Sunday, May 31, 2009

From Zamzama to Jalala

Just think. That family fleeing Swat, Buner or Dir could be yours darling. Ok I know it would be better, and certainly less heavily, dressed for the occasion. And I know Tinku is a lazy slob who hates going out without his Prado and that I NEVER miss that Nabeela appointment come what may. But there comes a time in the life of every man, woman and child when a decision, however traumatic, has to be made.

Even if your child's future at Grammar School is jeopardised.

And just think of the decisions you must make. I mean, do you take your cat who has travel sickness? Will there be tuna cat food available? Do you trust your maid with your wardrobe key and your chowkidar with the booze cupboard?

Well given that the Taliban are now approaching Ch Khaliquzzaman Road, I think there is no time to think. I hate being forced to wear stuff I don't like and Tinku prefers his French beard to other facial hair. And having to surrender our 42 inch HD flat screen Sony to some rude idiot is too horrible to contemplate.

So it's time to leave for Badin, which my cousin who has lands nearby assures me is quite safe. He tells me the locals are quite sufi so I suppose they won't be too hostile. Someone just set up a tentage village there, which I am assured, is quite particular about its admission policy. I hear a Sindh club membership card helps a lot here, so whatever you do don't forget that.

Given that we just donated 100 plastic water coolers, 150 lotas 300 bars of Lifebuoy soap to the Jalala lot at the office, can I just make a small appeal for the Badin camp where people like you and me are going to be? No lotas, water coolers and cheap soap please. Here are some quick tips on what you could donate:

For Her

Good sun block
Shades (would hate to be recognised on Dawn News queuing for the loo)
Fat free milk (soya for the vegans among us)
Some trashy bestsellers and lots of film magazines
The pill (might get romantic in that tent )

For Him

Chargers for i-phones and Blackberries (Shit, I always bloody forget it)
I-pods. Preferably loaded (no Bollywood numbers please)
USBs for laptops (PC and Mac)
Swiss knives (yar the bloody things have EVERYTHING)
Hip flasks (who knows, might bump into a bootlegger)
Condoms (you never know, there might be a hot babe in the tent next door)

Anything I have forgotten? Please let me know.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Picture of the Day

Got this in the email, and really felt like sharing. Did Prince Philip Phart? The expressions on the faces, particularly the Queen, are priceless... 

Monday, May 25, 2009

110-year-old Man Dies Under Mysterious Circumstances

A headline in today's Daily Times Karachi pages tells us of the shocking loss of centenarian Yousuf from Nazimabad, who shuffled off this mortal coil at the tender age of 110. Gone too soon (to make the Guinness World Record). While most of us consider it an impressive feat to survive Karachi past the age of 40, here are some possible reasons why Yousuf's passing may have been considered mysterious:

He was not honour-killed
He did not have any affiliation to Denmark, Norway or any other conspicuously Scandinavian country
He wasn't attempting to flee Swat on foot, with a refrigerator strapped to his back
He wasn't a member of the constabulary
He wasn't driving through Shara-e-Faisal during a riot
He wasn't beheaded by the Taliban for trying to watch the American Idol finale
He was not stuck in an unmoving ambulance on a road blocked to allow a member of parliament to attend a wedding on time
He was not a woman who had an argument with her father/husband/boyfriend/uncle/in-laws
He didn't catch a nasty disease at an IDP camp
The only American drones he encountered were the ones presenting Fox News
His death was not agreed upon by a tribal jirga
His ventilator/respirator/dialysis machine didn't succumb to loadshedding
He wasn't anywhere near a visiting cricket team
He didn't commit suicide due to sheer helplessness

I can fully understand why the coroners are stumped.

Stranger to Writing

Following the publication of his sensational autobiography A Stranger To History, an autobiography/experimental work of Science Fiction using real geographical locations, the talented author who shall remain nameless (being nameless plays a large role in his life) has had his publicist contact his well-known politico/media-mogul father to ask if he may use his premises for a book launch in Pakistan. One can only imagine his father's reaction. Hopefully it shan't manifest itself as a bill passed in parliament permanently preventing book launches in the Punjab.

