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Archive for March, 2010

Today, at least 39 people were killed and 95 were wounded in twin suicide blasts in Lahore, the second attack in the city this week. A senior official told Dawn News, “The bombers walked up to Pakistani army vehicles in the densely populated R A Bazaar area of Lahore, blowing themselves up as people sat down to eat before the Friday prayers were to begin.” My piece today in Dawn (republished below), primarily discusses Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri‘s 600-page fatwa against suicide bombing, but given recent events, it provides fodder for further debate on how to counter such attacks. Qadri’s edict, being 600 pages, has been viewed as a good but inadequate attempt to target the right audience – i.e., the young jihadists and potential suicide bombers. My point in the piece is to really find a way to implement it in a wider counter suicide bombing communications campaign so that it is effective. Because at the end of the day, we can’t just sit back and allow these attacks to keep happening:

Image from CNN: Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri

There has never been a shortage of fatwas. These legal rulings or opinions made by religious authorities address a wide array of issues concerning politics and social norms, and have both justified and widely condemned the use of violence. In 1998, Al Qaeda ideologues Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a fatwa “to kill the Americans and their allies.” However, a number of imams and scholars since have issued fatwas against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. In November 2008, for example, more than 6,000 Muslim clerics in India signed a fatwa against terrorism, following a similar edict issued earlier in the year by India’s top Islamic institution Darul Uloom Deoband.

Most recently, Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri, a Pakistani Barelvi Muslim scholar, issued a 600-page global ruling against terrorism and suicide bombing, which provides a point-by-point theological rebuttal “of every argument used by Al-Qaeda inspired recruiters.” Although many scholars have released similar fatwas in the past, Dr. Qadri, the founder of Minhaj al-Quran International, “argued that his massive document goes much further by omitting “ifs and buts” added by other thinkers,” noted the BBC.

According to the 80-page summary of the edict,

Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri goes that crucial step forward and announces categorically that suicide bombings and attacks against civilian targets are not only condemned by Islam, but render the perpetrators totally out of the fold of Islam, in other words, to be unbelievers.

The fatwa has garnered much press attention among Western news outlets, such as Fox News, CNN and the Washington Post. But while many have celebrated the release of a religious decree grounded in Islamic jurisprudence and history, others remain doubtful of its actual impact on potential young suicide bombers. While Minhaj al-Quran International is active in 70 countries and has 5,000 members in the UK, Qadri is considered to be relatively liberal and tolerant. Therefore, the people that would follow and accept his fatwa are unlikely to be the same as those susceptible to being recruited by Islamist militant groups.

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington DC, further emphasized, “The Sunni religious authority, as distinct from the Shi’a religious authority, is fragmented. So there’s not one figure who can issue a fatwa that every Sunni will listen to.” While Ahmed noted that any fatwa of this kind is important, the problem we are facing with suicide bombers “is that they are not from the same class [as moderate scholars like Qadri]. These young recruits respond much more to their own imams and preachers.”

No one questions the airtight credibility of Qadri’s text. But the issue we should raise is not whether the fatwa will have an impact, but how to ensure that it does. Fatwas or edicts of this kind can be influential if they are implemented in a culturally nuanced way, using language that can be understood by the intended target audience. In other words, if militant recruiters are using drone strikes to vilify the United States or the Pakistani government, countering this ideology requires messaging that takes similar realities into consideration. Although Qadri’s fatwa is based in exhaustive academic research, most young jihadists won’t take the time to sift through 600 pages in their decision-making.

Qadri may not be a universally accepted figure, but his text can be used as the focal point for a strategic communications campaign geared towards countering militancy and terrorism. This fatwa will only have the intended effect if local imams and religious leaders from various sects endorse and adapt it for their nuanced communities – applying Qadri’s language and framing it within the ground realities. Madrassa leaders more open to reform can incorporate the fatwa’s text into their curriculum. Imams of local mosques can use the fatwa’s framing of terrorists as today’s Khawārij in their sermons, subsequently making it digestible for the public. Rather than simply shutting down jihadist chat rooms, intelligence agencies can create pop-up ads using language from the fatwa to vilify and undermine militant ideology. Pamphlets, billboard ads, and radio spots can be other potential mediums.

