And Life Moves On…

Cricinfo I first saw this Cricinfo photo over at Pakistaniat. It gives one a view of the large swarm of police deployed at the 2nd one-day international between Pakistan and South Africa, which Pakistan won by 25 runs.

This photo reminded me of how in the past I’ve been critical of foreign teams canceling, postponing and making an almighty fuss about “security” when touring Pakistan.

South Africa in particular got a lot of stick from me during their last tour to Pakistan, in which they finally decided, after much debate, that Karachi was not safe enough for their team to play in. I’m afraid I hadn’t begun blogging back than so I can’t provide you with links, but I do recall my frustrations back in 2003.

A blast had occurred in an empty building on Shahrah-e-Faisal barely days before South Africa’s scheduled arrival to Pakistan, the entire tour was subsequently in jeopardy, but when they discovered that the blasts were a product of a personal dispute between the owners of the property, and not an act of terrorism, at least the tour was saved. But Karachi nevertheless missed out.

I was upset on various counts, but firstly as a cricket fan, because I was deprived of seeing one of the better teams in world cricket battle it out against Pakistan in my home city against my favorite team. I hadn’t ever had the chance to visit a live international cricket match until this point, and I was very eagerly anticipating their arrival. But I was upset also, secondarily, because of the stereotypical images painted of Karachi at the time by some foreign journalists and even South African players in their analysis of the issue.

The South African skipper Graeme Smith, for instance, I recall related in one of his columns in a leading South African daily, how some of his friends told him that Karachi was so unsafe people never go to cinemas in Karachi. It is not that I didn’t recognize that violence was a real threat for my city. I did back then, and I still do. There is no point in living in denial of course. But my gripe was that some of these concerns were being needlessly exaggerated.

I also felt that Karachi was being singled out. Karachi isn’t any more or less safe then any of the other cities in South Africa’s itinerary, back then, and even today. Terrorism was a global threat, I argued, and the world at large, not just Pakistan, because of this threat was a more dangerous place. But if we all decide to isolate our selves in the safe havens of our homes, it is not only going to give more encouragement to those who’re behind all of this? Perhaps I because I was young, I was also naive, but the answer sure seemed very conspicuous to me back then. And it frustrated me that South Africa didn’t seem to agree.

Especially because this was South Africa of all countries making these complains. The same South Africa where in on one particular Pakistan tour a few years back, night time mugging had resulted in two Pakistani players being hurt. Several of the Pakistani players then wanted to return, but reassurances from Cricket South Africa meant we only returned after completing the tour as per scheduled. In this backdrop, I found the nature of some of these apprehensions about Karachi’s safety rather painfully ironic.

Their decision, thirdly, also upset me because it made realise my own worthlessness in the eye’s of the powers to be. We, the citizens of this city, I thought, we live here every day, and over time, we learn to cope with these threats. We don’t fuss about them, we only mutely complain and we try and always get on with our lives. And this is despite the fact that the taxes we pay sponsor much of the high profile security arrangements in place for such VIPs.

I felt peeved. Why do I never get such out-of-the ordinary protection? These high-end bullet proof adorned personalities, they always seem to get away unharmed whenever there’s any such tragic incident, it is always we, the ordinary folk of this city, that are at greatest risk and that have to pay the sacrifice. Yet despite that, no lessons are ever learned; our resilience and character are taken for granted and we’re left to fend of for ourselves with the least protection of all.

We’re ordinary people after all, why should we deserve anything special? Our lives and property are a thing few in the hierarchy are concerned with protecting, we’re frequently terrorized, robbed, killed and looted, and yet, when we complain, rarely is full justice brought. But then you have these people coming in from foreign countries, cricketers and ex-prime ministers with corruption cases, for all but a few weeks or days, and they get the highest, most “fool proof” security arrangements possible (and that too, of course, sponsored either directly or indirectly from our tax money).

All these very valid frustrations for me back then. I expected some of these VIPs people to show a bit of courage and get on with it, like the ordinary people of this country do. I still harbor many if not all of these frustrations, but my expectations of these VIPs have changed. Over these past three days, as I’ve been forced to just stick around home and all day hear about nothing Karachi’s worsening law and order situation, I can begin to understand the real extent of the fear a foreigner may feel before coming here.

