Podcast • December 1, 2011

Anatol Lieven: how to end the US dust-up with Pakistan

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Anatol Lieven (35 min, 17 meg) Anatol Lieven is explaining how the so-called allies in the so-called War on Terror have come to pot-shotting each other on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan. In the Financial ...

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Anatol Lieven (35 min, 17 meg)

Anatol Lieven is explaining how the so-called allies in the so-called War on Terror have come to pot-shotting each other on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan. In the Financial Times last May (“How American folly could destroy Pakistan“) Lieven was warning of the perverse logic of confrontation in US policy. The killing last weekend of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO air strike for which President Obama is refusing to apologize can be taken as confirmation of the hazard. Ever since the US Navy swoop on OBL early in May, the risk in Lieven’s eyes was that the US would overplay its hand with demands on the thoroughly alienated Pakistani Army. The American demand-too-far (Lieven is saying emphatically today) is that the Pakistani Army go to war on the Taliban home bases in the Pashtun tribal wilderness. That demand cannot, will not, be met: (a) because the Taliban is a big part of the network that Pakistan counts on to protect and project its interest in Afghanistan when the US forces shrivel, then leave; and (b) because the big majority of Pakistanis — army, elite and masses — see the Taliban in Afghanistan as a legitimate resistance force fighting foreign occupation, like the mujahedeen who fought the Soviets, or Communist guerillas who fought Nazis in Europe. When Pakistan under Pres / Gen Musharraf undertook a half-way offensive against the Taliban in the border wilderness, “they set off an Islamist rebellion inside Pakistan which continues to this day… The Pakistanis do have a case: thanks to the U.S., they have a civil war inside Pakistan which has claimed far more Pakistani lives than Americans killed on 9.11. … We keep talking about wanting to support democracy. Well, the democratic majority in Pakistan wants us to go to hell.”

Anatol Lieven — among the earliest, clearest, scathingest dissenters on the “profoundly reckless” Iraq War — is by now the author of the solid new manual on Pakistan: A Hard Country, from which he’s been reporting for the London press since 1988. He is walking us around a few of the paradoxes that abound around Pakistan: the “strong society” with the “weak state,” for starters; the corruptions of feudal political culture and power that block all the obvious routes to economic reform and growth; the risk in American policy of “losing” Pakistan (6th largest population in the world) to save the unsaveable in Afghanistan; and always the missing page in the story: India. Anatol Lieven is confirming my guess that “Af-Pak” is a deceptive mis-”branding” of the mess we’re in. As we kept hearing in our travels last summer, “Indo-Pak,” embracing the Kashmir nettle and the tragedy of Partition in 1947, more nearly suggests the sub-continental shape of the problem.

Podcast • September 21, 2011

Ashis Nandy: on Pakistan’s latent “potentialities”

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Ashis Nandy (38 minutes, 19 mb mp3) Ashis Nandy, our sparkling Sage of New Delhi, is in effect a psycho-analyst of post-colonial South Asia. On the way home from Lahore, we stopped to ask the great man about ...

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Ashis Nandy (38 minutes, 19 mb mp3)

Ashis Nandy, our sparkling Sage of New Delhi, is in effect a psycho-analyst of post-colonial South Asia. On the way home from Lahore, we stopped to ask the great man about Pakistan — and the “myth of Pakistan” which, he has written, “originates in India and dominates India’s public life,” too. “Pakistan is what India does not want to be… both a double and the final rejected self… the ultimate symbol of irrationality and fanaticism.”

Such is the myth. The reality and the possibility of Pakistan, and Ashis Nandy’s feeling about India’s neighbor come out very differently in conversation. “I feel at home in Pakistan,” said the poster version of the Bengali intellectual. “I miss only the vibrancy, the stridency of the political opinions that are articulated against fundamentalism and the state.” Pakistan is “a troubled country,” he is saying, “but not moribund, not a failed state” and not about to become one.

Ashis Nandy has just made his own study, in 1500 interviews, of the wounds of the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan — among the searing and decisive memories of his own boyhood in Calcutta. The snippet that leaps out at him now is that 40 percent of his sample called up stories of themselves and others being helped through that orgy of blood and death by “somebody from other side.” In no other genocide, Nandy says, can he find a comparable measure of mercy. “There is that part of the story, too,” he is saying. “That is South Asia.”

