Thursday, 7 December 2017

QK Archives: Election Day 1997 Lakki Marwat



by Zeenath Jehan

2nd. February 1997.

9:30 A.M.

It was a wet and dreary day when the plane carrying me to Dera Ismail Khan took off from Peshawar airport. Elections (on 3rd. February) beckoned. Many of my relatives were standing from various National and Provincial constituencies, and experienced and reliable polling agents were in great demand.

Many Southern District constituencies have privately disenfranchised women; but my aunt, Kulsum Saifullah, has been working in Ghazni Khel for the last 26 years. Being a social worker since her early days, she had made women aware of this right, and had enough clout to override any reservations the men might have. So it was GhazniKhel where I was heading to, to be Humayun Saifullah's polling agent. Humayun was standing from PF 61 and PF57; Saleem from PF62 and Anwar from NA20.

Waiting for the plane to take off I had thought of how, as children, we used to argue fiercely about the merits of Khattak Vs Marwat. The Saifullah brothers still have not won the argument. It is a Khattak, their mother, who is the architect of their success, although she would prefer to give them the whole credit. Humayun, six months elder to me, was my childhood playmate and favourite cousin. He is a warm, nurturing person who can be called a 'good' person in every sense of the word, without any reservations. I remembered he always loved a good argument; enough to argue both sides if faced with an indifferent opponent. I remembered how Anwar's droll humour and his flair for mimicry used to have us in stitches. Saleem, three years younger to me, used to be a skinny, naughty child with an infectious laugh, and had to be cajoled for every morsel he ate.

Humayun's daughter, Hoor was accompanying me to GhazniKhel. It was drizzling when we took off, but we soon flew out of the bad weather. The view was breathtaking. Layers upon layers of snow-capped mountains, ringed with clouds, rose to the right. We soon ran into thick clouds again, but, in the distance some mighty mountain reared their heads still higher, and held my interest in the otherwise blank view.

Soon the terrain changed again. Now there were rough, creased bare mountains below. I asked the hostess about them. She said the slate-grey-bare ridges were the hills of Bannu. Then the hills ended abruptly, and we were flying above the wide, flat expanse of the green plains of Bannu. The desert of Dera Ismail Khel was visible in the distance, and still further were more towering peaks. As the plane gradually lost altitude, we were buffeted and enveloped by more clouds. Tipping to the right we over flew the green fields that surround DIK proper, and began our descent.

11:00 A.M.

A car was awaiting us and we set off. We were soon driving past the Lucky Cement Factory and Pezu Bazaar. There was no electioneering in progress. Although the bazaar was crowded, not a single woman was in sight. The cement-leaching Pezu hills were bare of trees, just brush, rocks and sand. The landscape kept changing, each with a charm of its own as it was so different from what I had been used to. Now it was flat, dotted with 'Keekar' and 'Guzz' trees with 'Channa' and Wheat fields beyond. Then we drove past ShahbazKhel and TatarKhel and I wondered whether the descendants of Tartars were settled there.

Finally we arrived at GhazniKhel.This is when the driver chirruped up and asked where he was to take us. This posed a problem as we did not have a clue. Finally he decided to stop at the GhazniKhel District Council Rest-house and ask someone where 'Ma'mmy' could be found. Kulsum Saifullah is 'Ma'mmy' to all the Marwats. Without a second thought a man hopped into the car and took us to the Saifullah's house in GhazniKhel. This was a simple village house, with a brick paved courtyard, two bedrooms leading off the polished verandah and a very basic kitchen. An outhouse and a 'baithak or hujra' (men's quarter) made up the rest of the house. The piles of mattresses in a corner of the verandah bespoke of many over night guests. A diesel generator and the satellite dish on the roof showed that all the comforts of modern technology were not completely dispensed with. A boy was halfheartedly chopping firewood in a corner of the courtyard. We were greeted by a bevy of waiting village women in their sunday best, (gota, kinari, the works!). Each wanted to shake the hand of "Mayun" (as Humayun is called in the village) Khan's sister and daughter and asked the usual questions of how many children we had. One old lady wondered how long it must have taken us to arrive from far away Peshawar while another showed off her worldly knowledge and said we must have flown in an airplane, which was fast. Ofcourse, politics was seriously discussed too!

They seemed amused by Imran's confession that he had no money to arrange transport for his voters. They were not impressed by the connotations of his confession. They were offended. One woman told us that he had collected a whole lot of money for his hospital and had married a rich woman and yet would not part with any for the comfort of his voters! While I had been chatting with the women, Hoor had been on the phone. She found that her grandmother was in Bannu. Getting away was a little tricky as half the women wanted to come with us. They were carrying slips of paper with 'sifarish'.

We draped ourselves in our 3 yards long chaddors and covered our noses before stepping into the car. Yes, here it is not enough that you are modestly dressed and wrapped in a chaddor; only the eyes are supposed to be visible if you want to be taken for a respectable woman.

The road from GhazniKhel to Bannu is straight as an arrow. We passed brassica fields beyond Tajazai (do descendants of Tajiks live here?). Children playing cricket in the villages that seemed to merge into the earth-toned landscape, make it all seem so familiar ... yet so very different. The number of petrol pumps made me think that Anwar must not have had anything else to do as Petroleum Minister, except give his constituents petrol pump licenses!

Next came Gambela with masses of Sohan Halwa in every shop. Every petrol pump we passed had queues of "datsuns" as they are indiscriminately called, waiting to be filled up for D-day tomorrow. Then came Sarai Naurang, where Anwar had his base camp. It is a large hodge-podge, higgledy-piggledy market town. Tongas, buses, "datsuns", cars, donkey carts, rehras, people and yet more people wandered around all over. The mud and mire add to its unattractive look.

I was fascinated by all I saw, but Hoor concentrated on her worry beads. Once away from population, I quickly pulled down the chaddor from my nose, it was suffocating. Our guide insisted on giving us messages for "Mayun Khan". It is always like this in an election. Each person proves his loyalty by whispering of the treachery of another; enough to make one feel paranoid and friendless. We finally arrived in Bannu, famous for its masala and 'naswar'. There was more mud, more 'datsun', suzuki, tongas and the everpresent sea of male humanity.

Armed men crowded the gate of the Bannu house. This is necessary in trigger-happy Bannu. Heads bent, noses covered, we hurried into the 'zenana'. The place was awash with women and girls. After freshening up I went to the durree-covered backyard where groups of women were sunning themselves and chattering incessantly. There was a lot of talk about Kabir Khan, Anwar's opponent, who had opened his coffers after the Supreme Court ruling. The gossip was that he had gone from door-to-door dishing out 1000 Rs. notes to everyone, in exchange of a promise to vote for him.

Meanwhile, groups of girls were being called up, polling station by polling station. Aunty Kulsum, newspaper in hand, tested their reading and writing ability. Many were found wanting and sent off with a flea in their ear. I do not know how anyone could make themselves understood above the din of the loud babbling voices in the open-air backyard! I finally beat a hasty retreat from the cacophony to the comparative peace of the bedroom I was to share with two other cousins.

An SOS came from the person incharge of vehicles. The Commissioner Kohat, to deploy the soldiers the next day had requisitioned One hundred and twenty-five coasters. That they had been paid for by the Saifullahs was conveniently ignored. Aunty Kulsum was up half the night trying to get her vehicles back, but no amount of arguments and cajolery worked.

We were each posted to stations that were expected to be troublesome, and began working out an election strategy, then finally turned in. We had to get up at 4:00 A.M to reach our stations in time for polling, which was to begin at 7:00A.M. Then the bedroom door creaked open and someone said "Heloo". Humayun was silhouetted in the doorway. Screaming with delight I jumped out of bed. A round of hugging and kissing took place (we are a very expressive family), and then he told us about his campaign and what we were to expect the next day. Humayun asked which station I was going to be at. MinaKhel, I told him. I knew my citified ways were no match for the bristling, crude vulgarity that village women are capable of. I was not looking forward to it. Humayun comforted me, saying he would be in Lakki Marwat and all I had to do was call for help. Then Anwar turned up. After another bout of hugging, kissing and squealing, he soon had us in stitches, relating tales of Irfanullah Marwat, mimicking him to a 'T'. Presumably, Irfan had been going along the campaign trail, with a drummer and dancing boys. His trump card at every meeting was when he proudly announced to his bemused constituents that he had earned an M.A degree in 'Badmashi' in Karachi. I for one, believed his boast!

D-Day 3rd. February 1997.

4:00 A.M

The alarm went off. I tried ignoring it. Finally Hasina turned it off. Sehri was taken in silence. I had a knot in my stomach. Tension was high. Finally, wrapping myself in my chaddor (not forgetting the nose) and pinning on my badge, I was ready to face ELECTION '97. Outside, the vehicles were starting off on their job of collecting the voters for polling. The day was just beginning to dawn when Samina and I set off at 6:15. By then all the vehicles had left and the place was eerily quiet. Samina (Anwer's wife) was to go to her father's village, IsmailKhel. We turned off the Bannu/Lakki road on to the winding road to IsmailKhel. All the roads here were surprisingly good, or not so surprising, since they led to the ex-presidents village. The Saifullah brothers had put their years in Government to good use. The quiet village seemed fast asleep, although Inamullah Khan's household (our destination) was humming with activity.The sun was now rising over the towering date palms and the brassica fields.

7:00 A.M.

The coaster driver was from Peshawar and did not know the way to MinaKhel, so an unwashed young man in a khaki chaddor was sent with me as a guide. It seems all the men here wear khaki chaddors. I am not quite sure whether that was the original colour.

By now 'datsuns', Suzuki's and coasters, flying the flags of various parties, were driving up to be loaded with their precious cargo of voters. I was getting edgy. Voting must have already started. We passed through Sarai Naurang, where the debris of yesterday still made the sleeping marketplace look untidy. Then we ran into a heavy mist. Sitting knee-to-jowl I was sure the coaster owner had picked up a few tips from the PIA. He had added as many rows of seats as was humanly possible, without making his passengers sit atop one another.

