Aasia Bibi case comes full circle (part 3)

Shahab Ahmed began the first chapter of his book ‘What is Islam?’ with these words,
” I am seeking to say the word “Islam” in a manner that expresses the historical and human phenomenon that is Islam in its plenitude and complexity of meaning. In conceptualizing Islam as a human and historical phenomenon, I am precisely not seeking to tell the reader what Islam is as a matter of Divine Command, and thus am not seeking to prescribe how Islam should be followed as the means to existential salvation. Rather, I seek to tell the reader what Islam has actually been as a matter of human fact in history, and thus am suggesting how Islam should be conceptualized as a means to a more meaningful understanding both of Islam in the human experience, and thus of the human experience at large.”

The difference between ‘literal’ Islam (something I had been taught all my life-till that point) and ‘human experience’ of Islam (as theorized by Shahab Ahmed in the lines above) became acutely aware to me in the days and months following ST’s assassination. Where did the theory end and practice start? Does believing in something and doing things contrary to those beliefs hypocrisy or just the way things work? Are the five ‘essentials’ (Tauhid, Namaz, Roza, Hajj, Zakat) of Islam necessary to be performed if you just gain brownie points with God by killing infidels/blasphemers? I was also growing up in an environment of Islamist terror. Militants who professed to be better Muslims than us mere mortals (who performed the aforementioned ‘essentials’) were killing innocent people in Lahore, in Karachi, in Swat, in KP. How does a practicing Muslim reconcile his faith with the Islam professed by the militants? How does an ordinary Pakistani Muslim view the history of Islam? (a pol sci-major friend of mine recently said something very interesting on this topic. According to him, “actual” history doesn’t really matter to people. History in the public imagination is whatever the elites/mil-establishment want it to be )

Following my basic introductions to political theory and rudimentary economics(at IPSS and beyond), I began to think about the intersection of religion and politics. I probed some fundamental concepts regarding political Islam and how accurate they were, like the concept of Muslim Ummah and the statement that ‘Islam is a complete code of life’. While I was pondering over these questions, I was still living in the same social milieu that had existed around me.

I remember debating some 9/11 ‘truthers’ among my medical school classmates. They refused to entertain the notion that it could have been an Al-Qaeda operation, done by fellow Muslims. One day, I got into an argument with a burly, 6 ft 4 in guy in m class about the ‘complete code of life’ theory. I had probably mentioned it on my Facebook wall or in some Facebook group that I didn’t believe in the veracity of this claim because it was a newer (19th/20th century) addition to Islamic teachings. That tall, muscular guy approached me in the lecture hall the next day and said that he didn’t like my comment and that he was offended by it. I tried to reason with him but he got agitated and asked me to shut it because I was questioning religion which made him angry. I switched gears and changed the topic to save my skinny ass. A few days later, I was talking to a classmate who was among the very few friends I had and she said, Please do not get killed for your ideals.

For me, the public reaction to ST’s assassination was an eye-opening experience. There was a notion of a ‘silent majority’ in Pakistan, people who didn’t like mixing religion and politics (this theory was bogus and had no basis in fact). Fasi Zaka, a very intelligent commentator and writer on Pakistani society wrote, “After Salmaan Taseer’s death, Pakistan’s ‘silent majority’ finally spoke up. They liked it.”I heard someone in the ‘liberal’ (secular liberal or group B) circle say that ST’s death closed the door on critical discussion of blasphemy laws in the near future. It was a battle that we (secular-liberals) lost. We were grossly outnumbered and there was a very remote chance that we could incrementally chip at the edifice of blasphemy laws, for example by changing/improving the law of evidence or publicizing the historical consensus among Sunni Ulema that blasphemy is not punishable by death.

Instead, we have Khadim Rizvi and Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a ragtag group that can publicly mock the most powerful people in Pakistan and get away with it. ST’s death and Qadri’s hanging opened an avenue for these peddlers of hate to come out of their cubbyholes and wreak havoc on the “silent majority”(pun intended). Mohammad Hanif wrote about the aftermath of ST’s murder for The Guardian (full piece here), an excerpt of which is relevant to what I’m saying.

“So who are these people who lionize the cold-blooded murderer? Your regular kids, really. Some Pakistani bloggers have tried to get these fan pages banned for inciting hate. But as soon as one shuts down, another five crop up. Those who have trawled the profiles of these supporters have said that they have MBA degrees, they follow Premier League football, they love the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Miley Cyrus figures on lots of these pages.”

Qadri’s name became a brand (see here and here) that became synonymous with love for the prophet and the whole blasphemy debate. One could argue that in a country that was premised on the idea of a separate homeland for a particular religion, that religion would become the yardstick by which you proved your nationalism and patriotism.  As for me, I moved out. It became apparent a few years after the ST murder that things weren’t getting any better in my homeland. I could either suck it up and keep living or leave and start afresh. It was very hard to choose one of the routes but I chose the way out.

What about the few liberal spaces left in Pakistan? They are constantly shrinking. IPSS blew out of steam (and funding), NGO-funded youth groups and ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ (CVE) forums ran out of money after the US decided to decrease its footprint in Af-Pak. I was on an exchange visit (a misnomer, really, since no one ever visited Pakistan in return) to the US in 2012 and everyone at the policy level was talking about a post-2014 withdrawal scenario. There are still some valiant people working on secular ideas in Pakistan. Social media has helped but only a little bit. It has gotten the proverbial 72 seculars in Pakistan together on Facebook but it has also fueled the rise of a neo-Islamist political class that takes part in TLP protests and roadblocks. There are also certain bubbles in which you can dare criticize the state narrative such as LitFests and English newspaper op-eds. I remember talking to a pharmacy student whom I knew from a former workplace at Lahore Literary Festival and asking him what he was doing there since most of the conversation on stage there is in English (by decree or by choice). He replied that he was there just as a spectator to see how the ‘1%’ live in Pakistan and had not understood anything that was being discussed. The most important pockets of secular space consist of indigenous movements and organizations that work with people in their own language. I worked with two such organizations that communicated with people in their languages (Punjabi, Urdu, Sindhi etc).

