Dehati Aurats and Phappay Kutnis

PM Nawaz Sharif

It was an incredible political blunder. Talking to a room of famous journalists, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called his Indian counterpart ‘dehati aurat’. And he did so not on some random day, but as the two leaders had gathered for an important summit meeting. If it was a political blunder, though, it was media genius. Pakistani media loved the point scoring against the historic foe, and the Indian media leaped on the opportunity to lash out against their maligned neighbor. Then a funny thing happened – it turned out that, despite the media reports, Nawaz Sharif never said ‘dehati aurat’. So now the questions we should be asking are…who did? And why?

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Birth Of A Narrative

Taliban protect Imran Khan

The death toll from Sunday’s suicide attack against Christians in Peshawar continues to rise, the latest count reaching as high as 83 dead. The reaction to the bombing which came mere days after a Taliban bomb martyred Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi has been one of visible shock. It’s almost as if many did not see this coming. But how? How could we be so blind? Over the past few days several writers have penned blistering critiques of Imran Khan and the narrative that has popularised which positions jihadi militants as ‘our estranged brothers’ instead of our killers. This gives the Kaptaan a bit too much credit. The pro-jihadi narrative did not begin with Imran Khan, and it does not end with him.

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How Many Riyals Per Word?

Ahmed QuraishiWhen I was in school my uncle got me a job working for a journalist. Mostly I took notes for him or did some basic research on topics. But occasionally he would pay me to help write his articles. He would then complain that I could never make it as a proper journalist. My writing was always too long. I rambled on and on and lost the point halfway through. The guy would shake his head and say, “do you think I’m paying you by the word?”

It is an open secret that some of our finest journalists take a little extra bonus from intelligence agencies. When people still cared about Hamid Mir’s involvement in the murder of Khalid Khawaja (if you can remember history as ancient as six-months ago!) the inimitable Nadeem Paracha wrote for Dawn:

The agencies have always had personnel on their payrolls operating as reporters, anchors, and ‘analysts’ ever since the Ayub Khan dictatorship in the 1960s. Respected journalist and author, late Zamir Niazi, in his book, The Web of Censorship, suggests that the agencies recruited a number of ‘journalists’ during the Ayub dictatorship, specifically to check leftist sentiments that were all the rage among journalists at the time.

I always thought there was something about bit strange about how quickly journalists at a certain news organization started writing that Nawaz Sharif should emerge as a new liberal alternative to Asif Zardari. Had these guys really begun to lose their minds, I thought? Of course, now we have learned that this was exactly what one foreign government had in mind – Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis betray a strong preference for Sharif, who fled into exile in Jeddah in 2000 to avoid prosecution under General Pervez Musharraf. The cables contain details of Sharif’s secret exile deal – he was to remain out of politics for 10 years – as well as hints of Saudi anger when he returned to Pakistan in 2007.

Perhaps then we should not be so surprised that these journalists found a sudden taste for Nawaz?

With Ahmed Quraishi, especially, my friends and I play a game where we read his column and then guess who paid for it. The decision was unanimous a few months ago when he published a love poem to the Saudi Royal family and the Saudi women who gave up a necklace for the flood victims. Really, man, try for a little subtlety next time!

This time around it’s especially obvious. First, Quraishi’s article for The News reads like a wish-list of the Saudis – weaken the democratic government and enable a “smooth” military takeover. But notice also that while Quraishi blames everything under the sun on “serving US interests” and “foreign meddling”, his article is only another in a long list of conspiracies about the US while he blatantly ignores the damning evidence against Saudi Arabia’s meddling. Perhaps that was not designated in a contract with GIP?

Now do you notice how little attention all these same journalists pay to the meddling of the Saudi monarchy in our sovereign affairs? Hypernationalists like Ahmed Quraishi scrawl their columns about Wikileaks and condemn the politicians for airing family secrets in front of a US Ambassador, but are strangely silent on the secret deals made between Mian Nawaz and a certain foreign government that nobody will name.

