Archive for February, 2011

Copyright All rights reserved by Without Shepherds Film Inc.

As revolution continues to spill over the Middle East, some have questioned whether a similar rallying cry would erupt on the streets of Pakistan. But while we have certainly reached our own tipping point, it is not a moment defined by a call for regime change. It is far more complex. Pakistan is a country that suffers from an identity crisis. And ultimately, if we don’t know who we are, do we really know what we are fighting for?

Without Shepherds is a feature documentary that addresses some of these very complex and fundamental questions. The film, directed by Cary McClelland and made in partnership with Pakistani filmmakers [The Crew Films & EyeBee Films among others], offers a glimpse into the nuances of the country through the eyes of six diverse characters – Imran Khan, a cricketer-turned-politician; Vaneeza, a model/actress; Laiba, a Peshawar-based journalist; Abdullah, a truck driver; Arieb, a Sufi musician; and Ibrahim, a former Taliban fighter. Each character has a mission and their documented journey from February 2008 to November 2008 is a reflection of the broader struggle within Pakistani society.

Each of the people cast in Without Shepherds came from different regions and socioeconomic classes. They were selected to showcase the rich diversity of Pakistan, possessing different religious and political perspectives, as well as ideas about the future of the nation. However, noted McClelland, “the similar push among the cast was this desire for justice – to be more legitimately part of the social infrastructure and fabric of the country.” He added, “Each of these characters had significant obstacles in their path; some had  been robbed or cheated of things that were very dear to them, and as a result, had to bravely face these challenges head-on.”

The casting of the film was extremely important in demonstrating both the diversity of the country as well as their shared humanity. While selecting Imran Khan was relatively easy, given his boycott of the February 2008 elections and subsequent “outside-in” perspective, the Without Shepherds team took many trips around the country to discover other interesting narratives. Abdullah, whose struggle to provide for his family keeps him “chained to the road,” gives us a glimpse into the world and wisdom of Pakistan’s truck drivers, who have traversed the entire country and subsequently possess unique insights. According to McClelland, Abdullah was “the most empathetic and human character in the film,” a man who exhibited a sophisticated world view despite being self-educated.

Copyright All rights reserved by Without Shepherds Film Inc.

Laiba, a female journalist based in Peshawar, is courageous in her battle to humanize families living in northwestern Pakistan, but must also battle for respect and appreciation at work. McClelland noted her story had the richest twists and turns. “There was a real juxtaposition between how progressive she was politically and how conservative she was religiously.” He added, “The more I watched her push up against the people who ran her television channel, to get them to be more engaged and undertake braver programming, the more I grew to admire her.”

Another character in the film, said McClelland, required a sensitive ear during filming. Ibrahim fought for six years with the Taliban along the Afghan border. His struggle is one for peace, a journey complicated by family and friends who cannot look beyond his past. For McClelland, Ibrahim’s story constantly revealed new layers of insight. “He was a real student of the country – about its history and culture – and he could speak very beautifully and poetically about what was happening around him.” At one point during the film, Ibrahim is captured saying, “You can see many animals here, but you will rarely see a shepherd.”

Copyright All rights reserved by Without Shepherds Film Inc.

The filmmakers behind the documentary were really interested in juxtaposing the character’s private and public experiences. This was particularly pertinent for Imran, Vaneeza, and even Arieb, who are all public personalities. According to McClelland, though, some of the more human moments were captured in Imran’s interactions with his children. “Watching him as a father was analogous to how he viewed himself as a political leader and a philanthropist, making the narrative that much more rich.”

Each of the character’s journeys was unique, but their shared struggle for justice made the “film a very emotional experience” for those involved. There are connected because they all went against the mold, and each person at the end of the story arc either overcame their obstacles or came to peace with their situation.

Although the timeline in the film began before the February 2008 elections and ended with the U.S. elections in November 2008, McClelland emphasized that the interwoven themes in Without Shepherds are still very current today. “The questions that were posed to the country at the time were similar to those we were posing to our characters throughout the film – what direction do you see the country going, what values do you have, who are the people who best represent that,” he told me. “Pakistan is still similar to the country we left, as is America, and the questions we asked back then are still relevant today.”

Without Shepherds Director Cary McClelland

Without Shepherds aims to provide a more multidimensional perspective of Pakistan for an American audience. It is ultimately a human story. But the film is also an opportunity for Pakistanis to reflect on their common voice and hold a mirror up to our own society. Therefore, noted McClelland, the film will be shown to American audiences, “but we are also hoping to partner with Pakistani NGOs and set up grassroots screenings throughout the country. It is a great opportunity to use film to reach a diverse set of audiences.”

