Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A welcome’s hopeful afterglow

Normally, when two countries announce a bilateral meeting, there is a certain amount of certainty that it will take place. But the question “will they, won’t they?” is asked every time there is a scheduled meeting between officials of India and Pakistan. Decades of bitterness, hostility and mistrust between the two nuclear neighbours inevitably warrant such uncertainty till the very last second. Back in August, the first-ever National Security Adviser (NSA)-level talks were called off at the last minute due to preconditions set by India that were unacceptable to Pakistan.

Rapid thaw in relations

When it was initially announced that India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj would be attending the “Heart of Asia” conference in Islamabad, some were sceptical. But in the backdrop of the “brief contact” between the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers in Paris and the subsequent meeting of the NSAs and Foreign Secretaries of the two countries, in Bangkok earlier this month, many others were optimistic. Ms. Swaraj’s maiden visit — as a cabinet member of the Modi government — to Pakistan was hailed as a major breakthrough. That she announced the resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue, albeit with a new name (“Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue”), was welcomed all around.

Ms. Swaraj’s visit was certainly an ice-breaker. Her visit was seen as a prelude to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s expected visit to Pakistan in 2016 for the 19th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit. What happened next — on December 25 — took most people by surprise. On Friday morning, Mr. Modi — who was in Kabul to inaugurate the new building of the Afghan Parliament built by the Indian government — tweeted that he would be meeting Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore the same afternoon. His tweet created quite a buzz in South Asia. Mr. Modi sure knows how to create headlines.

That Mr. Sharif is committed to the idea of peace with India goes without saying. In 2013, he said on Election Day that if he became the prime minister of Pakistan again, he would like to pick up the peace process from where he left off in 1999 when his government was overthrown in a military coup. Mr. Sharif went so far as to say: “Whether India invites me or not, I will visit India.” He has been severely criticised by his opponents for being too soft on India, but he has remained firm in the face of resistance in Pakistan on the one hand and the hawkish stance of the Modi government in India on the other. While the Pakistani military establishment’s policy of abetting non-state actors for cross-border terrorism has been disastrous for the South Asian region, the Modi government’s hard-line, anti-Pakistan stance has not done any good to the region either.

December 25 is celebrated as Quaid-e-Azam Day in Pakistan as it is the birthday of the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Mr. Sharif’s birthday falls on the same day. Mr. Modi arrived in Lahore around 5 p.m. (IST) and was flown to Mr. Sharif’s personal residence by helicopter from the airport.

The usual bouquets and brickbats

In Pakistan, most people welcomed Mr. Modi’s visit and are hopeful of better relations between the two neighbours in the coming days. In its editorial (“Modi’s visit”, December 27), the newspaper Dawn wrote: “[Mr. Modi’s] willingness to reverse himself and engage Pakistan should be welcomed by all right-thinking and sensible denizens of the two countries… The 25th of December was an auspicious day to mark the possible beginning of a new era of stability in South Asia.”

Air Vice-Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry (retd.) wrote in his column in The News (“The Modi magic”, December 30): “Modi thinks fast because he talks fast. He is in his element when unrehearsed and uncoached. Such a man can think and say anything, anytime; sometimes something good as well. Only his types decide something on the spur, which in diplomacy is heresy… what he will surely do is to take a road ‘less travelled’, creating opportunities for fresher experiences and opportunities. That is what will change the paradigm of engagement.”

The main opposition parties in Pakistan welcomed the visit. The chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, tweeted: “Welcome to Pakistan @narendramodi. Constant engagement is the only way to resolve all outstanding issues.”

Opposition leader Khurshid Shah of the PPP also supported Mr. Modi’s visit. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan welcomed the thaw in India-Pakistan relations but raised questions about Indian businessman Sajjan Jindal’s role. Jamaat-e-Islami chief Siraj-ul-Haq was one of the isolated voices in opposing Mr. Modi’s visit and even took out a rally against it. In his tweet, Siraj-ul-Haq did say that he is not against dialogue “but how can Pakistan welcome Modi in the background of Indian atrocities in Kashmir, FATA & Balochistan?”

