THE disputes between India and Pakistan have cast a long and dark shadow over their relationship since the two countries stepped out of colonial bondage in 1947. The circumstances surrounding their birth made it inevitable that ill feelings would mar ties and make coexistence difficult.
But did it have to be so forever? This question is now being asked by sane and rational people on both sides of the border. Even after seven decades that saw a major reconfiguration of the map of South Asia through three wars and the breakup of Pakistan, this question has a strange urgency to it. Continue reading “Love thy neighbour”
When a pioneering journalist pens her memoirs, you pay attention. Especially when she is Zubeida Mustafa of Pakistan, a long-time feminist and champion of social causes who, from her editorial perch at the daily Dawn, witnessed momentous transitions in the country’s media and political landscapes for over three decades. Beyond being a witness to change, she has also, as she realises with a thrill, “been a part of it, at times driving it and at times being driven by it.”
The narrative in this slim hardcover, My Dawn Years: Exploring Social Issues, is quintessential Zubeida Mustafa: direct, understated, deep, nuanced, thorough — and meticulously indexed. Black and white photos, though somewhat grainy, are well captioned, providing a pictorial reference to many of the events and people mentioned in the book. Continue reading “Integrity above all”
Pakistan was 70 in 2017, and there were many, apart from the midnight’s children, who also celebrated their seventieth anniversary. One of the outstanding institutions was the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) which was set up in Delhi in 1936 and was moved to Pakistan in 1947.
The PIIA is an autonomous body which describes itself as an independent think tank. Its quarterly journal, Pakistan Horizon, has an uninterrupted publication record of seven decades, though delays at times kept readers waiting impatiently. Its history has also witnessed ups and downs – there being a period when the government took it over and installed a retired army general with a not too savoury record in East Pakistan to act as the administrator. It goes to the credit of what we call ‘civil society’ in retrieving the institution after a court case.
Wth the PIIA’s record of reasonably independent research, quite unlike the Islamabad think tanks which serve as institutions to reinforce the government’s policies, I expected a healthy discourse on our foreign policy at the conference on peace in South Asia organised on this occasion. However, I returned home with a strong sense of let-down after listening to the keynote address by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, formerly my co-professional. By simply reiterating “the Establishment’s” point of view, as the first questioner from the audience put it, the senator tried to convince us that all was well with Pakistan. According to him, it had emerged as the pivot on which world geopolitics revolved, as the founding father had predicted in 1947.
The senator forgot to mention that the pivot has to be strong if it is to take the load successfully and not collapse under the stress it is inevitably required to take. Rahimullah Yusufzai, who mercifully continues to be a journalist and benefits us with his insightful analysis, put it very succinctly when he asked his former editor from his days at The Muslim, why he didn’t touch upon the foreign policy mistakes Pakistan had made so that they are not repeated. Having become a politician, Mushahid deflected the very valid point made by Mr. Yusufzai by sidetracking it.
Having said this, I should point out that Mushahid Hussain made an excellent analysis of the international situation in South Asia, which has created a new dynamic in the region that has spawned the “opportunities and challenges for peace” that were under discussion at the conference. He was spot-on when he pointed out the changes that have come about in world politics which have placed Pakistan at the centre-stage of present-day developments. Thus there is the shift in the centre of global power from the West to the East, as the US is on the decline while China is emerging as the new force for which the One Belt One Road (OBOR) will play a key role. There is the evolution of a new South Asia extending from Kazakhstan to Myanmar and held together by regionalism created by geopolitics, the drive for economic cooperation and the compulsion to solve their problems, especially those posed by climate change and the population explosion, collectively.
There have been complicating factors too that have hindered the peacemaking process in the region. Take for instance the nuclearisation of India and Pakistan and the intensification of the cold war between them. As for human development, even if others in the region do not join hands for a collective effort, Pakistan has lagged behind in improving the life of its people. Poverty is today a major issue in the region.
These are some of the challenges that have to be faced if peace has to come to South Asia. But it was the Establishment’s voice that found expression when Senator Mushahid spoke approvingly of our nuclear bomb which, according to him, has infused confidence in us. He appeared to uphold our role in the Afghan war that we fought on behalf of the US – and as a consequence of which Pakistan played host to three million Afghan refugees. Mushahid Hussain also described our media as free – an exaggeration – because we now have over 100 independent privately owned channels. But the numbers don’t guarantee them their freedom.
Who doesn’t know about the dangers we now face on account of our nuclear bomb and the morass we have plunged ourselves into by getting involved in Afghanistan, especially when it was the US which started the war by infiltrating guerrillas across the Durand line at least six months before the Soviet tanks rolled into Kabul in December 1979.
It is strange that Senator Mushahid failed to acknowledge that a country should be economically powerful, politically stable and socially integrated if it really wants to be a force to be reckoned with in the region, Focusing too much on being a security state is not really helping.
Mr Yusufzai was right when he suggested to his former boss that the people should be told about the mistakes we have made if we want to learn from history. Unfortunately we shy away from that and insist on sticking to some of our irrational policies, especially vis-à-vis India. True, Narendra Modi’s government in Delhi has not been too helpful. But what about us? Haven’t our self-created “strategic assets” robbed us of our initiative in the peace process with India? It takes two to tango.
Some of the speakers who followed in the next sessions were the redeeming features of the conference. Theirs was not just a pep talk to please the audience, but contained serious warnings about the dangers that lie ahead.
AT the inaugural session of its 70th anniversary conference, the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Karachi, did us proud when the proceedings were conducted in Urdu. It was a pleasure to hear chaste Urdu perfectly articulated at an occasion not dominated by our Urdu litterateurs.
I was told that this was at the suggestion of President Mamnoon Hussain who was the chief guest. Masuma Hasan, the chairperson of the institute, confirmed it, adding that it was her idea as well. Urdu is Pakistan’s national language, so no one should challenge Masuma’s decision. However, the smooth sailing at the PIIA function made me wonder why the demand for other provincial languages being given the same constitutional status cannot be considered favourably. Continue reading “It wasn’t English”
A RECENTLY launched collection of Hamza Alavi’s papers and speeches should be a timely reminder to us about the role that faith has come to play in Pakistan’s politics. Translated into Urdu by Dr Riaz Ahmad Shaikh (dean of Social Sciences, Szabist), Tashkeel-i-Pakistan: Mazhab aur Secularism leaves no one in doubt about the misuse of religion by our leaders to gain advantages in public life at the expense of the people’s well-being and the national interest.
Hamza Alavi, who was a Marxist scholar recognised in world academia, firmly believed that the founder of this country never sought to set up a theocratic state. Yet that is the direction in which Pakistan appears to be heading. Continue reading “Misuse of faith”
IN the introduction to Pakistan at the Crossroad, Christophe Jaffrelot labels Pakistan as a “client state” and a “pivotal state”. For long, we had been dubbed an ideological state and a security state.
None of these titles are too flattering, but they are not inaccurate. The status of being a client and a pivot stems from Jaffrelot’s observation about Pakistan’s “ability to navigate at the interface of domestic and external dynamics”. Continue reading “Running where?”
THIS year an alternative discourse dominated the weeks leading up to the middle of August, when, 70 years ago, Pakistan and India became independent. Marking a shift in focus, the public narratives moved away from the traditional recounting of the politics of the leaders in the 1940s to the experiences of the common man whose fate was decided.
This, to me, is a significant development. This people-to-people interaction at the grass roots can eventually pave the way for peace in the region. It may also change the public perception of the events of 1947. Until now, the people of the two countries have been exposed to one-sided accounts of their leaders’ political ‘achievements’ and the ‘deceit’ of the ‘other side’. The new narrative can be termed the ‘people’s history’. It is oral so that more people can be accessed in South Asia. And these are untold stories. Continue reading “Time to heal”
Our country’s history predisposes us to dwell on the tensions of the civil and military relationship and the resultant impact on our politics. Implicit in the spasmodically yet doggedly publicized affaire of Dawn ‘Leaks’ is the underwriting of the thought that the armed forces and the civil government are/may/will be at cross-purposes; or that one or both of these bulwarks of the state may have conflicting currents within them: A more perilously confusing state—domestically and internationally—than the frank impropriety of civil government being subservient to military diktat; or the armed forces blatantly flouting or choosing to act independently of civilian policy’s direction and directives. Continue reading “Flipping pages”
IN August, Pakistan will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of its independence. This has understandably spawned a spate of soul searching. It was in abundance at the Karachi Literature Festival. The session titled “Pakistan: a fragile state or resilient nation” focused entirely on the state and didn’t address the issue of resilience at all. The state was held responsible for all the evils that have befallen us.
Unsurprisingly, the speakers concentrated on identifying the villain of the piece that was said to be the ‘state’ — an abstract term. As the discussion proceeded, the state became the “invisible state” and then the “deep state”. The audience clearly understood that these terms referred to the army which has played a central role in determining Pakistan’s destiny. Continue reading “Blame rests on ….”