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Source: Associated Press

In India, Anna Hazare has sparked a movement. The 74 year old who the NY Times noted evokes a Gandhian simplicity, “has emerged as the unlikely face of an impassioned people’s movement in India, a public outpouring that has coalesced around fighting corruption but has also tapped into deeper anxieties in a society buffeted by change.” This past Tuesday, Hazare was arrested while he was on his way to a New Delhi park to begin a hunger strike to protest corruption in the country. The arrest drove hundreds of people to the streets, and though government officials moved to release him hours later, Hazare refused to leave until they agreed to release him unconditionally.

The Times quoted one rally attendee, who said, “It is the middle class who is worst affected by corruption. The upper class is not affected. The upper classes can get what they need by paying money.”

Hazare’s hunger strike hasn’t just inspired Indians, though. According to news agencies on Thursday, a Pakistani activist has decided to launch his own hunger strike against corruption in Pakistan. However, since the whole country is in fact hungry (*cough* fasting *cough*), Jahangir Akhtar has stated he will wait until the end of Ramazan to launch this protest. Good thinking, Akhtar. The political activist also emphasized that he wasn’t “inspired” by his Indian counterpart. Oh no. He decided to launch the strike first. Hazare just stole the spotlight. Akhtar told media outlets, “I announced my hunger strike before Anna Hazare, but due to Ramazan I postponed it, because our custom in Pakistan is that I cannot take water during Ramazan.” Ok.

I do not mean to be facetious. I actually admire people who use hunger strikes for the greater good. When I am hungry, I turn into a terrible, mean person. In fact, Hungry Kalsoom would actually scare any government official into throwing scraps of food in my direction, fearful of the monster that was unleashed. But as I read news of Akhtar taking up the hunger-strike-against-corruption banner Thursday, I question whether such a cause would resonate in Pakistan, at least to the extent that we saw with Hazare in India. Tom Wright noted in the Wall Street Journal,

Many Pakistanis, like their Indian neighbors, are tired of financial malfeasance from their politicians, armed forces and others. Yet civil society is much weaker over the border, and street protests other than those organized by Islamist parties are relatively rare. Mr. Akhtar’s quixotic campaign for now appears unlikely to garner much support.

While I disagree that civil society is necessarily weaker, (you have to spend a day in the same room with some of Pakistan’s most vibrant female activists to get my drift), I do think that issues in Pakistan are much deeper and bigger than corruption, at least for right now. Fatigue has seeped into the very fabric of our society. It’s not a question of Pakistanis protesting, but what they should be protesting first.

Via Twitter, a really interesting conversation developed on this very topic. @umairjav (who blogs at Recycled Thought) noted, “I still hold that it’s NOT as big an issue as the media makes it out to be…The world is full of examples of countries that experienced high rates of economic growth despite rampant corruption.” @FiveRupees (who blogs at…Five Rupees) further emphasized, “Overblown issue IMO[in my opinion]. Much bigger issues out there…When people look at “Asian tigers” (Korea, Taiwan, SE Asia etc) — they all went from poor to rich despite corruption.” @vijaygk made an important point when he tweeted, “Major difference is that hunger strikes, reminiscent of Gandhi/Satyagraha are not respected/invoke no memories in Pakistan…” Finally, @laalshah, countered, “I saw data collected by a friend recently; [Pakistan's] middle-class is as agitated as India’s by corruption issues…[the] corruption debate is basically disguised form of social inequality fears/concerns.”

The issue of perception is key here. Last year, Transparency International released their 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the degree to which public sector corruption is perceived to exist in 178 countries around the world. Corruption, according to TI, is defined “as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain,” encompassing practices in both the public and private sectors. The CPI scores countries on a scale from 10 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). On the 2010 index, India ranked 87 out of 178 surveyed countries (the higher the number, the more corrupt you are). Pakistan ranked 143rd.

Last year I wrote about the perceptions behind the Perceptions Index, noting: The interesting part of the index is that it quantifies perceived corruption rather than the tangible occurrence of corrupt practices. According to Transparency International, this is “because corruption – whether frequency or amount – is to a great extent a hidden activity that is difficult to measure.” The organization added in its report, “Measuring scandals, investigations or prosecutions, while offering ‘non-perception’ data, reflect less on the prevalence of corruption in a country and more on other  factors, such as freedom of the press or the efficiency of the judicial system.”

