Facebook : Courts and Media

The issue of facebook has displayed the schisms in the Pakistani nation. Honestly speaking, I am proud of the court’s decision. When facebook which has ignored complaints over its privacy issues despite the fact that the global media and blogosphere is incessantly complaining about it, a decision by a Pakistani court to solicit such as reaction from the company is an achievement:

“We are very disappointed with the Pakistani courts’ decision to block Facebook without warning, and suspect our users there feel the same way,” Facebook said in a statement to AFP.

“We are analyzing the situation and the legal considerations, and will take appropriate action, which may include making this content inaccessible to users in Pakistan,” it said.

This is a company which is known for it arrogance when it comes to user issues.

However, our media is also stoking the fire. This is from yesterday’s DAWN

“What if they will ban it permanent? I will move out somewhere else,” one user wrote on his Facebook status update. Was this even a newsworthy item. I want to see this guy leave the country over facebook.

He could have said that banning facebook does not solve our energy issues, terrorism problems, education system, governance and institutional structures (the usual excuse by the media persons be it the 18th amendment, renaming NWFP to pukhtoonkhwa, banning facebook etc). No he is going to leave the country and DAWN finds the bravado worth reporting.

In blogosphere, a blogger was praising shias saying that in progressive shia sect, one is allowed to depict the Prophet. Its the sunni Islam that is against it. Nothing against the shias but I think he should get his facts straight. It wasn’t the sunnis (they might as well have) but Ayatollah Khomeini who came with a fatwa for death of Salman Rushdie. Certain people use every opportunity to propagate differences amongst people.

Civil right organizations losing their heads over the situation is the best part claiming that there is no censorship in developed countries. I suggest that they go and try denying holocaust in Continental Europe. They will end up behind bars the very day. Thats freedom of speech for you.

I would suggest that civil right organizations hold a comedy show in Karachi in which people try to make fun of Altaf Hussein. Lets see how many even make it to the event.

Facebook has been banned in lot of companies where my friends work for quite sometime because people waste a lot of time on it. Initially they felt withdrawal syndromes but within a week everyone adjusted. Its not like world stops turning forcing one to change employers or leave the country. Human beings are resilient and adaptive. They adjust.

After General Kyani

Quite a number of people forwarded me an article by Shaheen Sehbai from The News. I have some respect for Sehbai as he single handedly tried to mount opposition/resistance to Musharraf though from abroad through his South Asia Tribune when everyone else had accepted Musharraf  (this was before the judiciary crisis provided the opposition a common platform to oust him).

However, yesterday’s op-ed piece reminds me that his journalistic standards are as loose as the rest of the industry. I suggest you read the whole article yourself. I am here just copying bits and pieces of it.

The minister has stated on record that Army Chief General Kayani will not be given an extension and he has not sought one, which means Zardari, through his proxy prime minister, will appoint an army general of his choice as the next COAS and Pakistan will become a safe haven for him and the corrupt and the dishonest mostly found in PPP power corridors these days

Why should it matter who is appointed from the Generals. If the Army and Kyani has deemed the person fit enough to be promoted as a General so far, I am sure they must find him capable enough to hold his own. If not, then one should not have any trust in Army to judge their own kind.

But another honourable way for the PM would be not just to resign but to dissolve the National Assembly and let the people elect new leaders, thus finding a constitutional way out of his personal dilemma. He may be accused of stabbing his party in the back but his party colleagues would be more to blame because they are the silent spectators to the rape now going on with Benazir Bhutto’s party and her principles

I want to smoke what this guy is smoking. The diatribe out of some newbie columnist would have been OK but from someone who has remained an editor of newspaper, it seems like the pen is his but the words are being fed to him probably by the army.

The basic issue is whether the Pakistan Army will allow a political leader who has a tainted past, who has a tainted present and whose future is evident from what he is doing, to dictate the terms of reference of how this country will be run and by whom, including the future of the army which has the highest stakes in the country.

Is this guy on a high? Does anything happen in this country without the army knowing? During Musharraf’s tenor when BB was murdered and all evidence was wiped out by washing it down, does anyone has a doubt that it could have happened without a go ahead from Army?

