Red, White and Black

Is there a silver lining?
27 October, 2007, 7:58 pm
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics

Lately, all news that has poured in from back home has been anything but normal. Actually it hasn’t even come close to being normal. And it has been depressing. Very. Just 9 days ago Benazir’s political convoy was brutally attacked. A carnival was turned into a bloodbath.

I keep asking myself: who would do this? To kill a politician is nothing new, history is full of countless assassinations – but you know what was different in all of those incidents? Of course, you do. All the other incidents attacked one particular person. They specifically targeted one individual. They did not attack packed crowd of hundreds of thousands to kill one individual.

They did not aim to take close to 140 lives.

They did not mean to put in the agony the lives of another 500.

How do you explain it to someone? How do you explain it to yourself? What force could be so potent that it would compel someone to undertake such carnage? I have been a firm believer that incidents of religious extremism owe this roots to social and economic grievances. But I am hard pressed to explain this incident through that perspective. I have to tell myself that the person who carried it out was brainwashed to such an extent that he believed he was doing humanity a great favor by killing 140 innocent human beings? Sure, so the individual who carried out the attack was under adverse influence? But what about those very sane and rational individuals who planned it? What did they tell themselves? That they were attacking a stooge of the US or that they were attacking a woman who had dared to defy their notions of a woman’s position in Islam by venturing into politics? What motivated them?

I don’t know.

The trouble is that you cannot even begin unraveling this riddle unless you know why such acts are perpetrated. The solution to such a problem will not and cannot come solely in the form of a physical response. The solution will only become visible when you begin to address the structural dynamics of the problem. Only when you begin to understand and nullify the whys of the problem.

Rant over I suppose.

ps. What will become of your country when the ruling party, nay your very Prime Minister, visits Nine-Zero (yes, the very same) to devise a broad-based coalition for the upcoming elections? Of course, May 12 just happened and these guys weren’t involved.

pps. What will become of your country when BB insists that she has not cut any deal with the government, but is merely negotiating to assist “transition to democracy? Yes, we believe you. Just like we believe that you did not swindle $1.5 billion to your cosy little Swiss account. Yes, we do.

ppps. What will become of your country when beheadings of this sort begin taking place every other day in one of the most beautiful valleys of the country? And you know what the best part is? We let that one mullah develop his clout and decimate the area with his venom for over an year before we thought: oh shit! The government obviously had better fish to fry in the meantime.

pppps. I suppose the rant really is over now. Sorry.

13 September, 2007, 7:59 am
Filed under: Pakistan, social

Follow story here:

Attack on giant Pakistan Buddha

Suspected pro-Taleban militants have tried to blow up an ancient carving of Buddha in north-west Pakistan. The statue, thought to date from the second century BC, sustained only minimal damage in the attack near Manglore in remote Swat district.

The area has seen a rise in attacks on “un-Islamic” targets in recent months.

This is the first such attack in Pakistan and is reminiscent of the Taleban’s 2001 destruction of the giant Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.


Officials and witnesses in Swat said armed men arrived in the area on Monday night.

“Militants drilled holes in the rock and filled them with dynamite and blew it up,” provincial archaeology department official Aqleem Khan told Reuters news agency.

“The explosion damaged the upper part of the rock but there was no damage to the image itself.”

And eyewitness, Shahid Khan, told the BBC that because of its location on a steep ridge the statue had been only slightly damaged. It is carved into a 40m (130-foot) high rock.

Local archaeology expert Professor Pervaiz Shaheen told the BBC that the Buddha statue in Swat valley was considered the largest in Asia, after the two Bamiyan Buddhas.

He said it was 2,200 years old. Swat valley is a centre of the ancient Gandhara civilization.

“They constructed similar smaller statues and figurines, dozens of which are still present in the area,” Prof Shaheen said.

Swat has seen increased pro-Taleban activity in recent months, with the re-emergence of militant group Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) under new leader, Maulana Fazlullah.

Last week, militants blew up about 60 music, video and cosmetics stalls at a market in the valley after stall owners ignored warnings to close businesses deemed un-Islamic.

