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

“Karachi Battles” – Haris Gazdar in EPW, 2011

Karachi. Photo: Muhammad Arshad/IPS

Karachi. Photo: Muhammad Arshad/IPS


As Karachi once again reels under uncertainty, fear and economic shut-down, it may be worthwhile to re-visit this 2011 article by Haris Gazdar in EPW, “Karachi Battles”… Excerpt:
“The big picture still favours an accord between the PPP (and ANP) and the MQM. The PPP cannot allow the military to use Karachi to undermine its rule not just in Sindh but nationally. The MQM should know that a “neutral” army operation means a crackdown on the MQM, sooner rather than later. The ANP might also be aware that its hard-won position in its home region would collapse if the jihadists regain initiative with the break-up of the secular coalition. All three should know that the most powerful militant wing belongs to the military itself, which must not be tempted into seeing an opportunity where none exists.” Read the full article here: Karachi battles – Haris Gazdar in EPW Sept 2011

Rinkle Kumari: A Test Case for Jinnah’s Pakistan (Updated)

Marvi Sirmed raises some critical questions about the complex case of Rinkle Kumari, with a timeline of the case, on her blog Rinkle Kumari: A Test Case for Jinnah’s Pakistan (Updated).

Personal Political: The tragedy of Karachi

Holding up a 'I ❤ KHI' t-shirt at Itwar Bazar, July 2011. Photo: Beena Sarwar

My column for Hardnews India — written on Aug 25, 2011 (although much has happened since, this provides a context and an overview of the Karachi situation).

Personal Political: The tragedy of Karachi

Beena Sarwar

“Will it be possible to write about the tragedy of Karachi…?” asked my editor.

Possible, yes. Easy, no. In two words: turf wars. But behind that is a long, complex history, bound up in money, crime, politics, power and greed. Continue reading

Lagay Raho, Media Bhai (Keep At It, Brother Media!)

See article below, posted with this comment by Shaheryar Azhar, Moderator, The Forum: “What is amazing is that people like Kamran Khan, Shaheen Sehbai and then politicos like PMLN (and PPP to be sure as in 1999) and everyone in between have such low opinion and regard for democracy that for all kinds of invented reasons they are ready to sacrifice it at a drop of a hat. They are or unwittingly become instruments of the Army. No one has the mental toughness to ask the difficult questions or patience to let the political process sort out the incompetent and the corrupt overtime. Irony of irony is that, in turn, each of them have themselves been a victim of the same establishment whose line they now toe. What accounts for this short-sightedness? Are they too self-absorbed, too bereft of core beliefs, too egotistically driven, too lacking in wisdom to see the circus of repeating rings! This is a great article by Sadiq Saleem because he is raising the logical issues – one can already see an alternative narrative developing here, which can, one hopes, lead one day to the true practice of the Charter of Democracy.”

Lagay Raho, Media Bhai (Keep At It, Brother Media!)
The News, November 04, 2009
By Sadiq Saleem
On Monday, November 2, thirty-five innocent Pakistanis lost their lives to a terrorist attack. These were ordinary people, standing in line at a bank to receive their monthly salary. They must have gone there with plans of spending that money on their parents, wives, children, brothers and sisters. But for the Pakistani media, especially the TV anchors who have now become the arbiters of what is important and what is not, the death of these poor people was not important. With their usual cast of characters from —Jamaat-e-Islami to Imran Khan to the two Muslim Leagues— the electronic media that day was exclusively focused on the so-called NRO issue.

DEVELOPMENT-SOUTH ASIA: Women’s Peace Offensive

Analysis by Beena Sarwar

A collective aspiration for peace brings together women from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Photo:Roshan Sirran

A collective aspiration for peace brings together women from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Photo:Roshan Sirran

KABUL, Oct 18 (IPS) – ‘Give peace a chance’ may just be another cliché for many, but for women who have suffered the ravages of war, endless strife and other forms of conflict, joining hands to find meaningful solutions to their collective aspiration lends it a whole new meaning.

Within the South Asian region, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan have for decades been torn by internal and external conflicts that have cried out for, but have not quite found, a lasting resolution.

“We waited for a long time to see what the men would do for peace,” Zahira Khattak, a member of the think-tank formed by Pakistan’s Awami National Party (ANP), told IPS.

Continue reading

A moment of silence and a ‘dangerous’ choreographer

Beena Sarwar

Sonu Dangerous and Meera rehearse for a commercial. Photo courtesy: Sonu Dangerous

Sonu Dangerous and Meera rehearse for a commercial. Photo courtesy: Sonu Dangerous

KARACHI, Jun 28: One of the most unexpected tributes to Michael Jackson after the superstar’s sudden death in Los Angeles came at a session of the provincial assembly of Sindh, Pakistan’s southern-most province on Jun 27.

‘Sindh Assembly approves Rs327 billion budget’, ran a prominent headline in the Karachi edition of daily The News the following day, sub-headlined: ‘One-minute silence observed for Michael Jackson’.

The report detailed information about the budget, with a brief postscript on the ‘one-minute silence for Michael Jackson, the famous pop singer who died in Los Angeles, USA.’

Assembly sessions in this Muslim-majority South Asian nation routinely begin with a recitation from the holy Quran, followed by a dua, or prayer led by a Muslim priest. Here members can move a motion requesting the priest to include any deceased person in the dua.

