Powerful earthquake in Pakistan hits home for Seattle man | Seattle Globalist

By Muatasim Qazi

A man in Balochistan's Awran district taking his belongings from the rubble of his demolished house.

A man in Balochistan’s Awran district looks for his belongings from the rubble of his demolished house.

Crucial earthquake relief efforts in a long-neglected region of Pakistan have been hampered by internal politics and a lack of international media interest.

“Will there be any more earthquakes?” asks Zahid Ali’s mother on the phone from southwestern Pakistan.

Ali, 21, is a new transplant to Seattle from Pakistan’s Balochistan region. Last week an earthquake turned his ancestral home in Awaran district to a pile of debris.

More than 515 people lost their lives in the 7.7-magnitude earthquake. Another 300,000 were affected. The epicenter was Ali’s hometown of Awaran district, 130 miles northwest of the port city Karachi. The quake was so powerful that it created a small island off the country’s coast in the Arabian Sea.

Tremors were felt in many parts of Pakistan and across the border in the Indian capital New Delhi as well as in some Persian Gulf countries. My own hometown bordering Iranin the southwest was a mere 90 miles west of the epicenter, but thankfully, the quake left only a few damaged houses with no reports of casualties there.

But in Ali’s hometown, the quake left a trail of destruction.

Click here to read the full piece on the Seattle Globalist.


The 6 big myths that turned us against drone strikes | Seattle Globalist

Majority of Pakistanis oppose US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions. But there are also many Pakistanis who argue drones are effective in fighting an enemy that their own military is either incapable or unwilling to confront.

Click the link below to read more about my take on drone strikes in Pakistan, and the myths that go with them, in my latest piece for the Seattle Globalist.

The 6 big myths that turned us against drone strikes | Seattle Globalist.


Tigers, tumbles and Taliban: Making sense of Pakistan’s election – Seattle Globalist


Photo courtesy: Seattle Globalist

Pakistanis voted last Saturday after five years of civilian rule, paving the way for a first ever democratic transition in the country as politicians are poised to take the helms of the government.

The elections were unprecedented given the country’s history of rampant military takeovers and abrupt ends to civilian rule on charges of corruption and mismanagement.

The run-up to the election was marked by some bizarre events. Just a few days before the vote, upstart candidate and former cricket star Imran Khan tumbled from an elevated platform during a campaign event, suffering head injuries. A few days earlier a white tiger used as a prop in frontrunner Nawaz Sharif’s campaign rallies died of heat exposure, creating a minor scandal.

Read more on the Seattle Globalist


A City Without an Obituary

By Muatasim Qazi


A shroud of snow drapes over slopes of hills surrounding Hanna Lake near Quetta.

You are bleeding again—this time, like never before. We can only imagine the pain you must be going through. Losing a single son is hard, and you have lost 95 brave ones in an instant with exploding of some morons.

Quetta, you’re grieving; you are in mourning. But let us tell you that you’re not all alone in this. We are with you. So is every one who knows you or the ones that you knew—the ones who called you home.

You are not a mere city; you are flesh and blood. You are resilient, just like your residents. Now let not mourn and throw away this white shroud like the one that in winter you wear on.

You’re a city of hopes to which flock young women from far-off coasts of Mekran and ambitious men from hot sizzling deserts of Kharan, traversing through the rugged terrain of your mother Balochistan. On stuffed buses and in dwarfed Bolans, they come to you to quench their thirst of higher learning and to fulfill their yearnings of a better dawn. Like a welcoming tent of a Baloch in Kahan you welcome them all with open arms, like those of your hospitable Pashtun Khans.

You are a city bustling with people whose towering turbans may shame your Koh-e-Murdar and whose beards measure longer than the shawls and shalwars. And then there are those whose ‘tiny noses’ and ‘slanted flat eyelids’ unfortunately make them soft targets of fanatic morons. Yet they stand up against all odds and become productive sons that you can count on.

They all make you proud and make up your unique identity that you can boast upon.

An identity that now seems a bit tarnished. But let us tell you that it is wholly yet not. For some outsiders who may not know your history and your olden and golden days of serenity, you may be a place where some ‘RAW’ hatches its ‘pawns’ and a certain ‘Shura‘ make their hatemongering spawn. But we know what you are, with the mentioned being dead darkness before a prosperous dawn.

