A former Tribune staffer’s first visit to the Karachi office, after 3 attacks

It had been barely a week since I started my two-month training at The Express Tribune – then not known as such. The newspaper hadn’t yet launched and we were a group of 30-something people, handpicked by the publisher and the editor, who would go on to become sub-editors for desks in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

The International Islamic University (IIU) in Islamabad had been attacked, and we were discussing the story with our editor Kamal Siddiqi. Many of us, particularly those from Islamabad, took the view that cosmetic steps such as security checkpoints sprinkled over roads helped make us safer. Kamal sahib disagreed, using the example of the lone metal detector being installed outside the Tribune office. These things can’t secure us, he said, unless we take real measures like putting terrorists and criminals behind bars.

His words stuck with me and, as time went by, I began to subscribe to that view. That is why, when the story about The Express Tribune deciding to censor itself was published in The Guardian, it came as a sad shock to me. It quoted my former editor, and an email he had sent to the staff, confirming that indeed such a decision had been taken following two gun attacks at the Tribune office and a shooting – and the deaths of 3 Express Group staffers – in Karachi. I recalled what Kamal sahib had said to us during training, so I knew how tough a decision it must have been for him and the entire editorial team at Tribune.

But it hadn’t prepared me for what I was about to see when I went back to visit friends at the Tribune office. I left Pakistan in August 2013, a few days after Tribune’s Karachi office was attacked for the first time, and was not present when the second and third attacks took place. So I was expecting some changes – a larger number of security guards, more vigilant use of metal detectors, etc. – but what I saw deeply depressed me. Having worked there for 3 years, some of the best of my life, it was like seeing my home transform into a fortified bunker.

For security reasons, I will not divulge any information about the inside layout of the office, but I will say that the openness that I most enjoyed at Tribune is no longer there. I remember when, during the earlier months when the newsroom was in total chaos, many of us would routinely barge into Kamal sahib’s office with complaints about the large, communal newsroom being too difficult a place to concentrate on work with dozens of young, loud, and active people in there. The editor refused to make it a quieter place, letting the energetic debates rage on about topics from what would be the lede on the front page to which restaurant would deliver us dinner at 1 AM.

When some of the launch team members started leaving Tribune, those of us who were left behind started to feel stressed out, worrying how we would continue to work without the friends we were so used to leaning on. Kamal sahib would then tell us that the nature of the news business is such that the newspaper will come out the next day regardless of how many people leave and how that changes the newsroom. After working there for so many years, I could see how true that was.

But the Tribune newsroom has redefined this Darwinian view of newsrooms – that newsroom has carried on, though it has changed so irreconcilably that the newspaper that comes out the next day has to tone itself down. The newsroom, and consequently the newspaper, has veered off far from the idealism that it had started off with. As a former Tribunian, one of the people who launched this fine product and helped make it the voice of the ignored, it is deeply, deeply saddening.


PTI’s online supporter base: hypocrisy, stupidity or blindness?

A few days ago, I wrote this blog for The Express Tribune Blogs section about Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Parvez Khattak’s utterly misogynistic comments to women lawmakers in that province. It was based on this story: http://tribune.com.pk/story/683708/its-a-mans-world-women-lawmakers-asked-to-avoid-suggesting-development-schemes/.

Not unexpectedly at all, the PTI online machinery was set into motion and people started commenting and tweeting to me that Tribune had misreported the story here. They sent me this link which was Business Recorder’s version of the same story, as triumphant proof of Tribune’s “yellow journalism”. One person claimed the address was to both men and women lawmakers, as if somehow that made it any less offensive and derogatory. (Turns out that claim was absolutely wrong too.)

Since some of them were polite, I responded to them saying that I will get to the bottom of whether Tribune had misreported the story. I got in touch with my former colleagues at the Tribune Peshawar desk and asked them provide me with a copy of the press release. They did, but it was in English.

I thought of putting that up online, but I realized that some of the trolls might say: “But it’s in English, Tribune journalists probably included the line themselves.” Believe me, it is not beyond PTI trolls to actually say, and believe, that.

