Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pakistan, in person: Part II

After discussing about life in Pakistan, Islamic terrorism and Gandhi-Nehru-Jinnah and Benazir Bhutto(which I have posted in part 1 of the interview) we went talking about life of a common man under dictatorship, Osama Bin Laden, Women literacy and IPL. We wrapped up with Koffee with Karan style rapid fire covering topics like Lashkar-e-Toiba.

People in India and rest of the world have an image of Pakistan which is very different from the actual Pakistan. Hope this series of uncensored interviews help in clearing a lot of doubts about Pakistan and Pakistanis. For me it was a revelation of sorts. I am indebted to Muhammad Awais Awan and Ayesha Ilyas for sharing their views on issues which are in the top of our minds but are never discussed. I still remember that time. At about 1:30 am, after a really long and hectic day, you guys had no dearth of enthusiasm and agreed to give the interview. Thanks Ayesha and Awais! You guys rock!

Prashant: Pakistan had democracy until 1999. Then there was dictatorship and now again there is democracy.  As a common citizen of Pakistan what changes did you see in people’s life before dictatorship, during dictatorship and now?
Ayesha:  In the ten years since 1999, Pakistan has regressed to a state which is probably worse than what it was 50 years back. Before 1999 though the government wasn’t good, people were having peaceful life.  In 1999 we gave a warm welcome to Musharraf’s government which was our mistake.  We didn’t realize that democracy can never be worse than dictatorship.  Even if it was bad, the elections would have somehow changed things for better.  The 2001 episode happened. Musharraf gave everything in the hands of America, took a U-Turn on the Taliban issue. The whole region got disturbed only because of  Musharraf.  Countries in this region refused to give help to America. Pakistan could have done the same. We didn’t need America. This one decision of Musharraf destroyed the whole life of ours. The period after '99 is responsible for the state in which a common Pakistani is living today.
Prashant: How are things now when you have democracy?
Ayesha: This democracy is even worse than that dictatorship because this democracy has arrived in the same way in which Musharraf’s dictatorship came. As per the Election Commission’s report, out of 18 crore population, only 90 lakh votes were genuine the rest were fake. So, this government is not chosen by us but by fake votes. So, how can something that that we have not chosen be good for us?
Prashant: Are there any changes in the life?
Ayesha:  Disastrous changes. In 5-6 years, the ‘roti’ that we bought for 2 rupay we buy it for 10 rupay (and that too smaller sized roti). When we wanted to curse someone and didn’t want it to come true, we would say – “may he get killed in a bomb blast or some bomb gets dropped on him” because we thought this is just not possible to happen.  But now if you say this to anyone you are abusing him. Things weren’t as bad before.
Awais: To sum up, I’d say two things: Before 99 there was democracy to a certain extent. At least the people were happy. When the dictatorship came, the people were disturbed. Musharraf took a few decisions which disturbed things. In the follow-up, he did such works that the bomb blasts started. When the bomb blasts started not only did the internal peace got impacted but we started becoming infamous in the world. After this, we got democracy. And as Ayesha said, this is worse than the dictatorship. No one in Pakistan is staying in peace.  The situation is such that if you go to a big city, say Peshawar, then you don’t know whether you would come back home safely. 

The situation is such that if you go to a big city, say Peshawar, then you don’t know whether you would come back home safely. 

Prashant: Let’s talk about Bangladesh. Before ’71, it was East Pakistan now it is Bangladesh. What’s your take on the whole episode?
Ayesha:  In the election of ’71, the majority was that of people of Bangladesh and they were to form their government and have their prime minister. Bhutto may have done a lot of good work but his biggest mistake or rather sin was that he divided Pakistan for his own ego.  He made Mujibur Rahman a culprit – even in our course books say Mujibur Rahman was the culprit and spread that India was supporting the divide and Mujibur Rahman. Even if India was supporting him, the mistake was Bhutto's – the mistake was our own.  Why will a third person interfere in your home? Only if you make a mistake will a third person interfere and take advantage of it. Even if India did anything wrong, we were the reason behind it. He, only for his ego and to come to power, divided Pakistan into two parts. 

