Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back to Kindergarten for the Lot of You

Whatever else the merits of the Wikileaks expose may be, one thing is for sure: it is a DISASTER for some of Pakistan's media. The huge information dump has resulted, annoyingly for our journos, in having to actually read things properly and double check facts, and far, far too much temptation to make laughing stocks of themselves.

Thanks to @sohaibgulbadan who pointed this out, here is The News' version of one on the released cables. Breathlessly, The News' reporter Umar Cheema tells us on the paper's front page:

Pakistan, a private nightmare for Obama
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
By Umar Cheema

"ISLAMABAD: US President Barack Obama considers Pakistan as his “private nightmare”, a front-line ally in the war against terrorism that could surprise the whole world waking up one morning to hear that the country had been taken over by the extremists.

A diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks reveals that Pakistan is one of the major causes behind the US decision of not attacking Iran, amid fears that any strike against this neighbouring Muslim country could further fuel the militancy in Pakistan. Nevertheless, the US president understands that avoiding confrontation with Iran has portrayed his country as a weak superpower.
Obama, however, believes attacking North Korea would earn less criticism and also teach a good lesson to the countries harbouring nuclear-ambition. “He described Pakistan as his ‘private nightmare,’ suggesting the world might wake up one morning ‘with everything changed’ following a potential Islamic extremist takeover,” disclosed a cable. Obama expressed concerns about Pakistan in two consecutive meetings with ranking US Senator Codel Casey and Congressman Ackerman of the House’s Foreign Relations Committee before their visit to Israel for a meeting with defence minister Ehud Barak last year.

When asked if the use of force on Iran might backfire with moderate Muslims in Pakistan, thereby exacerbating the situation, “Barak acknowledged Iran and Pakistan are interconnected, but disagreed with a causal chain.” To the contrary, Obama argued that if the United States had directly confronted North Korea in recent years, others would be less inclined to pursue nuclear weapons programmes. “By avoiding confrontation with Iran, Barak argued, the US faces a perception of weakness in the region.”

Contrary to King Abdullah’s opinion of Zardari, the UAE rulers had very positive views of former President Musharraf, disclosed a cable narrating meeting of the US diplomats with the UAE Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander Mohammad bin Zayed, after the latter returned from a visit of Pakistan where he met Musharraf in 2005. First, he congratulated Washington for its decision to allow the US firm to bid for contracts to provide F-16s and other defence technology to Pakistan. “He said it was important to support Musharraf as he battled the terrorists. There was no alternative leader in sight,” said the cable. He also questioned the US suspicions that Pakistani authorities had deliberately delayed the news of the arrest of Abu Faraj al Libbi, negating the wrong perception towards Pakistan."

Here is the actual cable. The operative part reads:

"11. (C) Barak reinforced his message regarding Pakistan in both meetings. He described Pakistan as his "private nightmare," suggesting the world might wake up one morning "with everything changed" following a potential Islamic extremist takeover. When asked if the use of force on Iran might backfire with moderate Muslims in Pakistan, thereby exacerbating the situation, Barak acknowledged Iran and Pakistan are interconnected, but disagreed with a causal chain. To the contrary, he argued that if the United States had directly confronted North Korea in recent years, others would be less inclined to pursue nuclear weapons programs. By avoiding confrontation with Iran, Barak argued, the U.S. faces a perception of weakness in the region."

If you haven't figured it out yet, the person being quoted is former Israeli Prime Minister and then Defence Minister Ehud Barak, not Barrack Obama. The cable is from the US embassy in Tel Aviv.

Had Mr. Cheema and his editors at The News given it just a little bit of thought, by the way, why the hell would an American foreign mission be quoting their own president's views to the State Department? A little bit of thought though seems far from some of the reporting going on.

Screen Grab of the Day

Hmmmm. Does the Guardian know something we don't?

A screen-grab off the Guardian's Wikileaks database... Thanks to Missing Romance for sending it on to us:

Ayatollah Ali Zardari?!?

First it was the New York Times and BBC Urdu Service leading the world (and the gullible Pakistani media) to believe Saudi King Abdullah said Asif Zardari was "the biggest obstacle to Pakistan's progress", when he actually only said that Zardari was "the primary obstacle to the government's ability to move unequivocally to end terrorist safe havens" in Pakistan (okay, so the actual phrasing is far more baffling than the misquote). Now we have the Guardian trying to imply stronger links with Iran than anyone knew. Just doesn't pay to be Zardari does it? Oh wait, that came out all wrong...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Going for a Wikileak

Isn't is quite remarkable that almost none of the major newspapers in Pakistan thought that the 'leader of the Muslim Ummah' King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and the 'brotherly Muslim countries' of UAE and Qatar egging on the United States to bomb their supposed sibling in faith, the Islamic Republic of Iran - as revealed by Wikileaks - was worthy of any major headline?

Without fail, all of them buried that bit in the secondary 'catch-lines', if at all, with possibly only the Express Tribune and Nawai Waqt attaching it some real significance. Most focused on Abdullah's views on Asif Ali Zardari, while Dawn and the Urdu Express decided that the American plan to take enriched uranium fuel out of Pakistan was the most newsworthy.

Here's how some of the main newspapers' front pages looked today:



The News:

The Nation:

Nawai Waqt:


Express Tribune:

Pakistan Today:

(Apologies for not having The Daily Times up here but they still don't seem to have an e-paper on the web.)

Okay, so obviously in Pakistan, the leaks directly connected to this country are of most immediate interest to people here. But judged purely on the level of news worthy of geo-strategic importance and with potentially massive consequences, wouldn't you say the Saudi desire to take out Iran is slightly bigger than Abdullah thinking Zardari is a loser? Of course, that may be just my personal news sense but I still do find it intriguing that no one else in Pakistan's print media shares it.

Coming to non-subjective issues, however, trust The News' Group Editor Shaheen Sehbai to muck up in the few paras he pens for the main story in his paper. He writes:

"As part of millions of documents dumped on the Internet, Wikileaks put one cable, which gave details of what King Abdullah really thought about President Zardari.Talking to an Iraqi official about the Iraqi PM Nuri Al-Maliki, King Abdullah said: “You and Iraq are in my heart, but that man is not.” “That man” was Asif Zardari."

Er, no Mr Sehbai. When you're "talking about the Iraqi PM Nuri Al-Maliki", you're not actually talking about Asif Zardari. Please get over your obsessions, they are really affecting your thought processes. Or at least learn to read properly.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Connecting the Dots

So, after quite a while, I was once again checking out the website of The Dawn because somebody asked me about it. And no, I don't mean Dawn as in the newspaper; in fact, I think the Dawn Media Group once even threatened, or at least contemplated threatening, them with legal action (I have no idea what became of it). And suddenly, something caught my eye that made bells go off in my mind. It was quite a Eureka! moment.

"The prophetic Sunrise in the East"?

But before I tell you what my Eureka! moment was, let's all just take a moment to understand what The Dawn really is.

