Sunday, April 29, 2007

Pakistan Top 5

Freedom, thrill, family, smartness, and girls.

[By Tehman Lall, a Lahore-based MBA student; picture by Khantipol.]

This is the second article in the Proud, Powerful and Pak series.

The complete freedom
Contrary to its international reputation as a paradise for military dictators where people are urged to vote in rigged elections, Pakistan is remarkably free in many other ways. Driving in the highways, avenues and streets is an eye opener. There are no clear and strict driving restrictions. Everyone is the hero of his life. Do what you will, how and when you will.

The edgy thrill
Is Benazir Bhutto striking a deal with the army? Will mullahs throw stones at women participating in the Lahore marathon? Has Musharraf asked Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to resign? Are judges going on strike? Did Tourism Minister Nilofar Bakhtiar really hug and kiss her parachute instructor in France? Is ISI backing the Taliban? The unexpectedness and 'dynamic' element of the political and social scene in the country makes it rather exciting to live in such a news-making place.

The family values
There is a true feeling of brotherhood which gives a sense of security in the society. In spite of growing westernization, a sense of family and community continue to survive in the dense middle-lower class localities, neighborhoods and townships all over Pakistan. Households tend to help each other and there is always an element of trust and affiliation in these localities.

The smart people
Who says Pakistan is dumb? The place is famous for the corrupt and negative ingenuity of its leaders. There is an abundance of crooked-minded folks who can’t be accused of any lack in creativity. Many of our rich and powerful seem to be using a good share of their intelligence for their own ends and causes. (That is why they are rich and powerful!) This proves we are not brainless after all.

The Veiled People
Perhaps one of the more appealing aspects of our country is its world-renowned female beauty. Who can deny their elevated sense of culture, dress, pragmatism and yes, the 'hard-to-get' games they love to play!

[Pakistanis from all walks of life are invited to share what they believe are the five best things about their country. You too must be a part of this. Send your favourites to mayankaustensoofi@gmail.com.]

Friday, April 27, 2007

5 Best Things about Pakistan – Difficult to List!

Is there anything beautiful about this country?

[By Saeeda Diep, a Lahore-based peace activist; cartoon by Abro.]

This is the first article in the Proud, Powerful and Pak series.

I was asked by the Pakistan Paindabad website to share five aspects that, according to me, shows my country Pakistan in best light. I was given ample choices. It could have been anything – people, history, religion, or culture. However, after some major analysis and introspection, I have come to the conclusion that it would be very difficult for me to list 5 good things about this nation.

A country whose people have not been able to get rid of the military dictatorship, a culture which is severely ridden with religious intolerance, a justice system which turns a blind eye to the harassment of minorities, a flawed society which has its fabric torn by an unequal distribution of wealth, could have nothing beautiful about it.

I believe it will be extremely unfair on my part to write about something I do not believe in. Perhaps, the one and the only thing that makes me a proud Pakistani is that we are the best in hospitality.

Please accept my apologies.

[Pakistanis from all walks of life are invited to share what they believe are the five best things about their country. You too must be a part of this. Send your favourites to mayankaustensoofi@gmail.com.]

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Exclusive - Proud, Powerful, and Pak

Time to stop cribbing. Pakistan Paindabad is launching a special series My 5 Best Pakistan Picks.

Pakistanis from all walks of life will share what they believe are the five best things about their country. You too must join the carnival. Send your favourites to mayankaustensoofi@gmail.com. Come, celebrate the nation.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Khyber Pass Memoirs

A retired British RAF Pilot discloses ‘Pakistan Paindabad’ was the first Urdu phrase he learnend.

[Mr. Tony Connane is a former Royal Air Force Pilot and lives in UK. His books include Red Arrows: The Inside Story. Mr. Connane holds the copyright of these pictures. He can be reached in his website Tony Cunnane - author and pilot.]

Peshawar, 1969




I’m pleased to see an Indian trying to present the better side of Pakistan to the rest of the world through this website. I wish to use the occasion to share some of my old memories of Pakistan with the readers.

In 1969, I had gone to Pakistan on a one year exchange posting as a flying instructor to the Pakistan Air Force Academy at Risalpur in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The Academy had a magnificent location right on the southern edge of the Himalayas. It lay midway between Islamabad and Peshawar.

