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February 26 2014

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February 13 2014

The Only Pakistani at the Sochi Olympics Taught Himself to Ski on Wooden Planks

This meme uploaded by the See More Facebook page has been liked more than 45,000 times.

This meme uploaded by the See More Facebook page has been liked more than 45,000 times.

While he has growing up in northern Pakistan, close to some of the highest slopes in the world, Mohammad Karim taught himself to ski on home-made equipment made by his uncle from wooden planks.

Now he is his Pakistan’s sole representative at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

More about his journey in this report by Pakistani daily the Express Tribune. 

 

February 12 2014

Controversial Sindh Festival Accused of Risking Ancient Ruins for Flashy Kickoff

Fireworks during the opening ceremony of Sindh Festival held in Moen Jo Daro. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (3/2/2014)

Fireworks during the opening ceremony of Sindh Festival held in Moen Jo Daro. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (3/2/2014)

The people of Sindh province in the south of Pakistan, the site of one of the oldest civilizations in the world, are currently celebrating a festival to pay tribute to their rich and vast cultural heritage. The brainchild of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the festival aims to revive the history of Sindh, his home province, with a 15-day celebration in various cities showcasing local art, music, sport and more.  However, critics accused him of playing the Sindh card by exploiting the peace loving innocent Sindhi people.

If that was not enough, before the celebrations had even begun, the festival drew ire from some for its decision to hold the theatrical opening ceremony at the ancient ruins of Mohenjo-daro.

Mohenjo-daro, an UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the earliest urban settlements in the world, dating back to 2600 BCE. A stage and other event infrastructure was built nearby the delicate ruins for the opening ceremony of 1 February 2014, to which about 400 or more dignitaries were invited. The federal government and even some leading archaeologists did not give the green light for holding the festival there. However, the organizers of the event and the PPP government in Sindh assured that the ceremony was being planned with painstaking attention to details, ensuring that the ruins were not threatened.

Pakistani writer Bina Shah wrote on her blog that she wasn't convinced:

So the Sindh Festival opened last night at Mohenjodaro, but it didn't remain untouched by controversy: the accusation that the ruins were being damaged by preparations for the festival, including the building of a stage, construction of steel pillars, and other things that shouldn't be happening on or around delicate ruins from a five-thousand year old civilisation. In addition, the vibrations by the construction and the loudspeakers during the concert, and the bright spotlights would possibly degrade the site even further. Furore erupted on social media, petitions were signed, and letters written. The Festival went ahead as planned and by all accounts was successful, but it's still a sensitive subject as we wait to assess the impact of the concert on the site post-event.

Labourers prepare for the Sindh Festival at Moen Jo Daro (Mound of Dead), the location of the remains of an ancient Indus Valley civilization. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (

Labourers prepare for the Sindh Festival at Moenjo-daro (Mound of the Dead), the location of the remains of an ancient Indus Valley civilisation. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (3/2/2014)

Local journalist and environmental activist Amar Guriro's photographs of the stage being constructed at the ruins first drew the attention of many to the choice of venue when they viral on social media. Debates emerged over the use of wooden and steel scaffolding over and near the ruins, heavy spotlights and lasers for a light show, and sound systems for the ceremony that could possibly damage the area.

While commenting on Amar Guriro's photographs, Shah added on her blog

I was very concerned when I saw the photographs and I retweeted them so that people might pay attention to the issue. The Festival organisers responded by claiming they'd had archeological experts both local and foreign approve the plans and help build the site in a safe way.

Journalist Mohammad Malick wanted someone to inform Bilawal Bhutto Zardari about the importance of the ancient city: 

Senior Editor of The News Talat Aslam tweeted his thoughts about the opening ceremony: 

Environmental communicator and cricket journalist Afia Salam was also against the idea:   

The official Twitter handle for the Sindh Festival was quick to clarify their position:

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari defended the choice: 

The ruins of Mohenjodaro

According to UNESCO, Mohenjodaro is the best-preserved urban ruin on the Indian subcontinent. The ruins, unearthed by a British archaeologist Sir John Marshall in 1922, are already threatened by harsh climatic conditions, floods and saline action of the Indus River water. 

Ever since the news broke on social media, protests and online petitions signed against the opening ceremony at the Mohenjodaro ruins marred the main event. According to a news report published in Dawn Newspaper, UNESCO was unhappy with the idea of holding an event at the ruins. The report said that a week before the festival at Moenjodaro, the director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites declared the opening ceremony as an “improper” activity.

