I pretend, therefore they don’t exist

Salman Latif

It may seem as an outlandish tale today when I say that just a few years ago we lived in a Pakistan that afforded the existence of many militant organizations. Some of them were of a more generic outfit, customized and tailored by the Pak Army to fight a proxy war, a policy which was revealed to be flawed only few decades later. Yet others had more specific agendas, sponsored and aided and often accepted within the mainstream polity. These included those who’d hunt down and kill anyone of a different faction and did so as a religious obligation.

I said that today it seems like an absurdity because today most of us shy away from admitting this past and tend to be more tolerant and progressive. Today we pretend to look from the existences, albeit underground, of these very organizations which were once a stark reality and well operational throughout the nation. It particularly appalls me when Punjab government blatantly utters that such organizations no longer exist while the fact is that the other day, I came across a regional representative of Sipah-e-Sahaba who’s a well known celebrity among the Shia-haters locally and enjoys a profound repute in inducing hate-oratory towards them. “He can compel you to kill a Shia within ten minutes” is what an impressed fan tells me.

What bothers me is not that these organizations still exist. It is quite obvious that an ideology that has been fed and supported by certain powerful stakeholders would not diminish within a few years of policy change. What does bother me is that whether the policy change has even occurred? And if so, has it been implemented or stays, just like many other policy announcements, mere rhetoric? For despite the fact that such organizations are banned officially, they exist and recruit personnel openly and have madressahs under their control which act as their centers.

South Punjab is particularly ripe for them where factors like economic disparity, low literacy rate and remoteness from provincial command act as facilitators in providing ground to such militant factions. The performance of the Punjab government suggests that its intelligence is poor in the region. Another worrisome possibility is that the government officials are not willing to take a go at these extremists. This doesn’t come as a surprise since we have seen similar instances in the case of notorious dacoits who could well blackmail government personnel to retreat from testifying against them. Years of intense grass-root work and faith-based funding has lent these organizations immense power, in terms of resources and knowledge about local culture and terrain, if not in terms of manpower.

From the way Punjab government is handling the situation, and from the past record of CM’s statements, it becomes obvious that PML-N prefers sustaining a vote bank to the battle against extremism. It has long pretended the inexistence of any such elements but those statements have come to bite it back as more substantial proofs come forth about the role of ‘Punjabi Taliban’ in the recent saga of manslaughter at Lahore. This denial on the part of provincial command has truly complicated the entire situation. Had they accepted this fact and moved on with a counter-strategy to thwart these elements from their safe havens and take effective steps in containing their terrorist assaults, it would have been smooth sailing, at least relatively. Now, however, military solutions are being proposed which are certainly not the ideal way to address the situation.

Talking of the possibility of a military solution for the Punjabi Taliban, one must not forget that any sort of military assault in these regions may severely disrupt normal life throughout Punjab. Also, a singularly military solution shall stir other sleeping dragons, the yesterday’s proxy guys whom we dumped after using well for years and who surely keep a grudge against the army. And that shall leave Lahore most vulnerable, with the recent incident vividly depicting the reach of these elements well within the heart of Punjab.

If I look at all this, I tend to believe that the very first step that we need now is to admit the presence of such radicals within our ranks. And by ‘us’, I mean the society more so than the government for the masses at large put a finger on CIA and RAW more often than Taliban in the aftermath of any terrorist attack. Media, an effective tool in shaping public mindset and orienting the commonplace social discussions, has been playing a rather poor role. It needs to realize the gravity of the affairs before it’s too late. It can be a great aide in rooting out the support these militant factions enjoy among the local masses. Once this is done, or even in parallel, a low-level counter-terrorism strategy may be implemented through law-enforcement agencies rather than the army. It will be slow, and slow it shall be, for what we sowed and backed for decades will take years to erode out, and that too only when we truly try.

Salman Latif



Filed under Pakistan

29 responses to “I pretend, therefore they don’t exist

  1. Bin Ismail

    Salman Latif:

    “…..He can compel you to kill a Shia within ten minutes” is what an impressed fan tells me…..”

    This sentence of your brilliant article says about everything. The Mullah’s potential to induce and instigate destruction is almost immeasurable. The suicide bomber and terrorist is little more than the foot soldier of the mullah. The society has to comprehend this – and comprehend this now. You have rightly said, ” It needs to realize the gravity of the affairs before it’s too late”.

  2. Moosa

    My father sometimes jokes that if the mullahs genuinely believe it is such a fine deed to go and do jihad, then why don’t you ever see the mullahs doing jihad? Why do they always send other people to do the jihad?

  3. Saida Zamir

    Great point Moosa, those that ask others to endanger their lives are cowards and heartless in trying to advance a sicked adventure to please themselves.

  4. shiv

    While trying to understand Pakistan and the evolving relationship of Pakistanis with Islam, I gathered that Islam asks that every individual reads the Quran himself for the knowledge therein.

    I have come to believe that the act of reading the Quran itself was made a conditional affair by the predecessors of today’s mullahs a long time ago. The first condition was that the Quran should be read in its original Arabic. Unfortunately, the “original Arabic” of the Quran is not exactly the same as modern Arabic. So that is one more condition that one has to fulfil in trying to read the Quran.

