Rumi, Adab, and the Beauty of Boundaries

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

The author with Esin Çelebi Bayru, Rumi’s granddaughter (22nd generation) in Konya

I was so excited to meet Azra Bayru Kumcuoğlu, Rumi’s granddaughter (23rd generation) for breakfast on my latest visit to Istanbul— that I wore my pearls early in the morning and popped into a salon across from Boğaziçi University campus where I had been staying. Halfway through the blowout, it began to rain and by the time I stepped out, there was a proper downpour. I was irked, as was the hairstylist, but somewhere in my Pakistani heart, rain remains a thrill, a secret, contradictory gift that comes to awaken our dormant spark. Waiting outside the museum where we had planned to meet, I saw Azra Hanim rushing towards me; her spirit was instantly apparent. With the smile and embrace befitting a descendant of Maulana Rūm himself, she held her umbrella over me as we walked down slippery stairs; a stranger a millisecond ago suddenly felt like a sister. As we negotiated the traffic, the whipping wind and wet streets, Azra Hanim kept one arm firmly hooked into my mine to prevent me from slipping. This moment inspires a reflection on courtesy but its sweeping grace defies language; words slip like “a donkey in mud” when it comes to love— to offer that unforgettable metaphor of Rumi’s making. Azra Hanim’s was no ordinary social courtesy but a courtesy shaped by love, a value rigorously honed in the Sufi cultures as Adab.

Earlier on my visit, I had met Azra Hanim’s mother, the honorable Esin Çelebi Bayru in Konya and had interviewed her regarding her new book Love is Something Beautiful. The book is part family memoir, part history of the Mevlevi school of Sufism, and reveals, amidst the ebbs and flows of circumstance and socio-political demands, how the Mevlevi culture has survived in recent centuries. The theme that prevails throughout the book is the centrality of Adab. When I met her, I immediately felt her warmth. She carries herself with the ease of a satiated spirit, happy to pass on to others the peace she feels. We had multiple conversations in the days I spent in Konya, each was memorable. The two things that interested me most in the context of my own work of original poems and translations of Iqbal, was Mevlana Rumi’s early life and influences, and the practice of Adab in the Mevlevi culture and beyond. Read more »

Benazir Bhutto in Life, Death, and Letters (Part 2)

by Claire Chambers

In my last post but one I pledged to continue my discussion of Benazir Bhutto’s two premierships and eventual assassination by examining the legacy she left behind for novelists to explore. Then, of course, the pandemic took hold, and I couldn’t not respond to the global health and welfare emergency. However, now the time seems right to keep my promise. The World Health Organization recently called for Pakistan to re-enter lockdown in some form following a terrifying upsurge of Covid-19 cases, an order that Imran Khan rejected on economic grounds. At a moment in history when Pakistan is crying out for decisive and empathetic leadership, let us consider the multilayered literary response to the country’s first and only female prime minister from three talented women writers.

In Maha Khan Phillips’ satirical novel Beautiful from this Angle (2010), the protagonist, Amynah, is a wealthy, well-educated socialite from Karachi. Amynah writes a scandalous gossip column, ‘Party Queen on the Scene’, but dreams of making a fortune through the publication of a fictional misery memoir about her oppression as a Muslim woman. Phillips intermixes reality and fabrication, as the novel culminates with Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on 27 December 2007.  Read more »

A Languorous Look at Lahore 

by Claire Chambers

A few tall, dreamy-eyed Sikh men were on my plane to Lahore. Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary celebration was taking place nearby about a month later, on 12 November 2019, so I guessed their final destination was Nankana Sahib, Guru Nanak’s birthplace. The British-Indians’ presence was a reminder, if any were needed, of Punjabiyat’s close binds. To take another example, after the violence of the 1984 raid (known as Operation Blue Star) of Amritsar’s Golden Temple, some Sikhs took refuge in villages just across the border in Pakistan. It is unsurprising, then, that in Imagining Lahore, one of the best-known recent books about the ancient West Punjabi capital, Haroon Khalid takes pains amid rising Islamization to stress the region’s earlier Sikh rulers and the present-day city’s neglected gurdwaras and crumbling havelis.

As ever, the trip from the airport afforded a veritable binge for the eyes. I made my way through the Beijing Underpass with its sign wishing the Pak-China Friendship a long life. Other less geopolitically-named channels evoked poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Waris Shah, emphasizing Lahore’s rich and proud literary culture

Whereas I have written in a few different places about British chicken shops being an alphabet soup from AFC to ZFC, in Lahore I saw Yasir Broasts and Fri-Chicks. Passing the brightly-lit shopfront of Cakes & Bakes made my mouth water. Meanwhile, educational institutions had equally imaginative handles, including Success College and the Bluebells School Read more »

Song of the Silk Road: A Photo Essay

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

In Tian Shan mountains of the legendary snow leopard, errant wisps of mist float with the speed of scurrying ghosts, there is a climbers’ cemetery, Himalayan Griffin vultures and golden eagles are often sighted, though my attention is completely arrested by a Blue whistling thrush alighting on a rock— its plumage, its slender, seemingly weightless frame, and its long drawn, ventriloquist song remind me of the fairies of Alif Laila that were turned to birds by demons inhabiting barren mountains.

Images of the winged creature “Pari” enlivens a delicately stenciled page of this oblong framed Persian Ghazal anthology from the 14th century.

The sense of enchantment is powerful and not entirely unexpected. “Ay Pari” (Oh Fairy!), sung by the Badakhsan Ensemble, I imagine as a song sung in a human language in response to the eloquent whistle of the thrush, really a fairy under a spell. The word “fairy” in English may have been derived from the ancient Zoroastrian Persian “pari:” the first mythic creature I remember from lores and lullabyes and the television show Alif Laila (Arabian Nights) in Urdu. The song, in an eastern Persian dialect, comes from the heart of the Pamir mountains— the range that not only joins the Tian Shan in Kyrgystan to the north, and to the south, borders the Hindukush the mountains of my childhood in Pakistan, but the source of the famed river Oxus or Amu Darya—the drainage area of which was once the space between the empire of Genghis Khan, and over a thousand years earlier, of Alexander the Great. Read more »

The State We’re In: Global Higher Education

by Claire Chambers

The current volatile state of global higher education raises urgent questions. Student protests broke Imageout at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in March 2015. These demonstrations initially called to remove the statue of the racist imperialist Cecil Rhodes from campus.

As Rachael Gilmour explains, the ejection of Rhodes's statue was rapidly achieved. Then a broader student protest movement spread across universities in South Africa under the banners of #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall. Led, in large part, by an inspiring cohort of young black women activists and feminists, the movements aim to decolonize teaching methods and recruitment. Their influence is being felt outside South Africa in the #RhodesMustFall campaign at Oxford University in the UK, and on US university campuses such as UC Berkeley.

Similarly, in the United States and beyond, Black Lives Matter is gaining traction. It combats Imagesystematic racism and discrimination as well as police killings of black people. The movement emerged in response to the lack of justice for the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin. There has been a vicious backlash against the group around the slogan “All Lives Matter,” whose participants attempt to paint Black Lives Matter as violent Marxists.

This July Patricia Leary, a professor at Whittier Law School, wrote an incisive rejoinder to a student letter criticizing her decision to wear a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on campus. In this reply, Leary dismantles the assumption that the motto “Black Lives Matter” is preceded by a silent “only”:

There are some implicit words that precede “Black Lives Matter,” and they go something like this:

Because of the brutalizing and killing of black people at the hands of the police and the indifference of society in general and the criminal justice system in particular, it is important that we say that…

This is, of course, far too long to fit on a shirt.

In India, Narendra Modi's BJP government has taken an increasingly sadistic stance towards artists, intellectuals, dissenters, and minorities. The killing of activists and writers Govind Pansare and Professor M. M. Kalburgi in 2015 led to many authors returning awards in protest.

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Is the Syrian Refugee Crisis the Worst Since World War II?

by Akim Reinhardt

RefugeesThere's a new meme infecting the internet.

The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

It's all over the place. Just google the words “worst refugee crisis.” Don't even put “Syria” or “WWII” in the search bar. What follows is a string of mainstream media articles labeling the current Syrian refugee crisis as the worst since the big deuce. It has become conventional wisdom.

But is the flood of humanity currently vacating Syria really the worst refugee crisis of the last 70 years?

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees estimates that about 4,000,000 Syrian refugees have now left their homeland. Millions more are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), people who have abandoned their homes but remain in Syria.

This is a formidable number, marking the Syrian exodus as certainly one of the worst refugee crises since World War II. And it may yet get worse. But is it actually the worst?

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Corridor of Opportunity

by Ali Minai

ScreenHunter_1189 May. 10 14.08Two recent events – the visit to Pakistan by Chinese President Xi, and the horrific assassination of Pakistani human rights activist and social entrepreneur, Sabeen Mahmud – have once again put Pakistan's restive province of Balochistan “on the map” – at least for those who pay attention to the affairs of this turbulent region. Balochistan – where the ancestors of whales once grazed on land and through which the armies of Alexander and Queen Victoria passed on their way to unforeseen futures – is once again today a land of boundless opportunity and endless tragedy, depending on who one listens to. Let us begin by listening to the ghosts of history.

For millennia, Balochistan – or Gedrosia as the Greeks called it – has been the land between lands: A vast and arid expanse lying between the West and the East that ambitious conquerors or hardy travelers have occasionally chosen to brave at their own risk. Eight millennia ago, one of Earth's oldest civilizations thrived in the north-central part of the province, leaving their traces in the ruins of Mehrgarh. At some ancient and uncertain date, a great pilgrimage site arose at Hinglaj on Balochistan's Arabian Sea coast. Revered as “Nani ka Mandir“, Hindus hold it sacred to the goddess Durga. Others have suggested that its original association was with the Sumerian goddess Inanna – also known as Ishtar, Nannai, Nana, Naina Devi, and possibly the same as the Persian Anahita – Naheed – and the Greek Athene. It is even reported that a Khariji hyper-Islamist state on the lines of today's ISIS once existed in the heart of this land, though time has erased its memory from the land much as it has largely erased the land of Balochistan from the historical memory of great civilizations. But that may be about to change.

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Prose Poem

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

IMG_0273Dear Partitioned Dead

I write to you of folding, tucking, burying side by side. The silk you worried the centuries into being, has arrived; bolts of it. But when we opened the trunks, all we saw was a smooth tongue: Urdu's cascade, a shimmer in ruins. We had to snap shut and lock your decorous viscera, counting only what sells in the market.

Most days, it is over fifty degrees; memories steal away easily. Guards in their fat stupor don't notice them your side of the border.

Pakistan— land of the thirsty, land of skipped beats: half an oscillation, an unfinished verse. India throbs behind us: Its many drums, torn kites and squalor. To both, dust returns again and again, the powdered ghost of goodbye the British viceroy's last plane.

I write to you of a crazed goat leaping across the stretch of No Man's land— no larger than a cricket pitch. A cawing here, a rustling there; the air weighed down by cannons. Another goat, its ears shaking as it grazes under a dwarf tree, will be the first to hear warplanes.

Miles and miles of rice paddies on both sides of the border, roofed by rancor; Hindu gods bathed in milk on one side, on the other, terraces where we wait for the green-domed country carved for us. I write to you of the armor you forgot to pack, the missing tools. Your silk, dear dead, is a rheumatic sleep fingering a new tangle of history.

Interlude in Brown?

by Omar Ali

Pakistan’s existing political and administrative system is based almost entirely on Western models. but the official national ideology is ambivalent or even hostile to Western civilization and its innovations. In the past this was less of a problem since “national ideology” was not very well developed (Jinnah himself was famously confused about what he wanted and while the Muslim League used Islamist slogans freely during the Pakistan movement, a number of its leaders and ideologues were happy to go along with vaguely left wing justifications for the state once they were comfortably in power after partition), but ever since the time of General Zia, there has been a steady push to establish a particular Islamist version of Pakistani nationalism as the default setting. The process has not gone entirely smoothly and significant sections of the super-elite intelligentsia remain wedded to Western left-liberal(and more rarely, frankly capitalist/”neo-liberal”)) ideologies while the deeper thinking Islamists tend towards Salafism, but it has gone further in the emerging middle class and within the armed forces. There, a superficially Islamist, hypernationalist vision has taken root and can be seen in its purest form on various “Paknationalist” websites. PakNationalists

This “paknationalism” is an extremely shallow and rather unstable construct. It is not classically Islamist but it regards Islam as the main unifying principle and ideological foundation of the state. In practice, it is more about hating India (and our own Indian-ness) that it is about any recognizable orthodox form of Islam. It is also very close to 1930s fascism in its worship of uniforms, authority and cleansing violence. People outside Pakistan rarely take it too seriously and prefer to get their versions of Pakistani nationalism from more liberal interpreters, but the “Paknationalists” are serious and one of these days, they are going to have a go at Pakistan if present suicidal trends persist in the civilian elite. Their interlude may not last very long, but it is likely to be exceptionally violent and may end in catastrophe.

BOOK-SIZED-Vaiell-Productions-1024x613Some idea of the ambitions and self-image of the Paknationalists can be gauged from a few recent examples; Pakistan's former ambassador to the United Nations, senior diplomat Munir Akram, penned a piece in “DAWN” on 27th May in which he repeated the usual “Paknationalist” themes but went a little further than usual by explicitly suggesting that if the US picks a fight with Pakistan, it may face an “asymmetrical nuclear war”. This, unfortunately, is not an isolated example of an Ambassador Sahib wandering off the reservation. Former director general of the ISI, Lieut. Gen. Assad Durrani, wrote a bellicose piece a few days earlier in which he suggested (among other things) that we could exchange Dr Afridi for Aafia Siddiqui and then give Aafia Siddiqui the Nishan e Haider (I am not kidding, check it out for yourself). Certified Paknationalist Ahmed Quraishi suggested that the CIA has been at war with Pakistan since 2002, though interestingly he also said that the CIA is doing this to “poison Pakistani-American ties”, (perhaps in a rogue operation not supported by the “good” or soft-touch faction of the US regime?).

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Saving Pakistan… and India?

by Omar Ali

Pakistan is in the throes of an existential crisis. Pakistan has always been in the throes of an existential crisis. Pakistan’s interminable existential crisis is, in fact, getting to be a bore. But while faraway peoples can indeed get away from this topic and on to something more interesting, Pakistanis have little choice in this matter; and it may be that neither do Indians. The-human-indian-spider

The partition of British India was different things to different people, but we can all agree on some things: it was a confused mess, it was accompanied by remarkable violence and viciousness, and it has led to endless trouble. The Paknationalist narrative built on that foundation has Jihadized the Pakistani state, and defanging that myth is now the most critical historic task of the Pakistani bourgeoisie.

Well, OK. We don’t actually all admit any of those things, but all those are things I have written in the past. Today I hope to shed my inhibitions and go further.

First, the crisis. Some friends think I am being unnecessarily alarmist and the only crisis is the presence of American infidels/imperialists in the region. Let America leave and all will be well. Others believe that if the army had a “free hand”, they would have things under control within days. Let us dispense with both theories. The crisis is not primarily American generated (though they have a long and glorious history of feeding dollars to the crisis) and no one is in complete control. The existing corruption-ridden state is a British colonial creation struggling to get by alongside an unstable mix of Islamist ideology and a very shallow and self-contradictory foundational myth. Even though the karma of the Raj is potent stuff, it will not last forever against these forces. When it goes, the next step will not be the dawn of Chomskyan enlightened anarchy or democratic socialism; it will either be Salafist Islam or the dissolution of the state. Dissolution being physically and diplomatically difficult (who will handle the scramble over borders that would follow?), Salafist Islam administered by the army (perhaps with a charismatic cricketer as its public face) is the likely option.

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The Middle Way, the Difficult Way—Sharper than a Sword and Narrower than a Hair

by Maniza Naqvi

WhirlingWe drank hot tea which helped to cool us down. Without the fans swirling the air around us, it was sweltering hot in the room. And the many layers of silk I was wearing were beginning to stick to my back and arms. Just as we were getting started, the lights went out—load shedding—a power cut. This was normal for Karachi. It could have been October or maybe May–must’ve been early evening because just as I was wondering how to peal of a few layers— I remember also wondering how the lovely azaan in the background would affect the overall sound. Like a mantra he invoked his teachers: Rumi and Saadi and the Buddha and Bishop Grundtvig and Confucius, and Gandhi, and Raiffeisen the Americans and the Chinese. He talked about Al Ghazali and Imam Hunbal, and he talked about how he learned of the Prophet’s teachings at his mother’s knee.

His response to my questions whirled around the Cooperatives movement, land grants, Development, technology, how change happens, China, the British and the Indian Civil Service, the Orangi Pilot Project, Sufism, Buddhism and the World Bank. And how “money is not the answer it only corrupts”.

I grew anxious when we discussed religious beliefs and stumbled upon the threatening and most dangerous menace of being accused of blasphemy in Pakistan by anyone for anything if they provoke and upset the established power base. A very real menace that he had faced from 1989-1992. A menace, which continues to threaten Pakistan and beyond. To the point where to simply exercise one’s brain let alone be brilliant or brave is to be blasphemous. “No one can help the poor without evoking the ire of one vested interest or the other,” said I.A.Rahman, the director of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan when HRC took up the case of Dr Khan back in 1989.” (here).

He, Dr.Akhtar Hameed Khan, was the founder of three important Development programs which are examples all over the world for community based approaches for low cost and appropriate technology solutions in low income communities. These were the Comilla Pilot Project in Bangladesh, the Orangi Pilot Project, in Karachi Pakistan and the Aga Khan Rural Support Program in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. He was called Dr. Sahab though he was not a medical doctor. I had first met Dr. Hameed Khan when I started working in Karachi in 1986. That’s when I also met his very dynamic team including the brilliant urban planner and architect Perween Rahman and her colleague Anwar Rashid. Together they have run the Orangi Pilot project and its training institute which supports the replication of the approach and its lessons in other towns and cities of Pakistan and other countries. Dr. Hameed Khan died in 1999.

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Pakistan Predictions 2012

by Omar Ali

Punditry without predictions is like a fish without a bicycle and who would ever want that? But if one does make predictions, one’s predictions can be checked. That, perhaps, is why no paid pundit makes too many predictions. But, with nothing at stake, I will not only make predictions, I will also recall predictions from 3 years ago for criticism. And dear socialist friends, please remember these are not prescriptions, they are predictions. I don’t like them much either. Reiki-crystal-ball1

In March of 2009 I took a road trip across the Eastern United States and asked several generally well informed Pakistani friends what they thought was likely to happen in Pakistan in the days to come. I am reproducing that article unchanged below; the first few theories are what my friends proposed would happen, followed by my own predictions from 2009. I consulted two of the same friends again this week and their current predictions and my own 2012 predictions follow. It is, of course, a very small and unrepresentative sample, biased towards liberals, infidels and leftists with no other input. And it is not expressed in University-Speak. So please, be gentle.

The 2009 scenarios:

1. Things fall apart: This theory holds that all the various chickens have finally come home to roost. The elite has robbed the country blind and provided neither governance nor sustenance and now the revolution is upon us: the jihadis have a plan and the will to enforce it and the government has neither. The jihadis have already captured FATA and most of Malakand (a good 20% of NWFP) and are inevitably going to march onwards to Punjab and Sindh. The army is incapable of fighting these people (and parts of it are actively in cahoots with the jihadis) and no other armed force can match these people. The public has been mentally prepared for Islamic rule by 62 years of Pakistani education and those who do resist will be labeled heretics and apostates and ruthlessly killed. The majority will go along in the interest of peace and security. America will throw more good money after bad, but in the end the Viceroy and her staff will be climbing rope ladders onto helicopters and those members of the elite who are not smart enough to get out in time will be hanging from the end of the ladder as the last chopper pulls away from the embassy. Those left behind will brush up their kalimas and shorten their shalwars and life will go on. The Taliban will run the country and all institutions will be cleansed and remodeled in their image.

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Beyraja: from 1947 to 1971 and beyond…

by Omar Ali

“agli wari beyraja peya tey chhadna nahin…” (the next time anarchy occurs; don’t miss your chance…)

The dream of a violent and destructive “revolution” that will “sweep away this sorry scheme of things entire and remake it nearer to heart’s desire” may or may not be an old idea. Some think it is derived from the apocalyptic visions of various Judeo-Christian cults and prophets, others that it is a relatively new idea that arose in post-enlightenment Europe and got exported to the rest of the world. Whatever the case, it is an idea that permeates modern millenarian ideologies like communism, and from that fecund source it has found its way into Islamism and dozens of other ideologies that yearn for total transfromation rather than incremental change. We in the subcontinent have not yet seen an organized premeditated revolution akin to the Russian or Chinese experience, but in the 20th century, we did see at least two episodes of very violent and sudden re-ordering of affairs, once in 1947 and then in 1971. 1947 Oct  Hindu & Sikh refugees from Pakistan on way to  E. Punjab

Neither episode was marked by anarchy in every corner of the subcontinent; the anarchy of 1947 was especially concentrated in West Pakistan and East Punjab. Many terrible massacres and crimes occurred in other parts of North India and Bengal, but Punjab was by far the worst hit and the most totally transformed. In West Pakistan, countless prosperous Hindus and Sikhs lost lands and businesses and moved to India (or died in the attempt). All this property was then reassigned to new owners. Keep in mind that urban property in particular had been heavily concentrated in the hands of Hindus and Sikhs. e.g., all of Anarkali bazar in Lahore was in Hindu hands prior to partition and on the main road (Mall road) there was only one Muslim-owned building (Shah din Building). Almost all cinemas and other valuable commercial property were owned by Hindus and Sikhs. Evacuee property boards were set up to try and bring some order to this process but the administration was as virginal as the state. A very small number of Muslim officials suddenly found themselves in the position of deciding the fate of property and assets worth billions. In the ensuing scramble, the most enterprising, the best connected, and the least scrupulous managed to grab vast wealth and opportunities, while millions didn’t even realize the full significance of what was happening.

Terrible massacres and riots were not just the result of deep religious hatreds or the sudden eruption of primal human savagery; Punjab, bloodied partitioned cleansedenterprising crooks took advantage of the anarchy of partition to get rid of competitors and anyone whose property looked ripe for plucking. As matters stabilized, terrible crimes and atrocities disappeared into the black hole of memory and the new elite got busy embellishing its own mythology of “deliverance from the Hindu yoke”, with little mention of how this “deliverance” involved the looting of existing property and the takeover of institutions and positions suddenly left vacant by the departure of the Hindu and Sikh elite.

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The Historic Task of the Pakistani Bourgeoisie

by Omar Ali

Dinia and dependencies“In order to lay the material foundation of socialism, the bourgeois democratic revolution had to be completed.”

This sort of sentence could be heard in tea shops in Pakistan 50 years ago but now that the task is almost complete (OK, not exactly, since the bourgeoisie has had to use the military academy rather than the universities to carry out its great aims, but why quibble over mere details?) the phrase “historic task of the bourgeoisie” is now available to us to be reused in some new context. I propose one here: the historic task of the Pakistani bourgeoisie today is to defang the two-nation theory (TNT). You may complain “how the mighty have fallen”, but I am serious. The military academy being what it is, it has built up the modern Pakistani nation state based on an intellectually limited and dangerously confrontational theory of nationalism. The charter state of the Pakistani bourgeoisie is the Delhi Sultanate, but that conception lacks sufficient connection with either history or geography. Bangladesh opted out of this inadequate theory within 25 years, though its trouble may not be over yet. West Pakistan, now renamed “Pakistan” to obviate the memory of past losses, is now a geographically and economically viable nation state, but the military has failed to update the TNT and in fact, made a rather determined effort to complete the project using “militant proxies” in the 1990s. That project suffered a setback after Western imperialism (aka the military’s old paymasters) announced that free-lance Islamist militias were to be terminated with extreme prejudice. Somewhat to the surprise of the state department, the Pakistani elite seems to have taken its TNT commitment seriously enough to try and retain some militant options even while accepting “aid” to assist in their elimination. But these are temporary setbacks. The ideology in question is not compatible with regional peace or global capitalism and needs to be updated and brought in line with current requirements. This is now the great task of our under-prepared bourgeoisie.

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Imran Khan: the 12th man rises…

by Omar Ali

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

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What if we win?

by Omar Ali

316743_10150340654784292_529734291_7856373_1074019852_n1-300x185 Pakistan’s predicament continues to draw comment from all over the world; in the Western (and Westoxicated Eastern) Left, the narrative remains straightforward(to such a degree that one is tempted to share an essay by Trotsky that Tariq Ali may have missed): US imperialism is to blame. In this story, US imperialism “used” poor helpless clueless Pakistan for its own evil ends, then “abandoned” them (it’s very bad when the imperialists go into a third world country, it’s also very bad when they leave) and they have now returned to finish off the job. I have written in the past about my disagreements with this Eurocentric and softly racist narrative and have little to add to it. In any case, no one in authority in either the imperialist powers or Pakistan is paying too much attention to the Guardian or the further reaches of the Left. But even among those who matter (for better and for worse), there seems to be no agreement about what is going on and what comes next. Everyone has their theories, ranging from “lets attack Pakistan” to “let’s throw more money at them” and everything in between. I don’t know what comes next either, but I have been thinking for a few days about an outcome that many in the Pakistani pro-military webring think is around the corner: What if we win?

The fact that the US/NATO are in trouble in Afghanistan is no longer news. The fact that Pakistan is about to “win” may not be as obvious to many outsiders (or even to many Pakistanis). but “strategic victory” in Afghanistan is now taken for granted by the Paknationalists. And one should take them seriously, since their theories are not only a product of GHQ, they are also the basis GHQ’s own decision making. The circle goes like this: psyops operators create the theory in the morning. It’s taken up by the paknationalist media through the day and is on GEO TV by nightfall. The generals hear it on the evening news and excitedly call up their friends: did you see what everyone is saying!

What does it mean for Pakistan to “win” in Afghanistan?

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Labor of War

Books by Maniza Naqvi

This has been a decade of bombardment of non-fiction books focused on inventing and imagining Pakistan and on burying it under these explanations. In addition to these titles from 2001 to 2011 there has been a proliferation of prolific instant experts explaining Pakistan and what should be done in and to Pakistan.

Type in “Pakistan” in the search bar on and an instructive number of non-fiction titles come up. I stopped at 51 afraid that along with getting nauseous because of the titles I would get carpal tunnel. Some of the titles sound like pulp fiction with words such as “deadly embrace” or “hard” or ‘deep inside” or “to live or perish” or “deception” or “reconciliation” or “duel” or “soldiers of god” and, dangerous, most dangerous, frightening, failed, chaos, or hard and so on but alas disappoint. Interestingly, though only three came up listed for Pakistan as novels. The impressive number of novels by Pakistani authors can be found by typing in the names of the authors or the titles of the books.

The Pakistan flag also comes up, in stock at a discounted price down from US$2.40 marked down to US$1.60 four by six inches.

On the basis of this list alone there have been about five books per year. The Lonely Planet Guidebook for tourists on Pakistan comes up as well. However, this narrative of war and violence in these 51 books provides another kind of guide book on the yearly trend of where it is moving towards geographically and politically. Title 5, released in 2004 and written by Bernard Levy (yes now of Libya liberation fame and yes the so called philosopher) and title 50 by Peter Bergen (the media anointed expert on terrorism) released June 2011 fresh after the story in Abbottabad on May 1, 2011 doesn’t come up under Pakistan but chapter 15 is devoted to belaboring the point, it is called Pakistan: The New Base.

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Sovereign Bonds (And A Million Pound Question)

by Gautam Pemmaraju

Two weeks ago, India and Pakistan commemorated their 64th year of independence, and two weeks from now, 13th September will mark Operation Polo – the 1948 military action against independent Hyderabad by Indian armed forces deposing the defiant princely ruler, The Nizam, who had refused to accede to the newly formed Union of India.

37 I am reminded here of a most curious tale, the core of which remains a tripartite dispute that persists till date.

As Indian troops advanced on Hyderabad, the beleaguered independent militia of the Razakars put up a futile and foolhardy resistance while the Hyderabad State Force under the command of Major General Syed Ahmed El Edroos fell back. At the very same time, a delegation of the embattled state’s representatives, including the then finance and foreign minister Moin Nawaz Jung, were in Paris, desperately petitioning the UN Security Council in the hope of a cease-fire resolution. It was during this period, as the House of Asaf Jah, the dynasty that had ruled for seven generations, was about to fall, that Mir Nawaz Jung, the Agent General of Hyderabad stationed in London met Habib Ibramim Rahimtoola in the presence of Pakistan’s foreign minister Sir Mohammed Zafarullah Khan, at the latter’s house in Hampstead. The Hyderabad representative requested the Pakistani High Commissioner to accept a bank transfer of over a million pounds from an account in National Westminster Bank in his name.

