Native Orientalists of Pakistan

A few days back, I received an email from the former editor of a leading English daily in Pakistan, announcing his resignation from the newspaper. He thanked his ‘friends’ for their support and encouragement in making the paper a ‘new voice for a new Pakistan.’

By Dr M. Shahid Alam (Debate)

Published: Sat 19 Dec 2009, 9:46 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:50 AM

Contrary to this slogan, it was never the mission of this paper to be a ‘new voice for a new Pakistan.’ This paper had dredged its voice from the colonial past; it had only altered its pitch and delivery to serve the new US-Zionist overlords. Most of the writers for this newspaper — and many more in Pakistan’s English media — are heirs to the brown Sahibs, home-grown Orientalists, who see their own world through the lens created for them by their mentors, the Western Orientalists.

Pakistanis had failed to seize sovereign control over their country at its birth. Within a few years of its creation, the brown Sahibs, standing in the shoes of the British rulers, had strapped Pakistan to the wheels of the neocolonial order. Without effective and organised resistance, these neocolonial managers have been cannibalising their own people in the service of their foreign masters.

Pakistanis have failed to challenge the rule of brown Sahibs. In large part, this failure was embedded in the nature of the Pakistan movement, which made no serious commitment to social goals. More regrettably, Pakistan’s emerging middle classes have been too busy aping the brown Sahibs, stepping over each other to join in the loot, to check the rapacity of Pakistan’s elites.

In the euphoria of Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism, Left intellectuals have not noticed that the West’s servant classes in the Periphery have been producing an indigenous Orientalism. I refer here to the coarser but more pernicious Orientalism of the brown Sahibs, who are free, behind their rhetoric of progress, to denigrate their own history and culture.

A few of these native Orientalists are deracinated souls, but most are opportunists, lackeys, or wannabe lackeys, eager to become the drum majors of foreign powers in the Periphery.

In the closing years of the colonial era, the nationalists had kept a watchful eye on the native informers. In recent decades, as the capitalist powers have regained control over much of the Periphery, the native Orientalists have moved to the centre-stage. This development has mostly gone unnoticed by the cohorts of post-colonial critics. They are still training their firepower on the far enemy, the Western protagonists of Orientalism. Perhaps, they imagine that the native Orientalists, the ‘near enemy,’ will vanish once the ‘far enemy’ has been discredited. In truth, the ‘near enemy’ has grown immensely even as the ‘far enemy’ treads more cautiously.

As a result, we can’t lay our hands on even a single monograph documenting the methods that the newspaper in question, the new flagship of native Orientalism, has employed to advance its advocacy of US-Zionist agenda in Pakistan and the Islamicate. This article makes a modest beginning in this direction.

The paper was launched in April 2002 just a few months after the United States had invaded and occupied Afghanistan. Was this timing a mere coinci-dence? Or was the launching of an aggressively pro-American newspaper an imperative of the new geopo-litics created by the Pakistan’s mercenary embrace of the US-Zionist global war against ‘terrorism’?

Coincidence or not, the paper has served its masters with verve. Its pages have carried countless editorials justifying Pakistan’s induction into the US led war against Afghanistan, under the cover of the attacks of September 11. The editors and columnists at the paper have routinely excoriated Pakistani patriots who have opposed their government’s surrender to US-Zionist demands, as naïve sentimentalists unaware of the tough demands of realpolitik.

Taking advantage of what appeared to be – after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 – the irreversible US assault on the sovereignty of Islamic nations, Pakistan’s ruling elites openly began broaching the need to recognise Israel. Once again, the native Orientalists at the paper were leading the charge, arguing that Pakistan could advance its “strategic interests” by recognising Israel. Only determined opposition from nationalists defeated this treacherous move.

When resistance against US occupation of Afghanistan gained momentum, once again the paper articulated the US-Zionist position. Daily, they editorialised on the imperative to shut down the madrassas and attack the resistance. Lustily, the paper cheers when the military carries its war deeper into the towns and villages of Pakistan.

In 2007, when the lawyers in Pakistan took to the streets to demand the restoration of the deposed Chief Justice, the paper defended his sacking, and repeatedly made the case for a ‘gradual transition’ to civilian rule in Pakistan. The ‘wrong’ civilian government, they were afraid, might not be as compliant to US pressures as Pakistan’s military rulers.

Space allows me to list only a few egregious examples of the Orientalist mindset. One particular columnist at the paper, for years surveyed the “foibles and follies” of Urdu media, in a column titled, ‘Nuggets from the Urdu Press.’ He berated Urdu writers for their naïveté, emotionalism, and foolish advocacy of national interests that collided with realpolitik (read Western interests).

In another regular column, oddly titled, ‘Purple Patch,’ the newspaper ladles out wisdom to its readers. This wisdom is dispensed in the form of passages lifted from various ‘great’ writers, who are always of Western provenance. Presumably, the editors at the paper still believe, with their long-dead spiritual mentor, Lord Macaulay, that “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Ara-bia.”

I doubt if the departure of the paper’s long-time editors will make a difference. The owners of the paper will quickly find their replacements, voices equally shrill in their advocacy of foreign powers. More than at any other time, growing numbers of Pakistanis have been grooming themselves for service to the Empire.

This grovelling by Pakistan’s elites will only change when Pakistanis take charge of their destiny. It will only end when a people’s movement can put these servants of Empire in the dock, charge them for their crimes against Pakistan, and force them to disgorge their loot.

This will take hard work. The signs indicate that Pakistanis have already begun the hard work that will eventually end the treachery of the brown Sahibs. When this ‘near enemy’ has been removed from the scene, the ‘far enemy’ too will recede into the mists of history.

Dr M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston (US) and author of Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilising Logic of Zionism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). For comments, write to

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