Dawn – The Afghanisation of politics

Cyril Almeida

Op/Ed, 09 December 2018. Call it the Afghanisation of politics. You can guess what they don’t want, but you can’t really be certain about what they do want. And maybe it makes a kind of sense: you can’t ever be defeated if you never say what it is that you really want.

Politics in Pakistan mirroring Pakistan on Afghanistan.

What does Pakistan, the state of Pakistan, want in Afghanistan? Given how obsessed we are, or the state of Pakistan is, with Afghanistan, you’d think there would be an easy, capsule answer to toss out and pop in.

Like: national security! India is the enemy! Politicians are corrupt!

But it’s not all that easy with Afghanistan. You can say with high confidence that the state doesn’t want India in Afghanistan and does want the Taliban to be part of the ruling dispensation. But that’s not really saying all that much.

The Pakistani state doesn’t want India in Afghanistan because it fears encirclement or whatever. Fine, at least it’s some kind of logic. But ‘no India in Afghanistan’ translates into what exactly?

As the government stumbles from crisis to crisis, as ministers begin to knife each other, it’s increasingly hard to figure out what this was and is all about.

No physical presence? No military presence, but economic stuff acceptable? No presence meaning no influence? And no influence with whom: the Pakhtuns or the non-Pakhtuns? And if no influence anywhere, how do we negate India’s ties to the non-Pakhtuns in Afghanistan?

The ‘Taliban in government’ stuff is difficult to flesh out, too. We seem sure, or we say so anyway, that we don’t want to go back to the late ’90s, ie the Taliban outright ruling Afghanistan. But if we don’t want them to rule 100 per cent, then what per cent of power do we want for the Taliban?

Fifty per cent? 75? 25? 40? 10?

Nobody knows. And maybe not even ourselves.

If you don’t say what you want, you can never be defeated.

Contrast that with the Americans and the Afghan government. Wild conspiracy aside, it’s pretty easy to say that the Americans would rather have defeated the Taliban than not. Maybe the Americans would have wanted a residual military presence in Afghanistan, maybe they’d have stuck around to keep an eye on Pakistan and our nukes.

But you can pretty easily assert that the Americans, if they could have, would like to have militarily defeated the Taliban.

Same with the Afghan government. If it could, the Afghan government would rather not have to make peace with the Taliban.

The last Afghan government or this one would rather that the US military or, less likely, the Afghan army have defeated the Taliban, and the Afghan government get more power, more durability and become the long-term political solution in Afghanistan.

You can quite clearly see that no Afghan government will get what it really wants. But at least you can be sure what it, this, the previous or any non-Taliban Afghan government, really wants.

Not so with Pakistan.

And now it has infected politics here. The Afghanisation of politics is really the mysteriousness of what’s going on here. As the government stumbles from crisis to crisis, as ministers begin to knife each other and confusion and chaos reign, it’s increasingly hard to figure out what this was and is all about.

What do they want?

We know that they don’t want Nawaz in. Fine. They hate it when one of their own turns on them, and few have belonged to and turned on as spectacularly as Nawaz has. But after Nawaz, what?

Imran may have been the obvious alternative, but it’s become blindingly obvious that there was zero preparation. And you can’t really blame Imran for that: why should he prepare in the final months for something he had not really prepared for in 22 years?

But at least they could have done some prep. And enforced some discipline.

Aha, but the point is to keep all of them weak: Imran, Nawaz, Asif, whoever. Imran was just the latest beneficiary of the system’s periodic need for a new, or old but compliant, face. Again, plausible.

But there’s weak and then there’s catastrophic. If nothing else, you need the civilian front to stop from collapsing in on itself. Because immediate collapse requires constant hand-holding and in that case no one gets anything done.

Plus there’s the stuff with the other folk.

What on earth is the Shahbaz thing all about? One possibility is that as Imran stumbles and the PTI lists, it’s become necessary to keep the pressure on the other side. Because you can’t afford for your precious experiment to be knocked over so soon.

But Shahbaz? It’s like going out of your way to make an example and enemy of the one chap who was desperate to be your friend. And while he maybe can’t do much for you as your friend, he could do something to you as your enemy.

What do they want?

The Asif stuff is equally puzzling. The GDA was primed, ready and willing to eat into the PPP’s seat count in rural Sindh. If you were going to keep up the pressure on Zardari, as seems obvious before and since the election, then why allow him to sweep to total victory in Sindh?

Of all the levers that you could want and you would want to deny your target, surely a total sweep of his base is a good idea to prevent. If they could do it to Nawaz in Punjab, why not Zardari in Sindh?

