Archive for December, 2010

The WTF List of 2010

LOL Cat's like, 2010. WTF.

It’s New Years Eve today, and what a year it’s been. 2010 has been littered with many a Pakistan-related WTF moment, and I thought it best to go beyond the “Top Philosophical Things You Should Be Doing With Your Life” type lists (mainly because they make me feel bloody inadequate) and give you a list of the developments, quotes, and fuzziness that really made me go, “What the EFF,” [for the first WTF-related CHUP post, see here]:

WTF #1: Politicians. They iz catty mean girls. Ok. We knew this already. But certain moments made this year seem particularly ridiculous, from MQM’s Waseem Akhtar calling PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar “Mr. Bean” this week (via @desmukh) to the Facebook comeback kid Pervez Musharraf calling Nawaz Sharifbrainless” (while making a dig at his hair plugs), there were no shortage of name-calling and cattiness. Back in June, there was even a physical cat fight, when two female legislators from the PPP had an all-out brawl before a budget session. Rawr. (That was my cat noise.) Let’s not even get started on the Wikileaks’ release and the comments made by foreign dignitaries about each other. I mean, really. Who needs trashy reality shows when we have this for entertainment?

WTF #2: Corruption. They all haz it. Corruption is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. God no. But according to Transparency International, perceptions are worse than last year (The CPI ranked Pakistan 143 in the world), arguably meaning that we increasingly view this as a problematic issue. According to a Pew poll released in July, 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. However, if you’re PPP’s Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi, you’d contend that corruption is every politician’s “political right.” Because that’s what politicians are elected for, apparently. To plunder the country. Just call them political pirates, arrr. WTF, matey. [thanks to Twitter friends for the Jatoi reminder.]

WTF #3: Integrity. Not many haz it. This year, scandal erupted over the shocking number of fake degrees claimed by Pakistani parliamentarians. Over the summer, “Up to 160 elected officials [were] accused of faking their degrees in order to meet a requirement for holding office,” reported Al Jazeera English. Regardless whether the education requirement first put in place caused this onslaught of fake degrees, [another debate entirely] the scandal caused some pretty justifiable WTF outrage, particularly when politicians like Aisam Rabbani told reporters, “a degree is a degree whether it’s authentic or fake,” or when the ever-charming Jamshed Dasti, with a fake Masters in  Islamic Studies, couldn’t even multiply 4 times 2 (let alone name the first 15 suras of the Quran). CHUP contributor Usman Zafar used a choice quote from Aesop in his op-ed on the topic, “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.”

WTF #4: Cricketz. They no haz it either. Where to even start with the Pakistan cricket team? In August, The News of the World broke a spot-fixing scandal, implicating seven players on the team, particularly Salman Butt (Captain) Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. The development further highlighted a long history of fixing in Pakistani cricket, but also the inefficiencies of the systematically corrupt Pakistan Cricket Board and the strong presence of the gambling syndicates [see Shaheryar Mirza’s contribution here]. Couple that development with ball-biting a la Shahid Afridi, steroids galore, and more than a few disappointing losses, and you get one, giant, WTF. [Also see Five Rupees for this great piece, “Why It’s Really Hard to Care About Cricket Right Now.”] All I have to say is, thank GOD for tennis player Aisam Qureshi. I hearts him.



WTF #5: Gary Faulkner iz Jack Bauer iz Chuck Norris. I mean. How could we not dole out a big, jovial, WTF to the Bin Laden Hunter? Faulkner was recently found near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border this summer, claiming he was searching for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It was his eighth trip to Pakistan, and the police who found him (who originally thought him “mentally deranged”), said he was carrying a pistol, a dagger, a sword, and night-vision goggles. This man is my hero. Favorite Gary Faulkner joke? Gary Faulkner destroyed the periodic table, because Gary Faulkner only recognizes the element of surprise. Boo yah.

WTF #6: Blasphemy laws & mob mentality. No LOLz. Since their introduction in the 1980s, the blasphemy laws have been arbitrarily used to legitimize the violence and persecution of Pakistan’s minorities. This year, the case of Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy, sparked outrage and media headlines, further illustrating how often our legislators cow tow to the cacaphony of the religiously ignorant. There was increasing violence as well, [see this piece I wrote for the AfPak Channel], when more than 70 people were killed when gunmen launched attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore. Just last month, police gave credence to intolerance and prejudice over reason and sensitivity, forcing an Ahmadi family to exhume a relative’s body from a graveyard. The Aasia Bibi and the Ahmadi graveyard examples further illustrate not only the ugliness of ignorance, but also how often mob mentality overruns reason. This was also evident when two brothers were brutally tortured and beaten to death in public in Sialkot back in August.

(Bravo to politicians and figures that did stand up against the blasphemy laws, like Asma Jehangir, Sherry Rehman, and Salmaan Taseer, to name a few.)

WTF #7: Mushy likez Facebook. LHC no likez it. Former President Pervez Musharraf announced his return to politics this year with the formation of his political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) and saying his (nearly 372,000) Facebook fans “wanted him to come back to Pakistan.” Status messages were abound with, “OMGZ. APML Foreva! Lulz” as Mushy played Farmville with fans and “liked” his own link uploads and photos (before APML fans start creating a Facebook application where users throw darts at my face, just remember I’m joking. Musharraf doesn’t even like Farmville). The Lahore High Court, on the other hand, was the Debbie Downer of the Facebook world, when, in response to the South Park controversy (when an episode was censored for featuring the Prophet Muhammad, and sparked an ‘Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!’) and numerous protests, they ordered the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to block Facebook across Pakistan temporarily. So, Comedy Central censorship ultimately led to more censorship. An ironic WTF.

