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    The Sharjah Cricket Stadium has hosted some of the most riveting encounters over the years. And so it comes as no surprise that some of the most exhilarating moments of this year’s Pakistan Super League (PSL) also occurred at the same venue.

    Before the league entered its first Sharjah leg, it lacked the flavour and excitement that a T20 league of its stature should have. But a few matches into the first Sharjah leg, the league had its fervour back.

    Tahir’s hat-trick

    Imran Tahir is one of the hottest properties in white-ball cricket, which explains why Multan Sultans chose him as their first pick in the platinum category. Just three matches into the PSL 2018, he had the best average and strike rate for a leg-spinner to have bowled more than 10 overs in the history of the league.

    He was one of the two bowlers behind Quetta Gladiators’ epic batting collapse that saw them lose their last five wickets for just one run.

    After Sohail Tanvir had picked two wickets in two balls, Sultans’ skipper Shoaib Malik handed the ball to Tahir to bowl the 16th over. The leggie ran over the last three batsmen to record a PSL hat-trick as he clean bowled Hassan Khan and John Hastings before hitting Rahat Ali’s pads in front of stumps.

    He became only the third bowler in the history of the league to secure a hat-trick behind Mohammad Amir (who took a hat-trick in his first PSL match against Lahore Qalandars) and his teammate Junaid Khan (who achieved the feat earlier in the season).

    Qalandars and their woeful batting

    This season has been all about Lahore Qalandars’ woeful batting displays.

    They have been on both the ends of the batting spectrum in almost every innings. Their overall run-rate of 8.61 in the powerplay overs is the highest for any team this season. And, their run-rate under run-a-ball from the seventh over onwards coupled with excessive loss of wickets is the worst for any team (by March 4, 2018).

    A comparison with Karachi Kings — who had the best run-rate by the end of the first Sharjah leg in the last 14 overs — makes the picture clearer. The Imad Wasim-led side scored at 7.90 an over and lost 21 wickets in this span. Lahore, on the other hand, lost as many as 40 wickets while scoring at only 5.52 runs per over.

    The venue may have changed after the first week of the PSL but that did not bring a change in how Lahore Qalandars went about their batting.

    They played two matches at Sharjah and managed 82 for eight against Islamabad United and 47 for nine against Peshawar Zalmi — the worst of their collapses by then — after the powerplay overs.

    The Super Over

    After 59 matches over the course of three years, the PSL finally had a match decided on a Super Over, thanks to a trademark Lahore Qalandars collapse.

    Needing only 45 from 52 balls with as many as eight wickets in hand, Qalandars’ batting line-up faltered as Agha Salman holed out to fine-leg off Mohammad Sami.

    They failed to score just seven off the final over despite the presence of Brendon McCullum at the crease. Then, they set Islamabad United a 16-run target in the Super Over.

    The Qalandars captain inexplicably preferred Bangladesh’s Mustafizur Rahman over West Indian off-spinner Sunil Narine — who had bowled at an economy of 2.50 in his four overs — to defend the score.

    McCullum dropped Asif Ali on the second ball at the long-on boundary, converting a catch into a six as the ball sailed over the boundary rope.

    With seven needed off the last two balls, Andre Russell top-edged the penultimate ball for a four over the wicketkeeper’s head and muscled the last ball for a six over the long-on fence to seal the match for his side.

    First 10-wicket defeat

    All of the Lahore Qalandars’ defeats have been thumping except for the one they lost to Islamabad United mentioned just above.

    Their most resounding defeat came almost 24 hours after the Super Over match as Zalmi's opening pair of Kamran Akmal and Tamim Iqbal chased down Lahore’s meagre 100 score in 13.4 overs. Akmal scored a calculated 47-ball 57 and Iqbal contributed 37 runs from 35 balls.

    This went down as the first 10-wicket win in the history of the PSL.

    Qalandars question umpiring standards

    After an umpiring error saw them reeling at four for two just five balls into the chase of Islamabad United’s 121, Lahore Qalandars team manager Sameen Rana urged the Pakistan Cricket Board to ensure umpiring standards were up to the mark in future matches.

    The error occurred when Fakhar Zaman was given LBW but when he asked for a review, he was informed by the umpire that his side had exhausted their only chance even though they still had their review intact.

    Team owner Rana Fawad also termed the incident "very, very sad."

    His side, however, did not register a formal protest with the PCB.

    — PSL— PSL

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    It was arguably the most pulsating fixture in the short history of the Pakistan Super League.

    Lahore Qalandars required three off the last ball when Sohail Akhtar holed out to long-on, leading to manic celebrations in the Karachi Kings camp. But, they were halted dead in their tracks when it emerged that Usman Shinwari had overstepped.

    The young pacer had to bowl the last ball again. But, his side did not know how much they had to defend. Likewise, Lahore had no idea how much they had to score.

    Replays showed the batsmen had completed the run after Ravi Bopara took the catch at the long-on fence. However, the players and spectators were bewildered as they thought that Lahore had score two runs off that ball.

    The rules state that if a ball is adjudged a no-ball by the third umpire after a catch is taken, the runs off the bat on that particular delivery count for zilch.

    After innumerable exchanges between the umpires and players, Aleem Dar signaled that Lahore Qalandars had to score two off the last delivery. They managed just a single and the match went into the Super Over.

    Just a week before this contest, the Qalandars had lost to Islamabad United during a Super Over — the first in the history of the PSL. This time, they got it right.

    The laws of cricket are not as clearly defined and the game provides ample space to the umpires to make decisions according to their interpretations, which sometimes leads to dramatic scenes.

    ‘We got our minds clouded over that whole simple issue’

    In the dying moments of the 2007 World Cup final, the officials failed to get the simplest of the laws right.

    The all-important contest was marred by poor weather and was reduced to 38 overs initially. The rain returned during the Sri Lankan innings, which not only affected their momentum but also altered the equation required to bag the most sought-after trophy.

    The match could have been decided after 20 overs of the second innings were completed, according to the Duckworth-Lewis method.

    But, the umpires insisted that the match could go on despite the lighting conditions getting worse with every ball at a floodlight-less Kensington Oval in Barbados.

    Third umpire Rudy Koertzen even suggested that the match could be extended to the next day for the last three overs despite Sri Lanka well and truly out of contention in the final.

    The Sri Lankan batsmen had earlier accepted the on-field umpires' — Aleem Dar and Steve Bucknor — suggestion to go off.

    Match referee Jeff Crowe later accepted the mistake of carrying on with the proceedings by saying, "We must make sure we look at the black print which says the game is over when the 20 overs have been completed — we got our minds clouded over that whole simple issue."

    How is that not a wide?

    It is often one particular ball of a contest that turns the match on its head. It was true for the Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiants' showdown in the Indian Premier League last year when the fourth delivery of the last over was adjudged to be legal by the umpire despite it being outside the wide-marker.

    Rohit Sharma had dispatched Jaydev Unadkat for a six at the cow-corner on the previous ball, and looked to target the on-side region again, as he crossed the line of off-stump with his side requiring 11 runs.

    Sharma and Dhoni in action — AFP
    Sharma and Dhoni in action — AFP

    Unadkat pulled the length of his delivery and tried to bowl it away from Sharma’s reach. The umpire counted it as a legal delivery as Sharma had brought the ball’s trajectory well within his reach.

    The decision led to an animated protest by the batsman and, more importantly, it derailed the chase. Two wickets — including Sharma’s — went on the next two balls and Mumbai Indians fell four runs short of the target.

    Law 25.2 (a)(ii) states that “the umpire shall not adjudge a delivery as being a Wide” if the batsman “brings the ball sufficiently within his reach to be able to hit it by means of a normal cricket stroke”.

    Forced to do more

    Australia had to bowl eight extra overs on the fourth day of the Test between Australia and Pakistan in December 2016 at the Gabba due to a misunderstanding between Steven Smith and umpires Ian Gould and Richard Illingworth.

    Pakistan were seven-down in the chase of a mammoth 490 on the second-last day of the day/night Test when the Aussie captain asked Gould about the extra time.

    The umpires confused it for a request to carry on the final session and the stumps were delayed by 30 minutes.

    According to the ICC's Test match playing condition 16.2.1, "the umpires may decide to play an extra 30 minutes (a minimum of eight overs) extra time at the end of any day (other than the last day) if requested by either captain, if in the umpire's opinion, it would bring about a definite result on that day."

    Smith later revealed that he wanted the session to be completed on time so that his bowlers could rest. Pakistan benefited from the eight extra overs as they added 51 runs to their total . Asad Shafiq got the opportunity to complete a century.

    Pakistan, however, lost the match next day by 39 runs.

    But, what for?

    On the most iconic days in the country's sporting history, Afghanistan bowler Samiullah Shenwari was stopped from bowling by umpire Steve Davis.

    During Afghanistan’s first World Cup outing, which came against Bangladesh in the 2015 edition, the leggie was penalised by the umpire for running on the danger area of the pitch.

    The umpire was well within his rights with the authority granted to him by Law 42.12, but it was the way the procedure was carried out that raised many eyebrows.

    Law 42.12 requires an umpire to "caution the bowler and inform the other umpire of what has occurred" in the first instance, and also "inform the captain of the fielding side and the batsmen". If in the same innings, the bowler runs on to the danger area again the umpire has to repeat the procedure indicating that it is a final warning.

    An umpire is required to warn a bowler twice for running on the danger area before removing him from the attack.

    However, the cameras caught the umpire warning Shenwari only once and that also at the end of the over. The ICC, however, clarified that it was the second and final warning.

    The first one was never picked up — not by the bowling side, not by the millions of viewers, and neither by the commentators — as Davis was not clear in his gestures and signaling.

    The first ball of his next over Shenwari was removed from the attack.

    Are you a sport enthusiast and have witnessed stand-out moments? Write to us at

    — PSL— PSL

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    Now that the Senate elections are out of the way, it is worth going over what exactly happened. For months, analysts had been making statements about what was about to unfold and finally it is here.

    The largest party in the Senate, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), was beaten by an opposition that somehow managed to come together at the right moment.

    On the surface, it seems normal in a democracy for opposition parties to do that to the largest party to pry away the top posts.

    To start with, what we saw was a culmination of efforts that began in Balochistan when the provincial government of Sardar Sanaullah Zehri was overthrown.

    That was the first warning sign for the PML-N that something was up, and they were caught off guard. As much as they would like to blame the powers that be, they dropped the ball and paid the price.

    Next, Asif Ali Zardari coming together with Imran Khan and the usual suspects from small parties was a milestone in opposition politics because, for once, after a long time, we witnessed the opposition realise that the bigger target was the PML-N and not each other.

    Supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) have been coy over how their parties, who normally bash each other, suddenly aligned for the same goal.

    But the bottom line is, what other choice do the PPP and the PTI have? For the Senate elections, they did what had to be done and reaped the benefits.

    Well, mostly the PPP reaped the benefits but the PTI was able to show its willingness to play ball, which is an improvement for them.

    The question is: is this what democracy looks like where the largest party in the Senate does not get the top slot? And the answer is: yes, this is exactly what democracy looks like.

    Even if you are the largest party in the Senate but cannot get enough votes to back your candidate for the top slot, the opposition gets to take a shot. All other parties went up against the PML-N and won.

    We can debate about how votes were bought and sold, but then we can also go over how that has happened in every Senate elections in the last three decades.

    Editorial: Sanjrani’s election

    What should be worrying the PML-N instead is that, if the opposition parties were to cut a seat adjustment deal for the general elections, it would create all sorts of problems for ruling party.

    But fortunately for the PML-N, that is not going to happen, and so they will gloss over their mistakes and instead use the Senate elections as further evidence of everyone being against them.

    The thing is, this should not be a shock to the ruling party. If you are the largest party in the country, of course every other party is against you. How naïve do you have to be to assume that somehow everyone else will close shop and go home?

    Furthermore, the new chairman Senate and deputy chairman Senate are both individuals who are businessmen. They do not have hard political leanings. They are in this for their own benefit.

    Yes, they both lean PPP, but factually speaking, what can the Senate really do to damage the day-to-day functioning of the federal government?

    Plus, let’s not forget that for the last six years or so, the PML-N has not held the Senate and it did not stop them from running the federal government as they pleased. Neither were the governments of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Balochistan impacted in any way.

    The fact is, while the Senate defeat is a setback, the PML-N had some indication that this was coming and it was evident when they nominated Raja Zafar Ul Haq. They laid down their arms before the fight even began.

    While this does make a great add-on for the narrative of a grand scheme to scuttle the PML-N, the elections result was mostly a self-inflicted wound.

    What we should rather be concerned with are the general elections and how the political parties will form alliances. I realise that the PTI and the PPP fans refuse to even consider the idea of seat adjustment at this stage, but what other choice do they have?

    The PML-N is a force to be reckoned with in Punjab and parts of KP. They can bag enough seats in Punjab, KP and Balochistan to win a simple majority, if the opposition operates without alliances.

    Purchasing 10 to 20 votes is doable but purchasing millions of votes is not. The PML-N has been waiting for the opposition to come together as one force because it helps the narrative that Nawaz Sharif has built since his ouster.

    A curated win in Senate means nothing when you get wiped out in general elections, and this is what the opposition parties need to think about.

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    The global male-to-female sex ratio at birth is slightly in favour of boys than girls, but if both sexes receive similar nutrition and care, females have a higher chance of outliving their male counterparts as is evident in the industrialised world.

    However, this does not hold true for all parts of the world, and many developing regions are experiencing the phenomenon called the “missing women.”

    This was highlighted in a landmark paper, More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing, by renowned Indian economist Amartya Sen almost two decades ago.

    His observations for countries in South Asia, West Asia and China at that time still hold true for these regions. Sen attributes this phenomenon to the economic and social conditions that contribute to the neglect of women as compared to men.

    In many parts of the world, preference for the male child, perhaps based on the misplaced notions of the greater utility of the male child, manifests itself in numerous ways, from providing better nutrition, to better education and even preferential access to healthcare.

    The deck, on the other hand, is stacked against the girl child even before her birth. Whereas all forms of gender discrimination are unacceptable, one of the most alarming ways the preference for the male child plays out is in the form of gender-based abortions.

    While gender-based abortions are well documented in other countries and countermeasures are also visible, such practices are not even acknowledged as a problem in Pakistan. It is for this reason that this area has not been the subject of the kind of public scrutiny that it deserves.

    Some independent work has been done which sheds light on this issue in this country. A study by the Population Council Pakistan some time back noted that the number of abortions had increased substantially in the period between 2002 and 2012 in Pakistan.

    According to the study, out of 4.2 million unintended pregnancies during those 10 years, 54 percent ended in planned abortions.

    While we cannot comment with certainty regarding the sex of the aborted fetuses, numerous personal accounts from healthcare professionals indicate that female fetuses were more likely to be aborted.

    In-depth: No country for girls

    In the hands of an experienced operator, a routine antenatal ultrasound examination of the woman makes it easy to conclusively detect the sex of the unborn child between 14-16 weeks of pregnancy. Cognizant of the risks, Indian law bars ultrasonologists from revealing the sex of the fetus to the parents.

    In Pakistan, the Code of Ethics by Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC), the governing body for medical education and practice in the country, also requires medical practitioners to not disclose the gender of the fetus, unless “it is absolutely sure that no harm shall come to the baby and the mother as a result of this disclosure.”

    Since it would be practically impossible for the ultrasonologist to reasonably ascertain actual risks of revealing the sex of the fetus during the single encounter she has with the pregnant woman and her accompanying attendant, we believe the wording of the PMDC code leaves a very dangerous window open for misuse of this clause.

    Sophisticated blood tests are now available in Pakistan that can, as early as nine weeks of pregnancy, make a sex determination of the fetus by seeking out traces of fetal DNA circulating in maternal blood.

    Since early termination of pregnancy is generally considered less morally and psychologically problematic than an abortion carried out later in term, these tests may have a potential of being misused for the purposes of performing sex-selective abortions, unless used with caution and for valid medical purposes.

    Even when qualified healthcare professionals may refuse to terminate pregnancies based on the sex of the unborn child, the existence of entirely undocumented back alley abortionists raises another challenge.

    Midwives (dais) and quacks provide such services, the costs of which can be much more than just monetary, with unhygienic procedures that can lead to major infections or even death of the mother.

    And if aborting fetuses seems unpalatable, sophisticated fertility centres in Pakistan are offering, overtly and covertly and at an additional cost, ‘value added services’ of gender selection at the time of conception, by implanting the desired fetus in the mother’s uterus through In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) techniques.

    This is also in violation of the code of medical ethics by PMDC, which state, “the choice of gender by any means shall be illegal.”

    To the best of our knowledge, no IVF centre offering gender selection services has ever had any legal troubles despite clearly violating the PMDC code of conduct.

    Read more: IVF clinics — in business big time

    Another worrying trend in gender-selection processes that has recently emerged involves offering these services packaged as ‘sharia-compliant’ processes.

    While all religions uphold the sanctity of life, it is ironic that these services misuse the name of Islam, a religion that unequivocally condemns this very practice of discrimination against the girl child.

    These ‘sharia-compliant’ procedures, at a cost, ‘guarantee’ at conception a baby of the desired gender, which is medically nonsensical.

    Whereas it is problematic that our society subscribes to such archaic practices, it is even more alarming to note that the highly educated medical community is prepared to offer such services.

    While we acknowledge that medical practitioners do not practice in a social vacuum – their own values and that of the society around them also reflect their conduct – society holds the physicians to a higher moral standard and healthcare professionals have a greater responsibility to display moral conduct.

    It is unacceptable for medical practitioners to barter the sacrosanct oath they took upon their initiation into this noble profession, and offer their services for gender-selection processes in order to make some easy money. This defies the values that medical practitioners are required to uphold as part of their profession.

    Medical codes are drawn up to guide the conduct of healthcare professionals, but regulating bodies need to take note that codes of conduct with no teeth have no chance of being effective. Lack of enforcement mechanisms seriously limits the utility of such codes of conduct.

    In addition to having guidelines, and their proper enforcement processes, we need to train our physicians to tread the high moral ground. This can only happen when in addition to their technical training, they are also educated in bioethics and humanities in order to become more humane practitioners.

    The process of resetting societal trajectories is a long and arduous one, and has to be addressed on multiple fronts in order to move towards a fair social order.

    Are you an activist or professional involved in community building? Share your expertise with us at

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    Recently, Sana Safinaz came under storm for their lawn photoshoot in Maasai, Kenya. The lawn campaign, shot at the Maasai Mara National Park of Kenya, was lambasted by many on the grounds that it was ‘culturally appropriative’ of the Maasai people, and that it showcased the Maasai people as ‘props’ for glamorous, decked-in-lawn Pakistani models.

    While these objections are not without substance, the criticisms levied onto their campaign require a far more complex articulation.

    It is, in fact, not cultural appropriation that is at play here, but simply an exercise in racism and colourism that is representative of the widespread phenomenon of anti-black racism in Pakistan, and, by extension, South Asian communities both at home and abroad.

    Calling the campaign cultural appropriation only indicates a lack of both vocabulary and understanding in our faculty to engage in racial discourse.

    This is not the first time Sana Safinaz has been criticised for its poor choice of campaigns. In 2012, the brand was criticised for ‘poverty chic’ campaign that established similar visuals, laden with problematic class and power dynamics, between glammed-up models and train coolies.

    This past precedent, coupled with their recent creative disaster, gives us ample grounds to conclude that the brand has not been able to strike the right balance between exerting creative licence and maintaining sociocultural sensitivity.

    The 2012 Sana Safinaz advert that faced similar criticism.
    The 2012 Sana Safinaz advert that faced similar criticism.

    Fashion labels, much like everything else, operate in a particular sociocultural context, and Sana Safinaz should consider itself no exception. As with all cultural contexts, there are always faults and failures to be found.

    A primary fault of our Pakistani context is that we have a serious problem with dark skin. Sadly, this also means that we have an obsession with light skin – or, to simply put, whiteness.

    I will not beat around the bush when I say that this context feeds directly into the reality that our communities are anti-black.

    This declaration is not meant to aggravate individuals, but rather attack a collective mindset that we – accept it or not – are all privy to: dark is undesirable, and light is superior.

    And, this dangerous dichotomy is exactly what the Sana Safinaz campaign emphasises through its photographs.

    The visuals clearly purport racial power dynamics that establish a hierarchy between Pakistani culture (to the extent which lawn is indicative of our culture) and Maasai culture. This sore-thumb contrast emerges from and feeds into racial power dynamics, and I will explain how.

    In the campaign photos, it is clear that two cultures are distinctly depicted. One can easily identify the Pakistani models adorning quintessential lawn prints as separate from the Maasai men who, dressed in their own attire, form the backdrop of the photos.

    No attempt is being made at appropriating any cultural motifs or symbols into another. The Maasai culture is not being marketed as Pakistani or South Asian. No aspect of the Maasai culture is being co-opted by Pakistani culture.

    What is instead happening, however, is that there is a hierarchy being transmitted through the photos; a hierarchy between cultures, yes, but also one between black bodies and brown bodies.

    While brown bodies are shown front and centre, black bodies are relegated to the background. The visuals uphold brown bodies as primary, and black bodies as supplementary.

    Black bodies shielding brown bodies from the sun, holding an umbrella over them, and brown bodies leaning onto black bodies for support.

    The fact that the Maasai are an indigenous tribe, and are clearly being juxtaposed against urban Pakistani fashion, to the point where no one who views these photographs can miss the blatant contrast, makes the situation all the more worse.

    Related: It's 2018, but Sana Safinaz still doesn't understand racism

    But, the question here is not how or why the Sana Safinaz people let themselves create such a repulsive campaign.

    The question of the time is also not wondering whether the people are simply ignorant or blatantly careless, or whether this was unintentional or just a mistake made in innocence.

    The question we need to be asking, both them and ourselves, is a question of greater causality: what social conditions allowed this group of people, who are neither novices nor incompetents, to imagine and accomplish such a creative exercise in anti-black racism in the first place?

    No Pakistani can or should deny the fact that there is prejudice in our communities against dark skin, and I would be very surprised if anyone from the Sana Safinaz team claimed otherwise.

    We harbour prejudice against other races (racism) especially those that are dark skinned ie. black people, and we also hold prejudice against the darker skinned amongst ourselves (colourism).

    Racism and colourism go hand in hand. While they are not interchangeable concepts, both find roots in prejudice against darker skin.

