Monday, August 30, 2010

Pak Cricketers Ke Naam

After the anger comes the poetry. Apologies to those who do not know or understand Urdu but abhi taaza taaza arz kiya hai, Mir ki zameen mein...

Faqeerana aaye, kamaa kar chalay
Mian khush raho, hum tau khaa kar chalay

Ye akhbaar waalay ajab loag hain
Jo sara maza kirkira kar chalay

Jo utray thhe maidaan mein dhoom se
Barri shaan se dum daba kar chalay

Kissi ka bhala iss mein jaata hai kya
Agar ik qadam hum barrha kar chalay

Jo hum ne buzargon se seekha tha kal
Wahi daao hum aazmaa kar chalay

Ye spot-fixing barri cheez hai
Jo cricket ki naao duba kar chalay

Faqeerana aaye, kamaa kar chalay
Mian khush raho, hum tau khaa kar chalay 


Long-time readers of this blog would know that it's been a while since I last posted anything about cricket. In fact, my last cricket-related post was all the way back in May, which was right after the leakage of the inquiry committee hearings into our humiliating tour of Australia, and even that was about the alleged hygiene of the cricketers. Simply, I saw no point in endlessly moaning and whining about their abysmal failures as sportsmen and the even more abysmal state of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)'s management.

But how on earth could I possibly ignore what has now happened? It has shaken most of Pakistan, and perhaps the entire cricketing world, to its core.

(Just in case, highly unlikely, that you are reading this from a different planet, here is what happened. And here. And here. And here. I don't have the stomach to repeat it.)

Mazhar Majeed: Mr Fix-it-All (source: NOTW)

But what can one really say any more that has not already been said? Two of the most comprehensive and well-written Pakistani responses by Five Rupees and Dawn blogger Farooq Nomani have probably said it all. Nomani's piece's title actually says it all: "How Low?" Seriously, the only response I really want to make, is the response I made when I first became aware of the story as it broke: Fuck them, fuck them all. Apologies for the crudeness, but there is simply no other way to convey the feeling one has having once again placed one's hopes and faith in someone, after having been burnt and let down before, only to again see the futility of it all. This was supposed to be the side that one was supporting through its dark times because it was in the process of rebuilding with young blood!

Green with Greed: (L-R) Asif, Butt, Amir, Akmal (source: NOTW)

I mean, if the worst flood devastation in our history were not bad enough, if millions of people without shelter and food and clothing were not bad enough, if the prospect of the country going economically under were not bad enough, if the barbaric mob violence and apathy in Sialkot were not bad enough, if the continued brutal 'target killing' of poor labourers and political activists in Karachi were not bad enough, if the continuing alienation of the Baloch were not bad enough, if the Taliban atrocities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the global war being fought in the Tribal Areas were not bad enough, if the terrorist attacks all over Pakistan were not bad enough, if the abuse and massacre of our religious minorities were not bad enough, if the apathy of our elite and establishment were not bad enough, we have to contend with this petty and shameless greed rubbed in our face as well?

Can we get a fucking break?

Incidentally, for those who are spinning this as a concocted ploy by the English press always out to 'get us' or holding out hope that there is no conclusive legal proof to convict 'our boys', I have just one thing to say to you: get your heads out of your asses. People in the know and even sports journalists were talking about Kamran Akmal and others being on the take for quite a while now - hell, during the Edgbaston Test one former cricketer even made similarly correct predictions about upcoming overs as detailed in the sting operation by The News of the World now, based, he said, on 'rumours' he had heard - the only difference was nobody had this kind of proof. And nobody was willing to bell the cat.

You know the old saying about chickens coming home to roost? That's what has happened to us. In every single awful thing that has happened to Pakistan recently that I have mentioned above. In this particular case, as Five Rupees puts it:

"I would argue that one of the main reasons we find ourselves in this mess is that we didn’t take care of business when we should have, in the mid and late 1990s. Everybody else did. The Saffies banned Cronje, and took stern action against everyone else (Herschelle Gibbs was banned temporarily for the mere fact of not disclosing that his captain had asked him to partake). The Aussies punished Shane Warne and Mark Waugh for disclosing weather information. The Indians banned Azharuddin and Jadeja. What did we do? We swept everything under the carpet. Only Salim Malik was banned, and really, his career was over anyway. Everyone else involved, including guys like Wasim Akram, were given light punishments, mere slaps on the wrist, despite overwhelming evidence against them (Ata-ur-Rehman wrote a sworn affidavit in which he alleged that Wasim asked him to bowl badly). Why did we do this? Simple, because we were afraid of what it would do to our cricket team. Rightfully so, I might add, since everyone from Wasim to Waqar to Inzi to Mushie was involved, in some way. But we took the shortcut then, and are paying for it now, because by not punishing it, we encouraged it."

Catch Them Young: Fixer Majeed hands over jacket with cash to Wahab Riaz, left, while Umar Amin looks on (source: NOTW)

There are bound to be questions raised about how the team selection may also have been manipulated to ensure the 'right kinds' of people in the team. Why for example had the Pakistan team become mainly a Central Punjab XI, why were certain undeserving players like Wahab Riaz (also implicated in this scandal) brought into the team above more deserving bowlers, why Afridi actually walked out of the captaincy (according to the alleged fixer Majeed, most of the players "wanted to f*** up Afridi because he's trying to f*** up things for them"), why there was such a haste to send the new wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider home (a report today in Jang claims that not only was he not given the customary 'test cap' he was handed a ticket back as soon as he came out of the clinic even though he had he had been hopeful he would be all right in a few days), why perennial keeper-in-reserve Sarfaraz Ahmed was not called up even if Haider had to be sent home, and why certain players like Fawad Alam continued to be kept out of the playing eleven.

But let's not kid ourselves that the current sorry lot at the PCB would ever be willing to tackle these questions or take the drastic structural actions required. They are part of the problem, not the solution. And no change can come about unless you recognize how deep the rot runs.

The worst part is not even that all of this shit is happening to Pakistan. The worst part is we steadfastly refuse to learn from our own history.

CNN Tells the Truth, Inadvertently

Thanks to Ali K. Chishti for sending us this...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Not So Reluctant Editorialists

I know I may be going out on a limb here but what IS up with Pakistani English fiction writers becoming the prescriptive messiahs of Pakistan?

I mean, I know that novelists are storytellers and there's nothing as powerful as a good storyteller to bring out the humanity of such a massive disaster as the current floods - often drowned in dry and incomprehensible statistics - for a wider reading public, especially outside Pakistan. And some, such as Daniyal Mueenuddin, have done an admirable job of painting pictures with their words, (Incidentally, here's a well-written critique of the American press' obsession with the Taliban taking advantage of the floods, that many readers have taken to be a critique of Mueenuddin's piece, which to be fair only pandered to this obsession right at the end). But since when did Pakistani English language novelists, most of them with only a book or two to their names, become the "experts" on Pakistan's politics, economy, sociology, and everything else? So much so that you would be hard-pressed to find a piece on Pakistan by a Pakistani in the New York Times or other Western English newspapers not written by a Pakistani fiction writer.