So then, I set out to find the original press release in Urdu, to make sure that it had exactly the words that Tribune had used. And voila, I found it on Parvez Khattak’s official Facebook page here. To quote: “khawateen arkan-e-assembly ka taraqiati schemon aur gali koonchon ke marammat se koi sar-o-kar nahin aur na hi woh aise kaam karein jo mard arkan-e-assembly aur mehkmom ke faraiz main aata ho”.

I then went back to the PTI people on Twitter who I had promised to figure out why Tribune’s report was so different from the Business Recorder report. I shared the link with them and asked them to retweet it, accepting that they were wrong and that Tribune hadn’t misreported (and consequently, my blog was not erroneous). In response, I got: “first you admit you’re a liberal fascist” and “if I admit I’m wrong, will you go on a date with me?” What the hell happened to rational argument?

One idiot retweeted the tweet with the false allegation right after I had tweeted my response to it – clearly, selective retweeting. When I called him out on it, I got “I can make my own judgment, I don’t need your help.” Wah, what an attitude towards learning.

And it got me thinking. Are these people hypocrites or just plain stupid? Even in the face of clear evidence, these people just cannot accept that they are wrong, that the party they so vehemently support is misogynistic and that no newspaper is out to destroy the PTI.

I wish more authors would call them out on their bullshit, but then again maybe they shouldn’t. Like all stupid people, the PTI trolls drag you down to their level and then beat you because they are experts at being stupid. It’s just not worth it. I did my job as a journalist, going back to check if the story was in fact accurate, and I expected them to do their job as responsible, politically-inclined citizens. Obviously, only I played my part.

I realize it may seem like I have some sort of a vendetta against the PTI that I’m writing and tweeting about them so much, but as a voter I feel it is my job and my responsibility to at least try to bring them to task.

I used to tell people not to judge the party by its supporters, rather base opinions on its leaders and actual policy people. Clearly, Khattak has shown that PTI’s leaders are just as bad as the supporters.

Very disappointing. Shame on PTI.

Mr. CM, that wasn’t insulting enough

If one more person tells me that Pakistan has a better record on women’s political representation than the “developed nations” (meaning the US) because we have twice had a female head of state, I will use my very female and very strong hand to slap them across the face.

The Women in Politics Maps 2014 released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women recently ranked Pakistan 72nd among 189 countries in terms of female representation in the parliament. We could have been ranked even lower – there is no woman on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s handpicked cabinet, for instance.

But one does not even need the IPU and UN Women to corroborate the claim of women’s pathetic representation in Pakistani politics. All we need to do is look north to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak just today told women lawmakers to refrain from suggesting development schemes and avoid doing tasks that fall under the duties of male members of parliament. Since when has development been gender-specific, Mr. CM?

Furthermore, in case his statement wasn’t patronizing and misogynistic enough, he also asked women legislators to concentrate on policies regarding women’s welfare. I mean, seriously, if women have such an itch to do something with the opportunity that’s been handed to them by their benevolent male counterparts in parliament, they can stay in their “zenankhana” and discuss their women problems. Why do they have to distract the alpha men from their noble jobs as saviors of the nation, including women?

So yes, what was it that you were saying about women’s representation in Pakistani politics?

The truth is that Pakistani women parliamentarians have almost always run second-fiddle to men, which is why the findings of the Women in Politics report and the KP CM’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. In the May 2013 election, for example, an overwhelming majority of election rallies were addressed strictly by men. In none of the mainstream political parties is a woman in charge of anything remotely important, and a large majority of the women who are now members of Pakistan’s National Assembly have made it there on the reserved seats for women, not the competitive ones that are open for contest among genders. The female head of government we talk of, Benazir Bhutto, was only able to become the prime minister because she was her father’s daughter. The reason she was nominated for prime ministership was because she was the chairperson of a national party that swept the elections, a party also inherited from her father.

Perhaps it is because of this perceived “privilege” that women parliamentarians are barely ever taken seriously, a rather laughable assumption to make if one were to spend a few minutes looking at how much Pakistani legislators have contributed. I would like to draw Mr. Khattak’s attention, and that of every man who holds the same view as him, to a report by non-profit legislative watchdog The Free and Fair Election Network, which found women parliamentarians in the outgoing National Assembly were a lot more attentive than their male counterparts. Despite being only 76 out of 350, women members asked 1,826 questions out of a total of 3,314 questions that were posed. For some clear perspective, read it like this: while women made up only 22% of the Lower House membership, they asked 55% of the total questions asked while the assembly was in session.