    The phenomenon of colourism is different from — but nonetheless connected to — racism. Instead of race, it uses skin colour, and the respective social meanings attached to various skin colours, as grounds for discrimination. Both find evidence in our communities.

    Many Pakistani clothing brands, for whom the audience is strictly local — meaning they have no international stores nor any shipping framework— often use white models in their photoshoots.

    Even from a marketing strategy point of view, it never made any sense to me that brands kept importing models, that looked nothing like their consumer market, to model clothes that no one who looked like them would purchase.

    I soon came to realise that was exactly, and quite unfortunately, the point. Pakistan’s consciousness still reeks of European standards of culture and beauty, where whiteness is the standard we are all subconsciously aspiring to.

    Moreover, fair-skinned people continue to dominate our film/drama industry, especially when it comes to women. Not to forget, our skin lightening industry itself is a multibillion rupee industry. All of us grew up with the knowledge of the existence of Fair & Lovely, and, growing up, at least I for one did not question its function.

    I know, as I’m sure we all do, both men and women who have at some point in their lives used skin whitening products, and those who stay out of the sun to save themselves a tan.

    I have seen young kids being bullied for their darker skin, and I have seen children exhibit discrimination towards those with darker skin.

    It is only natural then that these discriminatory sentiments have the highest intensity against black people.

    And, operating within this particular context, that has no two opinions on prejudice against darker-skinned people, Sana Safinaz failed to do anything but feed into the existing framework of our particular South Asian brand of racism and colourism.

    Read next: How NOT to be offensive as you shoot your next fashion campaign

    On top of everything, the way Sana Safinaz handled the criticism was not only unprofessional, but downright shameful. They were even accused of deleting comments of criticism from their social media pages, before they realised they could not make the situation go away.

    On March 10th, Sana Safinaz finally issued a statement — I refuse to call it an apology — after a period of silence which conveyed that they still found no fault in what they produced.

    They removed the pictures from their accounts, and announced that they were “proud of the work” they did with the Maasai, “especially the women”, and “stand by it”.

    Further, their addendum-like apology for “any offense (they) have caused despite this never being (their) intention” clearly shows that they failed to recognise and acknowledge that none of this is about about ‘building schools for Maasai girls’ or ‘empowering Maasai widows’, but about creating and perpetuating visuals with in-built power dynamics that in fact exploit the Maasai people.

    This is a classic example of a disingenuous public apology that refuses to take any active measures, but instead trivialises the issue by stating that, to them, the criticism is invalid.

    There is no point of apologising for offence caused if you don’t believe that your content is offensive in the first place. There is no dual position; you either take pride in your racism, or you accept the flawed nature of your work. There is no middle ground.

    As LUMS professor Dr Nida Kirmani aptly described it on her social media, their response "replaces one colonial fantasy, of going to Africa and discovering this exotic place and exotic people, with this other colonial fantasy, of a white saviour complex."

    Lawn 2018

    A post shared by Sana Safinaz (@sanasafinazofficial) on

    It is entirely possible that the time the Sana Safinaz team spent in Kenya was an exercise in, what they themselves called, ‘ethical tourism’.

    Perhaps in ‘breaking bread’ with the Maasai, Sana Safinaz team members made some wonderful memories, and were even able to help foster economic growth in some form or another, but it is imperative that they understand that none of that means that their conscious tourism translated into a conscious cross-cultural engagement.

    In no way does being responsible tourists automatically equate to being culturally sensitive designers. There is a stark difference between having dinner with someone and dancing with them, and subjecting them to harmful art that reemphasises the racist sentiments South Asians harbour towards black people.

    Despite what Sana Safinaz continues to uphold, the unfortunate truth is that their campaign failed to honour the Maasai people and their culture, and helping widows or financing schools does not and cannot compensate for it.

    We need to demand better from our creative front-runners, but also from ourselves. We need to recognise our anti-blackness and start imagining better ways of talking about it.

    Have you been discriminated against based on your race, religion or gender? Share your experiences with us at

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    I parked my car in front of a closed shop next to the Data Darbar shrine and hurriedly crossed the road. On that side, facing the Bhatti Gate, one of the 13 gates that lead into the walled city of Lahore, I had noticed a yellow billboard on a building that said “Bengali Baba”, surrounded by various other smaller hoardings.

    This was about seven years ago, and I was researching the concept of black magic. I had come across this advertisement while driving around the older part of the city.

    Bengali Babas in Pakistan are known for their prowess against the spells of black magic, while others sometimes accuse them of practicing this demonic art.

    On the first floor of the shabby building, Baba Patras Bengali sat in his office. He was a young man, perhaps in his late 20s or early 30s, sitting behind a desk. It was a formal setting. I asked him about the epithet “Bengali”. “Because the tradition of black magic comes from Bengal,” he explained.

    He told me how he accompanied his guru to Bengal and then to the jungles of Assam. It was there that he first encountered a devil, a matriarch spirit who was so despicable, he said, that it could not be described in words.

    Patras said that he was sitting on the top of a mountain, engaged in meditation or “chila” as he described it using Sufi parlance, when she appeared and tried to distract him, first by sending a giant snake and then by attempting to seduce him.

    Patras, however, protected by a boundary of nails that he constructed for himself, resisted her. Finally the matriarch had to give in and acknowledged his spiritual superiority.

    He said he earned the title of Baba Patras Bengali for himself that day. He asserted that he now controlled several djinns or spirits, and used them to cure black magic.

    Good and bad spirits

    There are many parallels between this story and several similar ones about Muslim pirs gaining control of djinns, and the Tantric tradition where shakti or energy is harnessed for spiritual prowess.

    Both these traditions emphasise how djinns are accessed by devoted practitioners of asceticism after they overcome the onslaught of demons and djinns who seek to prevent them from acquiring this occult art.

    In the Tantric tradition, shakti is associated with the cults of female deities such as Durga and Kali, most commonly found around the region of Bengal.

    Is the Muslim Bengali Baba tradition in Pakistan, found in many parts of the country, connected to this Tantric tradition?

    In the Tantric tradition, the shakti harnessed can be used for evil as well as good. Similarly, Muslim babas also believe that these djinns are of both varieties. The evil ones can be used to cast the spell of black magic, while the good ones can be used to ward off that spell.

    For Baba Patras Bengali, the distinction was quite simple – Muslim djinns were the good ones, who protected people, while Hindu djinns were evil.

    Muslim and Hindu djinns

    I heard a similar narrative when I interviewed Baba Karamat Bhatti, a Christian spiritual healer, who specialised in warding off black magic through the recitation of verses from the Bible. He too was a resident of Lahore.

    In his sitting room there are photographs of the various people he says he has cured. When I asked him about the evil djinns, he told me how all the evil ones he ever encountered were Hindu or Christian, never Muslim.

    This was interesting coming from a Christian spiritual healer. Perhaps his views were influenced by the broader socio-political environment that took into account the vulnerabilities of living as a Christian minority in a Muslim-dominated country.

    He told me that there were several Hindu djinns in Lahore, particularly close to the banks of the Ravi river, where before Partition, Hindus used to cremate their dead.

    According to him, because the dead were not buried following proper rituals, their spirits remained behind, haunting those who were alive.

    To counter these evil Hindu spirits, the spiritual healer has to purify himself through several religious rituals. In Samnabad, Lahore I interviewed Dr Zahid Shah Bokhari (name changed on his request), a professional doctor who also was once a spiritual healer.

    According to him, his family had been in the profession of warding off evil spirits for several generations. A person who wanted to harness these good spirits needed to remain in the state of wuzu (ritual ablution) all the time, I was told.

    The clothes of this person also needed to be clean at all hours. To combat the spirits one had to recite particular verses from the Quran.

    According to Dr Bokhari, there are some famous Hindu djinns in Lahore who have been haunting people for several centuries – Laxmi Devi, Parvati and Shero.

    Similarly there are also some famous Muslim djinns who have been combating these powerful forces for generations. The most famous of these, according to Dr Bokhari, is Yasir djinn.

    An extension of patriarchy

    This phenomena of imposing a particular framework and interpretation of history on the spiritual world extended to the temporal world.

    All the practitioners I interviewed confirmed how young girls were more likely to be, as they put it, “occupied” by these evil spirits, particularly those girls who left their hair open, wore too much make-up, left their homes in the night, or visited graveyards.

    Being occupied by the spirit has a sexual connotation, similar to how the harnessing of shakti in the Tantric tradition has sexual undertones.

    Thus, according to these practitioners, evil spirits become effective when the girls challenge the normative traditions of a patriarchal society.

    In these interpretations of the source, impact and vulnerability to black magic there are strong undertones of an ideal society – a deeply patriarchal and religiously monolithic one, with clear hierarchies within different religions.

    Therefore, it seems to me that the concept of black magic in Pakistan is imbued in the contextual political framework of the country, shaped by Partition and the separation from India.

    It goes on to show the long-lasting impact Partition has had on society and how it continues to capture the imagination of the people.

    The article was first published in Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.

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    Perhaps Sohni, the snow leopard who recently died at the Peshawar Zoo, had his fate sealed the day he was brought as a cub to Pakistan.

    The story that has now become a legend in the mountain resort of Nathia Gali is that Shahbaz Sharif’s eldest son, Hamza Sharif, was allegedly gifted a snow leopard cub from a source in Central Asia.

    Never mind that gifting a snow leopard was completely illegal since the Convention on the International Trade against Endangered Species, to which Pakistan is signatory, bans the trade of endangered animals or their body parts.

    The cub was reportedly well fed in the six months that he was kept in Doonga Gali. Shortly afterwards, in 2009, WWF-Pakistan learnt about the endangered animal being kept in illegal captivity and approached its owner, convincing him to hand the animal over to a local zoo without any publicity.

    Sohni was taken to the Lalazar Wildlife Park, having been claimed by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Wildlife Department, as Nathia Gali falls in KP.

    That was where I first met Sohni, in 2012. He was living in what was literally a birdcage for pheasants hurriedly readied for the snow leopard when he arrived.

    Sohni in a birdcage at Lalazar— Photo by the author
    Sohni in a birdcage at Lalazar— Photo by the author

    I wrote about it to raise the issue in the media. I contacted several NGOs, including WWF-Pakistan, who all told me that it was out of their hands and that they could only “advise” the KP government to build a proper enclosure for the animal.

    I met with the KP wildlife officials – they assured me that funding was in the pipeline and a better and bigger enclosure would be built soon. Later, the cage was widened.

    At the time, Sohni was the only snow leopard in captivity in Pakistan, and it broke my heart to see him being treated so badly.

    He would lie listlessly in the small woodshed covered with a corrugated iron sheet inside the birdcage, occasionally flipping his long tail to swat away flies.

    A WWF official working at the Ayubia National Park alleged that they were barely feeding him, although the wildlife department was making good money from all the visitors who were climbing up to Lalazar to see the magnificent big cat.

    In zoos abroad, snow leopards are often the star exhibit and a lot of money is spent on their enclosures, as in the Bronx Zoo in New York, where Leo, a Pakistani-born snow leopard is living in luxury.

    Of course, the Lalazar Wildlife Park cannot offer such comforts, but surely they could have done more. I found out later that a better enclosure that would have given Sohni some dignity had never been in the pipeline.

    After several years of delays and shuttling Sohni between Lalazar (which is covered deep in snow in winter) and a cage in Abbottabad, there came a mad-cap scheme to get him installed in the hurriedly-completed Peshawar Zoo, where he was eventually shifted to in December 2017.

    When the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf came to power in KP in 2013, I had lobbied them to do something for Sohni. Never in my dreams had I imagined that the solution they had in mind was for him to be exhibited at the hot and dusty Peshawar Zoo!

    They had assured me that they would consider the Chitral Gol National Park as a possible site for an enclosure. Indeed, a snow leopard cub found abandoned at the Khunjerab National Park in 2014 had successfully been shifted to a purpose-built enclosure in Naltar in Gilgit-Baltistan in 2016, designed with the help of the Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF)

    Ali Nawaz, the director of the SLF in Pakistan, had offered technical support in designing a similar enclosure of international standards for Sohni, but to no avail.

    Then came the idea of a zoo in Peshawar, to be completed by 2020. The plan was apparently fast tracked so that it could open well before the 2018 elections to gain political points.

    Related: Peshawar Zoo a death cell for animals

    Why was there even need for a zoo? Why not a sanctuary or a reserve where animals can roam freely? This is what Adil Zareef, founder of the Sarhad Conservation Network who protested against the zoo from day one, demands to know.

    Zareef informed me that there is no trained staff at the Peshawar Zoo and the visitors also mistreat the animals. There are no shady trees and hardly any vegetation at the zoo either. Poor Sohni was actually sent to his death in Peshawar.

    Muhammad Ali, the zoo's director, says that Sohni, 10 years-old, died of old age. He told me that snow leopards have a maximum age of 10-15 years and that the animals that live in captivity die earlier.

    He said to me that it is cool in Peshawar in March, that the heat was not the problem, and that Sohni was merely old and had a heart attack.

    I asked Shafqat Hussain, founder of the Project Snow Leopard (now incorporated into the Baltistan Widlife Conservation and Development Organisation, which recently won the prestigious Equator Prize), as to how long a snow leopard can survive in captivity.

    His answer: “Almost all wild animals live longer in captivity than in their natural habitats. It is not hard to imagine why: lack of competition, good food, no disease, etc.

    Snow leopards get to live anywhere between the ages of 18-22 in captivity. So yes, 10 years-old in the wild is old, but not necessarily in captivity.”

    It was Mahatama Gandhi who said that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” The way we treated Sohni says a lot about us.

    I hope that no other snow leopard has to suffer the same fate as Sohni; may they remain safe from us in the wilderness of Pakistan’s towering mountains.

    Are you an activist or researcher working on wildlife preservation? Share your expertise with us at

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    Pakistan is facing renewed international pressure to take action against the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Prior to this, for the first year of its administration, the Trump government focused single-mindedly on the Haqqani network.

    But it seems that Pakistan’s inaction on the LeT was an aggravating factor that led to US pressure on the Financial Action Task Force and its decision to grey-list Pakistan for financing terrorism.

    Though President Mamnoon Husain signed an ordinance freezing the assets of both LeT and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), as well as other UN-banned organisations in mid-February, the international community did not deem it strong enough action against the LeT.

    This also falls in line with Pakistan’s apparent pattern of making a move against the LeT when faced with pressure – but its actions tend to be purposefully marginal, and have always been reversible. The world notices.

    What Pakistanis think of the LeT

    In the middle of this all, it is worth understanding what ordinary Pakistanis think of the group. The data I analyse here is from the Pew Global Attitudes surveys conducted annually in Pakistan since 2002.

    Pew conducted face-to-face interviews with adults 18-years and older. In most years, approximately 1,200 individuals were surveyed.

    The interviews were in Urdu and regional languages, and the polls are nationally representative of 80 per cent to 90 per cent of the population; it excluded regions that were insecure (FATA, Gilgit-Baltistan, and areas where security was a severe concern in KP and Balochistan).

    Their sampling was disproportionately urban, but I weighted the results to account for Pakistan’s true urban/rural composition.

    This analysis, and my results, are explained in further detail in my new book, Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State.

    Pew polls show that Pakistanis are always more unfavourable than favourable towards terrorist groups, including those that strike Pakistan (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) as well as those that strike other nations (LeT and al-Qaeda).

    But their views towards LeT tend to be slightly more favourable than their views towards the TTP. For instance, according to the Pew Global Attitudes poll in Pakistan in 2015, 14 per cent of respondents reported favourable views of the LeT, relative to 9 per cent who reported favourable views towards the TTP.

    Pakistanis are also more uncertain about, and less unfavourable towards, the LeT than towards the TTP. 36 per cent reported unfavourable views of the LeT, while 49 per cent did not respond when asked about it.

    On the other hand, views towards the TTP are far more negative – and it makes sense given that the group has killed thousands of Pakistanis, so many women and children among them: 60 per cent were unfavourable towards the TTP, while 30 per cent did not respond.

    But the lack of certainty on the LeT and lower levels of unfavourability about the group are significant. The public’s narrative on the group is muddled.

    That is no surprise, given the view of it as a strategic asset by at least some in the state apparatus – and the conspicuous and deliberate silence maintained on the group more broadly by the state.

    The group has been allowed by the state to function as a socio-political entity, and allowed to rebrand under different fronts. Its propaganda is vast and accessible, and its charitable arm is successful and effective.

    What’s more, the Kashmir cause and LeT’s negativity on India resonate with the population – but it is important to note that the LeT propaganda is not anti-India alone. It is anti-West and anti-Israel as well.

    Though civilian politicians are starting to speak out on the issue — as Khwaja Asif did in the US last fall — it has not brought much in the way of clarity to the ordinary Pakistani.

    Charity and propaganda

    The LeT's charitable wing and front, the JuD, runs schools and ambulances and organises emergency relief. According to a paper published by the New America Foundation, by 2009, the JuD had the second-largest ambulance fleet in Pakistan.

    After the devastating October 2005 earthquake and also after the 2010 floods, the JuD was at the forefront in providing relief, reaching those the state did not.

    A Washington Post report from the time refers to a man who received medical help from the JuD after the 2005 earthquake, saying he “did not know whether the group was involved in violence, nor did he care.”

    What mattered to him was that “every 10 minutes a doctor or medical attendant comes in to check on me. I have a very high opinion about this organisation.”

    LeT’s propaganda is widely available. And the assortment of propaganda magazines produced by the group — with separate publications for the youth, women, and a general audience — cover not only its anti-India and anti-West rhetoric, but also advises its readers on how to live a pious life and how to raise children.

    Its ties with mainstream Islamists also helps normalise the group. Its leader Hafiz Saeed was a former member of the Jamaat-i-Islami.

    Together with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s Sami-ul-Haq and Jamaat-i-Islami’s Siraj-ul-Haq, he heads the Difa-e-Pakistan Council which was formed after the NATO attack of 2011, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at the Salala checkpoint and caused widespread anger in the country. That association lends him, and the LeT and the JuD, legitimacy.

    How does education and income impact attitudes towards LeT?

    All this helps explain how Pakistanis’ attitudes on the LeT change with education and income. I found that education, even university education, does not reduce favourability for the group. Let’s unpack that.

    On net, for the LeT (as with other terror groups), I did find that net unfavourability — the percentage with unfavourable views minus the percentage with favourable views — rises unambiguously with education, as does the certainty of responses — so on net, education “improves” views.

    But looking at favourability alone, I found that high school respondents are slightly more favourable towards the Afghan Taliban (AT), the TTP, and the LeT than are students with less education – something that I argue can be attributed to Pakistan’s problematic high school curricula.

    For the AT and the TTP, favourability fell again for education beyond high school, suggesting that for attitudes towards these groups, university education counters the effect of biased high school curricula.

    But favourable views for the LeT don’t reverse with university education. Hafiz Saeed’s own respectable educational credentials — that he was a professor at the University of Engineering and Technology — likely affect views.

    Similarly, the pattern with income is different for attitudes towards the LeT than it is with other terror groups. I found that Pew respondents with higher incomes have more certain and more unfavourable views towards all terrorist groups — except for the LeT. Higher earners were no more likely to have unfavourable views towards LeT than those earning less.

    With age, the trend is disturbing for all terror groups, including the LeT. My analysis shows that younger people have more favourable opinions of the LeT, and are more sure of their opinions, than older people. I saw the same patterns for the TTP.

    Pakistan’s younger population appears more likely to sympathise with all extremist groups, reflecting an increasing tolerance of extremism on multiple dimensions in the younger generation.

    By province, views towards the LeT behave as they do for other terrorist groups. I found that respondents from Punjab are the most favourable, and the least unfavourable, towards the LeT, the TTP, al Qaeda, and the Afghan Taliban, while respondents from Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have the least favourable views towards these groups.

    Taken together, the evidence suggests that the Pakistani state’s ambivalence on the LeT and the group’s success at disseminating its message has seeped through to the population – attitudes towards the LeT are less negative, and respond differently to education and income than they do for other terror groups.

    These patterns matter: LeT’s ideology overlaps with that of other terrorist groups that strike Pakistan itself. If the Pakistani state is to properly take on the LeT, it will need to make a concerted effort to change its citizens’ perceptions of it as well.

    Are you a researcher working on social attitudes in Pakistan? Share your insights with us at

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    The crowd at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore is at its feet, their hearts beating in a single, unified rhythm, and their eyes locked at the scenes unfolding before them.

    Only two people in the world matter right now — Anwar Ali, whose job is to swing the bat hard enough to secure three runs, and Liam Dawson, who is doing everything in his power to eliminate that possibility.

    Dawson takes his run-up and Anwar tightens his grip.

    There's a roar, it's deafening.

    It's a full toss.

    Anwar comes down the track and strikes it over mid-on, aiming for a six.

    Is it a six? Is it a four?

    Is that a fielder!?

    Oh, he has put it down. Oh lord, that's been dropped!

    He throws it back to Dawson who is standing beside the stumps.

    Wait, where's the non-striker?

    What the hell is happening!?

    Quetta have messed it up. Dawson knocks off the bails.

    That's out. That's out now.

    The most celebrated stage of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) is its much-awaited homecoming, and this year was no different.

    Glowing under a cloudy Lahore sky, the Gaddafi Stadium played host to two eliminators on 20th and 21st March, 2018.

    The arena, which was packed to almost full capacity on both nights, was buzzing with the sights and sounds of the third edition of the PSL.

    Scattered showers on both days hampered the proceedings: the first eliminator faced a momentary pause in the first over to allow the drizzle to pass, and Wednesday's game was reduced to 16 overs per side.

    Yellow remained the dominant colour, but support for all teams and players was evident in the unanimous, blaring cheers of the crowd.

    Here's how it went down.

    Peshawar Zalmi set the field afire on both occasions as they cemented their spot in the final by knocking out Quetta Gladiators and Karachi Kings.

    It was a case of another almost for Quetta Gladiators as they lost by a single run in a last-over thriller against Zalmi. Their key players Kevin Pietersen and Shane Watson refused to come play in Lahore, which, in retrospect, did not hurt Quetta as much as was anticipated.

    Chasing Zalmi's 157, Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Nawaz partnered up for 63 runs and it looked like Quetta would comfortably reach the target, till both batsmen fell prey to Sameen Gul in two consecutive deliveries.

    Thereon, the balance was shaken, till Anwar Ali's cameo of 28 (14) took the match to a riveting climax. The rest is history.

    The second eliminator on Wednesday proved to be a one-sided affair for the most part. The Kings were missing their star player Shahid Afridi and captain Imad Wasim, who were both unfit to play. Mohammad Amir held the reigns as Kings bowled first in a rain-affected game.

    There was little Karachi Kings could do to compensate for the damage Kamran Akmal's ferocious innings of 77 (27) had caused.

    Chasing a staggering 171 in 16 overs, Karachi's Joe Denly and Babar Azam worked up a partnership of 117, which did little to help their predicament as the required run-rate necessitated big-hitting from one end.

    Despite facing five fast-bowlers and batting in a high-pressure chase, Karachi Kings finished with a run-rate of just under 10.

    It became clear by the last few overs that Ingram should have been sent up the order, though perhaps this was meant to be a learning curve for Mohammad Amir.

    The man at the helm for Zalmi, an injured Daren Sammy, led his team like a wounded tiger. Despite sustaining a muscular injury in the leg and walking with a limp, he demonstrated the kind of leadership and loyalty that few others have given to a franchise.

    Daren Julius Sammy is a brand, a force, a storm. Over the years, his stint with Peshawar Zalmi has earned him enormous love and respect from all parts of Pakistan.

    His dauntless captaincy saw Zalmi lift the trophy last season, and this year he is one game away from becoming the most successful PSL captain.

    On the field, his presence gels together the entire unit, and off it he is a strong motivator for his men.

    One of his comrades is the in-form Kamran Akmal, whose unreal knock against Karachi resembled the kind of cricket that is played on video-game console. He middled the ball with perfect timing and brutally exposed Karachi's poor-length bowling.

    Akmal's home crowd enjoyed every bit of his explosive innings (8 sixes and 5 fours), a delicious cocktail of pull shots and classic cuts. He struck the fastest PSL 50 off just 17 balls, punishing anything short of length over the ropes.

    There was little doubt about Kamran Akmal's pivotal role in the Zalmi line-up, but with this last innings he has really knocked hard at the national door.

    Continuing his brilliant form from last season, he once again sits at the top of the run-scorers list with 424 this season, along with the most number of sixes (28).

    The lights are out at the Gaddafi Stadium and the PSL moves to Karachi for the final showdown.

    It is now between the inaugural champions and the defending champions to contend for their second PSL title as Pakistan's largest city gears up to host its first high-profile cricket game in nine years.

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    It was a chilly February morning in 2012 when I first stepped beyond Pakistan’s gate at the Wagah border. My companions walked across, entering Indian territory, but I stopped for a moment, standing in ‘no man’s land,’ a stretch of land that belongs to neither Pakistan nor India.

    Pakistan’s flag and Jinnah’s portrait were on one end. The saffron, green and white of the Indian flag and a portrait of Gandhi were on the other end.

    Standing in the middle was one of the most surreal experiences I have had. Neither here nor there. Neither at home nor in what is perceived as ‘enemy territory.’

    Since then, I have crossed the Wagah border a couple of times. It is always a ceremonious yet divisive feeling. There is a clear sense of what is being left behind and what is ahead.

    The flags, the gates, the guards, the Sikh turbans, the shalwar kameez, are all symbolic of what is ‘us’ and what is the ‘other.’

    Whenever I thought of a border, it was these images that conjured up in my mind. I imagined all Pakistan-India borders to be as divisive, as ceremonious, and as militaristic as the Wagah border.

    Related: A train ride to India in better times

    But in the months and years that followed, I would come to experience — and imagine — borders far differently.

    The first time the image of a border was deconstructed for me was during a visit to Kasur in the summer of 2012.

    I was there to conduct an interview with a Muslim man who had migrated from Amritsar in pursuit of his love of a Sikh woman who was settled in Kasur.

    1947 would, however, uproot her from Kasur and their love story would be left ruptured and unfinished, as many Partition stories were.

    Since the border was relatively porous until the 1965 war, he would continue to cross over (to what was now Indian territory) to locate his love.

    His efforts were futile but he decided to remain in her pre-Partition village in Kasur to keep her memory alive. It serves as a testament of his love.

    It was while I was trying to locate him that another family opened their doors to us, hosting my companions and me with drinks and eateries.

    After we chatted for a while, they offered to take us to the ‘border.’ Instantly, I imagined guards and gates, rigid boundaries and barriers. Instead, I was greeted with a row of plants that were meant to serve as the border.

    A small white milestone indicated where the Pakistani territory ended and the Indian territory began, but I wouldn’t have spotted it if our hosts hadn’t pointed it out. I was startled by how easy it would have been for me to cross over.

    Our hosts told us that people often do, especially their guests who are not familiar with the region. So do their animals, who are unable to grasp the geographical realities. Though they were not easily visible, security officials on both sides kept a lookout for such trespassing.

    Animals are frequently returned but I imagine that people meet different fates, languishing in jails on the wrong side of the border for the accidental crossing over.

    It is also at such borders that Indians and Pakistanis come into close contact every day. As farmers work in the fields by the border, the ‘other’ isn’t an exotic enemy, but in a way a part of their everyday lives (though they are prohibited from speaking or interacting with each other. Glances may be permitted).

    In fact, the division at such villages has been so arbitrary that during the 1965 war, when the Pakistan Army took over some Indian property, Ashiq’s (one of our hosts) maternal village had become a part of Pakistan and he had narrated stories of walking around, drinking water and resting in his ancestral village.

    During other time periods and in different parts of Pakistan, India and Kashmir, wars have redrawn temporary or permanent boundaries, leaving those by the border in constant uncertainty.

    Remarkably, it was during this visit that Ashiq also told me of a mela that took place at this border, at a mazaar located on the line of division.

    Indians and Pakistanis came together in Sahwan (a month in a local calendar, usually in July, depending on the weather) to pay their respects under the watchful eyes of the Rangers.

    It was here that Ashiq's father was able to meet his relatives whom he had been separated from at Partition.

    Read next: How women in Kashmir's Neelum Valley ensured ceasefire at the LoC

    Over time, I would find several other such stories, of people uniting at the border that was meant to divide.

    In Kashmir, the Line of Control (LoC), is ironically also a point of reunification for families. The Neelum River, which serves as the LoC in various parts of Kashmir, shrinks in the winter months.

    After the 2003 ceasefire, when cross-LoC firing reduced considerably (only to be heightened again overtime), divided families would gather by the river to catch a glimpse of each other, to yell across and share fragments of their lives over the water that separated them.

    A refugee from the Indian-held Kashmir that I had interviewed in Azad Jammu and Kashmir told me of how he met his mother by the river after about a decade of being apart.

    "We all came together at Keran [a village by the LoC]. My mother and sisters were on the other side while my brothers and I were on this side.

    "My mother became so emotional seeing her sons that she tried to jump in the river to come to us. I was trying to jump in too.

    "But people were holding us back…I remember we stayed there all day…everybody was crying. One boy actually dived in. He couldn’t bear being separated from his mother in makbooza [occupied] Kashmir.

    "The Indian army caught him. We don’t know what happened to him after that…"

    Though social media and other forms of communication have slowly replaced these interactions, for some time the river was the only point of reunification for families like the refugee I spoke to.

    It was at their point of division that they could come together. The border/LoC then stood to unite — for fleeting moments at least — the very people it had divided.

    In Kashmir, and in India and Pakistan, the Partition and its aftermath pushed people out of the their homes and into alien territory.

    Many times, people just hopped from one village to another, with their old home in close proximity to their new home.

    From where they live, they can at times still see their past as a constant reminder of who they were and who they became as Partition survivors.

    Just like their past and present, the borders here — unlike at Wagah — are blurry watery lines of what is home and what is enemy.

    Did your family migrate due to Partition? Share your stories with us at

    An aerial view of Tau Butt and the Neelum River, which serves as the LoC in various parts of Kashmir.An aerial view of Tau Butt and the Neelum River, which serves as the LoC in various parts of Kashmir.

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    The curtains fell on the third edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) with a spectacular final in front of a capacity crowd at the National Stadium in Karachi last Sunday.

    As the month-long tournament — contested by six teams with games played in Dubai, Sharjah, Lahore and Karachi — comes to a close, let's look at how each team fared.

    Lahore Qalandars (Team grade: F)

    What can be said about the Qalandars that hasn't already been said. The Lahore-based franchise, for the third straight year, was a mess. Messier, in fact.

    After finishing at the bottom of the table in the inaugural tournament, the Qalandars had shown some improvement in their second season — although they finished last that year as well.

    It was expected of them to build on that this time around but it didn't happen. The Qalandars regressed. So much so that they lost all six of their opening matches.

    They did win three of their final four matches and briefly threatened to not finish last but those wins were mere consolations and came too little too late.

    The Qalandars were a disappointment through and through. —PSL
    The Qalandars were a disappointment through and through. —PSL

    Their main problem was not having a middle-order batsman who could just stay at the crease, not lose his head, and keep the scoreboard ticking. Think of a Babar Azam type.

    T20 is about hitting the ball out of the park as often as possible but it is also about maintaining a level of calm and not panicking every time a few wickets fall.

    Sadly, the Qalandars did not have a single player cut out for that role. They chopped, they changed, they tried everything but nothing worked.

    It's highly unlikely they will retain captain Brendon McCullum, for they need to go back to the drawing board and reboot.

    Multan Sultans (Team grade: C)

    The league's newest franchise played safe during player recruitment, stockpiling veterans rather than youth. And their strategy reflected in the kind of debut season they had.

    The Sultans started off brilliantly, winning four of their opening six games before their challenge fizzled out. Halfway through their campaign, the same experience that was considered their strength turned into a weakness.

    Shoaib Malik's side made an impressive start but eventually tailed off. —PCB
    Shoaib Malik's side made an impressive start but eventually tailed off. —PCB

    A side chock-full of 30-something veterans and devoid of any notable young blood had fatigued. They lost each of their last four league games, eventually settling for second-last in the league standings.

    The Sultans' campaign wasn't a complete failure but they must learn that T20, unlike the other two formats of the game, is more about raw talent rather than technique. Next time, they recruit, they must take risks and accommodate a few youngsters as well rather than opting for safe options with known ceilings.

    Quetta Gladiators (Team grade: B)

    Like the Qalandars, the Gladiators too were plagued by the same problems. They were impressive during the league stage but what's new there.

    They always do well in the games held in the UAE. It's the Pakistan leg where their inability to convince their foreign talent to travel leaves them exposed.

    So, like the year before, the Gladiators were without Kevin Pietersen, Shane Watson and several others as the PSL 2018 moved to Pakistan for final two play-off matches and the final.

    Quetta's two main foreign players refused to play the Pakistan legs.
    Quetta's two main foreign players refused to play the Pakistan legs.

    On paper and with their international stars, the Gladiators were clearly the better side than Peshawar Zalmi. Even without key players, they lost to Zalmi by just one run.

    Had they had the players who had no qualms in travelling to Pakistan, it would almost certainly have been the Gladiators playing Islamabad United in the final. This team had all the talent and grit but no luck.

    Karachi Kings (Team grade: B)

    The Kings were the team to beat at the start of this year's PSL, winning three straight matches and soaring to the top of the table.

    They eventually finished the league stage in second spot before being knocked out by Zalmi in the second eliminator.

    Imad Wasim's men were unable to make it to the final being held in their home city.
    Imad Wasim's men were unable to make it to the final being held in their home city.

    They were unlucky with ill-timed injuries to their captain Imad Wasim and star man Shahid Afridi, and their stand-in captain Mohammad Amir perhaps didn't have the experience to make the right calls during that high-pressure chase.

    With the final held in the City of Lights, Kings' fans would have loved to see their home team play at the National Stadium. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

    The Kings, disappointing in the first two PSLs, were much better this time around but were found wanting during the play-offs, losing both their games.

    A bit more composure in crucial games will help them take that final leap next year.

    Peshawar Zalmi (Team grade: A)

    The 2017 champions were clearly not themselves in the 2018 campaign. They lost Shahid Afridi to Karachi Kings during off-season and were troubled by injuries to star players when the tournament began.

    Yet, they managed to drag themselves to the final — a testament to their luck and big-game nous.

    Darren Sammy led his team valiantly as ever. —AFP
    Darren Sammy led his team valiantly as ever. —AFP

    However, had things not gone in their way, Zalmi could easily not have even qualified for the play-offs, let alone make the final.

    Deep into the league stage, they were second-last in the standings and better only than the horrible Qalandars.

    Had they not won their last two league matches, there was a genuine possibility that they, and not Lahore, could've finished last.

    But their problems stemmed from injuries, which cannot be prevented. Even then, they made it to the finals and could've won the tourney had Kamran Akmal not pulled a classic Kamran Akmal.

    In all, this was a decent campaign. Zalmi should still be proud of themselves.

    Islamabad United (Team grade: A+)

    The champions. Correction: two-time champions.

    Islamabad United have become a benchmark and an example to follow for their PSL rivals. They're an incredibly well-run franchise that goes about its business and has quickly developed a tradition of winning, just like so many other sports franchises with United as their moniker have around the world.

    They managed a perfect mixture of experience and youth, with the likes of Mohammad Sami, JP Duminy, Faheem Ashraf and Asif Ali.

    They barely had a tale, thanks to a long list of all-rounders they had in their ranks. They also boasted the tournament's hottest batsman: Luke Ronchi.

    Shadab Khan celebrates with teammates after taking Darren Sammy's wicket. —AFP
    Shadab Khan celebrates with teammates after taking Darren Sammy's wicket. —AFP

    United were so strong, even injuries to their captain and vice-captain couldn't derail their campaign. They were a little slow off the blocks — two of their three defeats came in their opening three matches — but once they were warmed up, they steamrolled every team that came in their way.

    Barring a defeat in a dead-rubber to Karachi when they rested several key players, United won eight of their last nine matches. They were by far the best side in the competition and completely deserved their second title.

    Pakistan Super League 2018 (Grade: A++)

    The third edition of the tournament was thrice the fun. With the addition of a sixth team, the competition was tougher and entertainment was aplenty.

    While the PSL 2018 did not see a 200-run game, it had more cliffhangers, super overs and nail-biters than we've seen any cricket league produce in recent times.

    Karachi came out in full force to witness and celebrate the return of cricket to the city. —AFP
    Karachi came out in full force to witness and celebrate the return of cricket to the city. —AFP

    One cause of concern for the organisers could be the low attendances at the stadia in Dubai and Sharjah, but with the tournament planned to be phased out of the UAE and moved entirely to Pakistan in the next few years, that one blip will go away too.

    All in all, the PSL 2018 exceeded the fans' expectations and we cannot wait for it to come back next year.

    Did you attend the PSL final in Karachi? Share your experiences with us at

    Shadab Khan (2L) of Islamabad United celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Darren Sammy of Peshawar Zalmi during the Pakistan Super League final match between Peshawar Zalmi vs Islamabad United at the National Cricket Stadium in Karachi on March 25, 2018.Shadab Khan (2L) of Islamabad United celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Darren Sammy of Peshawar Zalmi during the Pakistan Super League final match between Peshawar Zalmi vs Islamabad United at the National Cricket Stadium in Karachi on March 25, 2018.

    Thousands of security personnel are being deployed as Karachi hosts the final of the Pakistan Super League, its biggest cricket match in nine years, after a spate of attacks drove away foreign teams. / AFP PHOTO / ASIF HASSAN — AFP or licensorsThousands of security personnel are being deployed as Karachi hosts the final of the Pakistan Super League, its biggest cricket match in nine years, after a spate of attacks drove away foreign teams. / AFP PHOTO / ASIF HASSAN — AFP or licensors

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    The American West with its wilderness, vastness and pristine beauty has always attracted the trekker and hiker in me.

    Those mountains, hills, deserts, canyons, lakes and rivers present an open invitation and challenge for all those who like nature in its purest form.

    Every summer, while growing up in Pakistan, I felt an insistent drive to go to the mountains — I considered these to be the best days of the year.

    A decade later, a visit to Yellowstone and other national parks in the western United States sparked the same energy and enthusiasm in me.

    I planned to take a road trip of about 10 days exploring as many national parks as possible.

    As always, being a Pakistani citizen, I was anxious about going through the security clearance before boarding the plane at the airport. However, the flight to Salt Lake City was uneventful.

    I was all prepared for travelling for a few days. I knew it would be long, physically tiring and challenging at times, but the idea of a relaxed vacation is not for me.

    Morning graze. —Hassan Majeed
    Morning graze. —Hassan Majeed

    The journey began the next day with a short tour of Salt Lake City. Then I started north towards Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

    My lungs really appreciated the cool and clear air of the mountains. It took a few more hours to get to Jackson Hole.

    As soon as I entered the city, we saw a moose grazing in the bushes. There was even a ‘moose stop’ on the traffic signs.

    I finally reached the house of friends in nearby Wilson, an upscale and well-maintained gated community with a golf course and indoor tennis courts.

    Dick Cheney, the former US vice president, also owns a house in the community.

    The house was simple but elegant with high ceilings and glass windows on two sides of the house, giving a spectacular view of the Teton Mountains.

    Seated in this serene location, surrounded by wilderness, a stream running through the yard, I felt connected with nature.

    The interior of the house was filled with French Impressionist-style paintings and other works of art including sculpture and glass.

    Old Faithful smoldering. —Hassan Majeed
    Old Faithful smoldering. —Hassan Majeed

    The next day started with a boat tour of Jenny Lake and then a 1.5-mile steep hike in the mountains. The trail reminded me of my trekking and mountaineering in Pakistan.

    Many times when our host referred to the Grand Tetons as “mountains,” I wanted to correct him; in Pakistan these would be considered foothills.

    I had the same reaction on the trail. I saw hikers loaded with stuffed backpacks, a Swiss Army knife on the side, a flashlight in another pocket, two bottles of water, a bear repellent spray, hiking sticks and many other small gadgets and smartphones just to hike a trail of 1.5 miles.

    A couple of women had even guns hanging at their sides.

    Consumerism and capitalism really drove these tourists to prepare for every possible thing that might happen on the trail.

    In Pakistan, we carried less than this to walk for days in terrain that was many times more difficult and posed very serious challenges.

    It seemed excessive to see people loaded with stuff to walk an hour. But the view of the lake from the top of the hill was spectacular and worth the climb.

    That night we ate around a bonfire in the backyard at the edge of the creek. While we were eating dinner, a deer and her young fawn came close.

    They looked a little confused at what these humans were doing in “their” place.

    For dessert, I had the most delicious raspberries that I’d ever tasted. They came fresh from bushes in the front garden from which I picked more the next morning.

    Geothermal phenomenon. —Hassan Majeed
    Geothermal phenomenon. —Hassan Majeed

    The next day we started our hike at the Laurence Rockefeller Conservation Area and walked for a mile and a half along the river to Phelps Lake.

    Later, I spent the afternoon in art galleries and stores in Jackson Hole. Most of the art was about the American West and was overpriced.

    I did not find it exciting except for a miniature truck that was painted and decorated like a typical Pakistan truck.

    The famous antler arches in the main city square attracted many tourists. We also visited a local art show and enjoyed some wood and glasswork and photographs.

    In the evening, we took a gondola to the top of the hill at Teton Village, where we also had dinner. From 9,500 feet, the valley looked beautiful.

    The air was cold and it was chilly on top of the hill. In winter, these slopes are used for skiing and the valley for cross-country skiing.

    There were many bushes with colourful wildflowers. The valley was wide open below with a river flowing in the middle, inviting visitors to explore it.

    Wild flowers blooming. —Hassan Majeed
    Wild flowers blooming. —Hassan Majeed

    I was very excited the next morning about going to the Yellowstone Park, the oldest and most admired national park in the US.

    Before entering the park, we drove through areas where wildfires had burned thousands of acres of land.

    Our first major stop was Old Faithful Inn, a gigantic structure made mostly of wood and some stone, a true work of art located right next to the famous Old Faithful geyser.

    As expected, the Old Faith erupted on time. Thousands of people circle around it to observe the eruption that sends water and steam more than a hundred feet into the air. There were a few Indian and Pakistani families as well, some of whom I talked to.

    The next stop was the Grand Prismatic Spring, another place of geothermal and biological activity, with different bacteria giving its water turquoise, blue, orange, yellow, green and other shades of colour.

    Geothermal activity at Grand Prismatic Spring. —Hassan Majeed
    Geothermal activity at Grand Prismatic Spring. —Hassan Majeed
    —Hassan Majeed
    —Hassan Majeed
    Jenny Lake from above. —Hassan Majeed
    Jenny Lake from above. —Hassan Majeed

    After making short stops at several small geothermal ponds, we drove to Hayden Valley where bison sighting was expected.

    Sure enough, dozens of bison appeared close to the road. I found a perfect parking place and got out of the car in excitement.

    To my surprise, the herd started to walk directly towards us and soon they were only a few feet away.

    One of the calves started to scratch its neck against my car. Soon a papa bison came and stood next to the car.

    The bison was so huge that my rental car (a Toyota Corolla) seemed small next to him. I was sure if he got his horns under the car, he could turn it over easily.

    When bison come to the road, they take their time to move across, causing mile-long traffic jams.

    At a pullover spot, with guidance from fellow tourists and with the help of binoculars, I was able to see a grizzly bear sitting next to an elk on the bank of a stream.

    After that excitement, I drove towards the inside-the-park hotel to spend the night. There are very few lodges inside the park and the accommodations are limited.

    On the way to the hotel, all of a sudden, a small grizzly walked in front of the car. He crossed the road and then disappeared into the woods.

    It a highlight of my day. He was only a few metres away yet I felt safe inside the car.

    Baby bison scratching its neck. —Hassan Majeed
    Baby bison scratching its neck. —Hassan Majeed

    The next morning, we drove over the state line and had breakfast in Montana. The next stop was Lamar Valley, where there were hundreds, if not thousands, of bison.

    I was also able to spot a few antelopes and other animals from the deer family. Someone spotted a wolf eating the carcass of a bison, but I missed it. Later in the day, I saw another big black bear and spotted other wildlife.

    There are several waterfalls all along the park. We walked almost a mile to see the gigantic ‘upper falls.’ There was a huge rainbow across the valley over the falls.

    Over the years, I have noticed that every South Asian resident or tourist in North America wants to visit the Niagara Falls.

