ATDT in Media

Author’s Interview on NBC Television the Day After

The author’s interview to NBC television was recorded at the home of mutual friends in Virginia, a day after the heinous incident against Jawaid Bhutto. In it, she speaks about how the couple had elected to live in Anacostia, DC since 2003. They kept good relations with all the neighbors, believing in the essential goodness of human nature regardless of race, color or faith.

During the interview the reporter, himself an African American, steers the questioning to the mentally challenged nature of the attacker.

However, it was only later that the facts have painted a clearer picture about what occurred on March 1, 2019. A meeting with the state prosecutor revealed that Jawaid’s assassin – Hilman Jordan – had actually murdered his own cousin in 1998. Thereafter he was committed for treatment to St Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital. Even during probation, he returned to the hospital with a gun where he attempted to kill a worker. Despite that, in December 2015 he was released and began living in the apartment below us in South East DC.

All these facts were kept hidden from Jawaid & myself, who owned the unit above the condo rented out to the killer and his family. Its owner, Joe Holston had rented that unit to Jordan and company without informing residents that he was a killer who had spent half his life in a mental asylum.

We would see Jordan hanging out in the porch, obviously unemployed… smoking pot… but without being aware of his dangerous past. Despite that we kept up our friendly nature, wishing him well whenever we parked and walked up to our apartment.

As details begin to emerge, US media and the law need to dig out the different levels at which the US systems miserably failed us. As a nation that prides itself on providing security to its citizens, the US needs to answer why it allowed a human catastrophe to occur within a gated community. That the end result was not only a personal loss, a loss for Sindh but for the civilized world.

ATDT in Media Pakistan Politics

The Origins of Imran Khan’s Rise to Power

The Pakistani Taliban routinely used terror attacks on civilians and army targets as a lever to stop US drone strikes, and expand their hold on territory. A decade after 9/11, their guerrilla tactics became bolder. At times they acted in concert with army insiders to carry out a stunning number of terrorist attacks at military and naval bases, airports, docks and other strategic locations.

As the Pakistani Taliban grew, they attracted Uzbek, Tajik, Chechen, Uighurs, Southeast Asian, Arab and North Africans jihadis. Pakistan became the global hub for jihad. It was not just the madressahs but higher academic institutions that bred anti-modernity. The absence of governance let sectarian groups kill Shias, Christians, Hindus and religious minorities with impunity.

The army’s high wire attempts to keep the `good (Afghan) Taliban’ separate from the `bad Taliban,’ — Pakistan’s militant Pakhtuns — threatened to implode the state.

With the Obama administration’s announcement of a draw down of troops from Afghanistan, the time was ripe for Pakistan’s army to revise its military strategy. A new chapter was added to its `Green Book’ relating to `sub-conventional warfare,’ which underlined the “internal threat.” Army Chief Gen. Kiyani articulated what people in Pakistan had known through a decade of suffering — that the Taliban and multifarious sectarian, ethnic and secessionist groups had become “a greater threat to Pakistan than even India.”

But the army also needed sweeping powers which would override the civilian government’s authority. Who could serve them better than the twice elected prime minister and businessman born from their womb — Nawaz Sharif? They also needed a politician like Imran Khan, who was ready to `flog the US horse’ and support the Taliban, or not… as long as it gave him access to power.

In May 2013 the army gave the Pakistani Taliban a license to become `king makers.’ In this electoral strategy, the Taliban refrained from violence against public rallies of right wing politicians like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan… while gunning down candidates of secular parties like the Awami National Party, Pakistan Peoples Party and Mutehidda Qaumi Movement.

Bereft of a populist leader like Benazir Bhutto, the PPP mostly hunkered down. While the ANP, MQM and independents made the ultimate sacrifice, losing candidates and sympathizers to the rampaging Taliban. Knowing that the good times wouldn’t last, the Taliban sought a `quid pro quo’ from the government they had helped to elect. They demanded an end to US drone strikes and the army’s withdrawal from FATA and the territory adjoining Afghanistan.

Imran Khan, who formed the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province — which included much of the territory under army control — became the “soft power,” to negotiate the Taliban’s demands.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif convened an All Parties Conference in Islamabad, where political parties agreed to hold “peace talks” with the Pakistani Taliban. Their precondition to the TTP, then led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, was that the Taliban cease all terrorist attacks.

But flush with ill-gotten wealth, weapons and foreign fighters, the Pakistani Taliban killed innocent people and issued demands side by side. Unlike the Afghan Taliban, who still had an ideology against `foreign occupation,’ the Pakistani Taliban had turned into a loose assortment of criminals.

Dismayed, people saw politicians cower before the Taliban. The TTP network stretched between 30 factions headed by Hakeemullah Mehsud in North Waziristan and Mullah Fazlullah in Afghanistan. Hakeemullah had cemented the perfect union between the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and their sectarian affiliates.

The Taliban warned that their real intent was to overthrow the constitution of Pakistan and implement their interpretation of Shariah — the pre-Islamic and customary laws they had enforced in Afghanistan. Just two weeks before he was killed, Hakeemullah gave a rare interview that Pakistan’s close relations with the US had made it necessary to attack the state.

Army insider, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif warned the Taliban that failure in talks could result in sustained army action. But Imran Khan rose to their defense. Even after Christians were massacred in a church in Peshawar, he demanded that the Taliban be allowed to open an office for negotiations.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s army held its high moral ground against US drone attacks. In October 2013, it sent victims to Washington to testify before Congress.

US House Foreign Affairs Committee member, Alan Grayson, who presided over the testimony, called its bluff when he delivered a left-handed compliment to Pakistan about its “very powerful” air force.

