Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Media Earthquake of the Decade - Update 1

So, we can confirm that the Jang Group - Times of India Group collaboration, set to be launched January 1st, will be titled "Amn Ki Asha" (The Desire for Peace). Of course, there is some ironic humour to be had in finding Jang promoting Amn, but that is, perhaps, besides the point.

The title is derived from a poem written by noted filmmaker and lyricist Gulzar especially for the occasion and the launch of the collaboration will feature the simultaneous broadcast of a video shot around a recitation of the poem. The recitation will be by none other than the 'Big B' himself, i.e. Mr. Amitabh Bachchan.

Here is what the Press Trust of India (PTI) has already divulged about the upcoming project, derived mainly it seems from Bachchan's blog (obviously, he is not being bound to the kind of secrecy that is being practised on this side of the border).

Amitabh Bachchan to promote India-Pakistan peace

Updated on Monday, December 28, 2009, 18:29 IST

Mumbai: Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan is collaborating with a media house for a peace campaign to better ties between India and Pakistan.

"Their media and our media will through the medium initiate cross over efforts to hold hands, to exchange views and ideas of how to extend our understanding with each other, to build bridges when all else is falling apart," Big B wrote on his blog.

Bachchan will be seen rendering some lines written by noted lyricist Gulzar in a video as a part of the campaign.

The video depicts a casual atmosphere of a wayside tea stall and thoughts related to our early lives lived in smaller towns.

"The idea of lets get together, unfold a `duree` bring on the `dholak` and sing the songs of community singing. Of flying kites from the roof tops of our homes and inviting each other for a game of `kabaddi`," he added.

The 67-year-old actor hailed the commonness between two countries and advocated a need to build confidence and faith in each other.

"We are now two different countries, India and Pakistan, but our cultures match, as do our food and living habits and our speech. We have been in dispute and rancor on many an occasion and continue to be so, but how wonderful for the media of both the nations to want to start this unique move in building each others confidence and faith in the other," Bachchan wrote.

The Times Of India group plans to launch the campaign from January 1.

Some eyebrows may be raised by the involvement of Bachchan, who despite his recent pronouncements calling for Indo-Pak friendship, has not only acted in decidedly rabid anti-Pakistan films such as Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyo and Deewaar:Let's Bring the Heroes Home, but also has a very cordial relationship with Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. But that may be splitting hairs - after all there is no bigger iconic figure in Indian cinema (whatever one may think of his films), he has acted in over 180 films, and his politics have never been that of Bal Thackeray's, whose goonda-istic control over Bombay is a reality the people in the entertainment industry there must live with. Furthermore, even if the criticism of Bachchan is not discounted, it's a good thing in my book if he changes course.

In any case, the funniest tangential bit about this piece of news is that Express TV ran a full news report about it - obviously taking the PTI story as a source - probably without realizing that their rival Jang Group was involved. (Note please that the PTI story makes it sound as if the Times of India Group is doing this on its own!) Generally, you never hear of events involving another media group featured on a rival's channels or in their publications (and this is most true of the Jang Group!). And given the diversification of the business interests of media owners, this is becoming really farcical. So, even if done unintentionally, perhaps one should give kudos to the Express TV management. The collaboration certainly deserves to be taken as big news.

As we mentioned earlier, the launch will also feature a joint front-page editorial in both group's publications, setting out the mission statement for the collaboration. In addition, we are also likely to see a survey, conducted on both sides of the border, of the populace's opinions on a number of issues related to relations between the testy neighbours.

Let's see what else is in store.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Comeback Kid

Had meant to blog about this a couple of days ago but I suppose now, when we are poised to lose the first test by a handsome margin, is as good a time as any. I mean, if nothing else, it might lighten our dark mood.

Yes, it's Freaky Nature Man once again, doing what he does best: grandstanding and lying through his perpetually bared teeth. A report published in Dawn on December 22 informs us that Shoaib Akhtar is aiming for a "shock" comeback. Apparently part of the preparations for that include denying his weight issues.

"Speaking to media for the first time since reports about him undergoing a liposuction surgery were flashed all over nearly two months ago, Shoaib said it was a knee surgery and not any fat removing procedure because of which he is out of competitive cricket.
‘Everybody is talking about it, but this is the first time I’ve spoken on this. I don’t need liposuction. I’m not fat. I’m a fit guy, I can reduce my weight by running,’ The Telegraph quoted Shoaib as saying."

Yes, I can see how a procedure for sucking the fat out of your tummy could be mistaken for a knee surgery. But Mr. Fit is not content to stop there.

"The 46-Test veteran admitted that he had a friend who is a plastic surgeon, but insisted that he had never gone under the knife. ‘I visit this man as a friend. I go to his clinic now and then and now it’s the story of the world,’ Shoaib said."

Visiting a plastic surgeon's clinic "now and then"? Really Shoaib? Just for chit chat and tea? Your doc friend must have a really floundering practice if he has the time for people popping in at work for socializing OR your  idea of a fun afternoon hanging out with pals is really screwed up. (Hmmm, on second thought, that does sound like you!)

Mr. Fit hanging out

But the most hilarious part of this 'comeback' story is how it consists entirely of 'Look Ma, No Fat' Man denying all his past transgressions and the accusations hurled at him. Here's him denying his steroid abuse, for which, you must remember, he was convicted and banned for two years, until the PCB in an act of cowardice repealed the sentence after one year:

"Commenting on the drug abuse, he claimed that he had never used any performance enhancing drugs. ‘I have never used that stuff, mate. I don’t need to cheat with drugs. I have bowled more than 100mph for years, so why would I use drugs to enhance my performance? The story was this — the PCB tested the whole team. My normal nandrolone level was higher and my argument was this figure cannot be the same for every person on the planet,’ the fast bowler argued."

Don't you just love how 'mate' was thrown in there? I can just imagine him saying it in his faux Punjabi-Irish-Australian brogue. But the explanation is what really takes the cake. Here's a quick reminder, Mate... 1. Who cares what "your argument" is? I mean, are you seriously saying it's "your argument" against the weight of a conviction based on the science of dope testing? 2. You're not even remotely right. What the ICC-sanctioned dope testing found was that your nandrolone levels were several times higher than what even the normal RANGE of levels are (they account for the variations in different people) and concluded that even in abnormal cases (such as you claim yours is apparently) such stupendously high levels could not be achieved without steroid abuse. Yeah, mate, it sucks to be found out, don'it?

But of course, how could Shoaib make a 'comeback' without referring to the THING that has probably caused him more grief than all the other accusations put together.

"Shoaib, who has taken 178 Test wickets, also blasted the PCB for releasing a statement saying he had ‘genital warts’, due to which he was axed from the World T20. He maintains that he has an independent medical report, which cleared him of any STD."

You went to the extent of getting an independent medical report for this? Is it from another doc pal whose clinic you like to hang out in? Are you going to show it to all the ladies you pick up at the bar? Would you stop threatening a comeback if the PCB announces publicly that yeah, the other doctors got it all wrong and it's ok to have sex with you?

