April 7th 2009
There are so many ways for Americans to find themselves if they are lost: They can read Eyewitness to America, an anthology of people who were there when the US was created; they could go to Gettysburg or heck, just rent the TVC; or they could go to the Metropolitan Museum in New York; or take a course with Professor Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn.
What are Pakistanis supposed to do to find themselves? And quick? Because 100 miles away from Islamabad’s serene capital and parliament are a group of hooligans with arms supplied by Russia or India and these Taliban are marching into the parts of Pakistan that are populated by people less able to fight a guerilla war and more complacent about things like drone attacks.
All this notwithstanding that we won ourselves an independent judiciary after over a year’s struggle, restored the Supreme Court chief justice and were well on our way to feeling like the middle class bourgeoisie of Pakistan finally had become closer to reclaiming their inherent character and national ethos.
Yet there is an eerie silence as the same populace watches the Taliban descend in Buner and watch youtube videos of beheadings and floggings. What are we supposed to do? In recent statements coming from all directions of the foreign world ask us to stand up and defend our country from the militants. Intellectuals ask us to remember how Nazi Germany watched its nation decline in a wave of dogma that cannot be challenged because it seems absolute and powerful.
We are not collaborating with some Nazi regime to ethnically cleanse a race, on the contrary we, the people of Pakistan are victims of terror: The kind that keeps our children out of co-educational schools because of bomb threats. We rightfully fear the Taliban because like terror they operate outside normalcy and are masters of disrupting familiarity, and they certainly cannot be underestimated because they show fierce resolve when fighting women and children.
The militancy in the North of the country has been nurtured since 2001, and now they are been drawn in to the cities, after allowing them to air their sermons on FM radio unabated, and take over the lands of rightful owners. They have no agenda but that of fear. On 28th of February 2008, Taliban militants took 250 schoolchildren hostage in a Primary school in Bannu, after a failed attempt to kidnap an official. They threatened to blow up the school if not guaranteed a safe passage. Today, April 26th 2009, 10 school children in Dir have been murdered by the Taliban in what is a most horrendous account at prime time news. A young school boy was given a bomb by the Talib and told it was a toy. The bomb exploded as a group of children played with it.
The policy of negotiating with terrorists has been unaltered since the Musharraf era, if not strengthened by the Zardari regime after signing off Swat to the Taliban under the Nizam-e-Adal led by an uncharismatic clown character who loves to call narcissist press conferences while his goons spread lawlessness of the most vengeful kind, the kind that lacks purpose and cause.
As confusion mounts about why the government is letting anyone challenge the writ of the state, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee. There is a good chance that the time is here to give Pakistan one last chance of returning it to its original intended state: the one defined by Mahomed Ali Jinnah and by the rationale of its own Indus civilization’s lessons – A secular liberal and egalitarian state.
As a first step, Pakistanis must shed the hesitation to call a spade a spade and say that all this talk of Sharia is nothing but nonsense, both inapplicable because this region is not homogenous in its religious construct and also because Sharia’s interpretational gurus have proven time and again to be collaborators with petro-money. As a second step we should point at the enemy, and stop sleeping with it. The enemy can be identified by its attack on a people’s identity: Its language and its heritage and the signs that remind them of their heroes and their roots. The one thing that confirms the purpose of the The Taliban is their recent vow to destroy the ancient ruins of Mohenjodaro in Taxilla.
It was Ghulam Abbas in 1957 who recognized the central battle point for the two diametrically opposed forces of liberalism and obscurantism in Pakistan. In the short story called Hotel Mohenjodaro, he wrote about a dystopia in the state of Pakistan that was on one hand ready to launch the first man to space, and on the other facing a growing mass of mullahs who thought scientific advancement to be against Islam. Eventually after a triumph of the mullah there stood, Hotel Mohenjodaro, the hotel where the launch ceremony took place. He writes, in each pen stroke spelt catastrophe, “This is the spot, before the enemy struck, stood the Hotel Mohenjodaro, with its 71 storeys.”
There is truly something gripping about Taxila’s ancient ruins that makes’ ones soul restless with questions.
