Posted by Mahim Maher
I wanted to bring to the Jewish diaspora’s notice that funds for the upkeep of the Jewish cemetery in Karachi, Pakistan are drying up. While there are no Jews left in Pakistan, which is probably a good thing given that extremists just gunned down a Christian minister on Wednesday, March 2, the remains of those who lived here survive. A freelance journalist Huma Imtiaz wrote about the Bani Israel graveyard for the Sunday magazine T of my newspaper, The Express Tribune, that is published locally with the global edition of The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune. You can read the series on our website http://tribune.com.pk but for everyone’s convenience I’ve pasted it down below. Our magazine editor Zarrar Khuhro commissioned the three-part piece.
Land of the Lost
In the heart of Karachi, amidst the sounds of traffic and the ever-present smog, one can hear shouts of bus conductors calling out “Tower, Tower!” The object of their affection is the 19th century Merewether Tower on II Chundrigar Road, dwarfed now by tall buildings in the city’s busy financial area, but still unique due to its design. In the middle of the tower is an engraved Star of David, set in stone. Some upholder of religion has thoughtfully spray painted Yahoodi (Jew) on the tower, perhaps to mark it for demolition in the future.
During the British Raj, there was a small but vibrant Jewish community in Karachi, which was renowned even then for being a multi-ethnic city. One member of the Jewish community, Abraham Reuben, was even elected to the post of councilor of the Karachi city corporation, the forerunner of the KMC, in 1919. Many members of the community left after the founding of Israel and more left after the Arab-Israeli wars led to increased anti-Jewish feeling in Pakistan. Of those who remained, many succumbed to old age and disease, but urban legend has it that a few still live on in deliberate obscurity. And those who died here have left their mark on the land.
Walking into the Jewish cemetery in Mewa Shah, Karachi, one is greeted by a family sitting on a charpoy [rope bed], soaking in the sun. “Is this the Jewish graveyard?” I ask. A young boy lisps back, “This is the Israeli graveyard”. To him, the meanings of Jewish and Israeli are interchangeable.
Muhammad Ibrahim, the 62-year-old caretaker of the cemetery, was born in a small room located inside the cemetery. “We’ve spent our entire lives here. My parents, now long dead, also lived here.”
Funds to maintain the cemetery are drying up. “Some people come once a year, they donate money and leave. We’ve paid for some of the maintenance ourselves such as the construction of the boundary wall around the cemetery,” says Ibrahim.
Nearly 5,000 graves are present here. Many are broken, and nettles and thorns adorn the site. “A woman named Rachel used to come here. But we’ve been told that she’s moved to London now.”
Mehrunissa, a wizened old woman, is a member of one of the six families that live on the cemetery’s grounds. Raving against the government for neglecting the place, Mehrunissa says the land mafia has repeatedly tried to take over the land. “We have repeatedly filed First Investigation Reports with the police about this. We’re the ones who have been safeguarding this place. Why doesn’t the government do anything?”
Ibrahim shows me around the cemetery; in a room lies the grave of Solomon David, an official of the Karachi Municipal Corporation, who also built the Magain Shalome synagogue in Saddar. The room also doubles as a storeroom for a pile of twigs, a clock with no hands marks the time. “The last burial here was in the 1980s,” says Ibrahim. Some Jewish people were present in the city, according to Ibrahim, but have married within Muslim families.
There was once a Jewish synagogue here too – according to Karachi’s residents, who had seen it. It was a small building located at Nishtar Road in Saddar. However, it was torn down in the 1980s, and a shopping plaza now stands in place of the synagogue.
Byram Avari, a prominent member of the Parsi community, says there are now no Jews left in Karachi that he is aware of. “There were prominent Jews here, one used to be a pilot at the Karachi Port Trust. I had a friend at school who was Jewish, they used to tell people they were Christians. They moved to Canada, and that’s where he passed away. There was a Jewish synagogue in Manora, and the Jewish graveyard in Karachi. The Jewish families used to tell people that they were Christians because their features resembled them, and they wore shalwar kameez.” Avari says he had heard there was a woman who used to pay for the maintenance of the Jewish graveyard, but says he has no contact with any Jewish family in Pakistan.
Being a Jew in today’s Pakistan would be living a life fraught with fear and constant persecution. The term Yahoodi (Urdu for Jew) is frequently tossed around as a curse word. Dozens of personalities have been accused of being part of the Jewish lobby, and rightwing op-ed writers have frequently accused the Jewish lobby (whatever that may mean) of being responsible for Pakistan’s woes. From former President Pervez Musharraf to human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir, the Jewish lobby has sponsored all and sundry according to the colourful imagination of the right-wing. At protests, the Israeli flag is frequently burned, and slogans are raised against the Jewish community. In drawing rooms, discussions about the veracity of the Holocaust come under debate. In such circumstances, it is little surprise that the small Jewish population lived a life of obscurity, or migrated to Israel and other countries.