Two Officers 'leaving' Pakistan to walk the short distance across the No-Man's Land to the Afghan Border Post




Smiles and Poses of the Pakistani and Afghani Border Guards


Once during a leave period there, I had planned to visit Agra in the neighboring India. It was then that I discovered the virtual impossibility of traveling by air between the two countries. I was also persuaded that since I was working for the Pakistan government it would not be a good idea to travel to its rival nation.

Khyber Pass winding back on itself several times, while in the far distance is the Plain, and beyond that Peshawar




Instead, I flew to Dacca via Karachi and arrived there just in time for a general strike where I was confined to my hotel for a couple of days.

British Indian Regimental Badges Carved into the Rock Face




During my stay in Pakistan, I did manage to go up the Khyber Pass as far as the Afghan border. (I doubt if it would be safe to do that today.) I also had a trip with a couple of Pakistan Air Force escorts right up into the hill country to a village, (whose name I cannot remember) about 12,000 feet above sea level. From there we looked into Kashmir. It was a beautiful view.

Entrance to Khyber Pass and Tribal Territories




Incidentally, Pakistan Paindabad was the very first Urdu phrase I was taught when I arrived in Pakistan. The next two were achcha and tiga. With those phrases and an expressive shrug of the shoulders you could get a long way!

Khyber Hills as Seen from the Summit of the Pass


Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


Pakistan is truly a lovely country. I believe that most people there are tolerant of each other. It is only when politicians or extremists get in on the act that trouble starts. But the world has always been that way and probably always will. The creator of this site has set himself a noble task and I wish him well.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Heera Mandi - The Dream House of the Whores

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times
GO STRAIGHT TO MORE STORIES

Women from Heera Mandi - tough lives behind the vennerMidnight excursion in the alleys of Lahore's red light district.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Tariq Saeed; the author traveled to Lahore in 2006.]

I felt like a bridegroom who had come to pick out one of the three beautiful sisters. Sitting next to each other on a blue sofa, they blushed and coquettishly glanced at us.

An old woman with a straight back and shining-white hair sat down on the floor and talked of the heat and humidity. She had a firm, commanding voice that sliced and rebuked the air with the sharp tanginess of a most refined form of spoken Urdu.

Unlike the brightly-colored and intricately designed shalwaar kameeze of the girls, the stern woman stood apart in an off-white dress and a white netted dupatta, carefully adjusted on her head.

It seemed like a cultured Muslim family, but the girls were not sisters. They were prostitutes. The old lady was not a mother looking for suitable boys for her daughters, but a pleasure-house Madam.

We were in Heera Mandi — "a bazaar of diamonds" — Pakistan's oldest red light district.

Crossing into the Red Light

I was in Pakistan to take part in a conference for a visa-free South Asia and was tied up with a series of seminars and speeches during the day. Night was the time to explore the city and Heera Mandi had to be a necessary pilgrimage.

Mian Naeem, a soft-spoken Lahore-based sculptor and art-critic, had agreed to take me there. It was a place I particularly wished to visit, especially after reading an excellent book by the British author Louise Brown, The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan's Ancient Pleasure District.

A Road Leading to Sin

Mian Naeem parked his vintage car outside the periphery of Heera Mandi. It was past midnight, perhaps the right time to take a dip into the secrets of the flesh.

The evening had grown slightly middle-aged. The madams and their agents were likely to be tolerant towards pleas for cheaper bargaining. The available girls were unlucky to be picked yet and hopefully more resigned in their choice for customers. Further, the shield of the deep-night darkness made it easy to imagine that Allah would be too sleepy to notice his faithful venturing out to make sinful transactions.

The streets were crowded with the revelers of the night. Restaurants, and only restaurants, lined both the sides. The blazing fire in the tandoors, the complicated smell of chicken curry and gutter stink, the cries of the cooks, and the laughter of the diners combined to create a blurred sensation in the mind.

The path was narrow, but not straight. We climbed up and down as if walking in the old quarters of a hill resort. The people who inhabited the ancient houses in these streets looked suitably decent, making it difficult to believe we were approaching a red light district.

The Ground Beneath Their Feet

Some more steps, then a right turn, and we walked under an open sky. "This is Heera Mandi," Mian Naeem declared.

A crowd of boys cheered in a dimly lit tin-shed where a snooker table glowed under a bare light bulb. There were carts selling bananas, biryanis, and flowers. Brightly lit eateries with used chicken bones strewn on the floors were filled to the brim.