WTF #8: The floods this summer in Pakistan affected over 20 million people in the country, and rehabilitation and recovery will take years. Many argue that the government was ineffective in its response to the disaster, paying lip service and shedding crocodile tears, rather than truly attending to the millions whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed, [PM Gilani even visited a fake relief camp in August].

I realize that this list could be endless, and I have undoubtedly missed many choice WTF’s of the year, so I invite you, dear readers to add your own in the comment section. [Also check out these great lists by Blue Rickshaw and Huma Imtiaz at Dawn.] Happy New Year all!

For your entertainment, and to end the year with a laugh, here is a brilliant video of our favorite right-wing red beret Zaid Hamid showing off his karate skills in 1985 [via @kaalakawaa]:

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Working Girls

The working girls of Mad Men.

This past weekend, the NY Times published a video report by Adam Ellick, which delved into the growing number of lower-class women in Karachi entering Pakistan’s service industry. In the accompanying article, he wrote, “The women are pressed into the work force not by nascent feminism but by inflation, which has spiked to 12.7 percent from 1.4 percent in the past seven years. As a result, one salary — the man’s salary — can no longer feed a family.”

In the last five years, the female employment at fast food chain KFC has risen 125 percent. KFC Pakistan CEO Rafiq Rangoonwala told Ellick, “It’s not just the economic need, but need of the nation. Otherwise, Pakistan will never progress. We’ll always remain a third-world country because 15 percent of the people cannot feed 85 percent of the population.”

The story is interesting because of its commentary on women’s foray into the workplace, how employment leads to economic empowerment, and how this subsequent independence is considered a threat to the gender status quo. It is the age old power struggle. In the case of these Pakistani women in the service industry, they have faced constant resistance from “harassing customers and disapproving male relatives,” as well as much more conservative traditional and religious values. One woman told Ellick that her brother’s biggest stance is, “Our sisters don’t leave the house, God forbid they get ahead of us, or that they earn so much that we don’t have any importance…”

These women are therefore walking a thin line between earning a living and challenging societal norms, facing constant opposition from men who are threatened by this growth and continuing to view them as objects. Ellick noted that some KFC female employees were reluctant to smile for fear that male customers would think they “were easy,” while other men may label female workers as prostitutes or worse. Such perceptions are damaging, resulting in broken engagements and numerous safety concerns. In fact, one customer was so taken by a female worker’s smile, noted Ellick, that “he followed her out the door and tried to force her into his car.”


From the NY Times

This issue is certainly present in this society, but it’s also a universal problem. How many times have we all heard, read, or seen stories of rape or assault in which the victim has been blamed for her clothing choice, her profession, or the way she looked overall? How many times have we heard the phrase, “She was asking for it?In the case of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and the rape allegations in Sweden, he shockingly considers himself a victim of “revolutionary feminism,” even noting that one of the women was wearing a “revealing pink cashmere sweater.” No words, [though check out this great piece over at New Wave Feminism, “The Handy Guide to Not Raping People in Seven Easy Steps.”]

If you’ve been watching the Pakistani news over the past few weeks, then you also heard that very statement uttered by police officers and Sharmila Farooqi (see Sana Saleem’s brilliant open letter here), after a young woman in Karachi was gang raped. Rather than siding with the victim and protecting her privacy, Farooqi revealed her identity and proceeded to malign her character based on irrelevant details, causing the girl to withdraw the case.

Such attitudes are infuriating and ignorant, and further perpetuate the cycle of gender-based violence and discrimination.  In  television shows like Mad Men, set in an advertising agency in the 1960s, the evolution of women in the work place in the U.S. is continuously illustrated and is a reminder of how universal these issues are. In Pakistan, as Ellick noted, employers are reluctant to hire this growing generation of lower class women because of the subsequent investment, though supermarket chain Makro currently spends $8000/month on offering free transit services for its female workers, “to protect them from harassment and to help persuade them take jobs where they may face hostility.” As a result, Makro’s female employment has quadrupled since 2006.

Other employers are reluctant to hire women because of the high turnover rate, particularly given the expectation that many stop working after they get married. Again, a familiar scenario, not that different to the evolution of workplaces in the West or even among women working in higher-end jobs in Pakistan (though obviously the cultural and religious nuances add more layers to this situation). It is a constant struggle and debate about entrenched gender roles and how, as women become more economically empowered, the status quo begins to shift. Therefore, it is important to note the intrinsic link between economics and feminism (via empowerment).

Zeenat Hisam, a senior researcher at the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research told the NY Times, “We’re a society in transition. Men in Pakistan haven’t changed, and they’re not changing as fast as our women. Men want to keep their power in their hand.” The question of course remains, is how to reconcile these differences in order to preserve such modes of empowerment without endangering these women’s safety – at home and in the work place.

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Source: Berklee.edu

Lahore-born and raised Arooj Aftab is an emerging musician whose music is influenced by an array of artists – from traditional Pakistani singers to contemporary sounds from the likes of  Erykah Badu. A self-taught guitarist, Arooj was one of four recipients of Berklee Music’s first merit-based scholarship, allowing this innovative musician to receive a formal music education at the acclaimed college.  Today, she lives in Brooklyn, and has plans to tour Pakistan and the region next year with a unique blend of artistry that encompasses a true spectrum of global sounds. Below, she answers a few questions for CHUP:

Q: You are a self-taught guitarist from Pakistan who received a scholarship to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. What was the transition like? Did you have formal training prior to your time at Berklee?

I actually received a percentage of my tuition as scholarship from Berklee on voice merit, and managed the rest through college loans in true struggling musician fashion! I continued to study voice as my instrument, and music production/engineering as my major at Berklee College of Music. I was teaching myself guitar through my A Levels, performing a bit underground and releasing cover songs on the internet. Right out of Lahore Grammar School (LGS), I won the Steve Vai Berklee Online school scholarship, which gave me a year to study Western music theory prior to actually attending the college.

