Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Difficulties In Being A Liberal In Pakistan

Via Rabia, who writes about a show on Dawn News where Nadeem Paracha argued against Zaid Hamid on conspiracy theories (without ever actually talking directly to him; perhaps this is part of Dawn's campaign to revolutionize journalism -- a debate without debating!), I came across this post on Paracha's blog. There's a lot worthy of note in the post, but the portion I wanted to highlight was the reaction he got from emailers:
Before I use this modest space to finally answer Mr. Hamid’s claims punch by punch, I would also like to share a fraction of the tons of hate mail I started receiving the evening after the show was first aired. I have selected portions of a few such emails (out of about – and so far – 197!).

Example one: ‘Dear Mr. Paracha, there is now no doubt that you are working for the CIA. You should be ashamed of defending Zionist lobbying and America. You should be kicked out of Pakistan and sent to Israel.’

Example two: ‘Paracha, how can you be a journalist and have such a big house? The answer is simple: You are CIA funded journalist.’

Example three: ‘Paracha, Zaid Hamid slapped you left, right and centre on the show, you pseudo-intellectual. There is no shortage of people like you in Pakistan. People like you have occupied important positions in our society and are given 90-95 per cent of media coverage. We are with Zaid Hamid and inshallah we will succeed.’

Example four: ‘NFP, you are a slave to the west and working against the interests of Pakistan by attacking patriots like Zaid Hamid. It is clear you and the newspaper you write for is being funded by Israeli and Indian agencies. Better shape up or we will ship you out.’

Example five: ‘Paracha Sahib, you have been trying to propagate your Yahoodi [Jewish], Hindu and Christian masters’ rotten and obsolete ideas of ‘freedom’ and ‘secular liberalism’ and kafirana [heretical] Socialism. But people like Zaid Hamid will never let Godless men like you succeed.’

He says he received one hundred and ninety seven emails to that effect, and frankly I have little reason to doubt him. I want to make a couple of quick points about this.

First, it is no coincidence that the people who espouse the most hateful and nonsensical political views are also the most hateful and nonsensical in their interactions with others. There are very few extreme right-wingers/uber-religio-nationalists who can express themselves in a respectful way, even when they disagree with you. I've experienced some of this myself, but obviously not on the same level as someone who writes for the most widely read English newspaper in Pakistan.

Second, every time I read emails/comments like these, I gain greater appreciation for Irfan Hussain. Many people agree with Hussain's views and many people disagree with his views, but say this for him: he has not backed off. He has continued (in my opinion) to be one of the sanest and rational voices in the Pakistani punditocracy. I am sure that he must receive, quite literally, hundreds of hateful emails every week from the rabidly hateful people that make up his readership. And yet it appears, on the surface at least, that it matters little to him -- he has not tempered his views in the slightest, and keeps taking on the most reactionary elements within our society with aplomb.

Third, liberals in Pakistan are always being defensive, mainly because we're vastly outnumbered, but in actual fact -- on the empirics -- we've been right about most everything. Liberals were the first to wake up to talk about the dangers of the Taliban, about five years before the rest of the country decided to join us. In the 1990s, liberals were the ones who questioned our Kashmir strategy and support for militant groups. If liberals' advice on things like blasphemy and rape laws was actually followed, many fewer people would have lost their lives to violence. So across the spectrum, on the biggest issues in domestic and foreign policy, liberals are right, but treated as if they're wrong, stupid, traitorous, foreign agents, slaves to the west and god knows what else. Which is a pretty strange state of affairs, you have to admit.


takhalus said...

Consider this..the English press is still relatively more liberal than the urdu press imagine if NFP had taken on zaid in the urdu press!

Warnings agaianst the dangers of jihadism have been emanating from pakhtun and baloch nationalists well before the dates mentioned.

Anonymous said...

listen, clearly liberals appear to be 'right' because of the CIA agents and Americans and Israelis and Indians who have infiltrated our government and made it look like they are right! its all an effort for the west to undermine our true, islamic, patriotic values.

As a CIA agent yourself Ahsan, you should know this

karachi khatmal said...


as a cia agent yourself ahsan, you should know this. you want us all to believe that your fancy pants u of chicago phd is due to your own diligence and hard work. fuck you my friend, fuck you and your langley handlers.

on an aside though, my wife and i met a guy today researching on liberals in pakistan. would you be ok if he emails you a few questions? this should not be interpreted as mi5 recruiting you.

Asfandyar said...

As much as this post seems to veer towards "time to play with myself, yay!" territory, it's a bit frightening how no one's still been alerted to the fact that - as you pointed out - empirical evidence has been on our side.

Remember all the furore over the judiciary and how it should be on the top of everyone's agenda? Except Swat was burning for months while we tried to fondle the CJs balls for him.

It's a shame we're collectively so thick.

Ahsan said...


Good points, both.


Hahaha. Absolutely. You have uncovered the great game behind Rs.5.


My handlers are now based in Islamabad, since that is where the CIA is now headquartered. And yes, you can tell your friend to email me, no worries.


The last sentence of your second-last para is priceless.

F-Machine said...

"I also know for a fact that he must receive, quite literally, hundreds of hateful emails every week "

Either you know for a fact OR you can hypothesize that he must receive hundreds of emails. You can't do both at the same time Ahsan.

Sputnik said...

Now I get it. I always thought your fear of US government types was because they might mistake you for a terrorist, now I see that you're really just afraid they'll recognize you and blow your cover.

Is your new tip jar really just a way for the CIA to launder you money? Or are your services available for the highest tipper?

F-Machine said...

If you're going to correct your post based on my feedback, at least give me credit

ahraza said...

Many in Pakistan fail to understand the value of their vote. Agreed we go to the polling stations whenever we are lucky enough to have elections, but having an ink mark on our thumb does not mark the end of our civic duty. When we come out in numbers, those politicians that take Pakistanis for granted are shaken to the core. Those law enforcement agencies carry out their duty with justice. Not only the government, but the army also realizes that it becomes powerless when it is dealing with the nation as one. If we, the people, are able to wield such influence over these powerful institutions by coming together as one unit, lord save the militants if we truly unite as Pakistan.

Ahsan said...


I have no idea what you're talking about.


I am nothing if not shameless. Highest bidder. No question.


I know you want to plug your blog. We all like doing so. But at least TRY to make your comment relevant to the post. And TRY to not copy and paste the same comment again and again. Thanks.

F-Machine said...

You gay give me the credit I deserve

Butterscotch said...

I want you to beef up security for your blog. It has already been identified as a soft target.
Ali Azmat may attempt to blow himself up outside paanch on his beloved 'Hakeem' Saab's order.
One should equally blame Mr Tahir for letting this nonsense poison our screen but i guess these media tycoons are more concerned about TV ratings.
"Pakistan was created in the name of Islam"
This is the best political joke of the century.
This was the country of Faiz manto jalib Jamil Ashfaq Ahmed Qudsya jamil ud din aali.
The likes of maududis and ahmed shah bukharis have no place in our society. Not in my sociey..sigh!!!

Omar said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your post about the difficulties of being liberal in Pakistan, but as a liberal I am offended that you should use an idiot like Nadeem Farooq Paracha to represent us.
The man is simply an antagonist.
He's made a living off simply taking the opposite point of view and he makes journalism look bad by epitomizing the cynical, no-real-substance-arguing-to-be-a-dick punditry that kills the spirit of real debate.

He's guilty of the very same intolerance that we accuse the conservatives of. As for all his whinging about hatemail, the man lives for it, he thrives on being regarded as a troublemaker/Socrates-type-rabble rouse, posing as a facilitator of great debate when in fact he will simply take the opposite view of whatever is popular at the time. E.g.

Random Guy : "Hey NFP, beautiful day today isn't it"
NFP: No. Why is it beautiful. Define beautiful? While you sit pretty in your homes *insert- poorly-worded-analogy/metaphor/cultural reference-passed-off-as wit"

To summarize, he is a choot.

Ahsan said...


I agree that sometimes NFP is a bit over-the-top and seems to just want to get a reaction. On the other hand, I don't think anyone ever intentionally tries to get hate-mail. I mean, you'd have to be a pretty sick sort of person to go out of your way to have people say those things about you.

Also, I certainly didn't mean to "use" NFP as someone to represent liberals, not by any stretch. I think it may have come out that way, but that's not what I meant to do. My sole purpose for referencing him was that being a liberal means being very unpopular in our country.

Also, when the hell are you going to update ADP diaries?

karachi khatmal said...

@ Omar

actually, if you told NFP it was a beautiful day, his particular response would probably be so:

"Beautiful? Perhaps you may call it so, but real beauty died in Pakistan when military dictator Zia ul Haq came to power and launched an aggressive program of Islamization which stripped the ethos of all possible aesthetic qualities, leaving behind a legacy i have profited off for the past thirty years by railing against it. you may have noticed that i have attributed zia's program for the demise of the vital signs, the demise of the cricket team, the demise of melodic flatulence, and the rise of red-bereted pundits. i have yet to give him credit for my own career however."

mkj said...