For now, you may present look of a violent boxing ring where people punch you and one another and you groan. Some of them may gloat over the other’s miseries but assuredly there are others who equally mourn. Baloch, Pashtuns, Hazaras and settlers once lived in you like brothers. And we know they still do. An ordinary Mehrab from Sariab may still be mending shoes for a Kakar from Kuchlak, while a Husnain from Alamdar still makes a pair of shoes for a man whose parents lived in Multan.

Quetta, we know these are hard times. And we know you never ever went through such a bad time before. But let us remind you that you will heal again like a fractured bone of a jawan. You were and you will be a place where a Kakar or Kurd will not loathe a Husnain because of his divergent religious views. You will again be a place where Parsee women and English ma’ams would roam in your Liaqat bazaar with skirts on. These burqas of today will ultimately shred somewhere in Jeddah or in Isfahan.

Reflect back and don’t bemoan. Mother nature didn’t break your resolve to live again when it jolted you in 1935 and wanted to crush you in between Koh-e-Murdar, Zarghun and Koh-e-Chitlan. You lost more than 40,000 sons and daughters. You were in pain then. You mourned the best of your bests but you never seized to go on.

So now these Jhangvi goons won’t shatter your will to thrive back to what you were. Nor will those Taliban. They may threaten you, maim you, hurt you as they please, but they won’t be able to kill you. You will bounce back, laughing just like a baby who had been crying after a nightmare but starts cracking up right when she sees her mom. Trust us, again you will never mourn.

Originally published in The Baloch Hal.


A tale of two birthdays and a single name

It was almost gwarbaam.[1] Meek sunlight on that winter morning had yet not gleamed through the crevice in the bedroom door of Haji Raheemdad, my maternal grandfather.

Haji is the title conferred upon Muslim men after they have made the pilgrimage to Mecca. But people in my home village had already started addressing my grandfather with that title, long before he had even made the journey to the Muslim sacred city. That was due to the reverence he commanded among the people.

One among several mud brick, single room houses that dotted all the way down from the tiny mosque building to the eastern tip of the village where rests our ancestral graveyard, my grandfather’s bedroom almost competed the mosque building – the Maseet[2] – in its grandeur. Continue reading


Seattle Globalist: Will attack on child activist finally end Pakistani apathy about civil rights?

My piece in the Seattle Globalist about Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani activist who was shot by Taliban last week. 

The name Malala Yousufzai was new to me until recently.

Students hold pictures of schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai during a tribute at the Pakistani Embassy in Abu Dhabi. Yousufzai, 14, was shot by the Taliban last Tuesday for speaking out against the militants and promoting education for girls. (Photo from REUTERS/Ben Job)

But the power of her words wasn’t.

Back in 2009, when her hometown in Swat Valley was virtually under Taliban control, Malala, using the pen name Gul Makai, wrote a diary that was published and broadcast on BBC’s Urdu language radio service.

In it she described the Taliban’s atrocities, their violently enforced decrees against girls’ education, and how she would try not to attract Taliban soldiers’ attention while making her way to school each day.

I would listen to her chronicles broadcast on BBC Urdu every evening with my grandfather in Pakistan, before I moved to Seattle. (The older generation in Pakistan prefers getting the news from BBC because of it has more credibility than local news sources).

Read the full piece on the Seattle Globalist


It’s like a squeaky wheel refusing to get the grease

In Baluchi we say, you can forcefully snatch a man’s belongings but you can’t gift him unless he’s willing. It holds true to today’s Pakistan where many aid agencies working in the country to serve the people are forced to shut down their offices and halt their services amid growing incidents of attacks from militants.

Last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced it was halting most of its aid programs in Pakistan due to security issues. The announcement comes amid deteriorating security and threats the organization’s aid workers have been facing from militant organizations.

An organization that doesn’t halt its humanitarian work even in war zones, ICRC’s announcement to halt many of its programs in Pakistan is rather alarming but is not surprising at all.

Earlier this year, one of its aid workers, Khalil Dale, was kidnapped by Taliban who demanded a ransom amount for his recovery. Upon not receiving the money, they beheaded Dale and threw his body in the outskirts of Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province.

ICRC is one among many other international aid agencies that have suspended their programs in parts of Pakistan in recent times due to growing concerns with the safety of their staff.

According to Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF), a coalition of humanitarian organizations, 19 aid workers have been killed in Pakistan since 2009. The number of kidnapped is at least 23.

More disappointing news was yet to come. On Thursday, Pakistani government asked Save the Children’s foreign staff to leave the country in four weeks time. The country’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, blames the charity for involvement in helping out CIA with its hunt for Osama bin Laden. The group vehemently denies the charge.

