Sunday, May 07, 2006

Basha or Bhasha?

Letter published in Dawn, May 7, 2006

IRONIC as it may seem for one sitting in New York to point this out, but the fact is that the word Basha (as in Basha dam) is not a Hindi word and is, therefore, not Bhasha as is frequently referred to in the press.

It is a word of the local language of the Northern Areas and is pronounced and written as Basha.

New York

A response to the above letter published on May 15, 2006

MR Aziz Akhmad (letter, May 7) is right —- the word in Shina (the local language) is “Basha”. The spoken lilt in the vowel following the ‘B’ has been misconstrued as “Bhasha” by lowlanders. This is unfortunate because the spelling is correct in the original Survey of Pakistan maps. I was hesitant to bring this up this earlier for fear of appearing overly pedantic, but Mr Akhmad’s letter gives us hope that our planners may yet correct this mistake.


Friday, March 31, 2006

Spring is here

March 31: It seems as if it all happened overnight. The bulbs are in bloom, some trees have suddenly flowered, like popcorn; the restaurants laid out tables on the sidewalks. Looks like spring is finally here.

Florist at Hudson and Read Street

W.Broadway and Duane Street

Greenwich and Duane

Washington Market Park

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Can Spring be far behind?

After a particularly gusty and cold weather for the past two
weeks, today was a beautiful day in New York --- cloudless,
calm and not very cold. A walk along the Hudson river in
Tribeca and Battery Park revealed the still bare trees ...

but a closer look showed the buds had just begun
to break out ...

and, perhaps, Spring was just around the corner!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fishing in Manhattan?

One doesn't normally associate fishing or wildlife with New York city, but...

I found this man catch a nearly 20 pounds Bass in the Hudson river only 2 blocks away from where I lived in Tribeca,lower Manhattan...

... and a flock of migratory Canadian geese in the Hudson river park

Jersey city skyline across the Hudson river as seen from lower Manhattan

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Snow on Margallas

It rarely snows on the hills of Islamabad. But when it does it presents a beautiful sight as it did on February 19, 2005.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

In uniform

Published in Daily Times, Lahore on Feb. 16, 2006

Sir: While commenting on his future plans General Musharraf said, “My uniform is no threat to democracy” (Daily Times, February 12). Sorry Mr President; you have it all wrong. As someone once said, they don’t serve steak at vegetarian restaurants; they don’t allow bikinis at nudist colonies; and democracies are not run by generals in uniform.

New York

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Snowstorm in New York

I woke up this morning to a spectacular show of Nature. A snow storm! It is the second snowfall of the season in New York, but a real big one. Looking out through the window of my fourth floor bedroom, it seems as if someone has ripped open millions of pillows in the sky and tons of feathers came tumbling down. Coming from Islamabad, I love the sight. But I know New Yorkers are not as enthused.

New York

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Danish Cartoons

Letter to the New York Times published on February 8, 2006.

As a Muslim, what I know about the life and character of Prophet Muhammad, I am sure he himself would not have been angered by the Danish cartoons, nor would he have asked his followers to go on a rampage in protest. He was kind, gentle, forgiving and generous to a fault.

Unfortunately, some Muslims do not emulate any of those characteristics and yet profess abiding love and affection for him. By burning embassies and threatening to kill People the demonstrators have done more damage to the name of the Prophet today than the Danish cartoons.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The way they run that place

Letter to Daitly Times, Lahore published on January 24, 2006

Sir:Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was in New York last week. So was Mukhtar Mai. It was probably a coincidence that both arrived at about the same time. Mr Aziz stopped here on his way to Washington DC to see President George W Bush. Mukhtar Mai flew in from France, where she was invited to launch a book on her life story. In New York, she was to make a scheduled appearance at the United Nations television studios in a programme called “An Interview with Mukhtar Mai: The bravest woman on Earth”.

While Mr Aziz made all his scheduled appearances in New York, Mukhtar Mai could not because the organisers cancelled the programme at the last minute. However, in spite of all the prime minister’s men (there were, reportedly, 75 of them accompanying him) his presence in the city was not noticed by the New York Times. Mukhtar Mai’s was --- because of the cancellation of the programme. Her story, along with her picture was splashed over half a page.

