Before and After

September 5, 2010

Risalpur, NWFP (Aug, 2009) – Before:

Risalpur, NWFP (Aug, 2010) – After:

Nowshera, NWFP (Aug, 2009 & 2010) – Before and After:

This article was originally written by Massoud Ansari, on 23rd May, 2003, for, under the title “Supply and demand: Karachi’s call-girls”
Britain’s colonial legacy in Pakistan left a thriving but dark commercial sector in the country’s capital, Karachi. Massoud Ansari investigates the city’s desperate marketplace that trades in young women…

“Could you deflower a girl?” Madam Rabia asks one of her regular clients. “She has been rotting at my place for the last couple of weeks, with no potential customers…”

She wants to put the 14-year-old girl to work in Karachi’s commercial sex market as soon as possible.

Rabia, popularly known as “Bhabi” in the Karachi circuit, demands 20,000 rupees for a night with her new recruit and guarantees the girl’s virginity personally.
“The market is down these days, otherwise she is worth at least 50,000 rupees,” she laments.

Rabai describes the girl as a “tithli” (fairy) and gives details of her age, figure, features and complexion. After some haggling, a deal is struck at 15,000 rupees, with an additional two thousand rupees thrown in as a “mithai for nath utrai” (tip for deflowering). The next day, the girl is delivered.

Far from being an exception, this is the typical manner in which hundreds of young girls enter the profession of commercial sex in the city to become “call girls.”

Over the years, Karachi, the economic jugular of the country, has become one of the major “mandis” (markets) for commercial sex in Pakistan, where girls as young as 14 can be purchased from 300 rupees upwards, depending upon the client, the service demanded, the location, and the girl’s physical attributes.

As economic recession in the country deepens, many girls from different parts of Pakistan are thronging to Karachi where the market is comparatively better than in other nearby regions.

Salma, an 18-year old call girl, says: “In Lahore we can scarcely find enough business, but if we work only four weekends a month in Karachi, it fetches us twice the amount we would normally earn, despite working day and night…”

A wide variety of girls can be found in Karachi’s commercial sex market. They belong not only to local communities originating from different parts of the country, but also comprise women of foreign nationalities. According to the Society for Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), some 200,000 Bangladeshi women have been trafficked into Pakistan in the last 10 years alone.

“Many of these girls are minors who are forced into the sex trade from surrounding countries; the majority of them end up in Karachi,” says the report.

Besides Bengali girls, women from the Central Asian States, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Burma can also be found marketing themselves in the capital.

Prostitution was formalised for the first time in the Indian subcontinent by the British government in the mid-18th century. The British colonialists enacted special laws, created “red light” areas and assigned the task of protecting women sex workers to law-enforcing agencies. Municipalities overlooking the sex districts were given the responsibility of collecting taxes and providing health and sanitation services to the brothels.

As an independent Muslim state, Pakistan does not officially allow prostitution. Unofficially, however, the practice is prevalent all over the country, with the majority of the clientele ironically comprised of politicians, bureaucrats, police officials and army personnel; in short, the very people who are supposed to legislate and implement laws against the sex trade.

Until the late 1970s – when General Zia-ul-Haq embarked upon a drive to “Islamise” Pakistani society, closing down brothels to the public, red light areas – as a legacy of British rule – continued to be institutionalised.

A local sociologist explains: “With the closure of brothels to the public, the prostitutes – whose profession is often passed from generation to generation – dispersed to the cities’ residential areas to earn their livelihoods. With the passage of time, girls from impoverished families also came to join them.”

The motivating factor for most call girls in Karachi today is the considerable amount of money they can earn in the profession. Some maintain they were compelled to enter prostitution because their families had no breadwinner left after the death or remarriage of the household father, while others cite poverty resulting from divorce.

One call girl in Karachi claims: “My entire family depends on my income. My father died and I have to give at least 10,000 rupees every month to support my mother and the rest of my family. I’m divorced and have only a high school education. One of my friends told me about the money I could earn from prostitution and introduced me to “Auntie Shamim.” The girl shares 40 per cent of her income with her “business auntie” in return for her contacts, shelter and protection.

While some of the girls start out on their own, the majority of them enter after coming into contact with a pimp. When a new girl enters any den, the incumbent workers show her the ropes and how to behave with the house clients.

Each girl, however, is responsible for striking their own deal with the pimps. While some share 40 to 50 per cent of their income with these touts, others prefer to work under a fixed monthly amount.

In return, pimps provide police protection, shelter, and bear their day-to-day expenses, including food and cigarettes.

A young call girl from Sahiwal, said: “My parents have “rented” me out for three months to Goga Bhai (a high-profile pimp in Karachi) for one lakh rupees (100,000).”

