Posts Tagged ‘ Alexander the Great ’

Pakistan is a Nation at Odds With Itself, U.S.

By Stephen Magagnini for The Sacremento Bee

KARACHI, Pakistan โ€” On a moonlit Thursday night in February, a television network executive hosted an elegant affair for journalists and diplomats at his villa above the Arabian Sea.

Karachi’s privileged dined on lamb, shrimp, chicken, mutton and fettuccine in mushroom sauce, and were surprised by a quartet of wandering minstrels, soulful Sufi poets who serenade for their supper, uncorking ballads about love.

On the south side of this city of 18 million, a group of Afghan refugees, who scrape out a living collecting cardboard and other recyclables in a slum straddling a swamp of open sewage, were mopping up gravy with roti โ€“ Pakistani bread.

About 900 Afghans live in this fetid slum, down the street from poor Pakistanis and water buffalo. They earn about $60 a month and survive on bottled water, chewing tobacco and roti.

“We’re happy in Pakistan,” said 33-year-old Shaezhad, leader of a cardboard collection station. “We get food and respect.”

At the party across town, talk-show hosts and other Pakistani elites blew cigarette smoke into the faces of U.S. journalists, criticizing U.S. foreign policy and the toll the war in Afghanistan has taken on their country.

Many Pakistanis resent American aggression in the region and want more respect from U.S. policymakers, but they don’t hold individual Americans responsible. Yet everywhere we went, we were held to answer for U.S. wars and Americans’ deep misunderstanding of Pakistan.

“You are arrogant, playing video games with our lives,” Abdul Moiz Jaferii, political analyst for CNBC Pakistan, said over lunch one day in Karachi. He was referring to U.S. drone attacks that have killed Pakistani and Afghan civilians.

“And we hate America because the U.S. has always been the biggest, closest ally of the military dictators. You have done nothing to help democracy.”

The impact of the war in Afghanistan has permeated nearly every pore of this country of 180 million. More than 2 million Afghan refugees have fled to Pakistan, and some have brought a culture of violence. Since 9/11, 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist attacks by suicide bombers and other war-related violence, according to Pakistan’s intelligence agency. The victims include 6,000 soldiers and 29,000 civilians.

The unpredictable violence and the kidnapping of foreign workers have created a climate of fear in this country. We weren’t allowed to visit villages outside urban areas, where 40 percent of Pakistanis live. Two shotgun-wielding security guards protected our buses in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. We entered our hotels through metal detectors and were rarely allowed to interact with average citizens in public places.

Pakistan โ€“ strategically located between Afghanistan, India, China and Iran and influenced by Saudi Arabia โ€“ remains an enigma to many Americans, who aren’t sure whether it’s friend or foe, democracy or military dictatorship.

Pakistan has provided critical support to NATO troops in the Afghan war โ€“ drones are launched from here, NATO supplies are sent through this country, and Pakistani troops have helped recapture terrorist strongholds along the volatile Afghan border.

But distrust of the United States in the wake of deadly drone attacks and the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border battle in November is such that rather than calling for more U.S. aid to build needed power plants, schools and hospitals, a growing number of Pakistanis want nothing to do with the United States. The government of Punjab โ€“ Pakistan’s most powerful state with about 90 million people โ€“ has decided to reject U.S. aid.

The killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad in the heart of this country embarrassed and angered the Pakistan military and made Americans question why bin Laden was allowed to live in essentially a resort town. Some U.S. politicians have called for an end to the $18 billion in financial aid pledged since 9/11.

An Islamic republic?

Some of the world’s largest, most beautiful mosques are here, and to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday on Feb. 4, 10,000 people named Muhammad gathered in prayer in Karachi.

We saw few women wearing hijabs, or head coverings, except those at Islamabad’s Faisal Mosque, which can hold 10,000 people for Juma, or Friday prayer.

Professional women drive cars, dress like their counterparts in U.S. cities and run government ministries, clinics and newsrooms. Women, who constitute 52 percent of the population, are increasingly getting advanced degrees. There’s a Pakistani proverb: “Every girl who goes to university gets a husband.”

Despite Islam’s ban on liquor, at a party in Islamabad guests of both sexes repaired to a speakeasy in the basement to drink wine or Johnny Walker Black and smoke cigars.

Though most marriages are still arranged, as many as 20 percent are “love marriages,” said Samina Parvez, director general of the government’s external publicity agency. “The divorce rate is also increasing โ€“ it’s about 10 or 15 percent,” Parvez said. “The majority of us are not practicing Muslims.”

Kamoran Sani, sales and marketing director for the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, declared, “What you’ve heard about the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’s a big farce. There are orgies, voyeurs’ lounges, raves.”

