Cowasjee’s wise words

Published: November 29, 2012
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The writer is associate editor of South Asia Magazine and holds a BA in international relations from Boston University

The writer is associate editor of South Asia Magazine and holds a BA in international relations from Boston University

Pakistan’s bravest columnist could also very well be the country’s worst diplomat. While most would take that as an insult, Ardeshir Cowasjee was proud of it. Whether it was writing about land theft, environmental abuse, corruption or admonishing Pakistani society for having forgotten Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s secular ideals for a prosperous Pakistan, Cowasjee was ready to point fingers, take names and remain unapologetic about it.

He remained a firm supporter of Jinnah and a strong proponent of his ideology. It is unfortunate that in his lifetime, he had to see his beloved country deteriorate and move farther away from Jinnah’s vision of a secular, progressive Pakistan. In his last column for Dawn, dated December 25, 2011, he wrote: “Now, old at 85, tired, and disillusioned with a country that just cannot pull itself together in any way and get on with life in this day and age, I have decided to call it a day.”

His words are a testament to our collective failure. We need to fight harder and speak louder if we desire a pluralistic and tolerant Pakistan where no girl will be shot for wanting to go to school and no Christian child will be wrongly sentenced to death. If our generation leaves behind a Pakistan as we see it now, then we’ve learnt nothing from history and men like Jinnah and Cowasjee will have died in vain. That should be enough to put us to shame.

I met Cowasjee almost a year ago at an event to honour him and his writings. I stood patiently as men pushed and shoved to get closer to a man, who in his trademark style, refused to shake hands with half of them. As the only girl in the crowd, I must have stood out because he smiled and beckoned me to sit next to him. He asked if I wanted to hear a secret. I said yes. “I was sitting on stage while they were talking about me and I fell asleep! What did they say? These saalas talk so much… I just dozed off!” We laughed and I promised to keep that our little secret. As I briefly narrated what had been said, he mocked himself and shook his head, “I’m so overrated… how did you stay awake?”Amazed by his humility, I smiled and respectfully disagreed.

He must have sensed I was nervous but that didn’t stop him from demanding an explanation as to why I decided to return to Pakistan. Taken aback, I incoherently mumbled something to the extent of it being my country and an ambiguous desire to change it. I had hope that my generation, with an increasingly global mindset, would fix Pakistan from the bottom-up and transform it into a country at peace with its multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature. He reminded me that Jinnah had envisioned a secular, modern Muslim state that had all been but lost. Politicians exploited Jinnah for their own purposes but not a single one could pay his true vision any justice. As I shook Cowasjee’s hand one last time, I received some precious advice, “We are surrounded by chariyas who will never do anything. I have not seen anyone reclaim Jinnah’s Pakistan in my lifetime. But maybe your generation will. Don’t ever give up on this hope, you hold so dear.”

Cowasjee’s words continue to inspire me, and they will keep on inspiring me, and hopefully others like me.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (44)

  • BlackJack
    Nov 29, 2012 - 10:22PM

    Jinnah is a cross that liberal Pakistanis must bear; given the glaring absence of leadership in the last 60 years of Pakistan, without portraying at least Jinnah as secular, moderate, enlightened and scores of other adjectives that have no basis in truth, how would they justify their existence and beliefs – they would just be a bunch of confused people born in the wrong country.

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  • RIPCowasjee
    Nov 29, 2012 - 10:29PM

    Well said young lady! Your generation of Pakistan will be the one that the rest of us are relying on. Most young people today are advocating for human rights and free speech and bringing new innovations and creative ideas to the table. It is heartening to see young people return to their country armed with strong desires to turn it into one that will find its place in an ever changing world. Citizen responsibility is crucial and numerous young people are now making their voices heard. Instead of a political tsunami, maybe your voices are the real harbingers of change. You will undoubtedly transform Pakistan and let’s hope that it is for the better. Very touching article!

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  • Parvez
    Nov 29, 2012 - 10:41PM

    By keeping the narrative simple and focused you have made this one of the nicest, out of many write ups, on the man.

