Friday, July 30, 2010

Cigarette Break of the Day

From the Pakistan Post, New York.

A picture is worth a thousand words, wouldn't you say?

Why Look For The Black Box When You Have Saaleh Zaafir?

The Jang Group in general and The News in particular are just so lucky. On their staff they have someone who is not only a fearless and insightful reporter who is never one to shy away from bulldozing his opinions on to the public no matter how whacked out they may seem to those reading or listening, but as it turns out, also an accomplished mechanical engineer, a forensic detective, a flying expert, possessor of Superman-type X-ray vision and a psychic. Imagine getting all these qualities for the price of one salary!

I refer of course to the awesome Muhammad Saleh Zaafir who has humbly revealed all the above-mentioned skills in his piece in The News today as part of his "eye-witness" account of the Airblue crash yesterday. Don't quite believe me? Let me offer you a guide.

The great man himself

The back-page item in The News is titled "I Saw The Plane Just Before Crash", which sounds authentically Mr Zaafir, grammar and all. You may argue that lots of people saw the plane just before the crash, since it was flying low over Islamabad, but then the lots of people do not have the skills that Mr Zaafir possesses.

"I was sitting in the outer veranda of my house in the lap of the Margalla Hills on the fateful moments of Wednesday morning. It was heavily overcast and rain was pouring in, as I heard the boom of a plane flying on exceptionally low altitude parallel to seventh avenue with less speed that was heading towards the hills and I could, in less than a second, imagine that the plane was going to face some devastation because in no manner it was higher than the peaks of lush green hills."

See? Not only is Mr Zaafir able to hear the "boom" of a low flying commercial airliner, he deduces from the sound that the plane is flying "parallel to seventh avenue." Only experience can teach you that. But that is not all. His razor-sharp detective mind takes "less than a second" to "imagine" a devastating end for it. Don't believe for even less than a second that most people who saw the low-flying plane might have feared the same, this is real psychic power.

"Strangely the engine noise was depressed and one could assess that it was flying without required power." 
You have to be in awe of a man, who while chilling on his veranda, is able to detect that the engine of "booming" plane is "without required power." Respect.

"Next second I heard huge bang and as I returned to my room, I came to know about the inevitable crash of the plane. Later, it was revealed that the plane was of a private airline."

Okay, so it seems Mr Zaafir never actually saw the plane, since he only talks about sounds, but that just makes his extra-sensory powers that much more acute. It might also seem that Mr Zaafir's inability to put two and two together - that he needed to return to his room, presumably to catch the news on TV, to figure out what the "huge bang" was all about - betrays some weakness of mind. But you'd be wrong. All it shows is the maturity of a veteran journalist, who does not rush to conclusions. And most psychics focus on the bigger picture, so not getting the tail-markings of the plane is no big deal.

"The planes to be landed at Chaklala airbase must have their approach away from the Faisal Avenue and Faisal Mosque and their direction should be towards Rawalpindi but the ill-fated plane was flying in opposite direction. To my assessment the plan was out of control of the pilot, as he was trying to move away from the city. The Margalla top where the plan crashed is hardly three kilometres from the Presidency, Prime Minister’s House and the Parliament House."

This is where Mr Zaafir reveals his flying expertise. Okay, so he gets a minor fact wrong and commercial airliners do not in fact land at the military Chaklala airbase, but Chaklala is right next to Islamabad airport so it's irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. The point is Mr Zaafir is not only able to diagnose engine problems of flying aircraft from his verandah but also able to peer with his amazing X-ray vision into the cockpit of such aircraft. Incidentally, this Karachi edition report, stupidly cut out a major revelation that did appear in the Islamabad edition of The News. Mr Zaafir was actually able to tell that the pilot had been "overpowered", presumably by a dastardly evildoer. I don't understand why he has not yet been drafted into the official investigation team. He could be like that "empath" Forrest Whitaker character in Species, able to feel things nobody else can see. Thankfully, the Karachi edition did not cut out the implied connection Mr Zaafir makes with political issues. Just a word to the wise, that's always been Mr Zaafir's motto.

"Well placed aviation sources told The News later that the pilot was in constant contact with the Air Traffic Control (ATC) of Chaklala airbase. The radar had throughout been guiding the pilot but it was failed in issuing warning to him that he had entered into a wrong terrain. The radar helped him in avoiding Kahuta but the radar could not detect it heading towards the hills without gaining required altitude. The probe and Black Box recording will establish what was transpired in last conversation of the pilot and the control room."

Mr Zaafir didn't really need to refer to anonymous "well placed aviation sources" for information that basically everyone had already reported directly from the Civil Aviation Authority (minus the Chaklala / Islamabad airport mixup) but I believe this just shows his innate humility. I also think he is being unduly self-effacing by referring to the probe and the black box recordings. We all know that Mr Zaafir already has all the answers.

"The sources say that the pilots who fly to and from Islamabad are always advised to stay away from the Margalla hilltops..."
Now this may sound counter-intuitive to lay readers; that's why we should be glad to have Mr Zaafir's breadth of expertise and of course his incisive sources.

