Posted by Mahim Maher
Once upon a time, before 9-11, a non-profit working for press freedoms wanted to do a report on the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and the media. A reporter, who is now the Peshawar-based bureau chief of an English newspaper and represented the non-profit in Pakistan, was asked to help. Peshawar, you see, is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Afghanistan.
The non-profit and the reporter talked for a long time about how to go about this delicate task. It was, after all, a strange time. But the reporter believed in ethical reporting as did the non-profit he represented.
They deliberated for months on the risk of trying to tell this story and decided, in the end, that as with all good stories, it only made sense to make sure everyone had a chance to give their side.
The report was prepared eventually, with lots of interviews of journalists working in Afghanistan etc. But at the very top, right at the beginning, on the very first page, the report first gave the version of the Afghan Taliban on what they thought about reporters and journalists and the media. It gave them a prominent space to tell their story before anyone else's.
The report appeared in the beginning of the year of 9-11 and the reporter in Peshawar waited with baited breath for a reaction.
There was silence.
In the beginning of Spring, he had to travel to Kabul for some work. But there was a debate - would it be safe for him? He decided that he had heard no complaints from the Afghan Taliban and thus, it would be alright to go. He set off on his journey.
The reporter arrived in Kabul and went about his work. And as he did it, he began to feel really strange. Still, he went about his work.
At one point, he found himself in the office of a top-ranking Taliban government official who managed the country's foreign affairs. Remember, the Taliban officials in those days kept an eye on Pakistani reporters arriving on their turf. The government network was strong and they all knew the reporter was in Kabul.
"How are things going?" the official asked the reporter.
"Quite well," replied the reporter. "But there is one thing."
"Well, as I have walked around the bazaar," explained the reporter. "Your morality and vice police have stopped me many times to tell me that I can't walk around without a beard. Can you please do something about this? Even when I tell them I am a foreigner, they say, well you are a Muslim, so you must still have a beard."
Suddenly the reporter was not so sure he should have complained. Would this get him into more trouble?
Before he could say any more, the Taliban official started writing on a piece of paper. He wrote for a few minutes, reached into his drawer and pulled out an ink pad and a stamp. Thapp! Thapp! went the stamp. He then handed the paper over to the reporter.
"Show this letter to whoever stops you," he said.
The flustered reporter went outside after thanking the Taliban official. He looked down at the paper. It said that He, the Taliban Official, had exempted [reporter's name] from having a beard. And no one can arrest him. And indeed, whenever he was stopped in the street by the vice and morality police, he would just hold up the letter. They would nod and let him pass.
Eventually, the reporter wrapped up his work and headed back to Peshawar. But something still unsettled him. At the border, when he was exiting, he spoke to an interior ministry official as part of the routine procedure of leaving the country.
"Tell me one thing," the reporter ventured to ask. "Why have the Taliban been so nice to me on this trip?"
The official smiled. "You were fair about us when you helped write that report on the Afghan Taliban and the media," he said. "Your journalism was ethical. We appreciate that. Do come again."
(The identity of the reporter has been withheld as security conditions in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are constantly shifting. He told me this story on Saturday while he was visiting for a seminar.)
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. . .
July 31, 2013 | 3:58 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
It is the story of the summer in Pakistan: A popular televangelist, Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain, has stunned the world by giving away babies on his marathon seven-hour Ramadan transmission, Amaan Ramazan. (Update) According to industry sources, it raked in revenue of Rs300,000,000 or $3 million for one month, the highest ever for any programme in the Pakistani media. The ratings have broken all records.
(Update) This is not, however, the first show to do this. Apparently Shaista Wahidi has also done it and Fahad Mustafa's show on HUM TV, but I was unable to confirm this.
In Pakistan, where life is often stranger than fiction, television is the stage where it plays out. CNN, BBC and international publications have reported it.
The two baby girls, one of whom has been named Zainab, are barely two to three weeks old. They were reported to have been rescued from garbage dumps by the Chhipa Welfare Association, a non-profit started by a man named Ramzan Chhipa (see more on this group below). The association says it receives up to 15 abandoned babies a month.
The non-profit claims to have its own vetting procedure, the first lucky couple, said to be trying for 18 years, was registered with them and they had already had four or five sessions with them. But CNN reports that the couple didn't know they would be handed a newborn when they were invited to take part in the show and paperwork was not processed before the live broadcast.
The show is rumoured to be giving a baby boy away next.
On the show, Liaquat performs for a live audience at the time of the breaking of fast (dusk) and the keeping of the fast (dawn). There are recitations from the Holy Quran, exegesis, hymnals, sermons, tributes to holy personalities. For children there is story telling in a garden set with real animals, even snakes.
Liaquat cooks, sings, hugs audience members, rides a motorcycle around the stage before giving it away. In addition to the babies, the giveaway bonanza includes microwave ovens, washing machines and fridges. For the poor members of the audience, this is a boon.
The problem is that Pakistanis are debating whether the show's decision to give babies away is ethical or not. Opinion is divided.
In a country where infanticide exists at some level, abortions are illegal, premarital sex is taboo and girls are still considered a financial and social burden in certain sections of society, babies are abandoned in garbage dumps. As a result, charities such as The Edhi Centre, the country's largest non-profit network of its kind, puts small steel cradles outside its buildings.
According to the centre, up to two babies turn up each week. But, surprisingly, demand for abandoned babies far outstrips supply. The Edhi Centre's
Bilquis Bano Edhi, who is in charge of the adoption process, puts the number of such forms in the range of 6,000 to 7,000 (2011 data).