The transition was pretty smooth- I was very hungry to learn as much as I could about music from everyone around me.Aside from the organized Western classical music and jazz theory I was introduced to, the college also had a large percentage of international students — so it really was incredible to be exposed to instruments, rhythms, sounds and messages from all over the world as well. However, I was the only Pakistani, and with no classical training I spent much time reading and listening to our own music – solidifying and familiarizing myself to old recordings, learning the root by ear so that I could reproduce, replicate and represent Pakistani music in the West.

Q: How have traditional Pakistani music and sounds influenced your music and growth as an artist? What other artists and genres influence you as an artist?

I think it is essential to know the root, and own it with whatever art form you chose to embody. I have always looked to our ancestors and the endless army of great musicians from all over the diaspora for guidance through my years of pursuing music. I would say that a lot of my vocal technique and phrasings come from repetitively and incessantly listening to recordings of Abida Parveen, Begum Akhtar, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali, Bismillah Khan, Nusrat, Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, and so forth. Brazilian fado and flamenco styles also inspire me, as do other types of music.

Q: In Pakistan, there isn’t much importance placed on musical training among youth, despite the popularity of Pakistani pop stars. However, shows like Coke Studio have become popular because of their fusion of traditional and mainstream sounds. Do you think these trends are changing society’s sentiment towards music in Pakistan? How important do you think it is to give youth access to such training?

Classical training is not easy. It requires years of solid dedication and being both physically and mentally present.

The skill is so intricate, intense and intimate that the relationship between teacher and apprentice is sacred. Everything has its own pace, knowledge is imparted in stages, hard work is noted and rewarded for – all together, it’s a very serious process.

I think it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around such an intense dedication to music-  and it is something that is not given much social or monetary value in Pakistan right now. Initiatives like Coke Studio are creating a new found appreciation and fresh direction for music listeners, but young people will not feel confident making solid commitments [to pursue music] unless attitudes towards musicianship itself change.

Q: What do you hope to achieve through your music? Has there been a difference in people’s response to you in the West versus in our part of the world?

Well to be honest, I have yet to perform properly in Pakistan— it has been almost five years since I moved to the U.S. for my degree and have been performing throughout this country, representing Pakistan, while learning, experimenting and developing my sound. Appreciation will always be warm and ample in the U.S., people approach music with a great deal of etiquette and respect. Even when the audience is unfamiliar with the language, they have always been keen on taking in whatever they can get via instrumentation, energy and vibe of the pieces. I am excited to book our debut Pakistan tour soon! Next year we plan to fly through all the main cities with the full band– and also possibly do a few cities in India [my guitar player and co-composer Bhrigu Sahni is from Pune]. I want each concert to be like a big shaadi, as if we are wedding all the cities together. It is a really romantic peace healing concept.

Q: What role can music play in bridging divides? Do you hope to play a role in such forms of public diplomacy?

As an activist in Boston and New York, I have found it very difficult to rally people here towards pro-Pakistan activities. The media misconceptions and general fear of what Pakistan even is, has laid a bed of silence over activist communities here. That’s why it’s important for everyone who is Pakistani and has creative, peace promoting, healing agendas– to be louder than ever before. Be present on the web even if you hate Twitter or Facebook— really get the color, the alive, the humor, the heritage and all the love out there. There is much diplomatic power in unifying and celebrating creativity throughout the diaspora.

Collaborative projects are also a great tool that we arent using enough- I have been working with a lot of incredible South Asian artists in the Brooklyn/New York scene recently, including Tamil Sri Lankan Dance/Spoken word artist YaliniDream. There are other amazing artists doing incredible work that should be celebrated, and one of my upcoming projects will be a blog that aims to showcase new South Asian/Diaspora artists each week.

To learn more about Arooj Aftab and her music, visit her website.

Arooj Aftab – Man Kunto Mola [for the initiative Rebuild Pakistan]

And for the Xmas spirit, her cover of Hallelujah:

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NYT/Reuters: Children Taken to Hospital After Karachi Bombing

A version of this piece first appeared in Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel, in a series called, “The Hidden War: The Stories You Missed in 2010”:

The persecution and targeting of religious and sectarian minorities has occurred throughout Pakistan’s history, but a number of attacks in 2010 highlight a qualitative shift in this trend. The scale, location, tactics, and claims of responsibility for attacks on minority religious institutions have changed dramatically between last year and this one, showing that Pakistan’s minorities are an increasing target of the region’s extremist groups.

On May 28, 80 people were killed and over 90 injured in coordinated attacks on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore. On July 2, two suicide bombers attacked a Sufi shrine in Lahore, killing at least 50 and wounding more than 170. Three bombs targeted a Shiite religious procession in Lahore on September 1 during the month of Ramazan, killing at least 35 and injuring around 250. On October 25, two suicide bombers killed eight people and wounded over 60 in an attack on a Sufi shrine in Karachi.

According to numbers based on calculations from the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, news reports, and other sources, there were 25 attacks on mosques in 2009, and 11 of those incidents targeted sectarian minority mosques and institutions. In comparison, there were 19 attacks in 2010, with 10 targeting minority religious institutions.

Although the number of recorded attacks against minorities seems not to have changed much between 2009 and 2010, other key factors changed significantly. In 2010, attacks on minority religious institutions were for the most part large-scale, resulting in significantly higher death tolls than those in 2009. For instance, the average number of people killed in minority-related mosque attacks in 2009 was three. In 2010, the number ballooned to 18 (the average number wounded was 24 in 2009 and 61 in 2010).