"..and in case they have to fly over the federal capital, they are to essentially fly at least two thousands feet higher than the top. In case the pilot fails to keep away from Kahuta approach, he is required to take right turn over the Rawal Lake or if the turn is on the left, it must be clear of the Margalla Hills. No pilot is supposed to cross the Jinnah Avenue parallel to the Blue Area. The ill-fated plane not only crossed the red line but again it did not assume the required altitude in the area where low flying means death and destruction."
 Further proof, if any were needed, of Mr Zaafir's in-depth knowledge of flying, especially in Islamabad. My only complaint is that our self-effacing eye/ear-witness ends with this feint:

"It is a mind-boggling puzzle for the aviators what forced so experienced pilot to cross the red line and why the radar failed in offering correct guidance to him."

Come on Mr Zaafir, don't tease us at this tragic time. Just tell us what I am sure you already have pieced together on your verandah.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Going For A Leak

I have such mixed emotions about the WikiLeaks expose of the Afghan War Diaries and so many strands of thought that I want to pursue that this is going to be a difficult post. But I'm going to try and present at least some of them in as coherent a manner as I can. I hope you will bear with me. For my own sake (and probably for readers' sake as well) I will break up the different strands with sub-heads.

Is The WikiLeaks Expose A Good Thing?

Generally, yes. Any puncturing of the facade of unaccountable power is a great thing in my book. But particularly when it involves exposing the reality of a conflict that very few outside the conflict zone have even a basic understanding of, it is invaluable. We are fed so many lies by governments and the hand-in-glove media that narratives that challenge those fabrications and lead to questioning among the public are the only way to challenge that hegemony.

However. There are a couple of things which also bother me about the recent leak of apparently over 92,000 previously secret files. The first is based on taking the leaks at face value. As most of us know by now, the secret documents are mostly raw field intelligence reports, that is they are the reports filed by Western soldiers on the frontline reporting incidents, interactions and intelligence culled from various sources. These were meant to be internal documents for their superior officers. Not only do they reflect the competence and biases of the soldiers writing them up as well as contain cover-ups (after all, soldiers don't want anything bad to reflect on themselves in front of superiors), they have not been verified, double-checked or passed up through a filtration process that assesses their credibility via other sources. So, yes, there is a vicarious thrill to seeing what things are like for soldiers on the frontline or how a military operates in such a situation, and there may be very useful information to be gleaned from them, but in and of themselves, they are not terribly helpful for the average reader to understand what is actually going on. Readers who take these reports at face value - as most readers are tending to do - are likely to mire themselves further in the "fog of war" rather than cut through it, to paraphrase Mahir Ali in Dawn today.

As a parallel, imagine for a moment having access to an investigative reporter's notebook that details every observation, every possible lead, every interview, every hunch, every rumour or remark heard. Many of these leads, hunches and rumours could be simply false and not all observations, interviews and overheard remarks are helpful in clarifying the story. Now imagine having access to the notebooks of thousands of reporters working on the same story and believing everything as true. That is the danger of treating these documents as gospel, just because they were classified as secret and have now been leaked.

Julian Assange: mystery man

The second thing that makes me uneasy is WikiLeaks itself. I know this will probably sound terribly conspiratorial, but I cannot say with 100 percent surety that it is not all part of some grand psy-ops strategy: you know, build up an institution with calculated cred boosters (e.g. the leaked Iraq helicopter footage) and then use it to release info you want to release. It's not like it has never been done before, although of course never on a global level. Okay, I know I'm probably sounding like a nutter now but bear with me. Yes, I've read the wonderful profile of maverick Julian Assange (the driving force behind WikiLeaks) in The New Yorker, but I never quite understood the over-dramatized cloak and dagger stuff. Are we really being asked to believe that a man as publicly recognizable as Assange, who jets from continent to continent, can escape being tracked by international security agencies? Or that WikiLeaks, which claims to run entirely on donations (including credit card donations), does not have a single bank account or money transfer that is trace-able? Really?

Ok, forget my questions about WikiLeaks. Is it really beyond the realm of possibility for WikiLeaks and Assange, no matter how pure of heart they are, to be used by psy-op warriors wanting to put certain things out in the public realm? Are we really being asked to believe that 92,000 plus secret documents can be easily smuggled out of the Pentagon (on a Lady GaGa CD, no less, if some reports are to be believed) without anyone having any inkling? Anything is possible I guess but the probability on the other hand is a different matter.

Forgive me for being a doubting Thomas and slightly cynical. But these are the reasons I would not take the leaks at face value even as I accept the mining of the data for useful information. I hope my doubts about WikiLeaks are misplaced though.

Do We Learn Anything New in the Leaks?

I guess the answer to this depends on how much you know of Afghanistan and how much you have followed the story of the conflict there. For most old hands, there is nothing sensationally new in the documents (at least from what has come to light so far). But you do get a lot of details and a very good idea of the way much of them are covered up. For example, the number of attacks on Coalition Forces (CF) and the far larger number of civilian casualties than have been reported previously. Or the almost comic attempts of American soldiers to win hearts and minds among the local populace. And most of all you understand in the minutae why this conflict will end unsuccessfully for the US.

