Posted by Mahim Maher
Truth be told, I haven’t been able to write the blog since I returned to Karachi this week after a month’s holiday in London. The depression is too great. And I just didn’t want to whine about how shitty Pakistan is. I just didn’t want to say it. I still don’t. Because I love this Godforsaken place and because if I said it, something would open up in a shuddering, heaving cataclysm.
I went back to the newsroom the day I landed. Piles of crap were waiting for me. They’ve been killing Shias again. The Punjab is cutting off our supply of water by siphoning it into a link canal reserved for flooding. Little babies are growing gaunter by the day in village clinics because the water they are drinking is dirty. The heat is so thick and pervasive that I am eternally covered in a thin film of sweat. On a more personal note, my 14-month nephew got sick and the sight of a canula in his baby fist made me want to tear the world apart.
The stories were endless and morbid. A 22-year-old girl was thrown into a fire by an exorcist who thought he would be able to smoke out the evil spirit. We spoke to a psychiatrist about the symptoms she was displaying and grew convinced that if taken to a doctor, the girl would have stood a better chance of getting better. They’ve never heard of Tourrettes Syndrome here. (http://tribune.com.pk/story/26357/exorcist-throws-22-year-old-into-fire-to-%E2%80%98smoke-out%E2%80%99-evil-spirit/)
Aside from what was pouring in, the first thing I had to do was commission a piece on why the hell Shias were being targeted again (http://tribune.com.pk/story/26860/money-makes-the-world-go-round-but-in-karachi-it-brings-lives-to-a-standstill/). I was rumour weary, I wanted some explanations why 11 of them had been targeted in two months. The Jafferia Alliance of Pakistan actually puts the number at 23, but when we asked them to provide the names and places where they were killed, they refused.
When my best friend, another journo, himself a Shia, told me late one night that one of the victims, 24-year-old motorcycle factory worker Fayyaz Hussain Naqvi was the third man in his family to have been targeted in one year, I could barely take on the information. Where the hell do you put that kind of information? Where do you store it and what do you do with it? (http://tribune.com.pk/story/26861/in-1-year-family-loses-3-members-to-target-killings/) At night when I returned after a harrowing day I went to take a look at Susan Sontag’s book on regarding the pain of others. But my own ‘pain’ or sadness was too great to let me read it.
In a city of 20 million people a death rate will be high. But it is the nature of this crime, the drive-by shooting, that chills me. The hatred for Shias angers me. The fact that the killers are never caught angers me. I’ve run out of headlines. The stories are always the same. We are growing number by the day, numb to the corruption, violence, inequality, senselessness of society. I decided that I would say it clean: “Fayyaz Hussain Naqvi, the 11th Shia to die for nothing”. (http://tribune.com.pk/story/26140/fayyaz-hussain-naqvi-the-11th-shia-to-die-for-nothing/)
The next day a reporter from our sister organization, the Express Urdu news channel, stopped me in the corridor.
“Ap ne Shia’on ko direct hit kia he,” he said in a voice filled with incredulity. Why did you hit out directly at the Shias?
“What do you mean direct?”
“You said, ‘for nothing’.”
I didn’t quite understand what he meant. I knew he was Sunni and probably of the more orthodox Deoband stripe. It amazed me that he would say it so openly. When I shared this with my editor Kamal Siddiqi, he was nonchalant: “He didn’t understand the headline.” The more I thought about it, the more that seemed an explanation. The reporter probably thought I meant that this Shia’s death didn’t mean anything. We had a good laugh.
My sister has been going around the city on her break from Bennington where she’s studying photography. She came back after a visit to Jam Chakro, Karachi’s largest landfill site. “The children were like zombies,” she told me. I knew of Jam Chakro, it is probably the saddest place in the world. Scavenger families live in the rubbish. My sister saw an old woman who wouldn’t stop twitching. Sixteen-year-old boys looked 10. I asked her to stop telling me. I couldn’t take it any more. We live like animals here.
There was good news, however. And it would be unfair to say that it was all doom and gloom. I just couldn’t absorb it.
In Karachi we’re really excited that ‘Dancing’ Matt is planning to shoot one of his videos on Wednesday. We ran the story today and I’m hoping and praying that the right-wingers don’t spoil the party.
