Daily Archives: July 1, 2008

Afghanistan, Pakistan and the War on Terror

by Yasser Latif Hamdani

A popularly-elected secular government in Islamabad — which shares several broad objectives with the US in Afghanistan and the greater Muslim world — is being pressurized by an unthinking coterie of policy planners in Washington. A secular mass movement for constitution, democracy and independent judiciary threatens to become a Khomeniesque Islamic revolution of 1979 if the present wave of anti-Americanism subsists. Increased Allied pressure on Pakistan will virtually seal it. Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.

Slain Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party leads a coalition that brings together center left and center right with the marginalized ethno-nationalist forces serving as a counterweight to Islamist forces in the NWFP. It has entered into peace negotiations with the Taliban forces and, consequently, the ratio of one suicide bombing a day in Pakistan has decreased. To now try and undo it by having the Afghan President send out threats- which in any event are a violation of international law – means that the myopia has set in somewhere. The Afghan president is in a precarious position. In his own country, Karzai has various monikers: the “palace president”, the “mayor of Kabul” and even the derogatory “mouse-President”. It is unlikely that his government would survive even a single day without the Allied help. Therefore, backing him against a legitimate and popular government in Pakistan which promises to put a long-term sustainable secular democratic order- the kind envisaged by its founding father- in place is akin to being penny wise pound-foolish. Doing so would also be to the detriment of the lawyers’ movement which aims at strengthening Pakistan’s judiciary and constitution. Continue reading

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Watering the the Indus Valley

Published on telegraph.co.uk – Last Updated: 12:01am BST 17/05/2008

Peter Parker reviews Empires of the Indus: the Story of a River by Alice Albinia

The River Indus rises in Tibet and flows west through northern India before turning south through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. Like many rivers, it has often acted as a border, marking off Baluchistan from Sindh and the North West Frontier Province from the Punjab, or halting the progress of invaders from the West.

A rather more arbitrary border was created in 1947 by Partition, which among other things left the “heartland” of the Rig Veda, one of Hinduism’s most sacred texts, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The Indus, however, is also a place where syncretism survives, and the confluence of its waters sometimes seems like a metaphor running through Alice Albinia’s impressive and original first book. Unlike the Ganges, which is sacred only to the Hindus, the Indus has spiritual and historical significance for Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs.

At one point, Albinia looks out from the militarised zone to where the lethally disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir “opens up like the wings of a green and yellow butterfly on a dull brown rock”.

This intensifies her sense, present throughout the book, that with Partition, “the citizens of India and Pakistan have suffered the stifling of their mutual history, and the loss of access to lands, languages and faces that were once part of their shared vocabulary”.

Albinia travels back along the Indus from its delta to its source, but also travels backwards in history, from “1947” to “50 million years ago” as the chapters’ subtitles have it, describing the many civilisations that have flourished in the Indus Valley.

Like the river itself, and indeed history, her narrative is not as linear as this might suggest, and much of the most fascinating material is found in its tributaries.

In Sindh we meet the Sheedi, dark-skinned Muslims with tightly curled hair. They are supposedly descended from an Ethiopian slave who became not only one of the Prophet’s first converts but also his first muezzin because of his “sonorous voice”. Continue reading

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