    What I am getting at is that the system (the system that evolved, not necessarily Islam itself) created a bias in favor of the mullah a long long time ago.

    Arabic is said to be a beautiful language and I have read that conversations in Arabic by gifted speakers can be as enthralling to one who understands them as a classical music concert. But in order to be able to read the Quran the real Islamic scholar undertakes a multiple-year course, the early years of which are reserved for actually learning Arabic, and he also gets training in jurisprudence and, of all things rhetoric. Training in rhetoric is a valuable tool. Be that as it may, even the half-baked mullah from your local training academy comes out as an “expert” who can then be consulted for day to day problems. This skews the power structure in Islamic societies in favor of the mullah. Knowledge of Arabic and rhetoric create an influential community leader in the absence of knowledge of much else that is needed in today’s world.

    In the 1850s, Macaulay in British India made a speech (“Macaulay’s minute”) in which he was dismissive of all Sanskrit and Islamic knowledge and pushed for Western education of all Indians so that they may become avid consumers of British goods. Up until that time the British had been maintaining a tradition in which rulers funded both Sanskrit and Islamic schools. After Macaulay, this funding was stopped and the British set up “secular schools” for Indians. It is said that Hindus saw greater opportunity than Muslims in attending these Western schools, and the Muslim community became insular and many tried to withdraw and stay with the Islamic schools. Nevertheless, both Jinnah and Nehru were products of a Macaulayite education as we are – and that includes me (Indian) and others (Pakistanis) on here.

    After independence the Macaulayite/traditional split was addressed in India by wholesale selection of Western Macaulayite education as the norm. But what this did in India was to create a new social divide between the successful English speakers and the less successful local language speakers who could not get jobs easily as the English speakers did.

    I believe Pakistan too went down this route and the same English-non English (Macaulayite vs traditional) split was created. The English speakers got the jobs and power. The people who did not have English remained relatively poor. It was the latter who “benefited” from the post-Zia proliferation of madrassas. Unfortunately the Zia legacy had nothing to do with giving them proper jobs. It was only to create students (Taliban?) to fight kafirs of various hues. In a cynical way the poor people of Pakistan were being used as cannon fodder in geopolitical games by the relatively more wealthy who ran the Army and government.

    I believe the Taliban phenomenon is as much a class war as anything else. The most deadly recruits are rural, poor and do not speak English. The moderates of Pakistan can afford to be moderate – their opportunities are better.

    I can offer Pakistanis no solutions although I can sit and gloat and say come let’s have nuclear war. But I think Pakistanis who believe they are moderate need to examine what sect of Islam they follow and try and use their influence to control the madrassa curricula of their sect. I don’t know about Pakistan, but India has a formally recognized madrassa board that grants recognised degrees, and those madrassas teach modern subjects in addition to the traditional syllabus.

    In attempting this people will be shaking the power base of the mullah who will be a dangerous adversary, in conjunction with some local politician or landlord. But it is essential that poor Pakistanis are weaned off the curriculum that tells them that India/kafirs are the problem, and Islam and jihad are the solution. If Pakistanis becomes more radicalized, the India problem will only get bigger because Indians naturally do not give a shit about whether a Pakistani is is moderate or radical, or whether he is trying to bring in reform or not.

    But there may be bigger problem ahead – the huge elephant in the room – and that is the Pakistan army’s institutionalized hatred/fear of India. But that is another topic.

  5. D_a_n

    @ Shiv

    ‘Pakistan army’s institutionalized hatred/fear of India. But that is another topic.’

    and what of your paranoid schizophrenic hatred for Pakistan son?

  6. D_a_n

    @ Shiv

    ‘because Indians naturally do not give a shit about whether a Pakistani is is moderate or radical, or whether he is trying to bring in reform or not.’

    That is splendid news beta. Pray enlighten us Pakistani cretins as to the reason for your continued presence at such a forum?

  7. bciv


    1. you’re right. rhetoric is learning the importanc eof being consistent. it is a skill of logic, but logic that is entirely internal. if you are going to be subjective, then being consistent can make you sound very logical – as if in absolute/objective terms – as long as the audience is also prone to be subjective, albeit in other ways, and untrained in objective thinking; let alone understanding and being able to apply empiricism. and, yes, the mullahs’ quality of skill is extremely variable.

    2. your macaulay/non-macaulay and pre-zia/post-zia analysis is, again, quite convincing in several ways. you might wish to modulate your emphasis on madrassahs a bit by comparing a pakistani small town school to, say, its indian counterpart. or a pakistani non-elite college of further education. actually, zia brought to the fore and reinforced the english-medium/urdu-medium divide, as far as quality and opportunity is concerned. but he did do for the ‘non-macaulites’ what bhutto had done for the poor. except zia’s gimmick had no redeeming feature, not even an unintentional one like bhutto’s did.

    as for madrassahs, there are those that produce canon fodder. canon fodder is canon fodder. and those that produce the bulk of the variable quality ‘skilled’ mullahs. a majority of these are just looking to make a living as best as they can the only way they know, in any village mosque. the biggest majority of ‘graduates’ just join the rest of the ill-qualified, more or less unskilled in the search for a job/living. madrassahs are a subject related to and separate from a study of the education sector in pakistan.

