Archive for November, 2010

The Wikileaks Burn Book

Hey, Assange, the Lord of the Rings Elven King called. He wants his ishtyle back.

Reading the news yesterday, I swear I could hear the faint but haunting sound of Julian Assange cackling gleefully while swimming the backstroke in an enormous pile of cable papers.

Wikileaks, Assange’s whistleblower website, began the release of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables to the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais on Sunday. According to Foreign Policy, “Wikileaks published 226 cables on its website, and plans a phased release of the rest of the documents, with each new release focusing on a new country or topic.” The NYT reported that the dump, “provides an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.”

Some of the countries implicated in the Wikileaks fiasco this time around? Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea and (drum roll please) Pakistan.

In a recent interview, Assange said Wikileaks is performing a “public service,” noting,

The cables show the U.S. spying on its allies in the UN, turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse. If citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.

I am all for transparency, but the Wikileaks fiasco seems to take that notion to a whole new level. First, many of the revelations weren’t as earth-shattering as they claimed to be, not even reports of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah advising the U.S. to take action against Iran, telling them in 2008 “to cut off the head of the snake.”

Anyone interested in Middle East politics knows this is not all together surprising. Arab countries have been threatened by the power of Iran and its proxies in the region for some time, and the strategic chess game that has ensued mostly plays out behind the scenes, for the sake of diplomacy. The statement has therefore become significant because it was made public, not because of what was actually said.

King Abdullah also had some words about our very own President Zardari, calling him the greatest obstacle to progress last year. According to the cable, “When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body.”

Ouch. Not to be outdone, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed said last year that Zardari was “dirty but not dangerous,” while PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif was “dangerous but not dirty,” and could not be trusted to honor his promises.

Other less than diplomatic comments? Dmitry Medvedev: “Robin to Putin’s Batman.” Kim Jong-Il: “Flabby old chap.” Silvio Berlusconi: “Penchant for partying hard means he does not get sufficient rest.” [Berlusconi defended himself today, saying he doesn’t attend “wild parties” but hosts “dignified and elegant dinner parties.” Er yeah.]

Cat fight!

The cattiness is eerily reminiscent of Mean Girls, when Rachel McAdams and Lindsay Lohan wrote horrible things about other girls in high school in a Burn Book. When the contents of said book were revealed, all hell broke loose. (And yes, I just compared foreign dignitaries to high school mean girls.)

But the Wiki-Burn-Book won’t necessarily result in more transparency in the future, if this is indeed Assange’s objective. So far, most U.S. officials haven’t responded to the leak with promises of future transparency, they’ve replied with calls to make sure such a breach doesn’t happen again in the future. According to Al Jazeera English, “The White House also directed government agencies to tighten procedures for handling classified information after the mass leak.”

Ambassador Munter, the new U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, emphasized in The News yesterday, “For our part, the U.S. government is committed to maintaining the security of our diplomatic communications and is taking steps to make sure they are kept in confidence. We are moving aggressively to make sure this kind of breach does not happen again.” He also noted,

An act intended to provoke the powerful may instead imperil the powerless. We support and are willing to have genuine debates about pressing questions of public policy. But releasing documents carelessly and without regard for the consequences is not the way to start such a debate.

The revelation that the U.S. has secretly been pushing to help Pakistan remove highly enriched uranium from nuclear reactors since 2007, “fearing it could be diverted for illicit purposes,” is likely to have such consequences. Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace told me today,

Many casual readers in Pakistan may conclude from the leaks that the U.S. has been trying to manipulate Pakistani authorities – that is the last thing Washington wants at this point. Specifically on the nuclear program, what has been revealed is not earth shattering but that is not how it will be presented to the man on the street in Pakistan. This will likely fuel even more conspiracy theories in the country.

So, Wikileaks, a force for the greater good? That’s for you to discuss.

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NYT/Reuters: The Daughters of Aasia Bibi

Last week, I wrote about the conviction of Aasia Bibi, now known as the “first Christian woman to be convicted of blasphemy.” Although she was held for a year before her conviction, the sentence has garnered outcries from human rights groups and citizens alike, from those who have called for Aasia Bibi not only to be released, but also for our leaders to strike down the blasphemy laws that have legitimized violence and the persecution of Pakistan’s minorities for decades. Below, Nabiha Meher Sheikh, based in Lahore comments on the issue, speaking from the voice of this convicted Christian woman (this post first appeared here):

I am Aasia and my story has revealed the death of common sense and compassion in my land. I am Aasia who cries at the demise of a once tolerant land.

