Pakistan Diaries 3: Politics these days

I joined Tamreez and Elhaan this week and it’s great to see them again. Elhaan seems to have been influenced by Pakistani politicians and greeted me with estranged looks, perhaps complaining about my unannounced disappearance from his life for over a month and a half. He has decided to change parties. He who would only sleep in my arms now refuses to even let me hold him when he is sleepy. I am sure I will lure him back into my party soon.

Changing parties is the order of the day in Pakistani politics at the moment, as Imran Khan’s PTI has undoubtedly registered itself as the third big force in the political arena. It is yet to be seen if it is for the good.

In the UK, the Lib Dem vote bank in the last elections was mainly boosted by those who resented the two main parties. Likewise, Imran’s PTI is banking a lot on those voters who are fed up of the PPP/PML(N) led governments in the past.

Lib Dems also came up quite strong in the pre election polls yet could not translate that into tangible success. The momentum was still enough to give them a stake in the coalition government. Since then, the amount of U turns and compromises they have done, has completely shattered any hopes for them to do well in the next elections. I know there is a big difference in the two parties but still I hope PTI does not end up in the same boat if they do well.

The basic day to day issues like inflation, shortages of gas and electricity and the deteriorating condition of transport and infrastructure etc. are what people want resolved. A conversation with my driver who cannot read or write but yet carries a good insight into politics, sums up how a general voter thinks about politics. He has decided to vote for PTI in the next elections. When asked what convinced him to vote in favour of Imran Khan’s PTI, he said, “All my life I have seen others rule. They have been given more than one chance and they looted and destroyed my country. Imran Khan has a clean track record up till now and I can only hope that he is different from others. Worse comes to worst he’ll also do what his predecessors did. At least he deserves a chance”.

A hope or another One-Man-Show?

The historical PTI Jalsa (rally) has not only shaken many big mouthed veterans in the political arena but most importantly seemed to have kindled a political lamp in the hearts of many a muted-but-concerned citizens of Pakistan. That really means something. It was inspiring to read the running commentary of the Jalsa, on social media, by youngsters who normally shy away from political circles. Many attendees of the Jalsa I know never attended a political rally in the past.

PTI deserves a big applause on achieving this moment of glory, as Tamreez puts it, but a BIG question looms in my mind. Is it really PTI that I should applaud or the lone efforts and leadership qualities of one person, and that is of course Imran Khan?

Going with the cricket analogy, that Imran Khan so often reverts to, I would like to ask: Who are the Wasims and Waqars of his bowling attack and when are we going to see the likes of Zaheer Abbas, Miandad, Saeed Anwar and Inzi strengthening his batting line-up? or maybe the plan is simply to pull off another 1992?

No doubt, 1992 was one of  the rare victories in our history. But why is it that we are yet to repeat that feat? It is because we failed to nourish leadership in our ranks; solid batsmen in our batting line up who are consistent; our bowlers, although incredibly talented like Shoaib and Amir, lacked that vigour and vision or know-how of winning matches and you all have seen their careers.

I fear that Imran Khan might fall into the same trap as others did in the past in Pakistan. What PTI really needs is ‘Leaders’, like Imran Khan, who can rally the same support as he can and sadly I don’t know anyone else in PTI who can. We have seen enough of history repeating itself. I know it sounds idealistic but we should aim towards a “solution”, rather than a one-off victory, that stays solved for some time.

My request to Imran Khan is that he should let his other party leaders also stand with him in the front-line (they are not visible enough); get them seen and heard by the masses and make them leaders who know how to WIN. I think a true leader is the one who knows how to nurture leadership. If we are to challenge the big guns, that’s what parties like PTI should focus on. It is the only way to get somewhere in winning some stake in the 342-seat parliament. It’s all fair that Imran Khan has something to offer that’s better than other politicians but when it comes to elections what matters is who wins the most seats in the parliament. Does PTI have enough blood? That remains a question.

