Verbal tantrums of a writer & an anxious spectator of life.

Month: March, 2014

Where do the children play? Remembering Malala’s cause

Published in the Huffington Post July 8, 2013.

What dreary lives are we leading where our mothers, daughters and sisters are being shot in the head? They point their guns and the target is shunned. What remains is the voice behind, but if we falter in raising that, we’ll lose the battle completely.

It’s no secret that without women, there would be no national development. Why? Mothers raise, educate and set priorities for the children. Mothers ensure health and wealth for their children. Mothers manage the households so her sons and daughters can go to school and become something, one day. Mothers sacrifice their own visions, career aspirations and professional dreams so that her children’s mouths are fed. How do women do this? They are biologically inclined to tend to the needs of human beings; their emotional sensibility has ingrained in them a sense of sheer humanity males do not possess. Everywhere we go, we see women catering to the needs of homes, communities and jobs. If the woman is isolated and kept in the dark, so are the children. If a woman is robbed of her right to be informed, her children are highly likely to remain illiterate. Women are the reason our societies prosper and grow into dynamic nations.

Pakistani women are in no way behind: Benazir Bhutto, Fatima Bhutto, Um-e-Hassan, Ayesha Jalal, Madiha Lodhi, Mukhtar Mai, Malala Yousafzai, to name a few of the prominent names we have seen in global news. These women have been the movers and shakers in both political and social spheres of Pakistan, striving to shake the unequal ground we stand upon. However, these are only the most prominent names, the list is never-ending when it comes to young and adult female minds that compromise their livelihood to strive for equal rights for women. Those who want to educate, those who want to illuminate lives, those who fight crimes, those who shelter rape and acid-burn victims, those who remain quiet when their husbands beat them to pulp just so her children always have a roof over their heads – The mothers, daughters and sisters of Pakistan, despite the extremely conservative and at times, devastatingly oppressive regimes in some of the Tribal Areas, remain alive in their pursuit of equality and keep our heads high.

In a gruesome event, a young activist and education-lover, Malala Yousafzai was wounded by the Taliban. They said she spoke for the West and against the Taliban; she wanted to go to school and educate herself and that was no place for her. Her place was at home, beneath the shadows of male figures surrounding her. Her only right was to pay heed to what the Taliban required. This young, courageous and mighty young woman resides in Swat, one of the tribal regions of Pakistan and also one of the most beautiful mountainous regions, might I add. Amid the quietening gloom of religious fundamentalists, she wrote, she spoke and she took a pen and began to share her story. She spoke of the hopeless environment enveloping her; she spoke against illiteracy and stood up for female education. She almost died because of this. Today, she lays in a hospital bed, struggling for her life. How often do we find such vibrant young women who reside in some of the most oppressive surroundings? Some say in Pakistan, women only come third; that is after men and even some animals that aid men in carrying out their work. But guess who always shines like the brightest diamond? Women such as Malala; alive, breathing and believers.

The purpose behind this post is not to repeat what many already say: women are the dynamic of prosperity, but to address a most fundamental matter at hand: Today we remember Malala, but tomorrow when the load-shedding takes over, and the weather changes to blistering cold, when a friend of ours visits us from abroad, when we lock our eyes with our favorite TV shows, tomorrow – Who will remember Malala’s voice?


Beneath the Soil

Published in the Huffington Post, May 29 2013.


Northwest Pakistan marked the beginning of the New Year by opening gunfire on seven charity workers. Their crime was participating in a vaccination program. Several men on four motorbikes fired at the van the social workers were seated in, close to “Ujala” or Light, the center where their work was to take place. Well before 2001, foreign aid swept into Pakistan, aiding only a few but proliferating the number of sanctions. Many projects amounted to nothing because the people did not want what was being offered. This is particularly true in the vastly tribal regions of Pakistan, where uneducated masses reside amidst terrorists who maintain their angst towards the West, and any cooperation between Pakistan and the West. When ‘outsiders’ have gone in with ideas of changing lives, they have been met with great shock: sensitive cultures, traditions, conventions, religion, language and perspectives are dangerously different than they seem to anyone outside of the country. For example: building schools. If foreigners are seen participating in this much-needed charitable work, terrorists don’t just act out on them. They bomb the school and carry off more explosions inside the country to send their message: We don’t want you. The rest of Pakistan, well, they are seen as helpless.

Jan. 1, 2013 saw a tragedy unlike before — the horrific shootings of innocent women and men, only trying to help. But they were stopped by militants. This made me think — rather re-think — developmental strategies and ideas of progressive change.

The trouble is not that there aren’t enough people willing to help, neither is it that the general Pakistani masses are helpless. The truth is, we need to water the roots beneath the soil with education so that the development we want to bring will be accepted, acknowledged and appreciated. If you keep adding water to a plant that’s already dead, it won’t make it come back to life. We need to plant new seeds under the soil, and these seeds can be found in the palms of education. See, if you want to implement vaccination programs in rural villages of the Northwest, the reality is the people will want it, of course (who wouldn’t want their medical needs met?) — but the terrorists won’t let you. This connects to the number of children that are being trained and brainwashed to participate in history’s worst practice, that of killing in the name of religion. Poverty and lack of options is a huge factor in why so many children are sent to terrorists to be schooled, trained and used. If we can begin to educate minds, we can begin to inform. Information will lead to thought, which will enable minds to think for themselves and make better choices. We can begin to decrease the number of children joining forces with militants by offering them opportunities at schools, providing them with waivers, uniforms, incentives and a natural belief in their potential.

If we focus on education, we can have more educated officials in our government representing our country. Unlike the current president whose own education is under controversy, we will find it easier to breathe and believe that our chosen representative has an informed mind and the ability to make better choices for our country. Those who advise him should be educated, those who surround him should be educated, those who want to participate in politics should be educated so that money doesn’t have to be the only incentive — rather education will enable them to believe that there are other factors that contribute to a high quality of life. If our government gets better over the next few decades, their decisions will be well armed in combating terrorism.

As you can see, all roots go back to education — to the schooling of a young boy and girl and letting them know they can make better choices. Only then will efforts that only touch the foreground meet fruition.

Pakistan’s Malala or Not?

Published in the Huffington Post, 17 October 2013.

There’s so much fussy fuss around Malala. I’m not talking about the good-natured kind, or the saving kind, but rather Pakistanis themselves bashing the Western world for stepping in and turning themselves into heroes. There is no doubt her trials and tribulations have been of immense tragedy; shooting a young girl in her head for her education rights is just blatantly wrong. But what’s missing is this piece: Why isn’t the Pakistani government or even leadership taking a stance and speaking out for her as much as the West is? Yes, it’s the typical let’s save the native girl from her harrowing reality of being surrounded by illiterate and destructive menlet’s sway her away to the UK and provide her with the security and access to education she deserves. But perhaps it has to do with how, us, Pakistanis, have not been able to provide that platform to her and the other Malalas that exist not only in the Swat Valley, but even in urban cities of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Palestine and the list goes on.

I recognize it is difficult for us to be labeled as “backward” and most of all, as victims of a society that strips women of their basic rights by media and subsequently by many a nations, however, if someone has offered to save a case and shed light upon a most devastating reality, why are we punishing them and not ourselves — when it was us, we, the Pakistanis, who, again, failed to provide her with the security she deserves? This doesn’t mean every time tragedy strikes, we await the arrival of the Grand White Savior to sway her off her feet in a helicopter, landing on a most serene helipad and offering her a bed of roses. Rather, is it not time to stop victimizing ourselves further and take her story to stand for something that is larger than our self-pitying mentalities? Rather than bashing the “developed” world’s efforts, albeit nuanced in its’ hospitality, perhaps we can turn this into an opportunity to point towards the million other Malalas and ask the UN, the elected peace-keeping force, and the Western world, to finally invest in something other than plain-yogurt foreign aid? Why can’t we build a platform from Malala’s journey — her media appraisal and the accolades she has been awarded for her bravery, courage and most of all, beautifully articulate and bold statements? She is just a 16-year-old speaking up after being shot down for a mighty cause for our very own homeland.

For once, let’s not stab ourselves in the foot and via due diligence, summon enough evidence and strategy to have the right to say to the world: You found one Malala, we have thousands more with potential to change the paradigm of education in Pakistan. And we the people, of Pakistan, will impress upon our leadership the very humane necessity of education in order to prosper.

See, the glass can’t always be half-empty; even in a twisted, morose, yet rapidly modernizing Pakistan. The two dramatically different worlds that exist in Pakistan — that of the upper-middle class, less than 2 percent of the population, and that of the rest of the 184 million peoples — can come together to recognize the world’s efforts (again, with their own prerogatives) as a way for us to press forward, and hold our leadership accountable. We’ll only continue to waste time by blaming the ‘outsiders’ who pretend to know our nation, belittling their efforts and unabashedly targeting them for turning into gold whereas we immerse with the sand; rather, it’s high-time we teach the “saviors” that we, too, have the capabilities and resources to save our peoples’ lives.

