The road back

I cannot use a mobile phone to make calls from home anymore. Its been the same case for about 6 months now ever since we got the news that there are several V.I.P prisnors residing in the central jail close to our house and thus mobile jammers are being put in place to make sure no attack can be made to rescue them by the long haired posse. Along with the un repayable favour of mobile jammers we also have in our area roads blocked going towards the central jail from midnight till dawn by rangers keeping an unforgiving eye on things. So thats how life is here for us as a family in Karachi and yesterday on eid as I was sitting and thinking about how inconvenient things are, it struck me.

Here I am complaining and cribbing about my phones not working whilst there are a million people living out of their homes due to the operation against the long haired posse in Bannu. A million people, think about that… let it sink in for a bit until you realise the enormity of this situation. They have been forced to leave their homes and run to either their relatives in and around the area or to the camps set up by the army. In this heat, in the month of ramzan sitting there without any news of what has happened to their homes or what will be left to gather when they go back to them. I just spoke to someone who has come here from the U.S to help these people..to help our fellow Pakistanis through this inexplicably difficult time for them and he was telling me that the bannu mission which in his case is a  mobile hospital is going to go on for at least 3 to 4 months. Imagine sitting far away from home having been given the notice of in some cases a few hours before you had to get up and run and not knowing when it will end.

It is when one realises these things that it occurs to the mind just how much has changed in Pakistan due to this militancy and our war against it. Yes I do know some people in Pakistan still believe this is not our war but I think they need to go meet the million I spoke of above when they say that because they have made the ultimate in most cases sacrifice for something we are so callous to be dispassionate about.  One also realizes that the proverbial tunnel and the light at the end of it we kept speaking of a year or so ago is much longer than we thought. Its longer not because we don’t have the capability to battle the militancy but its become longer because the militancy is not clearly defined in our population no more. The TTP and its allies have been influencing our thought process as a society for some time and the hooks have sunk into many a vacuum left by the government. In fact everytime there is a crises in this country, militant organizations get a golden chance to not just display their good graces to the surrounding population by helping them through the crises but are becoming deeper and deeper embedded in the displaced communities of IDP’s because whilst we may sit in the cities and gather food to throw at the throng they are there among them, living with them suffering with them and assuring them that they will still be there when the trucks of rations and the khakis go away.

That is an impact we haven’t done much to combat during the duration of this war and one which is coming back to haunt us slowly and surely. The psychological fallout of our war against terror has been a lot more damaging than even the 50,000 deaths or more we have suffered as a nation. As those that have died are gone but those left behind, and those displaced, those crippled, those who have lost, those who are uprooted measure in much greater numbers and they bring with them a mentality of hopelessness wherever they go. Their future is uncertain their dreams trash and their egos destroyed by having to stand in lines and wait for help. I have seen it in the floods and in the crisis following it in the field with my own eyes what hollow depths eyes hold when pride takes a fall.

It is very convenient of us to speak of the IDP’s as a group, very easy to refer to them as a throng but what we fail to realize is that not many of the IDP’s were people of meager means. However now that they have been put through the collective wringer of war, injustice and the mob mentality facing them daily as they forage for basics of life their mental state will be very prone to suggestion. It is at this very moment that they need counselling for trauma, for stress and a gradual program of rehabilitation back into mainstream society. Whether it is to the small hamlets they may have come from or from towns they need a way back and they need us to hold their hands as they gingerly step back into their lives. The longer we allow them to stay in this helpless state the more the chances of them becoming cannon fodder to the hands of the evil that lurks and lives among them even now.

War does not determine who is right – only who is left

Bertrand Russel

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Unity at what cost

Our media is in an uproar these days, divided along the lines of “what is ethical” Its one channel against the rest of them and the point of contention is Geo’s coverage after the Hamid Mir attack.

I was among the first to question the modus operandi being exercised on air, as in my personal opinion it was completely contrary to what our constitution allows broad cast media to do. In fact I will go as far as to say I have never ever witnessed this kind of aggressive finger pointing at the head of its own countries intelligence agency by any Tv channel anywhere. This list includes stations, which are far right and left and exist everywhere in the world. Having said that the “why” this happened is a matter of conjecture everyone seems to be engaging in rather then focusing on what we know.

For instance we know that Hamid mir before his attack had indeed referred to or implied in some manner to those close to him that he was being threatened by deep state. A fact that is established by his brother reading out his statement after the attack here on video. However in the same statement “non state actors” are also mentioned which everyone has seemingly forgotten about with which a recent ceasefire just ended.

