Monthly Archives: January 2015

Groom thy leader

Democracy is much more than mere elections


This article is inspired by editorial of a local newspaper I read and a piece by I A Rehman.The editorial closes with, “Simply, without intra-party democracy there can be no real democratic decisions. When the leader is the party, when the leader is for life and when the leader decides who else gets what position, it is difficult to have spirited debate or meaningful dissent. Can the constitutional constraints and intra-party realities be changed though?” On the same day, writing in the same newspaper, Rehman says, “The absence of party activists from the political scene is not a recent phenomenon. Apart from a couple of minor outfits and quasi-religious militant organisations the so-called mainstream parties hardly qualify as thoroughly organised and functional political parties. The cost being paid by the country for this fundamental deficiency in the polity is absolutely unaffordable.”

It reminded me of some suggestions I had made in a piece many years ago. I was not so popular then and it was dismissed as being out of sync with reality. Sad! Those more in sync with reality many years down the road reach the same conclusion.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) in 2008 published a comprehensive paper titled “The Minimum Standards for the Democratic Functioning of Political Parties”. I strongly recommend our parliamentarians to read it. It sets out beautifully doable standards that I touch upon here before sharing my suggestions tailored to our specific conditions many years ago.

First, party rules should define membership eligibility requirements and spell out members’ rights, roles and responsibilities. Clear membership rules can help facilitate such participation, particularly participation in the selection of candidates and the designation of leaders.

Second, party statutes can clarify lines of communication, authority and accountability between party’s various layers. When a party has multiple organisational levels and multiple governing organs, its statutes should designate the highest authority in the party. In some cases, the highest authority may vary according to the policy area.

Third, party statutes should anticipate conflicts and should provide frameworks for not only fostering but also for containing, healthy internal debate. These frameworks should include an independent appeals body within the party in cases where party members or party representatives are expelled from the party, or from the party’s legislative caucus. Having an independent appeals body within the party not only leads to more considered decisions, but also makes it more difficult for local or national party factions to use expulsion mechanisms to entrench their power or to settle personal scores.

Fourth, parties benefit from having clear rules about the regular selection (and possible de-selection) of party leaders and party candidates. Clear rules help to channel and encourage competition among politicians and among advocates of rival policy alternatives. Many parties have developed mechanisms of intra-party democracy that give party members a meaningful role in these important decisions.

Five, party officials and party employees should adhere to party rules for making decisions, including selection decisions for candidates and leaders. Procedural frameworks can only contribute to a party’s long-term stability if those within the party agree to abide by the stated rules.

Six, political parties should keep sound and proper financial records which serve to generate confidence, enhance credibility and encourage contributions to finance party operations. In addition, officeholders and party units need to be internally accountable for party finances within their domains. Parties should take responsibility for their officeholders and other leaders who abuse their positions for personal gain. If party representatives are convicted of such offenses, their parties should disown them, not seek to minimise the crime. Even in the absence of convictions, parties which overlook credible charges of corruption within their ranks may harm their own long-term goals, as well as damage overall support for democracy, because doing so sends the message that self-interest is the parties’ primary political aim.

The paper offers in-depth rationale about all the basic points stated above and is worth a read.

Democracy is a wonderful thing. Sans democracy within ranks of political parties themselves, it a sham. Strong party structure based on sustainable policies, encouraging party members’ development and grooming with a commitment to clearly spell out party goals is a must. If democracy does not exist in party ranks, how can the party claim to sustain democracy in the country?

Here is what needs to be reviewed and corrected is the Political Parties’ Act. Laws made but ignored on implementation level are not worth the paper they are written on. Extracts from my paper, updated and added upon, to address the political parties’ structure formation are shared herewith.

First, do we need a lifetime chairperson? What democracy we ape to follow, does this? No sirs, we need to ensure that there are in-house party elections every three years. I am sure all parties have their share of good, sincere people. Let them come forward. Let there be a healthy competition for slots based on merit, not on excess use of buttering ‘the’ party leader.

Two, we see a repetition of the same faces on party tickets, or their children taking up the mantle without any credentials but for the name they carry. Such steps further weaken the democratic intuitions. We need to ensure that no one contests for the in-house party seat more than twice. Likewise, no one should be allowed to contest for national and provincial assemblies more than twice.

Three, mechanisms for in-house accountability must be put in place and party core leadership must be responsible for misdeeds of their party members. Likewise, prime minister must be elected twice only. In USA, a country on the forefront of democracy, restricts its presidents to serving a maximum number of two terms by virtue of the Twenty Second Amendment. A reproduction, “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.”

A lack of the above factors briefly touched upon gives birth to a dictatorship of another kind. Democracy is much more than mere elections.

Cornel Ronald West, an American scholar and public intellectual, rightly says, “Of course, the aim of a constitutional democracy is to safeguard the rights of the minority and avoid the tyranny of the majority.”

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.


Speedy trial courts

Why they are legal in a judicial system


Amid the hullaballoo emanating from certain quarters trashing speedy trial courts as a step against democracy, the prime minister announced the ambit of work for these courts. Quoting from a local daily, “Only terrorism cases to be sent to speedy trial courts… All institutions will carefully scrutinise cases before prosecution in the special military tribunals.”

The focus of all those opposing the setting up these courts should be upon dealing with terrorism. If special courts are set up to facilitate this goal, then why such opposition? If those opposing try to do a bit of research and reading, they will find out that even the Constitution of USA vide the Sixth Amendment offers the following provision:

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

Speedy trial is a right of those being tried criminally and bails may not be granted or if granted restrict the movement of the accused.

The history of speedy trials dates back to ancient times as a liberty of the accused. According to a paper on speedy trial:

“The right to a speedy trial is an ancient liberty. During the reign of HENRY II (1154–1189), the English Crown promulgated the Assize of Clarendon, a legal code comprised of 22 articles, one of which promised speedy justice to all litigants. In 1215 the Magna Carta prohibited the king from delaying justice to any person in the realm. Several of the charters of the American colonies protected the right to a speedy trial, as did most of the constitutions of the original 13 states.”

According to John J Bradley “Most jurisdictions in the US have defined ‘speedy trial’ to be within 75 days of the person’s arrest. This constitutional guarantee is for the protection of both the defendant and society, since persons in jail must be supported at considerable public expense and if a guilty person is mistakenly released, they may commit other crimes.” (February 26, 2013)

According to the Cornell University Law School on Sixth Amendment, “The right to a speedy trial may be derived from a provision of Magna Carta and it was a right so interpreted by Coke.” (Reference to Coke: “We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.” Ch 40 of the 1215 Magna Carta, a portion of ch 29 of the 1225 reissue. Klopfer v North Carolina, 386 US 213, 223–24 (1967))

It is no secret the cases in the courts can run for years without reaching a closing. Mail Online India reports, “A 37-year-old criminal case pending trial before a Delhi court recently drew the attention of the nation towards inordinate judicial delays with the accused approaching the Supreme Court seeking a quietus to the protracted trial.

