October 19, 2006 Thursday  Ramzan 25 , 1427 A.H


Sweet and bitter memories

Re-launching Eqbal Ahmad

The labyrinth of Middle East imbroglio Book Launched
Chronicling the apocalypse

Sweet and bitter memories


In the Line of Fire

By: President General Pervez Musharraf

Publisher: Simon and Schuster,

New York, USA

Price: Rs 1,295 

Pgs: 352

Delhi is in the grip of a worst kind of communal frenzy. Houses of its Muslim inhabitants are being burnt: some are roasted alive while others are being butchered mercilessly, on roads and in lanes. All this is being done by zealots who have opted to celebrate the independence of India, and to get rid of the Muslims who ruled India for more than seven hundred years.

In this horrid situation, Muslims are trying to migrate to Pakistan for the safety of their lives, and among them is a boy of only four years along with his other family members, ready to leave their ancestral home and hearth--their destination, the new homeland of Pakistan. No one knew at that time that this four-year-old boy would one day become the President of Pakistan--of course, he had to traverse a number of hurdles and difficulties in the attainment of this goal. This boy was named Pervez Musharraf.

In his memoirs "In the Line of Fire" President Pervez Musharraf narrates, at great lengths, his educational career, and his option to join the Pakistan Army, even at places giving detailed accounts. This book while gives an insight into Musharraf's educational career and thereafter his professional career, it also reveals some hidden facets, which could be claimed as "confusing" in the wake of several repudiation by those personalities about whom the president chose to speak. Prominent among these are former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, Lt-Gen (Rtd) Ali Kuli Khan and US President George W. Bush.

About the Kargil imbroglio, Musharraf terms it a successful operation which according to him brought the dispute over the scenic Himalayan state of Kashmir once again into the limelight and compelled India to return to talks. According to the General it was the Kargil operation which precipitated the composite dialogue process between the nuclear-armed Pakistan and India.

But former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who also heads his own faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, and Lt-Gen (retd) Ali Kuli Khan say that the Kargil operation was flawed in terms of its conception, tactical planning and execution, in which a large number of Pakistani soldiers laid down their lives.

Another sad issue is the personal diatribes between the two army generals. In his book Musharraf states that he was one of the four candidates short-listed for military training at Saudhurst, Britain, but Lt-Gen (retd) Ali Kuli Khan contradicts, saying there were five cadets selected by the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) for military training in England. They were Shabbir Sharif, Afzal Malik, Khalid Nawaz, Zahur Afridi and Ali Kuli Khan. Lt-Gen Khan further raises some points about the elevation to the post of Chief of Army Staff (COAS), and likewise some other issues.

It pained me, and I'm sure many others will also fell sorry for the wordy duel, insinuations and counter insinuations between these two great soldiers of our country. However, it can't be denied that the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif's action was an abominable act for not permitting General Musharraf's plan to land at any airport in Pakistan. It was a highly condemnable act on the part of a country's prime minister to allow a plane carrying the COAS and CJCSC of his country to crash. In the words of Musharraf "On October 12, 1999, I was Chief of the Army Staff, the highest military position in Pakistan. My plane was about to land at Karachi from Colombo, when the prime minister effectively hijacked it from the ground, blocking the runways and closing all airports in Pakistan. He ordered my plane to leave Pakistan airspace. Our fuel was so low that we would have crashed had the Army not taken control of the Karachi airport before it was too late. We landed with only seven minutes of fuel to spare. The nearly fatal confrontation with the prime minister brought me into power."

In fact it was the Kargil debacle which strained the relationship between Sharif and Musharraf and it deteriorated when Sharif suddenly capitulated before the then US president Bill Clinton in Washington on July 4, 1999. Hence Sharif found it to be a golden opportunity to get rid of Musharraf when he was out of the country--and hence the ban on his return.

Among other controversial issues the book includes threats to the then US undersecretary of state Richard Armitage to the ISI chief, the amount of bounty paid by the United States to Pakistan for capturing al-Qaeda members and other terrorists, the war on terrorism, Pakistan's nuclear policy, and Pakistan's relation with Afghanistan, etc.

