Friday, December 31, 2010

Pakistan' One-dimensional Coverage With Selective Headlines in 2010

Have you ever wondered if Pakistan is really as one-dimensional a country as stereotyped by the negative torrent of international media coverage that dominated the news headlines in 2010?

Have you ever thought that Pakistanis engage in any pursuits other than as perpetrators or victims of terror that the journalists find the most newsworthy about the world's sixth most populous South Asian nation?

Well, an Indian-American producer Madhlika Sikka on NPR's Talk of the Nation radio did wonder about it when she visited Pakistan this year. In the talk show aired on June 3, 2010, she described the main concerns of young Pakistanis follows:

"I think, that young people are concerned with the same things you'd think young people are concerned with. In fact, when I came home, the immigration officer asked me about Pakistan, and she said, well, what are they thinking about?

And I said, well, I met a lot of young people, and they're thinking about jobs, and they're thinking about the fact that the power goes out regularly, gas costs a fortune. They're really thinking about what their prospects are and the conflict with India, the war on terrorism, isn't at the top of their list."

She summed up her assessment of the current situation in Pakistan in the following words:

"Well, I think that I think that there's no doubt that if you live in a city like Islamabad or Peshawar, certainly where Julie McCarthy was, you know, they live and breathe this tension every day.

But let's take a city like Lahore, where we were just a couple of weeks ago. And last week, there was a huge attack on a mosque in Lahore, 70, 80 people were killed. You can't help but feel that tension, even though you are trying your best to go live your daily life as best you can. And I think that that push and pull is really a struggle.

But one thing I do want to talk about in the, you know, what is our vision of Pakistan, which often is one dimensional because of the way the news coverage drives it.

But, you know, we went to visit a park in the capital, Islamabad, which is just on the outskirts, up in the hills, and we blogged about it, and there are photos on our website. You could have been in suburban Virginia.

There were families, picnics, picnic tables, you know, kids playing, stores selling stuff, music playing. It was actually very revealing, I think for us and for people who saw that posting, because there's a lot that's similar that wouldn't surprise you, let's put it that way."




Along the same lines as NPR's Sikka, let me share with you some of the best kept secrets of Pakistan's other story which would take a lot of effort to discover on your own.

The world media have correctly reported on the deadly blasts caused by the frequent US drone strikes and many suicide bombings in 2010. But Pakistanis have also seen an explosion in arts and literature in the last few years as the nation's middle class has grown rapidly amidst a communications and mass media revolution. A British magazine Granta dedicated an entire issue in 2010 to highlight the softer side of Pakistan.

Granta has highlighted the extraordinary work of many Pakistani artists, poets, writers, painters, photographers and musicians inspired by life in their native land.



For example, the magazine cover carries a picture of a piece of truck art by a prolific truck painter Islam Gull of Bhutta village in Karachi. Gull was born in Peshawar and moved to Karachi 22 years ago. He has been practicing his craft on buses and trucks since the age of 13, and now teaches his unique craft to young apprentices. Commissioned with the assistance of British Council in Karachi, Gull produced two chipboard panels photographed for the magazine cover.

Granta issue has articles, poems, paintings, photographs and frescoes about various aspects of life in Pakistan. It carries work by writers like Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders), Kamila Shamsie (Burnt Shadows), Mohammad Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) and Nadeem Aslam (The Wasted Vigil) who have been making waves in literary circles and winning prizes in London and New York.

In a piece titled "Mangho Pir", Fatima Bhutto highlights the plight of the Sheedi community, a disadvantaged ethnic minority of African origin who live around the shrine of their sufi saint Mangho Pir on the outskirts of Karachi.

In another piece "Pop Idols", Kamila Shamsie traces the history of Pakistani pop music as she experienced it living in Karachi, and explains how the music scene has changed with Pakistan's changing politics.

A piece "Jinnah's Portrait" by New York Times' Jane Perlez describes the wide variety of Quaid-e-Azam's portraits showing him dressed in outfits that give him either "the aura of a religious man" or show him as a "young man with full head of dark hair, an Edwardian white shirt, black jacket and tie, alert dark eyes". Perlez believes the choice of the founding father's potrait hung in the offices of various Pakistani officials and politicians reveals how they see Jinnah's vision for Pakistan.

While Granta's focus on art and literature has produced a fairly good publication depicting multi-dimensional life in Pakistan, there are apects that it has not covered. For example, Pakistan has a growing fashion industry which puts on fashion shows in major cities on a regular basis. The biggest of these is Pakistan Fashion Week held in Karachi in February. Over 30 Pakistani designers - including Sonya Battla, Rizwan Beyg, and Maheen Khan - showed a variety of casual and formal outfits as well as western wear, jackets, and accessories.






There were scores of expos and trade shows put on by various industries, including a book fair in Karachi, attended by about 250,000 people. Publishers from the UK, Singapore, Iran, Malaysia and India also participated in the event.

Karachi's Mohatta Palace Museum hosted an Art exhibition, “The Rising Tide: New Direction in Art From Pakistan,” that included more than 40 canvases, videos, installations, mobiles and sculptures made in the past 20 years. Its curator, the feminist sculptor and painter Naiza Khan, told the New York Times that her aim was to show the coming of age of Pakistani art.



A Pakistani theater group defied the government ban and put on "Burqavanza", a satirical play in which all the actors wear burqa as a metaphor for hypocrisy in the nation. Adam Ellick of the NY Times reported that the play "doesn’t sidestep any of the country’s problems: a creeping radicalization, terrorism, government corruption, and interference by Western nations, especially the United States."

A conference celebrating 31 years of a theater group named Tehrik-i-Niswan (Feminist movement) included presentations, research papers, theatrical performances and a poetry recital just this month.

While it is true that Pakistan faces many serious crises, particularly religious extremism and terrorism, there is much more to see and report about this nation of 180 million people with a large and well-educated urban middle class.

Here's a video titled "I Am Pakistan":



Here's a CNBC Pakistan video on January 2011 events:



Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan's Media Revolution

Along Grand Trunk Road in India and Pakistan

Pakistan's Urban Middle Class

Music Drives Coke Sales in Pakistan

Life Goes On in Pakistan

Karachi Fashion Week

Is Pakistan Too Big to Fail?

Karachi Fashion Week Goes Bolder

More Pictures From Karachi Fashion Week 2009

Pakistan's Foreign Visitors Pleasantly Surprised

Start-ups Drive a Boom in Pakistan

Pakistan Conducting Research in Antarctica

Pakistan's Multi-billion Dollar IT Industry

Pakistan's Telecom Boom

ITU Internet Data

Eleven Days in Karachi

Pakistani Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley

Musharraf's Economic Legacy

Infrastructure and Real Estate Development in Pakistan

Pakistan's International Rankings

Assessing Pakistan Army Capabilities

Pakistan is not Falling

Jinnah's Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom

26 comments:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's The Express Tribune piece on "changing face of retail" driven by the growth of middle class and FMCG sector in Pakistan:

The retail sector in Pakistan, long dominated by thousands of small corner shops, is about to go through a dramatic facelift as consumers become more discerning and demand greater choice.

The advent of hypermarkets and wholesalers such as Carrefour, Metro Cash & Carry and Makro has given Pakistanis a taste for a consumer choice driven shopping experience which is likely to deepen the market for consumer goods throughout the country and alleviate what has hitherto been the central problem in developing that sector: logistics.

A fragmented market

According to the Small & Medium Enterprise Development Authority, there are over 125,000 retail outlets all across Pakistan. Approximately 94 per cent of these are miniscule corner shops and small retail outlets in cities and villages. Perhaps most critically, there is no nationwide chain of retail or even wholesale outlets.

This poses a significant challenge for most businesses looking to enter the food and agribusiness sector. Despite the fact that Pakistanis spend close to $36 billion a year on food and other retail shopping, businesses find it very difficult to reach the mass market of Pakistani consumers simply because it is not a single marketplace but tens of thousands of little shops.
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What it all means

The existence of these chains means that Pakistanis are about to be inundated with outlets that seek to create a better shopping experience and offer consumers more choice. The larger these chains become, the more those choices they offer will be produced locally.

