by Maniza Naqvi Garden_in_bloom_arles-400

Last night I dreamt I went back to Manderley.” I muttered.

Sadaf seemed smaller, diminished, no longer the huge imposing mansion within a sprawling compound of the splendid gardens of my childhood. The scales of time, experience and perspective had taken their toll. We had driven around the neighborhood several times looking at various houses before we found it—still distinct in its double storied dark stone walls. The area around it was no longer a space of vast open fields of maize and wild flowers though the neighboring training fields which belonged to the Pakistan Military Academy were still there now in an unfamiliar golden orange of autumn and a bit further the Academy itself. For memory’s sake though reluctantly we took a photograph of ourselves in front of the house –the owners had even changed its name: For more years than I had been a part of it, a “mashallah” sign was emblazoned on the gate, its original name on a marble plaque no longer there.

“It’s Abtabad! Chill!” I said later in the evening standing in front of another steel gate as I wrapped my enormous winter coat and shawl closer around me in what felt like a bitterly cold night in 2005.

As I waited for the large black steel gate of the high walled compound to be opened I turned exasperated to look at her in the car, “What? Don’t look so worried. I’ll call you! Go.”

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Pakistan: Failed state or Weimar Republic?

by Omar Ali

800px-50_millionen_mark_1_september_1923 I recently wrote an article with this title that was triggered by a comment from a friend in Pakistan. He wrote that Pakistan felt to him like the Weimar Republic: An anarchic and poorly managed democracy with some real freedoms and an explosion of artistic creativity, but also with a dangerous fascist ideology attracting more and more adherents as people tire of economic hardship and social disorder and yearn for a savior. While the Weimar comparison was new to me, the “failed state” tag is now commonplace and many commentators have described Pakistan as either a failed state or a failing state. So which is it? Is Pakistan the Weimar republic of the day or is it a failed state? For my initial answer, you can read the article in the News, but when that article was circulated among friends, it triggered some feedback that the blog format allows me to use as a hook for some further discussion and clarification.

Some friends disagreed with my contention that Weimar Germany was too different to be a useful comparison. Germany and Pakistan may indeed be apples and (very underdeveloped) oranges, but the point of the analogy was that the current artistic and creative ferment in Pakistan is not sustainable and just as the Weimar Republic fell to fascism (not to state collapse), Pakistan’s current anarchic spring is a prelude to fascism.

It’s a fair point, but I think the crucial difference between Pakistan and Weimar Germany that I should have highlighted is the decentralized and broken up nature of the polity, with so many competing power centers that it is very hard to imagine a relatively modern fascist takeover (which, I assume, is the danger we are being warned against).

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Lovers tiff, impending divorce or trial separation?

by Omar Ali

ScreenHunter_08 Feb. 28 10.14 On the 27th of January, while driving through Mozang (an extremely crowded section of Lahore city) in a rented Honda Civic, American citizen Raymond Davis shot two men who were riding a motorcycle. Soon afterwards, another vehicle that was racing to (presumably) rescue Mr. Davis, ran over a third person and killed him too. These seem to be the only undisputed facts about the event. Shortly afterwards, Pakistani TV channels showed one of the dead men with a revolver and an ammunition belt around his waist. It was also claimed that the two men were carrying several mobile phones and possible some other stolen items. But soon after the event, the story began to change. From a robbery attempt gone bad, it morphed into Mr. Davis assassinating two young men without obvious cause. Raymond’s own status was immediately in dispute and within a few days the network of websites that is thought to represent the views of Pakistan’s deep state were stating that Davis was a CIA agent, he was being tailed by the ISI and he had shot two ISI agents. They also claimed Davis was working with the “bad Taliban” to do bad things in Pakistan, while trying to spy on the “good Taliban” and other virtuous jihadist organizations like the LET.

Since then, the US has itself admitted that he worked for the CIA and relatively sober Pakistani military analysts have hinted that the two victims were ISI agents who had been tailing Raymond for over an hour.

