Postcards from Lahore to Cannes Film Festival


*First posted on Express Tribune Blogs.

“Lahore. The second largest city in Pakistan; the fifth largest city in South Asia and the twenty-sixth largest city in the world but more than that though, this is the place of my parents’ birth and the place they now live in. I lived only once, as a 7-year old, now at the age of 24, I’ve finally got another chance to visit the place of my origins, and recreate the early mementos of my childhood trip: my postcards from Lahore”.

And so begins British-Asian and London-based filmmaker and comedian Aatif Nawaz’s short film ’Postcards from Lahore’ that has come to be the only Pakistani film to be shown at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival 2013.

198104_181968785276253_1559320097_nNarrated by Aatif himself, ‘Postcards from Lahore’ centers not just around a young man traveling 7,000 miles back to his hometown after 17 years to recreate his memories but revisits every shade of color that comes together to make the vibrant composition that is Lahore: be it its rich historical and cultural heritage whose grandeur is redrawn vividly through the anecdotes of 86-year-old Jameel, one of Lahore Fort’s tour guides; a slice of its streets; the warmth of its people; their love for sports and of course, good food!

Aatif’s comedian wit is often heard in his candid commentary as he tours around Lahore, from the city’s fringes to its modern constructional erections that are the numerous shopping malls and plazas.

The documentary also includes tidbits about how the security situation in Pakistan has affected the city and how it is much lamented.

His experience of exploring Lahore and trying to rebond with his roots in ‘Postcards from Lahore’, in Aatif’s own words is “a foreigner’s love-letter to the city of his origins”.

And it truly is a love-letter that exhibit’s every feature of beauty of the beloved city that is the throbbing heart of the country: it’s life, diversity, past, people and culture.

The film was screened at the 2012 Raindance Film Festival, the Pakistani High Commission in the UK and was awarded an Honorable Mention at the Los Angeles Film Festival 2012 among several other honoaray mentions and awards at the festival circuit.

We’re proud of Aatif and congratulate him for the documentary’s success!

‘Postcards from Lahore’ on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PostcardsFromLahore

Aatif Nawaz can also be followed on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AatifNawaz

~ Hafsa Khawaja

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Why I Voted PML-N and the Expectations Now


*Originally posted on Express Tribune Blog, posting the whole version here.

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So the people of Pakistan have finally spoken!

And their votes have surged the PML-N to power once again.

PML-N’s supporters and voters are immeasurably elated, they may not have been as expressive in declarations of their support but they certainly have been expressive and assertive of their support through the ballot box.

I voted for PML-N because I felt it satisfactorily addressed the list of pressing matters that I personally prioritize for Pakistan:

nawaz_1_670-600x3501. The acute civil-military imbalance that characterizes Pakistan’s power disequilibrium is an issue that I view to be not only pressing but whose offshoots are several other troubles in the country. It demands a rectification, and the PML-N has shown the clearest stance in this regard: upholding the rule of civilians; respect for the mandate of elected-representatives; autonomy from the military establishment, its ventures, adventures, forays into the political and policy-making arena. Picking and sticking to such a stance, in my opinion, is the first right step in the direction of its redressing.

2. Their economic and infrastructural focus has always been palpable, and their track record is a testament to that.

M2_Pakistan_3From the M2, setting up of NADRA, dams and power plants, PML-N has delivered in the past in the little time they were given in contrast to their mandate of a total of 10 years in separate stints at the federal government. The Metro Bus system has also been a noteworthy project that can not be denied as not having benefited countless people, regardless of other criticism.

3. It has proven its seriousness towards education. Apart from establishing the outstanding Danish Schools, the Punjab Government’s effective implementation of education reforms all over Punjab, although criminally underreported in Pakistan, yielded remarkable results. 

4.  A specific characteristic that struck me about the party, had been its sense of political maturity and responsibility.  I believe the PML-N displayed judiciousness by allowing the last government to complete its term and not bestowing a crown of political martyrdom and victim hood on its head.

If the PML-N’s role is seen in this regard and context, then it also gets the credit for contributing to the milestone of the first term completion of a democratically-elected government in Pakistan and thus, facilitating the transfer of power from one democratically-elected government to another which these elections were.

Tahir-ul-Qadri4In its continuous display of political sagacity, the PML-N also brought together all opposition parties against the “circus” that Tahir-ul-Qadri put up in Islamabad; a reiteration of the party’s pledge to stand by democratic principles.

PML-N’s leaders also did not reciprocate the mudslinging and potshot-taking initiated by Imran Khan.