The Usual Suspects: (clockwise from top left) Hanif, Mueenuddin, Sethi, Shamsie

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy a well-written piece as much as anyone else (though some of the pieces recently appearing don't even fall into that category - Ali Sethi, I'm thinking of you) and I can understand the Western press' natural reliance on people who can string together a sentence in English. What I find inexplicable is the total reliance on a handful of mostly urban elite, mostly thirty-something writers to explain everything about Pakistan, to the exclusion of almost anyone else (aside from the official line periodically trotted out by the Husain Haqqanis and the Wajid Shamsul Hasans). You want a piece on feudalism? Let's go to Mueenuddin (he's a farmer after all). You want a piece on corruption, let's ask Sethi. The music scene? Mohsin Hamid. Attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team? Kamila Shamsie. Afghan refugees? Mohammed Hanif. The Ahmadis? How about Bapsi Sidhwa? At least Mohammed Hanif can claim to be a reporter who has covered Pakistani politics for years. And I am sure these writers reflect upon their country and have quite intelligent things to say about a variety of topics. But are they the only people who do / can? What about activists, political economists, musicians, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, sports journalists... you know, the people who actually work in these fields and do the research? Or for that matter, why not poets or writers in 'native' languages who have far greater experience of "the Pakistani condition"? (If Marquez for example wanted to submit an op-ed in Spanish about Colombia, don't you think the NYT would get it translated?)

But the problem is not just that the pool of op-ed writers being drawn from by Western publications is small and stereotyped. The more insidious problem is that some of these writers end up believing their own hype and think they actually have it all figured out, going beyond humanizing stories with anecdotes and observation to presenting solutions. So we have Shamsie blaming these floods on the timber mafia (yes, deforestation is a factor but certainly does not explain the entire gamut of devastation caused by the floods, most of it in areas where timber theft is not really a factor), Hanif trying to make a point against the Taliban scare by claiming that there is no indigenous word for terrorism in Sindhi or Seraiki (really? and Pushto does?) and Mueenuddin raising the spectre of the radicalization of and revolution by the displaced and hungry to explain why those people should be helped out.

But a special place in all this must be reserved for Mohsin Hamid, whose every article on Pakistan seems now to be predicated on the belief that everything would be rosy in Pakistan if only everyone paid more taxes. What is perhaps even more strange is that it's a local publication, Dawn, that gives him pride of place on its op-ed pages to hold forth his economic prescriptions that under a little bit of scrutiny turn out to be mostly nice-sounding fluff. Here, for example is his solution to Pakistan's woes, from his latest piece in Dawn:

"Helping [the flood affectees] means taxes. We pay only a tenth of our collective income to our state, far less than most countries. India and Sri Lanka pay half again as much as we do. We need to pay more. We need a comprehensive flood tax programme. We need to cease our foolish bickering about whether taxes should be paid to the provinces or to the centre, by merchants or by landlords, on luxury goods or on shareholdings. The answer to these either-or questions is both. Let’s tax both locally and nationally, both trading and agriculture, both consumption and wealth."

Author Mohsin Hamid: obsessed with taxes

Yes, Mohsin, we know you were a banker and we know that Pakistan's tax collections are abysmally low. But could you go and check with any economist how much of what we do collect is actually utilized? And I'm not even talking about corruption here, the other favourite bugbear of armchair theorists. I'm talking about the state's lack of capacity in even making the most of what it has. It is a favourite pastime of the intelligentsia to moan about how Pakistan allocates only 1.5% of its GDP to education and health and how we need to raise this number manifold. All well and good, but what about the fact that more than 50% of even this meagre allocation goes un-utilized because the state does not have the ability to use it? Yes, of course there should be more schools for children and health units in the rural areas, but what about the fact that even the ones that exist are often without teachers and medical staff and supplies? Mohsin alludes to this major issue with the throwaway line, "if we can... then spend for our impoverished majority..." Ah, yes, great idea, it's a pity nobody ever thought of it before.

Could we move beyond the safe generalizations to understand the complexity of the issues? Or am I just being a Wish Maker?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Circular of the Day

ASS wiped out? (Click on image to read.)

How Much Money Has Your Channel Raised Today? (Updated)

A little (well connected) birdie told us something quite astounding.

Apparently a very well known businessman in Karachi received a call from a TV channel asking him to pledge a donation for flood relief during the channel's live telethon to raise funds. The gentleman demurred, saying that he had already given all that he had planned to give (and he has given quite a bit). In response, he was told to go ahead and pledge something anyway even if he was not going to give it. When the gentleman expressed incredulity at how this would work, he was told the channel would not hold him to his word. Under such 'assurances' that he would not actually have to pay up, the man pledged 500,000 rupees on live television.

It sure made for exciting television and a feel good time for all, except of course for those in actual need. Shocking and sad but kind of like all those international pledges that never materialize. Is anyone keeping tabs?

In case you're wondering, it was NOT Geo.

::: UPDATE :::

I have been pondering quite a bit since this morning about reader sabizak's rather spirited response to this post and came to the conclusion that she is absolutely right: I should have named the channel. In my defence, the only reason I omitted the name was 1) out of a journalistic instinct against potentially libelous claims, even though I admit that it would be difficult to prosecute us (as opposed to blocking us via court order ala Facebook) and 2) to protect our source. Being a blog does not absolve us of basic journalistic ethics, contrary to what sabizak implies later on, and we have always at least attempted to uphold such ideas in their spirit.

But I think she was essentially right because 1) if someone is being unscrupulous, they should be named 2) and even if our claims are challenged, they can only lead to the pledges made good on, if only out of embarrassment, which is ultimately to the flood affectees' benefit. A third reason, which arises from looking at the other comments is the speculation that resulted which tarnishes even non-dodgy efforts to raise funds.

So, yes, the channel was ARY. Kudos to those who guessed it / figured it out.

Meanwhile, another reader sidrat_a has told us (via Twitter) of a landowner friend who has not been affected by the floods but who is sheltering flood affectees from neighbouring villages on his land being approached by TV One to set up tents on his land. According to her, when he pointed out that he had adequate shelter to house the people on his lands, TV One refused to hand over food for the affectees as well unless they could set up their own tent city. Anything to get your logo out there.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Some Thoughts on Sialkot

To tell the truth, I had not really felt like writing about the Sialkot horror. There were a couple of reasons for this. One was that I really had felt numbed and sickened by the barbarism on display on our television screens. The only emotions I thought it would evoke in writing about it were one of despair and outrage, which would be all too predictable, and frankly I needed a break from despair and outrage. Secondly, I thought almost everyone had written what I would have wanted to say beyond the outrage in any case. (Here, for example, is an excellent post from FiveRupees that goes beyond the obvious to provide food for thought about what this horrific incident says about justice and the state.) And what would be the point of regurgitating. After all, it's not like we are or even pretend to be a blog of record, that is to say, we don't have to 'cover' all the news like a newspaper does, or at least should.