Who brought Zardari to Presidency? Wasn’t it Musharraf who engineered the NRO? Didn’t the army know that Zardari would become the president as a result and like any human try to prolong his stay at the top and fight tooth and nail with anyone trying to bring him down from his throne? If Army didn’t think this, then Army as an institution is more naive than a common man in this country.

If Kyani ever needed anyone to forward his cause for an extension or even transfer to Chairman Joint Chief of Staffs Committee (CJCSC) he knows who to hire i.e., Shaheen Sehbai

His role in the NRO, his soft guard-of-honour to General Musharraf after convincing him that he should leave the country, his decision to keep the army and ISI away from interfering in the 2008 polls, his decisive call to restore the Supreme Court judges on March 15, his intervention to stop the Kerry-Lugar fiasco, his quiet meetings with Choudhry Nisar Ali, Shahbaz Sharif and Aitzaz Ahsan to ward off potentially destructive confrontational scenarios, his focus on the war on terror and his successes, his blunt ‘no’ on several occasions to the Americans, and many other yet unknown interventions, only prove that he has the interest of the country at heart and his decisions have not been motivated by personal interest.

From the establishment parties I have always seen calling the Army to intervene and impose martial law but when the press especially the group which cries itself hoarse over democracy prints something like the following para, something is definitely now right (with the media group, that is):

If General Kayani, who went out of his way to ensure that the judges were restored at the last minute and the Long March of Nawaz Sharif was called off, now allows Mr Zardari to demolish the same Supreme Court, just because the corruption-tainted President cannot defend the billions of dollars he made illegally, it would be such a disservice to the country that all the good that the General may have done in his entire career may not be able to wash it

And the icing on the cake

What General Kayani can do, before bowing out honourably, is to ensure, like he did playing a subtle behind-the-scene role several times, that no crony of the president is appointed as the next COAS and a transparent procedure is adopted to make that appointment so that the new COAS is not obliged to any person and takes decisions only in the national interests. If Kayani thinks anyone is conspiring behind his back, he can take action now as COAS and stop this conspiracy.

This country has gone to dogs because no one respects their boundaries..politicians meddling with the judiciary, bureaucracy getting involved in politics and the army getting involved in everything (behind-the-scenes or bluntly).

Even if Zardari wants to appoint his crony as a General, I say let him do it. He is within his rights and secondly he is appointing from Generals from the Army and not some PPP politician. If Zardari thinks by making a COAS he is making his position secure, I think he has forgotten the lesson of what happened to his father in law who appointed his crony (apparently) as COAS.

Playing the Devil’s Advocate : Faisal Shahzad and TTP

Within two days of the failed attempt, the media circus was in full force with every magazine or newspaper churning out op-eds on the event dissecting Faisal Shahzad’s connections with TTP and trying to make sense of his motives.

Most of the op-ed pieces assigned his motives to 1. his modest upbringing (which we can easily rule out as he was son of an Air Vice Marshal), 2. Zia ul Haq impacted hate based education system of Pakistani schools and madrasas (being a son of AVM, he has probably done O and A levels), 3. anti America sentiments at his home (which is hard to believe for sons of top brass of military which is getting fat with American military aid living in bungalows, driving BMWs and Mercedes etc.), 4. his hatred for American foreign policy (though it did not stop him from applying for naturalization a few months ago), 5.watching Zaid Hamid and the likes and dreaming of world domination (this one has been beaten to death but to me he seems more like a Friends, Heroes and Lost fan) or 6.disillusionment with American dream because his house was foreclosed couple of years ago and he was looking for a reason in life (seems the most probable cause ) but as I have no idea what was going on in his mind and I am no psychologist so I will not offer an opinion.

However, I am surprised at how quickly well-respected analysts/columnists jumped the gun from calling creation of Pakistan a mistake to labeling Pakistan a failed state to calling it a jihad factory. What I found most absurd was Pervez Hoodbhoy’s column which was given wide dissemination adorning front pages of newspapers as well as e-zines from the second day without even waiting for a clear picture to emerge from US. To me it seemed that he had the material already written for some months and as soon as the news of failed attempt came out, with a few edits here and there, his article was ready for publication.

