President Donald Trump’s joint presser with Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday ahead of the 74th UN General Assembly session in New York is a strong indicator that his administration is deeply interested in keeping Islamabad on its side. The evident personal bond between the two leaders augurs well for the bilaterals and reinforces the relationship reset which has been in order for some time now. To his credit, Imran Khan has been able to get Pakistan back into business against all odds and every engagement since his epoch-making visit to the White House two months ago has remarkably improved ties, which lay in virtual cold storage at this time last year with heated exchange of tweets between him and US President Donald Trump over Islamabad’s role in the fight against terror. With little consideration for diplomatic rulebook, Trump had back then accused Pakistan of not doing anything for the US despite all the aid, he felt, his predecessors lavished on Islamabad in the war on terror. But unlike the past when Islamabad’s official reaction was mostly guarded, Khan responded in kind and drew the full visage of the sacrifices his country rendered in helming the global fight against terror with negative consequences for political and economic stability at home. In a series of tweets, the prime minister laid out the scorecard of losses, in man and material terms, that Islamabad endured to help the US-led coalition in Afghanistan and flayed the ungratefulness in no uncertain terms. With the moribund state of relations, it would have been considered foolhardy to bet on a turnaround at the time. Yet, Trump began to realise in the succeeding months that the narrow path he had initially taken to shut the doors on Islamabad would be completely counterproductive to his long-held desire to recall American troops from a draining and morale-sapping war in Afghanistan. With an eye for presidential re-election next year, he felt his best chance would be a re-engagement with Pakistan as a calibrated partner to solve the Afghan imbroglio. Despite his earlier strong rhetoric on taking the Taliban to the cleaners, Trump was finally drawn to the conclusion that his administration would be better off negotiating with the Taliban. In this studied endeavour, Islamabad’s role was deemed crucial thanks to its influence over Taliban. A re-engagement eventually paved the way for the unlikely White House rendezvous between President Trump and Prime Minister Khan in July, and which led to a surprisingly candid meeting. It was preceded by a rock star-like reception in Washington’s famous Capital One Arena for the celebrity prime minister, whose reverberations were felt deep with even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo making that his first point of reference in talks with him. It appeared to make an impact on Trump as well, who, referred to the Pakistani leader’s “popularity” and “leadership” role in charting a new course. The surprise package, of course was the claim Trump made about having been asked by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “mediation” on the Kashmir issue, which New Delhi swiftly denied. But in what appears to be a crafty attempt to raise his global profile as a peacemaker, Trump has continued to offer his good offices, mostly at Khan’s bidding — as was evident in the New York meeting as well — “should both Islamabad and New Delhi be willing”. Monday’s meeting also saw Khan making yet another attempt to convince Trump to re-engage with the Taliban after the latter called off the talks in an apparent huff over the killing of an American sergeant in the Afghan capital Kabul in a bomb attack claimed by the Taliban earlier this month. Political pundits however, conjectured it was done to offset the impression that Trump had ceded too much ground to the militia after he disclosed in a tweet that he had planned to host peace negotiations at the presidential compound in Camp David, Maryland, involving Taliban’s “major leaders” and the Afghan president as well. The move is seen as a setback with key stakeholders, Islamabad in particular, keen to see their investment of more than a year in making it possible for both the US and Taliban to resolve their differences with give-and-take in a post-pullout scenario. Prime Minister Khan, of course is an avowed proponent of a peace deal since his early days as a firebrand opposition leader. With him at the helm now, and strong backing from the powerful military, there is a fresh impetus to obviate any possible fissures. It would appear Trump comprehends the scale of adversity American forces and its allies would confront in the event of things going south. His decision to meet Khan again and lend gravitas to it by holding a joint presser appears to be consistent with the idea of leaning on Islamabad to provide a peaceful exit and hold on to the gains in its aftermath. Moving on to other issues of enormous geo-political importance, even though Trump has continued to raise a fever pitch about Iran with the ongoing tensions in the Middle East; creditably, Khan is proactively pushing for sense to prevail on all sides, warning of the dangers of instability in its wake whilst holding forth in a number of key engagements with American stakeholders and think-tanks. With his much awaited address to the UN General Assembly on Friday, stakeholders back home will draw considerable satisfaction from Prime Minister Khan’s efforts to solidify the recent gains in Islamabad’s foreign policy reset whether President Trump realises his desire for winning a Nobel or not! * The writer is Community Editor. He may be reached at [email protected]
If anything, Imran Khan — the wildly popular opposition politician who would be prime minister — has found out, in his very first year in power, the chasm that exists between the dream and reality of governing Pakistan. Few question his sincerity. But pitched political battles at home and a troubled neighbourhood on their own are enough to test a leader’s mettle. As always, in the Pakistani matrix, it is the economy that determines the strength and sustainability of a government. To be fair to the PTI, it inherited an account deficit of epic proportion — with the foreign debt amounting to approximately $20bn — and borrowing that bordered on gross fiscal irresponsibility. In classic ‘scorched earth’ mould, the last government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) appeared to take steps that were completely out of sync once it became apparent to the party leadership that its deck of cards had fallen and there was little chance of returning to power. PML-N supremo, Nawaz Sharif, had been convicted and disqualified by the Supreme Court and later jailed; the embattled party had lost ground after a draining and ill-directed defence in the Panama papers case involving unexplained properties and wealth stashed abroad by the Sharif family; and last but not least, the in-house struggle for power with Sharif’s younger brother, Shahbaz, and his daughter, Maryam, jockeying to call the shots, but getting nowhere in the end. However, the PTI has been far from successful in trying to redress the balance despite desperate attempts to shore up the economy. It began with an initial refusal to go to the IMF and instead lean on friendly states to ride out the crisis. And while it seemed to stem the tide for a while, the ballooning balance of payment crisis with other setbacks that saw the stock market see-sawing following rupee devaluation and a surge in inflation brought the situation back to Square One. Ultimately, the prime minister replaced the finance minister, Asad Umar, one of his confidantes, even before the first year was out with the experienced Abdul Hafeez Sheikh in his stead. Since then, Islamabad has negotiated a $6bn IMF package. While the economy reset is a long drawn out process and will likely remain a headache into the foreseeable future, the PTI government did take the painful but daring step to introduce tax reforms to expand the collection base and bring tax evaders into the net. It has been a longstanding bane with successive governments until now since it is fraught with unpopularity and likely alienating voters. In a nutshell, the idea was to change the bad national habit. Despite the challenges ahead, the government has been able to raise the bar significantly. The Federal Board of Revenue has met its target of raising Rs236bn in taxes with a success percentage of 99.2 for the fiscal ending July 2019. The Inland Revenue domestic taxes have also shown an increase of 60% over the last year. In a heartening development — far more still needs to be done though — income returns for the tax year 2018 have reached 2,404,371 as compared to 1,486,756 for the previous year, a growth of 62%. Correspondingly, the number of new tax filers during fiscal 2018-19 stood at 348,140; the figures for 2017-18 were 146,096 — an increase of 137%. So while we may be some distance from claiming that there is now a ‘tax culture’ in place, what is clearly evident is that people are now willy-nilly drawn to the idea that there may be little escape from addressing their fiscal responsibility to the state. As the prime minister rightly pointed out after going on a spree of public pronouncements and the odd ‘appeal to conscience’, the “business of the state cannot be run without its citizens paying taxes”. To the government’s credit, it has taken a number of steps to increase revenue and widen the tax base by making it easier for the citizens to even file the returns themselves with user-friendly initiatives. It also launched a tax amnesty scheme to lift investor confidence — going to the extent of twice deferring deadlines to allow more people to stand on the right side of the law. This enabled previous evaders to benefit from lesser penalties by documenting their assets and filing returns thereafter. Mindful of the need to front up to the economic challenges, the military, for its part, came to the party, too, with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa emphatically stating that it would forego an increase in the defence budget. This provided more than a semblance of relief to the government. Even though there is a measure of economic stability after a trying first year to redress the financial mess left behind by its predecessors, the PTI government faces a slew of challenges to make the cut. It won’t be a smooth ride, especially given how quickly public patience wears thin, but it will have to hold its nerve and stay the course. * The writer is Community Editor. He can be reached at [email protected]
I remember the day vividly. Just a few minutes shy of 5pm when I was about to leave for work in Muscat, the languid capital of Sultanate of Oman, where I worked as News Editor in Times of Oman, the country’s leading English language broadsheet, I switched on the TV; its volume pressed low. It just so happened that the channel on cue was CNN. I watched smoke billowing from a skyscraper but since I did not initially pay attention to the tickers at the bottom of the screen, it seemed eerily like a scene out of a movie. I thought as much. Just then, a plane emerged from the middle of the TV screen on the right and rammed into the building. This intrigued me, because the plane looked real — real enough for me to raise the volume and figure out the fuss. It was then that I realised that this was no figment of imagination and the skyscraper which had looked like a spitting image of the World Trade Center was, in fact, just that: South Tower, taking a startling hit. It took a while to absorb that all this was really happening — that the world’s sole superpower was under attack — a series of incredibly precise missions impossible one after the other (all in a day’s terror work) — beyond the wildest imagination of a Hollywood scriptwriter. Even though it has been 18 years, there is still that aura of disbelief that the mightiest of all nations could be a sitting duck for the while it lasted. But what is beyond a shadow of doubt is that the deadliest terrorist attacks in history did change the world, for both America and the rest of us on this cinder of a planet. In 2014, I had occasion to visit the 9/11 Memorial, an experience so profound that it takes you in its sweep. In a way, it symbolises a global communion — remember citizens of more than 90 countries perished in the attacks and the majority of them paid with their lives in the Twin Towers tragedy. Regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, language, or any other distinction, the spirit of humanity weighed heavy and whilst recalling the nerve-racking moments of the tragedy on the day that shook the world, there was an inescapable feeling that may be the world had underestimated the propensity of evil and it took an epic tragedy to draw the realisation and fight back.
For such a profound conclusion about motherhood, it is a touch sad that the author of the above quote is anonymous. In a lot of ways, the contributions of a mother belong to the same realm: anonymity. Nimra Bucha, a television artiste and spouse of Pakistan’s internationally celebrated writer and journalist Mohammed Hanif, in her condolence message over my mother’s demise last year stamped this authoritatively. “What mothers do is not visible to the world,” she wrote. While we take a lot for granted — smug in the comforting thought of being in their long and apparently secure shadows — life does not quite prepare you for losing your parents. It’s been just a year, but my heart reels from an indescribable sorrow, hollow as an empty shell. While visiting her last resting place recently, a million random thoughts occupied my mind, but mostly feelings of emptiness and profound loss that cannot be described in a million words. It took a lot to summon the courage to get back to life and then, too, because now a bit of the responsibilities that my parents selflessly fulfilled to raise us four siblings are now my call for my own family of four. Such is life — no respect for feelings, not even decent time and space for grieving. My mother was asleep the last time I should have hugged her before departing for Doha, which is now my home away from home, but deluded myself with the assurance that only this time, perhaps there was no need to wake her up for an emotional adieu since I was returning home in a matter of months, for good. It was not to be. The last time I saw her alive actually was on a video call on her birthday. Birthdays are not always made up of rainbow colours; in fact, they can be a harbinger of doom. A week later, she was gone. Losing my father was hard enough, but her loss shook the soul and sapped the spirit. Memories are all that one is left with. Simplicity defined Bushra Rehmat. A mother to the manner born, she selflessly devoted her life to the challenge of raising four of us; three boys and a girl, but it couldn’t have been easier with the modest means. Despite an early marriage, she used every opportunity to learn from her experiences in foreign lands each time my diplomat dad was posted abroad. In hindsight, winning a swimming medal in Kuwait as a schoolgirl must have set it up for a fulfilling family life later in Tanzania, Sri Lanka and India. Adept at all household craft, including culinary skills — the legendary Imran Khan, Pakistan’s current prime minister, did testify to that profusely when he came to our place for lunch years ago (and caused a sensation in the neighbourhood), she developed a taste for music, films, reading and cricket. She was also a Steffi Graf fan as the life-sized poster of the tennis great on her kitchen door proved. The reading included a keen eye for politics and like any other Pakistani, she had an opinion or two about the fare that keeps the nation hooked. Until her debilitating condition took over, she used to regularly read the morning paper, and books, including political works. The one refrain in all the condolence messages and calls that poured in from all over was predicated on her unassuming, soft spoken nature. One individual after the other spoke of a woman who was content with life no matter what it threw at her, never complaining or speaking ill of — or to — anyone. She did however, face an amusing ‘identity’ crisis — thanks to her pronounced natural birthmark, a ‘bindi’ (a coloured dot in the centre of the forehead), especially outside Pakistan! No matter what we accomplish, we’d never be a patch on what our parents did for us, against all odds. And the greatest favour they did us as Facilitators of Good Hope even if they didn’t always agree with our unconventional ideas, was to relent and let us make our own choices. Unbeknownst to many, my mother was that primary mover, quietly making my father agree. They say time heals all wounds, but then it also wounds all heels meandering for inner peace. Middle age, and the experience of having been here before with my father’s passing away two decades ago, is hardly any solace. At home, I reminisce over a black and white frame and yearn to go back in time with my mother clasping me in her arms! Child or man, that will now never happen. May Allah rest her soul in eternal peace.
Barcelona Huawei knows no other way than to play big, starting with a colourful yet unique entry into its large pavilions at the entry point. It began to stamp its feet on the opening day of the Mobile World Congress here by presenting its end-to-end 5G products and solutions such as simplified 5G sites, architecture, protocols, and operations & maintenance with customary aplomb. The tech giant expects the new offerings to help operators quickly deploy 5G networks on a large scale. Huawei has also launched the SoftCOM AI solution, which will help build autonomous driving networks of the future and maximise the value of telecom networks. At MWC 19, Huawei has expanded on the theme of "Building a Fully Connected, Intelligent World". Its boisterous main exhibition hall — Hall 1 — is designed around the theme of "The Digital Village", representing the combination of technology and culture. The “Digital Village” provides a platform that brings together global industry elites and KOLs, allowing them to exchange ideas and discuss what challenges and opportunities the fully connected, intelligent world will bring to humanity. In Hall 1, Huawei is showcasing its end-to-end 5G products and solutions, ranging from simplified 5G sites and 5G integrated transport, to 5G cloud core and simplified 5G O&M. It also demonstrated its core technologies behind the new products and solutions, including radio frequency, optical transmission, IP, and IT. In Barcelona this year, Huawei has set its eyes on cyber security mechanisms by holding forums and announcing joint initiatives with major industry organisations. The event marks the first time that all of Huawei's three business groups (BGs) — Carrier BG, Enterprise BG, and Consumer BG — have participated in the MWC. Huawei's Enterprise BG showcased four star products: the industry's fastest OceanStor Dorado series all flash storage; the world's first AI-powered data centre switch; the world's first Wi-Fi 6 access point (AP) for commercial use; and the X series cameras — the world's first AI-powered software-defined cameras. Huawei's Consumer BG showcased multiple popular devices, and launched the world's fastest foldable 5G smartphone on Sunday in a much anticipated and watched event globally.
Barcelona: Huawei Mate X stole the thunder on an otherwise quiet afternoon, a day ahead of the annual World Mobile Congress. As the race heats up for foldable mobiles, the Chinese giant went so far as to call it “the world’s fastest Foldable 5G phone”. The Mate X boasts the Falcon Wing Mechanical Hinge, 7nm multi-mode modem chipset Balong 5000, a high-capacity 4500mAh battery supporting the world’s fastest 55W HUAWEI SuperCharge and the brand new Interstellar Blue finish. When folded, the device is a huge display smartphone with a 6.6-inch screen, and when opened, it turns into a slim tablet with an 8-inch screen. Huawei says the multi-form factor revolutionises both productivity and entertainment experiences on a mobile device. Before an awed audience, a Huawei spokesperson folded and unfolded the screen to ring in the cutting edge of the world’s mobile powerhouse. The Huawei Mate X fully open The Huawei Mate X seen folded Huawei claims the 5G modem is so fast and it’s quad 5G antenna so ahead of the competition that the Mate X is capable of download speeds of up to 4.6GBPS – 10 times faster than most 4G modems. This could mean with 5G connectivity, consumers will be able to download a 1GB movie in 3 seconds flat! The Mate X also comes with an integrated Fingerprint Power Button that enables users to power up the device with one tap, offering a secure and convenient experience. The expansive viewing area takes on both productivity and entertainment scenarios – everything from editing a document to reading feels better on a larger screen. The device will have internal storage of 512GB and 8GB RAM. It will have a generous 4,500mAh battery and support 55-watt charging: this could charge up to 85% in half an hour. At approximately $2,600, the Mate X, maybe a touch expensive, but it is seen to be edging its rivals swiftly as it sets pace to lead the charge for the future. A delighted Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei CBG, said: “The HUAWEI Mate X’s revolutionary form represents a voyage into the uncharted. As a new breed of smartphones, it combines 5G, foldable screen, AI and an all-new mode of interfacing to provide consumers with an unprecedented user experience. It will be the first key for consumers to open the door to 5G smart living.”
I remember the day vividly. Just a few minutes shy of 5pm when I was about to leave for work in Muscat, the languid capital of Sultanate of Oman, where I served as News Editor in 'Times of Oman', the country’s leading English language broadsheet, I switched on the TV; its volume pressed low. It just so happened that the channel on cue was CNN. I watched smoke billowing from a skyscraper but since I did not initially pay attention to the tickers at the bottom of the screen, it seemed eerily like a scene out of a movie. I thought as much. Just then, a plane emerged from the middle of the TV screen on the right and rammed into the building. This intrigued me, because the plane looked real — real enough for me to raise the volume and figure out the fuss. It was then that I realised that this was no figment of imagination and the skyscraper which had looked like a spitting image of the World Trade Center was, in fact, just that: South Tower, taking a startling hit. __________________________________ There can be any number of arguments in favour of or against the response from the Bush Administration to the terrorist attacks in terms of its dimension and dynamics, but there can be no denying that the rearguard was inevitable and instructive ___________________________________ It took a while to absorb that all this was really happening — that the world’s sole superpower was under attack — a series of incredibly precise missions impossible one after the other (all in a day’s terror work) — beyond the wildest imagination of a Hollywood scriptwriter. Even though it is 17 years to the day, there is still that aura of disbelief that the mightiest of all nations could be a sitting duck for the while it lasted. But what is beyond a shadow of doubt is that the deadliest terrorist attacks in history did change the world, for both America and the rest of us on this cinder of a planet. There can be any number of arguments in favour of or against the response from the Bush Administration to the terrorist attacks in terms of its dimension and dynamics, but there can be no denying that the rearguard was inevitable and instructive. Inscribed names of the victims at the 9-11 Memorial . PHOTO: Kamran Rehmat In a nutshell, the attacks on powerful symbols of American might — Twin Towers signifying the country’s financial might; Pentagon denoting the military might; and the fourth one in Pennsylvania, whose intended target was assumed to be any one of the White House, US Capitol, Camp David retreat in Maryland, or one of a clutch of N-plants along the East Seaboard, but which fell through after determined passengers and flight attendants, who had, by then, learned of the attacks in New York and Washington via cellphones, fought off the hijackers by reportedly, attacking the cockpit with a fire extinguisher — had unequivocally, challenged America’s preeminence and power to influence the world. Now that the dice had been cast, it posed a present and clear danger to the basic civilisational structure of the West, in general, and America, in particular, but also other parts of the globe vulnerable by association. The world itself had to change to counter it. And it fell upon the US to lead the charge. Declaring a war on terror the same night, President George Bush said in a televised national address: “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” Thus began the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, pivoted on the black-and-white stated policy of “with us or against us”. Regardless of the red heat it generated for its covenant, it impacted global geopolitics on a scale never before seen, and which saw the effective ouster from principled locations in Afghanistan of the Taliban from operational power, and a draining but eventually successful campaign to eliminate Osama bin Laden-led Al Qaeda, and years later, the mastermind himself. This space would be scant to discuss the length and breadth of the impact made by the global war on terror. But very briefly, what it did was dramatically overhaul the established security policy in the US. Safety, surveillance and privacy took on a whole new dimension with a series of measures — such as the US Patriot Act — which critics say came at the cost of civil liberties. But what it did do was to largely and effectively insulate the US from the kind of damage the 9/11 attacks wrought on it. Down the road, it has led to far stricter immigration policies resulting in trigger-happy deportations. Elsewhere on the globe, the terror war and its aftermath fomented ongoing conflicts and rebellions, but the scale of death and destruction that had become the norm and peaked with the devastating attack on America in 2001 has reduced. Although by no means is the world out of the radar of terror, it is more aware of the pitfalls of not meeting the menace head-on and suffering isolationism. In 2014, I had occasion to visit the 9/11 Memorial, an experience so profound that it takes you in its sweep. In a way, it symbolises a global communion — remember citizens of more than 90 countries perished in the attacks and the majority of them paid with their lives in the Twin Towers tragedy. Regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, language, or any other distinction, the spirit of humanity weighed heavy and whilst recalling the nerve-racking moments of the tragedy on the day that shook the world, there was an inescapable feeling that may be the world had underestimated the propensity of evil and it took an epic tragedy to draw the realisation and fight back.
