Monday, July 27, 2009

The revised tourists' guide to the new Pakistan

Let's admit it. Travel guides to Pakistan are not exactly setting the international best-seller lists on fire these days. Most of those still collecting dust on the shelves are terribly out of date too.

Given that there is no discernible stampede by tourists eager to board Pakistan-bound flights, let us hope that some unsuspecting gora hippy living in a time-warp doesnt actually buy an out-of-print guide and set off to Pakistan believing that Swat is still the Switzerland of the east, full of friendly people dying to meet foreigners. In the new Swat, dying is the operative word, especially if Mr and Ms Hippy insist on spending too much time with the the poor locals. And Matta, despite what the guide books say, is NOT a picturesque side valley worth a day trip for those foreigners interested in exploring the area's Buddhist heritage.

So time to edit and update these guide books. And where better to start then to tell foreigners the do's and dont's of the new, post-terrorism Pakistan. Here are some faux pas that a foreigner, expat or naive Paki MUST avoid in the new Pakistan:

Do not take Daniel Pearl's parents to lunch at the Village restaurant in Karachi

Never invite Sri Lankan guests, especially cricket-loving ones, to go shopping in Liberty Market in Lahore.

If you happen to encounter Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on the Murree Road, do NOT invite him for a picnic in Liaqat Bagh.

Do not phone in a request for " choli ke peechhe kia hai" if you happen to be listening to the Fazalullah channel on your FM radio.

If you are a foreign company that has built an overhead bridge on Sharea Faisal in Karachi, do not invite Iftikhar Chaudhry to inaugurate it.

Refrain from requesting Rehman Malik to personally supervise your security if you are heading a high-powered foreign delegation anywhere in Pakistan but especially in Rawalpindi.

Avoid asking friends, and especially Swat locals, if they want to hang at the central chowk in Mingora.

Never say you would love a fauji cut at a Mingora barber's shop.

Do not ask a prostitute, or anyone in the area for that matter, to give you head.

Do not say you are a firm believer in the Sufi philosophy in the vicinity of Swat.

Never give a motivational anti-Taliban lecture to a burqa-clad woman in an IDP camp. You never know who she/he might turn out to be.

Do not insist that your New Zealand friend take the window seat in a restaurant at the PC in Karachi.

Similarly, avoid asking your French engineer friend to take a coach if he is to meet you at the Karachi Sheraton.

Never confess you studied engineering in Poland if you are travelling in Balochistan.

Do not tell the suspicious security guard manning the entrance that you could kill to get into the Marriott, Islamabad or Karachi, even if you are very tired and have travelled 24 hours to get there.

If you are a neo-communist liberation theologist, do not venture into the Lal masjid believing you will meet like-minded radicals there.

Never go up to young men ticking loudly and ask them what time it is. Just run.

Do not send the link of this post to Ansar Abbassi. Unless you fancy a visit from the cyber crimes unit at midnight...

Any other tips for the unsuspecting foreigner that I might have left out?

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Scum of Pakistani Journalism

If you had any doubts about

1) the new Cyber-Crime Act, also known as the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Ordinance (PECO)

2) Ansar Abbasi, also known as the snivelling worm of journalism

take a load of this story in The News, proudly proclaiming the two working in tandem, to nab someone who sent a private email to Ansar Abbasi, allegedly with "blasphemous content."

Some choice selections from the story:

On the complaint of Ansar Abbasi, Editor Investigations, The News, and following initial investigations held by the IT Wing of the Jang Group, the FIA traced the accused through the obnoxious e-mail and got him arrested for allegedly committing blasphemy. This is the first case of its nature in Pakistan where an accused has been arrested for committing blasphemy through the Internet.

The accused is alleged to have sent an e-mail to Ansar Abbasi, at his official e-mail address, in response to the column of the senior journalist that appeared in the daily Jang on June 29. The accused used Dr Omar Zia as his name and used as the e-mail containing highly blasphemous material.


Since the Prevention of Electronic Crime Ordinance (PECO) does not have any provision covering the serious offence of blasphemy, therefore, the case was referred to the Karachi Police after the accused was arrested by the FIA under Section 5 of the FIA Act. The accused was probed by the concerned Cyber Crime Circle of the FIA in Karachi under Section 20 of PECO.

Later, on the advice of the FIA, a fresh complaint was lodged with the Karachi Police by Ansar Abbasi, reporting the receipt of blasphemous e-mails because PECO was inadequate to be applied in such a serious offence. On receipt of the said complaint and following the investigations carried out by the FIA, an FIR was formally lodged by the Karachi Police against the accused on blasphemy charges.

