Islamabad- a musical city


How many people would know, Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan is full of musicians; whoever enters your house turns out to be musician. 

“We are going through horrific times in Pakistan but in the middle of all this chaos and tragedy there is a lot that is very beautiful too. I sometimes feel that in Pakistan you can find the worst of humanity and best of humanity here.  As they say,  what doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger, ” says Arieb Azhar.

Arieb is a Pakistani musician. He is known for a fusion between Sufi traditional music and western music. He builds bridges between cultures and traditions. He sings in English, Croatians, Russian, Urdu and Punjabi.

He came back to Pakistan in 2004.  Before that he was in Croatia. He went there for studying film but got more interested in music than in studies. He played with an Irish band, “Shamrock Roll”. He witnessed break up of Soviet Union and then the Balkan war of Croatia and Serbia in 1992  and now he lives in Pakistan and witnessing the “war on terror”.

Am I a Sufi ?

Arieb is not only a musician but also a social worker and political activists. He sings in the left-wing political rallies along with his mother, who is a political activist. He is also present at the protest rallies against the killing of Shia Hazarras in Pakistan. He is spotted everywhere in the city.

He often uses the poetry of Sufi saints of the sub-continent to pass on his message to the people in this time of mistrust.

“The thoughts which are expressed in the poetry by the Sufis are so direct and beautifully expressed that even the most stubborn or  antagonist of people can’t deny the truth of the message. If I was to say these words in my own language, I  could be misunderstood but in this poetry it is irresistible.”

Arieb believes that his music is not only inspired by the Sufis.  His inspirations are universal and include Vicotro Jara of Chile, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti from Africa. His list goes on and on and tells that he doesn’t only make good music but he also is an avid listener.

Fusion:

There are many international musicians who are living in Islamabad and making music along with the local musicians. Arieb invites them to different house gigs he goes to.

There are many international musicians who visit Pakistan also. They perform with the local musicians in Pakistan. However, there are not many public venues in the city and due to security concerns many times the venues are hidden. But the locals are open-hearted and provide their living rooms for performances when the concerts are cancelled due to some threat.

“Music has given us (music band) a language or a way to communicate with the world at large, not only with the surroundings in Pakistan.  Music allows us to communicate better, it cuts through the chase and the layers that we have created around us; the layers of  culture, religions, ethnicity  and language.”

The Taliban attacked the music concerts and musicians and that is one of the biggest reasons that the space for musicians is getting limited. They believe that music is forbidden in Islam and give addict to kill musicians. In these times, musicians like Arieb and his fellow band members are a strong reminder that tolerant, mystical Sufism has a much deeper tradition in this region than the extremist or fundamentalists.

Audio Slideshow:

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Small things can make big difference


In big cities like London small community efforts always don’t make it to the headlines. But there are some exceptions like reopening of the Friern Barnet Community Library

 

London overview

I recently moved to London with my husband. We found a nice apartment in the north of London in Friern Barnet. Friern Barnet is  an area with the London borough of Barnet.

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The iron lady, Margaret Thachter Britain’s first female prime minister was elected from this area. Friern Barnet is a multi-culti area.

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The housing in this area is typically Victorian and early Edwardian in this area that makes my walk in the area beautiful as I am interested in old buildings and architecture. One day, while exploring my neighbourhood, an old red brick library building caught up my eyes. It was the building of the community library.

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I walked in and saw some a banner “Friern Barnet Community Library re-opened on 5th Feb. 2013. Why was it closed? Who closed it ? and how did it reopen?

History:

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The library was built in 1934 by the Carnegie trust. It is the only library in the area. Fiona Brickword, one of the trustees of the library, with  whom I met during my first visit to the told me that, “ it is the only place for the community that serves as a real community center. We have books & DvD and Cds to lend. We also offer special yoga & language classes.’’

Save our library:

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The library was closed down by the Barnet Council on a 24 hours notice on April 5th 2012. There were many other public service buildings that were closed down by the council to sell them in the time of recession. The community came out on the streets and protested.

