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Showing posts from 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 other…

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 pow…

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 …

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 th…

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 …

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 po…

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 Qadr…

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 ch…

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, …

To talk or not to talk

My last column was about Pakistan’s Independence Day and how we are not really free when there is so much apathy for a crime as big as child abuse in our society. This week, I want to revisit how we are still not free, but this time in the context of India and Pakistan. These two countries have a six-decade-old baggage. From a bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent to wars on the battlefield to proxy wars to going nuclear, these two countries have hurt each other much to the dismay of many people and at the cost of social development, healthcare, education, etc., of their own peoples.

Will they, won’t they? This is what happens before every proposed Indo-Pak meeting and this is exactly what everybody was thinking before the NSA talks between India and Pakistan in New Delhi. From border tensions to war of words to the Kashmir issue, everything was pointing to the fact that both wanted an excuse to cancel the talks and were waiting for the other side to blink first.

“Both sides h…

Crime and apathy

Sixty-eight years ago, Pakistan got independence from British colonial rule that led to the partition of the Indian Subcontinent – today (August 14), Pakistanis are celebrating our Independence Day. Every year, the ruling elite (military and/or civilian) pledge to make our country a better place but every year our problems increase. This year, too, things are no different.

One of the most shocking child abuse scandals has recently rocked the country. According to media reports, around 400 videos of child pornography were made involving at least 280 children in Kasur in the Punjab province. Instead of being jolted out of their slumber after this case came to light, the Punjab government, Punjab Police and some sections of our media went into an overdrive to downplay the horrific crime. From saying the actual number of children is less than what has been reported to denying it was child abuse, citing it as a case of homosexuality and consensual sex to mixing it up with a land dispute, …

Curtailing sectarianism?

I visited the Auschwitz concentration camp earlier this month with a group of Pakistanis. We have all read about the Nazis and the horrors of the Holocaust but none of us were prepared for the feelings that swept us when we set foot in Auschwitz. It had an eerie feeling to it and it felt as if the air was heavy with grief. When we visited the gas chambers and prison cells, one could literally feel the pain and terror on one’s skin. The visit was a sombre affair. When we left, I could not shake off the fear for a very long time. It also reminded me of the way members of the Shia community, especially the Hazara Shias in Balochistan, were being target-killed in Pakistan by the banned sectarian outfit, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

On Wednesday morning, leader of LeJ Malik Ishaq was killed by the police in a gunfight when allegedly Ishaq’s supporters attacked a police convoy in order to free him near Muzaffargarh. Ishaq’s two sons, his deputy and 11 others militants were also killed in the g…

Criminal lies

Lying is a normal human trait. Those of us who claim they never lie are also lying. We all lie...but most of our lies are harmless and just a tactic to save ourselves from getting into trouble. However, one should always draw a line when lies become vicious and/or malicious. Unfortunately, some people think it is okay to malign someone through a lie as long as it serves their purpose, not realising that it is criminal to do so.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan is a glaring example of such criminal acts. He has repeatedly lied about various things but one of his most criminal lies was about renowned journalist and former caretaker Chief Minister Punjab, Mr Najam Sethi. For the last 18 months, Imran Khan and his cronies have been peddling a lie, without a shred of evidence, on every platform from TV interviews to dharna stage to political rallies, etc that there is an audio tape where Mr Sethi is allegedly talking to Mian Nawaz Sharif on election night and saying somethin…

Ramzan diplomacy

In my last column, I talked about the absurdity and inherent dangers of the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan in recent months. From threats of cross-border strikes from an Indian minister to Pakistan’s Defence Minister declaring our arms are not meant for decoration, from Indian Prime Minister Modi’s bombastic anti-Pakistan statements in Bangladesh to our military establishment’s accusations about Indian involvement in terrorism in Pakistan, the war of words between Indian and Pakistani leaders had certainly reached a crescendo.

Such level of hysteria is not unknown between the two neighbours but this time around, there was a sense of betrayal in this warmongering hysteria. The reason being that there was hope that peace would finally prevail in the region after Mian Nawaz Sharif, who is openly committed to the idea of peace with India, came to power followed by the formation of a strong BJP government in India. Mr Sharif’s Muslim League and the BJP have right wing base…

Of hawks and doves

One: ‘Spy pigeon’ detained in India after crossing border from Pakistan
Two: Modi told China, Pakistan economic corridor unacceptable – Sushma
Three: Centre plans ‘carnival’ to mark 50 years of India-Pakistan War of 1965

The first news item is quite hilarious given the absurdity of the claim in this tech-savvy 21st century world. Social media had a field day with this news report as memes were made, Bollywood songs shared, witty blogs written, etc. On the one hand, this news item is indeed funny but on the other, it also shows how much mistrust there is between the two South Asian neighbours. Decades of enmity and hawkish policies have led to this — that even a pigeon that flew over from across the border was seen as a potential threat.