But here is what the organizers had to say after the opening ceremony of the Sindh Festival at Mohenjodaro:

February 09 2014

Tanqeed's Bi-Weekly List of Recommended Readings On Pakistan

Tanqeed, a quarterly magazine on politics and culture on Tumblr, is an experiment in critical reflection on Pakistan. It is a blogzine, a scrapbook and a reporters’ notebook. This year, Tanqeed is accepting recommendations of lectures, essays, articles, videos on a range of subjects including politics, culture and society from Pakistan and beyond and plans to publish them bi-weekly.

February 07 2014

Pakistani Superhero Ms. Marvel

It's a comic book. And yet, while I did a lot of laughing [it's got a lot of funny moments] I also couldn't stop the tears. Because I was so happy to see a version of myself reflected before me, not sensationalized or stereotyped.

Blogger Aisha Saeed posts a review of the Pakistani American comic hero Ms. Marvel, who was featured in the latest book of Marvel Comics.

February 05 2014

Pakistani Journalists on Taliban Hit-List

Journalists of Hyderabad held a protest against the killing of 3 Media organization workers in Karachi. The Tehrik Taliban accepted responsibility for the killings. Image by Rajput Yasir. Copyright Demotix (18/1/2014)

Journalists of Hyderabad held a protest against the killing of 3 Media organization workers in Karachi. The Tehrik Taliban accepted responsibility for the killings. Image by Rajput Yasir. Copyright Demotix (18/1/2014)

Violent militant organization Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has officially declared the country’s media as fair game in their war against the Pakistani state. The TTP issued a religious decree or fatwa against some Pakistani media houses and prepared a hit list with names of two dozen journalists and publishers.

This comes as the Pakistani government has decided to pursue ‘peace talks’ instead of a ‘military operation’ against the banned outfit.

The 29-page fatwa accuses the media of continuously lying about the TTP and their objectives and attributing terrorist attacks to them that they had nothing to do with. Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan explained to Pakistani daily Dawn:

For a long time, we have been asking the media to be impartial. We are not forcing it to change beliefs. We are simply asking the media to be fair in coverage …Despite the tall claims of truth and nothing but the truth, the media has been acting as propagandists.

Three people associated with the TV channel Express News were killed when their company car came under attack in Karachi on January 17, 2014. Following the attack, Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed that the TTP was responsible:

The reason of the attack is that in the war of ideologies all media channels… are acting as propagandist and as rival party.. We will attack all the media houses that are involved in carrying out propaganda against us.

Media caught in the line of fire

Dawn columnist Cyril Almeida shared the views of a popular Urdu language current affairs show host Mushtaq Minhas in this piece:

“If the focus was on news before, now it’s on views,” Mushtaq Minhas, co-anchor of Bolta Pakistan on Aaj News, said. “(The Taliban) want to dilute the growing state and society narrative against them and want to impose their own narrative.”Minhas claimed that the growing sophistication of the Taliban’s media operations – both in terms of putting out their own message and closely monitoring the electronic and print media in Urdu, English and regional languages – has meant that the Taliban are alert to growing public and media criticism of the TTP and the possibility of an impending military response by the state against the TTP. 

Malik Siraj Akbar, Washington DC-based editor of the banned news site The Baloch Hal, which reports on Pakistan's restive Balochistan region, worried that such attacks can lead to paralysis of the media. He wrote in Huffington Post:

The Taliban do not only justify their attacks but they also demand equal air time for propagation of their extremist ideology in the news media. This is a bizarre expectation but completely snubbing their demand is likely to endanger the lives of several other journalists in the future. If one media group concedes to the Taliban wishes out of fear of being attacked, the free media will ultimately end up compromising its integrity and reliability among the masses.

Ayesha Siddiqa, author of ‘Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy', explained the divided state of the country after attacks of this nature in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera:

Such statements, followed by attacks, tend to divide the country and society into two camps. While there are those who are frustrated by the government's inaction against the Taliban, others have a similar feeling but for a different reason. A number of young men and women I spoke with in urban centers of South Punjab sympathise with the TTP rather than their own soldiers. Their reason, as one young woman stated: “What's wrong with the Taliban asking for implementation of Sharia? If fighting is the only way they force the government to do what people want, then so be it.”

According to the official Twitter account of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), (@PTIofficial), a political party in Pakistan that advocates peace talks with the Taliban: 

Ever since media liberalization legislation passed in 2002, the Pakistani media, especially the broadcast industry, has become a powerful and independent institution. According to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, the number of private television channels has grown to 89, dozens of which are news channels. 

February 03 2014

Taliban Play Trump with Peace Talks in Pakistan

The Pakistani government finally announced their negotiating team for peace talks with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The banned militant outfit responded with their own team, which includes politicians from the very parties that were backing the government's peace talks, including cricketer-turned- politician Imran Khan, who declined the role.

In an analysis piece written for the daily Dawn, Peshawar-based journalist Ismail Khan writes:

It’s a win-win situation – tail, I win, head, you lose! Like-minded people on both sides. As one commentator put it, it was a case of Liverpool playing against Liverpool.

Lahore-based tweeter Faisal Sherjan tweets:

Peace talk committees

While speaking to parliament on January 29, 2014 Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that regardless of the recent deadly attacks by the Taliban, Pakistan hopes that its talks-first approach will help end violence in the country.

Sharif's four-member committee to pursue talks “immediately”, includes well-known journalists Rahimullah Yousufzai and Irfan Siddique, former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand (who is also a member of Imran Khan's party); former Intelligence official Major (Retired) Amir Shah.

The Taliban announced team to facilitate talks with the government, includes three top Islamist party leaders Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, Mufti Kifayatullah and Prof Ibrahim Khan, the controversial former chief cleric of Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Aziz, and former cricketer turned Chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) party Imran Khan.

Imran Khan's nomination resulted in lots of buzz on Twitter, from his critics who call with “Taliban Khan” for his pro-talks stance and his supporters who defend him vociferously. 

On his official Twitter account, Imran Khan distanced himself from the Taliban nomination:

Former Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman believed that the Taliban were trying to exert power over the talks: 

Taliban attacks throughout Pakistan

Following the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in November last year, newly elected TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah shunned the negotiation table and swore to avenge the death of his predecessor. The group has since carried out attacks in Pakistan's major cities.

Views after deadly suicidal attack on Chief of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of Sindh Police Chaudhry Muhammad who killed in attack. Image by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix (9/1/2014)

Views after deadly suicidal attack on Chief of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of Sindh Police Chaudhry Muhammad who killed in attack. Image by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix (9/1/2014)

In some of the major attacks of 2014, a senior police officer Chaudhry Aslam was assassinated on January 9 in an IED blast in Karachi. Aslam was highly critical of TTP activities in the city and had either arrested or killed several TTP members in recent years. The TTP Mohmand Agency group claimed responsibility for that attack.

Later on January 19, Taliban militants hit a security convoy in the Bannu area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and killed 20 people. The next day, at least 13 more people were killed in a bomb explosion in Rawalpindi.

With this violence in mind, some are skeptical of the prudence of peace talks. According to an article published by the Asian Human Rights Commission:

“It is madness for sheep to talk peace with a wolf,” said British historian and clergyman Thomas Fuller. In other words, we cannot change the nature of wild creatures. We cannot predict when snakes, lions, wolves or any other wild animals will attack, and without protecting ourselves we cannot sit calmly. In the context of Pakistan, the sheep is the government, and the wolf is the Taliban. It is madness on the part of the government to want peace talks with the Taliban, who only understand the language of weapons and violence.

Yet another report called the “Pakistan Security Report 2013” compiled by the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) showed that in 2013, TTP remained the reason behind unrest in the country:

Compared to 2012, the number of reported terrorist attacks in Pakistan posted a nine per cent increase while the number of people killed and injured in these attacks increased by 19 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively. Despite the killing of its top brass in drone attacks and military operations by Pakistani security forces, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remained the major actor of instability in the country in 2013 through its alliance with numerous militant groups. It carried out 645 terrorist attacks in 50 districts, claiming the lives of 732 civilians and 425 security forces personnel.

Split opinions on peace talks

Pakistan first proposed negotiations with the Taliban in 2004, but talks have not been successful. According to Prime Minister Sharif, this is the Taliban's final chance to come to the negotiation table and halt their violent activities in the country. 

The country's major political parties have split down the middle on the issue: Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) have hailed the government’s decision, while Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) are not so hopeful about the talks and wanted a full force, comprehensive military action against the TTP. 

The selection of the negotiators has also raised some eyebrows when it comes to their credentials. 