What do they want?

For now, we can only guess what they don’t want. The Afghanisation of politics has arrived. And it may be the greatest head-scratcher yet.

The writer is a member of staff.




Dawn – Pakistan – India trade much below full potential: World Bank

Mubarak Zeb Khan

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 06 December 2018. Trade between Pakistan and India is only valued at a little over $2 billion, but it could be as high as $37 billion, says a World Bank report.

The current trade between the two countries is much below its full potential. It could only be harnessed if both countries agreed to tear down artificial barriers.

The bank also estimated Pakistan’s potential trade with South Asia at $39.7bn against the actual current trade of $5.1bn.

Report unpacks four critical barriers

The report, “Glass Half Full: Promise of Regional Trade in South Asia”, released here on Wednesday unpacks four of the critical barriers to effective integration.

The four areas are tariff and para-tariff barriers to trade, complicated and non-transparent non-tariff measures, disproportionately high cost of trade, and trust deficit.

Talking to a group of journalists on key points of the report here at the World Bank office on Wednesday, lead economist and author of the document, Sanjay Kathuria, said it was his belief that trust promotes trade, and trade fosters trust, interdependency and constituencies for peace.

In this context, he added, the opening of the Kartarpur corridor by governments of Pakistan and India would help minimise trust deficit.

He said such steps will boost trust between the two countries. For realising the trade potential between Pakistan and India, he suggested the two countries start with specific products facilitation in the first phase.

Mr Kathuria said Pakistan had least air connectivity with South Asian countries, especially India. Pakistan has only six weekly flights each with India and Afghanistan, 10 each with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and only one with Nepal, but no flight with the Maldives and Bhutan.

Compared to this, India has 147 weekly flights with Sri Lanka, followed by 67 with Bangladesh, 32 with the Maldives, 71 with Nepal, 22 with Afghanistan and 23 with Bhutan.

The report recommends ending sensitive lists and para tariffs to enable real progress on the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (Safta) and calls for a multi-pronged effort to remove non-tariff barriers, focusing on information flows, procedures, and infrastructure.

Policy-makers may draw lessons from the India-Sri Lanka air service liberalisation experience. Connectivity is a key enabler for robust regional cooperation in South Asia.

Mr Kathuria says reducing policy barriers, such as eliminating the restrictions on trade at the Wagah-Attari border, or aiming for seamless, electronic data interchange at border crossings, will be major steps towards reducing the very high costs of trade between Pakistan and India.

He argues that the costs of trade are much higher within South Asia compared to other regions. The average tariff in South Asia is more than double the world average. South Asian countries have greater trade barriers for imports from within the region than from the rest of the world.

He says these countries impose high para tariffs, which are extra fees or taxes on top of tariffs.

More than one-third of the intraregional trade falls under sensitive lists, which are goods that are not offered concessional tariffs under Safta. In Pakistan, nearly 20pc of its imports from, and 39pc of its exports to, South Asia fall under sensitive lists.

World Bank Country Director for Pakistan Illango Patchamuthu said Pakistan is sitting on a huge trade potential that remains largely untapped. “A favorable trading regime that reduces the high costs and removes barriers can boost investment opportunities that are critically required for accelerating growth in the country,” he said.

World Bank’s Director Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment Caroline Freund said Pakistan’s frequent use of tariffs to curb imports or protect local firms increases the prices of hundreds of consumer goods, such as eggs, paper and bicycles.

They also raise the cost of production for firms, making it difficult for them to integrate in regional and global value chains, she said. “Pakistan needs to promote export promotion policies to ensure sustainable growth.”

On the issue of currency devaluation, she said undervalued currency is an anti-export measure. She suggests exchange rate should be determined by the real market trend.


Dawn – Afghan Taliban forcing truckers to pay extortion money, Peshawar council told

Mohammad Ashfaq

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 05 December 2018. The Peshawar district council was informed on Monday that the truckers bound for Afghanistan were being forced to pay Rs 5,000 extortion per truck at the provincial city’s fruit and vegetable market in the name of the Afghan Taliban.

Speaking on a point of order, opposition leader Syed Zahir claimed that unidentified men were collecting extortion money from the truckers transporting fruits and vegetables to Afghanistan in Peshawar and those not making that payment got threatening calls from someone based in Afghanistan.

He said the truckers had no option but to pay extortion money.

DC declares matter dreadful, says will take it up with police for action

He distributed a receipt of Rs 5,000 extortion payment to journalists and councillors.

