Archive for January, 2012

Pakistani and Indian Chefs Compete on Reality TV

By Sebastian Abbot for The Associated Press

For decades, archenemies Pakistan and India have engaged in a dangerous nuclear arms race. Now they’re also competing in a more cheerful forum. The outcome will be mouthwatering curries and soothing Sufi ballads, not violent conflict.

The fractious neighbors are going head-to-head in a pair of reality TV shows that pit chefs and musicians against each other. Producers hope the contests will help bridge the gulf between two nations that were born from the same womb and have been at each other’s throats ever since.

But so far it hasn’t completely worked out that way. The top Pakistani chef on the cooking show, which is called Foodistan, quit the contest early. He accused the judges of bias toward India and is threatening to sue. The producers denied the allegations.

Pakistan and India were founded in 1947 following the breakup of the British empire. They have fought three major wars, two of them over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The TV shows do not try to hide or brush over this painful history. They make light of it.

“Now the world’s greatest rivalry is going to get spicier,” said co-host Ira Dubey during one of the early episodes of Foodistan, which first aired in India on Jan. 23 and will be shown in Pakistan starting in mid-February.

Her counterpart, Aly Khan, said the aim of the two teams “would be to grind the opposition into chutney, to make them eat humble pie, to dice them, slice them and fry them on their way to culinary glory.”

Eight chefs from each country were scheduled for individual and team competitions over 26 one-hour episodes, with the winner authoring the first Foodistan cookbook and receiving a trip to three cities of his or her choice anywhere in the world.

There is significant overlap in the cuisines of both countries, as there is in language, music and culture. Pakistanis and Indians both love curry, kebab and biryani – a spiced rice dish. But they often use different ingredients, and dishes can also vary from one region to another within the same country.

Pakistani dishes often include beef, which is not eaten by many people in majority Hindu India for religious reasons. India has more vegetarian dishes, and the food is often cooked with ingredients like coconut milk that are rarely found in Pakistan.

Many Pakistanis and Indians have missed out on enjoying the varied tastes of the other country because mutual enmity has made cross-border travel difficult.

“Even though they are neighbors, Indians don’t know what Pakistani food is like and vice versa,” said Mirza Fahad, a production assistant at India’s NDTV, which developed Foodistan. “It was long overdue to get to know each other’s foods.”

During the first cook-off on the show, filmed in New Delhi, the judges gave four chefs from each side two hours to prepare a biryani, curry, kebab and dessert. Each of the three judges gave the team’s meal a score out of 10.

The judges loved the Iranian-inspired fish biryani cooked by the Pakistanis, their chicken kebab stuffed with figs, olives, bread and mango chutney, and their shahi tukda – a dessert of fried bread soaked in hot milk with spices. They scored 21 out of a possible 30, losing points because a dish of chicken in shalimar curry was a tad chewy.

The Indians ended up winning the first contest by one point with a menu that included chicken tikka with truffle cream, cheese kofta in a tomato and water chestnut curry, lamb biryani and phirni – a sweet rice pudding that they topped with strawberry granita.

The captain of the Pakistani team, Mohammed Naeem, executive chef at the Park Plaza Hotel in Lahore, alleged the judges didn’t have enough knowledge of Pakistani food and were destined from the beginning to pick an Indian to win.

The judges included a British chef, an Indian food critic and a Bollywood actress of Pakistani and French descent.

Another member of the team, Akhtar Rehman, a chef at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, said concerns about the judges were fairly widespread on the Pakistani side, but Naeem was the only one to quit.

It remains to be seen whether the music competition – Sur Kshetra, or Musical Battlefield – also will spark ill will.

The contest, which is being filmed in Dubai, is scheduled to air in Pakistan and India starting in mid-February, said Mohammed Zeeshan Khan, a general manager at Pakistan’s Geo TV, which is developing the show.

“Music can unite people across borders and bring them closer together,” said Khan.

The competition will include teams of six musicians from each country between the ages of 18 and 27. The teams will be mentored by two well-known pop singers and actors, Pakistani Atif Aslam and Indian Himesh Reshammiya. They will compete across a range of genres, including jazz, pop, rock and qawwali – traditional Sufi Muslim ballads that are popular in both countries, said Khan.

The grand prize is still being worked out, but Khan said the winner can claim to be “the new musical icon for the subcontinent.”

Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan envoy to US, allowed to travel abroad

By Richard Leiby for The Washington Post

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, was permitted to travel abroad Monday by the nation’s Supreme Court after two months of fending off treason allegations over his purported involvement in a mysterious memo that sought Washington’s help to neuter Pakistan’s powerful military.

The court ruling indicated that authorities seem to have lost interest in continuing to probe Haqqani’s role in the scandal, known here as Memogate, which at one point threatened to bring down the civilian leadership of this coup-prone country.

Haqqani, a confidant of President Asif Ali Zardari, was forced to resign, recalled to Islamabad and ordered not to travel abroad after a Pakistani American tycoon, Mansoor Ijaz, alleged that the diplomat engineered an unsigned missive to the Pentagon hoping to block a coup in the turbulent days after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Haqqani denied involvement and said Ijaz, a onetime acquaintance, cooked up the memo.

In an e-mail to Agence France-Presse, Haqqani said: “I am glad that the Supreme Court has restored my right to travel, which had been rescinded without any charges being filed against me.” He added that he planned to join his family in the United States.

Memogate prompted a showdown between the army and the civilian leadership, which technically oversees the military, and brought an already shaky government to the verge of collapse. The fissures between the two sides now seem to have been repaired, and the incessant political and media interest in the scandal has waned in recent days.

One reason seemed to be the dwindling credibility of Ijaz, who has yet to appear to testify about his role in the memo, saying he fears for his safety. The bulk of evidence has come from Ijaz, who released logs of what he says are BlackBerry message conversations between him and Haqqani.

Since his return to Islamabad, Haqqani has stayed within the walls of the official government residence, saying he feared for his life.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) issued a statement condemning the “harassment” of Haqqani, a former journalist and Boston University professor. They called him a “principled advocate” for Pakistan.

Despite allowing the erstwhile diplomat to travel, the Supreme Court did not drop the matter entirely: It granted a two-month extension to the judicial commission that is probing Memogate. And Haqqani’s lawyer had to guarantee that the former envoy would appear before the court if called, on four days’ notice.

A separate parliamentary investigation is also underway.

Pakistani Doctor Helped U.S. Track Bin Laden, Panetta says

By Saeed Shah for McClatchy Newspapers

A senior American official has for the first time admitted that a Pakistani doctor played a key role in tracking Osama bin Laden to his hideout in northern Pakistan, and called for his release.

The comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were the first public confirmation of a part of the bin Laden operation reported by McClatchy Newspapers in July, about how the CIA used Shakil Afridi to try to establish whether the al-Qaida leader was really living in a large house in Abbottabad, northern Pakistan.