    3. why would one ‘hate/fear’ the goose that lays the golden egg?

    4. you might find that your hours spent trying to analyse something are better spent if you are less bothered about telling us, repeatedly, how you do not give a shit about it.

  8. D_a_n

    @ Bciv…

    sorry Civ but I really need to say this. The following was not fair at all and considers things to be so simplistic as to be comical…

    ‘why would one ‘hate/fear’ the goose that lays the golden egg?’

  9. @Shiv

    In the context of ‘understanding Pakistan’, in all humility, I submit that my first task, as one who is not Pakistani, is to leave a condescending attitude and any propensity to find fault for the sake of finding fault at the door. In return, I hope that the ‘torn-shirt, open-fly’ brand of retort will not show up. What I say next, I say with respect to the national sensibility of the Pakistani readers, and with no desire to aggravate their present difficulties, or to revel in them.

    Friends on this forum say that the danger to the nation-state of Pakistan clearly is from two sources, one being mullahs who use their self-proclaimed right to interpret Islam to drive their own agenda forward. Obviously the solution is to try and neutralise the mullahs, or to try and moderate their thinking, and that is where the madrassahs come in.

    If we go by what better-informed Pakistani friends have been saying, there are two huge problems that reformist Pakistanis have to face. These are, first, the overwhelming flood of funds coming in from Saudi Arabia and from the Gulf, and, second, the conversion in past years of the political strata of the country into a kleptocracy, under the frustrating jackboot of the ‘establishment’: but, as you have suggested at the outset, let us leave this aside for the time being.

    Because there is a kleptocracy in position, funds are not committed to education, either to extending the ‘Macaulayite’ system (that was not a speech, but a note to GoI, btw), which is necessary in order to give youngsters an alternative to madrassahs, or to a reform of the educational system, including the software, the textbooks and the teaching materials.. All of these have come in for damning attention from those writing here who have had to suffer them as inflictions, but from external observers as well.

    It is difficult to get away from what has been recommended by Pakistanis themselves: that it is necessary to concentrate on bringing in democracy first, and to keep everything else aside. This may sound strange, almost like a homoeopathic prescription, when the level of violence is as high, and its occurrence is as pervasive as is the case today. The fact remains that a long-term solution, as different from a ‘quick fix’, lies in shutting off the inflow of poison at the source, not in trying to contain or to treat that which has been created already. No doubt containment and treatment is necessary, but please note that most of those commenting here have actually come through this injured educational system, and have come to their present positions in spite of that exposure (ignoring, for the moment, collateral damage).

    This means, in simple language, that ‘secularism’ and ‘liberalism’, desirable though they may be, may have to take second position to just getting democracy going. People in Pakistan are well aware of the handicap that sharing exactly half of their history as an independent nation between democracy and dictatorship imposes on them, and of the need to get the democratic juggernaut moving.

    Only when the democratic process is in place, and people in general, and those in positions of privilege in particular, stop looking at the usual ‘deus ex machina’ to pop out and resolve every problem will we have a normalisation of things. If you have been watching these columns, you may not have missed the frequent resolve displayed to cut off the excessive intrusion of religion into daily life, into political life in particular, and the clear and unmistakable awareness that religious dependence brings along with the sectarian virus, and that is only the first stage of the disease; as it progresses, it brings violence, Sunni against Shia, all Muslims against the Ahmediyya, and Muslims against Christians.

    It is once the democratic process is introduced that our friends foresee a rectification of many, many things that have gone wrong, the Second Amendment, for one, the designation of Pakistan as an Islamic Republic, for another, and presumably the educational system for a third. Money will flow, budgets will be allocated, and with the inevitable leakages, there will be some effect on the ground. No longer will poor children find no option but the madrassah, no longer will they be the recruitment ground for jehadis, including those horrifying figures, the teenagers and younger people sold as suicide bombers to the master-planners. We can hope that standards will be imposed and the most difficult customers incarcerated or at least neutralised.

    This is also the stage at which the confrontation between Pakistan and its neighbours, a convenient artefact which has been created to keep the ‘establishment’ in perpetual power, will find itself looking for justification with ever-decreasing support.

    Here, too, is where liberal views may start coming into the political discourse. As you and others, AZW most recently, PMA before that, have pointed out, liberalism is not part of the political vocabulary of the man in the street today.

    The point is, as you have made no bones about saying, this will be completely frustrated unless there is economic progress. Whether this comes through adopting capitalism or a modified capitalism, or a democratic socialism, or a socialist pattern of government is really irrelevant; the benefits of health, education and livelihood have to come to people before much longer, otherwise the resultant explosion will make everything else that we have seen look like a Teddy Bears’ picnic.

  10. Vajra:

    This “giving youngsters an alternative to madrassah education” is a wrong framing of the problem. By framing, I mean the way the problem is posed results in assumptions which are are not made explicit and hence unlikely to be examined or challenged.

    E.g., the government could pay the salary of for a science teacher in the madrassah (I believe there was an Indian scheme to do so).

