Is Uber in Pakistan risky or convenient?

Usually, rickshaws, as well as the older black and yellow taxis are available at every other street corner in Pakistan, and are effective in getting consumers from point A to point B, though the quality of service is far from ideal.

The challenge in riding a rickshaw, especially for taller individuals, is reaching the destination with as few bruises and head injuries as possible, considering how adventurously the drivers of these open vehicles drive.

Taxis, on the other hand, are a test for anyone with a fondness for personal hygiene. Sometimes the seats of these vehicles, which lack in air-conditioning, carry foul odors, especially after baking in the summer with the sweat of various passengers.

What’s sometimes more painful is the process of bargaining, especially when there are time constraints.

White Cab services across Karachi, such as Metrocab, are certainly better, but carry their own caveats, including higher expenses and tardiness. If I had a rupee for every time a Metrocab didn’t show up on time, I’d have enough for a few plates of biryani.

I suppose this is why the news of Uber’s arrival has been met with so much excitement.

Based out of San Francisco, California, Uber is the biggest transportation network company in the world. Since the launch of the Uber app in 2012, and subsequent extension to international territories in 2014, the company has skyrocketed, today standing at a valuation of over 50 billion USD.

For those unfamiliar with the app, it basically acts as a platform for drivers and consumers to conduct business. All you need is a smartphone with Android or iOS, and you are ready to hit the road.

As you can see, the app is fairly simple to use:

Photo: screenshot from Uber’s website

Once you’ve asked for transportation, you can track your driver on Uber if you please, while an SMS will be sent to you once a driver arrives.

The robust nature of the software allows users to see estimated costs at the beginning, and split the fare fairly with any other riders at the end. Payment can be automatically deducted from a bank card on file once the share is decided. This minimises any unpleasantness associated with haggling with the driver or your (cheap) friends. In short, the system protects all involved.

Similarly to eBay, you can also leave detailed feedback about your experience with the driver at the end of the transaction.

Reuters reports that Uber is set for launch around the end of 2015

Shaden Abdellatif, Uber’s head of regional communications says,

“We want to launch by the end of the year or at the latest by early next year. We will put together a team in Lahore within the next couple of months.”

Recently, while writing for Aurora on carpooling apps in Pakistan, I researched Tripda and Savaree. The former is an international venture by German incubator Rocket Internet (Food Panda, etc.), while the latter is a local start-up. Although both apps are run by dedicated teams determined to grab a chunk of the market, the two are still finding their footing.

Tripida’s reception on the Google Playstore in neighbouring India has been mixed. From reviews as early as this month, users are complaining about software issues with the app crashing or not allowing users to login. Savaree on the other hand has been changing directions like a headless chicken. Finally, the company seems to be settling on a business model, but with the introduction of Uber, the future could be bumpy.

Considering how Uber has both an established business model, as well as polished software, it shouldn’t suffer from either of these issues here. It could, on the other hand, run into other roadblocks.

Pakistan’s credit card conundrum

CEOs of online shopping businesses and bankers alike tell me that many Pakistanis are still mistrustful of using credit cards, even in 2015. Although Visa and MasterCard were introduced to debit cards several years ago, many banks were frightened of letting their clients harness this power. Today, while most banks allow consumers to shop online with ease, some continue to ask users to jump through rings of fire. Perhaps what is worse is the incompetent nature of some of the banks themselves.

Reuters says Uber may have a fix,

“Uber usually uses credit cards or other electronic payment methods to charge customers but the company plans to develop new products and payment solutions for Pakistan, where credit cards are much rarer than Internet connections.”

Of course, this just could be a fancy way of saying ‘cash only’, which takes away one of Uber’s conveniences.

The other challenge Uber faces is the low smartphone penetration in the country

According to Reuters,

“Fourteen percent of Pakistan’s population of 190 million has access to the Internet and 73 percent to mobile phone.”

Unfortunately, both of these statistics are irrelevant to the potential strength of the Pakistani Uber marketplace. Fourteen per cent access to internet holds no meaning if it isn’t mobile internet. Meanwhile, though 73 per cent of Pakistanis may own mobiles, the vast majority of these cellphones cannot use the smartphone only Uber.

App developer Gertjan van Laar told TechinAsia that smartphone users in Pakistan stand at between seven and 10 per cent. This is backed by a Pew Survey from early this year claiming that eight per cent of Pakistani users owned smartphones. In a nutshell, this means only one out of every ten people in the country has the capability to use the app.

