Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The World is a Circular Firing Squad

There's a line in one of the greatest "Bollywood" classics, written by the scions of a couple of the greatest South Asian literary families—sons of Urdu poets, to be precise—and delivered by a minor but unforgettable character, "Soorma Bhopali" that goes "Yahaan hamaaree kya zaroorath hai; yahaan tho waisay hee aap kay naam ka warrant nikla huwa hai." [Who needs me? There's already a warrant out for your arrest.]

And that's the thought that's being going through my head as South Asia spirals downwards, some folks caution against jumping to conclusions, and others rally for peace. And I include the arguments over "Islamists did it. No, wait! Let's not jump to conclusions; it could be home grown! …" in that.

How is it realistic to look at everything as either-or? The mess South Asia is in--not to mention the rest of the world--there's enough blame to go around. Neo-purist fanatics (our Islamist/Jihadists; their Sanghis; our--speaking from North America—Christian and Jewish fanatics); civilizing imperialists; ethnic militants (Sena, MQM, racists of white and other hue); everybody's jingoistic nationalists; everybody's military-industrial-intelligence complexes…all feed off each other. In some cases, they work with each other. Just for example, Is it too much of a stretch to believe that what is happening in Karachi (in case either of you missed it) is being helped along by Indian Intelligence (and who knows who else) as a counterpoint to what they see as Pakistani Intelligence "doing Mumbai"? From where I sit, what's happening in the NW of Pakistan also has elements of a turf battle.

And as we all participate in this circular firing squad—including the agonizing over Muslims being targeted or profiled—the folks I list above make leaps and bounds in the struggle for the hearts and minds of their respective target constituencies…

And PS: how many noticed there were riots in the prettiest town in Africa's largest nation, too? Rally anyone?

Cross-posted on the iFaqeer, Wadiblog,, Pak Tea House, Urdu ke Naam, Doodpatti (by Tohfay) blogs.
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Monday, December 01, 2008

South Asia on Fire...

As I have said before, I am not a Marxist, but do now identify as a progressive. But it has to be said. The last time Mumbai had a tragedy like this, it was the Pakistani Left that came out with the sanest statement I could find. And now they seem to have done it again:
CMKP Strongly Condemns the Terrorist Violence in Mumbai
CMKP strongly condemns the barbaric and heinous acts of planned murder and destruction carried out by terrorists in Mumbai India. We express our sincerest condolence with all the people who fell victim to this savage crime.

We also salute the entire Indian Left that is doing its utmost to reign in reprisals by Hindu fundamentalist forces against the Muslims of India.
Read the rest at:
The other thing worth reading, I think, is Sandip Roy's piece, "Guns and bombs in booming India", in Salon over the weekend. It is very, very trenchant and could have been written--should have been written--about a lot of what's happening in Pakistan--or off the coast of Somalia today. In a globalized world, the issue of who is at the table and who feels left out and aggrieved is now globalized. This is not to diminish or dismiss the role of ideologies, nationalist jingoism, or political manipulation--of which there has been much in all the comments, news, and reaction about the Mumbai tragedy (a lot of people are making a lot of noise about Pakistan being a big factor in the story--but where are the people that know Pakistan first hand and can discuss it on the talk shows, amongst the experts and on NPR, one wonders). But as Sandip puts it:
I don't know who the young man in the Versace t-shirt was. But I can't shake his image – a gunman in five-star Mumbai.

He might be an Islamic militant from Pakistan or Britain. He might be a frustrated small city boy shut out of the IT economy. He might be a village boy who trained in a terror camp somewhere.

Whatever his motive, his message was loud and clear.

Pay attention to me, he and his young partners said to booming India.

And then these mysterious young men pulled the trigger.

Sandip says "India"; I'd say we all need to listen to that message.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Who Cares about Education in Pakistan?

You know, it's a good time to talk about education in Pakistan--especially with the op-ed in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristoff a couple of days ago that's been so much the talk of the Pakistani chatterosphere (online and off) since.

