Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

SonofaLion - NiazSA

Son of a Lion, Carolyn Johnson Productions

Son of a Lion, the feature film debut by Australian filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour, tells the story of a young Pashtun boy Niaz Afridi. Though Niaz is from Pakistan’s tribal weapon-making village of Darra Adam Khel, he defies his father’s expectation to carry on the family’s gun making business by demanding an education. The film, which has drawn critical acclaim at international film festivals and is a 2008 Independent Spirit Award Winner, is significant because it explores the nuances of the Pashtun culture and attempts to break down stereotypes of a group often lumped together with the Taliban. Son of a Lion opens in select theaters in the United Kingdom November 6, [see Mara Pictures for further information]. Below is CHUP’s Q&A with Gilmour:

Q: You went from being a medic on a film set in London to filming your first movie in the dangerous terrain of northwest Pakistan. What inspired you to make the jump into film and why did you choose to go to Pakistan for your first project?

For a few years following the 9/11 attacks in New York, I was working as personal medic to Hollywood celebrities whenever they were in London for film shoots. It was while looking after Sharon Stone that I realized how far I had strayed from my mission in life. Paramedics, like most health professionals, are generally imbued with compassion and a sense of justice. Did I train for five years to dish out headache tablets to famous people? The vacuousness, materialism and selfishness of the world in which I inhabited began to frustrate me and I knew my calling was far greater.

In addition to this, having traveled as a tourist in Pakistan in August 2001, I had been deeply touched by the country. Immediately after crossing into Pakistan from India, my wife and I were overwhelmed by the difference in attitudes towards us. We were struck by the kindness and generosity of Pakistanis, whatever their ethnicity. In particular, when we ended up in Peshawar to shop for textiles, we were impressed by the extreme hospitality and good nature of the Pashtuns. A year later, the memory of ‘gupshup’ with the Pashtuns chased me on the film sets of London. The terrorist attacks in NYC had set off a wave of Islamaphobia and outright Muslim hatred in the West, perpetuated by governments and media outlets who ought to have been less hysterical. I was angry and it spurred me into thinking about way in which I could balance out the stigmas and fear-mongering. Being exposed to film as I was at that time convinced me that film as medium had tremendous power to influence people worldwide. This is how film became my weapon to fight Islamaphobia and misconceptions of Pashtuns.

Q: The film, Son of a Lion, goes beyond just touching upon a father-son narrative and really delves into the Pashtun identity, which is significant given the many misconceptions that exist about this group. How did you go about befriending the Pathans you met in the area and how were they part of the creative process of the film?

Shooting this film was a great lesson to me about the Pashtun psyche. This film is a drama, not a documentary, so I needed to find actors willing to participate and there was a great deal of reluctance at first. Film is not generally a medium considered by conservative types in FATA as something acceptable. Judging by some of the Pashto films in the market, I can understand why. But film does not have to include negative and damaging information. Indeed, if film is used by the right people in the right way for the common good of humanity, it can be beautiful and uplifting. Even the Taliban and Al Qaeda have YouTube accounts and make films for Al Jazeera! In no way did I want ‘Son of a Lion’ to be a Western perspective of Pathans. This would be too obvious and has already been done by too many ignorant news stations and I despise it. For the film to be a real glimpse of Pashtun mentality, I knew I needed actors who would improvise.

Befriending a Pathan is not easy as an outsider as they are notoriously suspicious about the intentions of Westerners. This comes as no surprise after so many Western nations have tried to control them, failing dismally each time. For me it took months of waiting in Lahore, teaching film at IQRA University and then countless cups of tea with contacts in Peshawar and villagers in Orakzai trying to convince them to help me. I mean, by the end of pre-production I needed a bladder transplant, that’s how much tea I had to drink for this film!

When I mentioned the word ‘honor‘, the fact I could not return to Australia without a feature film, most of the Pathans felt obliged to assist me I suppose, thanks to Paktunwali. Nevertheless, I believe they were genuinely convinced I wanted to represent them in the best possible light and saw this film as platform to show the world who they were as a people. When those who are frustrated and angry do not have a proper platform to express themselves, they often resort to violence and I think this is part of the problem in FATA. Pashtun tribes have not been consulted about the best way forward in dealing with militancy in their midst. Musharraf‘s negotiation’s with the tribes doesn’t count, as he was also pandering to Taliban. The real Pashtun voice is rarely heard in the Western media. In making this film, I was offering locals a chance to send the world a message in the form of an entertaining drama.

As a consequence, each actor was given the freedom to make up their own dialogues, to help shape the whole story, and to bring their own material to the process continuously. We see news footage of the security situation daily. What we don’t see are the feelings of Pashtuns. My story was about challenging misconceptions about a group with whom we are quite unnecessarily at war with.

Q: Your film tells the story of 11-year-old Niaz who lives with his father Sher Alam Afridi in a small town, where for generations the local population has earned its living by producing weapons. Niaz, however, wants to receive an education. This is such an important message – what do you hope audiences will take away from the film?

The real message in this film is, I believe, that when it comes to ‘change’ in the world of Pashtuns, its a very slow-burning evolution. One cannot say to a Pashtun, ‘Look, we think you should join the wider Pakistan, lose your autonomy and modernize or we’ll send in the army’. It just won’t work. In the film, Niaz sees the value of an education that includes science, languages, mathematics and so on. Although these subjects can be part of madrassa curriculum, in the FATA they tend to be left out. Niaz, as the son of a Pashtun, challenges his traditionalist father, which is a big thing in this culture to do. The boy wants an education and his father wants him to carry on in his gun factory. The only individual on earth who can possibly change a father’s way of thinking is perhaps his own son. This is the message, that when it comes to Pathans, any change must come from within, must be between father and son, mother and daughter, brother and sister to be effective. It cannot be enforced by outsiders like the Pakistani Army or NATO or US predator drones. True change will never come at the barrel of a gun.

Q: Have the people in the villages you filmed in seen the film? What was their reaction?

Yes, those in the villages and towns where Son of a Lion was shot have seen it and were thrilled. One or two were unhappy with the fact that I made a comparison between madrassa and government schools. Of course, I don’t have any problems with madrassas at all, I believe that in the absence of properly-functioning government schools, a madrassa is often the best option so long as it does not advocate violence. I do however believe in a well-rounded education and this means that in addition to religious instruction every child is entitled to satiate their inquisitive minds about life and nature and health, to learn skills for future employment opportunities and most importantly, to understand their human rights.

So let’s have madrassas in FATA with a wider curriculum. All those involved in the film are, above all, ecstatic there is a film depicting them not as murderous extremists but as innocent men, women and children caught in the middle of a greater game in which they are but victims, pleading for a little understanding and compassion from the outside world. One day, they hope, we will see them for who they really are.

