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Old Sunday, April 27, 2014
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Default K.K. Aziz: Murder he wrote

K.K. Aziz: Murder he wrote

K.K. Aziz is a well-known name among academics and students of history in Pakistan. Many young people in this country are thankful to him for liberating them from the stranglehold of the myopic and slanted histories and ideological narratives that they were indoctrinated with at school and college.

In Pakistan, histories related to the ideological make-up of the country have been gradually mutated; a process in which, over the decades, every major political debacle has seen the insertion of a series of brand new half-truths in school textbooks. This has entailed the ‘extraction’ of those truths that might contradict the state’s rationale in explaining these debacles.

It’s an almost Orwellian process that (even till the late 1980s) was not fully studied or questioned, in spite of the fact that there was ample evidence available to challenge the spotty yarns and spins that had begun to enjoy a two-fold growth in the country’s textbooks (especially after the 1971 East Pakistan tragedy and then during the military dictatorship of Gen Zia in the 1980s).

However, ever since the mid-1990s, a vibrant wave of scholarship has slowly developed comprising historians and intellectuals deconstructing historical claims featured as facts in school textbooks.

The results have been startling, even intellectually liberating, for those wanting to study the history of the country in a more rational and detached manner. The leading architects of such studies include Ayesha Jalal, Dr Mubarak Ali, Dr Tariq Rahman, Rubina Saigol, Professor A.H. Nayyar and Dr Iftikhar Ahmed.

However the first noted Pakistani historian to initiate such a study was the enigmatic Professor K.K. Aziz. His 1985 book Murder of History was one of the first studies that directly challenged the numerous claims made (about Pakistan’s creation and ideological evolution) in school textbooks.

Aziz’s book failed to sell well when it was first published in 1985. But it did reach all those who (from the mid-1990s) would eventually initiate a robust inquiry into the material that was being taught to school children in the name of history and ‘Pakistan studies’. Today Murder of History is one of the most popular books among local history buffs and has enjoyed numerous reprints.

But what made Aziz write it? First of all he had closely witnessed the state’s project to revise many parts of the history books being taught in schools after the 1971 East Pakistan debacle. Because (ironically) when this project was first initiated (during the populist Z.A. Bhutto regime), Aziz was part of that government!

Before all this, Aziz, after receiving a PhD from Manchester University (in the 1950s), returned to Pakistan and became an active member of the time’s ‘progressive crowd’. But unlike the many scientists, poets, intellectuals and politicians that he befriended in Lahore’s coffee houses, Aziz decided to become a dedicated historian.

By the early 1960s he had already authored a number of books on the history of colonialism in South Asia. But more interestingly (in the late 1960s), he helped conservative historian, I.H. Qureshi, in authoring The Struggle for Pakistan — the book that would go on to inform the state-backed history of Pakistan (during the Bhutto and Zia regimes), and the book that Aziz would then go on to deconstruct in his Murder of History.

Aziz was teaching at a university in Khartoum (Sudan) when he was invited by the Bhutto regime to head the Pakistan Commission of Historical and Cultural Research (PCHCR).

In 1974 he was given the task to shape and streamline the findings of the hefty Humoodur Rehman Commission. The commission had conducted an extensive inquiry into the civil war in former East Pakistan and on its consequential seperation from the rest of Pakistan in December 1971.

However, in 1977 just when he was about to convert his hectic research into a report and a possible book, Bhutto’s regime was toppled in a military coup by Gen Zia.

Zia immediately removed Aziz from the PCHCR and then got the police to raid his home. All of his research material was confiscated. Heartbroken, Aziz moved back to Khartoum but after Sudan also began to experience political turmoil, Aziz managed to bag a research chair at a university in Germany.

It was here that he began to collect the material from which some of his most well-known books would emerge.

In 1985 he returned to Lahore and stayed with his brother-in-law who helped him publish Murder of History. Once again, this landed him in a confrontation with the Zia regime.

He was now struggling to make ends meet. No one was willing to publish him and he needed a proper facility where he could conduct his scholarly research and write his books.

He was still staying with his brother-in-law in Lahore when in 1993 the second edition of Murder of History was published. This time the book did relatively well. Also, Benazir Bhutto’s second government had come to power and she instructed the Pakistan Embassy in the UK to provide an office to Aziz and a nominal monthly salary.

He travelled to the UK and began work on at least eight books simultaneously! In 1996 he lost his post at the Embassy when Benazir’s second government fell. With the help of some Pakistanis in the UK, his stay in London was funded before this too fell away and he had to return to Pakistan.

But in Lahore he had a falling out with his brother-in-law and stayed with a friend instead. During Nawaz Sharif’s second government he again faced intellectual isolation and in 1999 packed his bags and left for the UK again.

However, he had already managed to finish a number of books. The manuscripts of these books were left behind with various publishers who began to publish them.

Though he had vowed never to return to Pakistan, in 2008 he landed in Lahore but died the next year due to an illness.

As fate would have it, by the time Aziz decided to return the reputation of this once rejected and isolated academic had been transformed and he was hailed as a thorough scholar and pioneering historian.

Murder of History enjoyed its third edition in 2010 and is now widely quoted by noted Pakistani and Western historians. Also, ever since his death, a series of books authored by Aziz in the 1990s have appeared. The history sections of books stores across Pakistan now carry a number of works authored by Aziz, something that was almost inconceivable even till the mid-1990s.

K.K. Aziz: Murder he wrote
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Default Fatima Jinnah: A sister’s sorrow

Fatima Jinnah: A sister’s sorrow

One of the most fascinating characters in the initial saga of the painful birth of Pakistan is Fatima Jinnah, the frail-looking, graceful but gritty sister of the founder of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. She was a passionate political worker, a determined activist for women’s rights and a qualified dental surgeon to boot.

After receiving a degree (in dentistry) from the University of Calcutta in 1914, she became a close counsellor and a trusted confidant of her brother. She enthusiastically backed her brother when (in the 1940s) he finally decided to manoeuvre his party, the All India Muslim League (AIML), towards a more polemical position on the question of the future of India’s Muslims.

The move consequently helped the AIML evolve into a mass-based party (among India’s Muslims). After the tense 1946 election in the Punjab where the party finally managed to reverse the electoral fortunes of the Indian Congress Party, certain Congress-backed confessional Muslim groups and the Unionist Party, AIML suddenly became the main engine behind what would later come to be known as the Pakistan Movement.

Miss Jinnah worked tirelessly for the movement and was able to win respect and recognition within and outside the AIML. However, after the movement was able to achieve a separate Muslim country in 1947, Miss Jinnah’s existence as a Pakistani was wrought with disappointments, disillusionment and eventual isolation.

Much has been speculated about her life as a Pakistani between 1947 and 1967 (the year she passed away).

But one of the best and most authentic accounts of her disappointments arrived in the shape of a book that she wrote in 1955 (My Brother) but which was published 32 years later in 1987!

Even though her status was immediately elevated to that of being a patriotic heroine after the creation of Pakistan, why did it take so long for her book to be available for public consumption?

The answer to this can be found in some of the contents of the book. In it she laments how her brother was quickly ‘betrayed’ by even some of his closest comrades who had worked with him during the Pakistan Movement.

Jinnah had assumed the role of Pakistan’s first Governor General in 1947. But he faced his first surprise when, after his famous Aug 11 address to Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly (in which he declared his vision of Pakistan being a progressive Muslim majority state), the bureaucracy of the time (pressed by Muslim League’s leading members), asked the country’s nascent print media and radio to only publish and broadcast an edited version of Jinnah’s speech.

According to Miss Jinnah’s book, her brother, who had been suffering from tuberculosis throughout the later stages of his struggle for Pakistan, began to lose his health more rapidly after 1947. In her mind this was due to the disappointments and the sense of betrayal he felt at the hands of some of his closest comrades.

Miss Jinnah seemed particularly bitter towards Pakistan’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, who was perhaps Jinnah’s closest colleague in the Muslim League.

She wrote that her brother told her that many of his former colleagues were coming to meet him only to determine how much life there was left in him, implying that they were most probably waiting for him to quietly perish.

In her book Miss Jinnah also laments how heartlessly her brother was picked up and put in an ambulance (to be taken to a hospital) and how the ambulance broke down in the middle of the road. Jinnah expired on Sept 11, 1948.

There might have been pressure from the government in disallowing Miss Jinnah to publish her book in 1955, but there is also ample evidence suggesting that it was Miss Jinnah herself who hesitated to get the book published. Pakistan was just eight years old and Liaquat Ali Khan had been assassinated in 1951.

Author and intellectual Khaled Ahmed, in his 2001 book, Pakistan Behind the Ideological Mask quotes celebrated lawyer, Sharifuddin Pirzada (who was a secretary to Jinnah), in saying that when Miss Jinnah appeared on Radio Pakistan to announce her brother’s death, the state-owned radio channel’s director-general, Z A. Bokhari, got a call from a government official asking him to switch off Miss Jinnah’s speech the moment she began criticising the government’s heartless attitude towards the founder of the country and how he was left to die in an old ambulance.

She became a virtual recluse after Jinnah’s death, until in 1965 when she was pulled out of her self-imposed political retirement to challenge Field Martial Ayub Khan in a Presidential election.

Khan had imposed Pakistan’s first Martial Law in 1958 and had enjoyed significant popularity during the early years of his regime.

However, by 1965 his popularity had begun to dwindle a bit and his Presidential candidature was challenged by the Combined Opposition Parties (COP) — a group made up of certain left-wing parties (that were opposed to his staunchly capitalist policies) and right-wing religious outfits (that opposed the ‘secular’ disposition of his regime).

COP sprang a surprise when it convinced Miss Jinnah to become its candidate for the election. She initially hesitated, but then agreed.

Khan was expecting to sweep the election, but not any more. Though he did go on to win, Miss Jinnah defeated him in two of Pakistan’s largest cities, Karachi and Dhaka. She also won in Hyderabad and narrowly lost in Peshawar.

