Recent opinionating

PTI supporters attend Imran Khan's rally in Lahore, 23 March.
PTI supporters attend Imran Khan’s rally in Lahore, 23 March.

Here’s a round up of some of the opinion pieces I’ve been writing recently.

New Statesman

Manoeuvres and rallies as Pakistan’s election campaign heats up

I wrote this piece after attending Imran Khan’s big jalsa (rally) in Lahore. This is set to be a tight race, and nothing – not even assassination – is beyond the realms of possibility.

Historic moment as Pakistan’s elected civilian government completes full five year term

There are still challenges to be overcome, but merely surviving is something of an achievement.

The Kafkaesque reality of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, is under police investigation for alleged blasphemy after making the case on television for the law to be re-examined and for the death penalty to be removed.

Express Tribune

Protecting women from domestic abuse

It seems unlike­ly that any of the major partie­s will includ­e a commit­ment on gender-based violen­ce in their manife­stos

Pakistan’s youth bulge

How import­ant will young people actual­ly be in decidi­ng the electi­on result?

The Good, the Bad and the Election

With the curren­t climat­e of uncert­ainty, it will do wonder­s for public confid­ence if the electi­on goes ahead at all.

Who is a terrorist — and who isn’t — in Pakistan?

If Pakist­an cannot agree on how they view TTP, it’s diffic­ult to see how anythi­ng fruitf­ul can come out of peace talks.


I’ve appeared on a few shows on Monocle 24 in the past few weeks. On 22 March, I discussed Perves Musharraf’s return to Pakistan (podcast here). On 26 March, I ran through the top political stories in Pakistan, including Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif’s respective election campaigns, and the power crisis (podcast here).


I also blog regularly on the Middle East for Middle East Monitor. An archive of those blogs can be seen here.

Pakistan’s political theatre

Qadri's supporters gathered in Islamabad.
Qadri’s supporters gathered in Islamabad.

On 15 January, Tahir ul Qadri’s “long march” reached Islamabad and camped outside Parliament. While it stopped short of the 1m people he’d promised, a good 30,000 or so turned out. I wrote this blog for the New Statesman looking at the Qadri phenomenon and explaining why some people are suspicious of his motives. On the same day, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. Immediately, the talk was of a judicial coup; a power-grab by the back door. I appeared on this Monocle 24 show discussing the latest developments and what it meant for the forthcoming election. In the typical, dramatic style of Pakistani politics, the crisis was soon resolved and the election is back on track. As the dust settled, I wrote this column for the Express Tribune, exploring the underlying reasons that Qadri was able to muster so much support so quickly: deep dissatisfaction with the political system as a whole.

Other things I’ve been working on over the past few weeks include this post about the Delhi gang-rape case over at my New Statesman blog. It looks at the difficulty of translating “watershed” moments into action in a misogynist society with an under-equipped police force.

I also wrote this column for the Express Tribune about the 10 million Pakistani women missing from the electoral roll, and the challenges of getting women to the ballot box.

Recent writings

Boys collect water in a fishing village in Karachi. Photo: my own
Boys collect water in a fishing village in Karachi. Photo: my own

The picture on the left is one I took during a visit to a small village on the outskirts of Karachi, for a piece about water sanitation. Below is a link to that piece (written for Dawn), and to some of the other things I’ve been writing recently.


Bilawal is key to PPP regaining mass appeal in Pakistan (27th December)

Following the PPP co-chairman’s speech on the anniversary of his mother’s death, I wrote a piece for the Independent about the importance of dynastic politics.

Postcard from Karachi (13th December)

This short piece describes a trip to Lyari, one of Karachi’s most dangerous areas.

Express Tribune

Revisiting Malala (6th January)

Malala Yousafzai was released from hospital last week, but has anything really changed for women activists since she was shot? This piece asks why we wait for women to become victims of serious violence before taking action.

Celebrating Christmas in Pakistan (31st December)

The week after Christmas, I looked at the continued persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan.

Polio attacks – Pakistan’s future under threat (23rd December)

In the aftermath of the shocking murder of five healthworkers in Pakistan in December, I wrote about the dangerous politicisation of medical aid.


“Everybody needs water, it’s not political” (28th December)

This long feature looks at efforts to provide clean drinking water in Sindh, Pakistan, and the problems faced, including lack of education and poor electricity supplies.


On 4th January I was on Monocle 24, talking about Malala Yousafzai’s release from hospital, and what has changed (or not) in the interim. You can listen to it here.

I was also on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 on the 3rd January, talking about blacking up. (A bit of a break from the Pakistan theme!)

Pakistan’s problem with tax

Inevitably, it is the poorest in society who lose out from unpaid tax bills.
Inevitably, it is the poorest in society who lose out from unpaid tax bills.

The big political story in Pakistan last week was a report released by investigative journalist Umar Cheema, which found that 70 per cent of parliamentarians did not file a tax return in 2011. On Friday, I spoke to Monocle 24’s Globalist show about the report, and the more general problem of tax avoidance. I’m on from about 10 minutes in.

I also wrote a column on the subject for the Express Tribune, a leading Pakistani newspaper which is affiliated with the International Herald Tribune. The piece looks at the wider issue of tax evasion in Pakistan and why it matters.

To state the obvious, the fact that everyone is at it does not make tax dodging any less reprehensible. Just nine per cent of GDP is collected in tax each year, one of the lowest rates in the world. And Pakistan badly needs revenue. The state is heavily reliant on financial aid from the west and bailouts from international lending institutions. National debt stands at about 60 per cent of GDP, and the government has paid back just a third of the $7.5b that is due to the International Monetary Fund by 2015. With some justification, the population is widely suspicious of US involvement in Pakistan. Yet it is a statistic certainty that many of those complaining are not paying their taxes, thus undermining the best way to reduce reliance on American money.

I am delighted to announce that I’ll be writing a weekly column for the Express Tribune (every Monday).