Ardershir Cowasjee, a prominent columnist and member of the Parsi community says that there were very few Jewish families left in Karachi, and most of them have passed away. Arif Hasan, renowned urban planning expert, says many left the country after the anti-Israel campaign. “There were Jewish cabaret artists and film actresses in the city, along with bureaucrats. The bureaucrats left in the 50s, the cabaret artists in the 70s,” says Hasan. The Roma Shabana nightclub that once stood on Frere road also boasted two Jewish cabaret dancers, who later faded into obscurity.
Attempts to contact members of Jewish families that lived in Karachi were in vain. Prominent architect Yasmeen Lari, who is working on a project to conserve the city’s historical buildings, did not have any pictures of the Jewish synagogue that once existed in the city. Hasan says there is only one known picture of the synagogue that has been circulated on the Internet on various blogs.
“People come here and take pictures, but no one comes to help us maintain this place,” complains Ibrahim as I leave, “but we will continue to do so.” As one looks at the state of disrepair that the Jewish cemetery and the Merewether Tower exist in, one can only hope that these symbols of a once vibrant Jewish community remain for the next generation of Pakistanis to witness.
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February 7, 2011 | 10:55 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
The Karachi Literature Festival took place February 5 and 6, attracting the best of Pakistani writers, at home and abroad. Back-to-back sessions ran for the length of the two days and hundreds of fans, intellectuals, poets, journalists, children turned out in the vastly successful event organised by the British Council and Oxford University Press.
As the city editor for The Express Tribune, I knew that we have to give it blanket coverage. The entire Karachi team was roped in. They filed over 20,000 words over the course of the two days. One item I would like to share with you is the session with Mohammad Hanif, one of Pakistan’s best-loved writers.
Hanif is basically a journalist. He ran the BBC’s Urdu service for many years. He shot to fame, however, with the publication of his stunning ‘A Case for Exploding Mangoes’ in 2008. The New York Times said: Mohammed Hanif’s exuberant first novel, “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” extends this tradition of assassination fiction and shifts it east to Pakistan. The death at its center is that of Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, president of Pakistan from 1978 to 1988.
But more importantly, we were infinitely amused by Hanif’s session at the KLF in which he talked about meeting an ex-Karachi Jew in Israel. I have taken the liberty of copying here reporter Salman Siddiqui’s coverage:
Writer Mohammad Hanif shared anecdotes from Israel and announced the title of his new novel at the Karachi Literature Festival on Sunday evening.
The ascerbic author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes had the entire audience in fits of laughter as he described his sources of inspiration, his experiences in Karachi and his recent trip to Palestine where he was on a creative-writing teaching assignment.
Once as a reporter for an international media organisation he was sent to Israel, where he was asked to address an event. “When I mentioned Karachi, I noticed that a man at the back row began to weep,” he said. “At the end of my address, I inquired and learnt that he belonged to the generation of Jews who once used to live in Karachi.”
The man told Hanif how life in Karachi was for the Jews during Ayub Khan’s time and asked from him the state of the city under the then new dictator Gen Musharraf. Hanif said the man recalled the names of cinemas and places he used to visit as a child despite decades passing by. When the writer asked him where he was living now, the man said a new colony called Ramlay had been built by the Israelis for them. “Here there are only two families from Pakistan, while all the rest are Indians,” the man complained, before going on to add that the Indians won’t allow them to live in peace anywhere. “And there I was in the middle of Israel, bonding with another Pakistani complaining about these Indians,” Hanif said as the crowd burst into another round of laughter.
Although Hanif announced the title of his upcoming novel “Our Lady Alice Bhatti” he remained tight lipped about the plot and only said: “It’s a love story, where there’s also a marriage gone bad.”
He read out passages from his new writings, some of which were autobiographical as they drew from his own experiences of living as a single man in Karachi. “I used to rent out different places from time to time and learnt many different things,” he said. For example, in the chapter titled Agay Samandar Hay (Ahead lies the Sea), Hanif describes the nauseating ‘piss-like’ smell of the beach. In Sabzi Mandi kee Sair (A Tour of Sabzi Mandi) someone borrows the character’s churridarr payjama whenever a trip to the MQM’s Nine Zero was planned. A womaniser in Empress Market Kay Badshah (King of Empress Market) wanted to score his 264th girl in his apartment.
And the Dead Poet’s House inspired by the late Salim Elahi’s apartment where the character inherits all the books left behind as the family simply wasn’t interested in them anymore and left it to the tenant.