However, the Council didn’t pay much attention. The community continued to protest. They also started online petition. It states:

"We the residents, students and workers, are 
petitioning Barnet Council to RE-OPEN our 
local library. Friern Barnet Library in its 
present place and shape is an integral part of
 community life in the surrounding area."

Community struggle:
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Reema Patel, the another trustee is a barrister in training and she advised the community through the early court hearings, then drew a top calss legal team and worked with them through the final court battles.

The local community was joined by the activits from the occupy movement in September and they re-opened the library in September. It was direct action by the community.

There were talks between the Council and the community members. Fionna tells enthuisiastically, “finally on 5th February 2013, we saved our library and the library was handed over to the trustees of the the newly formed Friern Barnet Community Library Ltd.’’

What’s happening now?

Currently the library is opened from Monday to Saturday There are more than 70 volunteers helping to run the activities, says Fiona.

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There are events for childrens, young mothers & old citizens. There are yoga, knitting and song and storytime classes on regular basis. It is organized by the locals & it is open to all.

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There are weekly music nights. I went there on a Friday to attend a live jazz concert. It was lively and full of positive energy. The local community members were happy to entertain and mingle in with any new person coming in. They would like to have good time with each other in their library. The library serves as a community center in real sense.

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The library would recieve 25,000 pounds for 2 years by the Council. It has to generate more money to run it. There is a black donation box lying on the reception table, community members and people from outside keep filling it.  There are books to sell and the trustees are looking for other ways to generate funds to keep the library open. If you are keen to help, feel free to send them few bucks to help libraries survive in the time of recession. An old man once said, “closing libraries in recession is like closing hospitals in a plague.’’ So, let’s have a big heart and help libraries survive.

Audio Slideshow:

https://vimeo.com/69234765

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Foreign or local?


Tahirul Qadri  media campaign
To Ihsan ullah Ihsan & Taliban apologists,
On Saturday morning on my way to Germany, I got the press release of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) via email. It was sent ( i hope written also) by Ihsan ullah Ihsan, central spokesman of TTP. I usually don’t have a habit of reading all the junk I receive on daily basis. This junk consists of normally the write-ups and articles sent from pseudo names or written by struggling star reporters in some foreign media without naming the names. Somehow, I read the press release of TTP. I think I was lost in transition.
The first line or the headline “The PR” was an eye catcher and I realized I read it all in just one go.
The length of the PR is perfect. Just two paragraphs, precise and to the point. First paragraph headline “Arrival of a Foreign Actor in Pakistan” intrigued me.I am surprised to see the use of some terms like “business commercials” and “foreign actor” (sounds like Hollywood actor or dajjal ki wapsi). What intrigued me more is the concept of business commercials used by TTP. To tell you the truth, I was also amazed to see the amount of money spent on the media campaign of Tahirul Qadri’s rally,”Siyasat nahi Riyasat Bachao”. I also wondered for a few seconds, who is the sponsor and within seconds concluded that it is “He, who shouldn’t be named’. Who else it could be? There is just one power in Pakistan that can do anything, anywhere and all the machinery from media to bureaucracy will be functional and sportive of them. It is not difficult to know all this in Pakistan and sponsored rallies like these are not unique to the land of pure. Slogan is also stale, not innovative.

One thing I don’t agree with is use of the word “foreign” in the PR. Can you clarify, what made you think it is foreign? and what do you exactly mean by foreign?
I did some hard thinking for myself and came to the conclusion that you may be referring to the money spent on the campaign by the Pakistani agencies that has certainly come in the form of ‘foreign aid’. Spending that aid money on citizen’s betterment and prosperity is the mission and underlying objective. It simply can’t be tax payers money that is being used on this huge media campaign. No one pays taxes, neither you nor I.

I have some suggestions: If you change the word ‘foreign’ to words like, real, original or Pakistani then the first paragraph of the PR statement will make more sense.

