Pakistan’s surreal Urdu media — I

Published: May 25, 2011
The writer is a director with Hill Road Media and a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar

The writer is a director with Hill Road Media and a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar [email protected]

The Pakistani’s uncomplicated view of the world is revealed in his Urdu press.

A sample is available daily in the verse of Riaz urRehman Saghar, the poet published on Nawa-i-Waqt’s second page. He’s entertaining, but his trajectory is predictable: Citizens victims, Muslims pious, hukumran corrupt, Pakistan honourable, Amrika bad, Bharat worst. (Urdu writers refer to India as Bharat, rarely as Hindustan.)

After over 160 people were slaughtered in Mumbai, Saghar wrote verse scolding India for making it up (“khel rachaya Bharat ne”). Sharing the page with Saghar is Tayyaba Zia Cheema, Nawa-i-Waqt’s correspondent from New York. She wrote this on May 20: “Yeh faisla ab Pakistani qaum ko karna hai ke woh zillat ki zindagi jina chahti hai ya usay ghairat ki mot pasand hai.”

What a strange thing to say. Why must Pakistan die so that Ms Cheema can feel honourable in New York? And why hector Pakistanis from there?

On the same page (figuratively and literally) is Dr Ajmal Niazi. Pakistan has more doctors writing columns than any nation on earth. Dr Niazi is always angry. For those he dislikes, which is most people, he uses the ‘tu’ form of address. This is off-putting to the reader, especially when he writes about men like Najam Sethi.

Dr Niazi is untroubled by nuance: “Main ISI ke haq mein hoon keh Amrika aur Bharat uske khilaaf hain.” His reading of history is original. Bhutto, King Feisal and Liaqat were killed by Americans (May 21, ‘Andar se Pakistani, bahar se Amriki’).

Dr Niazi’s concern is that Pakistan’s journalists are insufficiently hysterical: “Taqriban sara electranik media Amrika aur Bharat ka prapagenda cell ban chuka hai” (May 23, ‘Nazariya hee sahib-e-nazar banata hai’).

In the same column, he helpfully points out that Geo TV kay “naam ka tarjumah ‘yahudi’ banta hai”. Apparently Geo equals Jew.

Hassan Nisar of Jang is quite stylish. He speaks in an affected manner, but often gets the issue right when he refers to America and the West. When he writes about India, alas, the old instinct freezes his brain. The loss of Bangladesh remains raw in Nisar’s mind and India, not Pakistan, was responsible for the partition of Pakistan in 1971.

On Jang’s editorial page, the best writer, or at least the most rational, is Nazir Naji. His view on India, terrorism and Pakistan’s army is quite balanced. Appearing with him is Haroon Rashid, foremost among those concerned about Pakistan’s honour. He has the look of someone who can be friends with anyone in power.

Daily Express’s Zaheda Hina is different from the rest, and alert to what the world thinks about Pakistan (though she got Thomas Friedman’s name wrong in one piece). Orya Maqbool Jaan has made it his life’s work to prove the two nation theory. It’s not clear, however, whom his lectures on Hindu inferiority are aimed at.

Javed Chaudhry looks earnest, but is as uninteresting in print as he is on television.

Millat Gujarati (which also has an Urdu edition) is better than Urdu dailies, but only marginally.

Data is rarely communicated by Pakistan’s kaalumnigar and tajziyakar. They write to express anguish, with little reference to facts. Breasts are beaten daily over drone attacks without acknowledging Major General Ghayur Mehmood’s numbers-led briefing that most of those killed are terrorists. Suicide bombings are referred to once in newspapers, for the event, and then passed over.

There is little attempt to connect the dots of the thousands of attacks and to come to the understanding the rest of the world has arrived at about Pakistan. It is a parallel universe in which the Pakistani is kept warm and insulated from the uncomfortable world of facts.

There is plenty of self-reference (“main bar-bar keh raha hoon”) to the writer’s unacknowledged prescience and wisdom. The Urdu writer’s problem is that the world is clearly wrong and Pakistan alone is right, but for some reason the world is unable to grasp this.

In the next piece we’ll have a look at the characters of Pakistan’s Urdu news tallyviyon (as Sheikh Rashid might say).

