First, a little digression to respond to a rather long comment on the web version of my previous column from my friend Dr Kamran Asdar Ali.
Mohammad Hasan Askari used to write a regular column “Jhalkian” in the Urdu monthly Saqi, published originally from Delhi and later, after Partition, from Karachi, under the editorship of Shahid Ahmad Dehlavi. These columns were collected in two volumes; the latter volume was titled Takhleeqi Amal aur Usloob. In this book, one may find Askari’s columns belonging to the second phase, justifying and supporting the promulgation of the Public Safety Act Ordinance (1948) and praising the adoption of the Objectives Resolution (1949). He even wrote a longish piece in support of the notoriously high-handed Qayyum Khan ministry in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (then called NWFP) imposed on the province after the elected provincial government led by the Congress and headed by Abdul Jabbar Khan (publicly known as Dr Khan Sahib) was dismissed on August 22, 1947 by the provincial governor on the advice of the first governor general of Pakistan.
Furthermore, Askari wholeheartedly supported the 1947-48 war between Pakistan and India as “Jihad-e Kashmir”. He even recommended that those who thought it was not a Jihad should be stopped from saying so for a period of 50 years, when, in his opinion, the Pakistani state would have become stable (mustahkam) enough to allow dissent. Later, in a letter addressed to Mohammad Tufail, editor of Nuqoosh, Lahore, he even termed the 1965 war a “Jihad”.
A correction is also in order. The short-lived journal jointly edited by Manto and Askari was called Urdu Adab, and not Pakistani Adab as Dr Asdar Ali has mentioned. Whatever else he has written in his comment is not relevant to the point I have tried to make.
Which is as follows. Askari’s case illuminates the fact that the kind of politics that reigned supreme in the newly-created state was deeply connected to the ‘national’ narrative about Partition and the heinous riots and ethnic cleansing that accompanied it. Upholding this kind of politics required one to accept without question that official line. It was adopted by the powerful ruling classes as the state policy and was gradually developed and refined by intellectuals like Askari and many others as the ‘national’ myth.
We are all too familiar with this neat narrative as it is fed to our youth through textbooks and other reading material and promoted by numerous ‘patriotic’ publications all the time. Put briefly, it states (i) that Partition was the result of a mass struggle (although in fact it wasn’t), (ii) that ‘lakhs’ of Muslims sacrificed their lives, honour (‘sacrificing honour’ being a euphemism for the incidents of rape) and property in the struggle (that ‘lakhs’ of Hindus and Sikhs too suffered the same fate is not mentioned at all), and (iii) since the ‘enemy’ is bent upon destroying ‘us Muslims’, our state is facing a constant, unending threat to its security, hence the need to prepare for Jihad.
This is the phenomenon that Dubravka Ugreši, the renowned and justifiably controversial Croatian writer from the — bloodied, partitioned and cleansed — former Yugoslavia, calls “the culture of lies” in which we get accustomed to believing as truth the lie created and promoted by the group we identify with. About her ‘identity’, she writes: “A few years ago my homeland was confiscated, and, along with it my passport. In exchange I was given a new homeland, far smaller and less comfortable. They handed me a passport, a ‘symbol’ of my new identity. Thousands of people paid for those new ‘identity symbols’ with their lives, thousands were driven out of their homes, scattered, humiliated, deprived of their rights, imprisoned and impoverished. I possess very expensive identity documents. The fact often fills me with horror. And shame. My passport has not made me a Croat. On the contrary, I am far less that today than I was before.”
Now, coming back to Ishtiaq Ahmed’s detailed book on the Partition riots in Punjab, I wanted to make the above point to show why, in my view, a detailed, stubbornly objective work based on unbiased research and first-person accounts done by him could not be undertaken by a social scientist living and working in Pakistan. Which is not to say that there has not been valuable academic research on events leading up to Partition and those followed by it. Here, I must mention Imran Ali and Mohammad Waseem, to name only two. Dr Imran Ali’s pioneering work on the establishment of the canal colonies in West Punjab and Sikh migration from East Punjab during the first half of the 20th century, and Dr Waseem’s research on the Muslim migration from East Punjab at the time of Partition and their settlement in West Punjab provided me the historical background and foreground, respectively, against which to read and appreciate Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed’s work.
I intend to share with you in this space during the coming weeks my meagre reading on the subject of the Partition riots and the tentative conclusions I draw from it to show how Ishtiaq Ahmed’s book makes a very valuable addition to it. To my mind, a work dealing with such a sensitive, painful and multifaceted subject can be judged by an honest intention at the outset to not cover up a specific group’s share of crimes just because the writer happens to be from that group — powerful or otherwise. Before I go into details, I must say that I found his book an honest work from that personal standard.
(To be continued)
Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2012.