This Visit To Pakistan – By H. Gardezi
This Visit To Pakistan – By H. Gardezi
At the tastefully laid out New Year eve’s dinner table in Ayyub Malik’s London home, it was finally decided that anyone uttering the words “Pakistan” and “Islam” will be fined a fixed amount, the money so collected to be sent to a charity. (Why these two words cannot be disentangled is another matter.) But the prohibited words still kept popping out, thanks partly to Ahmed Shibli’s straight-faced verbal traps.
Pakistan and its problems continued to dominate the conversation that evening during my stopover on way to the homeland from Canada. But what was the point, as somebody pointed out, in talking about Pakistan’s problems when we could hardly translate our concerns into an effective plan of action? With that question still hanging in the air and the new year’s dawn fast approaching, our small company of expatriates broke up and I went to bed still dreaming about the Pakistan that I was going to be in very soon.
On the New Year’s morning we had a long and quite walk with Ayyub and his friend along the banks of the Thames through its abandoned Brentford wharfs and dockyards from where the nation of merchants once spread its imperial tentacles across the globe. By nightfall I was again in the air on way to Islamabad.
All international flights arrive and leave Pakistani airports at odd hours between midnight and pre-dawn. A friend’s son whose wedding reception I was to attend on January 4 drove me through an eerie fog to a guest house. Each time you return to Pakistan after a period of absence you discover that some things never change, but there are always lots of surprises waiting as well. This fog, I was to discover has become a new winter perennial. As cool air touches the ground surface, a mixture of mist, smoke and dust forms to hang thickly over land for days, reducing visibility drastically and playing havoc with air, road and rail traffic.
This fog incidentally is not to be confused with the haze of dust and smoke emissions that hovers over the large cities of Pakistan permanently.
In any case, my immediate problem at this point was to adjust my biological clock to the local time and I stretched out under a blanket.
The following day, had a long session with Dr. Inayatullah a social scientist and political activist of Islamabad. He brought me up to date on Dr. Younas Shaihk’s blasphemy case. As the Pakistanis for Peace and Alternative Development (PPAD) would remember, we were advised to keep a low profile after we petitioned the CE in this case. Apparently this strategy has not worked. The last bail hearing of the accused was in absentia, according to Dr. Inayatullah, before a biased judge. This judge wanted to dispose off the case immediately, ordering the guards to produce that “gustakh-e-Rasul” before him. Fortunately, the police had no transport available to fetch Dr. Shaikh from the Adiala jail and the case had to be adjourned. Now all concerned feel that the phony case against the accused should have been widely publicised, but it seems to be too.
late. The media seems to be totally uninterested in the case and few people in or outside Islamabad know of Dr. Shaikh’s predicament.
On 5 January Dr. Inayatullah drove me to a local hall to deliver my paper on the Islamist and Hindutwa Politics, well known to our PPAD group by now. The meeting to hear the paper, organized jointly by several groups in Islamabad, was well advertised and open to public. About 40 people showed up among them journalists, academics, political activists and just interested citizens many of whom, including our newest member Dr. Nayyar, I had known from previous associations. The presentation of the paper was followed by an open discussion which was generally positive and appreciative. A number of comments and questions were raised on the power of the Islamists in Pakistan and whether the founding fathers had intended Pakistan to become a theocratic state. Someone expressed the view that Muslim League’s two nation theory had lost its substance after the secession of Bangladesh and Pakistan should have changed its name and adopted realistically to its multi-ethnic, multi-cultural reality.
The lengthening shadows of Afghanistan’s Taliban over Pakistan also came under discussion. No visit to Islamabad is complete without browsing through its many new and used bookstores situated in the nooks and corners of various markets. For the next couple of days my spare time was spent doing just that. A worthwhile acquisition, despite the hefty price, was Sherbaz Mazari’s insider story of Pakistan’s political class, from the intrigues of the 1950s to the ISI infested elections of 1988, aptly titled “A Journey to Disillusionment”. A full page newspaper ad attracted my attention to a latest development on Pakistan’s higher education scene.