Our newspaper reported in 2011 that since they set up the centre in 1951, about 19,600 babies have been given to foster parents.
About 80% of these unwanted babies are girls. This is why the adoption form says you have to wait longer if you want a boy. The process takes from two to 12 months.
Samia Saleem reported for us: "There are 13 conditions for adopting a child. The first one is that the decision of the chairman, Bilquis Edhi, cannot be challenged. The details of the biological parents and adoptive parents are kept extremely secret. The law in Pakistan does not allow adoption – only ‘kifala’ is permitted in which monetary and emotional care can be given to the child, but not obligations or rights. An abandoned baby has no legal identity and the state does not register such a child as a citizen. (A petition has been filed recently to challenge this).
"Adopting through Edhi is therefore ‘closed adoption’ (confidential or secret adoption), whereby the record of the biological parent is kept confidential and the child is given the name of the adoptive parent. Most of the abandoned babies are found with slips which mention the name and the religion of the baby."
Dr Liaquat and Mr Hyde
You can read all about the show and the baby on CNN or BBC but what you won't find there perhaps is some historical perspective on the man. A few refresher points about 'Dr' Aamir Liaquat, who is not all that he seems. Just so we're clear, to me, he looks like the god Pan, a cloven-footed, horned imp.
The doctor comes from an MBBS degree in medicine he claims to have completed at the Liaquat Medical College. It was reported that he secured a PhD degree reportedly three weeks after obtaining a Masters degree, just in time to contest 2002’s general election. His PhD came from The Trinity College and University of Spain whose website reads ‘get your degree today’. A freelance journalist, Maria Kari, wrote a blog about his qualifications.
A subsequent 2012 investigation by my newspaper's reporter Noman Ahmed revealed that Liaquat had enrolled in an MA programme at the Urdu university but had never sat the exams. He told us that someone had used his name and social security number.
But if you want to know if he really makes sense consider this: Liaquat once commented that Pakistani cricket team was defeated because the soles of their sneakers were green, a colour associated with Islam.
But it was in 2011, that the most damning evidence of his two-facedness surfaced. A video was posted on YouTube showing Liaquat swearing while prepping for his religious sermon that quoted from the Quran.
"Oh mo$&er-f%@k it, read the [...]," he says in Urdu to someone off screen while referring to a numbered holy verse. There was much more salty language than that, but I can't print it here.
All copies of the video have been removed from YouTube and other video-sharing sites but some smart people had already downloaded it. You'll find a copy here at this blog.
In the video you will see him making fun of a caller asking about the legality of suicide in the context of protecting a woman’s honour. Columnist George Fulton wrote about this in more detail here.
For whatever it is worth, a poll on The Express Tribune's website showed that 88% out of 5,437 voters did not think the tape of doctored as Liaquat has claimed.
The televangelist and hate speech
In September 2008, the political party Liaquat belonged to, kicked him out over making incendiary sectarian-hatred inspiring speeches on his television show and at events. This referred to the Sunni-Shia divide as well as hate speech against Ahmedis, a persecuted minority. Shias are also a persecuted minority in Pakistan.
Liaquat's party responsibilities were ended one and a half years earlier and his membership was suspended as well. But the 2008 sacking of a man who became a federal minister from the party's platform came as the party further distanced itself and didn't want to be “responsible for any of his words and deeds”.
There was some claptrap from him about resigning from office over the British government’s decision to knight writer Salman Rushdie. But most people didn't buy this. "Since this doesn’t stand to reason," said an editorial in the Daily Times newspaper on Sept 11, 2008, "it is more likely that he was forced to resign because he sided with the vigilante gangs of Lal Masjid and made it public on a TV channel."
In his programme, he proposed that it was justified to kill members of the Ahmedi community, a minority group declared non-Muslim in Pakistan. After that broadcast, an Ahmedi doctor was shot and killed in Mirpurkhas in the south and another person heading the community in Nawabshah was also murdered. The Asian Human Rights Commission filed a petition in court against Liaquat.
The welfare trust that gave the babies
The Chhipa, pronounced ch'heepa, welfare group was set up to rival that of Edhi's, Pakistan's most revered philanthropist. Chhipa runs ambulance services, soup kitchens etc. Its ambulance drivers fight with Edhi's staffers over collecting bodies from bomb blast scenes; whoever gets the most 'wins'.
Press photographers have told me that they have been offered bribes and known photographers and cameramen who accept them so make sure they photograph (only) the Chhipa staffers at a rescue scene or disaster site. The aim is ostensibly to be more visible in the newspapers and on TV and attract more charity donations. Chhipa is said to be well supported by the political party that Dr Amir Liaquat was associated with (until he was kicked out in 2008).
Adoption should be kept private for the baby's sake, as it is done the world over. Perhaps the Pakistani media regulatory authority would do well to consider if the show violates certain rules. Many people have questioned whether it behooves a religious 'scholar' to behave in such a fashion during the month of Ramadan, whose core spiritual message is supposed to be one of restraint.
Pakistanis seem not to know how to judge the effect of television on their lives when it is used to further religious agendas. Many people felt in their gut that something was very wrong about this. As someone tweeted: I also want to make baby clothes that say "I survived the Amir Liaquat show."
July 12, 2013 | 5:52 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
Malala Yousafzai talked about educating the Talibs. And many people in Pakistan agree with her. Here I want to talk about the educated Pakistanis alongwith the uneducated ones.
There is no debate: Our government, however, has yet to really understand just how important education is going to be to fight the battles of tomorrow. What worries me the most, and what I have seen in the last decade, is a system that does not help young people.