The 78th National Day of Pakistan was celebrated in style at Ritz-Carlton Doha last evening. The glittering ceremony was attended by a large number of Qatari dignitaries, including royals, high-ranking government functionaries, members of the diplomatic corps, prominent businesspeople and notables of the Pakistani community in Qatar. HE the Minister of Justice and Acting Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Dr Hassan Lahdan Saqr al-Mohannadi graced the occasion as the chief guest, along with HE the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed bin Hassan al-Hammadi, Protocol Chief Ibrahim Yusuf Fakhro, Pakistan’s just retired distinguished air chief Sohail Aman, and Alfardan Group chairman Hussain Alfardan were also present on the occasion. The ceremony began with the playing of national anthems of Qatar and Pakistan, which was followed by a speech from Shahzad Ahmad, Pakistan’s ambassador to Qatar. The envoy gave a brief backgrounder of the day’s significance — the ‘Pakistan Resolution’ of 23rd March 1940 in Lahore that paved the way, seven years later, for an independent state for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. In a departure from mostly formal speeches, ambassador Ahmad highlighted Pakistan’s rich heritage and culture, zeroing in on the tourism potential offered by the country’s historical sites and the sheer majesty of its breathtaking landscape. Inviting the distinguished guests, and everyone else to take the plunge, he said, “Today, it’s never been easier to visit and learn about the rich culture of Pakistan and its people. The Financial Times added Pakistan to its list of “Where to go in 2018: an insider’s guide” and now with nine flights a day from Qatar Airways and a journey time of three hours, it has never been easier to make this a destination.” He advised the interested not to pay heed to the often biased portrayal of his country. “The media image portrayed of Pakistan is so far from reality. Pakistan is culturally rich, diverse and the Pakistani people welcoming and tolerant. Misperceptions have been popularised by lazy, and at times, biased journalism,” the ambassador noted, before pointing out that the world had grown smaller through the frequency and low cost of travel. “There are really no excuses for unfounded opinion making. And I urge you to visit and see Pakistan for yourself,” Ambassador Ahmad said as a series of spectacular visuals played out on the large screen for the benefit of the guests. He was also sanguine about the state of bilateral relations with Qatar. He said Pakistan and Qatar shared extremely strong ties, and that theirs was “not a singular relationship but multi-faceted”. He noted that the last several years had seen those ties become ever stronger. “We pray for the success of our Qatari brethren, and our mission in Qatar continues to look for avenues of cooperation between our two countries. I am confident in our continued shared partnership,” the ambassador said, and thanked His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Qatari leadership, government and the people, for the love and support that they have shown and continue to show to the Pakistani people. The official ceremony concluded with the cutting of a cake by Qatari guests of honour, and the Pakistani ambassador. Yesterday’s high profile event was the second successive celebration of Pakistan’s National Day following Friday’s festivity on the embassy premises for expatriate Pakistanis. Yesterday’s celebration was made all the more memorable for it marked the day when Pakistan was crowned World Champions after winning the cricket World Cup in Australia. In a spirited coincidence, major league cricket also returned to Karachi yesterday after a hiatus of nine years, sparking wild jubilations back home. The Pakistani guests at Ritz-Carlton were soon treated to the live coverage of the Pakistan Super League final, doubled by an array of mouthwatering trademark Pakistani dishes, which were equally lapped up by foreigners of all shades.
Coinciding with the festive celebration back home, Pakistanis from all walks of life turned up at the embassy in Doha on Friday to mark the country’s 78th National Day with pomp. The day marks the passing of the historic resolution — also referred to as the ‘Pakistan Resolution’ — on March 23, 1940 in Lahore’s Minto Park — that laid the basis for the creation of an independent state for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. Families turned out in large numbers, many in colourful attire, mostly preferring to match the green visage of the national flag. Some cars were also bedecked in the same. The atmosphere had a touch of entertainment to it with foot-tapping national songs blaring through the music system in sync with the festive occasion. Ambassador Shahzad Ahmad hoisting the Pakistan flag. A group of students, who rendered national songs. Ambassador Shahzad Ahmed hoisted the national flag as the audience sang the national anthem in tandem. Smartly turned out contingents representing all three armed forces of Pakistan presented a welcome salute. Sadia Gohar Khanum, head of Chancery, then took the podium to read out messages from President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Paying homage to the Father of the Nation Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Poet Philosopher Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal and other great leaders of the freedom movement who paved the way for the creation of Pakistan through their valiant struggle, determination and unparalleled sacrifices, the president was quoted as saying: “This day is also a vivid reminder that Pakistan was established through a democratic struggle and that democracy is key to the continued development and stability of the country. It is therefore imperative that democratic values are promoted so that tolerance, forbearance and harmony flourish in the society and we are able to address the current challenges.” Prime Minister Abbasi also repeated the clarion call for sustaining the values that contributed to the creation of Pakistan. “We must dedicate ourselves to the security, solidarity, progress and prosperity of Pakistan by following the ideals of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal,” he said. Ambassador Ahmad congratulated his compatriots on enjoying the fruits of being an independent and free nation. Recognising their efforts in the promotion of a positive image of the country, he urged them to imbibe exemplary conduct in the line of duty so that “we could pride ourselves on being Pakistanis”. His speech was followed by the presentation of the two most popular patriotic numbers — Dil Dil Pakistan (My Heartbeat Pakistan) and Is Parcham Ke Saaye Tale (In The Shadow of This Flag) — by the students of Pakistan International School Qatar. Ambassador Ahmad then cut the celebratory cake crafted in Pakistan colours alongside the officers and staff of the embassy. The occasion also afforded members of the community to meet with them, and each other, in a spirit of communion. The ceremony concluded, as always, with a sumptuous treat made up of the traditional Lahore breakfast in the lawns of the embassy.
The Embassy of the Kingdom of Thailand marked its National Day in Doha with fervour on Tuesday. Ambassador Soonthorn Chaiyindeepum welcomed HE Dr Mohamed bin Saleh al-Sada, Minister of Energy and Industry; Dr Ahmed bin Hassan al-Hammadi, Foreign Ministry’s Secretary-General; and Ibrahim Yousif Abdullah Fakhro, Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Chief of Protocol, at the glittering ceremony. The rendezvous at St Regis drew a host of Qatari dignitaries, diplomatic corps, members of the Thai community in Doha, and a large number of guests from different walks of life. The Day is noted for its three aspects; one, being the country’s National Day; two, as the birth anniversary of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej; and finally, on its merit as the country’s ‘Father’s Day’. For Thais however, this year’s occasion was particularly poignant since it follows the demise of the much revered ‘Father of the Nation’ King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away, last October. In his speech on the occasion, Ambassador Chaiyindeepum recalled with much fondness the seven-decade reign of the King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his tireless contribution for the people. “His Majesty travelled to every corner of the Kingdom. He visited his people to learn how they live or what struggles they endure. The visits led to the setting up of more than 4,500 royal development projects under his initiative in numerous areas, from agriculture to environment, irrigation, public health and education in order to help uplift the quality of life of the Thai people,” Ambassador Chaiyindeepum said. The idea, the envoy, felt had culminated in a “Sufficiency Economy Philosophy” that “encourages Thai people to live within their means and apply reasonableness, moderation and self-immunity as the way of life”. The envoy confidently predicted that the country would continue its forward march under His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun. “Development in Thailand has never stopped or delayed. The government is committed to the democratic values with the rule of law, good governance, transparency, and respect for human rights as well as to enhance relations with all partners and playing a constructive role in Asean and the international community. Our economy continues to grow steadily. This year’s GDP growth is expected to be 3.5-4%, with infrastructure investment, exports and tourism as key drivers of the economy,” the ambassador pointed out. He was also sanguine about the bilateral relationship with Qatar since diplomatic ties were officially set in motion in 1980. He made special mention of Qatar’s “leading role in the global energy supply” and felt the current Gulf crisis would not impinge on the growing bilateral economic relationship. “Last year, the total volume of trade between our two countries stood at US$2.73 billion. For the past 10 months of this year (January-October), our two-way trade has already reached $2.46 billion. Qatar remains the biggest supplier of LNG to my country while export of food products from Thailand to Qatar has increased around 30 per cent, and automobile parts around 10 per cent, respectively. We are optimistic that this year’s trade volume will surpass that of last year,” he enthused. In conclusion, the ambassador expressed his heartfelt appreciation to His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and His Highness the Father Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and the Government of the State of Qatar “for the kind support that enables the Thai community to live and work happily in this country”.
For someone, who is, strictly speaking, not a qualified photographer to become one of his country’s ace photojournalists speaks volumes about his dedication, adaptability and skill. As you talk to Mobeen Ansari, it becomes obvious that the gift of observation apart, he is imbued with a sound temperament and the kind of patience that is imperative for great art. A graduate of the National College of Arts, where he majored in painting (whilst also pursuing printmaking and sculpting), Ansari found the Midas touch in photography thanks to an innate ability to reflect on life and explore the hidden. Based in Islamabad, Ansari, 31, likes to focus on places off the beaten path and passionately, pursued the unseen side of Pakistan as well as getting up, close and personal with both national icons and unsung heroes for the world to see — a result, he says, of a mission to change the negative portrayal of his country. He has brought out two books — the third is in the works — and also produced an award-winning short film. But it is the subject matter that merits closer attention. Dharkan: The Heartbeat of a Nation, his first, is a collection of stunning portraits and landscapes. His second work entitled White in the Flag is an intimate look at the minorities of Pakistan. The third is a continuation of the Dharkan series. Hellhole, the short film he directed and produced, is an ode to the sanitary workers who go to work at great risk to their lives so that the citizenry could breathe easier. Ansari, who, was in Doha last week as part of a bilateral photography exhibition with Haya al-Thani entitled Beautiful Pakistan, Amazing Qatar, has also exhibited his work in the US, Italy, China, India and Iraq. Clad in a green tee, the two-time TED talk giver, who, has also produced work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and featured in Newsweek to mention a few reputed names, opened up on his calling and the full gamut of photography during a special sitting with Gulf Times. Tell us about your initiation into serious photography. Art has always been an innate part of me; it has always been my passion. Since a very young age I’ve been very observant of my surroundings — mostly because of my hearing impairment. They say when God takes away something, He gives something in return and I believe that is something that has happened with me also. This observation has catapulted into my photography and sculpture. It all began in 1998 when my family went to the Khunjerab Pass near the Pakistan-China border; I saw my father, who was an IT engineer, take pictures which he later stitched to form a panoramic view. This fascinated me and got me interested in photography. It must have been in the genes — both my grandmother and grandfather also did photography in the pre-Partition era. Part of the inspiration came from their work. In my school days, my father bought a digital camera, which I would also take to school and take lots of pictures. This became an unsuspecting opportunity to bring out my inner passion for photography. One day, a classmate of mine got into a fight over a girl and lost; he then retreated to the basketball court to vent his humiliation. Incidentally, I was at the court with my camera and thought to myself — I could either let the moment pass or give respond to the urge to capture the raw emotion. Impulsively, I did the latter and, in hindsight, developed a very strong connection with human nature. What equipment is your first love? What are the essentials of photography as refined as yours? Actually, all tools complement each other, but I have a liking for two lenses; one is the wide angle lens which I use extensively everywhere I go now and zoom as well. I got my first DSLR in 2005 and still use the same lens. Having said that, let me say that it doesn’t matter how much you upgrade your equipment. What matters is how much you improve your aesthetics, and practice. About essentials, well, this is something I keep asking myself. Every once in a while, I like to reinvent my style to break the monotony. There’s no one template I adhere to. What particular genre appeals to you the most? How do you figure out the colour and black and white choices? All of them have a different appeal; portrait because it allows me to understand the subject better — you need to follow the body language. It is like a silent communication. Landscape, on the other hand, is something you can never fall out of love. It has a charm of its own. You can’t really choose between the two; I have tried to, but really can’t! As for choosing between colour and black and white, I’d have to quote Ted Grant, a veteran Canadian photojournalist, who famously said: “When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!” Having said that, there are of course, technical aspects involved. For me, the best time would be late afternoon when the light is good for a portrait. I like to use the iconic Rembrandt’s lighting techniques to give my portraits a painterly feel. I love black and white and would prefer my subject to be near a window with light seeping in so that I have more control. It enables to hide flaws as well. When did you first make a mark of your potential? It was back in 2007 — my first year at the National College of Arts — when I did this portrait of a Bedouin on the outskirts of Islamabad for the Blue Chip magazine, which made it to the cover. Difficult as it may be for an artist to pick, what would you reckon is your favourite image? You know what the famous American graphic designer and painter Paula Scher said about “best work”? Well, she might have been marking out the guiding philosophy for me when she said: “I’m driven by the hope that I haven’t done my best work yet”. Am not shying away from picking, but that’s where I pretty much rest my case at the moment! Give us an insight into your most famous work todate — Dharkan: The Heartbeat of a Nation. I was in my final year at NCA and in the midst of this self-inquiry; questioning the very purpose of my being. I’d wish I could contribute to making my part of the world a better place. I thought of doing these images, which could hopefully, change the negative narrative about Pakistan. At the time, the security situation wasn’t so good. So I thought to myself — I must find the inspiration amongst her resilient people. I wanted to put Pakistanis from all shades into one spectrum and so got into photographing both the renowned and the unsung heroes. It wasn’t planned as a book, but eventually, it did take shape into one. It is a continuing series. There were portraits of 98 individuals in Dharkan-1 and so far, I’ve done 74 in Dharkan-2. Talking of portraits, which is your forte, what kind of emotion do you think makes the close-up talk? Is there a template to make this work every single time? The basic principle is respect; you’ve got to respect your subject, your craft. There is a general tendency to be commercially driven, but I think apart from the element of design and bringing harmony to the proceedings, it is about respecting the art. You have made outstanding portraits of the who’s who of Pakistan. Who was the most intense, the most fun and the most difficult? It was all pretty engaging though Shahid Afridi seemed a hard catch at the time with much toing and froing in a madcap race to catch him courtesy third party sources. Finally, when we did manage to get through to him directly, we were given just 4 minutes to get it over with! That was challenging to say the least. But he was busy as you would expect from someone of his stature. As for fun, Behroze Sabzwari nailed it. Comical in an inimitable way, he reprised his famous character as Qabacha in that much followed mid-80s TV serial Tanhaiyaan. Another standout, for me, was (the folk musician) Arif Lohar, who brought out a very colourful visage in what was actually a black and white portrait! There were others, who took a very long time to be persuaded to come forward for Dharkan — (the famous Vital Signs member and Coke Studio founder) Rohail Hyatt and (premier filmmaker) Shoaib Mansoor, for instance. I explained to them that this was not a commercial venture; rather, it was a celebration of iconic Pakistanis, and which would serve as a historic reference material for future generations. During the course of your work, you must have met tens of dozens of people and trekked the country up and down. Who and what inspired you the most? I have five favourite Pakistanis. (World renowned philanthropist) Abdul Sattar Edhi is on top of that list. No words I say can do justice to the kind of service he rendered for humankind. Journalist Ardeshir Cowasjee was one of our bravest people. He abhorred privilege and would write on sensitive issues with uncompromising might. He was always on the right side of the common man. A gentleman, he would extend loans to students privately to help them and not take back when the time came. Documentary filmmaker and rights activist Samar Minallah is another favourite. She is incredible. She has made taken up and documented issues related to the tribal areas, which is not everyone’s cup of tea. She has dealt with subjects like swara and vani — tribal customs that subjugate girls and women — with such compelling force that it led to the official banning of those anti-social practices. Sayed Gul Kalash is an archaeologist, who is pursuing PhD in Kalasha — an indigenous and the smallest ethnoreligious community of Pakistan. She is working to preserve their identity, heritage and culture with such dedication. Bapsi Sidwa, our accomplished novelist of Parsi descent, rounds up the list. Sidwa brings the country such honour. She is also my ‘adopted’ grandmother! How was White in The Flag conceived? How much of an impact did it make compared to Dharkan? Actually, the idea was conceived even before Dharkan during my forays into Karachi as a final year NCA student. It was done parallel to my work for Dharkan; sometimes I would do 15 shoots at a time to make it! The response to both the works was more or less the same, but paradoxically, different too, because the audience was different. Dharkan was more personality based. White in the Flag has more insight in that it covers Pakistan’s rich minority landscape. You have also directed and produced the short film Hellhole. How did it come about? Will you be doing more such fare in the near future? It was a chance encounter with a sanitary worker (Akram Masih) whom I happened to see from a distance bob up and down a dirty manhole in Karachi back in 2010. There was dirt all over him as he went about his paces with muddy water splashing up and down and gas fumes renting the air. I’d never seen anything like it. For a paltry sum, he would undertake such a risky path to earn his bread so that people like us could move on with our lives. Later, I learnt that their life expectancy is 42-45 years. It all impacted me greatly. Hellhole is a silent film; there are no dialogues in it, but it has this universal theme. Am currently, engaged in another short film, but on a different subject. It’s about birds. Who has inspired you the most? Amongst your contemporaries, which one would you mark as noteworthy? American photojournalists Steve McCurry — famous for his 1984 “Afghan Girl” portrait for the National Geographic — and Esther Bubley, who specialised in photography of ordinary people, in the era of illustrated magazines long before even our parents were born. Their art of portraiture is something I’ve tried to follow. Esther’s use of light and images of railway stations were incredible. She did intimate work on the black community. Amongst contemporaries, photojournalists Haseeb Amjad, Danial Shah, who is also a filmmaker, and Khaula Jamil (best known for her work for the ‘Humans of Karachi’) are doing fantastic work. It’s a coincidence that all of them belong to Karachi. Has it all become too convenient to live by smartphone photography? Do you think with all its user friendly tools, it is eating into the art? We have to remember it is the age of social media, where a certain culture of ‘likes’ dominates, which sort of prevents critique. Yes, the tools are better today, but I think what is lacking is constructive criticism in terms of feedback. I, too, upload pictures to even flickr — which once upon a time was the go-to platform — for feedback. I still talk to my seniors, asking them if, and where, I’m going wrong and how to improve. There are still people who do photography the old-fashioned way and there is still a line between professionals and hobbyists. Having said that, I wouldn’t really blame smartphone photography, for, there are enthusiasts who do a great job of it, too — sometimes even better than us. Even I do it, but very occasionally. Sometimes it just depends on circumstances where you have to capture a fleeting moment — at a moment’s notice. Smartphone photography, that way, gives you that flexibility. What advice would you give aspiring photographers — to ‘real’ photographers, not their smartphone cousins? (Laughs) to everybody, really. Passion is the key. Always think you still have to create your best work. Always. Because that keeps you driven. The moment you think your best work is done, you lose motivation — as is true of life itself. Keep an open eye and an open mind; do not be afraid to express yourself. Most important of all — this is something I’ve learnt in the last two months or so — Don’t be afraid of your inner child. Always be curious; you know how a child keeps raising questions. You have to keep asking these questions!