In other good news, two young Pakistani girls are being sent to the UK by the British Council on an expedition in which they will interact with schools and try to talk about Islam and misconceptions. The Citizens Foundation, very strong non-government organization working across Pakistan, wrapped up its summer camp that brings together rich kids from fancy schools and less privileged children. I learnt about a 16-year-old who started his own theatre company. The Edhi foundation has a shelter for animals. More and more people are growing organic here. I’ll take anything at this point.
I’ve been reading Toni Morrison’s ‘Burn this Book’ which has PEN writers speaking about the power of the word. David Grossman, who had I had never heard of before, struck me as the one who describes our situation in Pakistan the best:
“I feel the heavy price that I and the people around me pay for this prolonged state of war. Part of this price is a shrinking of our soul’s surface area – those parts of us that touch the violence menacing world outside – and a diminished ability and willingness to empathize at all with other people in pain.” In this job, they tell you to stop at a certain point. But for the life of me, I know I will never be able to switch off from Karachi, this explosion of a city that defies metaphor, escapes words.
11.22.13 at 11:32 pm | Salvaging a missed music day
11.9.13 at 9:43 pm | As told to me by an old colleague and reporter. . .
11.5.13 at 11:10 pm | Some reading resources
10.16.13 at 7:54 am | Eid Mubarak everyone
10.11.13 at 12:58 am | Her versus Them versus Us
10.6.13 at 6:30 am | Never a dull day in the newsroom - my personal. . .
June 25, 2010 | 7:19 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
School would be out at 1:35pm in Karachi and by about 2pm I would wearily clamber out of the car with my book bag and trudge up to Aunty Parveen Maneckjee’s flat in Bath Island for tuitions. Her third-floor prison would hold me till 5pm. Aunty Parveen, a Parsi (Zoroastrian) lady, taught at the Convent of Jesus and Mary and was a childhood friend of my father’s from his days in Keamari, a small neighbourhood near the harbour. I would be entrusted in her care until my mother could pick me and take me home after work.
As Aunty Parveen was a primary school teacher and I was a grade 6 student, she would not actively tutor me as such. She would just make me learn up my coursework by heart while she tended to the younger group at the main dining table through the afternoon. I would be relegated to one of her sofas in the quiet parlour where I would start off by staring at the portraits of her dead relatives for about 10 minutes, imagine smashing all the porcelain figurines of dancing Jane Austen characters for another ten and then my eyelids would start to droop. From time to time she would call out sharply to ask if I was finished, and I would start and try to sober up. I tried everything, from pinching myself, to biting the side of my lip to stay awake.
What stands out in causing me the most misery was the course of ‘Pakistan Studies’, a sadistic combination of history and geography for high school students written in prose dry as styrofoam. The official timeline for Pakistan began, oddly enough around 700AD when a 17-year-old Arab solider, Mohammad bin Qasim, arrived at Debal, a port in Sindh (a southern province) of what was then India. As the textbook’s author led me to believe, the teenage conqueror so impressed the local Hindus, that they all converted to Islam and thus began a new chapter in history that would eventually come full circle with the exit of the British in 1947 and the creation of Pakistan – a state where Muslims would be able to practise their religion freely and not be oppressed by the wily Hindus.
It was only years later that I slowly began to learn that so much was left out – not just because high school students had to learn a glorified version of the Pakistani/Muslim history shot through with liberal amounts of rabid Nationalist sentiment but also because we had so many blind spots. Our levels of introspection seem to be inversely proportionate, I believe, to the degrees of failure of our Nation State. Indeed, commentators (the Samuel Huntington type) never hesitate to describe the Pakistan of today as a “failed state”.
They failed to mention, for example, how come a handful of British men managed to take over the sub-continent? At any given time there could not have been more than a few thousand Firangi (foreigners) in the country. Writing for the BBC, Chandrika Kaul, a lecturer in Modern History at the University of St Andrews, put the number of civil servants at 1,200. For argument’s sake, let’s put the number at a cautionary one million British officers in India at the peak of the Raj. That would still not explain how our colonial masters ruled 300 million people. Admittedly, history is far more complicated than just that. But experts such as well respected historian Ian Talbot will tell you, the Raj was made in part possible by the “natives” who collaborated with the British. (For more details see ‘Punjab and the Raj’ by Talbot).
But no one talks about this phenomenon. It is one of our blind spots. We tend not to be honest about our dirty business and prefer instead to focus on the perceived ‘enemy’ - or as Karachi protests will exemplify, the flavour of the month. (Last month it was Israel with the flotilla fiasco).
