Echo Chambers and Epistemic Bubbles

An Excellent essay from Aeon
(https://aeon.co/essays/why-its-as-hard-to-escape-an-echo-chamber-as-it-is-to-flee-a-cult)

What are Echo Chambers and Epistemtic Bubbles?

C Thi Nguyen: Both are social structures that systematically exclude sources of information. Both exaggerate their members’ confidence in their beliefs. But they work in entirely different ways, and they require very different modes of intervention. An epistemic bubble is when you don’t hear people from the other side. An echo chamber is what happens when you don’t trust people from the other side.

Current usage has blurred this crucial distinction, so let me introduce a somewhat artificial taxonomy. An ‘epistemic bubble’ is an informational network from which relevant voices have been excluded by omission. That omission might be purposeful: we might be selectively avoiding contact with contrary views because, say, they make us uncomfortable. As social scientists tell us, we like to engage in selective exposure, seeking out information that confirms our own worldview.

An ‘echo chamber’ is a social structure from which other relevant voices have been actively discredited. Where an epistemic bubble merely omits contrary views, an echo chamber brings its members to actively distrust outsiders. In their book Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment (2010), Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Frank Cappella offer a groundbreaking analysis of the phenomenon. For them, an echo chamber is something like a cult. A cult isolates its members by actively alienating them from any outside sources. Those outside are actively labelled as malignant and untrustworthy. A cult member’s trust is narrowed, aimed with laser-like focus on certain insider voices.

In epistemic bubbles, other voices are not heard; in echo chambers, other voices are actively undermined. The way to break an echo chamber is not to wave “the facts” in the faces of its members. It is to attack the echo chamber at its root and repair that broken trust.

Listen to what it actually sounds like when people reject the plain facts – it doesn’t sound like brute irrationality. One side points out a piece of economic data; the other side rejects that data by rejecting its source. They think that newspaper is biased, or the academic elites generating the data are corrupt. An echo chamber doesn’t destroy their members’ interest in the truth; it merely manipulates whom they trust and changes whom they accept as trustworthy sources and institutions.

And, in many ways, echo-chamber members are following reasonable and rational procedures of enquiry. They’re engaging in critical reasoning. They’re questioning, they’re evaluating sources for themselves, they’re assessing different pathways to information. They are critically examining those who claim expertise and trustworthiness, using what they already know about the world. It’s simply that their basis for evaluation – their background beliefs about whom to trust – are radically different. They are not irrational, but systematically misinformed about where to place their trust.

Notice how different what’s going on here is from, say, Orwellian doublespeak, a deliberately ambiguous, euphemism-filled language designed to hide the intent of the speaker. Doublespeak involves no interest in clarity, coherence or truth. It is, according to George Orwell, the language of useless bureaucrats and politicians, trying to go through the motions of speech without actually committing themselves to any real substantive claims. But echo chambers don’t trade in vague, ambiguous pseudo-speech. We should expect that echo chambers would deliver crisp, clear, unambiguous claims about who is trustworthy and who is not. And this, according to Jamieson and Cappella, is exactly what we find in echo chambers: clearly articulated conspiracy theories, and crisply worded accusations of an outside world rife with untrustworthiness and corruption.

Once an echo chamber starts to grip a person, its mechanisms will reinforce themselves. In an epistemically healthy life, the variety of our informational sources will put an upper limit to how much we’re willing to trust any single person. Everybody’s fallible; a healthy informational network tends to discover people’s mistakes and point them out. This puts an upper ceiling on how much you can trust even your most beloved leader. But inside an echo chamber, that upper ceiling disappears.

Being caught in an echo chamber is not always the result of laziness or bad faith. Imagine, for instance, that somebody has been raised and educated entirely inside an echo chamber. That child has been taught the beliefs of the echo chamber, taught to trust the TV channels and websites that reinforce those same beliefs. It must be reasonable for a child to trust in those that raise her. So, when the child finally comes into contact with the larger world – say, as a teenager – the echo chamber’s worldview is firmly in place. That teenager will distrust all sources outside her echo chamber, and she will have gotten there by following normal procedures for trust and learning.

It certainly seems like our teenager is behaving reasonably. She could be going about her intellectual life in perfectly good faith. She might be intellectually voracious, seeking out new sources, investigating them, and evaluating them using what she already knows. She is not blindly trusting; she is proactively evaluating the credibility of other sources, using her own body of background beliefs. The worry is that she’s intellectually trapped. Her earnest attempts at intellectual investigation are lead astray by her upbringing and the social structure in which she is embedded.

For those who have not been raised within an echo chamber, perhaps it would take some significant intellectual vice to enter into one – perhaps intellectual laziness or a preference for security over truth. But even then, once the echo chamber’s belief system is in place, their future behaviour could be reasonable and they would still continue to be trapped. Echo chambers might function like addiction, under certain accounts. It might be irrational to become addicted, but all it takes is a momentary lapse – once you’re addicted, your internal landscape is sufficiently rearranged such that it’s rational to continue with your addiction. Similarly, all it takes to enter an echo chamber is a momentary lapse of intellectual vigilance. Once you’re in, the echo chamber’s belief systems function as a trap, making future acts of intellectual vigilance only reinforce the echo chamber’s worldview.

There is at least one possible escape route, however. Notice that the logic of the echo chamber depends on the order in which we encounter the evidence. An echo chamber can bring our teenager to discredit outside beliefs precisely because she encountered the echo chamber’s claims first. Imagine a counterpart to our teenager who was raised outside of the echo chamber and exposed to a wide range of beliefs. Our free-range counterpart would, when she encounters that same echo chamber, likely see its many flaws. In the end, both teenagers might eventually become exposed to all the same evidence and arguments. But they arrive at entirely different conclusions because of the order in which they received that evidence. Since our echo-chambered teenager encountered the echo chamber’s beliefs first, those beliefs will inform how she interprets all future evidence.

Modern Love

(The post by Razib about encountering racism in the US reminded me of a short story, part memoir part fiction, that I wrote last year. I feel that fiction is a better tool to understand complex issues and tried my hand at it).

 

Imagine that you are a Pakistani man living alone for the first time in an American city. How do you cope with it? All your friends are back in Pakistan, the time difference affects your relationship with even your closest comrades and for the first time in your life, you stop berating your insomniac friends; they are all you have right now because of the eleven-hour time difference. Living alone is fantastic but it gets quite boring after a while. You go and watch a good movie, attend a stand-up comedy show and go sight-seeing. You have spent close to a month in the city and yet you don’t know anyone here. There are days when the only conversation you have is with the library staff who ask you for ID every time you enter. How long can you survive like that? You need to find people to talk to, share jokes with, learn from, cry with. Listening to playlists of your favorite music seems like a drag after the umpteenth time. Netflix loses its charm after a few weeks. Distant friends stop replying to your messages. You are studying for an exam which is unpredictable and even if you pass it, there is no guarantee that you would get the job you want.  You descend into a state of sub-clinical depression. You can’t go up to people studying in a library and engage them in a conversation, especially if they don’t know you at all. The way most people meet other people in the United States is through their workplace or in school or college. One can also find people to hang out with in bars and clubs. However, what do you do when you have no money, no job, no friends and you live in a one bedroom apartment with your brother, and his wife.

