Posted by Mahim Maher
My real name, Malala, means Grief Stricken..
For Pakistan and people across the globe, the good news is that Malala Yousufzai appears to be recovering. The 14-year-old was shot a day ago by gunmen who stopped her school van in Swat and singled her out by name. The Pakistani Taliban (as opposed to the Afghans) have claimed responsibility. Her crime was to speak out against the bombing of schools in her district where she felt that she and every other girl had the right to an education. After the Taliban took over the Swat valley in 2003 they issued an edict, saying that all schools for girls would be closed. Thus began a slow but systemic move to shut, attack or bomb schools across the area.
“Since today was the last day of our school, we decided to play in the playground a bit longer,” Malala wrote in a diary that was published by the BBC Urdu service in 2009. She was just 11 years old when she started to write anonymously. “My mother liked my pen name 'Gul Makai',” says an entry from January 15, 2009. “[She] said to my father 'why not change her name to Gul Makai?' I also like the name because my real name [Malala] means 'grief stricken'.” Gul Makai means sunflower in Pashto.
As I read her entries, I was taken back to my childhood when I read the words of another girl – Anne Frank. She wrote in a different time and place, to be sure, but there was something that I
felt tied them together. There were echoes of courage and sheer dint of spirit that perhaps only children can have. Malala’s diaries were written at a time when very few journalists really had the proper information on what the Taliban were doing. The picture certainly wasn’t clear in the rest of Pakistan. Gul Makai gave a human face to a region that was otherwise inaccessible in the national imagination.
From February 23: “After assembly the headmistress advised us to cover ourselves properly and wear the burqa because it is a condition put by the Taliban.” From January 19: “[My friend said that no one has made the Taliban suffer but when they are hurt they take it out on our schools. But the army is not doing anything about it. They are sitting in their bunkers on top of the hills. They slaughter goats and eat with pleasure.”
Her work was later featured in two New York Times documentaries and she was short-listed in 2011 for the International Children Peace Prize, awarded by the Dutch organisation KidsRights. The Pakistani government gave her a national peace prize too.
But Malala began to receive threats and on the morning of Tuesday, October 9, 2012 three masked men hunted her down to school and shot her in the school van as she was on her way home from an exam. The news broke in the morning to the horror of the nation.
This was the latest message from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) whose policy has been over the last year to systematically pick off key peace negotiators (Maulvi Arsala Rahmani), prominent law enforcers who battled them (Sifwat Ghayoor) and now, as an Awami National Party representative, Bushra Gohar, told BBC, they are picking on “any symbol of peace”. First they targeted the schools to bomb us back to the stone ages and now they are targeting our children, she said.
For whatever it is worth, investigations have been launched and apparently, if the interior minister is to be believed, her assailants have been identified. My newspaper, The Express Tribune, reported today that nearly 200 suspects are being questioned.
I learnt last night that the journalist ‘AH’, who was instrumental in having her diaries published in the BBC was on the hit-list of the TTP, according to its spokesperson in the Malakand Division. He telephoned a journalist I know in Peshawar (who I cannot name here) to say that AH was responsible for ‘corrupting’ the young writer. AH has been a fierce critic of the Taliban himself and was forced to leave the country a while ago because of his ‘anti-establishment’ writings, said the Peshawar journalist to me.
What does this mean for Pakistan
It is up to Pakistan now to choose whether they want a future as envisioned by Malala Yousufzai or one as envisioned by the Taliban, said Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar yesterday. Indeed, this has been our choice for a very long time.
Pakistanis still don’t have clarity when it comes to human rights, religion and state and its position in the world. Islam has, for many of us, just become a religion of fear and oppression as interpreted by the far too strong extremists and terrorists. Let me give you an example:
The Peshawar reporter who spoke to me about Malala yesterday reminded me of how dangerous his work has become. Around Sept 21, when radical and right-wing groups were up in arms over the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’, burning and vandalizing public property, he tweeted that this was not ‘Ishq-e-Rasool’ or Love for the Prophet (PBUH) but ‘organised crime’. An international news service in Pakistan picked up the tweet and quoted him by name. “The next thing was a phone call from Waziristan,” he said. The caller, who refused to identify himself, asked the journalist what the hell he thought he was doing by tweeting such stuff. When the journalist asked the caller to identify himself, he said something to the effect of “I have my ways of letting you know who I am”.
I asked that journalist about what the Malala attack meant for Pakistan. Obviously the first point is very clearly that the Taliban can strike with impunity.
Pakistan has, over the decades, either inherited or developed pockets of areas where the writ of the state simply does not exist. This is the most frightening part of living here, even though I write from the safe confines of Karachi (which has one of the world’s highest homicide rates). Swat is one of those areas as is Waziristan.
