Category Archives: Pakistan

British India’s Rising Religious Separatism

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 236-238:

Despite his preoccupation with trivialities, even Mountbatten could not ignore the fierce controversies thrown up by the two partitions of Bengal and the Punjab. For centuries, both regions had been melting pots of cultures, a jumbled variety of Muslims and Hindus living side by side, with Sikhs, Buddhists, Animists and Christians fitted in too. In times of peace, it had not mattered much to which of these religions a Punjabi or a Bengali adhered. As Jinnah himself had admitted, most people within the regions tended to consider their local identity before their religious affiliation. But the importance of religious identity had been growing in the twentieth century, notably in India and more slowly in the world beyond it.

The reason for this effect can in part be traced to the British policy of “divide and rule.” Undoubtedly, the raj did plenty to encourage identity politics. The British found it easier to understand their vast domain if they broke it down into manageable chunks, and by the 1930s they had become anxious to ensure that each chunk was given a full and fair hearing. But picking a few random unelected lobbyists, based on what the British thought was a cross-section of Indian varieties, was not a reliable way to represent 400 million people. India’s population could not be divided into neat boxes labeled by religion and cross- referenced with social position. India was an amorphous mass of different cultures, lifestyles, traditions and beliefs. After so many centuries of integration and exchange, these were not distinct, but rippled into each other, creating a web of cultural hybrids and compromises. A Sunni Muslim from the Punjab might have more in common with a Sikh than he did with a Shia Muslim from Bengal; a Shia might regard a Sufi Muslim as a heretic; a Sufi might get on better with a Brahmin Hindu than with a Wahhabi Muslim; a Brahmin might feel more at ease with a European than he would with another Hindu who was an outcaste. When the British started to define “communities” based on religious identity and attach political representation to them, many Indians stopped accepting the diversity of their own thoughts and began to ask themselves in which of the boxes they belonged. At the same time, Indian politicians began to focus on religion as a central part of their policies—defining themselves by what they were, and even more by what they were not.

This phenomenon is shown at its clearest with Jinnah, who began his career as the leading light of Hindu-Muslim unity, and ended it by forcing the creation of a separate Islamic-majority state. But the arc of Jinnah’s career merely amplifies that of Indian politics as a whole. Congress was a largely secular and inclusive organization during Motilal Nehru‘s prime in the first twenty years of the twentieth century. Though it was the opposite of his intention, the emergence of Gandhi gave confidence to religious chauvinists. While Gandhi himself welcomed those of all faiths, the very fact that he brought spiritual sensibilities to the center of politics stirred up extreme and divisive passions. Fundamentalist Hindus were rare presences on the political scene before Gandhi. In the wake of Gandhi, though, Hindu nationalists were able to move into the central ground of politics; while organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), dedicated to the formation of a Hindu nation, swelled their ranks from the fringes. This was no slow, invisible political trend; it was happening visibly during the spring and summer of 1947, when holy sadhus clad in saffron robes marched around the streets of Delhi, bellowing forth political slogans. Rajendra Prasad, who was to become the president of the new Constituent Assembly, wrote to Nehru on 7 August telling him that since July he had received 164,000 letters and postcards demanding that cow slaughter be made illegal—a common concern of devout Hindus, but one which is often used and taken as an anti-Muslim strategy. It was the Muslims in India, and the Untouchables, who ran the lucrative leather and beef industries, mostly for export. The threat of a ban on cow slaughter naturally drove Muslims and Untouchables into the arms of more radical political organizations, which they felt would stick up for them. Whether the British caused division by carving up politics on the basis of religion, or whether they were simply responding to a trend in Indian society for Hindu nationalism and the beginnings of an Islamic resurgence, is an endlessly debatable question.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Begum, Jhampan

I never read much Kipling as a kid, and some of the vocabulary of British India that I have encountered in Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008) is new to me. Here are two such novelties.