According to the Times story Mukhtar Mai “was denied a chance to speak at the United Nations on Friday after Pakistan protested that it was the same day the country’s prime minister was visiting... When asked at a news conference why Pakistan had taken the action, Shaukat Aziz said: “I have no idea. You have informed me and so have some other people as I was walking in. I don’t know how the place functions.”

One wonders whether Mr Aziz’s comment related to the functioning of the UN or the functioning of his own administration.

New York

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Image building

Letter to Dawn, Karachi published on January 15, 2006

It seems Pakistan is not the only country that spends lavishly and unnecessarily for personal comfort of few individuals or to project a "better image" to the outside world ( special VIP planes, frequent overseas trips and large entourages etc.) There are others, even poorer than Pakistan, who indulge in similar luxury and are accountable to none. Sudan is one.

Recently, General Hasan Al-Bashir of Sudan decided to buy a luxury yacht , built to order in Slovenia, for $4.3 million. The yacht was shipped to Sudan and then had to be towed overland to the River Nile in time for the African Union summit conference that was held in Khartoum a few weeks ago. The general was hoping to impress the African leaders by ferrying them up and down the river for evening soirees.

The streets of Sudan were scrubbed clean, but unfortunately they are not wide enough to allow a yacht of this size to pass through easily. Overhead electrical cables had to be cut to make way for the boat, plunging numerous villages in darkness for days; trees had to be felled along the roads, and even bricks had to be pried loose from the walls of the private properties along the streets. However, the yacht could not make it to the Nile in time for the summit. And the New York Times, in a story dated January 31, laughed loudly at this wasteful luxury by one of the poorest countries of the world. Some image building!

New York

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sardars vs Salars

Letter to the Daily Times, Lahore published on Juanuary 10, 2006

The Baloch sardars are once again under attack, both militarily and otherwise, by the 'salars' of Islamabad. The 'salars' are accusing the sardars of blocking Balochistan's development in order to protect and perpetuate their own perks and privileges while the sardars are accusing the 'salars' of stealing Balochistan's resources. The people of Pakistan are confused, as always, and do not know who is telling the truth and whom to believe. All they know is that while the Baloch sardars live on their estates, for the salars of Islamabad the state as their estate.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Kalabagh Dam

Published in Daily Times, Lahore on January 1, 2006

Sir: I am willing to bet that General Musharraf will not go ahead with the building of Kalabagh dam, his chest thumping notwithstanding. Instead, he will go for the building of Basha dam first, which, in any case, he should have done 6 years ago.

In the past he has always backtracked in the face of opposition (e.g. blasphemy law, Hadood ordinance, madrassas registration) and so he will this time. The opposition this time is substantial.

What will be interesting to see, however, is how all those ministers and advisors, who never tire of recounting the advantages of Kalabagh over other dams, will suddenly change their tune and start singing a new song.

Philadelphia, December 30, 2005


Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Daily Times front page headline:

Basha Dam will be built first: Musharraf

ISLAMABAD: President General Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday announced the construction of Basha Dam as a priority project, postponing a decision on Kalabagh Dam (KBD) until a consensus is built first.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Tribeca, New York --- the first snowfall

The first snowfall of the winter 2005-06 settles lightly on the limbs of the trees in a Tribeca park as if a layer of cream would settle on a child's upper lip.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

There are no silly questions ...

Published in Daily Times, Lahore on October 5, 2005

Sir: “There are no silly questions, only silly answers,” our professor of communication used to tell us at the European School of Business Administration (INSEAD). He would give this advice in the context of the course on “making effective business presentations and handling audience questions”.

Regardless of how silly,infuriating or even offensive a question is, he would say,one must try to answer it intelligently, coolly and politely. That way one is more persuasive and can also gain the sympathies of the audience. General Pervez Musharraf ignored this simple advice during his recent trip to the US. First, during a newspaper interview, he answered a question thoughtlessly by going off on a tangent and making the now infamous “rape-for-visa” comment. Then a few days later, at a women’s conference, when a Pakistani woman pointedly asked him a question about his comment, he simply lost his cool and told the woman in so many words that he could shout louder than she. And he did. His shout was heard not only in the Roosevelt hotel Hall, but is still echoing around the world.

