Newsmakers 2013

December 29, 2013

Newsmakers 2013
They are young. They are achievers. They are influential too. We have hand-picked just twelve of them, to go with the twelve months of a year. This is not to say there aren’t many more. Together, the ones we have captured in today’s Special Report and the ones we did not, they make up the new face of Pakistan. Circa 2013.


Agent of Pakistan

Malala Yousafzai

The ambivalence between Malala the hero or the anti-hero characterised the year 2013 for people in this country. Outside Pakistan, she was a positive message: a young girl who strove for the cause of education in the face of the mighty Taliban and ultimately got shot in the head for her courage. Little wonder, she has been celebrated all over the world.

The tragic incident on October 2012 had everyone’s heart miss a beat; perhaps more.

2012 melted into 2013 with prayers for the confident, now injured, Malala as she was fighting a battle for her life in a Birmingham hospital. There were mild whispers, suggesting she never got shot but, broadly, the country stood with her and her cause.

Between the first picture, that appeared in March this year and showed her starting school in the UK, and her address to the United Nations on her birthday in August, a period that marked her physical recovery, there emerged a change of narrative in her home country where Malala the hero became an "agent of the West". Instead of celebrating her for she had achieved, she was now being judged for everything that she had not done, or said in the UN address. She may have pointed out the lack of education but why did she not talk about drones, and Palestine, or Kashmir, her detractors hinted.


Fortunately for us, it is not that easy to deter the likes of Malala. In October this year, her book I am Malala appeared and once again attempts were made to weave a controversy around the book and demolish the icon.

The negative propaganda aside, the book is Malala’s best defense against all detractors. It is a living proof that Malala stands for a progressive, forward-looking, democratic, and peaceful Pakistan. It preempts all criticisms against her even if that is not the principal aim of the book. It points at a direction this country must take -- away from the bigoted world of Taliban as much as the coercive cultural practices of Pashtunwali and towards a worldview espoused by Bacha Khan.

To her credit, she has stood by the contents of her book and it is there for everyone to read. If, indeed, Malala Yousafzai is an agent, she is one of Pakistan, the kind of Pakistan we need.

Scaling heights

Samina Baig

Being a woman in Pakistan is not always a stereotype. There are rebels and there are doers. Samina Baig is one such doer. She became the first Pakistani woman -- and the third Pakistani -- to climb Mount Everest on May 19, 2013, scaling the 8,848 metre peak in rough weather. She happens to be the youngest Muslim woman to climb the Everest at the age of 22.

Baig’s feat also carries a symbolic value for peace building between India and Pakistan. She was joined by two Indian sisters -- Tashi and Nancy -- in climbing Mount Everest as they together hoisted national flags of Pakistan and India side-by-side atop the peak, to spread a message of Indo-Pakistan friendship and peace. In an interview with her brother before the expedition, Baig said the expedition was also a demonstration of gender equality and accomplishment.

The toughness of the task can be measured from the fact that on April 1, Samina and company started climbing the Nepalese south face of the mountain and the journey to the summit took 48 days as the team traversed the South Col pass in eight hours.

The mountaineers reached their goal on the sixtieth anniversary of Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing’s first successful conquest of the peak. The Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) announced on May 22 that it would recommend Samina’s name for the Pride of Performance and Tamgha-e-Imtiaz awards.


Samina comes from Shimshal village in Hunza Gojal, Gilgit-Baltistan. She was trained in mountaineering from the age of 15 by her brother, Mirza Ali. A student of arts, she began climbing when she was four years old. Samina has been a professional climber since 2009.

It’s not her first accomplishment. In 2010, she was the first woman to climb the peak, Chashkin Sar (above 6,000 meters) in Pakistan, which was later renamed Samina Peak after her. In 2011, she reached the summit of Koh-i-Brobar (Mount Equality). Baig has been employed as a mountain guide and expedition leader in the Hindu Kush and the peaks of Karakoram. Surely, Samina’s commitment and achievement to her work gives the women of Pakistan a huge source of courage.