A diverse nation

Pakistan didn’t become a nation until the British sliced India into Muslim and Hindu majority states in 1947. Pakistan โ€“ an Urdu acronym for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh province and Baluchistan (“stan” means nation) โ€“ varies wildly from region to region.

“There is no such thing as Pakistan,” Jaferii said. “First comes your family, then your clan, third your region, fourth your province โ€“ the nation comes a distant fifth.”

Much of rural Pakistan is a feudal society dating back to the 13th century. Mullahs, or religious leaders, still invoke blasphemy laws exacting punishment against those accused of insulting Islam. Last year, the governor of Punjab was killed by his bodyguard for criticizing the law as he sought a pardon for a Christian woman sentenced to death.

But Pakistan has tremendous religious and ethnic diversity. Muslims include Sunnis, Shiites, Ismaelis, Ahmadis and Sufis โ€“ each practicing their own brand of Islam. At Lahore University of Management Sciences, I chatted with Muslims, Hindus and Christians who were all friends.

From the Sufi love poems to Pashtun folk songs about social justice, music plays a key role in Pakistani identity.

In the center of Karachi there’s a Catholic church โ€“ St. Patrick’s Cathedral, built by the Jesuits in 1931. There’s a Jewish cemetery. Sikhs worship throughout Pakistan. The ancient city of Taxila was occupied by Alexander the Great and reflects Persian, Moghul, Buddhist and Christian traditions.

Pakistan’s future

Sixty percent of Pakistan’s population is under age 30; half is under age 20. Half the kids haven’t been to school, and fifth-grade students are reading at a second-grade level, said Nadeem ul-Haq, deputy chairman of the government’s planning commission.

“We have 2 million kids a year entering the labor force. What are these kids going to do?” ul-Haq said. There is no building boom to provide jobs, and foreign investments have been scared away by terrorism.

“Entrepreneurship is the key thing we need to focus on,” he said. “Overseas Pakistanis have been very entrepreneurial, sending back $13 billion a year to their poorer relatives.”

From 7-Elevens to Silicon Valley firms and venture capital funds, ex-pat Pakistanis are thriving in the United States. The 500,000 Pakistanis in the United States, including 100,000 in California, send $100 million a year to charities in Pakistan, said Ahson Rabbani, CEO of I-Care, which connects donors with 30 nonprofits.

In Northern California, Pakistanis raised more than $100,000 for Pakistani flood relief efforts spearheaded by cricket star Imran Khan, who may lead the country if his party wins the next election. Khan has gained credibility by building a cancer hospital for the poor in honor of his late mother. His party includes a women’s wing that has direct access to him.

Philanthropy is playing a growing role in Pakistan, financing schools in poor villages and slums. The Citizens Foundation is educating 100,000 students.

“I mentored six girls,” said Karachi journalist Samia Saleem. “One was 13 and said she didn’t want to get married โ€“ she wants to be a teacher.”

Ali Shah Haider, 17, wants to be a commercial pilot. “I sleep from 2 p.m. until 4:30 p.m., then go to work at the textile factory from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. to support my family โ€“ there are 12 of us. I do my homework between shifts.”

A nation’s dreams

Though life seems cheap in Pakistan, the people are upbeat survivors who often describe life as bo hat acha, which means “great!” in Urdu, their main language.

Last year 1,575 people were killed in Karachi, where 2 million weapons are in circulation, said Francisco Quinones of Arcis International Security. A doctor was killed in Karachi the day before we landed. Violence has been blamed on the Taliban, rival political gangs, Sunni and Shia militants, rogue security forces, and Afghan refugees.

Some refugees have been recruited by the Taliban. Others like Shaezhad, who collects recyclables in the slums of Karachi, are glad to be alive under the green and white crescent flag of this country.

Still, he wants to go home to Afghanistan. “We want our land back, we want to live with respect and we want employment.”

Azhar Abbas, the managing director of Geo TV news who hosted the party in Karachi, said that “democracy is taking hold” in his Pakistan despite the violence many here believe followed the U.S. war on terror.

The business editor of daily newspaper the News, Amir Zia, said the United States can still play a positive role in Pakistan. “If Americans pull out without getting the job done, the Islamic extremists will say it’s a victory and will become much more organized.”

But at the National Defense University, business and technology expert Bilal Munshi called Pakistan “a psychologically scarred nation suffering from a mass form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”

If the 4 million young people entering the workforce each year get jobs, “we will be a power โ€ฆ but if they don’t see a future they’re going to pick up the gun, and you’re going to be in real trouble.”

The U.S. can help develop Pakistani schools, Bilal said, “but don’t interfere in our internal affairs โ€“ let us do things our way.”

Pride of Pakistan: Chiniot

Originally Reported by S.A.J. Shirazi for All Things Pakistan

Chiniot โ€“ the name is enough to start the furniture lovers, travelers and cautiously curious dreaming. Antiquity is the first message of the town. And, international quality furniture โ€œmade in Chiniotโ€ is collectors delight with potentials for marketing all over the world.

