Posts Tagged ‘ Punjab ’

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.


The Opposite of American

By E.J.Graff for The American Prospect

The Sikh temple shooting, which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random.

I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him.

The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively political: Liberals are ruining Norway, or abortion clinics are killing babies. Sometimes he’s just crazy—psychotic, or with a deeply disturbing character disorder—but sane enough to follow the cultural script.

Even knowing that the story has a plot that I can strip down to familiar elements, this particular shooting upsets me more than most—because Wade Michael Page shot up a gathering of a religious minority, darker than white, in the bucolic Midwest, in what police are calling an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI has been called in. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Page was, as many of us suspected, a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” (Okay, I didn’t guess the band part.) Dave Weigel goes into the background documents and offers up the relevant nuggets in an excellent post at Slate, including a link to one of Page’s hate songs.

Sikhs have been targeted and attacked in hate crimes since 9/11; CNN has a summary of some of the publicly reported attacks here. Many of the news reports quoting Sikhs about this attack emphasize that they’re mistaken for Muslims, as if attacking Muslims would be more understandable. But post-9/11 hatred focused on the “other” hasn’t been that specific; Sikhs are visibly south Asian and, with those turbans, non-Christian. That’s enough for a neo-Nazi or any xenophobe who nurses an irrational resentment.

Here’s why this one leaves me particularly shaky. I grew up in the only Jewish family in my southern Ohio township, and probably the county; for nearly a decade, as far as I knew, I was the only Jewish kid in my jam-packed grade school, junior high, and high school. (My graduating class had 675 people.) The area was so German-American white that my medium-brown hair (see picture to the right) counted as dark, and left me irrationally unwilling to date anyone blond, although I’ve known consciously that that’s ridiculous. Somehow, I never had the presence of mind to connect my feeling of exclusion to what my dear friends the Conchas, the township’s Hispanic family, might be feeling, much less how the handful of black kids might have felt; as a child, my focus was on trying to shut off that sense of exclusion. Not until adulthood did I learn, instead, to expand it into empathy.

It’s hard to express how or why this incised me with vulnerable outsiderness so profoundly. Was it the time my friend Patti chased me around at recess, telling me that the Jews killed Jesus, and the teacher made me sit in the corner for crying? Was it having to stand every day in fourth grade as everyone said the Lord’s Prayer, which I knew wasn’t mine? (Yes, that came after the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in schools, but I wasn’t yet well-versed enough in the law to object.) Was it getting those little choose-Christ-or-go-to-hell pamphlets in our Halloween bags, which probably went into everyone’s bags but which I interpreted as specifically meant for my Jewish family? Or having my sixth-grade teacher call me into the hall at school, asking whether the class could have a Christmas tree?

Another child might not have felt all this so keenly, of course, but I did. And my friends who grew up in urban or suburban Jewish clusters—Los Angeles, Cleveland Heights, Long Island—had a vastly different experience as American Jews. After I left for college, a Hindu temple moved in, and I was happy that my little brother and sister would have some fellow outsiders to befriend. For me, being the Jewish kid in Beavercreek, Ohio, was a lot harder than coming out later as gay. Which is probably why I never write about this subject, and why it’s so easy, comparatively, for me to write about sexuality and gender.

And it’s why, after 9/11, I was so grateful to march with members of the tiny Cambridge, Massachusetts mosque, which sits one street over from the tiny Cambridge synagogue, as befits religions that are such close cousins. However much the 9/11 bombers resembled, say, Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph (who bombed a lesbian club, an abortion clinic, and the Atlanta Olympic games, in that order) in their message of politically targeted hatred, I knew that after 9/11 all Muslims would be slandered as responsible in a way that all white Christians had not been. In fact, the one thing I thought George W. Bush got absolutely right was insisting that Americans should not blame a religion for its most extreme members’ unhinged actions.

Police may not have definitively determined Wade Michael Page’s motive. But I see a group of brown people gunned down in their temple, almost certainly for their religious outsiderness, out there in the hyperwhite Midwest. I grieve for every Sikh in the country, and for every Muslim and Hindu and South Asian and Middle Eastern American who knows the message was aimed at them as well.

Page may have been a shooter like all other shooters: just another grudge-holding male who decided to feel powerful by becoming the lord of death. And yet his bullets nevertheless delivered a specifically white message of “patriotic” hatred: You don’t belong here. You are not us. Go directly to hell.

Will someone—everyone, really—please stand up and say that what Page represents is the opposite of American?

Pakistani President Chooses Party Stalwart as New Premier

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

President Asif Ali Zardari has chosen a party stalwart, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, to replace the ousted prime minister, Pakistani news media reported late Wednesday.

Mr. Shahabuddin, who was serving as textiles minister when the Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and broke up the cabinet on Tuesday, will file his nomination papers before the election commission on Thursday. Khurshid Shah, a senior leader of the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, said a special session of the National Assembly would be held Friday for a confirmation vote.

The nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin came after hours of negotiations between party officials and the other members of its governing coalition. Officials said he was Mr. Zardari’s first choice, but he faced mild resistance during a meeting at the president’s house on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Shahabuddin belongs to an influential family from the southern part of Punjab Province, which has been a stronghold of the Pakistan Peoples Party. He has held several positions, including deputy finance minister in the early 1990s. He was considered close to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The country’s economy, militants in the tribal badlands and troubled relations with the United States over reopening NATO supply lines would be among the issues facing him if he was confirmed. But he may face another challenge by the Supreme Court, which has been pushing the ruling government to reopen a Swiss corruption investigation against Mr. Zardari. Mr. Gilani’s refusal to do so led to contempt charges and his dismissal.

Most analysts expect Mr. Shahabuddin would fight such pressure, as Mr. Gilani did.

Raza Rumi, the policy director of the Jinnah Institute, a research group in Islamabad, said that the nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin indicated continuation of the governing party’s policies. “Mr. Shahabuddin is an experienced parliamentarian, but he will face a tough choice to balance loyalty to the president and deal with an assertive court and a restive opposition,” he said.

Pakistan’s Hindu Girls Forced into Muslim Marriages

As Reported by IRIN

Sixteen-year-old Ameena Ahmed*, now living in the town of Rahim Yar Khan in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, does not always respond when her mother-in-law calls out to her. 


“Even after a year of `marriage’ I am not used to my new name. I was called Radha before,” she told IRIN on a rare occasion when she was allowed to go to the corner shop on her own to buy vegetables. 


Ameena, or Radha as she still calls herself, was abducted from Karachi about 13 months ago by a group of young men who offered her ice-cream and a ride in their car. Before she knew what was happening, she was dragged into a larger van, and driven to an area she did not know. 


She was then pressured into signing forms which she later found meant she was married to Ahmed Salim, 25; she was converted to a Muslim after being asked to recite some verses in front of a cleric. She was obliged to wear a veil. Seven months ago, Ameena, who has not seen her parents or three siblings since then and “misses them a lot”, moved with her new family to southern Punjab. 