But this morning, the talk of the town is a piece of news that the Chief Justice (not Iftikhar Chaudhry, the person currently occupying that office) used his influence to get his daughter's grades/marks in High School "improved", to give her a better shot at various things one wants to do after High School and which are based, in Pakistan, often even more on that performance than it is in other places. [I pretty much started my journalistic career with a piece about that process; back in ... oh, another lifetime.]

As usual, you can read a good intro to the topic by Dr. Adil Najam on He also quotes, in full, the editorial from The News that he very aptly calls "even more dramatic than the story itself".

Now, since Education in Pakistan was pretty much the family business in my parents' generation, and having spent an agonizing 7 years at the receiving end of the government-run part of it myself, I have only one comment on the whole brouhaha; and to express it, I can only quote, with a small amendment, Amrita Pritam's tour de force:
ik ro'ee si dhi Punjab dhee thoon lakh-lakh maray veen;
jub lak-haan dhiyaan rondhiyaan tho kith-hay Waris Shah?

[One daughter of Punjab wept, and you wept millions of tears;
When thousands weep, where are you to be found Waris Shah?]
Why is this specific case of malfeasance news? Our education system was all hunky-dory till now? I remember one particular time in my own life, the night before an exam at the end of 12th grade when it first hit me up-front, and personally, where it really hurt, how messed up the system was--and I was doing rather well in it till then. But back then, I was just the son of a Professor in the sarkari system; I as just a middle-class kid in a middle class neighbourhood. Today, well, today, you're reading my blog post, and The News, and Naeem Sadiq--who, like I do now, lives "uptown"--and all the nice English-medium Brown Saahibs Imran Khan talks about, and maybe even the New York Times, care about the system that none of them or their kids partake in. [Which reminds me of another story, but I've gotta get back to my day job.]

Cross-posted on the, Pak Tea House, Doodpatti, by Tohfay blogs.
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Friday, September 26, 2008

Palin Meets Zardari; a Different Take

I am not sure I completely agree with, or endorse the thought, but this bears quoting. It's something Nosherwan Yasin said on a mailing list this morning about the whole Zardari hits on Palin brouhaha (in case you've not followed it, check out the post and discussion Teeth Maestro's blog here.):

Although I agree that such statements are inappropriate in foreign relations, I can't help but see an unintentional advantage (of sorts) of Pakistani chauvinism in dealing with such a character. The politically correct, hidden misogyny of the American politician really has no answer for the snide, smart @ss, belittling demeanor that Palin seems to exhibit. She reminds me of the typical sitcom girlfriend, you know the one that will not let passive guy X go out with his friends and Y humiliating him to a laugh track, constantly nagging and yelping without any real knowledge of anything.

But good old sexism, in societies where it is acceptable, such as Pakistan, provides a trump card.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

SAJA Panel Discussion on the South Asian Blogosphere

SAJA BRIEFING: The South Asian Blogosphere and How Its Changing the Media 8:35pm

The South Asian Journalists Association presents an online panel discussion among some of the best-known names in the South Asian blogosphere. They will discuss the state of the blogosphere (South Asian and otherwise) and how it is affecting how news and information about South Asia and the diaspora is gathered and shared. Sabahat Ashraf of iFaqeer; Anil Dash of; Karthik of; Maria Giovanna of; Arun Venugopal of

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Monday, September 22, 2008

As Gandhi would have put it...

I apologise for the hit-and-run post, and though I have great respect for the man, I am not a Gandhian. But following everything over the weekend, I am left with a thought this morning that channels Gandhi; A War on Terror would be a great idea--if either the West or Muslims choose to take up the idea.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

The More Things Change...

I am reminded of something my father said about 20+ years ago: "Over the decades, Pakistan has made wonderful progress in everything--except politics." [On my father, today, the 6th of Ramazan is his first "barsee", as we say in South Asia--the first anniversary of his passing by the Islamic calendar. Please do keep him, and us, in your prayers.] I am attaching an op-ed from the person who is Editor Reporting for The News in Karachi (one of the two largest English papers in Pakistan; this one is owned by the Jang Group) and is a family/childhood friend. Over the years, I have been amazed as I watched him evolve into something really rare--and almost unheard of in the US mainstream media today ;) --a truly objective journalist.