The documentary is currently at the mid-point in post-production, and hopes to premiere in the late summer/early fall 2011. However, Without Shepherds still must raise money to achieve this goal. Last week, the team established an online campaign on Indie GoGo, and is trying to raise $25,000 to bring the film into its next stage of post-production. It’s an enormous undertaking, but it’s for a character-driven film with a very significant overarching message. As McClelland said to me, “We really have the opportunity to help close the gap in a country as important and beautifully expressive as Pakistan.” You can get involved and help Without Shepherds reach this goal, by donating here. [Also, follow Without Shepherds on Facebook.]

WITHOUT SHEPHERDS Trailer from Cary McClelland on Vimeo.

Read Full Post »

But at least they’re better than this guy:

Source: Telegraph

Libya‘s Muammar el-Qaddafi appeared to be trying out for My Fair Lady yesterday when he addressed reporters, his first statement since protests broke out in his country. He appeared for about 30 seconds on Libyan Television, saying, “I want to have some rest…Because I was talking to the young man at Green Square, and I want to stay the night with them but then it started raining. I want to show them that I am in Tripoli, not in Venezuela. Don’t believe those dogs in the media.”

Denial is apparently not just a river in Egypt.

Mubarik & Qaddafi. Two Peas in a Pod.

Update: Qaddafi spoke again on state television Tuesday. It was just as incoherent. (He will never leave Libya. He will die a martyr. The protesters are on drugs. The protests are happening because of “greasy rats and cats.” Um. Yeah.)

Read Full Post »

One Week, Two Great Initiatives

Logo by Khizra Munir. Thanks Khiz!

Ok, maybe I’m biased about one of the said “great” initiatives. Forgiveness, plis.

This past Tuesday, we – Jeremy Higgs, Maryam Jillani, and I – launched ThinkChange Pakistan, a blog that aims to track the social entrepreneurship and innovation space in Pakistan. It is the first spin-off of the ThinkChange brand from ThinkChange India, whose team were an enormous help in starting this initiative.

I have been working in the social entrepreneurship space in Pakistan for the past few years, and I eat, breathe, and sleep everything related to this industry. The term “social enterprise” refers to social mission-driven businesses that take market-based approaches to achieve social impact. Ultimately, social enterprises and entrepreneurship are providing innovative solutions to long-term development problems. Social entrepreneurs don’t just think about how to provide a service or commodity to low-income populations (also known as the “Bottom of the Pyramid“) in a vacuum, they think about how that service or commodity can fit into the market dynamics – how to create demand for a product that will ultimately alleviate poverty.

You may have noticed that I used a lot of jargon in the above paragraph. That is part of the problem. The social entrepreneurship space is small but growing in Pakistan, and there is therefore a need to raise awareness and demystify the terms and expectations associated with this industry. There is also a need to foster a sense of community among Pakistani social entrepreneurs and innovators, because collaborative and participatory approaches ensure that we are achieving the maximum amount of impact.

ThinkChange Pakistan will hopefully achieve that, providing case studies, interviews, contributions by Pakistani social entrepreneurs, and reports on the ever-changing dynamics of this global industry. This doesn’t mean CHUP is going anywhere. But TC-P is a blog that reflects much more of what I do in my work life and what I am extremely passionate about. Check it out.


Artwork by Zaina Anwar, Gawaahi.com

You should also visit Gawaahi, a new online initiative founded by two fabulous women (and friends) – Naveen Naqvi and Sana Saleem. Gawaahi aims to archive digital stories of abuse, survival and resistance. When I spoke to Naveen today, she told me about how the idea originated:

When it was first conceived, we were hoping to create a portal for NGOs that work with abused women. But then as we worked on it, the idea evolved. Calling it Gawaahi or “witnessing” made us think about the connotations of the word. To be so disempowered that you are nothing but a mere witness to your life. The power of the act of witnessing when we listen to someone’s story. The idea of the testimony. All of that and the circumstance of the floods, the madness that is taking hold in Pakistan made us want to expand Gawaahi. We wanted to include stories of flood survivors — how could we do stories of survival, and not include these incredibly resilient people, we thought. With public spaces shrinking, we wanted to create a space of resistance, where Pakistanis could celebrate their individual voices.

The website is beautiful. Gawaahi encapsulates the power of story-telling and imagery, a reminder of our interconnected humanity. The founders of the initiative hope it will provide a sense of empowerment for people to no longer see themselves as victims, but as survivors. Naveen added, “We hope it will be a space where Pakistanis can speak out for the kind of life they want, the kind of world in which they would like to live. It’s time for women and minorities to reclaim public space.” Kudos to Naveen and Sana, as well as all the people who were involved in launching this initiative.

Below is a digital story by blogger Mehreen Kasana produced for Gawaahi, which is fantastic:

My body, my country by Mehreen Kasana from Gawaahi.com on Vimeo.

Read Full Post »


NYT/AP: Raymond Davis

Where to even begin with the Raymond Davis case?

In the last few weeks, tensions have escalated between the U.S. and Pakistan. The media has dubbed it “a diplomatic row,”  but even that phrase is a gross oversimplification of the situation, which is now a convoluted, complex mess. The center of the controversy is an American allegedly named Raymond Davis who, on January 27, killed two brothers in Lahore, who he claimed were trying to rob him at gunpoint.

But two things have come increasingly into question since the incident: (1) Davis’ self-defense plea and (2) Davis’ status in Pakistan.

Although Davis claimed he shot the men in self-defense – a statement supported by the State Department – a Pakistani police report said otherwise, concluding he was “guilty of murder.” According to the Washington Post, the five-page report cited investigators’ findings that Davis “shot each victim five times, including in their backs, and lied to police about how he arrived at the scene.”

Davis’ status in Pakistan, though, has become the central issue in this diplomatic storm. Although the United States insists Raymond Davis is an American diplomat, making his arrest a clear violation of diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, the details surrounding this status appear convoluted at best, fueling cries that he is in fact a private security contractor.

Soon after the shooting, Pakistani news channels broadcast what it says were images of Davis’ passport, seemingly absent of a diplomatic visa. Dunya News later televised a mobile phone video of his alleged interrogation by Punjab police, in which Davis told authorities that he was a “consultant” for the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. In the most recent and overblown claim, the Nation reported that Davis flew “into a fury” in jail upon hearing the azaan, the Muslim call to prayer. According to the article,

The inmates facing murder charges invariably display quite caution. American killer Raymond Davis, however, is a different species. Undeterred by the implications of his case, he lives in the jail the way he wants to…“Seeing four prisoners offering Asr prayers in the corridor of their barrack, Davis started grumbling in a derogatory way,” said Shah.

While Raymond Davis could very well be a private security contractor who was operating in Pakistan, (in fact, there is a lot of evidence suggesting he is, in fact, one), media coverage that further serves to demonize him is not productive. In fact, it has ultimately made Davis a caricature, a larger-than-life character who exacerbates the emotionalism that lies at the very root of this society. And, as the diplomatic tug-of-war has continued between the U.S. and Pakistan at the top, it has stoked anti-American sentiment and tensions at the local level. The Raymond Davis case has ultimately become so enormous that there is no painless conclusion.

However, here are a few observations:

  1. The Raymond Davis case highlights the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. This is a pretty obvious statement, but the threat by U.S. lawmakers that they would halt aid to Pakistan, as well as the recent statements by  PPP’s Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab (specifically that, Davis “enjoyed diplomatic immunity” and, “Why we are risking our overall good reputation before the rest of the world…America is the largest market for Pakistan, with whom we earn four billion dollars.”) further emphasize just how transactional that relationship truly is. As Raza Rumi noted, “We hate America but not American aid or arms.” Let’s face facts. We are not equal partners in our relationship with the United States. We have an American sugar daddy. And though money will certainly not buy you love (especially in Pakistan), it will definitely buy you a lot of dependency. Not a good thing.
  2. The case showcases the confusion and tenuous relations within and between political parties in Pakistan. Last week, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was dropped during the cabinet reshuffle reportedly “over his divergent opinion on the Raymond Davis issue,” when he said that Washington had pressured him for Davis’ release “but he had refused to comply on the basis that Davis is not a diplomat.” His statement led Wahab to question Qureshi’s loyalty and call for disciplinary action for humiliating party leadership. Another PPP official, in reaction to Wahab’s claim that Davis “enjoyed diplomatic immunity,” stated it was her “personal opinion,” not reflective of “party policy” or “government policy.” This series of statements highlight the confusion and lack of agreement that exists within parties. Moreover, the Davis case as a whole has and will lead to opposition parties attempting to win brownie points among the public to  gain political leverage and ultimately undermine the current government. Cue further instability.

Since this debacle started a few weeks ago, increasingly more prominent figures have stepped in, from President Obama calling Davis a diplomat and urging Pakistan to abide by the Vienna Convention, to Senator John Kerry making a last-minute trip to Pakistan to appeal for the American’s release. On the other side, Pakistani politicians are bickering while public cries for justice are growing louder by the day. You have to wonder – is there a seamless way out of this diplomatic clusterf****?

Read Full Post »

Mubarak ho, Egypt!

AFP: The crowds in Tahrir Square. Incredible.

For the last 18 days, the world has watched the protests unfold in Egypt. We tuned into the developments hourly and daily. We watched the crowds grow larger, more determined, and more united. We saw a revolution take shape, despite attempts by the state to squash this resolve.

On February 11, 2011, we witnessed a historic moment – a largely peaceful protest movement toppled the autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak. According to Al Jazeera English, the crowd in Tahrir Square chanted, “We have brought down the regime”,  while many  protesters were seen crying, cheering and embracing one another.

Many people have tweeted or commented on whether Pakistan can or should go the same route as Tunisia and Egypt. To some extent we already did. Street protests and demonstrations, led largely by the lawyers’ movement, helped contribute to the eventual resignation of former President Pervez Musharraf in 2008, [or at least to the reinstatement of the Chief Justice – remember the Long March?].

Sumit Ganguly commented further on this question in a piece for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel:

Why has Pakistan not seen, and is unlikely to see, street demonstrations of the order that have swept aside the regime in Tunisia and now threatens the one in Egypt? The reasons are complex. Despite the elements that Pakistan has in common with both those states, there are important differences. Pakistanis have enjoyed, for varying lengths of time, the advantages of democratic, civilian rule even though they have yet to vote an elected government out of power. The all-powerful military apparatus has frequently stepped in when it has deemed that the civilian regime has either proved to be unstable or breached some invisible but nevertheless real boundaries. Despite the tenuousness of democratic regimes, they are not unknown in Pakistan, as they are in Tunisia and Egypt.

We also have a working judiciary, even if it’s not always independent, noted Ganguly, as well as “viable political parties.” We have a vibrant media. Does this mean that people are content with the status quo in the country? Of course not. These institutions are deeply flawed. But while Egyptians throughout the country were able to unite for a common call for democracy, toppling a figure who was the face of autocracy for 30 years, we have a very different and complex set of issues, making it difficult to unite under one banner.

Today, though, let’s celebrate Egypt and the Egyptians who proved today the power of the people can truly ring louder than the rule of a dictator. Congratulations, we are truly privileged to have witnessed such a historic moment.

Read Full Post »

Dude, You so Metro

Shoaib Akhtar. Famous metrosexual. Likes pouting and t-shirt time.

Forget the issue of extremism among Pakistan’s security forces. We have metrosexuals to worry about, people! Lock up the kids! They’re on the rise in our country’s most cosmopolitan cities!

According to the AFP today, “In Pakistan, as militant Islamists wage war on anything smacking of Western culture,  [the] “metrosexual” man is quietly on the rise.”

And you thought they wouldn’t be able to frame metrosexuality in light of the Taliban.

The AFP quoted someone from an advertising agency in Pakistan, who further emphasized that the rise of this “metropolitan heterosexual” man is the result “of a liberalized banking sector and a massive explosion of media.”

Yet another thing to blame Veena Malik for, apparently. Yeh kya baat hui!

The ad man/expert-on-all-things-metrosexual/wannabe-Don-Draper, noted,

Now people have a much greater disposable income because of all the banking reforms we’ve had over the past 10, 15 years where all of a sudden we have people being able to take loans, which was not a possibility in Pakistan before. And the other major influence is the fact that we now have a flourishing media industry. When you’re bombarded with all these new ideas, your consumption increases.

The rise of said disposable income has apparently led to increasingly more men concerned with (gasp) personal hygiene and figuring out that comb-overs are not the only solution to bald spots! According to the AFP, hair transplants are on the rise in Pakistan, and a hair transplant surgeon (err, yes), “sporting a thick head of hair,” told the news agency that a former federal minister and Pakistani cricketer were among his clients.

Michael Kanaan, owner of the Michael K Salon in Islamabad, noted that facials and manicures are also increasingly popular among men. He’s Lebanese too, mentioned the AFP, apparently indicating that this trend has been the result of a “foreign [well-manicured] hand.” Damn Lebanese and their French-sounding Arabic!

But not to worry. Metros draw the line at accessories. David Beckham, your penchant for girly man sarongs and headbands have no place here! Pakistani metrosexuals instead prefer blush and lipstick, [see below]. And feeling pretty.

(AFP) Getting ready for night on the town.

In case you couldn’t tell by my blatant sarcasm, I found this article to be extremely ridiculous. Not only did the AFP inflate male vanity into an entire phenomenon, it lumped every man who cares about their appearance into said category. What, are metrosexuals our new force against the Taliban, armed with hair gel and hairdresser scissors? If militants got manicures, would their well-tamed cuticles lead to a decrease violence in Pakistan?

I’m not even going to entertain that notion with an answer.


Rehman Malik. Another famous metrosexual. Likes purple hair dye.

Read Full Post »