The pieces below are written in first person singular. But the 'I' here stands for both: the individual who is writing about it and the collective, the people, or the nation if you may.

I don't know...
at workplace is
Let me confess, I don't know what sexual harassment at workplace means; maybe because I did not experience it ever in my career in print media. My male colleagues say they too feel on a slippery surface and don't know where to draw the line when dealing with women. An ordinary praise remark may be construed as sexual harassment by some, they say, and I can see their point.



The pieces below are written in first person singular. But the 'I' here stands for both: the individual who is writing about it and the collective, the people, or the nation if you may.

There are so many things -- issues, inanities, profundities -- that are uttered endlessly and about which we know nothing. Some of these we have grown up with. Others are current statements that have a chance of becoming permanent fixtures for us. But the doubts and confusion remain. We have decided to put some of these questions together, questions that we don't have an answer to, but which keep bothering us.

So over to you with the 'I don't know' Special Report. At least we do know what to write even if we don't know how to write it.


I don't know...


at workplace is

Let me confess, I don't know what sexual harassment at workplace means; maybe because I did not experience it ever in my career in print media. My male colleagues say they too feel on a slippery surface and don't know where to draw the line when dealing with women. An ordinary praise remark may be construed as sexual harassment by some, they say, and I can see their point.

My sense is that people, males and females, in any work environment generally go by their instincts and coexist in the best manner possible. But then I am told I work in a liberal environment and, therefore, cannot empathise with the possibility and actual instances of sexual harassment among the vulnerable and disadvantaged sections.

Honestly, I do not wholly agree with the strict definition of the term and how exclusive it may sound to the males. Presentations on sexual harassment in seminars held in five star hotels make me even more skeptical; I am not sure if the voices raised against sexual harassment address the genuine cases or not.


…about the ROLE OF THE US

A huge role but I don't know how come this huge role is so evenly divided between positive and negative, in the case of Pakistan. Some people think it began soon after the country's creation (a few smart ones think it began even before that. They remind us that the Quaid in his presidential speech to the constituent assembly on Aug 11, 1947, quoted the message from the US addressed to him) when Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan decided to make his first foreign trip to the US, ignoring the invitation from the USSR.

We ought to have stayed non-aligned like India and found our own strengths and weaknesses, they say. But we didn't and by 1950s we were declared US allies in the Cold War. Not to say we weren't duly rewarded. The anti-Americanism continued alongside US aid and the quests for green card.

From the outset, every significant happening in the country's politics, economy, or social reform is attributed to the US.

The US is believed to have played a decisive role in Pakistan's wars, Kashmir, ZAB's execution, Afghan war and the jihadist policies adopted by Pakistan, the war on terror, missing persons, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's ouster and as some say his restoration. The list goes on.

Truth is that this country cannot function without foreign (or US) aid. Some people say Pakistan is fighting America's war on terror, not its own. Truth is that terrorism is not a threat anymore, it's a reality, whether we support war on terror or not. Truth is that a lot of people still want to go to the US to make their future bright and secure.



I don't know if we are a secretive nation or actually don't know whodunnit. From the first prime minister who was murdered in a public meeting (the killer too was killed) to the tragedy of 1971 to the hanging of ZAB (some people still question if Bhutto died by hanging) to Ojhri Camp disaster to Ziaul Haq's killing to Mir Murtaza Bhutto's murder to Benazir Bhutto's tragic killing, the people of this country don't know who was responsible.

Ours is a unique case. We have come to a point where national tragedies happen on a monthly, if not on weekly, basis in the form of terrorist attacks, without anybody claiming responsibility.

The police say they are close to the culprits who made the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. I doubt if I will ever know.




The other day I heard this remark at a seminar where one person said about his friend, "He's a bey-deen (a non-religious person)…totally secular."

That's the sort of confusion we have about secularism which is equated with atheism and nothing less. So "we must have an Islamic society or else secularism will prevail," is the refrain we hear from the Islamists in our midst who thereby set the tone of the dominant discourse.

Secularists have always stayed on the defensive and hence this ambivalence.

The fact is that the Islamic world did not share the Christian experience of separation of Church and State, nor does it believe in the need for enlightenment. I don't think many of us understand that secularism only means that "governmental practices or institutions should exist separately from religious beliefs" and it allows for all religions to practise freely and is supposed to protect the rights of minorities.

