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Archive for January, 2011

Viva La Veena Malik

Veena Malik knows what Veena Malik is thinking.

Unless you live under a rock, you are undoubtedly following news of the increasingly intensified protests in Egypt today (my recommendation is to watch Al Jazeera English and/or to follow the #jan25 on Twitter), as citizens continue to rally and challenge the autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak. The demonstrations sparked not long after protests in Tunisia toppled the state’s leader “and encouraged protesters [across the Arab world] to overcome deep-rooted fears of their autocratic leaders and take to the streets,” reported the NY Times.

However, if you do need a break from the news, I have a little Friday treat for you. DJ Shahrukh has remixed the greatness that was Veena Malik‘s debate with Mufti Abdul on Express News’ Frontline show. If you missed that show, here is a link to the entire debate, in which both Mufti and the host Kamran Shahid attempt to malign Malik’s character and reputation based on her stint on the Indian reality competition, Big Boss, insisting she brought shame to Islam, Pakistan, and our culture, [also see Sana Saleem's blog post on the issue].

Veena Malik impressed us all with her responses on the show, rightly calling out the mullah for slandering her instead of focusing his attention on the politicians, terrorists, and others who are guilty of much more, who have actually harmed the country. In a more recent Frontline, she also took on Lollywood director Syed Noor, challenging sexist and narrow definitions of “culture” in Pakistani society.

Hats off to Veena Malik. She may refer to herself in third person, but she is fearless. This remix has been making the rounds in the blogosphere/Facebook news feeds, but it’s catchy and highlights the awesomeness of the debate. Mufti Sahib, you got served. And, in case you wondered whether this CHUP blogger could relate Veena to the Egypt developments, Twitter friend @humaimtiaz did it for me when she said, “What Egypt needs: Veena Malik saying “Mubarak sahib, yeh kia baat hui.”

Mufti sahib!:

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Reuters Image: Lahore Blast

You know it’s going to be a bad day when you wake up to news of bomb blasts in two of Pakistan’s main cities. At least 13 people were killed and more than 50 were injured (Geo News put the number higher, at 70) when a suicide bomber targeted a Shiite procession near Bhatti gate in central Lahore today. Many of the injured, noted the Guardian, were from Pakistan’s security forces. BBC News cited Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, who said he expected the death toll to rise.

A senior police official told reporters, “It definitely appears to be a suicide attack…A young boy tried to rush in and throw a bag into the crowd. When he was stopped, he blew himself up.” Lahore police chief Aslam Tarin further affirmed that the bomber  was just thirteen years old, who detonated his explosives when police tried to check him “at a cordon near the procession.”

The processions today, noted Dawn, marked “Chehlum or Arba’in, the end of a 40-day religious mourning period for Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), who was killed during a battle in A.D. 680 in Karbala.” According to the Guardian’s coverage, “…last week the interior ministry warned the Punjab government of a possible car bomb attack during today’s procession, and provided the details of three suspect vehicles.”

According to CNN, a militant group called Fedeyeen-e-Islam claimed responsibility for the Lahore attack, and its spokesman Shakir Ullah Shakir labeled Shiites “enemies of Islam.” The news agency noted, “The group is an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban and Laskhar-e Jangvi…One of the senior leaders of Fedayeen-e Islam is Qari Hussein — widely believed to be the trainer of child suicide bombers for the Pakistani Taliban.”

Not long after the bombing in Lahore, another blast struck Karachi. The BBC cited police officials, who said the bomber had “tried to ram a bus carrying Shia devotees. The attacker targeted a police Jeep instead after it blocked his way.” Two police officers were killed in the attack, and more are reported to be critically injured.

If these blasts show anything, it’s that “the real enemies of Islam” are those who kill innocent civilians, who continue to terrorize the heart of this nation. The target of the blasts in Lahore and Karachi appear, once again, to be an attack on the country’s minorities [see this piece on the targeting of religious minorities], but many policemen also died or were injured in the blasts. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families, as well as to the numbers of policemen who risk their lives every day by just going to work.

The Lahore bombing was reportedly perpetrated by yet another child suicide bomber, further illustrating how we need to probe the issues and root causes that lead to the recruitment and brainwashing of hundreds of young boys by militant groups, [see Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy's documentary, Children of the Taliban for more, as well as this piece I wrote for June issue of the CTC Sentinel last year].