This afternoon, twice I heard a helicopter hovering overhead our neighborhood (I live about five minutes off Bilawal House) and each time I heard those propellers forcing their way against the wind, for a moment my heart would be in my mouth. What happened now I would wonder, just another routine security check perhaps. Hopefully not another blast. I’d go tune in to the TV again, and if any breaking news didn’t turn up over the next five minutes, I’d get my breath back again.

Thankfully, despite the sporadic instances of firing, stone throwing and tire burning in various parts of the city, things have remained by and large peaceful. But as many of the dead from the October 18th’s blasts are being laid to rest, the sense of fear and insecurity that has gripped this city is undeniable. Private news channels here keep showing scenes of deserted intersections, closed down gas stations and memorial adverts with dramatic dirges playing in the background. There has been precious little else to watch on TV, and had it not been for the cricket, I might seriously have acquired something of a mild depression.

There is, after all, only that much of sadness you can keep seeing without being overwhelmed at some point or the other. Especially when the Pakistani media have seemingly decided to compromise every possible journalistic ethic in the favor of sensationalist reporting. What the point was behind showing corpses of unidentified dead being stored in Edhi cold storage, and worst still, the badly mutilated head of the alleged suicide bomber him self, I will not know. Had my remote not been in close vicinity each time, I may not have stopped my self from puking. I’m shocked beyond belief that producers could allow such footage to keep on running all day long, and that too without any warnings for viewer discretion.

Back in the city it self, life continues to remain on a virtual stand still, and often not by choice. One commentator at the Karachi Metroblog shared a story about how some 400 “workers” forced shops and business (including a Pizza Hut outlet) at Zamzama Commercial Boulevard to close down. My mom too was telling me how one of her tailors told her over phone that shops in Clifton’s Gulf-Way Shopping Mall were being forced to close down.

Clifton and Defense are two of the most so-called ‘posh’ areas of this city, and if this was the situation here, one can logically expect it to much more tense else where. Who may the “workers” behind such forceful closures are is not terribly hard to guess. The PPP have announced a three day morning after the blasts, and while the intention behind this may not be a bad one, both its application and its implication are not.

For a party that talks so much about the “awaam” (people) and it hopes and aspirations, it show know how such a sustained halt to the city’s day-to-day activities will hurt this very “awaam“. It effects the economy (I was told Karachi loses about 1 billion rupees in revenue for every such day), the education system (schools and colleges were closed on Thursday as well and Friday, and numerous exams to be held on these dates were postponed on future dates) and most crucially, the livelihood and very existence of the city’s poorest, most underprivileged class, some of whom survive on daily wages as meager as $2.5.

A year ago when I wrote about futility of such periods of “mourning” and “strikes” I asked if any of our so-called leaders actually care for these ordinary Pakistanis on behalf of which they speak so confidently. I still have the same questions, and I still have no answers. In the light of all this, I wasn’t expecting South Africa to continue its tour, let alone also confirm that the Karachi ODI a few weeks from now will happen as per schedule.

Perhaps I really was being naive four years ago, perhaps South Africa do have more courage then I was prepared to give them credit for. For the first time in a long while, I felt scared in my own city, and my solace came from the most unlikely of sources: this decision by the South African team and its cricket authorities. They courage they have shown has some how conducted into me as well. I wasn’t expecting this by any means but its a pleasant surprise, and an important reminder, that whatever happens, life must continue to move on. To quote Robert Frost,

In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life: it goes on.

It sounds almost cruel, the fact that we can in due course, fairly readily, let ghastly days like Friday, pass down on our memory lanes and move on to what lies ahead, but as harsh as this may seem at first, this is also what allows us to overcome such tragedies and come out stronger from them. I don’t expect that security measures for the final ODI when SA come here will be anything less then what we’ve seen in this past week, it may be more if anything. But for once I wont be complaining. But I will most certainly be praying. May God keep us all safe and sound.


I Dream’d In A Dream

I DREAM’D in a dream, I saw a city invisible to the attacks of the

whole of the rest of the earth;

I dream’d that was the new City of Friends;

Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love – it led

the rest;

It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,

And in all her looks and words.