Many of these 2010 attacks occurred in Pakistan’s major cities, such as the Sufi shrine bombing in Karachi and the Ahmadi mosque attacks in Lahore. In 2009, comparatively, such attacks were mostly concentrated in the country’s northern areas, including the tribal areas and smaller towns in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The type of attacks also shifted between 2009 and 2010. Last year, militants used mainly IEDs (improvised explosive devices), VBIEDs (vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices), and grenades in their attacks on minority religious institutions; in 2010, on the other hand, suicide attacks were more common, a reason for the larger death tolls.

Finally, there was a shift in groups claiming responsibility. While there was no claim of responsibility for many of the attacks in 2009, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed more attacks this year, including the bombings of the Sufi shrine in Karachi and the Ahmadi mosques in Lahore (though TTP spokesmen denied they were behind the Sufi shrine attack in Lahore in July).

As Cyril Almeida, an assistant editor and columnist at Dawn Newspaper in Pakistan, noted, “The [Pakistani] military suggests that the success of its operations in the tribal areas has disrupted the militant networks. This has made it more important for TTP to be seen to be ‘active‘ and still posing a threat. This might explain why we have seen a rise in the claims of responsibility of minority religious institutions this year.”

But the TTP, despite what it claims, may not be behind all these attacks. Instead, groups belonging to the Punjabi Taliban, with more reach into Pakistan’s urban centers, could be working with the militant umbrella organization to carry out these attacks. By claiming responsibility, the TTP is in effect perpetuating the perception that there is one centralized larger enemy rather than a more manageable cluster of nameless militants operating independently. The increasing number of large-scale suicide attacks occurring in Pakistan’s major cities, not just in the northwestern areas, is also important in the perceptions war because these incidents garner more media attention and exacerbate the notion that the threat is close by, stoking greater instability and fear in the country.

Moeed Yusuf, a South Asia advisor for the United States Institute of Peace, further emphasized, “Terrorist strikes on minority religious institutions are now overall more well-coordinated. More groups are involved in each strike, and better-trained cadres are sent to high-value targets than in the peripheral areas.”

The shift in the nature of these attacks on minority religious institutions also mirrors increasingly heightened anti-minority sentiment in the country. Religious and sectarian minorities have long been marginalized, targeted, and persecuted throughout Pakistan’s history, though the introduction of the blasphemy laws in the 1980s added further legitimacy to this intolerance. Among the most recent victims of these laws is Aasia Bibi, who recently became the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death because of a conviction under the blasphemy laws, and whose story has sparked polarizing reactions from human rights groups to religious organizations.

According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom‘s latest annual report, “[D]iscriminatory laws, promulgated in previous decades and persistently enforced, have fostered an atmosphere of religious intolerance and eroded the social and legal status of members of religious minorities, including Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis, Hindus, and Christians. Government officials do not provide adequate protections from societal violence to members of these religious minority communities, and perpetrators of attacks on minorities seldom are brought to justice.”

In the case of attacks on minority religious institutions, the trend in the past year further illustrates how sectarian violence has intensified to a new level, and are perpetrated on a larger-scale by increasingly well-coordinated militant groups. If these groups want to destabilize Pakistan, noted Yusuf, then attacking minorities’ places of worship adds a further “sectarian dimension to that instability.”

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Strings Wearing "Don't Jealous" and "Code Red: Rahi" (Source: Uth Oye! Look Book Photographed by Adnan Malik)

Whohoo! The second line of Uth-Oye!, “a socially conscious, cause-based design initiative,” is now out. Last year, the graphic t-shirts were both unique and spunky, displaying choice catchphrases like, “Don’t Jealous,” and images of flying auto rickshaws, bleeding gas pumps, and a King of Spades armed with a muchie and an AK-47. This year, the initiative has produced more t-shirts, as well as jeans, hoodies, and handbags, all with equally spunky messaging and imagery.

Kalsoom want.

While I think the t-shirts are witty, the best part of Uth-Oye is its smart branding and ability to leverage this to raise awareness and help fund innovative and sustainable social initiatives occurring on the ground in Pakistan. One such partnership is with the Clinton Global Initiative – U and the Pakistan Sustainability Network, to provide solar lamps to a village in Thar, in Sindh province. Jeremy Higgs, the founding director of PSN’s Karachi chapter [and fellow Twitter buddy] told me,

When the Uth Oye! team approached us, we 1) couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work with a socially-minded and awesome t-shirt designer and 2) saw it as an opportunity to get the message out there about innovative solutions for environmental sustainability that are happening right here in Pakistan.

The nine-month pilot, which provided lamps to Oan village, an area with little to no access to electricity, was such a success that the Uth-Oye/CGI-U/PSN collaboration is now deploying a second phase, installing more lamps in this area. In another partnership with the Association for the Development of Pakistan (ADP), the initiative helped fund and build “15 natural bio-gas generators that generate usable gas by fermenting common waste items (Manure, Human Waste and Sewage)” in Soon Valley, an area with a significant need for alternative sources of gas and fuel.


Bio-Gas Generators Cause w/ADP (Source: Uth-Oye Facebook Page)

As someone who works with similar types of initiatives in my day job, I was not only impressed with the causes endorsed by this design initiative, but also how Uth-Oye made those same projects digestible for the average person, someone not used to the avalanche of obnoxious buzzwords so common in this industry. Case in point, underneath each cause’s description is a “Summary for the Lazy,” brief bullet points that break down 1) the situation 2) the need 3) the solution.

For those of you who needed a Summary for the Lazy for this post, Uth-Oye: Smart Branding + Cool Design + Innovative Causes = Apparel with an Impact.

Uth-Oye! clothing and accessories available in stores in Karachi and Lahore starting December 25. Online orders and [international] shipping available on the website. Join the Facebook page for more daily updates.


