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Archive for the ‘General Utterances’ Category

First published in the youth magazine, Laaltain.

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When one thinks of sacrifice, two historical figures stand above the rest – Jesus Christ and Imam Hussein. Jesus, according to Christian belief, climbed the cross to save humanity, while Imam Hussein offered himself to the desolate desert of Karbala to uphold certain values and rights. Imam Hussein’s sacrifice however remains singularly distinctive, as human history knows of no other individual who sacrificed not just himself but his entire kith and kin for a higher cause, a greater struggle.

I will not go on at length about the events that took place in Karbala, but the significance of a 1400-year old incident that still inspires organized activism around the world cannot be doubted.

There are times when one loses interest in a struggle, or the charm of the cause one stands for begins to fade away. Hopelessness creeps in, urging us to just give up. But it is precisely at such moments that our will is tested. How we then choose to respond is not only a testament of our resolve but a defining moment, because what we stand for defines who we ultimately become.

Pakistan is going through upsetting times, but the fight is not over just yet.

If outcomes were determined solely on the basis of greater resources or numbers, Karbala would have been a forgotten story. But the truth of the matter is that the alam (banner) of Hussein’s army, which was carried by the fallen Abbas Alamdar (standard-bearer) in Karbala, is visible in streets, villages and metropolises even today. I have personally witnessed the overwhelming effect on people that the story of Karbala has had. This is as clear a proof as any that strength is not derived from material advantage, but more often than not, is a result of un-wavering belief in one’s struggle and an unshakeable will. Perhaps the poet who penned these lines said it best:

Aik pal ki thi bus hakumat Yazeed ki /
Sadiyan Hussein ki hain, zamana Hussein ka

The future does not exist in the present, nor has it been promised to any of us. The glorious past depicted in the (distorted) books of history cannot be conjured, no matter how hard one tries. Thus all we truly have is the present – a present which reveals that 100 million-strong youth of Pakistan are yearning for a better tomorrow.

If the current situation of Pakistan were to be compared to a season, I would say it is like autumn. Autumn is when nightingales are melancholic because their gardens have lost spirit. Late-autumn days are thought-provoking; the shadows that fallen yellow leaves cast are overcome by hope that fresh ones in their place will bear a better garden.

As I currently complete a fellowship miles away from home in Europe, I yearn to return as soon as possible. I miss the struggle I saw on the streets of Pakistan every day. Every woman, man and child is a warrior fighting for their right to the basic necessities of life, and sometimes even their right to live. Even if some have given up, a vast majority still carries on. Every day they wake up to challenge a corrupt system, an unjust judiciary and an insecure security establishment. The astonishing thing is that most of them have not lost hope and continue to believe in ‘change’.

I have travelled all over Pakistan in the last few years, working on the ground with different communities and addressing a variety of issues. The smiles that appear on the faces of such people despite all their troubles, the courage that I see in the face of adversity and the will to carve out a better life and a better country resonates in every corner. We battled through the worst natural disasters of modern history, we ousted dictators, fought for our democratic rights – we are in the midst of a war that has caused unprecedented damage to our social fabric, but despite the extremism and intolerance that threatens our way of life, we find a way to co-exist in this melting pot of languages, ethnicities, cultures and ideologies that we call Pakistan.

The struggle that we see on the streets every day relays a silent message of hope; we might just find treasure in the ruin. The harsh conditions we face might end up helping us as the relentless rubs might polish the gems in us. The cracks in our society might be the opening points for light to enter. We only have to believe and shrug off the fear of failure, for even if we don’t succeed, we have a chance to fail better. We need to learn from Karbala how not to lose the most important resource we are gifted with: our determination.

Har daur apnay saath laata hai aik Yazeed
Har daur ku zarurat rahay gi Hussein ki

May the right to witness the spring, the yearning for true love and the event of Karbala inspire us to take Pakistan forward.

To every autumn, spring
To every heart, true love
To every struggle, Karbala

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi 

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First published in South Asia Global Affairs magazine

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The youth of Pakistan is a force full of vitality and enthusiasm. However, if consistently distanced and belittled, it could lose its energy and become a liability rather than an asset.

The ways of the world have changed;
The tune is new, instruments have changed;
Free your mind from mental slavery;
Make the young, masters of the old.
– Alama Iqbal

Today, every 40th person in this world is a Pakistani. Some 68% of the country’s population is below the age of 25, making youth an important factor in an increasingly fragile society. In fact, Pakistan’s youth alone could constitute the world’s 12th largest country. Such statistics signify the importance of young people in Pakistan; a valuable yet troublesome bulge that will indeed continue to be visible well into the mid 2020s.

The youth is often considered to be an optimistic constituent, with dreams and guided by fervor and hope. However, in Pakistan, while the numbers are high, negativity prevails. One need not go far as this trend has permeated local news channels, dominates newspaper headlines and features prominently in conversations at the mass level on any local, regional or national issue.

Education is hard to attain for most of them, health facilities are scarce and economic and social justice is simply not available for the majority. Inflation is slowly squeezing the lower and middle classes, electricity has become a luxury commodity, CNG and petrol pumps are often not operational and hunger and poverty cripple an already desperate and discontented society. In the midst of all of this, the ugly head of corruption rears itself.

Adding salt to the wound is the all-powerful threat of extremism, which is rapidly permeating an unstable economy and shaky society. Extremism is evident in recurring incidences of religious, ethnic and social intolerance. Terrorism has left more than 40,000 dead in the last decade and the Pakistani society still struggles to challenge the radical narrative, in word and spirit.

Despite the thousands of challenges Pakistan faces, this dominant section of the population, namely youth, can serve as a trump card for the future success of the country since more than 105 million people, nearly two-thirds of the entire population, comprises youth.

This section of society can become a game-changer for Pakistan and the entire region. However, if their voice is ignored and their issues not addressed, it will not be long before their despondency turns into sheer hopelessness and transforms into a mass revolt. While much hope can be placed in the youth of Pakistan, they are still nothing more than a wild card. Depending on the conditions, this huge cohort of young people can prove to be a challenge as well, either leading to conflict and violence or opening the window to new opportunities

It is critical to remember though, that the existing youth bulge grew up in troubling times and is living in even more testing circumstances. The elders of their society were not able to broaden their world-view, empower the young with the mental faculty to look for errors within and consequently be a part of the solution, rather than becoming a part of the problem.

Every mistake made was instantly blamed on a foreign conspiracy, cementing the ‘victim’ mentality. The consequent identity crisis was never subjected to an intellectual and vibrant discourse to pave the way for an ideological coherence. The youth is essentially a victim of societal trend that undermines young talent, ignores its voice in national discourse and fails to understand that in their individual and collective lives, they might not want the kind of future their elders may want them to have. Never being able to cultivate a role in their communities, the youth has never had the opportunity to hone its leadership potential and become the future stakeholders in Pakistan.

Battling this clash of generations, the youth of the country, equipped with technological advancements, is ready to break free and work towards a more prosperous and evolving society. Traveling across Pakistan and working for the Pakistan Youth Alliance has unveiled for this writer the struggle that Pakistani youth are (unknowingly) engaged in. This perhaps is the first step towards Pakistan’s empowered youth involved in the decision-making process of its communities, cities, provinces and, subsequently, the country.

In many ways, the youth of Pakistan is in a desperate search for ways to improve the lives of 190 million people and find common ground between different segments of Pakistani society. The youth today is more vocal, critical and aware of its circumstances such as debating false nationalism or questioning the role of intelligence agencies. The youth has risen as an important player in Pakistan and has played a pivotal role in the democratic history of Pakistan. Swarming on to streets the youth today debates rigid theological interpretations and politicization of religion, illustrating pluralistic tendencies in the masses.

Scores of youth-centric organizations have sprung up and most major political parties have vibrant youth wings that in 2010 and 2011, bravely battled adverse weather conditions to deliver relief to victims of floods.

The diversity that Pakistan boasts of from Karachi to Khyber, the resilience that the Pakistani nation illustrates and the untested sea of youth potential that Pakistan asserts, makes one a strong believer in a ‘better’ future of Pakistan.

But this cannot be done in isolation. The older generation needs to broaden opportunities for the young to develop the human capital through knowledge and advice. By giving the youth an active role in the collective lives of neighborhoods, communities and the society at large, all generations can work together towards a more prosperous Pakistan.

It is up to the current stakeholders of Pakistan and the Pakistani system whether it wants to engage with and consider this youth bulge a ‘gift’ or turn its back on an opportunity that may transform into a ‘curse’, ready to rear its ugly head sooner than later.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi  is the founder of the Pakistan Youth Alliance, CEC at Khudi Pakistan and  community lead at Hosh Media.

