‘Pakistan Today: A Travelogue’ by Hassan Gardezi

Periods of national unrest have not been uncommon or unfamiliar occurrences in the history of Pakistan. But the political and economic turbulence the country is facing today is bound to come as a shock to any visitor who has been away from the country for even a couple of years. It is as if all the contradictions that were being nurtured within the institutional structure of the state since the creation of the country have suddenly come to a head, threatening to spell the collapse of the entire edifice.

“How does Pakistan look to you today?” was the question most frequently asked, with some variation, everywhere I went this time, whether it was a meeting with old students, colleagues and political comrades in Lahore, a chat at the “tea” before or after a talk I was invited to give somewhere, a social meeting in Islamabad, or a gathering of close relatives in Multan.

Pakistan’s existential situation of course does not look very good today and everyone in the country knows this. The question being asked was perhaps more of an expression of common anxiety about what is happening in the country, a subterfuge rather than a real question.

The problems behind Pakistan’s latest crisis are not really new. But the one that is being most palpably felt is that of religious extremism accompanied by unprecedented acts of terrorism. Bombs planted or carried on the person of suicidal individuals went off almost every day in some part of the country when I was there, killing and maiming their hapless victims. The biggest carnage took place in the heart of Peshawar on Dec. 5 when a powerful bomb went off in the Qisa Khwani bazar crowded with Eid shoppers, killing scores of women and children and lighting up a huge fire. It was intended to destroy a shia imambara. These acts of terror are being committed by Islamic extremists, gnerally known as Pakistani Taliban, who are most active in the seven agencies of the Federally Administered Areas (FATA) and also control a substantial part of the northerly settled districts of NWFP province, renamed Pakhtunkhwa.

The leaders of the Awami National Party (ANP) which heads the provincial government and their relatives are the latest individual targets of terrorist killings (ostensibly for hobnobbing with Afghanistan’s president, Karzai). The national chairman of the party, Isfandyar Wali, survived a murderous attack on October 2, which killed four of his companions. Peshawar, the seat of provincial government, is virtually a war zone. Neither the once formidable Frontier Corps nor the Pakistan army seem to be able to establish the writ of the government over vast northerly tracts of the province. It has also become impossible for the Pakistani truck convoys to carry supplies for the NATO troops in Afghanistan from the Karachi port through the Peshawar terminals.

The operations of Pakistan army in trying to restore governmental control in FATA and adjoining settled districts of Pakhtunkhwa are neither effective nor hold much credibility in the eyes of the people, despite heavy casualties suffered by soldiers in fighting with the Islamic militants. Many questions are being raised regarding the involvement of the armed forces on the northwestern front. Are they serious in eradicating the menace of Islamic terrorists inside Pakistan? Is the army rank and file willing to kill their Muslim brothers while for decades they have been regimented to fight “Hindu India?” What role did the army and its intelligence services play in creating and nurturing the Islamic insurgents or jihadis as a foreign policy tool in the first place? Whose “war on terror” is the Pakistan army fighting any way? Is it serving the imperial interests of the United States on the northwestern front? and so on go the questions.

In October 2008 the newly elected government decided to hold an in-camera session of the national parliament under tight security to get “everyone on board” on the rationale of fighting the menace of “extremism, militancy and terrorism.” After two weeks of deliberations and extensive briefings on the situation provided by the army High Command, the parliament passed a resolution hailed as representing the consensus of its members. Somewhere in this resolution it was written down that the “nation stands united to combat this growing menace” by addressing its “root causes.”

It appeared that addressing the root causes of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan would be a great opportunity for the elected representatives of the people to face the truth and make a beginning to move towards establishing a new political culture of peace and tolerance. But when I reached Pakistan in November, everyone was talking about the menace of terrorism and religious extremism but there was no sign anywhere of addressing its root causes.

I brought this issue to the first of the talks I was invited to give at the Lahore School of Economics. Any honest attempt to trace the roots of religious extremism and associated terrorism would inevitably lead to two interrelated fundamentals of state policy that have been pursued by every Pakistani government, which has ruled the country since independence, I said. One of these fundamentals is the Islamisation of Pakistani state and society while the other is catering to the global strategic interests of the Unites States of America.

Moves to Islamise the state of Pakistan began as the first order of business for the founding fathers of Pakistan (the worthy exception being Muhammad Ali Jinnah) whatever their political motives, and they were certainly not spiritual. Assembled in the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, these men came up with a document known as the Objectives Resolution in 1949, which declared that “Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone but He has delegated it to the state of Pakistan . . .” It further proclaimed that “Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in accordance with the teachings of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.” With these beginnings, all subsequent rulers of Pakistan made their own contributions to inject Islam into the affairs of the state, thereby empowering a parasitic and rabidly patriarchal class of mullahs. It was however left to General Zia-ul-Haq to effectively demonstrate what it meant for the Muslims of Pakistan to order their lives in accordance with the teachings of Islam after his coup d’etat in 1977.

Islamisation of the Pakistani state and political culture was also a useful asset for the United States to exploit in its aim to keep the country tied to its Cold War military alliances against Soviet communism. Ultimately, with Zia the most ardently Islamist dictator in power, the United States was able to mobilize Pakistan army, intelligence services and Islamist parties to launch its proxy war, designed as Jihad, to overthrow the infant Marxist government of Afghanistan backed by the Soviet Union. This was the critical event which, through various political turns and twists unfolded into today’s global terrorism with Pakistan as its epicentre.

Thus it is reasonable to conclude that the mess that Pakistan is currently in is of its own making, with the opportunistic backing of the United States, I said in my submission to the small professorial circle that had gathered to hear me in the brightly lit library of Lahore School of Economics. How to get out of this mess? The only logical course that I could see was the reversal by the state of its Islamisation, and Americanisation policies.

On the sunny morning of November 21, I was sitting among a hall full of students at the campus of the newly established University of Gujarat. I was invited to speak on the current political and economic crisis, but my mind was picturing the young men and women siting in front of me as little playful toddlers when Gen. Zia had let lose an orgy of public floggings to implement his primitive sharia laws taken from the books of Jamat-e-Islami, his new found political ally. Do these young people remember all that? I was wondering. Was there anything in their history and Pakistan Studies textbooks about a military dictator who had installed himself as the Islamic ruler, Amir-ul-Momineen, of the wretchedly poor people of Pakistan? Do they know who created and fostered the present day Islamic extremists terrorizing the people, killing them in their mosques, imambaras, and bazars while taking over the northern areas of Pakistan?

Once I got up to speak I pretty much repeated to my young audience what I had said at the Lahore School of Economics about the roots of Islamic extremism and terrorism in today’s Pakistan. Injecting the beliefs and rituals of a particular religion in the affairs of a modern, pluralistic, state is like playing with fire, I said. And the proof is all around us today as the country’s mosques, imambaras, bazars and hotels burn, set on fire by the bombs and explosives of religious zealots. It is time for the people of Pakistan to make it very clear that most of them are Muslims, they were born Muslims, they have learned their faith from their elders, and neither the state mullah nor any jihadi has the right to tell them how to practice their faith.

But is it realistic to suggest that Pakistan dismantle its Islamisation project and break its ties with the only superpower on earth? Yes it is, if the government is a democracy run by the consent of the majority. The majority of the people of Pakistan have never endorsed Islamic rule as they have rejected the Islamist parties in every election held in Pakistan which was not rigged. Religious fervour that is observed today in Pakistan is largely confined to the small middle class, always ready to compromise to protect its precarious existence. The people in general are fed up with the mayhem created by the Islamic militants. Several recent public opinion poles have also confirmed that an overwhelming majority of the adult population does not want the United States to interfere in the affairs of Pakistan.

After a brief stay at the beautifully laid out campus of the University of Gujrat, which incidentally is headed by a noteworthy academic and not a retired military heavy-weight, I was driven to Islamabad.