Armitage told ISI chief Gen Mahmood that if Pakistan chose to be on the side of terrorists, the country would be bombed into the "Stone Age". During his recent US visit and his meeting with President Bush, Musharraf mentioned the threats to the US president, but the latter expressed his ignorance about any such threat.

As it was said so easily by the USA president about such an unbecoming and violent threat, it is not that easy for anyone to believe that the U.S President is so much unaware of the contents of the threat delivered by Richard Armitage. Pakistan in its own interest and which has also remained the pivotal point of Pervaiz Musharraf also, decided not to allow its soil as an spring hoard for terrorist activities, hence Pakistan has played an important role in nableing the suspected terrorists who aimed to operate from its soil. More than 600 terrorist were arrested and more than 360 were handed over to the US. The US also gave huge amount as bounty for the arrested terrorists. This evidently negates the oft-cried lamentations by some vested interests that Pakistan has done nothing or very negligible to apprehend the terrorists; particularly it is more striking when the Afghan rulers raise their fingers at Pakistan in this respect.

A common accusation against Pakistan is that acts of terrorism carried out in Afghanistan emanate from Pakistani soil. However, in his book Musharraf strongly rebuts this Afghan theory, saying the Afghan government needs to focus more on improving security inside its own country instead of blaming others. Brushing aside the charge that Pakistan is not doing enough in the 'war against terrorism', Musharraf ascribes it to lack of knowledge about the ground realities. He reiterates that Pakistan's decision to support the global war against terror was based on its own interests.

Speaking about the nuclear proliferation and the role of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, or Dr AQ Khan, Musharraf says whatever he did was his personal act, and the government was not aware of his proliferation network. Dr AQ Khan was stripped off his post and confined to his house after the network was unearthed. He was interrogated, and details of his activities were shared with the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA. In short it can be said that it has been very helpful in dismantling the network, both internationally and in Pakistan. But now some of the allegations leveled against the nuclear scientist have been debunked by his daughter Dina in her recent interview. It would have been better had Musharraf not divulged so much about Dr AQ Khan without thorough investigations.

In a nutshell the book is a great effort by President Pervez Musharraf to remove some of the cobwebs spun by vested interests on the face of Pakistan. It has also made it amply clear that acts of terrorism have not only afflicted the Western nations, but these have also wrought havoc in Pakistan, and Islamabad in its own interest is determined to eliminate the menace of terror.


Re-launching Eqbal Ahmad


The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad

By: Eqbal Ahmad

Eqbal Ahmad never got around to writing a book, so his Selected Writings (Columbia University Press, 2006), with a preface by his close friend Noam Chomsky, will make his writings more accessible. He was not just an intellectual, but an activist, a comrade for those involved in the human rights and peace movements in Pakistan and India. To so many of us, he was always "just Eqbal". Always courteous, he would listen attentively with genuine curiosity to anyone, regardless of differences like age, status and experience, and ask thought-provoking questions that provided new insight.  He extended the same courtesy to those who opposed his progressive, secular world view -- from military dictators to religious extremists. Some criticised him for this -- there are extremists among progressives too, who prefer not to hear the other side.

During the Zia years, Eqbal was unable to return to Pakistan as he faced treason charges punishable by death. He held prestigious academic positions abroad, but found the forced exile extremely painful. By the time he came home, after Zia's death, he was already a legendary figure in Pakistan, anathema to the establishment but embraced by human rights activists and the intelligentsia.

His close friend the lawyer Reza Kazim in Lahore believes that the shadow of sadness that crossed Eqbal's face in repose stemmed from the early childhood trauma of his father being murdered while Eqbal lay next to him, in their family home in Bihar, India. There was also the trauma of migration in 1947 to Pakistan. Eqbal was separated from them at Delhi. It was rumoured that he had run off with a gun to fight for Kashmir's liberation from India but Stuart Schaar says this was not true. In any case, this first war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir ended with a UN-brokered ceasefire that left Kashmir as part of Indian territory -- and an ongoing dispute that Eqbal likened to the question of Palestine, with its roots in the history of colonialism and decolonisation.

