A Thing of Beauty is an Obsession Forever

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One of most revered comedy series these days is undoubtedly Quddusi Sahab ki Bewah. The mass following of the serial might be attributed to actress Hina Dilpazeer, who for sure is a conspicuous name in comedy-and surely not without reason.  Desolately though the underlying theme of this particular drama embodies the deepest of human bias, naked prejudice and ardent assertion of objectifying human looks in purest (and shallowest) physical terms.

The daughter of the central character is unmarried and conventionally “ugly”. She is aged, fat, wheatish as opposed to traditionally worshiped young, slender and fair. And yes she is stupid, just like most of our local media associates such physical traits with dimwits. She fancies young handsome men and is shown day dreaming of prince charmings. And that’s comic, since ugly fat women are legally barred to do so. As opposed to her physical appearance, she deems herself pretty and worthy to be desired. All of this is used as a pedestal to cook up a comedy. The punch line is the oblivion of that woman to her unappealing looks and subsequent denial of the social and cultural ground realities. In case you can’t pin the problem here, this site doesn’t seem like the ideal place for you.

Khajusta Jahan, the daughter.

Khajusta Jahan, the daughter.

As if this wasn’t ‘funny’ enough, the next fodder for laughter is a dwarf man. What should give you fits of laughter is the fact that he is a dwarf. To spice it further, he is married to a normal heighted woman. Not the most original of ideas however, such short heighted men for decades are used in drama industry as comic characters. They are mostly depicted as awfully immature mentally, made to act silly and are poked fun for their short stature. In this drama, his wife rebukes him and beats him up whenever he is not ‘obedient’ enough-his humiliation in short is the axis of comic logic here.

Maqsood, the dwarf

Maqsood, the dwarf

As a kid, based off media expression I genuinely considered such people challenged not only in physical growth but psychological as well. It was an ignorant perception, but was structured solely and innocently on what TV taught me. And since I never particularly confirmed this fact from an elder I received quite a shock when I first encountered a significantly short statured man. The first shock was the fact that the man had an exceedingly stern look on his face as opposed to the asinine expressions dramas usually show cased them supporting. The second blow was that he was not acting idiotic but was dead serious and spartanly engrossed in his work at a car workshop. To say I was a hopelessly confused kid that day would be an understatement.

Now the no-drama type folks might feel too keyed up to clobber down ‘desi’ media and its respective audience from their elevated world of enlightened wisdom but let me give a sad reality check. The idealization of physical beauty in passionate or grotesque forms is not confined to local media. Even theoretically the most advance mediums of art are not immune to it. It can be as basic a level as the classics we treasure in our book shelves or the flashy Hollywood movies we keep track of through imdb. The central sweetheart in Notebook was blonde and blue eyed for a reason. Would the daring Lara Croft appealed to audience as much if she wasn’t all that sizzling hot with a ridiculously over sized bosom? And we probably wouldn’t have cried rivers for Rose when Titanic sank if she wasn’t Kate Winslet. Oh and why is the villain always not-so-beautiful or not-beautiful-at-all as if their looks descended with a divinely ordained cursed fate? Even in the finest literature specimens why is the lead character for most part aesthetically appealing?  Would Cinderella be as celebrated a story if the step sisters despite their vile nature were beautiful (with tiny feet) and Cinderella was the one destiny smacked with plain looks? And snow white is well, snow white. Exceptions surely are there but for most part innocence and purity are synonymous with delicate beauties and valor, heroism with finely sculptured men.

Fanatical reverence for physical beauty is ironically that one unique religion which is irrelevant to race, gender, nationality or civilization. It runs thick and deep in all of us-albeit in dissimilar levels or forms. Realistically speaking, it will shackle human psyche till the end in all probability. But we can start by questioning ourselves-to at least acknowledge this treacherous manipulation. Consequentially, we may or may not fall to its pit. But even in the latter case, recognition of what reins our mind at least compliments a minimum level of human intellect.

Book Review: The God of Small Things

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“They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much.”

Arundhati Roy’s bestseller hit The God of Small Things revolves around the story of a household in Ayemenem (Kerala province, southwest India) where certain events mark their lives still for eternity. Poignant emotions, untold sorrows and shadowy secrets are echoed from each dimension of the story; the characters, the incidents and the tides of fate.

The prime characters of this novel are the two twins, whose lives unanimously are trapped in infinitely spiral depths of a murky past. Children of a divorced mother (Ammu), raised in a considerably well-heeled family, they bud through their childhood year as one rather than two individuals. “Together as we and separately as we or us” is Roy’s strikingly beautiful style of elucidating their complex chemistry.

