Ismaili Shias Massacred in Karachi. Iron Hand Promised

Many Ismaili families from Gujrat moved to Karachi after partition. They became part of a prosperous, hard-working community. They kept a low profile. As in any community, everyone could not be rich enough to buy large houses next to the Bhuttos and Zardaris in Clifton. Some of them therefore bought land on the outskirts of town, where it was cheap, and built a housing society there and called it Al-Azhar Gardens.

People moved in 8 years ago and as is the tradition in this particular community, they maintained their colony exceptionally well. Almost everything was available right there. Proud residents boasted about the well designed housing, the community facilities, the cleanliness, the security.
But you still have to get to town to work and go to school and so on. So they ran a shuttle bus service.

Today, the shuttle left Al-Azhar Gardens with 60 or so people on board. Someone else got on at Safoora Chowrangi. Armed men stopped the bus and using 9 mm pistols, systematically shot dead women and children, one by one, at close range. It is said that a few children were spared, or survived by hiding. Or something. The dead include women and the elderly.
Imagine the scene in the bus. The mind boggles, does it not?

Who did it? Jundullah (and/or the Islamic State, they are one and the same in any case and these days the name IS will sell better), a well known anti-shia group with a long history in Karachi (including a history of getting people out of police custody in mysteriously easy escapes) has claimed responsibility.

Not to be left behind, Mubasher Lucman, Pakistan’s most popular “paknationalist” anchor has blamed the Indian “Relatives and Wives Wing” (otherwise known as RAW) for the attack.

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Most people seem to take Jundullah/IS at face value, with their history of dragging Shias off buses and shooting them in the head. But there are those who blame MQM (supposedly operating on the instructions of RAW and Mossad). But whoever did it (I tend to go with Jundullah, but cannot claim to know for sure, so we will leave it at that), someone stopped a bus at a major crossing, calmly shot 60 people (43 of them now dead) and walked away without getting caught (and without any fear of getting caught). That does not look good. Not good at all.

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We may soon hear that this is Pakistan’s 9-11. Unlike Amrika, Pakistan is rich in 9-11s. It depends on how you count. Using the standard formula of 1 Sunni Punjabi=3 Shias= 5 FATA Pakhtoons there have been at least nineteen 9-11s till now (more if you start counting poor people as humans, but that would be just too much). Unfortunately, I am afraid there may be more in the days to come.

The Prime minister has condemned it. He has also “ordered the police to arrest the culprits”. I am not kidding. He actually ordered the police to arrest the culprits!

 More to the point, the army chief has called up the Aga Khan and said he will use his iron hand at the earliest opportunity. Coalitions support funds may have been mentioned. Life goes on.

Before I am accused of cynicism, let me paint two (fictional) scenarios. Which one is more likely?

1. General X has figured out that Pakistan’s policy of nurtuting Jihadist terrorists as force-multipliers against India has blown up in its face. He wants to change things root and branch. Not just the Kashmir Jihad and strategic depth (a direct consequence of that jihad), but the whole shebang. Mufti Naeem and his ilk will be terminated with maximum prejudice. All training camps will be shut down. All militants will be reformed or terminated (with the same maximum prejudice). India will be offered a deal: Lets both stop using this kind of terrorism for any reason and settle all future disputes via negotiation or all out war, like civilized countries. No more shooting of random people sleeping on the platform at Chatrapati Shivaji Railway terminus. But General X realizes that 50 years of Islamic-Paknationalist education has prepared a generation of morons who cannot be told the whole truth without having their heads explode. So General X is going to lie, deceive, dissimulate and detour his way to a future TNT-free Pakistan. Sometimes his public actions will appear contradictory. Sometimes he will have to make up all sorts of bullshit about RAW and Mossad to get his way. He will do what has to be done. But in the end, we will have a defanged Pakistan where every poor man’s son (or daughter) has the chance to become a toll-collector on the Pak-China-Economic-Corridor. Then, our problems will be no different from those of Thailand or Phillipines (both of whom have some Islamist terrorists, but the government are not in bed with them). And so on…

2. General Y has figured out nothing but even he can see that something has to be done. Ismailis have been killed in cold blood and the Aga Khan is on the phone. Next the damn American ambassador will call and before night falls he will even have to pretend to have a meeting with the prime minister. He is pissed off. He promises to deal with everyone with an iron hand. He sends general Z to see the big boss in the Pentagon and General Z reports that the Pentagon is pretty pissed off too. Block E/F F-16s will not be free. Loans will have to arranged and then paid back at 27% compound interest by fleecing the patriotic people of Pakistan. But all is not lost. Brigadier April Glaspie does seem to have hinted that a transfer of mujahideen into IOK would probably be OK with the US. Or at least, that is what General Z gathered from the conversation. He also met the Chinese ambassador, who served the best halal dimsum in Islamabad and nodded and smiled through most of the dinner. General Z reports that all seemed higher than Himalayas and deeper than the Indian ocean, though his excellency Sun Weidong did become a little stern after that last shot of Mai Tai and said something like “we hope the fraternal people of Pakistan will do whatever is necessary to establish good public order”. But mostly he smiled. Not for lack of language skills. The man speaks perfect English and Urdu (and our man in the embassy reports, also some Punjabi) but most of the time, he just doesn’t speak. One hopes for the best.
All the corpse commanders nod their heads at these words of wisdom from General Z. The bearer brings in the tea and Peak Freans biscuits. Iron hands are waved around. All will be well.

Which (fictional) scenario sounds more plausible?

