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 Kamran Rehmat
Kamran Rehmat
Kamran Rehmat is the Op-ed and Features Editor at Gulf Times. He has edited newspapers and magazines, and writes on a range of subjects from politics and sports to showbiz and culture. Widely read and travelled, he has a rich background in both print and electronic media.
Ambassador Shahzad Ahmad alongside embassy officers cutting the cake. PICTURES: Ram Chand.
Pakistani expats celebrate National Day with gaiety

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.

CELEBRATION: HE Dr Mohamed bin Saleh al-Sada, Minister of Energy and Industry; with Dr Ahmed bin Hassan al-Hammadi, the Foreign Ministryu2019s Secretary-General; and Thai ambassador Soonthorn Chaiyindeepum as Ibrahim Yousif Abdullah Fakhro, Ministry of Foreign Affairsu2019 Chief of Protocol, and other diplomats look on. Photos by Thajudheen
Thai embassy hosts National Day with special significance

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”.

CANDID: u201c(To quote American graphic designer and painter Paula Scher) Iu2019m driven by the hope that I havenu2019t done my best work yet,u201d emphasises Mobeen Ansari. Photo by Jayaram
“Don’t be afraid of your inner child”

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
“I love India, but I own Pakistan”

— 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!

The ambassador and officers of the Pakistan embassy cutting the cake.
Expat Pakistanis celebrate Independence Day with pomp

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.

PASSIONATE: Samim Qazi at work.
“If someday, you become someone, tread lightly”

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 ( 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.

MANTRA: u201cThe more one makes art a part of oneu2019s self, the better it gets. That means, thinking art, doing art, living art,u201d muses Nadia Fawad.
“Art reflects innermost realities of humanity”

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.

GRAND PARTNERSHIP: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, left, with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the OBOR summit in Beijing.
Pakistan’s cutting edge in China’s ‘new world order’

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

TWO OF A KIND: Misbah-ul-Haq, left, and Younis Khan.
Grateful Pakistan bids adieu to cricket heroes

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

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, left, and PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
When Imran met Bajwa: Joining the elusive dots

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.

FOR A CAUSE: Marriyum Aurangzeb, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, right, with Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations, at a joint presser to announce steps for the census in Islamabad.
Pakistan finally digs in for a trying headcount

The census will keep the political stakeholders on the edge given how it determines the eventual electoral playing field Pakistan kicked off its biggest ever population census on March 15. Even though the gigantic exercise comes almost two decades after the last headcount, the very fact that it is taking place is a symbolic manifestation of a welcome return to business. Insecurity and political wrangling had stalled previous attempts to follow the constitutionally mandatory call to make the headcount every 10 years. The determination to get a fact sheet in hand this time is unmistakable with the army responding favourably to help get the job done, credibly and satisfactorily. Despite being in the thick of an ongoing military operation ‘Radd-ul-Fasaad’ to eliminate residual/latent threat of terrorism - to consolidate gains of earlier such operations - the military has deployed 200,000 soldiers to assist 119,000 trained civilian workforce across Pakistan for the census. Originally scheduled for March last year, but which was postponed because of the unavailability of military personnel engaged in an intense anti-terror operation, the data-gathering exercise that finally began on March 15 this year will end on May 25. It will be conducted in two phases; from March 15 to April 15, and then, after a 10-day interval from April 26 to May 25. The interval is on account of shifting necessary equipment and transportation of staff from Phase-1 areas to Phase-II areas. Taking into account the hard yards in the lead-up to the census, special security measures have been put in place. The Rs18.5bn ($178mn) project has been conceived in a way that one soldier is deployed with each enumerator, to begin with. The Army Air Defence Command in Rawalpindi - a garrison city that also serves as the military’s headquarters - would be the central command station for the entire process. Historically, the military’s involvement is seen as an insurance against any wrongdoing at the base civilian level - a point to which one will return in a while. For good measure, Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (public relations wing of the army), sitting alongside Marriyum Aurangzeb, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, warned at a joint presser on the eve of the census, that anyone who wilfully lies or makes a false statement to the census team would be liable to a punishment of six months imprisonment and a fine of Rs50,000 ($477). Military personnel accompanying the enumerators will be directly linked with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) - acknowledged as one of the finest database facilities in the world - and will be able to verify the particulars. A comprehensive awareness campaign had preceded the exercise to educate the masses about the significance and procedures of the census. To this end, Geographic Information System (GIS) technology is being used for demographic profiling. Provisional summary results of the census will be available by July-end. This brings us to the sticking points, and which largely explain why the latest census has been a long time coming, leaving aside the security aspect. The exercise is not only about the basic math of a headcount, but also factors in ethnic and faith groups across the four provinces and other federating units. Once done, the figures will determine shares of federal revenue and subsidies, and more importantly, the seat configuration in the National Assembly - lower house of Pakistan’s bicameral legislature - and civil services quotas. The fact is that there has been a massive population surge since the last count in 1998 that put the numbers at approximately 135mn. The World Bank estimated the count to be 188.9 million in 2015 and present guesstimates reckon it to be breaching the 200mn mark. Whatever the latest tally, it is pregnant with profound changes. For one, we’ll get to put a finger on how young is the population; currently, Pakistan is reckoned to have a youth bulge with more than 60% of its population in the under 30 bracket. However, what the census will do is to keep the political stakeholders awake at night, more than just figuratively speaking! Electoral seats in the parliament, after all, are assigned on the basis of the particular area’s density of population, and with rural migration a constant in the national fabric, the political elite fears the loss of influence and numbers, of course. In the past, accusations about census manipulation have contributed greatly to queering the electoral pitch. Whether grounded in reality or being peddled for political expediency, it has led to continuously stonewalling a national obligation. The broad narrative is that certain regions are over-represented in parliament and others, under-represented. Ironically, when there should be a greater resolve to put that at rest by fervently following a just census, many parties and groups would rather look the other way! But this is not to say, there aren’t any genuine issues that need a redressal. For instance, the decision not to appoint female staff - security concerns notwithstanding - could be a hindrance in the prim and proper count of women in certain areas because of religious and cultural sensitivities. Then, there is cynicism surrounding the headcount for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province being done in Islamabad - for lack of equipment there - leading some ethnic parties to raise the red rag. Another contentious point is the fate of the federally administered tribal areas, where the count may be compromised given the exodus of hundreds of thousands of residents on account of anti-terror operations in recent years. On the flip side, there is concern that Afghan refugees, who have lived for decades in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces would end up in the count unfairly as residents, especially since a critical mass is suspected to have attained fake citizenship documents over time! However, the army which will conduct a parallel count, plans to deal with this onerous task by counting the Afghan refugees separately, to ensure the count is as grounded as possible. *The writer is Community Editor.