'You wanna see my independent medical report?'

You know what Mate? If you do make a comeback, 'shock' will not even begin to describe it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

'Behaving Like Judges'

This news item , titled "Kurd Unhappy Over SC Verdict on NRO" caught my eye from today's Dawn. It begins:

"Ali Ahmed Kurd, the firebrand leader of the lawyers’ movement and former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, who has been keeping quiet for quite some time, surprised a lot of people on Tuesday with his blunt criticism of the way the Supreme Court was behaving. Judges should “behave like judges”, he said."

The Unhappy Kurd

We've recently also had Ms. Asma Jahangir also criticising the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) judgement in both a Dawn op-ed piece and on a talk show on Dunya TV (the written piece being much more well reasoned - though flawed - than her verbal arguments on tv), claiming that the Supreme Court had overstepped its mandate. Her basic argument was that the decision seemed like a "witch-hunt" and if the NRO was going to be declared illegal for being against the constituion, what was the point of referring it to the parliament to enact as a law if it could, that by doing so the court had tried to mock the parliament. That of course assumes that the Supreme Court had made up its mind before hearing the case that it would strike down the law. Her arguments that the court had overstepped its mandate by ensuring a monitoring process are actually also quite legally flawed since the court has long exercised the power to monitor the process of justice, not least in the case of accountability and anti-terrorism courts which also operate under the same principle. In the above news report, Ms. Jahangir is quoted as telling a seminar in Islamabad that the Supreme Court decision "appeared to be a decision pronounced by a 'jirga'."

The same report goes on to report say:

"Mr Kurd said that an independent judiciary had been restored after a great struggle, adding that the country would become stronger if the judiciary acted in the manner expected by the nation during the struggle. “If it does not happen, it will cause a blow to national security.” "

Call me a cynic but isn't telling judges that 'they should behave like judges' and that they are 'over-stepping their mandate' and 'endangering national security' EXACTLY what General Musharraf had been doing and against which both these legal activists had raised their firebrand voices?

It would seem that everyone, including the activists of an independent judiciary, are actually only interested in getting judgements that suit their interpretation of the law. Anything else and they get sulky.

The Halwa Chronicles - II

So much for "conspiracies against Islam" and "Pakistan's religious leadership." The maulanas simply had halwa beyond its sell-by date.

From Dawn:

Outdated halwa laid clerics down
By Munawer Azeem
Wednesday, 23 Dec, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Dec 22: An unofficial report about the Halwa which sickened a number of religious figures here last week suggested that the sweet was ‘expired’, sources in the police told Dawn on Tuesday.

The sources said the sample of the Halwa was sent to the biological laboratory of the Punjab University by Senator Azam Khan Swati and the report was submitted to the Secretariat police on Monday night.

The report said though poison was not found in the sweet it contained bacteria due to expiry, the sources said.

However, the investigators are waiting for the report of the chemical examiner Lahore to decide the fate of the case, the police added.

The police said even if expiry of the Halwa was confirmed, the investigation would continue to trace the person who had delivered it at the suite of Senator Abdul Gahfoor Haideri to ascertain whether it was a mistake or a deliberate act.

The sources said several requests made by the investigators to interrogate the senator’s cooks in isolation and independently were still being denied.

On December 17, the Secretariat police registered an attempted murder case against the unidentified person on the complaint of Senator Haideri.

Mufti Muneebur Rehman, Liaquat Balcoh, JUI’s Rashidul Haq, deputy chief Abdul Khaliq, press secretary Abdul Haleem and Abdul Rauf; Jamaat-i-Islami’s Zubair Farooq along with the Maulana’s two cooks - Zakir Hussain and Qurban Ali - and Mehar Dil Baloch suffered food poisoning after eating the sweet.

My bet: The report will be rejected by the maulvis who will never accept anything less than deliberate poisoning.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Media Earthquake of the Decade

Something very secretive is afoot in the media on both sides of Wahga / Munabao and it promises to be HUGE. It would seem that the two largest media groups of both Pakistan and India are about to stage a major splash by joining hands in the new year.

Yes, you heard that right. The Times of India Group and the Jang Group - neither exactly known for their sustained efforts to promote rational dialogue on Indo-Pak matters - are gearing up to launch a far-reaching collaboration on January 1st, 2010. The Times Group which runs the highest circulation English newspaper in the world (I'm not making this up, you can check this up here), the Times Now TV channel (the top-ranked English news channel), The Economic Times (India's largest financial daily), the tabloid Mirror (published separately from 6 cities), the Hindi language Navbharat Times, the Marathi Maharashtra Times and the glamour and entertainment channel ZOOm, will be entering into some sort of "intensive partnership" with the Jang Group, which runs the highest circulation Urdu newspaper in the world (had to balance things somewhat), The News, the weeklies Mag and Akhbar-e-Jahan, the eveningers Awam and Daily News and of course Geo, Geo News, Aag and Geo Super.

What exactly this collaboration will entail, I must admit I do not yet exactly know, since it is still a closely guarded secret. But from the reports filtering in from both sides of the border, it will definitely involve shared content, shared resources and jointly organized events, apparently to encourage debate over the outstanding issues between the two countries and to foster an environment in which lowering of tensions and political rapprochement is possible. All this is set to be launched with a bang with a simultaneously published mission statement and other emotive festivities on the first day of the new year.

The stated intentions seem very noble and this collaboration could actually turn out to be a game-changer for India Pakistan relations if everything works out as planned. Media activists on both sides have long demanded greater access for each other's media and journalists, and a greater understanding of each other's points of view cannot be a bad thing in the long run.

However, a number of nagging questions still lurk in my mind:

1) Can Pakistan's establishment, seemingly so intent on scuttling any attempts by Zardari / PPP to bring India and Pakistan closer, accept this?

2) Can the Indian establishment and media put aside its patronizing tone and hostility towards Pakistan long enough for something like this to have a chance of succeeding?

3) How will the Jang Group - currently engaged in a tense and destructive stand-off with the government - reconcile its promotion of growing business ties with India when it has often beat up on politicians such as Zardari for attempting to do the same?

4) How will Times Group and the Jang Group reconcile their often hawkish stands vis a vis Indo-Pak relations with their newfound bonhomie?

5) How exactly would the collaboration between the Times of India (with a circulation exceeding 3.4 million and a distinct focus on Bollywood catfights) and The News (with a circulation of, um, slightly less and a distinct focus on Ansar Abbasi) actually work to both's benefit?

6) How the hell did Dawn get left behind? Something like this seems right up its alley.

Arnab Goswami (left) on his version of Capital Talk

7) Will Geo's Hamid Mir and Times Now's Arnab Goswami - surely the blustering mirrors of each other in tone and physique - square off in a wrestling match to the death?

Watch this space for more details. And remember, you heard it first right here.