We are well-aware that Islam is a religion of peace, that it has been hijacked by militant and terrorist organizations to justify violence and intolerance against Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The question, therefore, is how do we use that knowledge to make a tangible difference? As an end, Qadri’s 600-page fatwa has its limitations, and could very likely end up on the metaphorical shelf, gathering dust. However, this airtight research could instead be used to enforce a more localized and nuanced campaign that could have a more strategic impact.

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Mesh Lakhani on VOA Urdu!

Photo by Samier Mansur

Last week, VOA Urdu aired an interview on GEO Television with my younger brother, Mesh (short for Meshal), an aspiring singer/songwriter who recently launched his own music publishing company, Franklin’s Row. In the below video, Mesh discusses why he writes and sings English (versus Urdu) songs, as well as his desire to improve perceptions of Pakistan through his music. It’s a testament to how music truly is a universal language, one that transcends cultural, ethnic, and national barriers.

I generally keep my personal life separate from this blog, but what can I say – I’m a proud sister. I am extremely close to my family, and my brother is truly an example of how hard work and talent can pay off. His company Franklin’s Row is an innovative challenge to the music industry, placing the emphasis on the songwriters and taking a novel approach to music production, distribution and promotion. Amid all of this, though, he never forgets his roots. Last year, when his music first appeared on Pakistan’s FM radio [see my previous post], he emphasized how important it was to share his music both in Pakistan and the West. He told me, “My cultural identity is important to me, but for someone to find a way to relate to my own identity is equally as important. For me, that middle ground is music.”

Congrats Mesh! If you would like to check out his music catalog and read more about Franklin’s Row, click here. To hear one of my personal favorites, “Edgar” (with album art, lyrics, and link to download), click here.

[Thanks to Raza Naqvi, who did an awesome interview!]

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Last week, I came across a really interesting post at Feministing.com. Entitled, “Jessica Simpson and the Price of Beauty,” the piece discussed Jessica Simpson‘s upcoming docu-series The Price of Beauty, as well as the unfair standards of beauty placed upon women around the world. While Simpson’s series will undoubtedly have its flaws (Feministing noted it may fall into the “all too familiar trap of cultural relativism and Western desire to understand the ‘other'”), the article caused me to ponder the price of beauty in Pakistan. I turned to my close friend Maria Saadat, who runs the South Asian beauty blog, Lipstick Masala, and asked her to weigh in on a timely piece for International Women’s Day. Below, Maria discusses the often arbitrary and unfair standard of beauty impressed upon many women in Pakistan:

The latest Bollywood song blared from the speakers and the crowd at my sister’s wedding cheered in delight. As I laughed with my friends and shimmied my hips in time to the music, I was unaware that a family friend’s son was observing me from across the room. He had attended the event in order to “take a look at me” for a possible rishta (proposal). I didn’t make the cut, however. I wasn’t gori (fair) enough. It didn’t matter that I was well educated, courteous to others, or that I could cook a mean chicken karahi. No, he did not know any of these things about me or even the sound of my voice, for he didn’t bother speaking to me. I was simply cast aside, rejected from afar, solely based on the color of my skin. Six months later said bachelor was married – to his 17-year-old cousin. Yes, she was a child. But, oh, was she pale!

The general response amongst my friends to this story was, “Oh, they must have been backward. Nobody cares about these things anymore.” As much as I would like to believe that is true, this kind of bias is still prevalent in our society, and not just with our grandparents’ generation. In the last decade, women in Pakistan have made a place for themselves independent of their husbands – whether in high heels and a pantsuit or a modest shalwar kameez and chador, they have stormed the workplace as educated television news anchors, driven politicians, and dynamic business women. But, it seems no matter how many barriers we break, or how far we women come, our worth is still measured in many circles by how closely we resemble a blank sheet of printer paper and whether or not we can produce beautiful, milky white babies.