The royal tour ground on, zigzagging up through the belly of India and stopping in Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad and Indore. By 4 February [1922], it had reached Bhopal, where Dickie [Mountbatten] and David [Windsor] were the guests of the only woman ruler in Asia, the Nawab Sultan Jaban Begum. The Begum was an ardent Muslim and usually ruled from behind a purdah screen. The rare sight of her tiny figure, swathed in a blue burka, next to the white-uniformed Prince of Wales gave the tour’s photographers some of their best opportunities. But it was an image more connected to the past than to the future. [p. 70]

Bhopal seems to have had a number of enlightened female nawabs. Begum is the feminine of Turkic Beg (or Bey) which turns up in many names from former parts of the Ottoman and Mughal empires—Izetbegovic, for example.

The British continued to come to Simla, sometimes for eight months of each year, with the European ladies and gentlemen carried up in the local jhampan sedan chairs. They were followed by hundreds of coolies, who had been press-ganged from their surrounding farms into the service of Her Majesty’s government, lugging dispatch boxes, carefully packed crockery, musical instruments, trunks full of theatrical costumes for amateur dramatics at the Gaiety Theatre, crates of tea and dried provisions, faithful spaniels in traveling boxes, rolled-up rugs, aspidistras, card tables, favorite armchairs, baskets of linen and tons upon tons of files; all the paraphernalia of the raj literally borne on the shoulders of one long caravan of miserable, sweating Indian peasants. Eventually, in 1891, a narrow-gauge railway was opened, weaving in and out of 103 tunnels up from the plains at Kalka—a journey which still took at least six hours. The British never questioned whether all this was worth it. Gandhi may have criticized the administration’s annual repair to Simla for being “government working from the 500th floor,” but that was exactly the point. [pp. 193-194]

This word turns up under jompon in Hobson-Jobson (via Google books), which cites a 1716 source that defines a jampan as a “palankin”; an 1849 source that defines a jhappan as a “kind of arm chair with a canopy and curtains”; and an 1879 source that specifically mentions its use in Simla:

The gondola of Simla is the jampan or jampot аs it is sometimes called on the same linguistic principle … as that which converts asparagus into sparrow grass … Every lady on the hills keeps her jampan and jampanees just as in the plains she keeps her carriage and footmen — Letter in Time Aug. 17

That’s the wonderful Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive by Henry Yule, Arthur Coke Burnell, William Crooke (J. Murray, 1903), digitized from a printed original at the University of California.

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‘Quit India’ vs. the Muslim League

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 127-128:

IN JUNE 1942, [American journalist] Louis Fischer spent a week at Gandhi’s ashram and observed the preparations for a new campaign under the slogan “Quit India.” The slogan was not only catchy but accurate: the British administration was to be harried, disobeyed and besieged until it simply upped and left, war or no war, economy or no economy, responsibility or no responsibility. The Quit India resolution, passed by Congress on 8 August 1942, announced that Congress would “no longer [be] justified in holding the nation back from endeavouring to assert its will” against the British administration, and sanctioned “a mass struggle on nonviolent lines under the inevitable leadership of Gandhiji.” The struggle would only begin at Gandhi’s word; but this was a call for treason as far as the British were concerned. The first arrests were made in the early hours of the morning of 9 August.

Over the following days, India exploded in violent uprisings, described by the viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, as the “most serious since that of 1857.” There were Quit India hartals across the country, which turned into riots. The police and the army fought back, often brutally, leaving an official civilian death toll of 1,028; bazaar gossip put the total at 25,000. Effectively, Congress had given the raj an excuse to imprison hundreds of its leaders, including Gandhi himself and Nehru—who, according to his sister, was almost thankful for it, so uncomfortable had he felt opposing the war effort. The resolution could never have succeeded. Britain could not evacuate India in the middle of the Second World War, with Japan looming on its eastern front. But the empty space created in politics by the Congress leaders being in prison gave the Muslim League its chance to rush in.

According to Jinnah, it was not in the interest of the Muslims for the British to abandon them in a potentially hostile swamp of Hinduism. The logical position of the League was actually to keep the British in India—at least for as long as it took to convince them of the case for Pakistan, and perhaps indefinitely. The effect of Gandhi’s Quit India misstep, and the League’s hugely successful campaign during the 1940s, can be seen from the election statistics. In the general election of 1945–46, the Muslim League would win about 75 percent of all Muslim votes. In every previous election, its share of the Muslim vote had hovered around 4.6 percent. During the war years, Gandhi and Congress handed Jinnah a sixteenfold increase in his support. Quit India damaged the chances of a united India at least as much as any single act of the British administration ever had.

Linlithgow wrote to Churchill, admitting that he was concealing the severity and the extent of the violence from the world. But the Americans found out and sent their own mediators to Delhi. The Americans’ “zeal in teaching us our business is in inverse ratio to their understanding of even the most elementary of problems,” Linlithgow complained to the secretary of state for India, Leopold Amery. It would be bad if the Americans came, he averred; it would be worse still if they tried to talk to Gandhi or Nehru. He pleaded with Amery “to arrest at least for a time this flow of well meaning sentimentalists.” But the flow of Americans continued, and Indians delighted to see them spoiling official occasions for the British by wearing the wrong clothes, disregarding procedure and cheerfully ignoring distinctions of rank.


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Mohammad Ali Jinnah: Too much a toff for Yorkshire

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 94-95:

Jinnah was a successful barrister, born in Karachi and called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn. Tall and slender, he hardly ate, and smoked fifty Craven A cigarettes a day! He was often described as looking cadaverous, but this description does no justice to his dynamism. With his smooth coiffure and glittering stare he looked more like a cobra than a corpse. The photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White described at length “the Oxford-educated Jinnah” with his “razor-sharp mind and hypnotic, smoldering eyes.” Jinnah had not, in fact, been educated at Oxford; he had attended a madrassa in Karachi and a local mission school. But it was easy to believe that this urbane gentleman, described by the New York Times as “undoubtedly one of the best dressed men in the British Empire,” his public speaking rich with quotations from Shakespeare, was part of the British elite.

Jinnah had begun his political career in Congress. He made himself a figurehead for Hindu-Muslim unity and was acclaimed as such by Hindu Congress luminaries. He had joined the Muslim League in 1913, confident that he could act as abridge between the political parties. But it was the emergence of Gandhi as the spiritual leader of Congress in 1920 that began to push Jinnah out. “I will have nothing to do with this pseudo-religious approach to politics,” Jinnah had said, rejecting the call for satyagraha. “I part company with the Congress and Gandhi. I do not believe in working up mob hysteria. Politics is a gentleman’s game.” But politics is rarely gentlemanly, and as if to prove it there was a profound and deadly clash of personality between Jinnah and the other English gentleman of Congress, Jawaharlal Nehru. Like his compatriot and friend, the poet Muhammad Iqbal, Jinnah disdained “the atheistic socialism of Jawaharlal.” “We do not want any flag excepting the League flag of the Crescent and Star,” he would declare. “Islam is our guide and the complete code of our life.”

Despite his position as one of the key figures in the rise of twentieth-century Islam, Jinnah was no fundamentalist. His Islam was liberal, moderate and tolerant. It was said that he could recite none of the Koran, rarely went to a mosque and spoke little Urdu. Much has been made of his reluctance to don Muslim outfits, his fondness for I whiskey and his rumored willingness to eat ham sandwiches. In fact, he never pretended to be anything other than a progressive Muslim, influenced by the intellectual and economic aspects of European culture as well as by the teachings of Muhammad. The game he played was carefully considered: here was a Muslim who understood the British sufficiently to parley on equal terms, but asserted his Islamic identity strongly enough that he could never be seen to grovel. His refusal of a knighthood was significant; so, too, was his demurral in the face of Muslim attempts to call him “Maulana” Jinnah, denoting a religious teacher. Some historians go so far as to describe him as a “bad” Muslim, revealing more about their own ideas of what a Muslim should be than about Jinnah’s faith. In any case, the Muslim League suffered from no shortage of good Muslims. What it had lacked was a good politician. And Jinnah was without question one of the most brilliant politicians of his day.

