Thursday, June 3, 2010

Along Grand Trunk Road in India and Pakistan

America's popular public radio network, the National Public Radio or NPR, sent several correspondents last month to India and Pakistan to travel along the Grand Trunk Road and report on the contemporary life along the ancient route in the South Asian subcontinent.

Stretching 2500 kilometers from Kolkata in India to Peshawar in Pakistan, the Grand Trunk Road (GT Road) is one of South Asia's oldest and longest major roads. Built in the 16th century, the credit for its original creation goes to Pashtun emperor Sher Shah Suri who ruled much of northern India.

GT Road Bridge Over Jhelum River, Pakistan

NPR correspondent Philip Reeves did the Indian part of GT Road, while the journey in Pakistan was covered by Steve Inskeep and Julie McCarthy. The show was produced by an Indian-American Madhulika Sikka, the executive producer of NPR Morning Edition.

Talking about Indian youth, NPR correspondent Philip Reeves in India explained how difficult life can be for many young people along the Grand Trunk Road in India, and the efforts being made to help them. He adds, "to survive and prosper requires luck" and hard work. Many of the young must drop out of school to work, some in factories that produce leather goods and other products for other countries' markets.

NPR correspondent Julie McCarthy, who joined Inskeep on the Pakistani stretch of GT Road, explained the situation of Pakistan's youth in the following words:

The South Asian nation's younger generation is not only large -- 58 percent of the total population of more than 174 million -- but also deeply divided among itself. It's in the midst of a battle between fundamentalism and secularism, inward versus outward orientation -- the influence of which will most certainly play a significant role in Pakistan's future.

To the same question about what Pakistani youth want, Madhulika Sikka answers as follows:

"I think, that young people are concerned with the same things you'd think young people are concerned with. In fact, when I came home, the immigration officer asked me about Pakistan, and she said, well, what are they thinking about?

And I said, well, I met a lot of young people, and they're thinking about jobs, and they're thinking about the fact that the power goes out regularly, gas costs a fortune. They're really thinking about what their prospects are and the conflict with India, the war on terrorism, isn't at the top of their list."


The NPR team went to Peshawar, the gateway to the insurgency-hit tribal belt in Pakistan's FATA region, that has seen more suicide bombings and violence than any other place in Pakistan. A number of youth at Peshawar University expressed a sense of frustration with the rising violence, but there are some, like student Jawad Zeb, who remain optimistic. Zeb said, "As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are still carrying on our fight, and we are optimistic about that. We are still positive about it, and we know that we can come out of it as a strong nation".

The Grand Trunk was unpredictable. At some points "our heads were just bobbling back because the roads were in such poor shape," says freelance photographer Kainaz Amaria hired by NPR to cover the Indian side, but at other points it was smooth sailing along a well-kept modern thoroughfare.

On the Pakistani side covered by photographer John Poole, more than a hundred years seem to separate the old Grand Trunk Road from the modern M-2 Motorway that runs parallel to it.

Reeves told listeners about how difficult life can be for many young people along the route in India, and the efforts being made to help them. As he says, "to survive and prosper requires luck" and hard work. Many of the young must drop out of school to work, some in factories that produce leather goods and other products for other countries' markets.

May 12, 2010 Kolkata, India:

The NPR journey starts on May 12, 2010, in Kolkata where correspondent Philip Reeves has trouble locating the starting point of GT Road. As Reeves put it, "We don't know where to start. Every time we stop to ask, there's an argument".

May 13, 2010

The journey continues westward to Pakistan as Steve Inskeep, the host of NPR Morning Edition, explains on May 13, 2010:

"Drive through cities along the Grand Trunk Road, as we're doing this week and next on MORNING EDITION, and you will pass many religious shrines, like the three onion-shaped domes that loom over this city block in Pakistan. You will also pass an endless procession of storefront schools, grammar schools, accounting schools, English-language schools, and more. These are all signs of people's drive for a better life, especially young people."