~by Walt Whitman, from the collection Leaves of Grass

Another Depressing Development

And there I was, just about to shut down my laptop after deciding that I’d surfed enough for the day, when my sister rushed to inform me of some “bloody incident all over the news”. Benazir Bhutto had returned to Karachi today after 8 years of self imposed exile. Scores of her “supporters” (some genuine others allegedly bought by bribes from various parts of the country, from Khyber Pass to Hyderabad) had gathered in Karachi to “welcome” her.

And after it had all gone so smoothly for the better part of the entire day (very little mismanagement to speak of, no violence at all and just a traditional, snail paced procession making its headway from the Quaid-e-Azam International Airport to the Quaid’s mausoleum) it seemed the peaceful atmosphere got struck by some one’s buri nazar. At about 12:45 AM in the morning Karachi time, two blasts in quick succession went off below the Karsaz Bridge on main Shahrah-e-Faisal. At the time of my writing (about 15 minutes to 5) over 100 people have been confirmed killed, and over 500 injured.

These are staggering numbers, and some analyst have already moved to describe the incident as “the worst terrorist attack”‘ in the country’s history. And even though I have been live blogging the tragic developments as I saw them unfold on my television screen over at the Karachi Metroblog, but this still hasn’t seem to sink in completely.

I’m far from what one can describe as a People’s Party supporter, no political party in this country inspires any confidence in me, but the people of this country do (despite their sometimes questionable choices). And it hurts and distresses me that scores of them had to once again sacrifice their lives or be seriously hurt amongst the political games of the powers to be.

I really don’t know who is responsible for these blasts – Taliban leaders in the troubled region of Waziristan had issued an official “threat” directly aimed at Bhutto before her arrival, and conspiracy theorists speculating on this being a ploy by the PPP to gain mass public sympathy and divert attention away from allegations of corruption against Bhutto (many of which were controversially withdrawn by the government in the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance) will be aplenty too – but what I do now, and with certainty, is that scores of people, including media professionals and law-enforcement officials, who died or have got seriously hurt today (and may perhaps tragically remain forever handicapped after their injuries), did not by any stretch of imagination, do anything to deserve this fate.

They were blameless, innocent members of the civil society. And my heart goes out for them today. May the souls of those whose precious lives were sacrificied rest in peace, may the Almighty give patience and courage to their grieved family and friends, and may all those who are injured recover smoothly and speedily. It is also just as necessary today to remember those responsible for these hideous acts in our prayers: may God truly bless them with guidance and save us from their terrible wrath in these coming times. And may God make thess coming times one of peace and security. I’m off to catch some much needed sleep now.

Early Reaction From The Blogosphere:

is daur-e-bejunoon ki kahani koi likho
jismon ko barf Khoon ko paanii koi likho

koi kaho key haath qalam kis tarah hue
kyun ruk gai qalam kii ravaani koi likho

kyon ahal-e-shauq sar-va-garebaan hain dosto
kyon khoon-ba-dil hai ahad-e-javaani koi likho

kyon surmaa-dar-guluu hai har ek taayar-e-suKhan
kyon gulisitaan qafas kaa hai sona koi likho

haan taazaa saanehon kaa kare kaun intazaar
haan dil kii vaaradaat puraani koi likho

  • At Stranger’s Words ‘mohsenali’ notes amongst other things the “mistakes” made by the how the Pakistani media ignored several basic journalistic ethics in their reporting of the incident
  • “Benazir was made aware of serious threats against her return. Was she wise to ignore them?” asks temporal at Desicritics
  • “If militants were indeed behind the Karachi bombing, they are unlikely to have won any support for their cause in Pakistan” notes Jason Bruke at the Guardian‘s Comment Is Free blog

The Myth Of Pakistan & Musharraf’s Liberalism

There is much interest in Pakistan’s political and cultural dynamic these days. Hardly a week passes by when you don’t come across some article or the other in the international press highlighting and celebrating Pakistan’s apparently new found inclination for modernism, or ‘enlightened moderation’ if I were to use Musharraf’s now worn out neologism.

Such writers all sight a particular set of trends as proof to substantiate their claims. The growth of the press, and the image of Pakistan it presents (with private channels like Fashion TV and MTV Pakistan now on the airwaves) is one oft cite example. The progress with India in the peace process, and the people-to-people contact this progress has embodied in the form of merry sing along between music artists and joint film ventures between celebrities from both sides of the Wagah Border, is another favorite “proof” they use.

