Luring readers


By Zubeida Mustafa

A DISCUSSION on libraries always leads to the chicken-and-egg debate. We have few libraries because there are no readers. Or people do not read books as there are no libraries. In Karachi, both are in inadequate numbers.

Belonging to a literary family, the newly appointed commissioner of Karachi, Iftikhar Ali Shallwani, has rightly decided not to get trapped in this debate. He has proceeded to address the issue of the state of libraries by setting up a Council of Karachi Libraries comprising 12 members. These councillors have been tasked with the “restoration, revival and revamping” of the public libraries of the city and upgrading them. For this, the members will visit every library and prepare a report on its working. Hopefully, they will also make suggestions on how libraries can promote the book culture in our society.

Continue reading Luring readers

Provincialism and centralism: Levers?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Pakistan’s federal and provincial connectivity – which has a fraught history to put it mildly – is being subjected to increasing stress directly and indirectly, in ways great and small. Is it ingenuousness or ingenuity that is responsible: How reckless can political rivalries and pro-interventionism get?
There have been some sudden shocks but a steady nibbling at consensual accord on inter-provincial and collective national mutuality of interest is unpleasantly discernible. Wiser heads – such as the PPP’s Senator Reza Rabbani and Sindh’s former governor Zubair of the PML(N) — pinpoint errors, counsel and forewarn. Unfortunately, accusative demagoguery is more engaging and accessible in talk-shows that can tincture and define public opinion. Legitimate grievances and fears are voiced inside and outside the parliament by legislators and the executive but without doing much to allay misgivings or subject their manifestations and causes to constructive analysis and review in the houses. Parliamentary conduct appears narcissistic, rather than publicly representative. Outside of parliament, the President of Pakistan and provincial governors are national figures, symbolizing the federation. If they seem to prioritize party preference and objectives in over-frequent public appearances and off-the-cuff comment they are misreading the tenor and constitutional nature of office. Continue reading Provincialism and centralism: Levers?

A dubious solution

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) is once again in the limelight, unfortunately for negative reasons. An ordinance signed last week by the president (himself a dentist by profession), who should have understood its implications better, provides for the constitution of a 17-member council to run its affairs. The PMA, the body that represents the doctors, has rejected the ordinance on the grounds that it is ‘undemocratic’.

The document provides for members of the PMDC being nominated by the prime minister, the chief ministers of the four provinces, the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan (CPSP) and the armed forces. Its tenure will be for three years and it will elect its own president. Its composition is diverse with some laypersons also being included to represent the public in addition to the medical professionals. The sceptical response from some quarters is understandable. It is feared that the ordinance will allow some vested interests to monopolise control of the PMDC for their own advantage.

The fact is that the PMDC has had a controversial history from the start. It was introduced by the Ayub regime in 1962 through an ordinance and since then has mostly depended on ordinances for its existence. On some occasions, the government of the day (the PPP in 2012 and the PML-N in 2014) brought the PMDC issue before parliament for enacting a law but that was jettisoned by a subsequent ordinance. The approach has basically been an ad hoc one.

The PMDC has had a controversial history from the start.

This is an indicator of the scant public interest in social welfare issues and the tendency to abdicate responsibility to the powers that be. Previously, no one seemed to care what was happening in the health and education sectors in Pakistan. It is only in the last few decades that the PMDC has started receiving greater attention than before. This is the period when medical education in the country came to be privatised in a big way.

As is the wont in Pakistan, privatisation brought with it the curse of commercialisation. The PMDC, being the regulatory body for medical education (and which also certifies doctors), came to play a pivotal role in deciding how medical education should be organised. In other words, it determines which medical universities fulfil the criteria that have been spelt out to ensure quality education for the students. In the process, it was also discovered that medical education could be made a source of lucrative income if one turned a blind eye to quality and cut corners to produce quick results.

Bizarre measures were taken by the PMDC, such as recognising medical universities without an attached teaching hospital, a full-time highly qualified faculty or proper laboratories. Over and above this, the fee was pitched high. There followed an influx of students whose parents had the wealth but they themselves did not have the qualifications to gain admission in the proper course. Thus standards were lowered. At one time, there was an attempt to introduce afternoon shifts in universities to increase enrolment. But this move was scuttled. If it wanted, the PMDC could have pre-empted this attack on medical education in Pakistan. It did not for obvious reasons, and allegedly became a party in these shady deals.