Pakistan Peoples Party Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari delivers a speech at a public gathering to commemorate the 6th anniversary of the death of Benazir Bhutto. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (27/12/2014)

Pakistan Peoples Party Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (27/12/2014)

After Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's announcement of more talks with the TTP, Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reacted in utter disappointment on Twitter:

For senior anchor and political analyst Syed Talat Hussain, the committee is just for distraction and nothing more:

January 18 2014

Lebanese blogger spoofs Study on Middle Eastern Women Dressing

The question “How should Middle Eastern Women Dress in Public” posed by the University of Michigan is attracting hilarious spoofs online. The content is so rich that an additional post to our first one was necessary.

When Washington Post Max Fisher shared the original image on Twitter, he wasn't expecting this response by WSJ blogger Tom Gara:

But the spoof that got the most attention was undoubtedly Karl Sharro's of KarlreMarks:

Interviewed on PRI, he explained his motivation:

“It's almost like putting Muslim women on a scale from 1 to 6, from being fully covered to not being covered at all, which I think is pretty absurd.”

January 16 2014

Is Pakistan's Much-Needed Gas Pipeline a Pipe Dream?

Rows of vehicles are standing in a queue to get CNG in front of a filling station. In Pakistan Gas & electricity blackouts have made the lives of poor people miserable due to energy crisis and the petroleum prices are rising almost every month. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto Copyright Demotix (24/9/2013)

Rows of vehicles are standing in a queue to get CNG in front of a filling station. In Pakistan Gas & electricity blackouts have made the lives of poor people miserable due to energy crisis and the petroleum prices are rising almost every month. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto Copyright Demotix (24/9/2013)

About 1.3 million people live without electricity, and one-third of them live in Asia and Pacific, according to the United Nations. Pakistan, marred by a deteriorating economy and security situation, is one of the countries facing a severe energy shortage. Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Pakistan’s Minister for Water and Power, calls the country's energy crisis “a bigger challenge than even terrorism”.

The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, currently under construction, aims to help fix the situation. But the project hit a serious snag in early December when Iran cancelled a loan worth 500 million US dollars to help Pakistan finance its part of the pipeline. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had promised the money, but Iran's oil authorities now say they don't have the funds, especially after pumping two billion US dollars into their own part of the pipeline. 

The cancelled loan could jeopardize the timeliness of the project's completion, which would be disastrous for Pakistan in itself: a penalty clause in the two countries’ agreement stipulates that withdrawing or delaying the pipeline will result in a daily fine of up to three million US dollars.

Iran's decision has been a devastating blow to Pakistan, but officials are still determined to forge ahead with the project, for which half the work has already been completed. Following Iran's suggestion, Pakistan is looking to European firms to help with the financing or even act as a middleman and sell the gas to Pakistan, while an Iranian construction company has offered to fund the Pakistani side of the pipeline, but would need the green light from the Iranian government.

One of the major impediments to the pipeline for Pakistan has been international sanctions against Iran. The US especially has warned Pakistan to back down on the project and advised the country to utilize Central Asian routes instead. As a result of this immense pressure, unavailability of financing, and to appease the US, Pakistan has also been aggressively pursuing the Turkemanistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline, which is scheduled to be completed in 2017.

However, according to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the country is up against a wall when it comes to energy:

 “The US must consider that we’re going through a very tough time . . . We do not have choices. If the international community doesn’t want us to deal with the Iranians then they should have given us some alternatives.”

The Iran-Pakistan pipeline was inaugurated on 11 March 2013 by then Presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Ahmadinejad, for the purpose of providing gas supply for the production of electricity and meeting other energy needs. A brain child of Malik Aftab Ahmed Khan, the idea originally was for an Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline to transport gas to India and Pakistan from Iran, which has the world's largest reservoir of natural gas.

The project is forecast to bring about savings of around 2.4 billion US dollars by replacing furnace oil-run units with the imported gas. As the nation depends on gas due to the influx of cars that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), there has been extreme demand on the individual level in addition to household consumption. Around 65 percent of the CNG stations have remain closed in Punjab for three months starting in November 2013. The situation is further exacerbated in the fertilizer sector, which has experienced extreme shortages of gas and suffered heavy losses.