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Journey into America: The team conducts a social experiment in Arab, Alabama

The below piece first appeared in Dawn Newspaper’s World section. It was my third installment in a series on “Muslims in America,” where I attempt to show how Muslim-Americans are working to change perceptions and challenge stereotypes in the United States. You can read the Dawn piece here:

The United States is a country founded on freedom, justice, and tolerance. These fundamental ideas are revisited in Journey into America, a documentary that explores American identity through the Muslim lens. Professor Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, traveled with a team of young Americans for nine months, visiting over 75 cities and 100 mosques in the United States. The result is an unprecedented effort to understand the nuanced dimensions of Islam in America, and its place within the broader American identity.

Journey into America, the companion to Ahmed’s earlier study Journey into Islam, is the first consolidated anthropological study on the Muslim-American community. Five Americans were chosen to be part of his team – Craig Considine [the film’s director], Madeeha Hameed, Jonathan Hayden, Frankie Martin, and Hailey Woldt. According to Ahmed, the team members not only were instrumental in conducting the necessary fieldwork; they also acted as his “guides” on the journey. For his team, the film was also a journey of discovery. Hailey Woldt, a former honors student of Ahmed’s who traveled with him to the Muslim World for Journey into Islam, told me this study challenged her preconceived notions about her own country. She noted, “I learned so much about my own society by talking to the Muslim community.”

At one point in the documentary, the team visited Arab, Alabama, where they conducted a small social experiment, dressing Woldt in a full abaya to gauge the residents’ reactions. Despite the fact that Arab [pronounced ‘Ay-raab’] is a small and more homogeneous town, people were warm and welcoming, living up to what Ahmed hailed as, “Southern hospitality.” In an interview with Woldt, she added the Arab residents were open to getting to know her as a person, rather than viewing her simply “as an image or a stereotype.”

Such anecdotes in the film were refreshing because they showed how misconceptions persist on both sides of the divide. While ignorance does exist, it does not always come from a place of hatred, but sometimes from a simple lack of exposure. In such instances, there is an opportunity to foster understanding and change perceptions, as was illustrated a number of times throughout Journey into America.

In Chicago, the team encountered a street named Mohammed Ali Jinnah Way, in honor of Pakistan’s founding father, Quaid-e-Azam. Interestingly, the street was commissioned bya longtime Jewish figure on the Chicago City Council, Alderman Bernie Stone. In the film, Stone admits, “I probably have better support from Muslims than Jews.” He adds, ‘My message is that each of us should treat each other as you would treat your own brother.” In Los Angeles, the city with the largest Muslim population in America, Sheriff Lee Baca calls himself a Pakhtun, having traveled not only to Pakistan but also to the Khyber Pass. Well-versed in Islam, he is an instrumental leader in encouraging understanding among the various faiths in his community.

The film explores the diversity of the Muslim-American community, from a Shia congregation in New York City to a community in Dearborn, Michigan to the oldest mosque in America, built in 1934 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Professor Ahmed and his team even visited Sapelo, a small island off the coast of Georgia. There, they interviewed Ms. Bailey, a direct descendant of Bilali Muhammed, a West African Muslim slave brought to Sapelo in the early 19th century. Although Muhammed’s descendants have since converted to Christianity, the churches on the island still face east towards Mecca, and until recently, worshipers removed their shoes before entering the church. To this day, the people of the island bury their dead facing Mecca.

These different stories become the interwoven narratives of the documentary, creating a colorful picture book of the Muslim-American community. Despite the nuanced differences between the communities, Akbar Ahmed noted there was still an “overall sense of being Muslim.” Moreover, he and his team were overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of hospitality they received. That generosity and warmth, he said, became a universal thread in their journey. Professor Ahmed added, “They were so grateful because we were traveling to their homes and talking to them face-to-face, rather than writing about them from afar.” In doing so, Ahmed and his team gave these communities a voice to tell their story.

The question of American identity was another constant thread in Journey into America. In particular, the film sought to address the difficult question of how Islam fit within these parameters in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The issue was touched upon in the film’s numerous interviews with notable figures, including Noam Chomsky, former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Akbar Ahmed’s team also met with Keith Ellison, a Muslim Congressman from Minnesota, who took his oath of office on the Holy Quran. Although he came under attack by some who called it “a threat to American values,” the interesting twist was that the copy of the Quran used for the swearing in ceremony was owned by one of the country’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson.

For Ahmed, the journey was an effort to not only probe Muslim identity in America, but also revisit the ideals of these founders. He told me, “We were hunting for clues of what the founding fathers wanted [for American society].” When the team visited the University of Virginia, they encountered a statue of Thomas Jefferson. In the hands of the third U.S. President was a book dated 1786 and the words, “God-Jehovah, Allah, Brahma, Ra…” The founding fathers’ ideal of religious pluralism was immortalized in the hands of this statue. For America to progress, Professor Ahmed noted, it must rediscover these fundamental values. Journey into America is therefore a definitive study on all of these difficult questions, using an approach that is as humanistic and emotional as it is academic.

Journey into America, produced and narrated by Akbar Ahmed, directed by Craig Considine, is 99 minutes long. It has shown at numerous film festivals, including the Islamic Film Festival, and has screened throughout the United States. The next screening will be at the Washington National Cathedral at 5:30 pm EST on October 25 in Washington, D.C. [Click here for ticket information] The documentary will also be presented on Pakistan’s AAJ Television in the coming weeks. You can see the trailer for the documentary below:

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Credit: Omar Mullick

The below piece first appeared in Dawn Newspaper’s Art & Culture section. It was my second piece in a series on “Muslims in America,” where I attempt to show how Muslim-Americans are working to change perceptions and challenge stereotypes in the United States. You can read the Dawn piece here.

In Can’t Take it With You, an exhibition that opened Thursday, October 8 at the Gallery FCB in New York City, award-winning photographer Omar Mullick makes a bold statement by stitching together “an intimate, visual tapestry of the American Muslim experience from within…” [According to the FCB Gallery statement]

The exhibit is the culmination of a seven year journey– in which Mullick photographed Muslim communities throughout the United States – from a Chicago funeral in the African-American Muslim community to Sufi gatherings to a halfway house in Virginia. According to Mullick, who was born and raised in London, England but now resides in New York, the project was an attempt to expand and challenge the master narrative that exists in this post-9/11 world that Muslims are the “other.”

He told me, “Whenever I go to the back pages [of the newspaper] there’s a little story about cuddly and friendly Muslims here, and cuddly and friendly Muslims over there; but the front pages still show the war on terror and this clash of civilizations. So I wanted to do something overwhelming,” something that would be more than a blip on the radar and actually say something about the overarching narrative of Muslims in America. After years of chipping away at this project to capture the diversity of Islam in the United States, Mullick felt his work finally began to say something about the community as a whole. This statement forms the backdrop of Can’t Take it With You, what Mullick calls “his love letter” to the community and to the United States.