This morning in Islamabad, Pakistan’s Inquiry Commission on the Abbottabad Operation issued an order to charge Afridi with treason, local media reported. The timing makes it appear that Pakistan is rebuking Panetta for his public acknowledgement of Afridi’s role. Afridi has been in Pakistani custody since the country’s own spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), learned of the secret task performed by the doctor, who set up a fake vaccination program in Abbottabad to get DNA samples from those staying at the compound.

The CIA was never certain that bin Laden was present in the house. Afridi worked for the American intelligence agency in the weeks leading up to the Navy SEALs raid on May 2, setting up an elaborate scheme that was supposedly going house to house to vaccinate residents in Abbottabad.

Panetta told CBS’ “60 Minutes” “I am very concerned about what the Pakistanis did with this individual (Afridi). This was an individual who, in fact, helped provide intelligence that was very helpful with regard to this operation.” Panetta also voiced his belief that elements within Pakistan must have known that bin Laden, or at least someone significant, was present inside the compound. The interview was posted on the “60 Minutes” website. However, it was not included in the segment telecast on Sunday night. The McClatchy investigation discovered that Afridi was arrested by the ISI in late May and was tortured. It is believed that he remains in the custody of the intelligence agency, which is part of the military.

The whereabouts of Afridi’s family, including his American wife of Pakistani origin, is still unknown. The fate of the doctor has become another source of tension between Islamabad and Washington, with American officials pressing Pakistan to free him so he and his family can be resettled in the United States.

The military, which will decide what happens to Afridi, is furious that the CIA recruited Pakistani citizens for clandestine operations inside the country. Privately, officials point out that it is a crime to work for a foreign intelligence agency.
The doctor has turned into a bargaining chip in the failing U.S-Pakistan alliance. It is thought that Pakistan will let him go after public attention on the case wanes and it gets something in return from the U.S. “He was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan. He was not in any way doing anything that would have undermined Pakistan,” Panetta told “60 Minutes.”

“Pakistan and the U.S. have a common cause here against terrorism,” he said. “And for them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think it is a real mistake on their part.”
Panetta, who was in charge of the CIA at the time of the bin Laden raid, also said that while there was no evidence of Pakistani complicity in keeping the al-Qaida chief, suspicions must have been raised about his hideout. “I personally have always felt that somebody must have had some sense of what was happening at this compound. Don’t forget, this compound had 18-foot walls. … It was the largest compound in the area.

“So you would have thought that somebody would have asked the question, ‘What the hell’s going on there?'” Panetta said.
But asked whether he knew for sure that Pakistan was aware of bin Laden’s presence, he said: “I don’t have any hard evidence, so I can’t say it for a fact.”

England crashes to defeat to Pakistan spinners

By The Sydney Morning Hearld

Left-arm spinner Abdul Rehman took a career best 6-25 to help Pakistan humble England by 72 runs in the second Test in Abu Dhabi, to giving Pakistan unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
The 31-year-old twice took two wickets in successive overs to dent England’s chase after Andrew Strauss’s side was set a 145-run target on a weary fourth-day Abu Dhabi Stadium pitch.

England was all out for 72 – its lowest total against Pakistan in all Tests.
Rehman’s effort overshadowed Monty Panesar’s 6-62, in his first Test for England in 30 months, which finished Pakistan’s second innings at 214 in the morning.

This is England’s first series defeat after being unbeaten in its previous nine since a loss to the West Indies in early 2009 – a sequence which saw it rise to world No.1 in the Test rankings in August.
Pakistan won the first Test in Dubai by 10 wickets. The third Test will also be played in Dubai, from Friday.

Skipper Misbah-ul Haq said Pakistan wanted to make a match out of it after setting a tricky target.
“We knew that it would be difficult so we wanted to make a match out of it,” said Misbah, who has now won eight Tests with one defeat since taking over the captaincy in October 2010.

“Our bowlers, led by Rehman, responded well and this is a great win.” Strauss showed his disappointment at England’s woeful effort.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” said Strauss, whose side last lost two Tests in a row against South Africa in July 2008. “We must acknowledge how well Pakistan bowled and they thoroughly deserved the series win.”

Rehman was ably assisted by off-spinners Saeed Ajmal (3-22) and Mohammad Hafeez (1-11) in a match in which spinners dominated from the first day.
England lost its top four batsmen in the space of just 37 balls after an extra cautious start on a difficult pitch. Strauss top scored with 32 before he became one of Rehman’s victims during his maiden five-wicket haul.

In the penultimate over before tea, Rehman trapped Kevin Pietersen (one) and two balls later bowled Eoin Morgan (duck) to raise hopes of an unlikely win for Pakistan.

Sensing it could only upset its rival through early wickets, Pakistan opened the bowling with Hafeez, who responded well by catching Alastair Cook (seven) off his own bowling after England had edged cautiously to 21 by the 15th over.
Ian Bell, promoted to No.3 after Jonathan Trott was unwell, was all at sea against master spinner Ajmal and his tentative push went through his legs to hit the stumps. He made only three.

Pietersen, who has been woefully out of form with just 16 runs in the series, managed one before Rehman trapped him and in the same over had the equally out-of-form Morgan bowled to dent England’s hopes of a victory. Rehman then accounted for Trott (one) and Stuart Broad (duck) in the same over to leave England 7-68.

Ajmal dismissed Graeme Swann (duck) and Matt Prior (18) to reach 100 Test wickets in his 19th match, before James Anderson was caught off Rehman to give Pakistan a sensational win.

Earlier, Pakistan lost its last six wickets for 89 runs after resuming at 4-125, with all hopes pinned on Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq. Panesar took three of those wickets to finish with his eighth five-wicket haul in Tests. Azhar Ali (68) and Asad Shafiq (43) added 88 for the fifth wicket before Panesar struck.

Peace Pipeline Moves Closer To Fruition

By Mohammed Aasim Saleem for Deutsche Welle

Officials from India and Pakistan have announced they are moving closer to inking a deal to import gas from Turkmenistan via a pipeline through Afghanistan. The 1,700-kilometer “TAPI” duct will transport over 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually from fields in Dauletabad in southeastern Turkmenistan.

In high-level talks in New Delhi this week, Indian Oil Minister S. Jaipal Reddy said “considerable progress” has been made on the project. His Pakistani counterpart, Asim Hussain, added at the meeting that “the issue of transit fees is being discussed with Afghanistan. A joint strategy is also being created between India and Pakistan.”

When the four countries signed a framework agreement back in 2008, the Asian Development Bank estimated the cost of the TAPI pipeline project at around $7.6 billion.

After the talks in New Delhi, the Indian oil minister emphasized that the pipeline would help address the energy needs of the region. Reddy also clarified that security concerns were discussed with Afghan officials, who themselves sought to provide reassurance that necessary measures would be taken to protect the TAPI project.

“We consider it a pipeline of peace,” Reddy said. “Everyone needs gas.”

Improving cooperation between the nuclear armed and traditionally hostile neighbors is seen as a positive development towards establishing long term stability in South Asia.

Pakistan gave India a “Most Favored Nation” trading status when the countries’ commerce secretaries met in New Delhi in November last year to discuss energy and bilateral trade. Indian commerce chief Rahul Khullar expressed his desire to boost bilateral trade to $6 billion within the next three years. Currently, total trade amounts to $2.7 billion.

