Monday, March 31, 2008

Cartoon Of The Day

Many thanks to Adeel for sending this along.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

For the sake of my honour, shoot my wife.

I was just wrapping up work when one of the peons at work, Yusuf, approached me, swore me to me secrecy, and asked me for my help. He is a proud 35 year old pathan man belonging to the Yusufzai tribe who calls the outskirts of Peshawar his home. At the time he arrived at my desk,most of the office had emptied out; he preferred it that way. Looking absolutely ashamed, he lowered his head and confided to me the harrowing ordeal of his sister in law:

Three days ago in a village around 100 kilometers from Peshawar, Yusuf’s sister-in-law was walking towards her house. A car sped towards her; upon reaching her, a man got out, bundled her in to the car and sped off. The woman is a mother of three; and besides being Yusuf’s sister-in-law is married to his cousin – an ex ASF (Airport Security Force) officer who lost one of his arm during an ‘operation.’

After two days of tribal investigation it has now been revealed that the man who abducted Yusuf’s sister-in-law, is a young man who also happens to be related to her husband. (and Yusuf). The tribal elders however, do not agree with this version of the story and are adamant that this mother of three has just run away with her lover. As you may be aware, love birds are a big no-no in then NWFP. The tribal elders have only one remedy for such a situation and that is death for both the man and the woman; this maintains the honour of both their families.

In lieu of this the tribal elders approached the man’s father and he gave them permission to shoot the man. The tribal elders then approached Yusuf’s cousin, the woman’s husband, and he also gave the elders permission to shoot the woman, citing that she ran away with him.

Yusuf’s wife the woman’s sister, remains adamant that this is not the case. A woman’s word however, counts for naught (they do menstruate you know, and can not be trusted with any sane judgments.). She has been defiant in her defense for her sister and vehemently protests against the pronouncement of the tribe and continues to claim that her sister would never abandon her husband. But Yusuf’s wife also realizes that there’s little she can do so she sits idly at home, inconsolable, and refuses to eat a single grain.

The entire story reminded me of the scene in The Usual Suspects wherein Koba Yashi (Kevin Spacey’s character) kills his own wife, after she has been raped. That however, was fiction, and this, very much, is reality.

After revealing these details, Yusuf just stood there and waited for me to say / do something that would take this entire problem away. But I just stared at him impotently, not knowing what to say. I realized from the off-set that no matter how hard I tried there was little I could do.

The only thing I could do was call an associate in Lahore who also handles our cases in Peshawar and ask him to contact the police so that they may prevent the tribe from killing the woman. After hearing the facts our associated excused himself from the case and informed me that I should just pray to God, for there was nothing else that could protect the woman. (Apparently, after the elections the entire police hierarchy has been updated and a majority of the old SHOs have been transferred. These new police officials are political appointees who have been chosen for their loyalty to local power brokers; there’s no way in hell that there going to go against the edict of the tribal elders).

That's it then, I’ll probably call Zia Awan (a Human Rights Lawyer) and the Ansar Burney trust and solicit them for their help. Then I’ll return to work and try forgetting this entire story. What else can I do?

There is a woman, a mother of three, possibly kidnapped, with a bullet on her head and no one willing to prevent her slaughter.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Azaan is sooo 1999

The Muezzin bellows into the microphone calling the faithful to prayer; his voice transported across the galaxy by millions of large loud speakers placed on top of the minaret (or on top of the nearest multi-storey building, if located near by). I’m sitting at a friend’s house watching some TV when we hear the Azaan; out of respect we put the TV on mute. The Muezzin finishes the Azaan and peace is restored. But this is peace is a lie as another Muezzin at another mosque (not more than 200 yards away from the first one) begins the Azaan (I guess the first call to prayer is invalidated by the fact that the Muezzin belonged to a different sect). The sequence continues for a good while and we end up hearing 4 Azaan’s, one after the other. My friend has to bear through this lunacy every day; five times a day (thankfully I live in the middle of nowhere and even the Mullahs don't bother with that area.)

This isn’t the end of it either. On extremely religious days, the mosques carry all night God fests, transmitting Tilawat’s and Naat’s throughout these residential neighbourhoods. There is absolutely no need for this, anyone who wishes to a Naat or Tilawat can a) go to the mosque, b) turn on the TV , c) watch a DVD or d) listen to a CD. The entire exercise of night long Tilawat's and Naat's seems to me to be premised on the notion that it is essential to prove to the world how religious you are. And it pisses me off to no end; that, and the idea that you can persuade people to pray by shouting in their ears. It just ain’t gonna work!

The entire rationale for saying the Azaan no longer seems valid. The Azaan is a call to prayer; it is an exercise that reminds the faithful that it is time they devoted their energies to submitting themselves to Allah. It was an extremely important tool some 1400 years ago when telling the exact time was an art (for some odd reason wrist sun-dials never quite caught on). Things are a little different now. Wrist watches aren’t necessary an exclusive entity and a person can look at his watch and know when it is time to offer his prayers. Pure Magic!

Moreover there are now over 70 million cell phone users in Pakistan which means that almost half the country is capable of setting an alarm that tells them its time to pray; the other half can just ask those who have a phone. In fact, some cell phones even offer an Azaan option to better aid the faithful (And abject poverty and illiteracy has little affect on people’s ability to play with their phones; to think otherwise is a bit condescending.).

