Pakistan Elections: Democracy, Dichotomies, and Shades of Grey

Here’s the piece I wrote for the Economic and Political Weekly, India, published on the web today, copied below with minor changes, photos and added links.

Lahore, Dec 9, 2007: (L-R): Nawaz Sharif. Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Imran Khan meet to discuss whether to boycott January 8, 2008 polls. "Boycott, and then what?" asked Benazir Bhutto who convinced Sharif to participate in the polls. The rest is history. Photo: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Lahore, Dec 9, 2007: (L-R): Nawaz Sharif. Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Imran Khan meet to discuss whether to boycott January 8, 2008 polls. “Boycott, and then what?” asked Benazir Bhutto who convinced Sharif to participate in the polls. The rest is history. Photo: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

The recent elections in Pakistan show that the country is finally on the right track notwithstanding the rigging, the violence and the brutal prevention of women from voting in some areas by representatives of all the political parties. The huge turnout of women and first time young voters risking their lives to exercise their right to choose is something to celebrate and strengthen Continue reading

Projecting Quaid-e-Azam as ‘secular’ is treason?

The #fakenationalists have been targeting progressive Pakistanis for some time, aided by the #DirtyTricksBrigade, but their desperation has intensified of late. Is it a coincidence that a treason case has been filed against those identified in this defamatory poster, along with others? The poster, uploaded on facebook on March 13, 2012 by an APML supporter, features (left to right) Nusrat Javeed, Najam Sethi, Beena Sarwar, Marvi Sirmed, Imtiaz Alam. The text identifies us as "sellouts for religion and country" set on an "anti-Pakistan agenda" along with the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) (that most of us are not part of). It ends: "Come join the patriotic forces to unveil these traitors of Pakistan who hide behind the veil of journalism".

On March 28, 2012, lawyer Ahmed Raza Kasuri  filed a petition for high treason (under Article 6, punishable by death) on behalf of the so-called ‘security and defence analyst’ Zaid Zaman Hamid in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Islamabad, against 17 respondents whom the petition terms ‘snakes’. Their alleged crimes include “Trying to project Quaid-e-Azam as secular leader, lowering the image of Allama Iqbal, aggressively attacking the image of armed forces and ISI”.

The respondents include journalists Najam Sethi, Marvi Sirmed, Nusrat Javeed, Sirmed Manzoor, Ali K. Chishti, Khaled Ahmed, Imtiaz Alam, Hamid Mir, Hasan Nisar, and myself, besides the prominent human rights advocate and former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association Asma Jahangir. The DG ISI, Ministry of Interior, Foreign Ministry, Chairman PEMRA, Law Ministry and of course the biggest ‘snake’, SAFMA (South Asia Free Media Association), were also made respondents. Continue reading

Caviar to the General

“Even if the agencies in other countries play this ‘august’ role of interrupting the democratic process in their countries, does it justify ISI’s doling out money to keep a certain political party of the people’s choice out of government? Now that’s dangerous, if the army thinks whatever happened in 1990 was justifiable and is an established way of agencies’ working around the world, it should worry every law-abiding citizen of Pakistan. If the army is insisting on being right when it dictates the democratic process, we need to worry about our future. In this case we really need to reflect what has really changed despite the army’s lip service that they don’t want to mingle in politics…” Marvi Sirmed, Caviar to the General.

Curiouser and curiouser… First Mansoor Ijaz, now Shafqatullah Sohail…

Chief Justice of Pakistan: over-enthusiastic about some issues?