Of course there was the predictable criticism from the usual suspects, with some going on about the Indian Prime Minister’s visit and trying to target Mr. Sharif in the light of Mr. Jindal’s presence in Lahore by saying Mr. Modi’s visit had more to do with Mr. Sharif’s own interests. Mr. Jindal had hosted a tea party in Mr. Sharif’s honour when the latter visited India for Mr. Modi’s swearing-in in May 2014.

It must be mentioned here that Mr. Sharif made a huge statement by not meeting the Kashmiri leadership, and not mentioning the “K” word in his official press conference during his visit. The then Indian Foreign Secretary took a hard-line position against Pakistan in her press conference while Mr. Sharif faced the establishment’s ire on his return. From attempts at destabilising his government to moves to take control of foreign and defence policy by the military establishment, Mr. Sharif has been on the military’s bad side for several reasons — one of the major ones being his continued efforts to normalise relations with India.

Time for some give and take

There is no denying that to move forward, Pakistan must take substantive action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. India’s position on Mumbai may be rigid but it is understandable. On the other hand, the Indian side should also try to settle issues that can be resolved, such as Sir Creek. It must be mentioned here that while the Pakistani security establishment’s policy vis-à-vis India is still flawed, our politicians have advocated peace with India. In the last three general elections of Pakistan, Kashmir was hardly ever mentioned, and India was mentioned in a friendly way and in the context of regional peace and cooperation. In 1999, the Kargil war was staged to sabotage peace talks with India. In 2008, the Mumbai attacks took place while Pakistan’s then Foreign Minister was in New Delhi. Pakistan’s civilians strive for peaceful relations with India despite the military-security establishment’s world view. On the other hand, Mr. Modi not only fought the general election on an anti-Pakistan tirade but tried to do the same during State elections as well. The resounding defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the latest State elections in Bihar may have led the Modi government to reconsider its stance vis-à-vis Pakistan. It is being said that Mr. Modi is also under pressure from the international community to improve relations with Pakistan in order to stabilise Afghanistan. Pakistan’s military establishment has also tried to take credit for the revival of the India-Pakistan dialogue.

From a Pakistani perspective, an Indian Prime Minister visiting Pakistan after almost 12 years is a positive sign to a certain extent. A strong BJP government led by an extremely conservative leader like Mr. Modi is capable of delivering peace with Pakistan because its nationalist credentials will not come into question while the Congress always had to tread with caution. In Pakistan, a conservative Punjabi leader like Mr. Sharif can also afford to do the same. It would be ironic, though not impossible, if the “villain of Gujarat” becomes a harbinger of peace with Pakistan.

(Originally published in The Hindu)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Terror taunt, peace stop

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new building of the Afghan parliament, constructed by India, in Kabul this morning.

He made several allusions to Pakistan while addressing the Afghan parliament: "Afghanistan will succeed only when terrorism no longer flows across the border, when nurseries and sanctuaries of terrorism are shut and their patrons are no longer in business."

This remark was obviously directed at Pakistan. Who would have thought that hours later, Modi would be having tea in Lahore with his Pakistani counterpart?

That Modi is social media-savvy is no secret. This time too he used Twitter to make one of the most important policy decisions: "Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi."

His tweet created a media frenzy in both countries.

Anchor and lawyer Fawad Chaudhry said it was no secret that Sharif was keen on building relations with India.

When Modi came to power in 2014, he had invited Sharif to his oath-taking. Sharif accepted his invitation despite severe criticism from several quarters in Pakistan.

Chaudhry said Sharif had taken a huge political risk by accepting Modi's invitation. But in India, "he was 'welcomed' by a haughty press conference by (then) Indian foreign secretary Sujatha Singh", Chaudhry said.

