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.

Monday, November 14, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed  Pakistan Today  15 November 2011
The fact that an educated class of persons, those other than the ‘great unwashed’ had a prominent presence at Imran Khan’s rally in Lahore appears to give heart to the millions longing for social and political change in Pakistan.

It is interesting though. Who, after all, are these educated persons amongst us who are supposed to enable change in our society? Are they the lawyers? The judges? The doctors?

In a country where up to ten percent of the parliament is said to be composed of persons holding fake degrees, where many schools exist only on paper, where academic excellence is assessed on the basis of the best memory for useless, tedious facts, what difference can this education and those who possess it, make?

Musharraf overreached himself in many ways, but it was when he messed with the judiciary back in 2007 that things became tough for him. Lawyers, mobilised by Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, began protests, including a Long March. There is little doubt that the judiciary found its voice once again as a result of their efforts. It is quite another matter that the judiciary has used this voice since with a degree of disorientation, appearing at times to confuse itself with the police, at others with various political and government departments and often simply issuing mystifying statements.

The hero of the piece, Chaudhry Iftikhar, presumably the most learned of them all given his position as Chief Justice, was responsible for a court ruling in 2002 because of which Musharraf got to keep both his uniform and the presidency simultaneously. As for the lawyers who attain their status after years of study, many violent protests, tantrums and unreasonable displays of pique have arisen from that quarter.

In September, this newspaper reported that ‘a group of lawyers thrashed two motorway police inspectors for confiscating a lawyer’s car on the motorway and imposing a fine for violations of traffic rules.’

The following month, ‘dozens of furious lawyers ransacked the courtroom of the judge who passed a verdict against Salmaan Taseer’s killer Mumtaz Qadri, smashing windows to protest against the judgment.’ Earlier on these same lawyers had garlanded Mr Qadri for assassinating the Governor.
Maybe these supposedly educated professionals are simply, as Ambrose Bierce says, “persons skilled in the circumvention of the law,” and nothing more.

Another bastion of professional, educated society is the medical brotherhood, which in recent years has also proceeded to spit the dummy several times. Doctors on strike do not need to be violent to cause grievous bodily harm; when doctors go on strike people die, as in May of this year, when several people died as a result of young doctors’ strike. In Quetta, it was said that striking doctors were also preventing senior doctors from working.

Recently, doctors in Lahore’s teaching hospitals went on strike to protest against a murder case lodged against one of their colleagues, causing untold hardship to those requiring medical care. In the midst of a dengue epidemic, dengue centres of some hospitals failed to function as a result of this strike.

It makes one ponder the distinction between being ‘educated’ and being merely ‘instructed’ in a certain field alone, law, medicine, or any other field of science, commerce, or humanities. If educated persons are supposed to make such a difference, why have they not done so already in Pakistan? Where is the research or the inventions? Where is the application of this education in our lives, social, political, religious, or any other?

Some 36 percent of Pakistan’s total population lives in its cities. For the rest of the 64 percent the real power lies with the wealthy feudals, who in the main are notorious for not having personal education, nor for the support of education for others. The educated therefore constitute a small fraction of the population.

If our education is poor and is restricted to only a few persons, it is perplexing why the fact that these limited people have finally emerged from their turpitude to take interest in political issues is perceived as being cause to celebrate?

And yet life is full of tantalising contradictions. A great change for us as a nation was wrought by a wealthy, urbane lawyer comfortable mainly in English, extremely ill versed in any ‘native’ language.

The other change with far greater consequences, of course, was wrought by a man who was not educated in the academic sense of the word, who had amassed no personal wealth whatsoever, and was illiterate to boot.

