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WHAT HAPPENED TO PAKISTAN?

Choudhary Rahmat Ali coined the word, ‘Pakistan’ — made up of regions that he hoped would be free from the taint of infidelity to create the land of the pure or Pakistan. Allama Iqbal gave it emotional content and fired it with Islamic zeal. Mohammed Ali Jinnah evolved the two-nation theory — that Muslims were a nation apart from Hindus and Sikhs and would not accept freedom unless they got an independent state of their own. Driven to despair, Indian leaders gave in, and two regions separated by thousands of miles, West Pakistan and East Pakistan, came into existence in August, 1947. These two regions had very little in common: they belonged to different races, who spoke different languages and had different aspirations. The one thing they shared in common was their faith in Islam. And the one fear they shared was living in a Hindu-dominated India.

In 1971, East Pakistan broke loose from its western counterpart to become an independent Bangladesh. It proved that a common religion alone could not make a State. With it came the realization that the assumption of the two-nation theory was fallacious because there were more Muslims in India than in what remained of Pakistan, and that Indian Muslims enjoyed the same rights as other Indians. All that remained a binding force was the feeling that they were not Indians. Could that negative sentiment keep a people united? It did when they had confrontations with India; it dissipated when the two countries were at peace.

The principal reason why Pakistan keeps raising the issue of Kashmir is to refuel the feeling of separateness. The genesis and the undoing of Pakistan are powerfully spelt out by an American scholar, Nicholas Schmidle, in his recently published book, To live or To Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan (Random House). Nicholas and his wife went to Pakistan in 2006. Last year, they were deported. Nicholas had done his homework, read all he could about Pakistan, and learnt to speak Urdu. He could converse with the mullahs and the common people. He dressed himself in salwar kameez and black waistcoat. He never tried to conceal his identity and was yet able to visit the chronically disturbed regions of Pakistan’s north-west, extending from Swat to Baluchistan. He met leaders of the opposition, including Abdul Rashid Ghazi, head of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, whose bloody siege spelt the downfall of President Musharraf. He also visited different madrasas and leaders of several Taliban factions. It is these thousands of madrasas where jihadis were, and are, being nurtured. They memorize passages of the Quran, the sharia code, and later learn to wield Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers. They have plenty of targets. In Karachi alone, Shias vs Sunnis, muhajirs, Pashtuns, and Sindhis fight against one other. They also take on the army. They battle one another on streets and in the ghettoes. About the only thing that holds the country together is the army. And even the army fights a losing battle against the Taliban.

Schmidle gives a first-hand account of his meetings and what he saw with his own eyes. It makes for spine-chilling reading. I give just one example: “Tribesmen flocked from all over North Waziristan and gathered around the gallows. They shouldered rifles and wore floppy wool caps. Some of them were Taliban, experienced in fighting against the American military in Afghanistan, just a few dozen miles away. But many of them were simply local people, tired of robbers and thieves and punks creating problems. Someone should punish those people, he thought. And so, on a crisp winter day, tucked in a valley near the Afghanistan border, the Taliban hanged five alleged criminals in the main bazaar. Once the bodies were limp, the Taliban lowered the five men, cut their heads off, and then restrung them, decapitated and upside down, from the scaffold. I watched all this on a grainy, Taliban-made propaganda DVD, distributed in the winter of 2006.”

Loose tongue

I am a gossip-monger. It is my love of gossip that made me a story-teller. All characters in my stories were real persons about whom I heard sleazy tales. I changed their names, locations and sprinkled some mirch-masala to make them palatable.

I inherited my love for gossip from my mother. She prefaced her tales by saying, “I should not be saying this but I heard….” When I was a student in England, my parents used to write to me once a week. My father’s letters were in English, dictated to his steno-typist. They ran into a couple of pages. He kept me informed about Indian politics and the freedom movement. My mother’s letters were in Gurmukhi and rarely more than two or three paragraphs. She told me who had run away with who’s wife, who was said to be having an affair and that sort of thing. I soon forgot what my father had written. My mother’s gossiping paragraphs stayed in my mind.

Gossip should be based on facts and never be indulged in to create mischief. That is character assassination and should be treated as a crime like libel or slander. There is no dearth of real-life stories of illicit liaisons, elopements, attempted rapes, molestation of women etc to keep the windmills of gossip turning round. There is one instance — the affair between Chander Mohan and Anuradha Bali. That was true, and brought the dead city of Chandigarh back to life.

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