Please Check My Blog

31 May

There were always reasons to love this blog but here is possibly the best ever reason to “check my blog”

The Blog Song brought to you by Tamil Nadu Superstar Wilbur Sargunaraj



What We Should Be Talking About

25 May

Economic rationality does not strike a chord with a public raised on a steady diet of emotional irrationality disguised in the garb of national security imperatives. In the weeks to come, Nato trucks will start rolling through Pakistan into Afghanistan. Dollars will roll into the coffers of the Pakistani exchequer and the Pakistani public will, once again, lambast the civilian government for giving in to American pressure and sacrificing national honour at the altar of the mighty dollar.
The foes of the government will make noise about submission to the Americans and elected democrats will end up paying the price for the rational choice to reopen the Nato supply lines. Nothing angers Pakistanis more than the realisation that our military might does not match up with our own inflated perceptions of our national strength. Any perceived signs of military weakness vis-à-vis other states ignites national passions across the motherland like no other national shortcoming. The media’s disproportionate focus on issues of national security, defined narrowly as military might, has taken the spotlight away from local development issues making them seem only slightly significant to the national interest.
As a result, we do not care about the economy or the dismal state of our social indicators compared with regional peers. We are not ashamed of being one of the last remaining exporters of the polio virus. We fail to recognise that the cost of climate change and associated natural disasters will be far more lethal to Pakistanis than India’s nuclear stockpile.
When we are not debating national security, constitutional issues that have no bearing on the life of the average citizen take up media space as if they were the next apocalyptic catastrophe that Pakistan must brace for. The amount of airtime dedicated to scrutiny or discussion of issues that actually make a difference to Pakistan’s citizens remains abysmally low.
With 2013 being election year, it would be a pity and disservice to democracy if public debate remained focused on drones or continued to drone on about Nato supply lines. What Pakistan needs is in-depth engagement with politicians and political parties on the small issues that television anchors do not have time for. The state of education, underutilised education budgets, mismanagement of municipal authorities and their funds, lack of clean drinking water, our negligence of climate change and associated natural disasters are issues that will not only impact the average citizen but are issues that should be at the forefront of national public debate. While writing about these matters in English dailies has its cathartic benefits, until and unless the mainstream electronic media take up these causes they will gain no traction in the hearts and minds of Pakistani people. Consequently, the establishment will see no cause to give these issues the attention they deserve.
It is time to divert attention from the macro to the micro and to define national security in its broader sense and realise that a child out of school is also a threat to national security, stability and progress. The priorities in public debate must switch to focus on issues other than bombs and contempt notices because how many children go to school and what kind of education they receive will eventually be a more powerful predictor of how successful we become as a nation.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2012.

The Pakistani Inspiration Behind the Indian Song, “Munni Badnaam Hui”

23 May

Did you think Munni Badnaam Hui was brilliant? Well Umar Sharif thought of it before Bollywood it! Recently a friend introduced me to this 1992 video from the Umar Sharif that shows him doing a qawwali where there is no Munni but  there is a larka who is in the process of becoming badnaam for a haseena akin to israel – hear the song and figure it out! Pay attention to the lyrics – they are quite spectacular!

PTI: Not the Change I seek

22 May

Immi Our Savior

Crushed by inflation, tired of terrorism, sick of corruption and on the verge of a revolution seeking an end to growing inequality, we are a nation that not only seeks but needs change. I have been told that Imran Khan and his PTI are the change we seek. The millions that have thronged to his rallies are supposed to be proof that the people of Pakistan are ready to shun the old paradigm of politics and step into a more inclusive, democratic, less corrupt, less autocratic and more efficient era of politics and governance.

One change that Imran Khan brings is that he has motivated young people to participate in the political process. You now see the denim clad, ipod wielding scions of educated families shouting themselves hoarse at PTI rallies. Yesterday, Imran Khan announced a campaign to focus on recruiting young Pakistanis for PTI and introducing a transparent system of selecting party leadership. This is wonderful in theory – yet this announcement merely ads up to the elusive list of changes that PTI promises but fails to unveil much like its economic plan or counterterrorism strategy. 