I agree with what you have said. It is interesting to note that most of the stuff remains true, including the hate mails, if you change names to Glenn Beck, (say) Paul Krugman and country to US.
One problem with being ideologically liberal in Pakistan is that you are conflated with 'Modern people', sort of like considering Hollywood as bastion of liberalism in US.

zeyd said...

What a terrible injustice Mr Hamid does to what is an awesome first name. Though, the douchebag does spell it wrong.

e_scape_artist said...

Its funny how the comment string to this post has turned into an NFP bashing session rather than Zaid Hamid. That probably exemplifies the problem with "Liberals in Pakistan" we get-off with more satisfaction disagreeing with each other than showing the flaws of narrow-minded hate politics.

Personally I'd like to see a talk show where Zaid Hamid gets slapped on his bald scalp and then is told that Israel was responsible for that.

Democratically, I think any theory linking the ills of Pakistan with the Zionist project would win hands down over any sane argument of a more introspective nature.

Pakistan has a strange fetish for international encirclement, i.e. the India-US-Israel triangle. Local understandings of international affairs barely ever treads out of this outline.. sigh...

On a side note.. Ahsan, loved your usage of the term punditocracy...

Rabia said...

agree with what you say about Irfan Hussain, he's definitely one of the most sensible op-ed writers.

Asfandyar said...


Your NFP imitation rant forgot mention of Coca Cola. Oh how the many ranted against Coke for years!

If Pakistan ever establishes legitimate contact with Israel, wouldn't it be awesome purely to witness the spontaneous combustion of some many nutters?

aarfy said...

"Personally I'd like to see a talk show where Zaid Hamid gets slapped on his bald scalp and then is told that Israel was responsible for that"

..had me laughing for some time!

Shahbaz Sheikh said...

Once I wrote an e-mail (not hate mail) to Irfan Hussain telling him that I disagree with his view on Musahrraf's policies. I was most humble in my tone and sincere in my feedback. What I got back from the oh-so-sensible-and-modest Mr. Irfan Hussain was a hate mail telling me that "Mush-lovers" like me will be the reason for the demise of this country.

It seems that the so called "Liberals" are quite barbaric and brutal when it comes to bashing someone. Maybe, dear Ahsan or Rabia, you could be so kind as to first describe the qualities which make you a "Liberal" before anything else.

Raza said...

Wow that DawnNews segment is really bad. It's most striking flaw, among many striking flaws, is that allows both parties to spew unchallenged bullshit for 10 minutes straight. Giving crazy bastards airtime is fine, but you've got to call them out for not making sense. Where's Tim Sebastian when you need him?

foolsparadise said...

So that's what you were talking about:

For Youtube BS fans: do read the comment section.

waqasayub22 (2 months ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
dawn news only find this paracha idiot for commenting.they didnt find anybody else afterall we are 170M pakistani.
madari2 (2 months ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
Even though widely considered a non-believer, Paracha has never commented about his religious beliefs or lack of it.

boxybum007 (2 months ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
is he not a muslim?
hamidmushtaq (1 month ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
I don't think so!

Waylareader said...

Zaid Hamid reads too much Dan Brown. NFP reads too much Dostoyevsky. And Irfan Hussain reads Harry Potter. So basically the problem lies in our government :D

^ this is provides an identical frame to this thread.

hahaha said...

Agha Haider Raza's blog is too good. i quit 5rs!

AKS said...

Liberals may have had it hard but they've been inept at getting their point across. Then again, there doesn't appear to be much space left for liberals.

Over the weekend I was hanging out with a bunch of people when the topic of conversation turned to 9-11. One guy went on about how the Americans / Jews were responsible and that the WTC buildings came down due to a controlled demolition. Pretty much everyone seemed to agree with the controlled demolition bit. I should've kept my mouth shut because all I achieved after arguing my heart out was a guy telling me that I had been brain washed while the rest resorted to end the debate by saying lets agree to disagree. This wasn't a fucking difference in opinion, one's a fact, the other pure fantasy.

This is the state of our educated 'liberals'.

Babar said...

@ Omar et. al. I personally find NFP's posts to be most logical out of the whole spectrum of Pakistani media. Is your disdain for him only because he likes socialist ideals? Or he supports PPP? Sigh, why did I forget what liberal means in todays world and who are the people who like to label themselves by this word.

karachi khatmal said...


Read anything by nFP and he will ALWAYS conclude it by blaming zia's regime. i know that's the part he grew up during, and it is the root of a lot of evils, but seriously he needs to have some new ideas. its not as stark a dichotomy as he unceasingly preaches

Murdabad said...

Ahsan !

