Pan Am’s Destination Karachi

– by Asad Ayub

As a fan of the recent TV series Pan Am, I saw it fitting to use pop-culture to spread my interest in the history of Pakistan amongst others in my generation. Though quite a few of you might know of Pan American airways, I doubt you knew of their operations in Pakistan. The following links and descriptions draw on the days when PanAm flights to Karachi were a regular feature and life was quite different from today. I wish to quickly sweep you through the 40s, 50s and 60s with the following video clips before moving on to reflecting over some key questions pertaining to where we are today as a nation and how it came to be this way:

Let us begin by delving into the 1940s:

This video is perhaps the most fascinating one I came across (credit to Dr.Anjum Altaf for directing me to the video). It was recorded by an unknown British soldier as he traveled across pre-partition Karachi before returning back home.

Enter the 1950s:

This video is from the Encyclopedia Britannica’s archive about Pakistan. Notice the frequent instances of ‘exoticism’.

And then there were the sweet 1960s:

Introducing Pan Am East Asia’s promotional video for Pakistan. Sadly it was not available in any other language. It is by far the most thought provoking one, for it takes us back to a Pakistan most of us didn’t know existed. Notice the beaches– swimwear-clad foreigners fraternizing with the locals in traditional Pakistani attire? How many times do we see that today?

How many of us actually knew this part of Pakistan’s history? What questions does it raise in our current paradigm? How did we end up here? And more importantly, how does one reconcile where we are today with where we were then? Pakistan has changed. What are the many ways in which it has changed? What are the dimensions we should be happy about? Which ones should be a cause of concern? Why have these changes occurred? What kind of a future do they frame for us? How are we placed in these sweeping chages?  These are some of the questions we must ask ourselves before we try and  analyse current day Pakistan. It is only once we begin to answer these questions and learn from our experiences, that we can truly begin to tread on the path to a better tomorrow.

23rd March, T20 World Cup: Patriotism and “Sub-Nationalism” in Karachi

By Faraz Hussain

When the entire country was celebrating the victory of Pakistan in T20 world cup cricket match; Karachi was burning with the flames of radicalization and ‘sub-national’ separatism. 23rd march is the day when resolution for a separate homeland for Muslims was passed in 1940 at the Minto Park Lahore – famously know as “Yad Gar e Lahore”. It is right after 67 years that the Lahore was o what was happening in the southern most corner of the same country.

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A resident of Karachi and a student at LUMS can indubitably scrutinize the experience of generation gap and regional realities of Sindh and Punjab.

Dr. Anjum Altaf – the dean at social sciences school of LUMS has rightly pointed out that cricket is the microcosm of Pakistan. This means that it overall represents the pace of the nation; but I am afraid if it was true for the Sind of today or not. More than four major events have occurred in the mega city of Pakistan and they are as follows:

Ideology supported Place of gathering Consequence
Jama’t-i-islami jalsa at Jinnah mausoleum Pro-Taliban The heart of Karachi: Mausoleum of Jinnah The declaration of Taliban as the “angry” citizens of Pakistan
Jalsa of Jami’at ‘ulama Pakistan Pro-Taliban North Karachi The need for a real Islamic state
Expression of unity with the Lyari residents by PTI South region Peace and unity with the Baloch people Lyari Chakiwara Chowk Lightening by the members of party
A nationalist separatist march rally by Jiye Sind Qaumi Mahaz Separate country From Steel town to Tibbet Center near Numaish Fighting near sadder area – the clandestine of Jama’at Jalsa


                                                      cgn

hikkg            h4k

(The view of four simultaneous events occurred in Karachi on 23rd March, 2014)

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What is most important here is the generation gap and regional gap between Punjab and the rest. The young people of Pakistan are more interested in cricket – hence they were more patriotic today while the regional gap is more lasting and prolonged. Jiye Sind Qaumi Mahaz is a separatist party which operates in Sind and demands for partition from Pakistan.

Even though media named it as “unknown fight” but the entire country knows who would fight near empress market when the long march of JSQM ends near Jama’at jalsa at numaish. This was not just a clash between two political rivals but a clash between two ideologies – the former as Islamic, pro-Taliban, mohajir, pro-army and pro-establishment while the later as secular, anti-Taliban, Sandi, anti-Pakistan and separatist. This clash has had the potential of burning down Karachi which was seen during the election period when all the secular parties of province were persecuted in campaigns with the only exception of Jama’at-i-islami.

