Tag Archives: youth


9 Mar

On my way to work today, I saw a somewhat discreet advertisement for a new cafe-cum-art gallery-cum-designer clothes store in Islamabad. This is not the first of its kind. It might be the first to combine all three under the same roof but we have plenty of other establishments of the same ilk. Swanky eating spots, exclusive clothes boutiques and high-brow art galleries showcasing some heftily priced artwork – seem to be sprouting up with alarming speed and frequency in a country that by all accounts and estimates is headed for an apocalyptic social and economic meltdown along with a revolution led by self-serving bigots parading as men of God.

I’m confused.

Countries about to explode or implode (take your pick) shouldn’t be busy trying to provide goods that are unaffordable and potentially capable of being declared illegal in the near (shaped by a revolution led by bigots) future.

So are these entrepreneurs completely clueless or callous or both? Or are we all just kidding about impending doom? Continue reading


What’s Wrong with this Picture

27 Aug

Can you guess what’s wrong with this picture?

Something is not quite right here - can you identify it?

An Inspirational Yet Tiny Pakistani

7 Jul

Little Wonder: Mehak Faisal

Tufts University introduced an exciting new twist to their college application. They asked students to share a one minute video that said something about them. Out of the 15,000 students that applied to Tufts this year 1000 submitted the one minute video clip. Out of these 1000 videos Tufts showcased the nine best videos on its website. One of these videos belongs to Pakistani student, Mehak Faisal from Headstart School, Islamabad.

Mehak’s video is a stop-animation film that showcases the difficult process of writing the personal statement required for college admissions. And the haunting yet catchy tune that she is strumming on her guitar is entirely her own. And although she was accepted to Tufts, she will be attending New York University starting August 2010 and plans to major in media and communication.

An aspiring guitar great, a literary enthusiast, a thoughtful writer, a helpful friend and an excellent listener, Mehak is one to do any teacher proud. I have had the honor of knowing Mehak as a student, as a friend as a teacher and publicity manager and critic! And she has excelled in each of those roles.

In a country rife with elite apathy and teenage angst, Mehak is one of the very few privileged Pakistanis who despite their privilege are incredibly down to earth and aspire to do more in life than party or join the family business upon graduation. Over the years of knowing Mehak, I have seen her struggle and ponder over her identity. I have seen her find ways to help others and I have seen her show genuine concern for her country and its young people. She is inspirational. Mehak is one talented yet tiny Pakistani! And if such a tiny person can encompass such greatness, compassion and drive to create change for the better, then the future of Pakistan is bright!

You can find the other videos selected by Tufts here: www.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/summer2010/planet-tufts/see-me.html

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Pakistan Bans the Internet

23 Jun

[tweetmeme source=”sehartariq” only_single=false]

I thought the embaressing episode of the facebook was over and sense had prevailed! Apparently not!! I read the following in the Top Stories section of english daily, The News

BAHAWALPUR: The Lahore High Court has directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to immediately block nine websites for publishing and promoting sacrilegious material, and ordered the PTA chairman to appear in the court on June 28, 2010 along with all relevant material.

Justice Mazher Iqbal Sidhu of the LHC Bahawalpur Bench, while hearing a write petition on Tuesday, ordered blocking of nine websites including Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail, YouTube, Google, Islam Exposed, In The Name Of Allah, Amazon and Bing.

A citizen, Muhammad Sidiq, filed a writ petition No. 3246/2010 in the LHC, seeking a ban on the websites for publishing blasphemous materials and twisting the facts and figure of Holy Quran. Deputy Attorney General Muhammad Hussain Azad also endorsed the viewpoint of the petitioner and demanded blocking of these websites.

Counsel for the petitioner, Latif-ur-Rehman Advocate presented CDs and other evidence in the court, showing that the said websites were publishing sacrilegious material. Later, President High Court Bar Aslam Dhakkar said the court has given a historic decision. He said the legal fraternity would observe a complete strike in Bahawalpur on Wednesday (today) against publication of such material by these websites. He said a meeting would also discuss the situation today.”