Singh had told the media that Modi had broached cross-border terrorism with Sharif and sought a speedy trial in the 26/11 case. This, Chaudhry said, was a bad start for India-Pakistan relations under the Modi government.

Chaudhry believes that the recent developments in bilateral ties - from NSA-level talks to Sushma Swaraj's Islamabad trip and now Modi's surprise visit - owe to domestic as well as foreign pressure, especially from China and America.

There's a Punjabi saying: "Jinne Lahore nayi vaikheya, o jammeya nayi (Whoever hasn't seen Lahore hasn't been born)."

Modi landed in Lahore around 5pm and was received by Sharif and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif. From a warm hug to holding hands, both Prime Ministers seemed relaxed.

Coincidentally, it was Sharif's birthday. Modi was flown in a chopper to Sharif's home in Raiwind, Lahore.

Breakfast in Kabul, lunch (or high tea) in Lahore and dinner in Delhi - nobody expected this form of diplomacy from Modi but he has surprised his supporters and critics alike.

The last Indian Prime Minister to visit Pakistan was Atal Bihari Vajpayee in early 2004. Now, on Sharif's and Vajpayee's common birthday, Modi has become the fourth to do so.

Journalist-anchor Najam Sethi said Modi was under pressure on two fronts to change the script on Pakistan.

At home, the Bihar election defeat had shown that the Sangh's anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim narrative was yielding negative returns. Internationally, global powers were pressing for improved India-Pakistan ties as a precondition for stabilising Afghanistan through a common regional policy.

This point was stressed in every western capital Modi has visited since becoming Prime Minister. Sethi believes the Pakistani military is on board relating to a policy of reducing tensions with India so that it can concentrate on tackling terrorism at home and focus on Afghanistan issues.

Modi is considered a hawk but his peace gesture towards Pakistan, despite what the sceptics are claiming, is a positive development and will go a long way in normalising relations. This Christmas Day, two South Asian leaders have shown the sagacity to try and bring peace to the region.

(Originally published here)

Changing the narrative for peace

December 16, 2014, is a day that will haunt our memories forever. Around 150 people — more than 120 of them children — were brutally murdered, nay massacred, by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists at Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar.

Pakistan has seen so many terrorist attacks in the last decade that we have lost count. All we know is that more than 60,000 civilians have lost their lives in these attacks and thousands of security officials have also been martyred. All lives are equally important; they all matter but the way these children were killed shook each and every one of us. Those children who survived the attack are scarred for life. We cannot even begin to imagine how their lives have changed forever.

This attack also changed Pakistan — not in entirety but in some ways. There was palpable anger in society after the APS attack. As a result, the pro-Taliban narrative was changed; the military establishment changed its tune, so did the politicians and the media. But as The Economist pointed out, there is much left to do because “drawing the poison from decades of state-sanctioned Islamisation will prove far harder than picking off militant leaders — not least because death squads and the casual use of capital punishment risks a backlash”.

To squash the Hydra of Islamisation, unleashed by the state in the last six decades, will take many more decades. It cannot take place unless and until the state treats all terrorists as one and the same. Selective accountability is not the way to eradicate terrorism from our soil. Action should be taken against all militant outfits — even those outfits that are considered as our state’s ‘assets’. Our state must learn that these so-called assets are terrorists at the end of the day and not loyal to anyone but themselves.

We must not forget that the TTP was once considered to be our ‘brethren’ who had been led astray due to the war on terror. Such fallacies propagated by the state is why our society is living in denial. Most of our people think that every bad thing that happens in Pakistan is due to some external force. We have stopped introspecting and refuse to believe that the enemy lives within. If we want our children to be safe and live peacefully in this country, we must start challenging the state’s flawed policies. It may take decades, but we need to initiate this process now, or else it will continue to haunt our future generations.