In light of these modern inventions; why the hell can’t we just scrap the Azaan? It’s not like Islam is anti-technology; in fact, it appears to freely embrace technology. If it’s ok for Mosques to sell DVDs and CDs, and if it’s ok for scholars to be ever-present on the half a dozen or so Islamic channels, and if it’s ok for a Muezzin to be using a loud speaker, doesn’t it just make sense to scrap this entire exercise?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Some Book Recommendations

So regular readers may know that I had my computer and iPod stolen in the middle of last quarter. I did not get a new computer until the end of the quarter, and have yet to get a new iPod. What these developments meant, in consort with my living alone without a television, was that my meals, subway rides, and bus rides would be extremely boring. So I started to read random non-academic books while eating or riding public transport. I got through a number of books in the previous few weeks, and here under are my thoughts:

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

Venkatesh was a PhD student in the Sociology department here at U of C back in the 1990s. Some of you may know that the U of C campus essentially borders a "bad" neighborhood, where crime, drug use, and gang violence is pervasive. Venkatesh, who is now at Columbia, decided to do some fieldwork to figure out how exactly gangs operate on a day-to-day basis, what their interactions with the citizens of the neighborhood and projects look like, how they deal with the police and vice versa, and how what poor, black, urban people do to get by. So he lived with a gang called the Black Kings for about six years and produced this nifty 300 pager that can be read in a day. It is also one of those books that you know is going to become a movie some time very soon.

You should buy/read this book if: you want to know more about the daily life of gangs and the people around them.

You should not buy/read this book if: you want a definitive verdict on the causes and possible solutions to urban poverty and gang violence. Venkatesh is either agnostic on these issues, or would rather not say in the book.

The Future of Freedom by Fareed Zakaria

Zakaria's basic thesis is this: democracy is a great thing, but too much of it is not. He provides a brief history of different political systems, before moving on to his targets. His particular targets in the book are (a) those who believe that more democracy, regardless of economic or social conditions, is always a good thing; (b) those who believe that democracy and liberalism are synonymous; (c) those who believe empowering citizens of democracies to as great an extent as possible is a good idea, and (d) polls.

You should buy/read this book if: you want a well-written and simply presented history of both the Western world and the concept of democracy, or you want a somewhat nuanced treatment of the liberty/democracy dichotomy.

You should not buy/read this book if: you're expecting a political scientific treatment of these important issues. Zakaria is jarringly ham-handed in the way he treats problematic concepts like "wealth" or "democracy". This is a giant Newsweek column, not a giant Journal of Democracy article.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Truss is a grammar-phile. More accurately, she's a those-who-fuck-up-grammar-phobe. In a hilarious treatise on the state of grammar in today's world, Truss takes aim at all those who write incorrect or badly-written sentences. It's not just a railing against bad writing, however. Truss also describes in great detail the exact ways in which commas, apostrophes, and other punctuation marks should be used.

You should buy/read this book if: you want to laugh for three straight hours, or you're an adult and your grammar is terrible and you need help (ahem, AKS. Ahem).

You should not buy/read this book if: you don't think grammar is all that big a deal, or if you have no sense of humor.

Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni

The subtitle of this book captures its essence: it really is a memoir of growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran. Moaveni describes her personal tale of the young immigrant experience, and weaves it within a story about political developments in Iran over the last thirty years, and relations between the U.S. and Iran during the same period. Moaveni moved back to Iran for a few years to work as a journalist, and this time constitutes the bulk of the book.

You should buy/read this book if: you want a glimpse of what life is like in Iran today and contrast it with life in Iran before the Islamic Revolution, or if you are from a brown country but live, or lived for some time, in the West. Trust me, the story resonates strongly.

You should not buy/read this book if: you scoff at the idea of a twenty-something writing a memoir, or if you want a deeper historical look at the causes and consequences of the Islamic Revolution, which is treated very superficially.

Zenana by Laura Ring

An anthropologist who got her PhD from U of C, Ring analyzes "everyday peace in a Karachi apartment building". Her basic motivation is that while social science devotes much time, space, and energy to studying war and conflict, peace is generally treated as a residual category. She attempts to correct this imbalance by studying microlevel foundations of coexistence. Her fieldwork is done in a middle-class apartment building in Karachi, where people of different sects and ethnicities learn to get along despite the background of ethnic violence in the city.

You should buy/read this book if: you want a very deep anthropological treatment of the typically mundane activities that take place in everyday life, like exchanging sugar.

You should not buy/read this book if: you're looking for a light read. These will be the longest 180 pages of your life, I can promise you.

Predictably Irrational
by Dan Ariely

Ariely is a behavioral economist, and like all behavioral economists, he takes the tools and lessons of psychology and applies them to dictums and laws of classical economics. Using experiments and surveys, Ariely delves into why we behave in certain ways that are completely contrary to what classical economics would say. In other words, he delves into why we are irrational. Why are we blinded by the allure of things that are free? Why do we make bad decisions when we are sexually aroused? Why does the Economist offer a subscription to its print edition and its website for the same price as its print edition?

You should buy/read this book if: you are fascinated by how we behave in everyday settings, from what we buy to what we order at restaurants to who we choose as life partners. Think Malcolm Gladwell, except with original research.

You should not buy/read this book if: you're sick of smartass Freakonomics/Gladwell type of people telling you how dumb you really are, and why you continue to act in stupid, irrational ways.

Wednesday Poll: Last Week's Results And This Week's Poll

The votes are in.

Last week we asked: how would you classify skin-lightening products such as Fair and Lovely? Do you think of them as (a) something sinister, which entrenches disempowerment by reifying race-based opinions of what constitutes beauty, or (b) a cosmetic product like any other which consumers are free to reject; no more racially charged than getting a tan?

In a tight race, sinister beat harmless 23-21.

