Monday, December 31, 2007

Obituary: Benazir Bhutto, 1953-2007

Obituary: Benazir Bhutto, 1953-2007

Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's future Prime Minister and convent-educated mother of three teenagers, died on December 27th, aged 54.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Jahangir Khan]

The grief is still green and it is comforting to sink into the cushions of sadness. But let's make the mourning more intense. Switch on the record player, take out the Yash Chopra LP, and play Kabhie Kabhie Mere Dil Mein Khayal Aata Hai, Benazir's favorite song (else simply watch a Begum Nawazish Ali video).

OK, we are now crying for you. Benazir.

Bibi, they killed you. They, all together killed you. They all-Army, USA, Al Qaeda, Taliban, War on Terror, Politics, Militancy, Civilians, Generals, Punjabis, Sindhis, fundamentalists, moderates, enlightened-moderates, haters, admirers, detractors, supporters. Everyone. Hai Bibi…

But why be so sad? Stuff happens. Leaders die. Followers fight. Nations live on. And Benazir was no Jinnah. Dissenting voices have quieted in respect for the dead, but chambers would re-echo with accusations. Uncomfortable questions would be asked. Why the late Mohtarma Prime Minister had to appoint her businessman husband as Investment Minister? How many Swiss bank accounts she held? And what about the mansions in western Europe? And so on. True, nothing has been proved against her. But the taint would remain unless proved otherwise. So why feel sorry for her? Wasn't she just another politician?

Remember, at least 20 more people died in the assassination. Why grief only for the Lady VIP?

Benazir Bhutto was privileged. Born rich and got richer. A feudal lord's daughter who married a feudal lord. Her playgrounds - Karachi, Dubai and London. Her stopovers - New Delhi and Washington DC. Her pilgrimages – sufi shrines of Ghareeb Nawaz and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Tchhh, the lady could not live long but she did live a fantastic life. Do you agree? Why is then our heart broken?

Why be so grieved?

Is it because Benazir was a woman, a beautiful woman? Because she was like one of us? Because her nickname was Pinkey and she drank gin and drove a Porsche when at Oxford. Because she read Mills & Boon romances? Did we feel for her because she deserved a better husband? Why, oh why, are we in such despair? Is it that we are overwhelmed by the circumstances of her death? Are we saddened because her children might meet the same fate?

Are we weeping for Pakistan also?

But that's useless. These are bad times but they, too, shall pass. Pakistan Paindabad!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Special Column - Courage in a Time of Chaos

Mourning Benazir

Pakistan will survive the tragedy of Benazir's assasination.

[By Bina Shah]

Bina Shah, a Wellesley and Harvard alumna, is Pakistan's noted author, journalist, editor, and blogger. She has published two novels and two collections of short stories. She lives in Karachi.

The death of Benazir Bhutto has plunged our country into chaos and confusion. Every citizen is hurt and lost and looking for direction.

I think now is the time for us to be brave and steadfast. Pakistan will not be defeated. The enemies of our country are vast and they are clever; they would like nothing better than to see us sink into lawlessness and despair.

We must not let that happen.

Stay strong, stay positive, stay optimistic.

Take this time to pray, meditate, look after yourself and your loved ones.

Be determined that we will get through this.

Our nation is young and weak and vulnerable. These are shocks that would shake the greatest nation. When Kennedy was shot, the United States was devastated. It is normal to feel anger, depression, rage, confusion, sadness, and any and all other emotions at a time like this.

But we will move beyond this. We have to, if we want to survive. Keep remembering the difference between right and wrong, between violence and peace, between strength and weakness. Take this time to reflect on what we're doing right and where we're going wrong.

Reject all forms of violence and strive for the middle path. Accept the kind words of others, who mean well, and who may even say the wrong thing because they lack the vocabulary to express their feelings. Reject the evil thoughts and bad vibes of those who are delighted when we suffer. But remain patient and calm and steadfast.

We will overcome, with God's help.