Ambassador Shahzad Ahmad and officers of the Pakistan embassy cutting the cake
Pakistanis celebrate National Day with pomp

The pleasant morning weather made the 77th National Day celebrations at the Pakistan embassy an indulgent affair. Colourful as the setting was — with an eye-catching life-sized crescent-and-star flag adorning the building at the gate — it was left to the children attired in mostly green and white Pakistani colours to steal the show with their vocal prowess. In what has become a customary convergence on the premises of the diplomatic mission in Doha every 23rd March, expatriate Pakistanis from all walks of life turned up to partake the pomp and ceremony, only this time in even larger numbers than last year. Ambassador Shahzad Ahmad and the embassy officers and staff wore the traditional sherwani and shalwar kameez whilst the defence officers and their staff were smartly dressed in uniforms. The expats brought to the festive spirit a profusion of green — in their attire, pinned flag replicas and flag buntings. The ceremony began with the recitation of the Holy Qur’an. This was followed by messages of the president and prime minister read out by Sadia Gohar Khanum, Deputy Head of Mission. In his felicitation message to the nation, President Mamnoon Hussain, made a strong pitch on constitutionalism and plurality, recalling the ideals of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Father of The Nation. “The Quaid and our forefathers had envisaged a democratic and pluralistic state where constitutionalism and rule of law would reign supreme and where minorities will enjoy equal rights and opportunities. Let us remind ourselves on this day that Pakistan was created as a result of democratic struggle and its survival and wellbeing also depends on democracy. I am confident that the parliament, the people and all institutions will work in harmony to this end,” the president enthused. Hussain was also sanguine about the economic dividends that Pakistan expects to reap in the future. “Pakistan is poised to become a regional economic power. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has the potential to change the fate of the region in terms of socio-economic development. The mega project, once completed, will usher in prosperity and progress not only in Pakistan but also in the whole region,” the president pointed out. Recalling the significance of 23rd March in terms of Pakistan’s identity and calling, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pledged to “build a society where nobody is discriminated against on the basis of colour, ethnicity, religion, creed or sect”. Noting that “there has been an appreciable acceleration in this process during the last three years,” the PM exhorted the nation to join hands “to make Pakistan a modern and developed state in conformity with the vision and thinking of the Quaid”. Ambassador Shahzad Ahmad congratulated the gathering on the National Day and urged the expatriates to work for the betterment of the country. He also hailed the strong brotherly relations with the State of Qatar. The highlight of the occasion was the presentation of national songs by schoolchildren following the speeches. They began with National Poet Dr Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s evocative verse Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua Ban Ke Tamanna Meri (My Longing Comes to My Lips as Supplication of Mine). This was followed by popular unity-of-purpose renditions in late ‘King of Ghazal’ Mehdi Hasan’s Ye Watan Tumhara Hai (This Land is Yours); classical and ghazal singer Ustad Amanat Ali Khan’s Ae Watan Pyare Watan (O’ Land, My Beloved Land); and that alternative modern anthem from the erstwhile pop band Vital Signs — Dil Dil Pakistan (My Heart is Pakistan). It had melancholy written all over it, in this instance, given the demise of vocalist Junaid Jamshed in a plane crash last December. But the mustachioed Malik Sarfraz, a cheerleader known for his vocal support for all things Pakistani around Doha, was at hand to brighten the mood in the embassy hall with full throated slogans, and an indulgent attempt at raising the pitch for Dil Dil Pakistan! Adding to the festivity this year, was a drawing and painting contest announced by the embassy to coincide with the celebration. The winners were given awards by the ambassador. This was followed by the cake-cutting and a Lahori naashta (breakfast).