Mammachi, the twins’ blind grandmother could possibly see just two things: the Paradise Pickles and Preserves factory that she founded, and her only love-her son Chacko. Baby Kochamma is Rahel and Estha’s vinegar hearted grandaunt who has deep rooted bitterness for a life span of unrequited love. The coldness of her heartache translates into fierce vengeance for anything that resonated with feelings or emotions. Chacko runs her mother’s pickle factory. He was divorced from his English wife who took away the daughter’s custody. A fact that couldn’t fade down the love he had for his wife nor could erase the longing he had for his daughter Sophie Mol. The twins’ mother Ammu’s life is stained with a turbulent past, from a ruthless father to an abusive alcoholic husband; hers now was a small quiet universe with embedded turmoil. And no dreams.

The pages slowing divulge the stagnant past, a death, the grief of which only amplified with time, the devastating way it sent tumultuous ripples in the once quite ocean. Ammu’s illicit love; an outrageous defiance to the centuries old law, the relationship of a touchable with an untouchable. Velutha, the man “she loved by night whom her kids loved by day”.

Each character, guilty or innocent is made to pay a bitter of their actions, of small things, small moments they borrowed from life. The vicious circle of unfortunate events clouds down their lives in a malicious shadow forever. Only to be consumed by silence. Dark, unforgiving, noisy silence.

Arundhati Roy-author

The beauty of this book does not lie in the story, but the supremacy with which emotions are carved out on paper. Roy relates stupendous writing to classical dance, “The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t.” Her book is a vivid reflection of this very premise.

From literary point of view, an important aspect of this book is Roy’s daring use of language, the liberal verbosity of this book is often criticized. Certain phrase are repeated, playfully fixated or broken and set in a rhythm giving an altogether unique meaning-as intended by Roy to induce certain implications. Like a magician who took command of linguistics and gemmed words in a symphony that despite being alien are comprehensible. The purpose of this is to enable the readers to perceive the stream of thoughts from a child’s mind. A skillful independent play of words, that coveys the message efficiently however killing language rules in the way. This for some like me is a delightful spin.

The book however may not capture all types of readers. It has more of a thematic, philosophical spine that aims at exploring the hidden complexities of life rather than a twist full thrilling narration of events. Its soul lies in its tranquil depths, where silence speaks the tale of the untold.

A proud winner of The Booker Prize, this book is supposed to be felt than read.

Balochistan on Fire

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When injustice surpasses a certain limit the resulting vitriol of hatred is bound to give out toxic fumes. The plight of Balochistan can be framed in this same equation. After decades of partiality against the most improvised province of our land, if now their odium spiked sentiments hit our national pride like a slap we don’t have the right to retort back. Nationalists? Separatists? Deprivation, discrimination and abysmal violation of human rights are three terms summing up the tale of that unfortunate province.
After all this, demanding patriotic spirit from those people is quite a lofty stipulation on our part.

The statistics unveiled by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) are nothing short of blood-curdling. According their report, around 188 decomposed dead bodies have so far been dumped in desolate places in different parts of Balochistan since June 4, 2010. Most of them included students, political activists and eminent figures from different walks of life. Target killings have become more of a routine trend there. The instability has paved way for further chaos, kidnappings and deeper degeneration of people to various hard-line groups. Some pro-security establishment while some with separatist proclivity. Their motto might be different, but they akin at one point: all armed, all enjoying a free hand to kill or uproot anyone contradicting their ideology. And the continued silence and indifference of government after all this only reflects back the 1971 episode. Possibly the same outcome as well.

Looking back to 2005, all we see are the cracked sketches of a flawed policy. Coercion was never, never the answer to the brewing turbulence in that region. Further spicing up the condition was the wacky political strategy of aliening with tribal lords, or turning them over one other to serve the cause. The role of central government here isn’t some murky mystery. Clandestinely swiping off political activists and nationalist forces while systematically shoving up pro-establishment ones in the political stairs was a carefully drafted maneuver. Its prolificacy although remains an altogether different story. A matter which required patient political negotiations for its settlement was met by ferocious blows and screwed policies. If now the centre and Balochistan stare up at each other with war like hostility, it owes a lot to self planted seeds.

What always remains failed to be understood was the axiological reality that an idea cannot be curbed down through brunt means. People may die, but their words remain immortal. Etching their potency further down; guiding thoughts, altering history. Professor Ghulam Hussain Saba Dashtayari’s alleged murder did all but silence him. It further added to volatility of the public spirit, like petrol on fire. Previously for the Baloch people his words underlined an ideology, after getting blood soaked they attained divinity.

What could have saved the astringency of the situation was attention in terms of economic, administrative, political and social reforms. Above all eliminating the sense of deprivation and negligence strongly felt by Balochis, treating them as equals in the stream of state affairs. As explicitly remarked by Governor Balochistan Zulfiqar Ali Magasi:-

“Although I am a representative of the centre I was never taken into confidence by Islamabad on Balochistan issue and my suggestions for resolving the issue were always ignored”

Not only was this, but endeavors the likes of muffling the voice of Baloch people underscored all but sanity. The previous futile attempts of banning their notable online newspaper websites and online journals are a point to this case.