I have seen other faces of Pakistan too, other faces of the Pashtuns who have supplied us with the Taliban and hosted Osama Bin Laden. Gandhi called them the finest non-violent freedom fighters of India. Not once, more than once. So there is another story, which is no longer told, which seems very old-fashioned, which doesn’t seem to have a place in contemporary statecraft and contemporary political culture. I find that very odd. Human potentialities are not adequately recognized. I think we live with stereotypes, and once a stereotype becomes unfashionable, then pick up another stereotype. But there is another way of looking at it: the potentialities that are inherent in some of the cultures in this part of the world have never been fully explored. People are afraid of them, they become so nervous about the darker side of human nature that they do not like to know of them; they think this would be a compromise with realism, a compromise with statecraft. …

What we saw during the Partition was ultimately not only the pathology of rural India and urban India, but also the forces that can be mobilized for a different kind of effort, to fight the violence… I think my study of partition violence has made me more respectful towards ordinary Indians and Pakistanis, and I would in the future be more open to the multilayered selves of people in this part of the world, perhaps people everywhere.

Ashis Nandy with Chris Lydon, at home in New Delhi, mid-summer 2011.

Podcast • September 19, 2011

Rashid Rana’s Pakistan: a mini-version of the globe

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Rashid Rana (30 minutes, 15 mb mp3) LAHORE — Rashid Rana is Pakistan’s prize entry in the global art scene. Images that contradict themselves on closer inspection are his signature work. In his “Veil” series, for example, what ...

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Rashid Rana (30 minutes, 15 mb mp3)

LAHORE — Rashid Rana is Pakistan’s prize entry in the global art scene.

Images that contradict themselves on closer inspection are his signature work. In his “Veil” series, for example, what look like stylized impressions of shrouded Muslim women turn out to be composed of innumerable tiny frames of white European and American women from hard-core Internet pornography. So, in effect, two pretty gross distortions of womanhood East and West, two over-familiar sides of the same debased coin, are addressed in a one composite image.

Stunning at a formal level, the work is idea-driven, too. We are talking about some of the “historical and political connotations,” as he calls them. Overall in his work, and in conversation in his Lahore studio, Rashid Rana seems to be saying: Look again at Pakistan! It’s not freakish or a world apart. It may in truth be a fair sample of turmoil and transition almost anywhere in this 21st Century. And of course we may all be involved in what it is going through.

I don’t think of Pakistan in isolation… Pakistan is a mini-globe, a mini-world. Whatever exists in the world today — the polarity, the polarization of the extremely rich and extremely poor and all the diversity and variety that exist are encapsulated in this place called Pakistan. It’s a mini-version of the entire globe.

Rashid Rana in his Lahore studio with Chris Lydon at mid-summer, 2011.

I Love Miniatures” was Rashid Rana’s breakthrough piece almost ten years ago, born in a spirit of mischief and light mockery. What appears across the gallery to be his version of a Mughal emperor’s miniature portrait turns out to be a digital montage of tiny photo images of advertising billboards in Lahore. This was Rana’s cheeky response to a ‘neo-miniaturist’ vogue in the 90′s — a revival of tradition that caught on in London as well as in Pakistan. “My whole issue,” he’s remembering, “was that only something with an ethnic label was going to be recognized as Pakistani. I thought: if this is the way it’s going to be I’m going to subvert the idea with what I want to say and do. So I showed them a miniature painting they wanted to see, and made it with the immediate visual culture of my city today. And that’s how a journey of documenting paradoxes and dealing with duality started in this formal and conceptual device.”

In Rana’s “Red Carpet” series, rugs that look first like the familiar icons of Eastern craft and beauty reveal on a closer look the artist’s own photographs of animal blood and gore in a Lahore slaughterhouse. So he is playing with a pixielated pointillism that declares he has taken membership in the digital age and a global conversation — but mainly to talk back with these stylish and intellectually challenging spoofs of media, pop culture, mass marketing, headlines, first impressions and common talk.

