Thursday, December 31, 2009

Karachi: The Aftermath

Watching this video was a heart wrenching affair. It just makes me wonder if we as Karachiites will ever find a way to end this cycle of violence.

Update: Dawn article describes the reaction of the shopkeepers who lost their livelihoods in the blaze.

Things I wish I could do

You have to watch this, you really do!

Picture/Poetry of the Day

Image credit: Karachi Metblogs

The degree of realism in this poem is simply (there is no other way to put it) brilliant. The author has serious guts. The words are bare bones; honest and open. There are no bullshit metaphors, no cloak and dagger nonsense, no need to instill mental imagery. The work simply speaks for itself. You might be wondering, why I am waxing poetic (pardon the pun) about this picture/poetry. It's because after listening to bald-faced lies every single day, reading the unvarnished raw truth can be extremely refershing.

Like this

And before you ask, no I'm not endorsing, Sprite or 7up or whatever.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Karachi Burns

Image Credit: Faysal Mujeeb/WhiteStar

Gut-wrenching eye witness accounts show the sheer brutality of a suicide attack on a Muharram procession in Karachi on Ashura.

Karachi metblogs has uploaded a series of pictures from the blast site.

Dawn slideshow shows extent of damage.

 NYT reports the death of at least 30 people. This is the third attack against Shiites this week.

Bomb Blast caught on camera-Associated Press

Attack caught on GeoTV

Political leaders condemn blast.

President Asif Ali Zardari (AAZ) appeals for calm

MQM leader Altaf Hussein reacts:

Abdul Sattar Edhi, whose Edhi ambulances were instrumental in delivering the injured to hospitals and collecting the dead describes the scene:

 Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah offers compensation to the families of those killed and injured.

We cannot afford to be ambiguous on Taliban ideology any longer- Nadeem F Parachi

Scenes from the attack-GeoTV

This attack hit me on a personal level. My family attends the Ashura procession every year and thankfully no one was seriously injured. One family friend was at the blast epicenter. He was thrown 25 feet away from the blast and somehow managed to survive. He was lucky, everyone around him died. His 10 year old son was found uninjured under 4 bodies.

I mourn with the families of those who died in today's attacks. It could as just have been my family, my friends. While I know it is improbable, I hope and pray that this will be the last attack of this kind. Enough blood has been spilled. There have been enough deaths.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A part of us

Just this morning I had the opportunity to view Sunita Krishnan's courageous talk on sexual slavery at TED India event in Mysore Bangalore. Herself a victim of sexual slavery, Sunita co-founded Prajwala (eternal flame), an organization dedicated to rescuing women and children from brothels and educating them to prevent second generation prostitution. Prajwala runs 17 schools in Hyderabad for 5,000 children and has rescued 2,500 women from prostitution.

While this talk was presented with an Indian context, there is as much relevance for Pakistan if not more. Pakistan is one of the global hubs for human trafficking. According to Coalition against Trafficking in Women, more than 1 million Bangladeshi and 200,000 Burmese women have been trafficked to Pakistan, sold for US$1,500-2,500 depending on age, looks and most importantly virginity.

What struck a chord with me was the importance of acceptance. As Sunita Krishnan points out, the success of rehabilitation of these victims is dependent upon civil society which has traditionally engaged with these individuals through social exclusion. This has to change.

In the words of Sunita Krishahn, it is not enough to discuss sex trafficking in our air conditioned drawing rooms or at our parties. It is not enough to give some money each month to this cause. We need to empathize with these victims, offer them employment in our offices, provide them with work in our homes. We need to accept them as our neighbours, friends and relatives. Victims of sex trafficking are a part of us, not apart from us.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Roti List: Jully Black

I know that it has been quite a while since I've added an artist to the Roti List; I just hadn't found any great music over the last 6 weeks. But over the past few days, I've listened non-stop to Jully Black's new album The Black Book. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an R&B fan. Much of what's on the radio nowdays in this genre sound the same. But there's something about Jully's lyrics and composition that grabs you. Her work is raw and yet polished at the same time. Her voice will take you back to the days of Aretha Franklin and the Supremes, but her harmonies and backgrounds couldn't be more modern. Each and every one of her songs on this album is genius, inspired and hypnotic.

