Archive for the ‘Jackie’s Guest Posts’ Category

The violence against foreign aid workers in Pakistan, [see CHUP’s related post] has garnered significant Western media attention. Jackie, an American working for a social enterprise in Karachi and CHUP’s correspondent, [see all of her past posts] commented on the recent kidnapping of John Solecki in Balochistan, [read more about his kidnapping]. Although media reports surfaced that he had been killed, news agencies reported today that Solecki is still alive. Below, Jackie discusses her feelings on the overarching issue:

John Solecki, head of UNHCR in Quetta, was kidnapped in Balochistan on February 2nd.  His driver, a staff member at the UN for over 18 years was murdered in the attack. Recently, almost every Urdu news channel looped a video clip of a white man, presumably Solecki, nodding his head back and forth and murmuring.  It wasn’t a particularly long or revealing clip – it was difficult to see anything as the man was blindfolded and it was just a head shot. I turned on DAWN News and they too were playing the clip with a quote on the bottom of the screen that read – John Solecki:  “I don’t feel well.”

It was revealed that the Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), a never before heard of group, kidnapped Mr. Solecki and demanded the return of “141 women in security custody and over 6,000 ‘missing’ people” (DAWN) in addition to Balochi independence, in exchange for Mr. Solecki’s safe release. A follow up piece in DAWN last weekend quoted government officials who stated, “Their [BLUF’s] demands are not based on facts.” The government claimed there are no women in custody and that the missing people figures were closer to 1000. I believe the real numbers lie somewhere in between these two claims. I empathize with the Balochi complaint that the government unfairly discriminates against the province but when horrific acts such as these occur it becomes very difficult to maintain this view. Violence breeds further violence and alienates sympathetic observers from the cause.

This event and other recent, similar acts of violence carried out against aid workers and journalists leave me thoroughly disheartened. The myriad of issues this country faces is depressing enough, to add to this already bleak situation, violence perpetrated against outside parties who come to help is demoralizing. I say this from the perspective of an American in Pakistan hoping to create some positive change. I have many problems with US foreign policy, particularly in this region, and specifically chose to work outside of the US government framework. Mr. Solecki lives and works in Quetta, assisting Pakistan. I am not suggesting that grandiose gestures of gratitude are necessary, and I acknowledge complaints many raise regarding UN/NGO work, but kidnapping and/or murdering aid workers is a despicable act.

Why did this group who seeks Balochi independence kidnap this man? To draw international attention to the problems Balochistan faces – i.e. to grab headlines. Why must you attack someone who is working to improve your area of the country – an area that, as you so often point out, is ignored by your own government? The group has claimed that the UN is ‘not doing enough’ for their problems.  This infuriates me – people criticize international organizations (and the West in general) for getting involved in global problems, but then become incensed when they feel their particular issue or problem is not addressed. The UN has several active programs in Pakistan; UNHCR works to provide assistance to Afghan refugees, a hugely important issue for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. By working to provide services to this marginalized population, it stabilizes a potentially difficult group that would only aggravate the problems Balochistan face.

In saying this, I do not mean to portray international organizations as godly, benevolent entities.  These organizations are rife with problems and hypocrisies, but I believe their mandates are worthy and it is already difficult to remain dedicated to a challenging task without the added threat of violence. I empathize with some of the anti-American sentiments the majority of this country expresses, but when acts such as these are committed the question of ‘why help?’ emerges. While I understand that many Balochi people feel they have been wronged by their government, they should not take their frustrations out on an entity that seeks to improve their region.  Perhaps they feel – why should the UN help the Afghans in Balochistan when the Balochis themselves face so many problems? But, that is not the mandate of UNHCR and, more importantly, a refugee problem of this magnitude is a serious issue for Balochistan. Also, UNHCR played a very active role following the October 2008 earthquake – assisting both Afghans and Pakistanis.