Flushing them out
The army went in to Swat in 2009 for an operation but clearly it is impossible to completely cleanse an area of ‘militants’. The journalist from Peshawar wrote to me: “I am witness, to all the killings, some reported some unreported, it wasn’t a farce. A lot of military men went down in that war. I was stuck in curfew for over 70 days. Every morning when I woke up, there were just scattered bodies. Long story, will tell you sometime…”
I asked him if it was safe to say that the Taliban are still around. (It may seem like a simple question, but I do not generally consider it ethical to comment on the situation on the ground in Swat if I am sitting in Karachi.) He replied: “They are very much present in Malakand Division. There were reports of the[m] regrouping but then again for the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata this is redundant; where aren’t they regrouping? One can’t go 5km outside Peshawar and we talk of the writ of the government.” (Fata is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas).
Another journalist explained that the entire region is simply so porous that the Taliban can move around freely. The dilemma with this ‘fight’ is that the Taliban are in many cases, Pakistanis. So even though the army went in to clean out Swat, and is now in parts of Waziristan trying to do the same thing, it seems to be a cat and mouse game because they are fighting their own people.
I asked the journalist in Peshawar who were these Taliban, in the sense that the government has talked about a ‘foreign’ hand or ‘third hand’ or foreign militants when it comes to the Taliban. “If you particularly talk about Swat, yes they were locals as well as non-locals, and I don’t mean foreigners, militants from other districts of Malakand. An interesting story, I once did for […] was when the families were ousted from Swat because their ‘Talib’ relations did not surrender. The story never went into publication. It gives you some idea, that these men were local.”
There are many stories to tell, he said to me, about the way the Taliban were made, which is key to understanding how Pakistan is going to deal with this phenomenon. In our editorial today in The Express Tribune, we wrote: In the first place, during the military action against the Taliban, they were nearly driven into the neighbouring districts of Afghanistan but have since been able to make a comeback reaching right into Dir. Others who went into hiding were never arrested. Some have now resurfaced and people in Swat, as well as in other conflict-hit areas where the military has acted, remain unconvinced that the militants have been vanquished for good. Maulana Fazalullah, the man behind many of the atrocities in Swat, is still a free man.
I believe a major part of the problem is that the media has not been able to get in to properly tell the story. It has simply been too unsafe. That is an important ingredient. The media, the government, the people, the army are part of this picture. My journalist friend from Peshawar is terribly disgusted by the way the story has been told. But it is simply too dangerous to tell it in many circumstances. “There is space left vacant to tell original tales of insurgency, which only the locals can do BUT they are too scared. Hence, all the façade and commotion.” He says that when he puts the paper to bed and goes home, he is on tenterhooks till the next midday because he never knows who will be offended to what they’ve printed and who will react to it. “It’s scary when you don’t know who the enemy is,” he said, referring to being unable to ‘see’ them.
The stories will perhaps have to be told slowly over time. For example, this journalist had a theory that many of the young men who went over to become Taliban did so out of reasons other than ideology. Some of them were just poor boys who fell in love with rich girls and were not allowed to marry them, in the simplest of cases. Others had been sexually abused by tribal ‘elders’ higher up the food chain. I’m afraid these are not stories for me to tell and hence I cannot go into them as much as I would like to. I merely mention this to try and insert the possibility that other narratives exist in this one.
What worries me more and more each day in Pakistan, however, is that the government has not hit back at radicalism with education. All Malala wanted was to go to school and indeed that is what many young people in Pakistan yearn for. But it is not just enough for them to go to school. They need to have the hope that they have prospects of a job after they graduate.
However, the reality is that even though 60% of our population is under 30 years of age, their future prospects are grim. Our youth bulge is going to need serious investment or we will face, and indeed have been facing, an internal crisis when you have a young population with no hope and no jobs.
The Taliban have been brazen enough to attack army installations and spring jailbreaks for their comrades. Malala was a soft target for them. What I find difficult to understand is what it is going to take to change the way our radicalized population thinks. There has been an outpouring on Twitter and Facebook and on my newspaper The Express Tribune’s website, so clearly one segment of the population holds a different view. Why does this not translate on to the ground? We have elections rolling around, hopefully. Will ‘liberal’, ‘educated’ and tolerant Pakistan vote for change? I doubt it because they don’t have choices. To me, none of the political parties have enough of a progressive agenda or plan to tackle extremism. (And as a side note, the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan who everyone seems to love these days, doesn’t seem to have an answer for the Taliban either).