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While the youth is busy enjoying the victory of the nation in a cricket match, the elder must be thinking about their children’s unpredictable futures. Whether this country will go into the hands of islamists or seculars is certainly unknown, but one thing is certain that it has to go into the hands of the youth. It is, therefore, time to ponder upon this “partition” and “patriotism”!

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Suburbanization and Over urbanization in Pakistan: The Case of Orangi Town in Karachi

By Faraz Hussain

 

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The reason why urban centers are becoming hubs of radicalization is because of sharp economic inequalities, social insecurities, political fallout, political killings, crime and strong religious militancy in the cities especially in Karachi. This means that the “already radicalized” people of Zi’a’s regime find multiple reasons to fight in this “established battle ground” in the urban centers. In this way, the process of “depeasantization” to “retribalization” and religious group forming is the root cause of radicalization which leads to Islamic or ethnic militancy. This makes governance a dream for the state and the levels of crime get increasingly higher every day.

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In this way, it leads to diminishing traditional economy, over urbanization for example in Karachi, and over expanded tertiary activities (Mingione, 29). In other words, the capitalist accumulation in the cities reproduces social relations of production and social classes which result in a social conflict between the different social classes (Mingione, 30). Therefore, it is the accumulation process which creates contestation over resources in the cities because this kind of accumulation is not that sharpened in the social relations of rural populations (Mingione, 30). It is because of this urban insecurity that the rural emigrants try to connect with their “tribes” in the cities and live in associated communities. This process can be called as “retribalization” because the previous farmer is now an urban industrial worker who reconnects to his scattered community members in the city. Furthermore, population congestion makes these “tribes” fight with each other over small conflicts because of their political backing as well (Khan, 55). In this case, Orangi town of Karachi can be the best example to describe because it is the largest and the most ethnically diverse area of the metropolis. It may constitute ten percent of the total city’s population and an enumeration made in 1989 showed that there were 110 sectors, 6,347 lanes and 94, 122 houses in this ‘mini Pakistan’ (Khan, 154).

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(Orangi Town Karachi: One of the major hubs of ANP in the metropolis)

Adding to that, their biggest problems were housing and sanitation, health, education and jobs employment (Khan, 56). It was in 1986 when this town was burning with the flames of ethnic and provincial killings as an aftermath of the death of Bushra Zaidi and the bulldozing of Suhrab Goth (Khan, 56). This flame of hatred led to the migration of hundreds of mohajirs, pathans and baloch within Karachi and hundreds of houses were burnt away (Khan, 57).

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   (An array of hope for the people of Orangi)

Similarly, hundreds of baloch had to migrate to Lyari town because of an event occurred in Hyderabad – hundred miles away from Karachi (Khan, 58). Almost 1,400 Orangi Balochis ran away to seek shelter with their clansmen in hub villages and urged them to make retaliatory raids on orange (Khan, 58). In this way, it is also famous that the Baloch tribals possess heavy arms, rocket launchers, grenades, and machine guns for their protection or for the purposes of retaliations (Khan, 58). This shows that the people urban feel connected and loyal to their ethnic and tribal associations and the contestation occurs on these regional lines. However, the real causes behind these killings are definitely urban insecurities and social exclusions from the attractions which the city offers otherwise. Similarly, it gets heated by sectarian rhetoric and the militarization of the people by organizations like Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan, Awami National Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and peoples Aman Committee etc (Khan, 59).

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     (The picture shows the retrospective killings of two opposition parties)

This presence of arms in the hands of people along with the feeling of ‘saving their communities’ makes it highly probable that the people in these urban slums will fight over conflicts and that it will lead to radicalization.

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This is described as “cognitive alienation” where people follow the morals which are not the direct product of their own reflection and understanding but are rather imposed to them due to circumstances and existing dominant power structures. This is the same case with the ‘suburbanization’ in Pakistan where people get caught in an already existing battle grounds between different power structures which are operating on ethnic and sectarian lines. In this aspect, it is also very important to mention the role of madrassas in spreading sectarian violence in the urban centers of Pakistan through these marginalized and economically exasperated communities. As many as 218 people have been killed and 295 have been injured during the sectarian attacks in the year 2013 in Karachi alone (tashadud.org).