There are other, more productive, ways to draw attention to your issue than kidnapping those working to improve the community, and certainly more appropriate people/groups to direct your anger towards. I recognize that BLUF’s actions do not reflect the wishes of all Balochi people, but violent attacks against aid workers who live outside of their country, working to improve the livelihoods of people from an entirely different part of the world utterly disgust and dishearten me. [Image from Malik Siraj Akbar Writes]

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badshahi-mosque1Jackie, an American working for a social enterprise in Karachi and CHUP’s correspondent, describes her recent trip from Karachi to Lahore for the Eid holidays and her subsequent observations:

My lack of reporting over the past two months was due in part to the very long holiday season which I took as an opportunity to travel. The beginning of December was Eid Ul Adha, followed shortly by Christmas/Quad-e-Azam’s Birthday, followed by Benazir Bhutto’s Death Anniversary, New Years and finally 10 days of Muharram.

I spent the Eid Ul Adha holidays in Lahore with a friend’s family.  After spending my initial months immersed in chaotic Karachi, Lahore was a much welcome change of pace. The weather was beautiful in December – cool, but sunny. The city is made up of wide boulevards lined with trees, lots of green parks, and, most importantly, I felt safe! I stayed in Model Town, an area developed in the 1920s for civil servants and middle class Pakistanis. Everyday, my friend and I walked to the park unaccompanied, without worrying about kidnapping, theft, or harassment.  There were tons of people at the park – families out for a stroll, kids playing on the jungle gym and even women out for a jog on the track, unaccompanied.  When driving in the streets, we didn’t have to take a guard with us and we were even able to wander the crowded streets of the old city late at night.

In addition to this more laid-back atmosphere, as the former capital of the Mughal Empire, Lahore has a certain historical charm that Karachi lacks. There are several remnants from the Mughal dynasty.  The most impressive are the Lahore Fort and Badshahi Mosque [see above photo of the Badshahi Mosque]. The mosque is mammoth, yet very majestic and is comparable in its splendor to some of the most famed Islamic monuments such as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and even the Taj Mahal.  The Old City, a very small area that comprises the original city of Lahore, is incredibly charming and full of life, and again, given that Lahore is relatively safer than Karachi, I actually had access to it. Lahore also has a very vibrant artsy scene.  While in town, we visited several art galleries.

As always, the most fascinating aspect of my trip was meeting new people. I stayed with my friend’s family members – an elderly, now-retired diplomat couple. My friend’s uncle, Mansur, was a career diplomat. He was born in Lahore before partition, joined the Foreign Service in the 1950s and retired in 1993 – returning to Lahore after 38 years abroad. I spent most of my trip grilling him on Pakistan, its role in the current geopolitical scheme and how politics have changed over the past 40 years.

Unfortunately, Mansur painted a grim picture of Pakistan’s future. When he joined the Foreign Service in the 1950s, he felt proud and agreed, in large part, with Pakistan’s foreign policy.  Things began to take a turn for the worse when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto rose to power and then really nose-dived during Zia Ul-Haq’s regime. Mansur actually spent more time out of Pakistan than is standard for a foreign officer as he belongs to a certain sect of Islam that was declared heretical during Bhutto’s time. In the 1970s, he was offered a chance to return to Pakistan to assume a position of prominence in the national government. This offer was later reneged at the highest level, and he was told to stay overseas due to his religious affiliations. As a result, he spent the last 17 years of his career abroad, without a single of the standard rotations in Islamabad. In addition to this unfortunate situation, as time passed, he felt it more and more difficult to represent Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Once Mansur retired, the Lahore he returned to was not the Lahore he remembered from his youth. Gone was the diversity – Christians, Parsi, Sikhs, made up his college classes, and now no one was left. Maulvis dictated rules and there was little room for discussion or disagreement. Mansur sees religious extremism as one of the greatest threats to Pakistan’s future, and expressed disappointment that this small segment of society had been able to chokehold the majority, as he believed most Pakistanis were fairly moderate people.

While this wasn’t the most uplifting perspective, this opportunity to speak with someone involved in Pakistan’s development since its inception, made my visit to the beautiful city of Lahore particularly memorable.

To read the rest of Jackie’s posts for CHUP, click here.

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Below, Jackie, an American working for a social enterprise in Karachi and CHUP’s correspondent, reviews Karachi’s production of Chicago, the renowned  musical about the city of Chicago in the 1920s, [to see Jackie’s other posts, click here]:

I was very excited to see many of the city’s prominent billboards advertising for the musical production of Chicago, and in English!  While I have heard much about Pakistan’s theater scene, particularly in Lahore, many of these plays are in Urdu and are therefore inaccessible to me. While I had never actually seen the musical nor the popular movie – I couldn’t resist an English play and immediately bought tickets.  Before reading my critique, I would like to make a small disclaimer: I have only been to a handful of live musicals in my life, and none in Pakistan.

