Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Day After

I had hoped to put up this image which one of our Twitter friends (don't remember which one) had pointed us to, after a Pakistan win in yesterday's semi-final. But I think it's more appropriate than ever now. (Incidentally, I do not know who made it but if the designer is reading this and would like credit, let us know and we will credit you.)

Afridi: The Renaissance Man (Design: Komail Naqvi)

So, yes, India played far better than us on the day and deserved to win the match. But as, thankfully, most people in Pakistan have recalled, nobody, including myself, gave the Pakistan team much chance of even getting this far before the World Cup began. And for this, Shahid Afridi, the captain, and the team deserves our respect. Generally, despite the one major blip against New Zealand (for which we'll forever be grateful to Kamran Akmal), Pakistan played far beyond expectations and seemed, after a long, long, time, to be a united team.

Of course, it hurts to lose, especially to arch-rivals India, and especially after seemingly having the game within our grasp, but there is no shame. Okay, there should be shame about dropping a batsman like Tendulkar four bloody times, but you know what I mean. Afridi made good on his pre-World Cup promise of reaching at least the semis and for this we should celebrate and give the team its due. It's actually very heartening to see that most people, including the media, have taken the defeat in the spirit in which it should be taken. There should be introspection within the team (particularly about Kamran Akmal's future) but for once, hopefully, we will be able to use this a springboard for improvements for the future rather than nihilistic destruction.

I don't want to get into the details of the cricketing issues that surfaced in this match (others have already done so in fair detail) but I did have a couple of other thoughts about non-cricketing issues after the match which I would like to share.

1. Can we, like, get a list of all those astrologers, psychics, numerologists and "astropalmists" who predicted a Pakistan victory? You know, just so we know who to avoid? And at the very least, can the media stop referring to them before any big event? (Geo, to its credit, did take the lead on this, running a mocking package about them, including its own resident astrologist known as 'Mamoon', this morning.)

2. I don't wish to sound cruel (and animal-lovers please note, this is merely in jest) but as far as that unproven story about the Shiv Sena / predictions-vendor allegedly killing the parrot who predicted a Pakistan victory in Bombay, wouldn't you say they were sort of right in retiring the parrot? I mean I would never support the killing of any poor animal for such indiscretions but the parrot had obviously lost it. Moreover, the parrot in Karachi who also predicted a Pakistan victory, can you blame him/her after s/he'd heard about what supposedly happened in Bombay?

3. I hope it puts to rest all those tawdry (and frankly done one too many times) jokes about the jawaan Sheila, the badnaam Munni and the Pathan Afridi. Really. Please stop now.

4. If any credible story comes out about someone actually having bet on Tendulkar being dropped more than three times, I will personally ask Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to take suo moto notice. Beyond that, let's please not bring in claims of match-fixing this time. One team had to lose.

5. The one definite and huge down-side to the loss is of course seeing the idiotic brigade - Ansar Abbasi et al - back in business. (Even in supposed empathy with Afridi, he must bring up Raymond Davis.) It was good while it lasted but as they say on Twitter, FML!

6. Finally, to all those 'cricket-liberals' scaring us about the potential for doom and gloom because of the fervour around the match, I hope you realize the world did not end, no nuclear missiles were launched, and amazingly there was even no bad blood on the field. You know why? Because most people do take it as a game even if they are jumping up and down, putting war-paint on their faces and mocking their sporting rivals.

Good luck to both India and Sri Lanka for the final!

: : : UPDATE : : :

Actually there was one more thing I thought about which I forgot to put down: Where is Poonam Panday?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Mohali Lead-up FacePalms

It's usually at times like these that I heave a sigh of relief that one does not have easy access to Indian news television channels in Pakistan. Because, really, I think adding them to the mix of frequent absurdity that Pakistan's news channels are capable of would be just too much to bear.

Have a gander at the following two clips. The first is from India TV which claims it has "earned a repute [sic] of credible reporting, courage, espousal of public interest and its [sic] unmatched delivery which is of a [sic] great value to all stakeholders." I truly do not know where to begin on this one. I suppose if one put intellectual absurdity mixed with an utter lack of knowledge and cricketing ignorance into a blender, added a cup of whacked out sensationalism with generous doses of bhang, you could, ostensibly arrive at something tasting like this 'report.'

The second clip is from a channel called CNEB, which, believe it or not, is short for Complete News and Entertainment Broadcast and which, according to its website, thinks Qamaruzzaman Kaira is the 'Home Minister of Pakistan.' It has this to say about itself:

"Complete News & Entertainment Broadcast Pvt. Ltd. (CNEB) has launched its 24 x 7 Infotainment Television Channel in May 2008 with the vision of its Group Chairman Shri H. S. Sran, that hordes of channels has come up and large numbers are waiting for the permission from Ministry of Information & Broadcasting; only few survive because as per the industry sources, the viewers stick to the channels which are showing programs with a difference."

Um.... yeah, whatever, dude. Here's how they bring a difference:

Can we collectively say 'preparing the ground for a whining'? I mean, ok, an alleged bookie hanging out with the team is news in itself (if true, it should be probed by the Anti-Corruption Unit of the ICC shouldn't it?) but how is billions being bet on a match and the mere presence of a suspicious character translate automatically into confirmation of a fix? CNEB of course raises questions about the match by blaming the punters ("sattaybaaz"). But, er, wouldn't the team - or certainly some members of the team - have to be involved in a fix? How come CNEB never points that out?