Although the CPI doesn’t measure citizen perceptions of corruption, TI’s Robin Hodess noted there is a close correlation between public attitudes (measured by their Global Corruption Barometer) and the index. For the purpose of Pakistan, I went back to the most recent Pew poll released in July [it should be noted that this wasn't some scientific comparison]. According to the poll, 74% of Pakistanis polled say corrupt political leaders “are a very big problem,” compared to 71% last year, 64% in 2007, and 58% in 2002.

This past year, I participated in a working group on Entrepreneurship in the “Islamic World” during the U.S.-Islamic World Forum. One attendee, a Tanzanian businessman, discussed how the issue of corruption – specifically petty corruption (low-level, small-scale practices), was so intrinsically part of these societies that organizations incorporate them into the realities of doing business – terming them “transaction costs.” This is obviously unfortunate, but that reality will not change until the attitudes associated with corruption are addressed. And there have been concerted attempts – the Punjab Model for Proactive Governance is a recent initiative by the Punjab Chief Minister’s Secretariat “to fight petty corruption, improve service delivery, and facilitate citizen engagement by proactively seeking through SMS and calls feedback of citizens who receive day-to-day government services.” Introducing accountability is key; but corruption is not just a low-level phenomenon. But as the aforementioned Twitter people noted, is corruption itself a hindrance to the progress of this society, or do we have much bigger issues to tackle first? And, as a result, will that be why we will not see a Hazare movement in Pakistan?

Via mydiaryblogsite.blogpost.com

Happy Independence Day, Pakistan! 64 years after this country was born, and we face numerous obstacles & challenges (understatement of the year?). And yet, for those of us who continue to work tirelessly for the betterment of Pakistan, hope has waned but it is not lost. At least, anyway, for me. Below, Aamer Arshad, who works in energy finance in the U.S. but was born-and-raised in Karachi, shares his thoughts on this day:

This past Sunday marked 64 years since the creation of Pakistan through the vision and dedication of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Having lived in America for over a decade now and visiting Pakistan regularly, I find myself drawing parallels between my two nations. I was born and raised in Pakistan, but I married and settled in America. Living in relative calm here in my new nation, I ache for those left behind in the panic-stricken being that is life in Pakistan. Reading the news of both countries each morning, I find both disheartening. But the stark parallel is ‘to what extreme?’

A word that has become mantra in Pakistan is “desensitized”. Apparently, we are no longer sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. I am told we do not feel any remorse when we see carnage ripping through our cities. They say we are accustomed to the blood that spatters our paths. Some blame the media for lambasting us with horrific scenes of butchery. Others say we are ravenous for the macabre. A guilty pleasure?

I disagree. I have spent time with Pakistanis from all walks of life. There are the haves and the have-nots, those that have-way-too-much, and those who have-nothing-at-all. These people walk very different paths and their paths drift further by the day. They are on opposite sides of the ideological divide that rips Jinnah’s Pakistan apart. But they have in common their propensity to feel. We need to show that we feel. We need outrage to engulf us every time we see the innocent massacred. We need our voices to become the wrath against this sadistic pastime. If, in fact, we are desensitized to everything that is transpiring around us, we need to change this now.

In America, seldom do we see grisly images on T.V. without a disclaimer advising viewer discretion. It is no surprise that Americans seem to be deeply affected by tragedy or misfortune. Memorials abound of calamity that happened eons ago. Vigils take place on the anniversary of each life lost. Moments of silence occur often enough to make it a quiet day. It is this remembrance of what is wrong that gives Americans the will to make it right. We need the same in Pakistan.

It is this rejection of injustice that will be our shield. It is the memory of bloodshed- that will be our sword. And it is the intolerance of brutality that will be our mandate to act against the senseless butchery that plagues our nation. We need to keep ourselves and our youth from being inundated with the godless mess that flashes across our screens every day. Those who say this is how we face reality – tell them that they are desensitizing themselves and their future generations. Pakistanis to come should be outraged by the mere mention of injustice; our memories should serve as their barrier against wrong; and they should be riled by abuse, as their American cousins will be.