I, Aasia, live in a land that puts itself on a pedestal, demanding immunity to any criticism of its warped interpretations of religion. I live in a land where everyone colludes to silence those who don’t agree with them. I live in a land where if you don’t agree with inhumane state sanctioned discriminatory practises, then your head is cut off by those who claim they are doing it in the name of a religion of peace.

I am Aasia. I believe the blasphemy law is nothing but a force to silence any voice of reason. The blasphemy law is a force of control. I do not believe you have the right to declare me a lesser person based on my religion. I do not believe you have the right to demonize me or call me unclean while claiming to practise a religion that doesn’t discriminate. I am Aasia, your ehle Kitaab, a woman any Muslim man can even legally marry. I am Aasia and I question your audacity to treat me as an outcaste.

I am Aasia for I am used as a pawn: a target used to demonize when you don’t want to listen to your own bigotry, your own hypocrisy. I am Aasia and I reject your intolerance, your hypocrisy and your infliction of your persecution complex upon me.

Forgive me while, I, Aasia, ask you why YOU think you have the right to say what you will about me, but not even tolerate a word from my perspective? I ask what gives YOU the right to judge me while insisting that I dare not judge you. Forgive me while I point out to you just how nauseating your double standards are. Forgive me while I ask you to hold up a mirror and take a long, hard look at yourself.

I am Aasia, yet another fashionable cause. Those of you who can make a difference have done nothing but give me lip service and I’m afraid it’s not good enough. As long as this law exists, Aasias will proliferate the land.

I say this because I am Aasia, the most disenfranchised of you all. If you can read this, you are probably sitting very comfortably in front of your computer screens, safe from mobs, guarded from the reality of poverty. Most of you are too busy leading your rich lives, deaf to my pleas, deaf to my cries, comfortable in your homes with your cupcakes everywhere. And I know some of you might appropriate my pain, my misery and exploit it for your own elitist benefit. I fear you will reduce my suffering into a cause that you can fight with fashion, the way you say you fight terrorism with tank tops.

I am Aasia. Silence me if you can. I am Aasia for I, too, shall not be scared to challenge discrimination against me.

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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The Pakistani Golden Girls


AFP/Express Image: Thank You for Being a Friend...(lalala)

This past weekend, the Pakistan women’s cricket team brought home the first gold medal from the Asian Games in eight years, a development that supporters say “points to the need for more education and opportunities in sports for women in Muslim countries.” Pakistan’s all-rounder Nida Rashid told reporters, “Our media doesn’t give women’s sports that much coverage, as much as they give to men’s sports…There are so many sports in which women participate in Pakistan, like squash, table tennis and volleyball, but they go unnoticed.”

Fair point. How many people could name players on the women’s cricket team before this past week’s win? Anyone? Bueller?

Shirin Javed, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Women’s Wing Chairperson told the Express Tribune,

There is no dearth of interested individuals in the country. We have girls coming from Quetta, from Gilgit, from remote villages that we didn’t even know existed and with names we can’t even pronounce. They are barred from leaving their houses apart from going for training and matches.

But, noted Javed, this is changing. She emphasized, “Times have changed. No longer are the parents worried. We have girls playing in track suits. We have parents dropping their daughter for training on a bicycle. A kitchen is not the only place girls belong to now.”

Back in February, I wrote about the tremendous achievements of Maria Toor, Pakistan’s number one ranked female squash player, (72nd in the world). Not bad for someone who, as a young girl in South Waziristan, would chop her hair in order to disguise herself and play sports with the boys. While Toor’s determination to play sports in the face of opposition is truly inspirational, we should also applaud her father, who recognized his daughter’s talent and moved the family to Peshawar so she could train more freely.

Much like Toor’s father, Shams-ul-Qayum Wazir, cricket player Ismavia Iqbal‘s father also made similar remarks to Express 24/7, appealing to other parents to encourage their daughters to play sports, saying his daughter “improved the Pakistan name” in her achievement with the Pakistan women’s cricket team.

