Not too long ago, Pakistan and Afghanistan were called Af-Pak: two countries joined at the hip, doomed to live and die together. You didn’t get to choose your neighbours, we were told. Geography, we were taught, was our destiny.
There was a lot of talk about geostrategic significance – which was the Pakistan military’s way of saying there were great advantages to be derived from our unfortunate neighbours.
More than four decades ago, our leaders insisted we had to help the Afghan mujahideen fight the Soviets because that would help us ward off communism in our own country. Having lived most of my life in Pakistan, I have probably come across half a dozen communists – and even they never agreed with each other.… Seguir leyendo »
This week, in a verdict that was described as historic by opposition politicians, a special court in Pakistan sentenced the former military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf to death for high treason.
The Pakistan Army responded with a statement that also was historic: It said that its rank and file felt “pain and anguish” over the decision. The military leadership didn’t talk about the national interest or regional security as it usually does, but instead used the poetic language of a long-suffering lover. How could you do this to one of us? it asked, in essence. A man who “has served the country for 40 years, fought wars for the defense of the country can surely never be a traitor,” its statement read — and with that single sentence, the army dismissed the country’s courts and Constitution.… Seguir leyendo »
Pakistani kids are taught in and out of school that Kashmir is our “shah rug” (jugular vein). Indians believe that Kashmir is their “atoot ang” (indispensable body part). Urdu and Persian poetry is full of paeans to the beauty of Kashmir. If there is paradise on earth, “it is this, it is this, it is this,” the 14th-century poet Amir Khusro wrote. Since the time of Partition, 72 years ago, India and Pakistan have been fighting wars over Kashmir and calling each other the occupier and the oppressor of the Kashmiris.
Occasionally, there have been halfhearted pledges that the Kashmiri people should probably get to do what they want with their paradise.… Seguir leyendo »
Imran Khan campaigned to become prime minister on the promise that he would create a “new Pakistan.” The country was going to be like the state of Medina that the Prophet Muhammad founded — a welfare state — Khan promised. Less than a year after coming to power, he has delivered a new Pakistan, and it looks like a struggling dictatorship.
Major opposition leaders are in jail; others aren’t allowed in the media. Parliamentarians are arrested on terrorism or drug-trafficking charges and denied bail. In this new Pakistan, the economy has been practically handed over to appointees from the International Monetary Fund.… Seguir leyendo »
Pakistan is in the middle of an unusual property boom. Developers grab large tracts of land, stealing them outright or occupying them, advertise mega development projects and then buy off regulators with the money they raise selling some of the land they dubiously claim. Poor people who have lived in their homes for generations are served eviction notices and visited by bulldozers in the dead of night.
On one side of my house in Karachi is a market. It’s a typical Pakistani market, with car mechanics, barbers, milk and bread sellers, drapers. During the last few years, many of the shops have turned into real estate agencies.… Seguir leyendo »
After spending eight years on death row, Asia Bibi, a Christian, was acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court this week. For many here it seemed like a good day. The country’s highest court had finally delivered justice and released a woman whose life has already been destroyed by years in solitary confinement. The court decision quoted Islamic scriptures, bits of letters by the Prophet Muhammad and a smattering of Shakespeare. A great wrong was righted.
And that’s why Pakistan’s new religious right, which has rebranded itself as the protector of the Prophet’s honor, has threatened to bring the country to a halt.… Seguir leyendo »
Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest English-language newspaper, carries on its masthead the image of a man’s face and this proud claim: “founded by Quaid-I-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah,” who also founded the country itself. For the last eight years, the centerpiece of Dawn’s weekend editorial page has been commentary on national politics and national security by the assistant editor Cyril Almeida.
Almeida writes in what some call very good English, though sometimes in ways that are irreverent or annoying to his subjects; he also happens to be one of very few non-Muslims in a media landscape dominated by religious right-wing ideologues. Jinnah, a staunch secular and an Anglophile, would have approved.… Seguir leyendo »
Four years ago when India elected the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) to power, Pakistan’s iconic feminist poet and peace activist Fahmida Riaz recited a poem of despair, comparing new India to old Pakistan:
Turns out you were just like us,
Where were you hiding all this time, brother?
In Pakistan, Ms. Riaz is not only considered a hopeless peacenik but also a bit of an India lover. She has reason to be. In the 1980s, like many writers and activists, Ms. Riaz was made to leave Pakistan by the then military regime. While others took refuge in Western countries, Ms.… Seguir leyendo »
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister in waiting, hates being a loser. He has said, “As a sportsman I know winning & losing are part of the game,” but that was after coming out of retirement to win the Cricket World Cup in 1992. And losing doesn’t seem to be part of his idea of the political game.
Yet for a very long time Khan was a loser — that other kind of loser, the one you still hear in President Trump’s Twitter voice. For much of two decades, while pledging to bring about a revolution and saying things like “when I become prime minister,” he prowled the margins of Pakistani politics.… Seguir leyendo »
The chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Mian Saqib Nisar, is a man on a mission. Our senior-most judge wants to rid the country of corrupt politicians, and he wants us to eat hormone-free chicken. “The aim of my struggle is clean air, clean water, pure milk,” he told lawyers last week during an impromptu stop by the cafeteria of the bar association in Islamabad, the capital. He was asking for their help. Also on his to-do list: fighting against hepatitis and cancer, and for a fair price for crops.