I hear that Pakistan will never change. The ordinary wisdom is that our leaders will remain of the same cadre and demographic for ever. People say a common man can never be at the helm of Pakistan. This may be true today. But one of our strengths as Pakistanis is fast becoming our weakness; our capacity to endure calamity and persevere; our nonchalance towards the injustice that we face. We must not turn the other cheek. We must learn to feel cheated, robbed and raped. We must stand against the violation of our human and civic rights. And we must bring about change.

Just over 70 years after American Independence, this nation fought a bloody civil war that changed its face forever. Pakistan is still a very young nation. Let us change our posture before we instigate a war that will bring about our ruin. There are very few people who can single-handedly change the course of a nation. Let us focus our efforts to the future and give rise to a generation that will remember our struggles and never bow in the face of oppression.

Yom-e-Istaqlal Mubarak!

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.

Via AfPak/FP

For those of us on the outside looking in, Karachi’s violence seems exceedingly complex. I’m often left perpetually confused. But last October, journalist Huma Yusuf told me that the mechanics of the conflict are often the same – ethnically driven conflict over turf and power in the city. As we continue to delve into the underlying causes of each upsurge in violence, we observe this same pattern in different iterations. In a modest effort to break down the most recent conflict, in which more than 700 have been killed so far, 200 in the last month alone, I give you Karachi Violence FAQs Part III (Click here to see Part I, and here to see Part II).

FAQ: Who are the main parties in this conflict and how did it escalate out of control?

In Karachi Violence 101, which I wrote back in January 2010 [Note: this is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the violence over the past year, just a summary of what we've covered on CHUP], the main players in the conflict were workers or gang members associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the political party which controls Karachi, and the Pakistan People’s Party, (PPP), who were then vying for control over land. Violence at the time was concentrated in Lyari Town in Karachi.

In October 2010, (see Karachi Violence 102) – tensions between the MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP) had spilled over in part because of the assassination of MQM’s Raza Haider and the subsequent by-election to replace his then-vacant seat. Violence and tensions were then concentrated in Orangi Town, one of Karachi’s largest and poorest slums, where the MQM had held the provincial seat since 1988 but where it was also considered the “tensest district divided between Mohajirs and Pathans,” noted Yusuf. So, again. Turf/Power = Violence [simplistic version].

In the most recent conflict, violence erupted after the murder of an ANP activist triggered an all-out war between the party and the MQM, noted Shaheryar Mirza in Caravan Magazine‘s “Karachi’s Turf Wars” (a must-read). The killings were once again first concentrated in Orangi, and became so escalated that media outlets called July, “the deadliest month in almost two decades.” (Although some sources claim the number was more than 200 killed, other outlets say it was upwards of 300.) On Tuesday, news agencies reported that in 24 hours, 26 people were killed, of which 18 were victims of targeted killings.

FAQ: So the violence this time around is between the MQM and the ANP, but where does the PPP stand in the conflict?

As with many of Karachi’s past escalations in violence, all three parties in the PPP-MQM-ANP trifecta appear to have some role in each iteration of the cycle. Last month, Sindh Minster and PPP member Zulfiqar Mirza caused an uproar after he made provocative remarks against the MQM’s Altaf Hussain, calling the leader of a breakaway MQM [MQM(H)], “the true leader of the Muhajirs” while accusing the main MQM of trying to divide Sindh. He further stated, “I call upon the people of Karachi and Hyderabad to get rid of these lowlifes.” The Express Tribune reported, “Mirza’s rant sparked an almost instant outburst of violent protests throughout Karachi, with aerial gunfire heard in nearly every part of the city.”

But wait. There’s more on the PPP dynamic in this conflict.

During a brief period between June and July, Sindh’s “longest-serving” Governor Ishratul Ibad resigned from office, after the MQM pulled out of the ruling coalition in protest over the postponement of elections of two Karachi seats in the Azad Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly.  In the Friday Times, Ali K. Chishti wrote,

During the brief period in which the Sindh governor was away, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) undid the Local Governments Ordinance of 2001 and revived the 1979 Local Bodies Ordinance, restoring the magistrate system to manage the districts through commissioners and deputy commissioners.

Chishti added, “The PPP, which represents rural Sindh, wants to consolidate its position in the cities against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which represents urban Sindh.” Fellow blogger Umair Javed, on the tense MQM-PPP dynamic, wrote, “Those of you who’ve been following PPP-MQM relations over the last few years would know that agreeing on a time line for local government elections has remained a major thorn for the coalition,” [read the rest of his post to learn more].