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Pakistan predictions 2009 and now…

Pakistan Army 1 In 2009, I took a road trip across the Northeastern United States and asked friends at every stop for their opinion on what was likely to happen next in Pakistan. The predictions I heard were gathered into the following article, which was published on Wichaar.com in April 2009. I am reproducing that article below, followed by a few words about how things look to me now, two years later.

I recently went on a road trip across the North-Eastern United States and at every stop, the Pakistanis I met were talking about the situation in Pakistan. As is usually the case, everyone seemed to have their own pet theory, but for a change ALL theories shared at least two characteristics: they were all pessimistic in the short term and none of them believed the “official version” of events. Since there seems to be no consensus about the matter, a friend suggested that I should summarize the main theories I heard and circulate that document, asking for comments. I hope your comments will clarify things even if this document does not. So here, in no particular order, are the theories.

1. Things fall apart: This theory holds that all the various chickens have finally come home to roost. The elite has robbed the country blind and provided neither governance nor sustenance and now the revolution is upon us: the jihadis have a plan and the will to enforce it and the government has neither. The jihadis have already captured FATA and most of Malakand (a good 20% of NWFP) and are inevitably going to march onwards to Punjab and Sindh. The army is incapable of fighting these people (and parts of it are actively in cahoots with the jihadis) and no other armed force can match these people. The public has been mentally prepared for Islamic rule by 62 years of Pakistani education and those who do resist will be labeled heretics and apostates and ruthlessly killed. The majority will go along in the interest of peace and security. America will throw more good money after bad, but in the end the Viceroy and her staff will be climbing rope ladders onto helicopters and those members of the elite who are not smart enough to get out in time will be hanging from the end of the ladder as the last chopper pulls away from the embassy. Those left behind will brush up their kalimas and shorten their shalwars and life will go on. The Taliban will run the country and all institutions will be cleansed and remodeled in their image.

Pakistan-swat-taliban-sword-11052007 2. Jihadi Army: The army is the army of Pakistan. Pakistan is an Islamic state. They know what to do. They will collect what they can from the Americans because we need some infidel technologies that we don’t have in our own hands yet, but one glorious day, we will purge the apostate officers and switch to full jihadi colors. The country will be ruled with an iron hand by some jihadi general, not by some mullah from FATA. All corrupt people will be shot. Many non-corrupt people will also be shot. Allah’s law will prevail in Allah’s land. And then we will deal with Afghanistan (large scale massacre of all apostates to be held in the stadium), India, Iran and the rest of the world in that order.

3. Controlled burn: This theory holds that there is no chance of any collapse or jihadi takeover. What we are seeing are the advanced stages of a Jedi negotiation (or maybe a Sith negotiation would be a better term). The army wants more money and this is a controlled burn. They let the Taliban shoot up some schools and courts (all bloody useless civilian institutions anyway). Panic spreads across the land. People like John Kerry come to Islamabad and almost shit in their pants at the thought of Taliban “60 miles away from the capital”. Just as Zia played the drunken Charlie Wilson and the whole Reagan team for fools, the current high command is playing on.

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Blasphemy Law: the Shape of Things to Come

To the article below, one can now add this unhappy piece of news:

The decision of a lower court to award the death penalty to a poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy has ignited a wide debate over Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Pro aasia protest Liberals have asked that the Zia-era blasphemy law should be repealed or amended because it has become an instrument of oppression and injustice in the hands of mobs and gangsters (over 4000 prosecutions in 25 years with several gruesome extra-judicial executions). The religious right has mobilized its supporters to oppose any such amendment and regards these attempts as a conspiracy against Islam. Ruling party MNA Sherry Rahman has introduced a “private member bill” to amend the law and the governor of Punjab has intervened (somewhat clumsily) in the judicial process and indicated that a Presidential pardon is on the cards. The international media is arrayed against the law alongside Pakistan’s liberals and progressives, while the “deep state”, the Islamist front organizations and their mentors in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia are no doubt aligned on the other side. What will be the likely outcome of this struggle? It is always hazardous to make predictions, but let us make some anyway and try to state why these are the likely outcomes:

1. The law will not be repealed. Some minor amendments may be made (and even these will excite significant Islamist resistance) but their effectiveness will be limited. Blasphemy accusations will continue, as will the spineless convictions issuing from the lower courts. In fact, new blasphemy accusations will almost certainly be made with the express intention of testing any new amendment or procedural change (thus, ironically, any amendment is likely to lead to at least one more innocent Christian or Ahmedi victim as Islamists hunt around for a test case).