But I have come back to this incident because of bits of reported news and articles in the press. One is the call from many quarters, including the family of the killed brothers, to mete out similar brutal punishment to the perpetrators of this barbarism. The emotions are even understandable coming from the anguished parents who not only lost their two sons but were forced to see their horrific and graphic lynching repeatedly on television and in court. But there is a fundamental problem with such emotions coming from other ordinary folk, obviously as repulsed as all of us by what has happened. How is the call for a public beating and killing of the murderers, insensitive and cowardly onlookers and criminally negligent policemen and the dragging of their bodies on the streets, any different from what the mob did on August 15 in Sialkot? Isn't this emotion of vigilante vengeance exactly the problem?

I should point out that there is still some doubt about the exact circumstances of what happened prior to the lynching, if this report in The News is to be believed (which incidentally goes against all other reports so far). Let me be clear: nothing in the report in any way justifies the barbarism that subsequently was on display, but clarity about the circumstances might give us a better idea about what kind of monster we are dealing with, at least as far as the ones wielding the sticks are concerned. As for the onlookers and the police, we know what kind of monster we are dealing with there.

Secondly, there seems to be a lot of hand-wringing about how this incident could have happened in our society and what it says about Pakistan to the world at large. Let's not delude ourselves. This is not the first time people have been lynched in this country, whether it was over religion (various incidents where people accused of slighting the Prophet or burning the Quran, killed by self-righteous mobs) or for challenging traditional power structures (women killed by their families or on the order of jirgas for choosing their own life partners), or, as in this case, for allegedly committing crime (I recall quite clearly a case of two alleged robbers burnt to death by a mob in the Orangi settlement in Karachi a few years ago). The main difference this time round is that this time it was in our faces, on television in all its graphic visual and bloody detail, rather than recounted in tempered words in print. It's perfectly understandable to be shocked and repulsed. But let's not pretend it's never happened before.

The third reason I have come back to this incident is because of what MQM supremo Altaf Hussain said today. Basically, he not only said he would support "patriotic generals if they took martial law-like steps to take corrupt politicians to task" but also swore to "hang [exploitative] feudals from the trees, like they did during the French Revolution."

Now, there are a number of theories doing the rounds about why Hussain has said what he did, basically urging in most people's opinion, a military intervention (some believe this to be on the prompting of the military, some think the MQM believes another operation against it may be on the way and wants to preempt it, others feel it may be a fear of being swamped by a massive influx of flood affectees from Sindh). But whatever the reason, there is no doubt the troubling rhetoric is designed to be populist and demagogic. It plays upon the latent desire in all of us for that strong man on a horseback who can sweep away all our woes in an instant, for that elusive magic bullet. It has no truck with processes (how, pray tell, would another military intervention change social structures or ensure an end to power cuts, as MQM's Farooq Sattar seemed to imply in his boss' defence?) and stokes the desire for some form of swift and vigilante 'justice' that would immediately solve our problems.

And in that sense, it is a kissing cousin of the emotion that motivates those who believe the best way to answer vigilante barbarism is through equally brutal barbarism. At least in Sialkot one can call it an expression of frustration from those who feel powerless and impotent. When a political party promotes the same sort of mindsets, claiming as Sattar that it is merely "reflecting the voice of the people", it is abdicating its responsibility of making people understand why institutionalized processes, patiently nurtured, are in their own interest. It is going for short cuts to 'justice'. And we know how successful those have been in Pakistan's history.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


So, this is merely an administrative type post. Trust us.

Thanks to the millions of people... ok, thousands of people... ok, two or three anonymous commenters on the blog who wondered why Cafe Pyala's posts were not shared more widely on Facebook, we've finally created a page for ourselves on that darned social networking site. We don't really think it will make much difference - people share what they share - but at least next time someone asks us that question, we can throw this in their face. (The things we do to go one up on our readers.) Incidentally, not sure if you guys noticed or not but there's been a sharing hotlink to Facebook and a couple of other sites below each post for some time now.

In any case, if you're on Facebook, you can look us up on our Official Facebook Page. We're listed as, believe it or not, Cafe Pyala.

But actually what is kind of exciting about the Facebook page, purely from a tech point of view, is that it aggregates not only our blog posts but also our Twitter feed (@cpyala, yeah, we've kind of got used to that infernal thing too, though if truth be told it makes us waste even more time than we already did). We believe this is known as 'convergence' in techspeak. Not sure if it will make a darned bit of difference to us but it sounds cool.

So, if you're one of those people who find it a gargantuan task to open a new tab/window on your browser and actually mosey over to our blog because you're too busy checking out who's becoming friends with whom in your news feed, we've made things easier for you. You can stalk us equally easily as your crush from school.

So that's it. We're on Twitter and Facebook as well now. Told you this was nothing but administrative crap. You can go back to your bunkers now.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Discovery of Pakistan

First I would like to share with you all a letter we received from one of our readers, Saad Siddiqui, on August 7. It's written so well that I thought it best to just reproduce it here:

"Dear Cafe Pyala,
Last night -- for reasons I cannot explain to myself -- I found myself watching ARY News after 11PM. They were airing a live celebrity charity drive for the floods in KP, and had Shahid Masood on location in Nowshera. He was standing at a school where he could not get over the fact that the road behind him was precisely where [Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain] of KP lost his son. Anyway, the school was being used as a shelter for families, and Masood walked up to the principal of the school who seemed to be in charge. He said "Salam" and was greeted back with a "Aap ke aanay ka maqsad kya hai?" [What is the purpose of your coming here?] in a very indignant tone. That part threw Shahid Masood off so bad that he couldn't recover for the next hour or so, and went on to give everyone a textbook lesson on how NOT to report events/disasters affecting vulnerable populations. Examples include:
1. Bursting into a classroom full of families trying to sleep (it was almost midnight)  with his camera/light crew while the women hastily tried to cover themselves; keep in mind that he had earlier reported the school as housing families while single mard hazraat [men] without families slept outdoors.
2. Rifling through possessions of the displaced people and commenting on their lives with his own presumptions.
3. Saying "Yeh dekhein in logon ke paas kapray bhi nahin hain!" [Look, these people do not even have clothes!] and then having his camera crew zoom in to a child asleep shirtless on the floor.

All this at around midnight, and on repeat for many other classrooms in the building. Some very distressing scenes included women trying to get away from the light and trying to find their chaadars."