If food production companies can have lower distribution costs and easier access to a wider swathe of the consumer market, they are more likely to expand existing lines of business and introduce newer markets. In other words, food producers will go from selling raw commodities to selling higher value goods which will not only expand consumer choice but will also increase the productivity of the Pakistani workforce and thus their incomes.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Pakistan's latest economic news in brief supplied by Foundation Securities Research:

The Ministry of Finance has agreed with the proposal of the Tax Reform Co-ordination Group (TRCG) to create a Fiscal Policy Board to be headed by the Finance Minister under the reform plan to exclusively deal with the fiscal policy and taxation issues under the umbrella of the proposed fiscal board. (BR)
The country's trade deficit soared to $8.149 billion in July-December 2010, 18.20 percent up over $6.89 billion for the same period of last year, according to the Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS). Official trade figures released by the FBS here on Tuesday showed an increase in exports of 20.63 percent for the same period which analysts say could be largely because of per unit price increase instead of increase in the quantity. (BR)
Remittances sent home by overseas Pakistanis continued to show rising trend as $5,291.41 million was received in the first half of the current fiscal year 2010-11(July-December), showing an increase of $761.23 million, or 16.80 percent, when compared with $4,530.18 million received during the same period of last fiscal year. (BR)
The CPI inflation soared by 15.68 percent in December 2010 over the same period of last year with phenomenal increase in perishable food items, showing a strong trend of increase in prices of food items which may push more people below the poverty line. (BR)
Japan has queued up to help Pakistan to plug in widening budgetary gap by granting it $60 million soft loan in response to Islamabad's call to the friendly countries for financial support to keep current budget deficit at some reasonable level. (BR)
Another round of speculations came to an end on Tuesday when President Asif Ali Zardari issued a notification appointing a PPP stalwart and former Attorney General Sardar Latif Khan Khosa as Governor of Punjab. (BR)
The monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI) during the month of December registered a decrease of 0.31 per cent as compared to previous month of current financial year. (DAWN)
The government has decided to put a freeze on electricity tariff for the remaining period of the current fiscal year owing to its inflationary impact on economy and unending loadshedding, according to a senior official. (DAWN)
The Secretary Cabinet Division, Abdur Rauf Chaudhry on Tuesday said 3G services would hopefully be available to the Pakistani mobile users by the end of 2011 — while it was expected that the policy for auction of 3G services licenses would soon be presented to the government and Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) for discussion and approval. (DT)
The FBR has started to evaluate alternative proposals to replace the controversial RGST in case the government failed to get it approved from the parliament. (TN)
Despite receiving orders from the Ministry of Petroleum, OGDCL has not replaced one of its directors on board, who also works for a partner company. (TN)
NCCPL shows a net inflow of USD2.18 million.
Crude oil is trading at USD91.1 per barrel.

Riaz Haq said...

In addition to significant foreign institutional investments (FII) in Karachi shares last year, the reports of surging remittances by overseas Pakistanis and the nation's growing exports are the only two other pieces of good news amidst an avalance of bad news on the economic front in Pakistan in 2010.

The State Bank of Pakistan has reported that overseas Pakistanis sent home $5.291 billion during July-Dec, 2010, an increase of $761 million or 17 per cent year over year, according to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.

Remittances of $863 million were sent by overseas Pakistanis last month, up 23.72 per cent or $165 million compared to December, 2009.

Exports in the July-December 2010 touched almost $11 billion – $1.8 billion, or 20.6per cent, higher than last year’s exports in the corresponding period. Meanwhile, imports stood at $19.2 billion, marking a growth of 19.6 per cent, or $3.2 billion, in the first half, according to the Express Tribune.

Pakistani government has been relying heavily on remittances by overseas Pakistanis to fund the massive trade imbalance, which exceeded $8 billion during the first six months of this fiscal.

The increased remittances and rising exports have helped bring down the nation's current account deficit to $504 million for six months, or 0.6 percent of GDP, about 30% lower than the same period in the previous year.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) declined 15.5 per centin the first six months of the current fiscal year to $828.5 million from $968.9 million in the same period last year, according to the Nation quoting figures from the State Bank of Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a story about the promise of Danish Schools, a series of boarding schools being set up in Pakistani Punjab by the provincial govt of chief minister Sahbaz Sharif for the poor as an alteranative to the madrassa system:

Outside the window, a Pakistani flag flutters, inside, a teacher asks a group of 6th-grader girls and boys, “Who can make a food chain?” A girl comes up to the board and uses a pen as a mouse to click and drag an animated plant to the first box, a worm to the second and a bird to the third. “Excellent,” Says the teacher. She goes and sits down with a smile on her face.

This is not an ordinary board, it’s a smart board, the first of its kind in Pakistan, and this is no ordinary school. Inaugurated January 18th, The Danish School System at Rahim Yar Khan stands in stark contrast to the rural terrain of this Southern Punjab city. Children enrolled in this school have to fit a certain criteria, not just that they have to pass an entry test, but they have to either have a missing parent, or both parents, they have to have an illiterate parent and they must have a monthly income of less than USD 100 - they must belong in short to the forgotten class of Pakistan’s poor and minorities.

This is affirmative action, giving the underprivileged a chance to have a level playing field. But how real is it? For one, it has the clear support of the government of Punjab which has faced severe criticism from all quarters about the surge of 25 billion rupees invested in a series of these purpose-built campuses for both girls and boys all over Punjab. These critics claim that money could have been better spent elsewhere on better alternatives like building roads or canals.
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The Danish Schools stands as an alternative to madrassa education because the school provides free lodging and boarding to all its students. It not only gives students a rounded education in the sciences and the arts but also provides social and extracurricular exposure. An on call psychologist also monitors each of the student’s behavior and has counseling sessions with the children and their parent or gurdian for a smooth transition into boarding life.

Despite the challenges, there is a certain spark and energy in the entire Danish school core committee headed by LUMS Provost, Dr Zafar Iqbal Qureshi, and the teachers and students. At the inaugural ceremony, one child danced on Shakira’s Waka Waka, another child, Aasia Allah-Wasiah told a 500 odd gathering the story of her life, how she became an orphan and how Danish school was her only hope for a future.

Not all parents were this easily convinced of Danish School’s objectives. One asked the girls’ school principle, “Why would you give me back my child after giving her clothes and shoes and spending so much on her? I know this is a conspiracy to buy our children from us.”

Other parents objected to there being non-Muslim students eating in the same utensils. The management responded by saying “we all eat in the same plates as any Hindu or Christian boy because this school is for everyone equally.” Needless to say that Rahim Yar Khan, despite scattered industrial units is largely agrarian and the people are deeply influenced by the exclusivist brand of Wahabism.
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With a meager amount of the GDP being spent on education, it is a positive sign to have politicians finally focus on this sector to secure their vote bank. With time the criticism towards these initiatives, such as the importance of Danish schools adopting the O-Levels system, may fine tune the programs into being more effective for the people. And especially those people who don’t have a voice.

Riaz Haq said...

A quick comparison of the figures from Pakistan Center for Philanthropy and Bain and Co confirms the fact that the rich in India are only half as philanthropic as their Pakistani counterparts.

Here's an excerpt from a report by Arpan Seth of Bain:

In 2006, India’s giving totaled close to $5 billion. That would translate into $7.5 billion in 2009 based on gross domestic product (GDP) figures if the rate of giving remained steady. According to Bain analysis, philanthropic donations
would amount to 0.6 percent of India’s GDP. In Brazil, the rate of giving is 0.3 percent and in China, just one-tenth of 1 percent, so we are faring well when
compared with other emerging nations. But this is cold comfort given the enormous needs of the poor and disadvantaged in India."

