Turning the other cheek in Pakistan

Published: August 22, 2011
The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist who has worked as senior editor at The Indian Express from 1997-2004 and since then has been writing for Khaleej Times, Business Standard and Wall Street Journal

The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist who has worked as senior editor at The Indian Express from 1997-2004 and since then has been writing for Khaleej Times, Business Standard and Wall Street Journal [email protected]

As Karachi goes up in flames, the army doctor-turned-militant behind the 2009 GHQ bombings is arrested and the banned Jaish-e-Mohammed begins to resurface in Pakistan, the question persists in my mind: have Pakistan’s politicians as well as civil society activists ever thought of using the hunger-strike as a weapon of non-violence to cleanse their own society?

Now, in a country in which the majority thinks nothing of fasting from dawn to dusk for several weeks at a time — of which proof, if it were needed, is offered at the present moment — the idea of the hunger-strike may be an odd one.

Other people may record the hours and minutes of self-abnegation with a certain amount of pride, but seriously, we know that the hours of bodily deprivation during Ramazan is meant to concentrate the mind on a certain higher calling.

So consider the following: whether or not the fratricide in Lyari or other parts of Karachi are a result of ethnic gang wars or political vendetta, imagine if a group of people were to sit down somewhere in the city and undertake a relay hunger strike to call attention to the unnecessary killings.

You could fast for six or eight or twelve or however many hours at a time as you wanted. Imagine if the hunger-strikers stated they would not give up their fast until all the parties concerned sat down to broker a solution. Imagine if the mass hunger-strike were to be totally peaceful and disciplined.

Meaning, if the police came charging at you with their lathis and water cannons, and accused you of breaking up the peace, well, you would just take the blows on your chest and carry on. If several hundred or thousand people demonstrating peacefully were injured, imagine the reaction.

Now, some of you may argue that Pakistanis are a proud, red-blooded people who will never tolerate being pushed around, and this turn-the-other-cheek business is really a Gandhian idea that India is more than welcome to keep.

First of all, this would not be completely true. Gandhi is as much part of Pakistan’s history, as it is India’s, in fact, we had him only for a few more months. Secondly, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s legacy is alive and well in the ANP, and you can hardly challenge the patriotic credentials of his grandson, Asfandyar Wali Khan.

Admittedly, the idea of a hunger strike in Pakistan has been provoked by the ongoing agitation in Delhi and elsewhere in India by a 73-year-old man called Anna Hazare, who professes to be a Gandhian, and whose protests against corruption and black money has certainly gripped India’s imagination.

Gandhi and his colleagues sowed the seed of non-violent agitation in the freedom struggle against the British, and also showed that peaceful protest is integral to any self-respecting democracy.

It is Hazare’s tactics of blackmail (“if you don’t accept my version of the Bill against corruption, I will go on a fast-unto-death”), that I think the Mahatma and the rest of South Asia finds abhorrent.

This is not the time or place to go into Gandhi’s faults or weaknesses or the mutual betrayal of the Congress and the Muslim League. The question is whether or not we can learn from our common histories and use some of those tools to our current advantage.

So think about it: does the idea of fasting for peace in Karachi appeal to Pakistan?

Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd,  2011.

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Reader Comments (31)

  • G. Din
    Aug 22, 2011 - 1:12AM

    “The question is whether or not we can learn from our common histories and use some of those tools to our current advantage.”
    When the premise itself is unfounded, how can one learn anything? Pakistan does not consider there was anything common between their struggle for securing their homeland (they were not struggling for independence) and India’s struggle for Independence. There simply is no common history. When will this simple fact percolate through this author’s skull? Whatever in the name of commonsense, can India learn from how Pakistan has conducted itself throughout its life except how not to conduct oneself? We don’t need to learn that; we knew that all along and that is why we are where we are, miles from Pakistan, mercifully. The more this author strums the “bhai-bhai” fiddle, the more absurd she gets!


  • faraz
    Aug 22, 2011 - 5:44AM

    Most probably all parties would send their representatives in that hunger strike to convey to the voters and self-righteous media that they want peace. Meanwhile the militant gangs of the same parties would battle out each other in the streets of Karachi. And interestingly, the people won’t mind the hypocrisy of these parties. Our problem is mainly psychological.


  • Arindom
    Aug 22, 2011 - 6:26AM

    OK, granted that Anna’s method is blackmail….

    But can you suggest a better method to control Rapacious, Criminal, Parasitic and utterly Corrupt Indian politicians, while still not breaking any Law?