Relations between India and Pakistan have rarely been peaceful and after the Mumbai attacks in 2008, things inevitably got worse. The second news item points to further escalations between the two countries. As an editorial (‘India’s objections to CP…

Cricket comes home again

Today, Pakistan will play against Zimbabwe at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore. Pakistani cricket fans are ecstatic. They cannot wait to see the match. Tickets for the first T20 have been sold out. And why not? We have waited for six long years for this. The images of the Zimbabwe cricket team arriving at the Lahore airport on our television screens made me shout out loud with joy. It was an emotional moment because after six years, international cricket was has finally returned to Pakistan. It has been a long wait.

I vividly remember the day the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked back in 2009. Sitting in front of a television, I could not stop my tears while watching the horror that was unfolding in the heart of Lahore. We have seen many a terror attack in this country, but we all thought that cricket is too sacred to be attacked, even for terrorists. As Ahmer Naqvi, journalist and writer, recently wrote: “Until that moment, I was among several people (perhaps even a majority of Pakistan f…

Of courage and humanity

Last month, I wrote a column about silencing dissent in Pakistan when an academic discussion on Balochistan was cancelled by the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) allegedly at the behest of the government and intelligence agencies. It was a disappointment for many at the university as well as our civil society. Sabeen Mahmud, founder of the Karachi-based cafe The Second Floor (T2F) and a peace activist, decided to hold the same talk at T2F. Titled ‘Unsilencing Balochistan (Take 2)’, the seminar went well. Sabeen posted pictures of the seminar on her Instagram feed. Later that evening, as she left T2F, Sabeen was gunned down in her car. Her assassination was absolutely shocking and devastating.

Sabeen was a remarkable, honest, hard-working and genuine person. It was courageous of Sabeen to hold a seminar on missing persons and Baloch rights. She took up causes because she truly believed in them; she did not want fame, money or anything else. The night of her assassinatio…

Hostilities no more

Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Dr TCA Raghavan, recently said that there is a need to remove misperceptions between New Delhi and Islamabad for the restoration of mutual trust. He said: “India and Pakistan should behave like normal trading partners...Fears that enhanced trade with India would result in Indian goods flooding Pakistani market, rendering local traders out of business, is misplaced.” Giving the example of China and India, Dr Raghavan emphasised how this is the way forward for countries to remove barriers in the larger interest of their nations.

The Indian High Commissioner is quite right. Despite the baggage of partition, territorial disputes and decades’ old hostilities, these two neighbouring countries can make way for peace and stability in the South Asian region by strengthening their trade ties. Once this hurdle is passed, the next step should be to have an easier visa regime between the two neighbours. One of the most significant reasons SAARC has not had mu…

Silencing dissent

One would think that a nuclear-armed state with the world’s fastest growing nuclear programme would not be afraid of a discussion being held at a private university on a ‘sensitive’ topic. Think again. The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) was going to hold a round-table yesterday (Thursday, April 9) on human rights in Balochistan titled ‘Un-silencing Balochistan’ but due to the intervention of state agencies, LUMS was forced to cancel this academic discussion.

According to a report published in Pakistan Today, LUMS faculty member Dr Taimur Rahman said: “A delegation from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) visited LUMS and presented a letter calling for cancellation of the talks. They said that Balochistan is a sensitive issue and that the moot could be used to malign Pakistan.” Dr Rahman added: “The talks were aimed at understanding the Balochistan issue and discussing ways on how to resolve the long-standing problems of the Baloch people. It was supposed to be an a…

Fighting misogyny

I recently saw a very powerful play, Jan Se Mann Ki Jai Ho, on the plight of women in India and around the world. It dealt with various aspects of gender inequality but the most compelling part was the one on female foeticide. The monologue of an unborn baby girl was sensitive, emotional, overpowering and tragic at the same time. I don't think there was anyone in the audience – male or female – who did not cry at the end of that monologue. It reminded me of my own country, Pakistan, as well.

