Regarding 1971

Action for a Progressive Pakistan, a group of like-minded folks (I am a proud member) has just published an op-ed in Dhaka’s Daily Star concerning the actions of West Pakistan’s army against the people of (now) Bangladesh: We Apologize.

On May 13th, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dipu Moni asked that Pakistan formally announce an apology for 1971. To which Pakistan answered: Let bygones be bygones. I thought the Daily Star had a powerful retort.

APP wanted to chime in:

The outrageous dismissal of Bangladesh’s demand by the Pakistani foreign office — “let bygones be bygones” — is a shameful reflection of Pakistan’s constructed amnesia over the horrific actions of its army and its political leadership. Not only has there never been any move on the part of the Pakistani state to apologise to Bangladesh, there has not even been any sustained effort by citizens’ groups to pressure the government to publicly acknowledge the truth.

As Pakistanis, we find this unconscionable. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani army raped, killed and pillaged our brothers and sisters in East Pakistan in 1971. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani state has steadfastly refused to acknowledge these atrocities for the past 38 years, leave alone hold those responsible for them accountable as suggested by its own chief justice in the state commissioned inquiry. We reject the Pakistani state and army’s claim that these atrocities were committed in our name.

Dear Spencer

You have so many interlocuters here, here, here and here that to respond to your answer to my earlier comment, I am afraid that I have to move it up here above the fold.

We finally come to the nub of the matter. Your response makes it crystal clear that in your reading Taliban = Talibanization = Islamization = Pakistan (with the Muslim League and the Iranian Revolution as historical evidence). Against this absolutely ahistorical reading of present, I have been spewing on this blog for 5 long years. Go read the archives, should you want to guffaw with me.

You don’t grant any history to Pakistan or Afghanistan. You don’t want to hear their voices. You don’t care about any facts because for you, the more “salient” facts are the ones you have constructed. Here is the thing, though, what you marshall as evidence isn’t factual, at all. It is your analysis masquerading as facts. The sad reality is that your thinking is (and has been) the dominant trend in the US reaction to 9/11. I am certainly the minority voice.

The “Taliban”, according to your response, are a “broad political movement”. They are indeed political – on this we agree, absolutely. But if they are more than warlords – enabled by opium trade or Pakistani army – spewing religious screeds than you will have to show me the proof. What is their political base? If they are a political movement across Afghanistan and Pakistan since the 1990s, then show me when they contested in any of the 6 elections held in Pakistan or Afghanistan? Do they have candidates? Slogans? Now, I admit that I am refusing you the equivalence of Taliban with any old “Islamic-faith” based party – because it is a preposterous claim.1 But even if I grant you that: the fact remains that those Islamic parties have never garnered more than 7% of the popular vote. Ever. Facts do matters, Spencer. If you wish to convince others of your point of view. If, on the other hand, like the Bush (and now Obama) administration, you merely want to assert your known unknowns than you can do as you please.

Fundamentally, I understand the following to be your point of view: There is expansionsist Islamic-fascist power called the Taliban in Afghanistan/Pakistan. This power has to be stopped only by military means. This military might must be U.S. or its surrogate (though, don’t trust the surrogate). After the destruction, the Left can spearhead a flowering of democracy in South Asia. Or in your own words:

It is clear that the political struggle against Islamism in South Asia, as elsewhere, has a military aspect and that any marginally desirable political outcome will have been brought about at least in part by means of the violence of state action. Moreover, as most Leftists would doubtless be loathe to admit, the very prospect of reconstituting Leftist politics in South Asia rides to no small extent on the ability of the U.S. and NATO to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On this we disagree. And we disagree vehemently. I hate the radical Islamicists as much as you. As a historian and as a Pakistani, I recognize the immense damage that Z. A. Bhutto and Zia ul Haq’s Islamization (more specifically Sunnification) policies have caused to the Pakistani nation. As a secular humanist, I appreciate your concern and I will readily join you in working towards spreading a left-based democracy in Pakistan.

But, I don’t believe in the healing power of napalm. I have family and friends in Manshera, in Peshawer, in Abbotabad. I have spend time in those streets and alleys. I may be powerless against the drone, but I will speak out against it. I will make my stand – intellectually, ethically and morally – against raw military aggression of either the warlords or the national and international armies. The military response, now that it has come to it, should be smarter, focused, counter-insurgency based, and should not disrupt more lives than the warlords ever deemed imagine. It should incorporate a political front on which the long-standing grievances of the people in NWFP and Baluchistan would be addressed. To my non-expert eyes, those are the concerns which should shape Pakistani state’s response.

Let me end here. I would prefer that we continue this conversation at Jimmys.

  1. To claim that the 40-odd years of Muslim League political (with leadership coming from U.P and Bengal) understanding of Islam as a cohesive force is the same as the Taliban’s terror-based implementation of “Islamic law” is flabbergasting. []

The Lost Population

Habib Jalib 1971

The Swat offensive continues to generate humanitarian crisis. A crisis which the Army or the state are failing to deal with. In Karachi, MQM – the major political party and social group – has adopted the language of TALIBOTHRA to deny safety and comfort to the IDPs. Tensions between the Pashtun and the Muhajir (basically, two large immigrant groups in the Karachi megapolis) date back to the 1980s. Since 2007, there have been numerous bloody incidents in Karachi of MQM groups killing and destroying Pashtun neighborhoods and businesses.

Some are rejecting the demonization of IDPs but I fear it is not enough. The Pakistan Army is doing its customary best to tell us that only the Taliban are dying in the region, even as others call for even more violence towards the region.

Again, the calculus of displacing a million to catch or kill a few thousand makes little sense to me. I do confess that I am no military strategist but it seems that the impulse here is that we “cannot differentiate” between the good and the bad. So we bomb from afar and on-high. And we have no strategy for the civilians.

