Direct Participants Remember the 1977 Zia Coup

From Major Amin. These are snippets of conversation that he has sent. The participants include several retired officers who were direct participants or observers of Zia’s coup in 1977. Their memories are worth a look, even if the post is disjointed and some words probably need context not known to an outsider..

Major Amin: my father was CC Engrs 4 Corps and on 4 July 1977 iqbal khan gathered all officers and congratulated them that an agreement had been reached

I interviewed brig imtiaz warraich —-

You were Commander 111 Brigade in 1977. Please describe in detail all that you saw, and all the actions connected with Zia’s military takeover on 5th July 1977?

Brig Warraich: 111 Brigade is located in West Ridge Rawalpindi and was under command Headquarter 10 Corps. Lieutenant General F.A Chishti was the Corps Commander. This operation took place on the night of July 5, 1977 resulting into the imposition of martial law.General Mohammad Zia ul Haq the then COAS became the Chief Martial Law Administrator. Normally a question is asked as to how early were you as Commander 111 Brigade taken into confidence. My answer is only a few hours prior to the commencement of the operation on night July 5, 1977.

I recall that about fifteen days earlier I had requested for one month leave to prepare for my war course. Initially the leave was sanctioned but after three to four days I was recalled. In retrospect, gives an impression that at higher level this contingency might have been considered much earlier. I also recall that two three days prior to this operation Zia remarked that negotiations between the government and PNA are reaching a dead end and the situation is likely to worsen .I spontaneously remarked “Sir, if they are given some more time Sihala Parleys might see some tangible results”.On my uncalled for remarks the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) was startled and uneasy. Later I learnt that due to an element of uncertainty a major general was called and the impending operation was not changed. It appeared that the new incumbent was either not considered exuberant enough for the task in hand or due to shortage of time status quo was accepted.

On the fateful night at about 11:30 P.M, Chief of Staff 10 Corps personally came and conveyed the orders to me. There was a danger of civil war situation emerging, therefore, army had decided to intervene and take the higher political leadership both of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) into custody. Names of eleven leaders from PPP mostly Federal Ministers and nine senior leaders from PNA were identified who were to be brought to Officers Mess, Headquarters 10 Corps Chaklala.

Within half an hour on receipt of the orders I held my orders group (O Group).On night July 5, 1977 I had six infantry battalions under command, four of my own and two ex 23 Division Jhelum, which were already there on Internal Security Duties in Rawalpindi. The principal task that we were required to perform was to constitute about twenty parties each headed by an officer with six other ranks, each to escort one VIP/Leaders from their residences to Chaklala. Guard Battalion 6 Baluch at PM House was to remain in location without any task. There were many other duties for which units were earmarked but these were not of great consequence.

We discovered that most of the ministers were living in Islamabad. Officers and men who had gone to escort them found it very difficult to locate their residences. Luckily within the stipulated time we were able to bring all the leaders of both parties to Chaklala.I may point out that all junior officers and men were given explicit orders to remain very respectful and courteous to the senior politicians and ministers, hence, no untoward incident took place.

When the task was accomplished by 0330 hours and all leaders had assembled in Headquarters 10 Corps, the army chief General Zia spoke to the ex Prime Minister on telephone that he had imposed Martial Law in the country therefore,Prime Minister would be escorted to Murree at seven O’clock in the morning. I may point out that during the whole operation no officer or troops entered the PM House and no disturbance was caused.

When I recall the events I find that when the morning came bigger people took over the charge and we once again were absorbed in our humble daily routine. During the subsequent years as we observed that a grand political manipulation commenced. Self- aggrandisement efforts to acquire most powerful jobs became the order of the day on part of most senior generals, some eminent politicians and technocrats. National interest as usual took the rear seat and was of secondary importance.

Zahid Zaman Brig: I am following the very interesting discussion about the imposition of martial law. I was acting gso1 16 div since Jan 1977 and involved in Balochistan operations. On April 26 we were ordered to move to Karachi where a local ML had been imposed. I moved with a small party from Temple Dera now Dera Murad Jamali reaching Karachi early morning 28 April.  Through a court order,these MLs were lifted in May 77. The GOC Late Lt Gen SM Abassi was called to GHQ we moved to Quetta in early June. On morning 5th July I was told that a Top Secret document has arrived to be collected by an officer from the signal centre and it was done. The document was the agreement likely between the govt and PNA. While still studying and reading the agreement,I was told to personally go and receive a flash signal. I got it, and it was the order imposing martial law. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Major Shahid Rahman: Zahid Zaman, Sir,  it was decided much earlier by the then COAS, Gen Zia, that he wanted to remove Bhutto. The Late Maj Gen Abdullah Malik, who had been our Bde Comd in East Pakistan, and was CGS in 1977, used to live close to my place in Islamabad after retirement. I had also joined the company he had raised with  Brig Mian Mahmud in the 1980s. 