The world watched in shock in March 2001 as Afghanistan’s then rulers destroyed the 6th-Century Bamiyan Buddhas. The Taleban said they were offensive to Islam.


update: and again. Where are the authorities? When would be the time to rise from the slumber?

A Different Sort of Museum
7 September, 2007, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Pakistan

I came across this piece in the Newsweek and thought it was interesting enough to share. At the very simplest, it was a nice break from the usual negative articles that one sees about Pakistan in publications like the Newsweek;

In any case, the article is posted below and I wonder if it is a testament to the revival of art in Pakistan:

Pakistan’s Museum: Musharraf’s Surprise

Musharraf approved Pakistan’s new art museum, but not its antimilitary edge.

By Ron Moreau

Newsweek International

Sept. 10, 2007 issue – To many people, the mere mention of Pakistan conjures up visions of bemedaled generals, gun-toting militants and perhaps the mountaintop hiding place of Osama bin Laden. But the country’s spectacular new contemporary National Art Gallery may help to banish those stereotypes. Set on a hill overlooking the capital city of Islamabad, the imposing brown-brick, for-tresslike building incorporates architectural motifs from the country’s varied cultural past: Buddhist, Hindu, Mogul and British colonial. The four-story structure features plenty of windows of varying shapes and cool Oriental courtyards. It’s topped off with a distinctly modern feature: large, curvy “scoops” of aluminum, which collect and diffuse natural light into the 14 galleries inside. “The galleries are subservient to art,” says Naeem Pasha, 64, the Pakistan-born, Penn State-educated architect who designed it. “Each has its own atmosphere and plenty of natural light.”

The art inside is as innovative as the building. Most of the more than 600 works on display are by living Pakistani artists, two thirds of them women. Much of it has an unexpected edgy quality that seems at odds with the largely conservative Muslim society. Indeed, visitors are confronted with a provocative image even before they set foot inside the museum: just outside the garden entrance, six three-meter-tall black, female figures are draped in all-encompassing burqas, hovering almost like ghosts. The towering statues by Jamil Baloch seem to convey the message that women, even in purdah, are giants, ruling the realm.

Some strikingly angry works hang on the wall along a yellow-brick ramp ascending to the gallery’s second level. Two photographs, called “Witness,” show mangled and seemingly decomposing clay bodies sprawled in the dirt, partially covered with leaves. They bear witness to the slaughter of civilians by U.S. air power in Iraq, says the artist, Durria Kazvi. Farther up the ramp is a large rectangular work of metal and clay, perfectly depicting an expanse of cracked desert land. Stuck in one corner is an unexploded mortar round. In this work, the artist Baloch seems to be depicting the wasteland that Baluchistan province has become under the Pakistan military’s offensives against tribal nationalists.

Another antimilitary work, the video installation “Left Right” by Hamra Abbas, sits in an adjacent gallery. It shows three soldiers carrying AK-47 rifles marching mechanically on air and water and across the desert, symbolizing the military’s omnipresence. When President Pervez Musharraf inaugurated the gallery last month, facing extreme pressure to resign from the Army, he seemed rather nonplused when he viewed the piece, according to a gallery official who accompanied him on the tour.

But it is largely due to him that the museum even exists. It’s had a long and tortuous birth, mirroring Pakistan’s political upheavals. The late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto conceived the project in 1973, but construction didn’t begin until 1981, when military dictator Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, the man who hanged Bhutto, funded the purchase of the land. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto laid the foundation stone in 1996, just before she was overthrown. Then funding completely dried up. Three years ago Musharraf looked out his office window and saw the partly completed but largely abandoned structure that he said looked like a warehouse. He summoned Pasha to explain, and the architect gave the president a short PowerPoint presentation that sold Musharraf on completing the project. In 2005, he released some $9 million to finish construction of the gallery.