  • Vinayak
    Aug 22, 2011 - 7:19AM


    It is Hazare’s tactics of blackmail (“if you don’t accept my version of the Bill against corruption, I will go on a fast-unto-death”), that I think the Mahatma and the rest of South Asia finds abhorrent.

    The Mahatma (Gandhi) died long time ago. How can you speak for the Mahatma? Also, can you point out which part of South Asia you are speaking about.

    Just switch on any private Indian news-channel and see for yourself the non-violent masses who have poured out onto streets in support of the anti-corruption movement. It is these masses that the Indian Government is scared of. Anna Hazare by himself is only ordinary citizen of India, and he is only exercising his right to peaceful non-violent protest.


  • Frank
    Aug 22, 2011 - 8:13AM

    Hunger strikes are a gimmick. Why don’t you Indians pull out your 700 000 armed personnel from Kashmir and go on hunger strike instead?


  • Naeem Siddiqui
    Aug 22, 2011 - 8:53AM

    @Jyoti Malhotra

    The follower of gandhism Khan abul gaffar khan’s Party ANP and his grandson Asfandyar wali is one of the major PART OF THE PROBLEM in karachi.


  • Ankur
    Aug 22, 2011 - 10:55AM


    I may not have agreed with “Gandhi’s” way of Blackmailing for once, but with Anna Hazare if you see it as a blackmail, I suppose you’ve not been able to see beyond what “appears”, he talks about “Fasting unto death” for appealing to masses but his intellectual team is more than sufficing to be the most “sane” voices in the country today.
    Rest of your article, asking Pakistanis to do the same, well..their challenges are different, its not a single coherent vote fearing lot that is ruining their country, its the inane, hidden, barbaric, fanaticism which is the roadblock, how can you think about “Hunger strikes” as a solution? I dont gather.


  • abhi
    Aug 22, 2011 - 12:25PM

    I think pak establishment can easily find a mullah to declare the fast as unislamic (any fast outside the month of Ramzan) and then there will not be any public support for it.

    In India already Mr Bukhari (Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid) has asked muslims to stay away from this anti corruption movement as it is unislamic.


  • Mudy
    Aug 22, 2011 - 1:24PM

    @G Din
    Do we renounce only Gandhi or do we renounce Abul Kalam Azad, Hussain Ahmad Madni and Molana Hasrat Mohani too? Don’t forget that most of the muslims in Hindu majority areas remained in India, and Liaquat Ali Khan and Pundit Nehru considered them a people that was collective responsibility. Read about Liaquat Nehru Pact.

    Liaquat, the guy who understood Pakistan Movement better than any of us, declared them to be a part of Pakistanis. At one time, Jinnah was a congress guy. Should we deny that or condemn him too?

    Don’t deny great personalities of the region if they are not muslims or if they don’t think like we do. Porus, Chankaya (who taught at Texila), Ashoka, Abul Kalam Azad, Dr Zakir Hussain, Gandhi are as much part of our history as are Muhammad Bin Qasim, Sultans of Delhi, Iqbal or Jinnah.


  • BruteForce
    Aug 22, 2011 - 1:46PM


    Dude, after 65 years of misery, losing half your Territory being counted as one of the most failed states and an epicenter of Terror, you are concerned about Kashmiris. I dont know what one should call you.

    Not only that you are naive enough to assume that India would station 70% of its troops in a concentrated area and that Kashmiris are also naive enough to ignore the opportunities India provides as compared to a, well, Pakistan.


  • Vinayak
    Aug 22, 2011 - 1:57PM

    Why don’t you Pakistanis go on hunger strike instead.


  • BruteForce
    Aug 22, 2011 - 1:59PM

    It is understandable why Indians reject the legacy of Jinnah. He had said that 2 set of Human beings cannot live with each other and that is against the values that India was formed upon.

    But, it is quite strange that Pakistanis reject the like of Gandhi, Nehru,etc., who were thorough Humanists and recognized by the World as great leaders. Nehru is adored by the Indian Muslims for giving them a voice and protecting them and repay by voting for the party he represented every year.

    I guess its Pakistan’s loss to reject such great Human Beings. No wonder it is in such mess.


  • malik
    Aug 22, 2011 - 2:16PM

    Pakistan is a country where fasting means ‘skipping a meal’ and eating like a glutton in the evening in a feast… fasting till death is meaningless here. How will Gandhian methods of self-abnegation appeal to a society which does not have a single freedom struggle hero known for his sacrifice?