Making of a leader 

Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari

If the latest news item is to be believed, BBZ, now 25, is soon going to contest the National Assembly election and do active politics from the floor of the house. Leader of the Opposition? Maybe.

He was only 19 when, following the assassination of his mother Benazir Bhutto, he was made to wear the mantle of chairmanship of Pakistan People’s Party -- a dynasty "whose history is steeped in power and bloodshed". Soon after, he left for higher studies and the father effectively ran the party as co-chairperson for the next five years or so.

BBZ made a few sporadic appearances in these five years. After the murder of Governor Salmaan Taseer, when the entire party was forced into a fearful silence, he spoke up in his favour and owned him as well as the cause he lost his life for. He did the same when minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated.

Generally, though, he stayed away from the day-to-day running of the government and was brought into the limelight, even if partially, in the last year or so.

In a terrifying pre-election scenario, his party along with a few others did not have the freedom to campaign. There wasn’t much Bilawal Bhutto could do; so he left the country. The rumours that spilled over to the media were that he left because he wasn’t happy with the way the party campaign was being run.


The election 2013 results may have been a disaster for the party but they have opened up the option of a leadership role for BBZ. 2013 is, thus, the year he has ventured into politics. This is a time when people seem to have no appetite for dynastic politics and yet it’s the mantra for parties of all hues.

BBZ is inevitably compared with his grandfather, mother, and even the father.

He is criticised because he is said to have not earned the leadership of the party the way his mother did. He is also criticised because he does not know the ‘language’. But nor did his grandfather or mother. Actually, their politics was such that they transcended the issue of language.

Right now, BBZ is trying to engage with people in multiple ways. Twitter is one tool he is using and, with his level of engagement, he seems to be making more friends than enemies. It must also be a good learning opportunity. Organising the Sindh Cultural Festival is another way of engaging with not just people but also with politics.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari does not carry the incredible baggage of his father. His absence from the political scene while the party was in power is an added advantage. He can start afresh; reorganise the party, reclaim its ideological roots, own the under-privileged classes, and inject new blood into the progressive discourse.

Meanwhile, the people should be ready to invest their time and hopes in the making of a leader.

Word magician 

Saroop Ijaz

Don’t know when exactly did we start waiting for his column and why. All we know is that the sheer power of his writing led us to the man who, it turned out, was someone still in his twenties. The sense of wonderment grew. Each column whetted the appetite, creating a craving for more.

So what magic is it that Saroop Ijaz weaves in those 800 or so words that makes them such ‘wow!’ moments for the readers?

Is it the subject alone?


He does pick on themes that don’t go down so well with the establishment. His columns opposing the systemic persecution of Ahmadis stand out for their courage. But so do those where he took on the high and mighty in the corridors of judiciary for their excesses at a time when it was unthinkable and politically incorrect to do so; more so for him because his day job was/is that of a lawyer.

But his courage alone is not what engages the readers at a time when freedom of expression is a celebrated virtue. Besides, his is a consistently liberal worldview which too is a value share by many opinion-writers. His influence and impact on the imagination of his readers is, therefore, derived from something else. A keen reader of his columns says, "His writing poses not only a moral but also an aesthetic challenge to a society that is turning away from the beautiful. The hours he has spent in the company of strange tales of magic and mourning remind us of the instrumentality of our lives."

Clearly, it’s the erudite quality of his writings that raises them above ordinary journalistic pieces to almost literary essays. That is his distinguishing feature which reminds one of Mencken and Christopher Hitchens and to some extent of Ayaz Amir close to home. His fan says, "He has emerged from the quiet reflective years of his young life carrying words that remind us that we have had too little time for things that really matter. He now asks us to come along."

Waar on cinema 

Bilal Lashari

The director of this year’s mega-hit Pakistani film Waar, Bilal Lashari is at the forefront of Pakistani film today.

The son of an ex-bureaucrat, Kamran Lashari, Bilal grew up in Lahore and studied at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) before quitting his studies in order to attend a film school in the US. He moved to San Francisco to study at the Academy of Art University in California, the largest art and design school in the United States.