Autobiography is a much-favoured medium in Pakistan, being, as it is, a long gossipy phonecall but with page-numbers. Fiction, on the other hand, is considered flippant and without purpose as this only increases one's knowledge of humanity and not of who your neighbour was sleeping with in the 80s. I'll wager that the next best-selling autobiography we come across will be entitled 'Daddy Played the Field', written by one Tyrian White-Khan, daughter of the Beast - aka Imran Khan. It's a slam-dunk. Sign her up now, she's money in the bank.

Of course, when it comes to autobiographies, and pardon the pun, you can't beat Tehmina Durrani. Or rather, you can't beat her enough.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Why Shoaib Akhtar is the Poster-Child for Pakistan

After all that brouhaha about Shoaib Akhtar's viral genitalia, The News' Khalid Hussain informs us today that "Shoaib's fitness problems aren't just skin deep." Ho-hum. Tell us something we didn't know. If his incessant tantrums, loud-mouthed shaubda-pan, his steroid-pumping, lack of any kind of discipline, his inability to bowl even 10 overs in a one-day match and increasing inability to take wickets and his regular pulling out of critical fixtures because of one excuse or another were not enough, we now discover that he is addicted to "strong painkillers", in the absence of which he is reduced to a grovelling junkie.

“Shoaib was so desperate for a particular pain-killing injection during the tour of UAE that he almost begged a local doctor for it. The doctor, however, told him that he would risk being thrown out of UAE is he administered that injection,” said a source.

Anyone with half a mind would have rid Pakistan cricket of this pathetic loser a long, long time ago. But even more importantly, anyone with even a shred of decency would themselves have announced an end to their career and sought psychiatric help. Not our genital-wart man of course.

Apparently, Shoaib has refused to accept PCB’s decision and is planning to feature in the RBS National Twenty20 Cup getting underway in Lahore from May 25. It was announced on Saturday that he would lead Islamabad Leopards in the five-day event in spite of being advised by the PCB Medical Board to rest and get treatment for at least ten days.

His plans to feature in the RBS Cup have posed yet another headache for the PCB management. Sources close to Shoaib claimed that the pacer may make also some disclosures about an alleged plot by the team management to get him axed from the England-bound squad.

I have long maintained that, rather than letting the country down, today's Pakistani cricketers perfectly represent the Pakistani nation of today. They share three characteristics that have come to define us completely: a total lack of discipline, an over-reliance on luck, and an acute inability to foresee the consequences of our actions. Anyone seeing Shahid 'Boom Boom' Afridi batting will immediately see the similarities between it and, oh for example, the Kargil adventure.

But Shoaib 'Take Me Warts And All' Akhtar's latest shenanigans have made me think he truly is the poster-boy for what is wrong with us as a nation. Not only does he fulfil each of the characteristics outlined above, he also perfectly mirrors our penchant for feeding conspiracy theories without a shred of evidence and looking to blame others for our self-inflicted problems. It's never our fault, it's always someone out to get us since we are potentially so great. Megalomania combined with paranoia.

Of course, he intends to participate in the RBS Twenty20 not out of any love for the Islamabad Leopards or for the tournament, but only to shame the PCB (as if it needs any shaming). More eyes are bound to be glued on to his crotch than anywhere on the field (perhaps RBS should put their logo there) and I'd love to see how his teammates treat the ball he will inevitably rub there and shine with his spit. Nobody has ever accused us of being extremely rational about science, and particularly about the science of infectious diseases. If the medical reports are correct, he is also likely to further aggravate his 'condition' by playing, and just writing those words makes me wince.

Which brings me to the other way Mr. Akhtar represents Pakistan. Like our country, he has an uncanny predilection for negotiating with others by holding a gun to his own head.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dawn Goes Bonkers

So of course EVERYONE is talking about the 'explosive' story about veteran American journalist Seymour 'Sy' Hersh that appeared on Dawn's back page today, in which he reportedly told Gulf News that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a special death squad working on the orders of then US Vice President Dick Cheney.