Bhutto may have done a lot of good work but his biggest mistake or rather sin was that he divided Pakistan for his own ego.

Prashant: Osama Bin Laden has been killed in Pakistan. As local people what is your take on it?
Ayesha: Osama Bin Laden was not in Pakistan so there is no question of his being caught there. He most definitely didn’t get killed there. America killed Saddam Hussain in the public. Osama was a bigger criminal. ‘Toh use paani mein kyon baha diya?’ America just needed an excuse to get out of Afghanistan because it was badly stuck there. The simplest way for this was – Pakistan is anyway infamous. Do a drama of killing him in Pakistan. ‘Apne logon ko yeh toffee khila do ki’ – Osama is dead so we don’t have any reason to stay in Afghanistan. ‘Apni jaan chhuda lo; sab kuchh inke sar pe dal do’ . Destroy our whole economy and damage all our relations and escape.
Prashant: After that, Taliban’s leader, umm…
Ayesha: Mullah Omar?
Prashant:  Mullah Omar is said to have been killed in Pakistan.
Awais: It is rumour.
Prashant: Rumor?
Awais:  If we talk of Saddam Husain, if America wanted to hang him they could have done it in a closed jail but they showed it – the whole world saw; they showed it even till the rope was pulled. If they have killed Osama, then at least show the body.  How many times will you kill one person? To share a little story – I got an SMS the other day – ‘We heard that Osama got killed in 2005, then in 2008, in 2009, 2011. We’ll hear that he got killed in 2015. How many times will you kill him yaar. Even Start Plus doesn’t kill so many times!’
Ayesha: Mullah Omar may as well be in Pakistan. If he is in Pakistan then CIA must be protecting him.  Who else is protecting? CIA can take an insect out from beneath the earth.  If he was in Pakistan from last 5 years then why didn’t they catch him before? If they came to know in March that he’s there then why did CIA wait till May? For their own benefits. If he was in Pakistan then it’s not because Pakistanis have sheltered him but because CIA would have hidden him there.

 We heard that Osama got killed in 2005, then in 2008, in 2009, 2011. We’ll hear that he got killed in 2015. How many times will you kill him yaar. Even Start Plus doesn’t kill so many times!’

Prashant:  What is the perception of the people of Pakistan about the 26/11 episode? How do people perceive it?
Ayesha:  People are somewhat neutral about it. Even in the Talibanization of Pakistan, they have involved Pakistani nationals. Anyone can be ‘spoiled’ in exchange of money.  We don’t support any terrorist activity whether in India or in Pakistan, whether committed by Indian or Pakistani. If Ajmal Kasab was a major culprit, it doesn’t matter whether he was a Pakistani national; what matters is what he has done. He should be punished according to his deed.
Awais: Situation in Mumbai is similar to that in Karachi. You can pay anyone to kill. As Ayesha said, Ajmal Kasab could have been used. Another thing that we see is that if there is a bomblast here, it is said that it is done by Pakistan. If there is a bomb blast in Pakistan it is said that it is done by India. These are possibilities. I personally feel that if there shouldn’t be any bomb blast in India because of Pakistan. Similarly, maybe you also feel the same. If Ajmal Kasab has done what he’s claimed to have done then he should be punished.
Ayesha: The problem is – a lot of times things don’t reach the aam admi. What reaches people is what they want, what they can cash. They are playing with emotions of the people and twisting facts accordingly.  Maybe he is a Pakistani. Maybe he did what is said he did. If he’s done then he should get punished accordingly, regardless of whether he an Indian national, Pakistani national or American national. Raymond David wasn’t spared for what he did in Pakistan. Similarly, if Ajmal Kasab did the miscreant then he shouldn’t be spared.
Prashant: The bottom line is that people of both the countries want ‘aman’.
Ayesha: Exactly.
Prashant:  No one wants bomb blast anywhere.
Ayesha: And who dies in it? An ordinary Indian. What is his mistake? He is also human like us, eats-drinks like us.  He also has aims like we have.  If he’s loyal to his country then it’s good. If he thinks well about India, then he should – it’s logical. If someone staying in Pakistan and thinks against Pakistan then he is mad, he will be bad for us. We cannot consider someone (Indian) as our enemy because he thinks well about India.
Prashant: If someone can think ill for his country then he can think ill for other country as well.
Ayesha: Exactly. 