The fact is that the lack of philanthropy by the rich in India is common knowledge, and it has come under criticism in the media recently.

Here's an excerpt from a recent news story in London's Daily Telegraph:

"Azim Premji, the founder of Wipro, a software and call centre to cooking oil empire, is India's second wealthiest man, and one of the world's richest 50 tycoons with a personal fortune of $18 billion.

The donation means he will succeed the Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who has given $1.6 billion to charitable projects in India, as the country's largest individual donor.

The announcement of his gift came amid criticism that too few of India's growing number of millionaires and global billionaires take philanthropy seriously or give enough of their wealth to charitable causes.

The Prince of Wales sought to bridge the gap in charitable giving on the Indian subcontinent when he hosted a dinner for some of the regions wealthiest businessmen and sought to persuade them to set an example by giving to well-run charities. He invited Ratan Tata, owner of Jaguar Land Rover, steel baron Lakshmi Mittal, property magnate K.P Singh and Mukesh Ambani, the world's richest Indian, to launch the British Asian Trust to encourage Asian billionaires to give more. "

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan is not alone in being targeted by the doomsayers, many othrers, including India's cheerleader Fareed Zakaria, have also been betting against the United States for decades. Here's an excerpt from a Time Magazine Op Ed by David Von Drehle:

Poor U.S. of A., forever in decline. the arrival of public theaters in Boston circa 1790 caused Samuel Adams to despair for the cause of liberty in the face of such debauchery. "Alas!" he wrote. "Will men never be free!" Charles Lindbergh fretted, "It seems improbable that we could win a war in Europe." Long before baseball, hand-wringing was the national pastime. We've never been virtuous enough, civilized enough, smart enough or resolute enough.

I was born into a country reeling from Sputnik, which revealed to the whole world that Americans are as dumb as rocks. John F. Kennedy had just been elected President, in part by bemoaning the "missile gap" between the mighty Soviet arsenal and our paltry few bottle rockets. "The United States no longer carries the same image of a vital society on the move with its brightest days ahead," Kennedy said in his final debate with Richard M. Nixon. That's the same Nixon who declared eight years later, "We are worse off in every area of the world tonight than we were when President Eisenhower left office." Hard to believe we could sink further, but we did, as the nightmare of Vietnam segued into the nightmare of Watergate, while the Japanese exposed the insufficiency of American enterprise. As I stumbled off to college, President Jimmy Carter was warning us about "a crisis of confidence ... that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will." Thanks to our horrible schools, we were — according to the title of a major 1983 report — "A Nation at Risk." Then our family values went down the toilet.

You'd think America would be as washed up by now as the Captain and Tennille. So how come we're so much stronger than we were 50 years ago? Somehow, in the 235 years since we got started, Americans have weathered Boston theaters and Soviet science prodigies, violent lyrics and sex out of wedlock. We've survived a Civil War, two world wars and a Great Depression, not to mention immigrant hordes, alcohol, Freemasons and the "vast wasteland" of network television. We've dodged the population bomb, the coming ice age, acid rain and the domino effect. America is to nations what Roberto Clemente was to right fielders. The Pirates legend fretted endlessly about how poorly he felt and how sick he was — while vigorously spraying hits and vacuuming fly balls.

So don't reach for the defibrillator paddles or the rosary beads quite yet.


Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2056582,00.html#ixzz1Fk9nsZR9

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan has been ranked 10th among the countries in term of human development improvement by the United Nations Development Programme’s 20th Human Development Report 2010, according to Dawn News:

Those among the 135 countries that improved most in Human Development Index (HDI) terms over the past 30 years were led by Oman, which invested energy earnings over the decades in education and public health.

The other nine “Top Movers” are China, Nepal, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Laos, Tunisia, South Korea, Algeria and Morocco. Remarkably, China was the only country that made the “Top 10” list due solely to income performance; the main drivers of HDI achievement were in health and education.

The UNDP report said that in Pakistan, between 1980 and 2010, the HDI value increased by 58 per cent (average annual increase of about 1.5 per cent).

“With such an increase Pakistan is ranked 10 in terms of HDI improvement, which measures progress in comparison to the average progress of countries with a similar initial HDI level”, it added.

Pakistan’s life expectancy at birth increased by more than nine years, mean years of schooling increased by about nine years and expected years of schooling increased by almost 4 years.

Pakistan’s Gross National Income (GNI) per capita increased by 92 per cent during the same period. The relative to other countries in the region, in 1980, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh had close HDI values for countries in South Asia.

However, during the period between 1980 and 2010 the three countries experienced different degrees of progress toward increasing their HDIs states the Report.

The Report introduces the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which identifies multiple deprivations in the same households in education, health and standard of living.

The average percentage of deprivation experienced by people in multidimensional poverty is 54 per cent.

The MPI, which is the share of the population that is multi-dimensionally poor, adjusted by the intensity of the deprivations, is 0.275. Pakistan’s “HDI neighbors”, India and Bangladesh, have MPIs of 0.296 and 0.291, respectively.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report quoting Pakistan Human Rights Commission claiming 2500 deaths in militant violence in 2010:

More than 2,500 people were killed in militant attacks in Pakistan in 2010, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

Nearly half of victims were civilians killed in suicide blasts. There were 67 such attacks last year, the group said.

The report also said at least 900 people had been killed in US drone strikes during the same period.

The number of people killed by the army is not mentioned, but it estimated to be in the region of 600-700.

Pakistani troops are battling insurgents across the north-west. Many of those it has killed are believed to be militants, but civilian lives have been lost too.

The HRCP is the main human rights watchdog in the country. Its findings are often disputed by the authorities, the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Karachi says.

The group's findings show a rise in the numbers being killed in Pakistan's conflict.

BBC research published last July suggested 1,713 people had been killed by militants over the preceding 18 months, while 746 people had died in drone attacks during the same period.
'Increasing intolerance'

The HRCP released its data in its annual report on the state of human rights and security in Pakistan between January and December 2010.

"Pakistan's biggest problem continues to be violence carried out militants," HRCP chairman Mehdi Hasan said.

"In 2010, 67 suicide attacks were carried out across the country in which 1,169 people were killed," he said. "At least 1,000 of those were civilians."

Dr Hasan said that in all 2,542 people had been killed in militant attacks in the country last year.

He said the most glaring example of government oversight had been in Balochistan province, where targeted killings shot up rapidly with 118 people being killed in 2010.

Dr Hasan said the figure was set to increase in 2011, as the government seemed unconcerned about the unravelling of the law and order situation in Balochistan.

The HRCP report also spoke about increasing intolerance against religious minorities in the country.

It said 99 members of the Ahmedi (Qadiani) sect had been killed in attacks in 2010, while 64 people had been charged under the country's blasphemy law.

There was no immediate response to the report from the Pakistani authorities, nor was there any word from militant groups.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are a few excerpts from Wall Street Journal story titled Fashion Weeks Gone Wild, From Aruba to Karachi:

If it's Thursday, it's fashion week somewhere.

This month alone includes fashion weeks in Moscow, Karachi, Houston, Tokyo and Portland, Oregon. Dubai fashion week begins today.

There have long been just four fashion weeks that matter in the industry: New York, Milan, Paris and London. At these events, designers parade their collections for retailers and try to make a splash in the fashion press.

But in the past five to 10 years, the numbers of cities and nations holding fashion weeks has burgeoned. There are more than 100 fashion weeks around the globe, from Islamabad to Rochester, N.Y. Event producer IMG is known for running New York fashion week, but it also produces fashion weeks in Aruba, Berlin, Zurich, Moscow, Toronto, Sydney and Miami, among others. Other locations have launched their own shows, hoping to boost their garment and retail trades.
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Overseas, fashion weeks often highlight regional talent and build the local economy. In Karachi this month, organizers tried to focus on business-building rather than thrilling local socialites. "Fashion in Pakistan for a long time has been an entertainment sport; at [Karachi Fashion Week], we are trying to really make it about the business of fashion," says spokesman Zurain Imam. Invitees were largely press and stores, with some Pakistani celebrities in the front rows. ...


http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204479504576639481685568742.html

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from Christian Science Monitor report on recent decline in terror attacks and casualties in Pakistan:

A downturn in major terror attacks in the second half of the year and an overall decrease in civilian casualties at the hands of terrorists point to better policing and a gradual decline in the potency of militant groups, say officials and experts.

"Earlier, the Taliban would come with heavy weapons and attack and kill and slaughter at will. Those days are gone," says Fiaz Toru, former inspector general for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, credited with implementing a set of sweeping reforms to combat the threat posed by terrorists surrounding the province's main city of Peshawar.

In Pakistan's major cities, there have been no spectacular attacks since a daring siege carried out over two days by Taliban militants on a Karachi naval base in May in revenge for the bin Laden raid. Some 1,022 civilians have fallen victim to bomb attacks in 2011. Barring a late-year surge, this represents the lowest figure in four years, according to monitoring conducted by the New Delhi-based South Asia Terrorism Portal (last year the figure was 1,547, and it stood at 1,688 the year before).

A major part of that has to do with the removal of soft targets, says Rifaat Hussain, a security analyst at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad: "They [now] have genuine difficulty carrying out spectacular attacks."

In Peshawar, that has meant equipping police with heavy weaponry including mortars, grenade launchers, and heavy guns, as well as deploying some 2,000 police at more than 42 checkpoints on the outskirts of the city, says Mr. Toru, the former inspector general, and arming citizens to create a community police force that can act as authorities' eyes and ears.

"We've adopted a policy of proactive policing," explains Toru. Police are now routinely sent on operations in Peshawar's suburbs to root out suspected militants and materials used to construct bombs. The police's increasing responsibility has been accompanied by a doubling of salary and an increase in "martyrdom payout" (a kind of life-insurance payout that now stands at some $35,000). Perhaps, too, the Pakistani Taliban are aware of the cost of suicide attacks, adds Dr. Hussain: Where once the public sympathized with militants, groups that carry out suicide attacks are now ostracized.
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Still, the overall picture is far from rosy: While organized terror strikes may be down, sectarian attacks carried out largely by LeJ against Shiite targets have in fact surged, particularly in the western province of Balochistan.

"The cities seem to be ominously quiet right now, but sectarian violence [in other areas] continues. A key test will be Muharram – how peaceful or how violent that will be," says Hussain, referring to the first month of the Islamic calendar, in which fighting is prohibited.

And while Pakistan's security forces may have gotten better at dealing with terrorism, Toru says internal reforms can only go so far. "I am optimistic, but the key lies in Afghanistan.… You need a stable Afghanistan to have a stable Pakistan. But we've come through the most critical phase of our struggle."


http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2011/1123/In-Pakistan-downturn-in-major-Taliban-attacks-brings-cautious-optimism

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Daily Times story on L'Oreal bridal fashion show in Lahore:

LAHORE: A four-day long bridal fashion week started at the Royal Palm Country Club on Sunday. The organiser of the week, L’Oreal Paris, a world-leading beauty brand, announced a team of fashion designers, jewellery designers and make-up artists on the opening day.

The brand is also a pioneer of the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC) and aims at defining traditional Pakistani bridal fashion, jewellery and make-up trends, fusing different trends to create a unique look for the 2012bridal season.

On each day of the four days of the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week, different teams will present their interpretations of bridal make-up trends for the season, using the same brand products on their respective days.

Every day of the week, three designers each will introduce their exclusive bridal collections. Designers’ showcasing in the week include both those traditionally inspired and others more contemporary, including Ali Zeshan, Asifa and Nabeel, Imran Rajput, Fahad Hussain, Hassan Sheheryar Yasin, Karma, Maria B, Nida Azwar, Rouge, Sara Rohail Asghar, Sonia Azhar and Umar Saeed.

The four make-up teams will be represented by Ather Shahzad, Depilex, Nabila and Toni & Guy with male model styling by Khawar Riaz for all four days of the bridal week. The week will also be showcasing the work of three jewellery designers in addition to presenting fashion and make-up trends. Jewelers Damas, GOLD by Reama Malik and Kiran Fine Jewellery will each be presenting their bridal jewellery collections.

In the inauguration ceremony of the event, PFDC Chairperson Sehyr Saigo told the media that there was no fashion without make-up and no style without make-up, adding that it was a love affair with fashion and style that had encouraged L’Oreal Paris to partner with the PFDC to define the Pakistani bride.

He said that four solo shows featuring three bridal fashion designers and one jewellery designer would be hosted each day of the week and that each day would be styled by a different make-up team.

The Black Carpet for PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week is sponsored by Damas with show production by the Catwalk, event coordination by R-Team, set design by Hamza Tarrar and public relations by Lotus.


http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\12\19\story_19-12-2011_pg13_9

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Daily Times report on Pakistan Open Golf event in Karachi:

The 41st Pakistan Open Golf Championship is starting at the exquisite, par 72, DHA Golf and Country Club Golf Course here from Friday (tomorrow) and will be contested over four rounds with final round to be played on Sunday. Addressing a news conference on Wednesday, Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF) secretary general Taimur Hassan said the PGF in collaboration with DHA Country & Golf Club and the sponsors AKD Group would be hosting the most prestigious national event from December 29. “Being the national championship, it attracts golf champions of stature and standing from all over the country,” he added. Also present on the occasion were Farrukh Aslam (AKD Securities), Mehmood Aziz (tournament director) and Mohammed Irfan (chief referee).

“Virtually all the prominent ones have already converged to DHA seeking honours, lucrative cash prizes and also a chance to be declared the national champion of Pakistan,” Taimur added. He said for the ultimate winner it was not going to be an easy task. “Traits required will be unrivaled golfing skills, admirable temperament, the will to win and to beckon glory to his lap,” he said. Professional participants and competitors will be 90 plus but the front runners are expected to be twenty or a few more. Some are considered established and highly ranked and rated while the younger ones have their aspirations to pursue and show that they have ample touch of excellence that can propel them as high achievers.

“Holding of this championship represented an enormous challenge with generous financing, a golf arena oozing with beauty and challenge and not to forget a devoted and dedicated administrative touch, and last but not least champions at their best, all prepared to illuminate the golf arena with superior play and quality golf,” he said.

For the professional golf players of Pakistan, this event seeks to create a prodigious opportunity and ample are the cash prizes for the top performers, besides non-cash awards for the participating amateurs. The total prize money of Rs.3 million is there for distribution amongst the 40 best professionals. “And featuring in the contest will be players of remarkable ability and talent and one can expect them to show their extraordinary golf ability. Watching the top players of our golf circuit in action is always a delight and this grand occasion provides an opportunity to the golf lovers to quench their love for the game by observing tremendous performances by the leading stars of the golf circuit,” Taimur maintained. The sponsors were extremely pleased about getting associated with a major golf event and highlighted that this had been done in the past also and AKD would always be there for golf.


http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\12\29\story_29-12-2011_pg2_12

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an AP report on launch of local version of an international glossy magazine in Pakistan:

Pakistan is better known for bombs than bombshells, militant compounds than opulent estates. A few enterprising Pakistanis hope to alter that perception with the launch of a local version of the well-known celebrity magazine Hello!.

They plan to profile Pakistan’s rich and famous: the dashing cricket players, voluptuous Bollywood stars and powerful politicians who dominate conversation in the country’s ritziest private clubs and lowliest tea stalls. They also hope to discover musicians, fashion designers and other new talents who have yet to become household names.

“The side of Pakistan that is projected time and time again is negative,” said Zahraa Saifullah, the CEO of Hello! Pakistan. “There is a glamorous side of Pakistan, and we want to tap into that.”
--------------
Pakistan already has a series of local publications that chronicle the lives of the wellheeled in major cities like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, especially as they hop between lavish parties. But the producers of Hello! Pakistan hope the magazine’s international brand and greater depth will attract followers.