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Snaps for the Sistas

Last week, the first ever TEDWomen was held in Washington, D.C., bringing together men and women thought leaders to explore the question – How are women and girls reshaping the future? The two-day conference featured over 70 speakers that cut across disciplines and generations, from former Secretary of State Madeline Albright to Ugandan “bean breeder” Annet Namayanja to social entrepreneur Sejal Hathi.

While I didn’t attend the conference, I was nevertheless inspired to think more about TEDWomen’s overarching question, particularly in the context of Pakistan. While being a Pakistani woman is a completely subjective experience, there are no shortage of incredible figures, women who are paving the path for the next generation and who are challenging societal norms and expectations. Below, are a few women that inspire me on a regular basis:

Asma Jehangir


Source: Express Tribune

A renowned human rights activist, Asma Jehangir recently became the first female president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA). Following her victory, Jehangir told reporters that the bar would not allow anyone to achieve vested interests in the name of the rule of law, noting, “All institutions should work within their constitutional limits.” The Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Jehangir also established the first law firm for women in Pakistan in 1980 (with her sister Hina Jilani) as well as the Women’s Action Forum, a group that campaigned against legislation that discriminated against women (like the Hudood Ordinance).

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy

Chinoy is a film producer and journalist, who has worked on 14 films for major networks in the United States and Britain including CNN, PBS, Channel 4 (U.K.) CBC, Arte and the Discovery channel. She recently won an Emmy for her recent documentary, Children of the Taliban, which investigated how terrorism is creating a generation of child militants in Pakistan.  In 2007, she helped found The Citizens Archive of Pakistan; a non-profit organization formed to foster and promote community-wide interest in the culture and history of Pakistan. Below is Chinoy’s TED talk, “Inside a School for Suicide Bombers”:

Abida Parveen

Source: NY Times

A renowned Sufi musician, Abida Parveen recently participated in Coke Studio, which described her as: “A legend both at home and abroad for her grace and soulful Sufi strains, Parveen over the years has stayed true to her classical origins, which she mastered under the tutelage of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan… A recipient of the 1982 President’s Pride of Performance Award and the 2005 Sitara-e-Imtiaz, Parveen is indeed one of the foremost exponents of kaafi poetry and ghazal singing in Pakistan.”

Samar Minallah

A documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist, Minallah has been advocating for the rights of rural women in Pakistan for the last 20 years. As the founder of Ethnomedia, an advocacy-based media organization, she strives to shed light on social issues that generally receive little notice. One interviewer recently noted, “Samar doesn’t shy away from showing challenging aspects of society, but always does so from a positive point of view, through highlighting strengths and finding space for solutions from within the culture.”

Maria Toor

Toor, who is from South Waziristan, is currently Pakistan’s number one ranked squash player (72nd in the world). As a young girl living in FATA, she would chop her hair in order to disguise herself and play sports with the boys. According to both CNN and Express, Toor’s father soon recognized that his daughter had talent, and moved his family to Peshawar where she could train and play more freely. His sacrifice, noted CNN early this year, “made her success possible.” Toor noted, “I think I have a great father — so broad-minded.” (And while we’re talking about Toor, let’s also make a big honorable mention to the Pakistani women’s cricket team, who won a gold medal at the recent Asian Games).

Roshaneh Zafar

Source: Washington Life

Roshaneh Zafar is the founder and managing director of Kashf Foundation, Pakistan’s first microfinance institution. The organization, which was established in 1996, now has 152 branches nationwide and has supported 305,938 families in Pakistan. In an interview with Zafar this past May, she told me, “Overall all, we have seen a successful ramping up of our program and since 1996 have disbursed loans to 1 million entrepreneurs across the country and provided US$225 million in working capital.  We have also seen that over 60% of our clients invest in new businesses, which has a multiplier effect on the local economy.” Zafar recently received the 2010 Vital Voices Economic Empowerment Award for her work with Kashf.

Mukhtar Mai

Source: Glamour.com

I’ve written extensively on this blog about the issue of honor crimes and killings in Pakistan. In Honor: A History, author James Bowman cited the NY Times’ Nicolas Kristoff, who said, “On average, a woman is raped every two hours in Pakistan, and two women a day die in honor killings.” While it is difficult to corroborate these numbers, we do know that there are many faceless victims of honor in Pakistan. Mukhtar Mai, a woman who was gang-raped on the order of her village’s tribal council, was one of the few who chose to speak out. Today, Mai, who was Glamour Magazine’s 2005 Woman of the Year, has an organization that supports victims of karo kari – the Mukhtar Mai Women Welfare Organization (MMWWO).

The Twitterati

I know what you’re thinking – Twitter, ugh. But I have honestly met and conversed with some of the most awe-spiring women (and men for that matter) on that online platform. These women – including incredible journalists Naheed Mustafa, Azmat Zahra, Naveen Naqvi, Beena Sarwar, Mehmal Sarfraz, Saba Imtiaz, and Huma Imtiaz, as well as witty bloggettes Sana Saleem, Tazeen Javed, Mehreen Kasana, and Rabayl Memon are constantly challenging norms, introducing nuance, and igniting debate about issues that often fall to the wayside. Twitter = sisterhood? Who knew?

There are obviously many women I have inadvertently missed or forgotten, so you tell me – who are your role models?

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The Blasphemous Use of Blasphemy

On Twitter, @majorlyprofound makes a point about the Valiyani case.

Another day, another arbitrarily imposed blasphemy case.

Over the weekend, police arrested Naushad Valiyani, a doctor in Hyderabad, for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Valiyani, who is Ismaili, was reportedly detained following a complaint by a medical representative, who said the doctor “threw his business card, which had his full name, Muhammad Faizan, in a dustbin during a visit to his clinic,” said regional police chief Mushtaq Shah. Shah further told the AFP, “Faizan accused Valiyani of committing blasphemy and asked police to register a case against the doctor.”

