Goodbye Sabri


Written by Randeep Singh

I was not a fan of Amjad Sabri. I don’t know any of his tunes. Why am I mourning his passing?

Sabri was one of the leading singers of qawalli in the subcontinent. As part of the Sabri brothers, he performed in dargahs, concert halls and stadiums around the world.

He was shot dead today in Karachi. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. In the past ten years, Pakistan’s Sufi Islamic culture has been bombed, murdered and assailed. Shrines are attacked, worshippers are killed and festivals are fired on.

No one is pure in the Land of Pure. Not Sabri, a devotee of Allah and His Prophet. Not Farid or Data Ganj, Sufi poets and cultural icons of Pakistan. Only the new guardians of Islam show the straight path. They are the masters of the day of judgement …

Goodbye Sabri. May your voice lift the spirits of those you left behind. May Pakistan preserve your legacy and the spirit of its culture.

‘“Brand Malala”: Western exploitation of a schoolgirl’ by Carol Anne Grayson

‘I think she is a very convenient person for us to really like. She’s the kind of Muslim girl that we want to show we like because we want to see them go to school. But in Pakistan, most girls do go to school.’ Says Birmingham poet Benjamin Zephaniah who was voted third in a BBC poll of the nation’s favourite poets, behind TS Eliot and John Donne (  
As well, Malala helps US-NATO soldiers to believe that they are fighting for a ‘noble cause’ as opposed to Afghanistan’s riches and world colonization; and, it helps Pakistan’s ‘civil society’, whose salaries come from US/NATO-supported funding agencies, to justify their inaction both against US drone attacks and Taliban. Uddari.


As Malala Yousafzai has told the media, that second when she was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan changed her life, (it is also changing the lives of others too), Malala has become a very marketable western commodity. My issue is not with Malala, I support and respect her wish of education for all, however (and it shames me to say this being British) I doubt she fully realizes the extent to which she is being exploited by her new “mentors” in the UK.

There is an element of risk to all now living in Pakistan since the US led War on Terror brought internal conflict to the region but there is only special treatment for some of those affected. Why not fly out every child harmed by US drones to the west for the most up to date medical care, there are plenty for wellwishers to assist.

Despite some victims trying to speak out on drones, for the most part we don’t even know their names, let alone details of injuries inflicted upon them. There are double standards on how terrorism is reported. Taliban terrorism is used to propel the “good west versus bad east” narrative in the media whilst US state terrorism is served up as “collateral damage” and is more likely to get buried along with its victims. All violence must be condemned.

Since the shooting of Malala, western politicians and media alike have seized upon a very profitable “alliance” with the young Pakistani schoolgirl. She fits comfortably into the well- worn narrative of “rescuing” women from the east. Let’s face it an entire war was waged according to some to “save” Afghanistan’s females from the Taliban. (Let’s hope Malala’s story will not be used to keep occupation going a little longer). What press usually fail to mention however is how Britain and its allies are failing miserably on “gender justice” back home.

Exploitation of women whether emotionally, physically, financially is so ingrained in our society and institutions that I am not even sure whether some men realize their actions. The old saying comes to mind… “in the valley of the blind, the one eyed ‘man’ is king”! Former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Malala’s avid supporter, fits that description. He is known as a misogynist by his former work colleagues and to human rights campaigners for his refusal to address the plight of widows whose husbands were unlawfully killed by the state see my earlier story

How many men do you see studying gender to work with women for greater equality though it would benefit society for more males to do so. Division of labour need not be problematic if given the same value for both sexes. The one man on my gender course at university was a young Pashtun man who was determined in his aim to improve the situation of women in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan whilst at the same time respecting the culture.

The special treatment of Malala is highlighting divisions in many ways. Week in week out, when I peruse the British press, we are subjected to articles about asylum seekers “ripping off” the UK. These stories show scant regard for torture victims coming to Britain that often end up being held in detention centres or virtually penniless in the community living on vouchers with limited access to health care. Yet one young lady is flown in to the UK and provided with the best possible care at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham appearing to bypass the hurdles faced by many. It would seem that there is something of a two tier system of care going on here and it is understandable that this will raise questions as to how we define a “deserving” case. I have met many juvenile survivors of torture, outspoken activists on human rights so what makes one person more deserving than another?

The commodification of Malala appears to have started at the time her father volunteered his daughter to the BBC to document life at school under the Taliban (this was before she was shot on a bus). She is seen on film at a younger age going to school and participating in lessons with her peers.

Media stories report that her father Ziauddin owns “for profit” schools which just happen to be high on the agenda of Gordon Brown, global envoy for education at the UN (again documented in my earlier article. One wonders why then, given that both Ziauddin and the BBC are so quick to warn of the dangers of the Taliban, they would put a child in the line of fire (albeit her identity thinly disguised) to write her diary for public consumption.

With regard to the question of another agenda, artist Jonathan Rao who painted the portrait of Malala that hangs in the National Gallery admits to his concerns in the Independent newspaper and states:-

 “I guess I was worried that she was probably a pawn in a bigger game and was being unduly influenced by the people around her.”