8:00 A.M

By the time we reached TajaZai the sun was piercing the clouds and we picked up speed. Deciding not to waste any more time I asked the driver to take me to Humayun's Lakki Marwat office. Here I met Neelo who looked harassed. She was glad to see me as she had discovered by accident, that two new polling stations had been set up overnight, and she had no one to staff them. Shifting to her car it still took us half an hour before we could leave, as she kept calling out instructions about gathering up girls for polling duty.

8:45 A.M

I arrived at Government School No. 2. Neither Anwar nor Humayun had an agent in the station. Of the ten contestants, only four had known of the new station. They were said to enjoy official patronage. There were ten of us in the station. Two returning officers and two assistant presiding officers, and six polling agents. One agent from Khalid Lateef's camp seemed on very friendly terms with the lady officers and my Paranoia was beginning to raise its head again. I felt like such an outsider. Luckily I had arrived when the third vote was being polled and I got down to business right away. One lady was carrying on a long conversation with the returning officer about where to affix the stamp. I objected. The other agents jumped to her support. It took almost fifteen minutes before Havaldar A.Razzaq Chowdrey, of the 21st. FF brought everything under control. He had been given the unenviable task of keeping the peace in a women's polling station. I must say his behaviour that day raised my flagging trust in the armed forces.

Neelo turned up with a local girl to help me. The lady officers recognized her and I felt a little better. Irfanullah Marwat's agents came without voter's lists. They hung around for a few minutes and then left. We never saw them again. Next the mother of an assistant presiding officer came. She asked us all whether we had any objections to her stamping the ballot paper for her mother. We did not .So she went ahead and polled the vote for her mom.

Since there was nothing to do, we all began to chat. I asked Kabir Khan's agent/relative whether it was true that he had spent crores in this election. She proudly informed us that he had kept 20 lakhs in each village as surety for the development work he had promised during his campaign. Private money for public works? This was a new one on me!

9:30 A.M

Only five votes polled so far. At this rate, with an average of one vote every thirty minutes, we could expect only eighteen votes to be polled during the nine hours from 7:00 A.M to 4:00 P.M.

A young girl came to vote. It happened that I checked up her age and found that she was forty-three. This I did not believe! I told her that I was going to challenge her vote and she would go to prison if she was polling a bogus vote. She ran out of the room. The presiding officer, Mr. Abdus Samad brought her back and said she could poll her vote and he would guarantee nothing happened to her. He tried to discourage me from challenging her vote. That is when I pulled out my press card and pinned it to my chest. He then objected to my being a polling agent and wanted to have me thrown out. But that was easier said than done. I browbeat the poor man in fluent english and he retreated.

10:30 A.M

Voters were now arriving in twos and threes, but they were mostly the opponent's voters. Two women went behind the curtained partition where they were to stamp the ballot papers. I raised a hue and cry and was accused of intimidating the voters. Then came another bogus voter. The ID card gave her age as twenty years younger than what the voter's list said. I refused to allow her to poll her vote which really made the presiding officer (Abdus Samad) very angry. After another hot exchange with him I threatened to send for Humayun. Abdus Samad called the Additional Session Judge Subhan Sher. In very bad english, Mr. Subhan Sher said it made no difference what the voter's list said and I had no right to object. When I continued to argue, he became nasty and rude, I returned the compliment, but, might is right. So according to the ruling of the learned judge, the information in the voter's list was disregarded. I found this most disturbing and he could not give me a satisfactory reply as to the function of the information on the voter's list if it was to be disregarded with impunity. This is when I began to challenge all voters who had discrepant information on their ID cards and the voter's list. The presiding officer was most displeased with me!

In all this hullabaloo one woman walked off with the stamp. After searching high and low, it was found in the shrubs. It had barely been recovered when another was caught at the door, walking off with anther stamp, she gave it up amidst peals of laughter. The Havaldar was most amused, he kept his good humour all along.

1:00 P.M

By now I had been challenging every suspect vote and was running out of change (2 Rs. per challenge). The sister-in-law of Mr. Khalid Lateef, was also very, very angry with me. She came charging up to my table and said,

" What is your name? I will report you to Begum Kulsum Saifullah for being a nuisance."

"Zeenath" I shot back at her. That is when her polling agent told her that I was infact, Kulsum's niece. She kept her distance after that.

I was hungry and thirsty from all the arguments. Three long hours to go, and the minutes were barely crawling by.

1:10 P.M

I halted the voting since two of the Returning Officers had gone off for ablutions and prayers. I told the young sipahi not to allow any voters in until the staff had returned. While waiting for the staff, we began chatting. One woman loudly asked herself whether Kabir's womenfolk had any conception about the voting process. This raised a loud chuckle. Then another told us of how his mother was found busy praying for the success of all the candidates. She was finally convinced that if they won her son would surely lose.

1:35 P.M

Voting restarted after everyone had suitably purified themselves. This is when we had our biggest 'tamasha' .One woman became enraged when I challenged the suspect voters she was ferrying in. Knowing I was an outsider, she pretended to belong to Humayun's camp. She did not realize that I had remembered her from when she had come to poll her vote and announced to all and sundry that she was voting for the 'book'. I ignored her. She then pointedly began to pray that the government of the 'angraiz' does not return. I was later told that she was calling Humayun an angraiz as an epithet. I continued to ignore her, as I could not really understand the Marwat dialect. My equanimity must have ired her, as she came up to my table waving her hand under my nose. I am glad the Havaldar heard the noise and came in before I lost my patience with her. He tried removing her politely, but did not succeed. He was firm, with even less success. She included his belt, and my reading glasses in something curses that I could not understand. He finally succeeded in removing the lady who was still frothing at the mouth.

Another lull in polling led to another round of gossip. The girls repeated, with gales of laughter Irfan's claim to an M.A degree in 'Badmashi'. They said he claimed to know more about badmashi since he had been a successful badmash in a place like Karachi. This is when I was told that the woman who had created the scene a few minutes ago was the wife of Amir Nawaz, a candidate for NA 20.

2:30 P.M.

Only eighty-three votes polled so far. The Assistant Presiding Officers seemed to be impressed by my (common-sensical) knowledge of the rules. During a long lull in polling they asked my permission to go out in the sun until the voters came. I magnanimously allowed them to do so.

They could not stay out long. Amir Nawaz's daughter-in-law, Shahana, now took her mother-in-law's place in ferrying bogus voters. I was busy writing when I noticed the Returning Officer point to me, while talking to her. I joined them at the table. Just in the nick of time it seems. Shahana was on the point of stamping the ballot paper of the women she had brought in. Flinty eyed, she turned to me. If looks could kill, I would be dead. Reading her body language I knew that she was on the verge of attacking me physically, so I judiciously kept the Returning Officer between us.

3:00 P.M.

The 91st voter entered and we almost clapped. While leaving she prayed that we should all 'pass'. The girls said we all could not 'pass'. So she satisfied herself by praying that whosoever won, we should all be happy.

3:30 P.M

Only half an hour to go. The Havaldar came in and asked if he could allow the voters into the station as he planned to lock the main gate at four O'clock sharp. I slipped into my role of GrandMaster and grandly gave him permission.

3:50 P.M

We crossed the 100 mark with a rush as a group of six women entered together.

4:00 P.M

There were no female voters within the precincts of the station. The Presiding Officer came in and declared voting closed. He took our signatures on a blank piece of paper. Now counting of the ballot papers would start in the presence of the polling agents. At least that is what usually happens. Not this time though. Open-mouthed I watched as the ballot boxes were carried away. I protested. I kept protesting the disappearance of the ballot boxes and only agreed to leave when the good natured Havaldar told me that that was that, and I had to leave.

There was no vehicle available. The lady whom Auntie Kulsum had told to make sure I reach home safely took charge and we walked off to Neelo's polling station. Neelo put me in a car and I was set off home. Iftari caught us in the middle of nowhere, but Neelo's driver was an enterprising man. He had been carrying flattened, cold pikoras for just such an eventuality. He shared them with me. I was literally starving, and they were the tastiest pikoras I have ever eaten!


One great disappointment of election 97 was that they followed Zia-ul-haq's policy of presenting the complete result. The announcement of progressive results not only adds to the interest and excitement, but also is more believable. Now came the nailbiting wait for results from the polling stations. One moment we were leading, the next we fell behind. Only Anwar's results were satisfying. He had a good lead over his nearest rival Kabir. Then suddenly the results from Anwar's polling stations stopped coming in. Humayun and Saleem's results came tumbling in and by midnight we knew they had won. If there were any doubts the wild firing outside the house convinced us.

4th. February 1997

We left for GhazniKhel early next morning. Groups from various villages in the three Saifullah constituencies were converging on GhazniKhel. Now was the time for celebration. Although Anwar had not won, there was little doubt in everyone's mind as to the cause. The grounds outside the walls of GhazniKhel were covered with tents. The women went to the house. Each band was led by drummers and heralded its arrival with loud gunfire. Then began the dancing; head bent, flailing arms, they took tiny steps to the right and left while we clapped them on.

Although the victory celebration is the best part of the whole election I had to leave, it was time for me to catch my flight.

Friday, 1 December 2017

QK archives: No solo trekker returned alive from Makra

Source: THE NEWS on Sunday November 2006

In Paya, the story goes that no solitary walker has returned alive from Makra; a myth put to test

By: Salman Rashid

"Never has a solo trekker returned alive from Makra!" Mohammed Arshad, who was pretending to be my guide, said ominously as we walked out from that rag-tag group of cheap eating places at Paya. We had taken a jeep out of Shogran (Kaghan Valley) for the fifty-minute ride out past Sari to Paya and all along young Arshad had been telling me how the fog rolls in to obscure everything. That is when people get lost on Makra, he said. And die, he added grimly.

The memory of the group of students from Pakistan Forest Institute, Peshawar who went up Makra in June 2004 and got lost on the way back was fresh in his mind. Indeed, in the mind of everyone else we met at Paya. Two of them never made it back and their bodies were discovered after several days of frantic searching. Both had expired from exposure. Listening to the story of their escapade, it was clear that none in that ill-starred group was a hill walker (though there was a Chitrali among them) and none understood mountain topography. Wet behind the ears, they had blundered some way up the mountain and, on the descent, lost their way in the fog.

At Paya, as he sat wolfing down his breakfast, Arshad gave me the first inkling that he did not really know the way up Makra. That, and the fact that a thick fog covered the hills around us, did not make the Makra proposition a very attractive one. A guide, said my guide, was necessary if we were to make a success of our little enterprise. How much, I asked. Oh, maybe a hundred and fifty rupees, the restaurant owner said. So let's get one, said I.

But no, said a youngster who had just then sauntered in. Guides did not come for less than seven hundred rupees. I lost my head. Why, a high-altitude mountain guide in whose hands you can happily place your very life on the most dangerous Karakorum glacier costs five hundred rupees per day. For the price these people were asking for a hill that was a mere 3885 metres (12,750 feet) high, I said, I expected to be rendered several other services as well - services that cannot be mentioned here for then this piece would fall in the realm of pornography. The talkative cook of the neighbouring eatery who was listening in guffawed wildly and the youngster went into shock. Arshad pretended not to have heard. He might also have wished that he didn't know me. For added effect, I told the young man what he could do with the so-called guide. That again was the most unprintable pornography.

Now, Paya from where one starts walking for Makra, is about 3100 metres and as hill walks go, this one to Makra is hardly a difficult undertaking. But I did agree with Arshad that fog could turn it into a nightmare so I told him that together we could blunder into the caper and make it work. When he was finished with his breakfast, we set out with everyone we came across attempting to strike the fear of the god of fog in our hearts. Nearing the last house of Paya, Arshad informed me that a certified guide lived there. And so I made the acquaintance of Imtiaz Ahmed who flaunted a badge that read, in Urdu, his name appended with 'Tourist Guide.'

He said I could pay him whatever I wished. But a bunch of fifteen idiots from Lahore the week before had paid him two thousand rupees. I said those people were mentally retarded and physically unfit from eating an excess of fatty siri-paye but that I was of sane mind and healthy body. Moreover, I told him of the sorry tale of the abject poverty I lived in at Lahore.

As we stood there yakking, the fog miraculously opened a small window. In front of us was a peak with a benchmark visible on the crest. Arshad said this was Makra. He had scarcely put a full stop to his sentence when the fog cleared some more and another higher hill appeared in the background.

"And that?" I asked, "what do you call that?"

"Well, actually, you see, that is the real Makra." Mohammed Arshad could tell no lie albeit with some hesitation.

It turned out that this lot of "tourist guides" routinely passed off the lower hill as Makra to unsuspecting tourists. Led them up it, relieved them of good money and showed them out of Paya with the illusion that they had climbed Makra.

Meanwhile, the window remained open long enough for me to mark the route up the hill. Then the fog rolled in again. I told Arshad he could relax with his guide friend and I would be back in about six hours.

"Never has a solo trekker returned alive from Makra!" Arshad tried again.

"You make it sound as if the slopes of Makra are littered with thousands of cadavers of lost hill walkers." I said. "And I know of only two unfortunate young men who were claimed by the hill last year."

"It's the fog. It's the fog!" said Arshad with an expansive sweep of his hands in the direction of the murk that concealed our hill once again.

There was no way I could convince the man that I had seen Makra long enough to mark my route and there was little chance of my getting lost now - fog or otherwise. But the man went hysterical: I was his boss' client and what would he tell him and indeed Shabnam, my wife, when I failed to turn up.

"Tell them the fairies took me." I called as I walked away.

Arshad was not relenting, however. He sent Imtiaz running after me. The man came up and offered to take pictures of me (with my camera, of course) on the summit. He said he could also do a neat bit of video filming if I so wanted and had a video camera. Evidently these nice simple folks were taking me to be just another Lahori tourist who couldn't tell an arete from a knoll. And whose only object in life was to get somewhere and have his clowning filmed and photographed. Only I was too old and thus clearly a hazard on the hill. The man even offered to take whatever I was happy to pay him.

I grabbed his shirt front and stuck my hand into his breast pocket. I told him I would charge five thousand rupees to permit him to come with me. The man looked at me as if I was crazy. Then I rifled through his other pocket. He had to pay in advance or he could get lost. He broke off and walked away saying the fog was heavy and I was not likely to ever return.

"You can come looking for my corpse after four in the afternoon." I called after him and that was that.

Past the houses of Paya the trail entered a lovely copse where the wind was rich with the aroma of pine resin and bird song. Through a small clump of Gujar houses I was soon in the midst of the encampment of Pashtun herders. Years ago Bashir, my mountain guide friend from Naran, had told me to always introduce myself as a colonel because most criminally inclined people were terrified of nothing but the army. And so I lied to the two men who came out to greet me. In the event, this turned out to be just as well.

Beyond the Pashtun encampment, the trail climbed up the knoll growing on the side of the Makra massif once again visible in the clearing fog. Having zigzagged up about an hour or so, I reached a ridge that seemed to lead straight up to the crest. The earth and the shards of rock littering it were a deep red colour. The summit, or what seemed to be it, was visible against a dull grey sky. Behind me, I saw that I was level with the benchmark on false Makra.

As I made the summit, two hours and forty minutes out of Paya, the fog rolled in again. This time it reduced visibility to less than twenty metres. In that roiling pea soup, I sat on a boulder on what I imagined was Makra top and had a drink of water. Again the fog lifted a little and I saw the tall cairn that marked the actual summit. I strolled up to it hoping to glimpse those fabulous views into Kashmir and Muzaffarabad. But thirty minutes of waiting only thickened the fog. No views and no chance of me gadding about on the skyline for Arshad and Imtiaz to spot me. So I laid the customary stone on top of the cairn and photographed myself with it before starting back again.

On the descent there was a bit of a worry because of the dense fog. The benchmark and the Pashtun encampment at its foot were not visible. As I came down the red slope, the window opened again and I knew I was on the right track. Halfway down the slope I ran into a young Pashtun herder and his flock of sheep. We exchanged greetings and then he asked me if I had a camera. Upon being told that I did, he asked for it. I said he couldn't have it and started to walk away.

The boy followed me about fifty metres behind repeating like an automaton to be given the camera. Then the twit became abusive and said his brother was waiting at the bottom of the hill to relieve me of my camera and money. Something snapped. I turned around, stuck my groin out at him and told him to come get the camera. The boy froze. Then I used the old fib on him about being a colonel in the army and that I was going to have his dear mother invited to the local police station to present her with the camera. That did the trick. Thereafter there wasn't a squeak out of the upcoming robber.

At the encampment I asked for the two men I had met earlier on the way out and told them what had transpired. The men hedged. They said they didn't know who I was taking about. I told them that the police could be there pronto to make them see the light. Nothing works like bluster and everything changed in a jiffy. I was colonel sahib, the mai-baap. Fortunately a youngster made his appearance just then and they asked me if he was my man. He wasn't, but when they quizzed him, he seemed to know who I was talking about for the name Khushal was bandied about.

It turned out that the upcoming robber's father had begged and borrowed some money and had only a few days earlier left for Islamabad to make arrangements for his forthcoming pilgrimage to Mecca. And here was his young son training to be what his ancestors were famous for as Ibn Batuta tells us from as far back as the 14th century. To pacify me, the elders laid out the tea and assured me that the youngster would be appropriately belaboured when he returned to camp that evening.

Less than three hours from Paya to Makra top was not bad going for an out-of-form hill walker. And about an hour and a few minutes (not counting the forty-minute break at the Pashtun camp) back was equally good. Arshad couldn't believe his eyes when he saw me. I failed to make it, I said in mock dejection.

"From your face I know you reached the top," Said he. Then I showed him and Imtiaz the photos of the cairn with and without me - digital cameras be blessed.

"You made it to the real Makra top!" Said Arshad excitedly. "And returned alive. You're the first man to have done it!"

"Yes. The cadavers on the slope were a bit of problem, though." I said pretending to be smug. "The stench was terrible and it was hard work stepping around them."

As we walked back to the jeep pick up point, Arshad couldn't stop talking about my "great feat." His drift was that I was the first Punjabi to have gone up solo and returned. Why, sometimes even local people got lost, he added for emphasis. It turned out that Kaghan wallahs did not think much of us heroic Punjabis -- even less of Lahoris who could only talk with any facility of rich, greasy, unhealthy, heart attack-inducing food. Lahoris who despite their apparent physical shape could not walk two steps without pausing to catch their breath and who took nearly six hours to false Makra and back. And these were all young men in their twenties. Neither Arshad nor his friend Imtiaz, the guide, had known of a bald, middle-aged man doing such a thing by himself. Arshad assured me that this was the making of a legend of sorts. Not a very flattering view that most people hold of us gallant Punjabis, then.

Postscript: It is interesting that the names of Sari and Paya, the two summer grazing grounds that lie between Shogran and Makra, have taken on a gastronomic connotation on the tongues of Punjabi traders and semi-literate young people. They are now called Siri-Paye -- trotters and skulls, that Lahori palates so relish.

Sar means "lake" in Hindko, the language of Kaghan, as well as in Seraiki and Punjabi, and Sari would be a pond or a small lake. Sure enough, to make this an appropriate handle, there is a little tarn at Sari. Similarly Paya in Hindko is a high grazing ground. At over 3000 metres above the sea, that is what Paya actually is.

What surprises me is that all these so-called travel writers filling up page after page in Urdu have never got this simple thing right. Even a famous photographer whose breathtaking pictures of Sari and Paya had graced a calendar some years ago had the names wrong in the captions. The kind of tourists I saw at Paya will never read anything in English - actually they'll never read anything other than the Urdu rag in their lives. And so, Sari with its pond and Paya the grazing ground will forever remain siri-paye on the tongues of ill-informed tourists and those who hear their tales.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Electoral Landscape: Some Lessons from NA4 By-Elections

By Yasir Khan
With next general elections less than a year away and the current uncertain political landscape, recent by-election in NA4 took extra significance. The ruling PTI wanted to prove that its model of governance can payoff electorally. The opposition, on the other hand wanted to show that voters can see through the careful marketing strategy of PTI and do not believe it has delivered during the last four years.
The two main ruling parties, PTI in the provincial government and PML-N in the federal, pulled every trick of patronage based politics to extract support from the voters. The PML-N candidate, flanked by the powerful Advisor to the Prime Minister, had the upper hand in dolling out the goodies in the form household gas connections and restoration of electricity to the area. While the provincial departments settled for solar powered systems and promising rehabilitation of sewers and streets.
In the end the result was predictable but instructive of the new political landscape of Peshawar valley and maybe Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The PTI candidate, Arbab Amir Ayub, comfortably secured the most number of votes that are almost 20,000 more than the runner up candidate, Khushdil Khan of ANP and Nasir Khan Mosazai of PML-(N) who secured the third position.

