Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Comment: Can’t wait to go
By Rabia Ahmed 
Sunday, 16 May, 2010 | 03:57 AM PST |
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Living outside Pakistan, one becomes dependent on fast food restaurants, but not in the way you might think. It isn’t the ‘Supersize Meal’ aspect that I am talking about. It’s the fact that in foreign countries, there is a fast food chain in all kinds of remote places, even on busy highways. And that is where would you go if you need to use the ‘facilities’. 
You can depend on a fast food restaurant for a high calorie meal and a bathroom. Yes, I know they’re pretty awful much of the time, both the meal and the bathroom, but that’s much better than none, once again, that applies to both, but we’re talking about bathrooms here. And believe me, ‘no bathrooms’ is what you get in Pakistan. 

I must give the devil its due though and admit that things are a tad better now than they used to be, oh let’s see, back in 1972, when I was a little kid. These days there are those washrooms along the motorway (oh and they’re called ‘washroom’, by all and sundry.) No one knows ‘ghussul khana’ anymore. These washrooms range from pretty horrendous to passably decent, even to, on the odd occasion, surprisingly good. I can wax lyricals about the decent ones, but that may be information overload. 

I remember that long ago in the ’70s, when like the Gilbreths in Cheaper by the Dozen, we stopped at every promising clump of trees, when driving long distances such as from Lahore to Karachi, and back. We did that route many, many times, and I reckon some of the verdure you see today owes its existence pretty heavily to our trips in ways that you can imagine for yourself, though you may not wish to.

But returning to 2010, well the population of Pakistan today is over 172,800,000. That’s the sixth most populous country in the world, right behind Brazil. In 1972 the population was about 65,321,000. That was when the promising clump of trees was also a private clump of trees barring the odd wild boar, but they’re mainly after sugar cane. You could add to the verdure in peace in one of those clumps of trees, and we did.

I’m not sure what happens in Brazil other than Kak√° (the footballer, please), but in Pakistan today it would be hard to find a clump of trees, or even a single tree free of the odd dhoti-clad farmer, whistling through the gap in his teeth as he strolls home, lota in hand. 

No, there is no solitary clump of trees to be had this side of the Wagah border for love or money, from the north 
of the country down to the southernmost tip. Not any more. I don’t include places like Murree and further north in this reckoning, but if you have been up north lately, you would have seen that monkeys have now replaced the local populace. And trust me you want to be caught even less in any position which prevents a quick getaway, with one of those animals around. 

So anyway, here we are, back in Pakistan, and let’s say there’s this lady who needs a pelvic ultrasound. What does she do, for pity’s sake? I mean, have you ever had a pelvic ultrasound? Do you know how much water you have to drink before the dratted machine takes a decent picture of your innards? 

This is when you start making friends just because they live along where they do. Enduring friendships have been founded on opening statements such as “Could I use the bathroom please?” Marriages have resulted from “I’ll have tea later. I need to use the washroom first, please.” 

I am one of these people who plan ferociously before leaving the house. If I have to leave at 4pm, not a drop of water crosses my lips post-3pm. Tea is taboo because after the age of 40, it makes you go. So when the rest of the family is resignedly waiting in the car, I make a last dash to the bathroom, just in case. And then once again before they turn nasty, just to make doubly sure. 

I mean, who knows these days? What if a VIP is visiting the city? You may think there is no connection between the man and bathrooms (sorry, washrooms), but there is, there is! Didn’t you hear of that poor woman who gave birth in a rickshaw? So what do you do if you are stuck in an endless line of traffic for four bloody hours, with a lecherous motorcyclist behind you and a camel cart in front, with a VIP cavalcade in the offing, and you need the bathroom? What can be worse than that? Even after the man has gone in a flash of teeth and sirens, there are still two or three hours to go before you can get out of the traffic mess. 

What if you are in Gagomal somewhere in the armpit of the Punjab? Bet you never thought of that, did you before you decided to visit Gagomal? (What are you doing there, anyway?) What if you are in Gagomal then? No fast food restaurants in Gagomal! Ha! Just the ubiquitous farmer with his lota, probably more than one, weaving in and out of clumps of trees. They never stay at home, these people. 