“With all due respects to an ally, it is well within Pakistan’s capability to end those drone strikes tomorrow,” he told the media in the nation’s capital.

Playing Politics Like a Game of Cricket

For most of 2014, a reality TV show played out across Pakistan, as the media covered cricket star Imran Khan’s demand that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign for presiding over “rigged elections.” TV channels competed for ratings, as they covered the PTI chief, standing atop a container in Islamabad, where he spoke unscripted and at times ranted abusively against the prime minister.

Sharif was no stranger to rigged elections — having secured his victory against Benazir Bhutto through rigging, as acknowledged by army insiders. But the twice elected prime minister and wealthy businessman possessed slick election support. One contestant from Lahore told me, he was aghast to find the stupendous amounts spent by the Sharifs during their 2013 electoral campaign.

As Nawaz Sharif became prime minister for the third time, he faced rivalry not only from Imran Khan but Pervez Musharraf — the military chief turned president, who ousted him in a coup in 1999. Musharraf had returned home in time for the elections, hoping to carve out a new political career. But the `commando’ faced serious charges of suspending the constitution and presiding over the assassinations of Baloch tribal chief, Nawab Akbar Bugti and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

Arriving at Karachi airport with a couple of hundred loyalists from overseas, photographs show Musharraf with raised hand… as if saluting the imaginary millions swarming to welcome him home. Instead, as a frowning policeman looks on, the picture speaks a thousand words.

That, alas for Musharraf, was the reality that greeted him upon return. In a Shakespearean drama, the tables turned as Musharraf was put on trial by the very prime minister he had ousted.

It was an uncomfortable position for the army establishment to have one of their own, tried in court like a commoner. Musharraf’s supporters turned to aggressive tactics, fighting off the photographers and reporters who tried to document his historic downfall.

Even though party loyalists had dwindled, they apparently had a plan to “rescue” Musharraf. It intrigued me when his party’s chief praised a religious cleric, Tahir ul Qadri, who had just then flown from Canada to Islamabad to mobilize against Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister. The quirky cleric, whom I had encountered in the ’80s, would occasionally `parachute’ into Pakistan to mobilize welfare recipients of his Islamic schools, for select causes.

For months Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri rallied supporters in Islamabad on a one-point agenda: removal of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Flanked by party leaders, the unlikely pair fired up crowds from their respective containers for the August 14 climax — Pakistan’s Independence Day — when Khan hoped that the `umpire’ would rule in his favor.

The government held off a heavy handed approach, even shifting security barriers in front of parliament to accommodate the protestors. The climax came as TV cameras moved from the leaders and zoomed in on loyalists… as they battled riot gear police, and broke furniture in the headquarters of state controlled television.

Twitter lit up with comments from Pakistan observers when PTI president, Javed Hashmi… once imprisoned by Musharraf for being a Sharif loyalist… appeared to snap out of his stupor. Perhaps jolted by the realization that Musharraf may be using him to bring martial law, Hashmi turned into a whistle blower. He told the media that Khan had told the party’s internal meeting that he had received support from army generals to oust the prime minister.

The drama ended when army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif showed little appetite for dissolving Sharif’s government or taking over the reins of power.

Still, as Qadri flew back to Canada and Khan went home, the army got respite. Musharraf was no longer required to attend his court hearings. Instead, he was put under `house arrest’ in his sprawling house in Defense Housing Society, Karachi — with the
street closed off to the public. Like a bored tiger in a luxurious cage, he issued statements, spoke at events and attracted a clueless elite. Despite court cases that included charges of “treason,” in 2016 the former army chief was quietly allowed to fly overseas on “medical grounds.”

On the other hand, Imran Khan’s campaign left Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif weaker and the army establishment in a stronger position to control the pillars of democracy.

ATDT in Media

Interview on Freedom of Media in Pakistan

In this interview with Rehman Bunairee of Deewa (Pushtu) television, the author is asked about why the Pushtun Tahafuz Movement has been censored in Pakistan despite holding big rallies across the country.

Her answer, translated on the spot in Pushtu, states that the size of the rallies has brought newspaper outlets to cover the event. According to her, the PTM’s push for democratic rights including the right to be brought to trial instead of being “disappeared,” has raised public awareness. At the same time, the censorship of their rallies is a mark of the authoritarian style of governance in Pakistan that does not like to be criticized.

The author speaks about her presentation of the expanded edition of her book, `Aboard the Democracy Train,’ before the intelligentsia in Peshawar University in 2016. That event, she says, helped to expound on the events that occurred after the military operation of 2014, and which fueled suspicion about the relationship of the military with extremist elements.

When asked about the division of the media on ethnic lines, she says that journalists are also human beings and therefore personally influenced by the events around them.

However, she says that a good journalist needs to rise above personal biases to present the situation with clarity.

ATDT in Media

`Clouds of War Billowing from Attack on Syria’ – Sindh TV interview

In this current affairs program, the Washington based author speaks about how the US and European allies made a strategic decision to conduct a limited bombing of chemical weapons in Syria – with the express intent of regaining a foot hold in the Middle East.

Sindh TV anchor Fayyaz Naich interviews Nafisa Hoodbhoy on the US decision to intervene militarily in Syria and the impact this might have in expanding the theatre of war.

In the second segment, the author speaks on the domestic political situation. She talks about how Pakistan’s foreign policy failures have resulted in the establishment tightening its grip on political parties and which has according to her led to `one sided accountability’ against the ruling party.

Speaking from the lens of her book `Aboard the Democracy Train,’ she says that the Pakistan establishment’s failure to respect the mandate of the electorate has resulted in manipulation and corruption of political parties, without any benefit to the people.

The interview can be viewed as follows:

ATDT in Media


Jamshoro, SINDH: Zakia Ejaz from Dharti TV speaks to visiting journalist Nafisa Hoodbhoy about her background and what she experienced as the only woman reporter for Dawn under Gen. Zia ul Haq.

Now based in Washington DC, Hoodbhoy speaks about the draw of Pakistan and Sindh even while she lives and works overseas.

In particular, she analyzes the conditions for journalists today as compared to the single TV and newspaper medium of the 1980s.

She speaks about how she has a changed perception of Pakistan because of her work in anchoring daily radio talk shows to the region.

In this capacity, she recommends that Pakistan change its militaristic posture to one that conducts legitimate trade with its neighbors.

According to her, this would also win the confidence of people who claim that their resources are being siphoned off to Islamabad, while they are `disappeared,’ and treated as hostile subjects in their own territory.

ATDT in Media

`Pakistan Risks Total Alienation if its Policies don’t Change’ – Author

In an interview with Awami Awaz editor, Dr Jabbar Khattak, the author discusses why Pakistan has come to a turning point where it has to choose to revise its policies or face total alienation in the international community.

During the wide ranging interview on foreign policy, Nafisa Hoodbhoy speaks about how the Trump administration views Pakistan on account of the perceived role it has played vis-i-vis Afghanistan and how changing alliances in the Middle East are shrinking options for the country.

The candid hour long interview centers around a US motion to put Pakistan on the Financial Action Task Force list by June 2018, of nations that engage in money laundering and support terror outfits.

It advocates how the improvement of relations with neighboring countries could have a salutary effect on governance inside the nation as well.

The expanded edition of her book is also discussed during the interview.

The interview may be viewed at:

ATDT in Media

Hundreds of Copies of `Aboard the Democracy Train’ Sell Across Pakistan

The updated edition of Aboard the Democracy Train, Pakistan Tracks the Threat Within has sold hundreds of copies across Pakistan, with most of the sales having taken place in Karachi.

Published by Paramount Books, Karachi in 2016 in hard cover, the final edition brings the reader up to speed on the title originally published by Anthem Books, London in 2011.

The capture of Osama Bin Laden represented a turning point in US and Pakistan relations. Consequently, the author updated the book from her vantage point in Washington DC and had the final edition published in Pakistan.

In 2016, she launched the updated edition in Peshawar and Quetta – with the Peshawar University and Quetta Press Club events mostly focused on the attack on Army Public School and the Baloch insurgency.

Since then, the book has been purchased by schools, public libraries, military and business institutes, NGO centers and sold at book fairs and leading book stalls across the country.

The books have sold in Skardu, Bannu, Jhelum, Faisalabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Kohat, Quetta, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Khairpur, Sukkur, Larkana, Hyderabad and Karachi.

They may be ordered online from the Liberty Book store (, at the Paramount Books website ( or from with cash to be paid on delivery.

ATDT in Media

`The Changing Colors of Pakistani Politics’ – Mustafa Jarwar KTN

`The Changing Colors of Pakistani Politics,’ was the theme of the KTN show hosted by Mustafa Jarwar on the situation inside Pakistan and as it is affected by international events.

Participants including outgoing PPP Senator Dr Karim Khawaja and visiting US based journalist, Nafisa Hoodbhoy.

The discussions covered Pakistan’s growing isolation in the international community, as it relates to placing the country on the Financial Action Task Force’s `grey list’ of nations sponsoring international terrorism.

The anchor also focused on an increasing trend amongst politicians to play along for the sake of obtaining power, while abandoning any principled positions.

It may be watched at the URL below:

ATDT in Media

US Foreign Policy Vis-i-Vis Pakistan – Interview on Awaz Television

US foreign policy and regional realignments were discussed in a television show hosted by Imran Mir of Awaz Television, with journalist and author Nafisa Hoodbhoy and ex PPP Senator Dr Karim Khawaja on Monday in Karachi.

The program, Jawab Do (Give an Answer) was a conversation between a PPP politician and the visiting independent analyst about why Pakistan finds itself in its current day predicament.

The full program may be viewed at the link below:

ATDT in Media

Evening Get-together by St. Louis community

An evening get together at a local restaurant in St. Louis, Missouri picked up on some of the issues raised by the author at the Ethical Society earlier on Jan. 20.

Convener Sohail Ansari introduced the author at the event, attended by men and women from all the communities that are represented in Pakistan.

During the evening address at Kababish restaurant in St. Louis, the author shared her observations about how the expatriate community tended to stay in their comfort zones – Sindhis with Sindhis, Mohajirs with Mohajirs and women with women – just like within their home country.

She said that change could take place only if the expats worked to bring change within their own lives.

Afterwards, the community raised comments and questions pertaining to the homeland. These included the dilemmas they face because of their multiple nationalities as US and Pakistani citizens.

The video may be watched by following the link below:

ATDT in Media

Author Presents Excerpts of `Aboard the Democracy Train’ in Missouri


The author of Aboard the Democracy Train gave a presentation of her book at an event sponsored by the Pakistani community in Missouri on Jan. 20. Held at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, Nafisa Hoodbhoy was the guest speaker during a two hour long session that explored specific topics relating to the effects of partition on Sindh, the ethnic divide that occurred during the 1980s and terrorism.

Over the course of the presentation, the author talked about her front line view of the manipulation she had witnessed from Islamabad to divide people on the basis of ethnicity and political affiliation. Confining herself mostly to the period between 1988 to 1999, she spoke of how Pakistan had since inception worked to `manage’ the teeming masses who had migrated to the country from India in 1947.