FALLEN HERO: Iftikhar Chaudhry wrote a defining chapter in judicial history before succumbing to what is seen by many as inflated ego.
An epoch-making movement, but a sorry Chaudhry legacy

The Lawyers’ Movement aimed at the restorations of an errantly sacked chief justice, not for a chief justice who became errant after restoration This month marks a full decade since one of most momentous chapters were written in Pakistan’s judicial history. It was a bright spring morning in the federal capital Islamabad; March 13, 2007, to be precise. The stage was a commotion on a road in the famous Red Zone involving blue-uniformed, metal-grey painted helmet-wearing posse of policemen surrounding someone nearly invisible to watchers. An accidentally well-placed photojournalist managed to, in the split-second available to him, capture an image that changed the course of contemporary Pakistani history. It showed a black suited moustachioed captive being rudely shoved into a car, a police officer contemptuously clutching his short-cropped hair in disdain. The captive was the-then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who had refused to accept his sacking the previous day by the military dictator in power. When intercepted, he was on his way to the Supreme Court on foot as his car was taken away to prevent him from attending office. This was the photo that launched a thousand news reports on the hundreds of protests by the lawyers’ community across Pakistan over the next several months that snowballed first into a movement and then into a political resistance that eventually resulted in the chief justice being reinstated, re-sacked and re-reinstated and the general finally vacating his labyrinth. The photo captured in breathtaking simplicity the eternal quarrel of truth with power – particularly in Pakistan’s context where the stakes are always high. While this photo is considered one of the prime triggers of the Lawyers’ Movement, looking back closely a decade later provides a more nuanced picture of the sentiment of the campaign and its parental spontaneity. And also how widespread it was and what its objectives were even if they were, strictly speaking, not carved out before the Movement began but began crystallising only when it became clear that neither the general nor the judge would budge. It was only a matter of ‘when’ the Lawyers’ Movement would be birthed, rather than ‘if’, after a bench headed by the chief justice halted the-then President General Pervez Musharraf’s advanced plans to privatise the Pakistan Steel Mills. Stung by this, Musharraf sent a reference to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) against Chaudhry and attempted a forced resignation from the latter by intimidating him through a show of uniformed force at the President House. When he refused, Musharraf sacked Chaudhry and put him in detention. The picture-worth-a-thousand-words triggered demonstrations, first by the bar council and association in Islamabad that within days spread to their counterparts in the provincial capitals. An otherwise neutralised political opposition saw their big chance and enthusiastically joined the lawyers in their attacks on the complacent arrogance of Musharraf who had overplayed his hand. The Rubicon was crossed when legal eagle Aitzaz Ahsan joined the sacked chief justice and infused a political strategy to the lawyers’ snowballing movement. Aitzaz was aided in his political strategisation of the Lawyers’ Movement by a real-time visual media. While lawyers and politicians in Pakistan have a rich history of battling military dictators, this was the first instance that reporting of a resistance of this nature was being beamed live into homes across the country. Taking advantage of this, Aitzaz employed his political acumen to create a near-continuous live TV coverage of the resistance by driving the sacked chief justice around in view of the cameras. This triggered a competition among bar associations and councils in various cities to host Chaudhry for whistle-stop speeches that turned into a living nightmare for Musharraf. The beauty of this strategy was that it was no longer possible for lawyers and their bar councils and associations to sit on the fence anymore. For the many months that the Lawyers’ Movement remained active heightening and hardening sentiments of solidarity against Musharraf and the doubled resolve after Chaudhry was, as an outcome of the November 2007 State of Emergency, sacked again, the battle-readiness of the lawyers was down to the democratic nature of its community. The Musharraf misadventure with Chaudhry is the biggest case study of the Pakistani lawyers eventually gelling together to dissolve their ideological divides for a cause that morphed from the primary reflex to get Chaudhry restored to defence of the independence of judiciary. But what remains their biggest success story also paradoxically degenerated into a bitter legacy. Once the Movement ended, ironies proliferated. With Chaudhry back on the bench for a third time in two years, he became the very nightmare the Movement birthed the fight for: trouncing of power in the fight for supremacy of law. He became the most activist of judges who ever had the privilege of sitting on the bench. He had the better of a military dictator but extended his successful trophy hunt to a democratically elected prime minister (Yousuf Raza Gilani) when he refused Chaudhry’s diktat to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against his president (Asif Zardari). It was seen as vengeance for Zardari’s refusal to reinstate Chaudhry as the top adjudicator upon assuming office. The romance of the Lawyers’ Movement soured not too late after Chaudhry was back in the saddle. It is telling that the faces of the Lawyers’ Movement – Aitzaz Ahsan, Asma Jahangir, Ali Ahmed Kurd, Tariq Mehmood and Munir A Malik, all of whom have served as presidents of bar associations – have become bitter critics of Chaudhry. They have been at pains distancing themselves from a judge who struck at democracy with the same gusto that he exhibited defying a dictator – he sent the man who restored him (Gilani) home and wants the man who forced his restoration (Sharif) ousted. The stalwarts of the Lawyers’ Movement have been editing the historical narratives articulating it, explaining that it was a movement for the restoration of an errantly sacked chief justice, not for a chief justice who became errant after restoration. *The writer is Community Editor.

IN THE EYE OF A STORM: Imran Khanu2019s remarks about the PSL and foreign players have created a national commotion.
Political rivalry heats up after Lahore grand show

Imran Khan’s controversial remarks about the PSL were rooted in the fear that the prime minister was using the popular sentiment for personal gain There’s no dearth of colourful banter in Pakistani politics.  Ideally though, a short leash should never compromise dignity and decency - more so when the indulging lot are elected parliamentarians. Unfortunately, that sliver of expectation the constituents have of their representatives was tossed away last week right in front of the parliament - talk about symbolism - when Murad Saeed, the firebrand parliamentarian of the opposition Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) attempted to assault Mian Javed Latif, an MP from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) after the latter provoked him by calling Imran Khan, the PTI chairman a “traitor”. Saeed, a Pathan, became the youngest parliamentarian at 27 following the 2013 general elections. Hailing from Swat in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, he is regarded as a promising politician for his grounded politics, deep sense of loyalty, sober conduct and a proclivity to debate with fact and reason. Mian Javed Latif, on the other hand, is a veteran politician from Sheikhupura in the Punjab province. He is also usually polite, and a regular presence on the talk show circuit, defending the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with solid assurance. However, in conduct unbecoming of elected representatives, the two were locked in an abusive physical exchange following the “traitor” insult; ostensibly, Latif had ruffled Saeed over Khan’s remarks about the recently held Pakistan Super League final in Lahore and his dim view of the participating foreign players. But even as this fracas was caught on cameras, what really brought the house down was the ruling party member’s shocking personal slander while addressing the media afterwards. Latif was forced to apologise the next day as a media storm threatened to waylay him. The PML-N veteran admitted that his reference to Saeed’s family was “indecent”. But the PTI is having none of it with Imran Khan announcing that henceforth no member of his party would be in attendance where Latif is an invitee. This episode is not only symptomatic of a general intolerance in polity and male chauvinism, but also reflects the intense rivalry between PML-N and PTI that increasingly appears to cross a line. While the mercury is rising over the eventual fate of the Panama case where PTI, as the main petitioner, is banking on a Supreme Court verdict against Sharif following a five-month hearing into allegations that purport his children to have bought luxury properties abroad from ill-gotten offshore wealth, more recently it also has had to do with circumstances surrounding the PSL final in Lahore. The PTI chairman first appeared to back the idea (of PSL final in Lahore), but then changed tack and dismissed it as “madness” while raising a red rag over security. He even predicted that in the event of an untoward incident, Pakistan could forget about the possibility of international cricket returning home for another decade. With no love lost for Najam Sethi, the mover-and-shaker of PSL that has come to assume a larger-than-life entity for starved fans back home, Khan - whose word on cricket is reverently regarded across Pakistan given his legendary status in the sport as a former World Cup-winning captain - appeared to politicise the issue. In the ensuing war of words, Sethi accused Khan of hurting the interests of Pakistan cricket with his “irresponsible” comments and which, he alleged, had influenced the decision of a number of international stars to abandon the final in Lahore. He named Kevin Pietersen as one, and claimed the stalwart had pointed to Khan’s statement for his decision to pull out when Sethi tried to convince him otherwise. Days later, Pietersen denied in a video release that Khan or his statement had anything to do with the decision! But all hell broke loose last week when the PTI chairman was heard in an off-the-record interaction with some journalists disparaging the quality of foreign cricketers who played in Lahore.  In the leaked video, he called the players “phatichar” (useless) and even suggested some of them may have been brought “from Africa”. The other term he used in the short clip was “railoo kata” - a player, who is deemed not good enough to hold his own, but is selected anyway to play for both sides to fill in the numbers. As was expected, the remarks coming from the “Lion of Lahore” - as Khan was fondly dubbed in his long distinguished cricket career - offended the fans deeply, leaving even his own supporters in a tizzy because PSL is considered by millions of Pakistanis as a “national asset” above party lines. The fans were already dismayed by Khan’s decision to give the show at Gaddafi Stadium where he has the most prestigious stand famously named after him, a skip. Ironically, Peshawar Zalmi, the team from Khan’s province, won the trophy! Ever since, the PTI chief has struggled to explain his remarks though there has been a swift damage-control swing to offset the outrage with the announcement of a PKR20mn ($190,000) reward at a high profile celebration at the Chief Minister’s House in Peshawar. However, at the time of writing this, the Zalmi team had reportedly declined the invite. Having said that, media reports last week said the political colour to the final in Lahore was not without foundation as the PTI chief feared the Sharif government was using the occasion to demonstrate public support by buying the whole lot of the PSL final tickets for its party activists and supporters. Quoting unnamed sources, daily The Express Tribune said Khan felt the move was aimed at pressurising the Supreme Court which is to give its verdict on the Panama papers shortly. However, the problem with this “conspiracy theory” is that large sections of the jam-packed stadium on the day of the Lahore final were actually raising vociferous anti-Sharif slogans! While the PTI chief was hard-pressed to explain this, it sure has contributed to a deepening divide between the two parties with no signs of a thaw in the distance. *The writer is Community Editor