For the time being, we have decided that secularism as a concept has no space in Islam. Or so I think. I am not sure.


…what the IDEOLOGY of Pakistan is

I got an overdose of the ideology of Pakistan that stemmed from the Two Nation Theory during my entire academic life. Frankly, one look at the state of things in this country and you either don't need to know what ideology of Pakistan is or genuinely feel there's something wrong with this ideology that brought us to this state.

The Two Nation Theory underpinned that Islam and Hinduism are not only two different religions but two distinct social orders "that have given birth to two distinct cultures with no similarities." Hence the demand for Pakistan to prevent the Hindu society from absorbing "the Muslim community of South Asia".

I still recall the bigoted Hindus and their closed unhealthy architecture I was taught in my Pakistan Studies syllabus, long after 1971. Yes, the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 should have put paid to our claims of Muslims being a separate nation. If we were one nation, as we said, why did one half of us want another country? And we haven't been able to set up a heaven on earth that we hoped to. What is the relevance of the ideology of Pakistan, I don't know.


…what the


One of the most controversial phrases that attempted to redeem and glorify another controversial term -- "War". It could not be equated with, say, war on polio or war against discrimination. War on terror obviously meant that war is not terror and any terror inflicted on terror in the name of war would and should go unnoticed. It reaffirmed the concept of just war in international relations and allowed for preemptive war, human rights abuses and violations of international law. Phrases like collateral damage, embedded journalism and places like Guantanamo Bay flew out from "war on terror".

I use it in past tense because the Obama administration has stated categorically it won't use the term as a policy tool.

So far so good. But I'm not sure if it'll go beyond this -- into actually not using it as a policy tool, into looking at the causes of terrorism in the world and in trying to engage with people and nations in a more inclusive way. I feel the international discourse needs some radical changes or the terrorists will keep saying that like "just war", there is scope for "just terrorism" in an increasingly unjust world.



You could do anything in this country in the name of national interest. Whose interest is actually served by this is anybody's guess. You could make democratic and dictatorial experiments. You could hide facts from people and even hide people (sometimes permanently) in the name of national interest. Some decided in favour of a Long March while others decide to crush it -- both do it in national interest. Ask the editors. They'll say they are doing this Special Report in national interest.


…how SECURE I am

It is early March morning. I am shaken out of my deep slumber by a thundering sound that repeats well over a few times. Is it a gun-fire or an explosion? My mind fitfully goes over all possible options. I remember how, sometime back, we heard very 'similar' sounds and they turned out to be the deadliest bomb blasts Lahore had ever seen. Mercifully, my worst fears aren't true. It's 23rd, and the noise was that of the 21-gun salute.

But then who knows? In today's Pakistan, it's not uncommon to be misled by 'sounds' and, sure, 'sights'. Precisely whatever crossed your anxious mind the last time you spotted a Rescue 112 van zip you by? Or when you saw armed soldiers with rifles at the ready patrolling the streets?

What's it that you feel when you read about a hotel building being set to fire or bomb hoaxes in schools?

This isn't talking about street crime or accidents. Today, you cannot step out of your house without having one sort of fear or another. Come to think of it, going to the mosque was never unsafe. Unfortunately, today, it is.




I think I perhaps know what 'establishment' is but I'm not sure why this term is used so profusely in Pakistan. All I can imagine is that it is something dreadful and cruel and will come and get me if I used some other phrase than this sugar-coated 'establishment' to describe it.

Till some years ago, the term was preceded by two adjectives "civil and military". Gradually the word "civil" became irrelevant and only "establishment" is considered enough to sum up the discussion. Political parties are either pro- or anti-establishment and are judged according to these postures.

The term has an international usage as well. Till Bush ruled America, we didn't hear much of it. But ever since Obama came, we hear he has to put up with the etsbalishment in the US.


…about the future of my


I cannot be bullish on Pakistan's investment opportunities. With savings account offering low rate of return, high rate of inflation bringing negative returns; stock market showing erratic trends, property market in a slump, rupee losing against US dollar, law and order making headlines, and signs of world recession looming over our heads, certainly the financial situations has dampened my appetite for investment within the country.