When a girl child is born, we often see family and friends with sad faces, saying things like: ‘Challo koi nahi, agli baar insha’Allah beta hoga’ (It’s okay. God willing, you will give birth to a son next time). In many local hospitals, the hospital staff do not ask for bakshish (tip) when a girl child is born out of ‘pity’ for the family. Girls are seen as a ‘burden’ on the family. Even though we now see more working women in urban areas in Pakistan, many of them face sexual harassment at th…

Selective accountability

Pakistan has a new Senate Chairman, Mr Raza Rabbani. Pakistan’s democracy has not always resulted in the best leadership taking charge of important portfolios, but Mr Rabbani known as ‘Mr Clean’ and a thoroughbred democrat from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is a perfect choice for the post of Senate chairman. On the other hand, the new Deputy Chairman Senate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri, senior leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) is from a rightwing party. We will see how this pans out for the future of the Senate. A progressive chairman and a regressive deputy chairman in the Senate is a reflection of our society and democratic process. Pakistan voted out a progressive party, the PPP, because it could not deliver on economy and governance. We voted in a rightwing party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), because many people believed it would lead to economic growth. Unfortunately, the PML-N has hardly done anything to improve the economy.

It is said that our p…

Reclaiming lost space

Lyse Doucet, BBC’s chief international correspondent, wrote a very nice piece on the Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) recently. The headline said: “Book lovers defy the bombers”. While it is literally true that despite real security threats, people still thronged the LLF, it also reminds one of how there are not enough events to celebrate literature, art and culture in Pakistan. Most of us do not like it when people say we are defying bombers or the Taliban by holding such events, or that we are a resilient nation. Yes, it may be literally true, but then again, we also know that we cannot escape bombs and bullets so we may as well make the most of our lives while we are at it. This is why the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) and the LLF are events that people look forward to attending every February.

The organisers of both events must be commended for their dedication and hard work. It is not easy to convince locals, let alone foreigners, to participate in such public events. But, in …

Sunday blues (or greens?)

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain recently used the choicest of derogatory words to describe the women who were part of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI’s) dharna (sit-in). His comments regarding PTI leader Shireen Mazari were exceptionally crude. Hussain later apologised to Dr Mazari; his apology was accepted by the latter.

We often say that the South Asian culture is very respectful towards women but that is not necessarily the case. In fact, mostly it is women politicians or women belonging to a politician’s family who are at the receiving end of offensive remarks. Mr Hussain’s is just a recent example but we have seen countless times in the past how leaders have discredited other politicians by attacking women. It is sad to see that usually when there is a fight between political parties and/or leaders, we see character assassination campaigns are launched instead of objective criticism of their politics or policies. If our political leaders cannot learn to re…

More democracy

“Pakistan’s future viability, stability and security lie in empowering its people and building political institutions…the fundamental battle for the hearts and minds of a generation can be accomplished only under democracy” — (late) Benazir Bhutto.

It is said that no one is indispensable but many in Pakistan still feel that there was no one like Benazir Bhutto and she was indeed indispensable for our country. Shaheed BB, an iconic figure for millions in Pakistan and around the world, was assassinated seven years ago. Her loss is felt every time our security establishment tries to discredit our political class and/or when our politicians themselves make a mockery of the democratic system.

When our parliament acquiesced to public (and establishment) pressure after the Peshawar school massacre and sanctioned military courts, I was reminded of BB’s interview to the Herald more than a decade ago. She said that democracy is about evolution and it is also about fighting for what you believe …

Ending our never-ending suffering

One month ago, Pakistan saw its deadliest terrorist attack in Peshawar at the Army Public School (APS), where more than 130 children were shot dead by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). There was an outpouring of grief and anger after the APS attack that we have never witnessed before, despite the fact that terrorism has taken the lives of tens of thousands of Pakistanis over the last decade. Our government responded by lifting the moratorium on the death penalty, and our parliament quickly sanctioned military courts. Hanging terrorists, or speedy trials, will not serve any purpose unless there is clarity on our state’s policies vis-à-vis militant outfits.

According to a report published in the Express Tribune: “Pakistan has decided to ban the Haqqani Network, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and 10 more organisations.” If this is true, then it is indeed a huge paradigm shift and there is still hope for the country’s future. We always hear how brave and resilient we are as a nation. Maybe we …

Goodbye, 2014

The year 2014 is over. Finally! It was a dark, depressing and disappointing year for my country, Pakistan. The year started with a brutal massacre of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). During the year, there were many other devastating terrorist attacks. The year ended with more than a hundred children killed point-blank by the Taliban in a school in Peshawar. We want to forget, but we cannot. The pain of all these attacks cannot be wished away even if one wants to. Every day is a grim and gloomy reminder of our scars and then there is fear that the worst is yet to come.

Some people are optimistic that with the military brass and political class united to fight terrorism, things will get better. Unfortunately, the method they have chosen to deal with this menace of terrorism is not the right one. Lifting moratorium on death penalty and executing those on death row and/or establishing military courts is not a solution; it is another form of fighting barbarism b…