Nadeem Farooq Paracha (Urdu: ندیم فاروق پراچہ), (born February 6, 1967, in Karachi), is a left-liberal Pakistani journalist, cultural critic, satirist and short story writer.
His father, Farooq Paracha, was a Socialist journalist hailing from the Attock District (Makhad) in the north of the Punjab and a staunch supporter of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Nadeem F. Paracha received his early education at the Kabul American School in Afghanistan from 1970 till 1974. His father was based as a journalist in Kabul reporting for the pro-PPP Urdu daily, Musawaat.
He returned to Pakistan in 1974 and joined the prestigious Karachi Grammar School from where he completed his O Levels in 1983. He then joined Saint Patrick’s College in 1984 from where he did his Bachelors degree in Commerce in 1986. It was here that he actively joined student politics, first by joining the Peoples Students Federation, the student wing of the Pakistan Peoples Party and then forming the St. Pats Socialist Students Federation. He was arrested a number of times for agitating against the right-wing government of General Zia and for writing and distributing anti-state literature.
After leaving college, Paracha traveled to India for many months. He returned to Pakistan and joined the University of Karachi as a Masters student of Political Science in 1988. He vigorously resumed his political activities by joining the left-wing National Students Federation. He also started writing a column on campus politics for the Star. This got him into a number of clashes with the right-wing politico-religious student groups.
At the fall of the Berlin Wall and of Communism in the former Soviet Union, Paracha started calling himself an Anarchist and with a few college friends began publishing an underground anarchist newsletter called The Arousal. It was here that Paracha started to develop his distinct style of writing that was a mixture of mock ranting, madcap humor and early dadaist literature. After being harassed and clamped down by the authorities, he dissolved The Arousal and joined Mag, Pakistan’s largest English weekly magazine, as a feature-writer.
After working three years for Mag and already bagging a sizable following for his sarcastic tirades against the powers that be, Paracha was asked to leave after he wrote a scathing feature against one of Pakistan’s biggest politico-religious parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami, accusing them of using funds for the Kashmiri militants to meet their needs for the 1993 general elections that were won by the Pakistan Peoples Party. After a stint as a Concept Writer in various Advertising agencies, Paracha was coaxed by his mentor, Imran Aslam, to join The News International, Karachi, of which Imran was Editor. Paracha joined as editor of the paper’s popular culture page, Vibes, and columnist.
In the late 1990s, hailed as “a bohemian youth icon”, Paracha, dejected and rejecting the country’s electronic and print media, quit writing and became a deluded recluse. This was also when he again started to have major problems with narcotic addiction.
After spending almost four years secluded in narcotic wilderness, Paracha returned to writing in 2003 after suffering a now cured drug habit and a mental breakdown.
He is currently associated as a regular columnist with Pakistan’s leading English newspaper, Dawn (newspaper), its website Dawn.Com, Daily Times and the weekly The Friday Times. Paracha has also been writing for Indian newspapers such as Asian Age, The Deccan Chronicle and The Times of India.
Though now in his 40s, Paracha is still notorious for his iconoclastic style and attitude and remains to be as elusive as ever. Apart from his pieces on culture, music and society, his short stories and novelettes on Chowk.com have also gained a strong following.
There are some special NFP fan pages and blogs on the net, mostly run by Bandbaja and TV host and journalist Fasi Zaka and a few others.
Paracha has largely remained withdrawn from all events taking place within the country’s cultural scene. He is known to be a committed recluse and somewhat unfathomable. This has given birth to a number of theories about his eccentric behavior and beliefs, some of which have been a favorite topic on various culture related forums. Since Paracha only rarely gives interviews, he has never commented much on these theories, but very rarely has he ever denied them as well.
He has always been known to be a Marxist and then an anarchist. However, in a recent interview he gave to a cultural website, WeCite.com, he said that he was always, and still is, nothing more than an “old fashioned Socialist”, even though in an earlier interview he did point out that he had been associated with various Marxist student groups and at least one anarchist concern, as a student in the eighties.
Paracha has only rarely commented on the politics of his student life but is known more for his activism for Marxist student groups and his agitation as a student leader against the Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship and against the various conservative pro-Zia Islamist student parties.
Fasi Zaka (Left) with Nadeem F. Paracha (Right), Karachi, 2006.
The majority of the theories about Paracha however revolve around his association with drugs. Throughout the nineties he was accused by some well known but conservative pop stars and their fans for promoting drug use, especially cannabis, through his articles. Paracha was also said to be a heavy user of both hard drugs (heroin) and soft drugs (cannabis).
This is another area Paracha had never commented upon until recently in an interview when he talked in some length about the problems he had in the nineties with drugs and addiction. This was also the time when due to the notorious nature of his lifestyle and secretive personality, many of his readers were convinced that he had quietly died.
However, he returned in 2003 free from his addictions, which he said almost killed him.
Even though praised by his fans and detractors alike for his distinct writing style and knowledge, many have accused him of being ‘insensitive’ in his written attacks usually aimed at celebrities with conservative views and strong religious beliefs.
They accuse him of imposing his secular views and being overtly sarcastic and caustic about people who talk openly about their religious beliefs, especially celebrities who make religious statements through their art.
Paracha has never commented about his religious beliefs. However in a column of his for Dawn newspaper, he alluded being a “progressive and liberal Muslim”, and in another piece for the same newspaper he sympathized with the Sufi and Barelvi schools of thought.
Another area Paracha has gotten into trouble for is his continuing criticism against corporate sponsorship in the country’s music scene. He was the first writer to highlight this trend, so much so that his writings actually inspired a strong anti-sponsorship underground music scene in the mid-nineties.