He used to tell us, that from April, 1977 onwards in every meeting the Chief would be ridiculing  PM Bhutto, and making gestures to see how many of his generals are of the same mindset as himself. 

If I remember correctly, he told me, a meeting in April, 1977 in GHQ was the defining moment, when the Chief indicated, ‘we should be ready ‘..

We still don’t know,  what really happened which made Gen Zia  make a Uturn on Bhutto…

[11:24, 7/18/2019] Zahid Zaman Brig: I agree with. In May77, there was a naval cadets passing out parade in their academy. Gen Tikka Khan,who was the defence minister was to be the chief guest. The GOC asked me if I had been invited and gave an affirmative to that. He told me to accompany him along with my wife. I had been allowed to bring my wife to Karachi. We were to leave early as the GOC said the bridge connecting the mainland will be removed after 0800 hrs. In the evening while discussing the days happenings,Gen Abassi said let us skip the passing out and let Gen Tikka take his last salute. This was a clear indication to me of things to come. Any way once ML in Karachi was lifted, the GOC asked me to make list of all files and hand them over to HQ 5 Corps. . the GOC asked me to make list of all files and hand them over to HQ 5 Corps. He said after that I could leave for Quetta while he will go to GHQ Pindi. He said the chief has tasked him to prepare plan for holding elections under army supervision. Later after imposition of Martial Law throughout the country,Gen Abassi told me ,told me it was not for election but ML that he was called to plan.


Chuang-tzu or Zhuangzi, it’s a laughing matter [review]

[ cross-posted at Zenpundit — Zhuangzi, a light-hearted philosopher dancing to his own laughter, illuminated by CC Tsai ]

Zhuangzi: The Way of Nature
translated by Brian Bruya, illustrated by CC Tsai
Princeton University Press, 2019
US $ 22.95


You may be acquainted with the yin-yang symbol — or as it’s more properly called, the Tai-chih or Taiji — but here’s CC Tsai‘s version, with dragon:

That’s the style of CC Tsai‘s illustrations, which — rather than Brian Bruya‘s translations — are the featured aspect of this version of the Zhuangzi: it also encapsulates the essence of Zhuangzi‘s thought.

Here’s the comic book version of a very comic work of profound, non-invasive philosophy.


Zhuangzi is a Taoist, one who would allow the arising and fading away of things in their natural order, with as little thought-commentyary, let alone intervention, as piossible — given the human tendency to go round and round in circles even while sitting still — Laozi‘s Tao Te Ching is the simple and direct exposition of this way of approaching and appreciating life, while Zhuangzi presents the same appreciation in the formm of quizzical tales and (naturally, absent) morals..

Ah. Thus the seagull, Laozi tells Confucius, who came to discuss benevolence and righteousness, doesn’t get white by soaping yup and washing itself, nor does the crow get black by dipping itself in ink: benevolence, similarly, is not a matter of soap and water — it simply arises where it arises.

You get the feeling Laozi wouldn’t mind having left it at the seagulls doing what they do, and likewise with the crows — but Confucius dropped by and asked about benevolence and righteousness, and Laozi responded as was only benevolent and polite..


My favorite story in all of Chuang Tzu / Zhuangzi is the story of Lord Wen-hui’s cook Ting, who taught him the natural way of things while cutting up an ox. In Burton Watson‘s translation:

Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

“Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

“A good cook changes his knife once a year-because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month-because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

“However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until – flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

“Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”


That’s a long-ish quote, but its rollicking good humor will have carried you through it, and I wanted to give you a sense of the Zhuangzi as I have known and loved it — to taste it in comparison with CC Tsai‘s vision / version of the same tale, as represented in a couple of frames from his telling:


So now we have Burton Watson‘s “the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room” and Brian Bruya‘s “my knife glides in and out between the bone joints, moving as it pleases: the cow suffers no pain and, in the end, doesn’t even know it’s dead.”