In the second paragraph you jump suddenly to Kashmir. Headline: “forgetting the blood of Kashmiris? ” In this you are questioning the Pakistan cricket team’s visit to India. You are thinking, Lala and his team member are playing on the tunes of “US gods”. Sorry, but this is a weak argument. There is no connection between the cricket team going to India with Kashmir and if there is, it doesn’t make sense to me and also to many who are cricket lovers and want the Pakistani cricket team to play no matter where it is. Thanks to you that our cricket stadium have turned into wedding halls but that is not what majority in Pakistan wants.
And here interestingly you are calling Ajmal Kasab your “shaheed”. This is mind boggling for me. In the first paragraph you alienate yourself from the “agencies” and in the second when it comes to Kashmir and India you support them by calling Ajmal Kasab “our shaheed”.
I think you are as confused as anyone else in Pakistan. You and your team needs to brainstorm before writing a PR and before taking responsibilities and credit for an evil action against the people of Pakistan. Learn from Obama, I know he is your enemy but trust me his media team is awesome.

In the P.S you shared your new gmail account. When are you starting your twitter handle? Or you are already tweeting with a pseudo name.

Here is the PR sent via email on Sat, Dec 22, 2012 8:39:02 AM

The PR

Arrival of a Foreign Actor in Pakistan.

Now a days a Business commercial by a foreign actor Mr Tahir ul Qadri is aired on Pakistani TV channels in which Mr Qadri acting a drama of Saving the Pakistani state.But Mr Qadri don’t know the fact that people of Pakistan has recognized him that he is a payroll of powers working to destroy this state.Mr qadri is working with foreign agenda & never could be a patriot, if he was a patriot then he would never has left Pakistan, and stayed here to serve the Muslim Nation.His arrival now is upon the orders of his Foreign gods and for accomplishment of their agenda.

Forgetting the Blood of Kashmiris?

Pakistani cricket team is due to visit India, while India is the one forbidding Kashmiri Muslim nation to freedom, and whose hands are soaked in blood of Muslims in Kashmir and inside India, they are also due to Pay for the blood of our hero, Shaheed Ajmal Qasab (may Allah Accept him).Visit of Pakistani team to India is a disgusting gesture.Pakistan’s government is doing all this on the orders of their god America & in fear of India.God willing mujahideen of Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan will soon clear the debt of blood of Martyrs with India.

Note: we are going to switch to our new Email id please note it to you for any future correspondence.
Ehsanttp@gmail.com

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Mengal’s 6 points


A check post with Pakistani flag in Quetta

I had a very interesting discussion on the breakfast table with T today. It was over Akhtar Mengal’s 6 points on Balochistan.  Sardar Akhtar Mengak is former Balochistan Chief Minister. He was in exile and recently returned and now heads the Balochistan Nationalist Party (BNP). On Thursday he presented 6 Points in front of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. His 6 points are somehow very close to the Pakistani ‘solution’ to end insurgency in Balochistan.

A dear friend and journalist colleague, Malik Siraj Akbar wrote in Baloch Hal against the six points of Mengal. As of now, I have been unable to read his full comments as in Pakistan his online newspaper, The Baloch Hal is still banned. I will read and comment soon abt it.

I suggested to T, I should write an opinion piece about Mengal and MSA’s reaction after reading what he wrote in the Baloch Hal. Our initial discussion was should I write or not:T’s initial point was that I being a non-Baloch can’t become a part of the discourse. Why not? because I am not a victim. I can neither be critical about AM nor MSA. I can’t understand the issue as well as a Baloch can. How can I being a half-Punjabi talk about their problems?  My stand point was that should non-Baloch stop discussing the Balochistan issue due to these reason? Should we stop talking about human rights abuse in parts of own country because we don’t live there. This is the same mindset that led to the seclusion of Balochs in the Pakistani society. Non-balochs hardly talk about Balochistan isurgency or independene movement. They are neglecting and are not ready to be part of the discourse. Once non-Baloch especially Punjabis will become part of a discourse then the people will also take it seriously. T said, oh yes! He understood my point of view and agreed to it to. Gave me some valuable ideas too. He said it is  like in India when a non-Kashmiri talks about Kashmir. It makes a difference. So yes, I want to make a difference in the discourse about Baloch issue. I strongly believe in it and that is why I did a series of reports on Balochistan. here is a link

http://www.opendemocracy.net/qurratulain-zaman/balochistan-too-small-olive-branch

This one was published in the ‘Open Democracy’.