 We don’t support any terrorist activity whether in India or in Pakistan, whether committed by Indian or Pakistani.

Prashant: Coming to women literacy. About 25% of the women are literate. Even lesser women enter work force.
Ayesha:  The problem of illiteracy is not limited to women. Everyone in Pakistan – men or women - should be provided education. Employment opportunity should also be available to all. However,  I would support for employment opportunity for men. In our society, men are supposed to earn the money for the house. The women earns money for jewelries, bags, parties, etc.  Instead of giving the 10,000 rupay to a women, if you give it a man, he would run the whole ‘khandaan’. So, I wouldn’t support women getting more employment. If a woman really needs to take care of her family financially then it makes sense. For women who do it ‘shaukiya’, I don’t think they should get the opportunity. Instead, if that opportunity is given to a man, then he can run the whole ‘khandaan’.           
Prashant: What about ambition of women?
Ayesha: I don’t think that if you are sitting at home and raising the family you are doing anything less than anyone. You are doing more than the man. You are preparing the next generation and taking care of the whole house. Yours is the biggest contribution. Because, no man can do that. No man can do that. No matter what a man does, he cannot run a house like a woman. If you leave the house on a man, he messes up everything. Instead of leaving the house to some third person, if a woman is taking care of her family then she is doing nothing lesser than anyone. Allah Miya – God – Bhagwan, who has created things that way, knows more than us.
Awais: From mainstreaming perspective, we have some plans and we will see literacy rates higher in a few years in Pakistan.
Ayesha: Education should be for everyone. It is not necessary that if someone is educated then he/she should do job.

Prashant: Finally a question on cricket. In IPL, no Pakistani players were selected. There was a lot of media reaction around it.
Awais: There should be some reaction. If you look at that time, the Pakistani team was very strong.
Prashant: But in IPL it’s all divided
Awais: Yes. It does get divided. But why the celebrities didn’t select them? I have this question from you.
Prashant: In the media it was told that they were invited.
Awais:  Is it that IPL had some problem with ‘Lahore Badshah’?
Prashant: There are two views on this. One is that the selectors didn’t select them for their own reasons. The other thing that was floating around was that it was the same year that 26/11 happened and because of which they were not selected.
Awais: I’d like to quote something from the Indian media. The celebrities were bounded to not select Pakistanis.  What about it?
Prashant:  As Shah Rukh Khan said in his media bite…
Awais: Main Shoab Akhtar ko lena chah raha tha but due to some reasons couldn’t take him
Prashant: So, everyone had their own answers for not selecting any Pakistani player. But another view was also that it was the year of 26/11.
Awais: As far as IPL is concerned, despite there is no Pakistani, but people in Pakistan do see IPL. Right now as the finals are going on, there are people who would have closed their shops or left their offices to see IPL. So, there should be some Pakistanis. Now, how is it possible? I think the factor is – ‘Indian Premiere League’. So, why have ‘Lahore Badshah’ in it.
Ayesha: I think IPL is not an issue. Those playing in IPL played for money – neither for India nor for Pakistan. It is up to the selectors to choose you. They don’t select you based on your passport. They select based on your skills. Instead, if Inda or ICC forbids Pakistani players in India, then it would be a matter of provocation. If someone is not getting selected in IPL, then there is no need of creating an India-Pakistan issue out of it because the person is playing for money and not for India/Pakistan.

If someone is not getting selected in IPL, then there is no need of creating an India-Pakistan issue out of it because the person is playing for money and not for India/Pakistan.

Prashant: We’ve come to the last leg of our interview. This is on the lines of ‘Rapid Fire Round’ in Koffee with Karan. You need to say whatever comes first to your mind (Apparently, they were familiar with Koffee with Karan and the Rapud Fire!)

