

“So why aren’t you in school?”

I asked.

He told me a story, a familiar story, but I had never heard it from a kid’s point of view. “Abbu has been acting very strange lately,” he lowered his voice. He has a big store on Sariab Road in Quetta. He used to go there every day. Now, most days he just stays home. First he stopped me from going to school. Then he stopped me from going to play on the street. Then he told me that I was going to go to Bangkok.

The boy had little comprehension of the scale of the trouble his community faced. His father is one of the many businessmen in Quetta who have to make a daily choice: go out to work and risk getting killed or stay home and hope to survive another day. The kid believed his dad was just acting a bit weird. 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:

A Pakistani mayor in Texas

Anand Giridharadas in NYT:

Paris, Texas — This charming, droopy city needed new fire trucks not long ago, but, like many American municipalities today, couldn’t necessarily afford them. The mayor, a small-government Republican, dithered: to buy or not to buy? He turned to the natural choice for advice on running a Texan city: Pervez Musharraf, the exiled ex-president of Pakistan.

Mr. Musharraf may seem an unlikely adviser to the mayor of a Southern town where crickets chirp shrilly and the leafy streets are dominated by places pledging to fix your truck. But even more unlikely is the man he advised: Mayor Arjumand Hashmi, a Pakistani-born cardiologist who has become one of the United States’ most improbable politicians.

 He is like the opening line of a joke: “So a Texan, a Muslim, a Republican, a doctor and the mayor of Paris are sitting at a bar …” Except that he is, by himself, all of the people in the joke.

 America seems to be an ever more divided, bitter country. Lost amid those divisions is the story of how a down-on-its-luck town in Texas struck its own little blow for unity. A little more than a year ago, this city of 25,000 — overwhelmingly white and Christian — made a Muslim outsider their mayor. (Dr. Hashmi had campaigned to be one of seven city councilors and, having won, was voted mayor by the council.) 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: