Return of the Literature Festival(s)

KLF Program Karachi Literature Festival concluded on Sunday, bringing a wonderfully spend weekend to a successful end. I haven’t had such a good time for three days straight in a long while and attending KLF was worth every minute (and penny, for food and books). Before I talk about KLF, I must talk about the upcoming Lahore Literary Festival which will be starting next week.

I was contacted by the team responsible for Lahore Literary Festival and asked if I could attend the event. I had to apologize because the event timing clashed with the CSS examinations. Last week they sent me a press release to be posted on my blog and I checked my emails after a week, thereby missing it completely. The text of the press release is as follows:

Bapsi Sidhwa to Launch Junglewalla at Lahore Literary Festival

Lahore, 7th February, 2013: Bapsi Sidhwa, Pakistan’s acclaimed English-language novelist will launch
Junglewalla, the Urdu translation of her best-selling book The Crow Eaters, at the Lahore Literary
Festival being held later this month at the Alhamra Arts Complex.

Sidhwa, 74, who grew up in Lahore, and graduated from Kinnaird College, is flying in from Houston,
Texas – where she lives – especially for the debut LLF, whose organisers say she will be one of the major
draws at the event.

“We’re thrilled that Bapsi will be at this year’s festival,” said Razi Ahmed, LLF founder. “There’s great
excitement from people keen to hear and meet her and pick up Junglewalla.”

Along with Tariq Ali, Sidhwa was one of the first Pakistanis writing in English to win international
acclaim. Sidhwa has authored five books, including Cracking India, which was made into a film, Earth, by
Deepak Mehta. Her books have been translated into several languages, including French and Italian.

The author, essayist, and playwright has been an advisor to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on women’s
development, and taught at Columbia University, Mount Holyoke, Rice University, Brandeis, and the
University of Houston. Sidhwa is the sister of the late M. P. Bhandara, who ran Murree Brewery and was
a Member of Parliament.

“Bapsi is a Pakistani original,” said LLF’s Ahmed. “She was one of the first Pakistani authors to break
through to a wider audience.”

The LLF is being supported by the Punjab government and the city administration. The Festival kicks off
on 23rd February. The open-to-public event will feature some 50 authors over two days at the Alhamra
Arts Center.


For further information, please contact:

Latitude – Corporate Relationship Solutions
Asma Asif, Junior Account Executive
Ph: +92 (0) 42 3577 4321-23

About the Lahore Literary Festival

Lahore has long been known as the cultural capital of Pakistan. For centuries, this beautiful city has been
associated with great literature, art, theatre and music. The first ever Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) was
conceived keeping in mind this legacy of cultural heritage.

The inaugural LLF, being held at the Alhamra Arts Centre in Lahore from 23rd to 24th February, 2013,
aims to revive the Lahore spirit of art and creativity. The annual event promises to be the first step in
re-establishing Lahore as the cultural heartbeat of Pakistan and enriching the cultural experience of
the city’s residents by creating an institutional platform for fostering and furthering Lahore’s literary

For additional information, please visit

For updates, please join the Facebook page ( or follow the LLF on
Twitter (@lhrlitfest)

Now for Karachi Literature Festival. KLF 2013 was held at Beach Luxury Hotel which was a great decision. There were a lot of rooms, there was a lot of space, there were a lot of people, there was free WiFi internet nearly everywhere at the hotel and the ample space at Main Garden was a blessing as some really great sessions were comfortably held there for larger audience with real-time camera screen right behind the panelists. The speakers lineup was pretty impressive this year and I will review the festival session by session that I personally attended.

Day 1


Intizar HusainI was a bit late but managed to come before Intizar Husain’s speech. The host was Sidra Iqbal and she is always a pleasure to listen to. Sidra Iqbal was my senior at Beaconhouse and it was her advise and tips that helped me develop my own public speaking skills (my mediocrity is a separate debate). Intizar Husain was eloquent as ever and he brought the audience to life. Despite his humble literary background most modern day Pakistani writers consider him their hero and he was given standing ovation by young and old alike. It was a great sight to see respect given to literary geniuses of the country where the culture of reading is abysmal and literacy rate is shamefully low. His speech, delivered in Urdu, brought audience to life through smiles and laughter with many locals attempting to translate his words in real time to foreigners sitting beside them.

This was followed by dance performance by Sheema Kermani which was based on Tagore’s teachings. Allow me to clearly state that I didn’t understand this dance at all. Nothing against the KLF management or the dancers, it is just that I simply didn’t understand the dance probably because I do not have that capacity or understanding. I am sure many people must have loved it and commend the dancers for the effort they put in.

Once this was done, I headed for the first session.

Cricket and Cricket Writings

Cricket WritingThe session was moderated by Murad Moosa Khan and panel included Saad Shafqat, Osman Samiuddin and Kamila Shamsie. It was a fun session, particularly because both Murad and Saad were professional doctors at Agha Khan Hospital during daytime and avid Cricket fans during night (even watch Bangladesh vs Zimbabwe matches, sheesh). The session was fun right from the start, for example another session was suppose to take place that included the great Gulzar (who did not attend KLF due to sudden return to India from Lahore due to personal reasons) and this session gained more audience because of his absence on which Murad commented “Even God is a Cricketer”. Since Murad, in his day job, deals with matters of the mind and Saad brains, he equated them as swinging the bowl in the air and turning it off the pitch respectively.

Kamila Shamsie turned out to be a avid Cricket fan, living very close to Lords Cricket Ground in London and reaching venue within 3 minutes when match ticket was available. Osman shed the most light on his writing experience and he even talked about shortcomings of Cricket writing for a country like Pakistan as well as compared it to more sophisticated sports writings for games like American Football and Basketball. At one point Osman even said that Cricket was a democratic platform for Crickets where their performance spoke for itself. This was a game where Mindad’s 6 is remembered and where young players like Mohammed Aamir and Junaid made a mark based on their talent and skills. I asked about Ijaz Butt during Q&A session regarding his tenure and Osman very frankly answered that he is a good man but an inept administrator, his policies and behavior had troubled everyone. No other ICC member was interesting in directly communicating with him and his attitude nearly got Pakistan banned by ICC.