Nevertheless distribution of votes and party standing compared to the 2013 elections are instructive. First, Nasir Khan Mosazai improved his vote collection over that of 2013. However this should not be a cause of any disillusion in the ranks of PML-N. The party’s effort to get support from JUIF did not benefit him in any way. The marginal increase in votes is probably more the works of delicate patronage based politics than extra voters coming out because JUI-F or PML-N appealed to them in any way.
ANP on the other hand has a lot to take from this election, both promising and concerning. The party’s goal of improving on its dismal show in 2013 election and posing a serious threat to PTI suffered a blow with the defection of Arbab Amir to PTI early this year. In this back drop, the veteran Khushdil Khan’s performance must have been heartening for the party and its battered support. However therein lies the party’s problem. It has clearly not been able to broaden its appeal wide enough to pose a serious challenge to PTI. It relies on targeting PTI’s leadership but does not offer a viable alternative to the current government. This means the support is stagnant, and probably short of a miracle they will at most be the runner up in other similar elections.

PTI on the other hand appears to have solidified its support into a core that seems formidable. This election is an indication that the party’s core workers are willing to come out in support of the party irrespective of any noise the opposition makes about their leadership and performance. They believe the message from party leadership whole heartedly and are willing to overlook the continued absence of their elected representatives from constituencies to be around the party Chairman, be it in Banigala or Nathiagali. This core support may turn out to be the jiyala equivalent of the current generation, a kind of neo-jiyalas.

Another important thing about this core support is their age profile. They are young, energetic and seem to have committed to the party ideology. Exit polls by non-partisan Center for Peace and Development Initiatives (CDPI), revealed PTI has support at almost every age group. But most importantly the younger age groups, who are going to stay involved in politics far longer, are predominantly PTI supporters.

PTI also has an advantage of having a master politicians in its ranks in the form of Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak

. While the party has unwavering support from its core voters, its elected ranks are far from unified. There are visible differences between the provincial cadres of the party on issues such as distribution of funds and next Chief Minister. These very public differences were probably one of the reason why the opposition even believed that they have a chance to dislodge PTI from NA4. But the Chief Minister, an old jiyala, successfully managed to convert these differences into an opportunity for himself. He has been on an offensive against the opposition parties, poaching their electables and filling the ranks of PTI with men who have seen the hot and cold of politics, understanding the value of compromise and politicking.

This means the opposition parties will have an uphill, probably impossible, task to dislodge PTI in the general elections if they continued with the current approach. PTI is vulnerable in the next election but only to the extent that the opposition parties understand its weakness and strengths. So far the opposition does not seem to have any clue about it.

About the Author: Yasir Khan is pursuing PhD at UC Berkeley.

QK Archives: book reviews

Published 24 November 2003 by the Statesman Peshawar Mashriq group
About those living with pride and dignity
The self pride of Afghan (Da Afghan Nang)
Writer: Ajmal Khattak
Price: Rs50
By Dr Yaseen Iqbal Yousafzay
Being a popular name in Pakistani politics, Ajmal Khattak has seen many ups and downs throughout his long political career extending to about half a century. His life is full of tortures and sufferings he went through at the hands of various governments and decades-long self-exile but his association with leftist ideologies has always earned him more public criticism than support.
Being a supporter of Pakhto plus Islamic philosophy in Pakhtun politics, I always criticise un-Islamic political philosophies (including the one supported by Khattak) for a nation full of Islamic and Pakhtun valour but his contribution to Pakhto language as a legendry revolutionary and nationalist poet and writer will always keep his name shining like a unique star in the sky of Pakhto literature.
He has developed his own school of thought in Pakhto literature influencing some very great poets of his time such as great Rehmat Shah Sayel and has, therefore, secured a unique recognition among Pakhto lovers.
Today, sitting 7000 miles away from my home, I came across his great book “DA AFGHAN NANG” (The self-Pride of Afghan) and being very close to Afghan refugees in the UK for a while, I had the opportunity to learn about the way Afghan Pakhtuns think and live. Afghanistan has always been misunderstood as an easy target by several popular invaders like the USSR, Alexander and many others but the case has always been the reverse. Being frontline defenders of their country for several centuries, Afghans have learnt to live with honour and dignity in spite of being thoroughly bombed and forced to seek refuge.
In his this collection, Ajmal Khattak has been very successful in painting the harsh realities of Afghan lives they never deserved or expected but never let their national self-pride down.
This collection has 19 stories and each story is so unique with intelligently selected characters and artistically gathered realities of the war that the author never loses his contact with the original theme. He takes his reader very close to the actual sufferings Afghans went through and at occasions makes one cry but at the end of each and every story builds such a confidence that in some cases the reader learns the real meaning of self-pride and its national significance.
His skill of using simple words with great fluency and continuity keeps each story completely distinct from every other but simultaneously retains the theme of the book very alive and intact.
In agreement with my personal experience of living with Afghans who always keep their national self-esteem dear and most important to them than everything else, the author has proved in his stories that Afghans as a nation prefer to live anonymous lives when in exile and work hard to earn bread but never reveal their glorious past to anyone even at the worst moments of their history.
In spite of his deep association with politics, the author has been successful in keeping the book free from traces of politics which makes it representative of a true literary giant hidden in the personality of great Ajmal Khattak.
I would like to advise every Pakhtun to read the book and understand the meaning of self-pride and realize that how their blood brothers and sisters left their great country and how mercilessly everyone (including the author of the book) criticized them at the moments they were desperately looking for and deserving their enormous support.

A deep sense of nostalgia
By Sher Alam Shinwari
Book: Khwaga khawora Terakhay Kesai
(A collection of Pashto Short stories)
Writer: Dr. Yasin Iqbal Yousafzai
Pp: 170
Rs: 100
Pakhto short story as a literary genre is still very young. Many titles of this genre have appeared in the market but only a few could get due attention of the readers. Those writers who have a keen observation and understanding of their surrounding can vividly express the problems of their people. Fiction writing involves a lot of time and a clear vision on the part of the writer.
Dr Yasin Iqbal Youasfzai is fortunately one such writer who apart from being a highly qualified person has a sincere heart to highlight the problems in a befitting manner. His present book is a collection containing eleven short stories with lively characters. There is a deep sense of nostalgia as it is there in his earlier collection of poetry. Dr Yasin has settled in England in connection with his job. His deep affection for his own people compelled him to put his concerns into fiction. He perceives an ideal Pakhtun society which should be enlightened as well as reflective of its own glorious traditions. He wants that traditions of Pakhtuns should be in line with the needs and challenges of the 21st century.
Da Shalamay Saday Khan on page 46 is the story of a stranger who meets Bahadari, a village khan. The stranger is a selfish person who never bothers to take care of the Pakhtun traditions. Bahadari termed this stranger a Pakhtun of 20th or the 21st century. Other stories are Bangla, Warokay Yar, Sartor, Khawaray Ba Khah Shu, Nar Na Mari, Kani Na Swazi, Sal Pa Laley Poray and Kharr Qabroona which throw some light on the social life of the Pakhtun folk.
Warokay Yar is a story about chillum, a very important component of the Pakhtun hujra which has disappeared now from hujras. Kharr Qabroona is the last story of the book which carries the nostalgia of the writer more than other short story in this collection. It is more or less a commentary on the deteriorating social values of the Pakhtun society. However, Dr Yasin Yousafzai wishes his people to have a better understanding of the changing global scenario. It is in the Pakhto fiction that he wants to paint the picture of a society which should present and represent the true life of the Pakhtuns.
The language used is very simple and the style is fluent and quite understandable. Dr Yasin is an enthusiastic writer who in spite of the fact that he is a scientist also takes interest in the literary activities. His other books including this are available on the net address:

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Qk archives: Dr .M. Farooq Khan "Offering collective prayers for higher seats of learning

Offering collective prayers for higher seats of learning
October 2010
Published by the Statesman

By Afzal Hussain Bokhari
As it happened in other cities of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, the medical, religious and academic circles in City paid rich tributes to the slain Vice-Chancellor of Swat Islamic University, Dr Mohammad Farooq Khan. Amn Tehrik (Peace Movement) was the first to stage a protest demonstration on Sunday in front of Peshawar Press Club. Members of civil society and leaders of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) took part in the demonstration. They carried banners and placards with slogans inscribed on them against terrorism, kidnappings and target killings. Protesters demanded capital punishment for Dr Farooq’s killers.

Unidentified gunmen during lunch break stormed Dr Farooq’s clinic located on the second floor of a building on Baghdada-Swabi Road near Muqam Madni Chowk in Mardan on Saturday and took the life of eminent psychiatrist and well-read Islamic scholar. Claiming responsibility for the gruesome murder, a spokesman of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Umar Farooq, made a phone call from an undisclosed location to members of Landikotal Press Club in the tribal Khyber Agency and said that the Abdullah Azzam Brigade, linked to TTP carried out the assassination. The caller accused Dr Farooq of speaking against the Taliban at every forum and for declaring suicide bombing as un-Islamic. He also claimed to have kidnapped the Vice-Chancellor of Islamia College University, Dr Ajmal Khan.