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Imagining Lyari Through Akhtar Soomro


By Maniza Naqvi

“I’ve lived all my life in my old neighborhood of Lyari. My father was a mason and he died of lung-cancer when I was six years old. I still feel his presence and remember his gestures and his appearance with his beard and a black and white checkered scarf on his head— you know like a Palestinian- scarf on his head.” Akhtar Soomro narrates himself. AkhtarSoomroselfport

And through his photo journalism Akhtar Soomro challenges us to enter on journeys that make us confront the geography and calculus of our own reality and recognize and imagine other stories. Stories of people, who have been systematically humiliated and diminished: people, who have been marginalized; and criminalized by those who have amassed power by grabbing every resource and facility and service in Pakistan. These photographs, as stark evidence, let us enter their world of survival, of how despite it all, people cope, triumph, flourish, create and celebrate, kick and punch back. Occasionally he gives us glimpses into the pathology of those grabbers of power: glimpses of the glint in their eyes, of the cynical grin on their faces and of the instruments and weapons that they wield to maintain their supremacy.


Akhtar Soomro tells us:

“I want to document a world that is in danger of disappearing. I have in the course of my own interest in these communities, photographed people at their festivals and in the streets. I remember the daily ordinariness of the Leva dances at weddings and other festive occasions in our streets. This dance is meant to induce a spiritual trance of joy. And how that is not a common place event any longer but still can be found. I want to show this world to the world and to these people themselves as something of value, of cherishing and for safekeeping.

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Losing the Plot: Habits of the Heart (Complete Novel)

by Maniza Naqvi Poppy

Chapter One: The Little Coffee Shop

Chapter Two: The Hotel

Chapter Three: Dreaming Dulles

Chapter Four: Civil War

Chapter Five: Stanley’s Girl

Chapter Six: Hope

“We are just props for validating and furthering their policy! We say no to them and they punch us hard and prove their point with another explosion! Can't you see that?”

“No, jan–I cannot–You have made this a habit–of blaming America for everything!”

“No I have not made it a habit! Isn’t it curious that every time they make a policy statement—quoting D’Touqueville to us—-every time they want to force Pakistan to take a position in their war and Pakistan resists—some sort of a violent event takes place in Pakistan to prove their point? Isn’t that just a little suspect? They are going to increase their troops here—they are going to expand the war into Pakistan—they are going to occupy us—just wait and see!” Zarmeenay had argued, in an urgent tone, her eyes wide and serious as she had packed to leave for Baluchistan. “ We have to stop them Mama.—we have to push back! Amir, Amreekah, Mama! Amir Amreekah!”

“I don’t know Zarmeenay.” Rukhsana had argued with her daughter, “Maybe it’s time we stopped blaming everybody else for all the criminals that have been created right here in Pakistan in the name of religion.’

“Mama! Please—there no such thing as Al Qaeda! There’s no such thing as the Taliban! This is all the same old, same old, overt-covert good old CIA—now breaking up Pakistan—we will have Pushunistan, Baluchistan—Serakiistan—Kashmir, Baluchistan, Karachistan, Sindhistan—just wait. They will do worse to us than what they did to Yugoslavia and the breaking apart of the Soviet Union—just wait—……They will murder all of us!”


“Don’t you agree with me Mama, that they killed Benazir Bhutto? They already knew who was her murderer the moment she died? They had decided who to accuse of her murder the day she was murdered? So Benazir is dead, and Baitullah Mesud is dead—But they can’t find Osama Bin Laden in all these ten years of looking for him with all the sophisticated technology that they have?”

“Really! I’m so worried about you darling! Zarmeenay, you are beginning to go too far! I’m scared for you! You talk like this everywhere in public and I’m afraid for you! ” Rukhsana had said to Zarmeenay just before she had left the house.

