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    If you ever fancy going to Concordia and treating yourself to the magnificent cathedral of four 8,000-metre high peaks in one go, chances are that you will pass through the ancient kingdom of Shigar.

    You may not be required to pay tax to the Raja of Shigar anymore, but a nice lunch at the grapevine-covered restaurant at the Shigar Palace is definitely worth a thought.

    About half an hour drive out of Skardu, you take a left turn and cross the bridge over the wide basin of the Indus River to enter the Shigar Valley.

    As soon as you cross the bridge, you find yourself in the world's highest cold desert. Locally known as the Katpana or Sarfranga Desert, it continues on both sides of the Indus and into Ladakh on the other side of border.

    After passing through a few gorges, you enter the lush green oasis of Shigar, an ancient principality on the banks of the Braldu River, which comes straight from Braldu glacier at the base of the 8,611 metre-high K2, the second highest mountain in the world.

    Where the Indus is young.
    Where the Indus is young.
    The road to Shigar.
    The road to Shigar.

    If you continue on the road beyond Shigar, the road becomes a trek along the roaring Braldu River and takes you to the last frontier: Askole, the final village on the trek to K2.

    From Askole, you need to start trekking for 3-4 days over dangerous alleys, paths, rope bridges, moraine and ultimately over glaciers to reach Concordia, from where you can view four of the world’s fourteen 8,000-metre peaks together: Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II, Broad Peak and K2.

    I must confess, I had to turn back a few hours before reaching Concordia due to a medical emergency in our group, and since then Concordia has been a dream.

    Back to Shigar

    Shigar’s historic fort was converted into a heritage hotel by the Aga Khan Development Network and is now managed by Serena Hotels. The fort was constructed by Raja Hassan Khan, the 20th Raja of the Amacha dynasty, in early 17th century.

    The Amachas arrived in Shigar around 11th century after fleeing persecution from the Ganesh in Hunza. The elders travelled for days through foot-deep snow over the Hispar glacier and braved storms and finally landed into the Shigar Valley, where they built fort Khar-i-Dong.

    The original fort was on top of a cliff, but after a few peaceful centuries, the Mughals arrived and in a battle that lasted many days, the Amachas were uprooted and the fort destroyed.

    However, once the Amachas submitted, the Mughals left them in peace. The 20th ruler of the dynasty then built the current fort on top of a huge boulder and named it Fong Khar — Palace on the Rock. The new fort remained the seat of the Raja until a few decades ago.

    14th century Amburiq Mosque.
    14th century Amburiq Mosque.
    Shigar Palace — see the huge boulder underneath.
    Shigar Palace — see the huge boulder underneath.

    In the 1970s, Pakistan merged all the states within its boundaries, with the Rajas losing their official status, though they still hold local influence, as is true of the current Raja, Muhammad Ali Saba.

    K2 and apparently many other 8,000ers, including the two Gasherbrums and Broad Peak, were once part of the Shigar state.

    The fort and the palace within the fort were constructed with great love by the Raja, and craftsmen from Kashmir ensured that it is one of the best architectural feats of its time.

    The fort is surrounded by lush green orchards and lawns, and you can find cherries, apricots, apples and grapes all around in season.

    The vine-covered terrace restaurant.
    The vine-covered terrace restaurant.

    Numerous small water channels traverse the lawns with a very soothing sound which gets louder as the sun goes down and the surroundings get quieter.

    There is a beautiful central baradari with a marble base surrounded by a pool of fresh springwater, which seems adapted from traditional Mughal baradaris.

    The palace’s original aesthetics have been preserved and part of it is open for guests, while part of it is a museum with relics from the era gone by.

    The grapevine-covered terrace restaurant provides a lovely view of the valley with a gushing white stream — and of course, a mouth-watering menu.

    Shigar also proudly owns the 14th century Amburiq Mosque, which was awarded Unesco-protected heritage status in 2005. The mosque was built by the Persian artisans accompanying Syed Ali Hamdani, a travelling Persian scholar and poet who preached Islam in the Kashmir Valley.

    The 16th-century Khanqa-i-Muallah.
    The 16th-century Khanqa-i-Muallah.
    The orchards of Shigar Palace.
    The orchards of Shigar Palace.

    Shigar has the 1614-built expansive Khanqah-i-Muallah, or mosque and travel-lodge, as well. The exquisite wooden work on balconies and ceilings leaves one impressed with the masterful craftsmanship.

    The Khanqah was built by Shah Nasir Tussi, who came from Tus in Persia, and laid its foundations in 1602. Both the Amburiq Mosque and the Khanqah appear to be built in a similar pattern to Khaplu’s Chaqchan Mosque and Khanqah; apparently the same artisans travelled from one town to the next, leaving behind marks of their craftsmanship.

    There is a 7th century Buddha and other ancient rock carvings in Manthal nearby, besides hot springs and lakes — but you can always choose to just stay at the Palace and unwind in its lush green gardens and recharge yourself before the start of another work year.

    Have you explored any off-the-beaten tracks across the world? Share your journey with us at

    14th century Amburiq Mosque.—Photo by author14th century Amburiq Mosque.—Photo by author

    The river, the oasis and the desert.—All photos by the authorThe river, the oasis and the desert.—All photos by the author

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    While on one of my tours to Azad Jammu and Kashmir, all the way up to the Neelum Valley, I heard about a daak bungalow in Barsala from a concierge at one of the tourist lodges.

    The historical and sentimental value of the Barsala Tourist Lodge was that Jinnah had stayed there for some time while on his way to Srinagar from Rawalpindi on July 26, 1944.

    Also known as the Quaid-i-Azam Memorial Rest House, the lodge is located at a distance of 100km from Islamabad and 40km from Murree. On the way to Muzaffarabad, it is only 3km from the Kohala Bridge, which is the entry point to AJK.

    The lodge, like most buildings in Kashmir, suffered damage during the 2005 earthquake, but the AJK Tourism Department has repaired the structure and its numerous rooms are open for tourists wanting to break the journey and stay at this serene place.

    As our jeep made the descent from Muzaffarabad — the capital of AJK — towards Murree, my curiosity to explore the lodge where Jinnah had stayed gained momentum.

    The roads grew broader and smoother the closer we got to Barsala, the treacherous twists and turns reduced in number, the sun played hide and seek, momentarily disappearing behind the curiously-shaped clouds.

    It left us to enjoy the soothing shade, just before springing out from behind the clouds, bathing us in the bright light.

    On one side of the road winding through the mountains was the splendid Jehlum River, roaring in all its majesty. Its waves crashed the rocky banks, occasionally spraying us with cool froth.

    Stretched in front of us were the distant Himalayan mountains in all their majestic grandeur.

    Soon enough, the jeep came to a halt at a by-road, jolting me out of my reverie. It seemed like we had arrived at the daak bungalow. Only, it was nowhere to be seen.

    I blinked, waiting for it to appear before my eyes, when I saw the driver pointing somewhere a few feet down. I gasped as I gazed in awe at the loveliest lodge I had seen in a while.

    It wasn’t the glamour of the building that robbed me of speech, but it was its perfect elegance and sophistication that mesmerised me.

    The lodge was settled cosily in a clearing some feet above the now calm Jehlum River and a bit further down the main road.

    Slightly secluded from view and very close to nature, this beautiful place located perfectly was totally befitting of the great leader’s standards.

    Author's parents outside the Daak Bungalow.
    Author's parents outside the Daak Bungalow.

    Quaid's sitting room.
    Quaid's sitting room.

    Jinnah's bedroom.
    Jinnah's bedroom.

    Mossy stairs with tiny mushrooms growing out of them led me down to the wooden gate and into the lodge.

    The whole place seemed like it was slumbering. At the sound of my family’s chatter, however, Abdullah, the concierge, came rushing out to greet us.

    He welcomed us warmly and offered us tea, displaying the usual hospitality of Kashmiris.

    When we told him that we weren’t there to stay but had come to visit the place out of our attachment to Jinnah, he got emotional — and I got a glimpse of the devotion he had for the lodge.

    He told us that the room where Jinnah had stayed had been turned into a museum; it was opened only for visitors who wanted to take a look at the famed room. There was a plaque outside it with a description of the historic visit.

    The sitting room, attached to the bedroom, was simple and elegant, with furniture of the finest quality.

    Decades-old furniture with its gleaming surface looked good as new because Abdullah kept it spotlessly clean.

    The bedroom contained a heavy wooden dressing table, a wardrobe and bed with an intricately carved headboard, like an embroidered crown.


    In the sitting room, I spotted a rocking chair, which as Abdullah told, Jinnah had mostly rested upon.

    We spent a few minutes in the room, taking in the surroundings and committing them to memory. Abdullah led us through a beautiful veranda with a grassy lawn running adjacent to it, into the drawing room where he showed us old pictures of the daak bungalow and those during and after its renovation.

    After taking pictures and enjoying the beautiful view of the mountains and River Jehlum offered by the lodge, we thanked Abdullah, who courteously saw us off to our vehicle.

    We left with the precious memories of the place that, I think, is nearly as valuable as the now restored Ziarat Residency.

    Have you visited little known yet historically important places? Share your adventures with us a

    Drawing room of the lodge.—All photos by the authorDrawing room of the lodge.—All photos by the author

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    In the early 50s, not long after she had arrived in Bombay (later Mumbai) as a newly-married bride, my mother portrayed Anarkali in a theatrical production.

    The director, K Asif, happened to see the play and was so taken with her performance that he wanted to cast her as Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam. Over 200 photos of her were taken on the movie set, including ones with the iconic feather grazing her face.

    Ultimately, she had to decline the role owing to family pressure, as in those days women from respectable families did not act in 'pictures'.

    The photos remained in an album which she sometimes opened whenever she felt like reminiscing about her life before migrating to Pakistan.

    She had vivid memories but my mother did not view the past through rose-coloured glasses. Though she never spoke of it publicly, she carried an immense pain throughout her life.

    Once she felt I was old enough, she began to share her secret history with me, speaking with the utmost frankness, mother to daughter.

    Her public life in Bombay was filled with the trappings of glamour. There were movie premieres with film stars like Dilip Kumar, Madhubala and Kamini Kaushal, photos at official functions with heads of state like Prime Minister Nehru and history-making individuals like Tenzing Norgay.

    The glamorous mirage masked a terrible reality.

    On the set of Mughal-e-Azam. —All photos by the author
    On the set of Mughal-e-Azam. —All photos by the author

    My mother was being violently abused, physically assaulted by her husband at the time. The entire duration of the daily abuse, a period of seven years, she kept up appearances, accompanied her politician husband on campaign rallies, hosted elegant soirées with the pallu of her sari draped just so that the bruises would not be visible.

    She begged her family to intervene, only to be ignored time and time again.

    After one particularly brutal beating, my uncles came and took her back home to Bhopal. However, her husband persuaded them to hand her back with a written apology and undertaking that he would never hurt her again.

    Needless to say, the abuse continued, until one day her gynecologist, the eminent Dr Shirodkar, told her plainly that she would be dead within six months if she did not divorce her husband.

    My mother took his advice, but the price she paid for going against that devious and influential monster was enormous. He was a barrister and a politician and she a woman with a minimal education and no defences against his cunning. He took custody of both her young children, my step-siblings.

    She spent the next 20 years desperately searching for them. When she was finally able to track them down and met them in their adult years, they had already been thoroughly brainwashed against her by their father.

    The final manipulation came in the form of the threat that if they ever reconciled with their mother, he would disinherit them. It worked.

    After the briefest of reunions, her long-lost children cut off all ties with my mother, breaking her all over again.

    My mother cried herself to sleep every single night of her life. No joy could fully overcome the pain of the separation from her children.

    It was remarkable that she had the courage to keep on going in spite of her inner agony. Constantly harassed by the police in Bombay, she decided to take a break and visit Karachi for a family wedding, where she met and married my father, a love marriage across Shia/Sunni sectarian lines.

    With Dilip Kumar
    With Dilip Kumar

    Bia carried herself with great poise in her new life in Pakistan, but never failed to journey to India every year for the next two decades in search of her children. Each time she would return newly heartbroken and dejected.

    Bia loved music as well as singing. Music for her was a kind of opiate. She had a gorgeous voice, had studied a little with an ustad in Bombay and was a great aficionado of the ghazal form.

    Time and time again my memory goes back to dwell on the early years of my childhood, between the ages of six and nine, that were spent in Karachi with my mother as head of our household, while my father was a prisoner of war. She never let us feel the lack of a father.

    Our rooms in the Services Club had no kitchen, so come evening it would be time to discover a new restaurant or revisit a favourite eatery. We would pile into the bright red Dodge, which she drove at race car speed with the top down and her hair flying in the wind. There were weekends on the beach at Hawke's Bay and Sandspit and endless trips to bookstores.

    I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood.

    With Prime Minister Nehru
    With Prime Minister Nehru

    Recently, I have been drawn to reconstruct some of that time in a novel set in the Karachi of my girlhood in the 70s. In the course of my research, I stumbled upon a video of Bia in the audience of a Zia Mohyeddin show.

    It was a surreal moment: there she was in her trademark chiffon sari, all smiles, and swaying in rapture at Mehdi Hasan singing Ranjish Hi Sahi.

    I remember being seven or eight years old and being taken to mehfils where Iqbal Bano or Farida Khanum or Mehdi Hasan or Habib Wali Mohammad were performing.

    As a little girl, I found all that boring but the music must have penetrated my subconscious in a kind of osmosis, as it is now an indelible part of my being.

    I recall Bia singing each night before going to bed; when she was putting me to sleep, it was a lullaby, but when she thought I was asleep, I would tip toe out of my bedroom and hear her sing.

    Sometimes it would be a Noor Jehan ghazal, sometimes an old film classic like Mujh Ko Is Raat Ki Tanhai Mei Avaaz Na Dou. It is only now that I realise what was haunting her.

    I myself have never spoken of this publicly before. But I feel it’s time. My mother passed away in 2012; before #metoo and #timesup, she and countless other women of her generation were vilified and deliberately estranged from their children as an act of revenge for asserting their independence.

    I suspect my mother, who gave a full page interview in an Urdu paper under the headline "Begum Ali has Grave Grievances Against Men," would have loved that so many powerful figures in the West have been knocked off their pedestal by this newly-empowered social media savvy generation of women.

    Unfortunately in South Asia, although there are cracks and tremors the past and present pillars of patriarchy remain firmly entrenched.

    Case in point: my mother’s first husband, though long dead, remains firmly on his pedestal.

    He is revered in India as an author and Islamic scholar. His two oldest children, my step-brother and sister, worship his memory and resolutely deny my mother's assertions of physical assault and emotional torture.

    If I had only denied my mother's reality and accepted the version of events that their father fed them, that my mother was a woman of questionable morals who abandoned them at the tender ages of four and six, I would have been accepted by my step-siblings, but I refuse to accept the erasure of my mother’s being so easily.

    Bia used to write Urdu poetry on little slips of paper that she kept in her ghazal collections. I'd be perusing Faiz or Nasir Kazmi and a nazm would come floating down like a feather.

    After her death, I went through all her books and her poems were missing. All except for one. It reads:

    tou pani hai
    Chahé jis bar
    tun mei bhar lo

    Shani was her nickname. The double entendre of bartan (vessel) with bar (bridegroom) and tun (body) is so subtle and stunning. This tiny little poem contains the constrictions of a woman's life so succinctly.

    Given the opportunity, I am sure my mother would have been as renowned for her creativity as she was for her looks and her grace.

    Writing is a means by which we counteract erasure. After my mother's death, I gave up both paternal and married surnames and adopted my middle name, Naz, as my surname, as well as takhallus.

    Naz was given to me by her symbolically breaking off a piece of her own name, Shehnaz. Own in the larger sense that she had chosen it for herself at the ripe old age of five, after rejecting the family's given name.

    Now and until death, I will proudly wear the mantle of this matronymic, forever my mother's daughter, Sophia Naz.

    Have you ever been discriminated against due to your gender? Share your experience with us at

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    Da Sanga Azadi Da— "What freedom is this?" — is the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) anthem heard at their gatherings and jalsas.

    PTM’s figurehead, Manzoor Pashteen, asked that question in Karachi — the world's largest Pashtun city by population — on Sunday, May 13, as the PTM headed over to Pakistan’s main metropolis.

    Karachi, after all, is where a young Pashtun from Waziristan, Naqeebullah Masood, was killed in an extrajudicial encounter by the police on suspicion of terrorism on January 13, which provided impetus for PTM’s rallies and demands for fair treatment from the state.

    But if we are to trace the origins of some of the grievances of the Pashtuns of Pakistan's tribal areas, we will have to go all the way back to 1893 — to the year when the Durand Line was set in stone as a border separating British India from Afghanistan.

    The creation of this border-province begins the story of the continued maltreatment of the Pashtuns inhabiting these areas.

    Characterised by the Raj as ill-defined and turbulent, these regions compromised the defence of the borders of British India. They did not border a recognised foreign power; rather, they separated the Raj’s dominion from the 'wild', 'lawless, 'unsettled' and 'warlike' tribes living in the hills that stretched into Afghan lands.

    A map of Fata.
    A map of Fata.

    Eventually, these borderlands were assimilated into the Pakistani state post-1947 and incorporated into what we now know as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). For the residents of this region, however, not much has changed in over a century in terms of infrastructure and development.

    The curfews, coercion and oppression that the PTM protests against today trace their roots to laws created by the Raj.

    The basic aim of the Raj was to ensure that order prevailed along British India’s periphery and that a 'safe and permanent frontier' was established along its borders.

    In 1898, the London Times ran a report on these policies of the Raj:

    "Now that we had established our authority and supremacy over the district in which warlike operations [the Afridis revolted after the Durand line was proclaimed — a revolt which the British successfully quashed] had been taking place, it seemed an opportune moment to define what were the objects which we should wish to promote, what should be our frontier policy in India.

    "[Lord George Hamilton] had always held that the presence and the advance of Russia in Central Asia was a factor connected with our frontier policy which we could not ignore.

    "We must protect our subjects [referring to subjects in Punjab and Sindh] and must ensure that the tribes under our influence [are] not interfered with."

    And while the rest of British India was a crude reproduction of the metropole — introducing a centralised state that had ostensibly modern forms of governance, a bureaucracy, defined territory and a monopoly over violence — colonial rule in borderlands was markedly different.

    As opposed to pursuing a project of modernisation, the goal was to ensure that the frontier’s ‘unruly’ tribesmen did not integrate with the rest of the territories of the Raj.

    Galvanising the Raj’s impulse towards the institutionalisation of difference and excluding the frontier and its inhabitants from the colonial state were the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), established as law over Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, Waziristan — the borders of NWFP — in 1901.

    These regulations transformed tribesmen into imperial vassals, denied them access to colonial courts and Raj governance and yet, expected them to act in accordance with the interests and concerns of the overarching imperial state.

    Subsequently, under the guise of respecting the independence of the tribes, the Raj’s road and railway construction was limited to the areas of British Baluchistan — and not the border region — and irrigation projects were limited to the provinces of Sindh and Punjab.

    At the same time, service in tribal militias — which served on colonial outposts and checkpoints along the frontier region’s border with Afghanistan — transformed Pashtuns into wage labourers, tying them further into the colonial economic system at minimal cost, and consequently, to the colonial state.

    Colin Metcalfe Enriquez’s The Pathan Borderland— published in 1921 — describes this as a "marvelous method":

    "Not the least wonderful of the many marvelous methods employed in keeping our fickle and excitable neighbours [North of the Durand Line] in order is the use made of the Pathans themselves to protect our marches."

    According to Enriquez’s chronicle, the number of troops — militias, border military police and levies — along the border numbered 10,440 in July, and all but 1,150 were Pashtun.

    The FCR recognised and codified the existence of the jirga, or Council of Elders. But while the jirga's punishments and decisions were based on tribal customs, the FCR allowed and empowered the British Deputy-Commissioner to make both civil, and criminal, references to Councils of Elders.

    In addition, where the Deputy-Commissioner believed that a civil dispute was likely to lead to a blood-feud or a breach of peace — especially in cases where a frontier tribesman was party to the dispute — he was at the liberty to refer the case to a jirga of his own nomination.

    In other words, supreme power lay in the hands of the Deputy-Commissioner: he could question the jirga's decisions, veto or pass criminal sentences and bar hostile tribes from entering British India.

    And because of the Raj’s stifling military presence in the tribal borderlands — with four 'movable columns' in Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan, along with multiple corps of military police, levies and militia across the region, from Waziristan right up to Chitral — these tribes, more often than not, had no option but to accept the terms laid upon them.

    For example, a 1919 Nottingham Evening Postreport states that the "Mahsuds accepted all our [referring to the Raj] terms, which include an unopposed march through their territory and the continuance there of our troops until all fines have been paid."

    In addition, Article 11, Section (1) of the FCR stated, "The Deputy Commissioner may or if the Commissioner so directs, shall, by order in writing, refer the question to the decision of a Council of Elders (jirga), and require the Council to come a finding on the question after such inquiry as may be necessary and after hearing the accused person. The members of the Council of Elders (jirga) shall, in each case, be nominated and appointed by the Deputy Commissioner. [emphasis added]"

    More importantly, with Article 36, the FCR granted the British government the authority to "remove persons" — with "remove" ostensibly referring to a colonial form of deportation: one that forced inhabitants of the frontier region to "reside beyond the limits to which this regulation [the FCR] extends."

    In 1937, the Evening Telegraph and Post in Dundee, Scotland reported about "Tribal Hostages Handed Over". It detailed that over a hundred men were "handed over as hostages" to the Government of India by the jirga of the Tori Khel tribe in Mirali, Khaisora Valley, Waziristan.

    This "handing over" of men was part of the conditions laid down upon the Tori Khel tribesmen by Major-General D. E. Robertson, Commander of the Waziristan district, "to ensure peace."

    In addition, the FCR lacked basic civil protections, allowed collective punishment of individual crimes and placed extraordinary discretionary powers in the hands of the officers of the Raj.

    A 1914 report in London’s The Times titled "Indian Frontier Tribe Chastised" described the "punishment" of the entire Bunerwal tribe as a consequence of a raid carried out by a few tribesmen:

    "The column set out to execute reprisals on the Bunerwal tribesmen who recently raided British territory has, after a tiring night march, taken the villages and captured a number of prisoners."

    When Pakistan gained independence in 1947, the new state kept the architecture of tribal governance in place, thus keeping tribesmen of the frontier outside the realm of citizenship and leaving them in a state of perpetual dislocation.

    It wasn’t until 1997 that regions governed by the FCR were granted representation in the national legislature. Party-based elections – after much debate and deliberation – were introduced to the region in 2013.

    The recently passed Fata reforms bill proposes abolishing the FCR altogether (there were substantial amendments to the FCR in 2011), bringing the region into the fold of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as well as expanding the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court to the region.

    While the bill has been approved and signed by the President, its terms haven’t been made law as yet due to political reasons.

    There has also been talk of granting Fata a share in the NFC award — this proposition has allegedly been opposed by other provinces.

    But the military checkposts across Fata remain standing. They are physical reminders of over a century of high handedness.

    And the people of Fata remain confined to the margins of the state, excluded from the national body politic and defined by an era of colonial governance with limited rights and restricted access to judicial systems.


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    Mansoor Ahmad, who gave his heart and soul to bring glory to Pakistan on the hockey field, died last Saturday waiting for a new heart.

    While the National Institute of Cardiovascular Disease (NICVD), a tertiary care hospital in Karachi, optimistically tweeted that Ahmad would be its first heart transplant candidate, this could not erase the reality that, in the absence of an established deceased organ donation programme in Pakistan, procuring a heart for transplantation was not possible for Ahmad in the foreseeable future.

    In order to live some more, Ahmad, Pakistan's World Cup-winning hockey goalkeeper and captain, was willing to have an Indian heart beat in his chest.

    Many like Ahmad die daily in Pakistan, waiting for organs that are buried with the bodies of potential organ donors.

    Our greatest tribute to this fallen hero can be in making his story the catalyst for an important change in our health system: a formalised deceased organ donation programme that can, according to estimates, save thousands of lives of people dying from organ failure every year.

    For decades, Pakistan has been relying on healthy, living donors for transplants, limiting the scope of organ transplantation primarily to kidney and some liver transplantation.

    Kidneys, being paired organs, are easier to donate with minimal operative and long term risks for the donor.

    Major kidney transplant programmes, such as the one at the Sindh Institute of Urology & Transplantation (SIUT) in Karachi, have relied primarily on living related donors to meet the needs of patients suffering from renal disease, so far transplanting around 5,400 patients between 1994 and 2017.

    Donating portions of the liver, however, carries high risk to the donor. A retrospective study looking at data from nine US transplant centres in 2013 concluded that 37 percent of donors underwent one or more medical complications.

    It is no surprise that most liver transplant programmes around the world rely mainly on obtaining the organ from deceased donors, thereby obviating any donor health risks.

    Given that living donors are the primary source of organ donations in Pakistan, heart transplantation is currently not a possibility.

    Transplant programmes relying entirely on living donations are fraught with multiple difficulties and challenges.

    For one, the huge demand for organ replacement cannot be met with the limited supply of organs coming from living donors related to the patient, creating space for the organ trade to emerge.

    This particularly abhorrent form of exploitation was rampant until a few years ago with rich — and often foreign — buyers purchasing kidneys from poor Pakistani peasants.

    Mafias facilitated every step of this trade and earned Pakistan the notorious reputation of a kidney bazaar.

    A 2012 study conducted by one of the co-authors of this piece at the Centre of Biomedical Ethics and Culture, SIUT showed that most donors who sold their kidneys, especially in rural Punjab, were poor farmers wanting to pay off their debts.

    But instead, the donors only sank deeper in despair.

    Fear and suspicion

    Pakistan banned the organ trade with the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act in 2010.

    While this landmark law went a long way in reducing exploitative transplants, curtailing the organ trade, and improving Pakistan’s reputation in the international medical community, it has done little to address an ever-widening gap in the supply of healthy organs.

    The only viable way to increase organs available for transplants is through establishing a deceased organ donor programme.

    It is the responsibility of the medical community to show a way towards deceased organ donation and its subsequent acceptance in society.

    Pakistanis should not have to look for foreign benevolence for hearts and kidneys.

    To date, Pakistan has only had eight deceased donors whose organs have been transplanted. These include three who could only donate their corneas because their other organs were unviable due to age or disease-related factors. Abdul Sattar Edhi was a corneal donor.

    Most of those eight people became organ donors long before the 2010 transplant law was enacted, which recognises brain death as a legal cessation of life.

    Part of the problem lies in the many misconceptions surrounding posthumous organ donation, as we found out in another study conducted by our centre in 2014.

    We discuss some of these misconceptions below, and address them also.

    —All graphics by Zoha Bundally
    —All graphics by Zoha Bundally

    Winning public trust

    Before a programme can be set up, the misconceptions and fears surrounding the subject have to be dispelled.

    The medical community has to engage with the public to help alleviate fears around donating organs and spread greater understanding of the process.

    It is mind-boggling to see that the ultimate gesture of kindness and benevolence — which continues well beyond one’s own life and can change the lives of up to 17 others — requires so much convincing for wider acceptance in the society.

    The most unexpected of people sometimes can become the harbingers of change. A simple event can ignite profound societal shift.

    Perhaps Mansoor Ahmad’s demise while waiting for a heart can become a beacon for that change.

    Visit the Transplantation Society of Pakistan’s website to register yourself as an organ donor.

    Pakistani scholars and ulema of different schools of thought have weighed in on donating organs. Read their views here.

    Are you an organ donor? Have you pledged to donate an organ? Share your thoughts and experience with us at

    Mansoor Ahmad on his hospital bed. —AFPMansoor Ahmad on his hospital bed. —AFP

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    Sarim Baig writes in whatever “pockets of time” he can find while juggling his other job as a teacher of computer science.

    His recent book of short stories, Saints and Charlatans, is set in a fictionalised neighbourhood in Lahore, a city where he has lived most of his life in at least 12 different localities.

    He is an enthusiastic advocate for independent presses, one of which — Mongrel Books— published his book.

    He is curiously insistent that the book does not reflect his personal experiences, although he does explain how his childhood roaming the streets of Lahore has inflected the picture he draws of the Rampura neighbourhood and the characters that inhabit it.

    This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


    This is your first published book. When did you get into writing? If there is such a thing as a point you can identify, where you thought that you wanted to be a writer.


    I guess if you read a lot then there comes a point where you think about writing. And after that, it’s just about who is stubborn enough to keep doing it. When it comes to this collection, it represents the last four or five years. The work I have done in those years is consolidated into this collection.


    This is a very connected collection.


    All the stories are stand-alone. Every story is complete in itself. The connections that are there are primarily the connections of setting. Then, some of the underlying themes are common. And there are these floating characters that reappear across stories. But as stories, they are all different, meaning that they have their own beginning, middle and end.


    They have their own logic, their own arc.


    Yes, they have their own logic. You don't need to read one story to understand the other.


    Who are some of the authors that you have been inspired by? Or some styles of writing?


    I feel that the authors you read earlier on, in your teenage years, have the most lasting impact. I used to read a lot of Gothic horror. I’m talking about people like Poe, or Lovecraft, or Sheridan Le Fanu... he wrote this long story called Carmilla, about a vampire, one of the first vampire stories. It’s a wonderful Gothic horror.

    And these writers are really good at describing stuff. Creating worlds which have very mysterious settings. The setting itself is an actor, and a lot of things are possible in that setting.

    So that is one of the influences which I think I carry. Other than that, Latin American writers. Also some South Asian writers, I would say R. K. Narayan, Ruskin Bond. Some Urdu short story writers. People like Ghulam Abbas.


    You said that one of the things you have taken away from some of these books is that the setting is itself an actor. How does that function in your book?


    Most of the stories are set in Rampura, which is an imaginary place in Lahore. That setting feeds mostly on my own experience which has been a slightly different one because I have lived in at least 12 different places in Lahore, on rent. It is also different because it’s more like a street experience. I have had friends, street friends, across Lahore.


    What is a street friend?


    You know, when your mom is sleeping, you sneak out, and you find someone to play with, and he has also snuck out. That is a street friend. And he could be anybody.

    He could be the son of a rickshaw driver, he could be the son of a seth. So you have this experience coming from all these rather different parts of Lahore which are also reflective of different parts of our society.

    That amalgam shapes this imaginary place of Rampura. Which also has some additions in it. Meaning that there are things that happen in Rampura that cannot happen in the actual physical universe. So it’s kind of a magical real place.


    Tell us more about this setting, Rampura.


    I feel that my training in science has shaped my thinking in a certain way. So when I think of a character thinking, I am always aware of the fact that our brain itself is just part of the bigger universe, and whatever we call the setting is ultimately the product of our brains.

    So to me, setting is a state of mind. For example, in Rampura there are these labyrinthine streets and gallies and a lot of people get lost in those. Usually when they do that, they are also lost in thought. So the mind and the world are kind of meshed together.

    And I have lived around Lahore, and grown up there, in the streets of Lahore. I think that’s the experience that has fed the fiction. A lot of the characters in this book — although they are not real people — but if you went out looking you would probably find somebody close to each one of them.


    Are there any characters that you keep returning to?


    There is a boy in this book who is a trash-picker. I feel that the spirit of that boy somehow embodies the spirit of this book. Because he is literally living in trash and he has kind of stolen his own world out of it.

    His own world which no one else knows about and he is the master of this world. And he is a survivor.

    If you look carefully at a lot of these characters, they are like that. They’ve kind of stolen these worlds for themselves.


    That child in that story, he is not only a survivor, he is also a bit of a caretaker. Because he takes care of what you find out is his dad…


    Yes. But he doesn't tell his mom about this.


    Because he is protecting his father, in a way.


    Yes. So one of the themes of this book is — and that’s where the title also comes from — is that when your primary objective is to survive then you could be a saint — or you could pretend to be a saint and you are actually a charlatan.

    But if the primary motive is to survive, then a lot of these lines are actually grey. You can’t tell who is a good guy and who is a bad guy.


    You also have the presence of saints like Sain Siraj in the book, and the mosque also plays a role, with characters like Maulvi Muhammed Ijaz.


    I am always wary of these characters — the character of a cleric, or a hardliner. Because it is easy to caricature it, to make it a cliché.

    If you really think about it, that character in my collection doesn't have a story of his own. Instead he appears over and over again in various other stories.

    It is how the presence of that one man impacts other characters. And these other characters impacted by him are at various stages of their life.

    There is a kid, in The Path of the Man-Eater, who sees this guy beating up other people, and trying to enforce his own will on others.

    And then there is an old man at the end of the book who has suffered a great personal tragedy due to the hatred spread by the cleric. So that one character is an influence and a presence hovering around the other characters.


    Another theme that you deal with is characters not knowing their place in life. In The Third One from the Left, it says that Bubloo does not understand his own purpose. And that is his problem in the entire story, that he doesn't know what the “right sort of things” to do are.


    This is a character who has never been able to ask himself what he wanted. He always had answers given to him.

    First by his dad. Then by his father-in-law. And then life itself just kind of grabs hold of him. So there is a point where he thinks, “when my father was alive he used to beat me, but that was better because at least I knew where things were going. Now I have no idea.”

    And in the end he finds some kind of spiritual solace in becoming more religious. But throughout his life, he can’t resolve that question of what he wants. And that is because he is not free enough to do that.


    He never had the options?


    He never had the options. And to understand this character we also have to look at the other boys in the story. They seem to know exactly what they want. They just want to get out of this place.

    But it doesn't work out for them either. So you end up questioning whether it was even any use to them to know what their purpose was.


    What experience is your material tapping into? Many authors say that if you are a novelist or a fiction writer, you have a problem finding material, because fiction writers write about their childhood, their family, their marriage, and after the first book you have said it all. And then you have to find new ways of saying the same thing all over again.


    That is perhaps true. I have also heard something like that said, that every writer just writes one story. But if you look at this book of short stories, if you go through it, I think I have not written about my life yet, at all.

    And perhaps I will never write about my life. That would be fine. There are some other lives I know that I could write about. Maybe.

    The decision is taken not by me but by some character. If a character comes and is so powerful that they drive the narrative, then I will end up writing about that. And of course certain themes are always interesting.

    Also, I think the format of the short story allows you to write the peripheral narratives, the narratives on the edges of literature.

    For example, it would be difficult for me to write a novel about a trash-picker. But for seven pages I don't care. Let me get into his head and let me write about him.

    I can get into the head of the harmonium player. So all these peripheral narratives on the edges of society can easily take centre stage in the short story format.


    So for those seven pages — where are you drawing those from?


    I think a bit of that is natural. Because I feel that if I have a character to write about then that character will come to me talking. He or she would not be sitting quietly. I just have to listen to them and they will tell me their story.


    Can you elaborate?


    Personally, I primarily conceive characters first — of course these are characters I feel for or that intrigue me — and then the narratives follow as circumstances, situations and other characters arise around them. It might work differently for different writers.

    For me, certain settings are also more fertile, you may say inspiring, than others. The trash heap, the doonga ground, the roof of Heartbeats hospital, the Lucky Turkey Circus and Jojo ka Snooker Club are places brimming with stories.


    Which characters were easy to write for you? Which were more difficult? For example, I noticed that women don’t narrate any of these stories.


    Outside of this collection, I have written other stories where a woman is telling the story. But this collection is about these street folk who are mostly men. And the women in these stories are really representations of what those men are making of the women in their lives, rather than me portraying a woman.

    I was joking to my publisher that we could have named this collection “Men Without Women 3”. I haven't gone into the head of a woman in this collection. Maybe at some point as a writer I will.


    What are some of the challenges that you anticipate in such an undertaking? How do you think you might be able or not able to do that?


    This might be a disappointing reply to your question, but I’ve never quite been able to challenge myself to do a particular type of writing or create a certain kind of characters.

    I can only write what I can envision, what is of interest to me and takes me along. This wouldn’t change even when the central characters are female.

    Just as it doesn’t change when the central characters are different from me in other respects than gender.

    And the other characters — I think from the perspective of this collection most of them are just these street guys.

    The kind of people who will talk to anybody, if you approach them. The kind of people who will make a comment even if you don't want them to make a comment.

    Who are incorrect about things. Who are not really concerned with what is right.

    And also who are kind of open about the hypocrisy and embrace the hypocrisy that defines them.

    And in some cases are proud of it, proud of how they have perfected the art of being hypocritical while at the same time making it work.


    Can you give me an example of one of these characters?


    For example, the quack. He thinks he is really doing something for society.


    He starts off the story by saying I am a quack but —


    “I am a quack but when the disease is incurable what is the difference? I am giving people something, I am selling people hope.” So he has justified it, whereas, of course, he is giving people steroids. Although, he does lie about the steroids, so he knows at the same time that he is wrong.


    And then a similar character, Uncle Zuber —


    Yes. Actually a lot of people who have read this collection like that character. That character came out of a grievance that I have with our society, which is that there is nothing here for single men. Or for single women.

    You go anywhere and everything is for families. So this guy is the ultimate example of a guy who cannot penetrate the family structure. There is no place for him, there is no home for him.

    Like that trash-picker boy, he has kind of stolen a family for himself. He goes to these places when someone is in an emergency situation and everybody is being very kind to everybody else. He goes and inserts himself into those situations. He feels like he is in a family.


    You said that you were also influenced by Urdu literature. When you started writing, was there ever a decision to write in English? Was there a question mark? Or was it just natural that this is what you were going to do?


    You know, I am a typical trilingual mess kind of a person. It’s difficult for me to speak two paragraphs in a single language. All my schooling was in an English-medium school, university life again in English, books in English. And so I think my Urdu is just not good enough. Simple as that.


    Did you ever think of writing in that trilingual mess?


    If you are writing in English here in Pakistan, or even in India, you are writing about people — particularly in these stories, for example — people who do not speak English, people who do not think in English, they don't describe the world around them in English.

    But they do all those things in your stories. So obviously there is some transformation that is taking place. And I don't understand the dynamics of that transformation.

    But it is a transformation that only a writer writing in English experiences. If you are writing in Urdu, or in Punjabi, you can just convey the language of that character directly onto the page. But if you are writing in English, what do you do?

    So, for example, I love the early Naipaul, his books set in Trinidad, writing about the Indian community there. And that Indian community in Trinidad speaks a certain kind of English. If you take that dialogue out of his book, those books would die.

    Now I think about my problem. If I walk into, say, Lohari Gate, those people are speaking Punjabi, but it is not the same Punjabi they are speaking in Liberty. Or in my own house.

    They are speaking a different kind of Punjabi. How do I convey that difference in English? One option is to leave it out. The other is to let that feeling somehow seep into the language. Somehow. I like to think that I try to do that in this collection.


    What’s next for you? Is there another project that you are working on?


    I am just going to let my own writing evolve in whichever direction it wants to go. I have no particular formats in mind. I think at the end of the day all these formats, like short stories, novels, plays, they are imposed on the act of creating fiction.

    I will let my writing evolve in whatever way it does. If at all. This could be the only book I write.


    And you don't have a problem with that?


    I don’t have a problem with that. If I don't write another book, it’s okay.


    Any last thoughts?


    I want to give a shout-out to independent publishers. I think they are very important. And we also need our own local editors. Who can make the editing calls — that this is good writing, or good Pakistani writing.

    More indie publishers will allow more people like me to write and get published. They will allow greater freedom.


    And more authenticity?


    I am not sure what authenticity is. But more diversity for sure.

    Read an extract below from Sarim Baig's debut novel

    "You never know what you’re going to find in the garbage," the old man warned. “Oh, and you can’t unfind it. No way in hell. It’s going to be yours forever. Nobody’s going to come to you and say, 'Here boy, let me take it from you.' No. If they cared for those things, they would never throw them out. What’s more, you can’t get rid of the things you’ve already picked. What I’m saying is this: there’s no garbage for the garbage. Once you picked something up, you can’t toss it out. Coz there is no 'out' for you, damn it, you are the out! It's going to stick with you. You could throw it away if you wished, but then, some other day you’d come across it again. Are you listening to me?"

    The boy never listened.

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    Last week, numerous female students in Karachi spoke out on social media against sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour that they have had to face in schools at the hands of their peers, teachers and administrators.

    The wave of first-hand testimonies seemed to crystallise into a demand by the students to have proper sexual harassment policies in schools.

    This would be an opportune moment to look at the laws that exist in the country in this regard, where they fall short, and what can be done to plug the gaps.

    Subjecting children to adult ordeals

    There are various federal and provincial laws in Pakistan to promote children's well being, but legislation to protect children from sexual abuse in schools is lacking.

    Currently, a child who has been a victim of sexual harassment or molestation at school by a peer or by their teacher or caretaker only has recourse to generic provisions of criminal law against the direct perpetrator of such an act.

    The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) applies to the entire country and it addresses sexual harassment in a broader spectrum. Section 509 of the PPC criminalises sexual harassment and sexual advances by any person against a victim, independent of setting.

    Recently, through the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act of 2016, Section 377-A of the PPC was inserted to criminalise sexual abuse on persons less than 18 years of age.

    Therefore, whenever a child suffers sexual abuse in the confines of their school, they have no choice but to file a claim directly against the accused under the provisions of criminal law and procedure.

    Related:Sexual harassment: Pakistan's tipping point?

    Never mind the emotional trauma underlying reporting such a claim, a child (through a representative) would have to lodge an FIR under the applicable provision of the PPC and/or provincial law on sexual abuse at the police station in order to charge the accused.

    Additionally, the child would ordinarily record their statement under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

    The FIR would have to be promptly lodged without delay, otherwise the case would be prejudiced.

    Furthermore, documentary and/or ocular evidence would generally be required to validate the contents of the claim.

    This would be followed by a full-fledged trial, in which evidence would be recorded, witnesses and experts would be called upon and cross-examined to verify the contents of the claims.

    The victims, through the trial, would essentially undergo the ordeal of suffering losing their privacy, having their credibility challenged and potentially become targets of abuse and stigmatisation.

    All the while, the one party who in theory should be most responsible for ensuring the child's safety is spared by the operations of the aforementioned laws: the child’s school and its administration.

    Unprotected children

    There is no particular provision of law that criminalises neglect or oversight by caretakers in sexual harassment against children.

    At best, a school may be culpable under Section 328-A of the PPC (also recently inserted by the legislature), whereby whoever does an act of omission that has the potential to harm the child by causing physical or psychological injury may be punished with imprisonment of up to one year.

    However, the evidentiary requirements would be the same as above, and the victim would have to undergo the torment of criminal proceedings and trial to substantiate their claims.

    Civil remedies against a school for negligence can range from filing a claim for negligent hiring or vicarious liability. Such civil causes of actions are rarely filed.

    Schools are workplaces too

    The one legislative instrument that keeps in view the ground realities of reporting sexual harassment and accommodates victims is the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act of 2010 (Workplace Harassment Act).

    The Workplace Harassment Act specifically addresses the issue of women (and men) in the workplace facing harassment in an abusive working environment.

    Section 2(h) of the Act defines harassment as "any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature."

    The Act provides a comprehensive system on how workplace harassment should be reported and dealt with internally by an organisation. "Organisation" includes educational institutes such as schools.

    Every organisation within the ambit of the Act is required to form an internal committee to review and adjudicate complaints of harassment by an employer and/or employee against an employee.

    Read next:Special report: Sexual harassment in workplaces in Pakistan

    The Act goes a long way in shielding victims from the mental turmoil of providing detailed proof by shifting the evidentiary burden of ascertaining the facts upon the Inquiry Committee and the accused instead of the victim.

    The Act empowers victims with the tools to confront the offender and provides a level playing field, unlike the marred criminal trial proceedings under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act.

    Sexual harassment in the workplace, however, is not confined to the world of adults. Children also experience harassment and abuse in their workplace: their schools.

    Unfortunately, the Workplace Harassment Act does not extend its procedural cover to children at schools.

    Without statutory law regulating schools in this regard, the current model of schools acting on their own whims provides aesthetic relief at best.

    This gives a false sense of improvement and is largely unenforceable, thereby not making a classroom a more secure place for children.

    Need of the hour

    In Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, the United States Supreme Court held that a student deserves protection from sexual harassment by a teacher just as an employee does from harassment by a supervisor.

    Public school students in the US who are sexually abused by school persons have the option of bringing a claim of sexual harassment under statutes normally reserved for workplace harassment against employees.

    Jurisprudence, or better yet legislative action akin to the Workplace Harassment Act, needs to be implemented in schools.

    This would not only combat harassment against children in educational institutions, but also protect children from the stigma of going through a full-fledged trial proceeding, which often due to socio-economic, legal and cultural factors ends up empowering the status quo instead of providing justice.

    A central purpose of law is to protect the weak from the strong. Unfortunately, we have neglected the weakest class — children — in their most vulnerable setting: school.

    Graphics by Zoha Bundally

    Have you faced discrimination due to your gender? Share your experiences with us at

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    The village of Dera Chahal, named after a historical gurdwara located in the middle of the village, is being encroached upon from all sides.

    Located in Lahore district, on the Bedian Road that once connected Lahore with Amritsar, the village was far removed from bustling Lahore city not that long ago.

    But the extension of the Defence Housing Authority into the area has seen the city expand onto the agricultural lands of Dera Chahal and other nearby villages, some of which have been in existence for hundreds of years.

    The subsequent development of the area brought this particular gurdwara into the limelight in 2011, when Gulab Singh, a Pakistani Sikh working with the traffic police, filed a case against Asif Hashmi, chairman of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, accusing him of illegally selling gurdwara land to property developers.

    Created in the 1960s, the board is a government organisation responsible for the maintenance of non-Muslim property that had been abandoned during Partition. In January, the Supreme Court of Pakistan found Hashmi guilty.

    This gurdwara is one of the most important Sikh shrines in Pakistan. It stands on the spot where the maternal house of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak, once stood. It is believed that Bebe Nanki, his older sister, was born here. This is why the gurdwara is also referred to as Gurdwara Bebe Nanki.

    Rising from the middle of the village, the gurdwara's white dome is visible from afar. Abandoned in 1947, like several other structures, it fell into disrepair.

    It was renovated on the orders of interim Prime Minister Meraj Khalid in the mid 1990s. Subsequently, the gurdwara was opened up for Sikh pilgrims, many of whom come from India to participate in various religious festivals.

    The story of Meherban

    There is one particular historical tradition that asserts that Guru Nanak was not born at Talwindi (present day Nankana Sahib) but at Dera Chahal. This is asserted in the Janamsakhis (literally, birth stories) of Nanak, written by Meherban.

    Meherban was the son and successor of Prithi Chand, the eldest son of Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh guru. Traditional Sikh sources refer to Prithi Chand and his followers as "mina" or deceitful for he tried to hijack the spiritual authority of the guru from his younger brother, whom Guru Ram Das had appointed as his successor.

    That brother was later known as Guru Arjan Dev.

    Prithi Chand challenged the appointment of his younger brother. Several anecdotes recall how he even tried killing Guru Arjan Dev’s son, Hargobind, who became the sixth guru.

    Some of these anecdotes also lay the blame of Guru Arjan Dev’s execution in 1606 at the hands of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, on the connivance of Prithi Chand.

    The Minas presented a formidable challenge to the authority of the Sikh gurus during the lifetime of Guru Arjan Dev and even after. After having been exiled from Ramdaspur (Amritsar), Prithi Chand settled in a village called Hair, a few kilometres from Dera Chahal.

    There, he constructed a shrine to rival the authority of Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple). Remains of the shrine are still visible outside the village, which also lies on the Bedian Road.

    After Prithi Chand died, his son Meherban became the head of the movement.

    One of Meherban’s most important achievements was his writing of the Janamsakhi of Guru Nanak — the guru's biography as narrated through tales of his miracles. The former Sikh gurus were to play an important role for both Prithi Chand and Meherban, who attempted to appropriate the legacy of Guru Nanak.

    However Meherban’s writings were not confined to the first Sikh guru. He also wrote a hagiography of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and a commentary on Hindu deities including Ram. Some of these early writings, part of the broader Sikh culture, reflect its syncretism.

    Traditional Sikh authorities assert that Guru Arjan Dev began the compilation of the Adi Granth — the first holy book of Sikh scriptures — as a reaction to Meherban's writings, as he did not want Meherban to claim Guru Nanak's legacy for himself.

    A 19th century text suggests that the Minas got hold of Ramdaspur and continued exerting influence on the city till after the death of Harji, the son of Meherban.

    This is when the Mina movement lost its vitality and was evicted from Ramdaspur by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last guru. The Mina movement subsequently split into several groups until its followers were incorporated into the broader Sikh community towards the close of the 19th century.

    Diverse Sikh religious movements

    While orthodox Sikh literature asserts that the relationship between the followers of Guru Arjan Dev and Prithi Chand was antagonistic, a few other sources challenge this belief.

    For instance, one of these sources records how Guru Hargobind met Meherban after his release from the Gwalior jail — where he had been imprisoned by Emperor Jahangir – to convey his condolences on the death of Prithi Chand. The two later entered the Harmandir Sahib together.

    There is another conventionally-held belief that Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh guru, was locked out of the Harmandir Sahib at the time the Minas controlled it. The guru is said to have waited it out at a spot near the Harmandir Sahib, where Gurdwara Thara Sahib now stands.

    But another tradition challenges this narrative. It asserts that instead of being locked out of the shrine, Guru Tegh Bahadur sat at Thara Sahib out of his own will so that he could be greeted by Harji and his son.

    After the formation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, the Minas were referred to by Sikh scholars as Panj Mel — one of the five dissenting groups with whom the Khalsa were forbidden to engage. But there is historical evidence to suggest that members of the movement continued to play an important political role in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839).

    These various eclectic religious movements remained part of the broader Sikh community well into the 19th century.

    Thus even when the formation of the Khalsa formalised the Sikh community to a certain degree, several distinct groups continued to be a part of the broader Sikh fold.

    For example, thousands of Nanak-Panthi Hindus can still be found in Sindh. Another example of these distinct communities are the followers of Sahib Singh Bedi, a descendant of Guru Nanak, who during the coronation of Ranjit Singh, put a tilak on his forehead.

    Bedi’s descendants settled in the village of Bedian — close to Dera Chahal — giving the village and the road its name.

    A greater uniformity seeped into the Sikh community towards the end of the 19th century, with the beginning of the Singh Sabha Movement, which was similar to Hindu reform movement Arya Samaj, and the Islamic revivalist movements of the early colonial period in Punjab. The Singh Sabha Movement preached the purification of Sikhism.

    History was appropriated to present a state of perpetual conflict between the Sikh gurus and Muslim kings, while several Hindu practices were jettisoned.

    In those times of heightened communal identity perpetuated by the colonial state there was a need to exert a distinct identity.

    Thus in the following years, several distinct Sikh movements were brought under the umbrella of a uniform Sikh identity. Gurdwara Dera Chahal, the villages of Hair and Bedian today serve as a distant reminder of this diverse past, now almost lost.

    The article was originally published on Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.

    —White Star/File—White Star/File

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    Dear Sabika,

    It’s been several days since the school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, where you, a 17-year-old Pakistani exchange student, were among the 10 victims.

    Since then, I’ve learned a lot about you from media reports and the moving testimonials from your family and friends.

    You were blessed with many admirable qualities, but what particularly stands out is your pure and unadulterated optimism.

    Indeed, in a deeply troubled world where many nightmare scenarios have come true, you still dared to dream of better things.

    In a speech you made at a retreat for foreign exchange students in North Carolina earlier this year, you said you "prayed every night to wake up to a world of peace."

    At a time when the US global image is suffering beyond belief, you still saw the good in America. Your father recalled that before you arrived here, you studied US history "to learn from the best."

    You believed America provided a safe and special space to receive an education. You wanted to be a diplomat and hoped to help improve US-Pakistan relations.

    You were from Karachi, where terrorism and other violence haven’t been as frequent as in earlier years. And you lived far from Pakistan’s most conflicted regions in the west and north.

    Still, given your country’s many afflictions — including the extremism that you reportedly sought to escape by studying in America — you had good reason to come of age too quickly.

    Indeed, in Pakistan and beyond, so many conflict-scarred, disease-ravaged, and prejudice-victimised young people — and many more traumatised by the travails of their global peers thanks to the powerful vehicle of social media — have had to grow up way too fast.

    In short, it wouldn’t have been surprising if you’d become jaded.

    Or at least a bit cynical.

    But you didn’t. You were an optimist to the core.

    Until the moment you died.

    How cruel and tragic that the country you so admired, and that gave you so much hope, didn’t only let you down. It killed you.

    Now you are one more victim of a sickening American gun culture that has literally been the death of so many people in this country—again and again and again and again.

    I’m also struck by something else: your death has taken a powerful perception harboured by many Americans and turned it firmly on its head.

    Nearly eight years ago, a Newsweek headline infamously declared Pakistan to be the most dangerous country in the world. Today, many Americans — who often fixate on the fate of Daniel Pearl and the discovery of Osama Bin Laden — continue to view Pakistan as a dangerous place, and especially for Americans.

    And yet then there was you: a Pakistani student gunned down at school — by an American terrorist. In America.

    It’s as if the lens through which Americans view Pakistan has been inverted, bringing into focus an ugly and deadly dimension of the United States that many here are still unwilling to fully acknowledge.

    This underside of America is all too real. It makes your determination to focus on America’s better side all the more admirable.

    Your father said he hopes your death will finally prompt America to reform its gun laws.

    Sadly, that’s not in the offing. Dozens of previous school shootings — including one in 2012 that killed 20 six- and seven-year-olds— haven’t prompted change.

    Neither has the most galvanising gun control movement in US history, spearheaded by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting in February.

    We’ve already witnessed a familiar charade since the Santa Fe shooting: US political leaders blaming everything— video games, not enough religion, too much drug abuse, even too many doors in schools — but guns for school massacres.

    Indeed, it’s hard to find any silver linings. But it’s worth trying, if only to honour someone who seemed to have an endless repository of hope.

    Here’s one. Even in your much-too-short life, you achieved your goal of becoming a diplomat.

    Your first and only overseas posting was in Texas, where you served as a cultural ambassador — a well-deserved informal status for effective foreign exchange students like you.

    How tragic that in the end you brought the US and Pakistan together in grief, not goodwill.

    Here’s one more silver lining: you offer a resounding reminder that young people are Pakistan’s greatest asset. In a country where two thirds of the population is under 30, and where the median age is 23, there are many more Sabikas: young, smart, suffused with hope, and determined to make Pakistan, and the world, a better place.

    Here’s hoping we hear more about Pakistan’s other Sabikas in the coming years — not because of their tragic deaths, but because of their inspiring acts in life.

    And I’d like to think you’ll be pulling for them all.

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    In the subcontinent, there were many women poets from all manner of social and linguistic backgrounds who dared to be "heard" and more importantly, considered their voices worth hearing. In 16th century Kashmir, one such woman was Habba Khatoon.

    Mughal-e-Azam tells us a tale contrary to the otherwise glorious accounts of the Mughal emperor Akbar.

    It tells a heart-wrenching story of a blooming romance between a courtesan and the prince, and how it was put to an end at the orders of the emperor.

    Although the veracity of this tale is doubtful, like all legends, it survives and is retold. However, this is not the only romance that Akbar put a premature end to.

    There is yet another epic, often told and retold in Kashmiri folklore, which does not find mention in popular narratives.

    This romance, too, was throttled by Akbar for conquest of the crown jewel of the Mughal empire — a veritable heaven-on-earth — Kashmir.

    Habba Khatoon, named Zoon (meaning moon) by her parents, was a Kashmiri poetess in the 16th century.

    Yusuf Shah Chak, the king of Kashmir, spotted her in the fields one day. Legend has it that he fell in love with the beauty of her voice and richness of her rhyme.

    He is said to have relieved her of her earlier marriage and taken her away to his court, where she enchanted him with her poetry, while reigning as queen for six years.

    At the end of those six years, Akbar summoned Yusuf Shah to Delhi. Akbar had failed to conquer Kashmir militarily and now resorted to tactics of cozenage.

    Upon reaching the Mughal court, Yusuf Shah was flung into prison, never to see the light of day again, and never to see his beloved Habba again.

    For the rest of her years, Habba pined away in an abode next to the Jhelum, where she finally lay to rest.

    There exists little documentation and fewer records of the story of Habba Khatoon and Yusuf Shah Chak, yet this story has been passed down for generations and it slowly, yet inevitably, found its way into historical records and books of lore.

    It is not only her tale but also her verse that has travelled across time to be alive and loud.

    The clichéd line, Nightingale of Kashmir, has often been used to describe her. She is the sound and song of many gatherings even today.

    Looking carefully at her context, Habba Khatoon’s verses are surprisingly bold. That she recited them in the 16th century make her words even more powerful.

    She did not fit into the existing lineage of women poets before and immediately after her, many of who wrote of spirituality and mysticism. She, on the other hand, brought in a romantic lyricism to Kashmiri.

    One can even retell her story through her verse — her poetry is biographical but also has an inherent universality, much like this verse, that possibly describes her first encounter with Chak.

    Bara kiny vucchnamai
    gara kamy hovnasai
    zara zara thovnamai
    chhu me baale tammana

    He gazed at me through the door
    Wonder who showed him where I lived!
    And I ached with love in every limb
    Forever a young girl I am in desire

    Dil nyith ratytham goshe
    vwolo myaani poshe madano

    You stole my heart and stole away
    Come back, my lover of flowers

    Habba articulated her lived reality in verse, yet what makes her stand out is not only the extraordinariness of her life as a peasant-queen-poetess, but the articulation of desire in words that were thus far limited to men.

    Laale gati manz tsong zaajaanai
    baale roodus na hosh

    tsu chhaham shama, bu chhas parvaanai

    chhaav myaany daanai posh

    Lost in her world of dreams, Leila
    Lit her lamp in the dark!

    I am the moth and you my lamp!

    Enjoy my pomegranate blossoms

    Habba dared to name and beckon her lover, a significant role-reversal at a time when women were only the objects of desire and only the recipients of proposals of love.

    Lajy phulai anda vanan
    tse kanan goi naa myon

    lajy phulai kwola saran

    vwothoo neeryan khasavo

    phojy yosman anda vanan

    tse kanan goi na myon

    The distant meadows are in bloom.
    Have you not heard my call?

    Flowers bloom on mountain lakes

    Come, let us ascend these meadows now

    The lilac blooms in distant woods

    Have you not heard my call?

    The relatability in her verse didn’t stop at descriptions of conjugal love. Habba lent her voice to the banal chores of everyday life, singing as she went along.

    It is no wonder then that her verses gained widespread popularity in the region.

    She wrote of miseries inflicted upon her by her in laws and of the perils of physical labour. Her descriptors of sweat and toil are also beautifully poetic.

    Dyaka pyatha guma chhim mwokhta zan haraam
    baal chhas karaan kosman kraav

    With sweat pearls dropping from my brow
    I’m a maiden gathering violets

    Much of her poetry is rooted in the flora of Kashmir: descriptors of hills and streams, flowers and fruits that lend a truly paradisiacal quality to the Kashmir she describes.

    Vany dimai aara balan
    yaara kunyi melakhnaa

    vany dimai aaravalan

    dubara yaara melakhnaa

    I’ll seek you down the wandering brooks
    Praying we must meet again

    I’ll look for you where the jasmines blow

    Don’t tell me we shan’t meet again

    While we cannot be certain that she was the only woman poet of her time, she was certainly the first to usher in a lyrical age of romantic poetry in the memory of Kashmiri literature.

    Her successor in this genre would not show up until two centuries later in the form of poetess Arnimal.

    Of the repertoire of songs and poems in her name, scholars say, only a handful can be indubitably attributed to Habba. Her position and her story made her worthy of memorialising.

    Passed down orally in songs that have been sung by women across centuries, it is likely that Habba’s words have been modified, reinterpreted and reimagined by many other unnamed voices.

    All these voices may have eventually contributed to the myth and legend of Habba Khatoon. Given the universal relatability of her verse, it would not be surprising if Habba’s voice has carried the ideas of many lyrically gifted women of Kashmir since.

    Habba has been a subject of fascination, be this very early film or Muzaffar Ali’s attempt to recreate her story on the Hindi film screen.

    In Kashmir, a recent surge in reinventing old Kashmiri music as pop is a trend and many contemporary musicians, often men, have put Habba’s songs in verse and lending their voice to it.

    Listen to a traditional rendition of her most famous poems here, a reinterpretation here and another of her spiritual poems here.

    Illustration by Zoha Bundally

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    Lahore and Toronto might be thousands of miles apart, but they enjoy similar traits and concerns. Both are home to over six million people and gridlocked with traffic exceeding far beyond the designed capacity of the road networks.

    Lahore and Toronto are also struggling with controversial plans for rail-based urban transit, known as subways in Toronto and Orange Line Metro in Lahore.

    In Toronto, concerned citizens and transit experts question whether a nearly $4 billion subway extension in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto, is the best use of money.

    They argue that better service and accessibility can be provided by cheaper alternatives, such as Light Rail Transit (LRT) that runs on the surface on a dedicated right-of-way.

    In Lahore, where urban transit is far less developed than in Toronto, similar concerns have been raised about the almost completed Orange Line Metro system, which is a 27.1km-long elevated rail transit with a 2km underground track and services 26 stations.

    Media reports and litigation in superior courts have raised several concerns about mass transit in Lahore in general and the Orange Line in particular.

    Given that most discourse on such a technical matter has either been in the hands of untrained yet well-meaning individuals or partisan surrogates, one needs clarity on matters related to mobility and public transit.

    With general elections around the corner, where transport infrastructure development is now deemed a controversial subject, putting urban mobility in a proper context should help inform the electorate.

    I attempt to answer the concerns and questions raised about the Orange Line and public transit. I do so by highlighting important facts about transit planning, relying on my experience as a former professor of transportation engineering at McGill University.

    Fact 1: Urban public transit is inadequate in Lahore

    And it’s not just Lahore. Urban mass transit is of poor quality and insufficient in all major urban centres of Pakistan.

    Given the demographic footprint of large urban centres, the number of buses and other paratransit falls horribly short of the demand.

    How much transit does one need? I would argue that in the absence of a comprehensive rail-based urban transit operating on its own right-of-way, urban mobility needs require roughly one bus per 1,000 people.

    The World Bank’s Urban Bus Toolkit recommends anywhere between 0.5 to 1.2 buses per 1,000 people.

    For instance, consider Shenzhen in China, a city with 13 million people, where the entire fleet of 16,539 buses has been recently switched from fossil fuel to electricity resulting in 1.3 buses per 1,000 persons.

    With 11 million people residing in Lahore District, we would require roughly 11,000 full-sized buses at one bus per 1,000 people, or 5,500 buses for one bus per 2,000 people.

    However, these numbers are roughly four to eight times higher than the 1,574 buses mentioned in the eight-phase plan outlined by Punjab Mass Transit Authority.

    The population breakdown in the latest census can help determine the mass transit needs at the tehsil level.

    Consider that in Lahore Cantonment alone, where 1.6 million people reside, 1,600 buses are needed at one bus for every 1,000 residents.

    If one were to argue that the affluent parts of the city are more auto-dependent and one should use 0.5 buses per 1,000 people for Lahore Cantonment and Model Town, and one bus per 1,000 persons for Lahore City tehsil, Raiwind tehsil, and Shalimar tehsil, the number of buses needed is around 9,000.

    Hence, let there be no doubt. Pakistan’s urban transit is severely undersupplied. This is partly the reason that motorised transport has increased significantly over the years.

    Fact 2: Lahore has the required density to support Metro

    Many in Pakistan argue that Lahore, unlike Karachi, does not have high-rises, hence it lacks the population density to support higher-order mass transit.

    This leads to three important questions: What is the population density in Lahore? What density thresholds are needed to support public transit? Does one need high-rises for high population density?

    A 2014 report estimated Lahore’s population density to be 5,583 persons per square kilometre. However, the population density is much higher in central (urban) Lahore.

    The one million residents in Data Ganj Bakhsh are living at densities of 31,000 persons/sq km, while a million residents of Samanabad live at 28,000 persons/sq km. The density in Cantonment is around 8,700 persons/sq km.

    Urban Lahore, excluding Wagah and Nishtar, reports population densities that are much higher than densities of cities with sophisticated public transit systems.

    As for the need for high-rises, one must look at central Paris, a city of 2.3 million within an area of 105 sq km, where the average population density is 21,500 persons/sq km.

    Paris achieved high population densities without having the need to build high-rise buildings. The city owes its urban form to the famous architect Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who ensured that buildings were no taller than five to seven stories.

    If Paris could serve as a prototype for density, Lahore can operate higher-order public transit without having the need to erect high-rise buildings as long as the city is able to maintain population densities of around 10,000 persons/sq km.

    Fact 3: Public transit system follows a hierarchy

    When it comes to capacity, public transit systems follow a hierarchy. Buses operating in mixed traffic are at the bottom, and rail-based metros operating in their own right-of-way are at the top of this hierarchy.

    Buses operating in mixed traffic can carry anywhere between 1,500 persons per hour per direction to 3,000 persons per hour per direction.

    Articulated buses where two or more buses are linked and driven by the same driver can carry even more passengers.

    When buses operate in their own right-of-way, often referred to as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), they can achieve higher throughput capacity of over 5,000 passengers per hour in the peak direction.

    In Pakistan, where crowding in public transit is accepted, the throughput transit capacity could be even higher.

    A five-car metro train operating in its own right-of-way can carry as many as 1,200 passengers per train.

    Operating at a two-minute headway — the time between two successive trains — these trains can carry up to 36,000 passengers per hour in each direction.

    While the above are theoretical capacities, these numbers can fluctuate depending upon population and employment densities along the transit corridor, feeder routes to augment the high-capacity train and transit fare.

    Fact 4: High-density employment corridors require high-capacity transit

    Given the high demand for mobility along the primary commercial arterials, such as Ferozepur Road, high-capacity public transit is better.

    Unlike the downtowns in cities in Europe and North America that have high concentration of employment, South Asian cities instead have employment concentration along major arterials, which makes it difficult to serve these cities with high-capacity transit.

    Still, corridors like Ferozepur Road and Multan Road are strong candidates for higher-order public transit systems because the transit demand they generate cannot be efficiently served by the regular bus service.

    Fact 5: Visual encumbrance and elevated tracks are common in New York and Chicago

    Even in New York and Chicago, cities much wealthier than Lahore, elevated rail tracks can be seen in several neighbourhoods.

    Though these tracks are a permanent source of visual encumbrance, they are much cheaper to build than the alternative that involves tunnelling.

    Since urban Lahore is already built-up at moderate to high densities, rights-of-way are not readily available to build and operate rapid transit.

    Tunnelling will prove too expensive given the consumers' lack of willingness-to-pay and the political leadership's lack of willingness-to-charge.

    Fact 6: Ridership depends upon fare

    Urban transit differs from intercity transit in many ways, including fare and revenue.

    Consider that when an intercity bus leaves the terminal in Rawalpindi for Lahore, the expected revenue per seat is generated by the same passenger. Why? Because we do not expect the same seat to be occupied by more than one passenger during the same trip.

    It is quite a different story with urban transit. One designs the transit fare in a way to maximise the throughput capacity so that the revenue generated by one seat relies on it being occupied by more than one passenger during the run from one terminus to another.

    If the fare is too high, ridership will be low as passengers will use the alternative modes.

    If transit fare is too low, as is the case with a Rs20 fare, the ridership will still be lower than the optimum ridership because the seats are likely to be occupied by passengers who travel the greatest possible distance.

    This implies that the BRT on Ferozepur Road will have the buses fully occupied by passengers boarding at Shahdara and heading to the other terminus at Gajjumata.

    A preferred option for structuring transit fares is to avoid blanket subsidies that subsidise all passengers. Instead, only low-income passengers be subsidised to prevent leakages in the subsidy regime.

    This can be achieved by integrating smart mobility cards with other government interventions, such as the Benazir Income Support Program cards.

    Furthermore, fixed fares must be replaced by zone-based fares to promote transit ridership.

    Does Lahore need high-capacity rail transit?

    The answer to the above question is an unequivocal yes. The high-capacity transit systems on Ferozepur Road and Multan Road must be complemented with bus-based feeder networks.

    Thousands of additional buses plying in mixed mode traffic are needed to make transit a viable option against motorized two-wheelers and cars.

    While Lahore needs more transit infrastructure, its construction and finances should be made transparent to the public.

    It is not obvious from the conflicting statements whether the Orange Line is a gift from the people of China or a loan from the Chinese banks.

    A lack of transparency becomes a breeding ground for conspiracies and reduces trust in public institutions. Public transit should be built to improve mobility and trust in democratic governance.

    Illustration by Zoha Bundally

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    One of the characteristics of the modern weltanschauung (worldview) is to identify religion as distinct from culture.

    Islam, and Islam in Pakistan, doesn't escape this bifurcation either. One popular example is qawwali.

    The recent secularisation of qawwali— the shift away from Sufi dargahs to concert halls and recording labels — has led to a re-imagining of qawwali as expressive of the cultural traditions of Pakistan and (north) India, related only marginally and incidentally to the religion in whose cradle it developed.

    Such a secular understanding of qawwali is anachronistic to the pre-modern progenitors of the art form.

    Read next: When the man who wrote Pakistan's national anthem saw the divine in Hindu god Krishna

    The Chishti order, the most prominent Sufi brotherhood in Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, has long celebrated the normativity of qawwali as an expression of divine love.

    Annemarie Schimmel has noted the phenomenon in the Mystical Dimensions of Islam as "the most widely known expression of mystical life in Islam."

    American author Leonard Lewisohn, in his article The Sacred Music of Islam: Sama in the Persian Sufi Tradition, points out that qawwali is stressed upon by some South Asian Sufis not only as legally permissible (halal), but as a required religious practice (wajib).

    Inherent religious pluralism

    Qawwali also has a long history of engaging with multiple religious traditions. The religious landscape of north India and Pakistan provides a literary context of diverse religious motifs, metaphors and symbols.

    Sufi repertoire traditionally includes non-Islamic, particularly Hindu, religious leitmotifs.

    Such a pluralistic approach is evident in a representative qawwali, Kanhayya (Krishna), composed by Nawab Sadiq Jung Bahadur Hilm and performed by Abu Muhammad and Fareed Ayaz.

    The qawwal sings of his love for Krishna and relates a heart-wrenching account of the afflictions he endures through separation with his beloved.

    Kahuun kyaa tere bhuulne ke main vaarii
    Kanhayya yaad hai kuch bhii hamaarii

    What can I say, even for your neglect
    I could give my life.
    Do you remember me a little,
    O' my tormenting Kanhayya!

    Radha-Krishna as the archetype of spiritual love is based on the 12th century lyrical epic, Gita Govinda (Love Song of the Dark Lord), composed by the saint-poet Shri Jayadeva of Bengal, and is considered a religious work in the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism.

    It describes the seeker's longing for the divine through the idiom of human love and courtship. Metaphorically, the epic narrates the yearning of the devotee to achieve union with the beloved.

    It corresponds roughly, in terms of spiritual symbolism, poetic beauty, and literary influence, with the Layla-Majnun trope in Persian poetic tradition.

    Payyaan parii mahaadev ke jaakar
    Tonaa bhii kar kar haarii
    Kanhayya yaad hai kuch bhii hamaarii

    I threw myself at the feet of Mahadev;
    I even tried wizardry but lost.
    Do you remember me a little,
    O' my tormenting Kanhayya!

    Expanding mental horizons

    In the popular Muslim imagination, Hindu beliefs and symbols have sometimes served to illustrate 'inferior' forms of belief.

    In the Sufi tradition, however, such symbols were often inverted to evoke the highest form of love, ishq-i-haqiqi.

    Sufis favoured paradoxical and perplexing statements and symbols in poetry and music to encourage listeners to transcend the norms and conventions.

    Also read: Why is great philosopher Kautilya not part of Pakistan’s historical consciousness?

    Such hermeneutical exercises share some parallels with the tradition of Koan in Zen Buddhism — Koan is a paradoxical statement or question intended as a rhetorical tool to guide the seeker towards a higher level of Selfhood.

    Perplexity (hayra) in the Sufi context seeks to de-stabilise pre-supposed categories — the understanding of Islam learnt by rote.

    Sufis have long criticised this type of adherence to Islam limited to exteriorised and formal aspects of the religion.

    The abandon with which Sufis treat Islamic rituals and forms has been misinterpreted to support a view of spirituality, or Sufism itself, disassociated with religion.

    The modern category of religion which allows for an understanding of spirituality independent from religion would have been anachronistic to any pre-modern Sufi.

    Through such daring and critical statements, Sufis entreated the Muslims to transcend these forms through spiritual realisation — the ascending stages of human perfection resulting in proximity to God.

    One can only transcend what one has mastered, and these Sufis sought to master the external religious forms to access their inner reality, which as veil, al-hijab in Islam and maya in Hinduism, at once hides and manifests.

    Related: How shrines helped indigenise Islam and Christianity in South Asia

    Krishna in qawwali rests on the paradox of religious forms, where an Islamic tradition valourises Hindu forms and symbols.

    Such performances of perplexity signaled the move to de-exceptionalise Islam in the treatment of other religious traditions, to the ire of stricter theologians.

    Sufis exhorted the listeners to see beyond forms (surat) to the underlying spiritual meanings (ma'na) — towards the realisation of an inner kinship of religions.

    Hindu symbolism in qawwali signifies, above all, the possibility of many religious paths leading to the summit of salvation and enlightenment.

    Qawwali seeks to guide the listener beyond the multiplicity of religious forms to the underlying unity at the heart of religions.

    Illustration by Zoha Bundally

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    It took two decades for Asma Nawab, 37, to walk once again on the sands of Karachi’s Clifton Beach.

    The vast expanse of the Arabian Sea is in many ways an apt representation of endless opportunities — a concept unbeknownst to her until a month ago.

    This was because, for the last 20 years, the only future that Asma could envision was confined to the 8x10 perimeter of her death row cell in Karachi women’s jail.

    In profile:Asma Nawab

    In 1999 an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) sentenced Asma to death for the murder of her parents and brother.

    Sixteen-year-old Asma’s innocence plea that the murders were committed during a botched robbery was brushed aside by the special court.

    Thereupon, Asma’s quest for justice became entangled in the myriad of delays that define Pakistan’s broken criminal justice.

    It took another nine years for the Sindh High Court to finally decide her appeal in November 2008 with a split decision from the two-member bench.

    The matter was then forwarded to a referee judge, who after another seven years upheld the conviction and death sentence in 2015.

    It was not until recently that the faulty investigation propping up Asma’s conviction was finally called into question by the Supreme Court.

    The Court observed that the entire case was built upon weak circumstantial evidence which was collected in blatant violation of mandatory rules of criminal procedure.

    Asma Nawab (C) gestures before entering her house alongside her lawyer Javed Chatari (L) after her release in Karachi. —AFP
    Asma Nawab (C) gestures before entering her house alongside her lawyer Javed Chatari (L) after her release in Karachi. —AFP

    As a result, Asma was finally returned the liberty and dignity that was unjustly wrested from her.

    The justice system’s cruel response to Asma, a victim of a crime that left her without a family, underscores the urgent need for fundamental reform.

    Inherent flaws

    The first instance of violation occurred when the case was booked by police under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

    Enacted in 1997, the ATA is the Pakistan’s primary anti-terrorism legislation, promulgated to increase the power of law enforcement agencies to prevent and investigate terrorism and to create special ATCs to expedite trials of terrorist suspects.

    However, more than two decades following its operation, the law has been largely ineffective in fulfilling its mandate.

    By virtue of a broad and vague definition of terrorism, the law allows for ordinary crimes bearing no nexus to terrorism to be tried under the special regime.

    Also read: Shahzeb Khan's murder was shocking but was it 'terrorism'?

    Section 6 of the law defines terrorism as any crime or threat designed to create a “sense of fear or insecurity in society.” Subsection 2 broadens the scope of the law by listing over 18 crimes that could fall within the meaning of terrorism.

    This includes ordinary crimes already criminalised under the Pakistan Penal Code, such as any crime that “involves grievous violence against a person or grievous boy injury or harm to person” and “doing of anything that is likely to cause death or endanger a person’s life.”

    A study by Justice Project Pakistan noted that around 88 percent of those sentenced under the ATA were convicted of non-terrorism crimes.

    Subsequent interviews with police and prosecutors revealed that booking crimes under the ATA was a means to appease politically influential complainant or the general public in high profile cases.

    Asma Nawab (C) reacts as she enters her house in Karachi. —AFP
    Asma Nawab (C) reacts as she enters her house in Karachi. —AFP

    United Nations Treaty Bodies have consistently called on the government of Pakistan to ensure that persons convicted for ordinary crimes are not tried under the special procedures of the ATCs.

    However, no measures have been taken thus far.

    Need for circumspection

    The overuse and abuse of the law holds disastrous consequences. Firstly, with a back log of thousands and thousands of cases, the ATCs are riddled with delays which inevitably impact the timely prosecution of actual terrorists.

    Similarly, as the law waives key procedural safeguards guaranteed under the ordinary courts and provides enhanced police powers and fast-track investigation and trials, the eventual convictions rest on faulty investigations and severe fundamental rights abuses.

    Consequently, a significant number of convictions under the ATA are overturned by the superior court in appeal.

    But the rectification of injustices, such as in the case of Asma, comes after suspects have effectively served entire life sentences.

    On the same topic: Quality of justice

    It was in this vein that the Supreme Court in August, 2017 cautioned lower courts against including ordinary crimes like murder within the ambit of the ATA.

    Justice Dost Muhammad Khan in his judgment stated that “the courts of law shall not lightly ignore that being a harsh law enacted to punish terrorist or hardcore militant, the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 will not be extended liberally to cover criminals who commit the crime of murder or attempted murder for any reason or motive that has no connection with terrorism or militancy.”

    However, no demonstrable change has been seen in the jurisprudence of the lower courts.

    Justice is blind... to gender

    Public discourse in Pakistan, in the wake of the few heinous crimes that manage to make their way into headlines, inevitably demands booking suspects under the ATA for speedy justice.

    What’s missing from the narrative are the countless victims, like Asma, who pay the price for the temporary assuaging of public outrage.

    Related: No, death penalty is not a solution to child sexual abuse

    In addition to falling victim to Pakistan’s anti-terrorism regime, Asma's identity as a woman also made her susceptible to the violations of justice that she inevitably fell victim to.

    Interventions on access to justice for women in Pakistan remain inordinately focused on victims of crime. Missing from the debate are women who are accused of committing crimes, especially under the ATA.

    Owing to stigma attached to crime, women accused of criminal activity are more likely to be abandoned by family or support networks.

    As a result, they are less likely to have access to effective legal representation during the course of trials and appeals.

    This leads to gross miscarriages of justice, particularly under the parallel regime of expedited trials and investigation under the ATA.

    Read next: 'Mr President, grant mercy to my daughter who was tortured into a false murder confession'

    Additionally, women are also vulnerable to torture and abuse by law enforcement during interrogation and investigation.

    This likelihood quadruples under the ATA, as the special law, under Section 21H, allows for the admission of confessions and statements awarded in police custody as evidence.

    This is in contravention to Pakistan’s evidence law under the Qanun Shahadat Order that only permits confession recorded in the presence of a magistrate to be admissible as evidence.

    As a result, police under the ATA routinely extract confessions from suspects on the basis of torture. The risk of torture is additionally heightened by the police powers to detain a person for up to 30 days without review or the possibility of habeas petition, and another 90 days through application to the courts.

    These powers facilitate the police’s extraction of coerced confessions and statements from accused parties and witnesses.

    Call for reforms

    The UN Committee Against Torture in its review of the government of Pakistan’s initial report in March, 2017 asked the government to ensure that all persons tried under the ATA “have access to legal safeguards against torture, including prompt presentation before a magistrate and the possibility of a habeas petition, and to ensure that confessions obtained outside the presence of a magistrate are inadmissible as evidence.”

    It is evident that Pakistan’s criminal justice has failed to protect women like Asma from abuses of power and misconduct by police.

    Asma Nawab, free finally after spending 20 years in jail.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
    Asma Nawab, free finally after spending 20 years in jail.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

    These instances of severe fundamental rights violations are far from isolated and represent the reality for the majority of Pakistan’s prison population.

    It is critical that the government of Pakistan reform its laws to reduce the definition of terrorism under the ATA through restrictive language and by explicitly excluding common crimes such as murder or hurt from its scope.

    It is also necessary that provisions giving overarching powers of interrogation and investigation to the police, such as section 21H, are excluded from the law to avoid gross miscarriages of justice.

    Only once these reforms are initiated can cases like Asma's be avoided.

    Illustration by Zoha Bundally

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    I take pride in knowing Soon Valley like the back of my hand.

    So when Saad, the young, bright analyst in our office mentioned the abandoned city of Tulaja in Soon Valley, I was a bit unsure.

    But that brief conversation got me curious and one spring morning, we were on our way to the Valley.

    From the motorway, we exited at Bhera and took the under-construction road to Khushab, where we bought the traditional dhoda and pateesa from one of the 30 so-called original and genuine Ameen Dhoda House outlets, all on the main road, all in complete disregard to each others’ copyrights.

    From Khushab, we took the road to Soon and, in 30 minutes, we entered the Valley, where we were welcomed by the World War I monument celebrating the sons of the soil who laid their lives for the Crown, from Ypres to Normandy.

    After another 30 minutes of twisting and turning through the shrubby Valley, we saw a small sign pointing right to the shrine of Baba Kachhaywala.

    Here, we left the paved road and entered a dirt track barely wide for one jeep. On the track, we crossed many small coal mines and, in 20 minutes, we were at Baba jee’s shrine. There was a little stream nearby and a small congregation had gathered there to pay respects to the Baba.

    The ancient city of Tulaja is little known save for a few pictures on the internet showing a huge boulder, several hundred feet high, rising out of the earth like a natural fortress.

    The rolling mountains of Soon Valley.—All photos by author
    The rolling mountains of Soon Valley.—All photos by author

    Before my trip, I could find no credible references or any pictures of the city itself. All we knew was that the abandoned city is on a plateau on top of the high cliff. So it was time to climb up.

    We left our jeep at the Baba Kachhaywala shrine as we needed to trek from here.

    We asked if there was anyone who could guide us to Tulaja. But while locals had heard of it, we found no one who had been to the actual place.

    People looked at us with some suspicion and tried to dissuade us from going there. However, we were able to convince three boys to accompany us.

    The trek started with a small water bottle each and a few snacks. We began walking towards the cliff and on to a path which took us close to the bottom of the high cliff.

    Climbing up turned out to be the wrong move. And here started our ordeal.

    The long unused steps.
    The long unused steps.

    We were not really prepared and wearing t-shirts while having to go past thorny bushes was not a great idea. The boys leading us were adept, but even they had no clue as to the right path to Tulaja.

    There was no track and we were making our own way, climbing up at a nearly 70-degree angle, jumping from one rock to other and using all fours at times.

    Soon, we were sweating and panting and remembered we had one small water bottle each. After about 30 minutes of this vertical climb, we reached a grassy, flat plane at the side of the main boulder.

    The boulder indeed looked like a natural fortress, with a sheer drop of several hundred feet on each side and slanting backwards. Our guess was that there should be some way to the slanting back of the boulder.

    We were surrounded by dense, high shrubs as we tried to find our way to the wall of the boulder.

    We were hopeless and thirsty, and were trying to accept failure and hurry back as the trek going down seemed even more dangerous. It was then that we saw a man at the top of the boulder looking our way.

    We gave him a shout and he shouted back. There were introductions and he signaled us to one side of the boulder.

    Hesitant but still up for another attempt, we followed his directions.

    The cave entrance on the right flank of ther ock, the only entrance to Tulaja.
    The cave entrance on the right flank of ther ock, the only entrance to Tulaja.

    We again hit the side wall of the boulder, and while trying to manage through loose rocks and thorny bushes, we came across the small, centuries-old and apparently the only entrance to Tulaja.

    It was a small cave-like entrance and, as we climbed up, we found the steps leading us to the plateau above.

    The myth is that the inhabitants of Tulaja would seal the cave entrance with large rocks every night and remove them in the day.

    As we climbed up the now well-formed staircase, soon the steps opened up to an expansive plateau, and we were surrounded by ancient structures all around.

    Most of these structures appeared to be living quarters or one-room houses, but some were bigger and multiple-room structures.

    Though we did not explore the whole plateau, it seemed around 10 or 12 acres.

    We were able to see small pits dug into the rocks to store rainwater, similar to many ancient cities around the world.

    With roofs long gone, the crumbling walls of Tulaja housing.
    With roofs long gone, the crumbling walls of Tulaja housing.
    The water pit dug into a number of rocks to preserve water.
    The water pit dug into a number of rocks to preserve water.

    While exploring the structures, we found chiseled rocks, at times eight-feet long, making up the walls. It can be anyone’s guess how these rocks were chiseled and moved to form part of the walls.

    The edges of the plateau were sheer drops of hundreds of feet and provided astounding views of the Punjab plains towards the south and Soon valley towards the north, with miles of rolling mountains and jungles all around.

    My best guess is that Tulaja was a Hindu settlement like many other similar settlements, such as Katas Raj, Tilla Jogian, Mallot, Amb or the Mari Indus temples, continuing across the Indus to Kafir Kot.

    Most of these settlements were strategically located natural forts providing a bird's-eye view of the plains for miles. All of these archeological sites are historic gems and must be preserved and protected.

    The rolling hills of Soon valley.
    The rolling hills of Soon valley.

    While exploring the plateau, we found the man who had signaled us to right path. Between us, we first thought of him as a potential fugitive and were a bit hesitant to even climb up, but we were completely wrong.

    Habib, the shepherd, was sitting in the middle of the plateau with his jute-covered water bottle with him.

    He generously offered water to us despite having just one bottle, and then showed us around like he was Lord of Tulaja — and indeed he was.

    I remembered with a strange feeling that I had seen Habib before, in another hiker’s video from six years ago, the lord present in the loneliness of Tulaja.

    With Lord of Tulaja
    With Lord of Tulaja

    It was time to head back. We were worried about the steep descent, but Habib showed us another route parallel to the ridge with a slower descent.

    We climbed down from the plateau on a semi-visible track along the ridge rather than climbing down to the base of the boulder.

    The track became more visible as we descended and, in about 30 minutes, we could see the shrine. The sight of the shrine gave us a bout of energy and we reached down in no time.

    Taking the wrong route to the base of the rock.
    Taking the wrong route to the base of the rock.

    For future explorers, I would suggest to park the car at the shrine. There is a narrow, rough road ahead of the shrine and around three tracks branch off in quick succession.

    Start your walk on this track, leave the first left track and take the second left track up into the mountain.

    Walk about half a kilometre and try finding a barely visible path to your right. Once you find this path, it should be an easy one hour trek on the ridge to the side of the boulder. Then, find your way up the plateau to Tulaja.

    Tulaja is like a dream, it is mysterious, abandoned and few people know about it. Go explore it.

    Have you ever explored any off-the-beaten paths? Share your experiences with us at

    The rolling mountains of Soan valleyThe vertical drop and natural fortressThe rolling mountains of Soan valleyThe vertical drop and natural fortress

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    With manifestos, hundred-day plans and agendas making headlines recently, one can earnestly hope that all the promises made by political parties will, one day, be executed in their entirety and the impact will be visible for all to see.

    This, however, sounds way too optimistic. Policy plans do not always translate into results as hoped for when they are being crafted.

    When applied and subsequently met with failure, post-implementation analysis is peppered with generic and often meaningless terms like ‘lack of institutional capacity,’ ‘political economic constraints,’ and ‘non-conducive ecosystem’ that do little to help diagnose the causes of the shortcomings.

    I am not attributing failures to lack of political will at the top, as one may think. Let me make my case with a short story.

    Blind spots

    Before 1997, all teachers in Punjab were hired on a permanent contract by the Punjab Public Service Commission. The process was marred with inefficiencies.

    Teachers were posted away from their hometowns without sufficient incentives, and the ensuing discontent led to reverse transfers within a few days of being posted.

    Teacher expertise, experience and specialisation were unevenly distributed, which meant that far-flung, rural areas suffered from a shortage of teachers, let alone good teachers.

    The result was high student-teacher ratios and multi-grade teaching (one teacher simultaneously teaching several grades), especially in primary and rural schools.

    Editorial:The first 100 days...

    This, together with several vacant posts and increasing student enrollments, necessitated the introduction of teacher rationalisation policies in the province; policies that aimed to equitably distribute teachers throughout the province.

    Years 1998, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2014 saw the implementation of these policies.

    A thorough dissection of the 2014 rationalisation policy reveals that, while the policy was a very comprehensive document, developed by a consortium of international consultants, the implementation staff i.e. the clerks working under the District Coordination Officer did not understand it.

    The policy contained a formula for equitable distribution of teachers with finer details that the clerks did not want to invest time in understanding and had no incentive to do so.

    Hence, while some districts were able to implement the new policy, most districts relied on the age-old mechanism of near-random allocation they had always been using, resulting in uneven distribution of teachers in terms of experience and expertise once again. This did not allow any room for teachers’ preferences either.

    This was one of the several reasons why the results were no different than they had been before the new policy was drawn up.

    So while it was a well-intentioned piece of policy crafted by experts, the implementation failed to meet the expectations of its creators.

    The policy's focus was the correction of unequal deployment; it did not take into account the fact that its underlying cause was not only the political and economic mesh that defined it, but also how the policy vision was lost further down the implementation ladder, especially since the policy, when designed, had not engaged key stakeholders such as teachers, district education management and implementing officers in districts.

    Making policies effective by design

    Before one delves into policy design, a rigorous analysis of the underlying causes is critical to assess the factors that contribute to the problem.

    It is even more crucial to go beyond the obvious and address these causes so that a sustainable solution can be devised.

    Using data is vital to gauge these deep-rooted problems and design a long-lasting policy solution that go beyond just the symptoms. This exercise often results in unexpected conclusions.

    Here is one example:

    Italian economist Oriana Bandiera (with Andrea Prat and Tommaso Valletti) analysed purchases of 21 generic goods made by 200+ public bodies in Italy. The findings were surprising on various levels.

    Firstly, there was a vast difference in the average prices paid for similar goods — a 55% difference between 10th and 90th percentile.

    Related:How realistic are PTI’s grand plans?

    Goods bought at the same time, in the same location and of the same quality were bought at different prices. The variation may have been expected, but it was the scale that was more concerning.

    It is worthwhile to mention that we conducted a comparable exercise in Punjab, which resulted in similar baseline conclusions.

    So, why was this happening in Italy? What could be the most obvious hypothesis? It is a natural instinct to blame it on corruption.

    However, that was not the case. It was not the bureaucrats’ corruption, but passivity that was the reason.

    The experiment showed that 83% of this ‘waste’ was due to bureaucrats' apathy towards the expenditures in their offices.

    The bureaucrats being negligent and lazy turned out to be a bigger problem than active corruption.

    This revelation changes the nature of any possible policy solution. Data generating from this experiment debunks the commonly held hypothesis.

    The analysis further added that these findings could potentially lead to savings of up to 1% of Italy's GDP.

    This study's conclusions mean that Italian governments will not be required to raise taxes in order to expand the fiscal space, but can use the data to design smarter policy.

    Data can steer the course

    These anecdotes powerfully drive home the importance of using data for accurate diagnosis. It is one of the key inputs in breathing life into the hundred-day plans, policy vision documents and reform agendas we discuss and debate.

    Once a data-led solution is in place, more data collected on implementation and impact does not only ensure that the ensuing action is effective, but also feeds back into the design to iron out any kinks and further improve the policy.

    Read next:Desperately seeking data in Pakistan...

    Implementation data from the Benazir Income Support Program gives us similar valuable results that may help cast the programme's net wider, bring more recipients under its coverage and enhance impact, simply by the addition of numbers to the policy mix.

    So here is what we have in a nutshell: better diagnosis, smart and human-centred policy solutions and solid implementation may help us fully cash in on the optimism of the policy plans presented during the electoral campaigns — much beyond the election hype and the first hundred days.

    These policy solutions will steer this momentum to initiate change and accelerate progress, for change and continuity together is what we need, with data to help us stay the course.

    Are you an analyst working on policy reform? Get in touch with us at

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    Formerly vice-captain of Pakistan women’s cricket team, 26-year-old Bismah Maroof was appointed captain in September last year.

    Since her tenure, the team has played two ICC Championship series: one home series against New Zealand in November 2017 in Sharjah and another away to Sri Lanka in March 2018.

    In the November series, Pakistan came very close to winning the first match and subsequently won their first ever ODI against the Kiwis in the third match.

    The ODI and T20 series against Sri Lanka were clean sweeps — this is only the second time that Pakistan women’s team has won an ODI series 0-3.

    Bismah’s own performance has also been consistently strong. She is one of Pakistan women’s top batters, bowls well and is a keen fielder, helping her side secure many of the wins during her captaincy.

    Bismah is currently the highest-ranking T20 woman player from Pakistan at 11th in the ICC Women’s T20 batters and 12th in the ICC Women’s T20 all-rounders.

    But while Bismah’s on-field exploits are well known, her personal history and the story of her career path are not. In this interview, I try to bring that to the fore.

    I spoke to Bismah over the phone recently to get to know her a bit more. The interview below is translated from Urdu and edited for brevity and clarity.

    This is the first of a four-part series of interviews with two senior and two newcomers to the women’s squad, which is currently playing the Women's Twenty20 Asia Cup in Malaysia from June 3-10, 2018. Read part 2 here.


    What is your earliest memory of playing cricket?


    The first time I remember playing cricket was when I was six or seven, when my father brought me a toy plastic bat.

