Karachi Photo Blog

Sunday, October 26, 2014

'Religion, State, and Society in Pakistan' by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa

Ayesha Siddiqa's talk on 'Religion, State, and Society in Pakistan- Searching for Identity in an ex-colonial state and elite circulation' was a lot about history: how extremism has flourished in Pakistan throughout country's short history.

This scribe had the following takeaways from Dr. Siddiqa's speech:

1.      Pakistan's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was confused about the role religion needed to play in Pakistan. [In one speech he talked about people being free to follow whatever belief system they want; in another speech he talked about his desire to have Islamic Sharia as the law of the land.]
2.      A lot of people focus on Zia Ul Haq when they try to identify the source of religious extremism ailing today's Pakistan, but state's shift towards religion had actually started way back and has continued even after Zia Ul Haq.
3.      Today, extremism is growing in Sindh and Balochistan, and religious extremists have penetrated all organs of the state.
4.      There is hardly any space for liberals left to operate, let alone challenge state's drift towards religious extremism.

Friday, October 24, 2014

NED Convention's Malala Story

NED Convention's Malala Story

Back in April 2014, when Silicon Valley NED alumni started to finalize the Tenth Annual NED Alumni Convention program (held October 10-12, in the Silicon Valley, California), organizers thought about inviting a crowd-puller as the keynote speaker.  Several names came up: Hamid Mir, Hassan Nisar, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, Adib Rizvi, Ayesha Siddiqa…but one name on which all members of the Steering Committee got truly excited was that of Malala Yousafzai.  Yes, it should be Malala Yousafzai.  A 17-year old girl speaking to the NED alumni in Urdu/Pushto—what a show that would be!  Organizers set out to contact Malala. The obvious approach was to contact Malala through either her website/fan club http://www.malala-yousafzai.com, or through her charity, Malala Fund.  Email messages were sent to the addresses given on both web sites.  No answer came, for more than a month!  Malala was quickly losing her credibility.  A few organizers knew Shiza Shahid, co-founder of the Malala Fund, from Shiza's Standford days. Shiza was approached through mutual friends.  She replied, but organizers quickly learned Malala had gone out of Shiza Shahid's reach.  Malala could only be communicated with through Malala's PR firm, Edelman (http://www.edelman.com).  Shiza introduced the organizers to Charlotte Paton, Malala's agent at Edelman.  An invitation for Malala to speak at the NED Alumni Convention was sent via email to Charlotte on June 22.  Four days later, the following response came:

"Hi there,
Thank you for your patience and my apologies again for the delay in responding.  It is with regret that I must decline your invitation for Malala to be keynote speaker at the NED Alumni Convention in October - her schooling and other commitments mean she is unable to travel to the San Francisco Bay Area at this time.  
Please accept my best wishes for a successful event."

Where was that decision made?  Was it wise for Malala to shun Desi audience?  Organizers wrote back with the following:

"Thanks for writing back, Charlotte.
Organizers of the Convention did consider all the factors related to Malala's attendance: her school engagements, her relative inexperience in life (what can a 17-year old kid possibly say to an audience many times her age?), etc.  But the decision was to still seek Malala's attendance for one main reason: To make Malala more effective for girls' education in Pakistan. 

Ever since the assassination attempt on her, Malala has been appropriated by the West.  In Pakistan where there is growing mistrust of the US and its allies, the roundly Western adoption of this young woman has become counter-productive to Malala's cause.  In order to further the cause of girls' education in Pakistan Malala needs to be seen and heard among her own people.  NED Alumni Convention will provide such an opportunity, with hopefully other Pakistani/Muslim organizations following suit.

Charlotte, I request you to kindly re-consider your decision for the sake of Malala's actual mission: girls' education in Pakistan and other places threatened by fundamentalism. 

Our event is on Saturday, in the evening.  We can arrange for Malala's flight after her school on Friday, and fly her back on Sunday.

Looking forward to hear back from you soon."

That was June 26.   The following day, a phone call was made to Edelman's office in London; an organizer talked to Charlotte and repeated organizers' message.  Charlotte promised she would talk to Malala's family.

On July 9, a phone call to Edelman was followed by this message:

"Hi Charlotte,
Left you a voice mail message yesterday.
When I talked to you on the phone almost a week ago, you indicated you would talk to Malala's family about Malala's attendance of our October event.
Hope you were able to talk to Malala's family and that there is a positive development.

Kindly write back."

Shortly, a reply was received from Charlotte.

