Wednesday, June 27, 2012



Is putting two and two together that hard?
I write this on the eve of Shab-e-Miraj, the day the Prophet Mohammad was taken on a spiritual journey and granted an audience with God among other special experiences. Muslims all over the world commemorate this day (the 27th of the Islamic month of Rajab) with prayer, and by means of decorations on mosques, public buildings, and even private residences. Characteristically, in Pakistan, where there is an acute shortage of power these decorations take the form not of buntings or balloons, but bright illuminations: all public buildings festooned with string upon string of tiny multi coloured electric bulbs plugged into the grid.

It is something that one notices repeatedly here, this inability to relate the two and two in one hand to the four in the other, except in all the wrong ways. I put it down, without laying claim to any dizzying leaps of intellectual deduction in the process, to a lack of education…real education, that is, one that avoids rote and teaches by comparison, analysis and experience.
And so the Pakistani public and its government fail, year after miserably hot year, to notice, and to pay importance to the irony attached to a situation where the beautiful religion of Islam and its Prophet are celebrated in a way that increases the misery of its people.
As I write this, the power shortfall in the country would have exceeded a jolting 8,500 megawatts. Power loadshedding has touched unbearable peaks in weather that is reminiscent of hell, and protests against the situation have intensified certainly in Lahore, where the situation is compounded by an inadequate supply of water. The situation continues to spiral as several power plants cease production due to a lack of oil and gas.
Businesses have shut down across the country and people, facing with ruin and starvation are driven to suicide. This infernal scenario has been punctuated by astonishing statements for example by the previous Minister for Water and Power Mr Naveed Qamar saying in February that the country-wide loadshedding would come to an end that week onwards. Next month, the resident loud mouth Mr Rehman Malik said loadshedding would start decreasing within the next 48 hours, following directives from the president to double the supply of furnace oil to power generation companies.
Several biting responses come to mind following, but may I just observe that given that Mr Qamar has since taken charge of the ministry of defence, maybe we should all dig bunkers and live in them, or else take the prime minister’s suggestion and leave the country.
The other is that if all it takes is for the president to give orders to double the supply of furnace oil to power generation companies for them to resume production, why the hell did he fail to issue those orders earlier?
I’m afraid I have, by this time, come a long way from my original point which was to write about the countrywide inability to relate the two and two in one hand to the four in the other, except in all the wrong ways.
To illustrate which point, the Taliban have banned polio vaccines in North Waziristan with effect from last Saturday, threatening all those who violate the ban with, well with dire consequences, as they do. Noticing on the one hand a polio eradication campaign (“hullo!”), they related it to the drone attacks in the other (“infidel Americans!”), and with the fake campaign conducted by Dr Afridi in the mix (repeat the previous exclamation), they concluded that polio vaccination was evil stuff.
Tentatively, as one who dips the very tip of one toe in scalding water, let me state that I agree with the Taliban in so far as I condemn those drone attacks from the very bottom of my heart. How can anyone do otherwise? But on the whole I do my math somewhat differently.
It is said that one out of every three persons killed in American drone attacks over Pakistan is an innocent civilian. In total, hundreds of innocent people have died as a result of these attacks many of them children. This makes a mockery of the world’s current outrage against the murder of innocent people, including children, in Syria.
So, returning to Pakistan and its power shortage, may I wish you Shab-e-Miraj mubarak. It will be over by the time you read this, but it is never too late to be reminded of such events. Please think, when you do, of the Prophet Mohammad who strapped bricks to his belly rather than eat more than the minimum required to keep him alive in times of famine.  Then think again of all those buildings alight with brilliant lights this week.
We know what we celebrate, but do we consider our methods?


By Rabia Ahmed  Pakistan Today 27 June 2012

Dramatis personae of the farce otherwise known as Pakistan

With all that needs to be done, there’s nothing but a lot of noise and you needn’t strain much to get the lyrics. It’s just one word: me, me, me, me, me, me. The Chief Justice with his selective verdicts, the wily President and his moronic sidekick, the squealing PML(N) leadership, the eternally hopeful Q, and the confused Khan. Here is some pie in the sky until the plain bread arrives, if ever:

Make the CJ president in return for taking it easy. He can move into the Suoto Moto suite at the President House and enjoy the increased obsequiousness of countless minions, plus the additional satisfaction of kicking Mr Gilani out of the sixth floor where he may currently be found licking his wounds and playing at being PM in purdah. Check everywhere for abandoned baggage, stray Nargis Sethis and Lasharis tend to linger on the scene. Mr Gilani can (once he’s licked his wounds), take a letter writing tutorial and take notice of and record power outages once they top the unbearable mark. That should keep him happily occupied in between hand kissing ceremonies in his dusty native town.

Give the current occupant of the presidency a one way ticket to Switzerland where he can lock himself in Gringotts’ vault 720 and spend his life running his fingers through his accumulated galleons. Hopefully they’ll multiply and burn as fast as he can touch them.