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2011.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (35)

  • Pakistani in US
    May 25, 2011 - 4:12AM

    It’s hard to unlearn what you have been taught since your birth. Our Pakistan history and islamiyat books are pure evil. I have read them and believe me, it’s the most painful thing to accept the truth (once you have a broader view of the world). Our government education (partially of which I am a product of) offers an extremely narrow and twisted view of the world. And make us believe that west and India are the biggest enemy of this so called foothold of islam (Islam ka Qila). It tries to kill critical thinking unless you have other means of fact checking. A part of me is happy that we are under enormous scrutiny (perhaps incomparable to any other state in the world right now) and that might do us some good in the long run. I still have hope for this land.Recommend

  • Seeker
    May 25, 2011 - 7:17AM

    Despite all frivolity Mr. Orya Maqbool Jaan, although a civil servant of Pakistan, lives in 5 Marla home in Walton hence being the least corrupt CSS officer :P. While Nazir Naji, the best columnist as you have mentioned him n your article, is famous for his illegal plot allotment scandal :DRecommend

  • billo
    May 25, 2011 - 7:21AM

    There are probably going to be unending tirades against this piece; unfortunately many readers of the English language press are also convinced that the world is wrong, and that anything emanating from India or an Indian is even more wrong still. But thank you for an excellent write up. Another noteworthy aspect of our news-wallas is that even English and Urdu language newspapers put out by the same publishers often follow strikingly different editorial policies. The shift from left to right – or from reality to delusion – across the language barrier is striking. Thanks once again for a great piece. Recommend

  • Fareed
    May 25, 2011 - 8:29AM

    Give Aakar Patel his own syndicated column and a television slot for current affairs analysis. Broadcast it from Dubai to Pakistan on Geo / Aaj / Dawn and to India on a Zee TV / NDTV / Channel 18 feed. Let him bring the intellectuals and leaders on a common platform from both Imdia and Pakistan, and expose our fallacies and ignorance. Recommend

  • Usman
    May 25, 2011 - 8:41AM

    Totaly agree ..these media jokers realy lacks facts in their analaysis …. Recommend

  • global liberty, equality and fraternity
    May 25, 2011 - 8:43AM

    Nothing can be more accurate than the writer’s observations. Hysterically criticizing Pakistan’s almost powerless civilian politicians round the clock, the majority of Urdu journalists and anchors ( haroon rashid, kamran khan, hamid mir, javed chaudhry and their likes) seem to be working for and promoting the interests of the powerful military establishment who have been practically ruling the state and deciding its foreign policy for decades, no matter whether Pakistan was under martial law or ”controlled” democracy.Recommend

  • Babar
    May 25, 2011 - 8:47AM

    Well written, analytical, insightful, unfortunate but true Recommend

  • global liberty, equality and fraternity
    May 25, 2011 - 9:06AM

    you are absolutely right, my dear columnist from India.Recommend

  • Avanti
    May 25, 2011 - 9:17AM

    There are clowns everywhere! I just couldn’t stop laughing. Great analysis.Recommend

  • Nadir Khan
    May 25, 2011 - 10:22AM

    As a Pakistani, I am in total agreement with you, Sir. The ‘Ghairat Brigade’ should ‘put a sock’ in it and stop misguiding our people. When in the world is ‘enough’ finally gonna be ‘enough’? Eleven years, and we still haven’t decided whether this is ‘our’ war (i.e. rooting out extremism, revamping the curricula and severing our ties with extremist / ‘jihadi’ outfits etc) or ‘their’ war. 9/11 should, by rights, have been a wake-up call for us. After that, there were innumerable other wake-up calls but our stupor and slumber is alas too deep to be disturbed.Recommend

  • Nosheen
    May 25, 2011 - 10:37AM

    Well-written, insightful, and deeply troubling. Thanks for writing – waiting for part II. The regional Urdu (or even Sindhi) papers are much better — there is a particular kind of mindset that is allowed to flourish in the national Urdu dailies. Recommend

  • Aleem Khan
    May 25, 2011 - 10:42AM

    Point well taken….but isn’t this the case with vernacular media all over the world..Aaakar one hopes would enlighten his readers some day on what comes out in Hindi print and electronic media…(Amar Ujala, Ajit, Bhaskar, Zee News, Aaj Tak, India TV make no different reading/watching than Jang, Express, Nawai Waq,t Geo etc as far as I know).Recommend

  • Syed Shoaib Ahsan
    May 25, 2011 - 11:17AM

    “Most of the killed are terrorists”