So, incendiary remarks by a PPP member (though other party members distanced themselves immediately), and tensions surrounding the local government issue – both factors that make the conflict all the more exacerbated and intense. In regard to the current violence, the ruling party – the PPP – have  been watching from the sidelines this increasing breakdown of law and order. Bilal Baloch wrote last month for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel,

The dilemma is thus: How should the government respond effectively and objectively to the violence when it is the very political actors tasked with governing and solving Karachi’s problems that are themselves protagonists of the quagmire? When the workers and supporters of the MQM and ANP… are slaughtering one another, who should the ruling partner PPP, crack down on? They could move against the ANP, but this would effectively lead their government to collapse. Perhaps the government could use their iron fists against the MQM, but battering this powerful party, long the overlords of Karachi, traditionally results in political suicide.

Just this past week, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters, “We will take every possible action to restore peace in Karachi,” adding that results of the government’s action will be visible soon. In the meantime, calls for peace by the government and political parties have so far fallen on deaf ears. Finally, on Tuesday, the Pakistani government “authorized paramilitary forces to conduct raids in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods to try to restore order,” reported the NY Times.

FAQ: Calling in the [paramilitary] troops? What does that mean, exactly?

This is not the first time the government has called in the Rangers to curb the violence, nor is it the first time that the political parties involved in the conflict have asked for these forces to be deployed, [Ahsan from Five Rupees questions how the MQM could even do that in this post]. Back in January 2010, a journalist source told me, “The rangers that have been sent in with the police won’t make much of a difference, particularly since the police is politicized and doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the city government. Dawn‘s Huma Yusuf noted last year, “…the MQM’s request for the Rangers, the army and intelligence agencies to maintain law and order in the city is akin to slapping a band-aid on a deep, infected wound.”

Interesting how history repeats itself, don’t you think? Or how I can cite analysis and statements made a year and a half ago during a different iteration of the violence and it still holds true today?

In terms of the role of the police in the situation, Baloch wrote in another AfPak piece this week, “Yet it is not the police themselves who are entirely to blame for the breakdown of law and order, but rather a system whereby politicians are able to use the police according to their whims…A revolution in police affairs needs to take place with regards to the relationship between the police and the province’s politicians.”

All of this further emphasizes how violence continues to be used as a political tool for intimidation and power. Mirza noted in the aforementioned Caravan piece how both parties take advantage of this, but the MQM tends to have the upper hand, particularly since they are more media savvy than their counterparts and can therefore demonize the other side more aptly.

FAQ: Amid the escalating violence, is there a potential solution?

So far, we have seen temporary solutions to a very endemic problem, a problem that is far too complex to be linear, far too brutal to be easily forgotten. The call for the Army and Rangers may quell the violence temporarily, but it is only a matter of time before Karachi erupts once again. A truce among the parties may also soon occur, but this also appears to be a short-term concession rather than a long-term solution.

On Monday, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urged in a statement, “While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order…they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups, and it is they who hold the key to peace.”

As Karachi continues to burn, Shaheryar Mirza noted poignantly, “Land is priceless in this growing metropolis, but lives have become increasingly worthless.”

Here’s praying for you, Karachi. 

(Source: ETrib) #BBZ4Prez #ThatSoundsLikeaRapSong #HisCampaignShouldbeinTwitterHashtags #LOLZ

Disclaimer: For the PPP jiyalas who get supremely offended by all posts barely criticizing their political party, the Bhuttos, and related offspring, take a deep, deep, deeeeeeeep breath…

Last week, the Chairman of the PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari joined Twitter! This was apparently quite newsworthy, so much so that the Express Tribune reported, “The first tweet by Bilawal, whose handle is @BBhuttoZardari, read: @AseefaBZ how do i fix my profile picture so our faces aren’t cut off?

Yes, this was news! BBZ is on Twitter! He’s just like us! Tweeting about inane things like profile photos and reading the newspaper! And like other political counterparts, he can now connect to…0.01% of Pakistan’s masses! Party of the people, I tell ya.

Are you still breathing deeply, PPP supporters? I’m just being facetious! Ha, ha! (Please don’t come at me with virtual pitch forks! Ah! Dementors!)