Also, net foreign investment inflow to Pakistan is nearly 13 percent below the last year's level and almost 185 million dollars of foreign portfolio investment has flowed out of the country.

Perhaps the only viable opportunity is government saving schemes which promise a relatively high rate of return. But the time consumed and tedious procedures entailed in its encashment makes me think twice.

So, what do I do with my savings? Any suggestions, other than stacking them under my pillow?


…what the WRIT OF THE STATE is

I raised my eyebrows, like many times before, on the government's decision to sign the peace deal with the Pushtun jihadist forces to implement the shariah-based regulation in a bid to end insurgency in Swat. I asked, is the state submitting to the demands of the militants, and eroding the state's writ? I realised just how far things have deteriorated. We had heard of the state losing writ in the Fata and other areas affected by insurgency, but this indicated that proper Pakistan was also getting out grip.

Absolutely, there's mayhem around us. The state machinery is crumbling, education and healthcare is beyond its capacity, and it has shunned the responsibility of providing security to people. Kidnapping for ransom is common. Is the state in control? Where's the writ?


…about the FUTURE of my children


Nothing is more terrifying for my children than blasts and terror strikes these days. Bomb blasts greet them each day, militants are household names, gun totting terrorists a regular sight. Blood, gore and death is an everyday occurrence. It's scary.

This is not what I wanted to expose my children to when I wiped their bottoms, or now when I pick and drop them to school and carry out with them their after school activities. I have conceded that ensuring their safety in schools or in play fields is beyond my control. I cannot guarantee as basic as a secure environment for them to play and frolic in. As a mother, nothing can be more demoralising than this.

And to top it, I feel the standard of education is to cry for, sports facilities dismal, air and water dirty, food fatty…. The list is long.

Guns, shooting and killing the enemy sounds good, and arguably is healthy fun, as far as Nintendo and Play Station go -- but in real life it's serious business. I don't know if these are the best -- or the worst -- of times to bring up my children.


CIVIL SOCIETY isCan somebody please stand up and tell me what 'civil society' is? I have been hearing this phrase for decades now and still can't figure out what it is.

The foreign-funded NGOs engaged in development and advocacy work across the country love to use the term to describe themselves. Whenever there is political turmoil or a human rights violation or whatever, these NGOs together under the banner of JAC (Joint Action Committee) get their act and employees together and come out on the streets to protest. They have been sometimes joined by a few journalists, some students and a handful of teachers from private institutions as well. In a politically-dead scenario, these protests have been celebrated as courageous displays but even on one of their best days, they have included not more than a couple of hundred people.

I doubt if this is what the civil society is all about.

The Lawyers Movement was projected as a civil society movement. The professional bodies of lawyers struggling to uphold the supremacy of constitution does sound more like civil society.

Lately, the moneyed and educated people have upheld the banner of Concerned Citizens of Pakistan (some jestingly call it FCCP as in few concerned citizens of Pakistan) and ought to be included in our definition of the term.

Though, by implication, the rest of the populace is the uncivil society and ultimately the uncivil society is what shall matter.

Do we not want our entire society to become the civil society? Just a thought.


…what RELIGION means to our


Well, practically, 'all things'. To a lot of us, it's a way of life. To some, it's a 'personal affair' -- something that needs not be discussed in public and, hence, 'preached'. They don't like to be told what does and what doesn't fall into the bracket of religion. They take it personally, you know!

Then there are those who like to 'analyse' and 'rationalise' Scripture. Needless to say whatever they fail to understand shall be disregarded completely.

Of course, there is the more strictly faithful lot who'd consider all discussion on religious matters profane -- simply.

I want to know why it is not ok to try and understand what you have been given to follow.

I want to know why it is ok to consume your energies and time into rituals after rituals, day after day.

I want to know how religion can be so oppressive as to excite killings of innocent people.




Search google for the term load-shedding and the only references that you shall find would be those made towards Pakistan, with one exception and that is of South Africa. Load-shedding is as Pakistani as you can get and needs no introduction. During the ninetees when this phenomenon erupted, its purpose was usually to address just what the name implied. Decrease the amount of load on the national electrical grid due to power demand during peak hours. However, recently the load seems to have engulfed the entire course of the day and the demand seems to have transformed from being a peak to a plateau. With the real culprit being the diminished production of electricity with regards to the basic requirement of the country, the term would have to be amended to load-bearing.