The receipt carrying the logo of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Economic and Finance Commission had the truck’s number, the amount received, driver’s name and other details on it.

When contacted, several truck drivers and fruit and vegetable traders confirmed the collection of extortion money.

“I don’t know whether the people collecting extortion are the Afghan Taliban or not but it is true that money is being extorted from the people in the fruit and vegetable markets,” a vegetable dealer told Dawn on condition of anonymity.

He said the illegal activity had been going on for around two months.

The dealer said two unidentified people riding a motorcycle collected money from drivers as fruits or vegetables were loaded onto trucks.

“If the motorcyclists miss trucks inside the fruit and vegetable markets, then they catch them on the Ring Road to force drivers to pay extortion money before going away,” he said.

A fruit dealer said he and other businessmen couldn’t resist militants.

He wondered if businessmen denied the militants extortion money, then who would protect them.

Opposition leader Syed Zahir demanded of Peshawar deputy commissioner Dr Imran Hamid Sheikh, who was present in the house, to take notice of the extortion.

The DC declared the matter ‘dreadful’ and said the matter would be taken up with the police for action.

The councillors also expressed concerns about the posting of teachers from other districts to Peshawar’s government schools.

On a point of order, Saidan Shah asked about the rationale for such postings and wondered where the teachers with Peshawar domicile would go if the residents of other districts would be posted to the capital city’s schools.

“It (such postings) is an injustice with locals,” he said.

The member demanded of district nazim Mohammad Asim Khan to take notice of the matter and develop a mechanism to stop such postings.

He said the education department should not post teachers to and transfer from Peshawar district without his consent.

The councillors also came down hard on the Pesco officials over the alleged corrupt practices in the ongoing crackdown on power theft.

They said when the Pesco officials arrested people for illegal power connections, most of them got secured their release after bribing the former.

Councillors including Shamsul Bari, Mubashir Manzoor, Jamil Khan, Juma Raz Khan, Said Bacha, Raham Dil Nawaz complained about rampant corruption in Pesco.


Dawn – ‘Negative propaganda by section of Indian media’ on Kartarpur corridor dismays Foreign Office

Naveed Siddiqui

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 01 December 2018. The Foreign Office on Saturday expressed its disappointment at the “relentless negative propaganda campaign” being “waged by a section of the Indian media against Pakistan” on the Kartarpur Corridor initiative.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday performed the groundbreaking of the long-awaited corridor connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur area of Narowal district to Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur district.

The ceremony held to mark the historic event and the speeches delivered there had come under severe criticism in certain sections of the Indian media, much to the “dismay” of the FO.

“We have received overwhelmingly positive response from the Sikh community, not only in India and Pakistan but also from across the globe,” the FO said in a statement.

“The Government and people of Pakistan fully share their joy on this historic breakthrough and solemnly affirm that they will make every possible contribution to a befitting celebration of the auspicious occasion of Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in 2019.”

The FO affirmed that it will not be deterred by unwarranted criticism from across the border.

“We are convinced that those seeking to sow negativity around this initiative for partisan purposes or due to their known anti-Pakistan proclivities will not succeed in their designs,” it said.

“The Government of Pakistan will continue to do what is right for advancing this noble initiative. We also look forward to working out necessary details and modalities with the Indian side concerning the passage through the Corridor.”

The Foreign Office hailed the event as “another moment of hope for the peoples of India and Pakistan” and hoped that “every effort would be made to preserve and take forward the Kartarpur Spirit”.


Dawn – Corridors and other peace openings

“Dekha to phir vaheen thay chalay thay jahan se hum – Kashti kay saath saath kinaray chalay gaye”

(We found ourselves to be where we had begun our journey. The coast moved as did the boat.)

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 30 November 2018. The above is a couplet by Saifuddin Saif. Many of you will be familiar with his name as a poet of exceptional talent who carved a prominent place for himself among the progressive giants of his time.

He traversed a familiar course, via Amritsar and Lahore, that brought enlightenment and fame to him and many of his contemporaries.

Saif was also a filmmaker with a message, and his name flashed in the mind just as a group of Pakistanis and Indians gathered together on the front lines to mark the opening of a corridor that will facilitate Indian visitors to Gurdwara Kartarpur in Narowal.

Saifuddin Saif directed, and wrote and produced, Kartar Singh in the late 1950s, which has to be one of the more discussed feature films made in Pakistan.