    Here I was more excited about the geothermal activity and seeing animals like bison, bears and antelopes.

    These are things you can only experience in Yellowstone; falls and trails you can see in other places too.

    Upper Falls with a rainbow. —Hassan Majeed
    Upper Falls with a rainbow. —Hassan Majeed

    I spent the night in Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone Park. I was able to experience a wood stove for heating for the first time; it kept the room warm for a few hours.

    But around 4am the room felt ice-cold even under the layers of blankets covering the beds.

    I got up and threw some chips into the stove and started the fire again. Soon after the room became cozy.

    Maybe it was the sight of fire or the smell of wood or smoke, but it had a calming effect.

    The scenery of the mountains was beautiful, but I started to sense some disappointment building inside me.

    For me, mountains present the challenge of hiking, not seeing them from a distance. Because of park restrictions, there were only a few areas you could explore on foot.

    This was not my idea of visiting mountains. I knew it was time to move on and explore the deserts of southern Utah.

    Native American petroglyphs. —Hassan Majeed
    Native American petroglyphs. —Hassan Majeed

    Fortunately, in planning the trip I had left room for the unexpected. I am very happy I did, for it allowed an unforeseen turn of events that sent us on a new adventure.

    We took the western exit of the park and entered Idaho. Soon the land became flat with miles of wheat and potato crop fields.

    The scenery was very different from Yellowstone, yet both were magnificent and beautiful in their own way.

    After two days — and several stops — I finally arrived in Bryce Canyon, in southern Utah. It is an impressive configuration of many rock towers standing next to each other in the desert.

    We took a two-mile hike, going down to the base of the canyon from which the upward view of these amazing naturally carved stone towers was spectacular.

    It is amazing how nature has carved stones into these towers. It took centuries for the wind to carve these delicate sculptures. I have not visited anything parallel to these canyons in Pakistan.

    On one side of the valley, the wind and erosion have done some impressive work carving tall caves reminding me of the caves of Bamiyan in Afghanistan.

    The Toadstools in Escalante National Monument. —Hassan Majeed
    The Toadstools in Escalante National Monument. —Hassan Majeed

    After Bryce, I headed to Waves Canyon, taking a wrong turn and spotting a wolf, the best experience of the day.

    I spent the night in a Spanish villa-styled bed and breakfast in Kenab, Utah. The place was peaceful and serene.

    I visited art galleries and local handicraft stores and indulged in freshly made ice cream at a food parlour.

    Next door was a gallery where the owner and artist were present. They provided information about some interesting local destinations that were not listed on tourist websites or in brochures. Locals wanted to keep certain things a secret to avoid the tourist crowd.

    Mud towers in Bryce National Park. —Hassan Majeed
    Mud towers in Bryce National Park. —Hassan Majeed

    This was very useful information and we visited several sites the next day. The walk to Toadstools, a group of balanced rock formations in Escalante National Monument, started in a dry riverbed very close to different layers of red, brown, black, white and mixed-coloured rocks.

    There were no tourists in the area and the internet did not provide information about it.

    The trail ends on a beautiful plateau on which there were many small rock formations shaped like mushrooms.

    It was a beautiful sight, but it was not possible to stay very long due to the scorching heat. I enjoyed the walk as it was the first time I was so close to nature without crowds of tourists.

    These caves in Bryce Canyon reminded me of Bamiyan. —Hassan Majeed
    These caves in Bryce Canyon reminded me of Bamiyan. —Hassan Majeed

    After driving for an hour, we entered Arizona for the next stop at Horseshoe Bend Canyon. The Colorado River was a few hundred feet down in the canyon, following a course shaped almost like a circle.

    There were no fences at the edge of the canyon’s vertical drop, and I was amazed how many tourists were standing or sitting close to the edge to get a perfect picture, just a few inches away from certain death in case of a slip.

    We drove on through Bear Ears, past several lakes and valleys, on the way to Monument Valley, a symbol of the American wilderness.

    I have seen it in countless movies and advertisements. A few red flat-top or tower-like rocks standing in a flat valley, it has always fascinated me.

    Monument Valley. —Hassan Majeed
    Monument Valley. —Hassan Majeed

    Moab is a cool little town that serves as a gateway to Arches National Park. It has a fine independent bookstore, local handmade craft shops, and many other boutique stores.

    There was also an advertisement for an upcoming music festival. The galleries sell stunningly beautiful photographs of different landscapes of the American West.

    We started hiking to visit the world-famous Delicate Arch early in the morning before the temperature got high. It was a good decision. The 1.6-mile hike was all uphill with some steep parts at the edge of the rocks.

    I walked through the contrast of dusty soil and soft red clay in the middle of the sandstone rocks. Delicate Arch is a stand-alone structure, probably five stories high on top of a rock which has one flat side. The other side looks like the edge of a circular trench.

    A lone standing rock in Arches National Park. —Hassan Majeed
    A lone standing rock in Arches National Park. —Hassan Majeed

    Stepping just a few feet in the wrong direction can land you in a valley hundreds of feet below. I walked very carefully to the centre of the arch, and sat down in the shade of the petrified sand dunes to rest and enjoy the beauty of the arch.

    Here I caught the first glimpse of a hawk on this tour. It was exciting to be part of the beauty, feeling powerful and significant as a human being, but insignificant and small in the larger picture.

    Years ago I had seen this arch from a distance. This time I was able to climb right up to it. The sandstone structure seemed a beautiful piece of art; I was stunned by its beauty.

    Soon the temperature soared up to 41 C; I believe it was the highest temperature I experienced in the US.

    Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River. —Hassan Majeed
    Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River. —Hassan Majeed

    The next and last stop was Salt Lake City. We visited the Mormon Temple Square and walked near the Tabernacle and into the Old Temple, all majestic and opulent.

    At the end of the trip I felt tired, physically exhausted and worn out, but my heart was happy and my mind had stored many images of fascinating scenery and exciting experiences.

    It was the right way to spend my vacation as a fond reminder of those wonderful summers in the mountains of Pakistan.

    Have you ever explored well-known or off-the-beaten tracks around the world? Share your adventures with us at

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    The reaction to the assassination was not what Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev had anticipated. On December 17, 1927 the three freedom fighters shot dead JP Saunders, assistant superintendent of police outside the Superintendent’s Office in Lahore.

    The act, originally intended for Superintendent of Police James Scott, was meant to avenge the death of freedom fighter and Congress leader Lala Lajpat Rai.

    Rai had died exactly a month ago, a few days after he was thrashed by the colonial police led by Scott outside the Lahore Railway Station, where he was protesting against the Simon Commission.

    The British had set up the commission to report on the progress of constitutional reforms in India, but it was criticised for not including a single Indian member.

    Rai had been a mentor to Bhagat Singh. He was a former ally of Ajit Singh, Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary uncle and role model.

    The young leader had also studied at Lahore’s National College, which Rai had established, and had imbibed revolutionary literature at the Dwarka Das Library that Rai had set up in the city.

    A matter of principle

    A committed communist, Bhagat Singh had ideological differences with Rai, who was regarded as a Hindu communalist.

    Besides being a member of the Congress, Rai was also part of the Arya Samaj, an organisation that had played an important role in the communalisation of national identity in India.

    However, despite his differences with Rai, Bhagat Singh and his comrades felt it was essential to avenge the death of one of the leading politicians of the country.

    Rai was a former president of the Congress and he, along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal – known as the Lal-Bal-Pal trio – had been responsible for adding fervour to the Indian national struggle.

    For Bhagat Singh, Rai’s death was a blow to the honour of the people of India.

    However, when the honour was avenged with the death of Saunders, it failed to inspire the revolutionary reaction Bhagat Singh had anticipated.

    Many prominent leaders and politicians distanced themselves from what was described as a “terrorist” act, while numbers at the regular meetings of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, the parent organisation of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, also dwindled.

    Even The People, a weekly newspaper Rai had founded in Lahore, called the assassination a desperate action.

    Bhagat Singh and his comrades reasoned that a more courageous act was required to inspire the revolutionary spirit of the people – an act that would “Make the deaf hear.”

    Thus it was decided that a bomb would be thrown in the Legislative Assembly in Delhi, making sure no one was harmed in the process. But Bhagat Singh realised that even that might not achieve their objective.

    He then suggested that the bombers court arrest thereafter. He argued that they would use their trial to educate the people about their revolutionary ideas, thus setting up the conditions for an eventual communist revolution in the country.

    However, the country’s leading politicians also condemned the bombing in the Legislative Assembly, much like they did with Saunders’ assassination.

    Gandhi equated the bombing with the murder of the Hindu publisher Rajpal in Lahore for publishing a controversial pamphlet on the Prophet of Islam.

    Motilal Nehru declared that the choice for the people of India lay between Gandhi (the adherent of non-violence) and “Balraj”, a pseudonym used by Bhagat Singh for the assassination.

    At this stage the young revolutionary leader was far from the hero he was to become shortly after.

    Bhagat Singh’s popularity

    The situation began to change dramatically during the record-breaking hunger strike that Bhagat Singh and his comrades undertook in jail to protest against the deplorable conditions there.

    Overnight, the public sentiment changed in their favour. Meetings arranged by the Naujawan Bharat Sabha and other organisations sympathetic to Bhagat Singh’s agenda began attracting thousands of people.

    The zeal increased even further following the death of their comrade Jatin Das, who lost his life on the 63rd day of the hunger strike due to the damage to his lungs after being force-fed.

    The hunger strike touched the conscience of the people, making the nationalists household names. Many argue that around this time, Bhagat Singh began rivalling the popularity of Gandhi.

    In the meantime, the Indian National Congress was also experiencing a transition. A new cadre of leadership, led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose, was emerging.

    They were both leftist in their ideology and critical of the existing leadership, which included Gandhi and Motilal Nehru.

    At this point, the Congress was demanding Dominion Status from Britain, which would have allowed India autonomy within the monarchy, like Australia and Canada.

    To the younger leaders, this was a compromise. Jawaharlal Nehru particularly had serious reservations about it, but eventually accepted the idea after being persuaded by Gandhi.

    However, the rise of Bhagat Singh’s popularity meant that the Congress started losing its influence over the youth, who were being increasingly drawn towards his political rhetoric.

    Jawaharlal Nehru was already sympathetic to the nationalist leader, whom he visited in jail. He also published the defence statement of Bhagat Singh and his comrades in the Congress bulletin, for which he was criticised by Gandhi.

    The slogan of “Inquilab Zindabad” being used by Bhagat Singh and his comrades started replacing the slogan of “Vande Matram” popularised by the Congress.

    Towards the end of the 1920s, it became increasingly clear to the older leadership of the Congress that they would isolate their young followers if they did not accommodate their political agenda.

    The rise of Jawaharlal Nehru

    On September 28, 1929 much to the surprise of everyone, Nehru, backed by his father and Gandhi, was chosen as the new Congress president. This was to mark a shift in the Congress’ policies.

    A couple of months later, on New Year’s Eve, the tricolour flag of independent India was hoisted on the banks of the Ravi in Lahore, as the Congress changed its demand from Dominion Status to Purna Swaraj or complete independence.

    Bhagat Singh’s popularity was at its peak in Punjab, with Lahore being his political home. He, Rajguru and Sukhdev were executed there on March 23, 1931, a little more than a year after the Congress called for Purna Swaraj.

    Their last rites were performed on the banks of Ravi by Bhagat Singh’s supporters who had snatched their remains from the colonial state.

    It is impossible to predict how things would have turned out had Bhagat Singh’s rhetoric from jail not captured the imagination of the people.

    Would it have been possible for Jawaharlal Nehru to rise so quickly to the top in the Congress? Would the largest political organisation of the country have changed its demand from Dominion Status to Purna Swaraj so soon after first demanding Dominion Status?

    There is, however, no doubting that Bhagat Singh’s popularity and rhetoric made it easier for Jawaharlal Nehru to convince the senior leadership of the Congress to revolutionise their agenda or risk losing their popular support to other more radical organisations.

    This piece was originally published in Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.

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    We didn’t know who we were meeting until just a few hours before. All we had been told was to show up.

    Perhaps that is why when 20 of us female human rights defenders found ourselves in a room waiting for her to arrive, none of us had quite calibrated what was happening.

    Women, many of whom are institutions unto themselves, were teetering with excitement, joy – emotions not common in the lives of activists.

    There was Syeda Ghulam Fatima, who works to liberate brick kiln slaves, Anis Haroon, a National Human Rights Commissioner, Khawer Mumtaz, Muniba Mazari, Nighat Dad, Samar Minallah, activists from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

    We all know of each other but our schedules rarely, if ever, bring us all into the same city, let alone the same room.

    We started taking pictures to commemorate this moment. It isn’t often you are in the same room as all your sheroes.

    As we took our seats, the doors opened.


    The first thing you notice about Malala Yousafzai is how small she is – barely clearing 5’3 ft. But her effect on the room was immediate, that suddenly seemed too little to contain our shared pride. We all jumped to our feet and burst into spontaneous applause.

    That after six years, she was home. That she had survived being shot in the head. That despite all the media scrutiny, the relentless bullying, the robbed childhood, she was back.

    Despite a whirlwind schedule, the world’s youngest Nobel Prize winner had made time to meet the women on the ground to inspire both the old and new generations of activists.

    Malala went around the room, greeting each female activist individually by shaking their hand, sometimes leaning in for a quick hug.

    Some had met her before. Some, like me, had only ever seen her on television. But the delight of both was the same.

    Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who had organised the meeting, asked everyone to briefly introduce themselves to Malala. But this moment was about Malala, nothing else.

    Some told her they had not been able to sleep the night before when they found out they would be meeting her.

    Anis Haroon, who has dedicated her life to the cause of human rights in Pakistan, had flown in from Karachi just that morning. The short notice had made it difficult to get a proper token of her affection, she said.

    But she had brought with her the iconic Women’s Action Forum scarf, yellow, imprinted with laws and poetry that uphold the rights of women.

    Malala got up and went up to Anis Haroon, who draped the scarf around her shoulders, welcoming her into this decades-long battle.

    Anis Haroon then invited present and past WAF activists to be photographed with Malala, in a moment of inclusiveness that echoed the generosity and positivity in the room. That is Malala’s power.

    In-depth: Malala Yousufzai

    Malala is a listener. She speaks when called upon, and when she does, her words take comfort in their wisdom. She sits up straight, she makes eye contact. Her confidence is one fostered over years of experience. Only, Malala is just 20 years old.

    Her small stature emphasises this. We all know the battles she has fought. We all know the enemies she takes on. We all know the ambitions she has.

    I told her, you are so young. I told her that I have two daughters and as inspirational as she was for them, I hoped that she could still find time to enjoy what is left of her childhood.

    There is a collective acknowledgement of this in the room, each looking at her, aware of the normalcy she has traded in for her extraordinary life.

    When the introductions are done, Malala takes a deep breath. If she is overwhelmed, she does not show it. She knows how to navigate her distinction without a trace of arrogance.

    She is comfortable in a room full of Pakistan’s leading activists. And surprisingly, Pakistan’s leading activists are comfortable in a room with her.

    Cover story: The daughter of the nation

    Earlier in the day, I had met a fellow activist at a café who was bursting with excitement at having just met Malala at the Prime Minister’s House.

    I asked him how she was, and he said she was thronged by people which seemed to overwhelm her. And yet in this room, as we bonded over her arrival, she was calm, collected and eager to listen.

    Malala is thrilled to be home. She has dreamed of this moment, and like many of us, can’t bring herself to believe that her dream of returning to her country came true.

    She was apprehensive about her reception in Pakistan but was glad to see that she had been welcomed with open arms.

    Sure, she manages the Malala Fund for Education. But, she tells us, she has assignments due at Oxford. She worries about homework.

    Her friends at university have been texting her constantly, who are in disbelief that she managed to keep her trip to Pakistan secret from them.

    We are heartened to hear of these small marks of student life. It is apparent that Malala can have a life, not entirely untouched by her celebrity but still pretty close.

    Malala has always been serious about her studies, we know that. Even after she was shot, her first conversation with her father from the U.K. included an impassioned plea to bring her books with him. Her Matriculation exams were right around the corner, after all.

    Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, sits next to her. He lets her shine, and speaks with the same respect he has passed down to his daughter.

    There was something personal about how we understood what his support had done for Malala.

    We all know how enabling having a father-figure that supports our work can be, and the courage it gives you to embark on a path less trodden.

    Malala says her home country looks the same. Only, everything is different. There is so much hope, she finds, and is deeply touched by the kindness she has found in just this room.

    I have never seen activists in such a good mood.

    This handout photograph released by the Press Information Department (PID) on March 29, 2018, shows PM Abbasi (C) presenting a shield to Malala at Prime Minister Office during her visit to Islamabad. ─ AFP
    This handout photograph released by the Press Information Department (PID) on March 29, 2018, shows PM Abbasi (C) presenting a shield to Malala at Prime Minister Office during her visit to Islamabad. ─ AFP

    Last month, the civil society in Pakistan lost one of its giants. There was a sense of foreboding, as if we had lost a compass in a terrain that suddenly had become unfamiliar despite years of having walked it. Even the most steadfast of us felt broken by Asma Jahangir’s death.

    Being an activist in Pakistan, being an activist anywhere, is a taxing road. But when we met Malala, the work seemed validated.

    That if this young woman could find her way back, after everything she had been through, with her faith and will intact, how could we not keep fighting?

    The struggle is long and often a lonely one, but how were we alone if we had each other?

    And make no mistake, Malala fights the good fight. She brings nuance to the narrative about Pakistan in the West.

    She is accused of being a tool for this narrative, but rest assured, she is no one’s fool.

    She was not yet 16 years old when she met President Obama, who had asked her to come at the White House, and raised the impact of drone warfare on her people, reminding him of their murderous consequences.

    Her very existence complicates things for the very institutions that paint Pakistan with a broad brush. And she does not let them forget that.

    To those who know this, her homecoming was the triumph for the years of standing up for her.

    Editorial: Malala returns home

    This meeting wasn’t a baton-passing ceremony. None of us marked her out to continue the journeys that many of us embarked on before Malala was even born. That is not what we were there to do.

    What it was, was a moment of validation and joy, for what she meant as a global symbol of Pakistani women fighting for a just world.

    It is easy to overlook how much courage it took for her to come back home, and in that room, that bravery was infectious.

    The best you can do as an activist is to create a path for future activists. You are lucky if you even guide one.

    And here was Malala, uniting us all to continue to march forward, demanding more, fighting back and never giving up.

    When she left the room, we all looked at each other in excitement. We took some more photos, hugged each other, promising to help each other in our respective battles.

    Eventually, we all got up and returned to the work that we do.

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    This past week, 20-year-old Malala Yousafzai made an emotional return to Pakistan. Her four-day visit included meetings with friends, family, and senior officials, including Pakistan’s prime minister.

    Many Pakistanis applauded Yousafzai’s return. Some, however, did not. While she may have received a hero’s welcome, Malala is no national hero in Pakistan.

    A small but vocal minority, most of them members of a growing conservative middle class, resent her. They label her as a fraud, traitor, sell-out, or American stooge.

    They say that there’s nothing special about her, that many Pakistani children suffer worse fates; that she’s abandoned her nation for fame in the West. Some claim the attack on her was staged by the CIA.

    This is a story about an ordinary teenager who survives an unthinkable tragedy, uses that tragedy as inspiration to become a prominent advocate, and ends up in the crosshairs of a hate campaign led by conservative compatriots.

    A similar story is playing out now in the United States.

    Survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School gun massacre in Parkland, Florida. have launched a powerful movement for more gun control.

    This campaign has elevated them to prominence and provoked a small constituency of conservative, conspiratorial, gun-loving Americans.

    These haters say the grieving victims attract attention they don’t deserve, come off as sanctimonious and self-righteous, are frauds, and are “being funded” and “given scripts.”

    The gun massacre survivors are branded as Nazis, targeted in doctored photo campaigns, and even mocked for college rejection letters.

    Admittedly, the analogy is imperfect. Malala suffered a more serious physical injury than did most of the Parkland survivors.

    Malala is an overseas-based global activist focused on the transnational issue of education, while the Parkland survivors centre their advocacy around the US domestic issue of gun control.

    Malala’s advocacy is couched in the language of hope; the Parkland activists are often emotional, angry, and overtly political.

    Additionally, while Pakistanis and Americans use the same tactic—character assassination—against their objects of scorn, their respective motivations are different.

    For Pakistanis, Malala represents something unusual: A successful case of upward mobility. In a nation of entrenched inequality, where 40 per cent of Pakistani children in the lowest economic quantile are expected to remain there for life, Malala’s rapid transformation from schoolteacher’s daughter to embodiment of the global elite is literally unbelievable—especially for the millions of middle-class Pakistanis who know they’ll never reach such dizzying heights.

    As I wrote in an essay last year, this disorienting reality provokes admiration from some—but jealousy, skepticism, suspicion, and hostility from others.

    While Pakistanis feel confused, Americans feel threatened. These impassioned, articulate students—who have galvanised many Americans, including elected officials—make them worry about real threats to their cherished gun culture. So, they lash out.

    Nonetheless, the same basic dynamic is at play with Malala and the Parkland survivors: Young people suffering unthinkable tragedies and then being subjected to vicious hate campaigns—simply for the sin of being well-known advocates.

    There are lessons here. One is the power of conspiracy theories. They convince people that despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, children weren’t really nearly gunned down and aren’t really innocent advocates for a cause.

    In Pakistan, conspiracy theories have long been ubiquitous, thanks to a troubled education system, extremist sentiment, and the state’s tendency to blame domestic problems on foreign forces.

    In America, only more recently have conspiracy theories gained such widespread prominence. Formerly fringe figures like Alex Jones and Erick Erickson have become highly influential, thanks in part to social media. Even President Trump has supported conspiracy theories. In effect, fringe has gone mainstream.

    The other lesson is about civility. Restraint is dead in public discourse. No one—including young people targeted by militants and school shooters—is off limits from hate campaigns.

    Tragedy is not a sacrosanct shield that confers immunity from abuse—especially when, in Pakistan, America, and beyond, people are harassed or worse simply because of their religion, ethnicity, or political views. Social media, which gives haters the luxuries of anonymity and distance, compounds this incivility.

    In a video message to protestors at the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, Malala explained what she and the Parkland survivors share in common: They experienced violence and injustice, and they decided to speak out.

