Saturday, January 28, 2006

Woman, don't you dare run!

The second International Lahore Marathon is scheduled to be held tomorrow. It is a mixed marathon and thus it is damned in the eyes of our religious and moral police.

They say it is inappropriate for a woman to run in front of male spectators. A woman ends up compromising her dignity and self respect. And if you ask them how - of course they would say that it is unislamic and against our culture. *deep sigh*

It's one thing to oppose such an event. You don't want to be part of it - fine keep your women out but why are you ruining the event for everyone else. Why the heck are you making such a fuss out of it? And by the way, since when did we appoint you as guardians of our morals? If the liberals are godless immoral people, let them be. They will burn in hell, not you.

But why disrupt public life? I have heard accounts of the cars of passerbys being damaged by the protesting moral police! And what was their crime, please?

Lock them up, I say and let the women run.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The evils of chatting

Stumbled across a talk show today. The topic of the discussion was 'the internet and the youth'. It featured a showdown between a group of teenagers and a panel of parents, teachers and adults of the society. The crime of the youth was that they over-indulged in all internet-related activities - be it research, surfing, downloading or chatting. The youth of Pakistan is just spending too much time in front of the box called a computer. These activities are not only 'anti-social in nature', but implied an 'overload of information' that the youth is not yet ready to absorb.

More often than not, the discussion gravitated towards the 'evils of chatting'. The parents were irked by the fact that their children were making 'cyber' friends - they were concerned about the influence these 'cyber' friends would have on their kids. Interaction with the opposite sex, came up repeatedly. And so did the possibility of exposure to porn and the likes (but of course in minced words) . Some of the young adults asked why would you want to be friends with someone you can't feel or see?

Come to think of it, 'chatting' is looked down on in our society. Over time it had become synonymous with seeking out 'girlfriends' and 'boyfriends' - a concept largely taboo in the Pakistani society. And it is also true that it is the prime means for 'making friendship' amongst the boys and young men alike. It has become an addiction of sorts.

This raises two important questions for me.

One, why is the interaction between opposite sexes such a taboo matter? Why is it still the forbidden fruit which the youth is tempted to test? More than debating the evils of chatting, the elders of our society need to address the constrictive nature of society. There is nothing wrong with the intermingling of genders - it is but a natural part of our lives. So why do we have to make such a lot of hue and cry over it? Why do we curb the interaction between the two gender from the tender age of 10? Why is it just so taboo?

Two, what are the other modes of entertainment for the youth? There is not much for the young to do with their spare time. Either they have the option of sitting at home watching TV and cable (which is considered equally bad an addiction) or of becoming the slaves of the computer machine. Cricket is probably the only game that is played on a somewhat organised level. But that's about it. Where would you go to hang around with your friends and mingle with others, if there are no other avenues available? Can we really blame the youth over this count? Is it not the responsibility of parent ans society to ensure they are able to spend their time in a constructive yet fun way?

Having said all of this, I also think that the concerns of the elders of our society are also a little exaggerated. Their concerns about being exposed to too much information (and inappropriate matter too) at young ages is total crap. If they deem it to be so bad, then is it not their responsibility that they become part of their children's world? Forget the concept of becoming a 'friend' to the child, ought they not to do it jsut for guidance. Maybe through such efforts they will be able to find some common ground and discover that the world of the internet is not so evil after all.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Lahore, Lahore Hai!

Over the last week or so, I have been reading Bapsi Sidhwa's collection of writings on Lahore : Beloved City.

Given that it was a collection by Sidhwa, I always had high expectations of it. And I have not been disappointed. The book is a delightful collection of historical accounts, personal narrations and fictional stories. The collection is arranged by the Eras that Lahore has seen and one gets to know the ancient city from the times of the Mongol pillagers to the troubled times of Partition.

The historical accounts include writings on the Lahore of Akbar, the Lahore of Ranjeet Singh and of Kipling's Lahore. The writings look at both the glamour, glitz and the fables of the Mughal Lahore and the turbulent history of the city as invaders came and left. The British came to Lahore and we live through the taming of the city. And yet the collection doesn't neglect the romanticism of the city within the thirteen gates, of Anarkali and of Hira Mandi. Every single piece has been tastefully selected and that doubles the worth of the journey.

But it is the writings on the Lahore of the Partition that have truly touched the chords of my heart. The collection from that time period is composed largely of personal accounts and thus lends a very humane touch to the cold 'Partition' of the history books. Not only do the accounts provide a real sense of life to the city, but they also highlight the attachments of many a people to a place they called 'home' as kids or young individuals. These accounts make you question the cruelty of political decisions and how they ended up altering so many lives. At the same time, they highlight the prowess of the political and communal forces that turn neighbours on each other, subordinates on their masters and even family members against one another.

