Call for Learning Lessons from Derailment of Democracy

The author speaks at ATDT book launch in Karachi (Credit:
The author speaks at ATDT book launch in Karachi (Credit:
The author speaks at ATDT book launch in Karachi (Credit:

Karachi, Feb 2: Speakers at the launching ceremony of the book titled: “Aboard the Democracy Train: a Journey through Pakistan’s Last Decade of Democracy”, authored by eminent journalist Nafisa Hoodbhoy, called for learning lessons from the derailment of democracy in the country in 1990s. The event was organised by the Arts Council of Pakistan (ACP) here on Saturday.

“We should learn lesson from the horrible consequences the country suffered owing to frequent interruptions in the nascent democratic process,” said Nafisa Hoodbhoy while speaking and answering questions from the audience.

“I am not fond of the present government but I do realise that it is also facing extreme difficult situation,” she added. Nafisa asked as to how stable policy and development would take place when the rulers would be concerned that they may be sent home tomorrow. To some extent, she agreed to the questioner that the democratic struggle during 1980s was linked with the struggle for the rights of women, minorities and human rights but “now the democratic question was linked merely with power politics”.

She, however, opined that much part of this blame should go to those forces which interrupted the democratic process from 1988 to 1999 as no regime was allowed to complete its tenure. She believed that the problems, which the country and particularly Karachi was facing today was the result of the war on terror and Pakistan’s role in it.

“There is a great deal of anti-US sentiments in Pakistan but we need to adopt political approach and objectivity towards the US,” suggested Nafisa.

She said that Washington could not be blamed for all the ills being faced by Islamabad. “There is absence of governance and lack of planning and Pakistan needs to blame itself for it,” she added.

About the book and herself, Nafisa said: “This is a book for the people who are interested in the inside story of Pakistan. It is one that I undertook to write because of my front line access to top politicians and exclusive information obtained while working as a political reporter in Karachi in the 1980s.”

She said she was the only woman reporter at a turning point in Pakistan’s history. “The event, still etched in the minds of millions of Pakistanis…Gen. Zia’s plane crash of August 1988… catapulted me to cover Benazir Bhutto’s bid to mobilize the masses,” she said.

“There are five main aspects of the book,” said eminent scholar Dr. Jaffar Ahmed.

Firstly, Nafisa has strong realization that Pakistani society happens to be patriarchic and in such society women have to launch “extra-ordinary struggle” for the rights and make their presence felt.

“She (Nafisa) had developed a longing for Benazir Bhutto because of her (BB’s) extra-ordinary struggle against the despot rule,” said Dr. Ahmed, head of Pakistan Study Centre of Karachi University.

She also realised that if women come out in the field they would find that there was a large number of people who would join their struggle.

“Nafisa broke the taboos and gender bias by working in the field as reporter,” said Prof. Ahmed.

Secondly, Nafisa belonged to what it is believed as “elite class” but despite this she had developed longing for the poor and deprived ones. This was evident from her visits to rural areas of Sindh. She was highly critical of the “classed society” of Sindh and this was very significant thing of her book.

Thirdly, another important aspect of Nafisa’s book was that she has described the ethnic question or ethnic hatred in Sindh objectively. She has stated as to how the “majority was turned into minority” and as to how the failure to manage it resulted in the polarization and fragmentation of society in Sindh.

“Nafisa’s approach is objective and without any bias,” said Prof Ahmed, adding that she has also presented “remedy of this polarization” in her book.

Fourthly, Nafisa loved Benazir Bhutto from the core of her heart and somewhere in her book she appears to be “obsessed” with her but despite this love and longing for the political leader she (Hoodbhoy) did not desist from criticizing the flaws and failures of the BB’s two tenures.

“This shows that she has a commitment with the democracy and not with any political leader,” believed Jaffar, adding that she was not willing to compromise on her democratic principles.

The fifth aspect of the book pertained to Nafisa’s criticism on the Pakistan’s role after 9/11 and geo-strategic situation in the region. Nafisa believed that whatever lawlessness Pakistan was facing today was the result of the country’s unstinted support to the US-led war on terror.