Its flowery tagline proclaims it as a "News digest of the prophetic Sunrise in the East." If that's not enough to impress you, in its 'Why The Dawn News?' section, it clearly implies that the Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was somehow involved in its founding (even though it exists only as a web-paper and the web didn't actually come into being until about 46 years after the founder of Pakistan passed away). It talks about Jinnah founding Dawn and The Pakistan Times prior to Partition before cleverly (and grammatically incorrectly) sidestepping the issue and adding "This Newspaper is inspired the founding father of Pakistan [sic] and revelation of the Shair e Mashriq Alama Iqbal." It even uses the following famous photograph of Jinnah to bolster its credentials:

Jinnah reading some other paper with a "similar sounding name"

It then goes on a tangential rant about the warped world view of communists, socialists and secularists before concluding, right at the end, with:

"This site has nothing to do dawn.com"

Prepositions, it seems, are not its strong point. But you may already have surmised that this is not the most widely circulated English paper in Pakistan from the vitriol it spews against alleged "5th columnists" (many of whom write for Dawn) such as Asma Jahangir, Ayaz Amir, Irfan Husain, Ayesha Siddiqa, Imtiaz Alam, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Hasan Nisar, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Najam Sethi, Dr. A.H. Nayyar, Nadeem Farooq Paracha and Huma Yusuf (see Wall of Shame on right of the site's page). Far more hilariously, however, it adds the following disclaimer in its 'About Dawn News' section:

"The Dawn News makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness [sic], suitability [sic], or validity of any information on this site & [sic] will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.All information is provided on an as-is basis. The Dawn News does not accept any responsibility for sites with similar sounding names."

Right then. Aren't you glad you have that sorted out?

Anyway, now that you all understand what I am talking about and I have (hopefully) set up the context, here's what provoked my Eureka! moment. The website says this about itself:

"The Dawn News is owned and operated by Sapartese Management. There are several editors, Moin Ansari, Amardeep Singh, and Lisa Bernstein."

Now why did this catch my eye and set off chimes in my head? Well, mainly because the juxtaposition of these important sounding but unknown names seemed vaguely familiar. The combination of one alleged gora/ gori, one alleged Indian and one alleged Pakistani name reminded me of something I once read.

Remember this post about a (well-funded) rag called The Daily Mail? Remember what I had written about the story featured in that post, authored allegedly by "Cherry Ferguson in London, Kapil Verma in Mumbai and Ambreen Nadeem Janjua in Islamabad"?:

"One word to the wise: don't believe any of the bylines. I doubt any of these people actually exist."

Incidentally, our persistent friend Marvi Sirmed had actually called up the Mumbai Press Club after that post, only to discover that no journalist by the name of Kapil Verma is known to anyone there. Big surprise. Not. Another of The Daily Mail's regular ace reporters named Christina Palmer, a foreigner based ostensibly in Delhi, apparently does not exist either according to the Indian government (which did try looking for her). The Daily Mail's editor Makhdoom Babar even admitted as much, claiming it was a pseudonym "to protect her identity." (Since she stopped writing soon after the Indians arrested one of their Islamabad-based diplomats, Madhuri Gupta, for spying, there was even speculation that Ms Palmer was actually Ms Gupta... which, if true - Babar denies of course - might give you a little more insight into The Daily Mail.)

In any case, I was intrigued enough by the names to Google them. And guess what I discovered? These are some busy journalists! The exact same combination of names (with some minor additions here and there) appears on at least six other separate sites as editors. Here's something called Daily Mail Post:

Here's the Pakistan Ledger:

Here's Rupee News:

Here's Pakistan Patriot:

Here's Today's Views:

And here's Pakistan Independent, which actually ends up getting confused (can you blame them?) and talking about Rupee News in it's own 'About' section:

In addition, I found another 4 sites where at least one of the above illustrious personalities were listed as editors. These included The Pakistan Times (or New Pakistan Times), the Khalistan Times, the Times of Kabul and the Hindustan Globe. All these sites have the exact same description about their 'team' of contributing authors which always includes the following list in exactly the same order, typos and all:

"Moin Ansari is a 50-something US-raised Pakistani American living somewhere in the US. His political background is well to the left of centre,  and is very interested in investigative history, international relations, immigration, cultural integration and language policy issues. He is presently working on a long term doctorate in history

Jason Miller is a tenacious anti-capitalist and vegan animal liberationist. He is also the founder and editor of Thomas Paine’s Corner, associate editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online, blog director for The Transformative Studies Institute and associate editor for the Journal for Critical Animal Studies.

Isha Khan
A Bangladeshi activits who regualrly posts on Rupee News

Dr. Fawzia Khan
A professor based in New Jersey who writes for various magazines including Counterpunch.

Dr. Abdul Ruff
Prolific writer from Delhi who regularly contributes to Rupee News

Dr. Koncha
A Dalit activits from Hydrabad India who highlights Dalit issues in Dalit Freedom Network

Jim Mondavi: 27 year old  economist and journalist, center-left.

Riaz Khan
An American freelance journalist who lives in the US

Munir Khan
An Indian activist who writes on politics

Ahmed Quraishi
A Pakistani nationalist who has his own site www.ahmadquraishi.com

Andaleeb etc. etc."

Do note the second last name and the "etc. etc." at the end (that's how it reads on all the sites). Actually finding Ahmed Quraishi listed on ALL these sites probably was not altogether unpredictable since even The Dawn, in its description about itself, throws in a reference to the infamous obsession of his mentor Zaid Hamid, i.e. Ghazwa-e-Hind.

I also noticed that all these sites were "owned" by the company called Sapartese Management (sometimes misspelled as Sapertese). Digging further, I discovered at least another 8 sites / papers that were owned by this little-known-but-apparently-massive player in the media market (Rupert Murdoch, watch out!). The 'editorial boards' (always multiple editors) were slightly different than the ones in the first 11, but all still counted the same writers as their contributing authors. Their names? Times of Bombay, The Delhi Times, Dacca Times, The Daily Mail Times, Bharat Globe, Pakistan Akhbar, Musalman Times and Views Times. Interesting collection, isn't it? And I'm not even listing a number of other blogs also managed by the same company. Unsurprisingly, all sites seem to have the exact same political world view, i.e. hawkishly pro-Pakistan, virulently anti-India and suitably ambivalent about the Afghan Taliban.

Have a look at what all these different sites - which, incidentally cross-reference and promote each other constantly - look like:

 Notice anything?

But perhaps you're saying, so what? All this proves is that the same bunch of high-energy people are very enthusiastic about writing for different blogs and papers. And that the company that runs all these sites, even if it's going over the top with so many titles, is well within its rights to standardize the look of its various publications.

Well, then let's take a look at the 'company' that allegedly owns all these sites: Sapartese Management. There's one thing quite curious about it. The only place it seems to exist is on these websites; Google it: there is no separate website with any listed office. For a company running at least 19 'prestigious' publications all over the globe, wouldn't you think it would have a bustling office somewhere?

So I began to pay attention to the contact details for these various publications and the addresses listed for them as well as for, sometimes, Sapartese Management. It proved remarkably difficult to pin down where the company's offices actually were, mainly because they seemed to be moving around quite a bit. For example, according to The Dawn, Sapartese was located at "1013 Gates Court, Morris Plains, NJ 07950" but according to Pakistan Ledger its parent company was located at "3333 5th Avenue, New York, NY." Other publications listed a number of other addresses, often also in New York.