Twitter can be quite useful, particularly when news agencies report that the heir to the Bhutto throne (just kidding, jiyalas! I meant the Chosen One! Stupefy! Hee!) will be contesting the general elections from the PPP’s stronghold of Lyari, in Karachi. Bilawal’s father, President Zardari made the announcement Monday while speaking to former party activists and MNAs, stating, “Bilawal is your future MNA and despite being away he is keenly monitoring developments in Lyari.” Dawn reported,

According to sources, President Zardari asked National Database and Registration Authority officials to devise a programme for Bilawal Bhutto for his interaction with the people of Lyari so that he could track events and developments in the area from London. The president said that PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto was keen to see Lyari become a thriving and vibrant place, free from acrimony and criminals, the sources added.

Does the programme involve Skype? Google + hangout sessions with Lyari’s best & brightest gangsters? According to the Nation, “Bilawal would come to Pakistan in September this year and thereafter will remain in contact with the people and elected representatives of Lyari by holding regular meetings. He would also oversee the development projects and other matters related to the neighborhood.”

But despite news agencies’ claims that BBZ would contest the upcoming elections (in 2013), he, via Twitter, clarified, “Took my first breath in Lyari. special place in my heart for Lyari. want so much more 4 Lyari. Still not running in next election.” (TGFT – Thank God For Twitter.)

Back in April, Saba Imtiaz cited PPP leaders in an article for the Express Tribune, who said Bilawal “will not be jumping headfirst into politics and will first learn the workings of the party inside-out.” And although BBZ will take on some “political responsibility” in September [see above], MNA Farahnaz Ispahani told Imtiaz that PPP’s General Secretary Jahangir Badar “will take Bilawal under his wing and he will be working with senior provincial leaders, such as current Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah.” She added,

Bilawal has specifically expressed interest in the party’s youth wing, which was very dear to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. He will be looking into modernizing the Peoples Youth Organisation, and bringing in new ideas, media technology etc. through intellectual and practical exercises.

Imtiaz in her piece, projected, “By working with the youth wing, Bilawal could possibly galvanize young voters and Bhutto family loyalists.” This move could also allow BBZ to build up momentum, earn credibility, and “learn the ropes” of the political world before he contests the elections in Lyari, not because the party ultimately fears losing the area – which has been a PPP stronghold since 1967 – but potentially because they want to show that Bilawal earned his political power.

And herein lies the irony. Can you truly earn what was already entitled to you? Don’t get me wrong – in many ways, I appreciate that Bilawal isn’t contesting the elections in 2013 just because he can. He’s not just being thrust into power prematurely. However, much of this still sits uncomfortably within the parameters of dynastic politics. This is therefore still a symptom of a much larger problem with politics and leadership in Pakistan, which is and has historically been personality-based. But given that this is our current reality – do we accept this as a given and appreciate efforts by the PPP to groom a leader rather than usher a child into the political ring? At what point will we feel that BBZ earned his political badge?

Mumbai Blasts Coverage

Via NY Times.

There were three blasts in Mumbai today during rush hour today, reportedly hitting Dadar, Opera House and Zaveri Bazar areas. According to the Guardian’s live updates, “There were no confirmed numbers of fatalities or injuries but NDTV quoted reports saying 10 people have been killed,” while the Indian Home Secretary says over 60 people have been injured. The numbers are likely to rise. Although BBC News reported, “The blasts coincide with the birthday of Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed nearly 170 people,” this is untrue. Kasab’s birthday is in September (!).

There is no news yet on who perpetrated the blasts, but according to NDTV, this was confirmed as a terrorist attack. At this time, a lot of people like to perpetuate rumors. I’ll be following news outlets and journalists on my Twitter timeline and keep this space updated. Our prayers go out to those in Mumbai.

UPDATE 1100 EST: NDTV reports Mumbai police & the Home Ministry suspect the Indian Mujahideen. NDTV is now discussing the areas were targeting, noting that the three areas were all very crowded and the “near-simultaneous” attacks occurred at a time at a busy time (7:00 pm IST). Al Jazeera noted that this attack occurred just a few days after the anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

UPDATE 1110 EST: Friends in Mumbai, for places to stay, people needing rides, and medical care, see this spreadsheet. The Guardian cited Maseeh Rahman who told the news agency,

The home ministry said it’s a terrorist attack and has rushed three teams from the newly-created National Intelligence Agency to Mumbai, including forensic experts.