    Search around on the web and you will find that in India poor Muslim families are more likely to send their daughters to school if the school is a madrassah.

    The madrassah has solved half of the problem – of getting the poor children into the education system. Now solve the second half – teaching them something other than just religion. (I believe in Indian madrassahs, about 2 hours a day, but not more goes in religious instruction – but this number may be wrong.)

    Of course, the state system of schools also needs reforms, etc., etc.

    Likewise, even within the limitations of a slowly growing per capita income (“slow economic progress”) significant human development is possible (etc., etc.).


  11. @Arun Gupta

    I understand, I think.

    Do you mean that the problem is with giving young people a suitable education, not that the problem is with madrassah education? in that case, my response is:

    1. I agree that madrassahs are sometimes the only option for getting children to get educated;
    2. I understand that sometimes, for instance, in the cases of parents of daughters, it is perhaps only the safety and security of a madrassah that would persuade them to send their daughters out to school;
    3. It may need only supplementary aids for madrassahs to be effective as educational institutions;
    4. The regular school system itself may need drastic overhaul, so the madrassah system should not be denigrated unnecessarily.

    Certainly, I agree that madrassahs are a very useful supplement and stopgap arrangement for addressing the needs of children. This is especially true of those which follow the modified curriculum proposed by various supervisory bodies at national and state level; not just Muslim children, but Hindu children also benefit from them, as has happened in West Bengal.

    However, this can only be a stop-gap measure. Madrassahs are designed to offer religious instruction, and in India especially, they represent the opposition to Sir Sayyad Ahmad Khan’s move to westernise Muslim education.

    This can only be a halfway-house before introducing ‘Macaulayite’ education. That is the only way to introduce secularism of the non-religious variety, as sharply opposed to the inclusive variety introduced through the Gandhian influence on Indian policy making. Certainly, such ‘Macaulayite’ schools need to operate under reformed and improved curricula; that is a given, curricula need revision at periodic intervals, as is obvious.

    I am not sure what you mean by human development being possible under conditions of slow economic progress. This sounds like one of those romantic fantasies of the heavenly conditions of the Indian village which our village-born Mahatma laboured under. It is difficult to visualise what human development can take place under the kind of crushing poverty that Indian, or for that matter, Pakistani peasants contend with.

  12. bciv


    it was a simplification indeed. however, had the goose been an entirely manufactured one, this would have been the wrong metaphor to use. as for the open and shameless greed for the daily egg, there would no longer be any need to search for and ascribe a motive if the crime was no more. it won’t be easy to say that the crime was no more since we know from experience that the boots’ exit from islamabad is far more difficult to verify than their entry.

  13. shiv

    4. you might find that your hours spent trying to analyse something are better spent if you are less bothered about telling us, repeatedly, how you do not give a shit about it.

    The reason I repeat that is that it is ironic. Pakistan had more goodwill in India than any Pakistani would believe. But it was all wasted away. 26/11 was the final straw.

    I have come to believe that Pakistanis in general did not give a shit for India either and that the feeling is now wholly mutual.

    But that is wrong. It must not be that way.

    I saw the India-Pakistan relationship explained in game theory as a game where two people take turns to slap each other.

    As long as each person follows a policy of tit for tat (you slap me, I slap you back) the game does not change.

    If one player stops slapping in retaliation, the other player may continue to slap him for a few more iterations of the game but sooner or later each party learns that it is to their mutual advantage to stop slapping each other.

    I believe that India was eminently placed to be in a position of not slapping back in retaliation in the hope that the game would change to both parties not slapping each other.

    But after 26/11 Indian attitudes have hardened visibly. India’s “peacemongers” – the usual bunch of culprits and Wagah Candle Kissers like Kuldip Nayyar and Arundhati Roy have been dealt a serious blow by 26/11.

    There is very little political goodwill for Pakistan in India and given the current geopolitical circumstances, India will continue to pull ahead no matter what happens between Pakistan and India or what happens in Pakistan. It may hurt India as it has done in the past, but it won’t stop India. I believe that this situation is bad for Pakistani liberals and peace mongers, but the Taliban and other Islamists will not be worried by it. India in turn will not worry about the Taliban coming to power in Pakistan, if indeed that happens. India is already on maximum alert for all the stuff that might come across from Pakistan, Some might get through, but the country is now awake and alert, and is poised to only spoil things for Pakistanis if the opportunity arises. That is likely to tilt Pakistani political opinion in favor of the Islamists/Taliban and others who traditionally hate India. This in fact appears to be what Islamists seek in Pakistan.

    Pakistanis have to decide whether or not they need goodwill from India because that will determine the nature of existence of Pakistan in future. We (India) have only seen an adversarial relationship from Pakistan all these decades and are now fairly well set to cope with anything that anything that Pakistan can throw at us. So it is up to Pakistanis to see whether they are ready for anything that Indians throw back at them in this mutual love fest.

    If Pakistanis can manage perfectly well without significant friendly relations with India that is fine. If they can’t – well the choice is with Pakistan. My interest is in studying the situation to try and see what view will prevail in Pakistan. In my opinion democracy has little chance in Pakistan, and Pakistan has gradually slid towards complete Islamization while Pakistanis still have not managed to figure out where Islam ends and where extremism begins.