Reddy said that Pakistan had pledged to also consider a proposal to import Indian petroleum products, highlighting the cost advantages for Pakistan. India, meanwhile, offered electricity to Pakistan through its power plants in Punjab and Gujrat.

The Indian oil minister went on to express disappointment over a failed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. With the US leaving no stone unturned in trying to corner Iran over its nuclear ambitions, any possibility of India, Afghanistan or Pakistan going against the Obama administration is somewhat remote. India imports 12 to 14 percent of its oil from Iran, making the Islamic Republic India’s second largest source of oil after Saudi Arabia.

There was significant domestic pressure in India as the analysts and masses called for a stern stand against the US in determining trade relations with Iran. With other regional countries, including China, also refusing to follow US directions, India is still continuing with the import of oil from Iran. In this regard, Reddy said that New Delhi would continue importing oil from Iran and was not bound by new sanctions imposed by the European Union on the Islamic Republic earlier this week.

“We, as a member of the UN, are obliged to follow UN sanctions. Other sanctions imposed by big blocs of countries, we can have some freedom there,” he added further.

Improving relations and cooperation in the energy sector between India and Pakistan will go a long way to establishing harmony and stability in the region. Pakistan is experiencing a severe energy crisis whilst India needs to feed its rapidly developing economy. Mutual dependency and cooperation in this sector with projects such as the TAPI pipeline can also ensure smoother political ties.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– A Peace pipe was often used between the Native American tribes when they ended their wars and called a truce. A different sort of peace pipe between Turkmenistan and India via Pakistan can do great wonders for the bilateral relations of the two feuding neighbors and must be encouraged to fruition.

For Many in Pakistan, a Television Show Goes Too Far

By Declan Walsh for The New York Times

One morning last week, television viewers in Pakistan were treated to a darkly comic sight: a posse of middle-class women roaming through a public park in Karachi, on the hunt for dating couples engaged in “immoral” behavior.

Panting breathlessly and trailed by a cameraman, the group of about 15 women chased after — sometimes at jogging pace — girls and boys sitting quietly on benches overlooking the Arabian Sea or strolling under the trees. The women peppered them with questions: What were they doing? Did their parents know? Were they engaged?

Some couples reacted with alarm, and tried to scuttle away. A few gave awkward answers. One couple claimed to be married. The show’s host, Maya Khan, 31, demanded to see proof. “So where is your marriage certificate?” she asked sternly.

This hourlong spectacle, broadcast live on Samaa TV on Jan. 17, set off a furious reaction in parts of Pakistan. Outrage sprang from the Internet and percolated into the national newspapers, where writers slammed Ms. Khan’s tactics as a “witch hunt.”

“Vigil-aunties,” read one headline, referring to the South Asian term “aunty” for older, bossy and often judgmental women.

Now, the protests are headed to court. On Friday, four local nongovernment organizations will file a civil suit against Samaa TV in Pakistan’s Supreme Court, hoping to galvanize the country’s top judges into action.

“Journalists don’t have the right to become moral police,” said Adnan Rehmat of Intermedia, a media development organization that is among the petitioners. “We need to draw a line.”

Images of moral vigilantes prowling the streets have an ominous resonance in Pakistan, where many still recall the dark days of the Islamist dictator Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, when the police could demand to see a couple’s nikkahnama — wedding papers — under threat of imprisonment.

But the strong reaction is also drawn from a pressing contemporary worry: that the budding television media, seen as a force for democracy and greater social freedom for much of the past decade, have lost their way as part of a cutthroat battle for ratings.

“It really aggravates me that the media is using their power to intrude and invade our privacy, often with no good reason,” said Mehreen Kasana, a 22-year-old American-educated blogger from Lahore, who wrote a widely circulated protest against the Samaa TV show.

The controversy has rekindled a debate about the direction of Pakistan’s TV industry. Since liberalization in 2000, the sector has exploded from one channel — the state-controlled one — to more than 80 today, 37 of which carry national or local current affairs.

The media revolution has transformed social and political boundaries: in 2007, feisty coverage played a central role in pushing Pervez Musharraf toward the exit; in recent weeks it helped guard against a possible military coup.

But television is also a lucrative business controlled by powerful, largely unaccountable tycoons. Last year Pakistan’s television stations had advertising revenues of more than $200 million, according to Aurora, an industry journal — 28 percent more than the previous year.

Amid stiff competition for viewers, channels have relied on populist measures — rowdy political talks shows and, in recent times, vigilante-style “investigative” shows modeled on programs in neighboring India.

Some have a noble objective: holding to account crooked public servants, police officers and even fellow journalists. But others have veered into territory that could be described as Pakistan’s answer to Jerry Springer — voyeuristic, mawkish and intrusive.

In recent months, one reporter screamed at a man accused of child rape as he awaited trial outside a courthouse; another hectored a man said to be a self-confessed necrophile inside a jail cell; and a TV reporter “raided” a gathering of whisky drinkers, even though alcohol flows freely at many media parties.

Abbas Nasir, a former head of Dawn News television, said he was “nauseated” by some coverage.

“Hosts are under pressure to bring in ratings, and there is carte blanche to do the most bizarre things,” he said.

Another critic derided such reporters as “pussycat vigilantes” because they avoided challenging rich or powerful Pakistanis, whose Western-style lifestyles go unexamined.

“They only go after the people they know will not bite back,” said Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a culture writer.

Ms. Khan’s show touched a raw nerve because it combined simmering concern over media ethics with wider fears about society’s conservative tilt. Even General Zia’s son was appalled. In answer to a question on Twitter, Ijaz ul-Haq, a politician from Punjab Province, said he was “still in shock by what I’ve heard about her show.”

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Ms. Khan rejected her critics, calling them “an elite class that don’t even watch my show,” and said the show merely intended to highlight the dangers that unaccompanied youths face in Karachi.

She also denied that there was anything unusual about asking couples for their wedding certificate — even though she does not carry one. All of “Pakistan knows me and my wedding pictures,” she said. “So I don’t have to.”

But on Wednesday, Samaa TV issued a formal apology for her show, followed by a short clip of Ms. Khan, sitting on a bed, offering an apology of sorts. “I never intended to make you teary-eyed or hurt you,” she said.

The furor has renewed long-standing demands for media regulation. With the state-run Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority seen as ineffective, the organizations approaching the Supreme Court on Friday hope the judiciary can help. “We need to hold the media to account,” Mr. Rehmat said.

But others argue that involving the courts, with their history of heavy-handed interventions, could open the door to state licensing of free speech. “It could backfire,” said Beena Sarwar, a journalist who helped rally protests against Ms. Khan’s show. “The media needs to do this themselves.”

Amid the polemic, there is one bright spot: the use of Twitter and Facebook to stoke debate has shown how, even as social space contracts in a turbulent society, the virtual space is opening up new possibilities.