We also know that one persons opinion whether it is a senior journalist or a laymen cannot and should not translate into a smear campaign on a state institution. Which is what the hours long segment of the broadcast will be called (sans proof) for a media house the size of Jang group. I am saying this because there are levels of editorial control in place in any media organisation so to think that this hours long diatribe happened “inadvertently” is a joke.

We are also aware of information stated on 14th august 2013 in a column in the business recorder by Inam Kahawaja and I quote

In October 1999 when Musharraf usurped power by a coup d’ etat Pakistan had a single TV network PTV and a few private channels. In 2002 Musharraf permitted private channels to operate and even broadcast their own news and current affairs content and in his superior wisdom even permitted foreign ownership in the name of freedom of expression!!

As a result of this disastrous blunder today several TV channels are almost fully or partially foreign owned. No one can deny that the policy of the media reflects the interests of its owners.

The Jung/New Group set up The Independent Media Corporation. The ownership of this media group is reported on the internet to include; Anil Ambani (of India), an American Group and the Mir Shakilur Rehman family. One wonders why the Jung does not contradict this internet report.

( The above has yet to be challenged in a court of law either)

 

So I think the question here is not “why” Geo ranted against our security agencies. It may have been out of complete panic or a desire to speak what they thought was the truth. The question is what PEMRA is going to do about it. There are large sections of the public and media crying out to ban a fellow member of the media fraternity which is quite shocking to say the least as the masks are indeed now off. However we cannot as a country let such a “diatribe”  go without penalising the organisation responsible either, for these kind of accusations made by Geo are not I think under the premises of Freedom of Press or right to speech. The penalty for this act though should be decided in the courts under the supervision of PEMRA and then the decision carried out to its letter. If we hold Geo responsible for jumping the gun on an accusation sans proof are we not doing the same to it when we accuse Geo of involvement in some kind information attack orchestrated from India? Remember the ownership alluded to in the above excerpt from the column also says that such ownership is completely legal under Pakistani laws. However the “influence” of such an ownership not bearing well for the country in the long run is a separate debate altogether, made more comical by the fact that it is the army’s former leader himself who made such foreign ownership a possibility.

The only thing positive for me coming out of this whole mess has been a unity shown in the country behind its armed forces, something of a nationalistic mindset emerging from what has normally been a production line of criticism for our soldiers which contrary to many people think is not exactly the same kind of a profession as an accountant. In this fervour though we should not forget that neither the army nor the media are holy cows which cannot be questioned or held an opinion against. The extent of that opinion or trying to turn that opinion into some sort of campaign in public has completely different implications to holding one personally though. Which is where we need to draw the line and enforce it.

As to how a toothless PEMRA will enforce such a line still remains to be seen.

 

 

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Of budgets and mango men

The challenge of presenting a budget that is well received in this country with its broken fiscal back and empty coffers is an ask for any government. For a newly elected one it may have proven to be a question they couldn’t answer correctly at this moment in time.

Why do I say that? Well let us examine some of the salient features of this budget, which are most likely to affect common people instead of throwing out numbers upon numbers and not understanding anything.

 

  • Sales tax rise from 16 to 17% – Sales tax is levied upon everything you trade in the economy (although there is still a huge black market in Pakistan) generally increasing sales tax means that the goods everyone buys will get more expensive. Why is that? Its because no one will bear the extra one percent increased by the government. Importers will add it into their price and so it will get passed on. For those commodities that are not imported and are bought and sold locally (as all things are before they get to retail) it means the same thing. Does the government earn the extra one percent though that it badly needs in this time of empty coffers? Well that is debatable and another long post. Actually in the fag end of things the government wont really benefit from the extra 1% because there is so much sales tax theft and what is left is handed back to our dear exporters in one lieu or another that the government has to date to my knowledge lost money on many sales tax amendments they have made. Actually in all honesty the best way to collect tax on anything is at point of entry either in the system from abroad through customs or into a province at the border of it, other than the prevailing system doesn’t guarantee any revenue. So why burden the public any further? Beats me!