It is a puzzle. Clearly, other factors do and are expected to come into play. So, let us wait for the elections to see what effect his ‘educated’ supporters have on Imran’s campaign, if any.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed  Pakistan Today 07 November 2011

To test their level of English reading and comprehension, ten girls were asked to read an extract from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, taken from a Grade Four English textbook. These girls were ‘Inter pass,’ and not from homes where English is normally spoken. One and all mispronounced the name ‘Alice’, which was expected. What really stumped them though was the concept of a girl jumping down a rabbit hole after a white rabbit that could speak. Alice rendered them speechless.

It is hard to understand why. We’re exposed to a great deal of nonsense in desi magazines starting from their lurid covers to the sentimental tosh within. Television, a major source of entertainment for the public, is also replete with nonsense, not much of which is intelligent. Intelligent nonsense would be programmes such as Hasb-e-Haal with the talented Sohail Ahmed, but sans the cackling hostess on the side, please.

What could be bigger nonsense for example, than the drama serial ‘Uttaran’ on a private television channel that claims to offer ‘pure entertainment’? An Indian soap, Uttaran incredibly shot up to the top twenty in India and is extremely popular here.

If viewers can stomach men and women behaving the way they do in this series, why do they find the white rabbit, the Mad Hatter or the hookah smoking Caterpillar so unsettling?

The tears, the obsessive focus on marriage, the excessive makeup and jewelry, the soppy idiom, the dreadful, dreadful music …why did Alice resonate like such an unidentifiably frightful object to girls reared on the doings of the likes of Ichcha and Tapasya?

Pakistani plays, although better, still have much the same focus: marriage, unreasonable filial obedience, marriage, tears, marriage…and have I mentioned marriage?

Flipping through the channels on television, you see programmes about space flights, or animal habitats, or people who invented something mad but brilliant, sports programmes or a funny sitcom or two. Interspersed with these are the Indian and Pakistan shows predominantly featuring groups of curiously dressed persons performing synchronous stomping contortions; strongly reminiscent of the PT once popular in schools.

Of course there are other desi channels, talk shows where everyone talks/shouts in synch or other shows compered by women with sunflowers tucked behind their ears.

In recent days Lahore witnessed further deaths as a result of dengue, a whole family was shot dead by a brother frustrated at being unemployed, and another man set himself on fire for the same reason.

The Chief Minister of the Punjab and his brother have been taking swipes at the President of the country, and a man died after queuing all night at the bank to receive his pension from Pakistan Railways. The President of Pakistan ‘noticed’ this occurrence, and ordered an enquiry into the matter, another expensive exercise which will obediently not produce any useful conclusions.

The BBC claimed that Pakistan’s Intelligence Service is training and protecting Taliban in this country.

Meantime, Maulana Edhi in a completely senior moment declared that General Kayani should take over at the helm of government for six months in a bid to control poverty and corruption, and the long suffering Nusrat Bhutto heaved a sigh of relief and turned up her toes. To its bewilderment, the entire country was asked to close shop for the day as a result.

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia died, and another stepped into his expensive shoes, and in Turkey hundreds of people died in an earthquake.

Qaddafi the leader of Libya for more than forty years was dragged through the streets and killed, and people fled the capital of Bangkok as the city became inundated with flood waters.

Shouting “We are the 99%” protestors demonstrated in New York City’s Zuccotti Park against unfair distribution of wealth and financial greed within capitalist societies. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ quickly became the prototype for other ‘Occupy’ protests, including ‘Occupy Bilawal House’ (okay, okay, I’m kidding, but it may well come true).

All this while, on television in Pakistan, people continue dancing, shouting, and wearing sunflowers, while fluorescent women continue to grace the covers of various magazines and digests. As Alice said, “it would be so nice if something would make sense for a change.’

We could do without with much of this entertainment, only some of it interesting, very little of it intelligent. We need the kind of nonsense that makes people smile.

True nonsense is a valuable exercise in lateral thinking that teases the brain into questioning one’s surroundings and arriving at conclusions that would not occur in the routine and mundane.

“I like nonsense,” said Dr. Seuss. “It wakes up the brain cells.”