Pretty remarkable, either way — but that’s in English, and who knows what contortions a translator must make to move from Chinese into English? Watson‘s Chuang-tsu is closer to Lao-tsu, if you compare the statement of principle to its embodiment in an anecdote:

Ursula Le Guin‘s translation of the Tao Te Ching is even more succinct:

The immaterial enters the impenetrable..

No wonder cook Ting’s vorpal blade went snicker-snack, to borrow a phrase from Lewis Carroll‘s poem, Jabberwocky. And come to think of it, Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the Christ Church, Oxford logician, may indeed be the English language’s native equivalent of the Chinese Zhuangzi.


As I hope I have indicated, Chuang Tzu / Zhuangzi, even in translation, is a writer of enormous charm and insight, and CC Tsai‘s presentation marries the conventions of the comic book with classical Chinese artistry to provide an exemplary introduction to one of the world’s great philosopher-humorists.

Delightful. Warmly recommended.


Hindutva jumped the shark

I am fucking speechless.

I am shocked on so many levels. This chap believes he can speak to the Muslim condition because his children’s nanny is a Muslim.

This reminds me of that film with Emma Stone, the Help, where she is the wonderful white woman speaking about the black help (one of the black actresses later said they always regretted making that film).

Wow just wow; the level of denial floods the Nile. I’m sorry people take exception to my constant banter about Urdu-Persian (languages are not peoples especially in a South Asian context where caste, creed and community is hyper-operative) but this is just so wrong.

Hindutva either accepts Muslims who either works for them or kowtows to them. This just repulses me.


William Dalrymple, Imran Khan & Xerxes’s Jinnah moment-

One of the Hoi Polloi, or rather a penny-store Machiavelli, writes:

(Oh also nice job critiquing Zach’s H-M chasm and his Urduised worldview 😛 Was getting pretty boring listening to him and his friends go on about the same thing over and over again)

We haven’t listened to the episode so are unaware of what was exactly said. Neither do we know what H-M means but assuming His Majesty (though ShahenShah is preferable)?

On a personal level I take issue with “Urduised” because it’s known that I am partial to PAU (Persian Arabic Urdu).

Urdu is simply the liminal of civilisational elegance. The Great Moguls would have spoken Arabic to God, Persian among themselves and Urdu to their sub-alterns (such as the stable hands and chaiwallas).

Otherwise on a more personal note I don’t know who “my friends are.”

If, as I suspect, he means the CamCast Quarter then our views are radically different from one another. MJ is lightly coated with Saffron, V is a Nehruvian capitalist and J belongs to a very prominent (& known) right-wing family.

I myself am very partial to aristocracy and Monarchy. Perhaps that’s because I’ve spend the vast majority of my life in a country defined by both such institutions.

I was impressed to wake up this morning to William Dalrymple liking our tweet (Kiara Advani is now one of the foremost Mughalists).

In my more Tharoorian avatar; I would have ranted about Dalrymple being a coloniser and what not.

But the more I think about it, the more I’ve come round to how sound Two Nation Theory is.

Indeed my own life choices reflect that. I am not a Muslim and therefore I’m adopting Indian culture. If I were a practising Muslim there is no way I could choose the Saffron path.

Finally in one of the threads it was asked when Bangladesh would have its own Modi or IK.

I don’t think ethnically homogeneous and “sound” nations like Bangladesh will ever have a need to produce such leaders.

Partition is the Great Angst of the Subcontinent and it’s something that consumes both Pakistan & India. If there had been no Pakistan/Islam, there probably would have been no BJP or RSS or Modi.

However Pakistan, being such an artificial nation, has to produce these leaders to provide it with a coherent narrative.

Pakistan is always a few steps from collapse (in cricket & in life), which leads to chronic instability but also the potential for greatness.

A good example is below where Imran Khan is clearly lying through his teeth but is doing it with such elan that the reporter is flummoxed.

I prefer my leader to have that grace and polish and to have the ability to duel with dexterity. It’s a bit like the Great Moguls; the illusion is more important than the reality.

The final tweet is of interest to me:

Hindutva foams at the mouth constantly trying to tell Pakistanis where our ancestors came from. Their desperation at getting us to buy into the Brahmanical hierarchy is cute but a touch manic to be honest..