There are a number of issues that this case throws up. The first, of course, is the collusion between a journalist (Abbasi), a news orgnaization (Jang Group) and the authorities in a matter that held no significance to the public. The email, sent by the accused (even under a false identity) was sent privately to the journalist, did not from the looks of it contain any threats of harming the journalist or the news organization, and could not have led to any public incitement of any sort without it being made public by the journalist and the organization. That, rather than simply ignoring an "obnoxious" email or replying to it privately, the journalist and his news organization would inform (i.e. rat out to) the authorities in order to track down the sender and prosecute him, tells you much about the journalistic credentials of both. As someone who does not tire of being self-righteous about other journalists who collude with government, Ansar Abbasi should know this is precisely what he has done.

Secondly, it also shines a light on how exactly the PECO is going to be (mis)used. Once again, the said email/s did not, prima facie, include anything that could be considered as bringing the security of the country into threat or disrepute, which the government has been claiming is the only matter PECO will address. Neither did it have any "malicious", or "ill-motivated" hoax directed against the government - this was a private email sent to a private individual, expressing an opinion. That the FIA should deem it fit to get involved in this matter, makes a mockery of the parameters of even this highly controversial law.

Finally, it also raises the red flag over the Taliban-mindset within so-called independent journalists such as Ansar Abbasi and segments of a government supposedly opposed to the persecution of citizens on religious grounds. The fact that both connived in registering a case under the odious blasphemy laws - which carry a mandatory death sentence - against an individual, indicates exactly where their commitment to freedom of speech and expression lie. At issue here is not how "blasphemous" the emails allegedly were. The simple point of the matter is they were not in the public domain and could not have caused any "public reaction" (the fallback response of the witch-hunters); they were simply used to settle personal scores and persecute someone who obviously had hurt Mr. Abbasi's gargantuan ego.

A sad, sad day for Pakistan's citizens and Pakistani journalism.

Powerless in Karachi

A quick non-expletive-ridden word about the absolute disaster known as the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation. Two days on from the torrential downpour in the city on Saturday July 18, and 70 per cent of it is still without power.

The KESC Managing Director Naveed Ismail, holding a press conference on Monday (July 20) afternoon even as riots broke out all over the city had the gall to claim, with not a hint of irony, that "there is no problem with power generation. In fact, we were supplying power to WAPDA yesterday." Er, yeah... you should have surplus power you dodo! Nobody's getting it in Karachi!

So, as usual when it's not "too much load" or "not enough generation", it's "technical faults", "cable faults" and, my favourite, "tripping." That's a whole lot of grid stations on acid, if you ask me. But the question is this: who lays those lines that develop faults at the first drop of rain? Who instals those grid stations and transformers that blow whether it's too hot or too wet. I've never heard of them overheating in Dubai or Saudi Arabia, which have much higher temperatures than ours on a more consistent basis. I've never heard of them constantly tripping out on a few drops of water in Malaysia or Thailand which get far more rain than Karachi does. Why are we constantly hearing about the need to upgrade transmission lines and feeders - I have been hearing about this at least for 25 years - but nothing ever gets done? Perhaps if they spent less on public relationing with hundreds of thousands of rupees of ads and cushy perks for their PR bozos and more on developing a cleaner transmission system...

There is no denying that Karachi's electricity supply system needs massive overhaul but it's not just the fault of the people who came before. The present lot are equally to blame for adding to the problem - have you ever seen how they work? There is no system, a lot of jugaar, and an ubiquitous chalta-hai attitude. The way I look at it, KESC top to bottom is either criminally callous and lazy or stupendously inefficient and stupid. In either case, that's grounds for dismissal.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Provoke A Leader Day

Just when you think they may be becoming sane, they go and do and say something so imbecilic that you are forced to reassess your charitable views. I'm speaking of course of the government, and in particular the honchos at the head of security policy in Pakistan.

If you don't immediately know what I'm talking about, read the front pages of Dawn and The News. Here's what Dawn had to report:

"ISLAMABAD, July 12: The government announced on Sunday that sending indecent, provocative and ill-motivated stories and text messages through e-mails and mobile telephone Short Messaging Service (SMS) was an offence under the Cyber Crime Act (CCA) and its violators could be sent behind bars for 14 years.

An official announcement by the interior ministry said that the government was launching a campaign against circulation of what it called ill-motivated and concocted stories through emails and text messages against civilian leadership and security forces.

The announcement does not elaborate what is meant by ill-motivated e-messages, but it is believed that the ‘civilian leadership’ meant President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and other politicians.

