IN a year of political and economic turmoil, the collective conscience of the country was put to test early in the year when a in the Punjab town of Kasur, the body of a seven-year-old girl was found dead in a garbage dump. As it turned out, it was a rape-and-kill story. Police, as is usual, said it had any clue. Others complained that it simply wanted to sweep the whole thing under the rug. Zainab Amin had gone to the local seminary on January 4 before she disappeared. The year clearly got off to a wrong start. Her parents were not in the country, having gone perform Umrah. Her maternal uncle filed an FIR and five days after Zainab’s disappearance, the unthinkable was conveyed to the family. But was it really ‘unthinkable’ for the locals – at least the local police? After all, it was the 12th such incident in the city’s two-kilometre radius within a year.

The innocence of Zainab jolted the nation like little else had done earlier. The locals were furious. The nation at large was enraged. Headlines screamed blood. People took to the streets and #JusticeforZainab became a rallying cry for millions online. Imran Ali, the culprit, was eventually caught, prosecuted and hanged after a lengthy yet speedy trial, bringing a semblance of closure in a case in which the family members, and not the police, collected the crucial evidence that finally led to the arrest in the first place.

Closure though it was, the ghastly crime was – and is – a wake-up call on the social scale. It is surely not a one-off case. During the course of the year itself, other equally horrifying cases were reported from Karachi slums to Mardan, Dera Ismail Khan, Bahawalpur and Taxila. How many would have gone unreported, unnoticed is more than mere conjecture.

Such cases highlight the collective failure of society to protect its children. The reasons behind the crime remain prevalent and so the matter remains relevant. People are scared at the thought of leaving their children out of their sight. Neighbours, once a trusted entity in society, have become suspects. Even relatives. No child is safe. People have talked – and they had reason to talk – of a civil law that is lax and its implementation even more so. A step in that direction may well be a fitting tribute to Zainab’s memory.

Stepping into big shoes

PAKISTAN has a history of illustrious First Ladies. Rana Liaqat Ali Khan, Viqarun Nisa Noon, Nusrat Bhutto, Kalsoom Nawaz, to name a few. In 2018, Bushra Imran joined the illustrious list. Compared to the screen time Imran Khan got during the year, his wife – third, by the way –generated a lot more interest in media and social circles with almost negligible exposure. Coming from a world that was entirely different to his, Bushra, herself a divorcee, is known to be a faith-healer. But more than anything else, it was her attire that got the world buzzing. Compared to Jemima and Reham, she is definitely a whole new phenomenon more interested in media abstinence than indulgence. Her lone television interview gave the hounds something to sniff on. And her words underlined the gulf that separates her followers and detractors on social media. All gloves were off. Some found her clear-headed, confident, mature and intelligent. The others … well, everything but. More than what she said or didn’t say, the Twitterati were fascinated by her attire, which was more like the North African al-Hayek than the traditional burqa or Arabic abbaya. Probably that is why she was able to create some chatter in distant Algeria as well.

The 30-Under-30 list

THOSE in search of a ‘good’ and ‘positive’ story about Pakistan and Pakistanis during the year, one headline brought a smile to faces across all divides; as many as nine Pakistanis made it to the Forbes 30-Under-30 list. Truly great even if you are not willing to go out of your way to be ‘positive’. The most public-friendly name on the list was that of Momina Mustehsan who later was floored locally for the CoCo Korina massacre, but that is another tale. Also on the list were Sadia Bashir, 29, founder of the PixelArt Games Academy; Muhammad Shaheer Niazi, 17, a boy wonder who found a way to photograph the movement of ions; Hamza Farrukh, 24, founder of Bondh-E-Shams, the solar based water extraction system; Syed Faizan Hussain, 24, of Perihelion Systems that aims at improving lives through technology; Adnan and Adeel Shaffi of mobile phone pricing app, Price Oye; and Muhammad Asad Raza and Abrahim Ali Shah, 23, of Neurostic that works on technology in healthcare services.

In its assessment, Forbes said: “It’s probably fair to say that Pakistan often gets a raw deal when it comes to international media coverage, with headlines usually dominated by themes like religious extremism and terrorism … this South Asian nation has many more positive stories that don’t see the light of day, such as the incredible pool of young talent pushing boundaries in numerous industries and disciplines.” So, will the next nine – or 19 – please stand up!

Dedicated to clearing misunderstandings

ARCHBISHOP Joseph Coutts, of Karachi, became Pakistan’s second Cardinal ever when he was elevated to the post by Pope Francis at the Vatican. The first Pakistan so honoured was Cardinal Joseph Marie Anthony Cordeiro in 1973.

