Friday, 12 September 2014

Dr.Khan Sahib remembered

Originally published by the Frontier Post, May 27, 2004

By Syed Afzaal Hussain Zaidi

Forty-six years ago on May 9, 1958, an assassin's dagger pierced through Dr. Khan Sahib's heart and snuffed a life of devotion to the service of down trodden and deprived people. Sir Olaf Caroe author of the famous book "The Pathans" recorded that once when he asked the Doctor who was his role model instantly he replied Sher Shah Suri whose name shines in history for building roads, Sarais and wells for welfare of common people.

President Iskander Mirza, his life long friend, paying homage to Dr. Khan Sahib described him as "the greatest Pathan of his times, a great leader and a gallant gentleman whose life-long fight in the cause of freedom, his sufferings and sacrifices for the sake of his convictions and his passion to do good to the common man were the attributes of a really great man." In my official position as Information Officer, I came into contact with Dr. Khan Sahib on December 2, 1954, the very day he was sworn in as Minister for Communication and Railways in Muhammad Ali Bogra's Cabinet. Thus began a relationship of utmost devotion from me and trust and affection by him as long as he lived. His most endearing quality, which stuck me, was his total commitment to the service of the common people of Pakistan. Addressing the officers of the Ministry of Communications and Railways immediately after assuming charge of the Ministry he said ""I have no desire but the service of the people and this is what I expect from all whom God has placed in positions of power. We should endeavour to translate political freedom into ways and means for social and economic uplift of our people". He said he was a member of an interim government and for a short period with them wants to accomplish one or two things which should really alleviate the sufferings of the people. In the discussion, that followed there was consensus that people of Karachi faced great hardship due to inadequate transport facilities in the fast expanding metropolis. Dr. Khan Sahib commissioned a senior officer of Pakistan Railways to prepare a plan for transport for Karachi. As a result of Dr. Khan Sahib's personal interest in the project, the Karachi Road Transport Corporation came into being.

Dr. Khan Sahib was meticulous in attending his office in the Tughlaq House. He would first examine the chart of the arrivals and departures of the trains at and from Karachi. He believed that the punctuality of the trains was an indicator of the efficiency of the Railways. An incident comes to mind. The Karachi Mirpukhas train was usually running late. Dr. Khan Sahib issued several warnings to the divisional superintendent of Railways but to no avail. Dr. Khan Sahib ordered transfer of the officer, who was brother-in-law of the Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra, to East Pakistan Railways. The Prime Minister interceded on behalf of his brother-in-law but Dr. Khan Sahib refused to withdraw his orders.

Dr. Khan Sahib himself would draw schedule of his engagements. Every month he would travel by train to Peshawar would look into the amenities in the lower class compartments, and state of cleanliness at the Railway Stations. Every week he would visit the Karachi Port to see the progress of construction of new jetties. Every third month he would visit East Pakistan, to inspect progress of expansion of Chittagong Port and Railway, and post and telecommunications projects. He would discuss his observations with the Heads of the Departments. He was averse to file work and rarely wrote notes on the files. He believed in direct approach to the subject.

Dr. Khan Sahib developed close trust in Syed Mufidul Hasan, Director General of Railways, Col. S.A Siddiqui, Director General of Postal Services and Mr. Muhammad Hussain, Chief Engineer of Telecommunications. I heard him saying a number of times that Pakistan should be proud of these officers. One incident comes to memory. The Ministry of Finance had proposed to increase the price of post card by one paisa in order to recover cost of production. Dr. Khan Sahib put his foot down. He said post card was poor man's mode of communication and he should not be burdened. He used to say postman was the most deprived official and deserved substantial increase in salary. He spoke to Chaudhri Muhammad Ali, Finance Minister Chaudhri Sahib regretted that the budget was already stretched to the utmost limit. Dr. Khan Sahib conveying finance minister's response to Col.. Siddiqui said, "What can you expect from a babu."

met Dr. Khan Sahib last time in April 1958. He came from Lahore to stay with President Iskander Mirza. I went to pay my respects. While I was with him, the President walked into the room. They talked for a couple of minutes in Pushto. Suddenly Dr. Khan Sahib addressing the President said "Malik Sahib (Malik Feroze Khan Noon) has told me you have forced him to grant another extension to that man (General Ayub Khan). You take it from me he will stab you as his brother (Sardar Bahadur Khan) has stabbed me." Iskander Mirza laughed. Then he seized Dr. Khan Sahib 's arms saying "come, Khanum is waiting for us at lunch table", led him out of the room.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

H.M Close: They don’t make teachers like him anymore

this article was originally published by The News on Sunday August 24, 2014
by
Aziz Ahmad

If you ask an old student of 1950s and 60s who he remembers most among his teachers at the Islamia College Peshawar, he will invariably name an Englishman, among others.
His name was Hubert Michael Close or H.M. Close or simply Close for his students and colleagues.
After graduating from Cambridge, Close went to teach English at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi in 1937. However, his teaching career was interrupted when he joined the army during World War II, and he ended up in Cyprus and other Mediterranean islands commanding a Pathan Company.
At the end of the war, Close went back to St. Stephen’s, and then, after the Partition, migrated to Pakistan to take up teaching English at Islamia College Peshawar.

In his book, A Pathan Company, published in 1993, Close warmly describes his “boys” in B Company that he commanded, admiring their sturdiness, simplicity of habits, sincerity and loyalty to their commander. It was probably his affection for the young Pathan soldiers of his Company that motivated him to move to Peshawar.

I first saw Close when I entered college and was allotted a room in Hardinge hostel, Room 52, to share with three other students — Ayub Kundi from D.I. Khan, Sahibzada Ayaz from Mansehra and Mian Jameel from Peshawar. Close also lived in Hardinge hostel, in a one-bedroom apartment immediately above our room.

Because of our proximity to his apartment, we often saw him coming from or going to his apartment and, in the process, developed more than a nodding acquaintance with him.
I remember him as a lean man of medium height, probably in his 40s, with a ruddy complexion, thinning brown hair, small penetrating eyes and a rather shy demeanour.
Other than social work, Close’s pursuit of happiness included smoking a pipe and listening to western classical music.

In the early years of Pakistan, elementary military training, called Compulsory Military Training or CMT for short, was introduced in the college. All first-year students had to undergo CMT for three months. Close, with his army background, was a natural choice to head the CMT, and he immersed himself into the task with passion.

At daybreak, he would blow a whistle to pull the students out of their beds, literally sometimes when necessary, make them change into the prescribed uniform — shorts, shirt and PT shoes — and, after a few drills, take them on a run-and-crawl routine all the way to Jamrud, some four miles, and back.
CMT became synonymous with Close, and students jokingly called it Close Military Training. He demanded and instilled a discipline to which the students, mostly coming from the rural areas of the province, were not used to. Not many relished it, but every one of the old students you talk to remembers the rigours of CMT fondly.

Donating blood was another of Close’s passions. He not only donated blood himself, repeatedly, but also encouraged students to donate blood to Lady Reading Hospital, the only public hospital in the city at the time. He would go around the campus looking for potential donors, talk to them, befriend them, cajole them — almost compel them — and ultimately lead them to Lady Reading Hospital. Without Close’s efforts, the blood bank of Lady Reading Hospital probably could not have sustained.

During summer vacations, Close would lead teams of students on anti-malaria campaigns (another of his passions) in the remote villages of Hazara, where they would go from village to village, spraying houses, cowsheds and ponds of stagnant water with insecticides. Those campaigns not only helped save villagers from the ravages of malaria, they also helped the students gain an insight into the life of ordinary village folk, and inspired some to explore the surrounding mountains at the end of their social work projects.

I remember a hiking trip when, at the end of an anti-malaria campaign in Balakot and the surrounding villages, a group of five of us climbed Musa ka Musalla, a 14,000 feet high peak in the Himalayas. It was the greatest adventure of our lives!

The quickest way to get into Close’s good books was to either donate blood or join his summer social work campaigns, or even better, both.

A lifelong bachelor, Close lived a Spartan life. He was usually seen in a white shirt and khaki trousers and, in winters, a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches.

Close was also a biking buff. I don’t ever remember seeing him travel by the college bus or a car. He always rode his Raleigh bicycle, his khaki trousers clamped at the ankles, going around the campus, whistling a tune and taking in the sweet fragrance of bitter-orange blossoms that filled the campus air in the months of March and April.

During the month of Ramzan, Close would get up at sehri along with everyone else and would fast until iftar, because of which students jokingly referred to him as Hafiz or Haji M. Close, playing on his initials. On Sundays, he would ride his bicycle to the city to attend church service, a five-mile ride either way. He was a deeply religious man.

Other than social work, Close’s pursuit of happiness included smoking a pipe and listening to western classical music. In fact, we could trace his movements to and from his apartment by the fragrant trail of the pipe smoke he left behind him. Occasionally, when we went upstairs to his apartment to ask something and found the door to his living room open, we would see him humming along his gramophone and vigorously chopping the air with his hand as if he were actually conducting the symphony being played. This was our introduction to the western classical music.

Close is remembered today by his students not for what he taught in the classroom but mostly for what he taught outside it: Discipline, compassion, social work and adventure, and, to us four roommates in Room 52, a little bit of Beethoven and Mozart.

Close remained at Islamia College until his retirement and then moved to Edwardes College and remained there until his death, in 1999.

- The writer Aziz Ahmad is a human resource consultant.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Moon, Orchards and the River Swat

this short story was written in September 2007 by the author and is exclusive to QK- ed

By Khadim Hussain

The silhouettes in the moon light appears both awful and exotic at the same time. The dim lights of the occasional homes up the in the hills in the bright background of the moonlight, the rustling of tree-branches in the forest mingle with the gushing sound of the River Swat, flowing fast nearby is an enchanting experience. Driving uphill, engulfed by the at times mysteriously silent, thick forests that spreads on both sides of the road and the fragrance of ripe apples riding on the waves of cool breeze brings intoxication from the orchards planted in unending continuous rows on both sides of the half dirt road.


As one drives up, the roar of the River Swat down in the valley fades away as it is overcome and replaced by the hissing sounds of the forest. The moonlight, fragrance of orchards and rustling in the forest, mingling with the sound of the gushing waters is hypnotizing—can one imagine a more artistic world!! Many may spend a lifetime searching for enchantment like this, but it can be found right here and now.

I am on my way to visit Wahid Zaman and his family; it has been a while since I last saw him, probably 10 long years. The small village, where Wahid’s family lives, is surrounded by hill tops. He writes impressive poetry in Pashto-- a language that belongs to Indo-Iranian group of Indo-European languages and is spoken by a majority population of Afghanistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan, the province of Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.
We arrive to find Wahid standing in front of his house, smiling as usual. I can see two kids, a girl and a boy, standing beside him. The girl Spogmay has grown since I last saw her and the boy Atal was not yet born. They are Wahid’s niece and nephew. Wahid leads us to his sprawling Hujra, a meeting place of the Pashtun village folk also used as a guest house. I ask about Wahid’s elder brother Shireen Khan, but Wahid remains silent and I am not sure whether he has not heard me or whether he has chosen to ignore my question. Spogmay looks up at me with anguish and helplessness in her eyes. I can not help but wonder if I have missed something or if something is wrong.

To me, Shireen Khan is a modest and humble human who has always been incomparably hospitable, always smiling. He arranged trips to the high mountain hills every time I came to visit, and would ensure that we were sufficiently provided with would amount to luxury in this place. He would send for items in Mingora if they were not available in Matta, and thus would make us feel welcome and important.

While Wahid has started arranging for our dinner, I can not help but notice Shireen’s absence. Spogmay and Atal help their uncle with their little hands. Spogmay seems to have regained her composure, and now that she has overcome her initial shyness she smiles when she looks at me. I ask her about her school and her friends and she recounts whatever she the events of her day. I on the other hand just can not shake off the feeling that something awful has happened to her father.
After dinner Wahid takes me to pay respects to his 65 years old mother. I am shocked to see that she looks very old, her cheeks are sunk in and her usually healthy physique looks frail and shaky. She leans for support against the main door of the house and I feel her forcing her eyes to open so that she can see clearly. “She has almost lost her sight”, I hear Wahid say. As soon as she sees us she starts crying and says. “My son Shireen Khan……….” She tries to say something but seems to choke on the words. I can see her trembling as she tries to keep her emotions in check. Wahid holds her in his arms and takes her inside the house. I feel a cold dread seep through me as I realize something terrible must have befallen Shireen and I no longer have the courage to ask.

I am tired and retire for the night. In the morning Wahid suggests a visit to the river. We set out. Wahid remains silent all the way. We reach there, and settle down on a grassy patch, I ask the question that has been irking me since the night before. Where is Shireen Khan?

Wahid has an answer for me this time.

Shireen Khan received his early education from a school in the nearby town of Matta. After completing his elementary education he started working on the family lands. Planting a variety of orchards, and growing sufficient amount of corn to feed his extended family, he enabled his father to attend to social obligations. His father suddenly died when Shireen was 18. "Father could have been saved if there were a dispensary in the village", Shireen would tell Wahid, later on.
The demise of his father made Shireen morose, and he chose to remain alone, reticent and reclusive all day long, either working on the farm, or visiting the cleric Maulvi Barkatullah ,who had recently come from Afghanistan to lead prayers in the village mosque. In the meanwhile, Shireen married his 15 years old maternal cousin. The marriage ceremony of Nikah was performed by Maulvi Barkatullah, who was now frequently visited by Shireen.

Shireen seemed to have developed very cordial relations with Malvi Barkutullah. He started coming home late at night after he started taking lessons of the Quran from the Maulvi. "Our Maulvi Sahib is a great Mujahid (a holy warrior) during the Soviet Jihad", he once proudly told Wahid.
Shireen seemed to have forgotten all his duties and responsibilities to his family; instead he paid frequent visits to the house of Maulvi Barkatullah in the village mosque. He even arranged a regular session for the Maulvi to interpret and recite the Holy Quran on loud speaker to the village. The session would be held at the night after Isha prayers. In the meantime Shireen started imposing a number of restrictions on the women of his extended family. He had started exhorting girls of the family to stop going to the nearby elementary school. Wahid initially resisted him, but later on, when parents of the girls acquiesced into the argument of Shireen, and prevented their daughters from going to school, Wahid also gave up.

