Archive for the ‘ Desi ’ Category

Why I believe Pakistanis are the most gracious people in the world

By Harsh Mander for Scroll.In and Dawn.com

Pakistan Generosity

My mother was forced to leave behind the city of her birth, Rawalpindi, when she was just 18 because of the tumultuous ruptures of Partition. She had never returned. When she was to turn 75, I thought the best gift I could give her was to take her, if it was at all possible, to the city and to the home in which she was born.

I emailed my friends in Pakistan tentatively with my plan. They were immediately very welcoming.

“Just get her a visa, leave the rest to us,” they said. I applied for visas for my parents and the rest of my family. It seemed then a small miracle that we got these easily. I booked our flight tickets, and before long we were on our way.

A warm welcome

Our flight landed in Lahore, and our friends drove us from the airport to their home in Islamabad. I noticed that my mother was initially a little tense. Maybe it was memories of the violence of her exile; maybe it was just the idea that this was now a foreign land, and for many in India the enemy land.

I watched my mother gradually relax on the road journey to Islamabad, as she delighted in hearing my friends and the car driver speak the Punjabi of her childhood, and as she watched the altered landscape of her journey. Islamabad, of course, did not exist when she lived in the Punjab of her days.

In Islamabad, my friends invited to their homes many of their associates with their parents. They organised evenings of Punjabi poetry and music, which my parents relished. Our friends drove us to Murree, the hill-station in which my mother spent many pleasant summers as a child.

My mother had just one more request. Could she go to see the colony in Rawalpindi where she was born and spent her childhood in? My father also wanted to visit his college, the famous Gordon College in Rawalpindi.

A homecoming

My mother recalled that the name of the residential colony in which she lived as a child was called Gawal Mandi. My friends knew it well; it was now an upmarket upper middle-class enclave.

When we reached there, my mother tried to locate the house of her childhood. It seemed impossible. Everything was new: most of the old houses had been rebuilt and opulent new structures had come up in their place.

She located the building that had housed their gurudwara. It had now been converted into a health centre. But we had almost despaired of actually finding her childhood house. We doubted if it was even standing all these years later.

We were leaving when suddenly my mother pointed to the filigree work on the balconies of one of the old houses. My mother said: “I remember it because my father was very proud of the designs. He said there was none like it in the neighbourhood.”

Taking a chance, we knocked tentatively on the door of the house. A middle-aged man opened it, and asked us who we wanted to meet.

My mother said apologetically, “We are so sorry to trouble you, and intrude suddenly in this way. But I lived as a child in Gawal Mandi, before Partition, when we had to leave for India. I think this maybe was our home.”

The house owner’s response was spontaneous and immediate.

Mataji, why do you say that this was your home? It continues to be your home even today. You are most welcome.”

And he led us all in.

Before long, my mother confirmed that this was indeed her childhood home. She went from room to room, and then to the terrace, almost in a trance, recalling all the while fragments of her childhood memories in various corners of this house.

For months after we returned to Delhi, she would tell me that recollections of the house returned to her in her dreams.

Take a look: Why my heart said Pakistan Zindabad!

Half an hour later, we thanked the house-owners and said that we would be on our way. But they would not hear of it.

We were told: “You have come to your childhood home, then how can we let you go without you having a meal with us here?”

They overruled all our protestations, and lunch was prepared for around eight members of our party, including not just my family but also our Pakistani hosts. Only when they were sure that we had eaten our fill, and more, did they allow us to leave.

Caravan to Pakistan

After we returned to India, news of our adventure spread quickly among family and friends. The next year, my mother-in-law — a wheel-chair user — requested that we take her to Pakistan to visit her childhood home, this time in Gujranwala.

Given the joys of my parents’ successful visit, I was more confident. Many elderly aunts and an elderly uncle joined the trip, and in the end my wife and I accompanied six older people to Pakistan.

Our experience was very similar to that of the previous year. The owner of their old ancestral haveli in Gujranwala village took my mother-in-law around the sprawling property on her wheel-chair, and after we had eaten with them asked her: “Would you not like to check out your farm-lands?”

On both visits, wherever my wife visited shops for clothes, footwear or handicrafts, if the shopkeepers recognised her to be Indian, they would invariably insist on a hefty concession on the price. “You are our guests,” they would say. “How can we make a profit from our guests?”

As news of these visits travelled further, my associates from an NGO Ashagram working in the small town of Barwani in Madhya Pradesh for the care and rights of persons living with leprosy — with which I have had a long association — demanded that I organise a visit to Pakistan for them too.

See: Pakistanis seem to love Indians. Do Indians feel the same way?

Once again, the Pakistan High Commission granted them visas. There was only one catch this time: all of them were vegetarian. They enjoyed greatly the week they spent in Pakistan, except for the food.

Every night they would set out looking for a wayside shop to buy fruit juice. Each night they found a new shop, and each night without exception, the shopkeeper refused to accept any money for the fruit juice. “We will not charge money from our guests from India,” they would say each time.

This happened for a full week.

I have travelled to many countries around the world in the 60 years of my life. I have never encountered a people as gracious as those in Pakistan.

This declaration is my latest act of sedition.


Obscuring a Muslim Name, and an American’s Sacrifice

As Reported by Sharon Otterman for The New York Times

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He was buried after the Sept. 11 attacks with full honors from the New York Police Department, and proclaimed a hero by the city’s police commissioner. He is cited by name in the Patriot Act as an example of Muslim-American valor.

And Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, one of two Muslim members of Congress, was brought to tears during a Congressional hearing in March while describing how the man, a Pakistani-American from Queens, had wrongly been suspected of involvement in the attacks, before he was lionized as a young police cadet who had died trying to save lives.

Despite this history, Mohammad Salman Hamdani is nowhere to be found in the long list of fallen first responders at the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan.

Nor can his name be found among those of victims whose bodies were found in the wreckage of the north tower, where his body was finally discovered in 34 parts.

Instead, his name appears on the memorial’s last panel for World Trade Center victims, next to a blank space along the south tower perimeter, with the names of others who did not fit into the rubrics the memorial created to give placements meaning. That section is for those who had only a loose connection, or none, to the World Trade Center.

The placement of Mr. Hamdani’s name has fueled the continuing concern and anger about how his legacy was treated soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, when, apparently because of his Pakistani roots, Muslim religion and background as a biochemistry major at Queens College, he fell under suspicion.

His name appeared on a flier faxed to police stations; newspaper headlines amplified his status as a person wanted for questioning.

“They do not want anyone with a Muslim name to be acknowledged at ground zero with such high honors,” his mother, Talat Hamdani, 60, said last week at her home in Lake Grove on Long Island, her voice filled with pain. “They don’t want someone with the name Mohammad to be up there.”

To Mrs. Hamdani, that her son would not be recognized at the memorial as an official first responder was the latest in a series of injustices that began with a knock on her door from two police officers in October 2001. She, her husband and two other sons had been searching morgues and hospitals for his body. But the officers wanted to ask questions, and they asked for a picture from the refrigerator that showed Mr. Hamdani, 23 when he died, at his Queens College graduation next to a friend who Mrs. Hamdani had told them was from Afghanistan.

It was around the same time that Mr. Hamdani’s official police cadet picture was circulating through police stations on a flier with the handwritten words “Hold and detain. Notify: major case squad,” The New York Times later reported. Investigators visited Mr. Hamdani’s dentist and confiscated his dental records, his mother learned.

It was not until March 2002, when the family was finally informed that Mr. Hamdani’s remains had been found in the wreckage more than five months earlier, that the public cloud over his name cleared.