Small wonder then that control of the PMDC has become a coveted goal of those seeking lucrative returns from medical education. Thus this regulatory-cum-licensing body has come in the eye of the storm. The standard of medical education in Pakistan, with some exceptions, has declined while malpractices by doctors have been on the rise.

The new ordinance has been issued ostensibly to strengthen the PMDC and thus to enable it to check these ills. Will it? Experience shows that when a body is democratically cons­tituted, the concentration of power is not possible and misuse of power by its members is checked. In the present case, five of the members will be nominated by the prime minister, one each by the armed forces and the CPSP and 10 by the four chief ministers. They will represent civil society, basic and medical scientists from the public sector and the private universities. The PMA and family physicians, who form the backbone of the health sector in Pakistan, will not be represented at all.

If this ordinance survives the parliamentary challenges it is bound to face, time alone will indicated the vested interests that stand to gain from such a nominated body. It is apparent, the troublemakers — the PMA being the main one — have been kept out to allow the vested interests to have a free hand.

It is important that the government should consult all shades of opinion in such technical matters so that everyone stands to gain. For the last year or so, an interim body has been managing the PMDC’s functions. The new one does not give the appearance of being a permanent solution.

Continue reading A dubious solution

Peace in Afghanistan will come at a price

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE U.S. is now trying desperately to pull its forces from Afghanistan. Seventeen years of war is long enough. The human toll has been heavy, with more than 2,200 American lives lost and 20,000 soldiers wounded. This figure doesn’t include the Afghan and Pakistani men, women and children who have suffered. Imperial powers still have to learn that it is easy to jump into another country that is weak and unstable—but to get out is a tougher job. And waging war in Afghanistan has never been a cakewalk for any outsider.

Moves are afoot there to work out a compromise, but the U.S. government has no understanding of how the present moves will change the diplomatic contours of Southwest Asia, the hub of America’s longest war in history. An American negotiator of Afghan origin, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been talking to the Taliban since August 2018.

Although the United States has been a major actor in this arc of instability and conflict, it is now turning to regional powers for help in pulling its chestnuts out of the fire. Donald Trump has done his utmost to revive the stalled peace process first launched in 2011 by the Obama administration. But the current president’s ham-handed approach has burdened him with problems of his own making.

Not realizing the sensitivities of the situation, Trump went on the warpath against Pakistan soon after he entered the White House in 2017. Having decided that Pakistan was the real culprit—“the wrong enemy” (to quote Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan) working against American interests in Afghanistan—Trump proceeded to adopt a mixed policy toward the Afghan conflict that has left him blowing hot and cold.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, discusses the war in Afghanistan with Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in December. (Inter Services Public Relations via AP)

The U.S. is now trying desperately to pull its forces from Afghanistan. Seventeen years of war is long enough. The human toll has been heavy, with more than 2,200 American lives lost and 20,000 soldiers wounded. This figure doesn’t include the Afghan and Pakistani men, women and children who have suffered. Imperial powers still have to learn that it is easy to jump into another country that is weak and unstable—but to get out is a tougher job. And waging war in Afghanistan has never been a cakewalk for any outsider.

Moves are afoot there to work out a compromise, but the U.S. government has no understanding of how the present moves will change the diplomatic contours of Southwest Asia, the hub of America’s longest war in history. An American negotiator of Afghan origin, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been talking to the Taliban since August 2018.

Although the United States has been a major actor in this arc of instability and conflict, it is now turning to regional powers for help in pulling its chestnuts out of the fire. Donald Trump has done his utmost to revive the stalled peace process first launched in 2011 by the Obama administration. But the current president’s ham-handed approach has burdened him with problems of his own making.

Not realizing the sensitivities of the situation, Trump went on the warpath against Pakistan soon after he entered the White House in 2017. Having decided that Pakistan was the real culprit—“the wrong enemy” (to quote Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan) working against American interests in Afghanistan—Trump proceeded to adopt a mixed policy toward the Afghan conflict that has left him blowing hot and cold.

Initially, Trump’s offensive consisted of a war of words and tweets designed to sideline Pakistan by accusing that nation’s leaders of engaging in “deceit and lies.” Finally, however, he called a halt to the $1.3 billion worth of military aid that the U.S. had been supplying each year to Pakistan, a key actor in the region and a purported ally on which the Pentagon has relied for access to the theater of war in landlocked Afghanistan. Islamabad has been Washington’s key partner in the “war on terror” since the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Historically Pakistan provided its northwestern neighbor with a vital overland transit route through the port city of Karachi.