Two paras I'd like to quote in next comments:
"Pakistan is a somewhat strange country, one may concede. We are happy to give an unelected military general nine years in power but balk at allowing the same to be given to someone who is not rigging the elections. Only because we think one is a “decent man” and the other, in our eyes, is not. An officer who violates his own pledge to protect the Constitution is acceptable to us because of circumstances but a politician who breaks an agreement with a fellow politician cannot be trusted."
A word for "Non-Resident Pakistanis":
"Overseas Pakistanis, whose crucial remittances keep our boat afloat, are usually well meaning, but bitter at the same time. The fundamental difference between Indians and Pakistanis abroad, and here one is generalising, is that when Indians meet socially they talk about how to make things better for those back home. Pakistanis, instead, criticise what is happening in Pakistan and pat each other on the back for being lucky or fortunate enough to get out of the mess. It sometimes seems they take pride in predicting the end of Pakistan, as if by this happening their decision of leaving the country would be vindicated."
On issues that face Pakistan:
"Power of any kind is an issue. There are many who ask when our other power crisis will be over and who is responsible for the mess we are in today. The callous manner in which the Karachi Electric Supply Co has been handled leaves many questions in our minds. For example, what change was made by the army administered management when it was put in charge of the utility, apart from overcharging unsuspecting customers?

The selloff also had its critics, but the manner in which KESC was managed by its new owners left a lot to be desired. Then the upright German CEO was summarily dismissed, and finally the ownership again changed hands in very unclear circumstances. None of this happened in the time of Mr Zardari. But it is unclear what the present government has in store in terms of fighting the power crisis in the country. There seems to be no action on this front. Instead, as we have seen in the past, near and dear ones are being bestowed with cushy jobs."
And lastly:
"The bigger issue is whether Mr Zardari is up to the challenges before him. Possibly not. One of the reasons is that it is highly likely that there will be a power confrontation between the PPP and the PML-N. In this, the establishment is set to back the PML-N. With the exit of President Musharraf, all the old players are aligning with each other. Past friendships are being renewed. The Sharif brothers are more acceptable to our doubters at home and abroad."
And so the game continues. (Do read the whole Op-Ed here.)

Who benefits? Don't look now, but the most organized and well-thought-out force in Pakistan today is way to the right of any of us.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

On President Zardari

Just wrote this in reply to a birthday wish I got from a friend on Facebook, who mentioned that he will always remember this as the day we elected Mr. 10% as our President:

The supreme irony is that he got elected on a day that is celebrated as "Defence Day".

You and I don't have to like it, but the man--or should I say Da Man aka Maanroo Saeen--has more legal right to be President of Pakistan than Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto ever did. He might be as corrupt as his wife, Nawaz Sharif, and Imran Khan rolled into one, but he's also more politically savvy than all of them combined. Paradoxes are us, man! Democracy is messy, and all that cool stuff, what? After all, American elected--or gave 49% of the vote to--George W Bush not once but twice.

More later. I have a major project to launch this weekend.
Update: I posted a longer item on this issue later. Please do read it, too.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Palin Comparison...s

I'll have more to say on professional women and sexism later, but a couple of quick things:
  • I am surprised no one's calling her "Pit Bull Palin" yet. After all, she approved that nickname herself last night!
  • Just saw someone (a couple of someones, actually) post the following on Facebook. I HAD been wondering whether anyone had documented the criticism of Hilary for using the sexism card:

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Friday, August 29, 2008

What would Obama mean for Silicon Valley--and Tech/Industry generally?

One thing I have been wondering about Obama and what he said yesterday is what he means for Silicon Valley and Industry/Tech generally. Specifically, what does it mean to eliminate capital gains for start-ups, and stopping tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and giving them to companies that create jobs in the US of A? Care to comment:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ahmad Faraz, RIP; Haq Maghfirath Karay...

If there was every a time to to invoke the old line "Haq maghfirath karay, ajab azaad mard th-haa", it is today, as we mourn the passing of a titan.

From The News:

Legendary poet Ahmed Faraz passes away
Updated at: 1720 PST, Thursday, July 17, 2008

CHICAGO: Renowned poet and literary figure of Pakistan Ahmed Faraz died of kidneys failure here at a local hospital on Thursday.

He was under treatment at a hospital in Chicago.

Update: News reports and his family attest that he is still alive but struggling. Please keep him in your prayers. [09:34 Pacific Time.]

Saturday, July 12, 2008

On Zimbabwe, Mubgabe and the International Community

Just had the following to say about Zimbabwe to a friend who was despondent about the recent Security Council disaster on Zimbabwe:

"The Zimbabwe situation is not just a symptom of UN dysfunction. There's a couple of other layers to it: including Africans themselves not being able to bring themselves to go after a person who was once one off their most respected freedom fighters. The loud and aggressive posture Britain, for one, has taken about Mugabe--and for a very long time--grates even on my sensibilities as a person born in West Africa and who still remembers when Zimbabwe became independent. In fact, the British--and even the BBC's--attitude to Zimbabwe plays the same role George Bush's posturing on democracy does: driving people further into the arms of radicals, or at least making it difficult for people to stand what seems like the same side as them."

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Monday, April 14, 2008

If you're going to read one Op-Ed on Karachi...

Karachi at dusk

Karachi at dusk

We've had a lot of angst, and whatnot about the events in Karachi. Please do read the piece below. Kamal is a friend, too, but he's evolved into one of the most objective observers I know in the business--anywhere. [Yes, more so than I.]

Much as it is tempting to get angry at this or that party, the events of 1973--or Palestine in 2007/8--should force us to take a step back and think. And think not even the cycnical 'Who benefits from this turmoil?' that we've all come to do every time something happens in our country, but think 'Who loses from, as Kamal calls it, the "crippling [of Pakistan's] commercial capital?" no matter how justified one's personal outrage. Wasn't it the same people now crying out about the events of April 9 also the ones that expressed outrage and being boggled by the outrage and unrest at Benazir's assasination?

Often nations like ours cry out for a Mandela. But is it too much to ask for each of us to try and reach for Madiba's way of trying to heal a society that is fractured and at war with itself?
The Empire strikes back — again
[The writer is editor reporting, The News]

Once again Karachi is in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. The manner in which unidentified persons created havoc on April 9 within hours of a scuffle at the City Courts speaks of a conspiracy to undermine the writ of the state. As usual, the state was caught napping.

The events of April 9 need to be examined further, not swept under the carpet. Men in civilian clothes appeared on the streets and directed the burning of cars and initiating random incidents of firing. Nearly ten people have died so far as a result of the incidents that took place that day.

The police and Rangers, charged with law and order, were nowhere to be seen. This has become the routine in Karachi. Equally routine is the fact that no one is taken to task. Once the trouble dies down, it’s business as usual. And as present indications show, the new government is following the same strategy.

This is true not just of Karachi or Sindh. In the past couple of days, several incidents have taken place all over Pakistan, which indicate that the foundations of the Gilani government are being shaken. The attack on Arbab Ghulam Rahim may have been the work of a disgruntled PPP worker, but the attack on Dr Sher Afgan was most probably the work of a “higher” body. The violence in Karachi and the incidents that surrounded this were also the work of an organised network intent on crippling the country’s commercial capital for reasons best known to it.
More at:

Cross-posted on the iFaqeer,, Pak Tea House, Doodpatti, by Tohfay blogs.
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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pakistani Censorship Downs YouTube--Globally!

In my last post, I mentioned the then breaking story that the Pakistan Telecomm Authority was in the process of blocking YouTube from the country. The "reason" given a video that was disrespectful to "An Hazrat, Maulana Mohammad, Rasul Allah", as we are wont to say in Pakistan, or "The Gentleman, Our Lord, Mohammad, Prophet of God". Of course, amongst our wonderful, patriotic Pakistanis, there were the immediate questions about whether that in itself was a rumour or documented. Well, please do take a look at one of the documents that went out from the Pakistan Telecomm Authority to the ISP's on Siliconstani's blog.