— Fatima Fasih, artist, teacher, social activist It is not very often that you come across an unassuming 26-year-old, who is a reflective artist, eschews a comfortable life in one of the world’s most coveted places in favour of making a hard knuckle difference in her home country, and speaks with clarity and eloquence on the relationship between India and Pakistan. It is even rarer to find a child of such gifts when she has had to traverse paths across India, Pakistan and faraway Canada with all its heterogeneous challenges and find a balance doing so. It is probably convenient to put that equipoise down to ‘rich experience’ but then, it is not given to every individual to forsake personal gain for a higher calling. Fatima Fasih, who also teaches art to early birds, is unique in another sense, though for this distinction she would have to accede to a biological mooring. She has an Indian mother and a Pakistani father — a match she calls made in heaven. Even so, their lives — and those of their progenies — are worthily being lived down here! Fatima has a Perfect Four pillar to count on: Mother Ilmana Quraishi is a gynaecologist; father Dr Syed Fasihuddin a pulmonologist; brother Ismail Fasih soon to become a kinesilogist; and husband, Abdullah Faiz, an engineer. Three of them — Fatima, her mother and brother — are also Canadian citizens. Beginning her academic journey from a British-Pakistani school in Jeddah and finishing with an MSc from the University of Toronto, Fatima is credited with winning the ‘Emerging Artist of the Year Award’ under the aegis of Mississauga Arts Council Awards 2016 as well as the Hazel McCallion ‘Volunteer of the Year Award’ for charity work — through her paintings that helped raise $20,000 — for both women in conflict, and refugees in Syria. Like her father, who, invested every single penny of his life’s earnings to establish a medical facility — Taj Consultants Clinics in Karachi — in the country of his birth after his long journey abroad (devotedly helped by her mother), Fatima, born in Makkah, too, chose to return home to turn the page as a social activist in pushing for sustainable practices. The young Sustainable Development Programme Manager at the Centre of Excellence for Responsible Business even has a coinage for her home-return ‘mission impossible’ — ‘Vapistani’ or the ‘Pakistani returnee’. Over to Fatima and her musings: Tell us about yourself: where you hail from, where you received education, your family, travel… I was born in Makkah and grew up in Saudi Arabia. Our parents tried to give us a desi upbringing so we went to a British-Pakistani school in Jeddah, which really instilled in me the love for art, culture and Urdu language. By the time I did my A levels, we moved to Canada and I started my BSc at the University of Toronto and soon also acquired an MSc in Sustainability Management from my alma mater as well. It was a great experience to go to a prestigious university and it really helped me gain confidence in setting my life goals and priorities. I have one sibling, my brother Ismail, whom I consider to be one of my best friends. My parents always gave us well-grounded values about life and our roots. We travelled quite a bit as children and had a few opportunities to travel to Guatemala into my university years to explore coffee farming and its sustainability, and later, Thailand to explore sustainable tourism. After my MSc, I decided to move to Pakistan and focus on bringing some change since there is little to no sustainability work or initiatives in the country. As soon as I moved to Karachi, I got a job in the renewable energy sector at EcoEnergy Pakistan to bring electricity to rural Sindh province’s off grid areas. Later, I got married and have now started working as Sustainable Development Program Manager at the Centre of Excellence for Responsible Business (CERB) to push businesses to work on adopting sustainable practices and increasing awareness in society. Tell us about your experience growing up in Canada My Canadian experience has been the most life-changing and has taught me a lot about myself and my values. My experience there was amazing in terms of making the most of my education, getting into the most prestigious university, having professors that are not just teachers, but friends and mentors, and making friends from all over the world. It was a great learning experience and made me very independent. By being in Canada, I was able to learn from libraries, walk-in bookshops and community centres about art and watercolours. It also provided a lot of exposure to my work. Being a Pakistani in Canada helped me reach out to many immigrant Pakistanis, who, felt it was imperative to let go of their ethnic values and culture to fit in to a Western society. I disagreed with many and still stayed very linked to my artwork which related to Pakistani culture. I was proud to show my roots and told them that they could do the same and still fit in the mainstream Canadian society — because that is Canada. Canada doesn’t require us to change ourselves to fit in, rather you’re already welcome as you are. You have a unique family set-up; your maternal side hails from India and paternal Pakistan. How did this interesting match come about? (Laughs)… I think this question should be answered by my parents, but I do believe it was a match made in heaven and their relationship is premised in understanding and accommodation for one another. It shows that no matter what the differences you can make it work if there is love and friendship. Unique as it is, does the distinct identity feel like a privilege or burden in a geographical sense? I always thought of it as a privilege and never a burden as I was fond of visiting both countries during summer vacations. I would wear clothes Made in India in Pakistani parties, and vice versa. I got to see both similar, albeit different cultures, and it was a good harmony of the mind for me. I had a phrase that I would say to explain this harmony: I love India, but I own Pakistan. Visa issues and police reporting were the cheap price we paid for this privilege. Some might think of these as a burden, but I was happy that I was able to discover another country, which most of my friends weren’t really able to. Purely from a reader’s point of view, how, if at all, does the identity bit play out at home when India and Pakistan are locked in a battle say, on a cricket field? Mostly, my father, brother and I support the Pakistani team and my mother acts as a bridge since Pakistan has been the underdog for quite some time. Sometimes when India is winning, we actually get mildly annoyed by our mother for defending the Indian team (in her heart) and so she gets to hear, Zyada Indian na banein (Don’t try to be overtly Indian) from me. What do you most like about Pakistan and India, respectively? The two celebrated their 70th Independence Day last August, but are nowhere near the next door neighbours they ought to be. What do you think keeps them apart, and what can possibly bring them close enough to at least live in harmony? In Pakistan, particularly in Karachi, I love the resilient nature and warm spirit of the people. In India, I love the organised chaos and fast life of Delhi, its bright colours and handicrafts. In both places, I love the diversity and tolerance. I always wonder what a super power the subcontinent would have been if all of us were united. Brutal historic events and misunderstandings have kept the countries apart and only friendship, art and trade can keep them in harmony. Maybe, then we will be able to solve bigger problems that we both face together. How do you relate to art? What best describes the medium? I don’t ever remember a time where I wasn’t connected to art. I remember growing up, winning the ‘Artist of the Year Award’ at school every year besides ruining our home walls much before that. Hence, I relate to it by nature almost subconsciously; fortunately, I found a medium as versatile, challenging and meditative as watercolours. They have really become my identity. What genre do you practice and what — or who — inspired you to get into it? Watercolours — and that’s it. On a creative level, I work with stained glass art and some DIYs at home, but watercolour is the medium that I have been working on for the past decade. My mother was the one who helped me start watercolours when I was barely 16. She motivated me to paint at least one a day! I also grew up inspired by (world renowned Pakistani artist) Sadequain’s incomplete painting on the ceiling of the famed Frere Hall (left in that state because he passed away). I still remember staring at it in awe as an 11-year-old and getting inspired by the immense detail and hard work that went into it. That’s how I pushed myself to work in detailed watercolour paintings. What does it take to harness the craft? Many people ask about how to become an artist — most think of it only in a commercial sense, but they do not realise the time that is invested in harnessing this skill. It takes time, perseverance, and then, a bit of courage to cross the hesitation that artists have within, in reaching their goal. What themes appeal the most to you? From most of my work, you can tell that there is a very South Asian/desi connect to it. In the global mainstream art, I feel a lot of Pakistan’s ethnic and cultural art and handicrafts are ignored and my work is a small attempt in showing how this country, too, has many cultures that radiate vibrant colours and ethnic traditions involving art that has existed since centuries, such as Sindh’s blue pottery, Balochistan’s tribal music and embroidery, and so on. Hence, my inspiration to start working on such art comes from the colours I see and how I want the world to see it. What do you consider to be your best work and why? My series of paintings for the exhibition on ‘Women in Armed Conflict’ was my best series, in my opinion, mainly because of how testing it was. I remember thinking so hard about the women that face conflict (for no fault of theirs) and how they manage to survive — or may be not — through the turmoil. My favourite painting of that series was of the Sudanese women fleeing South Sudan with kids tied to their backs and luggage over their heads. Through those series, I won the Women’s Centre Scholarship while I was doing my Masters in Sustainability Management at the University of Toronto. My next favourite work is a series of Sufi paintings I made — those were the reason how my work got a lot of appreciation. They were also judged by the MARTYS 2016 (Mississaga Arts Council Awards) in Toronto which led me to win the ‘Emerging Artist of the Year Award’. I also did a lot of charity work through my paintings — both for women in conflict, but also refugees in Syria — raising about $20,000 and through that work I won the Hazel McCallion Volunteer of the Year Award as well at the MARTYS 2016. Have you exhibited your work? Do you sell art? Yes, I’ve exhibited my work at plenty of local art cafes and also in the Aga Khan Museum last year in Toronto. I hope to exhibit work soon in beautiful places such as the TDF Ghar in Karachi as well. I sell my work on Etsy, but also create commissioned pieces for art lovers and it has helped me hone and sharpen my skills even more. What brought you back to Pakistan when it would have been much more convenient to enjoy the greener pastures in Canada? I’m often asked this and each time my response is this: living in any part of the world or country is tough. There are pros and cons of living in every place and moving to Pakistan with a good education meant to me that I could bring some good to the country and also have an impact on the issues that matter to me, such as the environment. I assume I got this trait from my father, who, despite all fears and tensions, always wanted to set up a hospital in Pakistan that would provide quality and affordable care. Fortunately, I’ve found the same enthusiasm in my husband, Abdullah Faiz, who currently works as Project Engineer in P&G and wants to be a part of the workforce in Pakistan that gives back to the country with high mark work ethic. It’s been a great experience for me to be here and I proudly call myself a Vapistani (loosely translated a Pakistani returnee). What is the most important life lesson that you think held you in good stead? I remember when I was giving my O Level exams back in 2009, I was going through a tough time and my mother, using a calligraphy pen, wrote in Urdu, Himmat se badal jaata hai taqdeer ka dhaara (with resilience, you can change the circle of fate). Those magical words have stayed with me and helped me persevere through all tough times and, then some. They hold good even when I sit down contemplating an art work!
Milestones with a round figure - say, the 70th - have a nice ring about it. While seven decades in the life of a nation do not quite make it old, it is the journey that counts. By all counts, it has been an eventful one, with an ever young spirit. The joie de vivre was evident as Pakistanis from all walks of life converged at the embassy in Doha to celebrate their country’s . Braving sweltering heat, families turned out in large numbers, thematically drawing from the green visage of the national flag in their attire. Some cars were also bedecked in the colour of the moment. Ambassador Shahzad Ahmed hoisting the national flag. Photos by Noushad Thekkayil The ambience had a veneer of entertainment to it with pop patriotism in full swing - foot-tapping national songs blaring through the music system doing its bit to lift the spirit on a humid day. A smartly turned out contingent of Pakistan’s armed forces made an impressive entry before a personnel presented the crescent-and-star green and white national flag. Shahzad Ahmed, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Qatar, hoisted the national flag as the audience sang the national anthem in unison. Sadia Gohar Khanum, Head of Chancery, then took the podium to read out messages from President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. “Today, let us make a firm commitment that we will adhere to our national objectives and goals. This will pave the way for better governance. It will lead to maturity of democratic traditions and will also strengthen the process of national progress,” the president was quoted as saying. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, on the other hand, struck a poignant note about the value of freedom. “Today, we are treading the path of prosperity and progress in a peaceful and dignified country because of the unparalleled sacrifices rendered by our ancestors,” he recalled. “Pakistan desires positive and constructive relations with all the countries of the world, especially with its neighbours on the basis of sovereign equality,” the prime minister drove home. Students rendering a national song Ambassador Shahzad Ahmed while congratulating the gathering on the Independence Day exhorted his compatriots to work single-mindedly for the progress and prosperity of Pakistan. “We must uphold the values and principles that make ours a great nation,” he said, underpinning Father of The Nation Quaid-e-Azam Mohamed Ali Jinnah’s motto of ‘Unity, Faith, Discipline’. The ambassador was also sanguine about the state of relations with Qatar, saying the two brotherly Islamic countries were moving ahead with great vigour and vitality in the diplomatic and economic spheres. Schoolchildren made their presence felt with speeches and popular national songs like Dil Dil Pakistan (Heart, Heart Pakistan) with some zest. Syed Intisar Hussain, a Doha-based broadcast engineer, regaled the audience with the rendition of Ye Watan Tumhara Hai (This Land is Yours) and Ae Watan Pyaare Watan (Oh Land, the Beloved Land). Children decked in the Pakistan colours. Malik Sarfraz, a cheerleader known for his vocal support for all things Pakistani around Doha, was a familiar presence and took to brightening the mood in the embassy hall with full throated slogans. Murad Baseer, who has joined the embassy as Deputy Head of Mission, coming from Bern, Switzerland, was impressed with the large turnout and the energy and buzz at the celebration, saying he looked forward to a fruitful tenure in Doha. A delectable cake, made after the colours and contours of the national flag, was cut by the ambassador and officers of the mission. As ever, the celebration would have been amiss without the traditional Lahori breakfast made of halwa puri, chana and tea - hot from the oven as it were - making the large gathering feel completely at home in Doha.
Two years is a long time to be hooked to the idea of a time-lapse: the fervid ambition to capture the essence of a place — Doha, in this case, the man hours, the obstacles, the frustration, the patience — all testing the endurance of one’s passion. Fortunately, Sami Qazi proved equal to the task. The result is a labour of love most of us can be proud to own. The release of This Is Where I live (Qatar) time-lapse (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKleoxww8IU&feature=youtu.be) has coincided with the spurt of love, loyalty and patriotism for Qatar at home what with the ongoing Gulf crisis. It lifts the spirit of all those who live here; citizens and expat residents alike. No wonder, it is making waves on the social media. Community sat down recently with the 30-something Pakistani, who has made such a splash with the time-lapse to know more about him and the work. Excerpts from an interview: Tell us briefly about yourself … I am a self-taught photographer and videographer. My father came to Qatar in the Seventies; since then, we have been living in Qatar. I was born and bred in Doha. I passed secondary school here from the Pakistan Education Centre and did my graduation from Pakistan before returning to Qatar. Currently, am associated with the Al-Kass Sports Channel — my office for the past 10 years. When and how did you conceive This Is Where I live (Qatar) video/time lapse? I am passionate about photography and videography — specifically time-lapse videos. I intend to post a time-lapse video once a year at least. I began shooting for This Is Where I live in mid-2015, while shooting for Mega Qatar. I decided to name it about four months ago when finalising the shots. I am a part of this time-lapse community (a group of different time lapsers around the world), and I wanted to share with them the beautiful country where I am born and where I live. I made this video to proudly show to the world what my birthplace looks like. Was there a specific video/time-lapse that motivated you? Years ago, I watched a time-lapse video for the first time on YouTube; it was Norway or Denmark, I’m not really sure now. It inspired me so much that, since then, I began toying with cameras and self-practising for time-lapses (I remember taking GoPro from a friend just to test timelapse features on it). For the past few years, I have been making at least one time-lapse video a year and posting it on my social media platforms. Was it a collaboration? Who provided the musical score? What equipment did you use? How long did it take to turn in the product? Like with my previous videos, it is a solo concept and effort. I’m very thankful to the people who helped me in accessing locations and shooting approvals, I always credit them all in my videos, especially my friends Aamir MD Naeem, Nabeel Baig and Shams Qtr. The music for This Is Where I Live is by Songwriter and Producer Ivan Torrent. I chased him for long by emails to get his approval to use his masterpiece in my video. Finally, one lucky day, after five months, he consented to it happily. For shooting this video I have used two Canon cameras, 550D and 6D, and several lenses. It took me almost two years to complete the project. Who is it dedicated to, if at all? It is dedicated to Doha, Qatar, and every person living here. Tell us about your other projects… I have already started working on my next project that has slo-mo shots and some really cool visuals. I hope people will enjoy it, too. Who and what themes inspire you the most, and why? I fancy landscapes and sky scrapers. Often while listening to soothing and soulful music, various concepts and ideas pop up in my mind. How do you manage to juggle work and your passion? Ahh... I must say it’s really tough, especially for a guy who works in shifts but I guess your passion, love and enthusiasm for something motivates you to spare time out of a robotic life to feel yourself come alive! What is that you particularly like about Qatar? Peace of mind and safety. I must say it is the most secure and safest place on earth, Alhamdulillah. May Allah make this glorious country more prosperous — Amen. What is your life’s goal and desire? My utmost goal and desire is to work in the field of my passion as a Visual Director. (I hope my HR department is reading this!). What sport do you follow? Football, table tennis and MMA (mixed martial arts). You’re also an avid photographer. What is closer to your heart — videography or still photography? I believe learning is fun so I like to try both depending on mood. But one has got to always focus on one’s work with the core of one’s heart to get the best out of it. What is your mantra in photography? I consider it an expression of my fantasy, opinion and perspective. How do you define a good photo? I personally believe it is a perfect frame. Though people have their own opinions and approach, I concentrate more on frames. What is the genre of photography that appeals to you? I am more into landscapes, but I love portraits, too. I have worked less on portraits, but you will find a few of them on my social media profile. What, in your considered view, is the best image you have ever taken, and why? Honestly, I feel I need to learn more to reach that level of contentment where I can tell myself…“Yes, this is a masterpiece”. Who is the single greatest influence on your life and why? This might sound funny, but in my adolescence, I was very fond of action and super fiction films and music videos with super cool camera work and CGI animation. I remember, back in those days, my favourite music videos were Between Angels & Insects by Papa Roach; Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day; The Pretender by Foo Fighters and Waiting For the End by Linkin Park; Mahi by Hadiqa Kiyani; Anjani by Strings; and Matrix (film-wise). Such visuals have always inspired me to do something similar, but I haven’t done anything nearer to these graphics yet, but who knows! Someday, In Sha Allah. Personally speaking, I credit my father for highlighting this hidden talent in me. It was he, who recognised my photography skills at an early age when I didn’t know anything about cameras. But the way I used to capture a frame, that’s what my father got attracted to. And so I became the official family photographer! My father’s confidence in me catapulted my interest in photography and videography. What single life lesson would you advise people wanting to succeed in photography as a career? Be humble and patient with your talent. Keep learning. Turn a deaf ear to negative voices and a blind eye to the naysayers, but do heed genuine and sincere people. Believe in — and rely on — yourself only. Focus on your work and don’t expect help or favours from anyone. And, if someday, you become someone, then, tread lightly.
