How To Recycle Pakistan

Sufism as a Counterweight to the rise of Extremism

Written By: Abdul Samad - May• 28•12


This paper will attempt to show how Sufism, or more specifically the mystical tradition in Sindh, can serve as a counter-weight to the rising specter of extremism and intolerance and strict Wahhabi interpretations of the religious texts, not only in Pakistan, which has suffered greatly (in the ongoing War on Terror) in the last decade, but also in the Muslim world, in the wake of the Arab Spring. The union of Hindu and Muslim traditions in Sindh has made the province more tolerant and harmonious, as is corroborated by substantially higher levels of suicide attacks and sectarian conflict in Punjab, Baluchistan and NWFP. The recent visit of the Pakistani President to a Sufi shrine in India has stirred up the debate, namely how Pakistan, blighted by extremism, should turn towards the more pacifying message espoused in Sufism. In an increasingly fractured world, Sufism provides hope for a better future.

The Rise of Radical Islam

Pakistan has been ravaged by the scourge of extremism. Ever since the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent War on Terror, 35,000 people-civilians, armed forces, police personal- have lost their lives in a conflict that feeds on hatred and injustice. Religious madrassas, over the past decade, have become a byword for religious extremism, as breeding grounds for suicide bombers. These rigid institutions(ironically the only schools for poor families), financed by Saudi Arabia, are designed to ensure conformity to the twisted brand of Islam that they vociferously endorse, one that not only enjoins the use of violence to counter the infidels but in the process also defiles a religion that advocates peace and tolerance. Pakistan, formed to protect the rights of the minority Muslim population of the subcontinent, has ironically treated its minorities-Hindus and Christians-abjectly. I contend that this attitude towards non-Muslims stems from the intolerance and bigotry fostered by orthodox religious institutions and the Wahahabi-Deobandi-Salafi nexus.

The rot (radical indoctrination) begins with the syllabus designed for students that, almost without fail, has references to conspiracy theories being concocted by the Hindus and the Jews. Graduates from madrassas emerge with hatred, resentment, and an intense desire for revenge.

General Zia, in an attempt to consolidate his political authority, began a process of Islamization in the Pakistani society that saw the emergence of radical Islam in the 1980s. Funded by Wahhabi elements and organized by the ISI and CIA, a dangerous conception of Jihad was born. This Jihad makes no distinction between innocent and guilty, between Muslims and non-Muslims (consider the plentitude of suicide bombings that targeted Muslim populations). The Sufi perspective on the Jihad (the real Jihad) is:

“Jihad, according to Sufi beliefs, is purging one’s mind of evils and fighting against them by controlling material desires”.

The inability of these institutions to foster a climate of debate and active engagement serves to explain the rigid outlook that is the culmination of such learning. Any deviance from an already prescribed path is met with stringent punishment, often leading to physically and more importantly, long term psychological harm. One can sense the way in which young children are molded, how their young unsuspecting minds cannot uncover how their mindsets are being altered irrevocably. These are not educational centers committed to equipping their graduates to compete in an increasingly globalized world but instead are ideological factories that manufacture radicalism and intolerance.

Sufism, in stark contrast, focuses on the interior instead of the exterior, the need to perfect one’s faith by fighting with the real enemy, the Nafs.

Orthodox Islam has frowned upon their more liberal counterparts. Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative, a leading proponent of Sufism, preaches the ideals of love, the remembrance of god (or ‘zikr’) and reconciliation, though the Taliban, paradoxically, view him as an apostate, worthy of being assassinated.

It comes as no surprise that the Taliban have targeted the shrines of Sufi saints in Pakistan. On July 2, the Pakistani Taliban conducted a double suicide bombing on Data Darbar, the largest Sufi shrine in Lahore, killing 42 people and injuring 175. Another crucial attack was on the shrine of the 17th century saint Rahman Baba-the national poet of the Pashtun tribe- in northwestern Pakistan. Some Sufis, especially members of the Chishtiyya Sufi Order who considers music to be a potent way to realize God, were prosecuted in Afghanistan. Orthodox Islam frowns upon Sufis with their penchant for music-especially Qawwali, Sufi devotional music, immensely popular in South Asia.

William Darymple, explains the need for inner cleansing and Sufi Islam’s aversion to strict religious dogma, when he writes,:

What was important was not the empty ritual of the mosque, church, synagogue or temple, but the striving to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart: that we all can find paradise within us, if we know where to look. Sufism, with its emphasis on love rather than judgment, represents the New Testament of Islam.


The Sufi Way

Sufis make no distinction between mankind, as everything that exists is a manifestation of the one Divine reality, a reflection of his Attributes, his creation. The Truth is one, and anyone who realizes it is welcomed. Love for the beloved, who remains both hidden and manifest, translates into love for all people, without discrimination or difference. This all encompassing nature of Sufism bodes well for peace and interfaith dialogue in a world increasingly being fractured by genocide and sectarian violence. As Rohal Faqir beautifully articulates:

“On one side there were Hindus and on the other side there are

Muslims, in between they created hatred and difference. They are blind;

who is going to tell them the truth, Rohal says that when I looked

around and saw different paths of the Beloved, I found out

that God among them was one and the same. Where can I keep my feet

when lam sleeping in the center of Ka’aba”

The Sufis emphasize on love, in finding God in the human heart, in the belief that salvation lies within the confines of the human soul. Sufis also contend that because the Divine reality is one, religions are varying manifestations of the same one reality. The concept of infinite tolerance is encapsulated by Rumi:

Come, come, whoever you are. Worshiper, Wanderer, Lover of Leaving; ours is not a

caravan of despair. Though you have broken your vows a thousand times…Come, come

again, Come

Everything in existence points to Him; He created all that exists, and therefore, everything is beautiful in its duality: light and darkness, day and night, desire and forbearance. A Sufi cannot harm or belittle His creation, even the non-Muslims. This is a marked departure from Wahhabism that encourages open confrontation with the infidels. A Barelvi Islamic scholar says ‘Killing an innocent Hindu just because he isn’ t a Muslim is certainly not a jihad’

Ibn Arabi expresses how Sufism incorporates all religions, as all are reflective of the one Divine Reality:

My heart has become capable of every form:

It is a pasture for gazelles

And a convent for Christian monks

And a temple for idols

And the pilgrim’s Ka’ba

And the tables of the Torah

And the book of the Koran.