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September 30, 2012 | 10:06 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
Karachi is a primordial Gotham city of New York in my imagination, which has mostly been fed by Hollywood. When I watched the Dark Knight Rises a month or so ago, sketchy parallels emerged between the anarchic supervillain Bane and the faceless, unknowable killers who we know here as al Qaeda or the Taliban or the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or Sipah-e-Sahaba. Our paralysed terror is directly proportionate to their evil.
The study of violence fascinates me and over the last year or so I’ve been scrounging around for answers. Bookshops in Karachi are a nauseating, unending permutation and combination of the words ‘holy’, ‘terror’, ‘dark’, ‘most’ and enemy. The War on Terror spawned an entire new genre of non-fiction. Some of it is written by non-Pakistanis and smacks of post-colonial fetish; their titles are all about looking in from the outside (Pakistan: Deep Inside the World's Most Frightening State), ‘understanding’ a terrible enemy (Pakistan, a hard country), or predicting its end (Pakistan on the Brink). The ones by the Pakistanis are just as bad. Whenever I sweep past those shelves in disgust, they reek of apology.
Karachi has long been called one of the world’s most dangerous cities (even though its homicide rate is up there with Ciudad Juarez’s). I had an argument with someone the other day over saying that the violence here, sectarian and political killings or those for extortion, is senseless and chaotic. In fact, it isn’t. It is extremely organized crime perpetrated by the ruling political parties, their youth militant wings, sectarian outfits (Shia/Sunni), groups of extortionists and kidnapping gangs. They have lists of targets in many cases, as investigations have proven.
But explanations of that side of violence don’t interest me at all. Other people love talking about it; if you sit down with journalists in Karachi or the police or even at a dinner with bankers and businessmen, all they do is try to one-up each other on how good their source of information is. Everyone knows Zardari, the president. Everyone knows the real story behind who killed Benazir Bhutto.
All of that talk seems pretty useless to me. What is instead more crucial is another element; how is this violence affecting us? For this too, you’ll get a good dose of pop-psych tch-tching around the dinner table. But no one has really been able to satisfy me on this phenomenon.
Until I chanced upon an interview of Judith Butler in the Columbia University Press blog (http://www.cupblog.org/?p=7692). Butler was in a bit of a soup recently over her critique of Zionism and the highly coveted German Adorno prize.
The controversy vis a vis Zionism didn’t interest me, but something she said bowled me over: “What is the condition under which we fail to grieve for others? Or the condition under which we fail to be able to acknowledge a loss and to grieve a loss?”
This is what I had been looking at for so long in Karachi/Pakistani society racked by different kinds of violence, anarchic behaviour, destructive social trends, extremism. Each day in the newsroom we have a debate on whether to make the killings in Karachi the lede. I disagree most of the time because I think people are just sick of reading about it. I know people don’t read about these ‘routine’ killings, as we call them. And while I hate to use the word, densensitisation is a thread that runs through this.
Prof. Butler frames this question against the Holocaust and postwar Germany. She also highlights how gay people could not, at one point in time, openly mourn the death of a partner.
The Jewish angle interested me; how do a people mourn such a loss of such magnitude? Six million people? How does Karachi mourn each day for the faceless victims? We don’t. Perhaps we can’t because it would be too much. But how do we live with ourselves knowing this is who we are. Does this not do something to us?
From Butler this line of inquiry led me to Hannah Arendt and her coverage of the Eichmann trial (Eichmann in Jerusalem). I confess I started reading her work on violence but it is taking time to absorb. She speaks of the banality of evil and I know there are answers here.
The philosopher Slavoj Zizek has also written extensively on violence, but his thesis focuses more on the systemic violence or unseen force that leads to violence in society. This book too is a tough read, but I’m on it.
If Karachi had a super hero who she/he be, I wonder. A cursory search turned up Buraaq by Splitmoonarts.com that created a Muslim super hero. (Buraq is the mythical steed that took Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on the Night Journey). Reuters has reported that DC Comics created a new Green Lantern in the story of Simon Baz, an American of Arab ancestry raised in a Muslim family, who leaves behind street racing to join an intergalactic police force.
But for now, it just seems as if the people of Karachi have to contend with a sad population of microvillains – disillusioned young men blinded by testosterone and ideology fed to them by deranged clerics. I’d still have grudging respect if they were absolute Evil. At least that would be a pure form of something than just an outlet for teen angst.
September 22, 2012 | 1:21 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
Yesterday was one of the saddest days in Karachi’s history. Six of its downtown cinemas were attacked by mobs and set on fire. That’s pretty much the major ones completely destroyed. Only two big ones remain, one at the edge of downtown and one by the seaside.