Hello! was launched in 1988 by the publisher of Spain’s Hola! magazine and is now published in 150 countries. It’s well-known for its extensive coverage of Britain’s royal family and once paid $14 million in a joint deal with People magazine for exclusive pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s newborn twins.

The market for English-language publications in Pakistan is fairly small. Most monthly and weekly magazines sell no more than 3,000 copies, said Khan, the consulting editor. But they hope to tap into the large Pakistani expatriate markets in the United Kingdom and the Middle East as well.

Hello! Pakistan will be published once a month and will cost about $5.50, twice as much as what many poor Pakistanis earn in a day. The first issue will be published in mid-April and will focus on the Pakistani fashion scene.

Saifullah, who grew up watching her mother and grandmother read Hello! as she hopped between London and Karachi, said it took her two years to convince the magazine to publish a local version in Pakistan....


http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/say-hello-to-pakistans-glamorous-side-as-famous-celebrity-magazine-launches-in-the-country/2012/03/24/gIQAtkbIYS_story.html

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an ET story about a German journalists' impressions of Pakistan:

After being in the country for more than two weeks, German journalist Joachim Holtz is of the view that reality is far better than perception.

“This is my second week in Karachi and before coming, I thought I would not survive even a day,” said the senior journalist and foreign correspondent of the German channel, ZDF. He was speaking to the journalist community on ‘Pakistan’s image abroad- a German view’ at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday.

Back home, the journalist feels that Pakistan has no image at all. “Pakistan is simply the name of an Islamic country in South Asia. There is mostly fear and some respect amongst Germans for the country and mostly, they have a blurry image of strange people living in a far away land.”

While some Germans were aware that Pakistan has delicious mangoes and the people love cricket, Holtz said that there are many who believe that Pakistan is an extremist, nuclear-armed country. “But they know very little or nothing about the country itself.”

Changing perceptions

Citing Pakistani and German newspapers, Holtz said that he only found news about bombings, Raymond Davis, the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, floods and their destruction. He said a few German papers have covered events such as the Karachi Literature Festival, while one newspaper wrote a feature on sufism in the country.

Contrary to what he had read, Holtz seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his trip. Apart from visiting the Empress Market in Karachi and the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, he also took a dip in the ocean last week. He went to Murree, Lahore and several cities in Sindh, including Sukkur, Hyderabad and Thatta. “I have never met any unfriendly person while travelling. There is so much hospitality, even the poorest have welcomed me with a cup of tea. I love it here!” exclaimed a delighted Holtz.

The Sindh information minister, Shazia Marri, took the opportunity to declare the day as “a difficult and sad day”, referring to the Supreme Court’s verdict in the prime minister’s contempt case. She went on to talk about how the media needs to highlight the positive image of the country to curb all the negative sentiments abroad. The German Consul General, Dr Til


http://tribune.com.pk/story/370562/german-journalist-speaks-there-is-more-to-pakistan-than-violence-and-floods/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Washington Post piece on Warren "Buffet disses coverage of Pakistan":

Warren Buffett has gobbled up a bunch of newspapers in recent years. Among them are many community papers, not the big titles that vanity publishers pursue. And an explanation for that acquisition pattern comes from the 2012 report of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.:

Newspapers continue to reign supreme, however, in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s
going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job. A reader’s eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbors will be read to the end. Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2013/03/01/buffett-disses-coverage-of-pakistan/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Time magazine article on literature flourishing in "troubled Pakistan":

Salman Rushdie was recently asked for his opinion on contemporary Indian fiction. The celebrated novelist surveyed the landscape for his interviewer, offering nods of approval to what is now a well-established range of Indian writing in English. But it wasn’t as attractive as what was happening across the border. “I actually think,” Rushdie said, “that the Pakistani stuff is more interesting.”

Thirty years ago, Rushdie published Shame, still considered one of the finest novels on Pakistan, and one that narrowly missed out on the Booker Prize. For much of that time, there was only the occasional novel written in English from Pakistan. Now, as Rushdie noted, there’s “the sense of a sudden explosion.”

As the world’s attention has been drawn to Pakistan’s problems with Islamist militancy in recent years, a flurry of exciting new voices have stepped forward to share with their readers a more intimate and rounded look at the country and its people — winning many plaudits along the way. Mohsin Hamid was recently described by the New York Times as, “one of his generation’s most inventive and gifted writers.” Nadeem Aslam’s latest novel, The Blind Man’s Garden, was praised in the Guardian as a product of “grace, intelligence and rare authenticity.”

This past month, Pakistani novelists writing in English also had the opportunity to meet readers from their own country at two different literary festivals in the largest cities of Karachi and Lahore. “For a while now we’ve had issues with public events,” says novelist and journalist Mohammed Hanif. “I guess weddings are the only things that really happen in public now. Music concerts have mostly disappeared. Other festivals are less well attended.” The literary festivals in Karachi and Lahore, adds Hanif, offer a rare occasion for “people to get out of their houses and go and talk about books.”

The two cities, with a combined population approaching 30 million, are also suffused in a rich cultural history. It would be difficult to pull off similar events in relatively soulless cities like Dubai, Singapore, or even Islamabad. “There is the requisite infrastructure here, engaged audiences, and a critical mass of novelists and poets that reside in each city,” says novelist H.M. Naqvi, the prize-winning author of Home Boy. “I expected large audiences. I expected energy.”

Strikingly, the festivals attracted thousands of young school and college students who had eagerly consumed the books and were brimming with questions for their authors. In Karachi, Hamid met a young man who handed over a missive composed by himself and two other friends. The trio, from the southern Punjabi town of Rahim Yar Khan, had pooled money together for one of them to make the several-hour-long bus journey to Karachi. The letter carried seriously worded instructions for the novelist. “We loved the sex-and-drugs scenes in Moth Smoke,” they wrote to Hamid, referring to his first novel. “We want to read more of this stuff.”


http://world.time.com/2013/03/04/pakistans-literary-festivals-a-showcase-for-a-different-view-of-the-troubled-country/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Daily Telegraph story on new "Glee Club" TV serial in Pakistan:

The cast and crew of Taan – "musical note" in Urdu - say they hope it will unite the country in front of the television as families sing along to their favourite hits.

Set in a music academy, the 26-part serial tells the story of the budding singers and musicians as they try to become stars.

Nabeel Sarwar, the show's producer, said it would not shy from tackling Pakistan's big issues but would also offer an upbeat alternative to the despair and misery peddled by most TV channels.

"I thought what are the two things that Pakistanis all unite around – the cricket team that doesn't perform or the music that does perform," he said.

Pakistan's divisions have dominated the headlines so far this year. The country's Shia minority has been targeted in a series of bomb attacks, and Taan is being filmed in Lahore, where a mob torched 100 Christian homes on March 10.



Mr Sarwar said the show would tap into the dreams of Pakistani teenagers and feature some of their parents' favourite songs.

About 100 Pakistani hits have been rerecorded for the series, to be performed in energetic dance routines or as atmospheric ballads. They range from the devotional Sufi songs of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to the soft rock of Junoon, once described as Pakistan's answer to U2.

Filming has already begun and Mr Sarwar is in talks to sell the show to Pakistan's state-run terrestrial channel.

"I want a hit show that the whole country loves, that they bop along to, that they buy the soundtrack to, that they feel united behind, so that they feel at one with everyone when they watch this because there's something for everyone," said Mr Sarwar.

The show revolves around the fictional Hayaat Haveli musical academy in Lahore.

At its heart is a tension between a traditional music teacher and his younger rival, who trains budding pop stars, representing different faces of Pakistan.

Among their pupils are the offspring of well-heeled bureaucrats and a talentless wannabe who dreams of becoming a Bollywood actress.

But some of Taan's plotlines differ from the coming-of-age tales and happy endings of Glee or Fame. Instead they attempt to engage with the darker side of Pakistan.

