Khan Abdul Wali Khan

Khan Abdul Wali Khan, son of Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan passed away last Thursday. A report and a tribute to one of the few people of historical importance who walked the patchy road of mutual goodwill between Pakistan and India till the “thaw” in recent years. Among others was of course Faiz Ahmed Faiz who is as much loved in India as in Pakistan. Among the politicians it was the Khans- both father and son.

It is said that nothing grows under a banyan tree. The same is believed to be true of a towering leader, whose progenies are generally no patch on his greatness. There are glorious exceptions though, and veteran politician and leader of Pakistan’s Awami National Party, Abdul Wali Khan, who died at a ripe age of 89 last Thursday, was one of them. He was the son of as tall a leader as Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar and yet became an undisputed leader in his own right.

A longer and more critical remembrance by Rahimullah Yusufzai:

One could argue that the ANP’s declining popularity was due to extraneous factors and on account of manoeuvrings by the all-powerful military and the use of money and religious agendas. But political parties and their leaderships should be adapting to changed circumstances and strengthening their organisations to meet new challenges. In any case, refusal to move beyond the single-point agenda of Pakhtun nationalism at a time when other issues had become important and relevant wasn’t going to fetch more votes.

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A Partition Story

Here is a touching partition story.

The Samjhauta Express, called ‘Train of Emotions’ today re-united Rabia Bibi with her brothers after a gap of long 58 years. “Now I could die peacefully as Allah (the Almighty) has accepted my prayer to meet my brothers”, said Rabia.

The Sikh brothers, Mr Kesar Singh and Mr Joginder Singh, both residents of Dam Ganj, Amritsar, who were here along with their daughters, sons and grandchildren said that their sister who was only 12 was separated from the caravan which was coming to India.

A related story here.

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Mukhtaran Mai

Three years ago, four men from her village in Pakistan gang-raped Mukhtar, then 33, to punish her brother for an offense they believed he’d committed. Her honor destroyed, she was expected by her community and even her own family to kill herself in shame. Instead, she marshaled deep reserves of dignity and strength to show her village what honor really is. Over her own father’s initial objections, she went to the police, ultimately facing her attackers in a trial that put the four men in jail (an appeal that could free them is still pending).

When the government rewarded her with $8,300 in compensation, she chose not to flee with her cash, but to remain in her hometown and use the money to start the village’s first-ever schools, even as her rapists’ tribesmen continued to threaten her. “If women aren’t educated, it’s hard for them to speak up for themselves,” she has said.

And only education, she believes, will stop future generations of men from abusing women (she has even enrolled her rapists’ children).

Coverage of Mukhtaran Mai’s press conference in Washington (source: Despardes)

Dr. Manzur Ejaz places Mukhtaran Mai in a wider context of a tradition of women’s stuggle in feudal Punjab.

Responding to a question about Dr Shazia Khalid, Mukhtar Mai expressed sympathy and solidarity with her as a fellow victim of rape. However, she made a subtle distinction between herself and Dr Shazia Khalid suggesting that the good doctor may have abandoned the struggle by leaving the country. This reminded me of two famous characters from Waris Shah’s epic story.

Waris Shah distinguishes between love as a vehicle of social struggle — to overcome class, creed and tribal prejudices — and the desire to be with the lover by any means. Heer chooses to fight the predominant socio-economic system by openly embracing a buffalo herder, Ranjha. By contrast, her sister-in-law Sehti, portrayed as a very scholarly woman, seeks personal resolution by eloping with her lover, Murad Baloch. Heer, a woman of knowledge and faith, has to confront her family, tribe, religious institutions and legal system. Sehti takes the easy way out.

Waris Shah makes the point that mere suffering or its awareness are not enough to change an oppressive system. He is so intent on distinguishing between social struggle and efforts for self-gratification that his hero Ranjha refuses to elope even when Heer, in a weaker moment, suggests that. He says,

Heeray ishq na mool swad dainda nal chorian atay udhalian dey
(O Heer, the love, carried through deceit and elopement, is never fulfilling.)

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The Other Faces of Jinnah

Pakistan’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a leading freedom fighter, belonging to the more radical wing of the Congress before switching over to the demand for Pakistan. Both his political and personal life was more chequered than popular images both in India and Pakistan tend to conjure. Here is Jinnah, for example, defending Bhagat Singh and his comrades.

…A rare exception, according to Noorani, is the work by the veteran human rights activist I.A. Rehman, who praised the speech for the `coolly logical and convincing manner’ in which Jinnah “played a major role in foiling the attempt to make trial in absentia lawful”. Well, that was what the Government wanted to achieve through what came to be called `the Hunger-Strike Bill’.

…After adjournment, when he spoke again, he pleaded that the House consider `the real cause of the trouble’: “Is there today in any part of the globe a civilised government that is engaged, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, in prosecuting their people?” And there was more: “Do you think any many wants to exceed the bounds of law for the purpose of making a speech which your law characterises as a seditious speech, knowing full well the consequences, that he may have to go to jail for six months or a year?Do you think that this springs out of a mere joke or fun or amusement? Do you not realise yourself, if you open your eyes, that there is resentment, universal resentment, against your policy, against your programme?”