…what's going on in the



For me Pakistan's tribal areas are a mystery. Relying mainly on news items and eye witness accounts, the area far, wide and out of reach, I conjecture has been razed by commando raids, missile strikes and drone attacks on al Qaeda and Taliban targets. Are the foreign fighters, against whom raids were initially launched, out or killed? And how much damage has been done by the militants' offensive or retaliatory acts? Have the majority of the locals been won over by the militants and their rigid interpretation of Islam? For certainly a clean shaven face can bring death, girls schools bombed and CD and music shops ransacked.

Further I don't know who's running the area. The tribal lords, militants or intelligence agencies… Who has the writ?




My Pukhtoon cousins from the maternal side, who have been living abroad for years, break into Pushto every time they are together. A colleague of mine whose ancestors are from Shikarpur is always chatting away with his folks in Sindhi. I hear common man in the street banter in Punjabi wherever I go.

In offices we like to converse in English. Back home our help has a peculiar Seraiki dialect which she shares with her fellow maids.

I don't know what 'national language' is and where it is. Yes, it's on TV and radio, but your favourite hosts aren't exactly speaking it. It's in books and newspapers, but your pet subjects aren't written in it.

Why all the fuss about 'national language'? Why the need to impose?

Shouldn't we let it be?



Sovereignty for a third-worlder like me is only a concept to be debated in political theory books. We change colonisers and call it independence. We allow drone attacks because we are not capable of doing anything about them and then, on every August 14, speechify and glorify this illusion.

Sovereignty, in an interdependent, globalised world, should be deleted from political parlance, especially in poor countries. We are here to provide raw material, in human and material form, for the consumption of the first world. Our most capable citizens want to migrate once and for all to other countries. Perhaps, our government should test the loyalty of its sovereign citizens by having open immigration system with a couple of countries. The result will tell how sovereign this nation is and how patriotic our citizenry is.

…what is


I don't know what isn't Chinese, wherever I see, whatever I see, everything is "made in China." There is a popular assumption about the Chinese: show them anything once and they will replicate it. Considering the fact that China has the world's second largest research and development budget, it wouldn't be wrong to say that technology to the Chinese is a joke.

The simple fact is the Chinese cannot see me -- a Pakistani -- in pain. Consider some examples: I suffer from the wrath of load-shedding, they come up with a small battery light that works almost like a normal one. I want to listen to music but I hate America and don't want to buy an Apple ipod, (secretly I don't have that much money) the Chinese solve my problem by making an inexpensive mp3 player-- not as cool as an ipod-- but I am still listening to my songs, right? The Chinese make my life easier. Mark my words, years into the future, an American doctor will open up a Pakistani man's brain for brain surgery and squirm to find a mechanical brain with the tag saying, "made in China!"


… where good TEACHERS are

Good teachers can be a dangerous bunch of people therefore they have been rendered absent or useless by our education system where every province has to teach an officially-sanctioned set of books containing an authorised set of ideas. These books don't change for decades as the entire world changes around. Once, after several years, I met a former teacher of my intermediate days. I asked him what he was doing. He said, "I am still trying to shoo away that bloody seagull," referring to the short story His First Flight.

The education system is almost as damaging to students as it is to teachers. Everybody has to think run-of-the-mill thoughts and reproduce what everybody else thinks.


…what's IN

Living in Pakistan, one is confronted with so many socio-cultural influences that it becomes a perplexing challenge to identify oneself with what's the rage and what is passé. As it is, we are already bombarded with tons of images stemming from the Americo-Western and Indian media. The fashion scenes of Paris, Milan, New York and Mumbai perpetuate designs that seem to make no to have no rhyme or reason to us desi paandas. Even something as insignificant as there being two or three buttons on a formal jacket is perceived to serve as a deciding factor in what is in vogue and what is 'so last year'.

However, even for those attempting to stay true to roots, so to say, and follow the local fashionistas, the Lahore and Karachi clubs distort your senses further. (Was there ever an Isloo fashion scene? I have no idea… )

On a different note, environmental conservation seems to be quite the buzz in various private and public sector projects but the actual implementation seems to just go up in smoke.