I was thinking about our blind spots for two reasons: over the last week or so, there was a slew of sectarian drive-by target killings in Karachi and; (at the same time) I was in London on vacation where I visited an exhibition ‘The Indian Portrait’ at the National Portrait Gallery.
BLIND TO MUSLIM-ON-MUSLIM VIOLENCE
Muslims are divided into several sects with Sunni and Shia being the two major ones (kind of like Baptists, Evangelicals, Lutheran etc.) Shias are a minority in Pakistan and have long been targeted by Sunni outfits. In the 1990s, many doctors fled Karachi after Shia doctors were being gunned down in the parking lots of government hospitals. Last week, the same violence reared its head and less than a month ago, different ethnic groups were clashing as well with Mohajirs killing Pathans and vice versa. But despite this blatant bloodshed, those Pakistanis who are angry with Western ‘imperial’ powers rate them as a bigger threat while they ignore the fact that Muslims kill Muslims just as much if not more. We choose not to admit to this dirty business in our own back yard. We too are complicit at some level. We too are ‘collaborators’ at some level.
UNTAINTED AND UNTOUCHED
I was thinking about this when I went to the National Portrait Gallery to visit the ‘Indian Portrait 1560-1860) exhibition of 60 works of mostly miniature paintings from the Mughal or pre-British era. The curators had chosen well and for the first time I learnt of how the court artists of the Mughal kings of Delhi began to pick up European techniques. For example, the Indian miniature subject’s face was traditionally in strict profile. It was only with the exposure to and influence of ‘White’ artists that the Indian masters began rendering their royal subjects in what I can only crudely describe as a two-thirds pose, or with the face at a different angle. This may be a small point, but as I moved along the walls and eventually saw how the Indian artists later experimented with larger, nearly full-length portraits, I began to think about how the lines begin to blur when the coloniser and colonised inhabit the same space. Towards the end of the exhibition there were some excellent examples of British officers who commissioned their own portraits in the local dress. Even more interesting were the works in which the British memsahib or lady of the house was captured by native artists. The exchange, the seepage, starts taking place at some point.
I may be wrong about these historical oddities and may have all my facts wrong or my arguments may be completely open to debate, but it does not seem logically possible to me that any country (nation/state) can ignore the crimes that its own people commit against each other and entirely blame the state they are in on someone else (the Other). But it is also perhaps fallacious to believe that violence or hatred directed at someone else (or oppressive action) will not affect us as well. As I was walking down Oxford Street in London, today, I laughed to myself as I saw all the brown faces pass by. I laughed because I’ll bet that the British never thought that once they left India that would be the last they saw of us. Sometimes I see it as a big inky stain, the kind they show in the movies to indicate the spread of an empire’s conquests. It seeps out of India and pools towards England just like when your watercolours don’t behave.
June 14, 2010 | 5:33 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
At the premiere for ‘Bhutto’ at London’s Frontline Club on Friday, I swivel around from my back-row seat and squint to try and make out the Pakistanis who have turned up. The room is dark but at the slightly ajar entrance doorway, half illuminated, stands a man in a light linen suit. He removes his glasses as if to wipe them clean but then reaches with the back of his hand to dismiss some tears. I realise I am looking at none other than Benazir Bhutto’s close friend Mark Siegel. He had the email in which she named her killers.
You cannot be a Pakistani without having a relationship with the Bhuttos and their legacy. You may hate them for their alleged corruption or love them for introducing democracy to the poorest of villages. You may be too young to have ever seen them in a rally or you may be old enough to have gone to jail for them. As with all things Pakistani, there is only fluidity and liminality – nothing is fixed, permanent or explicable. But no matter who you are, the Bhuttos are such an overwhelming part of our historical fabric, that they will inexorably be a part of us.
As the movie plays I am reminded of the three major events that my team and I were drawn in to as journalists in our small Daily Times newsroom in 2007. As I watch footage of the twin bomb attacks on her homecoming rally and the Rawalpindi gun-and-bomb assault, I marvel at how easily I forget how close I have been. But unlike Mark Siegel, I do not weep at the part where we know she is dead.