COP accused the regime of electoral malpractice, but Miss Jinnah once again decided to retire to a life of a recluse.

Her last meeting with a noted politician was with Z.A. Bhutto when he was eased out (as Foreign Minister) from the Ayub regime after he had disagreed with the President on his peace pact with India after the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war.

According to Stanley Wolpert (in his book Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan), soon after he was pushed into political oblivion by Ayub in 1966, Bhutto, whose house was close to Miss Jinnah’s (in Karachi), walked to her house and asked for her advice and guidance over a cup of tea.

She sounded disillusioned and told Bhutto: ‘I told you not to trust him (Ayub).’

A year later, she passed away at the age of 71 on July 9, 1967. The government announced her passing due to a heart-attack but to this day a number of politicians, and even Jinnah’s nephew Akber Pirbhai, insist that she was murdered.

She was 71 and is buried beside her brother’s grave in his impressive mausoleum in Karachi. Ironically, Liaquat Ali Khan too is buried there.

Fatima Jinnah: A sister’s sorrow
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Default The election that created Pakistan

The election that created Pakistan

Even till the early and mid-1940s, the leadership of the All India Muslim League (AIML) wasn’t quite sure exactly what its status was among the sizeable Muslim minority of India.

In 1944, AIML’s leading man and strategist, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, while talking to reporters in Bombay (present-day Mumbai), was lamenting that even though his opponents in the Indian National Congress (INC) were doing much to undermine AIML’s influence among the region’s Muslims, more damage in this respect was being done by certain Muslim politicians and outfits.

Confessional religious parties like the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind (JUH), and radical right-wing outfits such as the Majlis-i-Ahrar and the Khaksar Movement were staunchly against the concept of ‘Muslim Nationalism’ being propagated by Jinnah and his party.

AIML’s Muslim Nationalism was derived from the thoughts of various Muslim intellectuals. Most of them had been inspired by the writings of 19th Century Muslim scholars such as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Syed Ameer Ali.

Khan and Ali had pleaded to build a rational and modern Muslim middle-class in South Asia that would lead an intellectual and political movement to construct a distinct political and cultural identity for the Muslim minority of India.

But why were the AIML’s ideas in this regard being opposed by certain powerful Muslim groups?

JUH and radical groups like the Ahrar and the Khaksar believed that every Indian’s first goal should be independence from the British. They believed that Muslims of India were a significant minority (approximately 30per cent at the time) and (thus) would be in a position (after independence) to carve out a more powerful political, economic and cultural role for themselves in India.

They also claimed that AIML’s Muslim Nationalism was a construct based on the European idea of a nation-state and that Islam cannot be confined within the boundaries of nationalism.

AIML had performed poorly in most elections held in India’s Muslim-majority provinces. Bengal and Punjab contained the largest Muslim populations in undivided India. Though by the 1940s AIML had managed to make important inroads in Bengal, the party had been routed in Punjab in the elections held there in the 1930s.

In 1945 the British colonial government in India called for elections for the national and legislative assemblies. The election in the Punjab was to be held in February 1946.

The Congress’ aim was to win a majority in most provinces so it could press its claim to form a government of united (post-colonial) India. AIML’s goal was to win the polls in Muslim majority provinces so it could not only claim to be the largest Muslim party, but also assert its demand of carving out a separate Muslim nation-state from areas where the Muslims were in a majority.

The situation in the Punjab was tricky. Even though 57pc of Punjab’s population was Muslim, the AIML had badly lost the previous elections in the province.

Another defeat in the Punjab was guaranteed to deal a decisive blow to Jinnah and his party’s claims and demands.

The Congress understood this well and went all out to defeat the AIML in the Punjab.

The province was under the electoral dominance of the Unionists — a large outfit headed by Muslims belonging to the landed gentry and influential pirs (Muslim spiritual leaders). The party also had some Hindu and Sikh leaders.

In the last major election in the province (1937), the Unionists had won 95 seats (out of a total of 175). Congress had bagged 18 whereas the AIML had managed to win just one.

To guarantee another AIML thrashing in the Punjab, the Congress Party’s ace strategist, Sardar Patel, and the party’s leading Muslim leader, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, immediately went about constructing an airtight anti-AIML scenario.

The Congress, apart from contesting the election from its own platform (of Indian Nationalism), was also backing the Unionists in areas where the latter was expecting a tough fight from the AIML.

Apart from this, Patel dispatched a check of Rs50,000 (a hefty sum in those days) to Azad whose job it was to fund and co-ordinate anti-AIML Muslim groups such as the JUH, the Majlis-i-Ahrar and the Khaksar.

The Ahrar and the Khaksar enjoyed support among Punjab’s Muslim petty-bourgeoisies. These two parties (along with JUH), provided the Congress with fiery clerics who went about denouncing the AIML as being a party of ‘British agents,’ and ‘fake Muslims’.

The powerful Unionist Party on the other hand claimed that it alone was the true representative of Punjab’s Muslim majority.

Jinnah, who had till then been repulsed by populist political tactics, got together with Punjab’s AIML President, Khan of Mamdot, to chalk out a strategy to counter the ruckus being raised by the Congress with the help of the Unionists, the Ahrar, the Khaskar, the JUH and the Sikh nationalist outfit, the Akali dal.

Jinnah and Mamdot first brought in hundreds of members of AIML’s student-wing, the All India Muslim Students Federation (AIMSF), from various parts of India. Also brought in were members of the AIMSF’s women’s wing.

College and university students (both male and female) belonging to the AIMSF were dispatched across the Punjab in groups and asked to hold small rallies in the cities, villages and towns of the province.

They were to explain AIML’s manifesto as a fight against economic exploitation and a struggle to create a separate Muslim nation-state where there will be economic benefits for all and religious harmony.

To counter the fiery denouncements being aired by members of the Ahrar, the Khaksar and the JUH, the AIML managed to win the support of a group of JUH leaders who had disagreed with their party’s policy of siding with the Congress and the Unionists.

Led by Islamic scholar, Alama Shabir Ahmad Usmani, this batch of JUH renegades successfully began to counter the theological arguments (against a separate Muslim nation-state) being leveled by the anti-AIML clerics and ulema.

The anti-AIML clerics had accused the AIML of ‘misguiding the Muslims of India’ and working to keep the Muslims under the influence of the forces of exploitation. The pro-AIML clerics counter-attacked by accusing the Ahrar and other such outfits of being Congress agents who were working to keep the Muslims ‘under the thumb of India’s Hindu majority.’

AIML was also armed with a rather radical manifesto. Largely authored by one of the leading members of the AIML’s leftist lobby — Danial Latifi (a committed Socialist) — the manifesto promised sweeping land reforms, religious harmony and an end to economic exploitation.

Another (last minute) attainment that Jinnah and his party managed to achieve was the support of the influential pirs of the province. Punjab’s pirs had for long been associated with the Unionist Party, but just as the elections drew near, many of them were convinced by the AIML leadership to switch sides and become part of the AIML.

The voter turnout was high on the day of the polls. The Unionists were expected to win the bulk of the seats, followed by the Congress.

But the results shocked the Congress and the Unionists. The AIML managed to win 73 seats (out of 175). The Unionists could only bag 20. The Congress won 51 and the Sikh Akali dal 22.

The Ahrar and the Khaksars failed to win even a single seat. The AIML bagged the largest share of the total Muslim vote (65pc). Just 19pc of the Muslim votes went to Ahrar and the Khaksars.

Though the Congress, the Unionists and the Akali dal managed to form a wobbly and short-lived coalition government in the Punjab, AIML finally managed to augment itself as India’s largest Muslim party.

It also did well in two other Muslim majority provinces. It won 113 (out of 230) seats in the Bengal and 27 (out of 60) in Sindh.

The results greatly accelerated the party’s demand for a separate Muslim nation-state, and after winning the provincial election in another Muslim-majority region, the NWFP (in early/mid-1947), the party finally managed to carve out Pakistan from the rest of India (August 1947).

The election that created Pakistan
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The angst of ecstasy

After my father passed away in October 2009, I told my mother that I would take her to perform the annual Muslim pilgrimage, the Hajj, in Makkah.

My parents had been married for over 40 years, and my Hajj proposition was at least one way I thought would help my mother overcome her sorrow.

Unfortunately certain professional commitments have kept me from keeping my word, but I do still plan to hon*our it.

Nevertheless, since I usually read up on anything that even slightly interests me, from hefty histories to comic books to fur*ni*ture bro*chures; I de*ci*ded to do some read*ing on Hajj as well soon af*ter I told my moth*er I’d be tak*ing her to Makkah.

Of course, I did the usu*al thing by first talk*ing to the ar*my of rel*a*tives who have per*formed the Hajj on mul*ti*ple oc*ca*sions, but what I was real*ly look*ing for was some*thing that didn’t read like a man*ual or wasn’t stuf*fed with clichéd hy*per*boles about the hal*lowed ex*pe*ri*ence and event.

Well, I did get my hands on a cou*ple of books that I quick*ly dev*oured, but it was on*ly by chance that I stum*bled upon a book on the sub*ject that left me great*ly in*trigued. I found it at a sec*ond-hand book store. It was ly*ing just be*hind an old book on Stalin that I had orig*i*nal*ly picked up from the shelf.

It looked real*ly old and was called Labbaik (I am pres*ent). I picked it up and blew away that ir*ri*tat*ing, ubiq*ui*tous Karachi dust from its crum*bling cov*er. The book was in Urdu and just had the ti*tle and the au*thor’s name on it.

It was auth*ored by one Mumtaz Mufti. I didn’t know who the gen*tle*man was but lat*er dis*cov*ered that he was a re*spec*ted short-story writ*er who had been in*flu*enced by fa*mous psy*chol*o*gist, Sigmund Freud, but from the 1960s on*wards had be*come an ar*dent ad*mir*er of Sufism un*der the guid*ance of an*oth*er fa*mous Urdu writ*er, Qudrat Ullah Shahab.