Coming to a critical reality, nationalists cannot be denied as having an absolute existence now. They are not restricted to one two, or something contained within two digit figures that can be plucked out like weeds. They are a living force in Balochistan, with passionate backing from the general public there. The continued obstinacy of centre against involving them in the any sort of dialogue process only impedes the possibility of a much needed political discourse.

A stable affluent Balochistan in not only the right of those people but accentuates our prime interest as well. The government will have to prioritize Baluchistan essentially in economic centralization. Saying this might be parallel to over simplifying a complex problem to single line formulas but given the current scenario, it’s a now or never option. While half-hearted nature of government attempts in this regard does hold factual grounds, the persistent backwardness of that region in economic spectrum owes a lot to the tribal monopoly as well. The failure of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s 1972 visit to Balochistan accentuates the same embedded vice of feudalistic system. Not only was it ensured that he was welcomed by violent riots and unconcealed abhorrence but his avid plans of dramatic economic reforms were also reduced to cold ashes. Even today, one of the greatest obstructions in developmental work is the inter-tribal feuds. The statistics of such employees killed in the brutal crackdowns of ‘ethnic cleansing’ lingers casually in the red zone. These ringing figures hardly stimulate any motivation for the manually and technically skilled workers from both within and outside Balochistan to run such risk. Let alone any possible investment influx, which at present makes Cinderella’s dreams appear at short hand.

The ineptitude of provincial government also constitutes the cardinal basis for the non-materialization of the economic reforms. Quite truly, the present government cannot be awarded medal of performance for its counter policy regarding Balochistan insurgency. But at the same time it cannot be unduly grilled in statistics pertaining to their share from National Finance Commission Award. Even with the spirally downward national economy, there had been no cuts in Balochistan funds. In the fiscal year 2010-11 Balochistan alone received Rs152billion which amounts to Rs100billion increase from that of the financial year 2004-05. Additionally the increase of Balochistan share from 5.01 to 9.09% in the 7th NFC (2011) also grades major monitory figures. Overlooking a couple of years back, a Rs10billion grant was also released by federal government in the year 2009.

So now the million dollars question: where did all these million dollars go? Stuck in ever-pending projects or else lightning up the pockets of the provincial leadership. Ironically most of which is residing in luxurious sanctuaries way outside Balochistan. The unchecked corruption and non-translation of financial grants to visible welfare projects does raise serious questions about the competence of provincial government. So yes while Federal government undoubtedly has a part in the present mess, the administrative vacuum in Balochistan holds credits to the provincial government a great deal as well.
Since now it’s a settled notion that military operations are no solution to the Balochistan insurgency, the only option left is the rectification of its political and administrative structure. The centre will have to put efforts to align the provincial managerial and directorial posts in order along with transparent verification of the allocated funds. The provincial government will have to ascertain the satisfactory execution of all developmental reforms to grass root levels. Also most importantly, Baluchistan has to now to be given what it was denied for decades: greater control over its mineral resources. Concrete measures will now have to be taken in order to address the current Balochistan insurgency instead of mourning ‘foreign factors’. They might be the derivatives but the spinal ailment attributes to us. Only by assembling our own home in order outsiders can be kept at bay.

Yes, we survived 2011 without Balochistan breaking off us. Provided circumstances remain the same, it will be the highest level of indiscretion to deem that fate will spare this noxious stroke this time as well.

Extremism: an international plague

Initially printed as letter in Dawn

The 22nd of July, 2011 is a pernicious day marked red in calendar by innocent blood.

The debacle brought forth by Anders Behring Breivik transpires the grave reality that terror threat is not confined to just the radical bureau of one religion. Rather extremist roots are taking strength in nearly all religions. As to why their gradual evolution was overlooked in past might derive various opinions but the absolute urgency is clear: this has to end by all means.


While it is an indubitable fact that seditious organisations comprising of Muslim fanatics have brought havoc with their acts of terror but to discount the ringing acts by extremist cults pertaining to other religions will be a grave indiscretion. Confessions by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (an Indian right-wing nationalist group) for carrying out the 2007 Samjhota Express bombing that killed 68 Pakistanis underlines this same morose reality.

Apart from this, RSS also professed involvement in Malegaon bombings 2006-08, Ajmer Sharif, Modasa and Mecca Masjid attacks. The terror ventures in Nanded, Parvani, Jalna, Mhow in Indore, Nimach, and Bhopal are also attributed to this same right-wing group.

Now whether we talk about such Hindu extremist groups or the likes of Nazis in Europe, the question is: did they come to being just overnight? No. The vitriol brewed by such right-wing groups did give out its pungent smoke before as well. The last year case of a Swedish man arrested for over a dozen unsolved shootings of immigrants in Malmo is one such example here.

The steady escalation of right-wing and the threat they pose was brought on the discussion tables many times. But every time the files were closed owing to the fact that they were marked as relatively harmless. In the past decade, the world spot lights were intensely focused on Muslim terrorism exclusively, hence the peril posed by the domestic radicals thrived behind shades. The outcome of which we see unfolding now.