CHUP will continue to update this space as more details come in.

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Our nani. Always dressed to kill.

I have always loved listening to stories. But my favorite kind were never make believe, the ones woven into the fabric of fairy tales. They were the ones that unveiled pieces of my family’s history, that contextualized the very young histories of Pakistan and Bangladesh, where my father and mother are respectively from.

My favorite character of all those stories was my nani (maternal grandmother). In the tales my mother and khalas (aunts) told, Nan was a sharpshooter, a progressive feminist, a fashionista, and yes – even a Communist. She was both a warrior and a drama queen – a scary combination, to say the least.

Today, my nani is frail and small. At first glance, she seems a far cry from the strong heroine in those stories. But if you were to look a little harder, you would see that spirit is not just preserved in the decaying colors of old photographs. Nan may be over 90 years old today, but her eyes, magnified behind large wire-rimmed glasses, are watchful. Her papery hands still grip yours with surprising strength, pulling you closer. She misses nothing and remembers everything.

When I was in Dhaka a few weeks ago, my mother and I sat down with my nani one afternoon. Armed with a pen and notebook, I tell her that I want to preserve some of her stories. In true Nan fashion, she first smiles, closes her eyes dramatically, and says she didn’t know where to begin. But a split second later, it is story time.

Before the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, my mother’s family lived in India. When the countries were cleaved in two, they moved to what was then-East Pakistan, quite simply, Nan said, because they were Muslim. My grandmother was young but strong-willed, married to a man (my nana) who not only encouraged her to be her own woman, he gave her the tools to do so.

She was an anomaly, wearing the finest and most elegant saris but also choosing to join the Pakistan Women’s National Guard soon after its inception in 1949. My grandmother, chosen to be a commander of the National Guard, went door to door to recruit other women members, who all underwent army exercises and learned how to shoot and handle a rifle.

 

Nan (in sari & glasses), a commander of the Women's National Guard walking next to Begum Liaquat Ali Khan.

Nan smiled when she related a time when there was a shooting competition between the Pakistan Army and the Women’s National Guard. A lady, who Nan identified as “Nur Jehan from Chittagong” came first among both the men and women competitors, hitting the bulls-eye five times in a row. Later, Nan told me, that same young woman ended up marrying a general in the Pakistan Army.

While Nan’s own aim was admittedly “good but not great,” she would practice on flying birds and passing deer (Note: When she saw how wide-eyed her animal activist granddaughter got at that remark, she added that she would just shoot at the deer’s legs), stowing her rifle underneath her bed for safekeeping.

When Bangladesh’s Liberation War began in 1971 (see here for my piece last year on the Liberation War Museum), Nan was a widow and a mother to eight children, many of whom were then fully grown and married. She and the rest of my family were fierce supporters of Bangladesh’s independence movement.

My mother, the youngest and unmarried at the time, was a university student and activist in Dhaka. The Pakistan Army, knowing my mother would sometimes read the English news over the radio, would come looking for her at our family’s old house in Dhanmondi. They wanted young girls to read the news in order to paint a rosy and glossy picture of the war. They wanted the public to think everything was okay. When they did come, my mother was told to stay inside while my grandmother marched resolutely to the gate, telling the soldiers that her daughter wasn’t home that day.

But Nan soon realized they would have to move from house to house to ensure their safety. The war, for the Bangladeshi side of my family, was marred by daily tragedy but also dotted with simple pleasures, like playing cards with a flashlight underneath a quilt after “black out” time in the evenings. One night, my mother’s second eldest sister (I call her Mejo Kama) was at a function. The Mukhti Bahini, the Bangladeshi freedom fighters, were told that a Pakistani soldier would be at that same event, described as a light-skinned man wearing a suit and tie. The man they ended up shooting was not a Pakistani soldier, but another man, also light-skinned and wearing a suit and tie. He was Mejo Kama‘s husband.

I still get chills when I hear how my cousin, Mejo Kama‘s daughter Lipi Apu, ran screaming into the street that night. My family was an enormous supporter of Bangladesh in the Liberation War, and although they continued to be after the tragic death of my uncle, that moment shook them all. It was an illustration of how much blood is spilled during the cacophony of war. The Bangladeshi fighter who killed him, upon learning of his mistake, tried valiantly to beg for my aunt’s forgiveness. To this day, he still comes to ask Mejo Kama for forgiveness for what he did.