This book is highly recommended to both die-hard lahoris and curious world dwellers. I am not yet through with my encounter with Lahore through this book, but I have already come to cherish my city in ways that I never have before!

P.S. You must read through the excerpt of the book provided by Books and Authors here. :P

More on the 'retreat' and Bajur

The Daily Times editorial from yesterday depicted a very accurate picture of how things work between the state and the opposition.
The isolation of President Musharraf had prompted many to join the political bandwagon against Kalabagh Dam, including the PPP in Punjab. Since the PMLN has always been in favour of the Dam (“provided it is backed by national consensus”) it will stand to lose support at the home base if it cavils with what has been decided now. This will put the PPP, the largest party in the country, on the spot. It simply can’t afford to blunt its opposition to President Musharraf by appearing to agree...On the other hand, the MMA will have to rely on the trouble in FATA to retain the intensity that Qazi Hussain Ahmad seems to favour more than Maulana Fazl ur Rehman.

Incredibility will be the crutch to lean on for politicians in the opposition. Where will the money come from for the five dams to be completed by 2016? ... Indeed, the preparatory works for Basha (building high roads for heavy machinery, etc) might cause another political storm that future governments might find difficult to face. People like Imran Khan might be tempted to take this line.

President Musharraf’s promise to “twin” the NFC award with Kalabagh Dam has been partially made good with the new dispensation of the divisible pool and subventions to the provinces. This too is a measure that will be opposed by the enemies of Musharraf only at great risk to their own standing in the country.

The retreat on Kalabagh has been clever. Coupled with the “softeners” of the NFC award and the post-earthquake reconstruction, it will give President Musharraf the second wind he needs to face the 2007 election and probably once again to refuse to take off his uniform. What he has done now may be a tour de force; but what he might do in 2007 by not fading away might be folly.

And then more on Bajur and the aftermath. US Senator McCain declared:
“We regret it. We understand the anger that people feel, but the United States’ priorities are to get rid of Al Qaeda, and this was an effort to do so,” the Republican lawmaker said.

“We apologize, but I can’t tell you that we wouldn’t do the same thing again,” McCain said.

He made his remarks after thousands of protesters took to Pakistan’s streets to condemn the US air strike that killed 18 villagers near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Honestly?! And why are we silent on this? :|

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A no to Kalabagh and to the Opposition too

Musharraf has decided to defer the controversial Kalabagh Dam till the country is able to the achieve a consensus on the issue. He said that he respected public opinion and thus will not push it for the time being. His speech from last night was quite concilliatroy in nature:
Gen Musharraf said there were “misperceptions and reservations” about KBD, particularly in the NWFP and Sindh, where people were not supportive of the project. “I respect this public opinion,” he said, but resolved to remove the reservations of the people of Sindh and the NWFP about KBD.

Gen Musharraf hoped that with the announcement that the government will be building Basha Dam first, normalcy would return to the country and those creating unrest on the issue of major water reservoirs would be silenced.
It also highlighted the fact that he is treading a very tight rope and has realised that he has to give in at some point. But I hope he also he realises that the way to "change the opinion of the Sindhis" is not through coercion but by helping rebuild the confidence between the estranged provinces and the also between the center and the provinces. The only way to do this is to involve the locals in any feasibility and analysis studies that are carried out on the Kalabagh dam. Transparency should be introduced to prevent this from becoming political boilpot. But still I think Musharraf has read the situation well this time around.

This gesture will help bring back some sense of normalcy to the National affairs, but only if the opposition is a willing player too. So far thiss has been judged as a 'retreat' for Musharraf. The MMA chief went to the extent of declaring:
Kalabagh dam has proved another Kargil for the General.
The opposition here will never learn. National affairs, to them are just another avenue where brownie points can be scored. They don't realise that they have a responsible role to play in building national consensus. Given this attitude it is little wonder that consensus has always remained elusive to Pakistani politics. In our little world, it's opposition for the sake of opposition. If the opposition was as wise and as knowing as they claim to be, they would have taken the opportunity to unite the nation under this decision. They would have declared the opposition's support to the two new dams and looked to normalise the state of affairs.

But no, that does not happen in our little world.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Buried in the sand

Illustrative catroon by Zahoor today at the Daily Times. I wonder what's in store for Musharraf now- he has vowed to emerge victorious on every front. But the fronts are just one too many: Kholu, Dera Bugti, Kalabagh and now Bajur too. And elections are due this year. Last time we saw the emergence of the MMA and given the mess now I shudder to think what will happen this September.


