Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Special Report - The Pink Purdah of Pakistan

Women lovers of PakistanTwo women in love married each other and are now in jail.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

In Pakistan it must be easy for homosexual women to avoid punishments for adultery - penetration being essential for imposition of the Section 377 of the Pakistan Panel Code. Even then Shumail and Shahzina, two women married to each other, are not to be envied. They have been sentenced to three years in jail.

Shumail Raj, 31, and Shahzina Tariq, 24, were cousins from Faisalabad, a city in Punjab. Shumail had gotten rid of her breasts and uterus in two sex change surgeries some 16 years ago. Although the operation was not done properly, Shumail at least had beard sprouting out on her face. The cousins later fell in love even as Shahzina was aware of Shumail's condition. They then hastily married in 2006 since Shahzina's family was planning an arranged marriage for her.

Inevitably, relatives started harassing the newly-weds asking for their marriage to be annulled on grounds that it was against Islam for women to wed each other. The couple, unfortunately, resorted to an action they would rue later. They approached the Lahore High Court this May to seek protection.

Things did not turn out the wishful way. The court-appointed doctors examined Shumail and decided she was still a woman. The judge, Kahawaja Mohammed Sharif, sentenced them to three years imprisonment for lying, besides imposing a fine of 10,000 rupees ($200). However, the charge of committing the act of unnatural lust was dropped.

"Neither Islam nor our law allows marriages of the same sex. This mistake cannot simply be overlooked," Mr. Sharif said in his verdict. He also ordered for a criminal investigation into the surgeons who operated on Shumail.

Stung by the verdict, the surprised couple, who had approached the court hoping for succour, clasped each other tightly before the police pulled them apart. They have now been separated. Shumail is undergoing punishment in the (women) wing of Lahore's Central Jail Kot Lakhpat while Shahzia has been sent to Faislabad district prison.

"We're not homosexuals. Ours was a love marriage," a distraught Shahzia said before being led away from her lover.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Jiye Jiye Jiye Jiye Jiye Pakistan

Ameer HamzaA Karachi-based photojournalist loves his country and how.

[This is the ninth article in the Proud, Powerful and Pak series.]

[By Ameer Hamza; he lives in Karachi and his photo gallery can be viewed here.]

Heritage
We have so many historical sites which people don't know about. Most Pakistanis are unaware of their true heritage. So people like me are always stumbling upon something or the other and reporting back to publications like PIA, Dawn and Friday Times. My favourite heritage sites include Jhaki Bander, Ranikot, Badshahi Masjid, Altit Fort, and Mehrgarh ruins.

Mother
I am not sure whether Pakistan gave me my mother or my mother gave me this country. Both are beautiful and inseparable.

Landscape
No other country in the world has such fantastic topography. From Arabian Sea beaches to the high walls of K2, we have the highest gradient slope on Earth. I bet not many Pakistanis are aware of it. That's another romance of the country.

Politics
It could be a great thing about Pakistan. Perhaps some time in the future. None exists at present. Everyone wants to sit on the throne, eat everyone else's fruits, own plots in Defence and kill every opponent. Interestingly, democracy is some alien concept here. Everyone wants it and is prepared to do anything to have it but no one really is sure about it. Actually, living in Pakistan is like wanting something that you are not exactly sure of.

Girls
And yes, we have some of the finest girls in the world. But ahem, the rest of the world is also full of them. On second thoughts, I guess I'm not sure whether I have enough experience and expertise to talk on this one!

[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, May 22, 2007

Book Review - City of Sin and Splendour: Writings on Lahore

Food Street, LahoreBapsi Sidhwa's Lahore is a lovingly embroidered family heirloom.

[By Gaurav Sood; the author is a US based political and media analyst. He occasionally writes at Spincycle; picture by Asif Jafri]

A city hasn't been showered with such love since Dalrymple wrote about Delhi. Bapsi Sidhwa's edited volume on Lahore in fact far exceeds it. After all, Dalrymple was nothing but a foreigner who had only spent a few years in Delhi when he wrote the book, while Sidhwa in her endeavor is accompanied by a range of distinguished authors and intellects, only tied together in their love for Lahore.