  14. D_a_n


    ‘we know from experience that the boots’ exit from islamabad is far more difficult to verify than their entry’

    That is true but this is entirely dependent on the ‘demo-crats’…..the exit can be bought and paid for in full by political capital earned through good governance….
    but we both know they seem neither interested nor capable of this. It can be done but you will need actually democratically disposed democrats.

    The way these jhonnies operate; I can vouch that the Corps Commander conference is a more democratic forum!

    I would point you towards Turkey where capable and competent governance has effectively ended any chance for a comeback of military rule. It had to be earned and was a hard slog but it has been done and with aplomb.
    The remaining work of wresting control yard by bloody yar akin to political trench warfare is well underway and there is no doubt which way the battle is going.
    That is what I want to see done in Pakistan. It is the only thing that will work.

  15. bciv


    it might happen in pakistan too. but to get there, we have to first get through this generation of politicians put together and pulled apart at the ghq. lets hope that never again do the corps commanders democratically decide to destroy rule of law, democracy and democrats, just because they lack the basic decency, humility and patience to see the frankensteins and other mutants and freaks they themselves created evolve into a newer, more normal and natural generation of politicians.. and then another, and another, and so on.

  16. bciv


    you seem to have gone off on another tangent there.

    lets backtrack a bit and see if we can get have some structure to this discussion. didn’t you say in a previous post, perhaps on another thread, that the chinese debacle “killed nehru”?

    how many pakistani leaders can you name who were killed, or in any way inconvenienced, by the east pakistan ‘debacle’ or any other catastrophe that you care to mention?

    when you compare an unelected pakistani leader with an elected indian one, what is it that you aim to achieve in terms of insight about pakistan (state or society?) and how do you ‘control for’ the presence of the ballot box in one case and of the gun in its place in the other?

  17. bciv

    @arun gupta

    if i may add to your discussion. this may or may not be useful.

    there is almost as much diversity across madressahs as within the ‘worldly’ education system.

    there are madressahs that feature ‘IT’, ‘Accounting’ and even ‘English’ within their curricula. amongst those who don’t, lack of money is not always the reason.

    a lot of the poorest parents see madressahs as little more than free food and accommodation for children they can neither afford to feed nor clothe. indeed, many madressahs give students a tiny ‘pocket money’. i’ve known students being given little amounts of flour etc to take home to their parents when they go to visit.

    other parents do not see madressahs as an alternative to ‘normal’ education. they send their kids their to do little more than learn the quran by rote ie become hafiz. most of these kids return to normal schools after their stint at a madressah. they often find it hard to adjust, not least because they are 2 to 4 years older than everyone else in their school year.

    comparisons with ‘indian muslims’ are not without problems and pitfalls.

    the worst part of the problem is not the curriculum but the guns and the attitudes that go with it. e.g. a year or so ago, there were these two sisters enrolled by their pakistani american father in karachi’s biggest (and richest) madressah, that their american mother wanted returned to her. the head of the madressah was telling the media that no one dare come within a mile of his madressah. and of course, we had lal masjid.

    as for brainwashing, well the most extreme brainwashing – the kind that produces suicide bombers – needs neither anything as elaborate as a madressah nor a very long time. in fact, it is done better in smaller, even more insular groups and the shorter the time frame over it is done the better the chances of it producing results (which also evaporate quickly if not exploited almost immediately). but then, you don’t need many suicide bombers to create absolute mayhem. there is really no class or type of person who would make a better candidate for such brainwashing than another. that’s what the data suggests. it makes sense since brainwashing is a psychological ‘trick’.

  18. @bciv

    In a discussion of the sort that we were engaged in, one tends to get absorbed in the cut and thrust of the argument, and the ground realities, the variations are forgotten.

    I did know, and regret not reflecting it, that madrassahs were of many sorts. Unfortunately, most of my knowledge of these matters is from newspaper reports and published accounts; your inputs are appreciated.

    The new curricula for madrassah education in Bengal do provide for the introduction of subjects such as you have mentioned (in fact, from two years or so ago, their certificates count as equivalent to graduation diplomas of the Central Board for Secondary Education – the CBSE, the toughest of the three board exams we can sit for). There have been accounts describing the aspect that you have mentioned, that poor people see these as refuges for their children, and for feeding and clothing these children better than they could have done; and yes, the making of a hafiz would be a consideration with some of the pious. All these exist and have been reported reasonably faithfully. Most Indian reports have favourable accounts of madrassahs, some amusingly deliver these favourable accounts with some slight disappointment and almost palpable sense of having been let down.

    Getting back to your point, it seems that Arun Gupta and you are on the same page: it is not the madrassah at fault. Fair enough. That seems reasonable, considering the arguments you have both put forward.

    What is, then?

    And what results in a page like that of the Deoband seminary’s web-page with its fatwas? Or in the kind of short, intensive brain-washing session such as you have described? How do we stop them?

    What is your take on this?

  19. shiv

    “when you compare an unelected pakistani leader with an elected indian one, what is it that you aim to achieve in terms of insight about pakistan (state or society?) and how do you ‘control for’ the presence of the ballot box in one case and of the gun in its place in the other?”