 

Your brother doesn’t have these issues; he is married, to the girl your parents chose for him. You finally understand why he never really opposed that idea. He and his wife come back from work late at night and neither of them has the energy to indulge in conversations with you. You don’t have any issues with Alcohol but you have never been to a bar alone and you tend to drink only if you have company. It’s a chicken and egg type situation. You have tried talking to random people on the street, in the metro or at the University campus where you use the library but you feel shy starting conversations with people whom you don’t know already. You decide to try the world of online dating. Statistics show that almost 40% people in the United States are meeting new people through online dating. You have read Aziz Ansari’s book titled ‘Modern Love’ dedicated to online dating and have a cursory knowledge of the whole thing.

 

You decide to launch a frontal attack and download Tinder, Zoosk and Match.com. They are the top three online dating apps in App Stores. Something’s gotta work. The first issue that you face is that of finding a perfect picture. You discover for the first time in your life that you don’t have a perfect picture, or even a good picture. You have deliberately shied away from the camera all your life and now you rue your life choices. Your friends and well-wishers have always told you that your personality is very different from your appearance. You find some half-decent pictures of yourself and upload them in hope your profile is good enough for someone to ignore your bad looks (and worse pictures). You create a profile that lists your interests, likes, dislikes, idea of a perfect date and what you are looking in the other person. You have never been in a stable relationship for long so you write whatever comes to your mind. You also buy the Service Packs on Zoosk and Match so that at least you can see who has viewed your message and the ability to send replies.

 

Valentine’s Day is approaching in a week and the sight of red balloons, gifts and valentine-themed treats at every store sickens you and worsens your loneliness. You right-swipe every second girl on Tinder, press the ‘Heart’ button on Match and Zoosk, in hope of at least having a conversation. You take advice from Aziz Ansari’s book and try sending personalized messages to everyone (after carefully perusing their profiles). It takes a lot of work though. Every break that you take from studying, every minute that you spend at home, even the time spent on the metro station, you are right-swiping, pressing ‘Hearts’ for anyone within a five-mile radius (since you don’t have a car) and with mutual interests (which you can always lie about). You have seen ‘Masters of None’, the TV show based on Aziz Ansari’s book and you think that anything could happen.

 

A few days pass by and you have received no replies, no right-swipes, a few spam messages asking you to contact girls (based in Russia) through email. You constantly alter your profile, adding new photos, deleting old ones, coming up with funnier descriptions of yourself, trying to sound funny. You discover some distinct patterns emerging from your time on the apps: Most girls are looking for Caucasian men with a certain expectation regarding income. You are a lighter shade of brown and don’t have much income to speak of. A week goes by and you are stuck in the vicious cycle. There are times when you wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the screen of your mobile. You wish you lived in the futuristic world of Spike Jonze’s movie ‘Her’. After ten days of signing up to the dating apps, you have received a total of two replies. One day, you get a reply from a girl who lives slightly further but is well-travelled (according to her pictures) and looked good. You chat with her on the app for two days and then you asked her number. She gives it to you. You think you have made it. You forget all the misery and felt on top of the world. You ask her if you can call her and she tells you to call her the next day. The next day is Valentine’s Day.

 

You are excited to talk to this White American girl for the first time. You have talked to many White, Black and Brown American girls before but never like this. Never in an ‘online dating’ context. You call her on the decided hour and she picks up after two rings. She sounds nice, your inner monologue starts. She tells you that she is a massage therapist and works at a spa. She went to school for learning massage therapy after working as a Barista for many years. She has also visited India in the past, which you think is really cool. You tell her that your best friend got married that day in India and you couldn’t have attended the wedding, even if you were back in Pakistan. You joke about high rates of open defecation in India and then tell her about yourself, how you ended up in the States and what had you done on your previous visits. She hears you out and doesn’t say much. You are about to end the call and before saying goodbye, she says, Oh and Happy Valentine’s Day. You are elated, overjoyed, over the moon. You text her the next day and she doesn’t reply. You wait for a full day, try to call her and send another text. She texts you back, apologizes for the delay and ‘regrettably informs you’ that she doesn’t feel this could work. According to her text, she wanted the relationship to be more about her than you and all you talked on the phone was about you. You suppress your anger and don’t tell her that you asked her everything about her and that she didn’t have anything to say. Your dream shatters and you are back on your knees, swiping, clicking on ‘Hearts’, changing your photos and updating your profile.

 

You also sign up for a speed-dating event in the city. Maybe in-person interaction will work better than online interaction? You arrive slightly later than the designated hour because of terrible traffic in the city. The venue is a small bar with five tables and chairs on both sides of them. There’s barely space to walk when all five of those chairs are occupied. You see that there are five ladies and seven men. You’ll have to be better than at least two other people if you are going to match. It is Darwinism at its finest. Everyone gets six minutes with each girl and then you have to move on. Everybody has ‘scorecards’ and assigned numbers. At the end of the night, you are supposed to write down your top five matches and if any of them put you in their top five, you’ll get their email and can contact them. You sit opposite the first lady. She is very good looking (and your standards are miserably low) and is wearing a low-cut dress. You can’t keep your eyes off her. She is a cosmetician with an 11-year-old son. You find it hard to concentrate on her face. You try your best though, and try to have a decent conversation. By the time you have composed yourself, your time is over. You move on to the next lady.

 

She works in marketing and seems to have an imposing, bossy personality. You try your best to survive those six minutes. The third lady is a cross-fit trainer and massage therapist. You hit it off instantly with her. She has seen all your favorite TV shows and you spend most of those six minutes talking about them. There is a break in between during which you go and talk to the ‘men’. One of them tells you that for online dating, you need excellent photos and that you should get them professionally taken. The event resumes after a ten-minute break. Your next potential match is a Nursing student. You decide to ramp up the charm offensive and do some stand-up comedy material for her (you have always wanted to perform stand-up on stage). She can’t stop laughing at the jokes and those six minutes pass by before you could even breathe. The last lady works as a data analyst and you try some of the jokes with her as well. You also talk about the city and she tells you her experience living there for the last five years. Times flies by and the event is officially over. You feel good. Even if none of them picks you as a match (and you secretly hope it is the cross-fit trainer/massage therapist). Once you get out, you are approached by a lady wearing a suit and a charming smile. She works for a company that ‘grooms’ people for dating, providing them with suggestions on how to work on their personality. You are in high spirits so instead of rejecting her offer, you joke with her, calling her the ‘Love Guru’. She gives you her company card, just in case. You take a cab, reach home and start waiting. You receive an email next day from the Speed dating company with two names and email addresses, the cross-fit trainer is not among them. It’s the two girls whom you made to laugh. You email both of them, only the nursing student replies and after a day or two even she stops. Your self-esteem goes down the gutter. You wish you were a white guy. You go back to reading Aziz Ansari’s ‘Modern Love’.

