Pakistan and India. The Long View

An awful lot can be said about the India-Pakistan conflict and what is said is heavily dependent on how the writer sees the world and what he or she wants it to become. Now that the latest round of proposed “National Security Adviser Talks” has fizzled, a lot is being said about who is to blame and what to do next. I thought it would be a good idea to just step back a little from the (necessarily and correctly) petty tactical maneuvers behind the talks and their cancellation and look at the (somewhat scary) big picture and then try to see what the possible futures look like. The last section is my personal obsession and can be skipped.
So here goes:

Kashmir is a disputed region that is claimed by both India and Pakistan. Pakistan holds one chunk of Kashmir (now administered as Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir) and India hold another. Without going into the details of whose claims are how good and what the UN resolutions really say, let us note one fact: Pakistan wants to change the status quo in Kashmir. India pays lip-service to the notion that it wants the Pakistani part of Kashmir, but in practice India looks like it will go along with keeping the status quo. So as far as Kashmir is concerned, India’s interest is to have Pakistan STOP trying to change the status quo (especially via terrorism or military force; India knows that complaints in international forums and human rights clubs are not a significant issue if kinetic actions cease). Pakistan’s interest on the other hand is to force India to give up its part of Kashmir, i.e. to CHANGE the current borders and administrative arrangements. In this sense the positions are not symmetrical.

Pakistan has tried various things to change the status quo. When India was partitioned, the princely ruler of Kashmir dithered about his choice (whether to join India or Pakistan). At that point, we tried to force his hand by sending in tribal irregulars to grab Kashmir by force (and we nearly succeeded; tribal lashkar were entering Srinagar when the Indian army intervened and pushed them back). After the tribal lashkars were forced back, regular army units joined the fight and both sides fought to a standstill by 1948 and then agreed to take the issue to the UN. Neither side did what the UN resolutions demanded (details vary depending on whom you ask). But the bottom line is that India held one part of Kashmir and we held the other and of course, both sides refused to budge from where they were.

In 1965, we tried operation Gibraltar to “liberate” Kashmir by sending in commandos who were supposed to spark a general uprising. The general uprising never happened and a conventional military offensive (operation Grandslam) was stopped after some early success and led to a short general war (the 1965 war) which was pretty much stalemated when both sides threw in the towel and agreed to a ceasefire. Again, opinions and details vary depending on who you ask, but no one can deny that the borders looked about the same after the 1965 as they did before it, so our attempt to change the status quo had again failed.

In the 1971 war, India defeated our forces in East Pakistan but nothing much changed on the Western front. The status quo in Kashmir remained more or less the way it was before the war (though definitions and fine details of the boundary changed a little and diplomats argue forever about how many angels now dance on which pin).

In the late 1980s a widespread revolt did break out amongst the Muslim population of the vale of Kashmir and in the 1990s we vigorously promoted an Islamist-Jihadist insurgency staffed by Pakistani as well as Kashmiri militants. The revolt and the subsequent Islamist insurgency (the two are not the same, though details and definitions can be argued about endlessly) shook India’s hold on Kashmir for a while and both India and the local population paid a very heavy price, but by 1999 it seemed that the insurgency itself was not going to drive India out of Kashmir and our civilian PM was thinking of making peace. The army stepped in to nip this in the bud and launched a limited war in Kargil, but failed in it’s objectives (tactically and strategically unsound to begin with) and got a bit of a scolding from the Americans in the bargain; always a net negative for us because Uncle Sam has historically paid for a lot of our “national security” upkeep.

In 2001 our brothers in Afghanistan (who provided strategic depth and much more for the Kashmir Jihad) got into trouble with America and were forced to temporarily relocate to Pakistan. Pakistan was also forced to tamp down the Kashmir Jihad in the generally “Jihad-unfriendly” atmosphere that followed and India has been able to use the breathing space to restore some degree of peace in Kashmir. But while we have kept the Jihad on a tight-ish leash (Mumbai 2008 being the biggest, though not sole, exception), we have not shut down the Kashmir branch completely. And of course, we have not changed our “principled stand”. We still want to change the status quo in Kashmir. The problem is, how is that to be done?

Since 2001, there have been several rounds of peace talks and many proposals for a peace settlement in Kashmir. Pakistan is of the view that even though our guerrila and military efforts failed to dislodge India from Kashmir, we still have a good claim on the state and India should agree to a substantial change in the current status quo in order to make peace with us and to have peace in the subcontinent. On the other hand, the dominant Indian view seems to be that since Pakistan has already “tried it’s worst” and failed, it should not expect to receive on the negotiating table what it could not win on the ground by force.

Peaceniks and pragmatists on both sides have proposed that we could agree to keep the status quo on borders (India keeps their Kashmir, we keep ours) but should give substantial autonomy to each side and allow freer movement across the border,so obviating any need to adjust borders and fight wars.

This sound good (and I personally think it is the nearest thing to a doable deal) but hardliners on both sides reject any such deal. At it’s core, the objection from the Indian side is based on lack of trust. Some Indians think they detect a scheme to use autonomy and softer borders to prepare the ground for bigger future demands (supported by an anti-Indian Kashmiri Muslim populace). Extreme Hindutvadis may also feel that any compromise with Pakistan is unacceptable and the long term aim should always be to one day destroy Pakistan and reabsorb it into India (or to absorb at least the Indian half of it, the Afghan and Baloch half are welcome to their own states).

Hardline Pakistanis meanwhile think acceptance of the current boundaries means giving up on the dream of ever seeing a Kashmir united with Pakistan and is a betrayal of the ideals of the Pakistan movement. More to the point, the security establishment feels that if peace comes, can disarmament and loss of domestic power and status be far behind?

Pragmatic peaceniks know that the fears of hardliners are not unfounded. But we do feel that those fears are unhelpful for the bulk of the population and stand in the way of a doable deal that can be made to work for all sides.On peace being prelude to another attempt at taking Kashmir away, well, we would say that India is not run by children. If India could stop us in the 1990s when the world was not so anti-Jihad, when India was poorer, when its armed forces were less equipped and when it’s establishment was at least as corrupt and incompetent, why should it lose control in the future when all these factors may change in India’s favor?

For the Hindutvadis, I would say this. Yes, you may never see the Indus basin, home of the Rig Veda and site of so many historic Sikh and Hindu sites returned to Mother India, but  worse things have happened in history. Maybe you can take it as the price “Mother India” has to pay for having been conquered and ruled by invaders for so many centuries and for not being able to assimilate them into India more fully. Maybe, as Don Corleone said, “there just wasn’t enough time”.. Meanwhile, enough local people were assimilated into the conqueror’s culture to such a degree that they no longer think of themselves as Indian. IF Indian-ness is truly deep rooted and desirable (and this conversion is actually a bad fit for our deeply Indian culture), then their descendants may drift back. If not, maybe it is time to move on.

On the Pakistani side, yes, I think the ideals of the Pakistan movement will be betrayed by such a deal. But really, even you guys cannot seem to agree on what those ideals were in the first place. Maybe the whole partition thing was a bad idea. Why make it worse? It cannot be reversed, but at least it should not be made worse. Let it go. What’s next? 200 million Indian Muslims added to Pakistan?

And yes, if we don’t get Kashmir the coming conflicts over water may find us forced to trust India and international mediation. But the Indus waters treaty has worked for 50 years. If we have peace and increased trust, we may be able to work it out in the future too. In any case, what is the alternative? It’s not like all our attempts to get Kashmir by force have been hugely successful to date. Sure, we would be nicely placed if we owned ALL the rivers from Tibet to the sea, but we don’t. China and India happen to be upstream. But then again, many other nations with rivers that run down from other countries don’t control their destiny all alone. They have to make deals and manage. Deals are easier when you are at peace.

And finally, the security establishment and it’s fear of irrelevancy and demotion: no such luck. This is not a valid fear at all. Guess who will get all the Amul franchises when peace breaks out? Yes, cousin Jimmy and retired Brigadier uncle! Money can be made in many ways. You can make it in peace rather than war. Collect tolls. Distribute movies. Arrange concerts. Set up businesses.You know you can do it. And security? it will be an even bigger headache after we betray the two-nation theory and try to hold Pakistan together for Chinese transit companies and Qingchi makers. Endless Islamist, Baloch and Mohajir insurgencies loom on the horizon. Maybe even a Maoist one will break out if poor people get shafted extra-hard. Your jobs are safe.

This is the case for peace. What is the hardline case?

Note that the two sides do not have symmetrical aims. Pakistan’s aim is to force India to make concessions using the threat of renewed support for Jihadis, Khalistanis, Maoists, NE Separatists etc, to force India to make concessions. India’s aim is to prevent Pakistan from making such an attempt. In order to see decisive change in this respect, India also wants clear and decisive action against the Mumbai attackers. Such action is not just desirable because a heinous terrorist crime was committed and its perpetrators have not yet been punished (though I personally think that is a good aim in itself) but because such action would be the best evidence that Pakistan is no longer committed to the Jihadist option against India. If Pakistan does this, India will almost certainly be willing to make at least a cold peace. Thus, when I speak of an Indian hardline case, I do not mean the extreme Hindutvadi case of wishing to reabsorb Pakistan “with extreme prejudice”.

The Pakistani hardliners case is qualitatively different. We are the party that wants a change in borders or at least some major move towards Kashmiri autonomy that we can accept as a halfway house to union with Pakistan. We have tried to force this change using proxies as well as the regular army and we have (till now) failed. But our hardliners think the failure is not as final as it seems. Our options are still open. Now that America is getting out of our hair, and China wants us more than ever (or so we think), we can deploy the threat of revived Jihad and Khalistan to ask for concessions. If India does not make concessions, we may have to move beyond the threat. Those willing to use these levers (rather than those just wanting to threaten to use them) are probably in a minority even in Pakistan. But the minority has the Paknationalist narrative on their side. So they can get their way because they control the Pakistaniat narrative and when push comes to shove, their opponents cannot muster good arguments without challenging the core narrative. All else being equal, the national narrative wins.

So let us suppose the hardliners win the argument. Do they have a case in the real world? i.e. can they win?

That depends on what weight one assigns to different factors. Pakistan has a proven record of deploying proxies and supporting insurgencies. All talk of Balochistan and MQM notwithstanding, India does not have such a record in West Pakistan. Even though Doval sahib has reportedly said “we can hurt them more than they can hurt us using these same tools”, an objective observer would have to say the edge lies with Pakistan. Our use of proxies has a record of “success”. India’s (in West Pakistan) does not. And Indian internal security institutions are already stretched thin and their state is known to be rickety and inefficient. Advantage Pakistan?

On the other hand, India is the bigger power. It has the bigger armed forces (even if they are weaker pound for pound; I am not saying they necessarily are. Maybe they are not. But the point is that even if they are somewhat less efficient than Pakistan’s armed forces (superior American weapons, less waste and corruption in procurement and weapons systems, higher asabiya??) they are so much bigger that they probably have a conventional edge. What if they actually use that advantage? Well, we don’t know for sure until they do, but these are two nuclear powers, Everyone gets nervous. So the threat of force is in India’s favor, but even India would prefer that it not be put to the test. 

It may be that in a few years India will be in a position to impose penalties with less fear of things getting out of hand (or going unexpectedly badly) but it is not in that position yet (wet dreams of ultranationalist Indian notwithstanding). Even though India may be able to prevail in a conventional confrontation, it will not do so without considerable cost; costs that may set back the economic takeoff that is India’s best chance of breaking out of the glorious poverty that has long defined it.

So, the bottom line is, we don’t know if the hardliners on either side can win. It is best not to put their theories to the test.

Best case scenario: that MNS and his government manage to reach out to Modi and BOTH sides are mature enough to understand that it is in the interest of both nations  not to put the hardline options to the test. Even while MNS is not in a position to bypass GHQ and the Paknationalists, he can arrange for lower profile meetings, smaller deals on trade, tourism and transit,  and other baby steps.. And if things go well and Indian development continues to accelerate then Pakistani economic needs, increasing economic disparity and international pressure may force even GHQ to give up on Kashmir. Then we can think of flashier and bigger peace moves and start dreaming about a South Asian Economic Union.

What will really happen: probably a few more bumpy years, but no serious war. Things will limp along, till peace slowly settles around the exact same borders we have had since 1948.

Finally, a few words about why I regard the hardcore “ideology of Pakistan” as a threat to peace: The Turko-Afghan Delhi Sultanate is the charter state of “Hard Pakistani Nationalism”. Muslims live in all parts of India and (especially in parts of the South) their presence is not necessarily connected with the Turko-Afghan invasion and colonization of North India. But the Muslim intellectuals that laid the intellectual basis for the struggle for Pakistan saw themselves as the inheritors of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal empire.

This does not mean that the Delhi Sultanate was foremost in the minds of everyone who wanted Pakistan. Not at all. It may not have been the proximate motivation for most of the supporters of Pakistan. Left wingers for example point to the “Muslim salariat” and its fear of being outcompeted by the more educated Hindu middle class. Or at the fears of the North Indian Muslim-feudal elite that had been pampered and protected by the British but that saw unpleasant changes coming in the wake of independence and democracy if Hindu-dominated mass parties came to power. Others have more fanciful theories; e.g. a prominent progressive Pakistani politician has written a book trying to prove that Pakistan was just the natural outcome of “Indus man” going his own way, distinct from the rest of India, as he has always done. Why “Indus Man” was more North Indian Feudal and Bengali than Punjabi (and many other inconvenient facts about history) get in the way of that theory, but the point is, the theory is out there and like most theories (even the silliest ones) there is some evidence for it if that is all you want to look for.

There is even a popular theory that Jinnah never really wanted Pakistan and the demand was more or less a bargaining chip that got out of hand. But hardcore Pakistani nationalists understood then (and understand now) that Pakistan must identify itself with the Turko-Afghan invaders, must reject the previous culture and religion of the inhabitants of this region (as a pre-enlightened state that we gave up once we adopted the superior religion and culture brought in by Islamic invaders),  and must see itself as the “Un-India”; not just a political unit of greater India that happens to be mostly Muslim, but a separate nation that consists of people who do not share a common culture with the rest of India.

This understanding appears, at one level, to be a fringe view. Among Pakistan’s small super-elite the most educated segment consists of Western-educated intellectuals who, like their Indian counterparts, get 90% or more of their knowledge of history, sociology, culture and even religion from Western sources, in Western languages. Among this super-elite, the dominant mode of thought is not “hard paknationalism” or Salafist Islam, it is Eurocentric neo-orientalism (a bad term, I know, but this post is not long enough to accomodate a detailed description, you can guess what I mean), leaning heavily towards postcolonialism and postmodern Marxism. Meanwhile among the barely literate or illiterate masses, the inherited wisdom of their own older cultures (from Pakhtunwali to rural Punjabi values to Sindhi and Baloch culture, with all their subsets and varieties) still guides life far more than any superficial snatches of propaganda they may have picked up from the modern mass media and mass education.

But “Pakistaniat”, based on the Delhi-sultanate-charter-state view that I sketched above, rules supreme in official propaganda, in mass media and especially in modern mass education. This version of Pakistaniat is so ridiculous in the eyes of the Western-educated super-elite commentators that they not only reject it as ridiculous, they find it hard to even take its presence seriously. Their books and articles (and these are, of course, most of the books and articles the highly educated read, within Pakistan and even more so, outside of it) do not engage with this Pakistaniat because “the eye cannot see what the mind does not know”. But enough about them. We can see this paradigm in operation if we wish, and it turns out to be the one guiding our foreign ministry, our defence services and our intelligence agencies. It is the historical myth promoted in our educational institutions. And it is the one we use when we name our most important weapons. It is a framework that matters. Not the only one, but very much an important one. And critical when it comes to relations with India. You can see more on this topic in my previous posts here and here, but it is easy to see why this narrative to the extent that it remains a real factor in Pakistani opinion, is a hurdle to peace. ..

I believe the Indian secular state narrative is not a mirror-image obstacle to peace. The hard-Hindutva narrative does have the potential to obstruct peace (not just because of what it says about Pakistan but because it raises the possibility of new partitions within India), but it is not yet the official core narrative of the Indian state and until it becomes so it is not the equivalent of the Paknationalist story. And no, I don’t think the election of Modi constitutes such a point in itself; even Modi pays lip service to secular democratic India, and in these things “lip-service” is the point; it sets the parameters for public debate and restrains excesses. A lot of what is still powerful in our religious culture (fanaticism, unwillingness to marry across religious boundaries, inability to tolerate literary and artistic expressions considered offensive, etc) is restrained by this modern Western import. At some point our modernizing indigenous culture will meet the decaying karma of British liberalism and hopefully this union will occur in a happy zone and not in the dumps. But until then, this Western liberal import is a positive factor that India maintains closer to the modern ideal than we do. And that is why their national narrative can live with the present borders, but ours finds it harder to do so because ours demands more than what we got in 1947.

PS: A couple of clarifications (since people have asked)
1. Don Corleone saying “there wasn’t enough time”. That quote is from the famous garden scene in The Godfather (see below at 2 minute onwards). The thought I had in my mind was that by 1800 the Turko-Afghan colonization of India had run out of steam. Large areas of India were dominated by the Sikhs and the Marhattas and the remaining Turko-Afghan elite were so Indianized that the thought of going home or asking for reinforcements from Central Asia was dying out. At the same time, much of India was pulling ahead of Central Asia in warmaking technology and even in Asabiya (clearly illustrated by the fact that the Sikh Kingdom ruled parts of Afghanistan instead of vice versa; a fact that gifted those parts to West Pakistan 😉 ). It was the British who froze the North Indian Muslim elite in place and allowed visions of “our greatness till the British came along” to take hold. Given more time, Indians (Hindus, Sikhs AND Muslims) may have fought over many things, but none of the rulers would have imagined they were Central Asian any more.

2. A number of friends have objected to my characterization of “extreme Hindutvadis” as desiring an eventual reabsorption of the Indus valley into Greater India. Two points: One, I did say “EXTREME Hindutvadis”. I am well aware that most Indians would prefer not to add to their current headaches by absorbing Pakistan into India. But the dreamers are out there. Take my word for it 🙂
Two: even the extreme ones rarely imagine a straightforward reunion of current West Pakistan with India. The idea is more like “you, being wrong in so many ways, will fall apart. All sorts of shit will happen. Then the kids may come home crying to mama”. I am not saying this will happen, just reporting that its out there 🙂

3. Others are offended that I have not mentioned the desires of the Kashmiri people. I think the desires of the Kashmiri people are rather mixed-up at this time. First of all, the Hindus and Buddhists would prefer to stay in India. The Muslim majority may wish to leave India, but it is not clear that a majority now want to go to Pakistan. That leaves independence and neither India nor Pakistan will permit that and both are strong enough to prevent it. Case closed.

4. About my “optimistic” best case scenario, see more here. It would have made this post too long (though the link is an old post, some of which I may modify if written today).

Everyone has a plan ’till they get
punched in the mouth. (
Mike Tyson)

Post post-script: Friend and uber-intellectual Ali Minai added a comment that I am posting here in its entirety:
I would make two additional points:

1. There is another sense in which the Kashmir situation is asymmetrical, though you do allude to this indirectly. There is a real separatist movement in Indian Kashmir with real buy-in from a significant (possibly growing) segment of the population. There is no such separatist challenge on the Pakistani side. Thus, in real terms, Kashmir is a much more “actual” problem for India than for Pakistan. It is true that Pakistan has failed to change the status quo of the borders, but the price of that “failure” has been paid more by India than Pakistan – if we do not count the jihadi menace afflicting Pakistan now as part of that cost. As long as this calculus obtains, I don’t see the true decision-makers on the Pakistani side budging. India may think it can counter this by supporting separatism elsewhere in Pakistan, but it just isn’t the same.

2. The hysteria created by the Indian TV news media is truly a phenomenon in its own right. There is a corresponding process in Pakistan, but it pales in comparison. This may have gone into overdrive post-Mumbai, but is not caused by that horrific event. I have been watching the evolution of this ultra-hyper-super-duper-nationalist media in India with considerable horror for many years since long before Mumbai. Unlike the jingoism in the Pakistani media which is: a) mostly incompetent; and b) leavened by a fair amount of serious punditry, a lot (not all) of the TV news media on the Indian side is superficial and “Fox-y”. The print media, in contrast, is much better – better than Pakistan’s – but we all know that print is dead 🙂

Both you and I recently had a more-or-less friendly twitter argument with a well-known Pakistani anchor/pundit who thought that India may soon go the way of Nazi Germany. In my opinion (and yours, I think), that is absolute crap. It just cannot happen in India, with its huge population, its diversity, its inherent tumult, its philosophical traditions, its socioeconomic stratification, etc. However, India, Pakistan, and any other country, can be subject to nightmare transformations. Some would say that it has already happened in Pakistan, but such nightmares are possible also in India. It’s hard to predict what the form will be – it will definitely not be Nazi Germany! – but the danger is limitless with the involvement of two nuclear states. The world can barely survive a dysfunctional Pakistan; it cannot survive a dysfunctional India. As such, India has a greater responsibility to remain serious, gracious and sagacious even in the face of provocation. When it too turns to provocation, I think it is time for everyone to get very nervous.

I think a serious case can be made that we are at the beginning of a great worldwide “unravelling” –  brought on by climate change, demographic pressures, terrorism, etc., all feeding into each other. Perhaps in a hundred years, the period when liberal democracy thrived in half the world and the rest aspired to it will be seen as a quaint interlude in a multi-millennia history of war, misery, oppression and autocracy. But that hasn’t happened yet, and what occurs between India and Pakistan may be one of the most important determinants of its likelihood.

Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas Shaheed and Flt Lt Mati ur Rahman Shaheed. Heroes.

Matiur rahman.jpg

On August 20 1971 Flight Lt Mati ur Rahman and Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas died in the crash of a T-33 jet trainer near the Sindh coastline, 32 miles on the Pakistani side of the border with India. BOTH pilots were awarded the highest gallantry award available. Pakistan awarded the Nishan e Haider to Pilot officer Minhas and (2 years later) the newly independent state of Bangladesh awarded Flt Lt Rahman the Bir Sreshto, the highest gallantry award in BD. Educated Pakistanis are likely to know why Rashid Minhas is a hero (though some of the details they learned are less certain than the popular stories imply). Meanwhile it is my impression that even educated Bangladeshis are not as informed about Matiur as we are about Minhas. So here, as a public service, is what we know about this episode.

When the Pakistani army launched operation Searchlight in March 1971, the aim was to crush the movement for Bengali autonomy with overwhelming and decisive force. As a first step in the crackdown, the Bengali military and paramilitary units in East Pakistan were disarmed (and in several cases, most egregiously in Comilla, massacred en masse in the next few days). Those who got wind of the crackdown revolted and grabbed what territory they could (most successfully in Chittagong, which was mostly overrun by Bengali troops and where Major Zia ur Rahman was able to announce the independence of Bangladesh from the radio station) before the West Pakistani troops were able to bring superior numbers and firepower to bear and drive them out. Those who escaped capture or execution went to India where (with Indian help) they organized the Mukti Bahini and started a guerrilla war in East Pakistan.

Bengalis serving in the armed forces in West Pakistan were not subject to arrest or execution and the steps taken against them varied very widely. But partly because the autonomy movement did have very wide support and partly as a reaction to the extreme harshness of the crackdown, they were also overwhelmingly pro-Bangladesh. A few of them went to great lengths to escape from West Pakistan (e.g. via Kabul, or even by the hazardous route of sneaking across the Kashmir or Sialkot border into India) to join the nascent Bangladeshi resistance in India but given the difficulties involved, most remained, albeit unhappily, on their jobs. Many were reassigned to duties where they would not have access to sensitive materials or weapons, while some continued to perform their usual duties and a few were genuinely loyal to Pakistan and did all they could to convince their superiors of the same and aggressively participated in the West Pakistani war effort when permitted to do so.

Pilots serving in the Air Force were generally reassigned to ground duties. Several Bengali officers serving in Masroor airbase in Karachi were assigned to such duties and were supposed to be kept away from flying. One can get some idea of the intensity of nationalist feeling aroused in them from the fact that the entire group started trying to figure out what, if anything, they could do to play their part in Bengali resistance. They knew there were being watched by intelligence, so they did not discuss politics or make plans in any obvious meeting. Instead, they would discuss plans in short snatches in the course of normal work activities while appearing to be discussing work-related matters. Flt Lt Mati ur Rahman was assigned as deputy flight safety officer, an assignment that allowed him into the flight area a bit more than the others. He and his friends decided that he would try to hijack an aircraft and take it to India. Sneaking into and starting a fighter aircraft without ground crew assistance was practically impossible, so they decided he would hijack a T-33 jet trainer when it was being taken for a solo flight by one of the junior trainees. His fellow officers were to take his wife and infant daughters to the Indian consulate while he carried out his plan (this did not actually happen, the family was arrested but later released and repatriated). They themselves would face whatever consequences came their way. He apparently obtained a replica pistol that was recovered from the wreckage, so it seems that the hijacking was to be carried out using that weapon.