Headline of the Day

One lives for headlines such as this in a daily paper (from The Daily Times):

"Sunset of tranquility on the boulevard of modernity"

Once it has rendered you in a sufficient state of serene stupor, you can go on to read this report about a book launch, which begins thus:

"Strolling through the era of present traumatised state and nostalgically recollecting the times when life was simple and secure, and packed with hope, love and passion, Salma Iftikhar launched her second book titled ‘Sunset Boulevard’ at a local hotel on Sunday."

You may wonder, if the report of the book launch is this florid, what must the book be like! But fear not, because the reporter adds helpfully:

"A multimedia presentation was also done to make author’s work more realistic."

Ok, so she may not have meant it exactly the way it came out. But when you're tranquil on the boulevard of modernity, you don't really care, do you?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Halwa Chronicles

There's something utterly surreal about a country where a whole class of people stereotypically derided as "halwa lovers" (idiomatically meaning 'partial to the good life') is spectacularly laid low by, of all things, halwa.

I refer of course to the now infamous episode two days ago where a bunch of maulvis - including the 'Real Drone Attacker' Mufti Muneebur Rehman (he of the Ruet) and the Jamaat's 'Face-of-the-Youth' Secretary General, 57-year-old Liaquat Baloch - were rushed to the hospital with severe food poisoning after consuming the aforsesaid dish at the Islamabad residence of the deputy head of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam.

The Drone Attacker laid low by halwa (Source: Dawn / Online)

Reports of the details are conflicting about what kind of halwa was the culprit (habshi or sohan) and what all these clerics were up to (some say they were meeting for a Mashaikh Conference called by the government to declare suicide bombings unIslamic, other more credible reports - especially since the government would not be calling a conference in the flat of the JUI senator - claim the conference was only incidental to the whole thing). But everyone seems to agree that the sweet was delivered to the residence by some unknown man the night before the meeting and that the host Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri only survived the poisoning because, having diabetes, he refrained from trying the sweets. Obviously taking food items from total strangers and serving them to your guests without verification - despite there being "a strange, foul smell" emanating from them (in the words of DIG Bani Amin in the Dawn report) - is not, however, a problem for Mr. Haideri.

But this report in today's The News, wherein Mr. Baloch claims it to be a conspiracy to eliminate the "religious leadership" of the country and vows that "such incidents cannot weaken our principled stand of exposing conspiracies against Islam and Pakistan", also sheds some light on the mindset of the same leaders.

"“There is no doubt that it was an attempt on the lives of Ulema who have been raising their voice against the anti-Pakistan international conspiracies,” he maintained. He said the sweet dish was of black colour and carried a very bad taste and everybody, therefore, could eat a very small quantity."

Call me fussy but if someone offered ME something black, foul-smelling and awful tasting, I would politely refuse. I mean, how desperate for halwa IS our "religious leadership"?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How Not To Write About Sex in Pakistan

Note to feminists out to liberate Pakistani women from the shackles of sexual repression: please don’t. Or do it in private if you must, with some scented candles, massage oil, maybe a handy illustration or two. But please, for the sake of all that’s unholy (in this case, sex in Pakistan) cease and desist from writing about it in the way you have been writing about it.

In the last couple of weeks readers traditionally starved of public discussion about the sex lives of Pakistani women have been treated to not one but two stories on the subject, one in the December issue of local monthly Newsline and the other by one Jeanette Khan first featured on The Huffington Post in April but currently doing the rounds locally. Both inadvertently illustrate why some of us still prefer to do it rather than talk about it.

The Newsline cover story by Shimaila Matri Dawood (who, I hasten to add, this writer held in high esteem till right about the time she decided to make legions of other Pakistanis never want to have sex again) was clearly a noble effort to shatter a dominant taboo about female sexuality, i.e., not talking about it. The magazine opted for a brave cover in red, white, black and yellow featuring the silhouette of a woman against a backdrop of key words. These keywords presumably came up when Newsline staffers brainstormed to identify what normal people talk about when they talk about the subject. They include shame, embarrassment, immodest, sexual dysfunction, molestation and forced sex.

This told me three things. One, I should probably never try to have a conversation about sex with a Newsline staffer unless I have a box of tissues handy. Two, courageous as their attempt might be, Newsline was choosing to duck a ball by euphemistically representing rape as ‘forced sex’. Three, Newsline wanted to do a lot of things to the reader – inform, educate, edify – but it certainly didn’t want to titillate. Which made sense, sort of. I mean, if you want to blow the lid off repressed sexuality, you certainly don’t want to blow the lid of repressed sexuality do you? Snigger snigger, nudge nudge.

On the flip side, you don’t want to bore your reader to death either. This, ironically, is exactly what Newsline ended up doing when it decided to make people wake up. For example, an extract from Naila Baloch’s "Why I Want To Talk About Sex":

“In order to transform the dominant paradigms of relationships in our lives, based primarily on manipulation, power and control, I feel a stark need for us to connect to sources of power within ourselves, most potently through opening up to our own sexuality. We need, as men and women, to connect to our sexuality in a more loving, nurturing and non-dominant manner, seeing it as a sharing, as opposed to a conquering, and seeing women’s engagement with their sexuality not as shameful (an attitude that many women themselves internalize) but as natural, exuberant, joyful and a cause for mutual celebration! In this way, we may start to feel more power over our own lives, and can become actively loving participants in all of our relationships, sexual and non-sexual alike.”

You lost me at paradigms Naila.

Or consider this, from Ms. Dawood’s main feature:
"Ask the educated Pakistani woman about what the term sexual rights means and most would link it to sexual needs, preferences and habits. All these terms, however, have different meanings. While sexual rights pertain to the right of the woman to make her own decisions about her body (including her reproductive capacity, health and right to privacy and information) sexual habits is the term given to the specific types of sexual behaviour, needs are based on libido and preferences and individual tastes.
"All these play a critical role in the empowerment of women. The lack of informed knowledge about sex, given the taboo nature of the topic, and the misinformation that men, women, and adolescents received, perpetuates myths and misconceptions about sex and serves to reinforce messages of shame, fear and guilt. This can lead to issues such as sexually-transmitted infections, sexual dysfunction, gender-based abuse and violence, including sexual violence.”
If Newsline is now a brochure, why isn’t it free?

Interspersed with these inedible lumps of jargon was the odd attempt to make the piece readable, for example the opening itself:
“A group of well-heeled, sophisticated young adults are at a party, thrown by the host to celebrate her upcoming winter wedding. Strains of Nelly Furtado’s hit song ‘Promiscuous’ reverberate from the DJ’s sound system into the night. The women, frosted up in diamonds and dressed to impress, groove to the beat, sip margaritas at the well stocked bar, and discuss a range of superficial topics (or perhaps a range or topics superficially)…a socialite’s unflattering makeover, whether the Dubai default will cause prêt prices to fall, and if President Zardari can hold on to power for long.
"In a quiet corner sits an all-female quarter, aged between 25 and 40. One of them talks about a recent sex survey undertaken by an Indian magazine. “It’s called ‘The Fantasy Report’,” she says, “and it’s about sexual fantasies. They do one every year, in collaboration with a local NGO. Last year’s survey talked about under-age sex, sex with prostitutes and eunuchs, kinky sex, adultery, incest, homosexuality, preferences, favourite positions, attitudes towards role-playing and other sexual activities. I wonder what the findings would be if they could do one in Pakistan?”
Show me a frosted socialite two margaritas in who can say "under-age sex, sex with prostitutes and eunuchs, kinky sex, adultery, incest, homosexuality, preferences, favourite positions, attitudes towards role-playing and other sexual activities" without slurring, and I’ll show you a feature writer who doesn’t make shit up.

