What we skip over: Just another rape case in Pakistan

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A little girl’s body was recovered in Pakistan today — and almost nobody noticed.

The story was not filed, as far as I could see, but a few photographs came through.

There were two photographs of the victim, probably aged 10-14. The photos must have been obtained from the girl’s family, who shared them with the media in hopes of having their story heard. The photos are recent, given the time stamp on them:



Then there is the image of the girl’s body – recovered, bearing marks of extreme torture and cruelty. It is an obscene image, but a necessary one I feel (and so did the photographer).

Sadly, it only captures a small part of the horror that must have been the child’s last hours, last minutes. I have uploaded it without blurring because the girl that once lived is no longer identifiable.

Warning: Must be over 18 to click and see this image. Depicts a dead body/graphic violence.

There is also a photo of her mother, begging the state for justice.


And last, there is a photo of SP (Investigation) Tanveer Hussain Tunio – the man who will presumably ensure the criminal(s) are apprehended.


Just another Sunday in Pakistan. The story is definitely not on TV. If it ever does appear on TV, it will be wrapped in many comforting layers of dramatization and music to prevent the news from appearing ‘too real’.

I doubt this story will make the papers.  If it does, it will probably be a single column or a brief. Its a ‘done-to-death’ topic, too gory, too titillating, too scandalous, too shameful, too grim, too violent, too sensitive, too taboo, too anti-Pakistan etc.

I have no compelling words to round this off; I think the photos and the (lack of) media interest says enough — not just about the media, but our society as a whole.

Thanks to Photographer Hussain Ahmed who made an effort to file something on this.


Pakistan news groups on social media: July 2013 report

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On Twitter, @etribune maintains a clear lead:

Wow Geo News Urdu and Samaa TV seem to be clear winners on Facebook — if we’re only measuring by number of likes that is.


Turns out, Tribune is coming in right next to Geo News Urdu in terms of total number of people ‘talking about this’ i.e. those who actually engage with a brand and its content (the actual standard for success).2

In terms of total number of people ‘talking about this’ divided by the number of likes, its Dunya TV up top, followed by Tribune!

Express News (in yellow) is doing pretty okay too, at third.3

Game reviews: It’s election time in Pakistan: Go rich boy, go!

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pakistan elections game2 When I came up with the idea of writing a text adventure based around the Pakistan elections, I had no idea the game would go beyond my small circle of friends, much less get thousands of plays, leading to a mobile app version, and even more plays.

The game was born out of a set of (seemingly unrelated, except in hindsight) occurrences:

1. As a Valentine’s day gift, I wrote my wife a choose your own adventure (short) book based around fictional characters whose stories I have been narrating to her as a mean to put her to sleep.

2. I got a sudden urge to download and read hundreds of comics over the last few months – I wanted to write one. I wanted to write, just not another novella. I wanted another dimension to the writing. I also wanted to do a ‘first’ for Pakistan, as that has always been my obsession – do something no one else has done, at least in my country, for my country.

3. On a total whim, I downloaded Wizard’s Choice to play on my iPad (it was popular, and had the word Wizard in it). I was hooked. I had forgotten how truly amazing text adventures were. I also realized, the success of Wizard’s Choice meant that text adventures are poised to make a comeback due to the very nature of mobile phones, touchscreens etc.

4. I downloaded and played Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead (all chapters). This too was in large parts a visually realized text adventure game to my mind. It all clicked, and then I found Quest – the text adventure creator that enabled me to just go ahead and create what was bubbling inside me.

Six feverish days of writing later, my adventure game was born!

Play online (or download) here

Play on your Android mobile phone here

Play on your iPhone or iPad here

Below are all the reviews I have received for the game (will be updated any time more come in).


Review by karachikhatmal – 22 Apr 2013

Its tough to decide what’s better about this game – a largely accurate description of elite bewilderment at the social and bureaucratic mechanisms of Pakistan, or the fact that it’s extremely fucking funny.
The game is intricately detailed, which means that beyond the process of making choices and scoring arbitrary points, you are also reading into a quite plausible account of just about everything (from Aalia’s rejection to Allah Ditta’s joints to the bribe to the thullas) that a prospective burger bacha can experience while figuring out this voting business.
In that way, its a far truer depiction of what this election would mean for the people you know than anything you read about in overly sentimental op-eds and music videos.
And hopefully, if you manage to cast your vote eventually, you’ll walk away with a feeling that’s probably going to be a lot closer to the reality than those inflated ideas of self-actualisation and harmony with the universe everyone else claims its going to be.