    And what about the rest of them who were not? Idiotic argument.Recommend

  • Ishtiaer Hussain
    May 25, 2011 - 11:37AM

    You have correctly described the nature of the bubble in which our Urdu (Ghairatmand) media operates. It’s a matter of surprise for me to know that an Indian analyst follows our Urdu press so keenly that he is well aware of these so-called columnists’ psychology and pattern of thoughts. These guys write columns based on emotions rather than on facts, rationality and common sense. Most of them are not highly education with little or no foreign exposure and formal training in journalism. They have been raised with Naseem Hijazi’s biased historical novels. By being anti-American and anti-Indian, they skillfully brand themselves in order to find a foothold for them in an ultra-competitive columnists’ market. By the way, our intelligence angencies break spicy inside stories of our politicians only to those journalists and columnists who toe their line in respect of foreign and security policies.
    Our education system teaches us to hate all non-Muslims. I have been educated in state-owned schools where, though education is free, it is poisoned with propanganda and jihadi culture. About ten years ago, when i was a middle school student, i vividly remembers how our Islamic Studies and Arabic teachers brain-washed us for joining jihad in Kashmir. The charm and fascination of jihadi culture was so dominant that i seriously thought about joining the ranks of jihadi elements.
    In Pakistan, we are Muslim first, then we are Pakistanis or something else. While in India, they are Indians first, then they are Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or others. This is the difference which sums up the dire situation in which we find ourselves these days. Recommend

  • observer
    May 25, 2011 - 12:01PM



    If you permit me to paraphrase you,
    “The Urdu writer’s problem is that the world is clearly wrong and Pakistan alone is right and the ‘calumnist’ is rightest, but for some reason the world is unable to grasp this.”

    But seriously, how about an entertainment tax on readers (Indian of course) of these ‘calumns’.Recommend

  • Usman Ahmad
    May 25, 2011 - 12:02PM

    How apt you are in discussing Urdu media of Pakistan..! There are crazy nuts everywhere…rightwing or leftwing… It equally applies to India as well.Recommend

  • Saleem
    May 25, 2011 - 12:09PM

    Very appropriate expression of the mindless vision of the urdu press in Pakistan specially the columnists Recommend

  • Henna Khan
    May 25, 2011 - 12:27PM

    On Jang’s editorial page, the best writer, or at least the most rational, is Nazir Naji. His view on India, terrorism and Pakistan’s army is quite balanced. Appearing with him is Haroon Rashid, foremost among those concerned about Pakistan’s honour. He has the look of someone who can be friends with anyone in power.

    Nazir Naji openly sides with government’s policies, on tv at least; I don’t read him in the print. Haroon Rashid openly supports Imran Khan, who’s not in the “power”…Recommend

  • Naeem Siddiqui
    May 25, 2011 - 12:59PM

    MR. Aakar Patel

    Its very sad but true our urdu media is a main source of disinformation and are bunch of terrorist opplogists. :(Recommend

  • Dawn
    May 25, 2011 - 1:41PM

    What about English newspapers?Recommend

  • Zirgham
    May 25, 2011 - 3:44PM

    Aakar, as pointed by Aleem Khan, its the same story around the globe. Do try and write something on the India columnists as well, have some heart and find some reason in their writings and discussions on TV, its a difficult mix of history here, Pakistan after independence unfortunately ended up under a “Military Control” and as a result we are going through wretched times.

    Having said that, being an Indian, your biased ‘reason’ for praising the balanced approach of Nazir Naji is well understood. There is no doubt of our ruling elite’s (military and civilian) blunders, wrong doings, selfishness, and misrule that led East Pakistan turned into Bangladesh. but, how can your “intellect” deny India’s blunt involvement in creation of Bangladesh? India is not the dove as painted by the ” intellectual indians”. I didn’t know before reading this piece that ‘intellectual indians’ dont like being referred to as “bharatis”!!Recommend

  • D. Powers
    May 25, 2011 - 3:57PM

    There are biased as well as sane opinions on both sides of the divide. Sadly, Indian opinion of Pakistan is based on what they see or hear on national and international media. Pakistani opinion of India is based on national media and Indian movies!!

    To set the record state, Nazir Najji is a “for sale” columnist. Let the time come and he will write a column berating “bharat” so bad that you will be surprised. I have always found Haroon Rashid to be bitingly critical of present government. Recommend

  • amoghavarsha.ii
    May 25, 2011 - 4:05PM

    @observer, thanks, I loved this and definitely laughed at this comment. Good sense of humor. I hv recommended it
    @Ishtiaer Hussain, yes you are 100% right with respect to Indian schooling. We hardly differentiate on religion in school. We mostly teased(friendly teasing) others without having any link to religion. I hv given a thumsup for you too.