Hanif, whose first novel is being translated in 19 languages, said it was very important for Urdu literature to be translated into Sindhi, Baluchi, Punjabi and vice versa.
He described his novel-writing endeavours as an act of ‘frustrated journalistic revenge.’ “As a journalist many a time we come to a point when we know that the kind of information we are seeking is just beyond our reach,” he said, adding that fiction gave him the liberty to imagine the truth behind the story.
The funny thing was that people told him that his fiction was actually very close to reality. “I met a general the other day who took me to the side and asked how did I get to know about the exact details of Zia’s plane crash.”
He advised aspiring writers to first develop the habit and love for reading. “Reading and reading well is the first step,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2011.
If you would like to read the comments that appeared on our website please visit:
December 25, 2010 | 5:26 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
“In a city like Karachi with 20 million people are you telling me that there were no rapes today?” I stare at the crime reporter.
“Er… ma’am…,” his voice trails off.
This has been my pet peeve for as long as I’ve worked in a newsroom in Pakistan. In my mind, it is simply not possible that in one of the world’s five megacities, Karachi, there isn’t a rape committed at least every hour. But virtually none of them are reported.
The problem is that the police stations, nearly 100 in this city, are all staffed by men. The other problem is that nearly all crime reporters working at either newspapers or in television channels here are men. More and more women have become journalists and some of them are doing wonderful work, but the crime beat pretty much stays a male domain, simply because the cops are cigarette-smoking, paan-chewing male chauvinists who are not comfortable talking to a female reporter much less becoming buddy buddy with her. And then, when it comes to sex-related matters, they are the last ones to want to discuss them with women.
I don’t blame them, though. Pakistani society is not one that considers it polite to discuss biology. It doesn’t matter who you are talking to, the bright young men who’ve returned from American universities with MBAs or the sun-wizened rice farmers of Sanghar who have never ventured beyond their nearby town. With only a very few exceptions, men do not like talking about sex with women and don’t like women who talk about sex either. When it comes to rape at least.
Let me tell you a small story. Nearly a decade ago, when I returned to Karachi from college I started hanging out with a group of people introduced to me by my best friend. She was married to a young man and the group consisted of his gang. One day I got a mass email sent around to the group. It was one of those animated, moving line-drawing cartoon jokes in which a man was having sex with a woman in what was portrayed as a derogatory position. Essentially the cartoon man was impaling the woman. The email had been sent around to the whole group so several comments, laughter etc. were part of the email.
I, however, was not laughing. It was the most offensive thing I had seen in a long time. Now I can get a good joke, a ribald joke just as much as anyone else, but when something like this comes my way it makes my skin crawl. I hit reply-to-all and typed up a paragraph-long argument on why the cartoon was offensive. In it I used words for the female and male anatomy and the sexual experience, such as penis and orgasm, misogyny, feminism, Chthonian, Dionysian etc.
The next thing I knew, my best friend called me up. She said her husband did not want her to be in touch with me any more. When I asked why, she said that because I had used such language everyone in the group thought I was a slut and a whore and if she continued to be friends with me, she would be, by default, one and bring shame to her husband.
This is how the reasoning works: if a woman uses the word penis or orgasm, that means she is familiar with them and thus has had sex and thus is not a virgin and thus is a slut.
It’s been over 10 years since that happened, but that episode comes to mind every time someone tells me to watch what I say, to be more ladylike or stop behaving in a particular way because it will give the wrong impression. Two recent incidents this week reminded me of the email and my first lesson in the mind-boggling way society works here.
I was hanging out with a friend last week when he cracked a joke. I laughed out loud. Not the Amadeus laugh, but a deep guffaw that risks turning into a fit of snorting if I’m not careful. “You really shouldn’t laugh like that,” he said, timidly.
Oh, no, I said to myself. Here we go again. “And why is that?”
“Because, you know, people will think you’re like one of those women.”
“You know,” he widened his eyes. “Like THOSE women…”
“You mean fast women? Whores? Sluts?”
He held his palms up. “You said it.”
I was amazed. I’ve heard a lot of nonsense while living here in Karachi but this one was new. A deep-throated, uninhibited laugh means to some men (and women) that the woman isn’t controlled enough in public, opens herself up rather than restraining herself. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense in the deepest, most terrifyingly primordial way. Perhaps this laugh, I thought, indicated an insatiable, unafraid, sexual appetite? A long time ago, in my search for answers to oppression, I read the brilliant Camille Paglia’s ‘Sexual Personae’, which remains to this day, my bible for feminism studies. Have you heard of the Vagina Dentata that eats up the penis so that it emerges smaller? Gobble, gobble. Men are actually terrified of women, says the theory. They just need to lie back, they don’t need to prove anything. Anxiety lies in male performance.
