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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?

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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.

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The WTF List

LOLCat says WTF.

 It’s Friday, (ok fine, early morning Saturday), so I thought it was high-time for some recent WTF-worthy stories:

  1. WTF #1: Wikileaks has partnered with Dawn Newspaper, India’s NDTV and the Hindu to release a new round of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. Yikes. According to the cables, in 2008, COAS Gen. Ashfaq Kayani asked the U.S. to increase “Predator coverage” in South Waziristan to support Pakistan’s military operations in the tribal agency. Yes. He meant the drones. According to Dawn, which cited a report of a meeting between US CENTCOM Commander Admiral William J. Fallon and Kayani, Fallon “regretted that he did not have the assets to support this request” but said trained US Marines to could coordinate air strikes for Pakistani forces on ground. Kayani then “‘demurred’ on the offer, pointing out that having US soldiers on ground ‘would not be politically acceptable.'” Uh yeah.
  2. WTF #2: Also revealed via Wikileaks, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad recommended an increase in American military aid to Pakistan to address their “conventional disadvantage vis-a-vis India” in order to secure its cooperation in the war on terror. A year after the Mumbai attacks. Awkward.
  3. WTF #3: Meera strikes again! Our favorite Pakistani Lollywood actress and “layer” stars in a new reality show that premiered last night on Geo’s Entertainment channel. In Kaun Banega Meera Pati, aka the Pakistani Bachelorette, Meera will choose her future hubby from 13 candidates, and will reportedly get married by the 26th episode. I don’t know what’s worse – that there’s now a desi version of the Bachelorette (shoot me now), or that viewers have to wait 26 stupid episodes to watch Meera’s shaadi. Oh no jaani no.
  4. WTF #4: Former IMF managing director (and alleged rapist) Dominique Strauss-Kahn was released from jail Friday after posting a $1 million bail and a $5 million bond. According to the NY Times, “He was taken to 71 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, a building that has rental apartments but is a bit of a comedown from the deluxe accommodations he had expected.” Here’s what I think – who gives an F what Strauss-Kahn thinks? The dude is an alleged rapist, a pervert, and a creep. His residence should be behind bars.
  5. WTF #5: Apparently the world is supposed to end today (May 21). Harold Camping’s prediction that Rapture (Judgment Day) would be May 21, 2011 has received unprecedented publicity and has led to a number of doomsday parties, entrepreneurs offering post-Rapture services, jokes, and heated debates on American news channels. And here I thought that Rapture was a new night club that just opened. Had I realized earlier, I would have eaten that damn cheeseburger at lunch. Sad Kalsoom.

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"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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The Indo-Pak (Tennis) Express

Wheee! Friends!

Last year, I blogged about Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi, a Pakistani tennis player who played at last year’s Wimbledon with an Indian partner, Prakash Armitraj. The pair didn’t go very far into the competition, but their partnership sparked headlines and media attention, with Dawn noting, “The pair believe their tennis doubles partnership shows sport can transcend the boundaries between people — and say the warm response to their joining forces shows how the situation has shifted in recent years.”

This year, at the U.S. Open, Qureshi has partnered with another Indian player – Rohan Bopanna – and the pair has been subsequently dubbed the “Indo-Pak Express.” The Star Ledger (via Sepia Mutiny) noted in its coverage,

Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi looked around the perimeter of the court Tuesday and saw what he’d hoped for. They were sitting together. Pakistanis and Indians, blurred along the bleachers, one just like the other. They were clapping for the same thing. Cheering in unison…“There was a lot of Pakistanis and Indians in the crowd cheering for us,” Qureshi said. “And you couldn’t tell the difference, who was Pakistani and who was Indian, they were all mixed together and supporting the same team.”

Bopanna and Qureshi also teamed up for this year’s Wimbledon warm-ups, declaring, “Stop War Start Tennis.” 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.”

Qureshi is no stranger to tennis diplomacy. During the 2002 U.S. Open, he partnered with Amir Hadad, an Israeli tennis player. Although the partnership was denounced by the Pakistani tennis federation, who banned him from the Davis Cup, the pair were awarded the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year award for continuing to play together despite pressures from both communities. This year, the Indo-Pak Express has played extremely well and will play in the men’s doubles quarterfinals today. Qureshi has also advanced to the mixed doubles quarterfinal with partner Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic, (update: he just reached the finals Tuesday, noted Dawn, the first Pakistani to qualify for the final of any Grand Slam competition!).

