Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Response to Mary Bowers' Response

Hmmmm. My first thought when I read The Times' Mary Bowers' response to my earlier post on the Dawn blog was, 'now you're really asking for it, aren't you.' Especially because she had chosen to write a response (in an unconnected space) that ignored the more substantive parts of my critique of her piece - her distortion of facts and context - and focused on presenting a defence for Western journalists' preoccupation with issues of terror in Pakistan (as if we don't understand journalism or the mindset of the Western media). That and because she called me a "faceless cackler."

But I mulled over whether to write a response initially because I didn't want to get into a pointless war of words with someone who is obviously very defensive about her errors of omission and commission. Secondly, I did a Google search on her and discovered she is still a very young journalist who is not only a couple of years at most out of journalism school but also fancies herself as a photographer and a musician, in other words an interesting person still trying to find their true calling. So, even though she also boasts about opening a dominatrix shop in Paris (or was it because of it?), I felt sorry for being a bit harsh with her.

Mary Bowers of The Times

Eventually, however, I decided I did need to write some sort of response, if only so that those readers over at the Dawn blog who are taken by Ms Bowers' writing style (it is certainly a well-written piece) but clueless about the real points of contention between us, can understand the issue. If you are reading this, Mary, please understand that it is nothing personal. So here goes.

Dear Mary Bowers:

1. The basic assumption in your response is that Pakistanis like us (or at least us on this blog) do not understand the pressures foreign journalists work under and the world view of their editors / readers back home, and that this is what needs to be explained. This is simply untrue. Many of us have worked for the international media and all of us know foreign colleagues who do a commendable job reporting for the international press. Even with all their pressures and the skewed expectations of stories-that-sell, they continue to fight against stereotypes and bring nuance to their reporting. Our issue is simply with the lazy pandering to stereotypes that characterizes "parachute journalism" - a term you acknowledge yourself.

2. You have not addressed the two or three instances where I pointed out that you got your information / characterizations terribly wrong. Among them: that fashion has been repressed by governments before the Lahore Fashion Week, that the LFW was some sort of liberal aberration in a highly controlled Islamic society, that television in Pakistan consists entirely of hijab or niqab clad faces. Surely, the "most unforgiving of masters: the truth" - as you term it - requires you to get your facts correct.

3. At least two out of the three people whose quotes you used to illustrate your piece have claimed in our blog that they were misquoted or quoted out of context. One claimed her quote about death threats before the LFW actually referred to death threats before another event the previous year. Would you say that is justified by your defence of the pressures Western journalists work under?

4. You write:

"But some – often the acronymed and unaccountable world of the blogosphere – like to suggest that journalists are at best automatons, “led up the garden path” by their sources,  as my critic suggested. At worst, they are guilty of that most overused of phrases, “lazy journalism.”"

I just want to point out that I never suggested (nor would I ever suggest) that journalists in general are automatons (though some may certainly be imbecilic). The reference to being "led up the garden path" referred, in the post's context, to the incorrect information provided by someone most journalists would trust to provide a correct perspective but which they probably should have double-checked. Oh, and by the way, isn't the "unaccountable world of the blogosphere" really the most overused of phrases these days?

5. I agree with you that Pakistani designers choosing "canary yellow taffeta over last season's cornflower blue satin" may not be a story Londoners are interested in. But as someone commented on the Dawn blog, there is no compulsion for the Western media to cover Pakistani fashion, if they do not think it merits attention. I mean, (apologies for the sort-of pun) no one is holding a gun to their heads to do it, are they? So, does it all boil down to freelancers trying to sell their stories? You write:

"I couched fashion week in terms of a defiant action in the face of radicalism and conservatism – a tack taken, I noticed, by most of the other international media present."

Yeah, we know, we know. But following the herd does not make it good journalism.

6. Finally, let me just reiterate that it is not that we don't think that Pakistan has no problems of terrorism or that there are no other problems here (God knows there are huge ones!). Neither is it my contention, at all, that foreign journalists should ignore them and paint only a rosy picture of the country. All I am arguing for is some balance and a toning down of the sensationalism that may sell stories but really paints an equally inaccurate picture for readers who already understand too little, as you yourself admit. I completely agree with you when you say hopefully:

"...only the slow chipping away of decades of cemented perceptions can counter that greatest and most ignorant of faceless beasts: fear."

I would only submit that "slow chipping away" still needs someone to do it. Sensational stereotypes and inaccurate context only help add more cement.



Friday, February 26, 2010

How To Empower Women And Then Ridicule Them

I don't really know what to say about this bit of news from across the border, other than recalling Samuel Johnson's not-oft-enough-quoted phrase, that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."

Here's what the Times of India reported (under the headline "Fracas at the fest") about the fallout of the 5th India International Women Film Festival, held in Delhi last December:

"There’s probably more drama surrounding this film festival now than there was in any of the films that were screened when it was going on. Three women filmmakers – Oscar winning screenwriter Jane Campion, Pakistani filmmaker Ayesha Arif Khan, and British director Lipika Pelham, who’s now based in Israel – have alleged harassment at the hands of Bhaskar Deb. He is the husband of Shyamali Bannerjee, the organiser of the India International Women’s Film Festival held in Delhi in December.

The women have alleged, in a letter to minister of state for urban development Saugata Roy, that the film fest was a sham, and that they were all harassed by Deb when he was drunk. ...A TOI report said that in the complaint sent to the UD ministry, Campion and Khan have accused Bannerjee’s husband, Bhaskar Deb, of lewd behaviour and sexual harassment. Roy said, “We have received complaints from two women who attended the film festival, Jane Campion and Ayesha Khan. The matter is now under investigation.” He added that the complaints were not the only issues connected to the organisers. The report said that in the complaint to the ministry, Khan alleged that she “was repeatedly mauled by a drunken Bhaskar and constantly offered alcohol”. Campion also called the festival a sham, saying that she only came to India because the organisers claimed that the fest was connected with the UD ministry. Roy has denied any connection between the fest and the UD ministry.

After these reports emerged, Pelham has made similar allegations. In reports, she’s been quoted as saying that she only attended the festival because she was told Campion would be there. When she finally reached the hotel in Delhi and met Campion, the latter told her that the opening ceremony, scheduled to be held in Vigyan Bhavan, had been cancelled. At the party later, “he (Deb) got up from his seat, came towards me and tried to hug me and kiss me on the cheek. He also put his hand on a Turkish director’s back. We somehow managed to move away. But he just wouldn’t let us be and tried to persuade us to have a drink with him,” is what Pelham was quoted as saying."
Director Jane Campion (Photo: Guardian)

Later on, Jane Campion, speaking to the Guardian denied she had accused Deb Bhaskar of sexual harrassment...