    Sadly, something else they share in common is the hate to which they have been subjected for daring to speak out.

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    18-year-old Sadia (all names have been changed) was brought into a clinic at a bustling tertiary care hospital by her father Noor Khan with high fever for the past three weeks.

    She was diagnosed with typhoid and prescribed the standard oral antibiotics suitable to treat this disease.

    The next week, Khan returned to the same clinic with his 20-year-old son Habib who had the same symptoms as his sister.

    However, his condition was considerably worse and necessitated admission to hospital and intravenous antibiotics.

    “Doctor sahiba, Habib has his exams in less than two weeks. Please fix him up soon,” Khan implored.

    “We will try our best,” the doctor comforted him.

    On the day of discharge, Khan walked into the clinic with heavy steps. Unable to see the doctor in the eyes, he said, “Doctor sahiba, the bill for the hospital admission is Rs 15,000. And the medicine that you have given now to be taken at home is also quite expensive. Can we do without this medicine?”

    “If Habib is to get better, then this medicine is required,” the doctor replied.

    “I know doctor sahiba, but this will be very difficult. I work in a local factory as a worker. I make Rs 15,000 per month. I have taken out a loan to pay for his treatment,” Khan said helplessly.

    The doctor stepped in and arranged for part of his medical expenses to be waived by the hospital. Grateful as he was, Khan didn’t know that his ordeal was far from over.

    Related: Superbug typhoid strain behind Pakistan outbreak

    After a month, he was rushing his youngest child Mujeeb, 12, into emergency with high fever and convulsions.

    “Since when has this been happening?” the doctor asked.

    “For the past two weeks. We were giving him medicine from the local medical shop because well…” Khan replied.

    “What!?” exclaimed the doctor

    “Doctor sahiba, I didn’t have money to bring him to the hospital,” a dejected Khan stated, his eyes downcast.

    Mujeeb was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit where he was treated with a number of very expensive intravenous antibiotics. His blood culture indicated multi-drug-resistant typhoid. He remained in the hospital for two weeks.

    He was suffering, but so was his family who was now in massive debt. His elder brother Habib had left his studies to work in a motor repair shop to help pay for the household’s daily expenses.

    Khan was facing problems at work because of taking leaves for his family’s illness. The mother, Bano Jee, was convinced that someone had done kala jaadoo (black magic) on her children.

    Special report: The antibiotics resistance crisis: an emerging public health disaster

    Unfortunately, for those within the medical profession, this story is not fiction — it represents a terrible reality, a classic example of how some infectious diseases, almost unheard of in the developed world, have not only lingered as major threats to our lives, but have actually gained in strength to wreak havoc on our populations.

    This is evidenced by the fact that 40 per cent of the disease burden in Pakistan can be attributed to infectious diseases such as typhoid, tuberculosis and malaria.

    Typhoid, a household term in our cities and villages, was relatively easy to treat up till recently. Two years back, multi-drug resistant typhoid was found within the localities of Hyderabad and Karachi.

    According to reports, more than 800 cases of drug-resistant typhoid were found in Hyderabad alone in a 10-month period between 2016 and 2017.

    This bug was sensitive to only two broad-spectrum antibiotics, the cost of which is exorbitant. Infectious disease specialists estimate the total treatment cost for 14 days to be roughly around Rs 50,000.

    Broad-spectrum antibiotics are those that can kill a wide range of bugs; they are used when the bug is unknown, but these antibiotics increase resistance if used indiscriminately.

    For someone who survives on daily wages, such treatment costs can put the entire household in financial catastrophe.

    Read next: ‘Pakistan needs to know, tackle crisis resulting from antibiotic resistance’

    What adds to the problem is that broad-spectrum antibiotics are unlikely to be found in small towns and shops, particularly in rural areas, where generic antibiotics availability ranges from 10 to 25 per cent.

    Bacteria also know no boundaries — recently, the same bug was found in Swabi. The doctors in that locality reported that the patient was from Karachi.

    A World Health Organization poster reads: “Our time with antibiotics is running out.” This is not a dramatic call for attention, but a tragic reality of the times that we live in.

    The growing resistance among organisms to different antibiotics has developed and worsened over the course of decades due to our unfavourable systematic practices that lead to prescription of antibiotics, even when they are not medically indicated or required, such as in the case of viral infections.

    Overuse of antibiotics is an increasing problem, as the recent Dawneditorial also suggests. This occurs due to the fact that patients themselves come to physicians looking for a quick fix, which they misconceive to be only through antibiotics, and demand to be prescribed antibiotics.

    Alarmingly in our situation, it is easy to bypass physicians and just go to the corner store and buy any antibiotic we feel inclined to get, based on the advice of the storekeeper who may have no background even in pharmacy sciences.

    A 2016 study from Peshawar demonstrated that 26 per cent of 800 respondents reported self-medication of antibiotics.

    Another equally worrying factor is that many medical practitioners, amenable to the influence of pharmaceutical companies, prescribe these antibiotics in large quantities.

    Such physicians accept favours and gifts — including simple office stationery, drug samples, trips to exotic destinations abroad among others — from pharmaceutical companies who, in exchange, require them to prescribe the more expensive antibiotics.

    The complicity of these physicians, who are honour bound by their medical oath to put the interests of the patients above their own but fail do so, is another influencing factor within developing countries, including Pakistan.

    Guidelines by the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council and the National Bioethics Committee on pharma-physician interactions exist but, to date, no physician has been held accountable or had his/her license revoked, although the practice is rampant. Since these guidelines have no teeth, it is hardly surprising that the practice continues to flourish.

    Prevention works better than cure and is significantly cheaper in the long run also. This is even truer in cases of infectious diseases such as typhoid, tuberculosis, and dengue and so on.

    Unhygienic food and drinking water and poor living conditions create a perfect milieu for infectious agents to thrive. The response of health authorities in such situations should not be reactive, but more efforts have to be geared towards primary prevention.

    Preventive efforts include measures like vaccination, which is seriously neglected in Pakistan. A vaccination drive was conducted in Hyderabad recently only after cases of drug-resistant typhoid were found by a private university and the authorities duly alerted.

    However, vaccination against the more common diseases in Pakistan should become part of the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), which itself faces a number of challenges, including limited resources and inadequate coverage.

    General lack of awareness among public with respect to vaccination, along with limited effort by public health authorities, has relegated the importance of vaccination. These need to be revitalised in order to tackle this menace.

    Also read: How Pakistan turned around its vaccination programme using technology

    Serious efforts by the authorities to provide clean sanitation and provision of hygienic food should be done. With sewerage spilling over streets and vendors selling pakoras to eager buyers right next to a tertiary care hospital is a common site for all Pakistanis that does not even merit raising eyebrows.

    While our chemists merrily dispense antibiotics to eager customers, our food stalls dispense fortified salmonella, the bacteria that causes typhoid. If we are serious in stopping infections short in their tracks, we need to get serious in preventing conditions that foster them.

    The dangers of antimicrobial resistance are real with significant impacts. To combat this, the medical community has an essential role to play in limiting their prescriptions of antibiotics and raising awareness among public about dangers of self-medication and antibiotic overuse.

    Health authorities also have to wake up from their restful slumber and focus their energies on preventive mechanisms as opposed to occasional stirrings when water is already under the bridge.

    Are you a medical practitioner working on community and public health issues? Share your insights with us at

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    I have been to Sargodha many times. In fact multiple times in a year, throughout my childhood. This is where my family comes from — both maternal and paternal.

    Despite all my trips, however, I have never visited the shrine of Naghyana in a village called Dharema, about 10-odd km from the city.

    Composed of two graves, it is an extraordinary shrine, dating back to the 17th century. The first grave is said to belong to Prince Murad Baksh, the youngest son of Emperor Shah Jahan, who had joined hands with his older brother Aurangzeb to take on their brother, Prince Dara Shikoh.

    However, after Aurangzeb defeated Dara Shikoh, he put Murad Baksh to death, clearing the way for him to become the emperor. The story of his grave being at this site, though, is unlikely as Prince Murad Baksh was put to death in Gwalior.

    The second grave is said to belong to the saint Naghyana, who is believed to have given refuge to Murad Baksh. The progeny of the saint eventually came to be known as Naghyana.

    The word 'naghyana' is believed to have been derived from 'naghe,' an epithet used for nanga sadhus, the naked ascetic devotees of the Hindu deity Shiva.

    Covered in ash dust, sporting long untrimmed hair, and known to consume hashish incessantly, these sadhus defy all societal norms and prefer to live in seclusion.

    There is also a long established tradition of naked Sufi ascetics, connecting all the way back to udasi sadhus, followers of Shri Chand, the eldest son of Guru Nanak.

    In devotional art, Shri Chand is usually depicted almost naked sitting in a yogic position next to a fire. He has long, ragged hair, just like a nanga sadhu.

    Like these sadhus, the Sufi dervishes too let their hair grow long, and believe that hair is the source of life-energy.

    It seemed that the udasi, as devotees of Shri Chand later came to be known, also borrowed heavily from the Shaivite sadhus, just as the Sufi ascetics or dervishes did. Perhaps Naghyana was one such Sufi ascetic.

    There is another legend at the Naghyana shrine about the fire that the saint lit. Fire acquires a particular symbolic and religious significance in ascetic Sufi tradition.

    Many popular Sufis are believed to have their dhuan (smoke), which, in this case, specifically refers to the place where they lit their fire and sat.

    For many such Sufis, their dhuan became a place of veneration after their death. The situation at the shrine is quite similar.

    At the shrine, it is narrated that the fire has remained alive ever since the death of the saint in the 17th century. His devotees have made sure that his dhuan survives.

    I am told the fire simmers — emitting more smoke than fire — at the centre of a room that is blackened by this centuries’ old smoke.

    Perhaps the fire comes to life during the annual urs celebration, the death anniversary of the saint, the day he is believed to have become One with the Divine.

    I saw another similar situation at the shrine of Shah Hussain, the 16th century mystic poet, who is believed to have fallen in love with the Hindu boy, Madhu Lal. They are buried in Lahore together, in a union that signifies the Oneness of the world — Monism.

    There is a fire just outside the shrine to Madho Lal Hussain in Lahore, which is lit throughout the year by the lamps of his devotees. Much like the fire at the Naghyana shrine, this one too was simmering when I visited a few months ago.

    The situation at the shrine this past week, however, was different as thousands of devotees of the saint converged there to celebrate his urs, also known as Mela Chiraghan or the Festival of Lamps, one of the greatest festivals of the city of Lahore.

    The fire must have been alive, thriving, whirling and swinging, imitating the dhamaal of the dervishes around it.

    Devotion towards fire

    Fire has long been held sacred in the indigenous religious traditions of South Asia. The Zoroastrians are popularly and falsely referred to as fire worshippers. Their religious shrines are known as fire temples, with fire forming a central feature in their religious rituals.

    At a fire temple, the fire never dies. The original fire (other traditions assert it was ash from the fire) that was brought from Persia by the fleeing Zoroastrians was set up in a temple off the coast of Mumbai, the oldest fire temple in the world.

    There is a deeper connection between the Zoroastrians and the Sufi ascetic tradition of South Asia. The term 'dervish,' popularly used to describe ascetic Sufis, is derived from the Persian word 'daryosh,' which is derived from the word 'drigu,' for devotees of Zarathustra.

    While there is an etymological connection between the drigu and dervish, there also seems to be a religious continuity between the two, with fire joining the knot of these two traditions.

    For many dervishes, it is not just fire — the ash from the fire of a Sufi saint is also significant. Just like the Shaivite sadhus, they believe ash from this sacred fire has magical properties and use it frequently for healing purposes.

    It is around these fires that different dervishes gather and engage in hashish consumption, another connection that binds them with the Shaivite sadhus. In both of these traditions, the consumption of hashish or other forms of cannabis enjoys religious approval.

    Sometimes Sufi ascetics perform zikr around the fire — this involves the invocation of God in a liturgical manner, using a breathing technique in a particular rhythm.

    Jurgen Wasim Frembgen, a German anthropologist who has worked extensively on the Sufi culture of Islam, finds the origin of this form of zikr— a particular feature of South Asian Sufism — in the yogic tradition.

    While fire is important in their religious asceticism, so is the tong or chimta, which is used to maintain the fire.

    The chimta is an essential possession of a Sufi dervish. It is used to announce the arrival of a dervish into a village. It is used by him for rhythm when he sings Sufi songs. Often, it is the only instrument a Sufi dervish possesses.

    The chimta is also kept by sadhus who not only use it to maintain fire but as a percussion instrument when need be. It is also part of the Sikh tradition where it is used as an instrument to perform religious music, following a trajectory that has its origin in the Shaivite sadhu tradition and their fire-tending necessities.

    Scratching beneath the surface, one would find similar traditions of fire veneration in Buddhist and Jain traditions. Moving beyond the demarcations that divide these religions, it becomes impossible to maintain these boundaries in the ascetic realm.

    Where does the Shaivite sadhu tradition end and Sufi dervish tradition begin? How does one begin to differentiate between the dervish and the udasi devotees of Shri Chand?

    While there are several traditions that join together the threads of these indigenous religious practices, one of those traditions is their communal devotion towards fire, perhaps a tradition all of them borrow from Zoroastrianism.

    The article was first published in Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.

    A devotee blows a horn at the shrine of Madho Lal Hussain during the three-day long Mela Chiraghan festival in Lahore on March 24, 2018. | Arif Ali/AFPA devotee blows a horn at the shrine of Madho Lal Hussain during the three-day long Mela Chiraghan festival in Lahore on March 24, 2018. | Arif Ali/AFP

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    Broadening its tax base is perhaps the most significant economic challenge facing Pakistan. After 70 years of existence, the country has less than two million income tax filers, one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world, and a tax system which riddled with inequity and corruption.

    But we are not the only country struggling with tax reforms; other have faced this challenge too. The question is what can we learn from them.

    To answer this question, I reached out to Dr Mark Gallagher, an economist who has spent three decades in dealing with tax reforms in developing countries.

    He has served as a consultant for different organisations, including the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Inter American Development Bank, USAID, US Treasury, German GIZ, and the European Commission. Here is how Dr Gallagher responded via email to my questions.

    Which countries have had some success in broadening the tax base?

    Many countries have had success in broadening the tax base. But first, it is important to understand that there are basically three ways to do so:

    One is to get people into the tax system who have been outside of it but are supposed to, by law, be paying taxes.

    Two, reduce tax incentives that allow businesses that are economically active to not pay taxes. These tax breaks or reliefs include measures such as tax holidays that say that, if you invest in such and such area, industry or for export only, you don’t have to pay tax or you can pay a reduced amount.

    And three, reduce the number of goods and services that are not taxed or are taxed at a lower rate than others. For instance, basic foodstuffs in some countries are exempt from value-added tax.

    In Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 2000s, a big push was made to get businesses to register. This worked and revenues rose quite quickly. Later, they reduced tax holidays for corporations and lowered the corporate income tax rate from 30% to 10% and revenues increased.

    In Rwanda over the years, the tax administration broadened the tax base by getting more and more people and companies registered, but they did not reduce exemptions and exoneration; revenue rose steadily for a decade.

    In Georgia, the government issued a new tax code, I think in 2009, which lowered the corporate tax rate, but also applied the tax rate to all companies in all industries.

    This broadening the tax base by eliminating preferential rates coupled with a lower headline rate for all resulted in considerable revenue increases over the subsequent years.

    Which countries have not had much success in this endeavour?

    I would say the Philippines. There, tax revenues reached their pinnacle (in relation to the overall economy) in 1997, then dropped for the better part of two decades.

    Tax revenue has only recently begun to increase, but remains below the 1997 level. Tax incentives run rampant, as does complexity, and some complain of corruption and evasion.

    Afghanistan is another country that has not made much effort in broadening the legal tax base, actually since 1965.

    Of course, the tax administration was rebuilt over the past 15 years, but other than reaching out to taxpayers around the country, tax law has remained fundamentally unchanged.

    What are the key lessons in tax reforms attempting to broaden the tax base?

    I would say:

    • Improve the taxpayer registry to make sure it works well. Make special efforts to identify people who are not registered or paying taxes, including identifying companies hiding in the so-called informal sector.

    • Take a careful look at all the tax incentives, centralise tax incentive authority in the hands of the Ministry of Finance, but impose a rigorous mechanism for their authorisation.

    • Report every year on tax expenditures (the revenue lost to these incentives) to add transparency to the system and help build support for reducing tax expenditures and thereby broaden the tax base.

    Any lessons on why and how some countries have been able to address corruption in the tax administration?

    This is hard to respond to, but there are some cases and some inklings. Perhaps one of the most successful cases is that of the Georgia, where after the overthrow of a sclerotic, corrupt, long-entrenched regime, the country implemented revolutionary change throughout, including cleaning up its tax administration.

    Crooked tax officials were either tossed or prosecuted. Most tax officials were fired and replaced with new professionals. Systems of internal control in the tax administration were strengthened.

    In El Salvador, in the 1990s, just after the end of the long civil war, the tax administration and other parts of government took pains to root out corruption.

    Similarly, in Rwanda, after their terrible genocide of the early 1990s, top to bottom reform of most public institutions included deep anti-corruption measures.

    This is how the tax systems in both these countries were able to produce more and more revenue without raising tax rates.

    I don’t want to say a country needs to have a revolution to address its corruption problems, but in these cases, it seems to have set the stage for broad reforms.

    That said, from my experience of 30 years, all real efforts to fix the tax system also include efforts to impede corruption.

    Is it necessarily politically harmful for an elected government to attempt to broaden the tax base?

    No, but it is not easy. Strengthening taxpayer registration can be done without any real political push back, but it is not likely to have great financial return, though in Bosnia and Herzegovina it did.

    Reducing tax incentives is very difficult politically. Usually the people who benefit from these so-called incentives are very well placed and wield considerable power.

    Going after these tax incentives is very important and needs to be done. But it needs to be done very carefully, with full consideration of who loses, how much, and what will be the force of their opposition and how can this be overcome.

    Is there a significant role for information technology here?

    Yes, but this depends upon the country. The more backward the country, the less scope there is.

    On the other hand, IT systems, and especially linking the taxpayer registry to other information sources, such as vehicle registration, air traveller information, real estate or property registration and transfer systems, can help a savvy tax administration identify people who are likely under-reporting income as well as identify people and activities that should clearly be in the tax system but are not.

    I explore this a bit in my article Big Data and Domestic Resource Mobilization: How Donors Can Help Developing Countries Increase Revenue.

    How would you summarise your views on success stories in broadening the tax base?

    Broadening the tax base is the best way to reform a tax system and to increase domestic revenue mobilisation, which is needed to fund our governments and to invest in the future.

    Base broadening allows us to raise more revenue without raising tax rates and without harming the economy and national competitiveness.

    Broadening the tax base increases the fairness of the tax system, since it shares the tax burden with more people in the economy. It reduces the distortions caused by tax and investment policy that seek to favour one investment or industry over another.

    It's something righteous, but tough. The most powerful interests in any economy tend to be those who benefit from tax incentives and they are not going to release their grip from the throat of the political system easily.

    Are you an expert working on policy reforms? Share your insights with us at

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    A significant portion of cricket viewers have the perception that roughening the ball on one side and shinning it on the other will inevitably lead to reverse swing. Herein lies the problem: It's not true. Not even partially true.

    It's true that aerodynamics explain why the ball will reverse towards the shiny side, but this doesn't mean that any person who can hurl a ball at the batsman can make it reverse too. Bowlers need to master the art of reverse swing just as they have to perfect it for conventional swing.

    The pace must be quick enough, the wrist must be at an angle between 20-30 degrees, and the length the ball pitches at should be full enough to allow the ball maximum time in air. Only then can physics take over.

    Not to mention that the ball must be taken care of by the entire team to make sure that one side of it retains some shine while the other one is roughed up, as the ball gets older.

    If the skills required to make the ball reverse is as hard to master as conventional swing — if not more — then it begs the question as to why tampering the ball to prepare it for reverse swing is illegal.

    As long as no foreign object is used, such as the piece of sandpaper that has put the career of three Australian players into jeopardy, altering the ball otherwise shouldn’t be a problem.

    Just like reverse swing, maybe all we need is to re-brand ball-tampering for it to become acceptable by the cricketing fraternity.

    When Pakistani fast bowlers wreaked havoc by inventing the art to make the old ball swing, it was labelled as cheating by the English players — only to re-name it as reverse swing when they finally learned how it's done. No surprises there.

    I understand that it's extremely difficult for the International Cricket Council (ICC) to draw the line between what are 'natural' means of ball-tampering and what aren't.

    Players use all sorts of methods to alter the ball. Some are more subtle about it, such as when Faf Du Plessis had mint in his mouth and he used his saliva to shine the ball, while others like Shahid Afridi prefer to do it more brazenly on TV by sinking their teeth into a leather hardball.

    The blurriness between acceptable and unacceptable means of altering the ball is probably what has kept the ICC adamant on not allowing any sort of ball-tampering whatsoever.

    I, however, argue that the ball is the bowler’s property and that he should be allowed to tamper it with at least some 'natural' means.

    This may spur another debate on why foreign objects shouldn't be allowed if altering the ball isn’t cheating. But in the case of foreign objects, it's important to understand that it takes away hard work from the players because countless tools can help prepare a ball within minutes.

    The beauty of reverse swing lies in the fact that it must be earned with whatever is available on the field and watching teams work in sync to reinvent swing from a dead old ball is part of the magic of this dark art.

    While the ICC takes a firm stance on zero tolerance over ball-tampering, the game is losing its balance between the bat and the ball, especially due to a surge in flat pitches around the world.

    The Test format certainly is in dire need of attracting bigger crowds to keep its relevance alive. Just like T20s are inherently designed for batsmen to entertain the crowd, Test matches can only penetrate the market for viewership if bowlers have the liberty to experiment with the ball.

    If tampering the ball can lead to more thrilling Test matches then I am all for it because I will never sign up for watching a five-day run fest on a flat deck that eventually leads to a draw.

    Why does the ICC need to go into unknown territory by introducing four-day Test matches to revive Test cricket? Why can't it allow bowlers to have the tools they need to produce exciting bowling? It’s not cheating; it’s a skill to make use of a tampered ball. Know the difference between the two.