Let me give you the example of Ernest, a young Christian fellow in his late teens or early 20s, whose aunt asked me for help to get him a job. When I interviewed him, he said he had worked as a 'rider' which in Karachi means something like delivery boy. He didn't want to academically study more when I offered to pay tuition for any programme of his choice. We settled on a vocational computer skills course at a reputed institute. He had gone there before and tried to enroll but didn't have the money to pay for it.
There are countless young men and women who are in Ernest's place in Pakistan. They are disillusioned with the government-run school system and can't afford private school. The ones who do go through the government-run system emerge with very few skills.
As a result, we have a lot of disillusioned young men. Today, 60% of our population of 180 million is under 30 years of age. I am worried about the youth bulge. Some more numbers: About a quarter of the 19.75 million children in Pakistan aged five to nine are out of school. If the age bracket is increased to include adolescents, then about 25 million are not enrolled in school, out of a total school-going population of about 45 million. These are UNESCO's numbers from 2012.
Pakistan’s literacy rate from age 15 and above is 55%, while India’s is 63% and Bangladesh’s 58%. (I think this includes people who count signing their name as literacy or being able to read the Quran). Compared to other countries in the region, Pakistan’s spending on education is significantly lower at 2.3 %. India’s is 4.5%, Iran’s is 4.7%. But this much you already knew.
While a large part of what you may have heard about Pakistan and education has included the word madrassa, I'd like to highlight two consistent streams of education that have been reaching thousands of young people.
The Fulbright batch in Islamabad for their orientation this month. Photo: Myra Iqbal/The Express Tribune
A US contribution: One hundred and eighty young Pakistanis, the best of our universities, are off to the US on Fulbright scholarships this year. This year a total of 151 master’s scholarship and 29 PhD scholarships were granted. The Fulbright programme is in its 63rd year and is one of the largest in Pakistan. Since 2005, 1,255 Pakistani’s have received Fulbright awards for graduate degrees of which 40 per cent have been women. The programme binds the student to return to Pakistan after the degree is over. They cannot leave for I think about three years. This means that hundreds of Fulbright scholars are back in Pakistan, reversing the brain drain.
A UK contribution: Last year 13% more students in Pakistan sat the Cambridge International Examinations for O' and A' Levels (grades 11 and 13). This involved nearly 500 schools that registered approximately 180,000 students. The three most popular subjects for O’ Level students are English Language, Islamiyat and Math, and at the AS/A’ Level Math, Physics and Chemistry. But more than this, Pakistanis regularly sweep the CIE awards each year. In the O' Levels students sit about 8 to 10 subjects. Some kids get As (90+) in all exams - others score the highest in the world.
Teach for Pakistan (http://www.iteachforpakistan.org) pays university graduates market rates to teach the poorest of students in the most ignored schools. Here is a story on their work: http://tribune.com.pk/story/569347/education-for-all-36-young-fellows-start-journey-to-teach-pakistan/
The Citizens Foundation is a non-profit that has built excellent schools across Pakistan where children are getting a high quality education. One year I personally monitored their summer school English camp as a volunteer. One of their students just made it to Harvard. http://tribune.com.pk/story/556897/the-road-less-travelled-from-ismail-goth-to-harvard-front-page/
And, yes, I haven't forgotten the madrassas. Here is a documentary from a project that has videos on many more education success stories: http://tribune.com.pk/story/558702/dual-education-from-madrassa-to-mainstream/
May 28, 2013 | 5:22 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
Nichola Khan, a senior lecturer at the University of Brighton, is a Chartered Psychologist and a senior lecturer in psychology. She holds a BA in Developmental Psychology, an MPhil in Cross-Cultural Psychology, and obtained a DPhil in Social Anthropology (2008) from the University of Sussex. Her book ‘Mohajir Militancy in Pakistan: Violence and Transformation in the Karachi Conflict’ (Routledge Contemporary South Asia Series) appeared in 2010.
I admired Dr Khan’s work, as she is one of the few academics working in this area. I interviewed her over email in March 2012 but was unable to publish the answers in my newspaper because of their length and other considerations. While the interview is dated, her points on how to view violence in Karachi are enlightening and still terribly relevant. I interviewed her because of my abiding interest in the violence in Karachi which I had to engage with on different levels daily as the city editor. I would like to clarify that in the course of my work in journalism I have seen that many parties and not just one are behind violence in Karachi and it is a much more complex phenomenon than one that merits finger-pointing. I cannot claim to begin to understand it but I ask the questions as that is the only way to begin.
Me: When will the violence end, is the question everyone asks. Do you have any comment on this? Do you think there is a way to end it?
Dr Nichola Khan: My view is violence will hardly end. Technically, one way to reduce it would be to disarm opponents, adopt some massive 'welfare' programmes, and let former enemies co-operate on some specific issues. Or a roundtable model - as they did in Spain after Franco or Poland in the 1980s. However, public debate can only achieve so much and I don't see any conditions.
As long as Pakistan is a heavily militarised country, and at the crossroads of many conflicts (Afghanistan, Kashmir, Iran, Central Asia, etc.), weapons will always be available and a fruitful business - including to political actors at every level. The problem has far broader implications than the MQM in Karachi.
Whilst Pakistan’s situation, and the situation in Karachi, are extreme, Pakistan is no exception. Take the Arab Spring - although undoubtedly there is immense public-political will for change, the discourse of ‘popular revolution’ obscures a deliberate strategy on the part of the US to secure economic power and resources in the region.
However, the problem in Karachi is that violence, politics and crime have become endemic to such a degree that although there is an enormous popular will for it to end, there are too many vested interests in keeping the situation going.
MM: Was the MQM violent before the operations or do you think that the operations just made it worse?