Inclusion of disenchanted youth into politics is a positive change. But is it the change we need – especially if it is superficial? The question we should be asking ourselves is has PTI managed to change the political mindset of these new recruits or given them a platform for meaningful inclusion in shaping the party? Continue reading

The Move to Mobilink

8 Feb

Mobilink Volunteers Building a Wall

I joined Mobilink in August 2011 as Manager for Corporate Social Responsibility. Having worked my entire career in the development sector, I was apprehensive about the switch to the corporate world which is driven by a desire to maximize profits rather than a commitment to human development.

I have always imagined corporations to be profit maximizing entities that will snatch bread from babies if it means increased profits for their own books. The mandate of every corporation and its primary responsibility is to generate returns for its investors and profits that can turn into salaries and benefits for the people that they employ. Factoring in impact on human development or communities is something that is far down the list of any corporation’s priorities. However, corporations have formidable funds, human resources and expertise that they can channel towards human development. Mobilink has all these resources in abundance.

It is the only telecom operator in Pakistan to have a registered philanthropic organization – the Mobilink Foundation. Mobilink wants to take CSR seriously and use their resources to make a measurable impact in the communities they work in. It was with the desire of tapping this resource that I joined Mobilink’s CSR team.

The Pakistani corporation has been a pleasant surprise. While we are a corporate entity focused on building a strong business that can provide communication solutions to people across Pakistan along with livelihoods and employment to thousands of others – Mobilink is definitely a company with a soul.

While Mobilink has earmarked funds for development activities, the enthusiasm of its employees for volunteer work has been the most pleasant surprise. One of my jobs as Manager for Corporate Social Responsibility has been organizing events that Mobilink volunteers (known as Mobilink Torchbearers) can participate in. I was pleasantly surprised when events planned for the weekend drew the largest crowds. Mobilinkers at all levels of the company were willing to sacrifice weekend hours to volunteer at hospitals, schools and in disaster hit areas.

Weekends are a precious commodity for those of us who work. Therefore, I was amazed to see the enthusiasm with which Mobilinkers volunteered on weekends. The average corporate slave is supposed to be driven by nothing other than a desire to make money. At Mobilink I have found this to be rather untrue. The average Mobilinker is willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to donate time to community service initiatives. The Pakistani corporation, like the country that it is a product of, is an entity that will surprise you when you least expect it.

Looking forward to more pleasant surprises at Mobilink!


Mobilink Mini Flash Mob

8 Dec

Fun times at Mobilink – an inspied performance by Mobilink employees to celebrate the birthday of its youth brand – Jazba!

Happy Hafta-e-Hijab!

18 Sep

Hafta-e-Hijab: Hijab Musalmaan Aurat Ki Pehchaan Hai

Banners announcing Hijab week have been hung across Islamabad by the Jamaat-e-Islami. The Jamaat-e-Islami’s women’s wing is the force behind this celebration and recognition of Muslim femininity and piety. Here are my thoughts on this Islamic feminist effort:

1. Two thumbs up to the Jamaat for organizing a woman centric political campaign. Women despite being slightly more than 50% of the population in Pakistan remain neglected as a separate and unique electorate by all political parties. While all political parties have women’s wings – none of them have women centric platforms, agendas or nationwide campaigns. the Jamaat’s women’s wing seems to be light years ahead of the per-oxide brigade of most other political parties women’s wings. Note: per-oxide overdose can damage hair and also your brain. Use per-oxide with caution.

2. Two thumbs down for excluding women who happen to be Muslim but don’t wear the hijab. What about those that cover their head with a chaddor or duppatta. And what about those who dont cover their head at all? This political campaign clearly demarcates the chaste from the waste and while clearly defining, reaching out and making its target female electorate feel good about its self – it is also a prosletyzing nudge to those sitting on the hair covering fence.

3. The Jamaat’s existence pre-dates the existence of Pakistan. In 1947 or even 1987, the JI’s women’s wing would not have launched this campaign. This particular campaign is another indicator of the growing Arabization and Wahabi/Salfi trend in society and politics. This Hijab is the pious Pakistani woman’s newest accessory – a result of cross cultural influences from the middle east. A burqa or chaddor is just not going to make the piety or the Muslim femininity cute any more. Burn those burqas I say. They are now a fashion faux pas. The Hijab is the lastest religious riot!