It turned out his was a classic New York story. His family had immigrated from Pakistan when he was 13 months old, his father opening a candy store, his mother becoming a middle school teacher. Mr. Hamdani attended Catholic school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, until the eighth grade, and then played football for Bayside High School in Queens.

He became a certified emergency medical technician and spent a year volunteering for MetroCare, a private ambulance company. He was a police cadet for three years and had taken the test to enter the academy, but was waiting to see if he was accepted to medical school.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, his family and friends believed, Mr. Hamdani, traveling to work at a DNA analysis lab at Rockefeller University, must have seen the burning towers from the elevated subway tracks in Queens and gone down to help.

“We have an example of how one can make the world better,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said of Mr. Hamdani. The mayor was one of the dignitaries who appeared at Mr. Hamdani’s funeral, which was held with full police honors at a mosque off East 96th Street in April 2002.

“Salman stood up when most people would have gone in the other direction,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

For years, Mrs. Hamdani believed that the police had fully acknowledged her son’s sacrifice. She cherished the weighty brass police cadet badge that the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, had given her, to dispel any doubts about who her son had been.

So it was with shock that she received a notification from the Sept. 11 memorial in 2009 that Mr. Hamdani’s name would be listed among those with “loose connections” to the World Trade Center where they died.

She tried calling politicians, even writing a letter to President Obama, from whom she received a respectful but vague hand-signed reply. Her son’s placement had fallen through bureaucratic cracks.

There is no section at the memorial for informal rescue workers, first responders in the literal sense, who were believed to have voluntarily gone to the towers to help but who were not yet full-fledged members of an approved first-responder agency.

Organized groups of victims’ family members settled on the concept of “meaningful adjacency” to guide the placement of names, allowing them to place victims’ names next to those of people they worked with or knew. That was no help in the case of Mr. Hamdani, who had apparently not known anyone there.

“That’s where the model falls down,” said Thomas H. Rogér, a member of the memorial foundation’s board who was deeply involved in those discussions. “That was the sad part about it. If you weren’t affiliated with one of the groups that had a constituency that was at the table, when we were carrying out all these negotiations, then nobody was representing your cause.”

Meanwhile, the Police Department did not include Mr. Hamdani’s name on its own list of the fallen because “he was still a student,” said Paul J. Browne, a department spokesman. A police cadet is the equivalent of a paid college intern with the department, Mr. Browne said, and is not a full-fledged police officer or a recruit enrolled at the academy.

“But that did not take away from Mohammad’s actions that day,” Mr. Browne said in an e-mail. “If anything, it magnified them. He didn’t have to respond. It wasn’t his job, but he did anyway.”

Linda Sarsour, the director of the Arab American Association of New York City, said acknowledging Mr. Hamdani as a first responder “would be a great gesture to say to the community that we recognize that we have Muslim-Americans who risked their lives or lost their lives on that day, and for that we thank you.”

Mr. Rogér, of the memorial foundation, wondered if Mr. Hamdani’s name could appear in the Police Department’s section of the memorial with an asterisk noting that he was a police cadet. The Rev. Chloe Breyer, the executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York, also suggested some compromise.

“It shows an enormous lack of imagination on the part of the N.Y.P.D. and museum not to figure out a way to acknowledge adequately the special sacrifice he made and that his mother endures daily,” she said in an e-mail.

Mrs. Hamdani, who has started a Queens College scholarship in her son’s name, is still unsure of how much she wants to press the issue. Pride, in the end, is the overwhelming feeling she has for her son.

“You are equal no matter where you are buried, whether your name is there or not,” Mrs. Hamdani recalled saying as she stood before his name and the memorial’s pouring waterfalls on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. “By your actions the world remembers you.”

Coca-Cola Tries to Bring India, Pakistan Together via its New Vending Machines

As Reported by The Economic Times
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An upscale mall in South Delhi has a Coca-Cola vending machine that not only dispenses Coke, Thums Up and other beverages of the firm but will very soon connect India and Pakistan.Once a similar machine is installed in Karachi or another Pakistan city, users of the two vending machines can see and virtually touch each other, a person in the know said.

The beverages major has quietly launched an online campaign that seeks to connect people in not-so-friendly countries through vending machines, starting with India and Pakistan this year.

“This year, two countries will show that what unites us is stronger than what sets us apart and come together to share a Coca-Cola,” says the commercial launched on YouTube.

A company spokesperson said it was too early to comment on specific plans, on how the beverage maker plans to scale up the concept.

This world peace initiative is part of the firm’s happiness project. “A moment of happiness has the power to bring the world together,” it says.

In another initiative, Coca-Cola recently set up a ‘hug machine’ in Singapore-a vending machine with red and white message announcing the consumer to ‘hug’ it, after which the consumer would be given a free Coke. The ‘hug machine’ generated 112 million impressions within one day. In Istanbul, it had installed a vending machine that gave away free Coke if people could prove they were indeed a couple.

Coca-Cola is spending heavily on social media globally, though the spends are still small compared to what it spends on traditional mass media.

“Brands can’t work remotely anymore so it is important to listen and engage to consumers,” Wendy Clark, senior VP, integrated marketing communications and capabilities, at Coca-Cola had told ET last month.

“We make consumers part of our marketing channel, sharing content and engaging with them all the time,” Clark had said, adding that the company was looking at investing in innovative ways to connect on social media.

Mango Mania

By Huma Yusuf for The International Herald Tribune

KARACHI — Summers in the city — and across much of Pakistan — are relentless. Temperatures typically hit 100 degrees, power outages drag on for hours, heatstroke is common, and while monsoon rains bring some relief, they bring great ruin through widespread flooding. But there is one thing that makes Pakistanis anticipate the torpid summer months — mangoes.

With their golden yellow, blushing pink and pale green hues coloring markets by the cart-full, Pakistani mangoes are a source of national joy and pride. But bad luck — and poor logistics — are now threatening Pakistan’s king of fruits.

The country is the fifth-largest producer and third-largest exporter of mangoes in the world. For as long as I can remember, mangoes have turned oppressive summers into seasons of celebration and amity. Friends and families share crates of the finest mangoes. Rival tribes exchange baskets to resolve arguments. Hotels and restaurants host mango festivals featuring mango puppets or 4-foot-high, mango-shaped cardboard cutouts strung with streamers.

Pakistan’s love affair with the mango is culturally ingrained. Mirza Ghalib, the foremost Urdu-language poet of the Mughal era, was an avid mango eater who measured his health and joie de vivre by the number of mangoes he was able to consume.

Nothing (except perhaps cricket) will stir Pakistani nationalism more than the suggestion that another country’s mangoes could taste half as good as Pakistan’s. The only point of contention is which of the country’s hundreds of mango varieties is the most delicious: chaunsa, langara, sindhri, anwar ratol? (My vote goes to the subtle and aromatic anwar ratol.)

Last summer, Pakistani growers were thrilled at the prospect of countries beyond Asia finally enjoying their mangoes. Not only did the British retailer Asda start stocking Pakistani mangoes, but the first-ever shipment of Pakistani mangoes arrived in the United States in July 2011 after USAID helped Pakistan to meet U.S. standards of pest control and post-harvest management. New exports to Western markets were expected to be a boon to local farmers.

But this summer’s crop has not met expectations — some mango varieties ripened too late in the season, others are too small or are lacking in taste or texture. Pakistan is now likely to fail to meet its mango export target of 150,000 tons by September, instead managing to export only 100,000 tons.

This is partly because of last year’s monsoon and subsequent flooding, which reduced mango productivity by 30 percent. According to some estimates, up to a quarter of all mango farms in the southern province of Sindh were completely washed out.