But the buffoonery of Dr S&M is not what I want to discuss today and, to tell the truth, his stupidities are not really a representative sample of the coverage of the floods we have been seeing on television on most channels. In fact, despite hiccups here and there, the coverage has been a vast improvement over the follies of the early earthquake coverage in 2005.

The scale of the devastation is almost unbelievable (Photo: Saood Rehman /EPA)

I have been wondering if it is even appropriate to be discussing problems with the media coverage of the floods at this time, given the scale of the on-going disaster and the generally commendable and all out efforts that channels have poured into raising awareness among the wider public about its impact. But I came to the conclusion that we would be remiss in not pointing out the issues at least in the spirit of constructive criticism. Particularly because some of the problems are getting more acute with the passage of time.

Consider the following instances of reportage to which I am a witness myself (in the interest of making this not about particular channels but about the larger issue, I am not indentifying the channels):

1. Flood affectees in Sindh complain to reporter about timings of food service (apparently 2pm for lunch, 11pm for dinner) and menu (only rice, no roti).

2.  Flood affectees being sheltered in a proper school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) complain about the stoppage of supply of pre-cooked food by the government, which has happened after authorities provided basic essentials like rice, lentils, oil etc to them so that families can cook food for themselves.

3. Flood affectees in Matta (Swat) who seem to have adequate food and shelter complain about menhgayi (inflation).

4. Flood affectees in a camp in Punjab complain that while they have received shelter and food, they haven't got monetary compensation yet.

5. Flood affectees in KP complain about the lack of reconstruction activities and demand they begin immediately.

6. Everyone complains about ministers not having visited them.

Now, I know things are extremely difficult, in some cases desperate, for those displaced by the floods - and hell, these floods have wreaked destruction on an unprecedented scale - but is our media making us into a nation of complainers and dependents? I mean, I have yet to see any coverage of the public - and I'm not talking of just these floods - where the presence of the camera and mike does not elicit a litany of random complaints. Please don't take this the wrong way: I know people have genuine grievances and in no way am I trying to belittle the tragedy that people are going through right now. But looking at the above cited instances, you have to wonder if the spectacle of people complaining is not, directly or indirectly, being encouraged by the presence of the media, irrespective of whether the complaints themselves make any sense.

Desperate flood affectees clamber for food in Nowshera (Photo: Behrouz Mehri / AFP-Getty)

With respect to the above, for example:

1) I mean, yes times are hard, relief workers are scrambling to meet the swell of demand, and there are even affectees who are not getting any food at all. Is a slight delay in the timing of food provision and the menu really the most pressing issue at the moment?

2) Isn't officials providing basic food items to the families so they can cook their own food a far better solution than providing bacteria-laden precooked food that has probably had to travel for miles in the heat? Why must both be provided?

3) Yes, inflation is a major issue. But it's not just flood affectees who are having to deal with it. This is hardly a tale of woe that the channel was hoping to show. Incidentally, it almost seemed that in the absence of dire examples of flood-related displacement problems, the people being interviewed felt it incumbent on themselves to complain about something.

4) Here's another instance of jumping the gun. Thanks to the media, we have come to expect that if your house has been swept away in the morning, you should have a compensation cheque in your hand by the evening. Often, the money assumes far more importance than everything else, including basic survival.

5) Reconstruction?? Hello, the flood waters have not even receded yet, the monsoon is still very much on and isn't the first order of business rescue and relief?

6) Ok so people want to see their representatives sharing their grief and the response of those elected has been largely abysmal, but is it even logistically possible for ministers, MNAs and MPAs to meet each and every displaced person? I am in no way trying to defend the lethargic response of government officials but won't channels always be able to find people who have not seen their elected representatives? And why is visiting the affected more important than ensuring the provision of services to them?

The problem of this kind of coverage partly has to do with the inability of television reporters to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. To provide the sort of contextual filter that print reporters often can. And also perhaps the unwillingness of channels to dilute sympathy-inducing reports or to waste footage that they have spent a lot of money to gather. But not every complaint is worthy of being aired. And the danger is that the airing of such obviously naive / superfluous complaints and resentments nurtures a babble that obscures the real issues.

Here, for example, is an excellent report from Dawn which provides a much needed layer of complexity to explain why many relief activities come to naught. Here is another which helps explain how unscrupulous elements can make it difficult for aid to reach those most in need.

But there is another problem which is something that channels must grapple with. And that is the naivete of city-based reporters covering rural or semi-rural environments. Simply put, many television reporters seem ill-equipped to understand the reality of much of rural Pakistan, which leads not only to certain idealistic assumptions, but also to an inability to separate fact from fiction.

Do city-based reporters even understand rural realities? (Photo: Khalid Tanveer / AP)

I have seen a number of reports covering the flooding of the 'kacha' (riverine) areas of Sindh that have never bothered to contextualize the fact that the kacha areas suffer flooding almost every monsoon season. The people who dwell there know this and expect it but the reports treated the flooding as if it were the first time the residents were being driven out of their homes. There is also no context provided about why so many more people are affected in the kacha / sailabi areas than in the past, how our hydrology works have actually shrunk river widths so that previously riverine areas are being mistakenly used for permanent settlements or how laws against permanent dwellings in these areas are no longer enforced thanks to a breakdown in state power.

Another anchor-turned-reporter expressed his shock that a local councillor in the Punjab had stated that the health and sanitation conditions of the communities in his rural area were nothing great to begin with. Now, one may genuinely be shocked at the conditions most of Pakistan lives in, but technically what the councillor said was not incorrect and has a direct bearing on what relief efforts can practically hope to provide. But somehow, the impression one comes away with from many of the reports is that without provision of bottled mineral water and top-of-the-line medical facilities, all is lost. Incidentally, this anchor-turned-reporter added that the unnamed councillor had also said that it was 'no big deal if the communities drowned.' I seriously doubt any official could have said this and it seems to me this was an exaggeration the reporter tacked on to bolster his indignation. If the councillor did actually say this, the reporter should have named him specifically. If he didn't say it, the reporter's inflammatory exaggeration is, of course, deplorable.

Another reporter summed up her report from a relief camp by beseeching the government to provide "secure houses with food" to the flood affectees rather than the tents currently made available. Does the reporter have any idea about housing in general in Pakistan? Or about economics and social indicators in the country? Or about the requirements of such a large-scale relief operation? It's one thing to express sympathy for the displaced and homeless. But can we at least stop living in la-la land?

'Hukoomat kuchh nahin kar rahi' (Photo: Behrouz Mehri / AFP-Getty)

It is a similar issue with the media quickly jumping on the Kalabagh Dam bandwagon at the prompting of certain quarters within the Punjab. Leave alone the inter-provincial issues of trust (which Umair Javed tackles in his blog here), this campaign - which claims to offer a solution - obscures the larger institutional issues that have resulted in this disaster, the lack of thoughtful planning, the lack of on-ground enforcement of existing precautions, the inability of the state to even work existing infrastructure, and the perennial habit of misdiagnosing problems leading to faulty solutions. Mushtaq Gadi had an excellent piece on this very issue in Dawn.