My eyes fill with tears when they show the crowds. The thousands and thousands of people who turned up for her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s (ZAB) rallies and later to receive her in 2007 when she returned home to campaign for the elections that General Musharraf agreed to. When I was growing up in Pakistan (1984 onwards) it was the time of General Zia-ul Haq, the military dictator with the Pakistani version of Hitler’s moustache. Television used to just be the state-run PTV and then STN, that fed us a soft diet of The Fresh Prince of Belair – if you were growing up then, you would have not had any idea of how much the Bhuttos were loved because none of that footage would have ever made it on air. Even when I was at college, the political scene was quiet as Benazir was in self-imposed exile. But when I became metropolitan or city editor at Daily Times in Karachi, that is when I received my first lesson in Bhutto mania.
Karachi city is no stranger to political rallies – it is almost as if people crave them so they can get out and have a good time. But by God, I had never seen such a sea of humanity before this one. For weeks people were arriving in Karachi from all over the country to receive her. We did story after story of these people. I had dispatched nearly the entire team to hit the streets on October 18 when her plane touched down. I kept wondering, what is it about the Bhuttos?
When she was killed in the Punjabi city of Rawalpindi during another rally a few months later, my province Sindh, down south, shut down. I had decided to go into work late that day, around 7pm. And as I hit the gridlock downtown towards my office on II Chundrigar Road, I realised something was wrong. A friend texted me the news. People in cars next to mine, were weeping. Maddened political activists ran screaming through the street. I left my car in the jam and ran to work. By the time our team tried to go home together in a van, buildings were on fire. To this day, I regret we didn’t stop and put out a small one we saw in the ATM booth of a corner bank in Clifton near Dellawalla’s mall. The next day, as I drove to work I saw that it had burned down. There were at least 15 apartments on the top floors.
The rioting and arson continued for days after, by which time people were trying to get to Larkana, her hometown, for the burial. Gas had run out in the city and the Pathans, who owned a lot of the petrol pumps, closed down because people were burning everything in sight. I took two reporters, Shahzad Shah Jillani and Qazi Asif, and we hit the highway in my dad’s old blue Nissan. Close to the toll plaza was a petrol pump where in order to persuade them to let us fill the tank, I had to pretend to be a UK party secretariat worker of the Pakistan Peoples Party (scarf on head, heavy sunglasses to hide puffy eyes). We stuck a PPP flag on the bonnet and headed for Naudero, six hours away. We counted nearly 200 oil tankers, trucks and goods carriers on fire along the way.
In Naudero, Larkana, I saw how people loved her. Not the politicians and their hangers-on who were trying to chum it up with Zardari as the political vacuum expanded and contracted. This was the people on the street, the old women who just sat there and prayed rosary bead upon rosary bead for her. We met a young man who had once been a student wing body guard for her. His grief was indescribable.
And so, at the screening, when I saw the crowds again in the footage, my eyes filled. I felt an ache for them – the Pakistani millions. They had such faith in these people. And yet, at the end of the day, no one has been able to address even the most basic of their needs. They have always been gyped. I do not know what to even call this phenomenon, the blind love for Shaheed Rani (the martyred princess) as they call her, that devotion to these Bhuttos that is for the most part unrequited.
When I asked my father, who is a Sindhi like the Bhuttos, what exactly is this thing, he gave me one explanation that I try to use to fill the gap of incomprehension. Before Bhutto came with his slogan of Roti, Kapra aur Makan (Food, clothing and shelter), none of the rulers of Pakistan (mostly military) had ever told its people that they had rights – the right to vote, the right to elect a government and hold it accountable. That is what Bhutto gave them.
During the question-answer session afterwards, I asked the filmmakers, and especially Siegel, how he felt that Zardari had fared as president so far. Indeed, if he completes his five years in office, he will have been the first civilian to have done so in the history of Pakistan (since 1947). Siegel reminded me that he had, in a historic act, repealed the laws that allowed a president to dissolve parliament. Indeed, this was important as military dictators had summarily dismissed Benazir’s and other democratically elected governments using these laws.
As we walked out of the club, I started humming ‘Dila Teer Bijan’, which is the signature election or party song for Benazir’s PPP. Jeay, jeay, jeay Bhutto Benazir, sang Shazia Noshi. Long live, Benazir.
Benazir. Be Nazeer. As in, without comparison. Incomparable. She was just that.