Dr Khan: Things were clearly made worse. Operation ‘Clean-Up’ of 1992 both intensified and alienated the violence. It produced a pattern of circular confrontation between militants and the police, of escalating ferocity, copycat and tit-for-tat killings. Consider Shakeel’s account from the mid-90s (quote from book): “We frequently heard news of MQM workers being killed by the police or Haqiqis. Our neighbourhood was a ‘no-go area’. Any stranger was interrogated. Some confessed their associations. We tortured to extract information about their operations - drilling, amputating limbs, chopping corpses into pieces and hanging them upside down. They were killed, put into bin-bags and thrown into dumps (Khajji Ground in Pak Colony). These were police tactics [my italics] we copied.”
First, though Shakeel no longer lives in Pakistan, and we cannot verify his account, what is vividly conveyed is the excitement these cycles of violence produced - how killings became elevated as a legitimate, politically enlightened response, to the abhorred practices of violence and exclusion associated with the state.
Second, (more frightening) is the extent to which violence worked to force the redistribution of power. Violence is a normative mode for conducting politics, and for securing power. Considering the state apparatus, its security methods and these militants were all violent, the sad paradox is that violence was and is far from radical or in any way revolutionary, but in fact deeply conventional.
MM: How similar do you think the Pakhtun violence is to the Mohajir one in terms of the realisation of selfhood or masculinities?
Dr Khan: The Pakhtun also seem to venerate the gun and the power it seems to give the person who wields it. I don't know! But I am sceptical about sweeping generalisations, especially when based in ethnic connotations. Even more so when such so-called ‘differences’ have been used to justify killings, violence, the irreconcilability of conflicts, and inequalities in wealth and opportunity.
Ethnicity is dangerous not because ethnic violence is ‘natural’ or inevitable, or because there are fundamental differences between groups, but because it acts as a smokescreen to obscure the political, economic (and military) forces and policies producing marginalisation, fragmentation and violence. There are parallels with similar arguments being made in Europe. Here the ‘problem’ of social disintegration has become ethnicised, and located within ‘Muslim culture’. This ‘culturalising’ tendency led Sarkozy, for example, to attribute the 2005 banlieues riots in Paris to deteriorating ‘Muslim’ family structures and absent fathers, with no acknowledgement of the poverty and racism facing many families, or for example the immigration laws that disrupt family life.
Similarly, David Cameron attributed the London riots last year to poor parenting and social support, singling out individuals rather than the harsh cuts his government have made in the current recession, and their effect upon employment, education and daily life in communities already demoralised. These kind of alarmist accounts made by Sarkozy and Cameron - of proliferating (Islamic or ‘black’) violence - bears similarity to many analyses being made about violence in Karachi.
Though Karachi’s problems of violence are long-term and more severe, one implication in both cases is that violence is an outcome of ‘ethnicisation’, of irreconcilable differences between ethnic groups, and that ‘all’ Mohajirs, Pathans, Baloch or Sindhis are the same. This view, which has also been a very effective tool of political mobilisation, has little to say about neighbourhoods in Liaquatabad for example - routinely portrayed as a hotbed of MQM militancy - where Baloch paan vendors, Pathan watchmen, Kashmiri labourers, Sindhi office workers and Mohajir shopkeepers trade and coexist peacefully.
Nor does it explain how mohallyadar belonging to different parties enjoy heated debates without resorting to violence, and are loyal to each other - warning each other of imminent attacks, as well as co-operating in the purchase of weapons that could be used between their respective factions.
The situation is complex. When the press also frames Self-Other relations antagonistically in terms of intractable differences and immutable characteristics, it is likely to reproduce the same terms (including violence) of ethnicisation/politicisation that it finds so troubling. In my view, the responsibility of a ‘free press’ exceeds the ‘freedom’ to expose and condemn political parties.
At some level it must address the uncomfortable paradox of its own fascination with the violence (including against the press) it condemns. This is the problem of a situation where violence has become so endemic and normalised. It is facile (and boring) to blame the MQM exclusively without a more discriminatory effort to consider the wider conditions that have allowed the situation to thrive.
Even if it were true that Afaq Ahmed, Shahi Syed, Zulfiqar Mirza or Altaf Hussain were plotting out the next round of killings, Karachi citizens are not passive victims manipulated into violence by villainous leaders. Those who condemn MQM for the violence most roundly - the state, media, public commentators, intellectuals and citizens - are not separate, or onlookers, but implicated too. It is very important to strive for a more holistic view. Although this might arise in proportion with an increase in press freedom, those who terrorise the press have little interest in cultivating a more vocal or sympathetic popular voice.
Me: The police and army or Rangers have acted against the MQM over the years in multiple operations but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. What are they doing wrong in their approach? How can Karachi’s other stakeholders possibly come up with a policy that doesn’t repeat their mistakes?
Dr Khan: Again, I have no idea, but it seems to me, first, that violent repression never works - any intelligent general or statesman knows that. Second, the security agencies in Karachi have a history of partisanship, being highly politicised, corrupt, demoralised and lacking in discipline. In the ‘operations’ of the nineties, the police concealed and fabricated evidence, were involved in extrajudicial killings, torture, the unlawful conviction of arrestees, dawn raids on homes, and provided ‘protection’ to warring groups.
Though this situation has definitely improved, the creation of a disciplined non-partisan metropolitan security force is still a critical requirement for sustainable security and peace. Just last week (March 2012), Rangers were allegedly involved in setting up armed ‘People’s Amn Committee’ boys in a house in Liaquatabad. This was interpreted locally as PPP-engineered pressure in the lead-up to the elections (of 2013), to keep the pressure on MQM in the arena of national politics.