Meanwhile, some sources in police department cited initial investigations and told a section of the mainstream press about preliminary probe which indicated that Dr Farooq’s murder might not have been an act of terrorism but a revenge sequel emanating from an old family feud. They said that deceased’s step-brother, Dr Arif, had killed his parents some years back. Unidentified persons later also killed Dr Arif after the incident. The family had since been suspecting Dr Farooq to be behind the killing. Sources said that police detectives were also questioning employees of the clinic and showed optimism that the killers would be arrested soon.
Back in Mardan, mourners of Dr Farooq’s assassination struggled to wriggle out of the shock. The late VC’s sons, Usama and Waqas, lodged the first information report (FIR) with the area police against unknown killers. Relatives, friends, colleagues and even acquaintances made a beeline to VC’s house in Sector-D of Sheikh Maltoon Town to offer condolences to his family. The late VC was laid to rest on Saturday evening. His largely attended funeral showed that the murdered doctor was immensely popular in the area.
Apart from being a religious scholar, he was also a social worker. Born in Akbarabad, Naway Kallay, now named as Karnal Sher Kallay after the hero of the Kargil War, in Swabi district, Dr Farooq stood indebted for his education to his father Akbar Khan who was the headmaster of a school. While still a student, Farooq Khan first became a member of Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba and later an active worker of Jamaat-i-Islami.
Having studied at the Cadet Colleges in Kohat and Hassanabdal, he did his MBBS from the Khyber Medical College, Peshawar. Back in 1986, he moved from Swabi to Mardan to start his clinic along with wife, Dr Rizwana, who specialised as a gynaecologist. As far as his own area of interest was concerned, Dr Farooq did his specialisation in psychiatry from Austria. He rendered services as doctor in various government hospitals.

Apart from being a capable physician, he was duly equipped with religious education. Dr Farooq’s friends knew that he also tried his hands in politics. For instance, in 1993 he contested but lost election for the National Assembly seat from NA-9 Mardan constituency fought on the ticket of the Jamaat-i-Islami-led Pakistan Islamic Front.
For some time, he remained a member of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) thus holding an important position in the party. Later, he quit politics and focused on academic work, writing books and articles, lecturing in television’s religious programmes and attending social events organized by various NGOs. Back in July this year, he was appointed vice-chancellor of the newly established Islamic University in Swat. He planned to start regular classes at the makeshift campus in Mingora from October 14.
He wrote several books, most of these being in Urdu but a few of them also in English. His book titled ‘Islam kia hai?’ (What is Islam?) had 10 prints. The latest of his publications ‘Jihad and Qital’ was well-received among religious circles. He also wrote a ‘tafseer’ (interpretation) of the holy Quran and frequently delivered lectures against terrorism. Father of two sons and an equal number of daughters, Dr Farooq was an outspoken critic of militancy and suicide bombings which probably irked TTP and cost him his life. As the coincidence would have it, his widoiw Dr Rizwana happened to be in the United States of America visiting her younger daughter when Dr Farooq was shot dead.
Whether we like it or not, the odds appear to have been against education in our part of the world. If newspaper reports have been any indication, between 450 and 500 schools meant for girls in KP have either been destroyed or damaged over the last few years due to militancy and terrorism. Vice-chancellors of universities used to be highly respected people in society. Four names – Hameed Ahmad Khan in Lahore, Mohammad Ali in KP, Karrar Hussain in Quetta and Ahsan Rashid Siddiqui (son of writer Rashid Ahmad Siddiqui) in Karachi – have been icons of dignity and grace.
Some time back, Professor Mujahid Kamran, VC Punjab University, appeared on television with bandages all over the body. He alleged that he had been manhandled by activists of a students’ organisation linked to a religious party. Chief of that organisation, present on the television show, was hesitant in offering any apologies. He defended the action taken by students and accused the VC of ignoring his party’s recommendations to expel and induct teachers of his choice.
In Hazara University, Professor Ehsan Ali is said to have fallen victim to the intrigues and machinations of a section of the non-teaching staff. He later switched over to the newly opened Abdul Wali Khan University, where he is feeling much better. It is high time that we offered collective prayers for the higher seats of learning.

Monday, 9 October 2017

QK Archives: Whispering images of Peshawar

Whispering images Of Peshawar By Ahmed Sher Ranjha
Published by DAWN 1998

For a person from North-Western Pakistan to wander
through the history and landscape of Gandhara is like
passing through the vista of his own psyche. Like the
cumulated archeological layers of mounds such as Gorkhatri
in Peshawar, layers upon layers of new cultural
accumulations mix with previous ones.

The feeling of being somewhere which was more than
myself had begun the moment I crossed into the alluring
vale of Peshawar across the Attock bridge and stood
for a while on the high banks of the Indus to behold the
mighty scene around me. This was the fabled land of
Gandhara where contrasting cultures had mixed the way the
jade green waters of the Indus and the muddy stream
of the violent Lundai (River Kabul) were blending happily
together on my right. I found the lush bread basket
of Chhach Plain, rolling seductively towards Taxila across the
Indus, tempting enough to whet immediately the hungry
appetite of any invader, from the Greeks to the Mughals,
for a quick cross over and plunder.

Peshawar has been the great junction point where
racial, cultural and artistic currents from the ancient lands of
Persia, China, India and Central Asia met and
synthesized. By the time the little Kushans came and established
their rule in Gandhara, the land had already absorbed
the contrasting flavours of the Vedic, Persian, Buddhist and
the Hellenic. But the great King Kanishka and his
Kushans came and established their winter capital at Peshawar
(their beloved Purushapura). The old capital of
Pushkalavati (Charsadda) belonging to the ancient Vedic and
Achaemenian king was discarded. The Kushans were
staunch Mahayana Buddhists so the new city established
between the rich and well-watered plain of the River
Budni (a branch of River Kabul) and Bara became the hub of
their colourful religious and economic activity.

The city was pampered with prosperity and artistic
splendour. Graced with the finest stupas and monasteries, it
housed the choicest relics of Buddhist reverence. The
serene Buddhist currents rippled softly from Gorkhatri to
Sirsukh (Taxila) and onwards to India and China. But
the tranquil slumber of many peaceful centuries was bound
to end one day. Like some sudden, terrible
thunderclap, hordes of white Huns descended from 'Azghaib'. Now the
city was to pay for its prosperity and meditative
non-violence. Peshawar was plundered and quickly drenched in
blood. The splendour of Gorkhatri was levelled and
buried silently in its earthen womb. But the Huns had hardly
consolidated themselves when Sassanian/Turk forces
from Central Asia and the new rising star of the Kashatryia
force from the Ganges broke into Gandhara. The glory
of Peshawar from here on was to give place to Waihind, the
ancient Udbhandapura, or the new city of the Hund on
the right bank of the Indus which the new Hindu Shahia
kings, on a strategic retreat from Kabul valley
towards east, had chosen as their new capital. Then the Afghans,
the Mughals, the Sikhs and the British followed,
leaving their marks on the soul of the city.

Thinking of all this, I decided to head straight for
Gorkhatri where everything from Kanishka to Avitabile to the
British was condensed and which was the soul of

I got up early in the morning not to miss my
breakfast of roghni kulcha fresh from the oven in the winding alleys
leading towards Gorkhatri. And soon I was out on the
road. I had decided to foot the distance for intimate detail
and flavour. I entered the walled city via the Kabuli
Gate. The citadel high grounds of the imperial Bala Hissar fort
lay on my left.

The magic world of interwoven streets and murky
catacombs of ancient passage-ways where history lives and
speaks from the wooden balconies and lofty havelis
was here. The famous Kissa Khawani Bazaar thoroughly
disappointed me. Cruelly criss-crossed by a network
of loosely hanging electric wires, this famous bazaar of the
story-tellers only had the painful story of
commercialism to tell. I turned into a bylane to quickly visit Peepal
Mandi to be under the spiritual shade of the great
peepal of the Buddhas. These was a pungent smell of spices
hard-and-soft Pukhto-Hindko hubub and two peepal
trees. I forgot about the little one and zeroed on to the bigger
one. By all accounts this must be the sacred tree of
the Jataka Buddhas. But where was its trunk, I wondered.
Nowhere. Only the rich green canopy of peepal leaves
and branches over the market place and no trunk. And then
I caught on. The crafty shopkeepers had stolen the
smallest possible space around the sacred tree trunk into the
hungry tummy of their shops. As a result the trunk
had simply disappeared in the congested beehive of the
cap-sellers' shops. So much for the Jataka Buddhas
and their sacred tree.

I then turned towards the famous clock tower to reach
Gorkhatri via the old Bazar-i-Kalan. Preserved in the ancient
glow of richly wood-carved balconies, arched
doorways, multi-storied havelis, the Bazar-i-Kalan impressed me. A
pleasant climb towards the mound of Gorkhatri, and I
was face to face with the mighty gateway of the place. The
hungry Sikhs in the habit of snatching even the
lowliest decoration of an old building must have defaced the rich
archeological beauty of Gorkhatri obliterating almost
all vital marks of history, I thought as I entered the massive
archway which opened into the extensive,
square-shaped enclosure of Gorkhatri. Both sides of the gateway
showed tell-tale signs of a prison which must have
been the brainchild of Ranjit Singh's Italian general who had
administered Peshawar. The narrow iron-barred prison
cells were full of a damp darkness.

This end of Gorkhatri housed the area's police
station. Many off-duty constables were roaming about leisurely in
'mufti'. I looked around me and thought I had entered
some bustling old caravan-serai. Shady trees, an inviting
temple, a wide open space in the middle with rows of
rest rooms. The history of the place smiled painfully through
the confusing chaos of its upkeep. The place visited
by meditating sadhus, chanting pilgrims, and monks with
shaven heads carries many centuries of history. Its
fortunes went into eclipse during the confused withdrawal of
the Shahias from Peshawar to Hund and from there to
Nundna and the far away obscurity of India. Thereafter in
the politico-military vacuum war-like races from the
west like the Yousafzais, Khalils, Daud Zais and Mohmands,
etc., came and settled in the valley to permanently
dye it in their own colour. The Mughals developed a fine liking
for Gorkhatri. Babar, Akbar and Jehangir never forgot
to mention the goodness of this place. Shah Jehan's gifted
daughter Jehanara Begum built a communal hamam, a
serai and a mosque here. This mosque of Jehanara was later
destroyed and replaced with the temple of Gorkhnath
by the Sikhs.

Moss covered, forlorn, and decaying under the shadows
of the old peepals, the temple in Gorkhatri is occupied by
bats and relaxing police constables. Its noble,
artistically arched, short corridor connecting it to the little "temple
Nandi" is decrepit. The famous "patra" or the bowl of
Buddha must have been placed somewhere here under the
unkempt peepal trees. I walked quietly in the
painfully chipped dusty corridor of the temple and felt terribly alone.
peeped into the ancient well. Its entire depth was
reeking of layers of collected filth. So much for the "heavenly
waters" of the famous well of Gorkhatri. I turned
round to have a look inside the dark cell- like rows of rooms
bordering the ancient enclosure. Police constables,
the happy masters of these rooms were found chatting,
cooking, relaxing, and chopping tomatoes.

