Hero and other stories; The short stories of Nadir Ali

As many of our readers know by now, I am Nadir Ali’s son, so this is not an unbiased post 🙂

Nadir Ali (1936-2020) was a well-respected Punjabi poet and fiction writer. Hero and Other Stories is a collection of selected short stories translated from the Punjabi. It was published in 2022 by Weavers Press. The originals are in Punjabi and translation always loses a lot of what was in the original, but people who cannot read or understand Punjabi will still find them interesting. His stories are snapshots of a vanished or vanishing Punjab, but also an attempt to keep it alive. They are usually inspired by real characters that he had met or real events that he had witnessed, so in that sense they are also deeply personal. His politics were mostly left wing but these politics are rarely explicit in his stories; A lingering suspicion that modern life, whether Right wing or Left wing, is fundamentally anti-human, is a more prominent theme, but even that takes second place to accurate portrayal of the life and times his characters. Whatever the topic, the characters are always realistic and their culture is portrayed as it was, not how a political or ideological preference would like it to be. These are the lives of peasants, landlords, lovers, dacoits, wrestlers, murderers and heroes. All except one have been translated by Amna Ali and Moazzam Sheikh (I translated one). The Punjabi language is itself a character in his stories, so translation can never do them full justice, but the husband and wife team has done an admirable job and manage to convey much even in translation. But anyone who can read Punjabi should check out the originals. I hope someday we can also produce audio versions in the original punjabi, as many in Pakistani Punjab cannot read Punjabi with any fluency.  I am posting excerpts from Moazzam Sheikh’s introduction to the book as well as one story. This particular story is fiction, but it is inspired by a real character, the saint of the crows (pir Kaawan aala), who lived (stark naked) in Gujrat in my grandfather’s time and whose shrine still exists there.

To buy the book (and of course, i hope some of you DO buy it) buy from Weaver’s press at this link. This is better for the small press, but if you want to buy from Amazon, click here. 

Excerpt from Moazzam Sheikh’s Introduction to Hero and Other Stories

     It’s widely agreed that all creative work is a result of the creator’s unconscious mind – what and when the unconscious mind unlocks, no one fully understands – Continue reading Hero and other stories; The short stories of Nadir Ali

British Officers of the EIC army. A force multiplier.

From Major Amin

TLDR: The British officers of the EIC army were a crucial force multiplier. The same regiments WITHOUT British officers were much less effective. I would add that by 1947, they seem to have figured out how to train Indians to be as good, at least at junior levels. But not yet at higher command levels?

British officer of East India Company the greatest force multiplier

sepoy perceptions about military effectiveness of english east india company Excerpts from Sepoy Rebellion of 1857- 59 Reinterpreted by Agha.H.Amin ,17 August 1998 Military effectiveness of British East India Company • May 2021 • DOI: • 10.13140/RG.2.2.35734.88648 •

Sepoy Perceptions about EEIC Military Effectiveness

The Bengal Army was the brain child of Lord Clive’s military genius. The Bengal sepoys related to each other by blood relationship and caste bonds had served the EEIC for some 100 years when they rebelled in 1857. These men had a very close contact with the British and had observed them from very close quarters. Any neutral and unbiased account of the events of 1857 clearly proves that the Britisher as an officer was never disliked by the sepoys. As an officer who served in Pakistan Army I can state with conviction that the British provided excellent leadership to the Indians. They definitely knew how to lead and inspire the Indian, leading them from the forefront which I am afraid few of at least our native post 1947 in Pakistan. People who rose to be Generals did not lead from the front, either in Burma or in 1965 or in 1971.

The sepoy admired and revered the British officer. In 1857 he was rebelling against the system instituted by the EEIC. Against policies formulated by men constituting a board of directors in far off England. The greasing of cartridges with pig or cow fat similarly was also an administrative decision. The sepoy perceived the British officer as a fair and brave leader and many British officers reciprocated these feelings. One of the British commanding officer committed suicide when his native infantry regiment was disbanded. Many others resisted disbandment of their units. One troop of 3rd Light Cavalry the most crucial unit of Bengal Army Sepoys as a matter of fact loyally fought for the British in 1857. It appears, however, that sepoy perceptions about EEIC military effectiveness changed from absolute faith in the invincibility of the EEIC as a military machine to skepticism from 1804 to 1857.

Before we proceed further we must state that the first major reverse or defeat which the EEIC suffered in India was in 1780 at the hands of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan who were heading forces whose opponents Hector Munro and Baillie in 1780 were defeated in a manner which was described by Fortescue the official historian of the British army in the following words, “The blunders had been flagrant and from a military point of view, Munro must be held solely responsible for one of the greatest calamities that has ever befallen the British arms”469. But this happened with the Madras Army.

The Bengal Army sepoy realized for the first time in 1804 that the that EEIC was not invincible. This happened while dealing with the Mahrattas and not the Afghans who came much later. In 1804 five battalions of sepoys and about 3000 irregular horse left by the C in C Bengal Army Lord Lake to keep the Mahratta Holkar in check under the command of Colonel Monsoon were forced to make a disastrous retreat from Central India to Agra470. The results of this reverse were short term since Lord Lake immediately assumed personal command and defeated the Mahrattas. However, the harm had been done and the myth of invincibility of the EEIC as far as the Bengal Army was concerned was challenged for the first time. Monsoon’s retreat was followed by a much more serious reverse which for many years shattered the EEIC myth of invincibility. This happened at Bhurtpore, the Hindu Jat fortress which is the only fort in British Indian history which a British army in India failed in a siege to capture. Leading the EEIC army in this case was a man of no less a stature than Lord Lake who had previously captured Delhi and destroyed Mahratta power in North India in battle of Laswari. (It must be remembered that Panipat – 1761 checked the Mahrattas, but this was temporary since within few years they recaptured Delhi. It was at Laswari on 01 Nov. 1803 that one European infantry regiment and a couple of Bengal Army Regiments composed of roughly 3/4 Hindu soldiers and 1/4 Hindustani Muslims destroyed the Mahratta Army) 471. In 1805 Lake failed to capture Bhurtpore. He made a first assault in January 1805 but failed to capture the fort. The British troops became so demoralised that the three European regiments i.e. HM 75 Foot, HM 76 Foot and the 1st Bengal Europeans refused orders to attack and withdrew 472! Almost a thousand casualties were suffered but repeated British assaults were repulsed. At last on 24 February Lord Lake withdrew his army from Bhurtpore. Subsequently, the Hindu Jat Raja sued for peace in 1805 due to reasons of political expediency; but the fact remained that militarily this Hindu Jat Raja had not been defeated! The EEIC never forgot this defeat and later on they did capture Bhurtpore but this was much later i.e. on 18 January 1826. Siege of Bhurtpore The force used at Bhurtpore this time was larger than the one the EEIC used to recapture Kabul in September 1842473 in the first Afghan War.

Another reverse which the EEIC suffered was in the Nepal war of 1814-16. General Bal Bhadra,the indomitable Gurkha commander in Anglo Nepal War of 1814-16 Here their initial advance into Nepal was repulsed. Nepal was subsequently defeated using the Bengal Sepoys but again the harm had been done. The sepoy’s confidence in the British officer was a little shaken. The EEIC retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad in the first Afghan war was not a big disaster keeping in view the numbers involved. There were only 700 Europeans in some 5000 troops in the weak and starved brigade which withdrew from Kabul in January 1842 and which was destroyed by an overwhelming force of some 30,000 Afghans taking advantage of harsh weather and shortage of food in this EEIC force. The EEIC troops largely composed of Bengal sepoys did subsequently recapture Kabul in September 1842. But the human mind is not a computer and the net significant impression produced on the sepoy was that the EEIC had been forced to retreat.

The extremely tough resistance of the valiant Sikhs in the First and Second Sikh wars again produced a strong impression on the mind of the Bengal Army Sepoy. At Mudki the main British army survived just because the Sikh general Tej Singh did not attack them,474a otherwise their destruction was certain. Battle of Mudki This was a battle fought on absolutely plain land, unlike Afghanistan where the Afghans bravery had a deep connection with adverse mountainous terrain. The impressions of the Sikh wars were the deepest in convincing the sepoys that the British were not invincible. In Afghanistan the mountains, the adverse weather and the small numbers were an excuse; but at Chillianwala everything favoured the British and yet they failed! Tej Singh the Hindustani Hindu imported by Ranjit Singh from Meerut,UP in hope that a non Punjabi general would be reliable just as Nawaz thought in case of Musharraf. Tejh Singh turned out to be the traitor who betrayed Sikhs at Moodki All these disasters from 1804 till 1849 certainly had an influence on the mind of the Bengal sepoy and reinforced his decision to rebel in 1857. The sepoys felt in 1857 that they could meet the Europeans on the battlefield as an equal.

Their perceptions were however erroneous in one area. They did not realize that the principals force multiplier of sepoy efficiency was superior leadership of the British officer. Without British leadership the military effectiveness of the sepoy reduced by some 75%. Since the British suppressed the initial rebellions in Punjab they were able to use Punjab and Frontier’s manpower to create new regiments or in using comparatively new regiments raised in 1846-49 which were used with as much effect at Delhi as the Bengal sepoy units at Kabul or Ghazni or at Gujrat. The British officer of 1857 was the greatest force multiplier of military effectiveness by virtue of leadership which was far superior to be “Rebel” leadership in terms of “Resolution” “Tactical Efficiency” reinforced by an iron frame administrative organisation created by the EEIC during its 100 year rule in India and its eight year old rule in the Punjab.

The Survey of India

Survey of India

Hamid Hussain

 “We travel not for trafficking alone.

By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned.

For lust of knowing what should not be known,

We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.” 

                                                                  James Elroy Flecker

 

 

Eighteenth century India and its neighboring regions were an exotic place for outsiders and not much was known about the geography and people of this large swath of land. An odd traveler or explorer published the details of his perilous journey among strange and alien land and people for the home audience.  Arrival of East India Company (EIC) for trade and later territorial expansion brought modern scientific methods of exploration and mapping that filled up the empty spaces on maps. 

 During military operations, officers collected localized information about terrain, availability of supplies to support troops and animals and information about local population.  However, this information was localized and limited to military operation at hand.  Knowledge about land and people ruled by EIC rapidly expanded.  Over the years, a small group of extraordinary British and native explorers contributed to sciences of geography and anthropology. This was an area where political, administrative, military and spying arts freely intermingled.

 In eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, India’s frontiers were changing with territorial expansion of EIC.  In these decades, frontier moved from Oudh, Gangetic plains, Sindh and Punjab to Northwestern and Northeastern frontiers. In the context of defense of India, area of British influence also expanded to Tibet, Chinese and Russian Turkistan and Afghanistan.  The Royal Geographic Society (RGS) became the patron of the advancement of the field of geography on scientific grounds and published works of explorers of India and its neighborhood.

 In 1800, three separate surveys were started in India: Revenue, Topographical and Trigonometrical (later named Great Trigonometrical Survey – GTS).  In 1878, all three were amalgamated into a single Survey of India.  James Rannell (1742-1830), William Lambton (1756-1823), George Everest (1790-1866), Thomas George Montgomerie (1830-1878), Henry Trotter, William Johnson, James Walker, Colonel Frederick Bailey (1882-1967), Sir Thomas Hungerford Holdich, Godwin-Austin, Captain Francis Younghusband and others were exceptional individuals.  They were driven by a sense of adventure, exploration and duty.  They were highly committed individuals willing to suffer extreme hardships in strange and unknown lands. They instilled same spirit among their native assistants. Surveying in frontier areas was a dangerous task as locals correctly concluded that surveying was the steppingstone towards loss of their freedom.  There was an Afghan saying that “First comes one Englishman for shikar (hunting), then come two to draw a map, and then comes an army to take your land.  So, it is best to kill the first Englishman”.

