Islamabad Literature Festival: View From The North


The 2nd Islamabad Literature Festival organized by Oxford University Press kicked off in the federal capital on Friday. It generated a lot of interests in not just the intellectuals and literary figures but also amateur writers and avid readers of the twin cities. Extravaganza, crowd and noise are not the words usually used with “Islamabad” in the same sentence. However, because of the Literature Festival, these words will be definitely used alongside the otherwise slow-paced capital city. The 2nd ILF was bigger than its previous version. More book writers, more book launches and more panel discussion.

ILF  included over a 100 writers, intellectuals and literary figures from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Italy and Britain. It consisted of various panel discussions, book launches, and book and poetry reading sessions. Some of the highlights of the second day of the event are given below.

The Eloquent, Literary and (Yes) Funny Faryal Gohar:

The highlight of the event for me was the book reading session by Faryal Gohar. While working for a non-profit initiative in the heavenly Gilgit Baltistan she was able to connect with the women at an emotional level, she recalled. Her travel enabled her to converse more often with the women from this (and other impoverished) areas surrounded by killer peaks. It inspired her to write a book to be named “Darwaza”, which later she said, will be turned into a movie. She read a few passages from her book “No Space For Further Burials”. It was like a roller coaster ride. With ups and downs in the emotionally charged text, her voice trembled, exhibited pleasure and excitement, eloquently, before finally breaking down at an emotional narration in the story. Everybody in the audience was hooked-up, carefully listening to her majestically articulated words. However, later the discussion took a lighter turn. She was asked by Ritu Menon, the moderator of the session, to present mimicry of Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. And she did it wonderfully, of course with a pinch of salt. Taunting The Metro Bus System and The Sindh Festival. Later on, while responding to the a question from the audience both Ritu Menon and Faryal Gohar reiterated the need to dislodge the concept that the sole purpose of a woman’s life is to get married.


In the end, Faryal Gohar also had a go at Gordon Brown and the western media for cashing on what happened to Malala. On one such instance she recalls, when they presented the budget for building around 400 schools in the earthquake hit northern areas of Pakistan, Gordon Brown was indifferent. But now it is shameless how he is now treating Malala, from the same northern areas, like a mascot to further his political gains.

The Hollow Diplomats:

The discussion on the next chapter of Afghanistan by a panel of retired Pakistani diplomats seemed hollow and plain boring. One, there was a disconnect between the discussion and the ground realities. And two, it was uninspiring and dull. The discussion was not able to engage the audience. And Furthermore, questions raised by the audience on Taliban’s participation in the peace process, a puppet American govt. in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s image in the streets of Kabul went unanswered. None of the panelists entertained these questions. Also, the discussion failed to address key issues like how Pakistan would deal with the potential problems American departure from the region might cause.


The turnout in this session was also comparatively low. Perhaps, most of the people wanted to stay indoors in the air-conditioned halls than listen to a bunch of old, overweight and suited-in-the-hot-weather diplomats dissect the many times failed Afghan policy.

The Incomplete Panel of Pashto Poets:

It was encouraging to see regional languages such as Pashto getting attention and recognized at a national stage. Even more encouraging was to see non-Pashto speakers (such as Punjabis and Sindhis) in the audience. It was heartening to see Pashto generating such interest among the people at the Literary Festival. However, disappointing was the lack of effort put into the selection of the panelists. Apart from one of the panelists, and chairman of Pashto Academy at University of Peshawar, Ms Salma Shaheen (who couldn’t make it to the event), most of the poets were unknown even to the most literary Pukhtuns in the audience. None of the mainstream Pashto poets was invited to the event. Even more bizarre was the non-availability of a moderator.


Pleasure of the audience would have found no bounds, had there been more poetry (and translation). But, it was more talk and less poetry, against the promise of more poetry and less talk. The session could not do justice to its title “Poetry from the troubled land: Pashto Poetry Reading with Translation”.

Mission Possible, Reforming State Schools in Pakistan:

Despite the fact that this session was also organized in the open, it turned out to be as good as it gets. A panel of experts on education providing solutions about how we can improve the quality (and quantity) of public education. To begin with, the moderator of the session, Baela Raza Jamil, presented some staggering figures that showed the dismal picture of public education in Pakistan. Later on, the panel stressed the need for a coordinated effort from parliamentarians, lawmakers, media outlets and the public.

One of the panelists, Faisal Bari, a faculty member at Lahore University of Management Sciences, said that unless the parliamentarians admit their kids in a public school, they will have no stakes in the improvement of that school. One interesting case in point is the parliamentarian from Faisalabad, who despite the stern opposition of his family, admitted his kids in a public school. Thus, leading him to frequently visit and transform that school. Faisal Bari further stressed that the discussion, even in the development circles, was on ‘testing’ and ‘monitoring’ and not the quality of education which needs a complete rethink.