There was no lady standing under the lampposts soliciting clients. There was no man acting like a lady's agent. The shaky, frail-looking structures rising up on both sides of the street ahead were gloomily submerged in darkness. Their doors and windows were closed and the balconies were sullen and quiet.

We walked ahead and noticed an alley to the right. Two women stood a short distance away, whispering to each other. Their faces were cloaked with shadows. A thin man with a garland of chameli flowers wrapped around his wrists appeared from behind and overtook us with drunken steps.

Gradually the darkness began to lose its sheen. The street became livelier. As we penetrated deeper more doors were found open and more windows gave view to the lighted spaces inside. Mian Naeem pointed across to a room jutting out into the pathway. It had a large window and a most beautiful creation was peeking out from there.

She looked divine and more beautiful than the Indian actress Aishwarya Rai. With a pimple-free fair complexion and fine shaped lips, her eyes expressed eagerness and her hands signaled invitation. Her steps were as light as a bird as she hurried from the window towards the door.

Dressed in a white lehenga and her anklet bells jingling music every time she moved, she looked all set to burst into a mujra. There were no creams, rouge, eyeliners, and powders disfiguring her face. A mild shade of maroon suggested the promise of a kiss from her slightly pouted lips.

Tempted by a Dancing Girl

Our eyes met and her face simmered of sentiments that suggested my walking away would break her heart. She looked pure, gracious, and yet highly amorous. It seemed as if I was the wine she was thirsting for all her life.

Mian Naeem said her name was Saira, that she used to be quite coveted in her time. Now, Saira was in her 30s and her business had gone down. Unlike in the past when she picked out only the handsome and the very wealthy, she presently took in any person who walked by her quarters. The revelation was disappointing. That she had singled me out was unremarkable in light of this information.

More Sight Seeing

Three unshaven boys, looking hip in their long hair, sat in a shop that had its walls adorned with posters of Gone with the Wind and Casablanca. Guitars, electronic keyboards, and drums were placed haphazardly on a wooden counter. It was a rock music band that accompanied the ladies in the private dance parties, a popular trend in upper class Lahore.

Until a few years back, Heera Mandi was acclaimed for its musical heritage. It boasted a rich tradition of Indian classical music and indeed many famous singers of the subcontinent were born, groomed, and trained in its chambers.

Adjacent to this rock band was the sitting room where Mian Naeem had taken me to have a look at the three sisters. The ragged-faced agent who stood outside suggested a girl of our choice could perform a Bollywood dance for five hundred rupees. After we took leave, Mian Naeem mentioned there were higher prices for other kind of performances.

Indeed, the highest possible price was always demanded for the betrothal of a virgin. Deflowering involved rituals that were not different from the ceremonies demanded by a proper marriage. Large sums were paid by the groom. Feasts were thrown by the madam-mother and blessings were offered to the girl as she prepared for her initiation into the world's most ancient profession.

Usually the most beautiful had their virginity sold to the rich sheikhs and princes of countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain where they were flown and their temporary living arrangements paid for by their husbands.

As we walked past more such sitting rooms, Mian Naeem pointed out the agents and provided tips on how to identify them. In many places, the rooms were closed from the front but there were camouflaged entrances from the sides. On one of the balconies lounged a bare-chested man while below the lady of the house was eyeing the prospective clients. A little ahead, brightly dressed women were quickly settling themselves in a cab that, according to Mian Naeem, would take them to the apartments of rich Lahori men.

The Unreal Reality

It was strange walking in the by-lanes of Heera Mandi. Officially, Pakistan is an Islamic republic where prostitution is punishable by death and where most of the women do not show their naked face to any male except their closest relatives.

Yet we were in a neighborhood, in the heart of Lahore, which seemed to have been frozen in time. It was as if the outer rules of the much real world could not intrude here. No one seemed to be bothered by the laws that were applicable in the rest of the city.

The sex district was like a paradise where one could freely indulge in the pleasures of the flesh, and get away from the oppressed world of Shariat laws and Koranic injunctions; a balm which one could apply to soothe his soul made claustrophobic by so many morals; a relief which one could momentarily cherish amidst a life made predictable and burdensome by nagging spouses and aged parents.

Indeed, Heera Mandi was a world far away from the despairing headlines of Islamic fundamentalism, America's war on terrorism, and Bin laden videos. It was a world very different from all the known worlds. It was an easy place where real life was unreal and where it was possible to experience unconditional love and fanciful sex — for a price.