Incidentally, I have heard the same argument, about the match allegedly being fixed, from people in Pakistan - except that in our versions, it's Pakistan that's going to lose. FFS! Get over yourselves folks. As if either India or Pakistan can never lose unless some behind-the-scenes hanky panky is involved. In our media's defence, at least we didn't put such a wildly speculative (and frankly, rondhoo) preemptive story on our mainstream channels. Yet. Note to Pakistani TV channels: do NOT attempt to replicate!

Tailpiece: At the other end of the spectrum are the 'cricket-liberals', who in the midst of the (justified) hysteria about the Mother Of All Matches, are going around beatifically pontificating about cricket diplomacy, cricket for peace and the win-win scenario for South Asia (whatever that is). Basically, people who probably think Umar Gul and Zaheer Khan or Virender Sehwag and Misbahul Haq are in the same league, and really don't care that much about cricket or their national teams. Ahmer Naqvi and Masuud Qazi have a hilarious post up on Clear Cricket to inform them about the Prescribed Etiquettes and Attitudes for TGME (The Greatest Match Ever). Do have a look.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

‘Cause Tramps Like Us, Baby We Were Lawned To (Get) Run (Over)

I would have written this in February but I’ve been stuck in traffic outside a lawn exhibition since.

If you live in the open in Karachi, and not under a rock, you cannot have missed the wave of lawn related advertising that has been crashing upon our shores for the last few weeks, leaving sensory carnage in its wake. 2011 has seen a record number of brands flood the market. Some 30-odd designers have lent their names to collections, and if you count the textile mills without big name designers attached and the imitation lawn print makers the number reportedly edges well over fifty.

They call me Jofa, say it like Sofa, you look tired hon, lean on my Ottoman.

Women are unislamic. Look instead at my jeweled balls floating heavenwards.

Because April 1st was already taken, fool!

I love the way those bubbles of lightness float across pastel space almost as randomly as the way I park.

I must buy this aqua ensemble because it looks ridiculously expensive and so did my husband.

Nishat Textiles' Pink Lawn: why men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses?

The trauma of a bad billboard or magazine shoot begins to seem like a pleasant memory, though, once the actual sale begins and you happen to be caught in the whirlpool outside. At such times, it becomes apparent why the sale is called an ‘exhibition’, consisting as it does of a shameless display of the worst attributes of most of the women who flock to them. Pushing, shoving, cattiness, oestrogen levels run so high that the hosts with the most have started arranging for Portaloo trucks to be parked outside so women can flee to the bathroom (in packs) and cry in each others arms at the way so and so kept them from buying the last print #666 K-21 Rs 2650.

Queue? Isn’t that a letter in the alphabet?

You’ve probably gathered by now that this is a rant about the willing vacuity and utter and complete lack of civic sense displayed by raving lawnatics rather than a critical analysis of the industry itself. That has already been attempted, in depth, by Karachi Feminist, in two posts about the exploitative working conditions of the women whose field work powers the business of what she dubs ‘blood cotton’. These include greater exposure to pesticide as the appetite for the fabric leads bosses to drive their crews harder, and the absence of any substantive wage increase, regulatory framework or protective rights umbrella for the vast majority of cotton pickers in Pakistan.

She makes a strong case for more ethical consumption and the reformation of labour laws. The benefits of the industry’s growth should, in theory, trickle down to the faceless pickers as well as the individual designers, fashion houses and textile behemoths who package the final product. As this industry continues to explode, each link in the chain from plant to pocket needs to figure out a way to satisfy its desire for dirty, pretty things without making innocent bystanders pay for it.

Pesticide in print? We’re SO ahead of that fashion curve…(Photo: SDPI)

But buying clothes, as some people will tell you, never killed anybody. How exactly is lawn singlehandedly responsible for the pitiful state of workers' lives? Should we also stop buying unbranded fabric, cushion covers, tablecloths, t-shirts, shifts from Sheep, pants from Ego and kurtis from Khaadi? Should we, like, not wear any clothes at all?

Please do. You must. We absolutely insist. Just make sure you’re ok with any hidden costs too.

And don’t act like this is what cars are for when you go to buy them (Photo: Ittehad Textile Mills)

In conclusion, I would like to remind you, in the words of lawn's latest self-appointed messiah, that it is not just a fabric…it’s a lifestyle. It’s a philosophy. It’s a religion. It’s a science. With rockets in it.

Or as his Press Release puts it:

"On the announcement of the launch of The World of HSY Prints, head designer and CEO of the HSY design house Hassan Sheheryar Yasin has said “The World of HSY’s first collection of prints introduced for S/S 2011 is a celebration of self expression, striking a balance between tradition and experimentation where our designs mirror the emotions, cultural heritage and characteristics of the modern Pakistani woman. Having successfully launched couture, resort and prĂȘt lines over our decade long history in fashion, this year we are proud to extend our repertoire to our first ever luxury print collection”"

All of which is aptly communicated by a giant billboard of a man in a suit.

Come, my witless flock, let me fleece you.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Jazba of Corruption?

So yeah, I think we're all pretty psyched now for the Mother Of All Battles to take place in Mohali next Wednesday (March 30). An India - Pakistan World Cup semi-final is really the true final as far as both cricketing rivals are concerned (for one it will be a final, of course, even technically speaking). There can be nothing bigger at this World Cup. Nothing. And even as India completed its thrashing of Australia in the quarter-final today, the excitement at what is to come was already easily palpable. People on Twitter and Facebook were already sharing inspirational songs, hopes and cricketing assessments, expressing fears and neuroses, trash-talking to their digital brethren across the border and hoping to reverse-jinx the other side by talking up its strengths. And there's still five days of an agonizing wait ahead.