“The basic thing is that Hoodbhoy’s book is politically correct book, which is written from the democratic perspective,” concluded Dr. Jaffar Ahmed.

Journalist and novelist Muhammad Hanif said what struck him was that the book has been written as “first person” and he knew that it was a very difficult task but she managed to strike a balance in personal as well as political history of Pakistan.

He opined that the book was not the political history of Pakistan, instead it was a “reporter’s diary” about the events of last 20 years, which provide “brilliant perspective about today’s life as well”.

“Nafisa, a bright and hard working reporter chased the murder and rape cases and took them to the conclusion,” said Hanif.

He said the book was also partly a love story as Nafisa found her life partner through her journalistic work.

Rights activist Zohra Yousuf said that the book was being launched at an appropriate time as it was the first time that an elected government was completing its tenure without any interruption.

Though the democratic regime was marked by uncertainty and the rights abuses, it was quite an achievement in the history of Pakistan, she said.

Zohra opined that the democracy should not be taken in narrow sense and stressed for debating the quality of the democratic regime, specially its poor governance. At the same time, she also underlined the importance of assessing the role of what she called two big brothers namely the “army and now judiciary” under which, this government worked.

“The book starts with the transition in 1988 i.e. after the death of Gen. Zia in plane crash and it resonates with us and make us realize its tragic aftermath in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto,” said Zohra who also worked as journalist in 1980s.

Referring to perpetual act of sabotage in the shape of destruction of democracy thrice by the ambitious military generals, Ms Yousuf believed that lately the militancy was posing serious challenge to democracy.

“We did not exactly know who killed BB but at least officially it was said that the militants assassinated her,” she said, adding that the latest victim of the militancy was ANP leader Bashir Bilour.

About the book and its author, Zohra said that Nafisa’s approach was journalistic and not academic, and it makes very easy to read it.

“She (Nafisa) brings back memories and regrets such as things would have been much better today if the democracy had not been derailed,” said Zohra.

She also highlighted the “sordid events” which determined the democracy today.

“Though Ms Hoodbhoy had been close to the people in power, she is objective and she narrates democracy honestly and in straightforward and engaging manner,” she added.

Nafisa described the compromises through which the democracy was brought back such as NRO and departure of Gen. Pervez Musharraf that were not considered as happy developments.

She (Nafisa) also believed that Asif Zardari was the most unlikely person to lead the present democratic setup.

At the end of her speech, Zohra suggested Nafisa to “revisit the train to democracy”.

Eminent columnist Zubaida Mustafa, who chaired the book launching ceremony, recalled that she was inspired to see the determination and courage of Nafisa when she chose to become reporter of Dawn in Karachi in 1980s, as there were only two or three women journalists at that time.

Nafisa was humbled when Zubaida said that not only young generation but old generation like her learnt a lot from her reports. She said those were the difficult times for the reporters to collect news and bring truth to the readers. Zubaida also recalled the adverse situation which Nafisa faced while covering events in Karachi.

Editor Jang Nazir Leghari recalled the era of censorship and curbs on freedom of media during the military regime of Gen. Zia to the extent that reporters working in the head offices of the newspapers were not allowed covering the political gatherings of the MRD in other districts.

He also named such political personalities who were closed to the military ruler in 1980s but now their sons have become champions of democracy in both the PML-N and the PPP.

President ACP Muhammad Ahmed Shah and Dr. Ayub Sheikh also expressed their views at the largely attended ceremony.

The audience gave standing ovation to both Nafisa Hoodbhoy and Zubaida Mustafa for their work.

Earlier, one minute silence was observed for the departed soul of former editor, novelist and lawyer Siraj-ul-Haq Memon who passed away in the city on Friday night.


ATDT First Stop – Karachi Feb 2

Arts Council, Karachi (Credit:
Arts Council, Karachi (Credit:
Arts Council, Karachi (Credit:

The first edition of Aboard the Democracy Train in Pakistan will be launched at the Arts Council Karachi on Feb 2 at 6 pm (sharp).