Jinnah had married Rattanbai “Ruttie” Petit, the daughter of a prominent Parsi banker, when he was forty-two and she just eighteen. Rebellious and beautiful, Ruttie had been a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister Nan Pandit; she was closer still, indeed almost passionately so, to Padmaja Naidu, who would later become Jawahar’s lover. The deeply personal and incestuous nature of Indian politics is plain from these relationships. Jinnah’s marriage was not an easy one. After the birth of their daughter, Dina, he and Ruttie separated. Ruttie died on her thirtieth birthday in 1929, following a long affliction with a digestive disorder. Jinnah was devastated at her death and moved to London with Dina. He took a large house in Hampstead, was chauffeured around in a Bentley, played billiards, lunched at Simpson’s and went to the theater. He considered standing for parliament in the Labour interest but was rejected by a Yorkshire constituency, allegedly with the verdict that it would not be represented by “a toff like that.” His sister Fatima gave up a career as a dentist to become, in effect, his hostess, though that title belies her full significance. Fatima Jinnah was a woman of intelligence and drive, and was influential in her brother’s move toward Islamic nationalism.

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What China Taught India, 1962

From India: The Rise of an Asian Giant, by Dietmar Rothermund (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 46-48:

The big blow to [Afro-Asian] solidarity came in 1962 when China invaded India in order to settle a border dispute. Nehru had assumed that China was an anti-imperialist power just like India and that such powers would live in peace with each other. Moreover, he had supported China’s control over Tibet, which was supposed to be an autonomous region. Unfortunately, he had failed to get from China a definitive statement concerning the India-China border in return for this support. The treaty which Nehru concluded with China in 1954 only mentioned some passes through which the trade between the two countries might flow. It also contained the five principles (panchshila) relating to mutual benefit and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs which Nehru henceforth regarded as the cornerstone of his foreign policy. However, none of this could prevent a clash with China. In 1959, the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s priestly ruler, fled to India and Nehru granted asylum to him but did not permit him to establish a Tibetan government in exile. In the following months border clashes increased and notes were exchanged which Nehru did not publish until he was forced to do so by the Indian parliament. In 1961, the Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-lai visited India for border negotiations. Nehru had collected all relevant maps and was surprised that Chou En-lai did not wish to look at them but immediately proposed a deal: China would recognize India’s eastern border as delineated by the McMahon Line of 1914 if India would leave the Karakoram Pass and Aksai Chin (northeast Kashmir) to China. China had secretly occupied most of Aksai Chin in the 1950s, so India would simply have to acquiesce in this loss. The access to the Karakoram highway was of great strategic importance to China for the control of its western provinces. However, Nehru as head of a democratic government could not deal with national territory as easily as Chou En-lai had expected. The deal was not accepted and border clashes continued. Finally, China forced the deal on an unwilling India by means of a well-planned military offensive. When the USA and the Soviet Union were busy with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, a division of Chinese troops crossed the McMahon Line in the east and soon reached the Assamese plains. But this was a diversionary move. These troops withdrew before their supply lines could be cut. In the meantime the Chinese also launched a massive offensive in the west to capture the Karakorum highway – and they did not withdraw as this was the area which really interested them. Subsequently, there was a conspiracy of silence between India and China as to what had happened there. India was not willing to admit its losses and China would not reveal its illegitimate gains. China has adopted an attitude of superiority ever since and sometimes this has even been expressed quite openly. When China invaded Vietnam in 1979, Deng Xiao-ping compared this to what China had done to India in 1962. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who visited China at that time as India’s Minister of External Affairs in order to ‘normalize’ relations with China, got this message and immediately returned home. ‘Normalization’ had to wait for a long time.