On the morning of the hijacking, young pilot officer Rashid Minhas was going for the second solo flight of his short carrier. As he started to taxi towards the main runway, Matiur drove his Opel Kadett to a point on the taxiway where it was obscured by some bushes and where his actions were not visible to the air-traffic control. No one knows exactly what happened on that taxiway, but it is assumed that he signalled the young officer to stop and seeing the deputy flight safety officer on the taxiway, the young pilot naturally stopped his plane. It is assumed that Matiur than climbed on to the aircraft and got into the instructor’s seat behind Rashid. He may have used his replica pistol to order Rashid to take off. In some versions put out later (for example, in the TV movie made by PTV with Air Force assistance) Rashid is knocked out using chloroform and hit repeatedly by Matiur, but there is no proof of either occurrence.

 What we do know is that the plane headed out to the runway with both of them on board and that Rashed was able to send out a message saying he was being hijacked. Given the unexpected nature of the call and the occurrence, it is no surprise that air traffic control took a few minutes to figure out what was happening and by the time the order to scramble interceptors was given, the T-33 had already disappeared flying close to the ground where it was not visible to radar. Matiur was aware of the gaps in radar coverage and may have used that knowledge but nothing is known for sure about what happened on that flight during this time. In any case, the Sabre jets scrambled to intercept the T-33 never caught sight of it.

Ground control and the airborne Sabres did try to radio Rashid to eject, knowing that he could actually eject BOTH pilots (with the rear seat pilot being ejected first) thus ditching the aircraft and bringing an end to the affair. But for whatever reason, he never did that (or never got a chance to do that).

But just 32 miles short of the Indian border, something did happen. According to eyewitnesses on the ground, the aircraft seemed to fly erratically before it crashed into the ground, killing both pilots. Later investigation showed that Rashid went through the instrument panel at the point of the crash, indicating that he had been in his seat inside the aircraft when it hit the ground. But Matiur Rahman’s body was found some distance away and seemed to have been thrown out of the aircraft while it was in flight at high speed. The cockpit canopy was found some distance away and forensic examination indicated that it had flown off in flight and hit the tail section at high speed. This has led to the conjecture that Rashid opened the canopy deliberately, pulling Matiur out of his seat (he was not strapped in because the rear seat harness is locked away during solo flight). That Matiur was squatting on the seat without a cushion may also have impeded his ability to control the aircraft (he was without a seat cushion because in the T-33 the pilot’s parachute IS the seat cushion and he did not have one). The aircraft has dual mechanically linked controls, so neither party can override the other completely without a struggle and both can interfere with the flight.

A few hours later, Karachi airbase learned that their missing plane was down within Pakistan and rescue choppers headed out for the wreckage (and the base commander probably heaved the biggest sigh of relief ever heaved east of Suez). The next day the air chief went to see President Yahya and recommended that Rashid be given a Sitara e Jurat (the third highest gallantry award in Pakistan), to which Yahya replied “Why Sitara e Jurat? Give the boy the Nishan e Haider!”.  Meanwhile Matiur Rahman’s body was brought back to Karachi and buried in a graveyard near the airbase. Naturally, he was also vilified as a traitor and backstabber.

It seems as if there was not much notice taken in East Pakistan until 2 years later, when the young Republic of Bangladesh gave him its own highest gallantry award and later named the Jessore airbase in his honor. After a long campaign by a small but determined band of Bangladeshi nationalists, his body was finally brought to Bangladesh in 2006 and buried in the martyred intellectuals graveyard in Dhaka with full honors.

Nobody is certain if a struggle actually occured on that plane. It seems likely that there was a struggle, but there are other theories, including one that says the canopy blew off because the pilots forgot to lock it, this pulled the un-belted (and squatting) Matiur out of the plane and led to a crash, with no need to posit a struggle.

In any case, both were treated as heroes by their respective countries.

Feel free to add comments with information that may change or add to this story.

Much of this account is derived from Kaiser Tufail’s excellent blog post on this topic. which I reproduce below. In addition, i have used a report from Cecil Choudhry (also reproduced below), another usually reliable and relatively objective source.
I remember reading a longish article from (or based on the account of) one of the Bengali officers who was with Matiur at Masroor Airbase, but cannot remember where it was published. If anyone knows what I am talking about, please comment.

The T-33 seat, with and without the parachute used as seat cushion. Explains why Matiur did not have an easy flying job ahead of him.

Matiur Rahman’s daughter prays at his grave in Pakistan in the 1990s.

Khaleda Zia at the state funeral in 2006

another picture of Rashid Minhas

 “Bluebird-166 is Hijacked” By Kaiser Tufail 

“Why only a Sitara-i-Jur’at?  The boy deserves nothing less than a  Nishan-i-Haider,” retorted President Yahya Khan as PAF’s C-in-C, Air Marshal A Rahim Khan informed him of the hijacking incident that had taken place hours before.[1]  The Air Chief, who was hosting the President at lunch in Peshawar on 20 Aug, 1971, had recommended the lesser award, but was pleased to know that the PAF was being honoured with its first Nishan-i-Haider.[2]  The same day, announcement of the highest gallantry award was made.  In deference to the hallowed nature of the award, the Board of Inquiry into the aircraft accident was suspended and, eventually scrapped without finalisation.  The final moments of the flight of the hijacked T-33 have, therefore, been open to more than one interpretation over the years.  This write-up looks at some officially recorded vital bits of evidence (indicated in bold-face text), to reconstruct what really happened.

In the aftermath of the military crackdown that started in East Pakistan on 25 March 1971, the Bengali pilots in the PAF were grounded for fear of an adverse reaction.  As the situation became more complex and war clouds started gathering, it was felt prudent to withdraw the flying clothing and equipment of Bengali aircrew, with hijacking of aircraft being precisely one of the fears.

The Bengali pilots at PAF Base Masroor (Karachi), sensed the surveillance cover of Intelligence Units and agreed not to meet collectively.  It was decided that a charade of friendly relations with the Base personnel would be maintained, and any kind of protest avoided to the utmost.  In the meantime, short, meaningful meetings would be conducted in the course of normal activities.  The consensus on hijacking an aircraft to India emerged in no time, with the underlying thought being that the incident would call world attention to the cause of Bangladesh freedom movement.  It was also agreed that the backlash of the hijacking would be borne with fortitude by the remaining Bengalis.[3]

At first, the Bengalis mulled hijacking one or more F-86 Sabres, but the mere presence of a Bengali pilot on the tarmac would have been viewed with suspicion.  Besides, starting up a jet aircraft without help from ground crew and support equipment was a difficult proposition.  How about sneaking into an already started one – a two-seater being flown by a single pilot?  The idea sounded enticing, because gullible students going for their solo missions in the T-33 at No 2 Squadron seemed easy prey.  Students would surely obey any instructor’s command from outside, especially if it had something to do with aircraft safety.  A visual signal for a fuel or hydraulic leak, a flat tyre, even a finger pointed generally at the aircraft would get an immediate response from the student.  Chances were that the student could be sufficiently alarmed through hand signals about some external malfunction with the aircraft, and he would stop to find out more about the problem.

Flt Lt Matiur-Rehman had been an instructor in No 2 Squadron till he and his Bengali colleagues were grounded soon after the start of the counter insurgency operation in March. He was, however, given charge of the Ground Safety Officer with a mandate to check malpractices in aircraft maintenance and operations, thus authorising him to move around on the flight lines and tarmacs in an official transport.  Given his affability and, his wife’s friendliness with neighbourhood ladies, Matiur-Rehman was considered the least likely of the Bengalis to arouse suspicion.  He fitted the plot perfectly.  Apprehensions about the safety of his wife and two daughters were allayed by his Bengali colleagues when it was decided that the family would be moved, with prior coordination, to the Indian Consulate in Karachi, before the Hijack Day.[4]

Relaxing in the squadron crew room, Minhas ordered his Mess breakfast to be heated.  He could take his time to eat comfortably as he was not scheduled to fly that day, the visibility being poor for solo flying by students. Those scheduled for dual flying were busy checking their mission details, so as to prepare the briefing boards and get the pre-mission briefing from their instructors. One of them noted the scheduling officer adding Minhas’ name on the scheduling board for a ‘Solo Consolidation’ mission.[5]  The change in scheduling took place as the visibility had improved and students were cleared to fly solo.  This was conveyed to Minhas who was waiting for his breakfast in the Squadron tea bar.  He jumped up, half-excited, half-prepared and proceeded to get the mission details. After being briefed by his instructor Flt Lt Hasan Akhtar, Minhas quickly gathered his flying gear.  Breakfast had to wait, but Minhas hastily gobbled up a couple of gulaab jamans, the pilots’ favourite high-energy snack. He also shared a few swigs of a cold drink with his course-mate Plt Off Tariq Qureshi, before he headed to the flight lines to make good his 1130 hrs take-off time.  “That was the last we saw of him, munching snacks on his way out,” recalls Qureshi. Preliminaries and start-up was uneventful as the T-33, with the call sign ‘Bluebird-166,’ taxied out of the main tarmac.

In the meantime Matiur-Rehman, who had earlier checked the students’ flying schedule during a brief visit to the squadron, sped off in his private Opel Kadett car to the north-eastern taxi track that led out of the main tarmac. The sides of the taxi-track had thick growth of bushes, which concealed his position both from the ATC tower as well as the tarmac. As the aircraft approached, he was able to stop it on some pretext, as expected.  Seeing the instructor gesturing, Minhas must have thought that some urgent instruction was to be conveyed. After all, his mission had been scheduled as an after-thought, and something might have gone amiss in the haste.  He expected Matiur-Rehman to plug in his headset and talk to him on the aircraft inter-com.  Not encumbered by his flying gear (parachute, anti-G suit, life jacket and helmet), Matiur-Rehman easily stepped on to the wing and slipped into the rear cockpit through the open canopy.[6]

Squatting on a seat without a parachute (which also doubled as a seat cushion), Matiur-Rehman was in an awkward position to properly control the aircraft himself.[7] To compel the student to follow his instructions would have required the threat of use of lethal force; else, the student could have turned back, or just switched-off the aircraft.  A replica pistol recovered later from the wreckage explains Minhas’ predicament.[8]

At 1128 hrs, ATC Tower received Minhas’ call: “Bluebird-166 is hijacked!”  In the rough-and-tumble that followed, the T-33 got airborne from Runway 27 (heading 270°), at 1130 hrs.  The aircraft turned left, (a non-standard turn out of traffic) and started steering 120°.  It was seen to be descending down to low level and, in no time, disappeared from view.  Two more frantic calls, “166 is hijacked,” were the last that were heard from the T-33.

Not sure if he had heard it right, Flt Lt Asim Rasheed, the duty ATC officer understood what was going on only when the aircraft did an abnormal turn out of traffic and ducked down very low. Asim called up the Sector Operations Sector (SOC) to inform about the unusual incident; however, when the Sector Commander started asking for details, a quick-witted Asim dropped the phone to save precious time and called up the Air Defence Alert (ADA) hut.  “A T-33 is being hijacked. Scramble!” he ordered. Wg Cdr Shaikh Saleem, OC of No 19 Squadron, who had just arrived in the ADA hut after inspecting the flight lines, immediately rushed to the nearby F-86s along with his wingman, Flt Lt Kamran Qureshi.  Kamran, the sprightlier of the two, got airborne first, with the leader following closely; the pair was airborne within the stipulated time. The SOC had, however, no clue about the T-33’s position as it had descended to the tree tops and was not visible on radar.  In any case, about eight minutes had already elapsed since the T-33’s  take-off, and the scrambled pair of F-86s would not have been able to catch up before the border, even at full speed.  Some more critical time was also wasted when the F-86 pair was mistakenly vectored onto a B-57 recovering from Nawabshah after a routine mission.[9]

After a while, another pair of F-86s led by Flt Lt Abdul Wahab with Flt Lt Khalid Mahmood as his wingman, was scrambled. Wahab, who had been watching the unusual departure of the T-33 from outside the pilots’ standby hut, recalled later, “We knew something was wrong, we had seen the aircraft taxiing dangerously fast. After we got airborne, there was a lot of confusion. Nonetheless, we gave fake calls on ‘Guard’ channel that the F-86s were behind the T-33 and, it would be shot down if it did not turn back. However, with no real prospects of scaring Matiur-Rehman with warning bursts from the F-86’s guns, the only option that remained was to order Minhas to eject.  A flurry of radio calls then started, asking Bluebird-166 to eject.  There was no response, but the calls continued for several minutes, being repeatedly transmitted by the F-86s, as well as the SOC.”[10]

Crash site is roughly in centre of picture
The situation remained confused and it was apprehended that the hijack might have been successful.  The prevailing uncertainty was cleared up in the afternoon, when a phone call was received from Shah Bandar that a plane had crashed nearby and the aircrew had not survived.  The Base search and rescue helicopter was launched immediately and it was able to locate the wreckage at a distance of 64 nautical miles from Masroor, on a heading of 130°.  The tail of the T-33 showing its number 56-1622 could be seen sticking out in water-logged, soft muddy terrain at the mouth of Indus River, just 32 nautical miles short of the border. Estimated time of the crash was 1143 hrs.

Minhas’ body was found still strapped in the seat, 100 yards ahead of the wreckage, while Matiur-Rehman’s body was found clear of the seat, lying further ahead.  Both ejection seats had been thrown clear of the aircraft on impact and, there seemed no sign of ejection. The location of Matiur-Rehman’s body away from the ejection seat indicates that he was not strapped up, having being unable to free the stowed harnesses after he had hurriedly stormed into the cockpit.[11]

Investigators were baffled when the canopy was found to have a prominent scrape mark of the tailplane, while the tailplane was correspondingly dented by the canopy.  Normally, during ejection sequence or jettison of canopy alone, the canopy would have been rocketed up and, would have cleared the tail by a wide margin (this being the very purpose of the rocket thruster).  Now it seemed that the canopy had merely inched up into the airflow and had been blown into the tailplane.  Could Minhas have actuated the canopy opening lever to throw the unstrapped rear seat occupant overboard, and then safely recover the aircraft?[12] A proper procedure, though, would have been to use the canopy jettison lever which would have rocketed the canopy well clear of the tailplane. In the heat of the moment, it seems that Minhas did what came naturally to him.[13]

The massive canopy hitting the elevator would have deflected it downwards, causing a sudden nose-down attitude at a precariously low height.  Minhas would have then yanked back on the controls to prevent the aircraft from going into the ground.  The sudden and violent pitch-up – which was confirmed by eyewitnesses – resulted in the aircraft stalling out.  This is partially corroborated by the wreckage report of aircraft flaps found in the down position, implying a desperate need for vital lift to prevent stalling.  The rather flat attitude in which the aircraft fell, as well as the compact spread of the wreckage, also confirms the stalled condition of the aircraft.

Confronted with a very complex situation requiring quick thinking and steel nerves, Minhas was eventually able to counter Matiur-Rehman’s cunning design.  Despite having the option of ejecting safely, and in the course of action also tossing out the hijacker who did not have a parachute, Minhas ostensibly tried to save the aircraft. Sadly, the unusual attempt at opening the canopy had resulted in a chain of uncontrollable events that eventually caused the crash. Nonetheless, Minhas did manage to prevent the aircraft from being hijacked to an enemy country, laying down his life in the process.  He was destined to become the youngest star on Pakistan’s firmament of valiant heroes.  May Allah bless his soul and may his Nishan-i-Haider be an inspiration for the future defenders of Pakistan.

Cecil Choudhry’s account:

A few months back I had the opportunity along with a friend to spend an evening with Group Captain (R) Cecil Chaudry. Obviously the time was spent discussing his experiences. As it turned out Cecil was responsible for investigating the Rashid Minhas crash back in 1971 and told us a some details which are not known publicly.

The episode has become controversial over the past few decades with some people claiming that the Nishan-e-Haider award was politically motivated and perhaps the young Pilot Officer never deserved it. Also the media and school books information/portrayal of this episode has created some factual distortions. In the interest of hi story I am reproducing here substantially what Cecil told me about the incident. Obviously given that this discussion took place quite sometime back I do not remember his narration word to word but am reproducing the essential information. Also, I do not claim to have done any independent investigation but I believe that Cecil’s narration of events is an important input.

Now coming to the story,

It is important to remember that Rashid Minhas was a very young and inexperienced pilot. The crash took place during his second solo flight on T-33 aircraft. In the run up to the 1971 crisis the PAF had grounded all East Pakistani pilots in PAF and had assigned them ground jobs. As part of this Flt Lt Mati ur Rehman was made the Deputy flight safety officer of the base. The Flight Safety Officer was Flt Lt Basit (if I remember the name correctly).

Flt Lt Basit as FSO used to on occasions do surprise checks on the OCU students at the base. As part of this he used to stop these students while they were taxing out on a sortie and check if they had correctly stowed equipment in the cockpit or would query them on emergency checklists etc. As one would expect the student would get reprimanded if he was found wanting on any of this.

On the day of the crash when Rashid Minhas was taxing out on a dusk training sortie and saw Flt Lt Mati ur Rehman (Deputy Flight safety officer) signalling him to stop he naturally assumed that the purpose was to do a similar check. Therefore, he not only stopped but his attention shifted to the cockpit. This allowed Flt Lt Mati ur Rehman to enter the instructor seat and initiate roll for take off. By the time Rashid Minhas realized this the aircraft was well into the take off sequence. On this Rashid gave a call to the ATC saying that the aircraft is being hijacked. Now this was 1971, aircraft hijacking was not considered an imminent possibility that too in Pakistan and at an air force base. The ATC requested confirmation of the call and got one from Rashid. On this fighters on ADA were scrambled to intercept the aircraft Again as hostilities were not imminent at that time the fighters were not at the highest ADA level (I forget exactly the ADA level Cecil mentioned but I think that it was 10 minutes). However given that Mati ur Rehman knew where the Radar gaps were (being till recently an active pilot) and the dusk conditions an interception was not made.

No further information became available till late at night when the PAF base got a call from a police station near the Indian border stating that an aircraft had crashed near a village bordering India. Next morning a team was dispatched to the crash site. Following this an investigation into the incident was launched.

Now coming to the factors that led Cecil to believe that a struggle for control took place and the crash was perhaps intentional.

As the aircraft overflew a number of villages some eyewitnesses were available. According to them the aircraft was not flying straight and level but was banking or pitching up and down. If Mati ur Rehman had been in complete control of the aircraft this would have resulted in a straight and level flight. Only a struggle resulted in an erratic flight with probably Rashid Minhas trying to control the aircraft in one way and Mati ur Rehman counter acting.

Fl Lt Mati ur Rehman’s body was found some distance before the crash site while Rashid Minhas body was at the crash site, had gone through the instrument panel and in the nose of the aircraft. The aircraft had crashed nose first. Mati ur Rehman’s body also had a sand blasting type effect on one side which indicated that he was blown off from the aircraft and dragged quite a bit on the desert surface.

This evidence linked in with the earlier events. The manner in which Mati ur Rehman took over the aircraft did not allow him time to strap on. During the likely struggle for aircraft control he used his greater experience to counter Rashid’s efforts. Also he was sitting on the instructor’s seat and could over ride some of Rashid Minhas’s actions. However, the option to jettison off the canopy in an emergency was available with both pilots. Near the point of crash Rahid Minhas in his efforts, either intentionally or accidentally, jettisoned the canopy. As Mati ur Rehman was not strapped on he was blown off explaining the way his body was injured and the fact that it was found before the crash site.

This resulted in sudden force on the controls of the aircraft in one direction, as force applied by Mati ur Rehman to control the aircraft was removed. This along with perhaps the effect caused by the loss of canopy, low level and Rashid Minhas’s inexperience resulted in the crash of the aircraft.

I hope this clarifies some of the issues regarding this incident. Personally I would like to get hold of the PAF‘ official investigation report into the incident which should be more detailed and should also shed more light into the incident.


Poetic Perversion

Orya Maqbool Jan,
who is one of Pakistan’s best-known right-wing pundits, has turned his
attention to the heartbreaking
scandal of massive child abuse in the town of Kasur
. For those who may not
be up on this tragic affair, it has been reported that a local ring in the area
south of Lahore has been abducting children, abusing them, and using videos of
the abuse to blackmail the parents into silence while selling the videos to
consumers of child pornography. There are also allegations about the complicity
of the local police and politicians, and at least two police officials have
been disciplined so far. After the scandal broke in the media, the furor has
led to the government appointing a commission to “investigate” the whole
affair, but people are understandably skeptical. Meanwhile, there has been a
deluge of social analysis and much national soul-searching about the factors
that allowed such an unspeakable horror to go on for years. Of course, this is
not the first such incident – the previous
was, if anything, even more chilling – and reports of related evils
such as honor killings, bride burning, rape, etc., are all too common across
the whole region, not just in Pakistan. But it is natural for decent people to
ask: How could this happen in our society? Well, finally the wisdom of Mr. Orya
Maqbool Jan has produced
an answer
: It’s our literature. Oh, not trashy, pulp literature that gets
sold on the streets and gets serialized in the papers that pay Mr. Jan’s
salary, but the “high literature” of Urdu and Persian, a thousand years in the
making and recognized the world over as one of the great creations of the human
intellect. That literature, according to Mr. Jan, is so poisoned with
pederasty, so steeped in lust for young flesh, that it was but a matter of time
before something like the Kasur incidents happened. With uncharacteristic
restraint, he does not prescribe a remedy, but there’s a strong implication
that book burnings would be a good first step.

Mr. Jan’s article is in Urdu, and though many readers of this blog cannot
read it, I do not find in myself the will to translate it. Rather, having
summarized its core theme, I intend to use it as an occasion to comment on the
issue it raises as a dedicated consumer of the literature that Mr. Jan
excoriates. In particular, he points the finger of blame towards Urdu’s “god of
poetry”, Mir Taqi Mir, eighty-six percent of whose work, according to Mr. Jan,
is steeped in the evil of pederasty. Others who merit mention by Mr. Jan
include the great Persian master, Hafez Shirazi, and with a jump of a few
hundred years, the 20th century Urdu poet, Firaq Gorakhpuri, and the
great Urdu short-story writer, Saadat Hasan Manto. Two pious poets who get
praised for avoiding the filth are the great dreamer of geopolitical dreams,
Iqbal, and Altaf Hussain Hali, who, despite writing some great romantic poetry
himself, also predicted that most poets in his literary tradition were headed
to hell. Presumably, he did not wish to include in this list his beloved
mentor, Ghalib, on whose death he wrote the
most moving elegy
in the Urdu canon.

My first reaction upon reading Mr. Jan’s article was to feel sorry for him. Presented
with the vast and profoundly beautiful tradition of classical Farsi and Urdu
poetry, all he chooses to see in it is filth! However, like all bad analysis
based on unwarranted generalization, his article too contains a grain of truth.
Once you get past the odious hectoring, the ridiculous conflation of
homosexuality with pedophilia, the profound misunderstanding of romantic
expression in the classical poetic tradition, and just plain ignorance, the
author does have a very small point.
There is, indeed, a minor thread of pederasty that runs through the cultural
traditions underlying our beautiful poetry, and it does occasionally surface in
the poetry itself. But contrary to the implication in this article, it is not a
central theme – not even a significant marginal theme – in the literature. At
most, it is an occasional reference, and that too driven more by convention
than actual practice.

Much can be written on the long-standing prevalence of the evil practice of
pederasty across the world and about its seepage into literature, but here I
will focus on the issue of the poetic and linguistic confusions promoted by the
article at hand.

Mr. Jan refers to Hafez’ famous couplet

agar an tork-e sheeraazi ba-dast aarad dil-e maa raa
ba-khaal-e hindu-ash bakhsham samarqand o bokhaaraa raa

(If that Turk from Shiraz would take my heart in hand
I would give away Samarqand and Bokhara for the beauty spot on her cheek)

and somehow infers from it that the poet is referring to a young Turkish boy.
This inference may reflect Mr. Jan’s own psychological compulsions, but has no
basis in language. As is well-known, Farsi has no gender at all in terms of
pronouns or the handling of verbs and adjectives, which means that the gender
of a person being referred to cannot be inferred from text in the absence of
other information. Based on anecdotal justification from a few poets, some have
used this fact to assume that “the Beloved” in all of Persian poetry
is a young male, but that is patently absurd.

First, let it be noted that ghazal
poetry in both Farsi and Urdu is rife with lust. Sometimes, this can be
sublimated into a metaphorical and mystical “love of God” meaning,
sometimes not. When Hafez says:

zolf aashofte o kh(w)ee-karde o khandan-lab o mast
pirhan chaak o ghazalkh(w)aan o soraahee dar dast
nargisesh arbade-jooi o labash afsoos-konan
neem-shab mast be-baaleen-e man aamad binishast

(tresses wild, sweating, smiling, intoxicated,
dress open, singing poetry, flask (of wine) in hand,
eyes flashing combat, lips pouting sorrow,
drunk, she came at midnight to my bedside and sat down)

he clearly refers to a very Earthly personage, and a woman, based on the
description. The “tork-e sheeraazi” for whom Hafez was willing to
give away Samarqand and Bokhara was similarly unlikely to be male, let alone a young

In Urdu, the issue is complicated further because, when it adopted the
Persian idiom, it explicitly chose to refer to the Beloved as masculine – out
of a sense of propriety, it is said. But as anyone who reads this poetry with a
brain in their head knows, this is just convention. When Ghalib writes:

lay to looN sotay meN us kay paaoN kaa bosaa magar
aesi baatoN say vo mehroo badgumaaN ho jaaye gaa

Literally, it says, “Indeed, I could kiss his foot while he sleeps, but such
acts would prejudice that moon-faced one against me”. But clearly, in spite of
using the male gender, the poet isn’t referring to some “moon-faced” guy! As Ghalib’s
letters bear out – and as other material corroborates extensively – masculine terms
for the Beloved, e.g., “yaar”, “dost”, “but”, “janan”,
“dildaar”, etc., all, in fact, refer by default to women in the
poetry of Ghalib and others in his tradition. Sometimes this becomes quite
clear and even the gender shifts:

in paree-zaadoN se layN gay khuld mayN ham intiqaam
qudrat-e haq say yehee hoorayN agar vaaN ho gayeeN           (Ghalib)

(We will take revenge upon these fairy-folk in paradise if, by God’s will,
they became houris there).

or when in that fantastic poem Ghalib wrote about Calcutta, he says:

vo sabza-zaar haaye mutarraa ke hae ghazab!
vo naazneeN butaan-e khud-aaraa ke haaye, haaye!
sabr-aazmaa vo un ki nigaahayN ke haf-nazar!
taaqat-rubaa vo un ka ishaaraa ke haaye haaye!

(Oh! Those magnificent and verdant parks, and [in them] those haughty,
glamorous “idols”! Oh! The anguish caused by their glances – Heaven keep them!
– and Oh! Their gestures that induce utter helplessness [in me]!)

Of course, occasionally Ghalib throws out a curveball such as:

aamad-e khat say huaa hae sard jo baazaar-e dost
dood-e sham’-e kushta thaa shaayad khat-e rukhsaar-e dost

which literally means: “Since the emergence of facial hair (or the arrival
of a letter) has chilled the market for the Beloved’s favors, perhaps the down
on the Beloved’s cheek was like the smoke from a dying flame.” The play here is
on the dual meaning of “khat”, which can mean “facial hair” or “letter”, and on
the “chilling” in reference to both the end of love and the dying of the flame.
This couplet – which sounds much better in Urdu than in any possible
translation! – is mainly an exercise in linguistic virtuosity. This unfortunate
topic of facial hair is, indeed, something of a recurring theme in both Farsi
and Urdu classical poetry, but knowing something of the lives of some of these
poets (e.g., Ghalib), one can safely infer that they were more interested in
exploiting the double meaning of the word “khat” than in exploiting
any beardless youths.

There are some poets about whom there is separate anecdotal evidence
regarding their interest in boys. Even in these cases, the implication often is
that it represents a Platonic admiration – a worship of Divine Beauty, so to
speak – rather than sexual attraction. Many of these anecdotes are associated
with famous Sufis – notably Sarmad
and the Sufi poet
Fakhruddin Iraqi
– one of whose most famous ghazals (tirsaa-bache-i shangee,
shookhee, shikaristaani)
– describes a ravishing young Christian, albeit without
specifying gender. But the “Christian youth” (tirsa-bache)– like the “Magian
elder” (peer-e moghan) – also had a symbolic meaning within the Sufi poetic
tradition. Since Muslims were forbidden to traffic in wine, the tavern keepers
in Iran were mainly Magian (Zoroastrian) and many of the wine-servers young
Christians (or other non-Muslims). Since wine was used in Sufi poetry as a
metaphor for Divine knowledge, the Magian elder came to symbolize the mystical
Master, and the wine-server – sometimes represented as a Christian youth or a Magian youth (“moghbache”) –
acquired significance as the enabler of enlightenment. As such, this symbol is
found in the work of many poets, and though it is often accompanied by
descriptions of the individual’s beauty, a mystical reading is always possible
in these cases. A typical theme is how the youth entices the poet away from the
path of orthodoxy (e.g., this ghazal by Attar),
which, as any student of Sufi poetry would know, reflects the core idea that
traveling the (true) Sufi path of enlightenment requires abandoning the (false)
path of ostentatious orthodoxy. To read such poetry as representing love of
boys is “not even wrong”!

In India, we find the interesting case of the great poet, musician and
mystic, Amir Khusro, who often expressed his love for his mentor, the great
Sufi master Nizamuddin Auliya, as the love of a woman for her beloved. Though
such gender-bending may seem strange to us today, it is part of the Sufi poets’
recurring attempts to capture the essence of mystical love for the Master and
for God in comprehensible metaphors.

In the Urdu tradition, the attributes of the Beloved usually indicate that
the reference is to a woman. There are indeed exceptions – some of which Mr.
Jan quotes in his diatribe – but these are quite rare. Mir Taqi Mir and a few
poets of his time were probably the most serious culprits in this matter, which
does reflect a certain moral degeneration in that milieu, but even here this is
a very minor theme. Mr. Jan’s method of counting up all verses where the male
gender is used and assuming that they all refer to boys indicates either
ignorance or willful misrepresentation – probably the latter since Mr. Jan is
an educated man and himself a writer. He also does not seem to understand (or
acknowledge) that, in this idiom, the term “tifl” (literally: child) and
“bacha” (literally: child) do not have to mean little children. Rather, they
refer generically to a young person with the implication of innocence. One also
finds rather lecherous references to a “kamsin” Beloved, i.e., one of tender
age. In a milieu where girls were often married off in their early teens, such
references are not surprising – and, indeed, are still
in today’s pop culture.

Let it also be said that much of the talk of wine, women and song in
classical Farsi and Urdu poetry is, as they say, “baraaye she’r-goftan” (just for
the sake of turning a verse). Many great poets indeed led eventful lives that
provided the material for their work, and some of these experiences included
romance and revelry. But the impression that every poet was perpetually in the
throes of unrequited love with remarkably beautiful and bloodthirsty mistresses
who specialized in tormenting their lovers and chopping off their heads – well,
that is just fiction. We know enough of the lives of many poets to be certain
that, for them, all the talk of carnal pleasures was just a heady mix of
convention, metaphor and wishful thinking. Even Ghalib, who wrote about both
women and wine from personal experience, wrote in the highly romanticized and
exaggerated idiom of his tradition, and only someone utterly unfamiliar with
that tradition would read his romantic work – or that of other great poets such
as Hafez or Khusro or Mir Taqi Mir – in a literal way. To reject a vast,
profound literary corpus spanning a thousand years based on the existence of a
few – even a few thousand – examples of truly perverted lines is, to say the
least, rather perverse.

All this is not to minimize the issue of pederasty as a real problem in the
societies of the Middle East and South Asia, or that references to it in literature
are meaningless. After all, literature is the mirror of its environment. Both
Rumi and Sa’di mention pederasty in their poetry in a matter-of-fact way, which
tells us something about Persian society at the time. This declines with later
poets from Hafez onwards, but that is probably more because their work turned
towards other themes and became much less didactic. Given the implication in
Mr. Jan’s article that child abuse is mainly the doing of godless libertines,
it is worth recalling that the practice has been widely associated with
religious seminaries and schools – from predatory
schoolmasters at English public schools
to lustful mullahs in madrassas
and perverted priests in the Catholic Church (for which we now have plenty
of evidence
). Unfortunately, like slavery and violence against women, the
exploitation and molestation of children is an aspect of “man’s inhumanity
to man” that has existed in all human societies since time immemorial –
and is especially a problem in South Asia, where child
marriage is still a burning issue
. It is an unspeakable evil that must be
combated with every available resource. We are fortunate to live in an age when
this is at least recognized as an important imperative rather than the practice
being accepted or swept under the rug. But to blame this larger societal evil
on literature through selective, misguided and ignorant interpretations is itself
a kind of abuse.

Quaid e Azam and Iqbal. A meeting of minds..

An Imaginary meeting.. 
By Pakistani-American writer Asif Ismael. 

“Didn’t I tell you, sir, this idea of yours: a separate homeland for the Muslims, is a bit fanciful? And you continued to press me to come to Bombay.” Jinnah said, arranging the crease of his pants over his knees. Through a slit in the curtains hanging behind his host’s back, a sunbeam streamed into the room and fell on the silver base of a hooka placed next to his feet–its reflection distorted in his impeccably shined black shoe. He sat on the rocking chair stiff as a board, for even a slight movement made the chair squeak.

His host, Iqbal, lying down on his side in a four-post bed, had his temple glued to his fist: a man in deep thought–a posture imprinted on the minds of the masses–the bed-sheet crumpled around the point of Iqbal’s elbow.

Iqbal, for the last several minutes, had been staring at the floor, lost in thought. Actually he’d been marvelling at Jinnah’s shoes, glistening, on his Isfahan, planted firmly, an inch or two apart, one slightly ahead of the other, but not too far ahead, reflecting a certain precision which his poetic sensibility had found challenging to grasp.

“Look, it’s not over yet,” Iqbal said. He closed his eyes, grabbed his hooka pipe and began inhaling through his fingers clenched around the tip. The embers turned crimson within the bowl. The room smelled of imported tobacco. The toking filled the room with gurgles.

Jinnah’s lips quivered without emitting a sound as he tried talking through the loud and prolonged guggle of the hooka; then pressing them together he waited for the old man to finish his noisy inhale. The gurgling stopped followed by a spell of raspy cough that brought the host’s eyes to tears. Raising his eyebrows Jinnah took a deep breath, like a sigh, and holding it in his chest he waited for the cough to subside. And when it did and as he slowly exhaled the trapped air in his chest, he noticed drops of tears rolling down on Iqbal’s cheeks. The smoke, the swirling blue haze caught in the sunbeam over the head of his host, thrown in turmoil when touched by his breath. He decided to stay quiet.

A man in his twenties, his hair held in a ponytail, appeared at the door holding a pigeon, white as snow. He held the bird next to his chest, petting it. “Allama Ji, today is the day, when the whole town will know what kind of pigeons we breed here in Mohalla Kashmarian,” he said. He stopped in his tracks at the door upon noticing the stare of Jinnah. He was unsure, though, if those two arrows of steel were directed at him or at the pigeon.

“Oh, don’t mind this chap: He’s my pigeon breeder, the best in Punjab,” Iqbal said, clearing his throat.

“I’d better be going–I’ll have to catch the train early in the morning from Lahore. Meetings and more meetings!–I wonder when this will end, if ever,” Jinnah said, getting up. “Think about what I’ve said. Have a nice Pigeon Day.” Putting his black overcoat on, he glanced at the pigeon breeder who stood in the doorway lost in his world, his eyes on the pigeon, petting it softly. Jinnah put his hat on, shrugged his shoulder to ease them into his coat, and left the room.

“Allama Ji, is he the only one you’ve been able to find in the whole world to lead the Muslims of India? Sometimes, you seriously make me wonder, Allama Ji,” the pigeon breeder said, sitting on the rocking chair where Jinnah had sat. The pigeon emitted a squeal.

“Oh Bashir, my son, you’re too innocent–To win you must find the best of the breed. When the pigeon is flying high, looking like a dot, darting across the vast blue sky, who cares if it has been bred in Sailkot, Daska, Lahore, London, Paris or New York,” Iqbal said, getting off from the bed and sliding his feet into a pair of slippers. “Lets go to the rooftop.”

“Allama Ji, hurry up! Wearing a yellow shawl bright as sun, she’s been waiting for you on her rooftop,” Bashir said. “I’m going to carry your hooka. How about some daaroo?”

“Oh Bashir, you are a bastard of the highest order. Don’t you see the sun is still way too high? Do you want me to see four pigeons flying in the sky, instead of two?” Iqbal said, taking the bird from him. The pigeon fluttered a bit before settling in a new set of hands. “What a beauty! Look at her eyes! Wells filled with water sweet and pure; the delicate nose, the straight neck putting even a shaheen to shame!”

“Today’s the day, when the pigeons fly high–when the eyes meet across the sky; when love fills the old boot; and water rises in the new shoot,” Bashir said, stepping behind Iqbal on the stairway.

“Okay! Okay! just get the damn daaroo,” Iqbal said, turning around. He looked up and said: “The wind blows lifting the yellow sand off the golden dunes, carrying the musk of the beloved.”

From the rooftop they both saw Jinnah, hunched like a bow, getting his skinny frame into his black Bentley, his chauffeur standing stiff holding the car’s door open for him. A gang of kids availing this godsent opportunity of putting their hands on such a shiny creature, had touched the car to their heart’s content, leaving streaks of dirt in the spotless glimmer of its black armor.

With one foot in the car, Jinnah turned around as if he felt their gaze on his back. He looked up for an instant, and saw Iqbal and his pigeon breeder standing at the rooftop. They waved at him, smiling. Shaking his head he slid into his car. The driver shut the door softly and yelled at the kids already planning to run behind this sleek creature that looked so foreign and new in their old Mohalla Kashmarian.

Inside, the car smelled of tanned hide, tobacco, English tweed, and dog.

The Helper Boy

Today’s horrific child abuse scandal from Punjab (the exact extent is disputed, with official inquiry reports saying the numbers are smaller and hinting that families in a property dispute may be making up some of the accusations; but of course those inquiries may well be part of the coverup too) reminded me of this short story by Pakistani-American writer Asif Ismael. It was originally published in viewpointonline but seems not to be on their site any more. So I am posting it here..

The Helper Boy 

It’s a very cold morning. Rustam wipes the fog off the windshield of the parked truck and looks out. It’s dark except for a thin strip of light on the horizon. Not a soul in sight, except a dog hopping across the GT Road. Keeping one of its hind legs off the ground it lurches toward the parking lot of Hotel Paradise, the truck-drivers hotel. It wobbles across a dozen or so parked trucks, and heads over to the tea-stall located by the hotel’s entrance, where behind the counter a cloaked figure moves in the dark.
It must be Ibrahim, the owner; he sleeps in his shop, in a room at the back. A flame leaps in the air behind the counter, a flickering glow of orange. Ibrahim is hunched over his stove.
Rustam wraps himself in his blanket, quietly unlatches the truck’s door, and slips out into the cold. By the time he gets to the tea-stall his bones feel chilled. The dog, standing by the doorstep, wags its tail as if welcoming Rustam. It’s a female dog, its shriveled teats hanging under her belly empty. She is so thin that he can see her ribs through her scarred brown coat.
The door squeaks as Rustam pushes it to enter the shop. Inside, Ibrahim squats by the fire, throwing crumpled papers into the flames. He turns his head, looks at Rustam, and nods with a smile. His face is swollen and wrinkly from sleep, his fingers combing his fist-length, bushy black beard, and his eyes wide and staring, reflecting the fire. Rustam walks over to the stove, sits beside him, and moves the end of a log.
“It’s good to get up so early,” Ibrahim says, as he winks at Rustam. “Everyone is asleep except the two of us.” The flames have started to die. Rustam bends over, takes a deep breath, and blows on the logs till he runs out of breath. Ash swirls around his head, and gets in his eyes, making them teary. The wood catches fire. As he wipes his eyes with the back of his hand, he feels Ibrahim’s hand on his shoulder. He freezes. The logs crackle, sparks fly out of the earthen stove. “I wish I’ve a boy like you to help me out with my shop,” Ibrahim says, squeezing Rustam’s shoulder. “Your Ustad is so lucky to have you.”

Rustam blows on the fire as if he didn’t hear what Ibrahim just said. “What would you say if I ask your Ustad to leave you with me for a few days?” Ibrahim says. Rustam keeps his eyes on the fire. He can sense, through his blanket, the heat of Ibrahim’s hand over his shoulder. “You’re not in a talking mood today,” Ibrahim says. “Is everything okay?”
“Ustad will never let that happen, and even if he does, what makes you think that I’ll stay?” Rustam says, keeping his eyes on the flames. “I’ll take good care of you if you work for me,” Ibrahim says. He slides closer to Rustam and pulls his shoulder. Rustam stiffens, shrugs to loosen Ibrahim’s grip on him. “Alright! Alright! Keep the fire going,” Ibrahim says, taking his hand off Rustam. “I’m leaving to say my fajr—when I’m back I’ll make tea for you and your Ustad.”
Ibrahim stands up, unwrapping and then quickly wrapping his woolen shawl around his stocky frame, and heads out the door. Outside as he passes by the dog she wags her tail, looking at Ibrahim. He throws a kick at her, but she’s swift to move away, missing the point of his shoe. He bends down and picks up a rock. The dog, putting her tail between her legs, runs away.
“Mother-fuckers! Freeloaders! Can’t even wait for the sun to rise!” Ibrahim shouts, throws the rock at the dog but misses. He resumes walking. The flames now leap in the air, their tongues licking the cold off the room. The wall behind the stove is black with smoke, except for the clear, white outline of two hands, their finger spread apart and pointing upward. The hands seem to tremble behind the flames.
Rustam remembers the wood-stove of his house, its blackened hearth of baked mud, where he and his younger brother, Ameer, etched with the point of stones, the sun, with its wiggly rays rising from behind the mountains, birds and trees, and a hut with a stream flowing by its side. The dog has come back, and standing at the threshold she stares at Rustam. He looks around for leftovers.
A rat moves along a crack on the floor, sniffing, its fearless eyes fixed on Rustam, its whiskers jerking. Rustam searches in his pockets for any remaining bit of the roasted peanuts Ustad bought for him yesterday from the outskirts of Multan. He finds a piece stuck within the seams of his front pocket. He tosses it towards the rat. The rat sniffs the peanut, and then putting in its mouth it draws nearer, wanting more. Rustam shoos it away by suddenly getting up.
The dog stands by the door and stares at Rustam, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. She does that several times. Rustam walks towards her, but as he gets to the door, she starts limping towards the road. He follows her. She looks back every few steps as if to make sure he’s behind her. She crosses the GT Road and keeps walking, towards the line of massive Peepal trees over on a hillock.
The air is still and quiet During the day, the area around Paradise Hotel is crowded with truck drivers, hawkers, drug sellers, fruit vendors, the women holding babies begging; some crouching to touch the feet of the passersby for food or money; and once in a while a woman in a black burka shuffling nervously a few paces behind her pimp. Ustad, though he doesn’t like girls, is quite good in telling apart a taxi from a regular woman.
The dog stands still for a moment, looks back, and then disappears behind the mound populated with the Peepal trees. Rustam quickens his pace. Upon reaching the trees he stops, his eyes searching for the dog. He spots her a few meters to his right, a shadow between two massive trunks. As he gets closer, she disappears from view again. On reaching the point where she has gone out of sight, Rustam finds himself looking into a triangular hollow at the base of a trunk. He bends over to take a peek. It’s dark in there, but he’s able to count six puppies crawling around on hay-covered ground. The dog sits down and the puppies cling to her, their eyes closed. What can possibly be in those withered sacs?
The dog stands up, and the puppies fall off her and roll on the ground. She looks at Rustam and he knows what she wants. He turns around and heads back to the shop—this time with a quicker pace. She follows him. Passing the front of his truck, he halts, and upon hearing the snores of Ustad, he resumes walking. Ustad is still asleep, tucked comfortably in the cozy sleeping cabin of his truck. On most days he doesn’t get up unless Rustam shakes him up and hands him his cup of tea. After waking up, the first thing he’d do is to light up a cigarette. Some days Ustad pulls him inside the blanket, and after having him, he’ll ask him to light a cigarette for him. He’s been with Ustad for the last year and a half.
Rustam enters the shop. It’s still warm in here, although the fire is beginning to die. The dog sits at the threshold. Ibrahim is still at the mosque, praying. Rustam squats on the floor, moves the logs, and throws a ball of crumpled papers in the fire. Behind the smoke, the hands look as if they are underwater. He looks around for a pan of milk, but he knows that Ibrahim keeps things, things which can be stolen, in his room at the back. He goes to the rear end of the shop, and, standing in front of a padlocked door, peers through a crack into Ibrahim’s room. All he sees is darkness. A rustle on his back makes him turn around. Ibrahim stands right behind him, his lips quivering under his mustache, his eyes gleaming like coals.
Rustam marvels at his swiftness. How quietly he must have entered the shop and got all the way back here without making a sound? “What are you doing here?” Ibrahim whispers in his ear, his lips touching Rustam’s earlobe. “Nothing.” Rustam feels his heart begins to pound. Suddenly he feels very warm. “You want to come in?” Ibrahim leans forward and whispers in his ear, pressing his body against his.
“I need milk,” Rustam says. He inches back and tries to stay calm, the ridges of the door dig into his back. “Anything for you!” Ibrahim’s face is next to his. Rustam feels his warm breath on his cheeks. He smells of Nivea, the cold cream his Ustad also uses. “I need a lot of milk,” Rustam says, taking a deep breath and holding it in his chest, as he watches the hairy, pointed swelling of Ibrahim’s neck, an inch away from his face, moving up and down. “A lot of milk.”
“How much do you need?” Ibrahim says swallowing his saliva.
“A kilo, may be.”
“Do you have money?”
“I keep milk inside in my room,” he says. “There I also keep butter—nothing tastes as good as pure, desi butter with a freshly made, hot prathaa.”
Reaching above Rustam’s head Ibrahim twists a key in the padlock and lowers the chain. The door flings open with Rustam’s weight on it. Ibrahim pushes Rustam further inside the room, and once they are both inside the room, he shuts the door behind him. The room has no window; it smells of wax and cold cream.
Without turning the light on, Ibrahim moves his hand on Rustam’s back, all the way down. There’s no way out of this room for Rustam.
“I need a pan to carry milk,” Rustam says.
“Hot or cold?” Ibrahim’s voice is now shaking, as he massages Rustam’s buttocks.
“How much would you pay?” Rustam says, feeling Ibrahim pressing himself against him, his hands fast undoing his waist-cord.
“How much do you need?”
“Five hundred rupees.”
“I can have a fifteen year old girl for that money.”
“How about four,” Rustam says. “Plus a kilo of milk.”
“I’ll give you enough to make you happy,” Ibrahim says, pushing him towards the mattress. He’s twice Rustam’s size.
“But, first give me the milk. I promise I’ll come back,” Rustam says, but he knows further negotiations are futile.
“I will give you as much milk as you want, but after.” Ibrahim lowers his shalwaar and pushes him on the mattress. Rustam lays on his stomach and looks back, clutching onto the bed-sheet. Ibrahim, tucking the end of his kurta under his chin, throws himself on Rustam’s back. He is heavy and breaths like a mad bull. His beard feels like a sandpaper against Rustam’s nape.
“I always think about you, even when you’re not around.” Ibrahim pinches Rustam’s cheek, as he moves on top of him. “You’ve such dry skin. Let me rub some cold cream on you.”
Ibrahim puts a dab of cold cream on Rustam’s cheeks and some upon himself. It doesn’t take long.
Ibrahim gets up and leaves the room. Rustam stays lying on his belly and thinks about the dog standing outside on her three legs, her six hungry pups waiting for their mother, and his Ustad: what if he finds out about what’s just happened?
Rustam comes out of the room tying his waist cord. The morning light seems brighter after having dissolved the leftovers of the night. Squatting on the floor, in front of the fire, Ibrahim warms milk in a pan. Rustam sits down by his side, holds out his hands to the fire, and glances at Ibrahim. As if looking for something on the floor on the other side, Ibrahim turns away his face; his hands tremble as he tries to keep the blackened pan steady on the flames.
“I think it’s quite warm now; do you need some sugar?”
“Where’s the money?” Rustam says. Ibrahim takes out a bundle of crumpled ten-rupee notes. He wets his thumb with his saliva and starts counting. “I can only give you fifty for now.” He holds five ten rupees notes out to Rustam.
“Why don’t you keep it for yourself,” Rustam says. “I don’t need money.”
He picks up the warm pan of milk from the ground.
“Don’t be angry with me now. Next time I’ll give you much more, I promise.” From the weight of the pan Rustam can tell it’s probably less than a kilo of milk.
“Do you want some sugar?” Ibrahim asks.
“I’ll take it to my truck,” Rustam says. The warm pan feels good against his belly. “I will bring your pan back. No, I don’t want sugar.”
“Promise me you won’t ever tell your Ustad.” Ibrahim moves the logs and stares at the flames. His beard shines as it reflects the glow of the fire. A log hisses, sparks fly out of the fire and disappear in midair. “You also don’t tell him, that I’ve taken so much milk from you,” Rustam says, walking towards the door.
At the threshold, the dog looks at Rustam curiously as he comes out of the shop holding the pan against his belly. She hops back towards her puppies, and he follows her. From the now crimson horizon, a beam of light shoots across the sky, flooding the air with a warm, golden hue.
Rustam’s face breaks in a smile. Ustad has promised him a girl in Lahore, at their next stop. Ustad has made advanced arrangements for that. Since he’s grown in size, he’s begun to like girls. “Girls are expensive to get, but I’d get anything for you as long as it makes you happy,” Ustad has told him.
Rustam knows deep inside that Ustad has been good to him; but he also knows that time has come to be on his own; he knows Ustad is not going to let him go that easy; only if he could get married. Rustam follows the dog, feeling the pleasant warmth spreading over his entire body. With the smile still on his face, he imagines himself lying on top of the naked back of a girl, moving.