This week's question concerns population control measures. We want to know if you think strict government imposed population control measures - like China's one-child only policy - are fair. Furthermore, should Pakistan employ them?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Population Control, India Style

There are, broadly speaking, two ways by which population growth can slow. First, you can institute policies that result in fewer people being born. Second, you can institute policies that result in more people dying. Officials in Madhya Pradesh, it appears, are trying both.
A bandit-infested region of India is trying to persuade men to undergo sterilisation by offering to fast-track their gun license applications, an official said on Tuesday.

Officials in central Madhya Pradesh state's Shivpuri district decided to adopt the policy -- already tried out by some neighbouring states -- to increase the low vasectomy rate.

"I came to know that it had to do with their perceived notion of manliness," said Manish Shrivastav, administrative chief of Shivpuri district, part of the Indian Chambal region, which is famed for its lawlessness and bandits.

"I then decided to match it with a bigger symbol of manliness -- a gun license," he said. "And the ploy worked."

Vasectomy rates have soared since the policy was introduced last month, he added, although those undergoing sterilisation are still required to meet all regulations governing arms licenses.

"Over 150 men have got themselves sterilised since we have offered the gun license preference. I expect another 100 by the end of this month," Shrivastav told AFP.

Hayat Khan Sherpao: Conspiracy Theories Come to Court

This is the fourth and final part in a series of posts about the murder of Hayat Khan Sherpao.

Click here for the 1st part.
Click here for the 2nd part.
Click here for the 3rd part.

The Relevance of the Verdict

The decision of the court in
Asfandyar Wali v the State is an example of the manner in which Pakistan's superior courts often deal with our politically controlled (and patently incompetent) police forces.

The trial and verdict also shed some light on an issue that has been addressed by the authors
of this blog on multiple occasions; namely the Pakistani fondness for conspiracy theories.

Also, just a quick note for those of you who are interested, the Judges in this case were Abdul Ghani Khan Khattak, and S. Usman Ali Shah, JJ.

The case was decided on the 13th of July 1977, 11 days after Bhutto was overthrown by Zia for the murder of Ahmed Raza Kasuri's father. The timing of the decision probably isn't a coincidence, and the judgment should be read accordingly.

'They did it. We saw them do it.'

Now obviously the police weren't charging Asfandyar Wali and Nisar Khan with actually having physically planted the bomb that killed Hayat Sherpao. Rather, the two were accused of having ordered the attack and supplied the bomb to the two young men who supposedly went on to plant it, namely Anwar Bacha and Amjad Ali.

Anwar Bacha was the nephew of Shahzad Gul Bacha, who was an NAP senator at the time, and who was also a senator during Musharrafs’ recent caretaker government.

There are no specific facts pertaining to the background of of Amjad Ali within the judgment.

One of the main difficulties faced by the prosecuti
on was in establishing a connection between Amjad and Anwar on the one hand, and Asfandyar Wali and Nisar Khan on the other. Consequently, the testimony of the witnesses summoned to court primarily focused upon bridging that gap, and fell into three categories:

1) Cab drivers (who had transported Amjad and Anwar back and forth between Asfandyar Wali, Nisar Khan and the scene of the crime)

2) Police Officers (who encountered Amjad and Anwar at different locations around the city, most importantly at Asfandyar Walis house)

3) Relatives of the accused (who were said to have seen Amjad and Anwar with the alleged tape-recorder-bomb they obtained from Asfandyar)

'The Cab Drivers Saw Them...'

There were two main Cab Driver witnesses. Both were held at the police station for a considerable amount of time, casting serious doubt as to whether their factual account was actually their own. One of the cab drivers was said to have driven Amjad and Anwar to Asfandyar Walis address to enable them to pick up the tape recorder bomb.

That cab driver admitted:

A) that he had been arrested around the 20th of
B) that it took 12-13 days for his statement to be recorded.
C) that he had been in police custody since his arrest, up till the 16th of June, for nearly four months.

Unsurprisingly the court really wasn’t inspired with confidence, and his testimony didn't help matters:
"It appears that [Cab Driver No 1], a sworn witness, is trained in the art of manipulating things... Under the circumstances it would thus be highly imprudent to place any reliance on a person of this demeanor."
In relation to the other cab driver, I'll skip the prosecution's stupidities. By that stage an
annoyed and exasperated High Court Bench had passed a number of snide remarks during the course of proceedings, and said:
"The Prosecution has indeed caused us all bewilderment in this case and thus at appropriate stages, we were driven to pass some remarks in order not only to refresh ourselves but to place our finder on its highly exaggerated account.

[Cab Driver No 2] has not satsifed the test of a truthful witness and thus, as a matter of sheer logic, it can be conveniently concluded that he had been arrayed as an impostor witness to depose in the
case. "
'And So Did These Police Officers'

Tullas are generally pretty useless witnesses in Pakistan. Whats more, the prosecution's own stupidity in coercing the cab drivers hadn’t helped the credibility of their police witnesses. The court noted:
“It is a matter of record that in the present case a good many witness were forced by the investigating agency to appear in the witness box …"
The Judges didn't think that the police officers were any exception
. Of particularly annoyance to the court was the fact that it took the investigating agency two months to record a key police officers statement, despite the fact that the officer in question had been on permanent duty snooping outside Asfandyar Walis house for two and a half years prior to the murder, and was consequently well known to the investigating agencies. The Judges wondered out loud as to why he wasn't called to give a statement the moment Asfandyar Wali was arrested.

It was held that all of this meant:

“[The witness] must be held to have spoken in the case what was suggested to him by his fellow men in the investigating agency.”

In other words, they took some time to make the case up, and then belatedly informed the police officer to give a statement to that effect.

'And We Also Have Some Insane Relatives of the Accused...'

Another central prosecution witness was one Mr.Mian Mohibbudin. He was the cousin of Ahmed Farooq (one of the co accused who Inspector Aurangzeb had threatened with Sardar Daud’s penis replica).

On Mohibbudin’s own bizarre account, he developed
some mental health issue and was admitted to hospital on the 7th of February, the day prior to the murder. He said that Anwar and Amjad came to visit him in hospital on that same day whilst carrying the tape recorder bomb with them.

During his cross examination however, Mohibbudin admitted that his father was in the Peoples Party and that the PPP side of his family had been having an armed squabble with Ahmed Farooq’s NAP side of his family for some time.

The Court asked the obvious question as to why the Amjad and Anwar would
A) carry a tape-recorder-bomb around everywhere openly like complete idiots;
B) visit a mental patient the day before the murder for absolutely no reason;
C) show the mental patient the tape-recorder bomb despite the fact that he was the familial arch nemesis of their co-conspirator Ahmad Farooq.
The Court took Mohibbudin to be a partisan witness, and seemed to be quite annoyed with him. When discussing the standard of scrutiny to be applied another police witness, they gratuitously referred back to him saying:
“Fortunately, [this other witness] is not a mental case like Police Witness Mian Mohibuddin, in order that he should be shown any indulgence.”
So to cut an extremely long and convoluted transcript short, the testimony of all the police witness was taken to be
concocted, inconsistent ramble.

The Confessions, and the Final Verdict

At this dire stage in the verdict, the prosecution must have been hoping bey
ond hope that their phallus induced confessions would rescue their case. It is worth reading what the Court's verdict on this point:

"In the circumstances of the case we feel convinced that the accused appellants were subjected to mental as well as physical tortures. Unfortunately, a Senior Minister of the Provincial Governments had suffered his death in the incident. Therefore the police cannot be expected to have submitted a report to the higher authorities that as a result of their investigation, the culprit's were not traced.
In view of this, it would therefore be obvious that once the police laid their hands on the accused appellants in this case they would not have left them excused until they were obliged to confess that they were responsible for the crime.

In a case of this nature it is a matter of common knowledge that the police must have employed all methods of physical violence against the accused appellants to agree to the making of the so called confessions. The practice f subjecting the accused to physical violence is yet to be a forgone myth in this Sub Continent.

"...[With] regard to Asfandryar Wali and Nisar Muhammad Khan accused appellants, it is also a matter of record that hey remained in the custody of the police for over one and a half months and were never produced before any magistrate. In the circumstances the assertion of the accused appellants that the confessions were extorted from them under duress must be taken of by the court."

"...We regret to observe that the treatment meted out to the accused appellants while they were in police custody was an act of wanton assault directed against the sanctity of human dignity which is impermissible in a civilized society."
The case pretty much ended there. The Court even held that the tape recorder couldnt have contained the bomb, as it was alleged to have been placed at some distance, whereas the explosion came from under Sherpao's feet. Asfandyar Wali, Nisar Khan, Ahmad Farooq, and the NAP were consequently acquitted.

I do not know what happened to Senator Bacha's son and the illustrious Amjad.

A Brief Note on The Hyderabad Tribunal

The Hyderabad Tribunal that ran concurrently with the trial was equally and widely regarded as a farce. Bhutto's government prepared a detailed reference to the Supreme Court, seeking to legally confirm the banning the NAP. The reference, alleged that the NAP was an anti-state political organization, and was bent upon destroying Pakistan in accordance with Sardar Daud's pro-soviet Afghan government.

Wali Khan, and 50 odd Bhutto opponents from the Frontier and Baluchistan were tried for high treason inside Hyderabad jail (hence the name). The Tribunal was headed by Chief Justice Hamood-ur Rehman. While all 50+ were acquitted of the charge of murdering Hayat Khan Sherpao, the decision to ban the NAP for their successionist activities was upheld by the Supreme Court.

As with Asfandyar Wali vs The State, the incompetence of the prosecution continued to be met with contempt from the Wali Khans. At one stage, the prosecution alleged that Wali Khan had been sent Rs 20 million by Indira Gandhi through a certain emissary, presumably to further his anti-state agenda.

Wali Khan (being Wali Khan) promptly sued the emissary, hoping either to recover the Rs 20 million allegedly sent, or at least to prove a point. He figured that if he was going to be charged with receiving the bribe, he he might as well receive it and enjoy it.

Much like in the May 12th inquest, the Government used a standard delay & overwhelm tactic, and bombarded the court with witnesses, specifically about 455 of them. It took over two years to go through the testimony of 22 of those witnesses. Annoyed and exasperated, Wali Khan went on another (justified) rant. Try and picture Hamood-ur Rehman's face when Wali Khan tells him:
“My Lord, please arrange “Aabe-Hayat” (the alexir of life) for us so that we could live till the completion of the proceedings of this trial.

Take it yourself also to enable your honor to write the judgment in this case. After completion of the proceedings, give it to Mr. Bhutto also so that he could live till the decision of the case.

Producing only 22 witnesses in two and a half years means that a half century will be required to hear the statements of witnesses of the prosecution and the same number of years will be required for their cross examination.”
Eventually Wali Khan got bored with trying to defend himself and resigned himself to his fate, declaring that the tribunal included biased judges and that a decision to convict had already been made.

Fortunately for him, Bhutto was eventually overthrown (and hung). General Zia-ul Haq wound up the Hyderabad tribunal, and by 1979 all the detainees were released ba
ck into politics.

The Theories

So despite the public outcry, the banning of the NAP, the nationwide arrests, the investigation, the convoluted accusations, the detentions, the torture and not least the whole High Court Trial, Supreme Court Trial and Hyderabad Tribunal, the central question as to who killed Hayat Khan Sherpao remains unanswered.

