Monday, August 29, 2016


We have the MQM without Hussain and Amir Liaqat, which, much as it is unfair to the MQM to compare it with the GOP, is like the GOP without Trump and Sarah Palin, only better, because they have Cruz. The MQM however has been caught with a stash of guns. Still, if Trump had been caught with an illegal stash of guns and disqualified (beatific thought) would it be reasonable to bulldoze Trump Towers, however opulent and vulgar it may be?
Timing is after all of the essence in comedy and in politics, as is good sense. At a time when the MQM appears to be (apparently) working on adjusting its leadership, after it had done something as unprecedented as apologise for its (now, and hopefully for ever ex) leader’s speech and that speech’s repercussions, perhaps the Rangers could have waited before shutting down that party’s offices, even if they considered the party to be a terrorist organisation, waited at least until the results of the apology and the changes made to the leadership had had time to become evident. They obviously also did not stop to recollect that the MQM is an elected party with a mandate from the people, or perhaps that doesn’t count with the Rangers and those they answer to. Rather, we know it doesn’t. Because what it means is that the public has chosen to give its mandate to this organisation, and even if it is terrorist organisation…that, in a democracy, is the public’s choice. As for bulldozing its buildings, even if the MQM is implicated in violence resulting from its leader’s mental wanderings, that still does not warrant bulldozing its offices, even if they were illegally constructed and/or on illegally acquired land. It is after all the Ranger’s remit to combat terrorism not to pull down illegal constructions. Illegal land appropriation and construction are civil offences for which the MQM should be responsible as any organisation or individual should along with the relevant government officials charged with overseeing land and construction. In any case, if they’re illegal they’d been illegal for a while. Where did the sudden impetus come from?  It’s as if the Rangers were waiting for some such thing to happen. As soon as the MQM leader managed to drop a ton of bricks on his foot with a crash that resounded not just through the city as it normally does but across the country, they pounced, bulldozers on the ready. The Rangers’ action smacks of stepping over the line, but neither the military nor its allied departments are known for line dancing. They never are, anywhere in the world. The military is meant to shoot first and ask questions later if at all. That is why responsibility for general law and order in a city is better invested with a civilian government and its civilian departments – such as the police. Sadly, in the case of Karachi the civilian government let its people down big time. Clearly government is not best run by proxy invested in a juvenile, from outside the country by people who are uninterested in governance.
The issue of institutions overstepping their remit is an issue touched upon only in the Awami National Party (ANP)’s manifesto which says: ‘The ANP opposes any interference in politics by civil and military bureaucracy. ANP upholds the basic principle that all institutions shall work within their Constitutional limits.’
Even if one has never been a supporter of any political party, it would be a pity if there was a clampdown on the MQM. It wouldn’t be possible for a start because it is probably the only political party in this country with genuine grassroots support and huge support at that. You can understand the support if you read the party manifesto, not that the public at the grassroots level can read unfortunately but clearly they get something from the party other than trains. They get hospital, dispensaries, ambulances, disaster relief, and other such amenities through its social welfare branch.
Comparing the MQM manifesto with those of other political parties in the country is an interesting exercise. The MQM’s manifesto is to the point and reads well. Without going into detail it is enough to say that it is difficult to find more guff in one place than in the PML (N) party manifesto which mixes a self-laudatory list of achievements with meaningless waffle, for example: ‘Many reforms have been made in the health system for making it poor friendly.’ Poor-friendly? What in the name of supremely toplofty does that mean?
If you agree with the premise that before any serious reform can take place in this country feudalism must be brought to an end then the only political party that deals with that extremely important issue in its manifesto, and can deal with it given from where it draws its support is the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and to an extent the ANP.  The PML (N), the PTI, and the PPP can hardly address the matter seeing that their major players are defined by the feudal system, and their manifestos reflect this handicap by neglecting even to mention the institution.
Article 11 of MQM’s manifesto entitled ‘Feudal System’ states: ‘It is the MQM’s view that without abolishing the feudal system, Pakistan cannot progress. The country would go from bad to worse economically due to the antiquated and tyrannical feudal system. That is why MQM wants to see the end of the feudal system in Pakistan.’ It goes on to say that: ‘Twice in the past, attempts were made to enforce agricultural reforms but because of the grip of the feudal oligarchy those reforms could not be carried out. It is, therefore, essential that the ceiling for landholding be established and effective land reforms be implemented.’
The references to the feudal landowning system carry on in Article 12 which deals with agriculture.