The suspicions on the part of the grapevine is that this blocking/censorship happened when it happened because of videos that were ending up on YouTube of vote rigging--both in Karachi and Lahore and elsewhere. Though the brunt of the suspicion is about videos of rigging in Karachi, and pro- the MQM.

But, wait! There's more!!! Breaking news right now is that the way the regulatory organizations for the Internet in Pakistan went about blocking YouTube has caused an outage/inaccessibility of the site globally! Check out the BBC report here:

The first thing that went through my head when I saw that story was that people like me often hear from fellow Pakistani expats that we should not discuss our home country's dirty laundry in public--you know, like raising Internet censorship at meetings where Pakistan's technology industry is being discussed. I wonder what they think of sweeping our issue under the rug till a SNAFU like this happens does for the much-maligned Image of Pakistan that our PUPPIES (Pakistani Yuppies) keep talking about.

Interesting thing is, as I was saying earlier to someone, this case illustrates beautifully the issues related to censorship. If you accept that censorship is okay in some circumstances (the one that the British set the precedent for in South Asia just happens to be hurting the sensibilities of major communities--today's Shining India also continues to ban stuff on that basis, from Rushdie to blogs), then governments will inevitably use the power either ineptly, or maliciously.

Now, I am not one to buy into American exceptionalism, and am often the one in a discussion amongst immigrants to challenge the "Milk and Honey" view of our lives in this country, but the First Amendment to the US Constitution is written the way it is for a reason: "Congress shall make NO law restricting the freedom of speech". No if's, and's and but's; it's something even the US Supreme Court has never really lived up to. There is no such thing, as someone once said, as "being a little bit pregnant". Either you're okay with censorship, or you aren't.

The right way to control harmful speech, or offensive speech is NOT governmental control. It is in society; if you're offended, use the avenues reserved for that offense. If you harmed, use the methods for restitution of that harm. In some societies, it is law suits and other legal action (used to be that was what Muslims believed in, too); in others it is duels with a choice of weapon at dawn.

I am sorry, but I have paid a personal price in my life because I refused to live in the Gulf. Both my dear mother and my father-in-law would have loved it for me to take a job there and be nearer to them. And as for Pakistan, I cannot with a straight face keep on complaining about a "Show Cause Notice" from the Zia Regime for a small, very small Christmas message I put on the Contents page of a youth magazine in 1987 and yet say it is okay to block YouTube or Facebook. My conscience won't let me. If I am okay with the latter, then I should be okay with the former.

Censorship is censorship. If you're okay with censorship, please say so. I am not.

Cross-posted on the iFaqeer, Wadiblog,, Pak Tea House, blogs.
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Friday, February 22, 2008

Democracy Rules! Pakistan Blocks/Bans YouTube

There's an old (from our youth :p) Bollywood song that goes "Main ro'oon ya hansoon; karoon mai kyaa karoon?!" or "Should I cry or laugh; To do, what do I do?"

Users subscribing to the Internet though the PTCL (Pakistan Telecom Corporation Limited, the semi- or formerly-government-owned corporation), in particular, have been getting the following message today if they tried to access YouTube:

Dear Internet Users

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority ( directed all ISPs of the country to block access
to web site for containing blasphemous web content/movies.

The site would remain blocked till further orders from PTA. Meanwhile, Internet users can write to to remove the objectionable web content/movies because this removal would enable
the authorities to order un-blocking of this web site.

Best Regards

Technical Assistance Center
Micronet Broadband Pvt. Ltd.

For background, see:

Cross-posted on the iFaqeer, Wadiblog,, Pak Tea House, blogs.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Azad Karachi Radio Program10 Now Online

Program 10 of Azad Karachi Radio, the Urdu podcast I produce, is now online. The first program of 2008 has guest Mehdi Hasnain join iFaqeer and Cemendtaur to discuss the American Elections, the Pakistani situation and events with Ayesha Siddiqa in California as well as a media item.

The program mentions, amongst other things:
Program 10 of Azad Karachi Radio is availble here:

Formally speaking, Azad Karachi Radio is produced out of Silicon Valley and is a service of Azad South Asia, a collaborative media effort initiated by yours truly and Cemendtaur. You can reach the team at or leave comments on either this blog or at Azad Karachi Radio.