Rain started in Karachi right about the start of the session and at one point the sound of thunder made everyone jump, including the panel. When the session ended, I went outside and saw the pleasantness of the weather and woes of management. All book stalls were closed, plastics used to cover books in order to protect them while majority food stalls were shut down except Espresso which had sufficient protection. As a result most people purchased burgers and coffee from Espresso throughout the day.

The session that I did not attend due to time clash was a book launch about Abdul Sattar Edhi called Half of Two Paisas: The Extraordinary Mission of Abdul Sattar Edhi and Bilquis Edhi. The author of the book was Lorenzo Raponi.

Writers’ Club: Creative Writing for Young Writers

Aquila IsmailThis was the second session moderated by Aquila Ismail. She told us about her background (graduate of NED university and taught there for many years) and how she came to writing. Her book, Of Martyrs and Marigolds, was launched on the third day of the festival. She gave us an idea about writing, the process of creativity and how to go about writing the story. This session was longer than most sessions and spanned to roughly two sessions, so she had plenty of time and in order to utilize that for better guidance she asked us to come on the stage and read our original writing.

The first to dare was a guy who read a paragraph of his novella manuscript that had a lot of philosophical touch. After listening to him she explained a few things to the audience, critiqued the writing positively and gave directions on how he can further improve the content. When he left the stage she asked for the next volunteer and I raised my hand, as a result I was the next person sitting beside her on the stage.

I had nothing with me to read from except my cellphone and I had used WiFi to open my blog. After introductions where I told that I was a student and a blogger, I read a part of the short story Challenge to the best of my ability. I chose this story because of its simplicity as well as the dialogue process which have not been successfully develop in my other short stories. She explained the importance of dialogues, explained how we can reduce unnecessary content (for example, remove the word “the” wherever it has been unnecessarily used) and how dialogue can be developed between two and more people. I do remember she said I had written the dialogues well and that was an achievement for me. When I took the seat after the applause, the audience had clearly gained confidence and several volunteers came forward to read something, from stories to poetry to articles and one even read a story in Urdu very eloquently.

Aquila also introduced to us Writers Workshop where we could register and a meetup would be held every two months in order to help us improve as writers. At the end of the workshop I signed up, hoping for a positive impact on my writing abilities.

Due to the long nature of this workshop, I missed out on the following sessions:

Pakistan-Russia Relations and Bilateral Cooperation

Moderator: Riaz Mohammad Khan, Panel: Andrey Demidov, Sergey Kamenev, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi

Book Launch: Hassan Dars Jo Risalo

Moderator: Mohammed Hanif, Panel: Masoor Lohar, Erum Mahboob, Mazhar Leghari, Sardar Shah

Book Launch: Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak Out

Editor: Pervez Hoodbhoy, Moderator: Raza Rumi, Introduction: Ameena Saiyid, Britta Petersen

Whose Pakistan? Whose Picture? Writing Pakistan in English Today

Moderator: Madeline Clements, Panel: Faisal Nazir, Bina Shah, Zahri Sabri

Readings and Conversation with Amar Jaleel

Amar JaleelAttending this session was a must for me. When I saw his name, I did not considered any other session worthwhile to attend in the same timeslot (and luckily there wasn’t any other worthwhile session that may force me to think twice). Amar Jaleel is a brand that drips of wisdom and foresight, his writings incredibly thought provoking and his words, uttered in Sindhi, Urdu or English carrying equal measures of wit, wisdom, philosophy and reality. For the first time I had a chance of listening to him live and there was no way I would miss it.

This session was unsurprisingly attended by a large number of Sindhi speakers that were his avid fans. The moderator of the session was Shah Muhammad Pirzada who introduced himself to the audience, gave a brief introduction of Amar Jaleel and transferred the remainder to Amar Jaleel to speak. He started with the constant sms of Valentines Day (it was 15th of February) he had been receiving from people for the past few days and said that the young people have forgotten about love stories of Heer Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal and even Romeo Juliet for this Valentine’s Day. He emphasized a very obvious shortcoming that Ranjha loved Heer, Mahiwal loved Sohni and Romeo loved Juliet but who did Valentine loved? His friendly and eloquent way of speaking had a profound effect as the obvious suddenly dawned on the audience and several people burst out laughing. No one knew whom Valentine loved and what was so special about his love that a whole day was celebrated.

Amar Jaleel read one of his works and then talked about various topics, often linking them together. When talking about rights, he explained that how various measures in constitution have given immense power to Mullahs, how they setup multiple mosques in the same vicinity with plenty of loud speakers but never delivering Azaan at the same time, how a Mullah can simply march right up to National Assembly and declare the government as dissolved. He explained it with another example that a person from interior Sindh led several thousand people a few weeks back right up to Tiber Center for protest. If he was to lead these people to Sindh Assembly and declare it dissolved, asking CM Qaim Ali Shah to return back to his village, he and his followers would have been beaten up to pulp by Police and Rangers and court cases would have been initiated against him. But a Mullah leading a procession against government with 40 odd thousand followers, sitting inside a comfortable container the whole time, and declaring government as dissolved faced no consequences even though his action was tantamount to treason and should have been thrown in jail.

Amar Jaleel also talked about Sufism and said that Sufis are often rebels of their religions and are found in every religion like Islam, Hinduism etc. He also said that Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai was a partial Sufi because he was still trapped in religion. He also talked about literacy, saying that when you visit a country like Sri Lanka, you can actually feel a literate environment and just by meeting people you can feel their sophistication. He compared Pakistan and said that if we go by the official literacy rate of 58%, the mere fact that total daily newspaper circulation for a country with 180 million people is just 1 million is highly abysmal. A literate person has the appetite to read and newspaper is the easiest source. Other than that it is either books or magazines, none of which have much demand. It is not likely that literate people would be content reading billboards only. As per his view, roughly 5% to 10% Pakistan’s population was literate in true sense and rest was a lie so that the aid money coming in from other countries would not dry up. Many people on important positions pocket this money and present inflated figures and this started with influential people like Wadeiras and all who were muzzled strongly by the Britishers but shot out like wolves when Pakistan gained independence, common person turning out to be easy meal for them. He also said that roughly 20,000 ghost schools exist in Sindh alone which exist on paper along with all facilities and teachers but nothing in reality, only teachers getting their pay while sitting at home. This wasn’t done by any Mohajir, Pathan, Punjabi or even an army person. He clearly emphasized that the abysmal state of education in interior Sindh is created by us Sindhis and no one else.

This way my last session for day 1 and even though a there was choice to attend another session after this, I preferred to go home.

Day 2

Book Launch: Karachi: Our Stories in Our Words

Stories From KarachiThis session was moderated by Durdana Soomro and had Bina Shah as panelist while Muniza Naqvi was the editor of the book. I attended this session believing that another book, Sindh: Stories from a lost Homeland, would also be launched since both were mentioned in the program. That wasn’t the case and I stayed to attend because Bina Shah was in the panel and my teacher from Bahria University, Fehmida Raufi, was also attending the session. As it turned out, Muniza Naqvi on the previous literature festival had thought about finding genuine stories and after discussing with Oxford University Press, put advertisement out on various newspapers in April 2012 inviting people to share their stories/memories of Karachi city.

It started with 2 stories in the first couple of weeks, then more started pouring in and in three months they received 170 stories written by common people. About 60 of these stories were written in Urdu or other regional language and out of the 170 stories, 40 were not really related to Karachi city. After vigorous editing and a lot of thinking, 99 stories were shortlisted and published in the book. Muniza kept on emphasizing that creativity had no boundary and one should never limit themselves, but by the end of the day a person has to realize the reality of life and economics, allowing Editors to cut down their work. Bina Shah lent a strong voice to the cause and gave her views about the book, commenting on some of the stories and even hinting at symbolism that was evident. During discussion she clarified a point she had made day before in a session. She said Pakistan lacks sophisticated writing industry, no reading culture, as practically no one knows the process of publishing a book. Bina’s first book was published by OUP itself and second book was published by a publishing house in Islamabad. In 2004 OUP stopped publishing fiction while the remaining two publishing houses, one in Islamabad and other in Karachi, went dormant and no proper work of fiction was published by them since. This gap has hurt emerging writers as they don’t have an avenue to express their creativity. She also emphasized that writers are starved artists, they cannot earn much through writing books and definitely need a stable day job to pay the bills.

A major interesting part of the session was the presence of Oxford University Press’s representatives. I forgot the name of the male representative who was also present during the Writers Workshop and during the session he mentioned twice about me being present in yesterday’s session (both time it was something about emerging writers/writing fiction/writing book). He kept on adding into the conversation and was unofficial panelist for the session. His contributions made a lot of sense as he filled the missing information and helped in explaining the whole process the printing of the book went through since OUP of Pakistan no longer prints fiction books. Another major feature of the session was the presence of contributors in the hall whose stories were printed in the book, one of them being my teacher. The contributors were not paid for this since this was a voluntary contribution but their names were mentioned, allowing them to actually claim themselves as writers.

During Q&A session one elderly person (claimed he was author of 6 Urdu novels) objected to the fact that stories that were submitted in Urdu were included in the book after translating them to English. He objected quite strongly to which OUP representative said he has gone through tough time in publishing this book and will not argue on the decision taken in this regard. Other than that the atmosphere remained pleasantly charged with beaming faces.

Due to time clash I missed out on these sessions:

The Fall and the Rise of the Pakistani Cinema

Moderator: Adnan Malik, Panel: Meher Jaffri, Jawed Sheikh, Nadeem Mandviwalla

Political Parties and the 2013 Elections

Moderator: Mohammad Waseem, Panel: Farhan Hanif Siddiqi and Syed Jaffar Ahmed

Book Launch: The Baloch Who is Not Missing and Others Who Are

Baloch who is missingThis was undoubtedly the most extraordinary session of the event. Not because it was about Baloch but also because of a background controversy surrounding Ayesha Siddiqa. News had started to circulate (I don’t know if it is true or not) that KLF management had not invited Ayesha Siddiqa this year because of her session with Anatol Lieven on the previous Literature Festival. The army and Britishers were uncomfortable with her and therefore her status for now was Persona Non Grata.

I mention this here because this book was written by Hanif Mohammed, session moderated by Mohammad Ali Talpur and panelists were Farzana Maheed and I.A. Rehman. Farzana was an MPhil Student at Balochistan University when her brother was kidnapped by agencies and for the past four years she has been trying to find him anyway she can. Both Farzana and her uncle Rehman have been using all their resources, including somehow finding their way to the literature festival, to voice their grief and pleading request to help them put pressure on the forces to release her brother or at least give his whereabouts.

Mr. Rehman also told his own story about struggle for Baloch rights, his fighting years during 70s and subsequent 13 year asylum in Afghanistan that ended in 1992. He and Farzana told about situation in Balochistan in detail, provided some gruesome details about how Baloch youngsters belonging to middle class are picked up and their bodies dumped riddled with bullets and how their rights were being denied. Hanif Mohammed explained his role in the process and kept the discussion on track so that more details would be provided to the audience as to what is really happening in Balochistan and how media is unable to or unwilling to cover the stories, how agencies are scared of Baloch getting access to internet to voice their opinions and how tough they are on media to stop covering them Balochistan.

During Q&A one person stood up who identified himself as a Baloch who was picked up by agencies and was released after two weeks. He was willing to not only identify the ones who did it, he was also willing to take them to the place where he was kept.

When an anti-agencies’ session like this can take place, why is that military cannot tolerate Ayesha Siddiqa?

The State of Education in Pakistan

Education sessionThe session was moderated by Baela Jamil and panelists were Pervez Hoodbhoy, Shahid Kardar, Ishrat Hussain and Abbas Rashid. The session was also conducted in last year’s KLF with nearly the same participants and it was carried out in the nearly the same way. Baela started with some statistics regarding students, their education and the medium of their early education. Both former governors of State Bank expressed thoughts and opinions about the state of education, highlighting many things including projects like school adoption and even community led programs where teachers were hired to teach village kids.

It was highlighted that many government had ruined the education by hiring on political basis, favors to their unemployed political workers, who drew salary but did not go to school at all. Most of the schools were ghost schools or lacked all necessary facilities. Many schools were turned into stables or personal space by local influential lords, MNAs and MPAs. In many cases the educated teachers of a certain village who could have stayed and taught there, instead got themselves transferred to other areas through favors. Like teachers in Lora Lai who could have contributed a lot to child education in their areas of study, through political favors, got themselves transferred to Quetta and stayed there. When educated group would stay in urban center, there was no way a relatively backward area like Lora Lai compete with Quetta.

Pervez Hoodbhoy spoke at length in Urdu and explained what he faced since his early days of teaching at Quaid E Azam University. He said he had to learn to teach in Urdu because even saying a simple formula of Physics in English would result in complete blank looks. He clearly said he was willing to call a thermometer as “Hararat Peema” since that is a suitable translation but there was no way he would ever call an electron as “Barqiat”. There is a limit to translation and too much time, effort and resources would be required to translate enormous scientific work in Urdu which is ultimately not even needed since as a medium of instruction it is a dying language which even its native speakers no longer prefer for education. The dishonesty of teachers is also taken into account where Hoodbhoy told about senior professors who downloaded foreign research papers and presented locally with his name. When caught, they took early retirement and became deans at other well known local universities.

In contrast when Hoodbhoy joined LUMS, his students would object and ask him to teach only in English. Hoodbhoy also talked about books of Social Sciences and Pakistan Studies taught in federal capital to school children that literally start from explaining the different between Hindus and Muslims (when a Hindu man dies, his wife is burned along with his body while Muslims don’t do this), followed up with ideology of Pakistan and subsequent chapters that would make no sense.

The sessions I missed out:

Political Engagement in the Pakistani English Novel

Moderator: Muneeza Shamsie, Panel: Nadeem Aslam, Mohsin Hamid, Kamila Shamsie

Rights and Wrongs: Human Rights in Pakistan

Moderator: Justice Nasira Iqbal, Panel: Ali Dayan, Hamid Khan, I.A. Rehman, Asma Jahangir

Book Launch: A Political History of Pakistan: 1947 – 2002 by Y.Y. Belokrenitsky

Moderator: Jehangir Ashraf Qazi, Panelist, Humayun Gohar

Narratives: The Impact of Political Received Wisdom

Cameron MunterThis was an interesting session where Cameron Munter spoke at length with Ashraf Jehangir as chair for the session. The former American Ambassador to Pakistan had a lot to say about American viewpoint, the various thoughts and narratives that exist in both countries, the high and low points taking place in recent past and how Americans are trying fit everything right in order to peacefully pull out off Afghanistan.

Munter’s narrative was powerful in the sense he spoke clearly about what has Pakistani government been doing, how press is handling the emotions of the masses, what backdoor diplomacy taking place and why so many anti-Pakistan narratives gained strength over the years. To sum up his various points, the clear case of lying on the part of Pakistani government about various issues that take place between Pakistan and the US, the often double-dealing by some elements, withholding information, lack of cooperation and the constant greed to get more money out of the US has been fueling many critics in the US to take strong action. From the American perspective, they have been spending money and providing cooperation to Pakistani counterparts as per understanding, yet the objectives to be achieved are nowhere close.

But the narrative was not anti Pakistan as it may seem. Munter’s tone remained rather emotional, as if many words that he is uttering are costing him emotionally, and as @robcrilly tweeted

“Cameron Munter rather seeking some kind of forgiveness at #klf. Mix of guilt and bitterness on display. Fascinating”

During his talk, Cameron Munter also explained some of the difficulties that he faced during Pak-US relations, particularly those that were because of certain incident (drone attack, OBL incident, Ramond Davis) and explained viewpoints from both sides. He also explained that many Pakistani leaders are actually providing misleading information to the people, using jingoism and spreading it through media that is responsible in creating divide between the two countries. More honest leaders are needed to step up and lead the Pakistani people and American cannot bring democracy to Pakistan, Pakistanis themselves need to strengthen their democratic process. He made it crystal clear that there is a severe lack of leaders in the country and that is a cause for concern. The victim mentality, a product of misinformation created by the leaders, is also a cause for concern for the nation and Pakistanis would have to come out of that mentality. He also acknowledged the sacrifices by common people, the 30k Pakistanis that have lost their lives in the past decade due to war on terror. He also emphasized that they have done and are still doing all they can to peacefully pull out from Afghanistan and look at Pakistan and other neighboring countries to play a role in Afghanistan’s development.

In response to a question from the audience regarding America’s war on terror that Pakistan was fighting for its behalf, Cameron Munter clearly asked “You are fighting a war for the US? Not for yourself?”

There was plenty he talked about that made sense, I do not recall the exact details and I didn’t get the chance to ask question either during Q&A but I distinctively remember one lady who asked a question that nearly made me smack my head. She asked why the US isn’t paying Pakistan more while asking to do more? Why not pay $100 billion and then expect the work done? On this even Cameron Munter said that don’t say that, don’t play into the American narrative that Pakistan is only trying to fleece money and not do anything else.

The sessions I missed out:

Social Satire: Laughing at Ourselves

Moderator: Nadeem F Paracha, Panel: Ali Gul Pir, Bushra Ansari, Beo Zafar

Pakistan’s New Political Economy

Moderator: Akbar Zaidi, Panel: Aasim Sajjad, Ali Cheema, Faisal Siddiqi

Dateline Afghanistan

Dateline AfghanistanThis session took place at the main garden right after Cameron Munter’s session and was moderated by Najam Sethi. The panel included Declan Walsh, Zahid Hussain and Riaz Mohammad Khan while Maleeha Lodhi was replaced by another speaker. Each speaker spoke at length about what will happen once the US pulls out from Afghanistan and what will be the impacts on both the country as well as the region. I was particularly surprised and well pleased to note how comfortably and confidently Najam Sethi spoke in English in front of the audience. I noted down some of the points which are as follows:

– Pakistan playing host to 5 millions afghans 1.7 million of which are registered refugees, 1.7 million are unregistered refugees and rest have gained Pakistani citizenship/passport

– Roughly $2 billion is spent annually by Pakistan on the refugees which is a burden on the national exchequer

– Most of these Afghans are working in service sector while agriculture, the main sector of Pakistan, has little to no contribution from afghans

– Karzai needs to become true leader of the Afghanistan in order to lead the country when US pulls out and he requires his peoples trust. The Taliban have refused to dialogue with him and that is a cause for concern.

– Theoretically Afghanistan’s economy has grown 9% annually and that is entirely in service sector. Money is coming in for now but when US pulls out, this income will dry up and Afghanistan’s GNP will plummet. Jobs will start disappearing, NGOs will start shutting down, construction activities will stop and there will be an economic downturn. As a result refugee influx might increase in Pakistan and that would be a burden for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. There can also be civil war in Afghanistan when US exits

– Afghanistan’s exports are $491 million while its imports from Pakistan alone are $2.1 billion, causing a severe negative balance of trade as well as balance of payments

The picture for Afghanistan was overall grim when US pulls out and some suggestions were given to mitigate that, like taking measures to slow down refugee influx when US pulls out and making international community aware of the situation so that other nations can play their part in helping the region out. It was also stressed that Pakistan should not be proactive in Afghanistan’s affairs because Pakistan’s pro-activity makes Afghanis suspicious and that will cause more harm than help.

The sessions I missed out:

Manto: Mera Dost

A Play by Tehrik-e-Niswan

The Other

Moderator: Marilyn Wyatt, Panel: H.M. Naqvi, Nadeem Aslam, Kamila Shamsie

On the Politics of Child Labour

Moderator: Karamat Ali, Panel: Baela Jamil, Samar Minallah Khan, Taimur Rahman

Does History Matter in Pakistan?

Does History MatterThis was another history session that truly left a lot of people squirming in their seats. Moderated by Syed Jaffar Ahmed, the panel included Russia’s Andrey Demidov, Pakistan’s Hamida Khuhro and India’s A.G. Noorani. The discussion ranged around the partition theme where roles of sacred cows came under discussion, namely the leaders Jinnah, Gandhi and Nehru. The fact that historical figures have been made sacred, depriving the future generations from criticizing their actions has caused some serious problems on both sides of the border. Noorani says the literature on partition has been grossly exaggerated in both countries to fit the official narrative, hiding many historical facts in order to mislead people. There are books and accounts that have been properly maintained in British Library, London where one can see a lot of historical documents, personal accounts and updates on British Indian politics by viceroys as well as notable British office holders. There are documents as well where Jinnah’s hand written notes are present, indicating his views on some of the events taking place. Reading those, one would see a completely different Jinnah than that is portrayed at either side of the border.

Hamida Khuhro stressed on the fact that history was being taught in mutilated fashion and much of what truly constitutes Pakistan is lost. The historical events are not well explained, the wars are also not clearly laid out and mistakes are hidden in guise of misleading information. Noorani criticized writer of the Jinnah Papers, saying that these should be thrown away since the writer had not properly written the accounts of what happened. In fact a lot of information in Jinnah Papers has been not correctly referenced and much of the facts have been ignored to pave way for certain ideological presentation of Jinnah. In Noorani’s support, Hamida Khuhro said that it is vital to improve the process of documentation and there is a need for young, energetic historians to step up and fill in the gap. She also stressed on correcting history but said that correction, in itself, is not enough. K.K. Aziz’s Murder of History was a good attempt at correcting history but the real need is rewriting of history in order to bring forth historical facts in their proper light.

Noorani had clearly stated that Quaid E Azam was born on 23rd March, 1940 who was a non-democratic person. Hamida Khuhro seemed to be in agreement with him and this response was made to a question asked about where Quaid E Azam was really born. Although it is officially claimed that Jinnah was born in Karachi, however it is also known that Jinnah’s birthplace was Jhirk (a hilly area near Thatta) which is also mentioned in most school books of the 50s and 60s.

From what I have heard, Jinnah’s birthplace record was changed at Sindh-Madrassa-tul-Islam during the 70s and since then it has also been made part of teaching curriculum.

A.G. Noorani clearly said that if one wants to know the real Jinnah, they should see the only who was a friend of Tilak and used leave behind his lucrative practice in order to fight for common Indian people, be they of any religion, and made sure policies were introduced that were benefiting for the masses.

During Q&A it was also asked if Jinnah should be left alone because he did a lot to found this country. Hamida responded by asking why should we do that. Founding a country is one thing but learning from mistakes is essential for which even Jinnah should not be spared. By making him sacred we are not helping our people and keeping him out of sphere of criticism automatically gives protection to subsequent material attached by his name, much of which is causing ideological confusion. One such confusion is of two-nation theory which is now buried along with disintegration of Pakistan into Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The session ended with an elderly person’s outburst by grabbing the mic and screaming in support of Jinnah and all that he did.

In Conversation with George Galloway MP

George GallowayThis was the session I waited for the entire day and it was held at the Main Garden in order to accommodate large audience. The moderator was Irfan Hussain and the conversation was interesting. George Galloway told about his past and how he came into politics at the age of 13 while marching behind a Pakistani born Britisher during a protest. He made some witty remarks, most notable of them was about a comment his father made to him when he was a child (the same that I heard from Jamshed Marker during ZABMUN 2011):

The sun never sets upon British empire but that’s because even God doesn’t trust the Brits in the dark

Galloway told about his travel to different Arab countries and his meetings with various leaders including Mubarak and Arafat, he lived for a considerable time in these countries with frequent interactions with their ruling leaders and then came to UK when Labour Party offered him a position. He clearly stated that he was a common and has been chauffeur to many people. He was a complete fan of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and is friends with both Benazir and Sanam Bhutto. He was also an undercover agent during MRD movement of the 80s to support democracy and was honored for his services in late 80s.