These guys are also peddling the story that Wikileaks is a US conspiracy to embarrass Muslim countries, which is hilarious. They want to make headlines from the parts about Zardari, but ignore everything that’s inconvenient. But even if Ahmed Quraishi is correct and the Americans are hiding documents that could be embarrassing to Israel or India, he doesn’t explain why they want to embarrass Netherlands, not to mention France and Italy also. When you look at it without the distorted perspective of these self-interested conspiracy theorists, their story seems more a convenient excuse to protect someone than a reasonable and objective analysis.

Thanks to Wikileaks, it is now revealed that Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir famously told that “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants”. We readily accept that everyone else is paying a certain fee to have their political agendas published by our army of ‘Journalists To Let’, so why shouldn’t the Saudis also? If Wikileaks really wants to do some good, they should reveal the bank accounts of some of our more ‘creative’ journalists. I bet you’ll find a juicy conspiracy or two there!

Quraishi says he wishes Pakistan was more like Emirates, which he claims is superior to Pakistan. So go live there already. For all his complaining about ‘foreign meddling’, Ahmed Quraishi sure seems to be deeply in love with other countries. As for his column that defines Pakistan as “bankrupt, uncreative and miserable”, I say I hope you’re getting paid by the word to sell your country out like that.

The point of all this, now that I’m done rambling, is that I’m thinking of setting up a PayPal account to raise money to buy Ahmed Quraishi a ticket to Saudi Arabia. Partly so he’ll stop spitting in the face of our country, and partly so that his trip to the office at GIP will be shorter. He can even fly Emirates if he wants to.

The Pakistani Media: Reporting News or Making News?

Another typical week in the saga of Pakistan. Twenty percent of the country still underwater. Drone attacks on new levels. NATO helicopters crossing border and attacking within Pakistan. The Chief Justice on the warpath for a quasi-constitutional judicial coup against the elected government. Rumors of military itchiness. Nawaz once again plotting opportunistically. Final preparations for the next round of the Strategic Dialogue in Washington between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Quereshi. One would think that there would be an enormous amount of material for the Pakistani press to be legitimately covering, investigating and reporting on. But hold the presses. This is Pakistan, the home of 50 FOX cable 24/7 stations whose blood sport is trying to bring down elected governments.

The Pakistani rabid media is guilty of something much more serious than bad journalism. Their misreporting, their distortions, their unattributed, unsourced tirades about governmental instability are infectious, and could very well become self-fulfilling prophesies. As the nihilistic narrative goes viral, western media picks up the theme and starts to run with it. When Pakistan’s FOX cable rampages morph into New York Times and Washington Post headlines, not only is the government of Pakistan destabilized, but the future of democracy in the country becomes problematic and with it any chance for the Pakistani to break into a new socio-economic environment where there is hope for their children’s future. The anti-government blood-sport may be good fun for the chattering classes of the Punjabi elite, but for Pakistan’s position in the community of nations, it is deadly serious. And for victims of this summer’s monsoons, this distraction is nothing short of tragic.

Pakistan has many problems, most build up after decades of governmental inaction, economic mismanagement, military coups and terrorist insurgencies. Any government now in power would be under enormous stress from the complexities and the enormities of the current multifaceted challenges. But to use this as an excuse to destroy Pakistani democracy, to destabilize the democratically elected government and to functionally empower terrorists, is shameful.

Maybe it’s at last time for patriotism to replace opportunism for the Pakistani media, for the Pakistani military, for the Pakistani political opposition, and for the chattering Establishment class that thrived under dictatorship. The infection has spread from the cables, to the salons and has made its way across the Ocean to the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon. It threatens not only bilateral relations with the United States. It fundamentally threatens Pakistan’s existence.

Musical denial

It was an August day when my cousin Navid and I were standing in the rain, by the edge of the Hudson River. He was somber, having decided to drop the cheerful façade he’d maintained throughout his visit to New York City. The wind blew his hair from his eyes; I saw tears.

Looking away from me and in a low voice, he recounted the night he learned his friend died as a result of a suicide bomb. A witness who survived said Abbas had been standing outside the Shi’ite mosque, turning off his music player before any of the older men could give him disapproving looks. He had loved Junoon, a popular rock band. He must have been near the bomber, maybe even glanced up and said “Salaam.” Something about the innocence of Abbas’ last act — turning off his music so the imam wouldn’t get mad — touched me deeply.