After all, Jon Stewart wants to adopt the stunning young mind, and here we are, wasting away the media hype, energy and opportunity to rise up to the occasion and make a difference we’re blaming them for making.

Literature Trumps Terrorism in Pakistan: Lahore Literary Festival, 2014

Published in the Huffington Post, March 4 2014.

Emerging from the lap of it’s thousand year glory, the city of Lahore has given its people something other than terrorism and inflation to think about: literature and the arts. Discourse has offered a soothing umbrella. Approximately 4,500 of the young, the talented, the curious and even the silent ones emerged on what was a a most auspicious and successful three-day literary festival, attended by the more than 100 speakers, including the likes of delightful Mira Nair, director of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Ahmed Rashid, renowned author of Descent into Chaos, Maliha Lodhi, celebrated former ambassador to the United States, Nahid Siddiqi, cultivated dance artisan, Kamila Shamsie, authoring melancholy of the East, Ayesha Jalal, the intriguing historian, Moeed Yusuf, leading the South Asia department at the United States Institution of Peace and many, many more.

Present day Lahore witnessed it’s second annual literary festival, that has sprouted constructive and hopeful conversations once again, shifting minds from the looming satire of politicians and their fallible legacies. It appears what the government has forgotten to do, the masses have remembered to recreate: Lahore, the quintessence of literary affection.

The usual drawing room discussions surpassed the exhausted doldrums of common thought processes. The news had something more to talk about other than the bomb blasts, foreign policy issues, lack of aid and, of course, domestic political characters that have mostly turned into futile caricatures. Instead, the masses were met with humbling and provoking conversations on the arts, literatures, politics, economics and sociology of the forgotten South Asian literary diaspora’s womb: Lahore.

Pakistan has seen, in the past decade or so, vociferous accounts of a bleeding nation and it’s scarred peoples. But now, the three days in February saw what has become a most yearned for occasion, that of settings minds free and engaging the senses in the world of symphonies, only melodious due to being afforded freedom to speak, see and believe in what was once the “Paris of the East” — the city of Lahore.

With various sessions starting in the morning, young authors and artists had active space to come together and encourage each other’s talents, with moderators ensuring high quality of dialogue and engagement. Afghanistan and it’s iconic political anatomy was poured over by some of the most remarkable and academic minds, including Rashid Rehman, Vali Nasr, Ahmed Rashid, Maliha Lodhi and Hina Rabanni Khar. Authors, including Shahan Mufti, Saba Nagvi, Uzma Alam and Rafay Alam launched their books, sharing with the attendees their own flavor of words. An author and director, Mohsin Hamid and Mira Nair, met to facilitate understanding of different mediums of art, that of transforming words into a film. A most classical dance performance, a delectable product of South Asian music coupled with jazz, food and book stalls created what one could conveniently call a most lively few evenings. Even humor was on the agenda, with celebrated Jugnu Mohsin lightening the mood with Ali Aftab Syed on The Making of Political Satire. Foreign speakers who hailed from the U.S., India, Bangladesh, UK, Egypt, Uganda, France and Germany represented their thoughts, sentiments and expertise through featured sessions. Evidently, there was no shortage of topics to be devoured nor attendees. Packed sessions, bustling with optimistic energy and refreshed minds occupied the literary festival.

Most appealing was how eager the masses were to participate and contribute. It became steadily obvious that the average Pakistani is keen on having invigorating platforms to engage on, to share ideas of artistic sensibilities and most of all, to rid themselves, even temporarily, of the constant ache of the political and economic worlds. The conversation appears to have switched from, “What has been happening?” to “How things can change,” and what better way to clear minds than by providing a nurturing outlook through literary means? The Lahore Literary Festival has robustly developed the platform on which the paradigm switch can take place.

Lahore, from before the time of Akbar the Great (Mughal Emperor), held a passionate position in the world, giving birth to poetic justice in all varied forms. It would be almost blasphemous to forget the city even Milton recalls in Paradise Lost, the city that remains at the summit of literary excellence. One can also not dismiss that such art was a result of open-mindedness, liberated souls and wonderful thinkers. Let the Lahore Literature Festival be the sanctuary it deserves to be, for the people, for the nation, and most of all, to heal the wounds of a misunderstood name, that of Pakistan.