As it is evident- I had made up my mind to do anything but serious work. So after trying many templates, I reluctantly settled on this - only because I wanted a change.

One of these days, I might be bothered to design and tinker up one myself. One of these days, I might be that bored.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

If Jinnah were to return...

Dr Ahmad Faruqui writes...
What would happen if Mohammad Ali Jinnah were to return to Pakistan, the creation of which is considered his miracle, inspiring one biographer to compare him with Salahuddin and another with Moses?

Jinnah’s death has spawned a myth that is now firmly entrenched in Pakistani culture. It asserts that, but for his early death, Pakistan would have been a brilliant success.

It is true that Jinnah died much before the necessary civilian machinery had fallen into place. After a rocky political decade, the army took over. Military rule brought a few years of stability but it did not allow for the development of an independent legislature, judiciary, bureaucracy or media.

But the converse — had Jinnah lived longer, Pakistan would have been a brilliant success — is a myth. By challenging it, one can lose friends quickly.

So here are my five doubts about the myth.

First, why did Jinnah choose to dilute the authority of the post of prime minister by not taking that position, like Nehru had done in India?

Second, would Jinnah have been able to prevent the conflict with India that would lead to half a century of armed conflict and drain Pakistan of much needed economic and financial resources?

Third, would Jinnah have been able to prevent the gradual estrangement of the eastern wing that ultimately led to its secession in 1971?

Fourth, would Jinnah have been able to resist US pressure to join the Baghdad Pact (which later became CENTO) and SEATO in the early-to-mid-1950s and keep Pakistan non-aligned during the Cold War?

Fifth, would he have been able to prevent the rise of the Pakistani Army as the country’s dominant political institution?

Being an honest man, Jinnah might conclude that he had opened a Pandora’s box by injecting religion into politics and that his August 11, 1947, speech had been unable to undo that. He might realise that by not leaving behind competent successors, he may have prevented the development of potent civilian institutions. And he might admit that by constantly reminding the Muslims of the threat posed by Hindu domination, he had established the primacy of the military.

Only a state that has succumbed to regimented thinking would fail to see the contradiction in calling for the people of Kashmir to be given the right of self-determination for 58 years, while continuing to deny its own people the right to elect their own government.

Jinnah would conclude that Pakistan had failed him. But will the barrister, who was once the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, call for the annulment of Partition? That is the $64 million question.

Historical conjecturing does not really help but nonetheless, these are interesting questions.

A bad day for cricket

Family plans had been made two weeks ago to go and watch the third day of the play of the first test between India and Pakistan.

But it was not to be - the day dawned with overcast skies and the play started late. But they only played for a while and then took bad light and off they went! Play resumed after lunch and we thought- yaaaay, we can go and watch the game!

But. As we were leaving it was called off again! Only 15 overs were bowled all day long and we were stranded at home staring at our tickets!

So much for watching an Indo-Pak encounter. :-<

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Pakistan and India have been indulging in some rhetorical banter (at least, I hope so) over the last the ten days. The two countries seem to have developed some liking for the phrase "internal affairs".

First, the Indian foreign ministry decided to express its concern over the spiralling violence in Baluchistan. This brought a strong rebuke from Pakistan which cautioned India against equating Baluchistan with Kashmir. The two countries had a brief exchange of words and thankfully left it at that. But I am still wondering - why did India choose this time to chide Pakistan over Baluchistan. Why was it still unable to maintain a stony silence over the issue? In any case, does India even have the right to comment on Baluchistan? I don't quite understand how even reputed Indian foreign affairs experts fall for this mis-comparison:
The spokeswoman in Islamabad, Tasneem Aslam, said she was “intrigued” by the Indian provocation “at this time when the two countries are engaged in the peace process to address all issues including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute”.

But it is precisely the Pakistani attitude on J&K that might have set off the Indian comments. In recent weeks, Pakistan appears to have been carried away by its own rhetoric on J&K. Its leaders have been demanding “demilitarisation” and “self-governance”.
Moreover, the justification that is provided is this:
In reviving its focus on Baluchistan, India was also partly compensating for its guilt in letting them down in the past. At precisely the moment that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto launched an extended military repression in the early 1970s, India looked the other way. Believing that it had won perpetual peace with Pakistan under the 1972 Shimla Agreement, India muted its voice. In raising it voice again Tuesday, India was signaling that it had not lost all empathy with the Baluch.
Hmm - I am actually a little lost with this approach. Both with the timing of the statements and the apparent logic behind it. Is India to play the role of the guardian of democracy in Pakistan as well? In any case, that's a totally different debate and not what I had intended to blog about at this point. The timing, though... I would not have surprised if these statements had come during a period of hostility- but now the dynamics are different and one would expect the players to behave more prudently. Are these remarks possibly meant to divert attention? For some time now, Pakistan has been floating the ideas of self-rule for the Kashmiri people and yet has received no constructive response from India? It is possible that something might be going through the back channels - but there is obvious hesitancy at the formal level - there is almost a cold aloof sort of an attitude to be found there.

