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On Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

C.M. Naim’s, A Professor Emiretus had shared this some months ago:

“What an extraordinary man he was. Iftikhar Alam Sahib has been publishing books about him — about his little known aspects, the kind of things that our buqrat in Urdu departments never think to write about and our social scientists have never bothered to discover.
The […]

A definitive history of Pakistan

Pakistan’s best-known historian, Ayesha Jalal, is back with a new book: The Struggle For Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics. This book essentially synthesises much of Jalal’s earlier work that by all accounts is rich and comprehensive. In short, the new book presents an overview of Pakistan’s progression as a national security state, a lop-sided federation to its current existential woes fuelled by state-sponsored Islamisation. Jalal acknowledges that the country’s Islamic identity was not enough to hold it together and the continued cycles of military rule turned it into a polity that cannot provide full citizenship rights to all Pakistanis.

This emphasis on citizenship is an important perspective that Jalal has brought forth to a global reader, who views the country as an epicentre of terror and blowing itself as a jihadi state. As the premier scholar on the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jalal refers to the origins of Pakistan as a “truncated … moth-eaten and mutilated state” in the most peculiar circumstances of 1940s and the breakdown of power-sharing schemes that were deliberated in that decade. Lord Mountbatten’s ominous sentence marked the start: “As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are putting up a tent. We can do no more.” And even today in many parts of the country, the tent exists without a responsive state structure. Sixty-seven years later, Pakistan is a country of 200 million people with no local governments that can assure accountable services (including security) to its citizens.

Pakistan’s insecurity is rooted in that phase when it was widely projected that it may just collapse under the burden of its inherent contradictions. Over 40 million Muslims stayed in India; its two wings were 1,000 miles apart and the task of creating a nation-state was even more onerous given the diversity — ethnic, linguistic and religious — of the new state. Nearly 25 per cent of Pakistanis in 1947 were non-Muslims (today only four to five per cent are). The perennial debate on Pakistan’s national identity has not ended. […]

Conspiracy Theories as ‘History’

Pakistan’s official historian in a book on education has to say this about 1971 tragedy when we lost half of our country. I don’t blame the minds who cite ‘external’ conspiracy at the drop of the hat because this is what we have popularized. Overlook the failings and crimes of Pakistani state and blame it on everyone else. Three generations have internalized this and I guess this is enough time to shape norms and ‘truths’. ‪History‬ and its teaching is farce. It would have been funny had it not resulted in such disastrous consequences for a populace esp the young minds.

Image via Manan Ahmad, a professor at ‪Columbia‬ University.


After the Army’s public statement, the crisis deepens

My storified tweets on the deepening Political crisis in Pakistan.


August 31st, 2014|governance, History, Pakistan, Politics, Storify|0 Comments

The heart divided

Here’s an excerpt from my book ‘Delhi, by heart’ that was featured in TFT


I am not sure how I met Bunty. It was perhaps through a reference from the office during one of my early work-related visits. Bunty Singh, brother of Sunny Singh and Goldie Singh, became my guide and companion. Sunny and Bunty have set up a mini empire of rental cars through investments made by Goldie who lives in Germany and is married to a “good” German girl. Bunty, a boisterous, internet-savvy young Sardar, found me to be somewhat like him. We spoke in Punjabi, often using lines that would quite miss those outside the ‘Punju’ realm. And we both were equally fascinated by each other-the thirty-something grandchildren of Partition.

So after an hour of awkward client-service interaction, Bunty decided to befriend me. It was just the right thing to have happened I guess. How else would I know a real Sardar? Most of my interactions with Sikhs took place when I was a student in the UK decades ago.

However, as soon as there was mention of Partition, there was a palpable unease. It was only after a day or two that he confided how half his family was butchered at a railway station.

To use Amrita Pritam’s words:

Who can guess

How difficult it is

To nurse barbarity in one’s belly

To consume the body and burn the bones?