New York

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Onions and apples

Published in Daily Times, Lahore on September 21, 2005

Sir: General Pervez Musharraf seems to be very upset with civil the rights groups protesting the treatment meted out to the rape victims by the authorities in Pakistan. He has repeatedly argued in the last couple of months that the number of rapes committed in countries like France and the US is far greater than that in Pakistan. Why, he repeated asks, is then Pakistan being singled out and why are rape victims in other countries not invited to narrate their ordeals?

What General Musharraf fails to realise is that the protests are not aimed at the crime of rape itself. The protests are about the response (or lack of it) of the Pakistani authorities and institutions to the crime. When a rape incident is reported in Europe, USA or another civilised country, the police does its best to catch the perpetrators and usually succeeds. The perpetrators are prosecuted and punished. The state, the police, the community and the media are on the side of the victim. The victims never feel the need to beg for justice from anyone inside or outside the country.

In Pakistan, however, the state institutions are not protecting the victims. Worse, they are involved in perpetrating the crime (Sonia Naz) and harassing, intimidating and badmouthing the victims (Dr Shazia and Mukhtar Mai). So, next time when General Musharraf feels like quoting statistics on rape and comparing Pakistan with other countries he should remember that comparing onions with apples does not make a valid argument.

New York

Friday, July 01, 2005

Justice above prejudice

‘Justice above prejudice’

Published in Dawn on July 1, 2005

I WAS puzzled by some of the comments made by Mr Kunwar Idris in his column ‘Justice above prejudice’ (June 26). I think he got carried away a bit when he quoted a couple of Punjabi folk expressions to prove that a crime like gang-rape is not possible in conservative, rural Punjab.

The facts belie such romantic folklore. According to the HRCP’s report, 670 cases of rape were reported in the first 10 months of 2004, out of which 350 were gang-rapes. A majority of these happened in rural Punjab and the ‘walled cities’.

New York

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Mosque in Minnesota

This letter was published in Dawn, June 15, 2005

A lot is being said and written in the post 9/11 world about the poor treatment of the Muslims living in America but very little is reported about what the Muslims do to 'endear' themselves to the communities among which they have chosen to live. An old colleague and a friend of mine, who is happily settled in the state of Minnesota for many years, has this to say about his first-hand experience. He is actively involved in local community affairs and frequents a mosque located in close proximity to a big church in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St.Paul. The church officials, he says, were kind enough to allow the mosque-goers free use of the church's ample parking lot with the only condition that a specific row in the parking lot must always be left for use of the church officials.

But the "brothers" would arrive late for the prayers and, in the characteristic rush to join the congregation, park their cars wherever they could, including the reserved spots,even double park,and make a dash for the mosque. The church officials pointed out the problem to the mosque officials, notices were sent out, and even announcements were made during the Friday sermon, but to no avail. This went on for about six months and finally the church officials, when they had enough, called the police who ticketed the violators, and the tow truck did the rest. The "brothers" were outraged and let out their anger on the mosque officials.

But then they started parking their cars in the neighborhood streets, blocking people's driveways. The neighbors lodged numerous complaints with the imam, the police issued warnings and yet the "brothers" persisted. The neighbors got fed up and the more angrier among them one day vandalized the mosque. Come Friday, the imam delivered a fiery speech on increasing incidence of hate crimes in America!

This is a typical example of how some of the imams here exploit the freedom of speech guaranteed under the American Constitution by giving vent to their unfounded anger. Incidentally, the damage caused to the mosque was fixed by another church group free of charge.


Sunday, June 05, 2005


Published in Daily Times, Lahore on June 5, 2005

Sir: All violence is tragic, but words alone cannot describe the savagery that took place in Karachi on Monday when an inspired mob set a KFC outlet on fire and did not allow six of its trapped employees to escape or be rescued. They all perished. The irony is that the mob was protesting an equally ‘senseless’ murder of several innocent people earlier at a mosque. No religion, no creed or code of morality sanctions this kind of savagery under any circumstances.

Yet, all this madness is being perpetrated in the name of Islam. And what do our clerics have to say? The same tired and meaningless statement that they issue after every such incident, that “no Muslim can think of killing another Muslim”. This statement is factually incorrect. Muslims are killing other innocent and unsuspecting Muslims all the time (over 150 people have perished in such attacks in Pakistan since May 2004). Secondly, the statement sends a subliminal message that it is okay for a Muslim to kill innocent non-Muslims.