But so far, the use of social media has been largely confined to the country’s English-speaking minority. It was striking how little attention Ms. Khan’s show received in the Urdu media, which is read or watched by the vast majority of Pakistanis.

“My real worry is that Pakistan is moving rightwards, and this time the face won’t have a beard,” said Mr. Nasir, the former head of Dawn News television. “And before people know it, they won’t know what’s hit them.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Samaa Tv and host Maya Khan ought to be ashamed of themselves for calling this program journalism. Vulture reporting is more appropriate. Highly intrusive and showing a complete disregard for private citizens who are meeting in a public place is no place for a TV channel.  This certainly strengthens the religious extremists in Pakistan, shoving their brand of austere Wahaabi Islam down the throats of the majority Barelvi/Sufi population of Pakistan.

Meanwhile the Pakistani Telecom Authority is curtailing freedom of speech by mandating mobile phone operators to ban certain ‘dirty’ words, as the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority lacks the moral and legal mindset to stop a television channel on trampling citizen’s privacy and freedoms. They should shut this show immediately and get this so called ‘reporter’ off the air.

Boxer Amir Khan and Faryal Makhdoom getting engaged on January 29th, 2012

By Ahmed Babar for News Pakistan

Amir Iqbal Khan is undoubtedly one of the top sports face of the current decade. The lightweight division champ although represents Britain in the ring but his Pakistani ethnicity is the main reason behind his immense popularity in this region.

The former unified WBA and IBF light welterweight champion has finally decided to settle down with his to be fiancee, Faryal Makhdoom. The couple are planning to get engaged on January 29th, 2012 as the boxer revealed that he has spent an amount
of £100,000 on a diamond-studded ring for Faryal.

The 25-year-old who is quite active through his twitter page has also briefed that almost a thousand guests are expected on the wedding. Some of the top names on the guest lists read, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Ricky Hatton and David Haye.

Khan commented on Faryal “A lot of girls back home have said to me, ‘Your girl is beautiful’ — and that’s great because people can be so jealous. But Faryal is so humble. Anybody who meets her is going to fall in love with her. She’s
got no edge; she’s just a terrific person”.

Faryal, 20, on the other hand also holds high traditional values, ” I’m very family oriented even though I was born and raised in New York but my grandparents are in Pakistan – and a lot of my dad’s family are there”, she briefed.

She will be flying to England on Friday for the engagement party and will also spend a week with her husband-to-be and Amir will be more than happy to show her around Bolton.

He quoted, “I’m going to introduce her to a pasty barm, fish and chips – maybe even an ice cream if she’s lucky! I might also try to squeeze in a Bolton match just so that she cans see the venue before the big day – and make sure she likes it”.

Faryal revealed that the relationship went through the toughest phase in the beginning as she found it very hard to understand Amir’s Bolton accent.

She cited, “In the beginning I really couldn’t understand him. I was used to London accents and thought that’s how everyone spoke in Britain. But when Amir opened his mouth it was as if he was speaking a foreign tongue – so I just used to nod, agree with
whatever he was talking about and say, ‘Yeah’. “

She also briefed that Amir used the words like ‘daft’ and ‘innit’ and she had no idea what they meant. The gap between the two broke when Faryal visited Amir’s family in Bolton and spent time with his cousins.

One little difficulty that Khan might face is that Faryal does not like him inside the ring, “I never want to watch him fight live. I just couldn’t because I wouldn’t want to see him get hurt. After his last fight I started crying when I saw him. I just
can’t bear to see him like that and I don’t think I ever will”, she explained.

The couple are planning to settle down in Bolton and Faryal has no problem in leaving New York to spend the rest of her life with the youngest British World Champion ever.

By Ahmed Babar for News Pakistan

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Marriage is a huge undertaking that requires a lifelong commitment and bond. When the love and understanding between two people is such that they become one, then it is truly one of the most rewarding relationships that a person can have with another human being. We wish Amir and Faryal much happiness in this new journey as a soon to be married couple and joined together as husband and wife in sacred matrimony.

A Bronx Tale

By Ted Regencia and Lindsay Minerva for Tablet Mag

Near the corner of Westchester Avenue and Pugsley Street in Parkchester, just off the elevated tracks of the No. 6 train, Yaakov Wayne Baumann stood outside a graffiti-covered storefront on a chilly Saturday morning. Suited up in a black overcoat with a matching wide-brimmed black fedora, the thickly bearded 42-year-old chatted with elderly congregants as they entered the building for Shabbat service.

The only unusual detail: This synagogue is a mosque.

Or rather, it’s housed inside a mosque. That’s right: Members of the Chabad of East Bronx, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, worship in the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, which is home to the Al-Iman mosque.

“People have a misconception that Muslims hate Jews,” said Baumann. “But here is an example of them working with us.”

Indeed, though conventionally viewed as adversaries both here and abroad, the Jews and Muslims of the Bronx have been propelled into an unlikely bond by a demographic shift. The borough was once home to an estimated 630,000 Jews, but by 2002 that number had dropped to 45,100, according to a study by the Jewish Community Relations Council. At the same time, the Muslim population has been increasing. In Parkchester alone, there are currently five mosques, including Masjid Al-Iman.

“Nowhere in the world would Jews and Muslims be meeting under the same roof,” said Patricia Tomasulo, the Catholic Democratic precinct captain and Parkchester community organizer, who first introduced the leaders of the synagogue and mosque to each other. “It’s so unique.”

The relationship started years ago, when the Young Israel Congregation, then located on Virginia Avenue in Parkchester, was running clothing drives for needy families, according to Leon Bleckman, now 78, who was at the time the treasurer of the congregation. One of the recipients was Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, the founder of the Al-Iman Mosque, who was collecting donations for his congregants—many of whom are immigrants from Africa. The 49-year-old imam is an immigrant from Gambia in West Africa who came to the United States in 1986. After a year in Harlem, he moved to Parkchester, where he eventually founded the Muslim center and later established an Islamic grade school. Through that initial meeting, a rapport developed between the two houses of worship, and the synagogue continued to donate to the Islamic center, among other organizations.

But in 2003, after years of declining membership, Young Israel was forced to sell its building at 1375 Virginia Ave., according to a database maintained by Yeshiva University, which keeps historical records of synagogues. Before the closing, non-religious items were given away; in fact, among the beneficiaries was none other than Drammeh, who took some chairs and tables for his center.

Meanwhile, Bleckman and the remaining members moved to a nearby storefront location, renting it for $2,000 a month including utilities. With mostly elderly congregants, Young Israel struggled to survive financially and, at the end of 2007, was forced to close for good. The remaining congregants were left without a place to pray. During the synagogue’s farewell service, four young men from the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights showed up. Three months earlier, Bleckman, then chairman of the synagogue’s emergency fund, had appealed for help from the Chabad.

“The boys from the Chabad said they came to save us,” said Bleckman. “We were crying.”

At this point, Chabad took over the congregational reins from Young Israel, with members officially adopting the new name Chabad of East Bronx. Still, for the next six to seven weeks, Bleckman said they could not even hold a service because they had nowhere to hold it.