Did you stop breathing? Because I did! I then rubbed my eyes and checked the date to see if it was April 1st. It wasnt. Apparently, certain segments of society dont need April Fool’s Day to act foolish. What upset me about this news story – other than the utter absurdity of the demand ofcourse – was the level of ignorance displayed by those demanding the ban. Could the petitioners and the lawgivers maybe have looked into the matter at hand and learnt that sites like Yahoo, Bing and Google are “search engines” and aggregate materials on the internet and are not responsible for the content found on other websites. But it seems like those who dont use the internet and are not familiar with its most fundamental and basic concepts and tools are most concerned about what is on it. Ironic!

The kinder part of my brain wants to believe that this is just an attention seeking ploy. The brother’s judicial were feeling that they were not occupying enough of the media limelight and needed to relaunch their media career with a boom boom pow. So they said – lets knock the internet out! That should make headlines. One of the most injurious results of the lawyer’s movement has been giving the fraternity legal a taste of the media limelight and the feeling of hero worship. They have become addicted and constantly indulge in such behavior to regain airtime lost. But if you do want to take the airwaves by storm, how about you try something new and not something that has already been done. Demanding bans on the internet is so two thousand and late!!!

But seriously, lawyers want to strike and protest, blasphemous material on the internet? and ban it. Well then as one of my friends, AA, suggested they should also petition to ban books, movies, the written word, the pen, the keyboard and anything that has ever been used in or aided and abetted in putting out blasphemous material into the world. Maybe that will make us happy!

I remember we were so enraged when the Americans threatened to bomb us to the Stone Age. Shouldnt have wasted our energy on being angry about that had we known we were going to legislate our way into the stone age ourselves!

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Not-so-dear business school

7 Jun

When I moved to Pakistan in 2006, I took up a job teaching at a private high school. It made a couple of jaws drop because teaching is not considered a worthy profession for people with foreign degrees. I thought it was entirely noble and super fun. And over the course of one year, I got to know a group of 12 students really well and we had a great time and each of the progressed to go on to do great things!

One of them has become a writer. She’s wonderful at it too. This Sunday she wrote an article in Dawn about the application system to top business schools. And when you would think that writing iseless exeercise especially in a country like Pakistan, Pakistan will slap you upside down on the head and surprise you. In response to Hafsa’s article, she got offered a job by a grf citizens working on school reform.

Her essay was tremendous. I hope she will continue to write, create change with her writing and continue to prove those people wrong who think that making yourself heard will never yield any results.

Not So Dear Business School


Two years back I applied to you for my undergraduate degree like every other youngster who wishes to study management sciences in Pakistan. For you, my application letter would have been just another application from a young girl living in Pakistan. For me, it was definitely much more than that; a letter that enclosed the aspirations of a lifetime, the hopes of a young girl, the dreams that her eyes had seen something she wanted more than anything else at that point in time. I had spent my entire high school hoping to get into your business school.

Today, if I am sad about one thing, that your school was the farthest that I could see, the best that I could dream of and the most that I wanted! Even at that point in time, with an average O-Level result, which I improved to a superb result in A-Levels later, I had the potential to get into a much better school than yours. My colleagues and teachers kept telling me to apply abroad as I might even get a scholarship on the basis of my published work in newspapers. Unfortunately, I didn’t apply outside Pakistan.

At the time I applied to your school, I had a job of an assistant editor at a local monthly magazine, which I was offered at the age of 18. I had over a hundred published articles in leading newspapers of Pakistan to my credit. I had evidence of my credentials, photocopies, links of my articles, reference letters, certificates, recommendations from teachers and editors and what not that I spent days collecting and putting in my application letter hoping someone would at least look at them and realise that brilliance can not only be measured by the transcript a student brings along.

I could speak or debate about almost anything in the world, I had my own ideas, which I could pen down or speak up without any hesitation, I had dreams, aspirations and ideas which most young people in our country don’t have. I had great potential to be an entrepreneur, something our country needs most at the time being.

Your business school, an institute that boasts to be the best in the country, could not see all this. You promise to provide the best graduates to the market. Today, I question you, what role are you playing in all this? It’s easy to pick students with transcripts that don’t have a single ‘B’ grade on them. Straight ‘A’ students will always score ‘A’s no matter what conditions they are exposed to.

They are excellent students as it is, what role have you played in making them the best graduates of the lot?