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Cross posting documentary made on me & PYA by Al-Jazeera English, highlighting some of the work we do.

 

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First published: Ceasefire magazine UK

The past decade has seen millions marching against the Iraq invasion and other wars, millions more helping and being helped as natural and man-made disasters struck from Japan to America. Just in 2011 alone – much to the amazement of political and social scientists – we witnessed the street revolutions of the Arab Spring. A revolutionary wave of demonstrations not only toppled decades-old dictatorships but have prompted a healthy ‘culture of debate’, across the world.

These protests shared a number of common techniques of civil resistance, through sustained campaigns involving strikes, demonstrations, marches and rallies, as well as the use of social media to organise, communicate, and raise awareness in the face of state attempts at repression and media/internet censorship.

The Arab Spring confirmed the significance of the power a “common” man or woman can possess. Dictionaries and historical narratives have undermined the usage of the word ‘activism’. It is now usually understood to be intentional efforts to bring about social, political, economic, religious or environmental change. Activities that are usually understood to be ‘activist’ in nature include protests, walks and demonstrations. This is only partially correct.

Activism is not necessarily about ‘change’ for change’s sake, activism also exists to maintain and protect the valuable freedoms and rights secured through the sacrifices and resistance of those before us. Activism is not only rebellious protests challenging authority but a broad set of activities to meet clear ends and objectives, to instigate a debate in society, and therefore to continuously meet evolving circumstances.

As such, it might not necessarily involve any ‘protesting’ at all. Let us remember that not everything that calls itself “activist” is inherently positive in its nature. Many “activist” groups and organisations across the world work diligently towards outcomes that others would hardly describe as ‘positive’.

Possibly due to the confusion that surrounds the word, historians have not been able to produce a ‘history of activism’. And yet, shouldn’t we start seeing our own common history of mankind as precisely that? A ‘history of activism’? After all, human history and progress have been built, in one way or other, upon various types of “activism,” all the way back to when the first human being stepped on earth.

Every one of us is affected by the happenings around us. From bad drainage across the street to extremist organisations propagating intolerance. From domestic state policies that need to be opposed to Imperial oppression that should be resisted – everyone is affected. Some feel the need to ‘do something’ and try to challenge, inspire and lead whilst others, convinced that one voice, one action, or one person are helpless against the enormity of the task, resign themselves to do nothing instead. The former are called ‘activists’, the latter I call ‘slacktivists’.

With advances in telecommunications and internet technology, we are more exposed to information than ever before. With a sudden burst of social networking sites, we are more powerful than ever before. The ease with which digital activism can be the driving force behind tangible output is awe-inspiring. Blogging is already the new face of media: we all can be journalists and activists. The only ingredient that distinguishes an activist from a slacktivist is the will and the desire to do it.

Of course, it’s not all about marches and campaigns. Volunteer work for a social cause is an equally valid way to alleviate poverty, fight corruption or to ensure equal rights of education and health facilities to all.

Complaining about contemporary state of affairs is easy; trying to work towards how you envision your society, country or world ought to be is the real test. As we move further and faster towards a more globalised world, with technology that enables us to matter beyond our mere physical borders, we as global citizens need to realise that we matter. And activism, in whatever form, is the spark that leads to the streets, to the ‘change’ that we, the global masses, aspire towards.

Some believe an activist is born and cannot be ‘made’. I don’t: every man and woman is born an activist. Whether we admit it or not, it is carved in our common history and, whether we like or not, it will define the future of our humanity.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is featured in ‘Activate’ a new series on Al Jazeera English following activists

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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.

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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

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First published in The Islamabad Dateline on 22nd June, 2011

Islamabad is just perfect, except that it does not have rickshaws. For the rest of Pakistan rickshaws remain to be the most popular means of transportation.

The exuberance and joy of a topsy turvy ride aside, one is most intrigued by ‘rickshaw art’ which gives a blunt insight into what a common man of Pakistan really thinks.

Rickshaws are usually decorated from bumper to bell. The front end is religious while the backboard serves as the focal point of more broad based artistry like rural scenes, animals, flowers, pictures of inspirational leaders, monuments, religious symbols and poetry.