When Drammeh learned of their plight, he immediately volunteered to accommodate them at the Muslim center at 2006 Westchester Ave.—for free.

“They don’t pay anything, because these are old folks whose income are very limited now,” said Drammeh, adding that he felt it was his turn to help the people who had once helped him and his community. “Not every Muslim likes us, because not every Muslim believes that Muslims and Jews should be like this,” Drammeh said, referring to the shared space. But “there’s no reason why we should hate each other, why we cannot be families.” Drammeh in particular admires the dedication of the Chabad rabbis, who walked 15 miles from Brooklyn every Saturday to run prayer services for the small Parkchester community.

For the first six months, congregants held Friday night Sabbath services inside Drammeh’s cramped office. As more people began joining the congregation, Drammeh offered them a bigger room where they could set up a makeshift shul. (When it’s not in use, students from the Islamic school use it as their classroom.) Inside the synagogue, a worn, beige cotton curtain separates the men and women who attend the service. A solitary chandelier hangs just above the black wooden arc that holds the borrowed Torah, which is brought weekly from the Chabad headquarters. A large table covered with prayer books stands in the center, and a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is displayed prominently on a nearby wall. During Shabbat, when Jewish congregants are strictly prohibited from working, they have to rely on the Muslim workers at the center or on Drammeh to do simple chores such as turning on the light and switching on the heater.

At first, it did not make sense, said Hana Kabakow, wife of Rabbi Meir Kabakow. “I was surprised,” said the 26-year-old congregant who was born and raised in Israel. “But when I came here I understood.” The Kabakows have been coming to the service from Brooklyn for the last two years.

Harriet Miller, another congregant, said she appreciated the center’s accommodating the synagogue. “They are very sweet people,” said the 79-year-old Bronx native and long-time resident of Parkchester, who added that she welcomes the new Muslim immigrants in her neighborhood: “We were not brought up to hate.”

Drammeh also understands the importance of teaching tolerance more broadly, and for turning the school—which was itself founded at the nearby St. Helena Catholic Church on, of all days, Sept. 11, 2001—into a model of sorts for religious tolerance in New York.

“We’re not as divided as the media portrays us to be,” Drammeh said. “Almost 90 percent of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian teachings are the same.”

His latest project involves introducing fifth-grade Jewish and Islamic school students to each other’s religious traditions. Other participants of the program, now in its sixth year, include the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, the Al Ihsan Academy of Queens, and the Kinneret Day School of Riverdale. At the end of the program, students organize an exhibit that shows family artifacts of their respective cultures and religion. The principal of the Islamic school, who is also Sheik Drammeh’s wife, said that even after the program ended, the participants became “fast friends” and would visit each other’s homes.

“They would have birthday parties together,” Shireena Drammeh said. “When someone invites you to their house, I mean, that says it all right there and then.”

While the Jewish congregants are thankful for their new home, they hope that one day they can rebuild their own synagogue. That day may be far off: Even now that they have space to worship, they still struggle to operate. They don’t have proper heating inside, and the portable working heater could not reach the separate area where the elderly women are seated, forcing them to wear their jackets during the entire service. Congregants are appealing for financial support from the Jewish community and other congregations.

But Leon Bleckman and others say they now also have loftier goals, including reviving the Jewish presence in the neighborhood and reaffirming the positive relationship with their Muslim friends. “We are able to co-exist together side by side in the same building,” said Assistant Rabbi Avi Friedman, 42. “That’s sort of like a taste of the future world to come—the messianic future where all people live in peace.”

Ted Regencia is a digital media student at the Columbia Journalism School. His Twitter feed is at @tedregencia. Lindsay Minerva, a digital media student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, is an intern at Newsweek. Her Twitter feed is at @lindsayminerva.


Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– A story like this illustrates the good in all of us. A few months ago, we highlighted an article on Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee where Christians in that part of the US welcomed a Muslim community that was undergoing construction of their mosque nearby. Now this kind deed is being passed forward to another flock of faithful when Muslims in New York are offering a helping hand to Jewish members of their community. This is the type of love for one another God of all religions wants and appreciates. May God bless them all.

How Pakistan Continues to Help US Drone Campaign Despite Political Tensions

As Reported by Reuters

The death of a senior Al-Qaeda leader in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal badlands, the first strike in almost two months, signaled that the US-Pakistan intelligence partnership is still in operation despite political tensions. The Jan 10 strike-and its follow-up two days later- were joint operations, a Pakistani security source based in the tribal areas told Reuters. They made use of Pakistani “spotters” on the ground and demonstrated a level of coordination that both sides have sought to downplay since tensions erupted in January 2011 with the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore.

“Our working relationship is a bit different from our political relationship,” the source told Reuters, requesting anonymity. “It’s more productive.” US and Pakistani sources told Reuters that the target of the Jan 10 attack was Aslam Awan, a Pakistani national from Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden was killed last May by a US commando team.

They said he was targeted in a strike by a US-operated drone directed at what news reports said was a compound near the town of Miranshah in the border province of North Waziristan. That strike broke an undeclared eight-week hiatus in attacks by the armed, unmanned drones that patrol the tribal areas and are a key weapon in US President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy.

The sources described Awan, also known by the nom-de-guerre Abdullah Khorasani, as a significant figure in the remaining core leadership of al Qaeda, which US officials say has been sharply reduced by the drone campaign. Most of the drone attacks are conducted as part of a clandestine CIA operation.

The Pakistani source, who helped target Awan, could not confirm that he was killed, but the US official said he was. European officials said Awan had spent time in London and had ties to British extremists before returning to Pakistan. The source, who says he runs a network of spotters primarily in North and South Waziristan, described for the first time how US-Pakistani cooperation on strikes works, with his Pakistani agents keeping close tabs on suspected militants and building a pattern of their movements and associations. “We run a network of human intelligence sources,” he said. “Separately, we monitor their cell and satellite phones. “Thirdly, we run joint monitoring operations with our US and UK friends,” he added, noting that cooperation with British intelligence was also extensive. Pakistani and US intelligence officers, using their own sources, hash out a joint “priority of targets lists” in regular face-to-face meetings, he said. “Al-Qaeda is our top priority,” he said. He declined to say where the meetings take place. Once a target is identified and “marked,” his network coordinates with drone operators on the US side. He said the United States bases drones outside Kabul, likely at Bagram airfield about 25 miles (40 km) north of the capital. From spotting to firing a missile “hardly takes about two to three hours”, he said.

It was impossible to verify the source’s claims and American experts, who decline to discuss the drone program, say the Pakistanis’ cooperation has been less helpful in the past. US officials have complained that when information on drone strikes was shared with the Pakistanis beforehand, the targets were often tipped off, allowing them to escape. Drone strikes have been a sore point with the public and Pakistani politicians, who describe them as violations of sovereignty that produce unacceptable civilian casualties. The last strike before January had been on Nov 16, 10 days before 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in what NATO says was an inadvertent cross-border attack on a Pakistani border post. That incident sent US-Pakistan relations into the deepest crisis since Islamabad joined the US-led war on militancy following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. On Thursday, Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said ties were “on hold” while Pakistan completes a review of the alliance.