It seems the Pakistani way of resolving any issue (be it the question of a murder or our national identity) is to run around in circles until everyone is utterly fed up, and then drop the debate altogether because by then some other crises
will have come up anyway. Every gaping hole in consensus is thereby allowed to persist and is instead ignored as much as it can be.

Anyway. To add to the conspiracy theories put forward by the prosecution and the state, here are some other tales that filled that particular void of information. Who knows, one might even be true.

Bhutto Murdered Sherpao:

Because of his impending desertion/defection to the NAP, and/or
Because Sherpao and Benazir had crushes on each other OR had an affair OR had been discussing marriage AND ZAB wanted Benazir to marry Amin Makhdoom Fahim, and/or
(3) Because Sherpao didn't want to desert or defect but rather wanted to lead a coup within the PPP and intended to supplant ZAB as leader and/or
(4) Because Bhutto needed someone senior enough to die who's death he could plausibly blame on the NAP and thereby have an excuse to ban the party and arrest the last of his opponents.

Some of these issues referred to here in (1) and (3) were alluded to in part 2 of the series. My problem with this set of theories is that Aftab Ahmed Sherpao (Hayats younger brother) was a PPP minister under Benazir for quite some time until he parted ways with his PPP(Sherpao Group). Why would he do so if genuinely thought that her father murdered his brother? I suppose you could answer that by saying that the daughters appreciation for Hayat Khan was well known and therefore she was not tainted by her fathers actions.

On (2), the supposed love triangle of Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Benazir and Hayat Khan Sherpao is a little rich. It would add an interesting dimension to Zardari's treatment of Amin Fahim, but really thats probably just wishful speculation.

On (4), this is pretty flawed. The fact that the NAP was exonerated for the murder runs contrary to any conspiracy premised on an intention to blame them. The charge that they killed him may have been conveniently possible following Sherpao's death, but it makes no sense that it was the motivating cause of the murder.

(B) KHAD and/or the KGB assassinated Sherpao

Ostensibly I suppose their Sherpao's death could be seen as a cold war assassination. But I cannot see how the killing of Bhutto's lieutenant would assist their agenda in any meaningful respect. It simply provided Bhutto with a popular basis upon which to neuter the NAP, KHAD's supposed allies in Pakistan.


There are plenty of questions that will remain unanswered. There is no conclusion. Until Pakistan's current model of dynastic party politics matures into something altogether more democratic and civilized, the country will continue to lose its leaders to violence for the foreseeable future. Hayat Khan Sherpao's death should serve as a reminder of that.

Democracy's Here! Yay!

Man, it's been an exhilarating few weeks, hasn't it? After chafing under the rule of unelected and unrepresentative power brokers wearing Khakis for eight years, we've finally got a political system we can all be proud of. I mean, just like Nawaz Sharif says, only elected representatives of the people have the right to formulate policies on important issues like the economy and fighting militancy. That's why every important national decision taken since February 18 has been made by Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, two leaders who have garnered precisely zero votes in the latest elections. It's also why Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have become co-spokesperson for the Government and the State of Pakistan. Yay for us! Power to the people!

Look, I'm sorry if I sound particularly snarky. It's perfectly acceptable to wish for Musharraf's exit from the national scene - I myself have done so here and here. But let's please stop pretending that we are suddenly under the rule of a democratic government. All we have done is replace one powerful unelected leader with two powerful unelected leaders.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Now THIS Is A Song

Pay attention, don't-waste-the-time-guy. This is how it's done. Three things to note about this video. First, notice Billy Corgan's hair and, um, attire (by the way, out of curiosity, has there been a more talented artist than Corgan in the last 25 years? Just asking). Second, notice how psycho he gets toward the end of the song. Third, the video is from a 1992 show at Metro Chicago, a club up in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, where up-and-coming rock bands play frequently. You will recall that the Pumpkins were from Chicago, and broke the monopoly Seattle had on mainstream rock at the time, with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains all originating, one way or the other, from the Northwest Pacific area. Anyway, put up the volume on your speakers for the next nine minutes. I promise you it will be worth it.

Why It's Time For Two Political Stalwarts To Say "Thanks For The Memories"

It's a little sad, when you think about it. For both Pervez Musharraf and Hillary Clinton, 2008 was going to be a good year. Back at the beginning of last year, they were both riding high. Musharraf was as popular as ever, with Pakistan's continued economic growth making natural allies of the Army, the business and industrial community, and the urban middle-class, a deadly combination for national elections. Clinton, meanwhile, foresaw a relatively open path to the Democratic nomination, with no fellow candidate displaying the combination of smarts, skill, and political machinery it takes to win elections.

Then 2007 happened. Mush picked a fight with the judiciary and the media; and out of nowhere, a black, urban liberal rose to prominence. In the last six months alone, Mush gave up his uniform - an anchor of political power - and has had his cronies and backers roundly defeated in relatively free and fair elections. Clinton has seen Barack Obama become the front-runner for the nomination, to the point where people who worked in her husband's administration are issuing thinly veiled calls for her to stand down in the name of party unity. This year was supposed to promise much, but here, in the spring of 2008, both Musharraf's and Clinton's fates seem to be sealed.

Just one problem: they don't seem to know it yet.

Why else would they be hanging around? Just yesterday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Gilani (God, that feel weird to type) released the judges whom Musharraf had put under house arrest. Even if they don't all end up back on the bench - and here's hoping Iftikhar Chaudhry in particular does not make it - Musharraf's decision-making powers will be severely reduced. His team's role in events, particularly in the realm of the economy and security affairs - the issues on which he hung his regime's hat on for eight years - are, for better or worse, no longer necessary. The Karachi stock exchange rose to another record high yesterday, making it clear that the business community values stability over all else. And Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have both made it clear that Musharraf's policy of aggressive action against militants will no longer continue. Whichever way you cut it, it's patently obvious to all that Musharraf has no real future other than a purely ceremonial one - and even that might be asking too much if the judges are restored.