Having sidelined a major ally, Trump went on to order his top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban, aiming to jump-start negotiations to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. It soon became evident that negotiating at the peace table is a different ballgame from fighting a war on the ground. It was then that the American president came to realize the potential role of Pakistan, the progenitor of the Taliban and the protector of the Haqqani network, in facilitating the peace process.

Trump has since had to eat his words and write to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to ask his government for help in advancing peace talks with the insurgents in Afghanistan. Trump even spoke of wanting to “have a great relationship with Pakistan.” While the latest statement from the White House says, “I look forward to meeting the folks from—and the new leadership in Pakis­tan, [and] we will be doing that in not-too-distant future,” Khan has been quick to seize credit for talks that have yet to make headway.

Three rounds of talks have already been held between the Taliban and Khalilzad with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also in attendance. A deadlock looms large before the negotiators. The fourth round, scheduled in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, later this month, seems threatened by foot-dragging. This is not surprising, as some preliminary issues have yet to be resolved. Who is to speak for the Afghans? At what stage should the real negotiations begin—before or after the withdrawal of foreign troops?

The Taliban are adamant that they are the legitimate representatives of the Afghan people, because it was their government that was toppled by the U.S. and its coalition allies in 2001. But would that scenario be acceptable to Washington? It would amount to the U.S. abandoning its own protege in Kabul and restoring the status quo after shedding so much blood.

The “talks before talks,” as the discussions are termed at this stage, are about looking for answers to difficult questions. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani—unlike his predecessor, Hamid Karzai—has acquiesced to the plan to let Khalilzad talk to the Taliban on his behalf. But would he agree to the U.S. negotiating substantial issues?

The Taliban want all foreign forces to be pulled out of Afghanistan before they talk to the present rulers in Kabul. For Ghani, the dilemma will be how to counter his rivals without American support. Moreover, Kabul’s relations with Islamabad have, historically, never been cordial. The baggage of disputes inherited from colonial times is too heavy to allow close ties to develop.

Besides, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan currently is not favorable for the Kabul administration. According to the Office of the Special Director General of Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Afghan government has control over 229 districts, while the Taliban control 59, and 119 are contested. This hardly represents a walkover for the Afghan government, especially without active American military backing.

Pakistan is viewed as a critical player, because it is believed to provide sanctuaries to insurgents in its territory. Moreover, its influence on the Taliban is immense, encouraging intransigence. Members of the Taliban believe that time is on their side and that if they hold on to this situation, victory will be theirs. Yet at times, the Taliban have been conciliatory within the same framework. They released an American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, whom they had abducted and gave a political face to their dealings by opening a political office in Doha, Qatar, in 2014. In 2015, they entered briefly into direct talks with Kabul leaders. The insurgents even agreed to a cease-fire on the festival of Eid last year. On the other hand, the Taliban have unleashed terrible violence when they deem it necessary.

Trump will soon learn that negotiating peace with an enemy calls for more diplomacy and finesse than he has displayed.

When peace comes to Afghanistan it will come at a price—one that America and Pakistan will both pay. In the last two years, as Trump moved away from his predecessor’s South Asian policy, Pakistan moved rapidly toward forging new ties—including military relationships—with Russia and consolidating long-standing ties with China and other neighboring states (namely Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey and Malaysia). The bailout packages obtained from some of them, along with China’s “One Belt, One Road” project, will help Pakistan tide over its economic crisis for the time being. But we do not know the secret commitments that have been made in return.

It must be remembered that Pakistan is a security state, and the fulcrum of power rests not in Islamabad but in Rawalpindi, where the military headquarters are located. The nation’s Afghan policy is controlled from there. It is thus not strange that Khalilzad had to call on General Qamar Bajwa, the chief of army staff, during his recent visit to Pakistan.

Because Islamabad has preferred not to reveal much, we will have to wait to learn what the future holds for Pakistan—and also the United States.

Source: Truthdig

Initially, Trump’s offensive consisted of a war of words and tweets designed to sideline Pakistan by accusing that nation’s leaders of engaging in “deceit and lies.” Finally, however, he called a halt to the $1.3 billion worth of military aid that the U.S. had been supplying each year to Pakistan, a key actor in the region and a purported ally on which the Pentagon has relied for access to the theater of war in landlocked Afghanistan. Islamabad has been Washington’s key partner in the “war on terror” since the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979, after which Pakistan provided its northwestern neighbor with a vital overland transit route through the port city of Karachi.

