Explaining Pakistan’s love for Princess Diana

Cover photo credit: Ushah Kazi

By: Ushah Kazi

Pakistan, like many other countries in the region, has a turbulent, colonial history that it continues to grapple with. Particularly as the digital age allows more and more Pakistanis to voice their agitations regarding the vestiges of British colonization.

The monarchy, for example, is often scrutinized for its history, and continued influence. While the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II was met with sadness across South Asia, scholars and historians also took the opportunity to critique her role in the politics of the region. They raised questions not just about the history of colonization and how that continued to impact countries such as India and Pakistan, but also the queen’s insistence on ‘non interference’ when she could have played an important role in mitigating conflicts. 

And yet, Princess Diana is a rare royal, who avoids most of that scrutiny. In fact, many would argue that the late “People’s Princess” was and continues to be a popular figure in many South Asian countries, Pakistan included. 

Consider this, here’s an image that I took on the streets of Hyderabad, in 2021. Nearly 24 years after her death. Not just is this beauty salon using her image, but the name ‘Diana’ itself. 

A beauty salon in Hyderabad Pakistan 

A lot can be said about Pakistan’s “colonial hangover” and how our history permeates via accepted beauty standards and celebrity culture. Still, it is worth exploring why Princess Diana is singled out in the way that she is. 

For example, in an article titled ‘An Ode To Princess Diana’s Special Relationship With Pakistan’, Saman Shad starts the piece off by stating, “if you ever mention Princess Diana to my mother she will look back at you misty-eyed. “She was so wonderful,” she would say, followed quickly by, “gone too soon…”  

Colonial hangover and beauty standards notwithstanding, not every British monarch or foreign celebrity elicits such reactions. Why then, is Diana an exception? Her multifaceted relationship with Pakistan offers up some explanations. 

The people’s princess; Diana’s links to charity 

The late Princess of Wales visited Pakistan thrice. First in 1991, then in 1996, and finally in 1997 a few months before her death. Her first visit to Pakistan was significant not just for the country, but for Diana herself. It was her first solo trip as a royal, and as noted by People Magazine senior editor Michelle Tauber, she used the trip to put a lot of emphasis on causes that mattered to her.   

By the time she came back to Pakistan in 1996, for a fundraising event for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, Princess Diana had already been working to raise awareness about, and funds for cancer research elsewhere. In 1993, she opened the Wolfson Children’s Cancer Unit at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey, and in 1996 helped raise more than $1 million to support cancer research at the Lurie Cancer Center of Northwestern University. 

When she visited Lahore in 1996, there was a lot of speculation about the trip. News reports from the time reveal that Imran Khan was criticized for using the trip to bolster support for himself in a bid to enter politics. In hindsight, however, the trip and the princess herself are often remembered favorably by many in Pakistan in lieu of her charitable work. 

She visited Pakistan again the following year and was again instrumental in raising funds for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital. Interestingly, this was after her divorce had been finalized. It was another instance of Diana engaging with people; sans the monarchy. 

A few weeks after her final visit to Pakistan, the Princess of Wales died in an infamous car crash. Imran Khan (chairman of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust, who would go on to become Prime Minister of Pakistan), revealed in an interview that she had made the 1997 trip at his behest, adding that she had arrived on short notice. While reacting to the news of her demise, Khan called her “a friend in need,” 

While her visits to Pakistan took place many years ago, they continue to endure. For instance, when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made their own trip to Pakistan in 2019, parallels were drawn between Kate Middleton and the late princess.  

An iconic image 

During her life and posthumously, Diana is recognized as an iconic figure. Always popular for her beauty and style of dress, she was at a time one of the most photographed women in the world. Her position in global iconography would play an important role in bolstering her appeal to the public. 

As pointed out by Eleri Lynn, Curator of the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, in a Vanity Fair article, the late royal’s style was curated in a bid to communicate. “It is very surprising how little footage there exists of the Princess actually speaking,” she said, “we all have a sense of what we think she was like, and yet so much of it comes from still photographs, and a large part of that [idea] is communicated through the different clothes that she wore.”

Veteran Pakistani fashion designer Rizwan Beyg (who designed one for her more than once) maintained that how Diana presented herself when she visited Pakistan also made a statement.

In a recent interview with Samaa, he described her style as “experimental” in that, “she was one of the few people who had broken away from the typical monarchy, of what they used to wear.” He noted particularly that her travels often reflected in the clothing she wore. 

In light of her penchant for standing out, Beyg, who was asked to design for her by her friend Jemima Goldsmith, settled on a “more feminine” version of an Achkan, which is traditionally worn by men in Pakistan. 

As noted by Lynn, the clothing that she wore conveyed messages, even when she didn’t speak. In relation to Pakistan then, what she wore has singled her out as an elegant figure from the pages of history. Her ensemble is routinely lauded by local publications (even after all these years). And even in Diana-focused memorabilia that can be found in Pakistan, the iconography follows the same narrative. 

My mother’s recipe folder, bought at Sunday Bazaar in Karachi, in the early 2000s 

Media scrutiny: Dr. Hasnat Khan and The Crown 

It would be fair to say that ‘Diana Mania’ has entered the digital age because of the popular Netflix series, The Crown. Albeit the show itself has elicited mixed responses. In particular, the historical revisionism that the series is accused of has often invited controversy. For example, Jemima Goldsmith, who had been brought on to help write the script for the fifth season, felt that the series did not depict the late princess “as respectfully or compassionately” as she had hoped. She went on to cut ties with the series as a result. 

The latest iteration of the show deals with arguably the most turbulent yet well-known time period pertaining to the British monarchy (the 90s). This coincidentally was also the time when Princess Diana was most actively seen in public. But, the show shortens or skims past much of her life, work, and even personhood. 

In a scathing review of the fifth season for Vulture, critic Roxana Hadadi derided the series for its portrayal of the princess. Writing, “gone is the Princess Di I remember: the woman whom my Iranian mother and other female relatives spoke about with warmth and empathy and whose kindness, interest in other cultures and countries, and desire to take control of her own life …made her a beloved figure in diaspora communities around the world.” 

Hadadi contends that the show presents her as a “vengeful, immature and materialistic” person who is “easily distracted by clothes and men.” This treatment arguably extends to how her tryst with Pakistani-born cardiologist, Dr. Hasnat Khan (played by Humayun Saeed) is presented. Relegated to two episodes, their relationship is portrayed as a fleeting encounter. In reality, however, it didn’t just last longer but was also a lot more complicated. As revealed by Jemima Goldsmith in a 2013 interview with Vanity Fair, at one point the relationship was allegedly so serious that Diana was considering moving to Pakistan. 

Dr. Khan, who is famously private, has said that he was “good friends” with the late princess. 

Diana in the public eye

On a rare occasion, when Dr. Khan did speak to the press in 2021, he was particularly vocal about the media scrutiny she was met with. Commenting on her explosive 1995 Panorama interview with former BBC journalist, Martin Bashir, Dr. Khan claimed that Bashir “exploited” the late princess’ “vulnerabilities”. 

Dr. Khan spoke of the incident after Princess Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, had alleged that Bashir used forged bank documents and false information to get her to agree to the interview. 

Since then, the BBC has had to donate the amount it made from the interview and compensate Diana’s former private secretary for damages. 

There are mixed reports about what the late princess herself felt about it. According to Dr. Khan, a young Prince William allegedly told her that she had made a “mistake” and referring to Bashir said, “mummy, he’s not a good person.” However, her biographer Tina Brown maintained that Diana did not “regret” the interview. 

What we can be sure about, however, is that the candor with which she spoke about her mental health, struggle with an eating disorder, and marital problems made her even more popular. Apart from, arguably, the most famous Diana quip of all time (“there were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded”) she also detailed how Prince Charles was jealous of the attention she was garnering. 