Saying all that, Imran Khan certainly seems to have scored high in the books of one influential entity in Pakistani politics: media. The media has become one of the most powerful stakeholders in Pakistani political affairs and I really believe they will decide who wins the next election, even more so than the army and intelligence agencies. No wonder stakes are high for the top anchors and some of them happily shift from channel to channel. PTI probably has no such influence yet but the last couple of days belonged to Imran Khan and finally his true entry into Politics (in the words of Sheikh Rashid of AML). Although MQM had a rally on the same day and that did try to steal the limelight but PTI’s Jalsa got a lot of post-Jalsa media mileage. The terminology used in the news tickers on various channels and by the analysts/anchors certainly hinted an inclination towards supporting his campaign for the next elections or it was probably just a frustration of the long standing PPP-Nawaz partnership. Let’s see if Imran’s bowling attack has the depth it needs to break that partnership.

The run up to the next elections cannot be more exciting and I hope the sleeping giant (the Pakistani public) finally wakes up.

Savouring the PTI Moment

PTIJalsaWhen was the last time you felt excited about Pakistani politics? I really can’t remember. But watching Imran Khan’s historic jalsa yesterday I felt a thrill similar to what I had felt watching the events unfolding in Tahrir Square a few months ago. Could this be the start of a Pakistani revolution? I don’t know, but PTI would have us believe so.

It was heartwarming to see that families had come even with young children, putting aside security concerns. Celebrities were there to add glitz and glamour to the proceedings, leading some critics on Twitter to question whether this was a political gathering or a concert. Shehzad Roy was a hit and Strings’ performance of “mein bhi dekhoun ga” worked really well on the crowds, but what brought tears to my eyes was the good ol’ qaumi taraana. And it must’ve been for romantics like me that they played the national anthem twice in the proceedings.

After hours of speeches and song performances, finally Imran Khan took to the stage. I guess people’s expectations had been built to unrealistic levels by the historic venue, massive size of the crowd and the long wait. While there was some substance, a few cricket inspired puns and a bit of wit, overall it was obvious that oratory is not one of Imran Khan’s many talents. Fortunately, on the personality front his star status and charisma somewhat compensates for this. If only he could hire a great Urdu speech writer and improve his speaking skills, we could have our own desi Obama.

Yesterday’s jalsa was historic in more ways than one. Not only was it the largest crowd ever gathered by PTI, it was perhaps also one of the largest ever convened at Minar-e-Pakistan. Also significant was that the PTI crowd was at least a few tens of thousand stronger than that which gathered just two days prior to hear Shahbaz Sharif speak.That’s saying a lot given Punjab is a PML(N) stronghold.

On a more superficial, yet significant note, never before have we seen the urban westernized youth attending a political rally in droves as it did yesterday (commentators have been using the term “jeans wearing” and “English speaking” to describe them). Their presence was significant for two reasons: First, this segment of society, epitomized in depictions such as ‘Slackistan’, is known more for its apathy than activism. Second, and more importantly, the youth comprises about 70% of Pakistan’s population and Imran Khan has been pinning his hopes on them, even dedicating his latest book to them. Many of them would be first time voters in 2013 and if someone can tap into this vote bank, it could really be a game changer.

I purposefully don’t go into policy, strategies and substance in this post. PTI achieved yesterday’s milestone after 15 long years of struggle. So before we ask hard-hitting questions and poke holes in their agenda and policies (or lack thereof), let us allow them this moment of glory. It is only fair.

No matter what one’s misgivings about Imran Khan and his party, one thing cannot be denied: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has finally arrived.

What we’re reading…

imran-khan-jacket After a long time, Asim and I are reading a book together. The last one was Three Cups of Tea. This time, each of us has got a copy of Imran Khan’s new book ‘Pakistan: A Personal History’. Asim is reading his on the Kindle while I’m content with my hardcover.