Prashant: India
Ayesha: Incredible
Awais: Same as Pakistan

Prashant: China
Ayesha: Friend
Awais: Next super power

Prashant: US
Awais: Bull shit
Ayesha: A true rival

Prashant: Taliban
Ayesha: Nothing
Awais: Not Muslims

Prashant: Al Qaeda
Ayesha: Another name for CIA
Awais: Agreed

Prashant: Shah Rukh Khan
Ayesha:  A good actor
Awais: Celebrity

Prashant: Sachin Tendulkar
Ayesha: He’s a celebrity
Awais: Celebrity

Prashant: Mohammad Ali Jinnah
Awais: Great Leader
Ayesha: Mohammad Ali Jinnah… was a… great leader

Prashant: Madrasas
Awais: Some religious schools
Ayesha: Wrongly implemented.
Madrasa basically means school. Even ‘Talib’ means someone who’s struggling for knowledge. Even Madrasas were a good place whose term has been wrongly used. It’s our mis-interpretation
Prashant: So, we are misinterpreting the term, Madrasa
Ayesha: Yes we are misinterpreting the term and we have started implementing it in a wrong way. In Pakistan I have seen Madrasas which teaches religion as well as computer. I’d call it the right madrasa. Madrasa is not where you are taught Talibanization. That is not madrasa

Prashant: Lashkar-e-toiba
Awais: No Comments
Ayesha: Lashkar-e-taiyyaba… It was initiated as a group who would work for human rights in a way which they thought was correct. Maybe, the one who started it, started it with right intentions and maybe who are taking it forward are doing it in a wrong way. Basically, the concept was pertaining to human rights. If people running it are wrong then the blame shouldn’t go to people who started it. If a few people of a religion does something wrong, the blame goes to the person and not the whole religion.

Thanks, once again, Awais and Ayesha for speaking to the people of India and through the Internet to the people of the world. I am also thankful to SAYC for giving us the platform where such candid, people-to-people discussion could happen. Hope a lot of misconceptions about Pakistan has been cleared in this!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pakistan, in person

Pakistan, our most loved and hated neighbor! Pakistan is very similar to India yet the border between them is the most dangerous border in the world. Sitting on this side of the border, from the Indian, western and the Pakistani media, we have a mental image of Pakistan. The South Asian Youth Conference gave me an opportunity to interact with the youth of Pakistan. In the one week I was at the Conference, I made good friends with the Pakistani delegates. In fact, by the end of the conference it was very difficult to differentiate the Pakistani delegates from Indian delegates.

I had a candid, politically incorrect and real interview with the Pakistani delegates. The interview touched upon the life of aam admi in Pakistan and sensitive issues like 9/11 and 26/11. Below is the first of the two-part interview with two common citizens of Pakistan.

Note: The interview, which was in Hindi/Urdu, has been translated and transliterated below. Some Hindi/Urdu words and language specific constructs are kept as is to reduce the harm caused by translation.Please excuse the grammatical errors in this post.

Prashant: We will start with a brief introduction:
Awais: My name is Muhammad Awais Awan. I have come from Pakistan to attend South Asian Youth Conference. I am associated with United Nations' Youth Advisory Panel which gives policy level inputs for its different youth programs.
Ayesha: As-Salamu-Alaykum. My name is Ayesha Ilyas. I am from Peshawar, Pakistan. I am doing honors in communication design. I have done bachelors in mass communication. I am a political activist and a writer.

Prashant: Is this your first visit to India?
Ayesha: No, this is my second visit. Before this, I had come to India as a SAARC delegate for the National Youth Festival of India which was held at Orissa.
Prashant: So how do you find India?
Ayesha: India... India is somewhat similar to ours. I even like it a lot for things where it is different.
Prashant: What are the similarities and where do you think India differs from Pakistan?
Ayesha: The language is similar. The dressing sense is somewhat similar. To a certain extent the cuisine is also similar. The environment is similar. Values in Pakistan and India are also similar. The difference comes in religion and in the increasing western influence. The area I belong to have some restrictions. Yep. That’s it.
Awais: This is my first visit to India. I have found a lot of things similar to that in Pakistan. According to me our dressing sense, customs and culture are similar. Even religious scenario is similar to a certain extent – there are Hindus there, there are Hindus here. There are Musalmaan there, there are Musalmaan here. The difference lies in the fact that the religions that are in majority here are in minority there and religions that are in majority here are in minority there.
Prashant: So, what are the dissimilarities?
Awais: Dissimilarity lies in the way things are rapidly changing due to western influence. Otherwise, we are 95% similar.
  We are 95% similar.
Prashant: What do people do on weekends there?
Ayesha: On weekends, people like to spend time with their families. People also hangout with their friends and go to hotels. Parties and family functions are also hosted on weekends normally.
Prashant: In Bangalore there is this ‘pub culture’. How prevalent are pubs/discos there?
Ayesha: In Karachi and in Islamabad these things, along with western influence, are developing. But in other parts of Pakistan it is not considered good.
Awais: Only in the big cities, people party on weekends. Otherwise people spend time with their family and relatives. Government employees and other employees do a little household work
Prashant: So, pubs and discos are not considered good there.
Awais: No. Not considered good.
Ayesha: No.

