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Posts Tagged ‘Ali Abbas Zaidi’

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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First published in Islamabad Dateline

Mystifying is the turn of time, indeed. Refuted by clerics of his time, the same Bulleh Shah who was refused burial in his community graveyard is quoted by contemporary mullahs and holds worldwide reverence today.

Same can be said for all mystic poets who lived to challenge the rigid interpretation of religion prevailing in their times.

One wonders if he would have been charged for blasphemy and assassinated like Taseer or Bhatti if Bulleh were to say ‘whatever is in the heart’  in our society at present — mou’n aye baat na rehndi aye.

His words elevated his stature after death and today only few dare to challenge the great Bulleh Shah as he lays peacefully in his grave in Kasur. Elite of the city pay handsomely to be buried near the man they had once snubbed.

Bulleh Shah’s poetry is mainly colored with the philosophy of re-union with the beloved — God. He believes in serving humanity and loving beyond regions and religions, something that he does not separate from worship of God.

We can relate to him as he was a product of our society. His overwhelming audacity and almost arrogant critique of the religious orthodoxy strikes upfront. His poetry is filled with direct attacks on mullahs:

Mullah and the torch-bearer, both from the same flock
Trying to give light to others; themselves in the dark

Bulleh Shah was a humanist. He provided solutions to sociological, political, cultural and religious problems of the world around him.His words preach religious tolerance and teach the art of agreeing to disagree peacefully — something that is the need of the hour in our times as well. He embarked on the mystical journey to search God whilst describing the turmoil his homeland, Punjab, was passing through.

His poetry highlights mystical spiritual journey through four stages of Sufism — Shariat (Path), Tariqat (Observance), Haqiqat (Truth) and Marfat (Union).

He starts from the rules defined by Islam, and eventually ends up where he accepts the existence of God, everywhere, with no bias between different religions, finally experiencing union with God.

Pointing at someone else’s faith would only unveil how weak one’s faith is. Picking up guns, instead of pens to enforce your way of thinking would never have an effect that the likes of Bulleh Shah had, through their soul-searching and heart-melting poetry.

O’ Bulleh Shah let’s go there
Where everyone is blind
Where no one recognizes our caste (or race, or family name)

Unfortunately, we have not provided high accolade to this great mystic poet in our educational curriculum. He is known to the youth only through artists like Abida Parveen, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Saeen Zahoor, Junoon and Noori.

And if questioned, how Bulleh changed me? Almost every time I hear Abida Parveen giving voice to his words I can imagine him singing and dancing to please the beloved, losing his caste, because love never had a caste or sect. I find myself dancing with him, at times. I find myself criticizing the authority our society has given to clergy.

In Pakistani society, hatred and differences are usually magnified and celebrating diversity is the need of the hour. Bulleh’s message if properly infused can fight extremism and inspire about a positive change which is much needed in these troubling times.

Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
Neither Sunni nor Shia,
Let us walk the road of peace!

When inquired with Raza Rumi, an intellectual and writer based in Lahore, about his views on the importance relaying the message that Bulleh Shah gave, he replied, “Bulleh’s poetry reflects his rejection of the orthodox hold of mullahs over Islam, the nexus between the clergy and the rulers and all the trappings of formal religion that created a gulf between man and his Creator. His message is clear and pertinent for the current crisis in Pakistan where the clergy has occupied public space and is nurturing a culture of intolerance.”

Bulleh’s poetry and its innate message can be a rallying point for a progressive Pakistan where humanism can prevail. In the current dark times, we have to reclaim Bulleh Shah and introduce the rich, plural heritage of Pakistan to the youth and younger generations.

Tear down the Mosque, tear down the temple
Tear down every thing in sight
But don’t (tear down) break anyone’s heart
Because God lives there

The world is becoming polarized, with hatred being fed to masses everyday, on religious and ethnic grounds. Instead of burning it down, we have to repair the damage done — stitch by stitch and any such voice which attempts to build these ideals should be glorified if we dream to make this world a better place for coming generations. One such voice is that of Bulleh Shah.