The End

The (British) Indian Army’s Legacy in India and Pakistan

An old post from Dr Hamid Hussain. Reposting here to save it for future reference.

Lest We Forget
Hamid Hussain

Pakistan and India are now seen through the prism of mutual hostility. However, armies of both countries share a common heritage. During the Raj, an amazing feat was achieved when a fine army consisting of local soldiers and commanded by British officers was built from scratch. Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Gurkha soldiers served together on all battlefields. After First World War, officer rank was opened for Indians and a number of young men joined the army after graduating from Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and then Royal Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun. A generation which trained together and fought together as comrades in Second World War later served with Indian, Pakistan and Bangladesh armies.

First native Commander-in-Chief of Indian army General K. C. Cariappa (nick named Kipper) and first native Chief of Staff (COS) of Pakistan army Lieutenant General Nasir Ali Khan were both from 7 Rajput Regiment (it consisted of 50 percent Punjabi Muslims and 50 percent Hindu Rajputs). In August 1947, when army was divided between the two countries, Muslim element of Rajput Regimental Center at Fatehgarh consisting of four officers and six hundred other ranks was given a cordial farewell. Among the four officers was Tajjamal Hussain who joined 7 Rajput as a young man but later fought against India in 1965 and 1971 wars. His parent regiment was fighting from Indian side. In more recent times, a Pakistani officer deployed along border walked to the Indian sentry who was a Rajput and started a conversation. The Pakistani officer told him that they were also Rajputs. Indian soldier promptly replied that ‘taan Ranghar nain; kyon key taan zamin te daroo donoon chad ditte’ (you are no more Rajput because you have given up both your land and alcohol’.)

In 1927 a young man from Hazara left for Sandhurst to become officer in Indian army. He was in number 5 company. One of his course mates in the same platoon was a Bengali Hindu boy. A picture of the platoon shows both young lads who were commissioned on February 02, 1928. Both served with British Indian army; Muslim boy joining 1/14 Punjab Regiment (now 5 Punjab of Pakistan army) and Hindu boy elite 7th Light Cavalry (now an armor regiment of Indian army). In 1947 after partition of India, they joined the armies of newly independent India and Pakistan. In 1965 war, the young Muslim man from Hazara Field Marshal Ayub Khan was President of Pakistan while Bengali Hindu General Jayanto Nath Chaudri (nick named Mucchu Chaudri) was Commander-in-Chief of Indian army.

In Sandhurst, two young men Brij Mohan Kaul (nick named Bijji) and Akbar Khan were together. In 1942, Kaul and Akbar were again together for staff course in Quetta. In 1947 Kaul was defense attaché in Washington but came back to India when hostilities between Pakistan and India started over Kashmir. He was with Jawaharlal Nehru on his trip to Jammu while from the other side now Brigadier Akbar Khan was orchestrating the war with code name of General Tariq. After graduating from Sandhurst, B. M. Kaul joined 5th Battalion of 6th Rajputana Rifles (5/6 RR). Battalion Quartermaster was Captain Umrao Singh. Battalion was stationed in Razmak, Waziristan. At the same time another battalion stationed at Razmak was 6th Battalion of 13th Frontier Force Rifles (6/13 FFR). Lieutenant Muhammad Musa of 6/13 FFR (now One Frontier Force Regiment of Pakistan army) was Kaul’s friend. In Razmak, Waziristan at one time there were several young Indian officers serving with elite 6/13 FFR. The list included Muhammad Musa (later General), Akbar Khan (later Major General), Mohammad Yusuf (later Major General) and Mohindar Singh Chopra (later Major General). After a stint at Army Service Corps when Kaul tried to get back to infantry, he asked for transfer to his friend’s 6/13 FFR (then commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Russel nick named Russel Pasha) but could not get the transfer. Hostilities between India and Pakistan started in the fall of 1947 in Kashmir and continued for over a year. An audacious Kaul rang up now Lieutenant Colonel Musa stationed at Lahore that he was going to visit him. The uniforms of both armies looked alike. Kaul crossed the border and all along he was saluted and waved by Pakistani soldiers. He went to Lahore cantonment and showed up at Musa’s office. Musa was shocked to see him in his office as Musa’s boss Major General Muhammad Iftikhar Khan was in the next room. Musa quickly put Kaul in a jeep and under escort sent him safely back to India through Ferozpur border. Kaul later became Chief of General Staff (CGS) and Corps Commander of Indian army and Musa commander-in-chief of Pakistan army.

Nawabzada Sher Ali Khan was the scion of princely state of Pataudi. He graduated from Sandhurst and joined one of the oldest cavalry regiment; 7th Light Cavalry. After partition, he opted for Pakistan. In 1947-48 Kashmir war he was commanding 14th Parachute Brigade. His parent battalion was also in Kashmir theatre fighting from Indian side. Tanks of Pataudi’s parent battalion 7th Cavalry then commanded by Lt. Colonel Rajindar Singh ‘sparrow’ (later Major General) captured Zojila. This was a first rate performance by 7th Cavalry operating tanks at such high altitude.

In December 1924, S. P. P. Thorat and Nawabzada Agha Mahmud Raza sailed together from Bombay to join Sandhurst. Thorat joined 1/14 Punjab (now 5 Punjab of Pakistan army). In December 1928, in Aurangabad, Second Lieutenant Muhammad Ayub Khan joined the battalion. Thorat as a senior Indian officer groomed newly arrived Ayub Khan. After 1947-48 Kashmir conflict, Thorat visited Lahore several times as part of Indian delegation. Every time, he made sure to visit his parent battalion; the rear party of which was stationed in Lahore. Raza became Major General in Pakistan army and Ayub Khan Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of Pakistan army. 1930 batch of Sandhurst included Mian Hayauddin (4/12 Frontier Force Regiment, now 6 FF) and Umrao Singh (5/6 RR). Hayauddin (nick named Gunga) served with the Sikh company of the battalion and was fluent in spoken and written Gurmukhi (Sikh language). In 1948, he was commanding Bannu Brigade and fought against India in Poonch sector in Kashmir winning gallantry award of Hilal-e-Jurat. He later rose to become Major General in Pakistan army. Umrao commanded 5th Infantry Brigade of Indian army in Kashmir in the same conflict (he was wounded in action). He later became Lt. General and in 1962 Indo-China conflict with China was commanding XXXIII Corps.

K. S. Thimayya (nick named Timmy) joined 4/19 Hyderabad regiment (now 4 Kumaon Regiment). His colleagues were Lieutenant Ishfaq ul Majid, Captain Kunwar Daulat Singh and Captain S. M. Shrinagesh. Thimaya became Adjutant of the battalion and groomed many new officers including Mohammad Azam Khan. Thimayya became Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of Indian army and Azam Lieutenant General and Corps commander in Pakistan army. Captain Akbar Khan and Captain T. P. Rajan served together with 7/13 FFR when battalion was stationed in Kohat. Akbar became Major General in Pakistan army while Rajan retired as Colonel of Indian army. During Second World War, several Officers Training Units (OTUs) were established in India to grant emergency commissions to new officers. The first one was established in Mhow. Three company commanders chosen for this OTU were Majors Mohammad Musa, Moti Sagar and Pritam Kirpal. Musa trained many non-Muslim officers who served with Indian army and Sagar and Kirpal many Muslim officers who later served with Pakistan army. Moti was from 1 Rajput and later rose to become Lt. General and GOC-in-C of Southern command of Indian army.

Gul Hassan joined 9/13 FFR in 1942 and served with the Sikh company of the battalion. Later he served as Quarter Master and Adjutant of 3rd Cavalry when it was commanded by Lt. Colonel K. M. Idris. After partition, he joined 5th Probyn’s Horse (where he served as Adjutant, Second and in command and finally Commanding officer). Later, he became Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan army. Many of his comrades served with Indian army and his old 3rd Cavalry fought in many conflicts with Pakistan. Muhammad Khan Jarral was commissioned in 1942 from Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun. His company commander at the academy was Major Satyawant Mallanah Shrinagesh (He served as Adjutant of 4/19 Hyderabad and commanded 6/19 Hyderabad). Jarral joined 2nd Jammu & Kashmir Rifles (J&KR) and fought in Second World War in different theatres. Pakistan and India got entangled in Kashmir immediately after independence. Jarral was appointed adjutant of Gilgit Scouts. In Zoji La he was commanding A and B wings of Gilgit Scouts against Indian troops. Lieutenant General Srinagesh was commanding Indian troops in Kashmir. Jarral fought against his previous company commander at Dehra Dun in this conflict.

During Second World War, in African theatre, several British Indian army regiments fought against Italians. In the battle of Keren, 6/13 FFR, 3/2 Punjab and 2/5 Marhatta fought side by side. 6/13 FFR was commanded by Lt. Colonel Dudley Russel (he won Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Military Cross (MC) and later rose to Lt. General rank). Subedar of the Sikh company of 6/13 FFR just before the attack told his men ‘Guru de saun, Unnath di kasam, char jao’ (in the name of Guru, swearing by 59th, attack). 59 was the old number of 6/13 FFR when it was designated 59th Sindh Camel Corps. In view of many troubles which the battalion caused in the past, it was also nick named ‘Garbar Unnath’ (troublesome 59th). Captain Anant Singh Pathania (later Major General) of 6/13 FFR won MC in this battle and another officer of the battalion Major Vidya Dhar Jayal (later Brigadier) won a DSO. Both officers served with Indian army later. 6/13 FFR is now One Frontier Force (FF); senior most battalion of the Frontier Force Regiment of Pakistan army.

In the battle of Casino in the spring of 1944, 17th Infantry Brigade consisting of 4/12 FF (now 6FF), 1/10 Baluch (now 6 Baloch) and 19th Infantry Brigade consisting of 6/13 FFR and 3/8 Punjab (now 3 Baloch) participated. Muslim, Hindu and Sikh soldiers and officers fought under the same flag. When Pathan company of 6/13 FFR was severely mauled, Dogra company led by Major Kashmir Singh Katoch (later Lt. General) cleared many machine gun nests. In 1965 war, Kashmir Singh was Lieutenant General commanding XV Corps of Indian army against Pakistan. Kashmir Singh’s parent battalion (now 1 FF of Pakistan army commanded by Lt. Colonel Shabbir Ali Khan) was fighting Indian army in Khem Karan area. In the spring of 1945, at the battle at Gothic Line, 1/5 Marhatta (now 1 Marhatta Light Infantry of Indian army) and 6/13 FFR (now 1 FF of Pakistan army) fought together. Both battalions were held by heavy German machine gun fire. Soldiers of both these battalions fought with utmost gallantry against the common foe and won two well deserved Victoria Crosses. Namdeo Jadhao of 1/5 Marhatta and Ali Haider of 6/13 won Victoria Cross for their bravery. On Burma front, two elite cavalry regiments 5th Probyn’s Horse and 9th Deccan Horse were part of 255 Tank Brigade. 5th Horse is now elite regiment of Pakistan army and 9th Horse holds the same position in Indian army. In Rangoon, many young officers including Captain Gul Hassan, Captain Riaz ul Karim (nick named Bacchu Karim later became Major General), Captain I. U. Babar, Captain S. S. Mustafa, Major S. S. Kalha (Artillery), Major Ranbir Singh (7 Rajput Regiment), D. C. Basapa (16th Cavalry) and many others belonging to different religions and ethnicities lived and fought together.

Sam Manekshaw (later Indian army chief) and Haji Iftikhar Ahmad (later Major General in Pakistan army) were buddies at military academy in Dehra Dun. Sam won his Military Cross in Burma with his parent battalion; 4/12 Frontier Force regiment (now 6 FF of Pakistan army). His friend in the battalion was Atiq ur Rahman (nick named Turk). In 1947, Lieutenant Colonel Sam, Major Yahya Khan (later Pakistan army chief) and Major S. K. Sinha (later Vice Chief of Army Staff of Indian army) were serving together at Military Operations Directorate in Delhi. After 1971 war, when Sam came to Pakistan for negotiations, his host was now Lieutenant General Atiq. Dinner was served in silverware of Sam’s parent battalion; 6 FF.

Second Lieutenant Permindra Singh Bhagat of 21 Field Company was attached to 3/12 Frontier Force Regiment (now 5 FF) when he won his Victoria Cross at the battle of Keren. Bhagat later rose to become Lt. General of Indian army; however he still had some bond with old PIFFERS (nick name of Frontier Force). At the time of partition, Sikh company of 3/12 FF was absorbed in Sikh Light Infantry (SLI). Bhagat remained Colonel of SLI even after his retirement. Zorawar Chand Bakhshi (nick named Zoru) joined 16/10 Baluch Regiment and was posted to Pathan company. He fought Second World War with his Pathan comrades. Once he was asked by his Commanding Officer (CO) to take Dogra company soldiers for a task and Zoru was not happy as he wanted to take his own Pathan soldiers. It was in this action led by Zoru that Sepoy Bhandari Ram won Victoria Cross. In 1965 war he fought against his former Pathan comrades now part of Pakistan army as Brigadier (commanding 68th Brigade) and in 1971 as Major General (commanding 26th Division).

In Libyan theatre, Rommel’s Africa Corps overran 7th Armored Division of Indian army (GOC Major General Frank Messervy escaped capture by posing as an orderly). Many Indian officers became prisoners and the list included Major P. P. Kumaramangalam (2nd Field Regiment of Artillery), Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan and Yaqub Khan (18th Cavalry). Many of these prisoners were housed in a camp together. This camp had the distinction of holding a record number of future senior officers including three future army chiefs of two countries under its roof. The senior most officer Major Kumarangalam (later General and Indian army chief) was appointed commanding officer of the camp. His assistant was Lieutenant Shamsher Singh, his adjutant Captain Yahya Khan (later General and Pakistan army chief) and Quartermaster Captain Tikka Khan (later General and Pakistan army chief). Other inmates were Captain Yaqub Khan( later Lieutenant General of Pakistan army but demoted to Major General rank when he declined to launch military action in 1971 in East Pakistan), Ajit Singh (later Lieutenant General), Captain Kalyan Singh (later Major General), Naravne (later Major General), Lieutenant Shamsher Singh (later Brigadier) and Lieutenant Hissam Effendi (later Brigadier).

In Second World War, some of the captured Indian officers and soldiers were organized into Indian National Army (INA) by their Japanese captors. Several who refused to join INA were tortured and kept in very difficult circumstances. Among them were two brothers Lt. Colonel Gurbakhsh Singh then commanding Jind State Forces and Captain Harbakhash Singh (later Lt. General) of 11th Sikhs as well as men of 5/13 FFR. Harbakhsh later commanded 11th Sikh in 1947-48 Kashmir conflict against Pakistan and in 1965 war he was GOC-in-C of Western Command. The case of 1/14 Punjab (now 5 Punjab of Pakistan army) in Second World War is a very strange one. Before their capture by Japanese, the battalion performed very well against Japanese and had lost three officers, five Viceroy Commissioned Officer (VCOs) and thirty eight men killed in action. Several officers of 1/14 Punjab including Shah Nawaz Khan, Gurbakhash Singh Dhillon, Gurdip Singh Dhillon, Mohan Singh Deb, Muhammad Zaman Kiani and Abdul Rashid joined INA during their captivity. Many soldiers of the battalion followed their Indian officers. Later, Ayub Khan re-raised the battalion in 1946 in Mir Ali Waziristan. His Second-in-Command was a Sikh Major G. S. Brar. After partition, Shah Nawaz Khan stayed in India and served as Minister of State for Railways in Nehru cabinet. However, he sent his son Mahmood Nawaz to Pakistan where he joined his father’s parent battalion 1/14 Punjab now designated 5 Punjab. He fought in 1965 war from Pakistan side against India. 1/14 produced two Pakistan army chiefs; Ayub Khan and Asif Nawaz and several generals of Pakistan and Indian army including Lt. General S. P. P. Thorat and Major General Anis Ahmad Khan of Indian army (Anis opted for Indian army at the time of partition. He was Director Supplies & Transport of Indian army from 1949-53. After retirement he moved to Pakistan where his brother-in-law Major General Shahid Hamid was Master General of Ordnance of Pakistan army) and Lt. General Alam Jan Mahsud of Pakistan army. Ayub’s son Gohar Ayub also joined his father’s battalion.

After Second World War, Field Marshal Claude Auchinlek asked two Indian officers to travel to cantonments to assess the causes of lower morale of officers. The two chosen officers were Azam Khan and Man Mohan Khanna. Both later became Lt. Generals in Pakistani and Indian armies respectively. Lt. Colonel Sarabjit Singh Kalha CO of 2/1 Punjab (now 2 Punjab of Pakistan army) was one of the most decorated officer of Indian army winning DSO, MC and Bar. He was killed in Indonesia when after Second World War some Indian troops were stationed there.

Many infantry and cavalry regiments which became part of Indian and Pakistani army after partition served together in higher formations. Many battalions fought together in different theatres in First and Second World Wars. 3rd Indian Motor Brigade consisted of three elite cavalry regiments; 2nd Lancers, 11th Prince Albert Victor’s Own (PAVO) Cavalry and 18th Cavalry. 2nd Lancers and 18th Cavalry were allotted to India and 11th Cavalry to Pakistan. 3rd Independent Armored Brigade consisted of three elite cavalry regiments; 17th Poona Horse, 18th Cavalry and 19th Lancers. In 1947, 17th Horse and 18th Cavalry were allotted to India and 19th Lancers was to Pakistan. 17th Poona Horse was stationed at Risalpur and when it embarked for India, it left its equipment to incoming 13th Lancers. Indian army regiments had class squadrons and companies from a single class. In 1947, Muslim companies and squadrons of regiments allotted to India were sent to Pakistan and vice versa. Sikh C Squadron of 13th Lancers joined 17th Poona Horse while Muslim Rajput Squadron of 14th Sindh Horse joined 13th Lancers.

In 1947 when regiments were divided between the two countries some interesting incidences occurred. It was decided to assign elite Guides (10th) Cavalry to India and 14th Sindh Horse to Pakistan. The reason was that Guides Cavalry had two non-Muslim (Sikh and Dogra) squadrons and one Muslim (Pathan) squadron. On the other hand, Sindh Horse had two Muslim (Muslim Rajput and Pathan) squadrons compared to one non-Muslim squadron. Commanding Officer of Guides convinced the military authorities that in view of the long association of Guides with frontier as well as regimental center being located at Mardan in Pakistan, Guides should be allotted to Pakistan. In return Sindh Horse was allotted to India. Punjabi Muslim Squadron of 4th Hodson Horse and Pathan Squadron of 14th Sindh Horse joined Guides Cavalry when later was allotted to Pakistan. Muslim Rajput Squadron of 14th Sindh Horse went to 13th Lancers. After partition, during transition times, several non-Muslim officers continued to command many battalions allotted to Pakistan. CO of 7/1 Punjab (now 18 Punjab) was Lieutenant Colonel Budh Singh till November 1947, CO of 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment (now 6 FF) was Lt. Colonel Gupta till November 1947 and CO of 1/13 Frontier Force Rifles (now 7 FF) was Lt. Colonel Brieshwar Nath till November 1947.

In 1947-48 Kashmir conflict, comrades who fought together in Second World War so recently were now facing each other. Kalwant Singh, L. P. Bogey Sen and M. M. Khanna fought from Indian side while Mian Hayauddin, Azam Khan, Sher Ali Khan Pataudi and Akbar Khan from Pakistani side. 4/10 Baluch (now 11 Baloch), 7/10 Baluch (now 15 Baloch), 2/1 Punjab (now 2 Punjab), 1/15 Punjab (now 9 Punjab), 2/12 Frontier Force Regiment (now 4 FF), 1/13 Frontier Force Rifles (now 7 FF) had barely said goodbye to the non-Muslim companies (Dogra and Sikh) of their battalions when they faced them in Kashmir. Commander of 50 Para Brigade Brigadier Y. S. Paranjpye and commander of 77 Para Brigade Brigadier Mohammad Usman who until very recently did a superb job of internal security duty in Pakistan found themselves fighting from Indian side in Kashmir. The Sikh company of 1/1 Punjab (now 1 Punjab of Pakistan army) commanded by Major S. S. Pandit said goodbye to their Muslim colleagues and on reaching India was sent to Kashmir. They were attached to 2 Dogra during the war and later absorbed in 1 Sikh. In October 1947, Dogra B Company of 4/13 Frontier Force Rifles (9 FF) left for India. Barely two months later, Dogra PIFFERS ended up in Kashmir where they became E company of 4 Kumaon then commanded by Lt. Colonel M. M. Khanna. Khanna was buddy of Pakistani officer Brigadier Azam Khan who had joined 4 Kumaon as a young lad and was now commanding 25th Brigade of Pakistan army against his former comrades. Khanna narrowly escaped death at the hands of his former comrades when his party was ambushed and fourteen out of fifteen members of the CO’s party were killed. G. G. Bewoor, L. P. Sen and D. K. Palit were all Baluchis (all three had joined Baluch regiment when they got their commission). In 1947 in Kashmir, Bewoor commanded 2 Dogra, Palit commanded 3/9th Gurkha Rifles and Sen was commander of 161 Brigade against Pakistanis. On Pandu, First Bihar was fighting against Pakistani troops while their former second in command and first ‘native’ commanding officer Habibullah Khan Khattak (later Major General) was now serving with Pakistan army. In 1948, Colonel M. G. Jilani took command of Gilgit Scouts. His parent battalion was 1 Mahar which was fighting form Indian side in Kashmir.

In 1965 war in Sialkot sector, Indian Ist Armored Division commanded by Major General Rajindar Singh slugged it out with Pakistan’s 6th Armored Division commanded by Major General Abrar Hussain. Elite cavalry regiments of India; 4th Hodson Horse, 16th Cavalry and 17th Poona Horse fought some sanguine battles with elite Pakistani regiments; Guides (10th) Cavalry and 11th PAVO Cavalry. Lt. Colonel Nisar Ahmad of 25th Cavalry who fought against 17th Poona Horse commanded by indomitable Colonel A. D. Tarapur in 1965 war admired his opponent and later told his superiors that ‘it was a quite an education to listen to tarapurwala’s wireless intercepts. He maintained a total grip over his command’. At the battle of Assal Uttar in 1965, 5th Probyn’s Horse, 6th Lancers and 19th Lancers of Pakistan army fought against 3rd Cavalry (Pakistan’s then Director General Military Operations Brigadier Gul Hassan has served as Adjutant of this battalion before partition) and 9th Deccan Horse of Indian army.

In the tragic days of partition, horrific violence was perpetrated on both sides of the border. In these times of madness, Muslim and non-Muslim officers and men of Indian army performed the difficult task of internal security duty to the best of their abilities. 77 Para Brigade commanded by Brigadier Y. S. Paranjpye was moved from Quetta to Multan on internal security duty. 1 / 2 Punjab (2 Punjab group of Punjab Regiment was allotted to India) of the brigade commanded by Lt. Colonel Gurbachan Singh safeguarded non-Muslim and Muslim convoys on both sides of the border. Punjabi Muslim, Dogra and Sikh sepoys of this fine battalion performed their duties and India could be proud of having such a fine battalion among its army ranks. In several cases, Muslim officers commanded non-Muslim troops and vice versa and they shot at their fellow co-religionists without any fear or favor to protect life and property. Second in command of 5/6 Rajputana Rifles Major Haq Nawaz commanded Hindu Jats and Hindu Rajputs and they protected Muslim convoys in eastern Punjab and Captain Syed Ahmad Mansur of 1 Mahar took his Marhatta company to escort Muslim and non-Muslim convoys on both sides of the border. In Sialkot, Major Iftikhar Janjua (later Major General) was officiating commanding officer of 3/10 Baluch (now 10 Baloch). A group of Muslims approached him and told him that they will be searching the houses of non-Muslims of the area and he should not be concerned. Iftikhar kicked their spokesperson out of the room with the warning that if anybody tried to take law in their own hands he will shoot them. Many other fine men and officers of Gurkha Rifles, Baluch Regiment, Garhwal Rifles, 1 Kumaon and 2/15 Punjab (now 10 Punjab of Pakistan army) performed splendidly in those trying times.