Is This The Smoking Gun Against Pakistan?

In one word, no. The allegations against Pakistan's military establishment for playing a double game in Afghanistan may well be true (I will come back to this later) but these documents do not prove it. At best they remain allegations. Most of the documents detailing the ISI's backing for the Taliban are, as already pointed out, based on questionable intelligence sources, either Afghan intelligence operatives (who have well known hostility to the ISI) or paid informers (who have a vested interest in selling sensational stories). Some of them are plainly laughable, such as the alleged ISI plan to poison Western forces' beer supplies. According to the intel, the alcohol was going to be purchased from Miranshah in Waziristan - yeah, right! - and Peshawar, mixed with poison and then airdropped and trucked into Afghanistan for Coalition Forces to consume (it would seem from this that the CF are quite keen on the FATAbrau brand and short of their Budweisers).

One of the most respected Afghanistan experts and a former European Union deputy head of mission in Afghanistan, Michael Semple, had this assessment to make about the reports in The Guardian (by far the most level-headed assessment I have read so far in the Western press and certainly worth reading in its entirety):

"Although most of Afghanistan's trade comes through Pakistan and Pakistan was the main place of refuge for Afghan refugees during the 1980s, the most popular way of establishing credentials as an Afghan nationalist has long been to denounce Pakistan as the enemy.
Among the 180 reports of ISI interference, most are drawn from informants or briefings from the Afghan intelligence service, who describe in lurid detail direct involvement of ISI officers in trying to wreak havoc inside Afghanistan. The bulk of them can now be dismissed as unreliable either with the benefit of hindsight (they warn of impending disasters which never happened) or on the basis of implausibility (conveying details the source could not have known) and because they fit in with a pattern of disinformation (stories constructed from recurrent themes and familiar characters).
One set of informants most likely passed on these reports because they found there was a market for them. More politically motivated informants, such as those Afghan officials who supplied briefings which US personnel later wrote up as intelligence, probably wanted to strengthen US backing by turning the US against Pakistan."

It is important to reiterate that most of these intel reports have not been been verified or confirmed as correct. The one exception to this (as far as I can tell so far) may be a Polish intelligence report about an allegedly ISI-backed impending attack on the Indian consulate in Kabul a week before it happened. That intel was apparently corroborated by US intercepts of communication, which were presented to the Pakistan government by the CIA Deputy Head Stephen Kappes.

Which brings me back to the issue of whether the ISI (or at least elements within it) really is involved in backing the Taliban in Afghanistan. There has been enough chatter around the issue for one to believe that there may be some kernel of truth to the matter. I have no proof and none has been conclusively presented but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to support the thesis - after all, could the insurgency succeed without backing from any quarters in Pakistan? But putting your realpolitik hat on, try and think about it slightly differently. There are two questions:

Q1. Is the ISI's double-game directed against the US or against India, whose influence it is trying to counter in Afghanistan? I am no fan of the ISI and its shenanigans but given the mindset of the Pakistan army and the agency's mandate, would it not be completely understandable for it to work to undermine Indian influence on Pakistan's western flank? And who would be a more logical partner than the opposition to the government that it believes is completely in India's pocket? And it's not as if Indian intelligence agencies do not have their own goals in Afghanistan and have not actively pursued the objective of marginalizing Pakistan's interests in the country. Now, you may argue that the problem is that by using the Taliban to undermine Indian influence, the ISI would necessarily be pitting itself against US interests as well. And you may be right. But I am willing to bet (if this hypothesis is true) that the ISI believes it can limit the fallout - it would probably be as wrong as it has been in the past with such things but it would still believe it.

Q2. In strategic terms, is Pakistan hedging its bets vis a vis the Taliban, so entirely shocking? Given past history of US involvement in the region, given how badly the US war in Afghanistan has gone, given the history of broken promises regarding safeguarding Pakistani interests in the region (vis a vis India) and given the increasing domestic pressure in the US to pull out, is it entirely surprising if Pakistan should? Especially if it feels the US will eventually leave behind a mess like the last time it pulled out? Especially if it fears that once the US forces move out, it will have to confront hostile neighbours on both sides?

Now, I should clarify that I would be the last person you would think of as a Taliban supporter. I am merely attempting to argue within the security state paradigm, the way the military probably is thinking about this. It's not something I like (because of what the Taliban represent and what the other repercussions would be on Pakistan) but given the geostrategic imperatives of the region, it is something I can almost understand.

The biggest irony about the WikiLeaks saga is that while the documents may not have provided any smoking gun of Pakistani backing for the Taliban, the dismay in Western (particularly US) audiences over the failing war effort will almost surely lead to increasing pressure on their governments to pull out forces sooner rather than later...which would help entrench Pakistani military opinion that backing the Taliban is the sensible thing to do, as an insurance policy for the coming mess.

We are screwed either way.

So, Why The Inordinate Focus On Pakistan?