I follow the religion of love:

Whatever way Love’s camels take,

That is my religion and my faith”

Sufism in Sindh

Sindh (also called Bab-ul-Islam) is the birthplace of Sufism in Pakistan. Sufi saints were instrumental in spreading Islam with its message of tolerance and forbearance. Sufi saints of Sindh(known as ‘the land of 124,000 saints and dervishes)  have a large and devoted following among both Hindu and Muslims and it is striking that many Hindus cross the border from India to pay homage at the shrines, despite political obstacles and social stigma associated with stepping into “enemy” terrain.  As Sachal Sarmast, a Sufi saint, downplaying the religious divide, says:

Sachu Supreme is one- no doubt no question,

Witnesses his own show- resplendent royally,

Sometimes recites scriptures-sometimes Koran,

Somewhere as Christ, Ahmed or Hanumaan,

Astonished and bewildered at all Himself.”

Sindh has been under the grip of the land owning feudal class, who have amassed power in their own hands and shamelessly oppressed the peasantry. Amidst this backdrop, Shah Inayat (the Mansur of Sind) launched a campaign against feudalism, calling for greater social justice and equality. He proclaimed, much to the collective anger of the ruling elite, “Land belongs to God and its yield to the tiller.”

This proclamation made the saint a threat to the ruling élites. By attempting to transform a feudal society into an agrarian egalitarian society, he earned many enemies. On the orders of the King, Shah Inayat was executed[11], becoming an iconic figure in the history of Sufism in Sindh.

In Sufi shrines, all ethnic, class, religious, social distinctions are blurred; everyone prays, sings and eats together. Sufi saints emerged as the savior of the masses, providing charity freely, speaking up for the rights of the impoverished and rebelling against the feudal class system.

Sufism offers the prospect a society without sectarian, ethnic and communal differences. The pervasive influence of Sufism in Sindh has translated into a populace that is more tolerant, accommodating and compromising, much of which explains why extremism is markedly less pronounced in Sindh, as opposed to other provinces. Hindu-Muslim union in Sindh provides modern day lessons for policy makers, striving to battle against the rapid spread of extremism.

Sufi saints have, time and again, challenged the Mulleh community, who espouse a strict reading of religious texts and who consider the Sufis as being non-Muslim, deviant individuals, basking in music, which for them is Haram. Now, I shall cite the poems of Sufi saints that clearly show acceptance of the fact that the Divine Reality is one, which in turn has engendered a degree of tolerance in Sindhi people.

Shah Latif (greatly influenced by Rumi) is one of the greatest poets of Sindh- his work is replete with calls for religious tolerance and adoption of humanistic values. There is also a degree of pluralism in the recognition that while the path to the reality may be plentiful; the destination is same for all. As he writes:

From one it became many, from many it became one.

Reality is in unity, you should not forget this

That there is unity behind diversity.

There ore lahks of your forms, you are one with them,

but having different forms. Oh my beloved!

How many signs of your beauty am I going to count.”

Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai was against religious dogma, as is manifested in the following poem:

“If you are seeking Allah,
Then keep clear of religious formalities.
Those who have seen Allah
Are away from all religions!
Those who do not see Allah here,
How will they see Him beyond?

Consider the case of Gulan, a dancing girl who came to Shah Latif seeking guidance. The considerate Latif blessed her, and the girl later married the ruler of Sind. This story showcases how the saints did not condone or berate sinners, but rather, out of mercy and compassion, pray that they are shown the Right Way. The Taliban could learn a lot from this short example.

Shah Latif encapsulates his teachings in the below text:

“The Truth is one, the Beloved is one, why fight over names? They asked him: “Oh Latif, what are you, a Shiah Muslim or a Sunni one?” He replied: “Between the two.” They said: “But between the two is nothing.” “Yes, yes,” he replied, “that `nothing’ I am.”

Blighted by conventional thinking, priests and the ulema decried the message of these Sufi saints, calling them heresy and Kufr (with a special emphasis on the Sufi penchant for music).  The priests of Islam said, “Satan is the worst of the damned.” Latif defied them. “Satan is the only lover, all others are prattlers. Out of the great love of the Lord, the shining one (Satan) embraced disgrace.”

In his recognition of Unity of the Lord, he came to associate every form of Creation with the Divine Essence:
“This and that, life and death, beloved and lover, enemy and friend are all one.”

Sachal, another great poet, in the same vein as Shah Latif, criticizes formal religion when he articulates.

“Love forgives all religion. The Lover never entangles himself in either Islam or Hinduism”

The Mullas read traditions and the Koran,

They look like Mussalmans,

They are the very devil,

These will defeated die

In the poetry of Sachal Sarmast, one finds examples of Sikh references, which is a token of his profound tolerance for spiritual teachers, casting religion aside. Some of his poems manifestly are on Sri Krishna and Hindu Yogis. The Union of both these elements in his songs helped foster harmony and a mutual appreciation of each other’s culture. As Sachal writes:

Again and again he emphasizes this, “neither a Muslim nor a Hindu”. The priests could not tolerate this, but Sachal poured ridicule upon them. “Look at these priests! How sanctimoniously they read lengthy prayers merely to fill their stomachs. “For a trifle of bread they cry their prayers, with uncomely faces, with ugly beards, these raw ones read blessings! To the world they boast they keep fasts, in reality they are great eaters

A crucial element of the evolution of Sufism in Sindh (and the lesson it provides for today’s divided world) was the blurring of religious lines, in that there were even Hindu Sufi fakirs who preached tolerance, practiced Sufism and enjoyed a large following, of both Hindu and Muslims. Even during the partition of 1947, Sindh was not engulfed in communal tensions, of the levels seen in Punjab and Bengal. In the political arena, fundamentalist parties have fared poorly in the province.

The central essence of Sufi thinking, as preached by saints over the ages, has been to reform orthodox Islamic thinking. The conjoining and assimilation of both Hindu and Muslim cultures in Sindh has not resulted in an intolerant and bigoted society.

Ruhal Fakir, in his assertion that God is one, downplays the religious divide that breeds hatred and resentment:

In Kufir and Islam they are out of step,

One Hindu, the other Musalmaan and third enmity in between,

Who can claim truly that the blind can’t find darkness,

Ruhal, on the path of Beloved, realise its vastness,

God was only one- no traps, no twists,

Where can she point her feet in the abode of Allah!’