 

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In all of these situations, one can, however, hope for a better future because the trend towards education is still rising and, surprisingly, the female numbers of students is almost equal to their male counterparts even in the suburban town of Orangi:

Schools Students Male p/c Female p/c
Preprimary 203 5602 2905 51.85% 2697 48.14%
Primary 261 42049 22896 54.45% 19153 45.54%
Secondary 121 32940 18491 56.13% 14449 43.86%
Total 585 80591 44292 54.95% 36299 45.04%

Source: Orangi Pilot Project by Akhter Hameed Khan, Oxford University Press

This is a greatest hope because tolerance is the biggest product of education.

 

Works Cited

Khan, Akhtar Hameed”, Orangi Schools”, Orangi Pilot Project – Reflections and Reminiscences, Karachi: Oxford UP, 1996, 85-86, Print.

Mingione, Enzo, “Class Conflict and Urban Development”, Social Conflict and the City, Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 108 Cowley Road, 1981, 30-31, Print.

 

 

Basant: A boon that became a bane

By Momina Mindeel 52f44c13d053f

Engrossed in the vibrant skyline, dotted with the colorful triangular kites in the midst of February, a group of people finds it cathartic to briefly detach itself from the monotony of life by indulging in the sport of kite flying. Besides, the triumphant shouts of Bo Kata combined with Bhangra tunes, blaring from the tape recorders placed on the makeshift tables on the rooftops of the houses, provide just the perfect aura. While another group, somewhere in the remote corner of the same city, mourns the death of an innocent young biker who became the victim of a strayed glass coated string while heading back home after a tiring day at work. Well, it turns out that the wandering illegal dors are not the only life snatchers. A significant rise in the number of the children falling off the roofs of their houses and stray gunfire have also played their part. Isn’t it appallingly inexplicable how the apparently tiny festivities of one group can cause humongously painful effects for the other? Conversely, isn’t it upsetting as well to see how the ban on Basant due to the negligence of few is rapidly debilitating the very sense of harmony and brotherhood it set out to create in the first place? If you ask me, it’s like choosing not to take any action against terrorism or corruption for apparently, it requires way too much effort. images (1)

Basant, a multihued seasonal festival characterized by blossoming flowers, yellow clothes and a skyline dominated with kites, dates back to the Vedic period of Ancient India. Back in those days, it had a religious significance attached to it for it was dedicated to the Hindu goddess of learning, Saraswati. Basant, however, lost the religious significance over the course of time to the point that it was celebrated by Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs alike in the pre-partition Indo-Pak subcontinent.  It, therefore, served as a promoter of inter-faith harmony and provided livelihood to a major chunk of the society. Even in the current scenario of Pakistan, a chief amount of the lower class population, residing in the old Lahore, relies on Kite making in order to feed the starving families. In fact, according to one of the articles published in Express Tribune last year, approximately seventy percent of the families whose entire livelihood hinged solely on kite making had to stop sending their children to school owing to the Ban on Basnat, for they did not possess any other skill.

However, its gradual transformation into a blood game has put a question mark on its cultural, as well as economic status. Earlier in 2013 in Gujranwala, as SAMAA News reported, five year old Sameer was rushed to the hospital after having survived Basant night firing. The little flower, however, withered away even before it started blooming. The horrendousness just didn’t end here. Another 3 year old young boy sustained grave kite-chord cuts on his neck in the very same city. But the question remains persistent as it is. Isn’t it unfair to put a ban on one of the most entertaining festivals because of someone’s disregard of law? Should there be a why on taking some time out merely for the purpose of rejuvenation in the already so complicated world?

My point is: Celebrate and rejoice as long as you do not snatch away innocent lives. An outright ban is never an effective solution. However, it may be used as a scapegoat, an easy way out, in order to prevent oneself from accepting personal responsibility. After all, that is precisely the strategy our government has opted quite frequently in the recent past and has even succeeded in sacrificing one of the very few cultural festivals we are left with. All I am asking for is some good governance and a careful attitude on the part of citizens.