The Book Fair:

Fortunately, literary festivals are accompanied by book fairs. This time was no different. There were around half a dozen stalls of different book publishers. And while I was standing at one of the book stalls. A salesperson came forth and gave me a card. It read, where would you prefer to attend our next book fair? The options included preferred locations in Islamabad only. However, to my endless pleasure there was an “other” option at the bottom of that card. The bookseller expected me to write a location within Islamabad. But against his expectation I wrote “Peshawar”. When he read the card, he gave me a smile. He understood why I wrote that. I have come all the way from Peshawar to attend this event. And I want such festivals to come back to my beloved city Peshawar as well.

An edited version appeared in The Friday Times on the 2nd May 2014 under the title “View From The North



Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar and What it means for Women in Pakistan

Every year many women in Pakistan are a victim of brutal acid attacks, most of the incidents go unreported and the culprits are never convicted. Women who are a victim of such brutal torture never receive proper medical care and access to first aid, the result of which is a plethora of skin related diseases and problems.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy winning the Oscars

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy‘s oscar, apart from the glamorous hustle and bustle, would do one thing, it will create more and more awareness about such a huge issue. It’s only because of her achievement that the issue which never made news has come to the limelight and is being discussed on every platform.  In Pakistan, Law making related to such important issues and human rights are both neglected areas.

Before this Oscar almost 50 percent of Pakistanis on Facebook and Twitter must have been completely alien to this issue. after the Oscar now everybody is talking about this issue and discussing it, which is the most important step in removing this menace from our society. Firstly it will create awareness and draw attention of the masses, secondly it will pave way for new laws and legislations to stop crimes of this sort and  thirdly it will create urgency in non-profit sector organizations to start working for this cause.

After the winning the Oscar Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy launched anti-acid campaign which shows her determination to get the society rid of this menace. And it’s not just her duty to work for this cause but the whole nation should stand up to atrocities of every sort. The media should also play its part by encouraging such film makers. None of the Pakistani News channels would have bought such a documentary before it won the Oscars  but now all of them must be already in queue to buy this film. If our News Channels can show Sheila, munni and other Bollywood news in their headlines so why can’t they highlight such problems?


Apart from helping the survivors of these incident, film making would get a huge boost in a country where film industry is dying fast. it would encourage young film makers to come forth. It’s high time that we collectively pledge to remove this and other such problems and encourage people who stand for such causes.

Politics 2.0: Imran Khan’s triumph through the social media

2012 is fast approaching. Everything is changing fast, at the speed of light and politics is no exception. Gone are the days when political parties and candidates used to communicate with their potential voters only through public gatherings, because now is the time of Social media.

What we have seen in the previous couple of years is a real change in the way politics are done in Pakistan.  Now presence of almost all the major parties and its candidates can be observed on twitter, Facebook and Youtube. What it shows is a change in the mindset of the political parties. there is a complete paradigm shift in politics, now the political parties realize that the voter in Pakistan is far more politically aware than let’s say what they were a couple of decades back.

Use of social media in politics is not unprecedented, the recent uprising in the Arab world started from the social media and perhaps the same is happening in Pakistan. Although the movement and uprising, in Pakistan, might not be as troublesome as it was in the Arab world. A common perception was that advocates of various issues and causes on the social media would hardly do anything for the same issues on the ground, but recent developments proved otherwise.

Couple of months back PTI and Imran Khan launched a social media movement Jaag Utho, which means Wake up, on various platforms like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. The basic purpose of starting this movement was to interact with and mobilize the youth of Pakistan, and PTI is very successful in achieving its goal.  The recent public gatherings of PTI in Lahore and Karachi clearly show the penetration Imran Khan and his party has achieved, to a great deal, through the social media. What social media does is, it leverages interaction, and that’s what PTI has done. It has interacted successfully with the public and especially with the youth of Pakistan. It shows the start of a new phenomenon, Politics 2.0 which means that now politics would be done online through social media, instead of spending billions on promotions and demonstrations fewer bucks would be spent on social media to achieve greater results.

Others are also following in the footsteps of PTI in launching their own social media movements and that clearly shows the power of social media. After the successful public gathering in Lahore and Karachi compelled the Sharifs and Co. to start taking the social media seriously and not overrule its role. The current trend would bring almost all the parties to follow and that would do one thing, only concise and clear messages would bring in more followers. So in the coming future, for the projection of ideas, we would see the parties giving more importance to the social media and more money would be spent on online political activities.

The Great Irony

Irony may be defined as incongruity or contradiction i.e. one part of a sentence negates the other half of it. Or to be more precise in layman terms, Irony is the discrepancy between appearance and reality. The reason for writing this article is to highlight, some of the many ironies in our education system, the first being the word “Education” itself.

If we search the meaning of education on the internet and in dictionaries so we would be able to conclude that education means to learn, to know and to acquire a body of knowledge, not just that but learning to become humans. The irony of our education system is that instead of humanizing the students who study in it, become inhumane and

Pakistan Education System

Picture Taken from:

insensitive to the sensitivities of our society. They are not even able to distinguish between right and wrong, instead they follow what is commonly perceived to be wrong. As if it has been somehow installed or programmed in their analytical brain to opt for something wrong by default.

