Wednesday, February 13, 2019

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#Pakistan - #Valentine's Day in the land of the arranged marriage

The first time I fell in love, it was from a distance. I was a teenager, and Pakistan, where I lived at the time, had only just emerged from nearly a decade and a half of martial law and Islamization, in which the general in charge had imposed rules based on his definition of Islam.
I had recently and very fleetingly heard of a thing called Valentine's Day and its associations with romantic love. Regardless, I hoped on February 14, 1990, like many still do today, for a miracle. In the particular case, I wanted the boy I was in love with, a gangly character (whom I had never seen any closer than from across the street) to call me on the telephone.
Not surprisingly, that boy I longed for from across the way never reciprocated. He had probably never heard of Valentine's Day or more likely of me, despite all my doleful staring. As a middle-class Pakistani girl from a conservative family, I was not allowed to speak to boys, let alone fall in love with them. I didn't let this keep me from either, pursuing both love and forbidden conversations with boys with great resourcefulness and assiduity.
I fell in love with the boy who dropped his telephone number in my lap through the open car window while my mother was not looking. I fell in love with a boy whom I beat in a debate competition and the boy who called several evenings in a row demanding to speak to a different Bollywood character each time. Some reciprocated my feelings; most had little clue about Valentine's Day unless I told them.
    Of course, they also did not really know me. Falling in love in those pre-Instagram, pre-cell phone days was understood as a mysterious matter, where facts and the onerous "getting to know each other" played little part. Some of this was understandable. Where marriage was a matter of careful arrangement, love had to be left wild and chaotic, without being hemmed in by the constraints of data or some similar bubble-bursting encumbrance.
    Things have changed in Pakistan. Not only is Valentine's Day a pretty big deal now -- there are specials at florists and displays at stationery shops and tinsel-wrapped candy everywhere -- the encroachment of the "semi-arranged" marriage, on the realm between love and arranged marriage, seems to have altered the path and pattern of both. These semi-arranged marriages, particularly popular among the growing urban middle class, seek to add a little of love's mystery to the once standard arranged marriage, whose closely chaperoned interactions leave little room for romance and where the two being wed do not know each other at all.
    In the semi-arranged marriage, there may be room for a few solo coffee dates. And the newly paired duo can announce to their friends that they are "in love," while their parents can insist that the match was entirely arranged. In other words, parents can find possible spouses who meet a certain combined checklist of qualities identified by both the bride or groom-to-be and the parents. Veto power, however, lies with the young couple.
    Added volume to the Valentine's Day business comes from the virtual realm that has made most everything including love and/or marriage a competitive sport. Cheaply available cell phones are everywhere in Pakistan, and nearly all are equipped with social media, such that everyone can see the presents that those in love are bestowing on one another.
    In addition, celebrating Valentine's Day gives the upwardly mobile urban couple's love the legitimacy of individual choice -- with roses, chocolates and jewelry adding a bit of luster to the worn and antiquated patina of an arranged marriage. If the celebration is attended to with some gusto, even an entirely arranged match can be passed off as one in which the parties fell in love without any machinations of their aunt or uncle or the neighbor lady-turned-matchmaker who lives three doors down.
    Even in rural Pakistan, where marriages are still generally arranged and love is a separate realm, Valentine's Day is now a known, if not openly, celebrated quantity. Where trysts between lovers can be arranged via the ubiquitous cell phone, any excuse to meet in the sugarcane field -- including Valentine's Day -- is used. Men and women who may have to endure spouses chosen by mothers, fathers and the village council, one theory goes, are especially entitled to a bit of fun on the side.
    Love in Pakistan may seem like a tale from a very distant elsewhere, but one could argue that the slightly waning popularity of Valentine's Day here (or at least the cynicism that hangs over some) is for reasons remarkably similar, if reverse, from those seen in Pakistan.
    While Pakistanis may have moved from the arranged to the semi-arranged sort of marriage, Americans have moved from the love by accidental chance or serendipity to a more calculated -- if not algorithmic-driven -- sort of love. In the data-driven, virtually-infused and forever-impatient realm of finding a partner, social media and the internet provide a ton of information faster than the spark of attraction.
    For those actively and intentionally looking for love, a dizzying array of apps, many with the ability to match a staggering set of data points -- looks, income, language, location -- can help with pairing with far greater precision than the most enterprising set of Pakistani parents. In some, bucket lists and credit reports can be exchanged even before the trouble of a first meeting. Why waste a couple of hours when artificial intelligence can tally up the possibility of true love using hundreds of variables? Mystery is the enemy here and data is the friend; love is made (like Valentine's Day) utterly predictable.
      In Pakistan, the United States and likely anywhere on our data-driven globe, the role of Valentine's Day is changing. In the West, marketing departments of dating apps can rely on the fact that many more will sign up for their love-on-demand services on or around that day. In Pakistan, even those betrothed who have spoken barely a sentence to each other will send cards, flowers and chocolates.
      In different ways, love is a status symbol, a badge of desirability. And Valentine's Day is a perfect showcase to make sure that everyone in the virtual audience knows it.