But more on that, perhaps, later. What I wanted to share with all of you today was this television advertisement which began airing (I think) on March 23rd. A long time ago, I did a post on the semantics of another mobile phone ad (also coincindentally of the same company) and I thought it's probably a good time to deconstruct another. You almost surely have seen the ad, since it runs repeatedly between the cricket (if you are watching in Pakistan), but have you really seen it? If you haven't, I suggest you take a look, particularly from 0:20 onwards (thanks to @shahidsaeed and @KhizM for helping locate the clip):

I hope you're already thinking what I'm about to say. Which of course is: Really Mobilink??? Did you really think the best way to promote your new product was to reference spot-fixing??? I mean, look at the evidence:

1. Mazhar Majeed character sitting outside tells batsman what shot to play next (0:20-0:25)

2. Side-kick character (the go-between?) reminds batsman not to get run-out without settling monetary compensation first (0:26-0:28). "Don't get run out, for free," he says.

3. Bowler gets his instructions to bowl bouncer also from outside the ground and shares the information with the batsman (0:28-0:30)

4. Batsman acknowledges the receipt of the information (0:31-0:34)

5. Bowler gives knowing smile and signals to batsman to seal deal (0:35-0:36)

6. The entire spot-fixing network is summarized involving the players, the bookie and the go-between (0:39-0:45)

7. The non-involved players represent the wide-eyed, clueless fans who cannot believe anything like this could happen (0:45-0:47). "Such?" [Really?] they exclaim.

8. The agreed deal is executed, with a lollipop bouncer being dispatched for a six (0:47-0:48)

9. Mazhar Majeed character displays his quiet triumph in managing another fix (0:49-0:50). Notice that he is not wildly excited like the other fans rushing on to the ground, his real 'interests' lie somewhere else.

After our recent shame with Messrs Butt, Amir and Asif, did Mobilink really want something like this to seem cool? And during the effing World Cup of all times??? When, for once, we've managed to forget all this and rise above it as a team??

And in the off-off-chance that nobody in Mobilink or the advertising agency actually thought about all this in quite these terms (which I am sure would be the line of convenient defence though everyone and their nanny knows that mobile phones have been banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) even in team's dressing rooms for precisely these reasons), wouldn't you say that there's a sorry bunch of incompetents right there?


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rant of the Day

I have to admit I'm not particularly fond of PPP Senator Faisal Raza Abidi's appearances on television. But that's just because, my ears having been bled from the apparent dominant paradigm of anchors and participants on Pakistani television talk shows, I have a general aversion to over-emotional and LOUD grandstanding. And nobody gets more emotional and louder than Senator Abidi.

However, this typically cataclysmic rant from him on Aaj TV's Aaj Ki Khabar programme on March 17th (which one missed partly because the England - West Indies thriller was on the same night and partly because one doesn't normally bother with Aaj in any case) deserves to be heard. To be fair, he only let loose after the other participants (including the host Absar Alam, Khalifa-ul-Waqt Ansar Abbasi, Justice (retd) Tariq Mahmood, PMLN's Pervez Rashid and Jamaat-e-Islami's cretinous Fareed Paracha) all pointed fingers at the federal government for either letting 'Raymond Davis' go or lying about it.

But more importantly, if you can look beyond the political grandstanding and the ear-splitting volume of Abidi's splenetic fury (I'll admit it'll take some doing), he also makes some rather pointed and valid arguments against those casting the 'Raymond Davis' issue as one of national honour and 'ghairat' as well as the silent sympathisers of extremism and the opportunistic judicial system.

Yeah, so what indeed about the 23,000 plus Pakistanis killed by the Pakistani Taliban? But if you thought this could coax some soul-searching from apologists for extremism such as Fareed Paracha, you'd be sadly mistaken. Paracha subsequently responded that by letting 'Davis' go, the government had blocked people from collaring the people who are actually behind terrorism in Pakistan (i.e. it was 'Davis' and his Blackwater cohorts, it's never the Taliban and their ilk). As I said, cretinous.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

America's Media War

Just in case you thought the Pakistani electronic media was unique in its bittter, on-screen, infighting, you might want to check out yesterday's flap between Fox News and CNN over reporting from Libya.

Here's what Fox News said about an officially-sponsored trip to view the damage to one of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's compounds, caused by the US/UK Tomahawk missile attacks. Having not actually got the footage that other news outlets managed to get, they accused the other journalists of allowing themselves to be used as "human shields" by the Libyan regime to prevent more attacks.

Here's how CNN correspondent Nic Robertson responded to those claims on Wolf Blitzer's programme:

Personally, I find Robertson's indignation that Western journalists could sometimes lie, have personal agendas, cover up for their professional failures and promote propagandistic drivel a bit... how shall I put it delicately?... naive. And to top it all off, we're talking Fox News here folks. But chalo, it's nice to hear someone in CNN (a great proponent of embedded journalism) has the same thoughts about 'one of their own' that most of us know as a truism about the media in general.