Having sidelined a major ally, Trump went on to order his top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban, aiming to jump-start negotiations to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. It soon became evident that negotiating at the peace table is a different ballgame from fighting a war on the ground. It was then that the American president came to realize the potential role of Pakistan, the progenitor of the Taliban and the protector of the Haqqani network, in facilitating the peace process.

Trump has since had to eat his words and write to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to ask his government for help in advancing peace talks with the insurgents in Afghanistan. Trump even spoke of wanting to “have a great relationship with Pakistan.” While the latest statement from the White House says, “I look forward to meeting the folks from—and the new leadership in Pakis­tan, [and] we will be doing that in not-too-distant future,” Khan has been quick to seize credit for talks that have yet to make headway.

Three rounds of talks have already been held between the Taliban and Khalilzad with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also in attendance. A deadlock looms large before the negotiators. The fourth round, scheduled in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, later this month, seems threatened by foot-dragging. This is not surprising, as some preliminary issues have yet to be resolved. Who is to speak for the Afghans? At what stage should the real negotiations begin—before or after the withdrawal of foreign troops?

The Taliban are adamant that they are the legitimate representatives of the Afghan people, because it was their government that was toppled by the U.S. and its coalition allies in 2001. But would that scenario be acceptable to Washington? It would amount to the U.S. abandoning its own protege in Kabul and restoring the status quo after shedding so much blood.

The “talks before talks,” as the discussions are termed at this stage, are about looking for answers to difficult questions. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani—unlike his predecessor, Hamid Karzai—has acquiesced to the plan to let Khalilzad talk to the Taliban on his behalf. But would he agree to the U.S. negotiating substantial issues?

The Taliban want all foreign forces to be pulled out of Afghanistan before they talk to the present rulers in Kabul. For Ghani, the dilemma will be how to counter his rivals without American support. Moreover, Kabul’s relations with Islamabad have, historically, never been cordial. The baggage of disputes inherited from colonial times is too heavy to allow close ties to develop.

Besides, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan currently is not favorable for the Kabul administration. According to the Office of the Special Director General of Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Afghan government has control over 229 districts, while the Taliban control 59, and 119 are contested. This hardly represents a walkover for the Afghan government, especially without active American military backing.

Pakistan is viewed as a critical player, because it is believed to provide sanctuaries to insurgents in its territory. Moreover, its influence on the Taliban is immense, encouraging intransigence. Members of the Taliban believe that time is on their side and that if they hold on to this situation, victory will be theirs. Yet at times, the Taliban have been conciliatory within the same framework. They released an American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, whom they had abducted and gave a political face to their dealings by opening a political office in Doha, Qatar, in 2014. In 2015, they entered briefly into direct talks with Kabul leaders. The insurgents even agreed to a cease-fire on the festival of Eid last year. On the other hand, the Taliban have unleashed terrible violence when they deem it necessary.

Trump will soon learn that negotiating peace with an enemy calls for more diplomacy and finesse than he has displayed.

When peace comes to Afghanistan it will come at a price—one that America and Pakistan will both pay. In the last two years, as Trump moved away from his predecessor’s South Asian policy, Pakistan moved rapidly toward forging new ties—including military relationships—with Russia and consolidating long-standing ties with China and other neighboring states (namely Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey and Malaysia). The bailout packages obtained from some of them, along with China’s “One Belt, One Road” project, will help Pakistan tide over its economic crisis for the time being. But we do not know the secret commitments that have been made in return.

It must be remembered that Pakistan is a security state, and the fulcrum of power rests not in Islamabad but in Rawalpindi, where the military headquarters are located. The nation’s Afghan policy is controlled from there. It is thus not strange that Khalilzad had to call on General Qamar Bajwa, the chief of army staff, during his recent visit to Pakistan.

Because Islamabad has preferred not to reveal much, we will have to wait to learn what the future holds for Pakistan—and also the United States.

Source: Truthdig

Continue reading Peace in Afghanistan will come at a price

Construct/Deconstruct

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Devising and furthering ‘suitable’ national narratives is a much recommended culturally and intellectually highbrow activity for the awed and awesome amongst us.

