Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Why Don’t They Suspect Me Anymore?

I think I’ve mentioned the checkposts in most Pakistani cities in this blog before. Basically here’s what they are: metal structures that block part of the road and make it a pain to drive and possibly question why you were given a driving license, policemen/soldiers armed with really large/scary guns with a right to shoot anyone who does not stop and a sprinkling of flashlights for the night when many streetlights might be off thanks to the electricity shortages, but that’s not always the case.

I don’t know what criteria the agencies use to ask you to stop and identify yourself before they let you pass. If they do stop you its not really that long before you’re off (I’m assuming that’s if you’re not carrying a bomb, otherwise my guess is that some more investigation might be involved). If there’s a female, or many females for that matter in your car then you will not be stopped.

So last year whenever I drove alone, or with a male friend etc., I would almost always be stopped. They’d look at my license or national ID card and I’d be off. I’m guessing that was to curb underage driving (not that big a deal, although rampant, at this point) or illegal immigration, seeing as the Afghan refugee problem was gaining more traction in critic circles.

This year however, I’m never stopped. It might be the glasses that make me look geekier, it might be that I’m now somehow giving off my supposed American accent (I still deny picking one up despite numerous claims by other people who are of course, obviously biased (note: please sense sarcasm)) or something else. It’s probably something else, but whatever it is I don’t get it.

This happened not just in Lahore but also in Islamabad, where I was recently on a trip with some friends. The worst I’ve gotten is policemen asking us to step out of the car while they frisk it as we exited Islamabad and again as we entered Lahore. They asked us whose car it was and looked for the registration booklet. Stolen cars seems to be a target here, but I’m sure they’re are others as well.

More often than not though, I’ll get a gesture to stop, have a policeman stare at me for a couple of seconds while he thinks of how dangerous I might be before letting me go by another wave of his hand. There is one or more men with a gun ready behind a bunker all the time while this happens.

These security forces do however, have possibly the worst jobs in these times. They have odd hours, through the cracking heat and through the dark night, have very little margin to escape if they do run into a vehicle with explosives that’s going to go off, and are also one part of society that’s constantly been targeted as a symbol of resistance to the government. They are risking their lives for all of us at this very moment, like they are at all other times of day. Please don’t give them an excuse to shoot you.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Stories From a Night Out.

I was out with some friends/colleagues a night or two ago, planning TEDxLahore, Pakistan’s first and largest TED talk (yes I’m shamelessly advertising our work; please do apply to attend or watch the livefeed). Besides seeing a glimpse of Ayeshah Alam, I also managed to hear rumors of how the Jaidi Paan Shop guy (the concept of a Pan shop is hard to explain when my point is something else, but will come to it soon) had been rewarded/bribed with a Prado by Coca-Cola for not keeping Pepsi products in his store. I should quit blogging and take up a paanwala position. This all happens while I think of excuses to avoid overpriced coffee at this highly western coffee shop with freezing air conditioners. Seriously, freezing.

Anyway, digression. While we talked, I took the liberty of telling one of my staple stories. I’m quite sure I’ve written about it before (actually no, I have no idea) but it’s good enough to be written about again. I have a Lithuanian coworker at the University, and as we muse to take our minds off washing dishes we talk about a lot. Seeing as his academic interests revolved around the politics of Islam, and I was well, from Pakistan, we had common ground. So while he researched the Grand Siege of Mecca of 1979 he read of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) issue in Islamabad so we had a briefing of sorts. As I customarily made fun of politics, terrorism, terror, politics (again), ignorance and stupidity he told me a story related by one of his Professors (who is not related in any way to aforementioned terms). Apparently he landed in Lahore and missed a suicide blast by ten minutes as he drove off, but reminisced by saying “but Lahore is beautiful”. My friend laughed at the ridiculousness of the statement, I laughed at my difficulty at explaining something I felt and understood myself.

The stories got more tragic however.

Our curator related his story of a blast near Mall Road targeting an ISI office from summer last year. I remembered the blast as I felt a wave of pressure hit the center where we were taking our A Level exams. I also remembered mistaking it for someone bumping into the glass doors rather loudly at the time. This was much farther down the Mall, my friend was in his house about 300 yards away.

