Tuesday, December 27, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed     Pakistan Today  27 December 2011

PTI, sajada nashins and lotas

Well, what could be nicer than the news of Javed Hashmi joining the PTI? It appears to have tried, but the PML(N) leadership was unable to lure him back into a rapidly sinking ship. Yes, the PML(N) is definitely sinking, and like a couple of desperate housewives the brothers Sharif have witnessed texts in the city from the chief of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf to the cell phones of an avid electorate, inviting them to join the PTI rally in Karachi. That rally turned out to be a resounding success. Now let’s see how many of his promises Mr Khan is able to honour. If he can manage to ‘keep (even one of) the *&^%$!@# honest’, he will have earned his keep.

Years of imprisonment and a stroke could not prevent Mr Hashmi becoming a much respected “political scientist, geo-strategist and a statesman” or “one of the most vocal critics of General Pervez Musharraf's military regime (who) openly criticised General Musharraf's treatment of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, and his policy on the war on terror.” He will be a valuable addition and an asset to a party on the scramble for stalwarts. Mr Hashmi’s inclusion might go some way towards righting the balance for a party that is threatening, but not sure, to become another feudal enclave what with the inclusion of stray sajjada nashinsand other lotas.

The PTI is now pretty sure to be the major opposition to a government that will almost certainly still be an amalgam of the PPP and MQM, plus whoever else joins the circus – who knows, perhaps even the eternally miffed PML(N)? It will be interesting to see Imran’s choice of some of those shadowy persons in opposition parties who say “Yo!” and rise purposefully when the man calls “Minister for Defence?” or “Foreign Minister?”

Students at a madrassah
On quite another positive front was news of the rescue of 45 students discovered chained in the basement of a madrassah in Karachi’s infamous Sohrab Goth. The news was lost somewhere between the Memogate and the political maneuverings that monopolise media attention in this country. The wonderful fact of these kids, most of whom aged around 20, being found and set free definitely deserves a resounding hurrah.

A police official involved in the operation said that "The madrassahofficials claim that they had chained those students because they were drug addicts and they wanted to rehabilitate them and make them better Muslims."

Yay for madrassah wisdom and logic! Way to make good Muslims and cure junkies. While you’re at it, drag them into the fold in chains, club them on their heads and get them to detox. Zia-ul-Haq did not die in an air crash; he parachuted straight into Sohrab Goth where he landed bang on top of Jimmy Hendrix and gave birth to a litter of suicide bombers to each of whom he bequeathed an exploding mango with the instructions to go forth and detonate.

Please, Pakistan Police, check all madrassahs and all remote buildings and make sure that their basements are free of our precious children. And thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

We may be happy to see the last of this government, but we’d much rather it was sent on its way under circumstances other than yet another military ouster. The mind boggles at the prospect of going through the whole coup process once more, of yet another bimbo in khaki with political aspirations hogging the airwaves again.

Definitely Imran Khan will be a welcome change with Hashmi to give him direction, if he can sort the wheat from the chaff entering his party. Here is a man with some integrity who is worried about his ‘kursi’, true, but mostly that he could have ended up paying for them all if they had been stolen in bulk by the Quaid’s children after the PTI’s rally at the Quaid’s mazaar on Sunday.

If the army is so keen to safeguard the nation and ‘support the democratic process in the country’, it should guard the chairs at such free and democratic political rallies so that politicians can indulge their penchant for making rash promises in peace. We can then hang them at leisure if they fail to keep them.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed             20 December 2011    Pakistan Today

The rich and the covered

I’m all for a decent burial, but only after I die. So while tempted to don thehijab in defiant reaction to prejudice against it in Australia while I lived there, several factors prevented me, but mainly the heat. A close second was the difficulty of explaining my antipathy to the hijab to my two small children even though I wore it. The third was the inconvenience of managing the children, a job and a home while battling extra garments, and the fourth the conviction that one’s personal appearance should be dictated by personal views in the light of certain beliefs, not social pressure. I could align myself as definitely if more sensibly in other, better ways.

Therefore I remained as before, practically and decently but less expensively dressed.

It is a moot point whether hijabs/niqabs/abayas are prescribed by Islam.

Everyone knows that the Quran enjoins modesty on all believing men and all believing women. In the case of women, it expects them not to display their beauty in public, and to draw their outer garments over themselves when out of doors. There are various interpretations of what constitutes a woman’s beauty, her outer garments, etc. It is not the remit of this column to cover any of this.