Basic education is the most important thing that can ever happen to kids of any nation. Give them good basic education and they can become intellectuals, entrepreneurs, engineers, lawyers and sound politicians. Why do we always whine about the quality of our higher education and college education? The very same reason, that all these students are a product of that pitiably wretched basic school system. How can you expect “THE GHOST SCHOOLS” to present results and make and develop your future leadership, schools which only exist in paper or where teachers exist in paper only. The schools which are a reality run on the every green method of rote learning, where students only know how to memorize things which are completely alien and unfamiliar.

Corporal punishment is one of the most concerning issues in these GOVT schools, where they come to learn education from their teachers, but instead of learning those very same teachers become the reason for the destruction of their future. I have studied in such a school where the teachers used to bestow the students with their love in the form of a dozen lashes with a freakishly hard stick in a freezingly cold weather, when you can’t even expect to move out your hands from your warm pockets. Once these students pass through this intense psychological trauma they start hating the school and the school becomes a place of torture and trauma in their minds from where they only want to run away. This thing needs to be instilled in the barbarian mind of these evil minded teachers that they are the spiritual father of these young minds, on whose shoulders lay the liability of making, molding and developing the future of these innocent little angels.

If we can spend 90 percent, public and hidden, of the budget on defense, so why not on education? Which is responsible for the development, leadership, defense and every other function that a country supposedly posses. Before it gets too late the people who are responsible should start getting serious about this gigantic problem being faced by our country, instead they should call the “Education Emergency” in place to make everybody realize that this is the most important thing for the survival of this country and nothing else but education and true education. Education is the sole panacea for almost 90 percent of the ills which has torn apart every fabric of this country. The first thing that needs to be done is to actually educate the ones who are responsible for educating others; otherwise the already leaked boat of this country is going to sink big time.

If we compare our education budget to our neighbor countries so we would be able to get a clearer picture that we are spending the least amount of money on education as compared to our neighbors, that means either they are very rich or we are very poor, but luckily none of this is correct, what we lack is administration, fiscal and financial management and most importantly of all the will to educate this country.

Our tainted Politicians

Daily I think about the politicians of our country, the pain and emotion that they bring in their speeches and discussions make them top class actors in my opinion. Even actors like Al Pacino and jack Nicholson can’t compete with them when it comes to be emotional and to be emphatic.

Like the character of a Hollywood copied Indian movie, the people of our country also forget things very quickly. If am not wrong Nawaz Sharif is the same person who signed a deal with Musharraf to be allowed comfortable life in Saudi Arab, he is the same person who attacked Supreme court and whatever he did to Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah is not hidden, he is the same person who looted nation’s money by the ” karz utharo mulk sanwaro” scheme. It amazes me to look at this fact that our people forget these things so quickly. These are some of the un-washable stains on Nawaz Sharif’s very neat and clean clothes.

The persona that Nawaz Sharif is portraying and the paragon that he is showing is only a facade. I don’t think Nawaz Sharif is sleepless at nights because of the poor state of our country.

One person who really disappointed me is “Imran Khan”, i thought he can be the next ZAB (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) in some areas and that he will be able to strengthen his party at the grass root level and then will be in a position to bring about some kind of change but to me that is very unlikely to happen. Imran Khan is also now a part of right wing politicians. I do not see any difference between other right wing politicians and Imran Khan. Together all these right wing hypocrites are trying to hold this country in abeyance.

I am a strong supporter of a strong and free judiciary but not at cost of a Martial Law. It has been only one year that we have gotten rid of the Martial Law and these Selfish and bigot politicians are again pushing this country to the acme of agitation and lawlessness.  There can be a peaceful solution to this whole drama instead of playing for themselves and damaging the country. At least they should realize that if this country exist only then can they play these gimmicks and play politics.

Our hoggish politicians’ didn’t learn anything from the sagas of 1971, 1977 and 1999. The reinstatement of judges looks more like a political gimmick rather than a fight for morality.

Alas! our politicians always rubbed their hands after doing disastrous damages to Pakistan, we can only hope that it doesn’t happen again.

In hope of “Change”

Change, a slogan as we heard it and read it everywhere. Everybody is hoping for change whether an American national or we Pakistani who are directly affected by any step taken by the American administration. hope is imperative for living. That’s why we should hope.

Obama who is carrying a plethora of crisis and problems on his shoulder, inherited from the Bush’s administration will face a daunting task after he has assumed the office of American President. First things that he has do it is to change the people’s perception about America, the image which is continuously sinking and shattering.

Obama has to re brand his nation. Change has to be brought in America’s image, it should be portrayed and believed as a peace loving and peace believing country. Policies regarding Muslim countries has to be reviewed. America is right now involved in killing of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, people in Pakistan’s tribal belt through drone attacks and the killing of innocent people by it nearest and dearest ally Israel.

A change can be felt keeping in mind his first few decisions. Now we can hope that he brings change in the real sense instead of limiting this slogan to only words.

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