The Independent points out that:-

Those people include Edelman, the global PR firm that manages Malala alongside its work for clients that include Microsoft and Starbucks. Jamie Lundie, an impeccably connected senior executive for the firm and former speechwriter for Paddy Ashdown when he was the Lib Dem leader, leads a team of five who work with Malala on a pro bono basis.

During a BBC documentary this week, Malala’s former friends are shown in Swat valley, Pakistan continuing their education. However there is fear among children in the region. Fox news reports the following words from school principle Selma Naz:-

“We have had threats, there are so many problems. It is much more dangerous for us after Malala’s shooting and all the attention that she is getting,” said Naz. “The Taliban are very dangerous. They have gone from Swat, but still they have a presence here. It is hidden, but it is here. We all have fear in our hearts.”

What is disturbing also is that we are told in the film which area of Birmingham Malala now goes to school, careless words given threats to target her once again repeated from Taliban. Can we assume she will not be targeted in UK?

Safety is pushed aside for “brand Malala”. There is Malala the book, Malala the film, Malala the award nominee, Malala the portrait, with the schoolgirl being skilfully marketed by Edelman, the world’s biggest PR company. Wavering a fee will no doubt be compensated by the value of the publicity she will bring to the company. I wonder, how many people can name the other girls injured when Malala was shot? What quality of care and support did they receive? Are they represented by PR companies?

All this stage management behind the scenes strikes me as far removed from the image portrayed on our screens of a simple, very bright girl, with a love for school standing up for her rights. We are now into the dangerous cult of celebrity. To ease the entry into western homes via multimedia, we are told Malala likes pop star Justin Bieber, is championed by actor and UN ambassador Angelina Jolie and what transition would be complete without the obligatory photo with a smiling David Beckham. With the “A” listers behind her, Malala’s future looks rosy. How different to the many women that have been harmed in Britain and received no such support.

It is fascinating to see the establishment prizes Malala is collecting including “Pride of Britain”. Will we see her projected from Quilliam next, sat beside former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson. Even to Tommy, she must surely be the acceptable face of Islam. Then of course we are gearing up for the Nobel Peace Prize with Malala a firm favourite to take the award. Putin’s heart must be sinking with Malala predicted to follow in the footsteps of champion of drones, supporter of targeted killings, President Barack Obama.

I can’t help but think of another Nobel nominee two decades ago, one Rigoberta Menchu. Like Malala she was thrust into the limelight, pressurised by others. She also wrote a book and appears to have been so eager to fit the expected narrative that she is alleged to have altered facts to project her cause, that of Quiche people in Guatemala. Ten years after the Nobel she was mired in controversy, though allowed to keep her prize. I quote a newspaper story in the New York Times  December 15th 1998:-

In the autobiography ”I, Rigoberta Menchu,” first published in Spanish in 1983 at the height of Guatemala’s brutal civil war, Ms. Menchu, now 39, tells a wrenching tale of violence, destruction, misery and exploitation as moving and disturbing as a Victor Hugo novel. So powerful was the book’s impact that it immediately transformed her into a celebrated and much-sought-after human rights campaigner and paved the way for her being awarded the Nobel Prize.

Key details of that story, though, are untrue, according to a new book written by an American anthropologist, ”Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans.” Based on nearly a decade of interviews with more than 120 people and archival research, the anthropologist, David Stoll, concludes that Ms. Menchu’s book ”cannot be the eyewitness account it purports to be” because the Nobel laureate repeatedly describes ”experiences she never had herself.”

Malala is a bright, articulate young woman. She comes across as caring and committed and has great potential to make a difference in this world finding her own route. She is not in the UK to boost careers or further the bank balance of those in the media. Those who claim to support gender justice should ask themselves why it is that some cases are projected into the media whilst thousands of other cases are suppressed by government including by one of the same politicians so supportive to Malala.

I recall one campaigner harmed by the state writing to Gordon Brown on his deathbed requesting a meeting in a last ditch attempt to obtain gender justice for widows left behind. The BBC spoke highly of this activist, noted how he “died a disappointed man” ignored by Gordon Brown. Such requests were repeated by others many times.

The support people receive after trauma makes a significant difference to how they recover and move forward in life. Malala has been surrounded by care, offered opportunities and her story given immense media coverage. That does not happen for most women. Many go unheard no matter how vocal they may be or what risks they take, they simply don’t fit in to a popular narrative, especially if victims of the state.

Malala should not be used as a diversion to distract away from other women that have been fighting in British courts for years to highlight injustice and the wrongdoing of government. This does not help the cause of any woman while one is exploited and others are being suppressed!

As an intelligent young role model, I don’t imagine Malala would want this. I would think all she wants to do is knuckle down and get on with her education and hopefully will be allowed to do so in peace.

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad.  She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.

