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« Bar Buddy (Andrew) | Main | Shahbaz Bhatti RIP »

February 28, 2011

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Omar, once again you offer much in the way of insight, and the need for reflection on middle Asian politics. Thank you.

Omar, the stories of Pakistani political intrigue that you post are curiouser than Alice in Wonderland. Except, they are not as funny. I think the problem here is a deeply suspicious and paranoid nation (like Israel) which sees so many enemies and backstabbers all around that it has begun to jump at its own shadow. At the diplomatic Spy vs Spy level, many countries are given to cloak & dagger games to some extent. But Pakistan is straining at too many seams of its national fabric and the fear and paranoia have percolated well into the psyche of the general public, not just the "Deep State." That is what is scary. Who is going to be the unifying leader who can assuage the fear and calm the nerves of all the disparate factions? Pakistan is not Hamas in Gaza, nor Hezbollah in Lebanon that scare Israel so much. A nervous and trigger happy Pakistan stands to do real damage well beyond its own borders. As for the US, of all the genies that it let out during half a century of the cold war machinations, Pakistan is going to be the toughest to put back into the bottle.

A rather unlikely 'what if' question occurs to me : What if the US/CIA refuses to play ball with Pakistan and demands that Davis be repatriated without proffering any 'kiss and make up' gifts, being as it were that money flowing in could always be easily curtailed as part of the budget cuts that are already being proposed.

Sujatha, to answer your question: the view in teh Pakistani elite is that the US has no choice. They are stuck in Afghanistan and need Pakistani help for a soft exit. They will not cut off aid for the sake of one contractor.
Ruchira, about the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti: Today is the kind of day its OK to say a few things about the "ideology of Pakistan", the so-called secular “father of Pakistan” and his confused Uncle Mohammed Iqbal. While Islamic supremacism (upon which modern Islamist fascism is being built) has always been with us, its been ONE of the strands in Islamicate culture, not the only one or even the most dominant one. While Kafirstan was turned into Nuristan, its worth noting that it also stayed Kariristan for centuries. The evil was always there, but it was not always this big. Thanks partly to the two-nation theory and Allama Iqbal’s visions of Islamic glory, it has grown in spectacular ways in the last century (modernization?) and Pakistan is at the center of it. There is a reason why the Jewish apostate Mohammed Asad settled in Pakistan (there is also a reason why his poco pomo son Talal Asad is now living in the West and making good bucks selling the usual stuff (http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/asad/), but that is another story), why the rabita al alamai al Islami (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_World_League) has had such a close relationship with Pakistan, why Pakistan is the world headquarters of Jihadism, and so on.
Anyway, I am not saying Pakistan is unsalvageable. Its very hard to change borders in today’s world, so I expect that Pakistan too will stay one country. Its also very hard to be a completely rogue state without oil and feed 200 million people, so the elite will find some way stay away from the most extreme features of Islamist fascism (which would mean avoiding things like attempting a thousand year Islamic Reich and taking yourself and the region through total war before the inevitable defeat). Unfortunately, that does not mean the state also has to protect minorities or keep the various mad dog militias under tight control. In fact, the way the dynamic has developed, the elite will be handsomely paid to keep the mad dogs limited to Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, and naturally they will make sure they dont do too god a job and lose their nuisance value in the process.
A friend from the PPP has predicted that the current regime is the Weimar republic, to be followed by an Islamist Hitler, spectacular improvement in economy and “law and order” and marching in fancy uniforms, and then..total war…in that depressing order. I hope he is wrong…

Omar, that is a depressing scenario you paint. But I am not naive enough or cheerfully optimistic enough to deny that things may indeed unfold in that scary manner.

I am struck by your mention of Mohammed Iqbal and his vision of Islam. I know that he is celebrated among Pakistani as well as Indian Muslims and also, some non-Muslims. Perhaps you will educate us as to Iqbal's vision for Islam in general and Pakistan in particular.