I will try to approach it from a different perspective: motive of Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in claiming that attack was carried out on their behest. I want to understand what TTP expected to gain by claiming that this half-hearted bungled-up operation was their brainchild. If I was a security analyst (which I am not) I would say that

1. TTP is on the run
2. They don’t have time to train recruits
3. They are desperate and clutching on to straws (I am surprised David Cameron’s victory as British PM has not been claimed by them.) Do you remember the firing incident at a naturalization center in US by a Vietnamese applicant which was also claimed by Baitullah Mehsud but was later denied by US authorities as a false claim?

From a PR perspective, claiming this operation as their own does not earn TTP any brownie point. It will also turn away any future would-be recruits because this shows that TTP has lost its effectiveness.

I have observed is that (please correct me if I am wrong) TTP was not on US’s list of targets. Though she carries out drone attack against TTP but it is only to oblige Pakistan which is backing/supporting US’s war on Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA – the so called good Talibans).

TTP is fighting against the Pakistan Army (which is stretched thin in terms of resources human as well as arsenal). By carrying out an attack at US soil, TTP has added its name to list of enemies of US. What objective did TTP expected to achieve from this (please bear in mind that TTP claimed the attempt after it was clear that the plan was a total failure)? Simply boggles the mind unless in their desperation TTP has also lost what little brain power it possessed.

At the risk of inviting the wrath of security agencies, what is most surprising is the incendiary device used by Faisal. Taliban are supposed to be experts in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) daily incapacitating military convoys with them. Even a Molotov cocktail is much easier and cheaper to make and causes more damage and quickly. The internet is full of resources from Taliban bomb making guides to Anarchist Cookbook to Thermite bombs all of which require around the house or around the neighborhood stuff to build and deploy. Honestly, it was a pretty retarded attempt and thanks God for that.

The only reasonable (or outlandish…depends upon how you look at it) theory I could come up with is he was part of a CIA financed campaign wherein TTP acts as agents of CIA and fools him into believing that he is carrying out the work of God by blowing up Times Square through a technique which was bound to be a complete failure from the start.

Pakistan Army has so far been resisting US pressure by not taking military operation into North Waziristan which is a sanctuary of TTA. However, since TTP claimed this attack and US has verified it further claiming that the failed operation was hatched in North Waziristan, US will now force Pakistan Army to start military operation in North Waziristan. This is a conspiracy theory but you have to admit that under the circumstances it makes sense.

At the risk of inviting further wrath of security establishment, what should have TTP done if they are serious about screwing US in the region and get Pakistan Army off their back? Very simply: use Lashkar-e-Taiba’s or Jamat-ud-Dawa’s setup and do such a bungled up effort in India. This will enrage India and they will move their forces on Pakistan border to launch an attack. This will force Pakistan Army to retreat from western region and move towards securing our eastern borders and leave the US and NATO without any support from Pakistan Army and at the mercy of so called good Taliban and bad Taliban. It should be remembered that a lot of supplies including drinking water to US and NATO army goes from Pakistan under the protection of Pakistan Army and Taliban who are paid off to allow the convoys to pass without causing much damage. Without Pakistan Army to provide support to US, logistical or otherwise, the losses of US and NATO forces increase exponentially.

Disclaimer: This article is just an attempt to understand the Time Square bomb plot from a different perspective. It should in no way be construed to be recommending any sort of violence against any nation, country or people. Who knows when the dust settles, the fact turns out that Faisal Shahzad sought training after watching Zaid Hamid and was trained by TTP who were desperate to make an impact (any kind) and have no brainpower left.

Schadenfreude: Twenty20 version

Not much of a cricket fan and the way Pakistan plays cricket there is no chance that I would ever become one. In the team’s defence, the poor guys don’t get a chance to practice enough international level cricket due to the law and order situation in the country.