We belong to an age where dark beauties like Rani Mukherjee and Bipasha Basu sizzle on screen, and fake tanner is sold by the millions in the U.S. so that lighter-skinned ladies can achieve the bronzed glow most of us Pakistanis are born with. The whole world is trying to go darker, yet our society is still hung up on what products or methods to use to become just a few shades paler. Who do we blame for this? Should we condemn advertisers hawking skin-lightening products to the working classes with the promise that success will come with fair skin? Should we point fingers at our great grandparents who passed their own prejudices down to the younger generations?

Fair & Lovely, aka skin bleach.

The truth is, the blame does not lie solely with the ads for “Fair and Lovely” cream or obnoxious aunties admonishing us for sitting out in the sun for too long. It lies with us. We ourselves are feeding into preconceived notions about what we should look like. How many of us flip through the Daily Times Sunday magazine? As a relatively forward thinking publication, they share delicious tidbits such as “how to wear red nail polish to make one’s hands look fairer.” We skim through such articles without a thought, but the words are embedded into our subconscious. A few days later, we find ourselves at the nearest beauty salon getting a red manicure. There, while our nails are being buffed and shaped, we are offered the newest “body polishing” treatment that will bring a “neat” (read: FAIR) look to our skin. And we say, “sure, why not?”

I was blessed with a beautiful niece a few months ago. The first question asked was not “is she healthy?” but rather, “Rang kaisa hai?” (What is her complexion like?). When it was discovered that she didn’t have the fair coloring of her mother, our family was advised to rub her skin with besan so that her skin would become saaf (clean). Is this what it has come down to? Torturing a newborn’s fragile skin with gram flour in the hopes that her color will change?

This is why I say NO. NO to the “body polishing”, NO to the mothers inspecting me for their sons, and NO to the magazines that tell us we should be something that we’re not. I will not allow my niece to grow up in a world where she is conscious of what shade of brown her skin is. Yes, I know – it sounds like a cheesy anti-drug campaign. But, the truth is, this obsession with fair vs. dark is an addiction, especially when one spends thousands of rupees on it! And I refuse to let myself succumb to it. I may offend people by how I tan my skin in the summer or how much bronzer I use, but ultimately I choose to be defined by who I am, not what color I am. So, put down the whitening creams and toss out the trashy magazines and embrace your color, whether fair or dark. Who knows, maybe we’ll start a new trend.

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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Cartoon from Jang

Last week, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan met in New Delhi to end a “diplomatic freeze” between the two countries since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. According to Reuters’ Myra MacDonald, they did “what they were expected to do — laid out all the issues which divide the two countries and agreed to ‘keep in touch.'” However, the issue of water-sharing has been cause for contention between India and Pakistan over the years [it is also an internal issue in Pakistan among the provinces]. Below, Tariq Tufail, from Karachi, delves into the issues that stem from the 1960 Indus Water Treaty:

The Pakistan-India foreign secretary-level talks took place as scheduled. But curiously,  apart from the usual rhetoric of “terrorism” from the Indian side and “Kashmir” from the Pakistani side in the run-up to the talks, water became the more prominent issue.

Though the water issue has been raised in the past, and is one of the sustaining factors behind Pakistan’s continued interest in Kashmir, the articulation of water as a core India-Pakistan dispute in such a distinct and clear manner is unprecedented. Within the space of two weeks, water was mentioned as one of the principal disputes between India and Pakistan by our Prime Minister, our foreign minister, our Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and curiously, even Hafeez Sayeed of LeT/JuD. In order to understand the issue better, it is important to first provide a background of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT).

The Indus Water Treaty

Broadly speaking, the IWT grants exclusive use of the three eastern tributaries of the Indus River  – the Sutlej, Ravi and Beas Rivers to India and the three western tributaries – Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab Rivers to Pakistan. India is entitled to use all of the 33 million acre feet (MAF) of water from the eastern tributaries, of which it currently uses 30 MAF. Of the three western tributaries, the Jhelum, Chenab and Indus itself, which carries a flow of 143 MAF, India is entitled to store 3.6 MAF and is allowed to irrigate 13,43,477 acres of land. India does not store any water as of now and irrigates 7,92,426 acres. In addition, India is entitled to build “run of the river” hydroelectric projects, which do not store water on the western tributaries. The rise in the country’s usage of the water allocated to India (which used to flow to Pakistan earlier) is stressing the water availability in Pakistan. In addition, reduced snowfall and shifting weather patterns is reducing the water inflow.