Passengers travel on an overloaded bus during a transportation shortage due to a lack of CNG as the filling stations are closed in Karachi, Pakistan. Image by ppiimages Copyright Demotix (2/1/2013)

Passengers travel on an overloaded bus during a transportation shortage due to a lack of CNG (compressed natural gas) as the CNG stations are closed in karachi, Pakistan. Image by ppiimages Copyright Demotix (2/1/2013)

Former member of Pakistan's Parliament, Senate and National Assembly Sana Baloch commented on the cancelled loan on his Twitter account: 

Pakistan People's Party member Malik M Ali Awan replied: 

Commenting on a story about the cancellation on Pakistani news website Dawn, user “shirin” argued

If its in Pakistan's interest to have the pipeline built, it needs to come up with 2bn and stand up to US and its sanctions that hurt Pakistan's interest.

User “independentthinker” chastised Pakistani leadership: 

Why would Pakistan even consider entering into any contract when a) it doesn't have the means to finance it and b) the other party (Iran) is facing severe sanctions from the West and it is very possible, Pakistan can face serious repercussion from the U.S., if it carried through? It amazes me how our politicians think [...]

It is expected that in order to meet the surging demand for gas, concrete action will be taken by the government despite the ramifications of the project. It could be done via engaging Iran in bilateral trade or negotiating for a deferred payment on the project. Otherwise, Pakistan should be prepared to pay the hefty penalty per day and possibly face wave of strikes, violence and discord again in 2014.

January 14 2014

Aitezaz Hasan, Pakistan's Young Hero Who Took on a Suicide Bomber to Save his School

Tribute to Aitzaz Hassan's bravery that saves dozens lives in Hangu, KPK at Karachi press club.  Image by Ayub Mohammad. Copyright Demotix (11/1/2014)

Tribute to Aitezaz Hassan's bravery that saved dozens of lives in Hangu, KPK at Karachi press club. Image by Ayub Mohammad. Copyright Demotix (11/1/2014)

Ninth-grade student Aitezaz Hasan has become Pakistan's latest young hero after he sacrificed his own life to stop a suicide bomber from entering his school in Hangu district, in the north-west of Pakistan.

Aitezaz was standing outside his school's gate when he saw a man wearing a suicide vest laden with explosives. He bravely tackled the bomber and prevented him from entering his school in Ibrahimzai, a Shia-dominated area in Hangu. The bomber soon detonated his explosives, killing Aitezaz and himself. 

According to media reports, there were around 1,000 students at the school at the time of attack.

Aitezaz is being hailed a national hero by the provincial government. There are social media campaigns to give him the Nishan-e-Haider, the highest military award for bravery in the country. Pakistan's Prime minister, Mohammad Nawaz Sharif has recommended him for Sitara-e- Shujat, the nation's highest civilian bravery award. This can be given once the President approves it.

Twitter users have been using the hashtags #onemillionaitzaz and #AitzazBraveheart to pay him tribute.

Nasim Zehra, a TV  journalist tweets:

Samar Minallah Khan, anthropologist and documentary film maker form the north-western region of Pakistan tweets:

Sherry Rehman, former Pakistani Ambassador to the US tweets a picture of Hasan's school:

Along with paying tributes and credit to Hasan, a few Twitter users also questioned the government's failure to openly name the killers and condemn suicide attacks in the region. The Taliban have been targeting Shia mosques and areas with increasing frequency. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf or PTI is running the government in the north-western province of KPK. Despite the attacks by the Taliban they are pushing for dialogue with them.

Saman Jafri a politician affiliated with the MQM party and a member of Pakistan's National Assembly tweets:

Salman Sikandar wonders why the federal government isn't blaming the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for Aitezaz's murder, even though the provincial Sindh government recently implicated the same organization for the murder of Choudhary Aslam, known as Pakistan's toughest cop:

In her blog, Mona Nasir from Peshawar wonders how long our kids will continue to sacrifice their lives:

When I read this unprecedented story of this young boy courage , or for that matter anyone who loses their life in this losing war, I say to myself another one bites the dust. More than 60,000 have lost their lives, and more than million displaced through operations in areas which we hold responsible for all the mayhem, but we are still not sure where the root of the evil lie actually there, is it our war or not or how to deal with it.

Zarrar Khurro, writes in an English language daily newspaper Dawn, “Are we worthy of Aitzaz Husain?”

We don’t need more Aitzazs’. Not one or one million. What we need is to be worthy of the one we lost. What we need is for those who claim to lead us to show the courage that this boy did. Perhaps, that is too much to ask from those who roll out apologies and obfuscations with such unerring regularity, but stammer and shake when it comes to naming those responsible for mass murder.