The book was first pub*lish*ed in 1975 and in fact what I had in my hands was a 1975 pa*per*back ed*i*tion. The book is about Mufti’s maid*en trip to Makkah to per*form Hajj.

What ex*ci*ted me the most about this dis*cov*ery was that a learned Pakistani Muslim was re*lat*ing his ex*pe*ri*ence about the aus*pi*cious pil*grim*age and that too dur*ing a time when Pakistan’s so*ci*ety was quite dif*fer*ent in mat*ters of spi*ri*tu*al*i*ty.

This got me read*ing the book the mo*ment I bought it (for Rs150) and brought it home.

Mufti had writ*ten this book when mat*ters of the faith in Pakistan had not been com*plete*ly sub*jec*ted to var*i*ous so*cial and po*lit*i*cal com*pli*ca*tions.

And what a read it turned out to be. Mufti writes that in 1965 he was sud*den*ly over*whelmed by the long*ing to per*form the Hajj. This sur*prised him be*cause he was not a very ob*serv*ant Muslim. To him mere rit*ual had noth*ing to do with spi*ri*tu*al*i*ty but he now con*sid*ered the Hajj to be more about spi*ri*tu*al self-dis*cov*ery than rit*uals.

So off he went to Makkah on a PIA flight. With him were many com*mon Pakistani men and wom*en on the plane all go*ing to Makkah to per*form the Hajj. Also on the flight was a group of cler*ics.

Mufti writes that the com*mon folk (and he) were fil*led with joy but the cler*ics were all stern-faced, as if lack*ing souls. ‘They have noth*ing in com*mon with us,’ he grum*bles.

But over the next few days in Makkah, Mufti’s joy even*tu*al*ly evap*o*rates and he is fil*led with a strange awk*ward*ness and angst. He finds the streets of the holy city echo*ing with cha*os where some*one is al*ways try*ing to sell some*thing or the oth*er.

In Mina (where the pil*grims go to hurl stones at Satan, who is de*pic*ted by three an*cient walls), Mufti is struck with an un*bear*a*ble feel*ing of anxi*ety and vul*ner*a*bil*i*ty, over*awed by a sense of dread. He doesn’t like the peo*ple of Mina. He be*lieves they have been liv*ing un*der the shad*ow of the dev*il for too long.

After com*plet*ing the rit*ual, he set*tles in the of*fice of his tour guide. Here he bumps in*to an ac*quaint*ance of his who had trav*el*led to Makkah with his wife to per*form the Hajj. The man be*gins to com*plain (to the guide) that a lady who had be*frien*ded his wife on the trip can now be seen with a man.

‘We don’t know who the man is,’ says the com*plai*nant. ‘Can you change our room and give us an*oth*er room, away from the one where the lady is stay*ing? She is de*stroy*ing the sanc*ti*ty of our vis*it.’

Hearing this, Mufti sees the com*mon Pakistani whom he had prais*ed on the plane for be*ing full of joy and soul, now turn*ing in*to a stern-faced and soul*less cler*ic.

‘Let it be, broth*er,’ Mufti tells the rest*less man. ‘Why are you for*sak*ing the joy of Hajj for some*thing you are not sure of?’

Whereas much of the book is about how Mufti first dif*fer*en*ti*ates be*tween the com*mon Muslims and the soul*less cler*ics, and then points out how com*mon peo*ple too have the ca*paci*ty to mu*tate in*to be*com*ing like judg*men*tal cler*ics, in the fi*nal chap*ters Mufti is left emo*tion*al*ly rav*aged when he re*al*ises that he too is not im*mune from the traits he is lam*bast*ing.

This re*al*i*sa*tion is most pain*ful and takes place in a mos*que in Makkah where he had gone to of*fer pray*ers. While pray*ing he be*gins to hear voi*ces criti*cis*ing him at the way he looks and prac*ti*ces his faith. He turns around but can’t fig*ure out where the voi*ces are com*ing from.

It soon tran*spires that the voi*ces are emit*ting from his own head, criti*cis*ing him and even com*plain*ing how bad he smel*led. He tries to ig*nore them, but is left feel*ing so agi*ta*ted that he gets up and runs away. The judge had be*come the judged.

One of the voi*ces had com*plained how Mufti had the au*dac*i*ty to en*ter the mos*que while smell*ing so bad. Mufti writes that he be*gan to ac*tual*ly be able to smell him*self and was re*pulsed.

Back in Pakistan he re*lates the ep*i*sode to his men*tor, Qudrat Ullah Shahab, and stretch*es one of his hands to*wards Shahab, ask*ing him to smell it. But Shahab could not smell any*thing.

Mufti sug*gests that the smell was sym*bol*ic of the stench of hy*poc*risy that he smel*led on oth*ers but was now him*self en*gul*fed by. And that mo*ral judge*ments made by a mere mor*tal like him pla*gue the hu*man soul with some*thing that the per*son in ques*tion will not like and will hide from, or worse, be re*pulsed by for the rest of his life.
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Default Saghar Siddiqui: A man, his demons and his dog

Saghar Siddiqui: A man, his demons and his dog

About three years ago, while aiding a young cousin in her thesis on the origins of the Pakistan national anthem, I noticed the name Saghar Siddiqui in the footnotes of one of many books that I was scouring to piece together a more elaborate historical and political background of the anthem.

The anthem’s music was composed in 1949, two years after the creation of Pakistan. The lyrics however did not come till 1952, written by poet Hafeez Jalandhri. This anthem was finally adopted by the state and government of Pakistan in 1954.

The book in which one of the footnotes mentioned Saghar Siddiqui, was simply skimming across the fact that many men and women had attempted to author the anthem between 1947 and 1954. But why I got interested in Saghar’s name in this respect was because I knew him to be a famous Urdu poet who died in poverty.

That’s all I knew about the man, apart from a few verses from the poems that he wrote and that, over the years, were shared with me by some college friends more than two decades ago.

After coming across his name in the book, I did manage to recall some verses of his, especially this one: “Dil mila aur gham shanaas mila/phool ko aag ka libas mila/ Har shanaawar bhanwar main dooba tha/Jo sitara mila udaas mila” (Bestowed with a heart that is conversant with misery/a flower got a garment of fire/Every swimmer was shackled and drowned by the whirlpool/ Every star that I met was sad ...).

This amateurish English translation does not do any justice to the melancholic imagery present in these lines, but what really got me thinking was: what was a poet known for his bleak imagery and utter heartbreak doing by once wanting to write the national anthem of a country where he eventually died in poverty?

Though Sagar’s work is now easily available, there is precious little information about the man himself, apart from some old newspaper clippings about his demise in 1974.

Interestingly in 2012 when I was in Islamabad for a media conference, I was introduced to a gentleman who I was told was the son of a cousin of Saghar’s. The gentleman was a retired bureaucrat but was well versed in Urdu poetry.

I almost immediately asked him about Saghar’s ambition to author the anthem. According to the gentleman, Saghar came from a well-to-do middle-class family in the Indian town of Ambala.

He was a prodigious lad who began writing poetry as a child. He was 19 when he migrated to Pakistan (in 1947) and settled in Lahore.

The sensitive and gifted teenager was excited by the prospect of becoming a citizen of a newly created country and at once got down to writing a national anthem for it.

Though he failed to get his version of the anthem accepted by the government, he moved on to publish a well-received literary magazine.

The magazine was a critical success but did not sell well. Disappointed, Saghar closed it down.

Unlike most people who had migrated to Pakistan from India, Saghar did not ask the government to settle him on the properties left behind by the Hindus and the Sikhs.

Instead he preferred to stay in cheap hotels. He paid his rent from the meagre amounts of money that he received from magazines for the poems that he wrote for them.

But within a decade his early, youthful enthusiasm for Pakistan had eroded as he saw corruption, nepotism and mediocrity being rewarded at the expense of genuine talent.

Broke in more ways than one and at a stage where even the fast-acting cheap whisky of Lahore failed to keep his crumbling self numb, Saghar discovered morphine.

He bought his daily dose from corrupt janitors at various hospitals of Lahore.

What’s more, when some contemporary poets used to find this thin, shaking addict outside their homes asking for money, they would give him a few rupees but only after he had written a poem or two for them.

These poets would then sell the poems to the magazines for a lot more money and some even went to the extent of getting them published in their own names!

With friends and strangers alike exploiting his genius of writing the most evocative Urdu ghazals to meet their own greedy needs, Saghar plunged even deeper into a state of despair.

Soon he was turned out by the cheap hotels he was living in and ended up walking the streets of Lahore.

A fan of his once wrote how (in 1966) while he was driving down Lahore’s Circuit Road, the radio in his car began to play a ghazal written by Saghar.

As the fan was quietly revelling in the power of Saghar’s words, his eyes caught a fleeting glimpse of a thin man with unkempt long hair and in tattered clothes walking aimlessly on the side of the road. It was Saghar.

As the world abandoned this genius, Saghar abandoned the world.

For years he could be seen walking and sleeping on the streets of Lahore, living on the food given to him by those who took him to be a beggar or a fakir.

Amazingly, he continued to write powerful poetry in spite of the fact that he could hardly utter a single coherent sentence anymore.

At times he would write brilliant poems, read them out loudly with a vacant look in his eyes, then tear the papers he’d scribbled these poems on, make a heap and set the heap on fire.

Over the years he befriended a stray dog whom he shared whatever food that was handed to him by the shopkeepers. The dog would follow him and sleep beside him on any street corner Saghar would choose to sleep on.

After 15 years of morphine addiction, depression and living on the streets, in early 1974 Saghar was found dead in one such street corner of Lahore. Exposed to the cold winter of the city, he passed away in his sleep. He was just 46.

The dog who was with him for more than six years never left the spot where Saghar died. Finally, one year after Saghar’s death, the dog too died — almost exactly at the same spot where Saghar did.

Saghar Siddiqui: A man, his demons and his dog
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Default Do sharks eat sand?

Do sharks eat sand?

