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Old Sunday, October 09, 2016
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Default October 9th, 2016

Smokers’ Corner: Whose Two-Nation Theory is it, anyway?

In most nationalist discussions in India, Jinnah’s ‘Two-Nation Theory’, which became the basis of the partition of India in 1947, is often lambasted as being communal in nature.

The theory suggested that the Hindus and Muslims of India were two separate nations which needed their own geopolitical abodes in which they could govern their lives according to their distinct cultural bearings.

The Congress regimes dominated and influenced the Indian nationalist narrative between 1947 and the early 1990s. In it Jinnah and his Muslim League were squarely explained to have worked up myopic communal urges to disrupt the centuries-old Hindu-Muslim unity in the region.

This view still holds sway in India. But recently, with the mainstream rise of Hindu nationalism in that country and a more hardline approach towards anything to do with Pakistan, some peculiar scholarly ventures have begun to emerge. These are attempting to augment the afore-mentioned view with an additional dimension which is more in tune with how Hindu nationalism understands the creation and existence of Pakistan.

Theological explanations for partition are becoming equally popular in India
Venkat Dhulipala’s book Creating a New Medina is a case in point. In this book, he rather brazenly adopts the nationalist narrative of various conservative and ‘Islamist’ historians and political outfits of Pakistan to suggest that the creation of Pakistan was foremost a theological project driven by the Two-Nation Theory.

By doing this, Dhulipala is basically intellectualising a tendency developing among certain sections of India’s academia in which Pakistan’s supposed theological nature is ‘proven’ so that the mainstream rise of Hindu nationalism in India can be rationalised and explained.

What is being consciously ignored and repressed by such historians, however, is the rather confounding fact that the League’s Two-Nation Theory was not a spontaneous communal brainwave of Muslim leaders. It had actually been developed and forced upon them by Hindu nationalists.

In a speech that he made on 24 April, 1943, Jinnah said: “I think you will bear me out that when we passed the Lahore resolution (in 1940) we had not used the word, Pakistan.” He then asked, “Who gave us this word?” Cries of ‘Hindus’ rose from the crowd. Jinnah then added: “They (the Hindus) fathered this word upon us.”

Unlike many latter-day historians, Jinnah was quite aware of exactly how the Two-Nation Theory, which he eventually championed, actually came about. He was correct to assert that it was first formed by Hindu nationalists as a way to assert their political and social agenda. Jinnah finally accepted it for the Muslims after he witnessed Hindu nationalist tendencies emerging within sections of the ‘secular’ Indian National Congress as well. The perception of a communal Muslim League sat well with the existentialist justifications of the Hindu nationalist outfits.

This is how it happened. In the late 19th century, Nabagopal Mitra, one of the pioneers of Hindu nationalism, authored a paper in which he described the Hindus of India as a nation that was better than the Muslims and the Christians. He added that ‘the basis of national unity in India was the Hindu religion’ and that the Hindus should strive to form an ‘Aryan nation.’

In an early 20th century pamphlet, Bhai Paramanand, a leading member of the Hindu reformist movement the Arya Samaj, described the Hindus and Muslims as being two separate nations who were ‘irreconcilable.’ In his autobiography, ‘My Life’, Pramanand mentions how in 1908 he called for an exchange and settling of Hindu and Muslim populations in different geographical areas.

In a December 14, 1924 article in the Bombay daily, The Tribune, Congress leader and Hindu nationalist Lajpat Rai too called for a ‘clear partition of the region into a Hindu India and non-Hindu India …’

In 1923, poet and playwright, VD Savarkar, coined the word, ‘Hindutva’ in a book (also titled Hindutva). He coined the word to mean ‘Hinduness’ and wrote that the Muslims (and the Christians) of India were outside of ‘Hindu nationhood.’ Then, in 1937 while speaking at the 19th session of the influential Hindu Mahasabha, Savarkar insisted ‘there are two nations in India: Hindus and the Muslims.’

In 1939, MS Golwalker — the supreme leader of the radical Hindu organisation the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — published his book, ‘We, Or Our Nationhood Defined’. In it he asserted that the minority communities of India (specifically, Muslim) should merge with the Hindu nation or perish. He wrote that non-Hindus in India could not be considered Indian unless they were ‘purified’ (i.e. converted to Hinduism).

Golwalker described the Hindus as being India’s ‘national race’ and pointed at the example of Nazi Germany’s eradication of the Jews as a way to deal with minorities who refused to adapt to the culture of the national race.

Interestingly, during the recent rise in the attacks against Muslims in India, the country’s PM and the chief of the BJP, Narendra Modi, suggested that India’s Muslims should not be rebuked but need ‘purification’ (parishkar). Modi was referring to the use of this word in this context by BJP’s prime ideologue, Pandit Upadhyaya. Upadhyaya had first used the word decades ago as an extension of the Sanskrit word Shuddi used by Hindu nationalist Dr. PS Moonje in 1923. Shuddi also means ‘purification’ and Moonje had used it to mean the conversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism.

Indian academic and historian Dr. Shamsul Islam has extensively quoted speeches, articles and pamphlets of various Hindu nationalists in his 2015 book Revisiting the legacy of Allah Bakhsh, to establish the fact that, indeed, the communal impulse and justification of India’s partition (into two separate nations) was originally formed by Hindu nationalists and was adopted much later by the likes of Jinnah. And as mentioned earlier, Jinnah adopted it in 1940 for the Muslims after fearing that Indian nationalism had come to mean Hindu nationalism.

What is also interesting is how the historical narrative about the creation of Pakistan being formulated by Indian historians sympathetic to the BJP is being ecstatically received by the religious groups of Pakistan. Their narrative too had explained Pakistan as a theological project. But this narrative was badly battered by the likes of KK Aziz, Ayesha Jalal, Dr. Mubarak Ali and Hamza Alavi.

Indeed, there is certainly no dearth of ironies in the synthesis which emerges in debates on the partition of India between competing narratives.

For example, the owner of a large chain of bookstores in Lahore recently informed me that there is a rising demand for an Urdu translation of Dhulipala’s book. He added that certain ‘Islamic’ organizations have in fact offered to translate it themselves.

Source: Whose Two-Nation Theory is it, anyway?
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 9th, 2016
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Old Sunday, December 25, 2016
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Default December 25th, 2016

Smokers’ Corner: Dressing Jinnah

Imagine Jinnah alive in 2016. If you can do this, then it should not be hard to also imagine this: a video statement of a cleric would have appeared on social media sites in which the pious gentleman would have exhibited great concern about the founder of Pakistan being a Twelver-Shia. A verbose TV anchor would have done a whole show bemoaning the fact that Jinnah drank. His guests would have nodded vigorously and demanded that Jinnah be disqualified from politics under Articles 62 and 63 of our glorious Constitution. Then, of course, there would also be those who would’ve called him a liberal-fascist and maybe even a Western/Zionist agent. They would have loved to call him an Indian agent as well, but I’m sure at least this allegation would not have stuck for obvious reasons. Or maybe it would have. Because after all, in this day and age, logic is seen as a tool to deceive innocent Pakistanis into believing that Jinnah did not mean Pakistan to become what it gradually became after his death.

One would not be so off the mark in hypnothesising Jinnah’s fate today as I have above. Truth is, even after his death, some men who were seemingly commending and eulogising him, did so by indirectly critiquing his modernist disposition and ‘Westernised’ lifestyle. In 1973 when the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto issued a special stamp on the 25th death anniversary of the founder, I was in the second grade at a school in Karachi. Though I was just a child, I do remember knowing well who Jinnah was. The stamp had a brilliantly painted side portrait of Jinnah’s face. An old-fashioned monocle lens rested on his right eye. A teacher of mine wasn’t too happy by this portrait (on the stamp). The school had been given these stamps which were to be distributed among the students. The teacher was a young lady and I think (but am not sure) taught us arithmetic.