May 30, 2010 | 4:13 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
If you ever visit Karachi make sure you have a local socialite contact so you aren’t bored out of your gourd on Saturday night because we have no bars, clubs or strip joints in town. Well… sorry, we actually do have strip joints – they’re called ‘mujras’ and tend to be rather sleazy affairs in farmhouses on the outskirts of the city. Take plenty of spare 100-rupee notes. Ask for a woman’s show otherwise you may get stuck with a hijra or trans-gendered lapdance.
Everyone, except for losers like me, ‘parties’ on Saturday night. The definition of party varies but if you’re talking about getting together with a couple of buddies to shoot the shit, it doesn’t really matter where or how. In the inner-city neighbourhoods, alley-cat runts with stone-washed jeans that would do Belinda Carlisle proud play cricket. Malnutrition and poor diet choices keep them poker thin with tiny fists for buttocks. Their hair is plastered down with their mom’s sesame oil and they wear leather wrist bands to look impossibly cool. If you ever want to learn real street Urdu, hang around these guys.
On Saturday night some of the ladies get chauffeured to the gymkhana where they sit on fold-out chairs with daycare coloured markers and play ‘tambola’ or bingo. Their drivers squat on their haunches and pick their teeth or suck on tobacco in the parking lot where they discuss Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Other women – the kind who wouldn’t be caught dead in cotton – swill around in their best drawing room silks at financier’s houses with their French manicures and ironed hair. Their banker husbands wet their lips with single malt scotch and pontificate about the rising tide of the Taliban, jockeying in unashamed spars of one-upmanship over who knows exactly WHERE Mullah Omar is hiding. The ladies grow steadily tipsier on the few bottles of the red stuff that were siphoned off an embassy connection.
And then there are some parties where vodka would never be seen. These parties take place in mosques where arthritic men lounge around on straw mats and drink cup after cup of tepid green tea. These Saturday night gatherings are ‘parties’ too, just the kosher kind. For everyone needs a little down time.
The ‘parties’ that have long fascinated me are the middle class ones. They take place in drawing rooms with leopard print sofas and baroque chandeliers. Families with too many cousins and overly polite conversation. Bored teenagers sulk in the tv room while their hosts develop crushes on them. Now that everyone and your dog has a mobile phone most of these long silences are taken up with them.
This Saturday night I wasn’t quite such a loser. A friend of mine IY is leaving Karachi and he was having a small farewell get together at his place. I finished work and drove over to the genteel neigbourhood of Defence Housing Authority Phase I. IY is from London and came traveling to Karachi where he worked at our newspaper for a short while as the sports editor. He’s a devilishly handsome young man with a likeness to Jeremy Irons, with a clipped British accent to go. When he came to Karachi he found a fantastic upper portion of a house for rent at Rs28,000. While he had put all his stuff in storage he still had a few chairs left that were out on the rooftop gallery.
While I’m too old to care now, the minute I walked in I realized that I wasn’t dressed for the night. (This is invariably the case with me). I was in a shalwar kameez and everyone else with in trousers and shirts or shorts. There was even, much to my marvel, a hot little thing in black tights and a tank top. Now, I’m no conservative, or fundo, but how in God’s name can you skitter around Karachi in clothing like that? Whenever I leave home I always make sure I have a dupatta or scarf at hand if I can help it. What if your car breaks down or you need to go to a police station? I guess, as a journalist, I tend to have to go to places like that, but still, it could happen to anyone.
They were drinking vodka and juice in paper cups and munching on slightly damp peanuts. Two groups had formed, one was IY’s journo friends from Geo, Dawn and The Express Tribune and the other was, as my friend R put it, “the kind of people we write about”. It included the black tights.
This group included a writer, a young woman who I am not terribly fond of because she thinks she’s better than me. She’s written one book and is working on a second with some Indian guy. I was introduced to a musician, a writer from the website cricinfo.com and a model-cum-director-cum socialite. They were discussing the male sex drive before 30. The musician was carrying on about how you have to produce your best work by 30 and that sex drive was key.
I quipped that the more someone talked about sex, the less they were getting.
When I grew faintly bored of the pseudo-intellectual drivel I turned to the other group where the more down-to-earth people were located. They offered me a drink and I refused. That opened the floodgates.
“She’s doing it for a man!” exclaimed R and IY in disgust to everyone else.