Shireen had brought a lot of fundamental religious audio and video tapes, and forced everyone at home to listen to the fiery hate speeches of the firebrand Jihadis. TV and cassette player at his house were now only used for the purpose of watching, and listening to those speeches. Wahid was in the habit of reading newspaper. He would go to the nearby town, Matta, to buy an Urdu, and an English newspaper every day early in the morning. Shireen compelled his brother to stop bringing newspapers home on the grounds that the newspapers carried pictures of men and women in an obscene manner, which was likely to spread profanity in the house, and in the neighborhood. Wahid had to accept this argument because Shireen was his older brother, and nobody in the village had ever gone against a family elder. Shireen even banned coca cola and Pepsi cola, as he thought they were prepared in the factories established by Jews, and the money, they earned through these cold drinks, went to strengthen Israel against the Muslims.

Wahid recalls the night with great clarity when the Maulvi issued an edict in his session in the night that watching TV and listening to music were Haram (forbidden) in Islam. Wahid tried to argue with the Maulvi, but the whole village, including his elder brother, rose in favour of the Maulvi, and so, Wahid was forced into silence. The next day, most of the village folks brought their TVs and cassette players out of their houses, and burnt them in an open space outside the village. Wahid, despite being against the Maulvi and his edicts, could do nothing, and remained at home with his boiling anger and frustration.

Wahid left home early next morning, and went to live the provincial town, Mingora, with one of his close friends, despite pleadings by his mother, sister-in-law, and his cute little niece, Spogmai. He would call his mother and Spogmai from Mingora off and on, and would get more frustrated with the news of the spreading circle of influence of Maulvi Barkatullah. Wahid missed his orchards, the scene of the full moon in the background of green hills of his village, and the banks of the River Swat extremely. At night he would sometimes cry bitterly out of helplessness and loliness.
After a few months Wahid went to his village to see his mother, Spogmai, and his sister-in-law. He found out that his elder brother, Shireen Khan, was away from home for the last three days. His mother and his sister-in-law knew nothing as to where Shireen had gone and were worried sick for him. Wahid went out to inquire from Shireen’s friends about his whereabouts. His heart sank with grief when he learnt that his brother had gone for military training to fight Jihad.
Wahid remained in the village for forty days till his brother returned. This was the first and the last time that Wahid exchanged angry words with his brother. Shireen called Wahid a coward who was afraid of the infidels and even went as far as calling his brother an infidel because he thought that Wahid was shirking martyrdom. In the coming few days, Wahid witnessed Maulvi Barkutullah and his disciples, including Shireen Khan, celebrated the fall of the Pentagon and World Trade Centre in the US. It seemed to be a great occasion of rejoicing for the Maulvi, and his disciples. Wahid left home once again, never knowing that it would be the last time he saw his brother.

One day Wahid was reading an English newspaper, and his eyes fell on a headline, ‘US fighter planes strike at the Taliban stronghold’. He felt his heart fill with dread and he instantly rang home, only to find the bitter news that Maulvi Barkatullah had issued an edict calling every adult male to come and fulfill the obligation of Jihad, claiming that it was the duty of every Muslim to do so. Even more heart breaking was the knowledge that his brother had started arranging for weapons and ammunition, and had started preparing a battalion of Jihadis from the young people of the village. Wahid had never felt so helpless and frightened.

Wahid hurried to his village only to find out that the battalion of the village folks had left for Afghanistan under the leadership of Maulvi Barkutullah.


Wahid sighed heavily, “My mother, Spogmai, and my sister-in-law, who gave birth to Atal shortly after Shireen Khan left for Afghanistan, keep listening for footsteps and their eyes on the door ever since my brother left. Everyday, my mother comes out of the house, sits outside the door of our house, and starts crying. I can’t see my young niece, Spogmai, crying for her father every day. Nobody knows about the whereabouts of my brother, Shireen Khan”.

-The writer tweets at @Khadimhussain4 and can be e mailed on khadimhussain565@gmail.com is the Managing Director of Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation (BKTEF)

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

‘Reimagining Pakistan’: The story of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

special contribution to Qissa Khwani courtesy of M.Taqi

by Hussain Haqqani

Excerpts from the 'Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Memorial Lecture' which was presented on the 11th of August 2014 to the Jamia Millia Islami New Delhi.

It is an honour for me to be invited to deliver the Second Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Memorial Lecture at Jamia Millia Islamia.

One of the great tragedies of the partition of the subcontinent has been the development of separate narratives of history in India and Pakistan, which do not do justice to several great men. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan –or Badshah Khan or Bacha Khan, as he is lovingly known, is one of them.

Just as most Indians know little about the early contribution of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam to Pakistanis, to the demand for self-rule in British India, most Pakistanis remain ill-informed about the struggle of Bacha Khan against British imperialism.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a towering figure in Indian, and later Pakistani, history. He spent more years in prison for his beliefs than Nelson Mandela, first under British rule and later under dictatorships in Pakistan.

Bacha Khan was punished by the British for demanding freedom from foreign rule. After independence, he was punished in the new state of Pakistan for questioning its elites and their policies.

The Frontier Gandhi had embraced the philosophy of non-violence. In his autobiography, he explained how he saw Mahatma Gandhi at a Congress moot while attending a conference of the Khilafat Movement in Calcutta and began to like him. “Gandhiji was addressing the meeting,” he wrote, adding, “A conceited young man in the audience kept on heckling him. But Gandhiji did not get angry, he just laughed and went on talking. The young man interrupted again and again, but Gandhiji only laughed. This made a deep impression on me, and when I returned to my lodging, I told my companions about it. ‘If only our Muslim leaders could remain as calm and unperturbed as Gandhiji, the leader of the Hindus,’ I said.”

According to Bacha Khan, he was put off by the haughty response of Maulana Mohammed Ali when he spoke to him about Gandhi’s patience and self-control.

“Mohammed Ali Saheb did not react as we had hoped he would. He became very annoyed and said: ‘And who do you think you are, you Pathans from the back of beyond, to come and tell me how to behave?’ Then he got up and left the room. We were very disappointed and hurt. After that I did not want to attend the Khilafat Conference anymore.”

If the conceit of the Khalifat leadership brought Khan Ghaffar Khan close to Gandhi, his disappointment with the Muslim League made him an ally of the Indian National Congress. Bacha Khan saw the British, and not other Indian communities, as the enemy of the Pashtun people he led.

The Muslim League leaders did not confront the British during the course of the Second World War as they saw the British as protecting Muslims “in order that they could fight the Hindus.”

By his own account, Bacha Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar Movement had not joined the Congress until the Muslim League turned down its request for support against the British. “Now we were desperate,” he wrote. “A drowning man has no choice but to catch any straw to save himself. We were very disappointed with the Muslim League. So we asked our two friends to contact the Congress leaders and request them to help us. In their meeting with the Congress leaders our friends were told that the Congress would be prepared to give us all possible help, if we, from our side, would agree to join them in the struggle for the freedom of India.”