To sum up, these floods are indeed a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions which is going to have long-lasting effects on the entire country. And the tragic tales of death, displacement, disease and loss of livelihood certainly need to be told by the media so that other people, both within and outside the country, are made aware of the exact nature of the crises Pakistan is confronted with. But at the same time, the electronic media also needs to be a little more circumspect about how it reports what it reports and whether what it is reporting is actually adding to the sum of viewers' knowledge or simply confusing issues. A crash course about Pakistani rural realities for urban reporters may also not be a bad idea. At the very least, however, it needs to exercise more editorial control so that the information it is so commendably providing has a context and clarifies what needs to be done, rather than lead to a dispirited population and inflammatory but often vague rhetoric.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Unbelievable. Un-effing-believable!

I really have no polite words for this. I saw this flash on DawnNews and thought I must have been dreaming. Or that the channel must have got something wrong. But no such luck.

Here is the short report in Dawn of today's proceedings in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, still hearing a case against the 18th Amendment as the rest of the country copes with death, destruction and disease. Read it and weep. The operative part of that report is this:

"During the hearing, the federation lawyer said that the parliament's powers were limitless. Responding to that, Chief Justice Iftikhar said that limitless powers could secularise the country."

Yes I know all about the mis-translation into Urdu of 'secularism' as 'la-deeniat' decades ago and the confusion it has caused in ordinary people's minds ever since. But when the chief justice of the highest court is able to say things like this, probably with all the pseudo-gravitas he can muster, you have to wonder about the intellectual bankruptcy of this nation's powers-that-be.

Free Iftikhar Chaudhry!

And Aitzaz Ahsan believes this man is the saviour of Pakistan?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Water on the Brain?

You have to have a certain gift to so consistently put your foot in your mouth with unfortunate choices of metaphors.

The office of the President of Pakistan has sent out an official message from him on the occasion of 14th August, which begins with the following words:

“Today is a watershed mark in the history of the country..." 

As if this choice of words at a time when almost a tenth of the all Pakistanis are under water in the biggest floods in recorded memory were not bad enough, please look at the phrasing his message writers then manage to come up with:

“The enthusiasm of the Independence Day this year however has been dampened because of the unprecedented floods..."

Dampened??? Did they actually say this without any sense of irony? You might be forgiven for thinking some juvenile was giggling away in the office while coming up with such atrocious puns. But you may be forgetting the way with words the PPP spokesperson Farahnaz Ispahani has. Remember, it was she who claimed recently in an interview with CNN that the criticism of President Zardari's trip to his French chateau and the UK at the time of such devastation in Pakistan from torrential rains, "would turn out to be a storm in a teacup." Five Rupees has a post on that particular episode, with the clip, here.

On the other hand, why blame Ms Ispahani, when her boss himself comes up with gems such as "storms will come and storms will go" on the same trip.

Can we say that Zardari and his advisers seem more than a little wet behind the ears? Or would we be then accused of being wet blankets?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Geo?

As the Geo versus government row rages on, one depressing truth is emerging from the stand-off: the virtual black-out of the issue from a majority of the country’s newspapers and television screens.

Of course, in the papers belonging to the Jang Group, notably Jang and The News, the showdown occupies prime space, threatening to push even the most devastating floods in our history off the front page. For those who do not read these papers or watch Geo (by choice or by default), the issue might as well not exist. Save the odd Dawn editorial and a blog on the Express Tribune website, there is only an ominous silence all around.

This is perhaps the most alarming aspect of the whole situation. It is as if rival TV channels are relieved at having rid themselves of the dominating presence of Geo, and newspapers competing in a tight market for readership and advertising revenue are secretly happy to see Jang and The News hit hard times. Have the big media groups reached a point where they see their rivals as a bigger threat to them than their common enemy, an increasingly authoritarian government bent on shielding itself from criticism?

This is not to say that the groups currently under attack are themselves any less ‘sectarian,’ so to speak. Even during the crisis, Geo and the Jang Group tried to hijack the entire issue and were in denial about ARY, which was also under attack. ARY, meanwhile, were just as mean-spirited and continued to pretend that only they were the victims. Meanwhile the miniscule Royal TV, also targeted, was ignored altogether.

The protests organized by journalists against the ban were also uneasy affairs, and cameramen from the rival channels were at pains to capture footage where the other’s presence or logo was obliterated. Thankfully, as the blockage of channels continued, one could see a softening of this hard line, with The News eventually mentioning the ARY three-letter word in its front-page reports and editorials. ARY could not do the same against its bitter (three-letter) Geo rivals because the poor guys don’t have a paper of their own.

All this pettiness on the part of the brave new media is truly breathtaking. Surely, when two channels are blocked in parts of the country and newspapers are set alight and offices besieged by intimidating hooligans waving ruling party flags, isn’t it time to shun these differences and put up a united front? No such luck.

In private, many journalists and media persons are far more ambivalent about the current crackdown than they were about the blackout of channels under General Musharraf in 2007. There is whispered grumbling about hidden agendas and the Jang Group getting out of hand and going over the top against Asif Zardari at the behest of the establishment. There is resentment over Geo and the Jang Group papers constantly setting a particular type of news agenda. Many question not only the journalistic ethics behind the anti-Zardari obsession of the group but also see it as a threat to democracy. In short, there is a strong element of “they asked for it” in the overall reaction to the present crisis. But even if we accept that they asked for it, where do we go from here?

The simple remedy for any aggrieved party upset over television’s excesses is to sue the buggers. Why does the government not go down that road? Well, the judges are all establishment plants and hate the PPP and will never come to its aid, the party’s current siege mentality tells them. So why not enlist more savvy people to defend your policies on TV than Fauzia Wahab? Why not forcefully expose the hidden agendas allegedly at work on certain channels in an articulate and reasoned way?

If you are unable to do that, at least avoid major faux pas, like taking helicopter rides to your French chateau as the country literally drowns, among dozens of others. Most importantly, build enough trust and rapport with your voters, the hapless people of Pakistan, to inoculate yourself against ideologically inspired attacks from the media. Instead of doing all this, the familiar banner of ‘democracy in danger,’ is being raised again. In place of an effective strategy, you now have goons to defend your policies by taking direct action against the media. Most democratic, I must say.

Privately, a major section of the PPP is currently avoiding eye contact with media persons and mumbling, off the record, that, ‘we shouldn’t really be going down this MQM road.’ Perhaps this bumbling lot should learn a lesson or two in the art of blocking TV channels, attacking newspaper offices, burning newspapers, intimidating hawkers and cable operators and then innocently claiming they are the victims rather than the aggressors, from their junior partner in the Sindh coalition-of-mutual-loathing. The Karachi-based party is in the enviable position of successfully muzzling the press without ever fearing they will be named or blamed. The amateurish PPP, on the other hand, is likely to be the ultimate loser in this showdown.