I used to say that it interfered with my SSRI intake but truth be told I have kind of given up drinking because I know my boyfriend doesn’t like it. There are Islamic reasons too. Your prayers aren’t accepted for 40 days after you’ve had a drink. Once I heard that, it was enough for me to stay away. When you’re 33 and chronically unmarried, you need God to listen when you pray.
I hung around that group for a while before deciding that it was time to go home. I wasn’t really up for much conversation anyway. The newsroom kind of leaves me dead. And because people know I’m a journalist, they often try to start a conversation with ‘So, what’s going on, what’s news?’ And that is the last thing I want to discuss on a Saturday night.
May 29, 2010 | 1:44 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
I went shopping today. With the exception of good bras, you can find pretty much anything you need in Karachi. One of the best markets for kitsch is Zainab market in downtown Saddar.
I park at the Karachi Press Club and walk over to the market. We’ve been getting pretty hot weather but what’s worse is the damn humidity. It’s completely impossible to stay ladylike when your whole body is covered with a thin film of sweat that will not disappear no matter how much you swot yourself.
I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t let the heat bother me. It’s about 39 degrees Celsius these days in Karachi, which at least has a sea breeze. In the interior of the province people are dropping dead like flies in 53 degrees.
But nothing will come between me and my shopping. In particular I’m hoping to find a small embroidered bag for a little girl I’m planning on visiting in London in a week’s time. My boyfriend, also a journalist, is back there, packing up his life in London to return to Pakistan because the recession dried up whatever little work there was. The gift is for his goddaughter.
There are two types of shops in Zainab market – t-shirts and lounge wear and handicrafts. Men skinnier than alley cats call out for me to step into their stall as fat-bottomed women in black burqas rub past me. I’ve never been much of a haggler so I always feel a little infantalised when I venture into these areas. I feel they can tell by my face that I’m ready to part with my money if they give me a good enough excuse.
The handicraft shops stock silver filigree, wooden camels, Quran holders, rip-off Arab tea glasses, mother of pearl boxes, hookahs, stuffed cloth dolls in the traditional dress that bear more of a resemblance to Priscilla Queen of the Desert than anything else. There is even one shop I know where you can buy a Russian Matryushka doll set. The cute items are the mini rickshaw models, which I stop to consider. S said L was interested in fairies these days. Modes of transport might not amuse her. I move on.
I’m a sucker for handicrafts, cushion covers, batik, mirror work, shawls, bright baubles, beads, useless things that tend to look tacky the minute I bring them back home. My mother, who will buy nothing less than Hermes Birkin, scoffs at my more ‘slummy’ tastes. I generally like ‘slumming’ it whether it’s my choice of dates or clothes. I’d rather wear a glittery 200-rupee ($2.50) sandal covered in sequins than Nine West wedges.
Some of the shopkeepers call me ‘Baji’ or sister. Others call out ‘Aunty’ which reminds me that I’m no longer a spring chicken with my little pot belly and fleshy arms. At least I looked moneyed, I comfort myself and grip my 7,000-rupee fire engine red leather Jaferjees bag closer into my sweating armpit.
I get into one stall after I’ve decided that they all look the same anyway. I look around at his stacked shelf and remember I’ve been here before. This was the man with the necklines from Mithi, Tharparkar, a desert district nearly bordering India where the women do great work.
I sit down on a stool and he starts pulling the scraps of cloth out. They are tattered and old but the work is beautiful. I feel very vintage. Some of them are even fully stitched. I pull one up and the smell hits me. It’s a musty smell that you get if you’ve been layering rugs.
I pick out a few and decide that even if I’m being ripped off, which is most likely to be the case, I can get the work copied and still have emerged the winner. I barely haggle and he prepares a bill.
Listen, I tell him. If any fresh stuff comes in, call me. I hand him my visiting card and he goes off.
When he comes back, he looks a little perplexed.
“Aunty, the card isn’t working,” he says.
“See… It’s not working.” He holds it out. I realize he’s running my visiting card through his handheld debit card machine.
May 28, 2010 | 3:19 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
I was going to make the first ever Pakistan blogger awards the lede today when a source of mine called at 7:30pm. They had been giving the Sunni action committee a hard time, he said. Things had been ‘garbar’ or unsettled.
