Legal Advocacy at Its Finest

As a law student, I aspire to balance a fulfilling career with legal advocacy, taking on causes pro bono for those who lack the means to seek justice.  That is why I seek inspiration from the thousands of lawyers and jurists around the world who dedicate themselves to giving a legal voice to the voiceless — often at great risk and sacrifice.

Fortunately, I have no shortage of examples to follow, most recently and dramatically in the form of Saif-ul-Mulook, a Pakistani lawyer who saved his client from certain death, and who now faces death threats as a result. As the South China Morning Post reported:

After saving condemned Christian Asia Bibi from the gallows in Pakistan, her lawyer says he is facing the wrath of Islamist extremists – and wonders who will save him. But despite the threats against him, Saif-ul-Mulook says he regrets nothing, and will continue his legal fight against intolerance.

Mulook’s latest victory saw the freeing of Asia Bibi – a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, who spent nearly a decade on death row – after the Supreme Court overturned her conviction on Wednesday.

[…]

The defence of Bibi was just the latest in a long line of controversial cases taken up by the barrister.

In 2011, Mulook was the lead prosecutor against Mumtaz Qadri over the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer – a prominent critic of the country’s blasphemy laws and supporter of Bibi.

Qadri – one of Taseer’s bodyguards – gunned down his boss in broad daylight, citing the governor’s calls for reform of the blasphemy laws as his motive.

Mulook said he took on the case as others cowered, fearing reprisals from extremists. His prosecution resulted in the conviction and subsequent execution of Qadri, who was feted by Islamists and later honoured with a shrine on the outskirts of Islamabad.

If this man can brave violent extremism to save the lives of those condemned by both public opinion and an unjust legal system, I am pretty sure I can stay true to my goal.

Pakistan’s Environmental Milestone

When it comes to environmental progress, Pakistan is far from anyone’s mind. Yet according to a recent report by the World Economic Forum, a Swiss nonprofit foundation, the country has planted over a billion trees, making its otherwise barren northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa resplendent with fresh saplings. Continue reading

Where Most Sporting Goods Are Made

The Pakistani city of Sialkot may not be a household name, but it is the source of the Adidas footballs that are being used in the World Cup (as they had been in the last one).

In fact, Pakistan’s twelfth-largest city — with less than 700,000 residents — is the world’s largest producer of footballs, manufacturing of 40-60 million footballs annually, about 60% of global production. Sialkot is also the world’s biggest maker of surgical tools. Even Germany’s iconic lenderhosen are best crafted by the leather-workers of the city. Unlike many other manufacturing hubs, most of this work is done by family-owned small and medium sized enterprises, often clustering together to pool their resources. Continue reading

The Pakistan Monument

In honor of yesterday being Pakistan’s Independence Day (1947), I am sharing the lovely Pakistan Monument, a national monument finished in 2007 and located in the capital, Islamabad.

Following a competition involving many renowned architects, Arif Masood’s concept was chosen for the final design: the shape of a blooming flower representing Pakistan’s progress as a rapidly developing country, which each petal representing a province or territory. 

Intended to reflect the culture and civilization of the country, the inside of each petal depicts the story of the Pakistan Independence Movement, as well as aspects of the country’s ancient history. The central platform is a five-point star surrounded by a body of water; the metallic crescent that also surrounds the star is inscribed with quotes and poems by prominent independence leaders.

Cleverly, the monument is designed to look like a star and crescent moon from the air, which are the symbols on Pakistan’s flag (I had a hard time finding a good photo, but you can sort of make it out here I think).

The Pakistan Monument looks especially stunning at night. It seems like a very serene place to visit and unwind in. 

To all my readers from Pakistan, I hope you had a great independence day celebration!

The Man Who Cultivated Malala

By now most readers no doubt know of Malala Yousafzai, the brave teen activist who advocated for education and women’s rights in a Taliban-dominated part of Pakistan before nearly dying  at the hands of a Taliban gunman. The assassination attempt — which has done little to silence her — rightly elevated her to international attention while highlighting the plight of women and girls in Pakistan and the brave efforts of reformers like Malala to change the status quo.

Now the man who has been most fundamental to Malala’s courage, her father Ziauddin, is entering the spotlight for his uniquely progressive role in helping his daughter realize her remarkable potential on her own terms. “Why is my daughter so strong?” Yousafzai asks. “Because I didn’t clip her wings.” A simple but profound point about the role that parents should play in their children’s lives, especially within societies that seek to oppress and stifle them.

Check out his incredible and inspiring TED Talk below. It’s well worth your time.

It’s beautiful to see how much this son and daughter team have managed to defy stereotypes and societal pressure to become mutually reinforcing and supportive of each other, leading as much by example as through activism. I can’t wait to see what amazing things they’ll accomplish in the future, especially as Malala begins to realize her dream of continuing her education and no doubt learning more about how she can help the world.