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan became one of the most influential Muslim leaders of the subcontinent who opposed the idea of Pakistan. Others included Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Dr Zakir Husain, co-founder and Vice Chancellor of this University. Sixty-seven years later, when the existence of Pakistan is a reality that cannot be undone, it should be possible for us to objectively examine the arguments of Muslim opponents of the Muslim League.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case in Pakistan. The Pakistani establishment has evolved a particular narrative of what led to Pakistan’s creation and any discussion of it from a different perspective is treated, not as history but as an attack on the country’s foundation.

After mobilizing support for the demand for Pakistan, and establishing it as an independent country, successive Pakistani leaders have chosen to keep alive the divisive frenzy that led to partition.

If Pakistan was attained with the slogan ‘Islam in danger,’ it has been built on the slogan ‘Pakistan in danger,’ creating a constant sense of insecurity among its people.

Bacha Khan, along with some other leaders like Bengal’s Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, opposed the conjuring of this ‘ideology of Pakistan.’

He had opposed partition but after the partition he said: “Now that the existence of Pakistan is a fact, and the Congress and the Muslim League have both accepted that fact, I only wish to serve my country and my people, without asking for a share in anything. My people are now loyal citizens of Pakistan and we will do our bit for the reconstruction and the progress of the country.”

But as he wrote himself, the “Pakistan Government was not impressed.”

It accused Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan of disloyalty to Pakistan. It is a tragedy that this great freedom fighter spent more time in prison in the independent state of Pakistan than he had even under British rule.

According to Bacha Khan, “Though we did not commit any crimes, the treatment the Pakistan Government meted out to us from the very beginning was more cruel, and more unjust than anything we had suffered under the rule of the foreign infidels. The British never looted our homes, but the Islamic Government of Pakistan did. The British never had stopped us from holding public meetings or publishing newspapers, but the Islamic Government of Pakistan did both…I could go on and on, but what is the use?”

In the end, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was as disappointed with the reality of Pakistan as he had been unsupportive of the idea of Pakistan.

“I am afraid I do not entertain any friendly feelings for Pakistan,” he wrote in his autobiography. He continued, “Pakistan was founded on hatred. She was born not of love but of hatred and she grew up on hatred, on malice, on spite and hostility. Pakistan was created by the grace of the British in order that the Hindus and the Muslims might forever be at war and forget that they were brothers. Pakistan is unable to think in terms of peace and friendship. She wants to keep the Pakistani people under control by making them live in a nightmare of riots, assaults, and ‘holy’ war.”

“My religion is truth, love, and service to God and humanity,” Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan emphasized.

“Every religion that has come into the world has brought the message of love and brotherhood. And those who are indifferent to the welfare of their fellowmen, those whose hearts are empty of love, those who do not know the meaning of brotherhood, those who harbor hatred and resentment in their hearts, they do not know the meaning of Religion.”

I take this opportunity to salute the memory of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – Bacha Khan – and his family and followers for keeping aloft the flag of a pluralist, tolerant, democratic Pakistan under difficult circumstances.

This brings me to the topic of today’s lecture, dedicated to the memory of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. But first a word about why I chose ‘Reimagining Pakistan’ as the theme for today’s presentation.

Almost every discussion of Pakistan, especially in India, inevitably tends to be about the logic and raison d’etre of the country’s creation.

The process of partitioning a sub-continent along religious lines did not prove as neat as Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah had anticipated. Mr. Jinnah was a lawyer who saw partition as a solution to potential constitutional problems in an independent India.

In his first address to Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 –exactly 67 years ago today – Mr. Jinnah had said:

“I know there are people who do not quite agree with the division of India and the partition of the Punjab and Bengal. Much has been said against it, but now that it has been accepted, it is the duty of every one of us to loyally abide by it and honorably act according to the agreement which is now final and binding on all…. One can quite understand the feeling that exists between the two communities wherever one community is in majority and the other is in minority. But the question is, whether it was possible or practicable to act otherwise than what has been done. A division had to take place. On both sides, in Hindustan and Pakistan, there are sections of people who may not agree with it, who may not like it; but in my judgement there was no other solution, and I am sure future history will record its verdict in favour of it. And what is more, it will be proved by actual experience as we go on that that was the only solution of India's constitutional problem.”

It is clear from Mr. Jinnah’s statement that he only saw partition as a constitutional way out of a political stalemate, as he saw it, and not the beginning of a permanent state of hostility between two countries or two nations.

This explains his expectation that India and Pakistan would live side by side “like the United States and Canada,” obviously with open borders, free flow of ideas and free trade. It is also the reason why the Quaid-e-Azam insisted that his Malabar Hills house in Bombay be kept as it was so that he could return to the city where he lived most of his life after retiring as Governor-General of Pakistan.

We all know now that partition and the birth of Pakistan were not simply the end of an argument about constitutional options, as Mr. Jinnah had thought.
The entire country was plunged into communal violence, hundreds of thousands of people from both sides were butchered and millions had to flee their homes.
Instead of living as good neighbours like the United States and Canada, India and Pakistan have gone on to become adversaries in a state of constant war, a situation that has not benefitted either country but has damaged Pakistan even more.

The territory that constituted Pakistan was undivided India’s economic backyard and could not immediately provide trained manpower to lead the new country’s administration or military.
While many Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan as a result of the violence that also drove Hindus and Sikhs out of Pakistan and Muslims mainly out of Punjab, others moved to take advantage of economic and employment opportunities in the new country.

For several years after independence, higher educated migrants from India – Muhajirs, as opposed to sons of the soil --secured better jobs and higher positions in the new state of Pakistan.
Over the years, Pakistan evolved into an Islamist ideological state, a short-cut to resolving the complex inter-ethnic, social and economic dynamics among its peoples.

After the loss of its eastern wing, which became Bangladesh in 1971, Pakistan has been completely dominated by one ethnic group, the Punjabis, who tend to favour the ideological model for Pakistan and are heavily represented in the military, the media, and the bureaucracy.
Political scientist Benedict Anderson, in his book ‘Imagined Communities,’ defined a nation as "an imagined political community, imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign."
According to Anderson, a nation is a socially constructed community, joined by the imagination of people who perceive themselves as part of that group.

Many writers, including Salman Rushdie, have argued that Pakistan was “insufficiently imagined,” given the ambiguities inherent in the demand for Pakistan.
As a Pakistani born well after partition, and who has known no other homeland, I understand much of the critique of Pakistan. But I am unable to dispense with the idea of home and millions like me now know only Pakistan as their country. We are willing to discuss its history objectively and chart a different future for Pakistan but for us Pakistan is our homeland, which we will defend and improve.
Pakistan’s median age today is 21, which means that 90 million of its 180 million inhabitants are less than 21 years old and have not seen either the 1947 partition of India or the 1971 separation of Bangladesh.

For the sake of these young Pakistanis, a reimagining of Pakistan is needed, going beyond the bitterness of the 1947 partition and the subsequent disasters inflicted upon Pakistanis by their own rulers and leaders.