Social media also helped tremendously in the information warfare raged by Milestablishment, turning former Musharraf-lovers into Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) followers. There is a lot of talk about a ‘youth bulge’ in Pakistan but policymakers and commentators rarely talk about the dangers of having a majority of poorly-educated young people who are taught actively and passively that they are victims of some unknown ‘agenda’ and that if they were given the right set of circumstances, they would conquer the world. I used to teach at private medical schools in two different cities of Punjab and I saw the moral and mental confusion that young people had about their lives and their futures. Youth and Naivete go hand in hand, however constant ideological propaganda about Islam’s greatness and Pakistan’s underdog status is a terrible fertilizer for young minds.

ST was not the first victim of this madness. Sabeen Mehmood was killed in cold blood on the streets of Karachi, Raza Rumi was attacked and his driver was killed, Mashal Khan was lynched to death. Each of these individuals tried to talk about secular values in society. What would become of the society? I don’t know. I don’t make predictions. Omar Ali asked me in November 2015 (in Lahore) about my thoughts on Pakistan’s future and I told him that things were doing downhill every passing day. I standby my pessimism.

 

4+

Aasia Bibi case comes full circle (part 2)

I showed up at the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) a few days after the rally. The person who had called the meeting was running late so I just loitered around. It was a two-room apartment that had been modified into a makeshift office space with some spare area for sitting, with floor cushions etc. There was a book rack full of books in one corner. The lady who managed the place was present there and said Hello. A few minutes after I had arrived, two boys a few years younger than me showed up as well. We started chit-chatting and it turned out that one of them was a student at LUMS and the other went to another private school. We were talking about democracy when they revealed that they were not in favor of democracy at all and then spent the next hour arguing why they thought so. They were under the influence of Hizb-ut-Tehrir, an Islamist organization that wanted to establish a caliphate. I tried to argue with them using rationality and logic but they were not willing to listen to a counter-argument and eventually stormed off. I discovered that IPSS was offering a short course in Political Economy and History and all I had to pay for was a copy of their syllabus.

Salmaan Taseer (ST) was a larger than life person. He grew up in a literary family, with his father passing away at an early age but the familial ties and his family’s social standing in the Lahori society gave him a footing in the tightly-knit hierarchy of Lahore’s elite circles. He was an active member of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) during its heyday, starting in 1968 and through Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s rule (1972-77). After Mr. Bhutto was hanged (1979) and PPP was under threat by Dictator Zia’s government, ST wrote a biography of Mr. Bhutto. I attended a talk by one of the fact checkers on ST’s book (at the cafe, Books n Beans, a small liberal enclave for such events) and she remembered how hard she had to work to meet ST’s standards. ST was instrumental in arranging for Benazir Bhutto’s arrival in Lahore in 1986 and the grand reception that ensued. He was elected in the PPP wave that swept most of Pakistan during the 1988 elections. He didn’t win another election in during the rest of his political life. However, he was considered PPP’s man in Lahore, someone who could take on the Sharif’s of PML(N). ST started an English daily in the early 2000s, called Daily Times (DT) which started with much fanfare and even had an Urdu counterpart. Continue reading “Aasia Bibi case comes full circle (part 2)”

2+

Aasia Bibi case comes full circle(part 1)

I have a special interest in Aasia Bibi’s case because it was the assassination of Salmaan Taseer that shook most of my worldview and lead me to a completely different path in life. It coincided with my political awakening. I was a 4th-year medical student at the time (January 2011) when the incident took place and I started my new journey. I grew up in a conservative, Salafi family in small town Punjab. I had always been a bookworm, interested in reading the news and reading all kinds of books (more in Urdu than English, mostly because books in Urdu were much more accessible to me). When my classmates in high school were busy memorizing textbooks for history, I was reading books in the school library that had not been read for ages (including both English and Urdu books). I was more interested in biographies and didn’t read (or had access to) books on politics and social sciences written in English. I was curious but didn’t have enough material to understand my own curiosity.

I was aware of the Aasia Bibi case and considered it a bigoted attempt by the village folk as a way to settle scores (not an uncommon occurrence in Punjab, my homeland). I was heartened to see Governor Taseer’s photos in the news when he visited Aasia. I had actually written a letter to Governor Taseer about some issue with our university exam (Governor of Punjab is the de facto Chancellor of all public universities in the province) a week before he was assassinated. From a political standpoint, I did not like him because he had been used by Zardari (President of Pakistan at the time and belonging to Pakistan Peoples Party-PPP) as a pawn to keep the PML(N) government in the bay. It was during this period that photos from some private events attended by the Taseer family were ‘leaked’ on social media. They showed the Taseer family in swimming pools and the ladies in swimsuits (which was considered too much skin). Those photos were circulated on Facebook and then on news channels by both PML(N) folks and later by the religious right which had started calling for Salmaan Taseer’s head after he visited Aasia in jail.

At the beginning of January 2011, I had taken part in an inter-collegiate competition taking place in Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and was still living in the slightly less-bigoted mindset that was present in LUMS. The assassination on January 4th, 2011 took place a day after I came back from LUMS. A few short years before that, Lawyers movement (2007-08) had swept urban parts of Pakistan in a frenzy and it felt like a new era for raising your voice, to demand greater freedoms. Some of my friends from high school had played an active role in the movement and LUMS had been a citadel of resistance during those days. The band, Laal (meaning Red) had sung some of Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poems and made a wonderful video talking about protest. After 8 years of Musharraf’s ‘hung democracy’, the politico were back in action. (Side Note: for admission to 11th grade in a military-run boarding school, I had to write an essay on demoracy in pakistan (in 2004) and I used the words ‘hung democracy’ in my essay. I got admitted. Omar Ali of BP went to the same school.) There used to be a ‘study circle’ oraganised by some LUMS students (current and former), who had taken active part in the Lawyers movement, at a place on Jail Road, Lahore near my hostel which I had attended twice. During one of the sessions, Ashar Rehman (Taimoor Rehman-of Laal’s uncle and brother of Rashid Rehman, editor of Daily Times) talked about his days fighting alongside the Baloch against the Pakistan army and how he learned tactics of guerrila war from Che Guevara’s books. At the other session, a lady who used to be active in leftist circles in the 1940s (I believe it was Tahira Mazhar Ali, Tariq Ali’s mother) talked about the freedom she enjoyed in those times, roaming Lahore in her tonga. Continue reading “Aasia Bibi case comes full circle(part 1)”

2+

Maududi and Iqbal: A Brief History

A few days ago, on the occasion of Allama Iqbal’s proposed birthday (November 9th was chosen by a committee created in the 1970s), Mr. Rafi, a Pakistani commentator on twiter tweeted that

“Iqbal chose Maududi to head Dar-ul-Islam in Pathankot to reconstruct Islam in a new light and eventually Maududi founded Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) so Iqbal is indirectly a founder of JI as well” (my translation, the original tweet was in Urdu).

