Friday, December 26, 2008

Kiya Bola?: Santa - The Man, The Myth, The Murderer

Kiya Bola?: Santa - The Man, The Myth, The Murderer

Santa - The Man, The Myth, The Murderer

When I was a young boy, Santa was just the fat, furry, jolly bastard who would find a way to sneak into your house (like a thief) and instead of taking things, he'd be dropping them off. That was obviously until one realized that Santa's suit was merely a facade adorned by many people well known to me such as my mother, father, even brother and sometimes a gremlin I kept beneath my bed. 

All the while, one never considered that he would turn out to be a drunken depressed killa!

Read on...

 Santa kills 5, then himself
 Updated at: 0058 PST,  Friday, December 26, 2008
Santa kills 5, then himself COVINA: A man dressed as Santa who had been having marital problems opened fire at a Christmas party, leaving more than three people dead in a home that then caught fire, authorities said.

Hours later, police found the body of the suspect, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, 45, at the home of his brother early Thursday in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles. Police said he killed himself but would not say how.

"He was going through some type of marital problems, and we believe that this residence is a relative's residence," Lt. Pat Buchanan said of the house that burned.

Police initally said three people were dead in the shootings and fire late Wednesday. Ed Winter of the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office said Thursday that investigators sifting through the ashes of the house found "several" more bodies, but would not say how many.

The bodies were too badly burned to immediately determine whether they died in the shootings or the fire, Winter said. "We have multiple bodies inside," Winter said. "They're extremely charred and burned."

The gunman arrived at the party in Covina late Wednesday and immediately opened fire with a handgun, Buchanan said. Witnesses told police that the man took off the Santa suit and left the scene of the burning house in street clothes.

Winter said the search through the destroyed home would take at least until the end of the day. Jan Gregory, a neighbor, said about 25 people were at the party when the gunshots rang out and people started running by the house.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Crossing Swords

For those of you who don't already know, my father has just recently completed a long and arduous mission of writing his autobiography. He started this project about 10 years ago and it really picked up the pace the year I graduated from College (2004). He is a decorated retired Air Force Pilot and war hero. His mission has been a challenging, yet rigorous task of finding the accuracy in his account of history and substantiating it by engaging numerous people of his past and present. Through the course of his mission, he uncovered many emotions; some lost and some new. 

My father to me is the greatest hero in my life. His contribution to history as an individual is remarkable. Despite our family setup, he has retained his dignity by doing what he could to ensure all his dependents and loved ones were and are comfortable. 

His book, Flight of the Falcon, will be available in bookstores throughout the major parts of Pakistan shortly. Please watch this space for announcements. In the meantime, take a moment to read an article about him in The News - Online (Pakistan's #1 selling print newspaper). It was written by Anjum Niaz, a recognized freelance journalist.

Crossing swords
 Tuesday, December 09, 2008
By Anjum Niaz

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting

Secretary of State Condi Rice has categorically pointed to “Pakistani soil” being used in Mumbai attacks. And she expects “Pakistan to act.” This is a blunt order from our benefactors who have doled out 10 billion dollars to keep the terrorists at bay. News has it that Barack Obama has received an intrusive dossier on how our military has spent the money. “The message of the report is that you can’t win in Afghanistan without first fixing Pakistan,” says a senior US official. “But even if you fix Pakistan,” the official thinks, “that won’t be enough.” Some analysts in Washington think that the money has gone into revamping Islamabad’s military capability against the Indians and not in fighting the militants as per our pledge to the Americans. Obama is likely to husband the flow of funds in the future. “The truth is that $10 billion later, they (Pakistan) still don’t have the basic capacity for counterinsurgency operations. What we are telling Obama and his people is that [this] has to be reversed.”


Our exemplar of national pride was once our army, the symbol of crossed swords. We saw the shahadat of our jawans; we witnessed hilal and jurat medals pinned on our best and bravest; we heard stories of heroism that made us marvel; and our hearts beat in unison when Nur Jehan sang aay watan key sajeelay jawano, meray naghmey tumhera liya hein. Oftentimes we lived lives encircled in awe with what the future held. The promise of Islamabad becoming a shining city upon a hill never did leave us for long. Hope was always around to hold our hand whenever we were down. 

Today our nation’s star has elsewhere its setting. We watch it sinking and can do nothing about it. No longer are we the architects of our destinies. “What’s going to happen?” is on every lip. The TV channels and newspapers daily log stories of affairs gone awry; of men in power run amuck; of suicide bombers’ annihilation of the powerless and the meek; of the dogs of war (US, India & Israel) hunting down our nuclear arsenal and cutting us asunder. It happened in 1971; it can happen again.

Raining missiles on us will continue. America has replaced its Predator drones with MQ-9 Reapers just rolled off the assembly line. These unmanned killing machines pick up every word that humans utter down below 50,000 feet. Their infrared rays pick up your body heat and relay the information to the pilots sitting in trailers in Las Vegas. They sit before huge computers directing the planes through remote control. Underground and underwater fiber-optic cables link these trailers to Europe, where a satellite dish makes the connection directly to every Reaper in the air over Pakistan. 