On being Indian

The Living Lakshmi writes on being Indian

I left India many years ago to live in Britain but having said that I have always felt deeply connected to her. I was born and raised in Madras (now Chennai) and like many Indians living abroad would attest; one feels tethered to her in ways that transcend culture or habits.

I invariably gravitate to news on India and Indians as a default, despite 12 years of living away, my Facebook and Twitter are overwhelmed with stories about India (this is of course a result of the accounts I follow).

I’ve always kept loose track of the big Bollywood releases, and have never been successful at adapting my palette to anything away from desi food. Then of course it is hard to ignore Indian politics, no matter where you live in the world; the news finds a way to your timeline or twitter feed.

I don’t think this has anything to do with patriotism, it is a default. It is the inability to shake away some aspects that are hard-wired. If you lived in India long enough to soak in her distinctive and unique qualities, you remain tethered for life.

If someone asked me to describe what it means to be Indian?

  • I would say we come in all colors, shapes and sizes, between the length and breadth of India.
  • There are innumerable dialects spoken, there are groups, sub-groups and sub-sub-groups people like to organize themselves into. These could be religions, languages or other clustering factors.
  • We don’t dress the same, speak the same or even think the same way.
  • It is quite possible to find two Indians who share nothing in common except the country they belong to.
  • This lack of tidiness has never been a cause of dismay but the very essence, the very description of India, her distinguishing trait in the world.

It’s what makes us better than our neighbors.

To try and mask over this amazingly messy, glorious, mixture would be a travesty and something that needs to be safeguarded against. This strong heterogeneity has no influence on how people interact at a micro-level. Within the country people migrate to states they didn’t hail from and find ways of flourishing, magically.

Hence, a really succinct definition of being Indian would be ‘being liberal’.

It were these — liberalism and secularism, the founding principles of the state of India. By and large Indians everywhere in urban and rural areas have lived by and embraced these principles.

In the India I grew up in, it was not important whether you were a temple or a church goer but if you can help someone make headway. There was no time or room to focus on subjects inconsequential to ones prosperity. In a country like India, to prosper is the underscoring dominating aspiration.

Have things changed in today’s India?

Here is my take: While the mainstream news will tell you otherwise, (and frankly enough virtual and physical ink has been spilled on discussing the rise of Hindu nationalism post 2019 national elections) I don’t think the government in the world’s largest and perhaps most untamed democracy can so easily sweep through and change the way people fundamentally behave.

While it is important to fight illiberalism, barbarism and racism; we cannot be so consumed by dissent that we forget to focus on issues of material significance and our growing superpower status in the world. For India, the ruling government or its leanings have always been extraneous. The individuals and the institutions have mattered much more.

As a country we have several pressing matters at hand, we are trying to make our mark alongside China as one of the world’s largest economies. We need to clean up our cities and preserve our monuments, we need to educate more people and give jobs to a lot more.

We need to make things better for millions of farmers. We need to market our culture, food, art, literature in an increasingly globalising world. We need to make better films, write better books, do better science and retain our brilliant minds.

We need to stay relevant. We need to sell more to the world so we can be more prosperous. With over a billion people in tow we cannot afford to lose this race, but we will if we continue to squabble over matters of little material significance.

There is so much we can already offer to the world and so much more to work towards. This is both our burden and our duty. Let’s not get distracted.


Dark Skin & Getting Married | Stand Up Comedy by Saikiran

I’m pretty busy these days with work but I have taken the early morning off to catch up on all of my extra-circulars (I’m trying to steel myself to work out in the mornings but that’s still a step too far).

This is an amazing clip by the comic Saikiran. He speaks truth to power and more tellingly the Casteocracy as a Dark Brahmin(?).

I liked his point about how there are 50 women to 100 men on Telugu

The NRIs take the top 20 women and then the other 20 are taken by the Two “Eyes” of India (IIT & IIM).

I usually don’t like Indian stand-up comics because they are riffs on Western comics (one could write whole books on the relationship between contemporary Indian culture and the West).

I like his authenticity very much and I found him hilarious; so did 8-9mm people.

In our last politics podcast there is definitely a trend among Indians to shake off Westernised identity (they tried hacking off the Saracenic one 70years ago to mixed success I still haven’t heard a popular Shuudh Hindi song yet) and go their own way in Modi’s India. This is a good example of cultural authenticity even if the language of choice is not. I don’t know the origins of stand-up comedy but it’s entirely appropriated dominated by the Anglo-Saxon West.