4. If you are feeling left out and would like to participate – you might be bale to do so by Hugging a Hijaabi – just make sure that you are either female or a mehram. Otherwise hell fire and bearded brothers will be let loose on you.

5. Why hasn’t this campaign been sponsored by Sunsilk for covered hair?

10 years after 9/11

11 Sep

Its been ten years since 9/11 happened. But its memory has yet to fade from my mind. The disbelief, the shock, the grief, the fear and above all else – the silence – that gripped America that day, is a memory that I will never forget.

I attended town hall meetings, and I stood in candlelight vigils and I sat on unusually quiet dining hall tables with my American friends as they tried to comprehend the tragedy they had just witnessed. I did not want to speak up and intrude on their grief because other than sympathizing with the human tragedy I could not experience it in the same way as they did – an attack against their home country. I was an outsider, granted the privilege of studying at one of their schools courtesy of their money.

So I remained silent. I did not quite comprehend then that even though this had not been an attack on my country – I would live to see its consequences far more vividly than any American.

Once the initial disbelief had died down, it gave way to rage. People were looking for someone to blame and Muslims that lived in America were the easiest target. There were ugly incidents of violence against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims. Security at airports went up and if you had a Muslim sounding name, chances were that you would get treated like a potential criminal. Horror stories rolled in faster than I could keep track. And I wasnt interested in keeping track because none of it touched my life at college. My roommates and I – who were all American (except for Catherine – who was Canadian) continued to be worried about what college kids worry about – the Freshman fifteen, what to wear to the eighties dance and boys.

For four years at college – and then for a year afterwards – we lived together and loved each other without prejudice or consideration for color or nationality. Being a girl, and one who does not wear any overt symbols of religion, I never faced any prejudice on the streets either. There were no rude comments, no mean glares at airports or snide comments in stores or at the work place. I loved America and my life and friends there with all my heart. While 9/11 changed the world for many – it had no impact on mine – till I moved back to Pakistan.

I moved back in 2006 to a Pakistan very different from the one I had left behind. While the older pakistan had economic woes and political warts, it didn’t have suicide bombers. It wasnt a country held hostage by militants.

Common wisdom in Pakistan suggests that while 9/11 brought the twin towers crumbling in the US it brought the state and the entire state of affairs crumbling in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. The United States war on Terror unleashed a chain of events that have brought instability and insecurity to pakistan. It is undoubtedly true that the War on Terror has had a debilitating effect on Pakistan – but it’s really how we chose to deal with Pakistan in the wake of this War on Terror is what has brought Pakistan to its knees.

Its been ten years since 9/11 but we still can’t seem to get our own act together. We continue to fund and support known terrorists. Men like Hafiz Saeed roam free and no law in the land dare find them guilty. Mumtaz Qadri, a cold-blooded murder is a hero and the Punjab government through its budget provides support to the charity wings of banned terrorist outfits. This is either the worst case of complicity, duplicity or incompetence or all three. Have we not had ten years too much of the destruction that these men and their organizations have brought upon us and our country? We continue to quibble about Apples and bananas and one upping each other at press conferences but we can’t seem to get our act together to stop the bloodshed in this country. Corruption and mismanagement remain rampant and each day thousands sleep hungry and are denied justice. Yet we continue to blame America and its war on terror for all our ills. 

The suicide bombers and the militants that roam freely in our streets and detonate in our mosques are not a creation of the United States or the by-product of 9/11 – they are the creations of our own incompetence and failures.

For America, 9/11 is a painful memory. For us it’s a daily reality. And even though we experience that pain every day – we have not done anything about putting an end to it and moving on. Having lived through 9/11 in the US and through many such days in Pakistan – I can only hope and pray that we too will learn to band together the way America did after 9/11 to rebuild. In Pakistan, we only saw images of the American jets that bombed Afghanistan, we never saw the thousands of firefighters and citizens that came together to lift the debris of the two towers that were razed to the ground on that day. They were no different from the thousands that came together to offer Pakistanis shelter from the floods or opened their homes to them during the IDP crisis of 2009 or risked their lived after the earthquake of 2005. Such spirit and resilience is no stranger to us Pakistanis.