 

  • HEC is to give incentives from 15 billion Rs to as our new finance minister has said roughly 54 billion Rs when all is said and done. So the correct figure will be somewhere in the middle, how that will be calculated off course we don’t know. The point to think of here is that out of all this money a lot will be given to buy new laptops for college students under the PMS laptop scheme. Which sis very commendable and good to look at on paper but the fact remains that Pakistanis need an overhaul in the education system at grass roots provincial level. So instead of buying a college kid a laptop, think of how many youngsters a laptop could send to school? Think subsidized or free tuition in schools equipped with a proper standard of teaching even at a basic level. That will ensure that after about a decade we can get a crop of Pakistanis with correct historical sense, properly equipped to then go to college and shine.

 

  • Austerity drives and Ramzan packages : Austerity is a great thing for a new government to announce, it’s a rah rah factor. However to cut back on what is already exorbitant beyond all normal means still leaves a sort of bad taste in ones mouth.  The pm house budget if cut by 40 or 45% would mean it spends 1 million Rs a day rather than !.9 million. Doesn’t explain why the prime ministers house spends 1 million Rs daily in a country where 60.3% of us live on less than 200 Rs a day does it? Also the problem with Ramzan packages and we have had them every ramzan is that until there is a system of price control which is actually implemented by spot checks and heavy fines on the spot by government officials hoarding will have a hey day and continue unabated!

 

  • Overall taxbase increase (bringing taxpayers in the net): Consider this, Agriculture is 21% of the GDP but contributes 1% tax to the kitty. Industry is 21% of the GDP & contributes 52% in taxes. So how does taxing the already taxed more help us? It does not. So when are we going to tax the sectors equally? When the feudal backing of popular governments comes to an end which is going to be a far far time perhaps in our future. Certainly not a wise approach by any government as sooner or later this amount of disproportionate taxing makes people want to “not pay taxes” and that is what’s been happening to Pakistan.

 

  • Electricity & its woes : Huge stock piles of money laid aside for this and should be, whether they will be used to give the awam any respite though is a fair question as even now punjab and its outlying areas are suffering from back breaking load shedding.  Can the plants be put up fast enough? Will this money earmarked be actually used to do something?? Should we buy electricity from India? As you can see earmarking funds is one thing but there are a lot of very very tough decisions to be taken in this sector and I do not think this government frankly has the gumption to take them, I can hope though that they at least use the money earmarked to save our future from darkness.

 

We should also keep in mind as the common or more humorously referred to as mango people online that budgets are just the start of something. True natures are revealed a bit more down the road to implementation. The fact of the matter is that a lot of work has to be done financially to get us anywhere near the 4.4% GDP that the government has set as its goal. We must all partake in this together but in order to do that we need more then empty promises and messianic speeches, we need leadership. So here is to the hope that the current government can provide one where it matters.

 

 

 

 

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Abbas town blast

 

3:00 Am

Another evening and another blast in Karachi. This time in a motorcycle according to DSP Sachal Qamar Ahmed. The bomb was placed at the entrance of Abbas town which is a densely populated area  with lots of tea shops and was powerful enough to destroy the facades of several building in that area. As the lights went out following downed electricity poles in the wake of the blast, local residents rushed to the scene and started pulling people out of the debris to get them to hospitals before any of the authorities arrived on scene.

Currently more than a 100 are feared dead in this massive blast. Official sources like GEO NEWS are reporting casualties at over 40 , however this number will only go up as morning dawns on us. The targets were obviously the Shia community mostly prevalent in this part of Karachi and the bomb was also strategically located near the entrance of  a nearby mosque to get maximum effect.

At this point the city of Karachi has once again opened its arms to those of us in need. Many people can be seen trying to organize either camps and using social media to announce their efforts or issue calls for empathy and help. While this is something wonderful to see and has been seen time and again when a disaster takes place in pakistan it is very important at this moment to try to focus one’s mind on using social media to spread relevant and crucial info.

Blood Required

If you wish to help, this in my opinion is the best way to do so as morning dawns on us. Right now there are long lines at AKU for donating blood to the victims of Abbas town however blood banks at Hussaini, Liaqut National & JPMC still require donations and shortages of (-ve) blood have been reported by people visiting Hussaini in the last hour.

Medical/relief camps

There are camps being setup by different individuals from political parties and civil society. At this moment I feel that we should forget where we lie on the political scale and come together to help those in need. I also feel that it is crucial for all of us to stop identifying the victims as a minority and first accept in our own hearts that these are Pakistani’s like any one of us. Identifying them as a fringe group time and again has only served to isolate this community more while we should be focused on unity as one nation. I will be posting more info on camps as they come into the picture, but one of the first ones I have heard of is by  @NazBalochPTI: Who is arranging a Medical Camp for the blast victims at Abbas Town, Khi. plz contact her at Naz.Baloch@insaf.pk if you wish to help or volunteer.

 

Donations

While several organizations and hospitals will be already collecting donations for the victims of this tragedy. I feel it would be prudent to wait and donate directly to the relevant localized associations rather then at random. It is always best to work with smaller groups so that your aid is more focused as per the relevant information from victims families. Will post a list of organizations one can donate to as soon as I have credible info.

 

Please also note that the residents of Abbas town will be coming out to protest what has happened to them tomorrow. We must as a people stand together with them and condemn what has occurred as well as condemn the perpetrators of this madness and demand justice from the government. In doing so let us also not forget to offer “Fateha” prayer for the departed souls in this massacre before we do anything else.

May god grant peace to the victims of this terrible tragedy and strength for the families left behind.

 

Updates

A camp has been set up in Al mohsin hall where infrastructure is present to donate to families victimized in this blast. The location of Al mohsin hall is here  This is by Shaheed foundation and Shia ulema council

Indus Valley kids are holding a camp at 1 pm on March 4 2013 (today) to collect donations and clothes for victims families. All the proceeds will be handed over to shaheed foundation.

You can also donate online to Shaheed foundation for victims families.

Al Khidmat foundation is also collecting blood at any al khidmat center. There no is 021 – 36609075

AKD is also collecting donations and food plus water at his residence in the middle of Muhafiz and Rahat

Jafria Disaster Management Cell has arranged shelter and food for the victims, if anyone needs to volunteer or seek advice their no is 0345 2079026 in Incholi.

You can give food, clothes and other materials to Murtuza Hasan Askari also on main Khyabane Shamseer (opposite khadda market). Contact# 03332472400

The car leaves the house tomorrow at 6pm for Abbas town from Murtuza’s side.

Accomodation arrangments for victims made at new rizvia. Contact J.D.C pm 0345 2079026

Karachi Relief trust account for Victims of this tragedy : HBL 0786 79007282 03

 

Required

As per @yusrasaskari and her ground team at abbas town these are the things required by the victims families.

25 packs containing the following

Aata : 10 kilos

Chana daal: 2 kilos

Rice : 5 kilos

Ghee/oil :” 1 kilo

sugar : 2 kilos

Milk : 4 packs of 1/4 kilo

Detergent : 1 packet

Soap : 2 packets

 

Also needed in long run :

Bedding, clothes and shoes (new) for children (both boys and girls) upto 3 yrs, 5 years and 8 years.

Slippers also needed about 30 for women new

Please contact y.askari@gmail.com if you wish to help!

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PTA’s alleged persistent pursuit of a URL filtration and blocking system is not acceptable


Please note that this is an unconfirmed report but from a reliable source, we are following the situation and will be publishing confirmed reports immediately. 

Karachi 20th June 2012:  We received information from a reliable source that Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) issued a notification to other government departments announcing the installation of a filtering system. This has in turn been sent to some IT companies. As citizens concerned about internet freedom and free flow of information, this unconfirmed news is of grave concern to us.

With great caution, we would like to share an update on this situation: The exact words in the email are pasted below.

“Please note that PTA has deployed an automatic filtering system and is directly blocking sites deemed as disseminating objectionable content. Our upstream providers are no longer managing this process. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused you.”

The content in the email suggests that the ISPs will no longer be responsible for blocking websites and that the PTA will now be able to block sites at will.

The content in the email suggests that the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will no longer be responsible for blocking websites and that the PTA will now be able to block sites at will.

We are currently working in to verifying this news from various other sources. We are in communication with government officials who have committed to update us on the issue. We issue this statement with caution.

As a reminder:

On the 17th of April 2012, seven individuals* through their advocates Haider Waheed and Basil Nabi Malik, petitioned the High Court of Sindh at Karachi challenging the arbitrary and random acts of the PTA in blocking/censoring and restricting access to various websites in violation of the fundamental rights of the owners of the websites/online forums as well as the public at large, and without affording the aggrieved persons an opportunity of being heard or due notice.

The Honorable High Court of Sindh issued notice to the Federation of Pakistan, through the Secretary, Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication, and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, through its Chairman, and furthermore ordered the PTA said not to block any website other than in accordance with the provisions of the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-Organization) Act, 1996.