    The Nehru-Jinnah conflation was only an illustration of their Macaulayite education backgrounds. They were Brown sahibs who were influential amongst “natives”.

    Why has democracy failed to catch on firmly in Pakistan? I have read many explanations and the web of factors that contributed to this are numerous and complex. It would probably be simplistic to list a few and claim that this is it.

    The educated Mohajirs who migrated to Pakistan have been cited as one group of conspirators who derailed democracy because they were essentially migrants who got plum government posts by virtue of their education and realised that real democracy would push them out because they had no real political support. The landed gentry of Pakistan, little lords who had little kingdoms were probably also complicit in ensuring that democracy would not empower the people in their lands enough to displace them as lords.

    I haven’t understood exactly how the Pakistan army, which was no different from the Indian army, got so hooked on power after being “invited” (by Iskander Mirza) to rule Pakistan. I recall reading that even in those days 90% of the army was Punjabi and the memories of the massacres of partition were fresh. The Kashmir cause was as much “personal” as a state cause or an Islamic cause. Perhaps a quick defeat of India was sought based on propaganda of a weak India about to break up – a storyline that can be seen in Western writings of that era (“India is as much of a nation as the equator”). Perhaps the army saw democracy as a potential drain on its own strength which it felt was paramount. The Pakistani army’s personnel were from Punjab and many families had lost near and dear ones and the idea that the army might lose funding might have been horrifying. Punjabis had the most to lose from an invasion of the Hindu dog next door.

    The other side of the coin is why did democracy stick in India? I suspect that Gandhi and other “social reformers” played a great role in opening Hindu eyes to the idea that their blinkered view of society as being layered by caste had allowed the British to take advantage of India. What happened in India was a great realization that age old societal layers (caste) had to be set aside for the greater cause of uniting against the British.

    In fact Gandhi, who had a great influence on Indian Muslims as well nearly pulled off the same trick with Muslims. Gandhi sought complete unification of Indian people regardless of religion. He played a stellar role in removing Hindu prejudices about Muslims. Indians are familiar with a song that is linked to Gandhi which has the line “Ishwar-Allah tere naam” meaning that God is known by different names – maybe Ishwar (Shiv/Shiva) or Allah but please God save us all. Gandhi also fired up Indian Muslims after the defeat of Turkey and started the Khilafat movement. In other words Gandhi played a role in stoking the fires of Islamism in his political games against the British.

    But recent Indian history has a list of luminaries who harped on the acceptance of diversity and coaxed, cajoled and herded Indians into saying that they were “Indian” and were all equal, And that made democracy an achievable goal in India long before independence.

    But for Indian democratic dreams the only “kabab mein haddi” was the Muslim League which did not want a one man one vote democracy. It wanted “reservation” of seats for Muslims in parliament and a separate Muslim electorate. I am certain that the British played a role in encouraging the Muslim League to agitate and demand something different for Muslims. They played into British hands as a useful tool to control the likes of Gandhi. Jinnah was a staunch Congressman at that time. He was insulted and returned to legal practice in the UK in a huff, but was enticed back by the Muslim League, and the rest is history.

    Perhaps it may be true to think that the Muslim league which did not want true democracy in India but demanded separation of Muslim from Hindu in an independent India had no real intention of implementing one man one vote seriously in Pakistan.

    The same bunch of democracy killers in Pakistan cooked up the “Objectives Resolution” in Pakistan. Frankly the first line of the Objectives resolution makes me laugh. Let me end by stating why:

    The first line says: “Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone but He has delegated it to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him as a sacred trust.”

    Just look at the presumptuousness of that statement. I would love to be educated by anyone as to where it says in any Islamic text that Allah has delegated anything to Pakistan?

    These guys assumed they owned Allah at that time and nobody was able to question them. If religion and democracy are in a face off, guess who wins?

  20. @Shiv

    While broadly agreeing with the trend of your comments (minus the added spices), two caveats:

    1. It doesn’t seem from a reading of the facts that the Pakistan Army was bent on seizing power for the benefit of the generals from day one. You cited Iskandar Mirza, presumably because of his military rank; he belonged to the Indian Political Service, being seconded to it early on, and had very little to do with the military after the beginning of his career. He is better seen, behaviorally, as a follow-on to Ghulam Mohammed, a civilian despot who stalled the constitution-making exercise in Pakistan as long as he could, and tried to derail it while it was stalled. YLH and BCiv are the right sources for detailed information on this, apart from an elder who will probably refuse to get involved in this discussion.

    It was only after Ayub Khan and 65, and with the coming to power of Yahya Khan that it seems to have dawned on the top brass of the Army that good things were possible. Until then, things seem to have functioned more or less on the lines of the Indian Army, except that the PA had less political interference and barmy idiots to deal with (Krishna Menon and Nehru, and before them an illuminary who wanted to shift the army to canvas shoes to avoid using cow-leather), and more technical input due to membership of SEATO and CENTO (the US Army reorganised the order of battle, and put great emphasis on the role of the artillery, a lesson learnt permanently). On this second point, Major Amin (PAVOCavalry to you and me) is the right guide, although there is enough in the literature as it is. You may also find the Gul Hassan memoirs absorbing, though somewhat ingenuous; it records these times directly.