    My only doubt to you pakistanis is how do you people fare in GK exams of International orgainisations, I know many pakistanis are doing very good, but How come this kind of vast vast divergent studies.

    very very bewildering it is.Recommend

  • shafat
    May 25, 2011 - 4:24PM

    @ Aakar Patel . u missed out on Hamid Mirs and Ansar Abaasis ????Recommend

  • Omer
    May 25, 2011 - 6:31PM

    The writer, I think, when referring to doctor means medical doctor. If that’s so, then he should note that Dr. Ajmal Niazi isn’t a medical doctor, rather he’s a Ph.D.Recommend

  • May 25, 2011 - 7:19PM

    Interesting piece Aakar Patel. Just a couple of things though: 1) even if all those who are killed are terrorists, they deserve a trial; that is what international law and ethics dictate. 2) Nazeer Naji is not someone most knowledgeable Pakistanis would respect.
    Looking forward to your next piece!Recommend

  • Sayqa Nazeer
    May 25, 2011 - 8:01PM

    It is alarming that in all the hundreds of reports of terrorist attacks that have appeared on the electronic media to date, not once I repeat ‘not once’ have the anchorpersons spoken against the perpetrators who have committed the atrocities. They are very quick to talk of ‘security lapses’ and blame the government on all sorts of grounds, but never have I heard them condemn the enemies of our country, the religious monsters who commit these dreadful deeds. Even to the extent that when they show the bodies of innocent people who have been cruelly slaughtered or talk to the unfortunate victims lying in hospital because of the terrorist attacks, they seem to be critical of the government rather than the murderers. Somebody please tell me what is wrong with our attitude?Recommend

  • Tuk Tuk
    May 25, 2011 - 9:57PM

    @Pakistani in US:
    Hats off to you..

    Like you I am a proud Pakistani as well; however I have never heard someone be so vocal and straight about issues with our nation. A very balanced and well worded thought..

    For reasons beyond my comprehension, there is a parallel universe in Pakistan. The elders keep the fear and hate alive by targetting all the synergy against India

    Let us see where India has reached despite the issues the country is facing namely corruption; however we are in the ditch and proud of being so. Our motto seems to be ‘We are proud to be where we are and we would drag you in the ditch as well..’Recommend

  • Vicram Singh
    May 25, 2011 - 10:39PM

    @Aleem Khan: ” … Aaakar one hopes would enlighten his readers some day on what comes out in Hindi print and electronic media …

    It is an embarrassment to watch these san-sani khaberain channels – absolute, utter trash.

    Govt Of India should put in place some kind of a Censor Board to control quality of what is dished out !!Recommend

  • Vicram Singh
    May 25, 2011 - 10:43PM

    @Ishtiaer Hussain: “In Pakistan, we are Muslim first, then we are Pakistanis or something else. ”

    The Hindus and Christians of Pakistan call themselves Pakistanis first and then Sindhi/Punjabi and then Hindu or Christian. Perhaps they are more Pakistani than you ??Recommend

  • A J Khan
    May 26, 2011 - 1:32PM

    Aakar Patel, I loved reading your article. This is so true depiction of the Pakistani Urdu press and to some extent Urdu media. Hopefully they will let the poor people calm their nerves and move on with their bitter lives.Recommend

  • optimist
    May 26, 2011 - 2:22PM

    Though Aakar has some valid points, his view of Nazir Naji etc is deeply flawed. He needs to read Nazir Naji’s columns for two weeks to realise how he changes position (e.g. Raymond Davis issue). In one column, he called Raymond as a ‘friendly’ spy who is helping a friend (America) to gather intelligence for common enemy (terrorist). Raymond was different because he was not Hostile Bharati Jasoos (Indian spy) and should have been released. Then he changed his stance within a couple of days.

    How Nazir Naji is his favourite? He has changed stance everyday with changing governments and ‘instructions’.Recommend

  • Thinking
    May 27, 2011 - 3:51AM

    The regular comments of “The Indian media is worse” or “The Indian media is just as bad” are comical. Making such comparisons is just an excuse that serves to deflect blame and criticism – something that a vibrant society cannot afford to do.

    Let’s get a fact straight. With the exception of ET, Dawn, and a small handful of others, most of the Pakistani media is rabidly anti-reason. India has plenty of bad media but there are tons of strong media houses like NDTV. Furthermore, the Indian press is much freer and has a much broader array of opinions. Recommend

  • May 27, 2011 - 4:05PM

    Very well written. It is good to see an objective perspective about the Urdu Media. Now these posts should be translated and published in Urdu :) Please keep your blog posts coming! Recommend

  • Malay
    May 27, 2011 - 7:03PM

    It would be interesting to have a look at Hindi and Urdu media on in India.Recommend

More in Opinion