A letter to the PTA has already been issued demanding a clarification on the issue and we would like to reassert that any steps by the PTA to pursue ad hoc blocking will be a violation of the court stay order.

If true, this is a set-back to the free-flow of information and internet freedom in Pakistan. Despite the Ministry of IT making a commitment to Bushra Gohar, Member of National Assembly,the PTA’s persistent pursuit of a URL filtration and blocking system is extremely disappointing and shows disregard for democratic values.

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Of fashion and my confusion with it

This past week has been sort of a mixed bag for me. First of all Showcase was held in Karachi and Pak tea house collaborated to bring live tweeting from it via cover it live. It was a short event and went off well but i was unable to attend unfortunately due to the situation in the city.

I did however attend the fashion week held soon after or at least two days of it. Being a fashion bystander with a background in textiles does give me some insight into fabric but I will not pretend to know much about what was on display and analyze it. I will not do that because I really didn’t understand some of what was on display anyways as it featured a mixture of western styling and over the top antics to try to create as much hype as possible.

I do however recognize quality when I see it and it was pretty damn obvious in Bunto kazmis line as each piece seemed quite lovingly crafted. These kind of pieces even a layman can tell are one of a kind each. Equally impressive were maheen khans collection for her chic fabrics, sanam chaudrys colors and cut and shehla chatoors styling. This event was quite important social media wise as well because we at pak tea house not only collaborated to report on it but in my opinion carried off quite a remarkable feat with live tweeting, as we had about 6 featured tweeters per day, scoops on video from back stage and hidef pics of the days collections uploaded every night “BEFORE” any newspaper or magazine could publish them. Which meant that quite frankly mainstream media was playing catch up to us in this entire event rather than how it used to be in the past with bloggers writing on info gleaned from news stories. 4700 tweets from these live tweeters over 4 days of fashion week along with pics are ample proof of  the fact that some of the best live bloggers are the ones not featured extensively in our community till yet as they were here .

@fursid @samramuslim @Sidra_Rizvi  @Umairmirza @abdullasyed @shobz @CinnamonCurls

@faizanlakhani @Hinasafi  @Sidra_Rizvi you did create history.

Obviously none of this would have been possible without the tremendous facilities given to us by the events organizers, the seating in third row, the press passes and the ability to write what we damn pleased. So Kudos to Etihad, Maheen Khan, Deepak and the other organizers & sponsers for embracing social media in this open hearted a manner. Perhaps this is why the events live stream on twitter and via video feed reached many people at home and created an enormous buzz.

There were however some areas which were imo severely lacking in an event of this magnitude.

First of all the PR.  I do understand that it gets very tough for an agency to handle invites when the venue and the date keep on changing but if there were to be new lows in organization in an events pr they were achieved here. The helpless agency did not have invites ready till 9 pm the day before the event took place and on top of it wanted everyone from the social media community to come pick them up. We do think that this is ok with other media outlets as they have gazillions of staff boys on bikes to stand all attention while invites are printed? But in our realm such tortoise like inefficiency is usually called what it just was, invite us by email attachment next time pls, we don’t have the time to wait on you!

Secondly it is very important to know that while video live streaming seems all kool and good to announce onstage, it is a difficult thing to handle. Turning it on an hour before the event starts and that too with audio so the whole world can realize what stage and light boys are subjected to “verbally” is not exactly good publicity for the fashion industry in Pakistan.

Thirdly the delays and the rush inside did not make this event any more inviting even though it had such effort put into its decor and arrangment.  I myself saw ushers selling passes which I considered invite only on the day of the finale. Which explained to me why it seemed like the bohri bazaar of wanna be’s inside the event space. Lets not also forget that although the ramp is precious and should not be walked on, people do need a reasonably wide space to exit from, bumping into socialites with no idea of deodorant isn’t everyone cup of tea. Thank god the fashion community is so willing to rub shoulders with everyone or we could have had quite a few altercations around the ramp area.

All in all it was a very lively event which generated a lot of good feeling and positive coverage for Pakistan. That is why such initiatives must be supported, for the overall bigger picture! However with the incoming fashion week in Islamabad and what not, we are running a tad bit into the overkill area. How many fashion events can one have in the year? Shouldn’t there be some kind of standard to adhere to? Can anyone stitch together a few suits play patriotic music and try to cash in the greatest man in this countries history without an outcry? Can we have the same models display different collections night after night without any emotion?