On a side note, the reason behind the lower smartphone adoption is simply cost; entry level smartphones that are 3G capable stand at just under five thousand rupees. This is expensive for drivers of yellow and black taxis, as well as rickshaws, which leaves only private car owners interested in becoming Uber drivers.

The safety factor

Recently, in India an Uber driver was found guilty of raping and kidnapping a 26-year-old woman. An ex-Uber driver in the United States pleaded guilty to rape in 2014. Meanwhile, a Pakistan Uber driver in Australia stands accused of raping a 22-year-old British tourist in Sydney.

Some Pakistani bloggers have already asked if Uber will increase the likelihood of sexual assault. Here, I have to side with Uber.

Does Uber have a rape problem? No, I am afraid mankind has a rape problem. Unfortunately, men who don’t have respect for another’s body will use whatever tools at their disposal to sexually assault when the opportunity strikes. A rapist will rape regardless of whether he is on Uber or not.

Pakistani women use unknown rickshaws and taxis as a mode of transportation every day. While most have safe experiences, some, as shared on the #talkdammit initiative have fallen prey to drivers. Needless to say, these drivers did not use Uber.

As Reuters states, Uber plans to have stronger checks in Pakistan to battle the security issue,

“The company says all Pakistan drivers will go through a rigorous screening process and background checks, while the app itself will send riders the driver’ name, photo and car license plate and allow them to share their route with family or friends.”

Hopefully, Uber will introduce the panic button that allows passengers in trouble to notify the police. In India, clients have a safety net of five people who can keep up with exact details of the ride. Alongside the feedback system, this should make an Uber driver a lower risk than the average taxi driver on the street.

Of course, Uber encourages its drivers to maintain good ratings. This happens through timely pickups, clean vehicles equipped with phone chargers as well as snacks and drinks, and courteous drivers who have a sense of basic hygiene. Certainly, this beats the average taxi experience in the nation.

Uber has sometimes faced the ban stick

For various reasons, Uber has found itself on the wrong side of the law in various places across the world. Controversially, Uber doesn’t consider itself an employer of its drivers, leaving various world governments to believe that the company wants to have its cake and eat it too.

The list of various nations where Uber has struggled with various legal issues is a mouthful, and includes Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, The Netherlands, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, and even the United States.

In all likelihood, Uber could face a set of bureaucratic hurdles from a Pakistani government that has only now acknowledged the digital age and has struggled with it ever since. Does Uber have enough gas to power through local red tape? Only time will tell.

from The Express Tribune Blog


Dear Pakistani mom, why must I fear not getting a proposal?

Dear Pakistani mom,

I am your beloved daughter, slightly spoiled but mostly a responsible, caring individual who would go to great lengths just to see a smile on your face. One who would run to the medicine store to grab some medicines should my ailing grandmother’s health so require. Please remember ‘you’ raised me so.

You raised me to be a thoughtful, caring, independent and confident individual.

You taught me not to follow the guidelines of learned female helplessness by waiting for the sympathy of my three brothers to get medicine in case I suffered a bout of respiratory infection. You raised me to believe women were equal to men in this world. The message of equality of genders was drummed into me by you. Both genders have the same importance; the same rights are your values that I believe in.

Women are able leaders, you should be by example. After all, since the moment I opened my eyes I saw you, a woman, leading my house very effectively and efficiently. You created the perfect balance between father and yourself.

Father was the authority, the crowned king of the dominion, and impactful on the larger decisions of life, but yours was the silent command over matters. You were the one without whose input, no decision could be undertaken. The decisions on everyday matters such as whether to shop for groceries from the humble Delhi colony or the huge supermarket Hyperstar, or whether to hire the honest ‘dhobi’ or the super-efficient one, came under your domain. These were the decisions which ensured the smooth running of the house, which all the family members take for granted.

These were subtle messages of gender equality I received from ‘you’. While I was growing up you never let me feel or believe I was inferior to my brothers in any way.

Why did this change now when I need this reassurance and confidence the most?

Unfortunately it is you who robs me of my self-confidence by not allowing me drive down to the pharmacy after sunset. It kills me to return to remarks like this,

“This is not America, girls should not be so confident that they drive alone after sunset, and that too without a male patron. You should have taken someone along, either waited for me or for your elder brother to take you there, or at the very least taken the household helper.”

This household helper is several years younger than me, barely-out-of-teens helper boy who plays the role of my bodyguard. I find this offensive on many levels. Can he really protect me if I was a victim to a street crime like mobile snatching?

Many of you will defend her saying that she is mainly concerned with my security. But I wonder if security is her only concern?