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  • faraz
    Nov 29, 2012 - 10:44PM

    You should have asked how two nation theory based on religion and cleansing of non-Muslims population leads to secular vision of Pakistan and why didnt Jinnah utter the dreaded S word

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  • sabi
    Nov 29, 2012 - 10:47PM

    Ardeshir cowasjee has done his job very well and his jihad with pen will not go in vain.I first read cowasjee in eighties.His writings shook my head.I was shocked how a person could write against his own country his own people.I was in fact used to hear false stories of bravery,superiority,tyrany of giant india,Pakistan the best in asia,momin hae to be tegh bi larta hae spahi,He was negating every thing in his writings.Finaly he got succeded and broke my citadel of delusions.His logic was so powerfull pain so apparant and above all consistancy of thoughts made me realised that this man could not be a bigot.No he was truthfull and patriot Pakistani,a true son of soil.A hero for Pakistan.May his soul rest in peace.

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  • Always Learning
    Nov 29, 2012 - 11:10PM

    @ Blackjack, calm down and hold your baseless invectives, please. Better still redeem yourself by reading your comment again and feel embarrassed.

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  • gp65
    Nov 29, 2012 - 11:18PM

    @Author: A nice personal eulogy to a great man.
    @Sabi: your narration of how the man changed you is also touching.

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  • Zeeshan
    Nov 29, 2012 - 11:28PM

    @ Blackjack,

    I cannot read a single column in Tribune without you Indians contaminating it.

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  • Uqaab
    Nov 29, 2012 - 11:39PM

    Nicely written, to the point.

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  • gp65
    Nov 29, 2012 - 11:39PM

    @BlackJack: “how would they justify their existence and beliefs “

    Why do they need to justify their beliefs? Regardless of whether Jinnah was secular or not, they can still think that secularism is a good thing. In fact I have said this repeatedly – that independent of what the founders may have believed, Pakistanis need to answer the following questions to decide what kind of a nation they want to be
    – DO they want to live in a democracy/army rule/ Caliphate
    – Should the country be secular/theocracy
    – Should they have ther current constitution or be governed by Sharia?
    – Should government get into the business of determining what people’s faith is
    – Is sovereignty important? IF yes, how should breach of sovereignty be defined – is OBL who killed 3000 Americans living safely in Abbotabad a breach of sovereignty or is the action of Navy Seals killing him a breach? Is presence of foreign terrorists on the soil a breach of sovereignty or is the drone killing them a breach of sovereignty. Is taking aid a breach of sovereignty or being asked to deliver in lieu of the aid a breach of sovereignty?

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  • SM
    Nov 30, 2012 - 12:07AM

    With all due respect to the dearly departed, he was wrong in saying Jinnah wanted a secular Pakistan. Jinnah wanted a Muslim state based on Muslim law. Those who suggest otherwise do not know what Mr. Jinnah actually said.

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  • Falcon
    Nov 30, 2012 - 12:29AM

    @BlackJack:
    Aray bhai…can we hope for even one positive comment from you in a life time? If we Pakistanis and everything associated with us is so bad, we do you frequent this place so much?

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  • gp65
    Nov 30, 2012 - 12:31AM

    @Always Learning: The thing is tens of thousands of Pakistanis who believe that Pakistan should be an Islamic Republic would agree with BlackJack’s contention that Jinnah did not want a secular country. They would be able to come up with dozens of speeches to support their contention as against the solitary 11th August speech that people saying Jinnah wanted a secular Pakistan can point to. Since there is no way to determine what he really wanted – it really is upto Pakistanis today to decide what you want instead of endlessly arguing about what Jinnah wanted.

    And why are you upset with what BlackJack said when that is something that so many Pakistanis also believe about Jinnah (that he was not secular). Focus on what is being said rather than who is saying it.

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  • Falcon
    Nov 30, 2012 - 12:31AM

    @author…I simply loved the stage joke about him sleeping through his praise. Good writing. And one last thing, thanks for coming back to serve your country.

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  • Tribal Manto
    Nov 30, 2012 - 1:51AM

    I feel proud of myself to be a part of 3rd generation while knowing and have read the work of someone from 1st generation, the likes of Ardersher Cowasjee. Rest in Peace Cowasjee. May the posterity fulfill your dream.

