Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan


The failure of religion in Pakistan

Published here: Express Tribune

Inciting violence in the name of religion has become an all too common theme in Pakistan. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to whip up mobs into a frenzy whenever the divine is concerned. Religious faith provides a route to inner peace for individuals and all of the major religions share the golden rule, to treat others the way you want to be treated. In the case of Pakistan, it has deteriorated into a tool to promote violence and deny women’s rights. Why is religion failing us? Islam was never intended to be Pakistan’s identity. Now we’ve allowed it to be hijacked by fanatics who have subsequently sabotaged our constitution. That was never Quaid-i-Azam’s vision, nonetheless each amendment to the constitution further engrained fanaticism in our society at the expense of minority rights and freedom of speech.

_88966425_35a62f92-b8c5-49df-812e-b3d3db72d6a5The violent mob that descended on Islamabad to demand sharia law while participating in a protest for the hanging of a murderer was appallingly misguided. The attack on Easter in Lahore was disgusting. The government appears to have a bottomless stomach for this ongoing violence.

Pakistan’s government is helpless as long as religion is tolerated as justification for murder, rape, and violence. It has become the victim of its own mutated constitution and cannot differentiate between a sin and a crime. For instance, Christians celebrating Easter, the hanging of a murderer, and a woman’s protection bill could all represent symbols of betterment of our society. In practice, they are construed as secular concepts and a threat to Islamic principles.

In the rest of the world, we’re seeing the implications of this fanaticism that is broadcast nonstop. 20150912_blp502Muslim refugees escaping from ISIS might just get banned all together from Europe following terrorist attacks and ogling of women at public swimming pools. Looking at the US, a once farce of a candidate like Donald Trump has a real shot at the presidency since his statements about banning all Muslims or requiring them to carry an ID card are increasingly popular.

An ideal way to reverse this trend is for religion to be stripped from the constitution and for the rule of law to be supreme. Blasphemy law and the Islamic Council would also be abolished since these primitive laws and institutions have no room in a modern world. This would free everyone to observe their faith as they see fit and also provide personal freedoms to Pakistani men and women that the rest of the world takes for granted. Can any of this happen in our lifetime? The momentum doesn’t favor the optimistic as Pakistan’s government 2992already conceded to the mob in Islamabad and assured the protestors that it won’t amend the country’s blasphemy law or pardon those convicted of blasphemy. Will the government eventually learn from history and realize that each concession to these fanatics, dooms the nation to an even longer period of self inflicted hell? While military operations can destroy the terrorist infrastructure, the government will eventually need to step up and address the obsession with religion that has seeped into our identity. This is unlikely to happen until the voices of reason are loud enough to silence the madness of mobs.


Revolution, Inqilab & Azadi

Unfortunately, “democracy” only exists in Pakistan either through the lineage of a Bhutto or Sharif. While the masses are 53fd731036526increasingly fed up with the regurgitated choices offered to them every election year, PTI and PAT’s march was doubtful to bring about the changes they seek. In fact, these protests were an ill-timed distraction. Pakistan is already besieged with an IDP crisis and a military that is enthralled in conducting the Zarb-e-Azb operation in North Waziristan. Yes, there was electoral fraud along with discontent about the poor quality of life, but a call for a “Tahrir square” revolution is not the solution. Can any rational person claim that present day Egypt is the ideal model for the future of Pakistan?

22959-imagex-1403774824-884-640x480Nawaz Sharif’s government has failed to curb electricity blackouts which share a large deal of the blame for the crippled economy. Add to that the gross lack of social justice, poverty, extremism and one arrives at a toxic mix with the right ingredients for an uprising. Case in point, the murder of eleven protestors this past June would be unthinkable in any democratic nation. However, enticing the crowd with whimsical promises such as housing and jobs for everyone is cruel and doesn’t achieve anything. Instead, energies should be focused on becoming a formidable opposition in the parliament and coming up with a realistic plan to tackle the root causes of the issue such as the ever growing population, illiteracy and corruption.

It is also important to realize that for a revolution to occur in Pakistan the nation has to be one. Since Sindh, Baluchistan,928627_287858068066215_491543121_a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab are ethnic divisions within Pakistan, the very essence of revolution is missing. Rebellions are born amongst the people and not created overnight by foreign clerics in containers. For instance, the current crisis in Iraq is due to the fact that every single aspect of the Iraqi government was dismantled by the US, subsequently leading to a takeover of the country by ISIS. Iraq is now fractured along sectarian and ethnic lines possibly even facing disintegration.