Is she not trying  to conform to the norms of the traditional patriarchal Pakistani society where a woman’s every move is observed, judged and permitted or disallowed by a man, be it the elder brother, the father, the husband or the household helper. The household helper of course, does not have the liberty to declare his opinions about the women of the house openly, but be not deceived, for he is sure to share them in the company of his equals.

Maybe, her real worry is that the people, who see me driving that car alone to the pharmacy, may form an opinion of a liberal and spoilt daughter not acceptable as a future daughter-in-law for some respectable household, and that opinion, spread by the uneducated, idle, gossiping bystanders might soon become standard public opinion.

If you, the average person believes that she is doing so purely out of security concerns, then to you Sir, I salute. I am impressed with the naivety of thought with which people can exist in today s modern era and I smile at the sweet rush of youthful innocence that you have reminded us all of.

I am saddened at this change in your behaviour. I know you reflect the views of society that questions or rather objects to a woman’s confidence and independence. What imaginary line must I tiptoe around for fear of not getting suitable proposals? Does this imaginary line even exist in the minds of men or is it us women who impose traditional ideas of womanhood?

I plead you to rethink these ideas, the times are changing and the unspoken laws and limits of society that may have been true in your youth may not hold as much salt (or weight) today. Please have faith in the evolving Pakistani society.

In what direction, you ask. Ironically, only we, the weaker sex can determine.

Take care Mom,

Love you always,

Your Pakistani daughter

from The Express Tribune Blog

Today, India is not what it was before he won the elections

Is India paying the price for electing Narendra Modi as its prime minister? I ask this question regularly because since Modi assumed office in Delhi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been hurtling the country from one controversy to another.

An atmosphere of fear has been created where any opposition to majoritarian politics is termed anti-national and the questioning of the government’s divisive agenda invites counter protests and blame for vitiating the atmosphere of the country. The state, therefore, has created enemies out of its own citizens by labelling them liberals, seculars, freethinkers and religious minority.

The current controversy involving New Delhi based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is an extension of the majoritarian narrative that started with the arrival of Modi. The campus debate on capital punishment and politics in Kashmir has been blown out of proportion and students have been arrested on charges of sedition. This is an unprecedented situation, where the country is witnessing an undeclared state of emergency and any voice of dissent and non-conformism is being termed as seditious.

The JNU is a popular university in India which excels not only in academics but also in politics; a place where students – regardless of their ideological beliefs – are made politically aware of the issues affecting the world.

For the first time, we have a situation where a xenophobic mob that holds loyalty with the right-wing government is being imposed on those who question the ruling dispensation. No one is safe, be it the students, academicians or journalists – they are all on the hit-list of the lynch mob, because they don’t subscribe to how Hindu radicals perceive nationalism.

The BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have always struggled to find their mark in this kind of liberal space. Their rigid worldview does not find resonance among people who counter their ideological agenda. In order to establish its hegemony in the university campus, the BJP is trying to use the might of the state machinery to control the bastion of liberal education.

To legitimise their action, the ruling party is blaming the students for shouting anti-India slogans in the name of observing the death anniversary of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri, who was hanged in 2013 for his complicity in the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001. It’s very common for students to debate over the issue of Kashmir and capital punishment. The student wing of the BJP, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) acted as an agent provocateur leading to the president of the JNU students’ union, Kanhaiya Kumar, being arrested on charges of sedition along with two students who have been detained on the same charges.

The JNU campus has debated over the issues of Guru, capital punishment and the Kashmir dispute for many years, but why has it become ‘seditious’ this time?

Why did the state intervene in such a heavy handed manner? Why should the Indian government monitor debates at universities?

It is bizarre to accuse students of being anti-nationals.

This is not only an attack on the campus, but an extremely planned intrusion into the democratic space of India. This is a collaborated attempt to impose a narrow sectarian worldview on the campus which prides itself on its diversity.

Pakistan knows the baneful impact of ultra-nationalism and jingoism; it stifles democracy and the citizens gradually lose their basic fundamental rights. India today faces the same challenge. The country is completely polarised on the issue of nationalism.

Modi, as a prime minister, is a mute spectator of what’s happening under his very nose. Those who understand politics know that the prime minister is not helpless, but acting on a design of polarisation and is imposing a predominant Hindu majoritarian narrative on the nation.

Right from the beginning of his term, the government has been in a very confrontational mood. It banned a large majority of NGOs and their activities as a means of ‘protecting national interest’. Divisive issues like the beef ban and love jihad were brought to the forefront. When intellectuals and artists came forward to confront the country for rising intolerance, the ruling dispensation unleashed its own supporters on the liberals. In other words, anyone bringing up the issue of intolerance was maligned and hounded. An ecosystem of fear has been created and Modi has allowed his workers to spread this form of terrorism.

