Happy Independence Day, Pakistan!

It’s the 14th of August, the day Pakistan was born and I pray for my beloved country. For peace, for prosperity, for guidance, and for happiness. For safety in Pakistan, for its people to be protected, for the land to become a haven of safety and security. For resurgence.

pakistan

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gulfnews : 15 Friday heroes making a huge difference

gulfnews : 15 Friday heroes making a huge difference.

Hey everyone! Back in 2008 I wrote a feature in Friday (weekly glossy magazine by Gulf News) about HOPE an NGO based in Pakistan. I have been involved in creating awareness about the NGO in Dubai. They are doing some excellent work!

Here’s the original cover story that appeared in 2008:

http://gulfnews.com/about-gulf-news/al-nisr-portfolio/friday/articles/a-glimmer-of-hope-1.130752

 On the 15th anniversary of the magazine, some of the major stories about social work were recapped. HOPE’s story was the first one. Here’s the text and the link to the story published today.

1. A glimmer of hope    http://gulfnews.com/life-style/general/15-friday-heroes-making-a-huge-difference-1.1019466

Published: September 12, 2008

It was around 15 years ago, while completing her clinical training at the Civil Hospital, Karachi, Pakistan, that Dr Mubina Agboatwalla saw a cruel, unforgiving side to life. Realising that a lot of people were dying due to illnesses, most of which were caused by lack of knowledge of hygiene, Dr Mubina decided to find a solution to prevent the occurrence of such maladies. The result was Health Orientated Preventative Education – Hope – a charity based in Pakistan.

Hope set up two formal schools, both in remote areas of the Sind province in Pakistan. Over a thousand children benefited from these establishments, while informal home schools in the interior of the province also mushroomed.

The Friday effect: “The feature was published at a time when Hope was little known outside of Pakistan,” says Dr Mubina. “Thanks to Friday, people, not only in the UAE, but also in the US and elsewhere, learnt about Hope and contributed towards our cause and now a network of dedicated members thrives in both countries.”

From two hospitals in rural areas of Pakistan, Hope now has four, while informal schools have grown to 200.

Ten years later

“I was afraid of the dark. It never happened before 9/11. It was a sense of security having that light on,” says Artie Van Why, a witness to the September 11 attacks in anarticle on bbc.co.uk. The story talks about the trauma that Van Why went through and how the harrowing memories of 9/11 made it too painful for him to continue working at his office which was located close to the towers. Before long he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

George W. Bush made a highly debatable decision when he responded to the attacks by attacking Afghanistan, and later Iraq. For the 3,000 civilian deaths of 9/11, the United States butchered thousands of civilians in Afghanistan (women and children amongst them). Under the pretext of weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was invaded and massacred, and what was once a flourishing Baghdad was reduced to rubble. According to WikiLeaks, the civilian death toll in Iraq was over 92,000 deaths.

The ‘War on Terror’ continued with Pakistan being forced to become a coalition partner with the United States and a never-ending stream of drones still continues to annihilate the tribal areas. Noam Chomsky in his columnon 9/11 titled ‘Was war the only answer’ explains that the attack on Pakistan has only radicalised the nation further, and that America has in fact helped Bin Laden on his mission. “That Washington seemed bent on fulfilling bin Laden’s wishes was evident immediately after the 9/11 attacks,” says Chomsky.

Simon Jenkins of the Guardian agrees to that and insists that waging war was not in America’s best interests. Anti-American sentiments were fuelled when America attacked a hapless Afghanistan, and later Iraq and then carried out drone attacks in Pakistan. Daniel Byman from the Brookings Institution (an American think-tank) suggests that drone strikes may kill “10 or so civilians” for every militant killed. In contrast, the CIA believes that since 2010, no civilians have been killed in the attacks — only militants were killed. Civilian deaths are seldom reported and when we hear of the casualties, they are given that seemingly benign terminology: collateral damage’. Whilst we have thousands of 9/11 survivor stories like the one mentioned in the beginning, somehow, Western media has failed to produce similar news stories that talk about the suffering of a little girl in Iraq, or someone in Afghanistan, or someone in Pakistan whose school was blown up in the fighting instigated by a nation once highly esteemed in the world.