When this source calls me, I listen. He is so tight with the mullahs that he knew when Umm-e Hasan, the wife of the Red Mosque cleric, paid a secret visit to Karachi. He used to be a reporter for a two-bit rag but it was guys like him who had their eyes and ears open. They knew when something was going down. Today, at The Express Tribune, where no one with less than a BA can qualify for the desk, if they give me the choice, I’ll go with an Urdu reporter rather than an English one.
He said he was going to a rally by the ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (The Sunni Party) at Nagan Chowrangi. We have a good understanding. I’ll call him up and get the story on the phone. I’ve worked with him so long that he understands how I’ll structure each paragraph and when I’ll ask for a quote.
A little bit about the ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat. It is actually the Sippah-i-Sahaba dressed up with another name. A little after the Twin Towers fell, Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf banned militant outfits in Pakistan. The Sippah-i-Sahaba was one of them. They just re-emerged, however, under a new name. Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat is pronounced eH lay soon nat w’l jum’maat. There are some pretty good explanations of how the split between them and the Shias took place. They are ahle Sunnat, the Sunnis, and the ahle Tasheeh are Shias, in a rough explanation.
At a little after 8pm one of my sub-editors called the source up and got the story from him. There had indeed been violence. The Sippah had held its rally at a place called Nagan Chowrangi near its central mosque Masjid Siddique-i-Akbar. The rally or protest was being called against the target killings of the ‘party’ workers. It lasted for three hours and clerics from all over the country came to attend.
After the protest, a procession of the SSP men headed out. They were stopped by the police at Islam Chowk because a Shia neighbourhood lay ahead. The police told the men to take some other route but they were bull-headed about it. ‘Why should we divert our procession,’ they are reported to have said.
An argument ensued and it got so ugly that the police had to fire in the air to scare them off. This was, I think, a rather stupid thing to do as the procession included the Sippah’s own ‘security’ force, a small army of volunteers who were armed to the teeth themselves. They had been protecting the protest on their own. The police and paramilitary Pakistan Rangers men were also at the site and on the rooftops.
When the police fired in the air, men in the Shia neighbourhood heard the fire, couldn’t tell where it was coming from, thought they were being attacked and fired out in response. This is quite common in certain Karachi neighbourhoods that are marked by an identity – either religious, ethnic or political. What happened in the middle is not clear, but all hell seems to have broken loose and the Sippah men also opened fire. It was in this crossfire from the police, the procession and the neighbourhood that one Shia man, a 25-year-old initially identified as Shahzad, was killed.
Sippah men also torched a bus and two of its passengers were badly burnt in the ensuing violence. By the time I was putting this copy to bed, there were reports one of them had died. But I’ll follow up on that tomorrow morning.
So the bloggers went down to the anchor and the Sippah protest became the lede. This incident was symbolic of so many different themes that run through Karachi. Violence, trigger-happy young men, a sense of biradari or brotherhood and belonging to one group, a turf war, the law-enforcement agencies, mobs and their innocent victims. The groups may change or the actors may be different, but as I’ve long felt, the story is always the same.
May 28, 2010 | 5:29 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
At least 19 people have been killed in Model Town Lahore, gunfire continues. It is 430pm in Pakistan on Friday. The police have defused a suicide bomber’s jacket. The place that has been attacked apepars to be a minority Ahmedi mosque. For more details and developing news in English go to:
May 27, 2010 | 1:43 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
The Pakistani media is going crazy with reports that Mullah Fazlullah, commonly referred to Radio Mullah, has been killed in a fight with security forces in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province that border’s Pakistan’s Dir.
Fazlullah (pronounced with a lifted, flourished ‘LaH’ at the end) became a nuisance after he started broadcasting his own version of Islam over the radio in Swat, a beautiful valley up north. Women would send him their bangles as donations and he managed to amass a small fortune with which he funded his fighters. He became such a nuisance that the army had to go in and thousands of people were displaced from their homes last year. As many of the fighters were just local kids, critics said that an operation wouldn’t help because they would just return home.
Postscript: Ha ha, just as I suspected, we’re not sure if he’s dead or alive. Sometimes I think it’s incredibly strange how we’ve become: we sit and speculate whether a man is dead or alive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not terribly fond of the guy; he wasn’t as good looking as my man Hakeemullah aka Orlando ‘Doom’. But living in Pakistan you are surrounded by so much violence (seen and unseen) that sometimes you lose perspective. For anyone interested in reading more on whether he is dead or alive, here is a link from the newspaper, where it is explored in more detail: