A new civilian face

The first time in eight years a civil bureaucrat has been appointed as chairman NAB.
A review of the bureau's performance so far
By Nadeem Iqbal
-The recent unscheduled change of guard in the highest office of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has triggered widespread speculations about political expediency now defining NAB's anti-corruption strategy instead of its stated aim -- ruthless accountability of white collared corruption.

Some plays in the recently concluded Pattan Lok Natak festival managed to avoid the collision that is bound to arise in a message-driven theatre
By Sarwat Ali
Theatre's instant appeal is seen by many to be a ready vehicle for the transmission of ideas, especially ideas that are radical or a departure from the way normal people think and behave. Those people who do not have access to other means of information like the written word are particularly targeted by such dissemination of ideas in the hope that it will bring about a change for the better in their lives.

Masters of pun
As old performers took their comedic skills to the big screen and television, standup comedy and one-man shows, it seemed, were dead for good or so it seemed
By Ali Sultan
Comedy, someone said, is the art of laughter. Aristotle in his famous 'Poetics' claims that the origins of comedy are obscure, because nobody took it seriously.

"I am an idealist"
Sameera Raja, the spirit behind Canvas Gallery, talks about the business of selling art
By Quddus Mirza
For many artists gallery is just a nuisance -- an institution that makes a profit out of their hard work with its commission on the sale of each art piece. For others the gallery is an indispensable institution that is responsible for raising awareness of art. It is a means for bringing art close to those who cannot afford to purchase it.


-The recent unscheduled change of guard in the highest office of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has triggered widespread speculations about political expediency now defining NAB's anti-corruption strategy instead of its stated aim -- ruthless accountability of white collared corruption.

The reasons for Lt Gen (Retd) Shahid Aziz leaving his office as chairman NAB early this month are still shrouded in mystery. Secretary General Finance Nawid Ahsan has been appointed as the new chairman.

Nawid Ahsan has been projected in the media as Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's buddy but Lt. Gen (Retd) Shahid Aziz too is a relative of President General Pervez Musharraf. A fact Gen Musharraf has himself mentioned in his memoir 'In the Line of Fire' (page 121). Gen Musharraf dubbed Shahid Aziz as the centre for the counter coup operation in 1999 after whose success General Musharraf took over. Musharraf wrote: "The DGMO -- in this case Shahid Aziz -- is the officer on whose orders the army moves, for his advice is regarded as orders from the chief. Thus the countercoups would be controlled by his office, which soon took on the appearance of a war room."

Lt Gen (r) Shahid Aziz was appointed NAB chairman on November 10, 2005 for a period of four years. According to NAB ordinance of 1999, the NAB chairman cannot be removed before the expiry of four year except if he resigns or is removed on grounds similar to that of the removal of the judge of Supreme Court.

In case of Shahid Aziz, it is still not clear if he has resigned or has been removed. An official of NAB confided to TNS that Shahid, who had been disgruntled by the attitude of the government, stopped coming to the office after May 5 this year, after having spent around 18 months on the job.

Of the four generals who served NAB as chairman, Lt Gen (r) Shahid Aziz was the only retired general while other three -- Amjad Hussain, Khalid Maqbool and Munir Hafeez -- were serving lieutenant generals of Pakistan army. Lt Gen Munir Hafeez was removed from NAB on the eve of his retirement from the army. When the charge of NAB was taken away from Gen Amjad, he was heard saying in private that as an army man, he could not resign or be terminated from the post of chairman. Only the Army Chief could reassign him to another task.

The NAB law provides that chairman NAB can be a retired Chief Justice or a Judge of the Supreme Court or Chief Justice of a High Court or a retired Lieutenant General or a retired Federal Government Officer in BPS 22. While for the post of deputy chairman no judge can be appointed, only a serving or retired Major General of a BPS 21 grade officer can occupy the position.

It is the first time in eight years that the president has availed the option of appointing a civil bureaucrat Nawid Ahsan as chairman NAB. Over 17 per cent of the NAB staff still comprises officers from forces, holding strategically important positions compared to their civilian colleagues.

The appointment of a civilian on the job is also being seen in the context of the president himself doffing his uniform and reappearing as a civilian president. A NAB officer told TNS that an army officer, retired or serving, is answerable to the Army Chief, and as President Musharraf keeps the control of NAB to himself, therefore he is bringing changes according to his own political career moves.