Again, please leave comments, feedback, suggestions, and other input by posting comments on our blog pages or via email at

Cross-posted on the iFaqeer, Wadiblog,, Pak Tea House, Urdu ke Naam, blogs.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The iFaqeer blog moves to

Just moved the domain of this blog to Nothing else changes, and the old URLs should still work.

Just added the new domain to my Technorati Profile, too.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kabul; Britain; Putting a Face on Blogging and Civil Society in Pakistan...

Sorry I have been MIA for a bit. A couple or three things jump out from the New York Times, NPR and the 'Net this morning.

Firstly, there's an op-ed in the NYT this morning by the country director for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting providing his personal perspective about the bombing of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, a watering hole (and just a place to hole up) for expats, particularly. And there have been other stories about Afghanistan in The Times, on NPR, other places in the last few days. It seemed to hit me; is it a coincidence that the Western Media and Zeitgeist is sitting up and noticing--or should I say acknowledging, since some information has always been around--that Afghanistan is down the tubes because the Taliban, as Mr. McKenzie tells us, have now started a policy of targeting westerners?

The other thing that jumped out at me was from a series that NPR is doing on Muslim Women in Britain.

As I have said umpteen times, until we sit up and notice that the folks who are adopting the niqaab in Britian today are not adopting the traditional ways of Muslims, but something new, we are only going to continue headlong towards the abyss as a planet. After all, does it make any sense to, on the one hand, say that the radicals are a throw-back to medieval times and that "[o]ne meets an increasing number of British Muslim[s]... who are saying … you should go back to the veil, you should go back to our traditional ways" on the one hand and then admit that, for one, the "Hizbut Tahrir's goal is to promote a global Islam, cleansed of all ethnic or cultural traditions." I mean, think about that!

As I have acknowledged before, it is good to see folks (including Muslims, especially in Britain--the US is a generation or so behind in these matters, but what can one do about that? some things just have to run their course) finally engage with the fanatical tendencies within Muslim communities in a more detailed way. But until and unless we all--both outsiders and within the community--stop framing the discussion as, how did Sylvia Poggili put it? being the discussion between people who are "secular" and those who are "devout"; between those who think Sharia is a good idea and those who are against it, we are doomed to have the "Clash of Fundamentalisms" be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Until we start to think about what parts of the Muslim Ideological landscape--like the equivalents in other faith communities and ethnic groups and so on--are the ones from which terrorism and militant, inflexible fanaticism stem and until even us Muslims stop saying this is just about Islam versus the West or that this modern neo-purist strain that is so dominant today is the same as "traditional Islam"--or, worse, The One True, Pure Islam as practised by The Prophet--we're up the wrong creek without a paddle.

And lastly, a shout-out to my peeps, so to speak. There's a clip on Google Video today of an interview with two of Pakistan's most prominent bloggers on an English-language breakfast show. Well worth watching, what with Pakistan in the news in such a big way.

[Original at The Teeth Maestro's blog.]

Cross-posted on the iFaqeer, Wadiblog,, and Pak Tea House, blogs.
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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Mohsin Hamid on Events in Pakistan

Mohsin Hamid's latest op-ed is pretty good. Recommended reading for anyone who wants to know how things looked/look from the perspective of the every day life in Pakistan. You can read it here, on the Washington Post site.

I attended a talk by him at Stanford last year, and my first reaction was that what he was saying, the world view and experiences were the experiences of any Pakistani of our age and station, so to speak. (I think he's about a year older than me.) And he writes well. It's good to have him around, with his facility with English and "global" culture to bring that voice, that view of the world to the table. And given his visibility and position as a globally-best selling author, to have what he says read and noticed.

Of course, I am still very disappointed with him and others of our generation and/or background--and this even includes, to some extent, folks like Imran Khan, who made sympathetic noises--for initially supporting the military take-over in 1999. But more on that as and when I can write--or maybe some readers can comment and discuss that aspect.

Cross-posted on the iFaqeer, Wadiblog,, and Pak Tea House blogs.
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