But a big part of the shortfall is due to poor logistical planning: containers needed to ship mangoes are in short supply; Pakistan International Airlines does not appear to have the proper infrastructure to make shipments; international shipping companies have transported mangoes to the wrong destination or failed to secure the fruit against damage or theft en route; a cumbersome distribution system has caused Pakistan to lose out in the Asian mango market to China and India. Meanwhile, U.N. sanctions against trade with Iran have also caused a loss of $10 million to Pakistan’s mango growers, who previously exported up to 40 percent of their crop to the neighboring country.

All this bodes poorly for the future. Meagre profits — or in some cases, losses — from exports, coupled with last year’s widespread damage to mango farms, could compromise future yields. This would be nothing less than tragic, especially given that a worsening economic and security situation means that there are ever fewer things for Pakistanis to enjoy.

I, for one, am not taking any chances. This summer, I’m scarfing down mangoes at every opportunity. But my real hope is that the Pakistani mango’s reign endures for many years to come.

Huma Yusuf is a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Pakistan Should Open Itself Up to India

By Aakar Patel for Firstpost

India and Pakistan have a reciprocal relationship. If one does something to the other, send back a spying diplomat for instance, the other imitates this and also sends one back. One country’s visa regime mirrors the other’s. We would rather harm ourselves by an act that is imitative than let the other side get away.

The world sees this behaviour as childish, perhaps rightly.

India acted maturely in opening up trade unilaterally a few years ago. This is why the shelves of Thom’s Cafe and Bakery, where I shop for groceries in Bangalore, are filled with Shan Masala boxes.

Now an opportunity exists for Pakistan to take the lead.

Islamabad should open up its borders and give Indian tourists visas on arrival. The same conditions under which Indians are allowed into Sri Lanka and Nepal and Bhutan. A quick stamp on the passport and that’s it.

Vast crowds of Indians will come to Pakistan.

Sikhs on pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib and to see Ranjit Singh’s masoleum (totally empty when I went there 10 years ago) next to Lahore fort.

Hindus who want to see the Indus, after which their country is named, and their faith. Muslims and Hindus who want to visit Pak Pattan, Data Saheb, and the shrines of Rukn-e-Alam and Bahauddin Zakariya.

Pakistanis will be amazed by how many Hindus worship at Muslim shrines. Punjabis will come and see the cities of Lahore and Pindi, of which they have only heard about from their grandparents. India’s wealthy Sindhi community will come to Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi.

Three Muslim communities – Memons, Bohras and Khojas – have their headquarters in India. They have family ties to Karachi and also business interests that will benefit from regular visits.

Deoband and Nadwa scholars can exchange views with Pakistan’s ulema.

The package tour business, which is big in India, will bring in large numbers who might see a Pakistan different from the one in their imagination. College and school excursions, which are also big in India, will find new venues to take their students to.

Bollywood will be interested in new settings to shoot, and access to the cities will open up plot-lines.

As an intelligent piece in The Friday Times a few years ago noted, Indian tourists will blend in, dress modestly, not expect too much, be at home with the food and do shopping on a healthy scale.

The exchange rate of the Pakistani Rupee, whose value is a little over half that of the Indian Rupee, will give them a bigger budget than they have at home.

The Hindu middle class, especially Bengali and Gujarati, are adventurous travellers and will not be easily put off by a couple of bomb blasts as westerners will. Because Indian women are not secluded, whole families will come, especially if non-airplane routes such as road and rail are opened. Pakistanis will not be threatened by middle aged Indian men and women with squealing kids about them.

It will not be possible, given the mischief in Mumbai and in Parliament, for India to freely let Pakistanis enter. So reciprocality must not be expected immediately. But that shouldn’t be seen as a problem.

Pakistan has already accepted a break in the tit-for-tat relationship. Pakistan’s cricket team is likely to play in India while there’s no chance that India’s players will come to Pakistan. No other cricketing nation is willing either and so it’s not about Indian obstinacy in this case. Just the circumstances, which can be altered by a little wisdom.

It’s a profitable opportunity for Pakistan to benefit economically, improve its image as a safe place and normalise relations with India. Three things gained while nothing is lost.

Pakistan should open itself up to Indians without waiting for reciprocity. And it should do this in self interest.

Pakistan and India to Resume Cricket Matches

By Michele Langevine Leiby for The Washington Post

Whatever their differences, Pakistanis and Indians love their cricket. Their armies might fight wars and their governments may deeply mistrust each other, but sports fans and politicians in both countries see a diplomatic bright spot: a series of matches this year between the historical rivals.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India announced last week that the country would resume matches with Pakistan for the first time in five years. They will be the first bilateral games between the countries since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which India says were launched by Pakistani terrorists who have been protected from prosecution by Pakistan’s government.

Although dates and the venue are still being worked out, the prospect of a renewed sporting rivalry has stirred optimism for rapprochement in both capitals.

“I think this will be further cementing the bilateral relationship, which is improving by the day,” Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said. Krishna is planning a visit to Islamabad in September.

Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing hope that reviving cricket matches would improve trust between the two nations, the newspaper Dawn reported.

Pakistani cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan also weighed in. “Anything which can bring both the countries to negotiations and normalcy is very good, and we must appreciate that,” he said.

Khan, who is running for prime minister, captained the Pakistan cricket team to its 1992 World Cup championship.

Young Pakistanis and Indians — aided by social media and unhampered by the long and contentious history — have found other ways to interact. Facebook pages such as “Romancing the Border” offer a forum for college students from both sides to learn about each other.

But online messaging and cricket diplomacy may not have much impact on a fundamentally hostile relationship; India and Pakistan fought three wars and remain locked in conflict over control of Kashmir. Their militaries are faced off on the disputed Siachen Glacier, described as the world’s highest battleground, where more men are lost due to the brutal conditions than to actual combat. In April, an avalanche at the entry to the glacier buried dozens of Pakistanis, most of them soldiers.

Religion Journal: For Ramadan, India Goes it Alone

By Joanna Sugden for The Wall Street Journal

Muslims start the month-long daytime fast of Ramadan Friday. But not in India.

While most of the world’s Muslims look to Saudi Arabia or follow astronomical calculations to determine when the new moon of the ninth lunar month has arrived – marking the start of Ramadan – India follows the declaration of its own Central Moon Sighting Committee.

“Geographical differences mean we are a day behind Saudi Arabia in terms of lunar months, so we are expecting to start on Saturday,” says Syed Tariq Bukhari, a member of the committee and general secretary of the advisory council at Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid, one of the country’s most important mosques.

At sunset Friday, the 29th day of the eighth lunar month, 21 senior leaders from Delhi’s mosques will meet to decide whether the new moon has been sighted. In the Muslim calendar, months are either 29 or 30 days long.

“It is very difficult to spot a new moon, particularly on the 29th day of the month because it appears for a very short time and is a very thin sliver,” Mr. Bukhari said, adding that the best time to spot a new moon is half an hour before sunset.

“If naturally we are not able to see it because it’s cloudy then we coordinate with the other committees of other cities who have similar geographic circumstances,” Mr. Bukhari said.

The committee then waits for a Shahadah or Islamic witness who has seen the new moon. “The appearance of the witness should be according to Sharia law, which means having a beard and his neighbors should know him as a dependable person as far as being a witness is concerned,” Mr. Bukhari added.

If no credible Islamic witness comes forward, the committee waits until between 80 and 90 other witness statements on sightings are collected by moon sighting committees across the country. Then it declares the start of Ramadan.

If the moon isn’t sighted at all in the last days of the lunar month, the committee waits until the first day of the ninth lunar month – which this year is on Sunday – to declare that Ramadan has begun. It announces the start of the fast via the media, to the government and over loud speakers from mosques.