We will.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Special - Pakistan Paindabad Gets Good Press

Pakistan Paindabad Gets Good Press

Mullah Radio Quiz attracted 6000 visitors on a single day.

[News report by Press Trust of India; imaging by Mayank Austen Soofi]

How much does President Pervez Musharraf really love Pakistan? What will be the title of the glamorous Jemima Khan's autobiography? Or what is the most frequently occurring headline in Pakistani newspapers?

These are a few posers from a very cheeky mock-quiz by Mayank Austen Soofi, an Indian who is passionate about Pakistan and wants to "freeze the intellectual curiosity" of readers.

Attributing the questions to "Mullah Radio -- the father of all quiz shows in Pakistan" -- quizmaster Soofi asks: "Just how much is Pervez Musharraf in love with his country? 99.99001999 per cent, 99.99010999 per cent or 99.99100999 per cent?"

Soofi, whose post on his popular blog on Pakistan has had over 6,000 hits, said: "I'm tired of big newspapers and well-meaning blogsites writing grave stories about the grave scene in Pakistan. Politics-wise, everything looks gloomy and hopeless.

"Musharraf remains a 99.899 per cent dictator; Sharif perhaps is too bothered about from where his 'murg tikka' is coming from; and Benazir, it is rumoured, has just too many mansions in Europe. Where are the choices? Things are tragic in such a weird way that they can only be laughed at," Soofi, who lives in New Delhi, said in an e-mail interview.

The next question on "Satire - Special Quiz on Pakistan", which covers almost all aspects of the country, is: "Which is Benazir Bhutto's favourite bedtime reading book? "Swiss Bank Accounts and Investment Management", "Daughter of the Yeast" or "Easy-to-Use English-Urdu Speaking Dictionary?"

Jemima Khan, the glamorous former wife of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who has been in the news lately for spearheading the "Free Pakistan Movement" in Britain, also figures in the hilarious quiz.

"What is the title of Jemima Khan Goldsmith's autobiography she will never write? "My Life in Benetton Burqas", "Khan I Grant" or "My Feudal Bowler?"

As the year draws to an end, some of Soofi's questions are predictable - "Which was the most frequently occurring headline in Pakistani newspapers in 2007 - a) Rawalpindi: Plot to assassinate Musharraf foiled; b) Karachi: Plot to assassinate Musharraf foiled or c) Islamabad: Plot to assassinate Musharraf foiled".

"The biggest challenge for bloggers like me remains how to present the stale news in a way that fascinates readers. That is why I thought of this fun format. It's a quiz with ironic choices that reveals the pessimistic scene without making you pessimistic," he wrote.

Former premier Nawaz Sharif, who is back on the political scene after eight years, also finds a mention in the Mullah Radio quiz.

"What is the election symbol of Nawaz Sharif's political party, PML-N? Chappali Kebab , Paya-Nihari or Butter Naan ?" -- goes the question on Sharif, who loves food.

Last, but not the least, there is a poser on the militancy-hit North West Frontier Province. "Which of these are the most prized possessions of NWFP noblemen? Poppy flowers or Kalashnikovs ?" reads the question.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Obituary – Ismail Gulgee, 1926-2007

Obituary - Ismail Gulgee, 1926-2007

Ismail Gulgee, abstract expressionist and portraitist of the Afghan royal family, died on December 19th, aged 81.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture of the Gulgee family by Rajiv Bhatt]

Pakistan Paindabad regrets to note the death of eminent artist Ismail Gulgee, his wife Zarin, and their housekeeper Aasia. On December 19, 2007, they were found murdered by unidentified people in their Clifton residence in Karachi.

Mr. Gulgee was a US-returned engineer who abandoned that career to focus on his art. He later said that he wanted an engineering degree to fall back on in case of need. As it turned out, the need never arose. Mr. Gulgee began well as a portrait painter. During the 50s, he was commissioned to paint the portraits of the entire Afghan Royal family. But it was in abstract expressionism that he found his true calling. Inspired by Islamic calligraphy, some of his work can be seen hanging in Islamabad’s Faisal mosque. It is not certain if it's a compliment but Mr. Gulgee happened to be Pervez Musharraf's favrouite artist.

