Sunday, April 18, 2010

VIEW: Sajad Haider Saved my Life - i think. UNPUBLISHED (so far)

There is a story behind these carelessly uttered, yet delightfully cryptic words, one that will not figure in Air Cdre Sajad Haider’s part memoir, part expose - Flight of the Falcon. It happened more than a quarter of a century ago during a simple routine training exercise carried out to groom operational pilots to be pair leaders before they moved up as section and finally flight leaders. Now, all operational pilots are expected to lead a flight of 2 in mock combat missions to qualify as pair leaders. In late 1969, a fresh operational Flying Officer (F/O) from No. 14 Squadron stationed at PAF Base Dhaka, was detailed to fly a check sortie (the clearance test) with the redoubtable, (then) Wing Commander, Nosey Haider. Their mission was to carry out a low level airfield strike. A Mig-21 silhouette, painted in the apron at a satellite airfield provided the target for their planned low level ingress followed by a simulated gun attack.

The F/O remembered that the navigation was on track, pull-up point - a bit close and attack angle - steep. Roughly translated, this meant that it would have been lunacy to continue with the maneuver. Rather than abandon the attack, the audacious F/O pressed on, as failure to bring accurate gun attack camera cine (film) was not an option – for him anyway.

‘Pull Out’, screamed Haider as the F/O merrily continued with the attack profile past prescribed safety regulations and a collision with ground became imminent. The scream had its effect. The F/O pulled out, after completing the simulated attack, but not before busting the minimum recovery attitude of 300 feet by a wide margin and coming perilously close to becoming a statistic.

On their return, Haider simulated engine rough running emergency with the still alive, much shaken yet unrepentant F/O, who then assumed the position of leader. ‘Pull up’, ordered the young F/O authoritatively, and announced the requisite emergency engine recovery steps.

‘No improvement’, was the answer, followed a little later by a doleful, ‘engine seized’.

‘Eject’ ordered the F/O since no emergency field was nearby.

‘Ejection seat not working’, came the glib reply.

The F/O’s frantic suggestion to prepare for a crash landing was complacently met with ‘frozen controls’.

An exasperated F/O racked his brains, and finding it empty, bade his doomed comrade farewell with a hearty ‘Goodbye to you then’.

There was an ominous silence.

Nosey called off the simulated emergency and assumed command of the formation. The rest of the flight was uneventful. The de-brief was very eventful. The young F/O was hauled up for the unceremonious send-off given to his Squadron Commander. ‘Gentlemen! Did you know this ****** fellow was sending me off to hell’, Nosey sputtered in mock anger. The F/O remained unfazed, stood his ground and maintained that he had no options left and could he (Nosey) suggest an alternative?

Nosey could not.

The F/O was pulled apart for violating the minimum pullout height and reminded that without Nosey’s timely warning, he - (the F/O) - would have been the one being bidden an untimely – but well deserved farewell. Though the F/O’s film camera, on assessment, showed that the attack was considered to be accurate, he was nevertheless grounded for 3 days for busting the minimum limit. The F/O was, however, cleared as a Pair Leader. “An idiot who puts his life on the line to achieve the mission, even a simulated one, has the germs of a true fighter jock- provided he lives long enough” – was Nosey’s parting shot.

Or words to that effect.

As recounted by Air Cdre (R) Jamal Hussain, the unfortunate young Flying Officer in this story, who did survive long enough to command an elite Fighter Squadron and a Fighter Base in the PAF. He is presently pushing boundaries as a media Defense Analyst. And, remains unrepentant to this day.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

VIEW: Karachi’s Bete-Noire

PUBLISHED in The POST / Aug 22, 2007

By: Afrah Jamal

‘Don’t go back yet! I saw water on the roads’, cautioned a well meaning Arab friend as I prepared to return from Al AIN UAE.

Admitting that the continuing presence of water on Karachi roads leftover from a 2 day old rain is as natural to us as its absence is to them would have bewildered him further. No matter how stifling the weather gets, when people gaze at rain clouds with dismay, you know that you have arrived in Karachi. Always a high risk area for cyclones and tsunamis, this City used to get a glimpse of the Monsoon now and then but the changing weather patterns account for the increasing frequency of rains.

The danger of cyclones is age old and the fear of rain may be recent but it is not irrational as heavy rains were such a rarity that people could quote the year when it last occurred. The regular albeit unwelcome appearance of Venetian roads has of course changed their perception of ‘no rain’ in Karachi. If rainfall in other parts of the country means perhaps crawling through sluggish traffic then Karachi rain guarantees wading through choked-up thoroughfares.