But I do clearly remember her saying, “Children, this is the picture of our Quaid-i-Azam. He was a great man.” Then, pointing at the stamp, she announced: “But this is not him. Such glasses (the monocle) were only worn by British people. Was the Quaid British?” Us muddled six-year-olds all replied. ‘Nooo, teacher.” Of course, we were too young to realise the irony of this teacher being an employee of a school which was set-up by the British and closely followed the British education system.

The Quaid’s image has been cropped and edited by various governments to suit their respective agendas
In July 1976, the governments of Pakistan, Turkey and Iran issued special stamps to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) — an organisation formed in 1964 by the governments of Pakistan, Iran and Turkey to help each other propel economic growth in their respective countries.

Three stamps were issued. One had the portrait of former Iranian monarch, Raza Shah, the father of the then sitting monarch of Iran; one had the portrait of the founder of the modern Turkish republic, Kamal Ataturk; while the third stamp had the image of Jinnah.

Some columnists writing for an Urdu daily in Karachi and Lahore complained that Jinnah had been clubbed together with ‘secularists’ (Raza Shah and Ataturk). Jinnah’s portrait on the stamp was of him wearing a slick blue suit and a black tie. My father who had begun publishing an Urdu weekly (in 1974) wrote an editorial in which he asked the objectors to explain what they thought Jinnah was. The very next day a columnist (this time in another Urdu daily) replied by writing that it didn’t matter what Jinnah was, but what he should mean to Pakistanis. “It is imperative”, he wrote, “to show Pakistanis a Jinnah close to their aspirations than a Jinnah before he became the Quaid (!)”

Of course, by Pakistanis he meant mostly those who felt awkward about the founder’s modernist appearance and tastes and wanted to see him altered to meet their skewed understanding of the country. Well, since this happened during the overtly compromising period of the so-called ‘socialist’ Z.A. Bhutto regime, his government made sure to put Jinnah back into a sherwani on the special coins that were issued to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of the founder in December 1976. What’s more, the ‘Jinnah cap’ was placed on his head. Jinnah’s famous dictum, “Unity, Faith, Discipline” was inscribed underneath his image on the coins.

A concentrated effort was made to wipe out all those aspects of the founder’s image which were not compatible with the idea of the republic being fostered by the dictatorship. Nevertheless, in the last 15 years or so, many of these aspects have remerged, now more than ever.
I used to have those coins and they were beautiful. And Jinnah did look rather nice in his sherwani and cap. But this image alone did not satisfy those who seemed somewhat angrily embarrassed by the modern Jinnah. So, one day, in April 1977, the government quietly changed Jinnah’s dictum, Unity, Faith, Discipline, to Faith, Unity, Discipline. A majority of us still believe that the slight but potent switch happened during the intransigent Gen Zia dictatorship. It didn’t. The switch took place in April 1977 when the Bhutto regime was facing a violent protest movement led by an alliance of religious parties.

There’s a photo taken by a famous photographer, the late Zaigham Zaidi, and published in an April 1977 issue of the pro-PPP daily, Musawat. The picture is of Z.A. Bhutto speaking at a gathering in a hall (somewhere in Karachi). Behind him is a huge board with Jinnah’s face on it. On one side of the board the words ‘Faith, Unity, Discipline’ are inscribed in bold. Zaidi was a close friend of my father’s. In 1985 he had told me that the idea to switch around the words of the dictum was given to Bhutto by his military chief Ziaul Haq. Three months later, Zia toppled him in a coup and from that day onward, the dictum has remained, Faith, Unity, Discipline. No one has bothered to switch it back to its correct sequence.

Throughout the Zia dictatorship (1977-88), Jinnah was never shown in a suit. He always appeared in a sherwani, proclaiming ‘Faith, Unity, Discipline.’ Burhanuddin Hasan, a former news director at the state-owned PTV, wrote in his book Uncensored, that the channel (during the Zia regime) was under orders to only run quotes of Jinnah which had the word ‘Islam’ in them. A concentrated effort was made to wipe out all those aspects of the founder’s image which were not compatible with the idea of the republic being fostered by the dictatorship.

Nevertheless, in the last 15 years or so, many of these aspects have remerged, now more than ever. Gen Musharraf famously had himself photographed holding his two Pomeranians —for which he also received flak — which was a direct reference to a picture of Jinnah with his dogs that simultaneously came back in the public realm. I wonder what this means in an environment in which Jinnah (had he been alive today) would have been ferociously maligned. Maybe the return of the images of the founder as a worldly man who was nothing like what he was turned into from the late 1970s is a sign of a quiet reaction against his disfigurement? Let’s hope so. Oh, and by the way, my second grade teacher settled in London in 1976 with her husband. Her children are all British citizens. Why, teacher?

Source: Dressing Jinnah
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 25th, 2016
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Old Sunday, January 22, 2017
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A look at some of the historic moments that have shaped Pakistan

The influx

Founder of Pakistan, M. A. Jinnah, patiently listening to the complaints of a refugee in Karachi in late 1947. Millions of Muslim refugees poured into the newly created Pakistan from various Indian cities, towns and villages after the partition of India in August 1947. The new country was overwhelmed by the influx.

A majority of the refugees were settled in hastily constructed refugee camps in Sindh and Punjab. By the 1960s, many of the refugee camps (especially in Karachi) had turned into shanty towns with high levels of crime, unemployment and alcoholism. In the 1970s, many of these shanty towns were regularised and provided basic amenities such as water and electricity. They remain to be one of the most congested areas of the city.

This picture of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was taken 20 minutes before he was assassinated. Khan was walking towards the podium in Rawalpindi to make a speech when he was shot dead by a radical Pakhtun nationalist, Saeed Akbar. Akbar was shot dead on the spot by the police.

Many theories suggest that Akbar was a hitman who was hired by anti-Liaquat elements within the government and the bureaucracy. However, these claims have never been conclusively substantiated.

The first fissure

A 1952 wall mural in Dhaka, East Pakistan, demanding Bengali to be declared a national language of Pakistan. Violent riots broke out in East Pakistan in 1952, when Bengali politicians and intellectuals demanded that Bengali be made a national language. Many protesters were killed in the rioting. Bengali was finally given the status of a national language (along with Urdu) in 1954.

The anthem man

Author of Pakistani national anthem Hafeez Jalandhri with his wife and daughters in 1954. Jalandhri had penned the anthem in 1952. In 1954, it was officially adopted by the state of Pakistan.

The country got its national anthem almost seven years after its creation. In 1948, when then Indonesian President Sukharno became the first foreign head of state to visit Pakistan, the country had no anthem of its own to play.

The government put pressure on an ‘anthem committee’ to come up with an anthem before the Shah of Iran’s visit in 1950. The committee couldn’t agree on the words, but it did select a tune composed by Ahmad G. Chagla. So between 1950 and 1954, the Pakistani anthem existed as a piece of music only.

Finally, the words that Jalandhri had written in 1952 were approved in 1954 and the complete anthem was played for the first time on radio. The lyrics of the anthem are all in Persian, with only one Urdu word (‘ka’).

The last tribe

A synagogue in Karachi in 1957. The board reads (in Urdu, Bengali and Hebrew) ‘Pakistani Israelite Mosque’. There were about 1300 Jews residing in Karachi in the 1950s. This particular synagogue was built in 1893, 54 years before Pakistan’s creation.

It was renovated in 1936 by Karachi’s first Jew councilor, Abraham Reuben. The last Jewish family of Karachi is said to have migrated (to Israel) in the late 1960s. The synagogue lasted as a heritage building till 1988. It was finally torn down and a shopping plaza was constructed on the site.

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Military police emerge on the streets of Karachi during the imposition of the country’s first Martial Law in 1958. The Martial Law was imposed by President Iskandar Mirza with the help of then army chief Ayub Khan.