Pakistan, like any other nation, is not a monolith. Its people have energy, talent and aspirations for a good life like anyone else. Most foreign visitors to Pakistan, including Indians, will tell you of our hospitality, our warmth and the capabilities of individual Pakistanis they meet.
One can disagree over or even be agnostic about whether the creation of the state of Pakistan in August 1947 was a tragedy or not. But there is no doubt that the failure of Pakistanis to create a more tolerant and democratic state and the difficult reconciliation between India and Pakistan have proved catastrophic.

Ever since their nation’s creation, Pakistanis have felt compelled to defend their nationhood and to constantly define and re-define their identity.
Pakistan’s unfortunate history may justify the description of Pakistan as being “insufficiently imagined,” but imagination is by definition not a finite process.
An entity that is insufficiently imagined can be re-imagined.

Just as the imagination “can falsify, demean, ridicule, caricature and wound,” it can also serve to “clarify, intensify and unveil.”

Several Pakistanis are working, albeit with great difficulty, to re-imagine Pakistan as an inclusive, pluralist, democratic, modern state that works toward the well-being of its own people, instead of being preoccupied with endlessly defining itself, especially in relation to its neighbours.

***
From its inception Pakistan was seen as an anachronism by many. It also assumed permanent hostility from India whose leaders were opposed to partition and had predicted the demise of the new nation. The dispute between the two nations over the Himalayan territory of Jammu and Kashmir, which remains unresolved to this day, enhanced Pakistan’s confrontation with India.
Unsure of their fledgling nation’s future, the politicians, civil servants and military officers who led Pakistan in its formative years decided to exacerbate the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims that had led to partition.

Very soon after independence, “Islamic Pakistan” was defining itself through the prism of resistance to “Hindu India.” The attitude of some in India helped create that binary.
Short of resources and burdened by inheriting a large army, Pakistan also sought great power allies to help pay for the economic and military development of the new country.
The partition of British India’s assets in 1947 had left Pakistan with one-third of the British Indian army and only 17 percent of its revenues.
The military started out as the dominant institution in the new state, a dominance it has perpetuated over the years.

After several years of exercising behind-the-scenes influence, General Ayub Khan assumed power directly in 1958 and ruled through martial law. Three further direct military takeovers followed. The military has directly or indirectly dominated Pakistani politics and set Pakistan’s ideological and national security agenda since 1958.

Some scholars attribute Pakistan’s troubles to its inception and the ambiguity about what it means to be a Pakistani. In the words of one of them, “It is the country's problematic and contested relationship with Islam that has most decisively frustrated its quest for a coherent national identity and for stability as a nation state capable of absorbing the challenges of its rich and diverse society.”
The success of the Jihadi experiment against the Soviets in collaboration with the United States and much of the non-communist world encouraged Pakistan’s strategic planners to expand Jihad against India, and into post-Soviet Central Asia.

Pakistan’s sponsorship of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the presence on its territory of Islamist militants from all over the world, was the outcome of its desire to emerge as the center of global Islamic resurgence.
Ironically, not all Pakistani leaders supporting this strategy were motivated by religious fervor. In most cases, they simply embraced Islamism as a politico-military strategic doctrine that would enhance Pakistan’s prestige and position.
The focus on building an ‘ideological state’, however, has caused Pakistan to lag behind in almost all areas that define a functional modern state.

At the moment the ‘insufficiently imagined’ Pakistan, is the world’s only nuclear-armed Muslim country that has been described as slowly sliding towards state failure for at least the last two decades.
As a Pakistani, it offends and worries me that the rest of the world sees my state as being constantly on the brink of failure. I am not willing to retreat into a shell and blame the rest of the world for asking tough questions about my country. I, along with other of my countrymen, want to find answers to the world’s tough questions.
The return of chaotic democracy has exacerbated Pakistan’s ethnic, religious and social divisions even as it has had the positive effect of giving its people a voice.
The country’s most powerful institution, the military, is having to contend with several parallel insurgencies and is no longer able to fully ensure order or security.
Islamist extremists have become sufficiently emboldened to attack army headquarters and major military installations.
Although almost 36,695 Pakistanis have been killed by terrorists since 2008, both civilian and military leaders have yet to demonstrate resolve in confronting the challenge of terrorism.
Pakistan is strategically located at the crossroads of three significant regions: The Gulf, Central Asia and South Asia. It borders Iran, Afghanistan, China and India, all of whom are important for different reasons.

Pakistan’s economy is stagnant, its population is increasing rapidly, and its institutions of state are too tied to a national ideology rooted in Islamist discourse to be able to address its multi-dimensional challenges.
With terrorists trained in Pakistan showing up all over Europe and in places as far from one another as Mali and Indonesia, Pakistan’s change of direction is now a global concern.
International assistance, especially from the United States and some from China and Saudi Arabia, has brought Pakistan back from the brink in the past. But rising Xenophobia and Islamo-nationalism –exhibited prominently after the discovery of Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town –make continued U.S. support for Pakistan difficult. In recent years, China has also been restrained in its support for Pakistan because of concerns over presence of Uygur Jihadists.
It is no longer easy for Pakistan’s military or civilian elite to create a semblance of stability with covert arrangements with the United States or with China.

Distrust between the erstwhile allies is at an all-time high. A Fox News Poll in 2012 showed that 74% of Americans do not view Pakistan as an ally and want to cut off all aid to Pakistan.
A recent Pew Poll showed Pakistani disapproval of the United States at 59%, compared with 80% with an unfavourable view of the U.S. in 2012.
The same poll shows that only 30% of the Chinese people have a favourable view of Pakistan. Pakistan ranks among the countries least liked in the U.S. in a Gallup Poll, alongside Iran and North Korea.

If the influence of Islamists in Pakistan continues to rise, it would most likely be increasingly adversarial towards the U.S. and the west. Islamist enthusiasm for creating an Islamic East Turkestan would not sit well with China. This would only increase Pakistan’s isolation.
In any case, Pakistan’s direction as a nation cannot and should not be determined by the U.S. and other outsiders and the principal actors in this process would have to be Pakistanis.
Pakistan has faced a deep crisis of identity and suffers from chronically weak state institutions. Its fears about its viability and security have led it to seek alliance with the U.S. on the one hand and to pursue a nuclear deterrent and sub-conventional military capability (i.e. Islamist terrorism) against India (and Afghanistan), on the other.

Despite the constant re-writing of constitutions, Pakistan is far from developing a consistent system and form of government.
Political polarization persists between Islamists and secularists, between civilians and the military, and among different ethnic and political groups.
Political factions have often found it difficult to cooperate with each other, or to submit themselves to rule of law, often with the aid of a military intelligence apparatus that plays a behind-the-scenes role in exaggerating political divisions to justify military intervention.
Pakistan’s military, which dominates the Pakistani state even in the presence of an elected government, has developed a policy tripod that includes emphasis on Islam as a national unifier, hostility towards India as the principal foreign policy objective and an alliance with the United States that helps defray the costs of Pakistan’s massive military expenditures.
These policy precepts encourage extremist Islamism and obstruct Pakistan’s evolution as a normally functioning state.