I wanted to end this post with my assessment of the possible game plan around the leaks. Particularly a comparison of how a marginal media player such as The Guardian has presented the findings as opposed to the major media player, The New York Times, since the two vastly different takes tell us a lot about the stakes involved. Plus how the issue has been dealt with by other media players in interested areas such as India. But this post is already too long and I am completely exhausted. So I will defer this portion for another separate post (or perhaps an update on this one) when I am slightly refreshed. Till then.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Disastrous Reporting

Tragic air crash in Islamabad this morning. More than 150 people died when Air Blue's Karachi - Islamabad flight went down on the Margalla Hills while coming in to land. Fog and rain suspected to be the culprits, though obviously exact causes yet to be determined.

No tragedy, however, is big enough that a few misguided souls cannot subvert through their unmitigated idiocy.

Exhibit A: ARY reporters take away identity cards from crash site to show on camera as a scoop. Geo reporter threatens that his cameraman has two ID cards of the deceased as well. So what if we can't show bodies anymore?

Exhibit B: Someone wonders on a blog if the crash could be a conspiracy to turn public attention away from the fake degrees issue.

Exhibit C: Geo believes it's important that an animated loop of a plane crashing repeatedly into hills and going up in a fireball is important to drive home the story. Particularly for friends and relatives of the deceased. (Thanks to alybaba who recorded and sent us this video.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Silly Season

Two bits of silliness from the Pakistani media today.

The first comes from Geo Online (thanks to Huma Imtiaz for pointing it out). Please note the illustration to go with a factual report about a European study that shows that "Further education helps reduce memory loss."

Yes, that would be Homer Simpson. I wonder if the graphics guy is the same who passed off a map of Tolkien's fictitious Middle Earth as a map of Waziristan on Geo News for ages...

The second bit of silliness is from the Express Tribune which carries on its back page a potentially very interesting report about a Pakistani scientist who analyses forensic data from suicide blasts. I say 'potentially' of course because ET's reporter and/or subeditors manage to turn the story into a bit of a funny farce.

For example, this is how they present one aspect of the findings graphically:

Yes, that caption reads: "Just by changing the way a crowd of people stand near a suicide bomber can reduce deaths by 12 per cent." Lovely. I'm sure people would just love to be arranged properly around a suicide bomber.

But wait, there's a slight problem. According to the article:

"The analysis also shows that announcing the threat of a suicide blast in a crowd could result in higher casualties."

...Mainly because people tend to stampede "in one direction", ostensibly away from the suicide bomber, instead of waiting to be arranged in the right formation, stupid gits.

Oops. So the trick would be to get the people to arrange themselves in the correct formation without really knowing that some of them (those not in the 12 per cent) were about to be blown to smithereens. Hmmmm. The actual substance of what the scientist is saying is far more nuanced I can assure you.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Power Struggle at Express TV

We'd held off on posting about the changes at Express TV and Dunya TV - even though it has been some time now - in order to confirm the exact circumstances that led to Express TV's News Director Fahd Husain resigning and moving to Dunya. But there are still a few details that have eluded us. So, we're posting in the hope that one of our illustrious readers can fill them in.

Fahd Husain: standing his ground

The basics of the change that we have been able to confirm are as follows: About a month ago, Express TV ran a story by its reporter Imran Khan which painted a particular Lahore policeman in none-too-flattering light. The policeman had been caught on tape doing something (we're not quite sure whether it involved torturing a suspect or accepting a bribe, we haven't been able to get a copy of the report) which threatened his career prospects. Unknown to the reporter and the rest of the staff at Express, the said policeman was a relative of Abbas Athar, the editor of Urdu Daily Express and the titular overall head at the Express TV channels. Some of you may know the veteran journalist Abbas Athar, who co-hosts his own programme Kaalamkaar on Express TV and is also the person responsible for coining (as a sub-editor) the infamous "Idhar Hum Udhar Tum" line for a newspaper heading, commonly and mistakenly attributed to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

In any case, once the report began airing on Express TV, the aforementioned policeman called up his kin at the channel beseeching him to have the report stopped. Abbas Athar then called the News Director Husain, asking him to have the report killed. To his credit, Husain refused, citing the irrefutable proof contained in the footage. Having tried other avenues as well to block the report from further broadcast, Athar then in a fit of pique wrote out his resignation and went home. The report continued airing the whole day.

Subsequent events are more murky. According to one source, Lakson Group head honcho Sultan Lakhani then stepped in and tried to get Athar to change his mind and even ordered Husain to go to Athar's house to apologize and placate the veteran. This version of events is denied by Husain himself and other sources who say no apologies were involved. There are also claims that Dunya TV had already been courting both Athar and Husain before this fiasco and saw in it a perfect opportunity to step in. According to one source, a Dunya TV car was parked outside Athar's house for two days after news of events reached the outside world.

However events actually transpired, the end result of the power struggle at Express TV was that Husain ended up resigning (according to some, he was forced to resign as a compromise) and moving to Dunya TV as its Director News, while Abbas Athar rescinded his own resignation and is now back at Express. The entire drama did not take longer than one or two days.

Abbas Athar: Did he say "idhar hum udhar tum" to Fahd Husain?