"My apologies – I believe my colleague Daniel recently picked up a call from you.
I did have a chance to speak to the family and the wider team about your invitation and regretfully, it remains the case that Malala will be unable to attend.
 Please accept my best wishes for a successful event.
 Kind regards"

Organizers were truly disappointed—more so because they could see in the media how Malala was running from one place to another to meet Western celebrities and to receive accolades.  Organizers were justified in thinking that the girl attacked by the fanatics two years ago was a different Malala; one who found refuge in London was a different person; that Malala—probably through her astute father and her PR firm—had decided to walk the path of Greg Mortenson: You need to spend more time in places where you find media glitz, prestigious awards, and lots of cash—spend time on the charitable cause people are paying you for, only if and when time permits.

Malala in White House photo, courtesy of Wikipedia
Injured Malala's photo, courtesy of ISPR

Read more about the Convention, here:

Tenth NED Alumni Convention: A Torrent of Memories
There can be only one reason why so many NED alumni living in North America gravitate towards the annual NED Alumni Convention: they want to reconnect with their college friends and remember the best time of their lives..
Traditions, when repeated year after year, grow stronger.  Organizing an annual gathering of the NED University alumni in a new city in North America, a program started in 2005 by Moin Ahmad and his associates, has taken a life of its own.  Since 2005, an NED alumni convention has been held every year, and the large attendance of people at the Tenth Annual NED Alumni Convention organized in the Silicon Valley, California was a testimony to the popularity of the idea.
What started as an engineering college in 1922 is now a large university spread over three campuses.  This phenomenon of physical expansion probably explains why older NED graduates--students who graduated in the 80s and earlier--are more keen on attending the annual reunions than the younger ones: back then the NED University was a smaller place where everybody knew everybody else and the sense of camaraderie among students, teachers, and staff was very strong.  One NED alumnus remembers his time at the NED in the backdrop of a cold war shaking the world of that time.  The country had gone through a bloody civil war ending in the loss of its eastern limb.  Within the intelligentsia there was a romance for egalitarian ideas associated with communism and Marxist poets promised of a revolution around the corner when 'takht giraay jaaiN gaay aur taj uchchalay jaaiN gaay' (thrones will be turned upside down, and crowns will be tossed in the air).  A desire to make this world a better place was seen strongly on college campuses--student wings of left-leaning (progressive/socialist) political parties often clashed with the right-wingers (religious/pro-capitalism/status quo groups).   And there was beautiful music in the air.  But Kishore Kumar and the genius of RD Burman were not heard over the eastern border; Kishore's voice ricocheted to us from the Gulf where Pakistanis would go to toil on mega development projects, and bring back sofeene, western perfumes, Danish cream cheese, electronic gadgets, and Indian music cassettes.  And with this noisy but rich background the slog of engineering studies continued: lectures and late night group study sessions, midterms and finals, calculus and differential equations, and a superficial understanding of Quantum Physics reduced to a set of algebraic equations by teachers marginally more knowledgeable than their students.
At the Tenth Annual NED Alumni Convention, reception of guests and dinner on Friday, October 10, was followed by a talent show featuring familiar NED faces and an outstanding singing performance by Asad Abbas.
Audio of Friday Night Talent Show is here:
Tenth NED Alumni Convention first day video highlights are here:
Saturday morning was the main conference day when people got to listen to Dr. Afzal Haque, current Vice Chancellor of the NED University, and to Dr. Ishrat Hussain, ex-Governor, State Bank of Pakistan, and current Director of the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi.
Dr. Ishrat Hussain spoke eloquently and forcefully on our changing world where knowledge and innovation of a country and its people are--and will be--considered more precious and desirable than the country's material wealth.  A video of Dr. Ishrat Hussain, truly the star of the convention, is present here:
A panel discussion on Innovation, aptly suited to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Silicon Valley, followed.  Besides Dr. Afzal Haque and Dr. Ishrat Hussain; Dr. Mumtaz Hussain, ex-Vice-Chancellor of the King Edward Medical University; Dr. Abbdul Ghafoor, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, NUST;  Dr. Khurshid Qureshi of DICE, a non-profit dedicated to creating an atmosphere of innovation on college campuses in Pakistan; and Tanvir Mallick of ALEF (NED Alumni Endowment Fund) sat on the panel.  The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Ali Minai, Professor of Electrical Engineering, Univeristy of Cincinnati.  Dr. Minai was introduced by Mukhtar Zaidi, a popular NED alumnus of Northern California.  Zaidi was the force majeure behind the 'Innovation' panel, and was responsible for bringing high-profile speakers to the discussion.
Complete audio of the panel discussion on 'Innovation in Pakistan' is here:
What have become the mainstays of an annual NED Alumni convention?  A Friday night welcome dinner, daytime conference on Saturday, a Saturday afternoon city tour for out of town guests, a music program Saturday night, and commemorative coffee mugs for all the attendees.  The Tenth Annual Alumni Convention followed the regime.
Saturday night emceeing responsibilities were shared between Safwan Shah, Chairman of the Tenth Annual NED Alumni Convention Steering Committee, and Fauzia Timberlake, an NED alumna.
Aftab Rizvi, a powerful student orator from the late 70s, was introduced by Tanvir Mallick. Rizvi in his speech read a short story he wrote on an NED student's requital to his almamater.
Video of Aftab Rizvi's talk is here:
Dr. Naveed Sherwani, a noted NED alumnus and entrepreneur, was the Saturday evening keynote speaker.  In late 2007, Unicorn Investment Bank announced acquisition of majority equity share of Open-Silicon, Inc., for a sum $190 million.   Open-Silicon was founded by Dr. Naveed Sherwani in 2003.
Video of Dr. Naveed Sherwani's speech is here:
Saturday dinner was followed by a music program.  Shujat Ali Khan, and later Jawad Ahmad sang popular songs casting a spell that attracted people to the dance floor.  Attendees danced and kept dancing.  There it was, the NED University of the 1980s again: carefree,  jubilant, youthful, and very much living in the moment.
The three-day convention program was supported by a large number of sponsors.  Individual sponsors included Amir-Ul-Islam, Arif Sattar, Imran Qureshi, Misbah Azam, Mukhtar Zaidi, Nisar Ali, Rashid Ali Baig, and Safwan Shah.  Corporate sponsors inlcluded AI Engineers (President, Abul Islam), HE, JPC Holdings, Nexlogic (CEO, Zulki Khan), Pakistan Link (Owner, Arif Zaffar Mansuri), Perkan Concrete Corporation, Prosurance Redeker Group, Ltd., SI Engineering, P.C. (President, Sarwat Izhar).  Non-profit sponsors included Koshish Foundation (Chariman, Suhail Akbar), NED International Alumni Network of North America (NEDIAN-NA), NED Alumni Association of Tri-State, and NED Alumni Association DC (NEDA-DC).