Slackerstan Votes, April 21, 2013 by Sam Kabo Ashwell (Seattle)

A shortish CYOA piece that combines the Teenage Dirtbag tone (familiar from a million My Crappy Apartment games) with the game-as-zine approach of recent Twine offerings. The difference from normal My Apartment is that instead of being a cynical asshole middle-class American kid, you’re a cynical asshole Pakistani kid from a class that’s privileged enough to share a lot of middle-class Western tastes.

In line with its Teenage Dirtbag tone, its perspective is the sort of South Park nihilism where the only function of ethics is to allow you to be scornfully aware that everyone’s morally bankrupt, and to enable sick humour to function. The protagonist cares more about cute girls, Facebook and the next Game of Thrones episode than actual political issues or religion – and, in this counterfactual universe where he is motivated to vote for no very clear reason, there’s not much to suggest that changing his mind would be worth it.
The game is largely linear, with significant variations depending on whether you go to vote with your metalhead buddy, a cute girl from your college, or your inept, shotgun-toting security guard. Invariably your polling registration is messed up and you have to venture into the violent slums of Murdabad to cast your vote, leading to slapstick culture-clash scenes. The main fear of your wealthy contemporaries is Taliban attacks on the polls, but the real obstacles to voting are more to do with massive income disparity, apathy, corruption, everyday violence and a society deeply inured to all of this.
If you do manage to vote, there’s no political effect; in fact, there’s no political outcome even mentioned, confirming the general sense that it’s taken for granted that nothing will change. Rather, voting (and telling people how you voted) is more of a social gambit, allowing you to get the girl or party with your security guard. In at least one ending, your hipster buddy votes for the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party for ironic purposes. Similarly, the game frequently claims to give you points – positive for looking good, negative for being a terrible person or just looking lame -, which are not actually recorded and have no impact on the story.
It’s a somewhat rough effort; spelling and punctuation occasionally wobble, and the integration of graphics is spotty. It seems at least partially addressed to an outside audience, explaining some of its dialect and references, but by no means all (and sometimes the explanation is no more enlightening than the original). In at least one ending the game seemed to give me the wrong companion. Very little information is given about the candidates you’re voting for; this obviously reflects the low-information, low-engagement stance of the protagonist, but it does make it harder for an outside reader to grasp things. (The semiotics of having the One Pound Fish guy represent the PML-N totally elude me. Possibly it’s a sick burn if you’re up on Pakistani politics; possibly it’s a throwaway YouTube joke.)
I don’t feel qualified to rate this, but it’s definitely the most interesting Quest game I’ve played to date.

Review by Candacis 21 Apr 2013

That was a really funny game and well written! I expected a text-adventure, but a gamebook was fine, too. It was very short, but that encouraged me to replay it several times and I liked how the different companions changed the descriptions down to small details (like their behavior in the car).
I think the first time I scored a – 1 quadrillian points but it was hilarious anyway. The humor was sometimes a little too dark for my taste (killing childrens), but the story felt “real” and at the same part totally crazy.
I learned something about pakistan, too, and learning while having fun in a game is the best kind of learning ^^ I would love to see more adventures in pakistan and I wouldn’t mind some more background informations.

Review by Sana 22 Apr 2013

It was a really well written, creative and hilarious game! Loved it!!! I took the doped up security guard with me to vote on my first round. Can’t wait to go back and explore other options – I have a feeling they may not turn out quite as well as this one did…

Very insightful and evocative regarding both day to day Karachi life and the PK election process. But you don’t even notice you are learning, given that it is so much fun… Nice use of pics to complement the text as I thought they added a lot to the atmosphere, sometimes chillingly so. Overall, I really, really enjoyed this. 🙂

Review by hala 22 Apr 2013

This was funny, smart and insightful. I played it about 5 times so far and plan to play even more because each choice gives you a new perspective. To be relevent and have poignant commentary on a situation while also being clever and entertaining is a rare trick and this text adventure embodies all of that.