Original with images:

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Candle Light Vigil for Malala Yousufzai – Lahore Wed Oct 10/12

Civil society Vigil for Malala Yousufzai
October 10, 2012
6 pm
Chairing Cross, The Mall, Lahore

Attack on Malala Yousufzai symbolizes the spread of hate, extremism and terrorists forces in our society. These forces are not tolerating any symbol of peace, tolerance and liberal ideals. They are using weapons of hate and destructions on ordinary civilians who are challenging their designs through message of love, peace and liberalism…If these forces are allowed to operate without any check and control they will take away all such ideals and symbols from society. This is the time to convey them that the society is not going to tolerate agendas of hate, destruction and terrorism anymore and also to convey to Malala that she is not alone and society stands and supports her ideals of peace, women empowerment and tolerance, and that we are praying for her life and early recovery…

South Asia Partnership and several other civil society groups are organizing a candle-light vigil tomorrow Wednesday October 10, 2012 at Chairing Cross, The Mall Lahore. Please join us all in this important and collective cause and add your voice in this message of peace and non-violence.

For further information please contact
SAP-Pakistan office
042-35311 701-06
Mohammad Tahseen
Irfan Mufti


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‘Pakistan’s army: Divided it stands’ by Pervez Hoodbhoy

Why is the Army getting weaker? The problem is not the lack of materiel – guns, bombs, men, and money. These have relatively easy fixes. Instead it is the military’s diminished moral power and authority, absence of charismatic leadership, and visibly evident accumulation of property and wealth. More than anything else, the Army has sought to please both the Americans as well as their enemies

Pakistan bleeds from a thousand cuts. If things had gone according to plan it is India that should have been hurting now, not Pakistan. The army’s 25 years-old low-cost, high-impact strategy of covert warfare would have liberated Kashmir and secured Afghanistan from Indian influence. Instead, a fierce blowback has led to a daily pileup of shaheeds, the casualties of a plan that went awry. The morale of a fine fighting force plummets still further when its soldiers are ordered to fight those coreligionists who claim to be fighting for Islam. The reported refusal of some military units to confront the Taliban during last year’s South Waziristan operation is said to have shocked senior officers and severely limited their battle options in North Waziristan.

Post bin Laden, things have worsened. Pakistan’s current crop of generals must simultaneously deal with the haughty American diktat to “do more”, Islamic militant groups fixated upon attacking both America and India, and a heavily Islamicized rank and file brimming with seditious thoughts. Some want to kill their superior officers; they achieved near success when General Musharraf was targeted twice by air force and army officers in 2003. A military court sentenced the mutineers to death, and a purge of officers and men associated with militants was ordered.

Although the army has been extremely reluctant to admit that radicalization exists within its ranks, sometimes this fact simply cannot be swept under the rug. Last week, the Army was forced to investigate Brigadier Ali Khan for his ties to militants of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a radical organization that seeks to establish a global caliphate and thinks its mission should begin from nuclear Pakistan. The highest ranking officer so far arrested, Ali Khan comes from a family with three generations of military service and is said to have a strong professional record. It is said that General Kayani was reluctant to take this step in spite of incontrovertible proof that Brigadier Khan had militant connections because he feared the backlash. Four army majors are also currently being investigated, but this could be just the tip of an iceberg.

Plummeting esteem
The military’s internal difficulties come at a time when its public esteem has hit near a new low, approaching that which existed in 1971. Today it is the object of scorn and open profanities. No longer do people agree that those criticizing the Army actually play into the hands of the enemy. Watching protesters in Islamabad’s Aabpara market, which is just a short walk down from the main ISI headquarters, I saw protesters tear down a huge military sponsored banner praising the Army and ISI. The onlookers, conservative shopkeepers included, cheered lustily.

Criticism comes from diverse quarters. Pakistani nationalists are upset that their military has consumed the bulk of the nation’s resources. Nevertheless its radars and equipment proved woefully incapable of defending the country from American intruders. On the midnight of May 2, as the Army snored and US-supplied PAF fighter and early warning aircraft stood idle on the tarmac, an elite squad of helicopter-borne American Navy SEALs had quietly slipped into Pakistan from Afghanistan a little past midnight. They snatched Osama bin Laden from the Army’s armpit near the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul, pumped him full of bullets, and dispatched him to his watery grave hours later. It was only when the Americans had exited Pakistan’s airspace that air defences were scrambled.

Dissatisfaction with their leadership is said to run throughout the Army. Junior officers are confronting their superiors with impertinent questions. Stung by criticism all around, Gen Kayani has been stumping the garrisons to raise morale. He was asked why the invaders were not challenged and destroyed. Also, who sheltered bin Laden if we are actually fighting al-Qaeda, our declared enemy? The Express Tribune quotes an unnamed young military officer who made a stinging comment before the army chief: “Sir, I am ashamed of what happened in Abbottabad.” Replied Gen. Kayani, “So am I.” He promptly went on to hold Zardari’s government responsible for allowing Pakistan to get such bad press.

