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Organizers criticized for running Pakistani pageant in wake of flood disaster

Organizers of a Toronto beauty pageant that will crown the queen of the global Pakistani diaspora on Friday have attracted controversy for not calling off the event.

Critics say it is inappropriate for the Miss Pakistan World pageant to continue while more than 1,600 have died and four million have been left homeless since flooding began in July in Pakistan. Naomi Zaman, a Toronto singer who won the event in 2005, is one of them.

"I just think that it's more important to donate and to give to the flood victims, and to help out in the community, rather than doing a pageant right now," Ms. Zaman said.

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Organizers disagree. Sonia Ahmed, president of the pageant, says the whole point of the event is to generate positive news about Pakistan.

"It's the best time in the world to have a pageant. I would never change it even if I was given a million dollars," she said. "Miss Pakistan is that beacon of hope, because all the news coming out of Pakistan is negative."

Friday will be the eighth Miss Pakistan World pageant, which is held every year in Toronto. Seven women from Canada, the United States, England, and Norway will jostle for supremacy in beauty, brains and poise - similar to an American pageant, but with a few twists.

The women will strut for the judges wearing both evening gowns and traditional Pakistani dress. During the talent portion, contestants will demonstrate jazz dancing, belly dancing, and katha, a classical South Asian dance that originated in the third century BC. In a question and answer period, the contestants will be quizzed on Pakistani politics.

The swimsuit round was nixed several years ago.

The event was the brainchild of Ms. Ahmed, who thought of the idea of a pageant while she was still studying commerce at the University of Ottawa. Originally, the pageant was only for Pakistani-Canadians, but it generated so much attention that she decided to expand the event to include the entire diaspora.

This year's furor is nothing new. "Every year Miss Pakistan falls into one controversy or another," she said - and attracting attention is partly the point.

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"The pageant is just there to bring about a change [for]Pakistani women. Women have always been told to stay at home, they've never been asked to change along with civilization," Ms. Ahmed said. "The idea of Miss Pakistan is to open up the girls to more."

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