The love for the city, its landmarks, its famed cuisine, its gourmets, its brutalizing summers, its people, its stories, and its relationships shines through on every page.

Every great city deserves an admirer and chronicler of the calibre of Bapsi Sidhwa – someone who will perspicaciously and assiduously collect stories that celebrate her beauty and look unflinchingly, yet lovingly, at her bruised soul and her warts.

The Book

The book strikes an immediate rapport that is akin to being invited to an intimate familial Punjabi gathering. I felt alternately like a kid sitting on the lap of my maternal uncle being told stories about the city, a young adult guiltily listening to the adult conversation about the brutal tales about city's history, and an objective adult reflecting on history, and politics.

There is a warm intimacy that suffuses each of the stories in City of Sin and Splendor: Writings on Lahore. The additional element of emotional immediacy comes from stories that talk about things we South Asians have grown up with. All of it is made available 'naturalistically' by the craft of authors who rarely go beyond what is known. It is an important talent. For authors are always tempted by superfluous cleverness. It is the Jane Austen method of writing in some ways – writing honestly, perspicaciously, and often with great wit about what is known without flirting with the unnecessary or the arcane. It is grounded writing. The authors use words that are well worn and apt and not ones with peripatetic grandiloquent pretensions. The resulting atmosphere in the book is not stifling because of the self restraint, but educated and homely.

I have never been to Lahore. Yet the city stands alive in front of me. Though I don't eat meat, I savored the morning Nihari with Irfan Husain. I shared in the pain of partition with Ved Mehta and Sadat sahib (Sadat Hasan Manto). I stopped to celebrate the indomitable spirit of Ismat Chugtai. I stood ring side as Bina Shah described the long standing tussle between Karachi and Lahore. And I wore my heart on the sleeve when I read Ranamama by Urvashi Butalia. Butalia's phrase, "cracked pistachio green walls" will always stay with me for it describes pitch perfectly the color of walls on some subcontinent homes. I also admired the honest revolutionary spirit of Habib Jalib's Dastoor. How did he know the story of Pakistan before it was ever written?

Third World

We are third world denizens. Our cities have always seemed shabby and poor and slung in deep unending mediocrity. The heat has always been brutalizing, and atmosphere dusty and arid. We have always struggled to grow trees and grass in face of hot summers, scarce resources, and petty corruption. Culture has melted into a thick gooey nothingness pressed on all sides from globalization, self-serving politicians, and poverty. Immigration and sprawl have killed the remnants of other things. Our chowks are nothing but traffic choked dusty islands. Yet we have formed familial bonds and come to be part of our cities. We have found times and places to share. We visit each other's houses and exchange stories. People come over when we are in need. We listen to the stories of our doodhwallahs (milk men), and our kaam waalis (maids) and though we love to cavil about them, there is an unsaid human connection. Perhaps that is a bit too sunny an assessment. But indulge me for a little. All of it is held together by the incessant chatter. Conversation is the glue that keeps us together. We haven't yet made conversation into a stylized art of identity negotiation. It is these relations, these conversations, the unsaid courtesies, and the people that Sidhwa celebrates in her book.

Colonial Rule

The British Raj left its mark on Lahore. Kim's Gun haunts the hollow haunches of the emaciated old city. The gardens and separate civil line quarters for the English Sahibs have entrenched themselves in to the modern hierarchy of the city. More importantly, the Raj has scarred us psychologically. We have never grown to be proud of our heritage and culture. Forever chastened by the West that raced ahead, we have never sat down and taken notice of our heritage. We do pay a lot of lip service to the heritage but seldom do we believe in it.

