Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

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

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

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

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

Copyright All rights reserved by Without Shepherds Film Inc.

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

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

Copyright All rights reserved by Without Shepherds Film Inc.

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

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

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

Without Shepherds Director Cary McClelland

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

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

WITHOUT SHEPHERDS Trailer from Cary McClelland on Vimeo.

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Mubarak ho, Egypt!

AFP: The crowds in Tahrir Square. Incredible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Urdu and English are the two official languages of Pakistan. However, only 8% of Pakistanis “speak it as their native tongue,” often deferring to a regional dialect or to English. Below, Zufah Ansari, a business undergraduate student at Szabist in Karachi, makes the case for why we should place a greater emphasis on the Urdu language in Pakistan:

This may seem very ironic indeed. Advocating for the greater revival of Urdu but writing in English.

All of us, at some point in time have been reluctant to speak/write in Urdu, failing to realize the language reflects not only the culture we are a part of, but serves as an identity, a method of communication, a unifying force, and a gateway to works of literature that are phenomenal and praise worthy in all ways possible. Though Urdu remains the mother tongue of the Pakistanis, the factual reality is that only 8% speak it as their mother tongue. The language, in spoken, written and literary form is facing constant erosion in its popularity and usage.

It’s easy to point fingers at our colonial legacy of the English language. It may be one of the reasons but let us not undermine the importance of this language. In fact, it is very crucial to be well-versed in English as it is the global tongue. Being one of the second largest spoken dialects in the world, it taps into all circles of influences of the modern man. Also, the growing importance of regional languages, with Punjabi standing at 45%, is also a contributing factor. The predilection of English and regional dialects over Urdu are not the only reasons at hand.

The media boom is bringing sources of entertainment and infotainment in languages apart from Urdu, which have gained tremendous acceptance and are being unconsciously integrated in to our language and encourage the emergence of Junk Urdu, whereby Urdu phrases are amalgamated with English, leading to an illustration of a ‘confused identity’.

The perceptions attached to Urdu aren’t favorable either. It is looked upon as a language of the inferior and the uneducated, while English has established itself as a language of prestige and elitism.  Apart from the social factors, the educational paradigms haven’t supported Urdu either. Especially in the private educational sector, where numerous private schools have the O/A levels system of education, the English language fixation is apparent, automatically putting Urdu in the backseat as it is treated as the second language in the course structure.

While the amount of language that is practiced is enough to get you through your exam or through the day, Urdu literature is in complete ruins. Only a very minute cut actually indulges in the literature, with most prominence seen in state institutes especially in the course of higher education where it can be taken up as an area of concentration.

It is gradually being depleted from our daily lives, with growing preference for alternative languages, sources of entertainment and literary mediums. Moreover, the masses have shunned Urdu literature altogether. Students are encouraged to delve in to Shakespeare and Jane Austen but not in the literary marvels of Amjad Islam Amjad and Bano Qudsiya and other similarly great writers. What they fail to realize is that most of the literature is relatable as it is written against the background of our culture and history, providing useful insight into different spheres of our own society while of broader settings as well.  We have limited the dispersion of such spectacles to the TV screen which is rarely watched by the young or the adults.

Urdu poetry can only be remembered in the context of Mirza Ghalib or Allama Iqbal while the modern poets are unheard of not because they are not good, but because we refuse to expose ourselves to them. All this has resulted in a hindrance in Urdu’s growth as a language. What is ultimately needed is a major shift in attitudes and exposure. There should be an integration of Urdu language and literature as a compulsory area of study in curriculum, irrespective of whatever system of education a school operates in. The methodology used in teaching Urdu should be improvised to make it more interactive and should be updated to cover contemporary developments in the language and the writers.

The Pakistani media channels can play a proactive role in Urdu’s revival. They can easily set a new stance towards Urdu by promoting it aggressively so that the audiences stop recoiling from what is their inheritance, ultimately contributing their share in to breathing life in to the language once again.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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kashmir-singh.jpgLast week, news sources reported that  Kashmir Singh, the Indian national who was held in a Pakistani prison for 35 years under espionage charges, was released on Tuesday after being granted amnesty by President Musharraf, [see the post from Pakistaniat for more background.] After crossing over the border into India last week, Singh was given a hero’s welcome and was showered with rose petals. Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister, Ansar Burney, discovered in December that the Indian national, who denied vehemently that he was a spy for the past 35 years, was still languishing in Pakistani prison, and proceeded to advocate for his release.
Singh’s subsequent release last week was viewed as a major humanitarian gesture by the Pakistani government. However, a development covered on Saturday could potentially turn this gesture into an “international embarrassment” for the Pakistani government. On Friday, Singh confessed to reporters that he in fact was a spy for the Indian government, stating, “I did the duty assigned to me as a spy … I was a regular recruit. I did not open my mouth for 35 years in Pakistan.” According to BBC News, he also criticized the Indian government, “which he said did nothing for him and his family while he was in jail.” However, the AFP reported that Singh was paid about 400 rupees a month (10 dollars) for his work. He told reporters, “I went to serve my country…even  Pakistan authorities failed to get this information from me.” Singh declined to tell reporters which Indian agency employed him, however.
According to the Associated Press today, Singh appeared to backpedal from Friday’s statements which “could imperil hundreds of prisoners held on both sides in similar circumstances.” He reportedly told the private Indian CNN-IBN that his comments were misinterpreted and he was actually not a spy. However, the AP added, “…his credibility was in doubt.” Pakistan’s Daily Times cited Burney’s reaction to the development. The minister still asserted that Singh’s release was correct and implied that the Indian may have “been forced to make that statement.” The Times added, “APP quoted him as telling Express News that if Singh was a spy, he should have been hanged in 1978 when the president rejected his mercy petition…” Despite the development, Burney said that India would release 25 Pakistani prisoners in return for Singh.
To be honest, I was confused by the whole turn of events on Friday – if Singh truly was a spy, why admit it now? It does nothing but antagonize relations and perceptions between Pakistan and India at a time when the two countries are in a period of relative peace. Last week, his release was potentially a positive development for prisoners still languishing on either side of the border. However, could his confession hold serious ramifications for the recent prisoner exchanges? If anything, it’s a slap in the face to these efforts.

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