The mobs, which were in the thousands, swept through the centre of the city on Friday setting banks, businesses and the cinemas on fire as part of protests against the Innocence of Muslims film. The pillaging and arson was condoned by our toothless and two-faced ‘religious’ leaders heading the protests. Whenever anarchists sweep through the crowd, these clerics disown them and have the gall to later say that the men were not part of their group but were ‘criminal elements’ as if this was a lesson from the periodic table.
The mobs wanted to storm the US consulate in Karachi, which was protected from all approaches by the police and strategically placed shipping containers. The protesters first swept through the main financial artery of Karachi, MA Jinnah Road, to converge at Native Jetty bridge which leads to the consulate. Along the way they ransacked the banks, kicked in windows, stole money, even food from the cinema’s bars.
In the morning as I turned on the TV the violence seemed to be mostly concentrated in Islamabad and Peshawar up north in Pakistan where cinemas were attacked as well. The government had made the mistake of caving in to the extremists and declaring Sept 21 Ishq-e-Rasool (pbuh) day, or Love for the Prophet (pbuh) Day. You see, in Pakistan we have to beat our breasts about these kind of things.
The government’s reasoning was that it would save itself by appearing religiously correct. What I don’t think it had bargained for was the protests that were planned. This was a failure of police intelligence. Also, since we only have about 3,000 cops we can actually use in Karachi of 20m people, they are stretched to thin. As far as I understand, via our reporter Saba Imtiaz, the police did not have orders to take action unless the US consulate was attacked. We’re trying to find out what exactly happened there and why the police did not have the kind of backup they needed from the paramilitary Rangers force who we pay billions of rupees to keep.
The irony is that we showed our love for Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) by setting our own city on fire. I’m sure he’s really happy and all the ‘criminal elements’ will get a special place in heaven for the great work they did.
The non-violent residents of Karachi watched on in dismay at the complete anarchy that descended on the city. We are a cursed metropolis, unable to get through any day without some kind of disaster. Just last week 289 garment factory workers perished in the worst fire in our history simply because the exit doors were sealed.
As the city editor of The Express Tribune, I’m supposed to know by now the way events will unfold in Karachi. But I confess, each day for the last month has stripped away my naiveté. I never thought it would get so bad and this happens to me each time. I’m never prepared to predict the extent of the depravity. I feel like a fool because I err on the side of the goodness of human nature. But as the footage rolled, I realised that there was no limit to the madness.
The same thing happened to me when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007. All of us in the newsroom were unprepared for the fires that would sweep through the province. Each time I’m caught on the backfoot.
The neighbourhood where I live in is relatively protected but as I drove to work I had to pass through a shopping strip where tyres were burning on the road. A group of young men were gathered at the end. I had to somehow get through them by driving carefully around the scattered flames. “Stop her!” I heard one of them scream. “Get her!” cried another. I was wearing my press badge but I had a feeling it wouldn’t help. I rammed my foot against the accelerator.
My subeditors had a hard time getting to work as well. One of them found mobs around the office and turned back. He went home, changed into a shalwar kameez, grabbed a skull cap and pretend to be a protester to reach the office.
Before heading out to work, I had to raid my fridge to get food together as my subeditors at work messaged me that they were hungry and there wasn’t going to be any access to food that day. Plus I had reporters out in the field who I knew would return hungry.
So I’ve learnt my lesson and have decided to stock the office with food supplies. Petrol is another concern. In Karachi you can never let your tank be close to empty because what if you need to drive reporters or subeditors home?
Sometimes even water runs out at the coolers and you need to keep bottles in your car. I can only imagine it was much worse for newspaper offices that are located downtown.
But perhaps the worst part was that the government decided to suspend cell phone services on Friday. Two of my reporters were downtown covering rallies and protests and the cinema burnings. When we lost contact with Saad Hasan for an hour or so our hearts were in our mouths. All I could say to his wife, Rabia Ali, who is also my reporter, that he’s smart, he’ll always know what to do to protect himself.
September 21, 2012 | 12:37 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
UPDATE: A private television channel’s (ARY) driver succumbed to his injuries after he was shot during a protest in Peshawar. His name was Mohammad Amir.
Clerics on an Express News talk show defended violent protests as Muslims expressing their feelings. Destroying two cinemas is probably not the answer. And I'll bet, those very same protesters who burnt the cinemas went there regularly to watch films.
The government of Pakistan announced Sept 21, Friday, Ishq-e-Rasool (PBUH) Day or Love for the Prophet Day as a national holiday. The ostensible aim was to try and cap the violent protests that have erupted thanks to the Innocence of Muslims trailer. The plan didn’t work.