Speakers include Syed Jaffer Ahmed, Director Pakistan Study Center, Karachi University, Mohammed Hanif, journalist and author, Nazir Leghari, editor daily Jang newspaper and Zohra Yusuf, chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Introduction  by Zubeida Mustafa, former assistant editor of Dawn newspaper.

Published by Paramount Publishing Enterprise in a new hard cover design – the Pakistan edition of ATDT will be available for purchase and book signing by the author.

Aboard the Democracy Train was first published in the UK and USA in 2011 by Anthem Press, London. It was reprinted in India in October 2012. The world’s largest online bookseller, Amazon regularly lists it within the category of the 100 top selling books on `Pakistan history.’ The book has also reached that distinction, off and on, in the categories of `Indian History’ and `Democracy.’

Paramount Publishing Enterprise now owns the copyrights of Aboard the Democracy Train in Pakistan. The book may be purchased online from  and will shortly be available at Paramount’s book stores in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Faisalabad, Peshawar and Abbotabad.

Five College Women’s Studies Research Center

FCWRSC in Western Mass. (Credit:
FCWRSC in Western Mass. (Credit:
FCWRSC in Western Mass. (Credit:

The Five College Women’s Studies Research Center has received two grants through the Five College Digital Humanities Project supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grants will enable our Research Associates participating in our 2012-2013 theme of “New Media in Feminist Scholarship, Teaching, and Activism” to work closely with Five College faculty, staff and students to develop gender studies courses incorporating digital technologies and new media. With the support of the grants, five learning communities composed of Research Associates, Five College faculty members, students, and IT technicians will draw on digital technologies to promote student learning and research in the humanities.

Laura Lovett (FCWSRC Director, 2009-2011), joined by co-editor Lori
Rotskoff, will read from their new title When We Were Free to Be:
Looking Back at a Children’s Classic and the Difference It Made at the
92Y Tribeca Mainstage in Manhattan on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 7

Former vice president and general counsel of the Feminist Majority
Foundation, and president of the National Organization for Women
(NOW), Kim Gandy, will be the Five College Social Justice
Practitioner-in-Residence from October 21 through November 3, 2012.
She will offer a series of public events within the Five College area.
An advance-registration workshop for faculty, “From the Tower to the
Trenches: Faculty Development Workshop on Strategies for Public
Engagement” will take place at the FCWSRC on October 25

Former Research Associate Sarah S. Kilbourne‘s new title American
Phoenix: The Remarkable Story of William Skinner was released by Simon
& Schuster on October 16, 2012. For more information check out a video about Kilbourne’s book here. Kilbourne was in the Five College area
for a talk and book-signing October 15 at the Wistariahurst Museum in
Holyoke and on October 17 at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley.

A new title by former FCWSRC Ford Associate Nafisa Hoodbhoy, Aboard
the Democracy Train: A Journey Through Pakistan’s Last Decade of
Democracy was released in April 2011 by Anthem Politics and
International Relations. Currently a journalist working in the United
States, from 1984-2000 Hoodbhoy was staff reporter for the English
daily Dawn newspaper in Karachi.

Spring 2012 Highlights

On Saturday, March 31 at 7:00pm in Chapin Auditorium of Mary Woolley Hall on the Mount Holyoke College campus in South Hadley, the FCWSRC was pleased to present “An Evening with Rachel Maddow” where she read from her new book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. Co-sponsored by the Odyssey Bookshop and the Mount Holyoke College Department of Gender Studies. Click on the photo below to watch Maddow’s talk.

Featured: Project Eugénie, Spring 2012

Mount Holyoke College students perform excerpts from the Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. by Carole DeSanti on April 5, 2012 at the FCWSRC. DeSanti, a former FCWSRC Research Associate and VP and Editor at Large with the Penguin Group, read from her book that evening to a standing-room only audience at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley. Her reading was followed by a celebration and performance at the FCWSRC.