The official disclosed on condition of anonymity that General Shahid kept himself isolated from other departments like State Bank, Securities and Exchange Commission, federal finance ministry etc., and these departments also reciprocated in a similar manner. "Most of his time was spent disposing off the internal business of the organisation," the officer added.

Sources say that Gen Shahid and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz could not develop a good rapport from the beginning when the PM, in a public function, reprimanded NAB to enhance its capacity and not to insult senior bureaucrats by keeping them waiting for hours on the pretext of investigation.

Its eight years performance is described on the NAB website. Soon after its inception in 1999, the website says, the National Accountability Bureau's focus was detection, investigation and prosecution of white collar crime. In 2002 after the evolution of National Anticorruption Strategy, identification of root causes of corruption were also incorporated into the anti corruption mechanism that empowered NAB to undertake prevention and awareness campaigns about corruption.

An overview of NAB shows that the first chairman General Amjad had ruthlessly pursued the accountability agenda at the cost of offending the business community and hindering the economic growth. During General Maqbool's term, compromises were struck with the business community and important politicians. A high-powered committee consisting of chairman, principal secretary to the President, State Bank governor etc. used to interrogate high level suspects and plea-bargain became the order of the day.

As part of its political expediency strategy, the government last month abolished the Special Operation Division (SOD), a subsidiary of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which was investigating matters related to illegal foreign assets and offshore bank accounts of politicians, including Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari.

SOD was headed by Hassan Waseem Afzal, who is known for masterminding the Swiss Case against Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari during the tenure of Nawaz Sharif compelling Benazir to leave the country. He was also awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz by the government of Pakistan.

Hassan was appointed deputy chairman NAB soon after Lt Gen (Re) Shahid Aziz assumed office in 2005. It was a time when the government wanted to penalise Benazir who was exerting pressure on the Musharraf-led government for her return. Hassan again activated cases against Benazir and Zardari in Swiss courts, and visited Switzerland. Amidst rumours of an impending deal with Benazir, Hassan's services have been returned to Punjab government.

With the appointment of Nawid, the responsibility of cleansing the civilians of corruption now rests with a bureaucrat but not before generating speculations in the media that Nawid's main task is to pre-empt charges of corruption against the prime minister. Interestingly, most of the charges of corruption levelled by the opposition are against the prime minister and not the president.



By Sarwat Ali

Theatre's instant appeal is seen by many to be a ready vehicle for the transmission of ideas, especially ideas that are radical or a departure from the way normal people think and behave. Those people who do not have access to other means of information like the written word are particularly targeted by such dissemination of ideas in the hope that it will bring about a change for the better in their lives.

Many organisations in the recent past have been cultivating theatre as a means of spreading the message and one such body Pattan Lok Natak staged a week-long festival at the Alhamra in Lahore last week. Based in Multan, the non governmental organisation (NGO), Pattan has been involved in creating awareness about child abuse, women's rights and exploitation of the poor. The performing arts wings of such bodies usually comprising theatre have been performing either in makeshift venues or proper theatre in the recent past.

Pattan Lok Natak has been involved in at least a thousand street performances and has also performed in the proscenium theatre. It has also organised, according to the brochure, many festivals -- this being the fourth such endeavour.

The most important fallout of such work by the NGOs -- that it has spread the practice of theatre into the far reaches of the country -- is commendable. Usually theatre was either confined to the cities or there was the rural theatre mostly in the form of touring companies that pitched their tents from urs to urs and mela to mela usually staging plays about folk tales and mythologies that people were mostly aware of. These relatively recently formed theatre groups with their issue-based theatre basically involving amateur performers have acted in villages and towns besides staging street plays in bigger cities of the country.

The plays that have been staged other than the ones on the commercial circuit have been either by the schools and colleges or the NGOs. The plays at colleges in particular are staged with the intention of making the students aware of the importance of theatre with reference to its finer points as a craft. Usually these plays are of the known masters. The other type of plays staged is issue based usually by the large number of bodies that has sprung up in the last 20 odd years usually bracketed as NGOs. For them theatre is basically a vehicle for the dissemination of ideas that have germinated elsewhere. Theatre becomes only a means with a vehicular status.

