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Readership is created. This year, we've done just that

We must strive to create better, we must respect readers and trust them to appreciate what we offer.
Updated Jan 13, 2019 12:22am

Unless under exceptional circumstances, the Blogs desk (now called Prism) publishes one piece a day, five days a week, 12 months a year.

All these pieces are published under a clear editorial direction: to shed light on topics by privileging voices anchored in relative personal experiences and expertise.

Our basic function is to inform and educate. We have no room for fluff.

This editorial imperative, that took more and more shape over the last 12 months (the desk had a new editor in 2017), results in a trend that readers would easily discern: we publish articles that are critical, have a progressive bent and that have a social justice angle. We take stances.

Another aspect that we are especially proud of is that we give space to younger and little known writers. We hardly promote the already privileged: the well known, senior, male columnist who apparently also guarantees clicks. We are more concerned with quality writing than the social (media) clout of the writers.

And we don't need to be worried about traction: our articles regularly end up in the top five reads on Dawn.com. This shows that there is a readership for cerebral and, dare we say in this day and age, in-depth content. It flies in the face of those who say that we must have big names in order to bring big traffic, that we must follow the trend of quick reads.

Let's buck the trend.

Readers are not a 'thing' that's out there; readership is what you create. We must strive to create better, we must respect readers and trust them to appreciate what we offer.We feel vindicated this year and hope that this will continue.

Below is a list of some of our best articles in 2018, as chosen by the editors and most viewed by the readers. From politics, economy and gender to history, disability and health — with a bit of memoir via travelogues — it's a highlight of the vast array of subjects and writers we publish.

We'd also like to spotlight our coverage of the biggest event of the year, the general elections in July, and give a special mention to the No Time To Sleep project in collaboration with Justice Project Pakistan and affiliates. Please click on their tabs for more.

We thank our writers for contributing and our readers for their constructive engagement over the past year.

—Jahanzeb Hussain, editor; Mahnoor Bari, assistant editor


January

Jahanzeb: 'Never marry a poet or join a leftist party' ─ and other lessons from Pakistani feminists — Asad Alvi

"We might ask ourselves: how could a poet batter a woman’s body in private and yet be hailed as a progressive and revolutionary in public?"

Mahnoor: No, death penalty is not a solution to child sexual abuse — Zainab Z. Malik

"If we continue to hold the belief that adding another death to the mix will create any impact on the security of our children, then we will continue to let them down."

Readers: ‘They took my money and India jersey, and gave me love in return’—my week in Lahore on a cricket visa — Deepak Sapra

"The Pakistani crowd is good at inventing slogans. The most common slogan was "Match tusi le lo, Aishwarya saanu de do" (Take the match, give us Aishwarya)."

*
February

Jahanzeb: When water at Tarbela recedes, Bharukot Fort emerges to reveal an eventful history spanning centuries — Jahandad Khan

"When I thought of the Mohanas currently fighting for survival on the island, it occurred to me that the final battle of Bharukot is that of the Indus itself, as it breathes its last breath in the face of climate change, pollution and infrastructure development to secure a future for Pakistan's energy-starved megacities."

Mahnoor: No, the wazir-e-ala Punjab did not call you — Maira Hayat

"Even if someone wanted to complain to the wazir-e-ala for misleading the computer illiterate and less technologically savvy, apart from being called a technology, or worse, development-hater, he or she would have to negotiate access past those roadblocks and check posts and searching faces."

Readers: The silence at Gaddafi during Asma's funeral was a reminder of what losing a champion sounds like — Rimmel Mohydin

"Men and women praying together, shoulder to shoulder, was Asma's last subversive act. It felt like an encore. This small rebellion has made some people angry. It wouldn’t be Asma if it didn’t."

*
March

Jahanzeb: Why the Aurat March is a revolutionary feat for Pakistan — Zuneera Shah

"Slogans such as "ghar ka kaam, sab ka kaam", "khud khana garam karo", "consent ki tasbeeh roz parhein" and — my favourite — "paratha rolls, not gender roles" give a local flavour to the ways we can talk about feminism and gender."