Having written extensively on Jamaat-e-Islami and Maududi in the past and with a moderate knowledge of Iqbal’s poetry and prose, I was not thrilled by this simplistic association. In my opinion, it was a tenuous argument and required a bit more nuance and detail. To set the record straight, I went back to some of my source materials and re-read about the relation between Iqbal and Maududi. I wrote a brief blogpost about this issue in April 2012 for Pak Tea House blogzine (May it rest in Peace), which you can access here.  Following is a detailed look at interactions between the two gents. (For more, see Vali Nasr’s Mawdudi and the making of Islamic revivalism)

The first time Maududi and Iqbal crossed paths was in the 1927 when Maududi wrote a series of articles on the issue of the concept of Jihad in Islam titled”Islam ka qanun-i Jang” (Islam’s law of war), in twenty-two issues of his magazine Al-Jam’iat beginning in February and ending in May 1927. The articles were well received in Muslim intellectual and political
circles. Mawdudi was lauded for his service to Islam by Muhammad Iqbal;Muhammad Ali; Mawlana Ahmad Sa’id of the Jamiat-i Ulama-i Hind, who wrote a complimentary note about the first installment; and the eminent alim, Sayyid
Sulaiman Nadwi, who saw to the publication in 1930 of the articles in book form under the title Al-Jihad fil-lslam (published by Darul-Musannifin in Azamgarh). The first time Iqbal met Maududi was in 1929 in Hyderabad where he had gone to deliver a lecture.

In 1937, Iqbal wanted to establish a model ‘darul-ulum’ (house of knowledge) in Punjab to lay the foundation for a new Islamic worldview, which would in turn facilitate the creation of a Muslim national homeland. His friend Niyaz Ali, a retired civil servant, wanted to establish a waqf (endowment) using a piece of land he owned in Pathankot, a small town in Punjab.

Iqbal’s aim was evident in his letter to the rector of al-Azhar in Cairo, Shaikh Mustafa al-Maraghi, requesting a director for the intended darul-ulum; Iqbal asked the Egyptian alim for a man who was not only well versed in the religious sciences, but also in English, the natural sciences, economics, and politics. Al-Maraghi answered that he had no suitable candidate. Iqbal was disappointed and handed the task of selecting a suitable overseer to Niyaz Ali, but he remained firm about establishing the darul-ulum.

Niyaz Ali, meanwhile, searched for a suitable administrator for his waqf. He turned first to the famous Deobandi alim, Ashraf Ali Thanwi, but Thanwi rejected the offer. Niyaz Ali then tried to encourage Mawdudi to move to Punjab (Maududi at the time was in the state of Hyderabad working ), though he made him no firm offer and the two disagreed about the aim of the project. Niyaz Ali insisted Mawdudi consult with Thanwi, with whom Mawdudi was at loggerheads, along with the rest of the the Deobandi Jamiat-i-Ulama-i Hind. Disagreements, however, were soon overshadowed by mutual need.
The situation in Hyderabad was fragile, and Mawdudi had come to the conclusion that it was not the best possible place for launching an Islamic revival. This made him more interested in Niyaz Ali’s project, and he solicited
the job of administering the waqf. Unable to find any other suitable candidates, Niyaz Ali was inclined to agree, but the final decision had to await a response from al-Maraghi. Niyaz Ali asked Iqbal to write to Mawdudi and invite

Unable to find any other suitable candidates, Niyaz Ali was inclined to agree, but the final decision had to await a response from al-Maraghi. Niyaz Ali asked Iqbal to write to Mawdudi and invite him to settle in the Punjab. Iqbal arranged for him to come to Lahore and serve as the imam of the Badshahi mosque at a salary of 100 rupees per month and to partake in Iqbal’s plans for the revival of Islam, “umraniat-i Islami ki
tashkil-ijadid” (reconstruction of the social aspects of Islam). Mawdudi turned down Iqbal’s offer on the grounds that he did not want a payingjob that would restrict his freedom. Niyaz Ali then suggested Maududi as overseer of the waqf and secured Iqbal’s agreement to this appointment.

At the meeting , Mawdudi’s appointment was confirmed, but Iqbal did insist that he establish at Pathankot some form of educational institution with a clearly defined curriculum. Mawdudi accepted Iqbal’s scheme and agreed to use the
waqf to train a number of capable Muslim students and young leaders in Islamic law as well as modern subjects. Although the project was essentially educational, the imprint of Maududi’s politics was evident in its name, Darul-Islam (Land of Islam).

All this cooperation was uncharacteristic of the independently minded and self-righteous Maududi, especially since it was clear that by no means had he abandoned his political objectives. Accepting the position was, therefore, partly
out of respect for the celebrated poet and the appeal of being a close associate. Following their meeting with Iqbal, Mawdudi and Niyaz Ali agreed on the terms of Mawdudi’s position as waqf overseer, and Niyaz Ali included Maududi
in the waqf’s governing committee, the Darul-Islam Trust.
Niyaz Ali guaranteed Maududi the autonomy he had asked for, but not the permission to involve himself in political activity, because their agreement with Iqbal regarding the nature of the waqf’s projects precluded it. Mawdudi agreed
to these terms. In the November 1937 edition of the Tarjuman, it was announced that the journal would be moving from Hyderabad to Pathankot; Maududi arrived there on March 16, 1938.