Next, after Rangers arrested ANP workers in Banaras last night (March 30, 2012), Mohajirs were killed in retaliation this morning. As long as the state’s own security forces act and are perceived as an armed faction, as having vested interests in violence at critical political junctures, it’s ridiculous to talk about effective policy-making for peace.
Me: How did the violence affect you?
Dr Khan: Those self-proclaimed ‘militants’ I knew - now middle-aged - succumbed to the seductive, slippery appeal of violence, which pervaded their lives far beyond the flat surface of the ‘political’. In ways they were absolutely unprepared for the failure of their ‘revolution’ to achieve the free, just and equal society MQM promised. Left with broken lives, in no trite sense, they must face responsibility for their crimes, without the support of the leaders they idealised.
Though commentators speak from an array of political, intellectual and personal positions, I feel strongly that there is no appropriate ‘objective’ distance to take. The relationships I formed whilst living in an activist Mohajir community in the nineties produced tensions between empathy, partisanship, concerns for analytical ‘neutrality’, and presented me with a tough moral dilemma. How could violence become routine, unproblematic and logical to such a degree; how did I, like many, become simultaneously accustomed, fascinated, horrified and indifferent to terror occurring before my own eyes? What does it mean to present ‘killers’ as human?
There is a fine line between violence and ‘peace’- in those circumstances violence was all too easy. Personally, those years moved me to a radical pacifism. What possibility now for a ‘militancy for peace’ to be realised - for myself, those I knew, Karachi? There are no easy answers.
Me: The MQM used to react badly to media criticism but it has in recent times changed its public image quite a bit. But in politics its use of violence as a bargaining tool with the PPP seems to continue. What do you think prompts the party to behave this way and do you think it has been beneficial in the long run? (My additional note added May 2013: all political parties in Karachi are equally guilty of using violence).
Dr Khan: I agree, the recent disruptions in MQM-PPP alliances must be linked to an intensification of violence, the forthcoming elections (of 2013), and activities linked to the (now banned) People’s Amn Committee that was created by Zulfiqar Mirza as interior minister. These events underpin the spread of recent violence from SITE area, Katti Pahari, Lyari and other areas across the city. They also reflect the rise of political gangs in small localities, and the enduring marriage of bhatta and violence in the way political parties create and maintain power.
Whilst ‘Aman’ effectively took over small ‘rummy clubs’ and gambling networks in Lyari, there are larger stakes to play for in drugs, bhatta, weapons - linked, as always, to land development, real estate and transport.
The killing of an MQM Sector member in PIB Colony [in March 2012] reflects this intensification and has resulted in a greater perceived need for MQM to ‘protect’ Mohajir/MQM residents in PIB. As always, the techniques are to terrorise. A motorcyclist will hand a note to a shopkeeper asking for money; if he doesn’t pay, a car will drive by and shoot him. Then his neighbour will receive a visit from a well-wisher who will urge him to avoid meeting the same fate.
Whilst MQM is deeply unpopular on one hand - on the other hand, MQM is seen as not being able to deliver on its political promises because of the curtailed powers of local government — and is overwhelmingly the party of choice for Mohajirs.
Nonetheless, the climate is one of greater weariness, political and social ennui. Or at least it seems that way to the old guard who hanker with a strange nostalgia for a time when the violence was predictable, and bhatta was contained. Whereas MQM used to fight the PSF and PPI in KU or colleges, or in Shah Faisal Colony, Sohrab Goth, Pathan Goth, Orangi Town, Qasba Colony etc — or in the respective strongholds or boundary spaces of ‘no-go’ zones, now all the city’s outside space feels like a ‘no-go’ area. The same has happened with bhatta. In the old days it was big industrialists and businessmen who were targeted, now every paan seller or poor shopkeeper must pay up, or fear being killed. What happened?
Me: You book isn’t available in Pakistan and your published papers are not readily available or accessible to the average person on the street. Are there any ways in which your research is being used to inform or alter the situation on the ground? How would you like your research to be used or translated? What kind of impact would you like to see it have? Or is it too risky?
Dr Khan: My intention was to publish with a Pakistani publisher to ensure it reached a Pakistani audience (its most relevant critics). The Pakistani publishers I approached refused it on the grounds it was too ‘risky’.
Though there are signs of change, in a situation where the press is curtailed, silenced and hardly ‘free’, where violence is endemic to Karachi politics and all parties are violent, including the state, I am well-positioned as an ‘outsider’ to be made good political use of. This is not my intention.
I neither condone nor attack the MQM per se; nor do I wish to contribute to a ‘pornography’ of violence about Pakistan. [quote from book] ‘In a febrile geopolitical situation where ‘radicalisation’ and violence in Pakistan have pre-occupied a global community of policy-makers and practitioners concerned to both enhance and threaten security in the region, the need to counter dangerous homogenising tendencies that collapse Islam, Muslims and Pakistanis into the framing of a terrorist threat to Western security and liberal-secular democracy, is still pressing’.
Certainly, I have faced charges that “you Westerners are only interested in the violence in Pakistan”, as well been pleaded with to bring attention to the plight of Karachi’s Mohajirs, to counter the half-truths prominent in public discourse and the media. All this is good. At the least, if my book or I can contribute to changes that encompass a tolerance for open debate and criticism, whatever the terms, that is a good thing. However, the relation of open debate and a freer press to peace is only partial.