In Pakistan, we have a long way to go when it comes to women’s rights, but the recent press coverage of the women’s cricket team is an opportunity to discuss the benefits of allowing young girls to play sports. From a development perspective, there are numerous reasons why supporting sports for both girls and boys is important – not only for their health and self-esteem value, but also for the team building and leadership skills they provide. This story also further emphasizes how we can’t just empower young girls and women in a vacuum, but also target the men within this patriarchal society. Men like Toor and Iqbal’s fathers should be championed as examples, particularly since women sports players in Pakistan are still met with resistance by critics who regularly label them “budget-wasters, hopeless performers, sinners even,” using “the marriage factor as their primary aid,” noted the Express.

The Times of India quoted Pakistan cricket captain Sana Mir who said,

I think if women in Pakistan are given opportunities to play sports with proper coaches and facilities, there’s no reason why they should not perform – not only at Asian Games – but also in major international tournaments. I believe if you do something with honesty you can gain a lot in the field of sports.
Playing with honesty – hope you caught that, Pakistan men’s cricket team.
P.S.: Another proud sports-related moment – tennis star Aisam Qureshi, along with his Indian tennis parter Rohan Bopanna, were honored with the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year Award. This is the second time Qureshi has won the award. Well done to the Indo-Pak Express!

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The Tragic Case of Aasia Bibi

Reuters Image

Last Friday, a Christian woman was sentenced to death by a court in Sheikhupura, near Lahore, “after prosecutors accused her of insulting the Prophet Mohamed and promoting her own faith,” reported The UK Independent. According to reports, though, this is what actually transpired – In June 2009, Aasia Bibi had reportedly been asked to fetch water while working in the fields  near Nankana Sahib, in Punjab province. Some Muslim women laborers reportedly refused to drink the water, claiming it was “unclean” because she, a Christian, had touched it, subsequently “sparking a row.” You see, Aasia Bibi felt it was in her right to speak out against this brazen prejudice that has plagued our society for decades.

According to the Telegraph, “The incident was forgotten until a few days later when Mrs. Bibi said she was set upon by a mob. The police were called and took her to a police station for her own safety.” Shahzad Kamran, of the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan, told the news agency, “The police were under pressure from this Muslim mob, including clerics, asking for Aasia to be killed because she had spoken ill of the Prophet Mohammed. So after the police saved her life they then registered a blasphemy case against her.”

So here we are, more than a year after Aasia Bibi, a 45 year old mother of five, was held for a crime based on hearsay, prejudice, and intolerance, and she has just become “the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy.”

I am not sure what’s worse – that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws [sections 295 and 298 of the Penal Code] are still in effect and arbitrarily used to persecute the country’s minorities, or that Aasia Bibi’s case is only really garnering headlines now, not a year ago, when this case first transpired.

On Monday, Ali Dayan Hasan from Human Rights Watch echoed my sentiments exactly when he wrote for Dawn,

Aasia Bibi’s case is so unremarkable, so commonplace, so routine in its casually callous violation of basic rights that it did not even register in the public consciousness. And, of course, it is no secret that the belief that Christians, and non-Muslims in general, are ‘unclean’, though not propagated by any known school of Islamic thought, has widespread currency, particularly in Punjab. In all likelihood, the police felt the mob was justified. There is a thin line between faith-based lack of hygiene and blasphemy goes this logic. And it is crossed if you refuse to view your faith as filth.

The most tragic part of Aasia Bibi’s case is that it was not the first of its kind and it’s by no means the last. Last April, more than 50 houses were set on fire by an angry mob in Gojra, again in Punjab province, burning at least seven Christians alive. Much like the Ahmadi case a few weeks ago, when authorities bowed to the hysteria of a mob and made a grieving family exhume the body of their relative, the police in these situations cower to the masses. Because, you see, intolerance and prejudice in Pakistan are encased by the pristine cowardice of law. And that, over all reason and rationale, reigns supreme.