It is not the time to point fingers at each other. Extremism like a plague has proliferated beyond our anticipation. Shying away from acknowledging the termite that is now eating the moral fabric of more than just one particular religion or society is parallel to behaving like an adamant patient who believes all is well. Any type of misanthropic ideology; may it be the mantra of the ignorant lot in Islam, Christianity or Hinduism has to be looked upon as a first degree felony.

Further hesitation in hue of prioritisation or slack comparisons will only end up making the notion of world peace a mere quixotic fantasy of wishful philosophers.

It’s not about just being green

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Medicine has its limitations. If the cancer spreads beyond a certain limit, doctors unfurl a white flag. Science is an ardent disbeliever in miracles, yet it cannot challenge the dexterity inherent to will power. Against all odds, if still there is a fierce avidity to live you can rate one thing for sure: the game isn’t over yet.

No points for guessing who holds synonymy with this case on state level. Failed state on free fall, no hope, white flags are things attributed to us for quite some time now-rather decades to be precise. Yet here we are today, on the 64th anniversary of our birth. Every year we are declared on the brink of collapse and every time we bail out more time.  So while we don’t have much happy news to cheer about on 14th of August, we deserve a pat for surviving one more year and standing on the 64th stair. And this by no means is sarcasm. No nation has seen or suffered as much as we did; the circumstances in which life comes to stand still or nations collapse all together. Yet, despite all infelicities we didn’t embrace a dead end. The brink yet waits to be crossed, for no matter how bad things are-we are obstinate survivors.

Paradoxically, we also have the same adamant fervor when it comes to staying in mess, or dipping in our feet a few more inches down. It hints a dilemma of being cut in an ardor to live-yet not knowing how to live.

My earliest memories regarding this day is seeing too much green and hearing patriotic songs on television; the same ones every year and those very same ones even the next year and so on. Same I can say about the president’s speech; different face, same words. The significance of this day is not to look back, learn from our malfeasances, and see through our errors and to think out solid routes for steering the ship back to track. It’s just a formality-a green one.

This year is no exception to these traditional national rituals. We gather for celebrating the country we attained with the objective of protecting our interests, for cherishing the fruits of independence. Yet, here after sixty four years we have a part handcuffed in the same chains of deprivation and fighting for identity. Yes, there is a province called Balochistan. A classic example of the fact that we don’t learn from past mistakes and that fate punishes you for doing that-quite severely. History is just re-telecasting the 1971 episode.

Now before I speak about the unequal administrative and economic incidents that have led to this bitter tug I do acknowledge one vital baseline. The tribal system in Balochistan was not any easy barrier to surpass while carrying out the welfare ventures. As much as the biasness on the successive governments’ part is true, some albatross also falls on the tribal infatuation to monopoly power. Despite all this, we should have foreseen what’s coming, especially after the acerbic dose of East Pakistan separation. We took the issue casually, underestimated the consequences, failed to do more and here we are now.

Now coming to the more lugubrious note of this tale, what can’t be denied is the insouciance that Balochis have suffered under our shade since ages.  It’s not a conflict that was born overnight, rather the roots of this transgression stain decades.  What more can elucidate this than the fact that Balochistan was not even given the status of province as long as 1970? One would have thought things got better after this but the tides took an even uglier turn. The discovery of the biggest gas reservoirs in 1953 should have changed the fate of Balochis in terms of prosperity and economic activity. What happened was more than just contrary. Household and commercial gas was supplied to Punjab from Sui as far back as 1964 but Quetta was connected to gas in 1986. Today, even the remotest areas in Punjab and Sindh enjoy fuel supply, but out of Balochistan’s 26 districts only 4 are supplied gas. The poverty and illiteracy rate is also highest in this region. After this state of affairs, what is happening isn’t something that should raise eye brows in surprise. While many may try to wipe the ugly scars by attributing it to separatists or foreign hand, the thing is they are also not born from empty spaces. If loopholes are provided, someone is bound to pound upon them. Things may be slipping out of hand, but if we resolve to incentives and reforms instead of force and coercion then worse can be saved.

Balochi kids in their traditional dress. A culturally vibrant province now shadowed by violence and political unrest.

Today is a new beginning, what is direly needed is to address this issue in forefront of the outline of our new chapter. If not done, painting everything green won’t solve our problems even by a long shot.

Seemingly, the crucial issues at national level are usually not enough for us. We take even a step forward and meddle in international affairs only to land from the frying pan into the fire. Every year there are those promises of progress and welfare. But issues like our foreign policy, that have yielded nothing but consistent trouble for us are not revisited-even after 64 years. We suffered from our foreign policy of alliance in past, all we did was to repeat the same blunder in 2001 in Afghan war. Instead of trying to hold our fragile pieces intact, we ventured out to play proxy wars with big buddies. Now with nothing but terrorists and extremist plunderers in our hand in return, we have more in mouth than we can chew.  And again, today marks a new chapter. Serious in-depth re-examination of such affairs will do better justice to the partition sacrifices than a few television programs dedicated to 14th August.