Podcast • September 14, 2011

Shafqat Amanat Ali: local, global, classical, pop

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan (26 minutes, 13 mb mp3) Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan is one of Pakistan’s superstar singers, an embodiment of the dynamism inside South Asian music. The mix is full of contradictions and surprises, starting with ...

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan (26 minutes, 13 mb mp3)

Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan is one of Pakistan’s superstar singers, an embodiment of the dynamism inside South Asian music. The mix is full of contradictions and surprises, starting with the rule of thumb that — for all the agonies associated with the border between them — India’s Bollywood leans heavily on Pakistani musicians, and Pakistani audiences can’t get enough of movies from Mumbai. Add to the ironies of the partitioned Punjab that Shafqat, a Pakistani, is extending a family song tradition, the “Patiala gharana,” rooted in the town of Patiala, which is now in India. He is singing village music that’s gone global, “classical” music gone wildly popular.

In his studio in Lahore, Shafqat is walking me through other nice juxtapositions: in his family the men do the singing in public, but it was his grandmother and the women at home who trained him and his brothers — with a stick — to get it right. His standards are traditional and classical, but the art is highly improvisational. “We’re open to all sorts of ideas and experiments and all good things being done by musicians all over the world,” he’s telling me. The singers he loves most these days? John Denver! Michael Jackson! “The Michael Jackson,” as he says. Lionel Ritchie. Whitney Houston. Stevie Wonder…

Shafqat Amanat is no relation by blood, and only a cousin musically, of the immortal Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who sang the devotional Qawwali music of the mystical Sufi tradition. Shafqat has invested his own heavenly voice in a Sufi spirit that is, and isn’t, explicitly religious. “We believe in Sufism,” he put it. “It’s about humanity, and not fundamentalism.” His daily warm-up routine includes singing the name of Allah “to get that perfect round ‘aaaaah’ sound,” he smiles. “In God We Trust.”

Shafqat’s commercial career took off with a fusion band, called Fuzon, and then with a Bollywood song, “Mitwa,” that went high on the charts in India. He tours the world now, but the pleasure of his work — and his company –comes still from the sense of a man spinning songs without words, “straight from the heart,” jamming with a friend or two on guitar and bass, listening for what they like. That was the experience, he says, that “made me what I am.” The best night of his musical life, he recounts, was in Italy not long ago, on a stage with seven musicians he’d never met before — an Armenian Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Parsi and maybe an atheist. “It became a very powerful piece. I can’t explain. Maybe some power that was unseen was just standing there and conducting the whole thing.”

Podcast • September 13, 2011

Imtiaz Alam: So you want to be a journalist in Pakistan…

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Imtiaz Alam (14 minutes, 7 mb mp3) Saleem Shahzad on the cover of a report edited by Imtiaz Alam Imtiaz Alam has the gruff manner of your classic, chain-smoking, get-to-the-point “Front Page” news editor. He seems a Chicago ...

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Imtiaz Alam (14 minutes, 7 mb mp3)

Saleem Shahzad on the cover of a report edited by Imtiaz Alam

Imtiaz Alam has the gruff manner of your classic, chain-smoking, get-to-the-point “Front Page” news editor. He seems a Chicago sort of newspaper guy, except that he works and represents the profession in Pakistan, “the deadliest place in the world to be a journalist,” as all now agree. First point in our conversation is to register some constructive horror at the murder last May of Saleem Shahzad — a reporter of Sy Hersh’s or David Halberstam’s hyper-adrenal zeal for the ugly facts. As Dexter Filkins details in this week’s New Yorker (September 19, 2011), Saleem Shahzad had pushed his many cloaked sources in Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Pakistan Army and the CIA to establish the working (but deniable) links among the official and opposition gangs. For telling the story in Asia Times Online after he was warned off it by Army Intelligence, Shahzad was tortured, killed and dumped in a farm ditch. His was the 28th “target killing” of a Pakistani journalist in the last five years — the first to be investigated seriously. None has been prosecuted, and nobody’s betting that Shahzad’s killer will be. But it’s time, Imtiaz Alam is saying, to write a few groundrules of news reporting on the rough crossfire of Pakistan. For example: journalists should get risk and life insurance from their employers and the government; the Army and its media handlers should lay out its practice of “embedding” and often paying reporters; “all cases of the target killings of journalists should be investigated and the culprits brought to justice.”