“It’s funny,” Navid said, looking suddenly at me. “That night it rained hard, like this.” Sitting outside the red-sanded steps of Abbas’ house that very night, the group of young friends knew things had changed. Going through the motions of consoling the family and being there for one another, they knew something foreign had entered their worlds. They were now face to face with the cancer of extremism, something that had always seemed so far away, because it affected the regions up north. Now it was in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore.

Coming from a Muslim family with relatives throughout the world, I can many times  connect the events in the news to people I know. I try to keep the two worlds apart though, but at times the they are too strongly linked.

As with this story.

 

This New York Times video details the Pakistani rock music scene. The truth may startle some not familiar with a public who uses anti-Americanism as a crutch against many national issues.

Junoon’s beloved lead singer, Ali Azmat, is now on a solo career and has become an icon. He has stopped singing about love and heartbreak, and, like many other musicians, now chooses to sing with current affairs.

The alarming anti-Americanism in the top songs of Pakistan is unsettling.

When asked if he would ever sing about the 200 girls’ schools that were blown up, Azmat looked slightly taken aback but then an expression of denial crossed his face and he declared “You can’t blame the Taliban for that! Where is the funding coming from? It is the agenda of the neo-cons to de-Islamize Pakistan.” His songs routinely condemn the United States for meddling in Pakistan’s affairs, for infringing upon Pakistan’s territory and causing the problems the nation faces today.

Another popular band, the Noori brothers, sat relaxed and carefree, with the most nonchalant expressions as they agreed “The Taliban are amongst the smallest problems Pakistan faces. The West is affected by the Taliban, we’re not.”

Pakistan has been rocked by devastating terrorism this past month; one wonders if the Noori brothers and Ali Azmat mourn for the countless killed, wounded, traumatized…or is their grief reserved for the US?

I should note one of the brothers wore a shirt that said “Not terrorized enough.” Well, exactly how many deaths and how much destruction will it take before it IS enough?

I find it absolutely ironic these musicians are complaining about the west trying to rid Pakistan of the Taliban. The militants are killing Pakistanis every single day, these militants wouldn’t even support the right to music, and yet…and yet we have people in positions of influence being grossly irresponsible and pathetic.

I am at a loss to understand this. I cannot comprehend the thought process it must take to blame the United States, India and Israel for the violence that paralyzes the nation. Bombings at mosques, like the one that killed Abbas, explosions at schools and markets, suicide bombings at aid organizations…how can this all be blamed on others?

What is more disturbing is how their opinions have gained traction amongst the youth.

In his last blog, which can be found here:http://blog.dawn.com/2009/11/12/a-nation-of-sleepwalkers, Nadeem Paracha implores Pakistanis to gather their wits about them. Regarding the bombings at International Islamic University in Islamabad, he writes

Here we have a university that was attacked by a psychotic suicide bomber who slaughtered and injured dozens of students so he could get his share of hooris in Paradise. The attack was then proudly owned by the Tekrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. And in its wake, we saw enraged students protesting against the Kerry-Lugar act? What a response!
What did the Kerry-Lugar act have to do with the suicide attack? Wasn’t this remarkably idiotic ‘protest rally’ by the students actually an insult to those who were so mercilessly slaughtered by holy barbarians?

He highlights the Pakistani media’s love of the conspiracy-minded mentality, and cites an incident after a suicide attack in Peshawar:

One shop-owner who said he lost more than millions of rupees worth of goods in the blast was slightly taken aback when the anchor asked him who he thought was behind the bomb attack. For a few seconds he looked curiously at the anchor’s face, as if wondering why would a major TV news channel be asking a question whose answer was so obvious. ‘What do you mean, who was responsible?’ he asked. ‘The Taliban, of course!’

In a time where Islamic clergy are taking a stand against the Taliban and suicide bombings (and often being killed for their bravery), it is a downright shame the leading musicians choose to spread an ignorant message of blame and denial.