In hindsight, this acknowledgment of the cracks in her marriage made her appeal even stronger. As NPR producer Mia Venkat highlighted, perhaps what allowed women from diverse backgrounds to relate to Diana more than anything else was that she too struggled in a loveless marriage. Moreover, South Asian women could relate to the pressure of staying in such a union because of the taboo surrounding divorce. 

Simultaneously though, the fact that she did go on with the divorce, and continued to work in spite of formally separating from the monarchy, only added to her legacy. 

As Hadadi highlighted in her article, it was the late princess’ “willingness to break away from the monarchy’s façade of happiness and steadiness,” where she was able to “go rogue with her charity work” and express her emotions, that cemented who she was, and how she would be remembered. 

Perhaps those same moments of international renown, that betrayed her spark and independence, have also captivated Pakistan for all these years. Moments that set her apart as the most dazzling royal and royal dissenter almost simultaneously. Where many British monarchs would make the trip to Shaukat Khanum, Diana would be held up as the benchmark. Where foreign dignitaries would try their hand at embracing local fashion, no one would be quite as elegant as the Princess of Wales. Where other royal rebels would form a bond with women across the country, nobody would be met with as warm a reception as the late Lady Di.

Ushah Kazi has written for a number of Pakistani and Canadian publications. She has also published a book about Pakistani cinema titled, The Pop-Culture Junkie’s Guide to Pakistani Cinema, which is available on Amazon.

The Legend Of Maula Jatt globalizes Pakistani cinema’s most formidable story 

Cover photo credit: The Legend Of Maula Jatt movie poster (Geo films)

By: Ushah Kazi

Spoiler alert; this report does not contain major spoilers for The Legend Of Maula Jatt, but it does spoil the ending for Maula Jatt (1979) and Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi’s short story Gandasa. 

Even before its release, Bilal Lashari’s latest offering kept Pakistani cinegoers and culture buffs on the edge of their seats, for years. The first look trailer of The Legend Of Maula Jatt, released in late 2018, became an instant classic. But initial whispers about the Waar director turning his attention to what he himself called “Pakistan’s original film genre” had been making rounds since 2013. 

The saga of Lashari’s potential ‘magnum opus’ thus dates back nearly a decade. But the story of Maula Jatt, and his unique brand of cinema goes back further still. Not only can the 1979 film be called one of the most popular Pakistani films of all time, but there have been several attempts at remaking it. In 2013, while interviewing Lashari about his rendition, The Express Tribune reported that they had been approached by four production houses in two years, regarding potential Maula Jatt reboots.

It is interesting then, that in order to breathe new life into the story, Bilal Lashari has had to detach it from the context that made the original a cult classic in the first place. 

The Actual Legend Of Maula Jatt 

The character of Maula was first introduced via Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi’s short story titled Gandasa

While it has been credited by the screenwriter of both the original and 2022 reboot as his inspiration, there are notable differences. In fact, Qasmi’s story, according to Ali Kapadia, is not only dissimilar to what was seen in the 1970’s films (fun fact, Maula Jatt itself was a sequel to Wehshi Jatt) but was almost antithetical. Literary Maula, according to Kapadia, serves as a cautionary tale about toxic masculinity and how the revenge-driven culture of the time was shaping Pakistani men (the story was published against the 1960s backdrop of war and nationalistic calls to enlist). 

Throughout the story, Maula is opposed to violence, but must resort to it because of the emasculating insistence of his mother. By the end, he can’t avenge his family as per her decree, and instead lets his foe walk away, bursting into tears in the aftermath. When his mother lambasts him, Maula asks, “can’t I even cry?” 

Kapadia asserts, “with that picture of a tearful eye, Gandasa is Qasmi’s response to “boys don’t cry” – the nation’s reassuring lie.” 

Maula’s Film Debut 

By the time Qasmi’s story was reimagined for the screen, Pakistani cinema itself had gone through a transformation. 

According to Sher Khan and Hashim Bin Rashid, an oft forgotten legislation that shaped Punjabi cinema in particular, was the Goonda Act (passed in 1959 and enforced in 1968). Reportedly while it was in force, “over a dozen men” were labeled as ‘goondas’ (a person engaged in a list of activities deemed illicit) and killed in police encounters across Punjab. 

They claim that as a response, families of these men ventured into film production, in a bid to tell their side of the story. Many of the films that fall into the ‘gandasa’ genre (so named because of the ax that Maula wields in every iteration of the story) were produced by them.  

By the 1970s, there was also a constant threat of censorship (even Maula Jatt wasn’t cleared by the Censor Board, but was able to draw in the crowds because of the Lahore High Court’s stay order on the ban). Simultaneously, the aftermath of the 1971 war, meant that Urdu language film distributors lost a chunk of their audience.

Such a landscape was ripe for the introduction of a genre that reflected the chaos of the time. And thus, Sultan Rahi’s turn as the film version of Maula became a sensation. As Khan and Rashid note, not only did Rahi present a kind of hero never seen before, but the stories of such films, which borrowed heavily from the caste identities across the region, struck a chord with audiences. 

Kapadia explains the difference between Maula’s origins and his foray into films like this, “in essence, the film ‘fixes’ Maula into what a son ought to be – an instrument of war.” Considering the context that produced the films, this is perhaps unsurprising. 

Maula Jatt 2022

The trajectory of Pakistani cinema has been incredibly unstable. It hasn’t gone through peaks and troughs; it has experienced multiple deaths and attempted rebirths. There have been decades of slow growth, followed by complete stagnation. Because of this, much of the current audience is not aware of the country’s most iconic films. Even Fawad Khan, who stars as the titular character, admitted that he had limited exposure to the original prior to being approached for the remake. 

Screengrab: The Legend Of Maula Jatt trailer

What has survived however, is an animosity towards the gandasa film genre. Bilal Lashari himself explained these sentiments when he said that such films “are blamed for the death of Lollywood”

Such accusations are a little unfair, when as noted by Anwar Maqsood in a rare interview with the man himself, Sultan Rahi was for all intents and purposes a one-man-institution. Nor do such dismissals acknowledge the potential of the genre. To quote Lashari, “the entire world has been exporting their own styles and versions of cinema outside their territory, but we have been silent”.

However, it’s interesting to note that despite his interest in the local classic, Bilal Lashari’s rendition has international leanings. Deviations in the storyline notwithstanding, this is perhaps the biggest change that the filmmakers decided on. The original source materials were cemented in the culture of the land. Yet here, the choices seem to borrow from international media. 

Calling the director “Pakistan’s only master of action,” Rafay Mahmood and Zeeshan Ahmad acknowledge that he “opts for certain set and prop elements that stick out. Anglo-Saxon wood barrels and tables inside a mud structure doubling as a pub… In an ideal world perhaps, the makers of TLoMJ (The Legend Of Maula Jatt) could have played more with local visual elements…” 

Reviewing the film for Something Haute, Hassan Chaudhry notes that while audiences are informed that the story takes place in Punjab, the exact location of the village is not revealed. 

In his review for The Guardian, Cath Clarke called it “Game of Thrones meets Gladiator”. In light of its penchant for hypermasculinity, Mahmood and Ahmad also compared it to KGF. Perhaps its aesthetics can also be compared to recent Sanjay Leela Bhansali historicals, and later seasons of Dirilis: Ertugrul. 

Screengrab: The Legend of Maula Jatt trailer

Moreover, Sarwar Bhatti, the producer of the original (who had previously been embroiled in copyright suits with the producers of the reboot) stated that “after watching the trailer, I felt that these characters belong to some barbarian kingdom. 