“The abduction and kidnapping of Hindu girls is becoming more and more common,” Amarnath Motumal, a lawyer and leader of Karachi’s Hindu community, told IRIN. “This trend has been growing over the past four or five years, and it is getting worse day by day.

Pakistan is one of several nations across Asia suffering from a shortage of females as sex-selective abortion has played growing role in the deficit. Portable ultrasound machines have made gender selection much easier. A 2005 study quoted by Wiki estimated that more than 90 million females were “missing” from the expected populations in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan alone.

He said there were at least 15-20 forced abductions and conversions of young girls from Karachi each month, mainly from the multi-ethnic Lyari area. The fact that more and more people were moving to Karachi from the interior of Sindh Province added to the dangers, as there were now more Hindus in Karachi, he said. 


“They come to search for better schooling, for work and to escape growing extremism,” said Motumal who believes Muslim religious schools are involved in the conversion business. 


“Hindus are non-believers. They believe in many gods, not one, and are heretics. So they should be converted,” said Abdul Mannan, 20, a Muslim student. He said he would be willing to marry a Hindu girl, if asked to by his teachers, “because conversions brought big rewards from Allah [God]. But later I will marry a `real’ Muslim girl as my second wife,” he said. 


According to local law, a Muslim man can take more than one wife, but rights activists argue that the law infringes the rights of women and needs to be altered. 


Motumal says Hindu organizations are concerned only with the “forced conversion” of girls under 18. “Adult women are of course free to choose,” he said. 


“Lured away”

Sunil Sushmt, 40, who lives in a village close to the city of Mirpurkhas in central Sindh Province, said his 14-year-old daughter was “lured away” by an older neighbour and, her parents believe, forcibly converted after marriage to a Muslim. “She was a child. What choice did she have?” her father asked. He said her mother still cries for her “almost daily” a year after the event. 


Sushmat is also concerned about how his daughter is being treated. “We know many converts are treated like slaves, not wives,” he said. 


According to official figures, Hindus based mainly in Sindh make up 2 percent of Pakistan’s total population of 165 million. “We believe this figure could be higher,” Motumal said. 


According to media reports, a growing number of Hindus have been fleeing Pakistan, mainly for neighbouring India. The kidnapping of girls and other forms of persecution is a factor in this, according to those who have decided not to stay in the country any longer. 


“My family has lived in Sindh for generations,” Parvati Devi, 70, told IRIN. “But now I worry for the future of my granddaughters and their children. Maybe we too should leave,” she said. “The entire family is seriously considering this.” 


Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– This is an absolutely despicable practice that the Pakistani government needs to put an end to just like the blasphemy laws of the nation. The religious minorities of Pakistan deserve equal rights, protections and freedoms.

“Saving Face” Pakistan’s first Academy Award Nomination

By Mudassar Ali Khan for The Washington Times

On 26th February 2012, the world will discover three different faces of Pakistan during the 84th Academy Awards, with the nomination of a Pakistani documentary ‘Saving Face’ for the best documentary (short subject).

The first face is the Pakistani filmmaker who is contending for the Oscar, the second is the internationally acclaimed British-Pakistani plastic surgeon who traveled to his motherland to heal victims of acid attacks, and last but not the least is of the heroic survivors of acid attacks who are struggling to deal with the consequences of their disfigurement.

‘Saving Face’ tells the story of a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr. Muhammad Jawad, who traveled to Pakistan to treat acid attack victims. Jawad has made several trips to Pakistan with surgical teams to work with the victims. He also organized a major medical relief effort to help earthquake survivors in Pakistan in 2005. In 2008, he received widespread public and international media attention when he performed his pioneering treatment on British model and television presenter Katie Piper, whose ex-boyfriend threw acid on her face.

Central characters of this documentary are two women, Zakia and Rukhsana, from southern Punjab who survived acid attacks and have been fighting for justice ever since. Instead of only portraying the misery of the victims, the film focuses on the vigor with which they endure the process of emotional and physical healing.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is the first Pakistani filmmaker to win an Oscar nomination for co-directing this film with Daniel Junge. Obaid-Chinoy previously won an Emmy award for her film Pakistan’s Taliban Generation. This film was also the recipient of the Alfred Dupont Award and the Association for International Broadcasting Award. Obaid-Chinoy is the first non-American to receive the Livingston Award for best international reporting. In 2007, she received the broadcast journalist of the year award in the UK from One World Media for her work in a series of documentary films. For her work on other films, she also received the Overseas Press Club Award, the American Women in Radio and Television Award, the Cine Golden Eagle Award and the Banff Rockie Award.

Above all, this documentary, along with its accolades, is truly a testimony of the devotion and fervor with which Sharmeen, Dr. Jawad, Zakia and Rukhsana are pursuing their individual goals. Saving Face brings together the hard work and creativity of an ambitious documentarian, the dedication of a passionate doctor, and determination of valiant victims of acid attacks.

The film also emerges as a face-saver for Pakistan, amid growing negative perceptions about the country worldwide.

The Oscar nod for Saving Face recognizes of a Pakistani filmmaker and sends message to all the ambitious Pakistanis and the world that hard work pays off, no matter where you live and your passion to prevail over the crisis can take you places whether you are a filmmaker, a doctor or a survivor.

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

By Stephen Magagnini for The Sacremento Bee

KARACHI, Pakistan — 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 – 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 – strategically located between Afghanistan, India, China and Iran and influenced by Saudi Arabia – 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 – 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 – Pakistan’s most powerful state with about 90 million people – 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 – 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 – an Urdu acronym for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh province and Baluchistan (“stan” means nation) – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 … 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 – let us do things our way.”

Why Not Free Qadri?

By Ayesha Siddiqa for The Express Tribune

How about freeing Mumtaz Qadri for the simple reason that the state system has lost the capacity to execute punishment? The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) judge, who gave him the death sentence, is already on the run. It will be quite a cost to protect Justice Shah and his family or other judges that may be brave enough not to overturn the ATC’s decision.

Why bother with the idea of punishing Qadri when it is no longer in the realm of the possible. An olive branch that is offered to the Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan and other killers can be extended to Qadri as well. Not to forget that the political leadership in the form of the recent All Parties Conference has surrendered to a peculiar agenda. So, forget about Jinnah’s August 11 speech now as the state has already transformed to a hybrid-theocracy. It has small liberal spaces, equally smaller spaces where Sharia is formally implemented, and larger spaces where the orthodox law is informally enforced. Try standing in front of a Jamaat-i-Islami/Jamaatud Dawa procession in support of Qadri to feel the melting away of the state and its changed character. Sadly, many of our post-modernists scholars will, yet again, call this as part of the secularising process through bringing religion into public sphere. Driven by personal ambitions to establish their scholarship, they won’t even question that the current discourse is not secularising as it condemns all other arguments as being against Islam. Are the protesters even willing to explore other religious arguments that may not save Qadri from the sentence given by the ATC judge?

There are no governments that are willing to stand up to the bullying and to establish the writ of the state. There is no intent to even deradicalise society because, in the words of a senior bureaucrat of the Punjab government, reputed to be close to the chief minister, there is no radicalisation in Punjab and even if there were, why should the state become an ideological warrior. Obviously, this CSS-qualified babu considered deradicalisation as anti-religion or against the tenets of Islam. This bureaucrat was a good example to debunk the argument that radicalisation results from lack of education. Here was a case of a literate man not willing to understand that deradicalisation is about creating sufficient space for all religions and sects to co-exist without fear of persecution, and increasing the state’s capacity to provide justice for all, irrespective of their cast, creed and religion. Thus, he presented the Punjab government’s development priorities as devoid of the goal of deradicalisation.

It was almost unbelievable to think that the bureaucrat’s plan had the sanction of his political bosses, especially someone like Mian Nawaz Sharif who made some bold pronouncements of building ties with regional neighbours and condemned parties with militant wings. Notwithstanding the goodness of Mian Sahib’s heart, one wonders how familiar is he with his own party’s support of militant outfits and if he considers this linkage equally condemnable? The fact of the matter is that no political party can claim to be above board as far as rising radicalism is concerned. The absence of the state in most provinces — Balochistan where people are being picked up and killed, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where the provincial government has willingly opted to share space with certain types of militants, Sindh, which is devastated by floods and a government that is almost invisible and Punjab where the government opts to burn down state infrastructure — is visible. Therefore, it is not surprising to see militant outfits becoming the new arbiters even replacing the old feudal class. They have and will exercise greater influence on the electoral process, especially ensuring that no parliamentarian challenges the writ of these militant outfits.

The militants of today are the new feudal lords that will adjudicate and dispense justice not on the basis of any higher religious law but their personal bias for things which are superficially religious. These people, who hold jirgas and dispense justice, are not fully aware or trained to interpret religious text or other sources. Surely, memorising the Holy Book cannot be the sole criterion. For those who believe that voting another party into power will solve the problem of radicalism, they will be disappointed to know that religious radicalism is the only game in town. It is now time to think of ways to grapple with the new reality.

Death Sentence in Slaying of Pakistani Governor

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

A court on Saturday sentenced to death an elite police guard who assassinated a leading secular politician he had been charged with protecting, a slaying that sent shockwaves throughout Pakistan and was seen as a clear marker of the growing religious intolerance and extremism in the country.

The news made international headlines not just because of the prominence of the politician killed, Salman Taseer, but because the killer was celebrated by many in Pakistan, including lawyers who showered him with rose petals and garlands at a court appearance.

Judge Syed Pervez Ali Shah announced the sentence for the guard, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, in an antiterrorism court at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. “Nobody can be given a license to kill on any pretext,” the judge was quoted as saying after the conclusion of the trial, which was held under tight security.

The ruling was unusual in Pakistan; frightened justices in recent years have been cowed into releasing Islamic militants or letting them off with light sentences. The judgment was especially noteworthy in such a high-profile case against a man whose popularity only grew with his confession and defense of the killing on religious grounds.

Mr. Taseer was the governor of Punjab Province and one of the country’s most outspoken opponents of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, which mandate a death sentence for anyone convicted of insulting Islam.

Liberals and rights activists were encouraged by the verdict, but noted that it could be overturned in appeals that can drag on for years.

“Today’s judgment is a positive development whereby norms of justice have prevailed,” said Raza Rumi, a political analyst and columnist in the eastern city of Lahore. “Pakistan cannot be allowed to become a vigilante society, and the state — its judges and prosecutors — need to uphold the law.”

No matter what happens with the case, however, Mr. Taseer’s death cast a pall over discussions of the blasphemy laws — which had become something of a test case for broader debate of how religion and politics mix in Pakistan. That trend continued Saturday. The usually voluble Pakistani press dutifully covered the story, but news broadcasts were mainly devoid of the normal commentary or debate.

“Local media’s muted coverage of the sentence is reflective of the fear factor and the polarization within the society which includes media personnel,” Mr. Rumi said.

Mr. Qadri, 26, was convicted of murder and committing an act of terrorism, and was handed two life sentences.

No date for the execution has been announced, and Mr. Qadri has a right to appeal within seven days. Raja Shuja-ur-Rahman, a lawyer for Mr. Qadri, told the DAWN television channel that an appeal would be filed.

Mr. Qadri killed Mr. Taseer in a hail of bullets on Jan. 4, shooting at close range as Mr. Taseer was getting into his car.

Mr. Taseer, a businessman and a liberal politician, had emerged as a leader in a fight against the blasphemy law, which rights groups say has been used to persecute minorities, especially Christians.

The law was introduced in the 1980s under the military dictatorship of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq as part of a policy of promoting Islam to unite Pakistan’s deeply fractious society.

Mr. Qadri was hailed as a hero by Islamist lawyers, several mainstream politicians and religious leaders.

On Saturday, dozens of supporters of Mr. Qadri gathered outside the jail and chanted slogans against the sentence, while the judge slipped out a back door.

“We will free you! We will die for you!” 20-year-old Mohamemd Aslam was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. Others yelled: “Long live Qadri, long live Qadri!”

“By punishing one Mumtaz Qadri, you will produce a thousand Mumtaz Qadris!” shouted another man.

The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, to which Mr. Taseer belonged, has been accused of distancing itself from the cause of repealing the blasphemy law since the assassination.

India, Pakistan To Open New Trade Check-Post

By Tom Wright for The Wall Street Journal

While India and Pakistan trade barbs over terrorism, the country’s trade officials are making small but notable steps toward opening up their economies to one another.

In October, authorities plan to open a second trade check-post at the Wagah border in Punjab state, the only land-crossing between the two hostile neighbors, in an attempt to boost trade volumes. The commerce ministers of both countries are expected to formally announce the new check-post at a meeting in New Delhi later this month.

It might look like a baby step in normalizing frozen trade relations. But with so much else going wrong in India-Pakistan ties, it’s a welcome bit of positive news and one that is energizing Indian businessmen who work close to the border.

Currently, trucks that carry the meager flow of trade between India and Pakistan have to stop unloading at 3 p.m. because that’s when tourists from both sides start arriving at the Wagah border for the evening “Beating Retreat” ceremony – a display of nationalistic bravado that precedes the formal closing of the gates between the countries each evening.

The new terminal will allow trade to continue until 7 p.m. and hopefully increase volumes passing through the check-post.

Some business groups in Amritsar, a city near the Indian side of the border,  are betting on an expansion of trade. Suneet Kochhar, director of a paper company based in Amritsar, is involved with a group of investors who have accumulated land to develop a freight terminal near the second trade check-post.

