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Archive for July, 1995

The Battle for Karachi

Wherever people of different races, religions, sects and political persuasion, etc make up the population of a major metropolitan city, there is always a struggle for dominance, the pursuit of power and the sharing of the economic pie making for strange bedfellows. Given Karachi’s major port city status and commercial capital importance, the competition is more intense and focussed. To compound the problems, this a city bereft of the healing balm of democracy. Not a single town or city in Pakistan has a local government, for that matter the whole country is without local government since the PML(N) government fell two years ago. The ruling PPP got a drubbing in the last general polls in almost all the urban areas of the country and is now unsure of itself in the rural areas, consequently it does not seem to have any intention of letting the Opposition exercise their democratic right of rule at the local government level. This is in sharp contrast to the eloquent rhetoric about “democracy at the grassroots level” that Ms Benazir is so vociferous about, particularly when she is out of power. The logic being used to deny power to the Mohajir majority in Karachi is that if the majority got power they would deny the various minorities their legitimate socio-economic rights. This convoluted logic chooses to remain silent about the present situation in which power keeps going the rounds within a tight circle of vested interest who deny the majority their democratic due but say that this is on behalf of the minority communities, who in fact are as much deprived as the majority. Given that all this defies rational analysis, how do we as a city and as a nation climb out of this black hole?

On paper at least the struggle has presently turned from the killing streets to the negotiating table. The two main antagonists, the MQM(A) and the PPP, having consented to a ceasefire of sorts, this arrangement seems to have filtered down selectively to the warriors belonging to the law enforcement agencies or to the various militant groups, granted that RAW-inspired violence will continue to sabotage any peace moves. The body count has come down to 10-12 daily and even lower, climbing briefly for a day to 25 plus. That the talks are continuing despite the vitriolic statements from both sides is a hopeful sign that tacitly recognizes pressure to sort out the issues or risk being sorted out themselves. Having drained this city of its material and emotional resources, there is no sign among the militants on either side of any combat fatigue. The great silent majority of Karachi’s population meantime lives on in deep anxiety and apprehension, not free of the considerable doubt about the city’s continued existence as a viable entity. The bottom line is, can our children plan to live in this city in the future? For many Karachi is the end of the line, having burnt all our boats our backs are to the sea facing a nemesis born out of our leaders’ vulnerability to greed and ambition. Unfortunately for this country nobody has really answered the question, who is this enemy?.

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The born-again Muslim

Across a broad spectrum of the Pakistani intelligentsia and masses, Imran Khan is considered a hero. His handsome looks, his deeds for the country in the cricket field, his iron self-discipline in maintaining his athletic physique well into middle age, his single-minded struggle to establish a world class cancer cure hospital in Pakistan, etc have all combined to make him an all-Pakistani Superstar. Who can ever forget the sight of Imran Khan clutching the 1992 Cricket World Cup, a fairy tale feat of nigh impossible permutations and combinations? The world loves an underdog and we came back from a near hopeless position to achieve the ultimate prize. Pakistanis will cherish this as one of their proudest moments and who better could be representative of the country on the media images flashing across the world than the proud visage of our genuine home-grown real life hero. The victory was a combined team effort but Imran Khan forgot to mention Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Inzamam, Rameez Raja, Mushtaq, etc, in his victory speech in supersession to his own dreams and ambitions of the Cancer Hospital, this was taken as a passing aberration rooted in the euphoria of the moment. How many times have we seen damsels going into distress over our cricket Captain pounding in to send red thunderbolts hurtling towards quivering opposing batsmen? The combination of the Imran Khan physique and the “suggestive” gesture in the rubbing of the cricket ball on his white flannels to maintain the shine was too much for our clergy to let pass unnoticed. Thankfully for the well-being of Pakistan’s cricket, the uproar was only a storm in a teacup and Imran kept taking wickets and leading his team to victory. There can be no doubt that Imran was also the inspiration for our current great fast bowling pair, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. His imperious attitude may have damaged the careers of some independent-minded young cricketers over the years but in Imran’s defence one must say that the strict team discipline he enforced, presently sadly lacking, made a major contribution to our success.

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Bangladesh, Sonar Bangla

The propaganda dished out by the government media gives no clue to the actual state of the economy in any Third World country. Nine times out of ten, this will be false and misleading, the tenth time (maybe) the normal exaggeration will be toned down to moderate levels. The basic indicators can be found in the streets of the country’s towns and cities, the number of vehicles (and the types), people thronging the shopping areas, the “housing starts” visible to the observer, etc. Any discerning eye can easily separate fact from fiction.

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The Wind Cannot Read

Two momentous events concerning the media and Press freedom have recently taken place in Pakistan. During “the night of the Long Knives”, the PM Ms Benazir Bhutto, replaced the whole team of her media-handlers, from the Secretary Information, Hussain Haqqani, downwards, the only escapee being friend Farhat Ullah Babar, the PM’s loyal Press Secretary. Farhat is such a mild and honest soul that the PM’s hand may have been stayed by some angel.

Congratulations are in order to former PM Mian Nawaz Sharif because the incumbent PM has brought back into information power almost the whole team who had made her life miserable successfully during his tenure as PM. The PM kept one surprise choice up her sleeve, the aberration of Ms Rana Shaikh was transformed from being Secretary Culture to being the 22nd Managing Director of PTV since 1964. A former TV actress and Producer/Director, this was a natural end reward for the Herculean PR efforts of the wife of the Foreign Secretary, Mr Najmuddin Sheikh, to display the liberal side of Pakistan culture by a special “song and dance” fashion show in the US during the PM’s Yatra, a designer-clothing performance that could not be seen (being banned for TV viewing) in Pakistan by the likes of Maulana Fazlur Rahman lest he forget his holy vows of abstinence from such worldly pursuits. Ms Rana Shaikh shrugged off accusation of plagiarism, when you copy from many plagiarism turns into research.

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