In recent years, the film has been screened for selective viewing and a very watchable version of it is available on the internet. It is invaluable material for those who want to get a hang of what makes Pakistan and India and their relationship what it is.

Saif’s is a complex story of human bonding and conflicts, culminating in a born-again good-doer Kartar Singh’s accidental but perfectly explicable killing just when he is about to bring the people on this side of the border their missing son from the land beyond.

It is a lesson in just how fast things go out of control and get messy and ugly even for a group of people who have a common legacy born of a life together over centuries.

Those who agree with the idea of peace in Pakistan and India have spent the last seven decades waiting for the right combination.

Saif as a socialist, or was he a communist, must never have wanted it that way but the progress on Kartar Singh’s theme has been slow and sluggish. The fact that we have been unable to remake ‘Kartar Singhs’ with the frequency that the urgency of the topic demanded is reflective of just how tough it has been.

We, meaning those who agree with the idea of peace in Pakistan and India, have spent the last seven decades waiting for the right combination. The right setup on our side and a corresponding viable equation on the other side to provide us with real hope for a peace dialogue.

It has been observed that as popular contributions go, we had a slightly better chance of helping develop the right combination on our side.

The hope always was that sober people on the other side, with whom we have shared a common heritage, would simultaneously find and establish their own ‘right’ combo for the two countries to engage in a, what is the word, ‘meaningful’ search for solutions.

There has been a clearance sale of formulas. Formulas that can bring about a miraculous friendship between people who cohabited a country before a partition, an inevitable event in the end, separated them and placed some new real or imagined constraints upon them.

The simplest of them all was the one which found expression in General Pervez Musharraf’s peace expedition to India in 2001, the Agra near-miracle as it is remembered with some sense of loss.

Some of his admirers believe to this day that Gen Musharraf possessed some secret charms that he could work on those he met.

In a long series of shortcut answers, he epitomised the one-man squad from Pakistan, who almost succeeded, with his disarming personality, to steal some kind of a permanent solution from right under the noses of prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his associates.

But right then, Indian democracy intervened to thwart Musharraf’s heist.

It is considered by so many in the country to have been a close miss. Since we in Pakistan often consider consensus to be as undesirable a byproduct of democracy as democracy itself, it was thought by many here that Musharraf’s effort was in vain.

We will have to wait for another general with the required dare and dash to try and conquer India for us again, unless, we from the beginning have believed in the alternative solution.

The alternative solution was actually the real answer. It was the original answer. Maybe more so in recent decades but perhaps even before that, we in Pakistan have been told that there will be some definite signs indicating real and irreversible positive movement on India.

We have been fed the notion that there will have to be total agreement between an elected government led by a politician from a federally dominant Punjab and the country’s military chief for any hope of headway in ties with India.

This was one reason why those steeped in old logic would be so eager to keep an eye on what kind of relationship Nawaz Sharif, three-time prime minister of Pakistan, had with his army chief.

In time, the monitors realised that Mian Sahib possessed an uncanny ability to distance his army chief from the avowed ideals, peace with India included, which the PML-N chief held dear as prime minister.

The dream was shattered for those swearing by the theory, to find later another manifestation of their ideal combination in the Imran Khan-Gen Qamar Bajwa pairing.

The new expectations and dreams are linked to the overtures the jadoo ki japphi or the miraculous healing influence that General Bajwa’s greeting of Indian ex-cricketer and politician Navjot Singh Sidhu in Islamabad in August signified.

The Kartarpur opening which was inaugurated on Wednesday is a most welcome restart that will hopefully not be allowed to turn into a wasted opportunity and not be allowed to act as some kind of a gloss-over event to eclipse serious disputed areas, not least of them Kashmir, that must be sensibly embraced and talked through.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.


Dawn – A car-unfriendly Pakistan? Yes, that’s how you make livable cities

Upper-class sensitivities have forced us to design cities that work for cars, not people.

Faizaan Qayyum

University of Illinois – USA, 28 November 2018. A recent piece I wrote on the transactions ban on non-filers and its impact on car buyers, as well as on the housing market, generated a series of interesting responses.

Some of us would like non-filers to be kept away from the privilege of owning a car, while others pointed out the exploitative state of our local automobile industry.

That the automobile sector in Pakistan is a sham is no secret. Our cars are poorly built, lack critical safety features and are relatively more expensive than comparable models around the world.

We are not conducting any research and development on new automobile technologies in Pakistan and, in fact, some of our cars are decades old even if assembled last month.

The question is, why are we so fascinated with personal cars to begin with? Our cities, their infrastructure, the middle-class lifestyle and our aspirations all reflect a strong desire for cars.