“Once it’s operational, things will change,” Mr. Kocchar says. Land near the border has doubled in value in the past two years, he adds.

To be sure, Pakistan and India have looked like moving ahead on trade in the past but things have gotten nowhere. Another attack like the one carried out by Pakistani militants on Mumbai in 2008, killing over 160 people, could easily nip the current optimism in the bud.

Two-way India-Pakistan trade was a paltry $1.8 billion in the year ended March 31, 2010, basically unchanged over the past five years, while India’s trade with China has skyrocketed to $60 billion.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that India won’t be able to fulfill its economic potential unless it normalizes relations with Pakistan, which is a gateway to the Central Asian republics and beyond. For Pakistan, India is a huge potential market of 1.2 billion people. For now, businesses that want to get around restrictions have to ship goods at extra cost via ports like  Dubai.

The new check-post is a good start. Indian officials estimate two-way trade could easily jump to $2.7 billion in the short term. But there won’t be a seismic shift in trade volumes until both countries make serious efforts to expand the list of products that they can trade with one another. The current list encompasses just over 1,000 items.

That has frustrated some business people. Sunil Behal, director at Poplon Chemie, an Amritsar-based company that makes chemicals to treat leather, says some of its key products are not on the list. The company currently exports only $7,000 worth of products to Pakistan each month out of its total global exports of over $180,000 in the same period, he says.

But like many businesspeople in the area, he’s hopeful that politicians really mean to make progress this time. The check-post, he say, “will definitely boost business.”

There are tentative signs of seriousness. Ahead of the commerce ministers’ meeting later this month, officials from both sides met in New Delhi and thrashed out their differences. The minutes of the meeting  are here.

The officials were candid about the challenges. The new check-post, they agreed, will only be effective if both sides take other measures like simplifying customs procedures.

Pakistan officials complained they were not even aware of the customs rules followed by India, and faced a number of non-tariff barriers to trade such as cumbersome testing of products by Indian authorities that can take weeks, according to the minutes.

India lamented that Pakistan continues to put blocks in the way of trade, including proscribing a number of goods that aren’t allowed to enter Pakistan by road but instead have to come by rail. Mr. Kochhar, the paper company director, says he would export newsprint to Pakistan, but it’s uneconomical at the moment to ship via rail.

Both sides complain about the difficulty of getting business visas and have promised to remove bureaucratic obstacles.

The key, though, might be plans that India and Pakistan have to allow trade in most products, only protecting weak and strategic industries. The two countries are currently drawing up a list of these industries – known as a negative list – to submit to the other side.

Don’t expect these issues to be ironed out overnight. Still, there’s movement which both nations are trying to build on.

Pakistan Struggles to Curb Dengue Fever

As Reported By Reuters

Pakistani authorities, already under pressure to help hundreds of thousands of flood victims, are struggling to contain dengue fever which has killed at least eight people, officials said on Wednesday.

Around 4,400 cases of the mosquito-borne disease have been reported in the central Punjab province over the past two months, forcing the provincial government on Tuesday to close down schools for 10 days.

Most of the cases have been reported in Lahore, the provincial capital, where about 2,950 people tested positive.

“So far, eight people have died of dengue. We are trying our best to control this epidemic,” Jehanzeb Khan, secretary of the provincial health department, told Reuters.

Health experts say the illness is spreading across the Punjab because of poor hygiene conditions, and heavy monsoon rain provides ideal conditions for dengue-carrying mosquitoes to thrive in stagnant waters.

The first case of dengue was reported in Pakistan in 1994.

Those who died included Ataullah Siddiqui, head of the provincial department of minerals and natural resources.

Khan said the government had launched a fumigation drive to kill mosquitoes.

Sri Lanka is sending a team of experts to Pakistan to help fight the disease, the Sri Lankan High Commission said in a statement.

Pakistan’s weak civilian government, struggling to deal with floods that have killed 266 people, has been criticised by the media for dragging its feet on the dengue issue.

“The response to dengue has been adhoc, ex post, and therefore reactionary at best,” The News daily said in its editorial.

The disease is a threat to nearly half of the world’s population. Of the estimated 220 million people infected each year, two million — mostly children in Latin America and Asia — develop a severe form called dengue hemorrhagic fever.

There is currently no cure or vaccine for dengue fever.

Jinnah’s Pakistan

By Ziyad Faisal for The Friday Times

When a suicide-bomber targets a market-place, a rabid Islamist kills a figure who is not pious enough or Independence Day comes, we are reminded of the psychosis of the Pakistani state. We are reminded that in addition to shaky material foundations, the Pakistani state rests upon highly flimsy and contested ideological grounds. At such times, there is almost always a chorus from the literate urban middle-classes of the country: they want “Jinnah’s Pakistan”. For the more conservative sections of our urban middle-class, the Pakistan they long for is the “laboratory” which Jinnah claimed he sought, to implement Islamic values. For the more liberal sections of the urban middle-class, the Pakistan they want was described by a secular Jinnah in his speech on August 11, 1947. The more perceptive reader will already realize that while every historical figure can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, if a single leader can be held up by secularists, conservatives, nationalists and Islamists alike, perhaps the leader himself was not so sure about certain things.

But what exactly was Mr Jinnah’s own vision for Pakistan, and how did it interact with the nature of the Pakistan Movement and the realities of post-1947 Pakistan? To understand the yearning for “Quaid-e-Azam ka Pakistan”, one must look at the founding myths of Pakistan and Jinnah’s place therein.

Almost any child who goes to school in Pakistan learns a certain story. The story involves a young man, burning the proverbial midnight oil as he studied at night, trying to shield the light he was using with cardboard sheets, so as not to disturb his siblings. When asked by his sister as to why he would not simply go to bed, he said something along the lines of how important this hard work was, for him to become a great man. The Pakistani reader will recognize immediately the young man we are talking about: the Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Most modern nation-states actively propagate their foundational myths: based on a kernel of truth but embellished greatly with fantasy, exaggeration and historical omissions. It is only natural that such myths centre around the integrity, heroism or ambition of one or more “founding fathers” who were instrumental in creating the state it in its modern, institutional form. So, for instance, Israel has its Bar Kochba and its Ben Gurion. Turkey has its Attaturk leading the fight for independence from barren Anatolia. The United States has its George Washington, who supposedly would not lie to his father about cutting a cherry tree, even as a boy. Latin American countries have their Simon Bolivar, Italy has its Garibaldi, Ireland has its Michael Collins. The Indian state has its own pantheon of founding fathers, from Asoka to the Rani of Jhansi, all the way down to Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose. Even Saudi Arabia has its epic tale of Bedouin raiders from the sand-dunes of Najd turning into majestic kings and defenders of the Holy Kaabah.

As for the foundational myths of Pakistan, let us bear in mind the following: every modern nation-state is ultimately a very artificial social construct, and the more artificial a state, the more artificial its founding myths.