    I used to play cricket with my elder brother. I live in a joint family with my paternal uncles and their families; and all of them were very supportive and happy when I played. My mother used to say that as long as you study well, it's okay.

    She also believed that sports are a healthy pursuit, so she was supportive though she wanted me to study well too.

    I was the youngest of three children. I have an elder brother and an elder sister. When I was born, my brother had been hoping for a younger brother so that he would have a playmate.

    But he took me on as his playmate regardless of the fact that I was a girl. Whatever he did, he took me along with him; whatever he played, I played with him.

    When I was 14, my uncle suggested that I go for open cricket trials. At the time, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) used to hold open trials for girls.

    Imtiaz Ahmed was the chief selector then. At the trials, I was selected for an upcoming Pakistan versus Hong Kong series.

    When I went to the trials, I used to play with a tennis ball, so Sir Imtiaz advised me that I should practice playing with a hard ball. I had to learn how to play with a hard ball and I spent three months practicing that.

    I didn’t get to play the first two matches but I played the third match of the Hong Kong series, in which I scored 82.

    My whole family had come to watch me play. They were so excited when I made 82 runs.

    I got cramps in my leg after the match. Without waiting for the physio, my mother started bandaging me in the ground right after the match.

    After playing against other countries and meeting other players, I realised that if I am to be a serious cricketer, then I must work on my fitness.

    My international debut for the national team was in the Asia Cup 2006, where I made 43 against India.

    In the beginning it was difficult for me to stay away from my family because I was very attached to them. But the seniors — Taskeen Qadir, Qanita Jalil, Sajida Shah, Batool Fatima, Urooj Mumtaz and Sana Mir — really helped me.

    When I made friends in the team and got the support of the seniors, I became more comfortable. Then it became easier to be away from family.

    Pakistan captain Bismah Maroof and New Zealand captain Suzie Bates unveil the trophy at Sharjah Cricket Stadium ahead of the ICC Women’s Championship series ODI match in November 2017.—Photo by ICC
    Pakistan captain Bismah Maroof and New Zealand captain Suzie Bates unveil the trophy at Sharjah Cricket Stadium ahead of the ICC Women’s Championship series ODI match in November 2017.—Photo by ICC

    The seniors guided me on how to conduct myself off the field as well as on the field. I have had a lot of personal growth because of cricket. I may not have grown so much if it had not been for the sport.

    Right in the beginning, I learnt humility because in this game there is both winning and losing.


    You mentioned humility; what are some of the other key lessons have you learnt in cricket?


    I have been very close to Sana and she has helped me a lot personally and professionally. She is one person I discuss everything with.

    I have also worked with her as vice-captain for a while, so I have learnt a lot from her — how she works with honesty, how she helps out others, how she makes decisions.

    I try to cultivate all these in myself: to make decisions that are helpful to others and I try to judge my own self with sincerity.


    You took over captaincy in 2017. What is the difference between you as a player and as a captain?


    Before, I used to help out Sana. If I had any ideas I would share them with her to assist her. But I didn’t have full authority and also I didn’t have the responsibility.

    As captain you have to take the decision and own it fully.

    So I feel it makes you more passionate and also increases the sense of responsibility. When you make decisions you have to be clear about your reasoning, so I have learnt to be sharper in decision making.

    Also communicating with the girls to understand them — this is something I am doing more of but also something I'm still learning and trying to improve.


    What have been your challenges over the past seven to eight months?


    As captain if I have to compare, I would say that I’ve seen Sana and she had to do a lot of things herself because before maybe the management was different and her vision was much broader.

    The new management I have to work with is much more supportive because their vision and my vision are much more similar.

    So I have not had to face such a challenge because management handles many aspects and the new coach, Mark Coles, also has been a big help.

    Mark handles a lot of the team issues off the field and I would say he is doing very well. My responsibility is much more on the field as captain.


    How do you balance your own performance as a player and your responsibility as a captain on the field?


    I fully captained the New Zealand ICC Championship series in November last year and at the time, I felt the pressure for my own performance and as a captain as well.

    But when I returned from the series, I spoke to the coach and he explained that once you go on the field to bat, then you no longer have the responsibilities of a captain. Then you should just go and enjoy your game.

    So during the Sri Lanka tour, I tried to stay in the present moment and play according to the requirements of the given situation. This was very helpful to me.


    Two series, against New Zealand and Sri Lanka, were a big success. What do you attribute these successes to?


    Definitely the win against New Zealand was a success. The way our World Cup 2017 campaign had gone … I was with the girls and I know how hard everyone had worked. But we couldn’t get the results we wanted in that tournament.

    We were very disappointed that we weren’t able to convert our hard work into results. So for the New Zealand series, the girls themselves were very enthusiastic. Every girl wanted to show that we can do something for Pakistan, so I think the unity of our team really helped us.

    Bismah Maroof, the Pakistan captain, led the bowling attack finishing with figures of 3/17 in 5.2 overs.—Photo by ICC
    Bismah Maroof, the Pakistan captain, led the bowling attack finishing with figures of 3/17 in 5.2 overs.—Photo by ICC

    We had never defeated New Zealand before, but this was a home series and we had an advantage which we wanted to utilise fully.

    I would also like to mention that the new coach gave us self-belief and confidence that we could defeat New Zealand. The atmosphere in the dressing room was very light.

    We all felt confident and every girl wanted to improve herself and play better. Our first match against New Zealand was very close and then we defeated them in the third match.

    After that series we were confident that we could easily win against Sri Lanka. But we never got carried away. Everyone still played with responsibility according to their role and that is what helped us to win both the ODI and the T20 series against Sri Lanka.


    You have achieved the top position in your field. If someone wants to excel in theirs, what can they learn from Bismah Maroof?


    I believe very strongly in hard work. And I believe that whatever lies in my hands I should try and control that and whatever doesn't lie in my hands I shouldn’t try and control that.

    I think hard work and being honest with yourself are very important. If I need to improve in a certain area but I go into denial that I don't need improvement, then I can’t improve.

    Also focusing on my own work, my own contribution and not focusing on what others are doing or not doing. I think these things have really helped me and have increased my self belief. Therefore I can back myself.

    I've never looked for shortcuts. I believe that we should keep putting in our effort and Allah will reward us. I have always believed this and Alhamdolillah, Allah has given me a lot of respect.


    Javeria Khan and Bismah Maroof (right) forged a 49-run stand for the third wicket to get Pakistan out of trouble.—Photo by ICCJaveria Khan and Bismah Maroof (right) forged a 49-run stand for the third wicket to get Pakistan out of trouble.—Photo by ICC

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    This 22-year-old medium pacer, Diana Baig, burst into prominence in the Women’s World Cup (WWC) 2017.

    The young athlete from Gilgit is one of the most animated players on the field. She dives, runs and chases with a palpable energy, bringing the field to life.

    Diana was effective with her pace in the recent ICC Championship series against New Zealand in November 2017 and Sri Lanka in March 2018, fielded with characteristic enthusiasm and was handy with the bat in some key moments.

    One of the emerging stars on the women’s team, I spoke to Diana on the phone about her childhood and how she made it from Gilgit to the national squad.

    The interview below is translated from Urdu and has been edited for brevity and clarity.

    This is the second of a four-part series of interviews with two seniors and two newcomers to the women’s squad, which is currently playing the Women's Twenty20 Asia Cup in Malaysia from June 3-10, 2018. Read part 1 here.


    How old were you when you first developed an interest in cricket?


    I think I was around six or seven when we would play cricket at home. We wouldn't play football that much; we mostly played cricket.

    We used to stuff old socks with shoppers (plastic bags) to make balls. We couldn't even afford to buy balls at the time. And for a bat, we would use our own wood or sometimes a spade with the handle removed.

    We made our own cricket equipment because we were very young and we couldn’t afford to buy it.

    Our parents were very keen that we study. My father had not been to school, so he really wanted us to study. He sent us to good schools, even though he couldn’t really afford it.

    My father was very keen that the girls in the family study well. I have two elder sisters and an elder brother and my father never compromised on my sisters’ education; he sent them to good schools and universities


    How did you go from there to being on the national team?


    I wasn't very interested in studies but I was very interested in sports.

    I played any sport; whatever was available or being played, I would play that. I didn't exclusively play cricket, though it was what we played more often.

    But when I was a child, I once watched a women's cricket game between India and Pakistan on TV and that got me very interested because it showed me the possibility that girls can also play for a national team.

    —Photo by ICC
    —Photo by ICC

    So after I saw that match, I would visualise myself opening the bowling attack for Pakistan. Before going to sleep, I would often imagine myself playing cricket for the team.

    I used to play with my elder brother and I really liked his bowling. Whenever we played cricket with other boys, I really liked the way my brother played. I followed him. My cousins would also play with us.

    There was some space in our house where we would play. We would be five or six cousins and we would bat and bowl by turns. Often my brother won because he would bowl us out quickly and he himself would bat for long.


    Can you talk about some of the biggest hurdles you faced, and how you overcame them?


    First of all, the problem in our area is that a girl cannot play in an open ground. She can only play in her own chaar diwari. If you do go out and play in a public or open ground, then people talk about you.

    There is more support in my community because the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board would arrange sporting events for us, so then it was okay if we played in public grounds. But for girls from other communities, it is much more difficult.

    When I was little, we would mostly play in our home compound but sometimes when we played on the street, people would say to my father your daughter is playing on the street; it was not considered appropriate.

    —Photo by ICC
    —Photo by ICC

    But my father never said anything to me. He would say she's my daughter; he was very supportive. My mother, however, would be a little affected and would say don't play on the streets.

    When my mother realised that I'm doing something serious with cricket, she became more supportive.

    So one problem is not being able to play in open grounds and the other problem is that travelling from Gilgit to Islamabad is a long way and if you are taking a team of girls then security is a big issue.

    Parents are reluctant to send their daughters with other young girls and just a couple of coaches such a long way.


    So how did you get to be included in the national team?


    I played at the regional level and Madam Ayesha Ashhar (formerly the manager and now the general manager of PCB women’s wing) liked my bowling. She had her eyes on me for the future. Then I also played two under-19 tournaments. At that level my batting was also good, so I was an all-rounder.

    Then I got selected for the Pakistan team in 2013. At that time I was 17 years old. But it was a bit strange; I was not settled. I got into the team quickly, but then I was out just as quickly. Then I was out for two years until 2015, when I got on the team for the Bangladesh series.


    What did you do in those two years?


    During that time, I was mostly in Gilgit, so there was very little practice. When there was a tournament, I would come play for the region and then go back. If I performed, I performed; if I didn’t, I didn’t.

    After that, I shifted to Lahore for studies and joined the Lahore College for Women. There we had grounds and practice and coaches. They provided everything and that's how I got into regular practice, which improved my game.

    —Photo by ICC
    —Photo by ICC

    Though I was on the team, I didn't get to play in the 2013 Women’s T20 World Cup, which was held in India. I debuted in 2015 against Bangladesh in Karachi, but it was not very good.

    I was on the team for the West Indies series in 2015 and for the New Zealand series in 2016, but I only really got a chance to play back-to-back matches in the WWC 2017.


    What would you like to tell young people who are aspiring to excel in the field of their choice? What are some of the key things that helped you to get here?


    You have to keep setting goals — you start with small goals and once you meet them, you set bigger goals and keep moving forward. So every time I achieved one goal, I would set a higher goal and try to achieve that.

    I was also motivated because I knew that other girls from my area were following me. If I failed to achieve anything, then people would say to other aspiring girls, “What did she (Diana) achieve that you will now go achieve?”

    I thought that since I have stepped out from my area then I must do something and not waste the opportunity.

    I would also say that if you like something then pursue it and work hard at it. In life, I have never searched for shortcuts because when you work hard, you learn something from it and you become stronger at it.

    —Photo by ICC
    —Photo by ICC

    If you get something very easily, you can lose it very easily too, which is something I learned early on when I was selected quickly, but then dropped just as quickly.

    Progressing slowly towards your goals is not a bad thing, as long as you are growing and moving forward. When you learn as you progress, even if you lose the game, you still have your learning with you, you still have your growth with you, so you are not as disheartened.

    That's why it's important not to look for a shortcut, but to work hard and learn as you go forward.

    I also tell parents that it's very important for them to support their children. The rest of the world doesn’t matter as long as you have your parents’ support.


    Do you have a sense of responsibility to your area like you do towards the other aspiring young athletes as you mentioned?


    Yes, I do. I want to be a torchbearer, which means that I have to stick to my values.

    Being away from family can be difficult, so we need guidance. I get guidance from my seniors. We spend a lot of time together in camps; they are like our elder sisters.

    When your parents support you and trust you then you have to use your independence and freedom properly to honour their trust and support.


    So there's a good message for elders too — that if we trust and support our children, they will not use their freedom inappropriately. Anything you’d like to say to the fans or general public?


    As for the fans and the public… You know we work hard. No one plays to lose, but we don't always win. It’s okay.

    I take the public's reaction in my stride.

    —Photo by ICC—Photo by ICC

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    The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's government finished its term on May 31, 2018.

    When it came to power after sweeping the 2013 elections, the PML-N, which prides itself on prioritising economic growth and development, set out ambitious policy goals in its manifesto that year.

    How many of those promises did the party live up to five years later? Let's look at what the data says.


    Agriculture and food security


    —Ensure universal access to affordable food grains in all parts of the country by legislating the Right to Food as a fundamental right.

    —To implement the Right to Food policy, the government will formulate, in consultation with the provincial governments, a National Strategy for Food Security to achieve an average agricultural growth of at least 4 percent per annum in the next decade, evolve an equitable system of food procurement and distribution, improve the access of poor households to food at affordable prices and evolve a transparent system of safety nets for very poor households.

    —Strengthen the procurement programme to ensure all farmers receive the guaranteed support price for grains and improve arrangements for storage and subsidised distribution to ensure relative price stability throughout the year.

    After five years:

    The government didn't follow through on its promise to legislate a right to food policy. The target of 4 percent growth in the agriculture sector was also not achieved, with the sector's performance remaining unimpressive throughout, peaking at 3.81 percent in 2018 and falling to 0.15 in 2016.

    The federal government's goal to procure food grains from all farmers to ensure they all receive a guaranteed price was unrealistic from the start due to the simple fact that such an endeavour would have been too costly.

    At its maximum, only one fourth of the total wheat production was procured by the government, in 2017.

    However, the government ought to be commended for keeping the support price stable at Rs1300 per maund of wheat during its tenure, unlike the previous Pakistan People's Party government. As a result, the PML-N was able to reduce food price inflation.

    Food price inflation was also brought into check thanks to the government's Kisaan Package in 2015, which included benefits in terms of tax reduction on agriculture machinery from 45 percent to nine percent, reduction in sales tax from 17 percent to seven percent on cold chain machinery, tax holidays and mark up-free loans for farmers with less than 12.5 acres of landholding.

    Education and health


    —The PML-N aims to achieve public spending of four percent and two percent of the GDP for education and health by 2018 to achieve the targets set by the United Nations.

    After five years:

    The government did increase spending on education and health, but only marginally so. The abysmal numbers fall well short of the intended targets.

    Budget deficit and tax-to-GDP ratio


    —Through reforms in the Federal Board of Revenue and the tax system, the PML-N will strive to improve the tax-to-GDP ratio to 15 percent by 2018. Informal economy will be brought into the tax net and the tax base will be broadened.

    —To tax all income and to achieve greater equity in the tax system by increasing dependence on direct taxes.

    —Budget deficit will be brought down to four percent of GDP.

    After five years:

    The government did consistently improve the tax-to-GDP ratio, but still wasn't able to achieve what it promised in its manifesto.

    But what's more important is that the PML-N increased indirect taxes and the overall ratio of direct and indirect taxes did not change. This also means that the tax base was not broadened.

    The government did, nonetheless, made progress on reducing the budget deficit and almost met its target in 2018.



    —Inflation will be brought down to single digit in the range of seven or eight percent by limiting government borrowing and lowering interest rates through effective monetary policy.

    After five years:

    The PML-N succeeded in curbing inflationary pressures due to a host of factors, including low oil prices, stable exchange rate as well as its decision to stabilise the support price for wheat.

    The food and general inflation figures are now at the lowest since a decade at 1.6 percent and 3.2 percent respectively, which is a great achievement and must be acknowledged, though the question of sustainability still lingers, especially since international oil prices are out of the country's control.

    The government also performed respectably on reducing the interest rate by bringing it down to six percent most recently, as opposed to 15 percent at the start of the PPP tenure in 2008.

    It is important to note that low interest rates help reduce borrowing cost and encourage investments via bank borrowings.

    Housing for low income families


    —At least 1,000 clusters of 500 houses each for lower income families will be developed on a public-private partnership mode, and the industry will be encouraged to expand investment and to provide employment opportunities in the adjoining areas.

    After five years:

    This was an over ambitious target without realising the cost of setting up 500,000 houses in five years — that is 100,000 each year.

    Suppose that the construction of a single house costs a minimum of Rs1 million — the expenditure of building 100,000 houses each year would be Rs100 billion.

    The annual cost alone would have been 60 percent of the total development expenditure outside the PSDP during the entire tenure of the government.

    How would the government have allocated resources to such a project when it failed to achieve its revenue target each year and consistently cut back on development expenditure?

    In the end, there is no proof in the spending budget that shows that the government actually built any of the houses it had promised.

    Macroeconomic stability


    —In order to decrease the fiscal deficit, we will eliminate VIP culture and launch an austerity drive. Expenses related to the presidency, prime minister, governors and chief ministers will be significantly reduced.

    After five years:

    Contrary to the promises, the budget for the Prime Minister’s Office went up consistently. In fact, the budget each year had to be revised and increased.

    Energy crises


    —Investment of about US$20 billion to generate 10,000 MW of electricity in the next five years will stimulate overall growth of the economy.

    After five years:

    The government initiated several coal-fired plants in places such as Sahiwal, Port Qasim, Jamshoro, Faislabad, Mianwali and DG Khan; a solar park in Bahawalpur; and wind farms in Sindh.

    But despite this show of resolve, a load shedding-free Pakistan is still very much a dream. Not to mention the fact that coal power plants are major pollutants as well.

    Claims to bring about US$20 billion for the energy sector were a reach. It is as if the PML-N did not know Pakistan's record and potential for attracting foreign investment.

    In 2014, foreign investment stood at US$4.44 billion, with a 36 percent reduction in the subsequent year to US$2.83 billion and consistent declines thereafter.

    Over four years, the total foreign investment, including CPEC projects, was at around US$11.7 billion — a far cry from the government's goal of having US$20 billion investment in the energy sector alone.

    A new framework for social change


    —In cooperation with the provinces, the PML-N government will raise the total spending on non-pension social protection from the current level of one percent of GDP to at least two percent by 2018.

    After five years:

    The non-pension social security and welfare includes expenditures on the Benazir Income Support Program, Social Development Goals and the Pakistan Bait-ul-Maal. The allocations to these remained less than one-third of what the manifesto promised.

    According to the World Social Protection Report 2017, Pakistan spends the least among South Asian countries when it comes to social protection.


    A new elections cycle brings in new electoral promises. To begin with, parties should present a fair assessment of the needs of the country and make realistic promises that they can more or less keep. This applies to everyone and not just the PML-N.

    Pakistan ranks an abysmal 147th on the human development index. Whoever comes to power later this year will have to keep this statistic in mind. It's only by improving the lives of the people does one fulfill a democratic mandate.

    Illustration by Nabeel Ahmed

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    This 20-year-old left arm, leg spinner from Lahore has been on the squad for the past 16 months or so and has swiftly become one of the most reliable, consistent and economical bowlers on the team.

    Sandhu’s 4 for 26 in the Women’s World Cup 2017 match against India reduced India to their lowest total in the tournament — a match we lost due to our batting.

    Sandhu then had a consistently tight and economical showing in the ICC Championship series against New Zealand in November 2017 and Sri Lanka in March 2018 — keeping run rates down, striking at critical moments, and taking key wickets.

    This quiet, unassuming and calm bowler is certainly one of the emerging stars to watch out for in the future.

    I spoke to Nashra about her childhood, how she made it to the national squad, and how she keeps her cool and bowls those consistent lines and lengths against the best batters in the world.

    The interview below is translated from Urdu and has been edited for brevity and clarity.

    This is the third of a four-part series of interviews with two seniors and two newcomers to the women’s squad, which is currently playing the Women's Twenty20 Asia Cup in Malaysia from June 3-10, 2018. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.


    How old were you when you realised you like playing cricket?


    As a child, I used to play in our house with my father, sister and twin brother. Even my mother used to play with us. On Sundays and whenever we were off from school, we’d all play together.


    Many children in Pakistan play cricket at home but not everyone makes it to the national team. Tell me about your journey.


    There wasn't much support in my school for cricket. Other games like volleyball were played more.

    When I finished my matriculation, I spoke to Madam Ayesha Ashhar (formerly manager, now general manager of the Pakistan Cricket Board’s women’s wing), and she recommended I consider Kinnaird College or Lahore College for Women, which provide support for women’s cricket.

    At the time I used to be a fast bowler. But my brother was a spinner, so when I played at home I also learnt how to spin. I would try and spin the last ball of my over.

    When I went to college, my coach Sir Shahid said, “You are short for a fast bowler, so try to spin instead.”

    My heart was set on fast bowling but Sir Shahid said I’d be more effective as a spin bowler because I was already good at it and if I practised more I’ll improve. That's how I became a spinner.

    I started off playing for Lahore College for Women at the board level. Then Alhamdolillah I was selected to play for Lahore in the under-19 tournament in my first attempt. Afterwards, I also played under-21 for Lahore in a tournament in Karachi.

    Nashra Sandhu.—Photo by Asian Cricket Council
    Nashra Sandhu.—Photo by Asian Cricket Council

    Then there was a regional tournament. There was not enough space for me on the Lahore team, so I played from Abbottabad under Qanita Jalil, who was the regional captain.

    I thought it was a very high-level tournament as all the seniors were playing in it, and so I didn't sit for many of my first-year board exams.

    When I got my date sheet, I noticed that most of my exams were on the same days as the matches, except for English.

    I hadn’t really studied much and I had not prepared for it, but I still asked Madam Ayesha for permission to go to Lahore to take my exam.

    She said okay. So I went to Lahore to take my first-year English exam and then returned the same day to Islamabad to play the tournament.

    After that there were smaller local tournaments. Then there was the SAGA Premier League T20 tournament, which the selectors came to watch and where I bowled very well.

    After that, I was included in the Pakistan fitness camp in Abbottabad and eventually played for Pakistan A.

    Then the Pakistan team had a tour of the West Indies in 2015 and Sir Basit [Ali, head of junior selection committee and head coach of women’s cricket team] called me to the women's cricket ground.

    He said, "I want to see you bowl," so I did and he appreciated it. He said, "We will see next time."

    The next time there was a selection in January 2017 for the World Cup Qualifiers in Sri Lanka. I was included in the camp for the qualifiers in Karachi, where I bowled really well and got selected for the team.


    You mentioned there was no support for cricket in your school, so where did you practise and with whom?


    When I was in matric, there was a teacher who encouraged me to take up cricket seriously. Both my baba (father) and I were very interested that I play, and on the teacher’s recommendation, I joined a cricket academy for boys that was relatively close by.

    I was a fast bowler then. Spinners would get to bowl first and then the fast bowlers got a chance, so I had to wait a long time.

    I used to bat a lot more at the time. But it would take a long time to get my turn at batting too.

    I couldn't pay attention to my studies, but then I wasn't really getting a chance to practise at the academy either.