A senior official of the ministry said: “Sending indecent message is a crime under the Cyber Crime Act and liable to punishment.” He said that some elements had been trying to malign the political leadership and security forces engaged in a military operation in Malakand and some areas in Fata.

The government has tasked the Federal Investigation Agency’s Cyber Crime Cell to block or trace such emails and mobile telephones’ SMS.

Under the Cyber Crime Act, violators could be jailed for 14 years, besides confiscation of their property. Similarly, any Pakistani living abroad and violating provisions of the act may be charged and will be liable to deportation to Pakistan."

Now, some of you may remember this issue having surfaced a few months ago, when the PPP leadership had publicly expressed its annoyance over the jokes doing the rounds on SMS, in particular about the "Chairman Do Number", as the erudite party secretary general Jehangir Badr had once called the Co-Chairperson of the party (I kid you not!). The outrage over their stated vow to monitor people's SMS-es "to find the culprits" had led to the whole matter being buried. Not for long it seems. The present attempt, disguised as it may be in the garb of 'national security' and concern over 'the maligning of the Malakand and FATA operation', seems to me to be simply re-igniting the whole obsession over what people are saying in private to each other about our great leaders.

What IS the problem with our leaders?!? Are they really so concerned about their (non-existent) image in the eyes of the public? Or are they simply trying to scare people into not even laughing at the sorry lot that is their burden? Or are they, shudder!, actually serious?

But wait, there is more on how exactly the government will go about doing this:

"Under the campaign, all Internet Service Providers would be checked physically by the FIA on a daily basis.

The directive said the campaign would also target proscribed organisations which had been using internet for malicious propaganda against security forces.

The Director General of FIA, Mr Tariq Khosa, has been instructed to monitor and check stories and messages. An FIA official said that strict action would be taken against all culprits in the next few days.

“Interpol/Lyon has also been requested to identify those email addresses and websites registered abroad which are being used for such stories,” the official said."

OK, the FIA - no, specifically, its DG Tariq Khosa, is going to physically (!) monitor all the millions of emails and SMS-es flying through the ether every single day. Will he need a print-out or will he check them on the screen? They don't really say. Will he check ALL of them (note to the SO: stop sending those intimate messages!) or only the hundreds of thousands that might be flagged for mentioning Chairman Do Number, Col Raymond, the army, Malakand, Taliban etc? (I fear the PM has as usual simply been coopted for this to create a distraction). The "Interpol / Lyon" touch was rather charming. By the by, all web-based email accounts, such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail etc. are "registered abroad." Could our decision-makers get any more cretinous?

Here's my suggestion to all who would like to take the piss to such cretins: circulate as many jokes about the above-mentioned as you can to all your friends, asking your friends to forward them to as many as they can, and on and on. Let's flood the ether with "indecent" and "provocative" and "ill-motivated" messages. At best, the government will learn to keep its nose where it should. At worst, it'll provide Mr Khosa and his team hours of reading pleasure.

Oh, and Asif Zardari, you Mr. Ten Percent, you, does Rehman Malik really suck the sweat off your balls?... Provocative enuff fer ya?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Stupid Tagline of the Day

Just came across this ad...

Deconstructing Promos

I've been wanting to do a post about some of the promos television channels make about themselves for a while. But it's difficult to find all of them.

In any case, here are two of my favourites on Geo News.

The first one is for Geo News. Al I could think of while watching this and laughing so hard that I fell off my sofa, was... "Couldn't Mir Shakilur Rehman spring for even motorbikes for its correspondents? Cycles? Not even bus fare? What about mobile phones? Poor, poor reporters... look at them run to get their story in...!" Actually, for some of the "healthier" correspondents, it was downright cruel what they had to do to show their commitment to their jobs.

The second one is the snazzy, hep, Transformers-inspired promo for Geo Mobile.

But hold on a second... did the Geo Mobile just transform itself into an evil Decepticon? You may THINK it's a harmless Autobot, what with the blue eyes and all. But don't be fooled. Aaah, it all makes sense now. Geo News can transform itself and its ideology in the proverbial blink of an eye. Talk about truth in advertising.

If anyone knows where one can access more of the channel promos, do let me know!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What the @#$%^&**!!???

So, I wake up late today, and as I'm having my breakfast, I suddenly remember the Pakistan-Sri Lanka test match, poised on a knife-edge (NOT!), and wonder if I can still catch the last few overs as Pakistan scores the winning runs for a well-deserved victory. I hope I'm not too late - after all, Pakistan needed only 97 runs to win with 8 wickets standing and could easily have raced to the target in the first session of play. I turn on the tv...