Our murky minds imagined enemies where there were none and none where there were many.

Remember that old 1970s novel, Jaws? More so, remember the book’s thrilling film adaptation that rocked cinemas across the world in 1975, inventing the whole ‘summer blockbuster’ concept? Yes, it was about this big, nasty white shark that began to attack and devour unwitting folk in the sea waters that surrounded a touristy little town in the US.

Remember how after a few attacks by the big bad fish, the town’s sheriff pleaded with the town’s mayor that the beaches of the area be closed until the shark was caught? But the mayor refused, arguing that it was the height of the tourist season and that the town would lose millions of dollars if the beaches were closed. He also went on to accuse the sheriff of creating unnecessary panic and said that the shark was more a figment of his imagination than a reality.

Well, when thousands of tourists and people of the town began to gather on the beaches as they always did every summer, the huge shark went to town for a sumptuous lunch.

Does this little episode from the book/film remind you of anything? How we continued to ignore the fact that the figurative waters that surround us have been filling up with sharks for over a decade and yet we were always looking for all kinds of excuses to deflect and ignore this fact? We invested more in empowering our collective imaginations to come up with the silliest of scenarios and theories about the sharks not being there.

Our minds had been altered in such a manner that we saw enemies where there were none, and none where there were many. Well, some men and women insisted that only talking to the (so-called) sharks could make the (supposed) sharks actually turn into becoming vegetarian fish. The only problem was, no one quite knew exactly how one talks to a shark, though many claimed that they did. But it didn’t work because many of those who tried, ended up becoming sharks themselves! Or seaweed.

Some believed that the shark attacks were justified because we had been hunting sharks long before they turned so vicious. But then such wise people added that the vicious sharks were put in our waters by our enemies to eat us. In other words, the (alleged) sharks were attacking us because we attacked them first but they were put in the water by our enemies and now we needed to talk to them. The sharks were alleged/so-called/supposed in case someone wanted to get rid of them, but quite real when someone wanted to talk to them. They were there, but not there.

Well, you see, according to some even wiser folk, there were good sharks and then there were bad sharks circling us. Bad sharks ate Pakistanis and good sharks ate only Afghans. So which of the two were put in the water by our enemies? The bad sharks, of course. But hold on there. It goes on. The so-called bad sharks are actually angry dolphins who became sharks because we slaughtered their kind and they now deserved some peace talking (and feeding), even though they were slipped in the water by our enemies and are bad.

Round and round we went until some Pakistanis finally realised that in our deep analysis of these sharks, we had begun to drown in a whirlpool of wish-wash. Anyway, now that we finally seem to have woken up to do something a tad more urgent and drastic about the pesky sharks, the whole new deal has already become a tad irritating for some folk.

Much of their business was being run on either navel-gazing about the sharks or outraging against anyone trying to suggest that they needed to be flushed out of the water. But recently even those who wanted them flushed out were left disorientated when an operation was finally launched by the shark-hunters to get rid of the troublesome fish. In a show of a rather morbid strain of hilarity, they began to throw harpoons at each other as they wrangled like spoilt, self-centred children fighting over sand-castles on a beach, as a tidal wave rose behind them in which the sharks and shark-hunters were caught in a vicious battle.

The poor onlookers were left scratching their heads. After coming around to finally believing that there were actual sharks in the water (instead of aliens in shark suits), the onlookers’ attention was immediately drawn (by hyperventilating men with mics and TV cameras) away from the battle in the water and towards the bratty children kicking sand in each other’s faces, and crying, ‘Outrage, outrage! That sandcastle belongs to me!’

The decision to launch an operation against the sharks might have been a major event that may decide the fate and future of the swimmers, but it was amazing to notice how the very next day, we were outraging and navel-gazing about children fighting over sandcastles.

The poor shark-hunters were expecting some good old cheering and moral support. Instead they got distracted brats with sand in their faces and their backs turned against the troubled waters.

Do sharks eat sand?
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Default Metamorphosis


Many Pakistani Pakhtuns find themselves in a spot of bother when some political commentators define right-wing extremist/militant organisations as extensions and expressions of Pakhtun nationalism.

Ever since the beginning of the US/Pakistan/Saudi-backed insurgency against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Pakhtun identity (at least in popular imagination) has been gradually mutating to mean something that is akin to being entirely conservative, even fanatical.

At the end of the Afghan insurgency (that was followed by a civil war between various right-wing insurgent groups in Afghanistan), the rugged expanses of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) tribal areas began teeming with anarchic extremist organisations. Many of them were mutations of groups that had taken part in the anti-Soviet ‘Afghan Jihad’ in the 1980s from Pakistani soil.

In 2008, while on a trip to Islamabad I met a 60-something Pakhtun who owned a chain of shoe stores in the city. He had a flowing grey beard and seemed to be a very religious man. But as we got talking, and after I told him that I was a journalist, he said he too once wanted to be a journalist.

‘I was studying journalism at the Peshawar University more than 40 years ago when I was picked up by the police and jailed without a trial,’ he said.

The man then sat me down and ordered some tea: “I was a guerilla fighter too!” He announced.

“During the Afghan jihad?” I asked.

‘No, that came later. I was fighting in the mountains of NWFP (present-day KP), long before the jihad,’ he explained.

Intrigued I immediately requested him to order another round of tea.

Though he claimed to have taken part in the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan in the 1980s with the ‘mujahideen’ forces, he had once been a committed communist!

He spoke about how long before KP’s tribal areas became bastions of all kinds of extremist/militant outfits, they were the domain of Maoist fighters.

I did have some superficial knowledge about this: a now largely forgotten piece of modern Pakhtun history about large patches of land in the KP that though, for decades have been crawling with extreme religious outfits were once swarming with Pakhtuns quoting Marx and Mao.

In the 1960s the Pakhtun and Baloch dominated National Awami Party (NAP) was the country’s largest left-wing outfit. Even after the rise of the populist PPP in 1967, NAP remained popular in KP and Balochistan.

However, in the late 1960s NAP split into three factions. During its analysis on how to achieve a socialist revolution in Pakistan, the NAP leadership failed to come to a mutual agreement.

The pro-Soviet faction (led by legendary Pakhtun nationalist, Bacha Khan’s son, Wali Khan), suggested working to put Pakistan on a democratic path and then achieve the party’s goals of provincial autonomy and socialism.

The pro-China faction led by the Maoist Bengali leader, Maulana Bhashani, rejected democracy and labelled it as being ‘an exploitative tool of the bourgeoisie’.

The pro-Soviet NAP became NAP-Wali while the pro-China one became NAP-Bhashani.

In 1968 another faction emerged. A more radical group within NAP-Wali broke away and decided to adopt the Maoist strategy of achieving a socialist revolution through an armed struggle by organising peasant militias in the countryside.

Thus was born the Mazdoor Kissan Party (Worker & Peasants Party) that held its first convention in Peshawar in 1968.

The Mazdoor kissan Party (MKP) refused to take part in the 1970 election. Inspired by the beginning of the Maoist ‘Naxalite’ guerrilla movement in India and Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ in China, MKP activists, led by former NAP leader and Pakhtun Maoist, Afzal Bangash, travelled to Hashtnagar in KP’s Charsadda district and began to arm and organise the peasants against local landlords.

MKP’s early manoeuvres in this respect were highly successful as its activists joined the area’s peasants and fought running gun battles with the mercenaries hired by the landlords and against the police.

As the area of influence of MKP’s struggle grew, another communist, Major retired Ishaq Mohammad joined MKP with his men.

Both men led MKP to spread its influence across various rural and semi-rural areas of the KP and gained the support of the area’s peasants as well as some tribal elders.

MKP’s guerrilla activities continued to grow and gather support in KP, and their fighters even managed to ‘liberate’ some lands by ousting the landlords.

By 1972 Z.A. Bhutto’s PPP had become the country’s new ruling party, whereas NAP-Wali formed coalition provincial governments in KP and Balochistan.

The old shoe trader that I was talking to told me that he was in his early 20s when he joined MKP militants in the mountains: ‘I came from a peasant background in a small town near Charsadda. I was in Matric (in 1968) when some MKP cadres came to our school and gave us translations of writings by Marx, Mao and Che (Guevara). Many of us were soon converted and vowed to bring a socialist revolution,’ he added.

The man claimed that action against MKP guerrillas was mostly taken by the NAP-Wali government in KP: ‘Bhutto and Wali did not get along and Bhutto as PM indirectly encouraged MKP to destabilise the KP government,’ he said.

MKP militants drove out a number of landlords in KP’s hilly Hashtnagar area and redistributed some land among the area’s peasants.

‘We fought waves of police squads and mercenaries hired by the landlords,’ the man explained. ‘But (in 1974) after Bhutto was successful in getting rid of the KP government, he used federal security forces against us and our movement was finally crushed.’

He claimed that Bhutto also did this because by 1973 the MKP had begun to also make inroads into Punjab’s rural areas.

But how did this young Maoist Pakhtun then end up becoming an anti-communist insurgent in neighbouring Afghanistan?

According to him after he was released from jail in 1978 (one year after the fall of the Bhutto regime at the hands of Gen Zia), he went back to the university to complete his studies.

He finally got a degree in journalism in 1980 and was in Peshawar looking for a job when he received a visit by three men: “They just appeared at the apartment I was living in. They told me they were from an intelligence agency. I thought they had come to arrest me again, even though I had quit politics. But they told me that I had fought a just war but with a flawed ideology. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan (December 1979) and they said they were looking for trained men to fight the Soviets”.

He said some of the first trained fighters among the mujahideen (from Pakistan) were mostly men who had been MKP guerrillas: “We joined because we were also angry at how fellow socialists like NAP-Wali and the PPP had persecuted us”.

He fought in Afghanistan till 1985 (with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar group), but then quit: “One day I returned from the Afghan border and refused to go back. I asked myself, how was my fighting for Afghan insurgents helping the poor Pakhtuns of Pakistan? So much money had also begun to pour in (from the US and Saudi Arabia) and it began to corrupt a lot of Pakhtuns and mullahs. This totally destroyed our (Pakhtun) society and values.”