While it was clear from the start that the Azaadi march and Inqilab were not going to bring about a revolution or the 10384676_10152311034194527_5735778053886220120_nresignation of Nawaz Sharif, the last few days have still been a wakeup call for the current government which has been left weak. While the government has agreed to form a committee for electoral reform it has clearly stated that resignation of the prime minister and fresh elections are off the table. Even though Imran Khan’s cause is commendable, his methods have been irresponsible and his demands inconsistent. He should use his influence to focus on electoral reforms rather than the misconceived call for an Arab spring style uprising, civil disobedience and resignations. Sending this farce of a democracy packing is not going to bring about a revolution in Pakistan. Instead, as many citizens have mentioned, Imran Khan should impose his revolutionary ideas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and make that into a shining example for the rest of Pakistan to strive for. Without a proven path to pursue, rhetoric rings hollow. Pakistan can ill afford more empty promises and chaos at the moment.


A visit to Greg Mortenson’s school in Korphe

Published at the Express Tribune. Featured in the Central Asia Institute’s newsletter, Alima

The allegations of fraud against Greg Mortenson were troubling to thousands of firm supporters of his mission to educate children, especially girls, in the isolated regions of Pakistan. When my summer trek to K2 basecamp started near the spot where Mortenson’s first school was constructed, I couldn’t resist stopping by the Korphe Central Asia Institute (CAI) to get some firsthand answers.

The first thing our guide pointed on during the short hike from Askole to Korphe was a newly constructed vehicle bridge. Two unfettered concrete supports still stood next to the new structure, marking the spot where Greg was forced to build a footbridge across the Indus to complete the promised school.

After crossing the river between Askole and Korphe, my group and I hiked for half hour up a steep set of switchbacks to reach town. We could hear the singing voices of kids before we even spotted the elementary school. When our climb ended, a neat building greeted us with honey colored walls and bright red borders; it stood out prominently from the neighboring mud huts.

There were 80 or so young boys in their blue and white uniforms reciting poetry in unison to their instructors as we entered the Haji Ali Memorial School. We begged them to continue and asked permission to take a few quick photos. In the girls classroom, timid faces looked up as I entered the room. They had been singing with full force but were too shy to carry on in front of new acquaintances.

Mohammad Hussain, a CAI employed teacher, gave us a tour of the 5 room building. Lessons scribbled on the chalkboards varied between English, science and basic arithmetic problems such as the total cost of groceries given the price of each item.

Hussain later showed us to his desk and called for tea. This gave us a perfect opportunity to get answers to the questions which were gnawing at the back of our minds. Hussain explained that he is now the only teacher at this school who is paid by CAI, but there are four others out of whom 2 are funded by NGO’s and 2 by the Pakistan Government. All uniforms, books and pencils are provided to the children free of cost by CAI.

Our tea came while Hussain and a couple other residents in the room jokingly reminisced about Mortenson stumbling into the village with torn clothes, hungry and completely exhausted. Only now can they laugh about it since Mortenson was disorientated and lost when he reached Korphe. As described in the book, Three Cups of Tea, the Korphe locals nursed Moretenson back to health and he promised to return and build a school.

Mortenson came back after 3 years and did fulfill his promise. The school was first built in 1995 but had to be brought down due to its poorly constructed foundation. It was then rebuilt with a stronger foundation and reinforced concrete. Currently the school has classes from Nursery up to 8th Grade. Plans for expansion of the school building are in the works and Mortenson is set to return in October of this year to oversee the addition of grades 9 and 10 to the program. Students who excel at this school are awarded full scholarships to attend colleges/universities in the capital, Islamabad. Hussain proudly told us that his own daughter is attending college under the scholarship program.