While she denied being harassed personally, she had other issues with what she described as a "fraudulently presented" festival.
"I was not sexually harassed by the festival director's husband and did not make that allegation," she said. "However at least two other delegates I spoke to and a third I heard about, did have bad experiences with the festival director's husband and I hear they went on to make allegations of sexual harassment.
"My own experience of the organisers of the film festival was that they made promises to me which they failed to keep: failure to meet me or any of the other delegates that I spoke to on arrival at the airport, failure to pay for my airline tickets, cancelling the premiere of my film Bright Star at the last moment."
She added: "Never in my entire experience has a film festival been so fraudulently presented and organised. It's a shame for the film-makers, the audience, the funding bodies of the countries involved as well as the Indian government who, it appears from the advertising, sponsored them to some degree."

Now, these are serious allegations, whether the well-regarded director Jane Campion (The Piano, Holy Smoke) was herself sexually harrassed or not. One could yet have been willing, however, to accept that they may all have been due to some sort of major misunderstanding. But guess how the organizers chose to respond. Aside from Deb calling the New Zealand-born Campion "a racist from Australia", this is how, from the Times of India report:

"The organisers, Bannerjee and Deb, have in turn written a letter to the MEA. It says, “Our internal investigation has revealed that this lady Ayesha Arif Khan is an ISI agent from Pakistan and she wanted to stay back in India on any precarious excuse. Her mysterious gesture and aimless roaming around the city... in 2009 was seemingly abnormal.” The letter also says that it is “ridiculous” that allegations have come from Roy two months after the festival. “During their stay in New Delhi they haven’t complained against us, if at all any such incident happened. Jane Campion had left New Delhi without notice on 16th (December, 2009) morning when we explained our situation that her film Bright Star could not be screened at Vigyan Bhawan and that the opening ceremony of the festival has been cancelled,” it adds.
The letter, which requests an ‘enquiry’, adds that Campion was trying “to create chaos inside the hotel reception”, and that filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan tried to intervene. It counters her charges that the fest was “fraudulent”, saying that they’d advertised, and that if the audience did not turn up despite that, it isn’t their fault."

What kind of "internal investigation" could the organizers of a film festival have possibly done to end up with the scurrilous allegations they end up making? Could they be any more predictably pathetic? Incidentally, twenty-something Ayesha Arif Khan, who did a master's in film from Chapman University in the US only last year is currently teaching film in Karachi. How very ISI of her.

Ayesha: drinking tea like ISI types (Photo: TOI)

And yeah, accusing one woman director of lying about sexual harrassment and another of being a racist diva for giving her the short shrift is just the right way to run a women-centred festival isn't it?

This is how the India International Women Film Festival talks about itself:

"India International Women Film Festival is not just a festival alone, rather a mirror of our society. It talks about women empowerment, very much relevant in a developing country like India where gender discrimination is a regular phenomenon in our society."

Well, we certainly know what they mean now about mirroring society. Except that they seem to mirror the worst parts of society. Suffice it to say, the IIWFF ain't getting an award for promoting inter-cultural understanding anytime soon.

And I may not be a soothsayer, but I can pretty much predict where organizations headed by such opportunistic scoundrels (gender sensitive or not) are bound to end up.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Parliamentary Cretinism - Part II

If you thought Punjab under the Sharifs was a model of serious legislative work, think again. This story from Dawn today made me laugh out loud, only because what else can one do? (Here, by the way, is the earlier story I had done about parliamentary cretinism.)

The operative parts of the story, well-titled " MPAs at 'self-serving best' "  are copied below for your convenience:

"Members of the Punjab Assembly were at their “self-serving best” when they, in two different resolutions on Tuesday, demanded memberships of the Lahore Gymkhana and administrative powers of the department for the ministers, respectively.
Both resolutions were pended by the speaker on different grounds till next session, but it did not deter the movers to keep pressing in favour of their resolutions. With their over-riding wish for the membership of the elite club on Upper Mall, the mover sacrificed rationality.
Dr Asad Asharaf, of the PML-N, moved the membership resolution, telling the house that the club was “constructed on a piece of land which belongs to the poor people of Punjab.” Since this house represented the poor of the province, its members be given the membership of the club.
The membership of the club was “restricted to the kingmaker elite, depriving the elected representatives.” In the federal capital, members of the National Assembly were given the membership of Islamabad Club, he insisted."

Poor Dr Asad Ashraf's (top) Gymkhana ambitions have been kept pending by Rana Sanaullah (below)

You have to admire the shameless audacity of the PML-N MPA' s argument. May be that's what his doctorate degree is in: Doctorate in Audacity. Law Minister Rana Sanaullah (who recently defended his publicly befriending members of banned jihadi outfits to get votes in Jhang) promised to take up the matter with the Gymkhana management.

"As if it was not enough, another treasury member stood up to demand that the entire cabinet be given “administrative control of their departments”. Rana Sana again had to chime in to get the resolution pended, saying the resolution involved “administrative re-arrangements that only the Punjab government could decide”. Feasibility of the demand must be checked before making it, lest one wants to keep on making “impractical demands,” he added." 

Never ones to shy away from diligent legislative cretinism, however, the MPAs pressed on:

"The members also locked their horns over “whether the animals and birds’ fights during different local festivals be banned or not?” Someone pointed out that there was already a law, called Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 1890, and any resolution on this account would show as if there was no law on the subject. The members should fully assess an issue before framing a resolution, the minister demanded.  But the movers insisted that resolution must be carried, which was opposed by a majority of the house.

 Bhatti sahib of Gujar Khan: won't take home a DVD of 3 Idiots for his wife no more

Shaukat Aziz Bhatti wanted a resolution “condemning the Indian neglect of Pakistani cricket players in its premier league. The Indians have exhibited their traditional anti-Islam prejudice and it must be condemned with full force.” The Pakistanis must boycott Indian goods, he demanded and the house agreed to it."

That's your taxes at work, folks.

Dawn's Balls

So CPM was musing about scoops a couple of days ago. How's this for being on the ball.