But there was something funny about these addresses too, as some might have already gathered. As anyone who has walked around or looked for directions in New York can tell you, there's critical information such as ZIP codes and Suite numbers missing. In fact, there is no building number 3333 on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, the boulevard numbers actually end in the mid-2000s. Look it up on Google maps, I am not kidding. There is another 5th Avenue in Queens but the houses there are numbered in the single digits. Neither is there, it seems, a 1013 Gates Court in Morris Plains, NJ.

 The far end of 5th Avenue: not that difficult to see where it ends, is it? (Source: Google Maps)

Some of the other office addresses are equally absurdly manufactured. For example, the offices of the Times of Bombay are listed as "76543 34th Street, New York, NY" and The Delhi Times as "5555, 15th Street, New York, NY." Neither exist. If you actually Google these addresses (obviously someone forgot about the extensive mapping of addresses in the US), some land you up in parking lots, others in the middle of the highway. Even the address Mr. 'Moin Ansari' - who owns at least 21 domain names - provides while registering domain names is seemingly fictitious.

Incidentally, who really is this mysterious Moin Ansari who lives "somewhere in the US"? I have no idea if he is either this man or this man or someone entirely different altogether. It must be said, however, that the interview in the second link refers to him as "an executive in the Information Technology industry" and the person under whose name Rupee News is registered also lists a company by the name of Crestech in his registration details. A software company owned by the Crescent Group is also called Crestech but I have no idea if it's the same one being used here. Perhaps I'll leave that for another time or for others to probe.

Do I really need to spell out who I think has the resources and the motivation to spin this elaborate web of fake publications and yet be so incompetent about it? And what does that tell you about Ahmed Quraishi and the people associated with papers like The Daily Mail?


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Headline of the Day

Enough of such onanistic celebrations! (Thanks for @jhaque_ for pointing this out.)

Original story in all its glory, here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Was Ansar Abbasi Spotted at Kinnaird College?

A notice posted on a door in the all-women Kinnaird College Lahore (via @BushraS on Twitpic):

Um...I don't think I will actually translate this.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fashioning Moral Outrage

Oh wow. We've all become so used to the hyperbole of the Western and local language English press around Pakistan Fashion Weeks, that it is sometimes easy to forget how a significant section of society in Pakistan views them. And who better to represent that view than our intrepid Khalifa-ul-Waqt, Ansar Abbasi, who can and will hold forth on anything.

The guardian of Pakistan's values: Ansar Abbasi

Below is a translation of his Urdu op-ed piece published in today's Jang (thanks to @tazeen for drawing my attention to it). It is worth a read, not only because it provides a window to the mindset of Abbasi and possibly many, many others. But also because it draws attention, once again, to the linguistic divide that separates the English reading public and non-English reading public, a divide that is not only tolerated but pandered to. (It is extremely unlikely you would ever read anything like this article in the Jang group's English paper The News or any other English-language paper for that matter.) This article serves to remind you, if anything, that all those post-modernist assumptions about progress in how the role of women in society is discussed, are merely hollow assumptions. Or at least that all those debates have passed Abbasi by without disturbing even a hair in his beard.

I have also yet to understand the mindset of the Jang Group, which launches Amn Ki Asha with great fanfare on the one hand, and has no qualms on the other in making petty-minded jabs about Gandhi and India on Geo on the other (see their coverage of US President Obama's visit to Gandhi's samadi). It will willingly tone down the anti-West moral brigade in The News or on Geo, but allow them free rein in Jang. It will make Geo a media partner of the Fashion Week and provide it wide publicity and, at the same time, run such incendiary pieces about it in its publications (and make no mistake, this article is a call to disruptive action)... Do they really think this is what is meant by 'letting a thousand flowers bloom'?

In any case, here's the article in translation (and here I thought I'd leave the Fashion Week alone):

If Modesty Does Not Remain…
By Ansar Abbasi

"The racket of spreading obscenity and immodesty through fashion shows and catwalks that is fast gaining strength in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in the name of “enlightened thought”, if immediate action is not taken to stop it, this fire of obscenity will soon engulf civilized households as well. We too will soon cross the extremes of uncivilized behavior and ignorance which have led to the destruction of moral values in Western societies, and where animalistic values have reached such heights that children often do not know their father’s name. Men and women prefer to live together without marriage, whereas the trend of men marrying men and women marrying women is gaining ground. Obscenity and vulgarity have lost their meaning altogether in these societies and have become part of their rituals and tradition which now have legal and moral sanction. For such uncivilized behaviour and ignorance to exist in an un-Islamic and heathen society is not surprising. But for such sort of trends to be nurtured in an Islamic society and in a country founded in the name of Islam is indeed worthy of giving pause for thought.
Hazrat Mohammad (PBUH) decreed that each religion has its own defining value and Islam’s defining value is modesty. In Surah-e-Nur and Surah-e-Ahzab, Allah instructs believers to guard their gaze and their reputations, while women believers have been told in clear terms what their dress code should be and in what state of dress they should leave their homes. In Surah-e-Ahzab, the lack of purdah has been likened to the time of Jahiliyya [ignorance] when women used to dress up and make up to go outside their homes. But it is the height of sadness, that despite Allah’s and his Prophet (PBUH)’s clear directions regarding modesty and the lack of purdah, in Karachi, the largest city of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the first ten days of the sacred month of Zilhaj were chosen to celebrate a fashion week.
Much like the month of Ramzan is known as springtime for good deeds, so are the first ten days of Zilhaj also very important, compared to normal days, in accruing the blessings of piety. But we chose these days to spread obscenity and vulgarity in the name of fashion. This transformation of a time specially designated for the worship of Allah and doing good deeds, into a Fashion Week in the Islamic homeland of Pakistan, invited action neither from any government organization nor from any other responsible person. And that too, a Fashion Week that seemed like a competition about shedding clothes.
Seeing the highlights of this contest of immodesty and vulgarity on the television screen, I began to doubt my own Muslim-ness and the reason for the creation of Pakistan became blurred in my mind. The women that God had ordered to be in purdah while leaving their houses, could be seen participating half-nude in the fashion show. And those men who had been ordered to lower their gazes, were playing the role of spectators in these displays of immodesty. This show of immodesty was considered very successful and those participating in it expressed the hope that this vulgarity would continue and also that Pakistan can earn a lot of money from the success of the fashion industry. May God protect us from such success and such wealth. Amen.
The grief is not over how a small Westernized minority is out to destroy our religious and social values in this way. But the real sadness is over how, despite the clear instructions of Allah and His Prophet (PBUH), and despite the promise of the Constitution of Pakistan that an environment based on religious values and Islamic teachings will be created in Pakistan so that Muslims can live their lives according to the Quran and Sunnah, there is no one to stop those making fun of Islamic values. I don’t know who allowed such a fashion show to be held. This trend of fashion shows and catwalks began in Pakistan a few years ago and because of a lack of any controls, has gone, as in the West and India, towards obscenity.
Despite seeing this vulgarity on television screens, nobody condemned it and neither was there any protest. No ruler spoke about it and neither did any opposition leader. The Islamic [sic] parties and their leaders also remained silent, and parliament remained as insensate as the administration. If President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani are unable to see all this, what reasons have compelled Mian Nawaz Sharif, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Imran Khan, Syed Munawwar Hassan and Maulana Fazlur Rehman to keep silent? Why is the higher judiciary not taking suo moto notice of this vulgarity? Why is Pakistan’s media unable to fathom this evil as evil? At least I don’t have the answers to these questions.
What I am really amazed at is that in a city such as Karachi, where most of the population is educated and politically aware, not even one person came on to the streets in peaceful protest against this vulgarity. If our politicians, parliament, government, judiciary, media and masses are so insensate, we will definitely touch the extremes of moral degeneration like the West. In any case, we don’t have anything left other than shame and modesty and moral and social values. These are the values that raise us above the West. If today we do not guard them and give ourselves to the wind to take us wherever it chooses, we will be completely destroyed.
The current silence and insensitivity is very painful. I wish that we would realize that if today we remain silent about this obscenity and vulgarity because the girls and women performing in fashion shows and abhorrent TV commercials are not our own daughters, then remember that tomorrow, the place of these girls and women could be taken by the daughter, sister, wife or mother of one of today’s spectators or other members of an insensate society and its responsible people. And they will be doing the catwalk half-naked in front of thousands of people."