Arguably, this international focus is anything but coincidental. Lashari has maintained that several aspects of the original needed to be updated to appeal to modern audiences. And if box office numbers are accounted for, the international appeal has worked in the film’s favor. As of the writing of this report, The Legend of Maula Jatt  has collected Rs. 19 crore, from five countries in three days. There is every indication that it will continue to break ground. 

Ushah Kazi has written for a number of Pakistani and Canadian publications. She has also published a book about Pakistani cinema titled, The Pop-Culture Junkie’s Guide to Pakistani Cinema, which is available on Amazon.

Watching Ms. Marvel is like “looking into a mirror” for Desi, Muslim Americans

Cover photo credit: “Ms. Marvel” (Disney+)

By: Bareerah Zafar

Disney+’s newest live-action television series, Ms. Marvel, is a breath of fresh air when it comes to Muslim and Pakistani representation in Western media. 

Though it was review bombed on IMDb, it is the highest-rated Marvel project on Rotten Tomatoes, surpassing Endgame and Black Panther. It also has the highest BIPOC viewership of any show on Disney+.

Ms. Marvel, based on a comic book series of the same name, follows 16-year-old Kamala Khan, a Pakistani American Muslim girl from Jersey City. She unlocks powers that reveal secrets about her family’s past and attract cosmic beings from another dimension. 

Photo credit: “Ms. Marvel” (Disney+)

At its core is a love letter to the Muslim and Pakistani people who too often find themselves stuck with the same, tired, racist narrative.

Decentralizing whiteness

Western media has a pattern of othering communities that are not white, from suggesting that people from the Middle East are “barbaric” (Aladdin), to portraying Muslims as terrorists (Iron Man), to pushing the narrative that hijab oppresses Muslim women (Elite).

Ms. Marvel overcomes these stereotypes and presents a new narrative. 

Ms. Marvel is the first Pakistani and Muslim superhero to grace the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The show places a heavy emphasis on her identity and seamlessly weaves it into every aspect of her story without taking up screen time to explain every inside joke, symbol, song or tradition.

The show features conversations about Bollywood movies, casual Urdu and Arabic phrases, an Eid-al-Adha celebration and a traditional Desi Muslim wedding. It even uses the misrepresented term “Allahu Akbar”  (meaning “God is greatest”) in its correct context.

In an interview with Q on CBC, actress Iman Vellani (Kamala Khan) spoke about the importance of normalizing the existence of Muslims in Western media.

The cast and crew also consist mainly of BIPOC talent.

A story nearly every young South Asian in the diaspora can relate to 

Many Desi Americans said watching Ms. Marvel was like looking into a mirror

Many of us can relate to the brown family dynamics: the strict parents, the gendered double standards, the fear of disappointing our elders by pursuing our passions. We can also relate to praying in a mosque alongside our family and friends, celebrating Eid, learning dances for weddings and dealing with gossiping aunties.

Ms. Marvel portrays all aspects of brown and Muslim communities without stereotyping or tokenizing. It is clear that the creators put a lot of thought and care into Kamala’s story, creating a unique addition to the MCU and a comfort show for American Desis. 

Photo credit: “Ms. Marvel” (Disney+)

Educating on our forgotten history

One of the many aspects of Ms. Marvel that sets it apart from other forms of South Asian representation is its incorporation of our history.

Episode 5, titled “Time and Again”, takes us back to the late 1940s when British colonizers were taking their leave and India was split along a religious divide. We meet Kamala’s great grandparents, played by beloved Pakistani actors Mehwish Hayat and Fawad Khan, as they navigate tensions during the Partition. 

As Kamala’s brother, Amir, said, “Every Pakistani family has a Partition story. And none of them are good.”

In the show, you’re at the train station with Kamala and her family, watching a sea of bodies as they desperately attempt to board the last train to supposed salvation and escape the trauma left in the wake of British imperialism. 

As you watch, there’s a heaviness on your chest, as if you can feel the weight of what your ancestors went through. You experience the fear, the grief, the hurt, and you can’t look away. 

This history is rarely touched upon in the American school system so it’s not uncommon for American Desis to often feel a disconnect with their motherland. Ms. Marvel brings us closer to our home and our ancestors in the most beautiful and respectful way. 

This show is a refreshing addition to Phase Four and a win for all marginalized communities. It set a precedent for what South Asian and Muslim representation should look like and brought a much-needed change to the MCU.

Bareerah Zafar is a Pakistani American Muslim journalist based in Southern California. She dedicates her career to empowering underrepresented communities through storytelling.

Salman Toor’s rising star – revolutionary art in Pakistani diaspora

Cover photo credit: Time 100 Next 2021

By: Alexandra Bregman

Two years ago, hardly anyone outside  of Pakistan had heard of Salman Toor. Born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1983, his moody figures were quietly collected by the elites of his home country, pondered by the Brooklyn set, and shopped around by the New York staple for South Asian art, Aicon Gallery. With the November 2020 ‘How Will I Know’, his first solo show at the Whitney Museum in New York City, however, Toor completely exploded onto the global art scene and became an overnight art world darling. 

The prices speak for themselves. In December 2020, Toor’s first-ever auctioned painting, Rooftop Ghost Party I (2015), sold for eight times its estimate at Christie’s for $822,000. Weeks later at Phillips in London, Liberty Porcelain (2012) sold for nine times its estimate of £40,000, at £378,000 ($505,688). And by June 2021, Toor broke his own sales record of $867,000 when Girl with Driver (2013) sold for $890,000 in Hong Kong.

Salman Toor’s “Rooftop Ghost Party I” (2015) – Artnet News

The 15-painting retrospective at the Whitney Museum drew its title from a painting called Dancing to Whitney (2018). It was one of Toor’s first artworks in what has since become his signature style, based on a memory of dancing to Whitney Houston with friends. In the painting, and in life, the sinewy queer male figures were pondering the lyrics. How will they know what the future holds?

The present holds The Frick Collection. Living Histories: Queer Views and Old Masters at the Frick Madison space features Toor with three other New York artists, all focused on queer identity, in conversation with European art: Doron Langberg, Jenna Gribbon, and Toyin Ojih Odutola, on view through January 2022.

Among the reasons Toor did not initially capture the attention of museums and collectors was that he was afraid. The artist spent the first 14 years of his life growing up in Lahore, where he told BOMB magazine he was deemed a “sissy boy”, “often bullied at school and policed everywhere else.” In an interview with Them magazine, Toor said shame was used as a weapon and the threat of violence was always underneath the surface.

In a later conversation with fellow artist Chitra Ganesh for the Whitney showcase, Toor added, “When I grew up in a largely gendered and homophobic culture, I was very used to safe spaces, so the paintings move in between private and public spaces…I realized I was still creating safe spaces, because they made me feel happy and comfortable. And the more I had, the more abundantly I felt at home…” 

Paintings like The Smokers (2018) and Nightmare and Car Boys (2019) reference the terror of lurking officers in a state defined by its strict penal code, a far cry from the joyfulness so clearly shown in scenes from New York. This spilled over into his art, which catered to South Asian audiences. The work that is now so beloved was just for his apartment, a private world where he could be free.

Salman Toor’s “Ambush II” (2019) – Nature Morte
Salman Toor’s “The Smokers” (2018) – Aicon Contemporary

The new works quickly went viral on Instagram. The groups of figures resonated with audiences during the pandemic, who were hungering to reconvene and socialize, and speak to a rapidly changing collective consciousness. As societal norms are questioned on an international scale, the question remains how this will circle back into Pakistan.

“I was very lucky to be part of a culture that was changing here,” Toor told Whitney curator Ambika Trasi, “In which people were being assertive, wanting to be seen, producing new ideas of beauty and multi-ethnic progressiveness that are imminently exportable.”