Mahnoor: Skirt lengths and bhuna gosht: What women in Pakistan’s legal fraternity face — Zainab Z. Malik

"When hiring women, firms make sure to include questions about when they plan to get married. Women are subjected to sermons regarding how it is useless to invest in female associates, as eventually they would be relegated to a life of domesticity and never pursue legal careers."

Readers: Remembering Dulla Bhatti, the landlord who stood up to the mighty Akbar — Haroon Khalid

"In pre-Partition Punjab, Dulla Bhatti emerged as the ultimate symbol of the composite Punjabi culture – a Muslim landlord who fought for the honour of Brahmin girls, saving them from the Mughal emperor."

*
April

Jahanzeb: 'Mr President, grant mercy to my daughter who was tortured into a false murder confession' — Sher Muhammad

"They hung her from a fan with ropes thicker than her tiny wrists, beating her small frame with all their might. They let mice loose in her pants, which they tied from the ankles so that they could not escape."

Mahnoor: Good sifarish, bad sifarish: A look at Punjab’s selective anti-corruption drive — Sameen Ali

"In light of these practices, the feeling amongst the mid-tier and junior bureaucracy I interviewed was that anti-corruption policies that enhanced monitoring and transparency targeted them but left the higher echelons of the bureaucracy — where ‘corruption’ usually involved having a finger in the pie alongside senior politicians — largely untouched."

Readers: Why Aamir Liaquat — Adnan Rasool

"Elections are not won based on how nice and well spoken a candidate is or how good they make you feel. The PTI is doing its job as a political party preparing for the next elections."

*
May

Jahanzeb: I was invited to talk on Partition. I was then told to talk on Independence as Partition 'never happened' — Anam Zakaria

"The use of selective language, of particular words and symbols, is a powerful way to mold memories and understandings. By imposing or depriving citizens of specific words, of the tool of language, states are able to construct identities, meanings and experiences that fit national projects."

Mahnoor: My long quest for wheelchair accessible buildings in Lahore — Sana Khurshid

"Upon entering the head office (through a ramp), I was directed to go to the first floor to meet the concerned LDA officials. There was only one problem: there was no functioning lift to take me to the first floor. The irony was not lost on me."

Readers: My mother was almost cast as Anarkali for Mughal-e-Azam. At home, she was violently abused by her husband — Sophia Naz

"Her public life in Bombay was filled with the trappings of glamour. There were movie premieres with film stars like Dilip Kumar, Madhubala and Kamini Kaushal, photos at official functions with heads of state like Prime Minister Nehru. The glamorous mirage masked a terrible reality."

*
June

Jahanzeb: Hashish, Sufi shrines and modernity — Hammad Khan

"In terms of Qalandari mysticism, hashish was meaningful and instrumental in dissolving the self (fa’na) through detachment and antagonism towards the “World of Exile” (i.e. material world). It represents a radical interpretation of Islamic themes such as salvation, poverty, fa’na and tawwakul."

Mahnoor: Why is Pakistan afraid of happy women? — Nudrat Kamal

"The only people for whom the idea of women talking to each other about sex is outrageous are people who are not women."

Readers: Pakistani scholars face bigger hurdles than Indian visa refusals in accessing global academia — Adnan Rasool

"The lack of Pakistani-origin faculty in top universities matters because it reduces the chances for future Pakistani students to have access to these schools, have successful careers and forge paths for others to follow."

*
July

Jahanzeb: Pakistan on FATF’s grey list: what, why, and why now? — Usman Hayat and Shahid Karim

"Bottom line is that FATF’s grey listing of Pakistan should not be looked at in isolation but placed in the larger picture of US-Pakistan relations that have had many ups and downs."

Mahnoor: How Pakistan's fear of opioids forces my mother to endure cancer pain — Hassan Majeed

"It is still baffling to me that potent pain medications are not available in pharmacies in Pakistan."

Readers: What are the ways the Sharifs could appeal the Avenfield verdict? — Ali Chughtai

"It is settled law that circumstantial evidence should be of a conclusive nature. It should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proven, and there must be a chance of evidence complete to the extent that it does not leave reasonable ground for conclusion consistent with the innocence of the violators."