5. It is a party that has acknowledged its mistakes regarding Balochistan in the past and is making efforts to rectify those; it has reached out to Baloch leaders and called upon them to contest in the elections.

mengal-sharifBack in September 2012, the PML-N announced its backing to the six-point proposals of Akhtar Mengal in removing the deprivation of the people of Balochistan.

6. One can gauge the interest and dedication of the party for cultural revival by the initiation of projects for the restoration of famous cultural and historical sites and places in Punjab, particularly in Lahore, that many citizens are well-aware of. The beautification of the provincial capital and the opening of the New Lahore Food Street only add more weight to this measure.

7. From Sartaj Aziz, Ishaq Dar, Khawaja Asif to Ahsan Iqbal, PML-N hosts a competent and capable team of veterans that will certainly assist in the implementation of its vision.

8. Lastly, the PML-N is an alternative for me to PPP and PTI, parties that I do not support for a number of reasons.

I was and am conscious and critical of PML-N’s flaws and wrongs, and know that the party I chose for these elections may not be the best. I also know that the aforementioned points I have penned as my reasons to support it may even be or are found in other party’s stances, manifestos and works but the collective existence of all of these in a single party, constituted a reason enough for me to cast my vote for them.

PAKISTAN-UNREST-VOTE-SHARIF

Now that they have been elected as the government, PML-N will understandably under the pressure of its mandate to fulfill its duties and expectations of the nation. It is required that they actualize the roadmap they presented in their manifesto: from economic revival and growth, curbing of terrorism and maintenance of law and order in the country especially in areas where the government’s writ has been blown into smithereens and that are routinely aflame; dealing with the energy crisis; reintegration of FATA into the political and national mainstream; the country-wide implementation of their education reforms of Punjab to promises such as the depoliticizing of sports boards.

PML-N can also rid the influence of the undemocratic forces in Pakistan by assertive democratization of the country which can largely be established through good governance.

Keeping aside the emergence of rigging allegations and controversies surrounding the elections for a moment, there is little doubt that these elections have been a historic one for Pakistan. Being the first transfer of power from one civilian democratically-elected government to another with the highest voter turnout to date; they have been more a victory for democracy than any party in the country.

The single sentiment that has simultaneously surged with the results of the elections has been of hopefulness.

Even if the PML-N was not the pick of a segments of some people, these elections and this government are hoped to be the opening of a new chapter in Pakistan’s tumultuous journey that sees the beginning of every Pakistani basically wants: a better, prosperous and progressive Pakistan.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Of Bullet-Proof Shields and Tests of Courage


*First posted on PakTea House.

There are usually, if not always, a certain set of characteristics and qualities that a people expect their leader to have. Amongst the numerous of honesty, integrity and dignity that Pakistanis seek in a leader, is also bravery.

With the elections approaching fast, the idea of bravery seems to have been accorded quite a role with populism at play.

A certain notion has been developed in political rhetoric plus social media and political discourse that equates bullet-proof shields and security for protection to ‘cowardice‘.

931286_157861574389201_218288170_nA number of statements and acts have sprung forth from different political sides either proudly proclaiming their pluck and fearlesness, that they declare only to be existing for the Creator; getting a security measure chucked publicly to testify that or pointing its continuance at rivals’ rallies to ’prove’ their chicken-heartedness.

Imran Khan who initially did the above-mentioned, had to resort to shielded containers at some jalsas, reportedly even Nawaz Sharif also ordered the removal of his bullet-proof shield at the jalsa in Jarranwala.

In recent years, Pakistan has been consumed into an abyss that has swallowed over 40,000 including countless political leaders and representatives. From the late Benazir Bhutto to Bashir Bilour, the onslaught has only expanded and continues to swell.

Extremism and terrorism have breached every inch of the country and the lives of its inhabitants.

With blasts ripping through different areas of the country, attacks on various candidates of different parties, their processions, offices and rallies, these elections have witnessed the resurrection of the electoral field in Pakistan as a bloody battleground.

nawaz-PHOTO-INP-640x480Keeping the present in mind, the notion of abandoning security by any political leader as a testament to his ‘bravery’ not only falls nothing short of absurd, but constitutes sheer recklessness.

This country can neither afford more bodies to bury nor more tragedies caused to orchestrate further instability, which is being referred to as the main means to subvert the link of completion in Pakistan’s first transfer of power from a democratically-elected government to another: the elections itself.