But what went unnoticed is the fact that the court refused to acknowledge paucity of judges, huge pendency, inefficient administration and other systemic faults as factors impinging upon the fundamental right to a speedy trial. It goes without saying that a person cannot be allowed to take advantage of his own wrong but to penalise him for the fault of another defies logic.”(Published August 12, 2014)

What we need to address is to correct the fault lines within our judicial system.

The Michigan Law Review in its paper published in 2013 titled “Speedy Trial as a Viable Challenge to Chronic Underfunding in Indigent-Defense Systems” by Emily Rose, states, “In Barker v Wingo, the Court, warning that the speedy trial right is “amorphous,” “slippery,” and “necessarily relative”, rejected a fixed time period for determining a violation of speedy trial and adopted instead a flexible “balancing test, in which the conduct of both the prosecution and the defendant are weighed” on an ad hoc basis. Rather than focusing only on a set length of time, a proper balancing test was required to include (1) the length of delay, (2) the reason for delay, (3) the defendant’s assertion of his right, and (4) prejudice to the defendant. No single factor is necessary or sufficient for finding a deprivation of speedy trial, and other circumstances may still be relevant. And yet court rulings since Barker show that the test may effectively be used to challenge many of the delays common to indigent criminal cases.”

Let’s discuss these benchmarks a little further. The first benchmark is delay of time. If there is a delay of inordinate time it becomes “presumptively prejudicial”, commented upon in theUnited States vs Thaxton case as follows, “As the United States Supreme Court has explained, this latter inquiry is significant to the speedy trial analysis because the presumption that pretrial delay has prejudiced the accused intensifies over time. It is important that trial courts not limit their consideration of the lengthiness of the pretrial delay to the threshold question of presumptive prejudice and remember to count it again as one of four criteria to be weighed in the balancing process at the second stage of the Barker–Doggett analysis.”

The second is reason for delay. The prosecution may delay trial to suit itself or the defendant may do the same to simply buy time. Both do not exist in speedy trial courts.

The third is time and manner in which the defendant asserts the right. In the case above quoted i.e., United States vs Thaxton, the judgement says, ““The trial court recognised that the failure to assert the speedy trial right weighs heavily against the defendant. Although Thaxton complained of the pre-indictment delay, the trial court’s order noted that Thaxton had not asserted his right to a speedy trial throughout that period of time. The record reflects that Thaxton did not assert his right to a speedy trial motion for discharge and acquittal on February 15, 2010, which was almost 16 months after his arrest.”

The fourth is the degree of prejudice accruing to the defendant which the delay caused. Ruling in the Barker case clearly lays down, “That prejudice should be assessed in light of the interests that speedy trial is intended to protect: (1) preventing oppressive pretrial incarceration, (2) minimising the accused’s anxiety and concern, and (3) limiting the possibility that the defence will be impaired. The clock begins running against the government after “arrest, indictment, or other official accusation” triggers it.” (Emily Rose in the Michigan Law Review in its paper published in 2013 titled “Speedy Trial as a Viable Challenge to Chronic Underfunding in Indigent-Defense Systems”)

So those who oppose the speedy trial courts do so in my opinion without knowledge. Legal or otherwise.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

Why hate transgenders…

…when they can become valuable members of our society


I have often wondered why it is that generally there is hatred for ‘transgenders’ in Pakistan. The term means different things to different people. At a very basic level it means being born a male or a female but then realizing he or she does not subscribe completely to the gender they belong to, that it does not reflect the person that they are. Katy Steinmetz,writing for TIME magazine, says, “Referring to someone as ‘a transgender’ can sound about as odd as saying, ‘Look, a gay!’ It turns a descriptive adjective into a defining noun and can make the subject sound distant and foreign, like they’re something else first and a person second.” According to BBC News, “In India, a common term used to describe transgender people, transsexuals, cross-dressers, eunuchs and transvestites is hijra.” (15 April, 2014)

Law Prof K L Bhatia in his piece discussing the constitutional and legal status of transgenders writes, “Transgender is an umbrella term used for a wide range of identities and experiences including persons whose gender identity or gender expression or gender behaviour does not conform to their biological sex — male or female. They are described as ‘third gender’ as an institution that includes and comprises of hijras or eunuchs ornapunsaka or tritiya prakriti or kothis or aravanis or jogappas, etc. Either of the expressions used for third gender denote absence of procreative capability. TGC also includes persons who intend to undergo sex reassignment surgery (SRS) or have undergone SRS to align their biological sex with their gender identity in order to become male or female. SRS are generally called transsexual persons. Besides, there are persons who like to cross-dress in clothing of opposite gender, viz, transvestites.” (August 20, 2014)

Gender non-conformists have existed through the annals of history. Transgenders have been regarded highly throughout the history of the subcontinent. There was nary a court without transgenders appointed in the women quarters. They served as advisors, watchmen, generals and messengers. In an interesting piece on transgenders, a lane in the Mehrauli’s bazaar houses, Hijron ka Khanqah, with some 50 graves claimed to be those of prominent transgenders over time.

Transgenders were appointed in different capacities since the Ottoman Empire, as were they in Safavid and Mamluk eras. Grants were awarded to them, both in the form of land and cash. If one recalls, in Tuzk-e-Babri, the autobiography by Mughal Emperor Baber, there is a longing for a young teenage boy.

Over time, in particular in the era of British rule, the culture of transgenders was stigmatised as it was simply not understood by the alien rulers. Instead of appreciating differences and supporting cohabitation of different hues, the transgender community was marginalised and treated like a pariah where once they were equal contributing members to the society. Nabiha Meher concurs with this view when she writes a blog piece, “The British rulers in India stripped the hijras of the laws that granted them the protection they received under Muslim rulers and regarded them as a menace to society.” (Hijras – The Third Sex)

This raises a question in my mind. With the tranasgender community marginalised, are we not taking away their right to be contributing members of a healthy society? Nowhere does it indicate that their gender non-conformity conflicts with their ability to work as engineers, doctors, pilots, designers, so on and so forth. By ostracising a community on many levels are we creating an effective minority? Will this serve us in evolving a well-knitted community moving forward together to achieve prosperity?