Coutts is comfortable with English, Italian, German, French, Urdu, Punjabi and Sindhi languages, and has been actively involved in inter-faith dialogue with Muslims. He is also the president of Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference, and he still remains the Archbishop of Karachi.

Born in Amritsar in 1945, he grew up in Karachi and Lahore. Coutts initially had pretty worldly ambitions and wanted to become a fighter pilot. “There was the heroic Pakistan Air Force fighter pilot Cecil Chaudhry, a few years senior to me, who I used to look up to,” he said in a media talk.

About the responsibilities that are associated with the title, he said: “There was Cardinal Joseph Marie Anthony Cordeiro from Pakistan before me. He was known as a great educationist. I have taught too, but I am not an educationist really. As Cardinal, I want to take what Pope Francis did in terms of clearing misunderstandings among the people of various faiths by creating religious harmony and tolerance among the people here.”

Coutts was one of the 14 new cardinals appointed this year, coming from Iraq, Pakistan, Madagascar and Japan. The appointments came as the Argentine pontiff gradually shaped a less European College of Cardinals. In the event of a Conclave of Cardinals to name a new pope, 11 of the new 14, being under 80 years of age, would be eligible to take part.

Smiling amid chaos

THE country has achieved Utopia. Or maybe it has simply given up. Whatever the case, Pakistanis are happy. In fact, it is the happiest nation in the entire region. This is one happy piece of news for anyone looking to be happy. On the global scale, going by the sixth World Happiness Report, Pakistanis were the 75th happiest bunch of people anywhere on the planet. The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s annual survey ranked the countries on six indicators: income per capita, life expectancy, social support, freedom, generosity and corruption.

The report declared Finland to be the world’s happiest country whereas Burundi bagged the last position. Bangladesh stood at 115. Sri Lanka, a step behind. China cold make it to 86; Iran 106; India, a distant 133; and Afghanistan was ranked 145 on the index. It was a smiling, happy Pakistan having to put up with a brooding, sulking neighbourhood. That sounds good, right?

Of the interesting observations in the study was that the 10 happiest countries in the overall rankings also scored highest on immigrant happiness. But that was an issue for Pakistan in its early years – the immigrants, that is – but that is not much of a factor except for the talk of ‘Mohajirs’ in the political lexicon. Talking of ‘immigrants’, all we know is that Pakistanis who get immigrant status in other countries are very happy, and those who get their cases approved find it very hard to wipe off the broad grin on their faces which lasts quite a while. Let’s leave it at that.

Coming back to the report, it was truly wonderful. But it also made one wonder what exactly did we do to deserve this? The disclaimer on the website concerned might address some issues. The World Happiness Report, it says, was compiled “by a group of independent experts acting in their personal capacities. Any views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of any organisation, agency or programme of the United Nations”. Hmmm. That’s an interesting catch. But, well, let’s be happy while we can.

Crumbling under its own weight

THERE used to be a Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) that rule urban Sindh like no one ever did before. The complete hold (stranglehold?) on such a massive scale gave it a pivotal role in national politics as well to the extent that it became for a long a while the kingmaker which could make or break a government. Then there came a Haqiqi faction followed by a change in nomenclature with ‘Muttahida’ replacing ‘Muhajir’. Years later, there came a splinter group called the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP). In 2018, there were MQM-London and MQM-Pakistan, and within no time, there were MQM-Pakistan-PIB and MQM-Pakistan-Bahudrabad. And they all fell flat in the general elections held during the year in the face of a number of factors, but, in effect, the monolith had crumbled under its own weight.

The once powerful MQM is now all over the place, divided into parts, sub-parts and more. There was no one to pick the pieces of this broken entity. The rise, stagnation and fall of the party is truly a fascinating journey in Political Science. In 1991, it was the third strongest force in the National Assembly, and while it was in power even in 2018, it was a mere technicality. The public spat and tears in the wake of the struggle between Amir Khan and Farooq Sattar was truly an embarrassment. Thankfully, they at least decided to contest the general elections on a single platform, fielding candidates from 32 NA constituencies. It won all of 7; a mere 22 per cent. More shocking – even in this grim scenario – was their wipeout in Karachi that forced it to join the coalition as a junior partner that was made to behave like a very junior partner.

Towards the end of the year, there were hit-and-run shootings that claimed the lives of a couple of PSP activists and a former MNA who had resigned from the basic membership of the party a few months earlier. Things were a lot less certain about what might happen next to life in the metropolis as the year came to a close.

Not quite a spent force

INITIALLY in ‘protective’ custody, Khadim Hussain Rizvi was said to be facing serious charges for his actions and, more importantly, words in the wake of the verdict issued by the Supreme Court in a blasphemy case against Aasia Bibi. There was a lot of hue and cry over his alleged public incitements and comparisons were made with others who were declared anti-state for having done or said much less.