Prashant: In India, cricket and films are religions. People are passionate about them. Is it the same in Pakistan?
Ayesha: Cricket is valued in the same way. Film industry of Pakistan is almost dead. Indian movies are taken seriously. Hollywood movies are also viewed to a certain extent. But, mostly, people are passionate about cricket.
Prashant: During the India-Pakistan semi-finals it was almost ‘bandh’ here. Offices were closed.
Ayesha: Exactly. In Pakistan, big screens were set up to screen the matches.

 Prashant: After 9/11 there is a new term that is floating in the media – ‘Islamic terrorism’. What is your take on this?
Ayesha: Apparently, people who suffered in 9/11 are the ones who started ‘Islamic terrorism’. If anyone brought Osama Bin Laden to Afghanistan, then it was CIA. If anyone supported Taliban, then it was CIA. If 9/11 was done by Taliban, then America reaped whatever they had sowed. If there is something called ‘Islamic Terrorism’ then it is neither initiated by any Islamic scholar nor by any Islamic country. So, you cannot call it ‘Islamic’. It would have been ‘Islamic’ if it were initiated by us. It isn’t Islamic. The super powers, for its own benefits, have twisted the meaning of ‘Islam’ and presented it to the people. Basically, all the extremist/terrorist beliefs are in conflict with Islam; there is no match with Islam.
Awais: I don’t understand, ‘what is Islamic terrorism’? If the Taliban are doing suicide bombing, then my question is: If they are musalmaan, then why do they bomb a masjid? A mazaar? An imam bargah? At this point the biggest problem we have is that there a lot of suicide bombings happening in Pakistan. So, even we don’t know who these people are. According to me they are not musalmaan.
Ayesha: In fact, most of us think they are not musalmaan. Everyone says they are not musalmaan.
Awais: I had attended a national level conference in Islamabad. Pakistan government had arrested some 40 suicide bombers. The scholars who analyzed them were of the opinion that the suicide bombers were totally misguided. And Islam teaches harmony.
Ayesha: Islam actually means
Awais: ‘Salaamati’
Ayesha: ‘Salaamati’ means peace. There is no concept of terrorism in Islam.

If the Taliban are doing suicide bombing, then my question is: 'If they are musalmaan, then why do they bomb a masjid?'

Prashant: What assumptions did you have about South Asia – things that media has fed us with? Did you find any of these assumptions invalid and that the reality is something different?
Ayesha: Like other conferences this conference would also be ‘eat, meet and greet’. I had assumed this. If we have come here, then it’s only as a vacation and a waste of time. After coming here, I realized that it is not really a waste of time. One thing that we gained from here is that we got to know about people and we told people about us. If we have made a lot of friends here, it only means that we have shown a good picture. The seriousness with which each issue is discussed and the kind of speakers that are invited make me believe that the organizers really wanted to do something and the ‘Action Plan’ that we are making makes me believe that something positive is going to come from this conference.
Prashant: In our minds, we always have presumptions about people. This person will be like this and that person will be like that. Like, for Afghanistan, the image is that there is always some or the other bombing happening there. Because this is what we read about them. But after coming here, we got to know that there is life there. Did the image that media created in our minds change in this conference?
Ayesha: I had interacted with the South Asian people before so I was pretty clear. Neither India is what its government portrays nor Nepalis are outcast type of people. I had a good experience with them. They are good and very sincere people. I had also met the Sri Lankans before. This is my first meet with the Bangladeshis. I presumed that the Bangladeshis hated us. And even if they did so, they are not wrong. But after coming here I realized that they have a soft corner for us. This was my first interaction with Maldivians. This is also going great. They are very sweet people.
Awais: I agree with Ayesha. As you said that media portrays a different image, I was asked by people from all countries that everyday there is a bomb-blast in Pakistan then how do you people live? I hope that in the 5-6 days I have spent here, the misconception of people is reduced.