    Only after a COAS hanged the country’s Prime Minister did the gloves come off. I think that from that point on, everything in Pakistan was overshadowed by that brutal act. We can see in all succeeding politicians that shade of hesitation that comes in the shadow of the gallows; we can also see in many succeeding Chiefs (at least two were exceptions, perhaps the present incumbent is as well, however little we like him in India) that pinch more of self-confidence that if push came to shove, they were the boss.

    2. About your question about why democracy succeeded in India, that begs a question of its own. However, let us take it at face value and move on. Would you accept a very tentative suggestion that the ingredient X might simply have been the practice of democracy? the simple act of voting every so many years, and watching some win and some loose? Along with this could be ranked the hugely effective role of the Election Commission under Seshan and after.

    Quite seriously, the fact that democracy was ‘done’ was a serious plus factor for India, not in terms of immediate results or in terms of practical, course corrections or reflection of the people’s will (although these good things happened as well), but in terms of the whole country, including the administrators, the politicians and every citizen.

    It is difficult today to remove people’s impression that their vote does matter – alongside a hundred other things that also do. And conversely I think that it is difficult to remove the impressions of the politicians, administrator and soldier, sailor or airman that it matters, too.

    This seems to be the major difference between Pakistan and India, politically, that is.

    The moral of the story is quite clear: only the practice of democracy will stabilise democracy; only the stabilisation of democracy will reduce the undue influence of the ‘establishment’ over time. Maybe a long time, but a definite time.


  21. Bin Ismail

    @ bciv (June 7, 2010 at 4:14 am)

    “…..there are madressahs that feature ‘IT’, ‘Accounting’ and even ‘English’ within their curricula…..”

    Going back to those words of Salman Latif, with reference to a certain anti-Shia Mulla, that I quoted in the opening comment, “…..He can compel you to kill a Shia within ten minutes…..”, let us not forget that for as long as the teacher is a fanatical maulvi, it is of little relevance whether they offer lectures in English or on I.T. in these madrassas. A fanatical teacher will instill fanaticism in the minds of his students, with or without English and I.T. If the teacher, at the madrassa can convince and compel you to kill a Shia in ten minutes, and may I say an Ahmadi in ten seconds, then the issue at hand is not curriculum only. There’s more to it.

  22. @Arun Gupta

    Now I’m sure; I don’t understand (apart from the first sentence, which is fine, which expedient I accept as a stop-gap).

    A one sentence prescription is liable to be misinterpreted, but here goes “For god’s sake, please don’t (take it on yourself to) protect religion – it is much greater than you; when you seek to protect it, you are claiming a power that is not yours.”

    What was that about? Who is taking it upon himself/herself to protect religion? Which religion?

    I’m thoroughly confused now.

  23. Zainab Ali

    All the support to militant groups must stop, because we have already seen enough; the country needs peace to excel and progress, otherwise it would be similar to an African country, torn by civil war.

  24. D_a_n


    ‘but to get there, we have to first get through this generation of politicians put together and pulled apart at the ghq’

    So what you are saying is that the only expectation the current populace or the person who voted in feb of 2008 is that somehow the very lot that he has voted for dies off or retires for him to be better served?

    To me that sounds like there is little or no responsibility for the politicos to seize the moment and at least take the initial yet shaky steps. Or even SEEN to be making those first steps.
    There is not even an attempt at pretense anymore.

    Mabye I haven’t understood this correctly but it sounds like you have given the politicos a free pass. I could understand that had they shown Mandela-like defianace while we were under dictatorship.
    Instead, the very same people were the most enthusiastic collaborators with each dictator and ended up as the last man standing.
    No. I believe they own us more than asking us to suffer their abominable rule till they start to even pretend that they are getting their act together or die off. No sir.

    Thing is, if we were not facing the current insurgency; the window for iterative improvement in state craft would have been much bigger. That is not the case.
    The window is small and shrinking.
    I cannot even contemplate what lies beyond this closed window.

    a last word here:
    Indeed, compared to say the PPP/PML CEC, the corps commanders conference is an Athenian democracy!! 😦
    There is an immense Sadness as I said the above. This is no defense and not to say any sane minded man would put this up as one but it is an indictment. I cannot think of a more severe one at that.

    PS:The outgoing chief cannot leave the COAS slot as a ‘Gaddi’ to his 19 year old son and then have the others applaud as if it is the 2nd coming of Cicero!