The Tragic Face of the Pleasure District

But of course Heera Mandi is a pleasure house only in its false description. It is actually a mirage that has the power to destroy the lives of both its residents and its visitors.

Attractive prostitutes like Saira might be able to hide their true age and be familiar with all the seductive charms for trapping gullible boys, but they are done with once their bloom is lost. From there it is a downhill journey towards a life plagued by poverty, despair, loneliness, and AIDS.

Most of the Heera Mandi prostitutes share the same miserable end. These women who had once sold their virginity for thousands of dinars to rich gulf state sheikhs finally slip down to a stage where ten rupees is their demand price (which could be further bargained) for hurried services with poor vegetable vendors. There could not be more poignant irony.

Some prostitutes, fortunate to give birth to beautiful daughters, do live a luxurious life of rich madams, but still the melancholy of their old age could not be wished away.

The Twilight Days of Heera Mandi

Happily, the morally righteous have reasons to smile. These are the final days of Heera Mandi. The place has started decaying like a rotten corpse. What had started off as a pampered district built next to a Mughal fort now lies uncared for in a filthy part of old Lahore.

Once upon a time, Mughal princes courted its virgins. The wealthy culture-loving families, from the feudal estates of North India, used to send their young sons to be trained under the guidance of the Heera Mandi ladies. They were expected to learn the style of fine Urdu conversation, to appreciate the nuances of Hindustani classical music and to get well versed in the art of lovemaking.

Once upon a time the ladies here were more sophisticated than the women of the most respected and rich families of the land. But now an eclipse has set in.

Times have changed. Heera Mandi is merely another red light district. Girls are patronized for quick sex sessions rather than for their poetry recitation. Courtesans have become call girls. Eminent people, with claims to middle-class respectability, no longer desire to be seen strolling in its streets. Even the ladies' chambers are shutting down.

The pleasure ladies are gradually leaving Heera Mandi quarters for the modern secretive flats of Defense and Gulberg. The thrill of midnight cruising is being replaced by deals made over mobile phones. A world is coming to an end, soon to be gone with the wind. Heera Mandi will become a fable, a fantasy, a dream house of the whores.

Epilogue

On our way back we stopped in a mud-built shack to have sweet, milky cardamom-flavored tea with oily fried goat testicles.

The night was growing old. The noise was quieting down. And the shadows were growing larger.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

New Dawn for Pakistan's Unloved Citizens?

Katasraj Temple in Punjab, PakistanPakistan has started taking note of its Hindu legacy.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi; picture of the Katasraj tmple by Usman Ahmed]

It's universally acknowledged that Hindus in Islamic Pakistan are treated as second-rate citizens. Home to 2.5 million Hindus, mostly low-caste peasants, the nation is finally beginning to acknowledge their value and heritage. But is this progress for real, or a temporary ploy by the regime to please the West?

But first, a glance at the feel-bad figures. Since Pakistan's creation in 1947, the Hindu population of Pakistan has plummeted from 20% to 1.6%. Many fled at the outset because of the partition of British India that led to the creation of Muslim-dominated Pakistan. Another important reason could be recurring accounts of discrimination against Hindus. In 2005, eminent columnist Irfan Husain reported that three daughters of a Hindu couple in Karachi were kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. Mr. Husain wrote, "Given the spate of conversions, some voluntary, some forced, the insecurity among the minorities, especially among Sindhi Hindus, is understandable."

A 2007 BBC feature reported that minorities such as Hindus remain outcasts despite represention in every major political party. In a story titled Many Hindus Are Leaving Pakistan, in the Indian newsweekly Outlook, Pakistani journalist Amir Mir said, "Pakistan's minorities record is truly appalling. Sadly, (Pakistani President) Musharraf is doing nothing to right it."

The U.S. State department's International Religion Freedom Report 2006 stated there has been no cessation of complaints of police inaction in cases of attacks by extremists against congregants and property belonging to minorities.

Sometimes even Islamic sects are not spared. Pakistani law declares Ahmadi Muslims to be non-Muslims, prohibiting them from engaging in any Muslim practices. Government forms, including passport applications and voter registration documents, require anyone wishing to be listed as a Muslim to denounce the founder of the Ahmadi faith.

Some blame should also be pointed towards the blasphemy laws which have been often invoked to harass Hindus, Christians and liberal Muslims. From 1985 to 2004, 601 persons were accused of blasphemy. Of these, 295 were Muslims, 203 Ahmadis, 79 Christians, and 24 Hindus.