It’s very unlikely that he had more than a 1,000 geniune white Westerners see his video of 8+million views but even to reach maximum audience, effect and positioning he had to rely on English.

Finally he alludes to his grandmother who was not South Indian fair, not even North Indian fair but Afghanistani fair (albino).

He could  have just said Kashmiri fair. While her partner, Advocate Guruswamy, has height on her side; Ms. Katju immediately screams Srinagar and I’m not even familiar with the community. I find it interesting that the cast-iron Indian rules of hypergamy are even hardwired operate in a lesbian relationship; the lipstick is fair & demure, the chapstick is tall and dusky (I’m assuming their roles but it’s a sensible guess).

The idea of course is that more often than not, in a Hindu context (I used Hindu in an ethnographic not religious term), is that caste, colour and class are so tightly wedded together that the most angst is concentrated are in those who happen to have 2 out of 3 as in the case of Mr. Saikan.



This man makes me proud of being a Baha’i

For the first time one of my Social Media Tweets has gone *slightly* viral.

I’m so proud to discover that the Second African-American (second black person as well), Ronald E. McNair, to fly in…

Posted by Zachary Zavidé on Saturday, July 20, 2019

The animated story and the retelling of it by his brother is here:
I did mention to V that I was shocked that I had only learnt about this story (and that too from a Pakistani not Persian Baha’i).
She immediately replied that’s because he was “a black man Zach.” While I’m proud of this story, which frankly is more impressive than any temple built by our institutions, I’m also ashamed of the endemic and silent racism within the community.
It is always interesting to me that in our avowedly “non-racist” (and non-sexist faith) it’s always Persian & White Men (and their Spouses) who become the Superstars of the Faith.
So it is interesting that while I’m busy with my one-man crusade online to Persianise Pakistan (restoring our High Culture is a difficult but worthwhile task) I’m fighting a very different battle to find moral equity within our Persianate Faith.

why Afghanistan & Pakistan must unite under a Constitutional monarchy

I do not understand why INDThings and Kabir waste their time and energy on arguing with Hindutva.

However there are some Pakistanis that are now verging on the ridiculous:

Why are some Pakistanis demanding a statue of Raja Dahir, the last Hindu king of Sindh?

I didn’t understand the desire to install the statue of the divisive Ranjit Singh. I recently saw the movie Kesari and frankly found it rather offensive that Bollywood chose to celebrate the Slave-soldiers of the Raj rather than the Pashtun freedom fighters.

I do feel a good solution to Pakistan’s identity dilemma would be a constitutional monarchy with Afghanistan (Union of the Crowns, which is what England & Scotland had from 1606-1707).

It would have to be solely Persian-speaking (I haven’t researched enough on what standard of Persian but Dari possibly approximate Sabki-Hind fairly well) but Sunni (in the manner of the Mughals being Sunni, which was eclectic but still distinct enough from the Safavids) and probably the last Afghan dynasty will do with enough Mughal Muslim nobility thrown in for good measure. This would offset the Punjabi-Sindhi dominance since frankly most of the notables would be the traditional ruling tribes of Muhajirs and Afghans (the only royal tribe in Pakistan that comes to mind are the B’s; Brahuis, Baltis and Bahawalpur).

As the last cricket World Cup showed it’s not the Radcliffe line that must be erased; after all it is a civilisational border of sort but rather the Durand line. The fact that Afghanis and Pakistanis were at each other’s throats while the Indians & Pakistanis were super-cordial demonstrates that the former is a familial relationship the latter is a formal one.

There is also a serious possibility that such a constitutional monarchy might have to accommodate the rising tide of Muslim migrants from Modistan.

Then statues of Ranjit Singh and Raja Dahir would make sense as the indigenous expression of Pakistan’s Indian provinces (Punjab & Sindh).

But like all things Pakistani, the national project is still half complete and we must look West to Turan. The Arabs only came once and only manage to transform Sindh; it was the Turanians who reshaped the map of India.

Of course this is constitutional optics and nothing would really change on the ground but the restoration of an Sunni Persian-speaking Afghan-Mughal Monarchy would solidify AfPak and tie it solidly into its Persian & Central Asian neighbours.

It would be a fitting tribute and victory to those noble Afghans who sacrificed their lives at Saraghari under the orders of the British and their Ghulams. Then we can be politically correct and build as many statues of Ranjit Singh & Raja Dahir as we like.