The plays staged in the festival by Pattan Lok Natak were 'Bhambar' written by William Pervaiz and directed by Faqeer Hussain, Chaj Forum's 'Guard' written by Prof. Riaz and directed by Qasim Ali, Maas Foundation's 'Guddo' written and directed by Amir Nawaz , Idara Roshan Mustaqbil 'Armnon ka Kafan' written and directed by Kashif Abbas, Laetaan Productions 'Roundabout' written by Umais Anwar and directed by Akifa Mian and Cactus Production's 'Lamb to the Slaughter House' written by Bushra Azeem and directed by Raffay Farooq.

At least one play in the festival 'Lamb to the Slaughter House' was in English and it was not driven exclusively by an issue. It was more in the nature of a comedy that was meant to make the audience laugh, and if there was a message it was implied rather than being stated in its most obvious form. The demands of theatre that are rather oblique and the demands of running a campaign at times collide and rebound on opposite courses.

In order to make the message as clear as possible the latent ambiguity on which the arts feeds themselves is considered to be irrelevant. This half way meeting point to some extent was met with by Laetaan Production's 'Round About'. Though the play was again blatant in its depiction of how the poor live and are exploited by the instruments of state power like the police it had attempted to meet the rudiments of theatre. It is important that any action should have a credible cause, and for that there should be a creditable build up so that when it happens the audience is not taken aback by the excess of it. In this play there seemed to be an effort to see the very grim prospects of the wretched of the earth in such credible light. 'Guard' too, was a better production with the reminiscing guard constantly ironically compared the spirit that embodied the freedom struggle with its contorted outcome in the way the country has functioned. Though a stock format, at times the contrast was quite vivid and stark.

Two Indians plays were supposed to be part of the festival -- The Oceanic Theatre from Delhi was to stage 'Piece of Art', an adaptation of Chekov's short story of the same name by Nadeem Eqbal and directed by Vikram Kumar and SPKK from Chandigargh was to perform 'Hayavadan' written by Grish Karnard and directed by Umesh Kant. But both the plays could not be staged because the groups were not issued visas on time.

Despite the hype of easier access to each other, there are still many constrictions in the whole length of procedures that also need to be smoothened between the two countries. We are carried away by the statements and the intentions that are made public but unless the cumbersome procedures are straightened out very little of the good intentions will be passed on to the ordinary visitor.

Masters of pun

Comedy, someone said, is the art of laughter. Aristotle in his famous 'Poetics' claims that the origins of comedy are obscure, because nobody took it seriously.

Stand-up comedy is a style of comedy where the performer speaks directly to the audience, with the absence of the theatrical fourth wall. Some will be surprised to know that the concept of a single person or more performing for laughs in front of an audience is an age old tradition in the subcontinent. The 'Bhaand' or comedian is defined as a mimic or jester who sings and dances and does mimicry.

The Bhaands who were usually invited to perform at weddings and courts were mimics, lampoonists, satirists, outspoken commentators on the affairs of the day, stand up comedians, masters of pun and sarcasm, double entendre and performance. In society, however the Bhaands were treated with contempt and known to be cheap and shameless.

The only historian who considered Bhaands worthy of description was, predictably, the great chronicler of 19th century Lucknow, Abdul Halim Sharar. In 'Guzishta Lucknow', Sharar states, "The Bhaands are a kind of National Satirists, and they performed the same function here as was done by the 'Spectator' and 'Tattler' satirical newspaper in early 19th century in England. Delhi's Karela Bhaand was legendary at the time of Mohammed Shah. Their jokes, sarcasm and mimicry is legendary. It was said of them that wherever they performed, they always used to lampoon their host and patron."

Welcome to the world

There are three pivotal people and a television show along with its host that changed everything for stand-up comedy in Pakistan. Moeen Akther, Khalid Abbas Dar, Umer Sharif, and the Zia Moyeddin Show, not necessarily in the same order.

In the early 1970s PTV showed its first-ever stage show hosted by Zia Mohyeddin. The show was an instant hit and proved to be a trendsetter.