Talking to this blogsite, renowned columnist Irfan Husain said, "Ismail Gulgee was an iconic figure in the Pakistani art world. Although some critics made light of his portraits of the powerful, his technique was flawless, whether he worked in lapis lazuli, or in extravagant brush strokes. His works adorn many public spaces in Pakistan, and the country will be the poorer for his passing. The manner of his death was shocking, as Gulgee was a highly cultured and gentle human being."

Not many are aware that Mr. Gulgee was also attentive towards the culinary art. He considered murgi ka achar his signature dish. However, he was not as skilled with ladles as he was with brushes. Once when Begum of Bahawalpur came to buy his work, he tried to make coffee for her but could not produce the foam. It turned out he was whipping a percolated coffee.

Early in 2007, this blogsite interviewed Mr. Gulgee’s son, Amin, a renowned sculptor. We had also talked about his parents:

Your father Ismail Gulgee is a well-known artist.

My father is from Peshawar. He is a most incredible colourist I’ve ever seen. He is like a child when he works. He taught in Aligarh, India, before the partition. My mother was born in Bombay. That's her home town. She went to Elphinstone College there. She remains in love with that city. Bombay will always be her city. But my destiny starts in Dhaka where my parents first met. They fell in love and soon got married. Now we live in Karachi. My father is 81.

And your mother?

My mother? Uhmmm well, she will hate me to disclose her age. Let’s say she is younger than me.

So you live with parents?

No. I can't live with anyone. Not even with my parents. They too can't live with me (laughs). But they live next door. Few years ago we shifted to Islamabad following disturbances in Karachi. But we could stay only for a month. My mother is a big city girl and Islamabad is just not the place.

Which Pakistani artist has inspired you most?

My father, of course. Then there is Sadeqain. He is dead now. Allah Baksh, Shakir Ali, and Ahmed Pervez have also been influential.

The tragedy in the Gulgee family is a deep loss to Pakistan’s art world.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Special - Top 10 Pakistani Blogs

Top 10 Pakistani Blogs

Pakistan Paindabad fails to make it.

[Text by Raza Rumi; imaging by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Mayank Austen Soofi's note: I find consolation in the fact that Pakistan Paindabad shares the dishonour with Pakistan's two most exciting blogs - Jahane Rumi and Pak Tea House.

I have to admit that selecting the top 10 blogs from Pakistan blogsphere was a difficult task. I used an arbitrary criteria: quality, diversity, regularity; and value-addition to Pakistani blogosphere. As you can tell this is a pretty subjective criteria and I apologise if I have missed out the good blogs. Please note I have not ranked the list.

All Things Pakistan
Managed by Adil Najam and Owais Mughal, ATP is interesting and diverse and provides the space for a lively discussion. A good number of its readership and discussants are the expat Pakistanis which skews the discussions and makes them a little out of touch. However, the quality of posts remains excellent. Furthermore, it attempts to highlight the myriad aspects of our shared "pakistaniat" and therefore does not become boring or one-dimensional.

Pakistani civil servant turned academic (quite a transformation some would say) manages this excellent blog that filters a lot of journalistic and academic writings on Pakistan and provides the readers with quality information and analysis. It also carries a formidable list of academic and other resources for laypersons, researchers and students alike.

Chapati Mystery
CM may not be strictly Pakistani but it posts a lot on Pakistani. Co-managed by a Pakistani student, it maintains utmost quality and originality. There are rants of all sorts but each time you visit, there is a new post to be discovered with a crisp and sometimes irreverent comment.