The alternatives he outlined in 1990 for India are still relevant: continue the suppression "which would entail endless brutalisation of Kashmir and of the Indian polity", blame Pakistan and go to war ? which would not resolve the problem -- or "recognise that the problem is political and its solution can only be political which implies an absence of war, an end to repression, and an admission of Kashmiri right to self-determination."

He was among those who conceptualised and gave direction to the Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) established in 1994 to facilitate people-to-people dialogue between ordinary Indians and Pakistanis. PIPFPD was the first forum to articulate the formula that Kashmir is not a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, but a matter of the lives and aspirations of the Kashmiri people, who must be included in any dialogue to resolve the issue ? a formulation that has finally seeped into public discourse and government discussions.

Eqbal supported freedom struggles around the world. Fidel Castro sent him Cuban cigars, but stopped when Eqbal continued to argue for greater civil liberties and democracy. The Indian historian Radha Kumar (who introduces the South Asian portion of this book), says that Yasser Arafat showed her the chair that Eqbal liked to sit in. This friendship too, dimmed when Eqbal stuck to his stand for non-violent strategies and dismissed Oslo as bringing unsustainable peace at the cost of the Palestinian people. 

He and six other anti-Vietnam War activists were tried for conspiring to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up federal buildings (the jury declared a mis-trial in 1972 and the government eventually dropped the case).  While still under trial in the USA, Eqbal criticized the Pakistan government for the army aggression in then East Pakistan. Few Pakistanis dared take this stand. His seminal 'Letter to a Pakistani Diplomat' is reproduced in this collection. He writes that he could not otherwise oppose American crimes in Vietnam or India's occupation of Kashmir. He condemned the Bengali nationalists' irresponsible acts but pointed out that these could not be equated with those "of the government and the criminal acts of an organised, professional army." He clearly foresaw that "no genuine restoration of civilian government will be possible until the East Pakistanis were conceded their right to autonomy or even secession." We all know how it ended. His words continue to ring true for other military aggressions today.

After 1990, Ahmad divided his time between America and Pakistan, teaching at Hampshire College, writing a weekly newspaper column for Dawn, participating in human rights and peace related efforts, and working towards his dream, Khaldunia, a liberal arts university in Pakistan that successive governments kept blocking. His retirement ceremony at Hampshire College in 1997 drew a couple of thousand adherents. John Trumpbour of the Harvard Law School's Labor and Worklife Program says that "more than the numbers, the more impressive thing was the distance people came, and the distinguished intellectuals and activists in attendance."

In Pakistan, Eqbal Ahmad was part of the struggle against the "talibanisation" of society and the use of religion for political purposes. His articles on Jinnah predicted where the country was heading. He articulated the essential link between the rule of law and a country's stability, noting that Jinnah "did not lose sight of this civic principle even in the darkest hours of 1947". He wrote against the infamous Hudood Ordinances of 1977 that criminalise adultery and make rape an offence in which the survivor has to prove her innocence.

In 1998, he blasted the BJP-led government for its nuclear tests and argued that Pakistan need not follow suit. He was severely disappointed when the Nawaz Sharif government gave in to domestic political pressures and the severe provocation from India, and turned the Chaghi mountains white.

Eqbal was diagnosed with cancer of the colon in May 1999, as both countries geared up to celebrate their nuclear anniversaries. He died just six days later, on the morning of May 11, the anniversary of India's nuclear test.

His legacy lives on, in his writings, and in his memory. The Eqbal Ahmad Foundation set up by his relatives and friends holds an annual distinguished lecture series in Pakistan named for him.  Noam Chomsky addressed the series in November 2001, and received standing ovations at each venue. Edward Said was to address the series also but sadly, this could not happen.