The clash between India and China had sounded the death knell of Afro-Asian Solidarity even before 1962, but anti-colonial solidarity still motivated Nehru, who was sensitive to appeals from leaders of countries which were involved in their freedom struggle. In September 1961, Kenneth Kaunda, the future President of Zambia who had attended the Belgrade Conference of the Nonaligned Nations, visited New Delhi and gave a lecture in which he blamed Nehru for tolerating Portuguese colonial rule in Goa. He argued that rather than setting an encouraging example which the Africans could follow Nehru obviously wanted to wait until the Africans had overcome Portuguese colonial rule, whereupon Goa would then fall into his lap like a ripe fruit. Kaunda was clearly quite right in assessing Nehru’s motives and his speech stung him into action. Goa was liberated by the Indian army in December 1961; it proved to be a walkover but this could not have been predicted. As a member of NATO, Portugal was well armed and had a strong garrison in Goa. It could also rely on support from Pakistan. If the Portuguese Governor-General had decided to defend Goa seriously, the liberation could have ended in a bloodbath. Fortunately, he only blew up a few bridges and surrendered gracefully as he was aware of the far superior power of the Indian army. This was Nehru’s last great triumph, but he experienced it with mixed feelings. He lost his reputation as an apostle of peace and was berated by every Western power. This he could live with, but the humiliating defeat he suffered at the hands of the Chinese in 1962 broke his heart. He must have felt very deeply that he had failed as architect of India’s foreign policy.

Nehru’s successors adopted a more realistic approach: India’s regional position was more important to them than its role in world affairs. The twin challenges of China and Pakistan converted India with a vengeance into a self-conscious territorial state concerned with its defence. A retired Indian general had once said that the colonial legacy of a huge army embarrassed India’s political leaders as much as inheriting a brewery would embarrass a teetotaller. Nehru did not invest much money in armaments; however, this changed after India’s defeat by the Chinese in 1962. Defence expenditure was stepped up, which alarmed Pakistan. The Chinese had shown that India could be beaten and had thus set Pakistan an example, but due to India’s rapid armament, the window of opportunity for Pakistan seemed to be closing fast. Pakistan’s military dictator Ayub Khan was pushed by his young Foreign Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to attack India in Kashmir. Bhutto had forged a military alliance with China in 1963 and Pakistan had yielded a large part of territory to the west of the Karakoram Pass to China at that time. Nehru’s successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, was considered weak and inexperienced. Pakistan tested his reaction to a border intrusion in the Rann of Katch in the summer of 1965. Shastri requested the then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson to arbitrate in this matter, which only served to encourage Ayub Khan to launch his Operation Grand Slam in September 1965 and he sent his tanks to cut the only connection between India and Kashmir. If Shastri had again called for arbitration, Ayub Khan could have finished his business in Kashmir and then negotiated from a position of strength. But this time Shastri ordered his troops to launch a counter-attack on Lahore. He also refused to listen to a Chinese ultimatum which referred to their threat to cross the border of Sikkim. Pakistan had hoped that China would open a second front in the east, but the Chinese did not follow up their ultimatum and bitterly disappointed their Pakistani allies. China had encouraged Pakistan in the hope that it would do some damage to India, but it was not interested in investing anything in this war as it had reached its aims in 1962. The same Chinese stratagem was repeated in 1971 when Pakistan lost its eastern half and the Chinese supported Pakistan, but did not give the Pakistanis help when they needed it.

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A Grim Backgrounder on Waziristan

In the forthcoming issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Stanley Kurtz reviews three books by Akbar S. Ahmed, a social anthropologist who once served as Pakistan’s appointed “king” of Waziristan. Here are some excerpts about its grim political culture.

The British solution in Waziristan was to rule indirectly, through sympathetic tribal maliks (elders), who received preferred treatment and financial support. By treaty and tradition, the laws of what was then British India governed only 100 yards on either side of Waziristan’s main roads. Beyond that, the maliks and tribal custom ruled. Yet Britain did post a representative in Waziristan, a “political agent” or “P.A.,” whose headquarters was protected by an elite military force, and who enjoyed extraordinary powers to reward cooperative maliks and to punish offenders. The political agent was authorized to arrest and jail the male kin of miscreants on the run (particularly important given the organization of Waziristan’s tribes around male descent groups). And in special cases, the political agent could blockade and even destroy entire settlements. After achieving independence in 1947, Pakistan followed this British scheme, indirectly governing its many tribal “agencies” and posting P.A.s who enjoyed the same extraordinary powers as under the British.

Akbar Ahmed, a British-trained social anthropologist, served as Pakistan’s P.A. in South Waziristan from 1978 through 1980. Drawing on his academic background and political experience, he has written a fascinating book about his days as “king” (as the tribesmen used to call the political agent). First published in 1983 under the title Religion and Politics in Muslim Society, the book was reissued in 1991, and revised and released again in 2004, each time under the title Resistance and Control in Pakistan. Its obscure title and conventional academic introductory chapters explain why it has been neglected….