This is a story on the front-page of Dawn today about how Punjab Governor Salman Taseer had written to President Zardari, indicating that he "smelled nepotism" (Dawn's headline) in Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khwaja Sharif's recommendations for judicial appointments. Dawn's Azaz Syed breathlessly informs us:

"A letter from Punjab Governor Salman Taseer written to President Asif Ali Zardari during the recent crisis over judicial appointments has revealed apprehensions of alleged nepotism within the superior judiciary.

Dawn News has obtained a summary of the governor sent to the presidency with detailed comments about persons nominated for appointment by none other than Lahore High Court Chief Justice, Mr Justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif.

Exercising his powers under sub-section one of the Article 193 of the Constitution, the governor in his letter to the president had objected to the appointment of nine persons as Lahore High Court judges."

Wow! What a scoop! Er, except, that Rauf Klasra of The News carried this same story, with all the relevant details (and more), on February 12, a full 11 days ago!

I mean, missing a scoop is one thing. Happens all the time. Pretending it never happened and running the same story as some sort of exclusive in your paper (and on your tv channel) almost a fortnight later. Now, that takes balls.

Hamid Mir Violates Ethics and the Law

I am no great admirer of former minister Sheeda Tully aka Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, he of Lal Haveli and the newly formed Awami Muslim League fame. But I have to say I was as outraged as him over what happened tonight.

Sheeda Tully aka Sheikh Rashid Ahmed

Keep in mind that the man is contesting for a bye-election in NA-55, his own constituency in Rawalpindi, a seat he won 6 times in a row until 2008 when he was trounced in an anti-Musharraf wave. Two years on, the seat was declared second-time empty when the PML(N) MNA 'Haji' Pervez Khan was disqualified for cheating in an examination (Haji Pervez - who obviously did not absorb much spiritual rectitude from his hajj experience - won the first bye-election earlier when the original winner Makhdoom Javed Hashmi of the PML(N) vacated the seat in favour of another constituency). Tully's main contender in the elections this time is the PML(N)'s Malik Shakeel Awan, a grassroots party worker without much name recognition but who has the entire PML(N) heavyweight leadership at his back.

The polls take place a few hours from now. According to the Election Commission rules, the campaigning officially ended at midnight between Monday and Tuesday, a rule enforced to calm voters down after the rhetoric of campaigning. So what happens?

Enter Mr Hamid Mir of Geo's Capital Talk. He proceeds to dedicate his whole programme to ridiculing and discrediting Sheikh Rashid, in what can only be termed a blatant attempt to influence the outcome of the polls. In addition to dredging up Tully's connections with the Chaudhries of Gujarat, General Musharraf and Asif Zardari - obviously calculated to refresh them in voters' minds - he also takes "expert" analysis from third raters like Irfan Siddiqui and Jang Pindi's magazine editor Farooq Aqdas. Not only that, he takes vox pops from a random selection of people in one market as well as the opinion of, of all people, 'Maulana' Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid and fleeing-in-a-burqa fame, all of whom berate Tully as a 'lota', as 'dishonest' and as a 'killer of innocents'.

Now, I don't know if anyone else noted that Irfan Siddiqui was sitting with the top leadership of the PML(N) when the party recently met for an internal meeting. Little wonder then that Tully blew his top later on the Geo news bulletin, accusing Siddiqui and Hamid Mir of being on Nawaz Sharif's payroll, the programme of being "paid for" by the PML(N) and Geo of stabbing him in the back.

I will come to my point later. Here are the clips of the entire programme, if you have the patience:

Clip 1 in which Mir sets the tone for the programme with some selective clips of Nawaz Sharif and Sheikh Rashid from their rallies, and of Sheikh Rashid and Imran Khan in a 2005 programme in which Imran calls Rashid a "lota" (turncoat).

Clip 2 in which Farooq Aqdas calls Rashid "siyaasi taur pe bad-ehd aur bay-wafa aadmi" (politically a traitorous man), makes fun of the assassination attempt against him, and reminds the PPP worker of Tully's anti-PPP venom. Mir then adds a few clips showing Tully praising Musharraf...

Clip 3 in which Mir runs some two dozen vox pops, two-thirds of them against Sheikh Rashid (with people calling him a "lota" and dishonest and accusing him of being responsible for the killings in Lal Masjid) and including at least four anti-Tully people repeated more than once. To his credit, one of Mir's studio guests, Humayun Gauhar, calls out Mir's approach as the "target killing" of Sheikh Rashid...

Clip 4 in which Humayun Gauhar dismisses the selective targeting of Rashid without a contextualization of the larger political scenario...

Clip 5 in which Mir plays a clip of Mullah Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid moaning about Rashid not having apologized to him (for what, one might question) and of how he has not received compensation yet (he should be compensated?!?) and Farooq Aqdas is called on to accuse Rashid of wearing Gucci clothes and smoking Havana cigars, i.e. being elitist. Then Aqdas and Gauhar get into a bit of a tussle over the credibility of Mullah Aziz and Mir wraps up by pretending to be neutral.

Now. Whatever one may think of Sheikh Rashid, this was a one-sided, deliberately vindictive and unfairly selective character assassination of one contestant in an election. More importantly, it was done in a sensitive period when campaigning on the behalf of anyone is prohibited, no campaigner is allowed to make public appearances or pronouncements and was obviously calculated to rig public opinion. Whether PEMRA takes note of the obvious bias in the programme or not, surely the attempt to rig an election calls for the Election Commission and, dare one say, the Supreme Court, to take notice.

Whether Hamid Mir did this programme because Sheikh Rashid's victory would put a stumbling block in Geo's attempts to oust Zardari or whether he actually indulged in financially corrupt media practices, I cannot say. However, I think there is a strong case for Hamid Mir and his programme to be taken off air for a while as punishment and for Geo to be fined and prosecuted.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Random Funny of the Day

Came across this funny comics site called (bizarrely) Fly, You Fools! and thought would share its latest post. Enjoy!

Actually, go see it over at the main website. Just can't get the damn thing to fit here properly. Embedding it only makes the thing bleed over the right side.

Family First

Can you beat this? Or more specifically, can we beat him? Like, physically?

According to an exclusive story today by The News' Usman Manzoor, Pakistan's ambassador to Syria has replaced the entire staff and faculty of the Pakistan International School in Damascus - apparently a prestigious and respected school - with his immediate family members. Collectively, they now earn a monthly salary of US$38,000.