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  • S.R.H. Hashmi
    Nov 30, 2012 - 7:20AM

    Being described as the country’s worst diplomat, was a matter of pride not only for Ardeshir Cowasjee but also for most of his readers. Anything even slightly less blunt would not have penetrated the thick skins of the people his messages were directed at.

    However, even this fighter with an indomitable spirit finally had to thow in the towel saying “Now, old at 85, tired, and disillusioned with a country that just cannot pull itself together in any way and get on with life in this day and age, I have decided to call it a day.”

    No wonder the gang is having a field day now, and a rather long day for that matter.

    Rest in peace, Cowasjee, while we endeavour to remain in one piece.

    Karachi

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  • Muhammad Omar Iftikhar
    Nov 30, 2012 - 9:50AM

    Cowasjee was a man par excellence. His thoughts reached beyond the horizon of the ordinary human and he always compelled us to think about our society from a different perspective. He never felt ashamed to pen what was the truth and that is what made him a great writer. He provoked our thoughts by pointing out the rudeness our society showed towards rules and authority. His columns published in Daily Dawn must be read by all, because in those words lies inspiration for us to realize the drawbacks of this system. Cowasjee was more than an intellect. He was a man, who always told the truth. Period.

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  • Nov 30, 2012 - 10:51AM

    You speak of tolerance and truth. But, gloss over events like Direct Action day(which he called during the month of Ramzan) and quotes by Jinnah which invoke the Quran and which talk about Islam. You talk about non-violence but forget that Jinnah was directly opposed to the Apostle of Peace – Gandhi and his protege Nehru.

    When you cant admit the truth to yourself, how can you expect others to do the same?

    http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/the-legacy-of-gandhi-nehru-vs-legacy-of-jinnah/

    As @BlackJack points out, you are clutching at straws. You have one quote of Jinnah which calls indicates it is for secularism, the Right-Wingers have many which talk of Quran and Islam, while talking about Pakistan.

    I can quote some for you, if you need.

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  • F
    Nov 30, 2012 - 10:52AM

    Today is his day. Peace to his family and soul. He believed in a Pakistan that refused to be and hopefully will be. In between we wish him and his family our condolences.

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  • BlackJack
    Nov 30, 2012 - 10:53AM

    @Always Learning:
    Thank you. You are correct – I did re-read my comment and agree that it may not have been worded optimally. I would prefer to start it off with the word ‘Defending…’ and then continuing with the rest of it unchanged, since it is not Jinnah who is the cross that is borne by Pak liberals, but his defence.
    @gp65:
    I would assume that your question is a rhetorical one, since most of your post has no connection with my current one. However, in the off-chance that it is not, may I suggest that this question is better posed to all those well-meaning Pakistanis who cannot but bring up Jinnah to buttress their argument for a secular Pakistan, present op-ed included – as these are the people described in my comment.
    @Falcon:
    Sorry to disappoint you my friend.

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  • gp65
    Nov 30, 2012 - 11:10AM

    @BlackJack:
    “@gp65:
    I would assume that your question is a rhetorical one, since most of your post has no connection with my current one. ”
    The first part was addressed to you.
    Specifically you said: ““how would they justify their existence and beliefs “
    And my response was “Why do they need to justify their beliefs? Regardless of whether Jinnah was secular or not, they can still think that secularism is a good thing”

    The rest of the post was my general opinion that I have expressed about the questions that would have to be answered by Pakistanis sooner rather or later and was not directed to any individual.

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  • Jat
    Nov 30, 2012 - 2:20PM

    @gp65: …that independent of what the founders may have believed, Pakistanis need to answer the following questions to decide what kind of a nation they want to be…

    After Pakistanis have the answers, what then ? You think the group up there will listen and let people of Pakistan implement those decisions ? These are all theoretical musings with no practical outcome.

    The young lady, the author of this wonderful piece, might well have saved on airfare and stayed on where she was. The decision makers know they know everything, and they are not seeking suggestions. As long as they can, they will continue doing what they have been doing.