Most people were injured at Zaveri Bazaar, where Mumbai’s bullion traders and jewelry shops are located, and at Opera House, where diamond exporters have their offices and workshops.

Zaveri Bazaar is close to the city police headquarters, and has been bombed by terrorists twice in the past – in 1993 and in 2002. This time the improvised explosive device was placed inside an electrical meter box.

The third blast was near Dadar Railway Station in central Mumbai at a road intersection known as Kabutar Khana (Pigeon House), where devout Hindus come to feed the city’s pigeons.

UPDATE 1120 EST: Via the Express Tribune, the MP of South Mumbai tells NDTV – avoid rumor mongering, avoid messages that spread communal discontent. NDTV also says that an IED has been found hidden in an umbrella. The Home Minister says that the official casualty account is 10 dead, 54 admitted to hospital [i.e., injured]. Two teams from Delhi and Hyderabad have been dispatched to Mumbai, which has been put on high alert. The Home Minister is appealing for calm.

UPDATE 1142 EST: Death toll has risen to 13. Crowd management, according to Al Jazeera English, is an issue and an impediment to rescue work. The most intense blast was at the Opera House. Officials are urging people to remain calm to facilitate in these efforts. NDTV spoke to Prithviraj Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra, home of Mumbai, who said the number injured is now 83 . He also did not want to comment on who the perpetrators of the blast are – saying instead that their first priority is to help people in need.

UPDATE 1155 EST: 13 people killed, 81 people injured is latest count, via NDTV. All three blasts were caused by IEDs. Via the WSJ, “Vikas Mahekar, a member of the Maharashtra nationalist group the Shiv Sena, in Colaba: “We immensely condemn the attacks…All these talks of a safer Mumbai is just an eye wash. The reality is out for everyone to see today.” Because of the low-intensity of the blasts, hope the toll will stay relatively low: NDTV (Strongest was at Opera House, where the IED was hidden in an umbrella).

UPDATE 1205 EST: Via the Guardian updates, “NDTV is reporting that two members of the Indian Mujahideen, who have been blamed by Mumbai police for the attacks, were arrested in the city yesterday.” Again, remember that Indian officials are not commenting on who committed the attacks.

Via Channel 4, here is a map of the blast locations:

UPDATE 1210 EST: Via Twitter, @AnandWrites has created a crisis crowdmap post-attack. Here it is.

UPDATE 1330 EST: NDTV keeps speaking to eyewitnesses, who basically discuss the chaos and the blood that was “everywhere.” Via the WSJ, “News channel NDTV says police are already looking at footage from a CCTV near the bus stop in the Dadar area and another in the Opera House area.” Death toll has risen to 21, 120 injured. According to NDTV, the leads are “currently very sketchy.” According to the Home Minister, all of the injured have been taken to hospitals. The blasts occurred at 6:45 pm IST, within minutes of each other, therefore allowing officials to conclude that attacks were coordinated.

UPDATE 1630 EST: (Last one of the day) Death toll: 21 dead, 141 injured.

The Palestyle Clutch (Source: Fashion Compassion)

When was the last time you looked down at your trendy-but-questionable harem pants and asked yourself, “Where did these come from?” No, they did not claw its way out of the ’90s, fresh from an MC Hammer video, as much as your friends might like to tell you (don’t worry, they’re just jealous). Aladdin didn’t call, asking for his pants back (honestly, you might need new friends). No, harem-pants person. Those pants were the result of a long and complex value chain, and in some instances, players (often the people making the garments in countries like Bangladesh or Pakistan), were exploited in the process. The ethical fashion movement aims to address and remedy some of these issues – many labels using fair trade or ethical practices or producing eco-friendly products. Ayesha Mustafa is the Pakistani founder of Fashion ComPassion, a UK-based ethical online retailer that markets socially responsible luxury brands. In the eight months since Fashion ComPassion was established, she has worked with companies like Polly & Me (with Chitrali women in Pakistan), Palestyle (with Palestinian refugee women), and Beshtar (Afghanistan). Below, she tell us more about her organization:

Q: What inspired you to establish Fashion ComPassion? How did your past interests or background converge for the creation of this innovative organization?