I’m not going to go into a review at this stage (halfway at the moment), but the reading process is exciting. Not that its thrilling or something we don’t know, but it’s given us a topic for lively discussions. Asim and I have always had our differences of opinion about Imran Khan and especially the PTI. The book is giving us insight into the background of the party and Imran Khan’s stance on certain issues (most of which he has already shared on numerous other forums).

A book review will follow shortly. We might consider a joint one, given our thoughts aren’t too divergent.

ps. Asim has been making fun of me for taking notes on every chapter!


bolI finally got a chance to watch Bol with a few friends the other day. The movie is well-made and Shoaib Mansoor has handled some very controversial and taboo subjects which other filmmakers shy away from. It promised to be a hard-hitting film and on that score it delivered. I guess my criticism is that it is perhaps a bit too hard-hitting. I sat through the entire length of the movie just cringing and feeling really stressed out.

I think the film could have handled fewer issues and developed the characters more. For example, Atif Aslam’s role was a joke. Two performances really stood out. Saifi was excellent. I could really feel for him and while the issue of ‘hijras’ in Pakistan has been shown on TV serials etc, this brought a different angle to it. As ironic as it sounds, the other character I could relate to and even sympathize with was the monster father. I could understand, even if I could not condone, the inner demons he was fighting; the social norms that seemed paramount; and the religious dogmas he was devoted to. On the other hand, the protagonist delivered a mediocre performance. She was not very impressive and at times even annoying.

The format of the film was a bit awkward as well. The midnight press conference with dimwit reporters asking rhetorical questions or rushing to wake the President up in the middle of the night seemed a bit juvenile. A woman on death-row with harrowing flashbacks while she waited her sentence or even just narrating her story to one reporter might have been much more effective and believable. But then it would not have led to the hopeful outcome of getting through to the President. Maybe I am way too cynical but that eventuality just seemed so lame.

But let’s face it. All of us Pakistanis rushed to watch and support this film because we’re starved for Pakistani films. There aren’t many watchable films out there even though a few independent filmmakers are doing good stuff. But most of these films end up being issue-based and thus, to a domestic entertainment-starved audience cannot compete with Bollywood. While to an international audience they reinforce a lot of negative stereotypes about Pakistan. While there is definitely a need to make issue-based films, we’d also like to see the ‘softer’ side of Pakistan. I’m craving a feel-good, happy, hopeful Pakistani movie which celebrates functional relationships, humour and the good in humanity. Shoaib Mansoor, I hope you’re listening.

Once upon a time…

Just got a very interesting history lesson in Pak-US relations from Professor YouTube, I thought I’ll share with you all.

Around 50 years ago, a President of Pakistan, then considered “an important and powerful” country, visited the United States of America on a state visit. He was received by the American President and given a very honourable reception. Irrespective of what we think of Ayub and his era now, it’s amazing to see how high Pakistan’s stature was in the international arena.

Here is the video coverage of the visit:


America Welcomes President Ayub Khan of Pakistan 1961

I’m not giving up on my dream :)

Those of you who read my last post know that I was writing in despair. Although I won’t really take back all that I wrote, it is not completely reflective of what I believe in. All of us go through hard times and face disappointments. Perhaps it’s better not to voice your thoughts in the heat of the moment so-to-speak, but it can also be therapeutic. By sharing my gloomy thoughts, I was hoping for others to inspire me and help me get out of that phase. Because I know that if we stop struggling for what we believe in, there is no point to life. So I was really excited today when I came across this talk by Imran Khan titled "Never Give Up on Your Dreams". It was exactly what I needed.

One of the things Imran said really struck me: the higher the goal you set, the bigger the setbacks you should expect. And if you can learn to deal with the setbacks then you’ll be successful. However, one of the common mistakes people make when they come across a setback or hurdle on the path to their dream is to scale back the scope of their goal. Instead of dreaming big, dealing with hurdles and still working towards the goal; people will instead dream small and play it safe. I’ve found myself doing this a lot in life.