Delhi and Lahore

I am from Delhi, which in many respects can be seen as Lahore's twin. The cities share similar climates, somewhat similar Punjabi dominated cultures, similar histories, similar old-new city Raj-inspired distinctions, and similar heartaches of partition. I could find flavors of Delhi in the book - the 'gates' of the old city, the civil lines area, the colonial bungalows, the partition stories, and the oncoming McDonald's culture. In getting to know Lahore, I felt that I got to know my city better.

Contemporary Conditions and History

He whose light shines only in palaces
Who seeks only to please the few
Who moves in the shadow of compromise
Such a debased tradition, such a dark dawn
I do not know, I will not own


Dastoor, Hajib Jalib

Lahore has suffered from the vicissitudes of the people in Islamabad and Washington. The malaise in its contemporary politics, the perversion to its culture from the Islamists and the secularists, both equally delusional and equally adamant, is quickly reducing this great city.

The single most important fact is that the world is wrecked by a thousand mutinies everyday. With globalization and technological onslaught, the mutinies have multiplied. All unleashed, without prior thought. We try to craft our lives around one while we are led by our noses to the next. It is unsettling to stop and take stock of the grievous loss that we will continue to take on our world.

The Elite Lahore

The remembrances of a city and the love of a city only come naturally to those with time for leisure. To that extent this book is about the padshahs of Lahore. The book is an ode of the ruling class to itself, to its culture, and to its land marks. Yet, often times the book is much more than that. The everyday street is never far in this book. The everyday street may not have the kaamwali (maid) in it, but it does have the patang baaz's, the halwais, the richshaw wallahs, and more. It is that everyday street that I carry in my heart.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Favourite Five – Why I Am a Proud Pakistani

Khalid Hasan (right) with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Birmingham, 1978Khalid Hasan, US correspondent of "The Friday Times", lists his reasons.

[This is the eighth article in the Proud, Powerful and Pak series.]

Music
Pakistan's classical, folk and popular musicians (Roshan Ara Begum, Reshman and Nur Jehan respectively).

Poet
Faiz Ahmed Faiz (see the picture).

Writer
Saadat Hasan Manto.

Cuisine
Lahore's street food.

Mysticism
Sufi saints such as Data Ganj Bakhsh, Bulleh Shah, Shah Latif, Madhu Lal Hussain and Sultan Bahu.

[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.]

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Special Editorial - Pakistan’s Soul is Not for Sale

Pakistan Founder Muhammad Ali JinnahSearching and finding hope in these anxious times.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi; picture courtesy - Lapata]

There comes a time in the life of every country when it has to grapple with its destiny. With 40 dead in Karachi clashes, Pakistan is stranded yet again on the cross roads. Diverse forces, consisting of a trinity of extraordinarily heroic individuals, are pushing it into dissimilar paths, each having a final destination that is dream for some and nightmare for others.

The Wayward General

General Pervez Musharraf has drifted from his said desire to rid Pakistan of corrupt politicians, Islamist extremism, and democracy. According to Transparency International, Pakistan's score at the 2006 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) remains at 2.2, same as it was in 1999, the year of the coup. Again, it was under his watch that Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a conservative Islamic party, acquired power in two provinces for the first time. As for genuine democracy, the percentage of those who voted in the 2002 referendum in favour of Mr. Musharraf for another five-year term of presidency was 98%!

Pakistan's soldier-president had the possibilities of a statesman but he has slipped. Each new day of his presidency is a trauma to the nation.

The Uncertain Daughter of the East

Then there is Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan 's most electrifying leader-in-exile. Her life-portrait is also the story of her nation. Belonging to a privileged feudal family, father was hanged, brothers were killed, husband was jailed, she herself banished. Luckily for her, the allegations of corruption in her prime-ministerial tenures have not dented the charisma. But when it comes to strike, the lady appears confused and hesitant - contemplating secret deals with Mr. Musharraf; planning conspiracies with fellow-exile Mr. Nawaz Sharif.

Mrs. Bhutto should have already been holding rallies in Karachi and Quetta, instead of gracing the seminar halls of New Delhi and Washington DC. No one knows what she want - partnership with the army house or sending the army back to the barracks?