 

 A surveying school was established in Madras in 1794 for training of natives in surveying techniques. A number of Anglo-Indians were also recruited as sub-assistants.  In the first quarter of nineteenth century, some natives who received English language education at Delhi College became qualified assistants to British military, civil and survey officials. The status of this new generation was higher than the ‘munshi’ who traditionally acted as clerk, scribe, translator and tutor of British superiors.  The new title of ‘Persian Secretary’ elevated the social and financial status of the new generation and proficiency in English language was the single most important factor of this advancement. Two members of the first class of Delhi College became well known travelers and wrote their memoirs in English based on daily journals that they kept.  Mohan Lal served with Alexander Burns and Shahamat Ali served with Resident of Ludhiana Agency Lieutenant Colonel Claude Wade and later Resident of Malwa.

 Father of Indian Geography James Rennell mapped EIC holdings of Bengal and Bihar in later part of eighteenth century. Rennell acknowledged the contributions of his native surveyors. In 1770s,  Gholam Mohammad surveyed the roads between Bengal and Deccan, Mirza Mughal Beg explored northwestern India and Sadanand surveyed Gujrat. This is the earliest written record of work of native surveyors. 

 

McCartney mentioned his two native assistants Zaman Shah and Mahmood Shah who assisted him in mapping Afghanistan. Alexander Burns relied heavily on his secretary Mohan Lal and surveyor Muhammad Ali.  Mirza Izzatullah Beg was from an influential family that had served Mughals.  He became an authority on his own due to his unique background, intelligence, education, hard work and travels. He used rigorous methods of accuracy and left written record of his adventures.  In 1812-13, he travelled from India to Tibet, Chinese Turkistan (Yarkand) and Central Asia. He served under Thomas Metcalf (helping collecting intelligence in Multan and surrounding areas), Mountstuart Elphinstone (travelled with him to Kabul) and William Moorecraft (reconnaissance mission to Tibet, Chinese Turkistan & Bukhara). He rose to become key secretary of the Delhi Residency.

 William Moorecraft in his trips to Nepal, Tibet and Central Asia had company of some exceptional natives including Ghulam Haider Khan and Pundit Harbalam.  He also had assistance of two brothers; Bir Singh and Deb Singh.  They were Bhotias: Indians of Tibetan descent. Another native Harkh Dev was assigned the task of survey and recorded distance by a measured pace.  This technique was later to be refined and used by ‘pundits’ during survey of Tibet and Chinese Turkistan. Sarat Chandra Das was one of the famous pundits’ who was a Bengali scholar of Tibetan language and culture.  In the last quarter of eighteenth century, Nain Singh, Kalyan Singh and Kishen Singh surveyed Chinese Turkistan.

 Arthur Conolly (6th Bengal Light Cavalry) in his travels to Tsarist Russia, Caucasus, Afghanistan and Baluchistan was accompanied by Syed Karamat Ali. Mirza Shuja served with Eldred Pottinger in Heart in 1837 and later conducted military survey around Peshawar, Baluchistan, large swaths of Afghanistan and Chinese Turkistan.  He also performed sensitive intelligence gathering while teaching English to Amir Dost Mohammad Khan’s sons in Kabul.

 Hayder Shah was from Peshawar and served as Havildar in Bengal Sappers and Miners. He along with another native explorer Ata Mohamad explored Dir, Swat, Chitral and Badakhshan.  Later, he undertook another survey from Kabul to Bokhara. Naik Ghafoor Shah also of sappers accompanied Hayder Shah on one of the journeys. In 1860, Mullah Abdul Majid was sent on a mission from Peshawar, crossing Pamir Mountain range to khanate of Khokand. In 1863, Abdul Hamid was sent on surveying mission of Chinese and Russian Turkistan.

 A jeweler’s assistant Mohsin Hussain proved to be such an expert in calibrating and repairing complex and expensive survey equipment that when his cantankerous British superior Henry Barrow was discharged, Mohsin took over the task. Surveys generated huge amount of data that needed complex calculations.  A team of ‘eight human computers’ processed this data. This team of Bengalis that included an exceptional gentleman Radhanath Sikdar earned the respect of British. It was freely admitted that their mathematical genius would be ranked very high in Europe.

 There was a saying that “in the east, nothing is ever forgotten, but little remembered with accuracy”.  Native surveyors changed that tradition and added European new methods of keeping daily journals, written knowledge based on facts thus incorporating text-based knowledge to the art of oral tradition and memory. Later generations of educated natives of Survey of India continued the traditions of devotion to duty and work ethics and setting high standards of proficiency and hard life in extreme climatic conditions. They also put a high premium on the value of education and made education of their children a first priority.  Children of ‘servants of the map’ proudly served in the armed forces and civil services of the successor states the Raj.

 “Frontiers are the razor’s edge on which suspended the issue of war or peace and the life of the nations.”                Lord Curzon

 

 

 

Notes:

 

Edney, Matthew,  Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997)

 

Meyer, Karl & Shareen Brysac.  Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia (Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 1999)

 

Dean, Riaz. Mapping The Great Game: Explorers, Spies & maps in Nineteenth century Asia (Oxford: Caseate Publishers, 2019)

 

Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (New York: Kodansha America Inc, 1994)

 

Ward, Michael.  The Survey of India and the Pundits.  The Alpine Journal, (Vol 103, 1998), pp.59-79

 

Mathur, Tapsi.  How Professional Became Natives: Geography and Trans-Frontier Exploration in Colonial India. Ph. D Thesis. University of Michigan, 2018

 

Hamid Hussain

[email protected]

 

Defence Journal, June 2022

Pocket Review: Secret City. A History of Gay Washington

Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington by [James Kirchick]

