Punjab is the problem

Ayaz Amir

Islamabad diary

Because of population and wealth, Punjab is the dominant element in the Pakistani state.
Whoever commands Punjab rules Pakistan.Punjab is not without its high achievements.
Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain, and Waris Shah – to name only these three from a long list –
were all from Punjab. Whether their immortal poetry has left any mark on the Punjabi mind
is of course another matter.

The galaxy of verse does not end there. Among the moderns are such imperishable names
as Iqbal, Faiz, Munir Niazi, Sahir Ludhianvi, and others too numerous to be named. In the
world of immortal song and music we have Kundan Lal Saigal, Muhammad Rafi, Noor Jahan,
Suraiya, Shamshad Begum, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Madan Mohan, etc.

Saigal and Rafi in their field, and Iqbal and Faiz in theirs, were pioneers who set out new
paths for others to follow. Punjab, however, has produced few path-breakers in the political
field except perhaps for the unforgettable Sardar Bhagat Singh, the great freedom fighter
whose statue if we had any sense of history would stand in Shadman Chowk near where he
was hanged by the British.

Alexander the Great and Punjabi King PORUS | Battle | Historical facts

To sum up, the problem lies not with Punjab’s poetic or artistic legacy. Punjab’s place in
that constellation is assured. The problem lies with its history. For all the abundance of
genius in other fields, Punjab gave birth to no great kings or captains of armies, with the
one, solitary exception of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Sukerchakia of Gujranwala, later of course
founder of the first and last Sikh kingdom. The rest is a blank.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s bust unveiled at France’s St Tropez

Geography decreed that every invader with his mind fixed on the conquest of Delhi should
first stop in Lahore. Marauding armies came and marched through Punjab on their way to
Delhi and the rich plains beyond, meeting little resistance in the land of the five rivers or
its capital, Lahore…this city of a thousand tales, steeped in romance and the promise of
hidden pleasures, like an obliging mistress repelling no one and opening its arms to
everyone who stood before its walls.

Shaheed Bhagat Singh Real Home in Pakistan

Multan, considered by most thorough-bred Punjabis to be a soft and decadent city, put up
some resistance to Alexander. On its walls the world-conqueror was wounded which so
enraged the Macedonians that they carried out a general massacre in the town. Multan
resisted the British too and it was only after a tight battle that the city fell to them.

Lahore’s fame in history rests on other things: the extent and splendour of its gardens,
the waters of the Ravi which gave a balmy air to the city, and the storied charms of its
dancing girls. It is among the achievements of the Islamic Republic that the gardens of the
city have shrunk, the waters of the Ravi are now irredeemably dirty – making it impossible
for any latter-day Master Madan (not to be confused with Madan Mohan) to sing “Ravi de
parle kande ve mitra, wasda ai dil da chor” (check it out on YouTube) –

Master Madan Ravi de Parle kande wey metra wasda dil da chore Punjabi

and in the legendary singing and entertainment quarter of the city are now mostly to be
found dreary little shops selling khussas and other forms of footwear.

No great city with any sense of its past destroys its entertainment districts the way our
great and good ones have managed to do with the streets around the Badshahi Mosque
where lay, for centuries, the singing and dancing quarter visited by high and low alike.

No Siege of Leningrad ever took place around Lahore and for that matter none around the
fabled capital of Hindustan, Delhi. The two cities had this in common: greeting with
fawning courtesy any invader who came along to ravish them.

In this long saga of ready surrender and capitulation Ranjit Singh is the only figure we find
who was adept at the use of arms. He brought the various Sikh misls (call them factions)
together, forging a strong kingdom out of them. Unlettered as he was, he had the sense
not to clash with the East India Company, quick to realise that its fighting strength was
greater than his own. But the British also had the good sense not to cast covetous eyes on
his kingdom as long as he lived. They too had the measure of their adversary.

dulla bhatti (kuldeep manak)

But even as the Maharaja kept his peace with the British he expanded his kingdom into
Kashmir where Gulab Singh, appointed the ruler by him, paid him annual tribute, and
westwards where by defeating the Afghans near Nowshera he went on to capture
Peshawar. When the British annexed Punjab after the Maharaja’s death, they inherited his
kingdom and its extended frontiers…meaning thereby that but for Ranjit Singh, Peshawar,
the tribal areas and the Durand Line would not form part of our inheritance. At the bar of
history we owe the Sikh warrior-king this debt of gratitude.

Rai Ahmad khan Kharal Shaheed 1857

The lines of Partition were so drawn that while East Bengal lay a thousand miles away, in
what was West Pakistan the dominant element was Punjab. East Pakistan had a slight edge
in terms of population but power was in the hands of the Punjabi and Urdu-speaking-
dominated bureaucracy and military, with the Punjabi feudal class playing loyal second
fiddle to a coalition which came to shape the ideology and thinking of the new state. The
intellectual inspiration for this coalition came principally from Urdu-speaking migrants from
India, inheritors of the culture of Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal and Hyderabad Deccan.

Pakistan quickly aligning itself with the West and becoming front-ranking member of
American-led military alliances, the injection of heavy doses of religion into the national
discourse, and the patronising behaviour, little short of a colonial attitude, towards East
Pakistan all flowed from the biases and ideological orientation of this ruling coalition.

The Punjabi element already strong in the ruling echelons of the state became still more
dominant and powerful after the separation of East Pakistan. The Zia regime had a
compelling interest in developing a counterpoint to the Pakistan People’s Party with which it
was virtually at war after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s ouster and hanging. Looking around for likely
partisans it picked and groomed a cast of characters whose apotheosis we can witness in
the form of the ruling PML-N leadership.

It truly represents Punjab in that it exemplifies more perfectly than anything else can the
limited political imagination and equally limited historical sense of this most powerful of
Pakistan’s constituent provinces.

In various forms and incarnations this leadership has been in power for the last 30 years. It
can remain in power for the next 30 years and its leading lights will still be playing the only
repertoire with which they are familiar: tape-cutting, over-the-top rhetoric often with little
relation to reality, and putting more and more, through whatever means available, into their
already burgeoning treasure chests.

With such helmsmen Pakistan can never become a modern republic, where science, technology
and rational thinking hold sway and where the state takes as its first duty the education and
uplift of its citizens. This is what makes the Panama case so important. More than an ordinary
case, it is an opportunity to turn around the country’s fortunes by breaking the stranglehold of
Punjabi mediocrity and the limitations that come from it.

Email: bhagwal63@gmail.com

Source:The News, February 10, 2017

Examine: Meet Punjabi Heroes that History Forgot

Distorted history

By Farhan Ahmed Shah

The writer works on a USAID-funded economic project called FIRMS and holds a master’s degree from the University of
Warwick, UK

Recently, I wrote an opinion piece on why our history books should include Ranjeet Singh. The
name Maharaja Ranjeet Singh was symbolic and used as an example to point out the need to
look at our history objectively.

For the critics who just could not shed their keyhole vision of looking at history through a
religious lens, I would ask them a question. When Pakistan plays a cricket match with India,
why do we support Danesh Kaneria, a Pakistani Hindu cricketer, over Irfan Pathan, an Indian
Muslim cricketer? We support Kaneria for the simple reason that we associate his spirit of
nationalism with the geographic confines that he represents, not the religion he follows. Going
by the same logic, shouldn’t our hero be Raja Jaipal instead of Mahmood Ghaznavi? And if
Ghaznavi being a fellow Muslim is enough for us to overlook his devastation in India, then we
should also gleefully accept Taliban suicide bombings in Pakistan.

One has no problems with Muslim rulers being covered in history books. I do have a problem,
however, when certain rulers are glorified at the expense of others on the basis of religion,
regardless of who the aggressor was. I do have a problem when the names of non-Muslim
rulers are conveniently skipped as if they never existed. I have a bigger problem when the
mission of spreading Islam is attributed to the invasions of Muslim rulers. Because when the
true motive behind their attacks is revealed, it’s Islam that gets maligned not them.

Even if I were to believe that these rulers attacked out of a genuine wish to spread Islam, who
authorised them to do so by the use of the sword? Even the battles fought by the Holy Prophet
(pbuh) were actually a punishment of Allah for the disbelievers because the disbelievers
persisted in denying Allah’s message. It was only when Allah ordered: “Fight them so that Allah
may punish them at your hands” (9:14); that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) waged war. I would like
to know who gave these rulers the authority to decide which disbelievers deserved to be
punished and which people had reached the level of purity to be left alone? If spreading Islam
was their intent, they could have just preached it. If anything, they should be discredited for
contributing to Islam’s wrong image as a violent religion.

I wonder why we are so quick to assume the role of a Muslim apologist. May I remind all such
people how Mahmood Ghaznavi killed the locals of Lahore ruthlessly when he attacked and
burnt the entire city? May I remind them of Nadir Shah who in matter of a day killed thousands
of Muslims when he marched on to Delhi to snatch the throne from Mohammed Shah, one of
the last Mughal kings of India and yet another Muslim? Or Ahmed Shah Durrani, who ravaged
the Muslim population of Gujrat while fighting the Sikhs? What about the Delhi Sultanate which,
over a period of 300 years from 1206 to 1526, saw five Muslim dynasties namely Slave, Khilji,
Tughlaq, Syed and Lodhi dynasties, indulge in intrigues and murders of each other to capture
the throne. Did any of these rulers care about Muslims that we are so religiously guarding
them? Do we all know that Maharaja Ranjeet Singh was requested by prominent Muslims of
Lahore to come and capture the city?

All the rulers of the subcontinent, Muslims or non-Muslims, locals or invaders, were interested
in ruling this land purely for political and economic reasons. Why bring in the religious angle
or deprive ourselves of our multicultural history? Not only does this fuel religious bigotry and
intolerance, it also plants a false sense of invincibility in our minds that allows us to deflect
the blame of our failures on others.

And those who think distorting history is a strategic tool need to wake up to the detrimental
effects of this policy. Not only has it fanned intolerance by making us believe we are victims
of some nefarious and well-coordinated chicanery, it has also instilled a misguided and one-
sided sense of Muslim brotherhood in us. I was appalled to hear a member of the National
Assembly a few days ago declaring that we should come to the aid of our Afghan brothers.
How did a country that has for 800 years attacked the subcontinent suddenly become our
brother is devoid of any logic. Let alone the fact that the only country to oppose Pakistan’s
entry into the United Nations was Afghanistan. What about Egypt, which provided supplies
to India during the 1965 war? How about Iran, which refused to sign the gas pipeline
project to protect India’s concerns? So why embark upon this one-way road?

In the end, I’ll mention an incident, found in one of Manto’s stories, which is the perfect
manifestation of the prejudice we have come to espouse. The incident is about the religious
riots in Lahore during Partition when a group of Muslims is attacking the statue of Sir Ganga
Ram, an honourable son of Lahore, which once adorned Mall Road. During the attack a man
gets carried away, climbs atop the statue, falls down and injures himself seriously. The fellow
rioters immediately pick him up while one of them screams “Hurry; let’s take him to Sir
Ganga Ram hospital”.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2011.

Harking back:Tracing our heritage to the
Lahore that was

Majid Sheikh

To learn about our past there is a lot of archaeological work needed inside the walled city to uncover our real history.
—Zerka Tahir

In the history of Lahore, which carbon-dating from the Lahore Fort tells us was functioning in
the year 2,500BC, what did the city look like after the Afghan invader Mahmood flattened it in
the year 1021AD?

This is a question that will one day be answered by scholars of Lahore, and will hopefully add
to our understanding of how the walled city evolved over time. This piece is an attempt to
understand the building blocks as we understand them today.

Over the last 1,000 years the city has had three major rulers who have contributed more to
defining the walled city than anyone else. These three persons are the Hindu Shahi ruler Raja
Jaipal (964-1,001AD), the Moghal emperor Akbar (1542-1605) and the Sikh ruler Maharajah
Ranjit Singh (1780-1839). Under these rulers Lahore expanded and was at its most prosperous.

Between Raja Jaipal, who committed ‘Johar’ outside Mori Gate at the southern side, to
Maharajah Ranjit Singh, who was cremated outside the northern end, we have three major
rebuilding efforts of the city.

There were certainly others who contributed, more so damage control after invasions or strife,
but never on the scale that these three great rulers did.

Let us start this exercise so as to understand what the city looked like when the Afghans struck
Jaipal. Just to clarify that this great ruler’s empire stretched from Kashmir to Multan and from
the Sutlej to Kabul. His initial capital was Peshawar, and when he lost that to the Afghans he
removed the local Lahore ruler Raja Bharat, who had conspired to assist Mahmood, and rebuilt
Lahore and made it his capital.

Our understanding of the walled city is best served if we follow two major markers. Firstly, are
the ‘ghattis’ over where once stood the outer walls. Secondly, is the terrain of the mounds
inside the city. The ‘ghattis’ determine the outer perimeter, and the mounds inside determine
the street positions.

Let us follow three alignments inside the walled city which have developed because of the
mounds. Firstly, if we observe Waachowali Bazaar we see it emerge from the curvature of Gali
Pir Bola. This is a major mound. Next, and by far the most important, is Suttar Mandi inside
Lohari Gate. Just follow Mohallah Challaywala Hammam in Maachi Hatta Guzar onto Chowk
Chakla, the original ‘red light’ area of the city, and on to Lohari Mandi.

