Imperfect sympathies

Hugh Walpole, once-upon-a-time English writer, said that he would love England but for the people in it. As cynicism goes this is about perfect. I often catch myself thinking that I would love democracy but for the people in it. Patriotism makes me think of Walpole. When certified doctors of the faith clear their throats and mount the pulpit I feel the same. Some other analogies are better 
left unsaid.

By Ayaz Amir

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Published: Sun 12 Sep 2010, 9:31 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 10:32 AM

Over the years the ideology of Pakistan school of thought has always made me reach for my pistol. A votary of this school has only to open his mouth and expatiate upon the meaning of Pakistan — usually to say it is a fortress of Islam — and dark thoughts rush into my mind.

I was at Kakul when Gen Yahya Khan’s information minister, Major Gen (retd) Nawabzada Sher Ali Khan, coined the phrase ‘ideology of Pakistan’. The controlled press and Pakistan Television, both emblems of control, worked this phrase to death.

Not long thereafter Lt Gen ‘Tiger’ Niazi — his nickname arising from his supposedly warlike attributes — surrendered his pistol to Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora in Race Course Ground, Dhaka, and Pakistan was split in two. In my mind this phrase and the break-up of Pakistan are intertwined. ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ actually was an elaborate disguise. It was an answer to the Awami League’s Six Points and stood for something which the West Pakistani ruling elites — comprising the powerful mandarin class, the army and the feudal-based political class — had espoused since 1947: all power to the centre and very little to the provinces.

It was this idea, which came unstuck in Bangladeshi people’s India-backed war of liberation. We should have learned something from that debacle but going by the ferment in Balochistan — the very name Pakistan anathema to Baloch ears — we seem not to have learned a great deal.

Actually, Balochistan doesn’t really figure in the imagination of the rest of us. We are vaguely aware that things are not right there but have no real feel for the discontent smouldering in that remote corner.

This is Nawab Akbar Bugti’s revenge. He was a vengeful man in life, unforgiving of his enemies. But this vendetta from the grave is more powerful than any that he waged when he was alive. The Baloch needed a modern symbol of resistance and this they got when Gen Musharraf sent the army against Bugti and he was killed in the mountains.

Musharraf had warned that Bugti wouldn’t know what had hit him. That was probably true, laser-guided bombs and stealth missiles giving little advance warning of their deadly approach. But did he have any idea of the payback that Bugti’s killing would entail?

Socialism was a great idea in the 1970s when my generation was young. The slogan ‘The East is Read’ was very much alive and our heroes were Che Guevara and Castro and Mao Tse-tung. Bhutto was given to wearing the Mao cap in his election rallies in 1970 and no one thought it odd that he did so. It was of a piece with the times.

But the ideological divide was bitter and the war it gave rise to was for the soul of Pakistan. On the one side were leftists, many of whom had deserted their small, splinter parties to seek a wider field of action for themselves under the broad umbrella of the Pakistan Peoples Party.

On the other side were the froth-at-the-mouth battalions of the right, massed under the banners of the ideology-of-Pakistan school of thought, led by the Jamaat-e-Islami and given propaganda backing by the rightwing press. This conflict which simmered throughout Bhutto’s five years at the helm of affairs broke out into the open in the immediate aftermath of the 1977 elections, an event mishandled by Bhutto right from the start, with tragic and catastrophic consequences for the country. The movement launched by the rightwing election alliance, the PNA, isolated Bhutto and paved the way for General Zia’s coup in the summer of 1977.

To legitimise his rule Zia unfurled the banner of Islam, ushering in a reign of hypocrisy in the name of the faith which went on from strength to strength and which shows no signs of abating. We were always a confused society, unable to agree on the meaning of Pakistan, the purpose of its creation. Zia’s intervention put, so to speak, a seal of finality on that confusion. It will take a miracle to get us out of this fog. No other country of the world has Pakistan’s unique distinction: 63 years after its birth still discussing the meaning of Pakistan, still endlessly dissecting Jinnah’s speech of August 11, 1947, in which he tried to expound a secular interpretation of Pakistani statehood.

But this is scarcely Pakistan’s only distinction. This is one of the few countries in the world where secularism means not just separation of Church and State but the total absence, nay negation, of religion. The Urdu translation of the word — la-deen, meaning without religion — is enough to arouse passions and set the mills of fanaticism rolling.

When Alexander arrived at the gates of Taxila there were some yogis lost in the trance of the headstand (so Plutarch informs us). Alexander occupied Taxila and allowed the yogis to continue with their spiritual exercises. The West in similar fashion is not unduly disturbed by our spiritual preoccupations. Islam was never in danger when the British ruled India. In fact, they were quite happy to recruit Muslims into their armies and quite happy to see Muslims fight their wars not only in India but far beyond during the First and Second World Wars. Punjabi and Pakhtoon Muslims were crucial to the British recapture of Delhi in 1857.

Indeed, the Muslims of India remained loyal to the Raj much after the fires of nationalism had touched the Indian national movement. People like Jinnah were exceptions. The Muslim upper classes were solidly pro-British and indeed looked upon the British to protect them and provide them with safeguards against the Hindu majority.

The West’s alarmism about Islam is a very recent phenomenon and it is almost wholly predicated upon the Twin Towers attack of September 11 and the rise of Bin Ladenism.

But these events tell us more about ourselves than they do about the West. Is this the only renaissance, which we could have conceived? Is this our only response to Western superiority?

But to return to the beginning, are there still leftists in Pakistan? Many of them, comically, have come full circle and are to be found in the leading ranks of NGOs which, beginning with the first Afghan ’jehad’ of the 1980s, have done so well out of western aid.

For myself, I remain an armchair leftist, of the garden rather than the barricade variety. But I also find some resonance in Eugene O’Neill’s words in The Iceman Cometh: “You asked why I quit the Movement. I had a lot of good reasons. One was myself, and another was my comrades, and the last was the breed of swine called men in general.”

Which, come to think of it, is not far removed from what Hugh Walpole said.

Ayaz Amir is a distinguished Pakistani commentator and Member of National Assembly (parliament). For comments, write to

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