“Worry not,” says our Air Force chief bravely. Pakistan has its own drones to counter the Reapers raiding us. The chief is ready to deploy them, but is Zardari willing? “I don’t understand why we don’t use our own drones?” says a Pakistani journalist writing for Arab News. “We can fit them with Griffo (Falcon, in Italian) radars imported from Fiar, Italy.”

The buck stops here!

Air Commodore (r) Sajjad Haider, the decorated war hero of 1965 and 1971 wars with India has written a whole new book on how the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was kept out of the loop by the high command during combat. He has named people in the military and air force who were “afraid of their own shadows.” Not only did they let down PAF, but they let down the people of Pakistan. No authentic soul searching was conducted; nor those found guilty of betrayal nailed. “Instead these men capitalized on our successes to award themselves the highest awards in gallantry,” says Sajjad Haider, who led the No 19 squadron that chased away the Indian pilots at Wagah and later bombed Pathankot destroying their planes parked on the airfield. 

Around September 1, 1965, a senior civil servant in Ayub’s government receives an unscheduled visit from the then British ambassador in Islamabad. “India is going to attack you,” says the envoy. “Warn your president about it.” Ayub’s aide picks up the ‘secrophone’ after his visitor leaves and relays the urgent message to the presidency. The president is ambivalent. On the night of September 6, Rawalpindi gets its first taste of Indian ire. Their bombers fly overhead and rain bombs. Lahore is next. Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmad and his Foreign Minister Z A Bhutto have since April planned and executed infiltration into Indian-held Kashmir by 7000 regulars and volunteers, provoking an Indian assault on Pakistan. “There was no empathy or tangible plan to keep our soldiers supplied with food and ammunition. Most were massacred because our ‘Field Marshal’ was no Field Marshal Rommel,” Haider says sarcastically. Nur Khan, who had recently been made the air chief was disgusted with Ayub’s dalliance. He got hold of a C-130 at Chaklala, stocked it with stuff, and took off for Kashmir in the middle of the night. “Nur Khan risked his life” as the plane navigated through a thick cloud cover guided by “dead reckoning” which means rudimentary weather radar, to reach the ‘drop zone’ in the valley below saving the lives of our soldiers. 

Bravo Nur Khan!

A grand plan for “pre-emptive” strikes on Indian airfields was ready with the PAF. The outgoing air chief Asghar Khan had prepared it. “Had the plan gone through, we would have crippled the IAF (Indian Air Force) in the first hour of September 6th attack,” says Haider, appearing to relive every minute of the dogfights he ever fought. “But the commanders at Mauripur and Sargodha – our two largest airbases – procrastinated.” 

Haider, 75, spent his early retirement years “earning money legally” through lucrative defence deals. He insists that no kickbacks were involved. However, he’s earned enough to live a gentrified life, shuttling between the comfortable environs of Islamabad and his villa in the Spanish resort of Marbella writing his memoirs. His book Flight of the Falcon should be in the bookstores very soon. It contains many bombshells. “I want to remove the haze and opaqueness surrounding the truth. Ayub Khan’s Diaries bypass the 1965 war, while Glimpses into the Corridors of Power by his son Gohar Ayub tries to cover up the gaps of his father’s memoirs by mutilating the truth,” says the “enraged” airman. 

There’s plenty of hyperventilation by Sajjad Haider in his book. He blames president Ayub Khan, army chief Mohammad Musa, commanding generals Rana and Yayha Khan for failure. “All these men capitulated to their self-created fears. The hand of the winning general Akhtar Malik was stayed and the gun taken away from him and given to Yayha just when Malik had the ‘chicken’s neck’ (Akhnoor) in his grasp and would have infiltrated into the valley of Kashmir. Musa got on the pulpit and hollered ‘Do not provoke the Indians.’”

According to Haider, well-known Indian historians corroborate his version of the two wars. They praise his No 19 squadron and the team of pilots that earned six Sitara-e-Jurat. “My book tries to show how independent units, like mine, achieved beyond all expectations.” Air vice marshal Sadruddin, first commander of F-104 Star Fighter Squadron, ratifies this claim when he says: “Sajjad Haider was a flamboyant character with a quick wit, outspoken, irrepressible, daring, articulate and given to exercise initiative beyond his terms of reference. His book gives fresh and candid accounts of some major events of the last 50 years now appearing in a different light devoid of the embellishments of those times. In the long run, truth prevails.”

Today, the word accountability has almost a criminal tinge because if ever done properly it will open up many carcasses and expose our leaders masquerading as saviours and heroes of our nation. Our president, says Sajjad Haider, lives in opulence with liveried guards standing post behind him. “What he lacks in substance and depth, he makes up by creating symbols of grandeur and pomp.”

I may not agree with few of Sajjad Haider’s fixations, his thicket of words, some of them excessively hubristic, but I agree with Haider that whoever advised President Zardari to back him up with uniformed guards decked up in red and gold extravaganza and holding lances before the TV cameras should be fired! Oops! Is it by any chance the president himself!