Both accused the politicians and the bureaucracy of indulging in corruption and using the 1956 Constitution to ‘peddle Islam for political gains’. They suspended the Constitution and changed the country’s name from Islamic Republic of Pakistan to simply, the Republic of Pakistan.

Within months, Ayub deposed Mirza as well. In 1959, he became President.

Small beginnings

This photograph shows Pakistan’s first television station. Television arrived in Pakistan in 1964. The country’s first TV station was housed in a small bungalow-type building in Lahore. It was set up with the help of technicians and trainers from Japan’s Nippon Corporation.

Nippon and a Pakistani industrialist, Syed Wajid Ali, held the majority shares of the project. The channel was called Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) and pilot projects were launched in Karachi and Rawalpindi as well.

PTV was largely a private enterprise till 1972. In January 1972, it was completely nationalised by the Z.A. Bhutto government and became an entirely state-backed entity. PTV stations in Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi were greatly expanded and in 1974 new ones were built in Quetta and Peshawar. Today, PTV, though still state-owned, has over six channels.

PIA takes off

This photograph shows air-hostesses of Pakistani airline, PIA, on the runway of the Karachi airport in 1965. Pakistan did not have a national airline until 1955. In 1955, Orient Airways, a private airline, was nationalised and renamed Pakistan International Airline (PIA).

PIA became one of the fastest-growing airlines in the 1960s. It was also the first airline to introduce inflight entertainment. The uniforms of PIA stewardesses and air-hostesses were designed by famous French fashion designer, Pierre Cardin.

PIA continued to perform well and hover in the list of top 5 international airlines across the 1970s. Its fortunes began to decline from late 1980s onward. By the mid-2000s, it was nearly bankrupt.

Industrial boom

Here Ayub Khan is inspecting a manufacturing plant in 1964. During the first six years of Ayub’s rule, Pakistan enjoyed an impressive 8.51% growth in manufacturing. It was one of the highest among various Asian economies at the time. The country also enjoyed a consistent economic growth of 6% between 1959 and 1967.

Bottoms up

A neon sign of Pakistani beer brand, Murree, on top of a building in Lahore in 1966. Murree is made by Murree Brewery which was established in the late 19th century by a colonial British family. In the 1940s, its shares were bought by a Zoroastrian business family who had also supported Jinnah’s call for a separate country.

In the 1950s, Muree Beer and whisky (Lion) competed with imported German beer brand Beck's and Jonnie Walker Whiskey. In the 1960s, Murree Brewery become a major tax-paying contributor to Pakistan’s economy. It added rum, gin and vodka to its range of products in the 1970s.

Sale of alcohol (to Muslims) was banned in Pakistan in 1977. Murree survived the ban by catering to non-Muslim customers through licensed wine shops in Sindh and Balochistan.

Murree Brewery remains one of the biggest tax-paying enterprises in Pakistan and the Sindh government earns revenues up to Rs4billion annually from the wine shops. The shops have also kept the growth of bootleggers and moonshiners in check.


An anti-Ayub rally passes through Karachi’s Clock Tower area in 1968. The Ayub regime had managed to sustain robust economic growth in the first seven years of his rule. But much of the wealth was said to have ended up in the hands of just 22 families.

The 1965 war with India (which ended in a stalemate) negatively impacted the economy, and by 1968 the gaps between the rich and the poor had greatly widened. A popular uprising forced Ayub to resign in 1969.

Last show of solidarity

Pakistani flags being sold in Dhaka, East Pakistan, during the 1970 general elections. The Bengali nationalist party, Awami League (AL), swept the polls in East Pakistan and Bhutto’s PPP won in the two largest provinces of West Pakistan.

Civil War erupted in East Pakistan in 1971 when Pakistani dictator Yahya Khan failed to transfer power to AL. PPP chairman too refused to accept being the second largest party in Parliament. The Civil War was extremely vicious. East Pakistan separated and became Bangladesh.

New man on the block

Bhutto’s PPP won the election in West Pakistan. By late December 1971, he became the head of state and government.

Renaming the country

This is a photograph of one of the original copies of the 1973 Constitution. This was Pakistan’s third constitution. It was jointly passed by the PPP government and the opposition in the National Assembly. It renamed the country as Islamic Republic of Pakistan after its name had been changed to the Republic of Pakistan by the Ayub regime.

This constitution is still in force in Pakistan even though it has gone through numerous amendments, many of them rather controversial.

The popular gateway

A shot from a plane of the old Karachi Airport in 1974. In the 1970s, the Karachi Airport was one of the busiest airports in Asia and a main station for all international airlines flying in and out of South and East Asia and the Middle East.

PIA had already established itself as a leading international airline. It also owned and operated a lavish café/restaurant and bar inside the airport and a hotel (Hotel Midway House) near the airport.

The airport was built by the British in 1943. It began to rapidly grow in the 1960s and became one of the busiest in Asia. Two more terminals were added to accommodate the growing number of passengers flying in and out of Karachi.

In 1994, it was turned into an airport to handle cargo planes only and a new airport (Jinnah International) was built. However, by then, air traffic to Karachi had already begun to decline due to the growth of the Dubai International Airport and increasing political instability in Pakistan.

Good times

This photograph shows a leaf from a 1974 tourism brochure on Karachi's nightlife. The country’s tourism industry enjoyed a two-fold growth in the 1970s.

The government greatly expanded the Tourism Board which, at the time, was headed by famous Zoroastrian businessman Ardeshir Cowasjee. Karachi’s nightlife at the time revolved around nightclubs, live music, bars, cinemas, restaurants and cafes (mainly in the Saddar, Tariq Road and Old Clifton areas).

Nightclubs were ordered to close down in April 1977 when Bhutto was cornered by a violent movement started by a right-wing alliance of nine parties. Sale of alcohol was banned in restaurants and cafes and on PIA flights. By the 1980s, many cinemas too closed down. The tourism industry began its gradual decline, and by 1990s it had hit rock-bottom. The situation has remained the same ever since.

Sneaking up from behind

The photograph shows Bhutto followed by his military chief, Ziaul Haq (first left) in 1976. The chief would soon topple his boss in a military coup.

After overthrowing Bhutto in July 1977, Zia insisted that Pakistan was destined to become a theological state and that only those parties which believed this would be allowed to participate in the new elections.

The new elections never took place until 11 years later when Zia died in a controversial plane crash. Bhutto was hanged through a sham trial in April 1979.

Disco wars

Brother & sister duo Nazia and Zoheb during their meeting with Ziaul Haq in Islamabad in the early 1980s. The singing duo’s first album Disco Dewane had sold millions of copies and the duo had become instant superstars.

In 1982, they were banned by the Zia regime because some of Zia’s ministers believed ‘the duo was distracting young Pakistanis from performing their religious duties’.

However, after Nazia and Zoheb managed to arrange a meeting with the dictator, he agreed to lift the ban. The ministers who had imposed the ban weren’t amused.


Karachi’s Shahrah-i-Faisal in 1982. Unprecedented US and Saudi aid and new free-market policies boosted the country’s economy in the 1980s. New buildings and roads began to emerge to meet increasing urban needs and to accommodate the growing traffic.

The economic boom was paralleled by a ballooning ‘black economy’ which was dominated by drug barons and mafias. It was during this period that many European countries stopped giving visas-on-arrival to Pakistanis due to the increasing inflow of heroin coming from Pakistan.

Winning ways

The Pakistan Hockey team wins its second Olympic hockey title in 1984. Pakistan had also won the 1971, 1978 and 1982 Hockey World Cup titles. Its supremacy in international hockey lasted until the early 1990s before beginning to slide.

