Imran Khan Phenomenon; My Prediction in 2011

I wrote this article back in 2011 for, someone in Outlook picked it up this year. I think I was not far wrong..

The 12th Man Rises

Pakistan’s greatest cricketing hero and second most successful philanthropist entered politics 15 years ago, promising a progressive, Islamic, modern, corruption-free Pakistan. His position as the most successful captain in Pakistan’s cricket history, the founder of Pakistan’s finest cancer hospital (providing free modern cancer care to thousands) provided him instant cachet, but for a long time he was unable to convert this personal popularity into votes in actual elections. With a political platform heavy on slogans (particularly against corruption) but short on specifics and without any obvious connection to already existing grass-roots politics, he remained little more than a fixture on the talk-show circuit for a very long time. Brief flirtation with Pervez Musharraf also set him back, as did a tendency to spout fables about Jirgas and hobnob with jihadi ideologues like Hamid Gul. But his biggest problem was his failure to create a team that could carry his party forward. The Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was a one man show, with Imran Khan its only impressive asset. Even in parties dominated by one strong leader, there are other leaders in the wings and at least a semi-coherent ideology that delivers a section of the vote-bank on ideological grounds alone. Imran had no visible team and no clear ideology beyond a promise to “eradicate corruption”.

He did seem to genuinely believe in the formulaic slogans and historical framework of the 6th grade“ideology of Pakistan” he learned in Aitcheson college. He seems to have some vague notion of “the two nation theory” (basically, “we are not Indians”) and an even vaguer “respect” for Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal, twin icons of Pakistan’s history. But like his middle class fans, it is a superficial and shallow belief system, with little to show beyond a few empty slogans like “Pakistan first”, “Islamic welfare state” and “we are all Pakistanis now, so we are no longer Punjabis, Sindhis, Pakhtoons or Balochis”. Behind the automatic repetition of such slogans there does lurk an odour of “one folk, one party, one leader” fascism (as it does behind all crude nationalisms) but this is not to imply that Imran Khan is consciously thinking of leading a fascist takeover of Pakistan. His commitment to some notion of democracy seems genuine enough, though his priority (and this is not unusual among middle class nationalists) is nationalism, not democracy; in a crisis, he can easily convince himself that we may have to kill democracy to save the country. In any case, lacking organization and experience and without a good grasp of actual grass-roots politics, he was easily brushed aside by older established political parties.

Things changed in 2008. International pressure and a worsening domestic political position forced Pervez Musharraf to accept elections and eventually to bring “failed politicians” back in power. Imran Khan boycotted those elections, but came back on TV chat shows to dog the new (and admittedly, corrupt and incompetent) civilian set-up at every step. Meanwhile, GHQ managed to win back some of its tarnished reputation by staying away from public view, letting Zardari take all the blame for every disaster (even ones GHQ itself had birthed). The Zardari regime also managed to select an exceptionally bad team, from a clueless prime minister to one of the worst collections of cabinet ministers in Pakistan’s history. His opposite number in the PMLN did a marginally better job in the provincial government in Punjab, but not by much. Continuous infighting, breaking and remaking of coalitions, massive corruption at every level, and a terrorism problem that has kept the nation unsafe for international investment, all these drained the existing political parties of credibility and created an opening for an outsider.

Meanwhile, the deep state continued its “good jihadi, bad jihadi” policy at home and its double game with the US abroad. With the Osama Bin Laden assassination, matters seem to have come to a head with the US. The Americans want GHQ to arrange for an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan and appear willing to pay Pakistan for help in achieving this, but they are not yet ready to hand the place back to the Taliban and the Haqqanis and their Jihadi friends. GHQ meanwhile is playing hardball and smells victory (also smells disasters to come after victory, but victory has its own momentum) and maybe feeling tempted to get rid of the present civilian setup , preferring a civilian regime that is more closely aligned with their own strategic vision. The Facebook generation and the deep state may thus both be ready to opt for Imran Khan. And Imran Khan, it seems, is ready to opt for them. He has sharpened his anti-American message (a message that appeals to both the jihadi and the left-liberal wings of the middle classes) and toned down criticism of the army. He is saying all the right things about drone attacks, peace with our Taliban brothers and an American defeat in Afghanistan. He has been well coached by Shireen Mazari and Hamid Gul and his party is using trained cadres from the Islami Jamiat e Tulaba as well as enthusiastic youngsters from the Facebook generation. The moment has produced the man.

