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DAWN - Features; October 14, 2007

October 14, 2007


Beware! Islamabad’s long night cometh

WHOEVER said Islamabad was half the size of Arlington Cemetery and twice as dead needs to revisit the judgment. So much has changed since the description was first used in the Sixties that the attributed source must be turning in his or her grave (provided, of course, if he or she has descended six feet under).

The point of reference here is not necessarily the wide dug out spaces across the capital that so much resemble fresh graves — only bigger in size than an average rectangular space for the dead — but how the city has come alive in the last few years.

It may be too early to say if the city never sleeps, as a famed advertising slogan suggests, but we’re getting there ever so eerily. The last time we had such resonant fare was in the Nineties, when palace intrigues ensured that there wasn’t a dull moment.

Those times are on the anvil again, with no less than General Pervez Musharraf himself admitting in a DawnNews interview last week that Pakistan was headed back to the days of the power troika.

What the 21st century’s first army chief ‘elected’ president didn’t confess to were the implications of such an arrangement: a 58-(2)(b)-armed president colluding with a loyal army chief to the detriment of a genuinely elected prime minister.

In short, bringing back those familiar long nights when the city appears never to sleep.

Such turn of events depends, of course, on how petitions challenging Musharraf’s disputed clinch on October 6 fare at the Supreme Court.

The matter is sub judice even if the general’s supporters continue to celebrate ‘victory’ with gay abandon arguing that the mere fact that the presidential election was allowed to proceed contrary to popular perception that there would, at least, be a stay given that there was no time left to determine the merits of the case before October 6 is a pointer that he had it in the bag.

While a verdict in support or against that argument can’t be discussed at this point of time, excitement is guaranteed this coming week and the days ahead.

Some quarters apparently aware of the general’s strategy to deal with an unfavourable decision — Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, for one, hasn’t minced words in pointing to martial law for quite some time now — would have us believe that the nights would only get longer if Musharraf can’t have his cake and eat it, too, the way he aspires according to Plan A.

Such conspiracy theories are not without basis as was evident in the general’s interview with DawnNews. After harping on the mantra of always acceding to Supreme Court ruling, he was asked what would be his reaction if he received an adverse judgment from the apex court.

“Let’s see what the verdict is, then we will decide,” he retorted.

One could be forgiven for assuming it remains the Supreme Court’s prerogative to decide!

We are just a few days from knowing, for sure, which way the cookie crumbles but the entertainment on offer in the capital on October 6, even if perverse, was to be seen to be believed.

To begin with, the engineering of a favourable vote from incarcerated Engineer Mohammad Shahid Jamil Qureshi was the stuff of an epileptic dream. National Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain issued the production order of the former state minister for communications with such alacrity that one thought we were in the middle of some political Twenty20. A little rewind of this entertaining episode won’t hurt at all.

Mr Jamil, who shot to infamy recently, with his alleged involvement in the murder of a married Canadian woman purportedly living in his Islamabad residence, was ushered out of Adiala Jail at 7am by the fleet-footed Shalimar Police. The MNA was shifted to Parliament Lodges at around 3pm after the pyrotechnics of a dearly wanted ballot. All for the good of the state, one presumes.

So what if the speaker never got to his feet on similar demands of a production order for opposition leader Javed Hashmi for nearly four years. Moral of the story? For early and favourable response, the production company should bear the Aiwan-i-Sadr label.

Another astounding feat was unveiled by the veiled MNA Ayla Malik. The unique performance was directed and produced by hu0sband Yar Muhammad Rind, who is the Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions. Ayla’s last presence in the parliament was on August 27, 2004, when she dropped by to say ‘Aye, Aye Sir’ to Shaukat Aziz becoming prime minister.

Surely, Madame Malik must be the only MP in the world who, whenever she makes an appearance in parliament, paves the way for the election of either the country’s head of state or the head of government. For the record, she’s the top absentee from the National Assembly roster but trust the speaker to look the other way when it comes to marking treasury attendance.