Who brought the Zebu in the Near East ?

If folks over here are not already aware, a major ancient DNA paper on cattle came out last week in the Science magazine. It had an unprecedented 67 ancient cattle samples.

Here’s the abstract,

Genome-wide analysis of 67 ancient Near Eastern cattle, Bos taurus, remains reveals regional variation that has since been obscured by admixture in modern populations. Comparisons of genomes of early domestic cattle to their aurochs progenitors identify diverse origins with separate introgressions of wild stock. A later region-wide Bronze Age shift indicates rapid and widespread introgression of zebu, Bos indicus, from the Indus Valley. This process was likely stimulated at the onset of the current geological age, ~4.2 thousand years ago, by a widespread multicentury drought. In contrast to genome-wide admixture, mitochondrial DNA stasis supports that this introgression was male-driven, suggesting that selection of arid-adapted zebu bulls enhanced herd survival. This human-mediated migration of zebu-derived genetics has continued through millennia, altering tropical herding on each continent.

Well the widespread Zebu presence in the LBA Near East is not exactly a new discovery. It has been known for quite sometime now among archaeologists. This article gives a good overview on the subject.

(Syrio-Hittite Terracota Zebu, source)

(Hittite Bronze Zebu, source)


Nevertheless, with this new study, we now have conclusive evidence that the widespread Zebu admixture in the Near Eastern cattle did indeed start around 2000 BCE.


Illustration of the proportion of Zebu ancestry over time in domesticated cattle of Eurasia. From Verdugo et al. 2019

(figure courtesy : twitter/johnhawks)

As can be seen from the above figure, after 4000 YBP, there is a sudden spurt in indicine or Zebu admixture across nearly all the ancient samples of Near Eastern Cattle including cattle samples from Central Asia, Iran, the Caucasus, Levant, Mesopotamia & the Balkans.

Again quoting from the paper,

…despite archaeological evidence for contact between civilizations of the Fertile Crescent region and the Indus Valley (9), the influence of the zebu genome is detectable in ancient Southwest Asian cattle only 4000 years later (Fig. 2). However, after ~4000 yr B.P., hybrid animals (median 35% indicine ancestry) are found across the Near East, from Central Asia and Iran to the Caucasus and Mediterranean shores of the southern Levant (table S2 and fig. S1). During this period, depictions and osteological evidence for B. indicus also appear in the region (9, 13). In contrast to autosomal data, but similar to earlier work (14), we find persistence of B. taurus mitochondria, suggesting introgression may have been mediated by bulls (Fig. 2).

As the bolded portions note, the indicine admixture in the ancient cattle samples from the Near East post 4000 YBP, show on an average 35 % indicine admixture but that this mostly through the Indicine bulls as there is indicine mtDNA in these admixed samples. This widespread and major admixture in the Near Eastern cattle post 4000 YBP, is clearly a major turning point in the history of the Near Eastern cattle.

What lead to this major turning point ?

It is now widely accepted that there was a major 4200 YBP climatic event that brought about a prolonged phase of drought perhaps extending to several centuries which affected all major civilizations of the Near East extending all the way to the Indus civilization. This event is also considered a major reason for the apparent ‘collapse’ of the Indus civilization.

The Large Harappan Footprint across Middle Asia


Most if not all movements of cattle across large distances in prehistory are usually associated with movement of humans. Did the large influx of Zebu autosomal DNA into the Near East cattle also result due to South Asian population expansion into the Near East post-4000 YBP ?

What we do know from archaeology is that the Harappans were operating across a vast landscape and their presence and influence can be detected in Central Asia, Eastern Iran( Jiroft & Helmand), the SE Arabian coast (Oman & Bahrain) and in Mesopotamia already in the 3rd millenium BC. The Harappans even had their own colonies in these different regions.

It appears that a minority but nevertheless a significant and arguably influential community of Harappans were present in most of these regions away from the Greater Indus region as far as atleast Mesopotamia. Infact, in a lot of these places, the Harappans were apparently living in those places for many generations. It is conceivable that they would have brought and maintained the Zebu cattle in their new homelands.

Therefore, already in the 3rd millenium BC, it is quite probable that the Zebu cattle was already a minor but regular feature of the Middle Asian landscape.

However, after the onset of the 4.2 kya event, with the onset of aridity, it is believed that the Harappan civilization finally collapsed around 3900 kya (1900 BCE). One of the consequences of this collapse is apparently the end of Harappan trade and interaction across Middle Asia.

So the questions is – how did the Zebu admixture in the Near East shoot up all of a sudden in a period when we are led to believe that the Harappan or Indus civilization ceased to interact with this region ?

And it is not just Indian cattle admixture that becomes widespread into the Near East during this post-4000 kya period. As the authors of this paper state,

Westward human migration has been documented around  this time(19,20) along with archaeological evidence for the appearance of other South Asian taxa such as water buffalo and Asian elephants in the Near East(21), suggesting the movement of large animals by people.

Infact, the presence of Asian Elephant in the Near East dates to from the end of 3rd millenium BC to the 8th century BC and is centred around Syria and hence this ancient elephant population is also known as the Syrian Elephant.

The authors of the study cited on Asian Elephants in our cattle aDNA paper above state something very interesting,

…ancient accounts indicate that live elephants roamed and were hunted in the Orontes Valley, the Upper Euphrates Valley and the Middle Euphrates Valley around modern Ana in Iraq, at least between the end of the 16th and 9th centuries BC, possibly into the 8th century BC (Breasted 1906–07; Gardiner 1964: 179, 201; Moorey 1994: 117; Scullard 1974: 28). The core of this region comprises the area of influence of the Mitanni Kingdom, the main local political player in LBA northern Syria…

The Mitanni were an Indo-Iranian, possibly Indo-Aryan elite ruling over the native Hurrian population in present day Syria in the mid 2nd millenium BCE. And we observe that Asian Elephants, most likely imported from the Indus civilization, only appear in the Near East during the 2nd millenium BC and in a geography that was under the political control of the Mitanni. Is this merely a co-incidence ?

A New Interaction Horizon in Middle Asia in the LBA ?

It is quite probable that with the collapse of the old Bronze Age empires all across the Near East and South Asia, this entire Middle Asian region entered into a new era of interaction which is archaeologically not so well-defined. The widespread Zebu admixture in the Near Eastern cattle along with the presence of Asian elephants as also the first attestations of the Indo-Europeans such as the Hittites & the Mitanni and the associated horse-drawn chariots are evidences of this new horizon.

But while the Zebu and the Asian Elephant came from South Asia, one may argue that the Hittites, Mitanni and the horse drawn chariot must surely come from the steppe.

Well, the strong correlation of the geography of the LBA ‘Syrian’ Elephant population with the boundaries of the Mitanni empire, does suggest some sort of interaction of the Mitanni with South Asia.

And if this is not all, we have now possibly a very strong evidence of the presence of chariots in South Asia which is as old and probably older than the Sintashta chariots in the steppe.

It maybe noted that before the discovery of the chariots in Sintashta which gave the steppe chariot the distinction of being the oldest known one, it has been argued for long that the invention of chariot is mostly likely in the Near East and not in the steppe due to several factors inimical for the use of chariots on the steppe. You can read more about it here.

The discovery of the Sanauli chariots is likely to revive that debate. Along with this, we also have the prospect of horse aDNA from the Mature Harappan Phase no less.

So could the appearance of the Zebu, the Asian elephant, the Buffalo as well as the Hittites & Mitanni and their horse drawn chariot in the 2nd millenium BC in the Near East have a common cause in their probable migration from South Asia after the Indus civilization collapse.

Certainly some food for thought !





Remembering Peterloo and Jallianwala

I recently participated in an interaction on policy, democracy and reform movements in the light of a major event in British history – the Peterloo Massacre, 1819, in the Palace of Westminster, London, in the evening of 17th July 2019. The Massacre took place at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, on 16 August 1819, when cavalry mainly comprising of the 15th The King’s Hussars (who had been pivotal in the Napoleonic Wars, particularly the Battle of Waterloo) charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. They were led by the fiery radical reformer Henry Hunt. After the stunning barbarism on the part of the administration, 18 were reported died while hundreds were injured.


Following the Peterloo Massacre, the government of the United Kingdom acted to prevent any future disturbances by the introduction of new legislation, the so-called Six Acts aimed at suppressing any meetings for the purpose of radical reform. Even though the regressive Pittite Acts were struck down over two centuries (with the most recent repeal being as recently as 2008), what fascinates me is how the Rowlatt Act that led to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Punjab, India, a century later has resonances with the Six Acts.

Read more on this here: