Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for October, 2011

First published: Al Jazeera English [for series of docu-films on youth activism in 08 countries, called ‘activate’. Ours airs on 25th oct, at 1030 GMT 

I grew up in a country enshrouded in uncertainty, being taught a distorted version of history as part of a school curriculum that incited religious hatred. It was a country that endorsed almost anything, social or political, in the name of religion; where state organs coloured geo-strategic shifts in ‘holy’ flavour; where the intelligentsia fathered militant organisations; where the right-leaning media propagated conspiracy theories; and where public sentiment sanctioned militancy by calling for intervention beyond borders.

How can I forget the banners hanging in the main marketplaces of Pakistan calling out for ‘Jihad’ against whomsoever they deemed an ‘infidel’? I grew up listening to the clerics for whom every other sect within Islam was heretical, to news of attacks on shrines, mosques and religious festivals, to dictators who extended their stay in office for personal gain – with corruption plaguing every walk of life, mob mentality justifying acts of violence and the judiciary serving selective justice.

I grew up in a country battling wars, natural disasters, corruption, religious and social intolerance, disease, poverty, illiteracy and ideological perplexity. But it was also a very resilient environment. I cannot name any other country that has faced such multi-faceted problems with such intensity. If we were not struggling to infest democratic norms and a culture of peace and mutual coexistence, we were battling the biggest humanitarian crisis in all of modern history.

But there would not be opportunity if it were not for crisis. The future is what we make of the present; and the past offers us an opportunity to learn from our errors. Realising the individual’s importance in the collective life of a neighbourhood, city, province, country and, consequently, as a global citizen is the defining moment that instigates ‘change’.

Change is within, however concealed by incompetence and naivety. Trying to ‘be the change’ turned me and some of my friends into activists who battled dictatorship and media blackouts, who stood up against extremism amid threats and insecurities, who were chased around and harassed by the very agencies that should have protected us, who rallied for peace when the masses were victims of war-mongering, who have reached out to more than 70,000 displaced families with material relief. Much of the time, these amazing youngsters have been pro-active rather than re-active in their activism.

Unprecedented acknowledgements by the United Nations, the government of Pakistan or by international media outlets are no milestones when compared to the fact that what started as a Facebook group in 2007 as the result of a few exuberant young minds now gives a voice to thousands.

More than 100 million aged under 24, a youth bulge unparalleled in the world, cannot be made a liability. This is the future of Pakistan and the future of a region in which one-fifth of humanity dwells. Turning crisis into opportunity will mean transforming 65 per cent of the population of Pakistan into pro-active citizens agreeing to disagree peacefully; making them realise their potential as individuals and then as a collective force to be reckoned with.

Some believe that Pakistan’s prospects have dimmed over the past few years and that there is no hope. But we believe that only stormy weather makes good sailors and only the most vigorous of rubs polishes the best of gems.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi can be found on twitter and facebook and is the founder and chair of the Pakistan Youth Alliance.

Read Full Post »

Crossposted from my piece on Dawn on Yaser Abbas and mentions on Newsline Magazine’s blog reg PNS Mehran attack.

The night of Sunday, May 22, 2011, will be remembered as one of the most haunting nights in the history of Pakistan. While Pakistan was still reeling from the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2, the 16-hour operation against terrorists at PNS Mehran served to add salt to the wounds of the nation.

At 10:40 pm I received a message from some course mates while having dinner together that a “P3-C Orion has been hit”. I tweeted this instantly, seeking confirmation from the media as I did not know whether the aircraft was hit in the air or on ground. This was the first and last message I would hear from my friends, who were now engaged in the operation.

At 12:54 am my social media feed read: My junior Lt Yaser and guards in his Squad are in the operation theater, the doctors are not confirming their condition, but saying that they have been shot – O negative blood is needed at PNS Rahat.

Just a few minutes later, we learnt that our brave junior had breathed his last. A couple of my close friends had also been shot.

I remember playing cricket with Yaser; he was an amazing athlete and one of the brightest students at the College of Aeronautical Engineering, Risalpur.

His course mate Abdullah talks about his personality:

“I haven’t known a more genuine person. The academy really puts you to test and only a fortunate few come out victorious. Lt. Syed Yaser Abbas represented the best of his kind and always managed to pass with flying colors. As per tradition, we called him ‘Naval Yaser’ (since he was part of the Pakistan Navy). Yaser was very close to me. Any person who has been at a boot-camp, will realise that when we call our course mates, our brothers, we mean it in the truest sense.

Ever since the PNS attack, I have endlessly recalled and relived the memorable times I have spent with Yaser – teasing seniors, late night gatherings, group study sessions, sitting on the roof-top chatting until late night, watching T20 world cup matches, mast qalandar sessions and the MOHA, CS gaming sessions – the list is endless. Yaser would also be early to bed the night before an exam, while we crammed but somehow he still managed to get better grades than us. He was also the one in the group who always had a bag of eatables on hand.

Yaser’s most distinctive feature was perhaps his loud, hearty laugh that could be heard long before anyone saw him coming. He always insisted he was an introvert back home, but we never really got to see that side of him. He was always joking and fooling around.

Spontaneity was his forte. Yaser executed unplanned, last-minute trips with ease. He never shied away from helping anyone who asked for his help. Even if you asked him at 3 am to come over, there he would be with his car.

All of us had been, in the last four months, planning a reunion. Just a day before the PNS Mehran attack, Yaser told me, he probably wouldn’t be able to make it for the reunion because his leaves had been postponed. He asked that we carry on without him, to which I replied that we could wait until he was granted leave. Who would have known then, that he would be the cause of our much-awaited reunion. May Allah bless his soul.”

Yaser was chatting with his friend, Umair before resuming duty that night. His last Facebook status update reads: finding it hard to bear the unbearable, need guts!

And much like the proverbial teaching in the military: no guts, no glory – his bravery, courage and sacrifice will be remembered for a long time to come.

Written on the walls of College of Aeronautical Engineering are the words ‘The Few, The Proud’. Yaser is most certainly among the few who have made his college and everyone who knew him proud by being nominated for the Nishan-e-Haider.

With the media coverage Yaser has received, he may be known to many as the face of the PNS Mehran attack, but there are tens of thousands of young men like him who have died fighting for their country.

Terrorist sympathisers are quick to point out that it is the US who has brought their war into Pakistan among other defenses for these heinous attacks of terrorism. In the face of haunting attacks such as that on PNS Mehran, even the thought of a terrorist sympathiser among us is appalling.

I believe nothing can be more tragic for a nation, which is still confused about who their real heroes are.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is an aeronautical engineer, a poet and a social activist who is the founding force & chairperson of the Pakistan Youth Alliance. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

— interview on Channel News Asia

Read Full Post »