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So I wrote a short piece about my visit to the Liberation War Museum for Express Tribune:

As a Pakistani schooled in a sanitised version of history, the museum makes one cringe with revulsion. Skulls and bones recovered from a killing field in Mirpur, Dhaka, stare at you from a glass cupboard. A black and white image shows vultures picking at the bodies of those left for dead. In another image, a snake is stretched out on the back of a dead body — an unknown victim of the cyclone that battered East Pakistan in 1970, and led to increased feelings of alienation amongst East Pakistanis with the slow aid response from West Pakistan. Lewd sketches of women are among the graffiti found in a Pakistan Army camp.

My tour guide turns to me, “You tell me, how can we forgive or forget this?”

You can read the entire article here. But I also recommend that you read the comment section. And after you’re done banging your head against the wall at the state of some Pakistanis’ perception of history and the extent of denial, please take a look at some of these photographs:

Sigh.

And bones.

The cyclone.

You can see the rest of the pictures from the museum here.

In retrospect, I’m not surprised that some people do think that the fall of Dhaka was due to an “Indian” or “international” conspiracy – after all, this is what they’re learning in their textbooks. But one would think – and this is very important – that if one has access to the internet and can spend their time leaving comments on say, Express Tribune’s website, surely they’d have time to, I don’t know, Google Bangladesh? Maybe read a bit of alternative history as opposed to the one they’ve been subjected to? Or is that asking too much?

Didn’t manage to see the first episode of the new Dawn News show Siyasi Kaliyan featuring Uncle Sargam and co, but this clip of Uncle Sargam dancing outside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad [at 1:08] has just helped end this week on a great note. Priceless.

As a child, Uncle Sargam was a must see in our house. One of my favourite episodes (sadly, can’t find a link) has to be Uncle Sargam interviewing Farooq Qaiser. Then there was Uncle Sargam’s sidekick Massi Musibatain, who’s characteristics often reminded me of most of my aunts. The show also started a trend that later caught on and has now become viral: dubbing clips from Hollywood movies in Punjabi in the segment Hashar Nashar.

I’d write a longer post, but I keep getting distracted by the clip of him dancing. Uncle Sargam, I love you.

Recommended blog post: All Things Pakistan: Farooq Qaisar, Uncle Sargam, PTV and Putli Tamashas

While much has been written about the decision of the Lahore High Court to ban Facebook, and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s subsequent move to block YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia and other websites, I have a few questions for the PTA:

1. Why can’t the PTA block specific URLs? They certainly were quick enough in removing the videos of President Zardari saying shut up and the video of a Pakistani Army representative beating a man mercilessly in Swat. Can’t they simply block every URL that leads to a video that features the cartoons?

2. Cartoons. Yes, they’re apparently a big threat to Muslims. I’m assuming that’s the rationale here that PTA is working on. So tell me, are cartoons a bigger threat than the video of Masood Azhar exhorting Muslims to go for jihad? Or the dozens of other videos on YouTube that feature members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan inciting viewers to wage war against the Pakistan Army, which, if I’m not mistaken, amounts to treason?

3. And the fine folks at the PTA must answer this: they couldn’t block Maulana Fazlullah’s radio channel, but it took them less than an hour to block every website that they could think of. Is that how capable you are? Wah PTA. Your incompetence takes my breath away.

I just called up the PTA helpline at 0800-55055. After asking the representative why they couldn’t block specific URLs, his explanation was that the videos were being uploaded on YouTube from outside Pakistan in large numbers. When asked why they were so quick to block dozens of videos of Zardari saying shut up, he had no answer. Also, when I did ask him about Maulana Fazlullah’s radio station not being blocked by PTA, he asked me not to confuse the issue. And hung up on me. No PTA, this is not about confusing issues: this is you being an incompetent organization that is stuck on the miniscule picture here and imposing blanket censorship that reeks of Zia’s era. Shabash.

Was skimming thru the late Zamir Niazi’s book The Web of Censorship and came across this wonderful paragraph on Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani:

Haqqani is a man of many roles. The former Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent was the media adviser to Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif when Benazir Bhutto was at the centre. He switched to serve caretaker Prime Minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi in 1990, and then switched back again to serve Nawaz Sharif when he was elected Prime Minister. In 1992, he was sent to Sri Lanka as Pakistan’s High Commissioner. On the eve of Nawaz Sharif’s dismissal on 18 April 1993, he jumped the sinking ship and joined President Ishaq Khan’s bandwagon. Immediately, he was rewarded by being made a special assistant to the caretaker Prime Minister Mir Balakh Sher Mazari with the rank of Minister of State. Asked by the BBC if he now deserved a mention in the Guiness Book of Records for switching loyalties so often, his reply was classic: ‘I was always with the President’.