Despite this set of realities staring him in the face, Musharraf continues to hang around. He now sounds conciliatory notes remarkably more frequently than he ever did -funny how that whole "necessity, mother, invention" stuff really works. He now says that he has no problems working with the new government and will extend to it his full support. Unfortunately, they don't seem particularly interested in his full support. The jettisoning of Amin Fahim as a Prime Ministerial candidate was in large part due to the perception of his close working relationship with Musharraf (never mind that the relationship existed only because BB and Asif Zardari wanted it to). Pakistan's political class appears ready to move on without Musharraf. If he can't see the writing on the wall, someone should get him a pair of glasses to make it clearer: it's time to go, bro. It's time to go.

And what about everyone's second-favorite Clinton? By all accounts - including those of people within her campaign - Clinton has almost no chance of winning the nomination. And yet she soldiers on, in the hope that Obama will implode, which is possible but unlikely. She continues to lie openly about her time as First Lady - no, she did not help bring peace to Northern Island, and no, she did not visit Bosnia under sniper fire - in an effort to play up her "experience" card, which day by day resembles more a joker than an ace. At some point, admirable resilience crosses over into deplorable intransigence. Hillary Clinton has crossed that line.

And for what? Does the Democratic Party really need weeks and months of infighting? Do they really need John McCain to look like a pretty picture - okay, a picture - standing alone while the Democrats take potshots at each other every day? Is this really healthy? In his latest column, David Brooks compared the campaign to Verdun. And while it is unlikely the Democratic nomination struggle will lead to 900,000 casualties and chemical warfare, his point is well taken. The longer it goes on, the uglier and bloodier it will get, benefiting no one. Except the Republicans, of course.

The fact that neither Musharraf nor Clinton can see what is so obvious to everyone else is both predictable - because no powerful person ever wishes to say "thanks, I'm done" - and sad. It's sad because, like television shows, the end of a political career is a coda to more than just the person's time in the limelight. It serves as a signal to all those whose lives have been touched by the particular actor that, for better or worse, another era is underway. When Lara retired or Friends ended, it didn't just mean that the West Indies would get a lot worse and that TV would get a lot better. It meant that that time in my life - the Lara and Friends' age - was over, along with all the memories attached. It is similar with political leaders. Musharraf and Clinton represent a particular epoch in their respective countries, and indeed the world. When they go, it will mean that a particular chapter in history has closed. But close it they must, before any more damage is done to themselves and the people they wish to serve.

Quote Of The Day

Here's Stephen Jackson, on the Warriors' style of play:
But after watching us all year, you should expect that we're going to do the opposite of the norm, you know what I mean? That's how we play, that's our team, that's what we're built on. Just making up our own stuff. You know Nellie, he does everything that you don't expect him to do.

Golden State cannot beat San Antonio or LA in a 7-game series. But everyone else in the West is fair game.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Rent Boys for Defence Aunties

I know I'm supposed to be blogging about the nomination of Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani for the post of Prime Minister. But I just cannot be asked, particularly as you can read his profile here, the supposed inevitability of his nomination here (or alternatively how he was a dark horse here), and watch him backhand fondle his way to second base with Sherry Rehman here or here.

Instead, on this fine Sunday evening and in keeping with my supposedly heathen ways, I have elected the blogging gutter and will post the following flyer, copies of which were apparently being thrown into cars in Defence. It reads:
"Ladies Body Massage
Specialists in Kissing, Sucking, Licking & More More More."

They apparently offer a range of services which include popular favorites such as:

"Breast ko purkashish banane ke liye: Breast Developing Massage."
The service providers are are mindful of their clients concerns about being caught by their husbands/fathers and offer reassurance, stating:
"Afzaish Nasal ki pecheidgi se bachne ke liye ala imported condom ki suhoolat bhi maujood hai."
Also, they add hopefully:
"Aap 2 larkyon kay group ki soorat mein bhi mujh se rabta kar sakti hein."
Lovely. I suppose you cant fault them for their elaborate scheme to get laid, but to have the audacity to charge for it, I mean really. And how the hell would a guy throw this flyer into a parked car? Doesnt that translate into a risk (bordering on certainty) that at some point he was going to get his ass kicked? There are indeed many unanswered questions. Frankly this whole story as it stands shouldn't be taken at face value (except for the fact that the flyer exists, and that someone somewhere at some point wants/wanted keenly to satiate his "jinsi zarooriyaat" without further self indulgence).

Consequently, I am going to try to get one of the co-authors of this blog to do some investigative work and dial the number and see what happens. If either of you are reading this, do not dial from your regular mobile or land line. It could be a sting. And know that in Central Jail, 'Ladies Body Massages' are mandatory. Even if you're not a lady.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wednesday Poll: Spitzer, Dupre and Whiter Skin

The votes are in from last weeks Wednesday Poll, and its a landslide.

We asked:

Who do you feel greater sympathy for?
  • Silda Wall Spitzer, the wife of Eliot Spitzer, mother of his children, and chaperone to his public admission of his dalliances with prostitutes
  • Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the prostitute who "served" Eliot Spitzer, and now has her name, images, and MySpace information plastered all over the papers and blogs
In a somewhat predictable result, Eliot Spitzer's devastated wife Silda received precisely 74% of Fiverupees' sympathy. Ashley Dupre on the other hand it seems is too young, too attractive, and too shady to merit much love.