“Don’t be afraid, Mama. Don’t be afraid! That’s been our main problem we’ve been afraid for too long. It’s too late to be afraid now, we have to take action. We have to save ourselves, our country! You’ll see Mama! I’m right! It’s time to listen to your heart Mama, I’m listening to mine. We have to fight for Pakistan!”

And Zarmeenay had disappeared. Just like that vanished. Now she was dead.

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Losing the Plot (Stanley’s Girl)

By Maniza Naqvi Kiss-lips

Chapter One: The Little Coffee Shop

Chapter Two: The Hotel

Chapter Three: Dreaming Dulles

Chapter Four: Sovereign Debt or Civil War

The terminal entered, Pakistan left behind she adjusted for the gained time. Younger by an hour—she smiled, fiddling with her watch. One of the perks of the job: eternal youth and its secret: jetlag. Staying put could change all that. As she followed the other passengers she recalled her earlier conversation with Stanley. She had said to him in frustration: Dying—Death—Yes Stanley—precisely that. You do seem to be setting off all the alarm bells which are usually associated with men of your age. I suppose it’s that whole last gasp…

In the immediate aftermath of dying would it be like this? A long steep escalator moving slowly towards the light, a glass encased place, shielding the inhabitants from the terrible heat and fire outside. And inside, an abundance of the essentials for life: energy, cool air, gushing fountains, the sound of music, and light aplenty. And all that you could buy all the time, everywhere: Duty Free. And people, many but still in the scheme of things, a few, moving towards their separate journeys—towards that plenty! Towards that abundance. She watched a man in front of her wave a light blue passport and walk through immigration—unquestioned—no border restrictions:, Let Them Pass and So It Was and So it Shall Be! This was Freedom, this was liberty this was the essence of modernity. She had a pang of panic. Was this true? Was this it? Were the chosen few the ones who fit, the “good”, the ones with the right nationalities and those who were granted passports and visas? Had the system distilled itself down to this? Had all of history, ended at this distillation of itself? She thought about being the chosen, being privileged, being powerful, having God’s grace smile upon her. And she was gratified. That it was so.

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Under the sealed sky: Drones

By Maniza Naqvi

Warrior_01sThe first time I saw an unmanned drone aircraft was in Karachi when I sat directly under one trying to compose myself into a pose of cool collectedness despite the heat. That day in June 1998 I had gone to get my photograph taken professionally for the promotion of my first novel Mass Transit. As I seem to recall—there were several of them hanging from the ceiling all over the photographer’s house. These oversized toy gliders–above my head—rocked gently in the artificial breeze created by the air conditioning unit. I asked if assembling toy gliders were his hobby—. I was told they were neither. In fact they were remote control flying cameras. “They take pictures for the military” My picture taker told me. “Pictures over the Arabian sea—Pictures in Tharparkar near the border with Rajasthan—he grinned and continued peering at me through the lens of his camera. “Those pictures are taken with a very special type of a lens. Taking photographs of people like you, now that’s the hobby”. “Say no more” said I.

The sun seared the air to sweltering outside—but air conditioning inside, kept the photographer’s studio mildly cool. He was a civil aviation engineer. He did photo essays and fashion layouts for news magazines in the country as he had said as a hobby. While I arranged myself on the chair, brushed my hair and applied some lipstick, he adjusted the lighting and the backdrop. The power went out just as we were getting started. No matter—it would only be gone for half hour at the most. The room was getting hot. The pure cotton shift that I had on was beginning to cling—beads of sweat were beginning to trickle down my arms. So while we waited he pulled up the blinds on the windows and opened the shutters to let in air and the hot light from outside and asked me if I’d like something cool to drink or tea. I opted for a coke with ice. Ice would be so good. He left the room. The sea breeze caused the drones above my head to sway, various parts, probably the wings made a creaking sound. I looked up nervously—hoping that the strings holding them up were strong enough. When he returned with the drinks I fished out one of the ice cubes from my glass and rubbed it up and down my arm.

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