Internally, staffers at Express TV were told that Husain had been asked to choose between his current affairs show Centre Stage and his administrative job as Director News because the latter had been suffering while the ratings of his show had also apparently gone down. As of yet, Husain does not have his own show at Dunya though he did make his first appearance on air as co-anchor during the breaking news about General Kayani's extension of service.

No news on what, if anything, happened to Mr Athar's compromised relative. I guess, if this proves anything, it is that the 'independence of the media' only goes so far.

P.S.: We would be happy to update this post if any of our readers have something substantial to add. You may also email us with details or proof if you would rather retain your anonymity.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why A Time Delay on Live Calls Is A Good Idea

If you don't know the television phenomenon known as Mathira, you have obviously been living on a different planet than the rest of Pakistan for the last two years. Or at least the rest of lewd, young, male Pakistan in any case. Starting off as a limber-limbed yoga instructor on morning TV and moving on as a deliberately coquettish veejay on Vibe TV, she soon became the one reason some people religiously watched that channel. She also became known as the "Gujji Gujji Girl", a title derived from the gibberish combination of sounds she adopted as her takia kalam for some unknown reason, right before she usually blew a kiss to her excited / excitable audiences. She has entire sleazy blogs and a number of Facebook fan pages devoted to her, and probably more Youtube clips than you can count and now hosts a show (probably aptly) titled "Love Indicator."

Mathira: suggestive enough for you yet?

A friend sent me the following clip from Vibe TV with the claim that this must be a first for Pakistani TV. Unfortunately, it isn't. Although I have not been able to identify the timeline for this particular clip, in a quick search I came across at least two or three similar instances of live calls gone wrong from other programmes involving Mathira... which suggests to me that this may be some sort of policy of sleazy leniency encouraged by the head honchos at Vibe.

In any case, just in case you think the mainstream channels are where the action is at (it isn't, believe me, try also some of the Sindhi and Punjabi entertainment channels), here's the clip that should explain in general terms why a time delay on live broadcasts is generally a good idea. At least if you're not into encouraging a certain sort of viewer interaction...

I have to say, however, that, for whatever it's worth, one must admire the poise of Mathira. She should not have been put in that situation in the first place but she handled it as best as she could on live TV. Somehow I don't think this is the last time she'd have to do it.

Song of the Times

Stumbled across this hilarious gem of a song by legendary Indian composer Madan Mohan from the first film he ever composed for. The film was Aankhen, the year was 1950. The singers are the vocal giants Shamshad Begum and Mukesh. The song is timeless, and nothing if not pertinent to Pakistani politics these days.

By the way, the news today is that Sindh University has asked the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to be given further two months (TWO MONTHS!) to verify the degrees under its purview. That can mean one of two things. One, that the Sindh educational bureaucracy is really as inefficient as everyone thinks it is. OR. Or two, that after failing to delay the inevitable coming to light of fake degrees by using all manner of underhand pressure tactics (such as blackmailing the HEC Chairman by arresting his brother and raiding his home and threatening other education department staffers), the government has decided to employ this latest tactic of postponing the issue. I really don't feel like discussing this complicated and sordid business any further (yes, it's not a simple black and white case as columnist Mosharraf Zaidi eloquently explains here). But I am quite happy to make light of it, for God knows we need some light in our lives.

So here's to you, Babar Awan.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pakistan Loves Animals, It Really Does

Our friend Ahsan at FiveRupees had once done a post on his blog about the curiously fanatical predilection of Pakistani internet surfers to surf the world of dark erotica, so to speak, more than any other country in the world. You know, not the usual hardcore porn that everyone else is surfing for around the globe, but porn of decidedly unusual tastes. We can confirm, from the kind of searches that have led readers to our blog, that there's a strange, strange world out there, and even stranger are some of the people who mistakenly land up at Cafe Pyala in search of their unusual fetishes. Think of your favourite Pakistani political celebrity and pair their name with the kinkiest of your fantasies and you'll be getting a sense of the kind of stuff we see all the time.

Now it seems the rest of the world has cottoned on to the decidedly bizarre thought processes of the Pakistani public. Here is what Fox News recently reported via the Associated Press:

No. 1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches? Call it Pornistan
By Kelli Morgan
Published July 13, 2010 |

Pakistan has banned content on more than a dozen websites because of offensive and blasphemous material. The Muslim country, which has laws on dress codes, ranks as the top country to proportionally search for certain sex-related terms.