The End of a Geopolitical Affair

By Pramit Pal Chaudhri for The Hindustan Times

In Pakistan’s current crisis, why is its military is so reluctant to consider simply seizing power? One reason is that General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani cannot count on the US looking the other way. At a minimum, Washington would have to slap sanctions on an economically faltering country. At a maximum, it would be the last straw in a bilateral relationship at its lowest ebb since it was first woven in the 1950s.

Pakistan’s establishment claims it has been used and abused by the US, the most serious violation being that country’s stealth attack on Abbottabad that led to Osama bin Laden’s death. There has been the Raymond Davies affair, the endless drone attacks and the increasingly public accusation of double-dealing by senior US officials – the most notable being Admiral Mike Mullen’s linking of the Inter-Services Intelligence with terrorist groups.

There is some satisfaction for India in all this. It has been persistently claiming the existence of a military-terrorist nexus. Many in Washington agree. After Abbottabad, there is no one in Washington who doesn’t. The US-Pakistan relationship, says Daniel Twining of the German Marshall Fund, “was really at a historic high for the past decade but is diminishing.” But it might not matter as much to the US if relations fall apart, he says.

Other events are undermining the basis of the US-Pakistani bond. Islamabad had expected the US to totally retreat from Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan’s Taliban allies in charge. Instead, the US will leave a substantial force behind along with many drone bases. The US is talking with the Taliban, but only desultorily with groups that Islamabad patronises.

With the US Congress also pulling the plug on aid to Pakistan, what is left? The answer is nukes. “If Pakistan didn’t have nuclear weapons, with Al Qaeda almost gone, no one would care a fig about that country,” said one ex-US ambassador to the region. As they realise this, Islamabad is getting more paranoid about the security of its “strategic assets.” The more unstable they look, the more willing the US will be to try and do something risky to salvage Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

US officials are talking about a “new normal” in their Pakistan relations. This would cut ties to the bare bones: counterterrorism cooperation, limited military transit requirements, Afghan talks, narcotics and some humanitarian assistance. “We’ll have to work with the Pakistan military on a limited basis while negotiations with the Taliban proceed,” says John Schlosser, a former state department South Asia hand.

There seems to be no real understanding among Pakistanis that their leverage is dwindling or how much Abbottabad vapourised their credibility in the US. A parliamentary committee report on how to change the US relationship bizarrely demanded, for example, a civilian nuclear agreement.

It could get worse. “The relationship will fall further if the US finds [Al Qaeda chief] Zawahiri in Pakistan. Or there are terror strikes on India or the US,” says Bruce Riedel, former AfPak advisor to Barack Obama.

The worst thing is that Washington is decoupling just at a time when Pakistan, economically and otherwise, can least afford to lose their most generous international partner.

Newt Gingrich Creeping Up On Mitt Romney In A Creepy Way

By David Horsey for The Los Angeles Times

Newt Gingrich is surging and the guy ahead of him, Mitt Romney, as well the guy behind him, Rick Santorum, are rattled.

Only days ago, Romney was sitting on a comfortable lead in South Carolina’s Republican primary race. Santorum was anticipating a positive bump in his numbers, thanks to the endorsement he received from top Christian evangelical leaders and the good chance that a final, official count of votes in the Iowa caucuses would show he actually beat Romney in that state.

Instead, with Saturday’s vote just two days away, the portly, aloof, intellectually promiscuous and thrice-married ex-speaker of the House seems to be winning the minds, if not the hearts, of more and more staunch conservatives in the Palmetto State.

In fact, Gingrich was even getting a bit of love, as well as respect, from a crowd of several hundred jammed into the banquet hall of Bobby’s Bar-BQ Buffet in Warrenville on Wednesday. Every seat was filled; those without seats stood along the walls and those that couldn’t get inside craned their necks to get a peek through the front door.

Gingrich spoke in front of a Model T Ford – a car only a little more ancient than a great many members of the audience. Clever lines that fell flat when Gingrich delivered them at the tea party convention Tuesday got big laughs with this much-less-grim crowd — like his somewhat-stale knee-slapper about letting Barack Obama use a teleprompter when the two debate.

They loved the parts of his stump speech that are well worn – our rights come from God and cannot be taken away by government – and a new attack on Obama spun off the day’s news – the president’s refusal to approve the Keystone oil pipeline is stupidly driving Canada into the arms of China. And they loved Callista, Newt’s exquisitely coiffed wife.

One audience “question” was this: “I think your wife would make a beautiful first lady, don’t you?”  In the receiving line after the event, a Callista fan said, “I’m anxious to see how you do Christmas in the White House.” There seemed to be a lot of warmth for the once-controversial Callista and for her candidate husband, though he is not all that good at exhibiting warmth himself.

In campaign mode, Gingrich is the polar opposite of Mitt Romney. Reportedly a bit shy, Romney, nevertheless, dives in, shakes every hand, signs every autograph, banters with everyone and smiles, smiles, smiles. It may be rehearsed and straight from some “How to Succeed in Politics” primer, but he’s as good at it as any TV game show host.

Mitt’s even good with babies. At a rally on the outskirts of Columbia on Wednesday night, he held a baby for the cameras and then pretended to walk off with her, delighting the crowd – even the child’s mother. And the baby never cried.

In contrast, Gingrich seems more like the queen of England. On Monday afternoon, at the end of his remarks at Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse in Myrtle Beach, Gingrich remained on the speaker’s platform while the crowd lined up like kids waiting to see a department store Santa. They were shuffled through rapidly; the candidate barely made eye contact, offered the tiniest of smiles and made the briefest request for support.

Is he merely reserved? Awkward? Overly formal? Or simply a man with a busy mind and a lot to get done; sort of like a college professor who resents wasting attention on the undergrads who mob him after class.

Of course, Gingrich actually is a former college professor, and his campaign speech is a lively academic ramble. He interprets history, dives into interesting new economic theories, wickedly picks apart the fallacious ideas of competing practitioners of the political arts and uses terminology that tells you he’s oh-so-much smarter than your typical governor of Texas or Massachusetts.

Gingrich drops names of the intellectual and political elite he has known and boldly lays claim to a major share of the legacy of two presidents, Reagan and Clinton. He brags that his candidacy is so historically significant and so utterly different from any other that it is nearly incomprehensible to the dullards in the media. In front of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, after presenting a litany of intractable problems faced by the nation, he said of himself, “If you have a leader who knows what he is doing, we can turn this around in a year.”

Just one year? The guy seems so full of himself that it is surprising he has caught on with so many voters. He is not the cliche candidate Americans are supposed to prefer – somebody you’d want to have a beer with because he’s just like you. Yet, here he is, still very much in the race and on the verge of messing up smiling Mitt Romney’s big-money campaign.

Pakistan High Court Launches Contempt Case Against Prime Minister

By Alex Rodriguez for The Los Angeles Times

Dealing a heavy blow to Pakistan’s embattled government, the Supreme Court on Monday initiated contempt proceedings against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for refusing to revive a long-standing corruption case against the nation’s president.