"The Pakistan International School in Damascus is run by the embassy of Pakistan but within five months after the arrival of new ambassador, Aminullah Raisani, in September 2009, the management and faculty of the school was changed altogether without giving any reason and the school was stuffed with the relatives of the ambassador.
According to the list of newly inducted teachers Saeeda Yasmeen Raeesani has been appointed as Principal. She is sister of the ambassador and is drawing $6,500 per month as salary while the previous principal Syed Tauseef Bokhari was getting $2,500. Another sister, Ms Abbas, has been appointed as Urdu teacher for $3,500 per month.
Two daughters, Amna Aminullah Raeesani and Quratulein Aminullah Raeesani, have been appointed as teachers. These two are getting $3,000 per month as salary while the school was paying only $1,700 for the same job to previous teachers.
Mohammad Ishaque, brother-in-law of the ambassador, has been appointed as accountant for $3,500 per month while the same job was previously with one Imran for just $900 a month.
Attique-ur-Rehman and Syed Muhammad Ali, ambassador’s nephews, have been appointed as business teachers for $3,000 a month while the same job was done for $1,500 only before September 2009.
Nayla Atiq, granddaughter of ambassador’s sister, is working as Maths teacher for $3,000 a month while her predecessor was drawing $1,700 a month as salary. Ali Abdullah, the son-in-law of ambassador’s sister, and Muhammad Ahsan Shafique, ambassador’s cousin, have been appointed as teachers for $3,000 a month while their predecessors were drawing $1,500 a month.Another cousin of the ambassador, Rasheed Chattha, has been appointed as biology teacher for $3,500 a month while previously Ms Manal Sileman was doing the same job for $1,500 a month."

Sisters, brothers-in-law, daughters, cousins, nephews, grand-nieces, even sisters' son-in-laws. I mean, I've heard of being supportive of family, but this is ridiculous! But these specific allegations against him are not all:

"Ms Manal Sileman, one of the Syrian teachers of the Pakistani school who has been sent home without giving any notice and without any reason, while talking to The News from Damascus on phone said that it was strange that an ambassador instead of running the affairs of the embassy was keen in the business of the school. She lamented that the ambassador has imported Chinese shoes and made it mandatory for every student to purchase those shoes at much higher rates."

Truly, they are right when they say, Pakistanis take a bit of Pakistan with them wherever they go. I would like to take some of those Chinese shoes to Mr Raisani's backside. And hang some around his neck too.


You know what the difference is between a scoop and just another story? Sometimes as little as a few seconds. In my case, it's about one hour.

Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin (Source: Dawn / Reuters)

So the story is, I actually had the scoop about Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin's resignation having been accepted - ostensibly because he's needed back at Silk Bank, which he owns -  at about 9pm tonight. Problem was, I couldn't completely confirm it. Bigger problem was I was away from the net. And by the time, I finally got to a computer, Kamran Khan had led with the story in his 10 o' clock show on Geo. Pretty pathetic I must admit. And no, I don't expect you to believe it. If someone else told me the same story, I would probably say, well, too bad, but who cares you had the story earlier. Point is, Kamran Khan broke the story.

But it did make me think a bit about scoops. In the olden days, scoops operated on a day-basis: which newspaper got the story a day before the others. Wire agencies - those who supply news to newspapers - of course operated on a much more stringent timeframe, since agencies competed with each other to be the first to break the news to other news organizations. But generally, the average person (i.e. those not working in newspaper offices) hardly ever discovered which agency got the scoop first.

Since the advent of 24-hour television and the web, that whole languid manner of working has gone out the window (pardon the pun). And everyone with access to television and the net has access to breaking news, even from wire agencies. Of course, the race to achieve first-status is why all manner of mayhem is unleashed on the unsuspecting public, with half-baked and even sometimes completely untrue stories making it out there. But despite what DawnNews may think, you really cannot have a news channel that ignores the breaking news (as an aside, while Kamran Khan was breaking the news about Shaukat Tarin, DawnNews' new Urdu programme hosted by Wusatullah Khan was running a fascinating discussion about the place of 'regional' languages in the national psyche). It's the nature of the beast. The best you can do is to try and tame the excesses of news organizations, through laying greater audience store in the checking of facts. It's a long-term process, however, where audiences force channels through their viewership / ratings to provide them correct information. If there is any other viable (i.e. non-draconian) alternative, I don't know it.

I also thought about whether scoops really matter to anyone other than media people. I mean, I can think of some stories that might save lives (e.g. you hear about firing going on in an area you are about to go to before you get there) but, generally, most scoops can hold for a few hours or even a day. For example, would it really make a difference to a common viewer / reader if they found out that the Supreme Court struck down the NRO the day before? Would finding out about Shaukat Tarin's resignation tomorrow really negatively affect anyone other than perhaps people who might want to lobby for his post and find themselves out-lobbied? Isn't the act of scooping closely tied in with egos and entertainment?

Just some things I was thinking about...(And I'm not being a sore loser; I have already accepted that I lost the "race.")

In any case, coming back to the Shaukat Tarin story, Kamran Khan named three possible successors to his post: Arif Habib CEO Nasir Baig, former State Bank governor Dr Ishrat Hussain and former PPP finance minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin. From my sources, apparently, the President's camp and the Prime Minister's camp have their own favourites. Baig, who is incidentally the brother-in-law of Anwar Majeed, Zardari's so-called right hand man (who is also related to Shaukat Tarin through the marriage of their offspring), and Shahabuddin are apparently in the President Zardari's list, as is PPP MNA Naveed Qamar. PM Yousuf Raza Gilani's list, on the other hand, has, in addition to Hussain, current state minister Hina Rabbani Khar and economist Dr Hafeez Pasha. Who eventually gets picked may indicate which way the wind is blowing. In fact, having one of Zardari's nominees get the post would be no big deal. One of them not getting it, on the other hand, might be.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fashion Statements

Oh shoot. Here we go again with fashion weeks and Pakistan. Can we do anything in Pakistan without it being linked in some way to either appeasing the Taliban or kicking sand in their faces?

Assaulting the Taliban, yet again

I refer of course to the latest "I-spit-on-the-runway-the-Taliban-sashay-down" type of pieces in the American Christian Science Monitor (titled predictably "Lahore Fashion Week Takes on Talibanization in Pakistan") and in Britain's The Times about the just concluded Lahore Fashion Week. The latter may be headlined a bit more soberly ("Pakistan Fashion Week Pushes Back Boundaries") but the prose is nothing less than a deep shade of purple.