Thursday, December 4, 2008

An article on Micro Drip

My former colleague and good friend Saqib, the COO of Micro Drip, sent me this article written in Dawn today. It is something beyond remarkable when I read about Micro Drip and the good publicity they have begun to acquire. With an investment from Acumen to articles in papers to becoming a model business in Pakistan, I couldn't be more proud of my association with the project that literally went from a paper concept to a real live poverty addressing business.


Concept of social entrepreneurship
By Bina Shah

RECENTLY I attended a talk given by Jacqueline Novogratz of the Acumen Fund on the concept of social entrepreneurship. The Acumen Fund is a New York-based investment fund seeking to invest in business that can help alleviate the problems caused by poverty.

Deeply affected by the events of 9/11 and wanting to help build civil infrastructure as an alternative to the American war on terror, Novogratz and her partners opened offices in Mumbai, Nairobi and Karachi, and work on building investments in companies that deliver both financial and social returns.

In layman’s speak they’re investing solid charitable contributions from American corporations in innovative businesses in India, Pakistan and Kenya that impact the lives of low-income populations in these three countries. But what really made me sit up and take notice was when Novogratz began speaking about one of the projects they fund: a low-cost drip irrigation project started in Tharparkar, Sindh.

All Sindhis know of our dependence on water. The drying up of the Indus has been a major source of concern for agriculturalists of the province, who are, because of our geostrategic location, the last in line to receive benefits from its abundant flow. We are also dependent on the generosity of India and Punjab in ensuring that we get an adequate supply of water. Who knows how long we can depend on India honouring its side of the Indus Waters Treaty? And the growing demands for water in Punjab will always affect Sindh’s water supply.

Drip irrigation, first developed in Israel, is a technology that can change all of that. It delivers a steady stream of water straight to the roots of crops, thus minimising wastage and making delivery much more efficient. It has its pros and cons, but has always been prohibitively expensive for Pakistani farmers. The average cost of installing a drip irrigation system for even a minimal-acreage land holding runs to Rs100,000.

There’s no need to tell you about the extreme poverty and deprivation of the Thar area, but most farmers live on less than $1 a day. Drought and lack of access to water make survival extremely difficult for the small farmers who own less than four acres of land. But with an initial investment of $200,000 in debt, and $300,000 in equity investment, the fund partnered with the Thardeep Rural Development Programme, and brought over low-cost drip irrigation technology from Global Easy Water Projects, its partner in India.

With this financial support, Thardeep was able to set up a for-profit, drip irrigation company called Microdrip, run by Dr Sono Khangarani, a Hindu Sindhi from the Dalit caste who wanted to do something for his community in Tharparkar. They have marketed the drip irrigation system, which costs on average Rs28,000, to a staggering total of 3,000 villages in the Thardeep network.

They plan to reach 20,000 farmers over the course of five years, and the impact of this work will be grand: not only will small Sindhi farmers become economically secure, they will also be able to reduce their dependence on rain-fed farming and reduce their need of water by about 50 per cent. They’ll also be able to farm all year around so they won’t have to migrate to the cities during times of drought; and this will result in more stable food supplies for the entire province.

The biggest lessons from this entire experience are that the poverty stricken of Pakistan require three main elements: access to financing, an investment in quality inputs and technology and probably the most vital of all an investment in knowledge. But what lessons can we Sindhis learn from the way social entrepreneurship conducts its business? First of all, dignity. You can throw all amounts of charity at a person, and charity will always be an important part of our efforts to aid the poor. But charity has a tendency of maintaining the social structure, and of encouraging everyone to stay in the have-and-have-not paradigm. Unless you make a person an equal partner in the attempt to better his or her life, there will never be significant change in society. Following the model of social entrepreneurship gives dignity to the people you aim to help. Sindhis need that dignity badly, as the last 30 years or so have robbed them of it in the most violent ways. Second, integrity. Those companies that want to do social entrepreneurship the right way will vet their potential partners carefully, following all the protocols of due diligence. If they find any irregularities in the way the partner company does business, any evidence of bribe-giving or bribe-taking or notes any sign that the partner company is involved in corruption, they must refuse to take on that company. Social entrepreneurship requires cleanliness of the highest sort, because it is serving a population that has suffered for generations under the brutal yoke of corruption, which has been a particularly crippling problem in Sindh and all over Pakistan. Thirdly, sincerity. I was struck by the willingness of two of the American partners involved in this social entrepreneurship project to travel to Karachi during the ethnic riots that have gripped us in the last two weeks. Not only were they sincere enough to actually come here instead of conducting their business via remote control, they also wanted to engage with the audience and really listen to the suggestions and solutions that could come from those conversations. There was no sense of superiority, preaching or posturing. Sindhis need to feel that sincerity from those who claim to want to help them, whether they are local or foreign partners.

Empty promises from politicians, the draining of funds that end up in people’s pockets and a complete disregard for the Sindhis’ needs and wants have made them very wary of outsiders promising them the moon and the stars. Sincerity, integrity and dignity are the cornerstones of social entrepreneurship and they signify a willingness to invest in people as well as projects. We Sindhis would do very well to listen to what social entrepreneurship can teach us if we want to make our people once again part of a peaceful and prosperous nation.

The writer is a novelist.

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