It was this show that laid down the foundation of comedy skits and stand up comedy that led to a slew of memorable television programmes such as 'Fifty Fifty', 'Siver Jubilee' and others. It was also responsible for introducing comedy pioneers such as Khalid Abbas Dar and Moeen Akhter.

The first time Khalid Abbas Dar appeared on television, way back in the early 1960s, his mother did not recognise him. Recorded in black and white, the actor appeared in an impersonation show as a beggar and depending upon the theme of the television show, he would change his guise. He is the only performer in Pakistan with the ability to carry a one-man show for over two hours.

Khalid Abbas Dar is known for singularly responsible for introducing 'one-man show' in Pakistan; he is the only one to lay claim, and rightfully so, to mimicry. His spontaneous and extempore performances are packed with socially thematic innuendoes.

His pride at achieving a legendary status in Pakistan's performing arts was appreciated by his alma mater when Khalid Abbas was selected as the only Ravian to be awarded a Roll of Honour at the Government College, Lahore as a mimic. The uniqueness of his status was further fortified at the time he received the Presidential Award for Pride of Performance as a one-man show performer.

Moeen Akhter, a young and extremely skinny man from Karachi, started his career in 1966 with a variety show, and before long became a face familiar across the nation for acting on television, films and stage, hosting variety shows, and humorous impersonations of famous personalities (including actors Muhammad Ali, Waheed Murad, Dilip Kumar, and singers Mehdi Hasan and Ahmad Rushdi and others).

Zia Moyeddin wrote this about Moeen Akhter, "I digress only to point out that if I were to call Moeen Akhtar a star I would be equating him with all the sultry sirens who, without exception, are capable only of offering the most egregious stage performance imaginable. The fact is that Moeen Akhter is a nonpareil impersonator who achieves his effects with a minimum of effort. Moeen Akhtar does not do things by stealth; he is bluff and he romps ands his sense of humour is ebullient. He may not have the fastidiousness of tone and gesture that the Master had, but he does, like the Master, as Tynan described so beautifully, take 'sophistication out of the refrigerator and put it on the hob'."

The last of the great standup comedians was Umer Sharif. He made his debut in the early 1980s. He has an audience as loyal and devoted as Waheed Murad's in his heyday. He has Munawwar Zarif's sense of comic, timing and talent for mimicry. His knack for satire is reminiscent of Rangila at his peak. And though he may have a down-to-earth and downright endearing Nadeem-like quality about him, Umer Sharif possesses a sharp little tongue that can promptly put even the highest paragon of establishment in his place.

All of the above performed standup comedy early in their careers. With the advent of stage plays, some incorporated their standup material into ensemble performances. Others took their comedic skills to the big screen and television. Standup comedy and one-man shows, it seemed, were dead for good. 

Here comes the Sun

But Saad Haroon had plans. After completing a degree in Communications and Film from the University of Massachusetts, he came back to his hometown -- Karachi -- and saw that no one was laughing. Endowed with a sense of humour and a love for theatre, Saad with a couple of other like-minded folk started an improv comedy group called 'Black Fish' in the middle of 2002 in Karachi. And nothing has been the same since.

Since its birth in 2002 till its demise in 2007, Black Fish with its brand of improvisational comedy and revolving members toured most parts of Pakistan and even got a shot to represent Pakistan in 'Contacting the World', an international youth festival, held in Manchester in 2004. The structure of their shows was based on ideas and suggestions given by the audience, which would then be incorporated in various games the members would play out.

Full circle

With the demise of Black Fish, three of its members, Saad Haroon, Danish Ali and Sami Shah are still performing stand up comedy. Saad Haroon puts it, "It's always a risk. It's not easy getting up there and eliciting the same reaction you might have gotten a previous time."

Sami Shah is also getting praise for his performances. "He is very good," says Fatima, a student who went to watch one of his shows. "I think him and others like him are the new breed of comedians. They exactly know, what today's generation is going through and their routines are very much like those in the West. We as an audience can relate to that, because we have grown up on American stand up routines," she says.


"I am an idealist"

  By Quddus Mirza

For many artists gallery is just a nuisance -- an institution that makes a profit out of their hard work with its commission on the sale of each art piece. For others the gallery is an indispensable institution that is responsible for raising awareness of art. It is a means for bringing art close to those who cannot afford to purchase it.