Koonj: The Crane
Inspired by the symbolic bird koonj or a crane that "cries in pain because it has strayed from its flock", Shabana Mir has been blogging indefatigably since 2005. An academics, and a mother she brings in a unique voice to Pakistani blogosphere. Our Koonj talks about her personal life, her academic interests, poetry, society and several other subjects in an inimitable style.

Light Within Group
The Light Within is a leading light for the Pakistani blogosphere (This post was originally published in this blogsite).

Teeth Maestero
Dr Awab Alvi from Karachi has led various campaigns including 'Do not block the bloggers'. TM is diverse and has been discussing a wide range of issues. However, since the imposition of emergency, this blog has become an excellent source of news about civil society's resistance to the current mess. In this way, it is pretty energetic and vibrant.

Olive Ream
Omer Alvie manages this cool and classy blog that betrays an truly individual style. The writing is taut and satirical and makes you laugh despite the poignancy of the points made. For instance talking about the blog, Omer writes: ".. this blog originated on a warm, sunny afternoon in April of 2005. The birth pangs were excruciatingly painful but in the end I was able to slap the little bastard into life for all to see. In the days, months, and years that followed, this shy little web log grew into a handsome, strapping, young web site, with a devoted fan following of two."

The Insider Brief
The Insider Brief is a blog that provides an insider's view to Pakistan with critical intelligence, analysis and commentary. By disseminating in-depth and insightful analysis, the blog seeks to enable policy makers — both within and without Pakistan — to make informed decisions about a country that is vital to regional and global security. The site is managed by Shaan Akbar.

The Pakistan Policy
The Pakistan Policy Blog provides a regular, critical perspective on Pakistan's domestic and foreign affairs. Its principal goals are to stimulate discourse on policies furthering a prosperous, progressive, and secure Pakistan, and bridge the gap between the U.S. and Pakistani policy communities. The site is run by Arif Rafiq, a policy specialist based in the US.

The Pakistani Spectator
TPS is relatively young but has become a collage of several voices and writers. It has a populist feel to it. There is a range of posts that deal with issues that Pakistanis feel strongly about. In addition, it has also interviewed several Pakistani bloggers which is a good way to introduce new and old, serious and jovial bloggers. TPS can be sometimes provocative in its use of language but then it is free speech.

The list does not end here. Let us violate this rule. I add to the above: Ali Eteraz's new Pakistan specific blog, Pakistan Politics, the earnestly ideological and zealous Red Diary managed by Virodhi(!), fresh and energetic, Land of the Pure, the informative and engaging and insightful blog by the young Dr Farrukh Malik called Silence, the insightful Cyrilal and finally the non-Pakistani but Pakistan-obsessed Mayank Austen Soofi who manages a blog called Pakistan Paindabad from Delhi!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Satire – Special Quiz on Pakistan

Special Quiz on Pakistan

Jemima’s memoirs, Sharif’s symbol, halaal sex, and more.

[Picture by abro; text by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Mullah Radio is widely regarded as father of quiz shows in Pakistan. Here he presents 10 really original questions, prepared exclusively to freeze the intellectual curiosity of Pakistan Paindabad readers.

What is the title of Jemima Khan Goldsmith's autobiography she will never write?

My Life in Benetton Burqas
Khan I Grant
My Feudal Bowler

Which of these is not manufactured by Pakistan Army?

F-16 jets

What is the election symbol of Nawaz Sharif’s political party, PML-N?

Chappali Kebab
Butter Naan

In 2007, which was the most frequently occurring headline in Pakistani newspapers?

Rawalpindi: Plot to assassinate Musharraf foiled
Karachi: Plot to assassinate Musharraf foiled
Islamabad: Plot to assassinate Musharraf foiled

Which is Benazir Bhutto's favrouite bedtime reading book?

Swiss Bank Accounts and Investment Management
Daughter of the Yeast
Easy-to-Use English-Urdu Speaking Dictionary

Which of these are the most prized possessions of NWFP noblemen?

Poppy flowers
Young boys

Where do unmarried Pakistani cricketers go when they want sex?