And what is the Pakistani child taught about the founding fathers of the country? Well, if we put aside the valuable nation-building efforts of Muhammad bin Qasim and Mahmud of Ghazni, what we are left with is essentially Allama Muhammad Iqbal and, of course, the Quaid-e-Azam. Iqbal, as a brilliant poet and an aspiring philosopher, who dreamt of Pakistan. Mr Jinnah, the great political leader who brought this vision to fruition. Such is the clichéd narrative we are given.

In that famous story about the hard-working youthful Jinnah, the Pakistani student is being taught that a boy in his mid-to-late teens had already within him a young Quaid-e-Azam: the Great Leader. He would go on to study the legal system of the British colonialists, gain the respect of the British and the adulation of the Muslim masses of South Asia and eventually this epic tale culminates in the heroic Muslim League’s achievements of Partition and its accompanying bloodbath.

The historical record suggests that the budding Leader was not exactly convinced about the need for communal Muslim politics until at least the early 1920s. He was, after all, the chief architect of the Lucknow Pact of 1916: the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” as Sarojni Naidu famously described him. Even as late as 1946, Jinnah as a practical politician could entertain the possibility of some sort of compromise with the Congress leadership and the British. The Muslim League leadership would have been satisfied with adequate guarantees of limited autonomy for Muslim-majority regions of Punjab, Sindh and Bengal. The Pashtun leaders of the north-western Frontier, of course, were not to be taken on board, because their loyalty to the Congress amounted to some sort of treachery. As for the Baloch, one imagines, it was assumed that they need not be considered in any calculations: they would somehow automatically be convinced to join the new nation-state and forget centuries of distinct history.

The Muslim League itself, founded in 1905-06 by disinherited and disgruntled members of the former Muslim elite of South Asia, was not committed to mass politics or independence from British rule – and certainly not an independent Pakistan. Unlike the populist appeals of Congress leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and others, the Muslim League’s political programme was for a long time directed towards the Aligarh-educated ex-nobility among Muslims. In the 1940s, were it not for a last-minute alliance with Muslim feudal lords in Punjab and some urban elements from Sindh, the Muslim League could never have mustered the political resources to make their demand for an independent Pakistan into a reality.

Conservative nationalists and Islamists in Pakistan are likely to be disappointed by the real Mr Jinnah. He was an intelligent, British-educated barrister, and had little time for the discourse of village mullahs. Steeped in the traditions of British liberalism, Jinnah could bring only a tiny minority of the Muslim clergy to his side even in the 1940s. It is obvious that he was looking for some form of constitutional liberal democracy, no matter how inspiring the pan-Islamic yearnings of Allama Iqbal might have been.

But perhaps our secular liberals are even more likely to be disappointed, notwithstanding the fact that Mr Jinnah laid out a set of principles for a secular Pakistani state in his speech to our first Constituent Assembly, on the 11th of August, 1947. To quote his memorable words on that occasion:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. ”

While these are admirable sentiments, perhaps we can be forgiven for pointing out the glaring contradiction here. If a citizen’s religion is not the business of the state, how does one explain the creation of Pakistan as a separate state? If it were not differences in religion with the Hindus and other religious communities of India, what else was it that motivated the Muslim League to demand Pakistan?

Allow me go one step further and remind the reader of the many occasions on which Mr Jinnah invoked Islamic rhetoric in his various speeches to justify the idea of Pakistan. With apologies beforehand, allow me to recall that it was the same Mr Jinnah who would not accept his daughter marrying a non-Muslim man, even though he himself had married a non-Muslim woman. One is reminded of the typical mindset of the contemporary Pakistani Muslim father or brother.

For years, Mr Jinnah brilliantly argued for federal autonomy in Muslim-majority provinces…until Partition happened and the Pashtuns, Bengalis, Baloch and other nationalities within Pakistan demanded the same autonomy. For years, Mr Jinnah pointed out the distinct cultural identity of South Asian Muslims…until Partition happened and Bengalis asked for their language to be given the status of a national language. Urdu and Urdu alone, Mr Jinnah firmly reminded them.

I understand that quite a few readers ought to be exasperated by now. What am I trying to say? What exactly was Muhammad Ali Jinnah? Was he socially liberal or conservative? Was he secular or not? What future did he envision for Pakistan?

The historical record shows that Mr Jinnah was himself has given us adequate arguments for just about any side we choose. Despite the personal integrity, intelligence and political skill of Mr Jinnah, it has to be recognized that the Muslim League was not exactly what it claimed to be. It was supposed to speak for the Muslims of South Asia, but its actual representative credentials were not very credible, even in the “moth-eaten and truncated” (to quote Mr Jinnah) Pakistan of 1947.

To limit ourselves to an imagined version of what Mr Jinnah wanted would mean limiting our political vision and perhaps the very frontiers of our political morality.

What sort of Pakistan does the hari from Sindh want? What sort of Pakistan does the silenced rape victim want? What sort of Pakistan does the tortured body of the young Baloch student want? What sort of Pakistan does the textile worker from Faisalabad want, considering he is paid some 6000 rupees a month? What sort of Pakistan does the terrified Ahmadi want? What sort of Pakistan do you want? What sort of Pakistan do I want?

You see, perhaps the real question is not what our founding father(s) wanted, but what today’s unfortunate Pakistanis want.

Perhaps it is time to consider a possibility: that the laboratory for implementing Islamic teachings was created, and the experiment went horribly wrong. And perhaps it is time to consider another possibility: given the many different interpretations which Mr Jinnah left himself open to, might we be forgiven for concluding that this is it? That this, where we live today, is Jinnah’s Pakistan in all its glory?

In Ahmadis’s Desert City, Pakistan Closes In

By Myra MacDonald for Reuters

At the office of what claims to be one of Pakistan’s oldest newspapers, workers scan copy for words it is not allowed to use — words like Muslim and Islam.

“The government is constantly monitoring this publication to make sure none of these words are published,” explains our guide during a visit to the offices of al Fazl, the newspaper of the Ahmadiyya sect in Pakistan.

This is Rabwah, the town the Ahmadis built when they fled the killings of Muslims in India at Partition in 1947, and believing themselves guided by God, chose a barren stretch of land where they hoped to make the Punjab desert bloom.

Affluent and well-educated, they started out camping in tents and mud huts near the river and the railway line.

Now they have a town of some 60,000 people, a jumble of one- and two-storey buildings, along with an Olympic size swimming pool, a fire service and a world class heart institute.

Yet declared by the state in the 1970s to be non-Muslims, they face increasing threats of violence across Pakistan as the country strained by a weakening economy, an Islamist insurgency and internecine political feuds, fractures down sectarian and ethnic lines.

“The situation is getting worse and worse,” says Mirza Khurshid Ahmed, amir of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. “The level of religious intolerance has increased considerably during the last 10 years.”