It started with the Kashmir Jihad (which started back in 1947, so Zia is not the only culprit). That jihad is the gift that keeps on giving. Everytime one of the foot soldiers in these massacres is caught (sometimes, they are. In fact, we even had Malik Ishaq in custody for a while), it turns out that they either went to a Kashmir Jihad training camp or were trained by people who got their start in the glorious Kashmir Jihad. Strategic depth. Where would we be without it?

For more on Shia-killing in Pakistan, see here.

btw, here is something I wrote four years ago. See the halva story at the end to understand what the PPP government in Sindh is doing. In fact, since people don’t like to click through, I will paste that four year old article here too. Try to figure out what has changed and what has not.

Pakistan: The End Of The Affair (June 11 2011)

We have been here before, but it is being said that the unhappy marriage between the Pentagon and GHQ  has deteriorated further and once again, those watching this soap opera are wondering if this union can last.  Writing in Al-Arabiya, GHQ’s own Brigadier Shaukat Qadir says that the US appears to be “gunning for Pakistan’s top generals”, who are said to be bravely resisting this latest perfidious American plot against General Kiyani.  
And why is the US trying to undermine the good General?
Because at a meeting with President Obama he made clear “that this soft-spoken, laid-back, easy-going general, far from being overawed by the privilege of meeting President Obama, would still give back better than he got.” 
This interesting article (I highly recommend reading it twice to get the full flavour) can be read in a number of ways, all of which are worrisome.
One is to assume that Brigadier sahib means exactly what he is saying. That there is some core Pakistani interest that General Kiyani bravely insisted on defending, and for that sin, he is now being systematically undermined. 
Note that Pakistan’s elected government did not decide what this core interest is supposed to be, nor was it consulted before General Kiyani decided to defend this core interest against US imperialism. In fact, Brigadier sahib hints that the elected regime may include “powerful individuals who have no loyalty to this country and its people”. No, this core interest, for which Kiyani sahib is supposedly willing to risk a clash with the United States (and by extension, NATO, Japan, etc) is defined by GHQ, as it has been for decades.
“Strategic depth”, it seems, is alive and well and we can live with bombings, insurgencies, electricity shortages and all sorts of economic and social crises, but we cannot live without strategic depth
For the sake of this strategic depth, we kept the Taliban alive and made sure the new American-installed regime in Afghanistan would not stabilize. And when the Americans leave (something that everyone in GHQ seems convinced is happening very soon), we will restart a civil war in Afghanistan, with “our side” led by the Haqqanis and Mullah Omar. This war we expect to win in very short order, after which we will move on to our Central Asian Nirvana.
Having antagonized all the hardore jihadis by siding at least partially with the US, we are now to antagonize the US and its allies by sticking by the Taliban. This is known as GHQ’s “Sau Gunndey tey Sau CHittar strategy”. [1]
The problems with this approach are manifold and include:
  1. “The imperialists” are unlikely to leave as soon as imagined. This alone puts the whole strategy in question because as in Kargil, there seems to be no plan for the possibility that the “enemy” may not do what we expect it to do.
  2. “Our side” is unlikely to win all of Afghanistan even if the Western imperialists leave according to our timetable.  Given the opposing interests of many regional powers, that struggle is likely to be even more prolonged and bloody than the last attempt to fill the Afghan vacuum.
  3. “Blowback” from this war will be worse than the blowback from the current confused operation. The Taliban refused to cooperate with us against anti-Shia terrorists even in the good old days of the nineties. This time around, they will be much more difficult to control. We cannot even control the current (relatively small) Islamic Emirate of Waziristan. To imagine that we will control the much larger and more fractious Islamic emirate of the future seems to be a pipe dream.
  4. Any exit of the imperialists and return of the Taliban will inevitably be followed by a house-cleaning of Western “fellow travellers” in Pakistan. That cleansing may not be on the army’s immediate agenda, but pressure to Islamize Pakistan will be hard to resist once the Islamists are winning. The establishment may then find it expedient to try and get rid of the ANP, Pakistani liberals and other riff-raff that the army has tolerated in the Sulah e Hudaybia phase. Naturally the Americans will respond with retaliatory measures of their own and a liberal efflux will have some modest but detectable negative impact on the economy and the state; the final outcome, in a weak and fractious state, may not even be up to North Korean standard.
But that is only one interpretation of Brigadier sahib’s views. There is another: it may well be that cooperation with the United States is set to continue, but the haze of lies that surrounds the relationship now needs to be raised to new heights.  Pakistan’s deep state is highly “Westernized” in very practical ways and has always been a willing and even eager partner of the CIA and the Pentagon in the region. But both the state and its American minders have been operating with the view that those who matter will calculate profit and loss, and everyone else can be kept suitably entertained with our own peculiar version of Jihadi kool-aid (a uniquely Pakistani mix of Islam, militarism and the “two nation theory”).
In one of the more spectacular “own goals” in history, this convenient and previously useful propaganda has now created a large constituency within the rank and file of the armed forces and the semi-educated middle class. How now to tell them the truth, smack dab in the middle of a crisis? Better to just update the kool-aid, pray to Allah, and keep going while hoping for a miracle. In this version, no breach with America is intended or desired, but the natives are restless and the Jihadi/Pak nationalist credentials of the supreme commander must be burnished to prevent any unplesantness, hence the article and others like it. The problem with this version is that it means the state will continue its policy of trying to appease both the Islamists and the Americans and this only postpones the day we fall between two stools, it does not alleviate that risk.
Yet another version holds that this is simply more of the “controlled burn” strategy, the aim being to get the Americans to cough up more money by raising the threat of a “rogue” nuclear state (a strategy with which we have long years of practice by now). The problem with this version is the one pointed out by Mr. Lincoln a long time ago; you cannot fool all the people all the time. What happens if someone decides to call our bluff?
It is hard to say which of these theories is correct. If I had to pick, I would pick the last one because I am a cynical person, but there is little objective evidence based on which an outside observer can decide between these theories.
It is even possible that all three (and others I have failed to imagine) are ALL simultaneously true.
Pakistan’s biggest curse and the army’s most treacherous gift to the nation is its culture of secrecy and double-dealing. Domestically, the army (and particularly its intelligence agencies) have thoroughly undermined the credibility and effectiveness of politicians, civil bureaucrats and the media by decades of behind the scenes manipulation. They have done the same thing abroad by keeping foreign policy under their opaque control. This is fertile ground for conspiracy theories of every stripe (including the three I have managed to outline above) and the truth is impossible to know for sure (“loose change” aficionados will no doubt feel it’s the same in the United States, but the murkiness in Pakistan is an order of magnitude above anything an American can imagine).
And the same opacity and confusion may now extend to the supreme command; it is possible that not only are we unable to discern what is going on, the corps commanders who meet every month are equally clueless and confused. Not being the best and the brightest, and acutely conscious of their intellectual shortcomings but determined to stay in charge no matter what, they may be flying blind too….this final irony raises the disturbing possibility that the past may not be an adequate guide to the future and very nasty black swans may be swimming just beyond the next bend in the river.
Perhaps India should prepare for an influx of Pakistanis seeking refuge from chaos that even the worst enemies of Pakistan may not have imagined. Being our cousins, and with a bureaucracy not known for its boldness and vision, one doubts that India will have a policy adequate to the needs of this mother of all black swans. The rest of the world may be equally unprepared. The Chinese, supposedly used to thinking one hundred years ahead, may be our only hope.
[1] “Sau Gunndey tey Sau CHittar strategy”: Literally, one hundred onions and one hundred lashes. A man was to be punished and was given the choice of eating a hundred onions or getting a hundred lashes. He opted for the onions but after 3-4 onions, he thought this is too hard and switched to lashes. But after 5 of those the pain was too much, so he switched again to onions..he ended up with a hundred of both. GHQ runs the risk of being punished by both sides to the full extent of the law. Picking one poison might have been a more rational choice.
Post Script: Sufi masters in upstate New York have sent a sufi teaching story that they claim has some relevance to why the hapless civilian regime is having so little success in Pakistan; It is not known if these are true sufis or impostors, so the story may or may not apply. Halva strategy: The Mongols were coming and the capital was in a state of panic. A holy man showed up and his followers claimed he had magical powers and could stop the Mongols. He was invited to take over and do his thing. He took over command and ordered the ministers to prepare the finest halva. They did so, he ate and let others eat as well. Next day, they said the Mongols are only 100 miles away, what now? He asked for more halva. It was done. This went on for days, every day the Mongols got closer and he asked for more of the best halva. Finally the Mongols arrived at the gate. He packed up his sleeping bag and said “I am off, do what you can to save yourself”. Everyone screamed “but what about the your magic”? He said “dudes, I came for the halva and I had lots of it and it was indeed good. The Mongols are your problem. Good bye.”