Review by icemelt7 22 Apr 2013

It was my first experience with a local adventure game, it was really amazing. The developer clearly knows all the branches of our multi-layered, complex and contrasting society.

There was some right amount of comedy with some hard truth injected into it. Words are not enough to express how amazing this experience has been.

Review by fariasyedhaque 22 Apr 2013

After hours, I have played every single possible choice in this game and they are all hilarious and smart. I love the idea of a text-adventure about elections is especially interesting because it is, after all, a matter of making choices and living with the consequences.

Plus, I probably won’t vote (physically) so at least I got to go to Murdabad.

Review by Freehashaukat 22 Apr 2013

Incisive Satire with an urban understanding of Pakistani Rich Elite Youth Ennui as well as the down low on what the parties represent to this motley crew. Encouraging People to Vote – What’s not to Like ? !

Review by sidpatel91 23 Apr 2013

This is a game that will keep you laughing at every decision you make. Besides it the scenario pictured is exactly what’s in the society. Its a nice way to motivate the people playing game to atleast cast a vote 🙂 though in a very satirical manner. HATS OFF to the developer.

Review by mishalik 23 Apr 2013

Absolutely amazing!

It keeps the reader interested at every point in the game. Extremely funny. Entertaining. And just what a person would need to get out of a bad mood/stress! I simply loved it and I’m sure every other person would too. Please keep it up!

Review by kaju – 02 May 2013

I loved this game. I’m from India, and did not know the details of the political or social scene in Pakistan. I found while playing this game was a hell lot of fun (‘cheetaaay!’ cracked me up) it taught me a few things too. I learned about the political options and the social structure. In the end, I could see where the protagonist (and those like him) stood, the hopelessness and the hope and the cynicism and still the hope, the enormousness of the challenge ahead and the refusal to give up.
I realized that while we tend to take democracy for granted, it’s a precious thing, if only because it can bring people together. So by the end, I had developed something like solidarity. Here’s to you, rich boy!


Abdullah Tariq – May 1, 2013 – Version 1.0


The game’s pretty interesting. Reminds me of the old games like Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacles etc. Hope to see more from you, Text Adventures! Noman Bashir – May 1, 2013 – Samsung Galaxy S2 with version 1.0

Nice Game

Awesome experience as a I voted for IK nd got my Secret Crush….two at a time..I was on fire..! Abdurehman Zia – May 1, 2013


Nice little game. I was waiting for it to release. Played it earlier though, this time I’m gonna take my bachi 😉 Faria Syed – May 1, 2013 – Samsung Galaxy S2

Awesome! Best. Bester. Bestest

Love this easy to play adventure game. Navigation and story are smooth. Super fun and can be played multiple times! I’ve played all characters at least once and can’t wait to see what happens when I make a different choice. Now go play the game!

Play online (or download) here

Play on your Android mobile phone here

Play on your iPhone or iPad here

The Express Tribune is the number one Pakistan news source on Twitter

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Our official Twitter account @etribune has crossed 50,000 followers!

The Express Tribune is also the number one Twitter news resource from local media in Pakistan (see table below).

Pakistan media on Twitter
Pakistan media on Twitter (April, 2013)

On Facebook, we are also among the top local news resources with over 220,000 likes.

Keep in mind, media groups have been buying ‘likes’ (you can pay to get more followers on FB) and that has rigged the game somewhat.

Pakistan media on Facebook (April 2013)
Pakistan media on Facebook (April 2013)

Luckily, our engagement levels on Facebook are a high 7.6% (considering we are not paying for engagement or likes, this is good as FB only sends 10-20% of our posts to our followers).

This makes us the second most important local news resource on Facebook (just behind Dunya, who is obviously…well, see the table below).

Pakistan media on Facebook - engagement levels (April 2013)
Pakistan media on Facebook – engagement levels (April 2013)

So you want to be a Pakistani journalist?

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Journalism is a dirty business

Journalism is not freedom of expression

Social media does not equal journalism (but it helps)

Pakistan’s media is in an ethical crisis

Journalism is not entertainment

Pakistan internet ad spend: 2009-2012 analysis

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Source: Aurora Magazine 2012 year-ender
Source: Aurora Magazine 2012 year-ender

It’s a tiny part of the market. A mini-playing field taking baby steps.

