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Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan Youth Alliance’

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 (with edits) in Newsline – Pakistan (August, 2013 issue)under “Pakistan of My Dreams” — rants of Pakistanis about how they want to see Pakistan..

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There was another attack on Hazara Shia community few hours ago. News of nepotism in PIA promotions, dishonest commentary on Abbottabad Commission Report, obfuscation of ills that plague our society and video of an elderly beaten up for not fasting by a mob is doing rounds on every TV channel I flip. My plan to escape load shedding by staying out did not work as electricity is not back on and I am contemplating how to influence this government officer at Qasim Port Karachi tomorrow; he is asking for “favors” to release hospital supplies for disaster struck victims in Khyber Pakhtunkhua.

“Pakistan has collapsed and things will only get worse from here.” This pervasive negativity prevails in every nook and corner of Pakistan. But I have reasons to disagree.

I know of this Sunni family who saved lives of 150 Shia passengers in Gilgit when militants were offloading Shia passengers and killing them. I lost my dear friend and fellow activist Irfan Khudi Ali in a terrorist attack in Quetta but activists in my organization the Pakistan Youth Alliance and from Hazara community have still not lost hope and advocating for their right to live. I know some great journalists and analysts pestering upon internal reforms using the same media platforms. I know many honest government employees. I have seen people doing amazing work throughout Pakistan. How can I ignore the miraculous resilience, urge for redemption and desire to better prevalent societal norms I have seen from Karachi to Swat?

We speak in more than 300 dialects and languages. We have a glaring sectarian divide. Our skin tone varies from dark to pink-white. We boast distinct cultures and some of the oldest civilizations of the world. We are diverse in every sense of the word. In a multi-layered class-identity-ethnic-religious web, our diversity is a huge advantage. We have to see potential in our differences. We have to see how efforts to disunite us make us find ways to co-exist, and we do.

A positive change in the society reflects on the system. The only way to move forward is to change our mindsets from problem identifiers to problem solvers.

I remain hopeful in Pakistan, knowing that there are Pakistanis who are not affected by what’s wrong but are willing to stand up for what’s right. Every 40th person in the world is a Pakistani. Imagine the potential we harness through our experiences, ideas and skills. We have to start the conversation which inspires innovative solutions to the plethora of problems we face as a society. A telephone line man asking for bribe to fix your connection is not influenced by the Presidency to do so. We have to take those decisions in our daily lives in terms of how we relate to one another. We have to figure out how to engage with each other and how to drive home with solutions, not just problems. All of us have to find our focus in walking the talk rather than just talking.

We have to start tolerating conflicting religious and political ideologies. We have to learn to respect exclusiveness and pester upon inclusiveness. We have to realize that we are in this boat together.

We need to instigate urgency in doing as just thinking is not enough. We are our only hope and we have to keep our hope alive!

Dil mein kuch soz-e-tamanna ke nishan milte hain

Iss andhere mein ujale ke samaan milte hain

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is the founding chairman of Pakistan Youth Alliance. He also represents Khudi Pakistan. He tweets @ali_abbas_zaidi

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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: 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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Express Tribune:

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice and heartwarming melodies intoxicated the audience at a much-awaited fund raiser Tuesday night, with die hard fans singing along and swaying to the music…

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, president PYA, in his address to the guests gave a heart-felt and dedicated message. He added, “We are here to raise funds, but despite that, we’ve had politicians and bureaucrats asking us for favours to let them in for free. We have taken a lot from this country, but now it is time to give something back.”

The News:

The purpose of this event was to initiate school renovation drive. As per UN, 10,000 schools were destroyed by floods. Top politicians, businessmen, diplomats and celebrities were in attendance as Rahat mesmerised the audience with his melodious tunes. Mahesh Bhatt turned up with Indian delegation to grace the occasion..

Pakistan Youth Alliance Chairperson Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi delivered a speech, which made the audience emotional, he said “pointing at ‘decision-makers’ of our society who were seeking free passes for a charity concert, is this the example elders of our society are setting for our future generations? We have been harassed by politicians and bureaucrats for obliging them in a charity concert. We have taken a lot from this country, lets try to give something back now!”

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First published in The Islamabad Dateline on 24.02.2010

Raymond Davis has been on the front-page of newspapers for quite sometime now. He will remain to be, till the parties involved extract their ulterior motives out of the issue and us, the ignorant sheep will dance to the tune of the shepherd, as planned.

The British newspaper that broke the news of Raymond being a CIA spy quotes: The New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and other media outlets reported for the first time that Davis is a CIA employee. They said they had been aware of his status but kept it under wraps at the request of US officials

The American media outlets, who cry about “freedom of press” every now and then, only gathered the audacity to report the same after London-based newspaper had broken the story.

American media’s mum-ness and Pakistani media’s hue and cry over Raymond Davis’s CIA links puts a big question mark on freedom of press, both here and in the US.

Youth all over Pakistan are disgruntled and angry over Raymond Davis. Protests are being planned out throughout the country, and if set free, the government will find it hard to control the street agitation. But some important points to be considered before coming out on streets:

Do we seriously think the mighty Intelligensia of Pakistan was un-aware of Raymond Davis and others working within our borders?  I mean, a British newspaper is more ‘intelligent’ than the agencies that need to be checking exactly the likes of Raymond? Are we sharing Intelligence and receiving billions of dollars for signed contracts and only way to make those who become a nuisance, flee is by creating public backlash by orchestrating such drama, on the street?  Do we think that our boys are not monitoring diplomats, and that too of Raymond’s history and profile?

More puzzling is the Raymond’s link with banned terrorist outfits and his potential link to drone strikes. America is striking Taliban with drone attacks, but their top spy in the country has links with Taliban and has been visiting them quiet often? The riddle is yet to be fully solved, one wonders if it ever will be solved as American media still had the guts to acknowledge it with-held information, our media still cries of being “free”.

We are living in troubling times of wars between intelligence agencies and our collective energies need to be directed at finding common grounds in rallying for democracy, in trying to infest democratic norms in our society, in working for freedom of judiciary and media, in rallying against extremism and in finding peace within, before aspiring to have peace outside.

Let us not be carried away by “spy-games” as not everybody loves Raymond, in that world.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is an aeronautical engineer by force, an activist by mind, a wanderer by soul & a lover by heart.

Geo News released today: Davis row creates rift between ISI, CIA

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Ink Magazine’s Jan-March issue interviews me in detail regarding PYA:

1) What lead to the formation of Pakistan Youth Alliance in 2007?

Pakistan Youth Alliance was my dream. I dreamt to matter, I dreamt to give a platform to 62 % population of Pakistan i.e the youth. I yearned to “live the change” I wanted to see around me. The melting point was emergency proclamation during Musharraf’s government when everything went black and we were forced to be ignorant, by barring media. This tyranny by that regime became a blessing in disguise for the likes of me as the ignorant youth in me became this activist who wanted to play a part in our future.

2) What is the aim and ideology of your organization?

We aim to unite the youth of Pakistan, irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, caste, race or language, on an unbiased platform through which they could contribute in nation building processes in their limited capabilities. We wish to create political and social awareness amongst the youth of Pakistan. We want to provide a platform to the youth through which, they can raise their voices against injustice, exploitation and other social ills of our society.We also, engage youth in constructive and healthy activities through which their positive energies are synergized. We enlighten the youth to feel responsible for this country and prepare them for future leadership tasks. Protest against any stance taken by any authority to destabilize Pakistan or hurt the national integrity. We through many medoums spread the message of enlightenment, hope, responsibility and patriotism to masses through unconventional but effective mediums like music, poetry, prose and art. We aspire to create a spark in the youth of our nation by a variety of inspirational events like conferences, seminars, panel discussions, art exhibition, concerts, debates and peaceful protests. Moreover, we indulge youth in social welfare activities through fund-raising for those affected by national disasters, war or political instabilities. We try our best to bridge gaps between youth studying in different universities\colleges and bringing them together to form a collaborative force.By infesting trust and leadership skills to youth, we refine the positive attributes of youth and prepare them for challenging tasks ahead when they enter the system.

3) PYA desires to provide an unbiased platform to the youth of Pakistan, from where their voices can be conducted to the masses. What are you doing to ensure that unbiased decisions are carried out?

We have recently completed 150 events worldwide, every initiative was voluntarily implemented. To ensure every initiative is unanimously endorsed by the public, we through our Central Executive Body, which has representation from throughout Pakistan and Pakistanis living abroad, ask for prior approval. This body through 2/3rd majority gives a green signal. Almost every initiative was well received by the public and in the media. We rallied for democracy, human rights, we saluted brave martyrs and showed solidarity with victims of terrorism. We practically helped disabled, displaced and victims of disasters. We through our “Art For Change” campaigns made aspiring artistes use their artform as a tool to reform mindsets.

4) PYA has come out to help Pakistan during disasters for the past three years that is The Baluchistan Earthquake in 2008, Military action in Swat, Flood in Abbottabad Lake and most recently the recent floods in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. What has been your most successful campaign so far?

The most successful campaign so far has been the ‘flood relief campaign’. We from nothing, raised over 45 Million PKR (donated items not included) and managed 36 deliveries till date (from Aug 03 to 09 Dec, 2010). We managed to practically help 44000 families and were the first ones to reach many far off & inaccessible areas battling through raging waters, snakes, stampedes and security issues. This extra ordindary bravery from our passionate volunteers was acknowledged at UN Headquarters at New York City.

5) Your campaign for the flood affectees has been a huge one. Can you describe how PYA has been carrying out this campaign?

We started from 70 Rs. We dont get any direct or indirect funds from anyone. We raise funds through streets and planned fundraisers on our own. Our previous experience with natural disasters helped us carry flood relief campaign with utmost efficiency. Salutations to the hundreds of volunteers, who under our guidance have now become experienced relief workers. This is what we always dreamt of in 2007. We aspired to create sparks that would eventually make the jungle catch fire. When we started, only one or two non-politically aligned youth civil society groups existed, but since then a cluster of civil society groups have sprung up. If Pakistan will change, it will be through these youngsters.

6) What is next on the agenda for PYA in the year 2011?

We are in middle of flood relief campaign which is now focused towards rehabilitation and renovation of schools, libraries and hospitals. These floods have taken us back several years and constant effort is required to completely rehabilitate the 20 million affected. Also, educational project for juveniles (children in jails) will be started from Lahore which will be cloned else-where after successful implementation. Our short-term objectives vary as the situation of Pakistan varies every fortnight. We have in the past, been very pro-active (started working for many causes, which were-to become big disasters like Swat IDP, floods etc) so lets hope the same trend continues.

7) What message would you like to give to the youth of Pakistan?

I would like to urge the youth to stand up and speak whenever they believe their country is taken hostage by a noisy minority. We need to take our country back from them and stop being a silent majority. We need to build Pakistan before eyeing on other lands and succumbing to war-hysteria created by a particular segment of our society. We need to revive and re-own the very ideology for which Pakistan was created.  Moreover, we need to turn our words into actions. Nothing would reiterate my message louder than Martin Luther King saying: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people,”

 

 

 


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