He didn’t place any limitations on what it could display, however. Among the gallery’s most striking works are some of its smallest: traditional-style Mogul miniatures with modern themes. Haji Mohammad Sharif’s classic-looking “Hunting Lion Scene” features a nobleman on his horse spearing an attacking tiger with the help of court huntsmen. Nearby is an irreverent but wonderfully creative miniature called “Dialogue With Tradition” by one of Sharif’s students, Saira Waseem. It depicts a similar hunting scene but with a difference: mounted on the horse is Ronald McDonald wielding the golden arches logo as his weapon against an attacking lion with a cow’s head. Two empty Coca-Cola bottles lie in the foreground while disembodied traditional costumes hover overhead.

Equally iconoclastic is an exquisite modern miniature, Aisha Khalid’s “Silence With Pattern II,” of five women in burqas, their backs to the viewer in a room of checkered and flowered cloth. Breaking from the classical, flat miniatures, Khalid’s piece presents a three-dimensional perspective that draws viewers into the painting. Waseem Ahmed also reinvents the miniature with “Burqa,” a delicately drawn, late Renaissance-style nude woman holding an apple, her body covered head to toe in a diaphanous burqa. Like so many of the other works in this timely new museum, it challenges conventional views and gives Pakistanis and art lovers around the world reason for hope.

On Mistakes
30 August, 2007, 12:14 pm
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics

After another hiatus, I am back to (hopefully) regular blogging and the following series of news items demand some attention.

On August 26, the coalition forces in Afghanistan shelled areas in Pakistan from across the border which left 19 militants dead [#]. I will not contest the question of the reliability of the intelligence, i.e. whether those killed were really militants or not. Instead let me focus on the glaring legal and political issues.

For one, consider this statement right after the attacks were carried out:

The US-led coalition said it received permission from Pakistan to attack across the border on Saturday, but this was denied by the chief military spokesman in Islamabad.

then this, which was released on August 27:

“Everything that we try and do, that our military tries to do there, is done with an effort at close coordination not only with the Afghan government but also with, as appropriate, the government of Pakistan,” Mr Casey said.

and finally this, released on August 28:

A statement issued by the spokesman’s office of the Combined Joint Task Force in Afghanistan on Tuesday said: “It was released earlier that the Pakistan military had granted permission to Afghanistan and coalition forces to engage insurgent mortar positions along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on Saturday, three of which were reported to be located in Pakistan. Upon further investigation by coalition officials it was discovered that permission was not given by Pakistan and there were no insurgent positions.

So that’s it? It was a mistake? A miscommunication? Now, lets see how many times have we had this sort of mistake happen? At least 3 times, excluding this one, over the past 6-7 months.

This would imply two things:

  1. Either, two of the strongest partners in the coalition are NOT talking to each other – honestly and bluntly.
  2. Or the US does not care an iota about the problems of its strongest backer or the consequences such actions have on his regime and in his country.

Neither one of these is a happy scenario. The underlying problem is this: incidents of this sort just multiply enemies for both the parties. So we have events of this sort taking place:

Taliban militants have released a video of an apparently teenage boy beheading one of 16 paramilitary soldiers kidnapped in South Waziristan.

The 35-minute video, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, entitled “Revenge” first shows the 16 soldiers, all of them in uniform.

Four teenage boys with Kalashnikov assault rifles, daggers and headbands with jihadi slogans are then shown along with one of the soldiers kneeling in front of them.

One boy cuts off the soldier’s head using a knife and holds it up for the camera. The soldier’s body was recovered on August 14 from a nearby town.

The video shows the victim saying just before his death that “security forces should not fight against the Taliban”.

Mind you, four years ago this soldier would not have been beheaded in this brutal way. The soldier came into this particular aread to help fight the US (and yes, Pakistan’s own war too) and this is the reward that he is getting? You might argue that the two incidents are not related. But they are! Its a vicious circle of violence… you kill our people, we will avenge that and kill yours. And what is worse, you are allowing foreigners to come and kill our people. That is how the militant logic in these areas work. So on the one hand, you have the Pakistani government trying to establish its writ in the area and on the other hand, the staunchest ally is trying its damnest to spoil those attempts. This will not work if the “war on terror” is to be won. For the simple logic: it multiplies your enemies and antagonises your ally.