I moved on and suddenly stumbled upon a hidden
treasure. I had chanced upon the elegant footmarks of our
erstwhile British masters so dutifully preserved in
this faithful repository of the history of Peshawar. Here in the
rooms on the eastern edge of the enclosure was the
"Fire Brigade Municipal Committee, Peshawar", established
somewhere in the opening decades of the 20th century.
But the most prized treasure here were the gracefully
sparking, vintage, fire-fighting vehicles of the
Merryweather Company, London. Well preserved under the expert
care of mechanic Shahzafar, these are two classic
vehicles, with sparkling heavy brass work and fitted with still
workable fire fighting equipment. The vehicles stood
gracefully on thin Dunlop tyres mounted on solid, heavy
spiked wheels. Shahzafar said the vehicles were of
1919 models. Four cylindered with eight plugs. How come? I
asked "The maker kept four plugs in reserve to be
activated when the original set of four failed at some crucial,
unforeseen moment." I took my position behind the
steering wheel of one of the vehicles. To my surprise, the
steering was fitted with an easy to handle adjustable
accelerator and a timing control knob. In other words speed
plus engine control were kept at the finger-tips of
the driver for quick response during a fire.

From soft Buddhist chants of antiquity to the
powerful thrust of an internal combustion engine, Gorkhatri is a
faithful treasury of the assets forming the soul of
Peshawar. A prism where all the strange colours of the
north-western psyche could easily be discerned by a
seeing eye. A place full of dreams, whispering mirages and
educative reverie. But the neglect and utter
ruination of the place today signifies that there is hardly any eye left

which can really see or dream. We can only pity

Monday, 2 October 2017

Babur & Bibi Mubarakan "The Romantic"

The romantic

By Dr Raheal Ahmed Siddiqui

The monotone Indian history taught in our colleges and universities does not do justice to the real character of Babur.
Babar Nama, Babar's autobiography is an interesting in-depth reflection of an age of chivalry and bravery. Babur stood apart from all his contemporaries, and one wonders how much of Babur's unusual autobiography can really be believed. One answer is that he set down the facts as he remembered them -- and he had a remarkable memory.
Babur was more than just a conqueror. Not many people know that he was also the greatest naturalist of his time. His memoirs give descriptions of flora and fauna in great detail, perhaps even better than Audubon. Sadly this aspect of his character is never highlighted, and history students think of him only as the founder of Mughal dynasty in India.
Babur penned down vivid descriptions of flowers and fruits of Indian subcontinent. At that time oranges were grown in Bajaur: "about as large as a quince, very juicy and more acid than other oranges". At present oranges are not grown in Bajaur. Babur also noted, "all wine and fruit had in Bajaur comes from adjacent parts of Kafristan."
Babur was also somewhat of an anthropologist, taking interest in customs and lifestyles of people. In Bajaur he noticed a strange custom: "one seeming impossible, but told to us again and again. All through the hill country in Kunar, Nurgal, Bajaur, Swad (Swat) and thereabouts, it is commonly said that when a women dies and has been laid on a bier, she, if she has not been an ill-doer, gives the bearers such a shake when they lift the bier by its four sides, that against their will and hindrance, her corpse falls to the ground; but if she had done ill, no movement occurs. Hyder Ali Bajauri -- a Sultan who governed Bajaur well -- when his mother died, did not weep, or betake himself to lamentation, or put on black, but said, 'Go! Lay her on the bier! If she move not, I will have her burned.' They laid her on the bier; the desired movement followed; when he heard that this was so, he put on black and betook himself to lamentation."
On 21st January 1519 AD Babur marched from Bajaur towards "Swad (presently Malakand and Swat area) with the intention of attacking the Yousefzai Afghans." But by February 8th after some consultation with his advisors, the idea of attacking Yousefzais was given up. The reason quoted by Babur was simple. As it was not the harvest season, food supplies were running low and the raid would not be fruitful. So the Yousefzais were spared the traditional pillage and plunder of the Mughal hordes.
Two different incidents which happened during those 18 days also played a significant role in saving the Yousefzais. First the departure from Bajaur was delayed by a day, when Babur ate a portion of a sweetmeat offered to him by Malik Shah Mansur, the Yousefzai envoy in his court. It intoxicated him to an extent that Babur was not able to offer his evening prayers. The second was Babur's unusual marriage with Bibi Mubaraka. Babur noted in his memoirs: "In order to conciliate the Yousefzai horde, I had asked for the hand of a daughter of one of my well wishers, Malik Shah Mansur. While we were on this ground, news came that his daughter was on her way with the Yousefzai tribute." The next day, Taus Khan, the younger brother of Shah Mansur, brought the girl to Babur's camps
Mirza Mashood, a friend of mine who has done LLM in International Human Rights Law, terms this act as swara, a Pukhtoon custom akin to vani. Mashood believes that Babur's nuptial knot with Bibi Mubaraka was a marriage of convenience, and while brokering a peace deal with invading Mughals, the subdued Yousefzais surrendered a daughter of one of their chieftains.
The Yousefzais had an epic tale of their own regarding the marriage of Babur with Bibi Mubarika. This romantic Afghan legend begins with "Babur as the ruler of Kabul, professing friendship with Yousefzais, a powerful Afghan tribe. But his mind was poisoned by Dilazaks, sworn enemies of Yousefzai. Therefore Babur resolved to put to death Malik Ahmad, their chieftain, when he came to visit Kabul on Babur's invitation. But the Dilazaks warned Babur -- so says the legend of the Yousefzai -- to put Malik Ahmad to death at once, because he was so clever that, given a chance to speak, he would wring pardon from the Padshah.
On his arrival in Kabul, Ahmad immediately learned that Babur's real objective was to put him to death. Next morning, when Malik Ahmad was presented before Babur in court, he quickly unbuttoned his jerkin (surcoat). Twice Babur asked him why he did that. The third time Malik answered, saying that it had come to his ears that Babur intends to shoot him down with a bow. Therefore, said the Malik, in such a great assemblage where so many eyes were watching the Padshah, he didn't want Babur to miss his mark. Babur was pleased with his reply and began to question Malik Ahmad:
Asked he, "what sort of man is Behlol Lodhi?"
"A giver of horses," said Ahmad.
"And of what sort his son Sikandar?"
"A giver of robes"
"And what sort is Babur?"
"He," said Ahmad, "is a giver of heads".
"Then" rejoined Babur, "I give you yours."
Ahmad returned to his tribe but declined a second invitation to Kabul.
The legend continues that Babur came into their country with a large army. He devastated their lands but could make no impression on the fort. In order to spy out the strength of the fort, Babur, disguised as a qalander, went up to Mahura Hill where the fort was. Disguised as he was, Babur slipped inside the courtyard. Bibi Mubarka saw the "qalander". She sent a servant with meat folded between bread to Babur. He asked who sent it. The servant said it was Bibi Mubaraka, the daughter of Shah Mansur, who was sitting in front of the tent. Babur became entranced with her beauty and enquired from a women servant about her age and whether she was betrothed. Extracting the truth, Babur left and on the way back he hid the meat roll between two stones behind the house.
When he retuned to his camp he was much perplexed what to do next. He was ashamed of going back to Kabul without capturing the fort; moreover he had fallen in love with Bibi Mubaraka. So he wrote a friendly letter to Malik Ahmad asking for the daughter of Shah Mansur. Great objections were made and they even said that the Yousefzai chiefs have no daughter to give. Babur replied with a "beautiful royal letter", told of his visit to Shah Mansur's house in disguise, of his seeing Bibi Mubaraka, and as token of the truth of his story, asked them to search for the food he had hidden between stones behind the house. They searched and found it. Still Ahmad and Mansur were unwilling, but the tribal Jirga urged them to concede to the demands of Babur. The Maliks then said that it should be done "for the good of the tribe." The bride was escorted to the royal camp."
This legend was translated from Pushto into English by Annette Beveridge's husband and was first published in the Asian Quarterly Review of April 1901. The Yousefzai narrators had highlighted themselves as a powerful tribe which successfully defended their fort, saved Babur from embarrassment by making peace in which he surrendered his sword, and their chieftain Malik Ahmad deceived the Mughals with his wisdom. Babur became enamored with the beautiful Yousefzai girl in the normal course of life. But history judges them differently. The legend was an afterthought of the Yousefzais who tried to cover up their embarrassment of tame submission to the Mughals instead of putting up a gallant fight as envisaged in tribal traditions. According to Harold Lamp: "the Yousefzai Afghans have concocted their own fable of his advent. They have added a love interest to the tale, and coloured it with anecdotes that make a conscientious historian shudder. Yet it preserves a portrait of Babur drawn from tribal memory."
Like other details, the return journey of Babur as narrated in this legend does not coincide with historical facts. Leaving Shah Mansur's daughter in Bajaur, Babur crossed River Swat and rode towards "Maqam" (present Mardan). On 16th February 1519, he had crossed River Indus for the first time and was heading towards Bhera. Though the first battle of Panipat was fought in 1526, yet a strange incident at Bhera decided the fate of Delhi.
Gulbadan, Babur's daughter, fondly writes about the Bega Begum or Afghani Aghacha and mentions Humayun's displeasure with Kamran for not giving due respect to her. Some truth may have remained hidden in this Afghan legend of Babur and the mountain princes. Among the royal women of Kabul, Bibi Mubaraka remained somewhat apart, being younger and of tribal rather than royal Mughal descent. She lived an honoured life and died childless in Akbar's reign. Her brother Mir Jamal rose to honour under Babur, Humayun and Akbar's reigns.
Babur's memoirs do not mention the beautiful Bibi Mubaraka any further, but his epilogue remains incomplete without her.
When Babur died in December 1530 AD he was temporarily buried in Agra. But in accordance with Babur's will, his body was to be conveyed to Kabul and to be laid in a garden of his choice. Babur's body was exhumed from Agra and was taken to Kabul in 1544 accordance to his wishes.
Sher Shah Suri, true to his generous character provided escort for the Padshah, the Tiger of Fergana. The widow who performed the duty of accompanying his body from Agra was an Afghan lady. Her name was Bibi Mubaraka. (Gulbadan's narrative).