As he stammered to get some money from his father before he left the house (he can never forget the moment, he says), the door to his verandah bursts open and neither he nor his father can hear the other. He hides behind a desk, his brother who was asleep, wakes up and walks out the door only to be greeted by the sound of firing. My friend thought for a second a war had broken out.

The story of our other colleague was worse, unfortunately. This still stops me, every time I think of it.

A few months ago twin blasts ripped through busy Moon Market in Lahore, in Allama Iqbal Town, a dense residential area not far from Punjab University. The blasts killed dozens and injured many more.

Two friends were in the market when the first device went off. They stood together, but ran in opposite directions. One survived, the other ran into the second blast of the night. The survivor saw life, but not peace. He saw a woman with no arm begging to just be put onto an ambulance, he came home and cried.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

A Citizen’s Account of The Raiwind Road Protest.

On Raiwind Road, near the outskirts of Lahore, close to the motorway that leads to Islamabad is University College Lahore or UCL. One of the many colleges to rip off acronyms from London and add to the similarities between the two cities.

A few nights ago UCL was hosting Imran Khan (the British/Pakistani Bhangra artist, not the cricketer/social/worker/politician or the Bollywood actor). Khan’s claim to fame is innovative Bhangra that is catchy, with lyrics that are completely ridiculous, hence equally catchy. Perhaps his most famous song, Amplifier, is embedded.


This is one of the rare musical tours happening in Pakistan at the moment, even in relatively tolerant, liberal and fun-loving Lahore.

I was down at Raiwind Road to visit family that lives some distance past UCL, and got caught in a traffic jam on the way back. Two cars had been parked horizontally across the road, and then a few young men went on to light fire to some tires on the one side of the road. Allw e could get was they were somehow against the concert, whether their reasons were religious, political or affiliation with the school could not be known.

As with all protests, besides the fact that they’re holding up the tire industry (I’m guessing tire imports), a little danga-fasad (disturbance) ensued, but no irrecoverable damage seemed to have been done. There was almost no panic on the scene, perhaps some anger, but no panic. This sort of protest is not the norm, but it doesn’t seem to take people by surprise. The most worry I saw was perhaps from my grandmother in the back seat of our car, but even she seemed to think of this as something we were going to run into some day.

We managed to get out somehow in a few minutes (some cars were moved I think), and that was that. It wasn’t a big deal in the news, in fact I’m not even sure it appeared, but I can’t be definitive on that. I had some grainy pictures from my phone to show but my phone’s bluetooth is no longer working. Hafeez Center to the rescue until more.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Problem With the Elite.

Image Courtesy The Express Tribune

George Fulton is a Pakistan based British freelance journalist. He also writes Op-Eds for the Express Tribune and this recent one titled We Are the Problem is pretty brilliant. It highlights an issue not really talked about openly and frequently enough and is written really well. I spent about a half hour trying to choose which paragraph to quote here but I couldn’t. You just have to read the entire thing.

His story is also pretty interesting and unique, and he is one of Pakistan’s prominent and rare immigrants (aside of refugees). Wikipedia has a brief but good profile on him.

George Fulton (b. November 10, 1977 in Birkenhead, Merseyside, United Kingdom) is a Pakistan-based British television journalist and producer.

Fulton was working for the BBC when he travelled to Karachi, Pakistan, to launch a BBC produced political talk show on Pakistani politics called Question Time Pakistan.Hard Talk Pakistan. He was then offered to do a reality show, George Ka Pakistan, by Pakistan’s Geo TV based on his ex Following which he produced BBC’s periences in Pakistan. During the show which was a success, he married a Pakistani, Kiran.

George soon left Geo TV for another Pakistani TV channel, Aaj TV, where he launched Pakistan’s version of Have I Got News For You, called News, Views & Confused. He produced and scripted the show’s first season, before moving on to produce Aaj TV’s morning show, Kiran Aur George with his wife. Both also host the show.

Hopelessness is Rampant.

I often ask people what they think of this blog. This has also included people I interview. Often my analysis is thought of as simplistic, and often I’m told that all of it is very surface level, and often my analysis lacks depth. More often than not, the depth of the analysis yields way to a hidden vice, at times to a conspiracy theory, generally just failure on many levels by many involved.