*
August

Jahanzeb: Being Chinese in Pakistan: between heritage and home — Alice Ping-hsiu Lin

"When I ask whether the Pakistani-Chinese feel Chinese, the answer is often conflicting. On one hand, some say that they called themselves Chinese as that was what Pakistanis explicitly refer to them as. On the other, a more Pakistani identity is embraced amid the younger generations."

Mannoor: How generations of Pakistanis settled in colonial Malaya and Singapore — Abbas Khan

"Most Singaporean-Pakistanis today, whose forefathers settled in the country during the colonial period, have their roots in the Punjab and NWFP."

Readers: Pakistan will be going to the IMF for the 13th time. Will PTI’s Asad Umar fare better than past ministers? — Aisha Ahmad

"There is something alienating about economics. At its core, it is merely a framework through which a society decides how to divvy up the goods. These decisions should be socially-deliberated, stemming from a value-led, justice-driven consensus."

*
September

Jahanzeb: Is Gondogoro La trek the king of all treks in Pakistan? I went on the odyssey to find out — Imad Brohi

"This adventure has to be the most fulfilling experience of my life."

Mahnoor: What is behind the death of coal miners in Balochistan? — Ali Javed and Usama Khawar Ghumman

"It is telling that since taking oath, the new prime minister has not once broached the subject of labour rights in his speeches or made labour a part of his 100-day agenda."

Readers: Atif Mian and the kingdom of clowns — Zarrar Khuhro

"This is a government that does not have the judiciary on its back, which has the visible and clearly signalled support of the military and has a popular mandate with no political opposition worth the name. And yet it cannot stick to a simple decision which had not even been effectively challenged yet."

*
October

Jahanzeb: Sialkot exudes a particular romance. I set out to explore it — Tim Blight

"From the 1,000-year-old Hindu temple, to the time-honoured breakfast I had eaten, and the place where a man from humble beginnings would go on to philosophise on such lofty ideas as religion, identity and humanity. In Sialkot, history lives."

Mahnoor: Why are women less likely to receive medical attention for heart disease? — Dr Zainab Samad

"Women’s health has traditionally been synonymous with reproductive health, so it comes as no surprise when this study also showed that women reported poor access to preventative care services prior to a heart attack."

Readers: Why Pakistan will go to the IMF again, and again and again — Shahrukh Wani

"Our economic failure is a symptom of our collective political choices. Once we can allocate political power more fairly, we can make better economic outcomes."

*
November

Jahanzeb: Going behind the sensation of Qandeel Baloch — Palvashay Sethi

"I mean, it was amazing to me that if a woman does something bad enough, the natural response — that doesn’t shock us — is to kill her."

Mahnoor: Women on bikes have right of way in Pakistan. But only if they are white — Noor Rahman

"Pakistanis have a tendency to bend over backwards in their attempts to facilitate Westerners, an effort that lies somewhere between hospitality and a serious post-colonial inferiority complex."

Readers: Was Imran’s visit to China a failure? Yes. Here’s why — Adnan Rasool

"Beijing is not running a charity service for countries being run badly. It is looking for partners to create a Community of Shared Destiny."

*
December

Jahanzeb: Don’t make my corpse apologise: Lessons in dissidence from Fahmida Riaz — Sara Kazmi

"A self-identified Marxist herself, Riaz’s work put pressure on radical discourse in the subcontinent, compelling her peers to refine the crude resolutions to ‘the woman question’ many male intellectuals were inclined to present."

Mahnoor: On Persian pilgrimages, Pakistanis and Indians reconnect with Iran — Alex Shams

"When we think of cosmopolitanism, we often think of places like Dubai, where people from different countries come for work — but in Iran, there is a shrine cosmopolitanism that draws together worshippers from across the world."

Readers: My brother came home from a Saudi jail. Then I woke up from my dream — Asma Shafi

"From prison, Ali tells us harrowing tales of what goes on in foreign jails. His fellow inmates from Pakistan do not get any help from the Pakistani government. In court, everyone talks in Arabic and Pakistanis do not understand what is being said or done."

Header photo by Mushba Said

For the 2018 general elections, the desk began its coverage a month prior to the polls and wrapped it up a week after the voting. Below are all the articles we published during that period. We would also like to thank our interns who volunteered their time during the elections.

