Friday, 30 October 2009

Support for the troops


RECENTLY, I was standing in the immigration line at Atlanta’s international airport along with dozens of arrivals to the US from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Nearby, Americans were also lining up to re-enter their country.

While we waited, a flight carrying International Security Assistance Force (based in Afghanistan) troops set down. With no need to clear immigration, the troops, in army fatigues and carrying backpacks, walked through the arrivals hall in sporadic batches.

As each group passed the line of foreigners, they were met by deathly silence, piercing stares, rolling eyes or deep sighs. As they reached the Americans, though, there was an explosion of cheers, applause and hooting.

Throughout my recent trip to the US, I was reminded of that country’s unwavering backing of its armed forces. Walk into Starbucks, and you’ll be asked if you want to donate instant coffee to the troops this morning. Get on a bus, and the man across from you will be sporting an ‘I support the troops in Afghanistan’ button.

Pick up a women’s magazine, and the ‘guy of the month’ will be a serving officer. And this in a country where, according to a recent Gallup/USA Today poll, 45 per cent of the population does not favour a troop surge in Afghanistan.

Here, in Pakistan, a similar outpouring of support for our army is made impossible by that institution’s longstanding entanglement with civilian politics. Writing on these pages, Shandana Khan Mohmand rightfully asked, ‘why, after all these years, are we not able to differentiate between the army’s rightful role as defenders of Pakistanis, and its wrongful role as a political force?’ In this moment, however, it’s essential that Pakistanis learn to see the difference.

In the wake of the GHQ attack, troop morale must have been compromised. In Waziristan, the jawans are ill-equipped, dealing with stiff resistance from Uzbek and TTP fighters, and toiling under the knowledge that their 3:1 ratio against the area’s militants is probably not enough to decisively win this battle. They have been described as American mercenaries and are being held responsible for the mass displacement of thousands of people. Their deaths — like those of the militants they’re battling — are becoming statistics.

It also doesn’t help that recent setbacks in Swat — after what was described as a victory over the Taliban — have clarified that there’s no such thing as a conclusive victory when it comes to counterterrorism operations. And days into the Rah-i-Nijat push, the thought of a new frontline emerging in Punjab has to be an exhausting proposition.

Under these circumstances, the army, in its role as the defender of Pakistanis, should be backed by nationwide support. Before the Waziristan operation was launched, the political leadership expressed its support of the army. Talking heads on television acknowledge that we are relying on the army to ‘save’ us. And last week, traders in Rawalpindi brandished banners supporting the army. But don’t the foot soldiers deserve more?

Ironically, Pakistan’s failure to stand by its troops in a time of war is a direct consequence of the army’s omnipresence as a political force. Any support the public has recently expressed for the army has been in its political capacity; this, in turn, has negated the public’s backing of the army in its current role as the nation’s defender.

Consider the ongoing brouhaha surrounding the Kerry-Lugar act. Though widely read as a symptom of endemic anti-Americanism, opposition to the act was also a demonstration of regard for the army as a political institution that need not be checked by the civilian government.

Instead of bolstering public and official support for the army during Rah-i-Nijat, campaigns against the act have heightened tensions between the government and army, and forced civil society to dwell on the army’s many undemocratic indiscretions at a time when we should be grateful for their sacrifices in the battlefield.

Similarly, Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s recent comment about terror attacks being orchestrated by India toes the army’s political line, but does the troops on the ground a disservice. Knee-jerk, anti-India rhetoric is the hallmark of Pakistan’s military-dominated foreign policy. But it also muddies the waters with regard to the Waziristan offensive.

If the public is to believe that India is responsible for this country’s predicament, then the ongoing operation seems misguided — an example of kowtowing to American demands while real trouble brews on the eastern border.

Headlining India also confuses the public perception of the army’s real intentions in Waziristan. After all, some might wonder, if India is the real threat, why should the army fully eradicate the strategic assets it has been cultivating all these years.