For example, here are the opening lines:

"A call to prayer echoed over the red carpet. The celebrity guests and socialites of Lahore lifted their diamante stilettos through the scarlet pile, careful not to trip as they showed lipsticked smiles – and bare shoulders – to the flashing camera bulbs."

Just in case you forgot what The Times was aiming to get at, you understand. Gasp! Muslims. Fashion. Shock. Bare shoulders. Horror. But far be it from The Times to simply imply something when they can get their facts utterly wrong in black and white:

"Pakistan’s first Government-endorsed fashion week finished yesterday. There is hope that with it will disappear decades of the government repression that had previously forced the scene underground."

Underground scene? Hellooooo! We just had another fashion week in Karachi, not three months ago! Kind of missed the bus on the "underground scene", by like, two decades, don't you think? I think The Times has kind of got Generals Ziaul Haq and Musharraf confused... which would be fair enough in some respects but certainly not this. Just to put the record straight, do recall that fashion shows (which existed before and even during Zia's regime) were being sponsored by Benazir's government in the early '90s and even taken abroad as part of her foreign delegations. And what was the Mush reign, if not about state-sponsored fashion?

General Musharraf walks the ramp in his Amir Adnan sherwani

Here's some more editorial pronouncements by writer Mary Bowers:

"A triumph for young liberals, the event was also a red rag to those who protect conservative Islamic values with an iron fist. Inter Services Intelligence and the bomb squad were standing by to keep out haute couture’s uninvited guests."

Eh? Ever been to a party in Pakistan, Ms. Bowers? Or Nargis' dance-theatre? Or to see a Pushto film? Ever picked up a copy of GT? Mostly, if the ISI is there, it's to enjoy itself.

ISI Chic?

Ms. Bowers also, incredibly, inserts the following bit in her tribute to the changing Pakistan:

"...even Pakistani TV crews happily meet gleaming and unveiled faces."

Whoa! Since when did TV crews (TV crews, for God's sake!) EVER refuse to meet "gleaming and unveiled faces"? I mean, have you even seen Pakistani channels, Ms. Bowers? And no, Haq TV does not count. We don't even know if it's a Pakistani channel, since we can't see their faces.

But how can one blame just Mary Bowers and The Times, when she has such a treasure-trove of our own people to apparently provide whacked out quotes. (I add the word 'apparently' here only because with a reporter with such a penchant for checking her facts, who can trust her memory or jotting skills?) For instance, here's "freelance fashion writer" Aamna Isani leading her up the garden path:

“We have seen the fashion world in Pakistan evolve in recent years,” said Aamna Isani, a freelance fashion writer. “Ten years ago we weren’t allowed to say the word 'fashion’. We had to go for a ‘cultural event’ with clothes.”

Ten years ago was the year 2000. You weren't allowed to use the word 'fashion' Ms Isani??? Which paper were you freelancing for exactly? Takbeer?

For Roundups on "Cultural Events With Clothes"

Here's Ms. Isani again talking about the elitism of Pakistan's fashion shows:

“I think we’ll really evolve when we have women on the catwalk with purdah too,” she says. “It’s an irony that we’re OK with navels and arms now, but not with the veil. 80 per cent of women in Pakistan wear the veil and many want to. They’d want to even if they had the option. They are pushing us away and we are pushing them away.”

Leave aside the fact that Ms Isani seems to be confused about the whole concept of the purdah / veil - yeah, women who do purdah are just itching to parade themselves on ramps, aren't they? - but where exactly has she got the "80 percent" figure from??? One can sympathise with Ms Isani's idea of inclusive liberalism, but I am more and more inclined to believe that she has spent most of her life inside the Takbeer offices.

Then you have Instep's editor making one of her usual cryptic comments:

“Now that women work like men they must dress like men,” said Muniba Kamal, fashion editor at the national daily The News. “I wouldn’t go burning our bras though. We need those.”

Don't burn that bra, baby

Burning bras? Didn't that kind of go out of fashion in the '70s? "We need those": What does this even mean? That Pakistani women are all well-endowed?

Of course, nothing would have come together for Ms. Bowers without this bit of sensationalism:

"“Half an hour before the show we were getting death threats and phone calls and all kind of blackmail,” says a model, Meesha Shafi, 28. “They had our names. It’s very scary." 

Er, yes, Meesha, who could possibly know your name or that of the other models? I mean, it's not like you guys are on the pages of Sunday every week, or on the cover of fashion magazines and billboards, in newspapers or acting in tv dramas and giving interviews on television, right? Or in a sleeveless tank-top on your band's website, right? But what I want to know is, what kind of blackmail was this really about? I have visions of someone threatening you, "if you don't walk the ramp for Umar Sayeed, we'll make sure you are forced to walk for Hourain!" Now that would be scary.

Loudest is not always smartest

Remember folks, at the end of the day, it's just clothes. The Taliban wear clothes too. And more of them. Let's keep things in perspective.

DawnNews' Urdu Avatar

DawnNews' new look.

It seems we were slightly off in terms of our time slot predictions for the Urdu bulletins. The date for their launch has also been put back by a week. The one major addition here, as you may notice, is that of BBC Urdu man Wusatullah Khan (on the extreme right). Could he be the silver bullet that can save the channel?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wake Up, Stand Up, Stand Up For Your Fights

A hilarious post on "Sexy Islamism" by ex-DawnNews journalist Khawer Khan pointed me in the direction of this clip of designer Maria B. being interviewed on Samaa TV's Nai Rahain programme with host Nadia Jamil. You must watch too for a good time.

Here are some gems from Maria B.'s mouth:

On Why She Supports the lunatic Zaid Hamid (at 1:05):

"Because he doesn't stop you from anything!"

On Deciding Why She Won't Do Revealing Clothes Anymore (at 1:29):

"It's part of what my evolution is becoming [sic]."

On "Hate-Mongering" Critics of Zaid Hamid (at 2:19)

"He is a fakir, who teaches love"

(You can see some of that love on a previous post here btw)

On What 'Wake Up Pakistan' supremo Zaid Hamid's Ranting Is All About (at 2:52):

"This is a movement about tolerance, it's about love, about protectioning [sic] the minority."

Here's the sufi in his own words (do see the whole clip):

On How She Thinks Muslims Should Behave Towards Non-Muslims (at 6:32):

"Some people think that being religious and Islamic means ke you just going to... [treat non-Muslims with derision].. No! Those.. that Hindu can be a better person than you and higher in the scale of Allah [sic] than any one of those Muslims going around beating people up. So ye bilkul bhi mujhe koi na kahe (don't anyone say this to me).. just because you are Muslims you think you are superior, nobody is."