The trick of course, is never to go there, Gagomal. It is not a good idea. Just don’t leave home if you can help it. Not if you live in Pakistan. People keep ringing me from more sterile places telling me not to go out much anyway. What if there is a bomb, they say? What if there is a target killer on the loose? 

Honestly, my intention is not to trivialise these occurrences, God forbid. But really, our leaders are just too busy causing traffic jams, so those things are a dime a dozen now. May we all keep safe from both leaders and terrorists. But if it happens, then it is fated to be, and we can’t cower at home and let them win, can we?

But what’s much worse, is what if you need to use the washroom and you are stuck somewhere? The mind boggles at the mere thought.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Comment: Here & there
By Rabia Ahmed 
Sunday, 08 Aug, 2010 | 03:23 AM PST |
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A university professor set an examination question in which he asked, “What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?” The professor had to give an A+ to a student who answered: I don't know and I don't care. 

And with a twist to that answer, neither do those in Pakistan who should. Ignorant and apathetic; life for them is an equal measure of obliviousness and indifference. Housing, food, healthcare: they do not care whether or not these exist for the rest of the people of Pakistan, as long as they have these comforts themselves. These people are both unaware of the depths of the deprivation around them and unaffected by it. Qualifications and education are unimportant to them because they do not know the value, being without it themselves. As long as they have money, nothing else counts.

Growing up in Pakistan was uncomplicated. It was all we had seen, so we lived our lives, witnessed political turmoil and social hardships, but took it all in our stride despite the concern our elders evinced. We knew things were not quite right, but oh well! 

Moving away from here was hard, leaving the family behind, having to do all the work oneself. We brought up children, cooked and cleaned, washed clothes and dishes, mowed the yard, painted the walls and lugged heavy stuff around. No drivers, ayahs, cooks, or cleaning ladies, we did it all ourselves and in time got used to it.

Yet even though we were so taken up with all these things, our surroundings had an impact on us. It was easier to talk to and be understood by the man in the street and others you dealt with. People were on the same footing because they could read, write, and had the basic amenities of life, as well as dignity of labour. The plumber arrived in a BMW. The handyman’s wife had a master’s degree (a genuine one). The medical consultant’s wife cleaned houses for a living, and the hairdresser across the street was a highly qualified nurse who opted to dress hair instead. If a person was old, sick or hurt, the neighbours looked in on her or him, and heaven help those in charge if any person who was injured, sick or in any way disadvantaged because of any negligence on their part. 

The difference is that the common man in civilised countries has basic education, which brings living within his grasp. As a result, there is also a better understanding of concepts, rights, duties, ideas and by extension better jobs and opportunities.

So, what we should have been able to experience in our own country where ideologically, we are taught the same, we experienced elsewhere in fact. Living away from Pakistan, we learnt the value of bare necessities of life, not just for ourselves, but for everyone: health, education, decent accommodation, food, and care in old age, disability and unemployment. We were educated in the overall dignity of life. 

Education, it is said, leads to a progressive discovery of one’s own ignorance. 

The children grew up, we grew older, and one day we returned ‘home’, where my husband has been able to indulge his interest in farming. 

Being good at doing things himself, he did the easy part of the wiring around the farm. One day when only a bit of the work was left, he had to leave for home. Before leaving, he carefully instructed one of his workers on how to finish the wiring. 

“Join this blue wire to this blue one, and that green one to this green one,” he said, indicating the relevant wires around the board, and made sure the man had heard and understood. Or so he thought. 

When he came back the following day, he stretched out his hand to switch on the lights, but decided to check the wiring first. It is provident that he thought of doing that, because the green wire had been twisted into the blue 
one and the blue onto the green. 

He was furious, and asked the culprit why he had done this.

“Did you not understand what I said?” he asked.

“Oh I did,” the man replied happily. “Magar sahib ji, ai sona lagda ai!” (But sir, this looks much nicer!”)

What do you say to a man who thinks this way? With the level of the education in Pakistan (or its lack thereof) it is sure that the brains of almost half the people of Pakistan function along these lines. A shame, a crying shame for a people who, given the chance have proved to be a lot more intelligent than this. 

Based on the statistics presented by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the literacy rate in Pakistan is 55 per cent, one of the lowest in the world. It is predicted that most adults will be involved in the process of learning in one form or the other in the world during the present century. In Pakistan today, few people will be able to tell you which century we live in. 