Meanwhile, the last time I looked, ARY was back, at least on my cable network, but the Geo void persists at least on my screen. That void by the way is important to fill, regardless of what you think of Geo’s excesses, ethics or line. And this is not about some abstract belief in absolute freedom of the press. Geo’s absence is disturbing, for me at least, because I think we need a critical voice in our midst in these bleak times. Most other channels, despite their occasional anti-govt whining, seem more susceptible to pressure and often seem willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt at key moments. I never thought I would admit this, but I for one sorely miss Geo, even if for all the wrong reasons.

By allowing the government to get away with this ban without so much as a whimper, rival media groups are being short-sighted in the extreme. If there is no joint front on an issue as fundamental as this, and if the government emerges the victor in this battle, be prepared to go down that slippery slope of ‘constructive’ criticism and all that it entails. This is that sterile world where you would think ten times before doing anything defined as ‘non-constructive’ and ‘irresponsible’ by the government (or military junta) of the day. Do remember that even before this crackdown, the other rival groups, including those espousing a liberal ethos, refrained from telecasting or printing the defining image of the month: that helicopter hovering menacingly over that French chateau as thousands fled their more modest abodes in the face of the country’s deadliest flood...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pakistan's Ramzan and Its Discontents

Can people just stop with the pointless sms-es and emails wishing 'Ramadan Mubarak'? I mean, you hear from all manner of random people who you never hear from - or wish to hear from - the rest of the year (except also at Eid of course) and all it does is increase revenue for mobile phone companies and clog up bandwidth and  inboxes. Yes, I'm sure you are excited about fasting and wish to spread the cheer all round but as far as I'm concerned, all I see is ill-tempered drivers on the roads, office staff with bad breath (whoever said you cannot brush your teeth or use mouthwash while fasting?) and people who believe it is a God-given right to blow off work for a whole month. The Pakistani version of the holy month seems generally to involve all the things that the month is supposed to be against: a sense of entitlement, extremism, impatience, insensitivity and hypocrisy.

Isn't is also just a little bit cruel to be joyful about fasting when so many hundreds of thousands are going without food - without choice - because of the devastation of the floods? (Incidentally, by the principles of Islam, fasting is not contingent on displaced people in such situations.) So instead of the sms-es and emails, I would much rather see the same people doing something to help with the relief efforts. All Things Pakistan has a good post here about how you can help. Oh, and while you're at it, please stop with the enforced Arabicization, it's always been Ramzan in Pakistan, thank you very much.

Here's one email I got recently, forwarded from some Taliban mindset outfit in the UK trying to be hip:

Please note the injunction against listening to music and "useless activities" (which include television, phones and computers). How about an injunction against inculcating Taliban mindsets in the garb of religion?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Burn, Baby, Burn?

First a couple of disclaimers.

1) I don't like Asif Ali Zardari. I think he is a venal, ill-educated and ruthless man who should never have risen to the position of power he is currently in. It is the tragedy of Pakistan that it must contend with the stupidity, arrogance and insensitivity of "leaders" like him.

2) I think the government's crude attempt to muzzle Geo by forcing cable operators to take the channel off air, by burning copies of Jang and threatening newspaper hawkers who carry it is just plain wrong and needs to be resisted by all who believe in a free media.

I have explained where I am coming from for the simple reason that what I am about to say next may fly in the face of conventional wisdom, or at least the overwhelming consensus that seems to have been manufactured in the country. And make no mistake, it is a manufactured consensus.

I may not like Asif Zardari as a person but it does not take away from the fact that he is the elected president of the country. And people can say all sorts of things about the shambolic nature of a democracy that resulted in him being elected president, but those were the rules everyone agreed to play by and those are the rules we have to accept. And the reason I bring it up is that much of the manufactured consensus against him in the media is implicitly or blatantly a refusal to accept those rules.

Zardari with Cameron (Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth / Reuters)

Let's take the case of his trip to France and England which has been the source of much of the venom spewed against him. Should he have undertaken the trip at this time, with UK PM David Cameron's pointed barbs in India against Pakistan preceding his trip and the floods wreaking such devastation across Pakistan? No. The former demanded a sense of dignity from any self-respecting leader and the latter simply a sensitivity to public perceptions.

But even though we know that it was really the former issue - and Asif Zardari's ignoring of the entreaties of even his own Foreign Minister - that really pissed the establishment (read military) off, what we have been constantly hearing is that Zardari should have been taking care of the floods situation at home.

Nowshera, July 30 (Photo: A Majeed / AFP-Getty)

Really? What exactly would Zardari have done in Pakistan? This is a man who does not even venture outside his presidential palace, unless it's to his bunkered home in Nawabshah, and who has never even once visited the frontline of the battle against the Taliban in two years, and we expect him to be directing flood relief efforts? And more importantly, didn't he just hand over all executive power under the 18th Amendment, making him just a figure-head president? Isn't PM Yousuf Raza Gilani at least correct in his rhetoric that he is the chief executive of the country and it is he who is responsible for directing relief efforts? Him and the provincial chief ministers who seem to have got away pretty unscathed so far. Yes, Zardari failed miserably on the optics and in basic decency, but does anyone seriously believe that the floods' devastation and the ineffectual state response would have been ameliorated by Zardari being in Pakistan? I don't think so. But that is the constant refrain we now hear as if it is the gospel truth, particularly on Geo.

Taunsa near Multan, August 1 (Photo: Khalid Tanveer /AP)

So Zardari was an insensitive ass. But is that such breaking news that the media focus shifts entirely to undermining him? Were he not the president, would the suffering of the affectees of the biggest floods in Pakistan's history be any less? Would the administration become super-efficient? Isn't the issue of the inherent lack of capacity of the Pakistani state to deal with such crises a bigger issue than Zardari and his jaunts? Criticise him by all means but is a man chucking a couple of shoes in his direction really a bigger story than the tens of millions displaced from their homes? Or have we become so blinded by our rage and the cult of personality that we are willing to jettison all sense of proportion?

The question then becomes, to what end is this consensus being created? You only have to watch Aaj Kamran Khan Ke Saath to get a clear sense of the game that is cynically being played.

Here's a clip of last night's programme. Watch from 5.10.

Here's the other myth that is being perpetuated: that the flood relief efforts that the army is undertaking are somehow divorced from the government's response, almost, it would seem, in opposition of government directives. Is the army separate from government? Isn't the military hardware being used in the airlifts and food drops, as well as the soldiers, paid by the government and people of Pakistan? And to take nothing away from the brave work of the jawans who endure hardship and danger to rescue people and provide them food, but why are we being made to feel that the army is doing the people of Pakistan a favour? As if this were not really their job but are doing this only out of the goodness of their hearts?