In Dhanbad, Bihar, India's coal mining capital, Reeves meets a young man Anuj Kumar who is from a village with widespread illiteracy. He is studying hard for his exams. Anuj wants to be a tour guide and to travel.

Reeves reports that "Anuj Kumar is cramming for his exams. The classroom's not much bigger than a closet. There's a power cut, so the room's unbearably hot. Anuj's day is just beginning. His days are usually long".

Reeves adds, "This is a private coaching sector. It's down an alley, squeezed inside the top floor of a narrow, grimy building. The center calls itself the Oxford Institute. Anuj is 20. He's from a village a couple of hours from here. All over India, young people toil away in private tuition centers like this one. Competition for jobs or a place in a good college is ferocious. Exam results matter. Anuj says he's driven by what he's seen in his village".

Reeves says Bihar "is part of a huge sweep of impoverished rural India where so-called Maoist guerrillas are waging a war against the state. The guerrillas are also often young people, people excluded from the country's economic boom, who are championing the cause of the dispossessed, including tribal people driven from their lands by mineral companies and other government-backed industries. Many Indians sympathize with the Maoists, though not usually with their violent methods".

May 14, 2010:

Outside Aligah, UP, India, Reeves meets an Indian-American Sam Singh, who returned to his Indian village and plowed all his savings into setting up a school for girls. He seems delighted with what his school has become. Singh's school has close to 1200 girls.

Reeves reports that "They're being trained to make home furnishings: cushions, tablemats, bed covers and so on. They also make sanitary pads. The absence of these in rural India is a significant threat to the health of women. Products made by older pupils are sold to raise funds.

Singh's biggest battle is keeping the girls in school. Child marriage is common around here. The school has an ingenious solution. Each girl has an account into which about 20 cents is paid every day she attends school. If she makes it through 10th grade, she keeps the entire fund, accessing from the age of 21. Singh says this has been successful, though not with Muslim families. Muslim girls almost never stay beyond the onset of puberty."

Reeves also reports from a government village school in Uttar Pradesh, India, which has no teachers and there and hardly any students. There are no girls.

Reeves goes to another government school which "has hardly any desks, and no chairs. We see no shelves or books. There's no electricity. The school's power line was stolen 10 months ago. The principal has more than 60 kids in his class. Luck is not on the side of these children, though you wouldn't know this from the happy sendoff they give us".

May 24, 2010 in India:

Reeves is at the Sikhs' Golden Temple in Amritsar, where thousands from across the world gathered inside the Langar, or "free kitchen" for their communal meal. Regardless of caste, status or religion, they sit side-by-side in rows.

"It's an extraordinary scene," NPR reporter Phil Reeves explains on Morning Edition. "Hundreds of men, women and children coming together to peel vegetables, bake chapati and set out plates. Once they've finished their meal, together they clean".

India-Pakistan Border Crossing at Wagah:

India and Pakistan have fought several wars during the past 60 years, and there's always an underlying tension in the relationship. The Wagah border crossing along the Grand Trunk Road is the only place where the Indian and Pakistani militaries meet face to face -- every day.

Here's how Sikka describes it:

You can feel the pulsing rhythms of the entertainment on the Indian side, their bleachers full to the brim. The music is loud and the crowd is in full chant. It's difficult to see much of what's happening on the "other" side, but the Pakistani side is clearly not to be outdone.

Macho Pakistani flag-wavers whip their crescent moon flags in a frenzy accompanied by a drummer. The crowd is egged on with a patriotic chant. The loudspeakers blare patriotic songs extolling "peace for all," reminding the crowd "never forget, Pakistan is ours."

This ruckus is the preamble to the ceremony. Soldiers from the Pakistani Rangers, in a precision formation of high kicks and foot stomping, march to face their Indian rivals across the gate that divides them.

They wear splendid dress uniforms, the traditional salwar kameez. Their black turbans sport a wide peacock-like plume -- these guys are clearly on display.