According to news agencies, Shah said the issue had been resolved after Valiyani apologized for throwing away the card, but “local religious leaders intervened and pressed for action.”

The police, far be it from actually thinking rationally about this whole incident, registered the case under the Blasphemy Act. And no, before you ask, they didn’t praise the doctor for not littering.

This development further illustrates exactly what we’ve been discussing for months – that unless these blasphemy laws are challenged, intolerance under the guise of the law will continue to reign supreme in Pakistan. It means that every man named Muhammad (which by the way, was “the most common given name in the world” according to Columbia Encyclopedia in 2000) can cry wolf and the law will cater to the person pointing the finger rather than the falsely accused. It means that the cacophony of the mob will always ring louder than the voice of sanity. And it means that there will be many more Aasia Bibi’s and Naushad Valiyani’s to come.

According to Saba Imtiaz at the Express Tribune, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has recorded a total of 24 blasphemy cases and convictions in 2010, and there are reportedly less cases in Sindh than in Punjab. According to HRCP director and activist IA Rehman, this is because, “Anti-Ahmadi sentiment is more prevalent in Punjab, where politics is also mixed with religion. The issue of Ahmadis in Punjab is where the blasphemy laws arose from.”

Osama Siddique [head of the law faculty at LUMS] and Zahra Hayat, in an article entitled, “Unholy Speech and Holy Laws: Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan—Controversial Origins, Design Defects, and Free Speech Implications,” for the Minnesota Journal of International Law, provide an in-depth review of the blasphemy laws, going back to the legislation’s origin. They noted,

…the blasphemy laws form a part of a larger pattern in which the subjugation of legislation to political expediency has subverted the processes of justice in Pakistan…the blasphemy laws…are not the product of a pluralistic and participatory democratic discourse. Instead, they are essentially the legislative interventions of a military dictator who adopted a theocratic rhetoric and agenda for clearly self-serving motivations.

Therefore, the authors note, the very genesis and foundation of the laws were “highly tainted.” In fact, an interesting difference between the original sections of Chapter 15 in the Indian Penal Code and the blasphemy laws is “the elimination of any requirement of intent.” According to Siddique and Hayat, “The 1860 and 1927 versions of the Indian Penal Code greatly emphasize the intention of the accused.” In section 295, for instance, it stated, “with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion.” Proving the intent of the accused (that it was deliberate and premeditated) was therefore a prerequisite in making the defendant liable for conviction.

Not so in the case of the blasphemy laws, where there is no mention of the defendant’s intent. This has of course had tremendous ramifications for the law and its arbitrary application, which has been further compounded by the legislation’s lack of specificity, “making their ambit virtually limitless,” noted Siddique and Hayat. The authors also noted the deficiencies of the lower courts in Pakistan, which first take up the blasphemy-registered cases, and are “historically under-funded, under-trained, and over-burdened with work.” In fact, both the provincial and federal governments allocate less than 1% of their budgets to Pakistan’s judiciary, meaning that, all together, justice continues to be under-prioritized in Pakistan.

Even if these laws aren’t completely appealed (and given how often the government caves to the religious right, their complete appeal seems unlikely in the immediate future), Siddique and Hayat note that by addressing the fundamental design and draft of these laws we can at least begin to tackle their current misuse and exploitation.

The issue, as a whole, leaves me hollow. But this incredible spoken word set by Mary Kay, entitled “Hands” echoes my sentiment completely, particularly when she says: Each country sees their fists as warriors/And others as enemies/Even if fists alone are only hands…Hands are not about politics/When did it become so complicated/I always thought it simple.

[For a great related piece, see Cafe Pyala’s Open Letter to the Chief Justice].

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Remembering the Flood Affected


Wali Khan Mazari, above, meeting with community members. Bangla Ichha below.

Back in July, when monsoon rains inundated Pakistan, there was no shortage of news about the floods. We received constant updates on the villages that were washed away, the homes that were submerged, the families that were displaced from their homes. We heard stories about children who were malnourished, about mothers who were vulnerable to disease. We inspired each other to raise money, to deliver relief items to the camps, to share in our collective humanity.

But when the floods stopped, so did the news headlines. And as the ramifications of the disaster slipped further away from the front pages, our attention shifted elsewhere.

I speak from personal experience. In August, we [my company, ML Resources Social Vision, along with Pakistani Peace Builders, and Indus Valley Productions] partnered to launch Relief4Pakistan, a grassroots campaign that leveraged social media platforms and people-to-people relationships to raise funds and awareness about the unfolding flood disaster. In our first phase, we decided to vet and choose an international relief agency working with a local team on the ground and delivering emergency first response relief effectively. We were lucky in many, many ways, mainly because we ignited the campaign amid the swell of citizen giving and awareness. We raised $150,000 in about two months, centralizing those funds to Mercy Corps.

As we saw the success of the campaign grow and truly turn into a movement, our team was inspired to do more. Together with OperationUSA (an international relief agency, which, contrary to its name, is a privately funded charity focusing on community engagement and mobilization), we designed what we hope is a unique model for post-flood recovery, taking a community-based approach to address immediate needs and layer the initiative by partnering with social innovators working in housing, solar energy, education, and health sectors to have a long-term impact. We realized the key to success was partnership and collaboration, not trying to reinvent the wheel. We also knew we needed to focus on the areas that weren’t receiving aid or attention from the government or aid organizations, helping those communities falling through the cracks.