…who OUR ENEMY is

You talk of enemies and I go schizophrenic.Is my enemy the Indian? The same one, who just 62 years ago lived in my neighbourhood? Who I used to talk to everyday? The one who shared my dreams with me of a land free of white domination?

Now I stand behind my barbed wire, three wars exhausted, my sweaty hand trigger-ready for a fourth. But somehow, I find the time to look at you sometimes, on the screen or in person and think why didn't we remain just friends.

Is my enemy the politician? The chameleon. Who makes sweet promises to take care of me when he wants votes, but once in power completely forgets me?

Is the United States my friend or my enemy? I helped it throw the Soviets out of Afghanistan. I turned against my friends for them and became an ally in the 'war on terror' -- a phrase I still do not fully understand.

The US gives me tons of cash, yet my 'friend' calls me incompetent, meddles in my politics and kills my people. Sometimes it feels that I sold my soul to the devil.

Or is my enemy the terrorist? The one with the blown-up face I see in the newspaper everyday, the one who instills fear and uncertainty and the one who will stop at nothing to reach a heaven, I don't even agree with.


…what IDENTITY is

As a child, I had no clue that human beings possessed, or even needed, identity. Everything and everyone, for me, was part of the collective mass "that." After coming back from school, I would say pointing towards my body "that went to school today" (woh school gaya tha). Slowly people started showing signs of confusion at this choice of non-personal pronoun. One day a teacher took me aside and said "You are supposed to use "I" when talking about yourself" (Apnay liyay mein ka lafz istamaal kiya karo). The separation from the collective human mass, individualisation, was just a sensation for me at that time but it was scary. The first thought or feeling that came to my mind was that once separated from everybody I could be punished separately for my pranks. Perhaps, that is what identity does: identify humans for punishment and reward. Perhaps there is nothing more to it.


… what LAW is


I have only seen this word nor its manifestation in this society. It is the law to stop traffic for VIPs. It is the law to show one's computerised identity card to a policeman when he asks. Sometimes I think law works like a calculator. Doing x equals y days in jail or paying z amount in fine. But because this calculation works differently in every society, there is no universal law. Still, policing is universal. But there are different police forces too. In Saudi Arabia, there is a police force to ensure pious behaviour as if the sin and the crime were one and the same thing. In Western societies, the sin has been separated from the business of the state. Law, then, is something like climate. It changes according to the terrain and collective human activity.…what UMMAH is

The term used to fascinate me in my school/college days. It felt great to be one with a much larger nation of Muslims the world over, beyond the considerations of borders, tribes and castes. Today, well, I am not sure.

Will somebody explain to me why America, the UK and other western countries do not need a visa to go to a lot of Muslim countries that, however, do not offer the same to Pakistan?

If every Muslim is an integral part of the Ummah, why should we be fighting among ourselves -- over petty issues of caste and tribe et al?

I don't know why we Pakistanis should be more concerned about the problems and miseries of their fellow brethren from Sudan, Palestine, Lebanon, Chechnya, Afghanistan or Iraq?

Pakistan can give shelter to three million Afghans but what about the 0.3 million Beharis, who claim to be Pakistani, living in Bangladesh since 1971 and waiting to come back?

Is the Ummah listening?



I wouldn't know. But what I do know is that this now-popular concept came to Pakistan a few years back. Previously, we didn't have anything of the sort.

I think it is just another business enterprise imported from Saudi Arabia to the Muslim majority Pakistan -- in the name of Islam that forbids 'interest'.

Interestingly, when you actually do (Islamic) banking, you get to know that it is nothing but an illusion as the charges and the mark-up are almost the same.

There are hidden charges, too. Once I phoned an 'Islamic bank' in Lahore and inquired about the mark-up rate in car leasing which, surprisingly, was not less than the mark-up offered by other 'non-Islamic' banks.


