Shredded - 1

Its only when you fly across India to get to Bangladesh [formerly East Pakistan], that you realize how cruelly the lines that partitioned the Subcontinent had been drawn. Who, in their right mind, would believe that a country could be governed when it was split apart – or as Rushdie describes it, a moth-eaten country.

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Hello Bangladesh.

The tigers!

Dishoom!

If there is one thing that has left me with an overwhelming sense of envy, it is the patriotism of the Bangladeshi people. I consider myself a patriotic Pakistani, and wouldn’t give up my green passport for the world, but the sense of pride here is something one must experience first hand. Arriving in Dhaka as the Cricket World Cup kicked off in the capital, you can feel how the people here are immensely proud of who they are and what their nation stands for, and this is fuelled further by being hosts of the CWC. Even though Dhaka is by far one of the most tourist-unfriendly metropolitans one has ever visited (the people are wonderful and helpful though); there are no signs in English, for example – and if you don’t understand Bengali, you might as well end up in another part of town [as I did, trying to get to the Liberation War Museum and ending up at the National Museum in another part of town]. One ends up feeling like a character from Scoop, “Anyone here speak English and knows a Prisoner of War?”

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In Dhaka, there is no avoiding the past. Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman’s posters line the streets, and on walls, there are graphic representations of a member of the Pakistan Army snatching the dupatta of a Bengali girl. By the end of the visit, I had told so many people I was from India to avoid getting into a 1971 conversation, that the waiter at the hotel’s restaurant kept consoling me when Bangladesh’s batsmen hit fours and sixers against India in the first Cricket World Cup match.

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The tiger.

As one travels around Dhaka, which really is quite a beautiful city, one feels a sense of irrevocable loss – we lost a beautiful city, and a wonderful nation with such rich culture and diversity, and we’ve left millions of people with a deep-rooted hatred for what happened to them at the hands of those wearing Pakistan Army uniforms – and for what?

I have never wanted to apologize so badly for something I wasn’t even responsible for.

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You can see the rest of the pictures from Dhaka here

Eight days ago, Salmaan Taseer was shot dead.

Eight days later, Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin, is being hailed as a hero and speeches lauding Qadri are being publicly made. Threats are hurled at anyone who condemns the blasphemy laws. Sections of the Urdu press find ways to explain how Taseer brought this upon himself. The Pakistan People’s Party co-chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari may have condemned the public wave of support for Qadri, but it does not change anything. The Prime Minister has announced that the blasphemy laws will not be changed. And Aasia Bibi, the woman who’s languishing in jail? She’s still there, waiting for her appeal proceedings, while back in her village, her neighbours question, “Why hasn’t she been killed yet?”

Then, this pops up in the old city of Lahore (via @Mahraani):

Translation: We salute Mumtaz Qadri, the lover of the Prophet.

There is no escaping this fact: this is the country that we live in. As Feisal Naqvi put it in his op-ed yesterday:

“I do not want to live in a country where people can be executed for blasphemy. But I only get to choose my opinions. I do not get to choose my own facts. And the fact is that the people of Pakistan really want to execute people who they think have committed blasphemy. I can either accept that fact or I can seek to change it. But to act as if that fact does not exist is not sensible.”

As a Pakistani, I’ve never felt so defeated in my life. I really did believe in the resilience of this nation, how we got up, picked up the pieces and moved on. I thought I’d heard of and seen enough terrible things in the country, but I wake up every morning now, read the news, and lose my appetite. I don’t want to leave, but I do want to hide under the duvet and hope that when I finally resurface, it will somehow be a better morning. For now, as Faiz Ahmed Faiz put it, “yeh dagh dagh ujala, yeh shab-gazida sehar/woh intezar tha jis ka, yeh woh sehar tau nahi.”

This is Pakistan, reporting from the abyss it has just been pushed into.

Taseer’s assassination; even though assassination is too mild a word to describe it, the correct term should be cold-blooded murder at the hands of a Pakistani who has grown up and is continuously spoon-fed state and the right-wing religious lobby’s propaganda about Islam, blasphemy and secularism, is not the beginning of the end. This is the end. There is no going back from here, there is no miracle cure, there is no magic wand that will one day make everything better. Saying “enough is enough” does not cut it anymore, I think we can all agree that enough was enough ages ago, when the first murder under the garb of protecting Islam took place. With each bullet that deranged gunman pumped into Taseer’s body, with each person celebrating Taseer’s murder, with each person who has approved or justified his death on national TV, with each politician who promised that they would not change the law or allow it to be changed, the rape of humanity has been carried out, repeatedly.