He migrated to Karachi where he got married to a cousin and joined an apolitical evangelical Islamic outfit. He then moved to Islamabad where he started a shoe business with a friend: “Yes, men like me once believed in Marxism and Maoism and all that, but we were always Muslims,” he explained. “We were against corrupt landlords and the mullahs who did their bidding. But when I saw these same mullahs becoming rich and turned into heroes (during the anti-Soviet insurgency), I gave up the fight.”

I asked him what he thought about the new breed of religious militants that was emerging in KP.

He just shrugged his shoulders: “Only Allah knows,” he smiled. But then quickly added: “To me all are puppets, like I was. First in the hands of leftists and then in the hands of those who wanted to use religion to make political and monitory profits. I really don’t care anymore. It’s all a waste of emotion and youth. Our (Pakhtun) society has been ravaged.”

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Default Rebooting the idea of Pakistan

Rebooting the idea of Pakistan

Most school text books that are called Pakistan Studies’ usually begin with the words, ‘Pakistan is an ideological state’. It was introduced as a compulsory subject (almost in a panic) by the Bhutto regime soon after the country lost a war in 1971 and consequently its eastern wing (East Pakistan).

Over the decades these books have gradually evolved into becoming one-dimensional manuals of how to become, believe and behave like a ‘true Pakistani’.

Though the content in these books pretends to be of historical nature, it is anything but.

It is a monologue broken into various chapters about how the state of Pakistan sees, understands and explains the country’s history, society and culture — and the students are expected to swallow it whole.

These books propagate a world-view from the lens of what is commonly known as the ‘Pakistan Ideology’ (Nazariya-i-Pakistan).

This term is also at the centre of many political and ideological discourses that take place in the country. And yet it was missing from the vocabulary of the founders of Pakistan in 1947.

In an essay, ‘Conjuring Pakistan’, eminent historian and scholar, Ayesha Jalal, writes that the term ‘Pakistan Ideology’ was first used by the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) in early 1960s.

The party leadership, headed by renowned Islamic scholar and Political Islamist, Abu Ala Maududi, had most likely used it to explain JI’s stance on the 1962 Constitution that was drafted by the Ayub Khan regime and which, the JI thought, was too secular and (thus) ‘against the dictates of the Pakistan ideology’.

Further inquiry into the matter suggests that JI did not seem to have defined the ideology itself. It simply used the term more as a rhetorical expression of dissent against the Ayub government’s ‘secularism’.

Another respected historian, Dr Mubarak Ali, however, suggests that the term ‘Pakistan Ideology’ was first coined in 1969 during the short Yahya Khan dictatorship.

In his book, Pakistan in Search of Identity, Dr. Ali claims that as the tensions between the state and Bengali nationalists in the former East Pakistan grew, and after Ayub resigned due to an intense protest movement against him by the leftist student groups and workers unions, it was during the regime of his successor, General Yahya Khan, that the term ‘Pakistan Ideology’ first came into play.

At the height of the Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971, 11 prominent Pakistani historians were invited by the state-owned Radio Pakistan and asked to define the situation in East Pakistan in the historical context of the Pakistan Ideology i.e. to define the Pakistaniat of the citizens of Pakistan of all ethnicities and creed by highlighting their history of a shared struggle against British colonialists and Hindu nationalism, and how the ‘enemies of Pakistan’ were conspiring to break up the country by creating animosity between its various ethnicities.

Of course, the clumsiness of the past governments and the state in the handling of sensitive ethnic issues were not touched upon, but the most interesting thing about the initial project to launch a Pakistan Ideology is that the term was an almost entirely secular concoction at the time of its birth!

Dr. Ali gives two reasons why this was so: firstly, the popular Zeitgeist of the period was leaning heavily on leftist ideologies and the state of Pakistan too wanted to explain itself as being a progressive and enlightened entity.

Secondly, the need to conjure something called Pakistan Ideology was almost entirely aimed to appease the rebelling Bengalis in East Pakistan who had suspected that religion was being used by the state as a tool to undermine Bengali culture.

So at the time of its birth, and keeping in mind the eleven lectures delivered in 1971 by some of the country’s leading national historians, the Pakistan Ideology meant explaining the creation of Pakistan as an intellectual and political emergence from the minds and efforts of progressive and enlightened Muslims who created a Muslim country that was to eschew the religious communalism that the Muslims of India had faced, and evolve a separate state and society based on a progressive and democratic understanding of Islam, and many of its egalitarian and universal aspects.

Personally speaking, I think this was a rather promising beginning of an idea of collective Pakistani nationhood that could have further evolved in an even more progressive manner during the populist democratic era that followed Yahya’s fall in December 1971.

But unfortunately the tragedy of East Pakistan breaking away to become a separate country (Bangladesh), and Pakistan’s subsequent defeat in its 1971 war against India, rendered the early notions of Pakistan Ideology obsolete and even detrimental.

Z.A. Bhutto took over as Pakistan’s new head of state and then government in December 1971. Though his party, the PPP, had won the majority of the seats in the former West Pakistan during the 1970 election from a populist socialist platform, he not only had to run his regime’s progressive programme but also preside over the creation of a more aggressive notion of Pakistaniat that would work as a deterrent against any further ethnic fissures and break-ups.

Thus (ironically), it was under the parliamentarian and left-leaning Bhutto regime that the concept of Pakistan Ideology began to be moulded into a more conservative and reactive idea.

In 1973 the government invited a host of intellectuals and scholars to thrash out a more detailed understanding of the term that now began to see Pakistan as a Muslim state that was created so it could evolve into becoming a democratic Islamic entity with a constitution enshrined by laws culled from the teachings of the faith.

The ideology became more airtight, and warned about ethnic separatists who were being used by the ‘enemies of Islam’ to further dismember Pakistan.

Although despite the ideological dichotomies of the Bhutto regime, the state and society in general remained largely progressive. But he had uncannily laid down the pad for the members of the political and intellectual right to launch themselves into the mainstream and eventually monopolise the construction of the narrative behind Pakistan Ideology.

This trend peaked during the reactionary Gen Zia dictatorship in the 1980s. Pakistan Ideology now explained the creation of Pakistan as a natural outcome of the waves of Muslim invaders who began to arrive in the region from 8th century onwards. A conscious attempt was also made to divorce Pakistan’s heritage from its South Asian moorings and place it in the deserts of Arabia.

In other words, Pakistan was not made by the Muslims of India as such, but by those whose ancestors had come to India from elsewhere.

Two and a half decades after this version of the Pakistan Ideology flourished, it too has begun to look and sound obsolete, especially in the wake of unprecedented sectarian and sub-sectarian violence and the rise of religious extremism and militancy.

Just like it did in 1971, Pakistan once again is facing a serious existentialist dilemma. Its diverse sects and sub-sects are at each other’s throats and the state is at war with exactly the same ‘mujahids’ that the country’s ideology had eulogised in the 1980s.

So one can ask, where is Pakistan’s new breed of scholars and intellectuals who can remould and redefine the Pakistan Ideology according to the nature of the existentialist threat that Pakistan faces today?

Just as the progressive lot’s idea of Pakistan Ideology fell apart after the break-up of Pakistan in 1971, the conservative version of this ideology that was largely furnished in the 1980s is looking archaic in the wake of what Pakistan is currently going through.

In fact, at this point in time this version of the Pakistan Ideology may actually be justifying certain actions of the extremists! It needs a drastic overhaul.

Rebooting the idea of Pakistan
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The brown bigots

The common stereotype of a racist is a fat, white man hurling abuses at ‘niggers’, ‘Pakis,’ Jews and gays. Whereas once communists too figured on the hate list of white supremacists, they have now largely been replaced with Muslims. But Western racist organisations such as the Ku Klux Klan, the British National Party and various other neo-Nazi groups have become self-parodies. If one sees a parade of neo-Nazi groups today, they, with their silly looking hoods, costumes and salutes, look no more than puerile caricatures of trite racism. Their racism has become a costume drama. This is especially due to the way Western security agencies have dealt with these organisations and also because of the successes of the civil rights movement and its many revolutionary initiatives since the 1960s. However, the political, economic and cultural disturbances triggered by the so-called ‘neo-liberal economics’ and politics in the post-Cold War era are now putting out a form of racism that has absolutely nothing to do with white power as such. It is not coming from loud white folks. On the contrary, and ironically, it is mostly coming from some of the races and creeds that have historically been under the hammer of white man’s discrimination and prejudice: Jews, Muslims and Asians.

One must also remember that this racism is not really a new occurrence. It’s been strongly entrenched in the psyches of its perpetuators for many years. The most obvious has been the anti-Arab racism practiced as a state policy by Israel. The political make-up of this racism has always been evident, but it is the way this political policy has gradually shaped the social and psychological mindset of the Jews living in Israel that is most worrying. Israeli politicians are very conscious of this mindset and the hold it now has over the majority of Jews living in Israel and elsewhere. That’s why every time an opportunity is afoot for a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, it is this anti-Arab mindset that influences the Israeli response. It is also this mindset that makes a majority of Israelis vote for men and women who want to continue with Israel’s ferocious raids and incursions into poverty-stricken stretches of land populated by the Palestinians. It was this mindset that violently ended the most promising deal between Israel and the Palestinians in 1995, when an incensed radical Jew assassinated former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin after he was close to signing a breakthrough political settlement with Yasser Arafat.

