The world media are focusing on scores of deadly terrorist attacks in the last four weeks claiming over 300 innocent lives in Pakistani cities, and tracking the military's counterinsurgency campaign unfolding in South Waziristan. However, the Pakistani blogosphere is buzzing with the news and pictures of the Fashion Week in Karachi.
A series of fashion shows ended Saturday in which 30 Pakistani designers presented their creations. Karachi's Marriott hotel was the scene of the glamorous event.
And there is a lot more that is happening in Pakistan.
In October, a painstakingly detailed production of Chekov's "The Seagull" had a successful run in Karachi.
Karachi's local actors put on a female version of The Odd Couple and the Abba musical Mamma Mia drew large crowds.
An art exhibit opened recently in Islamabad to portray the effects of recent events on Pakistani psyche. Using the snake skin as a symbol of ongoing terror in the country, artist Haleem Khan has used the metaphor of a venomous snake to portray the violence that confronts people.
There were dozens of other events across the country, such as the 25th anniversary of a street theater group, a film festival for children, scores of music concerts, thousands of weddings and endless games of street cricket.
Clearly, many Pakistanis are defying the campaign of intimidation unleashed by the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan. Despite the failed political leadership and extremely poor governance, the country’s saving grace is arguably its people. As the consequences sink in among Pakistan’s secular elite of the rising Taliban, there are signs that the country’s educated middle class – in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, cities rocked recently by continuing terrorist attacks – is losing its patience with radicalism. The urban middle class has more clout than many analysts think. It constitutes the backbone of the army, the business and professional classes and the opinion makers in the media. And the middle class is getting serious about its responsibility. They have now compelled the government into taking more decisive action. There appears to be visible light at the end of the tunnel. Let's hope it's not an oncoming train.
Here are two video clips of Karachi Fashion Week 2009:
Karachi Fashion Week
Is Pakistan Too Big to Fail?
Karachi Fashion Week Goes Bolder
More Pictures From Karachi Fashion Week 2009
Pakistan's Foreign Visitors Pleasantly Surprised
Start-ups Drive a Boom in Pakistan
Pakistan Conducting Research in Antarctica
Pakistan's Multi-billion Dollar IT Industry
Pakistan's Telecom Boom
ITU Internet Data
Eleven Days in Karachi
Pakistani Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley
Musharraf's Economic Legacy
Infrastructure and Real Estate Development in Pakistan
Pakistan's International Rankings
Assessing Pakistan Army Capabilities
Pakistan is not Falling
Jinnah's Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom
South Waziristan has been in the news lately as the terror hub where Pak military is conducting operations against TTP and foreign fighters. Here is a news report showing a different side of S. Waziristan:
KARACHI: Top Pakistani squash players Aamir Atlas Khan and Maria Toor have been nominated for Professional Squash Association Young Player of the Year and Women's International Squash Players Association (WISPA) Young Player of the Year, respectively, by the World Squash Federation.
Both Aamir and Maria belong to the North West Frontier Province, home also to Pakistan squash legends Jahangir and Jansher Khan, where they train amidst constant threats from the Taliban. While it has been a comparatively easy ride for Aamir, by virtue of being a male in a part of the country where residents adhere to strict Islamic law, for the 19-year-old Maria it has been a journey of immense courage and perseverance.
Growing up in South Waziristan, Maria was a very different girl, often getting into brawls with boys and generally being very dominating, some very unusual traits for women in NWFP. She was equally lucky to have an open-minded father who noticed his daughter's sporting talent and ability and did not want it to go to waste.
'I didn't want her talent to go to waste,' Shams-ul-Qayum Wazir said in an interview to CNN. 'If I would've kept her in the village, all she could do was housekeeping,' he added satisfied with his decision to pack up from South Waziristan and move to Peshawar in late 1999.
Upon her move to Peshawar, Maria was immediately inducted into the Hashim Khan Complex, named after the first great player to emerge from a Pakistani dynasty of squash players which dominated the international game for decades.
It was in Peshawar where her father really began to realise the true potential his daughter had. Representing Warsak High School in Peshawar, Maria became the youngest ever winner of the National Women's Squash Championship toppling top seed Muqaddas Ashraf of Punjab in straight sets in the final at Karachi Club squash court in 2004. She was 13 at the time and while the cash prize of Rs. 8,500 and a crystal trophy felt good, it was really the satisfaction of being better than everyone that was to accelerate Maria's drive. She quickly swatted through her competition winning an Under-15 tournament and then at 15 winning the Under-19 Hashim Khan National junior championship in 2005.
She scaled through the national rankings, Dunlop racquet in hand with an almost Muhammad Ali-like confidence, often calling her self the world's best squash player in some of her post-match press conferences. It was this self belief and great form that finally brought her to the world stage when she joined the WISPA in 2006. She was immediately at ease on the international circuit as well, reaching the semi-final stage of the 2nd WISPA International Women’s Squash Championship at the POF Jahangir Khan Complex in Islamabad.
In early August 2007 she was given the Salaam Pakistan Award by the President of Pakistan, alongside tennis player Aisam Ul Haq Qureshi and footballer Muhammad Essa.
The year 2009 saw her win her first international tournament when she beat the same opponent she had defeated as a 13-year-old. Muqaddas Ashraf once again succumbed to Maria’s power and agility losing the Chief of Army Staff International squash tournament.
Winning an award at this year's World Squash Awards being held the RAC Club in London is something Maria is looking forward to but her main objective is to carry on the great legacy left behind by the Khans and to put Pakistan's name back at the top on the world stage.
For her father her achievements have already shown the true spirit of people of Waziristan, a far cry from what is has become today.
Here's an interesting report by Reuters in Pakistan:
By Alistair Scrutton
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - If you want a slice of peace and stability in a country with a reputation for violence and chaos, try Pakistan's M2 motorway.
At times foreign reporters need to a give a nation a rest from their instinctive cynicism. I feel like that with Pakistan each time I whizz along the M2 between Islamabad and Lahore, the only motorway I know that inspires me to write.
Now, if the M2 conjures images of bland, spotless tarmac interspersed with gas stations and fast food outlets, you would be right. But this is South Asia, land of potholes, reckless driving and the occasional invasion of livestock.
And this is Pakistan, for many a "failed state." Here, blandness can inspire almost heady optimism.
Built in the 1990s at a cost of around $1 billion, the 228-mile (367-km) motorway -- which continues to Peshawar as the M1 -- is like a six-lane highway to paradise in a country that usually makes headlines for suicide bombers, army offensives and political mayhem.
Indeed, for sheer spotlessness, efficiency and emptiness there is nothing like the M2 in the rest of South Asia.
It puts paid to what's on offer in Pakistan's traditional foe and emerging economic giant India, where village culture stubbornly refuses to cede to even the most modern motorways, making them battlegrounds of rickshaws, lorries and cows.
There are many things in Pakistan that don't get into the news. Daily life, for one. Pakistani hospitality to strangers, foreigners like myself included, is another. The M2 is another sign that all is not what it appears in Pakistan, that much lies hidden behind the bad news.
On a recent M2 trip, my driver whizzed along but kept his speedometer firmly placed on the speed limit. Here in this South Asian Alice's Wonderland, the special highway police are considered incorruptible. The motorway is so empty one wonders if it really cuts through one of the region's most populated regions.
"130, OK, but 131 is a fine," said the driver, Noshad Khan. "The police have cameras," he added, almost proudly. His hand waved around in the car, clenched in the form of a gun.
On one of my first trips to Pakistan. I arrived at the border having just negotiated a one-lane country road in India with cows, rickshaws and donkey-driven carts.
I toted my luggage over to the Pakistan side, and within a short time my Pakistani taxi purred along the tarmac. The driver proudly showed off his English and played U.S. rock on FM radio. The announcer even had an American accent. Pakistan, for a moment, receded, and my M2 trip began.
Built in the 1990s by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, it was part of his dream of a motorway that would unite Pakistan with Afghanistan and central Asia.
For supporters it shows the potential of Pakistan. Its detractors say it was a waste of money, a white elephant that was a grandiose plaything for Sharif.
