Pakistani society has endless contradictions: Jemima


LONDON: Jemima Khan has described Pakistani society as a phenomenon of endless contradiction — hostile and hospitable, euphemistic and unambiguous, spiritual and prescriptive, aggressor and victim.
Writing in The Sunday Times (Jemima Khan’s broken country) on her return from a recent visit to Pakistan, former wife of Tehrik-i-Insaaf’s chief Imran Khan said: ‘Pakistan pulsates with conspiracy theories. One which has made it into the local newspapers is that the Taliban when caught and stripped were revealed to have been ‘intact, not Muslims’, a euphemism for uncircumcised. (Pakistanis are big on euphemisms.) Their beards were stuck on with glue.

‘Foreign elements (India) are suspected.’ In what reads partly like a journey back into nostalgia and partly snapshots of impressions about people and places she visited this time, Jemima unveils some very interesting insights in her over 3,000-word piece while describing a visit to an IDP camp and recounting as well a meeting with model Iman Ali.

‘Jalala camp between Mardan and Mingora is the first point of refuge for those escaping the military operation in Swat. It’s full to capacity: 80 per cent of internally displaced persons are children. Thousands have been separated from their parents when fleeing their homes.

Two children are fighting over coloured crayons when I arrive. A girl with blistered burns on her face from the sun shouts at a small boy who turns out to be her brother: ‘If you don’t give them back to me I’ll tell the Taliban and they’ll cut your throat.’

‘According to the teacher in the camp, every child has witnessed public beheadings. Eight-year-old Amina explains quietly from behind her teacher how she saw her uncle’s stomach gouged out by the Taliban. Another girl’s mother was shot for not being in purdah. And another was shot at with her family when she was walking outside during the curfew. Seven-year-old Bisma, I’m told, has seen all the male members of her family hanged in what has become known as Bloody Square. She doesn’t speak.

‘The children are equally afraid of the army. There’s a joke going round: ‘What’s worse than being ruled by the Taliban? Being saved by the Pakistani army’. When the chief minister landed in a helicopter next to the camp a few days ago, I’m told, the children fled screaming in terror to their tents.

‘A group of small children are drawing pictures, part of an art therapy programme run by Unicef in its child-friendly spaces within the camps. Here traumatised children can play volleyball, sing songs and be read stories in shaded safety.

‘A boy called Salman hands me a precisely drawn and signed picture of a Kalashnikov. A shy eight-year-old girl sitting cross-legged next to him, with her grubby green dupatta half obscuring her smile, offers me hers of a helicopter shelling a village. ‘That’s my house,’ she says, pointing to some scribbled rubble.

‘Their schools and homes have been destroyed. All have had relatives killed. An orphanage in Mingora was caught in the crossfire when soldiers based themselves on the roof of the building with 200 children trapped inside.

‘After an hour and a half in the camp we are asked to leave for security reasons. Apparently the Taliban have been infiltrating, trying to recruit supporters.

‘There’s certainly support for the Taliban in the camps. They represent, for many, an opposing force to an army that ‘drones’ (it’s now a verb here) its own people. America’s war on terror, supported by the Pakistani army, is unanimously viewed here as a war on Islam. Newborn twins have been named Sufi Mohammad and Fazlullah after the two militant leaders in Swat.’

And here is what she writes about Iman Ali: We’re joined by Iman Ali — or ‘monster’ as (Imran’s friend) Yousaf (Salahuddin) calls her — one of Pakistan’s most famous models/actresses. She’s dressed in tight jeans, a sleeveless top and kitten heels. I’m in what I’d always thought was the obligatory billowing white cotton.

‘She’s extremely opinionated even for this ready-steady-rant society, prefacing each pronouncement with, ‘Well what would I know? I’m just a dumb model but . . .’ she’s very bold and at times perspicacious, especially about religion.

‘She tells us that Indians are all ‘cry babies’ and Muslims would do better to be cry babies, too, and that way gain equal levels of sympathy abroad. I like her forthrightness. She says things others wouldn’t dare to say here, albeit euphemistically.

‘She questions how it is that she is the most successful celebrity in Pakistan and yet the poorest. Then she answers herself: ‘They must have other sources of income.’ (Film-maker) JP looks perplexed. ‘Illegit,’ she enlightens. Pakistani actresses and models have traditionally emerged from the red-light area. They must have ‘friends’, she adds for good measure. Dosti (friendship) is a euphemism for client, while shadi (marriage) means sex with a client.’

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