Nek Muhammad was ours to try, Malala ours to save

Easier countries can endure lack of consensus; in Pakistan it means certain types of deaths resonate more than others.

Asad Rahim Khan July 01, 2013
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

Nearly everything Christopher Hitchens wrote was wrong. A British journalist who prided himself for going against the grain, Mr Hitchens was skilled at hating what people loved most — Lady Diana, Mother Teresa, and for much of the end of his life, God. But Hitchens wasn’t a contrarian as much as he was a con. While at Oxford, “Chris” would print socialist pamphlets by day and drink champagne at dinner parties by night. If Marx was right about a class war, Hitchens would be its finest double agent. Preferring self-advancement to scrupulousness, “the Hitch” left behind a trail of disappointed friends and discarded causes.

Towards middle age, this “man of the left” fell in love with the idea of empires more relevant, seeking citizenship in America. 9/11 pushed Hitch further to the right, from where he gifted the expression “fascism with an Islamic face” to the English language. Deserting his liberal comrades, he finally embraced the most red-meat cause of them all: war in Iraq. Taking trips to Baghdad with Bush ghoul Paul Wolfowitz and tut-tutting the horrors of Abu Ghraib, Hitchens became one of neoconservatism’s more scholarly enablers — impressive considering just how stupid neoconservatism is.

So it is to the Hitch we turn, one of the world’s louder voices towards the end of his life, to understand the kind of rep Pakistan has begun getting. In an essay penned after the humiliating Abbottabad raid, Hitchens took a sledgehammer to all things white and green. Calling Pakistan a wretched state, a “Walmart of fissile material” and, for the US, both the mercenary and the sycophant, Hitchens’s bile flowed free. “If Pakistan were a person,” he wrote, “he would have to be completely humourless, paranoid, and insecure, while suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred.”

One might agree only with that last quality. A caveat first: with his big words, dull tones and public schoolboy manner, Hitchens was a gifted takedown artist for whichever master he served at the time (both the mercenary and the sycophant, as someone would say). Now the latest cheerleader for the Crusade against “Moslem Terror”, Hitchens pulled no punches with Pakistan. But the problem lies in greater part with us: we’re making the job for Pakistan’s critics far too easy, not least when we’re doing it for them.

In case you missed it, Pakistani society is fracturing. At a time when tens of thousands of lives have been lost to the most serious existential threat we’ve ever seen from within, civilised societies are buying ideas men like Christopher Hitchens are selling from without. It’s the worst of both worlds Pakistan-style, all the casualties and no memorials. Abroad, the Pakistan-as-wretched-state narrative sells hard not because the alternative narrative is less convincing — but because there is no alternative narrative on offer. Our policymakers have no idea what Pakistan’s role in the world should be. This nuclear power can’t even boast a foreign minister — two viziers instead jostle for anything but.

At home, society splits across lines of race, class and sect, with militants abusing aspects of all three. With drone attacks that murder our children, and bomb blasts that blow up flesh-and-blood human beings and bricks-and-mortar residencies, anything that reminds us of federation, of being whole, is being torn apart. But we would rather hate one another first. As right-wing reactionaries rail against “liberal fascists”, easily the stupidest term to have ever made it into our lexicon, liberal elites will giggle over the bad English of the urban middle classes. Easier countries can endure lack of consensus; in Pakistan, it means certain types of Pakistani deaths resonate in one’s heart more than others.

We learnt last year that a 14-year-old girl could merit assassination. But we also learnt nine years ago that the very first drone fired into Pakistan murdered children — two of them. Nek Muhammad was ours to try, Malala was ours to save. By conflating these two wholly separate issues, we ended up doing neither. That factory fire in Karachi? We had ourselves a debate pitting labour law reform against the joys of deregulation, and went back to sleep.

Unfortunately, you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to know Shakil Afridi committed treason, or that Raymond Davis committed murder. You don’t have to be a ghairat brigadier to know that drone strikes are destroying our soul; or a liberal fascist to know our own defenders are complicit. You’re not a separatist for knowing the state is hurting the Baloch people, you’re not the establishment for knowing that terrorists are killing non-Baloch settlers. You don’t have to be Faisal Raza Abdi to know the system acquits monsters, you don’t have to be our superior courts to know vani is part of the feudal disease. You’re not a Barelvi for knowing these militants will bleed and bleed Pakistan regardless of “external powers”, and you’re not a Deobandi for knowing America’s war in Afghanistan has rendered our own country unrecognisable. It’s time we build a united narrative.

