Entries in pakistan (190)


Reading list 2012

Inspired by the #bestbooks hashtag on Twitter, and in part out of shame that I haven't blogged in so long, here's s brief list of what I've been reading.

I know a lot of people crib about reading on the Kindle v/s an actual book, but frankly - hardcovers are expensive in the US, and I'm not inclined to wait for a year before the paperback comes out for some books. The following isn't the entire list of what I read this year (and frankly, am still working my way through Teju Cole's Open City, so the list is still a work in progress), but here are some of the books I enjoyed: 

Chinaman aka The Legend of Pradeep Matthew


This was probably my favourite book of the year. When I finished reading it, I couldn't believe I'd put it off for so long. Set in Sri Lanka, this book is not just about cricket -- it's the art of journalism, travel writing, war, and the poignant tale of families trying to get along, fall apart, drink a lot and death.

I went to Sri Lanka in 2006, a few years before the war ended. During the trip, I visited two cities by the sea -- Galle and Colombo -- both of which had come under attack in the week prior to my arrival. The country's tourism sector was still clawing it's way back after the horrendous tsunami. At one point, I got stuck in a traffic jam because the President was passing by. There were tanks on the streets. It felt just like home.

Except it was prettier. I was completely taken aback by the literacy rate, the culture, and frankly, the gorgeous beaches. I'd visit again in a heartbeat if I could. 

Recommendation for Chinaman: Probably best to read right before the India v/s Pakistan series begins. On a related note, Pakistan had better not ruin Christmas Day for me. 


The Hunt for KSM

This year, I went to Guantanamo Bay to cover the arraignment hearing for Khalid Shaikh Mohammad and the four co-accused in the 9/11 case. While I will leave the legality of these hearings to the experts, Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer have painstakingly pieced together Khalid Shaikh Mohammad's story and the hunt that ended in 2003, when he was caught -- in Rawalpindi. The interesting aspect of this book is really how torture didn't lead to KSM's name being disclosed as the lead guy in plotting the 9/11 attacks. 

And yes, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad's orange beard was creepy.


Night Draws Near

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East

While I had read a lot of Shadid's reportage for the Times, I hadn't, unfortunately, read any of his books before he passed away this year. His reportage, and these two books, should serve as a model for how to cover wars for every journalist out there.

Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power

For a couple of weeks, all I heard in Washington DC were people talking about this book -- self included. Once you read the book, you'll understand why.

The Submission: A Novel

Again, a long overdue read, and in my opinion, the finest post-9/11 book out there.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

When I grow up, I want to be Katherine Boo and write a book as beautiful and meticulously detailed as this.

Malory Towers

Comfort read, inspired by the sister's purchase of the same in Karachi. The first books I remember reading are those by Enid Blyton. And yes, I KNOW she was racist, but I didn't at the time -- and Blyton's books were a foundation for my love for literature.

Pride and Prejudice

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

I think I've read Pride and Prejudice from start to finish about a dozen times now, and arguably, my favourite book. I don't remember the first time I read the full text, but I try and make an effort to re-read it every couple of months. In related reading, Allison Pearson's essay on Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice is fantastic.

And I finally got around to reading P. G. Wodehouse. My life has changed for the better. Also, I want a Jeeves in my life.


Never forget. Never.

 I have written at length in the past (posts here and here) about Bangladesh. Nearly ten months to the day I went to Dhaka, I am still overcome with a sense of shame whenever I talk about the country. Tonight, at dinner in DC, miles away from our homeland, many of us shared our experiences of what Dhaka was like, funny anecdotes from hotels we stayed at, whether Dhaka reminded us more of Indian cities or Pakistani. 

And then you remember that it has been fourty long, long years. No apologies, no explanations -- and from the looks of what rulers in Islamabad and Rawalpindi think -- we have not learnt from what happened that fateful day.

I was born fourteen years after Dhaka fell. My parents were not from East Pakistan, and didn't have any links to the land. We didn't lose friends, or family in the violence that took place. All I know of what happened in 1971 is what I have read in history books, and from what I heard and saw in Dhaka.

And yet. It is not even shame, it is a gutwrenching misery that twists your insides when you close your eyes, and think of the murders, the rapes, the brutality, the blood. 