Some residents with means, who get marooned in their homes, have hit on a novel (but practical) method of travel and sail out in their private boats to the car while optimists appease worried friends by inviting them to see the new Venice of South Asia. Thus, Karachi tries to make the best of this faux calamity which afflicts every citizen irrespective of status or location.

Now that the metropolitan has become a regular stop for torrential Monsoon rains, an improvement in this city’s rain response time is offset by the lack of foresight in other departments. Few can forget the inundated underpass of Clifton in 2006, pictures of which were emailed far and wide with ‘photo shopped’ dolphins put in to make a stronger statement. Or the day vehicles become submersibles leaving owners stranded at their offices for the night.

This year, before the city could pat itself on the back for catering to the foreseen, the unforeseen emerged, sending Karachi careening towards disaster yet again. Most of us had already braced ourselves for a rough monsoon, given the beautifully dug up state of the city. However, not many could have predicted that flying billboards will become part of the rain related problems; monumental traffic jams, heavily flooded roads and electrical breakdowns yes but killer billboards and an entire electrical meltdown no.

Two months ago, one encounter with stormy rain brought Karachi to its knees, with the cyclone barely touching the fringes of this coastal city. Compared to the torrential downpour of last year that completely submerged our gardens and streets, the first spell of 2007 in June lacked the devastating intensity witnessed last year but the aftermath was destructive just the same. That a thunderstorm and not a level 5 hurricane could rip up trees, poles and billboards and yet leave our flower pots intact is decidedly odd. I distinctly recall the sudden vicious storms in Islamabad back in the 90’s that would hurl the heaviest of flowerpots with considerable force. Reconciling the property damage of Karachi’s small thunderstorm and 17.7mm rain is therefore difficult.

On the flip side, the authorities set to work in record time, and later removed billboards that could become potential threats but with the breakdown of civic amenities, people could not appreciate the close call they had with the cyclone, busy as they were lamenting their brush with rural life in the heart of urban surroundings. One would think prospective disaster zones would be the old city roads, low lying areas and crumbling infrastructure but instead, residential areas of defence and main roads resembled the infamous ‘katchi abadis’ after just one rainy spell . It is ironic and alarming at the same time that mere rains and not hurricanes have the capacity to completely disrupt the social network of the commercial hub of Pakistan.

This summer, till 9 Aug 2007, the monsoons had been made to order barring the brief thunderstorm, and the intermittent rain gave adequate time for excess water to evaporate. This made it easier for the city to redeem itself from last years botched rain preventive measure. Surprisingly, after the steady rain of August, some of the main thoroughfares did not get inundated, but their water ended up in the service lanes instead. If authorities claimed to be working round the clock, they were being truthful as workers could be seen dealing with clogged areas but the subsequent deterioration still points to laxity in round the clock vigilance.

One rainy day later, even if the road seems passable, the rivulets of water across shops in popular shopping areas make them inaccessible possibly because some neglected drain stands nearby. And they remain so till some shop whips up a small little makeshift brick road. The flooded streets in old shopping areas, on the other hand, render them completely no-go zones especially after receiving 191 mm within 2 days.

Drizzle or downpour, travelers need to leave much earlier for their destinations. Driving slowly on a submerged highway is wise to prevent the carburetor flooding and gum boots are generally recommended though it has been observed that our people (myself included) would rather wade in flimsy shoes than wear proper foot wear.

No matter how much the city claims to be prepared, it is never enough when the time comes and this lack of round the clock preparedness is obviously an issue behind the unexpected and monumental problems that crop up. It is a widely held belief that regular rains would ultimately improve the response time. Until that happens, the city needs to base its future course of action on the premise that rains are a permanent fixture,

Karachi is big and definitely not clean; and lately it is in the process of redevelopment. The size and state together with faulty management in the past gives the scale of impending disaster and explains the recurrence of chaos. With accurate forecasts we cannot pretend to be caught off guard, however warnings from MET alone should not determine the commencement of work; in an ideal world, periodic assessment of vulnerabilities and perpetual maintenance could minimize the level of damage with time.

The truth is that a city of this size needs to allocate more time for preparedness. If prior planning was for a miserly amount of yearly rain, the further development and correctional measures need to take the increased regularity of rains, population explosion and abundance of plastic bags into consideration. Mora than half a century later only revised policies and not superficial strategies can avert the mounting crisis. The rectification of broken down infrastructure taking precedence over construction of the tallest building in the world would be a good place to start.