On another note, following her visit to Islamabad, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Lok Sabha that war is not an option and dialogue is the way forward with Pakistan to fight the ‘shadow of terror’. Ms Swaraj is right. So far the Modi government has been extremely hawkish when it comes to Pakistan but, slowly, it has realised that without dialogue, both India and Pakistan cannot progress. Instead of stockpiling nukes, we should be spending that money on eradication of poverty. Our people have suffered enough as it is. Now they need peace — in their homes and in the region.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Distorting history

At Pakistan’s first international education and cultural festival, School of Tomorrow (SOT) — held in Karachi last week — I moderated a session titled, ‘Teaching History and Social Studies in Intercultural Societies’. The three panellists included a physicist who is also a professor, an architect and a journalist. The discussion was made interesting because all the panellists were quite open in highlighting the fact how we teach children distorted history from day one. While we were discussing history and social studies being taught in Pakistani classrooms, I was reminded of a quote by Roger Schank. Mr Schank — a radical educator, Artificial Intelligence theorist and cognitive psychologist based in the US — pointed out something very interesting in an interview recently. He says: “We are taught made-up history by our respective governments. All history is a bunch of lies; we are living in a fictional world.”

Thus, his views on history can be applied globally. All countries glorify their ‘heroes’ and their textbook histories are narrated from their own point of view.

For example, we are taught that we have won all wars against India when that is not the case. In order to make any semblance of history, we have to unlearn what we are taught in our textbooks and re-learn history as a result. One of the panellists said that historical accuracy is important because we need to learn from our history so we do not repeat the same mistakes in the future but by misrepresenting history for face-saving purposes, we completely defeat the purpose of teaching history. His point is thought-provoking. Why do we want to teach children something based on factual inaccuracies? We are ruining young, impressionable minds as a result of state policies. Instead, we are inculcating intolerance and bigotry in our children. In a country like Pakistan, where two-thirds of our population is 35 years of age or below, when we teach lies to our children, we end up destroying our future. It is important that society as a whole should pressurise our education boards and the state to change our textbooks. The media, too, must play a pivotal role in challenging the state’s official discourse vis-à-vis history. On another note, reports in the media indicate that Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is expected to visit Islamabad next week. This news comes on the heels of the brief meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and PM Modi on the sidelines of the Climate Change Summit in Paris. In its editorial on the Nawaz-Modi interaction, DAWN newspaper notes: “Unstable ties with India can have all manner of damaging consequences for Pakistan, including inside Afghanistan where the Pakistani state is trying to find a stable outcome over the long term.”

If Ms Swaraj visits Pakistan, it would be seen as a positive development in our diplomatic relations with India. In recent months, ties between the two neighbours have gone from bad to worse. Even cricketing ties between India and Pakistan have suffered as a result of state policies despite the fact that sports should be kept away from politics. Ms Swaraj’s visit would be a welcome step as we should never close the doors to dialogue.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Demonising women

We live in the 21st century but sometimes we behave in ways that would put even the Dark Ages to shame. Ever since the news of the Imran-Reham divorce surfaced in the media, what we have seen is misogyny and nothing but. Reham Khan is being vilified left, right and centre. What exactly is her fault in all this, one wonders. Why is it that the divorce is being pinned on her and her alone? Some of the reasons being given in the media are: she is ‘ambitious’, she is a ‘working woman’, she is a ‘divorcee’, she has ‘political aspirations’, she wants to be in the limelight, among other things. One wonders if a man would be attacked for being a divorcee, for being ambitious, for working, for wanting to be in the limelight. No, a man would not be attacked for all these and more.

In her interview to The Sunday Times, Ms Khan rightly pointed out: “Both of us are divorced, but it seems [from the media] that I’m the only one. We’ve now both been divorced twice, but no one says that.”

Those who have read my views over the years would know I am no fan of Mr Imran Khan as a politician, but I have never commented on his personal life in public. For me, a person’s private life should remain private. I would not have commented on their divorce had it not been for the witch-hunt Ms Khan is facing post-divorce. As a woman, it appals me to see the kind of malicious rumours being spread about her. A divorce is an extremely private matter but when a political leader marries a journalist, it is bound to become news and when he divorces her, most people — especially in the media — do not respect their privacy. It may be unethical, but scandals sell, unfortunately.

