Just days after the British government announced posthumous pardons for men convicted of homosexual acts, I sat in the chapel of Reading Prison, where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated from 1895 to 1897. I was listening to the stage and screen actor Maxine Peake read from “De Profundis,” the 50,000-word letter Wilde wrote from his cell to his lover, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas.
I had been here before over the last few weeks, for an arts project that gathered performers to interpret Wilde’s letter. Each one brought something different to the role — steeliness, bewilderment, detachment. Ms. Peake’s Wilde had a lightness of tone, and drew laughter.… Seguir leyendo »
It didn't take long after Imran Khan's fall – 4.5 metres from a makeshift platform on a forklift at a campaign rally – for his supporters to begin comparing him to a warrior unseated from his horse in battle. If there was a note of triumph in their voice as they said it, it's not entirely surprising.
On Tuesday afternoon, Khan was the only halfway serious challenger to Nawaz Sharif's bid to become prime minister for the third time when the nation goes to the polls on 11 May – but then came the fall, and a moment of unity for a nation that had been at one another's throats in the runup to elections.… Seguir leyendo »
You can usually tell when a drama involving a military dictator reaches its final act. Allies desert him, paranoia subsumes all common sense, he lashes out causing not inconsiderable damage. In the end, the fall from power is inevitable. He's booted off stage so that the life of the nation may continue without him.
So it seemed with President Musharraf when he fled Pakistan for Britain in 2008. But social media have rewritten the old template: people may still argue over precisely what role Twitter played in the Arab spring, but there is no doubt Facebook played a key role in The Dictator's Extra Act.… Seguir leyendo »
On Monday, in Karachi, I stayed at home while protesters took to the streets in an attempt to rouse Pakistan into action against the continuing extermination of Shia Muslims. On Saturday in Quetta a bomb had exploded in a busy market, killing 84 people; two days later, amid sit-ins and protests in different parts of the country in response to the attack, a Shia doctor and his school-age son were shot and killed in Lahore.
My reasons for staying away from the protests were those of a coward: I worried that they might be targeted. At the end of the day there was a bomb blast near the site of one of the sit-ins, though luckily it was a timed device that went off an hour after the protesters had dispersed, and no one was harmed.… Seguir leyendo »
Last Thursday the 33-year-old Pakistani activist Irfan Ali told his Twitter followers he had narrowly escaped a bomb blast in the provincial capital, Quetta, which killed 12 people and injured 25. In the next hour he tweeted three more times about the terrorism wreaking havoc on Pakistan and the "genocidal pressure" faced by the Hazaras – an ethnic group which is primarily Shia.
A few hours later there was another bomb blast, this time in a snooker hall frequented by Hazaras. While helping the injured, Irfan Ali was killed by a suicide bomber who waited until the hall was filled with rescue workers before detonating his explosives.… Seguir leyendo »
'I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban." So began the diary of Malala Yousafzai, an 11-year-old girl living in Pakistan's Swat region in 2009 while the Taliban had de facto control and female education was banned. The BBC website published the diary, and a few months later a New York Times documentary revealed more about the girl behind the pen.
Today, as Malala Yousafzai remains critical but stable in hospital following an assassination attempt by the Taliban, I watched the laughing, wise, determined 11-year-old in that video and thought of the Urdu phrase, "kis mitti kay banee ho" – "from what clay were you fashioned?"… Seguir leyendo »
Have they not heard the phrase "going viral"? That was my first response to hearing that the Lahore high court had placed a temporary ban on Facebook in response to its Everybody Draw Mohammad Day! page.
Sure enough, the ban brought the page to the attention of millions, and – as some found ways around it and others uploaded the offending images on alternative sites – led to a subsequent ban on BlackBerry services, proxy servers, YouTube (yesterday partially rescinded), Flickr, and a few Wikipedia pages. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has established a "crisis cell" and set up a toll-free number and email address where people can report other sites that carry blasphemous content.… Seguir leyendo »
Almost every day the news out of Pakistan offers evidence of growing support for military action against the Taliban in Swat, and growing antipathy towards the Taliban itself. The rightwing media, which had urged the government to make peace deals, is falling over itself in praise of military advances.
But straightforward approval for military action is not the whole story. An article in one of Pakistan's papers a few days ago reported that tribesmen in Upper Dir had besieged 200 Taliban and killed a number in response to the Taliban's bombing of a mosque. The newspaper cited this as further evidence of growing anti-Taliban sentiment.… Seguir leyendo »
On a bright morning in March 2004 I heard a cheer so loud it drowned out all conversation in the stands of Karachi's National Stadium. I looked immediately to the field, thinking the cricketers must have walked on to warm up before the game commenced. No one but cricketers could draw that kind of cheer from such a heterogeneous Pakistani crowd. But the field was empty, and for explanation I had to turn towards the entry to the stands, where a large group of spectators had just walked in, carrying with them the largest Indian flag I had ever seen. The cheers for those Indian spectators and their flags went on all through the day, and when the nailbiting game ended in an Indian victory, every Pakistani still left smiling.… Seguir leyendo »
Over half an hour into President Musharraf's address to the nation I texted a friend to say: "This is a resignation speech, right?" She wrote back: "I don't see what else it could be." Neither could I, but to the last Musharraf had the air of a man so strongly convinced that he was indispensable to Pakistan that it was hard to believe the former commando would resist one final assault on his political rivals. When it came to it, though, the assault was merely rhetorical - the man of action with nothing left but words to fall back on.
His exit seemed inevitable from the moment his king's party - the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) - was routed in the February elections; but Pakistan's leaders have a way of turning the inevitable into the suspenseful.… Seguir leyendo »
Earlier this month in Pakistan, a popular television show instructed viewers on the proper method of casting a ballot in the coming elections. The programme was the satirical 4 Man Show, and the elections in question are being run by a music channel to determine the people's choice for best VJ. The subtext to the skit was the listlessness surrounding those other elections in Pakistan, scheduled for February 18.
On the streets of Karachi there are few visible signs of campaigning, aside from banners announcing various constituency candidates. But many of those banners have been in place since the run-up to the January 8 elections, which were postponed following Benazir Bhutto's assassination, and the slogans on the Pakistan People's party banners - The Return of Benazir is the Return of Hope - now sound a note of doom.… Seguir leyendo »
Growing up in Pakistan, in the benighted days of Zia ul-Haq's dictatorship, I knew there was always some sense of consistency to be drawn from the evening news, which year after year assured viewers that every day only three items of note occurred in the world: president inaugurates something; someone of significance lauds president; X number of Kashmiris killed (later changed to "martyred") by Indian army. The print media was rather more courageous in what it was willing to publish, but even so, in those times of censorship and state control the news told you very little about the truth of the country in which you were living.… Seguir leyendo »