In these times, bravery does not lie in the removal of bullet-proof shields but the vocal, wholehearted and practical espousing of a hardline stance against all kinds, types, forms of terrorism, radicalism, extremism and terrorists; their wholehearted condemnation which doesn’t slip into selectivity; the involvement of public presentations of proper policies and plans designed to purge the country of this menace; pressure of demands on different national institutions such as the judiciary and the Election Commission for trying, barring and excluding extremists and terrorists from participating in all types of activities be it hate-mongering or elections instead of keeping mum over instances such as the recent (reported) allowance given to 55 candidates from Punjab, who belong to 10 different sectarian groups, to contest the electoral race.

For too long, the demonstration of this genuine valor has been staved off through its substitution by hollow and superficial displays of bravery.

And it must be realized today that the real test of courage lies not in the removal of bullet-proof shields but in the embrace of this sincere audacity for what truly is, Pakistan’s fight for its soul.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

An Open Letter to PTI Supporters


Dear Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s supporters,

This is something that I’ve wanted to write about for long.

I’m not a supporter of PTI but I am miffed at many of you who are, and no, this is not another in the long list of posts written by victims of the trolls. This is about the general, average PTI supporter that I have come across. (Now, now. You may say these are just a handful, but what matters is, they are still there).

With the rise of PTI there has been inevitable and palpable rise in your numbers; its supporters, their visibility and their displays of support to the party.

There is nothing at fault with this, it is only vital to the cultivation of a democratic culture of political choice, participation and support in a developing democracy like Pakistan.

Talking of democracy, and this is where my problem with you appears.

Urban PTI supporters, by their sheer force of numbers and assertions of party support, have created, consciously or unconsciously, an environment of fear, uneasiness and reluctance for others to openly declare or admit their differing political choice of another party.

This reluctance and uneasiness lies in your attitude, which may exist in segments of other parties too, but I have personally found it to be greater in prevalence in PTI’s supporters.

There is an air of self-righteousness about many of you, which seems to stem from your support for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

Here is a revelation: every single citizen of Pakistan has the prosperity and progress of Pakistan in both his heart and mind when chosing a political party to support. Supporting a different party does not make him to be a Pakistani who wants it any less than the supporter of another party, which in your case, is PTI. It does not make him an unintelligent individual who must, and must, be voting for the other party on the basis of ignorance, ethnicity, religion, sect or biraderi.

Nor do you, by the virtue of being a PTI supporter, become a better, more patriotic or a more wise Pakistani than others.

At7dZfJCAAINElJAnother question that I have and continue to frequently face from you is “Why don’t you support the change?”
“The change” has been converted, by you, into one that is synonymous with Imran Khan.

Another realization knock: change is a very subjective word. What may constitute  change for you, may not constitute change for me. Imran Khan is the torch-bearer of change for you, and with all due respect and my admiration for him as a cricketer and a philanthropist, I do not subscribe to his political ideology. And if I state this as a reason for ‘not supporting the change’, it is best that you accept it.

And in contrast to what many of you tend to turn to as a course, it gives you absolutely no right to corner, mock, intimidate or question another party’s supporter for having a political choice dissimilar to your’s.

No voter is accountable to any other voter for his own political choices; he is neither bound to justify those to him nor is he obliged to feel awkward or uncomfortable for having a political party that seems to have lowered in mainstream popularity or in your/his eyes.

10733-jalsa-1332599040-946-640x480

As supporters of PTI, you have been at the forefront of canvassing for your party’s candidates and convincing others to vote PTI. What you must realize is that there is a difference between convincing and forceful political proselytizing.

If I haven’t asked to be ‘convinced‘, and don’t push you to support my party and have already made up my mind, kindly cease the over-assertive attempts at my conversion from your high horse.

Everyone has the provision of a single privilege, by which he exercises his prerogative of a voter’ one person has only one vote; and to you, your vote, to me, mine.

I wholeheartedly respect your political pick, you respect mine.

At the end of the day, you must realize that you are not doing anyone a favor by this attitude which you have adopted. Especially not your own party.

What you must realize is that difference of political opinion and choice is a natural composition of the political landscape of any country wishing to espouse democracy, and as we inch towards its establishment, it will be the sooner the better that we all come to accept and adapt to it with tolerance and respect.

Here’s wishing these elections help and heal Pakistan, and we begin to mature ourselves as citizens, party supporters, voter and above all, Pakistanis.

With regards,

Another party’s voter,

Hafsa Khawaja.

Elections in an Uneducated Pakistan?


*First posted on Seedhi Baat.

Voter illiteracy is often considered to be the bane of democracy in a developing country. The perception isn’t any different for Pakistan.

A recent article in International Business Times titled ‘Pakistan’s High Illiteracy Rate Threatens its Fragile Democracy’  said:

‘According to Unesco, only about 56 percent of Pakistani adults are literate — in contrast, South Asian neighbors India and Sri Lanka boast literacy rates of 74 percent and 97 percent, respectively.