In an interesting piece in NYT, “In a bid for a solution — and some publicity — the Clifton board borrowed a creative idea that alleviated tax woes in neighbouring India: It hired a team of transgendered tax collectors to go door to door to embarrass the rich until they paid. The TGs have collected $100,000 in about nine months, 10 times the cost of the programme.” (July 18, 2010)

The reality of the average transgender is exposed in a sad piece, Being Transgender in Pakistan” in an interview with one such member of this community, Ashee Butt. The writer says, “Like many from her community who are abandoned by their families at an early age, Ashee sought refuge with a local hijra guru who taught her to sing and dance. These gurus act as father figures for the hijras, who are referred to locally as the guru’s ‘chailas’, or‘followers’, and together they form intimate communities that protect and fend for each other in good and bad times.

For the hijras in Pakistan, dance and song is the only way to earn a respectable living as their presence is considered auspicious on wedding and childbirth celebrations. However, they are not treated as equals unanimously by the conservative and liberal sections of Pakistani society. They live in secluded communities with their own kind, often in extreme poverty. Most are uneducated as the notion of a transgender child being brought up in a normal household and studying in a mainstream school is not an acceptable reality. As a result they often end up on the streets dressed in flashy clothes, faces caked with make-up, begging at traffic signals during the day and selling sex during the night.” (June 5, 2013)

In April 2011, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that hijras should be allowed to choose an alternative sex when they apply for their national identity cards. According to a local newspaper report, “The court directed NADRA to expedite efforts for issuance of National Identity Cards (NICs) to eunuchs, besides registering them as shemales. The court observed that eunuchs are Pakistani citizens, but they are deprived of various rights, including the right of having NICs.” It further stated, “NADRA in December 2010 had agreed to add a third option under the gender category in identity card forms. It had said the application forms for NICs would contain the third option of ‘Khawaja Sara’ (transgender) along with ‘male’ and ‘female’.” (April 26, 2011)

State must be proactive in not only securing the rights of the transgender community but also offering positions that allow them a decent living, helping them to become well-adjusted members of the society.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

Burying 141 souls

ArticleYAAThe Pakistani government must address social, judicial, and economic issues of thecommon man, or military action will remain a temporary measure at best


“Pakistan produces people of extraordinary bravery. But no nation should ever require its citizens to be that brave.” –Nadeem Aslam (tweeted by Mirza Waheed on 16 December, 2014)

December 16th is a tragic day in the history of Pakistan. It ate up over one hundred and forty small souls but it gives a feeling of déjà vu, an echo from 2004 when Chechen rebels’ attack on a school led to a similar tragedy. On that fateful day in Russia, over thirty armed individuals stormed a school taking hostage over one thousand people. The hostages were not only members of the school staff but also parents of the children, gathered to celebrate ushering in a new academic year. Although many died in the initial onslaught, most were held at the school gymnasium. The siege ended on the third day at the cost of the lives of 186 children among the 334 killed. The savage attack was spearheaded by Riyadus-Salikhin, a Chechen liberation group.

On 16 December, 2014, all hell broke loose when militants from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked a school in Peshawar costing lives of over one hundred and forty people. These include one hundred and thirty two children. TTP has claimed responsibility for the attack. A friend Syed Masud-ul-Hasan wrote an email, part of which I reproduce:

“Following are some of the bitter facts:

Military operation was delayed by our government for more than a year, which gave time to TTP to entrench itself in FATA.

So-called peace talks and ceasefire gave them enough time to spread their tentacles across Pakistan.

Most of the under trial terrorists are let off by courts due to insufficient evidence.

Government has done well by deciding to execute the death penalties already awarded to the terrorists. Prolonged and indefinite delays in execution of these punishments had given the feeling as if the government was following a policy of appeasement towards the terrorists.” (December 17, 2014)

Foreign Policy says that the group has been hammered both by the Pakistani military and defections from within its ranks. And now it has united Pakistanis of all backgrounds and beliefs in revulsion… Over the past year, the TTP has been reduced to a shell of its former self. Like a bloodied, weakened beast, the TTP lashed out viciously on Tuesday. In attacking the school, the TTP chose the softest targets in a military cantonment. Some, though not all, of the children came from military families. And so the TTP — indifferent to the blood of thousands of innocents on its own hands — has anointed itself as the avenger of its own collateral damage suffered at the hands of the Pakistani army.

According to a piece on this heinous crime in Washington Post, “The attackers’ sole aim was to murder as many youngsters as possible. It was the bloodiest terrorist attack in Pakistan since 2007, one that was meant to derail modest but real progress by the army and government in fighting extremism. The relative good news on a terrible day was that the attack was a reflection of the Taliban’s declining fortunes in Pakistan — not its ascendancy.” (December 16, 2014)

Whether ascending or descending, terrorist attacks of any nature that tear through the hearts of any human, are simply unacceptable. Can the families, parents and siblings of the young children torn away from their loved ones in the massacre that took place, rejoice that the deaths caused are an act of desperation by the Taliban in the face of their declining power?

In a beautiful paper Donald Winchester writes, “In effect, blaming terror and violence on religion, as many today are too eager to do, is both dangerously reductive and shirks responsibility for the world. The cause for terror and violence lies somewhere within our inner nature. The apostle James explained this in his epistle, the earliest of the apostolic letters: “Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.” (James 4:1–2, The Message, Bible).” (Published in summer 2007 Issue of Vision)

Bakir Oweida, a journalist who has worked as managing editor and written for several Arab publications, in his article published in Al-Arabiya English writes that the war on terror on Afghan soil led to greater terrorism as the extremist militants were hunted by security bodies in many countries, including their own. “Instead of working hard to offer the returning fighters the best possible rehabilitation, including jobs and places in colleges, institutes and universities, they were left to fend for themselves, and it was no wonder that they were ready to respond happily to bin Laden’s call for “jihad”. (September 6, 2014) He has hit bull’s eye by saying this.

Will extremism and extremist tendencies die if a certain genre of extremists is knocked off? Alternatively, will they simply go dormant to re-emerge as a new faction, a new organisation yet again? Extremism knows no boundaries; it is not specific to a particular religion either.

Many countries have faced extremism and dealt with it in light of their local ground realities. Red Brigade Movement in Italy, for example, started collapsing when the authorities offered reduction in sentences of convicted terrorists offering information on the organisation. West Germany’s tactic in dealing with the Red Army Faction was creation of crack anti-terrorist reaction unit with the ability to be present anywhere within its borders within an hour. They were equipped with special vehicles and high-speed helicopters. It also increased the ambit of police powers from increasing check points to search buildings if suspected of holding terrorists.