The military’s woeful inability to defend its own personnel and assets has tarnished its image still further. The dramatic attack on the Army’s GHQ in 2009, going on to the destruction of three ISI regional headquarters by insider informed suicide bombers, revealed its helplessness. The military again drew the nation’s withering scorn weeks after the OBL killing when, on May 22, flames devoured the Navy’s two $36 million aircraft, the anti-submarine P3C Orion. Only 6-20 attackers were involved, but they had successfully battled hundreds of security forces at Karachi’s Mehran naval base for 18 hours and exposed the ineptness of the defenders.

Following the Mehran attack, the military authorities arrested from Lahore a former Special Services Group commando of the Pakistan Navy, Kamran Ahmed, and his younger brother, Zaman Ahmed. Attempting to disprove that this was a mutiny, a hurriedly convened official inquiry claimed that DNA tests “proved” the attackers at Mehran base were not Pakistanis. But if genes can reveal one’s nationality, or the quality of one’s patriotism, then this must surely be a milestone in the history of genetics.

An unwelcome weakness
In its effort to breed the armies of God, the Pakistan Army has fallen victim to its own successes. Self-inflicted injuries generally get little sympathy. Still, it is difficult to be joyful at the prospect of the Army’s division, disintegration, and downfall. Should this happen, Pakistan and its people will have to deal with the much deadlier forces. The unfathomable hell of Talibanization lies beneath.

Why is the Army getting weaker? The problem is not the lack of materiel – guns, bombs, men, and money. These have relatively easy fixes. Instead it is the military’s diminished moral power and authority, absence of charismatic leadership, and visibly evident accumulation of property and wealth. More than anything else, the Army has sought to please both the Americans as well as their enemies. Recent revelations have brought this contradiction into stark relief.

Officially, the Army condemns drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which became no-go areas shortly after 911 after a massive cross border influx of Mullah Omar’s Taliban. But ordinary Pakistanis have long suspected the sincerity of these routine condemnations. Drone bases are located at many places inside Pakistan, like Shamsi air base in Baluchistan. UAV’s are slow moving targets, easily destroyed by supersonic fighter aircraft, or perhaps by ground-to-air missiles if supplied secretly to the Taliban. Their unhindered operation smelled of collusion and complicity. WikiLeaked documents, recently obtained by Dawn newspaper, confirmed this[1].

These secret cables, accidentally revealed, include internal American government documents showing that the drone strikes program within Pakistan had more than just tacit acceptance of the country’s top military brass. In fact, as far back as January 2008, Pakistan’s military was requesting the US for greater drone back-up for its own military operations. In a meeting on January 22, 2008 with US CENTCOM Commander Admiral William J. Fallon, Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani requested the Americans to provide “continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area” in South Waziristan where the army was conducting operations against militants. The request is detailed in a cable marked “secret”, sent by then US Ambassador Anne Patterson on February 11, 2008.

Around March 3-4, in a meeting with Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Kayani was asked for his help “in approving a third Restricted Operating Zone for US aircraft over the FATA.” The request – detailed in a cable sent from the US Embassy Islamabad on March 24 – clearly indicates that two “corridors” for US drones had already been approved earlier. Instead of acclaiming that drones were an effective weapon against a common enemy, it instead chose safety by hiding its role and criticizing the Americans instead.

Other confidential American diplomatic cables, also obtained by Dawn, revealed that collaboration with the US, strenuously denied by the Army, was in fact true and that US special operations forces had been embedded with Pakistani troops for intelligence gathering by the summer of 2009. They were subsequently deployed for joint operations in Pakistani territory by September of that 2009. Ambassador Anne Patterson reported to the State Department in May 2009 that “We have created Intelligence Fusion cells with embedded US Special Forces with both SSG and Frontier Corps (Bala Hisar, Peshawar) with the Rover equipment ready to deploy.”

Deeply divided divisions
Islam created Pakistan, but it now divides Pakistan. Fuelled by ideological passions, diverse social and religious Muslim formations have developed in different parts of the country. They often have divergent goals, and are often pathologically violent. Some target the American empire, and are hence attractive for Al-Qaida type groups. Others have less ambitious goals. Several focus on “liberating” Kashmir. Still others, such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, would like to eliminate Pakistani Shias. The Khatm-e-Nabuhat declares that it will physically exterminate the Qadianis, a sect that it considers heretical. Pakistan’s Christian, Hindu, and other religious minorities cower in fear. The rich among them have mostly fled the country.

Since the early 1980’s crusade against Soviet Russia, Pakistan has morphed into a central hub attracting a multitude of Islamists from Europe to West and Central Asia to Indonesia. But Jihadistan is now a hugely messy place, not the bastion of anti-communism and anti-atheism that it once was. Even those workers who helped to create it – like the famous Colonel Imam and Major Khalid Khwaja – ended up losing their lives.