There's a slide announcing the upcoming matches. Ok, so I've missed it. Oh well. But wait: next to the 1st Test is written 'Sri Lanka Wins by 50 Runs'. WHAT THE F...?!?

We have not only LOST (!) a match that was almost signed, sealed and delivered (I am reminded of the smiling Aaqib Javed predicting an easy victory to Rameez Raja yesterday evening), but by FIFTY (!!!) runs??? You mean, we lost EIGHT wickets in the space of 46 runs??? You mean we did that without having Murali to bamboozle us? Or Malinga throwing vattas at us?

WHAT THE F...?!?

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Lopsided Sombrero

Andy Zaltzman is one of the funniest writers on cricket. Period.

This is from his assessment of Michael Vaughan's career after news of the former English skipper's retirement (on his regular blog on CricInfo):

In the pantheon of odd statistical cricket career shapes, Vaughan’s batting provides one of the oddest. In his first 16 Tests over two-and-a-half years, he had an average of 31 and strike rate of 40, with one century.

There had been little to suggest what was to follow. Then, in an 8-month, 12-Test incandescence in the summer of 2002 and the Ashes of 2002-03, he emblazoned seven hundreds into the history books, with an average of 76 and a strike-rate of 61, batting of a quality that few have surpassed. He was viewed by the great Australian team as one of the finest they had faced.

Again, there had been little to suggest what was to follow – a rather middling Test career. Increasingly niggled by injuries, perhaps encumbered by the captaincy, and mostly no longer opening the batting, he averaged just 36 in his last 54 Tests, with a strike rate of 50. Ten centuries punctuated periods of carelessness, lucklessness, and formlessness, but these were occasional peaks, rather the Himalayan achievements suggested by his 2002, and he too often tobogganed straight back down the other side of them back into the Valley Of Inconsistency.

At the start of 2003, Vaughan seemed to have the batting world at his feet. Unfortunately, the batting world, like the real world, turned out to be round, not flat, and the Lancastrioyorkshireman spent the rest of his career trying to balance his feet on it, with only intermittent success.


Broken into sections and plotted on a graph, Vaughan’s batting average forms a career shape known to some scientists as ‘The Lopsided Sombrero’, or, to others, as the ‘Meerkat Popping His Head Up Above A Baseball Mound’. This compares with, for example, Matthew Hayden’s ‘Bactrian Camel Drinking From A Puddle’ (three slumps (periods in which he averaged 24, 30 and 23) sandwiching two humps (69 and 60)); or Brian Lara’s ‘Stuntman Chickening Out Of Jumping The Grand Canyon And Instead Riding Down One Side, Across The Middle, And Up The Other Side, Then Continuing On For A While To Escape The Disappointed Fans’ (average of 60 in his first 31 and last 51 Tests, 40 in the 49 Tests in the middle). Mike Gatting can also claim The Sombrero, although, with averages of 23 and 22 stretching out either side of a peak period of 62, his was pulled down lower over the wearer’s head than Vaughan’s. The Sombrero is probably the most common career shape, but few have had as tall or pointy a crown as Vaughan.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rehman Malik's Day of Glory

The first time I have heard Col Raymond a.k.a. Rehman Malik say something intelligent AND witty.

This from Dawn reporting on an interview given by Pakistan's interior minister to the BBC:

Answering a question, Malik said the so-called unity in the extremists which began as the government increased its activities against Baitullah Mehsud was something the government had already anticipated. ‘Be it Gul Bahadur or Commander Nazeer, be it Qari Hussain or Baitullah or Hakimullah — they are all branches of the same tree. They all are hardcore terrorists who should be called Zaliman and not Taliban,’ Malik said.

Hear, hear!

Cruel Dunya - Update 2

So, I was going to simply post the latest salvo from the PFUJ in the ongoing battle between Dunya TV's MD Yousaf Baig Mirza (YBM) and former staffer Maheen Usmani who has accused the former of sexual harrassment. And I'm doing that. But reading through the press release, I couldn't help myself from commenting on it as well. The syntactical and grammatical errors and proofos are just too many to ignore. If this is the state of journalists' language skills and attention to detail, we know where we're headed.

PFUJ Secretariat

Media Release

Female broadcaster seeks reshaped inquiry committee

ISLAMABAD: 30:- Popular broadcaster Maheen Usmani, who had been working at the Dunya TV and tendered her resignation in protest due to uncalled for attitude of a top media manager over her harassment, has stated that “she has no confidence in the impartiality and fairness of the members of a harassment committee formed by the management of the channel.”