Emptying the arena was clearly on Rind’s mind when he stunned all comers by refusing to take Ayla, his third wife, for the vote in the presence of male MNAs. So the decks had to be cleared before the apparent mission impossible was accomplished.

Also playing realpolitik were former ministers Ishaq Khakwani and Nilofer Bakhtiar, both of whom were forced to resign their offices after begging to differ with Musharraf regime on that much abused premise: principles.

In the end, ground beneath their feet shook just about enough for them to take a neat little U-turn, that single fetcher of good fortune in Pakistani politics.

The power mandarins in Islamabad also provided the nation with comic relief in the no-holds-barred battle to eke out maximum results. Hidden cameras were employed at strategic points to discern who, if any, dared to deviate from the script. A few still capered to be on candid camera to Justice (retd) Wajihuddin’s benefit.

So the next time you come across an element of anything grave in Islamabad, rest assured it is only in the political context. The city itself is a harbinger of great entertainment — removed from the deathly silence of Arlington.

The writer is News Editor at DawnNews. He may be contacted at

Krishan Khatwani: a multi-faceted writer

By Shaikh Aziz

In the death of Krishan Khatwani, Sindhi literature has lost a distinguished fiction writer, playwright, critic and poet.

He was among those pre-partition writers who introduced new trends in Sindhi literature. Two years before the independence, he along with Gobind Malhi, Kirat Babani and Sobho Gianchandani organized Sindh Students Movement. After migrating to India, he took an active part in the successful struggle to declare Sindhi one of the state languages.

He began writing at a young age. This was the era when Sindhi literature was undergoing qualitative changes in all genres and budding writers like Mr Khatwani were influenced by the trend. He made strides in short story, novel, play and poetry.

He derived his themes from life and portrayed them in touching shades. Moved by man-made human miseries, he was a sensitive person with a keen eye on social disorders and disequilibrium. His intense study of life reflects in his characters who seem to be real people. Mr Khatwani subtly handled very intricate subjects.

The technique of his fiction writing was simple, straight and descriptive, which was the hallmark of the new wave of Sindhi writers including giants like Narain Shyam, Shaikh Ayaz, Kirat Babani, Asanand Mamtoora, Dr Ayaz Qadri and Gobind Malhi.

Mr Khatwani wrote five novels (Amar piyar, Tarandar baadal, Yad hik piyar ji, Vaerath zindagiyoon, and Satt deenah) and seven collections of short stories (Pahinja parava, Tutal taaroon, Mithhri to na sunjato, Akeli, Jiyape jo saadhan, Bipahri, Dhundhla chehra and Muhnja marooara. Besides he penned an anthology of poetry, Hik dighi saant, a collection of biographical sketches, Siyasi muddabir, and collection of plays, Ashiano.

For his works, he received many awards including Sahtya Academy Award. His books have been included in the curricula of graduation studies at Bombay and Puna universities. A number of his novels have been translated in Hindi and applauded by literary circles.

Migration to India in his prime age was a shock which haunted him for the rest of his life. Although he settled in Indore after the initial setback, he could not feel contended.

His every writing bore the nostalgia.

Olds and news

By Hajrah Mumtaz

While concerted efforts by the news media have on certain occasions effected positive change, the media mill is largely powerless in this regard. Whatever the issue of the day — political, environmental, social or otherwise — the media’s fundamental role is to observe and report. At best, it can ‘create’ issues by focussing on a subject repeatedly and from a number of different angles.

A newspaper or television channel sporting reporters and editors with sharp journalistic acumen can draw attention to, for example, hitherto ignored injustices such as jirga verdicts or Pakistan’s disappeared. Nevertheless, despite their significant role in fuelling change in such matters, media coverage depends on the actions of other organisations, citizens or state actors. The coverage regarding missing persons depends on families’ efforts to trace them, the intervention of the courts and the progress – or lack of it – reported by official respondents. Reports cannot be written in the absence of new developments.