Having produced the man, the next step was to launch him on to the political stage in suitable manner. That step was achieved in Lahore on the 30th of October. Whether the deep state helped out with the gathering or not, the crowd was impressive and enthusiastic. For most of the young people there, it was the first taste of a genuine mass event where everyone is pushing towards one goal with one voice. That this “goal” was being defined in the Paknationalist terms they have all been fed in school and in everyday propaganda was the icing on the cake. Grown men were seen to cry helplessly as carefully choreographed patriotic music blared and the crowd rose as one to sing the national anthem. Fed on a steady diet of news about corrupt, treacherous and unpatriotic politicians, the crowd was happy to anoint Imran Khan as the saviour who will eradicate corruption and save the nation. A generation that never saw the much bigger gatherings of Benazir Bhutto and her father seems to have been swept off their feet by the event. And why not? In addition to pushing the Paknationalist buttons, the rally had something for everyone. A prayer break (with the great leader praying alone on stage during the event) was followed by Shahzad Roy and guitar music. Bearded boys with Al-Jihad headbands mingled good naturedly with middle class families and liberal students from LUMS and NUST. For one shining evening, it must have seemed like hope has been reborn.

But it is still difficult to see how all this will translate into electoral victory unless the deep state plans to manipulate elections in a big way. Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy and established parties, even when discredited, have a grass-roots organizational advantage. In addition, Imran Khan’s personal popularity is wide, but not deep. Very different groups are currently united under his wing, but when push comes to shove, ideological and political choices will have to be made. Right now, Imran Khan has liberal followers who coexist in the party with hardcore Islamists who made their bones in the Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba. But as he gets closer to real power, choices will have to be made. Since his own understanding of politics and the future of Pakistan is fundamentally aligned with the Paknationalists of the Shireen Mazari and Ahmed Qureshi variety, I predict his choices will turn to out to match those of GHQ to an extent that may surprise a lot of his liberal fans. This is a prediction, and I realize it is an unpopular one in the liberal blogosphere. Pakistani liberals are also hungry for a saviour and right now they prefer to latch on to whatever little bones Imran is throwing in their direction (guitar music right after Magrib prayers, women in visible positions, a modern look and feel) but I fear that Imran Khan is not just repeating his 6th grade Islamiyat and Pakistan studies slogans because repeating simplified propaganda is part and parcel of modern mass politics. He is repeating them because he genuinely believes all those fables about rightly guided caliphs, Jirga justice, Islamic social welfare, the vision of Allama Iqbal, the “leadership of the Quaid-e-Azam” and so on. But since these stories are not too closely aligned with reality, historic or contemporary, a sincere believer is likely to become a pawn in the hands of those with a clearer vision of what they want and a more realistic view of politics and power. The Leninist term “useful idiot” comes to mind, but in this case it is not Pakistan’s 37 Leninists but its much more determined deep state is likely to take advantage of Khan sahib’s naiveté.

Of course, this may not be a done deal yet. Imran clearly has an idealistic bent and even GHQ may not find his crusading zeal easy to contain. And while everyone from Humayun Gohar to Ayaz Amir may be excited by this rally, reality has a way of setting in in Pakistan. The Paknationalist agenda is not new. Army men sitting in mess halls have been carping about unpatriotic politicians, bloody provincialists and separatists, uneducated Pakistani masses and massive foreign conspiracies for decades. But they have failed to wave a magic wand to fix these problems, not because they held back, but because no magic wand actually exists. Wanting to clean up Pakistan and run it like a tight ship (the current model is supposedly China, though a few inconvenient details come to mind: a 3000 year old civilization, a century of revolutions and wars, a genuine mass-based party and titanic achievements and failures, modern capitalism embraced like never before, and so much more) is all well and good, but you cannot create anything you want out of thin air; you have to work with what exists and the properties of what exists are not necessarily what the Paknationalists think they are. History and society may have features that make some choices possible and others nearly impossible. Paknationalism of the GHQ type does not have a sufficient overlap with history, political realities or the various cultures of Pakistan to allow the creation of the homogenous- Islamic-modern-military- mullah-netizen hybrid that is being desired. But it is possible that this vision has enough overlap with the common dreams of Pakistan’s middle class youth to let them have a go at it. One just hopes it evolves towards sanity and a softer nationalism instead of doubling down and going for broke by grasping “this sorry scheme of things entire; would we not shatter it to bits and then, remold it nearer to heart’s desire…”

Gujurati genetics

I was working on a project and decided to check Gujus. A few things

1) A few years ago a Bohra emailed me kind of irritatingly saying I underestimated the non-South Asian ancestry in Bohras. I double-checked and that seems plausible. Looking at this Bohra Patel sample I have, that seems to be clear.

2) Guju Brahmins are positioned like North Indian Brahmins.

3) Most of you know more about Lohannas than I do. I will say that the Sindhi Lohanna sample I have is even more “north-shifted” than the Guju Lohanna.

4) Patels are a numerous cluster, obviously. The two Vania samples I have are north-shifted, but very close to the Patels (Patidars)

5) I have a Solanki sample that is clearly outside of the Patel cluster and south-shifted

Browncast: Is Imran Khan on the Way Out?

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode Omar talks with Ambassador Kamran Shafi and Dr Mohammed Taqi, two very well known and astute observers of the Pakistani political scene. We talk about the current political crisis and why and how the military may have abandoned Imran Khan, exposing him to a no-confidence motion in the National assembly.

(spotify link did not work in Pakistan)

Episode 7: South of India from 200 BC to 500 AD

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

The History podcast crosses the Vindhyas and heads towards the Deccan.  Maneesh is in conversation with Jay and Shrikanth on all things South of India between the period 200 BC to 500 AD.

Among other things, the speakers talk at length about the Sangam literature.

Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar makes an appearance too.


@jayvtweets   @shrikanth_krish    @maneesht

Sources and References:

1. A History of South India by K. A. Nilakanta Sastri
2. The age of imperial unity (The history and culture of the Indian people Vol 2)
3. Comprehensive History of India Vol.2, The Mauryas and the Satavahanas, Edited by K. A. Nilakanta Sastra
4. The First Spring: The Golden Age of India (Part -1) by Abraham Eraly
5. A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century by Upinder Singh
6. Coromandel: A Personal History of South India by Charles Allen
7. Ashoka in Ancient India by Nayanjot Lahiri
8. The Sangam Age by V.R. Ramachandra Dikshitar (ARTICLE)
9. The Beginnings of Civilization in South India by Clarence Maloney (ARTICLE)
10. Archaeology of the Sangam Age by K. V. Raman (ARTICLE)
11. Urbanization in South India: The Role of Ideology and Polity by R. Champakalakshmi (ARTICLE)
12. The Vedic-Puranic-Sastric element in Tamil Sangam Society and culture (A Study of Purananuru-First Section) by M. G. S. Narayanan (ARTICLE)13. Chera, Chola, Pandya: Using Archaeological Evidence to Identify the Tamil Kingdoms of Early Historic South India by Shinu A. Abraham (ARTICLE)14. Kalinga and Andhra: the process of secondary state formation in early India by Sudharshan Seneviratne (ARTICLE)