The Indians perform a similar ritual. The respective flags are lowered and folded, and with a handshake, perhaps a glimpse of a smile, the pomp and circumstance is over for the evening. The satisfied throngs in both countries head home.


Here's Inskeep's description of the Wagah border crossing:

"Here at the border, the Grand Trunk Road stands as an expression of hope. Both nations have built it up to a modern highway. The road is ready for the time when better relations allow more trade across the line where India and Pakistan have repeatedly fought wars since their independence in 1947.

It's still just a hope. The reality is a tiny stand beside the road, where Mohammad Shoib works. He's a clean-shaven 16-year-old in a striped gray shirt. He spends his mornings in high school and his afternoons here in the sun. He sells toy cars, Chinese-made MP3 players, and miniature soccer balls to the trickle of travelers who pass through. Shoib says the stand brings in the equivalent of about $12 per day, which he gives to his parents."


May 21, 2010 in Pakistan:

Time travel is not impossible in Pakistan. More than a hundred years seem to separate the Grand Trunk Road from the modern M-2 Motorway that runs parallel to it. But progress brings tradeoffs. Though you gain time and relative safety on the Motorway, you lose the cacophony of life that embodies the Grand Trunk Road. In short, the Road makes you realize how boring road travel has become in the age of the automobile.

Some university students NPR talked to are surprised they are driving the Grand Trunk Road. "You should drive the motorway!" they exclaim. We have modern, good roads, they explain. And it's true, if your definition of a good road is one that gets you from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

But older drivers seem to have a different perspective: "It puts you to sleep," says NPR translator Shabbir. NPR reporter agrees, even if the alternative might involve a near-death experience with a camel and a rickshaw.

May 21, 2010, Peshawar:

The NPR team is in Peshawar, the gateway to the insurgency-hit tribal belt in FATA, that has seen more suicide bombings and violence than any other place in Pakistan. A number of youth at Peshawar University express a sense of frustration with the rising violence, but there are some, like student Jawad Zeb, who remain optimistic. Zeb says, "As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are still carrying on our fight, and we are optimistic about that. We are still positive about it, and we know that we can come out of it as a strong nation".

Trip Summary:

On NPR's Talk of the Nation radio talk show on June 3, 2010 Madhlika Sikka described the main concerns of young Pakistanis follows:

"I think, that young people are concerned with the same things you'd think young people are concerned with. In fact, when I came home, the immigration officer asked me about Pakistan, and she said, well, what are they thinking about?

And I said, well, I met a lot of young people, and they're thinking about jobs, and they're thinking about the fact that the power goes out regularly, gas costs a fortune. They're really thinking about what their prospects are and the conflict with India, the war on terrorism, isn't at the top of their list."

Finally, she summed up her assessment of the current situation in Pakistan in the following words:

"Well, I think that I think that there's no doubt that if you live in a city like Islamabad or Peshawar, certainly where Julie McCarthy was, you know, they live and breathe this tension every day.

But let's take a city like Lahore, where we were just a couple of weeks ago. And last week, there was a huge attack on a mosque in Lahore, 70, 80 people were killed. You can't help but feel that tension, even though you are trying your best to go live your daily life as best you can. And I think that that push and pull is really a struggle.

But one thing I do want to talk about in the, you know, what is our vision of Pakistan, which often is one dimensional because of the way the news coverage drives it.

But, you know, we went to visit a park in the capital, Islamabad, which is just on the outskirts, up in the hills, and we blogged about it, and there are photos on our website. You could have been in suburban Virginia.

There were families, picnics, picnic tables, you know, kids playing, stores selling stuff, music playing. It was actually very revealing, I think for us and for people who saw that posting, because there's a lot that's similar that wouldn't surprise you, let's put it that way."


Here is a video clip featuring GT Road in Pakistan:



Related Links:

Pakistan's Foreign Visitors Pleasantly Surprised

Escape From India

Reflections on India

After Partition: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

The "Poor" Neighbor by William Dalrymple

Pakistan's Modern Infrastructure

Video: Who Says Pakistan Is a Failed State?