But while his dreams for the motorway foundered along with many of Pakistan, somehow the Islamabad-Lahore stretch has survived assassinations, coups and bombs.
A relatively expensive toll means it is a motorway for the privileged. Poorer Pakistanis use the older trunk road nearby tracing an ancient route that once ran thousands of miles to eastern India. The road is shorter, busier and takes nearly an hour longer.
On my latest trip, I passed the lonely occasional worker in an orange suit sweeping the edge of the motorway in a seemingly Sisyphean task.
Here are some excerpts from NY Times about sufi Islam celebration in Lahore:
LAHORE, Pakistan — For those who think Pakistan is all hard-liners, all the time, three activities at an annual festival here may come as a surprise.
Thousands of Muslim worshipers paid tribute to the patron saint of this eastern Pakistani city this month by dancing, drumming and smoking pot.
It is not an image one ordinarily associates with Pakistan, a country whose tormented western border region dominates the news. But it is an important part of how Islam is practiced here, a tradition that goes back a thousand years to Islam’s roots in South Asia.
It is Sufism, a mystical form of Islam brought into South Asia by wandering thinkers who spread the religion east from the Arabian Peninsula. They carried a message of equality that was deeply appealing to indigenous societies riven by caste and poverty. To this day, Sufi shrines stand out in Islam for allowing women free access.
In modern times, Pakistan’s Sufis have been challenged by a stricter form of Islam that dominates in Saudi Arabia. That orthodox, often political Islam was encouraged in Pakistan in the 1980s by the American-supported dictator, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. Since then, the fundamentalists’ aggressive stance has tended to eclipse that of their moderate kin, whose shrines and processions have become targets in the war here.
But if last week’s stomping, twirling, singing, drumming kaleidoscope of a crowd is any indication, Sufism still has a powerful appeal.
“There are bomb blasts all around, but people don’t stay away,” said a 36-year-old bank teller named Najibullah. “When the celebration comes, people have to dance.”
Worshipers had come from all over Pakistan to commemorate the death of the saint, Ali bin Usman al-Hajveri, an 11th-century mystic. Known here today as Data Ganj Baksh, or Giver of Treasures, the Persian-speaking mystic journeyed to Lahore with Central Asian invaders, according to Raza Ahmed Rumi, a Pakistani writer and expert on Sufism. He settled outside the city, a stopover on the trade route to Delhi, started a meditation center and wrote a manual on Sufi practices, Mr. Rumi said.
Tour De Pakistan cycle race started today in Peshawar, according to ARY News:
PESHAWAR: Carrying US $ 10,000 prize money the 15th International Tour de Pakistan Cycle Race commenced from local hotel on Monday at 9.00 a.m with 63 cyclists including players from Afghanistan vie for the top honor.
Afghanistan is only foreign team that is taking part while Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Nepal teams did not turn up despite their confirmation.
The sprint would finish at Mazar-e-Quiad with Governor Sindh Dr. Ishrat-ul-Ibad would be the chief guest at the presentation ceremony.
The cyclists would cover a distance of 1685km in 11 stages. The opening stage of the race, starting from Peshawar, would finish at Rawalpindi after crossing a distance of 158 km, followed by Rawalpindi-Gujrat (153km), Gujrat-Lahore (115km) after a rest at Lahore, the cyclists will continue from Lahore-Sahiwal(160km),Sahiwal-Multan (154km), Multan-Bahawalpur (90km), Bahawalpur-Rahim Yar Khan (200km).
After rest in Rahim Yar Khan the cyclists would again paddle off from Rahim Yar Khan-Sukkur (178km), followed by Sukkur-Moro (150km),Moro-Hyderabad (163km)andHyderabad-Karachi (153) will be the last stage.
It is the third occasion that the race is starting from Peshawar and finishing at Mazar-e-Quiad.
Last year the race finished at Peshawar whereas Niamat Ali of Sui Southern Gas won the race.
The sprint will finish on March, 13 at Mazar-e-Quiad, Karachi after passing through some major cities of NWFP, Punjab and Sindh.
Besides Afghanistan teams from FATA, Pakistan Army, WAPDA, Railways, Sui Southern Gas and cyclists of the four provinces contesting for the top honor.
Here's a recent excerpt from a piece by Dawn columnist Irfan Husain about Pakistan's middle class influencing nation's politics:
While external debt increased from $39bn in 1999 to $50bn in 2009, poverty levels have fallen by over 10 per cent since 2001. Indeed, there are now around 30 million Pakistanis who are considered to be in the middle class with an average income of $10,000 annually, while some 17 million are now bracketed with the upper and upper-middle classes.
Even though this does not approach China’s and India’s spectacular progress in this period, it does represent a solid advance. If one factors in the political turmoil the country has gone through, together with its ongoing insurgencies in the tribal areas and Balochistan, Pakistan’s progress has been impressive by any standard.
How do these numbers translate into day-to-day life in Pakistan? To examine the social transformation the country is undergoing, Jason Burke uses the Suzuki Mehran as a yardstick to measure change. In his ‘Letter from Karachi’ published in the current issue of Prospect, the Guardian reporter writes:
“In Pakistan, the hierarchy on the roads reflects that of society. If you are poor, you use the overcrowded buses or a bicycle. Small shopkeepers, rural teachers and better-off farmers are likely to have a $1,500 Chinese or Japanese motorbike…. Then come the Mehran drivers. A rank above them, in air-conditioned Toyota Corolla saloons, are the small businessmen, smaller landlords, more senior army officers and bureaucrats. Finally, there are the luxury four-wheel drives of ‘feudal’ landlords, big businessmen, expats, drug dealers, generals, ministers and elite bureaucrats. The latter may be superior in status, power and wealth, but it is the Mehrans which, by dint of numbers, dominate the roads.”
This growing affluence has already caused a major power shift, with the urban population now having a bigger say after years of being ruled by feudal landowners. As urbanisation gathers pace, Pakistan’s traditional power elite will increasingly come from the cities, and not from the rural hinterland. This will have a profound impact not just on politics, but on society as a whole. As Burke observes in his Prospect article:
“Politically, the Bhutto dynasty’s Pakistan People’s Party, mostly based in rural constituencies and led by feudal landowners, will lose out to the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif with its industrial, commercial, urban constituency. Culturally, the traditional, folksy, tolerant practices in rural areas will decline in favour of more modernised, politicised Islamic strands and identities. And as power and influence shifts away from rural elites once co-opted by colonialism, the few elements of British influence to have survived will fade faster.”
Often, perceptive foreigners spot social trends that escape us because we are too close to them to see the changes going on around us. For instance, Burke identifies the shift away from English, and sees ‘Mehran man’ as urban, middle class and educated outside the elite English-medium system. He sees Muslims being under attack from the West, and genuinely believes that the 9/11 attacks were a part of a CIA/Zionist plot. Actually, my experience is that many highly educated and sophisticated people share this theory.
Burke continues his dissection of the rising Pakistani middle class: “Mehran man is deeply proud of his country. A new identification with the ummah, or the global community of Muslims, paradoxically reinforces rather than degrades his nationalism. For him, Pakistan was founded as an Islamic state, not a state for South Asian Muslims. Mehran man is an ‘Islamo-nationalist’. His country possesses a nuclear bomb….”
Here's an interesting excerpt from a piece about the use of technology in Pakistan written for CNET by a visiting Pakistani tech journalist Zamir Haider at Stanford University:
According to the Ministry of Finance's Economic Survey of Pakistan for fiscal 2005-2006, computer use in urban households is high. In comparison with the literacy rate--53 percent--at least 40 percent of Pakistanis are computer literate or have access to computers.
Mostly, these are Pentium II or Pentium III PCs, since laptops are expensive. PCs are now widely available at good prices, thanks to Chinese computers flooding the markets. Most of these machines are not big brands, but they do say "Intel Inside." As for laptops, they come from various brands like Dell, Toshiba, Compaq, Sony and Apple. Wireless Internet connections, on the other hand, are still rare.
Dialing up through the phone lines
In Pakistan, 99 percent of Internet connections are still over phone lines. Wi-Fi is generally seen only at five-star hotels and now at a few restaurants. People at home usually use Internet cards of various denominations starting from 10 rupees per hour (16 cents) to 100 rupees per 10 hours ($1.60). Connection speeds through Internet cards are generally poor.