A female anchorperson and a former colleague of Reham says that she is no great supporter of hers but at the same time she feels that some of the attacks on Reham have been cruel and misogynist. “It’s not about Reham, it’s about who we have become in our attitude towards successful women. Sadly, we are a country that has always vilified women in power positions, often by ridiculing them through sexual innuendos or portraying them as unethical, immoral, ‘ambitious’ women who should not have attracted attention by venturing into public life. There are many examples: Benazir Bhutto — one newspaper transposed her face on a naked model’s body and published it on the front page at a time when she was cobbling together the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy; Malala Yousafzai — when she stood up against the Taliban as a teenager; Fatima Jinnah — when she contested elections, etc. Either all the women who succeeded in Pakistan are witches, or we, as a nation, have only one way of looking at them: with disdain.”

We do not see news packages in the media about what our male politicians are wearing to parliament but we have seen countless such mocking news packages when it comes to female parliamentarians. Instead of focusing on the legislative work they are doing, our media obsesses over their make-up, their clothes, their jewellery, their handbags, their shoes and whatnot. It is shameful the way our media has behaved in a voyeuristic manner but it also shows that our audience, ie our society, has not behaved much differently. It is time to give Reham a break and respect her privacy.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mixing politics and cricket

There is a cricket series scheduled between India and Pakistan in December 2015 but due to the tense political relations between the two neighbours, nobody is certain whether it will take place or not. Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) officials — Chairman Shaharyar Khan and PCB executive committee chief, Najam Sethi — were recently invited to Mumbai by BCCI President Shashank Manohar for talks to chart the way forward. Shiv Sena members stormed the BCCI headquarters on the day the meeting was scheduled to be held, which compelled the BCCI to postpone the talks until after next Sunday’s match with South Africa. The Pakistani media is now speculating whether the series has been cancelled or not.

According to Mr Najam Sethi, if the BCCI had wanted to cancel the series it would have simply made the announcement and not called PCB officials for talks. “The BCCI preferred to dissipate the Sena protest by letting them into their office to meet Mr Manohar and then disperse rather than ask the police to resist the demonstrators,” says Sethi, adding that they have not ruled out the series as yet.
It would be extremely unfortunate if the bilateral series were to be cancelled. Cricket matches between India and Pakistan evoke strong emotions due to the history of these two nations and are thus the most-watched matches in the cricketing world. Cricket lovers on both sides of the border would miss an exciting series due to politics, which should be kept away from sports in principle. It is hoped that India and Pakistan will play the series with the aim of finding a solution in the interests of cricket.

The recent anti-Pakistan events in Mumbai are quite alarming and disappointing at the same time. Singer Ghulam Ali’s concert was cancelled due to threats, former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri’s book promoter was attacked, the scheduled meeting between PCB and BCCI officials was disrupted, ICC umpire Aleem Dar was withdrawn from the ongoing India-South Africa series after threats and Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar are not going to commentate in the ongoing series. Apart from these incidents, the rising level of intolerance across Modi’s India is giving the country a bad name internationally. It is also undermining the resilience of India’s secular democracy, which is based on the theme of unity in diversity and pluralism.

Pakistan has its fair share of extremists due to its official policy of appeasing militant organisations. We face the consequences of our flawed policies every day. Each terror attack reminds us how our ruling elite — both military and civilian — have failed us. India is going down the same path gradually. It reminds one of an old poem written by Pakistani poet Fahmida Riaz, ‘Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle’ (You turned out just like us).