I also have a bone to pick with the Pakistani government over incidents of this sort. Why the mute submissive lifeless reactions to such incidents?! Do we take the question of our sovereignty so lightly? How about a categorical warning that the next time a “mistake”of this sort takes place we shall withdraw from the coalition?! At least, then we will be able to put our own house in order and not worry about the collateral damage senseless US attacks leave us with.

Incidents of this sort are getting too frequent and the quicker the government decides to do something serious about it, the better it would be – else more soldiers will be beheaded by young kids.

Such is the tragedy of war.

Edward Said on Islam and West: 30 years on
10 June, 2007, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Islam

Randomly surfing the internet yesterday I stumbled across an article by Edward Said, which I felt ought to be shared. The artilce is entitled “Islam Through Western Eyes” and it was written nearly 30 years ago. But that makes no difference as the it fits the bill of contemporary times perfectly. I am going to quote some excerpts here, but do read the whole article.

Continue reading

The Reluctant Fundamentalist: a review
17 May, 2007, 1:21 am
Filed under: Islam, Pakistan, Politics, social

I wrote up the following review a while back after reading the book, today I came this interview via ChapatiMystery and thought I would (stop being lazy and) post it:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid is a very short read- just 111 pages. This is what the back-flap says:

At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful meeting…

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite “valuation” firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his infatuation with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

The story is narrated in first person and the setting of the narration is the food street at old Anarkali, giving it a very quaint feel. The book silently brings out the contrasts and contradictions in Changez’s life – but never passes judgment on them. They are just stated – for you to draw upon. Some really thoughtful historical parallels are drawn. [I won’t spill them here – but they did ring true.] One other thing that stood out: radicalisation of political beliefs is not necessarily the outcome of religious indoctrination. In fact, the protagonist of the book remains a non-religious person through out the book [he drinks, parties, sleeps around, never prays…]. At the end of the day it was just a matter of perspective. The change in Changez owes entirely to social and political stimuli.

If you are one of those people who enjoyed Moth Smoke, you will love this one. It was a much better book than Moth Smoke…simply because it left so much unsaid and allowed you to reach your conclusions. Highly recommended.

Just want to leave you with the following excerpt from the NYTimes interview, which says it all:

Is it fair to describe your second novel as a Muslim’s critique of American values?

That’s oversimplifying. The novel is a love song to America as much as it is a critique.

I didn’t find it so loving. It takes place on a single evening at a cafe in Lahore, as a charming, well-educated Pakistani in his 20s recounts his life story to an unnamed American stranger, who seems suspicious of him.

The American is acting as if the Pakistani man is a Muslim fundamentalist because of how he looks — he has a beard.

Karachi: Carnage, Turmoil and Anguish
14 May, 2007, 11:40 pm
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics

The events of the past two days have been harrowing. Most of us have been glued to television screens following the horrific scenes of gun-battles on the streets of Karachi. The violence that ensued on Saturday was expected by many quarters. What was not expected was the manner in which the law-enforcement authorities absconded responsibility of maintaining law and order in the city. 34 died on May 12. The Daily Times covered the story under the heading “Karachi bleeds, Nation weeps.” Indeed. 7 more died on Sunday as riotous scenes continued to mar the landscape of the city. According to the reports that have poured in, it is pretty evident that the government in Sindh and the Capital was least concerned with stemming the carnage. In fact, indications are to the contrary. I won’t say more on it as this post covers it very thoroughly. But allow me to make some other points.

Continue reading

Muscle Flexing by the Religious Right
14 April, 2007, 2:46 am
Filed under: Islam, Pakistan, Politics

Lately, the news emerging from the capital has been been dominated by the black ninjas of Jamia Hafsa. These vigilantes have taken it onto their brave shoulders to purge society of all immoral activity, else they have promised to reply with suicide bombings. But, these ninjas are not the ones I intend to deal with here. Maybe later, as the situation clears out and settles a little.