The Way Forward

The raiding of the Red Mosque (Lal Majid) by the Pakistan army in 2007 marked a crucial juncture in the rise of extremism in Pakistan (or the state’s response to clamp down the rising tide of fundamentalism). I have lived in Islamabad for about 15 years, close by to the Mosque, which I frequented for the Friday sermon, and have witnessed, the descent of the sector I lived in (not the city as a whole) into the abyss of radicalism, tied intimately with intense resentment at American presence in Afghanistan, the promise of salvation (Jihad against an infidel imperial superpower) used to brainwash unsuspecting (also unemployed) youth to join their ‘”holy” cause.  From what I have observed, extremism is a mindset, an ideology, a state of mind. The clergy at the mosque were overwhelmingly passionate, as they made abundantly clear in their sermons, fully convinced that they were on the “Right” way. However, I subscribe wholly to the notion that the real Jihad is to fight against one’s own Nafs. Sufism, with its tolerating message and all encompassing nature, does provide the solution for a country ravaged by war and sectarian tensions (especially the example of Sindh that has not descended into violence even as the entire country burns).



Sufism can combat extremism | DAWN.COM

Why Sufis are natural allies against extremism › Panorama




The Rise of the Supreme Court(Or Maybe Not)

Written By: Abdul Samad - Feb• 15•12

Recently all eyes have been focused on the Supreme Court of Pakistan- the institution has emerged a political player in its own right although it remains to be seen whether the Court acts out of its own accord. And here’s why. The recently empowered Supreme Court has set out to challenge both the powerful army and the civilian leadership, first by charging the sitting Prime Minister of contempt of court for refusing to re-open an old corruption case against Zardari (if convicted the PM could go to jail and lose his office), and then by ordering two military agencies to explain why seven suspected militants were held without criminal charges for 18 months in harsh conditions. PM Gilani was handed the verdict on Monday:

You, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, have willfully disobeyed the direction of this court,” said Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, the head of the seven-judge bench hearing the case. “Thereby you have committed contempt of court … and you are to be tried.”

This new development is crucial for it disturbs the power balance between the executive and judiciary and the Supreme Court’s criticism of the ISI is especially significant-in the past, the army has staged three military coups with the connivance of the Supreme Court, using the notorious and ill-defined ” Doctrine of Necessity” every time.

The political landscape is shifting in Pakistan, previously where you only had two players – with the army-retaining centre stage, now there are four: include the increasingly assertive Supreme Court and not to forget, the media.( a surprise entry if one rewinds back to the days, not so long ago, where PTV was the only source of news). Cyril Almeida echoes a similar point when he writes in Dawn:

“Welcome to the new Pakistan, where power centers are diffuse, outcomes less certain and no grand conspirator to make it all come together, or fall apart, at the appropriate time,” .

Many allege foul play, arguing that the Supreme Court has an axe to grind against Zardari, or that, with the complicity of the armed forces, the SC is weakening the civilian government, paving the way for early elections; some even maintain that SC is acting out of its own accord, headed as it is by an fiercely independent Chief Justice, who evoked popular sentiment with his defiant stand against then military dictator, Musharraf. Whatever the case-one can only speculate for now- a powerful SC does mark a turning point.

The million dollar question is this: how independent is the Supreme Court as it sets out to deliver justice? Ahmed Rashid, a senior analyst, adds weight to the conspiracy theories, proposing that the army and the Supreme Court are out to topple the civilian government. Others contend that the move towards opening cases against the ISI is all hogwash, designed to hoodwink the nation into believing that the Court is not biased. While this borders on the extreme (one would have to assume that the relevant political players are malevolent and deceptively cunning), the possibility of such a covert deal cannot be ruled out completely.

Consider the ramifications if the Prime Minister is indeed convicted and jailed. Such an occurrence will be a major embarrassment for the ruling PPP party that has been battling for survival ever since the memo-gate scandal. It may even speed the process of elections, pushing the date to somewhere this year, instead of 2013. Some interesting times ahead ( Elections) for anyone who has a genuine interest in Pakistani politics or is a casual observer; despise our politicians as you may, but never do they give us a dull moment.


Basis of human submission to the Supreme

Written By: Abdul Samad - Feb• 11•12

The central premise of this diary, the basis for our submission to the Supreme, has intrigued me since some time and when the question was raised in class, amidst prevailing doubt and a nervous silence, I knew I had found my topic.  There arises the tension of loving a God who is to be Feared and Fearing a God who you Love.

Do we submit to prayer, to the Divine Essence, the Mighty Lord, in full acknowledgement of our own insignificance and His Supreme Power out of pure fear-the warnings, detailed in the holy books, of hell with its grisly images of fire and relentless agony- or rather, as I shall argue over the course of my diary, out of unadulterated love, the realization that He is a munificent and merciful Lord, a Just King and the Beloved.

There is good reason to fear the Lord. Considered objectively, humans- me and you- are infinitely insignificant, overwhelmingly dependent on survival on things beyond our grasp. Life that we accord such profound value, for which we plan and toil and dream, the dearest of our possessions, can end without warning, without caution. Death waits in the wings, latent but always present and as you have read this sentence-yes, these last few seconds-you have edged closer to your eventual demise.

Having seen parents who admonish their children to go to the mosque and fast using punishment and Hellfire as motivators, I came to question adherence to faith brought about by threat, engendered through coercion, manufactured through compulsion. The very idea of submission to the Divine based solely on fear, on the image of a Lord who punishes when he is not prayed to, troubles me, much the same way, I suspect, it does to all those who shall read this diary. Likewise, there are others who follow religion-pray, fast among other religious injunctions- out of the intense desire for the rewards of heaven-the flowing rivers, the lush gardens, maidens untouched by man or Jinn.  Prayer based solely on the desire for Heaven is equally troublesome.

We should pray to God not for the sake of reward or punishment-Heaven and Hell- but just because the King of Kings, One who has made us out of love, has blessed so with so much, needs to be bowed to.  The fear of Allah is laced with mercy, tinged with compassion and embroiled in a coating of pure love. An all Powerful Lord, who treats his creation with kindness and mercy, implanting in them feelings of mutual affection, who guides them, imparts within them knowledge, is to be loved, all things considered.