Here are a few couplets from her poem:

Tum bilkul hum jaisey nikley
Ab tak kahan chhupe the bhai
Woh moorkhta, woh ghaamarpan
Jis mein hum ne sadi ganwai
Aakhir pahunchi dwaar tumhaarey
Arre badhai, bohot badhai

(Translation via Urduwallahs):

So it turned out you were just like us!
Where were you hiding all this time, buddy?
That stupidity, that ignorance
we wallowed in for a century —
look, it arrived at your shores too!
Many congratulations to you!

As a Pakistani who has always looked up to India’s secularism, it is sad to see it go down this path.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)

Monday, October 19, 2015

The cost of justice

The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan’s decision on Wednesday to maintain the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri by an Anti-Terrorism Court is being hailed as a landmark judgement. Qadri, who had filed an appeal for a reduction in his sentence, was earlier convicted for the assassination of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer. Qadri killed a man he was duty-bound to protect, but shamelessly maintains he did the right thing.

According to Qadri, Shaheed Taseer had committed blasphemy by challenging the blasphemy laws and asking for the pardon of a blasphemy-accused, Aasia Bibi. Less than two months after Taseer’s assassination, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was also gunned down. He, too, was vocal about the conviction of Aasia Bibi on alleged blasphemy charges.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) did a great disservice to the justice system in March this year when it ruled in favour of Qadri’s application to void Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). While the IHC upheld Qadri’s death sentence, voiding his anti-terrorism conviction turned the murder of a sitting governor into a regular murder case. After the IHC’s ruling, the slain governor’s murder was no longer being considered a crime against the state and an act of terror.

Headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, the three-member bench of the honourable Supreme Court has now overturned the IHC’s decision regarding the anti-terrorism charges. The apex court’s judgement has also given hope to many who thought the debate on blasphemy laws had died a silent death after the assassination of Taseer. Justice Khosa asked a pertinent question during the hearing: “Will it not instill fear in society if everybody starts taking the law in their own hands and dealing with sensitive matters such as blasphemy on their own rather than going to the courts?”

Yesterday, one of the top 10 Twitter trends in Pakistan was #IamMumtazQadri. Not only was it a shameful trend but it also showed how many in our society are willing to justify a murder just because it was wrongfully committed in the name of religion. Who can forget the way Qadri was garlanded by lawyers when he was presented before the court for the first time after the assassination of Governor Taseer. Qadri is also being treated like a VIP in prison.

For those of us shocked and saddened at the death of Taseer, the support for Qadri jolted us into realising that the actual ‘silent majority’ we thought was sane but did not speak up on such occasions for fear, was in fact the opposite. The real silent majority, which is not-so-silent-anymore, is in favour of mob justice and vigilantism.

In light of the Qadri verdict, the state must provide ample security to the three justices of the apex court as we live in a society where religious extremism prevails to an insane extent. One also hopes that Aasia Bibi’s case will be heard again and she will finally get justice. Governor Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti’s martyrdom must not go in vain. The debate on blasphemy laws must start again as these laws have constantly been misused. We owe this to those who died, for they sacrificed their lives by standing up for justice.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)

The bad... and some good

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Shaikh, while delivering the Haj sermon on Wednesday, said that some people were trying to enforce their own agenda through violence and giving Islam a bad name. “Daesh (ISIS) is pursuing a path meant for destruction of the Muslim ummah. It has not spared even mosques and peaceful citizens. They are disfiguring the image of Islam,” said the Grand Mufti.

It is good to see that even a hardliner Islamic country like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is taking a strong position against ISIS but as a Pakistani citizen, one wonders if the Saudis could have been so thoughtful when it came to funding madrassas in my country, which have churned out not just jihadis but hardcore religious extremists. In their sectarian wars, they have made my country a pawn and we, the people of Pakistan, are bearing the brunt. ISIS is not the only group that has attacked mosques and peaceful citizens. The Taliban have done the same. They have not even spared innocent children; the APS attack in Peshawar is still fresh in our minds. The Taliban may be a regional problem for some, unlike ISIS that has become a global phenomenon, but the Taliban and their ilk are as bad as the ISIS. It would have been great to hear the Grand Mufti condemn all terrorists, including the Taliban. We cannot differentiate between terrorists and/or murderers just because of our vested interests.