Getting permanent Internet connections from an Internet service provider is expensive, but most businesses do get connections from these companies.
Mobile phones are the most common form of personal technology seen in Pakistan. Connecting to the Internet through mobile phones is getting popular now, but it probably will still take another a year or more to be as popular as it is here in California.
People here are excited about the coming of the Apple iPhone. That's what I hear people talking about when I go to any of the mobile phone outlets in San Francisco.
In Pakistan, people aren't that much different when it comes to mobile phones. They're fond of buying expensive cell phones not for technology purposes alone, but also largely to show off.
“Media Subdues The Public. It’s So In India, Certainly”, says Noam Chomsky, Prof Emeritus of Linguistics and Media a MIT.
Here are a few quotes from an Outlook India interview with Noam Chomsky:
"I spent three weeks in India and a week in Pakistan. A friend of mine here, Iqbal Ahmed, told me that I would be surprised to find that the media in Pakistan is more open, free and vibrant than that in India.
In Pakistan, I read the English language media which go to a tiny part of the population. Apparently, the government, no matter how repressive it is, is willing to say to them that you have your fun, we are not going to bother you. So they don’t interfere with it.
The media in India is free, the government doesn’t have the power to control it. But what I saw was that it was pretty restricted, very narrow and provincial and not very informative, leaving out lots of things. What I saw was a small sample. There are very good things in the Indian media, specially the Hindu and a couple of others. But this picture (in India) doesn’t surprise me. In fact, the media situation is not very different in many other countries. The Mexican situation is unusual. La Jornada is the only independent newspaper in the whole hemisphere."
"As soon as the plan to invade Iraq was announced, the media began serving as a propaganda agency for the government. The same was true for Vietnam, for state violence generally. The media is called liberal because it is liberal in the sense that Obama is. For example, he’s considered as the principled critic of the Iraq war. Why? Because, right at the beginning, he said it was a strategic blunder. That’s the extent of his liberalism. You could read such comments in Pravda in 1985. The people said that the invasion of Afghanistan was a strategic blunder. Even the German general staff said that Stalingrad was a strategic blunder. But we don’t call that principled criticism."
"Perhaps the period of greatest real press freedom was in the more free societies of Britain and the US in the late 19th century. There was a great variety of newspapers, most often run by the factory workers, ethnic communities and others. There was a lot of popular involvement. These papers reflected a wide variety of opinions, were widely read too. It was the period of greatest vibrancy in the US. There were efforts, especially in England, to control and censor it. These didn’t work. But two things pretty much eliminated them. One, it was possible for the corporate sector to simply put so much capital into their own newspapers that others couldn’t compete. The other factor was advertising; advertiser-reliance. Advertisers are businesses. When newspapers become dependent on advertisers for their income, they are naturally going to bend to the interest of advertisers.
If you look at the New York Times, maybe the world’s greatest newspaper, they have the concept of news hole. What that means is that in the afternoon when they plan for the following day’s newspaper, the first thing they do is to layout where the advertising is going to be, because that’s an important part of a newspaper. You then put the news in the gaps between advertisements. In television there is a concept called content and fill. The content is the advertising, the fill is car chase, the sexy or whatever you put in to try to keep the viewer watching in between the ads. That’s a natural outcome when you have advertiser-reliance."
Here's an Op Ed by Beena Sarwar in the Guardian recently:
India and Pakistan may be neighbours but it's surprising how little they really know about each other. Their rich common heritage is easily forgotten amid mutual baiting and negative stereotyping, and it's difficult to imagine them ever being truly at peace until these obstacles have been overcome.
"I'm really surprised to see so many women ... I thought you would be all covered in burqas," said a journalist at the Indian Women's Press Club when the Pakistani contingent arrived last April on a visit organised by Aman ki Asha (a joint initiative for peace by the Times of India and Pakistan's Jang media group).
Indians who visit Pakistan are invariably pleasantly surprised by the openness, helpfulness and hospitality of Pakistanis. It is hard for them to believe there is so much vibrant art, fashion, music, dance, media, literature and theatre. They are moved by the outstanding work that people are doing, often voluntarily, in fields ranging from women's and human rights to education and medical care.
Many Pakistani men, women and children participate in the fortnightly Critical Mass cycling events in Karachi; there's a Critical Mass in Lahore, too. Music lovers in both cities organise the well-attended annual All Pakistan Music Conference that showcases classical musicians, singers and dancers. Pakistan hosts the largest privately organised annual puppet festival in the world. The festival organisers (the Peer Group) also arrange annual music, dance and theatre festivals.
Pakistanis also proved, during the restrictive military regime of Gen Zia-ul-Haq, that it is possible to have a lively theatre scene, including productions staged in backyards and open spaces in poor localities. Some activist groups, such as Ajoka Theatre and Tehrik-e-Niswan, still do this to raise awareness.
The few theatres we have in Pakistan remain solidly booked. Indian journalists who saw a local production of the West End hit musical Mama Mia in Lahore were stunned by the talent, and by the slickness of the production by the group which had put on Chicago the previous year.
But far too few opinion-makers from India and Pakistan are able to visit the other country. Trapped in a long history of hostilities, our governments are reluctant to grant visas to each other's citizens, even journalists. Their reciprocal protocol only allows two journalists from the other country to live and work in their capital cities, Islamabad and New Delhi – and they must obtain special permission to go elsewhere.
Despite the shared border, languages, food, music and cultural traditions, we don't even have the option of a tourist visa for each other's citizens. When visas are granted, they are reminiscent of the cold war era tendency to grant city-specific, single entry visas limited typically to a fortnight or a month. Visitors must report to the police within 24 hours of arrival and departure.
Our cell phones, on roaming anywhere else in the world, stop working when we step into each other's country.
We've banned each other's newspapers and television news channels – ridiculous in this age of internet access. India doesn't allow Pakistan's cooking, sports or entertainment TV shows or live link-ups to Pakistani TV channels. Pakistan is more relaxed on this score and allows India's extravagant soap operas – but many here (particularly in the military and the bureaucracy) still operate on the premise that India is enemy number one.
Beena Sarwar's Guardian Op Ed contd:
We've banned each other's newspapers and television news channels – ridiculous in this age of internet access. India doesn't allow Pakistan's cooking, sports or entertainment TV shows or live link-ups to Pakistani TV channels. Pakistan is more relaxed on this score and allows India's extravagant soap operas – but many here (particularly in the military and the bureaucracy) still operate on the premise that India is enemy number one.
Even as Pakistan reels from unprecedented floods that submerged one-fifth of the country and affected 20 million people, officials are dithering over allowing relief and aid workers from India.
European states came together despite a long history of bloodshed and hostility because it made economic sense to do so. For India and Pakistan too, co-operation and trade make sense. Businessmen and women recognise this, and they endorsed economic ties at a large meeting in May organised by Aman ki Asha.
In an age of nuclear weapons and unmanned drones how much sense does it make to keep armies amassed at the borders? Our people – one-fifth of the world's poor – need schools, hospitals, shelters, infrastructure, not more missiles and bombs.
It is only by opening the India-Pakistan border to each other's travellers, to commerce and to our shared culture that we can combat the negative stereotypes that feed mutual hostility and militarism in the subcontinent.
Here are excerpts from a piece by Beena Sarwar on secularism debate in Pakistan:
First of all, the very fact that this discussion is taking place in a mainstream newspaper -- even though it is in English, which limits its outreach -- is something to appreciate.
Secondly, the discussion is taking place at a time when Pakistan, indeed the world, finds itself polarised as never before. Never before have we seen such extremes jostling for ascendency at the same time. In Pakistan, the extremes are most visible in the attire people, particularly women, wear out on the streets (from jeans to burqas), the gatherings and functions they attend (from religious gatherings to musical evenings, fashion shows and wild underground parties), what they are reading (religious literature to Communist readings that would have landed them in jail in the Zia years), the television and films they are watching (religious shows to uncensored films on DVD, and Indian films at mainstream cinemas), and how they express their views (through writings, art, music, seminars and peaceful candlelight demonstrations to violent protests and suicide bombings).
