Thursday, April 5, 2018

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By Roshmila Bhattacharya

I didn’t need a Google doodle to remind me of Nazia Hassan on April 3 on what would have been her 53rd birthday. The sweet, shy 15-year-old school-going singer had become a household name in 1980 with the Qurbani chartbuster, “Aap Jaisa Koi” and not just because a sexy Zeenat Aman was crooning it in a night club on screen. There was something about this teenager from across the border, who grew up in London and exploded in Bollywood with the Biddu composition in Feroz Khan’s action-drama, that made her a star, albeit a reluctant one.

It was a sensational debut for the young singer and I was surprised to learn from her brother Zoheb, who later became her singing partner, that it almost didn’t happen. “Nazia didn’t really want to sing and had to be persuaded by Feroz Khan to show up at the recording studio where the track Biddu had composed in a rush was played for us and we realised that it was a knockoff of the popular Boney M hit, “Rasputin”. We were already writing, composing and singing our own music and she didn’t want to be a part of anything that wasn’t original. Biddu stomped out in anger and Feroz Khan sighing over his decision to go against the golden rule to never work with animals and kids, asked Nazia why she was blowing her big chance,” reminisces Zoheb, adding that his sister stuck to her stand despite the filmmaker’s pleas.

Eventually, Biddu returned to the studio and Feroz took him aside, trying to placate him. After a while, the composer walked up to them and asked to listen to their music. Nazia sang, an adolescent Zoheb whose voice was breaking played the guitar. Biddu was impressed. “He told a worried Feroz Khan who didn’t want to delay his film, that between us we would come up with something new and the rest, as they say, is history,” he laughs across the wire from London, going on to add that the filmmaker had been prepared to be diplomatic when “Aap Jaisa Koi” was played for him, but like everyone else he was also bowled over. Nazia was the first Pakistani to take home Filmfare’s Black Lady, the youngest recipient in the best playback (female) category.

A year later, the siblings collaborated with Biddu on their first album, Disco Deewane, which was on the charts in 14 countries to become the best-selling Asian pop record at the time. Over the next decade, the duo released four more albums — Boom Boom, Young Tarang, Hotline and Camera Camera (Nazia’s last solo album) in 1992. “We were very young, still in school, and our parents were determined for us to acquire a degree first before pursuing a career in music. So, we were only allowed to record during summer holidays,” Zoheb points out.

He adds that he also had to turn down all the movie offers he was flooded with at 17 from big filmmakers like Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra and Gul Anand because his parents did not want him to move to Mumbai. “Nazia also got her share of movie offers. Raj baba (Raj Kapoor) was really close to our family and for years he tried to coax a nod out of Nazia for his dream project Henna but she was not interested in acting,” he reveals. The cross-border love story was eventually made by Randhir Kapoor after his father’s death with Pakistani actress Zeba Bakhtiar playing the role RK had in mind for Nazia. Meanwhile, Nazia went on to get a degree in law while Zoheb graduated in economics and financial management.

The turning point in their life came when Nazia was diagnosed with cancer. Zoheb had to record their last album alone even though they had planned plenty of duets because his sister was unwell and undergoing chemotherapy. “She knew she was dying but remained positive, telling me we would go on a tour together. That album, titled Signature, remains special because those were our last months together and she remained a fighter till the end, wanting the doctor to intensify the chemo so she could spend more time with her son, even though she was warned that her frail body might not be able to take it. She wanted to kill the disease and not vice versa,” he says emotionally, flashbacking to when they had just moved to UK and were staying with their grandmother. On the way to school, they would be chased by a gang of students led by a punk of a girl who, for him, was a scary figure with her cut-offs, nosering and denim jacket. “But Nazia was fearless and one day walked up to the older girl, telling her to fight her one-on-one. She beat the girl up, determined to protect me, till the girl ran away and never bothered us again,” he says proudly.

Nazia left the world on August 13, 2000, at the age of 35. Now, Zoheb plans to bring her story to the screen. He has offers from seven companies who want to roll with the biopic. His mother’s illness put the brakes on the project for a few months but now that she is home, he plans to resume work.