The second incident that took place this week that reminded me of the email was an actual rape case. Two woman, K and S, attended a party in a fairly desolate neighbourhood and after they exited, some men in a car rammed into theirs, pushing them into a ditch. The women were dragged from the car, K was taken somewhere and gang raped. While many of the details were not immediately clear, the rape kit was positive. The problem was, however, that the police initially mishandled the case.
My crime reporter came to the office and immediately told me that it was doubtful there was rape. “They weren’t decent women,” he said. “The story is not what it seems.”
The newseditor and I freaked out over his interpretation and I was forced to dispatch a female reporter. She went to the police station where a media circus had erupted. To top it off, a government official, basically an adviser to the chief minister, a young woman herself, took it upon herself to speak to the media. She not only named the woman K but also said on national television that her statements did not hold water. I was watching the live press briefing from the office and my face nearly fell off.
Needless to say, the crime reporter’s copy was shit. He did not seem to understand the point that you did not have to assume a woman was shady just because she was out late. Thankfully, however, the female reporter came back with a much more nuanced story.
The police had a lot to say about this case. Not every woman is a Mukhtaran Mai, quipped one, while referring to the woman whose gang rape hit headlines all over the world. She has since become a champion for women’s rights, opened a school in her hometown and a book has been written about her struggle.
In another case, that surfaced a week or so earlier, the police had said to a man whose wife had been gang raped that it wasn’t possible because she wasn’t pregnant. In another case, of a gang rape recently, the police had said to the woman that as she was married, it really wasn’t such a big deal for her to have had “sex” with four men, she should be used to having sex more than once a day. In fact, this officer then told the woman that he was single and would be up for some “comforting” if she could arrange for another woman.
The only good news in the K’s rape case is that the key police officer handling the case, a relatively more sensitive soul, has cracked it and because of media pressure and the stink it’s created, it seems likely that the men will be caught. I don’t know what kind of justice anyone can offer the rape survivor now but it will be a first if the case is properly prosecuted.
December 24, 2010 | 3:21 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
I just had to share a small note on The Cheapmunks, two talented young Pakistani girls who have come up with a unique blend of East-meets-West music. Their song “Hum dum” is a particular favourite of mine. But you can catch their other stuff on YouTube and Facebook. Here is an article published in The Express Tribune about them:
The Cheapmunks go live (by Ali Syed)
KARACHI: The Cheapmunks are an excellent example of successful viral marketing on the internet. Mehak Taherani and Suhana Baloch were just a couple of girls who began to gain popularity for their mash up of covers of Urdu and English songs and went on to produce east-meets-west fusion songs. These songs were featured on sites such as YouTube and Facebook and this approach garnered the girls enough fans for them to hold a live event at the Base Rock Cafe in Karachi on Monday.
Both Taherani and Baloch have great vocals and possess the natural ability to be very innovative with their songs. Some of the songs that covered were Sajjad Ali’s “Babia”, Imran Khan’s “Bewafa” and EP’s “Hamesha” which were mixed with Usher’s “Oh My Gosh”, Eminem and Rihanna’s “The Way You Lie” and Akon’s “Nosy Neighbour” respectively. These are all songs that one wouldn’t expect to mesh together as well as the band managed to do. The vocalists were joined by guitarists Hamza and Daniyal and a tabla player, who provided the needed music support.
The popularity of the event could be gauged from the fact that it was completely sold out and many fans were not able to attend as they could not get tickets.
(The full article appears at this link: http://tribune.com.pk/story/49751/the-cheapmunks-go-live/)
They can be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cheapmunks/146739615347518
December 16, 2010 | 4:38 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
The first time I ever saw bodily flagellation was in the screen adaptation of French dramatist Jean Anouilh’s 1964 play ‘Becket ou l’honneur de Dieu’ (Becket or The Honor of God. Henry II (played by Peter O’Toole) was being whipped by priests for supposedly ordering his four dagger-happy knights to “rid” him of the “meddlesome priest”, Sir Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) who had grown too big for his ermine cape. My parents had forced me to watch this film in Karachi during the 1980s as part of an education. (Others on the list included the 11-part ‘Holocaust’ series with Meryl Streep on videocassette that scarred me for life, ‘The Deer Hunter’ with Robert DeNiro that introduced me to Russian Roulette, ‘Peter the Great’ that perhaps laid the seeds of my fascination with Russian. I soaked it all up but was more interested in sneaking in episodes of Dynasty with Linda Evans – now that was American life!).