Program convener Dr Nadeem Rizvi was on hand to address the underlying question facing the expatriate community – namely why Sindhis, Mohajirs, Pashtuns and Punjabis remain divided even when they migrate overseas.

Afterwards, the author answered questions from the audience. They included Americans who had little knowledge of Pakistan’s politics but were keen to talk about the US relationship to that country.

That evening, the author had the opportunity to address a larger gathering of the community – including women – at a local hotel.

The event may be viewed on the URLs below

Posted by Vasudha Ravv on Saturday, January 20, 2018

Posted by Vasudha Ravv on Saturday, January 20, 2018

ATDT in Media

Review of Aboard the Democracy Train: A Journey Through Pakistan’s Last Decade of Democracy

A thrilling tale that follows the death of Zia on 1988 and folllows much of Pakistan’s history till the shahadat of Benazir Bhutto. The book gives a close acccount of what goes behind the scene in the political landscape and how specific events change the functioning of democracy in Pakistan.

Fragility of the civil institutions have directly been related to the weakness of democracy in Pakistan however the tussle between civil military as the book shows continues when the civilian government was further topples in 1999.

Interesting read but for the better part of the second book the story becomes boring and the kind of connect and cohesion on the first part is missing. Much of the book is in memoir style which is good added with history. You can complement the author on the story of the rise of MQM, problems of rural Sindh, toppling of Benazir but towards the latter part you might be lost. Otherwise informative basis good read.

ATDT in Media

Steve Edwards’s Reviews > Aboard the Democracy Train: A Journey Through Pakistan’s Last Decade of Democracy

Light on character development and providing few insights into the why? of deeply ingrained cultural traditions that superficially at least appear discriminatory, running contrary to values held dear by liberal “westernized” elites from democratic societies.
Otherwise, for the outsider, an exposition of the defacto politics, current affairs and attitudes of a troubled region in the midst of fracticious change and shifting tribal and international allegiences, that resists the tendancy to sensationalise and benefits from the biographical viewpoint of the writer, who should be commended for her bravery, integrity and unwavering dedication to the journalistic profession as a cause for good.

ATDT in Media

Behind the News

As the Obama effect wears off and a new sheriff comes to Washington DC, Nafisa Hoodbhoy analyzes the Trump effect on the global landscape, most prominently its impact on the Pakistan region.

The interview was conducted by Sindh TV anchor Fayyaz Naich in Feb, 2017. It discusses Russia’s reinsertion in international politics and how Cold War tensions keep the US and the former super power, Russia, feuding across the globe. While Saudi-Iranian tensions and Pakistan-India rivalry feed turf wars and proxy fighting.

The conversation picks up on the updated edition of `Aboard the Democracy Train, Pakistan Tracks the Threat Within,’ printed by Paramount Books in 2016, and launched the same year in Peshawar and Quetta.

The full interview can be seen on Youtube:

ATDT in Media

`Riding the Democracy Train’ – Book Review

ATDT in Media Civil Society

Book Readers at Karachi Press Club get International Perspective on Pak Politics

Karachi, March 10: Journalists, writers, poets and political activists heard Nafisa Hoodbhoy speak about the final updated edition of her book, `Aboard the Democracy Train, Pakistan Tracks the Threat Within,’ at an event held at the Karachi Press Club on Friday.

Moderated by senior journalist and anchor person, Mujahid Barelvi, the audience also heard from former assistant editor of Dawn and writer Zubeida Mustafa. A 20 minute presentation about the book by the author was followed by questions and comments from the audience.

The author said that while her original book was published in 2011 by Anthem Press, London, the updated edition was reprinted in 2016 in hard cover by Paramount Books, Pakistan, and is now available in leading book stores around the country.

She said that the story begins when Gen Zia ul Haq’s plane explodes in 1988 and she is deputed by Dawn newspaper to cover the bid by Benazir Bhutto to become the first woman prime minister of Pakistan.

In response to critique about her coverage of ethnic conflict of the 1980’s, she said that “without prejudice toward any ethnic group,” her day-to-day reporting in Karachi’s hospitals had exposed her to the deep sense of insecurity suffered by Sindhis in the aftermath of the September 30, Hyderabad carnage case.

The author said that the third section of the book views Pakistan from the US, when both nations entered an uneasy relationship after the events of 9/11. It includes narrations about the tenure of former Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf and first hand meetings with Benazir Bhutto in Washington DC – shortly before the aspiring prime minister was assassinated.

The author said that she decided to expand the book and have it reprinted in Pakistan in 2016, to address the policy shift in the army that finally acknowledged that the `enemy within’ was a bigger threat than India.

According to her, this last chapter, written from Washington, captures the somersaults that Pakistani politicians made to fall in line with the military’s decision to eliminate the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. It further encapsulates Pakistan’s drift away from the US, and realignment with China.

In his remarks, Mujahid Barelvi said that the author has been a `hard core’ news reporter. Despite the `dry’ nature of the subject, he said she had made the book readable because of an engaging style.

ATDT in Media

BBC Film `Brides of the Quran’ on Youtube (Excerpt from `Aboard the Democracy Train’)

Journeying through interior Sindh, I stumbled upon large numbers of unmarried, graying women who lived in ancestral homes located in Hyderabad, Thatta, Matiari and Hala. Time hung heavy on their hands. Equipped with little education and no exposure to the outside world, these women had never been exposed to men in their lives.

In 1992, during a journalistic jaunt, I discovered a horrendous custom that kept these women housebound. Under Islamic law, women inherit property when they marry. But in the absence of male relatives, feudals in Sindh refuse to give daughters their inheritance. Instead, big feudals of Sindh and southern Punjab, who derive their power base from the land, prefer to keep their daughters unmarried.