      US trophy hunter Bryan Kinsel Harlan pays US$110,000 to kill rare Astore markhor mountain goat in Pakistan. Is he helping save the species?

      It took a few seconds to realise that the animal, a rare, wild Astore markhor, was dead. The caption described the man as an American hunter who had paid a record US$110,000 to shoot it on a tourist expedition to Pakistan’s northern Himalayan region of Gilgit-Baltistan.
      “It was an easy and close shot. I am pleased to take this trophy,” the hunter, identified as Bryan Kinsel Harlan, was quoted as saying.
      His home state or city was not identified, but his Pakistani guides said he is from Texas, and a man by the same name and appearance who features with kills on internet hunting sites is a Dallas mortgage banker.
      The story drew immediate expressions of sorrow and indignation on social media here.
      Some Pakistani commentators asked why there was no legal ban on hunting the markhor (Capra falconeri), which is the official national animal. Others suggested that foreign tourists be taken to photograph the exotic goats, not shoot them.
      But there is another, more benign, rationale behind allowing Harlan, along with two other Americans, to pay enormous sums to kill three long-horned markhors in northern Pakistan in the past month.
      According to Pakistani officials and conservation groups, the practice has actually helped save a rare and endangered species from potential extinction.
      For decades, the population of markhors, which are native to the Himalayan ranges of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, has been dwindling, the result of local poaching for meat, deforestation and logging, military activities, competition with livestock and uncontrolled domestic trophy hunting for their splendid horns. By 2011, there were only an estimated 2,500 markhors left.
      Several years ago, regional officials and conservationists began taking action to save them. India designated five sanctuaries for markhors in the mountainous border state of Jammu and Kashmir.
      Pakistan banned all local hunting but started allowing a small number of foreign hunters to shoot 12 male goats per season in “community conservation areas” in Gilgit and elsewhere.
      Most of the funds are supposed to be distributed to the impoverished, isolated residents in the goats’ mountainous habitat areas, which get 80 per cent of the fee as well as income as hunting guides and hosts – all extra incentive not to poach the markhors. Government wildlife agencies get 20 per cent.

      The US Fish and Wildlife Service, in an effort to encourage US trophy hunting of markhors as a conservation method, also reclassified the animal as “threatened”, rather than endangered, which allowed hunters to bring back trophies such as their horns, which can grow as long as five feet (1.5 metres).
      As a result, the markhor populace had rebounded enough by 2015 that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature upgraded the species from endangered to “near-threatened.”
      According to the conservationist website Green Global Travel, the comeback of the markhor is “one of the world’s great but little known conservation success stories.”
      Pakistan has a mixed track record on protecting rare and endangered animals.
      Officials routinely allow parties of royals from Qatar and Saudi Arabia to shoot internationally protected birds called houbara bustards (Chlamydotis undulata), which Pakistanis are banned from hunting.
      In 2014, a Saudi prince reportedly shot more than 2,000 bustards despite having a permit to kill just 100, creating an international uproar.
      In Pakistan’s public zoos, neglect and disease have periodically led to the deaths of exotic animals. In the past four years, the main zoo in Islamabad has lost several zebras, lion cubs, an ostrich and deer.
      In the past month, four antelopes called nilgais have died of cold or infections. There are numerous private zoos in Pakistan, where wealthy people keep wild cats and other animals without supervision.
      In some other countries, promoting trophy hunting as a conservation tactic has backfired, with some programmes charging high fees but failing to regulate the hunts.
      But in Pakistan, the tactic seems to have been unusually successful. Tabarak Ullah, a professional hunter from Gilgit who has guided Harlan and other Americans, said the high-priced permit funds are used for local health and education as well as preserving species.
      “This is not just about hunting,” Ullah said in a telephone interview. “The number of animals is increasing, and these foreign hunters are millionaires who go back and tell the world that Pakistan is safe.”
      He noted that after the attacks of September 11, 2001, foreign visits to Pakistan fell sharply. “Now, more and more tourists are coming.”
      Harlan, for one, appears to see himself as participating in a conservation effort as well as an exotic escapade.
      In a video recorded on his recent visit to Gilgit, Harlan was shown climbing a cliff, shooting a male markhor that was sitting next to a young goat, and then high-fiving his local guides.
      In another, wearing a feathered local cap and robe, Harlan said he had been “welcomed with open arms” and encouraged other Americans to follow him, calling Pakistan a safe place for tourists.
      “This is a perfect example of hunters and villagers coming together for a common goal of game conservation,” he said.

      #PashtunRejectStateTerrorism - #Pakistan Must Embrace, Not Collide With, #PTM

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