Religion deeply divides the Pakistan military. Perhaps it might be more accurate to think of it as two militaries. The first is headed by Gen. Kayani. It seeks to maintain the status quo and the Army’s preeminence in making national decisions. The second is Allah’s army. This awaits a leader even as it launches attacks on Pakistani military installations, bases, top-level officers, soldiers, public places, mosques, and police stations. Soldiers have been encouraged to turn their guns on to their colleagues, troops have been tricked into ambushes, and high-level officers have been assassinated. Allah’s army hopes to launch its final blitzkrieg once the state of Pakistan has been sufficiently weakened by such attacks.

What separates Army-One and ISI-One from Army-Two and ISI-Two? This may not be immediately evident. Both were reared on the Two-Nation Theory, the belief of Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, that Hindus and Muslims could never live together in peace. Both are thoroughly steeped in anti-Indianism since their early days in army cadet colleges at Petaro and Hasan Abdal. They also share a deep rooted contempt for Pakistani civilians. This attitude has resulted in roughly half of Pakistan’s history being that of direct military rule.

Still, they are not the same. The One’ers are “soft Islamists” who are satisfied with a fuzzy belief that Islam provides solutions to everything, that occasional prayers and ritual fasting in Ramzan is sufficient, and that Sufis and Shias are bonafide Muslims rather than mushriks or apostates. They are not particularly interested in defending the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or the GCC. But should a lucrative overseas posting come the way of an individual soldier or officer, well, that may be another matter. While having a dislike of US policies, they are not militantly anti-US.

Army-Two and ISI-Two, on the other hand, are soldier ideologues who have traveled further down the road of Islamism. Large numbers of them regularly travel to Raiwind, the headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat, a supposedly non-political religious organization which has a global proselytizing mission and whose preachers are allowed open access into the Army. The Two’ers are stricter in matters of religious rituals, they insist that officers and their wives be segregated at army functions. They keep an eye out for officers who secretly drink alcohol, and how often they pray. Their political philosophy is that Islam and the state should be inseparable. Inspired by Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi, who preached that 7th century Arab Islam provides a complete blueprint for society and politics, they see capturing state power as a means towards creating the ideal society along the lines of the medieval Medina state. Many Two’ers are beardless, hence hard to detect. They are fundamentally anti-science but computer savvy. For them, modern technology is a tool of battle.

Like the proverbial ostrich, the One’ers fiercely defend the myth of army unity. They dismiss mutineers as isolated individuals. Mumtaz Qadri, the renegade bodyguard who murdered Punjab Governor Salman Taseer out of religious passion, is an inconvenient aberration to be dismissed from consideration. Today’s religious terrorism is trivialized as a passing threat notwithstanding the fact that it has claimed more Pakistani lives than lost in all wars with India. Instead, anger is reserved for those who state the obvious truth that Pakistan is in a state of civil war.

An outstanding investigative journalist, Saleem Shahzad, who revealed the existence of Al-Qaida groupings within the Pakistani navy after the Mehran base attack in the first part of an Asia Times article series, provides a tragic example. The part-two of his series was never published because it had promised to reveal similar cells in the army and air force. Shahzad was tortured and kicked to death after being abducted from one of the most secure parts of Islamabad. His mobile phone records are said to be untraceable, and tapes of closed circuit cameras around the abduction area went mysteriously missing. If true, then his murder could not be the work of hunted organizations like the Pakistani Taliban or Al-Qaida. But was it ISI-One or ISI-Two? Or some still more deeply hidden military agency? The truth may never be known.

A confused identity
The tension within Pakistani society and military fundamentally owe to an underlying confusion about national purpose and identity. Six decades after Partition, key questions stand unresolved. Are we Arabs or South Asians? Is there a Pakistani culture? Should the country be run by Islamic law? Can Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadis be proper Pakistanis? In a bid to definitively resolve these existential questions, for decades Pakistani school children have learned a linguistically flawed (but catchy) rhetorical question. The question is chanted together with its answer: Pakistan ka matlab kya? La illaha illala! [What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no god but Allah!].

Hypnotized by mullah and military, prodded into adopting a pseudo Arab identity, and excited into wild passions, Pakistan’s youth have become progressively less thoughtful and less educated about the world. A recent survey of 2000 young Pakistanis in the 18-27 age group found that three-quarters identify themselves first as Muslims and only secondly as Pakistanis. Just 14% chose to define themselves as citizens of Pakistan first. If military personnel could be asked whether they considered themselves as soldiers of Islam or of Pakistan, one suspects that their answer would be roughly similar. This is why such a dangerous question cannot (and should not!) be asked today.

Why has Islamic radicalism become such a powerful force generally, as well as in the Pakistan military? In part it owes to anger generated by Western military invasions of Muslim societies: Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan. Greed for natural resources has imposed US hegemony in much of the Arab world and stunted their natural growth. But anger at oil-hungry imperialism cannot be the whole story. Surveys show that the U.S. is disliked more in Muslim countries than in Cuba, Iraq, and Afghanistan – all countries that have been attacked by America. A private survey carried out by a European embassy based in Islamabad found that only 4% of Pakistanis polled speak well of America, 96% against. The U.S. now has the dubious distinction of being Pakistan’s enemy numero-uno, having displaced India from its leading position. The left and centre share this antipathy with the right.

Drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal areas are also cited as a reason. But there is abundant evidence that UAVs have been precise killing instruments. The recent killing of Ilyas Kashmiri (June 2011) is only one recent example. Although the collateral death of innocents is terrible, their numbers are insignificant compared to the carnage in Vietnam’s cities which were carpet-bombed by B-52’s in the 1970’s. Nevertheless, the anger in Pakistan leads to anger far greater than ever existed in Vietnam.

The meteoric rise of hard-line Islam in Pakistan has many reasons. But perhaps the most relevant one lies in wounded pride, together with contempt for “upstarts” who claim to be at the vanguard of civilization today. Faced by manifest decline from a peak of greatness 9-12 centuries ago, and afflicted by cultural dislocation in the age of globalisation, many Muslim societies have succumbed to religious resurgence. Pakistan too has turned inwards. Diminished self-esteem comes from having little presence in today’s world affairs whether in science or in culture and the arts. Faced with manifest decline, Islamic hard-liners dream of a new global caliphate which they imagine will make Muslims recapture their former glories.

Most hard-liners are of Wahabi, Salafi, and Deobandi persuasion. Wahabism, which originated in the 18th century in Arabia, started as a reaction to Shia’ism and Sufism. In its early years, it succeeded in destroying all shrines, together with priceless historical monuments and relics from the early days of Islam. This is why Mecca today bears little resemblance to what it was a century ago; its history has been expunged by bulldozing ancient graveyards and historical objects.

The Salafis – who seek the “purification” of Islam by returning to the pure form practiced in the time of Prophet Muhammad and his companions – are just as prone to violent extremism. Among the most extreme manifestation of Salafism is Takfir-wal-Hijra. In 1996 the group is said to have plotted to assassinate Osama bin Laden for being too lax a Muslim. Pakistani Deobandis have a harder line than Indian Deobandis. They do not condemn suicide bombings, are strongly pro-Taliban, and are heavily armed. Muslims of the Deobandi-Salafi-Wahabi persuasion fiercely decry the syncretism of popular Islam, claiming that it arises from ignorance of Qura’nic teachings.

Pakistan has bulk-imported Arab Islam after the 1980’s, particularly that which is directed against syncretism. In June 2010, the widely venerated shrine of Data Darbar in Lahore was targeted by two suicide bombers who killed around 50 worshippers. Today, every single major shrine in Pakistan has either been attacked or is under threat. Many hundred worshippers, both at shrines and the “wrong” mosques, have been killed. There are no records of those injured and maimed for life.

The export of hard-line Arab Islam to Pakistan has been paid for by rich Arabs and their governments. A US official in a cable sent to the State Department, which came to light after Wikileaks, stated that “financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith clerics in south Punjab from organisations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments.” This cable, sent in November 2008 by Bryan Hunt, the then Principal Officer at the US Consulate in Lahore, was based on information from discussions with local government and non-governmental sources during his trips to the cities of Multan and Bahawalpur. Quoting local interlocutors, Hunt attempts to explain how the “sophisticated jihadi recruitment network” operated in a region dominated by the Barelvi sect, which, according to the cable, made south Punjab “traditionally hostile” to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith schools of thought.

Still digging away
When you fall into a hole, stop digging. This principle is as crucial for matters of human society as the second law of thermodynamics is for physics. But, at least for now, Army-One and ISI-One remain skeptical.

A score of Islamic militant outfits are still based in Muridke, Bahawalpur, Mansehra and elsewhere. They are tacitly allowed, or perhaps actively encouraged, to take on an idol-worshipping Hindu army at times and places of their own choosing. Hafiz Saeed continues to make fiery speeches in Lahore while Fazlur Rahman Khalil, who heads the banned Harkat-ul-Mujahidin, lives comfortably in Islamabad with four large decibel loudspeakers around his house.

The Pakistani establishment is generally comfortable with hunting with the American hounds and running with the Islamist hares. But this leads to frustration not just with their Islamist allies, but also with their American ones. Leon Panetta, chief of the Central Intelligence Agency, left Islamabad fuming after an apparently fruitless meeting with Generals Kayani and Pasha. According to US media reports, Panetta shared with the military leadership some video and satellite imagery of militants hastily leaving two IED factories in Waziristan. It wanted Pakistan to take action against the two sites. But Panetta alleged at the meeting that the information was leaked within 24 hours of sharing and by the time the raiding teams reached those places, the militants had melted away. Apparently ISI-Two was at work.

Opportunities to change direction have been squandered by the One’ers. The bin Laden operation could have been used to clean up the military. That the world’s most wanted man had been hidden by the Two’ers is likely. If true, his discovery next to the Pakistan Military Academy provided evidence of complicity with terrorists and was a golden opportunity to fully investigate and crack down on jihadists within the military in Abbottabad and elsewhere.