In the end I asked the Korphe locals if they had heard about the allegations against Greg Mortenson. They had and replied that the lack of media presence in the region has prevented them from telling their side of the story. The people of Korphe, Askole and other locals that I came across during my trek had nothing but immense appreciation for Greg Mortenson and his work. It is important to understand that the CAI is making efforts to provide education in distant corners of Pakistan where there is little to no presence of public schools. Throughout my trip in the northern areas of Pakistan I came across numerous blue CAI boards marking their institutions. I won’t attest to confirming the 250 or so institutions that the Central Asia claims to support, but this one was in fine shape. I know that the kids at this 1 school now have opportunities that were otherwise beyond their reach before the charity began and the locals backed up every aspect of 3 Cups of Tea that I could remember.


Freedom & responsibility

Freedom of expression should be a right of every man and woman, but in order to prevent abuses, people need to be accountable for their opinions. Anonymous speech in the form of monetary political campaign expenditures was already causing havoc in the US before “The Innocence of Muslims” ever went viral. The only purpose of the crudely made movie was to provoke the sort of madness and destruction we’ve witnessed.

The onus of this latest round of violence also lies with Sheikh Khaled Abdullah for airing an Arabic dubbed version of the film on Egyptian television. Few had heard of this movie previous to it being broadcasted on his show. Following the airing, riots erupted throughout the Middle East and other Muslim countries. One of the riots resulted in the death of 4 US diplomats in Libya. Would it be fair to say that he could have easily predicted the violence that followed? If so, the audience needs to hold him accountable and perhaps Egypt needs to consider revoking broadcast rights. In fact, the Al-Nas channel that aired the film had previously been suspended by the pre revolution Egyptian government for promoting religious and sectarian hatred.

Freedom of speech in the United States allows anyone to make as many moronic movies as they want. Ex prisoner and a bank fraud artist, Nakula Basseley Nakula took full advantage of this and paid $75 a day to several actors who thought they were working on a movie about ancient warriors in the desert. Their lines were later dubbed over without their permission. The movie was shown once in Hollywood to a nearly empty theatre after which it was dubbed into Arabic and posted on you tube.

Nakula needs to take responsibility for his work since it is not the role of the government and the Los Angeles police to keep him and his family in hiding. By doing so they are only enabling others to anonymously ignite violence around the world without being responsible for the consequences. Holding the angry mob that stormed the US embassy in Libya accountable is, of course, without question. Their actions were without excuse, but what is more important is working to reduce the risk of a similar event happening in the future.

Mullahs in Pakistan are already taking advantage of lingering frustration and have whipped up mobs into committing even more violence. Blocking you tube is not the solution and neither is denying visas to Google employees. The internet is full of blasphemous content regarding all religions but that does not give anyone the right to censor or kill and terrorize in the name of religion. The government should not fall prey to the extremists instead it should do everything in its power to curb the lunacy that is spewed by them.

Ultimately, the movie was intended to infuriate and that’s exactly the result it achieved. Now the producers of the movie and its supporters are pointing to the riots as evidence of Islam being a violent religion. Hence, the rioters played right into the hands of the Islamophobes who will use this as an opportunity to tout their views about Muslims being fanatics. The result could give support to candidates who are pro war and anti-Islam in a critical election year for the US. Mobs aren’t known for thinking clearly and these angry people are probably going to cause themselves harm if they continue. The anti-Islam protests have been the headlines for days now not to mention the Newsweek cover which has depicted 1.5 billion Muslims around the world as a single ferocious and angry entity. This crisis also brings attention to political parties which use religion to spur violence for political gain. Fox news is busy criticizing Obama’s policies in the Middle East. Mitt Romney called the Obama administration’s response to the attack on the US embassy in Libya “disgraceful,” and that he chose to “sympathize with those who waged the attacks”. The media needs to be careful because the last thing this world needs is another warmongering US President.

Day of love of the Prophet: 20 killed, over 200 injured in Pakistan

Aftermath: Students take to streets to cleanup


I see K2

Some photos published at Express Tribune

After talking about it, planning, and looking forward to the trek for years – our group finally set out on the 2 week adventure to Concordia. As with everyone else’s experience our flight was cancelled and we drove to Skardu from Islamabad. Our jeeps came to a halt in Askole after a few hard days of driving and we decided to spend 2 nights there in order to acclimatize before setting out. In hindsight 2 days in Askole is not essential but it proved beneficial for us since we did not go through a tour company and had not arranged for porters ahead of time.

Remnants of religious extremism in Chilas on the way to Skardu

Our “guide” came highly recommended but he turned out to be dead weight – he hadn’t been to the area for over 10 years and had no idea about anything. Hence, he earned the nickname of “anti-guide”. It is certainly possible to arrange this trip by oneself, but hiring a sensible guide will definitely have its advantages.