On another note, there is some good news regarding cricket. As a cricket enthusiast and as a Pakistani cricket fan, the launch of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) is great news. The tournament will be held in the UAE next February. It is not being held in Pakistan due to security issues, as it would have been nearly impossible to get renowned international players to be part of the PSL if it was being held here. Our cricketers have not been part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) since the Mumbai terror attacks.

After the terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, international cricket stopped in our country until this year when Zimbabwe finally agreed to play in Pakistan. The Gaddafi Stadium was packed during the entire Zimbabwe series. Pakistani fans came out in full force to support their own country as well as Zimbabwe as a gesture of their gratitude. Now that the PSL has been launched, it will bring more excitement for Pakistani cricket fans. As Ahmer Naqvi wrote recently: “The [T20] format found a natural home in street cricket and the culture of night matches during Ramzan, and these were hugely popular in Pakistan’s cities from the ‘70s onwards, and later caught the imagination of the rural population too. In a way, Pakistan had a T20 culture at least 30 years before the format was invented. The fact, then, that the country has still not had a proper international-class tournament since is nothing less than a tragedy.”

The PSL is a great Eid gift for millions of Pakistani cricket fans. Here is to hoping that we can one day bring the PSL to our own cricket grounds back home.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Battle cries

India and Pakistan ‘celebrated’ the fiftieth anniversary of the 1965 war last week. The celebrations on both sides of the border were at such large scale that it was nauseating to say the least. Those who questioned these celebrations were called ‘unpatriotic’, ‘traitors’, etc., when in fact they were the only sane voices out there. What are we trying to show by celebrating a war that resulted in thousands of casualties on both sides and put a dent in our economies?

Apart from the loss of lives, wars cause destruction, make people homeless, leave scars on the minds of those affected by wars, and push back countries for decades economically. No wonder civilised countries do not celebrate wars; they may celebrate the end of wars but they do not behave in a callous manner by ‘celebrating’ wars.

As Dawn editorial (‘Fifty years on’, September 6, 2015) notes: “A jingoistic Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to revel in India’s supposed military prowess. Meanwhile, a military stretched and under threat in Pakistan appears more interested in giving a befitting verbal and visual response to India than focusing on the domestic security challenge. It is a familiar, if distressing, cycle.”

My friend and fellow columnist, Smita Prakash, wrote a thought-provoking piece (‘War or peace: 50 years on’) earlier this week on the same issue in this paper. India and Pakistan have not learnt anything from history. The people of the Indian subcontinent do not need more jingoism in their lives — what they need is redress of real issues that they face every day. Instead of spending billions of rupees on these war celebrations, this money could have been better utilised had it been spent on education, healthcare, infrastructure, clean drinking water, public toilets and other such public service sectors. India and Pakistan also need to end this deadlock and start talking to each other. If government level talks are a problem right now, they should at least revive back channel diplomacy.

At former Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri’s book launch ceremony in Lahore recently, Mani Shankar Aiyar — who was a keynote speaker at the event — said that in a war, nobody is defeated and nobody is a victor. He said that it is necessary for dialogue between the two South Asian neighbours to be uninterruptible as it is the only way forward. One should really adhere to voices like Mr Aiyar’s and others who do not have any vested interest and only want peace in the region.

On another note, Pakistan is beginning to go through yet another period of censorship. The Lahore High Court (LHC) has directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to ban the broadcast of images and speeches of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain across all electronic and print media. While one may not agree with the speeches of Mr Hussain, to put a blanket ban on his photographs or statements altogether from the media is wrong at many levels. Today it is Mr Hussain, tomorrow it will be somebody else. Censorship does no good to anyone. All it does is mislead people. We have been misled enough. It is time to put a stop to such steps.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)