Under the banner of the Eqbal Ahmad Foundation, Parvez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian made documentary films on the nuclear issue and on Kashmir, opening discussion on subjects that were for long practically taboo. A young computer professional Sabeen Mahmood set up a website hosted free by Zaheer Kidvai's organisation, www.bitsonline.net to archive Eqbal's writings and other material. Many other human rights activists among the younger generation continue to be inspired Eqbal Ahmad's work. Oxford University Press in Pakistan published a selection of his essays on South Asia (2004), edited by his daughter Dohra Ahmad, nephew Iftikhar Ahmad, and Zia Mian. The Columbia University Press publication adds to this essential reading list, and is expected to be available in Pakistan and India also. Hopefully, there will be translations in local languages so that it reaches the maximum number of people.


The labyrinth of Middle East imbroglio


100 Myths About the Middle East

By: Fred Halliday

Publisher: Saqi Books

Price:  8.99 

Pgs: 180

The Middle East political scenario is once again in the limelight due to the immense response after the election process by the Palestinian bourgeois cadre that smoothly elevated Hamas, a synonym for Harkat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, to power.

Hamas is indisputably the most annoying factor in the history of Israel's suppression of Palestinian people. Hence it exasperates the curiosity of political philosophers to explore the reasons vis-a-vis repercussions of the decade-old controversial elements of the Middle East.

Innumerable efforts have so far been made to bring peace to the region, but without any tangible results. In the words of Voltaire "tyrants have always some slight shade of virtue; they support the laws before destroying them." In the case of Palestinian peace process, the same philosophy is executed to achieve the strategic geo-political superiority over the land.

To explore the real socio-political scenario of the Middle East, writers have contributed their liberal views at various stages. A number of articles and books have been brought out for the politically conscious people to judge the situation for themselves. Books like Suicide in Palestine: Narratives of Despair by Nadia Dabbagh, and Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America's Perilous Path in the Middle East by Rashid Khalidi are some of these books that carry analytical reviews on the Middle East situation to bring forward practical approaches to resolve this lingering tug of war.

Fred Halliday is the most recent addition to this constellation of scholars. Halliday's earlier books Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East, Two Hours That Shook the World: September 11, 2001 Causes and Consequences have been acclaimed as highly readable by various schools of thought.

A professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, Halliday has authored several books, including The World at 2000, The Middle East in International Relations. A leading authority on superpower relations, development issues, and the Middle East, he is also a broadcaster, and writes regular columns for opendemocracy.net.

As is evident from the title of the book, 'The 100 Myths About the Middle East', it reflects the hundred most commonly misconstrued socio-cultural, political, historical facts and fallacies about the region. Besides, as the Middle East controversy mainly lies in the religious factor, no other faith has been misunderstood or rightly framed to advocate the supremacy or inferiority of both the sides, ie Israel & Palestine.

In practical context, the book under review illuminates each case without compromising its underlying complexities. Whether it is the Israel-Palestine crisis, Iran-Iraq war, US-led Gulf incursions, Afghan-Soviet conflict or other significant milestones in the modern Middle East history each case is scrutinised with persuasive conclusions. For the reader, it would be easier to come to a conclusion about the ongoing Middle East political horizon.

Halliday has gained wide readership due to his simplicity or consistency over a subject. His brilliant argumentative style of writing in this book unfolds different views and angles of different sects coexisting in the Middle East region.

A number of radical reforms, road maps, declarations, and negotiation by the United States and the United Nations have been made from time to time for implemented initiatives to resolve the controversial Middle East fiasco. From the Oslo Accord to Bill Clinton's Camp David Accord in summer 2000, Madrid Conference to Prince Abdullah peace plan; none has been worked out due to the inflexible and inhuman policies of the Israeli government. Identifying and later avoiding to address the root cause behind the insecure Middle East region has actually delayed the resolution of peace process where as focus is shifted to the suicide bombing and its backing while ignoring the real legal demand of Palestinians to have their immediate and ultimate rule of law over the land of Palestine.

Halliday in his book adopts the distinctly qualitative straightforward approach to unfold the world's most tolerant religion of Islam. This quality has actually compelled the reader from all the sects to review their own perception under the provided facts and philosophies.

According to Saudi Gazette "In this pithy book Halliday tackles most of the myths in just one or two pages of tight argument." Where as Jordan Times described the book as "fascinating reading, challenging proverbial 'wisdom', pat answers and politically motivated lies, he addresses 100 common misconceptions about the Middle East and how the region figures into US and European foreign policy."