These are some of the questions that need to be answered by not just those organizing but the people clapping to all this seated in front row. Till the next time  then fashionita, socialite or whoever you are reading this. May the ramp be with you.

 

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Discontent with mainstream media

Shahid afridi’s arrival back in karachi had more fireworks then the final of the asia cup. He tried to come out like he normally does without much security, there was a throng waiting for him, beyond which was his daughter and then it happened. Someone stepped on his daughters toes, she screamed – people pushed, she fell and dad that is afridi went nuts.


It was not shocking that a father kind of umm lost it when his daughter was pushed. Afridi punched one gentleman and pushed another as he tried to get to her..fair enough, he also apologized even though in a muffled growl sort of a manner ok..but the way his altercation was portrayed shows us what is horribly wrong with our mainstream media.

Strange thing is they get away with it every single time. Mainstream media in Pakistan distorts the news, creates false assumptions, heightens panic and then moves on to the next sensation without anyone even batting an eye. Why is it never held accountable for all their ambulance chasing? Why dont the viewers demand better if they want better?

We often blame mainstream media for all this but if you look at some of the complaints mentioned by Jay haque in his article on msm here, its quite easy to come to the conclusion that the main thing general viewership in Pak cares about is how pro israel or pro india our programming us. No one is even bothered by jingoism, they are more bothered with what in their mind are displays of loose morality which is not Pakistani.

Hence we need to realize this when we scream across on twitter on how bad mainstream media is. If we want it to change then the people who control its ratings the general masses of Pakistan have to demand that change. Not us as we might be educated and well meaning but do not constitute a big enough chunk to make a difference to them. Its a shallow way to put it but there are no high aspirations of journalism in main stream media these days in Pakistan. Not to those handing out salaries anyways on behest of advertisers who pay once in six months and are being chased by every media house like nobodies business.

This doesn’t go to say that isolated cases of social media and the educated classes putting pressure for change will not succeed. I merely mean that if we want change to come across the board it will have to be brought by masses who are eating up the crass content driving ratings. Advertisers too have somewhat to share the blame of this issue as many among them pay little attention to issues of content as long as it sells the required chips cola or whatever.

So its going to take advertisers viewers and added pressure from the drawing room classes to make a change in mentality happen and since that is a big ask The only tool till then in our hands is to switch off.

 

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Firewall looming

 

These days social media in Pakistan is abuzz about the new spectre of doom it is facing.  All of us got to hear about it through an ad placed in a local newspaper from “The national ICT R&D fund” which actively invites both local and foreign software and hardware companies to help develop a url filtering system for Pakistan.

I do not think anyone has an issue with a system which could be used to block out offensive material like say “porn” or other “anti islam inflammatory”  sites and the like. However some of the things the government puts on its wish list for the development of such a system for example the ability to filter out more than 15 million urls sends a bit of a chill down the proverbial spine.

Its scary because we do not have as citizens of this country any oversight on such a system. The word objectionable is used but what do they mean by “objectionable” is anyone’s guess. The past shows us that draconian measures across the world are usually put into place under the guise of  “protecting national interest”  and that maybe happening in this case as well? Even now the PTA orders individual isps and telcos to block websites they deem objectionable and this takes place through a manual system which has frankly become a liability on these companies. Perhaps this is the reason they are silent on the development of this grand firewall.

Obviously the silence might also be due to the 10 or 15 million dollars such a firewall would provide to its developers. Pretty lucrative a contract and I am sure some companies are already vying for it. However twin taps on the international fibers coming into Pakistan at the two peering points (TWA and PTCL) beg the question as to what the authorities want to further achieve with this new firewall as they already have surveillance capabilities which allow them to reconstruct someones surfing history and recent cyber activity when required.

Lets also not forget the youtube fiasco which led to a major outage in the whole region because of our governments rather misconstrued attempt to block it. Although experts say part of that blame was also due to companies in hong kong, we cannot rule out errors amongst 15 million blocked urls. Which could make many social networking sites and services simply disappear overnight in Pakistan.

Let me also point out here that if some of these sites are “accidentally blocked” it may lead to say Facebook switching off Pakistan and thus leaving many here to lose their precious marketing done over years on it for everything from baking goods to designer textiles. Social media is a tool many now use in Pakistan in their day to day lives and to run businesses and it would be very unfair to hinder it in this way.