Good Night and Good Bye. 

Should Pakistan and India Play Cricket?

There is, again, talk of a revival of cricketing ties between Pakistan and India.

As expected, there is also vocal opposition (more so in India than in Pakistan).

It may not happen. I have no idea how likely or unlikely it is at this time. But after seeing some of the heated tweets from Indian nationalists on Twitter, I wanted to put a few thoughts out here so that I have a post I can refer to when needed. So here goes..

1. Extreme Hindutvadis (like all such terms, it is considered unfair etc by many, but we need a label, you can pick your favorite…you know what I mean) are looking for a Hindu subcontinent, cleansed of Anglo-Saxon and Islamicate influences. Their position obviously brooks no compromise or even co-existence, much less cricket. This is not about them.

2. Extreme Jihadis (ditto about term, etc, plus no equivalence is implied by use of the term extremist in two consecutive paragraphs 🙂 ) are also very clear about what they want and may have a better shot at getting somewhere within a thousand miles of their target. Their position includes no cricket. This is not about them.

3. Indian Nationalists. This is the largest group of Indian objectors (anecdotal…I have no data to back up this claim). Their case seems to be that Pakistan sponsors terrorists who attack India. More specifically, Pakistan shelters (and fails to arrest or convict) terrorists who attacked Mumbai in 2008. To play cricket while this goes on would be to “send the wrong signal”; Pakistan should be punished, not rewarded, and cricket is a reward.
This post is about them. (there is a fourth group of objectors: Pakistani nationalists who think contact with India will defile the two-nation-theory. Anyway, if GHQ bothers to become “clearly opposed”, then discussion is moot. No series will happen in that case. In Pakistan, the lines of authority are clear 🙂 ).

Is it true that a cricket boycott by India punishes Pakistan? and is cricket (at this time) a reward for Pakistan (as opposed to the Pakistani board, who obviously get to make money)? The short answer to both is NO.

America boycotted the Moscow Olympics. etc etc. That is not an apt comparison. Each case is different. In this case, not playing cricket with India is punishment for the board officials (less money), somewhat bad for Pakistani cricket (less international cricket, attention, practice, etc etc), but not at all bad for the Jihadis or their bosses. all. This just makes their case stronger.
Cricket (like trade, tourism and cultural exchange) between India and Pakistan does not strengthen the anti-Indian lobby in Pakistan. It does exactly the opposite. The people in Pakistan who do NOT want a jihadi invasion of India are the ones who are strengthened by these exchanges. This is just an empirical fact. The thing to keep in mind is that Pakistan is in many ways a more competent (pound for pound) adversary than India because the two-nation-theory provides stronger (negative) asabiya than the idea of India (this is not about which idea is stronger or “better”. I think India is the stronger idea in the long run, but it’s short term battle asabiya is weaker). Trade, travel and cultural exchange with India weakens the two-nation-theory and therefore weakens the one area in which Pakistan is actually stronger than India.
You have to think about this before you get it 😉

By the way, right now, beyond the money angle, it may not be much of a reward for Pakistani cricket either. Defeat on the ground, even humiliation, may be the more likely outcome at this time. Or do Indians lack confidence in their overpaid team?