While studying there, he worked on music videos with some of Pakistan’s leading artists, such as Entity Paradigm, Jal, Atif Aslam, and Abrar-ul-Haq. He ended up winning seven awards for his work at the school’s annual Epidemic Film Festival, as well as winning two awards at Pakistan’s own LUX Style Awards and another at MTV Pakistan’s music video awards.

Bilal Lashari

Lashari originally planned on making a career in the West because of the state of affairs of the film industry in Pakistan, but his experiences at the university hostel in San Francisco changed that. When on the weekends, students from all around the world talked about and showcased work from their respective countries, Lashari didn’t know what to share. He realised he had to do something to try to change that, recognising that there could be no "revival" of Pakistani cinema: there would have to be a complete reinvention of it.

His first feature film, Waar, was released this year to become the highest-grossing Pakistani film in history, and some believe that it has already reinvented the Pakistani cinema. His work has stimulated interest around the world, even across the border in India. His next project (which was recently announced) is to remake the Punjabi cult classic Maula Jatt, which is arguably the most famous Pakistani movie of all time. Let’s hope Bilal continues to have success in reinventing the film in Pakistan, as he has had this year.

The new face of PML-N

Maryam Nawaz

Maryam Nawaz Sharif has a huge responsibility on her shoulders being the daughter of Prime Minister Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, and niece of Punjab’s chief minister. All set to carry on the mission of her father and the party, she is especially focussing on the youth.

She is considered the new face of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) as she is fully active on social media and popular on the internet, an area her elders are not familiar with.

She seems to have acquired a degree of sobriety and a sense of purpose as some critics compare her with Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan Peoples Party. The year 2013 was a busy year for her in terms of politics. At one point, during the election campaign of 2013, she was also tipped as the possible chief minister of Punjab. But she did not contest the general election.

Not in the parliament at the moment, her views, like Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s, are considered more liberal and progressive as opposed to those of her father and uncle. Recently, she had the honour of meeting the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan (and his family who were on a visit to Pakistan), describing him as "an enlightened & progressive Muslim" in one of her tweets.


Since 1997, Maryam has been the chairperson of Sharif Medical Trust, which was founded by her grandfather, Muhammad Sharif. Her first prominent appearance in the press was at the time of her marriage with Capitan Safdar in the 1990s.

Her entry into politics has also raised questions about the political throne of the Sharif family. She is seen as a major challenge to her cousin, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, who glorifies his uncle Nawaz but is fully patronised by his father Shahbaz Sharif. Maryam, who has been preparing for a political role for the past few years, seems to be well-read.

Her education and dynamism seems to be helping her. She speaks four languages. Her current responsibilities include running the Sharif Trust and family’s other philanthropic initiatives. And she is also mindful of the link between continuity and performance.

In a tweet after becoming head of the PM’s Youth Programme to give loans to the unemployed, she said, "Give us five years and C."

There’s a lot to come

Meesha Shafi

A versatile artist and performer, Meesha Shafi has had success in many fields: art, fashion, music, and film. She is a visual artist by training, having earned a degree in art from Lahore’s National College of Arts (NCA) in 2008.

She’s also a model. In 1999, at the age of seventeen, she starred in Jawad Ahmed music video for his hit song, "Bin Teray Kya Hai Jeena," and has continued to have widespread success in modelling since then. In 2011, she became the brand ambassador for L’Oreal Paris, Pakistan, and has appeared in numerous fashion magazines around the world, including L’Officiel and Vogue, India.

She’s a musician, too. She gained popularity through her song in Coke Studio, "Alif Allah", alongside Arif Lohar. The video of that song has been viewed over 14 million times on YouTube, perhaps becoming the most viewed Pakistani song online. Since then, she has continued to sing and perform both in Coke Studio and elsewhere.


