History / 09.08.2011

By Anjum Altaf I was asked to review M J Akbar’s new book Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan and have done so; the review appeared in the May 2011 issue of Himal Southasian magazine. Here I wish to attempt something different – to convey to the reader a sense of the book through the images that came to mind as I read it. Tinderbox Tinderbox is a particularly apt metaphor for present-day Pakistan. I reached for the book with a sense of excitement and anticipation at the prospect of learning whether the tinderbox would explode or somehow be defused. The issue had been on many minds and the focus of many talks for some time. A member of the family had put it thus after attending one the talks:
Analysis / 30.04.2011

In Himal Southasian Magazine, May 2011 By Anjum Altaf It is an irony that the most significant enemy of history books is history itself, books being frozen at a moment in time while history continues its relentless march – eventually mocking, more often than not, the certainties of an earlier age. Historical accounts that rely on cultural or psychological constructs for explanations are particularly exposed to this danger, as any number of outdated verdicts can illustrate – the opium-eating Chinese, the Hindu rate of growth, the fatalistic Arabs, to name just a few. The senior journalist M J Akbar thus takes on a large challenge when he sets up his chase to identify the villain of the piece in this new book, billed as ‘historical whodunit to trace the journey of an idea … that divided India.’
Religion / 10.09.2010

From A’daabKhuda HafizAllah Hafiz – How cultural expressions are transformed?

By Ahmed Kamran   In Parts 1 & 2 we discussed an Indo-Persian culture that evolved in India, and how this Ganga-Jamni Tehzib responded to the collapse of Muslim political power and the rise of European powers. We have seen how the frustration of the Muslim intelligentsia gave rise to an aggressive Jihad culture and an inverse reflection led it to the pursuit of modern knowledge and secular progress. Let’s see how Indian Muslims slowly drifted towards a new path of social and political isolation.
History / 31.08.2009

Jaswant Singh's book provides the excuse for this post. We are going to move away from narratives that seek a villain in the story. Rather, we will present a sequence of events that increasingly predisposed the outcome towards a division of the subcontinent. Along the path marked by these events, there were a number of crucial turning points at which different decisions could possibly have led to different outcomes. These remain the big what-ifs of our history.In this narrative we present just the big picture and the key highlights. Each of the turning points needs a chapter to itself but it is useful to sketch an overview before we begin to start filling in the details. We hope to use the commentary for that purpose.The British become masters of IndiaThe story can start at any number of points but let us begin it in 1803....

History / 25.08.2009

It is sad that the history we are taught in our countries is so one-dimensional that even the thought that the 'Other' might be semi-intelligent (let alone great) makes people catatonic. The predictable reaction is either to impugn the motives of the writer or to find selective evidence to prove that the real blame rests entirely on the ‘Other.’ The alternative of sifting through the arguments on their merits remains alien, unacceptable, impossible, or just too tiresome. The reason Jaswant Singh’s book has made such a splash is because he is a front ranking politician with a very high reputation for integrity (for which, read Strobe Talbott's Engaging India) and belongs to the BJP, all of which make the story impossible to ignore. Otherwise, this is an argument that has been made before and forgotten.
Leadership / 22.03.2009

Varun Gandhi is reported to have said some strong things about Muslims in India. So, I am told, did his father. Let me use this as a peg to say something about Varun’s venerable great-grandfather whose maturity Varun seems unlikely to emulate. But beyond that, let me speculate about some neglected dimensions of the political history of the subcontinent. Two remarkable statements made around the time of the partition of British India continue to intrigue me: Here is Mohammad Ali Jinnah, addressing the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in August 1947: You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State. And here is Jawaharlal Nehru, writing to...

Pakistan / 15.03.2009

Professor Ralph Russell died on September 14, 2008 at the age on ninety. Known as the British Baba-e-Urdu, he was a leading scholar of the language and was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz for a lifetime of notable contributions. Professor Russell was a scholar of language and literature and never thought of himself as a political analyst. But his training in the humanities endowed him with the ability needed for good analysis. Here I take an extract from his essay (Strands of Muslim Identity in South Asia – first published in the 1980s) to illustrate the attributes of good analysis. It is quite likely that Muslims and Pakistani readers were upset by this analysis. But Professor Russell, a great friend of Urdu, Islam and Pakistan, never let that keep him from saying what he felt needed to be said. It is from him that I picked up the line: Do...

Pakistan / 15.03.2009

In the last post we used material from an essay by Professor Ralph Russell to illustrate what we consider a good analysis. Let us continue using that example to convince the reader of the advantages of good analysis. Resting one’s future on hopes does provide solace but is self-defeating because it provides no direction for the future. What happens when the hopes are dashed? More hopes? No wonder things continue to deteriorate as they have in Pakistan over the years so that we have now reached the stage where the unimaginable is peering in through the windows of our homes. A good analysis, on the other hand, provides a roadmap for the future because it is based on an understanding of the forces that are operating in society and it is possible to shape and mould societal forces with intelligent public policy. Not that the intelligence emerges...

Politics / 29.01.2009

A reader’s comment has raised the issue of the dynamic of Pakistan’s creation. The question posed is about the role of Mr. Jinnah’s leadership: did Mr. Jinnah’s charisma make Pakistan possible or was the yearning of Muslims for self rule the primary driver? There have a number of other explanations for the creation of Pakistan and one can attempt to evaluate them by seeking answers to a few simple questions: (1) In which geographical areas did the demand for Pakistan emerge first? (2) Why did the demand arise when it did and not earlier? (3) Which social groups articulated the demand and lent it support? Some of the explanations appear weak when evaluated against these questions. One of them is the religious explanation that presents the creation of Pakistan as the fulfillment of a religious desire for a state in which Islam could be practiced without hindrance....

Leadership / 16.01.2008

By Anjum Altaf Professor CM Naim has sent us a unique news report on the creation of Pakistan from the Nation datelined November 15, 1947 (Jinnah’s New Republic by Andrew Roth). Amongst other things the report remarks on the nature of leadership in the new Pakistan: With enormous problems, Pakistan has only a very ordinary set of leaders to cope with them. The brilliant Mr. Jinnah, of course, must be excepted, but he is over seventy and has been in poor health since a severe pneumonia attack two years ago. His voice can barely be heard ten feet away, and he chose to become governor general rather than premier partly because it was an easier post. He has repeatedly told subordinates, "I have done my part of the job; I've given you Pakistan. It is up to you to build it." Premier Liaqat Ali Khan is a competent administrator...