How true were his words about his own physical death:

Bulleh Shah asaa’n marna naahi; gor pya koi hor!  [Bulleh Shah! I will not die; someone else lays in the grave]

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi


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My diary (log) was published in December issue of  Media Voice Magazine (Page 66-77)

Text version:

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi and his friends took a journey from Islamabad to the flood-affected South Punjab with relief materials on October 23. From Nature’s fury and terrorism to snack stopovers, his log speaks of varied experiences.

1700hrs (October 23, 2010)
I was en-route Lahore with three volunteers to make a delivery of relief items to flood affected South Punjab. Hammid Ali, an MBA student, Shakeel Ahsan, an HR executive and Hammad Atta, a telecom engineer were with me on the trip started from Islamabad. We would meet more volunteers in Lahore where we will have to load three trucks with relief with relief items overnight and start our journey early morning the next day.

2000hrs (October 23, 2010)
Talking about the spot-fixing scandals of Pakistani cricketers on the Motorways we had a snack-break. Everyone had his own perception of what’s happening with Pakistan cricket, and same variation of perceptions existed about socio-political problems that we were facing. One wondered, if we will ever find common grounds to move forward.

2300hrs (October 23, 2010)
Markets and hang-out places remained open till late night in Lahore unlike Islamabad which closes down by 9pm. Lahori boys get hyper on weekends and horde the roads on their bikes. Driving through the haphazard traffic wasn’t an easy task. We finally reached the whole-sale bazaar near railway station in Mughalpura, where our trucks were ready to be loaded.

0200hrs (October 24, 2010)
Trucks were loaded. More volunteers arrived from Lahore. A US –based filmographer, Yasmin accompanied us to make a documentary. We had earlier asked for two trucks. One more truck had to be arranged, which demanded huge amount. Although I was angry at the truck-driver who was being unreasonable and cashing in on our emergency need, we had no other option but to hire him.

0500 (October 24, 2010)
Trucks were on their way to Daira Deen Panah, a town adversely affected by monstrous flood water. We had time to kill, and we decided to visit Data Sahib (mausoleum of Hazrat Ali Hajveri, the famous Sufi saint). This tomb recently faced the brunt of a terrorist attack killing many. Many malangs/wanderers were sitting around the tomb, and the atmosphere was simply ecstatic. After paying homage to Data Sahib, we then had to have sizzling breakfast of halva-puri in ‘andaroon’ Lahore (old Lahore which was a walled city).
 

0800 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We are on the way to South Punjab now. In the coaster with loud music playing ‘chal way Bulleya othay chaliyeh’ singing, chatting and some playing cards. We are total 12 relief workers. I and Maryam were talking about how after Ramadan, donations have dwindled and people are not donating open-heartedly. The initial phase of immediate relief did not require as much money as the rehabilitation phase. 
 
1500 hrs [24th Oct, 2010] 
After 10 hours journey, we reached Kot Addu, whose town Daira Din Panah we had to hit. We had been here twice before, but then it took 26 hours as roads were blocked and bridges dismantled. Situation had changed as now only traces of water and its destruction remained. Our trucks were still 2 hours behind and again, after having a delicious lunch we visited the shrine of Syed Abdul Wahab Bukhari, known as Deen Panah, on whom the town was named. Locals told us how flood waters could not drown one street in their town, that was, where the shrine was located. 
 
1600 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We started making lines of flood affectees, our one team was here yesterday to distribute coupons in affected families. Now we called all of them, and asked the head of families to stand in a line. This impossible process of filtering out genuine affectees, trying to make others, who did not have the coupons understand that we cannot accommodate them due to our limited capacity was tedious and heart wrenching. Female volunteers made females stand in a line, where as, male volunteers made males stand a triple line to ensure distribution without hassle. 
 
1700 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
Now our trucks had arrived and we started the by-hand distribution process. Each victim had coupons signed and counter signed by us, along with his National ID card to ensure genuine-ness. This process continued till it was dark and after 3 hours of distribution, reaching out to 1000 families we called it a day.
 
2100 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We called this delivery, the mystical delivery as once again we decided to visit tombs of Shah Shams Tubrez and Shah Rukh ne Alam in Multan after having dinner at Pizza Hut. The driver and conductor with us strangely took interest in trying ‘how a pizza tastes like’. We went to the tombs, which are located adjacent to each other and had never seen such tight security ever before. Police officials told us, this area was under threat from terrorists, who had been on ‘blast a shrine’ spree. An old woman sat infront of Tubrez’s shrine, asked us to go back to Lahore and pay homage to Data Ali Hajveri on her behalf. 
 