The last year devastating floods during monsoon spell of July are also an example in this case. According to Pakistani government data, the floods directly affected 20 million people, mostly by destruction of property, livelihood and infrastructure, with a death toll close to 2,000. So after a year, again we are at the mercy of monsoon rain, hoping that this time the sky will be a bit kinder. Careful planning of combating future catastrophes by dams and water channeling networks is something we forgot to decide on last 14th August.

The house of cards hasn’t crumbled to ground yet. Despite all this mess that has landed us in a quagmire right now, we are a nation born to live. Our lives are eclipsed with violence, daily blasts, political and social turbulence. Still, owing to our abnormal immunity life goes on. Streets are not deserted, markets are still in constant hustle-bustle, and we as students still eat in the same cafes blown to bits previously. We have learned to live in hard times and it is this very resilience that proves our unmatchable fortitude. It serves as a token to hope and faith. All that waits is to direct this energy in the right direction and remove the obstacles that cloud our path. Today is no ordinary day. We are embarking a new journey. A better future is only possible if the priorities at the start of the day are sorted out right. Let’s hope today is not just about waving flags.

A futile blame game

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This article was initially published in Frontier Post.

Ideologies, mindsets and perspectives do not drop instantaneously like meteoroids from heaven. Their roots always lie in a series of consequences impinged together with many internal and external affairs. Such was the fate of the militancy in Pakistan. The chronicle dates back to 1979; when in an endeavor to overthrow the growing USSR shadow in Afghanistan, the US implanted the seeds of militancy to serve its purpose. Pakistan, the third world country in child like awe of the superpowers submitted to alliance with US and presented its ground for militancy enrichment.  Saudi Arabia played its cards by providing financial backing to this madness for upholding her motives.  Books containing sadistic interpretations of Jihad were fed to young vulnerable minds and they underwent carefully designed training schemes. The outcome, a savage army, was then handed weapons and all possible equipment to play on behalf of the big the powers in Afghanistan. All this was done with the label of Jihad. The chase ended a decade bowing victory to US; after which the royalties checked out, leaving Pakistan impregnated with an illegitimate monster. And following the universal trend, the mother had to bear the ignominy and penalties whereas the happy father strutted around indifferently.

@Big Powers, meet your old buddies.

So now when the monster grew up and dipped its fangs to spit out its venom, the daggers are pointed to Pakistan-alone. Ironically, the jury is US itself. The outcome of what initially was a wild fire play by more than one participant is now piled on Pakistan’s shoulders exclusively. The different facets of terrorism bred rapidly, and in every episode the verdict proclaimed Pakistan as the sole culprit. Trend wise, both Pakistan government and military are subject to extensive bashing in this respect these days. It is not to say that their part is impeccable in the counter terrorism efforts. But to say that all bungles were committed by one party is exaggeration.

While it is very convenient to arraign Pakistan for not containing the terror activities, what is casually forgotten is the fact that US did an even poorer job in doing the same in Afghanistan. The war that started on Oct 7, 2001 can hardly be termed as a decisive defeat to terrorists even after a decade. Even with the deployment of over 103,700 military personals in what is now in scripted in history as the longest war on US part, the terror networks could not be snubbed down. Their activities not only augmented but also penetrated its tentacles in Pakistan. So, where Pakistan got the daily arm twisting dose of “Do-More!”, the same wasn’t upholded much as a point in Afghanistan. True, militants are not some kind of back street boys who could be rounded up and stashed slickly. But if ten years of substantial crackdown couldn’t bring much happy news from Afghanistan, then putting Pakistan in the shame box for not yielding over night miracles also doesn’t equate the equation proficiently.

Is this war against terror really on track?

The militancy on both sides of the border plays twin role. For Pakistan, the prime nightmares are the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. Not only they are reported to serve as the hub of key terrorists like Maulana Fazlullah, Faqeer Muhammad, Adbul Wali and Hakeemullah but are the launch pad for conducting cross border attacks on Pakistan territory. In view of their momentous potential threat, Pakistan has deployed 147,000 troops at 900 posts along Pak-Afg border. But what now baffles Pakistan military is the new war strategy to pull back NATO and Afghan National Army (ANA) troops from these crucial regions. A detailed article in NY times confirming this news discusses the quizzical clauses of this withdrawal of US military from the grounds ‘it once insisted was central to the campaign against Taliban and Al-Qaeda’.  The army pull back from Pech (a remote area in Kunar) raised serious debates and questions since Pech valley was initially referred as central to American campaign against Taliban. The NY article states:-

“The previous strategy emphasized denying sanctuaries to insurgents, blocking infiltration routes from Pakistan and trying to fight away from populated areas, where NATO’s superior firepower could be massed, in theory, with less risk to civilians. The Pech Valley effort was once a cornerstone of this thinking.