Galloway clearly stated that people should listen to Press TV for legitimate news or go for Russian Today. The Bush and Blair Corporation (BBC) is only to present their viewpoints and make a fool of the people. He recounted the events that led to his leaving the Labour Party in 2002 and since then he has twice defeated his opponents. He told about the Iraq War and how on pack of lies a country was destroyed. He also spoke about the Arab revolution, saying that he may or may not like a leader but if people have chosen that leader, it was their choice and that should be respected. In the same way he said he was fan of Yasser Arafat but that doesn’t mean he likes Hammas and if people vote for Hammas, that is there choice and he respects that. He also criticized Israel, making plain that the country is punishing people of Gaza just because they used their power to cast votes.

On a comment against his smoking cigar at public place, he recounted a story about Hookah smoking in a hotel that resulted in fire alarm going off and they coming out drenched. In response to a question regarding Julian Assange, he said he met Julian recently and he has not seen daylight for many months now. He is ill and needs medical attention and he has even offered to cooperate in anyway on the condition that he will not be extradited to USA. His offer has been rejected by his home country Norway. According to him, Assange was evidently sexually promiscuous person and such people are easily seduced by groupies. Galloway clearly stated that it is impossible not to smell the rat in this whole mess because the woman he slept with already had a history of getting deported from Cuba and lending a job in California from where she, coincidentally, ended up in bed with Julian.

George also dismissed the possibility of revolution in Pakistan. Revolutions often take years to complete and they require people to come out on the streets en mass to get their rights. As far as Pakistan was concerned, there was enough democratic space. People know they have the power of ballet and that’s one benefit they have. Tahir Ul Qadri tried to bring a revolution with few thousand people and it failed.

Day 3

Emerging Writers

Emerging WritersThe first session I attended on the last day was of Emerging Writers which was moderated by Hanif Mohammad. The panel included Syed Kashif Raza, Shazaf Fatima Haider and Masud Alam. A day before, Quetta was once again rocked by bomb blast that killed over 60 Hazaras and one minute silence was observed at the start of the session.

After introductions Mohammad Hanif spoke about writing and publishing, then asked Shazaf to read some from her book. Shazaf read a list that was made by a central character of the story, Dadi (grandmother), about the qualities that the bride should have in order to qualify for marriage with her grandson. The list was hilarious and everyone in the audience thoroughly enjoyed. After her Hanif invited Kashif to read his poetry and I must say Mr. Kashif had some vivid imagination. I am just glad I was sitting alone and not with any female beside because Kashif’s romantic poetry was just too vivid and Mohammad Hanif egged him on to read. As a result we heard roughly 5 romantic poems and since Kashif worked at Geo, his colleague and news anchor Muhammad Junaid was also in the audience (and he clearly stated Kashif never shared his poetry with them and even asked a question during Q&A).

After that it was Murad’s turn who read a passage from his book about travel to see things around the world, particularly northern lights which is a phenomenon commonly observed in countries closer to north pole. His tale was good and brought out laughter at some points from the audience. When Hanif asked him why don’t you write about anything else, Murad said he hasn’t done anything else.

Shazaf said she was part of the audience in the previous KLF and even had her manuscript with her, asking for writers how she can get it published. She found no help and ended up finding out the hard way. She told about the role of editor and how she had to work hard to get the book publish which was as hard as writing the book itself.

The sessions I missed were:

Dynastic Politics

Moderator: Najam Sethi, Panel: Victoria Schofield, Nasim Zehra, Nahmuddin Shaikh, Barkha Dutt

Secularism in Pakistan

Moderator: Irfan Husain, Panel: Hamid Khan, Javed Jabbar, Asma Jahangir, Justice Nasira Iqbal

Tareekh aur Hamaray Masail (History and Contemporary Issues)

Moderator: Kamran Asdar Ali, Panel: Mubarak Ali, Syed Jaffar Ahmed, Sultan-i-Rome

The Dynamics of Karachi

Dynamics of KarachiThis was an informative session moderated by Kamran Asdar Ali and panel included Laurent Gayer, Steve Inskeep, Aquila Islamil, Bina Shah and Arif Hasan. The session was dominated by Bina Shah’s powerful words where she described both good side and the dark side of Karachi and how it fascinated her that despite being a headache one time it is a great city to live in at the other. Aquila Ismail shared her life story when she left Bangladesh in 1972 and came to Karachi where she immediately found her identity and got admission in NED University, being the only girl among 300 boys. She told her story how she loved to be here and how all changed when Zia Ul Haq introduced Islamization that changed the city.

She recounted the introduction of gun culture when in early 80s students began to bring weapons to institutions that rapidly began to gain notice and the move was resisted. Students died as well as teachers lost their lives, and Aquila suffered from all that while working as a teacher at NED. She shared how she and others formed a forum since student unions were banned and tried to raise their voice. The forum later became APMSO which ultimately led to the creation of Muhajir Qaumi Movement and then the current MQM (Kamran made an obvious witty remark on that). She also claimed she saw Gulbadin Hikmatyar walking down corridor with AK in hand at the institution. The militants first target was universities where they spread militancy. Aquila moved on to a different fact that Karachi is still expanding and 30,000 acres of land is now being added to the city, meaning roughly 5 million more people will be now part of Karachi’s population in the next few years.

Steven shared his experience of Karachi, how he visited the city in the past few years and experienced a vastly different way of living. While interviewing with people he felt the real change. When talking MQM, they said

“You know this is our city, right?”

When interviewing Sindhis, the Sindhis said “This is our city, hope you know that”. The same phenomenon was observed with Baloch and Pushtoons that were interviewed and all have claims on this city. As an interviewer it was strange experience for him listening and documenting various viewpoints. He particularly stressed at a point that the migration of Hindus from Karachi made it less diverse and  that also made it less stable. A census would better explain the demographics of the city and hopefully one should be coming up now in future (he looked pointedly at Kamran for this, to the amusement of the audience. The last census was in 1998 and it’s been 15 years while census is suppose to take place after every 10 years).  He also said that diversity of the Karachi city seems to be the problem but it actually is a big advantage

Laurent Gayer said the nature of violence has not been properly addressed and it has now become an enigma. According to him there’s an ordered disorder in Karachi (which everyone in the audience agreed with). The violence is not between enemies but actually between intimate friends/coalition partners who fight one day and few days later are back to the old self. He had no words to explain a party like MQM.