Gilani, a top ally of President Asif Ali Zardari in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, must appear before the court Thursday, when the justices will listen to his explanation for not going ahead with the case.

If the court moves forward with the contempt proceedings and Gilani is convicted, he could be disqualified from office and forced to step down. He also could be forced to serve up to six months in jail.

Zardari’s government is locked in battles with the Supreme Court and Pakistan’s powerful military, both of which have had an acrimonious relationship with the president since he took office in 2008. The crisis has stirred talk of the government’s possible ouster, though experts say it probably would happen through legal action taken by the high court rather than a military coup.

The military has ousted civilian leaders in coups four times in Pakistan’s 65-year history, but military generals have said they have no plans to mount a takeover.

Nevertheless, they were deeply angered by an unsigned memo that a Pakistani American businessman contends was engineered by a top Zardari ally to seek Washington’s help in preventing a military coup last spring. In exchange, the memo offered several concessions, including the elimination of a wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency that maintains links with Afghan insurgent groups.

The businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, says the then-ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, approached him with the idea. Haqqani, who was forced to resign after the allegations surfaced, denies any involvement in the creation or conveyance of the memo. A Supreme Court commission is investigating the case, and on Monday it ordered Ijaz to come to Pakistan and appear before the panel Jan. 24.

The high court’s move to start contempt proceedings against Gilani involves money-laundering charges in Switzerland that Zardari was convicted of in absentia in 2003. The case was appealed by Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and was later dropped at the request of the Pakistani government in 2008.

Since 2009, Pakistan’s high court has repeatedly ordered the government to write a letter to Swiss authorities asking that the case be reopened. Gilani and government lawyers have refused, arguing that as president, Zardari enjoys constitutional immunity from prosecution.

Last week, the court warned Gilani that it could remove him from office if he did not abide by its demand. Government lawyers were supposed to appear in court Monday and explain why Gilani’s administration had ignored the court.

Instead, Atty. Gen. Maulvi Anwarul Haq appeared before a packed courtroom and told a high court panel that the government had not given him any instructions about what to say in court. The head of the panel, Justice Nasir Mulk, said Gilani’s inaction gave the court no recourse but to pursue a contempt case against him.

Outside the courtroom, Haq said that if the court eventually issues a contempt finding against Gilani, “this conviction has ramifications…. Under the constitution, with a conviction it’s disqualification from office.”

Before the court issues its findings, it probably would hold evidentiary hearings, Haq said. If Gilani on Thursday tells the court he will ask Swiss authorities to reopen the corruption case, the justices probably would consider dropping the contempt proceeding, said Tariq Mehmood, a lawyer and retired judge.

Gilani has given no indication he plans to give in. He will, however, appear in court Thursday to explain the government’s rationale, he told parliament late Monday. “We have always respected the courts,” he said. “The court has summoned me, and in respect of the court I will go there on Jan. 19.”

Zardari’s administration hopes to become the first civilian government to finish out its term, which ends in 2013. The political turmoil may thwart that plan, as opposition leaders increasingly push harder for early elections. Though Zardari is widely criticized in Pakistan for failing to revive the country’s moribund economy and tackle corruption, his party remains confident that it can weather the storm and retain power for a second term.

Even if Gilani is removed from office, Zardari continues to hold together a coalition that controls parliament’s lower house, which elects the prime minister. On Monday, however, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a staunch ally of the president, doubted it would come to that.

“The prime minister will stay,” Malik told reporters outside parliament. “The government is in command. Our flight may be a little bumpy, but God willing, we will have a smooth landing in 2013.”

Gandhi and King- Two Martyrs Who Will Never Die

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Today is MLK Day in the United States where it is a federal holiday commemorating the life and legacy of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, an icon who would have been 83 years old on January 15.

MLK was a great believer in the teachings of non-violence if Mohandas K Gandhi, the leader of India’s independence movement from Britain. King saw that Gandhi’s peaceful civil disobedience and non-violent methods of protest were very effective in bringing down the British Empire in India and as a result Pakistan and the rest of the Indian Subcontinent after some 300 years of direct and indirect rule. Gandhi had believed that people could resist immoral government action by simply refusing to cooperate. Gandhi adopted many peaceful resistance techniques in developing his concept of Satyagraha, which was a philosophy and practice of passive nonviolent resistance.

Gandhi had earlier used this resistance technique in his struggles for freedom and equality for blacks and Indians in South Africa where both minorities were subjected to second and third class citizenry. His methods and refusal to bow down to the injustices that Indians faced in colonial South Africa inspired Nelson Mandela several years later to start his own peaceful struggle that eventually led to the end of Apartheid in South Africa in 1990.

While at Morehouse College, King learned about Gandhi and became very excited about his ideas. He wanted to further educate himself and read many books on Gandhi and his life and beliefs. In his book, Stride Toward Freedom, King states that “Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. He further writes in his book that “It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”

King felt that he had finally found a way to where oppressed people could successfully unlock social protest through Jesus’ teachings of love. In fact Gandhi himself had said “What does Jesus mean to me? To me, he was one of the greatest teachers humanity has ever had.” He also once mentioned Jesus as the “most active resister known perhaps to history. His was non-violence par excellence” Therefore to the Christian minister living in the pre-civil rights era in the South in America, Gandhi appeared to King as a follower of Christ, someone who preached peace and love even at the expense of suffering. Martin Luther King once said of Gandhi “It is ironic yet inescapably true that the greatest Christian of the modern world was a man who never embraced Christianity.”

In 1959, King visited India and became fully convinced that Satyagraha could be effectively applied to the struggle by blacks in the United States for racial integration. He came back to the United States where he continued the struggle for freedom and equality for all Americans. Like Gandhi, King also talked about suffering as a path to self purification and spiritual growth. He not only experienced this suffering by being jailed, beaten and harassed by the authorities of the day, but he eventually ended up paying for this cause for freedom for all with his life.

Today there is a black man that sits in the White House, minorities are on the Supreme Court bench, and black heads of Fortune 500 companies who have reached the proverbial mountaintop in every possible endeavor. Yet there is little doubt that despite how far we have come as a nation, we still have a ways to go to achieve equality for minorities and women. Without Dr King’s struggle, leadership and personal sacrifice, the United States, and indeed the world, would be in far worse shape.

Mohandas K Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were arguably two of the greatest men of the last century. Both men believed that “injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere.” They both led their people and millions of others out of slavery and servitude against seemingly insurmountable odds to freedom and salvation. On what would have been his 83rd birthday, let us recognize that in the greatest democracy in the history of the world, and despite an assassin’s bullet, the spirit and dream of a King still lives on.

Manzer Munir, a proud American of Pakistani descent, is a practicing Sufi Muslim and member of Muslims for Progressive Values, he is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Remembering Arfa

By Ali Moeen Nawazish for The News International

It was 23rd March 2007, a bright and sunny day. I was sitting along with a fellow distinction holder in the waiting room at the studios of state-run TV. We both had this smirk about ourselves as if we had conquered some unachievable mountain and that we were “special”. After all we were going to be on TV. While we were waiting for our turn to get our few minutes in the limelight, walked in this little girl hardly 12 years old. “Hi, how are you? What have you done at such a young age?” asked my counterpart.