The town, renamed Chenabnagar by the state government since “Rabwah” comes from a verse in the Koran, is now retreating behind high walls and razor wire, awaiting the suicide bombers and fedayeen gunmen who police tell them are plotting attacks.

Last May, 86 people were killed in two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, capital of Punjab; others were attacked elsewhere in the province. Many fled to Rabwah where the community gives them cheap housing and financial support.

Among them is 15-year-old Iqra from Narewal, whose shopkeeper father was stabbed to death last year as the family slept. “I was sleeping in another room when my father was attacked,” she begins in a small voice, pulling a black scarf across her face to cover her mouth in the style of Ahmadi women.

“The attacker wanted to kill all the Ahmadis in Narewal,” her brother Zeeshan continues. “My elder brother tried to help my father and he was stabbed and wounded too.”

Later police found the attacker hiding in a mosque. He had believed the mullahs when they told him that all Ahmadis were “wajib ul qatl”, or deserving of death.

BATTLEGROUND FOR POWER
The Ahmadis follow the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who in the town of Qadian in late 19th century British India called for a revival of a “true Islam” of peace and justice. His teachings were controversial with Muslims and Christians alike.

He argued that Jesus did not die on the cross but escaped and travelled to India and was buried in Kashmir. And he claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus, destined to put Muslims back on the true path.

Many Muslims were offended by the suggestion he had come as a prophet, breaching a basic tenet of Islam that there can be no prophet after Mohammad, whose teachings are believed to be based literally on the word of God, perfect and therefore final.

Yet his call for peace, hard work, temperance, education and strong community bonds resonated, and over the years the proselytizing movement acquired millions of followers worldwide.

At home, however, their history has been intimately bound up in Pakistan’s own descent from its relatively optimistic birth.

Lacking a coherent national identity, it has become a battleground for competing political, religious and ethnic groups seeking power by attacking others.

“The mistake of the Ahmadis was that they showed their political strength,” said an Ahmadi businessman in Lahore.

Better education he said, meant they obtained good positions in the army and civil service at first; strong community bonds made them an influential force in politics up to the 1970s.

But they also made an easy target for the religious right who could whip up anti-Ahmadi sentiment for political gain.

Ahmadis follow two different schools of thinking, but will argue, often with detailed references to the Koran in both Arabic and English, that they do not dispute the finality of the Prophet Mohammad. Their erudite theological arguments, however, had little chance against the power of the street.

After anti-Ahmadi violence, they were declared non-Muslims in 1974. In the 1980s, their humiliation was completed when legal provisions barred them from associating themselves with Islam, for example by using the call to prayer or naming their place of worship a “masjid” or mosque.

“You can say you don’t consider me to be a Muslim but you can’t force me to also say I am not a Muslim,” complains Ahmed, the amir, the pain clear in his voice.

Yet in the newspaper office in Rabwah, a white board displays the words they are not allowed to use — they could be accused of blasphemy, which carries the death penalty.

SPREADING TO OTHER SECTS
Many Pakistanis, if you ask about treatment of the Ahmadis, shrug it off — it’s an old story, they say, dredged up by westerners who do not appreciate the importance of the finality of the Prophet.

Yet there are signs the attitudes first directed toward Ahmadis are spreading to other sects. In a country which is majority Sunni, and where insurgents follow Sunni Islam, Shi’ites and even Sufi shrines have been bombed.

A 2010 study by Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa of students in elite colleges found that while 60 percent said the government was right to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims, a sizeable 18 percent believed Shi’ites were also non-Muslims.

These and other findings led her to conclude that radicalism was growing even among the educated youth — it is often, wrongly, blamed on poverty — which in its extreme form could lead people into violence.

Their tendency, she wrote, to see different groups with an unquestioned bias, she wrote, “especially coated with religious overtones or padded with religious belief prepares the mind to accept the message from militant organizations.”

In the nearest town to Rabwah, the central square as been renamed “Khatme Nubuwwat” Chowk, meaning the finality of the Prophet. Beyond, low jagged hills spike up above the dusty land, the summits of much bigger rock formations below the surface.

Many of the Ahmadis had been active supporters of the movement which created Pakistan and when they first came here they were inspired by a verse in the Koran, describing “an elevated land of green valleys and springs of running water.”

Now they are surrounded by a very different country.

Rabwah itself is open to the outside world — despite the high walls guarding individual houses, it is not a walled town.

“Under the circumstances we try to take the best measures we can to protect ourselves,” says the amir. “But what we can do is very limited. We don’t have a mindset or training for that.

And in any case, he adds, “How many people can leave Pakistan or Rabwah?”

Military Puppet. Or Rising Star?

By Rubab Shirazi for Tehelka Magazine

If The unfolding political crisis in Pakistan does not upset junior foreign and economic affairs minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s elevation as full-fledged foreign minister, she appears all set to travel to New Delhi for meeting her Indian counterpart SM Krishna this month for the ministerial meeting of the resumed dialogue process. Her promotion is needed to remove the protocol hitch for the ministerial meeting.

When Khar, 34, became the minister of state for foreign affairs in February, hardly any eyebrows were raised — more so because the ceremonial position has been used since 2004 to accommodate scions of influential families in the Federal Cabinet. Khar’s entry was instead seen as a bid by the government to prioritise the economic aspect in its diplomacy.

But the news of her elevation was met with strong criticism because she was seen as being too young and raw to handle complex foreign policy issues, even though she had been part of the Cabinet since 2004. For a good part of her political career, which started with her election as member of the National Assembly in 2003, Khar has been a low-key politician.

In a country that already has an accidental president (Asif Ali Zardari) and prime minister (Yousuf Raza Gilani), it wouldn’t be a surprise if the foreign minister is also accidental. If things go as planned, she would take oath this month as Pakistan’s 26th foreign minister and bag the honour of being the first woman to hold the post. But, Foreign Office (FO) bureaucrats, who derisively refer to her as “the girl” in private, say that she is no match for most who have occupied this crucial post.

Khar comes from a privileged background, being the daughter of well-known politician Ghulam Noor Rabbani Khar and niece of infamous playboy and former Punjab governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar. The latter’s wife Tehmina Durrani wrote My Feudal Lord, which caused controversy by describing her abusive and traumatic marriage with Ghulam Mustafa and her experience of life in a patriarchal society. Despite her feudal upbringing, Khar graduated from Pakistan’s best business school, Lahore University of Management Sciences and obtained her masters in hospitality from the University of Massachusetts.

Khar’s likely appointment is coming at a time when the country’s foreign relations are not in the best of shape — the alliance with the US is withering away fast; cross-border controversies are marring Pak-Afghan bonhomie; and though the Indo-Pakistan dialogue is progressing, the Thimphu spirit is fading as indicated by recent bilateral meetings.