15. The Wonder that was India – AL Basham

16. Tamil – A Biography : David Shulman

17. Early Tamil Epigraphy : Iravatham Mahadevan
19. Sangam translations in English :


Kashmir Files : Short Review

Short Review
#KashmirFiles – forgive my typos and terseness – i posted this in a hurry
I was pleasantly surprised by how effective the movie was in conveying what it started out doing. I had a very low bar after Tashkent files. Some would take umbrage to the Loud direction at times. Personally I think that was vivek agnihotri’s choice and overall the Loudness has the desired effect. Having seen more gory scenes in Visual medium and read more graphic details about Kashmir Pandit I did think the violence was NOT overdone though Loud at times. Rather some of the more ghastly things documented were not shown. RAPE which was common and effective tool used by Kashmiri Islamists to scare Pandits wasnt depicted in the movie. Anupam kher shines, among his finest performances. I even liked Mithun’s role. Darshan Kumar also pulled through on a tough role (though with glitches).
Overall acting is just above average – especially by actors in crucial moments in the film which somehow let me down – especially during the final monologue. It could’ve packed more punch with a flawless monologue like that of Kay Kay from Gulaal but it didn’t. 
As a result I didnt get emotional watching the movie (except maybe the Biscuit scene by Anupam Kher) while I had shed some tears while reading Pandita’s moving memoir. To the readers, I would still recommend Pandita’s book over this movie but this movie will reach places which a book could never do. Book Review: Our moon has blood clots | by Gaurav Lele | Medium
Sad that a fine mind like Pandita has not *yet talked about the impact of the film (probably due to history with the director).
But most importantly the movie does what only a movie can (not books or newspapers or even podcasts). So it’s a very necessary counter weight movie especially in company of Haider and Mission Kashmir. The criticism I had watching was the absence of positive Kashmiri Muslim characters who helped Pandits risking their lives (though the final monologue makes that point along with many other nuances). Personally I think that’s not fair depiction but award winner “Haider” didn’t have a single positive Pro India character – all Kashmiris who were pro India were corrupt – so maybe judging Kashmir files with that level of harshness itself isn’t fair.
In that space #KashmirFiles corrects a lot of narrative around the Kashmir in general in Pop culture and also tells the stories of the Kashmiri Hindus with focus solely on their plight.
There are some errors and unbelievable plot points. The characters (5 dinner table characters) appear half baked and under acted at times. In many places multiple character arcs are fused into a single character which leaves things undercooked.
I also felt the #Article370 part is overplayed and made simplistic and dumbed down. That part almost feels like propaganda for current BJP government. Ofcourse it’s part of story so that’s fine in a story. #KashmirFiles
Personally I felt the multiple Amarnath killings should have also been part of the film – whose aim was to further prevent any attempts to lay claim to Hindu legacy of Kashmir. But @vivekagnihotri can’t get it all inside the movie.
JNU is naturally shown caricaturish – but frankly I care far more about Kashmiri Muslim caricature than JNU caricature. Also don’t think the bright minds of Azadi in JNU would be seed any space in one monologue :). But maybe that was wishful thinking by director. The use of CAA protest fame song – Hum Dekhenge is at times not loud but effective nonetheless.
In summary the movie shifts the Pop Culture pendulum on Kashmir to its end powerfully (probably overcompensates a bit), but is no means is it a complete film – its a message meant primarily to highlight the plight of the Kashmiri Hindu community. But it does so (with exception of the final monologue) making a caricature of Kashmiri Muslims as either fanatics or cowards when there have been documented instances of Kashmiri Muslims risking their lives for India in general and Pandits in particular. But that is what you get when the only person willing to voice this issue honestly is Vivek Agnihotri – when Bollywood in 30 years came up with ZERO films on this tragedy and what they managed at last was the PC and poorly made Shikara. In that context you have to not only live with Kashmir Files but somewhat embrace its core message.
Kashmir files uses a lot of Hindu imagery and symbolism – sometimes subtly sometimes overtly. I felt the use of Shiv makeup Anupam Kher was deliberate – especially in the light of retrospective offense taken by newly aware(woke?) Hindus about the Shiv scene from PK. 
#KashmirFiles has started a conversation and hopefully later entries in the debate will add more nuance which is missing in the movie.