    So I left the boys’ cricket academy and we decided to construct a cement pitch in our home.

    Later, we put up proper practice nets around the pitch and I practised target bowling at home. Eventually, I joined the college as Madam Ayesha Ashhar had suggested.


    It sounds like your father supported you a lot?


    Everyone in the family supported me. My mother also used to play on Sundays. She and I would be on one team and my brother and father would be on the other team. My brother liked cricket, but he didn’t pursue it like I did.


    Tell me something memorable or something that you learnt since you have been on the national team.


    In the beginning I knew Qanita aapi and Sana aapi. Sana aapi has supported me a lot right from the beginning. I would talk to her and she would explain things very clearly and nicely to me.

    The environment at the qualifiers was really good; I never felt like I was a new person on the team.

    Nashra Sandhu with Sana Mir, Bismah Maroof and Diana Baig after their first ODI win in the ICC Women's Championship against Sri Lanka in March 2018.—Photo by ICC
    Nashra Sandhu with Sana Mir, Bismah Maroof and Diana Baig after their first ODI win in the ICC Women's Championship against Sri Lanka in March 2018.—Photo by ICC

    It never felt as if there were seniors and juniors, and there was no difference in the way we were treated.

    It was a wonderful environment and therefore I performed so well — I was the highest wicket-taker in the World Cup Qualifiers, my first international tournament.


    Tell me how you work on yourself to be so consistent and disciplined even in high-pressure games like against India in the World Cup, where you took 4 for 26.


    There was a summer camp in college after my matriculation examinations. It was very hot and it would be just me and a few other people. I was trying to practise left-arm spin.

    Sir Shahid would give me a target; he would place a cone or a glove, and tell me to bowl at that point. So whether he was there or not, I used to practise the same way.

    Often there was no one to keep while I bowled. For about three hours every day, I would set a target, bowl my over and then pick the balls up to start again.

    I think that practice formed a foundation and made me consistent in my bowling. Even though I was alone, I kept practising and I think that has made me really consistent and it helps me to focus and bowl on target.


    Do you ever get stressed out?


    Mostly, thank God, I have a lot of confidence in my bowling. I think when I'm in form then no one can play a big shot on my bowling.

    Sometimes when I'm not in form, the other team members support and encourage me and give me confidence.


    How many times did you bowl out Chamari Atapattu, the Sri Lanka team’s captain and best batter, in the recent series?


    Four times.


    How did that feel?


    It felt awesome. I kept bowling a good line and length and she kept losing her wicket. She should have played according to my bowling, but she tried to play big shots.


    Do you have a message for young people who are aspiring to excel in sports or any other field of their choice?


    You should practise a lot and then assess how far you can go. If you have a coach, ask how far they think you can go so you don’t waste your time.


    Anything you want to tell your fans or the public about how to support the team better? Often, there are expectations and, I think, unfair criticism.


    People who don’t have knowledge can criticise or comment unfairly. First, they should follow the game more closely and watch the live matches or follow the live scorecards.

    They should get to know the history of the game and the team so they understand us better. Then they can comment better on our performance.

    Nashra Sandhu bowling against Thailand on June 3, 2018 at the ACC T20 Asia Cup in Malaysia.—Photo by Asian Cricket CouncilNashra Sandhu bowling against Thailand on June 3, 2018 at the ACC T20 Asia Cup in Malaysia.—Photo by Asian Cricket Council

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    Zulfiqar Ali, a 54-year-old terminally-ill Pakistani on death row in Indonesia, passed away on May 31, 2018.

    He was arrested in 2004 and sentenced to death on drug charges, following a forced confession and an unfair trial.

    An Indonesian government inquiry concluded that he was innocent in 2010.

    Nonetheless, his incarceration continued and in July 2016, warrants for his execution by firing squad were issued.

    The execution was stayed after a last minute intervention by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

    Ali was diagnosed with stage-4 liver cancer in January 2018 and was told he only had three months to live.

    He leaves behind five children, a wife and mother.

    Zulfiqar taught me how to be compassionate

    When the poor prisoners in our jail could not afford anything better than the inedible prison food, Zulfiqar decided to distribute packets of noodles from his own pocket.

    He didn’t know who these people were, where they came from, what they had done or what languages they spoke, but Zulfiqar helped them — not once, not twice, but on most days.

    I remember seeing long queues outside our room of people thanking him and asking him for food. He never refused.

    Op-ed: Death of a prisoner

    Some days, he would give out as many as 300 packets of noodles, and around every six months, he would feed 3,000-4,000 people in the jail at a time.

    You can imagine how much money that costed him.

    His own medical bills were in the thousands of dollars. He had lost a lot back home, he had lost his health, he had lost several years of his life.

    But giving was important to him. He could not see people around him going to bed without a decent meal.

    Zulfiqar taught me how to be hopeful

    I remember that one night in 2016 when they came to take him away. He was so sick, he couldn’t even walk.

    They put him in a wheelchair and tied his legs and neck while he still had his oxygen mask on, and put him on a bus with 13 other people.

    The 10-hour bus ride was taking him to the island where he was scheduled to be executed by a firing squad.

    That one day, he got lucky. He received a last-minute stay on his execution after the Pakistani prime minister spoke to the Indonesian authorities.

    Zulfiqar was seen smiling and flashing the victory sign at the camera in a picture released shortly after.

    Letter from prison: Terminally ill and on death row in Indonesia — Pakistani national Zulfiqar Ali requests to be sent home

    He was hopeful that he would eventually be saved and taken out of his misery with Pakistan’s efforts — the same country that had neglected him for years, the same country he still had pride in.

    The Pakistani embassy did pay for his medical bills when he ran out of money, but what he needed the most ever since he was in jail was to be set free from the stain of the crime that he never committed and to die at home with his family.

    In the five years I was in the jail with him, I never saw anyone from the Pakistani embassy visiting him, to help him fight his case, to help him gain freedom, to help bring him back home.

    But I always saw Zulfiqar’s unwavering trust in his country.

    Zulfiqar taught me how to be forgiving

    Can you imagine being subjected to the pain that was inflicted upon him and still have no desire for revenge in you?

    For days, he was kicked, punched and beaten so horribly by the police that he had to be rushed into emergency surgeries.

    There was no evidence that Zulfiqar was involved in drug trafficking.

    But they brutalised him so severely that he was forced to sign a self-incriminating confession.

    All that torture left him with stomach and kidney injuries that lasted him a lifetime.

    Zulfiqar said he wouldn’t even wish the agony he went through upon his enemies.

    Reverse the roles, put the officers who tortured him in front of him and hand him a baton, and he still wouldn’t do it.

    Related: Pakistani citizens, including children, on death row in Saudi Arabia and Iran

    There were some people who saw the kindness in Zulfiqar, but there were more who took advantage of him.

    Every day, I would see the jail officer come to him and ask for money.

    He was so heartless, he wouldn’t even let Zulfiqar go to the hospital if he didn’t pay him.

    Another officer who would take him to the hospital would also ask for his share.

    Then there were police officers for whom Zulfiqar used to buy lunch every now and then.

    For Zulfiqar, nothing was free. And his health wasn’t on his side either. I remember him being weak, and always with a fever.

    Many times, I would see him vomiting blood. He had to take several medicines every day that cost him a fortune.

    Yet, the corrupt officials around him kept extorting money out of him. And Zulfiqar kept on complying.

    Zulfiqar taught me how to be patient

    Every day, for six years, Zulfiqar waited for the proof of his innocence to come out.

    It did in 2010 when an inquiry commission formed by the then-Indonesian president found him not guilty.

    The authors of the report even publicly confirmed that Zulfiqar had not just been wrongfully sentenced but had also been subjected to severe human rights abuses. Zulfiqar was finally proved innocent.

    And then, for eight more long years, he waited to be sent home. His body had already weakened because of the injuries and scars caused by the torture. His pockets had already been emptied with all the bills.

    But his heart was full of hope. He knew his place was not inside the prison, and there was still goodness left in the world.

    Read next: 'Mr President, grant mercy to my daughter who was tortured into a false murder confession'

    But it had been 14 years now and he just wanted to go home, when his life was unexpectedly and drastically shortened by stage-4 terminal cancer.

    Now he only had a few months to breathe. Only a few months left to hope. Only a few months to wait for freedom.

    Luckily, Indonesian President Joko Widodo was visiting Pakistan soon after Zulfiqar was diagnosed.

    I heard about public uproar and massive campaigns that called for Zulfiqar’s release.

    The Pakistani prime minister took it up with Indonesian president who promised to look into Zulfiqar’s case and make sure he was freed.

    But his freedom only came with death.

    No amount of pressure could urge the governments of Indonesia and Pakistan to take action for a helpless, dying man.

    No amount of humanity could make them fight for him.

    Zulfiqar’s tragic story couldn’t stir their hearts enough to bring him home, not even in his very last moments.

    Mohammad Reza Nezafa was Zulfiqar’s fellow inmate at Batu Prison in Indonesia. He spoke to Ema Anis who wrote it in the form of an article.

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    Sana Mir, the former captain of the Pakistan women’s cricket team, is quite likely the most admired and successful female athlete in the history of Pakistan.

    She has had a very interesting past year, marked by a difficult showing at the Women’s World Cup (WWC) 2017 but also some memorable personal performances.

    After our team lost all its matches at the WWC 2017, the conflict between Sana — who was the captain at that time — and the coach was made public by the ‘leaking’ of the coach’s confidential report to the media and Mir’s public response via social media.

    However, she returned to the team and has been in good form. In the ICC Championship series against New Zealand in November 2017, her four-wicket haul helped her team make history and secure Pakistan’s maiden ODI win against the Kiwis.

    In the recently concluded ICC Championship series against Sri Lanka in March 2018, Sana helped secure two of the three ODI wins for Pakistan in their clean sweep of the ODI series and is now ranked number four in the ICC women’s ODI bowlers in the world.

    This is the highest ODI ranking any Pakistani woman cricketer has ever achieved. She is also ranked number six ODI all-rounder in the world.

    We talked about the past year — the transitions, challenges and triumphs and her definition of leadership.

    The interview below has been edited for brevity and clarity.

    This is the first half of the final installment of a four-part series of interviews with two seniors and two newcomers to the women’s squad, which played at the Women's Twenty20 Asia Cup in Malaysia from June 3-10, 2018. Read part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.


    The past couple of years have been both challenging and important for you in terms of transitions, difficulties, achievements. Let’s start with that….


    The year started with a big challenge with the Women’s World Cup Qualifiers (WCQ) in Sri Lanka in February 2017. To qualify for the tournament was important for two reasons.

    First, to qualify for the WWC 2017, but more importantly for all the ICC Championship bilateral series that we are now playing — like the ones against New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

    The future of women’s cricket in Pakistan depended on the WCQ as we don’t get much bilateral cricket other than the ICC Championship.

    Qualification for this tournament not only guarantees you a place at the world cup, it also guarantees the top eight teams seven ICC Championship series with each other for two years.

    Read next: Sana Mir calls out advertisements for promoting body shaming and objectification of women

    This gives us more opportunities to experiment with youngsters and help them develop because now we have at least three matches per series.

    In these series, we can give new players leeway. But in tournaments like the qualifiers, you have to get results. You can’t develop players like that.

    So qualifying in that tournament has been really good for women’s cricket in Pakistan.

    The preparation for the WCQ and WWC 2017 were affected by the constant change of coaches and players and last moment injuries.

    It was harder to stay with the team at that time than to leave. But I felt that leaving was not the right thing to do at that point. So I chose to do it after the world cup.


    You chose to step away after the world cup?


    Yes, after the world cup because once the team had qualified, there was a future for women’s cricket.

    The departure of a senior player before a world cup or a qualifier would have impacted the team for the whole tournament and in the coming years.

    It could have had a negative impact on the younger players as well. They would have felt abandoned and I didn’t want to do that.

    I knew it was going to be a tough world cup with a new coach. It would have been difficult to be on the same page or make effective strategies to win, because everything would be so new.

    But I still took on the challenge because walking away at that point would have been more disastrous for the team.

    I quite willingly walked into what I anticipated would be a difficult situation.


    I understand why you walked into fire, so to speak, but I want to know how you did it….


    I think the only thing that helped me was taking it one day at a time, doing my best in the moment and trying to be present for the people who were around me.

    Not thinking: What will happen to me after the world cup? What will people say about me? How will we do in the world cup? Will we win or lose?

    For example, I came in to bat against New Zealand after we were three down with the Kiwi bowler on a hat-trick. I just did what I could and scored a 50 in that match.

    So, it helped me personally and it helped us to do whatever we could as a team.

    We fought in every match. Yes, we didn’t win, but even with the new team and other changes that posed difficulties, every day when we went to the ground — each and every one of us — we fought our hearts out.

    That’s something I am very proud of. We came close to beating other teams in at least three or four games and it couldn’t have happened if the girls were not ready to fight.

    This is something that makes it worth the struggle and difficulties we went through.

    Sana-Mir-2 top scores 45 WWC Aus v Pak —Photo by ICC
    Sana-Mir-2 top scores 45 WWC Aus v Pak —Photo by ICC

    When I came back, I wanted to step away, but Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Najam Sethi, [former chief selector and current director cricket operations] Haroon Rasheed and [chief executive] Subhan Ahmed called me and we had a meeting.

    We got a foreign coach, we got new selectors, we got new management. So I think things are getting better and we are moving in a good direction. There’s always more to do but crucial changes have been made.

    Right after that, in the first ODI against New Zealand that we played in November 2017, we did the same thing we had done in the world cup: we choked.

    But this time the coach stood up. We were looking for leadership and I would like to give credit to Head Coach Mark Coles because he was calm and told the girls not to sulk.

    That’s what we had done in the world cup after coming very close to beating South Africa in our first match but losing in the second-last over. It was something we weren’t able to recover from in subsequent matches.

    Op-ed: Thank God for Sana Mirs

    But in the series against New Zealand, Mark helped us keep our nerves and maintained his confidence in every person — the captain and all the players.

    He strengthened the team. We weren’t able to do well in the next match — we lost by eight wickets again — but he kept giving us confidence and we were able to win the third and final match.

    A lot goes on off the field. That’s something that changed in the series after the world cup. All these changes were quite good for us. And Bismah Maroof was also doing well as a new captain and the team was gelling together.

    Then after the ODI series, we didn’t have a very good T20 series against New Zealand. We worked hard and prepared for the Sri Lanka series and Alhamdolillah we were able to do pretty well as a team.

    Individually, I was able to reach my highest ICC ODI player ranking. So I think all of it is coming into place, all the hard work and changes.


    Would it be accurate to say that the stand you took after the world cup and the meetings you had led to some of the changes we can see now?


    Yes, I put forward my suggestions and recommendations. The PCB top management asked if I could move forward with the same setup. I said, “If I stay in women’s cricket, I want to contribute.”

    But if certain mindsets, strategies or policies, or things that might be a hindrance in taking women’s cricket forward continue, I would not endorse them.

    So in that way I would say that I did make some strong recommendations, but I am thankful to the PCB that they brought in a new vision, made commitments and followed through.

    And it is helping everyone — the new captain, the new coach and the team.

    Also read: My college gave me the confidence to lead: Sana Mir recalls her alma mater days

    We have new policies. We have the captain and coach on the selection panel now so the team cannot be selected until the captain and coach are involved. This is a huge thing.

    So cricket, unlike other sports, is basically led by the captain, not by the coaches or selectors. It’s something we need to understand while making policies.

    If the captain is strong, if the coach is strong, then the team will be strong.


    What were the key lessons you learnt during this time?


    I think one thing that I have learnt is to not try and control things. We tend to make a lot of calculations, that if I do this then the other person will do that, or the media will do that, or the management will do that.

    And sometimes we don’t take the decisions we should.

    What I have learnt is to do the right thing, no matter what the result might be. And that takes a lot of courage, but in the end it’s really good for everyone.

    I didn’t walk away before the qualifiers or the world cup, thinking that it’s better for the team for me to stay with them.

    But once I walked away, to be very honest, I never thought that I would play again.

    When I wrote my report and that open letter, I thought that was it.

    But because I was courageous and took a stand for the betterment of women’s cricket, God had His own way to give me what I also wanted.

    Related: It's the PCB, not captain Sana Mir, who's responsible for Women's WC performance

    I also wanted to continue playing, but I couldn’t at that point. But then the setup changed, and I was playing again.

    I think if you are brave, if you try to do good for other people, you do get a return.

    Sometimes the favour is returned instantly; sometimes it takes time.

    So, we don’t have to worry too much about results and trying to safeguard our own selves.

    If you speak up for other people, that’s all that’s needed.

    Many times, you can’t see it instantly, but when you see it in the bigger picture, it usually turns out that if you have done something right, it will be beneficial for you in the end.

    It can take one year, two years, five years, ten years. That’s something you can’t predict but it’s for your own good.

    Illustration by Zoha Bundally

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    Through arch of snowy marble
    A throng of people pours
    To worship in the temple

    With shimmering silver doors

    O Man! What pious spot is this?
    Sadh Belo…Sadh Belo…

    With saints and temples white –
    The islet of delight

    —Elsa Kazi

    Sadh Belo — whenever I heard the name, it felt like an ancient incantation, a wave on water, a ripple caressing the smooth surface of the Indus.

    I came across this beautiful temple complex while writing on Udasipanth in Sindh. Whenever I went to an Udasi establishment and interviewed someone there, people would ask, Have you been to Sadh Belo?

    And after discovering I haven’t, they would exclaim, But that is exactly why you must visit it, because that is the most important centre of Udasis in Sindh.

    The beautiful marble balconies of Sadh Belo.—All photos by the author
    The beautiful marble balconies of Sadh Belo.—All photos by the author

    So, like magnet pulled by metal, I found myself drawn to it. That’s how my longing to see that famed place with my own eyes grew immensely, but it took me some time before I could materialise that dream.

    The dream finally came true one fine morning in late spring 2017. Accompanied by one of my students, I travelled to Khairpur and stayed at Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur’s guest house.

    Shankar Mahadev Temple.
    Shankar Mahadev Temple.

    The very next morning, we went to visit the temple.

    A few men were sitting under a makeshift shelter, two or three boats were moored to the platform and right in front stood the majestic white marbled and buff-sandstone building of the Sadh Belo.

    The sun was still low and a gentle breeze was setting the waves in motion.

    Sadh Belo from a distance.
    Sadh Belo from a distance.

    We sat in a boat; the fishermen had oars in hands, their sweat-soaked dresses reminded me of the indigenous inhabitants of the Indus valley.

    Sitting there, we could see the Lansdowne Bridge and its graceful arches on one side, and the island shrine of Zinda Pir Khwaja Khizr on the other side.

    An inscription.
    An inscription.

    Sadh Belo is an Udasi tirath (pilgrimage) founded by Baba Bankhandi, an Udasi missionary and who came from Nepal to settle in Sukkur in 1823.

    Udasipanth is a religious tradition that was founded by Sri Chand (1494-?), the elder son of Guru Nanak (1469-1539), founder of the Sikh faith.

    Door leading to Sri Chand Mandir.
    Door leading to Sri Chand Mandir.

    The Udasis are ascetics, they do not possess any property and spend their life disciplined by yoga, meditation and reciting the prescribed texts.

    The island was just a clump of trees when Bankhandi first arrived there, but he liked the place so much that he chose it as a place to set up his dhuni (sacred fire).

    Looking out from the balcony.
    Looking out from the balcony.

    It is said that once Baba Bankhandi saw Annapurna, the goddess of grain, in a dream. She gave him an oblong metal object called Kamandal and told him that, as long as this object is in the complex, there won’t be any shortage of grain for the community kitchen.

    Later, Baba Bankhandi established various places of worship, including temples, dedicated to Annapurna, Hanuman, Ganesh and Shiv Shankar, and places for Granth Sahib and Bhagavad Gita.

    An Usadi saint.
    An Usadi saint.

    The temple complex is spread on two interconnected islands; Sadh Belo having kitchen, verandah, many temples, and Deen Belo which houses samadhis, a park, and Rishi Nol mandir.

    Baba Bankhandi had many disciples who succeeded him one by one as the mahant or custodian of the place; the most notable among them are Swami Achal Prasad, Swami Mohan Das, and Swami Harnarain Das Udasin.

    Sadh Belo attracted many people in search of spiritual enlightenment and had a thriving community of monks and devotees.

    A marble panel showing singers and musicians.
    A marble panel showing singers and musicians.

    In front of the complex, there is a huge marble wall with many engravings depicting various scenes that are related to the local Hindu and Udasi traditions, including a depiction of hell and heaven, musicians and Udasi saints.

    The glory of Sadh Belo came to an end on the fateful day of Partition, when most of the Hindus of Sindh, including the inhabitants of Sadh Belo, crossed the border and left it deserted and forlorn.

    A Shiv mandir.
    A Shiv mandir.

    The current gaddi nashin (custodian) is Swami Gauri Shankar Das who lives in Mumbai and comes here for Baba Bankhandi’s annual anniversary celebrations that take place in June.

    Currently, Sadh Belo is under the custody of Evacuee Property Trust Board and is managed well, but the absence of the former administration of Udasi mahants is felt immensely.

    Some paintings in the library.
    Some paintings in the library.

    The place was once crowded by the monks living in cells, writing manuscripts in Hindi and Gurmukhi, cooks preparing food and devotees gathered across the sanctum to pay their respects.

    However, the monks’ cells lie empty with cobwebs and dust, the library is devoid of readers, the books are mired in dirt and the verandahs show the stark absence of devotees.

    Still, if you close your eyes for a while, the wooden balconies, marble columns, and staircases seem to echo the footsteps, chatter, laughter, and whispers of the monks and devotees once here.

    Watching the sun setting over Sadh Belo, Iqbal’s verse came to my mind:

    Awwal-o-akhir fana, batin-o zahir fana
    Naqsh-e kuhan ho kay nau, manzil-e akhir fana

    Annihilation is the end of all beginnings; annihilation is the end of all ends
    Extinction, the fate of everything, hidden or manifest, old or new

    Have you visited places of historical, cultural or religious significance? Share your experiences with us at

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    Mrs Safia Saifuddin (not her real name) refused to take her husband of 10 years back home from the hospital when she found out that he had tested positive for the dreaded Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

    While he suffered from the devastating symptoms of immune deficiency, she told him off incessantly for bringing shame to the entire family.

    She called him immoral, accused him of going to ‘bad women’ and being a drug addict.

    Mr Saifuddin vehemently denied these accusations, himself baffled and shocked about his newfound HIV-positive status.

    Specialists at the hospital sat down with Safia and explained to her that besides sexual encounters, there were other plausible reasons her husband could have acquired HIV.

    However, Safia refused to listen.

    Perhaps the stigma of a husband with HIV was so profound that rationality had abandoned her.

    This scenario brings into sharp focus to the societal view about HIV and its outcome, the horrifying Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (AIDS).

    The stigma surrounding this disease is so profound that those living with this virus are often abandoned and ostracised by their families.

    A major reason for this is that the virus is poorly understood among the general population with respect to the way it is acquired and transmitted.

    Although there are no nation-wide studies with respect to knowledge about HIV among the Pakistani public, a survey in Lahore with 580 educated respondents — most of whom were highly qualified, with 16 or more years of education — brought out some of the misconceptions.

    While a significant majority of the respondents knew that HIV is transmitted through sexual contact, sharing of needles and transfusion of contaminated blood, there were at least 35 percent who erroneously also believed that it can be transmitted through exchange of saliva.

    Another 14 percent stated that, in their mistaken opinion, even sharing utensils could also lead to transmission of the virus from the infected to the healthy.