Rabia Al Basri, in using the words, “But If I worship You for Your Own sake”, provides the answer, presenting a third way of basing our relationship with God, one that has mesmerized me in its spiritual depth. This is based on purity and love, untainted by either the fear of hell or the inordinate desire for Paradise. This realization, it should be made clear, only comes at a higher state of spiritual learning, attained, though not exclusively, by Sufi masters and Sheikhs. The words of Rabia al Basri strike a chord:

O Allah! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

What is human life but a search, an exploration to be made by every soul, on its own, for Union with the Divine, the Supreme Essence, the Beloved. Everything that is in existence does point to Him. He is hidden, yet manifest; He is transcendent, yet is as Kabir, the Indian mystic and poet, artfully described the ‘breath inside the breath’,  he is both the mystery and the answer, ever present, the All Knower, the All powerful. Leo Tolstoy, the Russian literary genius, echoed the same argument when he wrote,” To the question: what meaning is there that is not destroyed by death? The answer is: unity with the infinite God.” The recognition of the ephemeral nature of human life, the inevitability of death, the fragility of the human condition, all, through the employing of human reason, indicate, to all those willing to rip the veils from their eyes, that this earthly life is merely a transient abode. Rabia Al Basri, a Sufi poet and mystic recognizes this and yearns for Union with her Lord when she poignantly writes ” I have separated myself from all created beings, My hope is for union with Thee, for that is the goal of my desire.”

When Bulleh Shah, in what has become a classic Sufi poem, observed” Bulla! I know not who I am”, or when Rumi beautifully articulates” If I love myself, I love you. If I love you, I love myself”, or when Ibn Arabi states unequivocally that he professes the religion of love, a central theme emerges; namely that humans are the manifestation of the Divine Essence, a reflection of His attributes, a mirror through which he sees Himself and that love and love alone forms the sacred bond which ties both the Master and his servants.  This motif of love and attachment is beautifully articulated by Amir Khusro when he writes:

With my lover I am playing

The game of love,

If I win, he is mine

If I lose, I am his.

Next time you kneel your head before your Lord, when you lie on the prayer mat, do not enter Sajda out of compulsion. Pray because you want to, with all sincerity and intent and not because you have to-as a matter of religious obligation. For those who understand, it makes all the difference in the world.  It would be fitting to end by quoting Faiz Ahmad Faiz, a Pakistani poet:

A day will come for sure when I will see the truth

My beautiful Beloved is behind a veil, that is all




The Case for Intervention In Syria

Written By: Abdul Samad - Feb• 11•12

Is there a case for intervention in Syria, for the purpose of alleviating human suffering and protecting human lives and saving the country from what would potentially be a bloody and protracted civil war? Unlike Libya, to the country’s disadvantage (perhaps), it does not have any sizable reserves of oil and gas, though, its relative proximity to Israel, does give Syria a significant geo-political clout, with the worst cast scenario (from an American standpoint) involving a desperate Assad resorting to a missile attack on Israel in a bid to stir a larger conflict and suck in regional powers. Given how desperately Assad has clung to power, this scenario, while bordering on the extreme, cannot be ruled out. With Russia and China vetoing a UN resolution to intervene in Syria, much to internal castigation and rebuke, the condition in the country and for its people becomes more grave. Given how intervention in Libya was largely spurred by the West pursuing it interests, competing to tap in the country’s natural resources, will intervention amount to the same in Syria?  Will Syria become the new Libya? Is asking for intervention tantamount to inviting the bandit, the mischief maker in your own house?

The real question, not often asked in the international media, is: do people actually care how hundreds are being literally slaughtered at the hands of an authoritarian regime. Barring ulterior motives and interests, how many countries want to intervene in Syria based solely on humanitarian grounds?  In an international system where nation states conduct themselves-strictly- on matters of national interest, how does the case of Syria explain the conflict between morality and the sacrosanct principle of preserving national interest? Is there a need- Syria and Libya stand as test cases- for revisiting the framework by which nation states conduct themselves; thereby questioning the accepted practice of safeguarding national interest in all scenarios, at the cost of human morality?

At the end of it all, it comes down to-and we should not forget this- the Syrian people, who have suffered beyond respite at the hands of a brutal dictator- beefed up by the army and security agencies. A few questions arise: will toppling Assad make things any better than they presently are; will the intervening forces not bring along some ulterior motives, seeking to influence the path post -Assad Syria takes. Even as the debate rages on, carried out in classrooms, TV shows and out in the streets, one thing is rest assured: Assad cannot survive this outpouring of opposition, sooner or later, even if it takes a year or so, he will have to step down and when he does, it will indeed be a great victory for the Syrian people. But when he does finally go, it would be important to ensure that the system of autocracy that he cemented goes alongside him, otherwise the changing of the guard would not constitute real progress and change. While a single personality does, over the course of time, represent a system, the toppling of the dictator by itself does not mean that the old system has been removed-take Egypt for instance where after the ouster of Mubarak after a protracted struggle, the SCAF, the country’s military elite, continues to exercise hegemonic control over the country. The Arab Spring should not centre itself-and I say this with hindsight- on the removal of dictators but on the eradication of the systems that these dictators have built and nourished over the years; thus ensuring tangible and palpable change, with the people, the ordinary folk emerging as the victors.

The contrast between Libya and Syria could not have been more stark, While the great powers, under the banner of NATO, rushed to the aid of the rebels, providing cash and arms with a degree of magnanimity, the ongoing Syrian massacre has been cruelly sidelined, relegated as an internal affair of the nation (as per the UN statement recorded by Russia and China). As the world slowly opens its eyes to the scale of slaughter, the extent of the brutality, its conscience- already scarred and bruised- has been wounded fatally. Every bullet that is fired in Damascus, and every time we turn our heads and switch off the television, makes the world- our world- a sad, sad place. A place where the taking of human life no longer stirs our collective conscience. A place where a government kills its own people, even as the world stares helplessly. A place where humans- me and you- fight for power, position, wealth, disregarding the consequences of this insatiable greed, this voracious lust for more and more and more. The world cannot go on like this. We are just going to eat and kill and burn each other, endlessly till we bring out our own destruction. Think about it.




