Remembering Benazir Bhutto… A Dark Night Ten Years Ago

Source: AP Photo/B.K.Bangash

Being just a mile away from that fateful occurrence… I recall that night ten years ago.

I recall the 27th of December, the darkest of nights…

It struck our hearts like thunder.

She was meant to shine like the sun that day.

But went down to leave a dark void forever.

Who cares what day it was? Who cares where you were?

You knew that there was rioting on the streets and that you somehow had to save yourself from it…

That you had to save your car or bike from burning… (Not that I had one, or will ever have one in a decade…)

But our minds were too numb to think about that.

The nations’ mind was too numb to think about that.

Somebody else was doing the rioting and the looting.

Our country was burned and looted the moment we saw her fall.

It felt as if something was lost… Something precious… Something that would never to return to us…

It felt as if someone was lost.

Someone you wished you had met just once…

Someone you wished you had known only for a while…

Life is not fair… Did not even let us the chance to hear her again…

To see her again…

To meet her…

Even when we were in the same town as she was… The same street virtually, before they pulled the trigger…

Before that bomb went off…

With it died so much more than her…

With it died our hopes and dreams…

Everything, we believed in. And it wasn’t much to begin with..

 

Not that we knew this when we were younger, stupider, naïver…

But now we know that we may never have the likes of her again in our lives…

We may never ever see what leadership like that means with this nation ever, ever again…

This meant that we may never hear from her again ever, ever again…

The End.

 

Thank you for choosing us to lead.

We may not have been strong enough to save you, or value your leadership.

But let us hope that we are able to honor you in your death.

Let us hope we have this much of human decency left…

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My Pakistani Person of the Year 2017: The Missing Blogger

Source: Beena Sarwar

Ahmed Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Salman Haider and the original Bhensa, with all of them largely unrelated but contributing in their own right to the cause of free speech, other than many more bloggers that have been abducted by the Pakistani deep state have made an impact on the society never seen before in the country.

This is the effect of the age of social media.

The year 2017 revealed the ugly, draconian face of the government and the state of Pakistan to its relatively insulated urban population like never before. I came to know first about the urgency of the issue when American scholar Christine Fair tweeted about the safety of Bhensa, a satirical antithetical blogger known for his scathing criticism of Islam in particular, and who obviously got harassed by patriotic bloggers in return.

Pakistan has always been an undemocratic and authoritarian country in its true essence. Meet its figures in the government, even including many in elected office, and their view on state affairs and the people of Pakistan are bound to disappoint the democrat.However, the abduction of the dissident bloggers finally truly revealed the state of democracy and freedom of speech in Pakistan to the entire world, with the most prominent news media around the globe covering the news from the New York Times to the Daily Telegraph.

The civil protest against the abduction of the bloggers still was not quite near as strong as it should have been but it did attract attention around the world. One nightmare that the Pakistani military establishment is not used to is the urban civilian educated population protesting against it.

The way the Pakistani deep state entities have approached the dissenting bloggers really reveal the thought process behind repressing political dissidents in the country. Things were going all smooth with the detention and extrajudicial killings of the Baloch resistance at home but considering the local backlash and the critical coverage in the international media about the blogger issue, perhaps this is the reason why all three of the most prominent bloggers were returned home unlike people finding their roadside corpse as previously found in the case of journalists like Saleem Shahzad.

The page Bhensa reappeared as well. However, there are still question marks behind the true identity of Bhensa thought to be Ahmed Raza Naseer of Nankana Sahib, another one of detained and acquitted bloggers, but one way or the other, the page has arguably never been restored to its original expression since the abduction. On facebook, the Bhensa ID is used to actually run an anti-liberal page.

All the returned bloggers said that they were tortured in their own way. Some like Netherlands based Goraya, perhaps the most defiant of them all, were more vocal and more explicit about what happened to them. He also directly accused the Pakistani military while speaking in the a side event of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Others like Salman Haider were far subtler, being a gentle, poetic soul caught up in the storm.

A national campaign of disinformation was launched by the trolls and journalists on the dark side to accuse the detained bloggers of blasphemy. Prominent news anchors and social conservative anchors, some of which are often the usual suspects for any cause backed by the deep state, were in the forefront to build up public anger and hate against the liberal bloggers.