 

Pakistan’s Artsy and Psychedelic Trucks

It’s always refreshing to hear something nice coming out of Pakistan for a change. Far too often, these culturally-rich countries only enter into our national psyche through tragedies or negative events — war, natural disaster, terrorism, and the like. But even the most seemingly blighted nations in the world offer much depth and beauty, often in the most unexpected places.

Case in point: check out this Foreign Policy slideshow displaying Pakistan’s uniquely flamboyant trucks, and the skilled and courageous people who drive them.

The creaking trucks that ply Pakistan’s treacherous highways form a vibrant tapestry in the country’s often bleak and rugged landscape. Showcasing the Pakistani tradition of painting vehicles elaborately, the trucks are covered with everything from detailed arabesques and Urdu calligraphy to portraits of Pakistani pop icons — or some combination of all three. Often, drivers hang chains of bells from their vehicles’ bumpers, giving them their common English name: “jingle trucks.”

Due to the way the article is formated, I can’t copy and past a sample of photos to share here, but I can share some of the pictures I’ve found on the web. These mobile works of art need to be seen to believed.

The article offers an explanation for this interesting and unique practice:

Last fall, Matthieu Aikins rode one such truck, a 1993 Nissan cargo hauler with a decorated cabin, along the U.S. and NATO supply route into Afghanistan — a journey he chronicles in his new Foreign Policy ebook: Bird of Chaman, Flower of the Khyber. (The title refers to Urdu writing painted on the truck’s mud flaps.) Starting in the port city of Karachi and then winding through Pakistan and its borderlands all the way to Kabul, Aikins observed countless example of these rolling canvases. While painted trucks are also found across Indonesia, the Philippines, and much of Latin America, the practice is at its most flamboyant in Pakistan. The origins of Pakistani truck art are unclear, but the first trucks driven in the country, when it was still part of British India, were Bedfords, imported after World War I. Over time these simple, stalwart machines were affixed with wooden prows and bumpers that grew increasingly lavish, as Aikins writes. Today, some drivers spend thousands of dollars adorning their vehicles.

Noting the lack of commercial logic to all this fanfare, Aikins suggests the tradition may have other, more spiritual roots. One theory, he says, is that the art might stem from the Sufi practice of decorating holy sites as “a way of accumulating spiritual blessings.” Durriya Kazi, a Pakistani artist and professor, told Aikins: “The idea is, if we don’t honor the truck, it won’t give back to us.” For a taste of Aikins’ colorful — and dangerous — journey, check out these images depicting some of Pakistan’s more colorful tankers — and read his new book, available here.

A Tale of Two Humanitarian Educators

Interestingly, one of these stories takes place in India, and the other in Pakistan, each being reported on within months of each other. Regardless of their location, selfless and innovative ideas like these help give me hope in humanity. I’m short on time, so I’ll let the pictures and their captions speak for themselves. Click the images to link to their original sources (Washington Post and NPR, respectively).

School in India

A makeshift school set up under a bridge in New Delhi, India. Run by shop owner Rajesh Kumar, the over 50 students, ages 4 to 14, study everything from basic reading and writing to mathematical concepts like the Pythagorean Theorem. The students sit on foam mats just yards away from an excrement pit, and are taught for over 2 hours.

pakistanlibrary1

After decades abroad Saeed Malik (left) returned to his native Pakistan to rectify the poor education system. He remembered talking to a group of boys, 9 to 16 years old, and finding that the majority wanted to be freedom fighters and die as martyrs, because they had nothing else to live for. “And I felt, in what way can we bring these kids back to the beauty of life, to the beauty of future, to be of value to fellow mankind and to themselves and to the country,” he says. “And I started thinking in what way can we help the children.” Malik felt books were the way to broaden children’s minds, to introduce them to a whole world of subjects, and to help build tolerance for others. But he discovered that virtually none of the public schools in and around Islamabad had libraries. Through donations from the UN and private individuals, he founded the Bright Star Mobile Library, which now serves about 2,500 children, providing a range of books in Urdu and English.

We need more stories like this to be known, especially to balance out all the cynicism and negativity that typically captures our attention (and subsequently make up the bulk of our news). Even a flicker of light in the darkness is something to be cherished.

The Border Crossing At Wagah

One rarely speaks of India or Pakistan without invoking their intractable rivalry and infamously tense relationship. The two nations are almost synonymous for bellicose, distrust, and – even at the best of times – overwrought relations. They’ve fought several wars, engage numerous skirmishes and indirect clashes, and been at the brink of nuclear war as recently as 2001. Much of this hostility and mutual suspicion emerges from a central cause: a territorial dispute over Jammu and Kashmir, parts of which are held between each country but claimed in their entirety by both.

The village of Wagah is located between Lahore and Amristar. Note the disputed territory.

What is most tragic is that both nations share so much in terms of culture, history, language, and religion, and even maintain relatively robust economic links, yet none of these factors help dilute the posturing over land and pride (although one could argue, as I have, that such similarities and cultural exchanges have in the past, and to this day, lessened the chances of a larger-scale conflict). Needless to say, the Mumbai bomb attacks that occurred in 2008, perpetrated by Pakistan-linked terrorists, has only made the already dim prospects for peace and a thawing of relations even darker – though presumably, things are better than they seem lately, thanks to cooler heads prevailing.

Anyway, I unfortunately don’t have much time to get into the finer details of this issue, or its future implications. Rather, I wanted to share a fascinating, little-known event that occurs regularly in the context of all this quarreling. It fondly reminds me of our human capacity to make light of even the most dire of circumstances.

Given what I’ve established about this conflict, one could imagine India and Pakistan don’t share a very open and accommodating border. In fact, there is only one road border crossing between the two countries, in the village of Wagah, which is itself split between an Indian eastern half and a Pakistani western one.

As the only place where the two nations’ troops regularly interact in a relatively open and relaxed environment, it has become the site of a ceremonial “lowering of the flags” ritual at sunset, which is like no other between any other countries in the world, much less two barely in a state of war at times. The exchange comprises I could only describe as a combination of pep rally, pantomime, cockerel-like posturing, and you-got-served-style street dancing. You literally have to see it to believe it.

From the Indian Side:

From the Pakistani Side:

Pretty dramatic stuff. This ceremony has been going on since 1959, even through all the wars and heightened periods of tensions. It hardly looks like the sort of exchange you’d expect from two nations commonly held to be mortal enemies. There is a light-hearted, even playful attitude about it, like a match between two sports teams. Despite some apparent aggression and pomp, the the troops involved seem like they’re getting into it more out of pride and sport than any maliciousness. The cheering and festive audience certainly helps bolster that impression.

Let's get ready to rumble.

In addition to this unique event, Wagah has also been the site of candlelight vigils celebrating the Independence days of both nations (August 14th for Pakistan and 15th  for India) as well as to show solidarity for peace and reconciliation. Since first emerging in 2001, it’s occurred several times in subsequent years. And aside from such displays, there have been substantial developments as well, such as the opening up of trade through the border, which has amounted to billions of dollars passing through just this little town a little. Such trade has persisted even despite the highs and lows of the conflict. Unsurprisingly, the areas is also being touted by both sides, especially India, as a tourist destination.

Between such potential mutually beneficial ties, and the spirited and well-meaning exchanges between the people of both sides, I can’t help but hold a glimmer of hope that in spite of all the vitriol seen on the political and international stage, the average person in both nations wants nothing to do with war. Maybe it’s a lot to take away from the “world’s silliest border,” as it’s called, but I can’t help but feel hope when I see the human side to these things.

On an interesting note, following bilateral talks last year, the two countries agreed to tone-down the exchange and phase it out entirely. Apparently, soldiers on each side complained of sore knees and feet from all the goosestepping and performing everyday.

Pakistan Reinvents Jazz

We rarely hear of anything good or “normal” coming out of Pakistan anymore. Like Mexico, Iran, and other countries gripped by some sort of civil strife, the country suffers from an intractable image problem that leaves it synonymous only with grim news headlines of violence or instability. But there’s more going on in these places than conflict, corruption, and misery. Life goes on, and people still go about their daily routine. Art, literature, and scholarship is still produced, as in all human societies.

As the title states, Pakistan, for example, is adding a distinct and intriguing twist on classical jazz music, while resurrecting its beleaguered classical and underground music scene.

The video is short, but I felt it merited attention, and I hope some of you decide to look into the genre some more (there’s some interesting stuff out there). I’ve become quite weary of our limited and negatively biased perception of most of the world, being exposed to the same old negative stereotypes that persist in both media and the public consciousness. Our society has long been intrinsically ethnocentric, and many Americans are deprived of most of the fascinating cultural products and ideas that emerge around the world – assuming most of them care enough in the first place.

So as far as many of my peers are concerned, much of the world is either war-torn, poor, or uninteresting; countries that are bedeviled with misfortune and conflict are at a considerable disadvantage already, without this added sentiment. Part of my life’s goal as both an IR major and a world culture aficionado is to dispel these notions to the best of my ability. I think I may create a series that will try to cover various cultural and intellectual achievements from around the world, particularly from countries that are obscure or have bad reputations. I also hope some of you contribute to this project as well – I’m always happy to engage in illuminating cultural exchanges.

If there’s one thing that’s always fascinated me about humanity, it’s our innate knack for creative and high-minded pursuits in every civilization we form, regardless of size, development, or environment. That’s something I want – and hope for – others to appreciate.