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From Pakistan,

Eddie Mair | 10:06 UK time, Friday, 4 January 2008

yesterday...Hugh Sykes sent this:

"It happened exactly a week ago. It seems much longer. First there was blurred footage of a white headscarf suddenly falling out of sight. And the orange flash of an explosion. Then a photograph of a man with a pistol in his hand pointing it directly at Benazir.

And the chilling image which has already become iconic: two men staring coldly at the camera, one in the background, partly obscured by the scarf on his head - and in front of him, an almost comic-book villain in dark glasses. His severed head was recovered after the suicide blast, and appears in 'Wanted' notices in the newspapers, a half-smile on its face as it rests on a mortuary shelf.

And now, of course, the election has been postponed. But, even after a delay, will it be free and fair? At least two independent organisations here think they are sure to be rigged.

And a newspaper has already published a full-page guide to 'the Art of Rigging'. The government angrily denounce this as 'scurrilous.' They say the presence of foreign observers will ensure a fair poll.

And the media are still operating under restrictions imposed during the Emergency - some TV channels are off the air.

Rigging: Some newspapers ignore the press restrictions that carry penalties of a year in gaol or a heavy fine.

Blocked: Some TV channels are off the air because of a government ordinance.

Protest: Journalists protest against the media clampdown (PEMRA is the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority).

Children: Unsettling use of children - far too young to understand the banners they are being forced to carry - by a Christian group protesting about government action against judges and journalists. Suffer the little children. They were certainly suffering - not a smile among them, and rough treatment by the adults in charge.

Focus: Pakistanis are avid newspaper readers, especially at times like this.

Wanted: Grim advert in one of the papers this week. Rs. 1 Crore is ten million rupees - about £80,000."


  1. At 11:47 AM on 04 Jan 2008, Charlie wrote:

    Maybe we should re-name Hugh. How about "Succinct Sykes"? It does have a certain ring to it...

    A great report and one containing a real surprise for me. The Pakistan newspapers, banners etc are all in English!

    I'd no idea...

  2. At 02:43 PM on 05 Jan 2008, Gossipmistress wrote:

    Charlie - yes I was very surprised at that too - all in English. I wonder if Hugh has chosen the bits in English or whether this is the norm?

  3. At 05:56 PM on 05 Jan 2008, Hugh the Hack wrote:

    Hello Charlie and Gossipmistress.

    English is the 'official' language of the civil service here in Pakistan, and it is also widely spoken.

    There are English-language TV programmes, and one channel - Dawn News TV - which is almost entirely in English.

    There are numerous English-language daily and weekly papers: Dawn, the Daily Times, the Daily Mail, The News, The Nation, the Friday Times.

    There are also many wonderful bookstores here full of English-language books and foreign newspapers- at least three in Islamabad alone, notably Mr. Books.

    As for those banners in English - most protests and meetings that I've attended have featured banners in English.

    A week after September 11th 2001, for example, I recall one passionate demonstration outside a mosque which took place in front of a huge banner asking a question: "America! Think Why Do We Hate You So Much?"

    And - an insight into the mostly generous spirit here - when people in the crowd that day saw me with my microphone and camera, they helped me get closer to the Imam who was speaking so that I could get a decent recording.

  4. At 03:59 PM on 06 Jan 2008, Charlie wrote:

    Many thanks for that Hugh

    I think "we" may have many misconceptions of Pakistan and the majority of it's people

    I'd be interesting to hear more

  5. At 08:11 AM on 07 Jan 2008, Gossipmistress wrote:

    Thank you Hugh! (How many times did you get 502'd??)
    It's easy to forget the *ordinary* people when most of the news we hear from a country is bad/violent. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on the blog - much appreciated. More please!!x

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