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New battle against old demons

Raza Rumi

After 30 years of self-defeating policies, the new National Internal Security Policy may be the right way to make a fresh start


New battle against old demons National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz


Pakistanis should be grateful for small mercies. The federal cabinet finally approved the draft of the internal security policy that was pending for review since December 2013. This is some improvement from the earlier performance of civilian authorities and complete outsourcing of security question to the military. The approval does not suggest that the military has backed off and the civilians are fully in charge. In fact, reports suggest that the military leadership has proactively argued for a cleanup in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) and had advised the Prime Minister for not delaying the final putsch any further.

The National Internal Security Policy (NISP) has a detailed conceptual part that highlights the extent of damage that Pakistan has suffered during the last 12 years. While reporting on the victims of terror, the NISP notes that from 2001 to November 2013, 48,994 people were killed in the country including 5,272 personnel of the law-enforcement agencies. The attacks on security apparatus accelerated during 2011-2013 as 17,642 casualties including 2,114 security personnel took place during this time period. The NISP notes that with more than 600,000 strong personnel in 33 civilian and military security organizations provide adequate capacity to the Pakistani state to fight terrorism. The impact of terrorism has been calculated as losses worth $78 billion to Pakistan’s economy. Surprisingly, the draft also refers to the foreign policy priorities with respect to Afghanistan, Kashmir and India and limited civilian input in policy process. Governance failures also find a mention in the draft.

The democratic process in Pakistan has been a victim of terrorist narratives

Perhaps the most important feature of the NISP refers to the emphasis on the narratives – political and martial – which have increased the domestic support for terrorist outfits and mislead many a citizen in believing that terror tactics are justifiable at a certain level. This area has been largely unaddressed by Pakistan’s political parties and permanent state organs. While the PPP-led coalition tried to make some amends, it was often cowed down into acquiescence by militancy all around. In fact, the elections of 2013 took place under the threat of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that decided which political groups had more space to campaign and contest. Certainly, the democratic process in Pakistan has also been a victim of terrorist narratives. […]

March 9th, 2014|Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, terrorism|0 Comments

Book review: Challenging martial histories


This is a book review that was published in The Friday Times (June 19-25 2009 issue)

This was a hot May afternoon when I found myself at the book launch of Flight of the Falcon. I had no plans to be in Islamabad until the author informed me of the launch, an event to be remembered in the culturally stifling environs of Islamabad. I have known Air Commodore (retired) Sajad Haider for years. He is an exceptional man, able to connect across generations. The articulate and hospitable Haider can hold forth on any subject under the sun without cavil. As a young man, I had heard the delightful, adventurous and sometimes sad accounts of his stint with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). In many ways, the rise and fall of the PAF is a mirror image of Pakistan’s institutional trajectory, depicting how good we are at making a hash of things and persecuting our heroes.

Flight of the Falcon essentially sums up Haider’s grand story of valour, tribulations and commitment to the country. As he told me, this book “is my endeavour to fulfil my small responsibility towards my country. During the 1965 and 1971 wars with India, which I participated in as a commander leading the No 19 Squadron of the Pakistan Air Force, and as head of the fighter tactical wing respectively, I was a witness to history in the making.” During the 1965 war, Haider had collected the best fighter pilots and put them under the “warriors” training regime. The results achieved by his squadron were spectacular: an unmatchable six Sitara-e-Jurats were bestowed on the pilots, including the fighter-author. The 19th Squadron carried out the most difficult missions of the 1965 war and these have been documented by British, Indian and Pakistani experts. Whilst most accounts recall the operational episodes narrated by second-hand sources, Flight of the Falcon attempts to provide a candid account of these two controversial wars from the cockpit of a fighter air craft. Interestingly the book challenges the conventional mantra of victory trumpeted by state histories: in both the wars, there was no clear winner, and the book chronicles that honestly.

Haider holds that after four decades, the truth about what happened must come out without any embarrassment. “We owe it to our future generations, particularly today’s young commanders and students of military history, to set the record straight,” he adds. Not surprisingly, reticence to carry out an honest analysis of the lessons of the wars against India is rooted in the effort to protect the incompetent and short-sighted leaders whose mistakes cost the lives of many gallant men, not to mention the tragic break up of Pakistan in 1971.

Flight of the Falcon is not just a dry historical account. It is an eminently readable autobiography as well. Sometimes, the episodes appear stranger than fiction, especially when Haider’s air chief framed him in a conspiracy to overthrow the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and charged him with treason and with inciting mutiny. We also learn how the Shahinshah of Iran, Raza Pahlavi, told Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to punish Haider for denigrating him. The sensational bits make the book impossible to put down. There is the incident where Zia ul Haq lectured the armed forces, trying to explain the reasons why he had carried out a military coup, and why the nation was not fit for democracy. The author retorted, “The pride with which I have worn this uniform and defended my country with my life has been denigrated to the point where I see contempt in the eyes of Pakistanis who had once adored the sight of this very uniform. As part of your constituency we are now the conquerors of Pakistan rather than its defenders.” Of course, Haider lost his career and Zia was reported to have said that he wanted to see Haider with a begging bowl in his hand! […]

September 6th, 2013|books, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times|1 Comment

‘On the wings of time, grief flies away’

Salma Mahmud’s new book is not a just a readable memoir, it sets a standard for fine writing.

MD Taseer with his first born, Salma

Perhaps the most memorable time of my career as a media walla is to have worked with Salma Mahmud as a fellow editor and writer. Her writings for TFT have been noted far and wide, eliciting feedback from celebrities to obscure readers across the globe. While she was completing a series on her great ‘Uncles’ (friends of her eminent father M D Taseer), I suggested that these memoirs be turned into a book. After initially feigning scorn at the idea, she relented; and now we have Salma Mahmud’s ‘The Wings of Time’ – a book that is pleasurable for its sparse yet lyrical writing and valuable for the histories it puts together. These reflections and anecdotes would not appear in Pakistan’s official and highbrow historiography as the intent of the book is different. It is a recollection and a reclaiming, with lots of indulgence and warmth.salma2
Salma Mahmud, or Salma-ji, as I call her, is the eldest child of Dr M D Taseer, the noted poet and critic, the first Indian to obtain a PhD in English from Cambridge University. Her other sibling, the late Salmaan Taseer, also made his mark in Pakistan as a brave defender of human rights and offered his life while fighting bigotry against the powerless of the country. Salma was born in Baramula, Kashmir, and was later educated in Lahore where she attended the Kinnaird College before pursuing a Masters degree at the University of Edinburgh. Mahmud is considered a seasoned teacher of the English language and literature and her facility with words made her an ideal editor at TFT. During her career, she has also translated several pieces of Urdu fiction into English and written extensively on literature, history and art.

As a quintessential daddy’s girl, Mahmud’s reverence for her father is evident throughout the book. At the same time, she doesn’t lose sight of the political and cultural context in which Dr Taseer lived and worked. She narrates the story of his times with exceptional honesty; illustrating the “the irreplaceable literary milieu in which he lived.” Indeed, the period of 1930-1950 witnessed immense turbulence but also gave birth to various literary and cultural movements. As the book and its rather deftly veiled melancholy mood tells us, the “milieu has vanished forever”. Mahmud chronicles this sadness and celebrates the histories of “a bevy of brilliant intellectuals who filled the existential void that existed within” Taseer due to his “aloneness”.

salma3 Author, Mariam and Salmaan on a motorbike

Mahmud’s mother, Christabel George, whom Taseer met at Cambridge, descended from a talented Huguenot family on her maternal side. She was the poet’s companion until his death in 1950. Her role in bringing up the three children was not less than heroic and Mahmud is rightly proud of her familial heritage: the complete package of literary taste, fondness for books and ideas and of course humaneness.

Daddy, Uncle Majeed Malik, Mummy, Salma, Mariam and Salmaan Daddy, Uncle Majeed Malik, Mummy, Salma, Mariam and Salmaan

The first part of the book, titled Prologue, has four chapters that provide a fine account of the luminaries whom Mahmud met as a child and continued to know and appreciate as she grew up. The sketches of her ‘uncles’ are unparalleled. For instance, we find out how writer and educationist Pitras [AS] Bukhari single-handedly saved UNICEF “from being closed down by the US government in 1952, when he made a spirited defence of the organization during a UN committee meeting.” Bokhari was our representative at the UN immediately after the creation of the new state. Mahmud writes that after hearing Bukahri’s defence, “Eleanor Roosevelt was so impressed by his eloquence that she declared the United States had decided to let UNICEF remain.” Having written about Pitras here and there, I felt completely ignorant as I found out from Mahmud that on Pitras’s grave in Westchester, this couplet by Robert Frost, written personally by the poet for Bukhari, is engraved upon the headstone:

Nature within the inmost self divides

To trouble men with having to take sides. […]