Zasarul Islam Khan, president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella body for Muslim organizations, says the timing of Ramadan should always be based on local sightings of the moon.

“Outside the Subcontinent they are following Saudi Arabia, which is technically wrong. The scholars say that you should wait to see the new moon physically before starting Ramadan,” he told India Real Time.

Mosques in the southern Indian state of Kerala go by Saudi Arabian timings because they have close links with the Middle East, according to Mr. Bukhari. Those in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir go by Pakistan’s declaration as they are more geographically in line with the country, he adds.

The Fiqh Council of North America, which rules on matters of Islamic jurisprudence, says Muslims should follow precise astrological calculations to decide the start of the fast.

In sunlight hours during Ramadan, Muslims refrain from food, water, sex, smoking and oral medicine in order to bring desire under self-control and to focus on prayer and Allah.

This year, the fast coincides with the London Olympics, so Muslim athletes will have to decide whether to observe it and risk a dent in their performance or exempt themselves and carry out the fast once they finish the competition.

Maher Abu Rmeileh, a Palestinian Judo champion who is competing at the Games, told the BBC that he would not be observing Ramadan this year. “Scholars recommended me not to fast and said that I represented my nation not just myself, so once I return from the games I will have to make up for it,” he said.

Such a clash only happens once every 44 years and the International Olympic Committee has said it will look into the possibility of avoiding such a conflict in future, once London 2012 is over.

People exempt from fasting include pregnant women, children who haven’t reached puberty, menstruating women, breast-feeding women, the elderly, travelers and the chronically ill.

Mr. Khan said those who are sick or elderly are allowed to give to charity instead of fasting. If they are determined to observe Ramadan, they should consult their doctor, he added.

Joanna Sugden is freelance journalist living in Delhi. Before coming to India in 2011 she spent four-and-a-half years as a reporter at The Times of London, covering religion and education. You can follow her on Twitter @jhsugden.

Amir Khan at Crossroads After Fourth-Round Loss to Danny Garcia

Kevin Mitchell for The Guardian

Amir Khan does not lack for friends. They gathered around him in impressive numbers in the small hours of Sunday morning after the second shocking stoppage loss of his career – this time at the hands of the strong young Philadelphian Danny Garcia in four rounds at the Mandalay Bay on Saturday night – and it seems not only will he fight on but he will be encouraged to do so by those who write the cheques as well as the condolence cards.

How wise this sympathy is might become clearer when they have time to reflect on the consequences of their loyalty. Khan will have to start again.

If he has the stomach for it, fine. If he finds some discipline to go with his courage and talent, fine. If he could buy a new chin, even better still.

But boxing rarely allows fighters to write all their own story. It seems unlikely that Khan will get a rematch with the unbeaten Garcia, a fine champion but the son of an intransigent father, Angel, who wants to move on, declaring Khan “an old pair of shoes”. It was a remark as cutting as were his pre-fight barbs, which had strong racial undertones and which got to Khan, according to his trainer, Freddie Roach.

This WBA/WBC light-welterweight unification bout defeat was a bad loss. It was bad for quite a few reasons. Not only did Khan, reinstalled as the WBA champion at 10st, lay down a beautiful gameplan in the first two rounds then rip it up, but the chin that Breidis Prescott famously exposed inside a minute in Manchester four years ago again looks a liability.

Khan did not lose just because he was angry. He lost because Garcia survived a ferocious battering for two rounds then got him with a peach of a counter that unravelled his senses. He lost because he boxed poorly – and he knows it.

The punches that felled him were heavy and arrived unseen – a left hook behind the ear in the third round, a glancing right that relieved his unsteady legs of their power at the start of the fourth then another arcing hook from the left that thumped the top of his head to finish it 32sec from the end of a fierce, thrilling stanza.

He was not counted out; indeed he would have fought on until dawn. But he would have been badly beaten up had Kenny Bayless, a sound referee, let it continue.

Khan went out swinging, but he should have gone out boxing – and winning. Too often, as Roach, the boxer’s father Shah, and his American promotional partner Richard Schaefer, agreed afterwards, he is unable to resist a war.

He is some entertainer. But he entertains disaster – especially when he lets the fire in his belly burn through his arms without constraint.

As Roach said while Khan was undergoing routine checks in hospital: “The plan was to counterpunch, use the jab, but Mr Garcia got under his skin, and his heart got in the way. Amir says he will be back. Hopefully Garcia will come to England and we will fight him over there.”

From what Angel Garcia said afterwards, there is no hope of that. “Why should we?” he screamed. “He is like an old pair of shoes that you throw out. Who needs him now?”

Cruel? Well, Mr Garcia is a pretty uncompromising character – and a roadblock to a rematch.

Schaefer, the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, was still supportive, though. “I agree with Freddie. Amir will be back. He’s an exciting fighter, one of the best pound for pound. He likes to entertain and the public like to see fights like that. We will let him rest and see what opportunities are out there for him at 140lb. Sometimes his balls are too big for his own good, but that’s what makes him the fighter he is. It doesn’t mean we have to write off Amir Khan. Who wouldn’t want to see him again?”

Shah Khan added: “He’s got a big heart and wanted to get engaged. All he had to do was stay one step away, but that’s the way he is. He’s OK, no worries, just getting a check-up in hospital. The Americans love him, Mandalay Bay love him, HBO love him. He’s not one of those guys who hides away.”

Yet, for all the kind words and promises of rehabilitation, Khan is a beaten champion for the third time in his career. That’s a worrying cycle of events. And for the second time, he has been physically taken apart.

The doubly disappointing aspect to the evening for Khan was that he had it pretty much all his own way for two-and-a-half rounds. He carved bleeding bruises in Garcia’s right eyelid, cheek and nose. Victory seemed assured.

Then he was felled by a left hook behind the ear – and we were in Prescott territory again. Garcia found the sweet spot twice more, and it was done. “I’m a killer,” Garcia said later.

Before he went to hospital, Khan took a quick look at the replay. He did not like what he saw. “I was coming in with my hands down and Danny took advantage,” he said. “I respect Danny. He was countering very well against me, I got a little complacent and he caught me. I was a little surprised when the referee stopped it. My mind was clear and my legs were OK. I respect the commission and the officials. Who knows? Maybe they made the right call.”

They did. Without question.

The other loss on his record – a controversial decision to Lamont Peterson in Washington last December – was seemingly forgiven by Golden Boy Promotions, HBO and the public – especially when Peterson failed a drug test.

Khan had tremendous backing on Saturday night. But talk of a super-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr in London next May is no longer relevant.

Whatever Schaefer says, Khan will have to reconstruct his career from the bottom up. There will be no immediate world title fight. It will be against a lesser foe, someone he might struggle to feel motivated against – and that is another danger for him. He lives on the adrenaline of the big occasion – and, on Saturday night, it flooded his brain with foolishness.

Pakistan Wedding Rush to Beat New UK Visa Laws

By Bob Crilly for The Telegraph

In the first week of July, wedding halls, English classes and immigration consultants said they had all seen a surge in people preparing for new lives in the UK.

They were trying to beat rules which came into force on July 9 setting a minimum income of £18,600 a year for anyone hoping to bring a foreign spouse into the country from outside Europe – an increase of about £5000 for most applicants.
The spike in applications has seen visa processing times double in some cases – from 12 to 24 weeks – as the UK Border Agency struggles to cope with the numbers, according to its website.
Nowhere has seen more intense activity than Mirpur, a Kashmiri town which supplied hundreds of thousands of migrants to work in the UK during the 1960s.

Zahra, who asked that her name be changed for fear it might prejudice her visa application, said her family had no choice but to bring wedding plans forward from the autumn.