I am the fruit of that season

When the berries of Independence came into blossom. (Translated from the Punjabi by Harbans Singh)


Redeeming our tryst with destiny

Raza Rumi took a group of Pakistani politicians to India where, amid food fests and conferences and emotionally charged mushairas, the first pages of a new history were written

After weeks of hectic preparations, last-minute revolutions and all the trappings of an Indo-Pak event, we arrived at Wagah border on a humid September morning. Unlike my other visits to India, this was meant to be a different undertaking: playing the organizer, acting as co-host (Jinnah Institute) – and that too of a high-powered delegation of Pakistani parliamentarians who had consented to represent their respective parties in a “Track Two” engagement with their Indian counterparts. The India-Pakistan peace bus is often boarded by the usual suspects from civil society and the candle-light vigil wallahs, who often return home to face the cynicism of the realists, the hawks, and all those who have a stake in the status quo. But this was different.

The Pakistani delegation at Wagah
The Pakistani delegation at Wagah
 Due to Pakistan’s truncated democratic history, and the limited control of civilians on India policy, there have been fewer interactions between the “elected” from both countries. These are men and women who pass through the arduous grind of building support in complex constituencies, answering the public on serious and not-so-serious issues, and generally being the punching bag for all that comes with the post-colonial bureaucratic states of South Asia. The Pakistani delegation was a good mix with almost all parties represented in the Parliament. MNAs Ayaz Amir, Sardar Mansab Dogar and Hafiz Noman represented the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N); Senators Saeed Ghani, Rubina Khalid and Saifullah Magsi represented the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP); and the firebrand Haider Abbas Rizvi and Abdul Rasheed Godil represented the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). The Awami National Party (ANP) was led by Bushra Gohar and Senator Farah Aqil. The delegation was later joined by Kashmala Tariq of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), representing a particular faction which calls itself “Like-Minded”.

After crossing the border, we were driven to the new Attari check post, a huge facility recently built by the Indian government reflecting the preparations for the great thaw between the two countries in terms of trade and visa agreements. The Integrated Check Post at Attari replaces the quaint immigration and customs facility, and is rather impressive for its scale. Sadly, not many visitors were passing by, but it was clear that there is a certain level of confidence in the ongoing peace process that has resulted in this major investment on the border. It is a separate matter that the archaic system of handwritten record-keeping at the border disappointed all of us, as it took ages to finish the clearances while our host, the Indian Punjab Finance Minister, waited for the delegation to arrive. Our hosts in India, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), and the mover-shaker Jyoti Malhotra, a noted journalist and peace activist, joined in the protest of entering duplicative details of our passports and other particulars. But this was a short-lived irritation and we were whisked away to a posh Amritsar hotel where a little welcome ceremony awaited us.

 The delegates made fiery speeches on the merits of peace and on forgetting past acrimonies. The most inspiring arguments came from Haider Abbas Rizvi and Bushra Gohar, who are known for not mincing their words and challenging orthodox notions on Indo-Pak relations. The Punjab Finance Minister, Parminder Singh Dhindsa, also made a warm, conciliatory speech underlining the local trade issues between the two Punjab provinces. There is, in fact, an urgent requirement to move towards sub-national or regional trade pacts, as Haider Abbas Rizvi kept on reminding everybody that there was a trade check post other than Wagah-Attari. The Karachi-Munabao trade route has been closed for decades, and the distance between the two ports allows for ample opportunities for regional movement of goods and services. […]

My session with Intizar Husain: Karachi Literature Festival 2011

Huma Imitiaz has summed up the session I moderated at the KLF. Huma has been kind to me but I am just a humble student of literature and facing Intizar Saheb in this session would remain a milestone in my imagined literary journeys, yet to start…

“There are two forces that have risen in Pakistan: women and mullahs,” said writer and journalist extraordinaire Intizar Husain, at the Karachi Literature Festival. The crowd roared in approval, and Husain smiled. At his session, held on the second day, the room was nowhere near full capacity, but those in attendance were hanging on to his every word. In a one on one discussion with writer Raza Rumi, Husain talked about a variety of subjects, from writing techniques to the Lahore that once was.

February 19th, 2011|Pakistan, Pakistani Literature, Personal, published in DAWN|7 Comments