— Mushba Said
— Mushba Said


How data can breathe life into hundred-day and other electoral promises — Maha Rehman

"Better diagnosis, smart and human-centred policy solutions and solid implementation may help us fully cash in on the optimism of the policy plans presented during the electoral campaigns — much beyond the election hype and the first hundred days."

— Nabeel Ahmed
— Nabeel Ahmed

The PML-N made bold claims in its 2013 manifesto. How many of those promises did it keep? — Asim Bashir Khan

"Let's look at what the data says."

What are your MPAs and MNAs actually meant to do? — Adnan Rasool

"Over the years, courtesy of a misinformed TV media and word of mouth, we are in a situation where a large chunk of public thinks that the job of an MNA and MPA is that of local government and city administration."

— Mushba Said
— Mushba Said

Busting the myth that all MPAs and MNAs get development funds — Adnan Rasool

"Here is the next kicker: development funds do not get issued to the individual MNA or MPA; they get assigned to a project."

Are Imran and Zardari showing voters a mirage with their jobs promises? — Asim Bashir Khan

"The fact is that both parties appear to be ignorant of the state of Pakistan’s economy and its capacity to generate these many jobs in such a short period of time."

— Mushba Said
— Mushba Said

Is the bureaucracy politically neutral during elections? — Sameen Ali

"In the run-up to the election, senior and mid-tier bureaucrats can play a crucial role in favouring some politicians over others. In the districts, the police can be deployed to harass and intimidate opposition candidates, and bureaucrats can use regulations to create roadblocks (literally and figuratively) for less favoured parties and politicians, for instance by refusing or delaying permission for rallies."

The problem is in the system, not democracy: Why Pakistan needs proportional representation — Adnan Rasool

"The most significant advantage we can reap from the system of proportional representation would be getting rid of electables."

From spotlight to backstage: The MMA’s decline into obscurity — Ali Arqam

"What is different today from 2002 is that the MMA no longer has on its side the international and local narrative and political realities. The war in Afghanistan cannot mobilise Pakistani voters, while the emergence of forces like the PTI, TLP and others has added to the competition, which might hamper its chances in Karachi, for example."

— Mushba Said
— Mushba Said

How can the media be the guardian of public interest during an election? — Adnan Rahmat

"While talk shows in prime time — there are 147 daily talk shows on 49 channels — are mostly stuffed with the usual suspects comprising either third-tier political party representatives with the habit of only criticising their political opponents, or an army of retired military officials who unfailingly focus on caricaturing politics and politicians — none of them has a nice thing to say about Nawaz Sharif, for instance — while the hosts are, with a few exceptions, often remarkably shallow with their thematic contexts."

Where are the Baloch women in the elections? — Mariyam Suleman

"Although the speaker in the last assembly, for the first time ever, was a woman, it made no difference – women legislators headed only two out of every 10 committees and presented only few legislations throughout their five years."

— Mushba Said
— Mushba Said

Despite unfulfilled promises of the past, Balochistan is still willing to give elections a chance — Malik Siraj Akbar

"While an election year is an excellent opportunity to reflect on past performance and work for a better future, Balochistan is entering an election season where politicians are free to assemble, use social media and speak on “soft issues”, such as health and education, but are not allowed to discuss “hard issues” that pertain to the ongoing insurgency, counterinsurgency operations, human rights abuses, the recent political engineering of the Senate elections and reservations over CPEC."

— Mushba Said
— Mushba Said

Behind the progressive facade: PPP’s tactics to maintain dominance in Sindh — Sohail Sangi

"It’s popularly believed that the strong grip of feudalism and the Bhutto factor are the main reasons why Sindh votes for the Pakistan People’s Party.This assessment isn’t entirely accurate."

Thinking of not voting in Pakistan's elections? Think again — Sarah Khan

"Competition matters. Competition can incentivise elected legislators to behave better and deliver more; and it can push opposing candidates and parties to try just a little harder."