Today’s headline and report in Express Tribune ‎”Citizen’s letter prompts notices to president, ISI chief”  prompts advocate Asad Jamal in Lahore to ask, rightly, who is this “Canada-based Pakistani” Shafqatullah Sohail ‘who has written such a passionate letter that the CJP immediately converted it into a petition? Continue reading

Mohali: Jiye sportsmanship; blogs & facebook buzz; Salman Ahmad’s dedication to both teams & nations

Mohali, Chandigarh: Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi and Indian captain M S Dhoni smile ahead of the opening ceremony

Posted to my yahoogroup earlier:
I don’t usually post articles that haven’t been published yet, but will make an exception for what I’ve written ahead of the ‘mother of all matches’ in Chandigarh on March 30, 2011. If you are not Indian or Pakistani and don’t follow cricket, this may mean nothing to you. If you are, it doesn’t need explaining. My two short pieces to be published in The News on Mar 30th (Mohali: let it be an ‘aman ka chakka’ andSomething happening in Mohali today?” Salman Ahmad, rocking to a cross-border beat – ‘tension leney ka nahi’), below for the weekly Aman ki Asha page.

But before that, a news flash: Aman ki Asha’s Milne Do campaign against visa restrictions for Indians and Pakistanis wanting to visit each other’s countries won Best Campaign award at the APNS awards ceremony last night.

Back to Mohali: My uncle Zawwar Hasan, a retired sports journalist, predicts India will win. My aunt says that all his predictions so far have been wrong, so the odds in favour of Pakistan winning are high :) heh Read his lively commentary at his blog

My favourite placard from the 2004 series: "NO nuclear test, NO missile test, just TEST CRICKET"

Some blogs I came across that reflect the spirit we’d like to see prevail:
Cricket – An Opportunity For Peace Between India & Pakistan (Loud Thinking)
Boom Boom Cricket! (Mullah, Military & Media, by )
May the Best Side Win! (Silsila-e-Mah-o-Saal, by Sabahat24)

These blogs are from Pakistan, but it was two Indian journalists (Shivam Vij & Dilip D’Souza) who courageously started a facebook ‘event’ called Indians who want Pakistan to win the Mohali semi-final and vice-versa-. Not a very popular position, but incredibly, it gained over 100 ‘likes’ in one day. More popular on facebook, with over a 1500 likes already is Together We Shall Win started by two Indians and two Pakistanis, mentioned in my article below:

SHORT PIECE – 1
Mohali: let it be an ‘aman ka chakka’

Many, including Aman ki Asha, will cheer both sides, be happy for the winner Continue reading

Karachi today

Karachi, Aug 3: Tension grips the city today – the first of three days of mourning declared by the MQM – but some brave (and desperate) souls venture out.

A Walls ice-cream cycle vendor’s electronic bell (really annoying normally, but most welcome today) cuts through the humid air. I ask him where he’s coming from. Korangi, he says. Took a rickshaw. Buses weren’t running. 18 people died there yesterday. They (the miscreants) burnt the furniture market. But daily wagers like him have to risk going out. If they don’t earn, their families don’t eat.

Petrol pumps are closed. Our driver can’t make it because pumps in his area (Korangi) are closed and he has no gas in his motorbike. I have to attend a family wedding lunch. Pick up another guest. Drive to the other end of town. But it’s ok. Sparse traffic, lots of police vehicles, but calm.

Traffic picks up towards the evening as we head home. We notice a couple of overcrowded buses. As on any holiday, boys play cricket wherever they can – an open ground, a residential lane.

I head to office later – there’s a page to be made. Page designer Tanveer says he found a petrol pump open and was able to get gas to make it to work.

My colleague Muniba is thrilled to find an open khoka on main Drigh Road (now called Shahra-e-Faisal) where she could buy cigarettes. “There were about 20 people around that khoka,” she chuckles. “You know us cigarette addicts, we’ll do anything to get a ciggie.” Sadly, yes.

Geo News reports that 46 people have died since yesterday, over 123 injured. Several vehicles were torched, property destroyed. All leaders have “appealed for calm”. Tomorrow is another day.

p.s. Here’s the link to a radio interview I gave NPR’s The World (Boston) about this day (before I knew what the death toll was)

So beautiful and so bitter: Fatima Bhutto and her versions of truth

Photo: Courtesy Mag Weekly http://www.magtheweekly.com

She’s beautiful and bright (looks so much like her late aunt Benazir) – no wonder journalists (outside Pakistan notably) have been bowled over, leading to an overdose of fawning media attention (Khuswant Singh’s article takes the cake) in which few have tried to go beyond the surface.