Many, many years later, after I joined the Daily Times newspaper and began ‘slumming’ it with real journalists, men who lived in the heart of Karachi, I encountered another kind of flagellation, this time self-perpetrated. They were the Shias (or Shi’ites, a rather ugly Westernisation of the lexicon), a sect of Muslims, (vs Sunnis), who followed the tradition of Imam Hussain, the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) grandson (and son of the fourth caliph Ali) who was butchered in a battle over fealty against the tyrant Yazid in the fields of Karbala in modern-day Iraq. (There are many, many excellent books and websites that provide details of this history and its context in the larger picture of Islam)
In Karachi, in the first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, the mourning begins for Imam Hussain and his family. The first ten days are crucial, leading up to the 10th or Ashura day. The climax is reached on this day when a massive procession, made up of smaller ones converging from the city’s imambargahs, emerges from Nishtar Park in central Karachi. Over the last few years, however, the Shias have been attacked by militant Sunni terrorists. This year, as with the others, security is so tight that even the birds need security passes to fly overhead.
The entire city has been nervous in the lead up to Muharram because Karachi’s vulnerability has become prominent once again. The focus was mostly in the upper reaches of Pakistan with the US and Pakistani forces focusing on the Taliban cross-border infiltration from Afghanistan into the NWFP or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (South Waziristan, Swat, Mohmand Agency etc.) But suddenly militants renewed their interest in Karachi, that has long served as a base for funding and R&R for recuperating Taliban and al Qaeda men.
Last Muharram we had two terrorist attacks on Shias. So this year, when I called up friends to ask who was willing to accompany me to Khurasan no one was willing to go. Khurasan is a central spot in Karachi close to Nishtar Park where most of the activities take place. The entire neighbourhood around the imambargah is lit up, enormous fresh garlands of Queen of the Night flowers and roses adorn the replica standard bearers or flags from the battle of Karbala, sabeels are set up to provide free drinks in plastic or Styrofoam cups (a traditional concoction is milk and rose syrup) and steaming chai or tea to the thousands who converge there to pay their respects. A majlis is organised with a famous orator who recounts the history of that terrible day, reducing the crowd to tears as they relive the beheading of the Prophet’s grandson. Incense fills the air, mingling with the scent of the flowers. Charities set up stalls. You can buy books on religion, the Shia tradition, silver amulets or the names Ali and Hussain in beautifully wrought calligraphy. They even sometimes have stickers for your cars.
Every year, for a while I’ve been going to either the central procession or Khurasan just when it’s being organized. One year, when I was city editor at Daily Times, my six sub-editors at the desk told me that they needed the 9th and 10th of Muharram off. That’s when we realized that all of them were Shias. We laughed at the affirmative action. (Shias are a large religious minority in Pakistan). I replied that no one was getting time off because I had to go to the procession. They laughed at me because I’m Sunni. I replied that I was an “honorary Shia”.
Truth be told, I’ve felt an affinity for the city event for a long time. As a Sunni you are brought up to regard Shias and their tradition of self-flagellation with disgust. Indeed, the ritual is difficult to witness if you are not used to the culture. Men carry their own set of daggers, six of them hooked up at the end of a long chain. They whip themselves up into a frenzy during the procession by giving in to the orator’s voice and then gather in a circle to perform the rite. The men strip to the waist, tie their long shirts around them and lift one arm (the left usually) so it is not cut as the knives go around.
One year, I think it was my first, I walked the length of the procession as it snaked through the old city. I kept to the periphery but was close enough to the knots of men so that when they stopped at intervals, I was close enough to actually smell the blood misting the air. I have long felt curious about the ecstatic element of Shia Islam. How do people walk coals? How do they do Qama ka Maatam or the self-flagellation that involved cutting the top of their heads?
Aside from the personal curiosity and perhaps a search for a more ecstatic Islam (ekstasis, or out of body in the Greek), I often felt that as the city editor I should know about such a huge religious rite performed in the city I was meant to cover. Over the years I have attended midnight mass, holi celebrations, the Hindu Raksha Bandhan and the Zoroastrian or Parsi new year or Nauroz feasts. The only religious event I have been too busy to witness has been the Sikh celebrations of Guru Nanak’s birthday.
So, this year too I wanted to go to Khurasan to see for myself what the turnout was like, to hear the scouts ask the ladies to open their purses, to hear that recorded dirges or laments blaring from the loudspeakers with their standard chain-thumping beat of a thousand knives and a thousand hands beating breasts.
But no one was willing to come. They were all scared. And it irritated the hell out of me. All these grown men, most of them journo buddies, refusing to visit Khursan where the build-up to Muharram 9 continues well past 2am.
It brought up a conflict for me. As a journalist, or as a resident of this city, how could I ask people to accompany me to a place where a bomb was most likely to go off? As city editor, how could I ask my crime reporter to cover the procession, knowing that he was newly married and young and could get seriously hurt? Last year, a Shia reporter from another media house lost his children in the bomb blast. I always thought that when I had children I would take them to the procession to witness an important cultural side to the city they lived in. But how can you put children at risk?