My common excuse is to say I’m not anthropologist, renowned journalist or political analyst, so I do what I do. What I usually don’t say is that often I will choose to ignore the depth of any analysis if I see no benefit in thinking about it. So when I shamelessly proclaim my love for mainstream pop/rock and Coke Studio, I choose to not think about how corporations are ‘taking over everything’ and ‘selling everything to us’. So what.

At times it leads to an obvious loss of authenticity in artwork, when it doesn’t, to be honest I couldn’t care less who paid for it. Often I say I’d rather have corporations with money than politicians, and then I quote Coke Studio, and the positive insights and exposure its given us. Many people think businesses and politicians are equally dangerous. Whatever the case, I pretend that hope exists.

However, while I try looking around for signs of hope, genuine or not, often just gimmicks and other times actual facts or stories hidden somewhere, a real sense of hopelessness exists in this country. Their have always been skeptics, but this is not them. This is normal people actually thinking that nothing can be done. Some choose to ignore it, I filter it at times, but other times it just stares at you.

Ardeshir Cowasjee is a senior columnist for Dawn, and I was compelled to write this post after I read this column. I found it posted by a friend on Facebook. No comments, just the link. I’m not sure what comments he could have added once I thought about it. It’s not the first time I’ve heard/read that Pakistan has just gone downhill since it was created. I’ve heard it as an argument for people who choose to emigrate to more prosperous, and (as the concern now is) safer societies.

A friend and I shared an email exchange with Cowasjee after this column. I sense that the blame game is slowly expanding to Pakistanis as well. By this I mean that in addition to the blame we put on the US, ‘the West’, various intelligence agencies and India, we now also think Pakistani politicians, corruption, a lack of effort is also part of the problem. I have heard many people say to me that this ‘previous generation has failed us’, meaning the generation of my parents has failed my generation. This is said more so by my parents’ generation than mine.

In the spirit of my superficial analysis, I want to mention this story. While many administrators may have actually gotten worse in 63 years of independence, one District Coordination Officer (DCO) in Jhang set up an ingenious anti corruption mechanism that was successful enough to catch the eye of the Economist. Zubair K. Bhatti (read his profile here) ensured that for every recorded transaction, the mobile phone number of both parties was also recorded. Mobiles are now unbelievably common/cheap in Pakistan. He would then randomly call people and ask if they were asked for bribes etc. The mechanism worked like a charm and was promised to be implemented by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif but fell through somewhere unidentified. The idea was to use call centers to implement this on larger scales. That hasn’t happened but at least we now know we have an idea.

A Message to the Pakistani Media.

Please get over Veena Malik’s marriage.
Thank you.

ps While you’re at it, how about writing actual stories about local artists, not conspiracy theories, things that just aren’t true, email interviews and random things about Bollywood.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Music and Gurus of Peace.

Dishoom Dishoom has a best of 2010 music collection that’s pretty cool. The comments are really interesting, highly recommended.

Also, Varun Soni writes about music as a bond between India and Pakistan in the Huffington Post, especially in the Punjab as another public diplomacy method. Brings to mind cricket diplomacy methods employed at the beginning of this decade and earlier for similar purposes. They in fact helped spark a whole new series of governmental diplomatic ties. Soni wants both governments to build on the legacy of legends AR Rahman and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who came together to sing ‘Gurus of Peace’, embedded below.


The Website is Back to Normal.

And so is completed another round of my geekery. Sheesh.

Hopefully the website looks better and is easier to read and comment on.

More on Zeb and Haniya.

Courtesy Koolmuzone

The Globe and Mail has a really good piece on Zeb and Haniya, the Pashtun funk/jazz/blues/rock-pop duo.

While the war trucks on in Pakistan, citizens are trying to go about their daily business. And some, such as two young women named Zebunnisa Bangash and Haniya Aslam, are even making bold moves outside their gender and ethnic boundaries.

Zeb and Haniya, as they are known, are Pathan, part of the Pashtun culture. To people in the Western world and even to those in Pakistan, the Pashtun are inextricably linked with the Taliban, and hence often demonized. The two women from Lahore, both 30, have chosen […]

The Geek in Me Lives.

Some minor changes to the blog are now complete. Those that accessed the blog in the last half a day or so have probably seen some weird layouts and frantic posts from me.

The editing is done for the moment, and I’ll keep you updated if I’m onto some more code.

For now, it is time to read and write.