Iqbal was a very talented poet, probably the most talented Urdu poet of the 20th century but ideologically he was very confused. He came from a lower middle class family of neo-Muslims, who still had Hindu cousins and whose Islam was very orthodox and mullahistic. Being extremely intelligent and talented, he performed very well in college and people like Professor Arnold recognized his potential and encouraged him in the ways of modern European education. But he never lost a determination to use philosophy and poetry to justify his core beliefs. While a lot of his poetry (and especially his Persian poetry, with which I am not too famliar, but about which I hear from Persian speaking friends) is universal and uplifting; in his Urdu poetry he became more and more Jihadist with age. Probably because that is what got the loudest cheers from his fans. In any case, he shamelessly promoted (and possibly believed, which is worse) the notion that Islam constitutes a kind of unique world-altering, world shattering forward move in human history, completely and definitively superior to any other religion or ideology, and he proceeded to write some very fanciful odes to the conquering heroes of the golden age. Never mind that most of those heroes were no different from any other king, adventurer or conqueror of the age. He was also committed to Islamic supremacism and opposed secularism (at least when it suited him to do so...its hard to say what his real beliefs were or even if he had any in this matter)....anyway, it is no surprise that the martyrdom certificates issued by the Pakistani Taliban have one of his verses written on them...every madressa i have ever seen in Pakistan is adorned with verses of Iqbal.
I am being a little unfair, but not much. The Sindhi leader GM Syed criticized Iqbal by saying that in this day and age, we expect our greatest intellectuals to be humanists and universalists. They are not parochial and bigoted. They dont regard any one race or ideology as the answer to all problems because they have a deep sense of the almost tragic oneness of mankind. We still have poets who write martial music or nationalist anthems or promote their own religious group over all others, but we also regard them as second-raters. Iqbal is too talented to be called second rate, but philosophically, he falls in that second-rate category..

That explains the hint of arrogance in this largely unsung line from the iconic 'Sare jahan se accha'

"e āb-rūd-e gangā! vuh din haiñ yād tujh ko?
utarā tire kināre jab kāravāñ hamārā"

(Translation from Wikipedia)
"O the flowing waters of the Ganges, do you remember that day
When our caravan first disembarked on your waterfront?"

It's one of the stanzas never sung in the original version set to music, but I learned it at a music camp run by a well-known music director who tuned it, just for fun, and to subversively remind those of us who might understand of more agendas than plain jingoism.

That's all that I knew about Iqbal, until your clarifications put it all in clear perspective. Thanks, Omar.

Dear Omar,

I was horrified to read your sentence "Iqbal was a very talented poet, probably the most talented Urdu poet of the 20th century..."! I know nothing about his Farsi poetry, but in Urdu he is a dullard who cannot hold a candle to serious 20th century poets of Urdu like Josh Malihabadi or Faiz! He is celebrated for providing ideological justification for the two-nation theory. You seriously like his Urdu poetry? I can't stand it at all!

How's that for opinionated comment-posting? :-)))

Best,

Abbas

Abbas:
Before Omar has a chance to respond, let me tell you that I for one, like opinionated comments, especially when they come from informed commenters. I am very unfamiliar with most modern Urdu poets except Faiz who was brilliant. Some of the Indian filmi poets like Kaifi Azmi and Sahir Ludhianvi wrote movingly also. The only poem of Iqbal's (apart from Saare jahaan se achha) I can claim to have read with some attention was Shikwa and that being more a religious tract than poetry, it went pretty much over my head both intellectually and emotionally.

Abbas, I specifically said "talent" not actual production. That's a backhanded compliment in a way. But he did have talent. Even when he is writing jihadi drivel, its musical, its rhythmic, he has a vast vocabulary, he has memorable turns of phrase...I will go out on a limb and bet that you know more of his verses by heart than you know of Josh...and Josh was incredibly talented himself (besides being a much more progressive and emancipated thinker)...

Okay, Omar, I see what you're saying. And you are right, I could quote more Iqbal than Josh from memory, but then I can quote more Dr. Seuss than Shakespeare since it's easier to remember! :-)

The Pakistani prime minister has suggested that the US pay "Blood Money" as a compromise. But the Islamic groups angry with the US are not ready to buy into this compromise solution.

This post says they have equipped, qualified and motivated their own executioners in the course of a demented structure of trying to wrest Kashmir from Indian while installing the groundwork for a mini empire in middle Japan. But the second aspect of this misconception is the actual misconception here.

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