In 11th grade after I’d gotten my chemistry results, the marks were pretty good but not stellar. I didn’t really expect praise from the teacher but what I didn’t expect was for her to rebuke me. I still remember what she said: "These aren’t bad marks, but you know you could’ve done better. You never fully apply yourself". In retrospect, I know how true that comment was and still is. I’ve always worked hard, but never in a disciplined or sustained manner and at the first sign of setback, I’m willing to rescale my goal. I’d rather set ‘achievable goals’ and accomplish them than be faced with failure. I’m very risk-averse and nothing scares me more than failure. Let me give you a few small examples. I failed my driving test when I tried for manual. So instead of retaking the manual test, I passed on automatic. When I used to apply for jobs, I would only apply to those where I matched the criteria a 100% and aimed for entry level jobs even though I knew I was capable of more. Asim would keep telling me to apply for more ambitious roles, but I was terrified of rejections. Every rejection I got really dented my self esteem. In relationships, it’s easy to say "oh my family is this way and we can’t be any different" than accepting that relationships need time and attention and sometimes things aren’t always pretty, but you have to keep at it. So over the years, I’ve learnt that things don’t always come easily in life. More importantly no matter how bad they get, they almost always get better. You sometimes just need to sleep on them and then try again.

Although the talk didn’t go a lot into solutions for Pakistan (there’s so much one can squeeze into a 20 minute talk and we’ve heard Imran Khan speak about his policies on many other forums), one of the things that rang true was when Imran said there is a lot of potential and talent in Pakistan but "the only problem in our way is apathy". He couldn’t have said it better.

So in the context of the last post I wrote, I haven’t given up. Yes, it’s true that things do seem pretty bleak in Pakistan at the moment. But I also know that change is possible, even if all we can accomplish is one little thing at a time. If nothing else, I want to be satisfied that I continue to work towards my dream. My friend Hafsa shared this parable with me. Even if you’re not religious, you will definitely appreciate the attitude.

‘When Nimrod built a pyre to burn Allah’s prophet Ibrahim, the hoopoe carried water in its beak and released it onto the flames from above. An onlooker, asked the hoopoe whether it thought the two drops of water would put out the mighty blaze. ‘I don’t know,’ replied the bird. ‘All I know is that when Allah makes a list of those who built this fire and those who tried to put it out, I want my name to be in the second column.’

A dream lost


I’m in a very dark place right now. I just watched the video of the extrajudicial killing of a young man by Rangers in Karachi. There is so many horrible news stories about Pakistan these days that very little shocks or saddens me any more but this video really shook me. At first, I watched it very calmly- almost like a voyeur- and then the tears started flowing. This was a real person; a real life taken in such cold blooded manner. It is besides the point whether the man was a criminal or carrying a (fake) gun. At the time that he was shot, he was clearly unarmed and pleading.

What’s going to happen now? The media will create a fuss for a few days. There will be a few sit-ins or protests with pitiful turnouts and tomorrow we’ll move on to another story. One person’s death in Tunisia sparked a revolution in the entire Arab world, while we in Pakistan continue to watch one atrocity after another and do nothing.

I just read my friend Fizza’s piece on wanting to “rebrand Pakistan” and while I applaud the intention and think it’s great that she’s still optimistic, I feel so sad that I don’t feel inspired by the initiative. The simple reason being that I don’t think it would make a difference. For the last few months I’ve been losing my optimism about Pakistan. I won’t say we’ve reached a point of no return. But we’ve definitely reached a point where a lot more is needed to turn things around. I’ve tried to look at the glass half full and still continue to try and make a difference in whatever small way I can. I’ve written about the subject and ran a project called “Resilient Pakistan” hoping to promote a positive image of Pakistan. But increasingly I feel nothing matters any more and nothing can change things around unless there is a full revolution- an upheaval- and I shudder to think what that would bring.