On a lighter note, do not miss this encapsulation of American foreign policy hypocrisy vis a vis 'freedom movements in the Middle East', brought to you by the sharpest satirical show in mainstream American media, The Daily Show.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Poor, Sensitive, Hot and Bothered Revolutionaries! (Updated)

OMG. I don't think anyone could have done a better parody even if they had tried. I laughed so hard I almost cried. A Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) supporter / activist presents his case to an Aaj TV cameraman. See this clip to understand why, as the title of the clip says, Imran Khan is doomed. (Thanks to Syed Ali Raza Abidi for the link.)

For those who do not understand the revolutionary Urdu slogans, here is a word-for-word translation of what Islamabad's Che Guevara says:

"See what is happening with our sisters and mothers in this demonstration. We are all from good families. We have come out on to the streets to raise slogans for Imran Khan. We are being beaten by our own police. They're pushing us. We have come for a revolution, for your country. Every person here has come out of his house for this. Who would do such demonstrations in such heat [otherwise]? The police is shoving us, for what? For a foreigner? For Raymond Davis? He caused such bloodshed in Lahore and ran away to his home. See what is happening with Afiya Siddiqui. Nobody has such justice. We have all come out on the streets. Our homes have curtains too. Our women also do purdah. But when revolution requires it, every person in the home comes out on the streets. [To off camera supporter] Am I lying? I'm saying the correct thing, right? Everyone comes out. Sir, look our own police is beating us, how can we bring about a revolution? You tell me, you're from the media. If you're with us, only then will the revolution come about. If the police don't beat us up, only then will the revolution come about. Now look at Imran Khan. What need does he have for this, he's a very rich man. He's standing up there on the stage and addressing people and even he is getting pushed around. Everyone's getting pushed left, right and centre. This brother here, he's totally sapped by the heat. Do we have any need of coming here?"

Or as they say, 'Agar ammi mana na karteen, tau inquilaab zaroor aata!'*

[*The Revolution would surely have happened, if only Mom had not said no.]

: : : UPDATES : : :

Zohair Toru, as we now know is the real name of our Islamabad Che, defends himself on Aaj TV's Bolta Pakistan tonight...

Part 1: You might want to watch the whole of this clip where Nusrat Javed explains the reason for inviting Zohair Toru on to the programme and presents different strands of his argument against the noveau-revolutionaries. But the actual bit with Toru begins around 10:15.

Part 2:  The bit with Toru ends around 05:30, before which he brings up Che Guevara himself. Do not miss Nusrat Javed's response to that.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Blood Money

By the way, just in case you would like to see copies of the court documents from the 'Raymond Davis' case, attesting to the relatives of the deceased accepting diyat (blood money) and allowing the court to acquit the accused, here are some of them. I can't put all of them up (there are too many) but here's a representative sample of relatives' documents of one of the two men killed by 'Davis', Faizan Haider.

Here's the main prayer to the court setting out that the persons named have no objection to 'Raymond Davis' being acquitted by the court since they had accepted compensation and reached agreement to settle the matter.

Here's the individual affidavit of the mother of Faizan Haider, attesting that she has reached an agreement with her son's killer of her "free will, without any fear or pressure, without any enticement, and in her full senses." She further testifies that she has not been subjected to any injustice and has received a sum of Rs. 33,333,333/- from the accused and has no objection at present (nor will she in the future) to the accused being set free.

Here's a similar one from Faizan Haider's wife, acknowledging receipt of Rs. 25,000,000/-.

The rest are pretty much the same. The operative part in each is the share of the blood money received, divided according to shariah rules. The following is the detail of the diyat received by Faizan Haider's family:

Faizan Haider's Mother: Rs. 33,333,333/-
Faizan Haider's Wife: Rs.25,000,000/-
Faizan Haider's Brother No.1: Rs. 7,575,758/-
Faizan Haider's Brother No.2: Rs. 7,575,758/-
Faizan Haider's Brother No.3: Rs. 7,575,758/-
Faizan Haider's Sister No.1: Rs. 3,787,879/-
Faizan Haider's Sister No.2: Rs. 3,787,879/-
Faizan Haider's Sister No.3: Rs. 3,787,879/-
Faizan Haider's Sister No. 4: Rs. 3,787,879/-
Faizan Haider's Sister No. 5: Rs. 3,787,879/-
Total Diyat paid to Faizan Haider's relatives: Rs.100,000,002/- which translates into US$1,166,744/- at the current rate of exchange.

The relatives of the second man killed, Mohammad Faheem, received similar compensation.

Of course, there has long been an argument that the provision of paying diyat or blood money, while sanctified under Islamic law, leads to abuse of justice in an unequal society, since it more often than not allows the rich and influential to literally get away with murder. Nevertheless, this is very much a part of Pakistani law and in fact apparently used in a majority of murder cases according to lawyers. Those protesting against 'Davis' buying his way to freedom might want to question the Qissas and Diyat Laws in a more structural manner.

Please do note that I am not making any judgement about whether these affidavits were actually obtained without any pressure on the relatives. That is something for the court to decide and seemingly it seems to have decided to accept their authenticity. The case of the third man killed (by being run over) during that incident, Ibadur Rehman, has yet to be resolved.

Tailpiece: The editor of The News Islamabad, Mohammad Mallick claimed in a programme on Geo, that what this case has proved is that accused was tried by our courts and that local law takes precedence over the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Immunity. That is pure hogwash of course. It does nothing of the sort. For one, the trial never proceeded beyond indictment because of the 'out of court' settlement and so the accused was neither tried nor convicted. Secondly, the issue of diplomatic immunity never entered into the equation in this case since the Pakistan Foreign Office had stated (somewhat ambiguously) that in its opinion 'Raymond Davis' did not have documentation to support his plea for diplomatic immunity. So the issue of local laws taking precedence over the Vienna Conventions does not arise at all. For an editor of a major paper, Mr Mallick sure plays fast and loose with facts.