 

 

The Conundrum that is Husain Haqqani

I was recently asked by AnAn to write a detailed post about Mr. Hussain Haqqani (henceforth HH) and his three books that I’ve read. I find it difficult to write about someone who is still active in his field of work and someone who arouses so much anger and partisanship among the commentariat in Pakistan. I decided to write about things that I know definitively, publicly available information about him and testimonies from two reliable witnesses about HH and then briefly discuss the three books (Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, Magnificient Delusions and India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t we just be friends) that I’ve read (I just started reading his fourth one, ‘Reimagining Pakistan’). It is hard to label HH as a turncoat or opportunist because most major politicians in Pakistan changed course in their political life starting with Zulfiqar Bhutto, followed by Mian Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto(BB) and Imran Khan. People and their ideas evolve or else, they are ossified and become part of history while they are alive (Exhibit A: Most of the left-wing politicians of Pakistan).

HH comes from a Muhajir family based in Karachi and went to Karachi University where he was an active member of Islami-Jamiat-Tulaba (IJT), the student-wing of right-wing, religio-political party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). He claimed in Magnificient Delusions that he stopped students from burning down the American Consulate in Karachi in 1979 when Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized by ultra-Wahabi rebels and the conspiracy theorists put the blame on the US initially (the Embassy in Islamabad was burnt down by a mob of students). His claim has been debunked by several members of IJT at the time. He worked as a journalist for a few years after graduation. In the late 1980s, he was a media-consultant for Nawaz Sharif, the center-right politician from Punjab who rose to prominence as Punjab’s finance minister under General Jilani’s governorship (1980-85) and later served as the Chief Minister of Punjab (1985-90). Nawaz Sharif was part of an Islamist alliance, Islami Jamhoori Ittihad (IJI) which opposed Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the 1988 elections. It is beyond doubt that the character of Benazir Bhutto and Nusrat Bhutto was mercilessly attacked during the election campaign. Helicopters were used to throw fliers over major cities in Punjab with explicit photos of the Bhutto ladies to malign their reputations. According to witness number 1, he saw HH in New York during that campaign where HH was offering nudes of Benazir Bhutto to anyone who was interested to see them. IJI still couldn’t win the federal election and ended up winning in Punjab, where Nawaz Sharif assumed the Chief Minister-ship.

Due to Palace intrigues and constant bickering between Punjab and the Federal Government and unrest in Sindh, BB’s government was dismissed by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the President, after twenty months. In the ensuing elections, IJI succeeded in winning the election (there was massive rigging taken place on orders of the Presidency and funds were distributed to various IJI politicians, details of which can be found by googling ‘Mehran Bank Scandal’). HH served as Sharif’s spokesman till 1992 until he was sent to Sri Lanka as Pakistan’s ambassador. In 1993, the Sharif Government was dismissed by President Khan (with prodding and backroom deals by BB and Co). HH flew back from Sri Lanka and became a spokesman for the BB government that followed (1993-1996).

In 1996, the second BB government was dismissed by President Laghari and Nawaz Sharif’s party started ruling again. It was toppled during October 1999 and General Musharraf became the ‘Chief Executive’ of Pakistan. According to witness number 2, he saw HH begging Musharraf (or one of his generals) for the Information Ministry. The request was denied and HH spent a few years running a consultancy. In 2002, he arrived in Washington DC, as a guest of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 2004, he joined Boston University as an Associate Professor of International Relations. He also headed a project by Hudson Institute on Islam and Democracy. Post-9/11 was a time in which the issue of Islam and Democracy was selling quite well in the ‘West’.

In January 2005, ‘Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military’ was published. It is a very good book detailing the history of Pakistan and the Mullah-Military Nexus that rules Pakistan today. The book was written with the help of Carnegie Endowment and the audience in mind was definitely American (with emphasis on post 9/11 understanding of Pakistan). It touches on all the relevant bases (quoting Ayesha Jalal, Khalid bin Sayeed, Margret Bourke-White, Stephen Cohen, Lawrence Ziring), the way Islam was used by Muslim League (and in certain instances, Jinnah himself) during the ‘Pakistan Movement’, the paranoia induced by newspapers and politicians about threats to Pakistan’s existence, the trifecta of Pakistan Ideology (Islam, Urdu, hostility towards India), suppression of dissent by ethnic groups using the tools of the Ideology (branding anti-state elements as anti-Islam is favored strategy even today), the way history was shaped from an anti-British perspective to an anti-Hindu perspective (since we got Independence from the British, not the Hindus), the first Kashmir War, the first Martial Law, attempts at a revisionist historiography, the disaster that was the 1965 war with India and so on. The book reveals very little new information (if you have read the liberal-secular version of Pakistan’s history) but is a very good collection of various liberal-secular  and diplomatic sources and serves as a good primer on Pakistan’s political history. I’ve always maintained that HH’s writing is often much better than his politics or his past.

It is often said that Pakistan’s political landscape is dominated by 3 A’s (Allah, Army, and America). The discussion on US-Pakistan relations in the first book forms the basis of his second book, Magnificent Delusions. Four years ago, I wrote a couple of articles, titled ‘Good Ally, Bad Enemy?’ reviewing US-Pakistan relations with excerpts from HH’s second book alongside the works of Carlotta Gall, Gary Bass and Daniel Markey (1. here 2. here). I’ll mention some quotes from HH’s book that I used in those articles.

“Anti-western propaganda was often unleashed precisely so Pakistani officials could argue that the United States had to support Pakistan against India, so as to preserve its alliance with them. Few Pakistanis knew how much their country and its armed forces had become dependent on US assistance.”

‘James L. Langley, American Ambassador to Pakistan (1957-59) wrote, “Pakistan’s forces are unnecessarily large for dealing with any Afghan threat over Pashtunistan. Pakistan would be of little use to us should perchance worse come to worst and India go communist… One of the most disturbing attitudes I have encountered in the highest political places here is that the United States must keep up and increase its aid to Pakistan, and conversely, that Pakistan is doing the United States a favor in accepting aid, in addition to the Pakistani pro-Western posture in the Baghdad Pact and SEATO and the United Nations, when actually these postures are in part dictated by Pakistani hatred for India.”

“India’s Prime Minister at the time, Indira Gandhi, ‘tried to persuade [Henry] Kissinger to recognize the need for more robust US involvement. She said that Pakistan has felt all these years that it will get support from the United States no matter what it does, and this has encouraged an “adventurous policy.” India is not remotely desirous of territory, and to have the Pakistanis base the whole survival of their country on hostility to India was irritating.”

“When Zia was approached by an American diplomat who conveyed the anxiety on America’s part regarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development, Zia said: ‘I am an honorable man. We are an honorable people. I ask you to tell your President that I give him my word of honor as President of Pakistan and as a soldier, that I am not and will not develop a nuclear device or weapon.'”

In his third book, HH focussed on certain aspects of the thorny India-Pakistan relationship: History, Kashmir, Nuclear Bombs, and Terrorism. The book is peppered with anecdotes and is a useful read as a primer on the relationship and the difficulties therin. One gets the impression after reading the book that if it were left to the civilians, the two countries would have patched out most conflicts, however, Pakistan’s military and India’s diplomatic bureacracy took maximalist positions to thwart that ambition time and time again.

Why is HH so controversial in Pakistan now?

He was appointed Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US by the PPP-led government (2008-13). It was a turbulent time for Pakistan because barbarians were literally at the gates (Taliban in Swat and Al-Qaeda+TTP in Waziristan). HH has certain views about Pakistan that are not palatable for the military establishment/Deep State. Those views include his insistence on civilian supremacy in the country, deceptive attitudes towards the United States and over-reliance on religion in political discourse. In addition, HH was trying to be a conduit between Pakistan’s civilian government and the United States during his time as the Ambassador (as opposed to a majority of Pakistani Ambassadors to the US who are appointed only after a firm nod from the GHQ) and that irked the establishment even further. It was during his tenure that Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Abbotabad (May, 2011). HH, in an op-ed published last year in Washington Post (read here), took credit for helping the Obama administration in that endeavor (which, in light of Trump’s recent ascension to power, seemed an opportunistic move). Soon after the raid, a conspiracy theory was hatched by the Military Establishment in Pakistan implicating HH. It was alleged that HH had sent Admiral Mike Mullen a memo (on President Asif Zardari’s advice) through a shady in-between named Mansoor Ijaz asking for help from the US in case our generals tried to topple the government in the wake of the OBL raid. The case dragged on in the court and later, a judicial commission but the charge was not proven. HH had to resign as the Ambassador. He has since been at Hudson Institute. In recent years, he has started, with the help of another Pakistani-American, Dr. Mohammad Taqi, SAATH forum (South Asians Against Terrorism and Hatred) that gathers progressive voices in London every October to talk about the future of Pakistan. (Full disclosure: I have been invited to the last two versions of this forum but the first one i couldn’t attend because of visa refusal and the second because I was doing an internship in Houston at the time). I personally agree with most of his views regarding Pakistan but I think his name has been tarnished so much by the Deep State that it is hard to advocate for his name/ideas/books in Pakistan. I believe that he is worth-reading and worth-engaging. If only the military establishment could fight ideas with ideas instead of slander and mis-information.

 

The Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case

(Originally published in The Friday Times)

History is an ensemble of memorable events and it is the job of historians to unweave the mystery of those events. Some historical events can be classified as outliers or turning points, altering the course of history. In Pakistan’s context, the first decade after partition held important pointers for things to come. One of the more significant events taking place soon after partition was the scramble for Kashmir. From the embers of the first Kashmir war arose the roots of a conspiracy to overthrow the incumbent civilian government. The conspiracy, known as the ‘Rawalpindi Conspiracy’ was hatched by military officials, all of whom had taken active part in the war for Kashmir. It was one of the first attempts in Pakistan’s history, by members of the armed forces, to stage a coup d’état. It can be argued that seeds of discontent (with civilian rule) among the military were sown during this conspiracy.

The conspiracy and principal actors involved in it have received scant attention during the last few decades. Hassan Zaheer, a retired civil servant, has written an excellent book detailing the conspiracy and its background. What distinguishes the book, titled ‘The Times and Trial of The Rawalpindi Conspiracy 1951’, is the attention to detail by the author who narrates the contemporary history of Kashmir in great detail, providing a platform for the reader to understand subsequent actions after partition.

The Muslim-majority princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu Dogra Rajput. The Muslim population was not comfortable with Maharaja Hari Singh’s regime and its repressive policies. In July 1931, a commotion erupted in the Kashmir valley when Abdul Qadeer, employee of a British Officer visiting Kashmir, delivered an inflammatory speech about the sacrilege of mosques and restrictions on performance of religious rituals by the Dogra administration. In the agitation that followed Qadeer’s arrest and trial, one policeman and twenty-two demonstrators were killed. Srinagar city was placed under martial law and the agitation was suppressed brutally.

The All-India Kashmir Committee was formed in June 1933 by concerned Indian Muslims to highlight the plight of their Kashmiri brethren. The British government had to take note of the situation and the Maharaja appointed an official commission of Inquiry. The commission recommended granting a constitution to the State and safeguarding civil liberties. In the aftermath of the Qadeer agitation, two young leaders emerged to take over the leadership of popular protests.

Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas from Jammu and Sheikh Abdullah from Kashmir joined hands to organize people and in October 1932, the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference was established. Sheikh Abdullah had become the undisputed leader of the vale, but had no influence in Jammu while Ghulam Abbas’s leadership was confined to the Muslims of Jammu. In a few years, Abdullah gained power in the ranks of the Muslim Conference and changed its name to All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference to bring Hindus into the party’s fold, as advised by his idol, Pandit Nehru. Ghulam Abbas formed another party named Muslim Conference, with exclusive membership for Muslims.

In May 1944, Mr. Jinnah visited Kashmir in order to bring about a compromise between the National Conference and the Muslim Conference. In June 1944, after failure of the talks, addressing its annual session, Jinnah fully supported the Muslim Conference as the representative body of the Muslims of the State and criticized the National Conference for having opened its doors to non-Muslims.

The future of India after withdrawal was to be decided by the Cabinet Mission that arrived in 1946. The Mission presented a memorandum regarding the fate of more than 500 Princely states in India. The 3rd June Plan reaffirmed the plan discussed in the memorandum. It stipulated that states had to join either India or Pakistan after partition, there was no option of Independence. In the run-up to the partition, All India Congress took an active interest in Kashmir and wooed the Maharaja, forcing him to change his pro-Pakistan Prime Minister at one point.

All India Muslim League had a policy of non-intervention in matters of Princely States, summarized in a letter written by a Muslim Conference leader from Jail. M. Shaukat Ali wrote, “What we are surprised about is the complete indifference and nonchalant attitude of the League vis-à-vis Kashmir. Nothing should prevent the League from taking an active and positive interest in our affairs. Why can’t the League send two top ranking members, like Nishtar and Daultana, to pay a visit to Jammu?” During the same period, Patel and other Congress Leaders were cultivating high level contacts with State authorities, whereas the Muslim league had no communication with any of them.