The fallout of such politicking is less support — in both figurative and real terms — for our troops at the frontlines. For example, Maulvi Sher Mohammad, the founder of an anti-Taliban Mehsud militia, recently refused to fight alongside the army in Waziristan, claiming that he did not fully trust the military’s motives.

As attacks become more audacious, Pakistanis need to stand by the troops confronting the militants head on. One of the first ways to do this is by not raising objections to the new US defence bill, which will provide $2.3bn in the coming fiscal year. The bill requires that this money be monitored, but that’s not always a bad thing.

At the moment, the US is holding back important equipment, such as helicopters and satellite phone jamming equipment, needed to fight militants because of the Pakistan Army’s past financial lapses and history of turning a blind eye to Taliban attacks against US troops (a consequence of its political stance).

If confident that the army is committed to countering terrorism, the US will share equipment and intelligence with Pakistan. Such resources will help the army better defend this country, and reposition Pakistan as a partner — not a client state — in the war against terror.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Law is, that there are no Laws…..

I have only just started discovering what the cyclists on our roads experience,  that is because somewhere in the recesses of my memory lies the experiences of my youth; when in school and college one first rode on the rear carrier or the cross bar of the bike ridden by a domestic employee, then one graduated to one’s own 2 wheels with pedal power; later in college to be replaced by 2 wheels driven by a 200 cc petrol engine, my trusty Triumph Tiger Cub.

During all those years on 2 wheels, we youngsters not only respected the laws of the road, by were also respected by other road users; we had lights on our bikes and reflectors on the rear mud guards, double-savaree was not permitted, so the 2nd rider would jump off the minute a constable came into view! Otherwise, it meant one or a number of punishments; first timers were made to be a murga on the side of the road till the cop felt you had learnt your lesson, repeat offenders would have the air let out of the tires and made murgas, while hardened offenders would actually end up at the police stations!!!

The tongas in those days were the main form of transport, and even they were strictly monitored, like, their oil lamps had to be lit before sunset, and they were challaned for over loading goods or people, yes! They would attempt that to make a few extra rupees.

Vehicle drivers were cautious in the way they drove their machines, from army trucks to motorbikes and everything in between. So, we the cyclists felt comfortable riding around all over the city without the slightest fear of being hit by any other road user, not that it never happened, mind you.

So, recently I took the plunge and acquired a bicycle! And took to the roads of the Lahore Cantonment, to begin a new road experience; what I have encountered and concluded is that the cyclist is the most vulnerable of all the road users! For starters they should have been born with an additional set of eyes at the back of their heads! Then they have to forget that there are rules that every user abides by, and remember that the rules of the jungle apply!IMG_6295e







I have concluded that I need to share with the reader my conclusions and expose the worst offenders on the roads, they are listed below in and ascending order worst at the top.

  1. Drivers of Public/Private Carrier vehicles from mini pickups/buses to large trucks/buses
  2. Vehicle drivers using cell phones while they drive
  3. Employed drivers of private cars/vans
  4. Youngsters, some even under age, on m’ bikes/cars
  5. Entire families of 4-6 individuals on 1 m’ bike
  6. Female learner drivers
  7. Elderly drivers
  8. The rest who carry out conversations like they are in their drawing rooms totally oblivious of the developing situations on the roads

It is with much sadness that I have to admit that my decision to use a bicycle for short trips around the Cantonment was not a good one so I am hanging up my helmet and my safety vest for now! But I do want to stress that as a result of this eye opening experience I very much wish to be part of a movement to force the Authorities to formulate a stricter modus operandi to manage the traffic on the roads.

May I humbly suggest that they take a leaf out of the Emirates Police’s book? I have lived there, so I know! They run their own driving school, that way they ensure that the standards and regulations are maintained to a level that guarantees drivers have the ability and skills to use their roads!

So far the track record of the Highway/Motorway Police is very impressive! And I would very seriously suggest that they be given the responsibility and task, country-wide, to set up driving schools to ensure that future drivers are trained to obey the Laws and rules as well as create awareness in them, that courtesy on the roads is mutual!