However, she says has no complaints about living with the man because she is treated well. “I don’t have to have sex with him, which is normal at other places. He treats me like a brother!”

Once a girl is employed, she cannot refuse to oblige her pimp who will sell her on to as many clients as he wants. Pimps more often than not retain all the money the girls earn in tips, which are particularly forthcoming during dance performances or “mujras.”

The majority of call girls learn to dance because they can earn more money.

Annie Noureen, a sex worker in Karachi, says: “The ones who don’t know dancing hardly get any tips, but if we do, our clients, when they get drunk, shower us with all the money they have in their wallets…”

The optimum period in a call girl’s life is a short one, and usually only lasts until they have crossed their teens.

A pimp said: “When the girl is young, she is like a cheque that one can cash even on Sundays, but when she begins to age, she is akin to rotten fish. It becomes hard for her to meet even her monthly expenses. Those with dancing skills, however, have some bonus years in which to attract customers in this marketplace.”

The most astute call girls in Karachi work in tandem with their pimps for between six to eight months, after which time they strike out on their own to become suppliers.

A case in point is “Auntie” Shamim. A one time call girl, she is today one of the best-known pimps in Karachi’s higher social strata.

In the initial years, Shamim had to work very hard not only for herself but also in order to cultivate enough contacts to begin her own operations with at least five girls in her employ.

Soon after she entered the world of commercial sex, Shamim bought herself a mobile phone and circulated her number among her clients.

“It’s all a game of contacts; the more connected you are, the better the business,” Shamim says. “The day I realised I had enough contacts, I started my own business…”

Now, Shamim boasts of having a select clientele among Karachi’s high and mighty. Her cell phone scarcely stops ringing in the evenings as she cruises the city’s upmarket localities, dropping girls at various given addresses.

The explosion in cell phones across the country have solved manifold problems for pimps and prostitutes.

Shahid, a local pimp, explained how mobile phones are essential for those in the business, chiefly because they ensure anonymity. “The police lost 80 per cent of the amount they used to extract from us through blackmail and extortion,” he says.

“Once our whereabouts are known, we can easily be trapped by the police and they create lot of problems for us, including demanding free services from these girls as well as regular “bhatta” (extortion).”

Incidentally, many of the pimps switched to pagers during the suspension of mobile phone operations in Karachi by Benazir Bhutto’s government, which was directed at disrupting the communication network of terrorists and anti-state elements.

In order to avoid detection by law-enforcing agencies, call girls frequently shift apartments. A Karachi police official, says: “It’s very difficult to track them down because they live for barely six months at any one place before shifting on to another.”

Moreover, sex workers prefer to live in commercial areas where they can blend into the crowd and escape detection.

In order to hire a call girl in Karachi one has to be personally known to her or her tout. If this is not so, then acquaintance with someone who has connections with a supplier is essential. When contact has finally been made, rates are conveyed and the girl is supplied. Once the pimp is familiar with the new contact however, acquiring services becomes far less convoluted in future.

“Pimps have no problem dropping girls off at your place, but they avoid obliging people without references for fear that they may be walking into a police trap” says a regular client.

The modus operandi states a pimp will arrive at a client’s door after the initial contact has ben made, accompanied by a few well-groomed young women. The client offers them tea or cold drinks in order to take his time and choose the one he wants for the night. Questions are asked of them, and at times they are even physically harassed during the course of selection. However, because it is their bread and butter, the women usually make no protest. After the choice has finally been made, the client pays the pimp in advance. The pimp then leaves the house with the rest of the women and returns in the morning to collect the remaining girl.

A call girls’ clientele is varied and includes both young and old men, serving and retired bureaucrats, politicians, feudals and businessmen. Most of the women consider an invitation by Sindhi feudals the most lucrative assignment as they are said to be the most generous paymasters of all. A source discloses: “Sometimes feudals even call these girls on “udhar” (deferred payment) and pay them later when their crop is sold.”

Entertaining young men meanwhile, is usually deemed the least desirable job. Samia, a young girl in her teens recalls a particularly harrowing encounter: “Once when I went on call, there were six young men drinking alcohol in the drawing room. When they became drunk, one of them took me inside the room. After he was finished, the next wanted to sleep with me. I co-operated. To my utter dismay, the third demanded his turn. When I refused, they abused me verbally and pushed me around. I was weeping and begging them to stop but they showed me no mercy and came at me like animals. They said that as they had purchased my body for the night they could do with me whatever they wanted. By the time I returned home in the morning, I was such a wreck that I was unable to work for at least a week…”

The sociologist implores the feelings of the girls to be considered and “how they sleep with people of different age groups, all with different temperaments, the fat and the slim; the educated and the uneducated; some of them violent, others nice; the black, wheatish and the whitish; the experienced and the inexperienced.