A mob attacked a cinema on Grand Trunk Road in Peshawar, tear gas and baton charge were put into action in Islamabad and elsewhere rallies, some with school children, marched with banners declaring sentiment for the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Similar scenes were reported from Lahore.
Cell phone services have been cut off in 15 major cities in Pakistan to prevent people from organizing violence. This is the second time in a month that the government has resorted to this tactic. On August 19, the government did the same thing in a bid to prevent a bomber from attacking Eid morning prayer congregations on the big day. The last time I think I remember such drastic measures being taken was when I was a teenager in 1992. Nawaz Sharif was prime minister and a military operation was being conducted in Karachi against a political party. If memory serves me correctly, cell phones had just been introduced but were being used, among other things, to coordinate killings and help activists go underground.
The government’s attempts to prevent violence from breaking out aren’t working. On the radio special messages from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been running to clarify the US stance: it condemns the wretched ‘film’ but also decries violent reaction.
Shipping containers have been used to block the road to the US consulate in Karachi. It came under attack last week, when Molotov Cocktails were chucked over the wall as a mob managed to get close. The consulate’s compound is a quasi fortress with double concrete barriers. It is located at the end of an isolated road through mangrove swamps but unfortunately it is flanked on one side with an unplanned settlement. My reporter who covered it told me that people emerged from that side. He was hit in the face with a rock himself.
As I write this, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf spoke at a seminar or convention in Islamabad, saying that the government would take the issue up at the UN level.
The government is running a message on television channels reaffirming that it had announced a national holiday for the Love of the Prophet (PBUH). It asks people to refrain from violence as this was not the way of the Prophet (PBUH).
My question is, though, that there were scores of prophets who are mentioned in the Holy Quran. Do we get a national holiday for all of them?
September 12, 2012 | 2:03 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
Your master is your master, but even your master’s dog is your master. The Pakistani protest song may not have the grit of Ohio by Neil Young or the soul of Strange Fruit, but it sure has kick. Two music videos, by young guns Ali Gul Pir and Faris Shafi, have gone viral with their fusion rap takes on the canker of Pakistani society.
Comedian Ali Gul Pir’s ‘Waderai ka beta’ (Song of a Feudal Lord) http://youtu.be/OruEoqKftUs rips apart the oppressive hierarchical culture of the Pakistani countryside where all-powerful landlords and their sons have held sway for decades. It is here that many parallels can be drawn with the American south during slavery as indentured labour persists in Pakistan.
The video, which was uploaded on June 14, has already crossed 150,000 hits on YouTube and elicited a raving response from listeners, my newspaper, The Express Tribune reported on June 18. “The video shows Pir singing in front of a Hummer next to armed bodyguards. He raps about the luxurious brands he wears and the attention he gets because of his money and power, and also refers to how the social status of those around him changes because they are his pals.” According to Pir, The track is a dig at influential people who misuse their authority. The subject could be anyone from the sons of bureaucrats to tribal leaders.”
Young people love it because finally someone is using the language they use, talking about the rot in society and very simply making fun of the people in power. The line, Saeen to Saeen, Saeen ka kutta bhi Saeen, (Your master is your master, but even your master’s dog is your master) has nailed the way networks of power operate in Pakistan where the rule of law has been shot to hell. If you are connected to someone powerful you use their name to get what you want by bypassing the law. Combine this with vast income inequalities and you have a country of 180 million people who are left at the mercy of a top 5%.
The second song, Faris Shafi’s “Awaam” (The Masses/The People) http://youtu.be/tq0Ml-Z3kP0 is much more raw but just as funny. In one week Awaam got over 85,000 YouTube hits. It features Taimoor Salahuddin (aka Mooroo) and no-holds barred lyrics peppered with expletives. Here too income inequality emerges as a theme; Faris plays a labourer and Mooro a factory owner. Faris is clearly having a killer time dancing in the baggy shalwar trousers and wife-beater vest. He has reclaimed worker cool.
The song uses the same satire as ‘Waderai ka Beta’ to sweep over hot topics. He skewers Jihad (you’ve got an itch in your beard) and pokes fun at Pakistanis who boast about having the bomb in a country where rolling blackouts last up to 15 hours. In another stanza he takes a dig at the war against extremism which occupies public debate but the fact that no one wants to talk about the dirty secret of Muslims killing Muslims: “Nato’s army has got us by the balls/ It’s costing us an arm and leg/ But we’re at each other’s throats.” The lyrics are extremely difficult to translate as they use an Urdu rhyme scheme overlayed on a rap beat, but I guess you get the point.
