Monday, August 28, 2017


It is only after you have effectively dealt with the past that you can move on to a meaningful future.

 Earlier this month, Donald Trump tweeted, as he does, that “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.” He carried on to say that he was “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart.” He was speaking of confederate statues being pulled down around the country following the recent riots in Charlottesville, and probably his sadness was based on the fact that the confederate heroes whose statues were pulled down were his heroes too.
It is probably the one occasion upon which the current President of the United States made an interesting argument, although when the rest of his arguments following this event are taken into consideration, the argument is revealed for what it is: the tweeting of a raving racist.
It is possible to learn from history, particularly when it is visibly preserved in the environment in the shape of buildings, monuments, statues, names, even though they may not celebrate what is currently accepted as ‘good’, but something that was once considered praiseworthy.
Viewed in the present these names and structures simply point to a historic event or fact, bringing that past – which may otherwise be forgotten, to our notice with the question: “What do you think about this thing that once existed?”
The only reason to tamper with the past is an intention to mislead.
In Pakistan where history is regularly distorted and changed, and the names of places, roads, localities, institutions are replaced with ‘Islamic’ versions, a vacuum is created. This vacuum is filled with misinformation such as the controversy surrounding Muhammad bin Qasim, who invaded Sindh in the seventh century AD who was referred to by speakers at a function organised by the Jamat e Islami (JI) as ‘the First Pakistani’. This of course is part of the struggle in some quarters to disassociate ourselves from our Indian roots and move closer to the Arabs, a kind of putting up an ‘Al-Bakistan’ number plate, as it were.
In one of his engaging articles on the subject, Nadeem Piracha points out the two narratives surrounding the subject, the first in which Muhammad bin Qasim was sent here because the governor of Sindh, Raja Dahir, would not control the plunder of Arab ships by pirates belonging to his region. In this narrative Muhammad bin Qasim is said to have ‘brought Islam to the region’.
The second narrative, says Piracha, fails to find adequate evidence to support the first.
It does appear that Qasim came to Sindh, and established a government, but only briefly. There is no proof to support the popularly accepted reason for Qasim’s invasion of Sindh. That it was plain plunder of a rich province of India has not been disproved. What’s more, the Islam that Qasim supposedly brought to the region was short lived. Most converts reverted to whatever religion they had converted from very shortly after his death.
In 1976, during the rule of that great Al-Bakistani Gen Zia ul Haq, who of course subscribed to the ‘First Pakistani version,’ an act of Parliament was passed that dictated that school curricula should ‘Acknowledge and identify forces that may be working against Pakistan’; they should ‘Make speeches on Jihad,” ‘Collect pictures of policemen, soldiers, and national guards,’ and of ‘India’s evil designs against Pakistan.’
There, right there, were some expenditures guaranteed.
Following debate, and criticism, a new curriculum was put in place in 2007 that acknowledged a few glaring facts such as diversity of culture and religion, and mentioned Jinnah’s views on inclusiveness. Efforts are also visible in this curriculum to eliminate prejudice against ‘the non-Muslims of pre-Independence India.’
The damage of course has been done. The country is well and truly infused with the ‘Al-Bakistan’ mindset which will take a much greater and prolonged effort to undo. It is a mindset that other than disowning its roots, insists on everyone falling within a flawed identity, the boundaries of which are topped with barbed wire tipped in poison.
But what should be done with those monuments, roads and names if they celebrate values that are no longer considered ‘right’?
It is difficult to decide what is ‘right’ because what is right for one group is very wrong for another. Besides, who is to adjudicate the matter? But once that is determined, or if something is clearly unacceptable to the bulk of a population, ought these monuments to be removed?
In the case of the statues in Charlotte, Carolina and elsewhere in the US, they were not statues celebrating ideologies such as capitalism or Marxism where there can be debate regarding the positive points of either. They were not statues of religious figures. They were statues of confederate heroes, monuments that celebrate racism, and racism never fails to hurt, damage and destroy. It is something that is now mercifully universally unacceptable, except by some people, and we saw them represented recently on the streets in Virginia. So yes, they should be removed if the public demands it.
Once removed though these monuments should be housed in a museum, not destroyed as was the statue in Durham, North Carolina. They should be preserved where people are still able to view a history that is no longer visible on the streets. People ought to witness and be aware that there was a time when such people were respected, and what resulted from their actions.
Of course museums are in short supply in Pakistan, where also the people have their hands full dealing with the present without going out of their way to check out the past. But that is a separate story.
Someone suggested that the pedestals on which the removed statues once stood should remain where they are. It is a good idea. Also a good idea is to place information on those pedestals about the statues that once stood there, with pictures, and a bit of history. It is after all only after you have effectively dealt with the past that you can move on to a meaningful future.
George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher said: Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Truer words have seldom been spoken.