May 10, 2013 | 12:52 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
Updates: Saturday 8:44am - Army chief votes
It has never been seen on TV before: the chief of Pakistan's army, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, has just come to an ordinary polling station NA 54 and cast his vote. He could have done it by postal ballot, but as Geo TV reported, he chose to come out in public to do his duty. He was the first to do it at this polling station.
This sends the clear message that the army wants to see the democratic process continue smoothly. It is to President Asif Ali Zardari's credit that he kept his government together for five years. After being dismissed before it completed its term twice before, the PPP, Benazir Bhutto's party, wrapped up its five year tenure a month or so ago.
America and indeed the world is expected to closely watch the Pakistani elections today, May 11, 2013 Saturday. For me this is the biggest election yet simply because of the difference Twitter, Facebook and text messaging has been making in the run-up. As I write this Geo TV, a major Urdu news channel, has started its all-night transmission. Analysts and reporters are talking about what they think will happen. The buzz word this year is Naya Pakistan or New Pakistan.
If I were to tell you about the single most important and visible change I would have to mention Imran Khan. He was our face of cricket on the world stage and has returned to the public sphere with his political party - Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (The Pakistan Movement for Justice). The ladies love him and from what little I've been hearing, they are all getting dressed up to go out and vote for him. I expect the PTI to win big for two reasons. Imran has been talking about people voting for candidates who make sense and not, as has been the tradition, voting for your feudal landlord, your clansmen/tribe or your ethnic or religious group. Imran has also harnessed Pakistan's youth.
Just to give you a little idea. There are 86m voters out of which about 16m are between 18 and 25 years of age. If you take it to 35 years, the number grows to 40m. The election campaigning has not, however, been as robust as one would have hoped simply because the Taliban have been bombing everyone. Just a day ago the former prime minister's son was kidnapped at a corner meeting in Multan. News has just rolled in that the elections have been postponed in one constituency up north as militants just launched an attack. Benazir's son Bilawal has been forced to give video addresses because of security fears and a string of daily bombings in Karachi meant that no party really held the kind of rallies that usually colour a campaign.
The people have so far been disillusioned by the PPP, the party Benazir Bhutto brought to power through a largely sympathy vote in 2008. The party was led by her husband and had five years to prove itself. But given unemployment, inflation and terrorism, people are not likely to give them as much of a mandate. It is worth noting, as my friend Gulraiz Khan pointed out, no one has been campaigning on an outward-looking tack as such. Kashmir has hardly been mentioned. Neither has India. Forget Afghanistan. Politicians have been focused on domestic issues by and large.
These are the 10th parliamentary elections in Pakistan's 65-year history, half of which was dominated by the military in the driving seat while the rest of the country fell by the wayside. Still, people are feeling hopeful after a decade of bloodshed post-9/11. Pakistanis have paid a price for their own interpretation of the events of that day and the way the world wanted it to act. Still, the good news is that Pew did some research and this is what they found: "For the first time since the Pew Research Centre began polling on these issues, the Taliban is essentially considered as big a threat to Pakistan as longtime rival India."
Voting will be challenging for many areas. In the more conservative parts of the country, women can forget about it. Many more people simply don't have the ID cards to do it. In other places there will be corruption and violence. One of the tricks is to scare of voters as they approach the polling station by firing at them. Usually works. Other more devious types will cast your vote for you ahead of time. You arrive at the polling station only to be told that you shouldn't have bothered.
However, the good news is that the Election Commission of Pakistan is headed by one of our most honest retired judges. Also, they have been trying their best to get the message out, use technology to do it and ensure that there is as little fraud as possible. So, Pakistanis could text in to the number 8300 their computerised national identity card number and the ECP would text back the constituency and location of the polling station. It also has a mechanism in place to deal with fake votes. If you arrive and find that your vote has already been cast you can complain, put your fresh ballot in an envelope that will be sealed and cast it. All of this will be noted down.
Exit polls will also be conducted by Gallup. But after polling ends, we are expecting rough results by about 7pm. Official results come much later.
If you want to follow the updates here are a few websites that are recommended:
http://dawn.com/elections-2013/ (very jazzy, chock full of info/background)
http://elections.tribune.com.pk/ (my newspaper's clean guide)
http://www.ptvworldnews.com.pk/livestreaming.asp (if you can get it, PTV World is our only channel in English)
http://www.pakvotes.com/ (excellent map and breakdown) live.geo.tv/ (In Urdu, but will give you an idea of what it is looking like)
I will be filing tomorrow as many updates as possible...
March 29, 2013 | 7:51 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
At the Quetta Press Club's cavernous general secretary's room a relaxed senior reporter SZ explains how they actually like to kill people there:
"You see, we have a counter at the airport arrivals lounge," he says with a twinkle in his eye. "And as soon as you enter we check out if you LOOK Punjabi, pull the gun out of the drawer and... " He cocks his thumb and fires his index finger.
"No... no... wait!" interjects another senior reporter SS. "We don't wait till they come into the arrival lounge, we pick them off as soon as they get OFF the plane."
A round of guffaws circles the room.
I am more than familiar with the dark humour that develops over time in a city that the outside world has given a reputation more soiled than a brothel bed sheet. (Please note that I did not say 'earned' a reputation). The jokes highlight the absurdity of the way Quetta is perceived.
SZ had launched into the airport joke as he was telling us about an outsider Punjabi reporter who had refused to come to Quetta for a meeting of journalists because he thought that he would be instantly killed. As someone from Karachi, which has a reputation that competes with Quetta's as a bloody city, I am more than familiar with people's irrational fears about their security.
It was thus with great pleasure that I went on a romp to discover the real Quetta this Wednesday and Thursday.
Women, what women?
