Thursday, April 22, 2010

editing editorial pages

editing the editorial pages of a newspaper can be a tricky job at time -- but its something that one should take with a bit of humour -- if you dont do that then you wont be able to do your job properly -- and sometimes you will make changes to an article that will be misconstrued or misunderstood -- or sometimes it will simply be a difference of opinion -- the worst thing would be though if you lost a good writer because of that

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What is an Indian FM channel doing in Karachi???!!

yes you read it right -- last night while driving to do an errand i turned on the radio and came across an FM channel where the host was talking in what appeared to be Gujarati -- initially i thought it was perhaps a new channel in gujarati -- apna karachi 107 FM has a segment in Gujarati i believe as well so perhaps someone took the initiative to cater to karachi's sizeable gujarati-speaking population. However, this morning again, as I was checking various FM channels, I came across the same one -- 93.5 FM -- with a man and a woman both talking in a mixture of what seemed to be urdu, English and Gujarati -- the songs were all indian but that doesnt necessarily mean that the channel would be indian because many pakistani FM channels also air Indian songs -- but then came an ad for Bisleri which is India's leading mineral water provider -- Bisleri is not sold in Pakistan so the ad couldnt be for Karachi -- and then it made sense -- this was clearly an FM channel coming from the other side that the border -- Sindh borders Gujarat and hence the Gujarati-speaking RJs -- then i did some googling and found that Ahmedabad has a channel whose frequency is FM 93.5 -- the distance between Ahmedabad and Karachi (as the crow flies) is around 360 miles -- Rajkot, also in Gujarat state, has a channel whose frequency is also 93.5 FM and it is closer to the Pakistan border -- but the distance between Karachi and Rajkot (which adjacent Jamnagar and not too far from the Rann of Kutch) would be still a formidable 230 miles or so -- formidable for FM radio waves to travel -- so does India have boosters near the border -- because till a few days ago this FM channel wasnt available in Karachi -- is this an accident or deliberate -- remember the Azm-e-Nau exercise is going on right now - very close to the border with Rajasthan in Khairpur Tamewali (which is in the Cholistan desert) -- while i dont mind another channel to listen to, and one with a decidedly different sound, i wonder what PEMRA has to say about this -- does remind me just how (physically) close we are to India

Saturday, April 17, 2010


at work today -- we make two days pages on sat which means four pages in all -- a colleague was talking of an impending visit to the US, via dubai and to LAX non-stop -- wanted to ask her how long the flight would be -- and what do i do? i said: "acha, so how many words?" --

The people need to know the truth

Editorial -- Express Tribune -- April 18

Benazir Bhutto’s death was not the result of a few, frenzied militants acting on their own. There seems to be a very real conspiracy behind the blast that killed her. There was evil afoot at every stage. It was aimed at ensuring the country’s most significant political leader would not return alive from her last outing at Liaquat Bagh. By denying Ms Bhutto adequate security, by failing to direct provincial authorities to ensure it was offered to her, former president Pervez Musahrraf at the very least connived and conspired in this. In many ways he is responsible for the fact that she is not amongst us today.

In his comments on the report which he made a day after its release, President Asif Ali Zardari spoke of being vindicated; of the PPP’s apprehensions regarding the murder being upheld. Some of what the report says certainly answers questions about why the government led by Benazir’s party has struggled to make headway in the investigation. It would appear that quarters that wield far more influence than governments made up of civilians may be involved at some level. The knowledge that we are helpless against them is disquieting. It is a reminder of the kind of state we live in and the limitations that in so many ways bind and tie the hands of democratic governments.

The UN report has drawn up some telling conclusions as to the henchmen who executed the plan. The city police officer (presumably for Rawalpindi, which is where the tragedy occurred), Saud Aziz, quite evidently played a prominent role in ensuring that the whole truth could never come out. Indeed, he acted in a way precisely diametrical to that expected of a key investigator, working to conceal key facts rather than to uncover them. The report says he ensured doctors did not carry out a post-mortem – and issued the order (which was hotly-contested at that time by the media as well) to hose down the crime scene. This effectively destroyed any hope that investigators or forensics would have of retrieving any meaningful evidence from the spot of the assassination. There is more evidence that points to a plan worked out at the highest levels; of the involvement of elements too powerful to touch. Rather shockingly the report suggests Mr Aziz’s orders regarding the scene of the crime came from military headquarters and the man who at the time headed military intelligence.