Many of them admit that a “radical”, “conservative” sect of religiously-inspired populous exists at the same time at the other end of the spectrum, but the underlying implication some how from all the above is that Musharraf, and him alone, may be the savior for Pakistan’s polarized ideologies. Some of these assertions couldn’t be further from ground realities.

One such article that I read recently was written by a certain Shuja Nawaz. The publication described her in a short bio as “a journalist who recently returned to Pakistan after working for 32 years at the International Monetary Fund and the International Atomic Energy Agency, to complete “Crossed Swords,” a book on Pakistan and its army”. In the article titled “Behind the Clichés, a Modern Pakistan” (published first in International Herald Tribune, later reproduced at The Pakistan Link, link via Raza Rumi) she does admit how, “For a returning native, Pakistan offers a kaleidoscope of images that defy the West’s stereotypes” but goes on to create an image of Pakistan laden with its own set of mythical characteristics.

Consider, for instance, the assertions she has made about the needs of the country’s urban elite, who she stipulates, are “craving” for leadership in figures like Musharraf. Me and my family have lived in Karachi for the better part of three decades, and we’re grateful to the Almighty that we can consider our self part of the “urban” and “educated” elite Ms. Nawaz writes on behalf of. But I cannot, not even for a moment, identify with the leaders she suggests we are craving for. Yes, we do aspire for a “moderate, peace-loving Pakistan”, but that we see Musharraf as the only person capable of giving us this dream would at best be a gross misrepresentation, and at worst, an insult to our intelligence.

Leaving aside the views of my parents and their parents, if I speak purely from the perspective of the youth of this country, people like me, who have no memories of the Zia era, who grew up watching the merry go round of democratically elected leaders in Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, and then entered our teenage years as the Musharraf regime took over. The misdemeanors of these successive governments, their repeated moves towards sham democracy and a consistent trend of power-hungriness has left quite of few of us as largely politically indifferent. There is a vacuum in terms of potential leaders, and the only flag bearers of society that provide us with any semblance of inspiration are people well outside the circus of Pakistani politics. Here in are dignified members of the civil society, people like the Edhi family.

There is no denying that their was and perhaps still exists in my generation approval for some of Musharraf‘s policies. Many people I know, from my age group, will admit they enjoy having a greater choice in watching Television then just having to suffice with PTV, they’ll also appreciate how the improving economy and greater foreign investment, has again given them more choices, in terms of consumer goods to explore into. And they’ll even be people who’ll appreciate and credit Musharraf with liberalizing Pakistan urban society at large, making it less of taboo for young people to “date”, for young people to dress in non-reformist ways and for having a liberty to bash “mullahs” openly that would be unheard of previous times.

But they will also admit how the benefits of a growing economy haven’t reached their less privileged fellow countrymen, how corruption is still rampant, how the civic facilities for even the elites are still inefficient, how the environment is the last thing on the government’s mind, how they’ve oppressed free speech and how law-and-order is still a thing largely unheard of. Even the list of their complains would be quite long. Such selective and well guarded approval for some of Musharraf‘s policies hence should not be confused with outright support, or as the writer described it “crave for leadership”.

There is much damage that Musharraf and his close allies in the government have ensued upon their own selves in recent times. Many people who would have formerly praised Musharraf for some of the reforms he brought, will now express reservations about his sincerity towards Pakistan and the cause of her prosperity. Much of this has happened in time period as short as the last six months, during which Musharraf has indulged in a series of moves which have done nothing but directly benefit his own existence in power. From dismissing the Chief Justice, to having Nawaz Sharif deported, there is much Musharraf has done that has alienated some of his past admirers. And his recent u-turn around over letting the crocks of the past back in, something that he vehemently opposed for much of the last eight years of his reign, may well turn out to be the a final knock out blow.