After Iqbal’s death, JI cadres tried to cash in on Iqbal’s brand and called Dar-ul-Islam his brainchild but Maududi himself had a different view. Maududi argued that “the commonality
of views between ‘Allamah Iqbal and me are limited to our belief that Islamic law should underlie the revival of our religion; my thoughts and intellectual probing are my own.” Iqbal did not conceive of the Darul-Islam project as it eventually unfolded, and Maududi was not Iqbal’s choice to lead it. Even after the two met again in 1937, Iqbal’s opinion of Mawdudi was guarded. Mian Muhammad Shafi, Iqbal’s secretary, recollected that he referred to Maududi as
“just a mullah [low-ranking cleric] ,” someone more suited to lead the prayers at the Badshahi mosque than to oversee a pioneering educational project.

Now, in hindsight, did Iqbal’s poetry influenced Maududi and JI’s conception of Islam and the world? It depends on if you want to focus on Iqbal’s more Ummah-focussed poetry and his ideas about mixing of religion and Islam. You would find some overlap in ideas but it is hard to separate the threads in some instances. Whether Iqbal wanted it or not, JI cadres used his poetry for their propagands. But then, such is life.

 

 

0

Book Review: Ye Khamoshi Kahan Tak (Silent no more?) by Lt Gen (Rtd) Shahid Aziz

The late great Asma Jahangir once described Pakistan’s generals as ‘duffers’ on national TV. While it would be disingenuous to generalize a whole group as duffers, one can infer that within a strictly hierarchical structure as the army, loyalty to the force and to the commanders is considered a greater asset than intelligence or aptitude. A better experiment would be to take a look at the books written by various retired generals through the decades and reach a conclusion. It can also help us understand what type of characters are highly valued by the institution and thus given promotions. Many of the earliest officers in Pakistan Army wrote their memoirs including (but not limited to) General Ayub, General Sher Ali Khan, Air Marshal Asghar Khan and General Gul Hasan.  General Sher Ali Khan was an ‘ideologue’ of the elusive ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ while Ayub Khan and Asghar Khan had slightly more pragmatist views in that regard. Lt Gen Shahid Aziz belonged to the former category. According to his account, he was an honest officer who always put the interest of institution before any other interests.

He described himself in the following words in his book:

“Why am I full of contradiction? Why can’t I be balanced? Then I console myself with the thought that a pendulum has a balance too; what use is a balance that is static and frozen? Real balance is in movement. One should be flying back and forth on a swing.” (Translation: Khaled Ahmad)

Reading the book, one gets the impression that he was slightly more PakNationalist than the average military Joe and his levels of self-righteousness were high enough to prompt him writing that book. He knew exactly what he was doing and was a man of his (however flawed) convictions. He was the kind of guy who refused to vote for Zia in the sham referendum held in 1984, despite being asked by his superiors in the military, the type of officer who wouldn’t display a star and Pakistan’s flag on his staff car.  Musharraf obviously was wily enough to see through Shahid Aziz’s simplistic stupidity and didn’t promote him as the Vice-Chief of Army Staff. You can see his cognitive dissonance in the book that he has no shame (or self-awareness) appropriating Faiz’s work (the book is littered with poems by Faiz and Ahmad Faraz, both of whom were harsh critics of despotism and military rule in Pakistan and left the country rather than stay under a military dictatorship).

I think he’s the ultimate Nasim Hijazi character (Man on a white horse), someone who imbibed the whole PakNationalist Muslim narrative and decided to live accordingly. By PakNationalist Muslim narrative, I mean believing wholeheartedly in the ‘Two Nation Theory’, believing in conspiracy theories that the US-Israel-India nexus is constantly working to undermine the sovereignty of Pakistani state, holding the military at a higher pedestal than politicians and believing that Pakistani Islam is supposed to save the rest of Muslim world. Throughout the book, he refers to Taliban (of any variety) as ‘Mujahideen’, without any shame or remorse. His view about Pakistani Taliban (TTP) is the following:

“The bombs that kill innocent Pakistanis in bazaars and mosques are planted by friends of America, and this terrorism is done to persuade Pakistan to embrace America more closely, allow the government to pursue pro-America policies, and to alienate Pakistan from the mujahideen. But this trend of support to the killers of Muslims is an open rebellion against Allah.”

In the book, he mentioned two instances during his training in the US when he was approached by people who wanted him to leave Pakistan army and join the US army in the same position that he held in Pakistan. This sounds preposterous because you need to be a green-card holder or a national to enlist as an officer and you can’t be inducted straight as a commanding officer.

One of the more interesting (but not completely unsurprising) aspects of his book was the discussion of nepotism and corruption within the ranks of the army (especially corruption during weapons procurement and the way DHA scams people). Such things, if ever pointed out by civilians, would constitute heresy and treason. Another aspect that intrigued me was his criticism of war tactics during 1971 (he fought along the Kashmir border) and during Kargil (when he was part of ISI).

The most useful part of the book is when he discusses his role as a first-hand observer of Musharraf’s coup and its aftermath. He was also part of the team that selected people for running different ministries under Musharraf and he spilled the beans on how Ministers of Finance, Commerce, Trade, Industry, and Petroleum were ‘pre-selected’ and Shaukat Aziz never even appeared before the interview panel. He was initially optimistic about the monitoring mechanism put in place to hold the relevant ministers accountable but things didn’t work as smoothly or ideally as he wished. He laid the blame squarely at Bureaucracy’s feet.

His thoughts post-9/11 were:
“After 9/11 the bitter reality of a unipolar world was exposed. This incident happened under suspicious circumstances. A lot of American experts claim that this incident was orchestrated by American Intelligence Agencies and Jewish terrorists”.

He was bitter about the fact that Musharraf allowed US forces to use some of our Airbases (Shamsi, Zhob, Dalbandin, Jacobabad). He also mentioned how Indians sneaked into Afghanistan right after the organisedUS-led operation and took over TV stations in Kabul. According to his account, American forces didn’t keep Pakistan informed regarding their hunt for Al-Qaeda militants and knowingly pushed then towards Pakistan. About the first encounters between SSG unit and Al-Qaeda militants, he was full of praise for the militants and commented: ‘how can you compare a salaried individual with a guy who is looking to be martyred?’