Here’s another:
“Take, for instance, the daughter of privilege. Essentially nocturnal by habit, she’s seen at all the haunts at which ‘liberal’ Pakistanis congregate- intimate dinner parties, charity extravaganzas, raunchy theatre productions such as Chicago, The V-Monologues, Mamma Mia, or even the OGS shows, raves and midnight dances at the beach. Her daytime pursuits include a few select fashion shows, or exercising her toned and exposed limbs at a zealously private club. She works in a bank or a multinational, drinks, smokes, has boyfriends. At weddings, she wraps herself in her latest Indian Satya Paul sari, a garment which was banned in government offices in the Zia era. For more casual dos she dares to bare in always western-wear.”
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s Super Slut flying down the lane!

Nocturnal bankers? [Source:]

There are so many things wrong, indeed grossly offensive, about the assumptions made in that paragraph that I’m going to have to just let it go. Except, if Super Slut with the boyfriends and the toned and exposed limbs is nocturnal by habit, how the hell does she keep her job at the bank?

So there you have it, jargon, stereotype and cliché. Cliché, stereotype and jargon. That’s the stylistic wrapping for you. And now for the meat on the bone (no pun intended, honest), my other big problems with the Newsline story are:

1) All the men in it are either sex-crazed lunatics who like nothing better than a bit of marital rape to relax on a lazy morning, sex-crazed lunatics who ‘abandoned’ their wives when they refused to allow a bit of marital rape on a lazy morning, or "Mullahs and conservative politicians" that "support brutal tribal traditions that throw allegedly adulterous women in front of dogs and bury them alive." No, wait, there’s an insert by a male psychiatrist. He tells a delightful story about a little old lady whose "missing front teeth and loss of hearing in one ear" bore witness to "the viciousness of her husbands beatings." In one fell swoop, Newsline has invented the perfect anti-aphrodisiac. This particular issue could well be repackaged and sold as The Diminisher, The Deflator, The Emasculator! So buy your copy now, ladies, and read it aloud to your lover next time he starts humping your leg at an inconvenient time. If you still have one, that is. After reading the sweeping indictments of Pakistani manhood contained therein it might seem simpler, and more tempting, to get a dog. And shoot it.

2) My second main problem ties directly into the first one. In a 15-page spread about female sexuality, repeatedly professing a desire to educate women about their ‘sexual rights’, the word ‘pleasure’ is used twice. And never by the writers. If that doesn’t tell you they were doing something wrong, I don’t know what does.

Quibbles aside, let’s congratulate Newsline on having the ovaries to do the well-intentioned story in the first place, and wish them luck in finding a less pedantic tone the next time they attempt something similar. One that inspires as well as informs (it's a little hard to change things when you've been bludgeoned into a defensive coma you know), stimulates rather than sedates, and doesn’t accidentally alienate the half of the Pakistani population without whose cooperation there can be no significant progress in women’s rights. Let’s also congratulate them for burying us under a landslide of fact rather than farce, which is what the other piece I mentioned earlier does.

Enter Jeanette Khan via The Huffington Post, under the rather unfortunate headline "Let’s Talk About Sex Baby, Let’s Talk About Sex in Pakistan." Still reeling from prolonged exposure to the Newsline story, I’m already groaning Oh no do we have to. But I will, because I am a Pakistani woman dammit. And if I can suffer in silence while I am violated at will by my demon lover I can certainly read 1200 words of forwarded text without a whimper. Except…I’m barely into the first paragraph and already oh god it hurts!

“I'm a red-blooded woman. I'm comfortable talking about sex and all aspects regarding it. As a full-fledged member of the Millennials, I'm accustomed to asking people "Are you a virgin?"

Asking random people ‘are you a virgin’ does not make you comfortable with yourself and a red-blooded woman Ms. Khan, it just makes you rude.

“In Pakistan there is no such thing as sex-education. People mostly learn about sex through their married friends or first-hand experience.” And also “Playboys are smuggled into the country.”
On behalf of all the passengers on Flight 2009, Ms. Khan, I would like to welcome you to our service and urge you to take advantage of all our facilities. They include this pretty little buttony thing here, it is called the INTERNET. But reading on, it appears Ms. Khan made a convenient leap into the future because then we have…

“A few years later, as a late teen, on another trip to Pakistan, my friend Nadia told me that teenagers were having sex; they would go to their houses when the parents weren't home. My older male cousin also told me he knew of a girl who had gotten pregnant.”

Are you sure he wasn’t talking about his mother? Ok that was a little rude but I have to say, considering the sheer volume and scale of the ignorance professed by the cousins and aunts that Ms. Khan periodically enlightens about the birds and the bees throughout her piece, it doesn’t seem like the brightest family ever does it?

“Before my cousin got married, I asked if sex had been explained to her. My aunt said that she had friends who had recently gotten married so they explained it to her. I wanted her to know her rights and that she had the ability to say "no" and that sex is something to be enjoyed for both parties, not just one. There is actually a celebration in Pakistan for consummating the relationship, it's called the Valima and it's held the night after the wedding. It seems so odd that there would be an actual celebration for the consummation, but no real explanation about sex.”

Good point Ms. Khan. Do you think our reluctance to have long, complicated, graphic discussions about the consummation we are celebrating at a Valima has anything to do with the fact that, unlike you, we don’t think talking about sex with our grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, strangers etc in a formal, public setting while simultaneously stuffing our faces with korma and biryani is particularly healthy? Or remotely erotic? Or entirely sane?

“I have another friend here who isn't married and when I asked if she knew what sex was, she said she didn't. Even after all these years my mouth still fell open in shock. Our other friend is married, and she just looked at me as if to keep quiet. Pakistan has become more Western in a lot of areas, but clearly not in this one.”
Here is what actually happened. Ms. Khan tried that whole rude, intrusive question thing she indicated she had a thing for in the first para again, and a mutual friend shot her a warning ‘wtf is wrong with you shut up’ look. So yes, we in Pakistan are indeed grateful that we are still lagging behind the west in the Munhphat arena.

And now for a handy clue as to why she is so obsessed with the sex lives of others.

“Here, there is no "flirting." I've tried to flirt with men, but normally get told off. Once I was in the car with my aunt, who's a bit conservative, and she noticed me staring at this guy next to us. She told me not to stare as it doesn't look nice. How exactly it doesn't look nice, I don't know, I thought to myself.”