The entire gamut is there, from the extreme left to the extreme right, from wild permissiveness to ultra-conservatism -- the latter apparently on the rise not just in Pakistan but around the world. In fact, this ascendency of the Right is so strong that the demons of religion-based militancy unleashed during the Zia years can take down even those who adhere to the late General's world views: a Zaid Hamid can lose even as Gen Zia wins, as the UK-based researcher Anas Abbas interestingly posited it. The charismatic right-wing cult leader, who had sucked into his fold youth icons like the fashion designer Maria B and rock singer Ali Azmat, had to go into hiding not because progressive Pakistanis prevailed against his virulent pan-Islamist, anti-India world view, but because he offended his own.
This is a time when the 'blasphemy laws' as they are applied in Pakistan are causing a worldwide uproar because of the injustice they perpetuate; ......
We're talking about secularism at a time when supposedly educated people, including parliamentarians and politicians are 'warning' the government not to tamper with these blasphemy laws, or else face the 'consequences'. It is ironic that such a warning was issued recently by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q)....
We can now have this debate in the pages of this English-language newspaper, 20 years after Gen. Zia's departure, because those who hold these violent beliefs consider us to be irrelevant. So is the situation hopeless for people like us? No, because these discussions are not taking place in a vacuum. There is a lot of questioning going on in Pakistan at various levels about religion and its role in the state. These discussions are taking place in many languages and at many fora. Thousands if not millions of activists, political workers and ordinary citizens in Pakistan share the belief that religion should be a private matter, which should not be imposed violently.
The rise of the Internet -- according to one estimate, as many as 18 million Pakistanis have Internet access -- means that people have other alternatives to share information that the dominant news media sidelines. Blogs or facebook pages like SecularPakistan or SayNoToTheStateReligion may not have millions of followers but their readership is growing. Amidst the cacophony of jihadist views that regularly find space on radio and television networks are also voices that courageously question the role religion has been given in Pakistan. The trickle may not become a flood anytime soon, but neither is it about to dry up and disappear.
Here's a Wall Street Journal report on Tour De Pakistan described as "That French Bike Race Might Seem Easy Compared to This One":
This year's edition of the Tour de Pakistan took riders from the southern metropolis of Karachi to the northern city of Abbottabad after 11 stages and more than 1,000 miles. Money is too tight to organize mountain stages so in a country that is home to the world's second-highest peak, the course is mostly flat.
Lack of funding has been a chronic issue for the event, and during its 28-year existence it has been held only 16 times. With a budget from the government of less than $60,000 and virtually no sponsorship, organizers have to be creative: Accommodation for cyclists ranges from courthouse buildings to a sugar mill. In early March, days before the start of this year's race, Idris Haider Khawaja, the race director, considered halving the $10,000 prize money—which is split among the top 10 finishers—to help cover expenses, but decided against it.
Mr. Khawaja figures that sponsors would line up if only he could attract foreign riders. But that's an uphill task with a raging Islamist insurgency responsible for bombings throughout the country. Mr. Khawaja says no one has ever attacked riders during the competition.
Still, Indians didn't get permission from their government to participate; Sri Lankans and Nepalese couldn't be enticed with free airfare; and Westerners were scared, he says. Ferdinand Bruckner, an Austrian cyclist, competed in Serbia during its war with Kosovo and has ridden through rebel territory in Colombia. But Pakistan was a stage too far. He says he was originally tempted but eventually backpedaled.
"If I win a stage or I'm the leader in this Tour, it could be that certain persons don't like it," he says. "In Pakistan it's possible that we can be a target."
The Tour secured the participation of one foreign team: Afghanistan. With a 10-year-old war at home, the five members of the Afghan team say they feel perfectly safe in Pakistan.
"In Afghanistan the situation is not good, and the security is not good," said 24-year-old Afghan rider Hashmatullah Tookhy. "In Pakistan, the whole time we relax."
All participants start the day with a breakfast of spicy omelets and lentils before riding up to 125 miles in 90-degree heat. Four of the nine Pakistani teams are fielded by government agencies and equipped with good-quality bikes. The remainder is made up of students, laborers and jobless cyclists who often struggle to find functioning bicycles. Taifoor Zareen, 20, said he paid about $23 for his bike.
"It's the cheapest bike in the race, but I'm grateful that I got this bike," he said.
And he should be. On another bike, one of his teammates couldn't shift gears during the entire first stage.
Here's Daily Times report on the inauguration of Port Grand Food Street in Karachi:
KARACHI: Governor Sindh Dr Ishrat Ul Ebad has said that mega economic hub like Karachi that houses millions of people, needs lots of recreational and entertainment places where entertainment-starved citizens could find some peace, comfort and entertainment which provides much-needed breather to continue with our hectic schedules.
Governor Sindh expressed these views while inaugurating the much-awaited Port Grand Food and Entertainment Complex on Saturday. Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Babur Khan Ghauri and Shahid Firoz, Managing Director Grand leisure Corporation was also present.
Dr Ishrat ul Ebad said that Port Grand Complex is an effort to revive the culture and traditions of old Karachi as well as to celebrate it as the City of Lights. “It would surely revive the harbor culture in a port city like Karachi,” Ebad said.
He appreciated Grand Leisure Corporation for resurrection of history and heritage as it has not only preserved the 19th century’s Napier Mole Bridge but has also converted it into a world-class tourist spot that would ultimately attract millions of people from all over the world.
Babar Ghauri said that Port Grand is a bold initiative by a private sector company despite the economic, law and order and political uncertainties in the country. He applauded the relentless efforts of Shahid Firoz, Managing Director Grand Leisure Corporation for making it a reality.
Babar Ghauri said that Port Grand project is country’s only-sea-side food and entertainment enclave, which would offer matchless attractions for the whole family to enjoy together. “Port Grand is expected to attract around 4 to 5 thousand people daily from across the country,” he hoped.
The Port Grand Complex, which has been built at 19th century’s Napier Mole Bridge (old native jetty bridge) was conceived and built by Grand Leisure Corporation with an investment of over Rs 1 billion. GLC’s scope of work includes financing, construction, maintenance and operation of all aspects pertaining to the Port Grand.
About 40 outlets have been made operational at this stage while more outlets would be opened soon. The entry fee for the Port Grand would be Rs 300 per person out of which Rs 200 would be redeemable at different food outlets and shops inside the project. The project would be open for public from Sunday evening.
Shahid Firoz, Managing Director Grand leisure Corporation informed that Port Grand project, that stretches along the 1000 feet. Karachi’s ancient 19th century native jetty bridge, spreads over an area of 200,000 square feet. The one kilometer bridge has been transformed into an entertainment and food enclave housing numerous eateries totaling 40,000 sq ft of climate-controlled area and space for kiosks of exotic Pakistani and foreign food and a variety of beverages.
He informed that the work on the project commenced in 2005 and it was expected to be completed by 2009 but the old native jetty bridge was in very bad shape after being abandoned for any transportation usage and it was also set to be demolished when Port Grand project was conceived and ancient 19th centaury monument was preserved for generations to come. GLC had to almost rebuild the whole 1 mile Old Napier Mole Bridge that includes removal of old deck slab, cleaning of rust and scaling of existing structure, strengthening of sub-structure and laying of new deck slab. This all work took around 2 year to completely revamped the bridge thus delayed the project for around 2 years.
Here are some excerpts from an Express Tribune piece by Sher Khan from Lahore:
As one scans the underground music scene, small venues have increased for aspiring artists and musicians to promote their music. The use of cafe’s and the development of the university scenes have begun to nurture a platform for a variety of artists.
Across MM Alam, Lahore’s ‘rodeo drive’, several cafes such as the World Fashion Cafe or Cafe Rock and even Gloria Jeans have become regular stops where young artists try to showcase their music. Student and music societies ranging from University College Lahore (UCL) to LUMS have also provided venues for artists.
“There are shows happening in cafes such as Peeru’s, and almost every university has some sort of music society,” said Curtain Call Society’s general secretary Nausherwan Billa, who was also the president of the famous UCL music society. “There are around eight to nine gigs in Lahore in any given month.”