Islamabad, as the capital of Pakistan has many reasons to be visited, but lately I have been going there to spend a few restful days with a friend, sheltered by the Marghala hills, and to browse through the stores selling used and new books in the F/6 and F/7 markets. But it looks like what used to be the the most calm and cloistered capital city in the world is now wide open to scarification by a new breed of militant Islamists. Last time I was there a large area of the city was fenced off where once was a mosque called Lal Masjid. This time my friend drove me by an enormous pile of debris which once was the imposing structure of Merriot Hotel surrounded by the shinny cars of its clients. It was indeed a grim reminder of the deadly power weilded by the men of God in today’s Pakistan.

Next I took a bus to Multan and was hardly in that city of the saints for long when the news broke out of November 26 terrorist attacks on Mumbai hotels. The irate Indian prime minister immediately called up his Pakistani counterpart, naming not only the rabidly anti-Indian jihadist outfit, the Laskar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), as the perpetrator but also accusing Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence agency (ISI) as having directed the atrocity. The Pakistani prime minister, a fellow Multani not known for much political astuteness, denied all accusations and even offered to send the director of the ISI to help in finding out the culprits. However, the poor fellow had to retract his offer soon thereafter and went into the denial mode.

Within the next few days all signs of official or unofficial contrition vanished from Pakistan’s media coverage, washed away by a tide of national jingoism. Indian admonitions that Pakistan rein in its Islamic militants were met by a chorus of patriotic war cries vouching to defend Pakistan from its perennial enemy, India. If on the one hand spokespersons of the venerable Lawyer’s Movement were issuing patriotic statements, on the other hand there were the villainous terrorists, the likes of Baitullah Mehsud and Mangal Bagh, voicing eagerness to march their lashkers to the Indian border to defend Pakistan. The rest of this drama is still to unfold.

I had yet to go to Karachi to participate in a discussion panel on Dada Amir Haider Khan’s book of memoirs, ‘Chains to Lose’, which I was finally able to get published last year. But Karachi was once again in the grip of riots. This time the riots were sparked by MQM’s fears that Pakhtun refugees from Waziristan and the districts of Pakhtunkhwa, displaced by Pakistan army’s anti-terrorist operations and constant missile attacks launched from the US predatory drones, were flocking to Karachi and taking control of local markets.

In any case I was able to make it to the Karachi event, thanks to an interlude of peace in the city in preparation for the Eid holidays. The book discussion was organized by Dr. Jaffer Ahmed, the able and tireless director of Karachi University’s Pakistan Studies Centre, the publisher of the ‘Chains to Lose’. Some half a dozen people, journalists, writers, political activists, presented their very well informed and perceptive reviews. Zahida Hina was one of them whose presentation in Urdu caught the general sense of the house. She said:
‘Dada’s memoir is a great historical document if one seeks to understand a glorious 20th century movement in South Asia for freedom from world colonialism and imperialism.’

If our generation has no idea of who Dada Amir Haider Khan is, it cannot be blamed. This generation has never been told anything about our great compatriots. We make giants out of dwarfs and treat our persons of great stature like lowly creatures. . . .
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan shoved Dada behind bars, locked him in solitary confinements, kept him in the torture chambers of the Lahore Fort, and finally banished him to the far-flung Pothohar village where he was born . . . He was a dangerous man indeed because he talked about people’s rule, he was a leader whose politics was above race and language, religion and sect. We can well imagine what a terrorist he was. In our books, only the commanders of lashkars and extremist organizations are considered honourable and trustworthy.

Feeling happy that Dada’s contributions, a committed communist, to make Pakistan, South Asia and the world a better place for humanity are becoming known, I returned to Lahore on December 6. Next evening there was a sitting with some like-minded comrades arranged by Awami Jamhori Forum. It turned out to be a free-wheeling discussion of the present global economic crisis, war on terror and the rise of Islamic terrorism in Pakistan, terrorist attacks on Mumbai hotels, the US elections and the victory of Obama.