So I think our elected politicians in both the PPP and the MQM whose manifesto’s include freedom of expression and spreading of communication need to take this to the the floor of the national assembly and debate it. Why do we want such a massive firewall? What will it result in for the speed of the internet here? What will the reversal process be if a site is listed by mistake? How will it be determined if a site is objectionable? Who will determine whether a site is objectionable? Will social media and networking sites also come under inspection and finally when will such a system go into effect?

If a system like this is implemented without consultation or feedback from the actual users of social media and the internet in Pakistan, it will be a chokehold on free thought and speech. A chokehold we as a country should not indulge in as the U.N has already declared access to the internet as a basic human right.

P.S :Organizations like Bolobhi have already launched an online petition against such a firewall here

P.P.S I call upon everyone in the new media scene in Pakistan to please give your inputs and get involved in this issue as it involves the space where many of us spend most of our time in.

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Karachi literature festival 2012

Three years old, the Karachi literary festival at least by its lineup seems to have come of age finally. I was there last year and although there was much local talent present the international big name flair seemed to have given the festival a miss as many invited Indian authors could not get visas on time.This does not by any means indicate that international authors “have to be there” at the festival to make it a success. It was a success last time as well but unfortunately to make it register on an international level in mainstream and social media the presence of international stars makes all the difference.

Why do I mention social media here? Well its because increasingly literature festivals have become interactive  forums between authors and their readers and nothing emulates interaction more than social media. Naturally people who attend this time are far far more media savvy than last time and some of them have followings of 10,000 or more on social media platforms thus their voices and discussion will resonate at this forum.

A cursory look at the lineup shows us  Vikram Seth, Hanif Kureishi, Shobha De, William Dalrymple, Anatol Lieven among the people visiting from other shores and Mohammed Hanif, Kamila Shamsie, H.M. Naqvi and Maniza Naqvi amongst the local talent on showcase. Quite a mouth watering lineup for any reader I might add! However if you havent read the books of any of the visiting authors let me clue you in on some of their prowess.

William Dalrymple is the author of seven acclaimed works of history and travel, including City of Djinns, which won the Young British Writer of the Year Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; the best-selling From the Holy Mountain; The Age of Kali, which won the French Prix D’Astrolable; White Mughals, which won Britain’s most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson, and The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize and The Crossword Prize for Non Fiction. He divides his time between New Delhi and London and is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New Statesman and The Guardian.

His sessions at the KLF [all on Day ONE]
1.  Keynote Speaker at the inauguration  (what will kick-start it all)

Time: 10:00 am to 11:00 am

Venue: Main Garden (open space)

2.  INDUS JOURNEYS: In Conversation with William Dalrymple

Moderator: Kamila Shamsie
Time: 3:00p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Venue: Main Garden

3.  Afghanistan & Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism & the Taliban

 Ahmed Rashid, William Dalrymple, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Navid Kermani

Moderator: Rasul Bakhsh Rais

Time: 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Venue: Ballroom

Hanif Kureishi is the author of numerous novels, short story collections, screenplays and plays. In 1984 he wrote My Beautiful Laundrette, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. His second film, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, was followed by London Kills Me, which he also directed. The Buddha of Suburbia won the Whitbread Prize for Best First Novel in 1990 and was made into a four-part drama series by the BBC. Intimacy, his third novel, was published in 1998, and was adapted for film in 2001. His work has been translated into 36 languages. He has been awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts des Lettres and a CBE for services to literature. In 2008 The Times listed him as one of ‘The 50 Greatest British Writers since 1945′ and in 2010 he was awarded the PEN/PINTER prize. Hanif Kureishi lives in London with his wife and children.

His sessions at the KLF
DAY ONE
1. In Conversation with Hanif Kureishi

Moderator: Muneeza Shamsie

Time: 12:00 noon to 1:00 pm
Venue: Main Garden

DAY TWO

1.  LITERARY CRITICISM

Muneeza Shamsie, Hanif Kureishi, Aamer Hussein, Alok Bhalla, Stefan Weidner

Moderator: Maniza Naqvi

Time: 10:00 to 11:00 a.m.

Venue: Maharaja

2.  Reading by Hanif Kureishi (extremely important)

Time: 7:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Venue: Beach View Garden

Anatol Lieven is a professor in the War Studies Department at King’s College London., and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington DC. His areas of expertise include US strategy and political culture; Islamist terrorism and insurgency; contemporary warfare; the countries of the former Soviet Union; and the Greater Middle East, especially Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.  His latest book, Pakistan: A Hard Country was published in 2011-2012 by Penguin in the UK, Public Affairs in the USA and Oxford University Press in Pakistan. It is based on his time as a journalist in Pakistan in the late 1980s and extensive research on the ground in recent years.