Ok, so when will we stop using the definite article for names? It's "Dunya TV" not "the Dunya TV" Mr. Naz. But it's a small quibble, unless you also, habitually omit 'the' where it IS required, such as "due to [the] uncalled[-]for attitude..." One other thing: did Maheen Usmani quit over her sexual harrassment (use a spell check Mr. Naz, there's two 'r's in there) or over the attitude over her harrassment? And did Dunya TV really form something called the "harassment committee"?

In a letter to the Director Human Resources of the Dunya TV (a copy of the message sent to the PFUJ) the female broadcaster proposed that the Committee should comprise senior people from within the company as well as from outside.

She said that “a Committee comprising Asma Jehangir, Kamran Shafi, Dr Fauzia Saeed, a representative of Aasha, a nationwide alliance working against sexual harassment against women at workplaces, an office-bearer of the PFUJ and chairman of the Dunya TV Ch. Arshad as its members would be acceptable to her as they would be unbiased and not open to any pressure”.

Hey, wasn't Mian Amer Mahmood the Chairman of Dunya TV? Who is Ch. Arshad? Something Mian Amer Mahmood should know about?

She said that “she would appear before the Committee consisting the above -mentioned people.”

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists supported the stand of Maheen Usmani, “and termed her demand genuine and added that as per principles of natural justice fair play, equity it is imperative that this issue should be inquiry through "Independent" Commission as the same relates not to individual but entire journalists community as well as working females of the country.”

Learn to use commas Mr. Naz. "Justice comma fairplay AND equity." "Should be inquiry" makes no sense. Learn to use articles and possessive punctuation too. "...not to AN individual"; "THE entire journalistS' community." "Working females of the country" just sounds awkward. But more importantly, why have you put "Independent" in quotes? Are you making gestures with crooked fingers and going, wink, wink, too?

The Secretary General of the PFUJ Mr. Shamsul Islam Naz, urged upon the women members of the parliament, human rights organizations, NGO's and civil society to support the just demand of Maheen Usmani for open Inquiry comprising of independent persons and having repute of integrity.

OK I'm just going to stop bothering about the 'the's and 'an's although I really do wish all of you would stop writing NGOs as NGO's...But I do want to know why a letter written by you is quoting you in the third person? And do you really say things like "persons having repute of integrity"?

He further said that this is not issue of any individual prestige but the credibility and integrality of a one of the leading media channel is also at stake, and propriety demands that the Media Owners should also come forward and ask any of the Independent Organizations of the Court like Supreme Court Bar Association, Human Rights Commission, to hold this said incident, with a clear cut terms of reference of “fixation of reasonability” of the access if committed any one”.

Ok this is just gibberish Mr. Naz. I think the "integrality" of the PFUJ is now at stake.

“More than fifty percent population of country comprising of women, how long we can push them walls and create hostile environments for them to remain away for contributing for the prosperity, well being of the nation and country institutions”, PFUJ Secretary General questioned

As well he may to the utter beffudlement of the nation. Obviously, so you DO speak like this Mr. Naz!

He further said that no doubt it was our pride that first women Prime Minister and Speaker of the Parliament were “women”.

Shocker. The "first women Prime Minister and Speaker of the Parliament were "women""! Oh, but there's that quote unquote around women again. Aah, the nudge, nudge, wink, wink thing again, eh Mr. Naz?

Yes it is also a history here when senior most women – Judge of Lahore High Court, had to elevated on the basis of his seniority, constitution, judgments of apex court; she was denied that opportunity, during dictator Mushrraf. There was not a single voice from any organization of the lawyers, civil society, NGO’s who had raised voice against such blunt discrimination on the basis of the sex, which is against the Islamic Jurispendence, Constitution, Universal Human Rights declaration, International Women Rights, ILO Conventions”. Such precedents reflect how much we believe in “equality”, Mr. Naz argued.

I don't EVER want to be in an argument with Mr. Naz. Period.

He further said that time has come that each and every persons should raise his voice against the male atrocities, leaving a side that “media house would not accommodate their contentions”.

I'm at a loss for words. Really.

The PFUJ warned it would not allow to harsh up this serious issue and buried under carpet in any circumstances and vowed to continue its campaign until unless the culprits are not bough to justice.

Shamsul Islam Naz
Secretary General

Harsh, baby, don't you cry. Perhaps you can plaster posters of "GO Sexual Harassment GO" all over town like the Jamaat's "Go America Go". And yeah, we'll know that you mean well.