The first thing that strikes the reader of Resistance and Control in Pakistan is the pervasive nature of political violence in South Waziristan. And here, in contrast to his later work, Ahmed himself is at pains to emphasize the point. A popular novelist of the British Raj called Waziristan tribesmen “physically the hardest people on earth.” British officers considered them among the finest fighters in the world. During the 1930’s Waziristan’s troublesome tribesmen forced the British to station more troops in that agency than in the remainder of the Indian subcontinent. In more settled agricultural areas of Pakistan’s tribal Northwest Frontier Province, Ahmed says, adults, children, and soldiers mill about comfortably in the open, while women help their men in the fields. No guns are visible. But arid Waziristan is a collection of silent, fortress-like settlements. Women are invisible, men carry guns, and desolation rules the countryside.

Even in ordinary times, from the British era through the present, the political agent’s headquarters at Wana in South Waziristan wears the air of a fortress under perpetual siege. Five British political agents died in Waziristan. Ahmed reports that during a visit to Wana by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1976, the entourage of Pakistan’s Prime Minister was kept nervously awake most of the night by machine gun and rifle fire from the surrounding hills. In short, the Wana encampment in South Waziristan seems like nothing so much as a century-old version of Baghdad’s Green Zone.

Politics in Waziristan is inseparable from violence. A British official once called firing on government officers the local “equivalent for presenting a petition.” Sniping, explosions on government property, and kidnappings are common enough to necessitate continuous military protection for political officials. And the forms of routinized political violence extend well beyond direct attacks on government personnel.

Because government allowances are directed to tribal elders who control violent trouble-makers in their own ranks, ambitious maliks have reason to insure that such outlaws do in fact emerge. Waziristan’s many “Robin Hoods,” who make careers out of kidnapping even non-government officials and holding them for ransom, are simultaneously encouraged and controlled by local maliks. This double game allows the clans to profit from their own capacity for causing trouble, while also establishing a violence valve, so to speak, through which they can periodically convey displeasure with the administration. “To create a problem, control it, and terminate it is an acknowledged and highly regarded yardstick of political skill,” writes Ahmed. For the most part, income in Waziristan is derived from “political activity such as raiding settled districts” and “allowances from the administration for good behavior.” Unfortunately, a people who petitions by sniper fire seems poorly suited to democratic citizenship….

South Waziristan is populated by two major tribes, the Wazirs and the Mahsuds. (A century ago the Mahsuds were part of the Wazirs, but have since split off and gained their own identity.) The Mahsuds traditionally outnumbered the Wazirs and were at least relatively more integrated into modern society. After Pakistan gained independence in 1947, a few Mahsuds moved to “settled areas” and entered school. Many of these made their way into government service, thus connecting the Mahsuds to influential bureaucratic networks. Others started businesses, which brought a modern source of wealth to the tribe….

Following the oil boom of the 1970s, Wazirs and Mahsuds alike migrated to the Persian Gulf to work the oil fields and send their remittances back home. Maliks from the most prestigious tribal lineages initially resisted the call of migration. So the oil boom created an opening that “depressed lineages” happily filled. By the time the maliks began to send their sons to the Gulf, intra-tribal disparities of wealth and influence were disappearing.

So while the Mahsuds had outpaced the Wazirs, the power of maliks was waning among the Wazirs themselves. Now the Wazirs could afford to throw off those pliant elders who had taken and distributed British and later the Pakistan government’s pelf; and by supporting a radical mullah, the restive tribe could feed its resentment of both the government and the Mahsuds.