With that said, Modi keeps launching ‘Make in India,’ ‘Digital India’ and other programmes to portray his image as a concerned PM in terms of his country’s development, yet he deliberately remains silent on the divisive issues that are agitating the nation; just like he did during the Gujarat Riots. He blames the opposition for this mess, claiming that it’s a conspiracy to destabilise his government.

The annual reports from Amnesty International have pinpointed India for its failure to protect religious minorities and fanning sectarian conflicts. The first two years are generally the honeymoon period for any new government, but BJP has proven to be a nightmare for the masses in just 20 months.

In May 2014, Modi came with a promise of ushering in a new era of economic liberalisation and leading the country on the path of development. Despite the scepticism due to his past, many still trusted his words, thus voted for him. Today, India is not what it was before he won the elections. The promised economic turnaround is still in process. On the contrary, the economy is struggling. Therefore, the BJP is resorting to the politics of polarisation to hide its own failure on the economic front.

The political space of dissent has shrunk; democracy is under deep onslaught by right-wing Hindu groups. Moreover, India is moving towards mobocracy in the name of nationalism. The country is being assaulted on its democratic aspirations, attacked on its liberal and secular traditions; hence it’s a systemic insult to the idea of India.

It is not easy to witness the chaos that is taking over the country today.

from The Express Tribune Blog

Bachaana: Another feather in our cap

With our local film industry upping its game with releases like Jawani Phir Nahi Ani (2015), Ho Mann Jahaan (2016) and Manto (2015), Nasir Khan’s Bachaana is another feather in the cap. The newly released flick stars an ensemble cast of Mohib Mirza, Sanam Saeed and Adeel Hashmi in pivotal roles.

The movie starts with the introduction of Waqas aka Vicky (Mohib Mirza) who is a Pakistani working as a cabbie in Mauritius. Parallel to Vicky’s story is the story of a newly-wed Indian Muslim couple; Aalia played by Sanam Saeed and her husband Jehangir aka J played by Adeel Hashmi.

#bachaanatrio #adeelhashmi @mohibmirza @madiha.qaiser #bts #ilovethisshot

A photo posted by @mohibmirza on Feb 17, 2016 at 9:16pm PST


Vicky bumps into Aalia and is hired by the newly-wed couple to drop them off to their hotel. Once the couples reaches the hotel and Vicky leaves, strange things begin to happen resulting in Jehangir asking Aalia to return to her country and then he disappears. While on her way to the airport, things take a twist and Aalia bumps into Vicky again.

What happens next is what Bachaana is all about. Watch it to explore!



Performance wise, Bachaana stands tall on three pillars, Mohib Mirza, Sanam Saeed and the script. Mohib Mirza is undoubtedly the most dapper, relaxed and impeccable actor. He is perfect ‘movie material’. He knows he has the looks and uses them to his advantage.

#bachaana #bigfilmentertainment @mohibmirza @madiha.qaiser

A photo posted by Sanam Mody Saeed (@sanammody) on Dec 17, 2015 at 1:07am PST


#bachaana #rehearsals #mauritius @mohibmirza @madiha.qaiser

A photo posted by Sanam Mody Saeed (@sanammody) on Jan 11, 2016 at 2:50am PST



Sanam Saeed, being a very competent actress was the show-stealer here. As a lead heroin, she gave a stellar performance expressing multiple emotions flawlessly. She complements Mohib perfectly and Bachaana wouldn’t be the same without her.

The third hero in the film is the script; the dialogues are fresh, witty and easy to relate to – keeping India and Pakistan’s humour and lifestyle in mind. Mauritius gave the film the exquisite edge of exotic locations that are breathtaking! On the downside, however, is Adeel Hashmis OTT acting. He started off with a smooth performance in the initial scenes but as the movie progressed his acting looked nauseatingly feigned. In his particular case, I think the director should have said,

“Adeel, act LESS!”

Photo: Bachaana – Official Facebook

Sanam Saeed, Mohib Mirza and Adeel Hashmi.
Photo: Bachaana – Official Facebook

There are two major glitches in Bachaana that almost handicapped the movie. The fight scenes and chase sequences are half-cooked; they could have been a lot better. The music is just alright. It could have been better. The background score leaves more impact than the songs itself.