The southwestern groups in the Indian subcontinent are enriched for “Middle Eastern” ancestry

Genetic affinities and adaptation of the South West coast populations of India:

Evolutionary event has not only transformed the genetic structure of human populations but also associated with social and cultural transformation. South Asian populations were formed as a result of such evolutionary events of migration and admixture of genetically and culturally distinct groups. Most of the genetic studies pointed to large-scale admixture event between Ancestral North Indian (ANI) and Ancestral South Indian (ASI) groups, also additional layers of recent admixture. In the present study we have analyzed 213 individuals inhabited in South West coast India with traditional warriors and feudal lord status and historically associated with recent migrations events and possible admixture with Indo-Scythians, Saka, Huns and Kushans, whose genetic links are still missing. Analysis of autosomal SNP markers suggests that these groups possibly derived their ancestry from some groups of North West India having additional Middle Eastern genetic component and also their separation history suggests very early separation from North West Indian and Gangetic plain Indo-Europeans during late bronze or Iron age, most probably following central India and Godavari basin to South West coast. Higher distribution of west Eurasian mitochondrial haplogroups also points to admixture through maternal lineage. Selection screen using genome wide genealogy approach revealed genetic signatures related to their long-term coastal food habits. Thus, our study suggests that the South West coastal groups with traditional warriors and feudal lords’ status are of a distinct lineage compared to Dravidian and Gangetic plain Indo-Europeans and are remnants of very early migrations from North West India following Godavari basin to Karnataka and Kerala.

If you do a west-to-east transect there is more “ANI” ancestry in the west of the subcontinent. This is true in the north, obviously (Punjabis to Bengalis), but less appreciated is that the same seems true in the peninsula south of the Vindhya Range. To some extend this is due to more steppe ancestry in groups like Nairs because of “gene flow” from Namboothiri Brahmins and such. But, that’s not all. As noted in this paper some of these western coastal groups clearly have an excess of “Middle Eastern” ancestry. That’s not surprising for the Jews of Cochin or even the Nasrani Christians. But what about Bunts and Nairs? There are two main ways you can explain this in my opinion:

1) A pre-steppe IVC and post-IVC era migration of “Iranian” peoples associated with the Ashmound culture has a significant impact that is most preserved in the western part of the peninsula

2) Later connections between West Asian (Arab and pre-Arab) people who were integrated into the local cultures over time (due to the matrilineal nature, at least originally, of some of these southwestern groups one can imagine how easy it would be to integrate sailors from other societies, or at least their offspring)

Open Thread – Brown Pundits – 3/18/2022

A comment on the earlier open thread:

Interested to know what Razib and Omar sahab think of Holi, any experiences Razib?

I don’t have any experience and did not know it was Holi. Thanks for telling me!

I was going to visit India for business in 2020, but then COVID-19 happened, so I have never been to India. I have only been to Bangladesh twice in the last 40 years, so it did not overlap with Holi.

Episode 6: North India from 200 BC to 200 AD

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

The History of the Indian sub-continent continues.  Shrikanth and Maneesh are joined by Jay Vardhan Singh to talk about all things North of the Vindhyas in the period 200 BC to 200 AD. Tales of Bactrians in modern day central India, descendants of King Ashoka and of a king whose name ended up on an unfortunate Aircraft. Kalyan, a suburb of Mumbai, makes an appearance too.