The Case of the Judge

While Mrs. Bhutto is yet to make her mind, the impatient nation is laying the red carpet for Justice , the controversial former Chief Justice dismissed by Mr. Musharraf over unsubstantiated accusations of misconduct. As the new superstar, the suspended judge is attracting great number of (un-rented) crowd in road shows. His each drive into the street is akin to making a political statement against the regime.

Are we witnessing the blossoming of a political leader or an apolitical crusader? For better or worse, Mr. Chaudhry has become another reason of discord in the Pakistani establishment. Does he want to be merely reinstated as the Chief Justice? Should Ms. Bhutto see in him a rival or a friend? As obligation to his supporters, Mr. Chaudhry must soon make public his future plans.

Signs of Hope

Amidst such crucial moments, Pakistanis, unfortunately, will only have ringside view as their heroes and villains would roll up sleeves (and bangles) to squabble for the country's destiny. But all the big players must know that Pakistan's soul is not for sale.

On the brighter side, Pakistani media and journalists have shown resilience and maturity that they are no longer afraid of threats and continue to speak the truth. The recent mobilization of public opinion in favour of the rule of law would not have been possible without the influence of media and its stark reporting. The emergence of a strong and vibrant reporting culture has been the upside of the current crisis.

Many in Pakistan and abroad had written off the chance for public protest and political mobilization thinking that the people were all too ready to live under authoritarian rule. But this hypothesis has been proved to be false. More and more Pakistanis from all classes and areas have aired their support for the supremacy of the law and the need for an independent judiciary. This is unprecedented development in a country where military rulers could pack the courts and fire judges. Not anymore.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chacha Chaudhry and Papa Pervez

Musharraf blunders, Karachi burns but is Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry all clean?

[By Gaurav Sood; the author is a US based political and media analyst. He occasionally writes at Spincycle; picture by Ahmad Ashour]

Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was born more than a year after the partition in Quetta, Balochistan. He went on to work for more than a decade in varying capacities in that province. So it is surprising that the firing of this Baloch has prompted little or no response in Balochistan.

Mr. Chaudhry, now feted as a humanitarian crusader, never once raised his voice when the general sahib ordered a full-fledged military assault on Balochistan. The reason why I mentioned this anecdote is because it serves as a useful example for how much arm in glove was Mr. Chaudhry with the general before the glove was discarded and picked up by the opposition parties.

There is one more twist to the tale – ethnicity. Chaudhry sahib is not an ethnic Baloch but a Punjabi abdagar, whom Balochis despise. We will come back to the ethnic angle later for it remains a factor in Pakistani politics.

The Upright Justice

As Chief Justice, Chaudhry's reputation rests on two cases – the now famous Steel Mill Case in which he ruled against selling of Pakistan Steel Mills to a group led by a friend of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz (whose own position is in doubt due to the fact that he holds dual citizenship). Just as a footnote – the sale, which was overturned by Chaudhry, was authorized by a Cabinet Committee on Privatization led by Shaukat Aziz.

The second case that made his reputation was his decision to declare the Hasba bill, the NWFP Islamist bill, unconstitutional. Chaudhry was also vocal recently decrying Pakistani government's complicity with US intelligence agencies and demanding the government provide information about the 'missing people'.

The Corrupt Justice

Chaudhry was elevated to the position of Chief Justice by Musharraf in 2005. Since then Chaudhry sahib has played the role of an administration sock puppet admirably except, of course, in the cases mentioned above.

Most of the charges filed against the ex-CJP seem like the de-rigueur perks that a government bureaucrat in a reasonable position considers his right in South Asia – use of multiple cars, requiring "senior officials to receive him at airports", "using helicopters and planes to go to private functions", and forcing officials to help his son get admission in medical colleges and then getting him appointed as a "Grade 18 Police Officer".