India Worse Than Pakistan, Bangladesh on Nutrition

UNDP Reports Pakistan Poverty Declined to 17 Percent

Pakistan's Choice: Talibanization or Globalization

Pakistan's Financial Services Sector

Pakistan's Decade 1999-2009

South Asia Slipping in Human Development

Asia Gains in Top Asian Universities

Pakistan's Multi-Billion Dollar IT Industry

India-Pakistan Military Comparison

Food, Clothing and Shelter in India and Pakistan

Pakistan Energy Crisis

13 comments:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's NY Times story about India's decrepit rail system slowing freight movement:

MUMBAI, India — S. K. Sahai’s firm ships containers 2,400 nautical miles from Singapore to a port here in four or five days. But it typically takes more than two weeks to make the next leg of the journey, 870 miles by rail to New Delhi.

For most of that time the containers idle at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port near Mumbai because railway terminals, trains and tracks are severely backlogged all along the route. Counting storage and rail freight fees, Mr. Sahai estimates the cost of moving goods from Mumbai to Delhi at up to $840 per container — or about three times as much as getting the containers to India from Singapore.

“They don’t have any physical space,” Mr. Sahai, who is chairman of SKS Logistics of Mumbai, said about the government-owned Indian Railways. “And all their trains are booked.”

As the world looks to India to compete with China as a major source of new global economic growth, this country’s weak transportation network is stalling progress.

Economists say India must invest heavily in transportation to achieve a long-term annual growth rate of 10 percent — the goal recently set by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh. But whether measured by highways, airways or — particularly — far-reaching railways, India’s transportation is falling short.

Critics say the growth and modernization of Indian Railways has been hampered by government leaders more interested in winning elections and appeasing select constituents, rather than investing in the country’s long-term needs. It is one of the many ways that the political realities of India’s clamorous democracy stand in contrast to the forced march that China’s authoritarian system can dictate for economic development.

A 40,000-mile, 150-year-old network, Indian Railways is often described as the backbone of this nation’s economy. And in fact it is moving more people and goods than ever: seven billion passengers and 830 million tons of cargo a year. But its expansion and modernization is not keeping pace with India’s needs.

“If it has to serve as the backbone of the Indian economy, the leaders of the Indian Railways have to think big, and they need to have a larger vision,” said S. Ramnarayan, a professor at the Indian School of Business and co-author of a book about the railways. “Thinking in terms of incrementalism — a little extra here, a little extra there — doesn’t solve anybody’s problem.”

The crash on an eastern rail link late last month that killed 151 people and injured hundreds of others underscored the vital nature of the railroads, as well as their vulnerability. The crash, which authorities have attributed to Maoist rebels, was particularly disruptive because it disabled a busy east-west line that, along with many others, was already stretched thin.

Traffic between big cities like Mumbai and Delhi, for instance, often runs at more than 120 percent of planned capacity, which means trains travel more slowly and tracks wear out faster than intended.

And because the railways’ tracks are too lightweight and the locomotives underpowered, Indian trains can haul no more than 5,000 tons of cargo, compared with 20,000-ton capacities in the United States, China and Russia.

Riaz Haq said...

The western media coverage of Pakistan is almost always one dimensional, and sometimes downright venom-filled, as the piece (and its accompanying illustration of scorpion) from the Economist titled "Land of the Impure" shows in abundance. Here is an excerpt from it:

THREE score years and a bit after its founding, Pakistan—which means land of the pure—still struggles to look like a nation. Economically backward, politically stunted and terrorised by religious extremists, it would be enough to make anyone nervous, even if it did not have nuclear weapons. For these shortcomings, most of the blame should be laid at the door of the army, which claims, more than any other institution, to embody nationhood. Grossly unfair? If the army stood before one of its own tribunals, the charge sheet would surely run as follows:

One, a taste for military adventurism on its “eastern front” against giant India, which has undermined security, not enhanced it. No adventure was more disastrous than the one in 1971, which hastened the loss of East Pakistan, present-day Bangladesh. More recently, in 1999, General Pervez Musharraf, then army chief, sent troops into Indian-controlled Kashmir without deigning to inform the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. Mr Musharraf thus forced a confrontation between two nuclear states. It was an international public-relations debacle for Pakistan. Today the army remains wedded to the “India threat”. India, meanwhile, for all its gross abuses in Kashmir, is more concerned about economic development than invading Pakistan.