Israel, in order to counter terrorism, strengthened its networking for gathering intelligence reports. Powers given to Mossad to maintain exhaustive information on terrorist organisations and suspect terrorists is incredible. Israel, besides micro-checking of every traveller on its flights, uses the technique of ‘profiling’. “Every passenger is checked through Interpol to determine if he or she has a criminal record. Passengers travelling from certain countries are more closely scrutinised. Arabs and certain foreigners are often subjected to intense questioning and more detailed searches, while most Israeli Jews proceed to board the planes.” (Website for Constitutional Rights Freedom)

Military action is mandatory to reduce militarism by extremists. Unfortunately, it cannot pull out extremism from its roots. A small number of terrorists may inflict a colossal loss on the lives of citizens of a nation and its psyche. This is not about numbers. This is about defining short term (military) strategy with long term strategy.

The government has put to execution the death penalties already awarded to the terrorists. However, this alone does not take away the responsibility from the government to review and redefine its policies toward terrorism. While determining upon the policy, the existence of foreign involvement and funding must be kept in mind. This linkage becomes successful with the cooperation of local misguided elements. To elucidate the point, The New YorkTimes reported in October 2013 that the Afghan government wanted to develop a shadowy alliance with Islamist militants which became the latest flashpoint between Afghanistan and US. The plan involved Afghan intelligence trying to walk with Pakistani Taliban to find a trump card in a regional power game. Tipped off, US Special Forces intercepted an Afghan convoy ushering a Senior Pakistani Taliban militant Latif Mehsud to Kabul for secret talks.

According to a WikiLeaks report quoted by “On December 15-16, 2009, Treasury Department Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis Howard Mendelsohn, along with GRPO officers and Treasury analysts, met with senior officials from the United Arab Emirates State Security Department and Dubai’s General Department of State Security to discuss suspected Taliban-related financial activity in the UAE. GDSS officials noted that it believed India had also supported Pakistani Taliban and Pashtun separatists.”

The Pakistan government must also address the social, judicial, and economic issues of the common man. Unless and until this is done with honesty, military action will remain a temporary measure at best.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

The twelfth man

Who will be the next?


Does Pervez Mushrraf stand a chance at returning to power? Some say yes, some say no, some say maybe. If yes, in what shape? Some say he may figure somewhere in a possible coalition with Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. Others trash this as crap.

One thing that is clear is that in politics, more especially in the political landscape of Pakistan, nothing remains the same. An article in The Guardian states, “Musharraf is today politically what Imran Khan was in the mid-1990s, when the famous cricketer-turned-philanthropist launched his own career in politics: a high-wattage name that grabs a disproportionate share of the media spotlight but has negligible traction with the voting public.” (Thursday 18 April 2013) However, today, the media limelight Imran Khan bags is far from disproportionate. His career is at an all-time high with a promise to get even better. Cases against Musharraf by the government seem to have lost their steam over time. The single-minded focus seems to have mellowed down, maybe because of the PTI sit-ins and PAT that have engaged the government in endlessly mindless energy wasting games.

Musharraf in an interview to a private TV channel said, “Tahirul Qadri is asking for change. Imran Khan is asking for the audit of ballot papers, fair elections.” He was however realistic in his evaluation in saying, “Elections are not possible at the moment, I think.” (Published August 27, 2014)

A supporter of Musharraf and a Member of the National Assembly in 2002, Qadri resigned to shift to Canada before the stipulated tenure was over. This, however, was not the political starting line for him. Hailing from a poor family, he managed to get acquainted with Mian Nawaz Sharif to then launch Tehrik-e-Minhajul Quran in 1981. He set his cap high, had impossibly high ambitions, and this lead to disenchantment with the Sharif family. According to Al-Arabiya (English), “The differences grew to such an extent that Qadri faked an assassination attempt on himself and blamed it on then Chief Minister of the province, Mian Sharif. Qadri boycotted the inquiry tribunal of the High Court into the alleged shooting at his house after defence lawyers proved that blood samples from the shooting site were not of one of his wounded guards, but of a goat.”(July 29, 2014)

Addressing a convention for the youth, he suggested a move to make space for a role of army in running of the country, constitutionally. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain met Musharraf at his residence that day in Karachi, reports a daily. (December 5, 2014) No one will be willing to have such a provision staring into one’s face in the constitution, a highly unlikely proposition. Will not army then be looking for an acceptable and electable civilian? Direct takeovers are actions of the past. Is Musharraf to be the twelfth player? Many have cast Imran Khan in that role but the Kaptaan has shown singular absence of political acumen on many an occasion. He may be termed unpredictable to say the least.

Why have these lesser players assumed importance in the political landscape of Pakistan?

Firstly, they have been given the importance of an equal by the sitting government. I forget where I read it, but it said that the Nawaz Shareef’s government was hostage to its fears. It must not be ‘if’ it governed with some degree of sensibility and giving relief to the common man. It has however every reason to be afraid if it does not. Being hostage to fear leads to blunders that turn into untenable situations. Was it not A H Boyd who said, “Don’t turn your back upon your doctrinal doubts and difficulties. Go up to them and examine them. Perhaps the ghastly object which looks to you in the twilight like a sheeted ghost may prove to be no more than a table-cloth hanging upon a hedge.”

Secondly, the underlying cause for support to a cause is ignored. If people are provided with speedy justice, life of the people is made easier at different levels. The cause is a lack of a decent life for the common people, not “change”. Change is demanded because of absence of decent life.

Third, blunders committed by the government to overcome any demand to change leads to further escalation of the same. Police opening fire upon protesters in Model Town earlier this year is an example. A more recent one is the effort to clamp down upon the Faisalabad protests more recently where one PTI activist were killed. Website of SAMAA reports, “The area turned into a battlefield when a large number of PTI and PML-N supporters threw stones at each other, prompting riot police to use water cannon and fire aerial shots in a failed attempt to disperse the protestors.” (December 8, 2014)

Democracy has a future in Pakistan, let no one deny that. However, it’s the corruption in the ranks of prominent people at the cost of national interests that will no more be ignored by the masses. That message is loud and clear. World Times in an article by Shamshad Ahmad, former foreign secretary of Pakistan, wrote, “Unfortunately, our present ‘elected’ setup does not inspire confidence among the people of Pakistan who continue to suffer the worst ever hardship of their history. They cannot afford to remain complacent spectators anymore. They got rid of a dictator three and a half years ago and are now poised to get rid of this class of looters and plunderers at their first available opportunity. A popular momentum is already building up to root out the culture of greed and deceit from the country’s body politic. There is a clarion call, loud and clear, for changing the system, not the faces alone.” (November 1, 2011)

The question that one returns to next is: Is a change in near future inevitable? Alternatively, to rephrase the question: Will there be midterm elections? I tend to agree with Pervez Musharraf that this is unlikely.

Whenever the elections are held next, who will be the twelfth man ready to play?