I decided to relate these stories not only as an effort to preserve my own family’s history, but also as an attempt to understand where I came from. We are all enriched by the stories of past generations, and those stories gain even more meaning when placed within the time line of history. I am a Pakistani, raised by a Pakistani father and a Bangladeshi mother, and my journey to understand my own identity has often led me to probe further into the stories my nani told.

At the end of this particular session, Nan’s eyes begin to close. She is tired, she tells me, a sign that story time has now come to an end. I take her hand and lead her from her sitting room to her bedroom next door. As she lays down in her bed, her creased face smiles goodbye, pulling me closer for a hug and a kiss. “You’ll remember me?” she asks, in true dramatic Nan fashion. I weave my fingers through her’s, an overlap of young and old, and say, “Of course, my nani. Always.”

 

An artsy photo of nan taken by our Nana.

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Happy Birthday CHUP!

LOLcat says, Happy Burfday!

CHUP is now three years old! What up what up.

People ask me on a regular basis what it takes to run this blog, particularly because I started it with a stated objective – to provide a more nuanced and balanced perspective on Pakistan. But if you had told me when I founded CHUP that I’d still be blogging and sleep-deprived three years later, I would not have believed you. [In fact, I would have said, "WTF, future self?!"] But here I am, and here are some survival tips and lessons I picked up along the way:

  1. Coffee. It is my lifeline. No really. Try juggling a full-time job and blogging/writing at night. Coffee is a freaking God sent. [My friend just sent me this TED talk by Ariana Huffington though, which is pretty fitting:]
  2. Ignore the trolls. No not the ugly cute trolls we were obsessed with in the 90’s that wore funny outfits and were somewhat creepy. I’m referring to blog trolls, i.e., the people who swim about the blogosphere and try to leech off  your blog, using your site as a platform to irrationally insult you, other commentators, their mother, your mother…the list goes on. I used to be pretty tolerant of said trolls, thinking my comment section was like, totally, a democracy. Well it shouldn’t be. Those leeches will bleed you dry. So unless said comments are constructive, don’t approve. Annihilate the trolls.

    Blog trolls. Not cute.

  3. Blog posts you spend days writing may get 0 comments. Blog posts you write in 10 minutes on Zardari, Palin and potential hugging will get a zillion comments. Talk yourself off that ledge. That is just the way the universe works.
  4. Practice blog etiquette. Nothing pisses me off more than people who comment on my blog just to plug their own blog. Shameless self-promotion will not drive traffic. It will just get you bitch slapped. Also, if you derived an idea from another blogger or website, mention them, quote them and link to them.
  5. Only start blogging if you think you’ll still want to write about that topic three years later. If you are only mildly interested in the intricacies of Bieber fever for instance, your blog may die a slow death in a few months. Pakistan, fortunately (and unfortunately), is never boring to write about.
  6. Figure out your voice. When I first started CHUP, I was almost clinical in my writing – blogging about current affairs and yet very rarely infusing my own opinion in the posts. As time went on, shades of myself started to pour into my words. I am generally diplomatic, but I also find humor in the most inappropriate of situations (Politicians with hair plugs? Mushy on Facebook? Rehman Malik’s clown hair? How can you not laugh?). Your voice is what gives your blog integrity, what differentiates you from others, and what makes you unique.
  7. The haters are gonna keep sipping the haterade. I’ll admit it. I am an insecure blogger. Bloggers put our opinions on display for the world, and sometimes negative comments can destroy us. But what I’ve realized is that not everyone is going to love you, and people love to hate. I know, man. This post is increasingly sounding Dr. Phil-worthy. Sorry.
  8. I like my red highlights, ok?! I know some of you hate it. But it’s my blog, and I’m the girl who used to have 15 different kinds of highlighters and post-its. Piss off.

So, Happy Birthday, CHUP. It’s been a gratifying and fabulous three years, and I am constantly inspired by my fellow Pakistani bloggers, who truly put me to shame with their awesome snarky eloquence. I have also met so many wonderful and awe-spiring people in Pakistan through this platform, from filmmakers to t-shirt designers to social entrepreneurs. But most importantly, thank you, dear readers, for continuing to visit this blog. To this day, I can’t fathom why anyone other than my parents would want to read what I have to say, but you guys are really the reason I keep writing. Thanks, dudes.