The trail that led up to the assassination becomes clearer. Why would such persons concern themselves with any kind of cover up if they were not somehow a party to what came before. We are all aware of just how intricately orchestrated the murder was, with multiple elements apparently in place to ensure she had no chance of survival. The fact that Ms Bhutto escaped unhurt from a previous attempt to kill her in Karachi may have made those out to get her still more determined. We know too that planning and implementation at this level is something that only a limited number of persons or organizations are capable of. This information in itself exonerates those at whom fingers have been pointed, including Asif Ali Zardari himself. Indeed the UN quite plainly states he or other members of the PPP were not involved, even if there was a failure by them too to provide their leader adequate security. The role of the intelligence agencies, in directing suspicion a certain way and in churning out and then circulating dubious stories about phone calls from Dubai fits in with the broader picture drawn up in the shocking report.

Following its release, Mr Zardari has again emphasized that his party does not seek revenge. While that may be a decision that he is making also in his capacity as Ms Bhutto’s husband, the fact is that the people of Pakistan deserve to know better. They deserve to know the truth – and it really is up to this government and parliament (with the 18th amendment passed now and its supremacy ensured) to ensure that they do.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

writers that you may get to read

the first 4 days the op-ed pages have had the following writers: Farzana Versey, Salman Masood, Sami Shah, Ayesha Siddiqa, Quatrina Hosain, Osman Samiuddin, George Fulton, Mubasher Lucman, Omar Bilal Akhtar, Pervez Tahir, Aaker Patel, Marvi Memon,
Amina Jilani, Kamran Shahid, Khalid Aziz, Dr Rubina Saigol, Fasi Zaka, Dr Meekal Ahmed, Faiza S Khan, Wajahat S Khan, and Feryal Gauhar -- the rest of the week you can expect to read Fahd Hussain, Naveen Naqvi, Dr Asad Zaman, Zafar Hilaly, Sanaullah Baloch, Mikail Lotia, Shandana Minhas, Khusro Mumtaz, Mohd Waseem, Rasul Baksh Rais, Ayesha Ijaz Khan, Absar Alam, Talat Hussain, Ahmed Rafay Alam, Munizae Jahangir, Javed Ch, Abbas Athar, Farhat Taj, Shahid Amin and soon Omar A Khan -- and these are all regulars -- doesnt include unsolicited articles -- and others that may be approached in the near future or are being approached

All's well that ends well

Editorial -- Express Tribune -- April 14

Pakistanis and Indians love a good wedding, especially when it involves famous people who also happen to make a pretty couple. Rational and forward-looking people on both sides of the border will be happy and relieved that after the initial fiasco and controversy Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza have managed to tie the knot. This, by all accounts, is a happy end to what some had feared would become a long, drawn-out matter. Was Shoaib already married and if not then what was Ayesha Siddiqui doing insisting that he was? Was he duped into marrying a girl who was not the one he said he had met over the internet? And if that was the case, could he be that gullible?

Then came charges that he had defrauded Ms Siddiqui, after which Indian police quizzed him and took his passport into their possession. All this happened until a few days before their marriage on April 12, and that left many people wondering what would eventually happen. While the Pakistani and Indian media focused on this – a bit too much some would say – behind the scenes a deal was more or less made. An announcement was made that Shoaib Malik had divorced Ayesha Siddiqui (one Indian newspaper also claimed that a hefty settlement had been agreed upon) and he was then free to marry Sania Mirza.

Now that the two are united in holy matrimony it would be good if people let them be. To rue her choice and lament about why she couldn’t have found a boy in India is as bad and jingoistic as saying that she is a ‘qaum ki bahu’. She is neither. Sania Mirza is simply Shoaib Malik’s wife, and he her husband. We wish them a long and happy married life.

A new agenda for South Asia

Editorial -- Express Tribune -- April 14

The new goodwill in Washington between Pakistan and its hosts has been becoming increasingly obvious by the day. In a meeting with visiting Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his delegation US President Barack Obama has made some fairly clear-cut assurances that America has no intention of grabbing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and trusts its ability to safeguard it. The comments are especially relevant in the face of past US warnings that the Taliban were seeking to seize weapons and were indeed desperate to obtain a nuclear device.