January 12 2014

French Restaurant In Pakistan Closed For Not Allowing Pakistanis

Blogger Farzana Versey from Mumbai weighs on the hypocrisy regarding alcohol consumption by Pakistanis while reporting on a recent incident:

La Maison, run by Frenchman Philippe Lafforgue, in a part of his house at an upscale area of the capital Islamabad, has been forced to shut down after there was an outcry against this discriminatory policy. There was no board outside saying so; it was a discreet decision by the management.

As the owner stated:

“It’s not a discrimination thing. It’s a culturally sensitive thing. How can I serve pork and booze to Pakistanis without getting into trouble? So I have a rule: no locals getting in…I can’t open it up to the Pakistani people because I serve alcohol. If I start serving locals, which is obviously profitable, I will have to bribe the police…which I want to avoid.”

She adds:

Many of the elite like to show off their bars and collection of wines, but do not raise their voice against government policies over their eating and drinking habits.

January 08 2014

A Mobile Phone Based Virtual School System In Pakistan

Rehan School: Now everybody can learn for free

Rehan School: Now everybody can learn for free

Sri Lankan blogger Nandasiri Wanninayaka writes:

Rehan School is a mobile phone based virtual school system that allows anyone who has a mobile phone access the prerecorded video lessons free of charge. With expanding mobile coverage in Pakistan, this will be an exciting way to reach the rural illiterate communities. Since this is a free service, millions of Pakistanis can benefit. [..]

The price of this content is free, but the mobile shop keeper may charge a small fee of 50 rupees to transfer the content in the required format on the mobile phone’s memory card. Later on, this video content can be given by that phone user to anyone else, using Bluetooth for free.

December 29 2013

Contemplating Nelson Mandela's Legacy in South Asia

This post is part of Global Voices special coverage Remembering Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013. Cartoon by Bryant Arnold. Free for use.

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013. Cartoon by Bryant Arnold. Free for use.

Earlier this month, Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero and first black president, died at age 95, leaving the world in mourning. People in South Asian countries also remembered the beloved statesman in their own way.

Nepal, after long years of political turmoil, has recently completed an election. But the leadership remains an apprehension for many. Satire Nepali blogger Guffadi wrote:

In the past sixty years, we have seen hundreds of clowns who have been offered opportunities to govern this country. But they all turned out to be false prophets who only enriched themselves and their families instead of helping the common folks.

How long will we have to wait for honest leaders to lead us to the Promised Land?

We are still waiting for our Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Why is it difficult for our Emperor and his courtiers to admit their crimes publicly and ask for forgiveness? Our security forces should do the same as well.

Indra highlighted Gopi Chandra Kharel's article in International Business Times, who tried to link connection of Mandela with Nepal, a country 5,725 miles away from South Africa:

Nepali leaders have a lot to learn from Mandela's statesmanship, integrity, and lack of political ambition. His ability to cooperate with even his opponents is a pointer to us during the constitution making process. – Jayaraj Acharya, Nepal's former ambassador to the United Nations

Blogger Passu from Bhutan compared Mandela to Zhabdrung Rinpoche, the founder of the Bhutanese state:

Zhabdrung lived four hundred years before Mandela yet there is something so common between the two- Zhabdrung unified Bhutan as a nation state while Mandela unified different races to make South Africa one strong nation. Zhabdrung fled to Bhutan to escape arrest in Tibet where he was supposed to be the rightful leader. But after he became powerful in Bhutan he never sought vengeance against people in Tibet who wronged him, just as Mandela reconciled with people who imprisoned him 27 years.

Today, when Mandela dies I am reminded of Zhabdrung's death.

From Sri Lanka, Asanga Welikala wrote on Groundviews:

The freedom from fear imbued Nelson Mandela’s personal conduct and political creed throughout his life, and it is the leadership attribute that ensured a plural and inclusive constitutional democracy in his motherland. It is unfortunately not an example that many Asian and African leaders have had the will, the capacity or the character to follow.

Also on Groundviews, Sunanda Deshapriya drafted an imaginary open letter to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse by Mandela of what is expected of him:

At times I wonder what do you have to learn form us when you have become a strong defender and a close friend of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has made himself president for life, in practice. His path was completely different to ours and laden with violence. Another disappointing news is your close relationship with the king of the Swaziland, a most backward country in Africa. If you have chosen to follow the examples of Zimbabwe and Swaziland, there is nothing we can offer you.