Two, endangering the state’s existence by making common cause with jihadism. This policy started with General Zia ul-Haq’s “Islamisation” policies in the late 1970s. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan (along with the CIA) financed the Afghan mujahideen opposition. The policy turned into support for the Taliban when the movement swept into power in the mid-1990s. Taliban support continues today, even though Pakistan is America’s supposed ally in Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban counterinsurgency. A new report by the London School of Economics claims that not only does Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency finance the Afghan Taliban, but the ISI is even represented on the Taliban’s leadership council. The claims have been loudly rejected, but in private Pakistani military men admit that corners of the army do indeed help the Taliban.

For years both Islamist and liberal generals have also backed jihadists fighting for a Muslim Kashmir. Though vastly outnumbered, the militants have managed to tie down a dozen Indian army divisions. Mr Musharraf and an aide once joked about having such jihadists by their tooti—ie, literally, “taps”, by which he meant their private parts.

Riaz Haq said...

Poverty is one of the factors that drives child marriages in India. It's cheaper to marry off a girl child than an adult woman.

A recent ODI report highlighting India's progress toward MDGs and putting India in the top 20.

Looking at the detailed report, however, it clearly highlights Pakistan along with China in the top 10 in achieving poverty reduction goal MDG1, the most important of MDGs. There is no mention of India on this list in table 4.

http://www.odi.org.uk/resources/download/4908.pdf

Riaz Haq said...

There are more poor people in 8 Indian states than all of Africa, according to a recent report. It is based on a new measure, called Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI), that was developed and applied by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative with UNDP support.

Acute poverty prevails in eight Indian states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, together accounting for more poor people than in the 26 poorest African nations combined, a new 'multidimensional' measure of global poverty has said.

The new measure, called the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), was developed and applied by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative with UNDP support.

It will be featured in the forthcoming 20th anniversary edition of the UNDP Human Development Report.

An analysis by MPI creators reveals that there are more 'MPI poor' people in eight Indian states (421 million in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal) than in the 26 poorest African countries combined (410 million).

The new poverty measure that gives a multidimensional picture of people living in poverty, and is expected to help target development resources more effectively, its creators said.

Riaz Haq said...

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.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Nashua Telegraph report on US Rotarians' planned visit to Pakistan:

Julie Whitcomb of Mont Vernon, president of the Milford Rotary Club, organized the trip after hosting one of five Pakistani Rotarians who visited the Milford area last year.

“They said, ‘We would love to have people from the United States come visit us because we need you guys to see how it is in Pakistan for real,’ ” she said.

Aside from making personal connections, the group is pursuing several projects.

Sampson, who is head librarian in Mont Vernon, is working to establish a book-exchange program that will provide books and writing supplies for children, which the Milford club plans to make an ongoing project.

Veterinarian Shelley Brooks of Mont Vernon is working to establish a textbook-exchange program between New Hampshire veterinarians and the University of Veterinary and Animals Sciences in Lahore. And Whitcomb’s husband, Matt Gelbwaks, a business consultant, will hold some business seminars.

Sampson said she signed up for the visit after she and her husband, Frank Corey, hosted one of five Pakistani members of Rotary last year.

“I had very little notion of what Pakistan was, just what you see on the TV news,” she said. “Everyone assumed everyone there is like the people we saw on the news, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.”

The Pakistanis toured the Milford police station to get an idea of American law enforcement and visited a Milford insurance agency and propane and oil dealers to get an idea of how business is done. They also visited the casinos in Connecticut to see some of the louder aspects of American life in action.