I wonder if the government realises that sectarian violence is not necessarily directed, it is mostly inspired.

New York

Thursday, April 14, 2005


This is in reference to your editorial on the Samiul Haq episode
in Belgium (Daily Times, 21 April) and the subsequent protest by
the Pakistan Foreign Office to the Belgian Government.

Several questions come to one's mind. First, Pakistanis are aware that
almost every year, prior to the month of Muharram, certain'maulanas'
are banned from entering into certain districts or provinces. Some
of them are even detained temporarily. This special treatment is
meted out to the pious personages for they are known to preach hatred
and inspire violence against other sects. If the movement of such
individuals is restricted, at times, in their own country then what
is so wrong with a Western country refusing an individual entry into
its territory when that individual is known to preach hatred against
the West and the Western values?

Secondly, what value Maulana Samiul Haq's presence could possibly
add to a Pakistan delegation's discussions with the European Union?
What could he do or tell the Europeans that would improve Pakistan's
image everyone seems to be so concerned about?

And lastly, when Samiul Haqs of Pakistan cannot even bring themselves
to look at a commercial billboard with a woman's face on it, what is
it then they find so attractive in visiting countries where it would be
impossible to avoid seeing scantily clad women lolling in the sun
or going hand-in-hand with men not necessarily married to them?

New York

Monday, April 11, 2005

Succession in Muslim world

Published in Daily Times, Lahore on April 13, 2005

Nazir Naji in his column "The Succession Issue" (Daily Times April 11) writes "succession has always been a problem in Pakistan."

Why only in Pakistan? A democratic succession has been a problem of the whole Muslim world throughout history. And, unfortunately, it still is. The other day I came across this colourful anecdote, told by a 9th century Arab author, Ibn Qutayba, and translated and quoted by Bernard Lewis in his book The Middle East, that throws some light on the Muslim tradition of succession. As most of us would recall, Muawiya assumed the Caliphate in controversial circumstances after the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali and was the first caliph to nominate his son Yazid as his successor. According to this anecdote, "when Muawiya announced his decision to the court (read cabinet or national assembly) the courtiers rose, one after the other, to proclaim Yazid as the heir to the Caliphate.

There were some murmurs of disapproval, whereupon a man rose to his feet, drew his sword a hand-span from the scabbard and said, 'The Commander of the Faithful is that one!' and he pointed to Muawiya, 'And if he dies, then that one!', and he pointed to Yazid. 'And if anyone objects, then this one!" and he pointed to his sword. Muawiya said to him, 'Wallah! You are the prince of orators." And the nomination was confirmed. Since that day in the 7th century the succession in the Muslim world has been decided, with rare exceptions, in more or less similar fashion.

Granted, though, the principle of succession followed in Europe of those days was no better than that in Damascus or Baghdad, but the Europeans learned over the centuries from their experience and mistakes, reformed, and developed the necessary institutions to govern themselves. We did not. Even today it is the sword or the gun that decides the succession in most of the Muslim world.

New York

Monday, March 07, 2005

Which dam?

This letter was published in Daily Times, Lahore on March 7, 2005

Sir: Re your editorial, “General Musharraf, Kalabagh Dam and power sharing,” (DailyTimes, March 4).

General Musharraf has been trying to build a consensus, in his own ambivalent style, on the Kalabagh Dam (KBD) for the last five years now. But the consensus doesn’t seem to be in sight. In fact, the more he talks about it the more controversy he stirs up. We have been doing this for the past twenty years now, including five years of Musharraf. So, let’s forget about KBD for the time being and get on with building non-controversial dams like Basha and others. This is what a former chairman of WAPDA had said publicly in the early days of Musharraf’s government, but no one paid any heed to him.

Talking about the advantages of KBD over other dams clouds facts and confuses even the otherwise well-informed public. It would be appropriate to refer to a study carried out in the early 1980s by a Canadian consulting company, Montreal Engineering, at a cost of about five million dollars. In its report submitted to the government in 1984 the company recommended several potential sites for constructing dams — all upstream of Tarbela. They were, in order of priority: Basha, Dassu, Bunji, Thakot, Pattan, Yugo, Yulbo, Ranikot and Tungus.