The final look of rickshaw varies as per taste of the owner. The most important aspect of the rickshaw art is perhaps the poetry written on it. Some verses and quotations written on the back of these fast moving-three wheeler vehicles are collected below:

• Maalik Ki Gaadi Driver Ka Paseena – Chalti Hai Road Par Ban Kar Haseena

• Buri Nazar Wale, Tera Moonh Kala

• Qismat Aazma Chuka, Muqadar Aazma Raha Hoon – Aik Bewafa Ki Khatir Riksha Chala Raha Hoon

• Kabhee Side Say Aatee Ho Kabhee Peechay Se Aatee Ho – Meree Jaan Horn Day Day Kar Mujhay Tum Kyon Satatae Ho

• Pappu Yaar Tang Na Ker!

• Zehreeli Nagan

• Koi Jal Gaya, Kisi Nain Dua Di

• Main Phir Aaon Ga

• Tappar Hai To Paar Kar Warna Bardaasht Kar

• Dekh Magar Pyar Se!

• Khatharnaak Rambo

• Horn Day Ker Paas Kerain

• Chal Dhanno

• Phir Milayngay

• Akhri Shahzada

• Tera Jadoo Chal Gya

• Hosh Ker Kherghosh

• Wo Dekho Mastani Ja Rahi Hai

• Zid Meri Majboori hai

• Ae Eagle tujhay qasam hai himmat na harna, jaisi bhi fizaen aen hans k fly karna.

• Zindagi ne aik baar phir dulha bana dia

• Aag aggay waikh pichaay na waikh

• Palat kar daikh zalim tamana hum bhi rakhtay hain.

• Fasla rakh warna mohabbat hojaegi

• Shikar karma hai to ankhon se kar, talwar mein kia rakha hai-safar karma hy to rickshaw mein kar car mein kia rakha hai.

• Chalay jasso ya chhor avan

• Zid na kar sonhaya main aap bara ziddi aan

• Bismillah Parr Kar Swar Hoon Shaid Yeh Aap Ki Zindgi Ka Akhri Safar Ho

• Model 2010 Raftaar 65 KM Fee Ghantta

• Tu Lang Ja Saddi Khair Ey

While some are just plain humorous others are overwhelmingly political and sarcastic:

Cantt say guzartay huway horn ahista bajaen, Pak Fouj soh rahi hai

Roti 2 Rs. CNG 100 Rs – Khadim e Ala, day zara jawab!

“Agar Rabb ne Chaaha to manzil tak pohancha doonga, aur agar aankh lag gai tou Rabb se hee milwa doonga”

• Sawari labbay na labbay, Speed aik so nabbay (190)

• Jis ne Maan ko Sataya Uss ne rikshaw chalaya

• Chal Pagli Sajan Ke Dais

• Lag jai te Rozi na lagaay too Roza

• ”Teri Yad Aie Teray Janay Ky Baad”

• ” Pak Foj Ko Salam”

• ”Mint Di Fursat Nai Dheelay Di Amdan Nai”

• ” Kharchay Malkan de Nakhray Lokan Dy”

• “Dollar Ki Talash Mein”

• “Haseenon Sy Nafrat Piyar Sy Toba”

• ” Baba Easy Load Ghawari” (Pushto)

• ”Baba Pa Khafa Ki Ghi” (Pushto)

• ” Zid Na Kur Sohneya Time Sadi Majboori Aye”

• ”Jeenay Nai Doon Ga”

And while truck art is entertaining, sometimes it lends out an  honest advice as well:

• Aye admi haram khana chor dey

tyre mehngay hain race lagana chor dey

• Mera sheher, Mansehra

• Afridi Tayyara

• Kabhi to aao na Sargodha, surmaa laga ke

• Pakhtunkhwa Khappay Khappay Khappay!

But if I were to compare rickshaw ramblings to truck quotes, one notion that becomes distinctly clear is that the truck drivers are mostly a ‘heart-broken’ lot with their poetry divulging into melancholic seriousness. Ata Ullah Esa Khelvi, who is famous for his sad numbers is a favourite of truck drivers and is played from Karachi to Khyber. He doesn’t enjoy the same support from rickshaw-drivers community who are more into Abrar Ul Haq and the likes.

If you want to learn about what Pakistan is all about, ride a rickshaw during rush hours through busy streets and markets but don’t forget to talk to the driver about anything on your mind and get a reflection from the back end of his ride. And yes, one more thing, never tell him to drive fast.

 
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