There are currently petitions circulating to free Aasia Bibi. By all means sign them. But also consider the root causes behind such a case in the first place, and why, over and over again, such laws are arbitrarily wielded to justify the persecution of Pakistan’s dwindling minorities. Contemplate why our justice system delivers no such justice. Our police do not police. Our politicians cry crocodile tears in the aftermath of such incidents, and yet do nothing to challenge the law that allowed it to happen in the first place. We turn a blind eye to prejudice because even we do not realize how entrenched it is in the very fabric of this society. Aasia Bibi has a face today because the news deemed it so, giving her case well-deserved attention. But she was faceless a year before that, when the injustice first occurred, as are the many victims of similar atrocities committed on a daily basis in Pakistan.

Sign a petition to free Aasia Bibi. But for God’s sake, also decry the laws that allowed her to be imprisoned in the first place. Where’s the petition for that?

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RIP, Goatie.

When I was 11 years old, my family moved to Islamabad, Pakistan from Dhaka, Bangladesh. As a child in the noisy and buzzing city of Dhaka, I had seen my share of hanging meat and animal blood in the marketplaces. I still have a vivid memory of a chicken running around with its head cut off as our cook wielded a butcher’s knife in the patch of grass behind the kitchen. That was very frightening. It wasn’t until I moved to Pakistan though that I met my first goat.

I should mention here that my friends have dubbed me Elmira from Tiny Toons, due to my borderline obsession with all things furry and cute, and my desire to unabashedly “hug ’em and squeeze ’em.” When I was 11, a spray painted goat arrived at our house. He was a pretty goat with a fabulous coat, spray-painted with neon pink and orange swirls. He bleated pathetically in my direction as I ran breathlessly up to him.

We became friends. It may have been one-sided. I called him Goatie.

I wasn’t very creative.

Needless to say, Eid ul-Azha came soon after, and our family feasted on a meal of biryani with gosht. It wasn’t until later, upon learning of Goatie’s mysterious disappearance, that I put two and two together – I had eaten Goatie.

Apparently, I wasn’t very smart either.

I relate that story, dear readers, because it’s Eid ul-Azha today (or tomorrow for others) – otherwise known as Bakra Eid, the religious holiday where we sacrifice a goat to commemorate the story of Abraham and Ismail. It symbolizes a test of faith and a time when we share with others less fortunate than us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In Pakistan, Eid is a wonderful flurry of sights and sounds – bangles clinking, lights strewn everywhere, colorful new clothes, and children laughing with their pockets fat with Eidi.


Remember the floods.

It is a time for family and celebration, but it’s also a time for reflection, particularly for the millions of families who are still without their homes in Pakistan because of the recent flood disaster. Eid for them won’t be a cheery holiday of new clothes and colors, but a painful reminder of all that they lost in the tragedy. Even if their stories have been muted from the news headlines, we should remember them in our prayers on this day, and we should give what we can to ensure their recovery. You can give to your relief organization of choice, or please give to our flood relief campaign Relief4Pakistan, which launched its second phase last week. It is an innovative recovery program developed in partnership with international relief agency Operation USA to restore the livelihood of families living in Bangla Ichha Union Council, a cluster of four villages in Rajanpur, Punjab not receiving sufficient aid and support from the government. We are working closely with the local community organization and tribal leadership to ensure the sustainable recovery of this community through local investment and engagement. To learn more, click here.

Eid Mubarak, everyone!

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AFP/Express Tribune

According to news agencies, there was a major attack in central Karachi, killing at least 15 people and injuring 40 (though this number is quickly changing). The “massive explosion,” which was heard up to two kilometers away, reportedly targeted the DIG Criminal Investigation Department (CID) office in central Karachi, an extremely fortified area of the city. According to Express 24/7, the CID had arrested members of “banned outfits” on Wednesday, implying this may have been the reason for the attack. A police liaison committee spokesman told Al Jazeera English that this was “the biggest ever blast” in the city.

According to Express’ correspondent, the casualty numbers are increasing due to the blasts but also because the bombing caused the collapse of a number of nearby houses (at least 15-20 houses, colony houses, and 2-3 commercial shops were destroyed). Numerous people are still trapped under the rubble in the aftermath of the attack, and ambulances are currently on the scene.