Don't forget to send Jang and Abbasi some words of appreciation for safeguarding our values.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Unfit Dressing

First off, a BIG congratulations to the Pakistan Women's Cricket Team for bringing in Pakistan's first (and perhaps only) gold in the ongoing Asian games. One hopes the stuffed shirts at the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the Sports Ministry will understand the irony of this achievement and finally begin to give sportswomen  their due.

Nida Rashid scored 51 not out and took 4 wickets (Photo: AP/Dawn)

In lean times such as these for the Pakistani media, I had to scrounge around for unread material from old newspapers. It is, after all, Eid ul Azha and the only news reports these last two days seem to be about how people are 'enjoying' themselves, which apparently involves women being chained to kitchen stoves, men eating like pigs and children bawling their eyes out because mummy was cooking their favourite pet and daddy was eating it.

In any case, came across this unintentionally funny piece from Dawn's sports pages on November 17, about how our squash players arrived for the Asian Games in a state of dishevelment and some embarrassment.

The story alerts you to its potential from its heading:

"Squash players land in China amid dressing problems"

Yes, 'dressing', in this particular avatar, is yet another word that deserves the euthanising hospice.

The story goes on to tell us:

"GUANGZHOU, Nov 16: A nine-member Pakistan squash team, dressed in national colour blazers, landed at the Canton International Airport here on Tuesday but with much dismay as trousers of few players got damaged because of `poor stitching`.
“My trousers are all ripped from pockets because they are not tailored according to my height,” said Pakistan`s leading junior squash player Danish Atlas."

To tell you the truth, I don't quite know what pockets have to do with height but I'll accept the word of Danish Atlas on this.

"“Just look at the stitching, it`s poorly tailored, my pocket is damaged and I was not even provided with a belt for my trousers,” said Danish. During the four-hour flight from Islamabad airport to Thailand, he said, “I have no option but to get hold of my trousers which are not fit according to my height.” The situation, he said, was no different when we flew from Thailand airport to the Canton Airport."

Couple of questions for the reporter:

1) Is it really only a four-hour flight from Islamabad to Thailand? Rather amazing since Karachi to Bangkok takes about 5 hours.

2) What exactly does "get hold of my trousers" mean? Does it mean what we think it means? Surely, not something to do with pockets then? And then there's that height thing again...

3) Considering that poor Danish Atlas had to "get hold" of his trousers during the flight from Islamabad to Bangkok, ostensibly to prevent them from falling apart around him in his seat, why exactly would you think the "situation" would be "different" on the connecting flight from Bangkok to Canton? Unless of course there was an emergency sewing session at Bangkok airport that you haven't told us about...

Anyways, to pour salt on Danish's wounds, he also points out:

"“I am wearing my brother`s [Aamir Atlas Khan`s] blazer because the one given by the PSB was unfit and very tight from shoulders,” said Danish, justifying that their suits were not according to international standard."

'Unfit': things that don't fit. Tight 'from' shoulders. 'Nuff said.

Sometimes I wonder what will we all do for entertainment if Pakistani English language journalism ever becomes sedate and proper.

Facebook Administrative Issues

This is just a short post about administrative matters.

Apologies to all those complaining about our Facebook page not being updated regularly. We had put the Facebook page up to automatically aggregate our posts and twitter feeds and had hoped we wouldn't need to do more on a regular basis.

The newer, hopefully better, Cafe Pyala Facebook page

It turns out that the issue was with Facebook itself and some new required permissions it put in place in November, pending which our blog's RSS feeds stopped being updated under the 'News' tab. We have made some changes to the page so that our blog posts will now arrive directly on the 'Wall.' There is no longer a 'News' tab though Twitter feeds can still be seen under the Twitter tab. Hopefully this should also mean that new posts should also automatically turn up in the 'NewsFeed' of those people who are 'Fans' of the page.

Please do let us know if this is working out all right. You can reply either in the comments under this post or under the Discussion tab on the Facebook page itself.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Money Talks

Guess who was spotted on November 9 in Washington D.C. at a reception for American and Pakistani media personnel thrown by US AfPak ambassador Richard Holbrooke's media assistant Ashley Bommer? Mir Ibrahim Rehman, scion of the house of Jang and CEO of the Geo TV Network. He walked in with The Friday Times editor and Dunya TV's Najam Sethi but stayed long after Sethi left the party.

Mir Ibrahim Rehman (c) at his master's convocation earlier this year

Mir Ibrahim (MIR) apparently jetted in for a mysterious three-day visit to the US, during which, our sources say, the main objective was to convince the US administration that Geo was neither anti-US nor anti-democracy, the line being peddled by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government. MIR also wished to gather official American support for the Jang Group against the PPP boycott of the group as an instance of an assault on freedom of the media.

Our sources claim that MIR did not find too much traction among US officials against the idea of a media boycott, perhaps because the Obama administration itself has a similar boycott against Fox News (albeit without the shoe-throwing rent-a-demos and vile grafitti scrawls against Fox News owners). However, what is particularly interesting about the Jang Group's attempts to woo the American establishment is the fact that there has been apparently a lot of discussion within the US government about whether it should support and even subsidize a media group that has no qualms about running shrill propaganda against the US, and sometimes even promoting a pro-Taliban line. In particular, Hamid Mir's contribution to whipping up Blackwater hysteria in Pakistan, Ansar Abbasi's rants about Western puppets, and the space given to nutjobs such as Zaid Hamid (Aag TV) and Ahmad Quraishi (Aag TV and The News) have apparently raised quite a few eyebrows in the US administration.