Aligned with the “queer intelligentsia,” Black Lives Matter and the feminist art of friend Indian artist, Ganesh, some of Toor’s work shows scenes of brown men in contemporary nightlife settings in New York. As a Pakistani artist, his work expresses apolitical expressions of joy that are at odds with a global perception that associates Pakistan with terrorism, security, the Taliban and religious extremism. 

Rather, Toor’s happiest paintings are scenes of the interior home and underground bar scene in New York and Pakistan alike, where he could—finally—feel safe. The intimacies of everything from apartment trinkets to technology and skin creams reveal the hodgepodge of the everyday, a take on 21st century portraiture thus far not yet fully represented.

Toor’s work is a part of an important canon of contemporary South Asian artists who draw inspiration from colonial Indian miniature painting (including Shahzia Sikander), but it is particularly poignant because it finds the self where it has never been before. 

In art history class at college in Ohio, the only dark-skinned subjects of Old Master paintings were the servants. Now, he belongs in a powerful canon with Ganesh’s open sexuality and goddess Kali, Black artist Kerry James Marshall’s scenes of familiarity. There are queer artists like Israeli painter, Doron Langberg, and even David Antonio Cruz with his Puerto Rican Pieta (2006). To the Pakistani gaze, this untraditional crew is a reminder that radical acceptance is happening across the pond, and that neglecting to do so will bleed out top talent. 

Perhaps in reaction to the neglect of this rich inner world, Toor’s subjects take on a mythic, even melodic quality. Dance is a recurring theme in Toor’s work, which stems both from Baroque paintings and a brief stint on a hippie commune, but also evokes the festivities depicted in subcontinental miniature painting, particularly the ragamalas. 

Salman Toor’s “Four Friends” (2019) – Whitney.org

Toor’s training was initially highly derivative, drawing inspiration from Dutch and Italian Old Masters and the flourish of Mughal women’s eyes and shoes. The paintings still possess a slightly French Post-Impressionist movement; Toor says he drew inspiration for the mix-and-match palette of the figures from Picasso, but the bedroom scenes and bright backgrounds suggest Henri Toulouse-Lautrec or Amedeo Modigliani. In any case, the global perspective of the artist threads together the many images he has consumed throughout his life, seeking his own power through nostalgia. 

The paintings, Toor told BOMB, are much about dichotomy: the Old Master versus the Instagram photo, overconnected but not interconnected, the Old Master light of a cell phone. Loneliness in the public eye, happiness and freedom punctuated by the passions of queer life.

But in this fantasy universe, the hairy brown bodies always find themselves at peace. They possess a mythic power; Toor imagines them as creative and educated, challenging societal norms about race and foreignness in America. They may never belong in the traditional sense as South Asians in diaspora, but they belong fully unto themselves.

Alexandra Bregman is a freelance writer with a specialization in art and art markets. She has previously written about South Asian art for The Art Newspaper, The Asian Art Newspaper, and Nikkei Asia among other publications.

The Taliban are back. Now what?

Cover photo credit: Canva

By: Sahar Khan

The Taliban are back in power in Afghanistan after taking Kabul last week. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has fled and landed in Dubai. While the Taliban’s offensive has been going on for months, it recently acquired a momentum that has startled the world. President Joe Biden stood firmly by his decision to withdraw troops, stating that the United States had achieved its core goals over a decade ago, which were to 1) dismantle al Qaeda and 2) find Osama bin Laden. He did, however, admit that Afghan security forces fell more quickly than anticipated. 

The Taliban have been steadily gaining ground for the last few years. The collapse of the Afghan security forces is due to a myriad of reasons, such as a lack of capacity, corruption, competing security forces (backed by the CIA no less), and a lack of resources. US intelligence also warned the Biden administration of the potential for collapse. Yet, none of that really matters now. The Afghan people are fleeing for their lives as their country falls apart and the airports become war zone-like. Now, many are looking more closely at Pakistan, which houses approximately 3 million Afghan refugees, with more refugees trying to come in.   

Implications for Pakistan

Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan dates back to the Soviet invasion, when the country’s intelligence agency and the CIA provided covert support to the Mujahideen (Islamic guerilla fighters) who were fighting the Soviets. The Mujahideen movement gained popularity in an unstable post-Soviet era and eventually became the Taliban. Pakistan recognized the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan in 1996. After the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Pakistan provided sanctuary to Taliban leadership, the Haqqani Network, and other militant groups, all of which has been documented in the works of foreign policy journalist, Ahmad Rashid, politics and national security writer, Steve Coll, and international relations professor, Hassan Abbas, to name a few.  

Yet, Pakistan has repeatedly said it supports an Afghan-led peace process. The Afghan peace process roughly began when the Taliban and Donald Trump administration signed a deal in February 2020 and continued — albeit slowly — with talks between the Taliban and Afghan government. 

Similarly, the US-Pakistan relationship has been rocky for some time. The US accuses Pakistan of playing a double game by sponsoring and harboring militant groups like the Taliban and Haqqani Network. While the US accuses Pakistan of not supporting its war in Afghanistan, Pakistan accuses the US of always using it and refusing to acknowledge the sacrifices it has made since the Global War on Terror began in 2001. Pakistan paid a high price for being a US ally in the form of civilian casualties and drone strikes. However, Pakistan maintains that its leverage over the Taliban, which the US perceives as being powerful, is actually not as strong. Ghani’s government also asked Pakistan to bring the group to the negotiating table and reduce the brutality of its offensive operations.

Prime Minister Imran Khan says it is unfair to blame Pakistan for the situation in Afghanistan. Unfair or not, if Pakistan refuses to condemn the Taliban’s ongoing violence, it may permanently damage its own reputation on the world stage along with the economic pivot it’s desperately working on. Putting aside morality, it is also in Pakistan’s strategic interest to openly condemn the way the Taliban have come into power. Pakistan has been trying to show the world that it is not as closely aligned with the Taliban as it used to be in the 1990s, and that it does not control the group in any way. If that is really the case, the Khan administration has an opportunity to highlight this changed dynamic between Pakistani authorities and the Taliban.  

What the Taliban Want

The Taliban want international recognition — and in their quest to get it, the group has been busy presenting a moderate image of itself, stating that it will allow women to work and girls to attend schools. For the Taliban, recognition is extremely important as it would allow the group to have sovereignty over Afghanistan, though that sovereignty comes with the obligation to obey international law. For example: The Taliban would have to respect human rights, abide by international trade laws, give up their various illicit activities, and be open to diplomacy. Whether the Taliban wants to do any of this (and more) is unclear. 

The key question is: Will the international community recognize the Taliban? The answer is not so simple. 

Russia stated that its recognition of the Taliban will depend on the conditions on the ground. Russia’s main strategic goal after all is to ensure that the instability from Afghanistan stays away from Central Asia and its doorstep, a desire that is shared by Afghanistan’s neighbors. Similar to Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are all worried about spillover effects and instability caused by the influx of refugees — during a pandemic no less. Iran is also wary of a Taliban takeover, which is notoriously anti-Shia. China has been a little more forthcoming by stating that it is open to having “friendly relations” with the Taliban. Pakistan has not officially recognized the Taliban either, but is laying the groundwork to do so.

For now, things are moving too quickly to accurately predict what will happen in Afghanistan. But one thing is clear: Innocent Afghans are paying the ultimate price.

Sahar is a research fellow in the defense and foreign policy department at the Cato Institute. Her research interests include state‐​sponsored militancy/​terrorism, counterterrorism policies, anti‐​terrorism legal regimes, and private military and security contractors. She focuses on US foreign policy in South Asia and Africa. She is also an editor at Inkstick Media. You can find her @khansahar1 on Twitter. 