“My parents wanted me to marry a good man in Manchester with a good job but even he doesn’t earn enough,” she said.
“We knew these rules were coming so we had to get organised. It meant getting married in the heat of summer but it will be worth it if it means I can move to England.”

Arshad Hussein Shah said his eight wedding halls had seen a 75 per cent increase in activity in the month leading up to July 9.
“These were mostly couples who said they wanted to get married in time to be able to go to UK,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
The Office of National Statistics says net migration to the UK is at a record high of 250,000 people each year, a figure ministers have promised to cut to below 100,00 by the next election.

From October next year, applicants from outside the European Economic Area will also have to pass a “life in the UK” test and present an English language qualification.

Prominent British Pakistanis have spoken out about the new rules, complaining they will disrupt life for families split between the two countries.
More than a million people of Pakistani origin already live in the UK.

Sohail Sajid, a lawyer and immigration consultant in Islamabad, said many Britons with roots in Pakistan were finding their intended husbands and wives would struggle with the new language and salary requirements.

“They felt it has become next to impossible,” he said. “People are very concerned about this.”
The squeeze will be felt in many towns in the region and in Kashmir, where entire generations upped and left for a better life in the UK. Many family homes in towns such as Mirpur are built with wage packets sent from the UK and shops even display prices in Sterling.
Ali Raza, managing director of the UK College of English Language, said 35 students had enrolled for courses in June – 50 per cent more than usual.
“Everybody wanted to complete a quick English course and obtain certificates to file immigration papers,” he said.

The Unsolicited Symbolism of Amir Khan

By Shahan Mufti for Grantland

British, Pakistani, Muslim — how fans from Islamabad to London to New York process the champion boxer.

Since the very beginning of his career, Amir Khan has been more than just a boxer. He has been a symbol — well, more like symbols. One fighter, whose ethnic background, birthplace, and blinding hand speed mean very different things to different groups of fans. Khan himself has little control over how the people watching him choose to interpret his success.

It started early, when Khan was 17 years old and won a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. He became not only the “pride of Bolton,” his hometown, but also “the great young hope of British Boxing.” Khan decided to turn professional soon after, but days before his debut, the mood around Khan’s celebrity changed. The coordinated bombings on London’s transport system in July 2005 were the largest terrorist attack in British history. Three of the four bombers were, like Khan, of Pakistani origin, and all of them hailed from within a hundred miles of Khan’s home in Northern England. Khan, whose Olympic run established him as the country’s most prominent homegrown Muslim athlete, had no choice but to speak up. “I hope, by stepping into a ring, I can show all young kids in Britain, whether they are white, Muslims, or whatever, that there are better things to do than sitting around on street corners getting into trouble and mixing with bad people.” Ten days after the attacks, Khan proudly held the Union Flag when he walked to the ring. It was embroidered with the word “London” in black ribbons to mourn the victims. Moments after Khan wrapped up a first-round TKO victory, the police issued a red alert for a bomb scare and evacuated the arena.

At the ripe age of 18, Khan was not only a professional fighter, but also an unofficial spokesperson for Muslims and Asians in the U.K. Like it or not, he was a role model for underprivileged children caught at the crossroads of drugs, poverty, and now international terrorism. He also became “the best thing to happen for race relations in Britain.” All this translated into tremendous box office appeal. Before his London debut, for example, Khan visited Brick Lane, a large South Asian neighborhood on London’s East End, to promote the fight. “We brought him to the heart of the Asian community and we hope they will turn out and support him,” promoter Frank Warren said. They did. His next fight, against Belarussian Vitali Martynov, sold 10,000 tickets. It was Khan’s fifth professional fight.

Seven years later, it’s more of the same. Wherever Khan goes, he seems to carry the aspirations and insecurities of fans from all over the world. At the time of his last fight, on December 10, 2011, I was in Pakistan, a few miles away from Khan’s ancestral home, near Rawalpindi. Pakistanis aren’t die-hard boxing fans, but the sport isn’t completely unknown on the national scene. Of the two Olympic medals Pakistan has won in individual events, one is in boxing. Before every Khan fight, highlights from his previous bouts and flashy promos amped with heavy metal soundtracks start running on a loop on Pakistani television. Local governments set up big screens in public markets, and dense crowds arrive to cheer for Khan. Everything from his ring entrance to his punches to his post-match interviews are parsed and analyzed for how they reflect on Pakistan and its people.

In Pakistan, the buildup to Khan’s December bout with Lamont Peterson was feverish even by the local media’s distorted standards. Exactly two Saturdays before the fight, a swarm of American jet fighters and attack helicopters swooped into Pakistani territory from bases in neighboring Afghanistan and let loose a barrage of missiles targeting two Pakistani military posts. When the smoke cleared, 24 Pakistani soldiers were dead. The reaction was something like what it might have been if a Pakistani helicopter had flown into American territory and killed two dozen American soldiers: People cried bloody murder. America refused to apologize for the attack and instead blamed Pakistan for provoking it. In response, Pakistan cut off the American military supply routes that run through its territory to deprive U.S. forces in Afghanistan of equipment and food. The resulting standoff was the closest the two countries had come to all-out war after a decade of complex military rivalry.

While the world watched the diplomatic stare-down between two nuclear states, Pakistanis looked to Khan’s fight for a taste of vengeance. Khan’s opponent wasn’t just a real-life American — he was a real-life American from Washington, D.C. And in Pakistan, Washington is not just the name of another American city (never mind that the Washington from which Peterson hails bears little resemblance to the government monoliths that most Pakistanis associate with the city). Vashing-tone is the dark lair from which Obama orders the drone strikes that hit Pakistani villages every week. Vashing-tone is the Pentagon that drops American Special Forces into Pakistan in the dark of night to take out Osama. It’s akin to what the Kremlin meant to Americans during the Cold War. Actually, it’s not unlike what the word “PACK-istan” conjures up in many Americans’ minds today.

The Peterson fight would be Khan’s fourth in the United States, and this time he would enter the ring accompanied not only by the Union Jack, but also by the green flag of Pakistan with its white crescent. Unlike the battlefield, the American was the underdog in this fight, which ended up being one of 2011’s best. At the end, two questionable point deductions by the referee cost Khan the bout, and he lost on the scorecards. Khan let the alarm bells ring before he’d even left the ring. “It was like I was against two people in there, Lamont and the ref himself,” he said. Golden Boy Promotions appealed the decision a week later and the IBF began an investigation into the scoring of the fight.

Two weeks later, Khan flew to Pakistan. He travels there every so often to visit his parents’ homeland, but this time he visited to lend some star power to a Pakistani boxing tournament. When Khan arrived in the country, this is what you might have found while flipping through the dozen-odd local news channels: a steaming-mad middle-aged man calling for war against America; a montage from the Khan-Peterson fight showing Khan’s best combinations and Peterson hitting the mat again and again and again; an elaborate computer-generated graphic re-creating the American attack on the border posts; a field of caskets draped in Pakistani flags; Khan at a press conference calling the judges’ decision “disgusting” or saying something like “let’s take the fight somewhere neutral and I’ll see if he’s the same man.” The TV channels almost didn’t need different talking heads to discuss the two conflicts. The narrative was essentially the same: Americans play dirty, and when they feel like they’re losing, they cheat.