Something which the state apparatus strongly backs to this day as new ways of legitimizing the hunt to crack down on free speech are being put into effect. Blogger Taimur Raza became the first to be sentenced to death for blasphemy on social media by a “counter-terrorism court.” What a joke! Another Ayaz Nizami is under detention for the same accusations. Back in August, even Punhal Sario, a Sindhi activist campaigning for the return of missing activists is thought to go missing himself. Most recently, peace activist Raza Khan has gone missing with no resolution to his case to this last day of 2017.

But it was not revealed who the great souls of justice were who were dispensing justice to the blaspheming bloggers. Only recently have the bloggers been acquitted by the courts of any such allegations due to the complete lack of evidence. Which begs the question why the dangerous tradition of blasphemy hunting goes unpunished and without reprimand in Pakistan. And like always, you could count on the disgusting goons of Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah to harass and pelt stones at the activists supporting the bloggers.

However, I do not consider this verdict as a moment to celebrate as such since the legitimacy of these courts has already been tarnished for standing behind the draconian blasphemy law and announcing death sentences to freethinking citizens who committed no offense to humanity.

Despite the efforts of cover up by mainstream media in Pakistan, which is in the complete clutches of the military establishment, and despite other distractions on the political front, the impact the missing blogger has made on the civil society has proved to be the most moving. This issue has raised questions about the conscience of the society claiming to protect free speech and democracy.

They have been currently haunting M. Jibran Nasir, arguably the most progressive voice in mainstream politics, and an honorable mention is due for my Pakistani of the year 2014. The notorious TV Channel Bol Network has been in the forefront of targeting Jibran Nasir for raising his voice for the rights of Ahmedi citizens, which in his opinion is due to his opposition to the acquittal of the murder of a Karachi youth named Shahzeb at the hands of the son of a feudal from the Jatoi tribe. Whatever may be Jibran Nasir’s reasons, I don’t think there is anything wrong with talking about changing the Second Amendment, and same goes for Minister Zaid Hamid et al.

In 2017, an elected Prime Minister was disqualified and ejected by the Supreme Court and when a group of Barelvi clerics brought the state down to its knees. But none of that matters and have had an impact on the consciousness of a nation like the missing blogger, perhaps only second to the brutal murder of Mishaal Khan, which arguably was largely ignored anyway.

But these missing bloggers still came from some layers of privilege in the Pakistani society, but as many of them have been pointing out like Sabeen, who is going to care about the struggle of the missing persons in Baluchistan?

Read about my Pakistani person of the year 2017 here.

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2017: Khadim Hussain Rizvi

Now you can’t really say that our Pakistani idiot of the year this time around is really an idiot because he has been grabbing the entire nations by the balls and making them do what he essentially wanted to. Albeit for a limited period of time. He has got hundreds of followers mesmerized by him despite obviously being a foul-mouthed psychopath who wants to see blood on the streets and want everyone killed who does not subscribe to his views about the finality of Prophethood, or even someone who even remotely have sympathy for those who do not.

He is a dangerous idiot because he has endangered the legitimacy of the government and the rule of law in Pakistan. And the state apparatus that has been so tolerant to him and his goons of the Tehreek Labaik Ya-Rasool Allah probably do not realize that he has singlehandedly undermined their authority with seemingly irreparable damage caused by the approval of his unreasonable demands on the alleged attempt to amend the Finality of Prophethood clause. I cannot begin to get into the horrific world of Khadim Hussain Rizvi but in my tradition of celebrating the most hideous instances of idiocy every year, here is a little glimpse of what the not-so-charismatic-and-abusive cleric-politician is capable of.

This is the wildness and viciousness of the religious extremism that shows its face when it cannot express itself in violence.