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  • fawadrehan
    Nov 30, 2012 - 4:00PM

    @ SM: Dude it seems you haven’t read anything about Jinnah that’s why you are miles away in knowing the great man. I suggest you first go and read about him from neutral sources, and then give your expert opinion. From what I have read, Mr. Jinnah was a champion of hindu-muslim unity, a national leader who never wanted to divide the subcontinent until it was decided that Brits are leaving, and minority muslims will be left at the mercy of the majority hindus. He never believed in bringing religion into politics instead had disliked Gandhi for doing it. His sole motive behind Pak movement was to safeguard the interests of the muslims of subcontinent, but he never wanted Islam to be the religion of the state. He wanted a democratic, pluralistic society where the state shall not indulge in the private matters of its citizens, like religion. The irony of our generation is that we have stopped exploring the personality of our great leader. I suggest the youth of Pakistan to start reading more about the man, we owe it to him. This is exactly what Cowasjee also suggested in his articles.

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  • fawadrehan
    Nov 30, 2012 - 4:08PM

    @ SM: Dude it seems you haven’t read anything about Jinnah that’s why you are miles away in knowing the great man. I suggest you first go and read about him from neutral sources, and then give your expert opinion. From what I have read, Mr. Jinnah was a champion of hindu-muslim unity, a national leader who never wanted to divide the subcontinent until it was decided that Brits are leaving, and minority muslims will be left at the mercy of the majority hindus. He never believed in bringing religion into politics instead had disliked Gandhi for doing it. His sole motive behind Pak movement was to safeguard the interests of the muslims of subcontinent, but he never wanted Islam to be the religion of the state. He wanted a democratic, pluralistic society where the state shall not indulge in the private matters of its citizens, like religion. Its sad to see our generation not knowing anything about our leader. I suggest the youth of Pakistan to start reading more about the man, we owe it to him. This is exactly what Cowasjee also suggested in his articles.

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  • Azam Bilal Habib
    Nov 30, 2012 - 4:43PM

    If the interpretation of Late A.S. Cowasjee is right then I think Mr. Jinnah is the biggest idiot of all times. If Pakistan is to be a secular country with no state religion then why we sacrificed over 10 million lives by seceding from India which is also secular.
    The fact is that Pakistan was marketed and created on the idea of Islamic statehood by M.A. Jinnah and not on secular thoughts Whether he was sincere on delivering his promise or whether he realized the ramifications of his actions is although food for scholars is nonetheless a key to make the country a success.

    My family was actively involved in politics for the independence of India and Pakistan from both ML and ICP with my Grandfather’s cousin Chaudhary Khaliq uz Zaman who presented the Pakistan resolution and my Grandfather working for Congress. My father decided to come to Pakistan after studying in Oxford while my uncle decided to stay in India. Pakistan is an ideological state but we failed to embrace the whole idea. There are only two countries which were founded on basis of religion i.e. Pakistan & Israel. While Israel accepts every Jew as a citizen we tend to tie ourselves with four provinces even looking with skepticism the people who left their homeland based the very ideology which was the foundation of Pakistan.

    Having said that we need to realize that Muslims have been in a rot for atleast 500 years and it will take time for them to compete intellectually and technologically with competing systems. Although war may be one of the answers but it should not be the only answer.

    We are living in interesting times and we have to either show the world that we are capable of leading the country and perhaps the world with our alternate system or accept defeat and join the alternate system. You cannot join two alternate systems without either creating a new system or eliminating one of the system.