References:

–  http://tribune.com.pk/story/519127/let-basant-be-celebrated/

–   http://tribune.com.pk/story/561183/banning-basant-70-families-had-to-stop-sending-their-kids-to-school/

–   http://www.samaa.tv/Gujranwala-Basant-night-firing-victim-child-dies-another-injured-by-kite-cord-62155-

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A take on mysticism

By Ramsha Hisham

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Everyone, at some point in their lives, goes through a period of questioning the things they grew up taking for granted. Some years into my teenage, I realized some beliefs I had acquired from books or older people were not synchronous with my intuitive understanding of how the world around me functioned, or should function ideally. Being born into a conservative Pakistani family normally means that skeptical inquiries into the veracity of religion are discouraged. And yet, religion is such a large part of our identities as Pakistanis that one needs to reflect about what it means and if and how it works for each of us. This was one phase in my long journey toward understanding who I am and what I must do.

We all grew up seeing Islam as a religion of severity and grave piety. Every single Islamiyat class I attended up to college seemed to have been designed as a guilt trip, warning us self-indulgent sinners that the fires of Hell were blazing in wait for us. The Islamiyat books we studied focused largely on our duties as Muslims, with clearly defined right deeds and wrong deeds, and intricate details of the punishments recommended for specific wrong deeds. The proponents of religious devotion who we saw occasionally on T.V. were always old, looked like uptight, strict schoolteachers, and did not seem to possess any of the desires which makes us human, or even a sense of fun. There couldn’t have been a less attractive proposition than for teenagers to become good Muslims.

Then as life went on, the innocent fun that we thought was the whole point of our existence started looking one-dimensional and losing its charm. There were difficulties associated with being adults, responsibilities that had to be shouldered, heartbreaks that had to be born. Our straightforward trajectories toward success and fulfillment turned out to be uphill slogs, full of pitfalls and re-routes. Where I had been full of childish idealism and optimism, suddenly, I found that even staying hopeful was a draining task. When times become very difficult, one begins to question the need for so much difficulty, or what purpose these difficult experiences served. And to my own great surprise, the very religion that had appeared so psychologically disabling a guilt trip became the biggest anchor and solace of my adulthood. Of course, I hadn’t gone back to the same Islamiat books or the same T.V. mullahs. I discovered Sufism in the poetry of the great Saints, all the way from Rumi and Ibn-e-Arabi in Konya and Andalusia to Nizamuddin Aulia and Amir Khusrau in Delhi. Their poetry was bubbling with the sincerity of their devotion to Islam and the last Prophet (pbuh), but it was uplifting and hope-giving rather than despondent and bleak. This quote of Mevlana Rumi immediately sets the tone for the Sufi discourse:

“Come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”

They were Muslims, in exactly the same way we say we are, or our Islamiyat teachers used to say we were. And yet, the approach of Sufism is one which celebrates the beauty of Islam, that begins addressing religion from the point where it takes root: the heart. Unless our hearts accept the truth of something, no amount of guilt-tripping can turn us from atheists to theists. The realization of what was so profoundly correct about Sufism also made me realize what was so terribly wrong with the conventional way in which we learn about Islam, academically or otherwise. Freud, in his study of the human, stated that the two primal motivations for human beings are fear and greed. Our ancestors, thousands of years ago worshipped the stars or the sun or fire or rain or nature or animals. But whatever they worshipped, it was either from fear of the power of that entity, or in solicitation of the benefits that entity could bestow. It hit me that we were practicing Islam the same way our ancestors practiced naturalism or totoism. We do the right thing out of fear that we’ll get thrown in hell if we do otherwise, or in the hope that we’ll earn heaven. Fear or Greed. And this is diametrically opposed to the approach of organized religions, in which we worship God only because He is Worthy of it.

This discovery caused me to really look at organized religion, in my particular case, Islam, for the first time as I should have seen it from the beginning. Far from religion’s being outdated, out of fashion or irrelevant to modern culture, I experienced firsthand, its enduring relevance, because it addresses the problem of human nature and purpose, which no number of technological advances can outdate.

Decay, Destruction and Dreams – The Demon Drug

By Sahar Salman

dn63-poppy

It is called the City of Gates for a reason. Lahore, with its mystical beauty, its perfect blend of richness and squalor, mystery and openness, and light and dark. With its 13 gates – each a pathway into the city’s innermost secrets. Into bazaars filled with rich spices, silks and velvets and the sound of jangling coins. And behind one gate… In one of those colorful life-filled bazaars… there is a shop. A shop that sold charming antiques to innocent customers. And to the not so innocent customers who walked into the aged shop and clichéd enough asked to see “something satanic in nature” a door was shown. A door that led to Lahore’s greatest secret – The Devil Den.