A reason for not adopting the hijab in Australia was the heat. This remains an argument against this headdress anywhere and at anytime, also prompting the question whether the All Merciful enjoined this headdress in fanless times. It is not unusual, says the BBC, for temperatures from May to September ‘over much of the Arabian Peninsula, with the exception of the mountains, to rise above 48°C/120°F.’

Clothing most suitable for such temperatures is pale, lose cotton that covers against the burning sun, yet allows free circulation of air. This cannot include two layers of tight head covering, nor a veil over the face, and nor can it mean a coat, however light, over an inner dress, however thin, not to mention a third layer of the foundation garments worn by women. Layering, as those who have lived in cooler climates know, is the best way to keep warm, not cool.

It would take just one week for men (the main interpreters of religion) forced to wear such clothes to say “pshaw” and hotly defend this argument. It is a measure of women’s suppression that they dressed this way for years.

The working women of Pakistan, the cleaning ladies and those who work in the fields, wear shalwars that end short of the ankle, and light dupattasthat shield the head and neck from the sun. Most, moreover, discard thedupatta when they work and hitch the shalwar up further to facilitate movement. You will almost never see one of these practical women in ahijab, or abaya as the outer coat is called. They can’t afford them, they can’t work in them.

Teachers wearing the niqab cannot make essential eye contact, and remembering Lal Masjid and Abdul Aziz tantalisingly clad in a burqa, it is also a security issue.

I lay myself open to recrimination by saying that the hijab, niqab andabaya are mainly accessories of the rich, the tradition bound, and those dictated to, although many women wear them with the genuine intention of fulfilling the terms of their belief, as I do not. I respect their strength and vehemently defend their right to their convictions thereby thumbing my nose at the French. Still, the majority of those clad this way live in air conditioned homes with UPS and generators, two drawing rooms for segregation, servants, and money enough to buy the extra fabric.

Modesty is an attitude which applies as much to men as it does to women – bottom pinchers of Bohri Bazaar take heed.

I, as a Muslim, defend the right of any Muslim to interpret this beautiful religion of Islam any which peaceful way he chooses, hopefully with intelligence. I also defend the right of any person to try to convince another of the validity of his arguments and interpretation. I reject and hopefully most Muslims reject with me the supposed right of anyone to harm anyone else on the basis of these views. Such violence is what is destroying this country.

I would dearly love Islam to be the foundation of any edifice we build. However, like all beautiful things, Islam can be twisted, sometimes into an ugly shape, just like the one we see today. I’ve said this before, but unless we learn to build rather than break in its name, we must lay Islam to one side on the public front, and start the long trudge along the hard road of human error with every successive generation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


  By Rabia Ahmed                          Pakistan Today  12 December 2011

Inside the Mohatta Palace, Karachi

Why preserve a heritage?