Credit: Omar Mullick

Mullick’s hope is that his photographs will convey this optimistic perspective of the Muslim-American community and add another dimension to the debate. While some may feel the idea of a Muslim “community” is a forced and imagined categorization, he hopes others will be moved by the immortalized threads of this narrative. The medium of photography, he noted, can be instrumental because it “turns the volume down” on the perceived clash between Islam and the West, so that an observer can simply appreciate the beauty of someone’s humanity.

In artistic terms, Mullick shot the images of Can’t Take it With You with a panoramic lens from a low perspective, giving his subjects the illusion of being larger-than-life. According to the artist, he pushed a wide-angle lens into tight spaces so that the people appeared heroic, almost like “icebergs,” he added. Mullick noted, “I wanted to elevate the common, the daily life…we have had too much of what’s shocking, what’s stark. I wanted to keep pulling it back, highlighting the ordinary.” Given that Muslims are often stereotyped as radical extremists, Mullick’s depiction of them living normal lives was the most shocking art statement he could have made. He asserted, “What I’m saying is that these people are radically normal, and that’s the most radical thing about them.”


Credit: Omar Mullick

While some photographers are detached from their subjects, Mullick was deeply invested in this project. He asserted, “I need to feel moved or a sense of calling, or else I would not have been able to see it through.” And, while the overarching goal was constant, the process – the people, the communities, and the subject matter – was organic. His sincerity was apparent to all he photographed, leading Mullick to gain unprecedented access into an array of Muslim communities throughout the country.

As a result of Mullick’s commitment to the project, many of the photographs seem to contain pieces of himself, evoking anecdotes, memories, and slivers of his own journey throughout America. For Omar Mullick, a photographer who moved to the United States as a teenager, Can’t Take it With You is more than just a selection of photographs. It is a profound statement about a community he deeply respects in a country he strongly believes has fostered this narrative.

Can’t Take it With You, photographs of Muslims in America from 2002 – 2009, will be on display at Gallery FCB at 16 West 23rd Street in New York City from October 8, 2009 to November 5, 2009. Click here to visit the photographer’s personal website.


Credit: Omar Mullick

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The below piece first appeared on Dawn News’ blog today. It was my first in a series of pieces on “Muslims in America,” where I attempt to show how Muslim-Americans are working to change perceptions and challenge stereotypes in the United States. You can read the Dawn piece here.

New York City is not only home to a significant Muslim population, the community is also a reflection of the city itself – vibrant, diverse, and colorful. Muslims in New York are South Asian, Middle Eastern, African, East Asian, European, and African-American, all speaking an array of languages and practicing Islam in their own culturally nuanced ways.

Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq, two young South Asian Muslims living in New York City, decided to explore the diversity within New York City’s Muslim community, visiting a different mosque each day during Ramadan – from Malcolm X’s mosque in Harlem to the Bosnian Cultural Center to the Islamic Center at New York University. Their journey, documented at 30 Mosques in 30 Days, gained an enormous following, with up to 1,500 people visiting the website each day to learn of the previous night’s discoveries. Towards the end of the month, they had reached their goal of 20,000 unique visits to the blog.

When asked what inspired 30 Mosques, Aman noted the project began as a simple personal experiment, since there were so many mosques he and Bassam wanted to explore in the New York area. They were overwhelmed with the unexpected number of responses they received from both Muslims and non-Muslims around the world, writing in to express their desire to pursue a similar experiment in their own cities or communities. What started as an innovative personal adventure soon became a way of connecting people throughout the world.

The two young Muslims wanted the experience to be as natural as possible, despite the subsequent media attention their website received as the month progressed. Ultimately, Aman and Bassam wanted to document what treatment any Muslim would receive walking into a mosque in the city. The overwhelming hospitality they received at each place surprised them both. On Day 28, Aman visited a mosque in the Bronx that had burned down the night before. Despite the tragedy, the congregation was united in their resilience. Aman, in his post, wrote,

Bilal [a man in the congregation] brought up one of my favorite sayings from Prophet Muhammad that really captured the mood in the air tonight. That the Muslim community is like a body. When one part of the body is in pain, the entire body is in pain. In other words, when one of us suffers we all feel the pain. But Bilal brought up an interesting point. He said this saying also applies to happiness. When one of us is feeling good, the rest of us should feel the same as well. He told me this was not a time for us to be sad and depressed. Instead, this is a time for us to smile and be thankful that everyone is here to support each other during the end of this blessed month.

On Day 9, Bassam blogged about the Masjid Aqsa, a predominately West African mosque in his neighborhood. He told me how a man insisted he stay after his prayers to eat, making sure everyone there knew he was a guest and should be welcomed. In the corresponding post, he wrote, “The hospitality during Ramadan has been unbelievable. There’s something in the air, and the weather only seems to get better.”

Each post on 30 Days further cements this notion – that despite their ethnic, cultural, and sectarian differences, the Muslims Aman and Bassam encountered were universally hospitable and inclusive.

Aman told me, “The Islamic Center at NYU was built by college students, while one mosque on Staten Island was established by a guy who worked in a factory during World War II. Each one of these threads make up the Muslim-American narrative –we are united by the belief in Allah, hospitality, and welcoming others.”

For both of them, these stories are instrumental in showing what the Muslim community in the United States has to offer, and how Muslims in America fit into the broader American identity. Aman asserted, “In America, we have different races, ethnicities, and religions, and for the most part live peacefully side by side. The prejudice and “clash” that occurred after 9/11 stemmed from ignorance and misunderstanding. One of the reasons we did this project was to show people that Muslims aren’t two dimensional characters…that such anecdotes humanize us.”

Although Aman and Bassam’s spiritual journey to 30 Mosques was only a modest attempt to break perceptions, their subsequent narrative indicates how easy it can be to break barriers, to challenge stereotypes, and get to know one another. Bassam, who recently met the great Abdul Sattar Edhi, said when asked to autograph his book, the renowned Pakistani philanthropist wrote, “Love human beings.” That simple message, Bassam noted, “is what it’s all about.”

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Image Credit: Ishtiaq Ahmed via Flickr, a police parade in Lahore

Image Credit: Ishtiaq Ahmed via Flickr, a police parade in Lahore

In the last several years, Pakistan has seen an increase in violence – ranging from suicide bombings to armed attacks. A frequent target of these attacks has been the country’s police force – in March, 13 people were killed and more than 100 were injured when gunmen attacked the Manawan police academy near Lahore. Just last week, at least 18 officers were killed when a suicide bomber targeted a police training center in Mingora. Aside from these dangers, Pakistan’s police force – despite being the country’s first line of defense – are generally underpaid, undertrained, and underappreciated. As a result, it may not be the go-to career for many Pakistanis. Or that’s what I thought until I met Qasim Tareen, a well-educated young Pakistani who recently left a career in journalism to take the Central Superior Service (CSS) exam and join the police force. Below, Qasim explains his decision and provides some interesting insight into Pakistan’s police:

Q: According to Hassan Abbas, a former police officer in Pakistan who is now a research fellow at Harvard University, militants have killed about 400 police each year in suicide bombings, assassinations, and other heinous crimes since 2005. Given this fact, what propelled you to pursue this career field? Did your family support your decision?