It’s a pity that the MQM itself, although it lives up to its rejection of religious discrimination and religion based extremism, in itself a big thing these days, has been unable to stay clear of other forms of militancy and outright hooliganism. And that is what is defining politics in its home city these days. In spite of current events such as the attacks on media houses, and in spite of the MQM’s increasingly psychologically challenged (ex) leadership in England, the MQM as a political party has enough going for it that any unreasonable targeting of the party (or of any other party) should be viewed as bad politics. It has a well-organized and disciplined party structure, and best of all it is as mentioned above without any religious aspirations in politics.  Following the now notorious speech, its party leaders refrained from making personal comments and the smoothness with which changes were made is remarkable. It would be an idea to clamp down on the MQM’s militant activities only while allowing the political party to function, if the two can be viewed separately, or rather if the two can allow themselves to be separated.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Riding side-saddle is as hazardous as it is rooted in a patriarchal mindset
Uzma fell off a skidding motorbike recently and almost broke her arms and legs, besides hurting herself badly in other places. Her son who was driving was unscathed for the simple reason that he did not fall off. Uzma fell because she was sitting sideways on the bike as all virtuous women in Pakistan must, so she slipped off as easily as water off a duck’s back when the bike skidded, which also describes the degree to which my strictures on the wisdom of sitting sideways will be heeded when next she sits on that bike. Who, after all wishes to be hooted and stared at by a public unable to bear the sight of a woman sitting in a posture it perceives as indecorous? Breaking an arm or a leg may be worse, but most people have short memories and when it comes to choosing between sense and convention they invariably choose the latter. What do you think though, isn’t it time this particular convention, a particularly idiotic one, was set aside?
If we can make laws regarding seat belts and bike helmets why do we not have a law making sitting sideways on a motorbike illegal, a practice that is responsible for so many injuries and deaths? After all, unlike some of its dimwitted neighbours, Pakistan does not prohibit women from driving cars and women drive cars with gusto here, sometimes with too much gusto. And to their great credit women now also drive rickshaws, and the country can even boast a female truck driver. And yet I have in the past ten years spotted only perhaps six women seated astride a bike, and maybe two driving bikes themselves. Otherwise almost without exception women sit sideways with no back support and nothing to hold onto except the driver of the bike himself. And if the driver happens to be that dreaded species of male, a na mahram (an unrelated man), the female passenger will not hold on to him either. If this were not precarious enough in this seventh most populous country in the world most women also balance a baby on their laps, with another child or two seated somewhere on the bike. This laden death trap then proceeds to weave through the insane city traffic and not surprisingly sheds its female passengers and whichever child might be perched on her lap at the first sign of a jolt.
Why pick up practices that have been proven not to work and discarded in other places? For example medication no longer used elsewhere? But this particular practice is especially distressing since more than anything else it indicates a disregard for the daily comfort and safety of women and children who have no other means of transport. Surely this tells us something about this society?
For centuries while horses were the principal mode of transport, women when they rode horseback sat sidesaddle. It was considered to be more modest and better for a woman even from the gynecological point of view, incredible as that sounds now. Before long though women realised that the practice which claimed to preserve their virginity failed to preserve their limbs, lives and independence, so they took to demanding greater security on horseback. A variety of adaptations were made to saddles to permit women to sit sideways with more comfort and safety. This included wider saddles with varying degrees of slope, additional pommels, different stirrups, and such things. The most practical change though was that women were eventually no longer forced to wear a conventional skirt which made riding astride impossible. They started wearing jodhpurs or breeches covered by an apron open at the back which became the new ‘riding habit’ as the dress was called.  But women still found it dangerous and difficult to ride sidesaddle on horseback (as it is if you try it), and eventually towards the beginning of the last century, riding sidesaddle began to go out of favour. Women now ride astride as do men, and the sidesaddle is now only a quaint anachronism, left over from a less practical age.
None of these adaptations have been attempted in Pakistan. None. In fact, the carrier behind the passenger’s seat which could serve as something additional to hold on to is generally removed by the owner of the bike because it doesn’t look good.
Segments of this society appear to hold firmly on to a twisted concept of modesty which only indicates an obsession with sex. In other words sexual perversion and callousness is being confused with decency. The two have no resemblance whatsoever to decency and the sooner we realise this and pay some attention to the safety of a sizeable if not major chunk of our population the better for all concerned.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Should religion intrude on the turf of patriotism?