    To add more flavour, taking a new ball after the 80-over mark could be made mandatory and not optional for the bowling side. This would add new dynamics to the game where the captain would have to decide whether to use his fast bowlers with a reversing ball or keep them fresh for a new one depending on which skills his bowlers bank more on.

    The batsman that survives this battle on the other hand will become highly valued. It would take a fighting spirit and immense skill for the batsman to stand his ground while the opposition works on the ball to take him down.

    A hard-fought 50 from the batsman will bring more life to Test cricket than a double-hundred on a flat deck in front of empty stands.

    To put everything in context, reverse swing is an art and a tampered ball is just a tool that can only do as much as the person using it can make out of it.

    Owning a bow and an arrow doesn’t make one a hunter; a tampered ball served on a platter won't make an ordinary bowler extraordinary.

    Let bowlers tamper the ball with 'natural' means so that we can get some excitement, balance and fairness back into the game.

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  • 04/10/18--05:59: Why Aamir Liaquat
  • I have said many things in the past about the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its politics. However today, instead of taking apart the PTI, I will try to do something different: I will explain why the party is opening the floodgates to let the likes of Aamir Liaquat in.

    The not doctor, Aamir Liaquat, recently joined the PTI flanked by Imran Khan and other senior leaders. Unlike other instances of people joining the party, this time around the reaction was completely different.

    Instead of latching on to whoever was joining the Tehreek, PTI supporters spoke out against Aamir Liaquat jumping ship.

    The resentment against allowing the not doctor to join was real and people even pulled old tweets of his against the PTI to explain why they were not in favour of the move.

    And while eventually, like good partisan folk, the PTI cadre online accepted Imran Khan's decision, this whole exercise highlighted two things.

    Firstly, the PTI's vocal support base, at least the one online, is idealistic and still sees the party as something unique and different.

    Secondly, the PTI leadership is acting like a political party and focusing on trying to win elections in real life rather than Facebook. This is progress for the PTI and future elections in Pakistan.

    As we transform Pakistan into a stable democracy with two potent parties at least at the provincial level, a strong PTI with actual seats in assemblies is a good thing.

    You might ask why I say that? Well, a strong opposition is the best check on the government.

    Op-ed: PTI’s Punjab dilemma

    Take for instance every single province in Pakistan at this point. The reason the provincial governments get away with doing whatever they want is because there is practically no opposition to them.

    In Punjab, the opposition is negligible. In Sindh, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is so well entrenched that there is hardly an opposition to push back. Balochistan has a negligible opposition and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's (KP) opposition is too splintered to do anything.

    In such a scenario, at the national and provincial levels, a strong PTI in Punjab and Sindh would be a good thing for the country because we can have a real opposition that can force the government to think twice before underperforming.

    PTI winning votes would make it a credible opposition and that is a good thing for Pakistan.

    So, to get to that point, the PTI is finally making peace with the fact that they will have to take people in no matter who they are and do what needs to be done.

    Even if those people include Aamir Liaquat, the PTI has an incentive to have them in the party because they can contribute in one way or another.

    We might not like their contributions, but let’s not pretend that Aamir Liaquat's Ramzan transmission is not watched by a massive audience across the country.

    Electable needed

    To contest elections and give the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) a tough time in Punjab, PPP/Awami National Party in KP and Muttahida Qaumi Movement/Pak Sarzameen Party/Musharraf in Karachi, the PTI needs electable candidates: people who have their own vote bank and can realistically utilise the PTI vote to win a seat. This is not really rocket science.

    Idealists believe that somehow if the PTI gives a ticket to its loyal workers, they will magically win a seat or keep integrity even if they lose.

    Related: What's behind the rift?

    The thing about this myth is that loyal workers, unless they are Jahangir Tareen or Aleem Khan (technically, ‘loyal’ is a stretch for both), lack the financial resources and the political capital required to successfully contest elections.

    I am not talking about winning, I am talking about contesting elections only. Let me explain this claim in detail.

    A National Assembly (NA) constituency has anywhere between 300 to 400 polling stations in it. For instance, NA-154 had 338 polling stations.

    For a candidate to successfully even contest elections, they need hundreds of polling agents. Polling agents do not work for free and do not just pop up on the day of elections. They need to be paid, trained and need transport for their services.

    Similarly, at every polling station the candidate needs some sort of a setup: a tent and some staff to help prospective voters cast their ballot or choose.

    With an average of 300 plus polling stations, it is not exactly a middle-class person’s game to play. So, while we all enjoy bashing the PTI for welcoming every Tom, Dick and Harry, they are simply doing what reality dictates.

    The PTI is trying to win elections, if they happen, this year. The idealistic delusions and moral high ground are finally getting pushed aside in favour of winning seats in assemblies.

    In such circumstances, even if Bilawal Bhutto wanted to join the PTI, they will welcome him with open arms.

    Why Aamir Liaquat

    Simply put, it's cheap publicity. The not doctor is not going to contest and win elections on his own. But what he does bring to the PTI is a foul mouth that can go toe to toe with the new breed of rabid partisanship popularised by the PML-N courtesy of Talal Chaudhry and Daaniyal Aziz.

    In a political culture like Pakistan where dignity and decency have nearly been wiped out in favour fanatical cult-like partisanship, the PTI needs someone like Aamir Liaquat to fight back.

    Aamir Liaquat might not have a steady vote bank or even a constituency, but what he does have is celebrity. And that has been a permanent fixture for the PTI not only for fund raising purposes but also publicity.

    The decision might look wrong on the face of it, but think of it this way: the PTI gets front and centre coverage during Ramzan simply because one of its leaders is on TV every day for four to five hours.

    Every single time people look at Aamir Liaquat, they will associate the PTI with him. That association helps. Not as much as a steady vote bank, but it does make a difference.

    Secondly, he opens an audience to the PTI message that is currently closed off to them. I am not saying he will put the mohajir vote in play; I am saying he at least gives the PTI a window into that audience that so far has refused to even hear them out.

    Given Karachi’s current political engineering work, that kind of window could make a difference between zero seats from Karachi to three seats from Pakistan's largest city for the PTI.

    Satire: Diary of Aamir Liaquat

    As I mentioned earlier, the news focus may be Aamir Liaquat, the real story here is the flood of potent candidates joining the PTI. Within the last quarter, Saleem Shehzad of the MQM (Karachi), Mian Tariq of the PML-N (Gujranwala), Malik Shakoor of the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam-Fazal (Charsaddah) and Malik Aftab of ANP (Nowshera) are just some of the seasoned politicians who have joined the PTI.

    They are doing so because of their own reasons in each case but they are being taken in by the PTI because the party needs a stable of candidates that can realistically push its seats count up in the Parliament.

    And yes, by doing all this, the PTI is moving past its naïve approach to politics that existed pre-2013.

    They are trying to recruit across the country and most of what they are getting are second-string or third-string candidates, but that is still better than no candidates at all.

    But … Aamir Liaquat! Why!?

    As I often mention, elections are not won based on how nice and well spoken a candidate is or how good they make you feel. The PTI is doing its job as a political party preparing for the next elections.

    Be it Zaid Hamid or Aamir Liaquat, if the party can get any publicity and opening into a new voter segment, they will take them in.

    The problem is not the PTI accepting people like Aamir Liaquat; the issue is the delusional understanding of what elections and democracy should look like held by a clear majority of people on social media and in expat communities.

    Elections are ugly and ruthless. You cannot expect to stay clean while you dig for coal. And that is the dilemma the PTI’s base needs to get over.

    Democracy is a coal mine and you are wearing white; either stop digging or get used to soot.

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    Sher Muhammad is Kanizan Bibi’s father, a Pakistani woman who has been on death row since 1989. He wrote this letter to the president of Pakistan in 2016, translated here by Rimmel Mohydin of Justice Project Pakistan.

    Dear Mr President,

    I’m a poor man. I don’t have much. But what I do have is a daughter. Kanizan is my only child. Even when she could talk, she wouldn’t speak much.

    She was a timid child, who never talked back. She would do as she was told, and never say no. She would cry easily, as fragile as her little wrists.

    Because Kanizan was so delicate, she was very attached to her mother, often seeking shelter in her arms. She looked just like her mother, the same complexion, the same round face.

    But this comfort was taken away from her all too quickly. My wife died very suddenly, leaving Kanizan and me completely alone in the world.

    I was a farmer, but money had become tough. What little I had eventually turned to nothing. Luckily, I still had Kanizan.

    She used to help me around the house but when she saw how difficult it had become to put food on the table, she told me she wanted to work. I hesitated at first. I had been unable to put Kanizan in school. What would she do?

    Kanizan began working as a housemaid for a rich, landowning family. She was little more than a child herself.

    It is no wonder that she quickly befriended the very children she was charged with taking care of, the children of Muhammad Khan.

    Their mother would often admonish her for not being more responsible with them, considering she would play with them more.

    She began contributing what little she could. It was not much, but it was a helping hand. I could not be more grateful for this lifeline.

    But Sir, this did not last.

    The murder took place not too far from where we lived in Kamaliya. I will never forget the way Muhammad Khan screamed when he saw his wife and children murdered.

    Muhammad Khan and his family had been involved in a property dispute that had started to get uglier by the day. The police had asked him at the scene of the crime if he had any enemies. He had named four of them, all his cousins. The police registered a case against them.

    They were in jail for about two days. Bail is easy to come by when money is not a concern.

    One night, Kanizan and I were about to have dinner when there was a knock on our door. Our village elder, Allah Yar, was at the door. He looked solemn, but determined.

    He told me that people had started to talk, that someone had to be punished. He looked at Kanizan, who was sitting in the corner of the room.

    Allah Yar looked me in the eye, put his hand on his heart, and said, “I swear by the Quran, I know your daughter is innocent, but let me take her to the police station.” They’ll question her, and she’ll be home in the morning, he promised.

    She never came back.

    Kanizan had played with those children, loved them, cared for them. She would tell me all about them. When she heard of their killing, she was utterly distraught. Naively, she thought she would be helping the police find their killer. She agreed to go.

    Allah Yar took her to the police station, and left her there. Kanizan was 16 years old. The police recorded her age as 25.

    My nephew lived very close to the police station. He trembles when he tells me of what he heard they did to her.

    Women in our village, never interact with men outside of our immediate family. But Kanizan spent nights trapped in a jail cell with strangers. When I went to see her, they didn't let me meet her.

    They hung her from a fan with ropes thicker than her tiny wrists, beating her small frame with all their might. They let mice loose in her pants, which they tied from the ankles so that they could not escape. Kanizan had been terrified of mice her whole life.

    They electrocuted her repeatedly. I can only hope that she fainted during this ordeal. This is how I comfort myself as a father, forcing myself to believe that my daughter was not conscious during this abuse.

    When they had broken her, they forced her to sign a confession. It’s not difficult to see how her mind gave up on her.

    I didn’t have the money to go see her for her trial. I did not even know that she had been sentenced to death until much later. I borrowed money from everywhere. Whenever I would have enough, I would try to find my way to her.

    But every time I met her, Kanizan was a little bit less. Soon after, her mental state began to deteriorate. Even the jailers were concerned, so much so that, in 2006, she was transferred to the Punjab Institute of Mental Health.

    Today I'm told she hears voices, trembles, can’t clothe or feed herself. The hospital wrote a letter in 2015 to the Superintendent of Lahore Central Jail saying she was not fit to be executed.

    Mr President, my daughter hasn’t said a word for years. She is terrified, and cries all the time, and needs me and her family to take care of her. She is an unwell woman who does not belong on death row.

    I'm a poor man. I can’t do anything in return. But I humbly beg you to find it in your heart to grant mercy to a poor woman who has spent almost her life in jail. Her silence shouldn’t silence what you can do for her.

    I know that if this letter reaches you, your good heart will follow.

    Yours Humbly,

    Sher Muhammad

    Sher Muhammad died in 2016. Kanizan continues to languish on death row, despite her diagnosis, strong evidence of innocence, and nearly 29 years behind bars.

    The president of Pakistan has not granted mercy in a single clemency appeal since the uplifting of the moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014, as documented by Justice Project Pakistan in their new report, No mercy: A report on clemency for death row prisoners in Pakistan.

    Addendum: Chief Justice Saqib Nisar approved Kanizan’s transfer to a secure mental health facility on April 21, 2018, urging the Punjab Mental Health Institute to ensure she receives medical treatment.

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    There is a lot to commend the Asim Abbasi-directed and Sanam Saeed and Aamina Sheikh-starring Cake for.

    There is its deftly constructed story, the varying strands of which creep up on you in an organically and satisfyingly slow way as the narrative progresses.

    There are the carefully explored relationships – between sisters, between parents and children, between friends and lovers – that have enough room for complexity and contradiction within them to make them feel real and lived in.

    There is the film’s insistence on touching upon difficult issues of class and privilege, of aging and accountability, and of our obligations to the people we love, and its subsequent refusal to resolve those issues neatly.

    Review: Cake raises the bar for Pakistani cinema and left me wanting more

    But there is also something else – not entirely unconnected to these strengths of the film – which is noteworthy, and that is the film’s quiet feminism, which can be seen not only through the two main characters but also through their relationship to the wide narrative of the film.

    Feminism, particularly as it relates to popular culture and the media, is a tricky thing to talk about. The term has become highly charged and often contentious, particularly in the context of social media, with its rapid, unnuanced, meme-efied reactions and rampant misinformation.

    It is a term that both Sanam Saaed and Aamina Sheikh have publicly grappled with and distanced themselves from, ostensibly due to this same misinformation.

    But while the stars’ lack of clarity about the term is unfortunate, it is also somewhat irrelevant to the film’s ethos, whose feminism is subtle and quiet and, I would argue, no less potent for that.

    In that regard, the film can be seen as the cinematic heir of Haseena Moin’s television dramas of the 1970s and ’80s, whose feminism, like Cake’s, also lay in fully formed, multi-faceted female characters who went about living their complex lives, building careers and falling in love, being sisters and friends and children and parents without feeling the need to monologue bluntly and grandiosely about things like Female Empowerment and Women Are People, Too.

    Read next: 4 important themes in Cake that you may have missed

    Cake begins with a series of scenes exploring an ordinary day in the life of Zareen (Aamina Sheikh), as she goes about managing the needs of her exuberant, aging parents (Beo Raana Zafar and Mohammad Ahmad) and looking after the family’s landowning business in the absence of her two siblings who live abroad: Zain, her brother (Faris Khalid) with a young family of his own, and Zara (Sanam Saeed), a sister with a high-stakes career who, the narrative implies, left the country and the family in difficult circumstances.

    In the midst of this, Zareen carves out quiet moments of privacy for herself, exchanging emails with her confidante and friend-but-almost-something-more, Romeo (Adnan Malik), furtively enjoying a cigarette in the bathroom and then flushing away the evidence.

    These first few scenes manage to convey a lot about Zareen – how she has taken up the mantle of caretaker for the family, how she feels alternately proud and resentful of her indispensability in the smooth functioning of her family, how she longs for things for herself that she isn’t sure she has a right to want.

    The film shows fully formed, multi-faceted female characters without feeling the need to bluntly monologue.

    Things come to a head when her father’s already fragile health takes a turn for the worse, prompting Zara to return home after a long absence.

    The sisters’ loving but contentious dynamic, and each sibling’s own specific relationship to their parents and their role within the family is what the rest of the film explores, with a difficult family secret that informs all of this in different ways.

    It is this deft centring of these two complex women and the conflict between their own selves and the roles they have to play within their family and the larger world that feels truly feminist.

    It is the way in which Zareen is allowed to be difficult without being demonised that feels refreshing, almost revolutionary, considering the kind of roles women are allowed to inhabit in Pakistani media today.

    She feels specific, her class privilege, her place within her family and within the larger Pakistani society and her own self coming together to form a multi-dimensional, complete person.

    She takes care of everyone, sure, but she is not depicted as a self-sacrificing martyr or a saint (a reductive trope that, unfortunately, a plethora of contemporary Pakistani television and film relies on).

    Instead, the film allows her moments of unkindness towards the people close to her, and she grapples with the weight of her own wants in ways that frequently come across as unfair to those around her.

    It is the deft centring of complex women that feels truly feminist.

    In her relationship with Zara, too, the film triumphs. When Zara first returns to Karachi, their relationship is strained and somewhat cold, with grievances both said and unsaid hovering between them. As the narrative progresses, their dynamic is explored and deepened.

    A scene with the two of them driving home from a party is a good example of the way in which the nuances of their relationship are brought to light without necessarily offering a neat resolution to their conflicts.

    The car ride, with Zareen driving and Zara beside her, has moments of them arguing balanced by moments of vulnerability as well as moments of levity and silliness, and the way in which both sisters weave in and out of these range of emotions rings true to the way relationships between sisters – or indeed any relationship between women which is loving and complicated – really are.

    Related: Pakistan hasn't seen a film like Cake before, says Adnan Malik of his debut film

    In many ways, the Zareen-Zara duo are the contemporary descendants of the sisters of Haseena Moin’s Tanhaiyan (1985). In that drama, too, two sisters (Shehnaz Shaikh and Marina Khan) grapple with personal ambitions and obligations to each other and to their family, and like Zareen and Zara, their relationship, too, was at turns supportive and difficult.

    Cake’s treatment of its women is reminiscent of Haseena Moin’s dramas in other ways as well. What makes Moin’s dramas so beloved and enduring is that they felt real and true in the casual manner in which they afforded their female characters the right to be difficult, to be conflicted and unfair and wrong, to make mistakes and learn from them.

    It didn’t come across as Moin trying to Make a Point. It was subtle and quiet and it made her characters human, and that’s what made her work so feminist.

    Feminism boils down to an argument for refusing to deny women the fullness of their humanity.

    Subtlety and quiet moments that ended up saying a lot is a trademark Moin move, especially when it came to her women characters falling in love – and in that regard, Cake feels reminiscent of Dhoop Kinaray (1987), where Zoya (Marina Khan) falls in love with Dr Ahmer (Rahat Kazmi) in a series of small, intimate and largely quiet moments.

    In Cake, the primary romance between Zareen and Romeo develops quietly, such as the scene where Romeo joins Zareen in her house’s courtyard at dusk as she is reading a book, and wordlessly, sits by her and opens a book of his own.

    Even the complications of their potential romance, with the class difference and consequent power imbalance between the two of them (Romeo works as a nurse to Zareen’s parents, and his working class family has long been in service to Zareen’s much more privileged and affluent zamindar family), is explored with a lightness of touch that nevertheless seems cognisant of the social inequities within which their romance exists.

    Despite what the confusion and mistrust of the term that is rampant on social media circles would have you believe, feminism really boils down to an argument for refusing to deny women the fullness of their humanity.

    Cake feels feminist not merely because it puts women, their interiority and their relationships at the centre of the narrative, but because it does this quite casually and organically, giving, without much fanfare, the stories of Zareen and Zara the narrative empathy that is commonly and widely given to the stories of men. For this alone, the film deserves to be applauded and celebrated.

    Are you a researcher or enthusiast with insights on Pakistani cinema? Write to us at

    Aamina Sheikh's and Sanam Saeed's characters are given the narrative empathy that is commonly and widely given to the stories of men.Aamina Sheikh's and Sanam Saeed's characters are given the narrative empathy that is commonly and widely given to the stories of men.

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    Maharani Jind Kaur could only look on as her brother and the wazir of the Lahore Durbar, Jawahir Singh, was executed by soldiers of the Khalsa Empire in 1845.

    The Khalsa Army was no longer under the command of the crown or its appointed commanders. In the years following Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, as the empire went through a period of political instability, the soldiers had found themselves increasingly drawn into the political arena.

    In quick succession, various claimants to the throne had bribed segments of the army to back their claim. Their numbers had increased drastically since the days of Ranjit Singh.

    Towards the end of the maharaja’s life, the Khalsa Army was around 80,000-strong. It was an overgrown military machine that had helped Ranjit Singh expand his empire from a small fief to an area that included parts of Kashmir, Afghanistan, Punjab and Bahawalpur.

    Many claim he would have swept the entire Indian peninsula had he not been hemmed in on all sides by the British. Unlike the Marathas, Ranjit Singh realised that his military might will not withstand a British onslaught. Hence, he chose to sign a peace deal with them rather than go the way of confrontation.

    On the eastern bank of the Sutlej river, the British monitored the unfolding of the Lahore Durbar carefully. They had seen the assassination of one maharaja after another. They observed as powerful wazirs found themselves at the mercy of the Khalsa soldiers.

    At the time of Jawahir Singh’s assassination, the army had expanded to 120,000 soldiers with their salaries increased manifold since the time of Ranjit Singh. But despite their size and the fact that they possessed the latest technology, the British did not think much of the Khalsa Army.

    Various British officers, in their letters, referred to the army as a mob. The British were of the impression that the increasing political role of the soldiers had rendered them ineffective on the battlefield. Thus, in the years following Ranjit Singh’s death, the British started the process of militarising Punjab.

    Politician soldiers

    With their growing involvement in politics, the soldiers had developed a bureaucratic mechanism of their own. Instead of exhibiting loyalty to their commanding officers, they reported to panches selected by themselves.

    These were soldiers appointed from within their ranks to represent the grievances and concerns of the soldiers. The system was modeled on the panchayat system from where the word panches is derived.

    Given the political turmoil that followed Ranjit Singh’s death, the soldiers took it upon themselves to protect the sanctity of the Khalsa Empire, a glorious empire bequeathed to them by their Sher-e-Punjab.

    Shortsighted nobles were sabotaging the crown for their own interests with the commanding officer a part of this corrupt elite.

    And with the grave threat on the eastern frontier in the form of the British, the soldiers started believing they had to take charge to ensure the empire’s survival.

    The ruling elite also knew they needed the support of the soldiers if they were to secure the throne for themselves. After the freak death of Ranjit Singh’s talented grandson Nau Nihal Singh in 1840, Sher Singh, one of Ranjit Singh’s sons, started vying for the throne, convinced he was the right person for the job.

    However, in Lahore, Nau Nihal Singh’s mother Chand Kaur had taken over the throne as regent, as she claimed her daughter-in-law was pregnant with Nau Nihal Singh’s son.

    To weaken the Lahore Durbar, Sher Singh started bribing sections of the army. And in 1841, he besieged the Lahore Fort, capturing the regent and her supporters. The Khalsa Army had already been bought.

    But even with the rise of Sher Singh, the panches remained an important, independent power house.

