Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 

Special Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 
The undated file photo shows Pakistani comedian Saad Haroon. (Photo courtesy: Saad Haroon)
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Updated 13 April 2024
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Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 

Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 
  • Haroon created Pakistan’s first English-language comedy TV show and improv comedy troupe BlackFish
  • Haroon says laughter is “cathartic” in Pakistan, a country steeped in pressing issues like militancy and poverty 

ISLAMABAD: It was a dark time in Pakistan when stand-up comedian Saad Haroon returned home after completing his education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2001. 

In a post-September 11 world, it was a nation divided over whether Pakistan should be involved in the United States’ war on terror or not. The war in neighboring Afghanistan led to a sudden rise in the number and scale of terror attacks in the country. The conflict in the region also hit major sectors of the economy, and trading activities were widely disrupted. And as Haroon would find out in the years to come, things would only get worse and laughter would turn out to be the best medicine.

“Little did I know that I would need a lot of comedy over the years because we’ve been dealing with kind of a situation after situation,” Haroon, now one of Pakistan’s best-known English language comedians, told Arab News in an interview in Karachi. “And I was like, ‘Okay, I can use comedy to really make people feel better’.”




The undated file photo shows Pakistani comedian Saad Haroon. (Photo courtesy: Saad Haroon)

Haroon is the creator of the first ever Pakistani improvizational comedy troupe “BlackFish” and was the first Pakistani stand-up comedian to perform in English in cities across Pakistan in his tour, “Saad Haroon: Very Live.” He has many other accolades to his name, including being voted the “Second Funniest Person in the World” during the first Laugh Factory worldwide competition held in 2014. 

But carving a niche as a comedian in Pakistan — and that too in the English language which is spoken by less than five million people in a country of 241 million — was no easy task. The learning curve was improvizational, with Haroon and his peers trading cassette tapes of international comedians to learn the tricks of the trade. And given the political chaos around him, it was no surprise that Haroon quickly turned to political satire, using comedy to make people laugh but also to make them understand the complexities of life.

“I could wax eloquent about these very difficult things that have been happening and it was fun and it was good,” he said, adding that political satire was “cathartic” and a “coping mechanism.”

“And sometimes the audience finds it fun. Sometimes they find it incredibly dark and it’s still rewarding.”

But does he ever get into trouble with his jokes?

“Well, my job is to push those boundaries and sometimes I don’t censor myself and I get in trouble,” Haroon said, recalling the backlash he received for writing a song named “Burqa Woman.”

“BLASKFISH”

Venturing into a full-time career as a comedian as far back as 2002, Haroon became aware of many sad realities about Pakistan’s creative industry, including that there were no quality writers. 

“Because there’s not much art, it means that we don’t actually have a system to create that art, which means we don’t have writers,” the comedian said. 

That’s why improvizational comedy became the answer.

“I was like, ‘Okay, if you don’t have writers, how do we do comedy without writers? Let’s do improv’.”

Thus was born BlackFish in 2002, but that was not without its challenges, not least of them the language barrier and the inability to generate money. 

“I think we charged a whopping Rs100 [36 cents] per ticket,” Haroon joked. “So, I couldn’t pay anyone in the troupe. I would collect the money in the kitty and then we’d go for dinner sometimes.”

Blaskfish continued for a few years before Haroon quit and started doing solo stand-up comedy shows.

Next Haroon created and hosted the first ever English language comedy television show in Pakistan called The Real News in 2007.

“That was political satire and people in Pakistan, we love making fun of politicians because you know, there’s no saving grace about it,” Haroon explained. 

Another major achievement was when in October 2014, he was voted the second funniest person in the world, securing 59,213 votes in the Laugh Factory competition.

“I think winning that second funniest person in the world award was amazing,” Haroon recalled. “And it was kind of amazing what it made other people in Pakistan feel like because they had something.”

For Haroon, art is important in Pakistan because conventional careers like becoming a doctor, engineer or lawyer are not for everyone.

“We all really need money, but we all really need to laugh a little bit as well,” he said. “And so, I’ll go down with this ship laughing even if you don’t.”


USA into T20 World Cup Super Eights, Pakistan out, after rain strikes again

USA into T20 World Cup Super Eights, Pakistan out, after rain strikes again
Updated 14 June 2024
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USA into T20 World Cup Super Eights, Pakistan out, after rain strikes again

USA into T20 World Cup Super Eights, Pakistan out, after rain strikes again
  • The match between Ireland and USA was abandoned after a heavy downpour
  • Pakistan were in a precarious situation in the tournament after USA’s shock win

Lauderhill, UNITED STATES: The USA advanced to the Super Eights stage of the T20 World Cup on Friday when their match against Ireland was abandoned, an outcome which meant former champions Pakistan were eliminated.

Ground staff spent hours working to dry the wet outfield at Lauderhill but shortly after the umpires had inspected conditions a huge downpour ended any hope with the field quickly under water once again.

The USA reach the last eight in their debut appearance in the T20 World Cup largely thanks to their shock win over 2009 champions Pakistan.

A USA defeat to Ireland would have handed Pakistan the chance to leapfrog into the top two when they face Ireland at the same venue on Sunday.

Instead, the early exit is a bitter disappointment for Pakistan, who were beaten finalists in the tournament two years ago.

This is the earliest Pakistan have exited T20 World Cup, having played just three games with a defeat to India and their sole victory coming against Canada.

Pakistan were knocked out in the group stage in 2014 and 2016, but on every other occasion made it to the last four of the tournament.

Fans who had waited patiently inside the Central Broward Stadium were instructed to stay in the facility and in shelter due to thunder and lightning which accompanied the torrential rain.

The two teams will receive a point each meaning the USA will progress to the Super Eights along with Group A winners India who are due to play Canada on Saturday in what is now a dead rubber

South Florida has suffered heavy rain and flooding and the game on Tuesday at Lauderhill between Sri Lanka and Nepal was also abandoned.

There were heavy showers earlier on Friday morning which added to the workload which all proved to be in vain.

But while it was not the way they wanted to qualify, the USA team celebrated in their locker-room what is a historic achievement for the associate nation.

“As a cricketer, you don’t want to leave home and not play cricket, you want to play but at the end of the day there was nothing that we could control,” said USA vice-captain Aaron Jones, who was again stand-in skipper in the absence of the injured Monank Patel.

“Definitely we celebrated. Everybody is happy right now, obviously qualifying for the Super Eights is a big deal,” added Jones, who has been the stand-out batter for the USA team.

Jones was vocal before the tournament in insisting the USA were not just happy to be involved but believed they could win games and he said that attitude would continue against the tougher opponents that await.

“I think that on any given day, once we play proper cricket that we can beat any team in the world,” said the New York born Jones, who grew up in Barbados and will return to the Caribbean for the next round of games.

The spot in the last eight also means that the USA have qualified automatically for the 2026 World Cup.


Pakistan signs subsidiary loan agreement after Kuwait Fund commits $100 million for Mohmand Dam

Pakistan signs subsidiary loan agreement after Kuwait Fund commits $100 million for Mohmand Dam
Updated 14 June 2024
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Pakistan signs subsidiary loan agreement after Kuwait Fund commits $100 million for Mohmand Dam

Pakistan signs subsidiary loan agreement after Kuwait Fund commits $100 million for Mohmand Dam
  • Total project financing will be disbursed through four equal payments, each amounting to $25 million
  • Pakistan has been building small-scale hydropower facilities to meet its pressing energy requirements

