Guest Post by Fawzia Naqvi
For the first time Pakistan’s elected President has completed his full five-year term and has willingly stepped down to transfer power to another elected President, a herculean achievement for a country with chronic dictatoritus. The people of Pakistan must be congratulated for ensuring that democracy becomes an enduring grace and not just a good idea in some unforeseeable future. So while there is earsplitting cacophony of debate and disagreement on virtually all issues, there is near unanimous political consensus that the army should remain in the barracks and that there should be peace with India. The time is now. And Pakistanis have accomplished this in an era when Pakistan is suffering its worst hellish nightmare of daily bombings and killings by terrorists, and a loss of over 40,000 of its own citizens in the last decade or so. Pakistan teeters on the precipice of a very dark abyss, and has been inching ever closer to this dangerous edge for the last 34 years if not more. The first disturbing sign which I can remember was when the state institutionalized bigotry by officially declaring the Ahmadi community non-Muslim in 1974, opening up a hornets nest of discrimination, violence and unequal citizenship. A tragic disaster, and fatal capitulation to right wing elements, by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. No one is really safe in today’s Pakistan but clearly those less safe, those hunted and killed are the Shias, the Christians, the Ahmadis and the Hindus. Those doing the killings have given insidiousness to the meaning of “the land of the pure.”
I am remembering the year 1979 as I rummage through a stack of old and now expired Pakistani passports, shoved inside the drawer of my bedside table. At the bottom of the pile are two passports stapled together back to back. And there it is, my very first passport issued in Lahore on April 17, 1978 and renewed in Manila in 1983. The second passport is issued in New York in 1988. The 1978 passport has my very first Indian visa, dated April 19, 1979, the date written out by hand and signed by Mr. Rajinder Dutt, First Secretary Embassy of India, Islamabad. It is a three months single entry for a child with entry/exit at Attari, valid for a 7 days visit to New Delhi. There is also my very first “no objection” stamp from the Pakistanis, giving me permission for a single visit to India. The no objection is valid for one year. My very first stamp at Attari is dated April 25, 1979 when I walked to India and then a stamp at Wagha dated April 30th, 1979 when I walked back to Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first and only elected Prime Minister had been hanged on April 4th, 1979. General Zia ul-Haq and the Pakistan military were firmly in control and preoccupied with the purification of Pakistan, rooting out any perceived impurities still lurking around. My two passports stapled back to back tell a tale about Pakistan and how we got to where we are in that country.
The cover of my passport says “Pakistan Passport” in both English and Urdu. Inside there is the passport number, my full name, the name of my father, my profession, the place of my birth, my height, visible distinguishing marks and finally my national status as Citizen of Pakistan. Let us flip over to the passport issued to me ten years later in 1988 in New York. The cover now says Islamic Republic of Pakistan in both English and Urdu and additionally it says Passport in Urdu, then “Jawaaz al-Safar” in Arabic and then Passport in English. The sudden appearance of Arabic on Pakistani passports also harkened to the large exodus of Pakistani labor to the Middle East, a majority being given employment in Saudi Arabia. Everything else inside my passport is the same except for one addition a religion line has been added.
In 1984 General Zia inserted into the constitution that all Pakistani parliamentarians must take an oath declaring Ahmadis Non-Muslim and all citizens must attest to that when applying for a passport. There are many brave Pakistanis today refusing to sign this odious form sanctioning hate and violence against Ahmadis. General Zia insured that Pakistan became an extraordinary anomaly in many disturbing and now devastating ways. The very act of proving citizenship now required committing oneself to egregious discrimination and violence against citizens of our own homeland. I recall a move by the All Pakistan Sipah-e-Sahaba (ASS)to encourage the newly labeled Majlis-e Shura, formerly called the Parliament, to propose that Shias wear markings which identified them as “Kafirs.” This deadly nexus between sectarian groups and some influential politicians dates far back to the era of General Zia Ul Haq, the self-anointed chief warrior of Islam. It was perhaps a step too far for most Pakistanis as well as neighbors such as Iran, which saved Pakistan’s Shias from this fate. So for at least three decades the Sipah- e-Sahaba and its cousins Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has settled instead for killing Shias wherever they can find them.