Due to my unfamiliarity with Chicago, I was instantly shocked by the play’s overtly sexual tone and the incredibly seductive, sensual female characters.  For those also ignorant – the play portrays a snapshot of the city of Chicago in the 1920s – a time of jazz and excess in a city ripe with thugs and speakeasies.  The story follows the lives of a group of women, jailed for killing their husbands or lovers over seedy reasons involving love, sex and betrayal.  A hustler and sleazy lawyer take advantage of these women’s stories for personal fame and money, manipulating the press to spin spectacular tales about the women and portraying them in the courtroom as poor, helpless souls.

The most entertaining and surprising aspect of the musical given our setting in conservative Pakistan, was the overt portrayal of stark sexuality. The Cell Block Tango, the main song and dance number, involves women dancing seductively on and around chairs bemoaning the gruesome, sordid details of their husband’s dalliances and subsequent murders.  One of the characters kills her husband because she catches him with a girl ‘spread eagle’ on the floor.  Another character laments about her husband’s poor performance in the bedroom.  These issues are not mentioned in even some of the most liberal, elite households I spend my time in. The costumes hugged every curve of the actresses’ bodies and sheer black tights did little to hide long legs – a complete contrast to the often abaya-covered women of Karachi’s streets.

Roxy Hart, the main role, was played by Sanam Saeed who stole the show.  Sanam completely embodied the character, and I was utterly transfixed by her performance.  Each little action and mannerism and the all the intonations in her speech oozed sexuality.  She mimicked the Chicago accent very well!  In fact, I didn’t realize until looking at the program during intermission that she was Pakistani – I assumed her to be an American. Momin Zafar also gave a wonderful performance, playing the part of Roxie’s pathetic, puppy-love husband Amos Hart.

Unfortunately, aside from Sanam and Momin, many of the other characters were not up to speed. While I thought the acting was good, particularly the difficult Chicago accents each of the characters adapted, their musical and dancing performances were lackluster.  Many of their voices were not strong enough for the stage nor were their dance moves very inspiring.  The dances seemed too mechanical and rehearsed.  That being said, at the last minute the production company had to change venues, and the stage went from an indoor area to an outdoor area.  I would assume this involves a change in acoustics and a different sound system – perhaps the late venue change deserves at least part of the blame.

All-in-all an enjoyable two hours, and fascinating to see such sexually-charged performances and controversial themes played out under bright lights here in Pakistan.

The musical finished its Karachi run on January 20th. It will run in Lahore from January 30 – February 6, 2009. For ticket information, click here.

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Below, Jackie, an American working in Karachi and CHUP’s Correspondent, delves into this week’s violence in the city and discusses who are the players, why are they fighting, and how it has impacted daily life in Karachi:

While this week’s international news coverage of Pakistan focused on Indo-Pak relations following the Mumbai bombings, here in Karachi, pre-existing ethnic tensions between Pathans and the native-Urdu speaking population erupted. The violence started on Saturday in Banaras Chowk and quickly engulfed the western parts of the city. The conflict raged on until Tuesday evening, leaving 42 dead, hundreds more wounded, and thousands of dollars in property damage.

On Saturday night, while I was getting ready for a wedding, my roommate called me from just south of Orangi Town, concerned over the reported violence in the area. She had gotten stuck in a terrible traffic jam on the way home from work, and her driver mentioned that there had been some rioting in the area. At first, I assumed this was the usual gang-related unrest that plagues the areas where our organization operates. However, it became increasingly apparent this was much worse – I began receiving phone calls from different people reporting gruesome stories of violence and destruction from the northwest of the city. I ended up staying in that evening, and the next evening, and again the next…

Rumors abounded – the factions of the MQM population were cutting off Pathan ears, the Pathans were retaliating by pouring superglue in people’s eyes and ears. It was particularly scary being shut-up in the house and hearing sporadic, word-of-mouth accounts from family and friends of friends in the area; it wasn’t clear what was actually happening, and how much, if any, of these stories were true. At one point, we heard that 50 or 60 buses were driving around shooting people at random, then an hour later someone else claimed everything was more or less fine, some minor riots, but with no casualties. As the violence continued into the week, different ‘finger-pointing’ theories emerged. These ranged from an alleged RAW (India’s foreign intelligence organization) plot in response to the Mumbai attacks to an MQM-led uprising against the growing Pathan population in Karachi.