    One can only assume the extent of misinformation among the less educated amongst us.

    Editorial: HIV/AIDS and stigma

    However, the picture is grimmer. Given the lack of open discussion regarding HIV and AIDS in our society, one can perhaps understand lack of awareness among the general public.

    But it is difficult to comprehend the fact that often even those who are part of the medical community demonstrate not only limited information about the virus, but also a lack of empathy towards those stricken by this disease.

    Meet Khuda Bux (not his real name). He is admitted in the general ward of a tertiary care hospital for pneumonia.

    He is being provided routine care but there is something different about this patient.

    His file has a red tape attached to it.

    All the healthcare professionals know that this means he is HIV-positive.

    Some of the patients are also smart enough to pick this up. Consequently, they stay away from Khuda Bux, and do not talk to him, occasionally whispering about him when they think he is sleeping.

    One night after dinner, as the dishes are being cleared, a junior doctor comes and yells at the cleaning staff.

    “Why are this patient’s dishes being kept with other patients’ dishes? Don’t you know this patient is HIV-positive? This will spread the infection to other patients,” the junior doctor scolds, not only demonstrating his own lack of knowledge, but also reinforcing the stigma and unfounded fear associated with caring for such patients.

    An infection control specialist standing nearby hears this and says to the junior doctor. “Where is your information coming from? HIV does not spread through sharing utensils!”

    The cleaner looks from one doctor to the other, not knowing whom to believe. Khuda Bux, feeling exposed to a ward full of people, looks embarrassed, eyes downcast.

    This real-life case illustrates the manner in which HIV patients are often treated at some hospitals.

    Not only are these patients made to stand out from the others, but they are also treated differently.

    Labeling is quite common, a process which can be psychologically damaging for the patient suffering from the disease.

    And this happens within the confines of an environment that is supposed to provide respite from suffering, often at the hands of healers, their messiahs.

    Special report:The making of an HIV catastrophe

    Consider the case of 32-year-old Arif Ali (not his real name) suffering from an infection due to stones in the gallbladder, necessitating an emergency surgery.

    The surgeon, once he discovers his HIV-positive status, refuses to operate on him.

    His concern rests on the fact that he may acquire the infection while operating and simply does not want to take the risk.

    Acquiring the infection, for example through a needlestick injury, is a real fear among medical professionals, and perhaps not a completely misguided one.

    However, is the fear justified?

    After all, physicians are duty bound by their oath to provide healthcare to patients, particularly in times of emergency.

    But how far does this duty extend? Does it extend to putting their own lives at risk?

    There are no easy answers to these questions but very often the typical “fright and flight” reactions of the care providers are out of proportion to any real risks they may be facing.

    The issue is not merely at the level of individuals, but rather reflects a much broader systemic issue.

    It is also the callous disregard to established protocols that contributes significantly to this problem.

    We saw evidence of this two years ago during an HIV outbreak at a hospital in Larkana.

    This serious and unconscionable outbreak, which was caused by unscreened tainted blood provided by unscrupulous blood banks with poor infection control practices for dialysis, not only increased the infection’s already notorious reputation, but also further eroded public trust in the healthcare system.

    Following standard guidelines and procedures for safe blood transfusion practices and adequate cleaning of dialysis machines through proper infection control methods could have easily prevented the outbreak.

    While one can hope that the healthcare system becomes better equipped by providing better infection control facilities and enforcing stronger regulatory mechanisms, it is also equally important to tackle societal attitudes among medical professionals.

    We realise that medical professionals do not practice in a vacuum and dominant social beliefs will also influence their behaviour but they have a higher moral responsibility to treat patients in an unbiased fashion.

    We need to start with dispelling the myths surrounding HIV among the healthcare workforce primarily but also within the larger society.

    Acquiring HIV is not a death sentence and with proper treatment, those living with the condition can lead almost normal lives.

    Are you a health professional working for the betterment of Pakistan's healthcare system? Share your expertise with us a


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    In the neighbourhood of Ichhra in Lahore, hundreds of people gather every Thursday night at the shrine of Shah Jamal, a Sufi of the Suhrawardi and Qadiriyya orders (silsila).

    Under the sacred peepal trees, devotees sit in a circle to witness and experience the sacred dance: dhamal.

    Repetitive rhythmic beats of dhols and correspondingly frenzied barefoot whirling of the devotees create a trance-inducing effect on the audience.

    Participants reverently witness the performance, while collectively partaking in hashish-smoking — a derivative of cannabis.

    Devotees indulge in hashish intoxication as a communal activity complementing the sacred ritual of dhamal.

    Sufi shrine culture in Pakistan is multi-faceted and diverse; while hashish does not feature uniformly across cultures of traditional shrines, hashish-smoking is a visible, communal, and conspicuous activity associated with Qalandari shrines in Pakistan.

    Paradoxically, it is also one of the least studied phenomena as meaningful in terms of Islam; despite its prominence in Islamic settings, it is frequently dismissed as merely illegal and representative of the degeneration of Islamic ideals.

    Sufis dance outside the Data Darbar during the three-day annual Urs of Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh in 2016.─AFP/File
    Sufis dance outside the Data Darbar during the three-day annual Urs of Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh in 2016.─AFP/File

    In the popular imagination, the use of hashish in Islamic settings, and as an Islamic activity, is explained primarily within two discursive frameworks; it is explored through its legal status in Islam or through the category of “folk” or “popular” Islam.

    Deeming hashish to be one form of intoxicant, Islamic legal prohibition of intoxicants is extended to censure the use of hashish.

    The illegality of the activity serves as the premise for the “un-Islamic” and irreligious characterisation of hashish-smoking.

    When explained in non-legal terms, hashish is described as an aspect of “popular” Islam, or particularly “popular” Sufism, representing the beliefs and practices of non-literate masses belonging to the “lower” social strata.

    Such phenomenon, by definition, is assumed as self-evidently distinct from proper and official Sufism.

    It rests on a trickle-down movement of beliefs and practices, where the activities of “elite” are assumed to be “pure,” which undergo a process of distortion, degeneration, and vulgarisation as they are popularised and lived by the masses.

    Under both rubrics, hashish is characterised as intrinsically “non-religious” and devoid of Islamic normativity.

    Because such an understanding of hashish is secular, the affiliation of hashish with Islamic thought and settings is rendered meaningless.

    It is helpful to note here the modern constitution of the analytical categories of religious and secular, which may not always be applicable to phenomena meaningful in terms of Islam.

    Disruptions in the processual constitution of Islam through colonialism and modernism in the 19th and 20th centuries are reflected in the loss of meanings of hashish, poverty, Qalandariyya, and asceticism in the conceptualisation of modern Islam.

    Legality of hashish

    The history of Islamic legal thought surrounding the status of hashish does not display uniformity in legal opinions.

    Franz Rosenthal traces the development of Islamic legal thought on hashish-smoking in his book, The Herb: Hashish versus Medieval Muslim Society.

    He notes that while jurists traditionally equate intoxication with inebriation, they reflect far greater diversity of opinions in qualifying hashish as an intoxicant, and thereby, legally impermissible.

    Since every intoxicant was deemed forbidden in Islamic law, categorising hashish as an intoxicant was the logically necessary premise in framing its use as prohibited in Muslim societies.

    However, it has proven rather difficult to consistently equate the effects of alcohol and hashish.

    It has been noted that alcohol largely has the same effect on everyone; its consumers get exhilarated and joyous, numb from the painful sensations and prone to violence.

    Read:Sehwan: The undisputed throne of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar

    —Farooq Soomro
    —Farooq Soomro

    Hashish affects its users according to each’s temper and induces trance-like states of silence, calmness, and acuteness. It turns the concerns of its users inward and is conducive to contemplation and meditation.

    Considering the different natures and effects of wine and hashish, Islamic jurists have offered legal opinions ranging from strong negative evaluation to its legal sanction.

    A highly respected Hanafi judge, Jamal-ad-din al-Malati (d. 1400) issued a fatwa permitting the use of hashish.

    However, such opinions remained in the minority, while its legal status was discussed largely in terms of its intoxicating or corruptive effects.

    Hashish and ascetic practices

    Legal framework alone, therefore, does not get us very far in terms of understanding the supra-legal Islamic value of hashish.

    The mystical paths (tariqa) of Sufism, at the basic level, require strict adherence to the Sharia before journeying inwardly to the ascending stages of spiritual perfection and proximity to God.

    As anthropologist Jurgen Frembgen points out, well-established mystical paths are known as tariqat-i shariat, implying the close relationship between observance of law and institutional Sufism.

    There is, however, a not so small minority of mystics in Pakistan which does not accept this premise, and are distinct, in thought, practice, and identity, from institutional Sufism.

    Known by different names, such as qalandar, malang, faqir or malamati, the mystical path chosen by such mystics lie outside the Islamic law (bi-shar), as opposed to “mainstream” ba-shar Sufis (observant of law).

    Underlying such an attitude of religiosity is the devaluation of the external world, where social life and norms are considered to be impediments to salvation.

    Read next:Old Sufis, new challenges

    The grave of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.—Farooq Soomro
    The grave of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.—Farooq Soomro

    Qalandars live life as ascetics by rejecting social responsibilities, such as gainful employment, family life, and social association.

    Ahmet Karamustafa, in his book God’s Unruly Friends: Dervish Groups in the Islamic Middle Period 1200-1550, describes renunciation of the world as a “pious religious attitude that foregrounded the effort of the individual Muslim to establish rapport with God.”

    Based on the concept of tawwakul (trust and reliance on God alone), qalandars live out the doctrine of reliance on God in its extreme form, by completely rejecting the world in favour of exclusive orientation towards God.

    Abhorring property ownership and choosing voluntary poverty as a mode of piety, qalandars offer a “sobering critique of society’s failure to reach God.”

    Society inevitably draws and ties the devotee to the affairs of this world to the detriment of complete faith and trust in God.

    Qalandar, therefore, strives to achieve independence from the world by rejecting every form of social association and Islamic institutions, in effect becoming “dead” to society, interpreting radically the Prophetic tradition, “Die before you die.”

    Accordingly, some mystics follow the practice of uttering “four takbirs” — a reference to the funeral prayers, and live in cemeteries and shrines.

    Having rejected the social values and formalism of the external world, qalandars disassociate themselves with the institutionalised forms of Islam, primarily Sharia.

    Since law governs external behaviour, Qalandars view inherent in it the danger of riya (self-conceit).

    Public adherence to legal and social norms can be a danger to a truly spiritual life, where the performance of public piety may be directed towards audiences other than God.

    Such performative piety can act as an obstacle to spiritual purification. Qalandars choose to flaunt and deliberately violate Sharia to attract public blame and censure.

    Blame (malama) has a great effect in “making love sincere,” as noted by the Sufi saint Ali Hujwiri (d. 1072-77) — better known as Data Gunj Bakhsh.

    As a pietistic attitude, it requires “covering up of one’s laudable deeds and erecting a façade of blameworthy behaviour,” notes J. T. P. de Bruijn.

    It allows the mystic to seek the path in a more focused way, by becoming indifferent to public opinion, both positive and negative.

    Now read:How shrines helped indigenise Islam and Christianity in South Asia

    Followers light incense and candles at shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh during the three-day annual Urs  in 2016.─AFP/File
    Followers light incense and candles at shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh during the three-day annual Urs in 2016.─AFP/File

    Malamati piety inevitably leads to behaviour censured by the norms and prescriptions of the legal discourse. Acting against legal norms serves a deeply Islamic purpose for qalandars.

    Qalandars openly display disregard for prescribed ritual worship, violate public norms of decency by adopting minimal clothing or wearing black woolen cloaks (signifying social withdrawal), and use hashish religiously.

    As an active rejection of established social customs and norms, qalandars seek the effacement of the individual or self, which forms the constitutive unit of modern society.

    Mahmud Shabistari (d. 1337), one of the most celebrated Sufi poets, writes:

    To be a haunter of taverns is to be freed from self,
    Self-regard is paganism, even if it be righteousness.

    Contravention of legal norms, in such a context, acquires positive meaning while retaining its disrespectability.

    It reinforces the separation between society with its worldly concerns and Qalandari mysticism with its Malamati piety.

    Historian Nile Green observes that hashish “was lent religious value as evidence for renouncing the world and as an instrument for reaching the other world.” It was “attributed with moral value and epistemological meaning.”

    Hashish turned the seeker away from the lower passions related to this world, and elevated his concerns to matters of spiritual importance.

    It purified the seeker’s devotion, by turning away from this world to prepare for the inner flight to the Divine.

    A verse by a medieval poet, Al-Is’irdi (d. 1222-1258), on the spiritual meaning of hashish puts it as:

    It is the secret. In it, the spirit ascends to the highest
    Spots on a heavenly ascent (mira’j) of disembodied understanding

    Modernity and transformation of hashish

    In Pakistan, Qalandariyya traces its roots to the 13th century saint, Sayyid Uthman Marwandi (d. 1274), popularly revered as Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.

    Qalandars, faqirs and malangs, as “holy men,” operated in relative autonomy from the norms of social institutions.

    Such radical embodiment of asceticism and renunciation came increasingly under attack with the advent of modernity through European colonialism.

    Nile Green notes that through colonial laws, moral and scientific discourses, modernity displaced the foundations of Qalandariyya as constitutive and representative of Islamic values.

    The capitalist ethos of the colonialists could not accommodate the values of asceticism, and in turn, sought to de-emphasise Islamic valourisation and understanding of “voluntary poverty” and homelessness.

    Next:Why ‘Sufism’ is not what it is made out to be

    Reducing it to its material aspect, poverty was characterised, not as symbolic of spiritual wealth, but as evidence of the downfall of Muslim societies.

    Victorian morality denigrated hashish as “profane,” opposed to “religion.” It conveniently conflated Islam with colonial conception of religion.

    Colonial critics criticised faqirs’ drug use, and explained the behaviour as “not the result of devotion to and absorption in God, but instead as the voluntary degradation of the work-shy addict.”

    Scientific discourse was instrumental in associating drug use with criminality and insanity, through efforts such as the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission of 1893-1894.

    Colonial construction and representation of qalandars and faqirs as symptomatic of the decay of Muslim society was, in turn, fundamental in justifying the moral authority of the colonial order.

    Muslim reformers of the 19th and 20th centuries — troubled by the eclipse of Muslim rule in the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere — embraced colonial criticism against Muslims practicing corrupted and denigrated forms of Islam.

    The decay of Muslim political rule was explained through the anti-work ethic, antinomian practices, and other-worldly piety of qalandars and faqirs.

    Seeking to re-form Islam to bring it in harmony with the modernist values of progress, reason, and law, Muslim reformers marginalised those modes of religiosity and piety which protested against such a worldview.

    —Haseeb Amjad
    —Haseeb Amjad

    In terms of Qalandari mysticism, hashish was meaningful and instrumental in dissolving the self (fa’na) through detachment and antagonism towards the “World of Exile” (i.e. material world).

    It represents a radical interpretation of Islamic themes such as salvation, poverty, fa’na and tawwakul.

    Orientalist and reformist categorisation of hashish as profane demarcated it from religion proper, rendering it meaningless in the constitution of modern Islam.

    For Muslims of Pakistan, the transition from the colonial order to the post-colonial was marked by the insistence upon an Islamic identity of state. Islam was defined through the state as primarily law.

    Katherine Ewing notes that the relationship between traditional Sufi shrines and saints attached to them, and the state of Pakistan has been geared towards reforming the image of the Sufi saints as “originally” ulema, reflecting the stress on conformity with Sharia.

    Up next:Sufi saints and their descendants: part of the solution?

    Hashish as a ritual, as performed in the Sufi shrines associated with the Qalandari path of Islamic mysticism, represents “pockets and currents of resistance” to the modern conceptualisation of Islam, with its unprecedented privileging of legal and prescriptive discourses as primarily and exclusively definitive of Islamic values and meaning.

    Liberal reframing of cannabis against its legal prohibition in terms of its medicinal and economic benefits, as recently echoed by Shashi Tharoor, merely reinforces the secularisation of hashish, despite noting the traditional use of cannabis in Hindu rituals.

    In the context of such loss of meaning of bi-shar mysticism in modern Islam, Pakistani academic Hasan Ali Khan notes that the spiritual centre of the Qalandariyya, Sehwan in Sindh, represents its “last remaining bastion in this world.”

    Are you researching transforming traditions? Share your expertise with us at


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    My precious Sabika,

    This was the first Ramazan and this will be the first Eidul Fitr when you will not be physically present with us.

    There will be Eidul Azha, your birthday on December 1, the new year, birthdays of your siblings, matriculations and graduations, marriages, each of those without your beautiful presence.

    Nothing is able to explain away the grief that we feel every single day. Nothing can fill the most gut-wrenching emptiness and the most painful hole that our family carries in our hearts wherever we go.

    The tragedy — that you were snatched from us just days before you were scheduled to return home for Eid — is so profound that it will forever remain incomprehensible.

    That Pakistan lost a young ambassador in you — who only knew respect, who only had love to give, and who was so determined to grow up to work for peace — to terror and violence is so profound that it will forever remain nonsensical.

    I would often imagine, unsuccessfully attempting to rationalise how families of children lost in war, in conflict, in violence, and in accident, grieve.

    I would often wonder if their grief is disenfranchised grief, a grief unrecognised by society.

    I would wonder if their grief becomes even more disenfranchised when the world around them is in celebration.

    I would wonder if the loss of a child, a sister, a cousin, a friend, incapacitates them from finding joy in festivity.

    I would wonder and I would try to empathise, not knowing that the answer would hit so terribly close one day, that it would hit home one day.

    Some days, in their entirety, feel like a scene out of an extremely gloomy movie.

    Your excitement for returning to Pakistan in time for Ramazan, your enthusiasm for celebrating Eid with your entire family after having spent a year away, you counting the days to your flight, and your anticipation for getting to eat Pakistani food again, especially during Eid — all of it now seems surreal. Sorrowful and surreal.

    Perhaps the only solace in your farewell is that you returned home draped in your beloved country’s green and white flag, the country which you so passionately wanted to serve.

    Perhaps the only comfort in your departure is that while you departed from your own home, you were welcomed into homes across Pakistan.

    And perhaps the only harmony is that while our family lost its daughter, sister, cousin and niece, you now belong as all of these with hundreds of families who embraced your memory as that of their own.

    I remember standing, on May 20, 2018, at the back of Masjid Sabireen in Houston where your funeral prayer was being performed, and I remember looking from there at the countless people who had come there bearing the sincerest emotion and the most heartfelt prayer for you.

    I remember the umpteen mothers, daughters and sisters who had never met you but who spoke of you as if you had been a part of them all these years.

    It is this powerful memory of yours, Sabika, which still allows us to feel empowered in knowing that your name travelled across two worlds not because you were killed with brutality, but because you lived with humility.

    Not because you were taken away so young, but because despite that the lives which you entered, touched and impacted — in both your home country and host country — testify to your humble legacy of peace, empathy, and equality. This legacy deserves celebration.

    Eid Mubarak, Sabika. Eid Mubarak.

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    On June 14, 2018 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published its first report on the state of human rights in Kashmir.

    As people on social media were anticipating India’s rejection of the report, news of a shooting from Srinagar buried the UN exposé in the depths of our Facebook newsfeeds, as if someone erased it like it was fake news.

    Three unidentified gunmen shot and killed Shujaat Bukhari, a senior journalist and editor-in-chief of a leading English newspaper, Rising Kashmir, and two of his personal security officers outside his office in the press enclave in Srinagar. Bukhari received multiple bullet wounds in his head and abdomen.

    Read next:Dispatch from Srinagar: Our nights are becoming longer and darker

    Such targeted assassinations of influential figures by unidentified gunmen are not a new development in Kashmir.

    The ‘unidentified gunman’ is a mysterious character. He does not have a name nor is he affiliated with any organisation, state or non-state.

    His association with state or any non-state actor is a matter of conjecture. Can we therefore think of him as a member of some Hollywood-style sleeper-cell?

    He emerges out of nowhere in a busy street, takes out his weapon, kills his targets(s) and disappears.

    He is never caught. The probes never end.

    Assuming that such sleeper-cells exist, the question is who runs these cells? Who has the capacity to ensure that these cells function and survive for decades?

    The general inference drawn by the police, other government agencies and some journalists is that these men are militants.

    They are accused of ‘not giving peace a chance’ and are considered to be working at the behest of Pakistan and its ISI.

    However, people in Kashmir do not rule out the possibility of the involvement of Indian intelligence agencies in such killings.

    The shop-front discussants have their own way of theorising the conflict they are born and brought up in. “Why would militants kill anyone from the population they claim to be fighting for?” is the question they ask.

    Arbitrary killing of civilians is thought to be a counter-productive measure that no militant movement that depends on the very same population for resources, movement, and membership would like to resort to. The fish would not want to contaminate the water it swims in.

    High-profile killings and political assassinations as a tactic of insurgency doesn’t seem to have found many takers among the present militant leadership in Kashmir.

    It’s mostly only policemen and grassroots workers of pro-India political parties that have been targeted by militants.

    Militant groups generally take credit for the killings they order and execute. However, in case of Bukhari’s assassination, they have demanded an international probe.

    Kashmiri Muslims carry the coffin of slain editor-in-chief of the Srinagar-based newspaper *Rising Kashmir* Shujaat Bukhari during a funeral procession at Kreeri, some 40km north of Srinagar on Friday. — AFP
    Kashmiri Muslims carry the coffin of slain editor-in-chief of the Srinagar-based newspaper Rising Kashmir Shujaat Bukhari during a funeral procession at Kreeri, some 40km north of Srinagar on Friday. — AFP

    Bukhari is perhaps the first high-profile killing of what is erroneously and misleadingly referred to as ‘new age’ militancy in Kashmir — a militancy apparently driven by religion. I have contested this notion in my on-going doctoral thesis.

    It is not clear if militants killed Bukhari. Going by statements issued by United Jihad Council and Lashkar-e-Taiba, it appears unlikely that any of the militant groups carried out the assassination.

    Also, since the security ecosystem in Kashmir is so widespread, it is nigh impossible for militants to freely ride on a motorcycle, in a city like Srinagar, wait for their target, execute the kill, and leave the spot without any retaliation.

    Related:I'll never forget the day Burhan Wani was killed

    But in rural areas, the military presence has not been able to deter militants from killing informers and policemen.

    For such killings, people offer quick justifications. If someone turns out to be a police informer, his killing assumes a legitimacy of some kind in the popular imagination.

    In the recent times, however, most of these informers have been caught by militants, made to confess their transgression on camera and the recording made public on social media.

    Some of the informer are then freed after public shaming. The rules here have been fine-tuned keeping in mind the public response.

    Shujaat Bukhari's mother (C) mourns during his funeral procession. — AFP
    Shujaat Bukhari's mother (C) mourns during his funeral procession. — AFP

    Bukhari’s assassination has received widespread condemnation, cutting across parties and ideological lines. His funeral was attended by people from both pro-freedom and pro-India camps. The nature of this gathering was an apt representation of who Bukhari was.

    He was not only a journalist who reported and wrote widely about the on-the-ground situation in Kashmir, but was also actively involved in Track 2 diplomacy between Pakistan and India.

    He believed that, through dialogue, it was possible to find a resolution to the otherwise intractable conflict that Kashmir, Pakistan and India are part of.

    In many of the peace initiatives he started or was part of, it appears that he advocated de-escalation of violence and resumption of a sustained peace process.

    Also Read :Enforced disappearances: The plight of Kashmir's 'half widows'

    Track 2, as an approach towards conflict resolution, has been subjected to criticism in peace studies.