Other News

09/13/2011 Karen Remmler on 9/11/11 Anniversary

Five College Women’s Studies Research Center
Mount Holyoke College
79 and 83 College St.
South Hadley, MA 01075

Mailing Address:
50 College St.
South Hadley, MA 01075


Five Colleges, Incorporated © 2012 | 97 Spring Street, Amherst, MA 01002 | (413) 542-4000

Listen to author interview on ATDT on WBZC Boston radio

The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf’s avowed goal to reach the Waziristan area in Pakistan to protest against US drone attacks was never fulfilled, even as the political party announced it had achieved its goal. What were the goals that the PTI set out to achieve and what role did US peace activists play in it? In this radio report listen to two perspectives: Robert Naiman, travelling with the US peace delegation in D.I. Khan told John Grebe of Greater Boston’s WZBC radio that the peace rally was the way through which real change could begin. The author offered her perspective on a more complex situation in Pakistan. She is also interviewed about her book, Aboard the Democracy Train.

Please click here to download the interview.

Aboard the Democracy Train Reviewed in US based Pakistan Link

Nafisa Hoodbhoy’s book “Aboard the Democracy Train – A Journey through Pakistan’s Last Decade of Democracy” is a gripping account of the two-terms each of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif during 1988 to 1999. Both ascended the Prime Minister’s office through elections and both were sacked by the President of the time on charges of corruption.

Nafisa serving as the only female reporter with the premier English daily of Pakistan, Dawn, for sixteen eventful years, 1984-2000, had the advantage of covering for her paper all major developments of that period and taking mental notes to be incorporated in a book after the turmoil settled down and admitted of an objective evaluation of the events that continue to cast their shadow even to this day. Objectivity of a news reporter, particularly of a staid and sober paper like Dawn, has remained her forte even after a decade of departure from the paper.

Being an ardent feminist herself, she admired the courage, confidence and leadership qualities of Benazir Bhutto; yet, she has not swept under the carpet Benazir’s arrogance, obstinacy and several other weaknesses. Nawaz Sharif has received scant attention of Nafisa despite the fact that he was one of the two PMs who ruled during the period covered by her. One may regard the book as a narrative of Benazir’s struggle to nurture the seedling of democracy she had planted in the country.

The author has revealed her unique experiences while covering the major shifts on the political landscape and her interest in uncovering the elements behind the ethnic violence in Karachi, the city of her birth, the gradual usurpation of women’s basic rights, freedom of the media, and the unfortunate travel of the society from a pluralistic and tolerant group to an ideologically driven, radical community intolerant of any change or progress. It has thus become a static, stagnant community.

By any measure, Nafisa’s book is a valuable addition to the existing literature on Pakistan. It is not a work of scholarship, like the books of Ayesha Jalal, but it is a worthwhile reference book on the events of the crucial period covered by it. Its outstanding feature is its frontline account by a person known for her objectivity in reporting. Her account is racy, piquant and riveting. The reader finds himself disinclined to put the book down till he has finished it. Being a repertoire of anecdotes and quotable quotes, it holds the attention of the reader till the very end – like a work of fiction.

Nafisa’s investigative reports on the notorious Sindh Chief Minister, Jam Sadiq Ali and the hordes of dacoits he patronized make interesting reading.

Nafisa is the younger sister of Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, the famous nuclear scientist who teaches at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and is known for his bold and forthright views often expressed through articles in leading Pakistani papers. She was born in an eminent Ismaili family of Karachi and after schooling at premier educational institutions of Pakistan, reached the US and got her master’s degree in history at an American university. On return to Karachi, she joined the widely read and prestigious English daily, Dawn, and served it as a reporter for 16 years. She is married and has lived in the US since 2,000. Aboard the Democracy Train is her first book in which she has tried to provide an insider view of the complex history and politics of her homeland. Based in the US after 2,000, she has used her vintage point to focus on American involvement in Afghanistan, its impact on Pakistan and the unique features of a war that seems to have no winners.

In her Introduction to the book, she has given highlights of her personal and family life in Karachi and the impact of the Western education on her thought process. “While the public space for women in Pakistan had shrunk, I had returned from the US with a greater taste for freedom.”