It’s easy to understand why these young artists have taken as their point of departure the rap form. Protest poetry has a rich tradition in the Indian Subcontinent but the classical (Persian, ghazal or couplet) style is not just difficult to digest for its high diction but also lacks the modern urgency, appeal and pace of rap. Rap is also, very simply, sexier.
We’ve grown up with revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Bol ke Lab Azaad hain Terey’ (loosely translated as Speak, for you are Free), an anthem of sorts warbled at left-wing civil society rallies and protests here. But it was high time something new emerged and the generation of today claimed some space on the cultural landscape.
English translation of Waderai ka Beta
Akbar Jatoi Jalbani is my name
Driving a Pajero and chilling is my dream
I’m so rich I can f*&t out money
I’ll show you now (f*&t) see?!
A gold Rado watch and my black suit is starched
Girls look at me and say, “Ooh la la”
Hair all set, with oil in it
Compared to my moustache, yours has failed
The cool boys always want to hate me
Cause I get all the cute girls
Girl, I will make you the princess of Dadu (my village)
Verssis (Versace) shoes and Armaanri (Armani) sweater
A feudal lord’s son, a feudal lord’s son
I am a feudal lord’s, a feudal lord’s
High five! Your *** is black
All my results from nursery to grade 10 are fake
I have a different way to impress the ladies
“Come over here I’ll show you a real man”
My dad wants me to become a parliamentary minister
But I want Sharmeela’s younger sister
I have lots of power and control
“Dad can I get my allowance today?”
I have 10 bodyguards who are always ready
Will put a false case on you and put you in prison
Once you’re in jail, you will yell out “NOOO!”
Boy, Saeen (master/sir) is Saeen but even Saeen’s dogs a saeen
September 3, 2012 | 11:47 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
Till today I confess that the militant network in Pakistan stymies me. When I used to work at Daily Times, I had a chart drawn up: Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Tayba (of the Mumbai Chabad House attack), Sipah-e-Sahaba, Sipah-e-Mohammad, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Afghan Taliban, Ahle Sunnwat wal Jamaat, Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi…. But no matter how elaborate the chart, I always had to turn to the court and crime reporters and ask: So, LeJ hates the Shias or Sunnis? Is Hizb-ut Tahrir militant or just ideological? Is Jamaat-ud Dawa still banned?
I don’t blame American readers of the Jewish Journal if they aren’t particularly interested in the intricacies of how these groups operate. And I won’t bother to explain it here in this space as there are several excellent websites that go into depth on these matters. I am writing about them here today because of a mish-mash of news developments.
The Twitter joke these days in Pakistan is that our prime ministers have been in court (and one dismissed from office) but we have almost zero convictions of men who incite violence based on their extremist views. But I have some good news to report today.
Our Asad Kharal reported in The Express Tribune that the leader of one group, the outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a man named Malik Ishaq, has been sent to jail after being arrested upon his arrival back home. A case has been registered against him for delivering a hate speech against the Shia minority. (Shias are a sect of Muslims. The other main one being Sunnis.) The prosecution’s records cite his involvement in more than 40 cases in which 70 people were killed, with a majority of the victims belonging to the Shia community.
This is not Ishaq’s first run-in with the law. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court granted him bail in July 2011 after 14 years of imprisonment in the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.
Indeed, 2012 has been the year of the threatened minority in Pakistan. These smaller groups in our Sunni-Muslim majority population are almost always under threat.
The summer has been fraught. In one of the more recent attacks in Gilgit (the north of Pakistan), Shias were pulled off a bus, identified and shot. In two months, the toll from this type of killing has risen to 37. In today’s newspaper, Sept2, Hazara Shias were mowed down in an attack in the southern city of Quetta in the impoverished fourth province of Balochistan. Gunmen just opened fire at a market, killing five vegetable sellers.
It is imperative that men like Malik Ishaq, who spread their poison among the already susceptible male youth population of Pakistan, are stopped in their tracks.
There was another good piece of news this week as well, after a frightening development. A Christian teenager named Rimsha said to be suffering from Down’s Syndrome was accused of blasphemy for burning pages of a Quran reader (meant for kids). The cleric who made the accusation, it has turned out, framed her. He was just arrested. A witness has come forward to testify that he planted the material in her hands. A lot of people are hoping and praying that he is given the most exemplary punishment.
The blasphemy cases are notorious in Pakistan and have given the country a really bad reputation. The religious right is unparalleled in its fervour to pursue these alleged cases against Christians but are almost always silent when one of their own is caught like this. I’m interested to see what develops.