Let me reiterate this: the Blasphemy Laws, in the form and shape that they are in today, are used as a tool for murder. For over 20 years, this law has led to the deaths of scores of people. Thousands have been persecuted under this law. Saying that does not make you any less of a Muslim, nor does it mean that you are insulting Islam.

But of course, as Ahsan at Five Rupees just pointed out : “Plenty of media personnel and right-wing politicians in this country contributed to this with their constant “wajib-ul-qatl” refrain, not to mention equating support for blasphemy laws to support for Islam. All of them could technically be dealt with as inciters to violence (illegal in our country, and basically every other one out there) but they won’t. You get to say and do whatever you want, act with as much impunity as you want — as long as you have God on your side.”

I’ll add to this – with every PPP politician who placated the religious right-wing and their former ally JUI-F that the Blasphemy Laws would not be amended: you have Taseer’s blood on your hands. Live with that.

I’d like to believe that Taseer’s death wasn’t in vain, that one day we will live in a country free of religious bigotry and incitement to murder, Blasphemy Laws and a right-wing that we’re held hostage to, but at this point, I think there’s a pool of blood at Kohsar Market that resembles the fate of those who would like to cherish this hope.

RIP Governor.

I haven’t blogged in a while and will get around to it soon, but in the meantime, here’s an extract from A.L. Kennedy’s short story What Becomes:

No one ever helps. I just stay at home and the light bulbs die and the ceilings crack and everything electrical is not exactly as it should be – there are many faults – and I call the helplines and they don’t, I call all kinds of people and they don’t help, I spend hours on the phone and I get no answers that have any meaning, I get no sense – there are constantly these things going wrong, incessantly, every day, and I want to stop them and I could stop them but no one helps and I cant manage on my own.

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The jharoka.

hai.

It is, I suppose, a matter of over stretching the truth that I call myself a Punjabi (cynics, spare me the “we are all Pakistanis first, I KNOW that and consider myself a Pakistani first too). I’ve barely lived here, and my Punjabiness only comes out when faced with a “How many lassis can you drink in a row” competition and speaking rudimentary Punjabi without faltering when faced with anyone who refuses to speak Urdu. Also, I can’t remember for the life of me what khabbay and sajjay means.

But that doesn’t explain the goofy grin on my face that lasted for four hours [trust me, I looked at myself in the mirror and I looked like a moron but I couldn’t stop smiling] when I was on the bus from Islamabad to Lahore. Being back at home, where malai toast and aloo ka parathas taste sublime, where the paranoia in the air and the sight of the numerous policemen patrolling the streets is offset by the simple pleasure of sitting on a verandah and looking at an ancient tree. A dog allows you to nuzzle his ears, and commuting in the city means you get to pass through tree lined streets and ancient lanes. Pigeons take a dip in the pool in an ancient mosque, and refuse to acknowledge your presence. Names of areas that sound like they came out of a novel; “Baghbanpura, Mughalpura, Infantry Road,” and the generosity of your friends and family.

Then there is the calm, which belies the tension in this country. At the shrines of the Sufi saints, some of which I visited in the past two weeks, there is a sense of serenity and faith, that come what may, there will always be someplace that you can call home, someone you can turn to. Whether this faith is misplaced or not is a conclusion that I’m equipped to make. But it is this that makes the bombing of Baba Farid’s shrine yesterday all the more tragic, because if they take away the spiritual crutches, then many in this country have nothing else to turn to.

Anyway, this post is now bordering on the sappy. In conclusion, all I have to say is this: it’s good to stop running, and just breathe and revel in the simple pleasure of calling a place home.

[P.S: A special shout out to my hosts in Islamabad. You know who you are, and Islamabad would not mean anything to me without you guys.]

[P.P.S: Pictures from the Lahore trip can be seen here and from Bulleh Shah’s shrine here]

Help! I saw Maula Jutt, and now I’m a bloodthirsty monster, waiting for a member of a minority religion in Pakistan so I can kill them, Sialkot mob-style.

Or at least, that’s what George Fulton thinks all Pakistanis do.

George Fulton: Don’t act surprised

“Oh, the shock! Oh, the disgust! Oh, the outrage over the barbaric killings in Sialkot! The media, the blogosphere, facebookers have been going into hyperactive overdrive to out condemn one another over the senseless killings of the two teenage boys.”