    Remember, 99 per cent of the people who got jailed during the freedom struggle were from Congress..Recommend

  • G. Din
    Aug 22, 2011 - 4:31PM

    In yesterday’s papers, there is a picture showing an old man being helped in alighting from his vehicle. Around his neck hung a placard which proudly declared:”Umr – 107; Mein bhi Anna hoon!” (I am 107 years old. I, too, am Anna”
    Is this the face of a man also trying to blackmail this corruption-tainted government, which the author finds abhorrent? Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens go about wearing a Gandhi cap with the declaration:”I am Anna”. All of them blackmailing, eh, Jyoti? To what end?
    Observe, there is a sycophantic Punjabi cabal (Kapil Sibal, Ambika Soni, Kuldip Nayyar, Jyoti Malhotra etc., etc.) as the apologists for Ghandy dynasty’s planted Punjabi PM Manmohan Singh, front and centre in denouncing Anna Hazaare, a simple, public-spirited Gandhian who came almost from nowhere and instantly struck a chord with the broad Indian masses east, west, north and south! Where is the Home Minister, in whose province this matter lies? Where is the blue-blooded Crown Prince? Where is the rest of the cabinet? They are all helpless and distraught like motherless orphans, while the Matriarch is recuperating from her surgery elsewhere!Recommend

  • Aryabhat
    Aug 22, 2011 - 4:37PM


    It is Hazare’s tactics of blackmail (“if you don’t accept my version of the Bill against corruption, I will go on a fast-unto-death”), that I think the Mahatma and the rest of South Asia finds abhorrent.

    Pray when did you speak to Mahatma to know that he find Anna Hazare’s fasts “abhorrent”?

    Pray when did you last look at surveys after surveys in last 18 months – each and every one – coming out with 80%+ people of India favouring what Anna Hazare is fighting for. ? Well here is link to Global referendum where most are from India – http://www.box.net/shared/mrajacqxleyf11sod1cl Kindly review and let us know how have you arrived at conclusion about Anna Hazare’s approach “the rest of South Asia finds abhorrent.”?


  • Frank
    Aug 22, 2011 - 6:11PM


    Kashmiris are also naive enough to
    ignore the opportunities India
    provides as compared to a, well,

    Which doesn’t go very far in explaining why the thought of fulfilling your own pledges and holding a referendum in Kashmir scares you.Recommend

  • N
    Aug 22, 2011 - 7:15PM

    How the influential in politics and media band together! Hazare is fighting against corruption. That is considered blackmail! Everyday Indians are ripped off and ground down by the powerful. Bonafide chargesheeters, with criminal records, are bestowed tickets to contest elections by equally corrupt central party leaders. These hoodlums are then foisted upon the masses. Shouldn’t Indians be glad that they have a Hazare who stands up? But don’t tell that to the elitist media – they are in on the heist.


  • tanoli
    Aug 22, 2011 - 7:39PM

    Good article but some time little little HUMLA on pakistan too its all right.


  • BruteForce
    Aug 22, 2011 - 8:14PM


    In India the Constitution has more value than any UN Resolution. There is no scope of any referendum in our Constitution. Pakistan is welcome to pull out its troops and hold a referendum.

    What can be a substitute for a referendum is the holding of elections. Few months ago 80% of the people of Kashmir voted in the Panchayat Elections. In the elections before that 60+ % voted and made Omar Abdullah the Chief Minister. You are welcome to ask your representatives to fight in the elections and prove their worth.

    They are just like the Islamists in Pakistan. They can raise hell, throw stones ,destroy property and have large rallies, but when it comes to elections they cant/wont win more than 10% of the seats. Why do you think they are so hesitant to fight the elections?


  • SharifL
    Aug 22, 2011 - 8:32PM

    This bit about Anna Hazare is not worth the attention the guy gets. Just because he behaves like Mahatma gandhi, does not make him one.
    As an english magazine has accurately pointed out, India is much bigger than the city dwellers demonstrating in the capital. More like a storm in the tea cup. More important is the health of Sonia who is still in NY hospital after an operation. All we know is that she has cancer but there is hush huh about how far the cancer has grown. If it get worse, her son Rahul might be promoted sooner than planned. He is just over 40 and could change India’s image., from being run by old dadas (grand parents) to the next generation representing 21st century. How will India look if people like Rhul take over? I would like to know what he thinks about relations with pakistan. Varun Gandhi, his cousin who belongs to BJP is also trying to use his family name, as Advani and co. are also old. In Pakistan there is awareness that relations with India must improve. Nawaz Shaif’s speech about relationship with India on 14 August is a positive sign.