The Americans have reason to be upset with the Jang Group, and MIR has reasons to find their upset unsettling. The running of the banal American propaganda Voice of America (VoA) programme Khabron Se Aagay [Beyond the Headlines] as an 'advertorial' on Geo since 2005 has netted the Jang Group and its owners, by some accounts, millions of US taxpayer dollars. Although the exact 'compensation package' doled out to Geo by the US government is still secret, it should be noted that the deal between Geo and VoA was mediated during the Bush-Musharraf era by the then Information Secretary Anwar Mahmood and advertising whiz-kid Asif Salahuddin, the latter of whom is reputed not to touch 'small' deals. Apparently, part of MIR's discussions with the US administration included those on the future of the Geo-VoA deal.

Incidentally, while Najam Sethi was ostensibly in the US for medical check-ups and may have been present at the Bommer reception only coincidentally, as we have reported in the past, he too has been trying to persuade American-backed NGOs to fund a new 'liberal' channel to be headed by him.

Coming back to MIR, it seems that more than American upset, a potential threat of withdrawal of lucrative financial support may be the trigger for a panic at the Jang Group. As they say, bullshit may walk but it's money that talks. I have a strong feeling that you may well see the (media) house line shifting very soon. If you suddenly begin to miss the casual anti-US vitriol in the group's publications and on Geo, you'll know why.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Save The Words!

As if to prove that the folks at the cynicocratical Café Pyala are also perfectly capable of jumping up and down and screaming Like, OMG! Like, how exciting!, the discovery of the day award goes to Save the Words, a site devoted to the preservation of some of English’s most eccentric children. Its raison d’être is summarized thus:

"Each year hundreds of words are dropped from the English Language.

Old words, wise words, hard-working words. Words that once led meaningful lives but now lie unused, unloved and unwanted.

Today, 90% of everything we write is communicated by only 7000 words.

You can change all that. Help save the words!

If not for yourself, then for generations yet to come. Now, you may ask, “What have future generations done for us lately?”

Well, not much. But one day they’ll be grateful. You never know, one day they might even have a word or two to say about you.

Help spread the word."

Some of you writers/reporters/journalists out there might wonder whether embracing flosculations will go down well with your inveteratist editors. Will it viliorate your reputation? Gumfiate your paycheck? Make a vicious blogger jump on your article and accuse you of pretentiousness? And isn’t it just wiser to call ‘ someone who eats babies’ a ‘monster’ rather than a ‘brephophagist’?

Personally, I think indulging in this kind of locupletative exercise has to be its own brabeum. But if that doesn’t convince you, here are some other reasons savethewords.org thinks you might enjoy mixing it up a little:

"In bored-room meetings, you’ll typically use expressions like: “think laterally”, “reach projected targets” and “cost-cutting measures.” How about in your next meeting, make things a little more interesting by dropping in some rarer words: “think outside the nidifice.”

“It’s not you, it’s me.” “It was really hard to write this letter.” “We’re not right for each other.” Cliché. Cliché. Cliché. How about giving them something else to think about by using phrases like “I amorevolous you but I’m not in amorevolous with you.” 

Dazzle your friends! Create endless arguments and debates! Confuse the hell out of everyone! Now it’s simple when you start using words like Pudify, Stagma and Volgivagant. You’re the winner at the table, and you know it.

[Sky-writing] If you saw the word ‘Sigilism’ painted across the skies for all to see, what would you think? The pilot is incredibly intelligent? The pilot can’t spell? The pilot is drunk?

[With respect to tattoos] I love Mum. Done. Anchor. Done. Celtic symbols. Done. Sanksrit. Done. Snake. Done. Koi. Done. Angry dragon. Done. Girlfriend’s name. Done. Bar code. Done. Tremefy. Never done!

You’re not in a relationship if you don’t have a moniker. Usually they’re little romantic-in-jokes that no one else will understand (or want to). But imagine coming home from work one day and saying “Mulcible, I’m home”. Imagine."

On the flip side, language is a double-edged sword. Wield it with skill and it can vanquish your enemies, cook your dinner and organize your Sci-Fi action figure collection in alphabetical order. Wield it ineptly and you can put your own eye out, as well as any other eyes that happen to fall across it. This happens quite frequently in the pages of Pakistani publications. Sometimes words or phrases are not just used misused, they are raped, beaten and left for dead in dark alleys. Here is a selection of a few we at Café Pyala have come across during our weary trudge through miles of newsprint:

. As in ‘Trawlers block road as area cordoned off.’ A trawler is not a container. A trawler is a big fishing boat. As if it isn’t bad enough that random interest groups are commandeering our public spaces, we must also then spend the whole day with the image of giant fishing boats squatting on our street corners.

Slam. Slams. Slammed
. As in ‘MQM slams government’s imposition of new sales tax’ or ‘Musharraf’s comments slammed by PML-N.’ How is there going to be peace and quiet in the world if everybody is always slamming things?

Flay. As in ‘Khabardrama’s statement flayed.’ So after the slamming comes the lashing then the…gnashing? Was it flashing that led to the lashing?

Eve-teasing. That is SOOO 4004 BC.

Liberal mindset
. Eh what?

Liberal extremist
. See above.

Healthy instead of fat

instead of slim.

. As in the backside of the store.

instead of bread-winners.

Supermodel. Every model is apparently one. How super!

Apprehended / nabbed for caught or arrested or held.

Cost when they mean price.

Purchase instead of buy.

Heinous as in criminal.

Nefarious instead of notorious.

Loose. As in a woman.

For some time
. As in ‘The PM and Pres had a one-on-one meeting for some time’.

Common man. As opposed to?

. Nobody knows what exactly they be (trippin’, perhaps?), they just be. Like Hamlet, only without the panty drop-inducing soliloquy.

. As in individual(s).

Civil society
to refer to NGO activists.

Religious leaders
for politicians with beards.

. As in a woman and her paramour were killed in a case of karo kari. Their sons Boromir and Faramir went on to star in a Peter Jackson film.

. For kids. Silver lining? At least they’re not saying cherubim.

Please do bring any others you can think of to our attention in the comments section. We are thinking about compiling a list and floating our own website www.euthanisethewords.com.pk, a sort of hospice for terminally ill expressions, where words that should never be used again in a Pakistani paper can go to die.

New Editor, Old Perspective

This past week seems to have been a Nizami-obsessed week. Might as well share a final bit of news about the goings on at The Nation.

So, Salim Bokhari has been tipped to take over as editor at The Nation in place of the recently departed Shireen Mazari. Bokhari has been a journalist for almost four decades though most people will recognize him most from appearances as an analyst on various television channels and his recent co-hosting with Orya Maqbool Jan of Aaj TV's reconfigured Bolta Pakistan programme (the team was cobbled together after the departure of Nusrat Javed and Mushtaq Minhas for Dunya TV). Previously, Mr Bokhari's most high profile stint was as the Resident Editor of The News in Lahore. He had left The News to start up the Abu Dhabi-owned The National's Pakistan operations but the Pakistani version was quietly shelved.

Salim Bokhari (right) with Orya Maqbool Jan

Now you might be wondering what would draw The Nation owner Majid Nizami to Mr Bokhari (after all, you must satisfy certain ideological requirements for Majid Nizami to feel comfortable with you). Well, could it be that Mr Bokhari's most recent job - which he took on once The National stint didn't work out - has been as Resident Editor in Lahore of The Daily Mail? You know, the suspect paper that launched this whole brouhaha?