The Tenth Annual NED Alumni Convention Steering Committee that put in hundreds of hours of hard work to make the event successful comprised Ahsan Hameed, Imran Qureshi, Fauzia Timberlake, Mike (Mukhtar) Zaidi, Misbah Azam, Nadeem Haque, Nigar Raza, Nisar Ali, Safwan shah, and Terry Andrade.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Am Reading at LitQuake

Let this be an instance of shameless self-promotion.  Along with four other South Asian writers, this scribe will be reading at LitQuake 2014, on Saturday, October 18, at 6:30 pm.

The readings will take place at 18 Reasons (a-hard-to-define-eating-place/culinary school/event space), 3674 18th St. in San Francisco--the closest BART Station being 16th & Mission.   If you are running out of things to do this Saturday and want to listen to a few writers describe South-Asian-American experiences through short stories, do drop by.  Your presence will be greatly appreciated.

Image courtesy of LitCrawl.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Hannah Graham Found?

What contributed to Hannah Graham's disappearance? Alcohol.  Plain and simple.  An 18-year old drinking (illegally) and getting totally sloshed is obviously putting herself in a very vulnerable position.  How did the University of Virginia sophomore get alcohol when the minimum drinking age in Virginia, like most other places in the US, is 21? Jesse Matthew bought her those drinks.  Jesse is now a 'person of interest' in the Hannah Graham disappearance case.  The two met in a mall and then went to a bar. Although Jesse denies it, it will be very surprising if Jesse did not take advantage of Hannah Graham that night.  After all Jesse did all the necessary work: he bought Hannah drinks and got her drunk to the point where Hannah had no idea of her whereabouts.
How is Hannah Graham disappearance case being solved?  Through security cameras individual businesses and residences own.  Why is the case still unsolved?  Because there are large gaps between the coverage of surveillance cameras…something that is not the case in our intentional community, Elmustee.  All public places in Elmustee are thoroughly monitored.  Video recordings are kept for at least a year.  Even months after an incident, you can look at the video recordings of various cameras to piece together the complete story.  Had Hannah Graham disappeared inside Elmustee, the case would have been solved in hours.  From the moment when Hannah came out of the bar, we could tell you which way she went, which car she got into, where did that car finally stop, and which building she entered in the end.

Photo, courtesy of http://myfox8.com.