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main43.asp?filename=Ne311009inside_balochistan.asp

This one was cover story of Tehelka, an Indian Magazine. 2009 was a time when most of the Pakistani newspapers and media houses were not ready to run stories on Balochistan.

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Live conversion on Pakistani TV channel


During the Islamic month of Ramadan, different networks try to attract viewers with special shows, as the TV ratings war in Pakistan intensifies. Controversial religious broadcaster and former politician Aamir Liaqat is back on Pakistan’s leading network Geo TV and risqué entertainer and model Veena Malik’s Astaghfar program never made it on air.

But the latest controversy is about a Ramadan special show in which the TV-anchor Maya Khan invites a religious scholar to convert a Hindu boy named Sunil to Islam. The whole conversion process was telecast live.

This live show has started a debate once again about media ethics, along with a conversation about the role of ratings-driven religious programming and the use of non-stop advertising in Pakistan.

Hindu boy converted

In this video [ur] Maya Khan introduces the religious scholar, who asks the Hindu boy why he wants to convert to Islam. Sunil replies [ur], “I work at Ansar Burney Trust (a human rights organisation) and I like the environment there.”

Not getting a straight answer, the scholar rephrases the question and asks him what drew his heart towards Islam. Sunil replies [ur], “I have been fasting the last two years during Ramadan too.”

Then the scholar asks him if he is being forced to convert by anyone. Young Sunil replies [ur], “I am not giving into any pressure, I am converting to Islam of my own free will.” [note: time code: 01:00-01:25]

The scholar proceeds to convert the boy,  and then a prayer and sermon follows. The camera pans the room and shows a few dozen young boys, women and some other scholars on set.

After the show was telecast, Ansar Burney, a well-known human rights activist and Sunil’s employer tweeted that it was a ‘forced conversion’. He also said he fired his own brother Sarim Burney from his organisation because he was present on the TV set with Sunil:

Burney also tweeted that he was taking the matter to the court:

Maya Khan, the show’s host was recently hired by Geo TV’s main competitor ARY TV to do a Ramadan special show. She was fired earlier this year from  another private channel Samaa TV, after a successful public campaign was launched in reaction to her ‘moral policing’ young couples in a public park in Karachi.

Here are some other Twitter reactions:

The boom in the electronic media has also brought boom in religious TV shows:

Farooq Tirmizi in the Express Tribune Blog raises questions about reactions to the conversion:

“The first is this: being happy about somebody converting to Islam means that you fundamentally believe that the person’s previous religion is inferior to Islam. Here is my question to all those Muslims who get excited about religious conversions: how much do you know about other religions of the world? How much do you know about your own religion? Do you even know why you are Muslim?”

Trimzi also questions the constitution of Pakistan that forbids conversion of Muslims to other religions:

This brings me to my second problem: how a lot of fundamentalist Muslims are utterly convinced of the superiority of Islam – and seek legal codification of that superiority in Pakistan – while demanding equal treatment in other countries. Sunil converting to Islam was perfectly legal, but what if a born Muslim wants to convert to another faith? Why is that illegal under Pakistani law?

The reality of reality shows is summed up by Farzana Versey in her blog Cross-Connection:

These are all circus acts, and one does not expect better from reality television and that includes news channels. Part of the hot air is possibly because this is a competitive game, where ethics are the flakes of pistachio on the phirni, not an ingredient. This is borne out by the fact that the editorial is worried about how just to spice things up ‘religion is now fair game too’.

This post was first published at Global Voiceshttp://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/07/29/pakistan-hindu-boy-converted-to-islam-in-live-telecast/

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Zainab AlKhawaja – a prisoner of conscience


The 27 year old Bahraini cyber activist was arrested last Saturday by the police as she was protesting against the Formula 1 race and demanding the release of her father. This is not the first time she has protested or has been arrested. Zainab has come a long way and is determined to go a long way.