In addition to that I suggest that all violators henceforth not only be fined but forced to take up a refresher course to ensure they learn what they were never taught in the first place! And thereby qualify to retain their licenses. It is only then that we can look forward to a better driving environment and perhaps my grand children will be able to dust off and use my helmet and safety vest to ride on a bicycle with some safety!

Miracles are known to happen! you know…IMG_6296

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

With Love from Lahore

A Pictorial Journey of Lahore through the eye of mobile phone camera. Random things we take for granted and the world doesn't know about us.

Lahoris love their food and Pizza Hut loves us enough to localize their Pizza!!

*** This Message Has Been Sent Using BlackBerry Internet Service from Mobilink ***

Monday, 26 October 2009

The Green Ribbon Movement.

As the brave sons of the Pakistan soil take steady steps forward in crushing forces of extremism that have terrorized our nation... Let us join hands and stand together as one nation. TCT urges you to tie green ribbons on your gates, around your arms, outside your windows... fly the Pakistani flag high and proud.
One step by a brave soldier is a step by 170 million Pakistanis. Let them know they are not alone, an entire nation stands firm behind them. Pakistan Hamesha Zindabad!

Aik Alif - Saein Zahoor and Noori. Coke Studio Season 2

Pakistan faces a new 9/11 everyday. Terror may have victimized our homeland but it has not silenced our voices... Enjoy a Masterpiece by TCT's favourite musician 'Ali Hamza'of the Noori Band. There are lessons for all of us in these beautiful verses, written by Bulleh Shah. Find out more about Noori at:

Maheen Khan, Deepak Perwani, Rizwan Beyg @ Milan Fashion Week.


Everything else aside, Pakistan has finally made it to one of the major fashion weeks in the world — a fact that we should applaud and be proud of.

Fashion gurus Maheen Khan, Rizwan Beyg and Deepak Perwani showcased their collections at the Milano Moda Donna (women’s) Spring/Summer 2010 season, organised by Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana. The buzz surrounding them showing at MFW had been going on for the past year, and to see it finally happen was indeed heartwarming. According to All Eyes on Asia by Francesca Fearon (published earlier in the Abu Dhabi-based daily, The National), Maheen Khan told her, ‘A year ago, I was approached by our ambassador in Rome to send her as many portfolios of designers as I could within a week. I did and here we are, unbelievably, heading for Milan!’

The collections were well-put together, were uniquely different and strongly reminiscent of each designer’s signature style. Maheen’s prĂȘt collection was an amalgamation of solid colours ranging from white, orange, grey, red and yellow and contained her love for sleek, pleated shalwars. ‘I had been advised many years ago, ‘Look, we have a Dolce & Gabanna, Valentino and Armani. We don’t want one more. Give us something new’. We must represent Pakistan because that’s what it’s all about,’ said Maheen. ‘I call my collection The Khyber Mail, based on the Khyber. I just thought I’d take all the embroidery from that area, the little kotis and shalwars that run through Pakistan. My focus was on the mountainous areas.

‘Shu is the wool from the mountain goat which is spun on the yarn and they make woolen fabric from it. That’s what these traditional hats (pukhkol) are made of. I went to Bohri Bazaar and I was told that it couldn’t be done, and then I found one guy who could make it for me in khaddar, satin, etc. I used these hats throughout the show. I personally think that all of us got an amazing response from Milan.’

Beyg’s collection carried his signature use of white and was perhaps the most ‘western’ in sensibility as the outfits, in essence, left the torso of the models bare with most of the skirts sporting a large bow in the front.

‘Deepak, myself and Maheen met and we talked about it,’ said Rizwan Beyg about coming up with the collection. ‘I think we kind of wanted to show the different faces of Pakistan. We all have our strengths—my strength is couture, so I decided to do a demi-couture line. Deepak did a very young, colourful hip line and Maheen did very understated-elegance.