Regarding the Indian Parliament attack in December 2001, he had this to say: “After The Delhi bomb attacks, Pakistan was accused in the world as a terrorist haven. This was a ridiculous claim. By that time, Pakistan had ceased help to Kashmiri Mujahideen. ISI was strictly acting upon the new policy. Obviously, Kashmiri Mujahideen were not an organized group, they were nothing more than a ragtag army who were fighting in the way of Allah, not listening to anyone. However, the government wasn’t involved.”

There were tensions within the top brass in 2002-03, which have been highlighted by the author. There were turf disputes between ISI and Army, involving some captured Al-Qaeda militants, close coordination between Army and CENTCOM,  and development of a Quick Response Force and a Special Operation Task Force within SSG. There were two assassination attempts on Musharraf in the period 2003-4 which were orchestrated by people within the military.  He, however, voted for Musharraf in the 2001 Referendum. (Just an aside, I was an ‘observer’ for the Referendum near a village in Mansehra and saw how people brought NICs of dead people to the voting station so that those people’s vote could be counted).

His reflections on becoming CGS (Chief of General Staff):
“My tenure as CGS was really hard for me. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. In Afghanistan, we collaborated with the U.S. while waving the flag of non-partisanship and were equally responsible for massacre of fellow muslims, a dictator who came to the fore promising change became President for five years based on a sham election, Incapable and corrupt politicians were promoted by the army to run the country, compromises were made on Kashmir under American pressure, separatism in Balochistan was promoted, commercial TV channels were allowed to manipulate our nation’s narrative, ‘Pakistan First’ was used as a slogan and there were efforts to reform Islam under the auspices of ‘Enlightened Moderation’. He argued with Musharraf in favor of keeping the Kashmiri ‘Mujahideen’ as proxies against India.

He rails against both secular people and religious people because they don’t follow what he thinks is the righteous path. According to his plan, religious education in regular schools should be updated and secular education in religious schools should be updated so that in a decade, students of both systems are on par with each other. He sparred with Musharraf and his friends over this at dinner parties. The more alarming insight from the book is that such view and such officers were popular in the army. He also had a romantic view of the ascetic life, free of the burdens of money, job and retirement.

0

Book Review: The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch

Qandeel baloch was murdered in cold blood two years ago. She had rose to prominence as a ‘bold’ social media personality, challenging Pakistani society’s consensus on ‘morality’. Her selfies, vlogs, Live videos and twitter posts were shared and re-shared thousands of times as soon as she posted them. Sanam Meher’s book on her life is a poignant portrait of Qandeel’s (real name: Fauzia Azeem) life, where she started, whom she encountered on her ascent up the ladder of popularity and the obstacles she faced by Pakistan’s entrenched patriarchal culture. The book is important not only because of Qandeel’s story but because it focusses on other people, such as Digital Rights Activtist Nighat Dad and a female police officer who was tasked with investigating Qandeel’s murder. While she was alive, I personally didn’t care much for her but I remember receiving the news of her killing while I was in a library preparing for my USMLE Step 1 and the shock that I felt. She has been re-branded as an icon of feminism after her death and the National Assembly closed a loophole in the law regarding ‘Honour Killings’ soon after her death.

P.S

Islamabad-based band Bambu Sauce sang a song titled ‘Wazir-e-Azam Qandeel Baloch’ a few days before she was killed. You can listen to it here:

 

0

Interview with a Tiananmen Square survivor

It has been 29 years since the Tiananmen Square incident, a students revolt that shocked the world, especially the photo of a young man standing in front of a tank.

I was working at a big cancer hospital last year and by complete accident, found a guy in the faculty who was at Tiananmen Square and escaped China in eary 1990s. I talked to him about it last year and an account of that was published in Daily Times. I changed some names and places due to privacy concerns.

Doctor Yang doesn’t look like a typical revolutionary. A diminutive, well-dressed man with an unassuming aura, he doesn’t fit the stereotype of an agitator. However, he has been a rebel at heart for a very long time. At the age of ten, he asked the local communist party leader why the fruits of liberalisation of economy seem to fall in the laps of party members only. Lucky for him, the communist leader was a friend of his father and he escaped any punishment for such ‘rebellious’ ideas. Growing up in the Chinese countryside during the 1980s, he was destined take over the farming job his father had performed before him. The family fortune had faced an about-turn after the ‘Revolution’ in 1949. His grandfather, a school teacher, was branded as ‘bourgeoisie’ and thus an enemy of the people. His father had to take refuge with his in-laws, in order to escape the wrath of the ‘Revolutionary’ government. Doctor Yang was lucky enough to get admission to a prestigious medical college in Beijing where he pursued his undergraduate studies. During the second year of his undergrad studies, an incident changed him forever. He was not a politically active student but he had decided to protest alongside his comrades during the months of May and June, 1989.

 

The winds of change were sweeping the world as the decades-long cold war between United States and Soviet Union was coming to an end. After the disastrous reign of Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev had steadied the ship but mass scale industrialisation and social engineering had led to a society on the brink of failure. In China, Chairman Mao had presided over one of the biggest man-made famines in the history of humankind, in addition to subjecting his citizens to the ‘Cultural Revolution’. The United States had witnessed its own sociocultural changes in the immediate post-World War Two era which unleashed the combined genie of consumerism and marketing. By the 1980s, the United States was progressing economically while the Soviet economy was stagnant and China, under Deng Xiaoping, had decided to liberalise the economy. The focal points of these reforms were Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, who furthered the agenda set by Deng Xiaoping. Mr. Xiaoping is credited as the architect of a new brand of thinking that combined socialist ideology with pragmatic market economy whose slogan was “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”. Deng opened China to foreign investment and the global market, policies that are credited with developing China into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world for several generations.