It was in the middle of such channel flipping that I found Amir Khan on my screen, being interviewed on Khyber News, a regional outfit that telecasts in the Pashto language to the Pashtuns, most of whom live along Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan, including in the troubled tribal areas. Khan was seated on a plush, bright orange-and-yellow sofa, watching the tournament at ringside. The interviewer threw questions at him in Urdu and Khan answered in English, but that was no problem — Khan demonstrated a solid understanding of the questions in Urdu. It was the substance of the questions, which were less interested in Khan’s boxing career than in exploring the prospects of an interviewer, a TV channel, an ethnic group, and a nation’s hopes for itself on the global stage. Here are excerpts:

[“Khyber” is what Pakistanis call the northwest Afghan border regions. Inshallah means, “If Allah wills it.”]

INTERVIEWER: Does Amir Khan like the international popularity more or the love he gets from Pakistanis?
KHAN: Ummmm … it’s the same, you know. It’s the same in England. And in Pakistan, very same. You know? I’d say it’s the same everywhere we go. The two places where we get a lot of love is in England and also in Pakistan …

INTERVIEWER: Khyber News wants to show your fights live. I just talked to your father about this as well, but in the future do you think you will have a relationship with Khyber News?
KHAN: Yeah, definitely, I think it’s a good idea. We’re happy to work with anybody. To work with Khyber News will be, maybe good, you know. Let me speak to my team and inshallah the next fight for me will be in April or May against Lamont Peterson — I want a rematch — so maybe it can be on Khyber News. Let’s see what happens. I will try and speak to my team also …
INTERVIEWER: Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a ‘Khyber’ logo next to the ‘Khan’?
KHAN: Khyber Khan? Yeah, you know, maybe … [Laughs uncomfortably.]

INTERVIEWER: One more question, we’ve heard you have found your life partner and she lives in USA, I think. Is she Pakistani or is she from there?
KHAN: No, no. She’s Pakistani.
INTERVIEWER: Where from in Pakistan?
KHAN: Her father’s from Multan and her mother’s from Lahore.
INTERVIEWER: So she’s Punjabi?
KHAN: Yeah, I think so.
INTERVIEWER: When are you going to get married?
KHAN: Oh, not for a long time. I’m getting engaged next month so inshallah I’ll let the engagement happen first. Step at a time, brother.
INTERVIEWER: Will you keep fighting after the marriage?
KHAN: Yeah, yeah, it’s my job. It’s my job. I love boxing.
Any final thoughts? “To everybody in Pakistan, I want to say I hope they watch my next fight. Inshallah I’ll win for them. I’ll do it for my people in Pakistan.”

Khan seems to have understood what’s expected of him.

Where is Amir Khan from? The question follows Khan wherever he goes. Without a doubt that same question was asked when he arrived in New York to defend his WBA light welterweight title against Paulie Malignaggi in 2010. At the weigh-in, a group of 40 or so Pakistani-British fans who call themselves “Khan’s Army” caused pandemonium. Their fervent support for Khan was reminiscent of British football supporters, but with a Muslim twist. “If anyone can, Khan can,” they bellowed. “Amir, Amir, Amir.” This was punctuated several times with the loudest call of all: “Allah-o-Akbar.” While Khan and Malignaggi engaged in a stare-down for the flashing cameras, their supporters were in the throes of a full-fledged brawl.

Khan’s Army is no jihadi outfit. This is just how they show love for their fighter. But America was understandably tone-deaf to Khan’s Army when the latter first arrived in the country. How many times in the previous decade had a large group of brown men chanted “Allah-o-Akbar” with such confrontational zeal in New York City? You could probably ask any Pakistani immigrant — a taxi driver in New York or a heart surgeon in Chicago — or even a Pakistani in Pakistan and they would all tell you with equal certainty: It is not a good idea to gather in large groups with other men who look like you and scream “Allah-o-Akbar” for any reason whatsoever, especially in New York. But then, Khan’s Army is not Pakistani; nor is it Pakistani American. They are British Pakistanis and they are part of a different culture, one in which “Allah-o-Akbar” often has more to do with ethnic pride than with Allah.

Khan was born in a town called Bolton, on the outskirts of Manchester in northern England, a fact he demonstrates by failing to pronounce the letter t when it comes in the middle of a word. Long before Manchester became famous for its football clubs, the city was an engine of the industrial revolution. The region’s textile mills attracted thousands of immigrants from the former British colonies in South Asia. Khan’s family arrived in the 1970s from the northern Punjab region of Pakistan.

Today, “Asians” — that’s what the British call South Asian immigrants from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh — make up about 5 percent of the population of England, and together they are the country’s largest minority group. A large majority of British Asians are Muslim, and a vast majority of Muslims are Pakistani immigrants. Khan’s father did well as a scrap metal merchant, and although Khan grew up in a comfortable home, his family still lived in a depressed part of Bolton. In general, Pakistani immigrants are some of the poorest people in Britain, living in some of the more violent and drug-ridden neighborhoods in London and the big cities of the North.

Amir “King” Khan was arguably the best thing that ever happened to this community. So when Khan left his English promoter to join Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions in 2010, some in Britain saw the move as more than just a desire for big money. Maybe Amir was trying to get away, to base his career in a country where every business decision he makes and every punch he throws is not fraught with ethnic, religious, and class symbolism. And how did that reflect on Britain itself? Kevin Mitchell, the Guardian’s boxing correspondent, blamed “the small crew of British bigots who have taken against Khan” and driven him out of the country. “Over there, living quietly and comfortably in the Californian sunshine,” Mitchell lamented, “he is accepted without question by the fans — black and white Americans, Filipinos, Mexicans, all of them.”

Khan’s other British fans didn’t seem to mind the move as much. They just started traveling en masse to the United States for his fights. Khan’s Army remains as die-hard as ever, but it seems that they’ve toned down the “Allah-o-Akbar” — at least in America.

Amir Khan will step into the ring Saturday night with undefeated light welterweight champion Danny Garcia. The bout has been a long time coming for Khan — the seven-month layoff since his December loss to Peterson is as long an inactive period as he has had in his career. He was scheduled to fight Peterson in a May rematch that was canceled after Peterson tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Peterson also admitted to having the banned substance in his system before the first Khan fight, and that led the WBA to reinstate Khan as its 140-pound champion earlier this week. The Pakistani press had a ball with the news about Peterson’s failed drug test, but it sent Khan scrambling to find a new opponent. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan was coming up in mid-July, and Khan, as always, planned to fast. After that, he probably wouldn’t be in fighting shape until winter. Khan has already fought almost every credible opponent in the 140-pound weight class and so Garcia, the current WBC champion, seemed like the best option, even if Khan would be a heavy favorite in the fight.

Ever since the match was set up, Angel Garcia, Danny’s father and trainer, has been calling Khan an “overrated” fighter. But that’s not all he’s saying. He proclaimed that he has “never, ever, ever in my lifetime, that I’ve been living 49 years, I ain’t never met a Pakistani that could fight.” Then, somewhat nonsensically, he dismissed Khan as a “European fighter from Europe.” Finally, for good measure, he went after Khan’s religion: “I know Khan’s god already. His god is a punishing god. And my god is a loving god.” At the press conference in Los Angeles to announce the fight, Garcia senior cut off everyone from team Khan and began ranting about “magic carpets” and a “genie.” Boxers and their camps always play up their mutual dislike to promote fights, but Angel Garcia seems genuinely perturbed by Khan. It was at the end of the presser, when Angel was practically spitting with rage, that the elder Garcia yelled what he was really getting at this whole time: “Where you from, man? Europe? America? Where you from?”

California has been good to Khan. Since relocating to Los Angeles to train at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym, he’s been spotted sitting courtside at Laker games, he’s been featured in a GQ fashion spread, and he’s been photographed on the red carpet for the L.A. Spider-Man premiere. He even got to throw the first pitch at a Dodgers game this month, and it reportedly zipped right over home plate. With the exception of Angel Garcia, America and Amir Khan seem to be getting along just fine.