Ten years after the day that changed the world and my country more so than others, I can only hope and pray that we will have honest and sincere leadership that can channel this energy and resilience into rebuilding Pakistan. And one day I’d really like some Pakistani leader to say and more than say to mean what Rudy Giuliani Mayor of New York City said after 9/11.

Replace New York with Pakistan in the paragraph below and see if  you don’t agree:

“Tomorrow New York is going to be here. And we’re going to rebuild, and we’re going to be stronger than we were before… I want the people of New York to be an example to the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, that terrorism can’t stop us.”



Mobilink Turns Billboards to Bags

6 Sep

Outdoor advertising is critical to promoting a brand or product in Pakistan. Colorful, larger than life and intriguing billboards dot the Pakistani landscape and provide information and interesting diversions during traffic jams. These billboards might leave you smiling, or compel you to think about an important message or at times leave you thinking “how did the installation guys manage to get up there?” Yet, what happens to these billboards when a particular marketing campaign is over – is a question we never give much thought to.

Back to School with Mobilink Billboard Bags

Back to School with Mobilink Billboard Bags

Destined for landfills, thousands of square kilometers of billboard skins made out of non-biodegradable plastic materials are left to rot in landfills or are burnt and release toxic fumes into the air we breathe. In the spirit of being an innovative and responsible, Mobilink Foundation – the non-profit arm of Mobilink is trying to save these sheets of plastic from ending up in landfills by turning them into school bags for underprivileged children. Once Mobilink billboards have been taken down, they are taken to a manufacturing facility in Lahore (which was set up with the help of Mobilink) where the skins are cleaned, cut and turned into school bags.

About Mobilink

Mobilink is Pakistan’s leading cellular and Blackberry service provider. With more than 32 million subscribers, Mobilink has the country’s largest voice and data network covering more than 10,000 locations. Housing an unparalleled 6,500 kilometers fiber optic backbone, Mobilink has invested over US $3.5 billion in Pakistan to date. 

The company’s Corporate Social Responsibility vision goes beyond occassional philanthropy and the company is dedicated to building a robust CSR program that leverages the company’s technological and operational expertise as well as its volunteer corps to institutionalize and mainstream CSR guidelines in internal and external operations. Examples of Mobilink’s corporate responsibility can be found in its enduring CSR efforts over the years in the areas of disaster relief, education, environment, health and the empowerment of the underprivileged.  

The Billboards to Bags Initiative

This project was conceived by the Mobilink team with the help of one its vendors who prints Billboard Skins.  The initiative is run out of Lahore and uses discarded billboard skins to manufacture school bags that are distributed free of cost to underprivileged school children.

This initiative is part of Mobilink’s environmental conservation efforts and its commitment to promoting education. Through this initiative, used billboard skins are given a second life, thus contributing to environmental protection and promoting sustainable business practices while providing essential items to those who need them the most.  

Manufacturing Process

Once Mobilink’s billboard skins have fulfilled their advertising purpose, they are used as raw materials for the bags. As a company that relies heavily on marketing its products through outdoor advertising, there is always a steady supply of pana-flex (flex sheet).  Once the skins are removed from the bilboards, they are washed to remove color. Next, damaged portions are identified and discarded. Skilled workers then proceed to cut the flex sheet into a standard school bag design. The cut materials are then given to women who stitch the bags in the safety and security of their homes. Hence these bags provide an important source of income to local women.  

Each School bag consumes around 7 square feet of clean flex sheet. The size that is usually used for manufacturing the school bags is 20 x 60 square feet.  Recycling these skins into school bags and then distributing them to underprivileged children is a far better then letting them become toxic waste in a landfill. 

An average school bag in Pakistan costs between Rs. 300 to Rs. 500 in Pakistan. According to some estimates, for an average Pakistani, this is the cost of one week’s food for a family of seven. These bags, made from recycled materials, only incur labor costs to the company that has a weekly production capacity of around 5000 bags. Mobilink provides these bags to the children free of cost. In a country where majority of the people live well below the poverty line, and cannot afford to buy essential school items for children, this initiative helps families avoid a heavy additional cost while saving children from having to carry school books in their hands.