In 2013, it was her acting career that really took centrestage. This year, she also made her film acting debut by appearing in no less than three major feature films from three different countries: Lollywood’s Waar, Bollywood’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, and Hollywood’s rendition of Mohsin Hamid’s novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Waar has become Pakistan’s most commercially successful film ever. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was the third-highest grossing film in India this year and The Reluctant Fundamentalist has received critical acclaim around the world.

Despite the fact that she did not have a big acting experience, she was offered her role in The Reluctant Fundamentalist by award-winning director Mira Nair and her performance in the film has been praised by critics.

Believe in peace!

Irfan Ali Khudi

Raising one’s voice for the voiceless and against the menace of terrorism and extremism comes at a price, especially in our part of the world. Irfan Khudi Ali, a prominent human rights and peace activist from Quetta, lost his life in an effort to help the injured at the site of a blast at Alamdar Road, Quetta.

It can be said that January 10 was one of the deadliest days in the history of Balochistan as more than a hundred people were killed in three blasts in one single day. Being a Hazara himself, Irfan highlighted the persecution of Hazara Shias in Pakistan.

"I am born to fight for human rights and peace. My religion is respect and love for all the religions," he used to say.

Shocked and grief-stricken at his sudden death, his fellow activists and other social media users paid huge tributes to his work and his resolve to take the mission of peace and tolerance forward. Irfan Ali Khudi, according to them, was an "irreplaceable voice of activism".

Irfan’s struggle and work focused on interfaith harmony, religious tolerance, and minority rights. He was also part of a big number of peace initiatives and many civil society networks. He was the only male member to UN Women Advisory Group in Pakistan.


Ali grew up in an environment where persecution on ethnic and religious grounds was the norm and education, which could ameliorate the situation, was not on the priority list of the policy makers and of the society itself. Like many of his fellow citizens, he was unable to complete proper schooling due to the worsening security situation in Balochistan, particularly Quetta. He naturally turned to the common man in the street -- with people from various ethnicities and religions. He had the innate ability to mingle with people, gain their trust, and know their problems, in order to be of some help to them.

Irfan was never a bystander to what was happening to his people and to his country. That is why he was in the thick of chaos ensuing after the blasts, trying to save and help his people when another blast stopped him -- forever this time -- from helping his people.

Reality singer

Nabeel Shaukat Ali

Nabeel Shaukat Ali’s journey to fame began in the last week of 2012 when countless people in Pakistan watched Sur Kshetra, a singing competition between Pakistani and Indian young singers. A Lahore-based Nabeel Shaukat Ali, in his early 20s, was crowned as winner of this mega music reality show. He became a celebrity in the country within days.

The two last contestants of the teams were Nabeel from Lahore and Diljaan from Jalandhar, India. This made him the face of the whole next year because no reality show matched such melodious performances.

Nabeel, a singer by profession, studied music from Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan.

Being a passionate singer, he started singing at a very early age when his father, Shaukat Ali, taught him music. His elder brother is also a singer, as are many of other members of his family. Nabeel earlier appeared in Azme Alishan National Song Competition in Pakistan and won a trophy.

Nabeel Shaukat

During the recordings of Sur Kshetra singing competition, the contestants, from both India and Pakistan, were supposed to stay in Dubai till the grand finale. In his interviews and talks during the show, Nabeel, would many a time end up with tears in his eyes as he missed his family and friends back home.

With a humble background and aspirations to become a great singer, Nabeel is working hard these days. He has signed contracts with different companies and is working on his album.

His achievement as a young Pakistani has become a source of inspiration for many music lovers. The mega talent show, also judged by Asha Bhoslay, Abida Parveen, Ghulam Ali Khan and other top living legends of music in the subcontinent has given him and us a sense of pride.

Ali’s app-titude

Ali Rehan

Many a times while hanging out with friends or trying to take a complete family photo at those rare 12am birthday celebrations, we’ve lamented the fact that one person has to miss out on the picture to play the photographer. You awkwardly coerce that one extra person who isn’t supposed to be there to take a picture of the group. Well, Groopic, an app designed by Eyedeus Labs has an answer for all such problems. This is a company entirely made up of young individuals.