Sanam Saeed and Mohib Mirza.
Photo: Bachaana – Official Facebook

Sanam Saeed and Mohib Mirza.
Photo: Bachaana – Official Facebook

Bachaana is does not have a thought provoking plot nor is it a movie with any message; it is a clean, simple, fun and lighthearted movie. It offers a few laughs, good acting and a witty script in a captivating tale. It’s not easy to get the audience engaged adequately with only three characters in a movie but Saad Azhar’s script is the powerhouse of the movie that kept me hooked. It will not be wrong to say that even prior to its release, Bachaana was among the most anticipated movies of Pakistan. To put it all in one line, Bachaana is a nice effort to introduce lighthearted cinema to the Pakistani audience.

I rate Bachaana a good three out of five. Go and enjoy it as downtime with your family.

from The Express Tribune Blog

I’ll have an AK-47 on the rocks, please!

National security is the indispensible right of any nation which makes it sacrosanct and unassailable to the point that now governments can do just about anything and get away with it. So, you can imagine numerous nations crucifying their people in the name of national security.

Let’s take North Korea for example, where a lot of people cannot afford a hearty meal and of course the government cannot help them with it, while they can satisfy their ambitions of possessing a nuclear weapon (provided of course if they don’t already have one). I can also quote Joseph Stalin’s Russia which would have been a more appropriate example but I don’t think people can remember that far (frankly nor can I).

Sometimes national security also kicks in when you try to protest against the death of your own at the hands of your ‘brethren’. I think we all remember PEMRA telling us not to discuss the painful death of hundreds of our Hajis due to the shocking negligence of the Saudi authorities (please PEMRA, please!!! Don’t shut down my blog or my freedom of speech). In order words, there will always be things that governments can do and slap the ‘national security’ label on it and nobody will question them.

I went through the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, after I read the arms import story in the news. I must thank organisations like SIPRI for keeping us in check or at least providing us with the tools to keep our governments in check. Apart from the usual charts quoted by several newspapers I went through another file The Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2015. The file mentions a wealth of data on trends in the last 10 years.

Pakistan has gone down the largest importers list by one place and so has India. The world’s new frontline states in the war against terrorism (or condom nations as I call them, the use, abuse and refuse kind) (If you find it offensive, please Google how Jamaat-e-Islami protesters spell ‘condemn’ in their banners) are now increasing their imports by mountains-full of money. And from whom – no other than the world’s largest exporter of democracy, the United States of America. Oops I meant arms. I have always wondered why the export of arms is directly proportional to the export of democracy in world politics. Hmmm.

If we look at last year’s import list, which can be searched from SIPRI’s website (I am copying it below for the benefit of the readers, since no regional paper printed it for comparison), we can bring to light that Pakistan actually decreased its imports by $17 million which represents a 2.26% decrease. India on the other hand, decreased its exports by $409 million which represents an import reduction of 11.73%. Now if Pakistanis were jubilant at our drop in these ratings, please stop because we didn’t really decrease our imports, others significantly increased theirs.

At the other end, nations such as Saudi Arabia drastically increased its imports (no surprises there). With its push for war in Syria and being a frontline state in the war of Western preservation in the Middle East, its imports jumped by a whopping $379 million or 13.62%. Other high rollers were Iraq with 565 million (86.92%), UAE with 558 million (76.33%) and Australia with $642 million (68.88%). Iraq and UAE being part of the Middle East crisis are understandable but why Australia went high for arms imports this year is another thing worth looking into.

Another important trend mentioned earlier is America’s role as the world’s largest arms (read democracy) exporter. America increased its share of international arms exports from 29 per cent to 33 per cent in the last five years. Its major import partners are (no prizes for guessing) Middle Eastern countries namely Saudi Arabia (9.7% of total US exports), UAE (9.1%) and Turkey (6.6%).

One important trend to highlight is the shift in Pakistani and Indian import practices. Both countries significantly decreased their arms imports from the US. Pakistan’s imports dropped from $189 million to $66 million, a 65 per cent decrease while India went even further from $1,141 million to $302 million or a 73.5% fall. Pakistan’s move is understandable with the military establishment leaning towards China and Russia and thus more imports can be expected from these countries in the years to follow.

Will Pakistan Army drop any NATO arms standards or any STANAGs (Standardisation Agreements) it follows, if any, is another question. India’s snub of American arms needs more analysis, as there is no visible shift in Indian military policy as of this moment.