It’s small, small, small but the fact that Aurora Magazine’s year-ender for 2012 titled “The Great Digital Debate” had the following excerpt on its cover should perhaps get those involved in the online space to sit up and take notice:

“The evidence is conclusive: get digital or pack up and go home.”

If ad agencies and their clients are finally going digital, those companies (and individuals) who have invested in their online presence can breathe a sigh of relief and hope to earn back some of that hard earned cash that was spent in setting up their ventures on the web.

The added hope here is that with a growing monetary incentive, Pakistan’s online space will mature in terms of content, function, design and overall value for the estimated 20-29 million locals online.

Let’s take a look at some stats (all figures in Rs billions).

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12
Total ad spend 24.63 27 31.98 38.38
Internet ad spend 0.38 (1.5%) 0.418 (1.3%) 0.566 (2%) 1.01 (3%)

According to the chart above (all stats from Aurora’s own data in Aurora Magazine) total ad spend in Pakistan has been growing steadily, increasing by 20% in 2011-2012, and by 18% in 2010-2011. In comparison, internet ad spend grew by a whopping 79% in 2011-2012, a big jump from growth of only 15% in 2010-2011.

Let’s look at the breakdown of earnings by the top websites in Pakistan. I’ve only included local websites to indicate what local content is attracting advertising. The only exception I’ve left in is Google because it is still the largest earner in our online space  (all figures in Rs billions).

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12
Google 0.2 (53%) 0.2 (48%) 0.2 (35%) 0.25 (25%)
Jang 0.033 (9%) 0.030 (7%) 0.035 (6%) 0.080 (8%)
Geo 0.017 (4%) 0.020 (5%) 0.042 (7%) 0.050 (5%)
Dawn 0.015 (4%) 0.015 (4%) 0.031 (6%) 0.040 (4%)
Business Recorder 0.008 (1%) 0.020 (2%)
Express Tribune 0.008 (1%) 0.018 (2%)
Daily Express 0.022 (2%)
Hamariweb 0.015 (1%) 0.010 (1%)

Yes, news is number one. It is hard to speculate whether this is because Pakistanis are news-obsessed, or because large media groups were the only players willing to strategize and invest (without monetary gain) in the fledgling online space. The answer is probably a bit of both.

Jang, Geo and Dawn dominated for a number of years, but as new online entities emerge, the share of the overall internet ad spend for the big three is at best staying at status quo (though bear in mind, overall earnings have gone up). The good news (for local portals) is that Google’s share of local ad spend has tapered off significantly from more than half of overall earnings in 2008-2009 to just 25% of total internet spend in 2011-2012.

Some other points of interest brought up in Aurora Magazine’s 2012 year-ender:

The share of classified advertising has improved slightly from 16% in 2010-2011 to 17% in 2011-2012. This is after seeing a year of stagnation, before which it declined 4% every year for three years. The increase in classified advertising is interesting considering several free online classified sites have entered the market in 2011-2012. This will be an important category to watch over the next few years.

If you look at the top sites in Pakistan (Alexa) the number one local website is no longer Jang, but free online classifieds site OLX Pakistan. Yes, buying and selling online is going to be huge in Pakistan over the coming years thanks to some breakthroughs in terms of payment options (pay cash on delivery) and sites that allow peer-to-peer transactions and exchanges.

The share of mobile/telecommunications declined from 7% in 2010-2011 to 4% in 2011-2012. One of the reasons for this decline could be that many telcos are shifting budgets from print advertising to digital and especially social media.

Take a look at Pakistan’s top Facebook pages (SocialBakers). Nokia, Ufone, Zong, OLX and the odd one out – the US Embassy in Pakistan – all dominate, with Telenor and Mobilink coming up strong as well. That is not organic growth. That is paid growth in terms of buying engagement, running Facebook ad campaigns and investing in social media teams.

And it’s not just the telcos.

Local media and a swathe of other brands are not far behind on the Facebook/Twitter front either.

Given the success of these pages, and the hard stats that prove that success, expect the media mix to tilt further and further towards social media and away from print, and yes, TV too.

This growing change should be exciting, as old ideas give way for new ways of thinking, working and conducting business – and best of all, when it comes to the internet, it will all be measurable and genuinely consumer driven!

