18
August

For Educated Balochistan (A Letter from Baloch Girl)

Written By: Salma Mohammad Hassni

am using my pen at a time when my native province Balochistan is facing many problems in its educational system owing to the negligence of our federal and provincial governments as well as the feudals, sardars and nawabs who want the masses to remain ignorant, slaves, and not progress. More so, my province is blessed with natural resources and the longest coastal area, and has attained the attention of many big powers. It is the potential wealth of my province that makes it important in the entire region and, to me, is major cause of the disturbance in Balochistan.

The attitude of local authorities and politicians have pushed the common man into more miseries. The majority of the population is poor and mostly work the little lands they have and the cattle herds. With the advent of 21st century, and revolution of media in Pakistan, the level of awareness in the province is on rise where elders, though poor, are inclined towards educating their children. Although, some of them are facing difficulties in fulfilling their dreams of educated Balochistan also due to cultural issues, lack of resources and attitude of sardars; yet they are inclined to send their children to schools.

However, I feel that the decades old system of education has became dysfunctional. A number of brilliant teachers, lecturers, professors and PhD doctors from Balochistan have been targeted by militants, who play in the hands of foreign elements. Of late, the people of Panjgur (a far town in Balochistan), are facing threats by the militants to shut down government schools and have asked locals not to send their children to schools. Resultantly, students are scared go to schools. The parents are uncertain what would happen to their loved ones if they send them to schools. Many young students and teachers have, so far, lost their lives and many have fled the area. Though the government-run-educational-institutes are less in numbers yet the locals of Panjgur have started to enroll their children in private schools.

Education of the females is another issue of the province. On the one hand, religious extremists are discouraging locals to send girls to schools, and on the other hand, tribal elders often forbid women education due to cultural issues. The religious extremist and hard liner groups use different tactics to fulfil their agenda. Sometimes they attack female vaccination teams, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and a few of them distribute pamphlets or threaten people against sending their girls to schools. For example, recently in Quetta, a private school female teachers were attacked with acid. However, a strong response from political and social circles against these advances gave a clear message that these kind of activities are not backed by the masses of Balochistan, who are more than willing to educate the next generation, especially females.

I request that the government should focus on Balochistan, particularly in the western areas for provision of schools, colleges and universities so that these people get on their feet and become capable of earning their daily living. More education will lead to elimination of extremism and feudalism in the province.

In the end I would appreciate Pakistan Army that has opened hundreds of schools and colleges in the far flung areas of the province that shall go long way in development of the province.

________________________________________________________

The writer belongs to Khuzdar and is President Devote Balochistan.

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16
August

Swat and Tourism

Written By: Zubair Torwali

Although the idyllic Swat valley is now known more for the worst ever Taliban atrocities during 2007-09 but it still remains the cherished destination of many domestic tourists. Because of Swat's cultural heritage, diversity and natural beauty, it also used to host many foreigners in the past, who are again showing interest in visiting this place due to improvement in security situation.

Swat is the seat of the Buddhist relics and a significant part of the famous Gandhara civilization. Another historical fact many people might not be aware of, is Swat being the home to the ancient Darada or Dardic civilization.

Apart from the historical attractions, the Swat Valley is also visited extensively by summer tourists who come here to get respites from the sweltering summer in cities due to the shortage of electricity in the down country.

While the keen researchers and the Buddhist pilgrims take their ways to Saidu Sharif, Barikot, Odegram, Ghalegey, Punjigram or But Kada (Gul Kada), the common tourists would take their way to Kalam, Bahrain, Madyan, Malam Jaba, Miandam, Utror or Mahu Dand (Mahi Dhaan). The former are places with excavations of Gandhara, and the lately discovered Darada, civilizations whereas the latter are the places blessed with natural beauty and freshening climate. Alongside the Gandhara and Darada, Swat has some great but old monuments built by the Muslims during the 10th and 11th centuries.

There was a time when the foreigners, hippies and the pilgrims used to walk in the mountains during nights as well. There was also a time when the bazaars of Bahrain, Saidu Sharif and Madayan used to have a large number of foreigners. Swat used to be the most peaceful place in Pakistan. A foreigner could sleep in the open for the night without any fear.