Even if Khar succeeds in getting the post, diplomatic observers think she will not be the real decision maker — the power would still lie with the military. Having an inexperienced person like Khar as the FO boss, who would depend heavily on bureaucracy for policy as well as administrative matters, suits the military establishment at Rawalpindi GHQ in maintaining its control over Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Unlike her predecessor Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who lost his job for taking a hardline position on immunity for CIA operative Raymond Davis (involved in fatally shooting two youth in January), Khar isn’t thought to be independent minded.

No one at the FO knows about Khar’s views on important issues like relations with the US, Europe, India, Afghanistan and about the War on Terror. She hasn’t given any interviews or delivered speeches on foreign policy ever since she moved to the FO in February, even though she was the de facto boss during this time.

Though much has been written about her meteoric rise in politics, she still remains an enigma. Her credentials for being considered for the crucial post are her two stints as minister of state for economic affairs; a brief assignment as special assistant to the prime minister on finance, revenue and economic affairs; and more lately her FO job.

No one knows Khar’s views on important issues like the war on terror, Indo-Pak relations, or the strained partnership with the US

According to her curriculum vitae, foreign affairs was not a subject of interest until lately. She avows interest in finance, economic affairs and agriculture development. But, quite contrary to her fondness for the three subjects, she runs an upscale restaurant in Lahore. Her husband Feroze Gulzar is a textile industrialist. For most of her career, Khar had been dealing with international loans and grants. Foreign Service officials, who don’t want to be named, caution that real-time diplomacy is a different ball game.

Administrative chaos at the FO, another officer says, grew under the overachieving lady, who had been promoted by the PPP government as an astute manager. Khar was responsible for economic affairs during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s regime. Economic mismanagement turned out to be the major cause of the defeat of her previous party, PML(Q), in the 2008 elections. Fearing that she wouldn’t be given a party ticket, she changed her loyalties weeks before the polls and joined the PPP.

IF SUCCESSFUL in achieving the prized foreign ministership, it would not be the first time she would be filling someone’s shoes. In 2003, she contested elections in place of her father, who couldn’t run for National Assembly as he was not a graduate; in 2009 she became the first woman minister to present the federal budget because former finance minister Shaukat Tarin was not an elected Parliamentarian.

Her inexperience aside, party colleagues say that Khar is deceptively wily and ambitious as they point to how she smartly outmanoeuvered other contenders in the race for the foreign ministry, including former law minister Babar Awan, former foreign minister Sardar Assef Ali and National Assembly speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza — all political heavyweights.

One of her weaknesses is that she isn’t a media darling. Searching online for her interviews turns up a little-known Saturday Post article, that too dated several years ago. On this count, she would turn out to be a weak and ineffectual representative of her country’s foreign policy. In her first media appearance alongside a visiting US functionary Thomas Nides, Khar was unimpressive. Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir hurriedly scripted a few lines for her to deliver before PTV cameras, but according to one official, she struggled with it. Days later, when speaking to the media alongside UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, when she was asked about the prospects of a peace deal with Afghan Taliban, Khar started speaking about a failed peace deal with militants in Swat to prove Islamabad’s commitment to peace with militants. Pakistan, she probably forgot, does not equate Afghan and local Taliban. The government has been treating the two entities differently.

Online discussion boards have been filled with negative comments on her expected elevation. “What a farce. We are at one of the most critical junctures in our foreign affairs, so we decide to hand out perhaps the most important portfolio to a 34-year-old with a degree in hospitality management!” reads a posting on a discussion platform called Pakistan Defense.

What goes in her favour is that apart from allegations by her critics of tax evasion, something normal for a Pakistani politician, she has no major controversies attached to her name.

The End of AfPak

By Scott Malcomson for The New York Times

Remember how after 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s attacks on us could be linked to almost anything, from shopping habits to the rediscovery of Western values to carbon-pricing schemes? Something similar appears to be happening with Bin Laden’s death. Jihadism sure isn’t what it used to be. After 10 years, it seems, the time has come to go home. Troops are and will be coming back to the United States from Iraq and Afghanistan. The military budget will be cut. The outgoing secretary of defense feels able to openly mock NATO because, presumably, he thinks he can afford to — because it doesn’t matter all that much. The global war on terror is being downgraded from Armageddon to something more out of Leviticus: a tricked-out police action, just as John Kerry, in this magazine, always said it should be. On Sunday, Helene Cooper and Mark Landler reported that “American success in the counterterrorism campaign would seem to bolster arguments for a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan.” By Tuesday morning, they were reporting that President Obama would announce his withdrawal plans on Wednesday. Meanwhile, a Harris poll revealed that 51 percent of Americans and 54 percent of Britons believed “the death of Bin Laden meant it was time to bring troops from their countries home.”

That isn’t quite how it looked when I was in Washington a few weeks ago and spoke with about a dozen current and former American officials and with Pakistanis. The impression they each gave was that American withdrawal would be speeded not because of Bin Laden’s death but because of Pakistan’s reaction to it. After the initial shock, Pakistan’s (government-influenced) press latched onto a narrative of “national humiliation” as a result of the American raid, rather than, say, one of jubilation at the demise of a killer whose fantasies have brought Pakistan nothing but misery. A younger generation of military officers — Pakistan is dominated by its military — seemed at times about to revolt in reaction to the insult to Pakistan’s sovereignty. And the Inter Services Intelligence (I.S.I.), Pakistan’s ubiquitous military intelligence outfit, reacted, as was subsequently reported, by scouring the neighborhood around Bin Laden’s house for … evidence of how the C.I.A. found out he was there, and to determine who had been helping the Americans.

Finally, the Pakistan government did not respond to the Bin Laden raid by pressing its new advantage and rolling up terrorist networks across the land. No, it did not do that at all. So Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, went to Islamabad and on May 27 presented a list of demands. These included the arrest or elimination of Ayman al-Zawahiri (of Al Qaeda), Ilyas Kashmiri (a long-sought semi-free-agent and former Pakistani military man), Sirajuddin Haqqani (of the AfPak-border based Haqqani network) and Atiya Abdur Rahman (Al Qaeda), and the shutting down of bomb factories in Pakistan.

By June 3, Kashmiri was dead. But this promising start now seems isolated. The other wanted men are still at large. The bomb-makers might well be getting tipped off. The revolt by younger Pakistani officers seemed only to get worse.

In short, the U.S. and Pakistan are really not getting along. Among members of Congress, beating up Pakistan has become ritualized; Senators McCain and Rogers were doing it again on the Sunday programs. I wondered: How many times can Pakistan be abandoned? As Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer and the head of President Obama’s first major AfPak review, shows in his excellent new book, “Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Islamist Jihad,” embrace and abandonment have formed the pattern of American-Pakistani relations since the majority-Muslim nation was formed out of the breakup of British India in 1947. Harry Truman’s lack of interest yielded to Dwight Eisenhower’s enthusiasm for Pakistan as an anti-Communist bulwark and a base for spying on the Soviets. The relationship was and remained built around security and intelligence. Lyndon Johnson reversed course when India and Pakistan went to war in 1965; he cut off both, but Pakistan had, unlike India, been a strong ally, and it felt betrayed. This set the pattern: ultimately, Pakistan was tactical and India was strategic.