The War Within Geo

If you thought Pakistani society was polarized, take a look at the open warfare going on under the same media house roof.

The issue being discussed was, of course, the sudden release of the man known as Raymond Davis from jail after the payment of diyat or 'blood money' to the relatives of the deceased. What better time than that, thought Geo's analysts with wildly divergent points of view, to attack each other in the most personalized manner possible?

First up, Geo's Capital Talk programme, where host Hamid Mir assembled a long list of panelists and commentators he knew (or hoped) would raise a hue and cry about the release, among them the odious Irfan Siddiqui, the slippery Mohammad Mallick, the dissenting lawyer for the victims' families and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. But star attraction was of course the once journalist-now-self-righteous turd known as Ansar Abbasi. Abbasi had made his contempt for the result of the case known earlier during Geo's news bulletins but had basically tied himself up in knots over the fact that 'Davis'' release had come about through the application of the Islamic Qissas and Diyat Laws - which have been often criticised for allowing the rich to get away with murder - laws that Abbasi can't bring himself to critique. That and the fact that ostensibly all of his former idols and regular sources, the ISI, the Sharif brothers and the judiciary were complicit in allowing 'Davis' to get away, seemed to have truly left him bewildered, though unfortunately not at a loss for words.

In today's programme, which went on air at 8pm PST, Abbasi made a number of remarkable claims, such as his opinion (presented as the gospel truth) that the case was one of 'fisaad fil arz' [spreading division in the land] rather than a double murder and therefore making diyat inapplicable. He further added that all terrorism should now solely be blamed on the military establishment, the federal government of the PPP and the Punjab government of the PMLN for letting 'Davis' go. Not for nothing is Abbasi known as an apologist for the religious extremists who might actually be carrying out the acts of terror.

But Abbasi decided this was also the time to vent his considerable frustration at fellow Geo analysts who had presented an analysis entirely opposite to his. So, without naming names but making it abundantly clear who he meant, he called Najam Sethi (who had also presented his analysis on earlier Geo bulletins) "an American agent." As proof he cited Sethi claiming to know what discussions were being held between the Pakistan government and the Americans. You can see what he said in the following clip, between 10:00 and 10:35...

It has to be mentioned that Hamid Mir had, in fact, begun his programme with a soliloquy also directed very much at Najam Sethi, criticising those who were gloating over their predictions having come true and blaming the media for misleading the public while supposedly not mentioning how the Americans had been proved wrong.

All it took was another two hours for the reply, in Aapas Ki Baat, Geo's 11pm PST programme featuring Najam Sethi. The opening intro by host Munib Farooq immediately set the tone for the programme as seemingly a reply to Mir and Abbasi. But by the end of the programme, Sethi had managed, also without naming names but making it abundantly clear who he meant, to call Ansar Abbasi and Mir brainless twits and journalists "jo apnay aap ko phannay khan samajhtay hain lekin ander se bilkul phuss hain" [who think the world of themselves but who are as empty as deflated balloons]. You can see and hear what he said between 0:00 and about 4:45 in the following clip:

Don't you just love Geo's tolerance of diversity? Or should one say glasnost?

Knowing the vindictive natures of both Abbasi and Mir, however, expect more sparks to fly in the pages of the Jang Group's publications. This is going to get very ugly unless the Jang Group clamps down now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Just when you think Pakistani political discourse cannot sink any lower, your delusions are undermined with even more sleaze.

Our SleazeMaster of the Day is none other than Sindh Home Minister, Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza, who has never been a stranger to spouting crude diatribes in an 'I'll say what I want and I don't care what you think!' fashion. He has understandably been under some pressure recently since his party, the Pakistan People's Party's (PPP's) main parliamentary ally, the Muttaheda Qaumi Movement (MQM), had sort of made his removal from his current post or a restraining order on his mouth a precondition for continuing support to the government. He seems to have been particularly irked by a story in The News and Jang on March 14 that he was about to be shown the door as Home Minister within 10-12 days and it was partly the intervention of his wife, Fehmida Mirza, the current Speaker of the National Assembly, that prevented an immediate boot. Nothing cuts as deep for a self-professed "badmaash" than a blow to his manliness apparently.

Whether that particular story is correct or not (Mirza calls it baseless), the minister decided to vent his frustration on the floor of the Sindh Assembly by moving a 'privilege motion' calling for the publisher and editor of The News to be summoned to the provincial parliament to answer his charges of concocting stories. But of course Mirza could not leave it just at that. He then went on to personally target the CEO of the Jang Group, Mir Shakilur Rehman (MSR), in what can only be called one of the sleaziest speeches ever made on the floor of any parliament.

You have to hear Mirza in all his sleazy glory to understand what I mean:

In case you cannot follow the Urdu, basically, the gist of his defamatory diatribe against MSR was this: MSR as a schoolboy was picked up by a local thug, sexually abused and photographed in compromising positions and then blackmailed with those photographs for about a year. In an act of apparent charity, Mirza and his friends, Agha Siraj Durrani (also a provincial minister) and President Asif Zardari - who were all schoolmates of MSR - managed to get the photographs back from the thug (how, it's not quite made clear) so that the blackmailing could be put an end to. And this is why MSR continues to harbour a grudge against them and is running negative stories about them. And if he doesn't stop, Mirza promised to bring the photographs to show in the Sindh Assembly to humiliate MSR.