The cover-up

This image shows a newscaster reading the 9 o’clock news on PTV in 1984. The Zia regime would often issue new ‘dress codes’ for women appearing on TV. Sometimes, men were not allowed to appear in western clothes, unless they were playing negative roles in TV plays.

Women were asked to drape themselves with dupattas. Such instructions would suddenly be imposed and then as suddenly withdrawn, only to reappear with even more force. This took place on TV throughout the Zia regime.

The first blast

A newspaper report on a bomb blast in Karachi’s Saddar area in 1987. It was the first major act of terror of this kind against civilians in Pakistan.

Two time-bombs fitted inside cars in the middle of Karachi’s congested shopping area of Empress Market went off killing dozens. The government blamed Afghanistan’s now defunct intelligence agency, KHAD, of planting the bombs.

The very next year, the plane Zia was travelling on blew up mid-air, killing him.

Democracy returns

Benazir Bhutto leading an election rally in Lahore just before the 1988 general election. PPP won the 1988 election, following which Benazir became PM.

In 1990, her government was removed by the president on charges of corruption and incompetence. She was re-elected in 1993 only to be removed again in 1996 on similar charges. She was well on her way to become the country's prime minister for a third time when she was assassinated in 2007.

Street dancing days

A pop festival at Karachi’s KMC Stadium in 1993. The 1990s saw an unprecedented explosion of Pakistani pop bands and acts. The phenomenon lasted until the early 2000s before disappearing due to the country's worsening law and order situation.

A historic win in squash

Squash champion Jansher Khan playing a World Open final against his compatriot Jahangir Khan in 1993. Jansher and Jahangir took Pakistan squash to the top of world rankings. Pakistan’s standing began to decline rapidly after both retired from the game.

Being the centre of cricket

A helicopter helps groundsmen dry the field at Lahore’s Qadhafi Stadium during the 1996 Cricket World Cup. The event was jointly held with India and Sri Lanka.

Pakistan and India also hosted the 1987 Cricket World Cup. Pakistan lost in the semi-finals of the 1987 event and in the quarterfinal of the 1996 event. It won the cup in Australia in 1992.

The angry PM

Nawaz Sharif speaking on TV in 1993 after he was advised to step down by the military-establishment. In 1993, Sharif’s first government was dismissed on charges of corruption by President Ishaq. The Supreme Court restored the regime, but a deadlock occurred between the restored regime and President Ishaq who still had the power to dismiss Nawaz.

The military-establishment devised a way out by asking both Nawaz and Ishaq to resign. Nawaz was re-elected in 1997. But by then, the economy had nose-dived and sectarian violence witnessed a manifold increase in the Punjab. Nawaz bungled the situation and tried to oust his military chief, Parvez Musharraf but Musharraf toppled him in 1999. Nawaz became PM again in 2013.

In the land of the foe

Pervez Musharraf and his wife in India in 2001. Musharraf became ‘Chief Executive’ of Pakistan and then President. Relations between Pakistan and India improved during his regime. So did the economy.

Musharraf regimes downfall

An apartment building split in the middle in Islamabad during the devastating 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. Everything began to go downhill for the Musharraf regime after the earthquake.

The economy began to slide, opposition to his rule began to grow and eventually, after 2007, terrorist groups greatly increased their attacks in the country. Musharraf was forced to resign in 2008. The PPP formed the new government after winning the 2008 election.

The popular General

An early 2016 drawing of former Pakistan COAS, General Raheel Sharif, which appeared in the monthly magazine, Herald. Gen Raheel was made COAS by Nawaz Sharif after the latter became prime minister in 2013.

Gen Raheel pushed the government and the Parliament to initiate a forceful military operation against extremist groups in the north and against criminal mafias in Karachi. The operation greatly reduced incidents of terrorism in the country. Gen Raheel’s popularity skyrocketed. In late 2016, he retired after completing his three-year-term as COAS.

Source: A look at some of the historic moments that have shaped Pakistan
Published in Dawn, January 13, 2017
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Default January 15th, 2017

Smokers’ Corner: The power of the minority vote

Since 1970 there have been nine elections based on adult franchise in Pakistan. But none of them have been studied or analysed by Pakistani political scientists and academics in the manner in which elections are usually studied in democracies.

Analysing election results are an excellent way to understand the political, social and economic currents taking shape in a country. Yet, even those Pakistanis who have penned detailed theses on such currents have largely ignored studying the many elections which have taken place in Pakistan, despite the fact that Pakistan was one of the first Muslim countries to experiment with democracy.

Pakistan’s first main election held in 1970 is perhaps the most comprehensively studied election. But the best available data and analysis on the mentioned election was almost exclusively dug out and investigated by non-Pakistanis. For example, political scientist and author Dr Phillip E. Jones closely studied the results of the 1970 elections when he was based in Pakistan. Author and professor Dr Craig Baxter also studied the 1970 elections in some detail.

A Pakistani political scientist Dr Muhammad Waseem thoroughly studied the 1993 elections and discussed his findings in a 1994 book of his. However, those willing to spend days and even months in local newspaper libraries like I have often done, can certainly formulate a pretty good idea about how or for what Pakistanis have voted.

Despite the pressures on religious minorities ever since the 1980s due to the growth of extremism in Pakistan, the size of minority voters has actually increased
Our interest in this article is to determine how Pakistan’s ‘minorities’ have voted in general elections. Dawn recently published a remarkable document on minority voters in Pakistan released by the Election Commission of Pakistan. The document is interesting because despite the pressures which most religious minorities have faced in the country ever since the 1980s due to the growth of extremism in Pakistan, the size of minority voters has actually increased. Currently it stands at about three million. Almost half of them are Hindus (1.49 million).

The second largest group of minority voters comprises Christians at 1.32 million, followed by the Ahmadis, Sikh, Zoroastrians and Buddhists. This suggests that, now more than ever, the minority vote can determine the outcome of electoral contests in various constituencies.

During a tense contest in Sialkot in the 1970 election, PPP candidate Kausar Niazi managed to persuade a large concentration of Ahmadi voters in Sialkot’s NW-75 constituency to vote for the PPP. Niazi was contesting the election against some established Muslim League candidates and those belonging to well-organised religious parties. Niazi managed to obtain over 90,000 votes, the most received by any candidate in the Punjab. Of course, the Ahmadis were yet to be relegated as a minority group, but they were still treated as a distinct Muslim cluster at the time.

According to both Baxter and Jones, the Christians and Hindus in Sindh and Punjab overwhelmingly voted for the PPP in 1970, mainly due to the party’s progressive manifesto. However, Jones adds that the “elite Christians” opposed the PPP’s manifesto due to its (the manifesto’s) emphasis on nationalisation. Elite Christian groups voted for the Convention Muslim League, a party which was formed by Ayub Khan in 1962.

It is also important to plug here the fact that a major Christian outfit in undivided India had backed Jinnah’s All India Muslim League.

A detailed paper authored by Dr Munir Al-Anjum and Dr Shahnaz Tariq documents how a large Christian organisation in the Punjab, the All India Christian Association (AICA) backed Jinnah’s call for a separate country. On June 23, 1947, when a resolution was moved in the Punjab Assembly to make Punjab part of Pakistan (which would come into being in August 1947), all the Christian members of the assembly voted for the resolution’s passage.

In her book Christians of Pakistan Linda Walbridge writes that by the 1977 election, the PPP had lost much of its Christian electoral support due to the Bhutto regime’s nationalisation of educational institutions run by Christian priests and nuns.

In 1985 the Zia dictatorship introduced the separate electorate system in which Pakistan’s minority groups could only vote for candidates belonging to their respective religions. This system stayed put across the 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1997 elections and the two major parties, the left-leaning PPP and the centre-right PML-N that came to power during these elections did not change it.