Teeth Maestro from Pakistan thought that not many leaders can extract peace in the face of adversity:

Surprisingly as similar to Mandela being labelled by his right-wingers as Terrorist Mandela, Khan is similarly painted as Taliban Khan mostly by his opponents, predominantly settled on the left-wing. Such resistance, is in my opinion, merely because driven by his opponents who see these “peace talks” attempts to disrupt their own established control on Pakistan. The name calling will never stop true genuine leaders, in fact, it is in the face of such adversity that actually drives them harder to continue their struggle for whats best for their country – Peace

In 1990, the Indian government granted Mandela its highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India). Upon his death, India declared five days of national mourning for Mandela. He is widely revered in the country, but it seems some have never seen his photo. Poet, blogger and satirist Farrukh Hossaini tweeted:

This post is part of Global Voices special coverage Remembering Nelson Mandela.

December 27 2013

PHOTOS: Humans Of South Asia

In 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton began photographing strangers on the streets of New York, asking them a few questions, and sharing their story online. After three years, he put together the Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook page, and as the project grew in popularity, professional and amateur photographers across the world began to replicate the idea with blogs and Facebook pages highlighting photos and stories of people from their regions.

Take a look at how Humans of New York has inspired photographers across South Asian countries.

India

Screenshot of the Humans of India Facebook Page

Screenshot of the Humans of India Facebook Page

Since its start on June 1, 2012, the Humans of India Facebook page has attracted more than 108,700 followers and been shared by more than 17,800 people. Megha Majumder, the CEO of Humans of India Facebook page, explained in an interview to Mashable:

There's this word that I fell in love with a while back: sonder. It's the realization that every random passerby is living a life that is as vivid and intricate as your own, complete with their own thoughts, feelings and emotions. And to them, you're just a passing figure on the street, too. Sonder seized my awareness –- people were no longer just strangers

A decoration of the body, an enhancement of the soul ॐ. Image by Humans of India. Used with permission.

A decoration of the body, an enhancement of the soul ॐ. Photo by Humans of India. Used with permission.

“I'm pretty sure that love and light have something to do with each other. That's why Diwali's cool. Lots of love in the air.” Photo by Humans of India. Used with permission

Similar initiatives were taken on by projects like Humans Of Bangalore, Humans of Mumbai, Humans of New Delhi (1, 2), Humans of Hyderabad and Humans of Lucknow. Most of these pages accept crowdsourced submissions.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangalore page

Screenshot of Humans of Bangalore page

Bangladesh

Humans of Bangladesh is a crowdsourced project that has gained more than 2,050 followers since its start on July 19, 2012.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh blog

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh blog

There is also another new project, started in November 29, 2013, by Bangladeshi photographers also called Humans of Bangladesh, which is followed by more than 4,700 people.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh by Bangladeshi photographers.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh by Bangladeshi photographers.

Also available is the Humans of Dhaka page.

Maldives

The Humans of Maldives Facebook page was launched on August 10, 2013 and is followed by more than 2,300 people.

Screenshot from Humans of Maldives Facebook page

Screenshot from Humans of Maldives Facebook page

Bhutan

Inspired by Humans of New York, the Humans of Bhutan page began in September 2012 and has continued to expand its collection of photos one portrait at a time.

Screenshot of Humans of Bhutan webpage

Screenshot of Humans of Bhutan webpage

Nepal

The Humans of Nepal page, which began on June 7, 2013, celebrates the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of Nepal.

Screenshot from Humans of Nepal

Screenshot from Humans of Nepal

Pakistan

The Humans of Pakistan page was launched in July 2012, and a similar Humans of Pakistan page started on August 22, 2013. The pages are followed by a few hundred people.

screenshot of the Humans of Pakistan Facebook page

Screenshot of the Humans of Pakistan Facebook page

It seems that city pages are more popular, such as Humans of Islamabad and Rawalpindi (3,416 followers), Humans Of Kashmir (1,209 Followers), Humans of Sindh (3,521 followers), Humans of Lahore (7,057 followers), and Humans of Karachi (99,647 followers).

Letter by Sakina. Image courtesy Humans of New York and Humans of Karachi

Sakina Gheewala. Photo courtesy Humans of New York and Humans of Karachi

Sakina Gheewala wrote a letter to Humans of New York creator Brandon Stanton, which was featured in Humans of New York page, explaining how the project had touched her:

Dear Brandon,

My HONY book arrived in Pakistan today. Though it was five months late, it was my favorite birthday present of the year.