Heera Mandi, La Whore
Le Meridian Hotel, New Delhi
Chinese Massage Parlours, Islamabad

Just how much is Pervez Musharraf in love with his country?

99.99001999 percent
99.99010999 percent
99.99100999 percent

According to Google, which phrase was googled most by Pakistani net users in 2007?

Halaal way to f***
Call girls in Karachi
Phone numbers of PIA air-hostesses

Which is the best blog on Pakistan?

Pakistan Paindabad
Pakistan Paindabad
Pakistan Paindabad

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In Praise and Criticism of Pakistan Paindabad

In Praise of Pakistan Paindabad

Message from readers.

[Picture by Jacob Simkin]

Powered by Truth
If Mayank Austen Soofi is writing the truth about Pakistan, be all the power to him.
Uttam K. Jain, USA

Pakistanis Vs Indians
To be honest, I've felt more welcome with the Pakistanis than Indians here in the US. My country men always want to find my caste, and since I don't want to deal with the whole caste thing I'd rather not deal with Indians. It's a shame that we bring our lousy Hindu-caste thing to these far off lands.
Ramesh, Los Angeles

The Hate Agenda
This hatred against Pakistan in general is being fuelled by politicians who gain political mileage by doing so. It is time we Indians come out of this narrow minded mentality of labeling a whole nation as an enemy, when the people there have nothing against us. Our NGOs and non-political delegations which have visited Pakistan only have good things to say about Pakistan. Its time that we come out of these age old animosities and work together in having a peaceful and prosperous region.
Sameer, Qatar

Positive Charges
It is good to read such a positive comment on Pakistan. I believe that it is all due to the cyber space which has opened the channels of communications between two countries.
Saaduddin, Karachi

In Agreement
I agree that most of the Pakistanis I've met are just like any other Indians. I can't even differentiate between them. Majority of them do not have anything against India or Indians. There should be more man-to-man contacts and other stuff to clear out this air of difference between the two countries, which share the same culture, language, heritage, history, and values. Hatred makes a person "devil".

The K Question
Personally I feel there is absolutely no animosity between the people of Pakistan and India. I personally feel that majority of Pakistanis and Indians have nothing against each other and can have a civil relationship with each other. In order to have better understanding of each other, there should be frequent interaction between the people of Pakistan and India. The problem lies between the Government of Pakistan and India. Solely because of Kashmir. The fact is that India will not give up the Indian-held Kashmir and Pakistan is not going to give up Pakistan-held Kashmir, therefore the sooner we come to terms with this fact the better it will be. Let Kashmiris move around freely between India and Pakistan. It is time to move on and work for the prosperity and development of each country.
Khurram Ali, USA

Very Kind
Any contribution by an individual or group of people, either Indian or Pakistani, to improve relations between people of two countries, is a well come step. After all it was one nation and one people; time has separated them. We can learn from EU nations that inspite of wars they have come together and are making progress. We have more in common and more to gain if we give it more human face to problems and avoid narrow interest. Mayank, wish you all the best.
Muhammad Patel, Saudi Arabia

Bad/Good Indians Vs Good/Bad Pakistanis
I know personally a lot of Pakistanis. They are as good or as bad as you or me. I found almost all of them to be very friendly, helpful and do not feel any enmity against Indians. In fact we Indians are more prone to be against the Pakistanis, maybe because we are more self centered, selfish and mean.
Asha, USA

Limits of Patriotism
Mayank, you are quite mature. If you have a good experience why hide it? You are doing a great job. Don’t worry about nasty comments. There are hordes of idiots doing nothing to better the society but showing patriotism online by abusing different countries and nationals!!! Get educated, Get life!!
Sindhuja, London

In Despair
Somehow, Pakistani and Indian political establishments have created this mistrust among people of each country. And to some extent the Pakistani religious leaders have utilized this to the full extent. I think, these feelings are so deep rooted, there never be a harmonious relations between two countries.
Arvind Patel, Florida