Let’s hope that one day Pakistan’s arms imports will actually make a significant drop rather than being stagnant like everything else is in this country.

from The Express Tribune Blog

20 falsehoods Mirza Kashif Ali and Dr Danish shamefully propagated against Malala

Pakistani TV channels often lack credibility in the rat race of earning rating. The recent example is how Mirza Kashif Ali, President of All Pakistan Private Schools’ Federation, former advisor to Governor and Chief Minister Punjab for education, and the author of “I am not Malala” was given airtime to spread misconceptions against the youngest ever Nobel Laureate.

He appeared in the shows hosted by Ahmed Quraishi and Dr Danish on December 26, 2015 and February 7, 2016 respectively. Apart from his baseless charges, it was alarming to witness how cleverly he tried to frame Malala and her father in religious controversy, as well as repeatedly bringing their nationalism into question — tools to malign and persecute anyone in the quickest possible manner.

Below is a response to his claims to set the record straight.

1- Mirza Kashif objects to the use of word ‘God’ in Malala’s book:


Firstly, Malala has certainly used the word ‘Allah’ several times in her book. Secondly, the objection makes no sense as ‘God’ is synonymous to ‘Allah’.

Below are a few excerpts from Malala’s book where Allah is used:

Also, Mirza Kashif needs to keep a dictionary with him.

2- Mirza Kashif objects there’s no salutation anywhere with the Holy Prophet’s (SAW) name:

In the first edition, the book has ‘Peace Be Upon Him’ with the Prophet in the glossary. Although it’s a publishing tradition that whatever is written in the glossary is applicable to the entire book, Malala still apologised for not adding the phrase in her content saying,

“It was the publisher’s mistake, which will be amended in the next edition.”

Since this mistake has already been addressed for future editions, there’s nothing to object to.

3- Mirza Kashif incites his audience by making false accusations about Malala with reference to Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen:

He screams there’s a nexus among them, and that there is a photo of Malala with Nasreen, as well as some letters that she wrote to Malala.

This is all disinformation.

In truth, it is simply an open letter written by Nasreen on her website where she begged to differ with Malala.

The photo that Mirza Kashif talks about to misguide the public is, in fact, taken from an event where Malala was awarded the European Union’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize in recognition of her fight for universal and equal access to education. There was a group photo with all the previous Sakharov Prize winners including Nasreen that Mirza Kashif is scandalising.

Here is how Nasreen has shown her disappointment,

“She (Malala) shook my hand with expressionless face. I came from the Indian subcontinent, almost from the same background, fighting religious fundamentalists for women’s rights, but her expression tells me that it means nothing to her.”

The person standing next to Malala is Martin Schulz, a German politician and president of the European Parliament. It is sickening to note that he has been posed as Salman Rushdie on social media. The same story was spread by the Pakistani Urdu press as well. For instance, Roznama Khabrain circulated such tales against Malala.

Being shocked by this irresponsible reporting by an otherwise seasoned journalist, Zia Shahid, I wrote an email to him. What was worse than the absence of any response was the happening of another hate column being published in the same newspaper the next day.

This was deplorable. I wrote an email to the columnist debunking all his lies. But as expected, I received no reply and neither did the newspaper exhibit any sign of responsibility.

Mirza Kashif presents the same lies.

4- Mirza Kashif objects to the phrase in Malala’s book where her father suggested writing a book in response to Rushdie’s controversial novel.

Does hypocrisy not ensue when Mirza Kashif ridicules anyone, let alone her father, for proposing the same reaction that he had to Malala’s book?

Protesting on roads, burning public and state property may temporarily vent one’s emotions, but it brings more harm than good. This is simply an intellectual discourse that inspires the world in our modern age. Malala’s father suggested exactly that.

Take a look below at the book that I have in my library. Will Mirza Kashif like to frame blasphemy charges on these gentlemen as well who wrote and translated this response?

5- Mirza Kashif objects to the starting lines of Malala’s book with a self-contradicting argument:

Mirza Kashif objects to the first line of Malala’s book. He says Pakistan was created on Lailatul Qadr (The Night of Power) and that claiming it was created at midnight is like criticising the creation of the country.

Of course, she was shot after midday, wasn’t she? And doesn’t ‘lail’ itself mean night?

So what is he really objecting to?

6- Mirza Kashif shamelessly compares victims of terrorism:

Mirza Kashif calls the Army Public School students brave while ridiculing Malala for leaving the country. It’s ironic that an individual who hasn’t uttered a single word against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) throughout his media appearances is calling Malala a coward, the same Malala who stood up against the Taliban at the age of nine and later escaped death by inches because of them.

It is actually sickening to witness the manner in which the victims of terrorism are being compared to one another.