Interesting is the fact that you pick up the cream and produce nothing out of it. After four years, they turn out to be graduates exactly like the others produced by any of the other schools. And they were weaker in studies than the lot you took in the first place. The real challenge for you would be to pick up a mixed crowd and turn them into the most-refined graduates.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say, that you pick up nerds. The fact that you only look at grades proves my stance. The best schools of the world reject students with exceptional results but no interest in extra-curricular activities. A girl with 13 ‘A’s in O-Levels was rejected from quite a few universities abroad because all she had done in her life was memorise from textbooks.

The more grades one has, the better chances they have of getting into your school. But you don’t care if someone has spent an entire summer volunteering day in and out to bring about a change in the country, you don’t care if people know somebody’s name and look forward to reading his or her articles, you don’t care if someone is a great debater, you don’t care if someone is thinking out of the box, you don’t care if someone has more knowledge than your books could contain, you don’t care about what anybody does after their school hours.

Of course, if one passes your criteria — ‘A’ grades in literally everything — you just might call them for an interview and give five minutes to that person to speak about what they have done in life apart from studying. I know you really won’t bother listening to the content of what the person is speaking. You only judge people for their communication skills because the decision has been made on grades already.

As a result of this, the real cream of Pakistan, the true brilliance, the people who think out of the box, the exceptional ones, who have done much more than memorising material from books, are left out to look at universities abroad for help.

The universities abroad look at their credentials and identify their brightness, offer them admissions, at times even scholarships. That’s when we hear you crying about the brain drain!

It is only justified for a student to go abroad. All the reputed universities here pick the ‘A’ graders while rejecting the other exceptional students to look for greener pastures abroad.

Bright students are rejected everyday, which is just plain sad as universities need to understand that anyone can get ‘A’s by sitting in a room and memorising without even understanding or gaining the real knowledge. The real cream is the one that manages fairly good grades while indulging in extra-curricular activities.

Today, I want those trying to get into the university of their choice here to realise all this as it took me a while to do so. No, I wasn’t depressed over my rejection because depression is not in my nature, but I see other bright young students going into extreme depression due to this. I just want to let them know that if they have potential, they should show it to the college that rejected them and throw it in their face.

Considering the recently-announced admission results, a lot of the rejected students out there might just feel better after reading this.

I want them to know that they can be the best without going to the best school and one day the university that rejected them will realise what they lost years ago.

A student rejected by you two years ago.

DAWN.COM | Education | Not-so-dear business school.

Can We Ban Hypocrisy Instead of Facebook, Please?

21 May

The Jamaat-e-Islami is the main political party that is organizing anti-facebook protests in Pakistan. It was in large part due to their efforts that the issue of the “everybody draw muhammad day” got visibity and facebook eventually got banned. The Jamaat has a history of being a very disciplined political party and effective organizer of street protests.

The women’s wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, organized a large rally in Lahore about this and scores of women and children carrying posters and Jamaat flags attended the event. They even made ripples on the international media scene and the associated press and reuters carried coverage of these protests which the Jamaat proudly displays on its website. In these videos you see an angry mob of protestors chanting slogans and there are interviews with articulate and very forceful women who issue “warnings” to facebook to  be prepared for the wrath of the Muslim world.

The videos just made me sad. I wanted to shake this woman, who was the protest leader,  and ask her if she knew of any other Muslim country protesting in this manner. But more than that reasonable argument, I wanted to ask her if she had heard about the young girl near Wah who had been detained illegally and raped by police officers for 21 days. Was she aware of the misery that this child had suffered? Did she care? Would she raise her voice for that child?

She probably wouldnt. Probably no one from the Jamaat would. A quick visit to the website of the Jamaat will show you ban facebook logos and news plastered all over it. You will see a ton of anti america rhetoric but no mention of or outrage at the ills that plague our society. Ironic.

And as any student of Islamic history would know, that had the Prophet (PBUH) been in a sitaution like this would undoutedly have stood up to demand justice for the young girl so creully treated before he demanded revenge or retribution for the actions of a frivolous few. Instead of making a fuss about his detractors, he would have fought for ridding our land of the injustice where the guardiuans of the law are its worst abusers.