For a good review, see here at Reason

I dont have a detailed review, just a short note. The book is not a detailed history of gays in Washington (such a book would have to start in the 1790s and would have to include the stories of Black and poor gay people; two groups notably excluded from this book, which is mostly high class elite gossip). This book actually covers the time from the 1930s to the 1990s (though it does begin with a reference to Abraham Lincoln sharing a bed with his male friend, that anecdote is just a hook to start the book with; Kirchick does not actually claim that Lincoln was gay). Prior to the 1930s there were gays in government, but little or no overt discussion of the topic; their sexual preference mostly caused problems from the 1940s to the 1990s, when there was a “lavender scare” that actually exceeded the Red scare in duration. Interestingly this lavender scare was partly driven by closeted gays, including McCarthy’s aide (and Trump’s teacher) Roy Cohn. There was a fear that homosexuals were a security risk because they could potentially be blackmailed, but actual analysis of American spies indicates that very few were gay and none were recruited via blackmail. Still, many lives were destroyed in the course of this scare and the topic remained “hot” until the 1990s, when gay liberation finally took hold and by now we are the point that we have an openly gay transportation secretary (and former presidential candidate) whose main scandal is that he took paternity leave in the middle of a transportation crisis. Though his final conclusion is optimistic (gay liberation is “a magnificent accomplishment of the liberal society, enabled by the fundamentally American concepts of free expression, pluralism, and open inquiry.”) there is a backlash in process (mostly directed against Trans activist over-reach, but likely to catch gays in the dragnet) and the current equilibrium may not be that stable. The notion that gay liberation is an active cause of civilizational decline is not gone (there is an anecdote in the book about the state department security chief commissioning a study of how homosexuality causes civilizational collapse, but the researcher concluded that homosexuality did not in fact cause the collapse of Rome and Greece) and may come back in other guises.

The book is an easy read and is full of interesting stories and characters. If you are interested in American politics and recent history, you will enjoy it.

See the Reason review for more details.

The Surveying of India by the British

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Survey of India

Hamid Hussain

 “We travel not for trafficking alone.

By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned.

For lust of knowing what should not be known,

We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.” 

 

                                                                 James Elroy Flecker

 Eighteenth century India and its neighboring regions were an exotic place for outsiders and not much was known about the geography and people of this large swath of land. An odd traveler or explorer published the details of his perilous journey among strange and alien land and people for the home audience.  Arrival of East India Company (EIC) for trade and later territorial expansion brought modern scientific methods of exploration and mapping that filled up the empty spaces on maps. 

 During military operations, officers collected localized information about terrain, availability of supplies to support troops and animals and information about local population.  However, this information was localized and limited to military operation at hand.  Knowledge about land and people ruled by EIC rapidly expanded.  Over the years, a small group of extraordinary British and native explorers contributed to sciences of geography and anthropology. This was an area where political, administrative, military and spying arts freely intermingled.

 In eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, India’s frontiers were changing with territorial expansion of EIC.  In these decades, frontier moved from Oudh, Gangetic plains, Sindh and Punjab to Northwestern and Northeastern frontiers. In the context of defense of India, area of British influence also expanded to Tibet, Chinese and Russian Turkistan and Afghanistan.  The Royal Geographic Society (RGS) became the patron of the advancement of the field of geography on scientific grounds and published works of explorers of India and its neighborhood.

 In 1800, three separate surveys were started in India: Revenue, Topographical and Trigonometrical (later named Great Trigonometrical Survey – GTS).  In 1878, all three were amalgamated into a single Survey of India.  James Rannell (1742-1830), William Lambton (1756-1823), George Everest (1790-1866), Thomas George Montgomerie (1830-1878), Henry Trotter, William Johnson, James Walker, Colonel Frederick Bailey (1882-1967), Sir Thomas Hungerford Holdich, Godwin-Austin, Captain Francis Younghusband and others were exceptional individuals.  They were driven by a sense of adventure, exploration and duty.  They were highly committed individuals willing to suffer extreme hardships in strange and unknown lands. They instilled same spirit among their native assistants. Surveying in frontier areas was a dangerous task as locals correctly concluded that surveying was the steppingstone towards loss of their freedom.  There was an Afghan saying that “First comes one Englishman for shikar (hunting), then come two to draw a map, and then comes an army to take your land.  So, it is best to kill the first Englishman”. Continue reading The Surveying of India by the British

General Qamar Javed Bajwa

A few months old, but worth a read.

From Dr Hamid Hussain

20 January 2022

“A friend is someone who tells you the truth; not someone who believes in you”.  Late King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz​.

I usually do review of army chief’s tenure. I do critical part when chief is in uniform and things done right when he hangs his boots. This is the first part.  I know that this kind of work makes many officers uncomfortable but as they say ‘it is a dirty job; but somebody got to do it”.

غرور جاں کو مرے یار بیچ دیتے ہیں
قبا کی حرص میں دستار بیچ دیتے ہیں
یہ لوگ کیا ہیں کہ دو چار خواہشوں کے لیے
تمام عمر کا پندار بیچ دیتے ہیں

Regards,
Hamid

​(TRANSLATION OF THE URDU COUPLETS: My friends sell their pride; To acquire a robe they sell their head covering. Who are these who for a few wishes; Sell an entire life’s treasure of self-respect)

General Qamar Javed Bajwa

General Qamar Javed Bajwa is in the last year of his extended six years tenure as Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). Army is the most powerful institution of the country and COAS works behind the scenes and influence important policy decisions. This has been a preferred option for the institution to avoid controversy and even accepted by all major political forces of the country. This is a critical review of General Bajwa’s tenure in the context of his political role and running of the army.

General Bajwa was appointed COAS in November 2016 at a time of strained civil-military relations. General Bajwa inherited the institutional decision of political engineering project of actively supporting a third force under the leadership of Imran Khan. This project was later called a ‘hybrid regime’ as it involved active participation of the army in the political process rather than constitutional role of active support of a duly elected civilian government. This became a slippery slope and institution got entangled in political mud fights. There were two major reasons.

First, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan is a thin majority government supported by allies who were brought into the tent by the army by incentives or arm twisting. Second, Imran Khan was unable to switch from the role of an opposition leader to a head of the government. This had a negative impact on his relations with his allies as well as day to day governance. Army had to step in several times to tackle internal governance as well as some foreign policy issues. In this General Bajwa had full support of his senior brass. However, the negative fallout was that the institution became controversial for such an overt political role.
Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif in his speeches started to name senior army officers that was unprecedented and resulted in embarrassment. This combined with deficient performance of the government and serious economic crisis resulted in criticism of the army. This perception resulted in blaming of the army even in cases where government was using civilian levers to gag opposition and try to rig some by-elections. Army is overly concerned about its public image, and this made senior brass very uneasy.

In the summer of 2019, I became aware that General Bajwa was positioning himself for an extension. I am against extension of tenures of senior army officers as it seriously erodes professionalism of the army and creates friction among senior brass. My view is based on the sordid history of extension business in Pakistan army. In my view, three years tenure of Chief is a blessing and best instrument to safeguard institutional interest as new Chief can sweep the slate clean and start over again. Tinkering with it by extension has seen reputations ruined and institution badly bruised. At that time, I wrote following and shared with some officers:

“2019 looks more like 2007. General Pervez Mussharraf had come under criticism from different quarters of society and in the process army’s reputation was sullied. Change of command provided an exit. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani slowly consolidated his command by sidelining old guard and then convincing all players that army has turned a page. The possible exit for the army is change of command in November 2019. However, personal interests of three key players; Prime Minister Imran Khan, army chief General Bajwa and Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (DGISI) Faiz Hamid now converge where extension of General Bajwa is being seriously considered. A three-year extension will serve all three parties. Bajwa to enjoy few more years of private jet and being the expert gamekeeper at the national park. Imran Khan will be seriously thinking about giving him an extension to make sure that an unknown factor does not come into equation. Imran is faced with enormous challenges. However, he has not been able to put his house in order. Rising economic woes and diverse opposition groups coming closer can cause many headaches. Having army brass in his corner is important to weather any storm. He would prefer to continue with known entity than venture into unchartered territory. In case of three years extension, Faiz will be among top contenders in 2022. After 18-24 months as DGISI, Bajwa can appoint him Corps Commander to make him eligible for the top slot. I am not in favor of any extension but especially in case of Bajwa, negative fallout for the army is manifold. Army is seen no more as a neutral body and extreme polarization of Pakistani polity is now directly affecting army as an institution.” 

Imran Khan announced three years extension and General Bajwa lost all moral authority. In my interaction with dozens of officers of all ranks, I have not found even one who supports extension of tenure. Off course, they cannot express their views publicly. Ironically, General Bajwa was able to rally his institution when Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa entertained the petition that challenged General Bajwa’s extension (it was disposed of asking government to just legislate it). Now, even those who disagreed in principle, fully supported General Bajwa to make sure that no one can challenge army’s pre-eminence.

General Bajwa’s decisions about promotions and postings followed the normal process and he did not deviate from the norms. Two areas raised eyebrows in the army circles. One was picking some Major Generals from obscure and sidelined posts, promoting them to three-star rank and giving them prized postings. This was viewed as an attempt to give an impression of personal favor and hence adding ‘smiling nodders’ at ‘the long table of the knights.’  Second was promoting and giving prized postings to officers from his alma mater Baloch Regiment. The list includes four Lieutenant Generals; all with prized postings including three to be the top contenders to succeed him in 2022. There is also a lengthy list of Balochi Major Generals given prized command, staff and instructional appointments that improves their profile for further promotion. It is important to note that all these officers are qualified for promotions. However, competition is very tough from Brigadier and upwards ranks and posting; a sole prerogative of Chief can give edge to the officer.

In 2019, promotions of two officers; Faiz Hamid and Asif Ghafoor to lieutenant general rank created problems for the institution. During review process of promotions, I strongly advised against promotion of both officers. This was not about qualification of the officers but due to negative fallout for the institution. Faiz Hamid served as Director General of Counterintelligence (CI) directorate. Internal security wing of CI manages political tasks of the army. Spooks are successful only when they are not seen and heard. Hamid was extremely careless and against all norms, tried to do everything with his own hands. At that time, I wrote that “ Faiz Hamid has managed political tasks of the institution and his promotion may create potential problems if some damaging information becomes public while he is still serving at a senior position.”

I was referring to the information that at that time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was accusing him of encouraging defection from Pakistan Muslim League ranks during 2018 elections but only privately to close associates and not publicly. In November 2017, a religious party blocked major highway to Islamabad for several days paralyzing the capital. Army negotiated a settlement between the government and protest leaders that was dubbed by many as abject surrender of government authority. The last sentence of the agreement clearly stated that this agreement was reached due to the efforts of army chief and his team. Faiz Hamid signed that document on behalf of the army. In early summer of 2021, I wrote about this phenomenon and its negative impact on the institution that “ I’m strongly against senior officers doing everything with their own hands. Many controversies could have been easily avoided if junior officers or in case of ISI retired contract officers were given such tasks (i.e., Faiz Hamid signing the TLP contract, DG Rangers handing money to protestors; a task which a Havildar could have easily done). In case of problem, retired/junior officer can be eased out with less negative fallout for the army. Chief is partly to blame for this mindset as he is meeting everyone and his cousin. He should have assigned such tasks to a junior officer to represent GHQ.”  

About Ghafoor, I wrote “Asif Ghafoor has been the public face of the army and as Director General Inter Services Public Relations (DGISPR), he was conveying message of the army brass to the country. In this capacity, he became the public face of many controversies during civil military relations crisis of 2017-18. He was simply a messenger, but his elevation will be bad optics.”