The major papers reported stories of torched businesses, houses and vehicles as well as shootings and indiscriminate murders. People were fleeing the area to stay with family in other parts of the city. Many shops and businesses closed their doors and schools shut down until Wednesday. Sindhi officials and party members made empty statements calling for unity and claiming the riots were a conspiracy by some against democracy. Because the local police were basically ineffective, the paramilitary Rangers were let loose on the city, but even this failed to curb the bloodshed.

After hearing these stories, reading the news and talking to different people, I have reached some understanding of the situation. The increasing violence in recent years in NWFP led the Pathans, the major ethnic group in that province, to move to other areas in the country. Consequently, Karachi – the industrial and commercial hub of Pakistan – has seen a significant increase in its Pathan population. The MQM [see previous blog entry], an Urdu-language based party, fears any potential threat to its political hold on the city, and from time to time harasses this population by threatening local Pathan-owned businesses. Many fear the “Talibanization” of Karachi, supposedly led by these new Pathans, adding further fuel to the fire. In the most recent election, the PPP [Pakistan People’s Party], the ruling political party, the ANP [Awami National Party], a secular party that has a strong Pathan base, and the MQM agreed to form an alliance. Not surprisingly, these riots demonstrate that these political statements of unity for the greater good of Pakistan do not amount to much. Many say that it was the two parties, MQM and ANP, that stirred up this conflict. As for how exactly this started, or who is behind it, I do not know, but it seems plausible that the underlying hostilities between these two groups have created a tense situation that can explode into violence with very little prompting. It will be interesting to see how the story unfolds over the next week as hundreds of people involved in the riots were arrested and are now in police custody.

Regardless of who is responsible for fomenting the recent spate of violence, it’s obvious the supposed PPP-MQM-ANP alliance does not run very deep. The police and paramilitary Rangers exercise little power, and, once things spiral out of control, everyone sits back until the smoke clears and the politically motivated blame game begins.

To read Jackie’s other guest posts, click here.

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CHUP recently introduced its new correspondent. Each week, Jackie, an American now living and working in Karachi, [see her first post], will discuss the prevalent day-to-day issues occuring on the ground. Below, she addresses the controversy surrounding Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal‘s alleged award of being the world’s “Second Best Mayor”:

ah-111108-11Last week, several media outlets, including Dawn, reported that Foreign Policy (FP), a U.S.-based magazine, identified Karachi Mayor Syed Mustafa Kamal as the “Second Best Mayor in the World.” Shortly after, major billboards around Karachi were blanketed with pictures of Altaf Hussain, founder of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), hugging Kamal and congratulating the young mayor on his award, [see image to the right].

For those unfamiliar with the MQM, it is one of the largest political parties in Pakistan, and was founded by Altaf Hussain in 1984. It sprung out of a student organization, All Pakistan Muhajir Students Organization, also led by Altaf Hussain. Amid rising tensions between the military and MQM in the 1990s, Altaf relocated to London where he continues to serve as the party’s leader in self-imposed exile.  The party’s initial goal was to organize the ethnic Urdu-speaking group known as Muhajirs, but it later adopted a more inclusive mandate of returning power to the ‘people’ – i.e. the lower classes. How successful this has been is up for debate; many people view the MQM as a bunch of thugs who use violence, intimidation and bribery to achieve political and personal gains. Less questionable is the MQM’s very influential role in Pakistani politics, particularly in Karachi. Syed Mustafa Kamal is the current mayor of Karachi and an increasingly important member of this party.  Since taking office in 2006, he has received international recognition and attention for many of the public works and infrastructure projects he has undertaken.  In June, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a series focused on Karachi, during which Kamal was interviewed, [CHUP also covered this series, in this post].