Islam, Pakistani, Muslim, European — none of those are necessarily flattering descriptions in America these days, but Khan continues to hold together the various strands of his identity and carry the dreams of people halfway across the world, and perhaps that’s what’s most appealing about him. Which flag is he going to carry into the ring this weekend? Will he someday add the Stars and Stripes to his collection? At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there will be people spread across a dozen time zones, all of whom will root for Khan, all for their very own personal and selfish reasons. And as long as he keeps delivering, Khan’s Army will be there, too, in ever-growing numbers. Khan said once about his fans that “they might not be boxing fans, but they might be Amir Khan fans, y’ge’ me?” It’s a figure like this who can transcend boxing’s current status as a niche sport and grow from a prizefighter to a global sports figure.

Shahan Mufti is a freelance journalist whose work has been published in Harper’s Magazine, Wired, The New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, and The Atlantic, among other places. He is at work on a book about Muslim identity in Pakistan that comes out next year. This is his first piece in Grantland.

For Surjeet Singh, Life Unfolds a Guessing Game

As Reported by The Hindustan Times

“Pehchanon ji ye kaun hai” (guess who this is), is what Surjeet Singh often hears, as he relaxes on a cot in the sweltering summer heat on a farm in this Punjab village. Surjeet, 69, now plays this ‘guessing game’ several times a day, ever since he arrived in his native village last week, after more than 30 years of incarceration in Pakistan.
“There are several people from villages and other places coming to meet me despite the heat. Sometimes, my family members ask me to guess who a particular person is. Most of them look so different and older, just like me. It is hard to guess every time and then I try to identify them by their names. I can re-collect some names though,” Surjeet Singh told IANS with several people sitting around him.

“Ye budhi kaun hai (who is this old woman)?” was a question Surjeet popped in Punjabi to his relatives as an elderly woman came to meet him. He was told that she was a relative and he gave her a warm hug.

Surjeet wears a pair of white kurta-payjama and slippers as he wanders through his daily life and receives scores of visitors or meets them around his village. He returned home Thursday to a tumultuous and teary welcome from family and friends.

Among the visitors Saturday was Gurbaksh Ram, a fellow prisoner in Pakistan who returned to India in June 2006.

“I was with Bapuji in the Lahore jail for several years. I was released in June 2006 after, spending over 20 years in Pakistani jails. When I read about his return, I wanted to meet him,” Gurbaksh told IANS.

Among the visitors were two Sikh gentlemen who asked if he could recognise them.

“I am Bhai Singh and he is Vikar Singh,” one of them said. Surjeet had a hearty laugh as he hugged the taller Vikar Singh and remarked: “Ehh taan baba baneya phirda hai (he has become an old man).”

Besides the people who knew him from over three decades back, there are others who come to him with hope to hear about their own missing ones.

“Some people get their files and photographs of missing family members who are believed to be in Pakistani jails. They show him (Surjeet) the photos to know if he has met that person in Lahore jail,” one of his relatives said.

“He is very happy to be back in his country and among his family members and friends. Even though we were forced to sell our old house (where Surjeet lived) and land, this new house is lucky for us as it has brought him back,” Surjeet’s wife Harbans Kaur said.

“In the (Pakistani) jail, he had some facilities like regular power supply which is not available here. He is back now and my tension is over. I will put the entire responsibility on him. He will take charge of things,” Harbans Kaur, who supported her children in adversity after Surjeet went missing in 1982, said with a smile.

Surjeet languished in Pakistani jails for over 30 years after being arrested on charges of spying there. He was sentenced to death but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.

Surjeet was released from Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail early Thursday and made the road journey in a prison van to Wagah, on the Pakistan side of the border, before walking into India at the famous checkpost.

Edhi Faces Abduction Threat, Authorities Reveal

As Reported By Salman Siddiqui for The Express Tribune

Leading humanitarian worker Abdul Sattar Edhi is in danger of being taken hostage by a militant group in exchange for prisoners that it wants sprung free, authorities have revealed.
Edhi, while talking to The Express Tribune, stated that he was informed by the authorities a few weeks back that his life was in danger. “I was told that the ‘fauj’ (Pakistan Army) had intercepted a conversation of militants where it was being discussed that I may come to be harmed,” he said.
Edhi Foundation spokesperson Anwar Kazmi elaborated that the nation’s most recognisable charity worker was warned that he could be taken hostage in exchange for some prisoners that the ‘Taliban’ wanted to get released —

an allegation the militant group has denied.

Crime Investigation Department (CID) Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Chaudhry Aslam confirmed that the intelligence reports they had received sometime back indicated that Edhi may be kidnapped by militants in exchange for either “some of their men in custody” or a “large ransom amount”.

“There was a letter in which there were three names, which included my name, Malir SSP Rao Anwar’s and Edhi’s,” he said.

This is the first time that Edhi’s name has been mentioned in a militant group’s hit list. After SSP Anwar was attacked in a suicide bomb in April, it was decided that Edhi’s security would be beefed up as a precautionary measure.

Security provisions

Despite the threat to his life, Edhi remains unfazed and calm in light of this development. “Only God knows what the truth is,” he says. “I don’t have enmity with anyone or any group. I do humanitarian work for everybody without any prejudice.”

Since the threats surfaced, Edhi is being provided with round-the-clock police security — with two official guards escorting him everywhere he goes. “Never before in his life had Edhi ever asked or given security by the state,” the spokesperson said.

Currently, two policemen from the Kharadar police station have been deployed for his security who work in two shifts of 12-hours each, according to Station House Officer (SHO) Agha Asadullah. “We can increase the number of policemen, if need be,” he said.

Edhi himself appears irritated by the presence of policemen near him at all times — especially given that he has to keep the Kharadar police station informed about his movements constantly. “I don’t want any of this security. I really feel there’s no need for it,” he said modestly. Although he is being asked to restrict his movements as a precaution, Edhi said he won’t allow anything to stop him. “I am going to Hyderabad next to do some relief work there,” he said.

TTP reaction

His son Faisal revealed that a three-member delegation of the local chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) recently came to the Edhi office to clarify their position about the alleged threats.

“They said to us that this is all government propaganda to malign the Taliban movement,” he said. “They also added that they respected Edhi for his humanitarian work and could not even think of doing him any harm.”

SSP Aslam said that the good news was that according to recent reports, Edhi’s name had not been mentioned again. “We receive a number of intelligence reports which mention a lot of famous personalities on the hit list on a weekly basis. So hopefully all will remain well.”

Reacting to the development, Edhi said: “I don’t know who [wants to harm me] or why. “I only know that I have to continue to do my work — no matter what.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The Taliban have once again showed their true colors by threatening a man of Mr Edhi’s caliber. To threaten a person who is akin to Mother Teresa for Pakistan, a living saint, shows us how far off the cuckoo’s nest they really are. Just another reason for us here at Pakistanis for Peace to have great disdain for this group of people.

Legendary Ghazal Singing Legend Mehdi Hassan Dies

As Reported by Maimoona Shoaib and Mohammad Ashraf for The Gulf News

He worked in a bicycle shop. He repaired cars. And when he would sing a ghazal, he would mesmerise a continent.

Pakistani ghazal legend Mehdi Hassan, who suffered from lung, chest and urinary tract ailments for ten years, died of breathing complications at a Karachi hospital on Wednesday at the age of 84.

His famous ghazals (ballads) include “Patta patta boota boota,” “Abke bicchde khwaabon mein mile”, “Zindagi mein sabhi pyar kiya kartein hain,” “Dekh tu dil ki jaan se uthta hai,” and “Ranjish hi Sahi”.