Arabs on the other hand, especially those belonging to oil-rich Arab monarchies, have exhibited various shades of racism against Muslims belonging to non-Arab Muslim countries residing and working in opulent Arab states. Recently there were reports that the Saudi regime had banned its men from marrying women belonging to Pakistan (and a few other developing Asian and African countries). Racism is also present as a form of bigotry that has been part of India and Pakistan’s sociology long before they were two separate countries. It is deeply rooted in India’s ancient caste system, part of which then influenced social relationships between native Hindus and Muslims in South Asia. It is a racism exercised by not one perpetuator over the other, but by both. Now hundreds of years old, even to this day, many Hindus and Muslims living in India do not eat from the same plate or drink from the same glass. The most disturbing aspect of this form of racism is the way it is blindly accepted as a social norm. For example, many offices in India still hire Muslims and the Hindu ‘untouchables’ to do the most demeaning chores, and it is an unwritten rule that these employees are not allowed to use cutlery that is being used by other office employees.

In Pakistan such treatment is meted out by Muslims to ‘underclass’ Hindus and Christians. It is an unwritten rule that they will not be allowed to share cutlery used by their Muslim counterparts and neither will they be allowed to prepare and serve tea or food to their Muslim co-workers. Though most Hindus and Muslims of India and Pakistan do not overtly display such racism, it is very much present in the psyches of the people of both the countries. Due to the legacy of the caste system in India a Hindu discriminating against another Hindu is a well-known social reality. But this nature of racism has not been alien to Pakistani Muslims either. It is as old as Muslim history in South Asia, and today it is still alive in even the most educated Muslim households in Pakistan as well. Domestic servants in Pakistan, even if they are Muslims, will always have separate cutlery. They will have a separate glass, plate, spoons and are always required to sit on the floor. Some believe such actions are mainly due to the ‘unhygienic’ make-up of the class of people who become servants. This may have a grain of truth, but it is fairly obvious that basically this bias is yet another expression of the historical racism practiced between Muslims and Hindus of South Asia. It has more to do with a deeply engrained and inherent discriminatory mindset many Muslims and Hindus of the region have carried into the modern age (almost instinctively).

Recently out of such inherent cultural racist tendencies, a more conventional form of racism has emerged in India and Pakistan as well. In 2007, former Australian cricket captain, Ricky Ponting, complained about some Indian spectators who let out monkey noises at the Australian team’s only aborigine player, Andrew Symonds. If this wasn’t bad enough, the very next day, the South African cricket captain, Gerham Smith, accused a bunch of Pakistani spectators of making ape sounds at some of the South African squad’s black players. Can you imagine ‘brown’ Asians hurling trashy racist taunts at blacks? This may seem outlandish, but if one closely looks at the class make-up of the racist pretenders, one understands their inanity. A bulk of them (both the Indian and Pakistani batches), were from well-to-do, urban middle-class backgrounds. It is this section of the bourgeoisie that has benefited the most from the neo-liberal capitalist initiatives in both the countries in the last decade or so. They are a cross between social liberalism and orthodox religious and political conservatism.

In this day and age when material wealth is the main indicator of cultural and social trends (through advertising and the eventual ‘dumbing down’ of cultural pursuits), this is a worrying matter. Many will conveniently miss the irony and the unintentional parody associated with the act of Indians and Pakistanis being racist towards blacks. Instead, they will think of it as something to do with ‘patriotism’ or worse, the superiority of their respective faiths and concepts of morality. It is a case of victims of racism not only becoming racist themselves, but becoming something even worse by cleverly decorating this frame of racial judgment with distorted religious declarations — quite like the white colonialists of yore.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 31, 2014
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All Fall Down

There have so far been four major political movements in Pakistan that attempted to unseat the government of the day. Three of these movements were against military rule and one targeted an elected civilian set-up. Though three of the movements (two against military rule and one against a civilian government) were actually successful in initiating a sequence of events that brought the government down, the eventual successes of these movements were soon soiled by the consequential emergence of greater social and political crises compared to the ones that the movements had pointed their remonstrations against. Of course, the movements that ousted Ayub, Bhutto and Musharraf can’t be entirely blamed for such devastating quandaries because the roots of the ultimate damage that followed their ouster also lie in the shortcomings of their respective governments. But it is also true that the economic, political and social consequences triggered by the movements did hasten the final impact and intensified the magnitude of the rot that had been brewing within the country’s state and society before the movements began. Below we try to figure all this out by looking at the country’s four major anti-government movements.

Exit stage left: the movement against Ayub Khan

Many people who, as young men and women, took part in the widespread protest movement against the military rule of Ayub Khan in the late 1960s suggest that Ayub relinquished power after he was told what some of the protesters had started to call him. In 1968 at the height of the movement against him, young protesters in Karachi and Lahore began describing him as a dog (Ayub Khan Kutta!). This was a time when politicians and rulers in Pakistan hardly ever used any derogatory language against their opponents, so Ayub was supposedly shocked when he heard that some of his ‘children’ (the term he used to describe his subjects), had called him a dog. Ayub had come to power in 1958 on the back of a popular military coup (Pakistan’s first), and had enjoyed a significant run of admiration from a majority of Pakistanis in the first four years of his dictatorship. Vowing to make Pakistan a powerful and influential military-industrial state, Ayub encouraged and facilitated an unprecedented growth in the process of industrialisation in the country. He also initiated the introduction of technical innovations in agriculture and brought Pakistan closer to the United States, thus benefitting from the military and financial aid that came with the enhanced relationship. By 1961 the Ayub regime had largely restored the country’s economy that had begun to weaken from the mid-1950s onwards, mainly due to the political chaos that prevailed in the country, as various factions of Pakistan’s first ruling party, the Muslim League, indulged in constant infighting and intrigues, and were unable to address the growing disenchantment and cynicism exhibited towards politicians by those who were kept out from the political process dominated by the country’s political-bureaucratic elite. Ayub was at the height of his power and popularity when he decided to lift Martial Law in 1962 and restore at least a semblance of political activity by the parties that had been banned in 1958.

He became the president and handpicked an assembly through a complex electoral system that he called ‘Basic Democracy’. After discarding the 1956 Constitution, his assembly passed a brand new constitution that enshrined Ayub’s idea of ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’. It revolved around the construction of a strong military-industrial state, propped-up by state-backed capitalism, free enterprise, agricultural reforms and a ‘progressive interpretation of Islam that was compatible with science, technology and modernity.’ Ayub detested politicians, from both the left as well as the right. His regime came down hard on left-wing parties and then went on to also ban parties such as the Jamat-i-Islami (JI) — though the ban was overturned by the courts. Leftists accused him of encouraging crony capitalism, the exploitation of workers and the suppression of the rights and ethnic-nationalism of the Bengalis (in East Pakistan), Sindhis, the Baloch and the Pakhtun, and of dislodging the Urdu-speaking (the Mohajirs) from important state and government institutions that they had helped build after Pakistan’s creation in 1947. The religious right denounced him of being overtly secular and undermining ‘Pakistan’s Islamic culture and traditions’. Ayub easily glided through the many periodical protests that took place against him after 1962 and then won a second term as president in a controversial presidential race in 1965.

Buoyed by his victory and his status as a ‘benevolent dictator’, Ayub then made an uncharacteristic mistake by allowing himself to be convinced by the hawks in his cabinet (led by his young foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), to crown his economic and political achievements with a military triumph against India. India had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese army in 1964 and Bhutto and his supporters in the cabinet were convinced that the Pakistan army would be able to crush the weakened Indian armed forces. Though the Pakistani armed forces made rapid gains in the initial period of the 1965 war, the conflict soon turned into a stalemate. Ayub settled for a ceasefire, apparently sending Bhutto into a rage. Ayub eased out Bhutto from the government but the damage was done. The war had drained the country’s resources and the economy began to slide. Ayub’s opponents accused him of ‘losing the war on the negotiation table’. Bhutto went on to form the PPP, and along with the already established left-wing groups, such as the National Awami Party (NAP) and the National Students Federation (NSF), he became the most prominent face of left-wing opposition in West Pakistan. In East Pakistan, Shiekh Mujeebur Rehman’s Awami League (AL), upped the ante against the regime and accused it of leaving East Pakistan open to an Indian attack during the 1965 war.

As the Bengali nationalist movement led by AL and by various militant/Maoist Bengali nationalist groups in East Pakistan gathered pace, in West Pakistan, Ayub was suddenly faced by a spontaneous students’ movement when in October 1968, a large contingent from the NSF gate-crashed a ceremony being held by the government at Lahore’s Fortress Stadium (to celebrate the government’s ‘Decade of Progress’). The students began to chant anti-Ayub slogans and clashed with the police. They accused the regime of enriching a handful of cronies and letting everyone else suffer unemployment and economic hardship. Then in November 1968, police opened fire on a left-wing student rally in Rawalpindi, killing three protesters. In response, students formed a Students Action Committee and announced that students across Pakistan would begin a concentrated protest movement against the regime. As the students began their campaign (with most of the student groups demanding a socialist system and parliamentary democracy), Bhutto’s PPP joined the fray along with NAP and their entry brought with it the participation in the movement of the radical trade and labour unions that were associated with these parties. By late 1968 the movement had spread beyond Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar and reached the smaller cities and towns of Punjab and Sindh. Meanwhile in East Pakistan, AL and other Bengali nationalist groups began to demand complete provincial autonomy for East Pakistan.

Schools, colleges and universities stopped functioning; workers went on strike and closed down a number of factories, and white-collar professionals refused to attend office, further crippling an already deteriorating political and economic order. After failing to quell the protests (through police action and wide-scale arrests), Ayub invited opposition parties to hold a dialogue with the government. But the PPP and NAP boycotted the negotiations that were largely attended by religious parties and some moderate right-wing parties. However, Mujeeb’s AL did participate, but the talks ultimately broke down. By early 1969 the movement had also been joined by peasant committees and organisations in the country’s rural areas. In March 1969 a group of senior military men advised Ayub to step down, fearing the eruption of a full-scale civil war in East Pakistan and political and social anarchy in the country’s west wing. A weakened and tired Ayub finally decided to throw-in the towel and resigned, handing over power to General Yahya Khan who immediately imposed the country’s second martial law. He promised to hold the country’s first general election based on adult franchise and to relinquish power after introducing parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. With this announcement, the movement came to a halt. Elections were held in 1970. In East Pakistan the AL won 98 per cent of the allotted national and provincial assembly seats, whereas in West Pakistan, the PPP swept the polls in the region’s two largest provinces, Punjab and Sindh.