Continue reading

Call for Support
12 April, 2007, 12:36 pm
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics, social

Attention Citizens

Concerned citizen of Islamabad/Rawalpindi have been watching with anger and frustration the terrorism being inflicted on them by extremist fringe within society. The citizens are also appaled at the state’s inability or reluctance to deal with violations of law of the land by the Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Freedia students. Their attempt to challenge the writ of the state by establishing what in effect is an alternate governing syste in the area under their control poses a threat to all law-abiding citizens.

To express the concerns of mutiple strands of civil society, including families, professionals ad business community, we the citizens of Islamabad and Rawalpindi intend to hold a peaceful rally condemning the tolerance of law breakers and threat extenders by the state. We also wish to condemn the terrorisation of a whole city by extremists. We hop all those comprising the silent majority will come out for this peaceful rally under the general rubric of Citizens of Islamabad and Rawalpindi – rather than any particular organisation. Everyone should participate in their individual capacity. The date and time of the rally has been fixed to coincide with similar rallies in Lahore and Karachi.

Date: 19th April
Time: 2:30 P.M.

Venue: From Islamabad Private Hospital to the Parliament

Placards and banners will be available on the day but feel free to bring your own as well with the relevant message.

Let us fight the tyranny of the minority. Let the voice of the silent majority be heard.


Please advertise this rally as much as you can – to your friends, coworkers and family and of course, on the blogsphere.

Pakistan Monument: change of winds?
11 April, 2007, 10:15 am
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics, social

In the midst of all sorts of negative developments in the country over the past few weeks, this weekend a visit to the National Monument gave me reason to rejoice. The Monument constructed at Shakarparian in Islmabad. The Monument was inaugurated by Musharraf on 23 March. The Monument was designed to be:

signifying strength, unity and dedication of the people of Pakistan into an icon representing an independent and free nation. It was envisaged for the National Monument to serve as a beacon representing the past, present and heralding a bright future for all Pakistanis to whom the Monument will stand dedicated.

Pakistan Monument from Zero Point


Pakistan Monument

[Photo credit: Suha!l @ flickr]

More details on the monument:

The monument will comprise of four blossoming flower petals representing the People of Pakistan standing united, shoulder to shoulder, shielding the crescent and star in the space below. The design concept is imbued with simplicity and strength, relaying the vision of standing guard over the Motherland. The inner walls of the petals will be decorated with murals and artwork.

A metallic crescent will be inscribed with sayings of Quaid-i-Azam and poetry of Allama Iqbal ... The theme of the National Monument revolves around creation and development of Pakistan, making it different from other two Museums in the close vicinity i.e. the Heritage and Natural History Museums. It will house exhibits highlighting Iqbal’s Concept of a Muslim State in South Asia, Quaid-i-Azam’s efforts and struggle for the independence of Pakistan and how Pakistan stands today as a forward looking developing state in Asia and the world.

Pakistan Monument @ Night

[Photo credit: cnextsteps @ flickr]

So why am I making this post? Yes, it is a beautifully built monument – but struck me and brought a smile to my face was the symbolism and the lack of typical nationalistic rhetoric in the images and various pieces of quotations and descriptions around. My only regret is that I was unable to capture good photos of those that night. But it is worth noting: the description of the monument relied on the identity of the Pakistani people in their own right – without any comparison or reference to partition. It used terms like “progressive” to describe the thought of Iqbal and vision of Quaid. In short, the main plaque was inspiring without being jingoistic. Yes, I think we have turned a leaf. 🙂

Lasting thought, consider this photo:

Jinnah and Fatima @ Pakistan Monument

[Photo credit: ZillNiazi @ flickr]

The inscription below it stated “No nation can rise to height of glory unless your women are side by side with you.” This is somewhat big, because you don’t see such juxtaposition on national monuments. A welcome change!

Overall, the ambience and the message of the monument was very positive and I do believe we are making small strides towards change. More power to that!