Since the Muslim candidates couldn’t receive votes from minority groups anymore under the separate electorate system, minority interests were ignored by the parties. The system was finally abolished by the Musharraf regime (1999-2008) and joint electorates were reintroduced. The minorities were clearly not happy with the PPP and PML-N when they went out to vote during the 2002 election.

In his analysis of the 2002 election, Craig Baxter wrote that a majority of Christians and Hindus in the Punjab voted for the pro-Musharraf PML-Q. In Sindh, according to him, even though the PPP was successful in bagging a majority of Hindu votes, in the more urban areas of the province a majority of Hindu votes were cast in favour of either pro-Musharraf parties or the Mohajir nationalist party, the MQM, which received the bulk of Hindu and Christian votes in Karachi.

During the 2008 election which marked the ouster of the Musharraf regime and when the economy had begun to nosedive and extremist violence was on the rise, the PPP and PML-N managed to win back minority voters. Newspaper reports suggest that the Hindu and Christian vote in the Punjab was split between the PPP and PML-N. In Sindh, again via newspaper reports, Hindus voted overwhelmingly for the PPP, except in Karachi where a majority of Hindus once again voted for the MQM.

Things got a lot more interesting during the 2013 election. The PPP regime at the centre was a disaster, but in Sindh it seemed to have done well because it swept the polls here while being routed elsewhere. According to a report in Dawn (March 19, 2013) the fate of as many as 96 NA and PA constituencies in Punjab and Sindh depended on how the minorities were to vote here. If we take into account the final results of these constituencies, we can see that in 2013, a majority of Hindu, Christian and Sikh votes in the Punjab went to PML-N, whereas in Sindh, Hindu votes were again cast in favour of the PPP (even though in lesser numbers compared to 2008).

In Karachi during the 2013 elections, Imran Khan’s centre-right PTI reportedly bagged the majority of the city’s Christian votes. According to some reports, MQM managed to sneak past PTI in some tight contests in Karachi due to Hindu votes. Certain reports on the 2013 election also mentioned minority voting patterns in Balochistan and KP. For example, Hindu votes in Balochistan largely went to Baloch nationalist parties and PML-N, whereas in the KP, a bulk of minority votes were cast in favour of PTI.

But just as the importance of minority votes is increasing among mainstream parties (thus triggering certain minority-friendly legislation), the Ahmadiyya ‘minority’ have been boycotting elections. According to a report by Zofeen T. Ebrahim (Dawn, April 11, 2013), the Ahmadis haven’t voted as a community since their ouster from the fold of Islam in 1974 by the state and government.

There are 119,749 registered Ahmadi voters, mainly in the Punjab. Just before the 2013 election, Imran Khan tried to bag Ahmadi votes by making some statements which were sympathetic to the plight of the Ahmadis. But due to the criticism he received for this by the religious parties, he retracted his statements on the advice of some of his party members.

The power of the minority vote
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 15th, 2017
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Dubious ancestors

In 1981 a book arrived in the offices of my paternal grandfather. It was authored by a distant cousin of his and a fellow Paracha. It was called the History & Culture of the Paracha Tribe. Originally penned in Urdu, it claimed that the Paracha tribe was made up of the descendants of a man called Ali Yemeni in Arabia who had converted to Islam during the early days of the faith in the 7th century CE.

The book went on to suggest that the tribe followed Yemeni into Persia where the Parachas became traders. From Persia various branches of the tribe spread out across north India, Central Asia and Afghanistan.

I was 14 when this book was published. It was rather nice to know that the tribe that I belonged to had not only been Muslim for hundreds of years, but had Arab genes. The author of the book had not cited any convincing sources to substantiate his claims other than perhaps mentioning what he had heard from his immediate elders. But his narrative about the origins of the Paracha clan became rather popular among his tribal brethren in Pakistan.

Even though as a teen I, too, had believed the claims made in the book, things in this context began to come apart when, as a college student in the mid and late 1980s, I came across a few tomes which steadfastly challenged the contents of the history text books being taught in our educational institutions. It was a liberating feeling.

What pioneering Pakistani ‘revisionist historians’ such as Dr Mubarak Ali, K.K. Aziz and Ayesha Jalal also did for young folk like me was to inform us how one should go about authenticating (or rejecting) claims presented as historical facts.

Surely, I thought, there must be more about the Paracha tribe beyond verbal folklore and modern narratives weaved to suit contemporary theological, social and political trends. All one had to do was to look for it.

In early 1993 I stumbled upon a dusty old book at a tiny bookstore in Islamabad. I was in that city as a reporter of an English weekly, sent there from Karachi to cover Benazir Bhutto’s ‘long march’ against the first Nawaz Sharif regime. I found the mentioned book two days after the march. It was called Tribes & Castes of Punjab and NWFP.

The book was published in the early 1900s and was authored by H. Arthur Rose, a British bureaucrat serving in the British Colonial government in India. It’s a fascinating read. It is entirely based on two detailed reports on the census conducted by the colonial set-up in Punjab and NWFP in 1883 and 1892 respectively.

And, indeed, there was a whole section on the Paracha tribe in it. According to the report, the Parachas mostly resided in the hilly Potohar region of north Punjab and in areas near the Punjab-NWFP border. They still do. Most fascinating (at least to me) was when the 1883 census report reproduced in the book quoted some elders of the tribe saying that the Paracha tribe migrated from Persia as Zoroastrians and became Buddhists in India. They then converted to Islam sometime in the 11th century CE.

But just as the dubious 1981 book had done, the 19th century census reports too were quoting Paracha elders. Nevertheless, another book confirmed what the 19th century old men were suggesting. In his hefty 2007 book Pakistan through the Ages famous Pakistani archaeologist, historian and linguist Ahmad Hasan Dani mentions the names of some of the tribes which accompanied the Kushan people, who established an empire in Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan between first and third centuries CE.

According to Dani’s archaeological findings, the Kushan were a syncretic people in Persia and Central Asia. They were followers of a faith which was a hybrid of Zoroastrianism and classical Greek mythology. During the time of the empire’s greatest ruler, Kanishka, the empire became entirely Buddhist. One of the tribes which Dani suggests accompanied the Kushan into what today is Pakistan, was called Pirache which later became Paracha and/or Piracha.

I think I’d rather stick to the claims of an accomplished archeologist and historian than some guy who concocted a figure called Ali Yemeni because he found the idea of being from Arabia rather appealing.

Anyway, these days a simple DNA tracking method can actually trace back one’s ancestors millions of years. Take the example of the Pakistani-American lad who was always told that his ancestors came from Arabia until in August 2016 when he got his DNA tested. The results showed that he was 97 percent South Asian and had zero percent Middle Eastern ancestry. He gleefully announced these results in a video on Youtube.

Dr Mubarak Ali, in his book In Search of Identity writes that the practice of claiming non-South-Asian ancestry among the region’s Muslims began during the collapse of the Mughal Empire in the 18th century CE. According to him, the Mughals largely employed Persian-speaking men in their courts. Almost all of them were migrants from Persia or Central Asia. But when the influence and power of the Mughal dynasty began to recede, such men stopped travelling to India. Their places were gradually filled by ‘local converts’ or South Asian men who had converted to Islam (from Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and other religions in the region).

The resultant ascent of local Muslims in India initially saw them taken pride in their ‘local’ roots (thus the sudden mushrooming of Urdu). But Dr Ali suggests that once they were established as the new courtiers, traders, feudal lords and members of an expanding Muslim middle-class in India, most of them began to alter their ancestral histories.

Since the idea of nobility was still associated with non-South-Asian Muslims, and the fact that Muslims of India had begun to see themselves as a separate cultural entity, claiming to originate outside of South Asia became a norm.

This norm continued even after the creation of Pakistan, especially after the mid-1970s, when because of the rise of oil-rich monarchies in the Middle East and the growth of so-called ‘Political Islam’, the trend of claiming Arabian ancestry became rampant.