Give us time, one friend said, we’ll get there. Unfortunately it is also said that time, although a great teacher kills all its pupils. Unfortunately, so does illiteracy in some form or the other.

I am so glad my husband checked the wires. The job should have been given to a qualified and certified electrician. 

This should apply across the board, to electricians, builders, doctors, politicians, everyone. One needs to be vigilant, however, since invalid qualifications are easily obtained. We are left with repercussions of gross ineptitude. 

It is sad how values filter down from above.


By Rabia Ahmed
Ayatollah Khomeini
The heat in any discussion is in inverse proportion to the knowledge.
It is almost 22 years since Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses.
The publication of this book in Britain in September 1988 led to a worldwide protest by Muslims who regarded it as blasphemous. Most of these people had never read the book themselves. They were carried along on the tide of public frenzy.
Nine days after The Satanic Verses was published, it was banned in India, and subsequently in Pakistan. Muslims wanted the book withdrawn in Britain, and burned copies at a demonstration in Bradford's main square. Similar scenes took place elsewhere in the world, and protests took various forms as they gathered pace in different countries, including attacks on people involved in translating or publishing the book.
In February 1989, the Iranian leader issued a fatwa (linking the word forever with a death sentence issued by an extremist), pronouncing Rushdie punishable by death for the crime of writing the book.
Rushdie and his eyebrows had to live in hiding and under special protection for several years, where he toyed with the idea of writing a book about the experience, and enjoying himself by hitting the best seller list and making guest appearances in movies.
Muslims worldwide failed to separate the grain from the chaff, and utilize the interest generated by the book to initiate rational debate about Islam. They lost the opportunity to discuss Islam, its values and rationales, on a world forum. What followed instead were mass hysterics and a beard bristling brouhaha that achieved nothing other than a negative image for Islam and Muslims.
Just a few years later, in 1993, Tasleema Nasrin a Bangladeshi writer published her book ‘Lajja’, (Shame), a story of the persecution of a Hindu family by Muslims.
Following publication of ‘Lajja’, a Muslim group pronounced a death sentence on Tasleema Nasrin (the fashion had been set earlier, you notice), and she was drummed out of her country, after a series of threats and attacks on her life.
Nasrin was granted asylum in Sweden and became the recipient of a long list of awards over the years in recognition of her writing.
Meantime in her home country, Nasrin was accused of calling for the revision of the Shariah.
This naturally raised the question of whether the Shariah is written in stone, since it is a system of law derived both from the Koran and the example of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). Was the Prophet Mohammad not a man that his example should be above discussion or the Shariah so weak that it can be damaged by mere books expressing an authors opinion? It is up to the defenders of the faith to meet what they perceive as irrational by rational debate?
This episode was followed by the usual conspiracists accusing Nasrin of being an appointee of imperial hordes sent to vilify Islam.
(I have to say, I often wonder how they are perceived as functioning, these incessant conspirators, and allies of conspirators against Islam…do they discuss their moves over cups of tea like so: “You go write such and such, and we’ll sneak in a crucifix with which to bash the mullahs, and while they’re rushing around after you, we can….oh, have another muffin, do!”)
Tasleema Nasrin was a medical doctor. Following these events, she gave up medicine and became a full time writer and activist.
So once again was lost an opportunity, this time to discuss and address the issue of religious and racial harassment and persecution, whether practiced by Muslims or non-Muslims, against any human being anywhere in the world. Such a debate would have increased world awareness about what Islam says against such acts, and given it the respect it deserves. Every person, of every race and religion, would have gained from it, certainly the Muslims who face harassment both in their own country by persons/regimes of different race or religion, and abroad, since Muslims live in such great numbers outside their home countries all over the world.
And so to the 12 Danish cartoons that appeared in 2006, one of them depicting the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) with a bomb with a lit fuse in his turban.
Hundreds of Muslims, Danish and others, demonstrated against the reprinting of a cartoon they consider offensive. Not only had the Prophet Muhammad been graphically depicted, but he had been depicted in a cartoon strip, with a bomb in his turban to boot. What the Prophet himself, a man with a sense of humour, would have thought about the issue is unknown. Most probably he would have been grieved, not by his own depiction thus, but by the circumstances the cartoons alluded to. But that is my own guess.
The fact remains, that terrorism is being perpetrated in the name of Islam, and by so called ‘Muslims’ all over the world. That, surely, is the matter to be addressed. Not some trivial cartoons made by some persons who would never come into the limelight had the Muslims themselves not placed them there.
