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Archive for March, 2011

"Will you come to Mohali?" Gilani: "Hell Yes. Free ticket to the match FTW!"

The India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final in Mohali, India is in just two days (cricket cup, World Cup, it’s a big cup…), and my Facebook and Twitter feeds are oversaturated with anxiety-riddled , nail-biting discussion about the match. News agencies and leaders alike are gleefully using the term “cricket diplomacy” to describe the well-timed restart of high-level talks between the two countries.

The Express Tribune quoted a government spokesman Sunday who stated, “It was decided in response to the Indian prime minister’s invitation that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will visit India to witness the semi-final cricket match.” On Monday, Prime Minister Gilani (Jadoogar Gilani) further emphasized that his meeting with Indian PM Manmohan Singh during the semifinals will “help improve relations between the two countries,” while the Indian High Commission noted Gilani’s presence will have a positive impact on Indo-Pak talks.

But will it?

I’ve written a number of posts on this blog about sports diplomacy, most recently highlighting the efforts by tennis players Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi and Rohann Bopanna, i.e., the Indo-Pak Express, who showed how sports can transcend boundaries and bring countries together. Last fall, Qureshi told Sports Illustrated,

Obviously we have to look at the bigger picture. Nelson Mandela, Arthur Ashe, all those big legends: Definitely you can change people’s minds through sports. Football does that; there’s no reason tennis can’t do it. Our combination is very rare and we’re getting all this publicity and hype. And I feel like we can use it to change peoples’ minds. Minds are changing anyway. Every time Indians and Pakistanis come and support us, minds are changing.

Do I believe that sports can act as a tool of diplomacy? Most definitely. But there’s a reason why it’s considered a form of citizen diplomacy. This can in turn have some influence on state actors at the top, but its major impact is on breaking barriers and transcending boundaries between people. Despite constant stalls and obstacles in the Indo-Pak peace process, we have seen grassroots efforts take rather positive steps in recent years, from Indo-Pak school exchanges and dialogues (see Citizens Archive of Pakistan), to media initiatives like Aman ki Asha, and Pakistan/Bollywood crossovers.

But it is interesting when state leaders use such tools of diplomacy as a supposed part of their high-level talks. In 2005, Singh invited former President Musharraf to India for a cricket series, telling lawmakers in a speech at the Indian Parliament, “Nothing brings the people of the subcontinent together more than our love for cricket and Bollywood.” In 1987, General Zia ul-Haq also attended a test match between India and Pakistan in Jaipur – “a visit that apparently helped cool a flare-up in tensions,” noted the NY Times.

This time around, though, I’m skeptical how goodwill gestures will amount to more than just gestures. The problems between India and Pakistan are complex, to say the least, and the trust deficit, particularly after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 is wide. Yes, Pakistan freed an Indian national, Gopal Das, who was in a Pakistani prison for 27 years as an alleged spy, as an another goodwill gesture before the match Wednesday, but the two states have to get through talks about the Mumbai attacks and India’s alleged presence in Balochistan. Cricket may be an ice-breaker, but it is unlikely that these issues and distrust will be resolved this time around. According to Al Jazeera English, “some Pakistanis are said to be sceptical that Singh is simply playing to his domestic audience and trying to distract from a string of corruption scandals that have effectively paralysed the Congress-led government.”

For now, here’s to a good match between the two countries. Thoughts on state relations can be left in the comment section.

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Reuters: Sun Salutation?!

It’s Pakistan Day today, and the Pakistan cricket team just defeated West Indies by 10 wickets to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

Kind of poetic, no?

The match took place amid tremendous Bangladeshi support in Mirpur, a fact that was surprising for some given the history between the two countries. But my friend Tafsir, who was leaving the stadium post-match, told me, “Before  the Bangladesh cricket team became big, everyone here supported Pakistan, especially when Imran Khan, Inzamam ul-Haq, Waqar Younis, and Wasim Akram were playing. So it’s logical that the Bangladeshis are supporting Pakistan now.”