On the eve of partition, the Maharaja tried to impose a wide range of oppressive taxes on the Muslims of Poonch. It was a Muslim-majority area and many veterans of Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA) hailed from this district. The refusal to pay these new taxes by villagers and landlords in June began to take the shape of a guerrilla movement, a command structure, and a network of communication between the villages and communities. In the last week of August 1947, a series of public meetings were organized by Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan and other local leaders in Bagh Tehsil of Poonch district. From the meeting at Neelabutt on 23rd August, an armed revolt against the state was launched. By the second week of September, the armed revolt had spread to whole of Poonch, as well as to the adjacent regions of Mirpur and Bhimber. Volunteers and tribesmen from Punjab and NWFP joined their kinsmen in the fighting that was going on in the Poonch areas. Most of the Muslim Conference’s top brass had managed to land themselves in jail because of a costly error of judgment. In the immediate post-independence days, the Muslim Conference failed to mobilize people and demonstrate their strength in favor of Pakistan.

An ‘Azad’ force comprising of tribesmen from FATA and Balochistan, under the command of veteran soldiers, was sent to Kashmir by the ruling government. Due to lack of discipline and training, the irregular force failed to advance upon Srinagar, having reached within a few miles of the State capital. Fearing the approaching tribals, Maharaja Hari Singh signed a document of accession to India, resulting in an influx of the Indian army to Kashmir. Mr. Jinnah ordered General Douglas Gracey (C-in-C, Pakistan Army) to move troops immediately ‘to seize the pass on Rawalpindi-Srinagar Road, and then to proceed through Srinagar, occupy Banihal Pass on the road to Jammu, isolating Srinagar and nullifying Indian intervention’. Mr. Jinnah was convinced by General Auchinlek to reconsider his orders and resolve this matter by talking to Nehru and Mountbatten. Failure of talks led to open confrontation between India and Pakistan. Brigadier Akbar Khan, a distinguished member of the British Army, had been appointed Director of Weapons and Equipment Directorate at the General Headquarters (GHQ) after Partition. He played an active role in providing arms to ‘Azad’ forces and returned to Kashmir during the first Indo-Pakistan war, which ended in a stalemate due to UN intervention. He was openly critical of the way the whole Kashmir operation was conducted. Akbar Khan’s Wife, Nasim Akbar, was inspired by communism and distributed communist literature among officers visiting their residence. The couple used to argue that ‘After the death of Quaid-i-Azam, there was no leader of his caliber to run the state, and that civil servants and police were corrupt. The people were not fully ready for a democratic state, but they had great faith in the army and there was no reason why it should not take over the government to run it honestly and efficiently’. Akbar Khan laid the blame of ‘failure’ in Kashmir squarely upon the civilian government.

During 1949, the initial planning of a coup was finalized and it was decided to arrest the Prime Minister (Liaquat Ali Khan) while he was visiting Peshawar in December 1949. Akbar Khan’s unit was based in Kohat and his co-conspirators included Major General Nazir, Bridagier Habibullah, Brigadier Latif Khan, Brigadier Sadiq Khan and Lt.Colonel Siddique Raja. It was planned that Governor General would be arrested in Lahore while the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Chief of Staff, All British Generals and Adjutant General would be arrested from Rawalpindi. All Divisional Commanders were to be summoned to GHQ, relieved of their duties and arrested. Akbar Khan gave three reasons for military action, including the economic plight of the country, weakness of government during the Kashmir issue and incompetence of government in internal and external affairs. The Prime Minister was to be forced to announce his resignation and a military council was supposed to take over the reins of power.

Due to the unavailability of one of the conspirators, the plan didn’t materialize in 1949 and was postponed. In February 1951, the plan was revised and help was sought from members of the nascent Communist Party of Pakistan. The conspirators were arrested before they could seize power and the event was perhaps one of the first attempts to undermine the civilian government. It was, unfortunately, not to be the last one.

I recently recorded a podcast on this topic, which can be heard here:

https://patari.pk/home/song/Understanding-Pakistan-Episode-2-The-Rawalpindi-Consiracy-Case-Ft-Abdul-Majeed-Abid

Early Indian Islamists (An Overview)

Part 1

Islamism or Political Islam are ideas that emerged in the early twentieth century and were formulated in different parts of the world mainly in response to fall of the Ottoman Caliphate. Two major figures that contributed to this debate immensely were Syed Qutb from Egypt and Abul Ala Maududi from India. The practical expression of this ideology came to fore in the later part of twentieth century and at the start of the twenty first. Browsing through the archives of history, one encounters figures that have been all but forgotten for the roles they played in the grand scheme of things. One such character that needs to be resurrected or at least identified for his role in popularising Islamism is that of Raja of Mahmudabad.

Amir Ahmad Khan (his given name) was a prominent landlord from United Provinces (U.P.). He received education from Lucknow and later from England. He was the youngest member of the Central Working Committee of All India Muslim League and its National Treasurer. He was the chief organizer of the Muslim League National Guard (till 1944) and the chief patron of the All India Muslim Students Federation (AIMSF) formed by Muslim students till August 1946. Despite his aristocratic background, he cultivated an austere personal style. He habitually wore khaddar, was known for his generosity towards his tenants, and his piety as a practicing Shia.

He was ultimately sold on the idea of Pakistan, but he chose to see the future state in a different light than Mr. Jinnah. He claimed that the Lahore resolution possessed global—and not just regional—significance. He exclaimed in a speech that it had been passed not just for Muslims in India but for Muslims in Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan and indeed the whole Islamic world. He held half-baked ideas about democracy and an ‘Islamic political system’ which he articulated in the following words: “When we speak of democracy in Islam it is not democracy in the government but in the cultural and social aspects of life. Islam is totalitarian — there is no denying about it. It is the Quran that we should turn to. It is the dictatorship of the Quranic laws that we want — and that we will have — but not through non-violence and Gandhian truth”.

He outlined some features of ‘Pakistan’ as he envisioned it in his Presidential address to Bombay Muslim League in May 1940: “There will be prohibition, absolute and rigorous, with no chance for its ever being withdrawn. Usury will be banished. Zakat will be levied. Why should not we be all allowed to make this experiment? In treading this path, we will not be crossing the path of any right-minded individual”.

Among contemporary ideologies, he found socialism to be compatible with Islam by and claimed that socialism was first inaugurated by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Arabia long before it came into existence in Russia under the Bolsheviks. To the Raja, socialism just like Islam was based on a new vision of the world where there would be no discrimination based on colour, class, sect, region, or language. Before the Peoples’ Party of Zulfikar Bhutto appropriated the slogan of ‘Islamic Socialism’, Raja of Mahmudabad (and even Liaqat Ali Khan) had blown this trumpet.