The new plan stands as a clear, if unstated, repudiation of earlier decisions. When Gen.Stanley A. McChrystal, the former NATO commander, overhauled the Afghan strategy two years ago, his staff designated 80 “key terrain districts” to concentrate on. The Pech Valley was not one of them.”

The senior military personals from Pakistan voiced their trepidation on this move when the troops started backing off starting from 15th Feb, 2011 stating this would enable the terrorist infiltration from Afghan border to Pakistan’s tribal areas. The apprehensions lay unanswered. This sudden shift of war strategy poses a vital question mark for US policies. Whether it is an insight to incompetency or strategic faults, in any case something just doesn’t add up. These loopholes in US strategic policies don’t get much media coverage. Somehow all media forums are interested in scrutinizing Pakistan government and army only.

Another important raw junction here is the contribution from Arab countries in this respect which always meets a muted silence from US. It remains an established fact that innumerable madrasaas in Pakistan are providing fodder to the terror factories in the form of brainwashed militants and provide safe heavens to terrorists. According to rough estimate, there are over 28, 000 madrasaas in Pakistan with only 8000 registered, with 260 in the capital Islamabad alone. A major portion of the extremist cult from these comes under the banner of Wifaq-ul-Madaris Arabia. Who finances Wifaq-ul-Madaris is an open secret: Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait. According to a report in ‘The News’, 74% funding in Punjab to these seminaries was by supplied these foreign sources. Terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamat-Dawa are day light finance receivers from Arab countries. Somehow, this grave reality is always brushed under the carpet when it comes to US foreign policy. Where at one end Pakistan is screwed in a nut bolt for not checking terrorism, this deliberate policy of letting the other extremism contributors swing on loose strings makes quite an incomprehensible puzzle. In fact, not to forget that US itself is one of the key backers of this very dictatorship in Middle East.

The US war against terror from the beginning was not on target. Instead of addressing the palpable core factors, the labors were mostly dedicated to just short term ventures that failed to give much potential results. Endeavors like drones in whose case we are still scratching our head whether Ilyas Kashmiri is 98% dead or 98% alive.

The counter terrorism efforts by US have unequivocally met a let-down owing to flawed policies and bamboozling strategies. Pakistan’s role has now become more of a scape goat for buffering America’s failures in the war against terrorism. An effort that was supposed to save humanity is now more of a cat and mouse chase of saving reputations and such inconsiderate aspirations. And here, we all know that might will be unconditionally hailed as the only right. Humanity has yet to wait.

Disclaimer#1 : My title for this piece was ‘a futile blame game’. the changed one in published version owes to editors.
Disclaimer #2: The criticism is directed to US foreign policy not US. Note the difference.

A frog-like fate?

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My all time favorite spot for book shopping is a slum-ish back street in the shadows of the tall buildings in bank road, saddar. The place is packed with rows of book stores and old book banks providing a bounteous supply of all sorts of books. A quite corner where you can almost feel the aroma of books in the air. And of course, the place is a heaven for pirated book predators like me.

So yesterday while I was there, upon entering a bookshop I was greeted by a familiar face. It was there on the counter, on the front shelves and all the conspicuous display points. It was none other than Mumtaz Qadri, beaming proudly out of the front cover of a thick fat book. Like always, smirking smugly at his new found celebrity status. To my own surprise, this didn’t come as any surprise. Rather, it was expected. I picked up the book (pretty heavy) and leafed through it. The book titled ‘Parwana-e-sham-e-rasalat’ was a collection of all the glossy adjectives you can possibly find in Urdu literature glorifying ‘Ghazi’ Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. I placed the book back to the counter and took out my cell-phone to capture the image of the title. The shopkeeper, mistaking it as an act of some sacred intention (or perhaps a secret crush) broke into a grin and started ardently on the success of this book, pushing me into buying it ( no thanks, I don’t have haram ka paisa). I gave a sheepish no and headed out after tucking in a few titles.

The last big fish that was showcased like this here was Twilight.

Paulo Coelho in his book ‘The Winner Stands Alone’ writes:-

“Various biological studies have shown that if a frog is placed in a container along with water from its own pond, it will remain there, utterly still, while the water is slowly heated up. The frog doesn’t react to the gradual increase in temperature, to the changes in its environment, and when the water reaches boiling point, the frog dies, fat and happy.

‘On the other hand, if a frog is thrown into a container full of already boiling water, it will jump straight out again, scalded, but alive!”

The essence of these words merges quite well in our present state. A frog puts an enormous amount of trust in its environment. The pond is where it is hatched, where it embraces life and where it grows through the different stages of life. It’s his home, which for him holds synonymy with safety, shelter and security. Home. So when he is heated in the same pond water, he fails to acknowledge the lethal change. The water warms up. Indifference. Water further heats up. No adrenaline rush. The water temperature crosses red limit. The frog still certain the water cant cause him any harm. Water boils. The frog is dead.

The frog’s unconditional faith proved fatal.