Not much has changed, eh?

Also read: Ayesha Siddiqa’s blog post on Husain Haqqani here.

In 2007, 13-year-old Kainat Soomro, a girl from Dadu, alleged that she had been kidnapped and gang raped by four men in Dadu, Sindh. One of the accused however said that he and Kainat had gotten married of their own choice in 2007, and her father was a greedy man who wanted to use his daughter so that the accused would pay Soomro’s family money. Fast forward the years, and a long trial, and on Thursday, the City Court acquitted the four accused in the case. While one can write numerous essays on why it took three years for a verdict to be passed, a fellow journalist remarked before the verdict, a sentiment also echoed by others who attended the hearing: “The case is fake. Her father wanted her to become the next Mukhtaran Mai.”

While the case may have very well been an allegation by a father, the fact that people think Mukhtaran Mai is a status symbol of sorts to be looked up to is rather shocking, to say the least. Firstly, if Kainat’s father wanted her to be the next Mukhtaran Mai, so that Kainat would also get famous and in the process earn money, and hence fabricated the allegations, he is guilty of using his daughter as a pawn to get fame and money. On the other hand, what kind of sick, depraved person would want to parade their daughter around as a rape victim?

Now, mind-boggling quotes from the judgement, as reported by Dawn:

“It appeared from the testimony of the victim that she was gang-raped by the accused persons at the shop, but in the same breath she deposed that at the time she was unconscious, the judge said. “I am unable to swallow the factum of gang-rape in unconscious condition. The doctor could not find any mark of violence on the soul of prosecutrix. No medical evidence is available on record which transpires that the prosecutrix subjected to zina-bil-jabar”

In Pakistan, medico-legal officers have already come under much scrutiny for not carrying out proper investigations of rape victims. Secondly, due to lack of awareness, pressure from the family, and other factors, women do not preserve evidence, take a shower, and do not visit the hospital for an exam within 24 hours of the rape having taken place.

““In Sharia, puberty is sufficient for consummation of a marriage. I, therefore, found no hesitation to hold that in presence of a Nikkah, the offence of zina for accused Ahsan is also engulfed under the thick cloud of doubt and the prosecution did not bother to take pain in removing these doubts,” it concluded.”

Now, even if there is a nikah (marriage certificate) present between Ahsan (the accused) and Kainat (the victim), if Kainat was raped, whether she was married or not is inconsequential. Rape = Rape. Whether its premarital rape or marital rape, it doesn’t take away from the horror of being forced to have sex. Secondly, according to the law, the legal age at which a girl can be married is 16. Kainat was only 13 if she did get married to Ahsan in 2007.

Last, but not the least: Kainat’s case went on for three years. Regardless of whether she was raped or not, three years is a very long time. While courts remained close to non-functional till mid-2009 due to the judicial crisis, it has now been almost a year since the Chief Justice of Pakistan was reinstated. Can the powers that be please focus on ensuring at least one fundamental right: access to justice?

Am going to kill two birds with one stone (aik teer se dau shikaar), and just post the link for my piece in Outlook India on the River Indus. Yes, because I think self-promotion is sometimes necessary and also because I am too lazy to write another blog post.

“Historical accounts often describe the Indus as ‘mighty’. And mighty it has mostly been, defeating Alexander the Great and his rampaging army and spawning the ancient civilisations of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. The British successfully tamed the Indus, building the world’s largest canal-based irrigation system and providing succour to millions.

But the once-mighty Indus is now shrinking rapidly, courtesy climate change, bad irrigation practices and an exponential increase in population. In addition, Islamabad accuses India of curtailing the flow of rivers into Pakistan. Whatever the cause, the sight of the river today wrenches you, as my two friends and I experienced on our road-trip cutting through a wide swathe of Sindh and Punjab. On our first stop at Sehwan, Sindh, where the Sufi saint Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is buried, we climbed a hillock. Down there was the Indus, an apology for the river of our memory, a thin strip of water snaking across the dark brown landscape, the riverbed shallow and muddy. Amidst sighs of disbelief, a glance at the map confirmed to us: yes, it was indeed the Indus.”

You can read the entire article here.

Circles.

In the spring of Taliban violence, three women decided to rediscover Pakistan and what their country meant to them.

Sorry, couldn’t resist the cliched opening.