Arif Hasan spoke most strongly in terms of hard facts, with little to no philosophy that we experienced in Bina Shah’s words. Arif Hasan talked about the resources Karachi had compared to Sindh and then contrasted them with Lahore with respect of Punjab. He clearly stated the Karachi has no governance system and it has been collapsed for vested interests. Whenever government system collapses, turf wars begin to control the city’s resources. This in turn introduced politics of extortion and land grabbing. In 2010 alone, 20 estate agents were killed due to land grabbing and extortion. The land expansion outside the city is fine but change of landscape within city may not be good. A normal residential plot that can house a certain number of people turned into apartments and flats with even more capacity for people may not necessarily bad, but when space is brought down to 2 meters per person for certain population it automatically invites violence.

Karachi contains 62% of Sindh’s Urban population, 78% of formal sector jobs and generates 93% of country’s revenue. If decentralized, like local bodies, it will swallow Sindh since everything of economic value will be in Karachi and it will automatically invite violence. The benefits of decentralization will go to Muhajirs while benefits of centralization will go to Sindhis who are mostly in bureaucracy. He also stressed upon poor urban planners who design without considering people. For example flyovers are constructed without considering pedestrians and are often designed to move/relocate poor population from within the city. These poor people when relocated outside the city are made even poorer due to lack of jobs, facilities and increased travel expenditure.

Steven said the true religion for any city is the religion of real estate. Anything else is just keep people ignored and egged for violence. Aquila said with more people joining Karachi’s population it will reach 24 million and just to contrast, 25 million was the population of Iraq was US attacked (she looked pointedly at Steven Inskeep).

Session I missed:

In Conversation with Najam Sethi

Moderator: Muneed Farooq


KashmirThe session was moderated by Nasim Zehra and panel included Victoria Shofield, Najmuddin Shaikh and Idrees Lone. I made notes from this session which are as follows:

– 5% of water from the rivers (originating in Kashmir) is consumed for drinking, rest is for agriculture. The shortage of drinking water is not primarily because of shortage of rainfall or dam construction by India, but because of increase in population.

– A non-partisan evaluation is needed to Indian dams regarding flow of water and electricity generation. Indian doesn’t rely on water from these rivers, it already has plenty of rainfall

– Pakistan used to call Kashmir its part (while acknowledging that it is disputed) until 90s. Then the stance changed that Kashmiris should decide their own future

– India and Pakistan often put Kashmir issue on back burner and are now trying to find solution without changing boundaries

– If situation remains the same it will be troublesome for Pakistan but not for India. India can continue to remain the way it is since it holds larger part of Kashmir as well as controls water resources of Pakistan. The incentive for India in resolving Kashmir issue would be

a) Indians are looked as aliens in Kashmir, considering all the check posts and searches that go on

b) Financial cost of maintaining the occupation through armed forces

c) Kashmir remain central problem in making the region peaceful

– There are vested interests at both sides of the border that want to maintain status quo

– The concept of Kashmir independence need clarification. If independence of Kashmir Valley is meant, it is only 25 by 10 square miles and no way to sustain itself. If whole Kashmir is meant, Pakistan will lose Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and the important Karakoram Highway

– In India it has been accepted that 1987 elections were rigged which had triggered a wave of violence. It was catch 22 situation for India. Stones thrown at police, police does crackdown, deaths, funerals, anger and more stones thrown.

– Independence of Kashmir is impractical. Pakistan cannot let go of northern areas and India cannot lose Laddakh where significant Hindu population resides. The plebiscite or referendum may not be helpful because these areas are now used to where they are, joining the other side may not be feasible idea

Indo-Pak Discourse: Dissent and Conformity

Indo Pak DiscourseThis session was moderated by Nasim Zehra and panelists included A.G. Noorani, Jehangir Qazi and Zafar Hilaly. I remained mostly distracted throughout this session because must of what was spoken was already known to me in one form or the other but I just noted down some comments which may or may not sound worthwhile

– India sees Pakistani as illegitimate state, a bastard state and considers itself the legitimate heir to Indian legacy

– Media in India has gone haywire

– Nehru backed out of plebiscite because right-wing elements would have taken over if he had fulfilled his promise

– Any negotiations between the two countries on Kashmir without the backing of forces is impotent and forces negotiations without elected representatives’ support is sterile

– India to this day see Pakistan as a state that can destroy itself anytime. The state was suppose to finish within 6 months of independence but that didn’t happen. The issue of Sir Creek was taken up by India because it doesn’t want to conceed any territory despite the fact the issue was resolved by the Britishers even before partition

– MFN status should be tied with non-tariff barriers by India

Pakistan Through Foreign Eyes

Pakistan Through Foreign EyesThis was an interesting session which was moderated by Cyril Almeida and panel included Declan Walsh, Hasnain Kazim and Yassin Musharbash. Both Hasnain and Yassin belong to Germany, one being German born Pakistani and other German born Syrian. Hasnain had recently finished a 4 year assignment and was leaving for Germany.

Hasnain asked a very valid question from the audience and that is why are you obsessed with what others think about you? Declan Walsh worked for Guardian earlier on and now was working with New York Times and he shared his journalistic experience. Yassin had spent only 3 days in Pakistan and knew little about the country itself, though being an expert on global terrorism he had a good overview.

All three journalists maintained that it was difficult to talk about Pakistan without bringing in some form of terror or when writing about Al Qaeda bringing in Pakistan someway or the other. They were linked somehow and Yassin gave an example. For one of his programs he asked the producer to mark on world map major terror attacks, be it 9/11 or 5/5, just mark them. The producer asked if Pakistan was to be included, he said yes. After two hours he gets a call “Cannot do it. Too many terror attacks in Pakistan to fit within the boundaries”.