Mr. Jinnah was not in favour of an overt theocracy at any time in his career and was irked by the frequent outbursts of Raja of Mahmudabad. An anecdote from Isha’at Habibullah’s unpublished autobiography demonstrates this attitude perfectly: “The Raja started the conversation by saying that since the Lahore resolution had been passed earlier that year, if and when Pakistan was formed, it was undoubtedly to be an Islamic State with the Sunna and Sharia as its bedrock. The Quaid’s face went red and he turned to ask Raja whether he had taken leave of his senses?

Mr. Jinnah added: Did you realize that there are over seventy sects and differences of opinion regarding the Islamic faith, and if what the Raja was suggesting was to be followed, the consequences would be a struggle of religious opinion from the very inception of the State leading to its very dissolution. Mr. Jinnah banged his hands on the table and said: We shall not be an Islamic State but a Liberal Democratic Muslim State.”

Major differences between Mr. Jinnah and Raja of Mahmudabad developed in 1946, due to the Raja’s espousal of violence in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and his opposition to the Third June Plan that laid the way for partition of India. On the eve of the Partition, the Raja was in Hyderabad but refused to visit Karachi for the 14th August Independence ceremony.

He was appalled by the violence that accompanied the   Partition and left for Iran with his family soon after India was divided.

They travelled from there to Mashhad, then Tehran and finally to Karbala. The Raja and his family stayed in Iraq for ten years. In 1957, the Raja went to Pakistan and changed his Indian passport for a Pakistani one. He had thought of going into politics but then Pakistan was a different country. He was a Mohajir, a refugee in Pakistan, a Shia in a predominantly Sunni country. The Raja left Pakistan again and travelled to London where he finally settled down and passed away in 1973.

Part 2

Browsing through the archives of history, one encounters figures that have been all but forgotten for the roles they played in the grand scheme of things. One such character that needs to be credited for Islamist tendencies was Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, a political figure from United Provinces (UP).

Early in his political career, he had visited Turkey as part of Red Crescent Society’s medical mission to Turkey led to Dr. M.A. Ansari during the Balkan Wars (1912-13). During the First World War, Ottoman Turkey (ruled by Pashas) decided to side with Kaiser Wilhem’s Germany (part of the Central Powers). Following the defeat of Central Powers, Ottoman Turkey was deprived of its territories and this sparked a furious reaction amongst Muslims in India. A ‘Khilafat Movement’ was led by clerics from India to pressurise the British Government into restoring the Ottoman territories. Khaliq was actively involved in the movement during the early 1920s and led Indian Muslim delegations in the 1930s to international conventions organised to defend Palestinian Arab rights in the face of the Zionist movement and the perceived British attempt to appease world Jewry.

In 1935, British Government introduced the ‘Government of India Act’ which proposed a Federal Structure for running the country under limited Indian rule and elections in provinces. Khaliquzzaman was a member of All India Congress for many years before officially joining All India Muslim League (AIML). He was the Secretary of Muslim Unity Board (MUB) comprising mostly of Muslim politicians with close links to the Congress party, and Ulema belonging to the Jamiatul Ulama-i-Hind. He was involved in a power struggle for leading the Muslim League Parliamentary Board in UP with Raja of Salempur. Before the 1937 Elections, Khaliquzzaman, was parleying with the Congress leadership over ministry making, against Mr. Jinnah’s wishes. He started an Urdu newspaper named Tanveer for propagating pro-AIML’s message.

Speaking at the Pakistan session of the Punjab Muslim Students Federation conference in March 1941, Khaliq said that, “Just as the Prophet had created the first Pakistan in the Arabian Peninsula the ML now wanted to create another Pakistan in a part of India.”

Addressing a gathering in his hometown of Lucknow, he explored the relationship between territorial nationalism and Islam. The Hindus, he noted, saw nationalism as a Hindu Goddess (Devi) that needed to be worshipped. This practice was abhorrent to a Muslim for even though he loved his nation, he could never worship this Devi and become a slave of nationalism. In May 1942, he stated his Islamist goals in following words, “Pakistan is not the final goal of the Muslims. We want more. Pakistan is only the jumping off ground. The time is not far distant when the Muslim countries will have to stand in line with Pakistan and then only the jumping ground will have reached its fruition.”

Soon after the Lahore Resolution, Nawab Ismail Khan convened a conference of Ulema and prominent Muslim intellectuals to draft a blueprint for an Islamic Constitution that would inaugurate an Islamic state in Pakistan. The first meeting was held at the Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow and was attended by Ismail Khan, Khaliquzzaman, Syed Sulaiman Nadwi, Azad Subhani and Abdul Majid Daryabadi. He firmly believed that a solution to the communal problem can be found by use of force. At a public meeting at Fyzabad, he said: “If the Musalmans of India pursue the policy of tooth for tooth, eye for an eye, nail for a nail, no power on earth can dominate them.”  On the question of the Muslims in the ‘minority provinces’ such as the U.P., Khaliq subscribed to the ‘Hostage population theory’ which he explained in the following words: “After Pakistan is established, the Hindu majority provinces will think a hundred times before they resort to any tyrannical act. They know the Indian Muslim who can shed his blood for his Muslim brethren of Turkey can also do something to save his Indian Muslim brethren of the minority provinces.”

He was fond of recalling past Muslim victories in the subcontinent for furthering political causes. Before the 1946 Elections to the UP Assembly, Khaliq asked Muslims to win the fourth and fifth battles of Panipat corresponding to the central and provincial assembly elections, by casting their votes in favour of the All India Muslim League. After the elections, Khaliquzzaman joined the Constituent Assembly as the leader of the opposition and pledged his loyalty to the Indian Union (although he resigned and left for Pakistan after Partition. Once in Pakistan, he resumed his Islamist activities. He was a founding member of the ‘Islamic World Brotherhood’ alongside Molana Shabbir Usmani. They convened a ‘World Muslim Conference’ in January 1949. A brochure at the conference titled ‘Muslims of the World Unite’ stated that ‘it was but natural that such an effort is made by Muslims of a country who do not subscribe to the theory that a nation is based on geography or race, but whose country’s very foundation is laid on a theory of religious nationality.’

Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman was appointed the President of Pakistan Muslim League a year after he moved from UP. Khaliq affirmed the World Muslim Conference promoted by Shabbir Usmani, as the first step in the creation of a permanent world organization, which would have branches not only in Muslim countries of the world but also in countries with Muslim minorities. It could soon be extended to become an organization similar to the Organization of American States. Expressing the long term aims of the Conference, he noted that in the context of the failure of the Arab League and Arab racial sentiment, he expected the ‘natural reaction’ of Muslims in Arab countries to work for the creation of a ‘central authority for Muslim States which can protect them against further political and economic inroads of other powerful States.’ He conceived this supervening authority in terms of the ‘Quranic State’, which he believed could be brought about through ‘political associations, social contacts, economic co-operation, and linguistic changes.’ This state would embrace any and all Muslim countries that wished to join and would be structured as ‘a loose federation of autonomous states bound together alike by adherence to the principles of Islam and mutuality of interests.’