The Mohatta palace, built in colonial times for a Hindu businessman by a Muslim architect in the Mughal style using traditional pink Jodhpur stone and the yellow Gizri stone of Karachi is a speaking amalgam of time, place and person. Sensitively restored, it is a living symbol of the pleasure the past brings to a living present.
In this setting a panel discussion took place entitled ‘Critical Heritage: The future of Pakistan’s past.’ As keynote speaker Kamil Khan Mumtaz, one of Pakistan’s most gifted architects posed the simple question: Who are we?
Who are we indeed?
It is worth asking in addition why the past must be preserved and how? Is it so that we can revert to it?
According to Bertrand Russell, “There are two reasons for reading a book: one that you enjoy it, the other that you can boast about it!” Exactly so, it is a pleasure to explore one’s heritage, the Mohatta Palace, the Badshahi Mosque, the Lahore Fort; they are also a source of pride, inspite of the flaws.
Inside the Badshahi mosque,
It is also that the past, like another direction on a compass, is a point of reference that provides you with identity and helps position you in this world.
The people of Pakistan despite their varied genealogy rise to certain occasions as one. This could be defined as a collective identity, provided by the country we live in now, our recent past, and the years before. We may not live like our ancestors any longer or share all their values and predilections – not many of us move to another country to proselytise, not many of us move to another country to conquer – but we are undoubtedly products of a common history and it is this history that speaks to us by means of our visual heritage. This is why it needs to be preserved.
The statues of Buddha so wantonly destroyed were no threat to any faith. They simply spoke of the skill and dedication of those who chiselled these mammoths from harsh stone. They stood in mute testimony to persons who lived in these parts before we did, who were milestones along our history, helping us to visualise the pathways travelled by others before we arrived at where we stand today.
Buildings of the Mughal period would tempt no one to fratricide, patricide or to build lavish tombs for one’s spouse, although they do tempt some to poetry. They stand (or now almost fall) as a reminder of opulence gone by when elephants carried riders up wide steps into a fort, when a candle lit inside a pavilion burst into a thousand dazzling flames.
There is no threat implicit in someone else’s past either. Their heritage in Rome is a pleasure even though they were not my ancestors – Michaelangelo, Leonardo, or Raphael. Yet they instil in me a pride in the talents of my fellow human beings. I arise from the cradle of Mesopotamia or Gandhara and then from Jodhpur, Delhi, Agra or Bengal. I live now in Lahore or Karachi or Dera Ghazi Khan and am in addition a citizen of the world. I need to destroy no one, pull down no monuments to prove my identity or the worth of my ancestors.
Our children today are scattered in a diaspora as unsettling as the one that scattered the children of Israel. They dress in various ways, speak and eat according to their adoptive lands, yet their roots feed on exactly the same springs as ours. For those who remain at home, a longing for wider horizons leads them to adopt ways that express this yearning but the opportunity is often denied. What is more, life at home is such that even to copy is torment and anything that stands for change bitter.
The threat to our monuments from negligence, vandalism and their destruction by religious fanatics has no basis in religion. It is purely an expression of anger and an urge for self-assertion in a world that denies many the basic economic means for survival.
Budhist statues, Taxila
In countries like Pakistan, the expensive preservation of monuments requires more sensitivity than elsewhere in the world. To leave this work of restoration in the hands of workers who possess neither skill for the job nor the wherewithal for personal existence is foolish. As the architect Sajjad Kausar demonstrated in his presentation, the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore suffered as a result of a lack of this sensitivity, as have other monuments, and by extension the people to whom these monuments belong.
The past can never be destroyed but its lessons certainly can, along with the roots that it provides.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed         Pakistan Today 6th December 2011

A case of selective outrage

“Thy government is thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,

And for thy maintenance…To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,

Whilst thou lie’st warm at home, secure and safe;” says Kate, Shakespeare’s erstwhile Shrew once tamed.

Kate, of course used the word ‘husband’ rather than ‘government’, but alas the unhusbanded people of Pakistan, uncared for, hardly maintained, unable to lie warm at home…neither safe nor secure.

Last month, Nato aircrafts attacked two of Pakistan’s border posts along Afghanistan, reportedly unprovoked, killing at least 24 Pakistani troops.

It is as Huma Yusuf said in her column Understanding Sovereignty:‘Other countries cannot be expected to take our state’s flirtation with the concept (of sovereignty) seriously. At times, we thump righteous fists in defence of a concept we barely understand or value. At (others) we are the first to subvert our own sovereignty by inviting foreign states to interfere in matters that ought to be Pakistan’s unique business.’

Inviting the US to meddle with our armed forces, or complaining to Britain to help resolve security issue is the best this government can do but by no means the worst, which is when it subverts its own role as the sovereign authority within a state claiming independence.

As many as 24, some say more, soldiers killed by violent means is tragic any time; if the violence is unprovoked it is criminal as well. Yet look around to see how many innocent civilians die everyday in this country because of the criminal negligence of those who are supposed to care for them.

The government asked the National Institute of Health (NIH) to stop compiling lists of dengue-related cases to avoid panic. Therefore there are no figures available for deaths this year as a result of dengue fever, but they appear to be in hundreds. These deaths, still occurring, are largely linked to the negligence of relevant authorities who failed to take appropriate measures against the spread of this virus.

The horrifying practice of karo kari (‘honour’ killing) is, according to the Ansar Burney Trust website, a ‘shockingly common practice in Pakistan’. Quoting loosely, the website says that “karo kari involves the murder of a female member of a family by a relative because she is thought to have brought dishonor upon the family. Women on whom suspicion falls are rarely given the opportunity to defend themselves. (Her) relatives have no other socially acceptable alternative but to remove the stain of dishonor on the family name by killing her, the female responsible.

This violation of the code of ‘decent behaviour’ can be anything: a woman refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, seeking divorce (even from an abusive husband), having extra-marital relationships (sexual or otherwise), flirting, or even becoming the victim of rape.

Suspicion and accusations alone are often enough to defile a family’s honour and therefore enough to warrant the killing of the woman.”