Message for Fools
Only fools would label Pakistan as an enemy. These fools fail to realize that Pakistan has a poor, hungry and uneducated society just like their counterparts in India. The image of a country to be portrayed as an enemy or a friend is solely controlled by the state and state politics. Ask yourself what has an arbitrary Pakistani who has a 9-6 job at say Samsung in Karachi, or a poor landless labourer, against you. The common man there is exactly like the common man here and their needs are restricted to having a good life for all their loved ones.
Sam Petrosa, AT

Friday, December 07, 2007

Commentary - The Three Musketeers of Pakistan

The Three Musketeers of Pakistan

A not-for-dummies guide to the trinity of Benazir + Nawaz + Musharraf.

[Text by Gaurav Sood; picture by AP]

In October, 2007, Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan, after nearly eight years in self-imposed exile, to a rapturous welcome, and a stark threat of violence. Within days, however, emboldened by her reception, the largely salutary attention from the media – both national and international, and her pragmatic assessment of Musharraf’s rather limited options, Bhutto schemed to press home her perceived advantage in the power-sharing deal with Musharraf.

A welcome opportunity arose when the Supreme Court led by self-styled messiah of constitutionality, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, appeared set to reject Musharraf’s recent 'election' – the entire opposition boycotted this barely concealed charade – as President.

Musharraf, ever the wily General, pre-empted Supreme Court’s actions with a declaration of emergency on November 3rd, days before the Court was to hand its verdict. The emergency, which appears to have been declared at least with the knowledge of US if not with its backing, drew swift condemnation from around the world.

Emergency declaration spawned the by now familiar scenes of protesting lawyers, undoubtedly with some PPP support, against the ‘illegality’ of Musharraf’s declaration. Musharraf and Bhutto, still hedging their bets, appeared to avoid a confrontation till November 9th when Bhutto declared her intention to lead a motorcade from Lahore to Islamabad on the 13th. Musharraf reciprocated by giving the orders to put Bhutto under house arrest.

The chorus of condemnation, and the Western penchant for espousing formulaic na├»ve idealism, put enormous pressure on America’s support for Musharraf. From America’s perspective, it appeared that supporting Musharraf and the status quo wasn’t particularly in their interest, given the choice of dealing with equally amenable democratically elected representatives. America, it appears, let Musharraf know as much, and then worked with Saudi Arabia to bring Nawaz Sharif – whom Musharraf had removed in a coup in 1999 – back to Pakistan.

With the arrival of Nawaz Sharif, who still appears petulant - in spite of his hair transplant- with his threats to boycott elections in January, even though the first thing he did after coming to Pakistan was file his nomination papers, the electoral equation has changed.

There is now a strong possibility that Sharif's party, untainted by General’s touch, would perform strongly in the polls. The return of Sharif and the possibility of his electoral success marks the denouement of a political drama thick with intrigue, lack of trust, and greed.

Not so Sharif

Last time Sharif fought elections in 1997, his party managed to garner enough seats in the parliament to change the constitution, which it used first to strip president of his discretionary power to dismiss the government (Article 58 (2b)), and then to enact a law to allow party leaders to expel anybody from legislature who violated “party discipline”. The second measure was rejected by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Accusations of ‘judicial activism’ were leveled against the court and Sharif set to bring the court under his control.

After a protracted battle with Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah during which Sharif threatened to curtail the size of court to 12 from 17, Sharif forced the resignation of Shah by ably recruiting the other justices on the court against Shah.