In a more elaborate example of how feudals manipulate women’s lives for financial gain, the Syed communities – who trace direct ancestry to Prophet Mohammed – have their daughters married off to the Muslim holy book, the Quran. That literally seals their prospects of marriage. Under this practice – called “haq bakshna” (waiver of rights), women place their hand on the Quran and waive the Islamic right to marry and inherit property. Even more ingeniously, they are told that their virginity gives them a spiritual status and a duty to dispense talismans to sick children.

The paradoxes were stunning. Feudal politicians took orders from a woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto even as they kept
their own women locked up or “married to the Quran.” Some of them were superiors in her party and took orders from the woman prime minister to wield power in their own fiefdoms. The big feudals, who form the backbone of autocratic governments, have kept their control of women well-hidden from public view.
(Uploaded by Aftab Gul Abbasi)

ATDT in Media

Aboard the Democracy Train: Make Sure it Runs

I borrowed the first half of topic today from the title of Nafisa Hoodbhoy’s book launched recently in Pakistan. In this nearly biographic work, she narrates her voyage as a journalist and activist in the 80s and 90s which I found particularly valuable for understanding the complexities of a fragile democratic arrangement that emerged after the sudden death of General Ziaul Haq. She extensively records incidents to explain where and how Pakistan started losing out to trends; in violence, especially against the weaker sections of society; and corruption; inefficient political organisation as well as the political intrusions by the establishment.

With vast exposure particularly in Sindh but generally throughout the country, Nafisa presents case studies of several human rights violations including her own case when she became a victim of brazen political violence. She is explicit in naming names and pointing the finger at characters which helps readers understand the nature of challenges that persist today. Alongside her core suggestion about strengthening the democratic order, she is satisfied with the emerging prospects of eliminating extremism. Parallel to forces on the opposite side, yearning for democracy has been a hallmark of Pakistanis. The masses that filled the streets for the restoration of the judiciary during most of the year 2007 were mesmerised by Aitzaz Ahsan’s famous poem Riasat hogi maanke jaisi suggesting that a democratic state will be benevolent like a mother. Besides its idealistic vision, the poem emphasized the justice system and reforms therein which form the basis of a stable democracy.

Nevertheless, the undemocratic rules left our institutions and systems ineffective, unable to deliver on the promises made by the elected governments or the expectations of the people. Today, we find institutions to be in a virtual dysfunction in major sectors like health, education and the justice system. On the other hand, the political stakeholders have been unwilling to allow some of the essentials of democracy; for instance, holding census and establishing local government. The elected governments achieved incremental progress on structural reforms through the 18th constitutional amendment, etc. However there was dismal progress regarding institutional and sectoral reforms. The failures in the structural reforms were attributable to the latter.

An interaction with different ministries and line department brings home a stark realisation that the implementers and decision makers are suffering from inaptitude and indifference towards their responsibilities. The actors move only when there is a threat of losing their perks and privileges. The other tasks at hand can linger on for ages if the officers have an excuse to delay, defer or deny. Therefore, the objectors keep emphasising an improvement in governance.

One solution was seen in building public-private partnership, which has worked only partially due to constraints on both sides, though notably because the bureaucracy accustomed to serving undemocratic regimes is failing to appreciate the nuance of a participatory democracy. Even able and well meaning officials are found nursing their demotivation and disillusionment. Some of them are even attracted to some kind of revolution. A section of politicians and bureaucracy are busy ensuring the third sector, or the NGOs are effectively alienated. Hence their expertise gained during decades in service delivery, development, disaster management and human rights advocacy is being under-utilised and wasted. Given the commendable achievements and sacrifices made for democracy throughout the history of Pakistan, these undesirable outcomes should make the stakeholders ponder over the details of the democracy project. We cannot afford to stay aboard a train that needs repairs.

People at the helm need to capitalise on the wide consensus on democracy to expand the meaning and function of democracy from a majoritarian and functional democracy to an inclusive participatory and delivering democracy. The ongoing crackdown on civil society organisations, especially the smear campaign against NGOs, is a step in the opposite direction. While everyone should be accountable organisations, especially the smear campaign against NGOs, is a step in the opposite direction. While everyone should be accountable before the law, no one should be subjected to arbitrary actions without proof beyond doubt and due process of law. The people of Pakistan have paid a huge price to uncanny policies, indifference to people’s rights and lack of good governance. It is time to reverse the process, which is possible by allowing more civil rights, not the other way round. Subject to needs of lawful and reasonable scrutiny, a reduced civil space for NGOs is a space reduced for democracy in Pakistan.

May the idealism for a better Pakistan featured in the works of Nafisa Hoodbhoy and Aitzaz Ahsan live on.

Published in the Express Tribune, September 21, 2016

ATDT in Media Featured

‘Pakistan Has Never Had a Functioning Democracy’

Nafisa Hoodbhoy, the first female reporter in Pakistan, talks about the country’s ties with China, civil-military relations, terrorism and much more.

Nafisa Hoodbhoy is a senior Pakistani journalist and author based in the US. She recently authored Aboard the Democracy Train: Pakistan Tracks the Threat Within, a book about politics and journalism in Pakistan. As the only female reporter working for Dawn during Gen Zia ul Haq’s rule, she wrote news reports and articles that coincided with the transition from military to civilian rule.

What do you mean by Aboard the Democracy Train?

Well, I thought that this would be a captivating title because of the fact that when I came back (to Pakistan in 1984), [I] was appointed given the fact that I was the only women reporter. So, my editor asked me to accompany Benazir Bhutto when she made a bid to become Pakistan’s first and only female prime minister. That is why I travelled with her on the train.