Killing Atheists. A Wedge Issue in Bangladesh

Yet another Bangladeshi blogger has been hacked to death. This is the third time in just the last two months that someone has been hacked to death in BD for being an “atheist blogger”.

The victims:
1. Ananta Bijoy Das

2. Avijit Roy

3. Washiqur Rahman

Two born Hindu, one Muslim, all three known to be associated with Bangladeshi rationalism and “freethought” and in particular with the freethought blog “Mukto-Mona”. 

Someone with more local knowledge can comment about them and add their tributes. I wanted to focus on a more general issue: Why kill these bloggers? As Bond noted, the first time is happenstance, the second time coincidence, but the third time, it’s enemy action. This is not just some random Muslim fanatic getting riled up and going to earn his virgins. This is a systematic campaign…and it makes a lot of sense. These killings are a near-perfect “wedge issue” for Bangladeshi Islamists. How does that work?

1. Bangladesh is a relatively liberal Islamic country. There is a significant Hindu minority (though it shrank somewhat at partition and then again, drastically, during the anti-Hindu genocide of 1971) and thanks to strong traditions of secular Bengali nationalism and old-fashioned (i.e. not Post-Marxist Western elite and University imported) Left wing activism, there is a significant Muslim Bengali secular tradition. Another factor is the fact that when the Awami League led the Bangladesh liberation movement against West Pakistan, the West Pakistani army was supported by the main Islamist party and its cadres provided the volunteers who were their eyes and ears (and in many cases, their eager executioners).
After independence, as a “right-wing” Bangladeshi political grouping developed with military (and Pakistani, Saudi and possibly CIA) assistance, it was provided crucial support by the Islamists and in return their successive regimes provided assistance to the Islamists and protected them against prosecution for war crimes. At the height of the honeymoon between Islamists, the Pakistani intelligence agencies, Saudi Arabia and the CIA, this right-of-center alternative (first as military rule, then as the BNP) established itself firmly as one half (and for much of that time, the dominant half) of Bangladeshi politics. Since then, things have changed. Saudi Arabia is now somewhat conflicted about the Islamists and at a minimum, distinguishes between “good Islamists” (who behave themselves and support the royal family) and “bad Islamists” (who prefer to go the whole hog and aim to replace the royal family with a more authentic Islamist alternative). Pakistan and the CIA are no longer BFFs (though wary cooperation and buying and selling continues). And Western powers are not entirely happy with Islamism. As a result, the playing field in BD seems to have tilted towards the Awami League and towards relatively secular Bangladeshi nationalism. In the nature of things, the BNP or some such will still be needed to provide the other half of a stable two-party electoral system, but their Islamist allies are under some pressure. There is even the possibility that the BNP will have to carry on without hardcore Islamist cadres being sheltered under its umbrella and will have to (perhaps as an “India-skeptic” critic), go along to some extent with a new “India-friendly” regional order.
2. But there is another alternative. Is there some way the Islamists can recover and even win new heights they did not possess even under BNP regimes in the past?
3. Some of them, and perhaps some of their backers in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (in Saudia, more in the private sector than in the government? who knows) seem to think so. And they are using these killings as a wedge issue.
4. By going after atheist bloggers (many or most of them Hindus), they have found a near perfect wedge issue. The Hasina government is not happy with these blasphemers being killed, and unlike in Pakistan, the regime seems to have made some arrests. But if they take a very public stand against these killings and aggressively protect the rights of these free-thinkers, then they stand with atheists and blasphemers and risk losing the support of “moderate Muslims” who don’t go in for machete-wielding execution, but whose core beliefs include the belief that atheism and apostasy cannot be tolerated….But if the Hasina government lets this go on, then they permit the Islamists to grab the initiative and drive away atheists, secularists and Hindus…all of whom are more or less her voters and supporters (and whose friends and supporters are also the “intellectuals” of the Awami League regime). At a minimum, it is an uncomfortable position for the regime.
5. Moderate Muslims may condemn free-lance executions, but such executions also bring to light the existence of atheists, Hindus and blasphemers in what is, after all, a Muslim majority country. For the moderate Muslim the best thing would be for this conversation to just go away. The longer it goes on, the more they have to commit to options they don’t like: should they come down in favor of Hindus, atheists and blasphemers (not necessarily in that order, but all these items are uncomfortably connected in mukto-mona)? Or, when push comes to machete-shove, do they stay silent and “understand” that the blasphemers have sorely provoked their Muslim executioners? whatever they decide, the discomfort is a net plus for the Islamists. They are betting on the fact that by making this an “Islam versus atheism/Hinduism” issue they make it hard for moderate Muslims to chose atheism and Hinduism over Islam.
6. With the penetration of bullshit-postmarxism into the Bengali elite increasing as their access to expensive Western education increases, the “high-end secularists” can be split too. “Black and White” division of the world between Islamists and anti-Islamists is anathema to postmodern-postmarxism. They too would prefer to opt out of this “complex and nuanced” issue. Their discomfort is an added bonus to the Islamist cause (of relatively little practical importance, but these people have some visibility in high-end intellectual circles, so their discomfort doesn’t hurt either).