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

The purple mantle

PTI’s machinations will not benefit the party in any way


There is a tug of war going on between PML-N and PTI with both vying to swing peoples’ support in their favour. The PML-N in a desperate attempt to woo the masses has announced a further decrease of Rs9.66 in oil prices. According to a news report, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also announced reduction in the prices of high octane by Rs10.18, kerosene by Rs4, high speed diesel by Rs7.12 and light diesel oil by Rs5.39. Plus, of course, his love for mega projects is reflected in the launch of the Hazara Motorway project.

Is it because of the disenchantment with ongoing governance, the flagrant violation of law, increasing inflation etc that is attracting more and more people to the PTI bandwagon or is it the promise of change offered by the Kaptaan?

Imtiaz Gul, writing on the PTI phenomenon in a local daily, writes, “What does Imran Khan want — is it just power or a revolution? This question kept resonating at a recent conference in the UK. Most vocal among the enquirers were at least five foreign diplomats who are familiar with Pakistan because of their assignments in Islamabad. They all sounded sympathetic to the narrative that Khan peddles today i.e., rule of law, accountability, and peoples’ empowerment through district governments and autonomous national institutions. But they clearly differed with the PTI methodology (ouster of the government through sit-ins). Lots of critics at home, too, have had a similar contention with the PTI and its leadership, which have been oscillating between legitimate aspirations (mentioned above) and paradoxical approaches to fulfill those aspirations.”(Published December 3, 2014)

I cannot disagree with the point raised here by Gul.

The Kaptaan’s base demand was a recount of results at four constituencies with verification of votes with fingerprints. According to a local daily, “Protesters in Karachi and Lahore have been demonstrating since May 12 against the results of the General Elections. The protesters allege that rigging took place and polling at some stations was purposely delayed.”(May 15, 2013)

To their credit, PTI has tried to resolve the issue legally before taking to the streets. Longdharnas have been an outcome of the countrywide protests. These protests have delivered the message forcefully that people want a change for the better at every level. The fact that this has forced the government’s hand in reducing costs of petrol, diesel etc substantially cannot be denied. However, having taken this excellent measure the government must focus on ensuring a corresponding reduction in prices of goods and commodities to maximise the impact of the reduction on a broad based consumer level. Without this necessary follow up, the full impact will not trickle down to the common man.

Coming back to the Kaptaan, whereas the Representation of Peoples Act offers provisions to contest election results, what he has done is to call in question the whole election process. Ideally, this should lead to electoral reforms. This may not happen immediately but it has a good chance of happening now with better transparency as compared to before.

The question is what exactly are the dharnas achieving on an ongoing basis? Quoting Rasul Bakhs Rais from Pique Magazine, “Khan’s protest will land the country in confusion and chaos.” He said it was the legal duty of tribunals to dispose of petitions at the earliest. Mr Rais said that the PTI and all political parties should go for electoral reforms instead of long marches, something for which a parliamentary committee has also been constituted. (August 1, 2014)

On one point, I agree with Rais. Chaos is the ending note of massive ongoing dharnas. The life of a common person is disrupted, economy has taken a nosedive and investors have run away, presuming there were takers in the first place.

Both Sri Lankan President and the Chinese Head of State have cancelled their visits because of the sit-ins. The Chinese President’s visit in particular was a setback leading to non-creation of many defence and economic agreements/pacts that were on the anvil. According to a report, “The government has so far estimated overall losses to the economy at Rs547 billion. Out of the total, Rs228 billion have been estimated on account of 4.3% depreciation in the value of Pakistani rupee against the US dollar. Another Rs319 billion was estimated due to decline witnessed in the stock market. However, the Karachi Stock Exchange has now entered the recovery mode on the back of reports suggesting that the contesting parties have agreed to resolve the issue through dialogue.” It goes on to state, “Pakistan has been negotiating a deal to acquire four submarines besides purchasing two squadrons of JF-17 Thunder multi-role aircraft, which is the joint production of Pakistan and China. Additionally, agreements were expected to be signed for 14 power sector projects that would have the potential to generate 10,400 megawatts of electricity with active Chinese assistance. At a time of a severe power crisis, the deals are priceless.”(Published September 8, 2014)

Protest, yes. But through media, social media, court cases etc. The point the Kaptaanwanted to make has been scored. Time has come to score another point. This time by focusing on good governance in KP, by improving institutions and their workings in KP, by providing speedy justice to the people there and with time making KP a model for other provinces to follow. But going on with the sit-ins will lead to two things: a) Repeating a message too often loses impact and b) If the message conveyed causes a cascading negative effect, it sets people to question the strategy. It may also bring into question the motive leading to a continued pursuit of a strategy obviously damaging to the larger economic interests of Pakistan. This, I am sure, the Kaptaan would not want.

My sincere advice as a bystander to the PTI leadership is: You have done a fine job driving your point home. Now get to work in KP. Build upon the good will created, do not work to bring it down.

The purple mantle can wait.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

Artists’ plight

A sad reflection of our failure as a society


It was heartening to read Pashto music legend Sardar Ali Takkar and Pakistani Sufi signer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan will be performing at the Nobel Prize ceremony. For these two international acknowledgements, there are many which are a sad reflection on the abyss and misery entertainment artists have fallen into over time.

There are so many examples of artists who have delighted millions of people with their talents but have lived in extreme poverty, and in many cases died in extreme poverty. Pakistan Press Foundation on its official website notes the deaths of Murtaza Hassan, better known as Mastana and Babbu Baral with the words that they died in abject poverty in their native districts. (July 29, 2011) Renowned artist Romana in her last days was seen begging at the Lahore Railway Station and city’s posh streets. Ustad Zakir Ali Khan, a pillar of Radio Pakistan, lived in abject poverty in the twilight of his life. His appeal made to newspapers for art councils as well as government to help went unheeded. Seraiki Singer Pathanay Khan, recipient of President’s Pride of Performance Award and well known for his majestic delivery of “Meda Ishq Vi Tu”, died in extreme poverty.

Many leading artists like Mehdi Hassan, Ali Ijaz, Roohi Bano and others faced extremely difficult financial circumstances. However, political personalities and government officials have tried on many occasions to help the legends but there has not been an organisation with a focused objective of helping these artists. Punjabi World on February 20, 2010 reported Abrar-ul-Haq having set up a state of the art hospital in Narowal. In 2011, Punjab government had set up a fund for the welfare of artists and to support the families of artists. An amount of Rs50 million was allocated for the purpose.

News report on artsfreedom (March 2, 2014) states and I reproduce, “Artists’ and singers’ families literally starve as they have no job and no security. Some have laid their hands on other jobs. We have walked up to so called high-ups responsible for promoting cultural activities but no avail,” Tariq Jamal, a senior TV actor and president of the artists’ organisation Awaz (Voice).