The very possibility of this conjures up visions that are too awful even to contemplate. However, as the US president himself said so to Prime Minister Gilani, Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are ‘immaculately well guarded’. Of course differences remain. During the most recent round of talks the most significant ones concerned Pakistan’s opposition to a ban on new weapon production. The reasons cited for this by Prime Minister Gilani seem logical, only if it reflects Islamabad’s quest for parity with a much more powerful neighbour. And while one can understand that compulsion given Pakistan’s history with India, it may well be worth pointing out here that both countries have between them a major chunk of the world’s poor.

The bulk of both their populations – and this is something we both need to accept – is poor, malnourished, vulnerable to all kinds of diseases and finds it difficult just to find two square meals a day. The point being made here is that while demanding a civilian nuclear energy deal is all well and good, having nuclear energy will not eliminate poverty in Pakistan and neither will it help feed and house the millions who live below the poverty line. To that end, Pakistan – and indeed India – both need to sort out matters themselves and realize that an arms race is in nobody’s interest. If America can help in this then it will be seen by the people of the subcontinent in somewhat positive light.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A new name for a province

Editorial -- Express Tribune -- April 13

The deaths of at least five people in Abbotabad on Monday after protests against the NWFP’s name-change turned violent are most tragic and serve to remind us just how emotional this whole issue is. The lives were lost after police tried to break up protests which had been continuing in the city since the passage of the 18th amendment in the National Assembly late last week. The protesters are part of a movement that seeks to create a new province from NWFP’s Hazara district on linguistic grounds and bases its argument along the same lines as the one that enabled the province to get a new name Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. That said, it is worth pointing out that living in a democracy often means having to accept the views of the majority and this is precisely what has happened in the case of the people of Hazara vis-a-vis the ANP’s successful challenge to the province’s existing – colonial – name. It also means that one can express divergent views but within the boundaries of the constitution and preferably through one’s elected representatives. In that context, one may ask that why wasn’t this disagreement or dissension channelled through Hazara’s MNAs and MPAs when discussions were going on to draw up the draft of the 18th amendment?
We would like to counsel caution and restraint on all sides for now given that the political and administrative centre of the province happens to be in a Pashto speaking area. The police action – which the ANP will inevitably say was unavoidable – is only going to inflame passions further and for that very reason the onus lies on the provincial government to direct the law-enforcement agencies and the local administration in Abbotabad to proactively take steps to defuse the tension. As for the protesters, they need to understand that it would be best if they were to make their point through parliament not in the street.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

new paper coming out on april 12

the new paper that i work for is finally coming out tomorrow (April 12) -- initially in Karachi -- and then in Lahore and Islamabad -- the first day we have Ayesha Siddiqa plus the Pakistan Cricinfo editor, a former founder member of Blackfish, a published author of a book on India and Pakistan and being Muslim, a television host and someone who writes regularly in the NYT -- there is also Zahoor, arguably Pakistan's best political cartoonist

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mysterious plane spotted at Karachi airport

Yesterday had to make a quick dash to Lahore -- Took a PIA flight at 3 pm -- the plane reversed from the gate and was slowly taxiing to the beginning of the runway -- and i have a habit of looking out of the window as much as i can -- and i saw one of the PAF sheds on one side -- you can tell from its camouflage colours -- and in front of it were three unmarked jets -- with very few windows -- they did not have any tail design or colour -- one however had a blue and red marking on the fuesalage and it said 'meridian' -- saw the same plane when i got back to Karachi later that night. The plane that I saw is kind of identical to the one shown in the picture here. The issue is that it's not a military plane but a private one and hence the question arises that what is it doing at Karachi airport. (Juxtapose this with a well-researched and detailed report by Jeremy Scahill that appeared in The Nation in November 2009 of the presence of US private contractors in Karachi hired by the US government to keep track of the Taliban -- the story came in the American magazine The Nation and was never denied by Washington).

Did a Google check right now and some other research and it turns out that the plane which said 'Meridian' is owned by Meridian Airways, a charter company based in Accra, Ghana and Ostend, Belgium (odd given the two very different geographical locations). Also that its name used to Air Charter Express and that it had changed its name to Meridian recently. More digging revealed that the company flies for the British Ministry of Defence and is engaged in flying to Afghanistan and that one of the airports that is used is RAF Lyneham. Pictures on planespotting websites showed its fleet of planes at airports in Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
The plane looked very similar to other aircraft that have appeared in news stories every now and then on the whole so-called 'rendition' programme in which the CIA uses private aircraft to ferry prisoners to various countries where they are then interrogated so that US laws regarding prisoners and torture don't have any bearing. Since the UK and the US are both engaged in Afghanistan and it is known -- at least to journalists who are interested in this region -- that Karachi is often used as a port where supplies are sent to the western armies in Afghanistan, the presence of such a plane at Karachi airport needs some investigation. Who came on it? What was it being used for? And how many such planes use Karachi airport in a week? A month? We are taxpayers and our taxes go to pay for installations such as Karachi airport and for the salaries of the air traffic controllers who interact and guide these planes to land -- surely we need to know --who is going to tell us this?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spoken like a president