My view was that as there are only about two dozen Lieutenant Generals therefore their promotion will create problems about accommodating them to low profile postings. I suggested that after supersession, both can be rewarded by giving them a lucrative post-retirement position in army-controlled corporations. When I became aware that General Bajwa has decided to promote both officers, I thought the middle ground to prevent negative fallout for the institution would be to give them second or third tier staff postings away from the limelight. Appointment of Hamid as Adjutant General (AG) and Ghafoor as Inspector General Communications & Information Technology (IG C & IT) looked like a safe bet. However, few months later when Hamid was appointed Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (DGISI), I concluded that General Bajwa has taken the institution into the mud puddle. In view of the role of DGCI in Pakistani context, elevation of DGCI as DGISI usually does not bode well for the concerned officer as well as the institution. Recent example of Lieutenant General Zaheer Ul Islam was the case in point.

Army suffered a serious setback when what is talked in hushed voices in drawing rooms is now discussed publicly. General Bajwa and Hamid’s name came up in opposition rallies, senior officers discussed in the mainstream media and ridiculed on social media. Army was blamed for the dismal performance of the government and army was forced to retrace its steps to go back to the drawing board.

Chief informed Imran that after three years of unqualified support, army will now take away the training wheels and move into its own lane. This was in early summer of 2021 when I became aware of it. I thought that this will lead to gradual divergence of path of Imran Khan and General Bajwa. I had been advocating that it was in institutional interest to step back and shared with many officers. One senior retired officer with fingers on the pulse of the events responded that “The reason that I think your advice to step back on matters like Justice Isa is not likely to be taken is because the institution, especially its head, has dug itself too deep in the hole. Probably a clash between IK and QJB (you have alluded to it) might cut the Gordian Knot.”

Later, army also sent reconciliation messages to two major opposition parties. These overtures rattled Imran Khan who saw this move as army brass undermining his rule. In the fall of 2021, friction between Imran Khan and General Bajwa on appointment of DGISI quickly turned into a rapidly widening gulf. I was completely baffled by this action of Imran Khan that made absolutely no sense. It was all downhill from that point. Now, army must keep a close eye on Imran Khan as he is mercurial and can throw a wrench in the machine causing new headaches.

General Bajwa periodically meets with a select group of journalists and social media activists. Most participants hold sympathetic view about the army that is fine. However, same group is also publicly denouncing opposition politicians and dissident judges and journalists.  They may be expressing their personal views, but it is viewed as being done at the behest of the army and gives the impression of General Bajwa directing this crusade. These meetings are private and non-attributable. However, leaks start literally within minutes after the meeting as participants want to show off their connection with the fountain of power of Pakistan.  When General Bajwa’s appointment was announced in the winter of 2016, he met few journalists and told them that he was looking forward to more interactions in the future. Some of us familiar with this terrain, cautioned against these interactions as such conversations quickly leak and make Chief controversial.

Full time involvement of COAS with political engineering meant that there was little time for other key areas. General Bajwa was unable to chart a new path in Baluchistan. Focus was only on throwing more bodies at the problem. Securing key centers and communications is an important task, but it needs to be complemented by engaging population and finding political solution including addressing forced disappearances and extra judicial killings. Alienation of Balochs is now almost complete affecting all segments of Baloch society.

More importantly, he mishandled the Pushtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) issue and in the process missing a chance of shaping post-conflict environment of the battle areas of former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). PTM is a grass root movement and by publicly and directly confronting it, army lost a large segment of tribal society that was its natural ally. Direct public confrontation emanating from General Bajwa and DGISPR was a case of poor judgement. This was despite the advice of caution by some senior retired Pushtun officers when General Bajwa invited them for a discussion on this subject. In my view absence of Pushtun officers at important higher command and intelligence posts contributed to mishandling of this issue.

A new element of management of higher judiciary called by some senior armed forces officers as ‘new frontier’ has dragged the army into new controversy and in the process earned the ire of some segments of the judiciary and a large segment of lawyer community. This was completely avoidable, but anger trumped the better sense. Justice Qazi Faiz Isa passed some remarks in his judgment against Faiz Hamid that had no practical implications. In few weeks, this would have faded away from the memory. However, army brass decided to retaliate against Justice Isa compounding the initial folly. The result of this futile exercise is that some justices are passing remarks in their judgements that embarrass defense establishment. This is more to show to the public that they are independent. The real threat is that Justice Isa may take his sweet revenge in time when he becomes Chief Justice in 2023. If Hamid is selected as army chief, then there is a clear and present danger of direct clash between army chief and Chief Justice.

I became aware of possibility of army’s potential clash with higher judiciary when after some negative remarks, there was talk of filing a reference to Supreme Judicial Council against Justice Gulzar Ahmad and Justice Isa. Sane voices at Judge Advocate General (JAG) branch warned against these moves. Unfortunately, anger of DGISI rather than a well thought out plan was the driving force. I strongly advocated against opening this front as this was unchartered waters. In fact, I argued that army will need the help of judiciary to solve the thorny issue of internment centers and forced disappearances. I recommended that now with a friendly government, a high-level coordination committee with members from government, army and judiciary should work for a framework of legislative and judicial measures to resolve the issue of people in military custody. General Bajwa asked Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa for help in this matter, but it was too late as army had already picked a fight with higher judiciary.  Judiciary was divided by this time and Justice Khosa did not want to leave his office with allegation of working as handmaid of the army. He excused himself by stating that this will cause a constitutional crisis.

General Bajwa is in the lame duck last lap of his tenure and there is truly little that he can do that can shape the environment. He can do limited actions to provide room for his successor. As momentum is building up against Imran Khan to bring down his government, there is lot of uncertainty regarding his moves that can directly impact the army senior brass. Dangling the carrot of another extension to General Bajwa or early announcement of his successor to make Bajwa a lame duck chief are two possibilities. In view of deep mistrust and now clearly visible of anger of Imran against General Bajwa makes first possibility less likely. Early announcement of new Chief eight months before the retirement of General Bajwa will put a lot of strain on senior brass. The nuclear option is sacking of General Bajwa that will result in a crisis.

