Jaag Punjabi jaag

Published: July 3, 2010

The writer is head of the BBC Urdu Service (aamer.khan@tribune.com.pk)

It was a priceless line, coming from one of the most powerful politicians in the Punjab. Speaking to BBC’s ‘Newshour’ in the aftermath of Data Darbar’s bombing, Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif said he thinks the term Punjabi Taliban is: “an insult to the Punjabis, because we never say Pukhtun Taliban, Sindhi Taliban or Baloch Taliban.” He went on to say that it was a term coined by Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik and that he condemned him for it.

Does he really believe that? Can you really believe that he actually thinks this? His statement brought back an odd memory from a couple of years ago. It was a private conversation so I cannot name the lady, who is a close personal friend of Shahbaz Sharif. “Aamer”, she said, “I cannot really understand people who think Shahbaz Sharif is an ordinary person. He comes from an extremely conservative, deeply religious background and is heir to a financial and political empire. Yet, at the risk of losing all that, he took on his entire family to marry a woman who is the most controversial female author in the country’s history. You think any ordinary man can do that?” I did not disagree with her and murmured something to the effect that I am keen to see his personal radicalism creep into his political life. But his statement about Punjabi Taliban is evidence that we are unlikely to see that happen. Admittedly, Mr Sharif carries a heavy burden dating back to his party’s birth. The Muslim League that he heads today sprang from the womb of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad, an amalgam of several religious groupings and secular political non-entities that were all ideologically dominated by the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI).

The original political base that his party commanded in its battles against Benazir Bhutto’s PPP rested mostly in the conservative trading and merchant class, transporters, petty bureaucracy and a conservative urban financial elite spawned by General Zia’s long, dark years.

Many believe that had it not been for the former JI chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s infatuation with turning it into a people-based populist party, the Jamaat would still have been holding the Muslim League’s ideological reins. The Muslim League’s organic link to religious conservatism may have weakened after the death of Mian Sharif, more popularly known as ‘Abbaji’. But it is proving to be a stubbornly tough umbilical cord to sever.

A clean break in this umbilical connection is exactly what the country needs to break free. It is important because Punjab matters. It may be unpalatable for the smaller provinces, but Punjab alone has the numbers and the political power to stand up to radical Islam. And until something really dramatic happens, the Sharifs alone can fire up the province to say no to uncounted mass murderers or mini-Osamas running amok.

When the Sharifs returned to power in 1997 with their legendary heavy mandate, many analysts and columnists flirted with the idea that they could be the vanguard of a moderately religious if not secular, urban middle-class political wave that would sweep aside sectarianism which, in the pre-9/11 world, was the major religious scourge known to Pakistan. The Taliban at the time were busy fighting for Kabul.

Of course these flirtations came to a sorry end when Nawaz Sharif started toying with the idea of becoming Amirul Muslimeen. But they were revived again when the brothers returned from exile, sworn to wresting Pakistan’s political control away from the military. Nawaz Sharif was the born-again democrat and Mr Principles. Many felt that between his new-found relationship with Benazir Bhutto, his commitment to charter of democracy and his hatred for military rulers, he, along with his brother, have finally acquired the vision to lead Pakistan out of the muck that repeated military rule had led it into.

Sadly, that vision is nowhere in sight. The Pakistani state has used radical Islam as a weapon of war for over a quarter of a century. It now needs to swing completely the other way. And that cannot happen for as long as the likes of Shahbaz Sharif continue to believe that it is Rehman Malik, and not the Punjabi Taliban, that is tearing Pakistan apart.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2010.

Reader Comments (14)

  • Syed A. Mateen
    Jul 4, 2010 - 1:30AM

    *Jaag Punjabi jaag, teri pug nu lag gya dagh.*

    This was the slogan of the election campaign of Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif when he became Prime Minister for the first time.

    Now-a-days, most of the terror incidents are taking place in the Punjab province. The question arises” what measures Punjab government has taken to prevent the suicidal attacks?Recommend

  • Faseeha Arjumand
    Jul 4, 2010 - 9:12AM

    Radical Islam is a misnomer, Islam is a religion of peace. What the author has referred to as ‘Radical Islam’ is ignorance and extremism combined.Recommend

  • KK
    Jul 4, 2010 - 11:20AM

    Finally something that makes sense to me and i’m sure a lot of people here.
    I’ve commented on a few articles before raising the same issue. When our political parties take a united stand against the Taliban and extremism (including the army and isi), that’s when we will see progress being made.
    These parties have to stop playing the blame game, join hands and finish their relations and support for these extremists. And it HAS to start from the Punjab government now. KP government took a stand and things are better now. Everything seems to have smoothly swept into Punjab. If Punjab takes action, i’m sure these elements will move to another Sindh or Balochistan. But if we are together on this, it will end sooner rather than later. Otherwise we have a very long road ahead of us..Recommend