  • Aug 22, 2011 - 8:45PM

    They would,it is like Once Gandhiji told British Viceroy,They should drop their weapon and surrender,the jews should meekly go to gas chamber,problem was Hitler would just sloughter such fools.Non violence does not work with society which does not believe in non-violence whose only creed is blood letting,this idea of non violence will never work in Pakistan,that is why there never been any attempt,you know what,Gandhiji’s fast,non-violence and other gemic never worked with Mr Jinnah,it is historical fact.Go check it.There is very apt urdu saying”Latho ke booth batho say nahi mante”.You Pakistani,Indians,and every body else knows it.I’m neither for this or that,I’m for what works.Kapish!


  • Arindom
    Aug 23, 2011 - 4:56AM


    well ‘storm in a tea cup’ is how revolutions grow! Remember the street vendor in Tunisia? If anything Anna’s agitation is bringing to light the issue of corruption in the national debate – this itself is a great achievement. At least we are debating ways to get rid of curruption rather than caste and religion – which used to be the case before. On this point alone, Anna’s agitation has achieved a lot – changing the public discourse.

    The rural hinterland may not be protesting – most of it is too poor and are focused on ‘roti-kapra-makaan’. But donot take rurul folks to be fools – they know what is happening in the country – they did throw out corrupt governments in Bihar, Bengal and T.Nadu didn’t they?

    In summary, Anna may or maynot be sucessful in implmenting the Jan Lok Pal bill – but his greatest contribution has been opening the eyes of the Indian People. And for this and this alone, I support him!


  • Abhi
    Aug 23, 2011 - 2:24PM

    @frank and others who think this may not work in Pakistan!

    I think it will work if one respectable person whose moral authority is unchallenged does it. Any ABC doing fast will not work. I think in present day Pakistan one person who is capable of pulling it off. The person is Mr Edhi. If he decides that he will fast at some prominent spot in Karachi until the violance is stopped by all participants, you will see the result within week.


  • Cynical
    Aug 23, 2011 - 6:45PM

    @Mudy and @Malik

    Thanks for an extremely laudable sentiment.Only a fool would want to turn his/her back towards his history.


  • Cynical
    Aug 23, 2011 - 7:26PM


    Well said.


  • Aug 24, 2011 - 5:03AM

    We Indians need an efficient leader. Not somebody who doesnot know how to run the country. Rahul Gandhi is not another Benazir or Indira Gandhi. We know how efficient and intelligent these women were. But neither the people of India, nor those of Pakistan looked after them. Now you think Sonia Gandhi can run the country. Where is the money? We want accountabilty. We want to know where have the trillions of dollars from India disappeared? Honestly we need a leader not somebody who is no help at all!


  • Hameed
    Aug 24, 2011 - 10:09AM

    @ Frank – brilliant responses!


  • SharifL
    Aug 24, 2011 - 10:35AM

    @Dr Priyanka:
    In a democracy, people elect leaders and if Rahul gets a mandate and the party selects him as the next leader, which seems more than likely, how can you say ‘We Indians’ In a democracy not everybody is supposed to sing the same song, so if you do not like this or that person, you should not include all Indians as a voice. By the way, I did not say that I support him, although I would prefer any secular leader to the likes of Advani or Mody.


  • Abhi
    Aug 24, 2011 - 11:02PM

    you are the only hope for Rahul :)


  • G. Din
    Aug 25, 2011 - 12:39AM

    “although I would prefer any secular leader to the likes of Advani or Mody”
    Your preference is your business! However, your impugning Mody is not secular would show that your definition of “secular” is rather peculiar and may not be acceptable to all people of Gujrat who returned him to power in every election he sought their vote! On the flip side, you may term all of them non-secular or rabid communalists.


  • Isupzai
    Oct 13, 2011 - 3:37AM

    Fellow Indians, because of Bacha Khan (Frontier Gandhi) the then Frontier Province (now Pakhtunkhwa) was the only Congress Party controlled state within non-partitioned India; we did not want partition, but as Bacha Khan stated in his famous remark “we were thrown to the wolves”. From then on we are an oppressed peoples in our country. Half the province still is run by the British law of Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) – where if you cant find Gunga Din then you capture Gunga’s son or daughter or father or mother for the alleged crime by Gunga.
    We thank India that it recognized Bacha Khan with the Bharat Ratna. India is great because there are great Indians. Pakistan wants to be great without great Pakistani’s.
    They dont understand that it is the people that make the country, value your people.
    The Pashtuns have the same aspirations and desires as the rest of the world, a decent meal a decent job, safety, education for the kids.
    A Governments primary job is to protect its citizens from harm from outsiders. Pakistan’s successive governments have failed miserably in performing this duty.


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