Does the building up of the army's reputation come always as the cost of undermining civilian reputations? The tragedy for Pakistan is of course that its stupid civilian leaders play exactly according to the script. And only seem to prove their cluelessness with interventions like this:

What will such a demolition, in public perception, of everything other than the armed forces mean for Pakistan? Is that what is intended? Are we destined to go back to Square Zero every time?

But coming back to the issue of Geo's forced blackout: as much as I oppose it, I for one am not buying into the claims of hurt innocence that Geo is now loudly proclaiming. Yes, the government has responded in typical hamhanded fashion and has probably added fuel to burn itself. But was Geo simply reporting news as an unbiased and neutral observer? Does it have no hidden or obvious agenda? I think we all know the answer to that, at least in our hearts.

You could also do worse than read this assessment in The Independent by Chatham House fellow Farzana Shaikh. It is probably not something you will see quoted with relish on Aaj Kamran Khan Ke Saath.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Video of the Day

Floods. Devastation. Killings in Karachi. Fake Degrees. Fake Relief. French Chateaus. British Shoes. What will it take to get our mind off the negativity for a moment. Perhaps this can. And I am willing to bet anything that this is the most surreal video you will see this weekend. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Jaahil Offline, Enter Super King

You can generally tell where a media organization is headed by the kind of people it hires in a moment of crisis. And ARY - which has really suffered in the last year or so because of competition from newer channels like Dunya and Express - really seems to be plumbing the depths to snag the worst "talent" on offer on Pakistani television.

As if appointing conspiracy nutcase Dr S&M as President of the network were not scraping the barrel enough, ARY's latest "golden catch" is the amazingly insufferable Aamir Liaquat Hussain, formerly of Jaahil Online and currently spending his gap weeks selling ghee. The Haji seths of ARY seem to think the way to get Geo's viewership is to buy off their nutcases. (I wait with bated breath for Saleh Zaafir to make the transition.) The publicity hungry fake doc will begin his stint on the network in Ramzan.

Offline, but a jaahil nonetheless

But perhaps even more intriguing is how Geo managed to rid itself of the poisonous buffoon.

According to inside sources, there had been an ongoing tussle for quite some time between Geo owner Mir Shakilur Rahman (MSR) and his Karachi American School- and Babson College-educated son Mir Ibrahim Rahman (MIR) over Mr Jaahil himself. Mir Ibrahim was said to have been incensed particularly after Aamir Liaquat called Ahmadis wajib-ul-qatl (liable to be killed) on his programme and the strong denunciation that followed from civil society. However, MSR, for reasons best known to him, resisted his son's plea to remove him from the channel. In many matters of business, MSR just did not think the young MIR was experienced enough.

A couple of things seem to have made MSR finally relent. One was his discovery that Aamir Liaquat - who apparently used to snivel for raises every six months or so - was in negotiations with ARY. Secondly, the ratings of Jaahil Online had actually plummeted in the past few months, which made cutting ties relatively painless business-wise. A tangential element in the whole episode was probably that MIR, who had gone away for a year for an MBA a Masters in Public Administration course at Harvard, had come back and made his dad uber-proud with his achievements, the evidence for which was the almost full page of The News and Jang devoted to MIR's praise and graduation speech, among other things (nice to own newspapers, isn't it?). Simply put, son had earned the right to have his way.

Whatever the reasons for throwing a charlatan out, I guess better late than ever.

Meanwhile, guess who takes over Aamir Liaquat's duties to make money for Geo during special Ramzan iftar broadcasts? Believe it or not, host-of-his-own-show on both television and radio cum washing powder seller extraordinaire to housewives, Sahir Lodhi. In addition to being the brother of Dr Shahista Wahidi (the host of the morning transmission on ARY Digital) and thinking of himself as Shah Rukh Khan, this is how his biography on his own website describes Lodhi:

"Sahir heart throb of millions of people. Glittering face of Pakistan has a fan frenzy appearance, He is successful but his success story is as same as any run-of-the-mill around. Once while interacting with young students at a school ceremony, he expressed, “I pray for you all that one day you become Sahir Lodhi or better…” Sahir always articulates common man’s language. Over his life, he has always believed in making so many people one people. His fans, not cynically or ironically but with fervent and zealous love, refer to him as a Super King."

Super King Aalim Online?

Well, Super King seems to fulfil at least the super-size ego criteria that Geo's Ramzan programming hosts seem to need to satisfy. Seriously though, bizarre as it may sound, Sahir Lodhi's Jay Leno-inspired show on TV One has apparently one of the top ratings for its time slot. Could this be the precursor for a permanent shift to Geo? Can he manage to get the daagh on (at least some of) Geo's religious programming out as easily as he did while selling Ariel in the streets?

Meanwhile, even as Super King gives his Geo screen test, the search is on for a replacement for the programme now without a host. Some interesting (read: out of the box) names are also apparently in the mix. Watch this space.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Did Jemima Let The Cat Out?

Hmmmm. Please have a look at what Jemima Khan recently Tweet-ed (thanks to emailer MissingRomance who alerted us to it):

"I now travel with 3 ipods in place of children- my two boys and my teenage stepdaughter en route to Spain for a week."

7:28 PM Aug 3rd via UberTwitter

Could the "teenage stepdaughter" be anyone other than Tyrian Jade, Imran Khan's always-denied child with the recently deceased Sita White? Unless, of course, there's something about Jemima's past we are not aware of.

Interesting that while politician Imran Khan continues to deny fathering any children other than his two sons with Jemima, his ex-wife seems to be a better human being than him.

Just to clarify things for those who are sure to go into paroxysms of morality about this, personally I don't think it is anyone's business if Imran Khan does have a child from outside marriage. But if he does and has been denying this only out of political hypocrisy (mainly because he positions himself as the irreproachable flag-bearer of Islam), then it does become other people's business.

Hmmmm. Perhaps Imran can leave the matter up to the tribal jirga system to adjudicate.

::: UPDATE 1:::

Reader Nadir Hassan has pointed me towards this link of the news of Imran Khan announcing that he and Jemima had, on the request of Sita White before her death, taken Tyrian Jade into their guardianship. Of course, it still doesn't explain why a guardian would call her charge, her step-daughter. But there you go.

::: UPDATE 2 :::

Now another reader Shahid Saeed points out that Imran had denied even becoming Tyrian's guardian to Daily Times' former Washington correspondent Khalid Hasan. Oh boy. This story is more tortuous than Imran Khan's political convictions. Point remains however that Jemima referred to a hitherto unacknowledged step-daughter.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Photo of the Day

This awesome photo from the Behrain and Madiyan area in Swat comes from a tweet by user MerlinUK who took it with a cell phone camera.

Gives you an idea of the kind of destructive power these areas were subjected to, doesn't it?