Aah, noble thoughts indeed. But then what do we make of this bit of humility from your mentor, wherein he claims 50 crore Indian Hindus are just itching to convert to Islam and that the next time Pakistan goes to war with India, Indian Hindus should be prepared to be massacred ("This time we will take no prisoners")?:

On How 'Wake Up Pakistan' Movement Is All About Diversity and Tolerance (at 7:45):

"Hum jab meeting kar rahe hotay hain, aik larki baithi hoti hai hijab mein, aik niqab mein, aik main baithi hoti hoon, aik Feeha Jamshed baithi hoti hai.. (When we have our meetings, there is one girl sitting in hijab, one in a niqab, I am sitting there and [TeeJays' designer] Feeha Jamshed is sitting there)... and we respect each other."

Like duh. So it is all about fashion statements, isn't it? By the way, what, no Ali Azmat at the meetings?

I don't know about you but I want to set up the "Wake Up Maria" movement.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How To Make The News And Other Mistakes

First things first. If ever there had been any doubt about the cretinism of President Asif Ali Zardari's legal and political advisers, surely such doubts must have been laid to rest with what happened yesterday. I mean, you would think that if you knew the military, the judiciary, the opposition and an influential part of public opinion hated your guts, and the Americans were distracted enough by their upcoming surge in Afghanistan not to care too much about covering your ass, you would be a bit more circumspect in your actions, wouldn't you? No such luck with geniuses of the likes of Farooq Naek, Latif Khosa and Babar Awan.

Triumvirate of Legal and Political Genius: (clockwise from top left) Naek, Khosa, Awan

But I guess, advisers can only reflect the level of competence of the person selecting them.

The tangential repercussion of this fiasco on the media has been that two media houses have had wildly different feelings about it. The Jang Group, which had been trying its darnedest to instigate some sort of crisis involving Zardari for quite some time now - and one had only to have followed Geo anchors such as Kamran Khan, Dr S&M and The News' Group Editor Shaheen Sehbai to understand their desperation - must be licking its lips. Only the day before, the Jang Group had filed a suit in the Sindh High Court claiming that the government was trying to victimize it for exposing the president's alleged corruption by cutting off its government advertisements and pressurizing National Bank to call in an allegedly rescheduled loan. Geo had once again begun to run Mr Jeem's whine (last seen during Musharraf's "emergency") about struggling to survive (this despite the fact that Geo continues to be far at the top of all news channel ratings and revenue streams). Zardari and his bunch of geniuses could not have handed the Jang Group a better opportunity to go after him, an opportunity that has obviously been grabbed by both hands.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Daily Times, which after the departure of its founding editor Najam Sethi, has resembled nothing much more than the in-house newsletter of the house of Salman Taseer, the publisher (and of course, the governor of Punjab). Today's paper could have hardly done better to indicate its owner's mood, with a banner heading that said it all. Even the paper's weekend glossy, Sunday, seemed to indicate a sort of depression. It had only 6 pages of photographs dedicated to the wedding of Taseer's son. Compare that to the 11 pages the week before, and the 8 pages the week before that. (But there's still the valima pics to look forward to!)

But in the middle of all this ecstasy and misery, what I really wanted to touch upon was the Filmfare Awards-worthy performance of Jang Group's mediocrity-in-residence (gosh, there are a number of them vying for that title aren't there?) Saleh Zaafir. A reporter never ever accused of being terribly reliable (though he has been accused of being many other things), Mr Zaafir outdid all others by breaking news on Geo that a state of emergency ala November 3, 2007 was about to be declared in the country. He actually began it all by this bit of breathless ranting (he comes in around 12:50 in the first clip and continues up until 00:55 in the second):

Never ones to shy away from milking any sensation to its limits, Geo then proceeded to run "Breaking News" flashes across its screens for the next 30-45 minutes (the news flashes can be seen beginning around 09:30 in the second clip), announcing that "information indicated a state of emergency was about to be declared." No other channel had this information, obviously, because they don't employ Mr Zaafir. But even Information Minister Qamaruzzaman Kaira's rubbishing of the flash (which Samaa TV carried) was not deemed worthy of running on Geo. Geo kept insisting that the presidency was "refusing to confirm or deny" the story, which of course is journalistic shorthand for claiming 'we're actually right and they're hiding something.' It was only when Zardari's spokesman Farhatullah Babar came out to specifically deny the claims, that Geo stopped flashing its 'exclusive' breaking news.

Of course, Mr Zaafir has never taken being proved wrong lying down and he wasn't going to this time either. He then proceeded to write a price on the front page of Jang today, trying to explain how he was not really flying kites. An excerpt from his piece:

"Aiwan-e-sadr ki jaanib se saabiq sadr Pervez Musharraf ki 3 November, 2007 ki tarha emergency nafiz karnay ka faisla kiya ja chuka tha lekin awaam aur media ki jaanib se aanay walay rad-e-amal ne ussay  chaunka diya aur woh musheeraan jo idaaron se takraanay ka mashwara de rahe thhe aur un ke senior jo khatray ka sabab ban saktay thhe woh apnay "aqalmandana mashwaron" se peechhay hat-tay gaye...Zaraaye ka kehna thha ke awaami rad-e-amal ke sabab mulk aik aur 3 November se bach gaya."
('The decision to impose emergency on the lines of former president Pervez Musharraf's November 3, 2007 actions had already been taken in the presidency. But the reaction of the people and the media [emphasis added] to it stunned the presidency, and those advisers who had been advocating a collision with institutions, and their seniors who could have become a source of danger, began to backtrack from their "sagacious advice."... Sources say that the popular reaction [emphasis added] saved the country from another 3 November.')

Keep in mind that nobody else carried the story and aside from causing a lot of confusion and panic, nobody actually reacted to it in any public way. But then, nobody has ever accused Mr Saleh Zaafir of any sort of humility either.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Verbal Dasti - 2

This man is a one-man wrecking machine. I speak of course of PPP MNA from Muzaffargarh, Jamshed Dasti. The last time I wrote about him, I forgot to mention that he also has the dubious distinction of being the first MNA since the early 1970s to be removed from the National Assembly for disruptive behaviour.

I'm waiting for the exact quotes, but in the meantime, this is what Geo TV reported.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Parliamentarians Just Wanna Have Fun

A couple of stories I missed this past couple of weeks that really should be highlighted. If you haven't seen these yourself, you really should.