    Many, including myself, in the context of Kashmir, find it a pointless exercise that only allows a few to make fortunes out of it and pose hurdles to the resolution sought through other, more effective means.

    While his positions were never publicly challenged in Kashmir, in India many dismissed him as a spokesperson of the jihadis in Kashmir.

    Prominent Indian right-wing intellectual Madhu Kishwar referred to him as a Pakistan sympathiser masquerading as a voice of moderation.

    The Indian government had earlier placed a ban on his and a few more newspapers in Kashmir from getting government advertisements, accusing them for giving space to ‘anti-India articles’.

    Say whatever, Bukhari’s killing should serve as yet another reminder to the governments in Delhi and Islamabad that delaying the resolution of Kashmir conflict as per the wishes of Kashmiris will only lead to more violence.

    The Indian state has invested heavily in developing a military architecture in Kashmir and has resorted to violence against any mode of expression that calls for a lasting resolution to the Kashmir conflict. All it has ever wanted from Kashmiris is total submission.

    With a conflict management style that propagates measures like the Operation All-Out, any voice advocating peace and de-escalation of violence may not be melodious enough to ears used to the sound of war drums.

    Bukhari’s assassination tells us that space for those who seek a middle-ground is shrinking.

    Have you been affected by the Kashmir conflict? Share your experiences with us at


    Relatives of slain editor Shujaat Bukhari mourn over the coffin during his funeral procession. — AFPRelatives of slain editor Shujaat Bukhari mourn over the coffin during his funeral procession. — AFP

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    I have always been drawn to the mysteries of roots. Like icebergs, most of their being exists below the visible surface. Knitting the ground beneath our feet. The ficus is a case in point.

    Occupying the entire western half of our garden it is an ecosystem in its own right. The weather changes when you enter its dense cool shade, a canopy that shelters koels, mynahs, squirrels, bats and lime-green geckos.

    I remember when my father planted the ficus, or more accurately, casually stuck the six-inch-long stem he had found in a pile of cuttings outside a posh Defence bungalow into the sandy soil near the slow leak of the water pipe running down the side of our building.

    (Yes, this was so far back that there was actually a pipe with water running in it instead of barren air.)

    Our family was the first to move into the newly built Seaview Apartments. It was 1981 or 82. Where the apartments ended the shoreline dissolved into sand dunes.

    Sand and desert scrub colonised all the spaces between the empty buildings. There were no gardens, not even a blade of grass.

    A young couple moved in next door to us on the ground floor but everything they planted wilted in the salt breeze and hostile earth.

    Related: How losing my home in a fire taught me to value what we have inherited and protect it for future generations

    Before moving into Seaview we ourselves had been rootless for a while, the last several years had been spent in a succession of cities since my father had been pushed out of his job as Health Secretary for the Northern Areas, forced to retire from the army after Zia’s coup.

    There was no room for the secular and incorruptible values he stood for in the general’s worldview. So abba found himself looking for work at the age of 60.

    Who wants to hire a 60-year-old? After a stint of unsuccessful job-hunting, he finally found employment in Europe, running St Luke’s Hospital in Malta.

    We rented a beautiful apartment with a stunning view of the turquoise blue Mediterranean but no garden.

    Still, our little balcony groaned under the weight of dwarf avocado trees, Meyer lemon bushes and gardenias.

    Politics reared its ugly head again with a newly-elected Maltese government refusing to renew contracts of foreigners. It was a precursor of the xenophobia sweeping Europe today.

    So it was that returning home to Karachi that made my father eager to plant a garden. We were still struggling financially, so he would ask his friends for cuttings.

    The author's father.—All photos provided by author
    The author's father.—All photos provided by author

    Close on the heels of the ficus came pink frangipani followed by bougainvillea, cacti, crotons, date palms and finally, for my mother, the many bushes of mogra— jasmine — whose blooms would grace her wrists and ears for years to come. But the ficus was the oldest inhabitant of the garden.

    My father himself was not the first fruit of the family tree. That mantle was worn by his elder brother, who discarded it in a defiant gesture that would change the course of all their lives.

    My grandfather was the principal of a school in Uttar Pradesh before Partition in a village called Mustafabad, or Musarfa in the local dialect. My father described life in the house as an extremely regimented routine.

    Each aspect of the six siblings’ existence from the smallest to the largest details, everything from their time of play to their careers, had been mapped out in advance. My eldest uncle upset this neatly ordered apple cart by running away from home.

    Medicine, the profession that had been in store for my uncle, was now thrust upon my father and he was forced to give up his dreams of coming a botanist.

    I inherited my love of plants from my father. In the evenings we would take a stroll around the garden and talk. It was the time he was most relaxed and I could pepper him with questions about his past life in pre-Partition India.

    History as an abstract subject taught in school felt distant but the firsthand experiences of a parent born in 1920 who had already lived a good many years as an adult in a country that was once home and now officially an enemy nation was fascinating.

    The first-year medical student carefully folded his pants and placed them under his brick-hard cotton pillow at night so they would be pressed in the morning and he would look smart in the company of pretty Anglo-Indian nurses.

    The Second World War was raging when my father graduated from Lucknow Medical College in 1942. The Quit India Movement had also begun and my younger uncles and aunt were getting involved with leftist progressive politics.

    Read next: 'Roughly equal parts of my life have been spent in East and West. Do midpoints make one more reflective?'

    Abba was more of a philosophical bent even though he was supportive of their ideals. As he would tell me later, he did not have the luxury of being a revolutionary — he had to support the family.

    So while my aunts and uncles were agitating against colonial rule, he enlisted in the British Indian Army Officer Corps and shipped out to the Mediterranean.

    Like many before him who saw the effects of conflict up close, the trauma of treating the war wounded would render him a changed man with periods of deep introspection where all he would do was paint or sculpt.

    At Partition the family left their sprawling lands in the village and moved along with tens of thousand of emigres to a modest flat in Burns Road. My eldest uncle returned and began working for PIA.

    He was active as a union leader and apparently rubbed some powerful people the wrong way, as he was mysteriously run over by a car as he was returning home from work one evening.

    Abba found himself at the helm of the family once more. A decade passed. My father remained unmarried and garnered quite a reputation as a ladies’ man. Until he met a beauty that would stop him in his tracks.

    That beauty was my mother who had just left an abusive first marriage behind in India. It was love at first sight for both of them but their families were staunchly opposed to the match.

    On my father’s side no one had married outside of Shia Syed clans and moreover they were scandalised that not only was my mother the ‘wrong’ sect, she was a divorcee with two children from her previous marriage! Lucky for me both of them defied convention and tied the knot.

    My favourite photo is the two of them at their valima gazing at each other, their eyes brimming with love and happiness.

    The author's parents.
    The author's parents.

    Abba nurtured relationships the way a gardener would a seedling, with plenty of patience and attentive nourishment. He was comfortable enough in his masculinity to perform traditionally feminine roles in our house.

    Some of my earliest memories are of him cutting and feeding us fruit, making unusual dishes from his rural childhood such as watermelon rind curry, or dishes he had learned in Sicily such as caponata.

    Another hybrid creation was a desi-Mexican omelette recipe he created while living in San Antonio, Texas in 1955, where he was sent by the Pakistani government to do research in the field of aerospace medicine as NASA was located there.

    On Sundays me and my brother were recruited in the task of whipping egg whites until they were stiff. In the days before ubiquitous food processors this was a task that required a fair bit of energy.

    Our young wrists were sore by the time we had achieved perfect fluffy whites, but the end result was worth all the effort. A golden crust of caramelised onions, a sumptuous centre of chopped spinach and green chilies all the while so light it would melt in your mouth. I have tasted nothing quite like it before or since.

    The author's father in the United States.
    The author's father in the United States.

    If human beings are plants, our memories are our roots, the things that ground us, give us a sense of continuity, make us feel secure. When we are rooted we are not easily dislodged by each new tempest, each passing wind in the weather known as current affairs.

    My father died relatively young at the age of 74. Most of his contemporaries have also left this earth.

    It saddens me immensely to think that a generation who was aware of a reality other than a manufactured national myth on both sides of the border is largely no more.

    In 2016, after my mother passed way, we sold the flat and I went walking in the garden abba planted for the very last time.

    I was told that the buyer was going to plant a new garden. I left hoping against hope that he would leave the ficus untouched.

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    Every time a male Pakistani politician offers his two rupees on gender equality and the highly-debated ‘question of women’ — that, too, often unsolicited — I know enough at this point to scratch out surprise as an appropriate response.

    After all, the very people ordained with the responsibility of protecting us are the ones who form the elite kingsguard that protects this bastion of misogyny we call our country.

    Recently, when Imran Khan offered his buzzword-filled, uninformed, and completely unsolicited take on the women question on an interview for Hum News, I was once again reminded that the faux white hats our male politicians parade around are damp with the blood and toil of women all across the country.

    Questioned about the personalities of his two sons, Khan spiralled into a response with his take on motherhood and feminism that sparked an uproar against him.

    Khan went as far as to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ mothers, but never got around to explaining the distinctive features of either.

    Repeatedly emphasising the notion that there is a specific benchmark to be met in order to enter ‘good’ motherhood (‘agar wo sahi wali maa ho’ or ‘waqai maa ho’), Khan seemed to boast himself as a true expert and judge on the experience and merits of motherhood.

    Housework is work

    It’s important to note, however, that Khan’s views on motherhood don’t exist in a vacuum.

    Most mothers are incredible, yes, but not for the reasons Khan and his likes would want us to believe.

    It doesn’t take much of a lesson in feminism to observe the burden of responsibilities mothers, willingly or unwillingly, find themselves under.

    Most of us have seen our mothers do the grunt work when it comes to raising children — from childbirth to childcare, women are disproportionately held responsible for taking care of their children along with all other housework.

    Their never-ending domestic, unpaid labour is granted no social visibility nor merit, and economic remuneration is, of course, always out of question.

    Editorial: A misogynistic campaign

    Our conception of fatherhood, however, is limited to the visual of the breadwinner that must, in some capacity, be feared and respected.

    While our mothers bathe, clothe and feed us, fathers can simply love from afar and still earn a pat on the back for, well, not being worse.

    Like Khan, it is true for a lot of us who grew up within nuclear families that we have a stronger relationship with our mothers, and, consequently, that they have a greater influence on our lives.

    But mothers never asked for it.

    Mothers never asked to become solely responsible for children that are not just theirs. If fathers were more involved in their children’s lives, to the nitty-gritty detail that mothers are, perhaps that may not stand true.

    There is no intrinsic quality within women that determines that they are to, somehow, magically influence their children more — it is all a product of nurture, and most of us fail to see that.

    In families where men are the sole breadwinners and take part in paid employment for a few hours a day, women’s work is constant, never-ending labour — physical, emotional, and psychological, and even sexual.

    Moreover, it baffles me that men think most women enjoy the constant grind and extremely ill-distributed nature of domestic work.

    Can mothers only be honoured when they are made to sacrifice and give endlessly to their family?

    Have we no room for more balanced ideas of childbearing that could involve and prioritise the personal fulfillment of all members involved?

    Class and motherhood

    It is for working women, especially those from lower socioeconomic strata, that my heart hurts most when I hear motherhood experts like Khan disparage women who don’t fit the archaic model of motherhood that Pakistani men just cannot seem to rid themselves of.

    Khan claims that the feminist movement in the West — of course, he would never acknowledge our local feminist movements — has degraded the role of the mother.

    Khan never really seeks to explain how or why, yet it is obvious he’s alluding to the rise of women pursuing paid work outside of the home.

    Op-ed: ‘Real’ Pakistani women

    To Khan’s surprise, working women still carry the unadulterated burden of housework and child care, sometimes even elderly care, despite pursuing paid employment.

    Called the triple shift, working women are made to perform their paid employment and unpaid housework (also known as the dual burden), but are also undertaking a constant third shift where they are the key channels through which the emotional health of the children, husband and other family members is maintained.

    And, not to mention the constant societal taboo that they encounter by their decisions to join the workforce and the gendered nature of hindrances they face at work to succeed and perform well.

    If Khan believes this is the degraded role of a mother, there isn’t much left from which to argue from.

    None of this is to forget the class dynamics underpinning the economy of motherhood. It is no hidden secret that, for centuries, lower-income women have shared and eased the burden of middle-class motherhood while simultaneously increasing their own workload.

    Even today, caregiving and housework in Pakistan — and the rest of the world — are commonly staffed by migrant and lower-income women who leave their own children at home so that middle-class women can have it easier and/or leave the home to pursue paid employment.

    Moreover, there is no system in Pakistan to regulate wages — usually equalling or less than minimum wage — for female labourers in the caregiving and domestic help industry, despite the widespread nature of the phenomenon.

    Explore: What everyone is missing about the Tayyaba case

    Some women are forced by circumstance to offer their children up for child labour as well. In Pakistan, rampant child labour feeds off children in the lower-income strata.

    Are they, then, the children of ‘bad’ mothers? Is Khan going to point fingers here too instead of asking critical questions about why things are the way they are?

    Khan conveniently forgets that motherhood in Pakistan is not always a choice. It is an expectation, a chore. Sure, some enjoy it more than others. Some even hate it, believe it or not.

    Romanticising women’s ridiculous amounts of sacrifices is not how one atones for an issue so systemic, and yet, seems to be the course of choice for most Pakistanis.

    Feminism is not an import

    Perhaps the most excruciating part of Khan’s entire spiel is his complete erasure of organic feminist movements that aren’t Western.

    The problem with our men, politicians especially, is their complete inability to reckon with the idea that Pakistani women’s consciousness could ever emerge on its own.

    Such men continue to be in complete disbelief that us Pakistani women — who bear the painful brunt of the patriarchal onslaught every single day — could ever recognise, on their own, that the systems in place are never going to be in our favour.

    Related: Why the Aurat March is a revolutionary feat for Pakistan

    We do not need to be schooled by the West to understand our own situation. We have our own rich history of women resisting for centuries.

    It is this misguided make-believe and, frankly, a perpetuation of the historical erasure of our women’s resistance, that lets these men pull out the ‘Western feminism’ card at their convenience.

    It isn’t ‘Western’ feminism that Khan disagrees with, it’s women’s battle against oppression everywhere that he takes issue with, and that, too, without realising it.

    All misogyny is the same

    Khan’s defenders are quick to disagree with what they call a grand assumption on the part of us offended lot. Defenders say Khan doesn’t hate women, that he’s just ‘politically incorrect’. After all, he named a hospital after his mother.

    I am prepared to give him the benefit of doubt; sure, maybe Khan doesn’t hate women. But, I’m afraid that just doesn’t cut it. The fact is that he let down all women with his derogatory remarks.

    But, instead of entertaining the prospect of an apology, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and its supporters wish to convince us that their misogyny isn’t as bad as the rest.

    Read next: Skirt lengths and bhuna gosht: What women in Pakistan’s legal fraternity face

    The men in our country continue to get away with pointing their fingers at others, while the blood of our women boils and spills across.

    “Look at what the other party does to women,” they all beckon back and forth as if misogyny is a competition.

    There are no good or bad levels of misogyny: it does not matter whether one reaches threatening extremes while another is able to exercise a more palatable disdain for women. It is all the same to us: disgusting.

    No vote for sexism

    Interestingly enough, five years ago, I was part of that swarm of teenage youths that were invigorated by the PTI’s call to rally against the establishment.

    I did not care, much like my other young comrades, that you, Khan, and your party were inexperienced and could not comprehend the lay of the political landmines, as critics suggested.

    “It’s better than reinstating known, convicted crooks,” was the celebrated retort.

    I suppose I was already playing the game of picking the lesser evil before I even knew what it was.

    But in 2013, I did not have a vote — I was not 18 then.

    Red flags were quick to emerge in the aftermath. As anticipated and much to our dismay, the party wasn’t that great at or interested in doing its job, much like all the other political parties Pakistan is currently plagued with.

    Also read: How a small feminist group led by Hindu women in pre-Partition Sindh went on to get global renown

    Five years later, the devastation remains, but, now, it stems from the realisation that all of these politicians are really out to get us women.

    The only time they will agree with each other is when they need to bring us down. We are the battlegrounds upon which they all fight their elections — slut-shaming one, mansplaining to another, discrediting a third, threatening a fourth.

    None of them play for us. None of them want to. Gender policy is one small paragraph in the end of their manifestos. Their inclination to include women in the political process starts and ends with quotas.

    While our politicians are busy spouting uninformed opinions and practicing a complete disrespect for women’s plight, women still continue to be murdered in cold-blood, regardless of age.

    Mothers from all backgrounds continue to be exploited. Only five days ago, Irum was murdered by her husband over a domestic dispute in Ghaziabad. Just last week, Mehwish, a female bus attendant was shot dead by a man because she refused his marriage proposal.

    In the past year alone, 345 newborn baby-girls were found dead in the trash in Karachi alone. Pakistan’s Missing Girls crisis is still 105:100 girls to boys, meaning there are five boys for every girl.

    According to the 2017 Census, the sex ratio in Pakistan is about 108-122 males for every 100 females, with the ratio consistently higher in urban areas as compared to rural.

    Pakistan is termed the third-most dangerous country in the world for women, and the Women, Peace and Security Index slots Pakistan as 150th out of 153 countries, with only Afghanistan, Syria and Saudi Arabia scoring lower on the index.

    I’m not forgetting the names of these victims or these statistics because, five years later, I do have a vote. And, you best believe it is not about to be wasted on casual primetime sexism.

    The feminists will come for all of you, and it won’t be pretty.

    Illustration by Zoha Bundally

    What priorities are important to you as a voter? Share your thoughts with us at

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    On June 14, the Office of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights released a first of its kind report documenting alleged human rights violations in Kashmir.

    While detailing significant abuses in Indian-held Kashmir — from sexual violence, excessive use of force, torture and enforced disappearances to name a few — the UN report has also brought both Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir — the two regions that together comprise Pakistani Kashmir — into the fold of discussions.

    Noting that the “violations in this [Pakistani] area are of a different calibre or magnitude and of a more structural nature,” the report highlights the impact of counter-terrorism laws as well as the provisions and restrictions in constitutional and legal frameworks that impinge on people’s rights to “freedom of expression, opinion, peaceful assembly and association” in Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

    Editorial: Report on IHK

    Within hours of the report’s release, India dismissed it as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated” and Indian officials claimed that there cannot be any comparison between Indian-held Kashmir and Pakistani Kashmir as “the former has a democratically elected government”.

    Further, some Indian journalists straightaway termed the report as idiotic, while the character assassination of the Human Rights high commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, also began with him being termed as a ‘quasi-Islamist’ and the report as toeing Pakistan’s line.

    Others in the Indian press have opined that the UN has made a grave mistake by placing the violations in Pakistani Kashmir with those in the Indian-held Kashmir, alleging that the state of affairs in the former are considerably worse than those in the latter.

    While human rights violations in Pakistani Kashmir are undeniable, it is my understanding that most Indian journalists do not get access to this side of Kashmir, just as most Pakistani journalists don’t get visas for the other side.

    And just as the UN report has stated, little information is available on Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan — which is certainly alarming in its own right — meaning that it is often difficult to understand the state of affairs in Pakistani Kashmir, making such comparisons speculative at best.

    The fact that India is up in arms about the ‘incorrect’ terminology, bashing the report for using the terms ‘armented groups’ as well as ‘Azad Kashmir’ and ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’, is a further attempt to divert attention away from the very real human rights issues the report addresses.

    Related:Shujaat Bukhari's killing: space for those seeking a middle ground in Kashmir is disappearing

    While this kind of investigation into Kashmir by the UN is new, by its own admission the UN team was not given access to either side of Kashmir and had to rely on already available information.

    Reports by NGOs, human rights commissions of India and Pakistan, and international organisations, such as the Human Rights Watch, Freedom Press and Amnesty International have allowed insights into the state of affairs on both sides.

    While some Indian analysts have pointed out that the UN has written the report without stepping foot in Kashmir, it must be noted that the report refers to many credible local and international organisations’ work that have been present on ground for many years.

    Any attempt to discard this report as hearsay is futile.

    India’s rejection of the report must then be seen as not only a rejection of the UN inquiry, but a dismissal of all the investigations and documentation of human rights abuses by Indian and international watchdogs.

    Denial of the security excesses in what India calls its ‘atoot ang’ is certainly not new, but the immediate dismissal of the report shows that a dark future awaits Kashmiris, several of whom have hoped that international organisations like the UN would take more notice of their state of affairs and pressurise Delhi to change its policies in Kashmir.

    In fact, one fears that in light of the report, India may retort with an even more hardline approach to crush dissent.

    Meanwhile, Pakistan has welcomed the proposal to set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations in Indian-held Kashmir, stating that the report is in line with the concerns raised by Pakistan over the years.

    However, little attention has been paid to the violations identified in Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

    Just as in India, Pakistan too is quick to point fingers at the other side, trying to steer the focus towards Indian policies.

    In its statement, the Foreign Office cautioned:“references to human rights concerns in AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan should in no way be construed to create a false equivalence with the gross and systematic human rights violations in Indian-occupied Kashmir.”

    Over the past four years, I have been researching on Azad Jammu & Kashmir and have made several trips to the region to hear first-hand accounts of people’s experiences, many of whom have highlighted the issues raised by the UN report.

    While the use of excessive force seen in Indian-held Kashmir is certainly not mirrored in Azad Jammu & Kashmir, locals have their grievances.

    The banning of books and dissent, particularly when it comes to political opinions and aspirations of Azad Kashmiris, is a significant issue in the region.

    Read next: This Kashmir Day, who will stand up for Azad Kashmiris?

    Having to swear allegiance to Pakistan and to the ideology of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan — in contradiction to Pakistan’s official stance on Kashmiri self-determination — before being able to contest elections or hold public office certainly does sideline Kashmiris who hold a different vision for the Kashmir they want to live and fight for.

    These issues, often ‘structural’ in nature as the UN has emphasised — for they are embodied in the interim constitution of Azad Jammu & Kashmir — have over the years increased the frustration and agony of many Azad Kashmiris.

    Recent reforms in Azad Jammu & Kashmir, which have reduced the Kashmir Council to an advisory body, do promise autonomy, but some worry that the old mechanisms of control may be replaced with new ones under the pretext of ‘empowerment.’

    Only time will tell how these changes impact the on ground reality of Azad Kashmiris.

    Rather than overlooking the concerns raised in Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan needs to realise that the UN report, which is mainly focused on the issues in Indian-held Kashmir, provides a great opportunity for Islamabad to hold the higher moral ground.

    By accepting and owning the UN report, not in parts but in full, and assuring the international body as well as the people of Pakistani Kashmir that it will look into these concerns and bring in accountability, Pakistan will come out as the ethical and superior party.

    However, it seems like both India and Pakistan are more interested in pulling the other nation down, insisting that things are far worse on the other side. Even if this is indeed true, worse violations do not legitimatise lesser violations.

    Violations of human rights are violations. Abuse of power is abuse of power. Imprisonment, false arrests and mistreatment of people, whether of a handful or of hundreds, are deeply problematic.

    For too long, Kashmiris have been sandwiched in between this tit-for-tat approach, with both states telling those under their administration that they are ‘better off’ or the ‘lesser tragedy’.

    The UN report should not be lost in these redundant comparisons. Both sides must own their own injustices and rectify them, not only in the name of honest representation of Kashmiris, but also if they want to avoid further instability, violence and unrest.

    No one is pure in this war of less or more violence, fewer or greater violations. Both sides have much work to do, in their own respective parts that they currently administer.

    Header image by Zoha Bundally

    Are you researching Pakistan's foreign policy? Share your expertise with us at