News dated 3 December: a girl who had eloped with and married the man of her choice was shot dead by her uncle, right in her parents’ home in Lahore. She was lucky to be shot. Some women in such situations are burnt to death, often with acid, others are beaten and tortured until they die.

This woman was one of about 1000 women who die every year in Pakistan as a result of karo kari. Persons committing murder are punishable with death or life imprisonment under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code. According to the Ansar Burney Trust however, persons ‘who commit karo kari typically go unpunished.’

There have been many expressions of outrage following the Nato attacks, rallies in various Pakistani cities where citizens expressed their anger towards Nato and specifically the US. Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan have been closed, no Bonn, and the government has made the appropriate noises, demanding an apology from Washington which, saysThe New York Times, President Obama will not tender, at least for now.

Where is the outcry following the dengue, the karo kari, the target killings?

Again, and it was a man, Zaheer Iqbal this time, who suffered the consequences of a family’s ‘lost honour’. Zaheer was shot for having ‘developed illicit relations with the sister of a local man.’

The news of Zaheer’s murder in one newspaper was immediately followed by news of the Chief Traffic Officer of some area deputing wardens intelligently on the roads to maintain traffic flow outside a makeshift goat market.

The issue has been placed in the perspective in which it is viewed in this country. For this issue no righteous fists were thumped.

‘Providence, the most popular scapegoat for our sins,’ said Mark Twain. It is either Providence, or the USA; never ourselves.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


By:Rabia Ahmed  Pakistan Today  Monday, 28 Nov 2011 

How come ‘Butt’ was never banned?

They wanted to ban Jesus Christ? Really? How come they think of banning ‘Jesus Christ,’ and not ‘Moses’ and ‘Mohammad’? I take exception to such partisanship. I thought we were supposed to love them all alike.

And if Jesus is banned, the words ‘virgin’ or ‘birth’ couldn’t be far behind. Well we could do with some birth-banning in this country, but many people with a vestal interest would have something to say about banning ‘virgin’, not to mention passengers and travel agents: “You’re going to fly PIA from here to London (always presuming PIA can get its act together) and then you will take that airline, the immaculate one, to New York.”

What idiots we are and what holes we dig for ourselves to fall into (and there are another two banned words right there). How can we do this time and time again? And while on the subject, how come ‘Butt’ was never banned, especially of the Ijaz variety?

Who is the inveterate ass at the helm of things that comes up with such hair-brained ideas?

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority was established to set up, reorganise and regulate telecommunications in this country. Having set up telecommunications of sorts, and having liberally handed out contracts for mobile services to many and sundry, it obviously wondered what else it needed to do.

One day a well-connected mullah probably wandered into their offices, you know the sort, who raved and ranted about some stupid texts he had received on his mobile. The PTA hunched over and asked the mullahwhat they should do. The mullah gave them a list of words to ban, the PTA issued the list, and the head honcho of the PTA no doubt went home congratulating himself for a day’s work well done. That is, until the following day when he saw the reaction and his hair stood on end.

The list is now being reconsidered, and the PTA has said that only a dozen words may remain. So they’re trimming that list down from 1700 to 12 words? Isn’t that rather excessive, or does that say something about the level of incompetence we have to live with?

Pakistan is a poor country and its far-flung areas are not always accessible. It is a role that our telecommunications authority can play, making telecommunication available in Kalam, Gilgit, Baltistan, FATA, and other inaccessible places.

In some countries of Africa, the telecommunication sector plays that crucial role by providing access to information and help for field workers in the health sector. Mobile phones enable health workers track the spread of HIV in the country, submit reports or questions for analysis, and subsequently deal with health issues that arise anywhere in their country, however remote.

Telecommunications are being used around the world to provide access to education and training to people who would otherwise be unable to avail these facilities, and in the fields of security and intelligence.

Telecommunications in Pakistan, particularly the use of mobile phones, has increased dramatically, with every other person wandering around with a cell phone glued to his ear. But the service leaves much to be desired. In many rural areas, the facility is either unavailable or extremely limited. Internet service providers are inefficient and the quality of transmission/reception is substandard. Billing systems are poorly managed in many cases and frequent power outages expose weaknesses such as inadequate backup systems for an uninterrupted provision of service.

These are the issues on which the PTA should spend its time and resources.

With Pakistan lagging so far behind in the industrial, technological, and every field known to the world today, what passes for religion and morality by the greybeards of this country is proving to be a grave hindrance to progress, not to mention grounds for humiliation. The recent list of banned, so-called ‘obscene’ words exposes not just a foolish mentality, but a bent of mind obscene in itself.