Midnight preceding 14th August isn’t a time any sane person would choose to leave home, but we were on the road to visit the home of a dear relative who had just passed away and gained her personal freedom from pain. The main Defence Boulevard, normally quiet at that time on other days was not quiet at all that night. Pakistan, launching on the seventieth year of its existence as a country independent of India, was commemorating the event but instead of doing so with renewed resolve to make Pakistan a better place, the citizens of Lahore had decided to embark on a night of chaos, mayhem and insanity. We watched as someone pulled a person…alive or dead we could not tell…from under a car on the other side of the road, the one approaching Defence. That car had driven against the direction of traffic and crashed into another vehicle coming up the correct side. In a city where people drive like demented non-humans…I will not specify which species…the innocent driver had yet not expected anyone to be quite this insane and had paid dearly for his or her optimism. And that was just the beginning.
Every male twenty five and under appeared to be on the road, either seated on a car window leaning half out of his car, or weaving in and out of traffic on a motorbike doing wheelies trailing enormous green and white banners on sticks, the poor discredited flag of this country. A small boy aged six or perhaps less had everything except a leg inside his car, his head missing adjacent cars by inches. Although one wonders at the child’s parents allowing him to do this maybe one should not since every adult behaved with similar heedlessness that night. That prodigious tide of cars and bikes carrying all this humanity on its back was not allowed to flow unimpeded. Law enforcement personnel in their wisdom forced it through frequent bottle necks with some vague notion of security. Where there were no bottlenecks there were cars standing across the road, blocking it. Behind them a sea of vehicles were ground to a halt for several kilometres, containing tired citizens on the way home, and perhaps sick persons on the way to hospital. And why were these cars parked across the road? Because the occupants had been attacked by zeal and fervor, something involving the glory of Pakistan and our willingness to die for it. They capered on the road performing some kind of celebratory dance in which it was possible to detect that twisted understanding of the ‘glory’ that is Pakistan. Just what else they were celebrating is hard to fathom unless it was a seventy-fold increase in madness, seeing that every law was being trashed that night along with a sublime disregard for human life and security.
Pakistan O Pakistan! Beautiful thy spacious skies
Its amber waves of grain
And purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
Pakistan! Pakistan! God shed His grace on thee
And yet art set to destroy the good
And mock thy liberty
 (Generously borrowed from Kathleen Lee Bates)
When will this change? Can it indeed, unless the narrative fed to this country with every morsel, each word and sound, changes? Do we really need to hear the constant refrain hum Pakistan pay mar mitnay ka irada rakhtay hain (we resolve to die and annihilate ourselves for the glory of Pakistan), particularly given the mood these days? Where are the songs that glorify peace and security, the stories containing heroes who might be exemplary leaders, humanitarians and plain hard working citizens who manage not to break every law in the book?
Dying for a glorious cause is a great act, the ultimate sacrifice, and no one denies that, but it is a sacrifice made when all other solutions have fallen through. There is also the fact that the hereafter is not the only facet of existence. There is the here and now and one ignores it at one’s peril. Focusing exclusively on ‘glory’ is the practice of those with a particular, rather undesirable view of religion and somehow this religious perspective has been confused with patriotism. Those who build narratives for this country need to ask themselves some questions quite seriously, such as: Will it dent the the hereafter if we also concentrate on getting this country on its feet today? And the other all-important and rather explosive question: Should religion intrude on the turf of patriotism?
Let us all be brave enough to die the death of a martyr, but let no one lust for martyrdom.
So true. And no, I am not an Indian agent. Gandhi was a great man, as was Jinnah. And so can Pakistan be a great country if our youth are guided towards good citizenship and provided with positive avenues for venting their energy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


There are now T-shirts out there with that man Raheel’s picture on them. God, this is too much! I am the PM not he! PHOTO: THE WAREHOUSE
Dear God,
I have a serious complaint to make. You must know… but of course you do… that there are now T-shirts out there with that man Raheel’s picture on them.
God, this is too much! I am the PM not he!
Why have you allowed this to happen??
Please God, remember that I am still weak although I don’t look it, because I have just had avery big operation and although many people don’t believe it (they say I went to my London apartment in Mayfair… how delicious that sounds… just to hide when that stupid Panama information leaked out but you know I didn’t, it was just lucky timing), if anyone needs proof, I can show them where they cut my chest open and did things to my heart like how it was done before Shab-e-Mairaj, and no I’m not trying to go that route, I leave that to Mr Improper Khan, and to that Tahirul Dharni who is back again, and that quack na- Liaquat.
Look, I try as hard as that Raheel man but I can’t help it if I don’t have a smart uniform and if my public image creating bunch is not as good as his ISPR… but T-shirts! What about me, God, where’s my T-shirt? That’s my electorate out there that will be wearing his shirt! We made all those trains and roads and bridges and I just said goodbye to the IMF so impressively.
