The Pakistan I Thought I Knew: Part Four

There is an image that lingers on silent nights. The shifting patterns of house lights in play in Azad Kashmir, or Free Kashmir, situated in northern Pakistan in the city of Muzaffarabad. The suffocating closeness of that city to refugee camps and rain-glazed trees where leaves sagged toward another winter leave an indelible mark.The city is the strangest place I have ever visited. To many, it is … [Read more...]

The Pakistan I Thought I Knew: Part Three

A frequent traveler to Pakistan, I had always known and seen different variations of Islam. Those who choose the Sunni (orthodox) way. Those who adopt the history and traditions of the Shia. Or the Sufi, known as mystics and/or New Age-ers, of Islam. Even among these three broad groups, there are add-on practices and born-again preachers in Pakistan, who have redefined Islam--a religion revealed … [Read more...]

The Pakistan I Thought I Knew: Part Two

The Pakistan I thought I knew is almost gone. As a child, I didn't see political chaos and military coups but cousins racing to the rooftop to fly and cut down kites in the clear blue sky of Lahore, my birth city. Of memories jumping in the rain because we could; boys and girls playing together on rooftops. An innocence lost as we grow older--and as I continue to visit--a country that … [Read more...]

Pakistan: The View From Abbottabad On A Recent Trip (Part One)

The old adage that some things never change is true of Pakistan. Or at least parts of the country remain stagnant, as locals continue to manage expectations in a black-and-white world. The same expectations that something bad is going to happen in a village, town, city--a country shattered momentarily by bomb blasts, natural disasters, and crude awakenings.Outside the capital city of Islamabad, … [Read more...]

The Women of Kashmir Survive the Spoils of War

For years, I lived Kashmir. I dreamt of the women featured in this book. For awhile, they were like family. I knew intimate details of their lives. Even though I was their American guest, they gave me more than stories to be recorded in a book. They gave me a slice of modern history--the untold histories of women, the survivors of a 60-year-plus conflict. The women of this book form a community … [Read more...]

Elections in Kashmir Set a Historic Precedent

In winter 2014, elections in Indian-held Kashmir should have been a benchmark for change. But the opposite occurred. The local government came to a standstill. And the Indian Army took control of the valley until the Governor stepped in. The French historian Alexis de Tocqueville said, "When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness." For decades, Kashmir looked as … [Read more...]

Working women in Pakistan admit it’s a man’s world

This spring, I was in Pakistan, traveling through the capital of Islamabad, the culture center of Lahore, and into the northern bustling towns of Abbottabad and Mansehra. As an American traveler, heading to Pakistan's tribal areas might have been daunting if I didn't have a car with young men I call brothers and bodyguards. On this trip, I met mostly with women. Young and old, single and … [Read more...]

Pakistan is still a strange place

Farzana Parveen didn’t deserve to die. The young woman stoned to death in late May by her relatives for marrying a man of her choice in front of a courthouse in my birth city of Lahore, Pakistan horrified me as I boarded a plane back to my home in America. I had just spent five weeks interviewing Pakistani women who had overcome abuse, aggression, and absurd patriarchal rules. They represented … [Read more...]

Teaching is not an art. It’s a practice.

I come from a long line of educators. My almost 100-year-old grandmother, Imtiaz Mir (who I affectionally called Nano), was one of the most outstanding women I know. She was more than a teacher. She was the breadwinner. She was compassionate and courageous. She didn't depend on men to teach her how to raise five children as a  young widow. She taught herself to survive. Independence is God's … [Read more...]

Female bombers – a dangerous trend emerges in Pakistan

The sensationalist Newsweek cover of Pakistan’s magazine on female suicide bombers with tampons as dynamites raises again awareness and calls attention to a threat that goes unnoticed. And while I agree that the story of female bombers worldwide is important, I object to the title “More and More Women Are Finding Their True Calling As Suicide Bombers.” Had this been true, the number of suicide … [Read more...]

A Leap of Faith

Author and historian Karen Armstrong followed her dreams. She dared to write about religion. And to write it very well, although it was an uneasy and uncomfortable position to take when writers, like artists, are harshly judged if they fail to publish the big-best-seller-novel. This summer, I met Ms. Armstrong along Chautauqua Lake at an institution known for its intensive lecture program. On … [Read more...]

Refugees in Pakistan

In the camps of Muzaffarabad, the women pass their time slowly. They wait for someone to rescue them. To give them a home. More food. Free medical care. And a decent education for their children. I sat with the refugee women to listen to their stories. How they survive on a small stipend given to them by the Pakistani Government. How they continue to seek help. How they save their sanity instead … [Read more...]

Inside a Girl’s School

A madrasa or a religious seminary is more than just a school. More than girls sitting on the floor of a classroom memorizing the Quran, Islam's holy book. More than religious indoctrination. In my visits to religious schools across Pakistan, I have learned that these schools are social networking and sisterhood societies. Loosely speaking, of course. The girls, now teachers, benefit greatly … [Read more...]