Nadia Fawad is a thinking woman’s artist with a teacher’s nous. She is reflective; drawing inspiration from her surroundings — “be it something as celestial as a spectacular sunset or as mundane as a kitchen utensil” — and leaving a mark with her creativity. She feels more at home with glass painting and ceramic work even though she has experimented with different media like sketching, oil paintings, water painting, crayons and pencil colours. In a freewheeling interview with Community, Nadia typically puts her heart and soul into how she sees the medium — “living art” as she fondly puts it. Tell us a bit about yourself: where you hail from, where you received education, your family, travel and experiences… I am true to myself and like to take up challenges. This has helped me blaze a trail in all my endeavours. I hail from Pakistan. My graduation was from the Punjab University in the industrial city of Gujrat. During my undergraduate days, I had been a star badminton player with many trophies to my credit. My married life took me to Islamabad, the country’s capital; I seized this opportunity to buttress my qualifications and acquired a Diploma in Montessori Professional Teaching from the renowned Montessori Teaching Training College at Westridge, Rawalpindi. Armed with new qualifications, I started my professional career at the SLS School, considered amongst the leading schools in Islamabad. But it is not like me to rest on my laurels. My husband’s job then as an engineer with Pakistan Television Corporation saw us move to Muzaffarabad. There, I acquired Master’s degree in English Language and Literature from the AJK University. My late father is survived by my mother, still in Gujrat, and my two siblings, now happily married. How do you relate to art? What best describes the medium? Art is a very insightful subject. I see art as an extension of my personality. Art, much akin to philosophy, reflects the innermost realities of humanity. Art depicts the interplay between individuals and the material world. It intertwines and stitches together the material and spiritual realities and brings forth a reality that is truer than life. The insight for this expression is derived through divine inspiration for which an artist needs to think and live the art whilst being acutely aware of the omnipresence of God and beholden for the artistic gift. Whichever art form that enables the fulfilment of such expression is the most appropriate medium. What genre of art do you practice and what — or who — inspired you to get into it? Visual art is my genre. I experiment with different media like sketching, oil paintings, water painting, crayons and pencil colours, but I believe my inspirational artwork are best represented through the media of glass painting and ceramic work. My sister, who is a professional artist, has been my guiding light. My God-given artistic gift has been nurtured and brought to fruition through exposure to her works. What does it take to harness the craft? Is there an artist you admire or have learnt from? The more one makes art a part of one’s self, the better it gets. That means, thinking art, doing art, living art. One, then, sees art in everything, be it something as celestial as a spectacular sunset or as mundane as a kitchen utensil. Having said that, I make craft out of waste. Many a piece of disposable bottles or carry-bags can be transformed into admirable pieces of artwork. I was introduced to this type of art by my art teacher at the Montessori Teaching Training College. From then onwards, I took a special interest and refined my interpretation of this art through the application of my cognitive skills to such a level that when I now see waste like plastic bottles, packaging cartons or similar disposables, I begin to visualise the piece of art that can be made from it! What themes appeal the most to you and where do you get the inspiration to get down to work? Nature, in its many shades of green, charms me the most, as it did William Wordsworth. Inspiration comes from contemplation. A silent introspection of one’s experiences, thoughts and feelings sets the tone and the setting to settle down to a creative project. What do you consider to be your best work and why? I have done calligraphy on mirrors using glass paints, for which I received wide appreciation. My most impactful contribution to art was during my tenure as the Project Officer in the NGP called Action Aid in Pakistan. I had developed and run a programme to up-skill rural teachers from traditional teaching methods to modern lesson planning techniques. Have you exhibited your work? Do you sell art? Over the years, I have held exhibitions in various fora in Pakistan and the feedback has been very encouraging. Sale of my work has been more for my inner creative satisfaction of knowing what worth my works would sell for rather than for commercial objectives. I do this work for my inner creative satisfaction. An artist is always happy in his own company so long as the fire of creativity burns bright within. Art provides catharsis from any loneliness. What do you like about the expat experience the most? With a burgeoning expat community in Qatar, there are numerous opportunities to showcase one’s capabilities and talents. One of these was the exhibition at the MIA Park, where I got the opportunity to exhibit my work of art rather than to sell. My work elicited keen interest from many. What is it that you most miss about home? How often do you travel back? As an expat, it is hard not to miss hometown. The places where we played as children, our parents, extended family, friends, the breath-taking natural beauty of the countryside, the pleasant weather, my favourite foods… the list is endless. But most of the all, I profoundly feel the separation from my mother which is what compels me most to visit my country time and again. Being with her literally, makes me feel alive. Tell us about an interesting anecdote from your life that brings a smile, a tear or just fond remembrance… Life lived to the fullest is replete with profound experiences, some more memorable and impactful than others. My father’s demise was one such turning point, which thrust me straight into the thick of life. I was suddenly expected to be mature and responsible. Thankfully, I out-lived the challenge, by the Grace of Allah the Almighty and my husband’s unfailing support in no small measure, and I am now the stronger for it. The sense of gratitude and the feeling of accomplishment at having discharged my responsibilities brings both tears to my eyes and the curl of a smile to my lips. What is the most important life lesson that you think held you in good stead, and would probably everyone else? “When you have more than you need, use it to build a longer table, not a higher fence.” This is the guiding philosophy for my thoughts and deeds. It allows me to experience the pleasure of giving and the joy to be able to spread happiness around. To sum it up, Seek the Light and Spread it.
The other week, China sent out the strongest message yet of its ambition to carve out what has the makings of a ‘new world order’ — something that had until now been considered the sole preserve of the United States, especially since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. With the unfancied Donald Trump winning the election on the pivot of “Making America Great Again” — designed around an inward policy — and one that is cast in a protectionist mould, a confident China finds itself free to pursue an economic zeitgeist that has the potential to turn it into the world’s leading power. In this larger scheme of things, it finds heavyweight Russia on its side quite simply because their strategic interests converge. The One Belt, One Road — or OBOR, to be more succinct — saw heads of state and government from 29 countries, representatives from more than 40 other countries, and heads of UN and multilateral financial agencies, including IMF and World Bank, turn up in Beijing. An eye for a pie in the trillion dollar infrastructure development project that links the old Silk Road with Europe was palpable. Even the US and Japan sent delegations. The who’s who were keen on getting to know what’s what of the phenomenal juggernaut that, at the moment, binds 68 countries from Asia and Africa to Europe and even South America — accounting for up to 40 trillion of the world’s GDP — in a potential partnership whose gravitas for a windfall is lost on no-one. The OBOR initiative is a manifestation of the shifting sands in global geopolitics, where look-East will hoist Eurasia at the centre of economic and trade activity away from the US-led transatlantic regime. To be certain, Chinese President Xi Jinping has made the OBOR initiative the centrepiece of his infrastructure behemoth, the sheer scale of which, the world has not seen since the end of the Second World War. According to Chinese government estimates, nearly $1tn has been invested in the OBOR with multiple trillion more to come in the next decade. Beijing is also pumping a collective $150bn in development projects in the 68 countries that are part of the project. The only major regional country to abstain from the epoch-making summit in Beijing was India, which has serious reservations about the project owing to its competing interests with China and the OBOR flagship project — China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — which pitches Pakistan right at the fulcrum of the path leading to South and Central Asia. Both China and Pakistan have offered India to join the profitable engine of economic growth, but so far it remains wary of the geographical bind that has Pakistan sitting pretty with a bilateral engagement (CPEC) estimated at approximately $57bn, and which, is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. It has seen a surge of nearly $11bn in the last three years alone from an initial projected $46bn! For Islamabad, of course, this is more than a prized venture that promises to turn its fortunes around. Once it materialises, it will have insulated Pakistan from any untoward economic downturn and largely addressed the perennial issue of capital. From initial misgivings at home about unequal distribution thanks to political bickering, CPEC has now assumed a certain unity of purpose four years down the road, which was evident in how Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invited chief ministers of two provinces where his political rivals rule, and both not only accepted the invitation but were a prominent presence in an official delegation led by Sharif that easily outscored every other country at the summit! The CPEC has elevated a more than five-decade-old strategic partnership based largely on security cooperation — famously dubbed as being “Higher than the Himalayas and Deeper than the Oceans” — into a dynamic economic relationship whose reach and potential entwines them in an unbreakable bond. While China would literally, expand its economic might thousands of miles across the region, Pakistan can hardly complain about being the gateway for two routes — the continental Eurasian Silk Road Economic Belt and a Southeast Asian Maritime Silk Road! Prime Minister Sharif had plenty to smile about as he oversaw the signing of new wide-ranging accords amounting to $500mn, including an airport in Gwadar — the site of a deep water port that opens into the Arabian Sea from the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang; the setting up of a dry port in Havelian in northern Pakistan; and economic and technical co-operation for the East Bay Expressway linking Gwadar to Pakistan’s highway network. Addressing the plenary session of the two-day powerhouse of a show in Beijing, Sharif called for finding a connect in line with the official theme entitled ‘Co-operation for Common Prosperity’. “It is time we transcend our differences, resolve conflicts through dialogue and diplomacy and leave a legacy of peace for future generations,” he emphasised, before driving home the imperative of peace and security through economic progress. “The OBOR signifies that geo-economics must take precedence over geo-politics, and that the centre of gravity should shift from conflict to cooperation,” he said, and rejected the notion of encirclement of any country. President Xi underlined this by allaying concerns that OBOR was designed to manipulate geopolitics for Beijing’s vested interest. “China is willing to share its development experience with all countries. We will not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. We will not export our social system and development model, and will not impose our views on others,” he concluded. * The writer is Community Editor