He said that his society organises monthly concerts, free of cost, for artists at Al Hamra and the Ali Institute. Guitar School, Origami and Curtain Call’s own initiative Octave, have also been working in a small way to provide musicians with venues and opportunities to perform in front of an audience.
In terms of the electronic music scene which has also seen a rise with artists such as Talal and Zoi, an avenue has been found in terms private parties at farmhouses on the peripheries of Lahore, such as Bedian and Thokhar.
“It’s a struggle for underground artists, because to get attention you have to play everywhere,” said Elysium Entertainments Director Mukarram Jamil, who has been managing underground bands for the past five years in both Islamabad and Lahore. “It’s not necessarily a positive trend because shows are not happening — whatever is happening is usually at the cafes and school level.”
Jamil, who also manages the underground band Moen Jo Daro that started off 2008, explained that cafe’s currently seem like the best place for underground musicians to start. “If I was starting out or I had band, I would not limit myself just to schools because the point is getting access to an overall market. An audience of seventy to hundred people with a varied crowd can spread news like social wildfire.”
Jamil explained the band Moen Jo Daro started under the same circumstances: First at cafes on MM Alam, then toured every major university in the city free of cost, till they finally forayed into the Islamabad scene by opening at a major concert there. Once the band pursued being paid for their performances, they had found that schools had an advantage in terms of facilitating and providing a venue for music shows. Schools are also more eager to accommodate as, due to their limited budget, they could not afford more mainstream artists.
In the past, the underground music scene, which was dominated by rock, had certain hidden venues which had become the hotspots out of which bands such as EP were built. For instance, there was a basement at Model Town Society and the Al Hamra room number one, as well as the open-air theatre at Gaddafi stadium.
EP’s bassist and manager Hasaan Khalid, who also is the Editor of the Student’s Blog, said that schools such as LUMS, UCL and Beaconhouse, Defence, had taken a step by providing venues for young artists to perform through school events, but also mentioned events such as the rock festival which was cancelled due to security.
Here are a few excerpts from Wall Street Journal story titled Fashion Weeks Gone Wild, From Aruba to Karachi:
If it's Thursday, it's fashion week somewhere.
This month alone includes fashion weeks in Moscow, Karachi, Houston, Tokyo and Portland, Oregon. Dubai fashion week begins today.
There have long been just four fashion weeks that matter in the industry: New York, Milan, Paris and London. At these events, designers parade their collections for retailers and try to make a splash in the fashion press.
But in the past five to 10 years, the numbers of cities and nations holding fashion weeks has burgeoned. There are more than 100 fashion weeks around the globe, from Islamabad to Rochester, N.Y. Event producer IMG is known for running New York fashion week, but it also produces fashion weeks in Aruba, Berlin, Zurich, Moscow, Toronto, Sydney and Miami, among others. Other locations have launched their own shows, hoping to boost their garment and retail trades.
Overseas, fashion weeks often highlight regional talent and build the local economy. In Karachi this month, organizers tried to focus on business-building rather than thrilling local socialites. "Fashion in Pakistan for a long time has been an entertainment sport; at [Karachi Fashion Week], we are trying to really make it about the business of fashion," says spokesman Zurain Imam. Invitees were largely press and stores, with some Pakistani celebrities in the front rows. ...
Here's a Times of India story on "Aalu Anday", a satirical music video gone viral on Youtube:
NEW DELHI: When the music video of "Aalu Anday", an unsparing song that lampoons Pakistan's top politicians and generals from Ashfaq Kayani to Zia-ul-Haq, from Nawaz Sharif to Imran Khan, was released last month, it immediately became an internet sensation.
But the bitingly satirical number was merely the latest in a long chain of similar popular anti-establishment tracks by other well-known Pakistan singers and groups such as Shehzad Roy, Junoon and Laal who have laughed at and lambasted the high and mighty across the border.
"We are the silent majority of Pakistan who are speaking up now. We are not trying to give solutions, but only trying to create an environment where things can be discussed openly," says 27-year-old Ali Aftab Saeed, a band member of Beygairat Brigade, the Lahore-based 'political rock' band who created Aalu Anday. Incidentally, the three band members (Daniyal Malik and 15-year-old guitarist Hamza Malik being the other two) are self-confessedly 'hardcore' RD Burman fans and Anurag Kashyap admirers.
A little courage in the heart and a guitar in hand go a long way in expressing notes of dissent across the border. The Beygairat Brigade's act is the latest in a tradition where singers and satirists have routinely ridiculed and castigated politicians in their music and lyrics. In 2008, singer Shehzad Roy courted controversy with Laga Reh, a hard-hitting track attacking the establishment.
Earlier Sufi-rock band Junoon faced censorship for songs like Ehtesaab, which hit out at political corruption and was banned by the Pakistani state TV. Now, bands such as Laal have joined the party providing music to the fiery protest poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, known for producing art out of defiance. TV channels refused to play their song, Jhooth ka uncha sar, said to be "too anti-army" in sentiment.
"In the beginning Pakistani bands used music to express dissent because other avenues of communication were closed to them. When you are in a repressive environment you naturally find other ways to communicate and music became that outlet. Nowadays things are much more open, but I think the association between music and free speech remains," says satirist and stand-up comic Saad Haroon.
In a country racked by terrorist violence and extreme disillusionment with the state, humour not only works as a form of subversion but also as relief and release.
The identity of Beygairat Brigade is constructed as an antithesis to what they call the "ghairat brigade" (honor brigade): political analysts and TV show hosts who have taken it upon themselves to uphold the honor of the Pakistani state as they understand it.
Here's a Daily Times report on Pakistan Open Golf event in Karachi:
The 41st Pakistan Open Golf Championship is starting at the exquisite, par 72, DHA Golf and Country Club Golf Course here from Friday (tomorrow) and will be contested over four rounds with final round to be played on Sunday. Addressing a news conference on Wednesday, Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF) secretary general Taimur Hassan said the PGF in collaboration with DHA Country & Golf Club and the sponsors AKD Group would be hosting the most prestigious national event from December 29. “Being the national championship, it attracts golf champions of stature and standing from all over the country,” he added. Also present on the occasion were Farrukh Aslam (AKD Securities), Mehmood Aziz (tournament director) and Mohammed Irfan (chief referee).
“Virtually all the prominent ones have already converged to DHA seeking honours, lucrative cash prizes and also a chance to be declared the national champion of Pakistan,” Taimur added. He said for the ultimate winner it was not going to be an easy task. “Traits required will be unrivaled golfing skills, admirable temperament, the will to win and to beckon glory to his lap,” he said. Professional participants and competitors will be 90 plus but the front runners are expected to be twenty or a few more. Some are considered established and highly ranked and rated while the younger ones have their aspirations to pursue and show that they have ample touch of excellence that can propel them as high achievers.
“Holding of this championship represented an enormous challenge with generous financing, a golf arena oozing with beauty and challenge and not to forget a devoted and dedicated administrative touch, and last but not least champions at their best, all prepared to illuminate the golf arena with superior play and quality golf,” he said.
For the professional golf players of Pakistan, this event seeks to create a prodigious opportunity and ample are the cash prizes for the top performers, besides non-cash awards for the participating amateurs. The total prize money of Rs.3 million is there for distribution amongst the 40 best professionals. “And featuring in the contest will be players of remarkable ability and talent and one can expect them to show their extraordinary golf ability. Watching the top players of our golf circuit in action is always a delight and this grand occasion provides an opportunity to the golf lovers to quench their love for the game by observing tremendous performances by the leading stars of the golf circuit,” Taimur maintained. The sponsors were extremely pleased about getting associated with a major golf event and highlighted that this had been done in the past also and AKD would always be there for golf.
Here's a Dawn report on Lahore Derby in 2012:
THE 66th running of the most cherished annual event of the country’s turf, the Pakistan Derby 2012, scheduled to be run at the Racecourse in Lahore on March 4, has a long tradition to lean on.
A term race for four-year-old colts and fillies, the Derby exemplifies elegance, colour and grandeur and provides a real test of speed, stamina and endurance of the thoroughbreds’ bloodline for the breeders to improve their quality breeding.