Our Prophet (PBUH) the wisest of all men taught us, through his own example, to stand up against hypocrisy and injustice. It is amazing to me that we and the Jamaat in particular are willing to die in the name of the Prophet but are not willing to organize a single protest or rally or even a statement of codemnation for this heinous act and the countless others that are so frequent in our land and would undoubtedly have been whole heartefly condemned and probably abhirred by our Prophet (PBUH).

To me this sounds like hypocrisy. And from what little I know of my religion, hypocrisy is a sin.

Yearning for Change

20 Feb

Published in The News: Saturday, February 20, 2010

I am every bit of the middle-class Pakistani that Ayaz Amir describes with so much disdain in his article ‘The (misdirected) yearning for change’ (February 12). I live in a nice part of a town, I went to an English medium school, my mode of transportation is a car, I converse in English and I discuss politics with great enthusiasm in my drawing room. And my political activism is unfortunately limited to the drawing room only because there is no space for the likes of me or other middle-class Pakistanis in mainstream politics.

In his furious criticism of the middle class, Mr Amir forgets that it isn’t enthusiasm or willingness that’s missing on the part of the middle class; it is the lack of an influential surname and bank balance. History is testament to the fact that it is not honesty, integrity, skill, patriotism or commitment to public well being that will earn you a place in the political process of Pakistan. Instead, the pre-requisites for political participation are the ability to either coerce or bribe voters into submission. Political parties give tickets to those candidates only who bring with them either power of the purse or power of the punch. I would like to ask Mr Amir how, in the absence of correct lineage and appropriate financial assets, I should participate in the political process?

Political parties in Pakistan have done nothing to encourage young middle-class Pakistanis to join their ranks. There is no process through which young middle class people can get involved in mainstream politics and make a career out of it. None of the political parties have a commitment to nurturing future political leadership. There is a tacit agreement amongst all in power to further propagate their own control by renaming their progeny to the thrones of political power. The leader of the PPP will always be a Bhutto and that of the PML-N will always be a Sharif. And those that will stand by them will be Makhdums, Maliks, Chaudhrys, Bizenjos, Bugtis, Marris, Khars or Khuros. There is no place for just a plain citizen of Pakistan, Sehar Tariq.

I have educational degrees from very fine academic institutions. I have a passion for politics and a deep-rooted sense of patriotism. I also have training in the development, implementation and assessment of public policy. But I don’t think those qualities rank high on the recruitment criteria of any mainstream political party.

So, where should I take all that I have to say based on what I have learnt and based on where I would like to see my country go? “Why don’t you join the youth wing or the [insert political party name] Students Federation,” you might say. Surely, student politics is a good way for young middle-class Pakistanis to become involved in the political process. It is. However, student politics – sponsored and nurtured by the democratic forces that you urge us to join – is merely an extension of the coercive power of these political parties. Student politics in Pakistan is characterised by wielding hockey sticks, calling for strikes, intimidating students and professors and creating roadblocks or filling in seats at rallies when needed. And my skills with a hockey stick are sub-par.

I can write great policy papers. I often get A grades on them. But our student political groups don’t require policy nerds. Political parties neither leverage nor encourage youth wings to participate in policy making because it would take them away from disrupting the academic peace and diminish their powers of intimidation. In countries where political parties are truly interested in nurturing new leadership, student leaders are encouraged to write, think and present on key policy issues. Youth wings serve as engines for new and fresh thinking on old and pressing problems. But our political recipe for success involves minimising thought and maximising personal profit. This leaves little room for the academically inclined or the violently disinclined middle classes to participate.

The only form of participation open to us is discussion, which, due to the restrictive patterns of Pakistani politics, we cannot take to the National Assembly. So we sit in our drawing rooms or write on our shiny laptops and publish in English dailies – our armchair activism – our visions of where we want our country to go. But before you write us off, think of it this way, given that the salaried middle classes are the single biggest taxpaying group in the country – our money funds your salary. You participate in the political process on the back of our hard-earned rupees. And since it is our money you spend while you take decisions in the “national interest” and “participate in the political process”, at least give us the right to comment on and complain about those decisions since you have denied us the space to participate in making them.

The writer is a student at Princeton University. Email: stariq@princeton.edu

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