Platonic embraces only

That’s right. You read it correctly. Jeanette Khan wrote ‘here, there is no flirting’ in reference to Pakistan. The country where phool walas flirt with female drivers (overheard at traffic light yesterday ‘main Allah say kuch aur mang layta’), women flirt with vendors (all is fair in love, war and bargaining) and the president flirts with female dignitaries. The mind boggles.

“Sexual expression is fully repressed here, at least in front of families. Sometimes cousins are even kept apart after a certain age to dispel interaction. I'm not allowed to go to my aunt's house without the older family members because she lives in a huge joint-family system where there are a number of young adult unmarried men. I am an unmarried young female. When I do meet these cousins I just bow my head to greet them and that's the extent of our interaction.”
Just another day at Meerkat Manor then.

No cousins allowed at this wedding obviously

“That's not to say that men and women don't date. They do, but always clandestinely. I've seen numerous couples and groups of men and women out eating and enjoying themselves.”
Yes, being seen in public is exactly what ‘clandestinely’ means.

Then there is a vignette about the time Ms. Khan managed to get "an elder male cousin alone" one day. It involved a lot of cloak and dagger stuff, like his having to sneak out of his grandmother’s house, her father having to cover for her, her running out of their vacation home to his car parked outside the gate. It reads just like a Jane Austen novel, except without the masterful descriptive lyricism, compelling storyline, or interesting characters.

When she finally manages to get aforementioned ‘elder male cousin alone’, “he looked so shocked.”

Rohypnol can do that to a person.

Ms. Khan makes an attempt to contextualize her utter and complete lack of self awareness with the following paragraph:

“The thing is that Pakistan isn't so wholesome sexually when it doesn't want to be. Lahore even has a famous red light district, called Heera Mandi. Men go there and pay a few rupees to sleep with the girls, often young girls who have been kidnapped or have to sell their bodies to make money for their families. Other women are from generations of prostitutes; it's their only way to survive. The thing about it is everyone knows what goes on there, but nothing's really done about it, at least officially.”

So now the readers of The Huffington Post think it costs a few rupees to sleep with a girl in Lahore - Ms Khan’s already tattered credentials are thus irreparably damaged by her misplaced faith in our currency - and that our culture fosters a strong tradition of prostitution while simultaneously doing all it can to keep cousins apart.

A Huffington Post reader arrives in search of good bargains [Photo: Noor Khan]

Her masterful encapsulation of sex in Pakistan ends with the following kernels of wisdom.
“Pakistan is caught somewhere between sexual repression and sexual exploration; only time will tell where it goes next.”

As a Pakistani, I would like you all to join me in a little prayer. May we never have to go to Jeanetteland. Ameen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ET Phone Home

There are a number of question marks hanging over Sultan Lakhani's latest venture into the media, his plans to launch a new English newspaper called the Express Tribune (ET), affiliated with the International Herald Tribune (IHT), and tentatively scheduled to hit the stands in February or March 2010.

Nobody doubts the depth of Mr. Lakhani's purse, which managed to attract many longtime Jang columnists to the Urdu Express and which, at least initially, gave his Express television channel a distinct edge in live coverage of breaking news. But it remains to be seen whether a) the ET can make any dent in the Karachi market which is dominated by the newspaper-of-habit Dawn or against The News which, because of its chatpata-stories-that-usually-have-some-basis-unlike-The Nation-under Mazari, has become a must-read paper for political animals and b) there is even a market for another English paper (see what happened to The Daily Times!). ET will apparently include a 20-page IHT every day but whether many people will be willing to switch their regular paper just for the sake of the IHT (without something special in the local paper) is questionable. The apparent reliance on wire services and the Express group's television channels and Urdu paper to feed stories to the English paper does not promise a remarkably unique publication.

More immediate problems also loom for the new venture. One of the biggest question marks is over the staffing policy. True to his corporate roots, Mr. Lakhani is relying heavily on recently graduated MBAs rather than journalists. While the stated rationale for this is to get in fresh blood that can read and write English well, the danger is that, like many MBA-types, the young blood may be using the paper mainly as a stepping stone towards other corporate careers rather than building a career as credible journalists. There are already murmurings by some of the under-training staff that their work assignments may not "look good on their CVs"!

But adding to the sense of unease within the organization is the style of 'governance' that seems far removed from that of a newspaper and more akin to a corporate firm. Among the "rules" that have been enforced are a strict policy of an eight-hour-day with pay cuts for those not in the office premises for at least seven hours (you might wonder what about field reporters? but apparently none have been hired!), and a strict dress code which stipulates that men's shirts must be tucked in and no shalwar kameezes except on Friday. A proposed ban on jeans was only narrowly averted. It leads one to wonder exactly what the management's priorities are. Wouldn't instilling concepts of good, solid journalism into the MBA recruits be more worthwhile than focusing on their fashion? Perhaps Mr. Lakhani should take a look round other local newspaper offices or even watch a few recent Hollywood films about journalists. Corporate looks are not exactly high on journalists' agendas in any part of the world and there's a reason journalism attracts social misfits. Or read Jawed Naqvi writing about the image of journalists in today's Dawn.

If all this was not enough to cause misgivings among the employees, the language being used by the management with respect to them certainly is. This is part of what Editor Kamal Siddiqi wrote in an internal memo to his sub-editors after he discovered some of them were coming late to training or skipping it altogether:

"Let me just say you have embarrassed me. Despite my request last week, it seems most of you still think this training is some sort of a joke. Yesterday John showed me how some of you were missing from his group without any intimation. This sort of attitude is shameful. Training starts at 9AM not 9.30AM.  If you cant make it, let me know and I will request the management to shift you to some other department, like selling detergents."

A valid issue for the editor, churlishly handled. Especially considering that Mr. Lakhani has often been accused by his critics of knowing how to sell detergents but not administer a media organization. Small wonder that some of the editorial staff are already desperate to make an exit.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Positive Responses - The Art of Stating the Obvious

The shock! The awe! The wide-eyed startled looks!

Here's what really had me falling off my seat with laughter this morning. The snivelling worm of journalism (could it be anyone else?) breaks wind news in The News' that:

"Imran says he got positive response from Taliban"

Really? Imran Khan and the Taliban? Who would ever have thunk?!

Ansar Abbasi's oh-so-unbiased report is worth reading at least once. It only calls Imran Khan "bold" and "daring" once and merely implies that the government is clueless, deaf and bloodthirsty. Oh and yeah, anyone who might disagree with his and Imran Khan's analysis that our best bet to contain terrorism is to do a Sufi Mohammad-style deal with the militants, is either a "confused Pakistani" or an "arrogant foreigner."