Under new urban paradigms and the latest economic and environmental research, this obsession is unhealthy.

Single-occupancy cars are the single most inefficient way to get from one place to another and a bigger cause of congestion and pollution than the street vendors we love to remove to facilitate these vehicles.

Almost like the cherry on top, we have no evidence to suggest that wider roads lead to lower congestion; quite on the contrary, the fundamental law of road congestion states that wider roads will lead to an equivalent increase in usage and therefore have no impact on congestion.

Our fascination with cars has also led us into some of the most ghoulish policy steps imaginable — in most contexts, anti-encroachment and road-widening and clearance operations are toxic to the very concept of city life.

Sadly for us, we have only had a handful of investments in workable transit systems in the country. Not a single Pakistani city can boast of a transit arrangement that facilitates and works for all its citizens.

The recent spate of metrobus systems in Lahore, Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Multan, Peshawar and Karachi are welcome additions, but design and construction are such that they serve as brutalist structures that divide the city.

They are targeted towards political mileage and meant to supplement, not substitute, the dominant model of wide highways, unlimited cars and unworkable cities that we have so painstakingly constructed over the past seven decades.

Consider the Lahore Metrobus. It runs on an elevated track for several kilometres , a physical travesty that has completely destroyed visual aesthetics of places around it. Where possible, the track was constructed at road level with obnoxious fences on both sides.

Interestingly, none of these strategies accorded priority to buses or people who use them; instead, the aim of both was to ensure the same or more space (number of lanes, lane width etc.) was available to private cars on the same roads.

Both of these strategies necessarily required demolishing all or parts of buildings along the route, narrowing or completely removing sidewalks and eliminating what little greenery existed along these roads.

Imaginary Ferozepur Road with road-level metrobus. Where width was not available, we simply built an elevated path while keeping (or increasing) available space for cars.

The two pictorial illustrations above should suffice to illustrate the horror of being a visitor to one of the buildings on this road, or a pedestrian, or, quite simply, someone who needs to cross the road on foot.

Ferozepur Road is practically the most unfriendly road for any sort of roadside activity even after the addition of the metrobus; much like M A Jinnah Road in Karachi, it is on the way to becoming a mere “transit channel” with no soul of its own.

With our approach, we are creating cities that have no life, no cosmopolitanism, no interaction between various classes, ethnicities, religions, genders and other groups — and no soul. Our cities are fast becoming sub-urbanised spaces that fail on every metric of actual city life.

Instead, let me suggest an exercise in re-imagination

Let us remove cars, roads and bridges from our ideas for urban growth and development. While we are at it, let us radically shift towards pedestrian, and bicycle-friendly streets, narrow roads, lots of formal and informal street activity and bus and transit systems that work.

Let us integrate these modes, foot, bicycle, bus, so commuters can utilise any or all of them on the same trip, reaching their destination without needing a car.

Our middle- and upper-class sensitivities have forced us to design cities that work for cars, not people. Those that work for people, on the other hand, are bicycle and pedestrian friendly and, let me assert, car unfriendly.

The actual departure is in how we imagine, design and construct infrastructure, changing which will fundamentally change our cities.

In other words, we need to reclaim spaces from the boulevards that we have shamelessly stretched through the middle of some of our most vibrant places.

These spaces are not insignificant by any measure. Automobile-centricity has an abhorrently high spatial cost for cities; in Los Angeles, for example, roads and streets alone occupy more than 35 per cent of the city’s total area.

If other car-centric facilities like parking lots are added, the city has devoted more than 59pc of its total ground space to cars.

The figure is 24pc for Lahore and 23pc in Karachi but it doesn’t include parking facilities and has increased rapidly in recent years.

Think of it like this: a quarter of Lahore or Karachi is just roads!

Whatever we reclaim from our roads can serve as sidewalks, bicycle lanes, green spaces and spaces for micro-entrepreneurs and informal businesses and stalls.

These spaces can serve a core city function: that of free flow of people, ideas, consumption goods, music, art and talent.

These flows make the city more livable and help realise the benefits of urban agglomerations that our current infrastructure fails to accomplish.

Such a change will be workable if complemented with upzoning around key transit corridors. This refers to increasing densities and diversifying usage of construction around the bus rapid transit (BRT) tracks like Ferozepur Road.

To fully realise the socio-economic benefits of the BRT, we have to allow for taller, mixed-use buildings that fulfil residential, commercial and retail functions.