The banner Tahreek e Labaik Pakistan, or the TLP, grabbed international attention not long ago. Rizvi took the country by storm, literally, in late 2017 when he along with his supporters occupied the Faizabad Interchange. Administratively, the Faizabad fiasco led to the rise of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, which, in 2018, led to the TLP garnering more than two million votes and two provincial assembly seats from Karachi. That is what some considered to be the peak of this rather meteoric rise within no time. There were suggestions that the appeal of the man may have hit the plateau. But then came the verdict and the man was at it again.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s emergence onto the religio-political landscape was troubling and it was so mostly because of the administration’s reluctance to tackle his rhetoric. He has unleashed his forces in the tenure of two different governments. And neither handled it the way people thought they should have. And that did set tongues wagging.

The TLP’s appeal to the Barelvi vote bank, however, was limited to the 2018 elections. Already, there are splinter groups and Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s arrest can add to that breakup, provided it is more than ‘protective custody’. But as the year took its bow, nobody could say for sure if Khadim Hussain Rizvi was a spent force already.

The #MeToo moves on

PAKISTAN entered the #MeToo era when actress and singer Meesha Shafi accused fellow artist Ali Zafar of harassing her physically and sexually. The accusations were made at a time when Ali Zafar was about to release his movie, Teefa in Trouble. Protestors gathered outside cinema houses to demand action where they were instead met by cinema’s private security and the singer-actor’s fellow artist friends who came in his defence. Ali Zafar himself took to Twitter to deny the acquisitions and soon a legal battle started between the two.

In neighbouring India, the watershed moment came when former actress Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment. Anu Malik, the music director, was also accused and was suspended from the jury panel of a famous reality TV singing contest.

Lists started being circulated and soon it spread to politics where M.J. Akbar, a senior journalist who at the time was holding the portfolio of Junior Minister for External Affairs, had to face the music. 

While things were cooling down a bit in South Asia, Hollywood was in no such mood. Bill Cosby, one of the biggest names to have their names muddled, got sentenced to 10 years in prison. Harvey Weinstein was indicted on rape and criminal sex act charges, and there were other cases as well.

However, it was Kevin Spacey who decided to go down fighting. Set to be charged with indecent assault and battery within days, he released a video titled ‘Let Me Be Frank’ doing his famous House of Cards avatar of Frank Underwood. It earned him much ridicule than he possibly expected.

It was hot, hot, hot!

GLOBAL temperatures continued to rise and Pakistan was no exception on that count. But it indeed an exception when on April 30, Nawabshah was declared the hottest place on earth with temperature hitting 50.2 degrees Celsius. It broke its own record of 49.2 Celsius that it had recorded in 2017. Karachi, during the year, had its woes having temperatures in the mid-40s and with utility services playing their notorious game of hide and seek.

Changing weather patterns, thanks to manmade reasons, created havoc across the globe in 2018. The Camp Fire of California burned the town of Paradise to a crisp. Fires in Sweden and even in Siberia confirmed that the world is no more the same. Scientists continued to warn that Earth maybe past the required threshold. But the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia refused to listen as they blocked efforts at the Poland climate talks.

The ice on top of Sweden’s tallest mountain melted to the extent that it lost the title of the tallest mountain. England’s long lost (submerged) ancient villages emerged from their graves. In the dead of the dark of the Arctic winter, the world’s northernmost weather station experienced temperatures that were not freezing! Japan had its hottest day while Africa too had its own record. To put it all in perspective, scientists have predicted that the abnormal temperatures seen 2018 would soon be the new normal.

The wealthiest Communist

IT was an amazing year for ecommerce. First there was Amazon that became, after Apple, the second technology firm to be valued at a trillion dollars. Then there was the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba that recorded $30 billion of sales on November 11, also called the Singles’ Day, or the Double 11. The Chinese event was originally a novelty student holiday to celebrate being single, in effect countering the Valenti­ne’s Day, but has since grown into a month-long online shopping festival that peaks with a 24-hour sales frenzy on November 11.

This year’s sale also marked the last 11-11 sales that the company’s founder Jack Ma was at the helm of power. He has already announced plans to resign by September 2019. But the news about Jack Ma was overshadowed by another interesting piece of news later in the year when it was revealed that he was a member of the 89-million-strong Communist Party of China, making him one of its richest Communists ever. The information was published in the People’s Daily newspaper in China, and contradicted Jack Ma’s earlier assertions about his lack of taste of politics.

Having said that, he is neither the first nor likely the last Chinese super-rich capitalist to join the party that counts in its fold billionaires Xu Jiayin and Wang Jianlin. Like most things Chinese, the capitalist-communist hybrid is working wonders for the country!



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