Such blatant assault on an individual's religious dignity has no place in a civilized society. If Mr. Musharraf is serious about bringing in enlightened moderation, his government has to do more to make its Hindus (and Ahmadis, Sikhs and Christians) feel at home.

This portrayal of Pakistan's society is only one aspect of the country. There are other realities too. The Islamic republic recently got its first ever Hindu Chief Justice - Rana Bhagwandas. Besides, the regime has lately been respectful towards its non-Muslim heritage. The town of Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhsim, has been developed as a comfortable pilgrimage centre. The government also allotted Rs 60 million (about $5 million) for the repair of the great Shiva temple of Katasraj in Punjab. It was a rare occasion when an Islamic government restored a non-Islamic religious monument.

Additionally, it may come as a pleasant shock to many that the largest Hindu population in a single district outside India happens to be in Pakistan. Thar, a south-eastern district of Sindh province, houses more than 2.3 million Hindus. In fact, Pakistan just cannot ignore its Hindu legacy. It is everywhere – the country's longest river, the Indus, derives its name from the Sanskrit word Sindhu. Cosmopolitan Karachi has 70,000 Hindus. The Bhuttos - the country's most popular dynasty - were Hindu Rajputs as late as the 18th century. Lahore, the country's cultural capital, derives its name from the son (Luv) of one of the most important Gods (Rama) in the Hindu pantheon.

But heritage is history. What about the troubled present?

One of the greatest Hindu shrines in the world lies in a Pakistani province considered the hotbed of Taliban resurgence – Baluchistan. The temple of Hinglaj Devi, lying on the Quetta highway, is the first principal Hindu holy pilgrimage one would encounter while coming from west Asia. Every April, thousands of Pakistani Hindus flock to the shrine. Situated in a remote, arid and hilly region, the cave temple is venerated even by Muslims who make the pilgrimage as Nani-ki-Haj.

So is Pakistan that disdainful of anything non-Islamic? Think again.

The popularity of Hinglaj shrine, the renovation of the Katasraj temple, the relative freedom experienced by Hindus celebrating their festivals, the appointment of a Hindu Chief Justice, and the tolerant attitude of Pakistani Muslims suggest that the ideals of secularism can co-habit within the framework of Pakistan's Islamic identity. Notwithstanding the constant criticism by doomsayers, Pakistan's core values could perhaps be alive and kicking. The need is for them to be applied on a larger scale. Is it impossible for the country to be a homeland for South Asia's Muslims and still be secular?


Pakistan Paindabad – long live Pakistan.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Lahore Sight-Seeing - Fun on The Road

Passing instant judgments while driving in Pakistan's great city.

[Pictures and text by Mayank Austen Soofi. He visited Lahore in 2006.]

Life by the Canal

The Daewoo van left Wagah - the international border separating India from Pakistan - and was now speeding towards Lahore, some twenty miles away. A canal was gushing forth on the right side of the window seat. Flowing between two parallel highways, it remained a constant companion.

Grassy patches sloped down to the banks, which were occasionally being lapped over by a sudden violence of the frothing mud-colored water of the canal. Tall trees on either side formed a comforting canopy over its length.

A variety of haiku moments flashed past the air-conditioned window: buffaloes swimming in the waters; a green-turbaned Mullah lying on the grass and reading a book; bare-chested young boys splashing water on each other, their shalwars ballooned with water; fully dressed women blushing, laughing, and taking quick cold water dips in the canal; a family contentedly feasting on a picnic lunch, with men and women sitting in separate groups; a young man and woman whispering under a tree; a lone man throwing pebbles in the water; two woman holding hands and sitting quietly; a middle-aged man resting against a tree trunk; a pair of boys washing a bicycle...

Soon these enchanting scenes vanished. The fallen leaves, languidly floating on the water, gave way to polybags and tin cans. Lahore was approaching.

The Sexy Lahore - Crow Eaters Cafe



Imagining Lahore brings a medieval skyline of sand-stone minarets and fort ramparts to the mind. That Lahore is real. The haunting monuments, the divine Mughal gardens, and the old world mansions appeared to be air-dropped every few yards. But there were areas where the old was interrupted by 21st century bazaars, glittering with glass-paneled showrooms and neon-lit malls. Sky-kissing skyscrapers, decked with billboards displaying the bare bodies of white men, but no naked women, lined the smoothways and distracted the drivers.