Literacy rates in Pakistan are even lower for the rural poor and for women. Unesco estimates that some 70 percent of Pakistan’s rural population is illiterate, with even higher rates for women.

While the illiterate cannot be barred from voting, Saadat Ali Khan, a research associate at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, warned in Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper that illiteracy plays into the hands of corrupt politicians who try to win votes on the basis of religious, tribal or ethnic affiliations, rather than on their contributions to the nation.

Indeed, in Pakistan’s rural hinterlands, voters (most of whom are illiterate) often vote for candidates who have paid them off with money or food or promised favors.

“Illiteracy undermines the very foundations of … democracy,” warned Unesco in its report on Pakistan.

“Illiterate citizens inevitably lack in awareness and reasoning skills. How can we expect a voter to make an informed decision when he/she is unable to even read a newspaper? Illiterate voters are easily misled.”

Pakistan, if it holds any faint hopes of solidifying its fragile democracy, will also have to overcome deep-seated cultural values in order to educate all of its people.’

As illustrated by the article, illiterate voters are largely perceived to make unsound judgments at polling stations, casting votes on the basis of biraderi, sects, caste, religion, ethnicity, owing to their state of being unlettered. While it is true that many do vote on these lines, it is important to understand the differentiation between illiterate and uneducated voters, that is frequently muddled up as one.

A voter may be illiterate but not necessarily uneducated.

The literacy of a voter relates to his ability to write and read, the latter relates to his level of information and degree of being informed as a voter.

80761E9F-C9B2-4A40-B863-07812E2E519A_mw1024_n_sEducation and illiteracy are indeed crucial issues that require the imposition of emergency by the state. Indeed literacy, and that which goes beyond reading and writing, coupled with voter education would work as catalysts for the proper functioning of democracy and the betterment of Pakistan.

But currently, the level of awareness of the common man in Pakistan is also evolving.

While there may be a range of factors which have and are contributing to this change, the most notable has been the media.

Certainly illiterate voters are unable to benefit from the print media but presently Pakistan hosts a robust, vibrant, free and independent media in a booming industry. Especially electronic media. It has grown into a force to be reckoned with for both the state, the government and those aspiring to participate in them. Standing at the forefront of presenting expositions and hypocrisy on part of those that seek to rule and govern the nation, the electronic media exercises a mighty influence over the formation of people’s opinions, perceptions, choices, biases and ideas by continuing to impart such information and knowledge.

Pakistan is also home to a nation increasingly owning and using mobile phones and televisions. The increasing usage, availing, penetration and accessibility of technological products and electronic items has connected people to the flow of information transmitted through them.

In a developing country like ours, which is struggling to wriggle out of a siege of deep-rooted structural and cultural detriments, votes are not simply determined by a marriage between free will and choice of an individual. On practical grounds, votes are subject to a range of elements: feudalism, entrenched party loyalties, patriarchy, ignorance, threat of violence and more.

It is believed that illiterate voters are more susceptible to exploitation by the aforementioned factors, but here is where the crux of the argument lies, illiterate but educated voters can avoid exploitation and unsound judgments.

The IBTimes article mentions the instances of illiterate people voting on the promises or provision of food and money, but this hardly results from illiteracy than it does from poverty.

It is unwise to assume illiterate voters wholly lack reasoning sense, they may not be able to read and write, but a degree of generosity must be awarded to the illiterate people in accepting that they do posses basic sense of both reasoning and constructing a direction for their voting. Their can’t be and there isn’t a monopoly of common or basic sense and logic that is independent of formal education.

Being the most affected portion of the class hierarchy, the poor and illiterate have the strongest and greatest desire for shelter, clothes, bread and butter, a square meal and a better future for their children: a prosperous Pakistan.

If they are forced to turn to faulty political choices, it must be reiterated, that it has often more to do with poverty than illiteracy.

Alongside this, it should be acknowledged that there is no such guarantee that formally educated or literate people make the best of political choices through voting. Around the world, many literate and illiterate people alike have often voted in the worst of rulers and governments, and even supported them.

Pakistan+Votes+National+Elections+sZRZOjx8JMYlIt is only through constant and continued democratic procedural cycles of elections that the political choices of people in Pakistan can be matured through experience and information which act as instruments of education for voters.

At the end, it must be realized that the average Pakistani today, regardless of his literacy and illiteracy, is palpably a more educated voter than he or she was years ago. They are more empowered by the vast free, fluid flow of information which exemplifies the age of today. And as illiterate people become educated and more informed voters, things in Pakistan sure are changing and heading in the right direction.

~ Hafsa Khawaja