If you think the above story makes no sense, that would make two of us. First of all, if Mirza et al were his benefactors, why would MSR hold a grudge against them? Secondly, if the threat of further blackmail from them were the reason for MSR's upset, well, hasn't Mirza proved those fears correct with his words today? In fact, has he not openly and publicly threatened blackmail? But far more importantly, what kind of person - let alone a legislator - thinks it is perfectly all right to relate such a story for public consumption, not to mention in the vulgar street language employed? And this person is supposed to be responsible for law and order in this blighted province?

I don't really care what the agreement between the PPP and MQM is. Zulfiqar Mirza deserves to be sacked for this speech. And sacked immediately.

Of course, let's not forget that the only major channel to carry this speech verbatim was Express News and its sister English language channel Express 24/7, whose owner Sultan Lakhani has been in a long-standing, bitter rivalry with MSR. You cannot convince me that his own personal rivalry and a desire to humiliate MSR were not a factor in the decision to run such a shameful speech.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Permutations of Cricketing Masochism

I had vowed at some point in Pakistan's dismal recent cricketing history not to write on cricket again. Actually I had probably vowed not to watch cricket again as well. But of course I knew even then that I was lying to myself. There is something inherently masochistic in a Pakistan cricket fan that keeps her/him coming back, even at the almost certain risk of heart-break, social ostracization from polite company and medical complications such as untenably high blood pressure. And then along comes the World Cup and Pakistan, despite all their quirks and Kamran Akmal, do scrape through to the quarter-finals.

So there you have it. What can you do?

Of course, getting through to the knock-out stage is only the first part of the battle and, as every cricket-mad enthusiast in Pakistan will affirm, the bigger question on everyone's mind is who we will end up playing in the quarterfinals. The consensus seems to be that we would not like to meet India in the quarters. Some claim this is because they would not like to see the Mother Of All cricket battles take place so early in the competition. Pakistan's skipper Shahid Afridi claims this is because he would rather NOT play the quarters in India with its fiercely partisan crowd, which would be the case if Pakistan meet India at that stage. But of course, mostly it's because Pakistan has never won against India in previous World Cups and the memory of the Bangalore quarterfinals against India in 1996 still haunts us.

Well, the simple (by which I mean complicated) fact of the matter is that, as the points table is placed at the moment, an India-Pakistan can only be definitely avoided if a certain combination of results happen. Like all fellow masochists and failed mathematicians, I have wasted quite a bit of time on working out the probable permutations. And so I thought I might as well share them with everyone.

Here is the points table as it stands tonight (March 14):
(NRR = Net Run Rate)

Group A:

New Zealand is on top with 8 points, 4 wins, NRR of +1.957 with 1 match to play against Sri Lanka
Pakistan is second with 8 points, 4 wins, NRR of +0.729 with 1 match to play against Australia
Sri Lanka is third with 7 points, 3 wins, NRR of +2.705 with 1 match to play against New Zealand
Australia is fourth with 7 points, 3 wins, NRR of +1.645 with 2 matches to play against Canada and Pakistan
Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya are out of the quarterfinals

Group B:

India is on top with 7 points, 3 wins, NRR of +0.768 with 1 match to play against West Indies
West Indies is second with 6 points, 3 wins, NRR of +2.206 with 2 matches to play against England and India
South Africa is third with 6 points, 3 wins, NRR of +1.352 with 2 matches to play against Ireland and Bangladesh
Bangladesh is fourth with 6 points, 3 wins, NRR of -0.765 with 1 match to play against South Africa
England is fifth with 5 points, 2 wins, NRR of +0.013 with 1 match to play against West Indies
Ireland is sixth with 2 points, 1 win, NRR of -0.444 with 2 matches to play against South Africa and Netherlands
Netherland is out of the quarterfinals

Now, as far as Group A is concerned, it is almost a certainty that Australia will beat Canada, so let's take that as a given. Further permutations are:

Scenario A1: 
New Zealand beats Sri Lanka and Australia beats Pakistan.
This would mean that New Zealand ends up on 10 points, Sri Lanka remains on 7 points and Pakistan on 8 points. Australia will end up on 11 points and top the group. In this case Pakistan will be placed third in the group.

Scenario A2:
New Zealand beats Sri Lanka and Pakistan beats Australia.
This will most probably result in Pakistan coming second in the group since it is unlikely to overhaul New Zealand's better NRR.

Scenario A3:
Sri Lanka beats New Zealand and Australia beats Pakistan.
Sri Lanka will move on to 9 points, Australia on 11, New Zealand and Pakistan remain on 8 points with NZ probably having a better NRR still. Pakistan ends up in fourth position.

Scenario A4:
Sri Lanka beats New Zealand and Pakistan beats Australia.
Pakistan tops table with 10 points, followed by Sri Lanka or Australia (both on 9) and New Zealand on 8.

As far as Group B is concerned there are even more permutations. But let's assume certain things, such as South Africa almost certainly beating Ireland and Bangladesh (I know this may be a bit unfair to the Pommie-killers but we have to retain some level of realistic probability as well or it all gets much too complicated):

Scenario B1:
India beats West Indies and England beats West Indies.
In this case, South Africa is on top with 10 points, India is second with 9, England is third with 7 and West Indies is fourth with 6 (edging out Bangladesh on better NRR).