                      November 19, 2011

It also exposes more plainly than anything else the total absence of planning: how in heaven’s name was it considered even remotely possible to block these words, most of which are used in common parlance in completely innocent ways which the twisted minds that formulated this list obviously could not comprehend, if they ever even tried.

If religion in this country cannot be used in the manner it is meant to be, which is for the good of the people and for their progress, maybe it is better laid aside on the public level. Let each private individual practise it to the best of his or her ability until sense prevails.

Monday, November 21, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed    Pakistan Today     22 November 2011

Irrepressible still                                                
The sight of female passengers hefting their own luggage off the carousel at the airport is as good as a ‘Welcome to Karachi’ sign. It also brings home to me how much I love this bustling city, much as I have grown to like IK’s Lahore, now my home.

Karachi has changed. Superficially, the flyovers are responsible for this; great, indispensable but ugly concrete ramps that swoop from one side of here to the other side of somewhere else, scything great swathes from commuting time for harried Karachi drivers. Newcomers, however, come off these flyovers disoriented and faintly green, unsure if they face the airport or Saddar and get to either in record time when they actually needed to get to the other. 

The beach haunts of yore Hawke’s Bay and Sand Spit are now less frequented due to security concerns, and it is the more accessible Sea View beach that boasts the raunaq. The sight of hundreds of tall buildings lining the coast road is probably a reassuring sight, and appears to embolden people in more ways than one, because at one of the parks along the beach I saw a sight not very common in this country: a young girl ensconced in her swain’s lap.

Security guards around Bilawal House,
President Zardari's private home, Karachi
That is a darn sight better than the sight (and infuriating nuisance) of the permanently partial and frequently totally blockaded public road, Khayaban-e-Saadi, unhappy host to Bilawal House. The residents of this house live in the lap of luxury and fear, and encroach on the tax-payers’ property and purse barricaded behind gates, roadblocks and gigantic cage like walls set up along the middle of the road.

Did Hosni Mubarak ever barricade himself behind cages too, or did he just find himself in one when it all ended?

If Karachi’s security situation were not so, dire it would be one of the more congenial cities in Pakistan. As it is, while housewives in Lahore move in a cloud of dahi baras, samosas and triple-decker tea trolleys, their counterparts in Karachi move in a nervous jangle of keys. The bunch handed to me by my hosts consists of: three keys for the gate, one for the front door, three for the kitchen, one for the side entrance, two for the reception areas, and one for each bedroom, which makes it a total of what, fourteen keys in all? Every door belonging to each key is locked every time one leaves the house because it is uncertain how reliable the maid is, which makes the exercise similar to running an obstacle race. And while on the subject of the uncertain maid, she a young lass of twenty, has been receiving menacing calls from a stranger offering to give her a ride to work on his bike, via his home. Given the horror stories with which the city abounds, this is no trifling matter.

Then of course there is the burglar alarm, but let’s stay with the ‘panic buttons’ for now. Scattered around the house disguised as light switches they fool unsuspecting guests into pressing one, and bingo! All hell breaks loose: the alarm screams and the house is surrounded by armed security men, while the red faced guest whispers, “I just needed to go to the bathroom!”

To a person now used to and most appreciative of the somewhat less murderous propensities of the citizens of Lahore, this aspect of Karachi weighs heavily on the mind and the hand bag, which sags with all those keys.

Meantime, I have been warned on no account to open the gate without first checking a caller’s identity on the intercom, never to remain in a parked car, to protect my cell phone with my life, and to keep the car door locked at all times, with the windows up. Obviously, somewhere along the line, Karachi turned into a safari park.

The residents of Karachi appear to have accepted this state of affairs much like the rest of the people of Pakistan for whom bombings, murders, kidnappings and robbery have become the normal way of life. This was amusingly illustrated one day when I saw a marmalade cat jump onto the wall and settle quite comfortably onto the bottommost strand of the barbed wire meant to protect the wall from intruders.                             
Pakistan has its faults, but the resilience of its people is impressive. As for Karachi, this wonderful city on the coast of the Arabian Sea with its fascinatingly diverse population picks itself up and moves on following each setback, totally despite the mind boggling indifference of those who are supposed to protect it.

Karachi tairay haal pay hum rotay hain,
Jo tairay darban hain khudh wohi sotain hain

Translation: Great city, pathetic government.