The Other Bhutto

Written By: Abdul Samad - Nov• 16•11

The story of the Bhutto family has strong elements of a Greek tragedy, rife with betrayal, murder, unbridled ambition and schisms. The Bhutto dynasty is often compared to the Gandhi’s and the Kennedy’s,both of whom are scarred with the same turbulent history. But while being a Bhutto is undoubtedly a privilege, it also brings in its fair share of burdens, its bundle of responsibilities, the premature tag of being a politician and the expectation of greatness. One of the more promising future leaders of Pakistan, among others, is Fatima Bhutto, granddaughter of the charismatic Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto,who has, till yet, showed a general reluctance to enter politics, citing the following as her rationale:

“I don’t believe in birthright politics. I don’t think, nor have I ever thought, that my name qualifies me for anything.

You Fatima Bhutto, are the last remnant of this lineage, of political leaders who have shaped Pakistani politics over the last four decades, for better or worse depending on who you ask. The sybarites and clowns in whose hands the party has fallen into, namely the Zardari’s, have marred and defiled the legacy of the party itself, shedding the integrity of a PPP that once stood for change and reformation. These days, as is widely known, PPP is a joke, a bundle of corrupt politicians pilfering and looting, biding their time, until the next elections when the promises- the same Roti, Kapra, Makan- to the embattled masses shall begin anew.

I am perfectly cognizant that politics is a dirty arena, that it is rife with corruption and blackmail., and even mortal danger. The price for speaking out against the establishment is a death warrant. Or an assassin’s bullet. But you have to enter this treacherous fray not for yourself, or the PPP, or as a consequence of its diminished legacy, or just because your last name ends with a Bhutto, but because the people of Pakistan, the impoverished and the downtrodden, have been betrayed, left to rot, decay and fend for themselves in an increasingly harsh economic climate. I don’t know whether you have extensively travelled Pakistan, and have come in contact with the hapless masses, who are, tragically, losing hope in the very idea of Pakistan. The country needs a sincere leader and incorruptible leader more than ever. And I say this with no leverage whatsoever, for you can, with great ease, disregard my rambling. But I expect better, the people of Pakistan expect much better. We all do.

Your aversion to entering politics by virtue of your last name is perfectly understandable. You dont want to use the platform of the ” Bhutto family” to kick-start your political career. But had you been incompetent and smug, I would never have been writing this. Its because you strike people as competent and gifted, that they see hope in you, that the calls for you to enter politics are becoming increasingly vehement. Like I said, this is not about an individual. Its about the people of Pakistan who have suffered beyond respite. In the end, politics is, as it ought to be, about the common man.

On Imran Khan: Messiah or Demagogue

Written By: Abdul Samad - Nov• 13•11

Imran Khan has emerged as the Messiah for a nation long clamoring for the arrival of a noble soul, who would, with sincerity and clarity of vision, uplift millions from the abyss of poverty, despair and disrepair and propel Pakistan into the ranks of ‘developed’ nations. And his arrival on the political scene- termed as a “Tsunami” by the man himself- that has taken 15 years in the making, is indeed a welcome and timely development. And yet, those 15 years boiled down to a single moment, that protracted struggle could be captured in that one powerful image that floated around in social media websites, where a prominent Imran Khan, empowered by the thousands that had gathered around Minar-e-Pakistan, his hands raised in a show of defiance against the status-quo, announced his arrival in the arena of Pakistani politics, his fiery speech assailing the corruption and lethargy of rival political parties. Previously, he had been dismissed as indecisive, vacillating, even somewhat confused and thus a small fish floating anxiously in a big pond. All of it changed on October 30. Yes, the “youth quake” changed the landscape of Pakistani politics. But, one may ask, will this outburst of political energy translate into tangible change for the masses? And this, above all else, is the most vital question.

Given the harrowing conditions the nation is going through- load shedding, the incessant violence, the creeping inflation- anyone of reasonable pedigree can charm the masses and capture the public imagination. For now, Imran khan can berate and castigate the policies of the current regime, stockpiling the entire burden on their heads-not that they are not culpable- and gain mass support of the embattled masses. Pakistan- and I feel bad saying this- is a mess, a real bad one, with the economy barely afloat, sectarian tensions boiling up and the United States breathing down our necks in Afghanistan. To get out of this hole, we need to first recognize that we are entrapped in one. Despite the theme of change Imran Khan so readily endorses, we should, as informed citizens, recognize the rhetoric in his speeches. I don’t blame him for resorting to tall claims for in order to captivate the masses; one does have to show them big dreams, convince them that change is just around the corner. But then again, change won’t be easy, and it surely won’t be abrupt, if anything, it’s going to a long path towards recycling Pakistan. And Imran Khan needs to tell this to the people who deserve to know the truth, however painful and excruciating it might be.

Imran Khan stands for hope as our gullible youth are led to believe. Imran Khan stands for hope because we have no other alternative, as the Zardari’s and the Sharif’s have been tried and tested, one too many a time. When asked by my friend who I would rather vote for, I feel silent. I just could not think of one person, one political party who had my confidence, who had my vote. Such was the nature of my quandary. And then after a reflective 2-3 minutes, I blurted out” Imran Khan”. And then it struck me, as much I am sure it struck my friend, that I had no other viable option. So Imran it was.

In the end, politics is about, as it ought to be, about the welfare of the masses. We, as denizens of the land of the pure, are asking for real tangible change. While the rhetoric employed in political speeches can be terribly exciting, all of it comes to naught if the common man remains trapped in the tentacles of poverty. Promises have been made and broken in the past. Imran Khan needs to provide his party manifesto that details exactly the policies his party wishes to undertake to alleviate the suffering of the majority. If he does that, he has my vote.