Scenario B2:
India beats West Indies and West Indies beat England.
In this case, South Africa is first with 10 points, India second with 9, West Indies third with 8 and Bangladesh fourth with 6. England is out.

Scenario B3:
West Indies beat India and England beats West Indies.
South Africa top the table with 10 points, West Indies is second with 8, India or England is third and fourth depending on NRR.

Scenario B4:
West Indies beat India and England.
West Indies top the table with 10 points and better NRR than South Africa (in second position also with 10 points), India is third with 7, Bangladesh is fourth with 6. England is out.

Now, Pakistan will end up meeting India in the quarters if any of the following combinations take place:

A1 + B1
A1 + B2
A2 + B3
A2 + B4
A4 + B3 (if India comes fourth depending on NRR)

As you can see from the above, the only scenario in which a Pakistan - India quarterfinal can be avoided from Pakistan's end at all costs is A3, i.e. if Pakistan LOSES to Australia AND Sri Lanka beats New Zealand. Obviously, Pakistan can't do much about the Sri Lanka - New Zealand match but it could play its part by losing to Australia, couldn't it?
Now, those with a keen eye and a propensity to cut through mathematical bullcrap will surely point out that the following combinations will also ensure that India and Pakistan do not meet in the first stage of the knock-outs: A1 + B3, A1 + B4, A2 + B1, A2 + B2, A4 + B1, A4 + B2, A4 + B4. And that's not even counting possible rain washouts, ties and any upsets of the assumptions I have made regarding Canada, Bangladesh and Ireland.

I have done all this, of course, only to prove one thing: Pakistani cricket masochism leads to a loss of all sensible and rational thought.

So yeah, fuckit. Just play the game lads. And to my fellow masochists, does it really matter if Pakistan meets India rather than South Africa or West Indies or England or even Bangladesh in the knockout stages? There's no getting round the fact that we've got to beat them to move on.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Speech of the Day

Finally, someone in the National Assembly, who has the guts to say what must be said about the assassination of Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti.

The legislator is MNA Asiya Nasir, elected on a reserved women's seat from Balochistan, the only minority female legislator in the National Assembly and speaking the day after the murder. She holds a Masters in English literature from the Government Girls College, Quetta and a certificate in Teachers' Training and is a member of the NGO Aurat Foundation. She has been a member of the House since 2002 when she was elected on a reserved seat for minorities. Remarkably, she is affiliated politically with the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam - Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F) and was elected in 2002 (as well as in 2008) on a ticket of the 'religious' parties alliance, the Muttaheda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

A powerful speech that should be heard by all in Pakistan, especially because it raises uncomfortable truths...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

'The Desert Out There'

Many of us have often had a laugh about Americans' woeful knowledge about the rest of the world.

Well, what would you say to this? A BBC Urdu correspondent roamed the streets of Punjab's largest and most cosmopolitan city, Lahore, to ask random people on the street how much they knew of Balochistan. His report is compiled under the heading "Punjab Balochistan Ko Kitna Jaanta Hai?" (How well does Punjab know Balochistan?). Keep in mind that Lahore is not a rural backwater where media is not easily accessible, that Punjab's population comprises some 60 percent of the Pakistan's population and that in the last three years, the issue of Balochistan has probably been one of the most talked about issues in domestic politics. Think for a moment what it says about our educational system, our media, our democracy, our policy-making,  our national integration and yes, our majoritarian chauvinism.

If this does not actually shock you, you're made of sterner stuff than I am. (Thanks to Akhtar Rind for pointing us to the link.)

Friday, March 4, 2011

An Overdue Acknowledgement

Unlike MSS, or at least partly unlike MSS, I truly was at a loss for words about the the assassination of Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti. The only words that seemed to express the intensity of the despair I felt about the abyss staring us in the face came from poetry. In fact, before MSS posted her piece, I thought a collection of Urdu couplets was the only way I could mark this tragedy, because what is the point of repeating all that I have said so many times before. I might still do a post with such a collection, but here's a sample, from Faiz:

"Amaa'n kaisi ke mauj-e-khoo'n abhi sar se nahin guzri
Guzar jaaye tau shaayad baazu-e-qaatil thehr jaaye"
[No one is safe, for the wave of blood has yet to wash over our heads
Perhaps once we drown the killer's hand will be stayed] 

But my reasons for writing today are slightly different. I have to admit that I am not a regular watcher of DawnNews, a hangover probably of experiences from the channel's earlier incarnation. But I also have to admit that whenever I have had a chance to see its Reporter programme (usually on someone's recommendation), it has generally pleasantly surprised me. Reporter, and its host, Arshad Sharif, have been quietly and soberly plugging away with sensible debate about issues that most television current affairs programmes either do not touch or deal with only in bombastic or sensational overtones. I thought I owed it to Reporter to link to parts of the hard-hitting programme about this murder of an upright Pakistani which bear being viewed and heard by more people. It almost made me have hope in Pakistani political talk shows again.

Here's one part where renowned rights activist Hina Jilani rightly sticks it not only to the government but also to the media and the political opposition:

Here's another part, where Dr. Moeed Pirzada (newly inducted into Pakistan Television) gives a very decent summation. But in particular do not miss the strong speech by Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, Chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council. It's probably the only time I have heard a political maulvi talk sense on this matter.

Could television still be reformed?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Graveyard for Lunatics

DISCLAIMER: This piece was written yesterday, and then languished overnight due to a PTCL outage. It contains emotion and other profanity.