There have been other quite a few idiotic incidents this year as well and please forgive me for not keeping track of all the nonsense that has been going on through this year, so please free to add something to this list if you want to bother. One of them being the goofball they have hired as the new DG ISPR Gen. Asif Ghafoor claiming to be a “fundamentalist and not an extremist,” apart from a wide array of idiotic political statements. High Court Justice Shaukat Siddiqui for taking unsolicited action against bloggers and suggesting that social media be blocked if blasphemous content is not removed. Aamer Liaquat Hussain for his ridiculous blasphemy witch hunt on BOL TV Network and Orya Maqbool Jan for his declaration of Jihad against secular bloggers.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Jamaat-e-Islami Chief Prof. Ibrahim Khan for taking pride in undoing the secular curriculum in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and his Emir Siraj-ul-Haq offering to bear the expenses of the wife and children of Mumtaz Qadri to honor the “martyr.” Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Minister of Interior Ahsan Iqbal, who is otherwise a sane and supposedly progressive politician, by being the most responsible authority figures under whose eyes the social media and information ban was imposed on November 26. Pervez Musharraf, who has apparently completely gone senile after losing power for praising the banned Lashkar-e-Tayyaba for supposedly supporting him and thinking it is cool to shame his political rivals by insulting women. Right at the beginning of this year, our honorable Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif anti-Semitic rant in reaction to fake news about Israel.  And of course, who could forget the filthy McCarthyist hate speech-laden tirade by Captain Safdar on the floor of the assembly.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi is particularly an idiot to even alienate the most religious of Barelvi Muslims by his unacceptable behavior, for which the devil in me also has admiration for him as he has contaminated the supposed sanctity of religious teachings. But such a useful idiot he was for the state, which let him loose to harass and harness an elected government.

The real idiots should actually be the people of Pakistan, who actually supported his cause one way or the other, but wouldn’t that be every year?

Read about the Pakistani idiot of the last year here.

Art Langar: The Inception of a Ritual Festival

Source: Art Langar

Something extraordinary happened in Islamabad for the last two nights. A quiet city briefly came alive, and even though it has before, never like this. Never in such a grand Sufi manner. All thanks to Islamabad’s very own, and I am proud to call him that, Arieb Azhar.

Arieb Azhar is a very special person. He is sensitive about the society around him, mindful of the injustices, and somehow shockingly focused on positivity and bringing people together. There is enough hate to go around over here anyway, especially after weeks of a hateful sit-in protest by a religious party. Islamabad surely needed a break.

Art Langar, the new ritual festival of the artists of Pakistan, especially with a Sufi, spiritual and humanistic inclination, provided just that. Langar refers to the holy token food offered for free at a Sufi shrine, which primarily serves as enough for the day for the poor of the town. But it is not just reserved for the poor. A Sufi does not see class, caste, creed or color of the skin. The doors are open for everyone. And so were those of Art Langar.

I can’t say if loads of crowd visited the Art Langar but those who did were in for a treat. Art Langar mixes art with music performances, with a section reserved for art installations as well as the main auditorium serving as the venue for the musical performances of the featured stars. And they had quite a lineup.

Art Langar, the idea still being in its infancy is yet to achieve perfection in execution but more importantly, it seeks to initiate the trend of a gift economy in Pakistan, as well as the culture of buying tickets to support art as opposed to freeloading as is the norm.

The performing acts included the Shah Jo Raag Faqeers of Bhittai, Krishan Lal Bheel and his troupe, Mai Nimaani, Qawalistan, Farhad Humayun and the Overload, Khumarian, The Sketches, Akhtar Chanal Zehri, Makrani Lewa dancers, and the Mekaal Hassan Band, apart from Arieb Azhar himself.

But most appropriately, the festival concluded with the Dhamaal at the beat of the dhol of Pappu Saeen of the Shah Jamal Shrine, considering the theme of the festival and the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar chants just about after every act in a very non-religious way.

The purpose behind this festival was much deeper than the lineup of musical acts performing in it but I think we are going to take a few years, if the Art Langar team remains steadfast, to get there. All I hope is for Arieb Azhar to get encouraged enough to continue this journey.

The Most Important Piece of Journalism of the Year

Source: The New York Times

News stories come and go every day but there are defining points which make a mark in history. The news story by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey about the revelations of sexual misconduct and even rape against Harvey Weinstein is probably the most important piece of journalism of the year.

It can be effectively argued that the story has produced conditions that have helped encourage the victims of abuse by powerful men in media to come forward. This was a moral check that was much needed after the Donald Trump tapes and his subsequent rise to the Presidency in spite of it.