In a country where people fight for survival everyday, I'm one of the fortunate few whose biggest worry right now is getting through medical school. In my part of the world, people like me, no matter how much we try to deny it, live in a bubble. And our problems are called “first world problems.” Maybe it will surprise people to see a “Pakistani” so in touch with the Western World. To see something other than the hatred that the world seems to notice radiating from here. But in my little bubble here in Pakistan, I find inspiration in the stories shared on Humans of New York, because they depict more than what the common man perceives. Yes, Pakistan as a nation suffers more than the rest, we do have a billion and one problems, but HONY reminds me that above everything else we are individuals. That just how every Pakistani is not the same, neither is every American. It reminds me to love and respect everybody– something many people here tend to have forgotten. The pictures and stories on HONY almost always make me feel like anything is possible.

Thank you,
Sakina

Pakistan Idol Makes Some Music Dreams Come True, Crushes Others

Screenshot of Pakistan Idol

Screenshot of Pakistan Idol promo

For the first time, Pakistan has its own version of the popular Idol singing competition. The first episode of Pakistan Idol was broadcast on December 6, 2013 by Geo Television Network under the tagline ”Jo Hai Dil Ki Awaz”, meaning the sound of the heart. 

The series, which aims to find undiscovered Pakistani singers between the ages of 15 and 30 years old, follows the same format as the original British series Pop Idol, with a panel of judges selecting singers who will eventually compete on live television. The winner is determined by viewers who cast votes via telephone, text messages and online.

The Idol format has been wildly successful in other parts of the world, with an estimated 460 million people – or roughly 15 percent of the planet's population – having watched some version of the singing competition.

With TV presenter Bushra Ansari, singer-songwriter Hadiqa Kiani, and rock musician Ali Azmat in the judges’ seats and actor Mohib Mirza hosting, the show seems to have already captured the imaginations of many in Pakistan:

Tens of thousands of hopefuls auditioned for their chance at stardom, according to the series. 

Nadeem F. Paracha, a journalist and columnist for Dawn newspaper, praised the show:

@FarrukhKPitafi: Watching #PakistanIdol on Geo Entertainment right now” Pretty good, in a kitsch way. Healthier than anything else on TV.

— Nadeem F. Paracha (@NadeemfParacha) December 6, 2013

But like the original Pop Idol, whose judges were notoriously candid with their harsh criticism of contestants, Pakistan Idol has already irked some viewers, with some complaining that the judges’ comments are “rude”. 

Farhan Janjua at Guppu.com wrote:

In various instances from 2nd and 3rd week audition episodes of Pakistan Idol, judges are seen passing extremely rude remarks and comments — many of which are easily interpreted as offensive and insulting — it appears they didn’t get the memo that there’s a line between being blunt about one’s singing ability and mocking someone for who they are. Unfortunately, the judges of the first season of Pakistan Idol appear to have taken this line for granted.

Journalist, columnist, author and TV host from Pakistan Dr Shahid Masood also appeared to be unhappy from the insults of the judges:

They way the judges are taunting and making fun of contestants in Pakistan Idol is disgusting. First just Bushra and now Ali and Hadiqa too!

— Dr Shahid Masood (@Shahidmasooddr) December 15, 2013

Adil Najam, an academician and professor of international relations, earth and environment at Boston University, tweeted: 

Nothing funny about being mean. If ‘object’ of your humor not laughing with you, then you are laughing at them. Not good, #PakistanIdol.

— Adil Najam (@AdilNajam) December 14, 2013

Others weren't convinced about the inclusiveness of Pakistan Idol. Saleha Khan pointed out that the show passed over the war-torn province of Balochistan, the largest and poorest of Pakistan:

Screenshot showing Pakistan Idol judges

Screenshot of Pakistan Idol judges

The judges have also raised the ire of some with their recent rejection of a talented young women from Punjab named Maria Meer, who became a sort of social media celebrity after her appearance on the show. 

Roha, a member of Kuwait's national women's cricket team, tweeted: 

Faizan Lakhani, a journalist based in Karachi, tweeted: 

Even before the controversy surrounding Meer's rejection, web designer and photographer Fursid doubted that music was at the heart of the show:

#PakistanIdol is not about music. I mean, look at the judges, the songs etc. It's just about rating & entertainment purely.

— FurSid (@fursid) December 7, 2013

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