But this headline made me think of other potentially equally shocking news items that we can perhaps expect next in the paper:

1. "Zaid Hamid gets positive response from semi-literate pop stars looking for something deep and conspiratorial but safe to support"

2. "Shireen Mazari says she gets positive response from certain intelligence agencies looking to undermine the government through manufactured news"

3. "Nawaz says he gets positive response from religiously conservative but financially reckless Hall Road traders"

4. "Musharraf says he got positive response from Facebook users who still believe the military is the only solution to Pakistan's problems despite 43 years of misgovernance under it, and Atiqa Odho"

5. "Zardari says he got positive response from Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Asifa"

6. "Male model says he got positive response from Sheikh Aamer Hassan"

7. "Jamaat Chief Syed Munawwar Hassan gets positive response from Farhat Hashmi"

8. "Karzai says he got positive response from poppy farmers"

9. "Altaf says he received positive response from Sector Incharge Liaquatabad No. 10"

10. "Imran says he got positive response from Ansar Abbasi."

Please feel free to add some more...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wajid Shamsul Hassan Chomps More On His Cigar

The story of how Pakistan's High Commissioner in the UK, Wajid Shamsul Hassan, went on an ostensibly secret mission to Geneva to take possession of legal documents related to President Asif Zardari's cases in the Swiss Courts - cases halted after the NRO was ordained by General Musharraf - has received a lot of play on Geo for over a week now. Now it has become the source of much comment by Supreme Court judges hearing the petition against the NRO.

At issue is why Mr. Hassan was needed to go to Geneva to take possession of the documents (there are of course three Pakistani missions within Switzerland itself and it bears repeating that Mr. Hassan was himself earlier accused of allegedly facilitating the smuggling of antiques from Pakistan for Mr. Zardari's Rockwood Mansion in Surrey, a property he continued to deny was his but which he has now admitted to), why - if the documents needed to be handed over for safe-keeping purposes by the Pakistan government - was the whole operation conducted in such a cloak and dagger manner, and what this means for the security of the legal documents should the NRO be overturned by the Supreme Court and the cases re-opened.

It is patently obvious that Geo had been tipped off about this trip and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who could be behind such a tip off. Nevertheless, we are better off for having this record, flawed as it may be on the details, on tape. Here is the full report as broadcast initially on Geo News:

Now, however, Mr. Wajid Shamsul Hassan has come out with a lengthy explanation about the incident. You can read the entire text issued by the High Commission laying out his stand here in The News (apparently it goes on even more, so we have been treated only to the first part today).

I do not want to comment too much on the explanation, but thought one should highlight a few portions of the explanation. Mr. Hassan says:

“I did accompany the NAB Prosecutor General Dr Danishwar Malik to Geneva on the instructions of Pakistan Foreign Office to be present with him when he takes over 12 boxes from the NAB’s lawyer, a private company, in Geneva. The chairman NAB was in the know that I was assigned officially to go to Geneva.

“I just acted as a witness to the handing over of the boxes to Dr Danishwar Malik at the office of the Swiss lawyer and not Swiss court or the Swiss Prosecutor General as reported in the newspapers of your group and Geo TV. The boxes were handed over by Dr Danishwar in my presence to Aftab A Khokhar, Deputy Permanent Representative, for transportation to the office of Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, for putting them in sealed diplomatic bags to be sent to Pakistan High Commission, London.

“I regret to state that your correspondents have tried to scandalise the issue for reasons best known to them by describing an entirely legal transfer as a cloak-n-dagger mystery. It seemed to be part of an orchestrated smear campaign carried on by those in the media that are being accused of pursuing an agenda to destabilise the democratic government. I find it grossly unethical, unprofessional and immoral that without making inquiries from the Pakistan Foreign Office certain scandalous insinuations were targeted at me.

“In order to create an impression that I was allegedly involved in a clandestine mysterious mission, the perpetrators of falsehood did not care to check about authorisation of my visit with the Pakistan Foreign Office. Rather, they even wrongly attributed to NAB chairman that he had not authorised my visit. The NAB chairman had nothing to do with the authorisation of my visit but he was in full knowledge of it through the Pakistan Foreign Office that instructed me to go to Geneva.

“The reason why I was designated to accompany NAB Prosecutor General Dr Danishwar Malik was that Pakistan High Commission in London, ever since political vendetta was launched against martyred Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari starting November 1996 by revengeful Farooq Leghari, followed more venomously by National Accountability Cell under Senator Saifur Rehman, hatchet man of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and then by General Pervez Musharraf’s NAB, had become the focal point for NAB’s foreign operations."

"Commenting further on the previous stories, the high commissioner said when two hoodlum looking individuals confronted him in a Geneva street, they did not identity themselves. Rather, unlike civilised journalists, they were rough and confrontationist in their approach."

Now look at that video report again, particularly Mr. Hassan's responses to the Geo reporter when asked what was going on, the evasiveness of all officials and the Geo logo on the mike and make up your own mind whether what Mr. Hassan says stands up to scrutiny.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Clueless in Canada

Someone just pointed me in the direction of the worst article by a Non-Resident Pakistani (NRP) in the Western press. What is it about NRPs? I mean, if you're going to immigrate, must you pretend to still be clued in to what's going on back home? And what is the deal with the Western press, which is willing to accept all kinds of libelous statements from NRPs - which they would never from Westerners about their own countries - presumably simply because of the authors' "credibility", defined only by their ethnicity.

We have seen this in the past, with Tariq Ali claiming in a piece in the Guardian that Murtaza Bhutto was shot point blank in 1996 - when no such forensic evidence has ever been presented - simply taking, one assumes, daughter Fatima Bhutto's word for it. We saw it with the claims of that charlatan Ahmed Chelabi, who seemingly singlehandedly convinced the neo-con administration of George Bush and the public through op-ed pieces in the New York Times, that Iraqis were waiting to line up in the streets to welcome US troops into Iraq. I'm not saying this current piece is on that level of deceipt, but its playing fast and loose with facts and generalizations is still breathtaking in its sheer audacity.

The article in the reputed Globe and Mail of Canada, provocatively titled "A Military Coup in Pakistan?", is by Tarek Fatah, a most prolific writer on issues related to Islam, Muslims and Pakistan. According to a journalist who met him in the US a few years ago, "he is a know-it-all whose knowledge of Pakistan is firmly anchored in the '70s." The problem is not even his central thesis - that the Pakistani establishment would rather see the back of Zardari and his cronies. That has been written about with much regularity in the Pakistani press to say the least, and truth be told, the majority of Pakistanis would probably have the same views. The problem, in fact, is with the sweeping claims made about motives, the lack of substantive evidence to back libelous accusations and the propagandistic (read apologist) tone of the piece.

Right off the bat, Mr. Fatah begins with:

"A military coup is unfolding in Pakistan, but, this time, there is no rumbling of tanks on the streets of Islamabad. Instead, it seems the military is using a new strategy for regime change in Pakistan, one that will have adverse consequences for Western troops deployed in Afghanistan."

So, the parameters are set. The "regime change" is not bad per se for democracy in Pakistan or for the future of rule of law in the country. It is bad only because it might adversely affect Western troops in Afghanistan. So much for having the interests of Pakistan at heart.

Here are some other choice examples:

"A year after rogue elements of Pakistan's intelligence services disrupted Indian-Pakistani peace talks by staging the Mumbai massacre..."