‘I decided that since Deepak and Maheen were going to do colour, I was going to do monochromatic because it’s very much my style. After my last Ensemble show which was in ivory, I decided I was going to do something in white because it was for Spring/Summer 2010, if not then I would have done it in black because I’m a very black-and-white kind of a person.

‘My entire collection was done out of a bedding material called niwar, and I used that to create texture. I worked with the women of Haripur Hazara to do the crochet because the whole collection was based on these two things, and then we embellished it with pearls. The concept was ‘from the rural to the runway’.’

Perwani’s collection stemmed from his D Philosophy line and featured the designer’s use of local dastarkhwan and ajrak prints over white fabric, tastefully put together over western-styled outfits. The almost mid-thigh, voluminous pleated dress and the heavily embroidered black jacket over a pair of red shorts stood out in the collection. Deepak seemed to have made an impact with his collection being repeatedly mentioned in international fashion blogs.

‘There were design guidelines that you had to follow in terms of trends for Spring/Summer 2010,’ he said. ‘You had to be practical as well in what you were making as Milan is all about serious business. So the outfits had to be according to trends predicted for 2010, such as colours, etc. There was brilliant work and a lot of cutting-edge design, and at the same time there were lot of shows that were all about making a splash on the ramp.’

However, the thing that struck as odd to many in the local fashion circles was that these well-established designers chose to show their collections in the New Upcoming Designers (N-U-De) category at Milan Fashion Week. It was suggested that the ‘new’ in the category referred to those who are new to the international market. Even if that was the case, all three designers had shown at various international fashion weeks ranging from Bosnia, Colombo, Dubai, etc.

Francesca Fearon stated in her article (All Eyes on Asia) the reason for establishing the category as: ‘Mario Boselli, the chairman of Camera della Moda Italiana, explaining the reasons for establishing N-U-De, said that the body was looking for creative designers who are not widely known in the outside world but who have a lot to express. The initiative was launched in 2005 to help new Italian and international designers and young fashion brands: ‘The initiative reflects the search for renewal of the whole fashion system helping the new generation in their professional path. The designers who will be participating are leading ones who we think are worthy of being supported in their jobs — in particular now that Italy and the international market are ready to welcome the innovations coming from apparently far-away cultures’.’

If one investigates the entrants in this category, including those who participated from India — namely Atsu Sekhose and Azara (Alpana & Meeraj Chauhan) — one finds that each designer brand was not older than three to five years. Rizwan Beyg and Maheen Khan are pioneers in the Pakistan fashion industry, having launched themselves in the late ’80s, with Deepak Perwani breaking into the local fashion scene in the mid-90s. With all three also the board members of the Karachi-based fashion council, Fashion Pakistan (FP), some in the industry feel that they should have used this opportunity to nurture and promote the many new designers who are also FP members and eligible for the N-U-De category at MFW.

‘It (N-U-De) was initially for a lot of young graduates that they promoted,’ explained Rizwan. ‘This year they decided they were going to initiate this whole thing with Southeast Asia, and they had a lot of entries but they short-listed four nations which was Columbia, Russia, India and Pakistan.’

Deepak added, ‘The N-U-De category has been established for designers who are showing in Milan for the first time. You are only in this category for the first two years. If you look at it, you’re showing along with the likes of Giorgio Armani and they want designers who can do some serious business, and not just some bachchas.’

‘The Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana is a trade body registered with the government, and they’re not going to break their rules to accommodate Pakistan,’ added Rizwan Beyg. ‘Actually, from India Tarun Tahiliani was showing. I met Sumeet (Verma) at MFW who was representing the Indian council, and he told me that Tarun feels that the Indian market is a better market than going international because their sales are so high. So, in that respect, there is no controversy because Camera Moda is not going to break their laws to accommodate Pakistan.’