TWIN BOOST: Leaders and representatives of the ECO member states pose for a family portrait with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, centre, in Islamabad; below, Pakistani fans make a statement during the PSL final in Lahore.
A welcome return to hope as resilience wins the day

After a spate of terrorist attacks across Pakistan last month that left more than 100 people dead, and also induced a swift rearguard from the country’s security forces, two epoch-making developments have infused a new hope in what is being seen as a symbolic victory against the forces of darkness. The 10-member Economic Co-operation Organisation (ECO) summit in Islamabad brought together heads of state and government, including presidents of Turkey and Iran - the first time such a meeting was being held in five years. The milestone assumes significance given the lead-up to the high profile event with a general air of cynicism surrounding the very viability of the showpiece event. However, save for Afghanistan, which chose not to make a high-level representation amid deteriorating ties with Pakistan, the rest proceeded to breathe a new life into the economic bloc that makes up 16% of the world’s population and is inherent with a rich trade potential. Recently, Pakistan blitzed a number of terrorist camps on the Afghan side and closed the border when Kabul failed to meet its demand to hand over the most wanted terrorists accused of orchestrating the recent attacks in Pakistan. Kabul’s decision to under-represent only served to undermine its own interests since the ECO is a regional forum and Islamabad was only playing a host. Attempts to foist bilateral disputes that work against the larger interests of nations is not new. The scuttled Saarc summit in Islamabad last year is a case in point. Pakistan will therefore, take heart from managing successfully to thwart such a repeat spanner-in-the-works. While much was made of Kabul’s choreographed snub, the fact is that Afghanistan is not the only game in town for potential Pakistani investors. The opening of the Central Asian markets with the evolving China-Pakistan Economic Corridor means Islamabad will have plenty of opportunities and routes to make it good. After working through a preceding Council of Ministers meeting, the ECO produced the Islamabad Declaration and Vision 2025 that calls for doubling intra-trade in the next five years. The Declaration calls for development of transport and communication infrastructure, facilitation of trade and investment, promotion of connectivity with other regions, effective use of energy resources and undertaking measures for making the ECO effective and efficient. Vision 2025 underpins co-operation among member states. Intra-regional trade in the ECO bloc currently stands at 8% of their cumulative external trade. The aim is to increase it to more than 20%. Even as Islamabad basked in the glory of hosting an array of international leaders, thus steadfastly negating attempts to isolate it, there was only one takeaway from the ECO summit: the only road to salvation lies in engagement, dialogue and co-operation. Three days after the landmark summit, Pakistan received a massive confidence boost when it also successfully hosted the final of its celebrated international T20 franchise tournament - Pakistan Super League - with a select few international stars on hand against the run of play. Currently, the talking point of the sporting world’s imagination, the high-octane encounter was a year-in-the-making but its fate almost hit a dead-end when two blasts, including a suicide attack, inside 10 days hit Lahore where it was to be staged. The art and cultural capital of Pakistan was at the centre of how the script went haywire back in 2009 when a security lapse led to an attack on the touring Sri Lankan cricket team, where but for the presence of mind shown by their Pakistani bus driver, who sped them to safety in a hail of bullets, their goose had been cooked. As cricket-mad fans - deprived of seeing both their national heroes and international stars at home - convulsed at the misfortune, the government with the backing of the military defied the odds to take the highly risky decision to go ahead with the final premised in the pledge not to let terrorists dictate the state. The decision followed massive popular sentiment in favour of taking that stand in the face of present and clear danger. Even though most international stars had deserted ship and with just four days to go, a robust plan was put in place with a 5-tier security cover, for, what seems in hindsight, like a do-or-die roll of the dice. One lapse and it could all have gone kaput! As it turned out, Pakistan won and terrorism lost: for once, it didn’t really sound like a cliché. That message was manifest in the electric atmosphere at the jam-packed Gaddafi Stadium, the headquarters of Pakistan cricket, as fans soaked in every moment of national euphoria. And, then some action! The undying resolve, resilience and eventually, celebration were visible by miles as evident in the near-blanket coverage of the event what with the boisterous television circuit going bonkers. As Ivy League entertainers rocked the stage before the real McCoys got down to business in shimmering lights, there was much to draw from the studied attempt to restore the Lahore of yore: everyone went home content, but more importantly, safe and secure. The scorecard? Two events, four days apart, is all it took to make Pakistan one happy, united nation, again. It’s a cinch the chorus for more will grow. Even glow. * The writer is Community Editor.