Pakistan has so far played all of their games in Sri Lanka, receiving an equally warm response among fans in that country despite the horrific attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009. Shahid Afridi, the Pakistan team captain more fondly known as Boom Boom Afridi and less fondly known as Very-Obvious-Ball-Biter, told media outlets,

It was beginning to feel like we were playing at home [in Sri Lanka]. But I’m sure that Bangladesh will be a similar story. The crowd there supports the Pakistan team and they will be backing us now that their own team is not playing in the quarterfinals. The conditions in Mirpur, will be home-like, I’m sure.

And it was. Another friend, Shaheryar Mirza (@mirza9), an Express 24/7 reporter in Karachi, told me, “The Bangladeshis and the Sri Lankans have shown that they love cricket. It is about human beings more than it is about war and politics…It’s a sign that people can show immense grace and rise above history and conflict.”

If my Twitter feed is any indication, many Pakistan fans, while celebrating the win, took a moment to thank Bangladesh for their support today. Rabayl_M tweeted, “I love Pakistan and I can still be deeply apologetic about what happened in 1971 because of us. I’m sorry Bangladesh.” Another Twitter friend, Bolshevik, echoed, “Hats off to the people of #Bangladesh. Phenomenal support despite #Pakistan’s #1971 chutyapey and lack of apology. Amaar shonar Bangla! :-)”

Sure, it’s just a sports tournament. But if the World Cup has taught us anything, it’s how sports can really give us some perspective, and truly transcend boundaries.

Here’s to a great performance in the semi-finals, Pakistan. Many thanks to Bangladesh for their amazing support (what up to my mother country!). And Happy Pakistan Day, [here is my think-positive-thoughts post from Pakistan Day last year].

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Bye Bye Raymond Davis

AP/NYT

The now infamous case of Raymond Davis ended Wednesday, when the American, who was indicted Tuesday for murder, was released after he reached a settlement to compensate the victims’ families. According to the NY Times, “After meeting with the American officials for more than six hours at the jail where the contractor, Raymond A. Davis, was held, the families accepted the money, ending the case.” According to Al Jazeera English’s Kamaal Hyder, under Sharia law, “when blood money does change hands and the family agree to drop charges, the court has no other option but to let the man go.”

Nevertheless, speculation is abound. Hyder, in his report, added, “But the family is not to be seen anywhere near their house, raising speculation that part of the deal was to settle the families in the U.S.” Moreover, according to the lawyers of the families, they were “forcibly taken to Kot Lakhpat Jail by unidentified men and made to sign papers pardoning Davis.” The lawyer, Asad Manzoor Butt, was quoted by the NY Times saying he was prevented from speaking to his clients all day and was warned not to speak to the news media.

Ultimately, though, the families did accept the blood money, or diyat, meaning that the courts had no choice but to release Davis. Punjab Law minister Rana Sanaullah told private television, “The family members of the slain men appeared in the court and independently verified they had pardoned [Davis].” And, while sources vary slightly on the blood money amount, (ABC News reported that $700,000 was paid to each family, totaling around $1.4 million, while Dawn reported the amount was $2.35 million), it is clear that this case is over. Raymond Davis has already left the country. The family, regardless of how they came to the agreement, accepted the settlement. The courts cannot do anything more, and frankly, neither can we.

Was this case shady? Of course. I have no doubt that there was some back-end wheeling and dealing by both U.S. and Pakistani officials to reach this conclusion. It was in the interest of the Pakistani government to not be seen as cow-towing to U.S. pressures to release Davis under diplomatic immunity. It was in the interest of the U.S. government to get Raymond Davis out, whatever the financial and diplomatic costs. So they both got their wish, didn’t they? Davis was indicted for murder charges yesterday, and he was swiftly released today after paying off the families of the men he killed in cold blood. But this was not justice, and really, it didn’t fool anyone. As Joshua Foust noted very succinctly at Registan,

What’s terrible about this outcome is, now there will be no justice in the Raymond Davis case. The best solution would have been for the Pakistani legal system to allow Davis to be extradited on the condition he be charged with murder in the U.S., and allow that trial to proceed away from the burning effigies and chants for his lynching. Unfortunately, both sides dug in their heels—first when Pakistan decided to reject the U.S.’s claims to Davis’ immunity, and then when President Obama called him “our diplomat in Pakistan” (which was clearly untrue). As both countries went further down these paths, the rhetoric became worse and worse until it seemed the two countries were heading toward a serious standoff. And now, since charges were brought and dropped, because the families of the victims have forgiven Davis, there will be no trial, and no justice.