The liberalisation project in China faced numerous obstacles created by the ancien regime (including Li Peng, an adopted son of Zhou En Lai). Deng, instead of falling on the sword himself, credited Hu Yaobang for the changes. When widespread student protests occurred across China in 1987, Hu’s political opponents successfully blamed him for the disruptions, claiming that his “laxness” and “bourgeois liberalization” had either led to, or worsened, the protests. Hu was forced to resign as Party general secretary in 1987, but was allowed to retain a seat in the Politburo. Meanwhile, Hu’s standing among the youngsters had skyrocketed and they admired his fortitude and personality. Hu passed away on April 15th, 1989. A day after his death, a small-scale demonstration consisting of primarily college students, commemorated him and demanded that the government reassess his legacy.

 

Doctor Yang was among the students who thronged the streets of Beijing, protesting against the government. The protests starting in April, mushroomed into a daily occurrence until Primer Li Peng declared Martial Law in Beijing on 20th May. Around 250,000 soldiers were present in the capital following the order. Tens of thousands of demonstrators surrounded military vehicles, preventing them from either advancing or retreating. The troops were ordered to stand down after four days. The student leaders of the movement including Liu Xiaobo (who recently passed away while in custody of the Chinese government) wanted to turn the protests into a pro-democracy movement.

 

On June 1, Li Peng issued a report titled “On the True Nature of the Turmoil”, which was circulated to every member of the Politburo. The report indicated that students had no plan to leave the square and there was ‘Western’ backing for the movement. On the evening of June 3, army units descended upon the city and opened fire at the Wukesong intersection, about 10 Kilometres away from the Square. On 4th June, tanks rolled in Tiananmen Square, the epicenter of protests. The infamous ‘Tank Man’ picture from that day remains an iconic reminder of the incident. The official number of people killed due to that military action is a source of speculation since the Chinese government never released figures about that. Dr. Yang lost one of his friends that day and his roommate spent six months in jail after the event.

 

He channelled his rebellion from the corrupt communists to diseases affecting the human body, finished his medical studies and left the country at the earliest opportunity. He spends most of his time doing research in the United States. Sometimes, the best that a patriot can do for his country, is to leave it.

0

Father of the Bum

On 20th January, 1972, Chief Marshal Law Administrator and President of Pakistan—Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto—called a meeting of the country’s most eminent scientists in Multan. Pakistan had faced the ignominy of terrible defeat at the hands of Indian army a few months ago. Mr. Bhutto asked the scientists to start working on assembly of a nuclear bomb. While the experienced heads declined to commit to this venture, younger scientists unanimously responded that it could be done in five years. Mr. Bhutto was satisfied by the response and promised his help.

In July 1974, a letter arrived at the Prime Minister’s(Mr. Bhutto’s) secretariat from the Netherlands. The correspondent claimed to be a physicist working for a European nuclear consortium. He claimed to have obtained blue prints for a revolutionary new process involved in building a nuclear bomb. The person, let’s call him AK, was working as a technical translator for the multinational URENCO consortium. He had claimed in his letter of ‘writing innumerable research papers and an internationally renowned book’. Son of migrants from the Indian state of Bhopal,AK had been living in Europe for 13 years and was passionate about ‘debates about the Hindu ba**ards over the border who had ransacked his old home in 1947’. Mr. Bhutto tasked an Intelligence Agency to investigate the whereabouts of this mysterious scientist named AK. It was found that he had worked as Inspector of Weights and Measures for the Karachi post office in the 1960s, after obtaining a science degree from Karachi University. He left for West Germany for further studies and received an offer to attend a series of introductory lectures in Metallurgy in September 1962, by West Berlin Technical University. He moved, with his newly married wife, to Holland in 1963 and continued his education at Delft University. In his spare time, he used to write letters to European Newspapers and magazines that he felt had misrepresented Pakistan.

Mr. Bhutto was satisfied by AK’s track record and invited him to start the process of assembling a nuclear bomb for Pakistan. He was provided a laboratory to run and unlimited funding as well as official patronage. After smuggling different parts required for building the bomb from a plethora of countries, through not-so-legal channels, AK succeeded in completing the crucial step in manufacturing a nuclear bomb. The rest of hard work was done by Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), an organization that AK hated with a vengeance.
By this time, AK had developed an acute case of megalomania. AK’s psychiatrist at that time, Professor Haroon Ahmed mentioned in his reports that by this time, ‘he was suffering from depression, and was classically manic’. He used to boast, “Jinnah Built Pakistan but I saved it”. AK even had an intelligence team follow his Dutch Wife and daughters because he thought they were more loyal to Europe than they were to Pakistan. In 1984, he called a reporter at a local Urdu digest and asked him to send a list of questions for interview. He was so disappointed with the list that he threw it away and drafted his own set of questions. He asked himself: “What do you think was your greatest achievement?” and “Did the government recognize your contribution?” In February 1984, he called Nawai Waqt and used the same formula. He used to give charity to mosques and schools, all of which had to bear his name as ‘testimony to his greatness’. In 1986, he invited a journalist from a small-circulation weekly digest called Hurmat to interview him at his laboratory. It resulted in a series of articles and a biography full of accolades for Mr. AK. One of the articles echoed AK’s inner thoughts as “In order to overcome the energy crisis in Pakistan,
the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission should be overhauled and its leadership should be handed over to this Mard e Momin of Iqbal”.

After Pakistan’s requirements for nuclear materials were fulfilled, AK started selling different parts as surplus to the highest bidder. He chose first Dubai and later Timbuktu as his operational base for nuclear proliferation. The Afghan War prevented United States to clamp down on his activities but the noose started tightening in the 90s. His footprints were all over the nuclear proliferation racket around the world, from Libya to Iran to North Korea, earning him the nickname “Typhoid Mary of Nuclear Proliferation”. In 2001, Musharraf was forced by the International community to get rid of AK and his crime syndicate, after two of AK’s ex-colleagues were found to have travelled to Afghanistan and met Osama bin Laden (OBL) there. Intelligence sources in India and US allege that AK co-owned Al-Shifa chemical factory in Sudan with OBL and OBL had financed construction of Hendrina Khan Hotel in Timbuktu. In 2004, AK apologized to the nation in a televised address for his “errors of judgment related to unauthorized proliferation activities”. Musharraf noted in his memoir, “The truth is that he was just a metallurgist, responsible for only one link in the complex chain of nuclear development. But he had managed to build himself up into Albert Einstein and Robert Openheimer rolled into one”.