Basha and Yugo were storage dams while the others were run-of-river dams, meaning that they would only be used to generate electricity. KBD was not on the list. Basha would have stored 7.7 million-acre feet (MAF) of water and generated 4,500 MW of electricity, as opposed to KBD’s 6.3 MAF and 3,600 MW. (Incidentally, the figure of 9 MAF for KBD quoted by General Musharraf in his Nowshera speech doesn’t sound right because total surface water in Pakistan is hardly more than ten MAF).

Also, Basha would have been cheaper to build because the site is located at a narrow gorge. KBD, on the other hand, located in a relatively plain area, would cost much more. (Incidentally, no one seems to mention a credible cost figure for KBD in the ongoing debate). Another benefit of Basha would be that it would reduce the amount of silt flowing down the river, thus prolonging the life of Tarbela. Plus, the number of people displaced by Basha would be negligible compared to those displaced by KBD. All these facts were ignored and KBD is being touted as the “do-or-die” option.

Now it is said that Basha will take longer to build and we cannot waste any more time. The way things are proceeding, five years from now we will probably be where we are today, still arguing the same points over and over.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Baloch, not Baluchis

Published in Daily Times, Lahore February 23, 2005

Sir: A lot is being written and said about Balochistan nowadays. It’s a shame that it had to be a heinous crime and the consequent violent reaction to it by the local Baloch people that woke up the rest of Pakistan to the situation in Balochistan.

I think the problem is that the Pakistanis in general are largely ignorant about Balochistan and so, it seems, is the government. A small indication of this ignorance is that almost everyone including some of the leading newspapers, and even government leaders, persistently refer to the Baloch people as Baluchis — a term used by the British because of their phonetic difficulty with the native language.

The fact is that "Baluchis" call themselves Baloch. Balochi (not Baluchi) is their language. Interestingly, if you happen to drive past the Army’s Baloch Centre in Abbottabad you will see a very large, freshly painted, billboard welcoming visitors to the “House of Baluchis.” Clearly, there aren’t any Bugtis, Bizenjos, Marris, and Mangels in the “House of Baluchis” to have pointed out this error.

For an average Pakistani, Balochistan is the place from where Sui gas comes to their kitchens, or where the Gawadar port is being built, or where the nuclear bomb was tested. Beyond that there is just an image of an empty space. The day we realise that there are actual people living in Balochistan with real problems, hopes and aspirations, will we begin to understand Balochistan and do something about it.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The biggot's mind

This letter was published in Daily Times, Lahore on January 5, 2005

Sir: Re Daily Times’ editorial (Chitral trouble is symptomatic of deeper malaise, December 29, 2004).

It is clear that, having forced the government to back down on the ‘religion-in-passport’ issue, the mullahs have now trained their guns on the Aga Khan University Examination Board (AKU-EB). It only proves once again that you can never appease the mullahs.

Now, what is wrong with having a new examination board? We all know that our examination system is rotten. We desperately need a system that is reliable, uniform, efficient and affordable. AKU-EB promises to provide that. And, it is totally voluntary. If you don’t like it you don’t have to join it. How can any rational person find fault with that! But as someone said, “A bigot’s mind is like the pupil in the eye. The more light you throw on it, the narrower it gets”.


Monday, November 22, 2004

Thus spake Shakespeare

Daily Times, Lahore, November 22, 2004

Sir: “Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervour, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind...And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded with patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader, and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar.”

You must have guessed it. This is a quote from Shakespeare. Make of it whatever you will.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Palestinian mourners and Arafat

This letter was published in Daily Times, Lahore on November 18, 2004

Sir: I believe the Palestinians can hope to achieve their goal of statehood only when they learn to bury their heroes and icons with respect and dignity. The whole world watched and wondered at the chaotic and almost disrespectful way Yasser Arafat’s coffin was handled by thousands of mourning Palestinians.

In an outpouring of emotions bordering on frenzy, uncontrollable crowds clawed at Arafat’s coffin and tore away the flag that draped it.