News organisations are fundamentally restricted because of their structural and operational realities. A basic factor in this regard is the predilection of the audience, which nearly always has a relatively short attention span. People thirst for news — they aren’t interested in the olds. Any editor knows that old news is no news at all. What happened ten years ago or even last week is of little importance unless it becomes relevant again in the here and now, either through a fresh development or, if the reporter/editor is crafty, a different angle. For example, the sugar crisis during Ayub Khan’s regime is now a matter for historians and sociologists; no editor would present a news story on it. However, some enterprising journalists revisited those decades’ old events, making them the hook in reports on the sugar and wheat hoarding scandals over the past few months and thereby giving the old story new relevance and greater context.

A point often forgotten by idealists vilifying the news media for not playing a sufficiently active role in creating a better world is that the existence of press organisations depends entirely on the revenue they generate. No media organisation can survive in a financial vacuum. Revenue comes through advertising and circulation, both of which hinge on real and perceived audience interests. Furthermore, while it is theoretically possible for a newspaper to range itself against the government, for example, what to do about the official advertising that the government provides? Leaving aside the very real threat to journalists’ life and limb, other pressure tactics to which the state has access include the newsprint on which newspapers are published. In the mid-nineties, the Nawaz Sharif government forcibly cut down the publication of the then dissenting Jang group of publications by shutting off the newsprint supply.

News organisations can take up a crusade only if the goal is definite and achievable, in theory at the very least. A loose or ideological campaign is doomed to failure since, for example, one can never conclude that sufficient levels of egalitarianism have been achieved in society. Conversely, the demand for education for all can potentially be successful since it is theoretically possible to establish enough schools to accommodate every child of school-going age. Henry Porter, the London editor of Vanity Fair magazine, put it best: a newspaper agitating to save the dolphins or increase deciduous planting is hopelessly misguided, he says, “because there is no natural end to the mission — an editor can never declare that there are enough dolphins or oak trees in the world.”

As institutions, the news media can only report on change or the need for it, thereby creating the impetus. The prime actors remain the state and citizenry.


COMMENT: When a great cricketer leaves the crease

By Saad Shafqat

When a great cricketer leaves the crease for the last and final time, he unleashes an avalanche of memories in your head. Your mind goes back to any of 17 centuries that brought victory for Pakistan, and even to the remaining eight that did not.

You think of the triple-hundred mercilessly belted around Gaddafi Stadium against New Zealand, or the fighting 114 & 85 at Old Trafford that squared the series against England, or the imperious 184 at Bangalore that defeated the old rivals. Take your pick, for there is something here to satisfy fans of every stripe.

As the reverie continues, you recall the 138 not out in crumbling circumstances at Multan that saved national honour by the razor-thin margin of one wicket, and the textbook 148 at Lord’s, and how can you not remember the tenacious 2nd innings 118 in a losing cause at Hobart. It’s a long list.

Or perhaps your mind, having had its fill of splendid Test hundreds, goes back instead to a cold, windswept afternoon at Auckland. The year is 1992 and the event is the World Cup semifinal. Both openers and the heart of the middle order are gone. The asking rate has climbed to 8.5 an over and the team is still 123 adrift. A hero is needed, and he steps in. But for him, Pakistan would still be looking for their first World Cup title.

This hero was born in 1970 in Multan, the city of saints and mystics. At the age of 15 he made his first-class debut, playing for his hometown. In 1988, he joined United Bank and began making impressive scores that brought him to national attention. The story goes that in the summer of 1991 Inzamam-ul-Haq was invited to a pre-season training camp with the national team. He played the regular bowlers with ease and confidence. Then Waqar Younis was called in. Unfazed, Inzamam stared him down with some copybook forward defensives, and then lifted two shots off his hips that sailed out of the ground.