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On Monday, Jezebel (via @mehreenkasana) published a gallery entitled, “The Creepy Men of Pakistan’s Sexual Harassment Calendar.” The post, based on a calendar launched by the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (AASHA) portrays various caricatures of perverted men who harass and intimidate women on a regular basis. The characters, noted Jezebel, “cross cultural boundaries.” Agreed.

According to the AASHA website, the organization:

…started developing these cartoons in 2007 as a strategy to deal with the issue of sexual harassment; to shift the focus from the victim to the behavior of the harasser. We have identified 36 characters so far, which have come out on desk calendars of 2008, 2009 and 2010. These cartoons have been very popular, so, for the 2011 calendar, we have decided to have you vote for your 12 favorite cartoons out of these 36.

Pretty innovative (and democratic) if you ask me. So here are some of the winners in the 2011 calendar. Drumroll please…

Ustad Lucha. Wagon drivers. Public transport conductors. Men who think stick shifts are eternal double entendres. “Changing gears,” just FYI, is not code for touching women in sleazy and inappropriate ways.

Ghuran Chatto. Very common character. Let’s just say they don’t quite look at your eyes. Even if you wear twenty layers of clothes you still walk away feeling completely violated. Gross.

Namurad mobaloil. Oh my gosh. LADIES. I recently re-learned this lesson the very hard way. Never. Pick. Up. A. Number. You. Don’t. Know. Just don’t do it. Because in all likelihood it is a Namurad-bloody-pervy-Mobaloil, wanting “frandship” with you. If your voice sounds remotely feminine (or maybe not even that), they will incessantly call you, thinking their persistence will somehow wear you down instead of causing you to want to claw your eyes out. If you decide to confront said pervs, take some well-seasoned advice from the fabulous Kasana, “How to Get Rid of Prank Callers.” Piss off pervs.

According to the Express Tribune, AASHA founding member Dr. Fauzia Saeed said at the launch of the 2011 calendar,

The current government has shown commitment and support by passing legislation against sexual harassment, making it a punishable offense for the first time in the history of Pakistan. This is a milestone in our social history which will not only legitimize access of women to public and work spaces but will be a turning point in changing people’s mindset about the relationship between men and women.

So first, good on AASHA for the intent behind this initiative – to not only place the emphasis on the perpetrator of harassment, but to also vilify said characters through a digestible and simple format; i.e., cartoons. However, while the government did pass the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill last February, such top-down legislation is only the first step in truly implementing bottom-up change. Just last week, Express reported that only three hospitals in Pakistan have even adopted “the code of conduct prepared by the National Implementation Watch Committee (NIWC) to prevent sexual harassment at workplace,” a step-by-step document on how to comply with the Harassment Bill.

But again, adopting a code of conduct is still different from implementing it. Harassment, to this day, (and not just in Pakistan), is often not seen as a serious offense. In fact, it’s practically bloody acceptable. Legislation that attempts to institute the contrary will only be effective if sexual harassers and perpetrators of gender-based violence are held accountable for their actions. We need to stop blaming the victims. We need to emphasize that this behavior is not okay. This can begin with serious and strategic sexual harassment trainings of employees (and police officers), where there are real repercussions (as opposed to empty threats) for those who fail to comply with the adopted code of conduct. Incentives need to be created to pressure organizations and companies to adopt said rules, and ensure their implementation. Ultimately, there needs to be a perception change. And while this will not happen overnight, a cohesive strategy must be developed in order to push this in the right direction.

 

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Below, Tariq Tufail, based in Karachi, discusses what he calls the country’s “most clear and present danger” – Pakistan’s economic viability (or lack thereof):

Governor Salman Taseer was murdered in cold blood, [see this powerful piece for the NYT by his daughter, Shehrbano Taseer]. What followed will send a chill down the spine of every liberal Pakistani. The murderer has been showered with rose petals, kissed by lawyers, massive rallies supporting him have been held, and the so called “silent majority” is conspicuously absent. The society has decisively taken a turn towards radicalism and intolerance and even political bigwigs are helpless; this is very well highlighted by the fact that interior minister Rehman Malik has asked Sherry Rehman to leave the country, instead of assuring her full scale protection and helping her speak out.