Among the 100 myths, the religious philosophies are depicted very carefully so that not to stir more confusion in confessing the factual fragmentation of the holy land of Palestine.

To cogitate politically fragile status quo of the Middle East, a balanced and sober source is required to accelerate the peaceful provisions in the region, whereas it is the sole responsibility of political scholars and writers to bring forward authentic analysis and ease the already jeopardised security concerns that could ensure peaceful existence. 

I personally believe the book contains much information for a layman to understand the real side of the Middle Eastern controversy, hence no need for further study about what and where went wrong that accelerated the socially insecure environment on the region. 

No matter how strong measures could be applied to bring down the mounting hostilities between Israel and the right wing Palestinians, the solution lies entirely with the Israeli authority to acknowledge the right of Palestinians to their land. Unless Israel does not show flexibility theories would remain fruitless. Whereas Palestinians' do-or-die philosophy lies in the liberation from Jews' detonation, hence they would employ all means to secure their legal right over their land.

Thomas Jefferson once said that "the execution of laws is more important than the making them" nevertheless, dialogues and mediations work only if there is a strong desire to execute the mutual conception for lasting peace.


Book Launched
Chronicling the apocalypse

A young Kashmir lawmaker paid gratitude to the government as well as people of Pakistan for springing up to the distress call of their Kashmiri brethren when a massive earthquake ravaged parts of the North-West Frontier Province and the scenic state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir on October 8, 2005.

"We are indebted to the whole Pakistani nation and the international community, which shared our grief and sorrow after last year's catastrophic earthquake in which thousands of people were killed, crippled, widowed or orphaned," said the member Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, Abdul Majid Khan, while speaking at the launching ceremony of 'Aur Zameen Phat Gayi (And the Earth Split),' a book chronicling the horrendous temblor, at Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Azad Kashmir.

"The Kashmiri nation is marking the first anniversary of the horrific tremor that has changed the entire demography of this erstwhile scenic state," he added.

Khan was however optimistic that they "would bring back smiles on the faces of the earthquake survivors with the support of President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz".

Although the people of Azad Kashmir are faced with the gigantic task of reconstruction and rehabilitation of the quake-devastated areas, the determined people of the area would accomplish this Herculean assignment with the help of governments of Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, he hoped. "It is not easy to remember our loved ones who perished in the earthquake but this 'remembrance' guides us to starting our lives anew," he added.

About the book he said 'Aur Zameen Phat Gayi' is a highly commendable effort to chronicle the pre- and post-earthquake history of the devastated Himalayan state. Although the author, Muhammad Luqman Chaudhry, is a disabled man, the book shows the throbbing heart of Chaudhry, who was deeply moved by the miseries of the quake-stricken people.

"I salute Chaudhry for exhaustively covering the relief activities, the role of public, media, and national and international NGOs, and the miseries of the victims. Besides, his scholastic research on the earthquake from both Islamic and scientific viewpoints lent authenticity to the book," Khan said.

Khan suggested that the book, which contains authentic facts about the tremor, be translated into other international languages, so that the non-Urdu speaking reader could also know the devastation caused by the deadly earthquake.

Speaking on the occasion, prominent literati and noted poet from Muzaffarabd, Mukhlas Wajdani, hailed Chaudhry's effort and recommended the "useful book" to the students of History and Geography. "Written in a simple and easy-to-understand language, 'Aur Zameen Phat Gayi' shows how the writer has tried to influence the general reader, and here lies the uniqueness of this book," he opined.

The co-author of the book, Muhammad Aslam Mir, gave a detailed presentation on 'Aur Zameen Phat Gayi' and briefed the audience about the objectives of bringing out this book. Mir said Chaudhry has tried to make this book a source of information for those who want to contribute to various sectors of the rehabilitation and reconstruction process in the quake-hit areas.

Later, the in-charge of the Press For Peace (PFP) Media Centre, Amiru Din Mughal, presented the note of gratitude and thanked the audience.

Rashid Wani, who represented the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) at the ceremony, concluded the programme with Dua.