The question that rises in one’s mind is why in the first place the artists need a support fund at the cost of their dignity. Ideally, according to the status and years of contribution of the artists, they must be awarded a decent pension to live on. Not an apology for a pension. Additionally, free medical treatment at the best hospitals and visitation rights to leading medical specialists must be part of the package. Should the government offer scholarships to the children of the artists? These and other related issues need to be thought out and a plan drawn up to care for the assets that are our artists.

The intellectual property rights of artists must be recognised by the electronic media. PEMRA Ordinance Section 20 (g) prohibits to ‘broadcast or distribute any programme or advertisement in violation of copyright or other property right’.

Copyrights is defined as: “The right of literary property as recognised and sanctioned by positive law. An intangible, incorporeal right granted by statute to the author or originator of a certain literary or artistic productions, whereby he is invested for a specified period with the sole and exclusive privilege of multiplying copies of the same and publishing and selling them.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, page 336)

Property right is defined as: “A generic term which refers to any type of right to specific property whether it is personal or real property, tangible or intangible.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, page 1218)

Intellectual property is defined as: “Property (as an idea, invention, or process) that derives from the work of the mind or intellect; also an application, right, or registration relating to this. Any song that you write is your intellectual property.” (Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary)

BBC Editorial policies 18.10.1 state: “Intellectual property rights include: Copyright, moral rights, performers’ rights, trademarks, patents and designs and rights to prevent “passing off” and breach of confidence.”

“Intellectual property lawyers in the Litigation and Intellectual Property Department (L&IP) give advice on the protection and exploitation of the BBC’s intellectual property rights and on the infringement risks to the BBC of using third parties’ intellectual property rights. Litigation lawyers in that department give advice on the infringement of intellectual property rights.

In case of a song by a local singer and played by a radio or/and TV channel, an agreed sum between the owner and the channel/radio station should be paid to owner of the intellectual property. The intellectual property will belong to the producer. In order to produce the song, he would have paid amounts to lyricist, musicians, cameraman, singer, et al. Sometimes, the singer himself can be the producer. The payment may be given to two people, producer and the singer known as ‘Shared Rights’. This may be a onetime payment but if a media house owns both a radio station and a TV channel or wishes to run the song on more than one TV channels owned, the sum paid may be higher. The TV/radio channel may buy property rights to the song in which case the producer cannot sell it to another channel/radio station.

Revised Section 20 (g) states: “Do not broadcast or distribute any programme or advertisement in violation of copyright, or other property right including intellectual property ownership without first entering into a contract with the owner of the said property.”

I do believe that we as a nation need to stop relegating our talent to the lowest rung of societal ladder. They must be acknowledged, celebrated and cherished.

American scholar Warren Bennis correctly observed, “There are two ways of being creative. One can sing and dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish”

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

The reading culture

Cross post:


A bygone era



Reading and being members of libraries, spending time in those quiet halls and getting books issued for reading at homes has become a part of a culture unknown to the present generation. I share an excerpt of a mail sent to me by Khalid Aziz sahib, the younger brother of famed Qutub-ud-din Aziz sahib, that beautifully reflects the spirit of those days:

“When I was in Grade 9, I had become a member of the American Library which was on MA Jinnah Road, where the Prince Cinema stands today. I continued visiting the library with my elder brother late Masood Bhai till I left DJ College and joined MSc classes at University of Karachi which was pretty far from our house at that time, Aziz Lodge in Nazimabad No 4. So I used to return home around 7pm and library timings were 8:30am to 5:30pm so I could not continue my visits there. However, trust me, it was the golden period of my life. I learnt so much from the books .The collection was huge and covered many subjects. I did well when I went for studies overseas under a government technical exchange program. I frankly feel I owed all this to the extra knowledge I gathered through the books at the US Library.”

Quaid-e-Azam Library, a beautiful white building placed in the lush green lawns of Jinnah Gardens, originally known as the Old Gymkhana, boasts of roughly 125,000 books on a wide spectrum of subjects. The auditorium often hosts seminars and exhibitions. The library is heaven for those who hanker for good research books. Unfortunately, most other libraries are neglected and desperately need attention by the authorities. This includes the Punjab Public Library set up in 1884. The Frere Hall Library, named Liaquat Hall Library after our first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, is crying for attention. According to a report published in a leading daily: ‘An official of the city government’s culture and sports department said that for the past four years no book had been purchased for the Liaquat Hall library. Every year the city government allocates Rs300,000 for the purchase of books, Rs50,000 for binding of old books and Rs225,000 for newspapers and magazines. According to Mr Grami, hardly 20 per cent of the allocated amount is spent by the city government. ” (Nov 19, 2003)

Then there was the Ghulam Hussain Khaliqdina Hall Library, built in 1906 with a grand donation by Ghulam Hussain Khaliqdina. Karachi Municipal Corporation footed the remaining bill. It is famed that Allama Rasheed Turabi would, for the 10 days of Muharram, address the majalis assembled there. The library is well known also in the context of being the trial ground of Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, who led the Khilafat Movement.

The Max Denso Hall and Library was constructed in 1886. Jamil Khan, a journalist, writing for his blog says, “Another simple but attractive Gothic style building on MA Jinnah Road, the Denso Hall was built in 1886. This two-storey building earlier provided the facility of a public hall, reading room and library for the residents of the area built in the memory of Max Denso, a prominent citizen and six-time President of Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The building also had a clock on its east side but now only the structure is visible. Presently, the water and sewerage complaint centre of Sadar Town is situated in this building.”

One can go on reminiscing about the culture of yesteryear.

A deeper reflection is: What has changed over the years that has taken us away from books, newspapers and libraries? How can one enjoy reading a newspaper without getting the black smudges on one’s fingers and enjoying the smell of freshly printed newspaper? I remember as a young kid, my pocket money was spent exclusively on buying Enid Blyton books (some spent on Paxy chocolate to gratify the sweet tooth). For many days till the book remained ‘new’, I would bring my nose as close to it as possible and holding the binding would allow the pages to whiff past my nose, sending off the beautiful scent of freshly printed virgin pages.

My maternal grandmother, Waheed-un-Nisa Begum who lost much of her eyesight in her old age was very fond of reading novels by Razia Butt and Fatima Mobeen. She would have the novels issued from a library in Nursery Commercial Area Roundabout that was close by to her residence in Block 6, PECHS. One of her daughters-in-law would be entrusted with the task to issue the novel. A register would be maintained to note what she had read, or more precisely heard. It became more and more difficult over time to locate a novel she had not yet heard. When in town, I was the preferred choice to read it out to her. Something we both enjoyed very much. I would take on the voice and expression of the characters as I read along, imbibing the feeling of a live drama that Nanni loved.