Can Bangladeshi secularism (meaning in practice, the Awami League regime, there being no other secular alternative on the horizon) defeat this rather well-chosen point of attack? Maybe they can (in which case the Islamists will have gambled and lost and the secular cause will emerge stronger than before). But it is a big if…If they lose, Bangladesh is in play again as a possible Islamist base in Eastern India. The Islamists know what they are up to…

The Pakistan China Economic Corridor

An excellent and informative post by Ali Minai on

Worth a read.

“The world is full of Great Projects – tall buildings, long bridges, vast highway networks – but very seldom does a single project alter the geography of the world. The Suez Canal and the Panama Canal did this spectacularly, and now another great change in the connectivity of the world is beginning to take shape in Pakistan. The question is whether it will connect more or less than it will disconnect. “

My own first thought is that the logic of “economic geography” may reassert itself in the long run, but in the short term, many “obvious” beneficial connections can be lost in the face of ideological clashes (partition comes to mind), warfare and/or the breakdown of law and order. The “Silk Road” made sense as an economic project, but was intermittently shut down by wars and the collapse of order along it’s route. (Its loss of competitiveness to seaborne trade is a separate issue and does not explain various interruptions or the prolonged inability of “Silk Road” countries to take fuller advantage of railways as a way to compete with the sea at least to some extent, until recently). So the crucial question is to what extent the ruling elite in Pakistan (and in other regional hubs) prioritize economics over other things they also hold dear. Just to take two aspects as examples to illustrate what I mean:

1. Assume the Pakistani ruling elite has sufficient control WITHIN Pakistan. They could still risk the corridor because of adventurism abroad. For example, the project of taking Kashmir from India is a project that seems unlikely to succeed without triggering a “corridor-shattering” war; or the urge to dominate Afghanistan may not lead to Pax-Pakistania. What if it just means a violent quagmire with no end in sight. Can the corridor escape that distraction? ..I am not saying it is one or the other. But how much one gets pushed versus the other can still be an issue. The geniuses have been known to get it wrong before. …will they get it all correct this time (forget the moral issues, human rights etc. , I just mean “can they keep the peace”?) … I don’t think the answer is totally clear yet.

2. The basis on which nation-states are to be stabilized in the region West of the Radcliffe line is still up in the air. Islam? Ethnic solidarity? The mandate of heaven based on better trains and washing machines for all? I don’t think the matter is settled (except maybe in Iran, where Persian identity may have roots deep enough to stay upright through storms…but I notice that my pro-Israeli friends seem to have a very real (and very irrational?) animus towards Iran for some reason. Those are powerful enemies to have…so maybe even Iran is not home free. But you see what I mean: with identity so seriously contested (as opposed to non-seriously contested as in Texas versus the US Federal Govt) things may not settle down. Shit may hit fans. That sort of thing.

I remain optimistic 🙂


World War One Indian Soldiers Write Home

A very interesting look at the letters Indian soldiers wrote home in World War One.

Ram Prasad (Brahmin) to Manik Chand (c/o Sikander Ali, Bamba Debi Bazar, Marwari Water Tank, Bombay)
Kitchener’s Indian Hospital, Brighton
2nd September 1915
And send me fourteen or fifteen tolas of charas, and understand that you must send it so that no one may know. First fill a round tin box full of pickles and then in the middle of that put a smaller round box carefully closed, so that no trace of the pickles can enter. And send a letter to me four days before you send the parcel off. [Letter withheld]