Somewhere among the litany of abuses is also this startling fact that Chaudhry wrote decisions on cases worth 55 million PKR. But the scale of corruption allegations can hardly be called dire - certainly not by South Asia's lax standards. Critics point out more serious charges like property fraud and financial embezzlement dog other justices including two members of the Supreme Judicial Council which will hear the chief justice's case. The critics further allege that "the chief justice was singled out because of his past performance which created misgivings in official circles about his likely role in the coming legal battles ahead of national elections, due later this year."

Timeline – Chaudhry Dismissal to Karachi Clashes

Significant political events don't automatically happen. A political scandal much like an unheeded boil festers and then bursts in violence. A timeline can give vital clues as to the kind of infection, who joined in and when, and what spurred the final orgy of violence. So here is a timeline to give a sense of the ebb and flow of this scandal.

March 9 – Chief Justice suspended. More than the fact that he was suspended, it was the manner in which he was suspended that caught the attention. He was called up to General's Rawalpindi residence, and held incommunicado for what people allege up to two days. The horror.

March 12 – Lawyers begin boycott.

March 19 – Seven of the country's judges resign including the top judge of Punjab. Newspapers publish the picture of Chaudhry being shoved into a car.

March 28 – Chaudhry gives a speech arguing for independent judiciary

April 3 – Lawyers still on strike. The SJC adjourns the hearings.

May 6 – Chaudhry gives speech in Lahore

May 13 – CJP Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, came to address the Karachi City Bar Association on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Pakistani Supreme Court. Except it was not. It was a choreographed political move targeted to gain momentum against Musharraf. The move stalled and unraveled in its own strange way. Chaudhry never left the Karachi airport as PPP and MQM factions waged pitched battles in the streets killing nearly 40 and injuring 150 people.

Karachi Chaos - MQM, Jamat-e-Islami, and PPP

There are multiple centrifugal forces that make Karachi politics so volatile - the Mujahir-Sindhi-Pathan divide, the enormous class divide, the interaction between those two divides (ethno-class angle), and the divide created by self serving politics.

The political fortunes keep shifting depending on who is in power in Islamabad and the wishes of the Americans. This current phase of violence saw the lines being redrawn across the MQM –PPP axis but with one key variation – MQM and PML-Q (Musharraf's party) are now aligned.

There is a reason for the realignment – MQM is the only viable political force against Jamaat-e-Islami Islamic extremists that the US government so abhors. There is little doubt in my mind that this is a temporary alliance for Muhajirs have never had strong allies. It is likely that this current episode will eventually end with PPP and Musharraf coming to some kind of deal to thwart both MQM and JI.

Class and Conflict

One look at the people going to welcome Chaudhry is enough to tell that they were these super-rich elites. PPP has today become a party with significant traction amongst the landowning elite. In Karachi, it is represented and funded by the industrialists and the business owners.

Media and Conflict

There was of course bias in the way media – and here I mean Western media for that is what I had access to – covered this event. It was the story of how a hero for political freedom and his supporters were thwarted by the autocratic government backed militia. The truth on the street was a bit different.

Analysis

The most worrisome aspect of the Karachi violence was the collusion between the police and government. The 13,000 strong paramilitary that was deployed to control violence stood casually by as both the MQM and PPP backed militia sparred with each other. What brought home the complicity of the police for me was this classic video clip of a person held by the police on the street still being beaten by, who I am sure, were Musharraf supporters. Some have alleged that the indifference of the paramilitary forces was because they are Punjabi dominated.

The strangest thing in the whole Chaudhry scandal is the alacrity with which lawyers banded together to protest the firing of the Chief Justice. Mobilization of lawyers seems like a handiwork of the PPP. It is unclear as to why would the lawyers protest – they didn’t protest when Mushy was made president. Why are they suddenly so worried about political freedom? It seems to be an exercise in political opportunism.

Lastly we must focus our attention on Chaudhry. He is neither a crusader for freedom nor a deeply corrupt judge. Chaudhry is somebody who dallied with anti-government stance, found himself in the deep-end, got scared, found the rope thrown by the opposition parties and hung himself with it. Now Karachi hangs in balance with him.

Further Reading

Back to the Future - Zaffar Abbas; in Dawn

Q&A: Pakistan's judicial crisis; in BBC

Blood and batons spur Pakistan row; in BBC

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Panch Pakistani Power Points

An eminent columnist shares his reasons for loving Pakistan.

[By Ishtiaq Ahmed; The author is Professor in the Department of Political Science in the University of Stockholm. He is a columnist for the News International newspaper; picture is by Usman Ahmed.]

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

Generosity for Charitable Causes
In December 2004 I happened to be in Pakistan in connection with a conference. At that time money was being collected for a cancer hospital in Karachi. Aamir Khan, the Indian film star, was one of the participants in that fund-raising programme. The organizers were hoping to collect Rs. 6 crore (Rs. 60 million) in a matter of few hours. I believe more than Rs. 8 million poured in. In some instances the contributors did not want their name to be made public.

I was moved to tears by the goodness of our people. I was moved to even more tears when I realized that in the last 60 years this nation has been denied good and honest government that could drive it forward.

The Light-hearted Punjabis
I'm fond of the sense of humour of the people of the Punjab, or rather Lahore that I know very well. It is rough and bawdy but on the whole it is good natured and not malicious. I believe this is true elsewhere too in Pakistan.

The Food
Pakistani food is most delicious but I suffer from a bad conscience because of the poverty and under-nourishment suffered by a vast number of the people.

The Sense of Community
Pakistanis of all walks of life can sit and eat together and they often do. This is the most benign affect of Islamic ethics. Unfortunately discrimination including refusal to allow our underprivileged Dalits, who do menial jobs, to dine along with other Pakistanis is still practised. It is a negation of what I have seen all over the Middle East where everyone freely eats from the same platter. If there is any influence of Hinduism that I want to be eradicated in Pakistan it has to be the treatment of non-Muslims and Dalits. It has no sanction in Islam.

The Pretty Women
Although I am happily married to a Turk and very proud of my family I think Pakistani women are gorgeous.

[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.]

Monday, May 07, 2007

Top 5 Reasons for Loving Pakistan

Self-portrait by Raza RumiExplaining the pull in terms of rating and ranking.

[Text and picture by Raza Rumi; He maintains the blog Jahane Rumi and writes on literature, history and society for The Friday Times – Pakistan’s popular weekly magazine.]

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

I am averse to the ratings and rankings that characterize the junk-journalism of our times. Much like the embedded style of reporting such a view remains partial and often ignorant of the nuances and layers of subtext that are almost unachievable in the pop-view of the world.

Readers might question this apparent paradox as on the one hand I am participating in this top-five series and on the other I am also being critical. Well, well this is kosher from a South Asian perspective as we remain a mythical-modern bundle of contradictions.

The real reason for me to ‘submit’ my top 5 is the inquiring spirit of Mayank Austen Soofi whom I don’t know and have never met. But I am quite empathetic to his efforts at understanding Pakistan. At least he ventures into the ‘other’ territory and unlike the mainstream media and writers, does not view Pakistan as a threatening collage of burqa clad women, terrorism and gun toting radicals. Even as he carries out his current obsession, i.e. Pakistan, there are many in the blogosphere who have questioned his motives and alleged deliberate derision of Pakistan and its inhabitants through his writings. Since I do not suffer from this sort of irrational paranoia, I am happy to let him write more on my country. At least there is one alternative voice, one un-clichéd perspective from the other side of the border. Even if my young friend employs a clichéd format in this series, it is better than ‘high writing’ churning more clichés!

So, Mayank Mian, here are my top five reasons for loving Pakistan:

The Civilization

Pakistan is not a recent figment but a continuation of 5000 years of history: quite sheepishly, I admit, that I am an adherent of the view held by many historians that the Indus valley and the Indus man were always somewhat distinct from their brethren across the Indus. I do not wish to venture into this debate but I am proud as an inheritor of Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Mehrgarh (not strictly in this order) and this makes me feel rooted and connected to my soil as well as ancient human civilizations and cultures.