There was a degree of comradeship among many officers despite problems between India and Pakistan. Thimayya was stationed in Jallandhar in 1947-48 and he visited Lahore where his host was his old friend Major General Iftikhar Khan who was then commanding 10th Division of Pakistan army. General K. M. Cariappa also used to stay with his old friends during his official visits to Pakistan which was frowned upon in India. In the winter of 1947 while fighting was going on between Indian and Pakistani troops, Cariappa was stuck in Jammu due to high floods in rivers and a blocked Banihal pass due to landslide. The only good road was from Jammu to Sialkot. Cariappa wanted to go to Sialkot and via Lahore enter India. He had his GSO-2 call GSO-1 of his good friend Major General Iftikhar Khan then commanding 10th Division in Lahore to get his permission. He got the reply that Iftikhar was out of town and Mrs. Iftikhar was not well therefore they will not be able to receive General Cariappa. In 1948 after cease fire, Indian delegation consisting of Lt. General Srinagesh, Major General Thimaya, Brigadier Sam Manekshaw and Major S. K. Sinha (later Lt. General) was entertained by Brigadier Shahid Hamid (later Major General) of Pakistan army. In 1965 war, General ® Cariappa’s son Flight Lieutenant K. C. Carriappa (nick named Nanda) flew sorties against Pakistan. His jet was shot down and he was captured in Pakistan. Cariappa had served Ayub Khan’s brigade commander and children of Cariappa and Ayub were known to each other. When young Cariappa was recuperating from his injuries in a military hospital in Pakistan, Ayub’s wife and son Akhtar Ayub visited him. There is unconfirmed report also that Cariappa was given a tour of President House where he roamed around calling President Ayub Khan uncle. However, both Pakistanis and Indians denied that this happened and it may just one of the folklore. Ayub also sent a message to General ® Cariappa that his son was fine. He offered to release him but as was expected from the fine officer and gentleman like Cariappa he said ‘I will ask no favor for my son which I cannot secure for every soldier of the Indian Army. Look after all of them. They are all my sons’. In January 1966, Cariappa was repatriated to India along with all other Indian prisoners of war. He later rose to become Air Marshal of Indian Air Force.

In 1963, Indian aircraft carrier Vikrant was commanded by Vice Admiral N. Krishnan. Pakistani cruiser ‘Babar’ commanded by Syed Mohammad Ehsan was sighted very close to Vikrant. Krishnan knew Ehsan from old days and sent a warning message stating ‘Syed, don’t come closer we are ready for you’. Ehsan replied ‘Krish; I have Ayub (Pakistani army chief) on board – bound for Colombo. Thought will have a dekho (look) at my old country. Cordial greetings’. Even during war there was a certain elan and respect between soldiers of both armies. In 1971, a Pakistani officer on patrol along Sindh border saw a lone Sikh soldier. He yelled at the soldier accompanying him saying ‘ Oye Khalsa ye; bandooq dey, bandooq hey’ (I see the Sikh; give me the gun, give me the gun). The Sikh soldier was close enough to hear all this commotion. Excited officer took his soldier’s automatic gun and fired a burst of bullets towards the Sikh soldier at close range. Bullets hit the Sikh and his body went in the air. The Sikh soldier yelled ‘thand pay gaye ye’ (are you satisfied now) and dropped dead on the ground. In 1999, during Kargil war, commanding officer of 8th Sikhs sent a recommendation for bravery award for his worthy opponent Captain Sher Khan (27th Sindh & 12th Northern Light Infantry). Sher Khan was awarded the highest gallantry award of the country.

Indian and Pakistani armies share a common history and the memory of that shared bond is fading away. There is some limited interaction between two armies in United Nations peace missions in different parts of the world. In an ironic twist of history, in early 2005, in war torn Congo, nine Bangladeshi soldiers were ambushed and killed by a militia force. Pakistani troops (along with South African troops) avenged the deaths of Bangladeshi soldiers by overrunning one of the militia bases killing fifty militiamen. In this operation, Indian attack helicopters provided air support to Pakistani troops. Both countries should work towards peaceful coexistence and strive to decrease the animosity so that they can address more acute problems of national integration, internal cohesion and economic prosperity. Peaceful and confident India and Pakistan can then contribute more soldiers to peace missions around the globe where next generation of soldiers and officers can interact in a more friendly and cooperative manner thus reliving the memories of their forefathers.

Author thanks many for providing details of interesting historical events and anecdotes. All errors are author’s sole responsibility.

Patricia Crone. Scholar of Islam

I was away on vacation so this is a bit late. But better late than never. (from friend Robin Khundkar)

Patricia Crone co-authored a controversial work on early Islam called “Hagarism – making of the Islamic World” which she later conceded had serious problems and with drew from publication, Never the less she was a serious scholar and respected by everyone including those who were critical of her conclusions. Below are remembrances of her as well as three outstanding essays she wrote for Open Democracy in the last decade.

May not be of interest to everyone but worth the time of folks interested in Early Islam


Patricia Crone: Memoir of a superb Islamic scholar
Judith Herrin
12 July 2015  
Open Democracy

The great historian of early Islam, Patricia Crone, died peacefully on July 11 after a long battle with cancer. This memoir by her friend and colleague was written earlier this year for a volume of essays in her honour and links to her outstanding essay on Mohammed published by openDemocracy.

This essay is the introduction to Islamic Cultures, Islamic Contexts, Essays in Honor of Professor Patricia Crone, eds. B. Sadeghi, A. Q. Ahmed, A. Silverstein, and R. Hoyland (Brill 2015), xiv-xx, and is republished with thanks.

About the author
Judith Herrin is emeritus professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King’s College, London. Her books include The Formation of Christendom, Women in Purple and Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

On the floor of Patricia Crone’s grand study that runs the entire depth of her house in Princeton, and looks out on her lovely garden, lies a very striking Persian carpet, most gloriously woven in red with white patterns on it. Her father had it in his office and I always imagined it had been a tribute by him to her brilliance. But no, he thought that all his four daughters should be fluent in at least two international languages and insisted on them going to finishing school in France and England. So after taking the “forprøve” or preliminary exam at Copenhagen University, Patricia had to go to Paris to learn French and then to London where she determined to get into a university as a pleasant and productive way of becoming fluent in English. She was accepted as an occasional student at King’s College London and followed a course in medieval European history, especially church-state relations. And when she discovered SOAS, where they offered exactly the kind of course she wanted and could not do in Denmark (History branch IV), she wrote to her father and asked him if he would pay for three more years in London. His generous agreement thus sponsored her association with Islamic history. At SOAS she learned Arabic, later adding Persian and Syriac, and got a First, which pleased her father, whom she describes as an academic manqué. She then went on to write her PhD on the maw­ālī in the Umayyad period under the supervision of Bernard Lewis, although he left for America before the thesis was examined in 1974. Then she was awarded a Senior Research Fellowship at the Warburg Institute. And that is where we first met in the autumn of 1976.

Patricia had already spent two years at the Warburg and was well established in a nice office on the third floor looking out over Gordon Square. As this was her final year as SRF she was looking for a more permanent university position. The Director, Joe Trapp, had very kindly offered me a small stipend to organize a couple of interdisciplinary seminars, and arranged for a second desk and chair to be installed in her office. When I knocked on the door and went in to take possession of my designated space, we became acquainted. I was immediately struck by her very bright blue eyes and quizzical expression. As I later learned they were the outward signs of an extremely astute intelligence, a highly skeptical approach to problems and a passionate commitment to her research.

Patricia was a heavy smoker, and I was not. At the time the Warburg allowed smoking even in the Reading Room, though not in the stacks, a striking feature of the ubiquity of the habit. I found this unpleasant and Patricia gallantly agreed to smoke out of the window, which made the room very cold in the winter. But by then we had discovered that there was more that united than divided us – and this great compensation for the disagreement over cigarettes was confirmed when Patricia agreed to contribute to the first seminar I organized which was devoted to Iconoclasm (her paper on Islam, Judaeo-Christianity and Byzantine Iconoclasm, 1980, is reprinted in her Variorum volume, Aldershot 2005). She took some persuading but the result is a fascinating exploration of the forces and borders between Islam, Judaism and Christianity that made the Near East such a trembling cauldron of potent explosion between the seventh and the ninth centuries.

She and Michael Cook had already finished their joint study Hagarism, which was due to be published in the spring of 1977. Michael expressed considerable anxiety about its appearance, realizing that it would ruffle more than a few feathers, especially Muslim ones. This was inevitable because the whole purpose of the book was to look beyond the Islamic tradition for contemporary accounts of the Prophet preserved in other languages. They had carefully examined all the records they could find in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, Persian, Aramaic and Coptic for evidence of the movement that forged the Arab tribes into such a mighty military force. Of course many dismissed Muhammad as just another infidel prophet, but others, especially Babylonian Judaism, presented indisputably useful contemporary evidence. While the first section of the book challenged the average reader with detailed analysis of some rather obscure texts, the second put together an account of the Near Eastern provinces before the rise of Islam, while the third offered an exciting new synthesis of all these observations, presenting the idea of Hagarism as a dominant force in the mixed world of the Prophet. On the eve of the book’s publication, Michael took their names off the bell at the door to their flat on Marylebone High Street, but there were no incidents – reviews ranged from the highly appreciative to the extremely negative and beyond. ‘Crone and Cook’ was to become a term for unacceptable “revisionism,” but also, to those who appreciated the result, a touchstone for the wider explanation of the rise of Islam.

By the summer of 1977 as these notices began to arrive, Anthony Barnett and I had had our first child, who was rapidly introduced to the Warburg. Patricia enjoyed putting up the notice that read, “Quiet please, baby sleeping,” outside our office. Tamara soon became too active to be put to sleep on a cushion but it was typical of Patricia’s generosity that she encouraged me to bring her in, leave her and rush around the stacks checking footnotes. She even offered to look after the 18-month old when I was invited to give a paper to a Middle Eastern History Group in Edinburgh, interested in the role of medieval women. When I protested that I couldn’t go, she simply told me to deliver Tamara to her flat for the day with all the necessary equipment. It was cold that November and Patricia got completely exhausted continuously pushing Tamara. She had discovered that the moment she stopped Tamara started wailing, and as motion in the pushchair seemed the only way to stop the noise, Patricia carried on walking around, up and down the pavements of central London until I got back! And that paper was the first of many efforts to present the power and unusual authority of Byzantine women to a mixed audience, which became a major preoccupation of my later scholarship.

In 1977 Patricia took up an appointment at Oxford University and was rewriting the first part of her thesis as the book entitled Slaves on Horses. Her exploration of the evolution of the Islamic polity followed on from Hagarism with a sophisticated analysis of the role of tribes and tribal culture in early Islam, which she compared with Turkish tribes in the conquest of Central Asia. The two conquests by tribal peoples on horseback form the starting point and cross-fertilize the argument. At first she commuted from London to the Oriental Institute in Oxford, and we continued to see each other, but later she moved to Cambridge and began work on Roman, provincial and Islamic law, based on the second part of her thesis, exploring the inter-connected features of Near Eastern legal systems – Roman, Jewish, Islamic – as well as the promotion of slaves to positions of high authority that set Islamic society apart from traditional late antique and medieval societies. This was followed by Meccan Trade which had a rather different perspective in settling the issue of Muhammad’s rather humble mercantile activity that influenced the early years of Islam. She argued that the spice trade was an Orientalist invention and that the trade depicted in the Muslim sources couldn’t account for the supposed wealth and power of Quraysh. It has proved equally definitive.

These three immensely erudite studies of the role of slaves, law and trade in early Islam are supported by many pages of references and appendices, more footnotes than text, and are rooted in comparative analysis. They do not lack lighter moments. Patricia’s example of how Islamic lawyers tackled the Roman legal dilemma of what happens when a slave girl, who has been promised her freedom if she gives birth to a son, has twins, forms an appendix that makes you laugh out loud.

While still teaching in Oxford, she and Martin Hinds began working together on the earliest conception of religious authority in Islam, which became God’s Caliph. It was a great pleasure to visit them during his visits to Oxford, to see how happy she was, and this made his premature death all the more difficult to bear. She also kept in touch with us as our family expanded and we have photos of Patricia with our younger daughter Portia.

From 1985 onwards I was often in Princeton so we kept in touch by letters, the exchange of offprints and Christmas cards – hers often displayed her puppets during a performance. In these Patricia revealed a talent for making and costuming puppets, which she then controlled to create a performance in the theatre also constructed for the purpose. She invited local children to make up the audience and gave extraordinary pleasure – another unexpected achievement. She also gave extravagant New Year’s Eve parties, which always involved elaborate decorations, with streamers, colored baskets of gifts and much delicious food and drink. I think it was one of the Danish customs she imported with her.

In Cambridge her house was conveniently close to the station so that she could make a quick dash to London or the airport, and within easy bicycling of Gonville and Caius, the Faculty of Oriental Studies and the University Library. Patricia always arranged her life to maximize the time she could spend at work – her efficiency in this respect is clear from the number of books and articles that resulted. She is utterly single-minded manner in the way she pursues intellectual problems.

Her research takes off from a very close reading of the sources, questioning their reliability, credibility and purpose with a general distrust of the common interpretation and received wisdom. She constantly challenges opinions expressed by both medieval and modern experts with a profound skepticism that characterizes her work. Along with this commitment to her chosen field went a determination to make it understandable to those who wanted to know, an example I found inspiring.

This concern with making Islam comprehensible is evident from her contributions to more contemporary issues. When Anthony suggested that she should write something about Muhammad for openDemocracy, she produced two very widely read articles. “What do we actually know about Muhammad” (with nearly 100,000 readers), “Jihad, Idea and History” which answers questions such as “What is Jihad?” and “Was Islam spread by force?”, as well as a reflection on religious freedom in Islam. This direct engagement with problems of today in an unprejudiced fashion balances Patricia’s dedicated research into the much earlier history of Islam. To both spheres she brings a deep sense of involvement based on fearless honesty and very good judgment.

Similarly, when approached by Novin Doostdar of Oneworld Press for a book she did not want to write, she persuaded him to undertake a series of small biographies of Muslim figures modeled on the Oxford Past Masters and the modern equivalent. Together they planned what has become a most successful and informative range of short introductory volumes to key players in the Muslim world, from late antiquity to the present day, which provide a perfect entry point to periods of Islamic history when individual rulers, generals, religious leaders, poets and philosophers helped to create new conditions. Figures as different as Caliph Abd al-Malik, Mehmed Ali, Nazira Zeineddine, Abu Nuwas and Chinggis Khan come to life in brief biographies commissioned, edited and occasionally re-written by Patricia. 30 volumes in her series, Makers of the Muslim World, are already available and two more will be published this autumn.

As she realized how difficult it was for students of the late twentieth century to grasp the restrictions of the pre-industrial world, she began to introduce her lectures on Islamic history with one on the main features of pre-industrial societies. John Davey, an editor with Blackwells, suggested that she expand this into a book without footnotes designed for the general reader, something of a departure from her previous work. In Pre-Industrial Societies she emphasized a broad comparative approach to clarify the gap that separates us moderns from the non-industrialized world, and the huge differences wrought by the industrial revolution. Evidence from the Far East (China, Japan), the Indian sub-continent and Islamic societies of the Near East and North Africa, was employed to highlight the specific character of such communities prior to industrialization, drawing parallels between imperial structures (of the Byzantine, Chinese, Japanese and the Muslim Caliphate), and the looser, less organized small units that dominated Northern Europe. In an imaginary island setting, she sets out the options for people who suddenly find themselves without a government and traces how they might react. Above all, she elucidates the underlying significance embedded in systems of land tenure, the role of cities and most important of religion in such pre-modern societies, whether Muslim, Hindu, Zoroastrian or Christian.

Her delight in identifying structural inversions is captured in vivid terms: “there was nothing shameful about patronage as such: it benefitted employed and employee alike. Wherever trust mattered as much as or more than skills, nepotism was a virtue, not a sign of corruption.” (33) And after exploring these features across a very wide spectrum of such societies Patricia then looked at the particularly distinctive nature of Europe, ‘First or freak?’ and the concept of modernity. She asks what constitutes the modern and her reply encapsulates a great deal of thought, how to present Marxism, totalitarianism and democracy, in a commanding survey of what industrialization brought in its wake. And what a basic shift this involved: “ideologically we are all identical, however different we may seem, not, as in pre-industrial societies, different regardless of our fundamental similarities.” (194) It is a book whose depth of insight grows with re-rereading.

Much to my regret, in 1995 when I returned to England to take up the Chair of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King’s College London, Patricia was already being courted by the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. So we swapped continents and remained on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Before she left, however, Patricia gave one of her most extravagant parties, taking over the Hall of Gonville and Caius College for a feast, a real feast, preceded by champagne on the lawn. Anthony helped light fireworks to mark the event. Every table was packed with friends and colleagues who had been carefully placed to provoke interesting conversations, and after the great dinner college staff cleared away the long tables and benches so that we could dance to her favorite Strauss waltzes and polkas. This is so much harder to do than you imagine – we needed more rock and roll as well – but everyone enjoyed celebrating her and wishing her all the best for her move to the States.

Fortunately, it didn’t mean that we saw each other less, as we made more effort to keep in touch. After discovering that we shared a passion for opera, we planned our visits to Glyndebourne and London operas to be sure that we could go together, and in this way enjoyed several memorable performances and splendid picnics every summer. I also return to America frequently and take every opportunity to visit her in Princeton, in the elegant double house she converted on Humbert Street. Typical of Patricia, she decided against living in the grand accommodation provided by the Institute down Olden Lane, and purchased this plot in central Princeton, which was near the shops and the University library. As usual she ensured that she could bicycle to work.

Ensconced at the Institute, Patricia devoted herself to further detailed studies of Islamic government, the Muslim dynasties, the nativist prophets and pagan opponents of the Prophet – and yet more work in progress. All this is only achieved by maintaining a rigorous working schedule, never relaxing her concentration until the evening, passed as often as not watching old films and favorite BBC series. Yet hers has never been an ascetic existence. An extraordinarily welcoming manner and generous hospitality means any number of parties for students and colleagues, delicious dinners and a range of Californian red wines to accompany her excellent cooking. She has always travelled most adventurously – all over the Near East, further afield to Vietnam and more recently to Uzbekistan. For my part I only persuaded her to travel from London to Lewes, though once we went as far as Aberystwyth for a seminar on comparative medieval social structures (we thoroughly enjoyed the single track railway through the Welsh hills and the sea front on the coast). But I can confirm what a cheerful travelling companion she is, and what an enormous pleasure it is to count her as the best of friends.

Patricia has an extraordinary capacity to adapt to change and appears equally at home in London, Princeton and surely in Denmark at family reunions with her siblings. Yet she is very rooted, taking immense care over the planting of her garden (and her neighbors’), and joyfully celebrating their flowering. Her devotion to the roses which bloom so briefly in Princeton blocks any effort to lure her away at that time. She is also unusually responsive to changes in other parts of the world today, foreseeing with great distress and her acerbic tongue the agonizing conflicts across the Middle East today.

Any lasting solution to these deep social clefts will need to respect and understand their history. The rise of Islam brought to an end what is now called Late Antiquity and precipitated the formation of eastern and western Christendom in what remained of the Roman Empire north of the Arab conquests. This makes Islam the most recent historically of all the world’s great monotheistic religions. Perhaps for this reason, its insistence on being the only vehicle of the true prophet is amongst the most vehement, and its claims are the most vulnerable to research. The historian of the extraordinary rise of Islam, therefore, has to be especially scrupulous, exacting and meticulous, both in order to be sensitive and if possible unimpeachable in her reconstruction of what happened, as well as to glimpse the previously existing context through the all-encompassing stamp of the conquests. It is Patricia’s accomplishment to have achieved this. Acutely conscious of the human realities (of all kinds) she remains utterly intransigent in her own approach as a secular historian par excellance. What makes it doubly awesome is that she carried this through both for what became the Arab world and for the pre-Islamic history of Persia, to which she dedicated her most recent years resulting in yet another magnum opus, The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran, which has now garnered four prestigious prizes, including the Albert Hourani book award, the Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies book award, the Central Eurasian Studies Society award, and the James Henry Breasted Prize of the American Historical Society for the best book in English in any field of history prior to 1000CE. Together with her major works on Medieval Islamic Political Theory and God’s Rule, she has transformed our understanding of this critical period of history that is so relevant today.

Patricia Crone, Questioning Scholar of Islamic History, Dies at 70
New York Times
JULY 22, 2015

Patricia Crone, a scholar who explored untapped archaeological records and contemporary Greek and Aramaic sources to challenge conventional views of the roots and evolution of Islam, died on July 11 at her home in Princeton, N.J. She was 70.

The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where she was a professor from 1997 until her retirement last year, said the cause was cancer.

Fred M. Donner, a professor of Near Eastern history at the University of Chicago, said Professor Crone had “made it clear that historians of early Islam had failed to really behave as historians — that is, had failed to challenge the validity of their sources, but rather had accepted complacently what I call the ‘traditional origins narrative’ created by the Islamic tradition itself.”

As a result, in books like “Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World” (1977, written with Michael Cook), she disputed assumptions that Islam had been transmitted by trade from Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, suggesting that it had been spread by conquest instead. She also identified how indigenous rural prophets in what is now Iran had defied conquering Arabs and helped shape Islamic culture, setting the stage for conflicts within Islam that endure today.

Current events frequently intruded on Professor Crone’s scholarship on historic divisions in the Middle East between secularism and Islamic orthodoxy, and between the Arab world and the West. Writing about present-day Muslims on the website openDemocracy in 2007, she said, “Wherever they look, they are being invaded by so-called Western values — in the form of giant billboards advertising self-indulgence, semi-pornographic films, liquor, pop music, fat tourists in indecent clothes and funny hats, and politicians lecturing people about the virtues of democracy.”

Patricia Crone was born in Kyndelose, Denmark, on March 28, 1945, to Thomas Crone, the chief executive of the Scandinavian Tobacco Company, and the former Vibeke Scheel Richter. She is survived by four siblings, Clarissa Crone, Diana Crone Frank, Alexander Crone and Camilla Castenskiold.

She attended the University of Copenhagen and then received undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. She taught at Oxford and Cambridge before joining the Institute for Advanced Study, an independent research center, where she was the Andrew W. Mellon professor.

“Each one of her brilliant and original monographs — and the same holds true for most of her articles — had profoundly impacted the field or helped to identify entirely new branches within the discipline,” Professor Sabine Schmidtke, who succeeded Professor Crone at the Institute for Advanced Study, said in an interview.

In another essay for openDemocracy, Professor Crone focused on the Prophet Muhammad himself, writing that “we can be reasonably sure that the Quran is a collection of utterances that he made in the belief that they had been revealed to him by God.” She summarized the major themes of the Quran as “God’s unity, the reality of the resurrection and judgment, and the imminence of violent punishment.”

She also wrote that Muhammad was perceived not as the founder of a new religion but as a preacher in the Old Testament tradition, hailing the coming of a messiah. His success, she argued, “had something to do with the fact that he preached both state formation and conquest: Without conquest, first in Arabia and next in the Fertile Crescent, the unification of Arabia would not have been achieved.”

Her other books include “God’s Rule: Government and Islam: Six Centuries of Medieval Islamic Political Thought” (2004) and “The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran” (2012), which detailed the historical precedents for local rebels defying the ruling elite.

“Her death,” Professor Donner said, “deprives our field of someone who was at one and the same time its main motor and, in a way, its conscience; and while many in the field of Islamic history might have disliked some of what she said, I doubt that anyone in the field didn’t care what she said.”

What do we actually know about Mohammed?
Patricia Crone
Open Democracy
10 June 2008

About the author
Patricia Crone was professor of Islamic history at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton until her death in July 2015. Her publications most relevant to this article include Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam (Princeton University Press, 1987 [reprinted 2004]; “How did the quranic pagans make a living?” (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (68 / 2005); and “Quraysh and the Roman Army: Making Sense of the Qurashi Leathertrade” (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, forthcoming [spring 2007]).

Patricia Crone’s main recent work is Medieval Islamic Political Thought (Edinburgh University Press, 2004); published in the United States as God’s Rule: Government and Islam [Columbia University Press, 2004])

It is notoriously difficult to know anything for sure about the founder of a world religion. Just as one shrine after the other obliterates the contours of the localities in which he was active, so one doctrine after another reshapes him as a figure for veneration and imitation for a vast number of people in times and places that he never knew.

In the case of Mohammed, Muslim literary sources for his life only begin around 750-800 CE (common era), some four to five generations after his death, and few Islamicists (specialists in the history and study of Islam) these days assume them to be straightforward historical accounts. For all that, we probably know more about Mohammed than we do about Jesus (let alone Moses or the Buddha), and we certainly have the potential to know a great deal more.

There is no doubt that Mohammed existed, occasional attempts to deny it notwithstanding. His neighbours in Byzantine Syria got to hear of him within two years of his death at the latest; a Greek text written during the Arab invasion of Syria between 632 and 634 mentions that “a false prophet has appeared among the Saracens” and dismisses him as an impostor on the ground that prophets do not come “with sword and chariot”. It thus conveys the impression that he was actually leading the invasions.