Making Hay

The first of these actually appeared in The Nation on January 25 and details the scam being perpetrated in (at least) the Punjab's Layyah district in the name of the Benazir Tractor Scheme. Here the PMLQ's MNA Sardar Bahadur Ahmad Khan Sehar and his relatives - who own thousands of acres of land - bagged 48 out of the 63 tractors supposedly to be given to small farmers. And that too in a supposedly random computerised ballot!

The News in an editorial on this blatant rigging had this to say about it:

Free tractors
Monday, February 08, 2010
A tractor is an essential piece of agricultural equipment in these days of mechanised farming, but most of our small farmers cannot afford what for them is a luxury item. Thus, there were many who hoped that the ‘Benazir Tractor Scheme’ — which made available by computerised ballot 5,000 tractors for Punjab, 2,000 for Sindh, 1,200 for NWFP and 850 for Balochistan – might bring a change in their fortunes. The scheme was open to farmers who own 25 acres or less of land and on September 12, 2009, about 340,000 applications were received, of which 277,106 were finalised for balloting. So far so good, except that when the results of the ballot were declared in Punjab, there were – to put it mildly — some statistical anomalies. In a pioneering move, those who organised the balloting managed to take out the ‘random’ element and rig the result, benefiting a range of delighted new tractor owners who were not eligible for the scheme in the first place on account of being the owners of thousands of acres of land rather than a meagre 25.
A quite remarkable 48 members of a single family in District Layyah out of a total draw for the area of 63 bagged themselves new tractors worth about Rs29 million – not a bad trick if you can pull it off. And to which family do these lucky people belong? Why none other than MNA Bahadar Ahmad Khan Sehar… what an extraordinary coincidence. Forty-eight poor farmers doubtless looked at one another, shrugged their shoulders and muttered the national mantra – ‘this is Pakistan’. Indeed it is, and this being Pakistan, a number of powerful individuals in a range of institutions including a bank and at least two political parties conspired together to rob poor people of an opportunity to better themselves. This being Pakistan, nobody is going to be taken to task for this blatant manipulation of a scheme that, if properly administered, would have lifted thousands out of poverty. Instead, the feudal landowners have once again ensured that the poor and downtrodden remain just that. The politicians have served themselves and the patronage system well and, this being Pakistan, the status quo has been preserved. A by-product of the scam is that somebody learned how to manipulate a computerised random ballot – which must be excellent news for those contemplating any future computerised general election.

The total worth of the tractors? A mere 29 million.

The Sweat and Toil of Legislating

The second story comes to us from the good folks at FAFEN or the Free And Fair Election Network, "a network of 30 civil society organizations working to foster democratic accountabilities in Pakistan" and who have been monitoring the performance (or in this case, lack of performance) of our elected assemblies. Their monitors who observe the goings on in parliament then report their findings regularly at the end of each session. Here are some of their observations on the last National Assembly session that concluded on January 29:

The participation of MNAs i.e. 46 percent in the eighteenth session was relatively higher than earlier sessions during the ongoing parliamentary year. 

So, basically, 54 percent of legislators (183 out of 338!) could not be bothered to show up for their job at all. And this was an improvement over previous sessions?! Will they show up to collect their salaries and TA / DA? You can bet they will.

The 15 daily sittings of the Eighteenth Session of the National Assembly included a total of 50 hours and 01 minute of parliamentary business. The average length of a sitting was 3 hours and 20 minutes. The shortest sitting lasted 1 hours and 34 minutes. Each sitting started late by an average of 28 minutes.

Will someone please give us all a job where, if you bother to show up at all, your workday consists of about 3 hours?

As many as 646 questions were raised by MNAs during the course of the session, of which 420 were responded to by the relevant ministers. However, relevant ministers were absent at 9 out of the 15 sittings during the question hour.

Now that's an even better job. And I like that figure of 420.

42 bills were listed on the Orders of the Day for consideration by the House. One of these bills was rejected. Out of the remaining 41, 10 bills were passed. 23 resolutions were on the agenda of the Eighteenth Session, but only six were taken up by the House. 42 % of items on the Orders of the Day (less then half of the business agenda of the House) were not addressed during the session.

10 bills passed, 6 resolutions "taken up", 58 percent of agenda items addressed. In 15 days. Now that's what you call efficiency.

175 Points of Order were raised. However, none of them required Speaker’s Ruling, indicating their inappropriateness vis-à-vis procedural definition. 

Great. Efficient and relevant. Incidentally, the most activity the National Assembly saw.

The only people to come out well from this analysis were Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who attended every sitting in full and, to an extent, women parliamentarians who managed to move 12 out of the total 18 private members' bills, whatever became of them eventually. Activists often wonder why people badmouth democratic dispensations so much. It's not that they like the alternatives any more. They just express their disgust with what becomes of their aspirations.

Is A Modicum of Sanity Too Much Too Ask from Geo?

Is this absurd or what?

Hamid Mir in Geo's Capital Talk today (11 Feb) takes expert advice on water issues between Pakistan and India from Syed Salahuddin, Supreme Commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen and head of the Muttaheda (United) Jihad Council...

What's next? Lashkar-e-Taiba's Hafiz Saeed giving his expert opinion on tourism opportunities in Mumbai? Jaish-e-Mohammad's Azhar Masood reviewing Air India's inflight entertainment? Dawood Ibrahim analysing trends on the Bombay Stock Exchange?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Yousuf in the Confessional

If you haven't already, you must read this report about an extremely frank interview with Mohammad Yousuf (that apparently aired yesterday on some television channel) and in which he lays directly into Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik and an unnamed player. I don't know which channel this was, if anyone knows please let us know, particularly if there's a weblink to the interview.

Some choice excerpts of what Yousuf said:

On PCB Chairman Ejaz Butt announcing midway through tour that he would be replaced as skipper:

“I don't know when the statement was made, but when it was, suddenly everyone in the team changed. Six or seven players started to see themselves as captains all of a sudden. At the start of the tour in New Zealand, the players were cooperating with me, but as the tour went on I felt they weren't because they knew I wouldn't be captain in the next series.”

On Umar Akmal's mysterious "stiff back":

“Umar was fine as far as I knew. What happened in his room and how he got a stiff back all of a sudden was a surprise to me. He miraculously recovered as soon as we told him that he would be going home.”

On Shoaib Malik as a possible captain:

“We all know what he’s good at, certainly not captaincy.”