 But then came a time when even the locals feared going out of their homes during daytime as well. The decade old rising religiosity, combined with the rising terrorism and extremism, resulted in a situation that made lives difficult for the locals of Swat.

The extremist elements virtually turned the 'paradise on earth' into a living hell. To them every sign of civilization was a stigma, and every un-conforming human being was infidel who was consequently punished to death. The valley was in full control of the Taliban when, in May 2009, Pakistan Army launched 'Operation Rah-e-Rast,' to save the people of Swat from the brutes. And truly proving the saying, 'when there is a will there is way' correct, the Army cleared Swat of the militants by the end of 2009. Peace began to resume, and things are much better today.

While Swat was recovering from the deadly scars by the militants, the people faced the wrath of nature due to irregular monsoon rains and huge floods ravaged the entire valley in July 2010. The floods obliterated many parts of the upper beautiful valley beyond Fatepur and people faced worst kind of troubles. Roads were almost washed away to an extent that it took more than 3 months for the Army to make a jeep-able track from Fatepur to Kalam.

After clearing the area of the militants and restoring the writ of the government, the Army and the government tried hard to reconstruct the infrastructure of Swat and revive its tourism which was mainly destroyed by the militants.  One of such measures was to hold sports and entertainment festivals in the entire valley, with its culmination in Kalam. Since 2010, Pakistan Army has been arranging one such big festival in Kalam with the name of Swat Summer Festival. This year it was scheduled from August 7 to 10 in Kalam and the valley of Mahu Dand. Such like festivals are excellent measures to boost tourism in Swat.

The entire beautiful valley beyond the town of Madayan including the valley of Chail to the east of Madayan is known as Swat-Kohistan or Kohistan of Swat due to its different ethnic identity.

Bahrain town is 64 km from Saidu Sharif and is located in the centre of Swat-Kohistan. The Wali of Swat named Bahrain after two rivers in the area  Daral and Swat.  It was also known by the names of Braniyal, Bhoonal and Darshah in the past. Bahrain is a considerably well-off town with an amicable local Torwali population. The town has pleasant weather during summers with chill breeze going past you while it is also accessible during winter. The old town of Bahrain has the intact structures of old houses with beautiful wood carving works  a specialty of the Darada culture.

The town of Mankiyal is locally known as Manekhaal. It has the famous 'Koshein' (Mankiyal Peak) which is also visible from many parts of lower Swat such as Barikot. Mankiyal valley has beautiful pastures of Jaba and Tape Baan and both places are best for skiing.

Kalam is known as the crown jewel of Swat and is considered to be the most beautiful town and valley in the entire Swat district. It was merged with Swat State in 1947; and with Pakistan in 1969 alongwith with Swat. The central mosque, known as Kalam Mosque, is a blend of modern and old architecture. Huge wooden beams with carved pillars and doors fascinate the visitors. The deodar forest in Kalam on a plain land is simply matchless.

Mahu Dand or Fish Lake is locally known as Mahi Dhaan. It is about 35 kilometres from Kalam in the Mitiltan valley. An azure water lake, a sanctuary of the trout fish; with lush green pasture around, and deodar trees in between the island the Mahu Dand, is best for camping in summer. Travelling to this place is extremely fascinating as one may find sharp steep waterfalls, meadows and valleys en route. The famous Plasaar (Falak Sair) mount is seen on the way which is also known as mini K2 because of its resemblance with K2.

On the other side, to the west of Kalam, is the valley of Utror. Utror has the beautiful lake known as Kandole (bowl). Places of Shahi Bagh and Ladu Valley are worth visiting in the near vicinity.

I will suggest Pak Army to further promote the local culture of Bahrain, Kalam and rest of Swat in these festivals. In this regard they can arrange musical shows, local sports’ games and making exhibition stalls.

All valleys of Swat-Kohistan area are fairylands. These are places where one finds everything: snow packed high mountains, lush green pastures, lakes, green lands, culture, camping grounds, foggy waterfalls and deodar forests. I suggest people to visit these areas more often because of improved security situation which will also attract foreign tourists.

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The writer is a journalist based in Swat.