When we passed through different cities and towns in the interior Sindh, I thought that the people were deprived of food, clothing and shelter. And the way they responded to Benazir Bhutto gave me the idea that Pakistan was waiting for true and representative democracy. Later on, that idea or image was so powerful in my mind because, of course, the history of Pakistan has been the history of deprivation of the rights of people.

Consequently, I made it the cover of my book.

What is the prime objective of your book?

I think that I have had a great opportunity not only as a reporter in Pakistan, but also having gone to the United States and doing radio programmes from there after 9/11. I have been able to see how the United States interacts with Pakistan; Pakistan’s foreign policy plays a huge role in the way that the transformation has occurred in the last few years.

Being given this unique opportunity to observe things at a very close level, I thought that I should share my experiences and observations, and turn them into readable accounts which is what inspired me to write this book.

In your book, you write that in Pakistan “the military establishment has infiltrated ethnic, religious and political parties to bend the situation in their favor”. Could you please explain this?

Anybody who has lived through the history of Pakistan will tell you that we have never had a functioning democracy in this country. As a reporter who covered elections regularly, I had the opportunity not only to be closed to politicians, but also to observe how elections were rigged. It is not something that one arrives in one day; it is rather through consistent reporting and observation I was, for example, able to see that how the Muttahida Quami Movment (MQM) was created.

In those days, MQM was infiltrated by the military which wanted to see the Mahajirs (refugees) channel there in such a way that it could be used by the military to prevent the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) from grabbing the power at the Centre.

I was witness in those days that not only the military, but also Nawaz Sharif, as he was a businessman and chosen by the military. In many cases, the combined opposition to former Benazir Bhutto was headed by Nawaz Sharif, too. That is why I got a very close look the way the military manipulated ethnic, religious and political parties in order to prevent people’s rule in the country.

In your estimate, what are the motives behind military coups in Pakistan?

It is an extremely complex situation but the fact is that the politicians are unable to deliver. And why are politicians unable to deliver? In my opinion, one of the reasons behind is this that the military does not allow freedom for institutions to develop. For example, in Pakistan, the judiciary has been curbed; the media has been curbed. These are cornerstones of any functioning democracy.

The present reform system has been controlled. However, we need to have a better education system; we need to allow institutions to grow. So, when this does not happen, and the politicians who are ruling the country during the same time, they fail. Because there is not enough planning at all levels. In this context, when politicians fail, the military takes over the control by saying that the political establishment is unable to bring about democracy in the country.

What has been the US’s role in undermining democracy in Pakistan?

I have to explain this one thing, which is that the United States does not go around trying to destabilise the nations around the world. What it does is it follows its own national interests because countries do not have emotions. They neither have friends nor enemies. In fact, they have only interests. For example, America’s interest was to get Pakistan as an ally in order to crush the Taliban and other militant forces, like al-Qaeda there. They did so to ensure that the people like Osama Bin Ladin never find sanctuaries.

It is not right to say that America is out to sabotage democracy around the world. However, it is too easy for us to say that America is against democracy and looks only for its own interests. As for interests, there is no doubt that every nation looks for its own interests. But the only difference they have the power and we do not have the power.

On the other hand, I would say that the foreign interventions in these regions are also important. Ever since the 9/11, America intervened. It opened a Pandora’s box in this country. Two things went out of control because of Pakistan’s history of shielding the Taliban. The fact is that if Pakistan wanted to get US aid and, of course, Pakistan does want to continue the US assistance. That is why it had to say yes to the United States. But implicitly it went against a policy of no interference in Afghanistan, which complicated things and brought terrorism to a boiling point in this country.

When the US interferes, there is often no understanding of how this can open up sectarian class and all types of differences which exist in lawless society like Pakistan.

What challenges did you face as the first female reporter during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime?

I came at a time when women had actually disappeared from public view and the concept of chadar aur chardivari (the veil and the four walls) was very strong. Women who had protested against laws of evidence had been tear-gassed in 1981. So, I came only a few years later.

Interestingly, when I would go to public functions, the male reporters would start looking at me as though I was doing something wrong. Also, when I would go to events, I would even be asked whether I would be feeling strange because I was the first female reporter in Pakistan’s traditionally patriarchal society.

Besides myself working as a journalist, it was interesting that in 1981 Women Action Forum was formed and it was actually formed as a reaction to General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule, because he had enacted laws against women, including the Hudood ordinance, laws of evidence, etc. These laws were enacted in order to push the women back to their homes.

How did Pakistan transform politically and religiously under Zia?

It was [a] very, very transformational period for Pakistan. The major reason was the guns were coming in for the Afghan war. Karachi, the former capital of Pakistan, was transformed into the centre – guns would be sent from there to Peshawar for Mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Zia had also banned the political parties. Consequently, the people were splitting up into ethnic groups. One of its examples is the MQM, which rose during Zia’s time. On the other hand, the religious parties also started gaining power. This is what happens when you do not have democracy.

In a nutshell, there were no ideological parties. Following Zia, there were also not ideological parties and democracy in true sense, including Benazir Bhutto’s PPP.

However, the religious and political transformation during Zia’s time was very deep, as well as it went on at every level in the society.

How do you view the current civil-military relations in Pakistan?

In the last 70 years, so much has happened in Pakistan. I think now the military has started to recognise that the people are fed up of martial laws. So there is no longer the acceptance of military rule, because we have already had two long military rules by General Zia and General Parvez Musharraf.