On the most problematic player in the team:

“There is one player in the team who is disturbing team unity and other players. I spoke to coach Intikhab Alam and other management about it and they agreed with me," Yousuf said. “I will only disclose his name to the chairman of the board, Ijaz Butt.”
“Intikhab Alam (coach), Abdur Raqeeb (manager) and [Shahid] Afridi know who the player is and we discussed it as well several times,” Yousuf added.
“During the New Zealand tour and onwards Intikhab was telling me to be wary of him, but I wanted to see for myself. I saw in Australia how his body language was and we dropped him from the Tests. We decided in Australia during a meeting that we had to do something about him.”

Hmmmm. An intriguer who Yousuf does not like and who did not play in the Tests. One guess who this one is.

First Aman Event Remains An Asha

Apparently the first big do for and by 'Am(a)n Ki Asha' - the Times of India / Jang Group collaboration - has bit the dust in the wake of the dual bomb blasts in Karachi.

The Jang Group was going to play host February 16-17 in Karachi to a massive gathering of business and industry leaders from Pakistan and India. The event was to have seen the likes of the Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis or their representatives from the Indian side and the Manshas, Saigols, Hashwanis et al from the Pakistani side. Almost all the top companies from both sides were represented and people like former Pakistan State Bank Governor Ishrat Hussain and Indian filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt were to have addressed the august gathering. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was scheduled to be the chief guest, the idea being that sitting down and sharing biryani and pulao would help break some ice and promote greater collaboration between the business sectors of the two countries. But it was not meant to be.

Fears about security and, possibly, nervousness from the Indian side after the carnage in Karachi on the 5th of February, have, sources claim, put paid to the plan for now. The meet has been postponed till further notice. No word on what the next step will be. Shireen Mazari must be ecstatic.

Can Pakistan and India ever move forward on anything without something or the other screwing it up?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Aamir Liaquat: Further Adventures in Irritating TwitDom

Can no one rid us of this idiotic twerp?

The pseudo-doctor Aamir Liaquat Hussain (sorry, Hardilazeez [Beloved] Aamir Liaquat Hussain, since that now seems to be part of his name) is back. Not that he ever really left. But back as in back after making a hefty packet out of a Haj packaged tour sold with his name, where he sort of accompanied the faithful (who shelled out a premium to get a guided tour of the pilgrimage with him... Why, God only knows) by staying at a 5-star hotel and turning up to read a dua-e-maghfirat (prayer for forgiveness) for the camped out pilgrims.

And what a return it has been. So far, he has given his two-cents that the real cause for the losses suffered by the Pakistan cricket team in recent weeks has been the green soles of the team's shoes (apparently a direct rebuff to Islam since green is the colour associated with it) and opined that the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist a few weeks ago had to do with Iran kowtowing to Zionists by constructing synagogues for its Jewish citizens.

I had actually caught some other twerp on his programme on January 31 (right after the 5th ODI between Pakistan and Australia and devoted to cricket, including an appearance by Maulana Inzamamul Haq) holding forth on the green soles issues and had been looking around for a clip of the programme to make its way to the net. But apparently, Mr. Jahil Online (JO) actually said the same thing himself in his first programme back, on January 29, which has been blogged about by a number of other people including Teeth Maestro and Nadeem Farooq Paracha in Dawn.

Here's the clip from that programme (the bit about the green soles is between 3:30 and 4:15):

As JO points out: "Yeh belief ki baatein hain, yaqeen ki baatein hain, aql ki hujaton ko poojnay waalon ko kabhi yeh baatein samajh nahin aayein gi." ('These are matters of belief, of faith, those who worship at the altar of reason will never understand them.') Damn right about that, you silly superstitious little twit.

But if propounding silly superstitions were the only thing this moron did, it would be easy to ignore him (though not of course Geo and Jang which provide him with the platform to take his twitdom to the public at large). No, he uses his platform to far greater effect. Remember, this is the same man who had called on air for Salman Rushdie to be killed (which led to his expulsion from the MQM) and for Ahmadis to also be targeted. He has now spent two full programmes about the Dr. Aafia Siddiqui episode, interviewing her mother and sister in a manner that can only be termed calculated to provoke religious zealots.

I don't want to get into the content of the programmes at this time but even the ad for the programmes, splashed on the front page of The News and Jang, can provide a fair inkling of it.

The ad reads: "Amreeki adalat mein Pakistani beti mujrim qaraar... Mutaasib jajon ke janibdaraana faislay par aik pur-istaqaamat maan aur pur-azeemat behen ki istaqlal aur azm se bharpoor guftagoo." ('Pakistani daughter convicted in an American court... A discussion full of commitment and resolve with a steadfast mother and determined sister about the biased decision by prejudiced judges.')

Now, that's what you call objectivity, innit. To be frank, I don't know the real truth about Aafia Siddiqui's case, there are issues that need to be resolved (was she actually arrested in 2008 as claimed by the Americans or had she been detained illegally - as the notorious "Grey Lady of Bagram" - since 2003? Did she actually try to kill her American interrogators or is this a purely fabricated case? What was her actual link with Al Qaeda? What's become of her two children not yet recovered? etc etc etc) and she may indeed be a victim of human rights violations perpetrated in the name of the "war on terrorism." But does that give JO and the largest media group in Pakistan the right to pass judgement all by themselves? Forget that, ostensibly, what does a 'religious' programme have to do with a legal case... On what basis is this judgement being made? The opinions of an obviously traumatised mother and an irritatingly self-righteous sister who seems to be hiding a lot more than she is divulging?

And what about this news, published in the Jang Group's own English paper? According to it, the Taliban have threatened to execute an American soldier if Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is not set free, their demand coming after  Dr. Siddiqui's family approached them to put pressure on the US. The Taliban commander had this to say to explain the call for her release:

"“We tried our best to make the family understand that our role may create more troubles for the hapless woman, who was already in trouble. On their persistent requests, we have now decided to include Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s name in the list of our prisoners in US custody that we delivered to Americans in Afghanistan for swap of their soldier in our custody,” explained the militant commander.
He claimed family members of Dr Aafia told the Taliban leadership that they had lost all hopes in the Pakistan government and now Allah Almighty and the Taliban were their only hope. Later, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also called The News from somewhere in Afghanistan and owned a statement given by the Taliban commander."

There is far more to this case than meets the eye. But will Dr Aafia's sister continue to hold that the family has no connections with militants in Afghanistan? You can bet that JO will never be asking her this question.