General Zia ul-Haq who overthrew an elected government in 1977 had by 1988 successfully completed his mission to irrevocably mangle Pakistan, distort and pervert its constitution and its history, thereby setting the country on a spiraling race to the bottom, before he was eviscerated, literally when his plane blew up on August 17, 1988.
But by then it seemed Pakistan had been cleaved away from its South Asian moorings, much like the plot of Jose Saramago’s brilliant novel The Stone Raft where the Iberian Peninsula suddenly breaks off from the European continent and begins to drift like a stone raft. By 1979 Pakistan too appeared to have broken from the Indian Subcontinent drifting out to sea and seeking to attach itself to Arabia, Saudi Arabia to be precise. Thus began the rewriting of history and the re-formulation of language where our children were now taught that the first Pakistani was Mohammed Bin Qasim and the correct way to say goodbye was “Allah Hafiz.” The Persian words “Khuda Hafiz,” it seems would displease our patrons the Saudis and perhaps reminds us of our real origins, our heritage and geographic orientations. Pakistan State Television now had news in Arabic for a population who spoke Urdu, Pashto, Sindhi, Punjabi, Baluchi or English. No female anchor could appear on state TV without her head covered. Business suits for men virtually disappeared in the public sector. We were transforming South Asia’s Muslims into the right kind of Muslims, ones who had no resemblance to our forefathers and foremothers. Pakistan was being duly Islamized according to the toxic machinations of General Zia ul-Haq, who was bolstered with the full force of the military-intelligence establishment and its willing civilian collaborators. He had many foreign friends too, topping the list were the Saudis, the Americans, the British and then the usual suspects who even today comprise those coalitions of the willing. The Shia-Sunni fire was lit as Pakistan joined the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia in creating a Sunni bulwark around Iran while waging Jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The blow back upon Pakistan of the Afghan jihad was nothing short of catastrophic.
So many things palpably began to change in everyday life that it is almost impossible to recount them. The way Pakistanis spoke, the way they looked, the way they worked, the way they worshipped. The normal, the banal became a thing of shame, something to hide. It was like that horror movie, The Alien, one never knew inside whom the alien was breeding and would eventually come tearing out.
How many Pakistanis today can tell us where the word “India and Hindu” originate from or where in fact the original land called “India” is actually located? Those born around 1979 have no concept of a Pakistan other than Zia ul Haq’s Pakistan. Those who were complicit with the General are still around ensuring no one successfully reminds Pakistanis that another Pakistan existed and can still exist. And more critically needs to exist if the country is to survive. The very words of the country’s founder were subverted for decades lest there be resistance to the purification project. Speculations are rife today that Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech which emphasized a tolerant, pluralistic and secular Pakistan was suppressed from the get go by the purists. I pray that India finds this speech in its radio archives, since Pakistan claims the audio is lost forever, and broadcasts it for all of Pakistan to hear. There are still those alive who remember hearing the speech as it was being delivered by Jinnah, but they are now fewer and fewer and soon there will be no living memory of Jinnah’s vision for what Pakistan was meant to be.
An entire generation seems confused about who they are as a people. Pakistan is and always was an integral part of the Indian Subcontinent or South Asia and never part of the Middle East construct. I recall the 1974 Islamic Summit hosted by Bhutto in Lahore. We could sing the catchy theme song prepared so proudly for the summit and point out which leader stayed where. But in hindsight, perhaps a broken Pakistan sought friends and shared religion seemed a solace, as well as promises of cheap oil in an era when the oil embargo against the West forced energy prices to skyrocket. It turned out to be a very lethal bargain. One could glibly say that in 1971 India broke it and the Saudis bought it.