Yes, sarcasm really does help in this case. How DARE the Pakistani media and public express their anger. And on Facebook too?! Seriously, I’ve left Facebook, so someone tell me, when did it change from its customary role to being a place to cyberstalk your ex-es and their new partners to a place to express an opinion? Mr. Fulton is not happy, please Facebookers, go back to changing your status twenty times a day so that we know what you’re doing, NOT what you’re feeling.

Some have frothed with self-righteous anger, some have put the blame on poverty and illiteracy (a self-serving defence that ignores the violent solutions advocated in many a swanky drawing room discussion), some on the breakdown of the social contract between the state and the individual.

Self-righteous anger. Again, Mr. Fulton does not like anger. Please Pakistanis, go back to your false sense of calm.

Poverty and illiteracy. Oh, so those can’t be some of the reasons? Wait, it was Darth Vader that brainwashed the culprits of the Sialkot murders right? RIGHT?

What violent solutions? I’m confused, the writer doesn’t mention them. Also, Mr. Fulton, as Baba Bulleh Shah rightly suggested on Twitter, “Jay thainu “drawing room” nahin pasand, tu baar baar kyoon varda rainda hai?”

But all seem shocked by the barbarity on display. But why are we surprised? Why the denial? Hasn’t it always been thus?

This is precisely where Mr. Fulton made his Serious Mistake#1. Dear op-ed columnist, Just because you are surprised, please don’t lump the 170 million people that live in this country in that same lot of “surprised” people. And no, it wasn’t always this way, or at least I am grossly unaware of daily lynchings amongst crowds of people that have taken place in Pakistan since 1947.

We are, and have always been, a barbaric, degenerate nation revelling in bloodlust.

This is where my brain exploded. Yes, there are massive problems in this country, which include horrific crimes, even barbaric. But to again lump the entire country in your “we” – I say, let’s book us all under murder charges, and give us the death penalty, including you Mr. Fulton. And pray tell, when has the ENTIRE nation revelled in bloodlust? I want all 170 million Pakistanis accounted for, raising their hands in a “hell ya” when revelling in bloodlust. Video evidence will suffice.

Our nation was forged during a bloody partition — in which up to one million people were massacred. One just has to read eyewitness accounts of the riots, the train butchery, the brutal rapes and slaughter of that period to get a feel of the heady, almost orgasmic, delight that the perpetrators of these crimes revelled in as the nation was born.

Yes, Partition was bloody. But that one million figure includes people from both sides of the border. Also, were the perpetrators all Pakistani? Good grief, why have numerous books I’ve read on Partition failed to mention this fact!? Mr. Fulton, thank you for letting me know. Now I’ll never look at my grandmother the same way again.

The lynching itself is nothing new. Read any report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and you will see that this is a fairly regular occurrence. Christians, Hindus, homosexuals, suspected paedophiles and robbers have been killed at the hands of mob justice.

Yes, these incidents have taken place. And the police has also stood by and let it happen in some cases. Nice how you would rather blame Pakistanis for it than mention the state’s failure in protecting the citizens. But wait, according to Mr. Fulton, ALL Pakistanis have been killing people since Partition. Chalein jee, back to the start.

And what about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir? Were they not just killed by a more sophisticated form of mob justice?

These two questions are so absurd I think I’m going to pass on trying to attempt to answer this.

Our culture celebrates barbarity and vengeance.

Mr. Fulton, I don’t know what your understanding of culture is. To me, its Sufism, qawwalis, the resilience of Pakistanis, Basant and a plate of nihari. I do get pretty vengeful when someone eats the leftover nihari though, so maybe that’s what you were referring to.

But wait, Mr. Fulton has an explanation! The day has been saved. Behold!

Is the Sialkot killing that shocking when you consider the macho culture of the Punjab? Maula Jatt, Punjab cinema’s most famous film, is a three-hour advertorial for vigilante justice. The film celebrates revenge, honour killing and violence. It is entertainment for severely warped minds. One scene has our hero, Maula Jatt, axing off a leg and an arm and then catching the severed limb as it flew through the air in his bare hands! Another has Maula’s axe ripping open a man’s guts to have the intestines fly out spectacularly. This is what passes for entertainment in our land. So don’t act surprised when the red mist from a teenage boy’s head appears on your TV screens.

So Maula Jutt is responsible for the Sialkot murders. Why stop there Mr. Fulton – why can’t Maula Jutt be responsible for everything evil and sinister in this country? In fact, I’m convinced that in Taliban training camps, they show the film on a 24/7 loop to brainwash prospective suicide bombers. Similarly, I’m sure Silsila is responsible for the high rate of divorces in India, and all Hollywood films with scenes of violence are responsible for all criminal activities that take place in the US. Wait, did you hear this explanation in a swanky drawing room? Good lord, have the elites seen Maula Jutt?! What is the world coming to?!