Taking time off after having a baby remains an off-limit luxury for many

Cover photo credit: Canva

By: Sarah Munir

Suggested reading time: 8 minutes

Earlier this month, the Pakistan Cricket Board announced a refreshing new parental support policy that would allow both men and women cricketers some time off after having a child. As part of the new set of policies, women cricketers will be allowed to take a year-long paid maternity leave, in addition to the option of switching to a non-playing role as they approach their maternity leave, Dawn News reported. A contract for the following year will also be guaranteed when leaving for maternity leave. When the athletes return to work, they will be provided physical training and support to rehabilitate after childbirth. Male cricketers are also allowed concessions, and will be able to take a month-long paid paternity leave. On May 16, Pakistan cricket team captain Bismah Maroof announced her decision to take an indefinite maternity leave. 

The policy reform by PCB has been widely lauded as a much-needed step forward in providing childcare support and fostering gender diversity in the workplace. 

Tell me more …

Though women constitute 49 percent of Pakistan’s population, female labor force participation stands at 22 percent – placing it among the lowest in South Asia and the world.  The gender gap stands at 23.7 percent with only 4.2 percent women holding senior or middle management positions. According to the Global Gender Gap Index Report 2020, published by the World Economic Forum, Pakistan also ranks 151 out of the 153 countries, surpassing only Iraq and Yemen.

Despite maternity protection being labeled a fundamental labour right by major human rights treaties like UDHR, ICESR and CEDAW, Pakistan has failed to provide sufficient childcare facilities to its workers, especially women. As a result, most women drop out of the workforce as they near or experience childbirth, reducing their economic participation drastically. When half of the country’s labor force remains unsupported and watches from the sidelines, it is no surprise that the economic performance takes a massive hit.

Source: Shutterstock

Between a rock and a hard place

According to local law, employers are expected to provide 12 weeks of paid maternity leave (16 weeks in Sindh), free healthcare during and after pregnancy, protection from dismissals and periodic nursing breaks in accordance with the International Labor Organization’s Maternity Protection Convention 1919 (No 3). But the measures fall short of what is required or needed.

And in some cases, it directly affects the mothers who are trying to build a career while caring for their families. Kiran*, a medical officer at a Karachi-based private healthcare facility describes her employer’s policy of granting only a 45-day unpaid leave after delivery as “exhausting.” “Not having a daycare facility at the workplace also exacerbates the guilt of not being with my newborn. It feels like I am losing on both ends,” she shares.

Women who are employed in the private sector usually have better luck if the organization is progressive, the labor force is unionized and/or if their immediate supervisors are cooperative. Madiha Javed Qureshi, who was working at Nestle at the time of her pregnancy lauds the company for being extremely flexible with their maternity and paternity leave policies and providing day care services to parents. “Being a first-time mother is an extremely difficult and anxiety-ridden period for working women,” she says. “If my employer had not extended the kind of support they did, I can’t imagine how I would have continued working.”

According to Iftikhar Ahmed, founder of Center for Labor Research, paying for maternity leave and establishing day care centers should not be the employer’s responsibility. Instead, he recommends building of day care centers at a community level by the government and financing maternity leaves by social security rather than making it an employer liability.

Source: Shutterstock

Care and support goes a long way

Even when maternity/paternity leaves are flexible, lack of affordable and reliable childcare facilities often discourages young mothers from returning to work. With more and more families becoming nuclear, most women start contemplating leaving work during pregnancy as there is no one to care for the child. Zainab Bhatti, who works in a managerial role at LUMS, gives credit to the institution for allowing her a generous maternity leave but wishes there were more options for bringing your children to the workplace. “I am a special needs mother and it is difficult for me to leave my baby for prolonged hours.” Her concern is echoed by Bisma*, whose decision to continue work was impacted by the availability of a subsidized day care facility at the private hospital she worked at. “I don’t think I would have been able to work full-time without this support,” she says.

Unfortunately, if these needs are not met, legal recourse for workers is limited. Even in cases of unfair dismissals or discriminatory policies by employers, there isn’t much employees can do, says Parvez Rahim, a labour law and employee relations expert. “The labour litigation process in Pakistan is expensive and time consuming.  Even the cases of ‘alleged unfair dismissals from service’ take years for decisions,” he said. Hence, young parents are not left with much choice besides relying on each other or families for support or dishing out money from their own pockets to ensure that their child is in the safe hands of a private caretaker.

Is change on the horizon?

In January 2020, the Senate passed the Maternity and Paternity Leave Bill, 2018, which entitles women to a maternity leave of six months and also allows men a paternity leave of three months. Mothers and fathers may get further three- and one-month optional leaves but those will be unpaid, it says. The employer won’t be allowed to terminate the services of an employee for seeking leave under the provisions of the bill. The bill was moved by Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Quratulain Marri and is still to be considered by the National Assembly.

While some have lauded the bill for providing relief to working mothers and paving a path for equality, where men and women share the role of providing for and raising children together, others have reservations due to its limited application. The bill will be applicable only to enterprises within the administrative control of the federal government. Moreover, experts think some checks and balances are also required to ensure it is not misused as a recreational leave but instead allows fathers to step up as the primary caretaker while allowing mothers to rest or return to work.

Given the physical and financial strain of having a child, coupled with a lack of support from the state and employers, more and more young parents are choosing to delay childbirth. Those that don’t are often forced to take a sabbatical from work and/or forgo their career completely. According to Rahim, the sphere of labour laws in Pakistan is in “complete shambles” after the passage of the 18th Amendment in April 2010, which devolved more control to the provinces. There is little focus on maternity leave and working women’s rights when other critical labour welfare laws applicable to the entire workforce are on the “verge of total collapse”, he added. But some young parents choose to remain hopeful for change. “Women can be mothers and have ambitious careers at the same time. The world is making it happen for us, it’s about time that Pakistan takes a step in that direction too,” Kiran says as she gets ready for her first-born. 

A look at the rest of the world

Here are some countries that are miles ahead in terms of extending support to both parents:

Finland: Starting in 2021, each parent will be allowed 164 days, or about seven months.  A single parent can take the amount of two parents, or 328 days. 

Denmark: New moms in Denmark get a total of 18 weeks of maternity leave: four weeks before the birth and 14 weeks after, at full pay. During the 14-week period, the father can also take two consecutive weeks off.

Sweden: New parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of leave at 80% of their normal pay. 

Norway: Mothers can take 49 weeks at full pay or 59 weeks at 80% pay, and fathers can take between zero and 10 weeks depending on their wives’ income.

New Zealand: Earlier this year New Zealand began to offer a three-day paid bereavement leave for couples who have suffered a miscarriage. India and China also have similar policies in place that allows couples to take time off and grieve in case of experiencing a misscarriage.

Some names have been changed due to privacy concerns

Sarah Munir is a digital journalist with a focus on the intersection of technology and media. She has worked with several publications including Dawn, Facebook, Forbes, and most recently Twitter. You can reach her @SarahMunir1.

Pakistan’s complicated relationship with body positivity

Cover photo credit: Freepik

By: Sarah Munir

Suggested reading time: 7 mins

Consider yourself lucky if you missed the latest botched attempt by Pakistani media at body positivity or inclusivity in the form of Express Entertainment’s drama Oye Motti.” As the promo reveals, the story revolves around protagonist Aalia – whose body size appears to be everyone’s business including her beloved partner-to-be Nauman. In a strange plot twist, Nauman lays down a condition for Aalia to reduce her weight by half if she wants to tie the coveted marital knot. 

Head meet wall

As tone-deaf as this plot twist sounds, according to a Dawn News report, the show “has been created to highlight the deeply-rooted culture of body shaming in our society.” The show’s lead Kanwal Aftab also said in an Instagram post that she worked very hard on this project to bring attention to the desi culture of body shaming.