    Maharani Jind Kaur, the youngest wife of Ranjit Singh, also knew where the real power lay when in 1843, after the assassination of Sher Singh, the army declared her six-year-old son Duleep Singh the maharaja.

    She turned to the army to get back at the wazir, Hira Singh, for a slight. She appealed to the passion of the soldiers, protectors of the Khalsa Empire, to avenge the humiliation the wazir had wrought on their maharani, the wife of Sher-e-Punjab.

    A decision was made and the panches put Hira Singh to death. The maharani had won her battle. And her brother, Jawahir Singh, took up the post of wazir.

    Jind Kaur’s revenge

    But the tide soon turned. This time, the panches wanted to put her brother to death. The justification was another insult, meted out to another family member of the great maharaja– his son Peshura Singh no less.

    After the ascension of the boy king, Peshura Singh had risen in rebellion against the Lahore Durbar and was put down by the wazir. He was captured, ordered to be brought to Lahore and executed on the way on the orders of Jawahir Singh.

    The panches would have none of it. How dare a wazir take the life of a scion of Maharaja Ranjit Singh! The panches met and it was decided that Jawahir Singh would be put to death.

    The maharani pleaded with the soldiers but they had made up their minds. On September 21, 1845, Jawahir Singh was executed outside the walls of the Lahore Fort.

    A new wazir, Lal Singh, was appointed. He was rumoured to be the lover of the regent. But it was the soldiers who held the true power.

    As for the maharani, still reeling from the loss of her brother, she had other plans. She decided, along with Lal Singh and the head of the army Tej Singh, that it was time to cut the power of the soldiers.

    An anti-British frenzy, which had been part of rhetoric for a few years given their rising military presence on the eastern front, was unleashed from the top, while representatives of the Lahore Durbar started reaching out to British officers across the Sutlej, expressing their fidelity.

    The plan was to put the soldiers in a war in which their defeat was assured.

    On December 11, 1845, urged on by their commanders, the soldiers crossed the Sutlej and thus began the First Anglo-Sikh War. A few months later in March, the Treaty of Lahore was signed, assuring the British over-lordship over the affairs of the Lahore Durbar.

    The maharani and her entourage had achieved their purpose of reducing the might of the soldiers but a new setup brought with itself a whole new set of problems.

    In April of 1848, a little incident in Multan provided the British with an excuse to begin the Second Anglo-Sikh War, paving the way for the annexation of the Khalsa Empire on March 30, 1849.

    Cover photo and thumbnail from Wikipedia.

    This piece was first published on Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.

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    Much has been said about what the lynching of Mashal Khan revealed about Pakistani society – from the brutal consequences of mob hysteria to the degree to which fanaticism has seeped into the social fabric.

    That the tragedy took place in a university, however, spoke to another process that has helped bring the country to its current impasse – the political and ideological brutalisation of its students by the state.

    The on-campus lynching of a student by a mob of his peers solely on the basis of his progressive ideas was chilling to all who witnessed it; yet it was also simply the logical culmination of a decades-old state project to neutralise the potential of student politics for resistance and dissent in Pakistan.

    This project has largely been successful. Today, with the exception of a few campuses, the Pakistani university is not a space of freedom for learning, ideological debate or critical thinking, but one of apathy, ideological conformity, and moral conservatism, often enforced through a nexus between the state, university administrations and unelected right-wing student groups.

    Also read: At Pakistani universities, fear rules supreme on Valentine's Day

    The Pakistani university has become a space of institutionalised apathy, where students can be arrested with impunity for celebrating Sindhi culture; where they can be attacked by rightwing vigilantes for performing Pakhtun dance or for talking to a member of the opposite sex; where they can get killed for playing music; and where bright, progressive young men can be mercilessly lynched simply for imagining a less bigoted and unequal society.

    An interrupted legacy

    How did it come to this? Such poverty of political imagination among students was not always the norm. From the 1950s to the 1980s, Pakistani students were not a rag-tag mob but a collective, organised force to be reckoned with. They stood up to exclusionary education policies, organised strikes in support of organised labour and formed the core of the movement that brought down the dictatorship of Ayub Khan in 1969.

    Campuses in the 60s and 70s were rife with healthy ideological contestation between Left and Right, with progressive groups like the Democratic Students Federation (DSF) and National Students Federation (NSF) often electorally ascendant over their right-wing counterparts.

    Explore further: I was handcuffed and tied but it was worth my fight against One Unit

    At the zenith of student politics in the 1970s, student power could be gauged from the presence of union representatives in all university decision-making bodies through legislation that mandated student consent for university policies.

    Some student radicals even got elected to Parliament, like the NSF socialist Mairaj Muhammad Khan, who won on a PPP ticket from Karachi and became Labor Minister under Bhutto in 1971 (eventually resigning after 2 years once Bhutto began to renege on his socialist pledges).

    Things changed drastically of course under Zia. As an autocrat opposed to the very idea of popular democratic participation itself, Zia saw student unions, dominated as they were by the Left, as a nuisance that required a permanent solution.

    His regime began by arming right-wing groups like the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT) in 1979, which started conducting armed assaults on progressive student leaders in major universities, fueled by the anti-communist hysteria of the Afghan War.

    When this failed to stop the progressive fightback, in 1984, soon after the country-wide electoral rout of the IJT by the student Left in union elections, student unions were permanently banned by the military regime.

    A newspaper photo of Democratic Students Federation members protesting against the government at Karachi’s DJ Science College in 1953.
    A newspaper photo of Democratic Students Federation members protesting against the government at Karachi’s DJ Science College in 1953.

    Predictably, the regime cited campus violence – that it had itself initiated and facilitated – as the basis for the ban. The actual reason of course was Zia’s fear of the risk posed by a young, well-organised constituency that had publicly committed itself to his downfall.

    Zia’s ban – briefly removed by Benazir but ultimately reinstated by the then deeply conservative and compromised Supreme Court in 1993 – was more successful than he could have imagined. It fundamentally transformed both popular student culture as well as progressive politics, which relied heavily on student cadres in its mass organising efforts.

    Over time, campus character mutated from the ethos of politico-ideological resistance of the 70s to the puritanical right-wing conformism of today. From once being a bulwark against military dictatorship and religious extremism, the majority of Pakistani students transformed into unthinking imitators of state ideology – formally disengaged from politics but channeling the dominant religio-nationalist discourse through both their actions and inertia.

    The purge of progressives

    Campus politics did not disappear altogether after the ban but, over time, gradually degenerated to a shadow of its former self. Unions had allowed students a reasonable amount of collective power – they were institutionally recognised as collective bargaining agents by universities and could negotiate student concerns from fees to accommodation to broader policies that affected them.

    They had also allowed a recognised space for ideological debate and non-violent electoral competition, which meant students from varied ethno-linguistic and religious backgrounds could form coalitions around common ideas – as they did in the diverse array of independent student organisations that existed.

    When this space was snatched away, the ties that it facilitated for students across ethnic and religious lines also withered. The basis for the informal student politics that remained gradually became reduced to the lowest common denominators – those of ethnicity, religion or sect.

    In depth: Mob mentality: How many hands is Mashal's blood on?

    While progressive groups were violently persecuted under the ban’s cover, student organisations under the patronage of the military or ruling parties – such as the IJT or the Muslim Students Federation – were allowed to operate.

    A steady stream of funds and arms enabled such organisations to continue functioning informally, reinforced by the state where necessary (particularly in the smaller provinces), to eliminate any remaining progressive resistance on campuses.

    Without formal, elected organisational structures and legitimate collective authority, student organisations turned into personal mafia-like fiefdoms, sustained by distributing patronage – in the form of hostel space, university admissions or physical protection – and establishing their authority through the exercise of brute force, mirroring the clientelism logic of the state and ruling parties.

    Over time, groups like the IJT helped realise what the state had set out to do – wipe out progressive campus politics while ingraining a popular suspicion of the very idea of student politics in the wider social consciousness.

    With institutional student politics now a distant memory, the idea of student unions came to be synonymised with the violent thuggery of groups like the IJT. It was, in part, this embedded perception of the illegitimacy of student activism that allowed Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKU) to demonise Mashal as a blasphemer simply for raising legitimate concerns about financial corruption on campus.

    Engendering retrogression

    Of course, the union ban and its prejudicial implementation did not, by itself, achieve the state’s objectives. It was accompanied by Zia’s manipulation of the education system through policies that sought to induce in students a ‘loyalty to Islam and Pakistan’ and ‘a living consciousness of their ideological identity’.

    The social and natural sciences came under particular attack in universities, as anti-communist and anti-science propaganda funded by Saudi petrodollars came to replace critical scientific inquiry.

    Ideological conformism on campuses was reinforced by hounding out leftist teachers, replacing them with conservative hardliners, and introducing retrogressive content into the curriculum that demonised religious minorities, vilified critical thinkers, glorified war, and erased popular movements.

    On the same topic: Promoting anti-science via textbooks

    This legacy of thought control did not die with Zia – as recently as 2014, the Higher Education Commission issued a circular prohibiting educational content that ‘challenged the ideology of Pakistan’ in universities.

    It was this same anti-progressive venom that reared its head in AWKU, evidenced by one of Mashal’s professors reportedly declaring at a faculty meeting that the university ‘did not need communists on campus’ even as the leftist student was being hunted by the mob.

    As is now evident, the impact of this curricular propaganda on students’ ideological worldviews has been deeply damaging. Instead of being equipped with the analytical means to understand and critically engage with their surroundings, most students have been conditioned to think of complex natural, social, economic and political phenomena in black and white terms – and to conceive of most social contradictions as requiring simplistic moral, technical – and often violent – solutions.

    This conservative shift in student opinions has been well-documented. A study by scholar Ayesha Siddiqa found that majority of Pakistani students were suspicious of the democratic process, supported the military’s role in politics, harboured nostalgia about a romanticised theocratic past, agreed with the Clash of Civilisations thesis, opposed a federalist decentralisation of power, and considered political parties to be ‘inherently corrupt’.

    Concerns about students’ own rights and collective well-being did not rank highly among student priorities; especially ironic in an era where students have suffered from breakneck educational privatisation and skyrocketing costs, plummeting public standards, on-campus repression by paramilitary forces and even murderous attacks by the Taliban.

    A constrained renewal

    In this historical context, Mashal Khan’s lynching represents the grisly depths to which student political culture has regressed. Yet, there have been some glimmers of hope amid the gloom in the past decade.

    Several campuses rose up briefly against Musharraf’s 2007 emergency, a process that helped weaken the dictatorship and politicised a new generation of student activists, albeit a minority.

    Sporadic protests have been generated by Pakhtun, Sindhi and Baloch students against the hegemony of fundamentalist groups in Punjab or state's high-handedness in Sindh. The Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) has continued its politics of resistance to atrocities in Balochistan, often in the face of brutal repression (including enforced student disappearances).

    Cover of a radical leftist Urdu magazine showing NSF leader, Rasheed Ahmed Khan, being led out of a military court in 1968.
    Cover of a radical leftist Urdu magazine showing NSF leader, Rasheed Ahmed Khan, being led out of a military court in 1968.

    More recently, progressive student organisations of the past, including NSF and DSF, have also seen a revival, while new ones like the Democratic Students Alliance and the Progressive Students Collective have been formed to reorganise students and revive their alliances with workers and farmers.

    However, the ban on unions continues to prevent these periodic expressions of progressive student action from coalescing into broader movements. The continued absence of both institutional legitimacy and inter-campus networks for student politics hinder generational continuity, coordinated action, and solidarity.

    Unlike in 2016 in India, when thousands of student across dozens of Indian campuses demonstrated in solidarity with Jawaharlal Nehru University students facing a state backlash for questioning the dominant narrative on Kashmir, few Pakistani campuses rose in solidarity with LUMS students when they faced similar state censorship for attempting a dialogue on repression in Balochistan.

    Towards redemption

    Today, fascism is on the rise globally; yet from the United States to Greece to India and elsewhere, it is being met with stiff opposition whose ranks, more often than not, consist of thousands of progressive students.

    In Pakistan on the other hand, the state has stunted the political imagination of the bulk of its students and snatched from them both the capacity to think critically and the mechanisms to act politically, such that they are either indifferent to or complicit in the rising fascist tide.

    Reversing this decades-long generational rot will take time, but there are ways forward. In the first instance, this history must be popularised among students as a central component of the answer to why Pakistan has fallen prey to such violent radicalisation with such weak progressive resistance.

    NSF activists celebrate victory against IJT in the 1983 student union elections at Dow Medical College, Karachi.
    NSF activists celebrate victory against IJT in the 1983 student union elections at Dow Medical College, Karachi.

    The destructive ban on unions has to be overturned. The decrepit curriculum that produces the poisonous bigotry that killed Mashal needs to be comprehensively overhauled. The armed thuggery of groups like the IJT and other vigilantes needs to be met with stern state action and the concerted de-militarisation of campuses.

    But there is little evidence in the hollow words and actions of the ruling elite that they will willingly undertake these tasks. A pliant and conservative student body is far too convenient to their interests for them to realise that its character has jeopardised the very future of the country.

    Ultimately, these tasks will have to be taken on by students themselves; those who recognise what the state has done and possess the will to become, like Mashal, the conscious agents of history that will help reverse the tide.

    This article was first published in April 2017

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    As they say, the second shoe finally fell for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The disqualification of Nawaz Sharif is for life. That effectively means that the PML-N is in its post-Nawaz era and things are not looking good.

    The narrative that is being pushed through the mass rallies has created differences within the party. Chaudhry Nisar as well as others are against the harsh tone taken against the judiciary and the military.

    Their argument is that the narrative being peddled is putting on edge any chances the party has of survival in the long run.

    Even the current president of the party, Shahbaz Sharif, seems to be reluctant to follow Nawaz's narrative as he sees it as a threat to the future of the party under him. They are not entirely wrong.

    Editorial: Unsurprising verdict

    In a country like Pakistan, going up against the security establishment is not the most ideal path and often hurts any party. And this is where the biggest divisions in the PML-N are coming to the front.

    Most of the defections seen in recent days, from Gujranwala as well as Sheikhupura, have made a point to explain that their reason for defection is partly that narrative.

    The question then is what now? What is the future of the party given these splits that are becoming clearer by the day?

    Post-Nawaz PML-N

    Nawaz Sharif is gone. Next up may well be Maryam Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif. Maryam has a contempt of court petition against her in the Lahore High Court, as well as a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) case in relation to the Avenfield apartments.

    Shahbaz has enough cases against him that any one of them around the Sasti Roti Scheme, Multan Metro, the Ashiana Scheme or the Model Town case can render him useless.

    And while the talk of bringing in the grandson, Junaid, into politics may seem like an option, it is too early and will not have the expected impact.

    Part of the reason being that, like the rest of the world, Pakistan is slowly moving to a point where the average voter is over the family business model of political parties.

    People associate corruption with dynastic politics as a given and the appetite to tolerate that is no longer there.

    Secondly, in the absence of party professionalisation, party members have little incentive to be loyal as there is no growth potential for them.

    Unfortunately, the political dynasties are too insecure to let anyone else head the government or the party.

    Read next: A fake crisis created to justify the exit of Nawaz Sharif has now morphed into a real crisis

    That creates a situation where an electable with their vote bank would rather contest as an independent and then choose where they wish to end up rather than opt for a party. And those that do wish to join a party have very limited options.

    In the post-Nawaz era, the PML-N will witness a lot more defections, but a bulk will come in the shape of electables choosing to go independent before the elections.

    We can realistically expect a group of 40-50 independent candidates contesting under the same symbol and as an informal group that will have more sway rather than being associated with a party.

    This will create a new set of issues for a PML-N that is still not over the idea that they are being taken to the cleaners.

    With the family out of the party, what will be left is a PML-N with senior leaders, all battling to keep the structure in check.

    And with the rising threat of further defections, the party may be contesting elections against its former candidates in a host of constituencies across the country.

    Survival guaranteed?

    With the prospect of key disqualifications and contesting against its own former candidates, the reality has still not sunk in completely. The party is fighting for its survival.

    The loyal workers are disgruntled, in large part, about being dumped to the way side for the last five years. The provincial assembly candidates have their own set of grievances for being completely forgotten by the chief minister.

    That creates a realistic situation where Punjab is ready to vote in a different group of people to power.

    Explore: How Pakistan's Panama Papers probe unfolded

    The PML-N has held Punjab for over 10 years and in that period, a certain part of Punjab has seen explosive growth while other parts have been ignored or forgotten. The neglected parts are unlikely to fall in line through the power of the narrative alone.

    They need clear incentives and in case of further disqualifications, the biggest question would be, who is going to give the guarantees and the incentive? Whose word are they supposed to believe?

    That is the kind of unpredictability the party is not thinking about right now. They are no where near having a plan for that. Because the advisers around the leadership lack the capacity to think that far out.

    In such a scenario, one must then ask about the survival of the party going forward. Yes, it will survive, but not with the same kind of influence or might.

    Punjab is likely heading towards a coalition government if the elections are to happen on time, and the most probable chief minister seems to be coming from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

    Similarly, at the centre it seems that with the falling fortunes of the PML-N, we are looking at a hung parliament where independent candidates will have the role of kingmakers in whatever party comes to power.

    And while the PTI and Pakistan People's Party are refusing to consider a seat adjustment right now, there is a good chance that they may think of coming together to form a government with the help of the independents.

    A new PML

    I realise that the picture I am painting is a grim one but that is the reality we are dealing with. We can fawn over the narrative and question the judiciary and the military, but that really does not change the facts.

    A PML without the Sharifs is going to happen because the wheels are in motion to achieve that. Once that takes place, the question the party would need to ask is how they plan to function and operate. Who will take the lead and what kind of agenda are they willing to work on.

    Analysis: What next for Nawaz Sharif?

    Chaudhry Nisar is one good option to head the party but so are people like Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal. The party any of them inherits will be a distinctly new party.

    There will be a need to come up with new decision structures, brand new ways to push the message, and creation of new party leadership that can move forward. That is a daunting task and will not be achieved any time soon.

    What has hurt the party the most over the years has been the clear lack of succession planning; now that the time is here, the problem is hitting home harder than people had assumed.

    We are in for a period of political restructuring not just at the PML-N, but also at other parties.

    The PPP will have to also go through a similar fate eventually whether they like it or not, because dynastic politics is done given the trajectory of democracy in our country.

    The sooner parties realise that, the better it is for them.

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    In 1970, Rasheed Araeen stood at St. Katharine Docks, near his studio in London, and invited friends to throw 16 fluorescent red discs in the water.

    It was an exercise in breaking the symmetrical structure of the discs and observing how they created their own random movements in the water.

    This performance, titled Chakras, can be considered one of the originating points of Pakistani performance art.

    Of course, it feels inappropriate to anoint Araeen as the beginning of any canon: his life and artistic practice have been dedicated to destabilising the canons of the art world.

    As a pioneer of minimalist structure as well as public and performance art, Araeen worked tirelessly against racist and exclusionary art institutions.

    His performance work, which includes Paki Bastard, where he put on dark glasses and gagged himself, and Burning Ties, where he set fire to a row of red neckties, took on increasingly radical tones.

    Araeen is not alone in this. The history and practice of public and performance art is intimately tied with transgression and subversion, especially in the Global South.

    A worthwhile step in this direction was taken by the initiative House, in March at a house in EME-DHA, as a collaborative effort by writers, thinkers, artists and designers to study the relationship between the body and its environments through performative means of expression.

    The organisers and participants of House set out to explore sites outside of galleries and museums for the production and performance of art in the city of Lahore.

    House Workshop. —House Ltd
    House Workshop. —House Ltd

    The series culminated with a performance inside a suburban house, where many of the performances, which had previously been performed in public, were repeated with slight alterations.

    By domesticating their work of art in such a direct, forceful way, the performance provided insights into how performances are received differently in public and private settings.

    According to Natasha Jozi, founder and creative director of House: "A house is a unique communal space which brings together living bodies and objects. Inherently it serves as a fulcrum for initiating dialogue, interactions and shaping identities. You often tend to question, what houses you? Which house do you belong in?"

    Natasha Jozi, founder and creative director of House. — House Ltd
    Natasha Jozi, founder and creative director of House. — House Ltd

    Upon entering the house where the performances were taking place, I immediately came across a woman bound from head to toe in a long, brown rope, the kind often used to secure large packages of cargo.

    Over the course of the performance, participants untied and tied her again and again, applying the rope to her body in different arrangements and configurations, securing the artist to different walls, sometimes even securing her to the installations of other artists.

    The haunting, visceral passivity of the performer invited participants to move her, rearrange her, untie her, re-tie her in different styles, and in these ways, change the scope of her mobility.

    This tension between the interactive openness of the performance and its physical restrictions allowed for a complex, even contradictory, array of meanings to develop: both playful and painful, both unfixed and restricted.

    This performance, Abeera Saleem’s Tie Untie, was first performed inside Lawrence Gardens.

    Abeera tied herself to a tree in this famous, historic park, which is central to the geography and community of Lahore, and attracts hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors on any given day.

    Abeera Saleem, Tie Untie. — House Ltd
    Abeera Saleem, Tie Untie. — House Ltd

    Lawrence Gardens was first developed in 1863 as part of the modernising and civilising mission of the British colonial forces, which saw the Lahore of Mughals and Sikhs as insular, chaotic, and backwards.

    Curators were brought from the Kew Gardens in London to give the park an ordered and symmetrical geometry, which was opposed to the organic growth of the older, walled city of Lahore.

    In fact, the supposed contrast between the order of the new British developments and the chaos of the older parts of the city became an accepted trope, constantly invoked by historians, novelists, tour guides, administrators, and policymakers — in short, the whole gamut of colonial functionaries.

    This Manichaean division between the good, modern, British section of the city and the bad, backwards, native section of the city is typical of colonial missions in India and Africa.

    It often masked the reality that the native sector was deliberately underdeveloped, ignored and exploited, not to mention policed and surveilled.

    The site of Lawrence Gardens is a vital reminder of the way violence is engineered by such hierarchical binaries of colonialism as good/bad, modern/traditional, chaotic/ordered, private/public.

    Developed soon after the 1857 War of Independence, in which Indian sepoys rebelled against their colonial masters, the park was meant to serve as a memento of British superiority, of their ultimate victory in a ruthless campaign that destroyed cities and whole communities.