Three weeks ago, two friends and I set off for interior Sindh, our first stop of a weeklong tour of Sindh and Punjab. Now, if you followed me and my friend Rahma on Twitter, you’d know by know where we went and what we saw, so I’ll spare you the typical travelogue and just point you in the direction of my Flickr account for pictures.

The points I do want to make are several observations we made during the trip. Firstly, Larkana, despite being the seat of power for the Bhuttos, and even now one can see dusty old plaques with Benazir and Nusrat Bhutto’s names, inaugurating some hospital or the other, is one of the poorest we visited, with little infrastructure. It was actually a bit of a shock, driving down from Khairpur (which is now one of my favourite cities in Pakistan) and entering Larkana. Khairpur, an old princely state previously run by the Mirs of Talpurs has well-maintained roads, hospitals, schools, a thriving market and even a community center established inside a 200-year-old building run by the wonderful people at Indus Resource Center.

Larkana, on the other hand, has a huge drain running through the city, where buffaloes take a bath and beggars pee simultaneously. The sheer scale of poverty that we saw in Larkana was not mirrored in any of the other cities we visited in Sindh, which include Khairpur and Sukkur. The road that leads to Moenjodaro from Larkana may have given me irreversible spinal cord damage I fear, because we were driving on what looked like (and felt like) miles of rocks. It was as if development had purposely been stopped here, in order to keep the citizens deprived of basic facilities, like education and better healthcare and instead feed them on a steady diet of political slogans. My word of advice to the Bhutto clan, if they could spare some time from attending Sundance and writing books, perhaps they could at least develop the infrastructure and provide the basic necessities of life for the constituency they all claim to represent. And while I’m futilely making wishes, maybe someone could implement land reforms in Sindh?

Secondly, when one does compare former princely states like Khairpur and Bahawalpur (which I’ll post about later) with other cities in both provinces, it’s fairly obvious that the nawabs developed their places of residence far more than political leaders. Perhaps it’s because the nawabs liked where they lived (and Swiss bank accounts weren’t all the rage back then) and they made an effort to establish a semblance of infrastructure in the cities. In comparison to the politicians that ruled over the areas later, the nawabs seemed to be far better. However, it was quite shocking to learn that Khairpur is home to a huge Sipah e Sahaba complex, where SSP leader Allama Sher Hyderi was killed last year, that works openly in the area, one saw SSP flags and graffiti in the city at certain points. Surely, the administration isn’t unaware of the fact that the SSP is a banned organization.

Then there was the tragedy that was Garhi Khuda Buksh. While one may not agree with the Bhutto family’s policies and statements, one is still saddened by their deaths – no one deserves to die in the ways that they did – one at the noose, one poisoned, one shot, one whose cause of death is still unclear (lever or gunshot, will we ever know?). But what truly was tragic was the tomb at Garhi Khuda Buksh, which stood out for miles like an eyesore. While tons of money has been spent making it look like a drag queen version of the Taj Mahal (I say, who uses white marble when you have wonderful examples of Sindhi tiles used in shrines and tombs all over the province?!), it was the interior that left a permanently bad taste in one’s mouth. An obscure member of the PPP US branch had sponsored various panaflex banners (yes, I’m not joking) with his face and message on the death of Benazir Bhutto. Billboards outside the tomb professed love for Bilawal Bhutto via their organization, the oddly titled Bilawal Bhutto Lovers Organization, while another said USA was the reason behind their death. Murtaza and Shahnawaz’s tombs were crooked. I kid you not; the boundaries raised for their grave were actually askew and made out of bricks. One understands and agrees that graves are just a marker and its dust to dust, etc, etc, but if you’re going to have them buried in a tomb, at least give them a fitting grave. And then there was the morbid caretaker, who probably sees dead PPP politicians everywhere.

Me: “Whose grave is that?”

Caretaker: “Sherry Rehman.”

Me: “WHAT?”

Caretaker: “Oh, I mean Shireen Bhutto, Zulfiqar’s first wife.”

Fourth, Sindh is truly underrated as a province. One has to experience first hand the desolation of the Khudabad Jamia Mosque in Dadu, the architecture of Moenjodaro, the serenity of Sufi poet Sachal Sarmast’s shrine, and see the sun setting amidst the date tree plantations in Khairpur to understand how beautiful Sindh is. While i wouldn’t recommend going there in the scorching summer heat, January-March as a great time to visit the province.

And last, but not the least, if you’ve been happy for a long time, go take a look at the River Indus in Sindh, or what little is left of it and welcome a state of depression unlike none other. You’ll never waste water again.

To be continued.

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