To give you further insight into the content of the rag that Mr Bokhari allowed his name to be associated with, here is how it reported on the launch of the Indo-Pak singing competition for children, Chhote Ustaad, which was broadcast on Geo as well as the Indian Star Plus and eventually went on to become a major hit on both sides of the border:

RAW handpicks Rahat Fateh Ali for fresh anti-Pakistan project

— Rahat sells off Pak kids to RAW like camel jockeys under the grab of music show Chhote Ustaad
— Project initiated to evaporate Pakistani culture, identity
— RAW plans to keep the project for next ten years to eliminate 2-nation theory completely from the minds of Pak Kidz

By Uzma Zafar

"ISLAMABAD—After years of speculation, finally Indian Intelligence Agency Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) appears to has found a smooth operator in the form of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan, on whose shoulder’s they can land their gun and put forward the agenda of making the concept of two-nation theory completely evaporate from the minds of the Pakistani children, make them dance at the tunes of one nation, one world, through it’s recently initiated project Chhote Ustaad, a so called kids’ musical competition show on India’s Star Plus TV while it is being reproduced back in Pakistan by a local TV Channel that is already doing some joint ventures with the known anti-Pakistan Indian Newspaper The Times of India reveal the investigations of The Daily Mail.

The Daily Mail’s investigations further reveal that the desire to rob the Pakistanis of their very identity was on the minds of the RAW for decades but it is only now that the agenda has found a vent through where the very idea can be materialized, infecting the young minds with the idea that their culture is but the same as the Indian one. And what better way than to initiate a supposed talent hunt, putting a music legend of Pakistan; Rahat Fateh Ali on it’s pay roll, to make him dance on the tunes of unity, preaching the idea that two-nation theory is all but a lie, The Daily Mail sources reveal.

The Pakistani kids taken in for the programme are in fact, being used by Rahat Fateh Ali, like camel jockeys, sold on the hands of the RAW, all belonging to poor families and Karachi for that matter, only one being that from Faisalabad.
The Daily Mail’s findings indicate that Star Plus latest season of song based reality show Chhote Ustaad has taken in 10 kids from Pakistan, rather Rahat Fateh Ali has taken them to India for RAW’s fresh covert project against Pakistan for which he has been Paid in millions. Some unconfirmed reports suggest that he has been paid equalling fifty million Pak rupees for one season while the RAW plans to continue it for at least ten seasons. The entire season 2010 is going to be a combo of Pakistani and Indian young talent on the surface but the reality is quite the opposite. Not only this, but the judging panel has Sonu Nigham from India and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan, the latter having no affiliation for the Pakistani kids in the show for he has already sold them for the worse.

The Daily Mail’s findings further reveal that Zee TV took up the initiative earlier, in inviting Pakistani handful of kids and humiliating them onscreen and now it’s Star Plus’ turn to do some more. Also the name has been modified from ‘Star Voice of India Chhote Ustaad’ to ‘Chhote Ustaad – Do Desho ki Awaaz’. One tends to smell rotten fish right from the very idea of picking up kids from Karachi only, just one being taken in from Faisalabad. Karachi is not the whole of Pakistan anyway! Pairing up kids of Pakistan and India itself is a game to malign the very image of two-nation theory in the minds of the Pakistani kids so that, through the years, they even forget their very identity. This could be evident from the phrases that our kids were given to learn, for speaking at the show, being that once they got off the flight, they felt right at home in India. Then again, the question arises, why has the background of the Pakistani kids shown, all belonging to bleak and rather poor families? Was it the criteria of the programme to project the poverty-ridden image of Pakistan? Well, with RAW involved, one can always expect the unexpected. That all was at the back of the minds of the RAW bigwigs and a lot more. The agenda is not that simple that meets the eyes reveal The Daily Mail sources.

The Daily Mail’s investigations reveal that for years and years, Pakistani songs have been illegally twisted and turned to be used in Bollywood flicks. The Bollywood industry has been funded by the RAW and thus, through promotion and making the films available in Pakistan through the black market, our Lollywood industry has never been let to surface. And now the RAW is landing it’s claws over our music industry, being our singers for Bollywood songs and this time, going an extra mile and using a music maestro to hum the tunes of one nation, one goal bullshit, raising the very question in the minds of our kids that what was the need of partition anyway? And to top it all, instead of condemning or banning such an activity at large, Geo has decided to get a little taste of the RAW’s salt and increase it’s earnings to a notch!

When contacted, a former spy agency official stated “The need is for ISI to take the matter in its hands. Black marketing of Bollywood flicks should be curtailed till the RAW agrees to put on Lollywood flicks as well in India and the same should be done to their channels at once. They should not only be banned in Pakistan where their most of the sale is done till they air our programmes on their channels. The joint productions between the two countries should also be given a close check at immediate basis but at the foremost, people like Rahat Fateh Ali should be taught a lesson for cranking his neck at Indian tunes, destroying our music scene at large and making our kids too, sing just the Indian tunes, as if we have no music here. Besides, in all our reality shows, Indian songs should be banned and contestants should be let to perform on our tunes only.

The ISI and other related agencies like the Intelligence Bureau and PEMRA should take strong note of this project and should not let anyone make mockery of the two-nation theory, our identity and culture at large."

So yes, I guess Mr Bokhari would find it incredibly easy to accommodate Majid Nizami's world view.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bathroom Reading Chronicles

Also, since we're on the topic of the Daily Times, here's something that I've been itching to write a short post about since I flipped through it's Sunday magazine this past week.

Look at the following photographs from its Eye Spy section, which focuses on the social elite. The photographs depict a Halloween party thrown by Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer's son and daughter-in-law (in leading photograph):

Another world is possible?

Now, I am no prude or killjoy, I enjoy a good party as much as the next person and I really don't have a problem with people enjoying themselves (something this country could really stand to have more of). But I kept wondering about two things while looking at these photographs. The first was, who ARE these people who expend such effort and time on dressing up and take Halloween parties so seriously. I mean, one knows who some of them are, but you know what I mean.

The second thing I kept wondering about was the mindset of such exhibitionism in a country still suffering through one of the worst natural disasters in the world that has robbed hundreds of thousands of even a roof above their heads, an ongoing brutal war against extremism that continues to kill and maim thousands, and galloping inflation that has people pouring on to the streets crying in desperation. The same country is going around the world, begging bowl in hand, to save it from economic and social meltdown and is imposing super-taxes on those already in the tax net to raise revenue. What la la land are these people living in? For such exhibitionism to come from a politically-connected family makes it all the more insensitive. You want to have a party for your friends? Fine, go ahead. But must you rub your disconnect from the rest of the country into the face of everyone else? Must you provide ammunition to those who are already bristling at the yawning chasm between the elite and the 'common folk'? Whatever happened to political savvy and common sense?

I really was having a hard time figuring out what exactly goes on in the heads of people such as these. Until I came across the following gem of an interview, also in Sunday, of someone billed as a 'designer-cum-teacher-cum-chef', all rolled into one.

According to the interview, the last time Ms Ayesha Hashwani cried was "8 months ago when my tailors formed a union and I had no choice but to fire them all." Poor choice-less girl that she is, she then goes on to wish she "wasn't such a push-over."