Images Courtesy of: http://www.hotpaknews.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Karachi-rain-images-1.jpg

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BOOK REVIEW: Three Battles: Critical Clashes Between Asia and Europe By M Abul Fazl Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Thanks to Dost Publications for the review copy

Published In Daily Times / 17 Apr 2010

The battles of Jhelum, Plassey and Dien Bien Phu are said to be key turning points in history. Of the three, two had already been lost on a political level long before they were ‘joined’; all of them have been subjected to intense scrutiny over the years. In one, a battle-hardened general and famous military strategist won a technical victory over a warrior king. In another, a trading company challenged and defeated a major Asian powerhouse. And, finally, a guerrilla style movement led by local nationalists brought down an occupying force of superior strength.

If Plassey was decisive for the company where the British gained a convincing military victory over young Sirajuddaula, the standoff between Porus and Alexander at Jhelum exposed the fatal flaws in a famed Greek strategy and the fall of Dien Bien Phu dealt a crippling blow to the French colonial ambitions.

Strength in numbers is not a decisive factor in either of these examples. M Abul Fazl’s book focuses on social and political dynamics at play that helped shape the course of these wars and analyses the implications of such forces on both the conquered and conquering forces.

It begins in the fourth century BC with Alexander who hailed from a land credited with early laws of war and a formal military organisation. The writer attributes this to unending intense fighting on the peninsula and examines the Greek juggernaut in the lead up towards the conquest of Asia where South Asian states and statelets were up in arms on the flimsiest of pretexts. Alexander’s South Asian adventure was marked by the peculiar nature of the environment where “the outsider was not viewed as a threat but a new entrant in an ongoing game of warfare”. In drawing contrasts between the two armies, he shows South Asians and Persians to be set in the ways of the battle, “as if they were divinely ordained”. The Greeks, on the other hand, relied on “training, discipline and solidarity of the infantry” (page 12). That and the tried and tested Arbela technique failed here. He challenges those historians who credit Alexander with influencing the Indian civilisation and deems trade, not Greek invasion, to be the extent of any cultural exchange.

In the Battle of Plassey, a trading company took on Bengal — a major Asian powerhouse — and its meagre forces defeated an army of 50,000. The writer does not subscribe to the theory that discipline alone gave the British an advantage on the battlefield. He concedes that superior organisation and financial resources served them in good stead when confronting the mighty states and possession of a navy gave them a tactical advantage. “The main weakness of the Indian states was in social and political sphere” and even the acquisition of French drill masters did not help as their politics were driven by “policy, power and personal ambition”. Odds were heavily stacked against Sirajuddaula, an empire was already on precarious footing and a few judicious thrusts managed to bring down the house of cards. Combined with the fact that alliances between Indian princes and Europeans were routine, it is hardly surprising that with such combustible elements present, the slender thread holding the empire together frayed completely. He rules that in the Battle of Plassey “the fighting showed the bankruptcy of South Asian society — a ruling class held masses in contempt and the masses owed no allegiance to it.”

Finally, the narrative enters the 20th century where the “curtain fell on the Asian colonial drama” and the French forces capitulated to Viet Minh — the Vietnamese revolutionary organisation waging a guerrilla war for independence. He states that “a small country, a poor country, an overpopulated country had chosen to write the most glorious chapter in the history of 20th century de-colonisation.”

Through these essays, the writer seeks to clarify Alexander’s conquering record in the light of his Asian exploits. He explores the brittle framework supporting the Indian Empire laying emphasis on its contribution to a rising Europe and closes with a look at the gathering storm that heralded the age of neo-colonialism. He admits the historians’ version into his narrative, and expands upon their ideas to rationalise his interpretation of warfare. The military side is not the sole focus of this discussion, which struggles to define these battles by their impact on the correlation of forces. It uses the failure of Arbela as an example to bolster the view that famed Greek tactic would have been rendered useless long before the Jhelum standoff had Alexander’s opponent (Darius II) been a worthy warrior and not, as was the case, a “pathological coward”. He argues that Clive won the battle before it was engaged through bribery and not in the Napoleonic fashion (page 36). And, finally, he shows how a classic set piece battle, where the destructive power of modern warfare could have been used to successfully crush opposition, crumbled instead when faced with a new age phenomenon of nationalism (page 74). Using insight gained from other books, historians and military-men enables the writer to broaden the debate. His scholarly efforts might spark interest in academic circles.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Author: Fatima Bhutto
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Published in Daily Times / 10 Apr 2010

Google Fatima Bhutto and George Clooney’s name comes up — the Daily Telegraph thinks they are an item; peruse her new book and the journey through the wonderland with its glitz and glamour takes an unexpectedly macabre twist. Her family history is to blame for blighting the sunny landscape. Bhuttos are the ruling elite. Every so often they run for office. This quest leaves a bloody trail and each attempt almost always ends badly. But their political aspirations override self-preservation. The Bhutto family name is as much a liability as an asset, and each generation manages to find itself contributing to a gruesome storyline.