I was invited by the Women Media Center's Fauzia Shaheen to help give young Quetta women journalists and mass communication students some tips on how to cover an election. Yes, I know what you are thinking: women journalists and Balochistan cannot be used in the same sentence. Indeed, there are only two women reporters working in television channels in all of Balochistan: Seema Kanwal (Dunya) and Saadia Jehangir (SAMAA TV). But there are plenty of other women in print and many aspiring reporters. The only problem is that they are not necessarily that visible as they work in the Urdu or vernacular press, which excludes them from the mainstream English-medium visibility. Indeed as we got into our session I had invited reporter ZB from my newspaper, The Express Tribune, to come have a chat with them and Hashim Kakar from The News was also present. Both men remarked that they had never seen so many women journalists and mass communication students in one place before.
And thus it was delightful for me to be able to go around the city and actually get a first person feel for the place. I went with an open mind and was rewarded. Naturally, just like any city in the world Quetta has its troubled spots and yes, I do not want to suggest for a second that it is not faced with some extreme challenges from terrorists and death squads. I do not want to belittle the grief of the Hazaras of Quetta. That is a reality and sadly now a part of the city's history, but so is Abbas Town in Karachi. But living in Karachi has taught me one thing: you cannot and should not write off an entire city, its history, culture and people because of the small groups that want to destroy precisely that - its spirit.
And so, I thought I would write about what I saw and heard in Quetta to tell you of the absolutely wonderful time I had there in two days and that I would return there whenever I get a chance and no matter how dangerous it becomes.
Quetta is a 1.5-hour tiny plane ride from Karachi and the service is kind of erratic. As soon as I landed and walked out of the small terminal I was stunned by the quiet peacefulness of the airport that is ringed on one side by the hills. When you exit the Karachi airport, for example, you are instantly hit by the frenzy of the city at the intersection on to Shahrah-e-Faisal. But in Quetta as we trundled down airport road and turned on to Shahrah-e-Zarghun all I could see were dreamy hills in the distance, mud walls the colour of crème caramel and men whizzing by on motorcycles with mittens (more on that later).
Two check posts later I was deposited at the Serena Hotel, which is built like a mud fortress (no large windows) and gives you an unnatural insulation from the outside world. I was warned that it was haunted and should not take a room that overlooks the swimming pool. Fortunately I was on the ground floor.
The entire day was spent with the young women at the Lourdes Hotel on Staff College Road (built by a Britisher, owned once by a Parsi and named after the French, according to the man at the front desk). They still use an old black telephone in the reception area and the tea is cardamom-laced and soul stirring.
Once free from work, my newspaper's reporter ZB took me around to see Quetta. I was told that the Yaseenzais, Kasis and Kurds and Shahwanis were the original tribes of the city and that Quetta - the name - is, according to Robert Jackson, a variation of the Afghan word kot, meaning court-house or fort. I think that Sir Charles Napier was a scoundrel and a racist and ethnicist and imperialist but it was interesting to read that he once bitterly said that when God made the world He shot all the rubbish into Balochistan because the landscape is wild, stony and infertile.
Liaquat bazaar: earthquakes and mandirs
We started in Liaquat bazaar, which is a delightful area because you park your car and walk around in streets built exactly for walking. We dropped in to Arya Samaj mandir, chatted with Ravi Kumar there who showed us around inside. There is a spectacular wall of deities and the Shiva Linga (mark or symbol of the Lord Shiva) on the regenerative properties of Nature. I was struck how, unlike the Swami Narayan Mandir in Karachi, this one was closed. A new community hall is being built in the centre and to the left there is also a space for the Sikhs. We chatted with Rana Singh, a severe-looking Sikh devotee, with a theatric turban and lean frame. The general consensus was that there were about 500 Hindu families in Quetta and there was a slow drip of exits to India.
Back outside in Liaquat bazaar we wove in and out of the streets. It is here that you can see the old houses of Quetta with their clever ventilation systems. "They help with the smell from the gas heaters as well," ZB explained. "But a lot of these old houses are empty now and this is prime property." Negotiations are going on these days between the owners and shopping plaza builders. Soon this heritage will disappear.
For the most part in this area the old houses are limited to the ground floor. This rule was made after the 1935 earthquake which has been written about in detail by Robert Jackson in his book 'Thirty Seconds at Quetta; the story of an earthquake' (published by Sohail Ahmad and Rohail Ahmad, 2002). Thirty thousand people died that day in what was then the largest garrison town in India with 12,000 soldiers.
Later in the Express News office, which is also old style, the reporters joked about how if there were an earthquake again they would all die because the old style of architecture has gone. "The houses used to be made of gatta and teen," said senior reporter IR. "So if there was a quake and the roof fell it wouldn't crush you." Not like the anti-seismic cement and concrete and girder system used today.
I didn’t notice them at first, but as ZB and I walked around Liaquat bazaar I started doing double takes on the motorcycles. “Oh, those,” said ZB. “They are dastanay.” Gloves. The ingenious Quetta residents have attached mittens, often felt lined, to their motorcycle handlebars to protect their hands against the cold. They cost about Rs120 a piece.
It was poetically ironic that I came across Shinney in the bazaar. I dare you to try and eat them if you go to Quetta. The tiny alien-green coloured balls are sold on thellas in the market. They are stored in glass aquariums and big glass jars. They cost about Rs80 a pao and come from Afghanistan and are cultivated locally too. You don't eat the green surface but crack the 'nut' to get to the meat inside which is sweet. But I gotta say, while it tasted great, it was too much hard work. How ironic, I thought, so much like Quetta, hard on the outside but sweet on the inside.