Speaking as one at the receiving end of proliferating narratives I cannot but feel that, important as constructing an appropriate narrative may be, it is even more important to deconstruct some existing ones. The more so when they crystallise as one-liners, slogans that are accepted unthinkingly and allowed to be unquestionable. Take just one to begin with: Pakistan was founded as a Muslim homeland. Continue reading Construct/Deconstruct

Ebbing or incoming?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

THE PTI tsunami epithet is becoming woefully apt. Not in terms of the overwhelming sweeping force of Imran Khan’s political victory – that may be understood as less of a natural occurrence than a technical one – but in terms of the aftermath of the victory: Tsunamis sweep things away and the new government has debuted in tandem with a demolition process: What we have around us is debris. Literally, figuratively and politically. Nature hates a vacuum but we don’t see the space vacated by outcast governments being filled with the kind of tabdeeli we thought was voted in. Administratively we have a case of posttraumatic stress disorder – bewilderingly manifest in paralysis and shrill hyperactivity and declarations that go around in well-meaning circles of clarifying retractions and reiterations so that even U-turns cannot be relied on as lasting second thoughts. Continue reading Ebbing or incoming?

The dream house

By Zubeida Mustafa

AFTER Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan Housing Programme had received considerable publicity, I asked Sakina Bibi if she would apply for it. Sakina is a housemaid, and her family income amounts to Rs20,000 per month. She lives in a rented house (Rs8,000 a month) in a squatters’ settlement. Hers is a small family of four, and her economic status should qualify her for a house under the PTI’s ambitious scheme of building five million houses for the poor in five years. Above all, her lifelong dream has been to have a roof she owns above her head. Continue reading The dream house

To read or not

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE tenth annual What Kids are Reading Report released earlier this year in the UK got educationists worried. After surveying a million primary and secondary schoolchildren, the author of this document concluded that the country faced a persistent problem of getting young teenagers “to read challenging and age-appropriate books”.

It is now suggested that the secondary school pupils should benefit by having 15 to 30 minutes of time for independent reading integrated into the school curriculum. Continue reading To read or not

Interview with children’s books author, Rumana Husain

 

Anya, Sonia and Etienne (in front) to whom this book is dedicated

ZM: You have had a diverse career — teacher, artist, publisher, activist and writer of children’s books. Which of these roles have you enjoyed and cherished most? Which gave you most satisfaction?

 

Rumana Husain: At the very outset you have posed a difficult question! J

However, if I have to choose only one of these roles then I would say writing/illustrating children’s books has always given me the most satisfaction. And I have consistently done it for thirty-two years now.

 

ZM: Are you satisfied with the book publishing industry in Pakistan? Especially children’s books. Please elaborate.

 

RH: The answer is “no”, because there are very few writers or illustrators of children’s books to begin with, and by that I am not referring to school textbooks. When I co-founded the Book Group back in 1988, it was prompted due to a dearth of good Urdu books for children. Although the situation is slightly better now, it is still far from satisfactory. In my personal experience of doing over sixty children’s books, none of the publishers have made it financially worthwhile; be it small publishers or large publishing houses. I have done it for the love of it, but monetary gains have always been negligible. Therefore why would people bother about writing books for children? Continue reading Interview with children’s books author, Rumana Husain

Laughter and light

Remembering Anjum Niaz (1948-2018
By Zubeida Mustafa
It was in July 2014 when Anjum Niaz, a former colleague and a friend, wrote to me: “Indeed, I too felt good after speaking with you and catching up on the past. Like you, I love delving into old relationships and events that may be pushed back in memory yet, are somehow more lucid and graphic… DAWN, like you, has a special place in my heart and the person at the centre of this universe is of course Khan sahab.” Both of us had been out of DAWN for some time, but the paper still held us together.

This comment, from the lengthy emails we exchanged for some years, sums up my relationship with Anjum Niaz who passed away on October 21 in New Jersey, USA, where she lived since she migrated with her family in 1999.

Anjum came to DAWN in 1987 as the Magazine Editor. My acquaintance with her, however, began earlier when she worked for The Dawn Media Group’s eveninger, The Star, which she had joined in 1984 after a stint in teaching. While at The Star she won the Population Institute’s Award For Excellence In Population Reporting and this being a subject I was interested in too, we found much in common to talk about.

Anjum’s contribution as the DAWN Magazine Editor was immense. She injected in it ‘youthfulness and elegance’; two attributes she herself possessed. They showed in how she carried herself and her graceful ambience. Her office in DAWN was carpeted, had pictures on the wall and lovely potted plants to brighten it up. That is how she also kept her home – whether in Karachi, Islamabad or New Jersey.


