Homeland does Pakistan

Thrilled to hear that Carrie is headed to Pakistan for the next season of Homeland, at least according to the trailer. Excited to find out whether her experiences here tally with mine. I imagine the opening going something like this:

A phone rings.

Carrie: Hello, Istanbul Station.

Raymondo Davieso (senior CIA figure in Langley): Hello Carrie, how are you settling in?

C: OK. Istanbul is….

R: Great. Excellent. Never mind that. We need a full report on what the Pakistani military is up to, how it is backing the Taliban and suchlike.

C: But I’m in Istanbul.

R. Exactly. Fast as you can.

C: I know nothing about Pakistan.

R: Er imagine the people you are writing the report for know nothing about it either. And we’ve sent you a disguise.

Cut to a figure draped in a blue burqa sitting in a smart Islamabad restaurant eating sushi, awkwardly, being stared at by every other customer wondering why she’s wearing a burqa.

Episode 2

ISI chief arrives at CIA station, Islamabad. With a welcome gift of a box of mangoes. Prompting panic and confusion.

Episode 3

Carrie chases down key Taliban figure. Is plied with samosas, milk tea and chicken haandi, rendering her rather sleepy and unable to concentrate for the rest of the afternoon.

Episode 4

Carrie tracks down feared alleged terror leader in Lahore by calling his press officer. Has dinner with him but is asked not to report back to Langley that he uses Heinz Tomato Ketchup. Carrie complains of indigestion.

Episode 5

Carrie intercepts key militant handler as he arrives at US embassy to check progress of his visa application. Carrie explains that she can’t help with that sort of thing. It’s a different department. He takes her to Peshawar because you can get better lamb there.

Episode 6

Carrie is helicoptered out after medics diagnose the early stages of diabetes.

Episode 7

CIA gives up. Resorts to drones again.

NB: I will watch every episode, completely gripped, while complaining about deficiencies in the plot and the poor depiction of Pakistan.

Headlines I liked

LamNewspaper language here in Pakistan never fails to delight. In this case from today’s Express Tribune

Taliban: Pakistan seen as “increasingly predatory host”

If you haven’t some across the Afghanistan Analysts Network then I thoroughly recommend checking out its website. Some of the best analysis around. This piece on the deal for Bowe Bergdahl’s release is well worth reading. I found the pars on the Taliban’s attitude to Pakistan the most interesting, giving an insight into Islamabad/Rawalpindi’s outlook and how the authorities remain wedded to using proxies as an arm of foreign policy in Afghanistan….

Pakistan no longer seemed a reliable place to hold him, the sources said. Suspicion was looming large over Islamabad’s intentions towards the Taleban. The Haqqani network had lost its most active liaison and fundraiser to the Gulf, Nasiruddin Haqqani, in an attack by unknown gunmen in Islamabad, in November 2013. But more importantly, Pakistan was seen as an increasingly predatory host which did not want to lose control over the Taleban, especially at a time when – in the Taleban’s eyes – the movement is going to become part of the future political set up in Afghanistan – if all went well.


This looks like the sort of book I will be reading. Partly to reinforce my own prejudices…. Here’s a taster from on The Washington Post website….

In  Peaceland, I show that rather than just the usual gamut of explanations for peacebuilding failure – like lack of funds, vested political interests, or the imposition of Western liberal values – the everyday dimensions of international peacebuilding initiatives on the ground also strongly impact the effectiveness of intervention efforts. Everyday dimensions refer to mundane elements, such as the expatriates’ social habits, standard security procedures, and habitual approaches to collecting information on violence. For instance, it matters whom interveners have a drink with after work, whether it is with other expatriates or with local counterparts. It matters how they talk to, look at, refer to, and interact with ordinary people. It matters where they go to collect data, whom they speak with, how, when, and for which purpose. It matters what kind of houses they live in (a compound that looks like a bunker or a normal house). And it matters whether they constantly advertise their actions or keep a low profile. All of this should go without saying, but most of the time on-the-ground interveners and their higher-ups dismiss these kinds of everyday elements as too prosaic to be important.