“Pakistanis are too poor to go and seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. They also realise that the trauma is far from over,” writes Mohammed Hanif in the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ section. Indeed, poverty-stricken individuals in Pakistan have more pressing concerns such as proper meals and potable water.

That is most certainly not to belittle the crime that was 9/11 or the sufferings of those who went through that horrific incident. I only wish to present a simple question — why is it that when Muslims kill it is called ‘terrorism’ or ‘crime against humanity’ and when the United States massacres anyone in broad daylight, with the aid of men such as Tony Blair, we dismiss it as though the blood of those being killed is of lesser value? Is it fair to clothe the butchery of innocent civilians, who get killed alongside so called ‘militants’ under the garb of ‘collateral damage’? Moreover, why isn’t the Western media powerful enough to expose the true situation in Palestine, where the most horrific injustices take place under the approving eye of the United States?

War has been detrimental for the United States economically too. The economy collapsed after billions of dollars were deployed to fund the wars which many noted thinkers and writers have termed a mistake. The spillway effect has been the worst recession the world has seen in recent times.

There is no doubt about the fact that the attacks on the twin towers were truly terrible and every such action or intention by the militants has been condemned by Muslims all around the world, as it should be. However, America has achieved little in terms controlling terrorism – for every civilian murdered by American troops, a new Bin Laden is born. The word ‘jihad’ is in rampant misuse and young people are brainwashed as they happily blow themselves up in the name of Islam. Radicalism has placed its feet on firmer ground than before as militants use America’s crimes to fuel sentiment against America.

Amidst all this, Islam and Muslims have taken the most serious bashing. Anyone with a beard and a cap is automatically a ‘fundamentalist’, women with hijab are looked at sceptically as though they are oppressed and opting for ‘madressa’ for your child is a definite no-no — even if all they do there is teach the Arabic language.

Ten years down the line, we as a global community are worse off. Life on this planet becomes increasingly more dangerous as a doomed war continues, and we wander farther away from peace and stability. One wonders though, how Artie Van Why would have taken it if something like 9/11 happened on a daily basis, and that too for years. Someone in Iraq would know.

 

First published here: http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/09/ten-years-later.html

A taste of Pakistan in Dubai

A couple of days before Eid, I went to buy henna for the girls in Karama. And found this little Pakistani supermarket with all Pakistani brands and foods! This one is close to the Bombay Chopatti in Karama, and there’s another one next to Ibrahimi Palace Restaurant in Karama. Haven’t been to the bigger one (next to Ibrahimi) but here are some shoddy cell-phone pics of the Apna Pakistan Supermarket.

 

Pakistani Junk Food! Fancy a Chilli Milli?

 

Olper's Milk and Everyday Milk Powder - guy at the counter says Everyday is one of the top selling items

 

Shezan, National, Ahmed, Mitchell's - all jams, dips, everything

 

United King fried vermicelli, enjoyed by Pakistanis esp. in Ramadan

 

Biscuit brands -- the taste is so nostalgic!

 

And lastly, the best part, the grand finale - (drumroll please) ---- SLIMS!!!!!!!!!!!

PS: I know pics are horrible, but they kinda give you an idea, no? Plus, try taking pics when the better half goes: “Chalo! You’re embarrassing us! Stop acting like you’ve never seen Slims before!”

The halal police

—Photo Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/Dawn.com

Note: An edited version of this article was first published here: http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/02/the-halal-police.html

On my recent visit to the homeland, I noticed something about Karachi that had never piqued my attention before: everywhere I looked and went, there were an unusual number of hijabis, and more bearded men than I had ever remembered seeing. When I asked “Is it just me or do more people now observe hijab?” I was told that hijab seems to have caught on with the people more than ever before. No wonder a smart marketing gimmick for a shampoo for hijabis has been launched!