Her father Murtaza’s cousin Tariq Islam (Z.A. Bhutto’s sister’s son) is one of the few people to have publicly challenged her version of the truth in at least one aspect. In her recently published, highly publicised book, Fatima writes that Z.A. Bhutto wrote to Murtaza to set up a militant base Afghanistan to wage an armed struggle against the military dictator, Zia ul Haq. Continue reading

A standing ovation for an innings of the ages

Proud father with daughter at her graduation

Published in The News Feb 12, 2010

Pioneering sports journalist and statistician Gul Hameed Bhatti remembered

By Beena Sarwar

Karachi, Feb 12: There was laughter and some tears as friends, relatives and admirers gathered at an informal reference for the late veteran sports journalist and former Sports Editor The News, and former Editor The News Karachi Gul Hameed Bhatti, at The Second Floor community space near Defence Library.

Prominent speakers highlighted Bhatti’s thorough decency and honesty, selflessness, professionalism, his pioneering role in establishing cricket statistics in Pakistan and on a more personal level, his sense of fun, his love for music, cinema, food and off-colour jokes, his unreserved support of his journalist wife’s career and dedication to their children Kamil and Sara. Continue reading

Combatting corruption with ‘zero’, Bindiya Rana, and more

This post is based on a note I began compiling over a week ago, sent to my yahoogroup the other day, which includes links to some articles on corruption and politics and a somewhat related note on Bindiya Rana, the Khwaja Sira (hijra) who features in Ragni Kidvai’s film ‘Bindiya Chamke Gi’…

‘Paying Zero for Public Services’: An Indian NGO called 5th Pillar gives the public a powerful ally, an imaginative way to combat petty corruption: a zero rupee note (“eruption against corruption”! – love it). Why can’t we do this in Pakistan?  (thanks Omar Ali)

Speaking of corruption: “The NRO judgment cannot be all about the evil in Asif Zardari. It must be seen on its own. It is a reminder of the time when the military’s illegal acts against Nawab Akbar Bugti were being tolerated because the latter was an unsavoury person” – Flaws in the judgment‘ by Asma Jahangir
Continue reading

Never forget… the day she arrived and the day she died

Oct 18, 2007: Benazir returns. Photo by Beena Sarwar

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on this day two years ago was utterly devastating for many of us. Here is the link to a piece I wrote for IPS just before she returned to Pakistan. On Oct 18, 2007, Absar Alam and I were both at the Geo TV studios in Karachi. We hopped onto a motorbike and headed for the airport, a cameraman and assistant on another motorbike. Absar managed to get us onto the truck on which Benazir was riding. See photos taken with my cell phone at this web album. Absar scooped a brief interview of her – her first to a Pakisani journalist on home soil since her exile – broadcast on Geo shortly afterwards.

Even those who had been her sternest critics over the years were unable to stem the tide of grief that hit them on learning of her death. I wrote this article after her murder – I was in Lahore, on my own at a friend’s house and it was an incredibly difficult piece to write, in between breaking down, monitoring the television, and calling people for quotes and information.

To those who even on this day, her second death anniversary, focus on her alleged corruption and plundering: please read M. Hanif’s article ‘My Benazir murder fantasy’ posted in Jan 2008 that the Newsline blog just re-posted. Extracts: Even if all the allegations about her corruption and arrogance are true, one should keep in mind that she was active in politics for 30 years, out of which she was in power only for four and a half years. The rest of the time she struggled against two of the most well entrenched military dictators in the region…

“The reason we don’t see very many dossiers on the financial corruption during General Zia and General Musharraf’s regimes is that when Bhutto was in power the intelligence agencies went into over drive documenting or sometimes inventing her misdemeanours. When the generals or their cronies are in power all the intelligence leaks just dry up.”

This is not to suggest that corruption should be condoned or excused, but it is important to get some perspective on the issue.


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