Monday, August 21, 2017


…and find no difference

Anyone who incites violence in the name of what is right possesses a personal agenda
There is always something to love about every country. There is an America one can love, a United States not raised on the murder of its original population, an aspect that is not political, not based on wars, just as there were three sets of people, one (in the minority) segment that voted the current President into power in the last elections, one that voted for someone else, and one that did not vote at all.  This side that you see now makes you want to weep. It is like finding a friend humiliatingly, stinking drunk, lurching from one end of the room to another, screaming inanities. This is not the America of warm people, not the America that was nurtured on ideals, the America that gave the world some of the greatest technology it has seen in modern times, or the America that took man to the moon. It is an America that saw the moon and leered at it, and said it was like…fill in whichever part of a woman’s anatomy here…and slobbered.
But then again, which part of the world is preferable? The world has become an insidious place, full of treacherous agendas and hatred. There are those who will read the paragraph above and will scoff and ask who it was that killed millions in Iraq and Afghanistan, that killed millions more in Vietnam, and Japan and Korea, but tell me, who is it that is working its way up to killing another large number in sectarian violence, in mindless political gatherings, in abductions? Who is joining alliances that are equipped to kill, based on ideological differences alone? Pakistan today…and for a long time now…has made its people weep.
One hears what people say in this country, and their tone is supremely sanctimonious when they criticise what is currently happening in the US, the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the riots, the murder of Heather Heyer, the violence following the pulling down of the confederate statue, and the inane threats tossed around between the POTUS and Kim Yong-un. But it is in our own interests to see the carefully nurtured conflict between India and Pakistan for what it is, to realise that sectarian violence here is the same as Neo-Nazism and White Supremacist groups and riots elsewhere. It is as wrong for the judiciary to function under an agenda as it is for the Mooch to kiss the President’s butt, or for people to stomp with so much venom on the fallen confederate statue. Where is the difference between the shouted rhetoric of anyone atop a container, bearded, un-bearded, fat, capped, or good-looking…and a man who trumpet’s his prejudice and vulgarity into the ears of an astounded world that has long strived to move away from the values he defends?
It has been a long, hard slog that attempt to pull oneself out of the depths into which for some reason humans love to wallow. In Pakistan the greatest victims have been the Hazara people, the Shias, the people of the Ahmadiyya faith, Christians and Hindus, the poor because their issues and all other issues have received no attention, and the entire country in their wake. We have a long way to go. One mocks the Sadiq and Amin clause in the constitution, and questions who, after all, is Sadiq and Amin. It bears thinking then: who after all is Muslim? Does anyone know, or is this the business of God alone? So what does it matter who has a white skin and who does not? I know people who are ‘white’ but who are a shade darker than I am. Where do they fit on the scale of supremacy? Does it matter? Is this insistence on proving yourself Muslim and who knows what else a bid for attention on the part of some people, for power on the part of others, and sheer dumb ignorance on the part of others? And yet everyone is drawn into the resultant tide of violence and vituperative rhetoric.
It needs no telling who the victims were in the Jewish holocaust in Germany, and as a result of the white supremacy hallucinations, that people such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Lincoln, and Rosa Parks amongst so many others fought to dispel.
Such things will only and only ever be defeated by rational dialogue, by planning and education. They can never be defeated by slogans, by waving fists in the air, stones, sticks or bullets. Anyone who incites violence in the name of what is right should instantly be known for possessing a personal agenda, which takes down many people, from the President of the United States who advocates police brutality and endorses racist violence to almost every prominent politician in this country. All such people from one end of the world to the other have a lot in common. They all shoot their mouth, they all yell into the mike, they all wave a self-righteous finger into the air and pump their fists. Each one of them appeals to emotion alone, and to the lowest of base instincts in the people they profess to govern, and never, ever to reason.
Given rational education and only then can there be less violence and hate in the world, and on television. If it weren’t for Coke Studio, the tube would self-destruct. On which ridiculous note this had better end.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


May God bless the people of Pakistan
 …it isn’t the leaders who make us proud. It is people like this. 

The common people of the country.

 Seventy years into the creation of Pakistan, it may be a good time to remind ourselves of the national anthem of the country. Since it is written using words that are gobbledygook to the bulk of the population, here it is in English, which is also gobbledygook to the bulk of the population.

Blessed be the sacred Land:
Happy be the bounteous realm
Symbol of high resolve
Land of Pakistan
Blessed be thou citadel of faith
The order of this sacred land
Is the might of the brotherhood of the People
May the nation, the country, and the state
Shine in glory everlasting
Blessed be the goal of our ambition
This Flag of the Crescent and Star
Leads the way to progress and perfection
Interpreter of our past, glory of our present
Inspiration of our future
Symbol of the Almighty’s protection

Jinnah said, “I have lived as Mr Jinnah, and I hope to die as Mr Jinnah. I am very much averse to any title of honours, and I would more than happy if there was no prefix to my name.”
Next month, on the 11th of September is the sixty-ninth death anniversary of the man we prefer to call Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It would take too long to enumerate all the things he hoped for that have been dashed to the ground. Let’s just say: long live the Pakistan of Mr Jinnah’s dreams, and may the one which promotes exclusivity, discriminates against its citizens, and is riddled with corruption of every kind mend its ways, never mind what the rest of the world does. Amen.
The foundation of neither Jinnah’s Pakistan nor Nehru’s India was based on walls and exclusion. Yet earlier this year, General Bajwa announced the building of a fence between Pakistan and Afghanistan had commenced. And India last year activated eight virtual laser walls along the border with Pakistan, and had plans to activate four more.
India and Bangladesh share the fifth longest land border of the world, and half of this border has been fenced. Upon this the impaled body of a fifteen year old girl was once discovered.
All these walls and fences divide people who are culturally one.
Elsewhere in the world, Israel has been building a wall for more than a decade, and the US has plans for another. Saudi Arabia not to be left behind by its greatest buddy, is building a six hundred mile wall cum ditch in the north, to separate itself from Iraq.
As for discrimination, there is no need to look further than the blasphemy law.
The Islamabad High Court recently suggested that the blasphemy law should be amended to make it as punishable for a person accusing someone of blasphemy as it is for a person committing blasphemy. The problem is of course, that if people are falsely accused of committing blasphemy, they can also be falsely accused of accusing someone of committing blasphemy. It isn’t hard, and in this country where there is little recourse to justice quite tempting for people that way inclined. Would it not be better to remove the law completely? Such a law is discriminatory and has no place in any society.
Meantime, a couple of months ago, a Christian man was arrested in Lahore, for alleged blasphemy. And a Christian man was tortured in Sheikhupura by a Muslim woman’s family, for being ‘friends’ with her. They saw no irony in their actions, much less the inhumanity.
Meantime also, the latest PM unable finish his term is back home in Lahore. He was not accompanied on the way there by his tweeting daughter, or his tweeting sister in law. You wish someone would close down Twitter, which would have the added advantage of giving the POTUS a bellyache.
Jinnah would firmly request to be put back in his grave if he ever returned and witnessed the corruption in Pakistan. The Sharif family is not the only one riddled with corruption, although the relationship between that and Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification was nebulous enough to point towards corruption in other quarters.
This is rather a negative tirade on the occasion of Pakistan’s seventieth anniversary. But tell me, what should we celebrate? Although wait, there is this:  There are people such as the Edhis, Adib Rizvi – whose SIUT provides free medical treatment for kidney and liver disease and cancer, Parveen Saeed – the three rupee lady, who provides meals for that price to the poor at Khana Ghar, and many others like them. As long as people like this can call Pakistan home, this country can hold its head up in the world.
Yes, it isn’t the leaders who make us proud. It is people like this.  The common people of the country. May God bless the people of Pakistan, for it is from among them that we obtain our pride.

Monday, August 7, 2017


This country often seems close to a destruction brought about by its own people.
The PTI women’s wing’s challenge shows how little justice is understood, how seldom people think, how unable they are to relate one thing to another and arrive at a rational ‘therefore’, and how confused they are in their values and priorities.
A small Pakistani child was treated for a rare heart disease in India recently. This specialised surgery could not be performed in Pakistan which lacked the expertise. Of course in Pakistan in the Punjab, young doctors have repeatedly been on strike over the years. This Sunday was the fifth day of their current strike. 46 doctors have been suspended.  Jail Road in Lahore was the scene of riots. Water cannons, batons and tear gas were used to disperse protestors and members of the Young Doctors’ Association (YDA). You wonder whether things might improve if there were some organised efforts by the relevant Ministries to discuss demands.
Pakistan also appears to be on the brink of a communications blackout. Underwater cables that provide most of Pakistan’s bandwidth have been damaged near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Businesses are the first to suffer due to poor connectivity, which impacts the entire country. The Profit – a magazine of this newspaper – reported that ‘Planning on the part of relevant authorities seems to be myopic. Pakistan has the least number of submarine cables providing internet connectivity, just six, five of which have been laid in the last 14 years. Are the planners aware of the repercussions of their lack of planning?’
Another important question is: do they care?
Meantime, this newspaper also reported that while power shortage and subsequent load shedding continues in this country, the journal ‘Science Advances’ has warned of “summer heat waves with levels of heat and humidity that exceed what humans can survive without protection.” About 30 percent of the population in the region would be exposed to these harmful temperatures, and the densely populated farming regions of South Asia could fare the worst, because workers cannot escape into air-conditioned environments. If air-conditioned environments existed for them, that is, which they don’t.
In Skardu, torrential rains have flooded several areas, and destroyed homes. Roads are blocked due to floods and people there are in need of aid. Relief operations are said to be underway.
While all this and much more takes place in the country, those that ought to be immersed in solving these issues, and the public, have been spending much of that damaged bandwidth on following little more than the latest on Ayesha Gulalai. And here’s the funny thing: The PTI women’s wing has recently issued a warning to Gulalai, asking her to ‘apologise or face the Jirga.’
That is a challenge which says a lot.
The Jirga/Panchayat system of Pakistan is based on old tribal custom where a group of village elders passes judgement on any matter that requires adjudication.
This system exists in the presence of the mainstream judicial system of the country. While it is impossible for two separate systems to co-exist, much as it is for two deities, there have been arguments for the Jirga to continue, since the mainstream system is seen to have failed the country. This might be disputed in some quarters, particularly in the light of the support received by the recent judgement against the Prime Minister, when actually it is in the light of that very judgement that the mainstream system has shown itself once again, to be in need of an overhaul. But the solution to treating your daughter’s disease is not to allow her to die and to produce yet another daughter to replace her. It is to try and cure that disease.
The last persons to tout the Jirga should be women.
Which is what would make the PTI women’s wing’s challenge so funny if it were not to sad. Their challenge shows how little justice is understood, how seldom people think, how unable they are to relate one thing to another and arrive at a rational ‘therefore’, and how confused they are in their values and priorities.
The Jirga/Panchayat system had until earlier this year no validity according to the constitution, but it is allowed to persist because tradition is harder to override than other things, and because the alternatives are pathetic. Therefore, better the devil you know. In February this year the National Assembly passed a Bill that gives that tribal system constitutional cover. It came into effect immediately in the Capital and was to be extended gradually throughout the country. The Sindh High court has not accepted this move and banned Jirgas from passing judgement in that province.
Women are the greatest victims of Jirgas, which shows how much the PTI women’s wing is in touch with reality. Jirgas and Panchayat are entirely composed of men. Since Jirgas exist in areas which are also overwhelmingly biased against women, this bias is invariably reflected in its decisions.
Not only are Jirgas composed entirely of men, but these men belong to the influential segment of society. Which, in this country, means the landowners and feudal lords. That is damning not just for women, but for women from the downtrodden, oppressed segment of society since landowners and feudal lords do not have the best track record, neither in their attitudes towards women nor in their dealings with the less fortunate segment of society.
Given all this, when a biased judgement is passed, and it invariably is, a Jirga system provides no means of appeal. You accept that your daughter, sister, mother is responsible for causing the man to rape her and she pays the penalty, when in fact you know that her rapist was a cad of the first water who knew who would get away with his crime. And did.
Last year, a nine year old girl in the Punjab was handed over to settle a murder case decided by a Panchayat. She was the sister of the murderer who was ordered to be married to the murdered woman’s uncle.
In a similar case this year a three year old girl was ordered to be married by a Jirga in the Neelum Valley to settle a dispute in the family.
Also last year, ‘a Jirga of notables’ in Mirpurkhas settled a case of rape with thirty maunds of wheat. The victim’s father said he was forced to accept the judgement by the Jirga.
In Gujrat, a women set herself on fire and died after a judgement passed by a Panchayat. In her case her father was accused (and later released) on a charge of raping a minor girl. The Panchayat ordered that the accused rapist’s daughter (the woman who set herself on fire) should be raped in turn by the minor girl’s father.
These are only some of the decisions passed by Jirgas and Panchayat in this country. And the PTI woman’s wing has threatened another woman with a similar brand of ‘justice’. This is a political party that was also vociferous in its praise for the recent Supreme Court verdict. Hoist by your own petard, PTI.
I’m not sure I want the fate of this country which already hangs in the balance to be anywhere in the vicinity of such a group of people, not that other groups are any better.
Maybe Asma Jahangir – who makes a great deal of sense in what she says but lacks the appropriate manner in which to convey herself – should start a grassroots effort to communicate her views on justice to the common people of this country. Because lacking such views as hers, this country will be destroyed, and its own people will have brought about this destruction.