I was told that Quetta was built for 50,000 people but now has 2.5 million inhabitants. The 1980s brought an influx of Afghan refugees and that put pressure on the housing market. The telltale signs of a city straining at the seams are beginning to show - the first being its car population. There is no proper parking system in Quetta.
But I was delighted to note that whoever built its footpaths knew what they were talking about. On main Jinnah Road especially, I noticed that they were just the right height and sloped at the end to enable wheelchair access. And just in case you were wondering, of whatever I saw of Quetta, I have to say it is a superbly clean city. I didn't see a lot of people wearing trousers but I have to say the men look much more handsome in their full-pleated shalwars and headgear; it gives them much more character.
Dinner - the Lehri magic
It takes 3.5 hours for Sajji to cook and damn it tastes fine afterwards. Meet Kamran Lehri, one of the brothers Lehri, who own Quetta's best Sajji joint. His father Haji Amanullah Lehri started the business in 1973 and they are looking to expand today. "We just rub salt in," he told me in the Prince Road original outlet when I asked him what made their sajji the best.
Before I left Quetta I blew a month's salary on a Balochi frock and embroidered neck pieces. Much of my enthusiasm can be misplaced, I understand, for I am not that stupid to assume that I can know Quetta in just 24 hours. But doesn't it say something about the city that it won me over in less than a day despite everything I had heard and read about it?
March 25, 2013 | 12:49 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
Elections are scheduled to take place in Pakistan - one of the world's most troubled democracies - on May 11.
A little over 85 million people are registered to vote. The largest chunk, 20%, is the 31-40 year group.
The world is watching.
On Sunday, the caretaker prime minister's name was announced: a retired judge, Mir Hazar Khan Khoso. This choice is significant because the politicians could not agree on it unanimously and had to give the list of nominees to the election commission to finalise. Khoso is from our most ignored province/state, Balochistan.
Khoso will, as my newspaper The Express Tribune put it, over see "the first democratic transition of power in a country which has seen three military coups and four military rulers" in its 66-year history.
Indeed, the day the caretaker PM was announced, a former military dictator, former president General (retired) Pervez Musharraf, arrived in Karachi to hold a rally. Barely anyone turned up.
It promises to be an exciting time for journalists. We are all waiting to see how the new election rules will benefit the country. Our chief election commissioner, Justice (retired) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim is an honest man who has battled through to maintain the commission integrity.
The most interesting changes have been made to the nomination papers. Anyone hoping to stand as a candidate has to give their financial history, which will be cross checked by the Federal Board of Revenue, State Bank of Pakistan and National Database and Registration Authority. They will see if the candidate or their dependents has defaulted on loans, taxes or other government dues. Given that corruption has plagued the country and the same faces keep returning, it will be interesting to see how many names are discarded and potential candidates fall by the wayside.
Security is a huge concern for everyone during this election. There are several areas where it is not clear how people will be able to cast their vote. One of them is the southern province of Balochistan where I have heard women's identity cards are kept by their men and they aren't allowed to cast their vote themselves. Similarly, there is my city, Karachi, where spasms of violence run through it depending on which political party is upset. We are also worried about Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where the Taliban are active. Will they let people vote?
The old faces are around but there are new faces too. Here are just a few of the parties to watch (I will be updating this list):
The others are:
I am also worried about how extremist outfits will figure as characters in this election. In particular, I am watching the area in southern Punjab called Jhang. It is from here that Sipah-Sahaba founder Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi's emerged. The Sipah is a militant outfit that targets the Shia minority. It was banned in 2012 but re-emerged under a new name: Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Its new chief Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi may stand this time round.
Reuters has pointed out something important worth mentioning here. "Government finances may also be approaching crisis point," the news agency said on March 18. "In March, the Asian Development Bank said Pakistan has reached a critical balance of payments situation and will need another package from the International Monetary Fund, this time of up to $9 billion, before the end of the year."
February 22, 2013 | 11:36 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
I try not to write about these things because I'm not on the ground reporting. But the news is important for Pakistan and well, for reasons I cannot explain, it was played down in my newspaper and others.
The big news is that the chief of the most violent Sunni outfit, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was detained from his home in Punjab on Feb23. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or Army of Jhangvi takes its name from Haq Nawaz Jhang from Jhang in Punjab. This outfit is linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban. It has been blamed for the kidnapping and beheading of US Journalist Daniel Pearl.
Malik Ishaq is the chief of this outfit that has claimed responsibility for two recent deadly bombings in the city of Quetta (province of Balochistan). Nearly 200 Shia Hazaras died in those attacks. The Hazaras are a minority ethnic group.
After the first bombing, the Shias refused to bury their dead. Social media and the news networks exploded with anger over the government's callousness in dealing with the problem. The provincial or state government was dismissed and Governor Rule was imposed.
But that didn't make any difference as a second bombing took place weeks later, specifically on the 40th day after the first one. Muslims commemorate a death on the 40th day with prayers. It is called the Chehlum.
Balochistan province has long been troubled by a secessionist movement of the indigenous Baloch. The sectarian war in its capital of Quetta is an additional problem. My city of Karachi also suffers from extreme sectarian violence. The two militant outfits are fighting a bloody war of attrition in the south of Pakistan. The Sunni Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is pitted against the Shia militant outfits.
It's pretty simple. I don't understand why the government, law enforcement agencies and the courts cannot just convict these terrorists once and for all. The politicians are so scared of them and indeed so are the police that no one takes action against them, writes against them or convicts them. Even the judges are afraid because these killers never forget and never forgive. No one has the courage to deal with this problem. And all those mothers and wives who lost their loved ones, those children who lost their fathers will not forgive us for it.