The two most powerful warriors are patience and time. — Leo Tolstoy An emotional Pakistan bid adieu to her two most accomplished and beloved sons the other day. Life came to a virtual standstill as the Test decider in Dominica ground to a tense last seven balls as an unfancied West Indies threatened to pull off an unlikely draw and deny captain Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan the farewell they deserved. For starters, very few sportspersons are given to honourable farewells. Fewer still are courageous enough to make the right call at the right time. Cricket lore is replete with examples of greats scripting their own caricaturisation. For Misbah and Younis to publicly announce their retirement beforehand — even when they were good enough to hold their own and, in a country where this has hardly ever been the tradition — was outstanding. What this series victory will do is embellish our memories of their heroic services. It will make the heart grow fonder even if it is melancholic at the moment. “All good things must come to end” — that familiar refrain — is what appears to be the nearest thing to a balm at the moment. But there is a good reason why such adulation is reserved for Misbah and Younis, which even players greater than them have not been able to take home in retirement. Both these gentlemen have been outstanding role models — not just for Pakistan but the entire sporting world. They were very accomplished, but humble to a fault; winning laurels but always crediting their teammates and others; never speaking ill of anyone despite personal attacks; always looking out to help their juniors by absorbing the pressure and giving them generous space to grow; but above all else, plying their trade with exemplary commitment, discipline and honesty. Mark that last word! When Misbah was handed the reins in 2010 — at 36, most people are on the verge of retirement in the sport — it was done surreptitiously in a clerk’s room at the Pakistan Cricket Board headquarters with express instructions to keep the board’s blushes to himself. The reason? Pakistan cricket had just been mired in a quagmire after three of its top players were found involved in spot-fixing and later banned. Misbah took it on the chin and set about the course of redemption with such dedication and courage that there is little doubt it will go down in the history of sport as one of its finest chapters. Pakistan cricket will be the poorer without him but he left it rich, none more symbolic than how he restored the honour of his proud nation when he led the team to England with distinction last year, drawing a difficult series by winning The Oval Test on Pakistan’s Independence Day — talk about more symbolism! On and off the field, he was hailed as a hero by the English press, culminating in him becoming one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of the Year — a more spectacular contrast would be hard to conceive given the traditional hostility of the English press and its cricketing establishment towards Pakistan cricket spanning more than half a century. Ironically, Misbah was not always so cherished at home — in fact, no cricketer in Pakistan has been more lampooned for his “defensive” batting (which also earned him the unflattering sobriquet of “Mr Tuk Tuk” — someone who defends dourly at the crease) overlooking the adversity he almost always arrived in. Eventually, he won over his compatriots when the realisation began to sink that there was a method to it. There can be, of course, little argument against success and Misbah authored an unprecedented book, not just chapter, worth of success and stability. Misbah retired with 26 Test wins and 11 series triumphs — the highest from Asia. He was also Pakistan’s highest scorer in each of his last Test, ODI and T20 series — talk about leading from the front and leaving with grace! He also made light of the public perception of a slowpoke by clocking up the fastest Test half century, and then, century — the latter record was only broken last year — and hung up his gloves with the highest tally of Test sixes by a Pakistani. Nobody smote crisp, cleaner sixes in his time than the qualified MBA and his cheek of breaking long spells of ball blocking with a sudden signature all-mighty strike out of the park would be long remembered — and missed. Younis was the other arm of this Tolstoy subscribed equation — patience and time. The Marathon Man from Mardan had loads of it — you don’t get to 10,000 Test runs any other way, especially if you’re from a country deprived of international action — since the unfortunate terror attack in 2009. For a man whose family was riddled with tragedies — siblings dying of cancer and in a road accident — he was the epitome of humility and brought that infectious something to his personality that overrode all adversities: smile. Just as Misbah’s sudden sixes brought a smile, Younis wore his like an identity card. Shockingly, some critics had even issues with that too — more infamously during the early phase of the 2009 T20 World Cup in England when Pakistan had lost a few games. Guess what happened? He smiled his way to a famous World Cup trophy and then, conveniently, everyone began to see the light! It would be futile to attempt to post Younis’ records in this concised space; it would be akin to dreaming of luxury in a cellar. While he’s easily the top of the pile in Test runs, centuries and catches for Pakistan, it’s the range of international achievements — to cite only two: being the only man to score Test tons in all 11 countries that have hosted such matches as well as against every single Test nation and a conversion rate of centuries that even the greatest, Sir Donald Bradman, could not match — that takes your breath away! The last days leading up to the graceful exit came with a fitting hashtag: combining the first three letters of the names of Misbah and Younis — #MisYou — a coinage so simple and perfect that it all but obviates the need for perhaps, a more notable Shakespearean analogy. * The writer is Community Editor
Sharif govt was sanguine about the development — something that further fuelled the imagination of political pundits! Democracy in Pakistan has taken considerable roots from the time when virtually every March was deemed to be a harbinger of doom — a la Ides of March — for the incumbent government. As news surfaced about an unprecedented meeting on the last day of March between Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and opposition Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan, it immediately set the tongues wagging across the country. To be sure, few know what transpired in the hour-long meeting which typically came to light thanks to a tweet from Major-General Asif Ghafoor, Director General, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) — the media wing of the army. The PTI also shared a press release but neither party was keen to provide a dénouement although it might just be that there really wasn’t any earthshaking revelation to be made. The ISPR would have us believe that the PTI chairman met the army chief to congratulate him on his elevation to the top job — four months after General Bajwa took over as chief of army staff (COAS). But the ISPR boss did say issues were discussed without elaborating. “Chairman PTI Imran Khan called on COAS. Imran Khan felicitated COAS on his prom and appointment. Various issues came under discussion,” Major-General Asif Ghafoor tweeted around 9:30pm Friday night. The PTI release noted that the meeting “focused on national integrity and security”. It went on to say the army chief and PTI chairman also discussed “repatriation of Afghan refugees and the recent wave of terror attacks”. The next day, on 1st April, after a speech at a ceremony to celebrate the party’s ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ — a much acclaimed project for natural regeneration in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province that the PTI rules — Imran Khan restricted himself to saying his meeting with the army chief bode well for Pakistan’s democracy. “The only thing I would like to say about the meeting is that the good news is that the army chief stands by democracy,” Khan said before parrying any question on the subject on the pretext that doing so would push the day’s headlines on the coveted tree project in the background. Predictably, even as Pakistan’s electronic media and the social media went into an overdrive trying to discern the significance of what was discussed between the two and why, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sanguine about the development — something that further fuelled the imagination of political pundits! Marriyum Aurangzeb, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, who rarely lets go of any opportunity to berate the PTI chairman, publicly welcomed the development! “It is a good step by Imran Khan and his approach towards integration is welcome,” Marriyum noted before suggesting more of the same would be helpful. “Imran Khan should continue meeting stakeholders as the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa suffers from terrorism and a refugee problem,” the minister said in the only broad hint at what the Sharif government’s expectation was from the meeting. The Khan-Bajwa meeting drew interesting observations and analysis from mostly television pundits, who claim to have the eyes and ears of the powers-that-be. Kamran Khan, a seasoned investigative journalist and talk show host with Dunya TV channel, felt the timing of the meeting had something to do with the “looming terrorism threat” and so “it makes sense that the country’s defence forces want all critical stakeholders to be united in its approach to tackle the issue”. Khan however, disagreed there was anything “unusual” about the meeting. “National politicians have met the military heads in the past as well. I see it as a positive development for the benefit of the country,” he concluded. Nasim Zehra, a prominent political analyst and TV anchor with 24 channel, felt the meeting was “significant” and the absence of details from both parties pointed to a “specific agenda”. Zehra also suggested the meeting was a “confidence-building measure to strengthen civil-military leadership, specifically sending a message that the army chief is not teaming with any one political party” and that “his position remains neutral”. The “specific agenda” that Zehra referred to — and a slew of other analysts agreed with — was the PTI’s opposition to the idea of Islamabad joining the Islamic Military Alliance and about which the party intended to submit a motion in the parliament. The PTI appears to have eschewed any public critique ever since. But while this, understandably, grabbed the eyeballs on the prime time circuit, what largely escaped attention was the possibility of a much needed exchange on reforms pertaining to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). Rauf Klasra, an eminent journalist and himself a TV talk show host, avers that the PTI chairman met the army chief to discuss the Fata reforms that the party wants to introduce following its long conceived merger with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The merger is fraught with complexities not in the least because the province continues to face the brunt of terrorism and the infrastructure needed to help people from Fata assimilate into the province remains woefully inadequate. The PTI remains interested, of course, for political reasons since the number of new seats that a merger will produce raises its hopes of considerably swelling its parliamentary arithmetic. The PTI chairman’s meeting with the army chief is interesting in another context, too. When he launched a protest movement in 2014 that centred on a record 126-day sit-in in front of the national parliament in the capital Islamabad against the Sharif government alleging vote fraud, but which eventually failed after a judicial commission found no evidence to suggest that the election was stolen, it was generally speculated that he may have had the backing of the security establishment. But this time, the fact that the Sharif government welcomed the meeting would suggest some sort of understanding premised in the “national interest” with no political leaning one way or the other. *The writer is Community Editor.