I presumed that the Bangladeshis hated us. And even if they did so, they are not wrong. But after coming here I realized that they have a soft corner for us.

Prashant: Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru, Bhutto - Benazir Bhutto - four great politicians in their own rights. How do people of Pakistan see them? We’ll take them one at a time. Gandhi?
Awais: We can’t take them one at a time. Benazir Bhutto is after…
Ayesha: She’s not in that league
Awais: Gandhi. Jinnah. Nehru. According to me these were our leaders who fought for our freedom. Initially we freedom from the British. The ‘do qaumi nazaria’ (two nation theory) came later. They fought for the whole ‘Hindustan’ – the concept of Pakistan comes later.
Prashant: Are they looked with the same reverence with which they are in India?
Awais: Absolutely. As I said, ‘do qaumi nazaria’ came later.
Prashant: But the ‘do qaumi nazaria’ came from them. It is said that Gandhi divided India.
Ayesha: Gandhi didn’t divide. Jinnah was in favor of united India and he trusted Gandhi and liked him till the end. Given the way Gandhi struggled for India – and that time we were all one. So, given the way he struggled for us also, he is our hero as well. Nehru was somewhat ‘with’ British. If Pakistan and India got partitioned and there were problems which arose after the partition, then Nehru had a role to play in them. Jinnah is our leader. Jinnah is our hero. It was the need of the hour that we separated and Jinnah realized that before anyone else. So, I appreciate his vision.
Awais: Jinnah is the greatest. As for Gandhi, Gandhi had his own way of doing things. He got his demands fulfilled through ‘aman’ (non-violence). Look at his campaigns. He worked his way through ‘aman’ and without bloodshed.
Ayesha: After the partition also, in the context of sharing resources with Pakistan – where Nehru and British were creating a little problem, Gandhi was the person who protest for Pakistan that it gets its resources. Gandhi, basically, was a person who wasn’t biased and understood the need of the hour. The problems were created by politicians who came after him. If the things were in his and Jinnah’s hand then the relationship would have been very good.
Jinnah was in favor of united India
Prashant: Coming to Benazir Bhutto…
Awais: She was the first female prime minister.
Prashant: What about her assassination? It appeared that she was going to come to power.
Ayesha: First of all, one thing to appreciate about her is that she took over her father’s party at a very crucial time. It was a big thing. At that time, not even in India or in the west, women weren’t strong enough to lead the whole party. What made her a ‘hero’ was not her personal capability. She started off her father’s work. She didn’t create her own identity. The first identity of Benazir Bhutto was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The government of Benazir Bhutto was one of the most corrupt governments of Pakistan. The perception of people is that when she spent her interim time in Dubai, she had changed her mind and she had become better. Maybe, if she would have gotten a chance again she would have been good. But since she didn’t get a chance how can I assume that she was good? As for her assassination… there is some confusion in Pakistan. However, it appears that though her assassination was blamed on Taliban, the current President, her husband, was involved in it. In Pakistan and India and in our region, the government which comes to power is not the one that the  'awaam' wants. The government which comes to power is the one that the super powers want. So, maybe, it was a game. Most probably, it was a game.

The government which comes to power is not the one that the 'awaam' wants. The government which comes to power is the one that the super powers want.

[Stay tuned for more on dictatorship in Pakistan and on 26/11.

If you have any queries regarding lives of aam admi in Pakistan and their view on things, do drop in your question below and I'll try to get them answered. Also note that the above comments are not from any Pakistani government official. They are from common citizens ]

PS: Thanks VikramAdith Raman for suggesting the title of this post and giving inputs on the formatting!

Edited later: The second part of the interview is here

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