Here is my favorite song

Monday, December 14, 2009

Old Habits die hard

In an interview with an Arab television network, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated that there exists concrete evidence implicating India's involvement in terrorist attacks throughout the country. He also emphasized that Pakistan played no role in the Mumbai attacks (ignoring the fact that Pakistan is the base for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant group behind these attacks).

Following this interview, Mr. Qureshi was seen lighting up a substance eerily resembling weed. This could explain why the foreign minister seems to have lost his mind.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A different kind of terrorism

While many of us associate terrorism with suicide bombs or indiscriminate gunfire like the recent incident at a Rawalpindi mosque, there exists within our society another kind of terrorism. And unlike these attacks, it is more personal. It is not ideology or political agenda that drives acid attacks on women. Its a culture that accepts violence against women as a norm.

The first step in curbing this kind terrorism is to document these attacks and provide legal and medical aid to the victims. The Progressive Women's Association  (PWA) in Pakistan is one organization which deals with such cases.Since its inception, PWA have gathered over 7,800 such cases, of which only 2% have garnered a conviction.While our attention over the past months has been focused on dealing with Taliban violence against civilians and rightly so, we must not forget about this kind of terrorism either.

Please note that the following images are graphic. View at your own risk.
Image credit: Emilio Morenatti, Associated Press

Irum Saeed, 30, poses for a photograph at her office at the Urdu University of Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, July 24, 2008. Irum was burned on her face, back and shoulders twelve years ago when a boy whom she rejected for marriage threw acid on her in the middle of the street. She has undergone plastic surgery 25 times to try to recover from her scars.

Shameem Akhter, 18, poses for a photograph at her home in Jhang, Pakistan, Wednesday, July 10, 2008. Shameem was raped by three boys who then threw acid on her three years ago. Shameem has undergone plastic surgery 10 times to try to recover from her scars.

Najaf Sultana, 16, poses for a photograph at her home in Lahore, Pakistan on Wednesday, July 9, 2008. At the age of five Najaf was burned by her father while she was sleeping, apparently because he didn't want to have another girl in the family. As a result of the burning Najaf became blind and after being abandoned by both her parents she now lives with relatives. She has undergone plastic surgery around 15 times to try to recover from her scars.

Shehnaz Usman, 36, poses for a photograph in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008. Shehnaz was burned with acid by a relative due to a familial dispute five years ago. Shehnaz has undergone plastic surgery 10 times to try to recover from her scars.

Shahnaz Bibi, 35, poses for a photograph in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008. Ten years ago Shahnaz was burned with acid by a relative due to a familial dispute. She has never undergone plastic surgery.

Kanwal Kayum, 26, adjusts her veil as she poses for a photograph in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008. Kanwal was burned with acid one year ago by a boy whom she rejected for marriage. She has never undergone plastic surgery.

Munira Asef, 23, poses for a photograph in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008. Munira was burned with acid five years ago by a boy whom she rejected for marriage. She has undergone plastic surgery 7 times to try to recover from her scars.

Bushra Shari, 39, adjusts her veil as she poses for a photograph in Lahore, Pakistan, Friday, July. 11, 2008. Bushra was burned with acid thrown by her husband five years ago because she was trying to divorce him. She has undergone plastic surgery 25 times to try to recover from her scars.

Memuna Khan, 21, poses for a photograph in Karachi, Pakistan, Friday, Dec. 19, 2008. Menuna was burned by a group of boys who threw acid on her to settle a dispute between their family and Menuna's. She has undergone plastic surgery 21 times to try to recover from her scars.

Zainab Bibi, 17, adjusts her veil as she poses for a photograph in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008. Zainab was burned on her face with acid thrown by a boy whom she rejected for marriage five years ago. She has undergone plastic surgery several times to try to recover from her scars.

Naila Farhat, 19, poses for a photograph in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008. Naila was burned on her face with acid thrown by a boy whom she rejected for marriage five years ago. She has undergone plastic surgery several times to try to recover from her scars.