Finally after weighing our goods and determining the number of porters necessary to haul everything, we set out for Concordia. This part of the trek started out flat in the beginning and then turned into a trail of dust and cobble. The weather was hot and sunny but we all had our CamelBaks filled with water to ensure we stay hydrated.

We took over the planning responsibilities from our guide and decided to hike to the camp at Paiju on our second day because we felt we should make up ground lost during yesterday’s easy 3 hr trek. Day 2 turned out to be a total of 32 km and took us around 13 hours including breaks. The terrain varied between narrow dirt trails by the river and sandy flat lands with rocks. Increased glacier melt has caused the rivers to be too dangerous to cross thus adding more time to this already long segment. It took an extra hour and a half to hike up the valley to a suspension bridge and back to where people used to cross the river on foot.


Happy to have made up for the first day – on the third day we followed the trekking guide on our K2 maps and trekked to Liligo camp. After Paiju, the Baltoro glacier begins and the scenery is beautiful when the Trango Towers are visible. Baltoro didn’t match what I had imagined a glacier would look like. Most of the ice and snow is covered with dirt and loose rocks. However, there were slippery spots in between where the ice had started to melt. The weather was cool and it drizzled on us throughout the day. Liligo sits at roughly 12,200 ft and is situated off the glacier on the side under huge rocks. According to porter lore, the camp derives its name from a girl named Lily who disappeared at this spot after wondering off for a walk and so it came to be known as Lily go. Our porters sacrificed the goat in the evening and celebrated by singing songs and playing their drums.

The next day we headed out at 5:30am sharp for Urdokus, this 10km stretch is the most strenuous according to our K2 maps. The first half of the trek was pretty easy but the second half consisted of hiking up and down the glacier covered with loose rocks. The trail was so narrow at certain spots there was barely room for the width of my small foot to catch hold. Hearing rocks and chunks of ice falling down into glacial pools was common too. We reached our destination in about 6.5 hours (including breaks) only to be faced by one final 500ft vertical climb of switchbacks to get to our campsite! As soon as we made it to the top the weather took a turn for the worse and it started to rain.

Snow storm at Goro

On the 6th day we made our way to Goro campsite. This was the day when the elevation started to affect most of us and we were all struck with headaches after a little physical exertion. However, short frequent breaks provided enough relief to push on. The following morning we
were engulfed in a snow storm. Our tents were covered with snow and our porters recommended we wait for the weather to clear up before heading out to Concordia. At 10 am there was a break in the weather and we were on our way. About a quarter way through we got caught in another blizzard and it showed no signs of letting up. According to our maps the trek from Goro to Concordia takes about 3 hours and is only 8 km but our porters got lost due to poor visibility and we walked in knee deep snow for 6 hours (13km) before reaching Concordia. K2 was nicely tucked away behind a dark grey wall of clouds when we made camp.

Luckily in the weather cleared up entirely in the evening and there stood K2, immaculate and proud. I’ve heard some people have waited for over a week to get a clear shot of K2 and we were lucky enough to see it the first night! Three Frenchmen came over to greet us from a nearby camp. They had been in the area for a month and were preparing to climb Gasherbrum 4.

After an early dinner we went to bed all excited to be sleeping at 15,000ft and so close to K2. The next morning, however, another snow storm was in full effect. We waited in our mess tent all day hoping to catch another glimpse of the savage mountain but K2 didn’t make an appearance at all. In the evening we went to chat with the neighbouring Canadian camp and learnt that they had climbed Mt Everest last year!

We woke up at 4am to begin our journey home. Most of K2 was visible and we managed a few parting shots before the clouds came rolling in and covered it up again. We left camp at 5:30 am and it lightly snowed on us all day. We reached Askole in 4 days and never strained ourselves too much since we were dropping elevation and our bodies had become accustomed to walking 8 to 10 hours per day on average.

After living in the wild for nearly 2 weeks I realized there are many things I took for granted like hot showers, clean dry clothes, food free of sand, and warm weather! However, getting away from civilization has its own thrills. K2 was stunning and the entire trek was an experience of a lifetime. I would definitely recommend it to those with an appetite for adventure.

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