Barbarity and sadism are ever present in our society. We are a nation where politicians like Senator Sardar Israrullah Zehri can openly condone the burying of women alive by declaring it part of his culture.

Sardar Israrullah Zehri’s statement has been torn apart to pieces by people from all over the country. Its the PPP’s fault for not having kicked him out of the party, not “the nation’s”. I think the nation did enough to protest against Zehri’s barbarism in their limited capacity.

Our religious discourse often celebrates the brutality and violence of medieval Arabia. We are a nation that laps up the bile of ‘Dr’ Aamir Liaquat as he describes Ahmadis as wajab-ul-qatal (punishable by death). And we are a nation which collectively stands watching — like the mob in Sialkot — as those very same Ahmadis are massacred by gunmen.

Yes, many members of the nation are anti-Ahmadi. This has a fair amount to do with how politicians and the religious parties have spewed anti-Ahmadi venom over the years, changed educational curriculum to reflect their hatred and have implemented legislation that has made anti-Ahmadi steps a permanent part of the law. You cannot reverse years of brainwashing in a day. But I’ll give you this: our failing is not that we stood by and watched it happen, our failing is that we haven’t campaigned strongly enough against it, or that those of us who do vote, have voted in the same leaders who haven’t changed anti-ahmadi laws. But Mr. Fulton, many of us are trying, and “we” are not amused at you grouping us amongst people who are committed to a life of persecuting members of other sects of religions. By this definition, we should also label all of the United States as anti-Muslim because a few are against the Ground Zero mosque.

A friend of a friend recently announced that he would be off to Sialkot with a bunch of tough friends to avenge the murder of the boys, unaware of the irony of what he was suggesting. He was planning to commit murder and administer vigilante justice to the very same people who had committed murder and administered their form of vigilante justice. And so the cycle goes on.

May I suggest you get some new friends of friends?

So don’t act surprised. The Sialkot murders are as Pakistani as truck art, biryani and loadshedding.

I say, when did Mr. Fulton become an expert on all things Pakistani? Oh wait, eight years or so of living here and being in a reality TV show, working as a talk show host and writing columns like the one cited here are good enough I suppose, one can become a self-proclaimed expert on culture, Maula Jutt and Pakistanis revelling in bloodletting. And loadshedding is not a “Pakistani” phenomenon, other developing countries do have electricity breakdowns.

This has always been an ugly reality of Pakistan and always will be.

Well, since you’ve by now labelled all Pakistanis as Maula Jutt-inspired murderers, there’s really nothing left to say.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a misnomer.

Y’know, that’s possibly the only true thing you’ve said. Just that.

Pakistan has never been a pure, peaceful Islamic state. And it never will be. Rather than drawing inspiration from the Holy Quran, our nation models itself on another book — a book in which children become savages. Pakistan is not the land of the pure — we are Lord of the Flies.

And Mr. Fulton saves the best of his racism for the end. Pakistan is a country of savages. For example, Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi, Dr. Adeeb Rizvi, etc – their philanthropic work is clearly a front for their “savage” activities. It was wonderful, really, to discover that you think that all Pakistanis are savages.

And here’s your moment of Zen. Please watch from 1:50

I have had my heart broken, day by day, over the last few weeks as floods have ravaged Pakistan. Most of the places I have had the privilege to visit over the last few years are now under water, or have suffered severe losses, both of life and livelihood. Dera Allah Yar, South Punjab, the KKH – these are not just dots on the map for me (covered now in shades of blue if one looks at the satellite images) – and nothing will ever be the same again. For more information on how to donate, please head over to Chapati Mystery or Changing Up Pakistan.

But the heartbreak is nothing compared to the rage and disgust I felt this morning, when I read this report in the Express Tribune:

“The government and local clerics refused to shelter around 500 flood-affected families belonging to the Ahmadiya community in South Punjab’s relief camps. Not only that, the government also did not send relief goods to the flood-hit areas belonging to the Ahmadiya community, The Express Tribune has learnt during a visit to the devastated Punjab districts of Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur.”

If it’s not bad enough that the government’s response for providing relief to the flood victims has been anything but remarkable, the President thought a trip to his chateau was more important as the floods hit the country or that fake IDP camps are being set up for the benefit of duping the Prime Minister and the media, let’s throw in some more state-sponsored religious persecution. Sigh – I would write more, but am at a loss for words as I decide whether to scream with rage or cry in frustration.