Thursday, March 25, 2010

Perils, Politeness and Paranoia

I arrived in Pakistan on the 15th of March after a gap of almost two years. Since my arrival the biggest thought on my mind was terrorism. It took me more than a week to stop worrying about suicide and other kinds of blasts. During that period, whenever I passed through security, each step towards towards the metal detector, sight of the men behind sandbags with guns pointed at you, barriers at all main roads of city reminded me of the movie Hurt Locker. I felt like walking in mine field where anything could happen at any time. During that crucial first weeks, any parked vehicle, motorcycle made me think that may be this one could go off... Wandering men/boys on the street made me think of all possible nightmares... I know that all of that is due my paranoia which you develop after spending too many days in a developed and secure society. I did not see or get that sense of anxiety among the general public. If any tragedy happens in any of the border towns or smaller places in far flung areas, no one talks about them except the news channels. If there is a blast in a major city (small or big) there is hoo ha, fear and agitated discussions for few days and all is forgotten as if nothing happened. Life goes on as before.

It sometimes brought tears my eyes to see the people who are involved with security checking--the "fodder" of the society who are at the highest risk to be blown off-- are doing their job with utmost politeness. In my view, some are nice and respectful to the point of risking their lives. Like the last week I had work in a highly secure building. During the few days I visited the place the guards became extremely nice to me just because I was "frequent" visitor, may be because of my gender and also because I treated them with respect and was very forthcoming to getting my belongings checked!!! While it feels really nice to enjoy the respect and trust, but at the same time I feel sorry for my country where we are slowly being forced to forego our culture of Tahzeeb, hospitality, care and trust in the name of security. Of course security comes first, but is there no other alternative? Are we doomed to live in a police state forever? I hope that we do not lose our culture of trust, respect and politeness in the mindless fight of terrorism and the state of paranoia, denial and fear is only for now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Development Sector in Pakistan

There is a mafia in the development sector of Pakistan and let me confess, I am part of it. The big sharks are the donors like USAID, UN agencies, World Bank, ADB, DfID, different foundations etc. Then there are big research and program organizations like Population Council, Asia Foundation, FHI, JSI, WPF, Path Finder etc. The third tier would be the large national level "NGOS" like Rozan, Amal, Sahil and many others who get funding from the donors or other the large international organizations. The last tier would be organizations who are working at local level ranging from small one man shows like RH-Aid to large grassroots organizations like Bunyad, Behbood etc.

These organizations have different missions and mandates, however the common denominator among them is "development" which means that they are working towards "developing" our country. We can say that their work is supposed to improve lives of Pakistan's population.

My critique to all of these organizations, especially those who are working on pure or the so called operations research to show what is their dollar for dollar impact for Pakistan. The only measurable and visible impact is on the people who are lucky enough to find work with these organizations. Those staff have no doubt benefited tremendously from the millions of dollars channeled in the name of research and development to our country. In the last 5 years a few hundred million dollars were thrown to the maternal and child health sector. What did the ordinary people of Pakistan, gain from those millions!!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Leisure is a privilege- especially for girls and women in Pakistan. A girl in a village in Balochistan would spend all her time doing household work like washing dishes, cleaning their mud-floor house, cooking, bringing water, taking care of the young and the old in the family.

Is leisure fun? What is leisure? Does spending time doing nothing, chatting with friends, taking a nap count as leisure. Leisure is something that you do to spend your time enjoyably. It implies that you have the economic and social means to do that.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Taslima Nasrin's Burqa article

Self proclaimed religious scholar and feminist from Bangladesh (now estranged citizen) landed herself in a fresh series of controversy with her latest views on Burqa Let's Think Again About The Burqa, the traditional covering garb of many South Asian women. This article was published by Outlook India (and others) and immediately sparked off riots resulting in the deaths of 2 civilians in Kannada!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The pushes & pulls of modernity and mediavilsm

How do you define modernity and traditionalism very much lies with the person who is defining it. To some the dichotomy of modernity and traditionalism is a parallel to the duality of Oriental and Occidental. To name a few, just the notion of use of technology, especially those related to means of communications are very modern, very Western, to those who got them as ‘imported; foreign technological goods. In some cases, to a father in a village in Pakistan watching an advertisement of sanitary napkin while his young daughter is around is a ‘modern’ and ‘foreign’ idea and in this context modernity is of course not taken very positively. A scholar might reflect differently on this and consider the acceptance of a female to lead Namaz (Muslim prayer always led by a male) as "modern". The idea of modernity is also very temporal though there are many who remain fixated with the idea of maintaining the 'purity' of a practice or concept by following the 'words' of the law rather than the 'spirit.' However, with the passage of time there is an acceptance of certain technologies or social norms as traditional which originally started out as radical and modern. For example, though the Muslims do not eat non halal meat (non Kosher) but those residing in Western countries where access to such food is hard or impossible, many Muslim scholars have given the verdict that it is allowed to eat the non halal meat of those animals permitted by Islam. Similarly, there is a considerable amount of debate going on regarding the issue of female seclusion and purdah, both in the Occident and the Orient. Some call it a privilege and some a sign of oppression, and how it is practiced and to what degree it is observed is also a matter of preference for different people and is according to their reading of Islam. While Modernity by itself is a complex, dense and multi-layered concept which does not have very specific contour and shape, I considers the current transition of Muslims towards adoption of more secular values a sign of "modernization".