Between 1997 and 1999, Sharif assiduously worked to concentrate power. By early 1999, he felt sufficiently emboldened to suppress media. Between December 1998 and January 1999, his government sent notices to Jang newspapers to remove 16 journalists considered hostile to the government. When Jang refused, they launched cases charging tax fraud, among other things. “In May, two senior journalists, Najam Sethi and Hussain Haqqani, were arrested and a few others were harassed by the intelligence agencies. Sethi was accused of treason on the grounds that he delivered an anti-Pakistan speech in New Delhi.” (Hasan-Askari Rizvi, 1999)

Consumed by hubris, Sharif, whose relationship with the army soured notably after the army failed to deliver on Kargil, set to tackle the Army. On October 12th while Musharraf was on an official tour to Sri Lanka, Sharif dismissed Musharraf and replaced him with a low level crony from Pakistan’s intelligence services. While Musharraf was on the plane, the army responded by banding behind Musharraf and executing a coup against Sharif’s government. By the end of the day, Musharraf had taken the position of ‘Chief Executive’ since the position of President was already taken and thrown Sharif into jail.

The ‘incomparable’ Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto embodies the conflicts that cleave at the heart of Pakistani politics. She is a Radcliffe (Harvard’s college for women) and “oggsford” (the college Gatsby went to) alumna and a “deeply dedicated Muslim” , a Shia by birth and a Sunni(?) by marriage, daughter of the last ’statesman’ – a reputation Zulfikar, (the name of the double-edged sword Husayn used in Karbala, and a name that aptly captures his two sided personality of a feudal minded socialist), sealed with Shimla accord– and wife of Mr. 10%, the first democratically elected female leader in the Muslim world and the leader of one of the most notoriously corrupt regimes to lead Pakistan.

Bhutto’s political career rests upon the mythology of her father and the Bhutto name, and she has done little to let PPP grow beyond a personality cult, much like the nepotistic practices of the Nehru-Gandhi family in India.

Bhutto, over her career, has not only shown calculating pragmatism – like her marriage to an undistinguished “successful businessman” at 34 in preparation of elections in 1988, or courting the West by playing to its stereotypes, and decisions reflecting deep sense of entitlement and nepotist feudal tendencies like her appointment of mother, Nusrat, as a senior minister without portfolio, followed by appointment of her father-in-law as chairman of the parliamentary public accounts committee, she has also shown a penchant for making brash decisions that come easy to a woman born in luxury, excessively feted by the West, and who was elected a Prime Minister at the age of 35.

Her decision to press her advantage – when she saw a beleaguered Musharraf at the center of an international outcry – was one such misstep – and a misstep that is likely to cost here politically.

Pakistan: A country of exiled political leaders

When Sharif was sent to exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000, the heads of Pakistan’s three major parties –the other two being Bhutto (PPP) and Altaf (MQM) - were to all in exile. Despite the forced absence of leaders from parties which rely a fair bit on their leaders, Musharraf still couldn’t cobble together a new political structure – as was his stated intent.

Perhaps it was because these leaders were able to rule so effectively from their respective exiles. But the more likely reason is that new political structures aren’t built in elites – they are built by years of demagoguery and pandering. In reality, Musharraf shouldn’t have tried to cloak his authoritarian regime with democracy. By playing a benevolent autocratic democrat, Musharraf clearly took on too much. He replaced politics with something far more inert and calculated, and his self-righteous defense of the charade combined with his increasingly manifest status as a vassal to US, drew people away.

The present and the future

Musharraf imprudently relied too much on continued support from US, while Bhutto overplayed her hand by pushing too far with her rent-a-day rioters. It is very likely that the true beneficiary of the current fiasco would be PML, which will expectedly fight the election in alliance with Islamic parties, if elections are allowed to be held fairly – a relatively improbable scenario.

Bhutto, Sharif, and Musharraf do not trust each other. A game of political brinkmanship, as evidenced by banning of Sharif and his brother Shahbaz by the Musharraf controlled Election Commission and the meeting between Sharif and Bhutto, is now unfolding as each tries to form alliances or thwart the other.

It is useful to note that forming alliance with one on a particular issue doesn’t preclude forming an alliance with another. This game will continue till election results come in and throw the power equation in sharp relief. Election results will bring also bring accusations of unfairness. It is going to be a turbulent few months for Pakistan.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Exclusive - Gay Planet in Karachi

"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

Gay Planet in Karachi

A homosexual man’s guide to Pakistan biggest metropolis.