Sounds like the opposite of what it seems, right?

Why are we so bad at representing different-sized bodies?

Despite women’s bodies and sizes being the center of unsolicited policing and politics in Pakistan, we have somehow not been able to find the right vocabulary or understanding of what it means to embrace bodies that do not meet societal ideals. Not only have we failed to center bodies that fall outside of the tall, thin, fair construct in our fashion and mainstream media, we also don’t have the right language to talk about people’s weight without reducing them to it. 

Pictured above: Multimedia journalist & Comedian Sabah Bano Malik rocking a sari

According to multimedia journalist and comedian Sabah Bano Malik, these attitudes are rooted in conformity – being happy with anything that falls outside of what is considered appropriate or attractive is almost seen as “threatening” in our society, she says. Malik also feels the over-sexualization of bodies from a young age deems it almost vulgar for women to be heavier and be ok with it – especially if they carry that weight around their breasts and hips. 

Digs at being overweight in day-to-day conversations is commonplace and portraying overweight people as sloppy, simple-minded sidekicks by the media has turned being a different size into an ailment that must be avoided at all costs. Not to mention entire corporations that swoop in and sell the dream of being thin with weight-loss supplements, fad diets and fat-free everything. 

Have fun in whatever body you are in

Pictured above: Marketeer and body positivity advocate Sarah Raseen Khan in the latest Generation campaign

Despite dressing up and fashion being such a central part of economic and social activity in the desi society, good clothing options for larger-sized bodies are limited. Frustrated with this lack of representation, 24-year-old marketing professional Sarah Raseen Khan decided to advocate for being happy in whatever size you are in through experimenting with her fashion choices and sharing it publicly on her Instagram feed. “I felt that by speaking about it, I could be the person I needed when I was younger. I could help change the narrative about “the ideal body type” and push for representation of bigger bodies in all forms of media,” shared Khan who can be seen rocking everything from a halter to a sari on her social feed.

Source: Khaadi

After years of designers and commercial brands sidelining bigger bodies in their campaigns and collections, brands like Khaddi and Generation are also leading the way in body acceptance. Not only have they centered “normal” bodies in their imagery and shoots, these brands are also trying to redefine what it means to create fashion that is inclusive and accessible to everyone. In a Scroll report, Generation creative director Khadija Rehman says it’s “tragic” that plus-sized women are not enabled to have fun with their clothes. Plus-sized beauties of Pakistan, she said, “just need to develop more swagger in their walk and not worry so much what others would think.”

Unhealthy body expectations 

Beyond fashion and clothing, comments about size and weight are commonplace in desi culture. Unsolicited advice on gaining/losing weight, invasive questions about body size and tying women’s worth to a number on the scale is far more common than we like to admit.

Malik shares that she often gets bombarded with a lot of advice on how she needs to lose weight or how certain clothing styles are not meant for her body type. “It’s kind of crazy just how angry people get when fat women are existing peacefully and without hiding themselves, they get really amped up about it,” she said. Khan adds that people also get uncomfortable when she portrays comfort with her body while being active. She thinks “it’s either because a considerable amount of people still believe that I can’t be the size I am and lead a healthy lifestyle, or they feel uncomfortable seeing a bigger body in activewear.” 

Unattainable body standards in a culture where everything from celebration to mourning is centered around food can also lead to unhealthy relationships with eating from a young age. Coupled with a lack of awareness about eating disorders and mental health at large, this leaves people, especially teenagers extremely vulnerable to physical and mental health complications.

The thinner, the better?

Source: Dawn News

Only last year, newlywed celebrity couple Aagha Ali and Hina Altaf appeared on the popular morning show Good Morning Pakistan and shared what conditions they had laid upon each other before getting married. “Before marriage, Aagha showed me a picture of someone, who wasn’t me and said if you become this fat…” shared Hina. “No ji,” protested Aagha. “I said I don’t want anything in this world, only one promise, only one. Please don’t get fat, for god’s sake.”

While the clip went viral, the mentality behind these comments is the result of years of conditioning and synonymising being thin with being happy and desirable. Weight is a central concern when it comes to marriage, especially that of women. Young women are often told to watch their weights from an early age in order to brighten their prospects in the matrimonial marketplace. The media has not been of much help here either. Years of rewarding thinness on screen with success, beautiful partners and flamboyant lifestyles has left little space for other ideals to exist. 

Embracing body positivity and opting for healthier narratives around our bodies 

Source: Shutterstock

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the term body positivity and what it entails. At its simplest, body positivity is the idea that people should feel happy with and proud of their body, whatever shape or size it is. Globally, body positivity is a social movement that advocates for the celebration and self-love of visibly fat bodies. The movement has its roots in the fat acceptance movement of the late 1960s, which focused on ending the culture of fat-shaming and discrimination against people based upon their size or body weight. 

The term “body positive” was coined in 1996 following founder Connie Sobczak’s experience with eating disorders in her teen years. The body positivity movement in its current form took off around 2012, manifesting itself with hashtags and selfies online, but a lot of people still remain confused about what it entails. According to Khan, one way of being body positive or an ally is to recognize your inner bias against bigger bodies. Asking yourself if you think differently or less of someone just because of the way they look is a good way of keeping yourself in check, she advises. Malik says it can be something as simple as hearing people out. Allowing people to be different, listening to them and validating their feelings can go a long way, she says.

A guide to body positivity

If you are still confused, we have broken down a few ways in which you can practise and support body positivity in your day-to-day-lives:

  • Recognize that we all come in different shapes and sizes
  • Practise positive self-talk, to yourself and others
  • Switch from fear to gratitude
  • Set health-related goals instead of size-related ones
  • Understand that whatever someone else’s body looks like, is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS

Healthy ways of talking about body and appearances

Language matters. Here are a few suggestions for talking about health and appearances in a more positive way. Consider reframing your comments the next time you feel tempted to comment on someone’s body or weight. 

“You look so curvy”“You look so happy. Hope you continue to have days like these”
“Have you lost weight? You look great!’“You take such great care of yourself. I hope to prioritize myself like that too”
How do you stay so thin while eating like that”“I am so inspired by how much you value staying healthy and active”
“I wish I could eat as much as I want and stay thin”I am so grateful to have a healthy body and to be able to eat anything that I wannt”

Sarah Munir is a digital journalist with a focus on the intersection of technology and media. She has worked with several publications including Dawn, Facebook, Forbes, and most recently Twitter. You can reach her @SarahMunir1.

Pakistan’s obsession with Turkish media marks a deeper geopolitical shift

Cover photo credit: Peakpx

By: Sarah Munir

As the Pakistan Day Parade celebrating the passage of the historic Pakistan Resolution kicked off in full fervor on March 25 in Islamabad (delayed two days by uncooperative weather), some viewers were taken aback by a familiar tune. Amidst a sea of green and white flags and Pakistani nationalism on full display, a Turkish band paid tribute to Muslim hero Ertuğrul, Ghazi and the Turkish drama based on the life and times of Ertuğrul, the father of Osman who founded the Ottoman Empire.

An odd mix right? We thought so too. However, a deeper look at the dominion of Turkish dramas and celebrities among Pakistani viewers suggests that the tribute might be strange but not surprising. Turkish dramas are second only to American ones in terms of global distribution and Turkish is now the most-watched foreign language in the world, beating out French, Spanish and Mandarin.

Tell me more …

Pakistan is one of the largest markets for Turkish dramas – also referred to as Turkish dizis, which have covered everything from gang rape to calculating Ottoman royals. Series like Diriliş: Ertuğrul, Mera Sultan and Ishq-e-Mamnoon have enjoyed massive viewerships – Ishq-e-Mamnoon finale was watched by over 55 million people in Pakistan and Pakistan makes up 25 percent of Ertuğrul’s global audience on YouTube. In 2013, Pakistani TV channels screened 11 Turkish-made TV series and two movies, with 34,000 tourists flocking to Turkey the same year. The number was estimated to exceed a whooping 120,000 by the end of 2020, according to a report by Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency.

