TV, film bans in India, Pakistan won’t affect our cultural bond

Friday nights, the oldest and youngest members of my household sit and watch one of their favourite TV shows together. It is the weekend and my eight-year-old gets to stay up late with her grandmother; an age difference of sixty years bridged over an hour of CID, the Indian rendition of a crime show.

Now splintered into individual screens and devices, Friday nights are a throwback to when television was watched as a collective family experience. They remind me of my own childhood in Lahore, evenings spent watching Chitrahaar on a snowy Doordarshan together with grandparents, cousins and aunts.

CID’s pseudo-forensics, absurd chases and improbable plots are a little better than Scooby Doo, but it is innocent entertainment. There is something comforting, reassuring, when ACP Pradhyuman grimaces before saying his signature dialogue, “Kuch toh garbar hai”.

But last Friday, when we switched to Geo Kahani, there was no CID. Obviously, the Pemra ban on Indian content and dramas had begun even before the announced cut-off date of October 21. We shrugged. There is always YouTube on a smart TV; we thought, at least YouTube was unbanned.

And so it will be. Even as cable operators shut down the Indian songs, dramas and movies churned out by myriad TV, Direct-to-Home satellites and FM channels, YouTube, torrents, illegal streaming sites and DVDs offer an alternative. Indian songs are still the soundtrack to our weddings, their actors and actresses are still our pinups, their dialogues and characters will remain our cultural references. That’s because culture inevitably percolates through boundaries.

We’ve been here before; nothing to see here, move along. Culture has never been magicked through government notifications.

There is some logic to the ban, of course. For one, a lot of the content is illegal. For example, cable operators broadcast multiple in-house channels from pirated CDs, giving them far more time than Pemra sanctions. Local channels can give foreign content 10% of airtime, of which 6% can be Indian. Meanwhile, digital satellite services offered through smuggled DTH sets like Tata are similarly illegal, costing Pemra revenue.

But that is beside the point, because Pemra could’ve launched the crackdown years ago. It isn’t as if all this illegality has suddenly come to light.

What has prompted all this? An eye for an eye. Green and white over the Indian tricolour.

If you ban our talent, threaten violence against theatre owners who show films featuring our people and drop our dramas from your TV screens, so shall we. If Karan Johar can put his country first, so can we.

Jamaat-i-Islami and numerous other groups have tried to de-Indianise Pakistani media but never succeeded. It has taken the Hindu right-wing to prompt Pemra and cinema owners to purge screens.

About the prohibition on screening Indian films in Pakistani cinemas, founder of Mandviwalla Entertainment which produces and distributes films, Nadeem Mandviwalla told me, “It’s not good business but what can we do? They started it.”

Except it’s not just about legality, or business, but a surface nationalism shorn of civilisational roots. Neither Indian nor Pakistani culture is the enemy.

Enough damage has been caused by the never-ending cycle of proxy wars for this to now degenerate into a proxy culture war. If there was one hope, it was the officially sanctioned exchange of culture. It never stopped the cold war, the hostile news media, the exchange of firing along the Line of Control, the spies, the hyper-nationalistic rhetoric. But it remained the calm beneath layers of hostility.

But now that this calm has been disturbed, it feels that something is truly rotting, because it signifies capitulating to ultra-nationalists whose view of the world is black and white, even violent.

Author Image
Amber Shamsi

Hosts news and current affairs magazine show Newswise on DawnNews, formerly working for the BBC, Herald and The News on Sunday. She tweets at @AmberRShamsi


Only 42 out of 103 seats of grades 18-21 filled in Balochistan, Senate Committee told

Islamabad: senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat in its meeting was surprised to know that out of 103 seats of scales 18-21, only 42 are filled while 61 posts are vacant in Balochistan. It was stated that out of 5 seats of grade 21, 23 of grade 20, 35 of grade 19 and 40 of grade 18, only 1, 5, 19 and 17 are filled respectively.

The meeting was held under the chairmanship of Senator Talha Mahmood here at the Parliament House on Wednesday. Secretary Establishment Division while giving a detailed briefing in response to starred questions asked by Senator Mir Kabeer in Senate proceedings said that a number of factors collectively have resulted in this shortage which is prevalent in other provinces too but not in as high percentages as this. He said that low pass percentage in competitive examinations as well as reluctance to work in Balochistan are the main factors.

The committee was told that rotation policies of postings are revised at regular intervals and at this time PAS and PSP officers from Balochistan have to serve in Balochistan for at least seven years to get promoted to grade 20. It was also stated that salaries of officers serving in Balochistan are kept higher than other provinces. The establishment division will prepare and send a comprehensive brief on all aspects of the matter and the matter was deferred.

The committee also discussed employees who are presently working on deputation basis in Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences and those employees whose services are made unparalleled and unequal n deputation basis. The committee members pointed out that around 275 employees who were removed from PIMS was not given a chance to appeal against their removal and many of them had not completed the period of deputation.

The committee has called Secretary CADD and VC PIMS in next meeting.

The meeting was attended among others by Senator Hidayatullah, Senator Najma Hameed, Senator Shahi Syed, Senator Yousaf Badini, Senator Kalsoom Parveen,  Senator Saif-ullah Bangash and officers from Establishment division and PIMS.

ADB offers to increase assistance to help Pakistan become trading hub

ISLAMABAD: Asian Develo­pment Bank (ADB) President Tak­e­hiko Nakao on Tuesday offered to increase its development assistance to Pakistan and called for improved governance and security, reviving agriculture and increasing exports.

“Given the strong economic credentials of Pakistan and growth trajectory, the ADB is actively considering to increase its assistance in infrastructure, roads and railways, port facilities and energy sector in Pakistan,” the Ministry of Finance quoted Mr Nakao as saying.

The ADB president arrived on Tuesday on a two-day visit and met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. He will also attend Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) ministerial meeting on Wednesday.

He discussed with Prime Minister Sharif the government’s development priorities, ADB’s partnership and conveyed his condolences to the people of Pakistan for the tragic Quetta incident.

“While there are still key challenges to be addressed,” Mr Nakao said he was encouraged by the government’s resolve to stay on course with structural reforms to reduce the fiscal deficit and contain inflation to boost growth. “Continued progress depends on addressing remaining issues such as governance and security, reviving the agriculture sector, and increasing exports,” he said.

He also met International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde, an ADB statement said.

Mr Nakao appreciated the successful completion of the IMF programme, saying this was seen as Pakistan’s commitment to economic stability as evident from high forex reserves, single-digit inflation, and high growth projections.

Mr Dar said Pakistan valued its partnership with ADB and sought expanding these ties in development of economically viable infrastructure and energy projects. He said Pakistan was now focusing on higher economic growth after achieving macroeconomic stability.

The ADB president said tax reform initiatives have begun to improve revenue performance and there has also been progress in public enterprise reform, business climate improvements, and restructuring of the power sector, supported also by ADB and the World Bank.

Under an ADB country partnership strategy (CPS) 2015-19 endorsed in August 2015, the lender will support the government’s priorities focusing on infrastructure upgrades and institutional reforms. On an average sovereign finance for the last three years 2013-15 was $1.5 billion.

Six sectors are targeted under the CPS—energy; transport; agriculture, natural resources and rural development; water and other urban infrastructure and services; public sector management; and finance. The assistance for 2016 will amount to about $1.46bn, of which $737m has already been approved.

This is complemented by more than $360m of co-financing from bilateral and multilateral sources including funding for the M4 motorway with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

Projects in the energy sector comprise over half the ADB assistance to Pakistan. In 2015, ADB approved loan assistance of nearly $1.4bn for two energy sector programmes. Out of this the first tranche of $400m for a multi-tranche financing facility will help introduce an advanced electricity metering system for power distribution companies, while assistance of $400m will give budget support to reform policy and build an affordable and secure energy sector.

ADB is also helping to decongest Pakistan’s overburdened transport systems, upgrading highways and provincial roads to position the country as a future regional trading hub. Under the CAREC framework, ADB is working with Pakistan to expand its key north–south highway network to help boost the country’s trade and connectivity with other CAREC member countries.

In the social sector, ADB is assisting the Benazir Income Support Programme in reaching out to women beneficiaries through a cash transfer programme of $430m that was approved in 2013. It is helping Pakistan extend income support to poor families and the country’s most vulnerable groups.

Assailants came from Afghanistan, PM told

QUETTA: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif were among the senior government and military functionaries who rushed to the provincial capital as soon as horrors of the devastating attack on the Police Training College, Quetta, became evident on Tuesday.

During the course of the day, they attended the funeral of those killed in the terrorist attack and visited hospital to inquire after the injured.

According to sources, however, the most worthwhile engagement of the day was a meeting at which they discussed the attack, its implications and the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) as well as a plan aimed at making Quetta a safe city.

At the meeting, which was also attended by Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri, National Security Adviser retired Lt Gen Nasser Janjua, Commander of Southern Command Lt Gen Aamir Riaz, Home Minister Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti and others, several important decisions were taken.

At the meeting, the prime minister also expressed concern over the authorities’ failure to make Quetta safe despite formulation of a well-thought out plan.

The heads of security and law enforcement agencies attending the meeting briefed the prime minister on the attack on the police training college.

The meeting was informed that adequate security measures had not been taken at the police training college, even though there were prior intelligence reports that security personnel could be attacked soon, the sources said.

The meeting was informed that the assailants had come from Afghanistan and were in contact with their handlers in the neighbouring country.

At this, the prime minister said the issue would be taken up with Afghanistan.

According to the sources, Prime Minister Sharif asked the officials concerned why the Quetta Safe City plan had not been fully enforced despite passage of considerable time since its preparation.