“I am the world’s youngest Microsoft certified professional,” she replied putting both of us to shame. That was the first time I met Arfa Karim. First impressions? Amazingly talented girl, capable of doing big things and absolutely confident and sure about herself. In the first two minutes you meet her, she will wow you with her charm and intellect.

I communicated with Arfa after that through email and Facebook in 2008 and 2009, and while we all know of her extraordinary abilities, how she could fly a plane and when she met Bill Gates, I wanted to share something that few people know about her. Throughout our conversations one theme was always recurring, she wanted to do good and help others. She talked endlessly about how she wanted to build a computer lab back in her village, how it was her dream to impart IT education to those who didn’t have access to it in Pakistan. She was well aware of the challenges that lay ahead of her and the country. I feel that somehow she understood the expectations that people had from her, but at the same time was taking it in a stride. She tried hard to ensure that the expectations don’t affect her own self-direction in life. She was also very kind hearted and a generous spirit too, whenever someone would ask her for help or anyone would refer someone to her, she would make sure she helped that person to the best of her abilities.

It is one thing to acknowledge one’s blessings and thank people for the love and affection that they show, but it is completely another to decide to dedicate a part of your life to give something back to the community and country that made you who you are. One thing she often spoke of is how some wouldn’t take her ideas seriously because she was a little girl. People would judge her ideas and plans by her age and not by their merit alone. About an idea for rural education, she wrote: “I myself have been working, or trying to work, for this objective. The problem here is that if I come up with plans, no one takes them seriously because I am a “14-year old kid”. My grandfather was a villager and we are still an agricultural family. I still retain ties with my rural background and so would be proud to be part of something like this.” A phenomenon perhaps often too common in our society. Yet, she always had the resolve to deal with it and find solutions around these problems, as any good software developer would. Arfa was a girl who was never going to let anyone stand in her way, no matter what it took.

By any measure of the word she was truly a gifted girl with her own little quirks that made her who she was. She wanted to get done with her O Levels long before the actual time she had to give them, because quite frankly she didn’t need more time. To one of our conversations in which I was encouraging her to take more time, she wrote: “To have more time was the reason I delayed it a little. Otherwise, I would have been finished with my O levels in this session. I was thinking that if I stretch it out too long, I might get bored with it in the end.” Perhaps the only person I knew in the world that would give exams early because she would get bored with the content.

It is somewhat ironic that I last met her this 14th August 2011 at another PTV recording. She had grown up, but only a little, had matured by miles. Yet, what was astounding and amazing about her was that her spirit was the same of that 9-year old girl who dared to dream big and think different. Her spirit was the same of that 9-year old girl who had made it a point to not let herself be captured by the notion of what is possible and what isn’t. As ambitious as ever and talented even more, Arfa was ready to take on the world in her stride. It is unfortunate that she was taken from us well before our time, but as with all great people God calls them early to Him.

Arfa, you will truly be missed and the youth of Pakistan has suffered a great loss today. May Allah bless you and your family. You were a good friend and a great inspiration. Your spirit and memory will live on in our hearts for as long as we live. The youth lost one of its best today, but you have inspired so many and we promise to not let you down.

Arfa Karim Zindabad! Pakistan Zindabad!

(The writer is Youth Ambassador of Geo and Jang Group. Email: am.nawazish@jang.group.com.pk Facebook: facebook.com/ali.moeen.nawazish

Early Elections Seen as Possible Solution to Pakistan’s Political Crisis

By Saeed Shah for The Miami Herald

Pakistan’s political crisis, which pits its president against determined opponents in foes in Parliament, the Supreme Court and the military, is likely to reach fever pitch on Monday with a confidence vote scheduled in Parliament and hearings scheduled in two critical court cases.

The crisis is so intense that President Asif Zardari’s administration may be willing to call elections for as soon as October, according to members of his ruling coalition and its advisers. But that may not be enough to mollify the opposition, which wants earlier elections, or the country’s powerful military establishment, which is believed to be trying to force a so-called “soft coup,” under which Zardari, a critic of the military’s traditional dominance of Pakistan, would be forced out by Parliament or the courts.

The threat of an outright coup also hangs over the crisis, if the politicians cannot find a way out or the court proceedings reach absolute stalemate.

Whether the government can reach agreement with opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is unclear. Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party doesn’t want to announce elections until after voting in March for a new Senate, which the PPP is widely expected to win. But Sharif would like the new elections to be in the summer, perhaps June, which would require an earlier announcement.

“There is no other option for the government to come out of the current crisis without elections,” said an adviser to the PPP leadership, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, as did the other coalition members. “It is in the interests of the PPP to reach an agreement with Nawaz.”

The PPP rules with three major coalition partners, but the alliance is looking shaky. Two of the parties, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, have distanced themselves somewhat from the government.

A senior member of the coalition said the parties so far have agreed internally only to a general election to be held in October. That would be just a few months before the February 2013 date when Parliament would complete its five-year term and elections would have to be held anyway.

An early election should also placate the courts and the military. A supposedly neutral caretaker government would have to be installed to oversee a three-month electioneering period.

Another coalition member said: “It is 100 percent certain that there will be elections in 2012. The only solution is elections. It doesn’t matter whether they are held in June or October.”

Zardari’s coalition itself brought Monday’s confidence vote resolution to Parliament, cleverly wording it so that it asks for support not for the prime minister or even the government, but for democracy. That makes it difficult to oppose.

But the PPP’s troubles in Parliament are only one of the fronts in its battle for survival. The courts and the military are both maneuvering against the party’s leaders, with two explosive cases coming up for hearings Monday.

The first stems from a 2007 decree by President Pervez Musharraf that granted immunity from prosecution to Zardari and other exiled PPP politicians in an effort to persuade them to return to Pakistan to participate in elections that Musharraf was being pressured by the United States to hold.

The Supreme Court later ruled, however, that the decree was illegal and demanded that the government reopen corruption charges against Zardari stemming from the time when his wife, the assassinated PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister.

The government declined, however, and now the court has summoned the government to explain its actions. The court could declare Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in contempt of court, which would in effect remove him from office.

The other case involves the the scandal in which a judicial commission is investigating allegations that Husain Haqqani, a close Zardari adviser and former ambassador to the U.S., wrote a memo that was passed to U.S. officials in May. That memo offered to replace the Pakistan military’s top officials in return for U.S. support should the military attempt to push Zardari aside.

Haqqani, who was forced to resign, says he had nothing to do with the memo, which the military has said amounted to treason.

The judicial commission may take testimony this week from an American businessman, and occasional news commentator, Mansoor Ijaz, who claimed that he had delivered the memo to U.S. officials, in a column that appeared in the British newspaper the Financial Times in October. Ijaz has said he will show up as a witness, though he apparently has yet to receive a visa to enter Pakistan.

%d bloggers like this: