About Punjab and Punjabis
Selected Columns / Articles
Pakistan’s Punjab problem
Punjab is more than half of Pakistan, in politics, culture and industry. Whether anyone likes it or not, the task of governing Pakistan, of getting Pakistan right, falls heaviest upon the land of the five rivers (now three after the Indus Basin Waters Treaty).Call this the burden of geography or the curse of history.
History, however, left Punjab unprepared for the task of leading Pakistan. Punjab had a long tradition in poetry, literature and culture. But the one tradition it did not have, or did not possess in abundance, was that of rulership. In all of recorded history, from Alexander to the present, who are the Punjabi rulers that we know of?
In Alexander’s time Porus whose kingdom straddled the River Jhelum, the battle between him and the Greeks commemorated in legend. Then after a gap of two thousand years just one name: Maharaja Ranjit Singh. A few Punjabi politicians attained prominence under the British: Sir Fazal-e-Hussain, Sikander Hayat of Wah and Khizr Hayat Tiwana. And then, after the horrors of Partition, the sorry lot whose contribution has been second to none in mismanaging the affairs of the new republic.
Our historical memories were those of the Muslim conquest of India. Our heroes were Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad of Ghaur, Babar and Akbar. But these were transnational heroes, from beyond the high mountains separating Hindustan from the lands to the west, of little use to us, except as flickering memories, when Pakistan came into being and we were very much on our own, having to manage things ourselves.
In any case, there were no infidels to fight and subjugate. There were no more battles of Panipat to be fought except with our own problems and, in many instances, our own demons.
The choice before the new state of Pakistan was either to step into the modern age or seek comfort in the past. With more visionary leaders Pakistan could have reconciled Muslim nationhood, the basis of Pakistan, with the demands of modernism. But this was not to be.
What constituted the Pakistani leadership? (1) Conservative Punjabi landlords instinctively averse to anything calculated to upset the established order of things; and (2) the Urdu-speaking elite migrating from India which could not afford to forget or downplay the passions behind the demand for Pakistan for that would have meant laying open to question the wisdom of their great pilgrimage. So we remained stuck in the past and this had fatal consequences with which we are still grappling today.
The two-nation theory was great for the quest of achieving Pakistan. Indeed, it was a necessity in that the demand for Pakistan dictated the emphasis on Muslim separateness. But once Pakistan was achieved, and the boundaries of the new state were fixed on the map, history should have moved on. Once Pakistan was achieved the necessity was no longer there to keep raising the banner of Islam. In a Muslim-majority country where the last thing under threat was Islam, it was pointless to keep proclaiming that Pakistan was a fortress of Islam. It just wasn’t necessary.
Jinnah was the first to recognise this. Hence his great speech of August 11, 1947, in the Constituent Assembly in which he spelled out a creed of secularism for the new state. In so doing he was not repudiating the tenets of the Pakistan movements but he was certainly modifying some of the messianic zeal which had animated that movement.
Both the Congress as personified by Gandhi and the Muslim League led by Jinnah had stoked the fires of religion in order to advance their political ends. In Nirad Chaudri’s Autobiography of an Unknown Indian there is a haunting passage about where, in times to come, the descent of politics into religion would lead. But it is remarkable that once Partition was a done deed and freedom was achieved for India and Pakistan, Gandhi’s was the strongest voice raised in India for Hindu-Muslim tolerance and on this side of the divide Jinnah the lone voice raised for secular tolerance.
But Jinnah was ahead of his time. And most of the Muslim League members of the Constituent Assembly could not understand what he was saying. Jinnah would never have countenanced the Objectives Resolution. We can’t seem to get out of its mesmerising orbit.
For Punjab Partition brought other consequences too. Punjab had not a single past but two. That of its Muslim conquerors, Mahmud and the Mughals and so on, which was turned into a philosophy and made the basis of Pakistan by the poet Iqbal; and that of its indigenous culture as represented by Waris Shah, Bulley Shah, Guru Nanak and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Which past was it to accept? The virtues of which past was it to proclaim? Here was a dilemma.
Punjab post-1947 was no longer an Afghan or Turkish colony. It was the most powerful portion of a new republic and running that republic, and doing it well, depended heavily upon the kind of performance Punjab delivered. Jinnah’s Aug 11 vision might have implied a tolerant, all-including view of the past. But the requirements of the Pakistan movement, and the horrors of Partition whose memory was still fresh, dictated a heavy emphasis on the theme of Pakistan being a fortress of Islam. This was enshrined later in what we know as the ideology of Pakistan, a source of endless befuddlement and confusion.
For Punjab this meant an erasure of memory. We were the inheritors of Mahmud and Babar, our spiritual axis went all the way from the land of Hejaz to the mountains of Afghanistan and beyond, but it had little to do with the cultural tradition honed over the centuries in the historic doabs (the land between two rivers) of Punjab.
It would not have mattered if this selectivity had no practical consequences. But it did. The choice our part of Punjab made led to a closing of its mind, a shrinking of its mental horizons. Punjab should have been large-minded and been in the forefront of the struggle for a modern Pakistan, its mind liberated from myths and shibboleths. Where Punjab should have led the rest of Pakistan would have followed.
Our creed should have been not the ideology of Pakistan as we know it but the ideology of progress. We should have been a beacon of light not only for our own selves but for the nations to our west. India should have looked upon our progress and enlightenment with envy and admiration. Instead of being a bedfellow of the military and the bureaucracy the Punjabi elite should have sought a partnership with the political elite of East Pakistan.
But these are the might-have-beens of history. Instead of being an engine of progress Punjab became a redoubt of reaction and intolerance. The seeds of East Pakistan secession were planted not in Bengal but Punjab. The true fathers of Bangladeshi independence are the politicians, mandarins and generals of Punjab.
From the Objectives Resolution to the ideology of Pakistan, from there to Ziaul Haq’s Islam, and from jihad to the nightmares now haunting us, this is the route we have traversed. One reason for this is the closing of the Punjabi mind and since Punjab was in the driver’s seat what it did or failed to do had consequences for the rest of Pakistan. In the field of intellect, or what passes for it with us, Punjab does service for the rest of Pakistan. GHQ’s obsessions are Punjabi obsessions.
Are we for the liberation of Pakistan, the sweeping away of the cobwebs which are such a screen over its eyes? Then first of all must be liberated the Punjabi mind. So let us think again and reconstruct the Punjabi pantheon.
In all of history who are the true heroes of Punjab? I hazard a few names: Waris Shah, Bulley Shah, Khawaja Ghulam Farid (for Seraikis are part of Punjab too), Ali Hajveri, Guru Nanak, Iqbal, Munir Niazi (yes, we should include him), Kundan Lal Saigal and (all right) Noor Jahan too. Let us honour their memory. (Bhagat Singh Shaheed was hanged in Camp Jail, Lahore. Will there come a day when Shadman Colony is named after him?)
Let us then hope that from the mental depths Punjab is in today there is a miraculous recovery. That will be the day Pakistan comes into its own.
Curtsey:The News : Friday, February 03, 2012
Punjab and the study of Ranjit Singh
At this juncture, when the seven tribal agencies along the Afghan frontier are lost to any form of government control, and Swat--once paradise on earth, now very much a picture of hell--is returning to the Middle Ages, and most of Balochistan is stricken with discontent, and the army no longer commands the moral authority it once did, does Punjab, elder brother in Pakistan's besieged federation, understand its historic responsibility?
It is no manifestation of Punjabi chauvinism, and no disrespect to the other provinces, to say that Punjab is the pivot around which Pakistan revolves. This is a simple statement of fact based on geography, population and economic clout. For too long Punjab's greater weight relative to the other provinces got translated into an argument for political domination which did Pakistan no good. In fact, Punjabi domination was one of the curses leading to East Pakistani alienation and the breakup of Pakistan.
Just to clarify matters, it was not the Punjabi peasant or the Punjab artisan holding sway over the rest of Pakistan. Poor souls, they were as dispossessed as the rest of their countrymen. It was the Punjabi bureaucrat and the Punjabi army officer fulfilling this role, backed up by a Punjabi version of neo-conservatism: the ideology-of-Pakistan school of thought, now mercifully confined to the city of Lahore.
This school of thought takes good care not to muddy its own boots. But from the comfort of Lahore--amidst Pakistan's present travails still a great city to live in--it continues to propound the virtues of jihad and endless confrontation with India. Not surprisingly, it is in possession of one of the choicest properties on the Mall, still one of the most stylish thoroughfares anywhere in the subcontinent. Whenever I pass this property I cannot help giving it a baleful look.
But the days of domination are gone. Pakistan is caught up in the vortex of other troubles. After Pakistan's vivisection at the hands of India and East Pakistani nationalism in 1971, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto described what was left of Pakistan as a New Pakistan. He was wrong. His Pakistan was a continuation of the old Pakistan. And he, despite being the most intelligent politician of his generation and era, committed the same old mistakes: conducting a military operation in Balochistan and being too autocratic for his own good.
Had he conducted himself more wisely Pakistan might have been spared Gen Zia-ul-Haq and his hypocritical Islam. What a joke Zia played with Pakistan. There couldn't be a more Islamic country than ours. Yet that wily ruler, for purposes of his own, was bent on converting this country to Islam once more.
So look at the sequence of events. Bhutto gifted us Zia, Zia gave us phoney Islamisation, from the womb of that hypocrisy arose the first Afghan jihad, and the dragon's teeth sprouted by that jihad in time led to Al Qaeda and the rest of the mumbo jumbo we are having to live with today. And let not the Yanks think they had nothing to do with this progression. They scattered the dragon's teeth with us and lauded it as a noble act. As they battle the Taliban, and their satellites futilely try to track down the elusive chief of Al Qaeda, let them show some indulgence for Pakistan's present troubles, for we and they were partners in the same crime.
The Pakistan of Baitullah Mehsud (of Waziristan) and Maulana Fazlullah (of Swat) is the New Pakistan, buffeted by storms whose impact has yet to be fully measured. In this situation Punjab's task is cut out: to be not the Serbia which was instrumental in the breakup of Yugoslavia but the true and strong magnet which keeps Pakistan's whirling pieces together.
The past, however, is no help, because in two thousand years the only ruler of worth, if not genius, to spring from the native soil of Punjab--as opposed to imports from Afghanistan, Persia and Central Asia--was Maharaja Ranjit Singh Virk. Him and him alone. Then we wonder why Punjab always produces political collaborators: Iskander Mirza Republicans, Ayub Khan Convention Leaguers, Pervez Musharraf Q Leaguers. Given Punjab's history, should this be surprising?
But now Punjab is saddled with an historic responsibility. If Pakistan's north and north-west are on fire, Balochistan is restive, if Karachi's affairs give rise to forebodings, Punjab, in order to fulfil this responsibility, must become a comfort zone, looking at which Pakistanis can say that, bad as things are, they are sure to get better. Those in a position to do so are migrating from Swat and the Frontier Province. If distress is forcing them from their homes, what will their feelings be if they find things no better in Punjab?
So what beckons is the moon and the stars. This is no time to lose any sleep over Governor Salmaan Taseer, twice elected MPA from Lahore but, despite trying, never an MNA. He is consumed by one wish alone: to become relevant, for which he's dying to play a spoiler's role--an opportunity he is not likely to get because Pakistan is caught up in other things and a new dynamic is taking shape in Islamabad with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani trying to spread his wings and assert himself.
Taseer was once in the PPP, but, then, so was I. Today the only relevance he commands is of a Musharrafite holdover. He lends colour to the Governor's House. Let him remain there, but let him not be taken seriously. The bon vivant that he has always been, and for which I have envied him, he has good connections with Lahore's Lollywood crowd. Let him cultivate those connections, and if there is a good bash one of these days, for old time's sake (auld lang syne) I expect to be invited.
Punjab's rulers must concentrate on governance. The chief minister has a reputation for hard work, but he should remember that too many meetings, one following the other, are not always a good thing. There must be time to push back one's chair and mull over things. And there must be stimulating people to talk to, of whom there is no shortage in Lahore. Mercifully, there is more to Lahore than the ideology-of-Pakistan school of armchair warriors.
For precisely this reason, it's not good to place undue reliance on the bureaucracy. Bureaucrats are best when put to implementing things, disastrous if their political advice is sought. From my infrequent visits to 7 Club Road, where the Chief Minister usually sits, I get the feeling (about which I could be wholly wrong) that there are too many babus around, serving and retired. I wish there were more politicians around, and more political workers, and more riffraff and, why not, some journalists who can always be depended upon to give an account of the other side of the hill. 7 Club Road gives too much of a sanitised look, of a VIP hospital ward freshly sprayed.
The political ascendancy of the civil service in Pakistan's early years distorted the growth and evolution of a democratic political culture. Happily, the civil service no longer exercises that kind of clout. The demise of the office of the deputy commissioner was an event un-mourned in Pakistan, no hands raised in fateha at its passing. There is a strong civil service cabal entrenched in Lahore which wants to see the return of the district magistrate. This cabal is entitled to its dreams, but it should not be allowed to have its way because that would cause an administrative muddle and lead to no good.
The district nazims may have caused mayhem in their time, but that was mainly because they became a political arm of the Musharraf dispensation. In itself the idea of administrative devolution and an elected district head (with some modifications which are easily devised and managed) is not a bad one.
And the police service, now in the front trenches of law enforcement given the all-round law-and-order deterioration we are witnessing, would not take kindly to civil service domination. Since the unwept demise of the district magistrate much water has flowed down Pakistan's rivers. Reversing what we now have does not seem a good idea.
Not that the police service needs no re-education. If there was a large enough concentration camp in Pakistan most people would dearly wish to see the police force's finest in it. At election time last year I hadn't shed all my starry-eyed notions of how things should be. Therefore, I requested that no one but directly-inducted police officers (PSP) should be posted to my district. Now, after seeing two of them perform wonders in Chakwal, I have begun to nurse the gravest doubts.
Which still is no argument for bringing back from the dead the district magistrate. That, by far, would be the greater of the two evils.
Curtsey:The News: Friday, January 16, 2009
What Punjab can do and what it has never done
Mystics and divines, poets and singers, men of enterprise and of daring, of quality and base instinct, the best dancing girls in the entire sub-continent, Punjab has given birth to them all. What, through some quirk of geography or history, it has never been able to produce is the able ruler.
Except of course for a single exception: for over 2000 years, from Alexander’s invasion to the Partition of British India in 1947, only one ruler of ability and distinction in its turbulent history, the great Maharajah Ranjit Singh. Apart from him, governors and vassals in plenty but no independent ruler, principally because Punjab was never an independent kingdom except when Ranjit Singh raised it to that status.
Afghan kings, kings of Turkish origin, Mughal emperors but only one Punjabi king. So while Punjab had other strong traditions, in agriculture, music, poetry, dancing, and, I daresay, the sycophantic arts which come so readily to subjugated people, the one tradition its superior classes lacked was that of leadership.
They knew best how to scrape and bow before authority. They were good at carrying out orders. But in 1947 history placed upon their shoulders the task of creating a nation and giving that nation a sense of direction. And they were not up to it, because nothing in their past had prepared them for this. True, Punjab’s elite classes, in alliance with the Urdu-speaking elites who had crossed over from India, managed to create order out of the chaos of Partition, a remarkable feat in itself. A country was thus born but something else as important proved elusive: the quest for nationhood.
Small wonder, misgiving arose from the very start, not everyone feeling that they were equal citizens of the new state, certainly not the people of East Pakistan who despite being in a majority felt excluded from decision-making. Baloch nationalists were unhappy, Pakhtun nationalists aggrieved, they who had been in the forefront of the struggle against the British. And winds of religiosity beat down upon the land, making what were still called minorities uneasy.
Jinnah had said that religion had no place in politics, the gist of his famous address to the Constituent Assembly just a few days before independence. But here something else was happening, religious rhetoric becoming more powerful even as political and economic performance lagged far behind.
Paranoia as regards India, an insecurity which sought relief in military alliances with the United States, an obsession with religious chest-thumping, truly bizarre in a Muslim majority country where Islam should have been the last thing in danger, or the least in need of artificial props – of such humours was concocted the doctrine that came to be hailed, and indeed flaunted, as the ideology of Pakistan.
The Baloch had no fear of India. For them Kashmir was a distant proposition. In Sindh where there was a large Hindu population, the people had no problem with India or Hinduism. Neither did the Pakhtuns have any mental problems with India, despite being very religious in their everyday outlook. In the tribal areas and in places like Swat there were Sikh and Hindu communities which felt safe and co-existed happily with their Muslim neighbours.
But it was altogether different with the official Punjabi mind and that of the Urdu-speaking elites where flourished the demons of fear and insecurity, more as a political tactic than a psychological necessity because it was a good way to keep the rest of the population in line. And because these classes dominated the upper echelons of the armed forces, the ethos of the services came also to be imbued by the same fears and compulsions.
Paradoxically, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who should have been the most enlightened man of his generation fanned the flames of this anti-Indianism more than anyone else, perhaps calculating (although there can be other theories on this score) that beating the anti-India drum would best appeal to the Punjab masses. But when the wheel came full circle the movement against him in 1977 received its most powerful impetus in Punjab, and it was the Punjab bazaar and trading classes which bayed the loudest for his blood.
When Gen Zia went looking for allies against Bhutto he found the fiercest in Punjab. When President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the ISI sought to contain Benazir Bhutto in her first prime ministership they groomed a champion in the form of one Mian Nawaz Sharif, a scion of Punjab. The fateful enterprises promoted in the name of ‘jihad’ found some of their first votaries and loudest advocates in Punjab.
Land of the five rivers – what hast thou not wrought? From thy bosom arising Guru Nanak and Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain and Waris Shah, Iqbal and Faiz and Munir Niazi, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Kundan Lal Saigal, Rafi and Noor Jahan, not to forget the great Sir Ganga Ram who had no equal when it came to giving, and Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his companions who had no equals when it came to laying down their lives in the cause of freedom. At the same time, land of our fathers, home to so much nonsense at the altar of faith and righteousness.
Pakistan today is largely what Punjab, for good or ill, has made it. Indian Punjab is a small part of India. Pakistani Punjab encompasses the best and worst of Pakistan. The social conservatism on display in our midst, the mental backwardness, the narrowness of outlook, the triumph of hypocrisy, the destruction of national education, the muddling up of national priorities, the temples erected to the false gods of national security – so much of this, alas, can be traced to the incapacities of Punjab.
Perhaps Ranjit Singh was an aberration, a historic anomaly – out of the mould and thus one of a kind.
Our Punjab certainly has nothing in common with his kingdom. In his army found service men of all races and religions. There were Mussalman battalions in his army and his head of artillery was Mian Ghausa, just as his principal wazir was from the Faqirkhana family of Lahore. And his favourite wife was a Muslim, Bibi Gulbahar Begam.
The PML-N has been in power in Islamabad twice before but in different circumstances, Nawaz Sharif not quite his own man in his first incarnation and, despite his huge majority, an unsure man in his second. He now comes as someone who has seen and experienced a great deal. So can he make a difference? Disavowing his past, does he have it in him to write a fresh history of Punjab?
Another thing to remember about the Lion of Punjab (the only lion, others all fake and imitations) is that he knew how to handle his Afghan problem. He defeated the Afghans and took Peshawar from them. Peshawar was part of the Sikh dominions annexed by the British. So if Peshawar and its environs are a part of Pakistan today it is because of that earlier Sikh conquest, half-forgotten in the mists of time. As Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan go prattling about talking to the Taliban they could do worse than study the Maharajah’s approach to the Afghans.
So can we get our historical compasses right? For over 2000 years on the soil of what is Pakistan today no independent realm or kingdom existed except two: the kingdom of Lahore and the state of Pakistan. The first was a success, a well-run entity, at least as long as the Maharajah was alive; the second is the shambles that we have made over the last 65 years.
Now there comes an opportunity to redeem our past. Question is, can the new rulers of Pakistan be half as good as their most illustrious predecessor, the one and only King of Punjab?
Curtsey:The News: Friday, May 31, 2013
Extremism is what matters all else is secondary
Punjab, heart and soul of Pakistan, will it also now be the death of Pakistan? Dangerous thought but relevant question because the land of the five rivers, now also the land which rules the rest of troubled Pakistan, has its head buried deep in the sand, conscious of every problem under the sun except what is destroying this country: extremism, terrorism and the by-product of these two, sectarianism.
Not theoretical sectarianism… with that most societies can live…but murderous sectarianism, its work accomplished by the bullet and the bomb. So much so that the Shiite community is on the verge of mentally exiting from the ideological confines of a republic confused by nothing so much as its ideology.
Spectacular jailbreaks which reveal as much about Taliban skill and daring as the bankruptcy of our defences, or random killings across the country…but it’s much more than that. Consider the sweep of Taliban strategy. They strike at targets in the Frontier – Bannu, DI Khan – and just when we think the problem is the Frontier, there is an incident across the Line of Control and, overnight, a crisis with India, thus diverting, like nothing else could, the attention of the Pakistan Army.
Not just strategy but grand strategy, Mumbai on a smaller scale: just when the army is engaged in the west, pull its attention to the east.
Yet we are still thinking what to do….still, Allah be praised, trying to stitch together that exercise in metaphysics called our counter-terrorism policy. Pity the strain on our minds because the government of the mini-mandate, in essence a Punjabi government, is still not mentally ready to grasp the true dimensions of this problem.
It is not ready to accept the fact that Taliban terrorism is no longer just about the American presence in Afghanistan or the Emirate of North Waziristan. Its sources, its support bases, are now spread across the country, not least in the sacred land of the five rivers.
But to strike at these madressahs and watering holes in Punjab, to take up this fight in earnest, is to court the hostility of conservative Punjab. And conservative Punjab, retail-bazaar Punjab, middle-class Punjab, is from where the big or small mandate draws its primary strength.
This is a paralysis of politics. It is about evenly matched by a creeping paralysis on the military front. For all practical purposes the army chief is now a lame-duck chief, his over-extended term ending in November. He has done good things including resuscitating army morale after the disasters of the Musharraf years, although one wishes he could have kept some check on the business skills of his brothers.
Of what use present pomp and glory if in years to come what is remembered about him are the exploits of his near and dear ones? Musharraf did a lot of good too. But in today’s climate is anyone willing to say a kindly word about him? In a Republic like ours we never seem to learn. And our paladins never seem to know when to depart.
So there we have it: a government to all appearances with all the authority it needs, a prime minister certainly with more authority than his predecessors or even Musharraf, but heads buried deep in the sand, and an army command ruefully contemplating the evening sun as it is about to set.
This is a vacuum of the deepest sort, government and command at a standstill. Chaudhry Nisar, the interior minister, is an able man but he talks too much, a loudspeaker constantly on. Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Sipah-e-Sahaba, the tentacles of what we have started calling the Punjabi Taliban, are all in Punjab. The frontlines of extremism may be in the Frontier. But the ‘strategic depth’ of this phenomenon is now in Punjab. From the attitude of the Punjab government, which claims infallibility for itself, one wouldn’t suspect this at all.
Forget about formulating a policy on terrorism. That can wait. Mosque loudspeakers in Punjab now defy the Loudspeaker Ordinance, as they defy common sense. If the interior ministry tackles this nuisance first maybe its words come to merit greater credibility.
Surprising thing is that where the government wants to act, and where its heart is, it can act very fast. Look at the circular debt payoffs to power producers. No questions asked and no list of who’s been given what. Nandipur power project, its cost jacked up and up, but government unfazed. When it comes to interests close to the bone, all innocence disappears and alacrity is the watchword. When it comes to extremism and terrorism, probably because there is no immediate profit in this, it is either (for more meditation) a trip to Murree, favourite summer destination, or the way of the ostrich.
The Taliban are inhibited by no such compulsions, minds distracted by no Nandipur adventures. They are focused utterly on the destabilisation of the Pakistani state and the spread of extremist thought. This is what makes this an unequal contest. The Republic has resources and guns and the atom bomb. But it lacks leadership and what leadership there is, gifts of a wayward destiny, is without conviction.
One thing is for sure, and this can be the first commandment of war. Expect no Battle of Stalingrad, no Vietnam, no victories in the mountains, from a leadership which has most of its money parked abroad. This is a contradiction in terms, not resolvable by platitudes. Similarly, an army command infected by that most alluring of fancies, love of real estate, can lead a nation in no life-and-death struggle. Call this the second commandment.
How many houses did Churchill own? Only Chartwell Manor which he bought with his money from his books and journalism. And after the war, imagine this, he couldn’t afford to keep the house and a consortium of businessmen bought it and the arrangement was that as long as he and his wife lived they would pay nominal rent and after their deaths the estate would go to the National Trust. On Churchill’s death in 1965 his wife decided to hand over the house to the National Trust immediately. How many suits did Stalin possess? How extensive was Ho Chi Minh’s wardrobe?
So what are we talking about? In normal times none of this would have mattered. The Sharifs could have doubled their Raiwind estate and army chiefs could have more private homes than they have become accustomed to. But the Taliban are at the gates and they have the initiative and a better sense of strategy, a better sense of the indirect approach, than the Military Operations Directorate.
For most of us this is the only country we are likely to have. We have already made a cult of the ‘internally-displaced person’ (IDP). The greatest Partition of the last century fell to our lot. Dismemberment we have experienced. How many more traumas can we go through, especially when the space for traumas is shrinking? The IDPs of the Khyber Agency can find refuge near Peshawar, those of North Waziristan in Kohat. To which kingdom on the hill will the IDPs of Punjab go?
So the luxury of half-measures is not ours to afford because time is slipping by, and time is not on our side. And please select a proper army chief, a fighting man, not a desk-bound general, or someone keen on remaking his fortune. If the Sharifs fumble this, and they will have their own calculations, then forget about Churchill. Let the spirit of appeasement guide us as we respectfully approach the Taliban, peace-offerings in hand and ingratiating smiles on our lips.
Tailpiece: Two excellent columns on terrorism I have just read, one by Ayesha Siddiqa, the other by Tariq Mahmud, former interior secretary. This means we have people who understand the problem. Why are our bonzes so dumb?
Curtsey :The News : Tuesday, August 13, 2013
The evil of our circumstances
The Pakistani predicament cannot be understood or fully explained without a reference to history. We are what we are in large part because of the circumstances of our birth. That we were unprepared for statehood was no big disability. Nations learn on the march and we could have done the same. But we were scarred by something else. Our vision of statehood was very limited. In that sense it was flawed.
Partition and independent statehood should have meant a liberation of the spirit, a broadening of our mental horizons. But in our endeavour to construct an ideological state, resting on a system of thought which drew inspiration from the past, we set about erecting high walls and embankments around national thought. We should have been a progressive nation. We became instead an outpost of reactionary thinking.
To a large extent this reflected the kind of leadership we had. The Indian national movement had produced a whole range of outstanding leaders, spanning the political spectrum from right to left. With the perennial exception of Jinnah and one or two others, the leadership of the Muslim League was plodding and lustreless, nawabs and sardars drawn mostly from the aristocracy and the landed class. Such a leadership could not create a progressive nation.
There was another vital difference between the Indian national movement and the movement for the creation of Pakistan. The former struggled for independence from the British whereas the primary aim of the latter was to seek safeguards for the Muslim community against the Hindu majority.
Jinnah was amongst the first of the Indian nationalists. We must always bear this in mind. But on the whole the Muslim League leadership was not in the forefront of the fight against the British. That was not part of their outlook. Worried about the future they sought bulwarks against Hindu rule. And, given their social background, they were mortally afraid of anything that carried even a remote hint of socialism.
This was not a fighting mentality. This was a defensive mentality and its nature put a stamp on the texture and psychology of the new state. Small wonder then that audacity and the taking of risks, the ability to think big, were not the defining characteristics of our birth.
We did not prosecute the Kashmir war, 1947-48, with the vigour that the enterprise deserved. Jinnah was an ailing person and the men around him, a few exceptions apart, were men of straw. Where we should have lost no time in drawing up a constitution we wasted time in theological debates, one outcome of which was the Objectives Resolution.
Where we should have abolished feudalism and distributed Hindu property equitably, we allowed feudalism to retain its stranglehold in West Pakistan (East Pakistan being different) and distributed evacuee property on the basis of self-filed claims, opening the door to widespread graft and forgery.
The dominance of the bureaucracy over state affairs was no accident. The calibre of the Muslim League leadership almost invited bureaucratic meddling and interference. The higher bureaucracy being deeply conservative in nature, its growing influence meant a predisposition towards a policy of dependence upon the West. Our status as the United States' most allied ally and our membership of the anti-communist alliance were thus foreordained.
Our geographic location or, as we are wont to say, our strategic location, at the crossroads of history and the march of empires, should have given us confidence and strengthened a spirit of independence. In our case it gave rise to a sepoy mentality: a willingness to serve foreign interests at minimum wages. Before independence our so-called martial races served most loyally the British Empire. After independence our army has felt little qualms in serving American interests under one guise or the other.
So many things have changed over the years but this aspect of our national policy remains fixed in stone. We concluded our first military agreement with the US in 1951. Sixty odd years later we remain locked in America's military embrace, fighting a war whose direction and purpose are defined by the US.
Israel's American alliance has strengthened Israel. Israel uses and even manipulates this alliance to its benefit. Because as a nation we lack independence of thought and judgment our American alliance has had just the opposite effect, making us not more independent and strong but bolstering a spirit of subservience. When they feel the need Israeli leaders don't hesitate to stand up to the US. Our leaders, generally, quake at the prospect. This has less to do with our physical circumstances than with the quality of our thinking subservience being first of all a mental condition.
In India it was the quality of the leadership thrown up by the independence movement which ensured civilian dominance over the military. In Pakistan it was the sub-standard quality of the political leadership which ensured the military's dominance over decision-making. Given the material at hand, no other outcome was possible.
Pakistan also suffers from another disability: the overweening influence of Punjab in all matters great and small. Punjab's has been the dominant hand and, more importantly, the dominant thinking in shaping Pakistan. East Pakistan was pushed towards separatism because Punjab could not accommodate East Pakistani aspirations. Punjabi judges, acting in concert with Gen Zia (as his willing accomplices), hanged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. When Pakistan's accounts before the final judgment seat are drawn up, Punjabi generals, mandarins and senior judges will have much to answer for.
The ideology of Pakistan is largely a Punjabi artefact. Pakistan as fortress-of-Islam is also, for the most part, a Punjabi concept. Islamabad as Pakistan's capital is a Punjab idea. For much of Pakistan's history the Punjabi elites and the army high command have marched to the same tune.
Punjab, however, was ill-suited to the role it had to assume, lacking experience of rulership and governance. In the over two thousand years elapsing between the invasion of Alexander and the partition of India, the only native ruler -- as opposed to Turks and Afghans -- which Punjab produced was the great Maharaja Ranjit Singh (whose conquest of Peshawar, by the way, ensured that Peshawar would be, on the annexation of Punjab by the British, a part of the British Empire and, by historic extension, a part of Pakistan).
No wonder, Pakistan's affairs are in such a mess. Through an accident of history Punjab is propelled into a position of leadership and it makes a mess of the whole thing.
Punjab and the army are synonymous. Punjab and the ISI are synonymous. Punjab and the threat from India are synonymous. The ideological state dedicated to a very primitive notion of national security -- underpinned by huge outlays on defence -- which we have created, is a Punjabi invention. The remaking of Pakistan has to begin with dismantling the national security state. Otherwise the sepoy mentality will remain alive and our begging bowl will not break.
The Delhi Sultanate, beginning with Qutbuddin Aibak and ending with Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi, and the Mughal Empire, from Babar onwards, were not fortresses of Islam. They were secular enterprises resting upon a superiority of arms and a vision of government in which the highest posts were occupied by the Muslim aristocracy but which, lower down the rung, allowed room for votaries of other faiths. This was out of necessity because such a vast kingdom could not be administered on sectarian or exclusivist lines.
The greatest Muslim kings and emperors of India were those who were the least bigoted. The worst were champions of fanaticism such as Aurangzeb. The Mughal empire's tragedy was Aurangzeb's victory in the war of succession which broke out during the lifetime of the Emperor Shahjehan. For the future of the empire Dara Shikoh, genial and tolerant, would have been a far better choice.
Pakistan's problem is the blinkers on the eyes of its governing classes. There has to be a liberation of the mind, a cultural revolution, before Pakistan can emerge from the shadows into the light. And before it can leave the sorrows of the past behind.
Curtsey:The News: Friday, October 01, 2010
The twin gifts of the sophisticates
The Urdu-speaking population which migrated from India at the time of Partition came in two categories: 1) the upper-crust or the elite class which settled in such places as Clifton, Bath Island, PECHS and later Defence; and 2) the somewhat less well-off which settled in Nazimabad, Liaquatabad and later Korangi, etc.
Regardless of class differences, this migrant population as a whole was literate, cultured and gifted – in many ways more sophisticated than the Punjabi farmer, the Sindhi Hari, the Pathan labourer or the Baloch camel driver.
There was no television back then, only newspapers…concentrated in two large centres, Lahore and Karachi. Lahore newspapers were Punjabi dominated; Karachi newspapers, which soon outnumbered any other, were dominated, as to a large extent they still are, by Urdu speakers.
The Punjabi feudal class, very much a part of the ruling elite, was mainly interested in preserving its privileges and its landholdings. As an expression of its conservative if not reactionary political outlook, it was also in favour of joining up with the western camp as cold war warriors. Even if India had not been a security concern, the Punjabi feudal was socially and historically programmed to look towards Washington and London, not Moscow.
This was an ingrained reaction, part of the Punjabi feudal’s psyche. But insofar as the new state started developing a conscious thinking, a set of beliefs and convictions, this process was heavily influenced by the Urdu-speaking elite. Steeped in the ‘tehzeeb’ of Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal and Hyderabad Deccan, Urdu speakers had articulation and eloquence at their command. They also had a certain moral standing in that they could claim to be the progenitors or the vanguard of the Pakistan movement.
Allama Iqbal indeed delivered his Allahabad address, in which the germ of the Pakistan idea can be detected, but the Pakistan movement, the idea of a separate state, really developed in the Urdu-speaking heartland of north, middle and south India.
The holocaust of Partition took place in Punjab, the Muslim setting upon the Sikh and the Hindu, and the Hindu and Sikh setting upon the Muslim. The East Punjabi migrant came with the clothes on his back. But the Urdu-speaking elite of Delhi, Lucknow and the Deccan…they were men of ideas. They brought their distinctive thinking, their good ideas and their prejudices, with them. And it was only natural that these ideas and prejudices would become part of the thinking of the new state.
So from this elite we got the obsession with India, the overriding concern with security, the sense of a land under siege, threatened by conspiracies and enemies. Surrounded on three sides by India and on the fourth by the sea, East Pakistan had greater reason to feel threatened. But here it was the other way round. West Pakistan, or at least its elites, felt threatened by India. The Bengali intelligentsia was more concerned by the economic and political domination of West Pakistan. Both parts of Pakistan thus had their burdens but of a different kind.
So the one gift, from the Urdu-speaking elite, was that distinct brand of thinking later to be known as the ideology of Pakistan. The second gift, but much later, was from the non-elite Urdu-speaking class: the MQM. It is a matter of opinion which is the tougher nut to crack, the ideology of Pakistan or the MQM. As things stand, there is no escaping the one or the other.
Other nations may be in the business of creating wealth and improving the living conditions of their people. In Pakistan we are still stuck with arguments about the meaning of Pakistan – 67 years after the country’s founding. Equally vexed is the status of the MQM. Successive governments, successive military commands, have tried to tame it, or at least defang it…its fangs known to be pretty sharp. The effort has failed although for the first time we may be getting the sense that it is getting somewhere.
I forget. Two other gifts from the same wellspring are also worthy of mention: 1) the Urdu TV drama which has its diehard votaries but which, all in all, is perhaps a mixed blessing because watching it you get the feeling that the marriage gone wrong, or the marriage encountering the mother-in-law problem, is Pakistan’s foremost problem, perhaps even graver than its relationship with India; and 2) the Jamaat-e-Islami, Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi being also a migrant from India. If he had not chosen to come and if he had done his preaching there, to India’s lasting benefit no doubt, wouldn’t some things have been different in Pakistan?
Punjabis by weight of numbers and other things dominate the Pakistan left by the departure of East Pakistan. Punjabis are a gifted race, no doubt, but also bull-headed in many ways. They were the slowest to wake up to the implications of Partition. It should have been obvious that if the call for Pakistan reached the point of no return a line would be drawn through the heart of Punjab. But Punjab lay totally unprepared. So when Partition came it hit it like a tidal wave, sweeping all before it.
Still, it goes to the credit of the Punjabi – both the one who was here and the one who came from across the border – that the process of assimilation was so successful, this constituting one of the success stories of Pakistan.
Somewhat less successful has been the saga of ideology. Punjab played second fiddle in the drama by the name of the ideology of Pakistan. It did not invent it or write its script. But through a process of transference the bell or talli of this ideology now hangs around its neck, and so where the Punjabi bullock plods this bell rings.
I hasten to add that this is not so at the mass level. The ordinary Punjabi couldn’t care less if the school of ideology went out of business tomorrow. But when it comes to claptrap and ideology – whether neo-conservatism in the United States, Hindu revivalism in India, or born-again Islam in Pakistan – a professional class of thekedars or contractors comes into being…and long after the rest of the world has moved on these contractors keep on ploughing their angry furrows.
The funny thing is that some of the best and brightest in the Urdu-speaking community have moved to greener pastures in the Gulf, Canada and the United States. But the insecurities and anxieties which marked the intellectual life of their community have become the thinking of the Pakistani establishment.
Pakistan as a fortress of Islam…this is the highest expression, the distilled essence, of the ideology of Pakistan. As a sign of the growing maturity of the Pakistani mind, mercifully it is heard less and less. Those mouthing it even look slightly embarrassed at times…which of course is another healthy sign.
But the MQM remains, a bone difficult to throw out and difficult to swallow. But for the first time the agencies concerned are opting for the indirect approach, taking on the MQM not frontally but from the flanks, and employing the principles of psychological warfare, applying pressure drip by drip. This is putting the MQM on the defensive.
Tailpiece: Although the agencies could still be slightly more intelligent with what they are doing. For instance, since when did condemned prisoners start recording video messages from their death cells? And since when did dons or political leaders start ordering assassinations on open telephone lines, that too from London? The whole Saulat Mirza expose sounds pretty amateurish. Surely the agencies, with their long experience, can do much better.
Curtsey:The News: Friday, March 20, 2015
Autumn in Punjab and the plains
Is there a more bewitching time of year than this? While the afternoon sun can still be slightly warm – it won’t do to stand in the sun – the air turns mild and soft as evening approaches. This is the only time of the year when you need neither artificial cooling nor artificial heat.
It is easy to work up a rage in the Indian summer. When the heat hits you from the pavements and the very walls are like ovens, your mood turns sour. And if the lights go off your mood turns ugly and thoughts turn to ripping up paving stones and letting them go at something.
But as the heat subsides and the Punjab plains begin to look different it is hard to work up the angry passions of summer. The very nature of the light is different. In summer you can’t look at the fields but as the season changes the entire landscape is inviting and your eyes are drawn to the grass and the fields. And you want to be out in the open air.
The heart softens and you find yourself humming long forgotten songs. For the last few days a song of Mukesh has been coming back to me. While trolling YouTube – one of my favourite pastimes, I have to confess – I came across this song some months back: Ek tu ke sar utha ke chala dagh dikhane. It’s from a 1940s film which was never released, Monika, the music by R S Banerji, who for this alone if nothing else deserves to be among the eternal shades. The lilt in it and Mukesh’s singing are haunting.
Lahore in summers is unbearable. No wonder the British discovered their hill stations and fled there during the hot months. Just as the Raj in its heyday was run from Shimla, Punjab, a mighty province then stretching all the way from the Indus to the confines of Delhi, was run in the summer months from Murree.
When we were in Lawrence College Murree was a different place, not the shambles it now is. On summer evenings all the beauty of Pakistan, certainly all the beauty of Punjab, was to be found on the Murree Mall, ladies dressed in their finest, seeing and wanting to be seen. Awkward schoolboys like us could only gawk from a distance. Just as we could only listen from down below at the live band playing at Sam’s – which you had to climb a set of wooden stairs to get to – on Saturday evenings.
But Lahore in autumn is among the most blessed places on earth. You then begin to understand why it was the favourite winter abode of the Emperor Jahangir and his consort, the peerless Noor Jahan. The great Akbar too spent much time here, the Lahore Fort which he built a lasting tribute to his memory.
Lahore has existed from time immemorial. If a Heinrich Schliemann – the discoverer of Troy, and for that reason immortal – were to dig through its foundations, how many cities would he not discover? But Lahore comes into historical focus from the time of the invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni who appointed his favourite, the one-time slave Malik Ayaz, as governor of Lahore. He lies buried in Rang Mahal. This is a well-known fact but I didn’t’ know it until Allama Tahirul Qadri – yes, the Reverend – among other pleasantries in a telephone conversation, the Allama possessed of a sharp sense of humour, told me about it.
The Ashura procession before it reaches Karbala Gamay Shah, close to Data Darbar, passes through Bhaati Gate. Last Ashura I spent a long time there, I suppose just to soak in the atmosphere. That’s the best time to visit the walled city because there’s no traffic. You can walk at your ease. So this Ashura before going to Bhaati Gate it may be a good idea to first pay homage at the tomb of Malik Ayaz, the first Muslim governor of Lahore, who did much to rebuild and repopulate the city. During his time it became a centre of learning.
Utter the names of Sikander, Chingiz and Taimur and in your mind rise images of riders on horseback and marching armies. Mahmud’s governor evokes a humbler image. As viceroy in Lahore it was his habit, as night fell and in the privacy of his living quarters, to stand in front of the mirror in the clothes of his poorer years, muttering to himself: “Ayaz, qadr khud bashanas”…know thy worth, meaning to say don’t forget whence thou came.
It’s probably the weather which is making me sentimental. Again in my mind comes Mukesh’s song. Last week what kept humming in my ears was Hamid Ali Bela’s rendition of Shah Hussain’s unforgettable, “Maye nee mein kenoon akhan…” This is a timeless song and like all great poetry it has been sung over the years by many singers. Bela was quite the fakir himself. He makes you want to cry.
Vidal in one of his essays quotes a teaching of the Buddha that after the age of 50, after fulfilling your worldly obligations, you should take to the road. This is a fantasy I have lived with for a long time: to take to the road, going from shrine to shrine, living on the alms begged along the way.
More than 30 years ago I went to the urs, the annual gathering, of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar at Sehwan Sharif. I had nowhere to stay. A kindly assistant station master lent me the use of a room in his government quarter. For three days I walked the streets of Sehwan and sat in the courtyard of the shrine. Gypsy girls from all over Sindh, gathered for the urs, would dance outside without the least inhibition. I was at an uncertain point in my life and perhaps what I sought from the bounty of the Qalandar was that vague thing called peace of mind. That experience remains etched in my memory.
I keep toying with the idea of making that journey again, all by myself, not just to Sehwan but to Bhit Shah as well…travelling not as a total fakir but taking my necessities – or what are necessities for me now – with me: books, my laptop, perhaps a bit of the stuff that cheereth for evenings more lonely than usual.
This mood which is upon me has been brought on by the weather. I am sitting in my Gymkhana room without even the need to put on the fan. And the view outside my window is lovely, the leaves still all green but something in the air which stirs the heart and gives wing to the imagination. I know of two old bookshops down on the Mall I feel like visiting today. I want to go out for a walk. If there was a music concert on somewhere this evening I would go but I know there will be none.
I love going to one of the restaurants overlooking the Badshahi Mosque, less for the food which can be quite indifferent than just to take mine ease – to echo Falstaff – and look around. Waitresses serve at table, and in a corner stands a rather comely public relations officer, aware of the interest she excites. For food alone I much prefer Phaja’s place nearby in Heera Mandi – the fare tastier and cheaper, and the service, as you sit in your car, excellent.
When Heera Mandi was at the height of its glory our means were slender. The salary of a young army officer wasn’t much in those days, certainly not enough to make a splash amidst the splendours of the old city. As means have become slightly more substantial the lights have gone out from Heera Mandi. Of such ironies is life compounded.
Curtsey:The News: Tuesday, October 28, 2014
How the British rewarded Punjab
On the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War the British, apart from other commemoration ceremonies, are remembering Indian soldiers who distinguished themselves in that conflict, including the three Muslim soldiers of the British army who were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest gallantry award in the British armed forces.
A plaque honouring the memory of these soldiers has been placed in the grounds of the British High Commission and according to newspaper reports there are plans to bring this plaque to the Shakarparian Hills, presumably somewhere close to the ugly monument built for no apparent reason during the Musharraf regime…senseless monuments seemingly a feature of sterile dictatorships, especially when they near their end. But the plaque honouring the holders of the Victoria Cross becoming a public exhibit…would this be such a great idea?
The soldiers in question, who were undoubtedly heroes, were fighting not for India but for the greater glory of the British Empire. Anything to do with them should have an honoured place in a British war museum, to remind the British of the sacrifices rendered by Indian soldiers. They would look out of place in a Pakistani setting, all the more so because the British were less than generous in acknowledging, in suitable terms, the great contribution made by the Indian people to their war effort.
683,149 combatant troops were recruited in India between August 1914 and November 1918 – the duration of the First World War (Tan Tai Yong, Garrison State, p. 98…quoted by Rajmohan Gandhi in his Punjab). Sixty percent of this total came from Punjab. The Victoria Crosses, apart from other battle honours, are a testimony to the bravery and loyalty of the Punjabis during that great conflict.
It might have been supposed that after the war there would be a greater willingness on the part of the British to put their trust in Indians and undertake measures for greater political reform. The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms announced in June 1918 offered some cosmetic changes at the centre – the Imperial Legislative Council becoming the Central Legislative Assembly – and, in Rajmohan’s words, “…real, if modest, improvement in the provinces.”
But any promise held out by these reforms was negated two months after the end of the war by new anti-sedition measures in the shape of the Rowlatt Bills. A wartime committee headed by Sir Sidney Rowlatt had recommended these measures. In Russia revolution had broken out. The committee feared that sedition could come from far-off quarters. To stem that possibility it proposed harsh measures – and this after more half a million Indians had fought and bled, under the command of British officers, in the fields of France and other theatres of war. The bills authorised arrests without trial and trials without appeal. Anyone caught with a ‘seditious’ pamphlet could be sentenced to two years in prison. This was Punjab’s reward for its sacrifices. Educated Indian public opinion was outraged.
India looked a bit different after the war. There was inflation, prices doubling in some instances (Rajmohan) and returning soldiers were facing difficulty finding work. Then came the Rowlatt Bills, a slap in the face of all Indians. Gandhi had arrived newly from South Africa where he had successfully put into practice his methods of non-violent resistance, satyagraha. Demonstrations against the Rowlatt measure took place in Lahore, Hindus and Muslims for the first time ever taking part in a political demonstration together. On April 13, an overflowing crowd gathered at the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore was addressed, for the first and perhaps last time in history, by Muslim, Hindu and Sikh leaders. The British authorities had always found comfort in the tried and tested principle of divide-and-rule. They now felt alarmed, especially the Punjab governor, Michael O’Dwyer.
For three days, April 10-13, the Raj’s writ was lost in Lahore. To reassert order the harshest measures were employed. Crowds of protesters were fired upon. Martial law was imposed and extraordinary steps were taken to humiliate and terrorise the population. In Gujranwala RAF planes – incredible as it may seem now – dropped bombs and used machine gun fire on unarmed crowds…after they had dispersed. To general disbelief an official inquiry later minimised casualties. Flogging was widely resorted to. In Gujranwala an order was passed requiring Indians to dismount and salute any passing officer.
But all this was nothing compared to what happened in Amritsar. Crowds there had turned violent. Several British citizens were killed, some of them bankers. A British missionary, Marcella Sherwood, was set upon by a crowd and left for dead. She was rescued by some local Indians. The father of one her pupils hid her from the mob and took her to the safety of Gobindgarh Fort (Wikipedia).
A crowd had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh to protest the arrests of prominent leaders Saifuddin Kitchlew and Satyapal. A detachment of soldiers commanded by Brig-Gen Reginald Dyer placed itself in front of the crowd and without warning, without any order to disperse, opened fire. British figures put the dead at 379 and 1200 injured. Other sources put the number of dead at well over 1000 and the injured at more than 2000…all this in just 10 minutes of concentrated firing. In a telegram to Dyer, O’Dwyer said: “Your action is correct and the lieutenant governor approves.”
After visiting Sherwood’s house on April 19, General Dyer issued an order requiring every Indian man using that street to crawl the whole distance on his hands and feet. As he later explained, “Some Indians crawl face downwards in front of their gods. I wanted them to know that a British woman is as sacred as a Hindu god and therefore they have to crawl in front of her too.”
To his credit Churchill denounced the massacre in the House of Commons and after his speech the Commons voted overwhelmingly against Dyer….hailed, nonetheless, as a hero by many Britons. Ms Sherwood called him “saviour of Punjab”.
Rabrindranath Tagore renouncing his knighthood, wrote to the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, “The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation.”
On March 13 1940, at Caxton Hall in London, Udham Singh, who had witnessed the events in Amritsar and was himself wounded there, shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer. At his trial he said, “I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it…I am not scared of death. I am dying for my country. I have seen my people starving in India under British rule. I have protested against this, it was my duty. What greater honour could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland?” He liked calling himself Ram Mohammad Singh Azad. In 1952 Nehru called him, “Shaheed-e-Azam Udham Singh.”
In 1920 the non-cooperation movement announced by Gandhi gathered strength across India. Thousands went to prison. But non-cooperation did not appeal much to Punjab’s Muslims. Fazl-e-Hussain, who had earlier been part of the Rowlatt agitation, and who the previous year had headed the Punjab Congress and the Punjab League, announced his intention to enter the new council (set up by the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms). The unity displayed during the Rowlatt agitation thus did not last long. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs went their separate ways. At the Nagpur session of the Congress in 1920 Jinnah who was a member both of the Congress and the League, left the Congress, his differences with Gandhi over aims and tactics by now irreparable.
It is for the British to commemorate and honour their wars and conquests. It is for us to be familiar with our history…not to sow the seeds of bitterness and nurse dead hatreds but to know our past and understand better where we come from. Indeed, it is the duty of the British to never forget their Victoria Cross heroes. In our history we have had other crosses to carry.
Curtsey:The News: Friday, November 14, 2014
History’s baggage: Pakistan’s Punjab problem
Arising from the same soil, breathing the same air, moving to the same folk songs and music, defined by the same five rivers, Punjab over the centuries has yet produced two distinct types of personality: the Muslim Punjabi and the Sikh Punjabi. There is also the Hindu Punjabi but for ease of discussion let the first two categories suffice.
The Sikhs were not just the followers of a new religion. Under a succession of Sikh warlords taking advantage of the long twilight of the Mughal Empire, and then under Ranjit Singh who founded a Sikh kingdom – the first unified Punjabi political entity in over 2000 years – they became a nation.
In this journey from obscurity to kingship, the Sikhs proved themselves tough warriors, more than a match for the Mughals to the east and the Afghans to the west. After Nadir Shah’s invasion of India (1739 – a mere 32 years after the death of Aurangzeb) Punjab fell from Mughal hands, becoming first a possession of Nadir Shah’s empire and then part of Ahmed Shah Abdali’s kingdom of Kabul.
The Sikhs took back Punjab from the Afghans and through war and conquest Ranjit Singh made Peshawar a part of his Sikh kingdom. Successors to the Sikhs were the British and when the Lahore Durbar, after the death of Ranjit Singh, became a victim of intrigue and dissension, and the Khalsa army suffered defeat in two wars, Punjab became part of the British Empire.
And we have succeeded the British. Ranjit Singh’s success was on the battlefield. His failure was the failure of Indian despotism, Muslim and non-Muslim alike: the inability to lay the foundations of a lasting political order. The Delhi Sultans couldn’t do it; the Mughals couldn’t do it; and Ranjit Singh failed in the same measure.
There’s one thing missing from this picture. Even when Ranjit Singh was lord of Punjab, Muslims constituted the majority in his kingdom, as also in Kashmir. But from the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 right up to the British annexation of Punjab in 1849, a span of 150 years, Muslim governors and commanders – in Kasur, Multan and elsewhere – appear as minor characters, acknowledging the suzerainty of Kabul or Lahore, but lacking the dash or energy to fill the vacuum caused by the collapse of Mughal power in Punjab.
The Sikhs made that grab for power. They had the drive and the ability, and the fighting prowess. But where was the Punjabi Muslim? Why wasn’t he able to throw up a leadership equal in valour and élan to the rampaging Sikh? The Chathas would sometimes put up a fight, as would the Bhattis and, to the north, tribes like the Janjuas. But they couldn’t stand up to Sikh power.
One Muslim name stands out: that of Adina Beg Khan who through ability and intelligence became very briefly ruler of Lahore. But he died and that was it and soon over the battlements of the Lahore Fort, built by Akbar the Great, shone the star of Ranjit Singh.
This is not history for the sake of history. It sheds some light on our predicament today. Indian Punjab is just a planet in the Indian constellation. But Pakistani Punjab because of numbers and resources, representation in the army and administration, is the engine, the motor, the driving force of this republic.
We lament the quality of leadership… that we could do much better if we had a better leadership class. But if Muslim Punjab couldn’t perform this feat in that long interregnum of Mughal decline, by what magic does it reverse the dynamics of history and from the same air, the same soil, the same rivers – in fact no longer five but three – produce a class of warriors and administrators (warriors in the metaphorical sense) that can lead Pakistan out of the shadows and into the sun?
We are successors not to the Sikhs but the British. Lahore today – its Mall, its old buildings, its seats of authority, the best of its schools and colleges, the best of its hospitals, the Secretariat, the police chief’s office, the assembly building, the high court – is a reminder not of our Sikh but our British past. The settlement of land, the demarcation of tehsil and district boundaries, qanungo and patwar circles, even thana jurisdictions (many of them) are a reflection of that past.
The British were not just conquerors. They were more than that, flag-bearers of a superior civilisation. Japan embraced this civilisation and became a great power. China has embraced the same civilisation – signified by knowledge and learning – and is on its path to world greatness.
The Punjabi Muslim had no qualms about enlisting in the British army and fighting its battles in distant lands. The Muslim Punjabi from Chakwal, Jhelum, Rawalpindi, Attock and the other enlistment districts distinguished himself under British colours, sometimes even winning the highest awards. As a subordinate there was no one who came near his merit. But when it came to acquiring the mental habits of that superior civilisation there arose before him problems of the mind and psychology.
Punjab was the sword arm of the empire but the Muslim component of its mind remained trapped in a time warp. Instead of looking forward and stepping into the future the Punjabi mind harked back to an imaginary past, there seeking its greatest comfort.
The Pathan was not afraid of India. He had ruled India in the past. The Sindhi had no problem with India. For centuries past Muslims and Hindus had lived together in Sindh in amity. The Baloch imagination moved in other spheres: Iran to the west, Afghanistan to the north. As for the Kashmiri, his fate had not figured in the convoluted events leading up to Partition.
The fear of India was an obsession of the Punjabi ruling class and its ideological fellow-travellers crossing over from East Punjab, Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal, Bihar and Hyderabad Deccan. Fear and insecurity they carried in their hearts and minds and fear and insecurity they made part of the ruling ethos of the new state.
There was another thing to note. Muslim conquerors had won their Indian dominion at the point of the sword. The Mughals had gained their empire the same way. Ranjit Singh created his Sikh kingdom by the sword and a high order of statesmanship. The British won their empire through the sword and the power of a forward civilisation. But the Punjabi Muslim, now the dominant partner in the new state, was receiving his gift not through dint of effort but the sheer force of circumstances.
So is it any surprise if the Punjabi Muslim and his Mohajir ally, sharing the same mindset and the same analysis of history, instead of making something of their gifted acquisition went back into the past, worshipping at the altar of confused ideology, looking at the future with fearful eyes and falling into the lap of outside powers to gain a feeling of security?
And the differences which still persist: look at Indian Punjab, its dance and vitality and the thing they have made of the bhangra. In Lahore kite-flying and basant become a threat to national security. Talk and think a bit openly and you invite the wrath of the ideological battalions. And in a city on the crest of whose fort the emperor Jahangir drank deep and looked into Noor Jahan’s eyes, to get a drop of anything requires a visit to a Christian friend or a spiritual mentor (otherwise known as a bootlegger).
Getting a drop is not the point; liberating the Muslim Punjabi mind is. For hundreds of years men and women entered the Data Darbar through the same gates. Then a committee, of which Finance Minister Ishaq Dar is a member, decided that piety was best served if the gates were segregated. And minds keen as his are supposed to fix our economy.
Curtsey:The News: Friday, December 13, 2013