“It sounds corny, but their visit was one of the more meaningful experiences I’ve ever had. I couldn’t imagine going the rest of my life, never seeing them again,” Sampson said.

This is exactly the goal of the Rotary International program called GSE, or group study exchange. GSE sends thousands of members of Rotary clubs, usually young professionals, around the world each year to stay with each other and make connections which would otherwise never happen.

The connection between southern New Hampshire and Pakistan began when Rick Manganello of the Nashua Rotary club, who at the time was district governor for some 60 Rotary chapters in New Hampshire and Vermont, met some Pakistani Rotarians at a conference.

Although he knew little about the country except that it is one of the fastest-growing countries in Rotary – Pakistan recently divided into two districts because so many new chapters are opening – he was impressed enough from those meetings and subsequent connections that he and his wife visited Pakistan last March for a district conference.

The people there, he said, solidified his desire to make connections.

“They were warm, interesting, friendly,” said Manganello, CEO of Windmill International, a software firm. “I really can’t say enough about them.”

He also was prompted by the fact that most Americans know nothing of Pakistan doesn’t extend beyond news of terrorism.

“The idea is to build bridges, to help bring peace – and Pakistan is a place to build peace,” Manganello said.

As for the question of personal safety, he isn’t too concerned because of the structure of Rotary visits.

“I didn’t consider Pakistan anymore threatening than Honduras or Haiti, where we’ve been many times,” Manganello said. “You’re fairly safe, traveling in small groups, staying in homes of Rotarians. You’re not in big Western hotels, you’re not too visible.”


http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/news/950239-196/pakistan-trip-lets-locals-see-need.html

Riaz Haq said...

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.”

Changing perceptions

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


http://tribune.com.pk/story/370562/german-journalist-speaks-there-is-more-to-pakistan-than-violence-and-floods/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Daily Telegraph's Bob Crilly on Pakistan:

It is true that Pakistan is a dangerous place. If you are a Shia, a Pakistani politician from Karachi, a 15-year-old girl who criticises the Taliban or if you venture into the tribal lands that butt up against Afghanistan, this is a country filled with danger.

Yet that is not the country that I know. Islamabad is a gentle city of roundabouts and parks. Today teams of gardeners are tidying verges ready for replanting. Yesterday, I strolled into the Margalla hills surrounded by families having picnics. Nowhere in Lahore or Karachi have I been made to feel anything other than welcome. Not once have I been concerned for my safety.

Too often the outside world seems to think it knows better. The bleak portrayal of the country in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty (I can assure you that American diplomats are not sleeping on sofas or slumming it with shared kitchens) or video games such as Medal of Honor, seem to suggest terrorists on every corner.

Forget all that. Instead follow the example of former Spurs star Graham Roberts and Irish rugby player Justin Fitzpatrick who have both had coaching stints here. Geoff Lawson has apparently let it be known he'd like to coach one of the PSL teams and Julien Fountain, from Sussex, is the current fielding coach of the Pakistan team, working under Dav Whatmore, an Aussie.

So my message to England's players is: forget the dire warnings, and come and see for yourselves. My spare room is at your disposal. Although I would advise you not to kidnap anyone in Peshawar.


http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/robcrilly/100199060/play-cricket-in-pakistan-its-safer-than-you-think/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Guardian review of Zero Dark Thirty movie's depiction of Pakistan:

"For me the biggest problem was that the production design was so weak," says Wajahat Khan, a television journalist. Not only is he unconvinced by many of the locations used to stand in for Pakistan, Khan is, like many others, bemused by the depiction of Pakistanis speaking Arabic to each other. And he thinks the film-makers are guilty of "imagining Pakistan to be what they want it to be".

"It does a disservice to how complex the society is," Khan explains. "This society may have housed Bin Laden but it's not the backyard of a local mosque in Jeddah."