But instead of taking this bold decision, General Kayani opted to do what the military has done best: raise anti-US sentiment for having violated Pakistan’s sovereignty, and browbeat the civilian government. The humble subservience of Pakistan’s civilians to their military masters was there for all to see. As the story broke on Pakistani news channels, the elected government quaked. It was too weak, corrupt and inept to take initiatives. Thus, there was no official Pakistani reaction for hours after President Obama had announced the success of the US mission.

A stunned silence was finally broken when the Foreign Office declared that “Osama bin Laden’s death illustrates the resolve of the international community including Pakistan to fight and eliminate terrorism.” Hours later, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani described the killing as a “great victory”. Thereupon, Pakistan’s high commissioner to the UK, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, rushed to claim credit: “Pakistan’s government was cooperating with American intelligence throughout and they had been monitoring [bin Laden’s] activities with the Americans, and they kept track of him from Afghanistan, Waziristan to Afghanistan and again to North Waziristan.”

This welcoming stance was reversed almost instantly. A stern look from the military, which had finally decided to condemn the raid, took barely a few hours in coming. Praising the killing of the world’s most wanted terrorist was now out of the question. In its moment of shame, the government furiously twisted and turned. Official spokespeople babbled on, becoming increasingly senseless and contradictory. Without referring to the statement he had made that very morning of 3 May, High Commissioner Hasan abruptly reversed his public position, now saying: “Nobody knew that Osama bin Laden was there – no security agency, no Pakistani authorities knew about it. Had we known it, we would have done it ourselves.”

Confused and tongue-tied for 36 hours, Pakistan’s president and prime minister awaited pointers from the army, following them dutifully after they were received. But simple obedience did not satisfy their masters. Gen Kayani announced his unhappiness with the government: “Incomplete information and lack of technical details have resulted in speculations and misreporting. Public dismay and despondency has also been aggravated due to an insufficient formal response.” The threat was thinly veiled: the government must proactively defend the army and intelligence agencies, else be warned.

Thus prodded, a full eight days after the incident Prime Minister Gillani broke his silence. He absolved the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and army of “either complicity or incompetence”. Before an incredulous world, he claimed in a statement that both suggestions were “absurd”. Attempting to spread the blame, he declared in Paris, before his meeting with President Sarkozy, “This is an intelligence failure of the whole world, not Pakistan alone.” Tragically, once again an elected government had failed the people of Pakistan. Democracy alone is not the solution to a country’s problems.

A new mindset needed
It was a breath of fresh air when, following the murder of Saleem Shahzad, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif demanded that the Army change its mindset. But what exactly did he mean? That the military should submit to the politicians and elected government? Not interfere in elections? Protect its nukes and other assets better? While welcome, this does not go far enough.

A bigger change is needed. Pakistan needs to stop seeing everything through the ever-expanding prism of war and competition with India. Super-charged, locally bred religious militants have fiercely turned upon their former tutors. Today it is the Pakistan military – and the country that it runs with an iron hand – which is haemorrhaging from unrelenting militant attacks. As violence grows, pessimism and despondency have descended onto the intelligentsia, prompting a flight out of the country of Pakistan’s best doctors, engineers, scientists, and other professionals.

To prosper, Pakistan needs to overcome its unrelenting hatred for India, leave Kashmir as a problem to be solved by Kashmiris, concentrate upon improving governance and internal issues, deal politically with the Baluchistan situation rather than simply murder dissidents, and realize that it is in deep peril because of its past policies.

The military’s role must be limited to defending the people of Pakistan against internal and external aggression, and to ensuring that their constitutional and civil rights are protected. It is time for the military establishment to stop shelling out juicy pieces of real estate for alleged heroic feats, and dispense with its huge business and commercial interests.

India, through its confrontational policies with Pakistan, shares some responsibility for the present tragic state of affair and has driven Pakistan into a corner. It is therefore incumbent upon India to help Pakistan overcome its difficulties or, at any rate, to refrain from adding to them. This is in India’s self interest – imagine the consequences if central authority in Pakistan disappears or is sharply weakened. Splintered into a hundred jihadist lashkars, each with its own agenda and tactics, Pakistan’s territory would become India’s eternal nightmare. When Mumbai-II occurs – as it surely would in such circumstances – India’s options in dealing with nuclear Pakistan would be severely limited. Operation Cold Start is a non-starter, a figment of the imagination of Indian generals that they could avoid nuclear war by limiting the depth and intensity of their initial strikes.

India should derive no satisfaction from Pakistan’s predicament. Militant groups see ordinary Muslims as munafiqs (hypocrites) – and therefore free to be blown up in bazaars and mosques. In their calculus of hate, hurting Hindu India would buy even more tickets for heaven than hurting Muslim Pakistan. They dream of ripping apart both societies, or starting a war – preferably nuclear – between Pakistan and India.

To create a future working alliance with Pakistan, and in deference to basic democratic principles, India must therefore be seen as genuinely working towards some kind of resolution of the Kashmir issue. A halfway effort is better than none. Over the past two decades India has been morally isolated from Kashmiri Muslims and continues to incur the very considerable costs of an occupying power in the Valley. Indian soldiers continue to needlessly die – and to oppress and kill Kashmiri innocents.