On the morning of Jun 27, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) minority member Salim Qureshi Khokhar, a Christian, asked the house to “observe a minute of silence for the entertainer Michael Jackson, internationally acclaimed in Pakistan,” as Gibran Peshimam, City Editor of The News, Karachi, told IPS.

What followed was even more unexpected. The Minister for Local Government Agha Siraj Durrani got up to state that since Michael Jackson was a Muslim, he could be included in the prayer, related Peshimam, who regularly attends assembly sessions.

“Jackson’s brother may have been a Muslim but there’s no confirmation about Jackson having converted to Islam,” Sindh Minister of Information Shazia Marri interjected, said Peshimam.

“They then settled on minute of silence but it was probably just about 20 seconds. Five minutes later, the atmosphere became tense they began discussing  the finance bill.”

News about Jackson’s unexpected death hit Pakistan early morning on Jun 26, too late for the morning papers — the South Asian nation, currently observing daylight savings time, is 13 hours ahead of Western Pacific Time where news of Jackson’s death broke after 5 pm on Jun 25.

As elsewhere in the world, Pakistani blogs and tweets were soon abuzz with the information and expressions of shock and sadness. Many uploaded Jackson’s videos on Facebook profiles, weblogs and other internet sites or sent links through cell phones and emails.

Over the last decade, cell phone and internet usage has risen rapidly in this nation of over 160 million. Over fifty per cent of the population have their own cell phone, according to the World Bank’s booklet, “Bringing Finance to Pakistan’s Poor”. This includes women with access to a cell phone and rural areas (two-thirds in urban areas).

Internet access, available in Pakistan since the mid-1990s, while not as common is growing rapidly. The broadband internet subscriber base had crossed 170,000 by December 2008 and Pakistan is ranked fourth in terms of broadband Internet growth in the world.

While Michael Jackson’s music has rocked parties in urban Pakistan since the 1970s, his influence goes beyond the English-speaking elite.

“There was a time when – irrespective of your economic and social class – the way to be ‘tich’ was to be like Michael Jackson,” recalls Adil Najam, who grew up in Pakistan and teaches International Relations at Boston University

“From Saab ji’s son to Saab Ji’s driver’s son, if you were ‘in’ you had to be MJ: the hair, the walk, the white socks, the tight pants, the persona at large. And no stage show from Peshawar to Karachi would ever be complete without the ‘performance’ of a Michael Jackson clone,” Najam wrote recently in a tribute to Jackson on his popular website All Things Pakistani (www.pakistaniat.com).

The Jackson magic even made it to the television comedy series ‘Fifty Fifty’ which had huge mass appeal in Pakistan in the 1980s. One wordless skit, ‘Disco Chor’ (Disco Thief), features a thief (the popular comedian Ismail Tara).

The action is set to Jackson’s hit ‘Billie Jean’ as the masked thief sneaks in through a bedroom window and moves rhythmically through the room mimicking Jackson’s trademark dance moves. The music is clearly in his head as the room’s occupant sleeps through this foray.

Frustrated at finding nothing of value the thief wakes up the sleeping man and mimes his disgust before dishing out some money to his potential victim and exiting as Jackson’s Billie Jean fades out.

The video continues to have viewers in stitches through an online posting at YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0EF_Jo2A1I

“To those not familair with the Fifty-Fifty mystique or with the music of the time this may not seem all that funny,” commented Najam, who uploaded the video on his website in 2006, “but when these were first telecast the whole country – quite literally – were talking about them.”

Jackson’s influence in this part of the world is more widely evident in the slickly choreographed synchronised dance sequences that are a standard feature of ‘Bollywood’ films, as movies made in India’s film capital Bombay, now Mumbai, are called.

“Entire Bollywood, and then naturally Lollywood, dance sequences copied Jackson’s style,” commented Jaleel Akhtar, a television and producer in Karachi who managed Pakistan’s first rock band in the 1980s.

Bollywood openly copies Hollywood and is in turned copied by Pakistan’s film industry, ‘Lollywood’ in Lahore.

“That form of dance simply didn’t exist before,” said Akhtar. “Now we have our own version of Michael Jackson!”

He was referring to ‘Sonu Jackson’, a young choreographer who has shot up in Pakistan’s entertainment industry over the past few years. “He is phenomenal, does a lot of improvised stuff.”

“He is the first Pakistani artist who performs in Michael Jackson’s style,” the choreographer’s manager Lubna Ahmed told IPS.

Born Imnan Ahmed Shah, Sonu first came across a Michael Jackson video in 1999. “I was a normal student until then, but when I saw him, it was like something awoke inside me. I became obsessed. I started teaching myself by watching him,” he told IPS.

This self-taught dancer and singer from a humble background began calling himself Sonu ‘Jackson’, a surname that he changed to ‘Dangerous’ after releasing his first album ‘The Dangerous’ in 2007.

One of Pakistan’s most sought-after choreographers for music awards shows as well as film sequences, he is rehearsing for seven Michael Jackson numbers that will be shown next week on a private entertainment channel here.

He also plans to tour the USA in early July to perform in tributes to Michael Jackson at different shows.

(ends)

Edited version ‘PAKISTAN: An Unexpected Tribute to MJ’ –  http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=47414

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