Along with this development, I noticed something else too – the nagging presence of what I will call the ‘halal police’. The (self-appointed) halal police have been functional since centuries, but now you’ll find these ‘warriors of the deen’ everywhere. If a guy has a beard, he will give you a look that says, “You infidel! How can you not have a beard?” And if a woman covers her head, her eyes will burn a hole through your (uncovered) hair. I personally find this behaviour bereft of humility and kindness, and precisely the reason why people run away from Islam.

I am quite sure you’ve come across those types of people who tell you in no uncertain terms that it is haram to chew gum. Some others will frown if you pray namaz with nail polish on, while still more will tell you that you pray your salah wrong and sajdah should be made this way, not that. Now, I am not questioning their religious beliefs, or indeed, expressing my views about namaz with nail polish because I am no scholar and I do not know what’s right and what’s not. However, what I do know is that noone has the right to be self righteous and bossy in the name of Islam. Suggestions could be made in a civil manner, friendships should be nurtured rather than nipped in the bud and people should be loved for being who they are.

These newly returned to Islam people are full of their knowledge and ready to give you guidance, and they do so at will to anyone who has a shorter beard than them (or none at all) or a hijab that doesn’t do its job. An increasing number of younger people are learning religion via mentors and internet lectures, suddenly gaining the authority to tell their parents they’ve got it all wrong for the past 50 years.

Let me clarify – practicing your religion and wanting to propagate it is a noble act, something that the prophets (peace be upon them all) did. But to look down upon those who don’t follow the same religion as you (or none at all!) or don’t have a beard, or don’t cover their heads is about as far from Islam as you can get. For before you suddenly learnt it all, weren’t you the same? And what gives you the authority to judge someone? Who but the Creator knows what’s in a person’s heart? For all we know – a person we think is far removed from religion might be dearer to God than we could ever hope to be.

Where does the halal police get the right to say so and so is a ‘kaafir’ a ‘mushrik’ or a ‘bidatee’? Do people know God’s mercy is all-encompassing? You must have heard that story about Bani Israel – In the days of Moses (PBUH) there was once a severe drought. The prophet and his people raised their hands and prayed for rain, but to their astonishment, the heat intensified, with no hope of rain. It was revealed to Moses (PBUH) that there was a sinner in the tribe of Bani Israel who had disobeyed God for more than forty years of his life and if only that man would separate himself from the throng would the Almighty send down rain. When Moses told his people that, the man instantly knew it was him the Almighty was referring to, and now he was at a loss.

If he didn’t come forward, the rain wouldn’t come and everyone would perish and if he would, it would be a massive humiliation. So, quietly, in a few profound moments, he begged for forgiveness, and beseeched to God to hide his sins. The rain fell and the people rejoiced, and when Moses asked his Lord how it had rained even though no-one had left the congregation, God revealed that the entire tribe had been blessed with rain because of that one man’s perfect repentance. When Moses asked who the man was – God said “I hid him from you for forty years, would I expose him now?”

Just goes to show that the Almighty is more merciful than you and I can fathom and there is simply no way we can belittle anyone, be it a Muslim or a Non-Muslim. God could have easily embarrassed this guy, instead He chose to protect him. Some days back, a woman shouted at me in a mosque, so loudly, and in such an uncultured manner, that I never frequented that particular mosque again. All this because I hadn’t removed the shoes of my two-year-old!

If righteousness must be enjoined than it must be done in a respectful and acceptable manner, because remember that there is no compulsion in religion and that people with a holier-than-thou are the most loathed. Gentleness accomplishes far more than stating so and so does haram, because let’s face it, the Creator is the judge of what’s right and what’s wrong, not you and I.