Imtiaz Alam is also giving us one rough-and-ready newspaper man’s take on Pakistan in general: “a horrifyingly difficult situation,” he says. “We are sitting on a big bomb, and it’s ticking.” The extremists are not the majority or even the mainstream, but they are powerfully organized, and there’s been no leader around since Benazir Bhutto to say no to them. Imtiaz Alam admits a certain nostalgia for British rule, which he is not old enough to have experienced. “They learned about our culture, our ethos… they are to blame for divide-and-rule — typical colonial methods. But they brought good things” — railroads, law, the liberal constitutional tradition. Even now, he says with a guffaw, “the Americans should hand over the job to the Britishers.” The problem with you Americans, he says, is not just inattention and tactlessness. It’s that the US armed the Taliban in the first place, to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. “That was the original sin. You made these people… your president even brought them to the White House — so disappointing! — and compared them to the founders of your country… So now when they turn their guns against Washington, you are saying they’re terrorists. I considered them terrorists then, and I consider them terrorists now.” The US handed Pakistan a bigger problem than Pakistan can handle, he is saying. My question: But can the US undo the damage. His answer: “The Urdu couplet says: “you gave the pain, you find the medicine.”

Podcast • September 8, 2011

Kamil Khan Mumtaz: back from a modernist Hell

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Kamil Khan Mumtaz (30 minutes, 15 mb mp3) Kamil Khan Mumtaz, at home in Lahore LAHORE — Kamil Khan Mumtaz, an eminence in Pakistani architecture, is giving us the gentlest of introductions to a revival in Pakistan of ...

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Kamil Khan Mumtaz (30 minutes, 15 mb mp3)

Kamil Khan Mumtaz, at home in Lahore

LAHORE — Kamil Khan Mumtaz, an eminence in Pakistani architecture, is giving us the gentlest of introductions to a revival in Pakistan of Islamic thinking about art and design and meaning in life. He’s tracking two West-to-East journeys of his own over the last 50-plus years: one professional and artistic, the other personal and spiritual, and of course they’re roughly parallel. In his student days in London in the 1950s, he was a modernist after the examples of Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. LeCorbusier, a heroic model at the time, had the dream assignment of designing Chandigarh, the new capital of the Indian Punjab, at Nehru’s personal invitation. But what impressed young Mumtaz even more back home was how little he knew of the native tradition and the depths of the difference with the new: “really a difference in world view,” he tells me — between the materialist modernism and the traditional ease with metaphysical and spiritual planes. What he learned over a hard journey writing the comprehensive history of Architecture in Pakistan was the radical value of proportion and ideal forms, and the importance of copying the classical exemplars — as imperative as innovation and invention. The message in modern buildings is man’s technological prowess, he says; the highest praise is “how exciting!” “It’s all excitement… They’re like huge billboards saying: ‘go for it,’ or ‘you deserve it.’ It’s consumerism. Whereas traditional buildings set you in a different dimension: suddenly there’s a hush and quiet… Modern architecture titillates the senses; traditional art moves us to contemplation. That’s the difference.”

The inner man was in transition, too, if only because “you cannot practice traditional art without a conviction in the truth of what it’s based on… That cannot fail to affect literally your whole life, and it has transformed mine.” The core of his Islamic belief and practice is the Sufi tradition. He can laugh at the notion that the West toys with Sufism as a sort of “Islam Lite.” In the Mumtaz scheme of things Sufism is about a profound searching for the truth… The truth more and more becomes the unity of all creation and the oneness of all mankind. That is its most important aspect. I would say the two distinctive and distinguishing things about Islam are tolerance and beauty. No other religion to my knowledge makes it an article of faith to recognize the truth of all religions,” and most explicitly of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels of Jesus.

Of the present day in general, he says, with half a laugh, “We’re all going to hell. We’re destroying ourselves.” We have the power to blow up the planet, and a post-modernist outlook that there is no truth, no right or wrong. “Combine these and you’ve got a real killer.” Modernism turns up as the villain again when I ask for his “capsule understanding” of Pakistan at the age of 64. The extremism in so many dimensions of Pakistani life today, he said, “is nothing but the flip side of modernity.”