All day on Thursday, from the morning I woke up, I was glued to the television screen where several channels showed the entire event live. I thought it was the most morbid thing I had ever done, sit in front of the TV waiting for a bomb blast. Now that these events are covered live with DSNG vans, everything can be recorded. In fact, gruesomely enough, we all remotely witnessed the bomb blast when Benazir Bhutto’s cavalcade was attacked at her homecoming rally in 2007. It went live too.
As Muslims, we believe that when you’re time has come, you’re time has come. I was recently wondering about people who got murdered, though, as an aside. Then I figured that the way you go, is perhaps not fixed. Given this belief, I honestly feel that going to a dangerous place doesn’t really hold much meaning for me. If you’re going to go, you’re going to go.
In the end, I found one friend who agreed to go with me, only because it happened to be my birthday. We went on the 7th of Muharram and took a walk around Khurasan. This friend, a Sunni, tried to mask his feelings but I could tell that he generally was disturbed by seeing the breast beating in the imambargah’s grounds as we passed by. It sounds awesome when hundreds of men do it in unison. If you are interested, plenty of videos will pop up on YouTube.
I have long refused to live in fear in Karachi. And I believe that this has to be the case. Otherwise we would be cowering inside our closets, afraid to go anywhere. A couple of months ago I went for coffee with some old school friends, successful young women with factory-owning banker-esque husbands, Cartier and Bulgari at their necks and wrists and 2.5 kids for whose birthday parties specially crafted made-to-order cupcakes are commissioned. And I realized there was one thing about them. They limited their lives to certain neighbourhoods and areas, thought to be safer. For a city of 20 million, Karachi keeps on going. It’s almost five cities in one megacity. Either you own it, discover it and live in it or you life in fear. That friend I took, told me in the end that he had never seen this side to Karachi even though he had lived in it for years. I took that as a confirmation my decision had been correct and always will be.
November 24, 2010 | 3:08 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
On Nov 14, the Prosecutor General for Sindh province, Shahadat Awan, confirmed that the special public prosecutor in the Daniel Pearl murder case, Raja Qureshi, had resigned.
Awan was speaking to The Express Tribune newspaper, where I run the metropolitan section. Awan was talking to our court reporter Zeeshan Mujahid about security concerns for lawyers fighting terrorist cases on behalf of the state.
The Pearl case was moved to the southern Pakistani city of Hyderabad, which is two hours by road from Karachi. (Not to be confused with the Hyderabad in India). Sensitive cases are transferred between the two cities if the jail authorities believe that the man standing trial has too many buddies in jail. The terrorism cases are mostly tried in jail for security as well.
When asked about the resignation of Raja Qureshi, the SPP in the Daniel Pearl murder case, Awan told The Express Tribune that the trial was moved to Hyderabad for security reasons. He said that the government had paid Qureshi Rs2.5 million and each of his aides Rs0.5 million to fight the case. The Sindh Prosecution department received a number of letters from the trial court in Hyderabad, according to which the SPP was not appearing for the trial.
Upon inquiring, it was found that no one was appearing on behalf of the state, said Awan. After that I wrote a letter to the Home department, stating that a huge amount was paid to SPP Raja Qureshi and if he is not conducting the case, he may be asked to return the fee or the “facility” provided to him be withdrawn. This might have prompted the Home department to with draw the police escort and this is perhaps why he resigned, said the PG, adding that he would look into the matter of his resignation on Monday, Nov 22.
[This news sounded a little convoluted to me and I am waiting for the reporter to follow up on this case. I do not believe Qureshi resigned only over security complaints. But more on that once I’ve ascertained the facts. I need to also add here that the Daniel Pearl case is a complex one with many, many facets. This blog is not the proper place to discuss its intricacies and I cannot purport to know certain elements of the case. I have heard many, many things over the years, terrible things. But none of them can be confirmed without risk, especially to the reporters who can provide me information. The case is at the appellate stage now and I believe there are two sets of accused.]
But I did not start writing this post because of this case alone. There was something else I wanted to bring up.
Lawyers fighting terrorist cases have been in the spotlight in Karachi. In fact, there was a disturbing development last week, as you would have seen on television.
On Nov 12, Karachi was literally rocked by a bomb blast – the meteorological office said it hit a 1.3 on the Richter Scale. Terrorists attacked the office of the Criminal Investigations Department with enough explosives to blow a 15-foot deep crater in the ground and decimate the building. The CID police are the cops who go after the terrorists in Karachi and they had recently been making some high-profile arrests. Many people believe that the attack was an act of revenge, but there is still debate on exactly what the motive could have been.