Wow. Clear and to the point. Except, nobody has proved this yet. Not even the Indians. Yes, Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives have been charged with the planning and aiding the crime, but they have not yet been convicted as far as I know. Not even Ajmal Kasab, the surviving gunman, whose trial in India is still going on. And while there is ample speculation about whether the attackers received help from elements within the Pakistani intelligence services, no credible publication has been as foolhardy as to claim in definitive terms that this was so. No such burden of proof for Mr. Fatah apparently.

"The men who wish to replace Mr. Zardari represent the religious right-wing backers of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, adding a new obstacle in Barack Obama's war effort in Afghanistan. A change of guard in Pakistan will also place Canadian troops at a higher risk of attack from a Taliban that will get unimpeded access to safe havens across the international border."

Let's leave the pandering to the US-Canadian interests aside for the moment. Since in the previous sentence, Mr. Fatah claims that the people out to get Zardari are "the men who run Pakistan's infamous military-industrial complex", it is only fair to surmise that he is accusing General Ashfaq Kayani of being a "religious right-wing backer of the Taliban and al-Qaeda." Really? So, anyone who thinks Zardari is an unprincipled man with no vision is a Taliban and al-Qaeda backer? And the US dithering on whether it will stay or go from Afghanistan, its own willingness to include the Taliban in talks and power-sharing, and the growing influence of India there plays no role whatsoever in the Pakistan establishment hedging its bets, if it does? I have to admit I haven't read anything as unnuanced since... oh, I don't know... Bush's 'With us or against us' dictum.

"In the West's war against terrorism, Mr. Zardari is probably the only politician in Pakistan who has the guts to identify the cancer of jihadi extremism and order the Pakistani army to root it out. With reluctance, the army has complied, but only half-heartedly. With him gone, it's almost a certainty that Canada and the United States, as well as Afghanistan and India, will once more face the deception and fraud that became the hallmark of Pervez Musharraf's military regime."

Yet again, wow. I doubt even the Press Information Department (PID) of the Government of Pakistan would have felt comfortable with such propagandistic drivel. The only politician? I have no love lost for the MQM or the ANP, but you know, they were saying the same thing for a much longer time, not to mention scores of other left politicians and intellectuals. Even during the time in the mid-1990s when Zardari's former spouse Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed (MBBS) was actively facilitating the formation of the Taliban in Afghanistan through her interior minister General Naseerullah Babar.

And "the army has complied [to Zardari's directive], but only half-heartedly"??? What exactly leads Mr. Fatah to believe that the current (or any) military operations are directed from the presidency without real interest from the military and that the killing of hundreds of soldiers and extremists constitutes "half-hearted" compliance, we shall never really know. It may have helped had he explained how he came to this conclusion but then that would require providing some evidence, something Mr. Fatah seems not too bothered about.

"For years, the Pakistani army received billions of dollars in direct American aid while it backed the Taliban and staged faked armed encounters to deceive the Pentagon."

Such as? Come on, give us something tangible, dammit. Oh, ok, we should just take your word for it.

"Mr. Zardari also is being depicted as the epitome of corruption and thus unworthy of governing Pakistan. Working from within the government, military intelligence was able to coax a junior minister to release a list of thousands of supposedly corrupt politicians and public officials in the country. Leading them was Mr. Zardari himself – notwithstanding the fact that before he was elected president, he had been imprisoned for more than a decade by the military without a single conviction."

Yes, of course, and NOBODY in the world ever accused Asif Zardari of corruption ever before. And look, it was a hassled JUNIOR minister who released the lists, not a credible SENIOR minister. And the Supreme Court and Pakistan's parliament itself never ASKED for the lists of people who benefited from the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). And the NRO only wiped out cases that were already decided in Zardari's favour anyway. You know, Mr. Fatah, you should work with Jahangir Badar. You'd make a good team.

"What irks the generals is not just that they are now answerable to a civilian but that Mr. Zardari belongs to an ethnic group that is shunned by the country's ruling Punjabi elite. Mr. Zardari is a Sindhi."

No, scratch that. You should work with Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza on the next Topi Drama.

"The hysteria among Pakistan's upper-class elites demanding a military dictatorship is best reflected in an article written by a retired military officer in the right-wing newspaper The News: “Military rule should … return. … The problem with democratic governments is that they remain under pressure to go with what the majority of the citizens want, not what is best for them. … People of several South American countries that have returned to civilian rule after a long time are now beginning to feel they were better off under dictatorships.”

Ah, the smoking gun! Except, this was no article in the "right-wing newspaper The News" (as opposed to left-wing Dawn?) This, ladies and gentlemen, is a quote from a Letter to the Editor by a mad fauji who keeps writing such letters regularly. The same guy sparked off a whole debate in the paper about the term "bloody civilians." If I had two cents for every loony letter to the editor published in left-wing, centrist and right-wing newspapers, I'd be as rich as Zardari now. This the best you could come up with Mr. Fatah? I mean, it's not like you had scarce material to work with.

And finally:

"If Mr. Obama wishes to succeed in bringing the Afghan war to an end, he had better make sure Mr. Zardari's elected civilian administration is allowed to govern until the end of its term."

Sheesh! Talk about cringe-worthy. "Mr. Obama... better make sure"? Even Asif Zardari might find being compared to a puppet like Hamid Karzai unsettling.

Moral of the Story: Stupid, clueless friends are worse than stupid, clueless enemies. Especially if the friends are NRPs.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Video of the Day

What can one say? Except, who IS this PPP idiot Sardar Abdul Qayyum Jatoi anyway? And this man is a minister???

Actually, listening to him, you may come to the correct conclusion that he is actually right: the bigger problem in Pakistan is certainly the nepotistic and screwed up system that throws up such incompetents as him in the first place! (Originally posted on

Winning Hearts and Minds?

So, just wanted to reiterate the story I linked to in the previous post. But I see that our friends at fiverupees have already commented on the shocking story. So am going to leave aside repeating what they have written, which I agree with. But urge you all to take a look at the video report here on The Guardian website.

Unfortunately, The Guardian does not allow us to embed the video here, so you'll have to go over there to see it. Well worth watching. And so much for the vaunted claims of British justice.

Yousuf Raza Gilani for Prime Minister!

Have been trying to find a clip of the BBC interview with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that was broadcast yesterday (Dec 3) but haven't found it yet (if anyone else does, please post the link in the comments). In its lieu, here is Dawn reporting the same.

YRG: One thing I tell you

Here is what YRG said, with the requisite amount of disdain, when interviewer Zeineb Badawi pressed him about UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the US asking Pakistan to "do more" in the war against terrorism:

"One thing I tell you, this is our own war and we are fighting it for the interest of our own country. We are not mercenaries and we are not service providers either, and nobody has to judge our performance."

One thing I tell you: it swelled my heart with pride. About effing time somebody said this. You go Gilani! Sod off Gordon, trying to find scapegoats for your own failures, in Pakistan every time! How about "doing more" about this?