Those questions are quenched by none other than Aitzaz Ahsan’s The Indus Saga. As a central figure in the lawyers movement that won Pakistanis a breath of self-confidence and dignity, this politician, poet and mentor to a leftist rock band, he is the person Pakistanis can turn to, if they want to find themselves. And in doing so they will discover that many a times, Pakistanis and found themselves and overcome their calamities though a relentless struggle, sometimes internally and sometimes though invisible forces. Each time, the battle has been won by asking the right questions and by finding this land’s heroes.
Define the Indus person, the Pakistani Citizen.
Professor Ahmed Hassan Dani, who was an authority on the antiquities and Pakistan’s most internationally acclaimed anthropologist said about Aitzaz Ahsan’s book, “This book ably represents the History of the land of the people who have lived and labored here.”
Aitzaz is a poet himself, a man who honors the written word and masters the power it has over people. He writes about the Indus region which he explains is modern day Pakistan and paints a picture of how the regions elements influence the resilience of the Indus person’s character.
“The hooves of a million galloping horses reverberated in my ears as they raised Indus dust to the farthest limits of outer space. The swords of Indus battalions rose in defense and flashed before my eyes. Mighty and turbulent rivers surged and shrank marking the unending cycle of immoderate seasons. Dry and burning desert winds swept across the endless plains every summer to be quenched only by the relentless and thunderous monsoon clouds. Cold and freezing winter nights made survival all but impossible except for the most hardy and robust forms of life. The cycle continued unabated. The invaders never relented. The resistance never tired. The seasons continued extreme. The Indus person remained tough and indefatigable. He was a survivor.”
A recent testimony to this character was when the lawyers movement was on a head to head collision course with the Zardari administration and Aitzaz Ahsan was asked on camera as he sat in his car what he was going to do about the march to Islamabad because trucks and trolleys were brought in to block all roads, making failure of the movement inevitable. He said, “We will come out tomorrow, and the next day and the day after, until those trolleys are removed.” There have been few leaders whose resolve resonates so strongly, as if it finds its power from something that was dated years ago, and runs miles deep into this land.
Aitzaz Ahzan writes: “If a culture that refused to support questions and inquiry are adopted, fundamentalist dogma is bound to creep in and take over. The establishment fears that if questions are indeed asked these may lead to conclusions that the present day and presumptive moorings are not the rationale for the creation of the state of Pakistan. The only two things that have survived are the questions and our heroes. They must survive.”
The book outlines myths set to confuse and complicate the people of Pakistan:
Myth #1: the people of this land are religious fundamentalists
Mohenjodaro and Harappa spread over half a million square miles, are a wonder for every archeologist, each of whom, point to various factors that made this first most advanced civilization known to man, more advanced than Mesopotamia and Egypt.
It was perhaps the discovery of the optimal size of the brick vis a vis its ratio to the human palm, or the fertile alluvium soil that allowed for cotton textiles, which gave this civilization a certain class structure. They had an excellent drainage system, large houses, and the sculpting of statues. This civilization had an expert manufacturing factory where its products reached the merchant class in Egypt, indicating that they traveled and imported items as well. Though it is mere speculation why the Indus civilization, once so wondrous declined so abruptly, it is a fact that there seemed to be an absence of a central authority in the architectural remains, rather a presence of ritualistic baths and temples.
The priests and not the kings therefore distributed the Indus surplus, perhaps based on piety, susceptible to religious corruption. There was also an absence of sophisticated weaponry, as compared to the advanced tools that the region developed. The Indus person was right from the start controlled by a bunch of fundamentalist priesthood that superseded both the military and the politics of the land. Though much of the decline of the civilization is suspicion but this could well be one of the major reasons.
For any civilization to have reemerged, it had to have built its foundation on the lessons from the downfall of the Mohenjodaro and Harapa era. The rebuilding of that ruin in the Indus region began with a rejection of the high church, a need for a strong central authority, a commitment towards a strong defense against an invading enemy and nothing more than a devotional commitment to religion.
The Indus person is inertly a liberal creed follower; and fundamentalism is known to the Indus person as what killed the innovation and superiority of its forefathers. Left to his own will, the Indus person has rejected the call to a theocracy.