That is how we came across Sardar Wali Khan Mazari, a tribal leader of the Bangla Ichha Union Council, a cluster of four villages in Rojhan, the sub-district of Rajanpur in southern Punjab. Rajanpur was one of the hardest hit areas of Pakistan, and Bangla Ichha, along the western banks of the Indus River, suffered tremendously. 2/3 of the population (30,000 out of 40,000) were displaced by the disaster, homes were destroyed (about 5,000), and 20,000 acres of farmland were submerged, resulting in tremendous ramifications for this heavily agrarian society.

Mazari has been and is an incredibly inspirational figure amid this disaster. He told me, “In the immediate aftermath of the floods, I provided shelter and food aid to about 5000 IDPs on my farms and in my village. The army also set up a refugee camp just outside our village on my land to provide food, shelter, and medical aid to the flood-affected people. However, the civil authorities were slow and inadequate in their flood relief response in our area…”

The tribal leader soon led a “long march” from his village of nearly 1,000 people to the district headquarters in Rajanpur (a walk of 200 kilometers) to pressure authorities to deliver aid (via the oft-reported “Watan” cards) to the Bangla Ichha community. He noted,

The people’s reaction, especially in Rojhan, has been overwhelming. They felt let down by the government and by some of their sardars who were ‘missing in action’ and weren’t providing any support. The poor people of the Mazari area of the district, besides needing aid, wanted someone to inspire hope, somebody who would listen to their needs. They wanted their leaders to stand beside them. Unfortunately, in many areas of Rojhan, this did not occur, perhaps because the concept of ‘giving back’ is absent from the vocabulary of these local leaders and government officials.

Mazari’s desire to help his community and truly listen to the needs of his people were inspired by his late father, he said, who embodied the tribal values of insaan dosti (shared humanity), khidmat (service), and wafa (loyalty). Those values now inspire the Relief4Pakistan team, and remind us to always keep listening. For example, when we first met Mazari (through Zeyba, one of our team members), we had grand ideas of social innovation and what we wanted to introduce to the Bangla Ichha community. While many of those ideas will be undertaken at later stages by our social enterprise partners (EcoEnergy Finance, for example, will be sending solar lanterns to the community and will potentially install a solar lighting system in the area), Mazari instead convened a meeting with members of his community, asking them about their immediate needs.

The answer was unanimous. The community, most of whom are poor farmers, needed wheat seeds and fertilizer in time for the planting season. They needed to restore their livelihoods. Our team was humbled and learned a big lesson – in order to ensure sustainability, the local community not only needs to be engaged, but they also need to be listened to. Through gifts in-kind, (via the Rohi Foundation/United Nations FAO and the Imran Khan Foundation), we quickly received enough wheat seeds to restore 3400 acres of crops, just one month into this second phase.

Our partnership with OperationUSA will continue to enforce our commitment to this model area, particularly since we are now working to help build dikes (to prevent future flooding) and fostering community investment to ensure long-term impact as well as cooperating with other partners who will help restore schools, train community health workers, and rebuild homes. Nimmi Gowrinathan, the director of OpUSA’s South Asia Programs, further emphasized,

OpUSA often is able to work in remote areas heavily affected by disasters, villages that have no other form of external support. This approach in Pakistan has ensured Operation USA’s aid has ‘filled in the gaps’ left by larger INGOs and UN agencies, and supported community-driven initiatives – increasing both the efficiency and sustainability of long-term development projects. Across all of our programs we have seen civilians regain control over their own lives with adapted housing and livelihood support. We have seen communities develop their own local NGOs to advocate for rights and services from the government. And we have seen decreased rates of maternal mortality with an intervention as simple as a vehicle adapted for use as an ambulance.

This is not a shameless self-promotion post. This is a story of how a group of like-minded citizens, an international relief agency, and a tribal leader with the moral integrity to help his people had the courage to be audacious and the humility to collaborate. This is also an appeal to join our movement, to give when it’s no longer trendy, and to remember the millions affected by the floods when no one else will. Support the group that speaks most to you, but, really, just continue supporting. Because as the cold weather encroaches on the 18.1 million Pakistanis still affected by the floods, they need us to continue to remember them.

To donate to Relief4Pakistan or to learn more about what we do: http://www.relief4pakistan.com

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The Status of Swat Valley


AP Image

Last August, while visiting a skill-building center in Pirwadhai (outside of Rawalpindi), I met a group of women from Swat Valley. Following the Pakistan military’s operation against the Taliban in Swat, these women and their families had been displaced from their homes, choosing to live with host families rather than in relief camps, falling through the aid cracks as a result.

Prior to the operations, there were numerous stories detailing the deteriorating situation in Swat Valley, from the bombings of girls’ schools to the rising influence of the Taliban. The women I met last year mirrored the fear encapsulated in those pieces. One mother told me how her 16 year old daughter had not been to school in the past two years because of the bombings. Another woman related her fear that someone – militant or soldier – would bang on her door in the middle of the night. These women, bound by their collective plight, were also connected by another fear – they were all afraid to go home.

It’s been over a year since I met those women on that dusty afternoon in Pirwadhai, and although Swat has since slipped from the news headlines, I felt it was worth updating readers on the current situation in the region. Last month, the NY TimesAdam Ellick, who has done several pieces on the situation [chronicling one girl’s journey in Swat to the camps and back home], noted that people felt a surge of optimism after the military declared last year that they had cleared the area of the Taliban. However, he noted, “more than a year after millions of residents returned home, the absence of virtually any government follow-through has turned that hope into despair.” The government has yet to rebuild any of the 150 schools destroyed by the Taliban. Ellick reported,

Running water, electricity and school supplies are widely absent. The floods that ravaged the country this summer, and hit Swat especially hard, have only compounded the hardships and diverted money and attention away from reconstructing war-torn areas.