I personally contend that Imran Khan is incorruptible, a rarity in a political culture that thrives on bribery and pilfering and among the others stands as the most articulate, gifted with charisma and a jocular nature. But, then again, giving fiery speeches or cracking anecdotes in front of throngs of impassioned followers, does not translate into real change. He needs to do much more to prove his credentials; he is considered mercurial and tentative in his policy making, and has more a reputation of a playboy than a politician, at least in the West. PTI, under the lingering shadow of IK, is a one man show, and as I recall, the party fared rather poorly in previous elections, garnering less than 1 percent of the total vote cast. The party does not have the stature or the expertise or the experience to battle Pakistan’s endemic problems. Consider the following excerpt taken from an article in Dawn:

The current PTI secretary general is Karachi-based Dr Arif Alvi, a dentist for the city’s elite who has pots of money and a techie son who lets go of no opportunity to promote his father’s political party through purportedly non-political ventures. The main policy advisor of the party is Dr Shireen Mazari, who for years ran a government-funded think tank in Islamabad before serving for a short period of time as the editor of the Lahore-based English daily The Nation. If she is known for anything, it is certainly not a non-jingoistic understanding of Pakistan’s foreign and security policies. The brain behind Mr Khan’s latest makeover as Pakistan’s savoir in the making — one more time after a failed earlier attempt — is Haroonur Rashid, a columnist with the daily Jang who once wrote the authorised and laudatory biography of Gen Akhtar Abdur Rehman, an intelligence czar under Gen Zia and one of the many architects of Pakistan-backed militancy in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Imran Khan may have mesmerized on the cricket pitch, anchoring Pakistan to cricketing glory, but this is, as we should all recognize, the real word of diplomacy and public policy. While I respect his leadership and oratory skills, I believe that he does not have the acumen to survive in the political arena, let alone carve out a distinct destiny for Pakistan in the community of nations. Don’t take me wrong, I am not an Imran basher, far from it; I was delighted when he managed a staggering 100,000 people in his historic Lahore rally. I feel a sense of pride welling up inside me when he takes a firm stand on the drone strikes that are infringing our sovereignty. I see hope in him, that four letter word wholly absent in the last two decades. But one must deal with the facts, not get carried away in the spur of the moment. We Pakistanis are an excitable bunch, to be painfully honest, and have clung on to Imran as if he embodies the Messiah we have been long waiting for. But is he the Messiah or a demagogue feigning to be one? Only time will tell.

Yes, Imran does have the backing of the youth, but whether this ‘Face book’ following translates into real political capital remains to be seen. Will these same people turn up at Election Day-the all important day- to cast their votes? I have my doubts about him, were you to seek my opinion. For the sake of our country, for the millions living below the poverty line, I hope I am terribly, horribly, colossally wrong.

To The Desk of Barack Obama

Written By: Abdul Samad - Sep• 15•11

To The Desk of Barack Obama,

Mr. President.

Allow me this opportunity to enlighten you of how my homeland, Pakistan, became part of a dual game where it is both right and wrong, criminal and victim, entrapped in the vicious cycle of blame game and counter accusations. Let me elucidate how an ally became an enemy, or rather how an enemy became an ally, blurring the lines between friendship and hostility and lending immense confusion to our mutual strategic relationship. Let me, in other words, reveal how Pakistan became the vital ally that you can neither trust nor abandon, embrace nor thrust aside.

You see, Mr. President, Pakistan was a land carved out of a once united India, whose bloody birth included the largest migration seen in the history of our race and the subsequent, systematic massacre of a million unsuspecting people. From the little history that I have retained from my school days, the American Revolution, as I recall, was largely a nonviolent and bloodless affair, in stark contrast to our own blood spattered conception. So, when I tell stories of how trains full of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs-all together- were burned and looted and the bodies left to rot, the terrible barbarity of these acts will strike you as appalling, even idiosyncratic of an uncivilized nation that celebrates anarchy and violence. But then, you would have to understand how our nation-compromising of the majority Hindus and the minority Muslims- was subjugated by the imperial British for over a century, during which our land was plundered, our rights trampled upon and our dignity mauled.

So much for the British being the guardians of morality, the redeemer of democracy, entrusted with the crucial task of civilizing an unruly world. But that made Independence- hard fought and blood-spattered- all the more sweet.

The years after independence were especially arduous for Pakistan, partly because of intense acrimony with India and largely because the new state, which lost its founder to tuberculosis shortly after conception, faced an acute shortage of funds and resources, in general. But let’s not get into all that, for Pakistan did survive the early phase with a doggedness it maintains to this day, even when labels of a “failed state” or a “nation teetering on the edge of anarchy” are frequently linked to it by the international media.

Mr. President, I don’t mean this as an affront, but do hear me out for you may not, I am afraid, concur with what I have to say. The United States is often charged of- and not without merit, as I shall explain here- subverting the democratic institutions of Pakistan by establishing military to military relations with the Army ever since the first visit of Ayub Khan in 1951, where he was greeted with such an incredible official display of protocol, that the General, the perceptive man he was, implicitly recognized that he was the most powerful man in the country. And that self image transmuted into reality, and over the decades the most important post in our country has not been that of the President or the Prime Minister, but that of the Chief of the Army Staff.

Ayub Khan was a faithful friend of the United States, no doubt on that, and after the coming of the more bold and audacious Bhutoo- considered by many American officials as intractable and incorrigible-relations took a downside, especially on the question of the nuclear bomb, which Bhutto in his brazen style had declared that Pakistan would build even if had to eat grass. That, was not acceptable to the United States which tacitly sanctioned and approved the military coup, under the auspices of the sly General Zia, and the defiant Bhutoo after a protracted judicial trial, was sent to the gallows on trumped up murder charges. Yes, Mr. Obama, your country did have its share of culpability in the hanging of a democratically elected popular leader of our nation. Sad, isn’t it?

And then fate smiled on the alienated Zia, when the Soviets made the blunder of attacking Afghanistan, and almost overnight, the burly dictator became the harbinger of hope for the Free World, commander in chief of a Frontline state, imperative to the American bid to stem the flow of communism. And as billions flowed to strengthen the Pakistani army, the Jihadists, many of whom would later regroup to form the dreaded Taliban faction, fought against the infidels- the Russians who had violated the sanctity of a Muslim nation. Meanwhile, a double game was being played. The Pakistan army kept the Taliban as a strategic wild card against India, to be used as an insurance policy if relations with India deteriorated to the point of active conflict.

You folks left as swiftly as you entered the scene and once the Soviets retreated, you packed your bags, leaving the brittle country literally at the mercy of the extremist groups like the Taliban. Fast forward ten years and following the Sept 11 attacks- the first direct infringing of American sovereignty since the Pearl Harbor offensive- the United States, along with its allies, poured billions of dollars and committed thousand of troops in eradicating the same terrorist elements it had helped designing in the first place.  Talk of Frankenstein!