[Text by Jalaluddin; picture by Aisha Linnea Akhtar is published in a slightly different form here.]

Pakistan. The country is different by its very definition. A nation based on an ideology which to this day is obscured by the mists of a lack of clarity. Vibrant to the extent of mass hysteria. Passionate to the extent of mass violence. Active to the extent of mass restlessness. A nation of professional rationalizers with wild emotions and deep apathy. People from within this cosmos that we call Pakistan can not understand what it means. Only outside eyes with the benefit of perspective can understand what we have failed to grasp.

And then there is Karachi. The most vibrant, passionate and energetic face of Pakistan. Every element of Pakistani identity is accentuated to a higher degree here. The city is much more ethnically, socially, politically and culturally mixed than the rest of the country. It is more accepting of differences and less forceful at conformity. Karachi is home to fourteen million people thronging and jostling day in and day out to play the drama of life. The very soul of Pakistan.

Homosexuality is illegal in Pakistan. Homosexuality is religiously unacceptable in Pakistan. Homosexuality is socially unacceptable in Pakistan. Homosexuality is an entrenched cultural truth in Pakistani history. And in the Pakistani life today.

As long as people are quiet about it, and pursue homosexual desires, before or after marriage, and are not caught in the act, it is OK. (Although policemen who catch people in the act often demand bribes.) Men are allowed incredible leeway in their sexual pursuits as long as they are not discovered.

Historically, pederasty, gratification of sexual pleasures between older men and pubescent boys, was so universally established and practiced that it has found ample space in Pakistan's literature, poetry and other forms of communication used by the common man.

After travelling in different cities of Pakistan I feel that Karachi is the city where homosexuality finds the most acceptance. Socially. Peshawar and Quetta are cities where acceptance of pederasty and the homosexual act are considered normal but any open avowal of this would not be acceptable to anyone. In contrast, in Karachi people might still accept you for being a homosexual.

Most homosexuals who have to live in these conditions have leant to accept some of the dictates of society to work around their lives. Marriage is the norm. A vast majority of homosexual men have an active sexual life before marriage. And a very large number of homosexual men have an active extra marital sexual life after marriage as well. Since the marriage is seen as a forced situation many homosexuals feel that cheating after marriage is not wrong and make it a part of their lives.

Gay life in Pakistan is very different from that of other parts of the world. There are no proper cruising spot. Although Frere Gardens, a large colonial garden in front of the US consulate used to be a cruising spot. Large numbers of people gathered there and homosexuals could find many of their own. But, after the restrictions placed on that location due to security issues, that place is now nearly closed down.

There are no specific cruising spots in Karachi. Yet, malls, bazaars, the beach, parks and other public places can be used to spot people and then to ogle them in a discreet manner. This is a popular convenient way of availing opportunities of homosexual contacts in a society where it is not acceptable. Since people in Karachi still live with families, meetings are arranged at restaurants or other public locations. For a more intimate setting people use their cars, secluded spots and their houses. All of these are locations where people can interact without any continuous consciousness of being on public display.

With such a large community of homosexuals it is only natural for like minded people to arrange more meetings with each other. This has caused a number of events to crop up which can be called gay only. These include dance parties in private houses which are slightly uncommon due to the possibility of being exposed. Beach parties and farm house parties are quite common because of the secluded location.

Since gay life in Pakistan is not as active as in many other countries the gay community is not divided into strong sub-groups like in the rest of the world. This leads to a stronger bond and cohesion in the group and one can flit from a bear to a muscleboi and then back again during the course of three shots of vodka and a beer.

Of course, this underground movement does lead to a lot of exposure to homosexual people. But at the same time this is restricted to a small number. A majority of homosexuals do not associate or actively pursue these gay social events. Being a homosexual is still considered a taboo, even by many homosexuals.