The misconceptions about Islam rise sometimes because we as a people do not have tolerance, especially if we begin to learn the religion. We need to be humble and if we’re being critical, the first one we should aim to correct is our own self.

Being a Pakistani abroad

—Photo Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/Dawn.com

 

‘Where are you from?’ is generally the first question people here in the Emirates will ask you. That is because with people from over a 100 nationalities settled in the UAE, this is quite literally, the melting pot of cultures – (melting pot of course would also refer to soaring mercury levels!)

When you meet people through work, or friends or merely at the park or at a mosque and if you do strike a friendship, this question, like I said features quite early in the conversation. The other day, I met a girl at the mosque and when I asked where she was  from, she said, “I was born and bred in the UAE and have been here all my life.” I could easily make out that she wasn’t a local Emarati, so I wondered aloud if she was in fact a local. To this the girl replied abashedly and almost grinding her teeth, “Well, my parents hail from Pakistan, but I’ve never really lived there,” she added defensively.  So the girl was a Pakistani herself, because as is common knowledge, Arab countries do not grant their nationality upon you even you’ve lived in their country for generations, or if indeed you are born on their lands.

In a place like the United States or Canada, where one does eventually receive citizenship, many Pakistanis with foreign passports refer to themselves as ‘Americans’ or ‘Canadians’. A Pakistani woman I know who settled in Sydney a few years ago insists that she hails from Down Under. I personally don’t understand this. Just because someone owns something other than that green passport, does it change their roots?

I have often come across Western educated Pakistanis who after being born and brought up in the Pakistan have left it and have settled in the US or UK. They now read Urdu with a perplexed expression on their faces, almost as though it were ‘cool’ to stutter whilst reading Urdu, because you ‘forgot’ it.

It seems mystifying at first, the fact that sometimes Pakistanis abroad do anything to conceal their nationality. It should be noted that I am not making a generalisation here as there are some Pakistanis abroad (myself amongst them) who are perfectly happy and proud of being Pakistani, and couldn’t care less about what anyone would think. They read Urdu with zeal and are glad to say that they belong to Pakistan.

However, I have also encountered quite a few who seem to think being connected to the land is one of their greatest misfortunes. As we look further into this behaviour, we realise that they do have valid reasons. First after 9/11 and more recently the OBL Drama in A-bot-a-baad, Pakistanis especially in the West are looked down upon. The word ‘terrorist’ hovers around and a balanced person with a fairly harmless agenda in life is looked upon with scepticism. A Pakistani friend who moved to the United States from Dubai now tells anyone who asks that she is from the UAE, even domestic help she plans to hire on an hourly basis, because personal experience has taught her that saying ‘Pakistani’ will invite needless suspicion from just about anyone.

In the UAE, I can personally vouch for the fact that anyone who is not a local (Emarati) or a gora, is subject to some kind of prejudice, and Pakistanis too are scrutinized in a circumspect manner.

With the current situation in Pakistan, where nearly every day one wakes up to the horrifying news that there was a bomb blast in such and such place, and with our infamous track-record, not to mention our political leaders, the wariness people sometimes feel around Pakistanis is somewhat justified. But the fact that an entire nationality is shown disrespect, for the misdeeds of a few bad eggs, is very unfortunate. These are tough times to be a Pakistani. You are stopped at the airport and questioned ruthlessly, you are looked down upon in other countries and the word terrorist seems to be on everyone’s mind.

One wistfully thinks of how wonderful it would be if being Pakistani was once more considered a privilege rather than an unlucky aberration. This land was acquired with lots of hard work and struggles by honourable men and women. Cynicism, I realize is a staple in our people but the fact is that we need to believe, in ourselves and in our country. We as the youth need to know that Pakistan, with its indomitable spirit may yet rise again, and that it is us who can make a real difference.

This was originally written for the Dawn Blog: http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/20/being-a-pakistani-abroad.html

Playground for bullies

First published in GN

gulfnews : Playground for bullies.