It also makes me happy that no matter how much the present-day media hysteria about Pakistan (and “natives” in general) diminishes my country and region, nothing can take away this heritage and high points of my ancestral culture. Pakistan is not just Indus civilization – it is a hybrid cultural ethos: the Greek, Gandhara, the central Asian, Persian, Aryan and the Islamic influences merge into this river and define my soul – how can I not be proud of this?

The People

I simply love the Pakistani people – they are resilient, diverse and most entrepreneurial. They have survived calamities, famines, upheavals, injustices and exploitation and yet, by and large, retain a sense of humour. I am not naïve to say that they are totally free of the various bondages of history but they display remarkable entrepreneurial and creative potential. Most of them are “real” and rooted and yet not averse to modernity.

There is an urban revolution taking place in parts of Punjab and Sindh and the drivers are neither the state nor external donors but the people themselves. The private sector has even contributed to build an airport. There is an ugly side as well: the absence or predatory activities of the state (e.g. Karachi) has also provided a breeding ground for mafias but this is not a unique Pakistani phenomenon. From LA to Jakarata, such groups operate within the folds of urbanization.

I am proud of my people who have proved themselves in all spheres and countries – whether it is Professor Abdus Salam, the Nobel Laureate or Shazia Sikander, the miniaturist of international fame or Mukhtaran Mai who has proved her mettle in giving a tough time to forces of oppression.

The Spirituality

There is inordinate focus on Pakistani madrassahs, the pro-Taliban groups and the violent jihadis. How representative are these groups? Only Pakistanis know that such groups are marginal to the mainstream attachment to and practice of religion. The rural folk are still steeped in Sufi worldview and many versions of Islam exist within the same neighborhood. Of course there is manipulated curse of sectarian violence but that mercifully is not embedded despite the attempts of big external players and the octopus-like state agencies.

Ordinary Pakistanis, such as me, value their Islamic beliefs, are God fearing and follow what is essentially a continuation of the centuries old traditions of spirituality that survives in the folk idiom, in the kaafis of Bulleh Shah, and in the verses of Bhitai and Rahman Baba. Our proverbs, day-to-day beliefs are all mixed and laced with history, oral tradition, Sufi lore and of course Islamic simplicity. It is another matter that there are individuals who want to hijack this thread and impose their nonsense on us – but we as a people have resisted that and shall continue to do so. After all we inherited the confluence of ancient religions and practices.

Pakistan is where Buddha taught and Taxila shined, and where Nanak preached and the great saints – Usman Hajweri, Fariduddin Ganj Shakar, Bhitai and Sarmast - brought people into the fold of Islam. Despite the revisionist, constructed history by extremists in India, the sword had little to do with Islam’s rise in this region.

The Natural Beauty

Well the spirituality of my homeland is not just restricted to the intangible belief systems. It also reflects in the splendors of Mother Nature. From the pristine peaks in the north to the mangroves of the Indus delta, Pakistan blends climates, geographies, terrains in its melting pot. Within hours of leaving an arid zone, one enters into a fertile delta. And again a few more hours put you right in front of otherworldly mountains. The deserts of Cholistan radiate the moonlight and the surreal wildernesses of Balochistan are nothing but metaphors of spiritual beauty.

Where else can I experience the aroma of wet earth when the baked earth cracks up to embrace every droplet and where else can one find a Jamun tree with a Koel calling the gods? An everlasting impression on my being shall remain the majestic sunrise at the Fairy Meadows amid the Karakorams and the melting gold of Nanga Parbat peak. I love this country’s rivers, streams and the fields where farmers testify their existence with each stroke, each touch of earth. I cherish trees that are not just trees but signify Buddha’s seat or the ones in graveyards nourishing the seasonal blossoms.

The Cuisine

Yes, I love the aromas and myriad scents of Thai cooking, the subtlety of the French and Lebanese or the Turkish dishes but nothing compares to the Pakistani cuisine. Forget the high sounding stuff; ghar ka khana (homemade food) no matter which strata are you from is difficult to find elsewhere (except India of course).