“It’s like a mercenary killer or a thief who finds it difficult to commit the crime in the beginning, but becomes hardened after the second and third times,” argues Manzoor Kohiyar, a Sindhi short story writer.

Most call girls, however, drink alcohol or smoke hashish on the job and say that when they finally sleep with their clients, they are devoid of feeling and offer only their bodies to them.

Suraya Parveen, who is known as “Gurya,” speaks from seven-years experience as a call girl. She says: “Initially, the work used to really upset me but when I accepted the bitter reality that I had to do this, I just tuned my mind accordingly. Now there is no question of being happy or sad because normally I don’t think about what they do with me…”

However, one regular customer maintains: “I normally pay these girls extra money and request them to pretend as though they have an emotional connection with me. I cannot enjoy sex until then.”

Some men bluntly claim they prefer call girls to girlfriends. A senior bureaucrat known as “Rangeela Badshah” in his circle says: “If you have a girlfriend, you spend a lot of money taking her out for meals or for shopping. She will start demanding that you marry her and if you refuse, she is quite liable to blackmail you, claiming pregnancy or other such shenanigans.”

According to sources however, many businessmen and even some bureaucrats have a somewhat different modus operandi for buying sex. They purchase or rent ‘offices’ and place advertisements in newspapers along the lines of “lady secretary needed” and attract many girls from impoverished families who, if willing, are hired solely for sexual services.

One businessman, who discreetly rented an office in Karachi’s Saddar area for his trysts, said: “In sleeping with call girls, one runs the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C among others. But when you’re hiring a girl solely for yourself, there is less risk of getting infected.” His ‘secretary’ however, lasts only as long as his desire for her after which she is unceremoniously fired and an advertisement for a new one placed. “I have been doing this for over a decade and have so far had no difficulty in picking up women this way,” he adds.

Other than the girls ferried around by pimps from place to place and those who pose as ‘secretaries,’ women offering sex for sale can also be found at certain boutiques and beauty parlours in the city. As in the case of regular call girls, potential customers initially need a reference to avail their services. A visitor to one such beauty parlour on Tariq Road discloses: “I went there for the first time with a friend of mine who was a frequent client and as I’m known to them now, I have no problem going there any time.”

Sources reveal that the owner of the beauty parlour usually charges 1,000 rupees for a complete body massage lasting up to thirty or forty minutes. Clients can select their masseur from six to eight young women in their 20s. Co-operative ones give their customers more than a massage. “Most of them let you fondle their bodies in order to make tips at the end of the job,” says another visitor to beauty parlours. However, if the customer also wants sex, the price tag can be somewhere between two to three thousand rupees.

In an increasingly materialistic society, values have become skewed, and practices once considered taboo avoid the censure that was once their due. In many cases, politicians act as procurers in return for political favours such as lucrative ministries while businessmen resort to the practice to clinch business deals. A group of policemen and bureaucrats in Sindh justify their habit of procuring call girls in return for favours from important government officials as being in sync with the “new world order.” According to a source, the logic behind this is simple: “Market say lee, aur market main day dee” (Pick it up from the market and hand it over in the market). Karachi’s higher echelon localities are dotted with lavishly decorated houses and apartments where these VIPs are entertained. The bedrooms in these houses feature not only comfortable beds, sometimes waterbeds, but often boast full-length mirrors along the walls as well as on the ceiling.

According to sources, when a no-confidence move was launched against Benazir Bhutto in 1989 during her first tenure, many PPP-backed MNAs from Punjab and NWFP were shifted to Karachi. Playing host to them was another MNA from Sindh, who was instructed to ensure that their stay in the city was as comfortable as possible. One source said: “During their sojourn, which lasted over two weeks, most of them were supplied with a new girl and a bottle of scotch every day.”

At times, however, riotous parties replete with alcohol and call girls have resulted in mayhem. Two years ago, in the famous “Babli case,” the deputy commissioner of Mirpur Khas district threw a “mujra” to which he invited a number of senior and junior bureaucrats. A scuffle broke out when two senior bureaucrats wanted to sleep with the same girl. When she escaped from their clutches and fled, one of them asked the police to pursue her vehicle. In the course of their pursuit, the police fired at the vehicle and the girl, Babli, a well-known dancer from Hyderabad sustained serious bullet injuries. Subsequently, when the incident was reported in the press, the DC, SDM and other officials involved were suspended and an official inquiry was ordered by the provincial government.