  25. Ammar Zafarullah

    We can act like an ostrich and bury our heads in the sand and keep chanting there are no militants in Punjab, but this won’t do any good this is beyond the politics of provincialism, militancy in Pakistan is an undeniable fact. Admitting it is the first step, secondly we need to curb their support groups so if we can have an operation in the capital why Punjab should be left in the hands of militants

  26. bciv


    that madressahs are not equipped to produce well-adjusted individuals let alone minimally skilled or qualified ones is o course a different matter. we have already discussed and agreed on it.

    the guns and fanatacism is no different than the same taking over the mainstream/temporal educational institutions. so if hardliners take over a normal campus and hostels are full of guns and bombs, and the faculty is the driving force of it all. basically, the campus has been taken over by a mafia, albeit an ideological mafia. and what if this kindo f thing is more widespread than just one or two institutions. what you need is for the state to do its job – uphold its writ, not surrender it. that’s all.

    but the state is more than an accomplice here… effectively, in undermining itself. what salman latif says about the ability of the rabid anti-shia cleric to persuade someone to kill a shia is not about this guy’s great powers of persuasion. it is an example of what the power of the state is and what it can do. he could not have persuaded anyone before the 1980s, without the state handing him the gun and emboldening him like he had never imagined possible.

    sure sectarianism was there even before the 1980s. but had zia had 10 years of absolute power in UP, the scene in lucknow would be very different every muharram.

    lal masjid, btw, makes a classic, if nauseating, case study of how the state spawns and emboldens mafias that inevitably encroach upon the state itself. but by then the state has little self-confidence left. confusion reigns supreme. society is in no better shape, of course, since it was both the laboratory and the guinea pig. that is where the militias were created and come from.

  27. bciv

    … the public land adjacent to the original lal masjid had been given to the mosque by zia ul haq. the imam there was personally known to the dictator. i just wished to mention two points:

    a) the state undermining itself is done in the aftermath of the state itself having been usurped; illegally taken over. so it is not really the state acting against itself.

    b) although the takeover is by an institution, the head of that institution quickly gains power, in some respects, greater than that of the institution (indeed, to the detriment of the institution). the corps commanders, promoted by the dictator (looking for what criteria?), do retain the power to remove him, either through a coup or the threat of a coup, but it is a rather extreme step that still allows the dictator a lot of room to manoeuvre. also, the corps commanders, even ignoring there more limited tenure, are hardly in a position to or interested in monitoring the dictator’s political side.

  28. shiv

    The moral of the story is quite clear: only the practice of democracy will stabilise democracy; only the stabilisation of democracy will reduce the undue influence of the ‘establishment’ over time. Maybe a long time, but a definite time.

    I do not believe that democracy can come easily to all of Pakistan. That is a serious statement – I mean that areas of Pakistan will not accept democracy and you will have in effect more than one state within Pakistan that will require control by martial law or some other coercive means. Unfortunately, the Pakistanis who are most likely to dispute democracy are also the most heavily armed ones – and I am not even referring to the army.

    Democracy is like cricket. if the umpire declares that you are out, you walk. You do not bash his head in with your bat and threaten the bowler with the same.

    Assume that Pakistan consists of X% moderates, Y% Islamic extremists and Z% liberals and assorted minorities, democracy will have to accommodate them all. No group can be declared illegal because everyone is a Pakistani with a viewpoint. But the Islamic extremists are hardly likely to accept a situation in which they are “equal” to non Muslims (real and deemed) because democracy requires it to be that way. And they are armed.

    So how do you accommodate them in a democracy? They will usurp more space than everyone else and say that Islam demands it.

    And if you look at what has been happening in Pakistan, you will see that I am not referring to any future possibility, but merely what has already happened in the past and is still happening. Gradually, inch by inch, more and more space has been given to Islamists, along with the right to bear arms in the naive assumption that those arms will be used against some faraway kafirs. And as Islamists have gained ground, the number of non Muslims has been whittled away and continues to go south.

    I have actually worked on some (rudimentary) game theory models of how Islamists, moderates and kafirs may interact together in a society, to try and predict the result by modelling.

    In the simplest model, there are only Islamists (hawks) and moderates (doves). In his book “The Selfish Gene”, Richard Dawkins calculates that a simple hawk-dove model stabilizes at something like a 5:2 Hawk to dove ratio. I cannot recall the exact figure. My models (for which I wrote programs in BASIC) which is the only language I know) started off with the simple hawk-dove (Extremist and moderate Muslim) model and added kafirs. basically the model predicts that the addition of kafirs actually helps the moderates to “score more points” and as a result the kafirs too benefit and the points that the extremists’ score actually falls.

    But this model can simply be skewed by vastly increasing the number of fundamentalists. This causes a rapid reduction in the “points scored” by both moderates and kafirs. And kafir points fall below zero soon.

    This is what Pakistan has done. Successive regimes have empowered fundamentalists and basically set Pakistan on a suicidal course.

  29. @Shiv

    If I managed to give the impression that this would be a cake-walk, then I’d better go into hibernation and build up my writing skills from scratch. Before responding to your substantive points, let me state that probably none of us here, Indian or Pakistani, has any illusions about the length and the difficulty of the process that might – might! – lead to, first, a democracy, thereafter, it is to be hoped, secularism and liberalism.

    I’d like to reply a little later, largely because the best people to answer you are others, Pakistanis; the more I have to do with them, the more I am convinced that, in India, we simply don’t know enough about the complexities of the situation on the ground.

    That is in no way to gainsay your simulation outcomes. It more or less matches what well-informed people have been saying; not in so many words, it has not been discussed quite in this way, but in a paraphrase of Martin Niemoeller, although none of those paraphrasing him quoted him by name. You know the one I mean, I think.

    Till further comment by the knowledgeable, then.