So that was last week, yesterday our own dear President dropped a 'bombshell':
“Let me give another bombshell, I propose, one way of moving forward. Take three towns, Srinagar, Kupwara and Baramulla. Let all the military move out of the cities to the outskirts. It will ensure there is no militancy inside.

“Pakistan will be with the Indian government and Kashmiris to ensure that there will total peace and tranquillity in these three places. Look at the comfort level it brings. It does not need any constitutional amendments or anything like that. It just needs an administrative order,” he said.
He drew yet another scathing response from India:
India's external affairs ministry spokesman, Navtej Sarna, said on Saturday: "Any demilitarisation or redeployment of security forces within the territory of India is a sovereign decision of the government of India and cannot be dictated by any foreign government."
Again I am left wondering: why such a rebuke? Opponents of Musharraf are already too keen to point out that Pakistan has yielded more than India since the thaw in relations and such comments will only fuel their claims. I don't quite agree with their assessment but still I would have expected a more circumspect response from India. All in all, I am left wondering over the prevalent Indian mindset viz-a-viz the peace process.

The Cold!

Yesterday, Lahore experienced the coldest day in 39 years! So it wasn't just me... I had four layers on, was sitting in a warm enough room and yet the cold-induced numbness wouldn't just go away. Little wonder...
Lahore experienced the coldest day as mercury dropped to minus two degrees Centigrade. A similar drop in temperature previously occurred on Jan 4, 1967.

The Met office report said that dry continental air continued to prevail over the region, while cold and dry weather would persist in Lahore during next 24 hours.

A maximum temperature of 17.2 degrees Centigrade was recorded in Lahore, the report said.
PS. It's still pretty cold!

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Jamiat?

Came across some rather disturbing piece of news today. Jamaat-e-Islami's youth wing - the IJT - actually caused the disruption of an internal fashion design exam. The incident took place at Lahore College for Women University, which also happens to be my alma mater. I was rather perturbed by the following:
...allowing the students to wear their work to display it to the internal examiners for practical experience and professional training. They were also allowed to advertise the show with a banner as a part of their professional training. No one was invited or allowed to see the fashion show, however.

Some IJT activists, upon seeing the banner, approached the JI headquarter in Mansoora. Later, an IJT activist calling herself an LCWU student telephoned newspaper officers in Lahore and invited them to the ‘fashion show’ for ‘coverage’. Daily Times and several other newspapers received the call, from a number of Mansoora, the JI headquarter on Multan Road.
As the article mentions - this is highly irregular for a place like LCWU. From the two years I spent at the place, it was completely devoid of any such activism. I am pretty shocked by the fact that they have been able to entrench themselves deeply enough- that they feel comfortable over rigging this disruption. Moreover these were women activists! Traditionally, all the Jamiat activity was limited to a more masculine group and women activism in this area is rather unheard of it. And this incident also comes at a time when the Jamiat is being systematically rooted out of Punjab University (a stronghold for such activities). So I am really surprised by these developments.

I just hope that the authorities at LCWU are able to limit such activism, for it does not set a good precedent.

Edit: Ummm... the link.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Saudi Ploy?

BBC reports...
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has offered to pay to repair India's largest mosque, Delhi's historic Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque).

The Times of India newspaper said the Saudi king also wanted to fund education in India.

Both offers have raised concerns with Indian security agencies who are said to fear that the money could be used to preach radical Islam, the Times reported.

I think, for once, Times of India may not be speculating. The Saudi king will want to invest in other avenues as well. In Pakistan we have seen ample demonstrations of this ploy. Under the guise of helping out, the Saudis have been able to successfully inculcate the radical and the vitriolic ideology of Wahhabism in Pakistani society. I may wish to believe that the Saudi intentions here are noble, but past experience tells me otherwise. It would thus be advisable for India to tread carefully on this offer. The Jamaa-e-Masjid should be renovated, but not at the cost of the Indian society. If this offer goes through, close monitoring of the Saudi funds will need to be carried out.

Arrggh... damn the fact, that the Saudis have the money but not the appropriate ideology to export to the world.