Both Express and AJE emphasized that this attack is surprising because it’s considered the “red zone” of Karachi – a heavily fortified area populated by the city’s hotels, the Sindh Chief Minister’s house, and numerous restaurants and commercial outlets. According to Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, “This area should have been more secure.”

Although Karachi has been struck by recent politically-driven and ethnic violence, news correspondents say the blasts had nothing to do with this trend, and is more consistent with militant attacks in Pakistan, [Imran Khan compared it to the 2008 Marriott attack in Islamabad]. The question, noted the news agency, is how someone could get a device of that size in Karachi, and how they could so easily attack the CID office, which was housing “high-value” targets.

There is the possibility of a second blast, noted Express.

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

UPDATE 1125 EST: The Taliban has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, but from a personal perspective I think we should be cautious in making blanket statements about perpetrators of this attack, particularly since “Taliban” is a very simplistic term. The death toll, according to Express 24/7: 11 killed, over 100 injured [correspondent says that the rate of people coming into Jinnah hospital has “slowed down.”]

UPDATE 1131 EST: According to Express, five armed gunmen began firing indiscriminately before “ramming their vehicle” into the CID building, causing the explosion.

UPDATE 1140 EST: Video from Express 24/7:

UPDATE 1345 EST: According to the Express Tribune‘s Ahmed Jung, “sources claimed that the CID had received a bomb threat yesterday (Wednesday). CID had arrested a high profile terrorist ‘Iqbal’ belonging to the Mehsud tribe yesterday and had received a threat in that regard.” Al Jazeera English reported, “A group of fighters first opened fire on the building before detonating a bomb in the compound of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), leaving a crater of about 12 metres across and four metres deep in front of the site.”

Pakistan Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq further affirmed to CNN that the Taliban carried out the attack, noting, “We will continue such attacks as long as military operations continue against us.”

[Personal thought] Again, if the CID conducted arrests of high-profile militants yesterday, we have to think that the logistics that would go into such an attack in a highly fortified area would be pretty extensive, if it was indeed motivated by those arrests. Therefore, the attacks were either connected indirectly to the arrests and/or had been planned beforehand, OR the Taliban wasn’t directly responsible for the logistics, but it relied on groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi, etc. who have more extensive networks in urban areas, to carry it out.

UPDATE 1740 [EST]: The current death toll stands at 15 people, with more than 100 injured. According to Express 24/7, “200kg of explosives were used in the blast. The police also reportedly found hand grenades at the site of the blast.” Huma Imtiaz wrote for the NY Times,

There were suspicions that the attack was a reprisal for a recent series of arrests of militants. Babar Khattak, a top police official, said that the police counterterrorism unit had arrested nine militants in the past few days. But there were conflicting reports about whether the suspects were in the compound at the time of the attack. Mr. Khattak said they were not, but Fayyaz Leghari, Karachi’s police chief, said that several militant suspects were there.

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Last week, I attended a screening of Slackistan, an independent film by director Hammad Khan. The film, which screened in London, Abu Dhabi, New York City, and San Francisco [Pakistan screenings are coming soon], was recently described by the NY Times as, “a pitch-perfect comedy about restless youths in Islamabad,” and is a raw embodiment of 20-something angst, superficiality, and existential musings about life. As someone who grew up in “the city that always sleeps,” Slackistan was – ironically – a very real treatment of Islamabad’s detached reality.

That, in many ways, was director Hammad’s point – to organically create something that was closer to a documentary than a film. Slackistan‘s characters to an extent even mirror the actors who portrayed them – somewhat like art imitating reality. Hasan, the narrator and main character in the film, is a 20-something who dreams of becoming a filmmaker, but instead drives listlessly around the city with his friends, hangs out at coffee shops, and waxes philosophical about where his life could be going instead. He is played by Shahbaz Shigri, also a 20-something, also an Islamabadi, and also an aspiring filmmaker, though he is making that dream come true rather than slacking alongside the city’s affluent class.

Hammad told me, “It was really important that the casting was right, and that we cast people from Islamabad who could at least embody the attitude of the character. It was important that I didn’t try to impose characters on the actors, but allowed it to organically happen.”