The government, he argued, may have cleared this area of the Taliban, but their lack attention in rebuilding this area means “they are losing a bigger battle” – with Swat’s youth and schoolchildren. Jamaluddin, a 17 year old student, told the NYT, “Our youth will end up as Taliban. Our Pakistan will not progress because of lack of education…I don’t have any more faith to become a doctor. I don’t even believe I’ll become a bus conductor.”

The government, for their part, have defended this lack of progress, “saying that hiring engineers and architects to ensure that schools would be safe from earthquakes was a time-consuming process that was delayed two months by the floods.”

In its coverage, the Associated Press spoke with Saira Bibi, who was publicly flogged by the Taliban last year [see this past post for more about another woman whose public flogging was caught on cell phone], and echoed much of Ellick’s reporting. Although life is “starting to resemble normal in Swat,” the AP noted,

But not everything is as it was. Soldiers now stand on street corners and at checkpoints. The jagged mountain trail leading to Bibi’s village of Ashar Band is strewn with the rubble of damaged buildings. Some 300 schools the Taliban burned in the region have not yet been rebuilt. Occasional attacks — a raid on a checkpoint last month wounded one soldier — remind residents that militancy is still a threat.

One positive is that people like Saira Bibi are coming forward with their stories, sharing the brutality they suffered under Taliban control in Swat. These stories are significant because they provide a humanized perspective of life under the Taliban, a painful reminder of what women, children, and families endured, and what could occur again if we do not pay closer attention. Regardless of whether Swat is a headline tomorrow, or the region is a distant cry from Pakistan’s major cities, these stories show how important it is to restore dignity and honestly help rebuild lives.

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Express/EPA: "Areh, you....bloody...Wikileaks..."

It has been a few days since the latest Wikileaks fiasco began, and news channels, online media sources and Twitter have been flooded with constant updates.

At this time, I really would love it if I didn’t have to see 1) the word Wikileaks followed by “dump” 2) the word Wikileaks followed by “state secrets revealed” (I mean, really? Berlosconi partying? Sarkozy chasing puppies?), 3) photos of Julian Assange in Zoolander-style poses, or 4) just the word Wikileaks.

However, since the “dump” in question on Wednesday had to do with Pakistan, I did a little sifting so that you, dear readers, wouldn’t have to. Here’s a run-down:

The Obvious

1. Hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid money were not used for its intended purpose. Yes, because U.S. aid to Pakistan has been spent efficiently for decades.

2. In a private meeting with former U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson, COAS Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI Chief Gen. Shuja Pasha “complained vociferously” about provisions in the aid package calling for military accountability towards the civilian government (via The News). If you look up military accountability in the dictionary, you might find a photo of Kayani showcasing a “choice” finger.

3. The U.S. is frustrated with Pakistan. There is mutual distrust. They no likey each other.

The Somewhat Interesting

1. During the judicial crisis in March 2009, Gen. Kayani hinted to Ambassador Patterson that he may ‘reluctantly’ have to urge Zardari to resign if conditions deteriorate and “indicated that Asfandyar Wali Khan [leader of the ANP] or someone else broadly acceptable (though not Nawaz Sharif) might be an appropriate replacement,” [via the Express Tribune]. This would not have been an “official” coup and would have left the official PPP government (with Gilani) in place, so elections would not have to take place. According to Dawn, “The implied message in Gen Kayani’s contingency planning was immediately read by the ambassador as a plea to intervene and compel both parties to back down or else the army would play its role.”

2. In February 2009, Zardari told his son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari that if he was assassinated, then Bilawal should name Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur as president. According to Express, Kayani “told U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson that Talpur would be a better president than her brother.” Apparently we are the Islamic Monarchy of Pakistan.

The Under-Highlighted

Perhaps the most telling cable leak was the revelation that the United States were aware of the military’s extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses during operations in Swat and Malakand, but  purposefully kept quiet, [remember this video taken by mobile phone?]. The September 2009 memo stated,

Senior military commanders have equally and repeatedly stressed their concerns that the courts are incapable of dealing with many of those detained on the battlefield and their fears that if detainees are handed over to the courts and formally charged, they will be released, placing Pakistan Army and FC troops at risk.

This belief by commanding officers that the judicial system was incapable of prosecuting detainees, as well as the belief that revenge killings were “key to maintaining a unit’s honor,” were reportedly reasons cited by Patterson that many of these alleged extrajudicial killings and abuse happened. However, while the U.S. privately expressed concern about these murders, they “deemed it was better not to comment publicly in order to allow the Pakistani army to take action on its own,” noted Declan Walsh of the Guardian.

Moreover, while the U.S. discussed proposing alternatives to military commanders in the hopes reducing human rights abuses, the memo ultimately advised that the U.S. “avoid comment on these incidents to the extent possible,” in order to preserve goodwill and resist criticizing this strategic ally too much.

For me, this leak further emphasizes the holes in the U.S. rhetoric towards Pakistan. The relationship is built on short-term strategic interests, despite crows from both governments to the contrary. This is not surprising from a realpolitik perspective, but it should nevertheless be a reminder to constantly read between the lines – to not generate more conspiracy theories, but to remember that every country will operate in a way that serves its best interest. Simon Tisdall at the Guardian makes this point when he noted,

All great powers intrude in pursuit of their own interests; it’s what they do – and picking up where the British left off, the U.S. is no different. It is a measure of the Pakistani state’s weakness that the Americans apparently have such scope and leeway to influence and direct its affairs.What is equally remarkable, however, is how little the Americans appear able, ultimately, to control their satraps.

The biggest casualties from this constant game, noted Tisdall, are ordinary Pakistanis, who suffer grievously from terrorism, “a ravaged economy, acute poverty and lack of education; and in the all but forgotten but still terrible aftermath of this year’s floods.” I’d have to agree.

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