Even if former President Asif Ali Zardari was not a competent ruler, the military allowed him to continue his rule because they realised there was no appetite of democracy for dictatorship. But I would say that when elections were held in 2013, there was an understanding by military that it could not be business as usual.

As I write in the last chapter of my book, the way this present government came in, then Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan came in a very curious way in the sense that the establishment used the Taliban to attack the parties which were secular, including: ANP, MQM and PPP. Therefore, the two parties Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) were facilitated by them.

I think Imran Khan rode the wave because he understood that the Taliban were a big force at the time. He showed closeness to the Taliban, while the army decided to use him. So he was allowed to gain power by stopping them from attacking his rallies, etc.

In a very devious way, Imran Khan and Nawaz, both of them, I would say, are parties of the establishment, which were ushered by the Taliban.

Even now there are many, many games being played. It is not like establishment or military’s sympathies toward any groups. Its primary goal is to control them or use political parties.

In Pakistan, politicians are nothing. In fact, they are people to be dispensed with. Remember, political parties are a creation of the establishment. For example, we do not have a defence minister in the country right now because the army makes all the decisions. There is no pretense of having a political figure or defence secretary or defence minister because there is no need for all that stuff. Everybody knows that the army makes all the decisions.

It is not just foreign affairs; the army is now making decisions in every, every aspect of life.

Why is ideological politics non-existent in Pakistan?

Because the political space has not been provided to them, and it should be provided to political parties to groom and train younger people. If there is no history of democracy, what is the role model? What can you look to the past, if all the politicians are mere creations of the establishment? Then, there is not much scope for grooming political parties, is there?

Following the attack on the Army Public School, what change do you perceive in Pakistan’s internal and external policies?

In 2014, the operation Zarb-i-Azb was launched. Already, the military had started clamping down, and before that the Karachi operation was launched. But the APC was another big jolt for them, and the people with whom the army had had contacts, in the past, like Fazlullah. It is my belief that they let Fazlullah escape from Swat by letting him go to Afghanistan. In fact, there is quite evidence on that discourse.

When those people returned to kill innocent children, it shook things up in this country. As a result, the army did react very promptly by intensifying Zarb-i-Azb. After that, there is specific targeting of militant[s] across the country, where they knew they were hiding in Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Kyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In a nutshell, it renewed the anger in the army that these people are still present despite frequent bombardments in the aforementioned areas.

Following the attack, the army has been able to raise its head little bit. The reason is: Pakistan had been consumed by terrorism prior to that. Therefore, they managed to clean up quite a bit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where there used to be routine bomb attacks in the past. For example, before 2014, there were usual bomb attacks there.

As for Balochistan, hundreds of Hazaras would be slaughtered at one time. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which is active in Mastung, Balochistan, they were chased out. Malik Ishaque, the head of LeJ, was killed in an encounter. Besides him, some of his finances were killed.

After these all, the military used intelligence; it tracked all the political and sectarian groups that had been committing terrorist acts. In this regard, Altaf Hussian himself was tracked. Also, for the first time, the army said a very interesting thing that MQM is basically a terrorist organisation with a political mandate instead of the other way around. It redefined MQM. So, having treated it as terrorist then, of course, what follows after that. And it is continued to follow after that.

Yes. There have been major changes in internal policies.

Externally, what they did: it raised Pakistan’s profile in the outside world. I think that Pakistan army’s capability has been recognised in the outside world. It has allowed Pakistan’s status in that sense to be lifted a little bit higher that it was able to control terrorism.

Of course, terrorism has not ended now, and we do not know what the future of terrorism is in the country. Certainly, I believe that not unless you bring sweeping changes, giving the people the right to understand that what the hell is going on inside the country. Just, blindly accepting military rule is not a cure. And military courts can never be a substitute for the rule of law; the way the state narrative continues can never be a substitute for real debate and understanding for critical analysis, for which we really need to project what is going on and understand things better. So, I think that is the way our country is headed right now.

Is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif creating a space for the military establishment?

I think that he has a better understanding of the military establishment than the other parties or chairpersons. In history, he came at a time when the military was much more in a position to recognize that unless it combated the enemy within, nothing could be done.

In 2013, it was a turning point for Pakistan, and the military recognised that the businessman who they turned into a politician was perhaps the only one who could have the smartness to work with them in such a way that he keeps his mouth shut, he often does not speak the truth when he goes out of the country. So, they need a man like that because they do not need a man who is rabble-rouser, and who gathers crowd. They need someone who can toe the line, and I think he is delivering very well for that.

How has militancy strained Pakistan’s ties with its neighboring countries?

This is true that even at a time in Pakistan’s history when it has succeeded fighting militancy. It’s past history with its neighbours, and I will not go beyond 2011, has made it extremely unpopular. Today, we are at a very low point in our relationship with our neighbours. For example, Afghanistan is blaming us for supporting the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network in order to destabilise the Afghan government. India is convinced that we are still sheltering Kashmiri separatists, and militant groups, like JuD [Jamaat-ud-Dawa] which openly has processions and shuts down roads and markets. In this context, the people like Hafiz Saeed, etc, are roaming free. That is why they are very vocal about Pakistan’s support toward terrorism.

As far as China is concerned, she is looking the other way because she needs Pakistan for its economic interests.

Between Iran and Pakistan, on the other hand, are also problems due to Sunni elements who use Balochistan border to inflict attacks on Iran. Anyway, that is a separate issue.

On the other hand, Pakistan is close to Saudi Arabia also makes more tense the relations with Iran.

What about the US?

With the United States, I would say that relationship is still uneasy one. Right now, the US itself is in a state of transition due to elections. And the Congress has a lot of people who say that Pakistan should be cut off, so much so, sometimes they are very loud by saying that 15 years on Pakistan refuses to stop supporting the Haqqani network.

Worryingly, Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a drone attack in Balochistan. In fact, Balochistan still continues to be the hub of Quetta Shura. Therefore, these things are making Pakistan’s relations unpopular with America and rest of the world.

Is China still complainant about Uighurs’ safe sanctuaries on Pakistan’s soil?

To my knowledge and understanding, Pakistan has done a wonderful job to rid of foreign militants, like Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens and Uighurs. It’s Taliban that creates problem.

With Uighurs, in recent times, there are no complaints from China.

Does Pakistan still differentiate between the good and bad Taliban?

Well, Pakistan keeps saying, especially from 2014, that it does not differentiate any more between the good and bad Taliban. But if you talk to senior government officials inside Afghanistan, they will say that Pakistan still differentiates between good and bad Taliban.

The only thing which I think has happened is that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has gone to Afghanistan and many of its leaders, who are disillusioned with Pakistan, are now joining the Islamic State. That is why Afghanistan is accusing Pakistan of supporting IS inside Afghanistan.

We know for the fact that the great game is going on and Pakistan does need a strategy for pursuing its policies of strategic depth inside Afghanistan. So, as long as that happens, it will continue to differentiate between the good and bad Taliban.

What are your thoughts on the Gwadar port project and security situation in Balochistan?

If the Gwadar port project is going to be a project of the federal government without input from the Balochistan government, then it is headed for a major showdown. In this context, the questions arise: How can you come as a foreign invader in your own country? How can you support the interests of a foreign country in your own country and support your own military restrict without recognising that this is in a province where people have suffered from generations of neglect? So, if they are committing this blunder, then they will have to pay for it because this is an opportunity for Pakistan to enhance itself in order to enrich itself by bringing people to mainstream, educational opportunities.

I still think that the control over the Gwadar port project is so strong that even the officials of Gwadar recognise that their jobs are very precarious that if they detract from the policies of the federal government, then they can lose their jobs.

However, it is very significant now for the democratic forces in Balochistan in particular and in Pakistan in general to demand that to be given a say in the Gawadar port. Otherwise, this is also going out of their hands.

The federal government and the military have provided something like 10,000 security personnel to secure Chinese nationals, who will be coming in. And they are treating the Baloch as a problem, instead of taking them along with themselves.

As long as they continue to treat them as a problem rather than the people of the soil, the security situation will never improve. However, the people are people, and they feel affronted by these people coming in and behaving like foreign powers by simply enriching themselves only.

So, that is my prognosis that until people, intellectuals, different people who have a vested interest in seeing the economic situation improve and the participation of the people, I think they really need to speak out and write to have an impact. If you do not speak up, then you are dead meat.

Is CPEC [China–Pakistan Economic Corridor] really a game changer for Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular?

Supposedly, China is now really rushing and their officials are coming to Islamabad. In a nutshell, they are very anxious to build this project because China is an emerging power. But politics inside Pakistan keeps postponing, which prevents things from happening. However, in my estimate, Chinese are pushing for greater economic transformation. The reason is: they have their own interest. But politics in Pakistan is getting in the way.

As for the question, it can be a game changer but it depends on how it is approached.

The government of Pakistan has lots of work on its hands. It really needs to get its house in order, and yes of course promote industry and also promote power by allowing your good to start competing. Once Chinese goods reach Pakistan and they are sold at cheaper rate than Pakistani goods. Then, I can see the problems growing for Pakistan.

Once non-Baloch are inducted into Gwadar port, and they start working in Gwadar. Then, I can also see problems growing for the local people.

So, there is a need to make provisions to plan, plan, and plan. Unless you do that it cannot be a game changer.

How much is Pakistan benefiting from its all-weather friend China?

China is now quite involved in Pakistan; as much as I know, it is giving much more assistance than America to Pakistan. China, on the other hand, is in Pakistan’s neighborhood, and it unlike America leaving Pakistan. Remember, if America is eight thousand miles away and can get involved in Pakistan primarily due to Afghanistan. So, why not China?

China has quite invested in Pakistan’s infrastructure, which is a good thing. And I do think that China tends to support Pakistan at international levels and issues. So, many things for which there are objections, for example, India is getting into the nuclear club and if Pakistan wishes to do the same it has few friends other than China that will support it at a UN level. For that, I think China is a very good partner for Pakistan at the international level.

On the other hand, they are willing to negotiate in Afghanistan, and that is a plus for Pakistan. As a neutral country, they are willing to sit and negotiate a deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

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ATDT, Pakistan Tracks the Threat Within, Now at Book Fairs

Aboard the Democracy Train, Pakistan Tracks the Threat Within, recently published by Paramount Books, will be on display at the Annual Book Fair being held by Paramount in Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore.

The 2016 edition of the book (first published by Anthem Press, London in 2011), will be featured at the book fairs being held from August 27 to September 4, 2016 – from 10:30 am to 8:00 pm daily – including Sundays and public holidays.

In Karachi, the book will be featured at Paramount Book’s head office, located at 152/0 Block 2 PECHS 75400. Phone: (021) 34310030 or e-mail:

The Peshawar book fair will be held on Arbab Road, Saddar Cantt. Phone: (091) 5272722. The book is also available at London Books, Peshawar.

In Lahore, the book fair will be held in 81 C-11, Tariq Road, Gulberg 111. Phone: (042) 35877087, e-mail:

This is also an opportunity to tell the publisher, Paramount Books about the book stores where you would like to receive the 2016 edition of Aboard the Democracy Train, Pakistan Tracks the Threat Within.