“My father’s funeral will take place Friday in Karachi,” son Arif Mehdi said, adding that the family was yet to finalise the burial location. “We have asked for the permission from the government to bury him at Quaid-e-Azam mazar [near the mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan] in Karachi, but we are waiting for approval,” he said.

Born into a family of musicians in Loona village in undivided India (now in the Indian state of Rajasthan) in July 1927, Hassan had a modest beginning, mirroring the situation of the new country he migrated to at age 20 after the partition of India in 1947.

The family sank into penury after moving to Pakistan, and eking out a living was difficult. Young Hassan worked in a bicycle shop and later became a car mechanic, even as he was initiated into music by father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Esmail Khan, who were dhrupad (Indian classical) musicians.

In his book “Mehdi Hasan: The Man & his Music”, Pakistani author Asif Noorani writes that his humility during this phase stood tall against the fame and greatness he had achieved later.

“He had earned his living by repairing automobiles during his younger days. During his years of stardom, his harmonium broke and he started repairing it himself, wittingly replying to the people surrounding him that this was a piece of cake compared to the number of engines that he had repaired in the past,” Noorani writes.

Eventually, Hassan found his real vocation in the ghazal.

Mehdi is said to have given his first performance when he was eight, in sync with tradition where musicians started early and were paced through various levels of public performance before they graduated as accomplished vocalists.

The hardships of life notwithstanding, Hassan stuck to his music and continued with his rigorous practice, relying on the extreme discipline he lent to his style of constricted-throat singing as opposed to the full-throated version.

He was well into his twenties when he was first noticed as a singer of some merit. The break came when he was invited to sing for Radio Pakistan in Karachi in 1957 — first as a thumri singer and then as a ghazal exponent.

Hassan had to work harder than many of his younger colleagues but his innovative approach earned him fame.

Traditionally, ghazals were sung in a thumri-like manner. They were set to Indian classical ragas such as Khamaj, Piloo and Desh. The classical format stymied the scope of the compositions — preventing it from innovating. However, Hassan pioneered a ghazal “gayaki” (manner of singing) that played upon the mood of the music rather than on the classical nuances. A composer of rare brilliance, his style combined classical and Rajasthani folk music to create a new realm of ghazals whose magic spread beyond Pakistan to India and the rest of the world.

He was one of the first Pakistani ghazal singers who charmed Indian audiences and won impressive fan followings — former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee invited him for a private performance at his residence.

But many more years were to pass after 1957 for Hassan to get his opportunity to sing for films.

As Hassan arrived, the ghazal stage was dominated by greats as Khan Sahib Barkat Ali Khan, Mukhtar Begum and Begum Akhtar. Among Hassan’s contemporaries were Farida Khanum, Iqbal Bano and Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, with Gulam Ali and Jagjit Singh followed not too far behind.

According to an estimate by Arif, Hassan sang more than 20,000 songs and apart from Urdu, also sang in Bengali, Punjabi and Pashto.

It’s not uncommon for a singer whose career spanned over 50 years to churn up 20,000 songs. But given the quality and the unfailing discipline which were the hallmarks of Hassan’s songs, it will go down in the history of music as a gigantic superhuman effort. And the way Hassan sustained himself until health issues made it impossible for him to carry on, is a remarkable story that parallels the struggles of his homeland.

After shining on the musical firmament from the 1960s to 1980s, Hassan’s career started fading as frequent illnesses took their toll. The death of his first wife in 1998 followed by an attack of paralysis restricted Hassan to bed and he lost the power of speech. His health deteriorated further over the past 12 years.

His home country honoured Hassan with several awards and honours — from Tamgha-e-Imtiaz to Pride of Performance and Hilal-e-Imtiaz — while India honoured him with the Sehgal Award in 1979. The Nepal government too honoured him with the Gorkha Dakshina Bahu.

Hassan, who married twice, is survived by 14 children — nine sons and five daughters. His second wife also died before him.

His death brings the curtains down on a journey in music that lasted more than 50 years and crafted a new era of lyricism, melody and poetry in ghazals.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Pakistan has had a few stars that transform their industry across all borders. One of them was surely Mehdi Hassan, a supernova so bright that he was considered living legend for the last several decades. His passing has dimmed the night sky over Pakistan and indeed over the entire Indian subcontinent as many in the neighboring country are mourning his loss as of one of their own. RIP Hassan sahib, thank you for all your songs and ghazals, through which you will live on forver.

India, Pakistan Try ‘Trade Diplomacy’

As Reported by AFP

India and Pakistan, still at loggerheads on Kashmir and no closer to a full peace deal, are channeling their efforts into increasing trade in the hope that business can bring them together.

31-year-old Karachi food trader Kashif Gul Memom is among those eager to seize the opportunities offered by easier links between the estranged neighbours, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947.

“This is a change for the good. It’s an exciting time,” said Memom, one of the generation born after the painful partition of the subcontinent that gave birth to India and the Islamic republic of Pakistan.

“My generation of business people is putting the past behind us. We’re looking to the future, India is such a huge market for us,” Memom told AFP while at the largest ever Pakistani trade fair held in India.

The improved relations between the nuclear-armed rivals stem from Pakistan’s decision to grant India “Most Favoured Nation (MFN)” status by year end, meaning Indian exports will be treated the same as those from other nations.

In further progress, the neighbours opened a second trading gate in April along their heavily militarised border, boosting the number of trucks able to cross daily to 600 from 150.

India now also says it is ready to end a ban on investment from Pakistan and the countries are planning to allow multiple-entry business visas to spur exchanges — a key demand by company executives.

The warming commercial ties underline the new relevance of the private sector in the peace process, with prospects still low for any swift settlement of the “core issue” of the nations’ competing claims to Kashmir. The divided Himalayan territory has been the trigger of two of their three wars since independence.

Indian and Pakistani officials have been looking at the so-called “China option” as a model, with deepening economic engagement seen by experts as crucial to establishing lasting peace in the troubled region.

Beijing and New Delhi have been pursuing stronger economic ties while resolving outstanding political issues, such as a festering border dispute that erupted into a brief, bloody war in the 1960s.

“There is no other option but economic partnership between India and Pakistan — this leads on to other partnerships,” Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said at the April trade fair in Delhi, a follow-on to a similar venture in Lahore earlier in the year.

“We have to recognise our true trade potential and leave our children with a legacy that ensures prosperity, harmony and peace.”
Some Pakistani businesses have protested against the trade opening, fearing they may be swamped by cheaper Indian goods, especially in drugs, auto parts and consumer goods. But others eye the possibilities India’s market offers.

“India with 1.2 billion people gives us great potential,” Mian Ahad, one of Pakistan’s leading furniture designers, told AFP.
Indian businessmen are equally enthusiastic, saying there is an opportunity for trade in areas from agriculture, information technology, pharmaceuticals, and engineering to chemicals.

Official bilateral trade between India and Pakistan is just $2.7 billion and heavily tilted in New Delhi’s favour.
But Indian business chamber Assocham estimates up to $10 billion worth of goods are routed illicitly — carried by donkeys through Afghanistan or shipped by container from Singapore and the Gulf.

Indian commerce secretary Rahul Khullar told AFP that Pakistan’s decision to grant India MFN status by the end of the year was “the game-changer.”
MFN status will mean India can export 6,800 items to Pakistan, up from around 2,000 at present, and the countries aim to boost bilateral trade to $6 billion within three years.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. Commerce is an excellent way to bring countries together,” Indian strategic analyst Uday Bhaskar told AFP.
“Once you institutionalise trade, it becomes hard to slow the momentum for cross-border exchanges. People say if there are onions or cement or sugar available next door, why can’t I have them? And why can’t I travel there too?”