So Raymond Davis is gone. But given the escalation of this case in the past month, I very much doubt the controversy will be completely over.

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Fox News #Fail

Silly Fox. Trix are for Kids.

Yesterday, Fox News proved yet again that it’s a credible (*cough*) news source by publishing a story they thought was real news. The article ran on the Fox Nation website with this title, “Pakistan: Islamic Clerics Protest Women Wearing Padded Bras as ‘Devil’s Cushions,'” noting (via Salon),

The Council of Islamic Ideology in Pakistan has protested the use of padded and colourful bras by Muslim women, and recommended that Pakistani Muslim researchers should try to invent an innerwear that makes female assets unnoticeable.

Really? Really? You not only thought that was a real news story, but you thought it important enough to feature on the main page of Fox Nation?! I know you think every Pakistani is a crazy fundo, Fox, but c’mon!

The bra story, which, very subtly, featured a picture of a padded bra, cited sify.com, which in turn linked to a “report” in Roznama Jawani, a satirical news site that features stories like, “Karachi Preparing a Huge Ass Bat to Beat the Sh** Out of Kamran Akmal” and “Nawaz Sharif Celebrates International Women’s Day – Looks into Getting a Boob Job.” In the bra story on the Roznama site, Zakir Naik, a supposed leading Islamic scholar, commented on the situation, noting “if the Pakistani government approves of the funding grant for this research and if Pakistan is successful at making such a bra that makes the chest of women unnoticeable, Pakistan might become the biggest exporter for Shariah compliant underwear.”

 

Via Roznama Jawani's Facebook page on the sub-page: Mankind-1 Fox News-0.

Fox Nation eventually realized their mistake (mental image of a flickering dim light bulb) and took the story down. But not before readers made a few more ignorant comments. Via Salon.com, one ‘louisiana_mom’ stated emphatically,

How can anyone in their right mind defend this religion/cult is beyond me. The silence of NOW and other women’s rights organizations speak volumes as to where their true loyalties are (and it is not for the rights for women). I cannot believe anyone in the 21st century would even entertain the thought of allowing Sharia Law into any Western county.

Oh dear God. Why are people so effing stupid?

I get it. Fox News is a joke of a news agency, so much so that they don’t even get jokes. But how hard is it to fact-check or even just click through a source’s website? If they did, they would even have seen this disclaimer:

The stories published in Roznama Jawani might only be applicable and true in another universe. That universe might be parallel to this universe. Might even be serial. Who knows?! Maybe some one does.

Roznama Jawani. Fox News approved.

(Thanks Misbah, aka, @miznaq for the story tip!)

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The WTF List

It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve gone WTF on a pretty daily basis. Here are a few reasons why:

WTF #1: The earthquake-cum-tsunami in Japan. This is more like a sad “what on earth is happening” WTF. An 8.9 magnitude earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in the country and one of the largest anywhere in the last century, hit today, causing a devastating tsunami that swept over cities and farmland in northern Japan. According to the NY Times, The Japanese government has put the official death toll at more than 300. So incredibly tragic. To donate $10 to the RedCross disaster relief efforts in Japan, you can text REDCROSS to 90999.

WTF #2: Several people have asked if I’d write a commentary on the GOP Rep. Peter King hearings on Muslim radicalization on Capitol Hill this week. Adam Serwer said it far better than I could when he wrote in the Washington Post, “The premise of the hearing was flawed from the beginning, focused broadly on the “Muslim community” rather than an infinite number of more specific issues related to domestic radicalization — and, as a result, it didn’t offer much in the way of policy guidance and left the impression that Muslims in America are an issue to be concerned about, rather than terrorism itself.” The hearings didn’t turn into an all-out witch hunt that some conservatives were secretly hoping for. For that I am glad. But I am probably most sad that my ammunition for ignorant conservatives – F**** Yeah Ordinary Muslim Guy – is no longer available. Sad Kalsoom. But for your pleasure, dear readers, I did dig up the meme I most enjoyed this week:

Does he look radical to YOU, King?! Huh!?