From this emerges a third mound of Chowk Mati as it moves and merges with Paapar Mandi.
At this point we have the oldest gateway of Lahore, the Lohari Gate, and inside immediately
we have Mohallah Maullian, probably where the very first city of Lahore, then called Lohar Kot,
with the mohallah probably termed as ‘kacha kot’ if we are to believe H.P. Blavotsky’s Glossary
of Sanskrit words. Mind you the over-riding fact remains that the slope of the land when seen
from the Lahore Fort is that the gradient lowers as we head southwards, for the river flows
because of this gradient.

Around these mounds Lahore had come about thousands of years earlier, a safe place when the
raging Ravi flooded the plains every year. Raja Jaipal reinforced and thickened the outer walls.
If you walk along Bazaar Hakeeman you will notice, to the east, a ‘ghatti’ running all the way to
Chowk Hira Mandi. If you enter Shahalami Bazaar you will see a ‘ghatti’ to the west all the way
near Chowk Rang Mahal. This was the outer perimeter and where the walls once stood.

So what did the walled city look like then? Research tells us that it only had two gates (or maybe
three) and a ‘mori’. First, the ‘mori’. Lahore was then a pure Hindu city. Before the Hindus took
over it was a Buddhist, as well as a Jain city, and we have enough clues that tell us that Gautam
Buddha also visited the city on his way to the Taxila University, then the centre of the Harappa

Who built the ‘Mori’ of Lahore? The answer to this lies in the Hindu rite of cremation of their dead.
Cremation was not part of the initial Harappan people, for their dead were buried along with food
and pots and pans for the ‘next world’. The emergence of the belief that souls returns in new
shapes and life-forms led to cremation as a way of life. This is true of other civilisations too. Hence
the need for a special gateway out of the walled city.

Logic tells us that this ‘mori’ was an addition to the mud-walled city with the emergence of the
Hindu faith. Mind you Hinduism is an evolving religion, and it might come as a surprise (with no
disrespect intended) that human burial, and cow meat-eating to celebrate marriages, was the
norm in the very initial period of its evolution.

The Rig Vedas have described these major changes in some detail, which came about with the
creation of castes, a sort of vegetarian Aryan feudalism.

The initial ‘mori’, so accounts tell us, was barely four or five feet in height (nine hand lengths). In
the grounds outside Mori Gate the dead of Lahore were cremated and their ashes consigned to the
Ravi. It was here that Raja Jaipal committed ‘johar’ as a mark of honour over his failure to stop
the Afghan hordes of Mahmood. So we can assume, safely, that this ‘mori’ is not more than 2,000
years old.

The walls of Lahore had just one gateway to the south, and that being Lohari Gate. Experts believe
that this is the city’s oldest gateway, probably over 4,500 years old. The wall to the west always
was without a gate, and went on to curve and meet the northern gate. We must understand that
the wall turned in before where today stands Taxali Gate. It passed where today stands Paniwalla
Talab and immediately curved in to the east of today’s Shahalami Bazaar.

The ‘ghatti’ to the east of the bazaar is ample proof of this, for under it lays the foundations of that
original mud wall.

This means that all the gateways to the east of Lohari Gate did not exist, except for Delhi Gate
which was not in its present position, but was located at the north-eastern tip, which also saw the
road from the west, or from present-day Sheikhupura, join it as it headed towards Delhi. Hence
we see Lahore with just two gateways.

But then this gives rise to the question of how did the rulers living in the fort enter the walled city.
Here we have two possibilities. One being that they used the north-eastern gateway because the
river enveloped both the fort and the walled city, and it makes sense, at least for a much smaller
Lahore, to have the minimum of outlets. The other possibility, and one that a lot of researchers
ascribe to, is that a third gateway existed where today stands Chowk Tibbi.

By this account we have gateways to the south and to the north-east and north-west tips. What
their names were I will not venture to say, at least not till research educates us.

We know from several accounts that Malik Ayaz, the slave Governor of Mahmood, was buried
outside the city walls. That grave today is in the middle of Chowk Rang Mahal.

To learn about our past there is a lot of archaeological work needed inside the walled city to
uncover our real history. Maybe once we have crossed the point where scholarship matters more,
like our Harappan heritage, we will be able to see what the Lahore of Raja Jaipal was really like.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2015

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