WAITING GAME: The historic Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore is dying to get back into the frame.
Destination Lahore: Passion must not override security

With a second fatality-ridden explosion inside 10 days in Lahore, will the Pakistan Super League (PSL) final be held in the art and cultural capital next Sunday? This is the super question dogging a cricket-mad republic deprived of international action at home for the last eight years (save for a whistle stop tour in 2015 by Zimbabwe, forced ironically, by its own empty kitty). If there was a semblance of justice in the world, Pakistan would be hosting the sport it loves to death just like other nations do, but after carrying the world’s burden in fronting up to the most hardened terrorist outfits on the planet for more than one-and-a-half decade, it finds itself in isolation, but fantastically refusing to die – the flame of hope flickering; the heart, mind and body waltzing to the famed Lahori spirit. The birth of PSL last year with five franchises named after provincial capitals and the seat of the federation fetching international stars was more than a shot-in-the-arm for Pakistan cricket; it became a rallying point for a nation hooked onto the only game it wears on its sleeve. After the rousing success of the inaugural edition – the entire tournament was played out in the UAE, the adopted home of Pakistan cricket, following an attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009 that closed the doors of international cricket on Pakistan – the sense of anticipation reached a fever pitch with a predictable demand to bring some part of the action back home. Hence, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)’s decision to host the final in Lahore. It held on to that stance even after the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association (FICA) took issue with a damning report of its security assessment last month. Warning that the risk level in Pakistan remained “at an extremely elevated state”, it went on to add that “an acceptable level of participant security and safety cannot be expected or guaranteed”. While FICA is not endowed with powers to prevent players from travelling, its report circulated to players, their agents and player associations around the world had enough meat to influence already wary national boards and domestic teams to decline an NOC to their players. The warning was reinforced with a catchy clickbait for the players to “check their insurance cover” – the terse suggestion being that it could be invalidated by travelling to Pakistan! Aware that a robust and wide-ranging security arrangement would be the focus of a more convincing argument in favour of resuming international sporting action in Pakistan, especially after Giles Clarke, chairman of the International Cricket Council Task Force on Pakistan, returned home impressed following a detailed inspection visit, FICA threw a quick dampener on that, too. “Whilst the opportunity for attack on international sporting events and competitors in Pakistan can be mitigated to a certain extent by the implementation of an extremely robust security plan, the current advice is that external security environmental factors keep the risk level in Pakistan at an extremely elevated state, where an acceptable level of participant security and safety cannot be expected or guaranteed, even with an extremely robust security plan,” FICA declared, ending the report with a short shrift: “Players participating in this event do so as individuals and at their own risk.” This drew a swift rebuke from the PCB, which rejected the FICA assertion. “This is a careless and cavalier approach to an issue of great importance. FICA sits thousands of miles away from Pakistan and cannot name even one credible security expert, yet makes a sweeping negative statement about the security situation in Lahore. FICA’s claim that ‘westerners and luxury hotels have been attacked’ is contrary to the facts on the ground that prove that not a single foreigner or hotel has been attacked in Lahore in the last five years,” the Pakistani board bristled. To reinforce its argument, the PCB recalled the successful hosting of both men and women’s international teams in the interim, and the massive security undertaking for the PSL final in Lahore. “PCB has recently hosted Kenya, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh (Women), Afghanistan and Malaysian national cricket teams in Lahore and Karachi without any problem. In the case of PSL final in Lahore for one day, the government has guaranteed protection by over 3,000 army and police personnel in Lahore. PCB will provide armoured buses for travel along with VVIP security protocols.” However, while there can be favourable arguments on both sides, it is crucial – perhaps, even critical – that Pakistan take a holistic view of what’s at stake even if it believes it has a strong case and resolve to prove a point to all enemies trying to scuttle the possibility of that much coveted final in Lahore as part of a sustained design to keep the country isolated. After the suicide attack on Lahore’s famous Charing Cross area on Valentine’s Day eve which left 13 people dead, a second incident, which the provincial government of Punjab claims was a cylinder blast at an under-construction café in upmarket DHA area and not an act of terror, but which killed 8 people nevertheless, it is best not to lose sight of the long term future rather than pander to the uncertain present for a statement of intent. Granted it would hurt not to see the lights shimmering down the Gaddafi Stadium as promised next Sunday eve, but the emotional current of fierce determination and resolve should be weighed against the will, ability and deliverance of a security detail that protects not only the players and VVIPs of all hues, but the cricket crazy fans who will rush in their thousands to get into the stadium, cometh the hour. Historically, the enemies of peace have zeroed in on soft target/s when the high and mighty are beyond reach. Security is infinitely more important; cricket will follow. After all, you can’t keep a passionate nation down for long! * The writer is Community Editor.