He said the federal government would have provided additional funds to the province had it been informed earlier that lack of funding had stalled its implementation.

Prime Minister Sharif, Gen Raheel Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar visited the Sandeman Civil Hospital to inquire after the health of police cadets injured in the terrorist attack. Balochistan Governor Mohammad Khan Achakzai and other officials were with them.

They visited the bed of every injured cadet.

They were informed that cadets in need of surgical operations had already been operated upon. The prime minister asked the doctors to take good care of the cadets.

Gen Sharif also visited the training college along with senior army officials. He met the military and police personnel who took part in the operation launched to clear the college of terrorists.

The army chief announced that Tamgha-i-Jurrat would be given to Captain Roohullah and Tamgha-i-Basalat to Naib Subedar Mohammad Ali.

They laid down their lives after neutralising one suicide bomber and cornering another, the ISPR said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Zehri asked Balochistan’s inspector general of police to carry out an investigation into the attack and submit a report in 24 hours.

Nat Geo’s famed ‘Afghan Girl’ Sharbat Bibi arrested by FIA in Peshawar

Nat Geo’s famed ‘Afghan Girl’ Sharbat Bibi was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Wednesday in Peshawar, an official said.

Bibi was arrested from her home for alleged forgery of a Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC), the FIA sources said. Bibi had Pakistani and Afghan ID cards in her possession, and both ID cards have been recovered from her, the FIA sources said.

“FIA arrested Sharbat Gula, an Afghan woman, today for obtaining a fake ID card,” Shahid Ilyas, an official of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), told AFP.

Ilyas said that FIA is also seeking three NADRA officials who were found responsible for issuing CNIC to Bibi, who have been at large since the fraud was detected.

He said Bibi faces seven to 14 years prison time and fine between $3,000 to $5,000 if convicted by court over fraud.

Bibi has been charged under Section 419, 420 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 5(2) of Prohibition of Corruption Act.

Sharbat Bibi in custody of FIA Peshawar.— FIA handout
Sharbat Bibi in custody of FIA Peshawar.— FIA handout

An FIA official said the officer who issued the ID cards to Sharbat Bibi is now working as a deputy commissioner in customs and got bail-before-arrest to avoid arrest in the case.

Last year, NADRA issued three CNICs to Sharbat Bibi and two men who claimed to be her sons. Issuance of CNICs were in violation of the rules and procedures of NADRA.

NADRA’s vigilance department and an FIA official rejected information provided on the NADRA form as fake, and the FIA official ordered cancellation of CNICs of Sharbat and her alleged sons.

Details of the form had claimed that Sharbat Bibi had two sons. The official maintained that Sharbat Bibi has two daughters and a two-year-old son.

The official added that relatives present at the given address have refused to recognise two persons listed as her sons in the form.

An inquiry had been launched with NADRA officials under fire for issuing CNICs to foreign nationals without legitimate documentation.

‘Mona Lisa of Afghan war’

Sharbat Bibi became famously known as the ‘Afghan Girl’ when National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry captured her photograph at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp situated on the edge of Peshawar in 1984 and identified her as Sharbat Gula.

She gained worldwide recognition when her image was featured on the cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic Magazine at a time when she was approximately 12 years old.

That photo has been likened with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

National Geographic also made a short documentary about her life and dubbed her the ‘Mona Lisa of Afghan war’.

Take a look: Afghan Girl

She remained anonymous for years after her first photo made her an icon around the world and until she was discovered by National Geographic in 2002.

After Sharbat’s family granted her permission to meet with the man who photographed her 17 years ago, McCurry knew immediately, even after so many years, that he had found her again.

“Her eyes are as haunting now as they were then,” he had said.

Fate of Afghan refugees

Pakistan has been tackling the Afghan refugee crisis for over three decades; the UNHCR has acknowledged it as the “largest protracted refugee situation globally”.

It is estimated that some three million Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan, half of whom are unregistered.

Since 2009, Islamabad has repeatedly pushed back a deadline for them to return, but fears are growing that the latest cutoff date in March 2017 will be final.

Read more: Pakistan hosts third highest number of refugees: Amnesty

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has spoken against the forceful return of Afghanistan refugees from Pakistan, reminding the government of their obligation to protect all Afghans in the country, including those not registered as refugees.

Uncertainty about future, tightening of border controls, and security crackdown against foreigners living in Pakistan have already sped up the return process despite deteriorating security in Afghanistan due to increased attacks by Taliban and an aggravating economy.

The main factor driving the accelerated process is, however, said to be the documentation requirement for visits to Afghanistan. Doubling of cash grant by the UNHCR for voluntary returnees from $200 to $400 per individual and Pakistani incentive of free wheat for the relocated camps for three years are some of the other factors.

Besides harassment by law enforcement agencies, there are reports about increased negative attitudes of the community towards refugees due to involvement of some of them in the crime and terrorism.