Now, after almost 10 years of intense engagement, Pakistan and the U.S. appear set for another split; at least that was the consensus among the officials I spoke with. There was a pervasive sadness in these conversations. It was due in part to the sheer human effort that has gone into the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. A lot of spies and soldiers and diplomats and politicians have put years of their lives into making “AfPak” work, which requires making Pak work. A lot (not all) of that effort seems to be going down the drain, along with much of the billions of taxpayer dollars that financed it.

There is also personal sadness in that the AfPak effort was associated toward the end with Richard Holbrooke, whose death late last year brought the foreign-policy world up short. Holbrooke did not take great care of himself, so objectively his death could not be entirely a surprise, and among people over 70 the reactions I heard were more of the well-what-did-you-expect variety. But in the 35-to-65 range it was different. Holbrooke represented, very attractively, the assertion of youth and hope against experience. Even at 69 he had a distinct eagerness, even boyishness, alongside the baritone gravitas. He attracted bright young people. He could be young and old at the same time. Once he was gone, that sort of generational bridging disappeared. (Older figures are few in this administration.) The sense of continuity (as well as of optimism) is weakening. There’s something missing now.

There was also a sense of ideological loss of direction. For all their differences, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush shared a tangible optimism about American governmental involvement abroad. President Obama is different, and even if he weren’t the national mood is. The people’s representatives in Congress are vying to bring troops home faster, and if there is an internationalist remaining in the House he or she is keeping quiet. The Republican candidates for president seem to have settled on anti-war isolationism as a winning position. Obama’s great strength in foreign policy — his ability to repackage, and optimize, American power in a multipolar world — is the strategy that dare not speak its name, or it will bring accusations of “declinism.”

Finally, there is the tremendous sadness of Pakistan itself. The country doesn’t have enough water. It lacks the electricity to develop its industries. Literacy, by some reckonings, is actually declining. Democracy has been restored but the government is hardly stable. The one truly semi-stable institution, the military, is struggling against itself, just as Pakistanis are dividing, and attacking each other on an increasing scale (which is saying something).

But, in a way, the saddest thing of all, from a foreign-policy point of view — Pakistani or American — is that the one great card Pakistan has to play is to make itself a problem. Pakistan formed itself into a regional player through building its army, running terrorist proxies in Kashmir and Afghanistan, indulging in enough Islamist millenarianism to make itself frightening, and developing nuclear weapons. None of these strategies have a good future. But in the absence of a long-term committed relationship — what Holbrooke promoted as a “strategic partnership” — with the United States or, perhaps, with China, Pakistan is left with fear as its most successful export.

There was some discussion in Washington as to whether Mullah Omar’s name was on that list that Clinton and Mullen presented in Islamabad. It almost doesn’t matter. The doubt itself is the message: Pakistan stays valuable because it has terrorist “ties” or “links” or “proxies” or whatever. As national existential dilemmas go, Pakistan’s is particularly nightmarish. The U.S. will leave them to it — abandonment again — and choose the happier relationship with India. Secretary Clinton will be at the regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in late July, helping to take her longtime initiative of eastward Indian engagement, and the integration of the United States into East Asian political structures, to a new level. This is part of a long-term strategy of accommodating the rise of China and of India.

And Pakistan, after 10 years, will be left behind; as the line in Washington goes, “There is no good solution.”

Of Babra and other Sharifs

By Asif Noorani for Dawn

Way back in 1915, when M F Hussain (Maqbool Fida Hussain) was born his mother named him Maqbool (which means popular). She had no idea that her son, born in a modest household, would become the most well known South Asian painter of the late 20th and early 21st century.

But not all names bring good luck to those who have to live with them. I had a clerk working for me, whose name was Raees (rich) but the man led a difficult life in the monetary sense. So was a man called Akhtar Nawab. He had neither the finances nor the mindset of a nawab. Haseena is a common name among the fair sex, but most girls with that name are anything but. Haseena Moin was charming in her salad years and is still quite pleasant to look at.

What is true of names is also true of surnames. The one Sharif (noble) who really deserved the surname was Babra Sharif. Even when she was at the peak of her career, the model turned actress (the unisex term actor was not used in her heyday for a female of the species) was on the dot for her shooting. She never threw tantrums like some popular film stars do. She never spoke ill of anybody including those who, out of sheer jealousy, lost no opportunity to make snide remarks about her. When the time came for her to call it a day, she retired gracefully, unlike our politicians in power who are forced to leave disgracefully from their offices.

But not all Sharifs are noble like her. In fact I have yet to come across anyone with that name or surname who could live up to it. Babara used no unkind words for her rivals, but this person (shh! no names please, make your own guess) left no opportunity to pass disparaging remarks about a lady with whom he once played a game of musical chairs. One afternoon he came to the Karachi Press Club, where he went on and on, speaking ungallantly against the first and so far the only woman prime minister in the country. The speech over, a callow journalist not known to be a good judge of human beings, invited the guest to visit the book fair in the club’s backyard. “I am sorry I have an important meeting to attend,” he said and took off in one of the four limos that were parked outside the club.

The same journalist, out of sheer curiosity, followed the fleet of cars on his humble motorbike and you know where did our favourite Sharif go to? “It’s elementary, my dear Watson,” Sherlock Holmes would have said. Our friend was seen downing a large glass at the Punjab Lassi House at Burnes Road. In those days mobile phones, with cameras, were not available otherwise the young journo would have had a prize photograph.

While on Sharifs, I must refer to the news item that appeared in the June 17 issue of a respected English daily. It had a screaming headline: “Shahbaz richest member of Punjab assembly”. In the introductory paragraph, the report said that the Punjab chief minister has assets of Rs 489.64 million in the country and abroad. The details are mind-boggling. But the question remains, is it merely a tip of the iceberg? Those who follow him, in the list of declarations made in 2010, also fall into the category of filthy rich. These were the figures submitted to the Election Commission by the members of the Punjab Assembly. What would have been no less relevant was the figure of the taxes that they pay. Sadly, those figures which should be abysmally low are not mentioned. Don’t you think such declaration should come from the head of the state and the head of the government also?

Perhaps, mine is a case of jealousy. I still move around in my old and but reliable Suzuki Khyber. I paid more income tax than what the chief executive of the country paid. The tax figures paid by him and some other bigwig were revealed in a report, published in the newspapers according to the NAB, when Gen Pervez Musharraf elbowed him out of his office. I have no bungalow. I live in an apartment. The fault is mine. I was always more interested in books than in lassi. So, why crib?

Asif Noorani, a seasoned journalist, is the writer of three best-selling books including ‘Boom, Boom Shahid Afridi’.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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