Is it the rising use of computers that allows the geographical barriers to go down, making access to international newspapers easier that has caused the decline of libraries and the culture of reading books? Or is it the rise of the new phenomenon of e-books and/or a plethora of reading material available online?

Whatever the reason may be, it has taken away a beautiful leisure from our younger generation. The popularity of books by Harry Potter, even in Pakistan, was a joy to witness though. Maybe taking a cue from this popularity and realising that reading days are not really over and need a gentle push, Pakistan saw its first mobile library ‘Alif Laila Books Bus’ come to life. Books on shelves, vibrant colored rugs, and stuffed toys welcome the young readers. The staircase leading to the upper storey of the bus offers a comfortable reading space offering stacks of reading material to choose from for youngsters ranging from 5 to 15 years of age.

‘Readings’ on Main Gulberg Road, Lahore, opened a few years ago and is a readers’ delight. Besides offering its customers new books it has a huge reservoir of old books that are available at half or less than half the original prices. Fully carpeted, floor cushions thrown in-between the aisle of book shelves, small chairs placed strategically, water dispensers and paper cups available for those visiting, the air conditioned environment offers reading space for the in-comers even if they do not end up purchasing the books. Readings offers a wide variety of old novels and children’s reading material but needs a greater focus on increasing books on related subjects.

Two other bookstores that are heaven for avid readers are the Variety Books at Liberty, Gulberg, Lahore, and Sang-e-Meel, Multan Road, Lahore.

Frank Zappa was right in saying, “So many books, so little time.”

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

USA and China: Where do they stand?

Cross post:



APEC Summit, Asia Pivot and US midterm elections


Republicans have swept in with 52 seats in the Senate. For the first time since 2006 they have a majority in both houses of the Congress. Meanwhile President Obama is on a visit to China, from where he will go onward to Mynmar and thereon to Australia for the G-20 Summit. This weakens Obama’s position externally as other countries will not be willing to allow hard driven concessions to USA. An example is the breakdown between US and Tokyo, for the same reason. Instead they will wait for the incoming head of the American government to drive forward the bargain. On the other hand this creates an extremely interesting scenario. The President may actually end up being supported by the Republicans on fronts traditionally opposed by the Democrats. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its fast track trade agreements are supported but opposed by the Democrats. However, Obama cannot enter into any international agreement sans Congress’ approval. This is the reason why Obama has not put up the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill before Congress. He is well aware it stands to be opposed by the Democrats.

The APEC Summit is important on many levels but in order to make it successful, this and ongoing trips of the US President have to be successful.

In spite of the six points spelt out by Hilary Clinton explaining the concept of Asia Pivot — deepening our working relationships with emerging powers, strengthening bilateral security alliances, expanding trade and investments, so on and so forth — in reality, the thrust of US has not been on these or any other. The strategy has depended heavily on military cooperation.

USA needs to look at Asia in a bigger picture. Unfortunately, it has looked at countries through a narrow myopic vision whether it was Iraq, Afghanistan, India, China or Pakistan. The US is gearing its Asia Pivot approach aimed towards ‘containing China’ and to achieve this end it has opted to ally with India who has designs to lead Asia.

The situation at this level is complicated. Whereas USA views India as an ally in Asia, in fact a major ally, India will juggle a balancing act between its old ally Russia, China and USA. India will not put all its eggs in one basket. India has not long ago supported its friend Russia in Ukraine. India will use USA’s desire to its advantage on the economic front in trying to replace China on the production front. Labour cost in India is much cheaper than in China. India is also trying to work with Afghanistan, China and Iran in creating a route which is supposed to go through Kazakhstan which will then link Chahbahar Port onward to Persian Gulf. Reuters reports, “China will contribute $40 billion to set up a Silk Road infrastructure fund to boost connectivity across Asia.” (Nov 8, 2014)

The US has a complicated relationship with China, particularly regarding security issues in East and South China seas. Japan and China are entangled in a conflict over ownership of islands that Japan took from China in the first Sino-Japan conflict in 1895. In spite of US-Japan relationship that are strong on many fronts, US needs to ensure it does not endorse Japan’s stance which principally it does not till now.

There are other issues: the human rights issue the US comes down heavily on China with, and cyber-espionage to mention a few. No doubt the economies of both the countries are heavily dependent upon each other. This does not however take away the flashpoints between the two. Wei Zongyou, writing for The Diplomat, poses a very interesting question, “Clearly, the China-US relationship is not a new model of relations and interactions between a rising power and the established power. Rather, it shows all the classic manifestations of the rising power/established power historical dynamic. That begs a question: Is a new model possible?”

If one recalls a US-China defence hotline was set up in 2008. Even in 2009 when both faced naval confrontations on two occasions, this hotline was hardly ever used.

The answer is no if one goes by the traditional approach of USA. If the US understands that it can move ahead in Asia with China as a partner, then the answer will switch to a yes. China Times commenting on a meeting of both presidents writes, “They endorsed the idea of building a new model of major-country relations based on non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, with the aim of avoiding the zero-sum game usually seen in history between a rising power and an established one.” The sounds good but it will take time, sustained effort and steps taken on ground to build sustained confidence in each other.

To achieve this, the US must clarify its approach to the Asia Pivot. It must focus on growing together equally in partnership. Historically this has not been US’ forte. Its relationships have been more of a client-state nature. There too taking leave once the relationship ceases to be rewarding. One needs to look towards Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan to realise the reality within this statement.

Both China and America have strong trade relations. Bilateral trade was over $500 billion in volume last year, a good place to start building the relationship from and expand on. Territorial disputes between China and its neighbouring countries have sullied the waters. “The China-US ties took another hit last month when the US Department of Justice indicted five Chinese military officers for so-called commercial espionage. China demanded the US retract the indictment, arguing that China is in fact a victim of US worldwide cyberspying and surveillance operations.” (China Times) Decision by both to drop tariffs on a wide range of technology products is a step in the right direction.

Failure to steer relationship between both to calmer waters may be the start of another Cold War. Though military superiority of US is unquestionable, China is the biggest growing market for America. In 2008, USA recovered itself from a financial crisis it found itself in by trading with China.

Instead of going ahead on its strategy of Asia Pivot with a lesser partner which in itself can create irritants and fresh flashpoints — policy makers at Washington may want to think in terms of going forward with the main Asian player. The possibilities this step will open can only be to the advantage of not only both the countries but also the region.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

Where art thou Pakistani Cinema?