NAP performed well in the former NWFP and Balochistan. Most of the ‘status quo parties’ (such as the many Muslim League factions) and most religious outfits (except Jamiat Ulema Islam) were decimated. However, a three-way deadlock between AL, PPP and the Yahya regime (over a power-sharing formula) regime triggered a crisis that finally saw the feared eruption of a civil war in East Pakistan and then India’s entry into the conflict. After that disastrous conflict, a group of military officers (most of them Bhutto sympathisers), forced Yahya to resign and then invited Bhutto and his party to form the country’s first parliamentary government. Ayub, who had gone into seclusion, died in 1974.

What goes around: The movement against Bhutto

Between March and June 1977, Z.A. Bhutto had to face a protest movement against his government — the kind he had himself triggered and then led 10 years earlier against the Ayub Khan regime. But even though the movement against Bhutto in 1977 was as strong, impactful and effective as the one that ousted Ayub, this movement’s class and ideological make-up was squarely different from that of the 1968 movement. In 1968, a wide cross-section of the society had participated — left-wing middle-class youth, blue-collar workers, peasants, etc. The1977 movement on the other hand, largely revolved around right-wing student groups, middle-class/white-collar professionals, traders and urban and semi-urban petite-bourgeoisie. The PPP had contested the 1970 election on a populist socialist manifesto and the first three years of his regime were spent in repairing the morale of the armed forces and the civilians that was deeply damaged by the separation of East Pakistan and the defeat of Pakistani forces at the hands of the Indian army. It was also during these years that his regime implemented large-scale populist policies that included the nationalisation of a number of industries. Also during this period, the Bhutto regime drafted a brand new constitution (1973) and managed to get it passed in the national assembly by gaining the approval of all political parties.

By 1973, the regime had also successfully managed to somewhat restore the economy. Contrary to popular perception, and according to political economists such as S. Akbar Zaidi, Asad Sayeed, V.Y. Belokren*it*sky and V.N. Moskalenko, Pakistan’s economy actually rebounded after the beating that it had received during the later years of the Ayub regime and especially after the economic fall-out of the conflict in East Pakistan. However, it is also true that the economic restoration could not withstand the stress generated by the 1973 international oil crises that raised the inflation rate in the country and Bhutto had to devalue the rupee. This got a negative response from traders and businessmen who then began to ship out their capital, creating a new economic crisis. The incompetency and inexperience exhibited by the new managers in the nationalised industries further deepened the crisis and the Bhutto regime now decided to look towards the oil-rich Arab countries that had begun to make large profits due to the unprecedented hike in oil prices after 1973. By 1974 Bhutto had overtly become the pragmatist that he actually was and began to ease out the hard line leftists from his cabinet. Conscious of the early moves made by oil-rich Arab states to begin funding a mainstream revival of ‘Political Islam’ in Muslim countries, Bhutto began manoeuvring a delicate balance between his socialist/populist policies and the emerging interest in Political Islam to attract ‘Petro-Dollars’ from Arab countries.

He cracked down on radical labour and student outfits (calling them ‘impractical’ and detrimental to Pakistan’s recovery), and tried to appease right-wing opposition by agreeing to address some of their demands to ‘Islamise the Constitution’. Bhutto was sitting easy in 1976 as the petro dollars began to come in and he had quietened opposition from the left as well as the right (one through arrests and the other through pragmatic appeasement). He also seemed to have the military’s support and backing after he initiated a military operation in Balochistan against supposed Baloch separatists. Feeling confident, he announced elections almost a year before they were due only to be left feeling surprised when he saw a fractured and battered opposition unite on single electoral platform to compete against the PPP in the 1977 election. The Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) was made-up of nine anti-PPP parties. It included three of the country’s main religious parties, some moderate conservative parties and a few small left-wing outfits. PNA largely represented the frustrations and aspirations of those groups that had been affected the most by Bhutto’s policies. These included industrialists, businessmen, traders, shopkeepers, the anti-Bhutto landed gentry and urban middle-classes.

The PNA denounced the government for being detrimental to the cause of Islam in Pakistan and for turning Pakistan into a ‘land of sin’. They also accused Bhutto of being a ‘civilian dictator’, an ‘oppressor’ and ‘a drunkard’ who had let loose a reign of hooligans on the streets of the country. Bhutto’s party which, by now, had toned down its socialist rhetoric and tried to prove that its Islam was more enlightened than that ‘of the capitalist and feudal mullahs of the PNA’, won the election, which were marred by allegations of rigging. The PNA cried foul, boycotted the provincial election and decided to start a protest movement. Today, according to various analysts and historians, rigging took place on not more than a dozen seats (in the Punjab) but resentment against the regime in certain sections of the society had been brewing so strongly that the movement that Bhutto thought would fizzle out, erupted in the most devastating fashion. According to a detailed study of the movement done (in 1980) by historian and author Ahmad B. Syeed, the main participants/protesters of the movement included disgruntled urban middle and lower-middle class youth (mostly belonging to Karachi and Lahore); traders, shopkeepers and white-collar office workers. According to Syeed’s study, the working classes and the peasants largely remained away from the movement. The agitation against the regime and the police crackdowns mostly took place in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi. Government buildings, police stations, homes of the members of the PPP, nightclubs, bars, cinemas and hotels were attacked by mobs demanding Nizam-i-Mustafa.

Bhutto called in the army and imposed long curfews but even this failed to stem the protests. Cops frequently opened fire on the rampaging mobs but some military personnel refused to follow the orders of their superiors to fire and this became a major concern within the military. Wealthy industrialists who had been stripped of their perks and power by Bhutto were accused of funding the movement and the regime also alleged that the United States was bankrolling the protests. Many PPP leaders also pointed the finger towards the large amounts of Saudi Riyals that (according to them) had reached the coffers of the religious parties. After a month of violence, Bhutto invited the PNA for talks. The PNA demanded fresh elections and the implementation of Shariah Laws. To stall the first demand, Bhutto agreed to conditionally implement the second request and in April 1977 he ordered the closure of all nightclubs and bars. He also banned the sale of alcohol (to Muslims) and replaced Sunday with the Muslim holy day (Friday) as the weekly holiday. PNA decided to stay in the talks. More than a decade later, veteran JI leader, late Prof Ghafoor Ahmed, who played a leading role in the movement, told journalists that the talks went well and just when Bhutto had agreed to hold fresh elections, Gen Zia decided to impose the country’s third Martial Law (July 1977).

He said that most PNA leaders were happy at how the talks had gone but some leaders, such as Asghar Khan (of the moderate conservative, Tehreek-i-Istaqlal) and Begum Wali (wife of the left-wing Pukhtun nationalist, Wali Khan), desired military intervention. When asked why then did JI join Zia’s first cabinet whereas most PNA parties opposed the Martial Law, Prof Ghafoor claimed that joining Zia was the decision of the party’s Punjab leadership. Zia, who adopted PNA’s ‘Islamic’ rhetoric and agenda, went on to rule Pakistan for the next 11 years. Bhutto was arrested and in 1979, through a highly controversial trial, he was sentenced to death for a political murder he was alleged to have ordered, and hanged.

Shaken but not stirred: the movement against Zia

Though protests against Gen Zia’s dictatorship began almost immediately after his military coup in July 1977, his regime’s harsh measures (such as public floggings, executions, sentencing by military courts and torture) against any and all opposition did not allow opposition groups to organise themselves in a more coherent and systematic manner. But even though the beginning of the anti-Soviet ‘Afghan Jihad’ in Afghanistan in late 1979 meant that the Zia regime was poised to attract recognition from the United States and its European allies, and (thus) become the vessel to carry the large military and financial aid that the US and Saudi Arabia pledged as a way to back the Mujahideen guerrillas in Afghanistan, it would take another few years for Zia to use this material and moral patronage to strengthen his position by reviving the country’s shattered economy. With the regime’s undoing of the economic policies implemented by Bhutto and with the US and Saudi aid now beginning to come in, the economy did begin to slowly revive itself, but Zia’s position was still vulnerable in 1981 when a strong political alliance decided to launch an all-out protest movement against him. The alliance — Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) — was formed by the PPP that was being led by Z.A. Bhutto’s widow, Begum Nusrat and his 28-year-old daughter, Benazir Bhutto, both of whom had been in and out of jail and house arrest ever since Bhutto was toppled in 1977.

The MRD was headed by the PPP and also included various smaller left-wing parties, Sindhi, Baloch and Pukhtun nationalist outfits, one Muslim League faction (PML-Qasim) and the only mainstream religious party that opposed Zia, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI). The movement kicked off in early 1981 from Karachi’s Saddar area where a PPP worker arrived on a camel and court-arrested to the cheers of a large crowd that had gathered there. Soon the movement, whose first phase involved courting arrest, spread into Lahore and was about to take off when it suddenly collapsed due to the adventurism of Bhutto’s sons, Murtaza and Shahnawaz. Both had escaped to Afghanistan where under the patronage of the Soviet-backed Afghan government they had formed a left-wing urban guerrilla organisation, the Al-Zulfikar (AZO), to plan strikes against Zia’s regime in Pakistan. The AZO was made up of Punjabi, Sindhi, Pukhtun and Urdu-speaking militants belonging to the PPP’s student wing, and after conducting a couple of assassinations and two failed attempts to strike Zia’s official plane with a SAM missile in 1980, the AZO hijacked a PIA plane from the Karachi Airport (March 1981). The mission was led by former president of the PPP’s student-wing, Salamullah Tipu, who got over 50 political prisoners released from Zia’s jails when he took the plane full of passengers to Kabul and then to Damascus.