Mohammed’s death is normally placed in 632, but the possibility that it should be placed two or three years later cannot be completely excluded. The Muslim calendar was instituted after Mohammed’s death, with a starting-point of his emigration (hijra) to Medina (then Yathrib) ten years earlier. Some Muslims, however, seem to have correlated this point of origin with the year which came to span 624-5 in the Gregorian calendar rather than the canonical year of 622.

If such a revised date is accurate, the evidence of the Greek text would mean that Mohammed is the only founder of a world religion who is attested in a contemporary source. But in any case, this source gives us pretty irrefutable evidence that he was an historical figure. Moreover, an Armenian document probably written shortly after 661 identifies him by name and gives a recognisable account of his monotheist preaching.

Patricia Crone is professor of Islamic history at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. Her publications most relevant to this article include Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam (Princeton University Press, 1987 [reprinted 2004]; “How did the quranic pagans make a living?” (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (68 / 2005); and “Quraysh and the Roman Army: Making Sense of the Qurashi Leathertrade” (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, forthcoming [spring 2007]).

Patricia Crone’s main recent work is Medieval Islamic Political Thought (Edinburgh University Press, 2004); published in the United States as God’s Rule: Government and Islam [Columbia University Press, 2004])

On the Islamic side, sources dating from the mid-8th century onwards preserve a document drawn up between Mohammed and the inhabitants of Yathrib, which there are good reasons to accept as broadly authentic; Mohammed is also mentioned by name, and identified as a messenger of God, four times in the Qur’an (on which more below).

True, on Arabic coins and inscriptions, and in papyri and other documentary evidence in the language, Mohammed only appears in the 680s, some fifty years after his death (whatever its exact date). This is the ground on which some, notably Yehuda D Nevo and Judith Koren, have questioned his existence. But few would accept the implied premise that history has to be reconstructed on the sole basis of documentary evidence (i.e. information which has not been handed down from one generation to the next, but rather been inscribed on stone or metal or dug up from the ground and thus preserved in its original form). The evidence that a prophet was active among the Arabs in the early decades of the 7th century, on the eve of the Arab conquest of the middle east, must be said to be exceptionally good.

Everything else about Mohammed is more uncertain, but we can still say a fair amount with reasonable assurance. Most importantly, we can be reasonably sure that the Qur’an is a collection of utterances that he made in the belief that they had been revealed to him by God. The book may not preserve all the messages he claimed to have received, and he is not responsible for the arrangement in which we have them. They were collected after his death – how long after is controversial. But that he uttered all or most of them is difficult to doubt. Those who deny the existence of an Arabian prophet dispute it, of course, but it causes too many problems with later evidence, and indeed with the Qur’an itself, for the attempt to be persuasive.

The text and the message
For all that, the book is difficult to use as a historical source. The roots of this difficulty include unresolved questions about how it reached its classical form, and the fact that it still is not available in a scholarly edition. But they are also internal to the text. The earliest versions of the Qur’an offer only the consonantal skeleton of the text. No vowels are marked, and worse, there are no diacritical marks, so that many consonants can also be read in a number of ways.

Modern scholars usually assure themselves that since the Qur’an was recited from the start, we can rely on the oral tradition to supply us with the correct reading. But there is often considerable disagreement in the tradition – usually to do with vowelling, but sometimes involving consonants as well – over the correct way in which a word should be read. This rarely affects the overall meaning of the text, but it does affect the details which are so important for historical reconstruction.

In any case, with or without uncertainty over the reading, the Qur’an is often highly obscure. Sometimes it uses expressions that were unknown even to the earliest exegetes, or words that do not seem to fit entirely, though they can be made to fit more or less; sometimes it seems to give us fragments detached from a long-lost context; and the style is highly allusive.

One explanation for these features would be that the prophet formulated his message in the liturgical language current in the religious community in which he grew up, adapting and/or imitating ancient texts such as hymns, recitations, and prayers, which had been translated or adapted from another Semitic language in their turn. This idea has been explored in two German works, by Günter Lüling and Christoph Luxenberg, and there is much to be said for it. At the same time, however, both books are open to so many scholarly objections (notably amateurism in Luxenberg’s case) that they cannot be said to have done the field much good.

The attempt to relate the linguistic and stylistic features of the Qur’an to those of earlier religious texts calls for a mastery of Semitic languages and literature that few today possess, and those who do so tend to work on other things. This is sensible, perhaps, given that the field has become highly charged politically.

Luxenberg’s work is a case in point: it was picked up by the press and paraded in a sensationalist vein on the strength of what to a specialist was its worst idea – to instruct Muslims living in the west that they ought to become enlightened. Neither Muslims nor Islamicists were amused.

The inside story
The Qur’an does not give us an account of the prophet’s life. On the contrary: it does not show us the prophet from the outside at all, but rather takes us inside his head, where God is speaking to him, telling him what to preach, how to react to people who poke fun at him, what to say to his supporters, and so on. We see the world through his eyes, and the allusive style makes it difficult to follow what is going on.

Events are referred to, but not narrated; disagreements are debated without being explained; people and places are mentioned, but rarely named. Supporters are simply referred to as believers; opponents are condemned as unbelievers, polytheists, wrongdoers, hypocrites and the like, with only the barest information on who they were or what they said or did in concrete terms (rather as modern political ideologues will reduce their enemies to abstractions: revisionists, reactionaries, capitalist-roaders, terrorists). It could be, and sometimes seems to be, that the same people now appear under one label and then another.

One thing seems clear, however: all the parties in the Qur’an are monotheists worshipping the God of the Biblical tradition, and all are familiar – if rarely directly from the Bible itself – with Biblical concepts and stories. This is true even of the so-called polytheists, traditionally identified with Mohammed’s tribe in Mecca. The Islamic tradition says that the members of this tribe, known as Quraysh, were believers in the God of Abraham whose monotheism had been corrupted by pagan elements; modern historians would be inclined to reverse the relationship and cast the pagan elements as older than the monotheism; but some kind of combination of Biblical-type monotheism and Arabian paganism is indeed what one encounters in the Qur’an.

The so-called polytheists believed in one creator God who ruled the world and whom one approached through prayer and ritual; in fact, like the anathematised ideological enemies of modern times, they seem to have originated in the same community as the people who denounced them. For a variety of doctrinal reasons, however, the tradition likes to stress the pagan side of the prophet’s opponents, and one highly influential source in particular (Ibn al-Kalbi) casts them as naive worshippers of stones and idols of a type that may very well have existed in other parts of Arabia. For this reason, the secondary literature has tended to depict them as straightforward pagans too.

Some exegetes are considerably more sophisticated than Ibn al-Kalbi, and among modern historians GR Hawting stands out as the first to have shown that the people denounced as polytheists in the Qur’an are anything but straightforward pagans. The fact that the Qur’an seems to record a split in a monotheist community in Arabia can be expected to transform our understanding of how the new religion arose.

The prophet and the polytheists
What then are the big issues dividing the prophet and his opponents? Two stand out. First, time and again he accuses the polytheists of the same crime as the Christians – deification of lesser beings. The Christians elevated Jesus to divine status (though some of them were believers); the polytheists elevated the angels to the same status and compounded their error by casting them (or some of them) as females; and just as the Christians identified Jesus as the son of God, so the polytheists called the angels sons and daughters of God, apparently implying some sort of identity of essence.

The polytheists further claimed that the angels (or deities, as they are also called) were intercessors who enabled them to approach God, a well-known argument by late antique monotheists who retained their ancestral gods by identifying them as angels. For Christians also saw the angels as intercessors, and the prophet was of the same view: his polemics arise entirely from the fact that the pagan angels are seen as manifestations of God himself rather than his servants. The prophet responds by endlessly affirming that God is one and alone, without children or anyone else sharing in his divinity.

The second bone of contention between the prophet and his opponents was the resurrection. Some doubted its reality, others denied it outright, still others rejected the idea of afterlife altogether. The hardliners appear to have come from the ranks of the Jews and/or Christians rather than – or in addition to – the polytheists; or perhaps the so-called polytheists were actually Jews or Christians of some local kind. In any case, the hardliners convey the impression of having made their appearance quite recently, and again people of the same type are attested on the Greek (and Syriac) side of the fence.

The prophet responds by repeatedly rehearsing arguments in favour of the resurrection of the type familiar from the Christian tradition, insisting that people will be raised up for judgment. He adds that the judgment is coming soon, in the form of some local disaster such as those which overtook earlier communities (e.g. Lot’s) and/or a universal conflagration. His opponents tease him, asking him why it does not seem to be happening; he persists. At some point the confrontation turns violent and the book is filled with calls to arms, with much fighting over a sanctuary.

By then it is clear that there has been an emigration (hijra), though the event itself is not described, and there is some legislation for the new community. Throughout the book there is also much acrimonious debate about the credentials of the prophet himself. But God’s unity, the reality of the resurrection and judgment, and the imminence of violent punishment are by far the most important themes, reiterated in most of the sura (chapters of the Qur’an).

In sum, not only do we know that a prophet was active among the Arabs in the early decades of the 7th century, we also have a fair idea of what he preached. Non-Islamicists may therefore conclude that the historians’ complaint that they know so little about him is mere professional grumpiness. But on one issue it is unquestionably more. This is a big problem to do with Arabia.

A question of geography
The inhabitants of the Byzantine and Persian empires wrote about the northern and the southern ends of the peninsula, from where we also have numerous inscriptions; but the middle was terra incognita. This is precisely where the Islamic tradition places Mohammed’s career. We do not know what was going on there, except insofar as the Islamic tradition tells us.

It yields no literature to which we can relate the Qur’an – excepting poetry, for which we are again dependent on the Islamic tradition and which is in any case so different in character that it does not throw much light on the book. Not a single source outside Arabia mentions Mecca before the conquests, and not one displays any sign of recognition or tells us what was known about it when it appears in the sources thereafter. That there was a place called Mecca where Mecca is today may well be true; that it had a pagan sanctuary is perfectly plausible (Arabia was full of sanctuaries), and it could well have belonged to a tribe called the Quraysh. But we know nothing about the place with anything approaching reasonable certainty. In sum, we have no context for the prophet and his message.

It is difficult not to suspect that the tradition places the prophet’s career in Mecca for the same reason that it insists that he was illiterate: the only way he could have acquired his knowledge of all the things that God had previously told the Jews and the Christians was by revelation from God himself. Mecca was virgin territory; it had neither Jewish nor Christian communities.

The suspicion that the location is doctrinally inspired is reinforced by the fact that the Qur’an describes the polytheist opponents as agriculturalists who cultivated wheat, grapes, olives, and date palms. Wheat, grapes and olives are the three staples of the Mediterranean; date palms take us southwards, but Mecca was not suitable for any kind of agriculture, and one could not possibly have produced olives there.

In addition, the Qur’an twice describes its opponents as living in the site of a vanished nation, that is to say a town destroyed by God for its sins. There were many such ruined sites in northwest Arabia. The prophet frequently tells his opponents to consider their significance and on one occasion remarks, with reference to the remains of Lot’s people, that “you pass by them in the morning and in the evening”. This takes us to somewhere in the Dead Sea region. Respect for the traditional account has prevailed to such an extent among modern historians that the first two points have passed unnoticed until quite recently, while the third has been ignored. The exegetes said that the Quraysh passed by Lot’s remains on their annual journeys to Syria, but the only way in which one can pass by a place in the morning and the evening is evidently by living somewhere in the vicinity.

The annual journeys invoked by the exegetes were trading journeys. All the sources say that the Quraysh traded in southern Syria, many say that they traded in Yemen too, and some add Iraq and Ethiopia to their destinations. They are described as trading primarily in leather goods, woollen clothing, and other items of mostly pastoralist origin, as well as perfume (not south Arabian frankincense or Indian luxury goods, as used to be thought). Their caravan trade has been invoked to explain the familiarity with Biblical and para-Biblical material which is so marked a feature of the Qur’an, but this goes well beyond what traders would be likely to pick up on annual journeys. There is no doubt, however, that one way or the other a trading community is involved in the rise of Islam, though it is not clear how it relates to that of the agriculturalists of the Qur’an. On all this there is much to be said, if not yet with any certainty.

Three sources of evidence
The biggest problem facing scholars of the rise of Islam is identifying the context in which the prophet worked. What was he reacting to, and why was the rest of Arabia so responsive to his message? We stand a good chance of making headway, for we are nowhere near having exploited to the full our three main types of evidence – the traditions associated with the prophet (primarily the hadith), the Qur’an itself, and (a new source of enormous promise) archaeology.

The first is the most difficult to handle; this overwhelmingly takes the form of hadith – short reports (sometimes just a line or two) recording what an early figure, such as a companion of the prophet or Mohammed himself, said or did on a particular occasion, prefixed by a chain of transmitters. (Nowadays, hadith almost always means hadith from Mohammed himself.) Most of the early sources for the prophet’s life, as also for the period of his immediate successors, consist of hadith in some arrangement or other.

The purpose of such reports was to validate Islamic law and doctrine, not to record history in the modern sense, and since they were transmitted orally, as very short statements, they easily drifted away from their original meaning as conditions changed. (They were also easily fabricated, but this is actually less of a problem.) They testify to intense conflicts over what was or was not true Islam in the period up to the 9th century, when the material was collected and stabilised; these debates obscured the historical nature of the figures invoked as authorities, while telling us much about later perceptions.

The material is amorphous and difficult to handle. Simply to collect the huge mass of variant versions and conflicting reports on a particular subject used to be a laborious task; now it has been rendered practically effortless by searchable databases. However, we still do not have generally accepted methods for ordering the material, whether as evidence for the prophet or for the later doctrinal disputes (for which it will probably prove more fruitful). But much interesting work is going on in the field.

As regards the second source, the Qur’an, its study has so far been dominated by the method of the early Muslim exegetes, who were in the habit of considering its verses in isolation, explaining them with reference to events in the prophet’s life without regard for the context in which it appeared in the Qur’an itself. In effect, they were replacing the Qur’anic context with a new one.

Some fifty years ago an Egyptian scholar by the name of Mohammed Shaltut, later rector of al-Azhar, rejected this method in favour of understanding the Qur’an in the light of the Qur’an itself. He was a religious scholar interested in the religious and moral message of the Qur’an, not a western-style historian, but his method should be adopted by historians too. The procedure of the early exegetes served to locate the meaning of the book in Arabia alone, insulating it from religious and cultural developments in the world outside it, so that the Biblical stories and other ideas originating outside Arabia came across to modern scholars as “foreign borrowings”, picked up in an accidental fashion by a trader who did not really understand what they meant.

The realisation is slowly dawning that this is fundamentally wrong. The prophet was not an outsider haphazardly collecting fallout from debates in the monotheist world around him, but rather a full participant in these debates. Differently put, the rise of Islam has to be related to developments in the world of late antiquity, and it is with that context in mind that we need to reread the Qur’an. It is a big task, and there will be, indeed already have been, false turns on the way. But it will revolutionise the field.

The third, and immeasurably exciting, type of source is looming increasingly large on the horizon: archaeology. Arabia, the big unknown, has begun to be excavated, and though it is unlikely that there will be archaeological explorations of Mecca and Medina anytime soon, the results from this discipline are already mind-opening.

Arabia seems to have been a much more developed place than most Islamicists (myself included) had ever suspected – not just in the north and south, but also in the middle. We are beginning to get a much more nuanced sense of the place, and again it is clear that we should think of it as more closely tied in with the rest of the near east than we used to do. The inscriptional record is expanding, too. With every bit of certainty we gain on one problem, the range of possible interpretations in connection with others contracts, making for a better sense of where to look for solutions and better conjectures where no evidence exists.

We shall never be able to do without the literary sources, of course, and the chances are that most of what the tradition tells us about the prophet’s life is more or less correct in some sense or other. But no historical interpretation succeeds unless the details, the context and the perspectives are right. We shall never know as much as we would like to (when do we?), but Islamicists have every reason to feel optimistic that many of the gaps in our current knowledge will be filled in the years ahead.

‘Jihad’: idea and history
Patricia Crone
1 May 2007
Open Democracy

About the author
Patricia Crone was professor of Islamic history at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton until her death in July 2015


What is jihad?
Jihad is a subject that non-Muslims find difficult to understand. In fact, there is nothing particularly outlandish about it. All one has to remember is that holy war is not the opposite of pacifism, but rather of secular war – fighting in pursuit of aims lying outside religion. Whether people are militant or not in its pursuit is another matter.

With that general observation, let me pose the four questions to be addressed in this essay. They are:

1.    Exactly what is jihad, apart from holy war in a broad sense?

2.    Is it true that Islam was spread by force?

3.    Did the pre-modern Muslims ever feel that there was anything wrong about religious warfare?

4.    What is the relevance of all this to the world today? (I must stress that when I get to this fourth topic, I am no longer speaking as a specialist).

So first, just what is jihad?
Well, actually there are two kinds, depending on whether the Muslims are politically strong or weak. I shall start with the type associated with political strength, because that’s the normal type in Islamic history. I shall get to the second in connection with the question of modern relevance.

The normal type of jihad is missionary warfare. That’s how you’ll find it described in the classical law-books, from about 800 to about 1800. What the Quran has to say on the subject is a different question: the rules it presupposes seem to be a good deal more pacifist than those developed by the jurists and exegetes. But it is the work of the latter which came to form the sharia – the huge mass of precepts on which the public and private lives of Muslims were based (at least in theory), down to the coming of modernity, which still regulates their devotional lives today, and on which Islamists (or “fundamentalists”) would like once more to base the entire arena of public life.

The scholars said that jihad consisted in backing the call to Islam with violence, where necessary. It was “the forcible mission assisted by the unsheathed sword against wrongheaded people who arrogantly refuse to accept the plain truth after it has become clear”: thus a scholar who died in 1085. The idea was that God was the only ruler of the universe. Humans who refused to acknowledge this were in the nature of rebels, who had to be brought to heel. At the very least, they had to submit to God politically, by being brought under Muslim government. But ideally, they would submit to him in religious terms as well, by converting.

Holy warriors worked by making regular incursions into the lands of the infidels order to call them to Islam. Normally, they would do so as part of an official expedition launched by the state, but they might also operate on their own. In any case, if the infidels didn’t want to convert, they could just surrender politically (at least if they were Christians and Jews). In that case they were placed under Muslim government, but kept their own religion in return for the payment of poll-tax. But if they refused both religious and political surrender, they should be fought until they were defeated. The terms were in that case set by the conquerors, who might kill the men and enslave the women and children (or so at least if they were pagans); or they might treat them as if they had surrendered voluntarily.

Once an infidel community had been subdued politically, one moved on to the next lot of infidels and did the same to them. This had to go on until the whole earth was God’s or the world came to an end, whichever would be the sooner.

Missionary warfare was a duty imposed by God on the Muslim community, not on individuals, and it was discharged primarily by the ruler, who’d typically mount one expedition into infidel territory a year, if he had infidel neighbours. But it was highly meritorious for private individuals to go and fight as well, and there were always volunteers on the borders. If you couldn’t go yourself, you could earn merit by donating money or giving gifts to the cause, like people in 19th-century Europe would make donations in support of the missionaries working in distant countries.

The way that ordinary Muslims thought of jihad in the past can be compared to Christians’ attitude towards those of their co-religionists who chose to become missionaries. Nowadays the latter are often regarded as interfering busybodies, but formerly they were admired for their willingness to devote their lives to the salvation of benighted natives. That’s the attitude that prevailed in jihad: it was an extremely noble enterprise. After all, people risked their own lives for it. It was the height of altruism.

The Christian missionaries did not themselves fight; they merely followed in the wake of soldiers. But a holy warrior was a missionary and a soldier all in one. He was engaged in something that modern observers would call religious imperialism.

That’s an institution with very long roots in the middle east. Ancient near-eastern historians call it warfare at the command of a god, and the star example is the Assyrians. Their god Ashshur endlessly told them to go and conquer. The god of the Israelites was of the same type. “I have given into your hands Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to possess it and fight him in battle”, he says to Moses in Deuteronomy, where Moses reports that “We took all his cities and utterly destroyed the men, the women and the little ones”.

In the same vein a Moabite king says in an inscription that “Kamosh (the deity) spoke to me and said, Go and take Nebo from Israel. So I went and fought it…and took it and killed everybody, 7,000 men, boys, women, girls and slave girls”. The Muslim God also told his people to conquer, but with one big difference in classical thought, namely that he wanted the victims to convert.

The Assyrians, the Israelites and the Moabites didn’t pretend to be doing anything for the good of the victims. They fought for the greater glory of their own god, and their own community, not to save anyone else. The same seems to have been true of the early Arab conquerors. But in classical Islam, the divine command to go and fight is no longer addressed to an ethnic group, only to believers, whoever they may be; and it is now linked to a religious mission civilisatrice: the believers conquer in order to save souls, not (or not just) to glorify their own community.

It is this fusion of religious and political imperialism that makes classical jihad distinctive, for the two don’t usually go together. The great universalist religions were apolitical and spread by peaceful proselytisation: thus Buddhism, Christianity, and Manichaeism, and also Bahai’ism. And universalist conquerors are not usually out to save people’s souls: think of Alexander the Great, the Romans, or the Mongols. But in Islam, religious mission and world conquest have married up.  


Was Islam spread by force?
The second question posed at the start of this essay was: is it true that Islam was spread by force?

The answer is, in one sense, yes, but even this needs careful qualification. Warfare did play a major role both in the rise of Islam and its later diffusion. But some places were Islamised without any war at all, notably Malaysia and Indonesia. Above all, even where Islam was spread by jihad, it was not usually done the way people imagine. People usually think of holy warriors as engaging in something like Charlemagne’s forced conversion of the Saxons, war for the extirpation of wrong beliefs throughout an entire community. But that model is very rare in Islamic history. The effect of war was usually more indirect.

The scholars said that all infidels had to be brought under Muslim sovereignty, but that Jews and Christians acknowledged the true God and had a revelation from him, so they could be allowed to exist under Muslim protection in return for paying poll-tax. All other infidels were pagans, so how were they to be treated? There is general agreement that the Arabs of Mohammed’s Arabia got the choice between Islam and the sword, and that they did so because they had no religion, as one early scholar put it. (Paganism didn’t count as one.) That’s the best example there is on the Muslim side of the Charlemagne model, if I may call it that, and it is a juristic schematisation of history rather than rather than historical reporting.

Some jurists insisted that this was how all pagans should be treated: people who did not acknowledge the sole sovereignty of God had no right to exist. Others said that for one reason or another, the Arabs were exceptional: all other pagans could be granted protection in return for paying poll-tax in the same way as the Jews and the Christians. This disagreement was enshrined in Muslim law, and modern Islamists typically go for the first view, equating pagans with modern secularists and atheists (among them is an associate of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, lionised in Europe by some of the very secularists whom his associate would force to convert). In pre-modern practice, tolerance usually prevailed as far as conquered communities were concerned. The only infidels who could not be allowed to exist in either theory or practice were apostates – who have become a highly sensitive issue today.

But if people were allowed to keep their religion under Muslim rule, how could the jurists define jihad as missionary warfare? How was it different from other forms of imperialism, such as the Crusades (which were fought for the recovery of the holy land, not the conversion of the Muslims) or secular expansionism?

The answer is that in effect jihad just was ordinary imperialism, but it was undertaken, or at least justified, on the grounds that it would result in conversion, if not straightaway, then sooner or later – and it usually did so too, in a number of ways. For a start, the Muslims routinely took a lot of captives. Male captives were often given the choice between Islam and death, or they might recite the Muslim profession of faith of their own accord to avoid execution. More importantly, captives were usually sold off as slaves, and slaves almost always ended up by converting because most slavery was domestic.

And above all, back in the conquered area, Muslim rulers would move in along with judges and religious scholars to build mosques, apply Islamic law, place restrictions on the building of non-Muslim houses of worship and introduce other discriminatory measures so that the original inhabitants were reduced to tributaries in their own land. They were not necessarily persecuted. The Muslim record of tolerance is generally good. (Obviously, there are plenty of examples of persecution of one kind or another; that religious minorities generally speaking did better under Muslim than under Christian rule under pre-modern conditions nonetheless remains true, however hackneyed the claim has become.) But the non-Muslims would soon have a sense that history was passing them by, that all the action was elsewhere, and this would translate into a feeling that their own beliefs were outmoded. So they would convert too, and that’s the method that really mattered.

In sum, jihad typically spread Islam in much the same way that 19th-century European imperialism spread western culture (and/or Christianity): nobody was directly forced to accept western modernity, or Christianity, but by moving in as the politically dominant elite, the imperialists gave their own beliefs and institutions a persuasiveness that made them difficult to resist. Medieval Muslim scholars were well aware of this effect, and unlike their modern successors, they never tried to deny the role of war in the expansion of Islam.

Muslims, morality, and religious warfare
That brings me to the third question: did the pre-modern Muslims never worry about the moral status of religious warfare?

