Pakistan’s victory, worth the wait

The victory has been defined as dramatic and rare, adjectives that aptly explain losing five wickets in the course of 40 runs. PHOTO: REUTERS

When I was eight, I hadn’t thought I would have to wait 15 years to witness this moment again: Pakistan beating Australia in a Test match. Hence, the celebration, the happiness, the dancing is all justified. If it wasn’t for work, I would probably be at Sea View right now, where, I am sure, some Team Pakistan jiyalas must have blocked traffic to dance to “Jazba Junoon” blaring from their cars’ woofers.

The victory has been defined as dramatic and rare, adjectives that aptly explain losing five wickets in the course of 40 runs. What the win can’t be called, however, is convincing.

Since forever, Pakistan has been accepted as a country that breeds incredibly talented cricketers. Mohammad Aamer is the latest addition to that. The game he plays at 17 speaks for itself and in this match, he just proved himself further: look out world, Aamer is only going to improve. Mohammad Asif was dependable and I, as a cricket fan, am glad to see him back in action. Between drug scandals and movie star affairs, I missed discussing Asif for what he does best.

However, as a connoisseur of the beautiful game of cricket, I have to say this: as much as I love to hate Australia, in today’s match they showed why they are the champions that they are. And as a real cricket fan, I cannot help but be impressed by Australia yet again. I believe that July 24’s match was the best manifestation of their “never say die” attitude. One run away from a loss and they were still taking wickets.

From the start of the game, Australia were the underdog. Pakistan were in a comfortable position to win with two days and seven wickets in hand and just 40 runs to victory. But Pakistan struggled because Australia simply refused to believe that they didn’t have a chance at winning. Predictably, they came on to the field with body language that did not betray any pressure and they played like it too.

Predictably again, only Pakistan could have won such a match with this much drama. It paid off to be a Pakistan fan because Team Green has given us cricket lovers a game to remember for a long, long time. I just hope it’s not another 15 years!

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2010.

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Double talk, double standards

Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna’s recent visit to Pakistan concluded without much tangible progress.

Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna’s recent visit to Pakistan concluded without much … okay, any … tangible progress.

The Indian delegation kept insisting on discussing terrorism, that is, the Mumbai attacks. I wonder how they define what is happening in Indian Kashmir. In Mumbai, 166 people died over the course of three days. In Indian Kashmir, thousands of people have died over the course of many, many years (there are several tallies of the death toll since there is limited access to the region). Those dead in both cases did not deserve to be killed. Are the killings in Indian Kashmir, then, any less atrocious than the ones in Mumbai?

Terrorism cannot be seen in isolation. Where the Indians insist on talking about the terror attacks on Mumbai, they should take the prolonged terrorism in Indian Kashmir just as seriously. Mumbai is India’s financial capital, hence it is understandable that there must be immense pressure on the government to address the issue. In fact, the pressure is palpable – India has not carried out an execution since 2004 and Ajmal Kasab may be the first case in six years. Further, many Indians, including the families of some of the victims, have long called for Kasab’s execution and the clamour grew stronger after his conviction.

However, even after the Indian Army claimed responsibility for deaths during protests in Srinagar, including that of a 17-year-old boy who was killed during a demonstration, there seems to be no call for justice in India. Pakistanis have been quiet too … the only ones who have raised a voice are religio-political parties who have invoked the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to stop the massacre of Muslims.

The solutions to deadlocks on both issues – Mumbai and Kashmir – will only be found when leaders on both sides are honest about them and consider them of equal importance. Lasting peace will only be established when people are valued for being humans rather than Muslims or Hindus, rich or poor and when “heavens on earth” are given the same importance as “financial capitals”.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2010.

Railways announces suspension of six trains

KARACHI/MIRPURKHAS/SIALKOT: As many as 1,500 passengers were stranded on Saturday as Mehran Express, which leaves Mirpurkhas for Karachi daily at 5.15 am, was shut down unannounced by the Pakistan Railways.

More trains, including the Shalimar Express, will also be suspended.

One of those stranded in Mirpurkhas is Naeem Mughal who has to be in Karachi on Monday for a job interview, but had no idea that the train had been suspended.

Mehran Express is the preferred method of commuting for most of those who work in Karachi but are often in Mirpurkhas and surrounding districts, such as Tharparkar, Umarkot and Sanghar, because their families are there. It is also used by the traders and businessmen of interior Sindh to maintain their link with the country’s commercial capital.

The usual route was to take Mehran Express to Karachi and Shah Latif Express back to Mirpurkhas. The train took four-and-a-half hours to reach the Landhi station and about five hours to reach the Cantt station, from where traders could conveniently go on to Bolton Market, one of Karachi’s largest markets.

The train had resumed activity only six months ago after it had was gutted in the December 2007 riots following the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Since its resumption, the passengers, however, were no better off. Reservations could not be made in advance and the ticket counter, meant to open two hours prior to the train’s departure, would open only five minutes earlier.