Expatriate life is also shown to be grimmer than the reality of large and spacious houses enjoyed by diplomats in Kabul. Perhaps the foreign press corps is to blame for disabusing Zero Dark Thirty's screenwriter, Mark Boal. During a visit to Pakistan before filming began, Boal asked a group of hacks whether foreigners in Islamabad enjoy "crazy parties where everyone gets naked in the pool". The poor man looked crestfallen when told the (all too depressing) truth that Islamabad is a pretty subdued place.

Although it was described by Bigelow as a "reported film", Zero Dark Thirty offers a feast for fact-checkers. Inaccuracies abound, largely due to the need to compress the decade-long hunt, create composite characters and make the whole thing work as a piece of drama.

A single character, Maya, is used to carry the film. She is portrayed as a lone voice challenging the CIA's bureaucratic inertia after Bin Laden trail goes cold and she is placed at the centre of the action. She is shown dining in a poor imitation of Islamabad's Marriott hotel even though it was blown up in 2008. Her car is attacked by gunmen as she drives out of her house – something that has happened more than once to US government employees in Peshawar, but not to anyone's knowledge in Islamabad.

One of the CIA's overseas "black sites" used for interrogating members of al-Qaida is shown in Pakistan itself, presumably to place Maya in both the torture scenes and where the action was in the CIA's Islamabad station.

Her character appears to be based on a real CIA agent named as Jen in an account of the Bin Laden raid written by former Navy Seal Matt Bissonnette. But Peter Bergen, a journalist and author who has researched Bin Laden more deeply than anyone else, claims the CIA officer who worked on the search for eight years up until his death and was convinced he was hiding in the Abbottabad compound was actually a man.

In December the acting director of CIA went public to criticise the film for taking "significant artistic licence, while portraying itself as being historically accurate".

The film, which claims to be based on "firsthand accounts of actual events" adds tantalising and colourful details that build on what has been reported elsewhere.

But it's hard to know what to believe when the film makes an astonishing error in portraying one of the gambits used to try and identify whether Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. A controversial hepatitis B vaccination programme run on behalf of the CIA in the town in an attempt to get hold of Bin Laden family DNA is clearly shown as an anti-polio campaign. It's a truly sloppy mistake given how widely reported the incident was.

And it's also potentially dangerous. The scandal of the CIA using aid workers as cover for operations has helped to inflame deep mistrust in Pakistan's tribal areas towards vaccination programmes. Two Taliban commanders have banned polio eradication from their areas of control. In December, six polio vaccinators were murdered by gunmen while going about their work....


http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/27/zero-dark-thirty-view-from-pakistan

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece in WSJ on how Pakistanis view Zero Dark Thirty, the movie:

Pakistani commentators have seized on the film even though it is not being officially distributed.

Nadeem Paracha, senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper, one of Pakistan’s leading English-language newspapers, catalogued what he considered flaws in its depiction of Pakistani society in a blog post on Thursday.

He went on to suggest, through a series of comic photographs, that the Oscar-nominated film reinforces American and Pakistani stereotypes about each other.

Similarly, Dawn’s film critic, Mohammad Kamran Jawaid, in a freewheeling and, at times, contradictory review, suggested that viewers’ response to the film would depend “on the individual’s level of hurt.”

In a review for the Express Tribune, Noman Ansari, a freelance writer, sought to add some perspective.

“Yes, Zero Dark Thirty portrays a dark corner of Pakistan, but the film never claims that this is all there is to the country,” the piece said. “It doesn’t have to, because this is a film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and not about Pakistan’s glorious win at the cricket world cup. And like it or not, our national army was completely clueless about an operation by a foreign military on its own soil, near its own naval compound.”

It added: “So if Zero Dark Thirty makes us look completely incompetent and stupid when it came to the events of May 2, 2011, perhaps it is because we were.”

The raid depicted in the movie caused huge consternation among ordinary Pakistanis when it happened, according to a survey. In a poll conducted by YouGov in association with Polis at Cambridge University shortly after the raid, 75% of Pakistani respondents said they disapproved of the U.S. operation and 66% didn’t believe that Osama Bin Laden had been killed at the compound in Abbottabad.

