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Citizen of the world

He wanted variety and could not confine himself to a uni-dimensional career or vocation. Other than being a rare blend of East and West, Patras exemplified the modern man – searching for new meanings in life and experimenting with experiences

Patras

This December witnessed a literary landmark of post-internet Pakistan.A dedicated website – www.patrasbokhari.com– on Patras Bokhari, a towering literary figure, was launched at the Government College University, Lahore. It is well-known that the GC produced world-famous personalities while it was the leading educational institution in this part of the subcontinent, but its stature as a hub of education, culture and literary regeneration declined over the years. Some observers hold, however, that the recently increased autonomy and elevation of GC to the status of a university will reverse the decline. It was the glorious tradition of this institution that produced giants such as Patras, Faiz and Iqbal, amongst many others.

Prof Syed Ahmed Shah Bokhari (1898-1958) is most famous through his penname “Patras” Bokhari. While he was a first-rate educationist, broadcaster and diplomat, perhaps his lasting fame is the result of his stature as an inimitable essayist and humourist – a rare trait amongst the mourning and elegy-prone South Asian creed. Patras Ke Mazameen , immortal as they are, set the standard for high quality, incisive satire and humour. Unlike the medieval mores of literature being the preserve of the courts and its courtiers, these essays reach out to everyone, encompassing a modern sensibility that makes them pertinent and attractive even today. There is a distinct universality in these writings that perhaps had to do with the humane and cosmopolitan side of Patras himself. The compelling evidence of this aspect was his huge success as a diplomat when he served as Pakistan’s permanent envoy at the United Nations in the early 1950s, enabling him to be titled ‘a citizen of the world.’

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2011- A year that will haunt us

From Paper Magazine 2011- a year in review

A journalist recently remarked that 2011 was the year that no one will remember. Alas, this will not be the case, as the year will haunt us for some time to come. The process of forgetting will not be effortless. Pakistan has undergone several such moments in the past. However, 2011 brought it all together in a chaotic fashion, exposing the blood-lined fissures within the society and the long-term crumbling of the state.

The year started with the gruesome murder of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s largest province as he championed the cause of a poor woman booked under the blasphemy law. His death was a shocking event in multiple ways: the murderer Mumtaz Qadri was a man supposed to protect him, the killer was garlanded and elevated to the status of a hero by many segments of the society especially the clerics. A tragedy of this proportion at one level appeared to be an epitaph of a society that had buried its humanity. Even worse the political parties, civil society and media remained cautious in the aftermath of the assassination; and the hope for a collective resistance was missing.

It took several months for an afraid judge to deliver a verdict against this heinous act and now the judge lives outside Pakistan to escape the wrath of clerics who find his act of sentencing Qadri abominable. The executive did little to punish errant officials who had allowed for things to come to such a pass; and the Parliament could not even offer prayers for the slain governor. Pakistan has never appeared so unkind and insensitive to murder, and that too in the name of a faith that preaches peace. This murder was followed by the assassination of Pakistan’s minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti ostensibly at the hands of Taliban and to date the killers remain at large. Bhatti’s death marked the end of activism against the Blasphemy law silencing most of the voices calling for reform to the man-made laws which persecutes both Muslims and non-Muslims in Pakistan.

Bruised by this ghastly incident, the country displayed another kind of a collective neurosis when a trigger-happy CIA contractor Raymond Davis killed three Pakistanis in Lahore. Davis’ act was despicable and he ought to have been punished. But Pakistan’s right wing and media manifested a rare kind of blood thirst against this operative of a notorious agency. The calls to hang Davis without a due examination of international and domestic laws came as another affirmation of a society, which has abandoned rule of law in favour of chaos and paranoia. It is a separate matter that the state bailed out Davis applying the Islamic laws introduced by Gen Zia ul Haq by paying blood money to the families of the victims. The executive was in overdrive and the judiciary also delivered a speedy judgement. The incident left Pakistanis more xenophobic and resentful of its long-time patron and ally, the United States.

Nothing has been more turbulent than the trajectory of Pak-US relations during the year. The two allies turned into frenemies by the end of the year. The Davis saga set the stage for stranger things to come.

On May 2, a special team of US Navy seals almost invaded a part of Pakistan in a surgical strike to capture and kill the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden (OBL). The location of OBL’s hideout was most embarrassing. The chief patron of a global Islamist movement was living apparently for years near a garrison town in Abbottabad, close to a prestigious military training academy.

There was uproar in Pakistan and the earlier shock and unanswered question – what was OBL doing there –was replaced by a nationalist outrage. The US had violated our sovereignty and if our security forces were negligent or complicit there was an issue. The contradictions within Pakistan’s policy and its domestic civil-military relations were at once laid bare under international spotlight.

The domestic crisis which emanated out the May 2 strike on OBL’s hideout deepened by the end of the year when the civilian and military power-wielders were playing out their conflict in the courts. The memo-gate affair, as it is now known, finds its roots in the writing of an unsigned memo allegedly written by Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US calling for US intervention and support for the attempts to establish civilian control of security and foreign policies. By the end of the year, the Ambassador had resigned, faced a court petition, which culminated in the formation of a judicial commission to probe the charges, and been placed in virtual imprisonment beacause of fears for his safety.

Between these events, there were two other acts of violence. One against the state by a well-planned attack on a major naval base in Karachi in May 2011, and the second, the abduction and murder of a journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad around end of May 2011. Both acts disparate in their intensity and nature underlined one thing in common: the power of militant groups, a reality to be reckoned with. The naval base attack by the militants (or non state actors) apparently had inside support while the slain journalist was reporting regularly on the activities of extremist non-state actors as well as the operations of Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

These organised groups also abducted the son of the late Salmaan Taseer from Lahore and an American aid worker Warren Weinstein in August. On the issue of latter, a video was released by the current Al Qaeda chief claiming that his network had the American citizen in their custody. For the release of Weinstein, Pakistan and the US have to meet several demands of the militants. […]

March 11th, 2012|governance, Pakistan, Politics, SouthAsia|8 Comments

An existential crisis

On 4 January, Punjab province Governor Salman Taseer was killed by a member of his security detail, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. But as disturbing as the assassination itself were the circumstances surrounding and following the governor’s death… In the aftermath, the hold of Pakistan’s religious lobbies has proven to be so powerful that no mullah, not even one appointed and paid by the state, was willing to conduct his funeral rites. While progressive civil-society voices have condemned both the incident and the direction in which Pakistan is heading – an act of great courage in these times – they remain a desperately small minority.

The entire incident epitomises the very real existential crisis in which the Pakistani nation now finds itself – one that relates to its very identity. Successive governments in the country have been quiescent before the forces of religious fundamentalism, and over the years brought in legislation to appease the religio-political forces – including the blasphemy laws that have been under such scrutiny of late. Today, this has reached a situation in which the country’s religious minorities (constituting less than five percent of the national population) are beleaguered amidst a legal system that denies them basic human rights. In turn, this has enabled fundamentalist ideologies to take firm hold in the minds of government functionaries. The support of the state and its security agencies, including sections of the armed forces, to such sections has now reached a point where they are becoming a threat to the very existence of the Pakistani state itself – at least, in the form we know it. […]

February 2nd, 2011|Personal, Published in Himal Magazine|6 Comments

Salmaan Taseer: A life less ordinary

139E80B6-061D-496B-936B-6E0BC6DF1912_w640_r1_sRaza Rumi remembers the man that was Salmaan Taseer

o these liars and swindlers, these contractors of faith

I am a rebel, I am a rebel

The last time I met Salmaan Taseer Shaheed (STS) was in the Punjab Governor’s House. This was a typical Lahori winter evening: misty and quiet, the palatial colonial mansion making it slightly surreal. A foreign dignitary was visiting; and I was part of the Lahori chatterati assembled in the stately living room that reeked of the Raj. Amid the chatter I took the opportunity to point out the rising tide of extremism in the country, and advised STS to be extra careful about what he said. STS’s response came with his characteristic bravado: “I am not afraid of these Mullahs. Should I stop speaking and stay at home?” He also said: “Being afraid is the worst state of mind.” Within seconds STS had cracked a joke and as always used his irrepressible humour to illustrate just how unafraid he was.

Two weeks later, I was in the same grand room, but in another state of mind: I was shocked and bewildered because STS had been gunned down in broad daylight. My grief since the day of his death has not abated and in fact has turned into a strange despondency: permanent and ominous. In his own words, STS was the “last man standing” against bigotry in a country that is slipping into the hands of extremists who have banned critical thinking and espouse the ideological project designed by the Pakistani state.

Twenty-two years ago I was introduced to STS as a friend of his children, Sara and Shaan, and his razor-sharp wit and unabashed irreverence have stayed with me ever since. Unlike most Lahori parents I had met, this man was refreshing and ultra-engaging. He would joke incessantly about us young lot, our idiosyncrasies and foolish squabbles. Over the years he even chided me when I took sides in a sibling rivalry or failed to tell him what his son or daughter were up to.

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January 20th, 2011|Personal, Politics, Published in The Friday Times|23 Comments

Another blow to Pakistan: Salmaan Taseer killed by extremism

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer’s brutal murder at the hands of a security personnel is a cruel reminder of where we have landed ourselves: in a dark morass of irrationality lorded over by pernicious ideologies.

He was a brave man and stood for a liberal, tolerant and progressive Pakistan where economic […]

January 4th, 2011|Uncategorized|11 Comments

Stranger to History, By Aatish Taseer

Ziauddin Sardar’s review for The Independent is worth a read:

Aatish Taseer grew up in Delhi with his Indian mother, a Sikh journalist. The Muslims of Delhi, he says, saw him as one of his own. But his estranged Muslim father in Pakistan was in another country. The troubled personal relationship, he asserts, must have some deep historic and religious undercurrents. To get close to his father, he must understand what Islam means to contemporary Muslims. […]

May 6th, 2009|books, India|3 Comments