However, the fluke due to which Pakistan made it to the semi final just tells you that there is a higher power that is behind Pakistan. Some people call that higher power God whereas the skeptics call it Satta Bazi (betting). Whatever you call it, the fact remains that Pakistan made it to the semi final and India got booted out despite the fact that Indian team  has got like light years worth of practice in playing T20 format with IPLs and ICLs.

For Pakistanis,  hounded by parliamentarians;  scandalized for lack of discipline, being ‘mentally retarded’, and not being ‘toilet trained’; senior players facing suspension; and comprising of young raw talent, staying ahead of India is an achievement in itself. I am glad more for India not making it to the semis than for Pakistan actually making it. Now I don’t care if Pakistan doesn’t make it to the finals.

Street fighting : Football edition

I grew up in Saudi Arabia where Saudis outnumber the expats many times unlike other middle eastern countries where you can go on living for months without running into a local. Hence we had picked up large number of Arabic street words and though could not carry a complete conversation in Arabic yet could find our way around easily in Arabic.

In our neighbourhood block, there were a few Pakistani families with kids our age but it was mainly a local majority area. In the evening we played football on the roads. When the traffic increased in a few years, we moved on to empty lots of land and when population increased further and empty lots were converted into buildings we moved to football grounds located in parks which were at least 15 minutes walk from our neighbourhood.

Before moving to parks, we used to play amongst ourselves (i.e. Pakistanis). In parks and grounds, occasionally there were other contenders for the field as well mainly the local saudi kids. This is where things got exciting. We were not gifted football players and our game had not improved a lot since childhood days as we did not take it too seriously challenged always playing amongst ourselves 4 or 5 a side and during exam times even 2 a side.

When we played with the locals, it would be like 8 or 9 a side and all of us Pakistanis in one team. During the early games we lost badly with even their weakest players going home with a goal or two under on the score card.

Over time our game improved and we started giving them tough competition. For the locals, whose national game was Football, losing to measly Pakistanis would tantamount to loss of face. As such, they would resort to hard tackles to dispossess us of the ball or play unfairly to keep us from winning. But you can’t lose forever and we would win despite their questionable tactics.

Occasionally the game would end into fights as they could not bear losing to us. Being expats, we were afraid of hitting them hard so that it might not bring trouble (local police to our homes). However, the uncouth locals had no such inhibitions stones, pepsi cans even discarded beverage bottles on the outskirts of the ground were fair game for them.

Football turned out to be our training ground for street fighting. The best strategy was that when the fight broke out hit as many punches and kicks as quickly as possible and run!. The locals could always count on passerbys to join increase their numbers as they would definitely be a local but we had only ourselves to fall back on. So it was always a punch here, jab there, kick in the groin and run for your lives.

The best part was that as we were kids, we could not hold a grudge for long. Boys being boys can’t remain play indoors forever. So after a gap of couple of days allowing the tempers to cool down we would go back to the same ground and play football again. You have to give it to the locals (even if a little) that they would have forgiven our hit and run incident of last week.

Though our football skills had improved slowly playing with locals, significant improvement came from street fighting wherein we learnt such skills as sprint bursts, dogding (necessary to dodge a stone or bottle hurled at you) and major increase in our stamina as we had to lose them in the streets and not lead them to our homes.

Looking back I would say that football introduced us to street fighting which in turn improved our football.

It also brought me the realization that blood is thicker than water but that is for a separate post.

Food Nostalgia

This is a week of rants. Faisal Shahzad episode brought out the worst in us as this  week I read rants about being a Pakistani, not being a Pakistani, on ranting bloggers, on Islam, shariah, politicians (all with exception of that sacred cow i.e., the Pakistani military). In the spirit of things, I have decided to add a rant of my own. However, I will steer clear of politics and religion. Mine is cultural rather to be more specific, gastronomical.

Couple of weeks ago I was sitting with a few family friends over dinner and the topic naturally was food and taste. My friend’s wife said that with the advent of Shan and National masalas for biryani, haandi etc. making food has become much easier. You get the same great taste with less effort and time. I disagreed.