The Devil Den was a dark place said to be started by the devil himself. Tamer individuals merely had the courage to sample of the simpler wares – whiskey, women and weed before hurriedly coming out and thinking themselves very daring. But the true Den took form in the shape of a certain Orientals house. Fung Loo Sha was well known for being the best supplier of the Demon Drug with the curious habit of never touching the stuff himself – Opium; he seductive temptress of the desperately corrupt, and the lifelong mistress to its addict. For a staggering amount of 50 rupees you could earn yourself a pipe of the best stuff and lose yourself in the sickly sweet fumes of decay, destruction and dreams. And then come again. And again. And again. Lured by the desperate need, the horrific desire till all you could do was watch with dull eyes as your money, your life and your very soul were ripped from you. Demon drug indeed.

The occupants of the Devil Den would never have known whether the British had set foot on their soil had it not been for the sudden appearance of white faces in their midst – corruption and weakness being of course, a universal trait. They remained unaware and uncaring of how their land slipped from the hands of their own rulers into the smug control of British soldiers as day in day out they partook of their heavenly fumes. Indeed, they were even unaffected by the War of Independence that tore the country apart and was the first breath of revolution in the middle of the nineteenth century.

They only noted with indifferent, heavy- lidded gazes how more and more men came seeking the oblivion of the Demon Drug. Boyish soldiers, both native and British, seeking to drown the bloody images of the battlefield, the first of their experience, in the sweet oblivion of opium. And veterans who simply had seen too many images to be shocked and needed a stimulant to feel alive. Young and old, they all came to the Devils Den where Fung Loo Sha greeted them with a sickly smile and bowed humbly, and the opium beckoned them with the promise of peace.

It was one such soldier, who descended on the Devils Den in the months that followed the rebellion. He was one of the Muslim soldiers who served the British army and had seen firsthand the pillage and godless warfare on the battlefields of Punjab. Eyes bloodshot with lost sleep from his living nightmare, he too succumbed to the cloying embrace of the pipe. It started as it always did. One visit before he disappeared again into his own world for a month before coming back for a second taste with hungry eyes. Fung Loo Sha nooded to himself with knowing – this one was showing all the signs. From weekly visits, to daily, to every few hours, he would come until it made no sense to go back. What was there to go back to anyway? An everlasting longing for that blessed… blessed… pipe. Within 3 months the den had another tenant. And the drug another victim.

But Sgt. Ahmad was to be no ordinary addict… no. He was not content to simply lie in a half daze until he found the strength to bestir himself for another pipe. At first like the other addicts he would look sightlessly into the swirls of smoke above him, in a wretched stupor. But as time wore on he started to whisper to himself. Incessant, continuous whispering day after day – going on and on even after his voice turned scratchy and hoarse. Till one day a fallen English major, raised his bored drugged voice to ask what the devil he kept going on about and to either say what he had to or shut his rambling mouth.

Ahmad fell silent for a minute before he said in such a calm eerie voice the hair at the back of every mans neck stood up. “They made me kill them. Yes they did. Those white men. They made me kill them. Made me kill my friends and my brothers. My own people. They did it. I killed them because of it. But don’t you worry. No, no. Don’t you worry. We will soon be free. Given time we will be free. Our own country we will have. Yes. Yes we will. Those mighty British won’t have us under their thumbs. Nor the Hindus too. You will see. There will be a country for us. Our own. A country for us… A country for us… A country for us” And he here began laughing and laughing and laughing. Hysteric and manic laughter that went on for days and days and days till Fung Loo Sha at the end of his wits called in a favor and had him removed. He watched the boy being led off by 4 men still screaming his haunting words and shivered. There was no accounting for people’s reactions to the Demon Drug – but that was just strange.