I am rarely at a loss for words. I certainly wasn’t this morning, when I started out on a smarmy skewering of George Fulton’s ‘I’m leaving Pakistan because she’s being mean to me dammit!' piece in the Express Tribune yesterday. I was going to run with his personification of the blessed motherland as a flighty female prone to self-destructive megalomania, I was. I was particularly taken with the bit featuring the Bryan Adams song where Pakistan, the impenetrable, fecund, feminine other, sings to him the lyrics To really love a woman/ To understand her - you gotta know her deep inside/ Hear every thought - see every dream/ N' give her wings - if she wants to fly/ Then when you find yourself lyin' helpless in her arms/ You know you really love a woman...

Then I ran it by another Pyala who, with what is in hindsight admirable self-restraint, politely asked me if I’d bothered turning on the TV or reading the news today. I did both and found out that our Federal Minister for Minorities had been assassinated in Islamabad. And then there I was, open mouthed, shell shocked, silent, on the dreaded Island of Lost Words. In such a situation, what is the value of mere words?

Ironically enough, it is Infinite, according to those behind the latest assassination in Islamabad this morning. I will be happy to issue a retraction should the motives behind this senseless tragedy be conclusively proved to be something mundane, like extortion, or something exculpating to the national conscience, like ‘a hidden hand’, but until then I shall continue to assume that, like the late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti was killed because of the words he uttered.

These words, for which he had been receiving death threats for the past month, had specifically to do with the late minister’s position on our blasphemy law. Mr. Bhatti, representing as he did some of the most disenfranchised citizens of this blighted nation, bravely and ceaselessly kept pointing out the way the law has been misused to harass and oppress his constituents. His essential argument, that a law that leads to injustice more often than it does justice merits reform if not repeal, was in direct opposition to the simplistic, ignorant stance taken by most of the participants in what passes for public discourse on the subject. For this principled stance Mr. Bhatti, like others before him, paid with his life.

Words then, I have to continue to assume, are powerful enough for other people to feel threatened by. Words that carry truth, particularly when they touch upon the misinterpretation of religion, intimidate those whose words don’t. In our history, or rather our collective amnesia, we have often responded to words of truth and beauty with the vituperation, forcing into exile or silencing of those who utter them. But now I have to ask myself a different question, i.e. what is the value of mere words when the other side is using guns?

There was a time when some of us would have leapt at the chance to throw words into this maelstrom, to comment on a senseless tragedy like the one today. As journalists, as commentators, as columnists, it would have been like going to the Promised Land. High profile murder? Check. Law and order issue? Check. Spectre of extremism? Check. Possibility of point scoring against toothless government? Check. Energizing, empowering, emboldening feeling of being part of a struggle that is bigger than one’s self? Check, Check, Check and Check!

That time is long past.

Now, when we sit down at our keyboards, our desks, or take our notebooks in our hands to begin the process of writing another Pakistani’s obituary, another summation of the life of a brother or sister felled by the demon of militant extremism we have allowed to feed on our children, it is not the purposeful elation of a collective struggle we feel but despair. Despair, in someone else’s words, “of the possibility of ever changing the prevailing state of affairs, of ever being redeemed from it..”

Faced with this insidious, creeping bleakness, even the strongest of us might be tempted, fleetingly, to embrace the self-anesthetization, the comfortable numbness, of those who survive by not speaking at all, by not writing at all, by not thinking at all. But we must. We must because there is soft ground beneath us and if we stop, even for a second, to rest or lick our wounds we might sink and be lost.

So today I write this not as a journalist or a commentator or a columnist or a wiseass but as a Pakistani. I write this for those moderate Muslims who no longer wish to think, write or speak into an apparent vacuum so that you know you are not alone. I write this for my Christian, Hindu, Scheduled Caste, Atheist, Agnostic countrymen and women, so that they know that they are not alone. I write this for me, so that I know I am not alone.

I write that I condemn, in the kind of language I would like to hear from our gutless, myopic leaders, the brutal, unjust slaying of a brave, principled man advocating a return to the pluralistic principles on which this country was founded. I write that I condemn those within the political and military establishment who protect the nest of vipers in our midst. I write that I condemn the spineless, self-preserving hedging about of the spineless, self-preserving fuckwits swarming TV and newsprint. I write that I condemn the willful, witless intolerance seemingly decent people practice through their silence during bloodthirsty sermons delivered in mosques and drawing rooms. I write that I condemn those whose reaction to events like this is a diminishing of their personal and political engagement with the world around them rather than an expansion. I write that I condemn every parent, grandparent or caregiver who lets strangers dictate their child’s moral code.

And I write that I take personal issue with every man, woman or adolescent who says ‘but’ when debating whether dissension merits death.


I picked up the papers with trepidation this morning, precisely because I was afraid to read passages like the one below, taken from Dawn’s story about PM Gilani’s ‘new strategy to fight extremism’.

"THREE REMAIN SEATED: But many in the house and the galleries were surprised to see three bearded members of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman remaining seated in their chairs when the rest of lawmakers stood up to observe two minutes’ silence for Mr Bhatti.

There was no immediate explanation what motivated the JUI back-benchers, in the absence of their party leader, to violate a parliamentary etiquette, and a directive given by the chair, in agreement with some voices raised in the house, that members stand up to pay a silent tribute to their assassinated colleague."

Here’s a new strategy for you to fight extremism with PM Gilani: name and shame those who will not rise against it.