Ali Rehman Khan, who played Sherry, Hasan’s best friend in the film, echoed, “It was easier for me to relate to my character because I grew up in Islamabad and have been through many of those same experiences. It was important that Islamabadis were a part of the film because it gave Slackistan authenticity – we weren’t really characters as much as people in the film.” The making of the film, he added, was also a collaborative process, with Hammad mapping out a scene while the cast and crew were at a cafe or  another site, always keeping his camera on him at all times.

The interesting thing about Slackistan is its lack of political commentary or real mention of the volatility and violence that often shape Pakistan’s image in the news media. Instead, current events were pushed into the periphery, mentioned in passing conversations or playing on the television in the background. This was done on purpose, noted Hammad, “to reflect a narrative that was based on perspectives of young characters where the political situation and militancy are not the focal point in their daily lives.” He added, “It was very difficult for me not to be political because I am a very politically charged person. In fact, in the first draft of the script, Hasan would have monologues that would then connect back to a current event in Pakistan. However, we realized that this was artificial because a typical 21 year old wouldn’t necessarily think like that.”

Hammad didn’t want Hasan’s character to live entirely in a bubble, though. Perhaps the most telling part of the film was when he stumbles onto one of Islamabad’s many Christian colonies – or slums that house the marginalized Christian minority. The colonies are located amid some of the city’s nicest neighborhoods, but they are a far cry from the well-paved roads, pristine houses, and fancy cars outside their walls. The slums are dotted with cramped and dilapidated homes, and suffer from poor sewage and a lack of electricity. Hammad noted, “I wanted to make the point that these slums are basically a stone’s throw from some of Islamabad’s best houses and streets. It is an adjacent world that is literally right outside our door.”

Of all the days of filming, shooting the Christian colony was one of the cast and crew’s best experiences. “It wasn’t like we were shooting a movie,” Hammad told me. “For me, it was quite a transformative experience to see the joy and the sense of community among this minority, and then outside the slum’s walls to feel the sense of detachment and affluence in the city.” Ali added, “This is the reality of Islamabad in many ways, that we ignore the things that are right in front of us.”

That, ultimately, seems to be the biggest criticism of Pakistan’s elite – the apathetic divide between the rich and poor, the detachment from the jarring reality outside their doors. While this appears to be a criticism of Slackistan – that its attempt to show another side to Pakistan is still only depicting the affluent class, both Hammad and Ali argue that this is still a very real side of Pakistan. Ali noted, “We are such a bubbled society in Islamabad. There are lots of bureaucrats, diplomats, and politicians, and we’re the offspring of that. And this is how some people live – it may not be reality for the majority of the country, but it is a very real depiction of this slice of society.” In an interview with PRI’s The World, Hammad stated,

It’s important to say that it’s a personal film…it [Islamabad] always used to frustrate me that well, we’re pretty modern, we’re pretty connected, but the town and the environment just doesn’t lend itself to any kind of creative growth or progress. You know, we had nothing to do, nowhere to go. So that was something that I thought, what do you do? How do you move forward? And that sort of extended itself into this kind of metaphor for the country as well because these are young people living in a bubble and they can’t really move forward and in a sense that’s kind of how Pakistan is right now in the world.

In an interview with the Guardian last year, Hammad further noted, “Slackistan should be a wake-up call to the wider youth base, both in and outside Pakistan, to redirect the future of the country.” The film, though it depicts affluent young 20-somethings with no sense of purpose, does have a purpose and a solution – to take action, even if it means taking small steps to achieve that goal.

If there was one thing Hammad would like us to take away from the film, though, it’s to keep in mind this is only one film, one snapshot of life in the country. “Judge the film all you want,” he noted, “but judge me after watching ten of my films. Because the next one I am working one will be a drastically different lens of Pakistan, as will the ones after that.” Moreover, he added, “I am entirely dedicated to supporting anyone who wants to make films about Pakistan,” given the need for different perspectives and the power of imagery in changing perceptions of the country. “Cinema isn’t part of our culture in Pakistan, but images can be educational and they can be socially useful in showing a nuanced side of Pakistan. That can and should be imparted to Pakistan’s youth.”