Malala was targeted because of her struggles with activism regarding education rights that offended the Taliban. TTP has already threatened to target her again. This is not a matter of bravery or cowardice, but that of wisdom and need for time. Also note that Pakistan’s government and the then army chief were both on board in sending her abroad.

7- Mirza Kashif accuses Malala of badmouthing Pakistan in her interview with Javed Chaudhry:

Again, this is blatant distortion of facts. Malala, during her interview with Javed Chaudhry on March 13, 2014, in fact, defended Pakistan. When Javed Chaudhry questioned her about the negative image of Pakistan circulating internationally, she responded that she would like to inform the world that people of Pakistan promote peace and reject terrorism.

8- Mirza Kashif claims that Malala’s BBC diaries have been ghost written:

He claims that Malala has admitted in her book that it was Abdul Hai Kakar, a BBC correspondent, who wrote the diaries.

This, again, is a distortion of the facts. Malala, in her book, in fact, has written that since she was unable to access the internet, she had to speak to the BBC correspondent on the phone so that he could write her diaries by listening to her.

9- Mirza Kashif accuses Malala’s father of receiving money from General Athar Abbas:

He questions why he received the amount of 1.1 million rupees from the then DG ISPR? The answer is quite clearly provided in Malala’s book, if he ever actually read it he would have known.

10- Mirza Kashif blames Malala’s father of tampering the electricity metre:

It was, in fact, the metre reader who demanded a bribe by fraudulently claiming that the meter was rigged. Like a gentleman, Malala’s father refused.

11- Mirza Kashif questions the right of Malala’s father to demand that Shakeel Afridi should be handed to the US:

This fake news was circulated in Urdu press long ago. Ziauddin Yousafzai immediately denied it and requested media to act responsibly.

12- Mirza Kashif blames Malala of having secretly met with Richard Halbroke:

This again is false. It was just an event organised by UNICEF that was permitted by the government of Pakistan where Halbroke spent some time meeting with human rights activists including Malala. She, in her turn, requested him to help Pakistan in the education sector.

13- Mirza Kashif objects to Malala finding it difficult to get up in the morning:

Malala, in her book, has simply written that (like all kids) she (too) used to find it difficult getting up early in morning. Mirza Kashif, on the other hand, twists her statement and accuses her of speaking against the Azaan call.

14- Mirza Kashif defends Gen Zia’s legislation:

According to the Hudood Law, a woman who has been raped should stay silent if she cannot produce four male witnesses. Otherwise, she will be penalised. It is not difficult to understand that this law by General Ziaul Haq is a man-interpreted law and has been cause for debate. As I understand, the Quran asks for four witnesses, but in an entirely different context. For example, Surah An-Nur asks those to produce four witnesses who question the chastity of a woman. In Surah An-Nisa, four witnesses are required for blaming one of zina (adultery/fornication). Rape is a different case altogether. Asking a rape victim to produce four male witnesses is a travesty of justice.

Malala, in her book, has just made a passing remark on the aftereffects of Zia’s so-called Islamisation. Contrary to the claims of Mirza Kashif, she certainly has not questioned Islam.

15- Mirza Kashif exhibits anger towards the mention of Ahmadis in her book:

Mirza Kashif keeps misrepresenting Malala’s book by distorting the facts. Contrary to his claim that she advocated for them, Ahmadis are mentioned only once in the book and that too as a minority.

16- Mirza Kashif even refuses to acknowledge that the Taliban shot Malala:

Mirza Kashif, along with the host Dr Danish, continued to compare, in a disgusting manner, Malala with the APS students, going as far as to imply that Malala was not even shot.

17- Mirza Kashif misrepresents Malala’s letter to God:

He, once again, tries to incite religious sentiments by calling Malala’s letter to God blasphemous.

This, in truth, is a beautiful letter written by her when she was hardly 9-years-old. She prayed to God to help her make this world perfect.

18- Mirza Kashif speaks against Christina Lamb:

He blames Lamb, co-author of Malala’s book of working for anti-Pakistan agenda. Hold on, and let’s take a look at what she herself has written in the book:

Would Mirza Kashif dare to question the patriotism of men in uniform as well including the then DG ISPR of facilitating an “anti-Pakistan” journalist to visit Pakistan and work on the book?

19- Mirza Kashif believes there are 68-billion dollars in Malala’s bank account:

In remote places, we may find such uneducated people who still believe that the earth is flat. Similarly, Mirza Kashif believes that Malala’s bank account has 68-billion dollars, and Dr Danish presents it as the gospel truth. What’s the source of this ridiculous claim – these two gentlemen don’t care.