WASHINGTON, May 18: A special death squad assassinated Pakistans former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on the orders of former US vice-president Dick Cheney, claims an American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

Mr Hersh, a Washington-based journalist who writes for the New Yorker magazine and other prominent media outlets, also claims that the former vice-president was running an “executive assassination ring” throughout the Bush years. The cell reported directly to Mr Cheney.

Now, this is a not a story to be scoffed at. For one, it's a four column story on the back page of Dawn, "the newspaper of record", as the Haroons dub it. Secondly, it is quoting Hersh, who established his reputation as an investigative reporter with his expose on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and who has done numerous high profile pieces since then. And I for one certainly don't put anything past Dick "Darth Vader" Cheney. But still, there was something about the story that did not sit well with me. Perhaps it was the following:

Mr Hersh indicated that the same unit killed Ms Bhutto because in an interview with Al Jazeera TV on Nov 2, 2007, she had said she believed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was already dead. She said she believed Omar Saeed Sheikh, an Al Qaeda activist imprisoned in Pakistan for killing US journalist Daniel Pearl had murdered Bin Laden.

But the interviewer, veteran British journalist David Frost, deleted her claim from the interview, Mr Hersh said.

The controversial US journalist told Gulf News on May 12 he believed Ms Bhutto was assassinated because the US leadership did not want Bin Laden to be declared dead.The Bush administration wanted to keep Bin Laden alive to justify the presence of US army in Afghanistan to combat the Taliban, Mr Hersh said.

I don't know about anyone else but assassinating the first woman to head a Muslim country's government and a world charmer simply because she "believed" Osama bin Laden was dead (which certainly may not have jibed with the US plans for the region), sounds a bit too far-fetched even in the case of Cheney. Particularly more so considering how much under the Americans' thumb Benazir had become, who had gone out of their way to smooth her return to power by negotiating and forcing a deal on Musharraf. Why couldn't they simply have called her and told her, 'Look, you take that back or we'll take the NRO back!' Knowing BB, nothing would have mortified her more than feeling the Americans were getting pissed off.

But there's more to make one arch one's eyebrows. There's also a tidbit in there about BB allegedly saying that Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged killer of US journalist Daniel Pearl, had murdered Osama bin Laden and that this claim was "deleted" by Sir David Frost, the interviewer. Now, I know I'm in cuckoo land. Either BB was cuckoo - Omar Sheikh has been in jail since February 2002 when OBL was still very much around - or Sy Hersh is cuckoo or Dawn's unnamed reporter and his sources are cuckoo. As to whether such a claim was actually made by BB, well, rather than being deleted as claimed, this obvious slip of the tongue has been doing the rounds for a long time on the net leading to much merriment and all sorts of nutters going berserk about it. The full statement where BB utters those words in their context can be viewed here:

In any case, I decided to do a bit of investigation into this story myself. Here's what I found: Hersh did make the claim that a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was going around liquidating "high value" targets around the world, without Congressional oversight and reporting directly to Cheney. These claims were made first in a 'Great Conversations' event about "America's Constitutional Crisis" at the University of Minnesota on March 10. The claims were first reported by journalist and blogger Eric Black, who happened to be at the event and recorded the event. The report is here and the audio recording of the entire thing is also on the site.

Subsequently, i.e. a few weeks later, other media and other bloggers began picking up the story. It was, after all, Sy Hersh saying these things. On March 30, CNN's Wolf Blitzer did a piece on it. Eric Black reported on it again here, which includes video of Blitzer's talk with Sy Hersh as well as two Cheneyites who try and defend their former boss. National Public Radio also interviewed Sy Hersh about his claims about the JSOC on March 30.  Curiously, neither of these reports says anything about the American rambos killing BB or Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri, also named as a target in the Dawn report.

So, I guess I had to go to the Gulf News report which apparently began it all. You can read the entire interview of Hersh here and see the video of the same interview here. Of course, there is NO mention of Benazir anywhere in the interview but this is what was said about Hariri:

GULF NEWS: You have spoken about an assassination unit that reported to Cheney called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). There have been allegations that this unit was responsible for former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri's assassination.