As Mir Laik Ali, the last Dewan or Prime Minister of independent Hyderabad, writes in his account The Tragedy of Hyderabad (Karachi, 1962), the Security Council was to meet formally on the 20th of September 1948, but Sir Alexander Cadogan had agreed on “an urgent meeting” given the “rapidly deteriorating situation in Hyderabad”. In an archival film clip, Cadogan is seen opening the meeting by speaking of the two items on the agenda before the council: “one, the adoption of the agenda and two, communications from the government of Hyderabad to the security council”.

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Midnight’s problem child


by Omar Ali

Pakistan and India are celebrating the 64th anniversary of “Freedom at midnight” with their usual mix of nationalism and jingoism (Bangladesh seems to ignore this nightmarish dream anniversary and will be mostly ignored in this article). The fashionable opinion about India (within and without, though perhapsless on the Indian left) seems fairly positive; about Pakistan, decidedly muddled if not outright negative. Is this asymmetry another manifestation of the unfair assessments of an Islamophobic world? Or does this difference in perception have a basis in fact?

I am going to make twin arguments: that the difference in everyday life, everyday oppressions and everyday successes is LESS than commonly stated (though a gap may finally be opening up), but at the same time, the asymmetry in their ideals and foundational myths is much greater than outsiders tend to see. Outsiders in general tend to see other nations as generic “nations”; they assume (usually unconsciously) that the default “national interests” are likely to be reflections of the same set of assumptions everywhere. My argument here is that this is frequently true and is true enough of India and Pakistan in many cases (e.g. in negotiations over river waters), but there are some unique elements in the Pakistan story that slowly but steadily push in a less desirable direction, even as the normal evolution of society brings in modernization and economic growth; and unless these are damped down, these “unique elements” have the potential to sink Pakistan. On the other hand, if these can be ignored or painted over, then Pakistan too can become just another “normal” South Asian country, faced with similar problems (some worse, some much less than its neighbors), to which similar solutions can be proposed.

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Pakistan: The End of the Affair?

by Omar Ali


We have been here before, but it is being said that the unhappy marriage between the Pentagon and GHQ has deteriorated further and once again, those watching this soap opera are wondering if this union can last? Writing in Al-Arabiya, GHQ’s own Brigadier Shaukat Qadir says that the US appears to be “gunning for Pakistan’s top generals”, who are said to be bravely resisting this latest perfidious American plot against General Kiyani. And why is the US trying to undermine the good General? Because at a meeting with President Obama he made clear “ that this soft-spoken, laid-back, easy-going general, far from being overawed by the privilege of meeting President Obama, would still give back better than he got.”

This interesting article (I highly recommend reading it twice to get the full flavor) can be read in a number of ways, all of which are worrisome. One is to assume that Brigadier sahib means exactly what he is saying. That there is some core Pakistani interest that General Kiyani bravely insisted on defending, and for that sin, he is now being systematically undermined. Ashfaq-Kiyani301 Note that Pakistan’s elected government did not decide what this core interest is supposed to be, nor was it consulted before General Kiyani decided to defend this core interest against US imperialism. In fact, Brigadier sahib hints that the elected regime may include “powerful individuals who have no loyalty to this country and its people”. No, this core interest, for which Kiyani sahib is supposedly willing to risk a clash with the United States (and by extension, NATO, Japan, etc) is defined by GHQ, as it has been for decades.

“Strategic depth”, it seems, is alive and well and we can live with bombings, insurgencies, electricity shortages and all sorts of economic and social crises, but we cannot live without strategic depth. For the sake of this strategic depth, we kept the Taliban alive and made sure the new American-installed regime in Afghanistan would not stabilize. And when the Americans leave (something that everyone in GHQ seems convinced is happening very soon), we will restart a civil war in Afghanistan, with “our side” led by the Haqqanis and Mullah Omar.

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