These buildings need lively street fronts, nothing new or strange for our cities, and wide sidewalks that serve their own informal recreational, social and commercial purposes.

Our current model of sprawled sub-urbanisation that necessitates car usage is unsustainable and is contributing to making our air among the unhealthiest in the world.

It costs obscene amounts of money to facilitate car usage, and sub-urbanisation interacts with poor transit facilities to create a vicious cycle of inefficiencies.

We effectively subsidise car owners and drivers to the tune of billions of rupees through infrastructure, environmental degradation, traffic enforcement and management, rescue services and just the space that single-occupancy cars occupy.

Same topic: Cities, climate change and Pakistan’s extended urbanisation

I am not proposing to reinvent the wheel here. This idea builds on a long line of urban theory and practice that developed, partly, in response to large highways and car-centric infrastructure that American cities built in the first half of the 20th century.

The problems of sprawl are well-documented from cities around the world. For instance, the inability of our transit systems to connect people with places makes our cities inefficient labour markets.

Some progressive cities and localities in the US are now taking conscious steps to reverse decades of sprawl and car-centric growth and achieving spectacular results.

If it’s any encouragement, even our friends across the border have had their eureka moment and are now developing concrete transit-oriented master plans for several of their cities to supplement BRTs and other mass transit projects.

And what about the automobile industry? Where cars are the only way to access cities, it is unjust to block off low-income segments from buying them under the garb of formalisation.

But if our cities are equitable spaces that enable access without cars, and if we impose the true costs of driving on car owners, the industry will have to transform.

Automobile manufacturers may then be forced to think about why a country of 208 million people, with at least 10 cities of over one million, and large untapped demand for inter- and intra-city commute, produces less than 1,000 buses in a year.

Are you a researcher working on Pakistan’s urban or development policy? Share your insights with us at blog@dawn.com

Faizaan Qayyum is a PhD student at the University of Illinois with research interests in cities, urban economic development and governance.

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Dawn – The Mughals are an integral part of India. Why are they being labelled ‘foreigners’?

Parvati Sharma

Op/Ed, 26 November 2018. There was a recurring sketch on the old BBC comedy, Goodness Gracious Me, which featured a father who would counter his children’s enthusiasm, whether for Jesus or Santa Claus – with “Indian!”.

It was a clever satire that’s grown sharper in today’s increasingly chauvinist atmosphere, but there’s one question now that would stump the father. What of the Mughals?

It’s part and parcel of the politics he parodies, after all, that as much as India was the womb for all that is great and good in the world, the Mughals are always and utterly foreign.

It’s true enough that Babur was born far away in the Fergana valley, now spread between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

In portraits commissioned by his descendants, he has slanted eyes, a wisp of a beard, and no sign at all of the north Indian plains he would conquer, and often deplore.

Babur didn’t want to live in Hindustan, nor did his nobility. It’s well known that he broke his goblets and gave up drink to induce in his reluctant Central Asian amirs a righteous urge to rule these infidel, and dusty plains.

Equally, the story of how Babur wept when a cargo of his beloved melons reached him, the lack of fruit was as traumatic as the sacrifice of wine. “While others repent and make vow to abstain,” he wrote, “I have vowed to abstain and repentant am I.”

But Babur had not come to India to eat and drink; he had come to stay. How he stayed would be up to his descendants.

Babur died within five years of his conquest; his dynasty survived three centuries and more. Something of the secret of their success may be found in their very faces.

Put the first six Mughal emperors in a line, from Babur to Aurangzeb, and you see a distinct, historical change: the eyes change to almond-shaped until they lose the epicanthic fold altogether; the noses lengthen and change shape; the facial hair thickens.

It’s not surprising: only the first two Mughals, Babur and Humayun, had Central Asian mothers. Akbar and Aurangzeb’s mothers were Persian; Jahangir and Shahjahan were both born to Rajput queens.

It wasn’t just their features that changed; with every generation, so did their tastes and tongues. Babur wrote his memoirs, for example, in Chagatai, a now-extinct form of Turkish, and often he wrote of melons.

His great-grandson, Jahangir, would fill his own book, the Jahangirnama, with equally prolific descriptions, comparisons and exaltations of mangoes.

Jahangir wrote in Persian, with smatterings of Hindustani, but on a visit to Kabul, leafing through the Baburnama, he was proud to be able to read it: “Although I grew up in Hindustan, I am not ignorant of how to speak or write Turkish.”

Jahangir’s son and successor, however, had no interest in this ancestral tongue, and the last of the Mughals, Bahadur Shah Zafar was a noted patron of a language that was as much a product of the subcontinent as the emperor himself: Urdu.