It is time for India to fuzz the LOC, make it highly permeable to non-jihadis, and demilitarize it up to some mutually negotiated depth on both sides. Also, India must entertain Pakistan’s complaints over the use of the water originating in Kashmir’s mountains, which is surely a joint resource. Without peace in Kashmir the forces of cross-border jihad, and its hate-filled holy warriors, will continue to receive unnecessary succor. A helpful symbolic step for Pakistan’s nervous government would be for India to give ground on the Siachen and Sir Creek disputes.

India also needs to allay Pakistan’s fears on Baluchistan. Although Pakistan’s current iniquitous federal structure is the cause of the problem – a fact which it is now finally addressing through the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment – nevertheless it is possible that India is aiding some insurgent groups. Statements have been made in India that Baluchistan provides New Delhi with a handle to exert pressure on Pakistan. This is unacceptable, if true.

It has long been true that a little goodwill and friendship would go a long way in laying the basis for rapprochement between India and Pakistan. But improving relations between the two countries is not an optional extra – it has become a matter of survival, particularly for us in Pakistan.

[1] Army chief wanted more drone support, Hasan Zaidi, Dawn, May 20, 2011.

(This essay was earlier run by EPW and has been posted here (Viewpoint) with author’s permission).

The author is a professor of physics and teaches in Lahore(LUMS) and Islamabad (QAU).

from Viewpoint
Online Issue 63, August 12, 2011

Dancing girls of Lahore strike over ‘Taliban’ law

By Patrick Cockburn and Issam Ahmed in Lahore
Friday, 12 December 2008

Traditional dancing has been part of Pakistan’s culture since the Mughal empire

The dancing girls of Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan, are on strike in protest against the tide of Talibanisation that is threatening to destroy an art form that has flourished since the Mughal empire.

The strike, which is supported by the theatres where they perform, was sparked by the decision of Lahore High Court last month to ban the Mujra, the graceful and elaborate dance first developed in the Mughal courts 400 years ago, on the grounds that it is too sexually explicit.

“The Mujra by its very nature is supposed to be a seductive dance,” says Badar Alam, a cultural expert. He recalls that attempts were made to ban it during the 1980s. “Gradually, it returned to commercial theatre, mostly by paying off officials. The question remains: does the government have the right to engage in moral policing?”

The government and High Court in particular have no doubt about their right to do just that. They have tried to encourage “family friendly” dances, but once-packed theatres are now near empty, despite dropping their prices from 300 rupees to 25 rupees a seat.

In the face of the strike and the lack of enthusiasm for alternative entertainment, the court has suspended its ban. It has, however, ordered dancers to cover their necks with shawls and wear shoes (they used to dance barefoot but the court deemed that too erotic). “Do they expect girls to dance in a burkha?” asks stage manager Jalal Mehmoud.
“Mujra has been going on for so many years it is part of our culture.”

The dancers are also distressed by the situation. “Theatre needs dance like food needs water,” says Rabia, a dancer and actress. “Some girls were making up to 15,000 rupees in one night. Hundreds of these girls from poorer backgrounds will be out of the work if the crowds do not come back.”

The ban on dancing is a symptom of a more dangerous trend in Pakistani society. “If the government engages in moral policing,” says Badar Alam, “it gives vigilantes licence to do the same. It fuels intolerance and de-secularisation by violence and intimidation and
opens the door to extreme Jihadi Islamic movements.”

Over the past few months, there has been a crescendo of violence in support of fundamentalist morality in Lahore. In the middle-class Garhi Shahu neighbourhood, young men and women used to meet in fruit-juice bars. There was nothing particularly salacious going on but, two months ago, three bombs exploded among them, killing one man and wounding others.

One bomb went off in a juice bar called Disco, where Mohammed Zubair Khan said he doubted if his customers would ever come back. “Everybody’s frightened,” said Saeed Ahmed Afiz, the owner of another bar. Asked what he thought of those who had ruined his business, he declared surprisingly: “They were not terrorists because they did not kill anybody. They did the right thing.” Asked about the man who died, Mr Afiz added unfeelingly: “Maybe he was just here to see the show.”

A striking feature of those suffering persecution from fundamentalists is not their fear but their acceptance that, if they had encouraged immorality, they deserved punishment. The main centre for selling CDs and DVDs in Lahore is Hall Road. But when one of the tough-looking shopkeepers received a threatening letter accusing him and others of selling risqué films, the mood was not one of defiance, but of submission. The traders heaped up the forbidden DVDs and CDs in the middle of Hall Road and made a giant bonfire. “I swear we sell no pornography,” said one nervously.


Stig Toft Madsen, Fil.Dr.
Assistant Director, SASNET-Swedish South Asian Studies Network
Guest Teacher, Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies
Lund University, Sweden

Contributed by Rubya Mehdi

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‘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.



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