#Afghanistan - #Kunduz attack

A DEADLY attack has killed and injured scores in Kunduz, Afghanistan, and has bloodily exposed the dangers inherent in a stepped-up aerial bombardment campaign in the country. The Afghan defence ministry has promised an inquiry, but is also claiming that many militants were killed in the aerial attack. That claim has yet to be independently verified; however, what is already clear is that numerous civilians, many of them children, were killed or injured in the attack. At the time that Afghan helicopter gunships unleashed their weapons on the target, a graduation ceremony for children was being held in the madressah. Whether a horrible mistake was made and the wrong target was attacked or if an intelligence failure meant that an Afghan Taliban target was hit at a moment that produced a high civilian casualty toll may be established in an inquiry. What should be clear, however, is that such risks can never be reduced to zero. Particularly in a chaotic war zone that many parts of Afghanistan are and with the Afghan security forces suffering from a great many deficiencies, the risk of catastrophic mistakes occurring will remain unacceptably high. Foreign forces operating in Afghanistan, including US forces, have also made a number of errors. In October 2015, a US air strike destroyed a trauma centre in Kunduz run by Doctors Without Borders, killing and injuring scores.
There are few lessons that can be learned anew in a war that has gone on for nearly two decades. But it is patently obvious that counter-insurgencies cannot inflict massive damage and destruction on the very people it hopes to rescue from the militants. Shocking attacks, such as the one in Kunduz on Monday, coming so late in a war against the Afghan Taliban can have significant and widespread negative effects on the population. Questions such as whether the Afghan state is any better than the Taliban who terrorise swathes of the population may be asked with fresh urgency among the people. Moreover, the possibility of a spirit of revenge taking hold among the surviving victims and families of the dead and injured could be exploited by the Taliban. There is a reason why previous US administrations have at times hesitated to use indiscriminate weapons in Afghanistan: the risk of a terrible error tends to be greater than the gains of a successful strike. The Trump administration and Kabul should urgently reconsider the new, looser rules of military engagement.