The terrorist attack was the largest Karachi has seen in terms of damage, journalists argued. It took place in the red zone which encompasses three five-star hotels (The Sheraton, The Pearl Continental and the Marriot) and Chief Minister House and Governor House. Mercifully, only 17 people were killed but about 100 people were injured. When we saw the first footage trickle in, we gasped in the newsroom and I had been certain that the toll would have been in the high double digits.
A few days later our newspaper’s court reporter Zeeshan Mujahid filed this story:
Lawyers baulk at fighting terrorist cases
KARACHI: Apparently terrorised by Thursday’s attack on the Criminal Investigation Department, government lawyers fighting terrorist cases went to court, saying they feared for their safety.
Muhammad Khan Buriro, a prosecutor for anti-terrorism court III, headed by Judge Anand Ram Hotwani, moved an application in a case against alleged members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan for attacking AIGP Farooq Awan of the Anti-Violent Crime Cell. Buriro expressed concern for his own security. The court adjourned the proceedings till Dec 1.
Mubashir Mirza, the state-appointed special public prosecutor for ATC II, headed by Judge Syed Hasan Shah Bokhari, moved a similar application. He said that because of perceived threats in phone calls from unidentified members or supporters of terrorist outfits, he could not risk his life and fight cases unless he received appropriate security and an escort.
He was scheduled to make an appearance in a case against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi activists involved in the abduction and murder of a trucker managing a fuel tanker service for Nato forces in Afghanistan. The court accepted his application, condoned his absence and adjourned the trial till Nov 20.
Buriro later told journalists that the level of threat had increased after the recent terrorist attacks in the city. Their fears were genuine, he said, giving the example of an incident at the city court in which accomplices of a terrorist organisation freed their men from police custody.
“We have raised the issue of security at all government levels, including the Home department and then with the Prosecutor General, but as no security was provided, we were left with no choice but to inform the court,” Buriro said.
For his part, Prosecutor General Sindh Shahadat Awan referred to the Mehram Ali case, considered a landmark judgment for anti-terrorism courts (ATCs).
The apex court had a detailed hearing after which a number of sections were struck down. After scrutiny of the ATC law, the court held that judges and prosecutors of ATCs shall be given security till a case is finalized up to the apex court, that is all stages and appeals exhausted, he said.
“Their demand for security is justified, they are working hard and with honesty and in view of the nature of the cases they are handling as SPPs, they should be given proper security cover,” said the PG. He has raised the problem with the Home department but the situation in the city is such that additional police force is not available.
The terrorist attack on the CID building sent across the ugly message that even the city’s top investigators, brave anti-terrorism cops such as Omer Shahid, Fayyaz Khan, Chaudhry Aslam, etc. are not safe. No wonder the lawyers are scared. But if we don’t prosecute and put the terrorists behind bars, we will be even less safe.
October 21, 2010 | 11:42 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
The annual Daniel Pearl music day was held at the US consulate in violence-addled Karachi, Pakistan. It was tight security so unfortunately the kids who should have come from all over the city to attend and learn about him, had to read about it in the newspaper. The closest they will get unless things improve. I had the event covered for our newspaper. Our reporter Mahnoor Sherazee was largely disappointed with the performances and wanted to just paint a pretty picture. But I told her that she had to tell it like it was. Good or bad. The National Academy of Performing Arts or NAPA students were invited this year. This was a good decision as it gives them a chance to connect with an important cause and philosophy. For me the most depressing part is that these music days can’t be held out in a huge park with thousands of excited young boys and girls in Karachi coming to attend for free. When I went on the Daniel Pearl fellowship, San Francisco was a stop. I went to a concert in the park where a young violinist associated with the foundation played. There were at least a thousand people. I hope it’s like this some day here too.
This is the newspaper report. You can find it at http://tribune.com.pk
NAPA’s Saima Zakir holds up an otherwise lukewarm evening
KARACHI: Sur, taal, guitar and sitar came together in perfect harmony as students and graduates of the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) performed at the eighth annual musical tribute to Daniel Pearl called Harmony for Humanity.
The concert this year hosted by US Consul General William J Martin at his residence paled, however, in comparison to those of previous years. The night began with violinist Saeed Ahmad’s solo performance of the soundtrack of the 1965 romantic drama Doctor Zhivago, but it received a lukewarm response from the crowd.
The second performance, a cover song “While my guitar gently weeps”, originally played by the Beatles’ George Harrison started out promising a great deal more than it delivered. Another cover, this time Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Tu Mera Dil” was at best a good try but failed to light the much-needed spark in the evening.