You could say that the danger faced by Pakistani Police was what motivated me to pursue a career in the police service. I mean if the police, those responsible for upholding the law and protecting common citizens, were not safe in Pakistan, what chance did my family and I have? Law and order are two words you hear a lot in Pakistan, especially after violent terrorist attacks have wreaked havoc across the country in recent years. If i am not mistaken, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently said that approximately 15,000 Pakistanis have been killed in more than 3,000 various terrorist attacks since 2001. Just the other day, headlines about police cadets in Mingora being the latest victims of a suicide bomber glare at and remind me about the importance of police in Pakistan. Only last month, I remember reading about how volunteers for police duties in Mingora and Swat had far exceeded the requirement. People of Swat volunteered for police service even though they were well aware of the risks involved in taking on terrorists. That says something about a people who have been widely neglected by the rest of the country. And it only makes me more determined to at least attempt to provide a vital and much needed service in a place I like to call home, a luxury the people of Swat did not have for at least four months this year, when they became refugees in their own country.

My decision to pursue a career in the police force did not come as a shock to my family as both my mother and father come from military backgrounds. My mother was not in the army but her father and her brother were. My father, two of his younger brothers and their father were all in the army. So the concept of providing security to others was not something they had a hard time understanding.

Q: What is the process like for someone like you who decided to join the Pakistani Civil Service versus someone who decides to just sign up for the Pakistani police force? Is there a singular ideology or rhetoric that exists and unifies the police force?

From what I understand, there are a two ways of joining the police service of Pakistan. You could walk into a police station and volunteer, after which you are tested and trained, and begin at the rank of a constable. Second, you can take the annual Central Superior Service (CSS) exam, for which there is an age limit of twenty-eight years, an educational prerequisite of a college degree, and a maximum of three attempts (further details are available at http://www.fpsc.gov.pk). After taking the CSS exam and interviews, if you are lucky enough to be selected by the Federal Public Service Commission for police service, you jump start your career as a seventeen grade federal officer with the rank of Assistant Superintendent. There is a third way but that only applies if you are in the army. The army has a fixed quota in the police service.

As far as unity within the police force is concerned, in my inexperienced opinion, there is little unity within the service. From what I have studied, the structure of the Pakistani Police Service essentially remains unchanged from the time of the British. They used police as money collectors and strongmen. Pakistani Police Service is two pronged; one part is made up of constables all the way up to Station House Officers (the notorious S.H.Os) the other part is made up of only officers, starting from Assistant Superintendents all the way up to Inspector Generals (or Capital City Police Officers, CCPOs). There seems to be little unity between these two parts, so much so that it is widely believed that SHOs are much more influential than Inspector Generals, even though they are much junior in rank. Mostly because SHOs are directly involved in law enforcement operations while Inspector Generals and other high ranking officers have more of a disconnected managerial role in law enforcement. Unity among police officers is fractured further between ‘Rankers’ and CSS inductees. Rankers, police officers who have started from low ranks and worked their way up the rankings, resent officers who have been inducted right from the start as Assistant Superintendents after taking the CSS exam. The division between these officers is so marked that Rankers who may be at the same rank as a CSS inductee wear different uniforms. Their rank badges are designed differently and Rankers will wear black belts and boots and CSS inductees wear dark brown belts and boots.

This wide gap between the lower ranks and senior officer ranks has not helped Pakistani Police services. Not to mention the extremely politicised nature of police service and ranking appointments. My father has warned me that I will be ‘no more than a hand-maiden to the politicians in power’ throughout my police career.

Q: Although Pakistan’s military has been fighting the recent offensive against the Taliban, some analysts have suggested the police should take a bigger role in these efforts. Specifically, Christine Fair from RAND Corporation wrote in the Wall Street Journal in July, “A police force-led effort would be better than one led by the army, as the history of successful counterinsurgency movements in disparate theatres across the globe shows.” Do you agree with this notion as it applies to Pakistan?

The army belongs on the borders and the police belong on the streets. Today, Pakistan faces an enemy with no clear identity which attacks deep within the country’s territory. Lahore has been the victim of some of the most brazen terrorist attacks in recent times. One of those attacks targeted the Manawan police academy in March this year. Even Pakistan’s enemies realize the importance of the police and have targeted police to shake people’s confidence in the state’s ability to provide security. People don’t expect army soldiers to patrol the streets unless extraordinary circumstances or emergency situations arise. The army’s presence on the streets will probably do more harm than good, causing panic and protest. Unlike the army the police are a better choice for sustained law enforcement within Pakistan’s territory.

Given the more civilian nature of police compared with the army’s institutional nature, police informers would be able to provide much more intelligence than the army’s heavy handed tactics. There is a common perception amongst most Pakistanis that the police are involved in most criminal activities within Pakistan. If such a perception is true, then most of the crime, including terrorist activities within Pakistan could be solved through police reforms. Criminals may need police compliance to succeed but the police do not necessarily need criminals to be successful law enforcers. Police could use their close links with the underworld to combat terrorism within Pakistan in more effective way than the army.

Q: What do you think are some of the main issues facing Pakistan’s police force today? Do you see it progressing/reforming in the future?

Driving on the streets of Islamabad, one regularly comes across off-duty police looking to catch a ride home. Police constables often complain about having to pay for bullets. According to sources familiar with police operations, Station House Officers (SHOs) often give their subordinates instructions to collect large sums of money every month to pay for the stations operating expenses. I spoke with a friend of mine who is a now a Superintendent, a rank that qualifies him as an eighteen grade federal officer, which is a senior position considering twenty two is the highest grade. He said that he gets a monthly salary of 20,000 rupees, free utilities and more than 600 liters of free fuel every month. He finds it close to impossible to support his family on such a salary package. And on the other hand, criminals will offer him bribes close to one million rupees every month.

Police salaries and the modus operandi seem to breed corruption within the Pakistani Police Service. There is always talk about police reforms but I believe that there is no will to reform a system that often compliments the all pervasive corruption within the Pakistani Government.

Pakistani Police Service requires drastic measures to improve, that I am in no position at the moment to even suggest. I can only hope that the police in Pakistan begin being just that, police.

Q: What do you hope to achieve while on this career path? What advice would you give someone else considering a similar field?