Doesn't it all make sense now?

The Level of Political Discourse

Apologies for the long absence from blogging. Much to write about.

But first, a clip: the latest example of the degeneration of political discourse in this country. Had heard about this yesterday. The channel is Business Plus, the programme The Pulse. The participants are (from left) former information secretary PPP and Bilawal House spokesperson and current adviser to Sindh Chief Minister, Jamil Soomro, former Citizens Police Liaison Committee head Jamil Yusuf, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's Sindh President Naeemul Haq. See it and wonder.

Here's the Daily Times report on this (The Daily Times being, of course, Business Plus' sister concern.) I wonder if their owner Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer thinks: some excitement at last on Business Plus!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More Sackings at The Nation

As if almost on cue to khabardrama's long-delayed review of Arif Nizami's Pakistan Today (see previous post), comes news from chacha Majid Nizami's The Nation of large-scale layoffs at the paper there (no, we don't think there's any connection).

More than 30 staffers have been summarily dismissed today without any advance warning from the Lahore office alone and several from Islamabad as well. The Peshawar and Karachi bureaus fear that the axe will next fall on them. Economic difficulties are being cited as the only reason. It's not entirely clear yet whether the personnel sacked were the same ones who had recently received long-delayed raises or whether these layoffs had anything to do with the very recent departure of editor Shireen Mazari.

It should be kept in mind that Majid Nizami can be a vengeful proprietor. We heard about a peon who was recently summarily sacked after more than 20 years of service, simply because the management suspected that his loyalties may still lie with the embittered former editor (and nephew) Arif Nizami.

The Nation does seem to be in freefall. And it's difficult to see how such measures are going to help it meet the challenge posed by the brash new competitors such as Express Tribune and Pakistan Today, both of which have oodles of cash backing them up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Solid Staid

First of all an apology and an excuse. I have been meaning to write about Arif Nizami's long-awaited Pakistan Today ever since it hit the newstands but have found myself contracting a severe case of writer's block every time I sat down to do just that.

Front page, Berliner-style

The reason is simple. Maybe it's just me, but I need to either love something passionately to feel motivated enough to gush about it in print or to feel it's so bad that I can't wait to tear it to pieces. In the present case, I felt no such overpowering emotion. No adulation or loathing or anything so strong. Just a vague grey reaction. Competent, I thought. Pretty decent. Promising. Not too bad really. A solid, worthy venture. But nothing exciting. Or too awful.

The paper certainly looks different though. Mainly because it doesn't look like your average broadsheet Pakistani daily due to its 'Berliner' (not tabloid, they insist) format. Now I do realise that most upmarket British dailies like the Independent, Times and Guardian also opted for this format some years ago (while giving readers a choice of both formats). But while I could understand their logic for doing so in a country where everyone reads during their long bus, train or underground commutes, why a Pakistani paper should go the same route is puzzling. Try reading anything on your coach or train commute from Lahore to Gujranwala or on a Karachi mini-bus and you will see what I mean.

Page 2 and 3: Clean spread

Once you get over the shock of holding a daily that looks like a weekly, things get pleasant enough. For example, the 32 pages are all colour and the paper quality seems to be on the expensive side. The pictures are pretty decent too and it looks like someone has put some thought into the layout rather than thrown endless, unbroken text at the reader like The News does or thrown a paintbox all over its pages, as is The Nation's preferred design choice. Still, I couldn't help but thinking the overall look was reminiscent of the Express Tribune, albeit in a once-poor relative-with-some-new-money type of way. But still, it is neat, clean and tidy. And it has none of the editorial bloopers and immaturity that initially characterised ET.

Meanwhile, like everything else, the quality of material is, well okay. Not exciting, exactly, but decent enough. Just like the editing. There are scoops but not earth-shattering ones, and a fairly intelligent selection of stories. 'Good effort' is the biggest compliment I could muster.

 Business looks appealing, entertainment ho-hum

City pages will give the competition a run for their money

The sports pages are all right, the business section looks pretty decent and the entertainment pages break absolutely no new ground. The city pages, at least in Lahore, seem pretty good and will give the competition a run for the money. Similarly, the editorial pages are all right but not spectacular. There's nothing there I would kill to read but nothing much to rant or rave against either, unless you are allergic to Humayun Gauhar. The biggest draw is the induction of The Friday Times' superb Sabir Nazir as cartoonist. The editorials are solid and take a pretty even-handed, fairly liberal line without making your pulse race. I mean, there is little, if any, of the crazy, conspiratorial hysteria that characterised The Nation after the younger Nizami stormed out to give way to (the now-departed) Shireen Mazari.

Interestingly, the editorial policy seems not to treat the Sharif brothers like the sacred cows they have become for large sections of the media. Does that in any way reflect Arif Nizami's sense of betrayal over being ditched by the Raiwind brothers during his falling out with Majid Nizami? We will never really know.

Op-ed: So far so solid and Sabir

The refreshing thing is that this is not, thankfully, another Nawa-i-Waqt-type super patriotic, flag-waving, rag. Nor is it The Nation in its recent utterly hysterical and conspiratorial Mazari mode. If anything, it's like The Nation when it was a fairly decent paper many years ago. In fact, what is the most courageous feature of Pakistan Today is that it is resolutely serious and eschews sensationalism. That in itself is a relief in a media environment that is becoming increasingly hysterical.

How a sober and solid (bordering on dull) paper fares in an over-crowded market is anybody's guess. Initial reports from Lahore suggest a fairly positive response. My hunch is that for a new paper trying to make its presence felt in this cut-throat, crisis-ridden market, Pakistan Today will need to do more than just be competent to take its place at the top.

I would be very curious to know if anyone violently agrees or disagrees with me on this. Or whether everyone is too lulled by indifference to offer a view on Pakistan Today, one way or the other...

Reko Diqheads (Updated)

Remember this story in The News on November 3 by its Group Editor, Shaheen Sehbai? The front page 'expose' of an allegedly massive corruption scandal around the Reko Diq copper and gold mining project in Balochistan set tongues wagging all over Pakistan and among Pakistani expatriates abroad. The scale of the scandal was said to dwarf all previous scandals. The headline screamed:

"$260 billion gold mines going for a song, behind closed doors"

 Front page of The News on November 3, 2010

Now, in case you didn't follow the story or do not remember the exact words Mr. Sehbai used in his typically convoluted but bombastic style, let me briefly remind you what the investigative story said. Mr Sehbai begins by building conspiratorial suspense, clearly implying that President Zardari and his partymen are on the take to sell national wealth down the river to line their own pockets:

"Quietly, and below the media radar, some 20 top corporate bosses and lobbyists of two of the world’s largest gold mining groups have been meeting President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Governor State Bank and others in Islamabad throughout last week, pressing them to quickly hand over one of the world’s biggest gold and copper treasures found in Balochistan at Reko Diq, worth over $260 billion, to their companies, and for peanuts. Before these highly enticing visits of the mining tycoons to clinch the deals, which followed intense behind-the-scene negotiations and bargaining through middle men, some highly bizarre developments have been taking place, leaving experts and the rest of the mining world stunned, amazed and confused."