Of course, the very next day, that is December 4, Al Jazeera English carried an interview of Gilani by Sir David Frost, where YRG tried to repeat the pithiness of his earlier response, with slightly more mixed inspirational results. When asked about the Western fears of a Taliban takeover of Pakistan, the PM refuted that perception and added:

"Pakistan is a country. It's not a vegetable that someone can come and take it."

Um, ok. Whatever. Just remember, it's always better to go out on a high YRG. In any case, I'm still with you on the first one.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lapdog Smackdown

Guess what? Ahmed Quraishi's source on the Hussain Haqqani story - you know the one which caused HH to sue The Nation for ONE BILLION smackeroos - has just turned hostile. They've (I say 'they' because it's a publication but actually it's only a single source) accused Shireen Mazari's lapdog of misrepresenting their report in addition to decrying The Nation's "gross irresponsibility."

 Quraishi contemplating the lap

Here's what The Cable, a part of the American Foreign Policy publication, has to say:

Pakistan's ambassador sues newspaper over misrepresented Cable article

Mon, 11/30/2009 - 1:32pm

The Pakistani press is becoming increasingly independent and free-wheeling, representing new opportunities for government criticism. This newfound press freedom, however, has also resulted in numerous mishaps, if not incidents of gross irresponsibility, in the Pakistani media, one example of which surrounds an article written at The Cable.

Pakistan's The Nation bills itself as Pakistan's "most respected publication in English," and "internationally the most quoted Pakistani newspaper," but it often levels controversial and thinly supported accusations at elements of the government led by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadari and has published unsupported allegations about U.S. journalists working in Pakistan.

In one such case, a Pakistani official is now pushing back. Islamabad's man in Washington, Amb. Husain Haqqani, has sued The Nation for libel after the newspaper published an article Oct. 14 accusing the ambassador of threatening to reveal state secrets if he were sacked due to the botched rollout of the Kerry-Lugar Pakistani aid bill.

The article in The Nation appears to be based entirely on an Oct. 12 Cable item quoting Haqqani as saying he was not being fired and also citing Pakistani sources as saying that "Haqqani has reams of documents that could embarrass the forces aligned against him and sacking him could open up a Pandora's box of controversy."

In the Nation article, however, writer Ahmed Quraishi, shown at right, states without evidence that the Pakistani source was "close to Ambassador Haqqani," and states without evidence that Haqqani is "contemplating going public with embarrassing Pakistani official documents." Neither allegation was part of the article in The Cable.

The title of Quraishi's article goes even further in misrepresenting the reporting in The Cable, and reads, "If fired, Haqqani threatens to unveil 'reams' of Pakistan's secrets."

(Quraishi also mislabeled the author of The Cable as "Bill" Rogin; not sure where he got that one.)

Haqqani is suing The Nation and its editor in chief, Majeed Nizami, for one billion Pakistani rupees, which is equivalent to about $12 million U.S. dollars. He remains at his post and there are no signs he is on the way out.

Nizami and The Nation also stand accused this month of endangering the life of Wall Street Journal South Asia correspondent Matthew Rosenberg, after publishing a front-page article Nov. 5 accusing him of being an agent for the CIA, Blackwater, and as having ties to the Mossad, the famous Israeli intelligence agency.

Sourced to one anonymous "official of a law enforcement agency," the article sought to portray Rosenberg's meetings with various officials and travel around the region as evidence he was something other than a regular journalist doing his job.

The Rosenberg article prompted the leaders of 21 top international journalism organizations to write to the government of Pakistan asking for protection for foreign journalists placed in danger by such unsupported accusations. The Journal's Daniel Pearl was killed in Pakistan in 2002.

"We strongly support press freedoms across the world. But this irresponsible article endangered the life of one journalist and could imperil others," the letter stated. "It is particularly upsetting that this threat has come from among our own colleagues."

Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thompson also sent a separate letter to Nizami and The Nation's Shireen Mazari defending Rosenberg's status as a well-respected, objective reporter and demanding a retraction.

"Our profession has been done a great disservice by the utterly baseless article," Thompson wrote. "At present, your paper is guilty of spreading falsehoods, but it could ultimately be complicit in a far greater tragedy unless this wrong is corrected."

Pakistan Media Watch, a blog covering the missteps of Pakistani media outlets, has ongoing coverage of the Rosenberg scandal and other abuses by The Nation.

Author Ahmed Rashid explained in a recent article on the BBC Web site that elements of the Pakistani press are dedicated to toppling the Zadari government or stirring controversy by airing conspiracy theories while ignoring serious news events.

"Pakistan is going through a multi-dimensional series of crises and a collapse of public confidence in the state. Suicide bombers strike almost daily and the economic meltdown just seems to get worse. But this is rarely apparent in the media," Rashid wrote.

"The campaign waged by some politicians and parts of the media -- with underlying pressure from the army -- is all about trying to build public opinion to make Mr Zardari's tenure untenable."

And here we thought we knew who Ahmed Quraishi's 'sources' were. The truth can, sometimes, be utterly prosaic.

Headline of the Day

Eid Mubarak everyone.

In lieu of the long absence, I thought one should begin with a bit of silliness. If you thought this Eid-e-Qurbaan was all about sober-khandani sacrifice, think again. There seems to be all sorts of kinkiness going on in the far corners of this great republic. Imagine my consternation at this heading in today's Dawn.

Yes, you got that right, you red-faced prudes!

"Sacrificial Cow Blows Landlord Fatally"

But adding (unintentional and funny) insult to (fatal) injury, Dawn's Sialkot correspondent reports this bizarre story as follows:

SIALKOT, Nov 30: A loose and careless hold on a sacrificial cow resulted in the loss of life of a landlord in Rasulpur Bhalliyaan village on Eid day.
Reports said the half-slaughtered cow got her freed from the clutches of the butcher and those holding her and hit her head fatally to landlord Muhammad Husain, 45.
The rejoicing house of the landlord immediately turned into a mourning place. Villagers later got hold of the injured cow and fully slaughtered the animal. The landlord was laid to rest in his native graveyard in the presence of hundreds of villagers.

Ok, so we know it's the first day after Eid holidays and obviously the sub-editors have had one less holiday than the rest of us. But if you must come to work, might as well do a little bit of what you're paid to do, i.e.

1) Make sure the cow gets "herself freed", not "her freed"
2) Ask the correspondent whether Muhammad Husain died from being gored by the cow, a cracked skull or simply from shock, since he doesn't really say.
3) Wonder why people (or the house!) were (was) "rejoicing" while the cow's throat was still in the process of being cut and blood was presumably gushing out in all directions.
4) Ask the correspondent how later is "later"... did the villagers first bury the victim or finish slaughtering the cow? And where did the butcher go? Was he paid?
5) Ensure that what was obviously a tragic event does not sound really bathetic.


6) Learn what it means to "blow" someone. (Hint: It's different from "blowing off", which is what whoever checked that page did to his job.)