This article was updated on July 14.
"They may call it the "Land of the Pure," but Pakistan turns out to be anything but.
The Muslim country, which has banned content on at least 17 websites to block offensive and blasphemous material, is the world's leader in online searches for pornographic material, has learned.
“You won’t find strip clubs in Islamic countries. Most Islamic countries have certain dress codes,” said Gabriel Said Reynolds, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame. “It would be an irony if they haven’t shown the same vigilance to pornography.”
So here's the irony: Google ranks Pakistan No. 1 in the world in searches for pornographic terms, outranking every other country in the world in searches per person for certain sex-related content.
Pakistan is top dog in searches per-person for "horse sex" since 2004, "donkey sex" since 2007, "rape pictures" between 2004 and 2009, "rape sex" since 2004, "child sex" between 2004 and 2007 and since 2009, "animal sex" since 2004 and "dog sex" since 2005, according to Google Trends and Google Insights, features of Google that generate data based on popular search terms.
The country also is tops -- or has been No. 1 -- in searches for "sex," "camel sex," "rape video," "child sex video" and some other searches that can't be printed here.
Google Trends generates data of popular search terms in geographic locations during specific time frames. Google Insights is a more advanced version that allows users to filter a search to geographic locations, time frames and the nature of a search, including web, images, products and news.
Pakistan ranked No. 1 in all the searches listed above on Google Trends, but on only some of them in Google Insights.
“We do our best to provide accurate data and to provide insights into broad search patterns, but the results for a given query may contain inaccuracies due to data sampling issues, approximations, or incomplete data for the terms entered,” Google said in a statement, when asked about the accuracy of its reports.
The Embassy of Islamic Republic of Pakistan did not reply to a request for an interview.
In addition to banning content on 17 websites, including, Pakistan is monitoring seven other sites -- Google, Yahoo, Bing, YouTube, Amazon, MSN and Hotmail -- for anti-Islamic content, the Associated Press reported in June.
But it’s not to censor the Pakistani people, Reynolds said. It’s to shut out the rest of the world.
“[It] could lead to conversion, which would undermine the very order of the state,” he said. “Part of protecting the society is making sure that there is no way it could be undermined in terms of foreign influences.”
Pakistan temporarily banned Facebook in May when Muslim groups protested the “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” page, where users were encouraged to upload pictures of the Prophet Muhammad. The page remained on Facebook, but Pakistani users were unable to view it, said Andrew Noyes, manager of Facebook’s Public Policy Communication.
And while Pakistan is taking measures to prevent blasphemous material from being viewed by its citizens, pornographic material is “certainly” contradictory to Islam, too, Reynolds said.
The country’s punishment for those charged with blasphemy is execution, but the question remains what -- if anything -- can be done about people who search for porn on the Web.
“It’s a new phenomenon,” Reynolds said."

I had once thought about doing a post about some of the searches that led people to Cafe Pyala but gave up the idea after I realized that it would probably lead to scandalizing decent people for no fault of theirs. All I can add to the report above is that Professor Reynolds is dead wrong about this being a "new phenomenon." Long ago, at the beginning of the net revolution in the country in the 1990s, Pakistani ISPs realized that were they to start filtering out sex sites (not that it would be possible in totality in any case) their traffic (and hence their revenues) would face a major downturn.

But why blame ISPs for the repressed fantasies of the common user? Pornography has been at the cutting edge of internet usage all over the world and continues to be the single biggest revenue earner in cyberspace. The only question that really is worth asking is why Pakistanis are so sexually repressed in their public life that their only outlet is on the net? And yeah, what is up with that bestial shit?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Turnaround Party

Nawaz Sharif seems overly fond of cake. Having it and eating it all at the same time, that is.

Nawaz Sharif: the paragon of naivete? (source: AP/ Dawn)

How else to read the latest somersault by the PML(N) over the anti-media resolution passed in the Punjab Assembly? Accord to Dawn's report:

"After about 24 hours of an unrelenting attack from the media, political parties and others, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif finally spoke out in a damage control exercise on Saturday and denounced the resolution adopted by the Punjab Assembly against the media. Mr Sharif criticised the role played by Sanaullah Mastikhel, the PML-N legislator and mover of the resolution, and said that “such people should be thrown out of the party”.
Speaking at a press conference in London, the PML-N chief said that Mr Mastikhel should be kicked out of the party by Shahbaz Sharif. While saying this, Mr Sharif appeared to have forgotten that Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab, was also present in the assembly when the resolution was passed by his party’s MPAs."

So basically this is the party line: We hate fake degree holders, no wait, we hate the media that exposes fake degree holders much more, it should be ashamed of themselves, and in fact more than parliamentarians, it's journalists and generals whose degrees should be checked, no wait, we love the media (and the army), those who condemned the media (and said bad things about generals) should be thrown out of the party, they betrayed the leadership, even if that leadership tacitly supported them... no wait...

No wonder the PML(N) rank and file are a confused bunch.  But you know this is not the first time the Sharif brothers have done this. Remember the Taliban biyaanbazi? Ahson Iqbal may protest all he wants about how Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif's near-pleading, conciliatory statement to the Taliban not to attack the Punjab (at least while the PML(N) was in power there) was misunderstood and twisted, but everyone and their aunt understood what he really meant at the time. And that was certainly not the first instance of its type either.

What Nawaz Sharif and his party seem to specialize in, it seems, is a convenient form of amnesia which has stood them in good stead in politics so far. But you know what they say about fooling all the people all the time?

Nobody is saying that politicians can never commit mistakes or that every other politician (or non-political leader) is a paragon of virtue, but if the PML(N) wants to be taken seriously for a 'different' form of politics, it really needs to stop acting innocent about its own u-turns. And it REALLY needs to stop its hemming and hawing on crucial issues.

After Paul the octopus, can we now have a Zardari-hating kangaroo?