But this post is not about these dire happenings. The clear and present danger to Pakistan as a country lies elsewhere. To sum it up: Pakistan is simply not economically viable. This has nothing to do with patriotism, national pride, Islam, Indian or Jewish conspiracies. It is simply a question of mathematics.

The country is insolvent and the situation is worsening by the day. For  example, Pakistan’s total debt and liabilities of the GDPis 69.5% , i.e. the amount of money spent by the state is far in excess of tax receipts. Pakistan is  kept afloat by repeated infusions of aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the U.S. and these infusions are under threat: Pakistan is unable to carry out any reform prescription of IMF — the implementation of the Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST) and the fuel price hike has been put off indefinitely, and as a result the release of IMF money has been delayed as well. As far as the United States is concerned,  U.S. aid is likely to come with increasing demands such as carrying out military  operations in North Waziristan. Moreover, there is a great risk that any terror attack in the U.S., if traced to Pakistan will invite military and economic retaliation.

The greatest short term dangers lie in uncontrolled inflation and massive spike in food prices during the summer. If one more natural calamity strikes, it will push the country over the edge. This state of Pakistan’s economy is unlikely to change unless there is a massive restructuring of the economy. However, the social forces unleashed in Pakistan is likely to leave no room for such a restructuring to happen.

It is instructive to study the Asian financial crisis of 1997, especially in South Korea. Overnight, the restructuring of the banks led to about a tenth of the population losing their jobs. However, because they were guided by a strong sense of national purpose, Koreans pledged their gold to the banks, worked harder, saved more and emerged as one of the World’s economic powerhouses. In contrast, in Pakistan the national obsession with religion and of the “other” (India, US, Israel, Ahmadis, Shias) has left no room for a sense of national purpose rooted in economic well-being. Any harsh economic measures needed to shore up the economy will quickly be spun as either an international conspiracy (Like the protests agaist Kerry-Lugar bill) or as an “elite liberals-vs-Conservative economic lower class” struggle (like how Salman Taseer’s assassination is being spun in some quarters).

The time for a grand national and international bargain is now. Pakistan needs a decade of unimpeded growth, political stability, an end to dabbling in terror as a state policy, peace with its neighbors, rational decisions and policy. Something that has never been achieved since the country’s Independence. Only a miracle can make it happen now.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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RIP Salman Taseer

AP/NYT: Outside Kohsar Market

Pakistan lost a brave man today.

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer died after he was shot nine times by his bodyguard outside of Kohsar Market in Islamabad Tuesday, reported news sources. According to the Guardian, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the gunman, Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, told police he had killed Taseer for “criticizing the country’s blasphemy legislation,” calling them kaala qanoon (“black laws.”)

Taseer became increasingly vocal against the blasphemy laws after Aasia Bibi became the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death, allying “with rights activists, critics and several government officials in urging the government to repeal or revise” the legislation. His courage to stand up against the religious intolerance in the country was met with protests, and the NY Times reported that effigies of the Punjab Governor were burned in protests last Friday.

But Taseer would not back down, encouraging others to take to the streets against the laws [to learn more about this upcoming protest in Karachi on January 15th, see Five Rupees]. Just last week, he tweeted to his followers, “I was under huge pressure… 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing.”

His words, though chilling, should remind us all of Salman Taseer’s bravery, his conviction, and his determination to stand up against the intolerance and discrimination that has long crippled this country.

I am deeply saddened by this tragedy, but I am also disgusted by those who continue to hide their own blasphemous faces behind the blasphemy laws, who use violence to mask their own cowardice. I am disgusted that Salman Taseer was one of only a few brave enough to stand up to the religiously bigoted, while others stood silent.  And finally, I am disgusted by those who would rather speak ill of the dead and defile Taseer. Put aside your pettiness and have some respect.

Salman Taseer died a martyr today, and our condolences and prayers go out to his family. His death is a tremendous loss for Pakistan and for the fight to amend the blasphemy laws, but it is one that should mobilize us all to take a stand. Or else we all will have blood on our hands.

 

RIP Governor Taseer.

For a profile on Salman Taseer, see here. For great posts written by others in the Pakistani blogosphere, see Huma Imtiaz, Shahid Saeed, Five Rupees, and Tazeen.

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