Slackistan, though not without flaws, was a unique and telling film told through a Pakistani lens, one of many into the country’s rich and vibrant society. As a fellow Islamabadi, it was not only a very real depiction of life in the city that always sleeps, but it was also  a genuine attempt to capture the uninspired underpinnings of this slice of society, a wake up call for the apathetic and the affluent.

To join Slackistan‘s Facebook page and learn about screenings in your city, click here. [You can also visit Mara Pictures for more information on UK and future Pakistan screenings of the film. ]

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Targeting the Ahmadis II


Image: Express Tribune

On Sunday, Pakistani police forced an Ahmadi family to exhume the body of a relative [identified as Shehzad Warriach] because it was buried in a Muslim graveyard. According to the BBC, “Officials in the Sargodha district of Punjab province say they took the unusual move after anti-Ahmadi Muslim groups threatened peace in the area.” Ghulam Murtaza, a senior police official, told the AFP, “Warraich’s family agreed to exhume the body on October 31 after local people approached us amid protests and demanded that the body be removed from the Muslim graveyard.” The “local people” noted BBC News, were reportedly members of Khatm-e-Nabuwat, “an anti-Ahmadi religious organization that acts as a watchdog on their activities.”

The police, he added, “had to intervene to prevent any untoward situation though we have no law barring burial of a non-Muslim in a shared graveyard.”

So, instead of protecting the interests of a grieving family who had not broken any law, the police catered to the whims of intolerant protesters? I have no words.

However, Aatekah Mir-Khan over at the Express Tribune Blog, does:

Religion is supposed to be something between you and God, even when you are alive. Thus, people who do not give the living that freedom are wrong, but to continue hounding a person based on their religion even when he is dead is detestable. But have we heard a single condemnation from any of the politicians or the religious leaders on the outrage? No. Why? Because commenting on anything that has to do with religion (if it is against what ‘they’ believe) is shunned like playing with fire. There is no way you can leave unscathed if you dare speak up.

Back in May, more than 70 people were killed and 108 were injured when gunmen launched simultaneous attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore. Although political leaders condemned the attacks, they stopped short of tackling the glaring inconsistencies and laws that led to such incidents in the first place. In fact, when Nawaz Sharif expressed solidarity with the Ahmadiyya community after the May attacks, calling them “brothers” of Muslims, he was immediately criticized by leaders of Deobandi madrassas, who advised him not to “defy religion for petty political gains.” According to the Express Tribune, leaders of the Muttahida Tehrik-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat even claimed the Lahore attacks “were a conspiracy to repeal laws against Ahmadis” at a meeting that included 13 political and religious organizations like JUI-F and Jamat-ud-Dawa.

It is not surprising that conservative religious clerics and figures spew intolerance and prejudice, peddling the idea that Islam is under attack to further their own power agenda. But it is frankly despicable that we continue to cower to those voices. It happened in 1973, when the Ahmadis were declared “non-Muslims” by the state, and it happened again in 1984, when they were legally barred from proselytizing or identifying themselves as Muslims. It continues to occur every time members of this community [and other minorities] are persecuted without any consequences, without so much as a word from our leaders or fellow citizens. And it happened this past Sunday, when the police ultimately gave credence to intolerance and prejudice over reason and sensitivity, forcing an Ahmadi family to exhume a relative’s body from a graveyard.

We talk constantly about how Islam has been hijacked by radicals and extremists. But cases like these show how much we also allow ourselves to be hijacked. By virtue of doing nothing, we legitimize those voices. We are therefore also to blame.


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Last week, The Indus Entrepreneurship [TIE] Conference was held in Lahore, aiming to bring together “a mix of leading local and international entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders” to explore the role of entrepreneurship as a change agent. The News’ Mosharraf Zaidi, who wrote about the conference, noted, “Without a generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, job creation in Pakistan will stay dormant, while our population and its appetite for consumption goes through the roof.” Elmira Bayrasli, a writer working on development issues, recently returned from a trip to Pakistan where she explored similar issues, noting in a piece for Portfolio.com that Pakistani entrepreneurs are driven mainly by a desire “to pull Pakistan out of its political and economic abyss.” Below, she delves further into this topic [which first appeared on her blog, Wonderment Woman, as part of a five-part postcard on Pakistan]:

“Welcome honored donors,” read the banner hanging over the passport control counter at Benazir Bhutto Airport in Islamabad.  That, along with hot, musty air, was my greeting to Pakistan, at 3AM two Sundays ago.  I had arrived, along with my colleagues Phil Auerswald and Sara Shroff to assess Pakistan’s entrepreneurial landscape.