Jinnah was married to Rattenbai, from the Parsi family of Sir Dinshaw Petit, here is a review of the book ‘Ruttie Jinnah- The Story, told and Untold’:

Jinnah married his fabulously rich and renowned magnate Parsi friend Sir Dinshaw Petit’s daughter, Ruttie, when she was 18 and he was 42. Love has no logic. Sir Dinshaw opposed her daughter marrying Jinnah, but she stood firm and walked out of her parental home to which she was never to return.

… the author throws light on Ruttie’s life-style. Reading and horse-riding were her pleasures. She recited English poetry, and her favourite poet was Oscar Wilde. Besides law, Jinnah’s special interest lay in Shakespeare. While in London, he had acted in some of Shakespearean plays. He had thought of taking acting as his profession. Possibly, his interest in Shakespeare gave him insight into the intricacies of human character which he was to use for grasping the essentials of Indian politics.

After their marriage, the couple travelled a lot in India and abroad. Ruttie watched with a great sense of pride the feverish political activity of her husband. She came closely in touch with Mahatma Gandhi who advised her to speak in Hindi or Gujarati. The author narrates Jinnah’s encounter with Lord Willingdon, Governor of Bombay, who had invited Jinnah and his wife for dinner in Government House. Ruttie’s unconventional and “low-cut dress” upset Lady Willington who asked her A.D.C. to bring in a wrap for her. At this remark, Jinnah said, “When Mrs Jinnah needs a wrap, she will ask for it.” Thereafter, the couple walked out of the house.

According to the author, the relations between Jinnah and Ruttie became strained in January 1928. She fell ill and shifted to the Taj Mahal hotel. Accompanied by her mother, she went to Paris for medical treatment. Dewan Chiman Lall, who found her “delirious” in a Paris clinic, states that again both Jinnah and Ruttie quarreled. Ruttie returned to the Taj Mahal hotel on October 26, 1928, while Jinnah too reached Bombay. Ruttie’s condition deteriorated, and finally, death struck her on her birthday, February 20, 1929.

A Laboratory of Islam

Irfan Hussain writing in The Dawn reminds us that it was General Zia who assured early in his rule that Pakistan would be the laboratory of Islam. This seems to be further strenghtened by some of the laws being passed in NWFP.

Even before this latest manifestation of religious zeal, we had witnessed a series of Talibanesque decisions emanating from Peshawar. Women patients requiring X-rays could not be scanned by male technicians; advertizing posters with women were banned; and video shops were shut down. All these draconian measures were enforced with varying degrees of enthusiasm by civil servants and policemen. Now these (and far fiercer) edicts will be rammed down the populace’s throats by an authority whose decisions cannot be challenged in any court.In Nathiagali, I recently met an old friend who has served as a senior government officer in the NWFP for many years. According to him, the rule of the mullahs has been an unmitigated disaster for his province. No development activities are going on, corruption is rampant, and ordinary people are miserable. And yet, he continued, the MMA will probably get re-elected in the next polls because the opposition parties are in such disarray.

This is on the lines of the situation in Saudi Arabia and the Taliban ruled Afganistan.

As readers are aware, the Saudi religious police routinely beat up or jail anybody seen on the streets at prayer times, and cane women who are showing an inch or two of ankle. In a recent demonstration of religious fervour, they pushed back girls fleeing a blazing hostel into the flames because they were not adequately covered. Several girls died as a result.When in power in Afghanistan, the Taliban went a step further, and decreed that men whose beards were not of a certain length would be punished. Their treatment of women aroused the anger of the civilized world. Not content with brutalizing the living, they destroyed ancient statues for not conforming to their code.

Ayaz Amir, as usual, is more shrill, but does sum up the frustrations of the somewhat right of center inteligentsia (generally modernists with an Army background):

Bin Ladenism, which is a peculiar distillation of Wahabi Islam, and the terrorism which has come to be its favourite tool, are no answers to American domination or Muslim weakness. In fact, Bin Ladenism, with its narrow interpretation of Islam, is itself a reflection of Muslim weakness because it shows a preoccupation with the very elements which constitute the core of Muslim backwardness: a romantic attachment to a glorified past, an emphasis on literalism, and a comprehensive failure to understand what makes the modern world tick.

The answer to Muslim decadence lies in a political renaissance: a replacement of autocracy with democracy. Of course this is easier said than done but if we can’t achieve it there being nothing on the horizon to suggest that we easily can ‘we should at least understand that terrorism such as that in London is no answer to anything. In fact, far from liberating anything, it only makes the Muslim predicament worse by lending strength to the false doctrine of a ‘clash of civilizations’.

While ‘bin Ladenism’ is a descendant of Wahabism, the mutation seems to be in that while Wahabism was a social- poiltical movement, ‘bin Ladenism’ is essentially a political movement marked by anti- Westernism in general and anti- Americanism in particular. At its core is the former, for it was the US administration that propped up the Mujahideen in Afganistan for many years.