When I graduated from university in 2006 I had dreams of going back home and making a difference. That was the only reason I could not even contemplate staying on in Canada and getting the citizenship (was only a matter of 3 years). Even when I got married to Asim and moved to the UK, I kept thinking “this is just for a few years, eventually we’ll move to Pakistan” and the thought actually used to excite me. And although that is still the plan, I don’t feel any optimism or excitement about it. In fact it leaves me with a sad hollow dread. Whoever you talk to in Pakistan wants to leave the country. Those who are in the country are unhappy and disturbed or have their heads happily buried in the sand (read: money). Yes, of course our families are still living there and life goes on. But it’s not what it was. When you visit, it’s the little things that really hit you.

Islamabad- that beautiful green peaceful city where the temperature always dropped by a degree when you came from Pindi and the air always seemed cooler and cleaner- is now a barricaded claustrophobic place with huge blast walls, sand bags, barbed wire and checkpoints on every road. We went to pick up Asim’s brother from school and it had blast walls and barriers around it. Waiting in that line of cars, you can’t help but think “what if something happened right now”. It was such a disgusting thought and such a sad image.

Like someone trying to hold onto a dying relationship, I still want to believe. My relationship with Pakistan is not one of choice. It is not a marriage from which one can break out as George Fulton recently wrote in that heartbreaking piece. It is of a child to a parent. You can’t cut your ties and you can’t renounce your identity. And that’s why it hurts so much.


1992: "Cornered Tigers" bounce back to take the title.

I am writing my thoughts as I watch the rain affected start of the second ODI cricket match of Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand. After the dismal performance in the first match, many wouldn’t dare waste a day watching this one and I don’t blame them.

Humiliated on the field on one day as if never played the game before in their lifetime and dominating it like champions on another day – this is the story of the Pakistani cricket team. The cricket board also ensures that the team and the nation get enough grief. The ‘predictable’ nature of our cricket should not be a surprise to us anymore. The only thing we have consistency in is ‘inconsistency’.

It might seem like I am painting a bleak picture of Pakistan Cricket here but of this very same team, amongst shadows of adversity, we witness glimpses of utter brilliance. Is it luck? Winning two world cups (an ODI and T20) can’t just be by fluke?

No matter how many controversies per second our cricket generates, the cricket following never dies in Pakistan. With the World Cup approaching, even if we fail to name a captain till the Cup actually starts, I would not be able to write off our chances. There is something in our team or may be in Pakistanis that keep us hopeful. We will be fully behind our team to bring the 2011 cup back home. Inshallah.

What are your predictions for the World Cup?

Untold Stories of Pakistan

I came accross a TED video last week that really inspired me. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie, in her fascinating story of how she found her authentic cultural voice, conveyed many key messages. It’s a great reminder for most of us who believe that our story is “true”. Human beings are impressionable thus vulnerable to ideas and beliefs all around us. Sometimes we knowingly deny the existence of multiple stories or view points and would fight till the last breadth to prove our point of view. Our life is full of such single stories and being able to see what’s on the other side of the wall becomes impossible.

One such scary single story these days is about my homeland Pakistan. Sadly majority outside Pakistan, and now even many within, believe in a story that only talks about Terrorism, Extremism, Taliban, corruption – a single story of catastrophe. The persistent narration of this single story from all types of media-storytellers reinforces the point that this is the only world view for Pakistan.

Wherever we go, different versions of the same single story is being discussed – What do you think is the authentic Pakistani story?

Does your story explore the ever expanding research in science and technology; advances in the agriculture and cotton industry; the story of Gwadar port; fast growing independent media; the amazing food industry; the energetic and enthusiastic youth of Pakistan; and the heroics of many forgotten heros like Edhi?

As Chimamanda said, all stories and experiences we go through make us who we are but to only insist on the negative stories is to flatten our experience. We need access to many stories of Pakistan and not rely on the single story echoing in different corners of media all around the world. We need responsible journalism – and I cannot stress more of it’s importance. There is always a positive side to what happens in Pakistan – and please do not hesitate to share that.

Resilient Pakistan is one of many such initiatives, a platform, to share the multiple stories of Pakistan. Please join in and together we can make a difference.