A considerable number of bureaucrats, politicians and others with power and pelf have their “keeps” as well. A source says: “In return for fixed monthly expenses, the “keep” is available on call to the man in question.” There have been instances when clients have become serious in their affections and married their regular call girls. However, according to Sheereen, a local call girl: “Usually, the men are dissuaded by pressure from family and friends who advise them against it on the grounds that marrying such a girl would be a stain on their family honour.” Sheereen herself has had two serious liaisons, both of which came to naught.

Commercial sex was at its height until the late ’90s, but the severe economic downturn in the country over the last few years has had a negative impact on this business as well. Says a young sex worker named Shazia: “In the good days, we were so busy we barely had time to return or at times even answer our clients’ calls, but now we often make calls to them ourselves to offer our services. It’s a hardly a break even situation these days.”

Many pimps, meanwhile, have turned to peddling young girls to attract otherwise reluctant customers. According to reports, 20 per cent of the prostitutes in Pakistan are children under the age of 16. It is estimated that in Asia, over one million children are involved in the sex trade often under conditions no better than slavery.

Ms. Tahira, a ‘madam’ who has been operating in Karachi for the last decade, said: “Every man who comes asks for younger and younger girls. The demand for them means that the young ones fetch more money and get more clients per day.”

Most analysts recognise poverty as a crucial factor in driving women towards an occupation such as prostitution. This factor, compounded by their low status in this society, results in a lethal combination that marginalises women and ensures their continuous flow into this profession. Caught in a vicious cycle from which few escape, it renders them even more vulnerable to exploitation and victimisation.

One analyst commented: “In this institution, the body is that of the women and the pleasure derived from it is totally that of men.”

Last night I was up till 5 am witnessing what seemed to be an overly exaggerated civil war between the government of Pakistan and some Mullahs (representing the Jamia Hafsa) who had taken up camp in a mosque (Lal Masjid) that was built on illegal territory in the city of Islamabad.

Now the government has been threatening to have the mosque evacuated and razed for months now, but the Mullahs just don’t listen. They are ignorant, headstrong and proud of their inability to reason. Not to be harsh here, i’m not against religion. I am Muslim myself, but religion should definetely be separate from the State.

However, the question raised in this instance is not of the relationship between religion and running the country’s affairs. It’s about squatters. What gives these people the right to occupy a plot of land (without paying for it), construct a mosque on it and then go about conducting their business? It’s not their property and the government is dead right in trying to force them off the land.

Most people don’t agree with violence, but they should keep in mind that this is indeed the last resort. Peaceful negotiations had been attempted, but talks broke down every time owing to the unwillingness of the Mullahs to concede even a grain of sand. Officials have claimed on many occassions that it is impossible to deal with such people who base their arguments on religious texts rather than reason.

Which brings us to the topic of religious texts. The Quran is a marvellous book; I completely respect it and believe in every single word, but what I do NOT respect, is the immense power these Mullahs yield. With their charisma and colossal influence, they can literally brainwash any of their disciples into believing what they want. So if the Quran says “If the infidels attempt to wipe you out, perform Jihad in the way of Allah” (which is nothing more than a statement advocating self-defence. Nobody should have a problem with that!), the Mullahs will eliminate the first part and simply urge their disciples to “perform Jihad in the way of Allah”. And what exactly is Jihad? That too is left to the Mullahs to decide. They use their uncontested authority to feed to their disciples’ brains, the notion that Jihad equals needless fighting against anyone who so much as speaks a word against their (the Mullahs’) ideals, and it should be conducted whenever possible, because it is the shortest path to heaven.

People who take orders from others and simply fail to use their brains can never reach heaven. Those who understand the true meaning of Jihad (i.e. purification of the soul), and apply it to THEMSELVES instead of waging war with the world, will enter heaven. If everyone manages to understand this concept, there will be no more wars. Jihad advocates peace and democracy and only orders you to strike down those who disturb the delicate balance of peace, who in this case seem to be the Mullahs.

So now we have a mosque, chock full of pot-bellied Mullahs and countless disciples/students who the Mullahs are using to further their cause. Now the Mullahs are perfectly aware that they can do nothing to counter an army operation, especially if they are holed up in a tiny building with minimal rations and a few weapons. So why do they not give up? Why can’t they save dozens of lives by laying down their arms, agreeing to their illegal occupation of the land, and then moving off the territory. Then the government can allocate some other area for them to reside in.