As If Fake Degrees Were Not Enough

So Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani goes to Mianwali and distributes cheques to affectees of the recent floods there at a medical relief camp. Except, the medical relief camp is fake - it was hastily established in a school for the sole purpose of the photo-op for the PM - and so are the 'affectees', lying on charpoys as if they were patients. Talk about chutzpah! The whole thing was dreamed up by the local administration to make the prime minister feel all warm and fuzzy. I have a feeling he won't be feeling so warm and fuzzy now. Kudos to the Geo team that caught it all on tape.

Here's the report (apologies for the quality, I couldn't find an original upload on the net, will replace when it's up):

Or if you really must see better quality visuals, you can go here and wait for the news item to come up during the bulletin (it comes in around 29:26). Incidentally, Geo later on did a mash-up of the news report with clips from the Indian film Munnabhai MBBS in which a fake hospital is established at a dhobi ghat for a visiting dignitary.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What Were They Thinking?

We at Cafe Pyala have sometimes been accused (unfairly) of cynicism. But none of our pointed barbs can ever hope to plumb the depths of shameless opportunism that the following two commercials currently running on our television screens demonstrate.

Here's Habib Oil Mills and part of the late Madam Noor Jehan's family - specifically eldest daughter Zille Huma and granddaughter Sonya Jehan nee Rizvi - exploiting the memory of their legendary mother / grandmother to sell... ghee.

Okay, we know that singer Zille Huma and actor Sonya Jehan owe their entire careers to the memory of the illustrious Queen of Melody - Sonya even changed her film industry name to remind people more squarely of her roots - and that another of Madam's daughters, Hina Ejaz Durrani, had also recreated one of her mother's songs for a video sponsored by Mobilink. But boiling down (or should that be frying up?) intimate personal memories to the brand of banaspati the matriarch used looks just a tad like cashing in to me. Especially, especially if this story is not even true. Keep in mind that Dalda Banaspati has been a market leader in the ghee business for ages and the Habib Oil Mills' current position as a major force in the edible oil market has come about only in the last 15 years or so. I'm ready to stand corrected but I'm not even so sure Noor Jehan was such a loyal customer of Habib Banaspati.

The second shamelessly exploitative ad for ghee - what is the deal with hydrogenated oil and shamelessness - features the ever slimy Aamir Liaquat Hussain in a Mezan Banaspati ad that preys on the religious sentiments of the upcoming month of Ramzan.

Does Mezan really need the smug face of a rabid, phoney "doctor" to sell its oil? And isn't this what Aamir Liaquat's been aiming for all his life: making money off religion? He probably made loads from attaching his name to Haj packages but that probably didn't satisfy his desire to have his mug on television. The ad's enough to give anyone indigestion in my opinion.

Actually, I prefer seeing the ending of the alternate version of this ad - which you can see here - in which Mr JaahilOnline tells you about the savings you get (no noble hook about feeding the hungry) and mouths the famous Mezan slogan: "Har cheez Mezan mein achhi lagti hai" (Everything is better in Mezan). It gives me the pleasure of imagining him in a vat of bubbling hot oil.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Aaj Cameron Khan Kay Saath

So Asif Zardari is off to be feted by the British Prime Minister David Cameron at his Chequers country retreat. This despite the fact that the ISI chief is in a huff and has called off his trip because the fresh-faced one said all kinds of unflaterring things about our country in India, of all places. To add to the callousness of it all, most of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is under water at the time of filing this post. And yet our president just can’t resist the temptation of grinning a broad grin before the British cameras for a huge photo-op, probably at vast public expense.

President Asif Zardari: Chequers, mate?

Predictably, there has been a storm of outrage in Pakistan, where people obviously cannot be counted upon to appreciate the finer things in life. I mean how many people get to sup tea in the countryside with the British prime minister, or, more importantly, visit Oxford for their son’s graduation and attend the coronation of the heir apparent in Birmingham, all in the same trip?

Brace yourself for a ringing denunciation of this evil journey on 'Aaj Cameron Khan Kay Saath'.

The UK Prime Minister braces to take on the ISI

While having self-respect and being Asif Zardari might well be two contradictory concepts, the political leaders who have shouted foul are not exactly covered in glory themselves.

Among the outraged patriots is a certain Altaf Hussain who slammed our president for going ahead with his trip. How could Zardari, he spluttered, even think of going to the UK after Cameron accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism? So passionate and shaken was the king of Azizabad-in-exile that I felt he would set his British passport on fire in protest and take the first flight home. No such luck. The British may be evil, but Edgware is actually a fairly comfortable place, thank you very much. And, thank goodness, there are not many cases of target killing reported from there. Nor are there many land-grabbing Taliban Pakhtuns this far up the Northern Line.

More outrage came from Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of our largest province. How could Zardari do this, he thundered as he tended to the miserable of Mianwali. Not only has Cameron called us terrorists but what about the hundreds of thousands of flood victims that have been left behind stranded on their rooftops, desperate for Zardari’s loving embrace?

In common with Altaf, Sharif said that the president should have better utilized the funds squandered on the UK trip by donating them to the victims of the floods. Noble sentiments indeed. We are now waiting with bated breath for the same statement from Shahbaz denouncing his Quaid and big brother. I mean Nawaz Sharif seems to get on a London-bound flight every time a reporter looks set to ask him a tough question or force him to take a stand on anything of any importance. Big brother, for example, was at the Allama Iqbal airport before you could say ‘Kayani’ just a week or so ago.

Let’s just say that Nawaz is not dependent on welfare handouts while in London. His Mayfair flats are among the most expensive real estate in the world and his nocturnal nihari and sri paye cravings must demand a sizeable retinue in his London kitchen. How about Shahbaz demanding that a small part of brother’s kitchen budget is donated to people who have lost somewhat more modest homes in the floods? Just the hara dhaniya budget might help rehabilitate a village or two in Charsadda. Or, closer to home. I mean Rajanpur and Mianwali and Taunsa, far away though they may be from the Motorway, are still part of the Punjab. Surely, you can money-order the funds from Park Lane, if only as a sadqa for poor ailing Kulsoom.

Nawaz Sharif in England: how green is my valley anyway?

And can’t Nawaz take a firm stand against Cameron at the upcoming meeting of the PML-N women’s caucus in Walthamstow, where he could speak in Punjabi for maximum international impact?

Not to be outdone and ever the patriot, Imran Khan has also boarded the same bandwagon. With an ex-wife, two children and many happy memories in Britain, the former cricket captain, is not exactly averse to the odd UK sojourn himself. Can we expect a denunciation of the anti-Pakistani propaganda campaign by Britain from his brother-in-law, who Imran so passionately campaigned for as the pro-Muslim candidate in the recent British elections? After all, Zak Goldsmith is from Cameron’s Conservative party. And given his surname, he must not exactly be begging on the streets of London. And among his Pakistani admirers in Britain, Imran could launch a passionate special appeal for saving the few remaining Taliban from drowning in Matta.