Saira Liaqat, 26, poses for the camera as she holds a portrait of herself before being burned, at her home in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday, July 9, 2008. When she was fifteen, Saira was married to a relative who would later attack her with acid after insistently demanding her to live with him, although the families had agreed she wouldn't join him until she finished school. Saira has undergone plastic surgery 9 times to try to recover from her scars.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Carnage in Rawalpindi

Soldiers take up position outside mosque (credit: Voice of Asia)

In one of the most violent attacks in Pakistan's history, armed militants stormed a mosque in one of Rawalpindi 's secure military residentail areas killing 40 people and injuring 80 others. Among the dead were 16 children, several high ranking military officers including an army general and soldiers. The attack at Laal Askari misque involved grenades, atomatic weapons and explosions.Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed repsonsibility for these attacks.

Details regarding the attack remain unclear. According to New York Times (NYT),  at six militants carried out the attack while AlJazeera English reports that  eight were involved. Both sources claim that four militants were killed in battle with security forces, with NYT claiming that an additional militant detonated himself. Dawn reports that at least four militants were involved, of which two blew themselves up. Times of India claims that a total six militants were involved, of which one blew himself up and four others were killed in security fire. According to BBC, at least four militants were involved of whcih two detonated themselves and the rest were killed in firefight with the army.

 Many important questions have emerged in the aftermath of these attacks and serioucly call into question the compentency of Pakistan's security forces to deal with the Taliban. Considering the heavy military presence in this area, how were  militants able to carry out this attack? If "only military officers and formal officers who have screened by the intelligence services were supposedly allowed in the mosque", then how could militants able to enter its premises?  Numerous attacks of Pakistan's security apparatus (Rawalpindi GHQ, Naval Headquaters) leaves no doubt to the fact that Taliban affiliated organizations (TTP, AlQaeda, Punjabi groups) consider the Pakistani state as the enemy. This also begs the question, whether there are serious holes in security protocol or if insider information is involved.

The recent spate of attacks on civilian and security targets proves that Taliban are an enemy of the Pakistani state and its people and must be considered as such. However, both the civilian government and the military continue to ignore the scope of this problem. Firstly, it must be recognized that the Taliban are no longer limited to the NWFP, FATA region and pose an immediate threat to Pakistan's heartland. Secondly, the public must shed the Pashtun image of the Taliban. If the ongoing attacks in Punjab prove anything, it is that the Taliban have diversified on both a regional and ethnic level. In addition, the Taliban cannot be considered  an organized entity. Rather it is a set of factions loosely tied to a series of nuclei which at times operate independently and at others provide intelligence and logistical support. The harder the secuirty forces clamp down, the more independent these factions become. We need to act now. The longer we wait to deal with the Taliban, the harder it will get.

It is the very least we owe our dead

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


A suicide attack near Islamabad's naval complex today, killed a naval officer and critically wounded two others.

Awami National Party lawmaker; Shamsher Khan killed in suicide attack in Swat. Ten others were injured

Nine alleged militants were arrested in the Khyber agency.

Twelve alleged militants arrested in Khurram, key militant commander killed.

Cartoon of the Day

(credit: Patrick Corrigan; Toronto Star)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Zardari hanging by a thread

With only 15 months into his rule, Zardari is facing an existential crisis with his popularity plummeting to new lows, rising military praetorianism and an emboldened opposition . Added to this is a Taliban insurgency targeting civilians on an almost daily basis and a military offensive in South Waziristan producing no results. And let's not forget about the death of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO); an amnesty bill protecting Zardari, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and 8000 others from legal action or the calls for relinquishing the powers of the 17th constitutional amendment; allows him to dismiss the prime minister and suspend the national assembly (credit goes to Musharraf). Zardari is toxic, and everyone knows it.With Gilani maintaining a strict hands off policy  and Altaf's MQM backing the opposition, his days are numbered.