The festivals of India, too, found their way into the Mughal calendar. The Akbarnama records how, in Kashmir, Akbar ordered the “boats, the river banks and the roofs…adorned with lamps” for Diwali.

In a famous painting from Jahangir’s reign, the emperor is destroying “poverty”, represented by an old man but described in the inscription as “dalidar”, derived from the goddess Daridra, harbinger of misfortune, who is shunned during Diwali while her sister, Lakshmi, is invited home.

Another painting takes the conflation between the Mughal emperor and Hindu custom even further: it shows Jahangir seated in the lotus-position, wearing nothing but a loin-cloth. Jahangir in the pose of a Hindu ascetic.

It is, as the historian Ebba Koch exclaims, “the most Indian (and eccentric!) depiction of a Muslim king one could possibly imagine”.

And yet, in Koch’s very words lies a hint of why Jahangir’s dynasty is considered eternally alien. She does not juxtapose “Indian” with “foreign” after all, but with “Muslim”.

The Mughals may have loved mangoes; they may have celebrated Diwali and Dussehra, Shivratri and Rakhi; they may have had more Rajput blood than Central Asian, but there is one thing they were not: Hindu.

“Think about it yaar,” as the father from Goodness Gracious Me likes to say: the politics that wants to demolish the Taj Mahal has no equally visceral antipathy towards Fergana, does it? Few Indians will even know it exists.

Clearly, it isn’t the Mughals’ origins but their religion that makes them suspect. They may have left behind much of the art and architecture, culture and cuisine by which India is still renowned, but their “Indianness” is subject to shrill debate; their “Muslimness” is why cities must be renamed and monuments demolished as if to teach them a lesson.

It is one of the tragedies of modern India that our past is so often held hostage to our politics, but can such pettiness really be what it now means, to be Indian?

This piece originally appeared on Scroll.in and has been reproduced with permission.


Dawn – Bleak era for media

Abbas Nasir

Op/Ed, 24 November 2018. There is little doubt that the media in Pakistan is besieged today as it is getting battered by different elements that range from the authorities to the economy.

Supreme Court Justice Faez Isa is not known to mince his words on transgressions of the rule of law and the Constitution. He remarked during a hearing on Thursday that there appeared to be a move to silence the media.

He lamented that “we are now living in a controlled media state” where all points of view, other than the one that powerful elements of the power structure are comfortable with, were not welcomed.

The judge asked if the country’s future was being determined by parliament or, what he called, insidious forces. Justice Faez Isa’s remarks came during the hearing of a suo motu case in the Supreme Court on the Faizabad dharna during the final days of the last government.

The two-member bench, headed by Justice Mushir Alam, expressed shock and dismay that TV news channels were taken off air on someone’s orders by cable operators, and took to task the regulator Pemra for not lifting a finger to ensure the free distribution of news channels on cable networks.

The bench was also displeased by the role of the ISI and demanded that the court be briefed about the exact mandate and role of the all-powerful security service. The court came down hard on the attorney general of Pakistan for not appearing before the court in this matter of import, despite a clear commitment.

Many of us know that while the court is a robust backer of freedoms, there are powerful forces determined to make Pakistan a ‘uni-narrative’ state. [centre/Italics]

All who believe in the freedom of the media would take heart from the remarks of the honourable court. Still, many of us would also know that while the court will be a robust backer of freedoms, there are very powerful forces determined to make Pakistan a ‘uni-narrative’ state.

It is not a very well-kept secret how the media was beaten into submission in the run-up to the elections by agencies, and told in no uncertain terms what was acceptable and what was not. Notwithstanding the odd case of heroic defiance, much of the media content reflected the self-censorship that was enforced on the fourth estate.

Of course, the PTI strategy to blame the slowdown of the economy mostly on the policies of its predecessors,and not even a bit on its own scare-mongering tactics, may have been designed to demonise the PML-N, but it began to cut both ways.

As concerns mounted about the state of the economy, it has also bitten the media, with commercial advertisers holding back their ad spends. This, coupled with the present setup’s refusal to honour the payment for ads the last government placed in the media but did not pay for, has exacerbated the crisis.

Even then, it would be outright dishonest to say that cutbacks and job losses in the media are due to a legitimate market-based financial crunch alone. Many of the senior figures who have lost their jobs/ programmes, for example in TV channels, have often expressed their support for civilian supremacy.