Qurratulain Zaman met Zainab in September in Bahrain:

“Come to the Country Mall in Budaiya at 8PM.” This is the SMS I get from Zainab AlKhwaja after I arrive in Bahrain. I look at it twice and google the address. Budaiya is in the northwest of Bahrain and is the heartland of the anti-regime demonstrations.

I call my source and give him the address. His reply is, “are you sure you wanna meet her there? You know you will be watched and tracked?” (Later, it’s him who will be interrogated by the security agencies for taking me there.)

Zainab wants to meet me at a famous coffee shop with free wifi. She wants the riot police to watch her meeting a foreigner, a non-Bahraini. She talks loud and clear. She doesn’t care if the security officers are spying on her.

She walks in the coffee shop, holding her blackberry very close to her like a baby. She knows she is being watched, “I know the consequences and I know our government and its tactics. I know they are watching. We don’t have any respect. We learn to live in fear. Nobody cares about me.”

She doesn’t only want the regime but also the world outside Bahrain to hear her.  “After the government crackdown more people have sympathies with us because they saw the barbarity of the regime. We protested outside the US embassy. Obama is supporting dictators. We don’t ask for US intervention. We want them to just stop supporting dictators.”

Zainab says she finds similarities between their struggle and the victorious revolution in Yugoslavia in the 1940s. It was a movement of workers and masses against the imperial occupants. “Our struggle is not about Sunni and Shia. This is the impression the government is giving. The government is dividing Shias and Sunnis. Our struggle is against the oppressor. It is the oppressed who are fighting against the oppressor. I saw, met Sunnis at the Pearl Square. You know, one of the main slogans at the square was, ‘Shias and Sunnis are brothers’.”

Bahrain has a majority Shia population with a Sunni monarchy. It is widely believed that the Shias are protesting against the Sunni monarchy. The Shia demonstrators say that this is for the rights of the underprivileged majority.

Pearl Square:

There is no Pearl at the Pearl Square near the financial hub of Manama district. On 18th March 2011, the Pearl monument was destroyed as it was the place where the pro-democracy demonstrators camped. The riot police ran over it with military tanks. Remembering the Pearl days Zainab says, “Pearl was so beautiful. Our people have a sense of humour. We were singing, reciting poetry and chanting slogans for a better tomorrow. It was the best way of civil disobedience. Most people never touched weapons.”

King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa declared a three-month state of emergency and established an independent commission of inquiry to report about Pearl massacre.

Usman Abdullah is a naturalized Bahraini citizen of Pakistani origin working at a local bank. He justifies the government’s crackdown on the demonstrators. He is skeptical about the pro-democracy movement. “No one touched them, they were having a picnic at the Pearl Square. Have you ever seen a revolution coming in imported cars? The government feeds these people. They don’t work. They are not skilled and still they agitate.”

Pakistani migrants:

Bahrain is a land of opportunity for many Pakistani workers. They can serve in the military or stay in Bahrain for 25 years legally and can get citizenship unlike in other Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC countries.

There are 50-60 thousand Pakistanis living in Bahrain, according to the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation. For Zainab the government is using the migrant workers against the pro-democracy protestors. “I am not against the migrant workers. Migrant workers are poor. But understand their situation: you give him 50 BD to beat people and he will do the job. The government used them against us. Riot police in Bahrain are not local. They are migrants.”

If you join military service as an immigrant, you get Bahraini nationality faster. Many Pakistanis were given nationality ahead of time last year because they were Sunnis and pro-monarchy.  Bahrain’s foreign minister visited Pakistan during the riots and there were ads in the Pakistani newspapers for urgent hiring of Bahrain National Guards.

According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights the Bahrain riot police are mainly Sunni Muslims from South Asian countries. “The Shias of Bahrain, on the other hand, are barred from employment in the security forces, as they are seen as not loyal enough to the Al Khalifa regime. One of the grievances of the mostly-Shia protesters in Bahrain is the naturalization of foreign Sunnis, a policy intended to skew the demographic balance against the Shia majority.”

The attacks on migrant workers especially from Pakistan are seen as an outcome of the government policies. During last year’s uprising in Bahrain, 2-8 Pakistani workers were killed by the protestors.