Doesn’t sound too bad does it? But the Mullahs have 2 reasons to stick with the building. Firstly, they claim they are waging a holy war. They make statements such as “God will see this war through” and “God knows best” when asked by journalists what they expect the conclusion of the military operation to be or how long they think they can survive under siege. The fighting is needless. Yesterday, the gunbattles left 10 dead and 150 wounded, while the Mullahs torched several government buildings in the capital. If they think they can replicate Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) military success here, they are wrong. Every time Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) fought, he had a reason for doing so. And none of those reasons were as trivial or baseless as refusing to let go of an illegally occupied territory.

GEO Television Channel reported that not only does the mosque house several students, it is also home to numerous Madrassah girls who came to the mosque to study religious material, but ended up getting caught in this turmoil. Now the Mullahs don’t care if they suffer, if their families suffer, or if the masses suffer. All they care about is their reluctancy to let go of their headstrong claims.

As of late, the 2nd-in-command of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) administration was heard saying that they are ready to give their lives for this cause, and if this confrontation helps usher in an Islamic regime at some point in the future, they will consider their duty to the public fulfilled. I laugh at their naivety. (The 2nd-in-command makes all statements on behalf of the Lal Masjid Administration’s head, who refuses to make public appearances, claiming TV is Haraam or Unlawful).

The 2nd reason for the Mullah’s stubborness is (and I agree with them on this one) the government’s past record on keeping promises. The Musharraf-led regime is notorious. Musharraf himself is a dictator with a puppet National Assembly. And everyone knows how unreliable he is. So the Mullahs have good reason to fear that they might still be blown away even if they reach a handsome deal in negotiations.

So what i see now is a severe military operation that most probably culminates in 50+ deaths, 250+ injuries and is then followed by mass rioting over the country. The Masjid will be lost, but the insurgents will gain new battlegrounds all over the nation.

At the moment, Islamabad is under curfew, the city is full of light, mostly from burning buildings and cars. People wearing gas masks roam the streets and shoot at (and are shot at by) people in military garb. This sort of scene is relatively new for Islamabad, a city that endured much peace, while the residents of Karachi were forced to go through mass riots, bloody clashes and great fires during the past few months.

Pakistan is in a very sorry state and, in the words of Ardeshir Cowasjee, “This Country is Doomed, yaar!”.

Fighting terrorism, you say? Terrorism, my friends, is not a man with bombs strapped to his torso, running helter-skelter towards an airport lounge heaving with innocent bystanders. Terrorism is the direct product of a lack of education, something the government has overlooked for far too long.

Not very funny, but when you’re bored as hell, anything will do.


… Why?

June 18, 2007

So all of a sudden, I decided to set up a blog.

No apparent reason, no particular purpose. I was just sitting in my office, trying to validate some non-sensical Company Standard Operating Procedures, that are supposedly meant to help conduct the year-end audit for the company … or something like that … and this thought came up in my mind: Why not set up a blog?

Now, this guy sitting next to me is wondering why I’m not working as hard and feverishly as he is on his portion of the work. He’s probably thinking: “What the hell is Hasan doing? Why does he have a browser open in front of him? Where are the Spreadsheets he’s supposed to be editing? Who does he think he is, wasting away precious company time while I toil away, punching in data-entry after data-entry like a complete dog? By what divine right does he presume himself to be above company laws and able to pursue his own private ambitions whereas I am detained to the life of a miserable zombie, who has to carry out the same monotonous task of data-entry every … single … day … of every … single … week … of every … single … damn … month … of this godforsaken year!!??!? This is treachery! It is corruption and inefficiency that spreads to the highest levels of bureaucracy. I shall complain! I shall plead my case in front of the millions who appreciate the hard labor of the average data-entry operator who drives the nation! I demand JUSTICE!!! I DEMAND JUSTICE!!!”

Of course, he could be thinking something entirely different, like “What a hard-working lad that Hasan is” or “I wonder what I’ll have for dinner tonight”, but I couldn’t care less.

The point is, I was so bored, I had started predicting other people’s thoughts. Somehow I know that’s not a good sign. Add to that the fact that I had skipped lunch, preferring to gorge on herbal tea instead, and the butterflies in my stomach were getting more and more violent by the second, and that left me even less enthusiastic about my work. I had to rant. I had to rave. I was mad and irritable. I couldn’t possibly hope to let it out at my boss. Of course, I could just walk the ten steps to his office and let him know what I thought of him and the delightfully monotonous work he had handed me, but that would leave me in no position to approach him for my pay-cheque, much less expect to obtain a glorious certificate of internship and lustrous recommendation.

Hence, the only feasible option was this: setting up a blog where I could write down everything I felt was worth blurting out and where the world could read it. (Even if nobody does read this, I can simply pretend they do).

For now, let the inconsequential tirades begin!