Imran Khan thought he had seen another Viv Richards and Javed Miandad thought he had finally seen a successor, and neither was too far wrong. In his fifth ODI match, Inzamam made his first international century — 101 against Sri Lanka — prompting Miandad to give him a cash award of a thousand rupees, which Inzamam put aside as a good luck charm. A few months later came the symbolic partnership in the World Cup semi-final in which Inzamam took over the batting anchor’s mantle. It fit him perfectly, and there was no looking back.

Inzamam’s retirement marks the end of one of the greatest cricket careers from Pakistan. He has made more ODI runs, notched more Test hundreds, scored more Test and ODI fifties, and been on the winning side in a Test match more often, than any other Pakistani. And with 8830 Test runs (at 49.60), he has finished just 2 shy of the Pakistan record. These credentials place him alongside the likes of Hanif Mohammad and Miandad in Pakistan’s batting hall of fame.

Much has been written on Inzamam, and the recurring remark that observers have repeatedly made is how deceptive he looked. Peter Roebuck put it most memorably when he wrote that Inzamam scores an awful lot of runs for someone who supposedly lets the world wander by. Bowlers marveled at how much time he had to play his shots, and captains struggled to place the right field.

If Inzamam was an unlikely batting legend, he was an even less likely revolutionary. Yet he pulled that one off too. He showed principled defiance against an outrageous umpiring misjudgment at The Oval last year, becoming the first captain in 130 years of Test history to forfeit a Test match — an incident that carries far-reaching implications for how cricketing decisions are adjudicated. It all happened in the space of a few minutes, yet it could end up being one of Inzamam’s key legacies. When you start your career becoming the subject of folklore, there is a good chance you will end it comfortably perched somewhere in the pantheon. It is sometimes said of Inzamam that had he done more with the talent he was given, he would have been spoken of in the same breath as Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, and Sachin Tendulkar. It is a tough comment, though it is not so much a criticism of Inzamam as a celebration of his enormous gifts.

All the same, there are things Inzamam might do if he had a chance to go through his career once again. He might work harder at fitness, be more agile in the field, run more efficiently between the wickets converting ones into twos, and be a more animated captain always ready with a Plan B. Yet perhaps if he did all that, he wouldn’t be Inzamam, one of cricket’s colourful characters.

And so it is when an great cricketer leaves the crease. He has finally played out his innings and he has picked up his bat and walked off the field for the last time. You can be sure his heart is sad and his eyes are moist. There is little with which to console his grief except the bittersweet fact that his are not the only eyes that are moist.

COMMENT: Controversies mar Dr Nasim Ashraf’s first year in office

By Mohammad Yaqoob

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman, Dr Nasim Ashraf completed his one year in office on Oct 7, a period mired in controversies indeed.

It was a wrong-footed beginning to a topsy-turvy year for the nephrologist who replaced Shaharyar M Khan last year in the midst of the Younis Khan-resignation saga which gripped Pakistan cricket on the eve of the team’s departure for the ICC Champions Trophy in India.

And now, while completing his first term in office this month, the PCB chief is still up against a series of controversies, none more serious than the Shoaib Akhtar saga or the nasty situation emerging from the launch of the Indian Cricket League (ICL) which has scooped up a number of Pakistani players during the past few weeks.

It surely has been a relentless barrage of controversies for the PCB chairman since Oct 7, 2006. The Younis-resignation saga was just the tip of the iceberg. As the team reached India for the ICC Champions Trophy, all hell broke loose with the news of Pakistan’s top two fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif testing positive for banned substance, nandrolone.

That row shook the very foundations of Pakistan cricket. The team not only failed to earn good results in the Champions Trophy, the doping case made headlines around the world and continued to haunt Pakistan cricket till World Cup 2007 in the West Indies.

The positive drug tests of Shoaib and Asif forced them to miss the home series against the West Indies. The brisk suspension of the two pacers and its subsequent overturning within a month, however, earned the wrath of the International Cricket Council (ICC) which suspected the transparency and genuineness of the whole case.