… what LIBERALISM is

Originally, it was a dream to break free from the tyranny of feudalism. With machine-based production and the consequent urbanisation, it was possible to have one' own monthly salary and not depend on the patronage of a feudal lord. So human beings started dreaming about freedom from bondage. Liberty and equality became the new ideals. But these have all proved illusions in the last three hundred years or so. The hierarchical habits of human thought have been here for millennia and, so far, show no sign of disappearing. Therefore, it all seems a desire to make some human beings more equal. This has been proven again and again. Liberalism, especially after the two terms of George W. Bush, has also shown itself as a war-mongering cowboy fantasy. It is, perhaps, the best set of ideas to have a docile population in the military, industry, and banks enjoy a threesome.



It may be the new fad being introduced by our tourism minister, but to be honest, I don't really get what it's all about.

With parts of Pakistan being controlled by terrorists and others being terrorised by them, why would anyone want to come and visit Pakistan for fun?

Add to it the fact that the word 'Islam' has come to acquire rather negative connotations for most foreigners and that this tourism package will not include alcohol or any other 'unIslamic activity' and you have a recipe for failure.


…WHAT we are eating

You know when you start longing for that tantalising 'chaat', 'dahi bhalley' or 'gol guppas' and can't wait to go to the nearest stall or 'thela' and have your fill. But then what with all the reports about those strains of hepatitis floating around that comprise a major part of the alphabet. You are torn between either satiating your urges or exercising restraint and saving yourself from a painful trip to the hospital.

Okay, so then you think about treading down the path of packaged goodies and bottled drinks with the hope of ensuring that quality controlled stuff goes down your gullet. But then you are reminded that by consuming international brands such as Coke and Pepsi, you are supporting the capitalist or Zionist agenda and thus would become traitors to your country and religion.

Even with home-cooked meals, in many households food is just not food if not made in desi ghee and you with your low-fat preferences are nothing but a weakling.



If you travel through Pakistan by train you come across a number of advertisements chalked on walls on cures of 'poshida amraz' (hidden ailments) and 'bawaseer' (piles). You are bound to think that the whole population is suffering from hidden health problems -- quite a statement on state of health and the availability of healthcare.

Like many people I land in hospital only when there is a real emergency situation. I don't know what is healthcare because once I dared to go for a check-up to a hospital and found the doctors laughing at me.

We better keep our fears to ourselves till there are obvious signs of a disease, deformity or malignancy or the doctors will not take you seriously.

I go to a doctor only when I can't do without one. Don't we all visit a doctor only then? And the treatment we get is anybody's guess.

In almost all situations, the general practitioners give a number of medicines, sometimes eight to ten tablets. One of them is bound to work after all and yes it does.

Long live the GP!



…what's wrong with our EDUCATION

SYSTEMThe educational system in Pakistan is not really a homogenous whole but a hodgepodge of degrees and certifications. Since ever, the mainstream academic levels had comprised of Matriculation, Intermediate and Bachelors. But then along came Senior Cambridge and Higher School Certificate (HSC) as well as the misunderstood Ordinary and Advanced Levels. Initially being exclusive to elite institutions such as Grammar Schools of Karachi and Lahore, Aitchison College and Convent, the alien programmes became must in English medium schools everywhere.

A decade or two ago, students were all enthusiastic about specialising in engineering or medicine but then the rage of MBA swept across the entire nation. Masters programmes of specific disciplines such as English Literature, History and Psychology became secondary and acquired a disdain from expectant job seekers.

Of late, even the full-length degree programmes are not sufficient and students hoping to progress to a higher level have to take admission tests to be sorted like wheat from the chaff.





Is it crime turned fashionable? There was a time when corruption was considered a heinous crime and cases were taken up by the authorities with a stern hand. But these days are gone. Today, embezzlement of a few million bucks doesn't make news.

What, perhaps, does make news is the fact that a majority of officials in Anti Corruption Department are corrupt! …what


The term was coined in the late 1990s following the rise of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. But in less than a decade it has become a household phrase. And even a private and public joke.

"Is he Taliban?" you are likely to remark if you spot a man with a long beard and a prayer cap.

Every second person in our surroundings is worried about the phenomenon called 'Talibanisation'. I am no exception. And just as most of us know precious little about what actually is the state of affairs, I am no exception.


VOCATIONAL training is


I know of vocational training institutes like TEVTA -- Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority -- and PVTC -- Punjab Vocational Training Council. But in my 15-year long professional career, I've yet to meet any skilled worker who was educated (read trained) at any of these places. I don't know if it's because we don't have many such institutes.

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