Once the car disappeared under a newly-made underpass, apparently the pride of Lahore, for it was inaugurated by no less than General Pervez Musharraf himself, and emerged out into an empty square that had a lustrous mosque shooting up on one side.

It was pleasing to drive through the leafy districts. The car window was open and the wind ruffled through the hair. The highways were skirted by spacious bungalows with long graveled driveways. Most were partially hidden from view by a thick neighborhood of trees. These shy houses had huge entrance gates of iron guarded by thin men in grey-brown shalwar kameeze, with Kalashnikov-type guns slung around their shoulders.

Alas, the drive failed to quicken the pulse that a simple walk in one of the congested streets in the ancient quarters so easily managed to produce. The upper-class antiseptic zones of Lahore, like the Gulberg district where I stayed, undoubtedly made the city comfortable and at harmony with the rest of the privileged world, but they failed to capture the magic of the place.

Trust the Clichés



It is advised, often by well-meaning Pakistanis sensitive to their country's reputation, that Pakistan is different from its popular impression as a conservative Muslim nation swarming with bearded mullahs, burqa-clad ladies, and skull-capped, Koran-mugging young boys. This subtle convincing insists that Pakistan is a normal, modern society with beardless men freely interacting with drapeless women.

A drive on the road verified the claims. Yes, Pakistan is indeed a 'normal' nation with 'normally' dressed people, but the Muslim identity is hard to ignore - only a visually challenged person could fail to notice the abundance of bearded, mustache-missing men wearing ankle length shalwars, all in accordance with the strict Islamic codes. Only a turned-down head could skip seeing chador-clad women.

The truth is that Lahore without skull caps would look as bald as a kite-less sky would during the great spring festival of Basant when Pakistanis from different parts of the country gather here to take part in the kite flying fiesta.

Indeed, clichés are often true, though exceptions, too, are a part of the truth.

Feminism - Lahori Style



Are women second rate citizens in Pakistan? There was no time for an intensive investigation. However, if driving is the criteria to understand the extent of female emancipation, than Lahore must be one of the most liberal cities in the world.

Every second car was being driven by a lady - with or without the veil, mostly without the veil. Every second car being driven by a woman had only women passengers - no male relative as an escort! Every third car being driven by a woman offered the unsettling sight of maneuvering the steering wheel while trying to smoke and speak on mobile phones - at the same time!

Occasionally there were eye-popping visions of the twenty-first century overtaking the fourteenth - a cleavage-showing sizzler of a driver whooshing past a car driven by a black burqa. How was the lady inside that burqa able to see while driving? Was everything left to the will of Allah the Merciful? And what exactly did she think about that Paris Hilton look-alike who just drove past her? We do not know teh covered lady's thoughts but they would be interesting.

The Indefensible 'Defense'

We drove though the 'Defense' in the midnight hours. Defense, as proudly declared by Lahoris, is the hippest, most modern, and the richest district of the city. What was not mentioned was that Defense is a scam initiated, organized, and institutionalized by the Pakistan Army.

Its full name being Defense Housing Society, the concept was developed in all the major cities of the country. It was mischievously devised to integrate the country's armed forces with the wealthy establishment, though its purported aim remains to provide charity to the poor soldiers.

In this scheme, the soldiers are awarded lands at low costs to build houses. But here the hypocrisy trickles in: the concerned lands always happen to be the most valuable real estate. Since soldiers are too poor to build large houses on these 'cheap' plots, there follow a series of contracts and processes, too complicated to elaborate here, finally culminating in the rich and the influential constructing their mansions in these prized plots which, at least on paper, remain the property of those soldiers.

So, cities like Lahore and Karachi have their highly desirable development zones allotted to the army in the name of philanthropy, and the army, in turn, makes profit by setting a nexus with the moneyed.

Losers are of course the rest of the Pakistanis!

But was the Defense joy-ride fun? The road was as amooth as a chick's cheek. The traffic was heavy, considering it was past midnight, and the revelers were young and sexy, but there was nothing hip about the place, unless you count driving into McDonald's and Subway outlets as the most exciting and snobbish acts of the day.

Burger Buying in Lahore



Perhaps Defense is coveted because of its greenery and its association with the Pakistan Army - the source of all power and glory. But give me the smelly, dusty, lively, decaying old Lahore anytime than this hyped-up pretension of a military man's paradise!

Lahore as Allah's Blessing

It is said if you haven't been to Lahore, you haven't seen the world yet. (Lahore nahin dekha tou kuch nahin dekha.)