SEYMOUR HERSH: I can't verify [that]. What I said was, and what I have written more than once, is that there's a special unit that does high-value targeting of men that we believe are known to be involved in anti-American activities, or are believed to be planning such activities.

In Cheney's view this isn't murder, but carrying out the "war on terror". And in the view of me and my friends, including people in government, this is crazy. The vice president is committing a crime. You can't authorise the murder of people. And it's not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's in a lot of other countries, in the Middle East and in South Asia and North Africa and even central America.

In the early days, many of the names were cleared through Cheney's office. One of his aides, John Hanna, went on TV and acknowledged that the programme exists, and said killing these people is not murder but an act of war that is justified legally.

The former head of JSOC has just been named the new commander in charge of the war in Afghanistan, which is very interesting to me.

About Hariri, what I've always maintained - I was in the position of seeing and interviewing President Bashar Al Assad on the day Hariri was killed in February 2005 - it seemed clear to me that he knew nothing about it. But I never wrote anything about it, even the fact that I was there, because I had no empirical or factual basis for knowing whether he was involved or not, and I never did. And I decided to wait for the investigations and they have come up with no concrete evidence that Syria did it. Despite the fact that one of the earlier investigators speculated that he did, he didn't know.

Could JSOC have been responsible?

No. Hariri, America. No. Impossible. There was no reason. JSOC's responsibility was to go after what they call high-value targets.

So what is going on with the "newspaper of record"? Are its correspondents on drugs? Where have they got this information from? We don't know. What we do know is that the story has become viral and millions more in conspiracy-ridden Pakistan are now going to believe BB was assassinated by the US no matter what subsequently appears in the press or even Dawn. Let's leave the final word to Sy Hersh himself:

LAHORE - US journalist Seymour Hersh has contradicted news reports being published in South Asia that quote him as saying a “special death squad” created by former US vice president Dick Cheney had killed Benazir Bhutto.

The award-winning journalist described as “complete madness” the reports that the squad headed by General Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of US Army in Afghanistan, had also killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafique Al Hariri and a Lebanese Army Chief.

“Vice president Cheney does not have a death squad. I have no idea who killed Hariri or Bhutto,” Hersh said.

“I have never said that I did have such information. I most certainly did not say anything remotely to that effect during an interview with an Arab media outlet,” the Daily Times quoted Hersh, as saying.

He said General McChrystal had run a special forces unit that engaged in “high value target activity”, but “while I have been critical of some of that unit’s activities in the pages of the New Yorker and in interviews, I have never suggested that he was involved in political assassinations or death squads on behalf of Cheney, as the published stories state.”

Hersh regretted that none of the publications had contacted him before carrying the report.

“This is another example of blogs going bonkers with misleading and fabricated stories and professional journalists repeating such rumours without doing their job - and that is to verify such rumours.” 


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Name the Next Military Op

So, who says the Pakistani military is not divided? It is very much divided along language, at least as far as those who name military operations are concerned. One only has to take a look at the last two operations launched in Buner / Dir and now in Swat...

The Buner / Dir operation was/ is called "Black Thunder",  a name that was obviously coined by one of those hip officers more into James Hadley Chase or death metal than Abdullah Hussain or Iqbal Bano. But before those officers could crow about the coolness of their annointed name, the 'apni-zabaan'officers staged a counter-coup in the naming of the Swat operation. So now that one is called "Rah-e-Haq." Could it have been inspired by that 1965 Naseem Bano melody so beloved of the armed forces:

In any case, it seems that some sort of equilibrium is now in place within the armed forces wherein both of the English-wala and Urdu-wala groups can name every alternative military operation. I respectfully submit for consideration the following for subsequent ops:

The next English operation can be called "Operation The Unforgiven", "Operation Fade to Black", "Operation Shook Me All Night Long" or "Operation Highway to Hell". After that, since it would be the turn of the local boys, there really can be only one follow-up to "Rah-e-Haq": the next one should be called "Operation Wafa(q) ki Tasweeron".

Further suggestions welcome! :)