History / 13.09.2016

By Ahmed Kamran Chapter One: The Roots of Revolution (Continued) II. International Revolutionaries While a steady migration of Indian peasants and working classes as indentured labour was slowly taking place towards the British colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, a new and more comprehensive political and administrative order as crafted by Lord Macaulay was put in place in India by the colonial rulers. With it gradual reforms in education and political life of India were introduced. Schools and colleges with instruction in English language were set up by the Missionary churches and the secular government in major Indian towns. In these schools, modern education was imparted to Indian children to produce a new breed of loyal and educated gentlemen, imbibed with western ideas and colonial outlook. This brought a slow but significant social change, particularly, in the middle classes. They were getting engaged in commerce or in services...

History / 28.08.2016

By Ahmed Kamran Introduction The communist movement in Pakistan is all but dead. Today, there are few to mourn its death and its unceremonious exit from the national politics. It seems a forgotten chapter, completely erased from the collective memory of the youth. A handful of those who still cling to the ideal of a communists-led revolution to bring about a ‘proletarian dictatorship’ have absolutely no role in, and more sadly, no clue of, the dynamics of country’s politics. And all this is after a long and checkered history of a fairly old and vibrant communist movement, firstly in undivided India and later in post-independence Pakistan. For roughly about sixty odd years, from 1920’s till the end of 1980’s, countless political activists, many remaining nameless, worked selflessly in their own ways for the ideal of building a society free from exploitation, misery and want. For a long time,...

History / 24.08.2016

By Ahmed Kamran Subtitle: What Went Wrong with Pakistan's Communists? [With this post we begin serializing a book under preparation by Ahmed Kamran on the history of the Left movement in Pakistan. This post includes the Table of Contents and the Prologue.]   Contents Prologue Introduction Part – I Chapter 1: Roots of Revolution Chapter 2: Communist Party of India – Its Genesis (1920 – 1932) Chapter 3: Rise and Fall of Indian Communism (1933 – 1951) Chapter 4: Road to Pakistan Part – II Chapter 5: A Himalayan Blunder Chapter 6: The Great Divide Chapter 7: A Last Minute Freeze Chapter 8: The Great Slide into Oblivion Part – III Chapter 9: Has Marxism any Future in Pakistan? Chapter 10: Conclusions   Prologue How many of today’s youth in Pakistan know that there had been a communist party in the country? Sadly, very few. Only those who had been, or still are, in some way connected with a fast receding generation of radical political activists of...

History / 14.01.2016

By Anjum Altaf Some readers of this blog are aware of my admiration for the late Dr. G.M. Mehkri (1908-1995) reflected in the 2009 tribute to him on this blog. In brief, I was impressed by Dr. Mehkri’s objectivity and the intriguing social hypotheses he explored with evidence, logic, and neutrality. I had mentioned in the tribute that Dr. Mehkri had submitted a PhD thesis (The Social Background of Hindu Muslim Relationship) to the Department of Sociology at the University of Bombay in 1947. The subject, timing, and Dr. Mehkri’s credentials suggested this might be a manuscript worth reading and a search was launched to obtain a copy. The most likely source was the National Social Science Documentation Centre (NASSDOC) in Delhi, the archive for all doctoral dissertations completed in India. Unfortunately, the copy of Dr. Mehkri’s thesis was reported missing. With the help of friends in India...

Cities/Urban / 24.09.2015

By Ahmed Kamran Among other many finer things of a city’s life that Karachi has lost over time, the greatest loss has been the disappearance of its book stores – the windows of Karachi’s reading and thinking abilities. These are now long shut and closed. Many of the good book stores, about 18, were located in Saddar, a kind of a cultural capital of Karachi. Starting from the well-known Thomas & Thomas Book Store on the Preedy Street, next to Irani Cafe George, there were many book shops on the Elphinstone Street (now Zaibunisa Street). There was Kitab Mehal (Book Palace) inside one of the market on Elphinstone Street, known for stocking good Urdu books. Kitab Mehal was owned by a fine gentleman with good literary taste who probably had a book store by the same name near Jama Masjid in old Delhi, before Pakistan was...