  • Naz Sahito
    Jul 4, 2010 - 12:00PM

    We must admit facts thatthere are elements of radicalism in the garb of Islam.,who use violence as their tool to assert their notion about religionRecommend

  • Faisal Sattar
    Jul 4, 2010 - 12:06PM

    The author is spot on. A mixture of appeasement and denial by the Sharifs is not going to solve this issue.Recommend

  • M. Yasir
    Jul 4, 2010 - 1:04PM

    I wonder how it is taken for granted that the mastermind are the so called militants. 5-6 months ago, when every other day American private security contractor was arrested and released after a photoshoot in police station under the diktats of the foreign masters, it was accepted by people that “blackwater” or “Dyncorp” is behind using some recruits of the militant organisation, but after “reconciliation” between the military and Private contractor, no more is arrested anymore. But does this mean they have gone back.
    Are they here for selling “nihari” and “paaiay”.

    see this report released yesterday;
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LG03Df04.html

    “Foreign footprints
    Asia Times Online has learned from high-level security contacts that private US defense contractors want to operate in Punjab to trace militant networks and then make recommendations for penetrating them.

    Despite intense opposition from the military establishment, a few days before the shrine attack over 50 foreign nationals, including officials of a private American defense contracting firm, arrived in Pakistan – even though they did not have security clearance from Pakistani intelligence agencies.

    According to the contacts, these nationals had earlier been denied visas by the Pakistani embassies they first approached, including in the US, Britain and India. However, they were apparently subsequently given visas by the embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This was done without the prerequisite clearance from the Pakistani Ministry of Interior, the Defense Ministry and the security agencies.

    “These included over a dozen US nationals who had already been denied visas by our embassy in Washington on suspicion of them having links to Blackwater [Xe Services],” a source told Asia Times Online, adding that the visas had been issued for periods of six months to two years, although usually visas are only give for 90 days.

    Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts. “Recommend

  • Zubair Khan
    Jul 4, 2010 - 7:41PM

    Fact of the matter is that No one is denying the presence of Extremists and Taliban in Punjab,I as a Punjabi and a bit Seraiki absolutely ; is offended by this coined term. I do not like PML-N and Ive never supported their right conservatism. I have always been a liberal and secular,But The “Coined Term” isnt right. Either you call it TTP Punjab wing,Taliban or whatever but dont insult our Ethnicity with coined terms like that considering Punjabis are hated everywhere so now that they used to think of us as some sort of Imperialists trying to take away the respuources of other Provinces ,they’ll think of us as some uber religious Morons as well.
    Yes,Operation is MUST in Punjab and Taliban are here for sure,But DO NOT associate our Ethnicity,our land,our culture,our traditions with Animals like Taliban. Taliban are Taliban ; but having to associate something “Punjabi,Pashtun,seraiki etc etc” with them is utter stupidity IMO. Recommend

  • Zubair Khan
    Jul 4, 2010 - 7:43PM

    Though It doesnt absolve Punjab governmentand especially Nawaz sharif for not taking actions against the Taliban. Action against Taliban and their supporters in different sectarian outfits is the need of the hour.Recommend

  • Jul 5, 2010 - 6:33AM

    It was fact Nawaz Sharif had raised this slogan “Jaag Punjabi Jaag, Teri Pagg Noon Lag Gayaa Dag” in a procession led by him and such news-item printed in almost all newspapers.

    An example of “Punjabi chauvinism”Recommend

  • Aristo
    Jul 5, 2010 - 10:58AM

    There is no such thing as Radical Islam, as it is an offensive term, this is a term coined by the American Media to start a malicious campaign against a new enemy. Recommend

  • Irfan Tariq
    Jul 5, 2010 - 11:39AM

    What else you expect from BBC urdu service writer !!!!
    not a single term is Pakistani everything borrowed from outside . Please try to come up with something worth reading .Recommend

  • Patriot
    Jul 5, 2010 - 12:22PM

    Come on Irfan Tariq..for a change Mr Aamir A. Khan made sense!Recommend

  • Jul 5, 2010 - 10:18PM

    Yes….AA Khan made sense. Whether anybody will take the slightest bit of notice of it is another matter entirely.Recommend

  • Hassan Malik
    Jul 6, 2010 - 5:35AM

    The ingenious term “Punjabi Taliban” hands over the credit of creating Taliban (the Afghanis, the Pushtoons, and all sort of them) to Punjab. The author may have a valid point about PML-N but this still does not justify the term.Recommend

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