20- Mirza Kashif makes fun of Malala’s disfigured face:

After being shot in the head, and going through extensive surgeries, the left side of Malala’s face is now disfigured and she cannot even smile and blink her eyes properly. Mirza Kashif is vicious enough to mock her disfigured face. My ethics and sense of humanity forbid me to elaborate or disclose with whom he physically dared to compare Malala to.

This marks the end of the charges that Mirza Kashif put forward against Malala in his TV appearances on the shows conducted by Ahmed Quraishi and Dr Danish. In both his appearances, he never uttered a single word against the TTP; instead he persistently questioned the religious credentials and patriotism of Malala and her father. Dr Danish, along with two other guests, namely, Fayyaz ul Hassan Chohan (PTI) and Ajmal Wazir (PML-Q), added fuel to fire.

Are there any ethics or a code of conduct that the media follow? This was a one sided propaganda (and that too ungrounded) along with the display of a deep rooted hatred against someone who is not only a national hero but someone that has inspired the world. It is shameful and disheartening to have witnessed such a sham of an interview. A few years back we lost Governor Punjab as a results of a similar kind of hate campaign. While it is appreciated that Pemra has taken notice of this hate speech in Dr Danish’s show, the damage is already done. Like Dr Abdus Salam, second Nobel Laureate is also made controversial.

At the end of the day, such lies hurt the country and any efforts in making education accessible to all. This is what the Taliban wanted as well.

Note: This is the summarised version of the Urdu blog written by the same author and posted here.

All photos: Nayyar Afaq

from The Express Tribune Blog

Isn’t the Koh-i-Noor diamond better off with the British?

Just imagine, hypothetically speaking, that the British in their infinite wisdom and benevolence decided to return the Koh-i-Noor back to Pakistan, would we be able to maintain its splendour? Or keep it protected from theft? Or even protected from the corrupt hands of the numerous politicians who would be eyeing this as a ripe opportunity to rob Pakistan even further?

In the hands of the British, at least we know the Koh-i-Noor is preserved and protected from any ill-intentioned parties. If Pakistan is not benefiting from the magnificence of the Koh-i-Noor then neither are the British. They have, after all, put it on a very secure display at the Tower of London as a stinging reminder that its resplendent glory will remain out of reach for anyone who vies for it.

The history of the Koh-i-Noor has been ravaged with conquests, wars and plunder. It is said to have originated from a mine located in India and stayed with the Kakatiya dynasty for centuries until it was taken into possession by Babur, who later established the Mughal Empire in India. As it passed through the Mughal leaders, its gargantuan size was reduced from a whopping 700 carats to 186.

In the 1700s, there was a further invasion by Nader Shah, also known as the Shah of Persia, who is also said to be responsible for the name Koh-i-Noor or mountain of light. After his empire collapsed, his General, Ahmad Shah Durrani, took the diamond and later his descendant wore it as a bracelet. When his kingdom was overtaken by Mahmud Shah, Durrani’s descendant was able to flee with the diamond to Lahore. Once in Lahore and expecting a return for his hospitality, Maharaja Ranjit Singh took possession of the diamond in the 1800s.

After the British conquest of Lahore in 1849, following a prolonged siege with the Maharaja’s troops, the diamond was handed over to the invading army through the legal instrument of the Treaty of Lahore. This document ceded all of the Maharaja’s assets (including the Koh-i-Noor) to the East India Company and to add insult to injury, the Maharaja’s 13-year-old son was ‘requested’ to present the diamond to Queen Victoria as a clear indication that they had removed all ownership rights over it.

Once it was in England, the diamond was further cut from 186 carats down to 106 in a special project commissioned by Prince Albert and it was polished to make it shine brilliantly. Afterwards, it was duly lodged into the Queen Mother’s crown where it has remained as a stark reminder of Britain’s shady colonial past.

This is definitely a very simplified version of the history behind the Koh-i-Noor but the truth is that it has always been treated as the spoils of war, ready to be taken by any invading army. Now it will take an army of great force to dislodge it from the clutches of the British, which in itself is a delusion of profound grandeur.

The Koh-i-Noor has been a thorny contention for the British as the governments of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and even Iran quarrel over its origins and ownership. A few days ago, news emerged that a lawyer in Pakistan filed a case in Lahore High Court requesting the official return back to Pakistan of the Koh-i-Noor and even providing historical evidence of its origins. The Indian government has also pressed the British on asking for its return but David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, has made it very clear that no such return will ever be made possible. Instead of focusing on a glittering diamond that is under heavy lockdown, we should focus on making the best of what is already in our possession; our country Pakistan.

from The Express Tribune Blog