Pakistan’s pursuit of strategic objectives disproportionate to its capacity has been inadvertently encouraged by its alliance with the United States.
This convergence of potential internal collapse and external factors has led to what may be described as ‘the Pakistan crisis.’
Some scholars attribute the military’s continued interest in political power to its institutional business interests. Others offer more sympathetic views of the military’s role, suggesting that Pakistan’s complex circumstances, rather than design, have shaped Pakistan’s history including the military’s ascendancy.
Most agree that the military remains and is likely to remain the dominant policy-maker in Pakistan and is unlikely to easily change its worldview.
In all crucial areas, the role of Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus, principally the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is significant as the covert driver of Pakistani policy and any change in Pakistan’s direction would involve understanding of the ISI’s objectives and methods.
Pakistan’s deep state insists on defining Pakistani nationalism narrowly and focuses on delegitimizing all those who offer alternative visions for the country as traitors.
Its strength lies in creating the illusion of virtual unanimity in Pakistan on critical issues such as relations with India and Afghanistan, the role of Islam, Jihadism and attitudes towards the rest of the world.

The disproportionate focus on ideology, military capability and external alliances has weakened Pakistan internally.
One element of national power –the military one—has been developed at the cost of all other elements of national power.
The country’s institutions, ranging from schools and universities to the judiciary, are in a state of general decline. The economy’s stuttering growth is dependent largely on the flow of concessional flows of external resources.

Pakistan’s GDP stands at $222 billion in absolute terms and $ 547 billion in purchasing price parity -- the smallest economy of any country that has so far tested nuclear weapons.
Pakistan today suffers from massive urban unemployment, rural under-employment, illiteracy and low per capita income.
Twenty two percent of the population lives below the poverty line and another 21 per cent lives just above it, resulting in almost half the people of Pakistan being very poor.
It is little comfort for Pakistanis living in poverty when they are told that poverty across the border in India or Afghanistan is even starker.
Soon after independence, 16.4 percent of Pakistan’s population was literate compared with 18.3 percent of the much larger population in India.

For almost fifteen years, Pakistan made no allocation for literacy in its national budget.
By 2011 India had managed to attain 74.04 percent literacy while Pakistan’s literacy rate stood at around 55 percent. What was a 2 percent difference in literacy rates has expanded into a 20 percent difference in 67 years.
In 2009 Pakistan allocated 2.7 percent of its budget for education and the school life expectancy in Pakistan is seven years.
A staggering 38% of Pakistanis between the school-going age of five and fifteen are completely out of school.
With a population of 180-190 million out of which 60% fall in the working age category of 15-64 and another 35% under 14 years of age, Pakistan has a demographic dividend which can also turn into a demographic nightmare.
The low literacy rate and inadequate investment in education has led to a decline in Pakistan’s technological base, which in turn hampers economic modernization.
Textiles are the country’s major industry but despite being a major cotton-producing nation, Pakistan has been unable to become a leader in value added textile products.
With one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world of around 9 percent, a GDP growth rate ranging between 1.7-2.4 percent and population growth rate of 1.5 percent, Pakistan needs foreign as well as domestic investment in addition to drastic changes in local laws all of which need broad political consensus and stability both of which are lacking.

Over the decades Pakistan has managed to evade crises and failure status primarily because the international community has bailed out Pakistan.
With almost 40 percent of its population urbanized the government spends around 2.6% on public healthcare. As a result social services are also in a state of decline.

On the other hand, Pakistan spends almost 6 percent of its GDP on defense and is still unable to match the conventional forces of India, which outspends Pakistan 3 to 1 while allocating less than 3 percent of GDP to military spending.
There is an alternative vision of Pakistan as a pluralist, multi-ethnic, modern democratic Muslim state functioning under rule of law for the material well-being of all its citizens.
But in recent years, those articulating or supporting this alternative vision have been marginalized as a result of the dominance of Pakistan’s national discourse by Islamists and Islamo-nationalists.
Reimagining Pakistan involves changing the nature of the Pakistani state, from an ideological Islamic one to a state that that is pragmatic in defining its national interest and functional in attaining it.
The first step in reimagining Pakistan would be to abandon the narrow ideological paradigm of Pakistani nationalism.

Pakistan is here to stay and no one in the world wants it dismembered if it functions effectively as a responsible international citizen.
Armed with nuclear weapons Pakistan does not need to live in fear or insecurity.
The state of insecurity fostered in Pakistan is psychological and should now be replaced with a logical self-confidence.
Once pluralism and secularism are no longer dirty words in my country, and all national discussions need not be framed within the confines of an Islamist ideology, it will become easier for Pakistan to tackle the Jihadi menace.
It goes without saying that there should be no support from the state for any militant Jihadi group based on false strategic premises.
Jihadi terrorism is now a threat to Pakistan and must be eliminated for Pakistan’s sake.
The shift away from ideological nationalism to functional nationalism –“We are Pakistanis because we were born in Pakistan” as opposed to “We are Pakistanis because our forebears resolved to create an Islamic state”—will help change the milieu in which various Islamist extremist and Jihadi groups recruit and operate in Pakistan.
Once the state has resolved to end support to all Jihadis and is reconciled to a pluralist Pakistan open to multiple visions for the country’s future, extremists would have to contend for Pakistani hearts and minds rather than having a captive following generated by a national narrative taught in schools and promoted by the national media.
Pakistan must also overcome archaic notions of national security. Instead of viewing ourselves as a ‘warrior nation’ we should see ourselves as a ‘trading nation’ that can take advantage of our location for economic purposes.
Pakistan could easily be the trans-shipment route for goods and services between India, the Middle East and Central Asia. It could have oil and gas pipelines running through it, with attending benefits.
India and Afghanistan would be major trading partners instead of being viewed as permanent enemies or strategic threats.
High literacy, global connectivity, increased agricultural and industrial productivity, and a prosperous citizenry would be the goals of the state in a re-imagined Pakistan.
These objectives would replace Pan-Islamism, Jihadism, and pursuit of parity with India and Strategic depth which have been Pakistan’s unattained ambitions of the past.
Only by reimagining itself can Pakistan find peace with itself and its neighbours and stop being viewed by the rest of the world as a troubled state, a failing state or a crisis state.
I wish and pray that this process of re-imagination can overtake the tide of extremism and intolerance which is currently sweeping my country
Thank you!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Islamia college century

Islamia College Peshawar turns 100 (1913-2013)
Note: A variation of this piece was originally published in The News, November 16, 2009.
By Aziz Akhmad

The idea of building the Islamia college first sprouted in the minds of its founders in 1909. The work on the building started in 1912, and within a short period of time the main college building along with a high school and three hostels was completed, in 1913. The college was elevated to a university in 2007.



When one looks at the old, faded, black-and-white pictures of the college taken at the time, one can’t help noticing the stark contrast between this amazingly beautiful brick building and the surrounding wilderness. It is as if the building was delivered, overnight, by a genie to grant a boy’s wish in a fairytale.