Perhaps the most serious concern was the position and the role of the socialist left in all this. I maintained that the greatest asset of the socialist left is its set of values. These values of freedom, peace, opposition to all wars, human rights, respect for nature and all life, economic, racial and gender equality, religious and ethnic tolerance, are together a powerful antidote to the present global crisis. There is every chance for the socialist left to succeed in its own right if it stops wasting its resources to support the lesser evil in political contests. I gave the example of very active and resourceful anti-war and anti-poverty groups in the United States who squandered their assets by supporting Barack Obama as the lesser evil in the contest between the two mainstream bourgeois parties. There is no sush thing as more or less evil, I said. All war is evil whether it is more or less, all poverty and all inequality is evil whether it is more or less. A similar mistake was made in the last elections in Pakistan when parties calling themselves “communist” rushed to suppoert the PPP.

I better end here. My apologies if I have bored you with my long story. If you do have any questions and comments I will be glad to receive them. I wish you a very happy new year.

Hassan
gardezihassan@hotmail.com

POLITICAL ECON INTERNATIONAL LABOUR MIGR

Mumbai Under Siege by Yoginder Sikand

O ye who believe! stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that ye do.
(The Quran, Surah Al-Maida: 8)

Numerous theories are doing the rounds about the dastardly terrorist assault on Mumbai. The dominant view, based on what is being suggested by the media, is that this is the handiwork of the dreaded Pakistan-based self-styled Islamist and terrorist outfit Lashkar-e Tayyeba, which, ever since it was ostensibly proscribed by the Government of Pakistan some years ago, has adopted the name of
Jamaat ud-Dawah. This might well be the case, for the Lashkar has been responsible for numerous such terrorist attacks in recent years, particularly in Kashmir.

The Lashkar is the military wing of the Markaz Dawat wal Irshad, an outfit floated by a section of the Pakistani Ahl-e Hadith, a group with close affiliations to the Saudi Wahhabis. It has its headquarters at the town of Muridke in the Gujranwala district in Pakistani Punjab. The Markaz was established in 1986 by two Pakistani university professors, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and Zafar Iqbal. They were assisted by Abdullah Azam, a close aide of Osama bin Laden, who was then associated with the International Islamic University in Islamabad. Funds for setting up the organization are said to have come from Pakistan’s dreaded official secret services agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). From its inception, it is thus clear, the Lashkar had the support of the Pakistani establishment.

The Lashkar started out as a paramilitary organisation to train warriors to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Soon it spawned dozens of camps across Pakistan and Afghanistan for this purpose. Militants produced at these centres have played a major role in armed struggles, first in Afghanistan, and then in Bosnia, Chechenya, Kosovo, the southern Philippines and Kashmir.

Like other radical Islamist groups, the Lashkar sees Islam as an all-embracing system. It regards Islam as governing all aspects of personal as well as collective life, in the form of the shariah. For the establishing of an Islamic system, it insists, an ‘Islamic state’ is necessary, which will impose the
shariah as the law of the land. If, the official website of the Lashkar announces, such a state were to be set up and all Muslims were to live strictly according to ‘the laws that Allah has laid down’, then, it is believed, ‘they would be able to control the whole world and exercise their supremacy’. And for this, as well as to respond to the oppression that it claims that Muslims in large parts of the world are suffering, it insists that all Muslims must take to armed jihad. Armed jihad must continue, its website announces, ‘until Islam, as a way of life, dominates the whole world and until Allah’s law is enforced everywhere in the world’.

The subject of armed jihad runs right through the writings and pronouncements of the Lashkar and is, in fact, the most prominent theme in its discourse. Indeed, its understanding of Islam may be seen as determined almost wholly by this preoccupation, so much so that its reading of Islam seems to be a product of its own political project, thus effectively ending up equating Islam with terror. Being born as a result of war in Afghanistan, war has become the very raison d’tre of the Lashkar, and its subsequent development has been almost entirely determined by this concern. The contours of its ideological framework are constructed in such a way that the theme of armed jihad appears as the central element of its project. In the writings and speeches of Lashkar spokesmen jihad appears as violent conflict (qital) waged against ‘unbelievers’ who are said to be responsible for the oppression of the Muslims. Indeed, the Lashkar projects it as the one of the most central tenets of Islam, although it has traditionally not been included as one of the ‘five pillars’ of the faith. Thus, its website claims that ‘There is so much emphasis on this subject that some commentators and scholars of the
Quran have remarked that the topic of the Quran is jihad’. Further, a Lashkar statement declares, ‘There is consensus of opinion among researchers of the Qur’an that no other action has been explained in such great detail as jihad’.