We can also feel the vitriol of radicalization seeping deep down our social structure. We are well aware of the fact that the seeds of venom have sprouted to ferocious monstors; trampling here, there, everywhere. We can feel the water boiling but just like that frog we are in a state of constant denial. How can our own people be a threat for us? The truth is that we deem these people undisruptive. Just like a mother who adamantly believes her naughty kids have gone a little wild. Temporary. Temporary.

These days, hate literature is distributed like cheap sweet candies. The demand of blood is parallel to lets say electricity. There are people who are waging large scale campaigns encouraging the open slaughter of Ahmediya community. We are silent. We are indifferent. We are immune to the changes in water temperature.

Bloodshed isn’t the only jeopardy here. What these elements are up to is slowly and steadily poisoning our probity, corrupting our sense of values and sagacity. In this recent famous video, the Ameer of JUI (Jamat e Ulema-e-Islam) was stamping his feet urging frantically that raped women must remain silent instead of seeking justice (Idiot). Isn’t this enough to jerk us out of sleep, to make us realize that these self-proclaimed guardians of religion are a termite to our social and moral fabric? Can’t you smell the foul stench? Can’t you feel the water heating rather BOILING up?

I think not. We are ideologically brought up into believing ourselves the best of community (sharing the same faith). Out of a sense of insecurity, we were fed a crooked sense of patriotism and brotherhood-love each other, hate all rest. Yes we the glorious, we the innocents, we the ‘brave heart’, we the champions, we the just (the only ones), we the noble, we the dignified. And nowadays; we the wronged ones, we the misunderstood. But never wrong, never dangerous. Pick media, pick history, pick your own syllabus; the only hero in the picture is from us and the villain from them. The initial intention was to perhaps create some exceptional sense of unity and nationalism. It didn’t succeed, though what it installed in our minds was a strong overconfidence in our ideals, in our people, in ‘us’.

We don’t feel threatened because we lack the capability of doing so, the capability to feel the change. We, like that frog have a delusional sense of assurance for anything remotely related to us. The water is boiling, the alarms are ringing. It is better to come out of this situation scaled but at least alive. Otherwise, we will also die just like the frog-fat and happy.

A possible future.

Women or Chicks?

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In hostel, it is annoying when the girl in the neighboring room plays music on loudspeakers.

Its worse when the song is some screechy melody by a shrill female voice. (The la-la-la type)

And it’s a nightmare when the song is something like this:-
“Kuri hoyi way solan saal di
(The girl has turned sixteen)
Haye Haye Jawani”
(……………………..:|)

Yes, the popular hit song by the band Stereo Nation. Cheesy like anything, yet this song conquered the music charts like fire. Ok, generally bad taste in music is justified. But what makes people worship songs that personify women as drool-upon-objects is beyond my comprehension.

Music is one of the finest forms of art. But ironically what clicks people most nowadays are the songs that have reduced the status of women to mere “Shielas” and “Munnis”. Slutty, voracious, immensely desperate women. But yes, women hot enough to knock out the sensibilities of hormonal chips. And that’s what makes an ideal media object that sells-quite fast.
The cost?
Stripping off the regard and respect for femininity and dehumanization of women to ‘sexy dolls’ in a lascivious framework. But of course, we are accustomed to ignore this deeper reality by default.

Meet Munni, she is badnaam because of her darling.

Sexual degradation and objectification of women is not a trend limited to this part of world alone. Even the societies with notions of reducing gender disparity have such music icons that cash this image of women to make easy money. Most noticeable example for this case can be Akon with songs like ‘Smack that’ and ‘Sexy bitch’. Also a remarkable example here is the popular rap artist Nelly’s “Tip Drill”, whose lyrics portray a woman who is willing to sleep with every random man for the sake of money. And yes, let’s not forget Eminem’s contribution here.

Now I know many will wave it off casually by saying it’s just a song. The very fact that people don’t even recognize such song lyrics inappropriate goes on to show how deeply indoctrinated the gender discrimination ideals are. What people fail to realize is that it’s an image rather than just a song that this industry sells. The image of a greedy, gorgeous and glamorous woman who will readily trade off herself for a few bucks. An image that is to be adored and worshiped like a buyable commodity that can be disposed off at the end of the day. The videos of such songs mostly show prostitutes or strippers with men throwing money on them. Very often abusive and offensive acts are directed towards women in these videos. This all sends a message that women are nothing but sex objects and its ok for men to treat them like so.

Indeed.

Ironically, a sizeable majority of women also love dancing on these tunes and being associated with such songs is something they find a ‘compliment’. Maybe they don’t listen the lyrics properly or possibly they find the physical remarks (no matter how cheap) flattering. After all, they are brought up with the perception that the world around them is obsessed with physical looks. Forget about gray matter, in the world of pink gray is ugly.

These collective general behaviors depict the thinking mode of any society. So if a society as a whole is ok with the portrayal of women as nymphomaniacs with absolutely no personalities or an ounce of intellect then something is surely heading in the wrong direction. There is a thin border line between decency and indecency, art and lewdness. Its time that we induce these parameters in the media lines. And of course before that we need to rectify our own vision as well.