Fashion and giving back to society have been my two biggest passions and Fashion ComPassion is a combination of the two. I had been toying with the idea of creating my own fashion company for awhile, and just decided I needed to make that call and switch careers.

Growing up in Pakistan and the Middle East where one sees discrepancies in wealth, poverty, and a lack of opportunities for girls and women, I wanted to create a platform that could directly support the most marginalized. I also interned at Grameen Bank when I was 17 and saw the transformational impact it had on women, their families and society. This stayed with me and throughout my life, I have worked and volunteered with organizations that supported women causes/rights.

Q: Fashion ComPassion currently supports four labels with four different influences – Polly & Me from Pakistan, Palestyle that empowers Palestinian refugee women, Beshtar from Afghanistan, and Savannah Chic, which is designed by African artists. How did you go about forming these partnerships and did you initially want Fashion ComPassion to be global in scope?

The mandate of the company is to create a platform for women artisans in the developing world, i.e Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, so from the onset I wanted it to be global but focus on countries that are war-torn and where there is a real need to help and empower women. I started with a vision document about the company and first i approached Polly & Me, and the rest just fell into place with research and referrals from friends and family.

Currently, I have added new brands in the portfolio: (1) Bhalo is a limited edition clothing and accessories label that works with women in Bangladesh. The products are made from ethically hand woven and naturally dyed cottons and silks. Bhalo works with two fair trade organizations, and provides employment, healthcare, child care to women who otherwise would not be employed due to mass production. Bhalo works with the same fair trade organization as People Tree. (2) Lost City is a NY label that works with artisans in Lucknow, India to revive their traditional craftsmanship with contemporary style.

I am no longer working with Polly & Me and Savannah Chic at the moment and in the midst of creating a new online website for the garments and goods.

Q: According to your philosophy, “Not only do we source responsibly from brands that contribute to society and empower women, our aim is to also donate a percentage of our sales to charities that support marginalized women in various communities around the world…” How does Fashion ComPassion do the due diligence in ensuring their brands empower women? What charities do you currently support?

We have strict criteria when we look at brands to partner with and support. Some of the things we look at are:

  1. Why was the company formed? Was it created to address a social problem, and what is the mission or mandate of the company?
  2. Does it have a strong social development ethos?
  3. How is fashion and social development combined to form the label?
  4. Does the brand work or partner with any local fair trade or women right organizations?
  5. How are the artisans paid?
  6. What are their working conditions?
  7. Are the artisans trained and given creative guidance?
  8. Are they given any other assistance in terms of health care or child care?
  9. Does the label support the community and give a certain percentage back?
  10. Can the label provide evidence and documents to support how they are helping and empowering the women they work with?

Fashion ComPassion is also committed to give back 2% of its annual profits to various women organizations that are fostering positive change and impact on women. I am looking at three at the moment, but since I am part of Women for Women International’s Junior Leadership circle, I would like to help with one of the countries they are setting up a Country Office in or a project they are focusing on.

Q: Where do you see Fashion ComPassion in the next year? In the next five years?

In the coming year, I would like to build greater awareness of Fashion ComPassion and its brands by focusing on various events and collaborations with organizations that have a similar mandate. The new website will be launched with an online shop which will allow customers to buy products directly. I am also looking at pop up stores to sell some of the brands.

In the long term, because my biggest industry inspiration is Joan Burstein, the founder of Browns, I want to make Fashion ComPassion follow Brown’s footsteps and be the one-stop shop for high-end and unique ethical fashion.

Q: The convergence of fashion and social impact is a really fascinating marriage right now with organizations like Elvis & Kresse and Goodone, which supply ethical and eco-friendly clothing to fashion stores. In the value chain, how does Fashion ComPassion market these brands to the larger or more mainstream markets?

Fashion ComPassion’s purpose is to bring together high-end socially responsible brands from the developing world and create a market for it in the UK and other countries like the US. We are starting with an online website that will sell to customers globally, we also organize events at galleries, boutiques, and form partnerships with other ethical fashion brands and women organizations. We have also taken part in fashion shows and plan to be part of trade shows for ethical fashion. With time, we plan to supply our brands to other online fashion sites in the U.S. and ethical fashion boutiques there.