The current voting patterns of Pakistanis in elections to this day bares testament to this lesson. The history of modern day Pakistani religio-political parties such as the Jamat-e-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam have both been unable to secure more than 15% support in Pakistan in any general elections and are both known more for their pragmatism than their dogmatism to establish Sharia in Pakistan, and their corresponding successes and failure is really measured by how much their swinging ideology is in tune with the changing times.
Myth # 2: That Barrister Mahomed Ali Jinnah was somehow an orthodox fundamentalist who demanded an exclusivist Islamic Pakistan
Jinnah’s story is not taught in our official media and our textbooks are censored. His valiant effort to bring Hindus and Muslims together, his own secular lifestyle and above all his commitment to bring his constituents to modernity and a progressive future are all forgotten. The man was a parliamentarian, a defender of liberal ideas, an activist for human rights and above all an advocate for the people of India (and Indus). While in dress, he was a Bond street gentleman, he was very much the man for the people of India and man from the people of India (and Indus). His legislative record bears testimony to a passionate idealist and defender of people’s interests against moneyed classes, businesses and other vested interests.
It is never explained how a secular minded man – thoroughly unbiased and without any color of prejudice- came to champion the cause of Muslims. What was his greatest push for affirmative action for his community- which was a minority- has been falsely portrayed as an exclusivist demand.
Yet it is through stories of betrayal and deceit that this region’s students (Read: Taliban) are imbued with an unmitigated sense of betrayal and in vengeance alone do they thus seek to purge themselves of a sense of guilt and betrayal.
Myth # 3: India and Pakistan are Historically one unit
Among other things, Pakistanis are made to feel guilty about the fact that they “vivisected” an intrinsically singular piece of land. Nothing could be farthest from the truth. If the creation of Pakistan itself did not prove that there were much larger historical forces at work that overrode any gift of nature that made the Indian subcontinent have an “island-like unity” then certainly the further partitioning of Bangladesh from Pakistan did.
Interestingly, during the last six thousand years, Indus (Pakistan) has indeed remained independent of and separate from India for almost five and a half thousand years. Only during the rule of the Mauryans, the Mughals and the British, was the entire Subcontinent be ruled as one land mass. The total period of these three empires rule was not more than five hundred years which is only about 8% of this land’s History.
The belief in the unity and oneness of the subcontinent was propagated by Pax Britannica, the unified hold of the Raj which fell conveniently in the lap of Hindu mythology and the Mahabharata scripture and later taken on by Jawaharlal Nehru and even contemporary historians in Pakistan. The Pakistani historians always argued from a position of guilt and weakness that proceeded after the partition of India in 1947. The Indus Saga is among the first serious scholarly work that reverses that view.
Myth 4: Indus has willingly surrendered before every invader
After facing successful conquests in Central Asia, it was in what is now Pakistan that most expeditions met containment when it reached the Indus region. The battles always ended at Panipat: The land that is now midway between modern Pakistan and Dehli. The Indus person has won battle over the Aryans, as testified in Hindu text. The Indus person has also weakened the Greeks in this region, and compelled Alexander the Great to turn back. Taimur Lane was harassed by Sheikha Gakkhar and Jasrat. Even the Mughals were bleeding miserably for several years by the Indus people in the frontier, in Sindh and in Punjab. Likewise the Raj was fought fiercely though uprisings for several years in the nineteenth century. And it is here when the ‘dehistorification’ of the Indus person began.
Aitzaz Ahsan explains that after the war of 1857, a new set of Chiefs were created by the British and awarded large strips of land, and their sons inducted into the imperial services, creating a new civil and military bureaucracy that was unquestioningly submissive and obedient. A new history was written to suit the elite and people were as a first step deprived of the use of local languages that embodied their history, and vernacular languages were replaced by Urdu and English.
The parables of oral and written history that talked of resistance against the foreign invaders were thus wiped away in a few years.
As the barbarian horde moves towards our capital, it would not be for the first time. This time though the Indus Valley is going to fetch deep into those wells of history and the Indus person is going to fight.