VIGIL: An activist lighting a candle during a vigil in Karachi in homage to the victims of a suicide attack on the shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. u2014 AFP
Pakistan fights back after wave of terrorist attacks

After nearly two years of considerable calm following the successful Zarb-e-Azb military operation to fight terrorism and extremism, Pakistanis wonder if the slew of attacks last week is pushing the country back to Square One. Raheel Sharif, the recently retired army chief, who commanded the operation, gave his compatriots to believe that the end was nigh for terrorists and even set himself a high-octane goal when he claimed 2016 would be the year when the evil is nipped in the bud. However, this past week has shown that Pakistan is some distance in an existential fight from decimating the evil that is taking new forms from across its borders in a highly complex theatre of strategic warfare. Suicide attacks in all of the country’s provinces, one after the other, against a different set of targets, with a different set of claimants suggest there is a certain organisational streak to it at the back-end. The inference is that it would be extremely difficult for militant group/s to take on the might of the state given that Zarb-e-Azb appeared to have rendered them incapable of creating cataclysmic chaos. The run of suicide attacks may have had the desired effect; making the country look like a ‘no-go’ area, and therefore, marked out as a ‘terror fount’ at a time when the global order is undergoing reorientation with the like of Donald Trump becoming the commander-in-chief of the world’s sole superpower. It began with a bomb blast in Chaman (Balochistan province) on February 7 that killed two and continued with one fatality in an IED blast in Bajaur Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata) on February 11; three, in a similar attack in South Waziristan in northwest Pakistan on February 12; two, in a grenade blast in Buner (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province) the same day; also two, in an IED explosion in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, on February 13; another 13 in a suicide attack in Lahore, provincial capital of Punjab province, the same day; one in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, in a suicide blast on February 15; and 72 (the toll now is 88) on February 19 in another suicide attack in Sehwan in Sindh province. The attack in Lahore’s famous Charing Cross on the Mall Road was claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an offshoot of Tehrik-e-Taleban based in Afghanistan; the Quetta explosion by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Alami faction; the Mohmand attack by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar; the Peshawar blast by Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan; the Sehwan attack by ISIL (also known as ISIS); while there is no claimant yet for the South Waziristan killing. The attack on the shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan town in Sindh province also plays into the idea of a country riven by religious/sectarian strife. Typically, the foreign narrative appears to project this as some sort of attack by an ultra-conservative sectarian group on the faithful of another, but this isn’t the case. In fact, the shrine of Lal Shahbaz – real name Syed Usman Marwandi – with the title of Qalandar (an honorific denoting a highly gifted spiritual rank) draws devotees in their thousands every Thursday beyond the classification of religion, what to speak of sect. It became a soft target precisely because it can create the kind of impact the enemies deigned. It is a measure of the spiritual connect seen at the shrine of the saint that the regular dhamaal – a form of devotional percussion and ecstatic Sufi dance – resumed as devotees flocked to the rendezvous where 24 hours earlier more than 80 people had lost their lives, including 24 children in the ages 4-8, when a suicide attacker blew up! A place where the rich and the poor, the formal and the informal, the orthodox and the heterodox, the worldly and the spiritual, the young and the old, the women and the children converge without a care for class, creed, colour and gender – a massive emblem in a society deemed conservative – could not have left a more profound impact. Intriguingly, the Sehwan attack was claimed by ISIL. A similar claim was also made when 52 people were killed in another suicide attack on another shrine in Balochistan last November. During the recent attacks in the province, sources in the Pakistani law enforcement agencies intercepted WhatsApp communications that found one local group messaging another for a related Middle East-based group to own up responsibility for one such attack. The idea was to confound the Pakistani authorities, who suspect such claims to be a part of a grand design to build a narrative about the presence of ISIS on Pakistani soil. Meanwhile, eschewing the longstanding policy of restraint, Afghan diplomats were first summoned to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi by the Army following the Sehwan attack and handed over a list of 76 most wanted terrorists with a demand to take immediate action against them or to hand them over to Pakistan. Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa also called US General John Nicholson, Resolute Support Mission commander in Afghanistan, to seek his assistance in the matter. However, with no response coming forth from Kabul, Pakistan closed the Afghan border and its army blitzed the terror camps of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and four other hideouts in Afghanistan on Friday night, and then again Saturday, carrying forward the pledge – “No more restraint for anyone” – made by General Bajwa following the Sehwan tragedy. * The writer is Community Editor.