One of the characters, Annie Masih is described as losing all her family in the 2009 attack on a Christian enclave in the town on Gojra, a real episode in which seven people were burned alive.

Another storyline involves Fariduddin, a member of the Pakistan Taliban intent on blowing up the academy before he is eventually seduced by music.

Hassan Niazi, who plays Zaki, the pop music teacher, said those issues would not distract from the main attraction of the show – the songs.

"Music is the only thing that can unite this country," he said during a break in filming.


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/9935957/Pakistan-television-joins-the-Glee-club.html

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt of Newseeek Pakistan story on Shazia Sikandar:

Her works are part of the permanent collections of some of the world’s most famous museums—the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the Guggenheim. In 2005, The New York Times called her an “an artist on the verge of shaking things up.” The year before that, Newsweek counted her among the clutch of overachieving South Asians “transforming America’s cultural landscape.” Shahzia Sikander, arguably Pakistan’s most famous living modern artist, has been wowing the international art world with her multidisciplinary works inspired from Mughal-era miniature painting techniques and tropes. She’s been scoring accolades since graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1995. Last year, the U.S. secretary of State awarded her the Inaugural Medal of Art. She’s previously won a MacArthur “Genius Grant.” While Pakistan hasn’t entirely ignored Sikander—she won the President’s National Pride of Honor award in 2005—she’s hardly a household name in her home country, and viewed by Pakistani critics as an outlier. We spoke with Sikander recently about her art and life. Excerpts:

From the National College of Arts in Lahore to the pinnacle of the global art scene, what’s the journey been like for you?

Complex, the way life is. It’s hard to summarize more than two decades in a single answer—besides, the journey is still unfolding. In retrospect I would have, perhaps, made some different decisions, but I’m appreciative of all the opportunities and detours I experienced that helped me develop my ability to think and express.

You’ve rarely held any shows in Pakistan, why?

Not being invited in any serious manner to exhibit works in Pakistan is an issue. Compounding the situation is also the fact that almost all of my work got collected rapidly by international museums in the late 1990s and early 2000s. To show the work, it has to be loaned directly from the [collecting] institutions. It was never as simple as putting the work in a suitcase to be brought over to Pakistan to exhibit.

Do you think your work has helped change how women artists from the Muslim world are viewed abroad, judged on the basis of the work rather than the baggage of biography?

Our actions speak for ourselves. If anything my choices in life do not fit into any stereotypes. I am a strong advocate for women’s education. The support I received from my family and mentors in Pakistan was instrumental in allowing me to think for myself, take responsibility for my actions, and develop a healthy sense of independence and self-worth. Unfortunately, stereotypes get resurrected often around the world for all sorts of people. Muslim women are subjected to this much more frequently. Over the years there have been numerous opportunities to debunk or challenge these stereotypes, and I have been there many times through my work and through my life.

How much of your work is informed by your heritage, your Pakistani identity?

My identity is very much about my being from the subcontinent. It is not as if I left my roots and have to find ways to engage with them. I came of age in Pakistan. My engagement with Indo-Persian miniature painting started in the mid to late-’80s when I was studying at the NCA........


http://newsweekpakistan.com/the-forgotten-daughter/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a WSJ blog post on Izzat Majeed, a British-Pakistani music philanthropist:

The millionaire-investor-turned-philanthropist and music mogul will mark a milestone when his Sachal Studios Orchestra of Lahore releases its second jazz album later this year. The first, Sachal Jazz: Interpretations of Jazz Standards and Bossa Nova, went on sale in 2011. It shot to the top of iTunes rankings in both the U.S. and U.K. and drew comparisons to Ry Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club album, done with Cuban’s biggest traditional musical legends, some of whom had been out of the limelight for decades.

The first Sachal album featured a version of “Take Five” that even Brubeck is said to have liked. Brubeck died late last year. The tribute to his quartet was played on both Western stringed instruments and traditional Eastern instruments, like the sitar, and was also done as a slickly cut, but somehow still-quaint music video.

The orchestra’s second album, Jazz and All That, has a decidedly different feel, Majeed said.

“For the second album, I’ve done two things. The entire structure of rhythm has changed. Also, I have brought in Western instruments that would create enthusiasm, rather than in the previous album, when the contribution of Western instruments was minimal,” he said. “That gels well with the sitar, the sarangi (a fiddle-like instrument)…It gives it a sound I really like.”

Sachal Studios, which also has produced several dozen albums from individual artists since opening, released a teaser video of the orchestra playing an East-West fusion version of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.”

Majeed, by the way, hesitates to call the sound of the orchestra he built “fusion,” though it blends elements and instruments of both.

“I shy away from Western or Eastern,” Majeed said. “I don’t understand ‘fusion.’ For example, I made two or three new tracks totally on our classical music, on the ragas. When you hear them, the raga is not disturbed at all…Whenever I make a composition and bring in an instrument from the West and our own instrument, ultimately, the impact, the sound that you hear, is your own music. It’s not fusion. It’s the world coming into musical harmony.”

Majeed, who is 63 and considers himself retired, splits time between London and Lahore, and does some of his album-tracking with musicians in Europe. He said he just likes the sound of the instruments coming together, and that part of his mission is to bring music back to Pakistan, even if it’s a different kind than what many of his countrymen expect.

“Everyone tells us, ‘you rock the boat all the time when you’re in Lahore, because I don’t know the music.’ We all just get together and say, ‘here is the sound. Do you like it?’ We bypass the classical structures,” he said.

Playing music that’s pleasant and interesting, as he discovered with the orchestra’s first album, attracts listeners from all over, like Japan and Brazil, as well as in Pakistan. Majeed said he started to compose the outlines of the second album as the first album began resonating with listeners around the world. It has come together at a comfortable pace and in a way where the whole orchestra is now onboard with the sound.

----

The new album features 13 tracks, including Henry Mancini’s “The PInk Panther,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Morning has Broken” by Cat Stevens, “the Maquis Tepat,” and a jazz-based classical interpretation of a Monsoon raga.

Beyond the orchestra’s music, the tale of how and why Majeed built the studio and founded Sachal is worth telling for music aficionados.

After his initial exposure to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s so-called “Jambassadors,” in 1958, Majeed, kept music close, despite a winding career.


http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/09/11/philanthropist-bringing-jazz-back-to-pakistan/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Bloomberg story on the art sales scene in Pakistan:

Osama bin Laden stares out at an army of shadowy figures. Each carries a machine gun and has the head of a parrot.
The roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York is covered with what looks like dried blood. Close up, the work shows shrubbery and bird feathers.

A patriotic picture of the U.S. flag isn’t all it seems. Each of the stars and stripes is made up of tiny Urdu verses asking for forgiveness and mercy from God.
These are all works by Pakistanis -- Amir Raza, Imran Qureshi and Muhammad Zeeshan, respectively. Pakistan’s most violent decade in history has come as a boon to the nation’s artists, with prices of paintings, number of art galleries in major cities and frequency of exhibitions all multiplying.
“I don’t think terrorism is the sole factor,” says Shakira Masood, curator at Art Chowk in Karachi, who has been asked to hold exhibitions in Hong Kong and Istanbul. “Artists may have gotten into the limelight from that, but they are very talented.”
The new generation of contemporary artists -- which also includes Rashid Rana and Shazia Sikander -- has started to sell more in international auction houses and seen greater interest from collectors and investors in Pakistan, the world’s sixth most populous nation. Qureshi is Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year for 2013.
Art Investment
“If you invest in a top artist painting, you will get a higher return” than many other investment avenues, says Tauqeer Muhajir, publisher and editor of art magazine Nigaah. Demand for Pakistani paintings is rising because they are relatively cheap and high in quality, he says.
Zeeshan grew up in the small town of Mirpurkhas. He used to be a poster painter for the local film industry that on rare occasion still resorts to painting two-story-high billboards instead of printing. Never did he imagine his work would be bought by London’s British Museum and New York’s Met museum.
He had a change of fortune after joining the National College of Arts in Lahore. After specializing in miniatures, Zeeshan started to sell works -- for less than $100 in 2003 and as much as $20,000 now. He brushes paintings on wasli paper and has even used Pepsi and Coca-Cola cans in his works.
“Pakistan artists caught the eye of international galleries and curators after the 9/11 twin tower attack,” Zeeshan says. “Terrorism, Taliban and Bin Laden are the biggest subjects of the century.”...


http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-25/bin-laden-s-parrots-blood-fuel-boom-in-pakistan-artists.html

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC story about staging of "Grease" musical in Pakistan:

Popular American musical, Grease, is being staged in Karachi - the first time one of Broadway's longest running shows has been to Pakistan. The BBC's Shahzeb Jillani goes behind the scenes to meet its young Pakistani actors and organisers.