At one point it seemed as if they would pull down the coffin itself. Contrast this with Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral some years ago. Because of his tragic death at the hands of a Jewish gunman, the people of Israel were utterly shocked. But his burial was performed in such a dignified and respectful manner that even his opponents were touched.

Aziz Akhmad

Monday, November 01, 2004

With friends like these

Published in Daily Times, Lahore on November 1,2004

Sir: I write in response to your editorial, “General Musharraf doesn’t need such advocates”, (Daily Times, October 31).

While Allama Komeli, during the senate debate, justified General Musharraf's holding two offices (that of president and chief of army staff) by referring to the examples of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and the first four caliphs, the federal parliamentary affairs minister, Dr Sher Afgan Niazi, has also drawn a parallel. He quotes the example of Oliver Cromwell in British history who, claimed Dr Naizi, was both head of state and military commander.

Had the minister read English history of that period, he would not have made this rather unflattering comparison. Cromwell was a ruthless dictator who ruled England as the ‘Lord Protector’ from 1649 to 1658. Sir Winston Churchill writes in A History of English-Speaking Peoples, “The consequences of Cromwell’s rule have distressed and at times distracted English politics even to the present day. To heal them baffled the skill and loyalties of successive generations. They became for a time a potent obstacle to the harmony of the English-speaking peoples throughout the world. Upon all of us there still lies the curse of Cromwell.”

If this is the standard of their defence, then you are right in saying that Musharraf, with friends such as these, does not need enemies.


Monday, August 02, 2004

South Asians for Kerry

This letter and response to it was published in DT, Aug 2, 2004

Khalid Hasan in his report from Washington, “Pakistani moneybags raise funds for Kerry”, (Daily Times, July 26), has not only misstated certain facts but also carelessly (and incorrectly) implied a connection of the event with politics in Pakistan.

It’s true that there was a fund-raiser for Kerry in New York early this month in which many Pakistani-Americans participated, but it was organised by a group known as South Asians for Kerry. As the name suggests, the group includes American citizens of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi origin.

It is also true that the “Pakistanis” did raise a significant amount at the fund-raiser, but it was not done at the behest of anyone in Pakistan. In fact, it had nothing to do with politics in Pakistan, but everything to do with politics in America. Pakistani-Americans have begun to realise that if they want to have a say in American society and have any influence on American politics they better integrate. And that they will have a bigger say and greater influence if they act as a part of much larger South Asian group rather than marginalising themselves. And, again, many Pakistani-Americans along with many other South Asian-Americans have decided that their interests would be better served if there was a Democrat in the White House in 2005. That was the whole idea of creating the South Asians group for Kerry group.

It is also true that many of the participants in the fund-raiser belonged to different investing banks in New York but the presence of Citibank, as mentioned by Khalid Hasan, was hardly noticeable. And lastly, there is no bank in New York with the name of Stanley Morgan as mentioned in Mr Hasan’s report. There is one Morgan Stanley, though.
New York

Khalid Hasan adds: I am happy to know that those who gathered in New York to raise money for Senator Kerry did so on their own. It is also good news that more and more Pakistanis, unlike in the past, now realise that Bush should be voted out. That I typed out Stanley Morgan instead of Morgan Stanley, Mr Aziz Ahmad should attribute not so much to my ignorance (of which I have plenty when it comes to money and moneybags) as my deadline, Pakistan being 10 hours ahead of Washington from where I file my reports.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The fundamental point

Daily times, Lahore on April 20, 2006

Sir: Appearing on television during the ongoing controversy over the contents of school textbooks, Zubaida Jalal, the federal education minister, has declared, on more than one occasion, that she was a fundamentalist and was proud to be one. She thought this was a smart statement as it would appease the religious lobby and, at the same time, confound the liberals by re-interpreting the word ‘fundamentalist’ as one who believes in the fundamentals of Islam. She is wrong!

Meanings do not lie in words but in the people who use them. Fundamentalism, whatever the origin of the word or its literal meaning, has come to connote fanaticism, extremism, intolerance and religious militancy. This is how it is commonly understood today.

For example the word ‘gay’, which according to dictionaries published before the 1960s, meant joyous and lively; merry; happy; light-hearted means something completely different today. Today no one would like to call himself/herself gay if he or she was feeling joyous, lively, happy and light-hearted.