Hat tip – Texas in Africa

Postcards from Hell: 15. The sushi hotline


The sushi delivery place has a UAN number, whatever that is. I think it is a universal phone number that connects you to the nearest office. Or something.

Anyway, it didn’t work from my Nayatel line. Instead I had to look up a regular number via a website. When I reached the restaurant, the waiter patiently directed me to call the delivery service on the UAN number. Suffice to say that I explained the situation and he promised me that my favoured sushi bento box would be delivered to my house within the next 45 min.

Sure enough, it arrived within the specified timeframe.

But he forgot to mention the serving of miso soup and the scoop of ice cream, served in a Tupperware box kept cool with ice cubes in a second box.

So you can imagine that I was not surprised to learn from Foreign Policy today that Pakistan is the tenth most failed state in the world – more failed indeed than Iraq, where jihadi outfits deemed too extreme even for al-Qaeda have seized swaths of territory threatening the capital.

I can only assume that in Iraq one can get through first time to sushi restaurants.

Postcards from Hell is my ironically titled list of things that are cool about Pakistan, my new home, or which contradict the notion that the country is some sort of failed state

Another story blanked out – today

ImageIrony of ironies. Today, the day we find out the fate of the al-Jazeera journalists arrested in Egypt, The New York Times has apparently left a page blank to illustrate what happens when journalists are silenced.

At the same time, in Pakistan, a chunk of the International New York Times’ front page is blank. So too much of page 4. There’s no fuss, no fanfare. No explanation. The reason, no doubt, is the continuing censorship of its pages in Pakistan. On this occasion it seems the story is this one about a convert to Christianity in Afghanistan: A Christian convert, on the run in Afghanistan

IDPs arriving at Al Salaam camp outside Nyala in 2007.

Refugees arriving at Al Salaam camp, Nyala, South Darfur, in 2007.

I’ve had this argument in at least six African countries, with four United Nations agencies and the same Oxfam press officer over and over again. It is tiresome and tedious. So in future I will simply direct people who are too dim to comprehend the point to this post…

I know how charities and the United Nations define the term “refugee”. I also know how the dictionary defines the word. As a journalist – and a reasonable human being keen on being understood – I use the dictionary, everyday definition that readers will grasp.

Here, for example, is how the UN’s Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights explains the issue, based on the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees:

A crucial requirement to be considered a “refugee” is crossing an international border. Persons forcibly displaced from their homes who cannot or choose not to cross a border, therefore, are not considered refugees, even if they share many of the same circumstances and challenges as those who do. Unlike refugees, these internally displaced persons do not have a special status in international law with rights specific to their situation. The term “internally displaced person” is merely descriptive.

So, “refugees” – if you are an expert in international law – must cross a border. With that comes all sorts of rights and protections. Charity workers and UN officials, charged with protecting such people, use this legalistic definition to help them do their job. I get it.

My dictionary (Shorter Oxford English, sitting in two-volume glory on the side of my desk), however, defines “refugee” thus:

A person driven from his or her home to seek refuge, esp. in a foreign country, from war, religious persecution, political troubles, natural disaster etc.; a displaced person

So it is a displaced person, especially – but not necessarily – one who has crossed a border.

It is incorrect to claim journalists are ignorant when they use the term “refugee” instead of IDP. In the English language, they are interchangeable. And any journalist who uses the term IDP will merely be confusing their readers. I would go further, any journalist who uses the term is an idiot for using incomprehensible jargon. (And I’ll not thank anyone who trawls through my stuff for examples of me using it. I may have showed off with it once or twice.)

So maybe, you are thinking, the UN and Red Cross and all these people are experts with big degrees. Wouldn’t it be better to trust them on these things? They know best.

And my response would be that they are not the guardians of the English language.