Towards the end of last week, a rumor began circulating –  FP did NOT name Kamal as the world’s second best mayor. I did some very basic research and it appeared that the recent flurry of praise and media coverage were not entirely merited. Karachi was mentioned in an FP piece entitled, “The 2008 Global Cities Index.” Mayor Kamal appeared in a “Mayor of the Moment” segment which was a smaller part of this larger piece, however, he was not recognized as the second best mayor in the world.  Just to be absolutely sure, I called FP headquarters and they confirmed my suspicions.  In fact, they received an overwhelming amount of inquiries regarding this matter, and recently posted the following link on their site, entitled “What FP didn’t say about the mayor of Karachi.”

While this “Mayor of the Moment” recognition deserves an accolade, the local media’s misrepresentation of FP’s story and the MQM’s ‘takeover’ of Karachi’s billboards detract from this proud moment.  As Pakistan’s economy continues to plummet and violence is on the rise, particularly in Karachi, the ruling MQM  has inevitably suffered a decline in popularity. Could this be a MQM hoax to gain popularity at a time when Karachi is falling apart or just a misunderstanding? By now, many people are well aware of the mistake, so why are the pictures still on the billboards? Why, just yesterday on front page of the Dawn, was there a quarter-page, color advertisement congratulating Kamal on his recent award? Shame on the major papers for not investigating this matter further and instead taking the information at face value from whatever source.  Perhaps this is an exaggerated response to what might be an ‘honest mistake,’ but seeing these billboards of Altaf clasping Kamal to his bosom is getting a little old as other headlines continue to tell stories, daily, of violence, kidnappings and murders in their city. [Image from Karachi Metblogs]

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Jackie, an American who spent her formative years in Pakistan, will write a weekly piece from Karachi, where she is now working for a development non-profit organization. Jackie will discuss an array of issues based on her observations on the ground – from daily crime in Karachi to the attitudes of people she encounters. Below, she introduces herself to CHUP readers:

After six years away, three spent in the U.S., two in Vietnam and one in Spain I have come back to Pakistan.

Deciding to return to Pakistan at this juncture in my life was a momentous decision. The recent world wide economic crisis comes on the back of Pakistan’s national downward spiral.  Inflation is at 24%, foreign exchange reserves are rapidly evaporating, load shedding prevails despite an exorbitant rise in the price of electricity and, of course, the U.S. “War on Terror” and the ensuing drone attacks within Pakistan’s borders anger all parts of Pakistani society.  Not surprisingly, this has translated into unrest and even violence – against foreign sympathizers, the government and the average citizen. The week after I collected my visa, the Marriott in Islamabad was bombed. Was this really the right time to return?

I am an American citizen, born and raised outside of the U.S. as a child of parents in international development. I spent my most formative years, 11 to 18, in Islamabad, Pakistan. I left six years ago in 2002, as a direct result of political tension and violence. My family was evacuated three times in eight months. The first time, immediately after 9/11; second, in March after the terrorist attack on the Protestant church in Islamabad; and finally, at start of the summer when one million soldiers were massed on the border between India and Pakistan due to rising tensions of over the perpetual problem of Kashmir. This third time, my parents decided to call it quits – my family relocated to the Washington, D.C. area and I attended Georgetown University.

However, ever since I left, I have been looking for an opportunity to return. I had a wonderful experience in Pakistan and it was the closest thing to ‘home’ for me. During college, I took several classes on South Asian politics, history and Islamic studies, trying to stay as connected as I could to the region.  After graduating, I moved to Vietnam for some more overseas experience, and although it was an interesting country in its own right, I kept thinking of Pakistan. Recently, an opportunity to return emerged – a position at social enterprise in Karachi. I could not pass up this chance, dangerous or not.

Now I am here. I must confess that my ride from the airport to my new home was tense; I kept looking around nervously, expecting a roadside bomb or explosion at any moment. The sense of impending doom has since dissipated as I realize that millions of people continue to go about their daily lives as they have for years, regardless of the increase in terrorist attacks. In the short time I’ve been here, I have met several Pakistanis who recently returned after time spent abroad, hoping to improve their country’s desperate situation. Over the next few months I will share my ‘new’ impressions of this country and the stories of those who have also coming back and are working to “change up” Pakistan.

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