Actually, there were two “boys” in this fairytale, one a British and the other a native. They, after making their wish, which was not much different from a child’s fantasy, transformed themselves into a powerful duo of genies and delivered this jewel of a building along with a blueprint of modern liberal arts education.

The British “boy” was George Roos-Keppel, a “soldier-sahib,” that peculiar breed of British officers in India whose careers crisscrossed between army and civil service and who, during their long stints in the frontier regions, got to understand the native people so well that their relationship developed into one of mutual respect and admiration. He was a three-times chief commissioner (equivalent of governor) of the province between 1908 and 1919. He not only spoke fluent Pashto but also wrote books on Pashto language and grammar.

The native “boy” in the story was Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum, a Pakhtun. He started his career as a naib-tehsildar and, through diligence and loyalty to the service, after serving in different districts and tribal Agencies, became Political Agent of the Khyber Agency. After retirement, Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum joined politics, but that is another story.

Keppel-Qayyum was a synergic pair. They had the vision, drive and the influence to raise the required funds for their project. The names of these two individuals are synonymous with Islamia College Peshawar just as Sir Syed’s is with Aligarh Muslim University. Their life-size paintings hang in the main congregation hall of the college, named Roos-Keppel Hall.

The college was modeled after the Aligarh Muslim College, which, in turn, tried to emulate Oxford and Cambridge. Black sherwani, which became the college uniform, was an import from Aligarh.
Islamia college was conceived as a liberal arts college, aimed at imparting general knowledge of social and physical sciences and developing intellectual capacities of students, as opposed to professional, vocational or technical college imparting education in specialized fields.

Notwithstanding the prefix “Islamia”, the college was not meant to, and did not, give priority to religious studies over social and physical sciences and languages, which formed the core of college curriculum.
The college emblem, painted on the fa├žade overlooking the college quadrangle, carried the inscription, “Rabb-i-zidni ilma” (O Lord, enhance me in my knowledge), which, down the years, has been copied by countless schools and colleges all over the country as their emblem. (By the way, this was the only scriptural inscription anywhere on the college or hostel walls.)

The Maulana we miss

All pictures via Islamia college website
The religious instruction in the college was limited to a weekly one-hour class of what was then called deeniyat (now changed to Islamiat), held in the college mosque, taught by Nurul Haq Nadvi, popularly known as Dean Saib, for he was the dean of the Faculty of Theology.
Dean Saib was an unforgettable character. Older college alumni may not remember many of their teachers, but everyone you talk to remembers Dean Sahib and will fondly tell you a story or two about him.

Unlike the present-day maulanas of different stripes, who wear long beards, a variety of exotic attire and a permanent stern expression, Dean Sab wore a short and tidy beard, a round karakul cap, a well-tailored sherwani and shalwar --- and an easy smile. In the afternoons, he was seen on the college tennis courts, in white shirt and trousers (the standard tennis dress those days), playing tennis.
Other than receiving his formal religious education in Nadva, Lakhnow, Dean Sahib had also spent time at Jamia al-Azhar, in Egypt. His sermons were not the usual fire and brimstone we hear these days from the loudspeakers. They were mostly about ikhlaqiat, that is, etiquette, manners and morality. He talked more about life in this world than in the hereafter. He never talked of divisive religious issues.

Dean Saib had an impish sense of humor. He observed students, both on and off campus, and then used those observations in the class to talk about social niceties and etiquettes. His “advisories” generally came as digressions from the main lecture. They were blunt but laced with humor. For example, when he noticed during the inspection tours of hostels (a weekly routine carried out by different faculty members) that some students had their portraits framed and hung in their rooms, or displayed on their bedside tables, he digressed in his next lecture to talk about narcissism (self love). Sensing that the students may not understand a nuanced message, he summed it up bluntly: “Displaying your own portraits on the wall makes your room look like a barbershop, naai ki dukaan”. Everyone understood that, and many, if not all, portraits came off the walls and the bedside tables in the hostels.

Of course, Dean Saab also talked about the early history of Islam and the importance of some of the religious rituals, but his sermons were most interesting when he digressed, which he often did, and talked of day-to-day human behavior. And we always looked forward to those digressions.
A first-year student once walked into the mosque, in the deeniyat class, wearing shorts. It was soon after the physical training (PT) class in the morning and he didn’t have the time to change into regular college uniform. Also, he was new to the college --- and had an English mother.
Dean Sahib gave him a quizzical look and said: “Bachiya, za, nan sta chhutti da, o bia uniform ke raza.” (Son, take the day off today, and next time come in college uniform.) There was no anger in his admonition, only amusement. When the boy left, Dean Sahib told the class, rather impishly, “bare legs can be distracting”. The boys giggled and elbowed each other in the ribs.
We went to Dean Saib’s class for such nuggets, not for angry sermons.

- The writer twitters at @azizakhmad and his email address is @azizakhmad@gmail.com.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Third Battle of Panipat: In the shadow of the black mango tree

this article was originally published in January 2013

What parents sowed, the children reap/
Who’s the benefactor?/
Who is the thief?/
When the corn came in, the knives came out;
Brother fought brother for every sheaf/
One sinned, another bears the grief/
What parents sowed, the children reap
— Bulleh Shah

picture courtesy British Library
While tensions have soared between Pakistan and India on the Line of Control (LoC) once again, 252 years ago on January 14, 1761 a battle unlike any other was fought in the region. It was the third and last battle of Panipat when two great subcontinental empires clashed – the Afghan Durrani alliance versus the Maratha confederacy led by the Bhao.

The battle has gone down into myth and legend, seen by some in India and Pakistan as a war between faiths and beliefs. It is seen by the former as a defeat that ended any chance of a united India under native rule and for the latter as a victory for Muslims over the growth of Hindu power. For many others, it is a little-remembered footnote to history which means little and has no significance.

The reality is something far more complicated and interesting. The final battle fought 90 kilometres north of modern-day Delhi at the site of Babar and Humayun’s victory, was in fact a run-up to almost a year of skirmishes and smaller battles. The famed black mango tree that has long since disappeared was so named because the mangoes of the tree had turned black as a result of all the blood spilt in the fields of Panipat.

Popular legend has it that it was the exhortations of Shah Waliullah warning against the rise of the Marathas that played a big role in the invasion by Ahmad Shah Durrani of Afghanistan. In fact, it was the sudden Maratha sweep over northern India that ousted Ahmad Shah’s son, Timur, from Lahore and his fleeing for his life to Peshawar that triggered the backlash.

Another myth is to look at the war in religious terms, when in fact the lines were not so clear. Many powerful clans of Rajputs and Jats refused to assist the Marathas who had become overconfident in their military ability. Similarly, one of the most powerful contingents in the battle was led by a man of Pakhtun descent, Ibrahim ‘Gardi’. His famed contingent of French trained Muslims loyally and to the last fought side by side with the Marathas.

On the other hand, Ahmad Shah Durrani reached out to many Hindu and Sikh leaders and ensured their neutrality in the battle fought. He also had a bigger challenge when having to deal with an age-old problem of sectarian disputes within his allies. Again at several crucial moments, this almost derailed the Afghan alliance which, in the run-up to the battle, consisted of Ahmad Shah Durrani’s army, the Rohillas Afghans and the army of Nawab Shuja-u-Daulah, the Nawab of the Kingdom of Oudh (modern day Lucknow).