@shrikanth_krish   @jayvtweets  @maneesht

References and Source Material:

1. Between the Empires: Society in India 300 BCE to 400 CE by Patrick Olivelle (Editor)
2. The age of imperial unity (The history and culture of the Indian people Vol 2)
3. Comprehensive History of India Vol.2, The Mauryas and the Satavahanas, Edited by K. A. Nilakanta Sastra
4. Political History of Ancient India, from the Accession of Parikshit to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty by Hem Chandra Raychaudhuri

1. Aśoka and the decline of the Mauryas by Romila Thapar

1. The Indo-Greeks by A. K. Narain
2. The Greek Experience of India: From Alexander to the Indo-Greeks by Richard Stoneman
3. The Greeks in India by George Woodcock
4. The Yavana Invader of the Gangetic Basin by Kailash Chandra Ojha (ARTICLE)

1. History of Civilization of Central Asia, Vol – II
2. The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia by René Grousset, Naomi Walford
3. The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans by John M. Rosenfield
4. ReOrienting the Sasanians: East Iran in Late Antiquity by Khodadad Rezakhani
5. The Age of the Parthians Edited By The Idea of Iran Volume II Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis and Sarah Stewart
6. The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire and Invasion by Paddy Docherty
7. Empires of Ancient Eurasia: The First Silk Roads Era, 100 BCE – 250 CE by Craig Benjamin
8. Mathurā: The Cultural Heritage
9. India under the Kushanas by B.N. Puri
10. From the Kushans to the Western Turks by Khodadad Rezakhani (ARTICLE)

1. Formative Phase of the Western Deccan Satavahanas and Kshaharatas by Ajay Mitra Shastri (ARTICLE)
2. Satavahana Chronology: A Re-examination by M. K. Dhavalikar (ARTICLE)

1. Epigraphica Indica Vol. XX
2. The Mahameghavahana dynasty by Shri Amar Chand (ARTICLE)
3. Bahasatimita of the Hathigumpha inscription by N.K Sahu (ARTICLE)

The article of Vidya Dahejia

Reference of Indian Steel exported to Rome

“Age of Imperial Unity”  – Volume 2 in the series on “History and Culture of the Indian People”. Jai has covered it in his list
Age of the Kushanas – A Numismatic study (Bhaskar Chatopadhyay)
A blogpost on Spitzer manuscript that we discussed in the call –
Geography – by Strabo
Book of Later Han
Yuga Purana – John E Mitchiner
Malavikagnimitram – Kalidasa
Manusmriti with commentary of Medathiti – Ganganatha Jha
The Questions of King Milinda
Inscriptions –
Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela :
Yavanarajya inscription of Mathura :
Kanishka’s Rabatak inscription :
Heliodorus inscription on Garuda Pillar :


Friendship in a time of evil

The shooting of this family in Ukraine is all over the front pages. Many Americans bemoan the humanitarian disaster. Russian restaurants are being boycotted in the US (many of the staff and owners are Ukrainian!).

Below is a photo of a starving Yemeni child:

A bit under 100,000 children have starved in Yemen in the last 4 years due to a civil war, fueled in part by tacit American backing of the Saudi regime, which has been exacerbating and intervening in the conflict.

Why do we pay attention in one case and not the other?

  1. Nuclear war risks
  2. The Russian invasion of Ukraine violates longheld post-World War 2 norms
  3. Ukraine is in Europe, and the West cares about the West (or the aspirant West)

This is all fine. I’m very scared of #1 and horrified by the existential risks and economic havoc that Putin’s choice to actually invade has wrought on the world. But I find the arguments of a sui generis or exceptional humanitarian situation in Ukraine implausible. People don’t want to admit that their feelings are shaped by cultural or racial affinity, or that it is pure self-interest in relation to nuclear war or maintenance of world order. So they make this the “next Holocaust.”

A lot of non-Europeans are skeptical of this posturing. At my other blog, I put up a post about why Bangladeshis have a soft spot for Russia, which might explain their reluctance to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. The same obviously applies to India to a great extent.

Brown Pundits