Cities/Urban / 16.09.2015

By Ahmed Kamran In spite of a sudden influx of immigrants pouring into the city in large numbers in the wake of partition of India, Karachi’s social and cultural life remained progressive and liberal in its outlook. The influx of new population, mostly coming from other urban centres of British India, the city life quickly adjusted to the thriving commercial and business activities of the city, regaining its cultural life. Founding of the new country with its capital at Karachi brought in large number of Muhajir Intelligentsia – well trained civil servants, skillful traders, successful businessmen from Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, and Kanpur, teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, clerks and office workers, well known progressive and some radical poets, writers, journalists, and intellectuals from all over India. These people were already steeped in urban culture of British India and were long ago freed from the traditional static bonds...

History / 12.07.2015

By Anjum Altaf The member-secretary of the Indian Council of Historical Research resigned from his post last month without completing his term. Amongst his major concerns was the ‘changing of textbooks’: “The simplification and dumbing down of history in order to support many of the unfortunate stereotypes that circulate in society is something to be worried about.” This controversy raises its head in India from time to time but at least meets vociferous opposition from many professional historians. In Pakistan, the manipulation of textbooks has long been completed and accepted without much protest perhaps because by now the country is bereft of historians. K.K. Aziz wrote The Murder of History: A Critique of History Textbooks Used in Pakistan in 1993 and nothing much has changed since. Later examinations such as The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan released in 2003 confirm the perpetuation of...

Cities/Urban / 07.07.2015

By Ahmed Kamran Yeh laash-e be-kafan Asad-e khasta jaan ki hai Haq maghfarat kare ajab azad mard tha! (Ghalib) If Karachi could be likened to a man, with a little liberty taken from Ghalib, this couplet could be a very appropriate epitaph for the tombstone of Karachi, the city that was! This is a series of some musings on the social and cultural aspects of the history of Karachi; how the city’s life was developed and transformed over time. It focuses on the period of 1960s and 1970s when I was young and had many dreams. What was the Karachi that my generation had inherited and what it is today? These writings have a clear ring of nostalgia. Paul Getty said, ‘Nostalgia often leads to idle speculation’. Indeed, nostalgia is distractive, breeds inaction, and, often, depression. But like some sweet-bitter memory of childhood or a sad song or...

Democracy/Governance / 20.04.2015

By Anjum Altaf I want to tie together two conversations about politics because they bring together some strikingly similar views of very different segments in society. I find it useful to explore the implications to better understand what might motivate our politics. The first conversation, about a month ago, was with a taxi driver in Islamabad. A broken-up road triggered a litany of complaints about the increasing difficulties of existence – shortages of utilities, difficulties in access to services, etc. The monologue transitioned into a critique of democracy – could one eat it? – followed by the oft-heard desire for ‘strong’ governance. I submitted that we had tried the ‘strong’ route four times without the desired results only to be met with the dismissive judgement that conditions under Musharraf were distinctly better than they were now. It was not the occasion to ask if something done at one...

History / 15.07.2014

By Kabir Altaf In 1026, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni raided the Hindu temple of Somnath (located in the present-day Indian state of Gujarat).  In retrospect, this event has had tremendous repercussions for contemporary South Asian history and is traditionally regarded as marking Hindu-Muslim animosity in the region from the outset. To this day, perceptions of Mahmud continue to be polarizing. While many Indians regard him as an iconoclastic invader bent upon loot and plunder, their counterparts in Pakistan view him as a conqueror who “established the standard of Islam on heathen land.” The Pakistani attitude is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that the country’s military has named the Ghaznavi missile in honor of Mahmud.  However, despite this conventional understanding, modern historians are attempting to question the received wisdom surrounding Somnath. One of the modern scholars attempting to arrive at a new understanding of Somnath is Romila...