Thursday, 14 September 2017

QK Archives: DOST "The Friend"

The friend
Maryam Babar
Published September 2004 Statesman

Most of us are now familiar with the name of the Dost Foundation. Mention Dost and you get a vaguely hostile reaction: They work with druggies and powdery, don’t they? Few people would think of donating their Zakat to an organisation that is committed to helping rehabilitate the ultimate rejects of our society. The fact that most of our families have one, if not more, such victims of substance abuse is ignored. As long as we can pretend in public that it is not happening then it is more comfortable to ignore the whole terrible question of drug abuse and how closely it affects all of us.
I have written earlier about the wonderful work that the Dost workers are doing in our prisons with our female inmates and juveniles. They also have street programmes, crisis centres and half way houses that reach out to a vast number of people. However, I felt I was being an apologist for what Dost considers its primary function: DRUG AWARENESS. It’s an unpopular and slightly unsavoury subject and it’s easier to get that warm, fuzzy feeling talking about the Dost prison programme.
Never one to court the easy way out, I decided to go to Dost and find out about it from the drug addicts themselves who are undergoing recovery and rehabilitation. I wanted to look into their lives and find out. Who are these people? What brings them to the point where they reach out and ask for help? After all, no one wakes up one day and says I am going to become a heroin addict and enjoy myself. Every one of us has seen the gutters filled with these people. We are all aware of that back bedroom where some unfortunate, shuffling relative passes his days in a blurry haze. I did not want to hear the doctor’s spiel or the embarrassed explanations of friends and dear ones. I wanted to talk to the drug abusers themselves.
To ensure the privacy that is assured to all patients at Dost, I will call this young man Niaz. This is his story:
Niaz was born in 1967 in Panshir. His father was a high official in the Afghan government. Educated in Germany and France, he lavished all his love and the best that money could buy on Niaz and a younger son. When the troubles started in Afghanistan he thought it wise to send his eldest son to friends in Germany. Niaz was then only 13 years old.
Niaz lived in the home of his German guardian, a bank director, and enjoyed the status of an adopted son. He finished his schooling and went on to become a computer engineer and eventually got a good job with Siemens. He admits that as a teenager he experimented with some of the fashionable party drugs of the ‘80s. Speed, cocaine, pot and even LSD - which, he said, were a scary experience. Despite these few forays into the seedier side of social life, he always tried to remain faithful to the Islamic principals his parents had instilled in him and he continued to pray, fast and read the Holy Quran. His devotion to his faith impressed his adoptive mother and Anna, the eldest daughter of the family. They both converted to Islam and started wearing full Hijab and learnt to read Arabic and made an attempt to memorise the Quran. A few years later Niaz and Anna were married.
Unfortunately, Anna could not have children and kept urging her husband to marry a second wife. She arranged for Niaz to marry Shaheen, a girl of Turkish origin, whose family had migrated to Germany many years earlier.
Niaz found that the gentle, religious Anna was the wife he loved. The pretty, vivacious Shaheen had been brought up in Germany, knew little about Islamic traditions and cared less. Though she produced two little daughters what she wanted out of life was quite different to that with which Niaz and Anna had been content.
Added to the building tensions within this ménage a trois, their neighbours had become suspicious and started asking questions. Whispers started about bigamy and Niaz became nervous. They were forced to split up the family and the two wives lived separately, with Niaz moving between both households. This is when he started suffering from deep depressions and soon found himself unable to face the day without resorting to a shot of cognac. Slowly, he found himself becoming more and more dependent on the alcohol to get him through the wreckage of his daily life.
Worried about his personal problems and the future of his daughters he decided to try and return home. With twenty-five thousand dollars and a lot of hope, he set of for Afghanistan via Pakistan.
A large number of his family had settled in Chitral and that is where Niaz and his family headed. Anna loved the life of the extended family. Aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces welcomed her into their hearts and she felt she was in an environment that suited her better than Germany. She did not want to go back. However, Niaz was not having such a good time. He learnt that his mother had been killed in a scud attack on their village. Forty-two other members of his family had perished with her. His father had resigned during the Tarakai regime and moved back to Panjsheer with his wife and daughters. More tragic news was slowly broken to Niaz. His brother, who had become a brigadier during the Najib years, had been suspected of spying for Masood and had been assassinated. Devastated to hear of all these personal losses Niaz sank deeper and deeper into depression.
While Anna enjoyed the warmth and love of her new family, Niaz found himself getting more and more alienated from his relatives. Having spent most of his formative years growing up in Germany, he had clung to his religion and faith. It had become the major force in his life and he was appalled at seeing the use that was being made of religion during the Mujahideen years. He was vocal in his criticisms and angered by the hypocrisy of his family and friends. No one was willing to speak out against anything for fear of repercussions. Niaz tried to speak out but was called a kaffir by those with whom he wished to argue. Isolated from those around him, the final blow was when the attack on Panshir started and he was told he could not proceed to Afghanistan to meet his father. He left for Karachi and the nightmare got worse.
Living in a hotel, Niaz found his money substantially reduced in a matter of weeks. His father came to see him but was barely recognisable. He was a shattered man, old and bent. With his own family decimated, his position in Afghanistan precarious and his wealth gone, he advised his son to go back to Germany.
Living in a hotel was also becoming daily more difficult. The children were constantly sick and the heat and the unfamiliar food took its toll. Niaz decided to send the family back to Germany. Alone and downcast at the ruination of all his plans, Niaz decided to look for work in Iran. He was fluent in Farsi and would be close to home. He still hoped that peace would be restored and he would be able to, eventually, go back to Afghanistan.
He left for Zahidan.
He was horrified to find that the Afghan refugee community in Iran was quite different to that in Pakistan. In Pakistan the mohajirs had managed to settle into a fairly normal life style. They had been easily assimilated into the local population and were leading productive lives. The situation in Iran was quite different. The refugee camps had a strongly criminal element and were viewed with a lot of suspicion and resentment.
One day, when Niaz was in the bazaar with a man, Jabbar, who he had recently met, he became embroiled in a bizarre incident. Niaz did not know that Jabbar and his family were involved in a long-standing family feud. As they were walking, peaceably, in the market, Jabbar was attacked by two thugs wielding knives. Niaz tried to protect and help his friend and held one of the assassins. In the scuffle, that man slipped and fell on his own knife and started bleeding profusely. Jabbar seized this opportunity to escape and ran away. Niaz called out to passers-by and started giving the fallen man CPR. The police soon arrived and promptly arrested Niaz for murder. Taken to the police station, he explained how he had, inadvertently, got involved in this mess. But, when the police went to Jabbar’s house it was to find the place deserted and no sign of Jabbar or anyone who knew where he had fled.
Niaz spent twelve days in the jail. He was badly beaten and lost eight teeth and when he was produced before the judge he was immediately sent to the prison hospital. When he re-appeared in court, though the judge was sympathetic, the proof of his innocence could not be established and he was given the death sentence and fined twelve million tumans.
While in the overcrowded jail, where eight thousand of the twelve thousand inmates were Afghans, he got the news that his father had died. With nothing left to live for, he started using heroin. He says that his intention was to try and die as quickly as possible.
After twenty months of this, he was suddenly told to prepare himself for yet another appearance in court. Penniless and despondent, he was sure that he was being taken to the scaffold. But, the news was different to what he had expected. Jabbar has been caught at the border and when his name came up on the computer, the guards realised that this man was wanted for murder. He was brought back to Zahidan, confirmed Niaz’s innocence and took his place in jail. He was later hanged.
The judge, who had always felt sorry for Niaz, suggested to him that he go to the UNHCR who were trying to repatriate the refugees. The UN authorities gave him clothes, a ticket to Kabul and eighteen hundred dollars.
In Kabul, ashamed of his drug addiction and penniless condition, he avoided contacting his relatives. The first thing he needed was an identity card. Here chance, again, played a strange trick on this ill-fated man. After filling in his registration forms, he was told to come back in a couple of hours to pick up his card. Shortly after he left the office, one of his cousins happened to visit the officer who had interviewed him. This cousin was overjoyed to hear that his long lost cousin was back in Kabul. His cousin went into the crowds of Jad-e-Maiwand, asking people if they had seen a man dressed in Western-style trousers and shirt. Niaz said that that was the first thing that struck him about the new Kabul. When he had left Afghanistan, as a young boy, he had never seen shalwar khameezes in Afghanistan. Now it appeared to have become the national dress.
Reunited with his family, he found himself even unhappier than before. The months in jail, his terrible addiction and his penury made him feel a total misfit. He knew that if he was ever again going to become a part of his old life and family he would have to try and kick the habit.
With great shame, he admits that he stole one lakh afghanis from his cousin and, leaving a note saying that he was returning to Germany, he found his way down to Peshawar. Here he checked into a hotel and headed straight for the Karkhano bazaars. He smoked and injected ninety-five thousand afghanis worth of heroin in six weeks. On his last visit to the dealer, or Saaghi as Niaz calls him, he was surprised when the dealer asked him why a man of his class and education was wasting his life on drugs. The saaghi then proceeded to tell him about Dost. Instead of buying heroin, Niaz used the last of his money to take a taxi to the Dost centre.
Determined to free himself of his addictions, he first went into the free, ten-day programme in the Darul Salaam drop-in centre. From there, he was referred to the Dost facility in Hayatabad where he was an out-patient for twenty days. Seeing his total determination to succeed, he was then admitted as a non-paying patient and stayed for eighteen days in detoxification and recovery. After that he underwent a full two and a half months treatment of rehabilitation.
With some semblance of normalcy and control back in his life, he started trying to, once more; pick up the tangled strings of his life. He called Germany and found that as he had been declared missing, then dead, his wives were now re-married and his children living with their grand parents.
Saddened by this final loss, he decided that he had to start taking responsibility for where his actions had led him. He knew that addiction was still too recently conquered a monster to be handled carelessly. He stayed on at Dost as a volunteer to help others like himself. The whole philosophy of Dost, its dedicated workers and the hope they offer the hopeless has made a deep impression on him. He is now keen on being repatriated to Afghanistan and has been offered a post there by the UNDCP/UNHCR. He says that drugs destroyed his life and left him without family, war without a country and fate leeched out all hope. Yet, at Dost, he has learnt not only to live again but also wants to do something, in his own country, for others like himself. Money, position and success are no longer goals. He says it is payback time. All he wants from life is peace and he says that working for others is the only way to achieve it.
I shall make no comments of my own about the work Dost does. Niaz’s story of death, devastation and, finally, the help he received in overcoming his problems and re-starting life says far more about the people who run that organisation than anything I could add. You decide whether or not Zakat given to this organisation would be money well spent. Islam teaches us that to save the life of one man is as though one had saved all mankind. How many lives have they saved in Dost?