WTF #3: In apparent honor of International Women’s Day, Pakistani lawmaker Jam Tamachi Unar proposed a committee to stop the “mental torture” of men by women. I kid you not. Unar reportedly made the suggestion after the Sindh provincial assembly resolved to create a panel to investigate the torture of women in Pakistan’s rural areas. Although the lawmaker told the Associated Press later that he was only joking, (his joke, by the way, caused female lawmakers to chant “Shame!” and storm out of the Assembly), he did say it was the “bitter truth that the same way women are tortured in rural areas, men are the victims of mental torture in urban neighborhoods.” Well, Unar. Dude. Your wife may actually mentally torture you for that comment. [Thanks Katherine for the tip!]

WTF #4: WTFakmal. After a disastrous performance against New Zealand this week in the World Cup, news agencies report that Pakistani cricket players “are rallying around besieged wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal as he tries to rebuild his confidence.” Akmal has earned many nicknames, however, for dropping the ball (ha! Punny!) including but not limited to: the Maharajah of Missed Chances, the Don Corleone of Dropped Catches, the Earl of Err, the Pharaoh of Fumble, Lance Corporal Granite Hands, (via the Pakistan Cricket Forum). Other suggestions welcome.

WTF #5: Thanks to my friend Shaheryar, this song will haunt me in my dreams. Please enjoy the very unofficial song for the cricket World Cup, with the best lyrics EVER. #Winning.

 

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Source: The Economist

In a lecture in 2009, research economist Abid Ali Abid made a bold statement, noting that hardly any country has suffered more from the ‘brain drain’ than Pakistan. In 2008, All Things Pakistan cited a Gallup survey that found that 62 percent of adults surveyed “expressed the desire to migrate abroad while 38 percent said that they would prefer to settle outside permanently.” It’s an interesting debate, for sure. Below, Abdul Samad, a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, delves further into this topic:

The recent past has seen the emergence of a rather disturbing trend. Too often, the talented youth of Pakistan seek their fortunes in foreign lands, in their misguided belief that their country can give them anything but success. This trend, also known as brain drain, is robbing the nation of the next crop of engineers, doctors and economists. In the age of globalization and outsourcing, the West is able to attract the finest minds of the world with ease. This is partly due to the widely held belief that escaping the country is the ticket to prosperity and advancement in life. The one who escapes alive from all the violence and bloodshed has truly safeguarded his future. Visit the villages of Pakistan where poverty and unemployment have brought people to the brink of starvation. Meet the youth in such impoverished areas, and it is striking how badly they want to leave this country.

Is our country that dreadful that people will do almost anything to get a US visa? Is this why the Muslims of the subcontinent demanded a separate homeland, so that after 60 years of its creation escaping from it becomes the method of salvation in life?

The most ironic factor is that the very people who refuse to do any form of work in Pakistan end up getting jobs in restaurants and petrol pumps abroad. For them, just the fact that they get paid in dollars overrides all the relations and bonds they have left behind. Money transcends love. Money overpowers human morality, the innate goodness present in every one of us. By no means, is this a life of happiness. Not by a long shot. The soul is free where the heart is and that undoubtedly is in your homeland. Whatever one does in life, wherever one goes, it is not possible to forget the land that you were born in.

Pakistan has been defiled and tainted by the Western media, and we have come to be recognized as a country of marked people. Not a day goes by without mention of some bomb attack or a suicide bombing. Everything, at once, seems to be going horribly wrong. Ministers are killed in broad daylight; the country’s sovereignty is breached on a daily basis, starvation and suicides have risen meteorically and politicians continue to make a fool of themselves.

Amidst all this madness, it becomes easy to stop loving your country with the intensity that was seen at the time of Partition.

Let me give you my own example. I too went abroad, in the pursuit of education that I knew that even the finest institution in Pakistan could not offer. The opportunity was one that only a fool would reject. So I went. It can be said that you only come to recognize the value of your homeland when you are deprived of it. Although I was psychically distant from Pakistan, my heart was always there. Most people, after going abroad, tend to forget their origins.

Paradoxically, my appreciation only grew when I spent time studying abroad. No matter what happens, my love for my homeland and the inextricable bond with it would never diminish or fade away.