The arrogant “Father of the Bomb” started writing elementary- school-style essays for a national newspaper few years ago, continuing his crusade against common sense and reason. He has made hundreds of factual errors in his “columns” over the years along with an attempted whitewash of history. His most recent diatribes have been directed against chairman of PAEC Munir Ahmed Khan and Dr. Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s only nobel laureate. AK has accused them of selling Pakistan’s nuclear secrets while comfortably ignoring his own efforts to sell the same secrets to the highest bidder.Without efforts of these gents, technicians such as AK would have miserably failed in the quest for nuclear bomb.These inneundos amount to slander and should be challenged in a court of law. Or perhaps, people living in stone houses should avoid throwing stones at others?
(previously published by The Nation. https://nation.com.pk/11-Aug-2014/father-of-the-bum)

0

Mass Psychology in the Age of Trump

Trump is not the first-ever Republican President with right-wing followers. However, he and his Presidency elicit a visceral response from liberals, both in the United States and abroad. This article in Democracy Journal takes a detailed look at why this happened.

Mass Psychology in the Age of Trump

Excerpts:

“What precisely is it about Trump that drives liberals to these cataclysmic views? The answer has to do as much with liberals as with Trump himself. First, there is the nature of liberal ideology itself, which—because of its peculiar characteristics and internal contradictions—contributes to the present situation. Second, there are psychological factors, the dispositional tendencies of those who are drawn to liberal ideology. These two elements are related because there is a close and reciprocal connection—what Max Weber called an “elective affinity”—between psychological needs on one hand and the philosophical contents of an ideology on the other.”

A mad social scientist could not have devised a character who is more antithetical to the liberal worldview than Donald Trump—even a staunch conservative with a more disciplined commitment to right-wing ideals. Trump is unique in his ability to provoke, upset, and irritate those with liberal sensibilities. No doubt this is part of his appeal to a certain segment of the population—the ones who have been told since Nixon that “liberal elites” were laughing at them.”

We are now equipped to answer the question: Why does Trump—even more than other conservatives—make liberal brains go haywire? It is because he makes it impossible, in practice, for liberals to be tolerant (egalitarian), rational, and optimistic about human nature—three things that are essential aspects of liberal ideology and liberal psychology. Trump makes it preposterous, in other words, for liberals to be “liberal” in the usual sense.

Like a spoiled, spiteful, indifferent king, he makes no pretense of listening to or representing us—half the nation—in any way. In this respect, he is worse—more personally contemptuous of liberal norms, traditions, and accomplishments—than Nixon, Reagan, and Bush. If Trump were more religious he would resemble a pre-Enlightenment figure; it would be difficult to find a less scientifically informed member of the upper class. And yet the whole country, it seems, is held hostage to his narcissistic wounds, authoritarian rants, and Twitterstorms.

“In a preface to The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Wilhelm Reich wrote that “‘fascism’ is only the organized political expression of the structure of the average man’s character.” The fact that authoritarian inclinations are so mundane and quotidian means that they are a constant danger—and a constant source of anxiety for the liberal. It would be foolish at this historical moment to suggest that fascism has come to America. It has not. But to many of us, it feels as if we are closer to it than we ever thought possible.”

0

Toxic textbooks and social engineering in Pakistan

(Originally published at Naya Daur, whose website was blocked by PTA in Pakistan a day after this was published).

“In every country, the textbook is the primary implement of education at the school and pre-university stages of instruction. In Pakistan, it is the only instrument of imparting education on all levels, because the teacher and the lecturer don’t teach or lecture but repeat what it contains and the student is encouraged or simply ordered to memorize its contents. Further, for the young student the textbook is the most important book in his little world: he is forced to buy it, he carries it to the classroom every day, he has to open before him when the teacher is teaching, he is asked to learn portions of it by rote, and he is graded by the quantity of its contents that he can regurgitate.”

This was how Pakistani historian K.K. Aziz started his groundbreaking work The Murder of History: A critique of history textbooks used in Pakistan. The book was published 25 years ago (in 1993) and the only change in the role of textbooks since then is that provinces were granted the right to formulate their own textbooks under the 18th amendment to the Constitution. Another significant change in the last two decades has been the mushrooming of private schools that use textbooks different from the official ones.

History doesn’t start with Muhammad bin Qasim

While textbooks for natural science subjects — like Physics, Chemistry and Biology — or those pertaining to language studies are less likely to form a child’s worldview, textbooks for history and “social studies” (a mixture of history, civics and geography) are supposed to be the first step toward a social conscience.

In the textbooks that my father’s generation studied, history textbooks did not start with the year 712 A.D., when Muhammad bin Qasim invaded Sindh. They contained history of the Indian Subcontinent before that particular event. They were also devoid of chapters devoted to the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ and other such vague ideas.

But the distortion of history in Pakistan started as soon as the country came into being. On the 17th of August, 1947, a mere three days after Independence, an article written by Mr. Abdullah Qureshi was published in national newspapers, titled “Textbooks of History and Need for Reform”.

The atrocity that was Abdullah Qureshi

In that article, Mr. Qureshi argued, “The person who knows the Islamic history accurately, would prove to the best citizen of Pakistan. He will not commit any act against the state of Pakistan. His heart would be filled with love for Islam and Muslims and he would not even think about treason. In my view, it is imperative that history of Muslims should be popularized as it will lead to strengthening Pakistan. Every citizen should be made aware of Glorious Islamic Traditions. Every Citizen should be reminded that straying from National Interest would lead to destruction of the Nation.”

He further wrote, “The history that is taught to our children in schools is not factual. It is based on propaganda spread by the British and it serves to justify British Imperialism. It is based on personal biases of British Historians. As a result, worthless events have been presented as glorious occasions. It promotes a false Hindu-Muslim parity, while the fact is that before arrival of Muslims, Hindus did not have any authentic history or collection of traditions. Due to need of the hour, British historians concocted false narratives to appease the Hindus.”