Even at the socio-cultural front, the so called “liberal” people such articles frequently refer to, remain in the distinct minority even in the urban areas, let alone going into the country’s 160 million population at large. And then there is the additional question of their pseudo-liberalism that needs to be addressed. These lot, as Qandeel Shaam described them over at Pakistaniat, are primarily concerned with “being liberal without embracing liberalism: for example, aunties who mull for hours when deciding just how deep they should let their plunging necklines plunge before it starts to look too inappropriate for a charity fundraising event to help emancipate the poor. The same aunties are also dedicated to ensuring that the only ‘liberty’ their maids ever see is a market in Lahore.”

In fact Shaam describes the landscape of Pakistan’s identity crisis much more accurately then does Ms. Nawaz. It is too simplistic to suggest that Pakistan is merely split between hard line religious conservatives and left-wing liberals. But this divide is actually three fold, as Shaam narrates, it lies between the “Western-wannabe’s” , “the religious extremist-wannabe’s” and whatever lies between them. The former two’s ideologies refuse to adopt completely, either all the scruples of classical liberalism or traditional Islam, instead conveniently using only some of their principles as and when they need to prove their own point. I have encountered many of them right in the blogosphere it self and the travesty is that more of either types continue to glaze in the mainstream Pakistani media.

Pakistan’s hopes (or at least my own) lie in what remains between these two; “an extant grey zone” Shaam calls it, that is “either too small or too muted to buffer these two extremes”. I’d like to remain hopeful that these middle ground holders aren’t actually few, but that instead, the problem is that they’re so disheartenned in the systems of Pakistan society that they’ve sidelined themselves into aloofness. This isn’t as much a hope for an inspiring leader, as it is a hope for an inspiring people’s movement. For I’ve realised that leaders are like eagles. They don’t flock, but instead you find them one at a time. Sadly, such is Pakistan’s luck that in a population of 160 million, presently there’s not even one person that inspires complete confidence. That is why the only hopes I have are those from the silent majority. Pakistan will change the day enough of them wake up and decide to take their country’s destiny in their own hands.

Some Thoughts On Dr. Adil Najam

People on my Facebook contacts and on my RSS feed reader have been paying their tributes to Dr. Adil Najm, who was one of the convening Lead Authors for the IPCC team that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

I have been reading Dr. Najam for a while via his blog Pakistaniat, and though I do not not know him personally I did have the pleasure of coming across him in real life. He was present at the Karachi Metrobloggers’ Blogging Seminar in October this year and meeting him, one would have been hardpressed to tell he was a man of such extra-ordinary accomplishments.

Modesty is the mark of true greatness. In that sense this honor could not have gone to a better person. Pakistan stands proud. To echo what Sabahat Aahraf said, “well done played Adil Bhai!

I can be your Facebook stalker

I can’t deny this is hilarious, especially the parody lyrics of I Can Be Your Hero by Enrique Iglesias. But at the same time, I think that such people exist in real life outside of You Tube videos. When I don’t deny my self that I personally check the friend’s list of my friends and sometimes even the list of their friends’ friends (just for time pass sakes) then its perfectly conceivable how others may indulge in the kind of extreme Facbookholism described in this video by Penn Masala.

This is one of the reasons why I don’t put up any pictures of my self on any social networking websites. Far too dangerous (again, if I can’t deny my self how I’ve spent a fair share of time looking at pictures of people I barely know, and not just that even complimenting them on how nice the look, its perfectly conceivable how others may do this out of greater intentions that just honestly complimenting something).

Their are other more beneficial utilities to Facebook, and I don’t deny that. But that and other reasons why Facebook has upsurged other social networking websites (Orkut especially) in recent times is a topic that deserves an in-depth analysis, one that I do not feel up to writing right now (too stuffed up from over-eating at Eid you see). So more on that later, for the moment, enjoy the video.

*Hat tip Amit Varma

Should Muslims Really Have One Eid?

Eid celebrations […] are greatly predominated and influenced by local culture across the Muslim world, so much so that you’d find a big difference in the way it’s observed from Turkey to Pakistan to Indonesia. We all eat different kinds of festive food, we all wear different kind of festive clothes, we all really do have our own special way of celebrating Eid. And if we all don’t celebrate Eid in the same way, why should there be an expectation to have it on the same date of the solar calendar?

Read the rest of my article on Moon Sighting Controversies over at Desicritics, feedback most welcome.

PS: If you like what you see, consider ‘digging’ the article here.