He expands on this tone:

"There is a plethora of documents, which prove that almost everybody involved is trying to deceive everybody else, the real picture is never presented, misleading statements and even contradictory claims have been made in the media, the issue has been kept confused as the real mega deal is maturing fast behind closed doors."

Citing the New York Times story that posited that Afghanistan was sitting on reserves of lithium worth up to a trillion US dollars (a story, it should be pointed out, that has itself been seriously questioned as a Pentagon attempt to sway public opinion in the US), Mr. Sehbai adds:

"Pakistan, it is estimated in mining circles, has more deposits than Afghanistan, so the enormity of the riches and the cost of the backdoor deals can easily be guessed. “It would be the mother of all the deals and grandfather of all the corruption cases in Pakistan, put together,” according to one expert. Reading the piles of documents, statements, interviews and legal papers available with The News, the picture that emerges is one of a grand deception, loot and plunder that never happened before on such a scale and the facts, untruths, half-truths, attempts to sabotage, frauds and backdoor bribes, are all documented. It all started in the Musharraf era but once the massive scale of the stakes involved became apparent to the PPP government, the Raisani/Zardari camp quickly jumped into the fray to renegotiate the deal, behind closed doors."

So far so good. I was hooked. Imagine my surprise then, when in an 'appearance' on tonight's Kehnay Mein Kya Harj Hai programme on Geo, Sehbai seemed to backtrack from the thrust of his story. You can see his opening salvo in the first few minutes of the following clip:

Part 1:

Basically, Sehbai says this is an old story, that he didn't really break the story and that all he did was raise questions about the murkiness of the deals being made so that someone could investigate it properly. Say what? I thought he had already worked it all out for us! In fact, I was so shocked at the weak defence of his sensational story (the host, Mohammad Mallick, then helps him out by saying that Sehbai's actually not accusing anyone directly of anything, he just wants things that are shrouded in mystery to be made clear) that I actually sat up and began to watch the programme with interest.

Sehbai really had me intrigued when he subsequently added that he had over 1,000 documents lying with him but that it is impossible to make sense of them by reading them in two to four days (so that's how long Sehbai worked on his investigative piece!), claiming that his story was actually a plea for someone to "go deeply into this and find out what is going on." I was intrigued, you see, because I kind of remembered Sehbai referring to a "deep study" of the documents in his possession, after which he had made the following declaration (as quoted above):

"Reading the piles of documents, statements, interviews and legal papers available with The News, the picture that emerges is one of a grand deception, loot and plunder that never happened before on such a scale and the facts, untruths, half-truths, attempts to sabotage, frauds and backdoor bribes, are all documented."

I am only reiterating that quote to drive home the point that Mr Sehbai has just shown himself to be either a coward or one of the most intellectually dishonest reporters to grace journalism in Pakistan. I also decided to go back and re-read his story and lo and behold certain other things began to stand out for me. For one, his source seems to be a representative of an American mining company with ties to the US establishment (keep in mind that the mining company being attacked in his piece is a Canadian-Chilean joint venture):

"“Because there is no effective investigating agency like NAB operating in the country, it is just the right case for the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Pakistan to pick up the issue, put a hold on whatever is going on before any binding contracts and deals are signed, which may cause losses of billions of dollars, yes billions of dollars to Pakistan,” according to a corporate executive involved in the mining industry, based in New York. His company chairman is a reputed former three-term Congressman."

Vested interests, anyone?

Look, I am not so naiive as to think that a multi-billion dollar business deal such as this could take place in contemporary Pakistan without a huge amount of kickbacks and commissions (there is enough evidence that indicates every major deal involves corruption at various levels). But surely, one must also consider the motivations of corporations (and governments) that make such allegations about business rivals only so that they may perhaps themselves get a piece of the pie.

But even more interesting is that the entire basis of Sehbai's report is called into question by the representative of the company targeted, Tethyan Copper Company (TCC), on the Geo programme, which also brings in Balochistan politicians Lt. General (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch (former Governor Balochistan and MNA of the PMLN) and Senator Dr Abdul Malik, President of the National Party for comments. Even the US$260 Billion figure seems, from the programme, to have been a product of Sehbai's flawed understanding of mining concepts. Samia Ali Shah, the Manager Corporate Communications for TTC more or less reduces the entire distinguished panel and the host, Mallick, to grasping at rhetoric and anecdotal hearsay. For those of you interested, I would strongly urge you to watch the whole programme, the remainder of which (following on from above) is provided below. It really is an eye-opener for all the wrong reasons:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

I should probably reiterate that I am in no way arguing that everything about the Reko Diq deal is above board, that TCC is a model company or that there are no issues with the fairness of what Balochistan and Pakistan stand to actually gain from the exploitation of its mineral wealth. (I have heard enough rumours in Balochistan and elsewhere not to make any such judgement, especially without all the information.) And of course the media manager of a multinational is going to do what she is paid to do, i.e. defend her company. But irrespective of the undoubtedly exploitative nature of trans-national companies, what this programme clearly shows is the absolute and cringe-worthy understanding of economic issues across the board among most journalists and politicians. I have yet to understand why some journalists insist on writing on issues they don't even understand themselves.

You want to take on the big bad wolf of international extractive capitalism? At least get not only your facts but also your concepts right. To try and take them on with such half-baked knowledge is suicide.

: : : UPDATE : : :

Further intellectual dishonesty. Today's The News (November 10) carries a story on the back page, ascribed to the Monitoring Desk,  with the heading "Reko Diq Company accepts probe by independent commission." The story tries to spin the embarrassing blowing up of Shaheen Sehbai's claims in his face and the participants' and host's inability to ever corner the company on any facts, by saying:

"The Tethyan Copper Company Pakistan (Private) Limited, a joint venture between two major Canadian and Chilean mining companies, working on the multi-billion dollar controversial gold and copper mines project at Reko Diq in Balochistan agreed on Tuesday to set up an independent commission of experts to examine the numerous confusing aspects of the huge mining deal to the satisfaction of both the public and official stakeholders including the Balochistan government.
The spokesperson of the Tethyan Copper Company (TCC), Samia Shah conceded in the TV show “Kehnay Mein Kia Harj Hai?”, hosted by Mohammed Malick on Tuesday night, that her company will welcome such an independent commission. Other participants of the programme while welcoming this development however insisted that such an expert commission must be chosen and paid for by the government of Balochistan to exclude any possibility of the company influencing the commission’s findings."

As you may verify from the recording of the programme posted above earlier, rather than "conceding" anything, Ms. Shah had, in effect, dared (in a polite way) the participants to come up with facts and figures to contradict her/ TCC's claims through any independent commission. In addition, the last line the para quoted above is, simply, pure and utter fabrication. In fact, Mohammad Mallick had tried his best to get Ms. Shah to agree to TCC paying for the expert commission, more than once saying that the company had enough "dollars" to fund it and that he was trying to save the government money. It was Ms. Shah rather than "other participants" who pointed out that TCC paying for an expert commission might compromise the perception of its independence and refused to do commit to it.

When will The News' / Jang Group editors learn to take contradictions with some grace?