Not far from the banner, there also hung a framed black and white photo of a gaunt man in a dark textured and triangular hat, similar to the one that Afghan President Hamid Karzai sports.  It was Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the revered founder of Pakistan – the land of the pure.  Jinnah established the republic in 1947, after gaining independence from the British and breaking from India.jinnah

Jinnah reappeared a half hour later when I entered the lobby of the infamous Marriott Islamabad.  He was there again the next day when we visited the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi.  Jinnah seemed to be everywhere.  The only other place I know of where that happens is… Turkey.  The image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the blue-eyed founder of Turkey, is, like Jinnah’s, ubiquitous throughout Anatolia. Both dominate every government office, school entranceway and public space.

Pakistan and Turkey have a lot in common.  As predominately Muslim nations, both have struggled with secularism and Islam.  Both have had, as a result, numerous military interventions that have overthrown their respective country’s government.  As predominately agrarian societies, Pakistan and Turkey have wrestled with developing their respective economies in order to compete on the global marketplace.  For a long time, it was a tough fight.  Both countries choked under unemployment, debt, run away inflation and rent seekers.  Pakistan still does.  Turkey has broken from that cycle.

It broke as a result of the economic liberalization reforms enacted by late Prime Minister Turgut Ozal in the 1980s.  With less state-control and relaxed trade and banking laws, Turks embraced entrepreneurship.  Overnight, they turned Anatolian cities, more commonly known as “Anatolian tigers,” into textile and manufacturing centers and lifted Turkey’s poor into the middle and upper class.  Today, Turkey holds a seat at the G20 and the UN Security Council.  Despite being continually rejected by Brussels, it has, by the European Commission’s own account, the fastest (and perhaps only) growing economy.  It is an example that beleaguered Pakistan can and should replicate.  It should do so with Turkey’s guidance.

Turkey understands Pakistan’s economic struggles because Turkey once endured them as well. “We have common problems and common solutions,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan while visiting Pakistan just last week.  Part of Turkey’s solution is taken directly from Washington in the form of aid.  *Sigh.*  Fortunately, the other part of Turkey’s solution is precisely what Pakistan will help Pakistan develop: investments.

Rather than a money problem, Pakistan suffers from an investment problem.  The money that Pakistanis possess is caged. It’s used to cover day-to-day expenses rather than being used as leverage to create new enterprises and, most importantly, jobs.  Turkey has discussed opening banks in Pakistan, increasing trade and encouraging its private sector to seek collaboration on construction, infrastructure, engineering, energy, agriculture, telecom and textile opportunities.  That is a good start.  But more can be done. 

Here are two suggestions:

  1. From a historical, religious and cultural perspective, Turkish entrepreneurs and investors are ideal role models and mentors for aspiring Pakistanis with start-up ideas.  They can help advise on operating in a Muslim society where entrepreneurship has not traditionally been encouraged or possible, where risk has largely been absent and where failure has always been the kiss of death.  Both countries could develop an entrepreneurship exchange and mentoring program where Pakistani entrepreneurs spend time working in Turkey and Turkish entrepreneurs in Pakistan.
  2. Turkish investors could establish, along with their Pakistani counterparts, a fund, with manageable interest rates and transaction fees, for Pakistani entrepreneurs.  It is an idea that American venture capitalists would benefit joining as well.  This will help unshackle Pakistan’s paralyzed capital that can then provide the leverage to jumpstart enterprise development and job creation.

It is imperative that Pakistan climb out of its current crisis and into prosperity.  There are signs it is prepared to do so.  The absence of Jinnah’s photo in the sleek and modern offices of the several entrepreneurs Phil, Sara and I met with was the clearest. Pakistan’s younger generation, while deeply patriotic, is not straightjacketed by the past.  They know that while Jinnah may have been their country’s founder, they are its keepers.  For now, they’re pushing their black and white past aside in order to keep their focus on what could be Pakistan’s abundantly colorful and high-definition future.

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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