One Karachi-based fashion designer Nomi Ansari who qualifies for N-U-De had this to say when approached by Images on Sunday, ‘Maheen (Khan) had approached me and she was very much interested in having me show at Milan but at that time I was caught up with Eid orders. I wanted to go, but I couldn’t. I think that now that these people have gone, others will get the opportunity... I think they’ve opened the doors for others to show as well.

‘MFW is a serious platform. It’s not for people who want to become famous, it’s for those who want to do serious business. I think the people who went not only have great design sensibility — you can see that in their collections at MFW — but they also have operations to back orders up. A major problem with completely new designers would be that they might not be able to do that.’

‘We had sent around 11-13 portfolios to Milan and apart from that, we never chose ourselves, the Camera Moda selected us. They had our entire profile and the year we started,’ said Maheen.

‘We submitted our portfolios and got selected,’ said Deepak about going to Milan. ‘The response has been fantastic, Pakistan was very popular there, and we got a standing ovation. If you see international press and media and the kind of feedback we’ve been getting, it’s phenomenal.’

‘Well, I think the hysteria was only when we found out that we were going. That was the time of jubilation. The portfolios were sent a year in advance and it’s a long, hard process,’ said Rizwan, ‘I think we were all worried about Pakistan’s credibility in an international, important event such as MFW. We were very fortunate that the four of us got chosen. The fourth designer who didn’t go was Nilofer Shahid.’

Why didn’t she participate? ‘She’s preparing for Paris because she’s taking part in one of the events there. They have a major accessory show there and she was preparing for that. She had to prioritise,’ explained Rizwan.

Veteran fashion designer Faiza Samee, a prominent name in the industry and one of the directors of the Karachi-based fashion council, when approached, said, ‘I received an email about this from India almost a week ago, because they also had designers participating in the N-U-De category for new, upcoming designers. I have to admit I was a little surprised.’

However, careful not to take credit away from the collections that were shown at the MFW by the Pakistani designers, she added, ‘I believe they did very well at Milan and put forth a marvelous collection on the ramp, which makes us all proud of them as Pakistanis. Rizwan Beyg told me his collection was very well received over there.’

Considering that the designers who showed had gone through a ‘selection process’, Faiza sounded somewhat perturbed, ‘I was shifting though channels the other day and I chanced upon Maheen Khan’s interview to Ayeshah Alam. I was surprised when she mentioned that 12-13 designer portfolios were submitted for MFW and only Maheen, Rizwan and Deepak’s were selected. To be absolutely honest, I am also one of the directors of Fashion Pakistan and I certainly was not made aware of any such submission, or about participation in any category for MFW.’

‘Well, I think it’s great,’ said Andleeb Rana Farhan, fashion editor and a regular at fashion weeks abroad while commenting on the participation. ‘Whenever Pakistan is represented in a positive way, in whichever field, it’s obviously something we should be proud of.’

‘There is something I strongly believe in,’ said Rizwan finally, ‘I think that at the end of the day we’ve opened the door for others to come in. Because we were articulate, we went and we put such a strong case for Pakistan. Mr Boselli came to us after the show and said ‘complimente! complimente! complimente!’ I think this is something that we, as founder members of Fashion Pakistan, would love to see all over and promote our younger members.’

‘This has been a ground-breaking event in the Pakistan fashion world. I feel now doors will open for all of the designers. And next year, I’ve already spoken to Tasneem Aslam (Pakistan’s ambassador to Italy) who said ‘You guys have to come again’,’ added Maheen. ‘But Mario Bocelli was very clear that whoever comes has to prove him or herself in the fashion world.

‘MFW, in turn, has created an interest in Karachi Fashion Week. Beth Sobol emailed to tell us that she wants to come… and I also got a call from French National TV asking about it. I personally don’t know if I am going to go next year, this is about building your place in fashion and I think I’ve done my bit by opening the door. I would like to see somebody else go in my place. I would love to assist any designer who’s going, because this is going to be a collective effort for anyone who’s participating. Either we do it for our country or we don’t,’ she said.

Slackistan: All the you don't know about Pakistan.