Pakistani government officially supported the monarchy during the crackdown on pro-democracy forces in 2011. President Zardari reassured Bahrain of Pakistan’s support during the visit by Bahrain’s foreign minister and promised him defense cooperation. This cooperation has a long history: Pakistan helped Bahrain built its naval force.

Iran factor:

“To eat Iranian kebabs is a crime,” says Zainab laughingly. “They don’t understand that Iran is a spiritual factor for us. Our loyalties are with Bahrain, obviously. You will not find any Shia Bahraini saying he is loyal towards Iran.”

Zainab’s father Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, a human rights defender is accused of his ties with Iranian-backed terrorist groups and incitement to violence against Bahrain’s government. He is serving a life sentence for expressing support for Bahrain becoming a republic. He has been fasting in jail for more than 70 days. International rights groups have called him a prisoner of conscience.

For the Bahrain authorities Zainab AlKhawaja is too loud and difficult to handle. 27 year old Zainab has been arrested many times, threatened to be raped by police and saw many dear and near ones killed and tortured by the authorities. But all this didn’t stop her to remain passionate for her cause. This time she went out to protest alone against the Formula 1 race hoping against hope that the world will hear her.

 This article was originally published in The Friday Times

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Hazara community targeted in Pakistan


Image

The capital of troubled Balochistan, Quetta was closed on Saturday and Sunday. This time the call for protest was not given by the Baloch separatists but by the minority Shia Hazara community. In the recent past, targeted violence against the Hazara community in Balochistan has increased. In the last 9 days 30 Hazaras have been killed.

Banned sectarian militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has taken responsibility for the latest attack.Last year Lashkar-e-Jhangvi distributed pamphlets threatening Hazaras to leave Pakistan by 2012.

Hazara People blog writes:

“It is systematic genocide in the complete silence and negligence of international community. There are over 600,000 Hazaras living in Pakistan. They migrated from Afghanistan in 1880′s as a result of persecution by the Afghan ruler Amir Abdul Rehman Khan.”

Why aren’t the authorities taking action against the militant groups who are openly attacking the Hazara community? Journalist and blogger Amir Saeed answers the question in this way:

“Baluchistan is bleeding. The massacre of Hazara community continues with complete impunity while the most intriguing is the eerie silence prevalent in the corridors of power – both at federal and provincial level. Perhaps, it is not on agenda of political bigwigs to speak for the community and do something viable to protect them from extremists and bigots having a field day in the province. The role of security agencies is also dubious but ‘fortunately’ they operate under civil authority.”

Baloch journalist and blogger Malik Siraj Akbar “In Pakistan, the Hazaras Are Punished Over Race and Religion” also points finger at the Pakistani authorities for not taking action against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

 “The persecution of the Hazara community is unlikely to end in the near future until the Pakistani security establishment fully abandons its covert support to Sunni fundamentalist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. There is ample evidence of contacts between the Pakistani authorities and these terrorist groups. In addition, the legislature, judiciary and the executive branches of the government have still not included the plight of the Hazaras in national policy debates.”

Rafia Zakaria in her column calls it a dark Spring for Hazaras.  They are caught between the fire and the frying pan as the International community only knows the Baloch separatist movement.

“For the Shia Hazara of Balochistan, who are seeking not independence but their rights under the Pakistani constitution, the dearth of local sympathy and the brashness of global generalisations have colluded to produce a landscape where hope seems as elusive as justice.”

Topics like #ShiaGenocide, #Hazara and #Quetta were trending on Twitter in Pakistan on Saturday. The main discussions were focused on whether to call the events ‘Shia Killings’ or ‘Hazara killings’.

https://twitter.com/#!/Baqwaas/status/191110067934867456

Many condemned the killings and accused the right wing Sunni religious groups. Leading Hazara activist M. Saleem Javed tweeted:

There were country wide protests by the Hazara community over the weekend but mainstream TV channels and radio didn’t touch the issue extensively. There was hardly any participation from other groups of the society.

The Baloch tweeples criticized the Punjab for being quiet.

https://twitter.com/#!/gedrosian/status/191190319109373952

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