I appreciate that making food is hard work and welcome the convenience that ready masalas have afforded to home makers. However, at the same time I believe we have lost a couple of things: the personal touch and the appetizing aroma of a real “home-cooked” meal.

Is it me or has anyone else felt that the masala packet suppers do not have the same aroma as the individually picked spices added into the food? Friday used to be Biryani day at our home and I distinctly remember walking into the house and the delicious aroma of biryani hitting the nose as soon as the front door was opened. When pulao used to be on “dum” the smells would wet your appetite and get the juices flowing even if you were having a siesta. Though the masala packet prepared food gives off aromas but it does not carry the same effect.

Does anyone remember the “sil batta” chatni and the aroma it had? I can swear that chatni prepared using exactly the same ingredients but in a blender will never give aroma like the one made on ‘sil batta’.

I belong to Karachi and they call it mini-Pakistan (they could also call it mini-subcontinent) because there are people from all parts of the country (subcontinent)living there. When I was growing up, different members of the extended family/neighbourhood had a different speciality home meal depending where they come from. The hyderabadis, the dilliwalas, the biharis, the bombaywalas, punjabis (unfortunately sindhis used to have the blandest meals and FYI, sindhi biryani is an oxymoron…sindhis don’t have anything close to biryani ). One aunt use be good at chicken karhai, one  excelled at yakhni pulao, the other might made excellent fish etc with their little innovations and techniques that were transferred mother to daughter, generation after generation. We actually used to look forward to different tastes at different houses.

Now we had this plethora of shan masalas and tv cooking programs and everywhere you eat, its the same taste: no variety, no personal touch unless someone screwed up in following the advice to the letter.

I am not complaining. I have eaten well. Its just that my kids and future generations would never get the chance to taste what you call “authentic” foods unless they go to a touristic place and eat the tourism body promoted “authentic local cuisine” 🙂


On a related note, when I was growing up, when ever tea was boiled in the house, the whole house would know (we lived in a two story house with the extended family) because of its aroma. Now you don’t even know that tea is being made even if you are in the kitchen unless you are directly facing over the kettle.

Whats in a name?

Recently, it seems that a lot is in a name.

Couple of years ago my brother asked me to transfer money to his university in France. Two days after I made the transfer, I got a call from the money transfer agent that my transfer request has been rejected by correspondent bank because my name has been flagged as a possible terrorism suspect. At that time, I found out that I share the name with a certain african warlord. Luckily, I don’t look anything like an African warlord otherwise it would have caused a lot of problems.

Earlier this year, my name was flagged by the State Security because of the Pakistani passport (profiling) and it took a lot of strings-pulling and chips-cashing to get my name off the list. Those three months were a night mare.

Yesterday, I received this in my facebook mailbox

Is the Faisal Shahzad whom you know the same Faisal Shahzad who was arrested last night? If so, can you help us make any sense of it? Alison Cowan
NYT 212 556 1501 cel: 203 913 5573 and cowan@nytimes.com

A few hours later it was followed by this

I am a reporter at the NY Post and I am doing a story about Faisal Shahzad. How well do you know him? Do you think he really could be behind this?

Jeremy Olshan
New York Post
212-930-8039, office
917-771-7837, cell

I know this Faisal Shahzad who is my friend and he is not the one arrested by US authorities. He lives and works in Pakistan.

I was thinking of asking for cash upfront for more information on my friend as a prank but then remembering the trouble that I have already run into with security establishments decided against it.

I had read earlier that US monitors global telephone calls through a software which triggers recording and monitoring if someone utters certain words say Allah, Al Qaeda, Osama etc. But to think that one day my facebook profile could become a liability, never crossed my mind.

I realize it has nothing to do with privacy settings. Someone just has to type a name in facebook and he can have access to names of all his/her friends for sending out such emails.

I sent the copies of above emails to mailing list and this is how one of my friends replied in jest. (Honestly, this should be the correct way to reply to my email)

I do not know any of you. Who are you? Why am I in this mailing list? Who are these other strangers? J

Where am I?????