SIMILARLY BLUNT: Pakistan opposition leader Imran Khan, left, and US President Donald Trump.
Is Imran ‘Pakistan’s Trump’ or Donald ‘America’s Khan’?

Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that barred the citizens of seven Muslim countries from travelling to the United States for a period of 90 days. He also suspended the refugee programme for war-wrecked Syrians. Even as the move provoked an international outcry with legal wrangling in the US itself and an intense debate surrounding the likely fallout and possible expansion of the travel ban to other countries, including Pakistan, one man, who fancies himself as the country’s future leader, was hoping that it would come to pass! The deal with Imran Khan, the firebrand opposition leader and chairman of his Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) party, is to not only expect the expected but also the unexpected. “I want to tell all Pakistanis today, I pray that Trump bans Pakistani visas so that we can focus on fixing our country,” Khan thundered at a public rally in Sahiwal, a city in central Punjab province, two days after Trump sent shock waves around the world. Coming from the PTI chief, the colourful, if sweeping, proposal was the kind of demagoguery that has earned him the sobriquet of “Pakistan’s Trump”. There is also no dearth of political humour – understandably, more in currency among his rivals – that suggests the correct analogy is actually in the reverse: that Trump is more likely “America’s Khan”. While a verdict will probably remain elusive for the jury until such time Imran Khan makes the cut to the chief executive’s hot seat, it is evident the two have much in common – that cavalier streak borne out of impatience for process in favour of quick results, a temperamental mien, and that judgemental disposition. The PTI chairman of course, is never short of an explanation, theory or justification for his clarion calls. In the case of the ban “prayer”, he felt it would be a blessing in disguise. “The day we bring back the merit system back to Pakistan, all our best citizens will return and work for the betterment of this country,” Khan enthused. “We will have to fix Pakistan and stand on our own two feet. And the day that we decide this is our home and we have to fix it, we won’t beg for loans from the US and the International Monetary Fund,” he said, fuelling the popular narrative. Most educated Pakistanis, the PTI chairman noted, wanted to leave the country because they think they can only acquire meaningful employment at home if they have powerful connections. In a potshot at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Khan said “the day there is a government that decides it has to live and die in Pakistan, it will fix this country”. “They may have elected Trump, but we have elected Nawaz Sharif,” he said to an amused crowd. The PTI chief concluded the diatribe by hailing Iran’s tit-for-tat move in response to Trump’s immigration ban; barring US nationals travelling to Iran until the ban was lifted. “Iran is an independent nation and we need to become like them,” Khan drove home in a pointed reference to the Sharif government’s apparent appeasement. The Foreign Office in Islamabad termed the contentious Trump travel ban as Washington’s “sovereign right”. The general – and strong – impression is that Khan is a straight talker, outspoken, and mostly well-meaning when dilating on the country’s future, but while these traits make him one of the most popular Pakistanis on the planet, he is also prone to be reckless, shifty on policy if it backfires or is not producing results quickly enough for his liking, and given to jumping the gun on mere hearsay about his political rivals. While legions of mostly young and urban-based Pakistanis gravitate to his every word – inspired more likely from his legendary exploits as a former cricket captain and fetching public service (evident in the building of world class cancer hospitals, a university for the under-privileged and other philanthropic causes) – he has shown a tendency to swing from one extreme position to another in deep frustration over what he regularly berates is a rotten political order. But while the good he has rendered can hardly be faulted – most of all this materialised even before he entered politics, thus ruling out any calibrated ambition – his penchant for trying to go for broke as fast as he once bowled on the world’s cricket stage makes even his often reluctant political partners wary.   In an ideal world, Khan’s ‘straight talking’ would probably hold him in good stead, but in the rough and tumble of Pakistani political arena, the consequences are slightly more complex. He has, of course, come a long way from that Lahore public rally on a winter eve in 2011 that stunned Pakistan with its numbers and electric atmosphere against the run-of-play, turning him into a force to reckon with. But since turning up short at the subsequent 2013 national elections, where however, his party secured the second highest number of votes and stood third in the overall seat tally in the National Assembly (lower house of the country’s bicameral legislature), Khan has come across as a bitter man, first challenging the fairness of the exercise – again without a favourable verdict – when he mounted a public movement to force the Sharif government to hold a judicial inquiry, and; now, taking the First Family to court over allegations of them having benefited from ill-gotten money to buy properties named in the Panama Papers. Interestingly, in a move that, at once, reinforced his credentials of a nationalist leader, but also moved some distance from wanting the ban expanded to Pakistan, the PTI was the only party that tried to present a resolution in the National Assembly against Trump’s immigration ban - something the ruling party was loathe to and stonewalled. The battle to best pan the ban – as well as understand what Imran Khan really wants – continues. * The writer is Community Editor.