Monday, 11 September 2017

QK archives: Afghanistan under the Taliban must make us shudder

Published by The NEWS on sunday' August 2000

LEARNING FROM AFGHANISTAN: lessons that pakistan can't easily ignore

Afghanistan must make us shudder!

The lessons for Pakistan from the Afghan experience are profound. Afghanistan was a dual society. The elite lived comfortably and even luxuriously. The mass of the people merely eked out a living without any of the trappings of modern civilization. The pressures of duality fractured the society, leading to political upheavals and war, and the consequential deaths and destruction on such a vast scale. The internal conditions for such a situation were provided by the Afghan ruling classes themselvesÉ Political Economy draws lessons from the tragedy of Afghanistan -- for our ruling elites' skeletons in the closet

Kaiser Bengali

Landing at Kabul or any airport in Afghanistan conveys the message, loud and clear, that one has arrived in a war zone. Off the runway, the grounds are littered with debris of anti-aircraft guns and planes, some burnt and charred, some partly blown off, and others lying in various angles. Airport buildings are pock-marked, interior furniture and furnishings have apparently been looted, and the few international passengers are dealt with at improvised immigration desks by officers wearing crumpled shalwar kameez and slippers, who make entries in registers bought in Peshawar book shops.

The drive to the city shows more signs of war damage. Charred and twisted tanks, armoured cars, trucks etc., litter both sides of the highway. Entering Kabul reveals the full horror of the war. About two-thirds of the city is completely destroyed, with about a dozen or at most two dozen buildings standing in the centre. One can drive for miles in the city and all one can see is rubble.

Imagine driving in Rawalpindi along Murree Road and onwards to Raja Bazaar, or in Lahore around the Assembly area along Mall Road, or in Karachi along M.A. Jinnah Road or University Road, or in Quetta along Jinnah Road, or in Peshawar through Chowk Yadgar or Hayatabad and every building on either side as far as the eyes can see is a pile of rubble. That is Kabul today.

Public utilities are rudimentary. The only vehicles on the streets are taxis and UN jeeps. The few private cars are mostly owned by government officials. Ninety percent of shops are either boarded up or empty, apparently looted. The Palace built by King Amanullah is also in ruins. Standing there, one can make out where fountains and other garden adornments must have been. Otherwise too, one can make out that Kabul was once a beautiful city, with broad two-way roads lined by trees and green belts and with several gardens and parks. But that is the Kabul that was.

Standing amidst the physical destruction leaves one numb and speechless. Most painful, however, is the human destruction; so plainly visible. The number of deaths and missing run into hundreds of thousands. But those who have survived are paying a continuing price. The war has shattered families and destroyed lives. More than once, I encountered old women who asked me to find sons who had been taken away by armed men and had never returned. More than once, I had to deal with old men who held my hand and wept because their sons had died. Standing on a corner of the city, I lost count of the number of disabled adults and children; some without arms, others without legs, some blind in one eye, others blind altogether. The sight of children without both legs crawling before you or children with one arm asking for alms is most heart breaking.

One family of five consists of a man and four minor children. The man is crippled on account of war wounds and cannot work. His wife was killed. The four minor children are the bread earners of the family. In the words of the man, sometimes they eat and sometimes they don't. Hunger is endemic. A survey in a northern city revealed that one fifth of households subsist largely on bread, onion soup and tea.

Over three fourths of households do not consume any meat, milk or fruits. During the survey, enumerators reported that respondents wept when asked how much of mutton, chicken, eggs, milk or fruit they consumed. Several said that their children did not know what these items tasted like.

It is also common to come across mentally disturbed people. One relatively well dressed man blocked the way of our vehicle and began to make a speech, as if in a public meeting. The driver had to get out and gently nudge him out of the way. Another man was found sitting motionless, face cradled in his right palm and legs crossed, on a pile of rubble on a street where houses on both sides had been bombed out. On inquiry, I was told that the house besides which he was sitting was where he used to live with his family. While he was away, the house had received a direct hit and the entire family had been killed. He arrived there every morning and left at sunset.

One teenager works as a tea boy in a donor office. His father is a professor at Kabul University, but has not been paid the meagre salary for months. His elder brother is an engineer, but sells old things on the street. His sister was a final year student at the University, but could not complete her education because of the Taliban edict. She just sits at home, doing nothing. He himself is the major bread earner of the family and cannot afford to go to school. He knows that without education his future is bleak, but surviving the present has to take precedence over the future.

The irony of the two decades of conflict in Afghanistan is that the city of Kabul was largely intact by the time the Russians left in 1989. The destruction was wrought on the Afghan people by the Mujahedeen commanders, the blue-eyed boys of the CIA and the ISI. Driving along a road in Kabul, one is told of Hikmatyar's control on the left side and Masood's control on the right. Further along, one is pointed out the area under Hizb-e-Wahdat control and so on. Different commanders controlled different areas of Kabul, shelled each other with the heaviest weapons available, and turned Kabul into rubble; murdering families and destroying lives. The Mujahedeen period from 1989 to 1996 is remembered by Afghans for its anarchy and lawlessness. Groups of armed men barging into homes, taking away any young men or older boys with them, looting whatever took their fancy, and raping women was a common occurrence.

The Taliban may be the bad boys in the eyes of the west and the drawing room liberals in Pakistan, but they have to be credited with imposing absolute peace in the parts of the country under their control. One may not agree with Taliban laws, but they have to be acknowledged for instituting the rule of law. Despite widespread hunger, robberies and holdups are rare. Truckers can drive from one end of the country to another without anyone accosting them for money or any favours. Most of all, women are safe. They can walk alone on the streets, albeit in a burqa, without any fear of being harassed. None of these claims can be made for the territory controlled by non-Taliban forces. And incidentally, none of these claims can be made for any part of Pakistan either.

The Islamic regime imposed by the Taliban is harsh indeed, particularly for women. In reality, however, what appears to have occurred in Afghanistan is not Islamization but tribalization. Prior to the war, whatever semblance of modernization there existed was limited to the city centres of Kabul and some other big cities. The modernized elite, who wore western dresses and sent their daughters to universities, was narrowly centred around the royal family and the military officer class. Outside of this island of relative modernity, Afghanistan existed in the medieval age. Mountain tribes had had no experience with electricity or telephones or with education or health facilities. In the world that they knew of, girls never went to schools and women never went to hospitals because there never ever had been any school or clinic in their village or in any of the villages that they knew of. When these mountain tribesmen gained the reins of power in Kabul, they could not but impose a social and political order that they were aware of and familiar with. What really occurred was that the Afghan hinterland arrived in and took over Kabul. For want of an ideological platform, however, they chose the banner of Islam.

The Taliban regime is also egalitarian in some respects. Ministers' offices are modest and they sit on the floor and eat like any body else, the head of Kabul airport commutes to work on a bicycle, and so on. However, the egalitarianism appears to be borne out of sheer poverty rather than conviction. This is indicated by the fact that the Taliban have reversed the land reforms of the 'communist' era and the lands distributed to poor peasants have been reverted to the feudal lords and tribal chiefs. For a war ravaged country, where one in seven household does not have any adult male or an able bodied male, the ban on women's work amounts to condemning these families to starvation and only betrays the Taliban's callousness regarding the plight of the under-privileged.

The lessons for Pakistan from the Afghan experience are profound. Afghanistan was a dual society. The elite lived comfortably and even luxuriously. The mass of the people merely eked out a living without any of the trappings of modern civilization. There was a rising urban bourgeoisie which was progressive enough to clamour for egalitarian change; but their efforts amounted to too little, too late. The pressures of duality fractured the society, leading to political upheavals and war, and the consequential deaths and destruction on such a vast scale. The criminal role of the two superpowers in using Afghanistan as their cold war battle ground and destroying at least two generations of a part of humanity cannot be over-looked, but the internal conditions for such a situation were provided by the Afghan ruling classes themselves.

Pakistan is no less a dual society, with sub-layers within each layer. Societal fault lines have primarily been created through parallel education systems. At one end are the westernized English-medium educated propertied class, whose life-styles would be the envy of any upper class family in any developed country. This class classifies itself as 'modernized' and encompasses the military, the civil bureaucracy, the judiciary, the major political parties, professionals, and even the nascent NGO-cracy. At the other end are the non-propertied Urdu-medium or Madrassah educated class. Both have a totally different and conflicting world view. While the upper elite subscribe to liberal values such as individual rights, gender equality, etc., the Madrassah graduates reject such liberal values and do not even subscribe to notions of democracy or human rights.

Pakistan is not Afghanistan by any stretch of imagination. Unlike Afghanistan, even the remotest village in Pakistan has been exposed to elements of modernity: electricity, telephones, schools, dispensaries, etc. The danger of a takeover by 14th century minded tribals is non-existent. However, it cannot be ignored that Pakistan is also a society fractured along multiple fault lines.

The 'modernized' upper elite is limited to E and F sectors in Islamabad and the Defence Societies in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. The 'modernized' upper elite has assured the best housing, education, health and recreation facilities for itself. It bears only about 15 percent of the tax burden, which will be reduced further now that Wealth Tax has been abolished. It has turned a blind eye to the fact that the mass of people live in slums, send their children to worthless schools and madrassahs, suffer morbidity and mortality on account of poor nutrition and health facilities, and yet bear over 85 percent of the tax burden. That the vast hinterland of the dispossessed Urdu-medium and Madrassah educated cadres will one day take over the capital cities is inevitable. That Pakistan too may suffer the nightmare of Afghanistan is something one can only pray against