Eating burgers in Karachi’s urban badlands

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This short story is inspired by the Bloomberg article: Pakistan Loving Fatburger as Fast Food Boom Ignores Drones.


“Jahangir! Fatburger has come to town – it’s time baita, its time…”

The mobile phone slipped from his hands.

Eight years.

Eight years had passed since Jahangir had visited a newly opened foreign fast food chain in the upscale urban badlands of Karachi.

Since then, much had changed in the dark metropolis, but as he lay shaking on his bed, Jahangir could still smell French fries gone soggy…with blood.

He could still see in his mind’s eye, a jostling dark mass of screaming, orc-like beings with beards as long as their blades, smashing up what once used to be a KFC outlet.

A KFC outlet he had once worked at…

“Fatburger has come to town…” he murmured to the thick, empty terror-laden air, as he ran his psychiatrist’s call through his head again and again.

“it’s time baita, its time…it’s time baita, its time…”

Could he? Would he? Was eight years enough time to heal the wounds that Jahangir could still feel all over his body and mind? The scar on his left leg was a constant reminder of what a crazed Islamist militant with a chicken bone could do to an unsuspecting fast food employee in the middle of a riot.

The scars in his mind, however, were much worse. He still remembered the screams of his colleagues, as they were burnt alive by the mob. He still remembered hiding without moving for hours on end, waiting for the terrifying scrapping sounds in the refrigeration unit to die down, only to find out…his remaining companions were hiding, and slowly freezing to death inside.

Eight years had passed since that day. Eight years had passed since Jahangir had set foot inside a foreign fast food chain in Pakistan. Could Fatburger change all that?

Trembling hands snapped open the nearby laptop. Jahangir typed “Fatburger Karachi launch” in his Google search and opened the top link:

Pakistan Loving Fatburger as Fast Food Boom Ignores Drones

“Drones” he whispered softly, his eyes lighting up.

Having lived through the trauma of working in Pakistan’s fast food industry, Jahangir let out a low moan; a guttural, throaty expression of pure understanding and empathy. The article was excellent. In its nuanced, subtle and loving attention to terrorism, drone attacks and Pak-US ties in the midst of Fastburger’s launch THIS, Jahangir realized, was his own story; the narrative of serving food in a country torn apart by war and violence.

Tears streamed down Jahangir’s face as he read the following lines:

Pakistanis increasingly flock to American food outlets even as ties between the two nations are strained by U.S. drone missile strikes in the northwest of the country.

“They do…” he sobbed, remembering his love of handing over extra packets of ketchup to loving, outstretched arms – the very arms that later grabbed him and stabbed him with a chicken bone.

He kept reading, eyes growing ever wider:

“In food, people don’t look at relations between countries. They just want to eat.”

“LIES! LIEEEESSSSSS” he shrieked, only calming once he read:

Taliban insurgencies along the border with Afghanistan, nationwide bombings and political unrest have plagued Pakistan’s economy, limiting growth to an average of three percent a year.

And then there, right in the middle of the story of Fatburger’s launch was Jahangir’s moment of catharsis:

KFC stores in Karachi have been attacked five times in the 15 years the franchise has operated in Pakistan. In September, when Pakistanis protesting an anti-Islam film made in the U.S. poured onto the streets, mobs attacked banks, movie theatres and damaged a KFC store in Karachi.

Six hours later

Jahangir stands in front of Fatburger.

Clenched in his hands is a crumpled, tear-stained print out of the article: Pakistan Loving Fatburger as Fast Food Boom Ignores Drones.

After eight years, one chicken bone injury, the loss of his job, much of his sanity and love for fast food made by foreign companies – Jahangir steps into Fatburger and orders himself the biggest meal on the menu.

He eats in silence, alone.

He eats with memories of terror, loss and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Every time he feels the memories overwhelm him, he touches the paper upon which is printed the words that brought him solace; the article that tells him he is not alone in this mad world; a report that truly captures how dangerous the fast food business really is in Pakistan.

He thanks the reporter and the editor between mouthfuls of burger and fries:

“Thank you. Thank you for saving my life. All I wanted was for someone to understand how I feel. And now, someone finally does.”