Since the Weinstein exposé, more than a dozen prominent personalities from show business have been. Roger Ailes and Bill O’ Reilly went down before that but of course “they were not one of us” and “that’s who they (conservatives) are.” This was different. This time around, it was Dustin Hoffman, James Toback, Louis C.K., George Takei, and Kevin Spacey. And recently and very importantly, it was Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer. Matt Lauer you get, but Charlie fucking Rose?

If things are this worse in the world of liberals, you can imagine how tough it must be for conservatives, who might be more resistant to progressive legislation on harassment as many conservative men. Take President George H. W. Bush as an example, who I am sure slapped women’s butts because that was normal.

Another noticeable but seldom admitted nuance of this development has been the insight it has offered into the psyche of the male gender and perhaps even male sexuality regardless of sexual orientation.

This is not just a Hollywood problem. It is pervasive all over the world. Plainly speaking, we, men, are guilty of abuse and no, we are not likely to learn despite the insincere apologies. This is probably something inherent to male sexuality, and no that is not an excuse but a helpless attempt to understand a potentially criminal behavior.

I get it that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi thinks that the Presidency of Donald Trump helped pave way for this environment instead of Harvey Weinstein but let’s not take credit away from what’s due. This new story has been historic.

Cheers ladies and more power to you.

Yeah, men are pigs.

 

Why Pakistan Should Be On Fire But Isn’t

Source: Times of India

A lot of people have been irked by the not-even-nearly-enough inflammatory rhetoric from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his ouster following a business-as-usual judicial coup. Of course, nobody wants to see anarchy and disorder spread around them. It makes perfect sense.

Now that is particularly true if you live in politically dead cities such as Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and if you don’t find a bone of political activism in you. I sort of include myself in that category but no such excuses will be good enough when people will attribute the absence of political activism and a lack of civil responsibility for a weak democracy in Pakistan.

You could say that the verdict to disqualify the Prime Minister has been a resounding slap on the people of Pakistan. One day you have someone as a Prime Minister and the next day, you don’t and for no apparent good reason at all. Disqualified for life, just like that. There is someone else making that decision for you.

In many ways, the verdict is as outrageous, if not more, than corruption in carrying out the elections. Indeed, such doctoring with the legal term of an elected Prime Minister is a form of electoral corruption in itself.

We seriously need to ask ourselves this question. How do we respond to coups?

What do we do as citizens and soldiers to resist the tyrants taking over a democratically elected administration? What do we do as citizens and soldiers to actively prevent such situations? Why are coups almost always bloodless in Pakistan? Without a single shot being fired? And after all, who will fire that single shot?

Even if we ignore the Judicial ones under the pretense that the honorable Supreme Court carried out a legitimate verdict and that there was nothing political about it, we still have examples of military coups. People old enough still recall how smooth the 1999 military takeover was. Only the Prime Minister happened to get arrested.

Why is that we in Pakistan can only be amazed by the Turkish people who came together to save the government of an elected leader who is bitterly divisive? Why is it that we in Pakistan put our partisan affiliations above the office of the elected leader of the nation?

We probably would be a little more chaotic than the calm we prefer in our resistance to the bureaucratic tyranny in Pakistan if we were more committed to the constitution. Perhaps the fault lies in our political class for not being able to make a case strong enough for democracy and even for the supremacy of the constitution.

Perhaps the fault lies in our civic education that failed to convey to the people about the importance of the rights that the constitution guarantees. Perhaps it is the weakness of democracy that they fail to grasp the importance of their rights and have learned to love their tyrants.

Perhaps our democratic leaders are fools to believe that the people will go out on the streets and riot for them. They overestimate our commitment to democracy and our right to vote. They probably have no idea how we abhor political activism and even worse, much prefer unelected bureaucrats to govern us.

But in a way, it’s much better this way. Nobody wants damage to property and lives. All that for what?

We don’t want trouble. We don’t want chaos. All that too for these corrupt politicians in the name of democracy?

Pakistan might be on fire soon enough, but never for this reason.

 

This post was originally published in Dunya blogs.