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  • Azam Bilal Habib
    Nov 30, 2012 - 4:57PM

    If the interpretation of Late A.S. Cowasjee is right then I think Mr. Jinnah is the biggest idiot of all times. If Pakistan is to be a secular country with no state religion then why we sacrificed over 10 million lives by seceding from India which is also secular. The fact is that Pakistan was marketed and created on the idea of Islamic statehood by M.A. Jinnah and not on secular thoughts .Whether he was sincere on delivering his promise or whether he realized the ramifications of his actions is although food for scholars is nonetheless a key to make the country a success.
    My family was actively involved in politics for the independence of India and Pakistan by working either for All-India Muslim League or Indian National Congress with my Grandfather’s cousin Chaudhary Khaliq uz Zaman who presented the Pakistan resolution and my Grandfather and Maternal Great Grandfather working for Congress. My father decided to come to Pakistan after studying in Oxford while my uncle decided to stay in India.
    Pakistan is an ideological state but we failed to embrace the whole idea. There are only two countries which were founded on basis of religion i.e. Pakistan & Israel. While Israel accepts every Jew as a citizen we tend to tie ourselves with four provinces even looking with skepticism the people who left their homeland based the very ideology which was the foundation of Pakistan.
    Having said that we need to realize that Muslims have been in a rot for atleast 500 years and it will take time for them to compete intellectually and technologically with competing systems. Although war may be one of the answers but it should not be the only answer.
    We are living in interesting times and we have to either show the world that we are capable of leading the country and perhaps the world with our alternate system or accept defeat and join the alternate system. You cannot join two alternate systems without either creating a new system or eliminating one of the system.

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  • Arthur Zobo
    Nov 30, 2012 - 5:31PM

    @Blackjack. I don’t want to add a suffix to this name but probably you deserve it!You never give up,do you?Negativity is sometimes genetically transmitted;in your case I find this extremely true.Jinnah was a secular,liberal politician and his vision of Pakistan would have materialized had not some morons like you not thrown in your lot against this country.You are the reason that we liberals in Pakistan find it difficult to sell our “cutting across the Divide’ philosophy.I suggest you concentrate on the message in future rather than ridiculing the Messenger.

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  • Arthur Zobo
    Nov 30, 2012 - 5:50PM

    @Blackjack. I don;t want to add a suffix to your title but I guess you deserve one!They say some are genetically negative about whatever they touch in life.You seem to prove that point.Will you for sanity’s sake stop shooting at the messenger and instead concentrate on the message.I now know that its because of morons like you across the Divide that Liberals in Pakistan are at the receiving end when we talk about harmonious living!

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  • ahmed41
    Nov 30, 2012 - 6:16PM

    “—– I have not seen anyone reclaim Jinnah’s Pakistan in my lifetime. But maybe your generation will. Don’t ever give up on this hope, you hold so dear.”

    Cowasjee’s words continue to inspire me, and they will keep on inspiring me, and hopefully others like me.—-“

    Alright Mr. Cowasjee provided the 1 % inspiration ~~~~~~now go ahead with the 99% perspiration.

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  • Hella1
    Nov 30, 2012 - 6:54PM

    With respect to Mr. Ardeshir Cowasjee and the writer’s opinions, it no longer matters what Jinnah wanted. What matters is what the majority group in Pakistan wants or alternately what the strongest group in Pakistan wants. It seems that the so called liberal, secular etc. etc. group does not belong to either group. So all that is left to do is to invoke Jinnah’s name (which does carry a lot of weight in Pakistan), along with his 11th August speech. Unfortunately for the likes of Mr. Cowasjee and the author, the opposite group can quote a larger no. of Jinnah’s speeches and interpret them as being in favour of an Islamic state. Liberals, secularists etc. need to rework their arguments (if it can be done) or become stronger (with the use of physical force) then other groups to win this war. Otherwise throw in the towel, as Mr. Cowasjee did towards the end of his life. No disrespect to him. He did his best, but the contradictions (including his own beliefs about Jinnah) were too many to resolve.

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  • BlackJack
    Nov 30, 2012 - 7:46PM

    @Azam Bilal Habib:
    You make an interesting point, and I agree with you in the most part. I read another very interesting comment on Dawn the other day, where one individual commented that Jinnah was a brilliant lawyer and was adept at arguing cases and winning them even when they did not match his personal convictions. This (to me) seems to be very close to the truth, and could explain the dichotomy that Jinnah’s legacy presents to Pakistanis on either side of the secular divide – whether to follow the man (whose liberal credentials had no role to play in the Pakistan movement) or his message (which was the practical application of the 2-nation theory – nothing more, nothing less).