If there is anyone born to write this story, it is Fatima, proclaims William Dalrymple on the cover of her new book Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir. When it comes to invoking pathos, romanticising her father’s life, glorifying his (questionable) legacy or retelling grandpa’s political history, the daughter of Murtaza Bhutto is, no doubt, the perfect candidate. Her unconventional family history of murder, mayhem and political misdemeanours makes for an incendiary tale. Murtaza was gunned down in a ‘police encounter’ during Benazir Bhutto’s regime. He is not the first Bhutto to have met a violent end. The circumstances of these deaths are a matter of record; scandalous details of their lives are public property. And if their continual bid for a stake in power, notwithstanding a host of pending court cases and/or sedition charges, elicits howls of disapproval, they are no longer audible. Little can be heard above the din of the raging insurgency these days.

Fatima Bhutto’s book is a cautionary tale designed to give the more controversial members of the first family a makeover and an aura of respectability. The writer unveils an intimate family portrait by piecing together fragments of her father’s life scattered across continents. She has unearthed a time capsule of valuable memories and ample tender family moments are effectively used to burnish Murtaza Bhutto’s reputation.

This was probably necessitated by the fact that Zulfikar Bhutto’s death prompted his sons to form a resistance movement. Pakistanis know Murtaza as the founder of Al-Zulfikar (AZ), a militant organisation based in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, whose subversive activities against the state included hijacking, heists and dispatching hit men to target key figures in Pakistan. Failed attempts to seize the Pakistani embassy in Athens also made the list. The book admits AZ’s most daring attempt at confronting the regime by trying to blow General Zia’s plane, Pak One, out of the sky, and yet tries to shield the masterminds from taking the rap for the hijacking of a Pakistani airliner that resulted in the death of a young officer (page 237). It refers to nefarious activities against the Pakistani establishment as romantic but misguided efforts (page 243), but other than the hijacking (which Murtaza does not own any more) and attempted murder of General Zia (which he gleefully accepts), it avoids going into details. Accusing the Pakistan Army of doing unspeakable acts of violence in East Pakistan in 1971 and challenging their human rights record in the ongoing Swat operation, however, is given special attention.

It depicts Murtaza as a paragon of virtue who balked at his brother-in-law’s (Benazir’s husband’s) attempt to lure him as an accomplice in bribery yet whose organisation, according to Tariq M Ashraf’s article ‘Terrorism in Pakistan: Emerging Trends’, is said to have ushered in political terrorism in Pakistan. Strewn along the way are constant reminders showcasing Murtaza — the loving father, family man and principled politician. Yet, all the light-hearted moments — and there are plenty — or the brilliance of story telling cannot salvage his reputation.

While people who disagreed with her grandfather’s politics do find a voice within these pages, thereby lending a semblance of objectivity to her work, but nothing, not even Murtaza’s dangerous alliances, distracts her from the original intent of honouring her father’s memory. Her pen indicts her deceased aunt (ex-prime minister) and uncle (current president) for criminal behaviour and minces no words while criticising her aunt’s brief sojourns in government. She compiles a list of names responsible for her father’s murder, holds Benazir morally responsible for one brother’s death, at the same time assuming her guilt in the uncle’s ‘suicide’.

Pakistan seen through Fatima’s eyes is a lawless frontier used to settle old scores and exact vengeance where her feuding family provides most of the action. The portrait born of love stops just short of conferring sainthood on a man who may well have deserved ‘father of the year’ award and who, given his rap sheet, should have been convicted but in a proper courtroom and not dealt with on the streets of Karachi. Fatima admits that her father’s “...choices remarkable and dangerous, honourable and foolish are not mine but I lived them”, and goes on to lament that she has lived with an incomplete picture of a murdered man (page 437). That picture has now been completed with a little help from Harvard Class of 1976 alumni, party loyalists, letters and an old flame. This spruced up image bears little resemblance to the shadowy figure of lore. This time it is Murtaza the magna cum laude from Harvard, heir apparent to the throne who is supposed to capture the public’s imagination, not Murtaza — the fearsome don. One can be forgiven for being a little dazed by this abrupt transformation.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: He’s Just Not That Into You: The No - Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys

Thanks to Fakhara for introducing me to the Bible of relationship woes.