In our country, art galleries have played varied roles. They have contributed in supporting young artists, encouraged new ideas, promoted certain schools of thoughts as well as spread commercialism and produced a line of fake art pieces. From the earliest art gallery in Pakistan (managed by Zubeida Agha) to this day, galleries have been an essential part of the Pakistani art.

One of the galleries recognised for showing works of merit and worth is the Canvas Gallery in Karachi. In a span of just eight years, Canvas has become a leading art gallery of the country. Sameera Raja, the spirit behind the gallery, on a recent visit to Lahore, talked about her approach towards art business, shared her experience of dealing in Pakistani art and discussed the current situation of art. Excerpts follow:

The News on Sunday: When did the idea of establishing a gallery occur and how?

Sameera Raja: It was about eight years ago when I realised that there were not many galleries, and the ones we had were not displaying the works of new artists. So I wanted to fill that gap with my gallery.

TNS: Do you aim to change anything through your gallery?

SR: I want to transform people's perception of art -- from being a visual pleasure only, from being something that should match their furniture, curtains or carpets; and from their conception of art as an investment. I wish to change all this. I wish people could treat art as a testimony of its time.

TNS: What ways and means do you employ to achieve this? Do you only sell 'certain' kinds of works?

SR: I take the risk. I exhibit a lot of young artists, not just those who are well-known or commercially viable. I put my support behind them because I believe in their works. I try to convey to the viewers that art has the power to transform their ideas.

As far as selling the art work is concerned, it is a part of gallery business, but in my opinion one should buy something with which one can connect, instead of simply buying a label. That's why I am not busy selling dead masters' works. I deal with stuff that gives me pleasure and satisfaction, which represents the present, and which has the potential to put Pakistan in the forefront of world art.

TNS: This idealism is understandable, but how do you define the role of a commercial art gallery?

SR: Apart from managing a commercial gallery, I am an idealist as well. I am not here just to make money. Often I exhibit works, which do not sell, but it's okay, because those are important examples of creative expression. And commercial success is not the criterion to judge good art. In fact, if one exhibition is not a financial success, it doesn't matter, because another will be. In any case if something is not sold today, it will be. tomorrow or day after. People need time to look, understand and appreciate new art, and we try to provide that occasion and opportunity.

TNS: What are your comments on the present Pakistani art?

SR: There has been an increase in awareness about art in our society, and internationally one can see a growing interest in Pakistani art. There are a number of international exhibitions, solo shows, biennials and triennials, in which our artists participate. Recently, Canvas Gallery exhibited the works of two Pakistani artists at Aicon Gallery, London. It generated a lot of response and the viewers of the exhibition included not only the expatriates but many Londoners too. The exhibition was also covered by 'The Independent'.

TNS: In what way has the recent attention and interest in Pakistani art modified our artists' practices?

SR: I think it's making them more professional. They are learning how to present their works. Since there is great competition in the international art market, in order to exhibit abroad one has to show a great deal of professionalism. This has also made our artists conscious of the fact that they are a small part of a very large picture.

TNS: What has been your experience working with young artists?

SR: It's difficult to define 'young' but if we are talking about new, emerging artists, I have observed that they work from an exhibition to the next, which means that if they make 15 works, they show all of them, without bothering to pick, choose or discard. It's not possible to produce 15 works that are all great pieces. No artist could guarantee that, not even the prolific Picasso, but the new artists are under so much pressure from the galleries that they have no other choice, which sometimes brings negative results.

Most of the time they seek quick money, but in a lot of cases such people quickly fade out from the art scene.

TNS: You have left the selection of good works in the hands of the artist. How do you decide what's good for an exhibition?

SR: I have an art background as I studied architecture at NCA. I also try to keep track of what's taking place here and abroad. I follow individual artist's progress as well. This trip to Lahore is also part of that exercise. After my research, I usually give one exhibition to a new artist on the basis of his/her degree show. If a person performs consistently it's a sign of quality. It means that the artist is not just working but that he is evolving too.

TNS: How has been your experience of running a gallery, especially so successfully?

SR: It has been fantastic so far. Owning an art gallery was a passion/dream and I have been satisfied. If I look back, I feel that 95 per cent of the experience was good. Only five per cent was not, which is not too bad.



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