I own the fence when it comes to being a left or right winged individual but just because you have the ability to comment on matters of our national interest with fervour coupled with your ability to eloquently get your point across does not make you right or liberal. STOP saying you are right. What makes you think that the information we receive through our media or any media is true.

I think you have a serious identity crisis just like us all. We are living in Pakiland, we have a criminal, who lives off his dead wife, as our president and you talk about conspiracies as only theories?

I know you feel righteous sitting around giving your two cents worth, poking fun at people with flawed punctuation and nothing to offer except anxiety blow overs, but those are your personal issues you need to deal with man. Though I enjoy them as much as the next guy, mostly.

Fuck Zaid Hamid, I believe he has lost his way, but I can see where he is coming from. He raises interesting points but he has lost all credibility with his rants and finger pointing. He is embarrassing.

Again being liberal does not mean going against everything you can't comprehend. Its the comprehension that might make you liberal. I follow this blog but you are not fun to read like this. Just because you say it well does not make it right. Just because its on the news doesn't make it true, and just because its not doesn't mean it didn't happen. Secret dealings and covert operations are exactly those and you are not supposed to know about them. You do know that ISI, CIA and RAW don't really have a press briefing of their operations, don't you? or do you think these guys don't really exist ?

What are you talking about? What makes you think you are right ? He probably was wrong, but how do you know that ? How is your version fact and the other fantasy ? I will not go into details of the 9-11 deal but hell, make sense out of it and I will not say a word? Its not that easy to perfectly bring down 3 buildings with two aeroplanes. I dont even think its possible to get 1 down with two. People kill their own all the time,why is it so hard to believe they could have done this to their own people? Oh its just too far fetched huh? I agree maybe the Jew part is overstretched but they treated blacks like shit throughout their history. You talk like people with power are angels.
Prove it that the things you say are facts and not just your beliefs. Don't people get away with murders and rapes ? or do you believe they didn't actually do it?

Murdabad said...

My main point was ... you guys believe anything we are told and take it as fact. Just because you refuse to be labelled a c-theorist seeing how they can be so easily disregarded, doesn't make you a fucking liberal. I believe we know what they want us to know.

For Example: How much do we know about Baluchistan ? About the presence of foreign troops there ? I remember a report on dawn news about this. It was the first and the last time it was ever talked about. I later contacted the journalist who covered it as he is a friend but he refused to comment for the sake of his life...because after the broadcast of the issue,he supposedly had a run in with certain authorities on what he can and can not report on live tele.
So forgive me if I believe you are the one who is living a fantasy.

karachi khatmal said...


If you are talking about DawnNews, the TV channel, i have some experience of that.

the reporter who covered balochistan, or akbar bugti's death anniversary to be exact, was hasan abdullah. other than him, abdul sattar also has links amongst the baloch political parties.

both reporters are actually quite candid in talking about their opinions, their knowledge and beliefs regarding the issue, if you approach them as a friend, which is what you did.

i know it's great to believe that there is a lot of hidden stuff going on, but seriously, that is not what defines a liberal. ahsan is the pol sci whiz kid, so he can define it for you, but i think what he is in mind are people who believe in a secular, democratic government which practices a non-intrusive and non-aggressive foreign policy. i may be wrong, so i don't speak for everyone here.

Murdabad said...

First of all, being liberal does not end at politics. Meaning a liberal individual like myself who believes in change and relaxation of our traditional orthodoxy when it comes to religion and that the state should be secular as well but my issues are not concerning the meaning of being liberal. Yes I agree that it would have been beneficial today if we did have a better foreign policy in the past. Same can be said about the US and the UK. India never really helped and Afghanistan was just too inviting.

Furthermore, like I said I am not making theories, I am not trying to put my finger on anything because i simply cannot as I don't know for sure what's going on. I know there was a bomb blast but I don't know who did it. Did the taliban tell YOU... Why did it happen in Iran? Who killed BB? where is Osama bin laden ? ha-ha .. I don't know and neither do you.. Stop pretending like its all fact.. I don't trust anyone and I believe nothing the big powers tell me ... like carlin said .. 'there this really moronic thing I do ... its called THINKING..'

I am liberal in my political views , my social views and my religious views, but you can't tell me what's happening now is because nobody was listening to us. There was a bigger plan behind all that is happening now. Again the fact that you chose to disassociate yourself with all that's sceptical, is quite disturbing. There are other non-liberal governments out there. What makes them function?

Ahsan said...


If you had written your comment three years ago, I have no doubt I would've taken out half an hour to post a riposte and try to prove you wrong. Experience has taught me, however, that doing so would be a waste of both my time and your time so I'm just going to let it go.