Cutting through the usual rhetoric of India “stealing” water, several possibilities have to be analyzed:

  1. Pakistan is heightening the water issue to moderate the Indian negotiating tactic of focusing on terrorism
  2. India is really stealing water and violating the treaty
  3. India is not violating the “letter” of the treaty but the “spirit” of the treaty
  4. India is neither violating the letter or the spirit of the treaty, but due to increased water requirements, Pakistan is laying the ground to re-negotiate the Indus Water Treaty

It will be fruitless to speculate on (1), so let us concentrate on (2), (3) and (4).

At this point in time, the Pakistani government has not proven that India has stolen water. The allegation of Indian water theft has not been substantiated by either telemetry readings submitted by India or by water monitoring by Pakistan and has not been raised during the meetings of water commissioners of India and Pakistan. Moreover, because water sharing between Pakistan’s provinces is a contentious issue, water monitoring in Pakistan is a murky issue. To prevent discord among the provinces, monitoring sensors installed by Siemens are frequently tampered with and some monitoring sensors are regularly lost due to theft and sabotage. Even our Indus water commissioner Jamaat Ali Shah and ex-finance minister, Dr. Mubashar Hasan agree that no provable water theft is being committed by India.

Therefore, the inescapable conclusion is that India is not violating the “letter” of the treaty, even if it may be maximizing its usage as accorded to India by the treaty. This is not enforceable in any court of law, and stirring domestic sentiment over such perceived “violations” reduces our policy options and creates disastrous consequences as the Baglihar episode showed, (for background on the Baglihar dam conflict, see this piece).

So what are the disadvantages of the massive construction spree by India?

  1. The national security elements in Pakistan are concerned that even as India is not reducing the flow of water to Pakistan, it is rapidly acquiring the capability to do so by building dams. This is certainly an area of concern, but the IWT does not prevent India from being able to stop water flow into Pakistan at a future date. It only prevents India from stopping water flow. A positive aspect is that the IWT has stood the test of time, with no violations reported during the 1965, 1971, 1989, Kargil, Parakram and Mumbai standoffs.
  2. Increasing India’s usage of the Indus is affecting Pakistan’s water supply and power projects. That is, the water that was allocated to India, which was previously un-utilized and subsequently flowed to Pakistan and was utilized by our farmers, is becoming increasingly scarce as India builds projects to exploit its share. Even though it causes massive problems in Pakistan, this point cannot be protested, since India is not in violation of the IWT. (For example, complaints about the Sutlej and the Ravi running dry are superfluous since India has exclusive rights to use the water of those rivers.)

So what can be done?

As pointed out beautifully by lawyer Ahmer Bilal Soofi, India cannot be compelled to give “concessions” to Pakistan as long as it complies with the letter of the IWT. Furthermore, any extraneous discussions about water sharing can be stymied by India, since water sharing according to the Indian stance is already settled by IWT. From their perspective, as long as India is not in violation of the treaty, there is nothing to discuss.

Of the remaining courses of action open to Pakistan, re-negotiation of the IWT has a very small chance of success (since both sides will try to get better terms than the current treaty even if India agrees to renegotiate). The right course of action is to massively modernize our irrigation infrastructure (it is estimated that up to 40% of water drawn from our head-works are lost due to seepage in unlined canals, theft and evaporation), stringently follow the inter-provincial water sharing accord of 1991, and gain the trust of the provinces so that new water projects such as Kalabagh can proceed without their objection while seeking unofficial concessions from India to tide over the interim 5-10 year period. However, seeking unofficial concessions might be a hard task, since it has to overcome the prevailing climate of suspicion between the two neighbors, as well as India’s own domestic interests like its own water requirements as well as the impact on public opinion and Indian farmers.