It carries the greatest prestige and the biggest slice of prize-money. Derby winner’s purse this year will be rupees half a million plus a glittering trophy.
The colts or fillies occupying second, third and fourth positions will bring for their owners Rs175,000, Rs85,000 and Rs45,000, respectively besides a special prize for the breeder of the winner.
Lahore being the Derby home is at present afflicted with the Derby fever and the quest for picking the probable Derby winner has already started.
In the race club, stables and the restaurants where race fans, owners, trainers are sitting probable Derby runners are the topic of their discussions with special reference to their past record of achievements and track work they are being given in morning exercises.
The Pakistan Derby was instituted in 1947 after the founding of the new country, Pakistan.
Since then, it has become an event for great horses, great jockeys, owners and trainers. The pomp, pageantry and splendour have never been seen on any other occasion.
Before independence, the event was known as the Punjab Derby and according to available official record it was first introduced in 1924 when a group of equine enthusiasts started holding Meeting races at the Lahore Race Club (LRC).
The Derby was not held in 1978 due to shortage of runners.
Later, the Derby distance was reduced to 1,600 metres in 1979 but was increased to 2,000 metres in1980, two years later it was again brought to international standards in 1982.
Since then the Derby has remained the biggest classic and feature event in the country’s racing calendar.
The Derby is a truly unique and colourful occasion that combined highly competitive and very best racing action with a real taste of day-long equine activity, nothing compares in the rest of the year racing.
The event also attracts a bumper crowd of sports fans, mostly those who otherwise never attend races.
The Pakistan Derby over the 65 years of its inception has both sweet and sour memories.
Among owners, who were lucky to have won the Derby more than once are: H.O. Hay’s, Nawab Jamal Khan Leghari, Sardar Mohammad Khan Leghari, Sardar Ata Mohammad Khan Leghari, H.S. Khawaja, Syed Shah Mardan Shah II, Pir Pagaro VII, Khalida Yasmeen Khan, Zafar Yousuf Khan, Syed Pervez Shah, Sohrab Khan and M. Attiq.
Pir Pagaro had the distinction of winning the Derby four times as a single owner in the country.
Only three women owners have so far won the Derby. They are: Sahibzadi Fareeda Begum, Syeda Abida Hussain and Khalida Yasmeen.
The more fortunate among trainers to win the Derby more than once are: Tymon, Shaukat Ali, Captain Jack Fownes, Khuda Bux Peshamby, M.H. Shah, Fateh Khan, Mohammad Ashraf, Haji Fazal Hadi, Raja Mohammad Azad and Amjad Ali II.
Among the jockeys, the feat has been achieved by Faiz Mohammad, S. Laloo, Bill Alford, Khadim Hussain, F. Hussain, Christopher Fownes, A. Razzaq, Memrez, Flatcher, Salahuddin II, Aamir Pervez and Shahid Rehman.
Jockeys Flatcher and Shahid Rehman are tied up at the top Derby winners with five Derby wins each, Jockey Faiz Mohammad and Salahuddin II four times each are the next in the line.
Many of the lucky owners, trainers and jockeys are not with us today but their names will live in the annals of racing forever.
Here's Wall Street Journal on Sharmeen's choice of Pakistani fashion designers at Oscars:
When “Saving Face” was nominated for the 2012 Academy Awards, Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy swore she would choose clothes by Pakistan’s designers for the ceremony. “Our fashion industry features an array of talented and creative designers,” she said. “I am really excited to showcase some of that at the Oscars.”
Holding her Oscar high on Sunday, Ms. Obaid-Chinoy became Pakistan’s first Academy Award winner. She also made good on her promise, wearing creations by a range of Karachi-based women designers to events both on and off the red carpet. (Karachi is the city where she lives and works.)
On stage, the filmmaker wore an elegant Bunto Kazmi-designed shalwar kameez – a traditional outfit of loose-fitting trousers and a long tunic worn in South and Central Asia.
According to Ms. Kazmi, who is known for her elaborate bridal wear, the filmmaker wanted the outfit’s silhouette to be kept “contemporary.” In contrast, the glittering embroidery on the long ivory tunic coat, with cut-in sleeves and a structured collar, was inspired by traditional Persian motifs, while the border incorporated beaten silver and gold.
Gold also featured in Ms. Obaid-Chinoy’s accessories, created by jewelry designer Kiran Aman. The filmmaker’s dangling diamond-and-pearl earrings were set in vintage gold, the same material used for a bespoke cuff, which she wore on her right wrist. The piece was attached by a delicate gold rope to a round Pakistani flag encrusted with white diamonds and green sapphires.
Ms. Aman said she was “honored” to have the filmmaker wear her creations at the Oscars, adding that she had advised her to “hold the Oscar with the right hand” so that the flag would dangle.
At a pre-Oscar luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in L.A., Ms. Obaid-Chinoy showed up in an outfit by a less established name: up-and-coming designer Sania Maskatiya, whose label is a year old. Her hand-embroidered silk shalwar kameez featured a tree of life – signifying growth and success – adorned with multicolored birds and butterflies.
A relative newcomer to Pakistan’s fashion scene, Ms. Maskatiya transforms “the conventional to [the] contemporary” with her designs, which are stocked in Karachi, Dubai and Singapore. She said she was glad that fashion at the Oscars helped to project the country “in a softer light.”
Here's a Rediff report on a Hindu Pakistani fashion designer Deepak Perwani:
At the Lifestyle Pakistan trade exhibition that concluded in Delhi on Sunday, one stall stands out from a distance for just its name -- Deepak Perwani, a Sindhi Hindu from Karachi, who spoke to Shivam Vij about the common strands that run between the two estranged neighbours.
This was the first of its kind exposure for Perwani outside the Indian fashion circuit, of which he has long been a friend and fellow traveller. The humble Perwani, though, has long been used to facing Indian surprise. "People keep asking me, 'Oh you guys didn't migrate?', 'How are you treated there?' and so on. The questions show a lack of awareness." Perwani is part of Karachi's flourishing Hindu community, which is small but visible and influential even today. One lakh of Karachi's 1.3 crore population is Hindu.
"India and Pakistan have more in common with each other," he says, "than any two countries in the world. Our food, dress, habits, language, everything. We are similar -- and yet so different." What are the differences? The two countries have had a different political trajectory, he explains. "Just look at cinema, which in Pakistan died and is now reviving. Bollywood, on the other hand, is so big and flourishing." India's booming economy also gets noticed. "You guys are big and you're going international. I visited Emporio yesterday and it blew me away."
Emporio is a shopping mall in south Delhi where India's top designers have outlets -- and they are all his friends. "We meet each other across the globe because we're part of the fashion scene. We've done shows together in Colombo, Singapore and Bangalore amongst other places," he says.
Here are excerpts of a Bloomberg piece by Indian journalist Pankaj Mishra on Pakistan's "unplanned revolution":
However, I also saw much in this recent visit that did not conform to the main Western narrative for South Asia -- one in which India is steadily rising and Pakistan rapidly collapsing.
Born of certain geopolitical needs and exigencies, this vision was always most useful to those who have built up India as an investment destination and a strategic counterweight to China, and who have sought to bribe and cajole Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment into the war on terrorism.
Seen through the narrow lens of the West’s security and economic interests, the great internal contradictions and tumult within these two large nation-states disappear. In the Western view, the credit-fueled consumerism among the Indian middle class appears a much bigger phenomenon than the extraordinary Maoist uprising in Central India.
Traveling through Pakistan, I realized how much my own knowledge of the country -- its problems as well as prospects -- was partial, defective or simply useless. Certainly, truisms about the general state of crisis were not hard to corroborate. Criminal gangs shot rocket-propelled grenades at each other and the police in Karachi’s Lyari neighborhood. Shiite Hazaras were being assassinated in Balochistan every day. Street riots broke out in several places over severe power shortages -- indeed, the one sound that seemed to unite the country was the groan of diesel generators, helping the more affluent Pakistanis cope with early summer heat.
Gangsters with Kalashnikovs
In this eternally air-conditioned Pakistan, meanwhile, there exist fashion shows, rock bands, literary festivals, internationally prominent writers, Oscar-winning filmmakers and the bold anchors of a lively new electronic media. This is the glamorously liberal country upheld by English-speaking Pakistanis fretting about their national image in the West (some of them might have been gratified by the runaway success of Hello magazine’s first Pakistani edition last week).
But much less conspicuous and more significant, other signs of a society in rapid socioeconomic and political transition abounded. The elected parliament is about to complete its five- year term -- a rare event in Pakistan -- and its amendments to the constitution have taken away some if not all of the near- despotic prerogatives of the president’s office.
Political parties are scrambling to take advantage of the strengthening ethno-linguistic movements for provincial autonomy in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Young men and women, poor as well as upper middle class, have suddenly buoyed the anti-corruption campaign led by Imran Khan, an ex-cricketer turned politician.
After radically increasing the size of the consumerist middle class to 30 million, Pakistan’s formal economy, which grew only 2.4 percent in 2011, currently presents a dismal picture. But the informal sector of the economy, which spreads across rural and urban areas, is creating what the architect and social scientist Arif Hasan calls Pakistan’s “unplanned revolution.” Karachi, where a mall of Dubai-grossness recently erupted near the city’s main beach, now boasts “a first world economy and sociology, but with a third world wage and political structure.”
Even in Lyari, Karachi’s diseased old heart, where young gangsters with Kalashnikovs lurked in the alleys, billboards vended quick proficiency in information technology and the English language. Everywhere, in the Salt Range in northwestern Punjab as well as the long corridor between Lahore and Islamabad, were gated housing colonies, private colleges, fast- food restaurants and other markers of Pakistan’s breakneck suburbanization....
Here's an ET story about a German journalists' impressions of Pakistan:
After being in the country for more than two weeks, German journalist Joachim Holtz is of the view that reality is far better than perception.
“This is my second week in Karachi and before coming, I thought I would not survive even a day,” said the senior journalist and foreign correspondent of the German channel, ZDF. He was speaking to the journalist community on ‘Pakistan’s image abroad- a German view’ at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday.
Back home, the journalist feels that Pakistan has no image at all. “Pakistan is simply the name of an Islamic country in South Asia. There is mostly fear and some respect amongst Germans for the country and mostly, they have a blurry image of strange people living in a far away land.”
While some Germans were aware that Pakistan has delicious mangoes and the people love cricket, Holtz said that there are many who believe that Pakistan is an extremist, nuclear-armed country. “But they know very little or nothing about the country itself.”
Citing Pakistani and German newspapers, Holtz said that he only found news about bombings, Raymond Davis, the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, floods and their destruction. He said a few German papers have covered events such as the Karachi Literature Festival, while one newspaper wrote a feature on sufism in the country.
Contrary to what he had read, Holtz seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his trip. Apart from visiting the Empress Market in Karachi and the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, he also took a dip in the ocean last week. He went to Murree, Lahore and several cities in Sindh, including Sukkur, Hyderabad and Thatta. “I have never met any unfriendly person while travelling. There is so much hospitality, even the poorest have welcomed me with a cup of tea. I love it here!” exclaimed a delighted Holtz.
The Sindh information minister, Shazia Marri, took the opportunity to declare the day as “a difficult and sad day”, referring to the Supreme Court’s verdict in the prime minister’s contempt case. She went on to talk about how the media needs to highlight the positive image of the country to curb all the negative sentiments abroad. The German Consul General, Dr Til
Here's Washington Post on an artist painting Lahore's dancing girls:
LAHORE, Pakistan — Anyone who approaches the immense carved doors adjacent to Lahore’s famous Cooco’s Den restaurant will get the once-over from a pair of sharp-eyed sentries. If you can make it past these doormen, you will enter an art space unlike any other in Pakistan.
Here, painter Iqbal Hussain has been quietly documenting the lives of the sex workers of Lahore for most of his life. The son of a prostitute, Hussain grew up among the Lahori demimonde.
“I try to paint my own people and my own land as I see it,” said the soft-spoken, bespectacled artist nicknamed Cooco (pronounced “cuckoo”), whose family owns and runs the restaurant. His studio is in his childhood home in the city’s all-but-vanished red-light district, in the shadow of a magnificent mosque.
Hussain, 62, is a controversial figure in Pakistan, not only for his paintings of sex workers but also because of works that proffer scathing commentary on Pakistan’s inclination toward a more and more religiously strict and intolerant society. And while the more liberal-minded art aficionados might appreciate his paintings on an intellectual or aesthetic level, they rarely purchase them. People think the images, highlighting the misery of society’s most vulnerable, will bring them bad luck.
“The rich women, they want art that matches the curtains,” he said.
For centuries, this part of the ancient walled city was the epicenter of a thriving industry of bordellos and dancing girls. In Hussain’s youth, the singing of women filled the air in much the same way the call to prayer does today.
In his romanticized version of old Lahore, the most successful courtesans were renowned for their grace and charm. The wealthiest families sent their daughters to them to be trained in poise and elegance — a harder-edged version of the Swiss finishing school.
As the neighborhood has changed, Cooco’s has become a respectable establishment where middle-class men bring their genteel wives and well-dressed children to dine in the shadow of the beautifully lit Badshahi mosque. The Mughal-style edifice, built in the 1670s, was once considered the largest mosque in the world.
Hussain remembers the old days well. “For the women in little brothels in Lahore’s red-light district, the best business [was] during Eid,” he said, referring to the major religious holiday.
“There would be a big queue over there,” he said, nodding toward the mosque, “with everyone waiting for their turn.”
The studio is full of treasures: intricately carved wooden objects, Hindu statues and other artifacts from Pakistan’s Mughal past. Some of the pieces had been in the same families for generations. But as Pakistan became more conservative after the military rule of Mohammed Zia ul-Haq in the late 1970s and early 1980s, people began selling them to the well-known artist because having the statues in their homes was seen as un-Islamic.
The more controversial works are propped against the walls, their images hidden. In a back corner, protected by an enormous iron padlock, are the pieces that almost no one gets to see. Hussain produced a key and showed a series of eroticized studies of the female figure, including a couple in an embrace and a reclining semi-nude. He keeps them locked away to avoid being accused of promoting vulgarity.
Not far from Cooco’s, women still ply their trade — but the grace, if it was ever there, is long gone, as they lean into car windows to negotiate their transactions.
The worst 5% of the Pakistan story is being told by the media 95% of the time.
Unfortunately, the stories of terror sell well. Historically, purveyors of books and magazines predicting doom and gloom have mostly been wrong but sold lots of copies. The reasons for wide acceptance of pessimists have to do with how the human brain has evolved through the millennia. It's been established that once the amygdala starts hunting for bad news, it'll mostly find bad news.
In Pakistan's case, the good news continues to be the emergence of a large and growing middle class population and a vibrant mass media and civil society which underpin the country's extraordinary resilience.
Franchises currently in Pakistan:
1. Baskin Robbins
2. Dunkin Donuts
6. Expo Center
8. Google (Still Blocked)
9. IMAX (Approved)
10. MSN (Still Blocked)
11. Vonage (Currently Blocked)
14. Gloria Jean's
22. Holiday Inn
23. Days Inn
29. Papa John's
30. Pizza Hut
2. Planet Hollywood
3. Burger King
4. Hard Rock Cafe
7. Taco Bell
10. Little Caesars
Here's a Daily Telegraph story on new "Glee Club" TV serial in Pakistan:
The cast and crew of Taan – "musical note" in Urdu - say they hope it will unite the country in front of the television as families sing along to their favourite hits.
Set in a music academy, the 26-part serial tells the story of the budding singers and musicians as they try to become stars.
Nabeel Sarwar, the show's producer, said it would not shy from tackling Pakistan's big issues but would also offer an upbeat alternative to the despair and misery peddled by most TV channels.
"I thought what are the two things that Pakistanis all unite around – the cricket team that doesn't perform or the music that does perform," he said.
Pakistan's divisions have dominated the headlines so far this year. The country's Shia minority has been targeted in a series of bomb attacks, and Taan is being filmed in Lahore, where a mob torched 100 Christian homes on March 10.
Mr Sarwar said the show would tap into the dreams of Pakistani teenagers and feature some of their parents' favourite songs.