Editorial -- Express Tribune (coming out soon in the market)

President Asif Ali Zardari was quite on the spot when he said during a charged speech in Naudero over the weekend that the 18th amendment would prove to be a milestone in the country’s history. Speaking on the occasion of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 31st death anniversary, the president said that the first two years of the PPP-led government had been spent “strengthening democracy and institutions”. A day prior to this, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had also said pretty much the same thing – and one would wholeheartedly agree with the assessment of both these men. The 18th amendment, when passed, would be arguably one of the most important amendments to the Constitution of 1973 in that it would hopefully make parliament and its leader -- the prime minister -- the main source of authority and power. It will do away with the infamous Article 58 (2)(b) which has been used by military dictators in the past to dissolve parliament and also put in place a mechanism for appointing judges to the Supreme Court in a manner that will hopefully avoid the kind of confrontation that happened not too long ago between the judiciary and the executive. As for strengthening institutions and the federation, there can be really no debate on that given that one of the key actions will end up in the elimination of the concurrent list, which has been a long-standing demand of the smaller provinces. That alone, to some extent, will go some way towards strengthening the federation and will allow the provinces greater control over affairs of governance and state that should have been in any case been theirs to look after.

Having said this, an impartial look at the performance of the PPP-led government would suggest that the president as well as the prime minister have a lot to do in the months ahead and cannot afford to rest on the laurel of pushing through this historic piece of legislation. For instance, while the constitution does quite clearly mention that the president has immunity from prosecution in a court of law during the time that he is president, the issue has cropped up because of the deal that Mr Zardari and his late wife brokered with General Pervez Musharraf vis-à-vis the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance. And this would not have been necessary had the president not had several criminal cases registered against him for alleged acts of corruption committed when Ms Bhutto was prime minister. In that context, it would be fair to say that to a great extent Mr Zardari’s image/reputation has not improved over time and allegations of corruption, nepotism and favouritism have plagued this government.

Perhaps the passage of the proposed 18th amendment will help in setting things right for the president in that once implemented it will end up curtailing the powers of the president and make his position a figurehead symbol – as mandated/envisaged in the 1973 Constitution. So for him to acquiesce – and gracefully at that – in what to some may seem the emasculation of the president can only mean that perhaps Mr Zardari has matured as far as politics in concerned. Before concluding we would like to raise one particular – and quite important – point with reference to the planned constitutional changes. This relates to the constitutional provision which requires that the head of state be a Muslim – an outcome when the words ‘Islamic Republic of’ were added to the country’s name. This requirement is patently unfair and discriminatory towards the millions of non-Muslims who are citizens of this country, and who by the Constitution’s own provisions are entitled to equal protection/treatment in the eyes of the law. It would be good for the nation if this particular contradiction was also addressed and resolved as a result of the 18th amendment.

when 'dysfunctional' is not dysfunctional

why in the world are some pakistani newspapers continuing to use 'dysfunctional' to describe the AJK chief justice -- dont they know what it means - if the official communication suspending him used that term then it needs to be put in single quotes -- surely someone in the newsrooms of these newspapers should know that the word 'dysfunctional' is not used in that sense -- wonder what will readers think of the newspaper itself when they see something like this

Friday, April 2, 2010

The power of Facebook

Call it boredom or living the life of a loser but yesterday I decided to play an April Fool's prank on facebook -- just to see the reaction that it would get -- a good joke is always one which people will or should fall for, and hence believability is an issue -- with rumours of late alleging that I am about to switch jobs I thought what better to say just that -- so the facebook status page said that i had decided to 'call it a day' and to 'take the other offer' -- the prank lasted for a few hours, well from early afternoon till late evening when i told people who kept asking me where i was heading to and why i had left to note today's date -- several phone calls and sms's were received and a couple of people said that they had heard i was leaving -- some at work also got calls asking them why i had resigned

hence the title of the posting is quite apt