At the end of the day, the wrong course of action would be to stir public sentiment through half truths and lies and to involve non-state and Jihadi actors, which reduces the space for policy flexibility in Pakistan, and further hardens the Indian position.

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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Se7en Magazine: An Image from the Geneva Camp

This is the second post in a series on the 1971 War, also known as the Liberation War of Bangladesh. The series aims to be an honest portrayal of both sides of the war and its aftermath. The first article delved into my recent experience at the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka. Below, I discuss the state of about 300,000 stateless people currently residing in Bangladesh:

The question of identity has been pivotal in my journey to who I am today. As a child, I would tell other kids in school that I was Pakistani. But given that my mother was Bangladeshi and I was also very close to her family, my words sometimes felt hollow. Was I abandoning one heritage by wholeheartedly embracing another? Did being the product of both make me a little less of either?

Ironically, being two halves actually made me whole. As I grew older, my identity gave me a sense of purpose, a stronger sense of self. It’s even why I have a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution, or why I can be diplomatic to a fault. Today, I not only tell people I’m Pakistani, I wear it on my sleeve. But I never forget my Bangladeshi heritage. I learned, over the years, that neither side was in conflict with the other unless I made it that way.

In a weird way, my own reconciliation allowed me to connect to the issue of the Biharis, an Urdu-speaking group who have been living in refugee camps in Bangladesh for about 40 years, since the end of the 1971 War. Often referred to today as the “stateless” people or the “stranded Pakistanis,” the Biharis moved to [what was then] East Pakistan from India during Partition in 1947.  However, the Urdu-speaking community did not assimilate very well into Bengali society, and remained a distinct cultural-linguistic group. This fostered further resentment, particularly since language was and still is such a strong part of the Bengali collective.

According to VOA, the Biharis “generally identified with West Pakistani society and associated themselves with the West Pakistani governing elite.” A 2008 report by Minority Groups International noted,

The Urdu-speaking Biharis became increasingly unpopular and were seen by Bengalis as symbols of West Pakistani domination, which created a climate of hostility against Biharis. In the December 1970 elections most Biharis supported the pro-Pakistan Muslim League rather than the Awami League, which was largely a Bengali nationalist movement.

Not surprisingly, the Bihari community also sided with West Pakistan during the 1971 War. At the end of the conflict, the surviving Biharis were seen as Pakistani collaborators, though sources are slightly ambiguous on how they were treated in the aftermath. According to a BBC documentary they faced “a wave of nationalist anger,” dubbed by a Daily Star article as the “wrath of newly liberated Bangalees.” The aforementioned Minority Groups International brief reported, “several thousand Biharis were arrested as alleged collaborators, and there were many cases of retaliation against Biharis.”

What we do know is that the Biharis who were left in Bangladesh were pushed into camps, though many asked to be repatriated to Pakistan (approximately 539,669, according to those registered with the International Red Cross in 1973). According to VOA, “In the 1973 New Delhi Agreement, Pakistan agreed to receive a sizable number of Biharis [250,000] in exchange for the return of Bengalis living in Pakistan.  But the exchange soon came to a halt.” According to a BBC documentary on the Biharis, Pakistan did take in 130,000 Biharis but stopped in 1992.

Today, there are around 250,000 to 300,000 Biharis remaining in Bangladesh. Of this number, 160,000 are still living in camps, noted UNHCR, while 50,00052,000 are in camps in Dhaka. According to the 2008 survey, around 20,000 to 25,000 live in the largest camp, Geneva Camp, a place where the alleyways are narrow and dirty, walls are thin, and living conditions are poor and overcrowded. Less than 10% of children from these camps go to primary school, noted the BBC, while only 2% receive a secondary education.

What is interesting today is not just the number of Biharis that still call themselves Pakistani. It’s the division that is occurring between the older generation who are still clinging to the past, waiting for Pakistan to take them in, and a growing younger generation who are ready to claim Bangladesh as their home.  An old man told the BBC, “The Pakistani government does nothing for us. They’ve abandoned us. They’re in their own country. We are Pakistani but have ruined ourselves by thinking of Pakistan.” A younger man added, “For thirty years, they’ve been saying Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan.  Now they have become old.”