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15
August

The Next Generation of Filmmakers & Audiences in Pakistan

Written By: Afia Nathaniel

There have been numerous articles written about the state of our film industry, the past glories, the dismal failure along the way and then of this “revival”.

I want to write about the industry from an insider's perspective and about where we are headed or rather where we should be headed. In my opinion, the Pakistani film industry is far from a true “revival”. Right now for local filmmakers and producers who are taking risks with telling new kinds of stories in cinema, it is simply a matter of survival.

True revival happens when there is a critical mass of content in the market which can change the status quo of stagnation in the film industry. At the moment, there are hardly two or three independent films coming out every year and that too in a very limited sense because they only cater to local desi audiences. True revival of any cinema industry happens when you look from the inside out and look towards the global market as your audience and not limit yourself to only local audiences.

If you look at the success of Mexican, Indian and African independent filmmakers in the global market, they have carved out a niche for themselves by offering local stories to global audiences. There is a great thirst in the international market to hear stories from Pakistan, especially, well-told stories through the language of cinema. These films can be art house, commercial or straddle a whole section in between. This diversity in cinema is precisely what we need to have in our local cinema cuisine which is only used to seeing the Bollywood commercial films on one hand or limited local films that do not completely fulfil the audience's diverse palate. We should be making films of all kinds and in all genres. Sci-fi, thrillers, supernatural, horror, drama, noir, fantasy, etc. It is only when an audience is exposed to a diverse range of cinema, will a true growth happen in the local indie cinema industry of Pakistan. Right now, it is either the film with the latest item number or some big Hollywood film. The spectrum in between is quite missing.

The other change which is necessary and is happening, albeit slowly but for the better, is the emergence of the “middle class” filmmaker in Pakistan. Stories which can represent our social classes across the board are necessary for this very diversity we seek to sustain cinema. And filmmakers, like me, who have made their name on their own terms and on their own merit, are very necessary for this growth to happen. My father was in the armed forces and encouraged us to do what we liked. However, the art was never considered to be a career option. I left my career in computer sciences to pursue filmmaking because it was not just a passion – it is my life. I was always a storyteller and I found a way to push through this industry, learning as I went.

I am a writer, director, producer and editor of films and my first feature film DUKHTAR will hit cinemas in Pakistan on 18th September 2014. I believe we stand on the threshold of an exciting time where, if given the right incentives to the film industry and new filmmakers, we can create a critical mass of content for local and global consumption.

For us to look ahead in the industry, we also need to look at how audience behaviour has changed and is impacting the media industry the world over.

The audience of today is a smart audience. They understand quality when they see it. They are exposed to a world where all kinds of films and content is available at the tip of their keyboards. This audience does not want to see three hour films and are not used to waiting for a whole year to wait and see the film they have heard so much about. Instant gratification is one of the hallmarks of this new audience, especially the 18-24 age bracket. This is the demographic that is fast shrinking for TV as they turn to new ways to consume media and films online and on mobile devices. Catering to this next generation of audiences is going to be challenging yet interesting. We have to find new way to structure our stories, new ways to distribute our stories and new ways to finance these stories in order to reach these audiences.

From where we are standing in Pakistan, it will be interesting to see how we cater to this next generation of audiences which may not necessarily want to go to a cinema theatre to watch their films but instead want to instantly watch the latest release on their mobile device. The current state of film distribution in Pakistan is not yet ready for this model. Going to the cinema will always be a special experience, perhaps, with families and friends, and that is here to stay. However, getting ready to cater to the next generation's expectations of how they want to watch films is equally important as what they want to watch. Understanding this behaviour is a crucial component to any conversation we have on the revival of cinema in Pakistan. It is the emergence of a new kind of audience that expects something better from us all.

How we adapt to this new audience behaviour coupled with providing merit-based incentives to new filmmakers and allowing a diverse set of voices to thrive is what will determine how successfully this revival in cinema takes place. And it will also determine how far those voices will be heard in the rest of the world.

So here's to looking ahead. The world is alive with possibilities…as is cinema.

The writer is an award winning Pakistani film maker who holds an MFA in Film Dircting from Columbia University (Dean’s Fellow),  and BSC Computer science from LUMS

Twitter: @AfiaNathaniel

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