Nida Butt is clearly agitated and it looks like she has had enough.

"What a bunch of fools am I working with? How long have you guys been rehearsing these steps? How can you suddenly forget it?" she yells at the young cast on stage from the auditorium stairs where she's been sitting and observing their rock and roll dance act.

The live band stops playing and there's total silence.

A few actors mumble something to themselves and nervously look around to avoid any eye contact with their fearsome director.

"She loses her temper deliberately," quips a young performer. "It's all part of the act to seek absolute perfection."

Dream project
Despite her occasional outbursts, Ms Butt - a lawyer turned theatre director - is actually quite proud of her team.

"We have a super talented cast which has been working long hours for nearly four months. It's challenging but exhilarating," she says.

Grease, set in 1950s American working-class subculture, depicts high-school teenage shenanigans exploring love, sex and friendship through their passion for cars, music and dance.

For Ms Butt, who has previously produced Chicago, and Mamma Mia in Karachi, Grease has been a dream project.

"It's different this time because we are doing things properly, after sorting out permissions and copyright issues," she says.

Thriving theatre scene
One of the first challenges for her company, Made For Stage Productions, was to get the casting, the American working-class accents and attitude right.

"The first month was only about studying and getting to know the characters," says Mustafa Changezi who plays the tough and rude Kenickie.

Actors say they were required to take part in workshops to really adopt the persona of the character they were playing.

"We had to have several walking drills. At times, it was like being in a boot camp," says Changezi.

Then, there was the issue with finding a suitable venue to put up a musical with a large cast and crew, plus a live band.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

Ahmed Ali, who plays the lead role as Danny
This play - with its timeless music and story of teenage love - is relevant to young people everywhere”

Ahmed Ali
Actor, Danny
"Karachi has a thriving theatre scene, but none of the venues are big enough or technically advanced enough to stage a big musical like Grease," says Ms Butt.

In the end, the organisers had little choice but to settle for the traditional Karachi Arts Council auditorium.

The stage with a depth of 24ft (7.3m) was so small, it had to be extended at least 3 to 4ft to accommodate the cast and dance crews of about 35 performers.

Innovative solutions had to be found to quickly change the sets manually in between the scenes.

-----

Still, she says she's thrilled to bring some live entertainment to the city of Karachi - otherwise known for crime, lawlessness and militancy.

"For two and a half hours, I would like the audience to forget about Pakistan's multi-faceted problems and enjoy the show.

"It's also about showing the world that there's much more to this city, and this country than death and destruction."


http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-25763330

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an NPR Radio report on a book based on a real life story of Pakistan family by a Pakistani-American Haroon Ullah:

Middle class life in Pakistan isn’t that different from middle class life in the United States, says Haroon Ullah. Or at least, he hopes you’ll come away with that message after reading his new book, “The Bargain at the Bazaar: A family’s day of reckoning in Lahore.”

The book follows the Reza family and their three sons as they attempt to maintain normalcy in an increasingly tense environment.

Ullah says he met the family at a dinner party in Pakistan 10 years ago.

“They are very blue collar and yet they’re able to, as a family, find a way to move on amidst the sort of tragedy that they often times experience.”

The Rezas shared their story with Ullah over many evening meetings over mangos, what Ullah calls “the best ice breaker in the world.”

The oldest Reza son followed in his father’s footsteps to run the family shop at the local bazaar. The youngest son went to school to become a lawyer. But it was the middle son who would most worry his mother and father when he joined a militant Islamist group.

“The parents would tell me, 'Did we do something wrong? Did we fail as parents?'” says Ullah. “They want better for their kids than they had for themselves. They’re willing to sacrifice everything.”


http://www.marketplace.org/topics/world/being-middle-class-pakistan

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a New York Books Review piece on recent Lahore Literature Festival:

Rarely has an event framed around books and ideas felt so urgent. A few weekends ago, a group of writers, artists, and editors gathered in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab heartland, to defend the written word. People turned up from every part of the country to hear them—Karachi and Islamabad, but also Balochistan and the remote tribal regions along the Afghan frontier. Sometimes filling the aisles and stairways of the three venues where the gathering was held, they listened to debates on everything from the future of the novel to the future of Pakistan.

In an age in which international literary festivals have become commonplace, there is very little ordinary about the Lahore LitFest, starting with the location. “PK! What are you doing there?” a US immigration official wondered, when I set out from New York. My barber asked me if I had a bullet-proof vest. Even in the Middle East, in places that have plenty of tension of their own, a Pakistani destination seems to raise red flags. “It would be a shame if you got yourself kidnapped,” an Arab journalist who covers political unrest told me, during a visit to the Arabian Peninsula two days before my journey on to Lahore.

To anyone who has actually been there, such reactions may seem grossly unfair. With a sizable liberal elite, a strong tradition in publishing and the arts, and an old city filled with extraordinary Mughal architecture, Lahore arguably has more in common with the leading cities of India and Europe than with the dark image of Pakistan shown almost daily in the news. The city’s best-known institutions of learning are not jihadist-grooming madrasas but humanistic and secular; consider the National College of Arts, the country’s premier art and design school, which began under British rule in the nineteenth century, with Rudyard Kipling’s father as its first principal.
-------------
And then there was Ardeshir Cowesjee (1926–2012), the legendary Karachi columnist who might more accurately have been described as a one-man shadow government. A wealthy businessman from the Zoroastrian religious minority, Cowesjee fearlessly exposed the corruption and mismanagement of Pakistan’s political class in a weekly column that not infrequently brought him death threats. As Karachi descended into violence and gang warfare in recent years, he continuously attacked the dirty real estate dealings, incompetent governance, decaying municipal services, and rising intolerance that were driving it. During a lively debate about his legacy, the power went out, and the panelists kept talking until someone lit the stage with an iPhone.
-----------
Even so, the theme of the discussion was “War on Culture,” a worldwide drama in which many Pakistanis view the US as arch malefactor. (I took part in the panel, along with Ahmed Rashid, the novelist Vikram Seth, and the Indian heritage expert Naman Ahuja.) When a gentleman who identified himself as hailing from South Waziristan protested that the US could never rectify the cultural destruction it had caused in the Middle East, the house erupted in applause. Taking the microphone, the ambassador, now sitting in the front row, stood up to respond. The crowd went quiet. He conceded the mistakes made by the previous US administration; he said that he and the current administration were committed to doing more to defend Pakistan’s heritage. It brought some applause of its own. Thus ended the festival, with Waziristan and Washington coming to some kind of temporary truce.


http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/mar/12/different-pakistan/?insrc=wbll

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a NY Times Op Ed by Bina Shah on Karachi Literature Festival:

KARACHI, Pakistan — On the banks of the luminous China Creek, overlooking old mangrove swamps and the shipping cranes at the port, more than 50,000 people flocked to this year’s Karachi Literature Festival, held annually in February when the flowers bloom, the weather is temperate and the city feels alive with possibility.

The festival, featuring panel discussions, book promotions, debates, music and theatrical performances, has established itself as a safe space to discuss not just literature and the arts but also politics, history and society at a time when plurality of opinion is not always welcome in Pakistan.