While the current plight of the country makes me sad, it bears telling that there is hope for the future. And it is this very hope that allows so many Pakistanis to wake up each day in the morning, ready to fight intolerance and extremism. If we were to work hard in our own country, and let go of the conviction that one should only work hard whilst abroad, the prospect of rapid change cannot be ruled out. This inexorable infatuation with the West needs to end, for even Pakistan can become the epitome of prosperity and development, but only if we are ready to change ourselves for the better.

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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Happy Women’s Day!

What's up, ladies of 1912?!

It’s International Women’s Day today and I know you, dear readers, have seen your fair share of I-am-woman-hear-me-roar posts on this blog and elsewhere.

Here’s another one.

When writing this piece, I thought hard about the spirit behind International Women’s Day. In 1911, when this day was first celebrated internationally, women in most countries could not yet vote. Today, one hundred years later, that has obviously changed, but we are still a far cry from “gender equality.” Every year, over 70 million girls are deprived of even a basic education. In the United States, one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

In Pakistan, the statistics are dismal, with the Madadgar Helpline Report revealing that a total of 4,870 cases of violence against women were registered by police last year, while the total number of cases reported since 2000 was 79,909.

And those are just the registered cases.

While this is a day to recognize the facts, it is also an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of both women and men who have campaigned tirelessly for gender empowerment and equality. In a TEDWomen talk in December, Feministing‘s Courtney Martin discussed the reinvention of feminism for our generation. Although the talk was based largely on her experiences – Martin was raised in a progressive family in the United States – she made several significant points, including, “We don’t want one hero, one icon, or one face.”

Just as gender “equality” can sometimes seem abstract, feminism is a very loaded term with different expressions within different cultures and societies. On her blog, Obama Says Do More, Rabayl noted, “Feminism is on a unique trajectory in Pakistan treading on many unchartered territories. Lots of exciting opinions are emerging in the public narratives that talk about the oft-neglected complexity surrounding the debate.” Martin, in her talk at TEDWomen, may have been speaking about feminism in the American context, but her point of us needing or celebrating multiple heroes rather than just one holds true in other societies as well, including our own.

Last December, I wrote a post entitled, “Snaps for the Sistas,” in which I detailed the Pakistani women who inspire me on a daily basis. In writing that piece, I realized not just how many incredible women there are in Pakistan, but how diverse they are. We have Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, a senior TED fellow, filmmaker, and president of the Citizens’ Archive of Pakistan. We have Asma Jahangir, the first female president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and a tireless campaigner for human rights in Pakistan. We have Roshaneh Zafar, the founder and head of the Kashf Foundation, Pakistan’s first microfinance institution supporting 305,938 families throughout the country.

There is no shortage of female heroes – from Naveen Naqvi and Sana Saleem, the co-founders of Gawaahi.com to MNA Asiya Nasir from Balochistan, the only minority legislator in the National Assembly who recently made a powerful speech after the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti. Many women in Pakistan today are not afforded opportunity, starting with even the most basic access to education. But for those of us who were the lucky ones, we can pay it forward. We can give voice to the voiceless. We can empower the powerless. And we can do that through collaboration and listening. (I know, this is so Sesame Street.)

And this is not a task that pertains only to women. Maria Toor, a squash player from South Waziristan, cut off her hair to disguise herself as a boy to play sports when she was younger. Her father was not only her biggest supporter, he moved the family to Peshawar so she could train and play more freely. On Think-Change Pakistan, Saba Gul, the founder of the social enterprise Business and Life Skills School (BLISS) shared how an Afghan girl, Azaada Khan, changed her name to Azaad (a boy’s name) to be able to attend school, how her father was murdered by the Taliban for his overt support for female education. In our flood relief campaign, Relief4Pakistan, we are working in southern Punjab with an incredible tribal leader, Wali Khan Mazari, who not only is an enormous proponent of girl’s education, his tribe banned the tradition of honor killing in his area. As women, we can and will campaign for the rights of women. But that campaign should also celebrate and include the men willing to aid in that fight, to help break down barriers. Remember, men. You can be feminists, too.

So, Happy International Women’s Day everyone, and snaps to the fabulous women that continue to make every Pakistani proud. Below, Daniel Craig (i.e., James Bond) & Judi Dench team up for the most awesome video related to IWD:

 

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