Nisar has said one reason Pakistan isn’t a superpower is that Pakistani gardeners take way more smoking breaks than their Chinese counterparts.… Seguir leyendo »
The failing relationship between the United States and Pakistan has been failing for such a long time that experts are running out of breakup metaphors to describe it: separation, divorce and — that mutual favorite — back-stabbing friends.
When Hillary Clinton visited Islamabad as secretary of state a few years ago, she was asked why America behaved like a disgruntled mother-in-law. An American official was once quoted as saying that Pakistanis were the kind of people who would sell their mother for a few thousand dollars. That hurt.
These banal analogies hide the basic facts. A monstrous pact between these two countries has destroyed another country called Afghanistan, twice over.… Seguir leyendo »
Along stretches of highway and railway tracks across Pakistan, walls bear a familiar inscription: Mard kabhi boorha nahin hota, a man never grows old. It’s an advert by quacks and herbalists peddling eternal virility to aging Pakistani men. It would appear that Pakistan’s former military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf has taken this roadside assurance too seriously.
Nine years after his ouster from the presidency, and many humiliating attempts to reclaim political relevance later, he is at it again. In a recent interview with Sky News, he said that if he could return to power now he would have more legitimacy than the first time around because back then some people thought he was a dictator.… Seguir leyendo »
This country has a poor record of protecting its religious minorities, but we outdo ourselves when it comes to Ahmadis. Members of the sect insist on calling themselves Muslims, and we mainstream Muslims insist on treating them like the worst kind of heretics.
The day I wrote this piece, a small headline in a newspaper informed me that an Ahmadi lawyer, his wife and two-year-old child had been shot dead by gunmen at home, for being Ahmadis. Killings like this have happened so many times that the story wasn’t even the main news. On May 28, 2010, some 90 Ahmadis were killed during attacks on two mosques in Lahore.… Seguir leyendo »
I learned my first lesson about how babies are born from a magazine called Happy Home. It was published by a department of the Pakistani government called the Ministry of Population. The ministry was supposed to encourage people to have fewer babies, and it went about that in a rather coy fashion.
The magazine exhorted people to pace themselves; I remember it used the poetic Urdu phrase, waqfa bahut zaroori hai, “a break is important.” I was about 10, and I remember even more clearly the illustration of a small family, a man and a woman and two chubby children, sitting around a stove and eating.… Seguir leyendo »
There is an increasingly popular formula for political TV talk shows in Pakistan. A young, well-groomed and articulate woman introduces one or two or sometimes six middle-aged, gray-haired men, and asks them what they think of this or that. She can interrupt them to announce commercial breaks, she can call up another guest, but her basic role is confined to asking each of these all-knowing men, Sir, your opinion?
Sir’s opinion matters because he is a man. If you are a woman, you’d better be sure your hair is shiny and you can safely lead a bunch of wise men into a commercial break.… Seguir leyendo »
Pakistan has found a new ally in its never-ending war against India — and he is the public face of our most ruthless killers.
For years Liaquat Ali, better known as Ehsanullah Ehsan, was a familiar and dreaded figure on national media. It seems that after every atrocity committed by the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), he would make triumphant statements in audio messages or bloodcurdling videos, putting the fear of God in Pakistani media and causing revulsion among Pakistani people.
Soon after the TTP killed three employees of Express TV in January 2014, the television channel invited Ehsan on the air by phone.… Seguir leyendo »
The army chief of Pakistan recently confirmed the death sentence of Saad Aziz, a business-school graduate and restaurant manager who was convicted of killing my friend Sabeen Mahmud. Sabeen, who was 40 then, ran The Second Floor in Karachi, a cafe where many writers and artists, including me, got their first break. It was also a hub for activists advocating controversial, often lost, causes. She was shot dead on April 24, 2015, minutes after a talk she had organized about the disappearance of Baloch activists, allegedly at the hand of Pakistan’s military intelligence agencies.
Chances are that after the requisite technical appeals to higher courts and a plea for mercy to the president of Pakistan, Aziz will hang.… Seguir leyendo »
Pakistan was recently mesmerized by a bottle of Scotch whisky. On Oct. 30, as hundreds of supporters of the opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (P.T.I.) were making their way to the capital Islamabad, with the declared intent of shutting down the city, the police searched the car of a P.T.I. politician and discovered a bottle of Johnny Walker Double Black.
Most Pakistanis had not seen a bottle of whisky in the news in a long time. Although there’s no ban on showing alcohol in the media, the subject rarely comes up in TV news. But this one bottle of whisky, waved around by a policeman, was broadcast on a loop.… Seguir leyendo »
Once, in a TV studio near Delhi almost eight years ago, I tried to stop a war between India and Pakistan and left thinking: Let them fight. It’s never a good idea to join a TV debate when those two are on the brink of yet another war.
I was visiting Delhi just after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, and my publisher persuaded me to accept an invitation to discuss Indo-Pak relations. I was the only Pakistani among the half dozen panelists, mostly Indian ex-generals and defense experts, all apparently trying to start and win a war with outrageous sound bites.… Seguir leyendo »
I once knew a building contractor who worked for the government of Pakistan. He was very corrupt and very open about it. After hearing endless stories about bribes given for contracts and payments received for projects that were never finished, I asked why was he so open about all this stealing.
He was a bit puzzled. “Why do you call it theft?” he asked. “Look, the state is like our mother, and surely everyone takes something from their mother when she is not looking. Don’t you?”
For Pakistan’s ruling elite, mother is never looking.
In the wake of the Panama Papers leak, this country, like many others, is consumed by a debate over corruption.… Seguir leyendo »