The dwellers of the Devil Den forgot Ahmad and what he said… being more concerned with how many pipes of the Demon Drug they could wrangle out of Fung Loo Sha on their steadily declining incomes. So when the news came of his death they shrugged it off as withdrawal symptoms, blissfully sinking into an indifferent stupor. But Fung Loo Sha heard the rumors. How the boy’s ranting had been heard by more than just the opium addicts. How some very powerful British gentlemen had heard it. How it was decided that the words needed to be stopped… permanently. And since the boys mind was broken they would just have to break something else. And finally how a young man dressed in rags was found near the Lahore cemetery… neck broken and face scarred beyond recognition and how, completely unrelated of course, all traces of Sgt. Ahmad had just… disappeared. Yes, Fung Loo Sha thought to himself, as he bowed graciously to more men who came with dead eyes to his establishment. It was all very… strange.

Most people went to die at the Devils Den. Sgt. Ahmads rambling was the first time something was born. And as whisper turned to talk, and talk to shouts – Revolution began.

This blogpost is a fictional piece.

Pakistan’s Most Scandalous: Meera, Veena and Mathira

       Veena-Malik-the-drama-queen1

By Hasan Shahid

Meera, Veena and Mathira: three names that seem to serve as a constant source of scandal in Pakistan’s entertainment industry. The three figures have long fascinated Pakistani society; some would go as far as saying that Pakistan is obsessed with them. All three seem to have achieved tremendous fame and received sharp criticism from Pakistan’s population. They have been labeled as both agents of change and liberalism as well as a disgrace to the nation but what does their popularity reveal about Pakistan?

Few in Pakistan would attribute the success of these women to their artistic talents. Many more hold the belief that their fame is achieved either by exciting heterosexual male members of society or by scandalizing a largely conservative populace. Meera started her career as a model and then became an actress achieving great success. However, we rarely hear of her performance as a model or an actress as compared to the number of times we hear of her shoddy grasp of the English Language, her sex tape and her alleged affair with cricketer, Shoaib Akhtar. Veena Malik has appeared in Bollywood and Lollywood movies, however, the public rarely comments on her acting skills instead choosing to focus on her affair with Indian actor, Ashmit Pattel, or her nude cover photo for FHM magazine. Similarly, Mathira is a popular TV show host but people rarely look at her in the same light as they do other TV show hosts. They refrain from commenting on the content of the show but choose to focus on her accent and her clothing

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It is unfortunate that society chooses to ignore the talents of women and instead, questions a woman’s personal character. There exists, in Pakistan, a great deal of negative sentiment about these women however, these women continue to act in whichever way they wish to. They are infamous for performing acts that offend conservative sentiments. It is difficult to say whether these acts are mere publicity stunts or whether these women are actually practicing their free will, questioning the traditional role of women. Either way, the question remains: What do these women mean for Pakistan and specifically to Pakistani women?

 

Perhaps the actions of these three are simply a search for fame but that doesn’t take away from the fact that these women are giving Pakistan’s moral brigade a great deal to talk about. People often blame these women for their brazen disregard of traditional values, but these women aren’t ignoring conservative sentiment in Pakistan: they’re thriving on it. They’re using it in order to fulfill their dreams. Many Pakistani actresses aspire to work in the Indian movie industry because of the failure of the local film industry but few get the opportunity to do so but all three of these women have managed to attain roles in large Bollywood productions.

Some have dubbed these women as feminist figures in Pakistan but are their actions changing the role of women in Pakistan? Few Pakistanis consider these women as role models. They have the effect of scandalizing society to the extent that every act these women conduct is considered immoral. They may be questioning traditional values but perhaps their ‘questioning’ is urging parents to enforce traditional values upon their daughters more stringently. Their disregard for conservative sentiment may actually play a role in increasing conservativism in Pakistan.

It’s difficult to determine and delineate the exact effect that these women have on Pakistan but their popularity means that they are affecting society in some way or the other. Regardless of what they mean for Pakistan, they have captured the fascination of so many Pakistanis and therefore, they are a part of this country that refuses to be ignored.

 

Pakistan’s Big Secret: Atheists and Agnostics

By Hasan Shahid

atheist-comic

                 Pakistan is often accused of secretly supporting religious extremism but this can’t be the only secret Pakistan is hiding. In the midst of Islamization and religious extremism, Pakistani society has been harboring a secret population: a population that has no legal recognition and is rarely mentioned in the public domain, a population that has remained closeted for much of Pakistan’s history and has only recently taken the refuge of anonymity over the internet. It’s difficult to find signs of atheism in a country where norms are so strictly dictated by religious doctrine. The rise of social media has been accompanied by an increasing visibility of various groups and one of these groups is Pakistan’s non-believing community.