The car lurches to an ungainly stop, as we inch along on a snail’s pace on an extraordinarily congested Faisal Road in Karachi. People appear to be in a mad frenzy to get home, so much so that each bus or truck I spot has scores of people sitting on its roof, because political unrest severely hampers public transport. People clamber upon the buses that are still running, and finding no available seats they gladly ride al fresco. I hear the wailing of a siren in the distance, and my lips move feverishly, hoping, praying, that I reach home in one piece.

I did make it home safely after an extremely disturbing hour on road, but sadly many others did not. Over the last few days, more than a hundred people, civilians, (children amongst them) have been brutally murdered, whilst many have been maimed and crippled for life. We watched the news horror-struck as the death toll kept rising, and political parties and ministers issued statements that, as usual, were of little consequence.

Huddled inside the confines of our homes, those of us who live in or regularly visit Karachi know what terrorism; brutal and untamed, really feels like. We have experienced first-hand what it is like to feel fear (bordering on paranoia) for our lives, hoping our death will not be just another statistic in the blood-fest.

This sprawling metropolis is the financial hub of the country where people from all across Pakistan have migrated to make a living, and generates 70% of the total annual tax revenue collected by the government. The ‘City of Lights’ as Karachi is (somewhat inappropriately) called is one of the world’s largest cities in terms of population, and is almost four times larger than Hong Kong in square area. Unfortunately, it has also served as a battleground for ruling political parties MQM, ANP and PPP.

In the 1980’s ethnic and sectarian violence first marred the landscape, and in the 1990’s the situation aggravated. The average citizen of Karachi in those days was used to ‘halaat kharab’ (tense situation), but hope was always around the corner, and each new regime brought with it a wave of much needed optimism. Cut back to the 2000’s and the situation has not improved. According to human rights organisations, 775 people died in political and sectarian shootings and bomb attacks in Karachi in 2010. The BBC reported on the fifth of July this year (before the recent massacre took place) that in the first half 2011, 1100 people have been shot dead in Karachi in severe political unrest. Statistics suggest that the condition is worsening alarmingly. Add to it incidents such as the killing of a civilian Sarfraz Shah, a man who was shot by the Rangers at point-blank range as he begged for life and one can say without a shadow of doubt that Karachi is a perilous place.

Is there no hope for the people of Karachi? Must we live in constant fear, as we witness, every few days, something simply atrocious? Is there no one who can stand up to this cruelty which has plagued the city?

The recent spate of attacks was centred on areas like Qasba Colony, Orangi Town and Kati Pahari where people belonging to low-income groups reside in unbearably filthy conditions. Clean water is accessible only to a lucky few and the demand for electricity far exceeds supply, meaning power cuts for long hours are a norm. Health and education services are rudimentary if at all available. Must these people located in slums who are already disenfranchised, and already in need of aid, suffer in a far more grievous way because of the terrorists who attack their children, homes, shops and even hospitals, mosques and police stations? Is there no mercy in the hearts of those who call themselves human-beings? Strikes happen on a regular basis, and everything is closed down, hampering the already beleaguered economy of Pakistan. People like rickshaw drivers, fruit vendors and builders who earn a daily wage are hit the hardest.

As of now the outlook appears more bleak than anyone, including this writer, who has always called Karachi home would like to admit. Solving the day to day problems of the common man is a far cry, here even the death toll is viewed cynically, treated as a pattern and accepted as a harsh reality. Karachi has turned into a playground for the bullies, who happen to be political parties and one-upmanship happens in the most bizarre way – cold-blooded butchery of people. After all being the more dominant, successful political party is far more important than the loss of an innocent life, right? One hopes that the political parties currently causing havoc reach some kind of agreement with each other and what is essentially a wonderful city with immense potential for growth can survive in peace. One hopes for hope in the hearts of the embittered, jaded citizens of Karachi.