As the CM of the province, it is indeed Mr. Khattak’s prerogative to delegate legislative topics to his subordinates. However, I wonder if he was just as concerned about the overstepping of gender boundaries when a bunch of men decided to usurp a woman’s right to decide who represents her in the Provincial Assembly that he was himself the head of?

On May 13, 2013, I had travelled to Lahore just to be able to vote – and vote for PTI. I was then out in the street in Karachi, demanding re-election in NA-250. But the party just keeps disappointing me again and again. I know that many PTI supporters, some genuinely well-meaning and respectful men, will respond to my tweets about this statement and this blog with some sort of opaque explanations, but the message is clear: the one certain change that is coming is that women can talk, until they decide to challenge men on topics of consequence. Thank you PTI for that reminder.

Published in The Express Tribune Blogs here: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/21477/pti-just-keeps-disappointing-mr-cm-that-wasnt-insulting-enough/

More Than Money: The psychological externalities of neighborhood foreclosures

Losing a home can have a strong and long-standing economic and psychological impact on older individuals and their families who experience the loss first-hand. But what about neighbors and friends who are left behind to see auction signs on homes that used to house old friends?

In their paper “The Onset of Depression During the Great Recession: Foreclosure and Older Adult Mental Health,” Kathleen A. Cagney, Christopher R. Browning, James Iveniuk, and Ned English find that a large number of foreclosures in one’s neighborhood can be an important risk factor for the onset of depression among older adults. More specifically, the authors find that foreclosures not only impact individuals and families who directly suffer the loss of a home, but also those who are left behind with less dense communities, neighborhood properties in disrepair, and a general sense of social withdrawal.

Survey data were collected from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a nationally representative study of older adults (those aged 57 years or above), which follows study subjects over a long period of time. Data were gathered from the 2005-2006 and the 2010-2011 NSHAP surveys, perfectly bounding the economic downturn and the foreclosure crisis. In order to accurately observe the difference in depressive symptoms, the authors used data of people who had taken the NSHAP survey both times. The respondents’ home addresses were linked to the US censuses of 2000 and 2010 to determine how many housing units were available in the areas of interest, and the NSHAP data was linked to the 2009 American Community Survey to see what proportion of people living in a respondent’s neighborhood fell below the poverty line. ZIP code level data were purchased from RealtyTrac, an authoritative source of data on foreclosure, to determine the percentage of housing units in a ZIP code that had experienced foreclosure.

Studying data from New YorkLos Angeles, and Chicago, the three most populous metropolitan areas for NSHAP respondents, the authors observed a dramatic rise in reports of depressive symptoms among older adults in communities that were hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. Respondents who had not reported depressive symptoms in the 2005-2006 survey reported them when surveyed in 2010-2011, suggesting that the impact of foreclosure is independent of an existing psychological disorder. Furthermore, the symptoms were found to be worse among respondents whose mobility had reduced over this period of time, making feelings of loneliness and loss more acute.

Although the authors acknowledge the limitations of their data, for instance that the NSHAP data do not allow for a seamless comparison across age groups, they argue that focusing on older adults is important as they are more likely to have lived in a particular neighborhood over a longer period of time and have stronger ties to their surroundings. This would lend credence to the hypothesis that a change in living conditions, induced by foreclosure, would have an emotional impact on these older residents. In fact, studies show that feelings of extreme loneliness can have a severe impact on older individuals, including increasing the chances of a premature death.

As the United States continues to grapple with the aftershocks of the 2010 foreclosure crisis, this study has important implications for policymakers working on policies aimed at the elderly demographic in the US population. With the last of the baby boomers entering their sixties, policymakers must divert more attention towards the emotional needs of older adults, particularly with respect to health and housing needs. A home, old friends, and neighborhood landmarks are memories that enrich individual lives. These factors can in turn impact entire communities and shape local health across the country, therefore warranting the attention of policymakers.

Article Source: Kathleen A. Cagney, Christopher R. Browning, James Iveniuk, and Ned English, “The Onset of Depression During the Great Recession: Foreclosure and Older Adult Mental Health,” American Journal of Public Health 104, No. 3 (March 2014): 498-505.

Feature Photo: cc/(TheTruthAbout)