Q: What has been the reaction so far to Fashion ComPassion? What has been your biggest success and failure so far?

The reaction so far has been phenomenal. I honestly didn’t except such a positive response from customers, press, retailers and other individuals. I think I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have had it not been for the help and support of numerous people that have believed in me and the company.

The Beshtar Burqa Dress (Source: Fashion ComPassion)

My biggest success was when Beshtar’s Burqa Dress was one of the pieces of Vogue’s Green Carpet Challenge. In less than three months since I started the company, the dress was included in this prestigious selection which included some of the most well-known designers that are working on their ethical lines.

I wouldn’t call it a failure but not being able to find the right socially responsible brand from Pakistan that I can work with and make a name for in the UK. This is something that I am researching and have talked to various individuals in Pakistan both in social development and fashion. I hope that very soon, I can get a brand from my own country and create a positive image of Pakistan through fashion.

You can become a learn more about Fashion ComPassion by visiting their website or joining their Facebook page

Via NY Times.

Everyone is weighing in on the news that the U.S. is halting hundreds of millions of dollars (basically, a lot of zeroes) in military aid to Pakistan. According to news agencies, about $800 million in military aid and equipment - over one-third of the more than $2 billion in annual American security assistance to Pakistan – could be affected. The NY Times noted in its coverage, “This aid includes about $300 million to reimburse Pakistan for some of the costs of deploying more than 100,000 soldiers along the Afghan border to combat terrorism, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in training assistance and military hardware…”

Given the spiraling relations between the U.S. and Pakistan in recent months, this news is not all together surprising. But it still is a pretty significant public move by Washington. Cue reactions. India – not surprisingly – welcomed the development, saying “a heavy presence of arms would have disturbed the equilibrium in the region.” Pakistan – via Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas – essentially stated, “We didn’t need yo money, anyway!” (His actual statement: “We can conduct our operations without external support.” But you get my gist.) The U.S. Ambassador to India, Thomas Pickering, made this point,

We tend to need Pakistan more than Pakistan needs us. That’s the current dilemma, because in many ways the United States is utterly dependent on Pakistan for logistical access to Afghanistan. In some respects this situation is paradoxical, because in my own view the United States is in Afghanistan more to avoid destabilizing Pakistan than for almost any other reason.

Hmm. In The AtlanticSteve Clemons makes a similar point:

…The raw truth is that America has no real choice but to remain engaged with Pakistan — but this can’t be a binary arrangement in which Pakistan extorts and the US turns a blind eye to Pakistan’s role empowering rogue regimes and animating some of the world’s worst transnational terrorists.  Slow disengagement, a decrease in financial support (as the US has just done) — though not a full suspension — some arm-twisting of its patrons like China and Saudi Arabia and some strategic clarity in the Obama administration on what the real prize here is — which is a less psychotic Pakistan…

 Jeffrey Goldberg (also for The Atlantic) believes that humiliating Pakistan is not a good policy, noting, “It seems that it would be more in the American self-interest to speak quietly to Pakistan at moments like this, rather than to deliver a public spanking.” He added, “I will make a bold prediction: Six months or a year from now, we will look back on the withholding of aid as a failure of policy.”

What do you think? First, remember that U.S. civilian aid to Pakistan has not been impacted. Second, from a strategic perspective, the U.S. cannot afford to turn off all military aid to Pakistan, particularly given their presence in Afghanistan. It’s just not going to happen. They are, however, halting just enough to make a statement – both to the American public as well as to Pakistan. But in the grander scheme, will this move impact the chess game that is U.S.-Pakistan relations? Ayesha Siddiqa told Reuters, “America understands that Pakistan needs money. Pakistan is insolvent. It cannot disengage (from the United States), so eventually it will turn around.”

So based on the punditry and statements, here’s what we have: the U.S. knows they can’t fully cut off Pakistan. Pakistan knows that the U.S. knows this. Pakistan knows they can’t fully disengage from their relations with the U.S. The U.S. also knows that Pakistan knows this. So both know stuff that the other knows they know. 

If you’re like me, your head hurts right now too.

But because I’m a fan of comedians-who-are-better-pundits-than-actual-pundits, here’s a good breakdown of the situation by Stephen Colbert (barring the fact that the “terrorist”  in the clip sounds more Mexican than Pakistani):

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