It is a matter to be understood, that only believers of a particular faith abide by the restrictions or freedoms of that faith, not everyone else. Surely Muslims worldwide have enough issues enough to deal with in their communities without adding to a lot of trivia to the list?
And surely, Allah and His Prophets are not so puny as to be threatened by a cartoon strip?
In May 2010, we find the Lahore High Court issuing orders to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to place a ban on Facebook in Pakistan, because of a competition announced on one of its pages, where contestants were asked to draw caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad.
Pakistanis have the dubious distinction of apparently being the purveyors of the first computer virus ever. Before the day was out, I received emails from various people with instructions on how to get around the ban (links to various other portals that let you through), thus making a joke of another action by the said High Court.
The list goes on ad infinitum hackneyed and heated denunciations of the ‘enemies of Islam’. What appeared pointless fuss to others completely was really an inability to grasp the main issue and act accordingly.
Islam is a rational religion, not one that encourages rabble rousing, and it deserves respect, not derision, to which it has been repeatedly exposed. That in itself is a crime when committed by those who call themselves Muslim.
It is interesting to note that when someone else is perceived as persecuting a Muslim, such as the American government and its treatment of Dr Aafiya, a huge uproar ensues. Yet when persecution by a Muslim actually takes place, and it takes place with bone chilling frequency, there is almost no reaction at all in the Muslim world, as though Muslims are themselves incapable of persecution.
Are we as Muslims any less racist or bigoted ourselves?
Remember the expulsion of 60,000 Indians by Idi Amin from Uganda way back in the ‘70s, and much later, the atrocities in Somalia.
Bangladesh’s struggle for independence from Pakistan is one of the most shameful episodes in Muslim history. Approximately 3 million people, most of them Bengali, died in this conflict in 1971. Bengali women were raped by Pakistani soldiers, Bengali homes looted and devastated. Many Bengali families took refuge in neighboring India.
Islam does not teach this.
Today, as far as the young generation in Pakistan is concerned, it is as if all this never occurred, because no Pakistani school textbook speaks of this horror. The matter is completely glossed over.
Seeing that the only positive aspect of a wrong is if people learn from it, and act to prevent it happening ever again, this suppression of history is more than wrong. It is unforgivable.
More recently in Lahore in Pakistan, several armed terrorists stormed two congregations of Ahmadis at Friday prayers, and opened fire. As a result, more than 93 Ahmadis were killed, and about 200 injured. The reaction of the Muslims in Pakistan to this despicable act of terrorism was minimal to the point of being nonexistent. Where are the book burners now and those who set fire to flags and effigies?
The list is long and exhausting, and it is not all about Muslims. A recent example is the Indian movie about Hitler that the Jewish Federation is objecting to.
After all the atrocities committed by Hitler the most important fact now is that a person like him lived, ruled, and did all the dreadful things he did. And if this happened once, what is to prevent it from happening again? Suppressing information about him will achieve nothing. It all needs to be brought to light, and people should be able to say what they will about him. We need to study what people think about the man, what made him what he was, the conditions, the ideas, and the people of the time.
We have to see a clear image on both sides of a coin to get a full picture. How can any correct version be gained until we have everything in front of us, from which right and wrong can be discovered? You can see it as minting a coin, where a coin die is one of two pieces used to strike a single side of the coin. The die of course contains an inverse image of the image to be struck on the coin, and this is pressed on to the metal that is to be minted, and a true image results.
In an article in the Pakistani newspaper The Dawn of May 2010, Mahir Ali writes bitterly, “….Why not outlaw the internet altogether? It may not save much electricity, but it will surely help to keep the nation shrouded in ignorance.”
Is this what Muslims want? While nations all over the world compete in sport, develop artificial intelligence, discover cures for dreadful diseases, bring about great social and humanitarian change, as well as initiate untold horrors, wars, and disasters, do we wish Muslims to remain in ignorance of it all? So they can neither participate in the good nor prevent the bad, nor defend themselves against the outrageous?
In today’s day and age, we aim to put in place democratic governments that represent the people. However it is expected of the government that it will be somewhat more educated, more intelligent than the (largely uneducated) masses it governs, so that it can guide them to prosperity, and steer them away from hurting themselves.
A government that indulges in knee jerk responses to ignorant public reactions and punches the air with its fists along with the populace simply exposes its own ignorance, and is nothing but a hooligan in a bullet proof car.
In the same way, placing a ban on any information or technology is like Pandora trying to stuff all the plagues and diseases back into her jar.
In the end we are left, like Pandora with a jar that is mercifully not quite empty yet:
Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house,
she remained under the lip of the jar, and did not
fly away.