The final battle fought saw the Afghan alliance outmanoeuvre the lumbering Marathas and finally encircle them in a two-month-long siege. Ever patient, Ahmad Shah held back his over eager fighters, much like today where we have hawks who see war as a game of sport. Finally exhausted and with no hope of reinforcements, the Marathas charged their enemy. Despite the odds, their bravery was not in doubt, as they nearly shattered the Afghan centre. The Afghan grand vizier Shah Wali climbed off his horse and pleaded to no avail to his soldiers: “Whither would you run, friends, your country is far from here.”

By the afternoon, Ahmad Shah deployed his elite Qizalbash reserve to the attack and the tide finally turned. The Maratha rout turned into a massacre. Amidst the carnage there were examples of decency. Nawab Shuja-ud-Daulah would intervene repeatedly to save many a person amidst the bloodshed that followed. As would Ahmad Shah when the Bhao and his beloved nephew’s bodies were found.

The Bhao, it is said, killed many of his enemies before finally being killed himself. He may have lost the battle but in Ahmad Shah’s eyes the Bhao was a brave warrior so he ensured both he and his nephew were buried according to Hindu custom despite his commanders’ furious objections.

Ibrahim Khan and his ‘Gardis’ were not to be so lucky. The Gardis were executed to the man except for Ibrahim Khan. Legend has it that the bleeding Ibrahim Khan was placed in a hole which was then filled with salt, and suffering horrific pain and in the blazing heat of the day, he slowly died.

The battle had been won but at what cost? There was no great glory in this victory. The Maratha army was to be rebuilt within a decade and again be knocking at the gates of Delhi. But in the eyes of the people their image as being undefeatable was gone forever. For the Afghans, Ahmad Shah would go down in history as the father of the nation, honoured by those far and wide as the ‘King of Kings’ but would earn no rest due to his increasingly brutal suppression of revolts in the Punjab.

Still importantly, for the Afghans of the time and long after, he was the man who turned his back on the throne of Delhi to be with his people once again and not a man who fought a religious war of Muslim versus Hindu.

Far further afield, the real victors of the war were then just a small trading company – the East India Company that had recently conquered the kingdom of Bengal. Perhaps that is the real lesson of Panipat today. With jingoism, sabre-rattling, bullets and animosity again raging between Pakistan and India, there is a lesson to be learnt from history. That nations and kingdoms forget that one unintended consequence to war is that sometimes the winner is neither of the sides that wage the battle on the field.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The prison

by Farah Samuel

Penitentiary, dungeon, cell, dark room are all names of that one place I had the most horrific perception of in my head second to hell. A place where no sane desires to be at. It is a place least spoken about and least accessible. A place nobody even wants to pass by. Yes, I am referring to a jail. As a child I had always dreaded even the thought of being captivated in a jail. I had always pictured it as a gloomy small dark and smelly room with some crazy people behind the bars. Of course those who commit a crime, attempt a murder or are accused of heist are crazy people. For me those were the people who are usually bashed to death if not given a life sentence or hanged. I used to watch crime scene shows on the television and shrills of cold ran through my spine each time I would watch a gruff horrifying face ogling the jailer, behind the bars. I would always think what kind of a life is it that one does not own anymore? The life of a prisoner is only dedicated to disappointment and longing for court hearings which is a matter of fate. Ah! What a pity. I imagined prison inmates as scary creatures, people who can’t be humans for they have perpetrated several crimes and violated the laws. The perception was no less than that of a monster but as much as I was afraid of it, deep inside I actually wanted to visit a jail at least once in my lifetime. I wanted to see and feel the dust of sin, agony and guilt that resides in there and has accumulated innumerous layers of a permanent abode.

The Visit
I would not have ever gotten a chance to visit a jail just by knocking at the door and saying hello to the constable and asking him to let me in nor would have I ever asked my parents to take me to the jail on a leisure trip. It only became possible when I started working as a social activist. I recently got a chance to visit the Central Jail Peshawar- Women Wing. Now let me expound on the what should I say a dreadful experience or an eye opener, whatsoever, my visit. As I entered, I could feel the terror wandering within; the officers and their suspicious eyes. For a moment I felt as though I was their new victim. I shook my head and continued walking. After the security checks what I see is an old building, a big hall just like a dormitory or no, it was more like a dungeon infact that is what it was. I entered inside the hall and there are women, some excited others surprised. I wondered what they were thinking. As they greeted me, the tension in my body started fading away and after a while I discerned no terror at all. There were not more than 10 prisoners. There was a woman crying, on inquiring I found out that her court hearing had been delayed and all the others were consoling her. That was to my surprise something too different from what I had always thought of the inmates, as a child. I never knew they could sympathize with one another and act empathically but they did. I witnessed a few making jewelry. They told me they get paid for it. I did get a necklace for myself just as a memorabilia from the jail and to encourage them for such healthy activities.
While I was interacting, I saw a beautiful young girl with a cheerful smile. My first reaction was very obvious; what must this young lady would have done to be here and on probing, she smiled with embarrassment and said:

“I’m here under section 302-a murder case.”
The constable told me with irony that she was possessed with spirits and had murdered her two kids. I just couldn’t believe what I had heard and after that couldn’t say a word. I thought to myself which mother would ever want to kill her children, the ones she bore in her womb for 9 months but nevertheless there are reasons behind everything.

Amidst all those thoughts, I managed to speak to another woman who was in her late 20’s and asked her for how long she has been in Peshawar Jail and under what accusation. She said:
I’m basically from Mianwalli and have been accused of theft. I used to live in a shanty house with my family. I was a domestic maid and have been accused of theft from the house where I worked. I did not steal anything but even after asserting many times that I didn’t steal, I was put behind the bars. I have been here for the last 9 months.”

Another woman who was sitting quietly in a corner was someone whom I did not expect to come across with. She was quiet and didn’t speak at all. When I inquired from the rest of the inmates as to what had she done they all unanimously uttered:

“She murdered her husband by ripping his chest apart and ate his heart.”
I tried speaking to her but she would not reply and refused to speak to me about anything. That made me curious as well and I wish if I could delve some answers out of her but the stern look on her face warded me off. I felt as she still has a lot of anger and rage within her and had no compunctions in doing what she did.

There was another woman who was carrying an infant in her lap and told me that she came to the jail while she was expecting and her child’s birth place is this horrific place. Her domestic issues had forced her to take the law in her hands and she too had murdered her husband.

Each one of them was living her own misery. Honestly, I did not have anything to say to them, I could not comprehend what those women were going through. Two senior citizens seemed so impervious to their situation as though they had long ago accepted there is no way out and this place is home. There are many such blood curdling stories to share of women who have committed theft, murdered their children and have eaten the heart of their husbands




. I just cannot contemplate what made them do so but I can also not say that there has been no reason to do what they did.
I do wish and pray that next time I’m there, I get to hear that many of them have lived their punishment and are now set free to be good and responsible citizens.