Before sitting for the CSS examination, I attended lectures organized by the University of Karachi, where our first lecturer advised all of us present not to join the Civil Service if we wanted to change the system. “There is no room for idealism in the Pakistani Civil Service,” he said, “You need to be realistic.” At first I was surprised, but then I gave much thought to what he said. To be able to change a modus operandi of an institution such as the Pakistani bureaucracy would be a gargantuan task, but certainly, being able to change it from within would be less difficult than from without. So I have decided to first find out all I can about the system before I make any judgments about what I want to achieve.

I would strongly recommend taking the CSS exam and joining the Pakistani Civil Service. Just by taking the exam, I have learned a lot about Pakistan today and understood a little about what it takes to help Pakistan. For those already interested, I would advise them to prepare themselves for a long term commitment and not to rely on nepotism.

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Image Credit: The News Instep

Image Credit: The News Instep

According to the official website, Coke Studio “embodies a musical fusion of exciting elements and diverse influences, ranging from traditional eastern, modern western and regionally inspired music.” The second season of the immensely popular television show aired this summer, and each collaboration became an instant hit in Pakistan. While the series centered on live music performances, the show embodied themes applicable to Pakistan as a whole – Individuality, Harmony, Equality, Spirit, and Unity. Below is CHUP’s interview with Adnan Malik, who was the Associate Video Producer and the Behind the Scenes Producer on this season’s Coke Studio:

Q: You came on this season as an Associate Video Producer,  as well as a the Behind The Scenes [BTS] Producer. Given your background in film, were you prepared coming into the show? What were you unprepared for?

After watching the first season of Coke Studio last year, I was pretty blown away by the whole package: fantastic music that engages with both classical and contemporary Pakistani ideologies, bold visuals, great packaging and a pure, constructive intention. I knew I had to get on board for the second season, and got in touch with Umber and Rohail [Hyatt] (henceforth known as ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’). It was a tough selection process for them to choose a video team for this year, and I definitely pseudo-stalked them to get the job! I knew that I was the perfect fit. I was summoning it from the universe, asking for it in prayers and felt very blessed when they selected me to be the Associate Video Producer and the Producer Behind the Scenes.

I have quite a few years as a documentary producer under my belt, having worked on projects like Sundance winning Why We Fight and being the local producer on Jihad for Love as well as directing the award winning Bijli, and the first feature length anthology on Pakistani cinema, The Forgotten Song. I have also been an assistant director on many music videos, produced shows for MTV and worked as a packaging director on the Lux Style Awards. So I would say that I was pretty prepared to jump on board the ‘Coke Studio’ project. I knew it would be very intensive, and I really enjoyed handling the camera for all the behind the scenes, and collaborating with Zeeshan Parwez on the videos.

What I was not prepared for was the spiritual satisfaction I got from working on this project with Ma, Pa and the rest of the CS team. It was by far the most pure intentioned, good willed, honest project I have worked on in Pakistan. Rohail is fantastically tech savvy, a great problem solver, intimately in touch with his music, a communicator and above all very organically connected to the project. It was a passion project for all involved and it started at the top with Ma and Pa, and filtered through to the house band members, the people who worked on the set, the tech support, and even the security guard, all of whom contributed their energy to making this project the phenomenon it has become today.

Q: What was the interaction between musicians like behind the scenes, particularly between the older, more established artists and the younger, more up-and-coming musicians?

Having worked with a lot of these musicians and artists before in various capacities, I was well aware of the possibility of conflicting egos. But I think all of us were so committed to the project and believed in it so deeply at a visceral level that every time a new artist came on set, their energy merged with ours and not the other way around. Coke Studio definitely had an aura about it that was welcoming, trusting and open to ideas and I think that made it a very comfortable space for new energies to mingle and become something higher than ‘ego’.

We had an amazingly talented houseband with some of the best musicians in the country, and they set up a fantastic framework for the artists to come in and further develop the songs. There was never any conflict, just growth, and that kind of energy has become increasingly rare to find in Pakistan.

Q: What was your aesthetic vision when shooting the BTS videos? What did you most want to portray?

I shot the behind the scenes almost everyday for two months and really got to develop the aesthetic for how we were going to shoot the final videos. Naturally, Rohail had shown us examples of what he wanted, and Zeeshan contributed heavily with his own unique visual style to the final videos as well. The final look of the videos was the result of a collaborative vision shared by the three of us. All of the visuals were well thought out and discussed and we even trained all of our camera men! Zeeshan and I were behind microphones in the CCU room during the final shoot, instructing our respective camera men on what to shoot; however, without those two weeks of training, we wouldn’t have achieved the aesthetic that we finally managed to achieve.

As for the Behind the Scenes (BTS’s), the best part of shooting verite on an evolving show is that you can capture the really spontaneous moments, and for that I had to make sure I was in tune with the people I was shooting. The aesthetic was to capture immediacy, spontaneity, expression, emotion and a little soul. After spending weeks with the house band, I began to understand their habits, their gestures and therefore preempted them to capture some great spontaneous footage. I always had my camera handy, and managed to capture about 120 hours of footage, out of which audiences have seen less than an hour! There are a lot of precious, crazy moments and espoused philosophies in those hard drives! Hopefully, we will do something with all that footage one day soon!

Moreover,with a background in still photography I wanted to imbue every frame with something pleasing to look at. I believe in the power of the image to tell a story on its own, and I wanted every image that came onto the screen to be open to multiple interpretations. But more than that, it was of utmost importance to make sure that each BTS segment told the story of each song. It took months to put these songs together and it was my job to show the depth of work that went into each song, from its conception,to its philosophy, deconstruction, reconstruction, and the evolution in rehearsals.

The BTS segments give context to the songs and an insight into the characters that made up Coke Studio.

Q: The fifth and final episode of Coke Studio’s Season Two aired on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day, and was aptly titled, “Unity.” How do you think the show embodied the spirit of unity, and what message did that send to citizens on Pakistan Day?

My favorite aspect of this show is its engagement in helping define a Pakistani identity. We are clearly at a crossroads in terms of a collective cultural ethos, and I believe that this show is an example of how we should engage with our past, present and future. The music takes from both current Western influences and indigenous classical and folk influences to create a truly ‘contemporary’ and ‘universal’ sound. The music is an honest representation of where we are today, it’s both timely and timeless; both purely Pakistani and palatably global.

Each of the five episodes of coke studio represent the journey of the show: from the ‘Individuality’ of the artists coming together, to the cohabiting and synchronization which was ‘Harmony’, to the ‘Equality’ of all artists collaborating from all sorts of musical backgrounds, to tapping into the ‘Spirit’ of our times and its music and to finally reveal the ‘Unity’ in a true sense of great musicians coming together, collaborating and creating something that is greater than the sum of their parts.

Coke Studio is all about ‘Unity – the collaboration of big-hearted, open-minded Pakistanis to create something unique, beautiful and truly our own. The effort shows that it is possible to work together and create amazing things with pure intentions and dedicated hard work.

At a micro level, Coke Studio is also a metaphor for nation building. It has captured the imagination of the whole nation and collectively brought us together from all corners to appreciate and celebrate the diversity of our country.

I am extremely proud at having been a part of something so amazing! I walk away from this season of coke studio as a richer, more evolved, and spiritually ignited human being than when I entered it and this is solely because of the dynamic created by Rohail, Umber, the production team and the supremely talented musicians.

Q: The show is immensely popular in Pakistan. Will there be a third season? What do you think the biggest differences were between the first and second seasons?

I hope there is a third season!! Why wouldn’t there be one?

I loved both the first and second seasons respectively. The first season was a bold experiment in a new direction for music. It wasn’t as high tech or ideologically evolved as the second season, but its rawness and passion really shines out. The second season has a much more evolved visual ethos, and musically has a greater slant towards folk music than the first episode, which had a greater focus on classical fusion music.

Well, that’s the politically correct answer anyway! The un-p.c answer would be that I preferred the second season a whole lot more because I worked on it!!

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Image Credit: IMDB

Image Credit: IMDB

I first wrote about  Faran Tahir back in May, after the Pakistani actor played Captain Robau in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. Tahir, who was born in Los Angeles (while his parents were studying acting and directing at the UCLA Theatre Department), but grew up in Pakistan, later moved back to California to attend the University of California – Berkeley. He also received a graduate degree from the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University. The actor has a number of film and television credits under his belt, including roles in Iron Man, Charlie Wilson’s War, 24 and Sleeper Cell. Below, he answers a few questions for CHUP on the stereotyping of Muslims in Hollywood, his foray into acting, and the revival of Pakistan’s film industry:

Q: Your recent role as Captain Robau in Star Trek was significant not only because the franchise portrayed a captain other than Kirk or Picard as heroic, but because it was also a “color blind” role. What was it like to be involved in the film, and to play such a groundbreaking role?

It was a remarkable experience on many levels. First of all, it was truly color blind casting. I asked the director, J J Abrams, at one point about his reasons for casting me. He said that he was looking for a certain quality and intensity regardless of color or creed. It gives us a ray of hope that maybe we are slowly inching towards a more even playing field. The casting also adheres to the true philosophy behind Star Trek. Star Trek envisions a universe based on merit not race or other differentiators. Secondly, I grew up with Star Trek so it was like a little boy’s dream come true.

Q: Several Hollywood films and television shows, particularly after 9/11, have perpetuated the stereotype of Muslims as “terrorists.” However, recent efforts by organizations like MOST (Muslims on Screen and Television) have been significant in changing perceptions. For example, Howard Gordon, the creator and executive producer of ’24’ said he changed his mind on the issue after meeting with representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Have you noticed a shift in Hollywood, or do you continue to face such obstacles?

There is definitely a shift to balance out the perspectives more. Some of it is because of vocal groups calling the media out and challenging their portrayals of Muslims and some of it is the natural balancing out of approach to sensitive material. Whenever there is a monumental tragic event [9/11] in the world, the human race reacts to the shock of it but eventually we realize that in the end, we have to engage in dialogue with the other side and not war.

Q: Given that your parents also studied acting and directing, did they support your own ambitions to pursue a career in theater/acting? What advice would you give young Pakistanis who may want to follow a similar path?

My parents have always been a support to me. Their main concern is always been my well being. They have tried to support me and even challenge me to find ways to protect my core and stay true to myself. They have taught me not only the craft but also how to find bravery in the face of adversity and humility in face of success.

My advice to aspiring actors would be NEVER to give up. There will be plenty of rejections along the way and plenty of wins but be your own best critic and friend. We all want to be successful and there is plenty of room for all of us but lets succeed with grace and dignity.

Q: What’s next for you?

I have two movies in post production. Ashes is the story of two brothers. I play the older brother who is spiraling into mental illness. The younger brother is spiraling into drugs. They have no one to fall back on but each other. Two Mothers is a story of two families dealing with the death of their teenage sons in an explosion at a shopping mall. It deals with how lives can corrode when a tragedy hits. I play the father of one of the boys and an extremely talented actress from our own Pakistan, Mahnoor Baloch, plays the mother.

Q: Pakistan’s film industry has recently seen a resurgence of film – from Khuda Kay Liye to Ramchand Pakistani to Kashf. What do you think of this revival and what more could be done to encourage this growth?

The Pakistani film industry has been producing movies in a singular genre. We need to branch out. It will bring newer challenges for directors, actors, everyone. People like Shoaib Mansoor, Mehreen Jabbar, and Ayesha Khan have shown the courage to tackle new frontier and others must take this baton and run with it.

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Made in Pakistan is a 60-minute documentary that follows the lives of four young, middle-class Pakistanis during Musharraf’s state of emergency in 2007 – Waleed Khalid, a lawyer, Rabia Aamir, a journalist and a working mother, Mohsin Waraich, an aspiring politician, and Tara Mehmood, an event & PR manager. The film is an attempt to break the oft-negative depictions of Pakistan in the news media by re-examining the country through the eyes of these four citizens. Made in Pakistan premieres in Karachi next week on July 31, followed by screenings in Islamabad, and Lahore [click on the city to get more information on the showings], making the film the first documentary to be nationally released in Pakistan. Below, CHUP talks to the film’s director, Nasir Khan:

Q: What inspired you to make the film, Made in Pakistan?

Whenever I saw any coverage of Pakistan on foreign news channels, it felt like an extremely myopic and stereotypical representation of our people. The Pakistan they repeatedly covered was only showing a part of the story. Pakistan and Pakistanis were often labeled as dangerous pariahs who should be secluded from the world stage as we know it. As Pakistani filmmakers, we felt that their conclusions were amateur and racist. We felt we could easily negate them even if we showed a glimpse of Pakistan through the eyes of Pakistanis. Thus began the journey for making Made in Pakistan.

Q: The documentary follows the lives of four Pakistanis who are meant to show the multifaceted nature of the country. How did you go about “casting”/finding these people for the film? What surprised you the most when following their lives?

We were extremely lucky that we were able to find people from such diverse backgrounds who had very distinct personalities. Most of them were friends of friends and the great thing was that all of them agreed to be part of the production without hesitation. There were many surprising elements during filming: following Mohsin’s [the aspiring politician] campaign and seeing how aware and resolute the voters are even though they are coming out of low-income populations. The fallacy that people don’t know their rights and just vote blindly was absolutely dispelled. Then following the lawyers’ movement and seeing the passionate atmosphere – people are hit yet the spirit didn’t waver. But the most reassuring aspect was visiting schools and colleges and seeing the high level of patriotism these young kids have for Pakistan.

Q: The film will be screened in Pakistan’s three main cities – Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Are there plans to release the film elsewhere in Pakistan and internationally? What do you hope Pakistanis who watch Made in Pakistan take away from the film? Do you think international viewers may take away something different?

Plans are on for a worldwide release – we have been getting a lot of interest from audiences and InshAllah we will be hitting the major cities soon. I think it feels good to see a Pakistani story, it feels good to see a representation of yourself so I think that hint of pride that one gets while seeing something homegrown is what Pakistani audiences should take in at a very basic level. As for the response we have gotten from focus groups done abroad, the response has been incredible. On one hand, audiences are surprised that people in Pakistan can speak such good English and on the other, they are connecting the most to the bearded Muslim (Waleed the lawyer), whom they are supposed to hate based on popular perceptions.

Q: The documentary was filmed during Pakistan’s state of emergency under Musharraf in 2007. However, so much has happened in the past two years – from democratic elections to an increasingly tumultuous security situation to a burgeoning economic crisis. What do you feel is constant and universal in your film that makes it relevant not just today, but in the future?

I think it reflects the spirit of the people and that is something that remains resolute and relevant. What we have tried to show is that Pakistani people are aware of the situation they find themselves in; they are able to make decisions for their future and that this future brings with it a promise of hope. The message of the documentary is loud and clear “Pakistan Zindabad”  [Long live Pakistan].

Q: Your film company – Talking Filmain – run by you, Adil Sher and Rizwan Saeed – has a very diverse portfolio of projects under its belt. Do you hope to tackle other politically and socially conscious projects in the future?

InshAllah we do hope to work on more inspiring stories and subjects but first we need to get Made in Pakistan out of our system as this is the first documentary to garner a national release in the history of Pakistan. The encouragement we are receiving will guide us to continue of this journey of telling Pakistani stories.

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As the military offensive in Pakistan continues, an increasing number of people from the country’s northwest are left displaced, a topic I have consistently covered on this blog, [see this past CHUP post]. According to the BBC News last Friday, “The total number of people internally displaced within Pakistan over the past 12 months has risen to around 1.4 million,” and the UN reports that nearly a million have fled in the last two weeks. In order to gain further insight into the situation, CHUP interviewed Abdul Basit, who recently conducted an assessment of the situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Swabi and Mardan with the Human Relief Foundation in Pakistan. Below, he discusses the on the ground realities he viewed first hand:

Q: You recently visited IDP camps in Swabi and Mardan with your organization, Human Relief Foundation. Can you tell us a bit more about your trip, and specifically can you address how dire the current situation is?

I have been working for Human Relief Foundation for approximately nine months now as the Media and Project Manager and our slogan is that when we do something, we do it 100%. As soon as the crisis erupted in parts of Swat, Buner and Dir, we knew the biggest losers out of this conflict would be the civilians and no one else. So, we rushed to Swabi and Mardan, where most of the IDPs are moving to, to understand their problems and then become the catalyst that will bring relief, peace and harmony into their lives once again.

The current situation is very treacherous for the IDPs. The number of people are increasing everyday, and people who think it is going to stop at the one million mark are erroneous. I want to tell them that there are many parts in Swat (such as Bahrain and Kalam) where people are still stuck, once they get a chance, they will move out too, and therefore the numbers will increase. I would also like to share an important point that people who are living in camps at the moment are just around 100,000, i.e. 90% of them are living with friends, families, schools and even in poultry farms! These people are wandering in the streets of Mardan and Swabi asking for help; certainly this crisis has made them beggars and they don’t like this one bit.

Image Credit: HRF, Shah Mansoor Camp, Swabi

Image Credit: HRF, Shah Mansoor Camp, Swabi

Moreover, the biggest threat I can foresee is related to health issues. The problems are plenty: way too many people in a single tent, pregnant ladies are under severe trauma/stress plus there are no proper facilities for delivery, food quality is under par, malaria threat is obvious, toilets are few and far between and most shockingly, there are no separate toilets for males and females at most of the camps. The list is long; action speaks louder than words, and it’s time for action.

Q: What completely surprised you during your visit? What inspired you?

The thing which astonished me the most was how the IDPs reached safer places. One person told me that he walked for few days to reach Daragai with his family, from there, he hired private transport and reached Swabi. I and most of us could never walk for days!

A little boy stirred me in Mardan. This boy is suffering from thalassemia [a genetic blood disease] and is living in shambles with his family. They have no mattresses, no pillows, and beyond that, they don’t even know how to provide treatment to their son! Yet this boy had a wider smile than me and was giggling all the time. It shook me and I was out of this world. It took me some time to come back to reality if I was not witnessing it in front of my eyes. That boy is a prime example of strength and belief.

One thing is for sure, these people are strong indisputably, therefore I know they will survive this catastrophe but there will be complications later on.

Child with Thalassemia in Mardan

Image credit: HRF, Child with Thalassemia in Mardan

Q: What is the current sentiment among the people you interacted with? How do they perceive their situation, and who do they feel is responsible for their predicament?

Everyone I met wanted to go back home. I can vouch for this; they stand for peace and not aggression. They cried to me that they don’t deserve this. In their areas, the harvest season of wheat arrives at this time, late compared to other parts of Pakistan, and this year they are going to lose their entire crop.

They allowed me to take photographs and none of them refused. I of course asked for permission, though I made a point not to take photos of their ladies. The impression in  the media that is spread wildly about them is that these people are extremists and live in the Stone Age – this is entirely wrong and I believe it’s high time this nonsense is stopped.

Personally, I think the residents of Swabi and Mardan deserve accolades. Most of them have opened the doors of their homes to accommodate the IDPs. I have met people who have left their jobs and businesses temporarily just to settle the IDPs down. Besides that, on their own expense they are providing them food and shelter – an outstanding display of nobility.

Q: In your opinion, is the government doing enough to address the situation? Are supplies reaching these camps?

On my visit to the camp in Chotta Lahore, i.e. Yar Hussain camp in District Swabi, I was lucky to meet with the Chief Minister of NWFP – Mr. Ameer Haider Khan Hoti. I told him that we, i.e. non government agencies, require your support and resources to help these people and he assured me that his support is on our side.

In addition, the District Government is providing food at many camps. The problem is that all the camps have surpassed their capacity. Sheikh Yaseen camp in Mardan was made for 900 families; four days ago there were 16001700 families. I am sure that by now it would have reached 2500 if they have not stopped accommodating more families. Therefore, the government is not able to work efficiently. The influx rate of IDPs is increasing at an alarming rate and is becoming too difficult to manage. I met Mr. Sikandar Irfan, MPA [Member of Provincial Assembly] Swabi, who is running an excellent camp in Ambar – a few kilometers from the motorway – he is running one of the best camps as he has got all items in good stock – medicines, food, etc.

