Monthly Archives: March 2008

Pakistan’s Media – responsibility must anchor freedom

By Raza Rumi 

IT is a truism that media freedom in Pakistan today has been earned after a long struggle which will perhaps continue in the years to come.

Deepening of democratic traditions and their permeation in society are sine qua non for a free media. Whilst there can be no two opinions on the independence of the media, the need for greater responsibility and professionalism has to be articulated in no uncertain terms. Such is the confusion and chaos triggered by an overgrown executive that the issue of responsibility has been sidelined by the overwhelming noises for media freedom especially since the tinkering with the text and application of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Ordinance.

We are now getting used to a television culture that imitates the life of Pakistani tharras, chai-khanas and drawing-rooms where politics is discussed ad nauseum. Rare exceptions include issue oriented talk-shows but they appear bland unless their all knowing hosts inject some political spice into them. Expertise is taken for granted; new-age generalists judge every subject under the sun and occasionally take themselves a bit too seriously. Yes, the commercial imperative of the media dictates programming patterns. But there has to be a method to this disorderliness.

The most recent occasion of electronic media wizardry was the announcement of the Pakistan People’s Party-led coalition candidate for the unenviable job of the prime minister. The moment the announcement was made, a leading channel played a popular Indian film song that lamented broken promises. In this case, the fabled promise of the prime ministerial cookie for Makhdoom Amin Fahim.

Admittedly, the party of the people and its allies were secretive about the process. The principle of transparency, ideally, is germane to elected institutions. However, this is neither an ideal world nor is it going to turn into one overnight. The way a momentous decision was trivialised was not in good taste. The news industry forgot that this was a party still recovering from the brutal murder of its omnipresent leader less than three months ago. Continue reading

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Filed under Citizens, Democracy, Media, Pakistan, public policy

With a billion stars all around

A craven capriccio in watercolour on papier mâché

i caught you napping in the office yesterday. You don’t know that i did. (i didn’t want to embarrass you.)

You were slumped in your plush recliner — snoring gently — head back — Pert Plus hair a mess — pert nose pointing towards an emulsion sky — sallow cheeks glowing — gloating eyes shut — crow’s feet out for a leisurely stroll in the park. Your nail-bitten hands, ordinarily hotbeds of nervous energy, lay cupped in your lap, palms upward, as if tenderly cradling a pair of soft, warm chickadees.

i stood silently at the door to your room, mouth open, loopily drinking in the pleasing scene. Able, for the first time since i think i fell in lust with you, to stare longingly, and for long, at your Continue reading

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Picture of the day

This is a beautiful picture taken by Abro of a village famed for its larger than life characters.

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Benazir Bhutto’s book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West

By Ishtiaq Ahmed

Benazir Bhutto’s book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West (London: Simon and Schuster, 2008) published posthumously is very different from her Daughter of the East, in which, besides saying some sensible things, she freely boasted, and exaggerated her paternal ancestors’ landed property and high station in Sindhi feudal society.

This time round, we meet a woman who is devoted to her idea of reconciliation between Islam, democracy and the West. Many years ago, I presented her my first book (which was also my doctoral dissertation), The Concept of an Islamic State: An Analysis of the Ideological Controversy in Pakistan (Frances Pinter, London, 1987), through her close adviser at that time, Fakhar Zaman, the Punjabi writer and intellectual.

There is no doubt she read it thoroughly and carefully, though it is not referred to in her book under discussion. I had argued that it is possible to derive an argument for the most unenlightened, as well as the most progressive, state model by selectively quoting the sacred sources and early Islamic history, but that in the modern period at some point Islam and the state will have to be separated in practice if democracy is to prevail and consolidate.

Her thesis, on the other hand, is that her selection of the sacred sources and pristine Islamic history is the correct representation of the Islamic ethos, while all the fundamentalist and extremist versions that are around are distortions of true Islam. She believes that in practice too Islam and the state can be interdependent, without democracy suffering injury.

In any event, Benazir Bhutto’s book is an admirable exercise in arguing that Islam and democracy are reconcilable. With the help of a team of researchers and advisers, especially Husain Haqqani, Ms Bhutto proceeds to demonstrate that the core spirit of Islam and the Quran is democratic.

She quotes verses from the Quran, Hadiths (sayings and doings) of the Prophet and examples from the way the pious caliphs were chosen to lead the pristine Muslim community, to demonstrate that Islam prescribes freedom of choice and thinking and tolerance for difference of opinion. Continue reading

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Filed under Benazir Bhutto, Democracy, Islam, Islamism, North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan, Politics, Religion, Society, state, Terrorism, Writers

Crushed K2

by: Hafeez Ur Rehman

Pushed against the
wall was a load
of crushed stone.

The homeless
in their wait for fresh trash
embarked to scale.

Every time the youngest came close,
the top tumbled and the base swelled
to the pain of city government.

Should they put their heads
together to curb encroachment
or go on a hunger strike against the hungry?.

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Filed under Pakistan, poetry

The roots of terrorism

By Adil Zareef

AS the incumbent government gears up to meet myriad
challenges, Mangal Bagh is becoming the new recurring
nightmare in the NWFP. He left a trail of bloodshed,
pillage and mayhem when he attacked unarmed villagers
in Sheikhan, near Peshawar, and demolished a 16th
century shrine. Mangal Bagh later forced the famous
Karkhano market shut for days, causing economic losses
running into millions of rupees.

Recently he attacked another shrine in Khyber Agency
and harassed women who traditionally pray there.
Traffic in adjoining areas was brought to a halt for a
few days as tribals protested against these excesses
committed right under the nose of Pakistan’s mammoth
security apparatus.

For some these incidents produce a sense of déjà vu
given what has happed in Waziristan, Bajaur, Swat,
Darra Adamkhel and now on the outskirts of Peshawar.
The ‘star’ of the story is Mangal Bagh from Bara
tehsil who heads the notorious Lashkar-i-Islam and
preaches extremism on his FM radio stations. Mangal
Bagh’s sudden rise, his swift success in setting up a
parallel administration and the freedom with which his
anti-vice squads challenge the writ of the state has
convinced many of the political administration’s
complicity in this new phenomenon. Continue reading

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Filed under Citizens, North-West Frontier Province, Peshawar, Society, Terrorism

7 Precepts for Life in Pakistan

(Saad Sultan from Lahore has contributed this post for the Pak Tea House. His initiative is welcome; and we are happy to add him to our list of contributors – Raza Rumi)

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The author of this article takes no responsibility for the views expressed in it.

Dear readers, I regret to have to inform you that one day you will all be dead. For this reason you must never try killing yourselves. Yes, the 1st precept for Life in Pakistan is:

Don’t Commit Suicide
In fact, you should never try doing anything that something else will, eventually, do for you. And dying lies among the many other menial processes, such as digestion and cleaning the toilet, that, as far as we’re concerned, get done by themselves. And it is up to respectable people such as ourselves to ensure that things remain that way.
Now, recent events have shown us that people who think it’s all right to commit suicide fall into two categories: those who think its all right to kill yourself as long as you take enough ordinary men down with you, and those who think it’s all right to kill yourself as long as you take enough uniformed men down with you. Needless to say, both of them are equally wrong. What’s worse is that they are infinitely more dangerous to the welfare of the living than traditional suicides, who at least have the decency to end their lives in the quiet of their homes, lying in hot baths, using fresh razor blades, and leaving behind beautifully written suicide notes, outlining the reasons for their decision, and, in some cases, even apologizing for it.
Yet it is undoubtedly the life lovers who have chosen the most courageous path. People like you, the readers of this paper, who have resolved to live out these lives of yours, even if only in relative luxury. Others have resolved to live out theirs in abject poverty: toilet cleaners and road sweepers; people without the means to even afford this paper. I laud their courage. If they weren’t so poor, they wouldn’t be as brave, and if they weren’t so brave, we wouldn’t be as rich. Relatively speaking, of course.

Thus we come to the 2nd precept of Life in Pakistan:

If you must Commit Suicide, do it without Harming those who Love Life

Dying of suicide not only causes serious damage to one’s health, but, on a more serious note, seriously damages one’s reputation as well. Of course, it can be argued that one needn’t worry about reputation once one is dead, but we shall not be considering that argument, as in our opinion, one should never consider arguments that one can’t counter. Dying of suicide committed by somebody else, on the other hand, has a completely different impact on reputation altogether. Society compensates for the fall in the perpetrator’s standing by converting his victims, even if they had been base, foul and corrupt while alive, into valorous, heroic martyrs. The wisdom of such thinking is secondary to the fact that it is the way things happen. It is thus proposed that anyone found trying to commit suicide without minimizing its effects on decent, life-loving society should be subject to the capital punishment (provided that he is alive at the time) for the attempted interference. This gives birth to the 3rd precept of Life in Pakistan:

Mind your Own Business

While it is a precept that should be taken seriously by everybody, people who watch the news should be particularly wary of it. Continue reading

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Filed under musings, Pakistan, Rights, Society