His sessions at the KLF:

DAY ONE

1.  In conversation with Anatol Lieven

Moderator: Ayesha Siddiqa

Time: 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Venue: Ballroom

2.  Today’s Pakistan: An economic and political perspective

Asad Sayeed, Ishrat Husain, Anatol Lieven, Maleeha Lodhi

Moderator: Ghazi Salahuddin

Venue: Maharaja

Time: 4:00p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

DAY TWO

3. Eyewitnesses and Observers: Writing about Pakistan from a Foreign Perspective

Manu Joseph, Declan Walsh, Anatol Lieven, John Krich, Kishore Bhimani , Hartosh Bal Singh, Alok Bhalla, Navid Kermani, Daniel Lak

Moderator: Raza Rumi

Venue: Maharaja

Time: 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Off course there are many more offerings at this grand buffet of literature, and some of the best will be found in the halls where budding wordsmiths and bloggers will be gathered around writers of such repute like moths to a flame.  The above were just my version of what constitutes the “must attend” parts!
By chance if you see someone soaking up the atmosphere hunched over a smart phone, that will probably be me :) See you there!!
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Here comes the change?

There is a strange feeling in the air these days. No its not the smell of rotting blood from the carcasses strew about after Eid ul adha but something a little more unfamiliar. Everywhere I go and whoever I meet talks about one subject alone, what should we make of “Imran Khan” Previously the same drawing rooms were full of talk about an exit strategy and plan b but it seems that after the mammoth PTI jalsa in Lahore the sentiment has changed towards that of hope rather than dismay for Pakistan.

 

So you would ask dear reader, what the heck is wrong with that? Well let me clue you in, false hope my friends is a far far more damaging thing then dismay. Where dismay keeps you completely grounded in reality and what is actually happening, hope gives your imagination flight and there is no greater damage to a human being then when that dream shatters.

 

I may not be an analyst but I have learnt one thing in my life and that is to smell B.S from far far away. A Party which has not fought the last election, has no political track record to speak off and is now boasting of a clean sweep without as much as a one seat guarantee is definitely a party which knows something that the rest of us don’t. Either that or they are so naive that they do not deserve to be a party and this notion at least in my view does not hold true after Lahore.

 

So what is the one thing that they do know? Does it have something to do with the fact that right now the people of Pakistan are so tired of their current governance that they would prefer anyone over them? Or is it that somewhere somehow this party has gotten a nod or some special leverage to play a role in the change that is about to come in Pakistan.

 

Oh yes I do believe that change is going to happen. However if people think that PTI will somehow gain an electoral majority in Punjab and come into government and then fix everything, they are living in a fool’s paradise. The most that may be achieved is an entry into the halls of power of this country. However what will really be the key is what PTI does after gaining some seats. Yes I know they have been promising the sky and the moon but to me that is perhaps the biggest failing of this party, the bubble of hope that they are blowing up much like the obama campaign which I may add has striking similarities to PTI’s current campaign, rock bands at rallies et all. Once obama got elected into power he went downhill every time he could not deliver on the lofty ideals he had promised his voters and so I fear will PTI and Imran.

 

Not to mention the fact that taking in all sorts of people from other parties in the guise of “electables” isn’t going to be adding stars to their image later on. Yes these career politicians can win you seats but then they want something in return and that is where the litmus test of PTI will happen. To date every party in Pakistani politics has failed this litmus test and have had to make compromises to keep seats within their fold, I think PTI will end up the same way, much more powerful then it is today but a behemoth which loses its direction and ends up much like the other political parties of Pakistan, disillusioned and detached from their voters.

 

So should we stop hoping? Should we give up on this country? No we should not. Frankly this party does have quite a few honest individuals in it working behind the scenes but the over whelming proclamations of “here comes the messiah” should be taken with quite a large pinch of salt. As it is I do not think any political party will shape the future of this country,. To me the future will be shaped by our youth in their overwhelming majority who will one day rise and do away with this bastion of beuracracy & dynastical politics. They will not follow a single party to do this because they will not need to, they will elect people from amongst their ownselves to rule and that will be the clean sweep I will wait for and support.

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