2300 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
Now we were on our way back to Lahore. On our minds, the sad faces of victims who had nothing left. Schools, hospitals, homes – all washed away. Another thing that continually became a topic of discussion was our nations reaction to national disasters which showed a ‘sudden burst of patriotism and then relative numbness’. Such was the case with Pakistan floods 2010. When the disaster struck, immediate emergency relief aide needed was nothing compared to what’s needed for rehabilitating 22 Million affected souls. Regular stops were made on juice corners, truck driver hotels and pan-shops on our way back as we had no deadline to meet. Most of us were so exhausted that we went to sleep in our coaster. Others continued to ‘fight’ on issues such as cricket, Zardari, US involvement in our internal affairs and what not.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is an aeronautical engineer, a poet and a social activist who is the founding force & chairperson of Pakistan Youth Alliance(http://www.pya.org.pk/). He can be found tweeting @Ali_Abbas_Zaidi (http://twitter.com/#!/Ali_Abbas_Zaidi) & is available on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/aliabbaszaidi

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Earlier, I wrote now the International Community should DO MORE! 

And to further the notion, today Gaurdian published guide to Pakistan v Haiti. Which Disaster Got More Aid?

Crossposting the statistics of International reponse to these two devastating natural disasters:

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My interview with The News regarding shortage of donations after Ramazan, for flood victims.

By Rabia Ali
 Karachi
Citizen donations for the 20 million flood victims are fast drying up in a period where relief and welfare organisations are aiming to begin reconstruction of flood-hit areas, The News has learnt.
Fundraising campaigns had received an overwhelming response during the holy month of Ramzan, when the flood victims needed to be fed and accommodated, but social workers now complain that those who donated generously in the holy month have ceased to donate relief items and cash.

 
This has put relief efforts in jeopardy, as humanitarian organisations and groups are facing hardships in aiding the resettlement of survivors back in their hometowns.
Ali Abbas of the Pakistan Youth Alliance said that after Ramzan, they have been able to raise only Rs2 million as compared to Rs20 million raised during the holy month. “We need billions of rupees for the rehabilitation of the survivors but somehow, people have forgotten about the plight of these people and have stopped donating,” he said.

Abbas narrated that the PYA wanted to rebuild a school in Nowshera which was destroyed by the floods, but the lack of funding has made them unable to do so. “This is the world’s worst humanitarian disaster as thousands of people have been rendered homeless and penniless. The media and social activists should keep on reminding that public that the IDPs need their help continuously and the process of donating should not stop,” he said.

Moez Premani of Karachi Relief Trust urged people to help them into reconstructing houses for the homeless. “We are now in the construction phase, where houses would be built in parts of interior Sindh for the flood survivors. For that, we need the support of the citizens into contributing towards the noble cause. Those who can afford can also adopt villages and assist us into resettling them,” he explained.
Al-Khidmat Welfare Society Secretary Tanvirullah Khan told The News that donations received after Eid are merely two per cent of the Rs100 million that the organisation acquired during Ramazan.
“People have simply stopped contributing as they think that they have fulfilled their responsibility by paying Zakat in Ramzan to the flood survivors. The public should realise that the magnitude of the disaster is gigantic, and it is now that the affected need our help the most,” he said.

Khan argued that the affected people have started heading back to their native hometowns, and thus, organisations are in dire need of monetary donations in order to build thatched huts, concrete houses, schools and mosques.

Z.A. Shah, the disaster management manager of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, blamed the media for creating a pejorative perception of relief efforts. “The media does not highlight the positive work of the relief organisations, and keeps on showing that the internally displaced people (IDPs) are not getting any aid. This false perception is creating distrust among those who donate to social organisations, and they feel that since their donations are not reaching the public, it is useless to contribute,” he lamented.
Shah added that non-governmental organisations are witnessing a massive decline in their fundraising campaigns, and hoped that people would once again come forward to help.
 

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My tweet was quoted in Daily Times today, regarding Musharraf and the show he pulled in yesterday:

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My interview with the BBC regarding Pakistan floods and relief work bring done and how can it managed in a better way:

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