In Lashkar discourse, jihad against non-Muslims is projected as a religious duty binding on all Muslims today. Thus the Lashkar’s website claims that a Muslim who has ‘never intended to fight against the disbelievers [!] is not without traces of hypocrisy’. Muslims who have the capacity to participate or assist in the jihad but do not do so are said to ‘be living a sinful life’. Not surprisingly, therefore, the Lashkar denounces all Muslims who do not agree with its pernicious and grossly distorted version of Islam and its hideous misinterpretation of jihad,Sufis, Shias, Barelvis and so on, as being ‘deviants’
or outside the pale of Islam or even in league with ‘anti-Islamic forces’. The Lashkar promises its activists that they would receive great rewards, both in this world and in the Hereafter, if they were to actively struggle in the path of jihad. Not only would they be guaranteed a place in Heaven, but they would also ‘be honoured in this world’, for jihad, it claims, is also ‘the way that solves
financial and political problems’.

Astoundingly bizarre though it is, the Markaz sees itself as engaged in a global jihad against the forces of ‘disbelief’, stopping at nothing short of aiming at the conquest of the entire world. As Nazir Ahmed, in-charge of the public relations department of the Lashkar, once declared, through the so-called jihad that the Lashkar has launched, ‘Islam will be dominant all over the world’. This
global war is seen as a solution to all the ills and oppression afflicting all Muslims, and it is claimed that ‘if we want to live with honour and dignity, then we have to return back to jihad’. ‘Through jihad, the Lashkar website says, ‘Islam will be supreme throughout the world’.

In Lashkar discourse, its self-styled jihad against India is regarded as nothing less than a war between two different and mutually opposed ideologies: Islam, on the one hand, and Hinduism, on the other. It tars all Hindus with the same brush, as supposed ‘enemies of Islam’. Thus, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Lashkar chief, declares: ‘In fact, the Hindu is a mean enemy and the proper way to deal
with him is the one adopted by our forefathers, who crushed them by force. We need to do the same’.

India is a major target for the Lashkar’s terrorists. According to Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, ‘The jihad is not about Kashmir only. It encompasses all of India’. Thus, the Lashkar sees its self-styled jihad as going far beyond the borders of Kashmir and spreading through all of India. Its final goal, it says,
is to extend Muslim control over what is seen as having once been Muslim land, and, hence, to be brought back under Muslim domination, creating what the Lashkar terms as ‘the Greater Pakistan by dint of jihad’. Thus, at a mammoth congregation of Lashkar supporters in November 1999, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed thundered, ‘Today I announce the break-up of India, Inshallah. We will not rest
until the whole of India is dissolved into Pakistan’.

The Lashkar, so say media reports, has been trying to drum up support among India’s Muslims, and it may well be that it has managed to find a few recruits to its cause among them. If this is the case, it has probably been prompted by the fact of mounting murderous Hindutva-inspired anti-Muslim pogroms across the country, often abetted by agencies of the state, which has taken a toll of
several thousand innocent lives. The fact that no semblance of justice has been delivered in these cases and that the state has not taken any measure to reign in Hindutva terrorism adds further to the deep-seated despondency and despair among many Indian Muslims. This might well be used by self-styled Islamist terror groups, such as the Lashkar, to promote their own agenda. Obviously,
therefore, in order to counter the grave threat posed by terror groups such as the Lashkar, the Indian state needs to tackle the menace of Hindutva terror as well, which has now assumed
the form of full-blown fascism. Both forms of terrorism feed on each other, and one cannot be tackled without taking on the other as well.