However, he has been critical of the current underground scene, criticizing it for being “aimless” and without having any worthwhile ideology.
His staunch anti-corporate stance contributed a lot into turning him into a rebellious figurehead personality for a number of young Pakistanis, but when on his return from addiction and hibernation in 2003, he was criticized for continuing to mock and “humiliate” large corporate organizations and pop stars on the corporate sponsorship issue but at the same time being involved in the conceptualizing and making of vivid advertising campaigns for companies like Telenor and their youth brand, djuice.
In spite of all the controversies and ambiguity that have revolved around Paracha, he continues to be hailed as a respected force and writer in the world of Pakistan’s cultural and social journalism.
Though known to be an active anti-Zia activist during college and an opinionated leftist journalist in the nineties, he shocked many of his fans by openly supporting and praising General Pervez Musharraf’s “anti-terrorism” policies in 2004.
In 2006 while appearing as a special guest on the popular radio show, the Fasi Zaka Show, on Pakistan’s FM91, he also praised the Army’s controversial role against supposed Al-Qaeda insurgents operating in the mountains of the country’s rugged northern areas.
In May 2007, while writing his column in The Friday Times, Paracha defended the MQM and wrote that Punjabi politicians who are calling MQM fascist “have no idea about the social and political dynamics of Karachi and the MQM.” The irony is that though many of his readers attacked Paracha for defending MQM’s strong arm tactics in the 2007 Karachi Riots, Paracha is a Punjabi himself from his father’s side.
In an interview given to Montreal’s CBC Radio (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Paracha blamed the Pakistani electronic media for being irresponsible in reporting acts of terrorism and political events and blamed it for bringing upon the 2007 Pakistani state of emergency imposed by President Pervez Musharraf on 3 November 2007. This left many of his critics in the media accusing Paracha’s politics of gradually moving from being staunchly leftist to being authoritarian, even though he remains to be a firm advocate of secularism and continues to support the Pakistan Peoples Party as a journalist and former member.
In an interview with Voice of America he lambasted an Islamic Scholar who had earlier been interviewed by the same radio channel and claimed that music was not allowed in Islam because it promoted obscenity. Paracha responded by saying that at the moment there is nothing more obscene than a suicide bomber exploding himself in public. He said Islamic scholars should be more interested in condemning such kind of obscenity rather than waste time by attacking an art like music.
While talking to National Public Radio (NPR) in Washington, D.C., on the 5th of April, 2010, Paracha came down hard on famous Islamic preacher, Farhat Hashmi. He said that if the Taliban were politically destructive, then preachers like Hashmi were culturally and socially destructive.
On the issue of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, Paracha claims that “It has become an obligatory part of populist rhetoric in which American involvement is blamed for everything that goes wrong in the country.”
Criticism of the media
Paracha has been extremely critical of the role of Pakistan’s electronic media, especially of Geo TV, and TV1. Along with veteran journalists like Daily Times’ Najam Sethi, Dawn’s Irfan Hussain and Hassan Nisar, Paracha accuses these two channels of being “the middle-class face of jihadi/extremist philosophy and propaganda.”
In a series of analysis and satirical pieces for Dawn (newspaper), Paracha has scathingly criticized Geo TV, and personalities like Geo TV hosts, Shahid Masood, Aamir Liaquat Hussain and TV1’s Zaid Hamid for “holding masqueraded sympathies for Islamists and “cleverly treating the concept of revolution as a highly saleable software in times of socio-economic and political crises.”
Defending student hooliganism
Writing in his exclusive column for Dawn.Com, Paracha defended the actions of Peoples Students Federation (PSF), the student wing of the Pakistan Peoples Party, when some of the student organization radicals disturbed an art exhibition in Karachi in April 2009. The PSF radicals were agitating against a montage that showed late Benazir Bhutto sitting on the lap of former Pakistani military dictator Zia ulHaq. Paracha asked “how could the exhibition organizers be so insensitively stupid?” Paracha who was once a leading member of the PSF at college in the late 1980s, wrote that the reaction of the PSF men was justified and that had he still been a PSF man, “I would have made my protest a tad more creative, but equally offensive. I would have gotten drunk, unzipped my jeans, peed on the floor and called it modern art, or better, post-modernist protest satire!”
Aatish Raj was a seminal avant-garde and Industrial rock rock band formed and fronted by Nadeem F. Paracha. Even though the band only recorded two albums between 1994 and 1995 and distributed only a few copies, the demand for these albums has grown among new fans of experimental music in Pakistan. Paracha’s legacy and reputation as an iconoclastic journalist and writer and the country’s frontline music critic has further heightened curiosity and interest in the band’s albums. In a recent development Paracha was approached by Zeeshan Pervez, leader of one of the country’s fastest growing new art rock bands, Sajid & Zeeshan, for the remixing of two Atish Raj songs. Zeeshan who is also a respected young producer worked on the 1995 Raj song “War in Heaven”. The song, much to the delight of the Atish Raj fan cult, was relaunched in February 2007. Atish Raj was folded in 1996 by Paracha when the three band members started suffering from major drug problems
News, Views & Confused
Though known to usually shy away from doing work on or for television, on April 11, 2007, Paracha appeared as a co-host with Fasi Zaka on a weekly political satire show, News, Views & Confused.
The News Question
In 1998, Paracha withdrew writing for The News International. However, he continued writing for them as a columnist until his contract expired in 2003. Paracha started writing for the Daily Times Group, the influential English weekly, The Friday Times and Dawn newspaper. However, it is also believed that after disagreeing with The News’ editorial, he was asked to stop writing for The News.