The ad announced the opening for admission of a new medical college affiliated to “Lahore University.” What aroused my curiosity was the degree printed in front of the administrator’s name – FRCS (Canada). As an educator in Canada for many years I have never heard of such a Canadian degree. This mystery was resolved when one of my old students, Dr. Latif Virk, now Secretary to the University Grants Commission (UGC), invited me for lunch. According to him opening of all kinds of private technical, medical and liberal arts colleges has become a big business in the country, and UGC is swamped with applications for accreditation of such institutions. He knew little about the advertized medical college but was aware of the application of Lahore University for accreditation, which he thought will be granted soon.
The next day I left for Lahore by a flight delayed many hours due to fog. Among the many things to do in Lahore were meetings with old friends and keeping a few speaking engagements, the former always having precedent over the later. After a few days of social and political socialization, on 11 January I was taken to a meeting at the Social Sciences Research Centre of Punjab University to speak on the topic,Future Prospects of Social Sciences in Pakistan. The meeting was organized by Dr. Anis Alam of the Physics Department, and his colleague Dr. Rashid of the Political Science Department.
My main proposition at this meeting, attended largely by the University’s social science faculty and students, was summed up by next morning’s DAWN in a headline: “The Ideological State Inhibits Inquiry.”
What I had tried to explain was that no modern science can develop and flourish outside its social context – the ideological and intellectual environment, the dominant value system and the class and power structure.
In all these aspects, the situation in Pakistan was not conducive for social sciences to realize their full potential. After independence Pakistan was forced to become an ideological state which by its very nature inhibits freedom of expression and inquiry necessary for the social sciences to play their creative role in society. The narrowly constructed Islamic ideology adopted by the Pakistani state and enforced within the institutional structure of the society has resulted in the replacement of scientific concepts of research and planning with myths and magical beliefs. Only a day earlier a minister of the federal government had provided the latest example of this phenomenon. In a widely published speech he stated that “will and courage” will enable his administration to run an interest free Islamic economy as ordained by the verdict of the Shariat Court judges, none of them with any formal training in Economics or even in Islamic jurisprudence. The concepts of “will” and “courage” may be potent incantations but of no value whatsoever to run and plan the economy of a modern state on realistic grounds.
The Islamist Ideologues of Pakistan, would of course reject modern sciences as based on what they consider the “Western” values of humanism, rationality, secularism, freedom of inquiry and rejection of tradition as the measure of truth, the fundamental values which inspired the European Enlightenment. But they fail to realize that these values were first retrieved from their Hellenic roots and built upon by Muslim scholars such as Ibne Rushd and Ibne Sena when Europe was still in the dark ages. Ibne Khaldun was the first social scientist in the modern secular sense. The tragedy, as Professor Ali Mazuri points out, is that Europe’s dark age came before its renaissance while the world of Islam passed into the dark age after its renaissance.
Again, whether it was due to politeness or meeting of minds these thoughts were not met with any hostile reaction by those present. A senior professor in the audience did point out that what I had characterized as an ideological state was in fact a fascist state. Given his greater experience of working within Pakistan I could hardly dispute his amendment.
A visit to Multan, the hometown of my youth, is always a must whenever I go to Pakistan. Arriving there the following day I thought that this historic city perhaps illustrates at its best the chaos that is urban Pakistan. Its rapidly changing physical and human ecology admits of no man-woman or nature made laws. On each visit it requires some detective imagination to rediscover the old landmarks of the city I grew up in. The streets of the old city are hardly passable. An ever increasing mass of humanity, all kinds of animal driven transport, bicycles, noisy and smoky motorized vehicles of all sizes, shapes and vintage, stray dogs and what not, compete for every inch of space to get through. The roads of the outer city, or chavni as it was called, are forever being dug up to lay utility pipes and wires, and lined up with rubble and household refuse.
What used to be open and nicely hedged green lawns of schools and public buildings keep disappearing behind walls. High protective walls also keep going up around the kothis of the rich. The walls are in turn splashed with commercial graffiti advertising anything from movies and religious assemblies to refregerators and fortune tellers. And as if to add a touch of some periodic rhythm to this visual and physical disarray at regular intervals, five times from dawn to dusk, arises a roar of megaphones from all directions, calling the faithful to prayers.
Yet, once you get into personal interaction with relatives and friends, the old vignettes and virtues of Multan also begin to surface, mixed indeed with new anxieties and apprehensions. The complaints and affections of the sisters in softly flowing siraiki idiom, the traditional foods, the exquisite handicrafts, the folklore, the childhood stories remind you that this is pretty much the same Multan that you left long time ago. The deteriorating environment, the civic chaos, the economic and political insecurity, the educational problems of the youngsters, and the ever present threat of sectarian violence, all such afflictions keep cropping up in conversations but accepted with therapeutic fatalism.
On 17 January I returned to Lahore late at night by another flight delayed several hours due to fog. While leaving Multan, I observed that my departures from the home town are becoming less of occasions for expression of sorrow over my faithless act of emigration to Canada. The signals I now get suggest that may be I did the right thing. In Lahore I still had more people to meet and a couple of speaking engagements to keep. Our PPAD friend, Cecil Chaudhary, was busy as ever but we got to talk by phone. He was concerned about the violent police crackdown and arrests at a peaceful march in Karachi organized in protest against the Blasphemy Laws a few days earlier. It is remarkable that a small and peaceful rally like this one can provoke brutal use of force by the law and order forces of the state, while a blind eye is turned on the ubiquitous and destructive demonstrations staged by religious fanatics in Pakistan.
Pending still was my second presentation of the paper on Islamist and Hidutva Politics, this time at a meeting jointly organized by Journalists Resource Center (JRC) and the Lahore chapter of Pakistan Council of Social Sciences (COSS). Nadeem Omar Tarar, a PPAD member representing COSS took me to this meeting at the Lahore Press Club on 19 January. Again there was a lively discussion of the paper after its delivery but no hostile questioning or comments. Someone commented that the desire to free Kashmiri Muslims from Indian rule was the primary justification for the emergence of Islamist politics in Pakistan. However, I reminded him that Maulana Maududi, the Amir of Jamat-e-Islami and the chief architect of Islamist politics in Pakistan had in fact declared the notion of jehad in Kashmir as un-Islamic, reversing his position only after he got into trouble with the Ayub regime. After the meeting, Dr. Muhammad Tanveer of the JRC conducted a video-taped interview with me, presumably for the center’s internal records.
As is history now, the paper mentioned above was circulated to the PPAD e-group before I left for Pakistan. Somehow it went beyond our list and a London based, self proclaimed Pakistani Islamist launched a bitter attack on it. This sparked a wide-ranging debate in the cyber space with Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed leading a forceful defense of secularism, humanism, and religious tolerance. A number of other people also entered the debate, mostly in support of Dr. Ahmed’s position. Najam Sethi of the Friday Times who had originally decided to print the paper in his journal told me in Lahore, that after its world-wide exposure on the Internet he had changed his mind. Yet it is interesting that the organizers of the Islamabad and Lahore meetings, who were fully aware of the pre-circulation of the paper on the Internet insisted that I present the same to their fora, even when I offered to speak on other topics. What was also puzzling in all this was that although both the Islamabad and Lahore meetings were well advertised, open to public and well attended by journalists no newspaper covered the proceedings of these meetings. On the other hand my talk on the future of social sciences in Pakistan delivered to a limited academic audience at the university was covered extensively by the Lahore edition
of DAWN. What did all this mean?
What I can conclude from this and many conversations with family members, friends and intellectual associates is that people in Pakistan are very much concerned about the menacing power of the Islamists of various shades, yet few feel free to talk about it openly and frankly. Newspapers and magazines have to be very careful in what they print about the Islamist parties for fear of arsonist attacks on their establishments and personal assaults on journalists with little hope of police protection. Under the circumstances oral discussions of the activities and agendas of the Islamists with an itinerant expatriate may have been deemed safer than putting these matters in print for the scrutiny of the religious fanatics.
The actions and policies of the military government itself do little to inspire confidence in protection from the holy terror of the DWs, as Asma Jahangir calls them. While I was in Pakistan the leaders of the Islamist parties were issuing almost daily ultimatums to the Musharraf regime to abdicate in their favor. Just before my arrival Maulana Akram Awan of Tanzeemul Ikhwan had threatened to lead his hordes of followers to take over Islamabad and enforce shari’a rule in Pakistan. The government quickly sent its minister for religious affairs to the Tanzeem seminary in Chakwal to negotiate for time. The Maulana has now set 7 March as the date of his siege of Islamabad in case the military regime fails to enforce the Shari’a rule. On 10 January when I was in Lahore, a tumultuous assembly of all the major Islamist outfits was held at another seminary in Akora Khatak, Maulana Sami Ulhaq’s Darululoom. All the heavy weight clerics of Pakistan were huddled together making fiery speeches condemning the UN sanctions against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, reported prominently in the press. They were surrounded by hooded bodyguards in camouflage fatigues waving automatic weapons in the air, in blatant defiance of the government ban on public display of guns. A few days later when the
Interior Minister convened a meeting of the same religio-political leaders to urge respect for the laws of the state and public peace, he was subjected to earful of sermons and made to pledge enforcement of shari’a rule a la Taliban.
The emboldened Islamists are now openly declaring that if the government fails to to meet their demands, they will take over selected jurisdictions to impose Taliban style rule themselves, as was done in Malakand a few years ago. The Jamat-e-Islami has taken another route to do just that. It has acquired enough land some 90 km from Islamabad to build its own Islamic city to be named Qartaba (the only resistance being put up is by the local inhabitants who are going to be displaced). Commentators fear that this proposed Islamic city will be the launching pad for political crusades against Islamabad, Whatever the plans of the Islamists, one notices some interesting adaptations in the life styles of upper classes, especially in Islamabad and Lahore where private wealth and bureaucratic power is more intermingled and visible than elsewhere in Pakistan. The lineups of shiny cars around mosques on Friday afternoons keeps getting longer as well healed men pour out to say their sabbath prayers. Affluent housewives bedecked in their finery, suitably veiled from public view, flock to five star hotels to participate in study sessions on Qura’n, frequently led by Western ladies converted to Islam. Their children are sent to most expensive English medium schools while at the same time taught to recite the Qura’n from cover to cover by private tutors. The accomplishment of these exercises by children, the khatams, are lavishly celebrated at home parties, and if possible at the McDonalds as well.
On the morning of 22 January, I was taken to a large classroom of the sociology department at the new campus of Punjab University where some 35 years ago I had delivered my last lecture as a working sociologist. But this morning it was not going to be a formal academic lecture; it was agreed to be a chit chat session. As I entered the room, I could tell that none of the 50 or so students and five faculty members present were even born when I had started teaching at Punjab University.
After the introduction (baba-e-sociology etc) I walked to the lectern but stood there speechless for a moment. The students in front of me, boys sitting on the left of the center isle, girls on the right, appeared so young, so quiet and wide-eyed. What did they expect to hear from a long-lost expatriate? What were they taught in schools? What are their interests and aspirations? What does the future hold for them in Pakistan?
As these questions raced in my mind, I noticed that the teachers sitting on easy chairs in the front row, all three young ladies and two young men, were looking at me with amused expressions on their faces. I had to say something, and just posed a question to give myself some time to collect my thoughts. How do you like the subject of sociology?, I said. Finding that the prop wasn’t working, I started to answer my own question.
Although, I had stumbled into this discipline by chance, the study of sociology was intellectually a great liberating experience for me. The comparative method of sociology combined with anthropology enabled me to step out of the very narrow social environment in which I had grown up and shattered my ethnocentric prejudices to bits. I acquired a new social consciousness and ability to relate to other people living on this vast planet, people very different from me in their customs, religious beliefs, family and kinship systems, ways of making a living, creating art and music …
As I spoke in this way the ice was broken; my young listeners began to speak up and raise questions. I read them an excerpt from my Urdu autobiography relating to my student days in the same department. We got along well thereafter until our chit chat ended after some interesting time together. It was another eerie midnight fog on the streets of Lahore, when I was driven to the airport on my sleepy way back to Canada, looking forward to another restful stopover at the cosy London home of Ayyub Malik.