I always found her good for my morale, as she said I was for hers. Little acts of thoughtfulness reinforced will not be forgotten such as saving the page of The New York Times carrying my picture along with other awardees (IWMF). “I put it away safely to mail it to you in case you had not seen it,” she wrote in an email punctuated by many “WOWS”.


The DAWN Magazine she edited reflected her innovative skills and creativity, her love for diversity, her exquisiteness and her English language skills in crafting words and headlines. Above all, she knew the art of motivating her writers as many would testify. She understood them well and always found time to talk to them and discuss the subjects they were to write about. That is how she could take the initiative herself to plan the magazine.

Her forte as a writer emerged fully only later when she moved to Islamabad in 1993 and began to write a weekly column called Crème de la Crème. She was also reporting and the Foreign Office was her beat until she resigned in 1996.

Jaweed, her husband, pays her a rich tribute saying: “She took her work very seriously and checked and double-checked what she wrote. Can’t remember her ever missing a deadline.”

I always found her good for my morale, as she said I was for hers. Little acts of thoughtfulness reinforced will not be forgotten such as saving the page of The New York Times carrying my picture along with other awardees (IWMF). “I put it away safely to mail it to you in case you had not seen it,” she wrote in an email punctuated by many “WOWS”. Just like Anjum; so exuberant and so thoughtful. I managed to persuade her to write her memoirs. She finally agreed, so she told me, but I do not know if she ever got down to it.

She reached new heights in her journalistic career when she blossomed as a columnist. She wrote fearlessly, sparing no one who had to be chastised. She was clear about her source of information and scathing in her criticism if she felt it was deserved.

She may have been frivolous at times in order to make her writing spicy, but mostly she was solemn and very profound. This is from her column View from the US: The Enemy Within (August 5, 2012): “Fear then is the deadliest psychosis of all. Philosopher/mathematician Bertrand Russell rightly says that fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom… Parsing the meaning of fear, Russell says it ‘makes man unwise in the three great departments of human conduct: his dealings with nature, his dealings with other men, and his dealings with himself.’”


When we shared our despondency on the state of affairs in Pakistan, she always ended on an optimistic note. This is what she wrote once: “I too despair… I can exactly feel your pain of seeing things slide so rapidly. We all are helpless onlookers to the tragedy being enacted before our eyes. Still, let’s continue to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It may be there someday.”


At times we had minor disagreements, but they were never major enough to disrupt our relationship. Besides, we always respected each other’s opinion and agreed to disagree.

We kept in touch mostly by email and by phone when I was visiting North America. The last time I was there in 2017 we couldn’t talk as she wrote to say she was busy and couldn’t talk, which was uncharacteristic of her. Maybe she wasn’t feeling well. She was a private person and never shared her personal problems. Of course there was mention of doctor’s appointments or an arthritic knee or of “old age creeping up, I guess!!!” but never anything alarming. She was as warm as ever when I wrote to her to check if I could quote her in my memoir. She had jotted down her views in 2014 on the current state of the media.

“Thanks for asking about my comment that I gave you – I had completely forgotten about it. But I guess it’s still relevant if you think you can use it. I’d be honoured. Do keep me posted about the progress of your memoir and lots of good luck.”

And this is how she is quoted in my book: “It is the onset of electronic media (all those frivolous chat shows on TV and idiotic analysis (24/7) that should cause one to refer to the importance and relevance of real time journalism which was practised as opposed to the top-of-the-hat journalism that we now get in plenty by TV and newspaper pinheads. Also, with the hotting up of social media, it seems that everyone thinks himself/herself clued in to news, a sort of news hack even if that happens to be personal goings on. You need to refer to the importance/relevance of print journalism that once formed the staple of real, factual news and information. It still forms the core of authentic journalism but has sadly been pushed into the background.”

When we shared our despondency on the state of affairs in Pakistan, she always ended on an optimistic note. This is what she wrote once: “I too despair… I can exactly feel your pain of seeing things slide so rapidly. We all are helpless onlookers to the tragedy being enacted before our eyes. Still, let’s continue to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It may be there someday.”

The light never came for her. Her daughter Zainab wrote to me that she was diagnosed with cancer in December 2017. The deadly disease progressed rapidly and by spring, it was stage four. “She has been spared from enduring further pain and is now at peace,” Zainab wrote.

RIP, dear Anjum. Hope you find laughter where you are now. How we laughed together when we shared our stories during our tea breaks in DAWN.

Still, let’s continue to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It may be there someday.

Continue reading Laughter and light