So a German octopus has been more adept at predicting the outcome of matches in the football World Cup than a thousand highly paid human pundits. And now the eight-tentacled Paul has competition from Mani, a parakeet from Singapore, a female octopus, Pauline, from Holland, an Estonian chimpanzee (Pino) and an African Red River Hog.

Paul: just one of many oracles

Almost as exciting as speculation about the ultimate winner on Sunday is the parallel side match between these oracles from the animal kingdom: for example, Paul has wrapped Spain in his tight embrace, while his feathered rival has pecked Holland. Should a gambler now rush to be smothered by Paul, go for Mani in the hope of feathering his nest, or hog the limelight with the African beast?

I have it on good authority that Geo has cottoned on to this exciting development and has decided to embark on a new cost-cutting. crowd-pleasing drama. Negotiations are currently under way between the leading media group and a bewildering array of animals, minerals and vegetables, to take over the slot vacated by Dr Shahid Masood. Geo is now apparently talent-hunting for a creature who goes hysterical and loses his marbles every time the name Zardari is mentioned. According to inside sources, a kangaroo who punches anyone who says the 'Z' word is tipped for the coveted slot. The only problem is that kangaroos don't particularly scream too much or have any particular ideological affinity to General Hamid Gul. The other main candidate is a big fat bee that not only drones on and on but unfailingly stings PPP sympathisers on prime time as a divine sign of imminent doom for their party.

Highly unreliable sources claim that a top channel has also hired Kaka, a Lyari mule, to spot a fake degree from a mile. The animal is known to kick wildly in the air when someone's degree is from a dodgy online university ('Dr' Babar Awan and 'Dr' Aamir Liaquat got the treatment in a pilot study) and expel a load of dung when the degree in question is a downright forgery. When confronted with the newly re-elected honourable PPP member from Muzzafargarh, Kaka is believed to have contracted severe diaorrhea. As they say on PIA, apna Dasti samaan saath le jaana na bhooleye.

Not to be left behind, other channels have also got in on the act, with Samaa torn between hiring a screeching parakeet or a hyena to replace Meher and Jasmine, and ARY negotiating with a chhipkali to take over from Dr Danish on his night off without too many people noticing the swap. Not only can these creatures screech or slither on cue, but they can tell you the exact date on which we will be rid of this fascist democracy and get a good, decent authoritarian regime in its place. 

Express TV was talking to a big bug-eyed right wing creature but discovered that he is already on their staff and is ostensibly human. He goes by the name of Javed Chaudhry. Aaj continues its search for a fish oracle that witnessed a brave Pakistani journalist's exploits aboard a Gaza-bound flotilla attacked by Israelis. The creature is meant to leap up in the air every time Talat Hussain is within a half-mile vicinity and scream " death to Israel".

Unfortunately, Geo got there first. The cuddly, extremist-spotting blind dolphin from Sukkur that was witness to that episode during its Mediterranean holidays, was about to bag a major slot on the Jang Group's channel, but has developed certain irreconciliable differences with Hamid Mir. The normally peaceful creature, blind fool that it is, even developed shark-like tendencies and attacked poor Ansar Abbasi the other day. Mr Mir would prefer to hire an ostrich who can't spot a Taliban horde even if it is hit on the head by one. Sadly, the big bird has opted instead for a senior position in the Punjab government.

Any ideas about novel animals our channels can hire to liven things up?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Of Media Ethics and Access

So I've still been thinking about the whole General Stanley McChrystal affair. No, not about the vibrancy of American democracy that has the confidence to remove a celebrated (and some believed indispensible) soldier getting too big for his britches (they've done it before). No, not even about what it means for the US' Afghanistan adventure that seems best to be characterized as floundering. No, what I have been thinking about is the whole rigmarole around the fact that it was a freelance contributor writing in a non-mainstream publication (at least in the sense of it not being one of the foremost purveyors of political coverage in the US) that managed to pull off the biggest scoop of the year. And its parallels for the media in Pakistan.

If you haven't followed the whole media circus after the story broke in Rolling Stone, briefly, Michael Hastings the freelancer whose reporting of McChrystal's and his aides' impertinent remarks about the American civilian leadership and civilian control over the armed forces led to the general's fall, was vilified by some big names within the mainstream media. Among them New York Times pundit David Brooks and CBS News' Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan. Their contention, in a nutshell, was that he had 1) broken an unspoken code of conduct whereby embarrassing things about the American military were never published / broadcast and 2) he had had the freedom to report such things because he was only doing a one-off report and was not looking to gain repeated access to such high level operatives. 