Now, after a decade of anarchy and senseless slaughter of innocent civilians, Osama has been found right under the noses of the military establishment, hiding in a compound in a garrison town frighteningly close to the military headquarters, and Pakistan, the one country having to pay the price of collusion in blood, is being labeled as a traitor, as a participant in a dangerous double game with both the Taliban and the Americans. How ironic ! Relations between the two allies have entered suspicious terrain, with trust in short supply, and either side wary of the intentions of the other. As I promised, at the outset, I have explained, as best as I possibly could, how our countries, have come to their present stalemate. Any suggestions to break the ice, Mr. President?

Allow me to provide a few words of advice- for you don’t seem inclined to talk much- which, you may as you find befitting, embrace or discard. If the United States is resolute in its bid to root out extremism, it should educate, educate and educate. All too often, American aid is spent on the army, which does little to strengthen the democratic foundations of the state. And not to forget the civilian government which apart from being listless is corrupt to the bone. The little money that does filter through a defunct system is too little to make an impact. The ordinary man remains illiterate and impoverished, engaged in a perpetual battle for survival while his country descend into chaos.

Let me also clarify why anti- American sentiment finds such a ready home in Pakistan. Its not because the Pakistanis have an inherent disliking for the United States. Not because the Pakistanis are all militants bent on aggression. While most foreigners will relegate the average Pakistani to the status of an extremist, I refuse to accept this naïve and possibly fallacious explanation.

I know, as many others, that the average Pakistani is not a terrorist, does not receive training in heavy artillery and does not harbor ambitions of destroying the Western civilization in the quest for a greater Islamic empire.

Let me tell you what the average Pakistani wants. All he wants is a permanent job, a house that he can call his own and the protection that comes with being a citizen of a sovereign country. Give me that and you can safely live in your country while we in ours.

Good day, Mr. President.



The Day That Changed It All

Written By: Abdul Samad - Sep• 12•11

It’s been a decade since the Twin Towers went down, a decade since I watched in absolute confusion at my television screen, as the news story emerged and evolved on the international media, a decade since the onset of the Global War on Terror. Time, I believe, to sit back and reflect on what has been, undeniably, a decade of great tragedy and profound loss.

In the midst of our quest to label right and wrong, enemy and foe, terrorist and savior, all of us-including you and me- fail to appreciate that the infringing of US sovereignty since World War 11-even though Pearl Harbor was under US occupation, the surprise Japanese attack did not constitute a direct threat to the American mainland- has left Pakistan as the biggest loser in what was subsequently a global effort, spearheaded by the US, to purge extremism from the Taliban safe haven of Afghanistan. While troops fought without end in the neighborhood, Pakistan kept on burning and burning, its citizens paying the price in blood. The influx of Taliban into the country via the unassailable Af-Pak border and the concurrent extension of the conflict inside our territory, shifted the focus of the conflict to Pakistan’s Northwestern Frontier province.

The country became both the battle ground for the American effort as well as the breeding ground for the Taliban, who having been ousted from their homeland, sought safe refuge in Pakistan. Amid this inherent contradiction, Pakistan, my country, its citizens suffered beyond end, dragged into a war that was not theirs from the outset. The seed of extremism, once planted in our national psyche, has become such a potent force that even the government often finds itself helpless at the hands of the miscreants. Bush’s words still ring in our ears, their brazen manner only matched by their intimidating style” You are either with us, or against us”.

Fast forward 10 years, and observe where our nation stands, how each day newspapers are replete with stories of a nation bleeding without any respite whatsoever. Ironic that a War that aimed to mitigate the curse of extremism only managed to exacerbate the problem, that a stratagem to enact peace only led to unprecedented levels of strife and anarchy. The thousands that have been killed without warning or caution, without any personal fault, their inhumane murder is an affront to the memory of every one of the three thousand that died on Sept 11. Violence is, was, and can never be the fitting answer to acts of terrorism. That much should be understood by all. So, while we bemoan this egregious act, let’s not forget how the fate of our country changed on the day the planes crashed into the Twin Towers.

Words Of Advice To Bilawal Bhutto

Written By: Abdul Samad - Sep• 12•11

Please, don’t emulate your father. Sad as it is, if you have to carve for yourself a distinct political identity, you would have to distance yourself from the present lot of sybarites who have failed lavishly in doing anything to benefit the common man. It won’t be easy, but this is politics, and given that you are the future, and indeed the chairperson of the largest political party in Pakistan, much rests in your hands. Even I don’t think, at present, you wholly understand the great constructive role you could play for this long suffering nation.In our youth lies hope for a tomorrow, free from strife, violence and anarchy, and you, Bilalwal, can, if you so choose, alter the destiny of this nation.

These words may sound rhetorical but then you would have to witness the harrowing plight of the majority, the lives of whom are plagued by unremitting violence brought about by our collusion in the War on Terror, those who are bereft of sugar, wheat, gas and electricity, and those who are, I must add, losing hope in the very idea of Pakistan. You stand at an important juncture at your political career, much the same way as Pakistan stands on the brink of perpetual failure, and the decisions you make right now, not 10 years from today, will shape your political fortunes.

If you truly care for the masses, do not shy away from the farmer in Larkana who works 15 hours a day or the laborer in Sialkot who ensures similar grinding conditions. Your grandfather always interacted with the common man with an ease that belied their relative social positions- that of the rich and the impoverished, of the ruler and the subject. The Pakistan People’s Party, while having degenerated in the last few years to a bunch of thugs, once stood for the rights of the downtrodden, the savior of the common man, the voice of the weak and the oppressed. These are the foundations upon which the ideology of the Party has been laid; indeed the Party’s ability to directly interact and reach out to ordinary people explained much of its popularity during the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto days.

Now, this personal interaction is withering away and with it is the popularity of the Party itself and the hope it once awakened in the hearts of millions of Pakistanis. The founding of PPPP, is tragic in the bloodshed that came accompanied its formation, but heroic in the sense of the empowerment it brought to the common man, the spectacle of civil society rising to tyranny and authoritarianism. It is fitting that a country built on dreams should be led by a party evoking the same ideals in everyone one us, reminding us of both of great sacrifices and overwhelming potential. Do not trample upon this Party and this country for you will be then be defiling the dreams and aspirations of millions like me, all of whom labor in the illusion that Pakistan is a country destined to greatness.