As you may recall, one of the saddest blasphemy cases was that of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who was gunned down by his own bodyguard for defending a Christian woman named Aasia. Taseer’s only crime was that he stressed that blasphemy laws are abused by people – as indeed the Rimsha case demonstrates. In the same year, 2011, Pakistan’s minister for minorities, the Christian Shahbaz Bhatti, was also gunned down for speaking out against the draconian law.
Another minority in Pakistan are the Hindus who have also had a bad year. In my province of Sindh there has been talk of them migrating to India as they are not protected by the state here. The biggest problem they face are kidnappings for ransom and forced conversions before marriage to Muslim boys. In what is possibly the sickest television I’ve ever seen, a talk-show host undertook the live telecast of the conversion of a Hindu boy.
“The religious minorities’ continued migration from Sindh and Balochistan is a reflection of the state’s failure to save these citizens from violence, discrimination and disgusting excesses such as forced conversion of young women,” writes the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “The live telecast of a recent conversion of a young Hindu man on television is a particularly reprehensible and indefensible manifestation of the attitude towards non-Muslims.”
August 6, 2012 | 3:06 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
Veeo-lawns is how the French pronounce ‘violence’ and these days that is how I read it in my head when I’m editing copy. I think my brain is linguistically euphemizing my diction – if it sounds soft enough it won’t mean as harsh.
Today the chief of a political party that owns Karachi called for businessmen to take up arms to protect themselves from extortionists. Today one of my reporters was mugged at gunpoint. In 1994 I was almost raped at gunpoint, saved by telling my attacker that if he touched me he would contract my skin disease, eczema. In tomorrow I know I will be held at gunpoint. “Do not live in fear in Karachi,” I tell my sisters. “You will be living a half-life.” Rumi said: The wound is where the light enters you. Some wounds for us in Karachi are open. Some have become scars to keep the dark in.
Yes, in June, over the one month of my Jefferson fellowship through the East-West Center I tried to articulate how it is in Karachi to the group of journalists I was traveling with to study urban solutions. No. I could not speak. At a media conference in Seoul I was asked after my panel discussion what it was like for my reporters to work in such a violent city. I told the audience that the violence was sucking us in. I am watching young reporters become welded to the irresistible lure of covering violence. They all want to cover terrorism, the killings, beheadings, acid attacks, target killings, grenades, shrapnel. Inspired by Don DeLillo we did a story on organic shrapnel. A piece of a suicide bomber embedded in you – you walk around with him under your skin.
It is painful for me to talk about Karachi. Ever mindful of Susan Sontag’s treatise on regarding the pain of others, I frantically search for ways to edit stories so that the pain of the ‘victims’ is not dramatized or trivialized or worse deadened by pity. How can we speak for others? (Spivak speaks to me, the great postcolonial theorist who skewered Foucault and Deleuze). The edits I do are met with invective from readers.
I have, for a while, been on a path that is leading to a line of inquiry into violence. I know it is doing something to us, but I don’t know what. A hardworking young scholar, Laurent Gayer, offers me some help in his new piece ‘Political turmoil in Karachi: Production and Reproduction of Ordered Disorder’. He quotes Michael Taussig to say we live in a “chronic state of emergency”. Gayer speaks of an “embedding” of violence. He is so close, so close.
If you have ever had a loved one who is cutting themself perhaps you will know what that bond is and how the pain transfers. All through the Jefferson fellowship I heard expert after expert talk about a sense of place in a city. As I drove home from the newsroom it began to occur to me that they were mostly referring to beauty in cities during our conversations - beautifully kept, well maintained public spaces where people came to relax and revel in their history and culture. Karachi has a sense of place, I thought. It may be ugly in places but that is its ‘sense of place’, I feel it everywhere I go.
There is an umbilical chord that ties us to Karachi. The pain is amplified because it is distant and invisible. That which we cannot see can sometimes terrify us more. It is an ashamed pain. How can I purport to feel ‘pain’ when I have not lost a loved one to the bullet of a TT pistol? Place and displacement work here. You are not the subject or the object in this equation. Is there something beyond that dichotomy? Perpetrator and victim exist, but what about observer? This position is removed by a degree. What is this secondhand hurting? I am not trying to be dramatic. Drama indicates there will be a final act – this could end. Hope ceases to exist, light cannot enter.
A corollary is the doublespeak of the political parties behind the violence. The people who are killing are in the government. Do you know what it is like to live with that? The lie is so big it sits on us. Did you notice I didn’t use the word blood in this post?
August 5, 2012 | 5:02 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
Size matters, as I am keen on pointing out much to the irritation of friends outside the newsroom and reporters in it. Their snickers indicate to me that they are having non-Shariah compliant thoughts. What I am usually referring to is the size of cities, especially Karachi, which is an estimated 20 million souls spread over 3,600 sq km. This worries me.