In 1971, as the Pakistan army went into East Pakistan, the great poet Habib Jalib said:

You are sowing love with bullets
You are washing the nation’s face with blood
You are sure that a path is being forged
I am convinced that you are losing your destiny.

Also, worth reading is Tom Engelhardt’s Going for Broke: Six Ways the Af-Pak War Is Expanding.

TXT “SWAT” TO 20222


“Americans can text the word “SWAT” — to the number 20222 and make a $5 contribution that will help the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees provide tents, clothing, food, and medicine to hundreds of thousands of affected people.” – Secretary Clinton, May 19th, 2009. You can make up to 5 such contributions.





Now, this last photo taken by Rahma Muhammad at Bacha Khan Chowk next to Mardan College needs some discussion.


In the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, many banned “religious” organizations, specifically the militant groups, were prominent contributors to the charity and relief work. Jamaat-e Dawa, previously known as Lashkar-e Taiba maintained a full hospital and many shelters under its humanitarian wing, Idara Khidmet-e Khalq (Department for Service to the People). This is now renamed as Falah-e Insaniyat Foundation (Welfare of Humanity Foundation). That camp, pictured above, has a telling banner: “مسلمانوں کا قتلِِ عام بند کيا جاۓ” (Stop the Rampant Killing of Muslims). Along with the prominently displayed flag. That rhetorical “Muslims” cannot be easily dismissed by the Pakistani military, which in its ham-fisted operation has displaced nearly a million civilians in order to kill or capture mere thousands. The math doesn’t add up, does it? Whatever the alternatives might be, this all-out military assault was the only thing that would satisfy the bloodlust here, and the schemers there. We, the American tax-payers, need to see that military power in action against the TALIBOTHRA.

Therein lies the rub. The displaced million are already persona non-grata in Lahore or Karachi. They are already at the mercy of international donors. Where is their state? What recourse or recompense do they have against this military assault? The chicken-hawks will exclaim that it is their just rewards for hosting the TALIBOTHRA; or maybe they are the necessary collateral damage. In the mean time, those speaking to them, about them are these militant organizations. It isn’t as simplistic as “hearts & minds” – but it is as simple as “state as protector”.

UNCHR can help in the short run, but it is the people of Pakistan who will need to embrace the displaced and get them back home, as soon as possible.

Update: Do see this interview done in Karachi w/ some displaced citizens. Thanks to Adaner. (Turn on the CC in English).

K. K. Aziz on Lahore

K. K. Aziz, 82, one of the most renowned historian of Pakistan, is gravely ill in Lahore. He is one of those cherished individuals who dare speak truth without the fear of consequence. He acted as the nation’s conscious for a long while [See especially, The Pakistani Historian: Pride and Prejudice in the Writing of History (1993)]. I am currently reading the second volume of his autobiography and I thought, I’d share this little bit about Lahore from his introduction.

Speedy recovery, Professor Aziz.

From the 1920s onwards, perhaps even earlier, Lahore was the most highly cultured city of north India. From here appeared the largest number of Urdu literary joundals, newspapers, and books and two of the best English language dailies. The Mayo School of Arts was flourishing. The Young Men Christian Association was active and its premises and halls were used by all communities for literary and social activities. The Government College was a distinguished intellectual center whose teachers were respected and students considered to be the best representatives of modern Western education. The Oriental College was engaged in first class research. The annual plays staged at Government College and Dyal Singh College were awaited by the city’s elite with high expectations. Eminent journalists and columnists wrote for newspapers and graced literary gatherings. The city rang with the echoes of the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Noon Meem Rashid, Hafeez Jallandhari and Akhtar Sherani. The Niazmandan-e Lahore, the magic circle of A. S. Bokhari, Abdul Majeed Salik, M. D. Taseer, Hafeez Jallandhari, Sufi Tabassum, Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj and Hari Chand Akhtar, created enormous waves in the world of Urdu literature.

The well-to-do Westernized elite drank and danced and talked in the Gymkhana and Cosmopolitan clubs. The home-grown dazzling lights set off their fireworks at the Arab Hotel, Nagina Bakery, Mukham Din’s teashop, Halqa-i Arbab-e Zauq, India Tea House and India Coffee House. The greatest in the land, like Tagore, came and spoke at the SPSK Hall. Political debates were held at Bradlaugh Hall. Amrita Sher Gill painted and B. C. Sanyal sculpted. The best British and American films were screened at Regal and Plaza. There was even a school of ballroom dancing on the upper storey of Regal. The baithaks in the walled city trained musicians and singers and invited the connoisseurs to come and listen to the classical music. The radio came a little later and the literati wallowed in a new channel which immediately enlarged the circulation of what they wrote, said or composed.

A glorious physical setting for this pulsating intellectual activity was provided by the Lahore that the British built between 1860 and 1935. Impressive edifices adorned the landscape: Lawrence Hall, Chief’s College, Government House, High Court, Masonic Lodge, Legislative Assembly, General Post Office, Museum, Mayo School of Art, Government College, and Central Training College. The queen of all roads, the Mall, was bordered by tall trees and wide footpaths, and boased a glittering array of expensive shops. The Race Course and the Lawrence Gardens were the lungs of the city. No high rise buildings existed. With no encroachments the roads looked wider. The bungalows of Davis, Empress, Egerton, Queens and Jail Roads were elegantly located in the middle of green lawns. The skyline was soothing. Nature’s green was the dominating color of the city. Breathing was easy, and so was enjoying life.
– K. K. Aziz. The Coffee House of Lahore: A Memoir 1942-57. (Lahore: Sang-e Meel Publications, 2008): 6-10.

Those curious about the Coffee House should also read A. Hamid’s recollection.