Author(s): Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo

Published in Daily Times / 3 April 2010

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Relationships are complicated, not guys, but they would have women believe otherwise, at least according to Greg Behrendt. They would also rather be trampled on by elephants on fire than admit that they are not into you, again according to Greg. So with these two nuggets of wisdom — and that visual in hand — we proceed to meet these specimens at their worst, while they use work as an excuse not to call, are commitment phobic, never get back, pick fights, vanish without a trace - poof!

When they exhibit any of these symptoms or use a million other handy excuses, they are probably not that into you. And Greg observes that they, his fellow men, may not be saying it but they are absolutely showing it.

The book has compiled stories heard and questions asked in the form of a delightful little Q and A with the author. Greg is someone with an insight into relationships not just because he is a man, but because he was once that man — that man with the lame excuses. The book uses Greg’s wickedly funny, occasionally irreverent, mostly accurate observations to cushion the blow that this revelation is sure to deliver. It gives those unknowingly headed towards ‘happily never after’ land, a crash course to recognise that for every culturally distinct show of affection, there are universal signs of rejection. Instead of taking the hint, women almost always end up letting these guys off the hook, coming up with an alternate set of explanations — too intimidated, too scared, too busy, too shy, too crushed by divorce. “Not into me” seldom enters into the conversation. After all, who wants to live through or go back to the nuclear winter of a relationship?

Those who saw the movie version of this book know that, in the relationship game, it is all about rules and exceptions. If it works out despite everything, that one is the exception. But generally speaking, the ‘happily never afters’ are the rule. This is relationship profiling at its most shocking. Greg has cracked the code and gives it to the reader straight. Liz has been on the receiving end and believes he hits the nail on the head — most of the time. An “incredibly unscientific poll” included at the end of each chapter corroborates these findings.

Greg goes through all the classic excuses, and shoots them down one by one. Take the case of “maybe he forgot to remember me”, where the blackout of 2003 prevented a fellow from taking this female’s number — who worked for another branch of the same company — and they never got together. “The city blacked out, the guy didn’t,” lectures Greg, pointing out that, “If you can find him then so can he.” The verdict, of course, is that he is just not that into you. Because when guys want you, they do the work.

He opines that “just because you like to lead does not mean they like to dance,” adding, “some traditions are born of nature and last through time for a reason.” If you have to be the pursuer rather than the pursued, if they let you do the heavy lifting (picking up that phone all the time), if the idea of marriage sends them reaching for the escape hatch, then chances are that you are with the wrong person, and wasting time with the wrong person is just time wasted.

In this society another chapter can be added for our friends, especially when youngsters talk about guys who not only play all the cards mentioned in the book but also carry a trump card — the mama card, and personal commitments count for little. Tsk, tsk! So if the mama is not at your gate, the player should be shown the door. It is quite simple really. “Deal with us as we are not as you want us to be,” the master quips, admitting that “women are capable of running governments, multinational corporations, raising loving children, sometimes all at the same time. That however does not make men different.”

But the book is not just about spotting winners from losers, separating players from, well, real men, and ‘Ogres’ from ‘Charmings’. Or isolating relationships with the potential to succeed from those doomed to fail for that matter. It is also about being able to recognise unhealthy relationships. Yet Greg’s insightful analysis is meant to turn women not into sceptics but realists who might think twice before impulsively labelling their favourites as Neanderthals (when dumped) or knights (when rescued).

It is astonishing how many conservatives can fit into this contemporary mould.

Variations of the same plot are played out all over the world with depressing regularity. The urge to throw this particular book at affected parties gets stronger with every story one hears. This Bible for relationships (no offence intended) is a must read for it is a highly entertaining wake up call that allows women to take back control of their lives. Being armed with global trade secrets courtesy of the ultimate relationship guru, Van Greg the excuse slayer, can be empowering. The wisdom found within the pages heralds the age of enlightenment, which goes so well with this newfound female empowerment.

Images Courtesy of: http://www.newline.com/cm_images/pr/backtop_hesjustnotthatintoyou.jpg
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