Co-founder Ali Rehan, 26, and also one of the founding members of, graduated with a Masters degree in Computer Science from The Lahore University of Management Sciences in 2012. Since then, he has come a long way.

ali rehan

The team launched their app on the internet without any high-powered contacts or networks. It is from there that the app gained popularity and was eventually noticed by some big names in the tech industry, such as Google, Huwaei, and Samsung. They were then flown out to the Silicon Valley to work further develop the app.

The company made headlines this year as the popularity of the app designed by them grew. Groopic takes a simple idea, something we’ve all complained about, and makes it possible. Not only that, it has also drawn attention to the Information Technology Industry in Pakistan. Ali Rehan and his colleagues and Eyedeus Labs seem to have changed the game for many. Not only have they raised the bar but also made it possible for more youngsters stepping into this industry to dream about new possibilities.

Zoe’s tracks record

Zoe Viccaji

"Lately, I am dreaming about you, hoping you have been too," croons Zoe Viccaji in her fist single, ‘Thinking about you’ released in December 2010. It did not receive the applause and appreciation that the beautiful track deserved. However, since then, Zoe Viccaji has come a long way after she was first spotted by Coke Studio producer, Rohail, in Mama Mia.

Quick to realise that the songs she penned, composed, and sang in English would not do as well as their Urdu counterparts, Zoe used the platform of Coke Studio to understand and familiarise herself with eastern music. Her previous musical exposure had been largely limited to English while growing up.

As a part of Coke Studio, Season 6 is the first season in which Zoe has been featured as the lead vocalist. Her association with the show got her noticed by Levis and, despite the popular and critical acclaim that her cover of Mera Bichara Yaar received, she was content with doing back vocals in Coke Studio.


While her star hasn’t shot to surprising fame overnight, Zoe’s musical fame is a classic example of hard work. The last year proved fruitful for all her past endeavours. The television serial, Tanhaian naye silsilay soundtrack sung by her was nominated for the best original soundtrack award at the 12th Lux Style Awards.

Another feather in her cap over the year has been the release of her first video and song as part of the Zoe and Zohaib project and the duo is enroute to producing their first album.

Her singing talent has helped her come to the forefront in the past year. Zoe has been a regular feature on television. At times, merrily singing ‘’ishq kinara tu tha yara’’ in her new song released and produced by Coke Studio or her appearances on various channels, since the audience is now eager to know her more.

Her modeling stint with various labels has allowed her to transcend the headlines and put her name on billboards across the country. Her struggle, while far from over yet, has certainly made her shine brighter over the past year.

Here’s hoping it grows ever brighter in the coming year.

 Symbol of ‘change’

Muraad Saeed

Muraad Saeed was not a familiar name in politics till a couple of years ago. A young Pakistani from a humble background, he was elected as Member of National Assembly (MNA) from Swat in 2013 general elections.

Muraad’s popularity and following can be gauged from the fact that, as a PTI contender, he bagged 88215 votes -- 53 percent of the total votes in NA-29, defeating the former MNA by at least 76,000 votes. In the race, he defeated 13 competitors. The closest competitor to him from the PML-N got 24,000 votes.

Even the local correspondents of national news networks did not know much about him before he got nominated by his party. Known as a talented youngster from a small village, Kabal, in the surroundings of SwatValley, he was among the founders of PTI’s student-wing in the PeshawarUniversity from where he graduated. He also won All Pakistan Debate Competition and received a shield, in addition to winning the Best Student Award of Asia in South Korea in 2008.


Muraad’s life had a setback in 2008 when a stray mortar shell destroyed his house, severely injuring his mother and brother. "The accident changed everything for me," he said in an interview. His mother is still in coma after the injuries she received. At that time, Muraad decided to fight for change in things as they were and strive for a positive change in society politically.

Muraad has his roots in the middle class. He had no plan to become a politician before the Swat operation. He has played a major role in mobilising students in Khyber Pakhtunkhwah. His political career still has to stand the test of time. His voters are waiting for the fruits of change he promised in the militancy-hit province of KP.

Newsmakers 2013