Mobilink is the first and so far the only organization in Pakistan to implement a billboard skin-recycling program of this scale. Building further on the benefits of used skins, Mobilink also used the method to pack relief goods for the thousands of victims of the floods that hit Pakistan is 2010. Sturdy and water proof, these bags not only enabled the victims to safely transport food items to their homes as they waded through waist high waters but also use them to keep food and other items dry as showers continued in some areas for several days.

Since the launch of the Recycled Schoolbags initiative back in 2007, Mobilink has donated 35,000 school bags made from recycled advertising skins to leading local NGOs such as CARE Foundation, Zindagi Trust, JAQ Trust and other deserving students and schools. The Mobilink CSR team actively seeks out and supports schools that provide educational opportunities to children who cannot pay heavy school fees, afford books or other educational expenses to ensure that Mobilink helps reshape lives in a positive way.     

Children at the Pehli Kiran School run by the JAQ trust with Mobilink Billboard Bags

Children at the Pehli Kiran School run by the JAQ trust with Mobilink Billboard Bags

 Challenges during the campaign

Mobilink’s efforts have not been without challenges. Logistical hurdles have to be overcome in collecting skins from different regions of the country. While installing and dismantling the skins, effort has to be made to prevent tearing as that leads to wastage of skins. These have been overcome through the commitment of  Mobilink’s staff that through sheer grit and perseverence has made efforts to ensure a constant supply of skins.

Another challenge is trying to reduce the amount of waste through the design and cutting process while maintaining the quality and durability of the recycled bags. This requires adequate training of staff which has necessitated investment from Mobilink. The manufacturing challenges aside, other country specific hurdles have presented daunting issues to the whole campaign.  Power shortages and electricity failures lead to periodic disruptions in the manufacturing process.

Mobilink’s campaign not only produces environmentally friendly items that help recycle non-biodegradable materials but also augments the support network in Pakistan’s society for the underprivileged and the marginalized sectors of society. Mobilink plays a vital role here as not only is it garnering a culture shift towards more responsible consumption and care for the environment but it is leading by example through illustrating that these recyclable processes are sustainable. Since the inception of the program, several local and multinational organizations in the private sector have contacted Mobilink to explore the possibility of replicating the recycling model. A few local private sector companies have also come forth and donated used billboard skins from their campaigns to Mobilink. 

If you would like to know more about this initiative or help Mobilink innovate and improve its bag production program please contact Sehar Tariq, Manager Corporate Social Responsibility at We welcome new ideas!

A version of this article also appeared in The Express Tribune at Bagging billboards: Corporate social responsibility goes up a notch

Happy Food for Unhappy Times

27 Aug

These are sad and dark times in Pakistan. I have not been able to find the words to write about the violence in Karachi, the endemic corruption sucking the country dry or mismanaged public sector entities running the national exchequer to the ground while simultaneously holding citizens hostage to their spectacularly poor service delivery (or actually the lack of any service delivery is probably more apt.)

So in these painful times, I have turned to a time tested pain killer – good food. And since I don’t have much else to say, i thought I would share my more successful experiments in the kitchen with others who try to lessen the pain of national tragedy with some nationally produced fruits and vegetables. Well some items are imported – but this is global village age right … so….. here goes…

The Rehman Malik

Isnt that tie the color of granny smith apples? They work well in this dessert too!

This dish was inspired by the bright neck ties and the smooth personality of (in?)security guru – Rehman Malik. It starts with a smooth and tangy lemon cream sauce and is underscored with resilient chunks of crunchy and colorful fruits. Much like Rehman Malik, this dessert has a smooth introduction (think RM at a presser assuring journalists that everything in place X will be in control in Y days) but is underscored by a more resilient layer of fruit that will not melt away like the smooth creamy sauce atop it in the face of fire from the public or press! (think Rehman Malik outlasting all his critics, all the bad karma and crude jokes sent his way! – this man is made of tougher stuff than milk and cream!)  Continue reading

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