There is no denying that there is a legitimate financial squeeze too, but in many of the decisions it seems more factors are at play than what Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry chooses solely to blame on the ‘financial crunch’.

It does not take rocket science to ascertain the actual situation. Look at the legislative record of the PTI, and the party’s performance in its first 100 days in power, and you will see very few draft laws and regulations presented to parliament or even placed in the public domain for discussion.

But one of the first drafts prepared (almost as if it was handed over to the PTI on assuming office) and floated with the pledge of taking all stakeholders on board was the draft law to club together all media regulatory bodies into one.

The move received a negative reaction from the stakeholders in media, especially working journalists and editors who have viewed it as an insidious attempt to shackle the media via stealth in the shape of regulatory reform.

More recent statements by the information minister, who is seen as close to both the prime minister and other powerful state institutions, have been about also tightening the screws on social media which, after large sections of the traditional media were muzzled, had become a source of information for the public.

As a social media user, I would be the last person to say that the platforms do not lay themselves open to exploitation by purveyors of manufactured news and even propaganda, but this is definitely not to say that such people have an overwhelming presence on it. Far from it.

Even where there is such content, there are ways and means to rubbish it and spell out what the facts are. But it is clear that such use does not scare the authorities.

What unnerves them, it appears, is the use of social media, as, for instance, in the aftermath of Naqibullah Mehsud’s extrajudicial murder and the initial botched investigation which created a rights movement largely via social media.

Even then, why the fear? It is not as if justice has been meted out to the perpetrators seen as assets by the state.

At this stage, the PTI might be supporting the muzzling of the media to remain on the ‘same page’ with powerful state institutions, but if Prime Minister Imran Khan desires to drive meaningful change he will need more authority than, say, Shaukat Aziz had while in office.

Here the media will prove a solid ally in the long run. One really hopes and wishes he has the vision to see that.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Dawn – Indian government’s decision to open Kartarpur crossing is ‘victory of peace’: information minister

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 22 November 2018. Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry on Thursday welcomed the Indian cabinet’s announcement to commence the construction of the Kartarpur corridor, calling it a “victory of peace”.

“It is a step towards the right direction and we hope such steps will encourage voice of reasons and tranquillity on both sides of the border,” he said via Twitter.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan had already informed India of its decision to open the Kartarpur corridor for Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary. “PM Imran Khan will break ground on November 28; we welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion,” added Qureshi.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet decided today to develop the corridor that will enable Sikh pilgrims to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, located in Kartarpur, Narowal district without a visa, the Times of India reported.

The corridor will connect Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur to Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Narowal district where the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the shrine of revered saint Baba Guru Nanak, is situated, according to the publication.

Earlier today, Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal had said the government will soon announce “good news about the opening of Kartarpur crossing”.

In August, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had told Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu that Pakistan would open the Kartarpur crossing “when [the Sikh community] celebrates the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Nanak”, when the latter had visited Islamabad for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony.

The 550th birth anniversary of the revered Sikh figure is next year.

In September, Chaudhry, in an interview to Hindustan Times, reiterated the offer saying that “[the government] wants to formalise the informal proposal the Pakistan army chief made to Sidhu”.

“This is an issue of the ordinary people, Sikhs and other Indian pilgrims, and an issue of faith,” the information minister had said in a phone interview. “They shouldn’t suffer and we want to formalise the informal proposal the Pakistan army chief made to Sidhu.”

On the Pakistani side, various proposals have been discussed and announcements made since the Musharraf era, but lack of interest by the Indian side has kept the proposals confined to cold storage.

Thousands of Sikh devotees from India visit Pakistan every year to celebrate the birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak. This year, for the 549th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the Pakistan embassy in New Delhi issued over 3,500 visas to Sikh pilgrims who wished to attend the celebrations that will last for more than a week.


Dawn – Suicide bomber targets clerics in Afghan capital, 40 killed

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 20 November 2018. At least 40 people were killed in an explosion at a meeting of top clerics in Kabul on Tuesday, officials said, in one of the deadliest attacks to strike the Afghan capital in months.

Another 60 people were wounded in the blast, health ministry spokesman Wahid Majroh said, which targeted an Ulema Council gathering at a wedding hall to mark the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

“Initial information suggests it was caused by a suicide bomber,” interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said.

He said the number of dead and wounded was “more than 50” so far.

A manager of Uranus Wedding Palace, which also hosts political and religious functions, told AFP a suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of the gathering.

“There are a lot of casualties, I myself have counted 30 casualties,” he told AFP on the condition of anonymity.