Excepting a miracle, the future for Zardari is bleak. Considering Pakistan's political climate it is likely that Zardari will be forced from the limelight; either due to pressure from the opposition (military, PML-N, religious conservatives) or by his own party; Pakistan People's Party (PPP)  or both. This is already clear with his giving up control of the country's nuclear arsenal to Gilani. Zardari's departure from the political spotlight may have major implications for both Pakistan and the PPP.  Here are some possible outcomes:

a)Zardari remains as President with majority of the power(notwithstanding the NRO, control of nuclear arsenal and the 17th constitutional amendment)

In previous political crises surrounding the PPP from the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry to ceding Swat to Taliban control through agreements, Zardari  has managed to hold onto power despite dips in popularity and vociferous political opposition. It is possible that Zardari may manage to hold onto power once again.  This time, however around Zardari does not have widespread support within the PPP; which was the case in these prior incidents.

Probability: 29%. Zardari has proven to be tenacious time and time again and it won't be surprising if he somehow manages to hold on. If Zardari holds onto power, it will be only if Gilani and other members of the PPP give him support. Considering that Gilani has publicly distanced himself from Zardari and asserted his political power, it is highly unlikely that he will support any move Zardari makes to remain in power.

b) Zardari remains as President on a symbolic level; power shifts to Gilani

Gilani is the only high ranking member of the PPP that has yet to be embroiled in any recent political scandals. In addition, he has somehow remained unscathed from the public backlash surrounding the suicide attacks and has not been targeted by the political opposition. In recent weeks, Gilani has also benefited directly from Zardari's waning power. He now has control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and enjoys greater support within his party and the opposition. With Gilani in control, the denouement of Zardari need not mark the end of the PPP. It may in fact provide an opportunity for the PPP to shed its image as a political legacy of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and transform into a more egalitarian party. In addition, Gilani may be able to keep praetorianism at bay by improving relations between the military and civilian government. Since he possesses the greatest credibility among the PPP leadership, he may also be able to deal more effectively with periphery provinces (Balochistan, NWFP).

Probability: 40%. It is very unlikely that Zardari will hand quietly hand over major political decisions. Since he was married to Benazir Bhutto, he considers the presidency as his right and will be unwilling to become a symbolic figure. On the other hand,  Zardari is a liability for the PPP at this point. Gilani and other senior PPP members may sideline him from political power if they consider him a threat to their party's survival in the future. This outcome depends on Zardari's unpopularity and the desperation of high ranking PPP officials.

c) Zardari refuses to step back, splits PPP along the lines of loyalty.

Many among the PPP ranks consider the party as political inheritance of the Bhutto clan. Therefore there is a high possibility that if Gilani attempts to wrest control of the party from Zardari, there may be an internal conflict between his supporters and those of Zardari leading to a split similar to PML-N and PML-Q. If this does happen, the political clout of the PPP will weaken resulting in a power vacumn at a national level. A PPP split will also mark the end of national politics (PPP is the only party that can gather support across ethnic and sectarian lines). Considering the level of animosity that exists between different ethnicities at the political level,  PPP's absence could possibly result in further destabilization along these lines. In addition, the lack of consensus among the democratic establishment may result in unstable minority governments.

Probability: 30%.  Zardari has the loyalty of many PPP supporters. He is aware of the  importance of the Bhutto name and has used his marriage with Benazir Bhutto and their son to support his claim to PPP leadership. However, his relationship to the Bhutto clan is through marriage not blood, which may be detrimental when appealing to die hard Bhutto supporters. This may be used by Gilani to justify sidelining Zardari from the PPP. Then again, Zardari is much closer to the Bhutto clan than Gilani.

d) Zardari resigns; Gilani takes over

Gilani may persuade senior members of the PPP into acknowledging Zardari as a liability to the party and a threat to its future in Pakistani politics. If he succeeds, Zardari may be pressured into resigning and taking a backseat in national politics. The removal of Zardari from PPP's leadership could result in the transformation of the PPP from a feudal party to a one with greater political access (at least for the non-Bhutto PPP members)

Probability: <5%. Zardari possess a huge ego and there is no way he will step down voluntarily, especially since he has publicly stated otherwise. No amount of political maneuvering will make him give up his position.