Ex-Muslims find that an expression of opinion often has dire consequences. Back when Hadia, a Pakitani agnostic, was in school, she revealed her distaste for the slaughter of animals on Bakra-eid to a group of friends and particularly hurtful rumors were spread. ‘I realized there and then that self censorship is key to survival as a non-believer in Pakistan,’ recalled Hadia.

It’s difficult for non-believers to express themselves publically which is why many find solace over the internet, however,  individuals find that they must be careful, even with their activities over the internet. Hadia recalls her experience of being a member of a facebook group for Pakistani Non-believers; ‘I used to feel like I was the only one who felt the way I do. I would wonder if something was wrong with me but the group I joined really helped me accept myself. I later had to leave the group because I was in constant fear of my brother seeing my internet history.’ There are a myriad of blogs and Facebook groups for non-believers but many restrict access to people who they can confirm are atheists and agnostics. Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics (PAA) is one of the largest and most well known of these groups. The group managed to launch a website in 2011, which is currently down due to technical difficulties. An administrator of the group explained how ‘the group grew very quickly and currently has 1,167 members.’ She also explained how the group has had to develop a complex interview process in order to ensure that all members are actually atheists or agnostics so that healthy debate can ensue. ‘The group is now growing very slowly because our interview process has gotten much more secure and therefore, we have around 800 pending members,’ stated the administrator. The need for a more secure interview process arose because ‘as the group grew, we had more people who had concerns about their wellbeing if they were ‘outed.’ Plus we can never know if someone is a jihadist, trying to gain entry to find out members’ personal info. The group members have became more concerned with their safety after a member was turned into the police by his own family because a family member of his hacked his Facebook and caught him on PAA.’ The administrators of the PAA are still unsure of what happened to this individual. In order to protect the identity of members, many groups go as far as setting the group’s privacy settings to ‘secret.’ This means that the group cannot be viewed through a regular search engine and the members of the group are only visible to other members and in order to gain membership, one must be invited to join the group by a current member.

Perhaps, this religious Xenophobia can also be seen in Pakistan’s legal system. In Pakistan, one has to declare a religion when applying for a passport. There is no option for non-believers in the current application. It is, therefore, one of the PAA’s agendas to add a ‘non-theist’ box to the list of religions on the passport application. In 2007, the apostasy bill was proposed and tabled. This bill argued in favor of a death penalty for those individuals who convert away from Islam and required only two witnesses to confess against the accused. Although, there currently exists no formal legal punishment for apostasy in Pakistan, Pakistani non-believers are in constant fear of such a bill being passed. Even in the absence of legal consequences, apostates fear death at the hands of religious fundamentalists. In 2007, Salman Taseer, a Pakistani politician who vocally criticized blasphemy laws, was assassinated by his security guard, Mumtaz Quadri. Quadri claimed that he was only carrying out the teachings of the Holy Prophet, ‘regarding an apostate.’  Many religious parties praised Qadri as a man who was carrying out the work of God. Under these circumstances, it is unsurprising to see why many atheists and agnostics in Pakistan prefer to keep their lack of religious beliefs private.

There is no formal recognition of Atheists and Agnostics in Pakistan making it incredibly difficult to determine the actual number of non-believers in the country and whether or not this number is changing. Regardless of whether or not, there has been an actual increase in the number of atheists and agnostics in Pakistan, there is clearly a greater visibility of these individuals. Increasing visibility of non-believers and an increasingly intolerant society is a deadly combination. Society has ignored the existence of this group for much of Pakistan’s history but Pakistani atheists and agnostics are making their voices heard through avenues such as social media. Pakistan’s long kept secret is out; there is a visible existence of atheists and agnostics over the internet. Societal intolerance has long acted as a deterrent to non-believers expressing their opinions openly but through the rise of the digital age, a greater number of non-believers are finding it easier to express themselves. It’s difficult to anticipate what will happen next; will society come to accept and integrate members of this community or will the cries of these individuals be silenced by Pakistan’s moral brigade?

*Names changed to protect privacy of individuals