On the bank of River Chenab in area called Sandal Bar, Chiniot town is an exotic place in the foot of series of hillocks that seem to be man made rather than evidence of old mountains.

The town is very ancient. It was inhabited before the time when Alexander of Macedon came in the South Asia and was principal city during the rule of White Huns. Chinese explorer Hiuen Tsiang visited it. Alberuni has mentioned in Kitabul-Hind that Chiniot was one of the there most important places in this part of the world.

Chiniot suffered much from the Durrani inroads during the last half of the eighteenth century and also during the troubles of I848 because it remained the scene of constant fierce struggle among the leaders of local factions. As per the local legend, portion of the wall, surviving in situ, had been built during Hellenic period. The veracity of the wallโ€™s association with Alexander the great is yet to be proven though. But the sit does give evidence of its distant past.

During the Mughal era, Chiniot produced many intelligent personalities and talented artisans who occupied positions in the Mughal courts, Nawab Saad Ullah Khan and Nawab Wazir Khan held the post of Prime Minister of India and the Governor of Lahore respectively during the rule of King Shah Jehan.

Artisans of Chiniot have instinctive good taste and they have achieved a distinctive excellence in woodwork. Masons of the town are said to have been employed during the construction of Taj Mahal at Agra and Golden Temple at Amritsar. Special type of furniture with brightly lacquered woodcarving is made in Chiniot and is famous all over the world.

What this internationally acclaimed craft of the town needs is an institutional patronization and extensive efforts for international marketing? Made in Chiniot furniture is already being shipped to different countries but so far there are very little marketing efforts being made for this purpose. It can be a potent source of earning foreign exchange if attention is paid to and earnest efforts are made. Sadly, the trained incompetents responsible for export promotion do not see this and the unique potentials are not being taped yet. The first exhibition of Chinioti furniture in Islamabad last year was attended by large number of people from all walks of life. Particularly foreigners appreciated the furniture for its style, solidity and the cost.

Apart from furniture, there are more attractions for any visitor to this off the beaten track tranquil town. A towering architectural masterpiece Shahi Mosque, which was built during rule of Mughal King Shah Jehan by Nawab Saad Ullah Khan in 1655, is still functional. It resembles the Shahi Mosque Delhi that was also built under the supervision of Nawab Saad Ullah Khan. After the invasions of British, the city lost its old glory and importance. However, the historical buildings and their ruins are scattered in and around the city, reflect its wonderful past.

Another such building is the Umar Hayat Palace commonly known as the Gulzar Mahal. Attracting local and foreign tourist, it is known for its beauty and legendary tales attached to it. The palace is said to have been built by Sheikh Umar Hayat, a rich merchant whose family originally migrated to Chiniot from India.

Legend has it that in a village fair at Panda Haitian, Umar Hayat fell in love with a performer girl and married. She bore him a son and a daughter. Umar Hayat grew particularly fond of his son whom he named Gulzar – a rose garden or a sign of happiness. It was for his son that Umar Hayat decided to construct a wonderful palace and name after him. Umar Hayat could not see the palace completed and later his son Gulzar died mysteriously in the palace in the early hours of his marriage night.

A different tale reveals that the construction of the palace was a result of rivalry between Umar Hayat and Elahi Baksh โ€“ a famous artisan of the time. The latter taunted the Umar Hayat by saying that his artistic abilities were superior to all the wealth in the world. Infuriated, Umar Hayat counter claimed that his money would last long enough to buy all the possible feats skilled artisans could offer.

The result of the challenge was the creation of Gulzar Manzil. The construction of the palace started in 1923 and Umar Hayat lavishly spent his wealth. According to one account, the supervision of the construction was assigned to Syed Hassan Shah who gathered famous artisans and carried out day and night work for ten years. Elahi Baksh and Rahim Baksh did the wood carving, for which the palace is known. Both were masters of the art. The Punjab District Gazetteers reads:

โ€œThe house built by Sheikh Umar Hayat is a sort of wonder.โ€

The imposing building is a work of art. The woodwork, the stucco work, inlay of bricks, use of marbles and floral design in the roof, stairways and balconies are living memories of the glories of the Mughal period. Very elaborate and extensive woodwork in the palace speak of the craftsmanship of the artisans who perfected it beyond amazing limits. One has to possess a sensibility shaped in granite not to be moved after seeing the woodwork even today.

The palace originally had six stories including a basement. Two of the upper stories decayed and had to be demolished in 1978. Remains of the building are in the care and custody of Auqaf. Presently it is in public use and houses a library section and a small museum.

ย – For Rehana Saher, a stunning and exemplary product of Chiniot~ MM

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