In her book “New Kings of the World,” writer Fatima Bhutto explains that Turkish shows initially found a footing in the Pakistani market due to their cheaper procurement costs compared to original Pakistani programming – an episode could be procured for between $2500-$4000, a stark contrast compared to a local show which costs more than $10,000 to produce. But soon enough the voracious storylines and light-eyed cast members had Pakistani audiences hooked.

The hype was only fueled further when Pakistani premier Imran Khan directed that Turkish dramas be dubbed in Urdu and aired on state-run Pakistani television. In an interview with local broadcaster Hum News, Khan said the airing of quality content like Turkish dramas was an attempt to educate and provide good role models to the country’s people, especially the youth.

But why exactly are Pakistanis so enamored by Turkish plots, production and characters? The answers may lurk deeper than fancy production designs, elaborate costumes and dramatic plotlines.  

Background: A celebrated brotherhood

Pakistan and Turkey have long held each other in high regard and referred to each other as “brother countries.” Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Pakistan after its founding in 1947 and supported its membership in the United Nations. Prior to Pakistan’s independence, Muslims of the British Raj also clubbed together under the Khilafat Movement of 1919-1922 in support of the dwindling Ottoman Empire. The Caliphate signified global Muslim unity. Even though the movement collapsed after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk dismissed Mehmed VI, the last sultan, Indian Muslims continued to send financial support to the empire as it was on its way out.

Fast forward a few decades and Pakistan finds itself forging news allies while Asia goes through a massive geo-political shift with Saudi Arabia at odds with Iran, a hyper-nationalistic Narendra Modi in power in India and China’s rising global power. In this new reality, Pakistan appears to have found comfort in Turkey’s cultural values and a more modern brand of Islam. 

Source: Anadolu Agency

Khan’s fantasies to position Pakistan as a leader in the Islamic world

Since coming to power after a disputed election in 2018, Khan has said he wants “to create a Pakistan which is in line with the first Muslim society created by the Prophet Muhammad in Medina,” the holy city in Saudi Arabia where Islam emerged in the seventh century.

Khan has found a partner in Turkey’s Erdogan, who has attempted to impose Islamic values in the secular country. Since Khan came to power, there has been a clear uptick in high-level visits, military exchanges and exercises, purchase of defence equipment and political support for each other’s disputes with neighbouring countries between the two nations. Turkey has also expressed clear support for Pakistan when it comes to the Kashmir dispute with Erdogan comparing the struggle of Kashmiris to the Ottoman Empire’s fight against Allied powers during World War I.

However, Pakistan’s economic dependence on Saudi Arabia often places it at odds with the visions of Islamic grandiose that Turkey promises. Relations between Riyadh and Ankara have historically been tense over issues like the support of the Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt and differences over approach in Libya and Qatar. The relationship reached its lowest point after the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October, 2018. Pakistan’s Khan was the first world leader to welcome Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, after Khashoggi’s heinous killing—a crime that Erdogan helped bring to light despite repeated denials and cover-ups from Saudi officials.  

Source: BBC

An identity vacuum

Since its inception, Pakistanis have struggled with what it means to be Pakistani. Heroes and idols have mostly been cultural imports ranging from the Khans of Bollywood, the blue-eyed denim-clad heroes of Hollywood and now historical Turkish figures. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor at Forman Christian College-University in Lahore, says Pakistan has a “cultural vacuum coupled with incomplete identity formation.” “We first tried to become Arabs by taking inspiration from Arab heroes,” Hoodbhoy told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “But now that the Arabs have slightly moved towards liberalism, we are pinning our hopes on Turkey.” For the middle class, the conservative values, sword-bashing men defending Islam against its enemies and modestly covered women also offers a cultural narrative thats closer to home and hence easier to buy into.

Bhutto explains this further in her book highlighting that the Turks had managed to strike a nerve where Indian, American and Pakistani content failed. “They had achieved the perfect balance between secular modernity and middle-class conservatism,” she says. 

Stronger together?

In September 2019, leaders from Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia decided to jointly launch an English language television channel dedicated to confronting Islamophobia and removing “misperceptions” about Islam. The TV channel, which will be broadcasting in English, will create videos for social media platforms, produce documentaries and video news, according to reports. Additionally, Khan is also mulling over a proposed joint TV series with leading Turkish director Kemal Tekden dubbed Turk Lala. The series will highlight the role played by Muslims of the sub-continent during the Balkan War.

In addition, Pakistan had also announced plans to celebrate the centenary of the Caliphate movement of the 1920s in 2020. Earlier this year, Turkish foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also inaugurated the Turkish consulate under construction in Karachi, which is reported to be one of Turkey’s largest consulates in the world. 

Defence ties

The two countries also enjoy a strong military-to-military relationship, which is symbolized by the armed forces training exchange programme of 2000. Since the inception of the programme, approximately 1,500 Pakistani military officers have been trained in Turkey. Turkey also helps maintain Pakistan’s fleet of F-16 aircraft.

Source: Twitter/@iihtishamm

A Pakistani Ertuğrul

A group of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 26 also attempted to recreate the popular Turkish series in the Odigram village of Swat Valley. The young boys financed the film with the income from their business selling axes, swords, jackets, and borks, which they produced after watching the serial ‘Resurrection Ertugrul’, according to a Global Village Space report. The film will be released after Eid-ul-Fitr with the title, Pakistani Ertugrul, on YouTube. 

What happens next?

While the bond between Islamabad and Riyadh is cemented by historical ties, common adversaries and a shared foreign policy vision, it would be interesting to note how the relationship is furthered beyond Khan’s government. Moreover, the strengthening ties between the two countries should also provide a new template for Western and US policy makers who have  historically viewed Pakistan solely through an Afghan/Iran security lens and defined Turkey by the ongoing refugee crisis and Syria and Russia’s military influence. Until then, will our TV screens continue to be flooded by Turkish cultural imagery? The answer seems to be a likely yes.

Want more?

You can also read previous newsletter coverage of Turkish media in Pakistan here:

Sarah Munir is a digital journalist with a focus on the intersection of technology and media. She has worked with several publications including Dawn, Facebook, Forbes, and most recently Twitter. You can reach her @SarahMunir1.

Motorway rape case, public outrage, and how you can help

Cover photo credit: Canva

By: Anam Khan

The purpose of this special report is to understand rape culture and identify some of the root causes of rape culture in Pakistan. The report also points out ways you can tackle the mindset, societal norms, and systemic failures that contribute to rape culture.

A breakdown of what happened

The incident: Two robbers allegedly raped a woman at gunpoint on the motorway last week. She was travelling from Lahore to Gujranwala with her children. Her car ran out of fuel while she was crossing the toll plaza on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway. A relative in Gujranwala told her to call the police helpline, and was on his way to help. However, before the relative reached her, two armed men took her and her children to a nearby field at gunpoint and gang-raped her. The robbers also snatched her cash, jewellery and other valuables.

Where were the police? As for the helpline, police claim she hadn’t called by the time the armed men showed up. However, according to Al Jazeera, she phoned the police for help, but the two armed men took her and her children out of the vehicle before the police arrived.

Victim-blaming: Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) in Lahore, Muhammad Umar Sheikh, suggested that her own actions got her into trouble. He questioned why she left the house late at night, drove alone with her kids, didn’t check the petrol in her car, and didn’t take a route called GT road that is more populated. He also said the woman, who is a resident of France, thought she was in France and not Pakistan where society is different. Protesters are demanding CCPO Sheikh’s removal. Today, CCPO Sheikh reportedly apologized: “I did not mean anything wrong…if any misunderstanding was caused because of me, then I apologize.”

