Islamabad, Aug 14: From a mullah who wants a military operation against women wearing jeans to “uncircumcised” Islamic State fighters, a satirical Pakistani website is using humour to shine a light on current affairs in the turbulent nation. And the public, though initially nervous, now can’t get enough of it. Born a year ago, amid massive anti-government street protests, Khabaristan is inspired by satirical US news website The Onion and American comedian Jon Stewart, who retired last week after 15 years hosting the caustic The Daily Show.
“You want to change something you have to criticise yourself, your own country, your own leaders,” said Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, one of the founders of the Khabaristan Times. With its tantalising, entirely made-up stories, the Khabaristan Times, which takes its name from Khabar, meaning “news” and “stan” from Pakistan – cleverly shines a light on the country’s conspiracy theories and obsessions.
One piece, headlined “Pakistan will not tolerate any non-US drone”, mocks what most believe is the government’s position on America’s drone strikes against the Taliban and other Islamist rebels, denouncing them in public while secretly supporting them.
Another joke article said the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency had found that most Islamic State fighters were uncircumcised, “proving” the Middle Eastern militant group were not Muslims, but backed by the West – a common conspiracy theory in Pakistan.
And the Khabaristan Times‘s humour has certainly been misunderstood, with both Indian and British media earlier this year mistaking a tongue-in-cheek article – clearly satirical to Pakistani readers – for fact. The piece was about the head of one of the country’s main Islamist parties, Fazlur Rehman, calling for military intervention against women in jeans, dubbing them Pakistan’s “worst enemy”.
The “news” went viral, to the surprise of the staff of the Khabaristan Times. Westerners “were commenting on the page: ‘we can’t tell this is satire because it didn’t say it was.’ They thought everything was true!” said Luavut Zahid, co-founder.
Yet Western news satire has also proved an inspiration for the site, the bubbly 28-year-old said. “Jon Stewart! I cried (during the last episode),” she said. “He is so good, it’s impossible not to be influenced by that guy.”
“Unless you follow (current affairs) on a daily basis, you won’t get most of what Jon Stewart is saying or you don’t get most of what we are publishing,” added Kunwar.