This article was printed in the Politics and Development Magazine on the 7th of October 2010, where it was called 'Hysteria or Rational Debate'. To connect to this online article please follow:


By Rabia Ahmed
Patron saint of Islamabad
If ‘the patron saint of Islamabad’ is any kind of saint, he is unlikely to wish to have a grander tomb. He would, in fact, object vociferously (presuming a dead saint could vociferate) to being in the said tomb in the first place, seeing that the republic of Pakistan lives around his earthly remains, begging bowl in hand, in the midst of filth and garbage with nary a roof, grand or otherwise, over its head.
It is extraneous to the present argument that the building of elaborate tombs is discouraged in Islam, that it is considered to be self glorification, and against the great Islamic principle of the equality of all men before God; that going on journeys to burial sites, and reverential treatment of graves such as kissing tombs, perfuming them, praying via rather than for the person buried at a grave, or bowing to a grave is considered idolatry, and a violation of the pivotal Islamic principal of the oneness of God.
That is the theological side of the matter, and there are those better qualified than I to pursue the argument from that angle. My point is far more mundane.
It appears that the devotees of Islamabad’s patron saint may be unable to celebrate his Urs (festival) this year, because the Central Development Authority (CDA) has refused to foot its share of the bill for the remodelling of the shrine, which was meant to ‘add grandeur’ to the structure.
The Dawn, 18 June 2010
ISLAMABAD, June 17 “....the desire of the city managers to add grandeur to the shrine by remodelling it without really having the money for it is going to block the celebration.”
In any logical scheme of things, the millions of Pakistanis living in abject poverty would be entitled, merely on the basis of being currently alive, to priority for support from their government. To any other claimants expecting to have bills footed for ambitious plans such as the renovation of shrines, one would like to say ‘tsk tsk’ and wish the words had horns with which to impale both whingeing devotees and patrons of shrines, and the government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Sadly, however, there is neither any logical scheme of things, nor any support forthcoming, at least not from our own government.
So no celebration, because the shrine can’t be made any grander, with money that isn’t there to start with. Or, since we are pursuing pipe dreams anyway, could it be that the money is unavailable because the CDA has spent it on the common man, all other commitments having been met, all pigs fed, and ready to fly....? Tsk.
More than 17% of the population of Pakistan live below the poverty line. This means living in conditions the like of which we cannot, do not wish to, imagine.
Here is an excerpt from IRIN a humanitarian news and analysis site of the UN, in a report entitled: Pakistan: Monsoon woes aggravated by poor housing.
LAHORE, 13 August 2008 (IRIN) - Rubina Bibi, 35, has not been able to go to work at the bungalow where she is employed as a cleaner since the morning of 12 August. "The rain began falling really hard just as I was starting out yesterday morning. The lane outside my house filled within minutes, making it impossible to walk out on foot," she told IRIN.

Since then, water has inundated her house in a shanty town in Lahore and she and her three children have been busy bailing out the water using tins, pans and buckets.

"I cannot leave with my house in this state, even though I will lose a day's wages," says Rubina, a widow who supports her children on an income of Rs 3,500 (about US$50) a month.

Lahore, the capital of Pakistan's Punjab Province, was hit by record rainfall on 12 August. The 168 millimetres that fell was the heaviest recorded in the city in 20 years, according to the local meteorological office.