A new Sindh Festival, also held in February, offered another approach to Pakistan’s rich cultural heritage. This extravaganza was a brainchild of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari; it included a concert, art show, film festival, fashion show and horse-and-cattle show. Its aim was to showcase Pakistan’s “softer image,” in the distinctly political hope that by stimulating cultural pride, Pakistanis, especially the young, could be persuaded to reject militancy and religious extremism.

Two wars are being fought in Pakistan: a military one against the violence of religious extremists, and a psychological and emotional one to resist a more insidious change in society itself — the growth of intolerance, a drift toward the right and a decline in room for cultural, religious, ethnic or social diversity. This shrinkage of public space, or Talibanization, as the social scientist Ayesha Siddiqa puts it, is not violence itself, but creates support for “ideas which eventually feed violence.”

Talibanization has spread virally, thanks to right-wing talk shows, newspaper columns and social media. It silences debate about the role of religion, branding anyone who advocates secular democracy an atheist. For example, it whipped up a campaign against the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage campaigner for education for girls who was severely wounded in an assassination attempt; earlier this year, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial government banned the book from private school curriculums. The proponents of Talibanization denigrate women’s rights activists as “NGO workers in tight jeans” and harass young men and women at universities who try to spend time together.
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Some 60,000 schoolchildren attended the Karachi Children’s Literature Festival last month. They listened to storytellers, participated in interactive art and music sessions, and attended debuts of graphic novels that captured the lives of “azeem” (great) Pakistanis: Begum Raa’na Liaqat Ali Khan, who championed women’s rights; Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a poet and activist; Hakeem Said, a scholar and philanthropist assassinated in 1998.

The battle for Pakistanis’ hearts and minds will be as tough as the one for sovereignty and territory. But the message will spread best when it’s free from political manipulation or overt assertions of national or civic pride. The children at the festival weren’t asked to choose between extremism and peace; they were left to enjoy themselves, to clap and cheer, to sing and dance. Experiences like these, organic and unforced, will win the cultural wars in Pakistan — if they are encouraged to flourish on the strength of unifying, not divisive, narratives and values that we all share.


http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/19/opinion/shah-pakistans-culture-wars.html

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a story about Karachi's vibrant indie music scene:

The disconnect is emblematic of a new cultural era for the world’s seventh largest city, characterized by variety. Outsiders are noticing, from Rolling Stone to Pakistan's neighbors in India. A writer for the Delhi-based magazine Caravan recently dove into the city’s secret clubs and concluded that a “shift” aided by the internet is producing an unprecedented range of sounds, "reflecting [Karachi's] frenzied character.”

Even the band names seem designed to stir things up, with an almost overwrought indie sensibility: Mole, //orangenoise, Dynoman, Basheer & the Pied Pipers, Alien Panda Jury, and DALT WISNEY are a few of the current hottest indie acts. Because Pakistani hits historically come from the classical world or the movies -- meaning Bollywood, or the Lahore analog, Lollywood -- these independent artists are forming collectives that act as labels, helping bands put out albums and promoting each other.

As in any good music scene, there are turf wars. In an interview last fall with Vice Magazine's electronic music spinoff THUMP, the rising Islamabad-based producer Talal Qureshi distanced himself from “that word ‘trippy.’” According to Qureshi, his peers in Karachi are limiting themselves by sticking to “music which is good to dance and be on drugs to.”

The comments rippled through the Pakistani music scene. In a counter interview with THUMP, FXS hit back at Qureshi, using their respective cities as ammunition. “Karachi,” said one member, “is a living city.” Meanwhile, “after 8pm Islamabad shuts down. All the house lights are switched off. It’s a town full of retired army uncles.”

There is one meeting point for every young Pakistani hopeful: the internet. Scour YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, Bandcamp, and SoundCloud, and you’ll soon be an expert in subcontinental indie.

But domestically, traditional venues still count. The Caravan article names a trigger for the "shift," when the band Mole performed on the popular Pakistani concert series, Coke Studio, in 2011. Sponsored by Coca Cola, the televised series tends to launch the careers of mainstream acts, as it did for the Pakistani pop star Atif Aslam.

The Mole appearance jumpstarted what the cautious are calling an “overly experimental approach” at Coke Studio HQ. (Notably, one of Mole’s members is the son of a Coke Studio founder.)

Hearing "drone beeps" of electronica mixed in with otherwise standard fare, a journalist at The Friday Times, an independent weekly in Pakistan, praised the new era at Coke Studio, marked by "the humility of the old learning from the new."

It’s not all revolution. Drinking alcohol is still illegal in Pakistan, a rule that ghettoizes the music scene into underground house parties.

But limitations bring their own opportunities. In the THUMP interview, DALT WISNEY compared Karachi to "a prison." As a kid, he wasn't allowed to roam due to threats of violence and kidnappings. It was on his daily circuit, from home to school to a pirated music store and then back home, that he found a CD of music-making software. "That's how I started making music," he told THUMP. "So I think I mean prison in a positive sense, maybe like being stuck in a library. You make the most of it."


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/25/pakistan-indie-music-karachi_n_5020947.html

http://www.caravanmagazine.in/

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts of a Guardian interview of Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie:

She went on to study creative writing in the US, writing her first novel, In the City by the Sea, while at the University of Massachusetts. It was published in 1998, when she was just 25, and was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys prize in the UK.

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Some of the most memorable moments in Shamsie's new novel explore the issues of feminism's first wave, including women's suffrage and work during the first world war. When I ask about being a woman in the world today, she says without missing a beat: "Wherever in the world you go, you're living in the world's oldest and most pervasive empire, which is the empire of patriarchy. I don't know a place I've been to where it doesn't exist." She dismisses cultural relativism: "The worst thing that people say is 'oh well, compared to where you're from' as if that's an excuse, or makes any difference … It's not that girls are being shot in the head for going to school, and thank God for that, but there are these other levels that you have to contend with." She references the current debate around the gender imbalance in book reviewing, how women's books are marketed and how only men's fiction is deemed to be "weighty" and "serious". "The number of times I've heard my books referred to as romances," she scoffs. "Male writers such as Mohsin Hamid and Nadeem Aslam will write novels which have romances at their centre but the books are never, ever, referred to as romances."

While Shamsie is committed to fiction as a form, she also writes comment articles, including for the Guardian. "A lot of what you are doing in a novel is trying not to hit people over the head with a sledgehammer," she says, whereas writing journalism is much more immediate. "There's a clarity and logic that you can try to bring to bear on something which is enjoyable." She is also one of many novelists who have taken to the even more focused medium of Twitter. "It's an interesting way, if you're in one place, to be part of a certain kind of conversation in another place." And for someone who lives round the corner from Lord's and recognises how impossible it is to be Pakistani without also being a cricket fan, "Twitter's a good place to be when Pakistan is playing a cricket match."

Shamsie is self-deprecating about her craft: "Michael Ondaatje had a phrase for it, 'the artist who follows the brush' – a lovely way of making an incredibly chaotic process sound like it has some intrinsic meaning." And she has a horror of sounding superior: "The only way to be a writer is to assume that someone who is reading it knows more than you do about everything in the novel, including how to write a sentence – and that's the reader you're aiming for."

But Pakistan is a "very young country" in a "very old region", she explains, rich with untold stories that she wants to discover and share. Many aspects of the country's history, such as its creation in 1947 or the 1971 war, are not part of the national conversation "because everyone is trying to stake a claim for the narrative of Pakistan and its foundation myths, and there are such opposing viewpoints – about minority rights, Islam, what kind of Islam – that very often the complications don't get acknowledged."

A God in Every Stone unpeels one such story, of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who led a non-violent resistance to the British Raj and opposed the creation of the state of Pakistan – someone Shamsie never heard about when growing up because he didn't fit into "a certain national narrative"....


http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/apr/11/kamila-shamsie-america-pakistan-interview