Mr Gilani’s son can join Mr Zardari Bhutto in the vault or else check into a drug rehab, while the Bhutto hopeful must get his butt back into school where it should be and learn to wait until he’s a bit less wet behind the ears before he returns, if then.

Nawaz Sharif would be better off running a flash halwa joint where he can sit cross legged at the wok squeezing vengefully complicated whorls into the burning oil. His brother on the other hand would be great at selling kites; bright clean colourful kites, many of them, and he can hold all their lines in his own one hand. He wouldn’t get very far but that’s not the point.

Aitzaz Ahsan could make guest appearances on the Bandar Road series where he could engage Mirza sahib in baith bazi sessions. Oh and he must also take refresher courses in Kathak dance. He knows the footwork but has forgotten the neck movements.

What should one do with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain? It would probably be best if he switched places with Mr Ashraf and became the PM rather than nominating people for the post of deputy PM. I quite like him, and he’s proved he can leave the post if he has to. But he must do a correspondence course first with the gobbledygook school of elocution. We have enough international misunderstandings without more of his creation (Shujaat Hussain: ‘Baitho, thanks, Khao’= Cameron Munter: NATO tanks jao!)

As for Mr Ashraf, well if he can manage to cure himself of his unfortunate addiction for sticking his fingers into power outlets he could stick himself anywhere he likes, really. We couldn’t care less, truly.

Much the same could be said for the other Chaudhrys, Pervez Elahi and Nisar Ali Khan. We definitely couldn’t care less.

The real mucky players in the field now, the Meher Bukharis and the Mubashir Lucmans of this country… they’re easier than the others: just skip their channel.

Malik Riaz…another candidate for Gringotts? It’s getting a bit crowded, that vault. But then again, should we care? Nah. He’s done his bit and found them all and in the darkness bound them. We’re still uncertain who holds the one ring that rules them all though.

Imran Khan is a bit harder to place. We love him for those wonderful sixers. In that far away time when things were bad but not quite as bad as they are now, he hit them just when we needed them, with a resounding whack and two. He was in his element then, and one is never quite sure if he’s in it now. How about giving him a madrassah to run with a pulpit from which he could rant five times a day? The kids are already there and waiting.

Quite the neighbourhood this one, the trendy madrassah, the corner jalebi joint, the colourful kite vendor and one covert ring to rule them all. None of this makes much sense, I know, but neither does anything else the way it is right now.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


        Sunday, 10 Jun 2012 10:23 pm 

By Rabia Ahmed   Pakistan Today  p=192964

The President of the Youth Wing of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, Mr Abral-ul-Haq, was addressing a news conference in Lahore recently when some PTI youth wing office bearers arrived, and things became a trifle disharmonious. Calling the office bearers ‘troublemakers’, Mr Haq threw them out of the hall with the help of security officials. 

Those office bearers of the Youth Wing of the PTI have since been removed, and replacements appointed ‘for the interim period’.The situation is undeniably attractive; there are people on the public scene today one would love to throw out of the hall, so to speak, preferably by the seat of their pants in a horizontal position, but the pleasure is generally denied. Therefore, we shall not grudge Mr Haq the opportunity, nor condemn his actions as being unfair, except that the PTI does portray itself as a ‘tsunami,’ a term that conveys the graphic image of a wiping clean and orderly rebuilding of the old chaotic landscape. It is hoped therefore that due procedure has and will be applied.

The PTI has a constitution that prescribes notice prior to removal of office bearers, and appointments by majority vote. Given our history of sweeping aside such trifling matters and in the absence of more information, however, one may be excused some doubt, my apologies to the PTI if I am wrong. More certainly, one wishes that the erstwhile office holders had exercised restraint on their pre-pubescent emotions and behaved as office holders of a political party must: with sense. But there is a dearth of both restraint and sense everywhere in this emotionally unstable country, not least among its political parties. How can a youth wing be expected to behave otherwise?It is rather a trend here to allow good judgment to be overridden by waves of emotion (the tidal imagery appears to be catching). It does not matter what the constitution or the law prescribe, it is what the heart and the liver dictate (an overly literal translation but it does expose the absurdity of allowing organs to master the man) that generally counts.

Some days earlier, a rally protesting power loadshedding was held along the Mall in Lahore. Once a peaceful and dignified main artery of the city, the Mall is now the scene of frequent rallies against the various issues rapidly making this country an unlivable place.

Businesses along the thoroughfare, already incurring loss due to power loadshedding and now suffering additionally as a result of frequent rallies, had petitioned the courts to ban processions along the Mall. A ban was therefore in force when this rally took place in contravention of Section 144.Accordingly, it is reported, the police (very properly) registered an FIR against the participants of the rally, some 600 persons belonging to the PTI, including several of its senior leaders. Another procession taken out for the same reason along the same route by the PML(N) however held no repercussions for the PML(N) leaders, even though a similar petition was filed against them. That FIR was simply not accepted by the police, which should have had no choice in the matter. Later, in a grandiloquent gesture, the Chief Minister of the Punjab, Mr Shahbaz Sharif, asked the police to ‘quash the FIR’ against the PTI.Such magnificent gestures appeal to a public ever thirsty for emotional fodder with which the politicians of Pakistan are ever ready to feed it.