About 100 Pakistani hits have been rerecorded for the series, to be performed in energetic dance routines or as atmospheric ballads. They range from the devotional Sufi songs of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to the soft rock of Junoon, once described as Pakistan's answer to U2.
Filming has already begun and Mr Sarwar is in talks to sell the show to Pakistan's state-run terrestrial channel.
"I want a hit show that the whole country loves, that they bop along to, that they buy the soundtrack to, that they feel united behind, so that they feel at one with everyone when they watch this because there's something for everyone," said Mr Sarwar.
The show revolves around the fictional Hayaat Haveli musical academy in Lahore.
At its heart is a tension between a traditional music teacher and his younger rival, who trains budding pop stars, representing different faces of Pakistan.
Among their pupils are the offspring of well-heeled bureaucrats and a talentless wannabe who dreams of becoming a Bollywood actress.
But some of Taan's plotlines differ from the coming-of-age tales and happy endings of Glee or Fame. Instead they attempt to engage with the darker side of Pakistan.
One of the characters, Annie Masih is described as losing all her family in the 2009 attack on a Christian enclave in the town on Gojra, a real episode in which seven people were burned alive.
Another storyline involves Fariduddin, a member of the Pakistan Taliban intent on blowing up the academy before he is eventually seduced by music.
Hassan Niazi, who plays Zaki, the pop music teacher, said those issues would not distract from the main attraction of the show – the songs.
"Music is the only thing that can unite this country," he said during a break in filming.
Here's an Al Jazeera story on Pakistani film industry:
The Islamabad premiere of the much anticipated film Waar was a rare night of celerity and glamour in the Pakistani capital.
The red carpet was littered with big-name stars, well-known politicians and fashionable socialites.
Waar – which means "to strike" in Urdu - is the country's first big-budget action film.
It's based on the real-life events following a 2009 attack on a top police academy by the Taliban.
The multi-million-dollar film is one of at least 21 feature-length film releases this year and is widely seen as part of a revival of Pakistan's struggling film-making industry.
Pakistani cinema, known as Lollywood, after the eastern city of Lahore where it was historically based, has steadily declined since the late 1970s.
It was during that time the then military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq, launched an Islamisation agenda that introduced a rigid censorship code, all but ending what has been described as the "golden era" of the industry.
Back then more than 200 Pakistani films were made annually, today it is less than one-fifth of that.
Adding to the challenges, from a peak of 700 cinemas operating across the country, that number is now just under 200.
Shaan Shahid, lead actor of Waar, says the film has the potential to dramatically change the industry which has struggled for decades.
"I really feel that with the release of Waar, the Pakistani film industry has arrived. We've received a lot of support making this movie and I think it will inspire young filmmakers to come out and make their own movies," he said.
Waar is one of around two dozen Pakistani film releases this year - including Zinda Bhaag - the country's first entry to the Academy Awards' foreign-language category in 50 years.
Many see this as an encouraging sign that the industry has turned a corner. But one of the main challenges facing Pakistani film-makers is being able to raise enough money to fund their projects.
Film-making is expensive, and with audiences mainly limited to a handful of major cities, it is not always easy to turn a profit.
Iram Praveen Bilal, a Pakistani film-maker, believes it will take at least four to five years before the film industry becomes lucrative to investors.
"In India, if you are investing, you can recoup the money on opening weekend for certain budgets. You can't say that about Pakistan cinema. You need a certain film of a certain budget of a genre that you know that the public will watch."
It is a gamble the makers of Waar are no doubt hoping will pay off with record box-office receipts.
Here's a NY Times Op Ed by Bina Shah on Pakistan film industry revival:
With more than 20 films released in 2013, production is rising. One of last year’s releases, “Main Hoon Shahid Afridi” (“I Am Shahid Afridi”), about a small-time cricket league in the northeastern city of Sialkot, sends a powerful message of religious tolerance. “Josh” (“Against the Grain”), in which an upper-class woman investigates the kidnapping of her maid, imagines a world where social justice isn’t beyond the reach of the poor. In the deceptively quiet “Lamha” (“Seedlings”), the son of a wealthy couple is accidentally killed by a rickshaw driver. The film looks evenhandedly and with compassion at the different griefs suffered by the couple and the driver.
“Zinda Bhaag,” the country’s 2014 Oscar entry, pays loving tribute to Lahore and 1970s Lollywood. The directors, Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, enlisted real Lahoris in the depiction of the grim realities faced by Pakistanis who attempt to escape economic hardship through illegal emigration. Equally unconventional were decisions to cast the Bollywood legend Naseeruddin Shah in a lead role, and to take postproduction to India instead of Malaysia or Thailand. These fresh approaches augur well for greater Indo-Pakistani cooperation, and have jump-started an industry declared all but dead a few years ago.
Last year, Lollywood, too, stepped up its game. In “Waar” (“Strike”), an English-language thriller inspired by the 2009 Taliban attack on a police training center near Lahore, Pakistan is rived by the pressures of the “war on terror.” The film’s unabashed patriotism attracted huge audiences nationwide. “Waar,” which was Pakistan’s first big-budget film, earned some $1.9 million in just over one month, making it also the country’s highest-grossing film to date. Its success signals the eagerness of Pakistanis to discuss terrorism on their own terms. “We want to have the right to represent and choose our own narrative,” Ms. Obaid-Chinoy says, “rather than a narrative that is imposed on us.”
Gloria Steinem has said that “every social justice movement that I know of” started with people “telling their life stories.” By this formulation, Pakistani cinema’s new wave hints at a country on the cusp of a major shift. Each film is at once a window into a dynamic country going through difficult times, and a blueprint for how its people might find their way to better days ahead.
Here's a Dawn report on the launch of OK! fashion magazine in Pakistan:
The creeping Talibanisation of Pakistan is a phrase that has no meaning here. Against all odds, Pakistan's fashion and celebrity industry continues to flourish.
After the launch of the international publication Hello! Magazine several years ago, it is now OK! Magazine's turn to 'expose' itself to Pakistanis.
The launch took place at the Mohatta Palace. With a fully-stocked buffet of pastries, wasabi sandwiches, smoked salmon, crostinis and chocolate mousse, the early birds at the event got to sample the "tomato tapanede"... And other fancy-sounding unpronounceable food.
OK! Magazine currently has over 50 million readers worldwide. Speaking to Dawn.com, on bringing it to Pakistan, Aamna Haider Isani -- also one of Pakistan's top fashion journalists -- said "It's been a labour of love. And it took several months to put it together. People thought, 'what's the big deal? Just put it together!' But, no...every single page had to be sent to London for approval. They were very particular about the tiniest of things which is great."
"Their philosophy is simple: it has to be about celebrities, it has to be positive, the tone has to be upbeat. We intend to redefine celebrities in Pakistan. More than just people who look nice and dress nice. We want to promote 'real' heroes. People who have achieved something in life."
In 'Song Of #Lahore,' A Race To Revive Pakistani Classical Music. #Pakistan Documentary at #TribecaFilmFestival
The musicians are part of Sachal Studios Orchestra, a group of about 20 Lahore-based artists who fuse traditional Pakistani music with jazz. They work in a small rehearsal room in Sachal Studios, at the heart of the city. There, they create new songs and rehearse for concerts in effort to keep traditional music on the public's radar....Obaid-Chinoy's film follows the musicians on their quest.
The documentary premieres Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City......When they started in the early 2000s, the ensemble went largely unnoticed. Then in 2014, they performed in New York City with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. This appearance earned them recognition in the global jazz scene. Since then, they've been performing around the globe and in Pakistan.
The documentary zooms into each musician's personal life before their success. For example, 39-year-old Nijat Ali is tasked to take over as conductor of the ensemble when his father dies. Saleem Khan, the violinist, struggles to pass on his skills to his grandson before it's too late. And 63-year-old guitarist Asad Ali tries to make ends meet by playing guitar in a local pop band.
The biggest challenge, Obaid-Chinoy says, was getting them to open up. "The musicians are very proud," she tells Goats and Soda. "When I first began filming them, they hid how tough life was for them, and it took me a long time to pry that open."
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