We can apologize, for something we didn't do, and something we would never wish on another person, or country. But more importantly, we must never forget.


Ten years later.

"Ten years ago, on September 15, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot and killed outside of his Mesa, Arizona, gas station in retaliation for the attacks on September 11. He was killed because he had a turban and beard. He was the first murder victim due to post-9/11 backlash."

-"Honoring the Memory of Balbir Singh Sodhi", SALDEF



This year, the ten year anniversary of 9/11, I was standing at the edge of Brooklyn. From the river side, you can look at the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty, and the new addition, 1 WTC.

At night, the laser beams went up, piercing the clouds. The laser beams were the ghost of what could have been.


A few weeks before this 9/11 anniversary, I was sitting in the office of a Pakistani, who told me tales of racism and hate, and the worst sensation of all: the fear. And there has been no closure. For weeks, I called everyone I could to try and find someone who would talk to me about having undergone police interrogation in the weeks and months after 9/11. The walls came up, and I was left with a representative, who showed me files of cards bearing FBI agent's names. Mobile numbers of some are scrawled at the back. "Please call."


In January, my father and his brother were sitting together when an acquaintance of my aunt walked in. The conversation, when she discovered what I did for a living, turned to terrorism and the media. "Beta, don't you think the media overplays the threat?" she asked.

My uncle leaned forward in his chair, and quietly replied. I have not spent much time with him, but I have rarely seen him lose his composure.

"We lost relatives in a bomb blast. They had gone out to get groceries. You want to tell me that this is overplayed?"

I never knew the women that died that day. I had met them once I think, and had been too young to remember. To me, they were unknown faces, names that would not register. Till the day that my grandmother called from Lahore. A few weeks later, I sat with her in our house in Lahore, as she recalled the funeral. We became part of the ever-growing statistic that has come to define Pakistan. We felt like victims. And then we moved on.

"We do not mourn our dead. They receive no memorials and no tributes. There is no musician singing a song in their memory and no plaques laid with their names inscribed. Our channels do not dedicate special programming to them and our papers publish no supplements honouring their memory. To us they are dead and gone, easier forgotten than remembered."

-In memoriam, Sami Shah


This 9/11, I wondered how many hours have been spent by those posting messages aimed at trying to get the West to understand their losses in looking inwards, and saying a prayer for those that did lose their lives. How many have made the effort to visit those languishing in hospital wards: military men who have lost their limbs, children that have shrapnel embedded in their bodies. There have been next to none public efforts to help those that have lost their sole earners in incidents of horrific violence. And I, like every one of you reading this from the comfort of your home, am guilty of the same. How many of us know the geography of Afghanistan, the names of the cities of Iraq that were ravaged by war. Our ignorance and our apathy, is nobody's fault, but ours.


"The State Department’s top lawyer, Harold H. Koh, has agreed that the armed conflict with Al Qaeda is not limited to the battlefield theater of Afghanistan and adjoining parts of Pakistan. But, officials say, he has also contended that international law imposes additional constraints on the use of force elsewhere. To kill people elsewhere, he has said, the United States must be able to justify the act as necessary for its self-defense — meaning it should focus only on individuals plotting to attack the United States."

-"White House Weighs Limits of Terror Fight", The New York Times

"Daud Khan, from North Waziristan, was at his home with his 10 year-old son when a drone missile struck. He says, “The day before some Taliban had come to the house and asked for lunch. I feared them and was unable to stop them because all the local people must offer them food. They stayed for about one hour and then left. The very next day our house was hit… My only son Khaliq was killed. I saw his body, completely burned.”

"One man described the anguish of his sister-in-law, who lost her husband and two sons in a US drone strike: “After their death she is mentally upset…she is always screaming and shouting at night and demanding me to take her to their graves."

"Mohammed Ayub and his family were fleeing fighting in South Waziristan, making their way by foot through the mountains, when his whole family watched his daughter die in an artillery barrage. “In the evening, artillery started raining shells on the mountains… one of the shells landed near us which killed my daughter, Dost Bibi. When it hit it just blew her up into pieces. My other daughter, Shabana, started crying in a hysterical way after seeing her sister killed… since then she has developed psychological disorder as she is unable to forget what happened."

-"Civilians in Armed Conflict", CIVIC Worldwide