The association between bin Laden and Abbottabad continues to rankle residents of the town.

“I am disappointed that my town harbored a terrorist who had caused damage to my country,” said a 31-year-old woman in Abbottabad, who declined to be named. “My town is now notorious. My cousins in Canada no longer tell people that they are from Abbottabad.”

But when she was whether Zero Dark Thirty should be shown in Pakistan, she said: “Pakistanis watch Indian movies and, if you read the Pakistani press, we are led to believe that they are the enemy, too.”


http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2013/02/01/what-pakistan-thinks-of-zero-dark-thirty/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Nadeem Paracha in Dawn on Zero Dark Thirty, the movie:

Recent Hollywood blockbuster, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, was quite an experience. Though sharp in its production and direction and largely accurate in depicting the events that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden, it went ballistic bad in depicting everyday life on the streets of Pakistan.

With millions of dollars at their disposal, I wonder why the makers of this film couldn’t hire even a most basic advisor to inform them that

1: Pakistanis speak Urdu, English and other regional languages and NOT Arabic;

2: Pakistani men do not go around wearing 17th and 18th century headgear in markets;

3: The only Urdu heard in the film is from a group of wild-eyed men protesting against an American diplomat, calling him ‘chor.’ Chor in Urdu means robber. And the protest rally was against US drone strikes. How did that make the diplomat a chor?

4: And how on earth was a green Mercedes packed with armed men parked only a few feet away from the US embassy in Islamabad? Haven’t the producers ever heard of an area called the Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad? Even a squirrel these days has to run around for a permit to enter and climb trees in that particular area.

I can go on.

The following is what I have learned …...


http://dawn.com/2013/01/31/zero-iq-thirty/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Washington Post piece on Warren "Buffet disses coverage of Pakistan":

Warren Buffett has gobbled up a bunch of newspapers in recent years. Among them are many community papers, not the big titles that vanity publishers pursue. And an explanation for that acquisition pattern comes from the 2012 report of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.:

Newspapers continue to reign supreme, however, in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s
going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job. A reader’s eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbors will be read to the end. Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2013/03/01/buffett-disses-coverage-of-pakistan/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Time Magazine article on Hollywood bending to get Chinese business:

We already knew some filming of Iron Man 3 took place in China, and that the movie has a Chinese co-distributor and that Chinese actor Wang Xueqi has a role — but, as of late last week, Chinese Iron Man fans have another reason to feel special: they’re getting their very own version of the movie.

(MORE: Licence to Cut as Skyfall Censored in China)

After the May 3 release of the Marvel tentpole, another edition will be released in China and will be marketed and distributed by Chinese distribution company DMG Entertainment. (DMG is listed as a co-producer for the film on IMDB, but this latest press release clarifies that, in China at least, the movie is a Marvel production distributed by DMG.) The announcement, available on Deadline, told fans that the Chinese version would include bonus footage:

The Chinese version of the film will also feature a special appearance of China’s top actress, Fan Bingbing, and will offer specially prepared bonus footage made exclusively for the Chinese audience. Marvel Studios’ experience working on this film with Fan Bingbing and Wang Xueqi and in shooting in China has been very positive and has created a springboard for future collaboration with China’s talented stars and its growing film and television industry.

DMG has experience with this kind of situation, as the Los Angeles Times points out: Looper also received financing from the company and had a Chinese version that showed more of Shanghai than U.S. audiences saw.

These little nods to the appetites of Chinese fans — or, in some cases, the potential future decisions of Chinese censors, as other movies have learned the hard way — may not seem like much. But studios must be betting that a few extra Chinese location shots or scenes with Chinese actors could pay off in a big way, and they’ve got reason to think it’s possible: analysts predict that China, currently the No. 2 box-office market in the world, will surpass the U.S. within the next decade.


http://entertainment.time.com/2013/04/01/iron-man-3-chinese-fans-will-see-different-cut-of-the-movie/