Railways sources said that both train services were being closed due to corruption, and that the Railways staff and its police were involved in fraud. But chairperson of the Pakistan Railways Workers Union Manzoor Razi said that the department had buckled under pressure from the transport mafia.

Another train that has been suspended is the Sialkot Express that carried passengers and cargo from Sialkot to Rawalpindi five days a week. The train, which had three bogeys, left Sialkot at 6 am and reached Rawalpindi at 11:30 am, and was preferred by exporters who took Sialkot’s known products – footballs, gloves and other sporting items – to Rawalpindi. A return ticket cost Rs140.

According to Railways officials in Sialkot, the train was incurring severe losses leaving no option but to shut it down.

However, sources said that corruption was the real cause for the train’s closure. Railway police and ticket collectors used to carry two ticket books, of which the receipts of one book were sent to government authorities while they pocketed the revenue from the other ticket book. They also pointed to the presence of a transport mafia, which sources said, was functioning with the help of operators of private bus services that travel on the same route.

The largest bus services that carry passengers between Sialkot and Rawalpindi are the Daewoo bus service and the Niazi Express. Daewoo carries 52 passengers and reaches Rawalpindi in four-and-a-half hours. The price of a return ticket, however, is Rs550 which is almost five times that of the train. Niazi Express carries 26 passengers and charges Rs330 for a return ticket.

Pakistan Railways has also announced that Shalimar Express, which travels from Lahore to Karachi, will be shut down from July 29. Other trains to be suspended are Chiltan Express and Tezro from July 20. According to Pakistan Railways General Manager Ashfaq Khattak, the Railways is facing a deficit of Rs1.5 billion annually because of these trains. He said that engines of the suspended trains would be used to run freight trains as more than 60 freight trains are stuck at different stations for want of engines. He also refused to give a specific time for restoration of these trains’ services. (WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFAQ KHAN IN MIRPURKHAS)

Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2010.

Tere Bin censored

Ali Zafar’s new film may not see an official release in Pakistan.

Ali Zafar’s new movie Tere Bin [Laden], which was released on July 16, is not releasing in Pakistan. Thank you very much, film censor board. I was really looking forward to the film so naturally I am disappointed with this decision. But I am not surprised at all. In a country where we have collective “morality” but unfortunately no collective “identity”, a film with a name such as this cannot be screened in public.
Also, when the makers announced that the film would release as Tere Bin in Pakistan, I had pretty much started to console myself that I will have to content myself with a pirated version of it. Long live, piracy!
The first thing that comes to anyone’s mind after a decision like this is about the amazingly intolerant society we live in. But I think, as a society, tolerance is not the only thing we are lacking — it seems we also lack a sense of humour. And the banning of this film just makes that clearer. The film, originally publicised as Tere Bin Laden, is a tongue-in-cheek comedy about a young reporter from Pakistan who tries to fake an interview with Osama bin Laden for quick riches and success.
I can think of at least one Pakistani journalist who shot to fame riding on a conspiracy like this – although, he was not so young when he tried his luck so he did, indeed, have little time to make it big. Hence, the film has more relevance to Pakistan than many others that have gone on to play in cinemas.
At a time when a provincial assembly passes an anti-media resolution and a known politician claims that Pakistan is in the situation it is in because of the 3 Js “judiciary, jurnails and journalists”, a criticism like the one presented in this movie hits home. There must be something that the media is doing which is causing people to react against it — this strongly.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2010.

Degrees of reality

In the past two weeks, one of the issues to have gotten a lot of attention is that of fake degrees. From allegations to verifications to justifications, a lot of people have said a lot of things about parliamentarians who have made a space for themselves in the parliament to try to make a ‘real’ difference by using a fake degree.

I recently read an article published in this newspaper about how the Punjab government had decided to remove the academic qualification for members of local zakat committees. The day after that, the Balochistan chief minister said fake or real, a degree was a degree. Earlier this year, the director of the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education was also charged with having presented a plagiarised PhD thesis while the degree of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chief minister (according to a newspaper report) had to be returned for being ‘not attestable’.

As sorry as the matter is, what makes it even more disturbing is not so much the fact that people with power have yet again manipulated the system for their gain but the fact that faking degrees points to the complete disregard for the importance of education as a priority in our society and for our government.

One example is the Budget 2010-11. The budget’s total outlay is Rs3,259 billion. According to a copy of the budget available at the website of the ministry of finance, education affairs and services fall under the category of current expenditure, as do defence affairs and services. Both are among the top five expenditures with education being allocated Rs34.5 billion and defence being allocated Rs442.2 billion – almost 13 times the amount earmarked for education. What is even more surprising is the distribution within education spending: primary education has been allocated Rs3.2 billion while higher education has been allocated Rs25.21 billion – many, many times that of primary education spending. This lopsided allocation makes one wonder who the government thinks would enter universities, kids that never went to proper primary school?

Clearly, in such a situation, those who do enter university have little choice but to fake having graduated. Their foundation is never real to begin with.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2010.