When Germany’s Willy Brandt dropped to his knees before the monument of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, where 300,000 Poles had been slaughtered by the Nazis, it became a symbol that shook Poland and overwhelmed younger Germans. Brandt’s testament was wordless — to the tragedy of war, to the evil of genocide, to crimes of pain and cruelty that language couldn’t atone for. In 1970, Brandt showed that it was worth trying to close even the chasms world wars left behind. That first step towards Germany reuniting, that first crack in the Berlin Wall, was Germany’s chancellor attempting redemption. Pakistan needs coming together too, but constant calls for reform will only work if there’s agreement on what needs reforming.

More than any other country, Pakistan has to heal. Reaching across the aisle and helping each other up would make for a start. We saw consensus in the streets after Quetta’s heartbreaking bloodshed earlier this year. It is with a heart still broken that one says, after yesterday, we will need it again.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd,  2013.

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Lala Gee | 9 years ago | Reply


"I was only wondering at the nature of League leadership that did not care for the pathetically poor, illiterate Muslim masses & walked off instead of staying back & struggling."

"Yes, I did say that those that couldn’t accept idea of living together, left. I was not questioning their right, I was wondering whether they were right."

1- This is my final post on the subject here. I'd like to thank you and reiterate my respect and admiration for you for the reasons I had already mentioned, in another article, and you know that.

2- As I know, Indian Muslim League is still active in some provinces of India, and I just wonder why 150+ million Indian Muslims cannot come together to raise their own leadership to defend their rights, instead of feeling betrayed by those in whose leadership and judgement they didn't believe in.

3- Secularism was more out the "pragmatic" necessity, than choice, of Indian leaders given the country's diversity and social, political, and religious conflicts prevalent just after independence. Now that need has greatly diminished after managing and consolidating geopolitical control over the Territory through decades long consistent conscious efforts using every available means, and further by gaining some clout on the international arena, as reflected by the momentum and rise in popularity of Hindutava - search original philosophy - parties pushing them from marginalized to national levels.

4- It will further take another 20--25 years to clear things up, and only then we will be in a position to judge whether that decision of Muslim League was right or wrong. I sincerely hope that we are proved wrong; not measured by our failures, as you say; but then what was the need to reject Muslim League's demands in the first place. They were not asking anything, but a guarantee of equal rights for Muslims of the sub-continent, and nothing more than what was later guaranteed, though only on paper, to the state of Jammy & Kashmir.

Regards, and good night.

Rakib | 9 years ago | Reply

@Lala Gee:You are seriously recommending Wikipedia to me to know history of my own land! (What happened to good old book shelf I wonder! Not even Aitzaz Ahsan's Indus Saga? Or the oeuvre of Prof.KK Aziz dealing with events that led to Partition?) With due respects, IMHO, once you outsource thinking to such a source like Wiki it leads to atrophy of imagination. You are using a western idiom of a Nation-State to describe what you call "7000 years" old subcontinent. India is not 2-nations; may be 20 nations depending on definitions used & so what's new? Necessity caused by TNT to augment its basic argument apart, I wish one thinks beyond the ready made boxes provided by part-time historians like Churchill who was loath to call India anything different from Africa. A Muslim after all should be the first one to question the western concept of Nation-State, arbitrary Boundaries under war treaties or Nationalism itself & should be capable of some independent thought.

Besides,I did not claim here anything about Political Unity of India, past or present. That's not the only form of unity anyway but Western writers brought up on European examples may not realise that. I was not discussing "political/military history" of India either. I was merely describing feelings of simple, devote Hindus (75% of India was rural back then) just as I spoke of Muslims,and that too only as per my lights. What makes a Hindu "tick" is not written in any pedia. Which 'Pedia can really list out subjective impressions, those indescribable feelings, those elusive sentiments & gossamer strands that bind groups together including Muslims Worldwide, despite their differences? Can't draw a political map to describe the living, breathing entity that many Hindus consider India to be & their ties of love. I will have to write an essay to explain all that! Personally I am devoid of any excessively religious or maudlin emotions but I value those of my H & M compatriots that no cartographer can do justice to.

I do not consider creation of BD by itself a point against 2-Nation Theory. It is probably a point in favour of 20-Nation Theory! Joining or not joining Indian Union was not even an issue back then. What Lord Curzon had divided could never be put together really again. My comment was based on the consideration that once one pleads that it is not possible to live with The Other, it may become a habit to jettison or move away from some others too on some other flimsy issue. Then it is a Domino effect. IMHO, there is the element of self-fulfilling prophecies in the affairs of nations too. I wouldn't wish any country to be in a situation where "...The falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;.." (WB Yates)

Thank you for a wonderful conversation. My gratitude to ET for kindness.

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