Earlier my view was that sometime in the summer, General Bajwa should move Hamid from Peshawar based XI Corps and park him in the sideline to complete his tenure. This will effectively take him out of the race as he will not meet the new criteria of command of a Corps for one calendar year. In view of rapidly changing scenario, it will be prudent to move Hamid sooner rather than later. Ghafoor can be kept at his current post to complete his tenure. Keeping Hamid at his current post and giving Ghafoor a high-profile command or staff appointment will add new uncertainties and complicate things for his successor.

In my view, policies adopted by the army as an institution in the last few years has unwittingly brought the institution into a dead-end street. The major risk is that in the dead-end street, one is an easy target for snipers. Army’s pre-eminence is accepted by everyone in the country, and it was able to achieve its objectives without taking direct control. It was ankle deep in politics and that was manageable as one only had to change the boots and keep uniform clean. Marching right into the mud of the political pig pen was not a smart move as mud has splashed all over the uniform. Now, uniform needs to be changed and washed. This will be the challenge for the next Chief.

Hamid Hussain
[email protected]
10 February 2022

Continue reading General Qamar Javed Bajwa

Asad Durrani Views on Imran Khan

Asad Durrani is an ex-ISI chief (who famously said that the children killed in APS were collateral damage in our (necessary) double game in Afghanistan). This is his commentary on the Imran Khan phenomenon. I am posting it here to give people a window into the mind of  the less jihadi and somewhat higher IQ Paknationalist generals..

 

Of Monsters And Genies

By Lt. Gen (r) Asad Durrani

The Pakistan Army – we may like or lament – does have a unique status in the Country’s polity. As an institution, it has known its limitations in politics, but every now and then, we get a junta that crosses the redline in the naïve belief that the state was created by the Almighty to serve as a lab, and the khaki leadership had divine sanction to experiment to its heart’s content. One catalyst that all these scientists found useful was a civilian façade to cover their flanks and to do the heavy lifting. In vernacular this exercise is called political engineering – and it has bombed always and every time. Nevertheless, true to his DNA, the man on the horseback would rather follow a warrior King, Bruce of Scotland, famously inspired by a spider to try and try again; rather than Einstein, the best of the innovators, who warned against repeating the same recipe and expecting a different outcome.

In the summers of 2018, I was in-and-out of GHQ for a number of unsavoury reasons. But like all the earlier calamities, this one too turned out to be entirely to my benefit. Suspecting that the incumbent brass, like some of its predecessors, was looking for a frontman in Mufti, I pleaded with an important aide of the Engineer-in-Chief to step back since it had never worked in the past. His response left me speechless: “sir we’re going to clean up the country”. I will get hold of him one of these days to convey my compliments—yes it has been swept clean but not exactly the way the men at the helm had in mind. Imran Khan did not turn out to be the broom they hoped he would be.

There is a long list of personal observations and empirical data to show that the man was a megalomaniac – more importantly someone who was seeking a camouflaged parachute to land on the throne. Many a military leader had refused to bite the bait, but four years ago the conman broke through. Whatever happened thereafter is recent history, but an odd development must have taken even his detractors by surprise: IK has won over a good number of fans; educated but impervious to all logic and reason. Most of its members used to vilify him when he was in power, but after his ouster, remorsefully ruminate about the bad old days.

Imran’s credentials for the country’s premiership were built upon two arguments. He brought the 1992 cricket world cup to Pakistan, but one conveniently forgot that he had a great team, whom Imran ignored to thank in his victory speech. And yes, he did raise funds for the cancer hospital in Lahore, for which he was generously helped by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, an iconic artist of international fame, who performed pro bono on a global circuit. After he passed away, Imran bragged that it was he who had introduced the Great Maestro to the world.

As if falling short on some important leadership criteria – taking blame in case of failure and sharing credit in success– was not bad enough, IK invented a disingenuous rule: to be a leader one should be able go back on one’s commitment; and he remained unflinchingly loyal to this devious principle. Worse still, he was spectacularly consistent on non-delivery in all fields of public good. Combating corruption was his leitmotif. Under his watch, Pakistan fell further on the scale. On some fanciful issues too, his record was perfect. No one asked him for an NRO (relief for any misdeeds), but he kept reiterating that he would not give any. He didn’t catch a single thief, but persisted with his resolve not to let anyone escape.

It was thus no surprise when he said “absolutely not” when asked if Pakistan might provide any military bases to the US to resume bombing Afghanistan – even though no one ever demanded them. Answering hypothetical questions was never a good idea but it was still more convenient than addressing the more substantial ones. True to his character, he pampered himself by claiming that he was such a great threat to the American designs that the sole-superpower was hell bent to see his back. Changing regimes is a favourite pastime of the Blob, but it never reveals its nefarious designs through diplomatic channels – which are essentially to posture and not to transmit a policy.

But where IK actually outdid himself was when he expressed his displeasure with the Army for going into the neutral gear, and postulating that only the animals would sit on the fence. Wrong, all the subhuman species are in fact more passionately committed than the mankind. The real cause for his disappointment with the uniformed clan was that after launching him into the corridors of power, it did not jump when he whistled. And then he completely exposed his perfidy by blaming the courts for keeping a round the clock vigil when his party was blatantly violating the constitution.

Indeed, the assemblies should not be dissolved when they’re in business. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan was asked why he was not responding to Benazir Bhutto’s request to call the National Assembly to session! Since he had already decided to sack the government and send the assemblies packing, he was not going to do so when the country’s highest forum was conducting affairs of the state. Dissolving it when a no-confidence motion had been tabled would have been an act of profanity. And therefore, one understood why the PTI wanted the courts to remain in limbo.

But none of the above would make any dent in his loyal following that believes they have found a Messiah and is prepared to follow him to the bottom of the abyss. Look how in unison they’re clamoring for fresh elections – an option they considered absurd only a few months back.

Hardly anyone can predict the outcome of elections in Pakistan. Based on the best available assessment Yahya Khan agreed to hold them in 1970. He had been assured that a hung parliament, which would let the military strongman continue ruling the roost, was the most likely outcome. The result was that he was left with no country to rule. In the elections of 1988, the agencies forecast went wrong in all respects except for the end count. In the present environment if the results would depend upon the size of the crowd on the street or the number not on Twitter but did turn out to vote, I have no idea. But the demand for early elections does serve one purpose – it deprives the successor government the time to stem the rot.
I
n the meantime, there is an urgent need to address a more serious problem.

Military’s installed regimes are often described as a hybrid between the uniform and the civvies. The first recorded case, even though in fictional form, of a cross breed was the Frankenstein’s Monster. It devoured its creator*. Understandably, IK like many of his predecessors is now raring to consume his Godfather. The problem this time around is however a tad more serious. Because of the spell of insanity, he has cast, IK was more like a genie that has come out of the bottle. Anyone knows how to put him back!

*The famous Urdu poet, Pandit Brij Narayan Chakbast had warned us against tinkering with the laws of nature:

zindagī kyā hai anāsir meñ zuhūr-e-tartīb maut kyā hai inhīñ ajzā kā pareshāñ honā (Life is about order in the elements – when they go haywire, we die)

Guest Post: Ali Minai Looks at the Last Days of Imran Khan

Guest Post from Professor Ali Minai.
Now that the “bad drama in Slamabad” is over (temporarily, I’m sure), some reflections.
The opposition’s decision to move no-confidence at this time made no political sense. After all, why rescue an opponent drowning in a vortex of circumstances and incompetence? Imran Khan could have been left to flail around on his own until elections in 2023. The reason that the opposition went for him now must have been something they feared would happen between now and next year that would entrench PTI in power. Imagination suggests options, but it hardly matters now.
During the whole no-confidence saga, the opposition unwittingly gave Imran Khan at least three opportunities for winning the larger game. The best one came early when he first lost his majority in the Parliament. He could have resigned gracefully as PM – showing commitment to democratic values – taken on the role of leader of the opposition, and held the feet of his opponents to the fire until the elections next year. After all, the opposition has no magic bullet for solving the problems of the country in a year, and is likely to fall into squabbling soon. That opportunity was missed because Imran’s ego overcame his reason – a familiar pattern.
The next, somewhat less attractive, opportunity came when the vote on the no-confidence resolution was called. Imran could have resigned then or let the vote pass, left with democratic credentials intact, and begun a popular campaign for the next elections in the streets. Instead, his well-known self-belief bordering on self-delusion led him to try a blatantly unconstitutional gimmick that united the opposition and backfired in court.
The third opportunity occurred after the Supreme Court’s verdict on April 7. By then, a lot of the benefit had already been squandered, but resigning with some dignity was still possible. The narrative of American interference had also begun to take root. But in his arrogance – apparently at the behest of a few very close advisers and against the advice of most others – Imran Khan decided to take a much worse tack, drawing out the vote, creating all sorts of uncertainty, and considering extremely radical last-minute moves. Eventually, faced with signals from the courts and the ever-present “Establishment”, he had to go out like a petulant infant deprived of his favorite toy.
Diehard supporters, of course, are in the grip of shock and anger, lashing out at every available institution in the language taught to them by their champion. But terminal failure is really hard in Pakistan’s politics. Imran Khan can now join the long list of zombies who haunt Pakistan’s political landscape, waiting for events or a patron to bring them back to life for a season or two. But all bets are off for now if he has indeed alienated powerful forces in the country as some news sources have reported. In that case, the Captain’s ship is going down. We’ll know when the rats start swimming away.
Meanwhile, a new play is about to start in Pakistan’s political theater. Some of the dramatis personae are known but ghosts and demiurges still lurk in the shadows. It is also not clear whether the play will be a comedy, a tragedy, or just history repeating itself as farce. The writer is known to be versatile, with a vicious pen and a dark sense of humor. The curtain rises….

China: A Book and a TV serial..

I just finished Edward Rutherford’s “China, the novel” and enjoyed it. Capsule review:

China: The Novel by [Edward Rutherfurd]

This author writes sweeping sagas about particular places (London, New York) and clearly researches a lot before he writes. This one covers China from the first opium war to the end of the Qing dynasty. As usual, he has created characters (a British opium trader, a missionary, a Chinese mandarin, a Chinese rebel, a eunuch in the Manchu court, etc) that cover all important events (opium wars, Taiping rebellion, court intrigues, empress Cixi, etc). The book is a fun read and the history is well researched. While you can read many books about the history of the era, this one fills in the social mores, family dynamics etc in ways that a history text cannot. Well worth a read.

And happened to finish the overly long serial “Ruyi, Royal Love in the Palace” on Amazon Prime at the same time. This is a (very fictional) account of Ruyi, the Ula Nara empress in the reign of the Qianlong emperor. The details are ALL fictional, but the serial is lavishly produced and seems to capture the atmosphere of the harem (or what i imagine to be the atmosphere of the harem) very well. The novelist seems to have had some moral purpose in view, so the evil nature of the whole arrangement is perhaps a bit overdone (but it is also possible that in actual practice it was even more evil than this), and the serial is TOO long, going on for 87 episodes where 20 would have been more than enough. And some of the plot devices are also unrealistic (everyone is plotting, plots get discovered all the time, but the emperor never seems to take precautions against them; on the other hand, he too may be constrained the nature of the institution). But slowly but surely it does capture the terrible nature of this institution. Worth skimming through if you don’t have the time for a long soap opera.

Imran Khan Phenomenon; My Prediction in 2011

I wrote this article back in 2011 for 3quarksdaily.com, 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…”

Brown Pundits