Pakistan’s cricket team – what with their spot-fixing, match-fixing, [insert-here]-fixing – have disappointed us time and time again. Qureshi, in comparison, is pretty damn refreshing and inspirational. And frankly, between the Qureshi-Bopanna partnership and the Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik love story, I’d take the former any day. More tennis diplomacy, if you please.

(Shout-out to Ramez for the tip. Thanks!)

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Tere Bin…Laden

It’s official. Bollywood’s releasing a new film this weekend. But given that the Indian film industry releases the largest number of movies in the world (about a 1000 a year, according to some sources), this isn’t really news.

Except when the film in question is called Tere Bin Laden and it stars Pakistani crossover/pop star Ali Zafar. According to The News’ Instep magazine this past Sunday,

It’s a big, big, scratch that, huge deal to see a Pakistani star promoted this way in India…Indeed, if Tere Bin Laden turns into a box office smash, Ali Zafar will reach a level of stardom hitherto unprecedented in our industry and he will also become a one of a kind phenomenon in Bollywood…After all, which actor does Bollywood have who can act, dance and sing his own songs? The answer is none. Ali Zafar is a rare breed.

Yeah! Take that, Bollywood! Billie Jean is not your lova!

Seriously, though, the film is garnering major buzz (and tweets), and is described as “a tongue-in-cheek comedy about an ambitious young news reporter from Pakistan who is desperate to migrate to the U.S. in pursuit of the American dream.” When the journalist comes across an Osama bin Laden look alike, he decides produce a fake Osama video “and sell it to news channels,” leading to serious ramifications.

Director Abishek Sharma told Reuters, “The film looks to give a fresh perspective to the repercussions of 9/11 that a lot of people are facing but…through humor.” Zafar, in his interview with Instep writer Muniba Kamal, noted, “I knew that I didn’t want to do a typical Bollywood film with romancing a girl around trees. I didn’t want to play second lead in any film and when I was offered the script, I read it and I could see myself doing it. It’s very funny. I think I suit the role.”

Comedy or not, producers are opting to shorten the film title to Tere Bin when it’s released in Pakistan, “so as not to draw the ire of militant Pakistani Islamists,” noted the Wall Street Journal.

Me thinks said militant Pakistani Islamists may be “ired” anyway, seeing as how they probably watch television and know the real name is actually Tere bin Laden. But I digress.

What is great about a film like Tere Bin (Laden) is that it doesn’t really have to stretch the truth to be funny or satirical. Because these days, you just can’t make up some of the stuff in the news. For example:

  • Back in January, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released fresh images of Osama bin Laden, using “digital enhancement” technology to show what the Al Qaeda leader would look like today. What kind of “technology” you ask? Google. Turns out the FBI updated the bin Laden photo using the grey hair, jaw line and forehead of Spanish politician Gaspar Llamazares. Not so intelligent.

Ridiculously good Eugoogling.

  • Gary Faulkner, the Bin Laden Hunter. Nuff said.
  • According to Chinese news agency, People’s Daily Online, the Afghan Taliban is “training monkeys to use weapons to attack American troops.” No, really. Monkeys are apparently being armed with “AK-47 rifles and Bren light machine guns in the Waziristan tribal region near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.” And this isn’t the first time! According to the news agency, the CIA also “trained massive “monkey soldiers” in the Vietnam War and dispatched armed monkeys to dangerous jungles to launch assaults on Vietnamese soldiers. Today, the Taliban forces have given the American troops some of their own medicine.” Wow.

Bow down to Monkey Soldier, Yankee!

So yes. Excited for Tere bin Laden and Zafar’s Bollywood debut. But also secretly hoping for a sequel that uses the aforementioned details we call news. Because monkey soldiers, Gary Faulkner, and Spanish MPs-turned-doctored-bin Laden-images are a hilarious combination that you just can’t make up. I think Paul the Octopus may even predict a smash hit!

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NPR: View from Coo Coo's Cafe in Lahore

NPR (National Public Radio)’s Morning Edition just started broadcasting a really fantastic series on the Grand Trunk Road, which stretches across the subcontinent from the Bay of Bengal to the Hindu Kush mountains. It is one of South Asia’s oldest and most historic highways, ultimately linking India and Pakistan together, and NPR correspondents are making the journey and delivering interesting news reports along the way. According to Morning Edition‘s Steve Inskeep, who joined the team in Pakistan for the second part of the series (the first part traveled GT Road in India), “a new generation is growing up along the ancient road” and the show aims to tell the stories of those young Indians and Pakistans, their opportunities and their problems.