Whether it is a simple Tandoor ki Roti with Achaar or Palak (in the Punjab) or the intricate Biryani with ingredients and spices of all hues, the food is out of this world. In my house, we were used to at least ten different rice dishes (steamed white rice/saada/green peas/vegetable/channa/choliya/potato Pilau), three types of Biryanis (Sindhi, Hyderabadi, Dilli or just our cook’s hybridized Punjabi version), and my grandmother’s recipe of Lambi Khichdee. The list continues.

In the Northern areas, there are Chinese-Pakistani concoctions, in the North West Frontier there is meat in its most tender and purest form. In Balochistan there is Sajji, meat grilled in earthenware at low heat until all the juices have transformed the steaks into a magic delight. And, the fruits and the sweets – the mangoes that come in dozens of varieties and colours, melons of different sizes, the pomegranates and the wild berries that still grow despite the pollution everywhere!

How could I not love this eclectic cuisine?

And Finally…

…the sum-total of all five: I love Pakistan as this is my identity – immutable and irreversible. Simple.

[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.]

Sunday, May 06, 2007

5 Heroes of Pakistan

Hassan AbbasFive Pakistanis who make me proud to be a Pakistani.

[By Hassan Abbas; the author served in the administrations of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf. He runs Watandost, a blog on Pakistan-related affairs.]

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

Sufi Saints
It is a land where Sufis like Lal Shabaz Qalandar and Ganj Bakhsh once lived and preached love for humanity.

Poets
It is a land that produced the great thinker, poet and philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

Singers
It is a land where blossomed Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the greatest of Qawwali singers.

Scientists
Dr. Abdus Salam, Nobel Prize winner in Physics.

Philanthropists
Abdul Sattar Edhi, Magsaysay awardee for public service.

[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.]

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Fiver for the Fatherland

Gosh, I love my Pakistan.

[By Jawad Zakariya; click here to view his photo album.]

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

Lahore
Lahore, Lahore aye, what else is there to say. It is the heart of Pakistan and the cultural capital of the country, with an interesting character or two on every street corner and food like no other place in the world.

Cricket
Again, what else can I say! The fact is you can watch pretty much any cricketing contest going on anywhere in the world on some channel or the other. Besides, we’ve produced some of the greatest players ever.

Food
Halwa-Poori, Murgh Haleem, Chanay, Kulcha...nashta in the morning...we have the best food in the world, no contest!

The Mountains
Half of the top hundred mountains in the world reside in Pakistan (think K2; think Nanga Parbat). Not to mention the spectacular Karakoram Highway mirroring the famous Silk Route to China.

Muhamamd Ali Jinnah
There are other great people associated with Pakistan, but few personalities could outshine this aristocratic, elegant, larger-than-life barrister whose personality was an enigma as big as the country itself. Hats off to the Quaid-e-Azam.

[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, May 01, 2007

5 Stars to Pakistan

Proud of PakistanHere's why I'm proud of my nation.

[By Maryam Arif; picture by Moazzam Brohi.]

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

Diversity
I am proud of the rich variety of languages, traditions and cultures of the different people of Pakistan; proud that we have cities, towns and villages – the traditional with the modern; proud that the religions of the world are represented here in the form of Sufi shrines, churches, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples as well as mosques.

Beauty
I am proud of the bountiful natural beauty of our tallest mountains, vast deserts, beaches, lakes and glaciers, plains with dense vegetation and rivers.

Women
I am proud of the fact that we had a twice-elected female Head of State and women represented in various ministries.

Education
I am proud that we take education seriously, are studious and hardworking. I am especially proud that we hold our teachers in the highest regard.

Political Activism
I am proud of the lawyers, students and civil society groups who came out on the streets to protest against injustice. The judicial crisis in the country brought people together under the banner of democracy.

I am also proud of our mangoes, intellectuals, poets, farmers, monsoons, rebels, singers, artists, authors, crops, TV. Channels, sports stars...

[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.]