Our earlier newsletter that went out today sums up recent arrests, next steps, and protests against the gang rape.

Summing up public outrage

What is rape culture?

An environment in which sexual violence is considered the norm and justified. Victims are blamed for their own assaults. Cultural norms and institutions protect rapists, promote impunity, shame victims, and demand that women bring it upon themselves to avoid sexual assault. Rape culture is rooted in patriarchal beliefs (i.e. the dominance of men, and the devaluation of women). Gender inequalities, discriminatory laws, and attitudes about gender and sexuality, fuel rape culture. 

Take a stand against rape culture in Pakistan

Change the mindset of society. Why is there a culture and system that produces men who rape women with impunity? What is taught in homes and schools? What is the value of a woman’s voice and consent? It is reportedly common for men to sit in a gathering where casual sexist jokes and objectifying comments about women are considered normal. This allows a toxic culture to develop, even if certain men don’t take part in these conversations, they shouldn’t let them happen. 

Redefine masculinity. Don’t let the boys or men in your life perceive violence as “strong” and dominance as “male.” 

Stop victim-blaming: When discussing a case of sexual violence against a woman, don’t bring up her sobriety, choice of clothing, or sexuality as the problem. Talk about how the perpetrator is responsible for her assault. Hold the perpetrator accountable. The cause of rape, is the rapist.

Don’t “make women smaller.” Keeping girls indoors and protected isn’t the solution. The root of the problem goes deeper, and risk aversion isn’t the only answer. It’s important to address systemic issues and institutional failures that allow rape culture to spread, rather than expect women to sacrifice their freedoms in order to stay safe. 

Take an intersectional approach. Rape culture affects all of us, regardless of gender identity, sexuality, economic status, race, religion or age. One step towards tackling rape culture is removing restrictive definitions of gender and sexuality that discourage people from expressing themselves. For example, there are cases where LGBTQI individuals are subject to “corrective rape,” in which the perpetrator intends to force the victim to conform with sexual and gender stereotypes.

Improve law enforcement. Elected officials and law enforcement agencies need to implement laws that promote gender equality and protect women. There is currently a lack of law enforcement that protects women and girls from violent crimes like rape. However, public hangings of rapists won’t stop rape from happening either. Imran Ali, the man who raped and murdered the minor girl, Zainab, in Kasur, was hanged in October 2018. Capital punishment clearly didn’t deter future rapists.  

Start police reforms. The police should make it easier and safer for women to report crimes. Create an atmosphere that is free of victim-blaming.

Donate to organizations that focus on rape and violence in Pakistan

Aurat Foundation: An organization working for women’s empowerment. The organization deals with a wide range of issues, such as ending violence against women and girls.  

Bedari: An organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls. Bedari focuses on violence against women and education for women. 

War Against Rape (WAR): An organization that provides crisis intervention to sexually abused women and children, including free services like legal aid, psycho-therapeutic counseling, and basic medical assistance.

Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE): A women-led organization that conducts seminars to raise awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace. Through its Survivor Support Unit (SSU), WISE also helps women who have survived torture, sexual harassment, and sexual assault by connecting them with legal services, counseling, and psycho-social therapy.

Anam Khan is a content strategist and founder of The NewsRun.

Exclusive interview with Julie’s lawyer, Hassan Niazi

Cover photo credit: The Tempest

By: Anam Khan and Ushah Kazi


News about the arrest of Pakistani trans activist, Julie, has been making rounds on the internet. Because of the online Naked Truth series, Julie became a viral, household name earlier this year. She had been vocal about the plight of the country’s trans community, receiving both support and criticism as a result. In particular, her arrest was allegedly based on a fabricated case. Because of a lack of attention from mainstream media channels, a lot of the facts about Julie’s case were unclear. That’s why The NewsRun and lifestyle and culture blogger, Ushah Kazi, worked together to clarify as many details as we could. You can visit Ushah’s blog to learn more about Pakistan’s transgender community.

We reached out to Julie’s lawyer, Hassan Niazi, and asked him about the case. We also recapped whatever has already been published about Julie’s case. 


Background: Reportedly, on July 12th, a group attacked Julie’s friend Rosy at her residence. Julie, along with other activists, spoke out against this. A few day’s later, the same group behind the assault on Rosy allegedly retaliated by filing false charges against Julie and her friends. 

The alleged incident: On July 16th, Lubna, another member of the trans community, accused Julie and three others of attacking her at her home, and taking her valuables. However, according to Niazi, Julie was at Bari Imam at the time, and was never at the Golra Shareef suburb, where the alleged incident against Lubna took place. In fact, Niazi claimed that Lubna was the one who led a group of trans people to attack Julie in her home on July 15th. Basically, the group responsible for attacking Julie allegedly filed a First Information Report (FIR) against her based on a fabricated case.

Julie’s arrest: On August 10th, Islamabad Police arrested Julie and kept her in Adiala Jail. According to Niazi, the initial police report stated that Julie was not a part of any violent act. However, she was still arrested. 

Dissent within the trans community: The circumstances surrounding Julie’s arrest have brought the internal politics of the trans community to the forefront. Niazi suggested that Julie’s public commentary on trans rights threatened members of the trans community who reportedly benefit from the status quo. Niazi also claimed that members of the community are jealous of Julie’s “fame.” 

  • Challenging the guru-chaila system: Julie reportedly condemns the prevalent ‘guru’ (teacher) and ‘chaila’ (student) system, which Niazi has likened to “slavery.” Allegedly, some wanted Julie to be placed under “Guru Najma.” However, Julie left her guru, because she doesn’t want anyone to own her. Niazi said the gurus want money in return. 
  • Exploitation: Niazi went into detail about how people in the transgender community are assigned a “ranking.” Circumstances naturally turn gurus into heads of the community. When trans people leave their homes, they need a place to live, and prefer turning to the transgender community. If they end up staying with gurus, the gurus want something in return. Trans people make money for gurus through sex slavery or begging. When a trans person starts to become “useless” in the eyes of the guru, they are sold to another guru for a price.
  • Stance against begging: Julie wants members of the community to have employment prospects so they don’t have to beg to survive.
  • An alleged mafia: Niazi named Guru Najma as a member of a “mafia” group that allegedly put pressure on the local Station House Officer (SHO) to get Julie arrested. Lubna, who filed an FIR against Julie, is reportedly Guru Najma’s “chaila.” When asked about Julie’s history with this mafia group, Niazi claimed that threats and violence have been ongoing for a while. According to Niazi, two members of the trans community, who work with human rights organizations, went to the police station and advised Julie to comply with Guru Najma for reasons that are unclear. 

Julie’s release: Julie was recently released on bail. In order to ensure her release, Niazi and his team applied for bail, met police officers, and pushed judges to not give an adjournment. “…I can’t disclose more details, but I do know that dirty games were being played to delay the bail hearing and then her release,” he said.

Julie’s celebrity status: In a video published after her arrest, Niazi claimed that Julie could have faced even more danger had she not been so popular. He stated that trans people who rebel are normally murdered by such groups, and there is hardly ever a conviction.

Next steps: In a recent video, Julie thanked everyone for their support, and encouraged them to speak out against injustice. Niazi also encouraged people to, “accept Julie as your leader in this cause, raise your voice with her, and stand by her.”

Anam Khan is a content strategist and founder of The NewsRun.

Ushah Kazi has written for a number of Pakistani and Canadian publications. She has also published a book about Pakistani cinema titled, The Pop-Culture Junkie’s Guide to Pakistani Cinema, which is available on Amazon.