While 74% of our readers felt more sympathy for Silda Spitzer, what isnt known is whether they felt any sympathy at all for Ashley Dupre. Hanna Rosin from Slate makes her case:

"broken, rejected, exploited through a fantasy in which she willingly participates. I read her story and the old '70s feminist in me (admittedly, a tiny presence) rears up. A broken home on the Jersey shore. Abused as a kid. A nightclub singer. Worried about paying her rent. Men walking out on her. "Broke and homeless," and known for giving extra food to homeless guys. OK, so she's not a Thai village girl smuggled into Amsterdam. But she is a sad American type: This is Marilyn Monroe territory—a woman who can play the role of sexy and powerful but is always herself being played."

And finally on this issue, during the first 2 and a half minutes of the video below Dave Chappelle makes a point about Monica Lewinsky that perhaps can be applied to Ashley Dupre:

This weeks poll looks at skin lightening products, particularly within a South Asian context. Are they simply standard cosmetics, or the contemporary equivalent of lye?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Who's This?

If the eyes and hair don't give it away, I'll give you a hint: we're approaching the death anniversary of someone she's related to.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hayat Khan Sherpao: Inspector Aurangzeb and the Wooden Replicas

This is the third part in a series of posts about the murder of Hayat Khan Sherpao.

Click here for the 1st part.
Click here for the 2nd part.
Click here fore the 4th part.


Following his arrest on suspicion of the murder of Hayat Sherpao, Asfandyar Wali is transported for his detention and locked in a cell somewhere inside Bala Hissar Fortress. After his dinner, Inspector Aurangzeb enters his cell and confronts him with the Police's case theory.

The Supposed Plot...

Inspector Aurangzeb tells Asfandyar that he has just returned from a meeting with the Inspector General of N.W.F.P Police. The I.G was apparently of the view that the murder of Hayat Sherpao was committed in immediate retaliation for the murder of Ahmad Raza Kasuri's father a few months back. The I.G also beleives that the decision to kill Sherpao was taken at a meeting that took place at Chaudhry Zahur Illahi's house in Lahore, with the following participants:

1. Wali Khan
2. Ahmad Reza Kasuri
3. Chaudhry Zahoor El
4. Malik Muhammad Qasim
5.Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan
6. Mian Tufail Muhammad

Inspector Aurangzeb confronts Asfandyar with an allegation to the effect that after the meeting in Lahore, Wali Khan traveled back to the N.W.F.P and tasked Asfandyar with carrying out the murder. Asfandyar Wali obviously denies the charges.

It is interesting to see where each of the aforementioned individuals are today.

1. The late Wali Khan, father of Asfandyar Wali, hopefully requires no introduction by this stage.

2. As I mentioned in my first post in this series, On the 20th of November 1974, Kasuri famously turned up at the National Assembly carrying a bottle his fathers blood and his bloodstained shirt, vowing revenge against Bhutto. He was the primary complainant in the trial that resulted in the hanging of Bhutto. He also represented the Government in the Chief Justice case.

3. Zahoor Elahi fathered Chaudhry Shujaat (shown here with Shades & Ladies) who served briefly as Prime Minister and head of the civilian wing of Musharraf's Government.

4. Confusingly, Malik Muhammad Qasim was tried for treason during Zia's tenure, but the case was dropped. Despite his standing affiliation with the PML, he served as Federal Minister in Benazir's government in 1989, and was the Federal Minister for Railways during Musharraf's pre-election post emergency caretaker Government.

5. Nasrullah continued to wheel and deal with his Fez and Hookah until he died in 2003, and by establishing the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) laid the foundations for the promising (yet nauseatingly incestuous and mutually fellating) coalition government of Zardari-Bhutto-Sharif.

6. Mian Tufail Ahmed was Ameer of the Jama'at Islaami after Maududi, and a founding member of the United Democratic Front. Somewhere between 9-20 Pathan UDF workers were gunned down by Bhutto's FSF at a rally in Liaquat Bagh on the 23rd of March 1973 (Yet another irony that Benazir was assassinated on the same spot).

When Stephen Cohen is talks about a 'Pakistani Establishment', what hes saying is that the players never really change. They occasionally have children, switch sides and pick up new cronies but they never really change. Henry Kissinger recently observed:
"...the relation between Pakistan's three feudal-type organizations - the military and the major political parties - has more of the character of those among Italian city states during the Renaissance described by Machiavelli than of the party politics of traditional democracies.

They have occasionally made temporary alliances - as they appear to be doing now - for tactical purposes, but these have always proved preludes to new confrontations with the military appearing as arbiters in the end. The difference between feudal leaders who wear uniforms and those in civilian clothes is in their constituencies, not in their commitment to a pluralistic process as we understand it."
Kissinger's observations aren't really news to most Pakistanis. But still, for this 80's born naive young Pakistani, it is still jarring to realize how little has changed amongst Pakistan's political families and cliques over the last 40 odd years.

Anyways, back to Hayat Sherpao and Asfandyar Wali's jail time experience.

The subsequent 'Confession'

Interestingly, within the court transcripts, the sordid events and conversations that follow Asfandyar's denial are transliterated from Pushto/Urdu not simply in to equivalent English, but in to the Queens English. I would assume that this is to preserve the sobriety of the transcript, but it ends up coming across as some twisted Victorian parody of a South Asian S&M show .

"...Inspector Aurangzeb Shah called Hassan Gul A.S.I and asked him "Saman Rawara". Hasan Gul A.S.I Brought a small box which was opened by Inspector Auranzeb Shah and he took out two wooden replicas of the male organ and put the same in a table and asked me to choose between the two whether I wanted Wali Khan or Sardar Daud. I told him that I was not a fit person for the same and that the fittest person for those organs would be his wife or sister.
Thereupon Aurangzeb Shah inspector started slapping me and hitting me."