#Pakistan is my home. But as a journalist, my life is in danger there

Taha Siddiqui

From the safety of Paris, I can finally say what I want to the chief of the Pakistani army: dissent is essential to progress. Don’t censor it.
Taha Siddiqui
 Taha Siddiqui gives a press conference in Islamabad. ‘[My son] started to cry, and would not stop asking us what was wrong.’ Photograph: Anjum Naveed/AP
To the chief of the army of Pakistan,
I did not want to write an open letter to you. But after much deliberation, I thought it was important – not just for you to know what is happening in our beloved country, but also for the world to be aware of how dissent is being targeted in Pakistan, forcing journalists like me into exile.
It is also important to write this now. This week Pakistan’s leading news channel, Geo, is being shut down across the country, under orders alleged to have come from your office.
Insiders say the intensification of attacks on the press is part of an organised campaign by the army of Pakistan to ensure that efforts to engineer and manipulate the 2018 elections are not openly discussed in the media. But did you not just recently say that you are the biggest supporter of democracy? If that statement was true, then you must stop your men from pulling the plug on freedom of speech, which is an essential characteristic of democracy.
But before I tell you more about why freedom of speech is a fundamental right, I want to bring you up to date with what has been happening in my life. I currently live in Paris and have been here for the last seven weeks. When I decided to go into exile from my homeland, my wife and I were on the same page about it.
After my failed abduction attempt on 10 January this year by people I suspect to have been under your command, and the arrest warrants issued for me last year for “maligning the army”, we were left with no choice but to escape our own country. But we had to deal with another person in our family – Miranshah, our four-and-a-half-year-old son. We did not tell him what had happened or why we were being forced into exile. We decided to keep his childhood intact and to not burden him with the dark realities of his country of origin. Instead we told him that we were leaving to find better work in France.
He started to cry, and would not stop asking us what was wrong in Islamabad, and saying how he did not want to go to any other school as his friends would not be there. He screamed and shouted at us, and eventually just sobbed, with his head in his mother’s lap.
Once he had calmed down, all he asked was whether he could take his toys. We immediately said yes. But his simple request broke my heart. It was so tough for me, a father, and for my wife, his mother, to see our young child being asked to wrap up his life in Pakistan. Given the urgency of the situation, we had to do it all in a couple of weeks. And in return, all he asked for was his toys.
During those last days in Islamabad, I remember meeting Pakistan’s interior minister, Ahsan Iqbal, who invited me over for a cup of tea to discuss my abduction attempt. It was there that I had the idea of writing this letter, as the interior minister, who is technically your boss, suggested that I write to you to say sorry, and seek a pardon. He told me I should explain how I am a patriot, and want the best for Pakistan.
It was then that I decided that if the highest law enforcement officer in the land, the federal interior minister, could not help me, I was on my own, and I needed to get out to stay alive.
Now I am taking up his suggestion of writing to you. But I want to do this publicly, and to make some different points to those he had in mind. As a journalist I am trained to speak about issues publicly, and since the matter of freedom of speech does not concern just me or you, but our homeland, there needs to be an open dialogue about it.
As I write these words, news has come in of a tribal belt journalist picked up by men from security agencies. And I know journalists back home will not talk openly about this or the hundreds of other enforced disappearances, fearing for their own safety. When I was abducted,your men did it in broad daylight, on one of the the main highways of Islamabad. There was traffic all around, and everyone saw the whole episode, but apart from one female student no one has come forward to talk about it.
Is this the society you want future generations to grow up in, where those in power can do what they like and no one even dares to come forward to help or speak about it?
Back in 1947, my grandparents left everything behind in India to migrate to Pakistan. They wanted the freedom they would enjoy in a country where they were not in a religious minority. Little did they know that this freedom would be short-lived, and their own grandson would be forced out of the country. Is this why our ancestors struggled to create Pakistan?
Pakistan was, is and will always remain my home. My life in Islamabad was comfortable. I had a lovely two-storey residence overlooking a garden, where I made my son plant trees – an early lesson for him in making Pakistan a greener place. I had a good job, and so did my wife.
Now I live in a foreign country where they do not speak my language and I do not have proper means to provide for my family. My wife is unemployed and my child has no friends at school. I am pointing this all out for you so that you and your team of social media trolls understand that being uprooted from one’s homeland is not as charming as you perhaps want to make it sound.
Our country faces a great deal of turmoil. The only way to address this is to first talk about the issues, and not silence that conversation, because dissent is an essential part of progress. If you do not get to hear what is wrong in Pakistan, you will live in a fool’s paradise, thinking all is well. And one day you will wake up to find the country imploding, as it did in 1971.
And suppressing dissent only makes it more credible. In my case, after my exile, not only has my voice become louder, given the safety I now enjoy, but what I say now has more weight. Was that the best strategy for your men to follow? Perhaps not, since I now speak at international summits about attacks on press freedom in Pakistan.
I therefore humbly request you revisit the idea of censoring the truth. This censorship only promotes ignorance. If you wish to see a pluralistic, progressive and democratic Pakistan, as we all do, you and your organisation need to allow dissent, and permit dissenters like me to return and enjoy the freedom our forefathers intended Pakistan to symbolise.

ISIS claims responsibility for killing of Pakistani Christian family

By Euan McKirdy, Sophia Saifi, Saleem Mehsud and Syed Ali Shah, CNN

ISIS has claimed responsibility for an attack which killed four Christians in Pakistan's Balochistan province on Easter Monday.
An Islamic State press statement released on Tuesday said that a "covert unit" of ISIS militants "managed to target a number of the combatant Christians."
The statement adds that the militants "shot them with a pistol, which resulted in the killing of four of them, and all praise is due to Allah"
The shooting, which targeted a single family, occurred in the western city of Quetta, the provincial capital.
    Armed men opened fire at a rickshaw carrying the family of three who were returning home from a bazaar at around 6:45 p.m. (9.45 a.m. ET) local time. The men fled on a motorcycle.
    All the victims, including the rickshaw driver, were members of the local Christian community, police officer Muhammad Anwar told CNN.
    The terror group has claimed responsibility but so far has not offered evidence of its involvement. The city has seen a rise in attacks by militants including ISIS-affiliated groups.

    Targeted minority

    Pakistan's Christian minority has often been targeted by militants.
    In December, a suicide bomber attacked a Methodist church packed with worshipers in the same city, leaving seven people dead and more than 20 others injured. It was claimed by the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, known as ISIS Khorasan.
    In 2016, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group targeting Christians killed a bystander and injured three members of Pakistan's security forces when suicide bombers struck a Christian neighborhood near Warsak Dam on the outskirts of Peshawar, according to the Pakistan's military.
    Also in 2016, an Easter Sunday bombing targeting Christians at an amusement park in the eastern city of Lahore which killed at least 69 people, and a blast at a hospital in Quetta which killed 72 people.

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