The answer is mostly no, but sometimes yes. The scholars insisted that the warriors had to fight with the right intentions, for God, not for booty. They also debated whether it was right to conduct holy war under a wrongful ruler (the Sunni answer was yes). But if everything was in order on the side of the warriors, the jurists were satisfied that the enterprise was in the best interests of the victims. The conquered peoples were being dragged to Paradise in chains, as a famous saying went. Far from feeling ashamed about their use of war, Muslims often stressed that holy war was something that only they would engage in, meaning that they were willing to do much more for their religion than other people. They were willing to sacrifice their own lives so that others might live, as they put it. To them, it proved that only Islam was a truly universalist religion.

But the conquered peoples, above all the Christians, always held the Muslim use of war to be wrong, and this did eventually affect the Muslims. As early as 634 CE, a Greek tract declared that the so-called prophet must be an impostor because prophets don’t come armed with the sword. Fifty years later a Christian patriarch supposedly told the caliph that Islam was a religion spread by the sword, meaning that therefore it could not be true. The Christians were to harp on this theme for ever after. In the 10th and 11th centuries, the Muslims began to mention this claim, clearly because they were upset by it.

For example, al-Amiri, an Iranian philosopher who died in 996, takes issue with unidentified people who say that “if Islam were a religion of truth, it would be a religion of mercy, and the one who calls to it would not in that case attack people with the sword to take their property and capture and enslave their families; rather, he would proselytise with words and guide to it by the force of his explanations”. In other words, true religion is spread by peaceful mission; holy war is just a religious cover for rapaciousness, whatever people might say about the purity of their intentions.

It isn’t always clear in these texts whether the charges were made by Muslims or non-Muslims, but there were certainly Muslims now who felt the association of warfare and religion to be wrong. A 10th-century religious leader by the name of Ibn Karram, for example, was said by his followers to have been worthier of prophethood than Mohammed, because he lived an ascetic life and did not conduct war. And some Muslims (or ex-Muslims) rejected all established religions, not just Islam, on the grounds that all prophets, not just Mohammed, were tricksters who used religion to start wars and accumulate worldly power. So now the concept of holy war had to be defended.

One of the most interesting defences is by this philosopher al-Amiri. He responded by identifying jihad as defensive warfare. That’s what many modern apologetes do, too, sometimes writing off offensive jihad – missionary warfare – as an Orientalist invention. (Orientalism often gets used as a grand trash-can in which modern Muslims dump all the aspects of pre-modern Islam that they have come to dislike.) Modern Muslims will even go so far as to cast the prophet’s wars and the Arab conquests as defensive, or pre-emptive, but this was more than al-Amiri could bring himself to do.

When it came to the prophet, he fell back on the altruism argument: Mohammed was not in it for material wealth or power. This is clear from the fact that he suffered for ten years in Mecca before setting up a state in Medina; he conquered people for their own good, not for his own sake, and the Iranians ought to be grateful to the Arabs for having destroyed the Persian empire; not only did the Arabs bring the truth, they also freed them from for the oppressive tyranny and rigid social hierarchy that prevailed in that empire. The Muslims came as liberators on all fronts. Of course, al-Amiri says, Mohammed would have preferred not to use the sword at all, but since the infidels so stubbornly resisted him, he had no choice.

Al-Amiri’s tone here is rather like that of the 19th-century British imperialists who felt resentment against all those uncooperative peoples whose recalcitrance had forced Britain to take them over more or less against its will, as they felt it. They didn’t like war either, but what could one do when the natives refused to see the light. One had to fight them for their own sake, and the noble purpose elevated the war to a high moral status. That was al-Amiri’s response in a nutshell. But what his opponents argued was precisely that on the contrary, the use of war discredited the alleged purpose and proved the religion it was meant to spread to be false. So the more the Muslims defended jihad by yoking it to the service of religion, the more their non-Muslim opponents reacted by thinking that the religion must be bad. That’s how Christians and Muslims have been talking past each other for 1,400 years.

Meanwhile, other people defended jihad by observing that religion had two different functions: it organised collective life, and it also offered individual salvation. At the collective level it was a prescription for socio-political order, with its do’s and don’ts, its morality, its law and its war. At this level, coercion was indispensable, and holy war was just one form in which it was practiced. At the individual level it was pure spirituality, and at that level coercion was impossible. The only jihad you could fight here was the so-called greater jihad against your own evil inclinations.

So for example, the scholars will say that a man who has been converted by force becomes a full member of the Muslim community and must live as a Muslim in public, even though he is not a believer in his inner self. He had been coerced at the level of social and political affiliation, but one couldn’t force him to believe. In fact, they said, one could never know what was going on in people’s inner selves, and it wasn’t anyone’s business either: it was between the individuals and God alone. But what people did externally affected others and so had to be regulated. Having been forced into the Muslim community, the captive would have to live as a Muslim – the rest was up to him. Eventually, they said, the chances were that he or his children would see the light, become sincere believers of their own accord, and grateful for having been forced.

In this formulation the claim was that jihad was better than secular conquest. Unlike Alexander the Great, Mohammed incorporated people in a polity in which they had the option of being saved, in which they had the ability to see for themselves, in which they could choose to become true believers. But it left inner conviction as something over which the individual had full control.

This argument ought to be easy for modern people to understand, or at least Americans, for they also tend to think that war can be legitimated by a high moral purpose – as long as that purpose hasn’t got anything to do with individual faith. The moral purposes they have in mind are wholly secular, not the lower level of religion, and the salvation they talk about is in this world. But they too tend to be eager to rescue other people by enabling them to become more like themselves: richer, freer, more democratic. What do you do when your fingers are itching to intervene, when you have the power to do it, when you are sure you are right and you are convinced that the victims will be grateful – quite apart from all the advantages that may redound to yourself from intervening? Aren’t you allowed to use force? Indeed, aren’t you obliged to use it? Is it right to save people against their will? Should you force them to be free? If you say yes to these questions, you are in effect a believer in jihad.

But will the victims be grateful? In the Muslim case, the answer was normally yes. The scholars mention it time and again, as something everyone knew. People fell grateful that they had become Muslims, in whatever manner it had happened, voluntarily or by force. This made it difficult to entertain serious doubts about the legitimacy of jihad. In the last resort, most people liked the result. And this is one of the most striking differences between Muslim and European imperialism, which are otherwise so comparable. The one led to Islamisation, the other to westernisation; the one dragged you to Paradise in chains, the other to secular modernity. But people aren’t grateful for having been westernised. In line with this, westerners no longer take any pride in their imperial past. Today, westerners often hold imperialism to have invalidated the very civilisation it spread. They have been persuaded by their own arguments against jihad in a way the Muslims never were. Why this difference? It would call for another lecture.


Jihad, then and now
This leads to the fourth question: what is the relevance of all this to the modern world? The Muslims have not practised missionary jihad since the decline of the Ottoman empire, at least not under the sponsorship of states, and to my knowledge there are no serious calls for its return. What the tradition has left is a strong activist streak, a sense that it is right to fight for your convictions. “Look at you, you Christians, with your passivity you have turned religion into something that doesn’t exist”, as demonstrators against Salman Rushdie said in Paris in March 1989. But to understand the fundamentalists we need to go to the other kind of jihad, the one practised when the Muslims are politically weak.

What happens when Muslim territory falls under infidel sovereignty? Can Muslims stay on and live under non-Muslim rule? Some jurists said yes, others denied it on the grounds that Islamic law could only be applied in full under Muslim sovereignty. If infidels conquered Muslim land, the Muslims had to emigrate, they had to make a hijra to a place where they could practice Islamic law – either an existing Muslim state or a new one set up by themselves – and then they should start holy war in order to reconquer their homeland. Not all scholars subscribed to this view, but it was upheld by many in response to the loss of Muslim territory in Spain and it also inspired anti-colonial movements in British India, French Algeria and elsewhere.

Imagine an even worse scenario: what happens when not a single Islamic state exists any more, when all political power has turned infidel? The answer is the same with greater urgency (and probably less disagreement too). You must emigrate to a place where you can establish a Muslim state and then you must wage holy war to get it going. In both cases, the model is Mohammed: first he lived in pagan Mecca, under infidel sovereignty, then he emigrated to Medina where he established a Muslim polity and started jihad and conquered Mecca, which he cleansed and purified; thereafter his followers began the conquest of the rest of the world, in what eventually turned into missionary warfare.

Jihad for the recovery or actual creation of Muslim sovereignty (as opposed to its expansion): that’s the type that is practised today. Modern fundamentalists (or Islamists) call it defensive jihad, though it is not what the classical Muslims understood by that term. It makes sense to them, partly because they feel on the defensive; partly because everyone recognises the legitimacy of defensive war; and not least, because participation in defensive jihad is an individual obligation, like fasting and prayer, not a communal duty like the missionary type, which you don’t have to undertake as long as others are doing it. So calling your jihad defensive is good for mobilisation.

Whatever you call it, the missionary element is greatly reduced in this type of warfare. Of course, you have to convert people to your own beliefs in order to get them together for state formation and conquest, but the emphasis is not so much on saving people as on saving Islam, especially in the more extreme version when no Islamic state is deemed to exist at all. For Islam can’t exist without political embodiment, according to this view. There has to be a place on earth where God rules. Without it, collective (and individual?) life ceases to have any moral foundations.

In the past, jihad for the actual creation of Muslim sovereignty was only practised by heretics, for it was only heretics who would deny that existing states were Islamic. The very first to do so were the Kharijites, who are almost as old as Islam itself. There were also Shi’ites who did. But the Sunnis always accepted their own states as Islamic in some (sometimes minimalist) sense, at least until the 18th century, and most still do, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas. Their jihad is concentrated on the recovery of Muslim territory, such as Palestine, and the defence of Muslims in places such as Chechnya. They don’t attack infidels elsewhere, nor don’t they believe in fighting Muslim rulers, or not any more.

But other fundamentalists deem all Muslim states, or even all Muslim people apart from themselves, to be infidels. Al-Qaida is among them. They direct their efforts against America rather than fellow Muslims because America is deemed to be behind everything wrong in the Muslim world – you can’t correct the shadow cast by a crooked stick, as Osama bin Laden is said to have put it. But when America, the crooked stick, has been removed, it will be the turn of the Muslim world in general, and by that they mean all countries with a Muslim population, which is in effect the whole earth by now. So as far as al-Qaida is concerned, the old distinction between the abode of Islam and the abode of war has disappeared.

The extreme fundamentalists can’t see any difference between living in Egypt, for example, and living under non-Muslim rule, thanks to the all-pervasive influence of the modern state. In the old days the political domain was also worldly and corrupt, but the social domain was still shaped by Islam. Nowadays, however, it is the state that regulates marriage, divorce, inheritance, trade, finance, work, health, childcare, schooling, higher education, and so on, often with attention to what the sharia says, but freely reshaping it to fit modern, secular aims which originate in the infidel and politically dominant west.

So one way or the other, Muslims are ruled by the west wherever they live, not just politically but also socially and culturally. Wherever they are look, they are being invaded by so-called western values – in the form of giant billboards advertising self-indulgence, semi-pornographic films, liquor, pop music, fat tourists in indecent clothes and funny hats, and politicians lecturing people about the virtues of democracy. Religion does not actually shape the social realm any more, except rhetorically. All that religion shapes in modern Muslim societies is voluntary associations such as Sufi orders, Muslim brotherhoods, and fundamentalist cells, which fall short of being whole societies, let alone states, and which you can set up in non-Muslim countries too. So in effect, as the fundamentalists see it, all Muslims have become diaspora Muslims.

Some Muslims are happy with this. They want the socio-political order to be secularised; they want religious affiliation to be voluntary. They are the secularists, the people we have no trouble understanding. But to the fundamentalists, or rather to the extremists among them, all Muslims are now living in a new age of ignorance (jahiliyya) such as that which prevailed in pagan Arabia before the rise of Islam. This is why one must get together to reenact Mohammed’s career and save Islam.

Establishment religious scholars often compare such fundamentalists to the Kharijites of the early Islamic period, and with good reason. They are amazingly similar. There is the same declaration of other Muslims to be infidels, the same sense of fighting for God rather than for people – God has to rule even if the whole world is going to perish in the attempt -the same utter ruthlessness too. The Kharijites allowed assassinations, indiscriminate slaughter, the killing of men, women and children alike, much like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Their missions were often suicidal, too, not in the sense that they’d set out on individual missions bound to result in death, but rather in the sense that tiny numbers would take on huge forces bound to exterminate them, inspired by a quest for martyrdom. They had sold their souls to God, as they put it, and got a good price for them, too, namely Paradise; they went into battle intending to collect the price. And then as today, women would fight along with the men.

There is of course no direct link whatever between the Kharijites and modern fundamentalists. People like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri don’t even seem to know their own tradition all that well. Rather, they have stripped Islam of practically everything that most Muslims consider to be their religion.

What’s left is an archetypal monotheist of the confrontational type: a separatist and militant zealot. In the view of such zealots, God’s people can’t live together with infidels, they must have their own political space. Right and wrong must be embodied in separate communities, and every Muslim must fight to bring this about.

The history of Islam starts with a great separation of God’s people from the rest of mankind by force of arms, and Islamic history thereafter is punctuated by regular attempts to restore the separation, to get rid of all the complexity that obscured the simplicity of the original vision. Those who engaged in such attempts tended to come from the more peripheral areas of the middle east, often from a tribal background, and they were always minorities. The fundamentalists, too, are only a small minority today. But you don’t need an awful lot of people of this kind for an awful lot of trouble.

No pressure, then: religious freedom in Islam
Patricia Crone
7 November 2009
Open Democracy
About the author
Patricia Crone was professor of Islamic history at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton until her death in July 2015. This article is based on a lecture given at the University of Freiburg in 2007, which was itself based on P. Crone, ‘No Compulsion in Religion: Q. 2:256 in Medieval and Modern Interpretation’, in M.-A. Amir-Moezzi, M.M. Bar-Asher & S. Hopkins, eds., Le Shi`isme imamate quarante ans après, Paris: Brepols, 2009, 131-78, to which the reader is referred for documentation

The Quranic statement: “There is no compulsion in religion” – erupted into controversy again in 2006 when the Pope selected the most illiberal view of the text available. But when the thirty-eight Muslim scholars responded that he was wrong, they were necessarily misrepresenting history. To understand why they might wish to do this, we have to go back to 720-750 AD.

To understand the place of religious freedom in Islam, I will examine the different interpretations, from the earliest times until today, of the Quranic statement, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). Actually, I could not possibly cover all that in one article either, but that’s not too much of a problem, for all the major pre-modern interpretations were in place by the tenth century. So first I shall deal with the interpretations up to the tenth century, then I shall jump to the twentieth century and deal with the modernists, the Islamists and the context in which you may all have heard about the verse recently, namely the controversy over the Pope’s speech at Regensburg in September 2006, almost exactly one year ago.

The Pope was just one out of many people to talk about this verse. You hear a lot about it these days. When the American journalist Jill Carroll was kidnapped in Iraq in Jan. 2006, her kidnappers tried to convert her to Islam, but insisted that there was “no pressure” (= “no compulsion”) on her to convert. A friend of mine recently spotted the statement on a bumper sticker: “no compulsion in Islam”, it said; and you can read a lot about the verse on many websites too.

So why is there so much fuss about this statement? Well, one reason is that it expresses a tolerant view that Westerners like to hear, so it is a good passage to dispel their prejudices about Islam with. But it is also a statement of great importance in connection with the question whether Islam can coexist with a secular sphere: is Islam a belief system that you can combine with a any political order that you like – as long as they are religiously neutral? Or is it a religion that dictates its own political order? That’s a key issue today, and the “no compulsion” verse figures in the discussion. But you can’t appreciate what people say about it today without knowing the traditional interpretations, so as I said, we have to look at the pre-modern exegetes. They start round about 720-750 AD.

The six interpretations
La ikraha fi’l-din, “There’s no compulsion in religion”: to our modern ears it sounds like a declaration of unlimited religious freedom. It sounded that way to the earliest exegetes too, so in principle they could have said, this verse shows that Muslims must reject the use of compulsion in religious matters and that everyone must be free to choose his own religious beliefs. But in practice, they could not, and did not, say anything of the kind. Because if it is up to the individual to choose his own religion, then you can’t have a polity based on religion; if religion is a private matter, then the public space is secular, in the sense of based on some non-religious principle, such as territory or nationality, or whatever else a large number of people can feel they have in common. The exegetes lived in a polity based on Islam. Islam had created the public space they shared. For as you know, Islam had not grown up within a state, the way Christianity had; rather; it had created its own state. You obviously can’t have religious freedom in a community based on religion. You can’t have religious freedom in a church. All you can have is freedom to leave the church, if you don’t agree with it. But in a society based on shared religion you can’t easily have that freedom either unless you remove yourself physically, to go to live somewhere else.

So the “no compulsion” verse was a problem to the earliest exegetes, and they reacted by interpreting it restrictively, in one of three ways.

One solution was to say that the verse had been abrogated. It was generally agreed that God sometimes repealed a verse in favour of another without removing the text of the old one from the book. So some exegetes said that the verse had been revealed in Mecca, when Muhammad had no power: God was telling him that he could not and should not try to force the infidels to convert. But when he moved to Medina and set up a state of his own, God ordered him to wage holy war against the infidels. So the proclamation of religious freedom to the infidels was abrogated. In short, religious freedom had come and gone.

Unique specificity
Another solution was to say that the verse had been revealed in Medina in connection with some problems of purely historical relevance, to do with children of the Medinese: there were people in Medina whose children had been brought up by Jews, and so had become Jewish, or there were some who had converted to Christianity back in the days before the coming of Islam. When Muhammad came to Medina, the parents wanted these (by now adult) children to become Muslims and tried to force them, so this verse was revealed telling them to stop. This interpretation tied the verse to a unique historical situation. It hadn’t been formally abrogated, it just had no relevance any more, for no situation like that could arise again. For good measure some adherents of this scenario added that the verse had been abrogated. So this second solution was really a less drastic version of the first.

Freedom for dhimmis
The third solution also said that the verse had been revealed in Medina, but it placed its revelation in a later context to do with defeated infidels. According to this third interpretation, the verse was about protected people (dhimmis). Dhimmis were Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims who had passed under Muslim rule and been allowed to retain their own religion in return for the payment of jizya, poll-tax. Legally, they were not members of the Muslim community, just protegés of it. The third interpretation was to the effect that the verse prohibited forced conversion of dhimmis. Actually, all the jurists agreed anyway that dhimmis could not be forced to convert, so this was really just a way of finding something for the verse to do, but it had the advantage of giving the rule a memorable formulation, and we actually know of real cases where the verse was invoked to protect the right of dhimmis to retain their religion. So on the third interpretation the verse was indeed a proclamation of religious freedom, but only for dhimmis, not for Muslims or mankind at large.

So these were the three positions advanced by the earliest exegetes: the verse had been abrogated, or it had lost relevance, or it applied only to dhimmis. These are the canonical interpretations – the interpretations of the equivalent of the church fathers – and you’ll find one, or two or all three of them in every commentary on the Quran down to modern times, and quite often in modern ones as well. They all had the merit of making the verse compatible with the use of force for the maintenance and expansion of the Muslim community. It did not clash with the rule that apostates had to be executed, or with the use of force against internal dissenters, for it wasn’t about Muslims. Nor did it clash with the duty to wage jihad to bring all mankind under Muslim sovereignty, for it only granted freedom to infidels after they’d been subjected.

So the problem had been solved. But you aren’t going to get off that lightly. There are more interpretations that you need to know about.

The descriptive turn
The three canonical interpretations rest on the assumption that the verse should be understood as laying down a legal norm: it says that there is no compulsion in religion in the sense that it is morally wrong and legally forbidden to use force in religious matters. In other words, it is prescriptive. But from the ninth century onwards there were people who wanted to use the verse for purposes of theology rather than law. They included the theologians of the Mu’tazilite school, and according to them, the verse was not prescriptive, but descriptive. It did not condemn or prohibit anything, it was a straightforward factual statement. “There is no compulsion in religion” means just that: there isn’t any, full stop.

What they meant by this was that when God says that there is no compulsion in the religion, He means that He does not practise compulsion. God does not force you to be a believer or an infidel – i.e. He does not predestine or determine it for you: you have free will. This may sound farfetched to you, but the word for determination was jabr, compulsion, and the word for free will, or one of them, was qadar, power. God was seen as refraining from using His power so that you could have your own; he was abstaining from compulsion – from determination – so that you could choose whether to be a believer or an unbeliever. That’s what God was saying here, according to the Mu’tazilites: the verse was a declaration of unlimited freedom from divine coercion. God allows you to choose your own salvation. It is just humans who don’t: the Mu’tazilites accepted that. They agreed that religious freedom was only for dhimmis. But vis-à-vis God everybody was free to choose for himself.

You’ll say, how could the Mu’tazilites hold that humans can use coercion where God won’t? Well, they had a second interpretation here. They said that the verse could also be read as declaring that there is not and cannot really be any such thing as human coercion in religious matters either, for it simply is not possible to force other people to believe. You can only force them to act as believers, i.e. to conform on the surface; you can’t force them to believe in their innermost hearts. So on the first Mu’tazilite interpretation, God is saying that He won’t force people to believe; and on the second Mu’tazilite interpretation, He is saying that you can’t do it. In short, in your inner self, your private interior, you are free vis-à-vis humans and God alike.

But your external self was a different matter. You were free as a disembodied soul, not as an embodied social being. As a member of a human society you were subject to coercion in all kinds of ways. Social life is impossible without coercion. There was – still is – no way round that. And since the Muslim polity was based on religion, coercion had to be used in religious matters too. But that didn’t contradict the verse according to the Mu>tazilites because the coercion was only applied to the external person: the inner person was free; there was no coercion in religion in the sense of inner conviction. So on their interpretation the verse was not contradicted by the duty to wage holy or execute apostates either. It was even compatible with forced conversion. It was allowed to force people to become Muslims when they hadn’t become dhimmis yet or couldn’t become dhimmis, either because they were pagans rather than Christians, Jews or Zoroastrians or because they were slaves. In fact, one Mu’tazilite said that forcing people to convert was a good thing, because sooner or later they or their children would acquire genuine faith: so you would have saved them from eternal hellfire. And you hadn’t forced them to accept the truth. In their inner hearts they had converted of their own accord. You had only forced them into the Muslim community which made it possible for them to see the truth.

You’ll probably react by finding this a self-serving argument, and so it was, of course. It allowed the Mu’tazilites to legitimate the use of force in religious matters while at the same time claiming that there was no such thing. But they weren’t just being self-serving. When the Mu’tazilites made their sharp distinction between inner conviction and external conformance, they were saying was that individual salvation was one thing, civic religion was something else. Civic religion was all about keeping Muslim society together in the here and now, it was the religion you had for the public space, the religion that was good for the social and political order. Your own wishes had to be subordinated to those of the community here. You could not and did not have complete freedom at that level. Here as in other societies, you had to obey the law, and the law happened to be religious. But you could choose your own innermost convictions, your own avenue to salvation. You could believe what you liked as long as you did not endanger the boat that everybody was sailing in.

This distinction between civic religion based on the law and individual conviction based on a freely chosen theology or philosophy or spirituality was quite a marked feature of Muslim thinking in the tenth and the eleventh centuries. Many people saw the law-based, collective religion of the community as something lower and more prosaic than individual spirituality or philosophy or esotericism. They had a strong sense that individuals had needs that went far beyond those served by communal worship. So they distinguished between the external and the internal, the lower and the higher: they saw these two as forming two distinct levels of religion. But they did not go so far as to secularise the lower level. They didn’t say that the civic level should have nothing to do with religion at all. Some came close. The Ismaili Shi’ites initially denied that the civic religion – the law – had any saving power. You were saved by your inner convictions alone. But that put them beyond the pale, so they changed their mind. Being a good social being, a good citizen, did have saving value by common consent, that of the Ismailis included. It just wasn’t all there was to religion, or even the most important part.

What the Mu’tazilites were saying was that in the higher sphere of religion there was no compulsion. All human beings, not just dhimmis or Muslims, had an inner sanctum that was controlled by themselves alone. They had what you would call freedom of conscience. But this freedom was wholly internal, you couldn’t claim it as a social being. And it was deemed to exist as a matter of fact, so it was not protected by the law. It wasn’t a right you could claim. All you could do was to retreat into your inner self, where you were alone with God. Here again the Ismailis were an exception: they did award legal protection to individual religiosity. But for everyone else it remains true to say that individual freedom of religion was never given legal expression; it was never allowed to prevail against the social order.

The two Mu’tazilite interpretations of the verse, as a statement that God will not and that humans cannot coerce in religious matters, were extremely long-lived. They went into both Shi’ism and Sunnism, where their Mu’tazilite origin was soon forgotten. You’ll find those two interpretations along with the canonical three in a fair number of Sunni and Shi’ite commentaries all the way down to modern times.