Saturday, April 17, 2004

Inspired rage

Daily Times April 17, 2004

Sir: On April 12 Daily Times carried a story on its front page,titled ‘Buddha statue dismantled at Lok Virsa’ . The culprits, according to the report, were students from a nearby madrassah (seminary).

This is not the first time madrassah students in Islamabad have damaged or destroyed public property that had significance for religions other than Islam. In a similar incident, a few years ago, the students of a seminary in Islamabad had set on fire and almost destroyed an ancient banyan tree in a protected wooded area in the foot of Margalla hills. The tree was said to have some historic and religious significance for Buddhists and attracted visitors and even tourists from Japan and South East Asia.

In a far more serious and tragic incident a few months ago ( widely reported in the press) protestors, including students from different madrassahs of the city, rampaged through Melody Market in Islamabad, setting fire to the only cinema house in the capital. They were protesting the murder of Maulana Azam Tariq that had taken place a day earlier. Since they had been taught that movies spread obscenity in society, they found the cinema house and the people associated with it a fit target for their rage. When the poor watchman of the cinema house tried to escape the burning building, the protestors, mercilessly, started throwing brickbats at him thus blocking his escape. The young man died inside the smoke-filled building.

Yet we are told, rather too frequently, that the madrassahs in Pakistan impart only religious education and do not train terrorists. Perhaps they do not specifically teach or train to kill or destroy, but clearly whatever they teach these young students creates a mindset that thinks nothing of destroying a harmless statue, burning an ancient tree or, when the circumstances are so created, even killing an innocent person. Terrorism is not necessarily directed; it is usually inspired.


Wednesday, February 18, 2004

You can't have nice time

Published in Daily Times, Feb, 18, 2004

Re your editorial "Can’t we have a nice time?" (February 16, 2004).

The answer to your question is No, if you go by the ‘alims’, both online and off-line.

I think Faiz Ahmad Faiz, that master poet, beautifully captured the reaction of the killjoys in our society to anyone having good time in the following lines:

Faqeeh-e-shehr say mai ka jawaz kiya poochain
Keh chandni ko bhi hazrat haram kehtay hain
Nawa-i-murgh ko kehtay hain yeh zian-e-chaman
Khilay na phool isay intezam kehtay hain

Roughly translated this would mean: There is no use asking the mullahs whether drinking is permissible or not. In their books even the moonlight must be banned; the birds must not sing and the flowers may not bloom.


Friday, December 12, 2003

Botanical garden controversy

Professor Zulfiqar Gilani, Vice Chancellor of Peshawar University, in his letter (Dawn 10 December) makes a sweeping statement when he says,"To set the record straight,there is no botanical garden [on the Islamia college campus] and there never was none (sic)."

Not true!

I am not sure if there is a botanical garden now but I know for certain that there was one in the 1950s and 60s. I was a student of Islamia College Peshawar from 1953 to 1956 and lived in the Hardinge hostel. The Botanical Garden was located next to our hostel, and everyone living in the Hardinge, icluding Mr. Gilani's elder brother, Iftekhar Gilani, could not have missed seeing it. Later, when I was teaching at the university in the 1960's the Botanical garden was still there. The vice chancellor needs to look at the record before setting it straight.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Islamic History --- a correction

Letter to Dawn published on December 11, 2003

I want to point out a factual error in Professor Anwar Syed’s otherwise well-written and readable article “Interfaith dialogue” (Dawn, Dec 7).

The great Abbasid caliph Al-Mamun’s name was not Mamun Al-Rashid, as mentioned in the article. It was Abdullah Al-Mamun. Abdullah was his given name and Al-Mamun was the title he assumed on becoming caliph, a practice followed by all the caliphs of the Abbasid dynasty.

Al-Rashid was the title of Al-Mamun’s father, the famous Harun Al-Rashid of the Arabian Nights.

New York

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Jamali's advice

Jamali advises politicians not to cross limits"
(Dawn, November 1,2003).

Why doesn't Mr. Jamali also ask the generals not to cross limits?
I am referring to the recent incident in Lahore where a dutiful
policeman had stopped a general's car for violating the rules
banning tinted glasses in car windows. He was immediately
arrested and chargesheeted. The policeman,not the general!