Of course such mealy mouthedness has received a suitable backlash from other people within the American media as well. You can read a from-the-gut visceral response to Lara Logan by Matt Taibi in Rolling Stone (appropriately titled "Lara Logan, You Suck") as well as Amy Davidson's  defence of Matt Taibi's rant here in the The New Yorker. But perhaps the most telling of all was this op-ed by Frank Rich in the New York Times titled "The 36 Hours That Shook Washington" which encapsulated the issue at the heart of the media flap:

"There were few laughs in the 36 hours of tumult, but Jon Stewart captured them with a montage of cable-news talking heads expressing repeated shock that an interloper from a rock ’n’ roll magazine could gain access to the war command and induce it to speak with self-immolating candor. Politico theorized that Hastings had pulled off his impertinent coup because he was a freelance journalist rather than a beat reporter, and so could risk “burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks.”
That sentence was edited out of the article — in a routine updating, said Politico — after the blogger Andrew Sullivan highlighted it as a devastating indictment of a Washington media elite too cozy with and protective of its sources to report the unvarnished news. In any event, Politico had the big picture right. It’s the Hastings-esque outsiders with no fear of burning bridges who have often uncovered the epochal stories missed by those with high-level access. Woodward and Bernstein were young local reporters, nowhere near the White House beat, when they cracked Watergate. Seymour Hersh was a freelancer when he broke My Lai. It was uncelebrated reporters in Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau, not journalistic stars courted by Scooter and Wolfowitz, who mined low-level agency hands to challenge the “slam-dunk” W.M.D. intelligence in the run-up to Iraq."

The more I think about it, the more I believe there are some real lessons to be learnt from this. Now, the first part of Hastings' denigrators' contentions against him probably tells you more about the mindset of the mainstream US media (and a certain sort of "patriotic" journalist anywhere) than anything else. But specifically it is the latter contention that Pakistani journalists might do well to think about, since it encompasses even sincere, generally truthful journalists: the desire - in the paraphrased words of Politico - "not to burn bridges" with important contacts. How many of us compromise on the truth to preserve our "access" to the corridors of power?

Certainly, in a country such as Pakistan where information - even straightforward information - is difficult to get from official sources, reporters must mine contacts within power. But where exactly does one draw the line? Particularly if one's own source could be undermined through the information one has picked up. Of course, the issue of media owners' vested interests in certain centres of power is also inextricably intertwined with this issue. Food for thought.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Deluded and Confused

Another day. Another brutal massacre of innocents. Is there anything to say about the horrendous suicide attack on the Data Darbar in Lahore last night that has not already been said a million times before?

Of course one could always point to the apathetic response to the previous major terrorist attack against the Ahmadi mosques in Lahore to show how callous indifference to the persecution of vulnerable communities has a habit of coming back to haunt us. But even that is something that should surely be already on the mind of any right-thinking person. The issue is not one of security lapses at all - as some are mistakenly emphasizing - the issue is a more fundamental one.

I don't wish to go into the grisly details of the attack and its tragic aftermath. Instead, what I would like to share with you are a couple of things. The first of these is a portion of an interview of author and journalist Mohammed Hanif, on Kamran Khan's special series of programmes (which are running as a substitute for his normal programme while he is away on vacations). The portion you need to hear lasts from the beginning till about 5:25.

Now, keeping in mind what Hanif says, read this news item from the Associated Press. In particular:

"But on Friday, few Pakistanis interviewed saw militants at the root of the problem.
"America is killing Muslims in Afghanistan and in our tribal areas (with missile strikes), and militants are attacking Pakistan to express anger against the government for supporting America," said Zahid Umar, 25, who frequently visits the shrine, where 180 people were also wounded.
Pakistanis are suffering because of American policies and aggression in the region, said Mohammed Asif, 34, who runs an auto workshop in Lahore. He and others said the attacks would end if the U.S. would pull out of Afghanistan.
Several other Pakistanis interviewed blamed the Ahmadis, a minority sect that has long faced discrimination in Pakistan. On May 28 in Lahore, gunmen and a suicide squad targeted two Ahmadi mosques, massacring at least 93 people, and some Pakistanis claimed the sect must have been seeking revenge.
Others cast about for additional villains — though America's hand was seen there, too.
Washington "is encouraging Indians and Jews to carry out attacks" in Pakistan, said Arifa Moen, 32, a teacher in the central city of Multan."

Today, on Geo news, I also heard the Barelvi Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) - holding a rally outside Memon Masjid in Karachi - blame the Data Darbar terrorism on "Blackwater and Qadianis." And I wondered, is there any hope for us at all?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Judicial Positioning

Here's some more 'ah zat! addled yeah' for you.

The Chief Justice Lahore High Court Khwaja Sharif decided to take time out from his "35 to 37-year-old friendship with the Sharif brothers" - his own words - to give his opinion on the Pakistan Peoples Party's agitation against former Sindh Inspector General Police and fugitive from law Rana Maqbool's appointment as Prosecutor General in the Punjab Government (recall that Rana Maqbool is a proclaimed offender in a case in the Sindh High Court for allegedly torturing then inmate Asif Zardari).

According to various reports, the unbiased and independent judge announced at a public gathering of lawyers in Hafizabad:

"If someone cannot digest that, he should part ways with PML-N government in Punjab."

Good to know that, while Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah's in London, someone's got the PML(N)'s back. I mean, if friends can't watch out for your interests, who can? Or dare we say it's a case of putting one's mouth where one's boti is?

If you can bear the incessant shouting and periodic forays into tangential party rhetoric from the participants, here's Samaa's Newsbeat tonight on the issue:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4