His last political appointment was to the Governorship of East Pakistan. He passed away in 1973, two years after East Pakistan seceded. Religion did not play the role of ‘glue’ between the two halves of Pakistan, despite the claims of Islamists from UP.

A Tale of Two countries

It has been 70 years since the Partition of India. The separation was an ugly affair, with both sides holding grievances against each other. After living side by side for more than a thousand years, Hindus and Muslims were declared separate nations by the All India Muslim League which used religion as the primary reason to demand a separate state. When Pakistan came into being, Mr Muhammad Ali Jinnah tried to be inclusive in his August 11th speech at the Constituent Assembly. But his was a lone voice in a chamber full of proto-Islamists. Debates over the Objectives Resolution brought this issue to the fore when all the non-Muslim members of the Assembly voted against it. The Islamic identity that was chosen by the ruling elite, was propped up in opposition to secular India. Pakistan’s attitude towards India has steered its foreign policy and at times, domestic policy, throughout the last seven decades.

Former Pakistani Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani has had a ringside seat to developments in this arena since the late 1980s. His latest book, India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends, tries to capture this unique relationship by focussing on four key areas: History, Kashmir conflict, Nuclear Bombs, and Terrorism. His analysis is peppered with interesting anecdotes that shed a new light on how politicians from the two countries have interacted over the years. It is also a concise history of different efforts by both countries and the International community (United Nations, the United States, and China) to reach a settlement on bilateral issues, especially the Kashmir dispute. Another book that sheds light on recent milestones in India-Pakistan relationship is Myra Macdonald’s ‘Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War’. Based on her reporting experience in South Asia for more than a decade, MacDonald has penned a magisterial account of events that underpin the current relationship between the two countries.

On Kashmir, Ambassador Haqqani mentions the 1962-63 Indo-Pak talks when India was willing to give up 1500 square kilometres of territory but then Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stuck to a maximalist position, rejecting the offer out of hand. Both sides have stuck to their guns since then and neither side is willing to consider a middle-of-the-road compromise anymore. Pakistan has tried using non-state actors and direct intervention, worsening its own case. India neglected the Kashmiris — despite Kashmir’s state assembly ratifying the accession of state to India in the 1950s — and tried manipulating election results in 1987, resulting in a full-scale insurgency that was later supported by Pakistan. After 9/11 attacks, when the insurgency in Kashmir died off, India failed to sell its multicultural and liberal democratic dream to the Kashmiris. In a recent interview with Indian Express, former chief of India’s Research & Analysis wing (RAW) A.S. Dulat spoke about the failure of Indian government to try rapprochement with Kashmiri leadership, resulting in the current unrest in the Valley.

I have heard similar anecdotes first-hand from people who had a chance to interact with military top-brass in Pakistan. Pakistan remains the only state among the nuclear-capable countries to publicly say that its nukes exist as a defence against another country (India) but it has not yet stated a ‘No First Use’ policy. Nuclear weapons have thus become an integral part of Pakistani nationalism and identity, according to analyst Feroz Hassan Khan. India started its nuclear programme ostensibly to obtain nuclear energy but changed course after the 1962 Indo-China war. Macdonald has mentioned at least three instances when India was ready to display its nuclear capability (before 1998) but was restrained by International pressure. The spectre of a nuclear war hangs over India and Pakistan and remains the biggest threat to humanity in this region. Unlike Nuclear scientists elsewhere in the world, many of Pakistan’s scientists have gone ‘rogue’ in recent years. These include the megalomaniac Dr AQ Khan indulging in a global nuke trade and others who are known to have visited Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

The year 2016 saw three different events that will define the broader contours of Indo-Pak relations in the 21st century. On Christmas day in 2015, also the birthday of Pakistan’s current prime minister, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made an unexpected visit to Lahore, raising hopes for improvement in relations and opening of a dialogue. Exactly a week after that, terrorists attacked India’s Pathankot airbase. Investigations by Indian authorities revealed a Pakistani connection and Pakistan’s government publicly agreed to cooperate with the investigation. In March 2016, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser called his Indian counterpart and alerted him about a possible attack during the Shivartari celebrations in Gujarat. As a result, security was beefed up and nothing untoward took place. In April of the same year, Pakistan arrested a suspected Indian spy from Balochistan. The arrest was presented as evidence of Indian meddling in Pakistan’s internal affairs and ended any hope of a dialogue with India.

In the last few years, India has started treading the path that Pakistan has taken since the beginning: a path of intolerance, jingoistic nationalism and a visceral hatred for secular values. Pakistan’s political class has lately been trying to change course but the immovable force known as the ‘establishment’ stands in the way. Without improvement of relations between the two countries, the future of South Asia is bleak.

What would ‘secularism’ mean in Pakistan?