Mercifully, and despite the denial of justice to them, the vast majority of the Indian Muslims have refused to fall into the Lashkar’s trap. The flurry of anti-terrorism conferences that have recently been organised by important Indian Islamic groups is evidence of the fact that they regard the Lashkar’s perverse understanding of Islam as being wholly anti-Islamic and as a perversion of their
faith. These voices urgently need to be promoted, for they might well be the most effective antidote to Lashkar propaganda. Numerous Indian Islamic scholars I know and have spoken to insist that the Lashkar’s denunciation of all non-Muslims as ‘enemies of Islam’, its fomenting of hatred towards Hindus and India and its understanding of jihad are a complete misrepresentation of Islamic
teachings. They bitterly critique its call for a universal Caliphate as foolish wishful thinking. And they are unanimous that, far from serving the cause of the faith they claim to espouse, groups like the Lashkar have done the most heinous damage to the name of Islam, and are to blame, to a very large extent, for mounting Islamophobia globally.

At the same time as fingers of suspicion are being pointed at the Lashkar for being behind the recent Mumbai blasts, other questions are being raised in some circles. The significant fact that Hemant Karkare, the brave ATS chief who was killed in the terrorist assault, had been investigating the role of Hindutva terrorist groups in blasts in Malegoan and elsewhere and had received threats for this has not gone un-noticed. Nor has the related fact that the assault on Mumbai happened soon after disturbing revelations began pouring in of the role of Hindutva activists in terror attacks in different parts of India. That the attack on Mumbai has led to the issue of Hindutva-inspired terrorism now being totally sidelined is also significant.

And then there is a possible Israeli angle that some are raising. Thus, the widely-read Mumbai-based tabloid Mid-Day, in an article about a building where numerous militants were holed up titled ‘Mumbai Attack: Was Nariman House the Terror Hub?’, states:
‘The role that Nariman House is coming to play in this entire attack drama is puzzling. Last night, residents ordered close to 100 kilograms of meat and other food, enough to feed an army or a bunch of people for twenty days’. Shortly thereafter, the ten odd militants moved in, obviously, indicating that the food and meat was ordered, keeping their visit in mind, another cop added.

‘One of the militants called up a television news channel and voiced his demands today, but, interestingly, when he was asked where are they all holed him, he said at the Israeli owned Nariman House and they are six of them here”, one of the investigating cops said. Since morning, there has been exchange of gun fire has been going on and the militants seem well equipped to counter the cops fire. To top it, they have food and shelter. One wonders [if] they have the support of
the residents, a local Ramrao Shanker said.’

A Mossad/Israeli hand in the affair might seem far-fetched to some, but not so to others, who point to the role of Israeli agents in destabilizing a large number of countries as well as possibly operating within some radical Islamist movements, such as a group in Yemen styling itself ‘Islamic Jihad’, said to be responsible for the bombing of the American Embassy in Sanaa, and which is said to have close links with the Israeli intelligence. Some have raised the question if the Mossad or even the CIA might not be directly or otherwise instigating some disillusioned Muslim youth in India, Pakistan or elsewhere to take to terror by playing on Muslim grievances, operating through existing Islamist groups or spawning new ones for this purpose.

If this charge is true, although this remains to be conclusively established, the aim might be to further radicalize Muslims so as to provide further pretext for American and Israeli assaults on Islam and Muslim countries. The fact that the CIA had for years been in very close contact with the Pakistani ISI and radical Islamist groups in Pakistan is also being raised in this connection. The
possible role of such foreign agencies of being behind some terror attacks that India has witnessed in recent years to further fan anti-Muslim hatred and also to weaken India is also being speculated on in some circles.

Whether all this is indeed true needs to be properly investigated. But the fact remains that it appears to be entirely in the interest of the Israeli establishment and powerful forces in America to create instability in India, fan Hindu-Muslim strife, even to the point of driving India and Pakistan to war with
each other, and thereby drag India further into the deadly embrace of Zionists and American imperialists.

In other words, irrespective of who is behind the deadly attacks on Mumbai, it appears to suit the political interests and agendas of multiple and equally pernicious political forces, Islamist and Hindu radicals, fired by a hate-driven Manichaean vision of the world, but also global imperialist powers that seem to be using the attacks as a means to push India even deeper into their suicidal axis.

Sukhia Sab Sansar Khaye Aur Soye
Dukhia Das Kabir Jagey Aur Roye

The world is ‘happy’, eating and sleeping
The forlorn Kabir Das is awake and weeping

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