    By tying herself to a tree in Lawrence Gardens, a possible descendant of the trees planted by experts from the Kew Garden, but also — at the same time — a local variant, an adaptation, Abeera embodied and performed the binds that keep us attached to the violent histories of colonialism.

    It is also crucial to understand that the history of colonialism — at its fundamental core — is a gendered history.

    The binaries that upheld British colonial efforts were mapped onto gendered bodies. Abeera’s performance doesn’t just centre any post-colonial body, but a body identified as female.

    It is an unapologetic comment on the way these histories are not simply abstract texts or ideas, relegated to an unknowable past, but embodied experiences, painful and vehement, felt and lived every day by gendered and racialised bodies.

    Abeera Saleem, Tie Untie. —House Ltd
    Abeera Saleem, Tie Untie. —House Ltd

    At the same time, I do not want to limit the interpretation of Abeera’s performance to a narrative of powerlessness.

    Abeera’s interactive performance also enacts a resistant playfulness, handing over agency to other participants, especially women, who could change the narrative of the performance with their own engagement.

    As I was leaving the house where the exhibition was taking place, I noticed two women making intricate patterns with the rope and adorning the performer with them.

    When I asked them what they were doing, they simply responded: “We’re just trying to give her a pretty headdress; make some jewelry.”

    Another performance that caught my eye was Abrar Ahmed’s Untitled. Abrar set up nine slates on raised platforms.

    He drew a grid on each one, like a hashtag sign, using colourful chalks, and invited the participants to play a game of goodkata— similar to tic-tac-toe, but played with ticks and crosses instead of zeros and crosses.

    At the beginning, the participants played with Abrar, but gradually, the participants began to play by themselves, inviting each other.

    Abrar Ahmed, Untitled. —House Ltd
    Abrar Ahmed, Untitled. —House Ltd

    Abrar explained to me that he preferred ticks and crosses because he grew up playing with those symbols in his neighbourhood in Lahore.

    He wanted to explore how certain supposedly universal signs — specifically, for this performance, the hashtag — are evolving, their historical and semiotic trajectories hybridised by routes of colonialism, capitalism, globalisation, and urbanisation.

    The invitation to play with the sign within the performance felt like another attempt to explore the semiotic fluidity of the sign.

    In fact, participants intuitively interacted with the hashtags in multiple ways, drawing and mixing different symbols to create their own games. Some used the sign to express famous Twitter slogans like #BLM.

    The final game, played with acrylic on a canvas, resulted in ticks and zeros, a curious combination of goodkata and tic-tac-toe: a chance encounter with the syncretism of symbols.

    A few days later, Abrar took me to the Taxali Gate in the walled section of Lahore, where he initially performed the piece by painting the hashtag sign on a public wall.

    He was interested in the hyperreality of places like the Taxali Gate, curiously located between fact and collective fictions.

    Abrar Ahmed, Untitled. —House Ltd
    Abrar Ahmed, Untitled. —House Ltd

    The area around Lahore Fort is a place that seems almost unreal, or, we can say, its actual reality matters little when faced with all the fictions attached to it.

    I felt that the Taxali Gate itself had disappeared under its own narratives and representations. All that was left — even as I walked around the place itself — was a tourist brochure.

    Abrar’s hashtag, conspicuously announcing itself on a public wall, became a co-conspirator in this game of invisibility, highlighting how our contemporary world often privileges a tidy and accessible virtual reality over the complexities of centuries-old cultures.

    On our way back, we came across Lahore Fort Food Street. The space has been recently gentrified to attract tourism in the area, with no efforts to confront any of the various economic, political, and social problems afflicting the surrounding communities.

    And what did we find at the very entrance of the Food Street? A big hashtag sign, proclaiming #LOVELAHORE, the O’s in love and Lahore substituted with Pepsi’s round logo. Reality, unfortunately, really was disappearing.

    People inside the Food Street sat on the rooftops of old havelis, looking around at even older neighbourhoods, concocting fantasies from a safe distance without stepping into the streets.

    As I walked, feeling myself part of a modern, developing city, observing neighbourhoods designated as "antique" and "traditional," I was reminded of the colonial juxtaposition between the new, ordered Lawrence Gardens and the old, chaotic areas around Lahore Fort.

    It was easy to see in that moment how colonial and patriarchal binaries continue to inform our ideas and policies, interminably repeating their violence.

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    In December 2016, Shahbaz Sharif declared (as he has many times before and since) that transparency and merit were the hallmarks of his government, and that the Punjab government’s zero tolerance for corruption from the bottom to the top of the administrative hierarchy was producing results.

    Certainly, a number of schemes were introduced to ensure that 'corruption' was eliminated across the administrative departments that make up the government of Punjab, most prominently through the use of monitoring and technology (e.g. the use of smart phones and computerisation of records).

    In 2017, the chief minister declared that his government’s policies have led to there being "no room for corruption as idols of sifarish, nepotism and corruption have been broken in the province."

    However, a problem arises where the CM’s plans for transparency run into electoral realities, particularly politicians’ desire to dispense patronage to voters.

    Well aware of this clash, Sharif and his allies developed a method to have their cake and eat it too — they started differentiating between 'good' sifarish and 'bad' sifarish: the latter was to be condemned and dismissed as 'corrupt', but the former was to be catered to with speed and efficiency.

    This distinction allowed the government to achieve success in select anti-corruption measures while simultaneously ensuring that some, favoured politicians’ patronage demands were met.

    In what follows, I will briefly outline the market for bureaucratic appointments in Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) Punjab, and then focus on reforms introduced in the name of merit and transparency in teacher appointments in the School Education Department.

    By making strategic appointments to key posts within the bureaucratic hierarchy, the CM Secretariat was able to control the implementation of its anti-corruption measures.

    As a result, the CM Secretariat empowered a group of politicians and bureaucrats above others, while still maintaining the government’s image as an advocate of merit and transparency.


    The PML-N is not an ideological party. Its appeal to voters (particularly those in urban areas) lies in the ability of elected party members to 'get things done' — the laying of a sewage line, acquiring an electricity, gas or telephone connection, and, most importantly, getting a voter (or their family member) a job with the government.

    Therefore, moves to eliminate corruption and improve transparency may sound wonderful in theory, but in reality, they do not sit well with constituency politicians seeking to dispense patronage amongst voters.

    Government jobs, ranging from Class IV posts such as cleaners or watchmen to teaching staff, are particularly in demand as a form of patronage for a couple of reasons.

    The first is relative security of tenure and a pension, attractive prospects for anyone looking for some long-term stability for themselves and their family.

    And second, government jobs allow the person being posted to exercise a bit of power themselves, particularly if they manage to advance up the bureaucratic hierarchy.

    This power may be nothing more than getting a family member or friend an audience with a senior bureaucrat, but the ability to do even this much denotes prestige and access to power within the person’s immediate social circle.

    Therefore, the distribution of government jobs by politicians has long been a means of winning votes within communities.

    The reality of patronage politics in Punjab outlined here will come as no surprise to any observer of Pakistani politics.

    What is of interest is how a government touting its anti-corruption policies (transparency, monitoring, open access to information, etc.) balanced the introduction of these measures with the demands made by politicians of their own party’s administration.

    The uniform implementation of anti-corruption measures would close down avenues of patronage, threatening the political economy that exists in constituencies (and by extension, the province as a whole), thus endangering future electoral prospects for not just the Members of Provincial Assembly (MPA) and the Members of National Assembly (MNA), but eventually the party itself.

    So, in implementing these measures, the government determined who must conform with anti-corruption policies when it came to distributing government jobs, and who may be exempted from having to do so.


    During the time that the PML-N felt secure in its political position in Punjab, the provincial government’s implementation of favoured policies, projects, and anti-corruption measures relied on appointing a group of favourite bureaucrats (most of whom belonged to the Pakistan Administrative Service – PAS) to key posts – e.g. departmental secretaries, heads of authorities, and district coordination officers (DCO).

    These would typically be officers who had worked closely with the CM or the chief secretary in the past and had a proven record of ‘getting the job done’.

    As one example, Fawad Hasan Fawad was such an appointee. When the PML-N formed the government in Punjab in 2008, he was posted as Secretary Services where he was in charge of assembling the team of bureaucrats who would staff senior district posts (DCOs and divisional commissioners) in Punjab.

    A few months later, Fawad was appointed Secretary Communication and Works to 'accelerate the pace of work and purge the department of corrupt officials and contractors'.

    It is important to note here that the appointment of these bureaucrats by the CM Secretariat (often through the manipulation of regulations on bureaucratic appointments) was not regarded as 'corrupt'.

    For example, Fawad Hasan Fawad’s appointments to various Secretary posts (Services, Communication and Works, Health) were made while he was still too junior (in terms of Basic Pay Scale) for these offices. However, no action was taken to prevent this widespread practice.

    Instead, appointments that are not strictly in line with the rules — for instance, the hiring of retired bureaucrats on contract basis or the appointment of junior bureaucrats— are justified as discretionary, made to ensure that the government has access to the best officials to carry out its mandate.

    Bureaucratic reshuffles that take place after an election is held are a key example — they allow the new government to assemble their own people around them.

    In 2013, for instance, the PML-N was on the hunt for "a team of experienced and honest bureaucrats," particularly for the federal government under Nawaz Sharif.

    In light of these practices, the feeling amongst the mid-tier and junior bureaucracy I interviewed was that anti-corruption policies that enhanced monitoring and transparency targeted them but left the higher echelons of the bureaucracy — where ‘corruption’ usually involved having a finger in the pie alongside senior politicians — largely untouched.

    The PAS’ reaction to Ahad Cheema’s arrest by the National Accountability Bureau over the Ashiyana scam seems to suggest the truth of this perspective. Elite bureaucrats are unused to having their (allegedly 'corrupt') actions investigated.

    This attitude is by no means unique to the Cheema case though — in 2015, for instance, the senior bureaucracy resisted attempts to make officers in BPS 20-22 subject to investigations by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

    The bureaucrats appointed to key posts in Punjab emulated the CM’s missionary zeal and micro-management within their own departments, and followed the CM Secretariat’s instructions on the implementation of policy.

    Mirroring the actions of the CM, the secretary of a department would influence appointments to posts in the department’s secretariat offices and in key districts.

    The secretary would be under pressure to ‘deliver’, and, in turn, he would pressure the officials working under him in secretariat offices and in the districts to ensure that targets set by the CM Secretariat were met.

    In return, the CM Secretariat protected the secretary from investigations, smoothed the way for him in the implementation of policy, and ensured that, once he ‘delivered’, he moved on to a lucrative new post.

    For instance, Ahad Cheema was transferred from the post of DCO Lahore when the legality of his appointment was questioned before the Lahore High Court and was appointed the director general of the Lahore Development Authority and put in charge of the Lahore MetroBus project.

    And when Cheema was in charge of the Lahore MetroBus project, the CM took a personal interest in the project, pushed for its speedy completion, ensured that financing (including compensation payments) was swiftly approved, and dealt with questions regarding the project’s transparency quickly and quietly.

    The dynamics between bureaucrats and the CM Secretariat allowed the former (and through him the CM Secretariat) to shape the behaviour of bureaucrats throughout the department’s hierarchy, thereby ensuring that the work of the department was transparent and merit-based, but only to the extent desired by the CM Secretariat.


    When the PML-N formed the government in Punjab in 2013, the government implemented policies that regulated the recruitment and transfer of frontline staff — teachers — in the School Education Department.

    Rather than allowing politicians to influence the recruitment or transfer of teaching staff for personal or electoral gains, the department decided to improve the recruitment process by computerising merit lists and displaying them publicly for candidates to check them.

    In addition, the department decided to control teacher transfers by imposing a ban on all transfers during the academic year. Transfers would only be permitted during department announced transfer windows, and teachers would have to apply for a transfer by identifying an appropriate vacant post.

    In my observations of bureaucrats at work in the School Education Department, however, it soon became evident that, for all the claims of merit and transparency in teacher appointments, the reality was much more mixed.

    In theory, bureaucrats in the department were not permitted to entertain politicians’ requests (made either in person, on the telephone, or through parchis attached to an application form) asking them to expedite an application, to give an applicant a few extra points on his interview, or just give the applicant a job or transfer.

    But, in fact, bureaucrats’ responses to sifarish varied, as per the instructions of the department secretary.

    The department secretary at the time had a reputation amongst his colleagues for resisting political pressure, a function of his close ties to the CM Secretariat from a previous posting as DCO Kasur.

    This connection between the CM Secretariat and the secretary of the School Education Department was critical to the regulated implementation of anti-corruption measures in the appointment of teachers.

    Certainly, bureaucrats in the department offered no hope to ordinary citizens asking for jobs and teachers asking for transfers, stating that there was a policy that had to be followed, that the secretary would not bend, that things had changed as per the CM’s emphasis on merit and transparency in appointments.

    A few people were given the courtesy that bureaucrats hung on to their parchis till after they had left the office, as if they really meant to at least think on their sifarish.

    These applicants were junior bureaucrats or applicants whose sifarish came from politicians that bureaucrats considered insignificant to the CM Secretariat.

    As soon as the door closed behind these people, the slips of paper joined the rest of the parchis on the floor under the bureaucrat’s desk.

    But I observed a third category first hand — those with a sifarish from a prominent politician or bureaucrat — caused the official to sit up straight and immediately summon a member of his office staff to usher the person, parchi in hand, to the office of the secretary down the hall.

    No questions or reassurances were necessary — this was a sifarish that would be fulfilled regardless of merit and transparency.

    Such variations in bureaucratic behaviour came as no surprise to opposition MPAs and MNAs, nor to ruling party MNAs and MPAs, who did not have a close association with the PML-N leadership.

    They were well aware that their demands for teaching jobs or transfers for their voters were not considered sufficiently pressing by the CM Secretariat and would therefore not be accommodated by officials in the School Education Department.

    Their discontent sometimes arose in the form of complaints to the press regarding the CM’s disinterest in his own party’s politicians’ electoral needs, or privilege motions in the Punjab Assembly regarding bureaucratic high-handedness.

    In 2017, for instance, an MPA complained through a privilege motion that the regional manager of Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd in Sargodha had made him wait for an hour despite not being busy, and then responded rudely to the MPA’s queries about public works.

    In another case, an MPA complained about the behaviour of a superintendent in the Communications and Works Department through a privilege motion, claiming that the officer had refused to act in accordance with the law and had said that he would not follow the law because "it has been created by those without any shame."

    In both cases, the bureaucrats had to present themselves in front of the Committee on Privileges and apologise to the MPA.

    Though privilege motions allow politicians to impress their dignity and position on bureaucrats by dragging them in front of the committee, and press interviews allow them an avenue to vent their grievances, the politicians I spoke to were nonetheless well aware that any sifarish they made would be subject to the rules set by the CM Secretariat.

    While a sifarish from an ordinary citizen, or someone not close to the CM could be ignored, a sifarish from someone in the CM’s inner circle would be catered to immediately.


    The sheer volume of appointments that go through the School Education Department’s bureaucrats (with over 400,000 employees across the province and teaching posts in such high demand) make the distinctions drawn between different kinds of sifarish particularly visible.

    However, these distinctions were not unique to the School Education department — similar practices prevailed in the Higher Education Department, and likely in others as well.

    They allowed the CM Secretariat and its chosen bureaucrats to maintain the veneer of reform, touting merit and transparency as its hallmarks, while consolidating power in the hands of the CM and his closest political and bureaucratic allies.

    Those with access to the CM were still able to dispense patronage at will, meaning that teacher appointments continued to be politicised.

    But the exclusion of ordinary citizens and some politicians and bureaucrats from government largesse allowed the CM Secretariat to claim that the government’s anti-corruption measures were producing results.

    As the Punjab government became more and more centralised, entwining the party’s leadership with a small coterie of politicians and a cadre of politicised bureaucrats, excluded politicians had to either seek alternative means of satisfying their voters or convince the CM to compromise his anti-corruption measures in order to accommodate electoral realities.

    Luckily for the ruling party politicians at least, political realities change and the party leaders’ priorities change with them.

    With the 2018 election approaching, and the party facing a leadership crisis, the electoral calculus shifted.

    Though the CM continues to advocate for merit and transparency, the PML-N government can no longer afford to ignore its politicians.

    Are you a researcher or policy advocate working on government reforms? Share your insights with us at

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    "Why weren’t the Muslim rubabi protected? They held such high status in Sikhism? Why were they allowed to leave East Punjab at the time of Partition?" I asked.

    The question was directed at Ghulam Hussain. I was in his home, deep within the older part of Lahore, close to the shrine of Data Darbar, the city’s patron saint.

    Dressed in a white shalwar kameez and maroon waistcoat, a white scarf tied around his neck, the octogenarian had only recently recovered from what had become for him a recurring sickness. He had nevertheless agreed to my request for an interview.

    Behind him, the walls and cupboard were adorned with symbols of the Sikh religion — a picture of a kirpan, the Golden Temple — and numerous awards he had received from Sikh organisations over the years.

    Along with them were a few Islamic symbols, including a poster with a verse from the Quran. It was February of 2014 when I met Hussain. He died in April the following year, and this was possibly his last interview.

    I had searched for Ghulam Hussain for a few years, having heard that he was a descendant of Bhai Mardana, Guru Nanak’s Muslim rubabi.

    Bhai Mardana played an important role in the development of the Sikh religion. Not only did he accompany Guru Nanak on his travels, he also played the rubab while Nanak sang his divinely inspired poetry.

    Since their time, Muslim rubabi had been given the responsibility of performing the kirtan at gurdwaras— till the tradition was abruptly disrupted during Partition.

    From kirtan to qawwali

    "Everyone was only concerned about their own selves at the time," Hussain recalled.

    "We were Muslims, therefore we had to leave. It did not matter if we were rubabi. What mattered was our Muslim identity. That became our only identity. In fact, a couple of our rubabi even lost their lives during the riots. My father-in-law, Bhai Moti, was one of them. He used to play tabla at a gurdwara in Patiala. Another rubabi who used to perform at Guru Amardas' gurdwara at Goindwal was also killed."

    He continued, "My chacha, Bhai Chand, was a rubabi at the Golden Temple. He had three houses in Amritsar, all of which were three storeys high. He was a millionaire at that time. He used to live in Bhaiyyon ki gali, named after the rubabi family. He became a pauper in Pakistan."

    Elaborating on his Sikh heritage, Hussain said his family’s ancestral gurdwara was Siyachal Sahib, which lies between Lahore and Amritsar. His father was a gyani— one who leads the congregation in prayer — who also gave lectures on Sikhism.

    "My father was the gadi nasheen of the rubabi seat there, which meant I would have taken over his position eventually," he added.

    But Partition changed all that.

    "Not only did we lose our money, we also lost our profession," Hussain said. "While we knew the [Guru] Granth by heart, we knew nothing about being Muslim, besides the kalma. The Muslims had no interest in our profession. Thus, we began doing odd jobs — selling samosa, kheer, meat."

    However, Hussain soon found a second calling in qawwali, after receiving an invitation to a performan at a local cultural organisation called Nizami Art Society.

    "At one of these meetings, not many years after Partition, I was invited to perform qawwali," Hussain said.

    "In those early days, I struggled because my Urdu pronunciation was weak. I couldn’t even read the script, having been trained in Gurmukhi. However, I practised and gradually mastered singing in Urdu. My financial condition also began improving."

    I asked him, "How similar or different are these two traditions, of kirtan and qawwali?"

    He answered, "There is an old Punjabi saying — a hundred wise men sitting together will end up saying the same thing, while in a group of a hundred fools each one will say a different thing. Bulleh Shah reiterated what Nanak said. Guru Arjan’s and Sultan Bahu’s message is the same as that of Shah Hussain. Their kalam overlaps. In fact, I would go to the extent of saying that Guru Nanak expounded the Quran. Thus, to answer your question, qawwali and kirtan are part of the same tradition."

    In 2005, Ghulam Hussain finally got the opportunity to visit the Golden Temple, with which his family has deep ties. —AFP
    In 2005, Ghulam Hussain finally got the opportunity to visit the Golden Temple, with which his family has deep ties. —AFP

    A dying connection

    But not everyone shares his view of syncretism.

    Hussain’s son, sitting quietly with us as the interview progressed, suddenly jumped into the conversation.

    "A few Sikhs say Mardana was nothing but a funny character in Nanak’s Janamsakhis, who was always either hungry or thirsty," he said. "I would choose to disagree. It was Mardana who brought out the divinity of Nanak. It was for Mardana that Nanak turned sweet the bitter fruit of a Kekkar tree."

    Hussain had a personal story of his own about Mardana’s importance in the history of Sikhism. "Once, before Partition, my father was at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hassanabdal," he said.

    "He was in the sacred pool taking dips when one Sikh got offended and complained to the office. He accused my father of polluting the water. My father was summoned to the office. When questioned why he had taken a dip in the water, he asked the official, 'Who did Nanak create this pool for? To quench Mardana’s thirst. This is, therefore, Mardana’s pool and I being a rubabi am his descendant. Now let me ask this question, who are you to claim ownership over this pool?'"

    He let out a loud chuckle at the end of this story, but quickly became serious as he spoke of his visit to India and to the Golden Temple in 2005 — for the first time after Partition. "I wanted to perform at the Golden Temple," he said.

    "My family had performed there for seven generations. We are the descendants of Bhai Sadha and Madha, who were appointed at the Golden Temple by Guru Tegh Bahadur. Such was our honour that we used to receive a share from the offerings at the shrine, which was then equally distributed among all the rubabi families. Throughout Sikh history, the rubabis have displayed their loyalty to the gurus. It was Bhai Bavak, a rubabi with Guru Hargobind, who rescued his daughter, Bibi Veera, from the Turks, when no other Sikh dared cross into their territory."

    But Hussain’s wish to perform at the gurdwara was not to be fulfilled.

    "Our family has a deep connection with the Golden Temple but now it has become extremely difficult for a rubabi to perform kirtan there. The officials there told me only Amritdhari could perform there," he said, referring to Sikhs who have been initiated or baptised by taking amrit or "nectar water".

    He added, "I wanted to tell those officials that my ancestors had been performing kirtan here before Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh. There is no tradition of any rubabi ever converting out of Islam. When the gurus never asked us to become Sikhs, then what right did these officials have?"

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

    —Wellcome Library, London/Creative Commons—Wellcome Library, London/Creative Commons