I found out this last week that it happens to worry other people as well. I met this group of worriers in Italy at the Urban Land Institute and Citistates Group (of Neal Peirce of the Washington Post writers group) summit for four days of brainstorming on how to tackle the challenge of fast growing cities. The sexy line-up included Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, who could talk me out of my burqa and into a nun’s habit any day. He makes BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) systems sound like the highway to heaven. Except that he doesn’t like highways.
The challenge for these urban planners, CEOs, real estate managers, scholars, thinkers, innovators was how do we think about creating prosperous, opportunity-rich, sustainable cities through the lens of four critical building blocks: transportation, water, energy and public space. America is learning from its mistakes and now China is making them all over again (for eg, the Superblock).
As is usually the case, I was the least experienced person in the room, which is why I learnt more than I could contribute, but boy am I grateful. I saw that there were solutions. The crime is that Pakistani policymakers, planners and politicians are too taken up with the power struggle to actually look beyond their noses and into the faces of the people of Pakistan. Listening to these experts in Italy freed me from the despair that had grown over the last decade from trying to cover a city like Karachi with all its attendant horrors.
While not all solutions can be easily applied to Karachi, it became more and more clear to me that unless we start acting now, we will be looking at another wave of crisis in the next 50 years. And this will matter beyond our borders.
For example, the Election Commission of Pakistan released data on Saturday about the country’s electoral rolls and while we sort of always knew this, it was still a wake-up call to see that almost half of all registered voters (84.3million) are below the age of 35 years. A research group just said that 60% of Pakistan’s population is under 30 years old and if we don’t make sure jobs are there for them, “anarchy” could be unleashed. We are facing a youth bulge.
The numbers are there, staring us in the face and they are translating into rapid growth of cities such as Karachi. To give you an idea of an emerging problem, 600 cars are added to Karachi’s roads each day thanks to population growth and the ever so helpful banks whose new religion is consumer financing. (Although this is, I am told, waning). If we don’t need mass transit, then I don’t know who qualifies.
ULI/Citistates gave me hope because real practitioners explained how they did it in their cities. So for example, Penalosa explained that in Bogota they went to the existing bus drivers and owners and invited them to run the new BRT buses so they wouldn’t be rendered unemployed. In Karachi our mass transit has been pretty much held hostage to the private minibus network or transport mafia (union says we have 18,000 buses). What if we went to them and said they dump their old buses and come to buy and run the new BRT ones? This would involve a government subsidy and the existing drivers (most of who fall in the youth bulge) would need a massive reeducation and training retrofit. But we should be able to do it because Japan is footing the bill for
the new BRT system and Rs500m has been set aside by the provincial government. A World Bank expert, Ellen Hamilton, a Lead Land and Housing specialist, explained to me that in some of their projects the capacity building was the cheapest part.
I do believe that the youth bulge is strongly linked to extremism but understand that this can be a tenuous argument. I was reading Khaled Ahmed today in The Express Tribune’s opinion pages and he pointed out something quite basic: Violence is known to spring in primitive societies. This has compelled some sociologist to say that extremist personalities are usually possessed of low IQs. Pakistan has some level of literacy but here one must note that in 1947, when literacy was 17%, people were more tolerant; today, with literacy at over 60%, Pakistanis have embraced extremist views.
As our cities grow and our youth bulge manifests itself, Pakistan will have to spend more time focusing on the education of its young people, not just for jobs but for the welfare of society. As our population grows are we going to be able to provide an education system that leads to healthy and prosperous development? In a story this week in The News, it was pointed out that our education system is skewed towards the rich. So the average labourer is not able to afford an English-medium school for his children (if this is a benchmark). I’m not sure that O’ and A’ Level schools that run on the GCE/UK system and charge Rs10,000/month in tuition ($100) are creating better citizens than a madrassa that charges nothing and in fact provides room and board along with a religious education. But I do know that NOT ENOUGH of our youth are getting a good high school education in any of the systems. The ones who are privileged to make it to top notch universities usually leave the country. This brain drain means that we don’t have enough new leaders to help us cope with urban growth.
I realize this blog is a little all over the place but I myself am on a journey of discovery these days. When I read back up the page I see that I started off in a happy mood and by the time I reached the bottom the old despair had crept up again. Perhaps what I need is to do what a lot of privileged young women are doing here instead of using their brains; just decide that size doesn’t matter unless it’s of the diamond on your finger and that it’s better to just sit at home, not read the newspaper and pretend that everything will be ok. Perhaps I need to just sit back and hope that the millions of youth (40m of 18-35 year olds) who have registered to vote will show that their future matters.