Cross post:


Reminiscing the golden years and some of the best stars


The treat of treats in my younger days was being taken to watch a local flick. It was the ultimate! No Karachiite can forget the beautiful ‘drive-in’ cinema on Drigh Road near the airport. The huge screen set up in the ground with speakers along with head phones for each car as it parked itself next to each pole equipped with the system placed systematically all over the cinema grounds. The speaker would be affixed to the window of the driver’s seat. The volume could be turned up or down. Watching the film from each individual car, one had all the privacy in the world. Watching the movie under an open sky in the breezy Karachi nights was an unforgettable experience and remains tucked away as a treasured memory in my box of memories. Called the ‘Dreamland’, it was followed by others to reap profits.

There were other ‘regular’ cinemas: Bambino, Rex, Rio, Nishat, Prince and Lyric to name just a few. As young girls growing up, we were certainly not allowed to see every movie unless and until first viewed by a hawk-eyed aunt and approved for viewing for the virgin eyes. One movie all of the young girls of the family were packed off to see was “Tehzib” by my maternal grandmother who probably felt this was a good storyline for future wives. If I recall correctly I may have been a student of intermediate at that time. We were of course properly escorted by an aunt for the trip to the cinema.

One dressed up for a momentous occasion as going to a cinema, much as one would dress up for a party. Owner of one cinema hall who was patient of my maternal grandfather, the renowned Dr M A H Siddiqui, had given the keys to one of the private boxes in his cinema to him. A treat for a brood of grandchildren who could view any new blockbuster without worrying about buying tickets — of course only if duly approved by an elder after viewing the same film first. The closest cinema to our house back then was the Khayyam Cinema in Nursery Commercial Area, not as well furnished than its bigger contemporaries but easily accessible and clean enough. The crowds were cultured, no hooliganism or loudness there. Emotions displayed at such events were quiet, a tear here, a sniff there, a laugh quickly subdued.

Between 1950s and the 1980s one found a cinema in virtually every area of Karachi: North Nazimabad, Saddar, Korangi, PECHS, Drigh Road (now Shahra-e-Faisal). Movies were doing their silver jubilee followed by golden and platinum jubilee. Not just Urdu films but English ones too. Raiders of the Lost Ark had cinemas running to full capacity with bookings running into weeks. Special showings were held for leading politicians and their families, one example being of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ for Field Martial Ayub and his Cabinet in 1962 in Bambino.

It was after the 1980s that the decay started setting in. As cinemas went out of business, they were converted into auditoriums or wedding halls, plazas and office buildings. Someone wrote and I cannot say if the numbers are correct, “In 1980, before Zia Pakistan had over 600 screens. So it will take two, maybe three decades before Pakistan gets a respectable number of screens to support our film industry once more.” It is a fact though that state policies affect the entertainment sector, the arts and crafts. That the policies of state impact all arenas of life is a foregone conclusion.

Who can forget the brilliance of larger than life actors of yesteryears from our silver screen? The ‘King of Comedy’ Lehri, who ruled the screen for three decades, was not only proud winner of the Nigar Award for nearly a dozen Lollywood films but was also awarded a monthly income by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in her first tenure. His performance in master pieces like ‘Tum Milay Piyar Mila’, ‘Naukar’ and others pale others into oblivion.

When one talks of the heroes of our silver screen, the first one that springs to my mind is our Chocolate Hero and my personal favourite Waheed Murad. 1966 saw his rise to super stardom with his maiden film Armaan. The film made it to platinum jubilee in Karachi, becoming the first flick in Urdu to do so. Starring with another heartthrob of our film industry, the evergreen Zeba, Waheed Murad was there to stay. His song from his filmSaheli sung by legendry Amanat Ali Khan with the lyrics ‘Aankhain ghazal hain aap ki aur hont hain gulab’, and music composed by M Ashraf, remains a favourite to this date.

Zeba was and remains an icon of classic beauty and grace. Her first golden jubilee film was Taubah and her last was Mohabbat Ho Toh Aisee in 1989. Named Shaheen by her parents, Zeba was the name that she adopted for films. Her pairs with both Waheed Murad and Kamal were hot favourites with her admirers. Her film Heera Aur Pathar remains a classic to this day.

Married to Robin Gosh, the Bengali actress Shabnam with her dusky complexion and huge doe eyes had enthralled many. A versatile actress, Shbnam worked in Lollywood from 1960s into 1980s. Her stardom and place in the industry was assured by her first Urdu film‘Chanda’ in 1962. This film followed ‘Harano Din’, a Bengali film, extremely well received in 1961. ‘Talassh’ made her a household name in Pakistan. She played the leading romantic role for nearly three decades on the silver screen. In all probability, the only actress in Pakistan film industry to achieve this benchmark. Winner of coveted Nigar Awards (18 times in all) and the Pakistan National Award (thrice), she did her last stint of acting in‘Amma Jan’, a Bengali film that was predictably a super hit.

Muhammad Ali, the tall good looking husband of Zeba, the superstar was known for his emotional acting. Dubbed as Shehenshah-e-Jazbaat, he made it to the list of top 25 all time greatest actors of Asia (CNN March 4, 2010). ‘Chiragh Jalta Raha’ was his first film, premiered by Mohtarma Fatimah Jinnah in the second week of March 1962 at the Nishat Cinema. Interestingly his role was of a villain in his first film. He was the recipient of 10 Nigar Awards as leading actor and one for supporting actor along with Pride of Performance Award in 1984.

Nadeem is another favourite with me for his versatile acting giving depth to each role he played. He was no longer Nadeem but became the character he played. The President Award for Pride of Performance is well deserved. Making an entry into Pakistani Film Industry in 1967 his rise to fame was meteoric. In its history, 24 films reached diamond jubilee. The unparalleled Nadeem starred in 10 of these 24 ventures. Aina, is a tribute to his versatile talents, is maybe one of the best films made in Pakistan at many levels. It was screened continuously for five years in Karachi. He won five National Awards since 1983 when they were created. Something that few may know, he was also a playback singer and sang many of his songs. The popular song, “Kahan ho tum ko dhoond rahi hain yeh baharain yeh saman” released in 1967 with Firdousi Begum remains a super hit to date.

Shamim Ara, the eastern beauty, a dancer in Uttar Pardesh, Putli, came to Pakistan to visit her relatives and caught the eye of Najam Naqvi who cast her in his film ‘Kunwari Baywa’.Though the film did not do well, Shamim Ara, the name she took for films, was accepted by her audience with open arms. Shamim Ara was on her way to stardom and never looked back.

These icons were the base of Pakistani cinema at its peak.

The producers, music directors so on and so forth. Each deserves a space of their own to do credit to their contributions.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.