Ser Gul (Pathan, 129th Baluchis) to Barber Machu Khan (57th Rifles, serving at the front)
Indian Hospital, Rouen
13th September 1915
I have no need of anything, but I have a great longing for a flute to play. What can I do? I have no flute. Can you get me one from somewhere? If you can, please do, and send it to me. Take this much trouble for me. For I have a great desire to play upon the flute, since great dejection is fallen upon me. You must, you simply must, get one from somewhere. I have no need of anything else. But this you must manage as soon as you can. Make a small wooden box, put a little cotton wool in it, and put a flute to play on in the middle of the cotton wool. Then put a little cloth over it. Get Umar Din to write the address in English and it will reach me all right. Pack it so that the flute will not shake about. I shall be very grateful. I have no need of anything else … You must arrange this as quickly as possible. [Letter passed]
Balwant Singh (Sikh) to Pandit Chet Ram (Amritsar, Punjab)
[Gurmukhi cipher]
FPO.39 [France?]
24th October 1915
The ladies are very nice and bestow their favours upon us freely. But contrary to the custom in our country they do not put their legs over the shoulders when they go with a man. [Deleted]
Maula Dad Khan (Punjabi Muslim) to his father (India)
Brigade Office, Sialkot Cavalry Brigade, France
24th October 1915
Muhammad Khan’s letter dated the 27th September reached me on the 22nd October. When I read it, every hair on my body stood on end. Before that I was happy, but after I had read it I was very vexed. It is true that I wrote to Allah Lok Khan for a pair of [women’s] shoes. The fact is, father, that a young Frenchman of my acquaintance asked me to send for something from India. He asked me to get him some shoes which would fit his wife. I wrote that. Of what do you suspect me? My father, I swear in the name of God and His Prophet and declare that there is no [ground for suspicion]. Am I such a wretch and such a blackguard as to leave my noble wife and child and behave thus? … There are very strict orders against such action on the part of our people. I came from home to earn money and renown, not to put such shame upon you. [Letter passed]
Sepoy Baldar (Afridi) to Sepoy Minadar Khan (57th Rifles, France)
Frontier Constabulary, NWFP, India
10th November 1915
I have married Jabar’s wife and paid him Rs. 560. I have sold my sister to Yar Baz for Rs. 560. My other wife I have sold to my father for Rs. 640. Do not be anxious. When you come back, I will find you a wife. [Letter passed]
Bir Singh (Sikh) to Jowala Singh (Ambala District, Punjab)
6th Cavalry or 19th Lancers, France
28th January 1916
You say that the parcel came back from Bombay. What sort of parcel was it? If you wrote ‘opium’ on it, do not do so again, but put ‘sweets’ or ‘dainties’ on it, and send off the opium. Have no fear; parcels are not opened on the way and cannot be lost. So keep on sending the drugs. Let Indar Kaur be the sender. [Letter passed]
Dafadar Ram Nath (Jat) to Headmaster Baldav Singh (Jat School, Rohtak, Punjab)
20th Deccan Horse, France
4th November 1917
My idea is that, since it is now four years since I went to my home, my wife should, if she wishes it, be allowed to have connection according to Vedic rites with some other man, in order that children may be born to my house. If this is not done, then the family dignity will suffer. Indeed, this practice should now be followed in the case of all wives whose husbands have been absent for four years or more. It is permitted by Vedic rites, if the wives are willing. Everyone knows that that article, the consumption of which is increased while the production is stopped, will in time cease to exist. If any article is allowed to decrease through ignorance, no one is to blame; but when every one knows that an article is being consumed to extinction, while at the same time they are aware of the steps available to supplement production, they are greatly to blame if they hesitate to take those steps.
Kala Khan (Punjabi Muslim) to Iltaf Hussain (Bhatinda, Patiala, Punjab States)
Indian Labour Corps, France
27th December 1917
You enquire about the cold? I will tell you plainly what the cold in France is like when I meet you. At present I can only say that the earth is white, the sky is white, the trees are white, the stones are white, the mud is white, the water is white, one’s spittle freezes into a solid white lump, the water is as hard as stones or bricks, [and] the water in the rivers and canals and on the roads is like thick plate glass. What more am I to say? Our kind-hearted Sirkar has done everything possible for us to protect us from the cold. We are each provided with two pairs of strong, expensive boots. We have whale oil to rub in our feet, and for food we are provided with live Spanish sheep. In short, the Sirkar has accumulated many good and wonderful things for our use.
Khalil Ullah (Hindustani Muslim) to Ganiullah (Muttra District, UP)
2nd Lancers, France
3rd March 1918
I am sending you a picture of an American lady aviator, I want you to study it and see what the women of Europe and America are doing. I want you to contrast them with our womenfolk, and to think what sort of education they can give to our children when they themselves are lacking in knowledge and training. I am hopeful that, if you pay careful attention to what I have written, you will be able to effect some improvement. The advancement of India lies in the hands of the women; until they act, India can never awake from her hare’s dream. Forgive me if I have spoken too strongly.
Extracts from Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldiers’ Letters, 1914-18, edited by David Omissi. Reproduced with the permission of Penguin Books India.

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An Embarrassment at PEN

(Trigger warning: this post includes words and images)

PEN American Center decided to honor the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo with an award for the magazine’s courage in standing up for free speech. This is an award for courage in the face of censorship; a free speech award. It was meant to recognize the fact that CH was repeatedly threatened by groups of extremist Muslims who insisted that their particular theological rules must be respected by everyone and no one is allowed to cross their red lines. Even with their lives under threat (and the threats were always serious, not taken as a joke even before they were carried out) CH insisted on their right to satirize and comment on every subject, including the subject of Islam. In response their offices were attacked by armed fanatics and several CH staff were killed, as was one Muslim policeman of Algerian ethnic origin. It must be noted that Islam was not an obsession for CH and was not their main target by any means.

Anyway, the magazine insisted that they had the right to write about Islam in the same way as they wrote about other subjects, and they paid a heavy price. Then, with several colleagues lying dead, the magazine refused to back down and published an intelligent and eminently sane issue to show that they were not cowed. Courage is clearly something they do not lack and PEN American Center decided to honor them for this very straightforward exhibition of devotion to the cause of free speech. A cause that used to be a liberal and progressive cause and which is one of the few ways in which modern democratic society really is superior to other civilizations, past and present.

But everyone did not jump on this “free speech” bandwagon.  A group of writers (including a few real stars like Michael Ondaatje, Peter Carey and Junot Diaz) announced that they were boycotting the award ceremony because CH is not a fit candidate for this award. Most writers (even most liberals) refused to join the refuseniks, but there was support, especially within the postmarxist Left. Still, the affair went ahead, though with an air of needless controversy (needless, of course, in my view. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and those writers probably think the controversy was desperately needed). Now that the award has been handed out I decided to put together a few random personal observations and some interesting snippets from the internet:

1. The objectors clearly misrepresented CH by portraying it as a racist, supremacist, (practically) right wing supporter of the “war on terror”. As Justin EH Smith and others have pointed out in great detail and with solid documentation, the magazine is a LEFT wing, anti-authoritarian, anti-racist magazine that is not obsessed with Islam or Muslims and that spends most of its time skewering the French ruling class and not the disenfranchised masses on whose behalf these denizens of the first world took their not-so-brave stand. Justin also provides the clearest argument in favor of satire as a weapon in the hands of those who stand for freedom and who question absurd or unfair powers, and CH as a magazine that has consistently used it in this fashion.

A quote from Justin’s article:

I am not a big fan of most laïcité rhetoric, and I am sensitive to how it is used for purposes of exclusion. (I am also not listening to what Salman Rushdie is saying on this topic.) This is why I’ve tried to be consistent about coupling my position on Charlie Hebdo with an equally insistent position on, e.g., the rights and dignity of regular and non-regular (‘illegal’) migrants to France. I see my position as the one that, more than that of those with whom I disagree, is most insistent that Islam must not be perceived as a monolith, that in fact there is no such thing as the Muslim community, but rather numerous disagreeing factions, by no means all of which agree with the attackers that there is something unacceptably offensive about the content of Charlie Hebdo.