Ramazan: Seeking Salvation

Written By: Abdul Samad - Sep• 05•11

How easy is it to drag your feet to the dining table, to be called to devour exotic, savory dishes, without having known who has prepared the feast or more importantly, who has paid such for such extravagance. As one enters the dining room, a whole army of scents encircles your nose, all clamoring for attention. Everything is in order; the hot dishes are lined up, chicken and roasted meat on one side and fried Salmon Fish on the other. Fruit and drinks occupy centre stage in the dining table. The Pakoras are strategically placed between the Jalebis and the Samosas, and one finds it difficult to decide which item to delve into first. Upon hearing the sound of Azaan, dates are exchanged and the meal commences.

Once one is done, a loud burp- much to the embarrassment of everyone on the table- echoes across the room. Half nervous smiles spring up- the little elephant having eaten to his heart’s content, has with a single act of profound indecency, signaled that he now wants to proceed downstairs for the dessert. Not a single Jazakallah; not even the slightest indication of thanking God for his many blessings. Such scenes are replete in the society of have and have nots, which Pakistan has sadly become. For anyone willing to open his eyes, the glaring disparity between the Iftar celebrations of the rich and the impoverished, is a fitting metaphor for the larger inequality and inequity that perpetuates our class ridden society.

Contrast this with the plight of families that have to find their Iftari in trash bins, hoping against hope that an half finished food can, or an unexpired edible item has been thrown by a reckless housewife. And when such food, probably the remains of a lavish dinner party, is extricated from the pile of garbage and mess, a grand celebration begins for today; the poor family will have a toast of which they can only wish for in their dreams. Yes, my well fed reader, for some, that can be enough to make his or her day, for some that constitutes a grand meal with the family which will always remain entrapped in their memory.

Ramadan is a month where all of us learn more about ourselves, where by depriving ourselves of food and drink, we come to realize the harsh and unforgiving plight of those who are less fortunate than us. And that, in essence, is a lesson that God wants us to learn, the hard way that is. Cherish this holy month for all too soon it will be over, and along the way, help the impoverished and the downtrodden for doing so will provide you the spiritual satisfaction that nothing else can provide.

On Airports

Written By: Abdul Samad - Sep• 05•11

Airports have always fascinated me. Planes take me back to a lecture on the Wright brothers, that so enthralled me that I researched all about these two great inventers. What had begun as an experiment, as the first attempt at air travel lasted for exactly 12 seconds, had over time, developed into a billion dollar industry that catered to thousands of flights daily. We, humans, have surely come a long way since our first venture into the skies, and the phenomenal progress in air travel is a testament to the degree of advancement and modernization of the past century.

Airports are crowded places, teeming with relatives and friends, all lining up for the final farewell. They showcase not only the profound joy of meeting a loved one but also the intense feeling of sadness that accompanies departure and eventual farewell. One can find the full range of human emotions: smiling goodbyes, silent nods and the odd tearful eye. The finality of the departure cannot be captured by a goodbye, or in the last fleeting second when the person vanishes behind the security checkpoint. That moment goes by as easily as a tick of the clock. It is only when one sets to depart from the airport, and looks around and fails to find your loved one, that it hits you with full force. The realization sinks in steadily.

As a child, I was intrigued by the world that lay beyond the security checkpoint. I had seen countless people, disappearing in what seemed to me, a deep dark black hole. What happened to all these souls when they crossed that point? More importantly, why was I not allowed the permission to accompany my departing relatives? Could it be a grand conspiracy that only I could fathom, only I could comprehend.

To my 8 year old brain, among other things, it made no sense how airplanes-being the mammoth machines they are-could stay in the air for such protracted periods of time. Every bit of logic defied my initial assumptions and the science that I had studied till then failed to answer my queries. In hindsight, I am amused by my own immature thought process.

My city Karachi is burning

Written By: Abdul Samad - Jul• 08•11

My cities are burning

My people are dying

Who else is it apart from us?

We are killing,

We are getting killed

Our land has become a graveyard

The day began with news of Karachi burning, of how 80 people were killed in the space of 72 hours. And then I knew that the city that I called my own, the place I called home, housed cold blooded murderers. That somewhere within the radius of my house reside people who specialize in killing innocent citizens just to further their political agenda. And then it struck me. No one was safe. That the next unsuspecting victim could be my uncle, my brother, father or me.

As I descended down the stairs into the market, a certain gloom, a palpable sense of worry was written on the faces of everyone: the shopkeeper who pondered over the prudence of resuming his business, the passerby who sensed that unidentified gunmen, on the quest for revenge, were on the prowl for their next victim. Most of the shops were closed; fear was roaming the streets. Petrol pumps were the first to close after the violence ensued, and markets duly followed. For households short of food-the mayhem having entered its fourth day- venturing out into the open was nothing short of suicide. Karachi was held hostage by a handful of miscreants-armed with motorcycles- with a license to kill.

The police and the law enforcement agencies have failed miserably, for the senseless slaughter and shedding of human blood continues unabated into the fourth day. 90 people have been killed- 90 families have been torn apart and an entire city of 20 million souls has been rendered paralyzed. Eyewitness recount how the police itself has joined in the carnage and instead of protecting unarmed citizens have become passive onlookers and by extension- accomplices in the gruesome killing spree.

The government, it seems, has woken from its deep slumber. In an effort to restore law and order, 1000 FC soldiers have been deployed in sensitive areas, as per the announcement of Rehman Malik, who arrived at midnight at the Quaid-i-Azam International Airport. In other developments, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah presided over a meeting on the law and order situation. The meeting, attended by police and Sindh Rangers authorities, ended with shoot-at-sight orders to enforce the writ of the government. Somewhat ironic that the government, the custodian of law and justice, has to resort to violence itself, blurring the line between the good and the bad guys, between terrorists and counter-terrorists, between saviors and troublemakers.

A nation that cannot provide justice to its own citizens is a society on the verge of violence and anarchy. When state institutions, defunct and dysfunctional, cannot provide security of life- the most basic of rights as enshrined in the constitution- then the common man will wrest the initiative from the government and take law and order in his own hands. And that-sadly- is the ground reality in Karachi, a city in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Ordinary citizens have set about delivering their own version of “Justice”, shedding the last remnants of state authority in an increasingly lawless city. For the economic and business heartland of Pakistan to be under the grip of anarchy, is indeed very tragic, and the government should act with alacrity if it wishes to restore a modicum of law and order in the “City of Lights”.