Few will question the validity of such ‘generosity’ against a rival, or the ‘chivalry’ of a chief minister who requests the police to disregard a valid report, something he has no authority to do, or the preferential treatment meted out to the CM and his party. We have no news yet as to whether the IG Police deferred to the chief minister as he should not have done, but they generally do.There is confusion in people’s minds – a critical and dangerous overlap between heroics and the law, between a subjective personal preference and what is right. Comments following news reports explain this well:‘I really don’t like this person Abrar-ul-Haq. He doesn’t deserve to be the president of PTI Youth Wing,’ growls one reader following that report about the PTI’s youth wing.And now with the news of the case against the Chief Justice’s son a reader enthuses: ‘Judiciary has proved that there is no one above the law, not even the nears and dears of the judges. Those who have chosen the path of mudslinging on judges will be vanished in the dust of history while only truth will prevail. We fully support our Honourable CJ and his great companions’ (sic).Gawrsh!

Sunday, June 3, 2012


By Rabia Ahmed  Pakistan Today 04 June 2012

I’ve had it up to here with men who insist on directing female drivers. Today’s column is therefore dedicated to a prime specimen of the aforementioned, a parking attendant at the Hameed Lateef Hospital in Lahore, home to some of the worst drivers on earth (Lahore that is, not the hospital). My dedicatee has probably only ever driven a tricycle if that, yet there he was angrily insisting (among other suggestions) that I reverse…just as a family of four darted behind my all-ready-to-move car. For readers anxiously waiting to know, I did not reverse just then, so huh.

It is the firm conviction of every Pakistani pedestrian that he is constitutionally bound (which is probably not the best reason to give since no Pakistani takes the constitution seriously at all unless he detects an opportunity to abrogate, break or amend it) to cross close behind a reversing car. I seem to remember writing about this before but it is my confirmed belief that there is group out there called the MGDHA (Must Give Drivers Heart Attacks) which is a co-subsidiary once removed of the PRTB (Punjab Road Transport Board), closely related to the CIA (since all Pakistan’s problems stem from that agency). Members of this group are employed on a roster, on call at a moment’s notice to leap behind moving cars just as they engage into reverse. It is commission based remuneration: the closer one crosses to a reversing car, the higher the commission, and a glare at the hapless driver earns a bonus. The driver’s too busy draped over the wheel saying things like ‘p-p-wh-hh-?!’ anyway, so members of the MGDHA are never apprehended. So for all you men out there but particularly for you, Hameed Lateef Parking Attendant Monstrosity, I’m writing the rest of this column backwards. It’s essentially factual if you just reverse what I’ve said from here on:

The Government of Punjab on Friday did not shift its camp office to the Minar-e-Pakistan, thereby utterly failing to express solidarity with the public (which they would have failed to do even if they had shifted there because it’s such a moronic idea), against the chronic over supply of power to the city.The Chief Minister of the Punjab Mr Shahbaz Sharif did not say this since it would sound too kitschy and too much like electioneering, but he sincerely felt he could relax best while the people were sleeping so well due to the uninterrupted supply of electricity in the province.He would have said, if he had not been so genuine, that the government had not set up its Camp Office under the Minar-e-Pakistan to show solidarity with a public enjoying so many hours of an abundant supply of electricity, because he was mindful of the fact that it would be too gimmicky a gesture, and that the Minar, as a national monument was not the best site for a Chief Minister to be kipping down in a tent, with or without a portable john. So he simply installed power generators and UPS systems at the camp office (to which he did not move) and left it at that, to prove that he was one of a multitude which had such easy access to generators and UPSs (and also to portable johns). 

As a result of security protocol the Chief Minister could not reach the Camp Office (that was not set up) where he was due to preside over a meeting of the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA). This was another expression of solidarity with the public which too is unable to get to appointments, or hospitals to die or have babies, as a result of traffic jams caused by the security protocol never awarded to the Chief Minister, his wife, his mother in law, her uncle’s grandmother and his great uncle’s second wife’s entire family. The meeting was not attended by the Commissioner of Lahore, the DCO, the MD WASA, and members of Punjab Assembly who were all engaged at the time in writing nasty letters to the President, the PM, and the Speaker of the National Assembly in protest against the proposed carving out of another province from Sindh. All of their letters included the word ‘flay’ in the first paragraph and concluded with suggestions involving the addressee’s female relatives right after ‘yours faithfully.’Oh and all the participants who did not attend, including the chief minister, did not wear black ribbons, because they felt that this (again) was too gimmicky a gesture and smacked too much of electioneering and currying favour with a public already so enamoured of the PML(N) and its asinine behaviour.