2. Joyce Carol Oates represents the confused and conflicted wing of the refuseniks. After signing the letter, she took to twitter to backtrack and make sure she satisfied all sides. A position that becomes understandable once you notice that she has PEN awards of her own and has been a guest and even a presenter at an award show that honored, among others, the American war reporter Lara Logan. If she found no difficulty there, one wonders what upset her so much about CH? Does she think CH is somehow MORE “metropole” or pro-war-on-terror than Lara Logan? Anyway, my guess is that plain-vanilla ignorance is not the primary reason she signed on to the letter (though it is surely part of it, since she seems to have no idea what CH actually promotes).  My guess (and of course, it is only a guess) is that she signed because of a combination of:
A. Vague (and very poorly informed) postmarxism that made her imagine that this was a fight between White, Western privilege and the disenfranchised masses yearning to be free, and in such a fight, it was her duty as a socially aware rich White Westerner to show that she was on the side of the angels.
B. Some people she considered friends asked her to sign. She did what had to be done. Then backtracked when she realized that other friends (and potential judges at future award events) were in the opposite camp.

Need to examine — without rancor, please!–when someone’s “freedom of expression” is someone else’s devastating & assaultive “hate speech.”

Should be kept in mind that PEN gives many awards & most for literary excellence. Current controversy disproportionate, misleading.

I have no way of knowing this is why she behaved as she did, any more than she has a way of knowing what was in the hearts of CH editors and cartoonists when they drew the cartoons. She is not taking their anti-racist, progressive statements at face value, I am not taking hers, that’s just how the world works. Though the difference remains that I am conscious I am making assumptions about her motives while doing my mind-reading, but she seems to think she just knows. In any case, her case against CH has been summarized and judged, correctly, by this German blogger. The last line is philosophical gold.

3. Francine Prose wrote a piece defending her decision to sign the letter and included this gem:
“And the idea that one is either “for us or against us” in such matters not only precludes rational and careful thinking, but also has a chilling effect on the exercise of our right to free expression and free speech that all of us – and all the people at PEN – are working so tirelessly to guarantee.”

Criticising her decision has a “chilling effect” on free speech but cartoonists getting shot for drawing cartoons does not? And her refusal to honor CH? does that have a “chilling effect” on free speech or is it only chilling if she is being criticized?

4. The cartoonist Gary Trudeau. After making some ignorant remarks, he backtracked a little, but not much. Here he is defending his stand against CH (and in his case, it clearly is a stand against CH, not some vague notion of “others I like deserved it more, so I am unhappy and wont go”)

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Transcription from Nib:

I was as outraged as the rest of the word at the time. I mourn them deeply. We’re a very small fraternity of political cartoonists around the globe… What I didn’t do is necessarily agree with the decisions they made that brought a world of pain to France.

I think that in France the wider Muslim community feels disempowered and disenfranchised in way that I’m sure is also true in this country. And that while I would imagine only a tiny fraction were sympathetic to the acts that were carried out and the killings, I think probably the vast majority shared in the outraged. Certainly that seems to be what people are hearing in the schoolyards in France now, is that they’re finding common cause at least with the issue, if not with the action.

I think that’s bad for France, it’s unfortunate, it’s a tragedy that could have been avoided. But every body has to decide where the red lines are for themselves.

Well, this cartoon sums it up.

5. Professor Amitava Kumar signed on to the protest but it seems he is not the confrontational sort, so he is not exactly reveling in the SJW mode. Instead, he says he protested because he saw into the future and “the stand I am taking is; why is so much vitriol being poured on those who are protesting (against CH)”. THIS is why he signed the letter? because he is clairvoyant and knew unfair criticism would befall those who signed? Hear it and marvel. He even complains that one reason he is upset is because Hebdo is being awarded and nobody is talking about Avijit Roy or Sabeen least one of whom was killed by exactly the same ideology and for exactly the same reasons as the attack on Hebdo. One would think Hebdo’s courage creates space for people like Avijit, but the good professor does not see it that way. . he spends a lot of this interview answering every question with appeals to “complexity” and “nuance” and “raising questions” instead of answering the question he has been asked. Interestingly, he also tries to bring in the objection that awards as such are the problem. A stand to which I hope he will stick diligently in the future. Anyway, this interview is a gem and worth your time. Listen for yourself and wonder why and how he became a professor.

6. The full time social justice warriors (especially those of Latin American origin) among the refuseniks are easier to understand. For them, if it is “the power” versus someone else, then one supports someone else. Free speech per se is not a “good”. It is good if it promotes “social justice”, bad if it does not. Since the world is assumed to be divided between grown up and evil White people (White is not necessarily about color in this case; the Japanese are practically White, the Turks are not) and childlike and innocent “people of color” (this category includes chromatically White people from Latin America, whose ancestors crimes against Native Americans and Africans have long since been forgiven, it’s complicated), therefore in any conflict between good and evil, one sides with the good.  In this case, PEN American Center and Charlie Hebdo are both “White” (never mind a few race traitors who have joined the ranks of the oppressors), compared to Muslims (herein regarded as POC irrespective of skin pigmentation), the choice is not difficult.
I also have the (anecdotal) impression that SJWs who are willing to be “anti-free speech” in this case may, in other conversations, come across as very much pro-free speech. It seems they have a hierarchy of crimes in mind, with “Western hegemonism/colonialism/imperialism/racism” being at the top of the list. Between suppression of speech and (perceived) support of “the metropole” in the name of free speech, they will opt for suppression of speech.
It sort of makes sense if you buy into their premises. It is sometimes hard to imagine why anyone does buy their premises, since they are historically, anthropologically, culturally and biologically incorrect. But that is a discussion for another day.
By the way, Teju Cole is in this group but I do wonder about him a little. What if his Nigerian heritage causes him to take a more personal interest in Islamic terrorists at some point? Would he slightly adjust his SJW positions? I am not sure what (if any) connection he has with Nigeria now, but if it is more than mere nostalgia then this is at least a slight possibility. He wont change positions explicitly and openly of course, and the ultimate responsibility for all events in Nigeria will continue to be assigned to Britain or America (since I expect his own bread and butter will continue to come from the American SJW community) but a little bit of a shift may happen with him. We will have to wait and see.