AKS said...

Muradabad, thank you for your comment. The point that I was trying to get at, but failed to do so, was that it is extremely hard to define a Pakistani libera'; your comment perfectly encapsulates this position.

There are religious moderates, even agnostics, who believe, truly believe, that America and the West want to destroy Islam and the only way of stopping this is a pan-Islamic movement. There are democrats who hate seeing Pakistan ruled by the army but are convinced that India wants to destroy Pakistan and that we must win in Kashmir - "Kashmir banaiga Pakistan".

Are there any Liberals left in Pakistan?

Murdabad said...

Maybe I am just angry, but I have edited news myself. I know for a fact that there are distortions of the truth that we belch out to the public. Ground realities of the war in South Waziristan for example, statements of locals, concerning the death of a Taliban militants, The sugar industry woes. The images that we see are also usually database images from years ago and from different geographical regions ... some outside of Pakistan.

I don't believe that India is a threat to us or ever was. But we have been at war with them thrice and lost. Most of my childhood was spent shrouded by images of triumph and grandeur in the face of hardship but now I know how we have been wrong much too often. I have never considered Kashmir as a part of Pakistan. India meddled in our affairs quite a bit just like we have in theirs and Afghanistan's, what makes you believe that these governments are not doing the same now?

We have been planting the seed of our demise for such a long time according to what you are saying, that we alone are responsible for everything that is happening to us. Its not about Islam man, religion is a secondary, its about Pakistanis dying. Islam is not Pakistan, and yes I believe maybe through our own action .. and inaction we have come to this point that Pakistan is in nobody's good books. If we were to perish, its good riddance for the rest of the world. The fact that you refuse to acknowledge the notion that there is foreign influence in Pakistan's affairs besides that we see on TV, is surprising. Its nothing new to this world or to Pakistan. We apparently are helping carry out terrorist attacks in Mumbai and Iran, but no one has ever done us harm or has even wanted to, right? You are acting like the bystanders who refuse to accept that a girl could get raped unless she was asking for it.

Its not as simple as you portray it and maybe not as convoluted as I claim it to be but your definition of a liberal person is you and your beliefs. I refuse to accept the fact that the news we hear and what we can print is the whole truth simply because it is not, and this does not define me or anyone as a non liberal person.

Nadir said...

It is a logical fallacy to refute someone's argument by labeling them CIA agents, because if they are so secretive about their actions, how does one know who is and who isn't an agent?

Conspiracy theories seek to link various events up into a grand scheme with signs of strangeness seen from here and there (cartoons, politics, anything that is even one-sixteenth Jewish); it's true that our allies, our opponents and even our own country has dark and secretive intelligence agencies, and they may be doing all sorts of things, however the very fact that we don't KNOW for sure what they are doing, makes it a no-go when logically theorizing about the role of these agencies in the political sphere. There is no intellectual depth to these stupid theories, and inadvertently people who spew such theories have no notable academic background.

There is nothing wrong with being a liberal or a conservative, or even religious - the real problem however is the pathetic way we accept the authority of people like Zaid Hamid without checking the logic and backing of their arguments in a sterile, academic style.

Murdabad said...

Everything that we hear and read about in the news becomes a no go area then. wtf CAN we do besides talk about it, sitting comfortable at home filtering out the news being fed to us?

We need a leader, enough of these pet politicians. I feel victimised as a Pakistani by our government, by foreign powers, by the terrorist networks. Nothing makes sense here in this murdabad, I am sick of the gloom and the facetious remarks of our individuals. I am bitter and depressed, and there is no end in sight.

Ammara said...

i really admire this article... one surprising fact is that many of the anti-liberals put alot of energy in voilence nd criticism... it wud b far less taxing to seek rationality...
also... there is no limit to the harassment that u r bound to face if u express ur viewpoint openly...people adopt all methods to "teach u a lesson" or "give u a taste of ur medicine"... pity... its far easier to live abroad.... to express...

Anonymous said...

Way way too much depression in Pakistan and by extension the Pakistani diaspora. A touch of liberalism and tolerance could do wonders to lift the spirits and perhaps even change our reality. Just my two cents (as a liberal)..

Smci said...

I think we should differentiate between Liberality and Liberalism.

What the vast majority of Pakistanis lack in my experience is a spirit of liberality, regardless of where on the spectrum their political or religious views lie.

There seems to be an unwillingness to let people disagree respectfully and peacefully.

What our aim should be is to remind folks, no matter how blatant their lack of 'education,' that liberality, rooted in generosity, is a cardinal virtue in Islam.