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Economic Affairs Ministry signed a subsidiary loan agreement of $25 million with the Water and Power Development Authority for the construction of the Mohmand Dam Hydropower Project, being financed by the Kuwait Fund with a $100 million contribution.
Pakistan’s strategy to enhance its energy infrastructure includes a move toward constructing hydropower facilities, supported by multiple international agreements aimed at addressing the country’s pressing energy requirements.
Many of these small-scale projects have also been facilitated under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, backed substantially by Beijing.
According to Radio Pakistan, the total financing for Mohmand Dam will be disbursed through four equal loans, each amounting to $25 million, with the agreement signed between the two countries earlier this month.
“The Mohmand Dam is a comprehensive infrastructure project designed to address multiple needs,” Radio Pakistan reported. “It aims to generate approximately 2,862 GWH [gigawatt hours] of electricity annually with an installed capacity of 800 MW [megawatts], significantly reducing the existing energy supply gap.”
“Additionally, the dam will create an active storage reservoir with a capacity of about 1,594 million cubic meters, ensuring a reliable and sustained supply of irrigation water,” it continued. “The 213-meter high structure will also play a critical role in flood control, mitigating the risk of flood damage and providing essential flood protection.”
Pakistan and Kuwait agreed to enhance bilateral economic cooperation in recent meetings held between their top officials.
The Kuwait Fund has also actively supported several projects in Pakistan previously, focusing on sustainable development and infrastructural enhancements.


Moody’s highlights Pakistan’s persistent debt issues, says budget to aid IMF negotiations

Moody’s highlights Pakistan’s persistent debt issues, says budget to aid IMF negotiations
Updated 14 June 2024
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Moody’s highlights Pakistan’s persistent debt issues, says budget to aid IMF negotiations

Moody’s highlights Pakistan’s persistent debt issues, says budget to aid IMF negotiations
  • The global credit rating agency points toward additional taxes without significant cost-containment measures
  • It says sustaining economic reforms may become difficult amid risk of social disruption, coalition challenges

KARACHI: A leading global credit rating agency said on Friday Pakistan’s newly announced federal budget was likely to help the country with its ongoing negotiation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), though it highlighted the country’s weak debt affordability and challenge of keeping economic reforms on track.

Moody’s Investors Service issued a brief assessment of Pakistan’s economy two days after Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb presented the $67.76 billion federal budget in which he kept some high ambitious revenue generation targets.

The global agency noted the government sought to achieve quicker fiscal consolidation through increase in revenue, adding their were little spending containment measures.

“The announced budget will likely support Pakistan’s ongoing negotiations with the IMF for a new Extended Fund Facility (EFF) program that will be crucial for the government to unlock financing from IMF and other bilateral and multilateral partners to meet its external financing needs,” it said. “However, it will be the government’s ability to sustain reform implementation that will be key to allowing Pakistan to meet its budget targets and continually unlock external financing to meet its needs, leading to a durable easing of liquidity risks.”

“A resurgence of social tensions on the back of high cost of living (which may increase because of higher taxes and future adjustments to energy tariffs) could weigh on reform implementation,” it added. “Moreover, risks that the coalition government may not have a sufficiently strong electoral mandate to continually implement difficult reforms remain.”

Moody’s noted the government had set a challenging target to increase federal government revenue to PKR17.8 trillion, about 46 percent higher from a year ago.

It noted that this increase was led by a 40 percent increase in tax revenue that the government wanted to achieve through a combination of new taxes and stronger nominal growth.

“At the same time, the budget is targeting an overall federal government expenditure of PKR18.9 trillion, about 25 percent higher than a year ago,” it said. “The increase in expenditure reflects lack of significant cost-containment measures and Pakistan’s very high interest payments.”

It maintained the government had been spending more than half its revenue on interest payments, “indicating very weak debt affordability which drives high debt sustainability risks.”

“Having a significant share of its budget allocated toward debt payments will constrain the government’s capacity to service its debt while meeting essential social spending and infrastructure needs,” it added.