In his inaugural address to the Constituent assembly of Pakistan, Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah proclaimed, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”. It was a vision of a state where religious practice is entirely separated from the functions of state – as enunciated by the man who almost singlehandedly brought that state into existence. Mr. Jinnah knew that a clear majority of people in Pakistan at the time were Muslims. He was also well aware of the fact that almost a quarter of Pakistan’s citizens (at that time in history) belonged to various non-Muslim faiths.
Changed contours
Over the years, the contours of Pakistan changed, geographically and demographically. According to the latest estimates, an overwhelming majority of Pakistan’s citizens are Muslims. This has led many to question whether secularism is a viable option for a polity that belongs to a particular religion.
Secularism is not atheism
Secularism as an idea has taken some beating in the Land of Pure. It is associated with atheism, debauchery and lawlessness. However, secularism, as a political ideology has nothing to do with a particular religion. It is true that secularism arose out of the Enlightenment in Europe as a counter to Papal theocracy. It evolved into different shapes based on geography thereafter. The French version of secularism (with its basis in the concept of Laïcité) is profoundly different from the constitutionally mandated secularism in India, Turkey and the United States. The charge that secularism is akin to atheism is frequently thrown by religious commentators in Pakistan. As a result, the popular narrative in Pakistan is that secularism means going against religion (Islam) which can be a dangerous notion for anyone claiming to be secularist. This misinterpretation was done with an aim to close the debate altogether about system of governance.
The challenge for proponents of secularism in Pakistan is to demonstrate how a Muslim-majority country that was conceived to be a place specifically designed to be a ‘laboratory of Islam’ would function as a secular country.
Secularism in Pakistan – a neutral state promotes coexistence
Secularism, in my opinion, would mean coexistence, tolerance
and a confessionally neutral state in a multicultural society such as Pakistan. Even within Islam, there are different strains of thought. In fact, sectarian conflicts within Islam over the last three decades are only one of the reasons as to why a neutral state is required to mediate the different schools of thought and the conflicts that arise from within.
Moreover, Pakistan still is home to millions of people who are non-Muslim. Biased policymaking and intolerant jurisprudence has made the lives of these minorities a living hell. In the age of modern technology, people in Pakistan are still arguing over interpretation of religious texts and killing each other over it. The state has abdicated its responsibility towards Hazaras, Ahmedis, Christians and Hindus. The only way we can protect the minorities and establish a rule of law is in the presence of a neutral state.
What needs to be understood is that the opposite of secularism is theocracy, in which religious figures control the reins of government. In countries with diverse populations, the rule of one faction over the other leads to brutality and in some cases, genocide. One of the major examples of this trend can be seen in Myanmar where Buddhist monks have aligned with the ruling government to wreak havoc on Rohingya Muslims.
In Pakistan, secularism would mean respect for existing religious identities
In a country like Pakistan, secularism would not mean erasing religious identities but a respect for existing identities and no efforts by the state to impose its version of faith on its citizens. The first attempt at reversing Mr. Jinnah’s secular message was the passage of Objectives Resolution in 1949 that foreshadowed an Islamization of Pakistan’s constitution. In the 1973 constitution, the resolution was kept as a preamble but a dictator (General Zia) made it part of the main text.
The importance of secularism for Pakistan can be understood by the way it has been opposed – tooth and nail – by the religious lobby since the very first day of Pakistan’s establishment. The poorly-constructed Nazriya-e-Pakistan (Ideology of Pakistan) was supposed to put Islam at the center of our politics. Currently, with exception of Jamaat-e-Islami and some factions of Imran Khan’s PTI, no major political party is willing to defend the ‘Nazriya’ as Zia defined it – and the sooner such a poorly thought-out concept is consigned to the dustbin of history, the better.
Pakistan deserves a secular, constitutional democracy, instead of a narrow-minded Mullah-cracy.

Pakistan, communists and a stained dawn

Abdul Majeed Abid

Yeh fasal umeedon ki hamdam,

Iss baar bhi ghaarat jaye gi,

Sab mehnat subhon shaamon ki,

Ab kay bhi akaarat jaye gi

(This crop of aspirations

will be ruined once again,

the toil of day and night

will be wasted another time.)

(Faiz, Montgomery Jail, 1955)

The view from jail

The year 2007 was eventful in Pakistan’s recent history. Political upheaval coupled with a rise in terrorism and a lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judiciary gripped the country for most of the year. Musharraf, the military dictator, had forcibly removed the Chief Justice of Pakistan — sparking a movement led by lawyers across the country. Amidst all this kerfuffle arose a new band called ‘Laal’ with their song ‘Umeed e Seher’ (Hope for a new Dawn). The song became a sort of anthem for the lawyers’ movement alongside slogans against military dictatorship. The song was based on a poem written by Pakistan’s foremost progressive poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the band consisted of young academics who openly declared themselves Marxists. One of the band members was the General Secretary of a Communist Party in Pakistan. A communist party in Pakistan? That seems like an oxymoron, does it not?

Continue reading “Pakistan, communists and a stained dawn”

Objectives Resolution: Logical Culmination or Building Block?

The creation of Pakistan was a culmination of the ‘Indian Muslim National Project’ that was started by Muslim Elites primarily based in UP. It was bound to be a country where religion took center stage in the political arena. Led by a charismatic, populist British lawyer, All India Muslim League was a hotchpotch of landed gentry and titled aristocracy. The Second World War paved the way for an early exit by the British and handed a historic chance to Indian leaders to decide their destiny. It is difficult to predict if a ‘United India’ would have survived for some time in the absence of British interlocutors since fratricide and ethnic cleansing in Potohar had started much before the actual partition. The Muslim Elite (Ashraf) that founded Pakistan decided that the country would be an ideological state, the ideology was chosen to be Islam. Not because the elite overwhelmingly consisted of Islamists (with a few exceptions) but because religion is an easy way to manipulate people. The Khilafat movement had provided a glimpse of what mixing religion and politics could achieve and Muslim Leaguers were well-aware of its power, which is why they used the ‘Islam in Danger’ card during the 1945 election.

Continue reading “Objectives Resolution: Logical Culmination or Building Block?”

Clarifying Two Misconceptions

First up, I want to admit that I been a harsh critic of Pakistan Army’s interference in political matters, their gross inefficiency during all the wars that they fought (and lost), their myopic worldview and land grabbing in the garb of ‘National Security’. However, I believe that two very common misconceptions about our army need to be addressed.

  1. While talking about General Zia, an Islamist dictator who ruled Pakistan for eleven years (1977-88), many people refer to his role in the ‘Black September’ events from 1970. If you try to look this up on the internet, there are conflicting stories about his involvement. What we know for sure is that he was stationed in Jordan as part of a military training mission (Read here) sent by Pakistan in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israel war. The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) in Amman at the time was Mr. Tayyab Siddiqui. According to an article he wrote in 2010, (Read here)

“Following the June 1967 military debacle, the Arabs requested Pakistan for military training. Pakistan sent training contingents to Syria, Jordan and Iraq.”

In August-September 1970, the Palestinians, aided by the Syrians, revolted against the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. During the battle, the Commanding Officer (CO) of a Jordanian infantry unit deserted. King Hussain asked Brigadier Zia to take charge of that unit temporarily. Zia sought permission from the embassy where Mr. Siddiqui established contact with Secretary Defence, Mr. Ghiasuddin. Ghias’s comments are the most cringe-worthy issue in this whole affair. He cabled Amman that

“We had [performed] Istikhara, Hashmite Kingdom’s star is ascendant. Go ahead. Follow king’s commands.”

In Ambassador Siddiqui’s words:

“That the foreign and defence policy of Pakistan was formulated not on a dispassionate analysis of the situation but on the dubious religious invocation still amazes me”.

Zia took temporary charge of the unit but before any fighting could take place, the Syrians withdrew and the offensive ended. Later on, Zia developed contacts with Palestinian leadership and was not accused of being the ‘Butcher of Palestinians’ by any Palestinian fighter. In fact, Yasser Arafat visited Pakistan three times during Zia’s regime.

2. You might have seen a picture of a soldier inspecting a Bengali man’s Dhoti, from 1971. That is provided as a proof that Army folks there used to inspect Bengali men’s genitals to decide if they were Muslim or not (based on circumcision status). While the Pakistan Army indulged in some of the worst atrocities against the Bengalis, this picture is not a valid evidence.

This picture was taken by Indian photographer Kishor Parekh. In an interview, his son Swapan Parekh mentioned that it was a photograph of Indian army personnel checking the [Bengali] collaborators for weapons. The caption in Kishor Parekh’s book validates this backstory.