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!گر ایک ہے رنگت تو کیوں بہہ رہا ہے

This is some kind of an open-form poem that I wrote in Urdu to express my optimism as well as pessimism when it comes to the state of affairs in Pakistan in general and in Balochistan in particular.

طُلوعِ صبح ہے کہ ہے یہ غروبِ آفتاب
ہمیں تو خبر نہیں یہ کونسا پہر ہے
جدھر بھی ڈالو نظریں

جہاں بھی جاتی ہیں نگاہیں

فلک پہ شفق ہے کہ یہ شفق بے فلک ہے

یہ سارے پرندے

جارہے ہیں طعام ڈھونڈنے

کہ لوٹ رہے ہیں گھروں کو اپنے

یہ لہو جو بہہ رہا ہے یہاں پہ

ہے اس کی کوئی رنگت

گر ایک ہے رنگت تو کیوں بہہ رہا ہے

ہے کوئی منزل، ہے کوئی ٹھکانہ

گر ہے تو ہم اُدھر جارہے ہیں؟

یا یہیں ہے منزل اور ہم پرے جارہے ہیں


Reminiscing Ramadan

Last week marked the start of Muslim fasting month of Ramadan across the globe.

The ninth month of the 12-month lunar Islamic calendar, Ramadan brings along a lifestyle and culture of its own, changing people’s schedules to eating habits to how they should behave in order to fulfill essentials of the fast.

It’s a month that holds significance for many but, at the same time, it’s one that becomes a challenge for some. For the faithful, it’s a month that holds far more significance in terms of worshiping than any other month of the year. Whereas, for people like me, it comes as an unwelcome guest in a metaphoric house that has no door but windows.

Fasting comes as third in a series of five pillars that encompass the Muslim faith. The others include praying five times a day towards the city of Mecca, performing Hajj–the pilgrimage to the city once in a lifetime for those who can afford it–and giving alms to the needy. During the 29- to 30-day long month, the number depending on the visibility of the crescent moon to start or end the month, observers of the fast are required to refrain from eating, drinking and having sexual pleasures. It also obliges the faithful to be more caring, helpful and fulfilling toward the needs of other fellow believers of the faith.

Despite the fact that I’ve always viewed myself as someone born into the religion more by chance than by choice and that I’ve always had this feeling that certain beliefs were thrust upon me than I would have liked, there are certain things I like about the festive month.

Back in Pakistan, where I have lived most of my life, the month would bring along a whole culture of its own. It would revive certain norms and customs that were otherwise forsaken.

For instance, the month would engender a sense of empathy among well-to-do people for their needy neighbors and underprivileged people. Alms or Zakat, enshrined as one of the five pillars of the religion that obliges the-haves to give a certain portion of their yearly earnings and overall value of possessions in form of charity to the poor, would be distributed among people in need. The amount would not help much, but it would enable the recipients to buy basic commodities of life and the like.

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My take on ‘Wasu Aur Main’

There is a lot of absurdity going on in Pakistani media, particularly with the electronic version. Considered largely vibrant, free and willing to hold powerful circles accountable, it is however not indicative of an ethnically and religiously diverse, culturally and linguistically plural Pakistan. All it tells is a single story, and single stories tend to be dangerous.

Where it could become a unifying force for an already-fragmented society, it works as a means to further augment fissures of strife among different strata of Pakistan society.

Electronic media in Pakistan remained Balochistan-blind for more than a decade, ignoring issues that confronted the country’s largest province that now have turned into troubling genies hard to put back in the bottle. But, all of a sudden, when a U.S. lawmaker introduced a concurrent resolution in the U.S. Congress after holding a public Congressional hearing, Pakistani news channels had overnight met a messiah who had cured their Balochistan-blindness.

With their new-founded eyesight towards Balochistan’s issues, they have been doing more harm than good to help solve the conflict. One of such misadventures is Wasu Aur Main, a reality TV show featuring a renowned pop singer, Shehzad Roy, and Wasu, a Baloch poet and folk singer employed in the police department in Jafarabad district of Balochistan.

Roy finds Wasu after someone had shot and posted a video of the latter on YouTube, showing him eulogizing Pakistan’s forefathers and telling Pakistan’s brief history of political turmoil and military takeovers in his poetic Urdu. Subsequently, Roy goes all the way to Jafarabad and casts him in one of his music videos.

Then comes the reality TV show.

Wasu is a man of wit, a funny one. On the other, he is naïve like many of his contemporaries in Pakistani society, fed with misinformation by the same media that ignore real issues and showcase a fabricated history.

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