The monsoon rains left at least 12 people dead across the country, according to ‘The News’ newspaper. Four died in the Punjab city of Faisalabad, 117km southwest of Lahore, including two children who were killed when the roofs of their homes collapsed.

Eight members of a family died in Charsadda in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) when the roof of a house collapsed killing a couple and their six daughters, local media reported. Hundreds were displaced in the NWFP by floods caused by rain earlier this month. Such incidents are not unusual in Pakistan during the monsoon.
Hazrat Syed Abdul Latif Qadri Kazmi, the patron saint of Islamabad, is also known as Hazrat Bari Imam. He was learned in fiqh, hadith, logic, mathematics, medicine and other disciplines, and he lived and died between 1617 to 1705 AD. May he rest in peace and honour.
It is the people of Pakistan who live, although just barely, and they have certainly neither rest nor peace, and only a misguided sense of honour.
Here is another excerpt from the Dawn, 18 June 2010, about our Parliament House in Islamabad, entitled: Budgeting for a better debate:
Freshly barbequed meat, prepared right inside the premises of parliament remains on offer as long as the sessions continue. Makeshift tents have been put up to serve as temporary kitchens. The moment visitors enter the parliament house, the smell of freshly cooked food greets them.

In addition, the parliament house is probably one of the most well air-conditioned buildings in Islamabad, equipped with an uninterrupted power supply. Surely, with all this the parliament house provides the best possible working environment in a country where people brave long hours without electricity, when the mercury is touching the 40s Celsius
All that food and an uninterrupted power supply. And yet attendance is thin in our parliament. After all, where’s the incentive? Without an inclination to work and overly generous salaries, the parliamentarians are after all as comfortable at home, which seem to get grander and more opulent by the day.
The Daily Times, Monday April 12, 2010
No power for the people
VIPs, government installations receive uninterrupted power supply at the expense of the common man
LESCO providing 500 to 700MW to VIPs
‘Favoured’ places include: Chief Minister House, Governor House, President House, Prime Minister House, high-profile offices and defense installations
Power protests continue for third day
The total bill for the remodelling of the shrine of the patron saint of Islamabad is said to be Rs 600 million of which the CDA is said to have committed to paying Rs 350 million.
The Dawn, 18 June 2010
Lahore June 17: Nadeem Ahmad, a vegetable trader in Ravi Roads Sabzi Mandi, was found hanged by his younger brother Waseem on the second storey of their small house.

Quoting the family, the area’s SHO said Nadeem hanged himself with an electric wire.

He had taken Rs500,000 from different people for his business and had failed to pay off the loan.

The creditors had been demanding their money back, which had distressed Nadeem as he was hardly able to meet his family’s daily expenses.

He bore the expenses of his two younger brothers and a sister after the death of his parents.

The Daily Times, 17 June 2010

ISLAMABAD: The US assured Pakistan, during a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the future prospects for greater cooperation in the energy sector, that it would assist in addressing the hardships experienced by Pakistanis…..
The Obama administration sent lawmakers a plan for $1.45 billion in aid for Pakistan this year.
Why should we need this money, and where, since we do, will it go?
Shall we hazard a guess, given our priorities?
The post of patron saint of a city has an impressive job description. The saint would be regarded, rightly or wrongly, as being ‘the special guardian of a person, group, trade, country, etc.’
In the case of the patron saint of Islamabad, one can’t help wondering what, or whom the saint is patronising, and who is patronising him back, in return. It is a sad end to what was in all probability the life of an impressive man.
The shrine is so far said to be cluttered with building materials and inaccessible for the festivities and rituals associated with the Urs.
The Dawn, May 18 2007:
ISLAMABAD, May 17: … Noorpur Shahan on Thursday the Capital Development Authority (CDA) staff razed one dozen houses which they declared “newly constructed and illegal” and did not touch two shops allegedly constructed at the same place by the people in charge of the Bari Imam shrine, eyewitnesses told Dawn.

They said the personnel of CDA’s enforcement directorate ….conducted the operation and demolished 12 houses located close to the shrine.

An eyewitness, who wished not to be named, said the houses were constructed by poor people of the area.
The shrine of the patron saint of Islamabad is located in the village of Noorpur Shahan, just behind the Prime Minister’s house in Islamabad.
Tsk Tsk.