    @Arthur Zobo:
    Jinnah was a secular,liberal politician and his vision of Pakistan would have materialized had not some morons like you not thrown in your lot against this country.
    Thank you for helping to prove my point, albeit with a rather confusing argument.

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  • mehdi
    Nov 30, 2012 - 7:47PM

    well said!Recommend

  • gp65
    Nov 30, 2012 - 7:53PM

    @fawadrehan: Everything you wrote about Jinnah is true until 1930. At that time, he was not wanting a separate state for Pakistan. People change and he did too. When many people refer to Jinnah’s vision for an Islamic state they are talking about his speeches and actions during the Pakistan movement from 1940 onwards.
    Regards

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  • gp65
    Nov 30, 2012 - 10:19PM

    @Jat: “After Pakistanis have the answers, what then ? You think the group up there will listen and let people of Pakistan implement those decisions ? These are all theoretical musings with no practical outcome”.

    Some observations:
    1. Once people decide what kind of a nation they want to live in, it may very well be that they may not require many changes. They may want to live in an Islamic democracy where sovereignty continues to be defined in a way that it currently is (drones violate sovereignty, navy seals killing OBL violate sovereignty).
    2. If however people feel that the outcomes that came from the current set of choices are not ones that they want and they want to change some or all parameters, there is no reason that their future should remain anchored to the past. If the Pakistani people summon the will to change, I am sure they would have the capacity to implement that also. They showed that in 2007 movement to support free judiciary.

    I am not a Pakistani and ofcourse do not have any locus standii to pass judgment in terms of what the people should choose but as an observer I wanted to note that the questions will have to be answered clearly at some point for that is necessary to have a cohesive national identity. Also the destiny of any country is not pre-ordained or a fait accompli. If they want to choose a different path, I have no doubt that the Pakistani people can make it happen. What appears lacking at the moment is not the capacity but the will to even have this conversation.

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  • Kaalchakra
    Nov 30, 2012 - 10:48PM

    AB Habib, you open up the possibility that in conceptualizing Pakistan, Jinnah may have been the ‘biggest idiot of all time”. This is quite insulting, given that he was by far the smartest person in the Muslim League.

    Please take your words back.

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  • Jat
    Nov 30, 2012 - 11:04PM

    @gp65: What appears lacking at the moment is not the capacity but the will to even have this conversation.

    They have been conditioned by the powers-that-be to live inside an ideological straitjacket. That effects both their capacity as well as their will. A sad position to be in.

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  • Syed Rizvi
    Nov 30, 2012 - 11:10PM

    Excellent work Arasla.

    Cowasjee, an icon of secularism and progressive ideals passed the baton to you. It is no coincidence that he spotted you out of the crowd. Yes, it will be yours generation that will fulfill Jinnah’s dream.

    Keep up with the good work

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  • Jat
    Nov 30, 2012 - 11:28PM

    @Kaalchakra: :) touche`

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  • Syed Rizvi
    Dec 1, 2012 - 1:31AM

    @S.R.H. Hashmi:

    I share the sentiments of the writer. I wish I was as eloquent in expressing them.

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  • Syed Rizvi
    Dec 1, 2012 - 1:39AM

    @S.R.H. Hashmi:

    I share the setiments ,I wish I were as eloquent in expressing them.

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  • Dec 1, 2012 - 8:03PM

    Good tribute, I’m sure Mr Cowasjee would love it if he could read. However, you did a good job.

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  • Aitzaz Ahsan
    Dec 2, 2012 - 7:27AM

    very well written,nice Article

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  • Aitzaz Ahsan
    Dec 2, 2012 - 7:28AM

    very well written Article

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  • fawadrehan
    Dec 3, 2012 - 1:02PM

    @ gp65: Thanks for correcting me. I must admit that you are so correct about his change of direction especially from 1940. While reading about the great man, I came across Jaswant Singh’s book which also highlights your point. He wrote in his book that during that period, Jinnah actually followed the path of Gandhi, which was to use religion in politics, something he out-rightly rejected initially. He blames hawks of Congress for turning this true nationalist person into a separatist. A must read for all history lovers.

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