She has also mentioned how the coming into existence of Pakistan had brought waves after waves of Indian Muslim migrants to Karachi changing permanently the socio-cultural complexion of the sleepy town, turning it into a metropolis and the center of the commercial hustle and bustle of the newly formed state.

Nafisa’s distaste for military rule became more intense with Gen. Zia sending Bhutto to the gallows in a controversial case. And, her admiration for Benazir increased in a similar proportion once she wiped her tears over the “judicial murder” of her father and donned the mantel of a political gladiator to wrestle against the military might. The more her success in that direction, the more became the admiration of Nafisa for her. Her book thus strikes as a combination of the history of the tumultuous decade and an account of Benazir’s Herculean success in gaining access to power. “Seeing my enthusiasm for a woman Prime Minister, the editor of the newspaper bypassed senior male reporters and nominated me, the only female reporter of Dawn, to cover Benazir Bhutto.” She had thus to travel with Benazir on the Democracy Train through the desert of Sindh and witness the unprecedented welcome accorded to her by villagers who had walked for miles on foot to get a glimpse of the courageous daughter of their great leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

During the rule of Jam Sadiq Ali, Chief Minister, Sindh was terrorized by gangs of dacoits said to be under the patronage of the Chief Minister. Nafisa, an unusually bold person, offered to do a story about them. Her visit to Matiari brought her in contact with people affected by Mohib Shidi in Matiari. She exposed the nexus between crime and politics in the province. The big landlords, Pir Pagara among them, were behind the dacoits while the small landowners, the main supporters of PPP, were punished in several ways for their support of PPP.

Covering the ethnic violence that erupted in Karachi in Aug-Sept, 1988, she discovered that the non-party election of Zia were at the root of the turmoil, since ethnicity became the binding factor in the absence of party affiliation. The MQM came into existence in 1985 shortly after Zia’s non-party elections.

She has given a vivid account of the threat of an attack on her by knife-wielding young men on September 23, 1991, within a day or so of the attack on Kamran Khan of the News, Karachi. That did in no way diminish her zeal to personally cover all such violent incidents and the mobilization of media protests against them.

A good portion of the book is devoted to the on-going struggle of enlightened women of Pakistan for their inalienable rights to freedoms denied to them on one pretext or another.

Nafisa Hoodbhoy has indeed produced a highly informative and readable book for Pakistanis at home and abroad.


The Indian edition of ‘Aboard the Democracy Train,’ will be released in India in September 2012, courtesy Anthem Press.

Now, India may quench its curiosity about common heritage neighbor  – Pakistan – carved out of its territory 65 years ago by the British.

The book has been written by the only woman reporter for the English language Dawn newspaper in the 1980s, at a time when the nation was under Gen. Zia ul Haq’s strict Islamic military rule.

It is a personal narrative of how the post partition exodus of Hindus, Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews had already begun to change the multi ethnic, multi religious fabric of the country.

The mass migration of Muslims from India into Pakistan is woven into the author’s journalistic experiences of how this transformed the ethnic and national politics of the country.

It is a story of Pakistan’s faltering democracy, with a front seat view of the rise and fall of the nation’s only woman prime minister – Benazir Bhutto.

For the contemporary Indian reader, the book gives insight into why the 11-year-old US invasion of Afghanistan appears to have driven war ravaged Pakistan to relax its anti India stance… leading to an ice thaw in the sub-continent.

Without glossing over Pakistan’s problems, the author has given a human face to the country – with the prospect of promoting  better understanding between the people of Pakistan and India.

Aboard the Democracy Train: A Journey through Pakistan’s Last Decade of Democracy
By Nafisa Hoodbhoy
Available in India in September 2012
Imprint: Anthem Press
ISBN 9789380601991
September 2012 | 268 Pages | 216 x 140mm / 8.5 x 5.5 | 16+ images and maps
Price: Rs 495.00



REVIEW By Muneeza Shamsie

Aboard the democracy train: a journey through Pakistan’s last decade of democracy
By Nafisa Hoodbhoy, London, Anthem Press, 2011, 268 pp., £14.99, ISBN 978 0 8572 8967 4

In 1984, Nafisa Hoodbhoy became the first woman reporter at Pakistan’s leading English daily, Dawn, which had hitherto employed women journalists on its full-time staff only at desk jobs, as editors and subeditors. For a young woman reporter to travel to remote, conservative areas of Pakistan was both unusual and courageous. Hoodbhoy’s lively, and at times daring, eyewitness account provides many insights into Pakistan during her 16 years at Dawn.