No forced renunciations of Islam
Now I’ve given you five interpretations. I’m sorry, but I have to add a sixth: it takes us back to the prescriptive interpretations. Some people said that the verse did indeed prohibit forced conversion, but not of dhimmis: what it prohibited was forced conversion of Muslims to something false, i.e. it said that it was unlawful to force Muslims to renounce Islam. This interpretation was also in place by the tenth century, but it is much less common than the other five. In fact, there were more interpretations, but I shall leave them aside because practically all modern interpretations involve doing things with one or more of these six.

Modernism and Islamism
So what happens in modern times? Well, what happens is that Europe becomes the dominant power, and the Europeans go around saying that Islam is a backward religion which established itself by force, which lacks the virtue of tolerance, and so on. So Muslims now have to rebut these charges, and the “no compulsion” verse is an obvious one to do it with. As I said, it voices a view that Westerners like. But as I also said, there’s more to it. The dominance of the West doesn’t just mean that Muslims have to cope with rude remarks from Westerners. It also means that their own traditional pattern of a society based on a religious law begins to looks outmoded. Modernism means separating religion from socio-political matters, it means draining law and war of religious significance and basing them instead on secular ideologies such as nationalism or communism, leaving religion as something optional for your private salvation. That’s the European pattern; that’s what allows for religious toleration; and that’s what every self-respecting society now had to claim to have as well in order to count in an era of European dominance. So whereas the early exegetes had to interpret the “no compulsion” verse restrictively, the twentieth-century exegetes have to widen its meaning again, to read it as a universal declaration of religious freedom that would both refute the European charges and provide an impeccable Quranic basis for something like a separation between religious and political matters in Islam. The religious scholars start working on the verse in a modernist vein already around 1900, but it isn’t really till the 1940s that they get going.

So how could they widen the interpretation of the verse without declaring all the earlier exegetes to be wrong, and so throw out their entire exegetical tradition? Well, for one thing they could stop talking about the verse being abrogated: nobody, absolutely nobody says that it is abrogated anymore, not even the most conservative Saudis.

But then what? Well, the answer is they could go to the Mu’tazilite strand which was embedded in both the Sunni and Shi’ite traditions. The Mu’tazilites had done some separation of the public and the private spheres, the civic and the individual; and if you read them in the light of modern preoccupations, you’ll misunderstand them. You’ll engage in creative reinterpretation, as people will say these days. When a modern person reads a pre-modern exegete explaining that there is no coercion in religion because we have to choose for ourselves, he will not see that the exegete means that God does not coerce you; he will take the exegete to be saying that we should not do it. In other words, he will understand a factual statement about the absence of divine coercion as a prescriptive statement prohibiting human coercion – and that gives him the position he wants. Or again, if he sees a statement to the effect that religion is confession by the heart and therefore beyond compulsion, he will read that too as a prohibition of compulsion, not as a claim that compulsion is all right because it only affects outer man.

From the 1940s onwards you see one exegete after another adapt the two Mu’tazilite arguments along those modernist lines. Tantawi, the current rector of al-Azhar in Cairo, is among them. He is actually perfectly familiar with the explanation of the verse as a factual statement that God doesn’t coerce us, but that doesn’t stop him having the modernist adaptation as well. The modernist (mis)interpretation has become an independent position in its own right. Countless exegetes have it. More often than not, they’ll tell you that the verse is a declaration of religious freedom and that this shows Christians to be wrong when they claim that Islam was spread by force. Along with this they’ll often adduce the second canonical interpretation, about how the verse was revealed when the Medinese wanted to convert their Jewish or Christian children to Islam by force: this interpretation (which had changed already in the centuries not covered here) is now read as a timeless account of how Islam respects religious differences, not as a story trying to get rid of the verse by tying it to a bygone historical situation. Modern exegetes will often add that it isn’t possible to convert people by force, meaning that therefore it is prohibited, not that therefore no legal prohibition is necessary.

But of course forced conversion of Jews and Christians isn’t the real issue any more. The big issue is Muslim society itself. The laws regulating modern Muslim states are mostly secular: should the civic sphere be wholly secularised? Can Muslims be fully integrated in secular societies in the West? In other words, should religion be something you have along with your citizenship rather than as part of it?

And if yes, should this additional membership be wholly voluntary, so that Muslims would be free to convert to other religions, or to have no religion? The modernists tend to be rather unclear on this: they hide behind the bluster about forced conversion, feeling that if they assert the principle of religious freedom there, then they’ve paid their respects to modern values and can keep silent about the rest. For to say that people are free to leave Islam is officially to declare the public order to be secular, so that one could in principle be an atheist or a Buddhist or a Hindu along with being a full citizen of Egypt. And you are then half way to the situation where no religious community has privileged access to the state, where all religious associations are equally private. That is full secularism, and it would be a radical change. It is too radical for most modernists to contemplate it. Islamists.

Nowadays the modernists are under siege by the Islamists –people who want the public sphere to be fully based on Islam again. Some are militant and some are not, but all are convinced that secularism is a mistake. In their view, Islam should not be drained of authority, but on the contrary serve as the basis of it. As they see it, Islam prescribes its own social space and its own political agency, and religious freedom is nonsense unless Muslims are allowed to have this freedom within their own political organisation: religious freedom is the right to live as a Muslim, not just in private affairs, but also in public ones.

You can read that in Sayyid Qutb, the enormously influential Islamist who was hanged by Nasser in 1966. According to him, you must wage jihad to bring about that freedom now, for secularism is an oppressive system that doesn’t allow you to practise what you believe. All this is directed against the Egyptian regime, Nasser’s state, not against the infidel West. He wrote his exegesis in jail; it was a secularist regime that was persecuting him, and which eventually hanged him: secularism did not mean freedom to him, just as it didn’t to the mullahs in the Shah’s Iran.

To them, as to other the victims of Middle Eastern regimes, secularism did not stand for religious neutrality, as it does to Westerners, but rather the forced imposition of something false and foreign. They would adduce the “no compulsion” verse against these regimes. The verse forbids forced conversion to falsehood, as the blind shaykh Umar b. Abd al-Rahman said during his trial for complicity in the assassination of Sadat in 1981. He was quoting the sixth interpretation I have given you, from an Andalusian scholar who’d written at the time of the Christian Reconquista. According to Sayyid Qutb and others, true religious freedom can only obtain under Islamic rule, for it is only under Islamic rule that people will be allowed to follow their own creeds.

It sounds great until you start thinking about the implications. How can Christians, Jews, Buddhists or atheists be full members of a state which is conceived as an expression of Islamic aims? They can’t, of course. Several Islamists will explicitly tell you that actually, non-Muslims will have to resume the position of dhimmis, protected people. And by non-Muslims they typically mean Jews and Christians, full stop. In the past, some jurists held that only Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians qualified for dhimmi status; others said that all infidels did, whoever they were. The Islamists always go for the restrictive view, and what they want to outlaw with it is atheism. Their position is quite clear: atheism is a form of paganism, or idolatry, and Islam does not recognize that as a religion. Religion means monotheism, and religious freedom does not include the freedom to have no religion, because in their view there can’t be any morality without religion.

In actual fact, the Islamists don’t really believe in religious freedom, except for themselves, because they believe that religion should form the basis of the social and political order; but the concept of religious freedom is so prestigious that even they can’t quite abandon it.

Many of them are so torn between their desire to present Islam as a religion of tolerance and their determination to force their fellow-citizens back into the Islamic fold that they end up in complete incoherence. Take the ayatullah Sabzawari, a Shi’ite cleric who published his exegesis in 1997. He starts by interpreting the no compulsion verse to mean that compulsion is unnecessary, impossible, and forbidden: it couldn’t be clearer. He adds that Islam was not established by the sword: fine. But Muslims do have to fight, he says, not to convert people by force, only to restore them to their original nature, which is Islam. In his view this is not really compulsion, for like other Imamis he combines the second Mu’tazilite argument with the old idea of Islam as original human nature (fitra) and argues that to deny Islam is to deny one’s own identity and will, so that being forced to live as a Muslim is simply to be restored to one’s self. Besides, he says, compulsion only affects the external man, and sometimes it is actually a good thing for both the public order and the victim; indeed, what would be more repugnant in moral term than leaving people to work for their own damnation? In short, forced conversion is unnecessary, impossible, forbidden, required, a good thing, and highly commendable.

Or for a Sunni example, take Dr ‘Amir ‘Abd al-‘Aziz , editor with Yusuf al-Qaradawi and others of the Journal of Islamic Jerusalem Studies, who published an exegetical work, in Arabic, in 2000. He too starts by affirming that the “no compulsion” verse rejects forced conversion. “It is not permitted for Muslims to convert infidels to the faith by force”, he says, “for that kind of thing is no use, leads to no good, and does not bring about faith in the hearts of their own free will”. He adds that it is not necessary to use force either, for Islam is a clear religion based on cogent arguments (many traditional exegetes say that too). On the contrary, he declares, the coercive method is characteristic of vacuous, odious, self-absorbed egoists and oppressive authorities. So there is no coercion. But, he says, the verse was revealed specifically about Christians and Jews. Idolaters and similar godless and permissive people have to be compelled to adopt Islam, since they cannot be accepted as dhimmis and do not deserve any consideration because of their godlessness, stupidity, error and foolishness. In other words, Muslims are not permitted to convert anyone force, but “anyone” really just means dhimmis, as in traditional law. All others have to be forced, above all Muslim secularists.

The Islamists tend to avoid discussing apostates, but some of them explicitly say that the verse does not grant freedom of religion to them. So all their talk about religious freedom is really designed to get rid of it. Unclarity. In short, everybody is agreed that Islam goes in for religious freedom, but not on what it means, except that Christians and Jews shouldn’t be forced to convert. Everything else is unclear. Unclarity is also the key impression left by the controversy over the Pope’s speech at Regenburg in 2006, with which I shall conclude.

The Pope mentioned that according to some experts, the “no compulsion” verse probably dated from “the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat” and that other rules had later been added concerning holy war; in other words, the Pope adopted the first canonical interpretation, according to which the verse had been revealed in Mecca and abrogated in Medina. Thirty-eight Muslim scholars responded that the Pope was wrong: the verse had been revealed in Medina in connection with some Jews or Christians who had wanted to force their children to convert to Islam, as one could read in al-Tabari and other early commentators; it did not date from the period when the Muslims were weak and powerless, but rather from their period of political ascendance, and it taught them that “they could not force another’s heart to believe”.

Well, to a historian, that was an odd reaction. One can read the Pope’s interpretation in al-Tabari and other early commentators too. One might have expected the thirty-eight scholars to respond that the Pope was out of date, and that the interpretation he went for no longer carried any weight: that is certainly true. But that is not what they said. They said that he was mistaken; and they corrected him with reference to a hybrid interpretation of their own: the Medinese were forbidden to convert their children by force, they said. Fine, that’s the second canonical interpretation, as dusted off by modernists. The verse taught them that they could not force another’s heart to believe. That’s the second Mu’tazilite interpretation, the verse as a factual statement about the impossibility of coercing inner man. Traditionally, that goes with the view that coercing outer man is all right, though it doesn’t usually do so in modern works, so what did they mean? Were they reserving the right to coerce outer man, the social being? I don’t know. I suspect that the formulation was a compromise designed to paper over the cracks between different positions.

Here the interpreters of the “no compulsion” verse show us another aspect of the clash between secularism and Islam. To a historian, the thirty-eight scholars were being somewhat less than frank. They told the Pope that he was wrong instead of freely admitting that the view he had selected is indeed part of the Islamic tradition. One Islamicist professor in America happily followed suit and publicly said that the Pope should apologize for getting his facts wrong. But the Pope didn’t get his facts wrong, he just selected the most illiberal view available, which is out of date. The reason why the thirty-eight scholars did not simply say this outright is partly that they were not writing as historians, but rather as theologians, and partly that it would have been to acknowledge that doctrines change. That is something that Muslim clerics are still reluctant to do.

To a historian, the thirty-eight clerics were guilty of traducing the past: they knowingly misrepresented it. But what the thirty-eight clerics would reply, I imagine, is that we historians are guilty of traducing the present: for we knowingly show people’s convictions to be historically conditioned rather than perennial truths. By insisting that the past must be understood in its own light, we remove the support of the tradition from the present; we undermine its authority. This is true, and it is all the worse if you think that change is a sign of falsehood.

We historians do not equate change with falsehood, but there is no way around the fact that we are secularisers: we are secularising history, because we separate the past we are studying from our own and other people’s modern convictions; we do not allow the past to be rewritten as mere support for these modern convictions. That’s a problem to all traditional believers, and perhaps to Muslims more than most. Muslims tend not to have a problem with modern science: the Quran does not have a mythological account of the creation, it is not incompatible with any modern scientific views. But history is a different matter because the truths of Islam are tied to history. So whether they want to or not, historians also find themselves as actors in the debate whether, or to what extent, Islam should coexist with a secular sphere.

Where will it all end? Well, there at least even the most modern of historians can give the most traditional of answers: God knows best.

Assassination attempts on senior Pakistani army officers

From Dr Hamid Hussein.

Marked for Death – Assassination Attempts on Senior Officers of Pakistan Army
Hamid Hussain

Since 2002, Pakistan army is involved in a rapidly evolving struggle against terrorism.  When the first shots of this new war were fired, Pakistan army was neither trained nor prepared for the conflict.  Confusion, complacency and utter incompetence at all levels gave an upper hand to the extremists all over the country.  First, the government lost the control of tribal areas followed by the loss of the large swaths of the settled division of Malakand.  Militants established themselves in tribal regions and from there launched forays into major cities.  They abducted, killed and bombed civilians and soldiers alike all over the country sending the whole nation into a deep depression.

Police and paramilitary forces faced the brunt of the militant onslaught.  Many soldiers and disproportionately large numbers of young officers of army were killed and wounded in clashes with militants.  Militants embarked on a deliberate course of targeting senior officers of security forces including army.  Many senior police, paramilitary and army officers were targeted by militants.  This was a multipronged strategy with objectives of eliminating individual officers to shake morale of officer corps and on psychological plane sending the signal to general public that security forces couldn’t protect them.

On June 10, 2004, the convoy of Karachi Corps Commander Lieutenant General (later General and VCOAS) Ahsan Saleem Hayat came under attack that resulted in death of eight soldiers.  Ahsan’s driver and co-driver were shot killing co-driver on the spot while driver was seriously wounded and later died.  Driver’s foot remained on the accelerator and car kept moving but in a zigzag fashion.  Ahsan’s ADC seated behind the driver got hold of the steering wheel and got out of the ambush.  Attacker’s plan was to first detonate an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) stopping Ahsan’s car and then spray it with bullets to finish the job.  IED failed to explode and attackers hiding near the bridge opened fire killing several guards but Ahsan survived.

On February 25, 2008, Surgeon General of Pakistan army Lieutenant General Mushtaq Ahmad Beg was killed when a suicide bomber blew himself near his car stopped at a traffic signal in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.  He is the senior most army officer killed by militants.  On November 19, 2008, retired Major General Amir Faisal Alvi was shot and killed in Islamabad.  Alvi had served as GOC of army’s elite Special Forces Special Services Group (SSG) and involved in many early operations in tribal areas.  He was known for joining his troops in the heat of the operations that boosted the morale of his troops. After his retirement, militants had issued several threats to him and finally succeeded in killing him.

In a three week time period, three serving Brigadiers of Pakistan army were targeted in the capital city of Islamabad sending shock waves among the officer community.  On October 22, 2009, Brigadier Moinuddin Ahmad along with his driver was shot dead in Islamabad.  A week later, another Brigadier Waqar Ahmad Malik was shot in Islamabad. He was director Defence Services Guards (DSG).  On November 05, 2009, Brigadier Sohail and his driver were shot and injured when their car was ambushed in Islamabad.

On December 04, 2009, terrorists attacked a mosque in Rawalpindi cantonment used by soldiers and their family members killing more than forty people including several children.  Two suicide bombers blew themselves inside the mosque while other two threw hand grenades and sprayed the congregation with automatic rifle fire.  This was one of the most devastating attacks on army fraternity.  The dead included Major General Bilal Omar, Brigadier Abdul Rauf, Lieutenant Colonel Manzoor Saeed and Lieutenant Colonel Fakhar ul Hassan.  The only son of then Peshawar Corps Commander Lieutenant General Masood Aslam was also among the dead as well as sons of Major General Nasim Riaz, Brigadier Mumtaz, Brigadier Sadiq, Colonel Qaiser, Colonel Shukran and Colonel Shabbir.   Fathers of Major General Awais Mustafa and Colonel Farooq Awan were also among the dead.  Colonel Kaleem Zubair lost his father as well as his son in the carnage. This was the most heart breaking tragedy until militants trumped their own brutality when in December 2014 they attacked Army Public School in Peshawar killing around 150 students as well as many teacher.

On September 07, 2011, two suicide bombers targeted the residence of Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Frontier Corps (FC) – Baluchistan Brigadier Farrukh Shahzad.  In a devastating precision and coordination, first suicide bomber rammed the explosive laden car targeting FC vehicles waiting to escort the DIG-FC who was coming out of his residence killing several soldiers.  Five minutes later rushing through the chaos, second suicide bomber was able to barge through the damaged gate and partially demolished walls of the residence and detonated his explosives.  The second attack inside the residence killed the wife of Brigadier Shahzad, FC administrator Colonel Khalid Masood and injured Brigadier Shahzad and one of his children.  Thirteen FC personnel lost their lives and another sixteen injured in this incident.

In September 2013, GOC of Swat Major General Sanaullah Khan Niazi was visiting a remote outpost in Dir when his vehicle hit an IED killing him and Lieutenant Colonel Tauseef Ahmad.  It was a planned attack and later militants released a video of the attack.  Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Mullah Fazlullah claimed that they were planning to target the Corps Commander of Peshawar based XI Corps but Niazi’s turn came first.

Though rare, but militants have also attempted to kidnap officers or their family members with the objective of exchanging them for the release of captured militant leaders.  Son-in-Law of then Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) General Tariq Majeed; the senior most officer of Pakistani armed forces was abducted by militants and kept in Waziristan for several years.  He was from a wealthy family and militants asked for a large sum of money as well as release of some high profile militants under army’s custody.  He was released but the terms of his release are not known.  On October 11, 2012, Brigadier Tahir Masood who had retired a week before from the media wing of Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) was kidnapped right from the heart of Islamabad while his driver was killed.  To date, he has not been recovered and believed to be in the custody of militants in Islamabad.

There were two major assassination attempts on then Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and President General Pervez Mussharraf in December 2003.  The first attack was on December 14, 2003 when terrorists planted large amount of explosives under a bridge.  When Mussharraf’s convoy reached the bridge, it was blown but no one was killed.  Over five hundred pounds of explosives were placed on the farther side of the bridge and explosive charge was detonated by an operative on the site via a telephone call to the receiver attached to the explosive charge.  Terrorists hoped that by this placement the oncoming car of General Mussharraf would either hit the concrete flying in car’s direction or ram into the exposed steel bars.  In case of missing these two eventualities, the car may plunge into the huge gap in the bridge slamming down in the bed (see the pictures below).  The operator in an effort to be not too visible positioned himself in such a way that obscured his direct visual contact with the convoy.  The result was that he couldn’t time the detonation with the car getting on the bridge.  These precious few seconds saved everybody.

Two weeks later on December 25, Mussharraf’s convoy was hit by two suicide car bombs in quick succession.  The driver of first attack was later identified as a Kashmiri named Mohammad Jamil.  The skin of his face blew off clean from skeletal structure preserving features.  An army plastic surgeon reconstructed it and it matched the picture on burned out identity card.  His cell phone was damaged but SIM was intact and from the calls as well as his diary recovered from his home provided some clues.  The driver of second car was a Pathan named Khaleeq.  The tracking of this piece of the investigation led to discovery that two soldiers of elite Special Services Group (SSG) were helping militants.  One named Dogar had served in the security detail of General Mussharraf and other Arshad was in the security detail of Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) General Yusuf Khan.  Later Military Intelligence (MI) recovered powerful rockets from his house in Kahuta.

General Mussharraf assigned the task of investigation of the assassination attempts to then Rawalpindi based X Corps Commander Lieutenant General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.  This interaction brought Kayani very close to Mussharraf and later resulted in his succession to Mussharraf as COAS.  The puzzle of the December 14 attack was solved by a chance discovery by military authorities in Quetta.  They found that a civilian chap named Mushtaq had links with extremist elements in technical staff of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) at Quetta and Peshawar bases.  Quetta based XII Corps commander Lieutenant General Shahid Hamid called Kayani and informed him about this information.  This information led to arrest of several low level PAF technicians who were involved in the assassination attempt.

The ending of the saga of these two assassination attempts is tragic as well as comic.  On April 15, 2012, 150 to 200 heavily armed militants attacked central jail in Bannu freeing over 400 prisoners including a chap named Adnan Rashid.  Adnan was involved in assassination attempt on General Mussharraf.  Details of his arrest were never disclosed and there is some confusion.  A senior police intelligence official informed me that he was single handedly apprehended by an inspector of Intelligence Bureau (IB) (this inspector was later killed in a target killing incident).  Adnan was a PAF technician and may be member of the group suspected to have links with militants.  Later, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in assassination attempt on General Mussharraf.

After his escape from Bannu jail, Adnan became another alligator in the swamps of Waziristan and quickly rose among the militant cadres due to his discipline and thorough planning.  He was no boy scout and was busy planning high profile strikes.  He established a small elite group and personally trained them for another assassination attempt on General ® Mussharraf.   He planned and executed a mass jail break in 2013.  On July 29, 2013, over one hundred heavily armed militants stormed central jail in Dera Ismail Khan freeing around 180 inmates from the center of the city flooded with police, paramilitary forces and headquarters of a whole infantry division of the army.  This was another sad day for the state of Pakistan.  In July 2014, Adnan was arrested in South Waziristan when military started a push in Waziristan.

Another key member of the group that planned attack on General Mussharraf was a chap named Mushtaq.  He was arrested and kept in the custody of PAF at a base in Rawalpindi.  In November 2004, when he came out of shower he saw the guard sleeping.  He put on an overall used by PAF technicians, walked to the main gate where guards waved him and then asked a uniformed PAF soldier on motorcycle to give him a ride to the bus station close by and disappeared.  A deeply embarrassed army vowed to capture him and a special cell in Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) was assigned for his capture.  Mushtaq was not the one to be happy with this one in a life time chance.  He went straight back into the belly of the beast and started planning another strike on General Mussharraf.  ISI got his scent, followed his contacts and he was finally arrested when he was travelling from Lahore to Islamabad.

Pakistan army paid a heavy price in the last decade and loss of such a high number of senior officers is unprecedented in recent military history. With the hind sight of 20/20, it seems that many of these losses were avoidable. One much neglected aspect is orientation towards personal security.  In my own observations, I found that almost all officers use drivers and in some cases guards.  Analyzing many assassination attempts, it is quite clear that assassins first shoot the driver thus immobilizing the target.  This quite clearly shows that if you are not driving your own vehicle, you are a sitting duck as you cannot escape from the ambush.  Compare this with the notorious case of Raymond Davis who was driving his car alone in a foreign country carrying his own personal weapon, reacted quickly and shot two who tried to stop his vehicle. If competent and professional, guards can provide some screen but in most cases they fail to protect their charge.  Personal security is a special task and simply handing a weapon to a lazy soldier from the cantonment does not equate to security.  I recall attending a high profile wedding in rural Pakistan.  I was chatting with one of the guests; a local garrison commander. I observed that he had three armed soldiers in civilian clothes guarding him. Even casual look showed that they were probably from supply or signals, handed a weapon and asked to accompany the local commander.  Few minutes later I noticed that two handed their weapons to the third and probably either went to rest room or eat food.  The lone guard had his own weapon slung over his shoulder while the two weapons of his colleagues were at his feet.  I sincerely hoped that garrison commander carried his own personal weapon and was not putting his life in the hands of his guards.  Many officers at the forefront of the operations have been threatened by militants.  Officers should be briefed about basic principles of personal security.  Two simple measures of driving their own vehicles and carrying personal weapon will help to keep the initiative in their own hands.

A decade ago, Pakistan army stumbled into a war with an unhealthy mix of confusion and hesitation at the highest level and unpreparedness at all levels thus handing the initiative to the militants. It took several years for the army to take the fight to the militants.  In the last one year, cleaning of some of the swamps of tribal areas and clean up in the cities has dramatically reduced violence all over the country.  Now that the militants are on the run, it is important to keep the momentum in tribal areas as well as cities to keep the citizens of the country soldiers and civilians alike safe.

Acknowledgements: Author thanks many for their valuable input and clarifications.  However, conclusions as well as all errors and omissions are author’s sole responsibility.


Sources of information are based on author’s frequent visits to the troubled regions and interaction with a diverse group of individuals.  Most of the information about attempts on General Mussharraf is from his autobiography, Pervez Mussharraf.  In the Line of the Fire: A Memoir (London: Simon & Schuster), 2006

Hamid Hussain
July 31, 2015

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