Let us assume that Allah has given you an opportunity to visit the city — but only for twelve hours, and that too during the daytime, which actually must be considered heartless on the part of Allah the Compassionate since the city comes into its own only during the night time.

Now, how to make the most out of the boon?

The celebrated food street in the Anarkali Bazaar, named after a celebrated Mughal-era courtesan, opens only after dusk. The red light district of Heera Mandi displays its wares to window shoppers only under the shadow of darkness. Further, since everything has to be wrapped up straight in twelve hours, there is no point in visiting Lahore museum, the largest in Pakistan, which demands at least three hours for a satisfactory stroll. So what to do?

Don't lose heart. Just drive by the celebrated Mall Road, a historic avenue built during the British Raj and once reserved exclusively for their use. It is the most important cultural stretch of highway slicing through Pakistan and would carry you past all the romantic ruins of colonial times — the imposing High Court complex, the Irrigation Department building, the newly restored Tollington market, the Punjab University building, and the stone-built Catholic Church.

While passing by the Islamic Summit Tower, built to commemorate the Islamic Conference held in 1974, do not fail to look at the stone model of the Koran. Queen Victoria once stood there!

The Mall Road cruise would be short but even then it is a memorable drive through the stoneyards of history — charming, spruced up and bleached of the bitter memories of the British builders, all for your pleasure.

A Mall Snapshot



Is Pakistan Really Poor?



Zooming on to the street-scenes of Lahore made a Delhi person like me miss my city's traffic-light beggars and their street kids. There were no slums in Lahore, no homeless people living under plastic sheet awnings, and no living skeletons scavenging rotten food from the garbage dumps! There were no drug addicts and no transvestite sex workers. It was so unlike Delhi. There were not even cows to be seen!

But of course, all the holy cows must have been eaten up by the beef-eating citizens of this holy land.

Allah is great. Drive safely.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Pervez Musharraf – The 100 Percent Superstar

Mr. Musharraf’s passion for “percentage-analysis” makes him a unique statesman of our times.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi, picture designed by Renu Rani Tyagi]

Secular, intelligent, brave, and a born survivor, Pakistan’s President-General Pervez Musharraf stands out as the most charismatic of world leaders. Unlike other boring heads-of-state, Mr. Musharraf is incisive, exact and fond of analyzing matters-of-concern down to their last percentage figures. A relook at some of the statements made by the General will make it clearer.

On allegations of support for Taliban (2004)
… only 44 percent of the action that takes place in Afghanistan takes place in the 50-mile belt, and 56 percent takes place beyond 50 miles. So if all the operations within the 50-mile belt are taking place from Pakistan, only 44 percent is taking place.

On his belief that Daniel Pearl is alive (2002)
I can't be 100 percent sure of it.

On having no knowledge of Dr. AQ Khan's nuclear technology proliferation (2004)
Yes, 200 percent. Yes, absolutely.

On Dr. Khan's network (2004)
I'm 200 percent sure that it has been shut down.

On Pakistan Army's support to his Kashmir peace initiative (2006)
200 percent...... 1,000 per cent.

On his control in Pakistan (2006)
Absolutely. Is there any doubt? 200 percent. That is the way it is.

On the possibility of India-Pak war (2003)
…impossible. Two hundred percent, there won't be war.

On Kashmir quake (2005)
I don't feel 100 percent confident when I say that the casualty figures have risen to 48,000.

On Osama bin Laden's Mission 9/11 (2002)
I am 200 percent sure that he didn't have the capacity to plan such an action.

On false British allegations that Pakistan's intelligence services support terrorism (2006)
Absolutely, 200 percent, I reject it.

On the certainity of Mullah Omar having a hideout in Afghanistan, not Pakistan (2007)
500 percent sure.

On the death rumors of al Qaeda operations Chief Abu Hamza Rabia (2005)
Yes, indeed, 200 percent confirmed.

On nuclear co-operation with North Korea (2003)
I give a 400 percent guarantee that there has been no cooperation with anyone in the world, (let alone) North Korea.

On destroying al Qaida sanctuaries and communication systems (2005)
I'm not saying we have achieved a 100 percent success, but this is definitely a success in the war against terrorism.

On his confidence if he would get Zawahiri and bin Laden before they get him (2003)
I can't be 100 percent sure.

End piece

The percentage of those who voted in the 2002 referendum in favour of Mr. Musharraf for another five-year term of presidency - 98%!