NPR: The Grand Trunk Road

On Monday, Phil Reeves and Inskeep met at Wagah Border [for my backgrounder on the Indo-Pak Border Ceremony, click here], which separates India and Pakistan, to discuss the Indian part of the journey and “hand off the show” as it begins its Pakistan portion. Reeves, who traveled 1200 miles and interviewed many young Indians, told Inskeep this morning,

They [youth] fall into three broad categories – there’s an enormous body of optimism… who are very well-positioned to inherit this new wealth [in India]…then there’s another lot who are still very much filled with hope that they can get something out of society…to lift themselves and their family out of that position. And then there’s a third grouping who have pretty much given up hope, particularly in rural areas…when you go through that great stretch in north India, which hasn’t changed much over the years, you do meet people there, at age 21 or 22, who have already abandoned any hope that they’re going to get out of their situation. But they are investing in their children.

Throughout the journey, the team has been posting some fascinating articles, essays, and photos on the interactive website, some insightful, others worthy of discussion. In an article entitled, “In Pakistan, A Deepening Religious – Secular Divide,” NPR’s Julie McCarthy noted that the line between religion and secularism among Pakistan’s youth is at least partly contingent on students who are part of the madrassa (religious school) system and those who can go to more “privileged” schools and sit “squarely on the Western side of the divide.” NPR interviewed Rana Noman Haq in Lahore, a young 31 year old who “splurges on European vacations and eats at McDonalds,” who argued that his “worldly lifestyle” is “not incompatible with Islam — and it is not diluting his Pakistani identity.” He said, “That’s what globalization is all about — globally, everybody is coming together. We’re still sticking to our values, but within that we are also comfortable with whatever [is] happening anywhere in the world.”

The religious-secular “divide” in Pakistan is certainly an interesting debate, but it is complex and can’t merely be parsed into black and white. First, what does it mean to be secular in the first place? Secularism ultimately means the division of church and state, an ideal certainly championed in the West, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an embrace of Western culture. Just because someone “splurges” on European vacations or eats Mickey D’s doesn’t ultimately make them secular. Moreover, the right-wing voice in Pakistan doesn’t necessarily pertain just to students of madrassasManan Ahmed over at Chapati Mystery wrote a really interesting piece a few months ago called, “Pakistan’s New Paranoia,” where he noted,

The consumers of this narrative represent the largest demographic slice of Pakistan – young, urban men and women under the age of 30. They came of age under a military dictatorship with a war on their borders, and, more recently, almost daily terrorist attacks in their major cities. The twin poles of their civic identity – Pakistan and Islam – are under immense stress. They love Pakistan; they want to take Islam back from the jihadists. But there is no national dialogue, and no vision for the state: no place, in other words, where the young can make sense of their own country. Pakistan is ideologically adrift and headed toward incoherence, unable to articulate its own meaning as either a state or a nation.

Zaid Hamid, who is seen as the televangelist voice of the right wing, has been instrumental in addressing this crisis and reframing this identity. Ahmed noted, “The genius of Zaid Hamid has been to deftly shift the role of Islam from Zia’s strictly performative one to a more flexible mould. His acolytes, who call themselves lal topis (red hats), see a pious man who is less interested in their actual religiosity – whether they pray or not, give alms or not, wear hijab or not – and more concerned with their devotion to the idea of a resurgent, “independent” Pakistan. He calls on Islam mostly to play the role of history.”

NPR quoted Moeed Yusuf, at the U.S. Institute of Peace, who noted, “Because ultimately secularism as a concept is abhorred by most Pakistanis. So if they have to pick a side, it’s going to end up being this right-wing sort of wave that we find in Pakistan today. So again, this may not be religious fanaticism, but this is a very deep-rooted sense of being culturally conservative.”

The debate therefore, is arguably less of a polarized and hard divide, and more of an existential crisis of identity – reflecting a question our leaders have failed to cohesively address and answer – What is Pakistan? This vacuum is dangerous because it leads to extremes on both side of the spectrum who refuse to engage with one another, which in turn exacerbates the issue.

In speaking to youth in both India and Pakistan, NPR is aiming to at least initiate this conversation, which is commendable. It also aims to show how issues on both sides of the border further emphasize our similarities, rather than our differences. Definitely a great series to check out, if nothing else.

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