Benazir condemned the hijacking and became even more critical of his brothers’ actions when Tipu shot dead a passenger in Kabul. The MRD movement collapsed when Zia accused the PPP of being behind the hijacking and used the episode to unleash an unprecedented and severe crackdown against MRD leaders and workers. It took another two years for MRD to reorganise itself and plan another movement, but by 1983 Zia had consolidated his position and revived the economy — even though the revival brought with it a new kind of institutional corruption and the initial emergence of delinquencies such as heroin/gun smuggling and the coming into the mainstream of radical sectarian figures who had been loitering on the fringes of politics. Now, they began being patronised by the state to prop up support among young Pakistanis and Afghans for the US/Saudi-backed ‘jihad’ against the Soviet forces stationed in Kabul. Also, since the Punjab had been the bastion of the PPP ever since the late 1960s, Zia (an immigrant Punjabi), began to overtly patronise various prominent business groups of Punjab and his economic policies were designed to attract the support of the province’s urban middle and lower-middle-class traders, businessmen and shopkeepers.

He then began to give these groups political roles and aligned them with the more radical religious outfits that he was fostering. So in a way the economic revival witnessed during the Zia regime was accompanied by a burst of religiosity within Pakistan’s bourgeoisie. MRD deducted that the fruits of economic revival (at least in 1983) were mostly falling into the hands of central/urban Punjab’s middle and trader classes, industrialists and businessmen, whereas the rest of the country was being ravaged by economic hardship, rising crime and corruption and the growing incidents of sectarian violence. On Aug 14, 1983 (one year after Zia had gotten himself elected as ‘President’ through a dubious referendum), the MRD launched a brand new movement against him. The groundwork for the movement was mostly done by second-tier members and common workers of the parties of the MRD because by now most of the main leaders of the opposition outfits were either in jail or under house arrest. Though the movement kicked-off simultaneously in Sindh and Punjab, it failed to gather much support in the latter province. Soon, it became restricted to Sindh where at one point it began to threaten turning into a full-blown Sindhi nationalist movement akin to the one that erupted in East Pakistan in 1971. MRD activists and youth belonging to the student-wings of MRD parties and various left wing Sindhi nationalist groups plunged into the fray and for weeks disrupted everyday life in Sindh — though the province’s capital, Karachi, remained relatively calm.

The situation became too much for the police to handle and Zia called in the army. Anti-Zia activists used shrines of Sufi saints and the thick forests of Moro and Dadu to plan their agitation from. Dozens of MRD supporters were killed when troops used sophisticated weapons to mow down protests. In Karachi, the left wing and progressive student groups went to war with right wing pro-Zia student outfits at universities and colleges and women organisations gathered on the streets to burn their dupattas as a protest against what they believed were Zia’s anti-women laws. Radical trade, labour and journalist unions too played a role in the movement, but by late 1983, it had squarely become a militant Sindhi nationalist movement when Punjab failed to rise. Though it left Zia and his regime feeling nervous and fearing that they now were facing another East Pakistan-like situation, troops finally managed to crush the movement. A number of people were killed and hundreds were thrown in jails and severely tortured. The PPP’s main leadership went into exile. Zia had managed to avert a major scare to his dictatorship. But why Sindh? We have already discussed how Zia managed to change the political and social complexion of Punjab and begin the long process of drying out its support for the PPP. But whereas he managed to also keep Balochistan quiet (after releasing Baloch nationalists who had been thrown into jails by the Bhutto regime), and with the NWFP (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) caught-up in receiving Afghan mujahideen and Afghan refugees and the regime integrating the Pakhtuns into the changing ways of the ruling and business elites, Sindh was left to its own devices.

Apart from the fact that there was already anger among the Sindhis against the hanging of a Sindhi prime minister (Z.A. Bhutto), what actually triggered violence in the province in 1983 was the fact that Sindhis as well as the Urdu-speaking people in Karachi felt that they were being invaded by elements that were posing a threat to their economic and political interests. Firstly, Karachi began receiving waves of Afghan refugees, many of whom came for the sole purpose of setting up shady drug and weapons businesses in the city. This trend would trigger the vicious circle of ethnic violence in Karachi from 1985 onwards. Secondly, Zia began to allot land and business in Sindh to Punjabis who began to migrate from Punjab into Sindh. Zia did this to create a constituency for himself in Sindh. But what he got was resistance and resentment from the Sindhis and Urdu-speaking traders. In Karachi non-Punjabi traders and businessmen formed an anti-Punjabi organisation called the Maha Sindh (this would at least partly evolve into becoming the MQM in 1984). But the reaction was more violent in the interior of the Sindh province where protests against the regime soon became militant and troops had to be called in to quell the turmoil. The MRD would begin yet another movement in 1986 that was directly led by Benazir Bhutto. Though this time it did manage to draw support from Punjab, it would take another two years and a controversial plane crash for Zia to fall. His death in August 1988 allowed the return of democracy in Pakistan.

A sudden slip : Movement against Musharraf

General Parvez Musharraf pulled-off a popular military coup against the second government of Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) in 1999. Just like Ayub, Musharraf too came into power and received a hearty round of applause from a populace exhausted by the economic downturns, corruption and chaos of the 1990s in which the country’s two main political parties, the PPP and PML-N, constantly pulled the carpet under each other’s feet and at the same time wore themselves out by combating political intrigues whipped up by intelligence agencies and remnants of the Zia era in the ‘establishment.’ The Musharraf coup was not appreciated by Pakistan’s leading donor, the United States, and the General struggled to restore the country’s battered economy during the first two years of his regime. Posing himself as a religious moderate and a social liberal, Musharraf’s luck turned when he agreed to become a frontline ally of the US in its ‘war against terror’ in the aftermath 9/11. Pakistan suddenly became the recipient of millions of dollars’ worth of military and financial aid from the US which Musharraf used to rebuild the country’s economy. The economic boom masterminded by Musharraf’s second prime minister, Shaukat Aziz (a banker), and almost entirely based on various aspects of the post-Cold War ‘neo-con economics’, helped Musharraf avoid any serious resistance and the country remained largely peaceful till 2005.

However, joining the war on terror also meant Pakistan making some sudden U-turns regarding its policies related to religious militant groups who had been patronised by the state of Pakistan across the 1980s and 1990s to fight Pakistan’s proxy wars in Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir. In 2002 Musharraf began to crack down on a number of extremist organisations but at the same time his regime maintained links with certain other militant outfits. The crackdown, his decision to join the US war on terror, and him positioning his regime as liberal and inspired by ‘enlightened moderation’, triggered a backlash by extremist outfits that had been outlawed. Thus began the trend of suicide bombings against government targets and foreign embassies that then escalated from 2007 onwards against civilians in markets, mosques, Sufi shrines and churches. Apart from facing the occasional terrorist attacks, the Musharraf regime managed to construct a feel-good environment in which the economy of the country’s urban areas thrived and no overt protest movement succeeded in taking hold. This also included Karachi’s return to peace and development after two decades of ethnic turmoil. The euphoria lasted till about end-2005. Both the PPP and PML-N remained sidelined and Musharraf seemed to have been enjoying a continuous stretch of popularity.

Then in late 2006 Musharraf casually dismissed a controversial and ambitious Supreme Court judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry. The strings of private TV channels that had emerged since 2002 gave a sensational twist to the episode and drummed-up a narrative that saw Chaudhry defying ‘the illegitimate orders of a dictator.’ Lawyers poured out on the streets of Lahore and Islamabad and demanded that Chaudhry be restored. As the protests of the lawyers grew louder, they now also demanded that Musharraf resign and fresh elections held. Seeing the protests as an opening and seeing the way agitation was covered by the electronic media, the PPP and PML-N too jumped in, as did smaller parties such as the JI and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). Musharraf was clearly taken aback by the commotion which was then followed by another crisis when radical clerics and their supporters from Islamabad’s Red Mosque began to abduct cops and women working at beauty parlours and attacking music shops. After negotiations between the government and the clerics failed, Musharraf ordered the army to storm the mosque where the armed clerics were holed in. The event was freely covered by the new TV channels which, in an exhibition of some of the most anarchic coverage of a sensitive issue, further compounded the tense situation.

Exaggerated figures of the civilians killed (especially women and children) were often quoted and the clerics were given more airtime to sound out their views than the government officials. The confusion created by the media and the regime’s own weakness to counter the narrative that was being built eventually saw the emergence of an alliance of extremist militants who began to target public places supposedly to avenge ‘Musharraf’s Red Mosque massacre.’ It was at this point that the Lawyers’ Movement that had been initially started by progressive groups of lawyers began its shift to the right as parties like PML-N, PTI and JI began to dominate it. It was also believed that PML-N had begun to bankroll the movement. The movement’s greatest presence was felt in urban Punjab and the NWFP. It was almost nowhere in Sindh and barely present in the province’s capital, Karachi. This was the first major protest movement ever since 1968 and 1977 in which Punjab participated whole-heartedly. The province had largely remained quiet during the movements against Zia and many of Musharraf’s supporters in Sindh and Karachi suggested that Punjab only rises against non-Punjabi rulers. Though some events may actually substantiate this, the recent rise of Imran Khan in the Punjab against Nawaz Sharif (a Punjabi) might be used to counter such a perception.

Unlike the movement against Ayub (which included the participation of the working classes and the peasants as well), the movement against Musharraf was more like the one against Bhutto in 1977 in which the majority of participants belonged to the urban middle and lower middle-classes. This time however, these classes had actually prospered under Musharraf but after reaching certain limits of economic prosperity, these classes became the ‘blocked elite’ — and/or that portion of the robust urban classes who may have gained economic influence (through business-friendly economic policies) and social influence (through media outlets), find themselves blocked to also gain political influence by the traditional ruling elites. The movement began to settle down when Musharraf grudgingly allowed the return of the country’s two main politicians, Benazir Bhutto (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif (PML-N). Benazir unfortunately was assassinated in a bomb attack in December 2007 and her party’s charge was assumed by her husband Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari and Nawaz led their parties to victory in the 2008 elections and both then squeezed Musharraf to resign as President and Army chief.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 31, 2014
"I am still learning."
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