As Ahmed notes, and in pointed contrast to the “poverty theory” of Islamism, modern education and wealth seem to have sparked this early Islamist rebellion. Instead of spurring further development, economic opportunities have fed the traditionalist reaction. Waziristan’s tribesmen understand full well that their rulers mean to transform their way of life, thereby “taming” them through the seductions of education and modern forms of wealth. While some have accepted the trade, the majority consciously reject it. During the colonial period, education was despised as an infidel plot. In the 1970s conservative tribesmen systematically destroyed electrical poles, which were seen as a threat to Waziristan’s isolation and therefore to the survival of traditional Pushtun culture. Economic development might well “tame” these tribesmen, yet poverty is less the cause of their warlike ways than the result of a deliberate decision to preserve their traditional way of life—their Pushtun honor—even at material cost.

If only the Mahsuds and Wazirs could achieve the lasting peace with each other and the modern world that the Hatfields and McCoys of Pike County, Kentucky, have achieved.

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Pakistan’s Transition from Shia to Sunni Leadership

From: The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future, by Vali Nasr (W. W. Norton, 2006), pp. 88-90:

Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was an Ismaili by birth and a Twelver Shia by confession, though not a religiously observant man. He had studied at the Inns of Court in London and was better versed in English law than in Shia jurisprudence, was never seen at an Ashoura procession, and favored a wardrobe that often smacked as much of Savile Row as of South Asia. Yet insofar as he was Muslim and a spokesman for Muslim nationalism, it was as a Shia. His coreligionists played an important role in his movement, and over the years many of Pakistan’s leaders were Shias, including one the country’s first governor-generals, three of its first prime ministers, two of its military leaders (Generals Iskandar Mirza and Yahya Khan), and many other of its leading public officials, landowners, industrialists, artists, and intellectuals. Two later prime ministers, the ill-fated Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his Radcliffe-educated, currently exiled daughter, Benazir Bhutto, were also Shia. Feeling the wind shift in the 1990s, Benazir styled herself a Sunni, but her Iranian mother, her husband from a big Shia landowning family, and her father’s name, the name of Ali’s twin-bladed sword, make her Shia roots quite visible. In a way, Benazir’s self-reinvention as a Sunni tells the tale of how secular nationalism’s once solid-seeming promise has given way like a rotten plank beneath the feet of contemporary Pakistan’s beleaguered Shia minority.

Benazir’s father came from a family of large Shia landowners who could afford to send him for schooling to the University of California at Berkeley and to Oxford. He cut a dashing figure. Ambitious, intelligent, and secular, he was a brilliant speaker, with the ability, it is said, to make a crowd of a million people dance and then cry. His oratory manipulated public emotion as the best of Shia preachers could, and his call for social justice resonated with Shia values. His party’s flag conveniently displayed the colors of Shiism: black, red, and green. Although he never openly flaunted his Shia background, he commanded the loyalty of Pakistan’s Shia multitudes, around a fifth of the population. What he lacked in the area of regular religious observance he made up for with his zeal for Sufi saints and shrines, especially that of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, the widely popular Sufi saint of Shia extraction whose tomb is a major shrine in southern Pakistan.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s years in power (1971–77) marked the pinnacle of Shia power in Pakistan and the high point of the promise of an inclusive Muslim nationalism. But the country that Jinnah built and Bhutto ruled had over time become increasingly Sunni in its self-perception. The Sunni identity that was sweeping Pakistan was not of the irenic Sufi kind, moreover, but of a strident and intolerant brand. Bhutto’s Shia-supported mix of secularism and populism—sullied by corruption and his ruthless authoritarianism—fell to a military coup led by pious Sunni generals under the influence of hard-eyed Sunni fundamentalists. In April 1979, the state hanged Bhutto on questionable murder charges. A Sunni general, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, strongly backed by Sunni fundamentalist parties, personally ordered that the death sentence be carried out, even after Pakistan’s highest court recommended commutation to life imprisonment.

The coup of 1977 ended the Pakistani experiment with inclusive Muslim nationalism. Shia politicians, generals, and business leaders remained on the scene, but a steadily “Islamizing” (read “Sunnifying”) Pakistan came to look more and more like the Arab world, with Sunnis on top and Shias gradually pushed out. Pakistan in many regards captures the essence of the political challenge that the Shia have faced. The promise of the modern state has eluded them as secular nationalism has been colonized from within by Sunni hegemony.

UPDATE, 31 December 2009: Comments are now closed on this blogpost.


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