What are the underlying factors you should consider before voting? — Madiha Afzal

"You can’t choose each dimension of policy — for instance, the economy, delivery of social services, corruption, conservatism or liberalism, civilian supremacy and so on — according to your preferences, so choose what matters to you most, and choose the party and candidate whose policy platform maximises your utility."

–Zoha Bundally
–Zoha Bundally

Is misogyny our only electoral option? — Zuneera Shah

"I do have a vote. And, you best believe it is not about to be wasted on primetime sexism."

'The parties' claims over Form-45 have put a question mark on the elections' — Asad Jamal

"The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) cannot simply shrug saying that the polling agents left the polling station after they foresaw their respective candidates losing the contest."

'Rigging is alleged each time. But the sheer scale of it is what casts a shadow on these elections' — Jahanzeb Hussain, Mahnoor Bari

"The tactic is completely legal and is combined with the often-used strategy of delaying the opening of the ballot boxes by up to 15 minutes after polls close. This is how election day rigging has historically taken place in Pakistan."

— Mushba Said
— Mushba Said

Do delays in the voting process constitute rigging? — Jahanzeb Hussain

"Why go-slow then? It means you are disenfranchising people who have already come to the stations and that I think has a bearing on the whole legitimacy of this exercise."

Elections 2018: We knew this was going to happen eventually — Soufia Siddiqi

"All the way home, and for the rest of election day, I return to the rich purple stain on my digit: it glistens in the light, this intricate topography of spirals, uniquely spaced to celebrate my existence, my life, my voice, my opinion, documented not by any token, card, chip, database or socially-constructed record of qualification or location, but right here in the palm of my hand."

An insider view on how PML-N went to pieces during elections — Mahboob Mohsin

"A pattern began to emerge across Punjab and elsewhere. Initial results poured in, followed by delays. Later, evidence of irregularities also came in. My first impression was that the infamous khalai makhlooq was behind it once again. But then I thought: it was already too late. And that Shahbaz just might be thinking exactly the same. The tide had turned long ago."

No Time to Sleep was a one-of-a-kind project to raise awareness about the cruelty of capital punishment. A collaboration between Justice Project Pakistan, its partners and our desk at Dawn.com, NTTS was an art performance, a live theatre diffused on the internet. Normally, there is a fine line between journalism and activism and Dawn as an organisation understands the boundary. And here was a project where we took a firm editorial stance without being activists. We let the viewers decide and if the response is anything to go by, not many people watching the livestream left thinking that the death penalty is justified.

Acclaimed actor Sarmad Khoosat played Prisoner Z in NTTS.
Acclaimed actor Sarmad Khoosat played Prisoner Z in NTTS.


No Time to Sleep — Live blog

"Find the social media prologue, the video of the actual performance and reviews and reactions on the NTTS live blog."

Playing the role of a prisoner on death row is an act of solidarity — Sarmad Khoosat

"This performance is an act of solidarity. For those who are unfairly punished. For those who can’t escape the box."

No Time To Sleep — a contemporary epic brought straight to your phones — Natasha Japanwala

"The genius of No Time to Sleep is that it was an epic tailored perfectly to a new age, an epic that understood the habits of its audience perfectly. It wasn’t a play streamed on Facebook Live, it was a play created for Facebook Live, and it worked better there than it would have in a theatre. It was free for anybody to watch, in the most democratic public space we seem to have in this country. And since everybody has their phones on them all the time, it resolved any and all scheduling conflicts. It was a performance engineered so that everybody could show up — and show up they did."

No Time To Sleep is an emotionally charged look at capital punishment — Jawziya F. Zaman

"No Time To Sleep is not about guilt or innocence or flawed legal processes. It’s about a greater truth: The death penalty doesn’t result in a neat excision of a tumour that leaves the rest of the body politic intact, unhurt. This is the fiction the state perpetuates to distract us from truly scrutinizing the absurd and inhumane practice of killing people in the name of our safety and security."

No Time to Sleep demonstrates the power of silence in performance art — Fahad Naveed

"Some of the most impactful moments of Khoosat’s performance too were punctuated by silence. When Prisoner Z tried to sleep, when the guard quietly sat on the stool, when they both simply waited for the 24 hours to end — and we waited with them, trying to make sense of it all."