But the thing is, the many social and political complexities of this issue can now actually be untangled in one go by the ‘Human Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing.’ It is simple and relatively cheap. Apparently a person can get one done for less than 150 dollars.

In 1987 three well-known genealogists (Cann, Stoneking and Wilson) published a stunning report of a worldwide human mtDNA survey. The survey had collected DNA samples of numerous men and women from around the world to see who originated where. As they dug deeper and looked further back, they found that mtDNA in every living person on the planet today stems from a woman who lived in Africa some 200,000 years ago!

Scientists now believe that no matter what faith, language, nationality, immediate ancestral history or colour of skin one possesses, he or she came from a single woman who was a member of a pre-historic tribe in Africa. A rather humbling thought.

Source: Dubious ancestors
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 22nd, 2017
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Smoker's corner: Doing the dhamaal

I consider myself a ‘Muslim rationalist.’ Over the years I have devoured the writings of well-known South Asian ‘Muslim modernists’, from Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Syed Ameer Ali, Chiragh Ali to Muhammad Iqbal and Fazalur Rehman Malik.

Sir Syed has been a particular favourite of mine. His writings became the road which I eventually took almost 25 years ago when I decided to ditch the rapidly fading and crumbling highway of ‘Marxism.’ As a young man I had taken the so-called Marxist thoroughfare to avoid the twisted, bumpy pathway being constructed by the state and government of Pakistan back in the 1980s. This pathway eventually led the country to a very dark place, haunted by some vicious ideological and theological complications, and, consequently, multiple tragedies born from these convolutions.

The first time I actually managed to discover Sir Syed’s rather remarkable stream of logic (outside of the one-dimensional portrayal of the man present in text books), was through a 1987 tome on Sir Syed by Shafique Ali Khan. Quoting from a late 19th century essay by Sir Syed, Shafique Ali wrote that Syed believed the Muslims of India, after reaching the heights of imperial power, had become dissolute and lazy. When this led to them losing political power, they became overtly nostalgic about imagined past glories, which in turn, solidified their inferiority complex. This caused a hardening of views against modernity and the emergence of a dogmatic attitude in matters of faith.

Advice for those who after the terrorist attack at LalShahbaz’s shrine, focussed more on condemning the ecstatic dance
In 1943, S.W. Cantwell in Modern Islam in India wrote that to Syed, the decrees passed by ancient ulema were time-bound and could not be imposed in a changing scenario of what was taking place here and now. Syed believed that the codes of belief and spirituality were the main concerns of Islam and that cultural habits (pertaining to eating, dressing, etc.) are mundane matters for which Islam provides only moral guidance because they change with time and place. Syed added that if faith is not practiced through reason, it can never be followed with any real conviction. He insisted that the ulema were conceiving their world view by uncritically borrowing from the thoughts of ancient ulema. To him, this had made them dogmatic in their thinking and hostile towards even the most positive aspects of the changes taking place around them.

Yet, during the period in which I had begun to somewhat discover the inner workings of what came to be known as Muslim Modernism, I continued to frequent the shrines of Sufi saints and joyfully partake in ceremonies such as the dhamaal. At the shrines of Karachi, the interior of Sindh and South Punjab, my teachers were the thousands of downtrodden men and women who would come to the shrine in droves, and still do. I had been reading book after book on Sufism, but thanks to what I had learned from observing and talking to the common folk at the shrines, I have always maintained that there was absolutely nothing doctrinal about Sufism.

If one observes South Asia’s ancient shrine culture, he or she will notice that Sufism in the region has always been more experiential than doctrinal. I have wondered, why, as a young man, I used to just walk into shrines to listen to a qawwali or do the dhamaal. I did not belong to the class of people who largely visit shrines. Indeed, I could not help but visit these places weighed down by the baggage of being a member of the urban middle-class and its inherent belief of being more educated, ‘civilised’ and chiefly more informed about matters of the faith than the men and women who throng the shrines.

If one observes South Asia’s ancient shrine culture, he or she will notice that Sufism in the region has always been more experiential than doctrinal.
But the moment I became part of all that goes on in a shrine, I began to understand that ideology had nothing to do with this. Things like the dhamaal and qawwali were cathartic exercises, beyond which lay an attempt by a person to strike a special connection with the Almighty which just cannot be intellectualised or rigidly ritualised.

What I learned from (and about) the many people that I interacted with at the shrines was that the saints struck such a connection by roaming among the masses and then, after transcending regimented rituals, they retreated inwards to reach those parts of the mind and the heart that were not so well-known or explored. From here, they claimed, they could actually experience the presence of the Almighty — a presence whose power and beauty may render a mortal man senseless, and annihilate his ego. The annihilation process in this context (fana) was the price the saints were willing to pay.

Indeed, due to habit, I am still trying to intellectualise all this but at least all those visits to the shrines in my youth did often annihilate my middle-class ego and inherent sense of superiority. Never have I felt the awe-inspiring might and beauty of the Almighty and his many creations, as I did in those less pretentious days of youthful discovery.

I haven’t done the dhamaal for over 20 years now. And I don’t know why. Maybe to continue avoiding middle-class biases and that fabricated sense of superiority which my class carries, I have laden my mind with equally weighty doctrines that stand opposed to such biases? Maybe. But even today, when I listen to a qawwali or watch a group of people doing the dhamaal, I can, just for a moment, still feel that inexplicable burst of spiritual liberation which I used to as a younger man.

So, here’s an advice to those few who, after that terrible terrorist attack at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz last week, rather brazenly began to speak more about the practice of people performing the dhamaal at the shrine, than the attack itself: Do the dhamaal! It just might shake you up and make you remember that over 80 innocent lives were lost in the attack, out of which 25 were children. You may be losing your humanity by sounding the way you are, but try to at least hold on to your soul which is clearly being gnawed away by your fake sense of intellectual and theological superiority.

Source: Doing the dhamaal
Published in Dawn, EOS, February 26th, 2017
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Last year on these pages I wrote about an ageing man in Karachi who had travelled to Egypt to fight against the Israeli military during the 1967 Egypt-Israel war.

After the war (which had lasted just six days and saw the Israelis wiping out the Soviet-backed Egyptian forces), the man had travelled to Jordan where he joined Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). He was soon sent to a village on the Lebanon-Israel border to mount guerrilla attacks against Israeli border guards.

During the planning of one such attack, the PLO squad he was part of split when there arose a possibility that the attack might cause civilian casualties. He told me that the majority of the men in his squad were against killing civilians and refused to take part in the attack which was eventually aborted. The man returned to Pakistan and set up a tea stall on Karachi’s I.I. Chundrigar Road.

Disturbed, confused and angry youth are easy recruits for militant groups promising them an identity in return for total obedience to a charismatic leader

The reason I have briefly repeated this story here is to contextualise the mutation of the idea of modern Muslim militancy and/or how drastically it has changed in the last four decades or so.

Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, James Lutz, in his 2005 book Terrorism: Origins & Evolution, wrote that most European left-wing and Palestinian guerrilla groups, between the 1960s and late 1970s, largely avoided inflicting civilian casualties because they wanted the media and the people to sympathise with them.

This is not to suggest that civilian deaths were always entirely avoided; it is however true that many militant groups often suffered splits within their ranks on this issue. The most well-known split in this context (and regarding Muslim militancy) was the one between Yasir Arafat and Abu Nidal in the PLO in 1974. Arafat had decided to abandon armed militancy and chart a more political course. Nidal on the other hand not only wanted to continue pursuing militancy but wanted to intensify it even further. He formed the violent Abu Nidal Organisation (ANO) which, by the 1980s, had become a notorious mercenary outfit for various radical Arab regimes in Libya, Iraq and Syria.