Did nobody read or hear what IMF’s Harald Thumb, sorry Finger, said about Pakistan’s economy doing well? Finger said (really, these goras have the strangest names) he was satisfied, that we have lots of construction activity and a good private sector credit growth, and more investment because of the Chinese corridor. I want to mention other good things he said too, but the bijli has just gone so I can’t read this list. I will read it and tell you when I get home because the bijli never goes in my house, and in Shahbaz’s house, and the houses of my colleagues and friends. But of course you know all that, God. You know everything.
So you also know about my government computerised NADRA, and we can now check to see if we have any strange people in our family tree. Many people called NADRA to say they had many strange people in their family and asked NADRA to help get rid of them but NADRA had to tell them they were talking about illegal people and terrorists, and those sorts of strange people, not their in-laws.
See what we have to deal with?
If I was like that Raheel man and his colleagues, I would settle everything with a gun but we don’t settle things that way, we settle for not settling them at all. Anyway, why use guns when you can use money? And cunnactions?
Guns are so passé. Ha. I learnt that word from Tehmina. Maybe she used it in one of her books. They say her last one about silly things in sorrow times or something like that was awful, so maybe one of her other books? Anyway, she told me that word and I memorised it. Passé. I like that word. It means ‘purani baat’(old news).
Like Zardari sahib, yaar woh passé ho gaye hain (Man he’s become so passé). Hehe. Or like recently when someone asked me about the Panama foolishness as I stood at the podium, I waved my hand (which has dimples on the knuckles, seriously, they’re so cute) and said carelessly: That’s so passé.
Let’s talk about the PCEC instead, the Pak-Chinese corridor thing, one of my many achievements.
That was so definitive, and I tried dropping the mike after that like Obama did but my bodyguard, who’s always trying to get on camera, caught it before it hit the floor, the idiot.
And now August 14th is coming up and I have a speech to deliver, a nice one that begins with ‘meray aziz hum watnon,’ (my fellow citizens) but I have to think of what to say after that. I can’t talk much about Kashmir except promise a resolution and say Kashmir will come to Pakistan, whoop, whoop, although really they don’t want to be part of Pakistan (don’t say ‘who would?’) as much as they don’t want to be part of India. Also now that Singh fellow and our Chaudhry had those words at the SAARC meeting and Singh stormed out. If he’d stayed and tried some of our biryani he would have said,
‘Take Kashmir, just give me this recipe’, but he left without having lunch.
There’s all these factories closing down because they don’t have enough cunnactions (bijli wallay) so I can’t talk about industries, and if I say anything about the militants and terrorists someone or the other will get upset and there will be dishoom dishoom (bang bang) and I don’t mean the movie. Really I would just like to say,
Meray aziz hum watnon, I WANT A T-SHIRT TOO!’
After all I’m just as pretty as that Raheel man is, more than he is, I have dimples, and not just on my knuckles I also have a big one on my chin, he has none, although he may have some but not where we can see them. As for mine, my mother used to do meray dimple ka sadqa and distribute nihari all over the muhallah; I wonder what his mother did? But Shahbaz tells me I can’t say that either. Boo. Really, it looks to me as if now I can’t do or say half the things I used to be able to, I keep falling over that Raheel man. You’d think he was ruling the country not I,hain ji?
Oh well. There’s still time to think about my speech. After all, life is so unexpected. Who could have said just a few days ago for example that a plain old Pakistani would make such a difference to the American elections lead up as that Khizr Khan and his wife? I mean other than anything else, that Trump knows very little if he thinks us Pakistanis don’t allow our women to speak. Lo ji! No one can get that Asma Jehangir to shut up, although recently she did say that the,
Panama Papers leak should not be used to introduce a ‘parallel system’ in the country,’ a useful thing to say, if only she had not added that she was one of my fiercest critics.
She needn’t have said that. And then there’s my daughter who talks incessantly in tweets as women should; and that Mazari lady who’s no Tweety bird but she can talk too.
So, God, please get me a T-shirt too, meray dimple ki qasam, and please also tell me what to say in my Independence Day speech. Should I mention that the army is getting too up itself, but that no one understands why that should just not happen, that really it comes under my government’s command and not the other way around? Shahbaz says I shouldn’t and I want to win the election, almost as much as I want that T-shirt.
So thank you, God, I’ll wait for your advice.
Nawaja out.
Note: This piece is a work of satire *                      
*author's note: I love it that they had to make this disclaimer

Monday, August 1, 2016


Effective education and even handed justice are both crucial.