Our Image: The reasons and our delusions

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There are some traits common among us that posses an adamant viral potency. Some complexes, a few paranoid instincts; things that usually don’t come in the good books of psychology. A marked characteristic elaborating this point is our general opinion regarding our image as a nation from the worldview. We all are mature enough to understand that being in limelight with regards to terrorism, extremism, illiteracy and corruption is something that actually ‘does’ bring down a nation’s image. But somehow we are convinced that this exclusively owes to some planned mischief by the western lobby.

Ok, let’s have a sane peaceful debate regarding this. Majority of us are of the view that we are being portrayed bad only because we are Muslims. Of all the Muslim countries, why is the world so intent upon showering us with so much importance? Why not the same religious prejudice for Bangladesh or Syria? No, I’m not ignoring the other aspects. Of course our position in the international political and strategic framework does set us apart. But it’s not our religious identity that dragged us in the news. It was more because of the terrorist and extremist uprising phenomenons in the past decade. Once in the world spotlight; other linked factors like our reaction to terrorist elements, our society’s speedy radicalization, the root cause for all this and our view points as a whole were/are globally scrutinized for the obvious and understandable reasons. The output as expected drowned our name.

The element of prejudice might also be there but try considering things from a neutral prospective. Showering murderers with roses might be a noble act for you but the world views that as a shocking abnormality. The fact that we readily instigate violent protests on waves of fanaticism but prefer to act deaf and dumb on flaring corruption, terrorism, poverty, illiteracy, rape, child labor, pedophilia, inflation and violation of human rights is an accepted trend for us. But my dear, this makes the world think that we all take Afghan imported opium in our daily diet. The problem lies in the fact that we are obstinate in viewing things from narrow nationalistic lens. But the same does not hold when things are viewed from a global standpoint. And what the world views is something that we should lament and conceive as a stimulus to fix our errors. Instead, turning away from the unpleasant reality and marking it as some Western tactic is nothing short of a childlike delusion.

This ^ , surely doesn't send a very positive message about us

Now the question of what lies beyond that image? True, not all of us come in equation with our popular image. Not all Pakistanis are terrorists, not all of us are Talibans. Pakistan is not a barren bombed land; we have beauty, culture, talent and the likes of Abdus Sattar Edhi and Asma Jahangiri. But whose duty is to promote that image? US? Sorry you are mistaken. Common sense cries in exasperation that they will obviously highlight of us what suits their political designs. Digest it or not, this is the way things work. Exposing our greater image and pleading our case is the responsibility of our media-alone.

I’m not here to advocate the West or their media. The sole purpose is to inject a reality check. So if next time Angelina Jolie raises eyebrows on the grave contrast between the elite and destitute lifestyle in our country, look at the deeper reality instead of coining it as a UN ploy to malign our image. And if you believe that all is not as negative here then don’t expect foreign media to wage go “green” campaigns on our name. Accept the facts and learn to speak for yourself. Whining, complaining and throwing emotional tantrums won’t do the trick.

Too early to let go of Optimism

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Initially printed as letter in Pakistan Today and Pak-Observer

Original post:-

Flipping through the newspaper a few days back, news that two Pakistani students just recently won the 1st round of ‘The Middle East and Africa Windows Phone 7 Challenge’ went like a surprise impulse through me. Pakistani students? Like seriously? Something at the back of my mind poked that if Ibrahim Shahid and Ali Moeen Nawazish can set world records of highest As in O and A level respectively then why not this?

I guess that I’m no exception to those people who have drowned themselves in cynicism and resigned the relationship to optimism. Always whining, complaining and making sure to do nothing. For us, success stories like this should ring bells of hope. Maybe, it’s too early to early to bid farwell to optmism.

Ok, we have our issues-rather a plethora of challenges. But with every odd we have those omens of hope that urge us to dream. On one hand we have the dismal state of women in our country, the mere thought of which evokes images of frailty and helplessness. Yet we have the phenomenal examples like that of Naseem Hameed who became the fastest woman sprinter of South Asia, Arfa Karim who become the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional in the world and that of Pakistani women winning gold in Asian games. Of course a few milestones like this don’t mean that all is well but even with the given flaws in our system, if our people have the spark of striking at international level then this means that there is more potential to be explored. But can we do this without faith? No.

The statistics for us have not been very affirmative lately, agreed. But we are not empty handed after all. With a little effort we have managed to produce a blooming telecom industry ranking as fourth heaviest user country of SMS worldwide and largest in Asia Pacific region. For a third world country these figures are surely an achievement. If we can do this then is it impossible to do more? Why have we written off our fates in dark scripts already?

The above mentioned arguments don’t mean that we should turn a blind eye to our problems. However, the only possible way we can conquer our tribulations is by developing faith in our potentials and finding an antidote to our fatal pessimism. If a country like Japan can rise out of ashes and stun the whole world by becoming a vibrant economic power then why not us?

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