Even the anti-Soviet ‘mujahideen’ in Afghanistan — the forerunners of devastating ‘Islamist’ outfits such as Al-Qaeda — were conscious of receiving good press and public sympathy by avoiding civilian casualties. In spite of being heavily indoctrinated by CIA and Saudi-funded clerics in Afghanistan and Pakistan to embrace death as a religious duty, the mujahideen did not use suicide bombings, not even against Soviet forces.

The first-ever suicide bombing involving Muslim militants took place in Beirut in 1983 when a member of the Hezbollah drove a truck laden with explosives into a compound full of US military personnel. Yet, it was not until the 1990s, when so-called Islamic militants, many of who had never used violence against civilians during the Afghan insurgency, began to attack soft civilian targets in various Muslim-majority countries.

In his excellent 2004 BBC documentary, Power of Nightmares, film-maker Adam Curtis noted that those who fought in Afghanistan were made to believe (by their facilitators in the US and Saudi Arabia) that it was their ‘religious war’ which downed a superpower in Kabul — many such fighters returned to their home countries and tried to overthrow the existing governments there.

Since this time they were trying to uproot Muslim regimes (and not atheist communists), Curtis suggests that they believed that they could trigger uprisings among the people against ‘corrupt Muslim regimes’ by creating revolutionary chaos in the society. Thus, car bombs began to explode in public places and, as Curtis then notes, once these failed to generate the desired uprisings, suicide bombings became common when the militants became desperate.

It is also vital to note that suicide bombings, despite the fact that suicide is explicitly forbidden in Islam because it challenges God’s authority over life and death, was hardly ever condemned even by the supposedly apolitical and non-militant religious figures. This was especially true between the 1990s and the mid-2000s and largely because most Muslims were still stuck in the quagmire of the glorified narratives of divinely-charged bravado diffused by Muslim and US propagandists during the anti-Soviet insurgency.

For example, in Pakistan, suicide bombings were not condemned till 2014. Even as 50,000 people lost their lives to terror attacks between 2004 and 2014, many non-militant religious figures, reactionary media personalities and so-called experts were continuing to see sheer nihilist violence (in the name of faith) as reactions to state oppression, poverty, corruption, drone attacks, anything other than total nihilist madness.

Nihilism. That’s exactly what it really is. Famous French academic, author and a long-time expert on Islamic militancy, Oliver Roy, recently wrote in The Guardian [April 13, 2017], that the nihilist dimension is central to understanding the unprecedented brutality of outfits such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and especially the militant Islamic state (IS) group. To them violence is not a means. It is an end in itself. Such nihilism that wants to wipe out existing social, cultural and political modes and structures of civilisation through ‘apocalyptic violence’ has been used before in varied forms and in the name of varied ideologies. Nazis in Germany did it in the name of Aryan supremacy; Mao Tse Tung in China did it in the name of ‘permanent (communist) revolution’; and the Khmer Rouge did it in Cambodia, by wiping out thousands of Cambodians and announcing communism’s ‘Year Zero.’

But since Islamic nihilists are still in the shape of insurgents (and not part of any state), Roy sees them more as large apocalyptic death cults who this time just happen to be using Islam as a war cry, mainly because this gives them immediate media coverage.

Roy writes that just as disturbed teens and confused angry youth become easy recruits for cults promising them an identity (in return for total obedience to a charismatic leader), contemporary nihilists and death cults posing as ‘Islamic outfits’ attract exactly the same kind of following.

What’s more, after painstakingly going through the profiles of known young men and women who decided to join such cults and willed themselves to carry out the murder of civilians and of themselves, Roy found that only a tiny number of them were ever actually involved in any political movements before their entry into the outfit. Roy noted that most were ‘born again Muslims’ who had suddenly become very vocal about their beliefs and then were rapidly drawn in by the many recruitment tactics of nihilist cults operating as Islamic outfits around the world.

Most telling is the fact that religious figures in Muslim countries had continued to see the nihilists as a radical expression and extension of the glories of the Afghan insurgency—only to now realise that to the nihilists they too are as much infidels as the Soviets were, or the Westerners are.

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 11th, 2017
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Recently Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan has been referencing former prime minister Z.A. Bhutto (ZAB) to contextualise his political standing. Ever since his dramatic rise in 2011, Khan has often compared the dynamics of his party’s populist upsurge with those of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the late 1960s.

It is quite apparent that Khan has been studying the early history of the PPP to explain and even understand his own rise, and more so, what to do with it. This was not the case before 2011 when Imran’s party was a tiny entity which — since its birth in the mid-1990s — was more of a reactive lobby of sorts, and a political expression of a man who had abruptly discovered a world which he had hidden himself from as a flamboyant cricketer and an ‘international sex symbol.’

In 2011, Khan’s political status and party began to experience a sudden lift and momentum. This thrust was aided by the social and political ruptures which had been created by an unprecedented rise in terrorism; the tense relations between the Zardari regime and the military establishment; a buckling economy; and a growing but increasingly restless urban middle class that couldn’t transform its cumulative economic influence into political leverage. Some political scientists have described this new middle class (in the Muslim world) as the ‘blocked elite.’

Khan was unprepared after the 2013 election when the PTI rose to become a truly animated populist enormity. And this is when Khan’s references to ZAB began in earnest. After sailing through an entirely secular, glamorous and apolitical existence as a popular sportsman and a so-called ‘playboy’ in the 1970s and 1980s, Khan rolled over to the right after his retirement from cricket in 1992.

The PTI chief not only borrowed a page from ZAB’s playbook, he executed it better than the former prime minister

He was initially mentored by far-right figures such as the former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the late Gen Hamid Gul. Later, he fell in with the political philosophy of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). However, once hit by that sudden wave of populism after 2011, Khan was quick to realise that the dynamics of populist politics are not compatible with the right-wing elitism and exclusivism advocated by Gen Gul and the JI.

This is when Khan began to closely study the rise of Z.A. Bhutto because he felt that he was now in the same furrow that Bhutto had been in when he rose rapidly as a populist entity in the late 1960s. When Khan promised a “naya (new) Pakistan” in 2011, he was simply exhuming a slogan which Bhutto had used in December 1971. Author Phillip E. Jones in his essay on Bhutto in the History of Pakistan — edited and compiled by Robert D. Long — points out that Bhutto promised a ‘new Pakistan’ immediately after taking over as president from Gen Yahya Khan.

But when Bhutto used this expression, he had done so to explain a country which was already new, having lost its eastern wing (East Pakistan) in a civil war. What was once West Pakistan was now the only Pakistan and Bhutto described it as “naya Pakistan.” So Khan rehashed this slogan in the context of a different reality.

But he did see similarities between the violent ethnic militancy in the former East Pakistan and the post-2007 mushrooming of religious militancy in the Pakhtun-majority tribal areas (Fata) and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). This perception greatly angers Pakhtun nationalists. They see Khan naively echoing a now-eroded perception which explains religious militancy in KP and Fata as an evolutionary expression of Pakhtun nationalism.

Pakhtun nationalist parties such as the Awami National Party and the Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party have insisted that (between the early and mid-2000s) certain sections of the ‘establishment’ proliferated this perception in order to neutralise the Pakhtun nationalist sentiment. This perception has now largely evaporated, mainly due to the unprecedented belligerence of extremist militant outfits against the state, and the continual mainstreaming of established Pakhtun nationalist parties.

When Khan saw his party become a large and boisterous outfit after 2011, he was forced to expand the party’s message. For this he again went back to Bhutto. In his speeches between 2011 and 2014, Khan often praised the social welfare model on which the economies of various Scandinavian countries were constructed.

PPP’s 1967 founding documents too praised the ‘Scandinavian model.’ The PPP used this to explain the party’s meaning of socialism. But Khan adopted the other aspect which the founding documents also emphasised: i.e. an admiration for the economic policies encouraged by various established social democratic parties in Europe.

