Punjab and the study of Ranjit Singh
Friday, January 16, 2009
The News (Pakistan)
by Ayaz Amir
At this juncture, when the seven tribal agencies along the Afghan frontier are lost to any form of government control, and Swat--once paradise on earth, now very much a picture of hell--is returning to the Middle Ages, and most of Balochistan is stricken with discontent, and the army no longer commands the moral authority it once did, does Punjab, elder brother in Pakistan's besieged federation, understand its historic responsibility?
It is no manifestation of Punjabi chauvinism, and no disrespect to the other provinces, to say that Punjab is the pivot around which Pakistan revolves. This is a simple statement of fact based on geography, population and economic clout. For too long Punjab's greater weight relative to the other provinces got translated into an argument for political domination which did Pakistan no good. In fact, Punjabi domination was one of the curses leading to East Pakistani alienation and the breakup of Pakistan.
Just to clarify matters, it was not the Punjabi peasant or the Punjab artisan holding sway over the rest of Pakistan. Poor souls, they were as dispossessed as the rest of their countrymen. It was the Punjabi bureaucrat and the Punjabi army officer fulfilling this role, backed up by a Punjabi version of neo-conservatism: the ideology-of-Pakistan school of thought, now mercifully confined to the city of Lahore.
This school of thought takes good care not to muddy its own boots. But from the comfort of Lahore--amidst Pakistan's present travails still a great city to live in--it continues to propound the virtues of jihad and endless confrontation with India. Not surprisingly, it is in possession of one of the choicest properties on the Mall, still one of the most stylish thoroughfares anywhere in the subcontinent. Whenever I pass this property I cannot help giving it a baleful look.
But the days of domination are gone. Pakistan is caught up in the vortex of other troubles. After Pakistan's vivisection at the hands of India and East Pakistani nationalism in 1971, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto described what was left of Pakistan as a New Pakistan. He was wrong. His Pakistan was a continuation of the old Pakistan. And he, despite being the most intelligent politician of his generation and era, committed the same old mistakes: conducting a military operation in Balochistan and being too autocratic for his own good.
Had he conducted himself more wisely Pakistan might have been spared Gen Zia-ul-Haq and his hypocritical Islam. What a joke Zia played with Pakistan. There couldn't be a more Islamic country than ours. Yet that wily ruler, for purposes of his own, was bent on converting this country to Islam once more.
So look at the sequence of events. Bhutto gifted us Zia, Zia gave us phoney Islamisation, from the womb of that hypocrisy arose the first Afghan jihad, and the dragon's teeth sprouted by that jihad in time led to Al Qaeda and the rest of the mumbo jumbo we are having to live with today. And let not the Yanks think they had nothing to do with this progression. They scattered the dragon's teeth with us and lauded it as a noble act. As they battle the Taliban, and their satellites futilely try to track down the elusive chief of Al Qaeda, let them show some indulgence for Pakistan's present troubles, for we and they were partners in the same crime.
The Pakistan of Baitullah Mehsud (of Waziristan) and Maulana Fazlullah (of Swat) is the New Pakistan, buffeted by storms whose impact has yet to be fully measured. In this situation Punjab's task is cut out: to be not the Serbia which was instrumental in the breakup of Yugoslavia but the true and strong magnet which keeps Pakistan's whirling pieces together.
The past, however, is no help, because in two thousand years the only ruler of worth, if not genius, to spring from the native soil of Punjab--as opposed to imports from Afghanistan, Persia and Central Asia--was Maharaja Ranjit Singh Virk. Him and him alone. Then we wonder why Punjab always produces political collaborators: Iskander Mirza Republicans, Ayub Khan Convention Leaguers, Pervez Musharraf Q Leaguers. Given Punjab's history, should this be surprising?
But now Punjab is saddled with an historic responsibility. If Pakistan's north and north-west are on fire, Balochistan is restive, if Karachi's affairs give rise to forebodings, Punjab, in order to fulfil this responsibility, must become a comfort zone, looking at which Pakistanis can say that, bad as things are, they are sure to get better. Those in a position to do so are migrating from Swat and the Frontier Province. If distress is forcing them from their homes, what will their feelings be if they find things no better in Punjab?
The district nazims may have caused mayhem in their time, but that was mainly because they became a political arm of the Musharraf dispensation. In itself the idea of administrative devolution and an elected district head (with some modifications which are easily devised and managed) is not a bad one.