Interestingly, I have witnessed many District Nazims taking charge of the situation without using any resources from the government. They have taken up the responsibility of some schools where IDPs are living and are collecting funds on the roads from the general public to run their camps. They are undoubtedly doing unbelievable work. I believe more time should be given to the government because it is not humanly possible to accommodate more than a million guests who come all of a sudden. But on the same note, the government should speed up the relief work, because if people don’t find government officials supporting them, I am sure feelings of hatred would occur. Most importantly, the best way I think the government can help in this crisis is by winding up its military operation immediately and proficiently.

Q: What more can the international community and Pakistani citizens do to help?

The international community, overseas Pakistanis and Pakistani citizens need to act instantaneously as their brothers and sisters are in distress. They are in dire need of the basic amenities required to sustain a life and most horrifically the high temperatures in Mardan and Swabi are exacerbating their injuries. I would appeal to everyone to please send in their donations as soon as they can. The resources of the government and non government relief organizations will not be enough as the IDP numbers increase. Plus, I would ask doctors in general, female volunteers & mid wives, and pharmaceutical companies to visit these people and try to control the spread of disease and to facilitate the traumatized pregnant ladies. We would be mobilizing ourselves to the area in a week inshallah [God willing] and would look forward at the community to help us by any means they can. Charity is kind and never fails; please help us to help them!

If you would like to contribute to HRF, click here. For a central website where you can view statistics on the situation and numerous ways to help Pakistan’s displaced, please visit the Wikia Pakistan website. Finally, there are several notable websites/blogs that are solely dedicated to this situation – please see The Swat Plea, as well as IDP-Relief.

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Image Credit: WWICS
Image Credit: WWICS

This past week, tensions within Pakistan escalated after Taliban militants consolidated power in Buner, just 70 miles from the capital of Islamabad. Although these elements began to withdraw from the area last Friday, the developments raised fears within the country and the international community about the increasing influence of the Taliban in Pakistan and the government’s ability to counter it. Now, as the military initiates its offensive, [Dawn reported that paramilitary troops have taken full control of the Lower Dir district near Swat Valley] many are left wondering what will happen next. Below, CHUP discusses the conflict with Khalid Aziz, the director for institution strengthening with the FATA Secretariat. As someone who is not only from the tribal areas but also has dedicated his career to the region, his insight is extremely valuable:

Q: What do you think has been the biggest mistake the Pakistani military has made when dealing with the tribal areas?

First, it was the inability to address the grievances of the people. There’s always upset people in any society and if they have grievances, they act as a tool for the militants who come and organize communities around discontent. I think allowing simmering grievances to remain in an area has been a mistake, which is not the military’s fault but the state’s fault. As far as the military is concerned, I think the biggest problem is that we don’t have a counterinsurgency strategy which is a holistic approach to the problem, not a military one. We have been too reliant on the use of force and that has led to a lot of collateral deaths, which has again aggravated and increased the grievances.

Because the military operates in an honor society, people who have had their kin killed, then come out and taken revenge for those deaths. It has led to an increase in suicide bombers, which was an unknown phenomenon amongst the Pashtuns, but now it has become part of the protest, part of the model. The third failure is not strengthening the state, because when you negotiate with the militants you tend to reduce the effectiveness of the state and the people’s respect for it. One has to be very careful – if any peace agreements are going to be done, the government has to do it from a position of strength and not of weakness.

Q: Given the negative news of late, people have felt pessimistic about the current security situation in Pakistan. Do you feel the mistakes the military and government have made can be rectified for the future?

I think what happened in Pakistan on the 15th of March when the whole nation stood as one for the reinstatement of the chief justice should act as an example. My own feeling is that the situation is not hopeless but we are a divided house. We all have to act together – the politicians the military and the civil society – and once we build up this momentum, we’d be in a much better place. And that would be the best response to the militants, and it would also strengthen the state forces who are fighting them, give them the moral edge, and give more legitimacy to deal with the insurgency. We should invest more time and effort in trying to mobilize our society against the insurgency.

Q: If it has been long known that we have needed to fight these militants using a proper counterinsurgency strategy, what are the obstacles that have prevented us from enacting it sooner?

By not having a COIN [Counterinsurgency] strategy we have created a confused response by the state security apparatus. Let me explain this by an example. Four days ago a police party was leading a convoy of Frontier Constabulary soldiers which is a paramilitary force into Buner. In a situation where there are militants opposing such a movement, which was the case in this example, precautions through the use of advance reconnaissance or the use of helicopters is normally undertaken. This was not done. The police party was attacked by militants and the policemen were killed. The movement of troops was stopped. Failure such as this could be prevented if there had been a detailed COIN strategy that outlined standard operating procedures in such cases. As in other cases, we lack the political will to do the right thing and thus we are adrift and losing ground to the militants.

Q: In Iraq, the U.S. would distinguish among insurgents by referring to some as “reconcilable” militants versus those who are “irreconcilable.” In the case of Pakistan, is it important to make that similar distinction – and, more specifically in the case of the Sufi Muhammad and the TNSM, should we continue to negotiate with them?

Negotiations can only succeed if the state is in the more dominant position. In Swat, we negotiated from a position of weakness and therefore I feel that the agreement will turn out to be an embarrassment. Militancy has to be tackled through a multidimensional approach which is absent.

Q: What is your opinion on the increased U.S. drone strikes in the region?

The drones are the spearhead of the U.S. counterterrorism strategy in the region. If Pakistan fails to prevent the planning of a threat against the US forces in Afghanistan or terrorist operations worldwide, then US drone strikes become inevitable. If Pakistan wants these strikes to end, then it must remove the cause. Secondly, there is a need to create a due process of law for the use of drone strikes inside FATA by embedding it inside the FCR [Frontier Crimes Regulation] and allowing the political agents to call jirgas with the tribes before any action is taken against proscribed persons through drones, [i.e. informing the jirgas of who the strikes intend to target beforehand, so that they will not give the militants safe haven]. This is likely to reduce reactions against such methods of counterterrorism. [Khalid Aziz has also advocated that if drones are used, they should be under the Pakistani flag, not the U.S.]

Q: Moving to the more human aspect of the conflict – there are currently 80,000 Internally Displaced Persons living in camps in Pakistan, and more than 700,000 throughout the country – what services are being provided to these people? Can the government do more?

Various Pakistani agencies, international organizations and NGOs are busy in providing different services in the field of health, education, water supply and drainage etc to the IDPs. However, there is a shortage of funds. Funds are available only till May. If more money is not made available soon the crisis of the IDPs will deepen, causing more grievances.

Q: Last but not least, do you see the glass as half empty or half full?

Half full…

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