He asked to filter out those with less than 20 deaths. After sometime he again gets a call “Still too many, cannot fit”. From 20 it was raised to 40, 60 and then finally at 80. This was just how much Pakistan was linked to terror and no matter how much they tried, it was simply inseparable. Moreover he said that in Germany the papers do not separate reporters from the editors. In fact the reporter is responsible for the whole story and is published as he wants it to. This was an old tradition which they maintain, therefor no reporter would want to report anything that is against journalistic values or undermine his credibility as a journalist.

This linked to Hasnain’s another remark that Pakistanis don’t know how to sell themselves to the world. Once someone from the military called him and asked why he is reporting bad things about Pakistan. Hasnain did say if there is a bomb blast then I will obviously report it. When the military person complained that he is projecting bad image of the country, Hasnain inquired what should he write about. He was suggested that he should write about stuff like Pakistan has 4 tallest mountains of the world and is 4th largest milk producer. To this Hasnain indignantly says “Should I interview a cow or something?”

Farooq Sattar Declan Walsh explained that editorial team was separate in Guardian as well as in New York Times. While he worked well with Guardian’s team, the experience was different at NYT and he fears he successful pissed off people here as well as there (and got himself stuck in between). He said there is no policy of showing Pakistan as militant or ultra conservative like Saudi or Iran or even terror creating country. In fact he and other panelists stressed that terror stories do not sell and now whenever the name of Pakistan or word terror is heard, people do not watch it or read it because they do not want to be depressed. It is getting hard for the foreign journalists to actually find something worthwhile to report.

Declan said a clear example of this was Karachi Literature Festival itself. While planned and executed in excellent fashion, all of a sudden he got call last evening that there is a blast in Quetta with 20 casualties and he should get on with the story. By the time he opened his laptop the casualties were 40, when filed the story the casualties were 50 and soon the number went even beyond. When they had a perfectly good event to cover, they ended up writing up a tragedy. Most countries would shut down for 3 weeks in shock if a terror attack of that magnitude would take place but here the festival continues despite the tragedy.

Hasnain said Pakistan is resilient to these terror attacks but it is complacent as well. If you don’t want us to report a bomb blast, why say anything to us? Why not actually stop those who are responsible for such acts. There have been several positive stories done on Pakistan, such as Edhi and his ambulance service and they have covered various spheres of life but many stories are hard to cover simply because of unavoidable conditions. If he was to write about tourist locations in Pakistan or about journey to Quetta, he would definitely end up getting emails from Germany asking his advice regarding travel plans to Pakistan. What if someone says he plans to visit Pakistan and would love to visit Quetta? What can he tell such a person especially when that city is in grips of violence?

The journalists were also united on the fact that local media was too critical of the country which is both good and bad. Although admirable, but when front page of Dawn can carry news of blasts and deaths on regular basis, why shouldn’t the foreign media? Regarding Karachi one of them said that it is like a walled city-state with politics completely different from the rest of the country. Its dynamics are completely different than other cities, especially Islamabad that lives in a bubble of its own.

During Q&A one woman stood up and shared her story of loss where her loved ones were killed in wave of target killing. This prompted the journalists to talk about the wave of violence and how they are covered in the newspapers. Yassin said in most cases the perpetrators get a lot more attention than the victims and this has become a journalistic debate as to what is better, giving more focus to perpetrators or to the victims. He gave the example of 9/11 where names of the hijackers are memorized but no one can come up with 10 names among the victims.

ToffeeTV Kahani Time/A Carrot is a Carrot: Selected Reading by Zia Mohyeddin

ToffeeTVFor the last session I decided to attend ToffeeTV Kahani Time. After listening to so much serious stuff, some time of fun and relaxation was needed. The room was full of families and Rabia Garib stood in front with a guitar, Hamza Lari and Hira Ilyas Bawahab flanking her. It was nice to see Rabia singing in Urdu and playing guitar, sweeping the children away in excitement. The play by Hamza and Hira was very good and even the elders sitting behind in the audience enjoyed too.

After the play end I realized I not young to be a child but neither am I old enough to have a child, meaning no matter how much I try I cannot keep enjoying the session since I am mentally not THERE yet, so I left and dropped in on Zia Mohyeddin’s reading. It was a fantastic experience listening to him describe the Bridal Room as Dressing Room for a character and women keep on barging in, accidently or deliberately. His tone was superb and reading enthralling, and I thoroughly enjoyed the little I heard.

Once he stopped (session was not over yet), I left the hall and wandered aimlessly for few minutes. There was still time for George Galloway’s speech and although the lure of listening to him once more was great, my lethargy was greater. Three days of festival had taken its toll on my mind and I decided to head back home.


The experience of Karachi Literature Festival 2013 was simply great and I don’t have a single complaint (except that my friends didn’t attend). The variety of books was great, the sessions were great and there was plenty to listen. From Cricket Writing session to Amar Jaleel’s talk, all was good. Particularly thankful to Espresso’s coffee and burger that sustained me on the first day and the rest of the two days as well. I also got the chance to get my books signed:

– Steven Inskeep for Instant City

– A.G. Noorani for Jinnah and Tilak

Best KLF ever

9 thoughts on “Return of the Literature Festival(s)

  1. aishbilal

    and i missed all these moments again 😦 iam dying tp attend this festival but due to rainy weather not able to go out of my house 😦 but its really good to read about the whole detail of the festival and best of luck for your css exams ahh sigh* iam already taken these exams and but in interview i just become dumb:( any how stay blessed and all the best again 🙂

    1. Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi Post author

      It really was an incredible experience, the rain only made it more enjoyable even though it caused business loss to KFC and other companies. Wished you could have come 🙂
      And CSS exams have also started. Yesterday were the English papers, tomorrow it’s EDS and Current Affairs.

  2. aishbilal

    don’t make me jealous ;D :S all the best for all exams 🙂 when i was appeared in these exams i didn’t know the pattern 😮 i joined officer academy for this but get nothing

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