Pakistani anchorman Imran Riaz released from police custody

Pakistani anchorman Imran Riaz released from police custody
Updated 14 June 2024
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Pakistani anchorman Imran Riaz released from police custody

Pakistani anchorman Imran Riaz released from police custody
  • The prominent TV journalist was arrested at Lahore airport earlier this week
  • Riaz, a supporter of ex-PM Imran Khan, has been arrested several times before

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani anchor and YouTuber, Imran Riaz, has been released from police custody, his lawyer confirmed on Friday, after he was arrested earlier this week on charges of monetary fraud in a money lending case.

The prominent TV journalist turned promoter of incarcerated former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political party was picked up from the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore on Tuesday night where he had gone to catch a Hajj flight to Saudi Arabia.

“Alhumdulillah [praise be to God], the release has been secured,” Riaz’s lawyer, Mian Ali Ashfaq, said in a social media post while sharing a photograph with him.

Riaz, who has more than 5.7 million followers on X and millions more on other social media platforms, took on the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies after ex-PM Khan was removed from power in April 2022 and blamed the army for being behind his ouster.

He was picked up in May last year and returned home in September, with authorities not indicating where he had been.

He was also arrested in February this year over his alleged involvement in an anti-judiciary campaign on social media.

Human rights groups have widely accused Pakistan’s security agencies of being behind the disappearances of journalists, political workers and activists, allegations that authorities deny.

Pakistan has a controversial record regarding media freedom and the safety of journalists. Media personnel have frequently complained of being targeted by state authorities for their work while some have been attacked and killed, and others have left the country citing threats to their life.

The South Asian country was ranked 150 in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.


Senior Pakistani judge wants judiciary to resist pressure, seeks end to ‘establishment’s interference’

Senior Pakistani judge wants judiciary to resist pressure, seeks end to ‘establishment’s interference’
Updated 14 June 2024
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Senior Pakistani judge wants judiciary to resist pressure, seeks end to ‘establishment’s interference’

Senior Pakistani judge wants judiciary to resist pressure, seeks end to ‘establishment’s interference’
  • The top Lahore High Court judge calls judicial meddling a ‘curse, bad luck and misfortune’ for the country
  • Chief Justice Ahmed expresses happiness over the Pakistani judiciary performing its duties without any fear

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Malik Shahzad Ahmad on Friday urged his colleagues not to succumb to external pressure while carrying out professional responsibilities, saying he was hopeful for an end to the establishment’s interference in the judicial matters in the future.

Addressing a district bar association event in Rawalpindi, he said he was not going to name the state institutions involved in such meddling. However, six out of eight Islamabad High Court (IHC) judges accused the country’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of seeking to influence their decisions through intimidation and coercion earlier this year.

The IHC judges raised the matter in a letter to the Supreme Judicial Council, demanding institutional consultation over the issue and pointing out that such interference undermined the independence of judiciary. The letter also mentioned incidents where the relatives of a judge were abducted and tortured and their homes were secretly surveilled.

“You have to look them in the eyes and face them,” Justice Ahmed told the gathering. “You don’t have to be a victim of their blackmailing.”

He maintained such written and oral complaints related to the interference by government institutions had become a regular feature.

Expressing his happiness over the judiciary performing its functions without any fear, the LHC chief justice told the subordinate judges to stand tall in the face of the threats hurled at them.

“Don’t shy away if you have to render any kind of sacrifice in this regard,” he said. “This is the spirit needed and I am proud of my district judiciary.”

He maintained the main problem facing the judiciary related to the interference by the “establishment,” a euphemism for Pakistan’s powerful defense and security institutions, calling it a “curse, bad luck and misfortune” for the country.

While the judiciary has started asserting itself in the face of such accusations in recent weeks, the country’s security institutions have remained silent, as the Supreme Court of Pakistan conducts hearings into the issue.

Justice Ahmad summoned Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Usman Anwar and other officials earlier this week on a complaint by a sitting judge of an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Sargodha, alleging harassment by the intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

These officials told the court they were probing threats to the ATC judge.

The top LHC judge also urged the Pakistani lawmakers to play their due role to strengthen democracy in the country.