7. Peter Carey managed to include the entire French nation in the list of criminals:
“All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”
Surely we can all agree with that. Those arrogant French people have had it coming ever since Napoleon insulted Carey’s ancestors with that quip about “a nation of shopkeepers”.

6. Razib Khan has a post up about what the data says on the issue of free speech in America. As he sums it up “the consistent free speech position gets stronger as you get more liberal, and, as you get more intelligent.” So, a few noisy SJWs do not represent either liberal or intelligent opinion in the country. Not on the issue of free speech. (though some may argue that liberals just wish to appear more tolerant, not that they are more tolerant. I still think liberalism had a LOT to do with establishing the notion of free speech protection and remains one of its main defenders. The PC crowd is an aberration… I hope)

Razib also adds a caveat that i think is valid: One major caveat that needs to placed here is that traditionally the elites of this country have been more defensive about free speech than the populace as a whole. That’s probably because the elites are worried more about power plays by their rivals. Ultimately politically oriented free speech is important for those with ambition and aspirations.

7. Meanwhile, if you want more background on blasphemy-killing as a way to silence criticism, you can see my article here. 

An image of a person in a turban holding a sign “I am Charlie” with the title “all is forgiven” was removed from this part for obvious reasons.

Post Scrip: I just saw this excellent article by Pakistani journalist Kunwar Khuldune Shahid that pretty much sums it up.

What the radical Islamists and their apologists won’t discuss is the tradition of drawing Prophet Muhammad’s images as a form of tribute by many Muslim artists throughout centuries. What they won’t discuss either is the fact that an ostensibly anti-Muslim publication received glowing tributes from many Arab Muslim newspapers in the aftermath of the Paris attack, with Op-Eds in Charlie Hebdo’s support being published in Pakistan as well. An Iranian newspaper published ‘Je suis Charlie’ on its front page.
You can deem Sabeen’s talk or Charlie Hebdo’s satire as “violating the acceptable” but in either case you can’t simultaneously be a flag-bearer of free speech. For consistency’s sake, it’s better to not pay any regard to freedom of speech, than being selective in safeguarding it. If you’re Sabeen, but not Charlie, for all practical purposes you’re neither.”

By the way, I did not include Kamila Shamsie in my random examples of signatories and their contradictions because she is not one of the famous signatories. But I must say that I would have expected more of her kin to sign this protest. What happened?

I hasten to add that Pakistani writers in English include some genuine talents (Mohammed Hanif, Bapsi Sidhwa and Nadim Aslam come to mind, just off the top of my head) but you know what I mean.. there is a group who would sign almost anything supported by Teju Cole and Joyce Carol Oates, so I am a bit surprised more of them did not jump on the bandwagon. Perhaps nobody called?
PS #2: Where is Pankaj Mishra? Why was he not asked to sign? or, God forbid, did he refuse? Just curious. 

PS#3: An interesting objection: Someone objected that contrary to my claim, speech was freer in pre-modern Punjab than it is in modern America. I am not convinced, but if anyone has some argument about that, feel free to add it to the comments. 

Trust and Accountability

Excellent advice from Faisal Naqvi

“…But the soldiers of Pakistan serve the citizens of Pakistan. And it is not good for the citizens of Pakistan to fear their soldiers. Just like it is not good for Pakistanis to be riven with internal suspicions and divides. Just like it is not good if the citizens of Pakistan have no idea as to who is killing their own.

I have no reason to doubt the DG ISPR’s sincerity when he condemns the murder of Sabeen Mahmud. At a personal level, I very much doubt that our agencies had anything to do with her death. But in the absence of any independent accountability or trustworthy form of dispute resolution, all we are left with are his words. And words really don’t go that far.”

This opaque system of “rule by agencies” is the army’s most insidious and harmful gift to Pakistan. The fact that you never know who is in charge, and what they want, and why?

There are fringe conspiracy theorists in EVERY country. Even in the US there are intelligent people who think some secret cabal of trilateralists runs the country. But Pakistan is a good example of what happens when such opaque conspiracies become mainstream AND WITH GOOD CAUSE.

What is happening in Balochistan? who is responsible? in an normal country you would at least ask the CM or the governor or even the Prime Minister and expect an answer. They may lie (they probably lie) but they are the ones on top. People develop ways of interpreting what they are saying. And there really IS some transparency. Many things are exactly as they seem. But in this case, we don’t even bother to ask Dr Malik (chief minister Balochistan) or the Prime Minister…and they are not held responsible in any serious way either. “Everyone” knows the army runs Balochistan. But do they? do they run everything or some things? who decides? It is all opaque and everyone has the freedom to cook up their favorite conspiracy theory. Some of them are probably true. But which ones?
We will never know.

 Btw, my own theory of what drove us mad in the first place:

Brown Pundits