Thereupon indeed. Just as a reminder, Sardar Daud was the King of Afghanistan. And before it is assumed that naming the phalluses (phalli?) after the King of Afghanistan was something deviously original, below is an excerpt from the statement of another co-accused in the case who is also incarcerated at Bala Hisaar. According to Ahmad Farooq:

"Aurangzeb Shah Inspector again came to see me and told me that it was a last warning and that i Should agree. He then asked me if I was married. He then asked Hassan Gul A.S.I to bring the "Saman". Then Hassan Gul A.S.I brought something covered in white piece of cloth which was opened and it contained wooden male organs. Aurangzeb Shah Inspector told me that one of the wooden replicas of male organ was Ajmal Khattak and the other was Sardar Daud and that I was to choose between the two. Aurangzeb Shah Inspector told me that as I was unmarried he was going to make me unfit for marriage. He also told me that they could bring my father of family members in whos presence they could use the said wooden organs on me. At this time, I gave way. Honour is dear to everybody."

Everybody except for Sardar-Daud's-wooden-manhood-wielding Inspector Aurangzeb. Turning back to Asfandyar Wali , over the next few days the police proceed to tie him to a pillar and make him stand naked for extended periods of time while they electrocute him.

"Tamash Khan S.P said that I should think over [signing the confession] and that he would come again. After he left, DSP Akram Khan made me naked and tied my hands behind my back and forced me to swallow the salted water which he was putting in my mouth by force. I was made to drink four bottles of such water and they made me lie on the table, facing upwards.

"D.S.P Akram Khan had a string of plastic with which he tied my male organ tightly. A foot constable then came and he stood on my belly and started applying pressure with his feet on my belly.

After 5-6 minutes I lost consciousness and when I regained consciousness I found myself lying on the floor of the lockup with blood on the whole of the lower part of my body. When I went to ease myself, I urinated pure blood."

After sometime, D.S.P Akram Khan again came and said, "do you now agree?" I said "no." "
They police continue to torture Asfandyar Wali for some time. But he stubbornly refuses to sign the statement. In a scene which is almost comical, after torturing Asfandyar Wali and making him piss blood, the police end up begging him for a confession citing the fact their superiors 'have them by the balls':

"After 5/6 days Tamash Khan S.P again came to my cell and he said, which I quote; "Do you agree? We are helpless, above us is Abbas Khan D.I.G who is the cousin of the late Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao and he is not leaving our testicles, unless we make you agree to sign the statement."
Meanwhile, in another part of Bala Hissar, the police continue to turn the screws on Nisar Muhammad Khan. After some relativley light torture (mostly sleep deprivation and harassment), they cut to the chase.

"Niaz Gul S.P placed his hands on that Volume 1 of "Tafheem-ul-Quran" and swore that they, having exhausted all means to persuade me to agree to confess the guilt, were obliged to bring my wife and other females to me; and not only that but that they would disgrace them in my presence. He also warned me that even if that method did not bear fruit I would die in the cell.

I told Niaz Gul S.P that since he had taken oath on the Holy Book and our honour was involved, therefore with a view to save my honour and the honour of my family I told him that I was prepared to admit anything what they would ask me to do. "

Nisar Muhammad Khan is then taken to Asfandyar Wali's cell. He tells him of Niaz Gul's oath to sexually assault their women in front of them, and Asfandyar Wali finally agrees to sign the confession documents.

And there is another parralell. Above most torturers stands a person or a body convinced of a prisoners guilt. That party has the torturer by the "testicles". A confession must be elicited, so a confession is elicited. The confession is worth nothing, and leads the party who is relying upon it and everyone else, into a world of hell.

Tommorow, the Courts decision.

Daler Mehndi Tunaks his way into World of Warcraft

Yes, you read that correctly.

For those of you who have jobs and actual social lives and consequently do not spend an inordinate amount of time playing or reading about video games, World of Warcraft (WoW) is an online video game with around 9 million subscribers. The storyline for the game is somewhat similar to Lord of the Rings (a true WoW fan would butcher me for saying that), wherein you have a number of different races (namely the Elves, Humans, Orcs, Tauren, Undead, Blood Elves, Gnomes, Dwarves and Dranei) inhabiting an imaginary planet.

The premise for the game is that each player gets to select and create a character or 'avatar' from one of the races. The player then traverses the imaginary world completing missions, accumulating gold and experience, and interacting with the other 9.3 million players. The avatars can fight, cast spells, learn skills within the game, and most importantly do a dance when instructed. The dance each avatar does is particular to his/her race.

I cannot overstate how huge this game is. With its 9.3 million subscribers, in 2007 the World of Warcraft generated estimated revenues of $1.1 billion, with operating margins of over 40% and approximately $520 million of operating profit.

Your probably wondering what the hell Daler Mehndi has to do with any of this. The answer is simply that somewhere during the course of recent history and unbeknown to me, due to his goofy bhangra moves in 'Tunak Tunak' Daler Mehdndi has aqquired some ridiculous cult status in the US (kind of like 'Rage Boy'). As a tribute to Mr. Mehndi, the producers of the World of Warcraft decided to endow one of their newly introduced 'Jin' like race (known as the Draenei) with his dancing abilities. Beyond that, I cannot explain. Please see the video below.

And there you have it. Daler Mehndi joins the ranks of John Travolta, (the hotness that is) Alizee, Napoleon Dynamite, MC Hammer, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and the racist tap dancing frog from Bugs Bunny cartoons. And just so no one is in doubt as to the extent of Mr Mehndi's status, below is a video of a bunch of very white people doing the 'Tunak'.

Arif Lohar, we had high hopes for you. Daler Mehndi has farted in your face once again.