Things had hardly fallen in place when the ill-fated South Africa tour in Jan-Feb 2007 brought more trouble for Dr Ashraf. Top all-rounder Abdul Razzaq had his knee injured on the eve of the tour and soon after the team arrival in Johannesburg, Pakistan cricket’s bad boy Shoaib Akhtar got involved in a heated confrontation with late coach Bob Woolmer in full view of the TV cameras. That not only led to Shoaib’s return back home but also spoiled the dressing room atmosphere which reflected amply on the dismal tour by Inzamam’s men. Also, all-rounder Shahid Afridi hurled his bat at a spectator during the one day series against the Proteas and got a two-match suspension from the ICC match referee for the same.

Later in February, Pakistan’s World Cup preparations got rocked by the news that both Shoaib and Asif will not be available for the mega event due to injuries.

While the PCB contended that they are injured, doping experts in and out of the country seriously suspected foul-play and claimed that the two bowlers were being saved from life bans since they still carried traces of nandrolone in their bodies.

The absence of top players and grouping in the team led to Pakistan’s shock ouster from the World Cup. Inzamam-ul-Haq’s men fell at the very first hurdle when they lost back-to-back games against hosts the West Indies and cricket minnows, Ireland in the preliminary round and failed to make the Super Eight stage.

While the shock defeat against Ireland completely stunned the nation, the sudden and mysterious death of coach Bob Woolmer turned the whole World Cup on its head.

Dr Ashraf tendered his resignation amid the gloomiest period of Pakistan cricket history as the team’s players and officials were named among the suspects by the Jamaican police and the Scotland Yard investigators in the Caribbean.

President Musharraf, the chief patron of the board, rejected Dr Ashraf’s resignation and asked him to continue. The PCB chief then set about revamping and rebuilding the Pakistan side. He appointed young Shoaib Malik as the new skipper with Mohammad Asif as his deputy. The latter, however, was removed after just one off-shore series - in Abu Dhabi against Sri Lanka - and was replaced by Salman Butt.

Pakistan hired former Aussie Geoff Lawson as their new coach as Shoaib Malik and Co began hectic preparations for the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa.

The naming of the final 14 however triggered yet another row, with seasoned players Inzamam, Razzaq and Yousuf unceremoniously dropped from the squad. The disgruntled players, citing PCB’s step-motherly treatment, announced their affiliation with the rebel Indian Cricket League. That sent the tongues wagging and most people predicted another setback for Pakistan – this time in the Twenty20 World Cup.

The new-look Pakistan team landed in Johannesburg with cautious optimism only to be jolted by another ugly row, this time of a physical altercation between two of its top players – Shoaib Akhtar and Asif. Reports filtering in from South Africa suggested a fight between the two that also involved all-rounder Afridi and the remaining hopes of the side making any worthwhile impact in the event were dashed.

Maverick pacer Shoaib, like many previous occasion, came out as the culprit this time too. He was immediately called back to avoid any further mishap.

Pakistan baffled the critics and fans with their superb campaign in the Twenty20. Not only did they beat world champions Australia with consummate ease, they almost lifted the Cup in a nail-biting final against India.

That certainly was a rare hour of joy for Dr Nasim Ashraf as the Twenty20 performance not only raised the creditability of the team to a great extent, it also unearthed a brilliant duo of match-winners in Misbah-ul-Haq and Sohail Tanvir.

Off the field, Dr Ashraf faced a lot of criticism from local associations and former players for not implementing the PCB constitution and letting the ad hoc prevail.

On the administration side, Dr Ashraf found himself in the midst of another saga when the board suspended the services of about 75 staff members one fine morning. Later, however, the staff was reinstated following the hue and cry raised by the employees and the national press.

But all said and done, there are lessons to be learnt for the PCB chief from all this and hopefully, the next term will be less troublesome for Pakistan cricket.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007