But economics alone did not contribute to the making of European welfare states. Social democracy also advocates various left-liberal ideas in the social sphere which are entirely anathema to the more conservative sections of Pakistani society. Once again, Khan returned to Bhutto to address this dilemma.

Jones in the aforementioned essay wrote that when the PPP came under attack by the JI for ‘promoting atheistic socialism’, Bhutto encouraged Hanif Ramay to insert the term ‘Islamic Socialism’ in the party’s manifesto. Bhutto began to describe the party’s socialism as Masawat-i-Muhammadi. Christophe Jaffrelot in The Pakistan Paradox wrote that Bhutto often explained Masawat-i-Muhammadi as the just and egalitarian system implemented by the Prophet (PBUH) in seventh-century Madina.

Khan has adopted this posture word for word. While Bhutto was constantly attacked for being ‘anti-Islam’, Khan — apart from being hailed by a large section of the quasi-liberal middle classes — is championed by a new breed of religious conservatives.

I believe this is due to the one thing which Khan did and Bhutto did not: Practice religious ritualism in public.

For example, Mehboob Hussain in his paper “Islamisation of the Constitution” wrote that in 1973 when Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam chief Maulana Noorani wanted the Bhutto regime to amend the constitution to make certain Muslim rituals compulsory, the government responded by saying: “Pakistan was not created to uphold the rituals of Islam, but to implement Islam’s economic system that was egalitarian.”

Khan left this bit out from his continuing usage of Bhutto’s rhetoric and ideas. Instead, he began performing the namaaz on stage during his rallies. At least this is one reason why his social democratic rhetoric has drawn a more positive response from conservatives than Bhutto’s did.

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 1st, 2017
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A few years ago in a TV interview that he gave to the former England cricket captain Mike Atherton, Imran Khan kept insisting that he didn’t dwell much on the past and was more focused on the present and the future. Yet, he often loves talking about how under his captaincy the Pakistan cricket team won the 1992 World Cup in Australia. His many fans on social media continue to upload highlights of the final in which Pakistan defeated England to lift the cup. They are always quick to remind Khan’s detractors of this feat, even though, most probably, many of them were still in their shorts at the time or not even born.

This does not in any way take away their right to celebrate that famous win. After all, this is one memory Khan frequently talks about. But why this particular memory of a man who claims to never think much about the past? Simply put, because the constant celebration of this memory serves his political standing and appeal best, whereas many other bits of his past do not. Or so he believes.

When Atherton wanted him to comment on his youthful past as a ‘playboy’ and someone who loved to party, Khan kept insisting that all this was in the past, much of which he didn’t even remember. Yet, during the course of the interview, he did quite clearly remember many other bits of the same past. But these were the bits which did not reflect badly on the kind of wholesome image that he and his supporters have been trying to construct of him as a politician and possible future prime minister.

Imran Khan’s colourful celebrity past has pushed him to present a stark image of himself as a political icon

A young supporter of Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), began to regularly email me right after he had cast his first-ever vote during the 2013 election. He still writes to me. Whereas his emails up until late last year were mostly about why he thought Khan was the best candidate for the PM’s job, his last two emails (one sent in February of this year and the other in April) were rather critical of the leader he once so admired.

I seldom respond to his emails, but in April I did, asking him what Khan had done to anger such a passionate follower. His reply: “Khan has made fools out of thousands of passionate supporters like me by continuing to accept close-minded people in the party. I was wrong. He is anything but progressive and I am tired of proving that he is.”

When I shared this with a journalist colleague of mine, he said, “This email is about that long-held, million-dollar question: why is Khan so attracted to the most ‘reactionary’ breed of people?”

I have met Khan only once, when as a 15-year-old schoolboy I managed to shake his hand outside the dressing room of Karachi’s National Stadium in 1982, soon after he had destroyed the Indian batting with his vicious in-swingers. Khan was anything but “reactionary.” And I believe he isn’t one even now. I remember I was quite excited when he decided to join politics in the early 1990s. But in this act lies the answer to the ‘million-dollar question’ that my colleague is trying to crack.

The reality of him being a charismatic ladies’ man or playboy with awesome cricketing skills was perfect for his sporting career which attracted some of the first lucrative sponsorship deals offered to a Pakistani sports personality. But the moment he decided to take the plunge to join the volatile world of Pakistani politics, he became just too conscious of this image.

From sounding like a dynamic cricket captain with some sharp insights about the game, and a brooding icon of lifestyle liberalism, he suddenly began to sound like a middle-aged man who, for the first time in his life, had read the standard Pakistan Studies book. If that wasn’t enough (it wasn’t), he made it a point to publicly declare that he had rediscovered his faith. I’ve always wondered why most folks who go through spiritual transformations have to announce it publicly? Shouldn’t it be a matter between the Almighty and them? I think it should, unless, of course, like Khan, one has a colourful past which he thought would become a burdensome baggage to carry into politics.

Khan’s understanding of his own country’s society is rather simplistic. It’s black and white, based on that intellectually lazy cliché of this society being entirely conservative. Had that been the case, he would have never been such a star during his cricketing days. As a cricket star, he never tried to overtly defend his lifestyle or even hide it. He didn’t need to. This was Pakistan, not Iran or Saudi Arabia.

But once Khan decided to see the same country as a politician, to him it suddenly started to look like a place no better than Somalia — but one which had millions of pious men and women exploited by a corrupt elite and khooni (who allow bloodletting) liberals, awaiting an equally pious but slightly more dashing messiah.

What about his own well-documented khooni-liberal past? Reading Pakistan Studies books and hiring wise spiritual tutors wasn’t going to cut it. Thus began his attraction towards what my colleague believes are “reactionary characters.” It began with former ISI chief Gen Hamid Gul, who till his last breath was still romancing the 1980s Afghan jihad.

Gul imparted some wonderful tips on the art and science of politics to Khan. This inspired Khan to often declare that he was no ‘brown sahib’ but then, just as often travel to London in a tuxedo. One day he returned with a rich Caucasian lady as wife. Gul was livid. It didn’t matter to Gul that Khan had converted her to Islam. Her father was a Jew. And that was that.

But all said and done, Khan was still quite a ladies’ man. He was, however, distraught to discover that, like Gul, some of his pious countrymen weren’t amused. So off he went to now praise the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). In the early 2000s, he described it to be the most enlightened political party, even though there is every likelihood that he spent more time talking about it with then JI chief, late Qazi Hussain Ahmad, than reading any of the many books JI’s founder Abul Ala Maudidi wrote.

But Khan’s past continued to pop up. So even more was required to bury it for good for the benefit of the people of the pious banana republic he now wanted to save. So out came statements against US drone attacks, and against the Pakistan military’s operations against the extremists. These were coupled with very public exhibitions of the fact that Khan was now regularly saying his prayers like a true faithful.

Drone attacks, he said, were being prompted by dastardly liberals who were fake liberals and he was the more genuine liberal because he was against war, but one who enjoyed hunting in the rugged tribal areas with the rugged tribesmen who he proudly explained came from ‘a warrior race.’

And it went on. And it goes on like a vicious circle. The more conscious he becomes of a past he still so desperately wants to suppress, the more he ends up patronising ‘reactionary characters’ to the utter bemusement of his more urbane supporters. Radical clerics, populist motormouth TV personalities, rabid conspiracy theorists, hate-spouting bigots — he is willing to play footsie with them so he can finally prove that he has become the most pious, honest, God-fearing man to ever walk the scorched grounds of this banana republic.

Khan, I’m afraid, has become a parody of the Khan he once wanted to construct after he joined politics in 1995. Through whatever form of wisdom he crossed paths with during that period, it made him decide to loathe his past. And yet, ironically, it’s a past without which Khan would have even struggled to become a member of the country’s cricket selection committee, let alone become the chief of a major political party.

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 10th, 2018
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Old Sunday, September 02, 2018
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A really informative post
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