This was followed by an original item titled “Bolo bolo tum ye kya jano” that was a good attempt to rope in the crowd, especially with its commercial feel, but lacked the oomph to seal the deal. It wasn’t until the undoubted star of the night, 26-year-old Saima Zakir hit the stage performing a Santana cover, “Europa”, that the audience sat up and took notice. The skill with which she played the pentatonic scales was remarkable for her bare two years of professional training under teacher and mentor Afaq Adnan.
“I grew up listening to Santana who is such a soulful guitarist. I never thought I would end up performing like this,” she said flushed from the stage. “But here I am and I will be doing this for a very long time now. It’s just me and my guitar, wherever life takes us.”
Her beaming teacher noted that Saima even improvised a little towards the end of the song. Afaq Adnan told The Express Tribune: “There are very few who can play Santana and talent like Saima’s is very, very rare.”
The next song managed to maintain the tempo with another original, “Aaja Ve Mahi”, performed with 34-year-old Kholod Shafi at the sitar. Shafi is a doctor by profession but once she finished studying medicine she had an unshakeable urge to take up the guitar. “The first time I put my hands on the sitar strings, it was 10 years ago but then I was so busy with medicine I had no time. For the last two years I have been totally focused on the sitar, which is a difficult instrument to play, but it’s my passion,” she explained. Discussing how there aren’t many girls in the profession or even studying music, Shafi said, “It is a cultural thing here. I don’t know why people cast music in the light of gender, music brings us all together.”
Up next was another original, “Tum jano ya na jano,” and concluding Napa’s performance for the night was a Fuzon cover “Deewane Chalay”.
On the trend of music fusion, which has significantly picked up over the last decade, NAPA head of music Nafees Ahmad said collaboration with international artists and making inroads into the global music scene and was key for students. NAPA, he said, was doing its best to promote its students, by sending them to international music festivals. The consul general agreed, saying he would like to bring western artists here to play as well to promote the cultural exchange.
The Daniel Pearl music days are held in memory of the Wall Street journalist who was killed allegedly while in captivity in Pakistan. Pearl was a great lover of music and enjoyed playing with his Pakistani musician friends. Every year this concert is held in remembrance of Pearl and the love he had for music which transcends all boundaries. Sadly, however, while the event should ideally be held for the public in Karachi, due to security concerns it takes place at the US consul general’s residence, which is off limits to nearly everyone.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2010.
October 10, 2010 | 3:36 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
God can seem distant, inaccessible at times. In Pakistan, however, there are more tangible intermediaries to beg for intercession. They are the mystic Sufi saints – the face of a more affectionate Islam that preaches love and peace, uses music as a vehicle for remembrance of Allah. And no one hates this culture more than the puritans of Islam, the Deobandis. For them it is all Day of Judgment, fire and brimstone, sin and punishment, errant human nature, hijab and burka, shame and groveling.
Just a few days ago, on Oct 7, a Sufi shrine in Karachi was attacked by two bomb blasts. The investigators are not clear if they were twin suicide bombers. Two heads have been found but only one striker sleeve, which is the pin used by a suicide bomber to detonate his jacket. They think one bomb was planted because the ball bearings packed in it were not found with human flesh as is usually the case. Not much explosive was used and the damage was mercifully muted. Only 10 people are dead, a miracle given the fact that people throng the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi on Thursday nights each week. Thousands come to pray for help, get a free meal from the numerous charities that work there, seek solace from the grind of daily life.
In July Lahore’s world famous Data Darbar shrine was also attacked with bombs. This kind of terrorism disgusts Pakistanis, a majority of who subscribe to a more mystical Islam. Shrines and their saints are revered – even if you are not religious – for the culture they have given the Indian subcontinent. According to legend, Shah Ghazi was approached by fishermen who asked him to tame the wild Arabian Sea. And uncannily enough, Karachi has been protected for centuries from cyclones and Tsunamis. They always pass by at the last minute. We were on high alert for cyclone Phet recently, but it passed by. People mused that Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s hand was at work.
In Pakistan we tend to focus on the West, or the US etc. etc. But something we don’t talk about much is that the suicide attacks are carried out by men who call themselves Muslims. These men target public places such as Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine where other Muslims are killed. It is simple Muslim killing Muslim action. It isn’t the great white Infidel.
I suspect, however, that something more is afoot here in this case. And it worries me. The timing of the shrine attack was strange. It happened a day after a big-shot Deoband (read orthodox) cleric was murdered in a drive-by shooting. This cleric was prayer leader at a mosque that the Deobandis and Barelvis had been fighting over for a while. The Deobandis do not get along with the mystic-loving Barelvis. A Barelvi leader is buried at the shrine as well. Was this retaliation? It seemed like a hastily thrown-together job, said some investigators. They didn’t use a large amount of explosives.
If, and only if, this theory is proven by investigators, I fear we could be looking at a sinister trend: groups in Karachi settling scores not just with gunfights but bomb blasts.