The British periodized Indian history

Now it is interesting to note that Mr. Qureshi rails against the biases of British historians, and yet, falls back on a form of Indian historiography invented by them. After all, as Dr. Mubarak Ali wrote in an article:

“The periodization of the Indian history as the Hindu, the Muslim, and the British was not done by any Hindu historian but by a British historian, James Mill, the author of the “History of British India”. He intentionally divided the history on religious basis, but did not call the British period a Christian period in order to keep a secular outlook, and to maintain a balance between these two opposite religious communities. This periodization is challenged and severely criticized by a Hindu Historian [sic], Romila Thapar. In India, historians no more use these terminologies whereas in Pakistan historians persist to use them”

Following the debacle of 1971, textbooks were modified to rationalize the separation of East Pakistan as a ‘Hindu Conspiracy’

Nevertheless, the project of historical revisionism proposed by Abdullah Qureshi was, indeed, put into motion in Pakistan.

Distortion of History to rationalize the Fall of Dhaka

K.K. Aziz analyzed history textbooks written during the period 1960–1990 and he found factual errors in most of these books. Distortion of history had started soon after Independence but the particular ideological tilt that we are today most familiar with started in the 1970s. Following the debacle of 1971, textbooks were modified to rationalize the separation of East Pakistan as a ‘Hindu Conspiracy’. This obfuscation was intended to whitewash the atrocities committed upon Bengalis starting from 1947.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came to power amidst political confusion with an Islamic socialist programme, promising to build a new Pakistan and to address the economic and political issues facing the country at the time. The result was an over-emphasis on a separate “Pakistani identity” and a new description of “the enemy” so as to unify the nation. The strategic use of Islam in education policy started during the era of General Ayub Khan and continued during the Bhutto period.

Manufacturing a false pride?

Gen Zia ul-Haq — PC: Dawn.com

The worst of the rot truly set in during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime during the period 1977–88. Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy and A.H. Nayyar mention in their book “Rewriting the History of Pakistan” in Islam, Politics and the State: The Pakistan Experience (published in 1985):

“In 1981, General Zia-ul-Haq declared compulsory the teaching of Pakistan studies to all degree students, including those at engineering and medical colleges. Shortly thereafter, the University Grants Commission issued a directive to prospective textbook authors specifying that the objective of the new course is to ‘induce pride for the nation’s past, enthusiasm for the present and unshakeable faith in the stability and longevity of Pakistan’. To eliminate possible ambiguities of approach, authors were given the following directives:

To demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be founded in racial, linguistic, or geographical factors, but, rather, in the shared experience of a common religion. To get students to know and appreciate the Ideology of Pakistan, and to popularize it with slogans. To guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan — the creation of a completely Islamised State.

Islamization of Science books

As a result of this ideological onslaught, even the books of science were “Islamised”. Specific chapters have been dedicated in books of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, introducing young students to Muslim Scientists. Most of these “Muslim Scientists” were a product of the Mu’tazilla tradition in the medieval period, a fact that is not included in any of the introductions.

Any effort to reform the current textbooks should ideally cleanse all the waste material that the books have accrued in the last 65 years.

The ideological propaganda that has plagued the textbooks has also contributed to a confused state of mind among the next generation of Pakistan. It is not a co-incidence that according to a survey of educated youth by Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, “A sizeable percentage of the survey population believed that religion should be the only source of law in Pakistan.”

How distortion of History begets fundamentalism

The British Council released a report in November 2009 titled “Pakistan: The Next Generation” focusing on issues surrounding the youth in Pakistan. The report also noted, worryingly, that “Disillusion with democracy is pronounced. Only around 10% respondents have a great deal of confidence in national or local government, the courts, or the police. Only 39% voted in the last election.” Another report by the British Council in 2013 mentioned that “38% respondents expressed a desire for implementation of Shariah as opposed to parliamentary democracy with 29% respondents opting for continuation of Democratic system.”

Confusion has led to identity crisis

Any effort to reform the current textbooks should ideally cleanse all the waste material that the books have accrued in the last 65 years. It is expected to be a Herculean task and it requires a great deal of willingness from the provincial governments.

The insertion of exclusionary modes of thinking and petty ideological narratives in textbooks has resulted in the emergence of a confused, disillusioned and restless educated class of Pakistanis. Textbooks have become a contested space for ideological skirmishes in the last few decades. The educated youth of Pakistan faces a dilemma when confronting realities on the ground — because they have been taught a very different narrative. This national confusion has led to a widespread identity crisis.

Meanwhile, in an Islamiyat textbook for undergraduate students in Punjab, the introduction to the book states, “Pakistan is an ideological state. It has been founded on the pattern established in Madinah.”

  • According to a Pakistan Studies textbook used in Punjab, something known as “Nazriya Pakistan” (Ideology of Pakistan) is based on Islam, which itself is claimed to be a complete code of life.
  • In an Islamiyat textbook for undergraduate students in Punjab, the introduction to the book states, “Pakistan is an ideological state. It has been founded on the pattern established in Madinah.”
  • A sociology textbook for the Intermediate level in Punjab paints the Baloch people, citizens of Pakistan, as ‘looters’.

These are but a few examples of the pernicious ideological conditioning that these textbooks perform.

ANP’s improvements to curriculum in KP rolled back by PTI

In the aftermath of the 18th amendment, provincial governments were provided an opportunity to make amends. In the case of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the Awami National Party (ANP) government during 2008–2013 made some positive changes in the curriculum — driving the focus away from religious militarism towards an ideal of coexistence and peace. But, following the rise to power of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in that province, most of those gains were reversed under the influence of religious parties allied to the PTI.

The upper one is a picture of a KP textbook from ANP era, terming Jinnah a ‘secular liberal barrister’ who ‘also seemed to advocate the separation of the church and the state’. Below is the current version of the same book where the ‘secular liberal’ has been replaced by ‘competent’ while ‘separation of the church and the state’ has been replaced by ‘ideology of Pakistan’. — Picture courtesy: Omer Qureshi

In Punjab, according to Dr. Hoodbhoy, textbooks have been “improved considerably”, moving beyond some of the worst dogma. One hopes that this experiment is implemented nationwide and Pakistan’s next generation is taught according to the finest international standards of education — where there is little room for deliberately conditioning young students into authoritarian, theocratic and racist mindsets.

0