In 1988, Benazir Bhutto returned in triumph to Pakistan from exile, after the mysterious death of General Zia ul Haq, the military dictator. Hoodbhoy was sent to cover Bhutto’s historic election campaign aboard her “Democracy Train” (a phrase coined by Bhutto) which was received at stations by tumultuous crowds. Hoodbhoy’s gender proved a great advantage: as the only woman reporter present, she enjoyed greater access than her colleagues to the young, unmarried Bhutto.

Over the next decade, Hoodbhoy observed at first hand the rise and fall of Bhutto’s two short-lived governments. These alternated with the equally brief tenures of her political rival Nawaz Sharif. The real power broker remained the Pakistan Army. Hoodbhoy’s chilling account reveals complex political machinations as well as the many shortcomings of the Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif governments, including flagrant corruption.

Hoodbhoy goes on to explore the terrifying miscarriages of justice created by Ziaul Haq’s notorious Hudood Ordinance, which does not differentiate between rape and adultery, and which neither Bhutto nor Sharif repealed. In the fierce battle for justice waged by women activists and civil rights groups, Hoodbhoy’s press reports played a crucial role.

Hoodbhoy reveals she met her future husband Javed Bhutto “while hunting for his sister’s killer” (115). Her harrowing and riveting tale names the murderer, a powerful politician, and also describes his ability to use power, influence and money to subvert the processes of law and have the charges dropped.

Hoodbhoy also records the ethnic tensions in Karachi between Sindhis and Mohajirs (migrants who came from India after Partition), as well as the ethnic riots of the 1990s and the rise of the controversial Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM). However, Zubeida Mustafa, then assistant editor of Dawn, says in her review of Hoodbhoy’s book:

“but she [Hoodbhoy] appears to have difficulty in getting to the roots of the ethnic problem. For instance the impression conveyed is that the MQM was a party of the Mohajirs with which the entire community identified itself. Her account hints at a degree of polarisation between her Sindhi-speaking and Urdu-speaking colleagues in Dawn which is far from true. The fact is that the MQM did not draw all Mohajirs to its fold. Many intellectuals as well as politically astute Mohajirs chose not to throw their loyalties with the party. (Mustafa 7)

Mustafa also points out that Hoodbhoy’s account does not mention MQM threats to Dawn and its “Mohajir” journalists for articles that incurred the party’s displeasure. Similar elisions and oversimplifications are reflected in Hoodbhoy’s historical analysis of Partition and the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto era. The book also suffers from a rather self-conscious and, at times, self-congratulatory tone, aimed at explaining Pakistan and herself to foreigners.

Hoodbhoy migrated to the United States in 2000 and her narrative covers terrorism and violence in Pakistan thereafter. The true value of her book, however, lies in the events that she reported and witnessed and which provide the key to the discordant forces battling for control in Pakistan today.

To read the original article, click on the URL below:

Journal of Postcolonial Writing
2012, iFirst Review, 1–2
ISSN 1744-9855 print/ISSN 1744-9863 online

Listen to Author’s interview on the Brian Lehrer Show

Nafisa Hoodbhoy, former staff reporter at Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper, former teacher at University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Amherst College, and now author of Aboard the Democracy Train: A Journey Through Pakistan’s Last Decade of Democracy, discusses the politics of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region in the post-9/11 era, and how ethnic violence and women’s rights fit into Pakistan’s democratic history.

You can see Nafisa Hoodbhoy in conversation with Professor Henry (Chip) Carey and Karen Frillman of WNYC tonight at McNally Jackson bookstore in NYC.

Click here to listen to the interview:

Alternatively click here to access another source for the recording.

Click here to download the interview in mp3 format.