Pakistan was a modernizing project. It begins with the deluge, the road-roller that went over us that is Western Colonialism. We were just knocked out of our senses: ‘What hit us?’ And so there is anger in the street, anger against the West, which just bulldozed us. Remember, we, the Muslims, identified ourselves as one people, and we were the superpower. So there is anger against the Western modernizing forces for having replaced us as the dominant power; anger against our own brother Muslims for having strayed from the true path; anger at our state for having lied to us and not delivered what it promised to do. So there are all of these angers, rages which are now finding expression…

I was happy to tell Kamil Khan Mumtaz, after two long conversations in his verdant second-floor porch and his library study, that any visitor might find in the spaces he created, if not proof of his doctrines, at least a warm, peaceful, comfortable confirmation in the harmony of many rectangles, of rose-colored rugs and “burnt Siena” bricks, of low cushions and seats and books to the ceiling. Immediately on entering it felt like a space I’d been trying to imagine, or maybe dreamt. He’d conceived that library in his “modern” days long ago, but it had evolved continuously, he said. It has “a certain presence and timelessness,” he admitted. “Those are qualities that will strike even the least spiritual of person, only because the spirit is in all of us.”

A private house in Lahore (2001)

Podcast • September 7, 2011

Salima Hashmi: in the worst of times, the alchemy of art

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Salima Hashmi (34 minutes, 17 mb mp3) Salima Hashmi with her father, the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz Speak Speak, your lips are free. Speak, it is your own tongue. Speak, it is your own body. Speak, your life ...

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Salima Hashmi (34 minutes, 17 mb mp3)

Salima Hashmi with her father, the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Speak

Speak, your lips are free.
Speak, it is your own tongue.
Speak, it is your own body.
Speak, your life is still yours.

See how in the blacksmith’s shop
The flame burns wild, the iron glows red;
The locks open their jaws,
And every chain begins to break.

Speak, this brief hour is long enough
Before the death of body and tongue:
Speak, ’cause the truth is not dead yet,
Speak, speak, whatever you must speak.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, trans. by Azfar Hussain

LAHORE – Salima Hashmi is the vital link between Pakistan’s greatest poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911 – 1984), who was her father, and a “resilience” that you’d feel in the air even if Pakistanis weren’t invoking it so urgently and so often. You’d be aware of an edgy, “on” air of pleasure in life — very particularly this life of everyday risk and uncertainty — underlying a typical conversation in Lahore; an almost reckless intensity that I’ve heard young Pakistanis in America say they miss. You can hear it, I’m pretty sure, in Salima Hashmi’s linking of the Beaconhouse arts university she founded in Lahore seven years ago and the poetic vision of her father.

Faiz is remembered (and celebrated in many languages and far corners of the world on the eve of his centennial year) as an iconoclast and oppositionist, but equally for his own serenity and gentleness. He was a communist who liked to say that “the Sufi saints are the real comrades.” He asked to speak, he daughter says, for “the weaker voice” in the square, for religious minorities and the unorthodox, as in his prayer:

Let us too lift our hands,
We who do not remember the customary prayer,
We who do not remember any idol or God except love.

Salima Hashmi is well known as a television comedienne, but equally for her public protests against nuclear testing in Pakistan as in India. These days she paints, she writes, and she oversees the teaching of art and design — all with a certain imperturbable enthusiasm.

It’s odd that the worse things are, the better the art becomes. I suppose that is also something noticeable elsewhere. We are told that in very difficult times of war, the human spirit or the resilience of creative people is challenged and comes to the fore. That’s happening here too. I curated this show of contemporary art at the Asia Society museum two years ago in New York and people were talking about how unusual the work was, how vibrant it was, how vigorous it was… there were 15 artists in the show and I said I could have brought 50, because that’s how many I can look upon and say they’re doing something rooted and yet it takes into fact the very difficult conditions that they work in. And their work is important to them. Sometimes they get an audience and sometimes they don’t. Very often their economic situation is precarious, but they manage: some of them teach in schools, in colleges, some of them have galleries who can market their work — not always — and occasionally they’ll get a showing in Fukuoka or Delhi, New York or San Francisco, that will tide them over for a while.

It’s very diverse because there are very many different kinds of crises in Pakistan. There is the crisis of the terrorist, there is the crisis which encroaches on a woman’s right to be herself and to choose what she wants to do with her life, with her body, with her future. There is the crisis which hits people who belong to a minority religion or a sect. There is the urban-rural clash, there is the devastation of large parts of Pakistan by environmental change. I think that you find that artists and their work can reflect some of these, but it is also about the celebration of survival, and the fact that you are living to tell the tale everyday…

After we’d said our thank-yous, she added: “Please take back the message from Pakistan to friends everywhere that we live a life which is a hard life, but it is still full of hope and we are maybe not the people you see painted and dehumanized every day in the media. We’re really okay and we have fun and make nice paintings, and we sing wonderful songs, and we make poetry… In the worst of times in Pakistan, there is always a joke, dark humor and irony… We all have feet of clay. And the emperor never has any clothes on.”

Podcast • September 1, 2011

Zeb and Haniya: the healing charm of “Urdu blues”

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Zeb Bangash and Haniya Aslam (40 minutes, 20 mb mp3) LAHORE — Zeb and Haniya could set you to wondering all over again why musicians aren’t asked to run the world. In their studio in Lahore, we are ...

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Zeb Bangash and Haniya Aslam (40 minutes, 20 mb mp3)

LAHORE — Zeb and Haniya could set you to wondering all over again why musicians aren’t asked to run the world. In their studio in Lahore, we are puzzling how they make it look so easy to teach us new songs to call fresh tunes on stage — as so few can do off-stage? It’s a version of the question you ask yourself watching the Ramallah Concert by the fusion orchestra of young Arab and Israeli virtuosos that Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim assembled. How is it that musicians win our hearts leaping boundaries that our political and religious “leaders” are bent on reinforcing?

Zebunnisa Humayun Bangash and Haniya Aslam, as you’ve probably heard on NPR by now, are the Pakistani first cousins, ethnic Pashtuns, who went off to college in New England (Smith and Mount Holyoke) and got so homesick that they took to writing and recording songs to ease the pain of being stranded and broke in Western Massachusetts. Inadvertently they found themselves a network of passionate fans on the Web — first of mostly South Asian students all over North America, then of Pakistanis and Indians back home, then in the Gulf, and then in America and the online and record-buying universe.

They were drawing on a wide spectrum of live music they’d absorbed in their grandmother’s house: the songs of the Afghan diaspora through the 1980s, Persian and Pashto repertoires, ghazals in Urdu, pre-Partition movie music from Bombay, Sufi songs. And they were liberated by an enthusiastic performance culture that did not distinguish between high and low, or pop and serious music. Elvis Presley and the Beatles must have been Pakistanis at heart, they were so good. “Until I went to the States,” Haniya is saying, “I didn’t know what a ‘genre’ was.”

Suddenly it was said that Zeb and Haniya had invented a genre of their own, under the umbrella of “world music.” Call theirs “Urdu Blues,” or “Lahore Hip-Hop.” Part of the miracle here is that they could take so much, so fast from American rhythms, chords and forms and produce a song sound that is received back home as “authentic” fruit of Pakistani tradition. So what, I am asking, allows “fusion” to work so well in music, when it’s so hard to imitate in other public spaces?

Haniya: Sincerity. There’s sincerity in music. There’s very little ulterior motive. There’s just appreciation for everything: that you’re drawing everything in, you’re giving it back… There’s mutual respect. I don’t find any of these things in politics.

Zeb: Any cultural form has all of one’s values in it. All of that is latent within any kind of real cultural expression. And so I think when one can connect to each other’s cultures, one can actually connect to each other. For instance if you look at India and Pakistan, despite the fact that the two countries, you know, are daggers-drawn and then sometimes are trying to get together… [But] whatever the politics of the region might be, you cannot run away from the fact that you know anytime there is any musician that comes out in the Pakistani market, millions of Indians across the border will not only find out about them but will appreciate them, go out of the way to come onto their Facebook pages and appreciate them, and connect with them. Similarly, even in the worst of times: there’s a film that comes out in Bollywood and Pakistanis will be out in throngs buying that DVD. Whether it’s pirated, whether they have to go watch it in cinemas, they want to connect.

Haniya: I really do believe that culture and art and music specifically are the solution to the mess politics is creating. Where politics dehumanizes, art has the opposite effect. I think by virtue of being onstage, by doing what we do, even if we don’t address those questions that are on people’s minds, we can help bring a little bit of change.

Podcast • August 31, 2011

Nadeem ul Haque: “the country that can kill the world”

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Nadeem ul Haque (15 minutes, 8 mb mp3) Nadeem ul Haque giving a talk at TedxLahore Nadeem ul Haque introduced himself with a bit of bluster as Pakistan’s official “growth” strategist, then began blurting out his frustrations. There’s ...

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Nadeem ul Haque (15 minutes, 8 mb mp3)

Nadeem ul Haque giving a talk at TedxLahore

Nadeem ul Haque introduced himself with a bit of bluster as Pakistan’s official “growth” strategist, then began blurting out his frustrations. There’s no growth to speak of in Pakistan, he said — less than inflation anyway, and nothing like India’s 8-percent boom. The government he came home to serve in Pakistan is going nowhere. And then the line that spun my head around: “This is the country that can kill the world,” he said. “And your country hasn’t the foggiest idea what you’re doing here. Find a way to educate youth in Pakistan — 90 million under 20 — or don’t sleep at night. You haven’t got enough bullets to kill them… We can do without the Beltway Bandits and even the billions of dollars in what they call aid. What America should be sending Pakistan is C-SPAN and National Public Radio, and then reopen the USIA libraries… What you send is Raymond Davis and Blackwater… Are you out of your …. minds?”

The conversation we recorded a few days later is a slightly tempered version of that first burst at a farewell party in Islamabad for an American aid official. We’re getting Nadeem ul Haque’s heartfelt version of the Post-Colonial Blues. First, fond memories of the British and American cultural centers and mentors in the 1950s and 60s who propelled him to the London School of Economics, the University of Chicago and a career at the World Bank. Second comes the the appalled realization that a new native elite had slipped into the palaces, polo grounds and clubs of the old colonialists with, if anything, less interest in the mass of the population. And third, a rough critique of a distant and disdainful American connection with Pakistan: bullet proof cars for aid workers when they get out of the office at all; “they don’t use our toilet paper,” he says; and nobody, but nobody, knows where the other-than-military money goes.

Podcast • August 30, 2011

Salman Rashid: a Pakistani Travelogue, with Tears

Salman Rashid, adventurer and prolific author, had offered to guide our discovery tour of Pakistan — in the spirit of Kipling’s Kim and his lama, or earlier of the Victorian genius and spy Richard Burton. Our terrain would run from Karachi — from the mouth ...


Salman Rashid, adventurer and prolific author, had offered to guide our discovery tour of Pakistan — in the spirit of Kipling’s Kim and his lama, or earlier of the Victorian genius and spy Richard Burton. Our terrain would run from Karachi — from the mouth of the Indus River, that is — through deserts and lush fruitlands to Kashmir and then to K2, the second highest mountain peak on Earth.

But then, unexpectedly, blessedly, our trip with this soulful Punjabi gentleman broke down in tears in the village near Jalandhar (now India) where Salman Rashid’s father’s Muslim family was massacred at the moment of Pakistan’s birth, by Partition, in August, 1947.

Salman Rashid’s grandfather was the prized doctor in that village, and he had doubtless treated the frenzied man who killed him with a shotgun blast through the eye and then lashed up the mob that dispatched the great aunts and cousins, as he says, “with swords.”

This was the story that Salman Rashid heard first-hand for the first time three years ago, from the son of the man who led the riot of killing. The story does more than overtake the travelogue. It fortifies the impression that “Af-Pak” is the wrong name for what afflicts this part of the world, and the rest of us. The real name of the root cause of so much injury and anger out of South Asia is more nearly “Indo-Pak.” As Salman Rashid recounts, it is a traceable and perhaps even a treatable source of misery when people are given the chance to absorb the whole awful history.

“I think the time to forgive has come,” Salman Rashid is saying. “The people are ready. The people are for reconciliation.”