While many still insist on speaking Urdu, a growing number of younger Biharis are speaking Bengali, attempting to assimilate into Bangladeshi society. This process has not been entirely seamless, given that the community has not had citizenship (of any country) until recently. In 2001, a group of young men, including Khalid Hussein, President of the Association of Young Generation of Urdu-Speaking Community (AYGUSC) and Assistant Coordinator of the NGO, Al-Falah Bangladesh, campaigned that they were Bangladeshi citizens (based on a 1972 law that anyone whose male ancestors lived in Bangladeshi since 1971 was a citizen) and had the right to vote. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor, and in May 2008, the government extended the verdict to all Biharis in the country, a major victory for many who had been stateless and hence powerless.

The Bangladeshi 2008 elections was therefore not just the first time the country was voting in seven years, it was the first time the Biharis were voting in Bangladesh – ever. The community’s political party of choice? The ultra-nationalist Awami League.

Despite these recent victories, many Biharis continue to live in inhumane conditions in camps and still reportedly face discrimination. Khalid Hussein, who is from Geneva Camp, wrote, “Living conditions remain overcrowded, with five to 15 people sharing one or two rooms. The threat of eviction and the need for education, skills training and employment are our chief concerns.”

There are also numerous Biharis who reject these changes and still want to return to Pakistan. Which begs the question – should Pakistan fulfill their nearly 40 year old promise and repatriate this community, many who have endured squalid conditions since the war but still wave their Pakistani flags loyally?

While the ethical answer is yes, the sad reality is that Pakistan cannot even take care of its citizens within its borders properly. Food prices are high, power shortages are abundant, violence is continuing, and numbers of people are still displaced inside the country. This by no means absolves Pakistan from blame or responsibility. In fact, we should be ashamed of ourselves. But, in some ways the Biharis in Bangladesh are better off in a country that is at least willing to offer them an identity, a place to belong. Turning that sense of belonging into one of ownership will be far more complicated, but is a process that can only start with proper rehabilitation.

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I actually SOL’ed (Snorted Out Loud) when I read this in The News today:

Addressing a public meeting here in NA-123 constituency as part of PML-N’s by-election campaign, Nawaz Sharif called for returning to the people, what he said, their looted wealth, adding, the corrupt people will ultimately meet their fate.

Hey Kettle. The Pot’s calling you black.

I may not have a muchie, but I can still twirl my hair plugs. Mwahaha.

Let’s face it. Many politicians in Pakistan are corrupt. Our current president bears the nickname Mr. Ten Percent for God’s sake. But to win an election on anti-corruption grounds? That’s hypocrisy at its finest.

So voters in the NA-123 constituency, you may vote in PML-N’s Pervaiz Malik in this by-election because you were swayed by Nawaz’s talk and hair plugs. But don’t forget about the Hudaibya Paper Mills controversy, when Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif were implicated in money laundering worth $14.8 million. Don’t forget that just a few weeks ago, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sought to reopen this Hudaibya case, as well as two other references that charge Nawaz and Shahbaz (among others) with “misuing loans,” and “accumulating wealth and assets beyond their declared means of income by allegedly misusing their authority.” If Nawaz wants to return “looted wealth” to the people, maybe he should start with his own loot first.

I recently paid a visit to Adiala Jail with a women’s organization. There, a police officer said, quite aptly, “The biggest chors (thieves) aren’t in here. They’re in the government.”

Update: Thanks to Khizzy, I was just informed about yet another addition to the controversy – According to Dawn, “As Nawaz Sharif addressed supporters in the run-up to a Lahore by-election, his large rally was lit up by extensive use of illegal connections using ‘kunda’ (hooks that are attached to live power cables to secure supply without having to pay for it). PML-N spokesman Siddiqul Farooq told DawnNews that an inquiry would be held to fix responsibility for what was “clearly” a crime.”

Oh the tangled web we weave.

[Thanks to Cyril for the background help!]

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