 To be just and effective a law, bill or ordinance must be accompanied by effective implementation, always presuming that the law itself is well drafted which it not always is, as for example in the case of the Qisas and Diyat ordinance (remember the Raymond Davis case). Poorly implemented, ill drafted laws reduce justice to crime and inappropriate punishment. It is the same with education which if unsupported by effective teaching and well written and attractively presented books produces little more than basic literacy. This is the case with Pakistan’s government schools and many private schools.
In any case laws can only go so far. Laws against honour killings, against violence, gender discrimination and sectarianism are little more than deterrent, some less effective at deterring than others. It is impossible to disagree with the argument that genuine change comes with education because education effects the way people think. And yet education in Pakistan is so lacking in tools, trained teachers, books and curricula.
As a new recruit to teaching young underprivileged girls spoken English I tried to introduce my students to alien environments using simple English books, explaining them as I went along. Harry Potter took a lot of work and is not worth the effort if time is limited. There was little interest in the story itself, and only in some of the events; I learnt more about my students during the exercise than the students did about the Potter world. The concept of a headmaster and teacher being involved in a child’s life was alien but the idea of an ill-treated orphan sleeping in a cupboard under the stairs was not. Hogwarts was of interest. ‘That’s a school!’ the girls exclaimed. And ‘Such a large building!’ when I showed them pictures.  The concept of a boarding school was novel until one girl waved her hand dismissively. ‘Like a madressah,’ she said, and well yes, madressahs often include boarders, although it’s hard to imagine Hermione in a madressah where Snape would fit right in.
Used as they are to religious stories and little else even in their English curriculum our children do not lack imagination but are unused to using the faculty. They also lack the experiences in their daily lives to make the exercise easier.
Literature for all children but particularly disadvantaged children must take this and several other factors into account. If no effort is made in this respect there is nothing but the existing prosaic moralising texts to fall back upon, with the attitudes that accrue from them.
A writer involved in producing books for children spoke about writing a story in which the characters were animals that spoke to each other. The board appointed to evaluate her manuscript rejected it saying that she was teaching the children lies, because ‘animals do not talk!’ These are the attitudes that accrue from dull moralising texts.
Children need stories that interest them, stories they can relate to. If writers are restricted by people who lack imagination and are hemmed in by taboos they are left with nothing but prosaic moralising, although organisations like the Oxford University Press are producing some wonderful material. This is not the material used by government schools however.
Pakistan is host to many issues as most countries are. We are plagued by sectarianism, intolerance, bigotry, gender discrimination, yet our teaching, based on rote does not encourage enquiry and debate. With some thought each of these issues can be addressed.
In the US following the assassination of Martin Luther King a primary school teacher at an all-white school located in an all-white neighbourhood initiated a school exercise with her third grade students. She divided the class into two groups, one composed of blue eyed kids, the other of brown eyed kids. One day one group was given privileges the other was deprived of. The other day the groups were reversed along with the privileges, simulating a situation created when one race considers itself superior and possesses privileges other races do not. The experiment led to tears in some cases but in almost all the children learnt a lesson about racism by experiencing it firsthand. The adults interviewed years later described how these lessons about racism learnt in childhood had stayed with them all their lives, and how because of that experiment they were able to empathise with those who suffered racism.
In such ways each of those issues mentioned above can be tackled, doggedly, systematically, a zarb-e-azb against ignorance and regressive mentality. Justice and transparency are being denied to the people of Pakistan, the police resists registering FIRs, murderers are able to buy their freedom, the Hudood ordinance requires four eye-witnesses to rape although not everyone is raped in the middle of the street. Qandeel’s father by registering an FIR himself citing his sons as his daughter’s murderers on the report perhaps intended to pardon them later. Who knows? The laws are there to support him. The police often does not take cognisance of cases that have no complainants (where is the State in such cases?), the Capital Gains Tax will not as of now be applicable to property sold by members of the armed force (why?? Are they not citizens of Pakistan?), and not mentioned yet is the ill-conceived Cybercrime bill which gives the State (a State that does not use the powers it already has when it should) further powers it should not have.
In just such a way a decent education is being denied to the people of Pakistan. That education must be forced out of the State and system, as when an FIR was determinedly lodged against Senator Hamdullah for abusing Mervi Sermid, as when the State became the Complainant against Qandeel’s murder, to prevent her family from pardoning her murderers.
The education we possess at present is so startlingly backward, irrelevant and inadequate, and so hostile to women that the Hermiones of Pakistan have a hard time surviving in normal schools much less madressahs and many of them end up dead, victims of that so called ‘honour’ that Pakistan appears to possess and lovingly nurture by means of its education and laws together.