Remembering Bhola – Dr Adil Najam

Remember Bacha Khan, the ‘Frontier Gandhi’? Intermittently, he spent almost as many years in jails as Nelson Mandela did. Like Mandela, he was also a practitioner of non-violence and a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi.

But the country that came into being with Muhammad bin QasimThe writer has taught international relations and diplomacy at Boston University and at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and was the vice chancellor of LUMS.

December 16 is the anniversary of what we in Pakistan now call ‘the Fall of Dhaka’ and what Bangladesh celebrates as its ‘Victory Day.’
The writer has taught international relations and diplomacy at Boston University and at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and was the vice chancellor of LUMS.

December 16 is the anniversary of what we in Pakistan now call ‘the Fall of Dhaka’ and what Bangladesh celebrates as its ‘Victory Day.’

First, let us extend our hand of friendship, greeting, and good wishes to our Bangladeshi friends. Next, let us raise our hands in prayer: may the memories we build together for our future be very different – much more pleasant – than the scars we carry from our past.

December 16 is a day of too many unstitched wounds, of too much unshared agony, of too many unspoken words, of too much unrepented hurt. The unstitched, the unshared, the unspoken and the unrepented continues to fester today as it had when Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote his poignant 1974 poem, On Return from Dhaka:

Dil tou cha’ha, par shakst-i-dil ney muhlet he na di

kuch gilley shikvey bhi ker laitey, munajaatouN ke baad

Unn se jou kehney ga’aye th’ay ‘Faiz’ jaaN sadqa ke’iye

ann-kahi he reh ga’ee voh baat sab baatouN ke baad

[And so crushed was the heart that though it wished, it found no chance/after the entreaties, after the despair – for us to quarrel once again as old friends.

Faiz, what you’d gone to say, ready to offer everything, Even your life/Those healing words remained unspoken after all else had been said

Translation: Agha Shahid Ali, The Rebel’s Silhouette]

As painful, and as dangerous, as the words that remain unspoken are, the lessons that remain unlearnt are even more so. The disfigurement we have inflicted on history has made our arguments of how we came upon December 16 turn putrid. There is little point, now, in mechanically rechurning the discredited dialectics of distrust. As Nelson Mandela has so passionately demonstrated to us, an honest attempt at justice for the past can emerge only when a shared desire for reconciliation in the future has already set in. The truth is that it has not set in yet.

Here, then, is what we know. After a quarter century of pained togetherness, the sense of alienation and disconnect in what was then East Pakistan had become so deep that the first ever national elections (held on December 7, 1970) threw up a result so stark that it was confounding in its clarity. Unadulterated by analysis, the unvarnished numbers speak for themselves.

In a National Assembly of 300, the Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman, won 160 seats and 39.2 percent of the votes cast (12,937,162 out of 33,004,065 votes). The Pakistan People’s Party, led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, won 81 seats with 18.6 percent of the votes (6,148,923). In East Pakistan, the Awami League won all but two of the province’s 162 seats (the remaining two were won by independents). In West Pakistan, the PPP won 81 seats out of the 138 allotted to the western half of the country (with no other party getting into two digits). The Awami League won no seat at all in West Pakistan and the PPP none in the East.

Scarcely ever in electoral politics do you get results as clear as this. Yet, what followed was chaos and confusion, a civil war, and ultimately the unnecessarily bloody dismemberment of what had always been an uneasy and untenable union.

However, it would be a historical folly to seek an explanation for December 16, 1971, in the election results of December 7, 1970. Rather, the election results were a reflection of the neglect and negligence of the two decades that preceded them. If a single date is to be found to personify the disaffection that had set in East Pakistan, that date may be November 12, 1970. The day Bhola landed in East Pakistan.

Bhola, of course, was Cyclone Bhola.

It wiped out villages. Destroyed crops. The lives of over 3.6 million people were devastated. Nearly 85 percent of the area it hit was decimated. It brought winds of an unbelievable 185 km/hr and a 10 meter (33 ft) high storm surge in the Ganges Delta. It left in its wake half a million Pakistanis dead. A New York Times headline described it as possibly ‘The Worst Catastrophe of the Century,’ meteorologists remember it as one of the most deadly natural disasters in history. Most Pakistanis today remember it not at all.

The one reference to this calamity that a few contemporary Pakistanis may be familiar with is in that heart warming national song (written by Asad Mohammad Khan and sung by Shahnaz Begum) Mauj barhey ya aandhi aa’ye, diya jala’ey rakhna hai/ghar ki khatir sau dukh jhaleiN, ghar tou aakhir apna hai. Bhola was the mauj (storm surge). Bhola was the aandhi (storm). East Pakistan was the ghar (home) that we were all implored to hold dear. How high were our ideals; how unmet our hopes!

The fact that we in today’s Pakistan have forgotten an event so cataclysmic in our own history is trivia. The real tragedy is that those who lived in the then West Pakistan also did not comprehend just what had hit them.

The military government of Gen Yahya Khan claimed that it would “spare no efforts” in relief but would never delay the forthcoming elections, but was severely criticised for a shoddy response and for never fully understanding the scale of the catastrophe. Military helicopters could not move from West to East Pakistan in time as the government in India refused to give them clearance. Operations were delayed. The citizen response in the West tepid.

By the time Gen Yahya arrived in Dhaka to take charge of the relief operations on November 24 (he had earlier aerially inspected the area on November 16) it was already too late. Ultimately, he himself conceded that his government had made “slips” and “mistakes”. By then, Bhola had become, in the East Pakistani sensibility, a metaphor and a validation of all that was and had been wrong in West Pakistan’s relationship with East Pakistan.

Bhola became an election rally for the Awami League. More proof of West Pakistani callousness. The result of the election would probably have been the same without Bhola. But the cyclone served to frame just how much had gone how terribly wrong in the relations between the two. Not just in terms of the government response, but in the essence of citizen connectedness.

Time has at least healed some of the physical hurt caused by Bhola, as those affected had no options but for life to move on. But the real lesson – unlearnt still – that Bhola has left us with is that the pain of neglect does not lessen with time. It compounds. It seethes. It festers. It reeks. That is a lesson that the Pakistan of 1970 had never understood. It is not clear that the Pakistani of 2013 has learnt it any better.

Even without global climate change, there are too many Bholas that lurk on our horizon. With climate change there are likely to be even more. The lesson here is to respect nature and its awesome forces, but also to recognise that, terrible as it can be, the wrath of nature is so much less terrible – and, ultimately, so much more manageable – than the wrath of history and a messed up polity.

Yes, natural calamities tear apart the very fabric of life. But, handled right, they can also bring together societies in common cause. We have seen some of that happening in recent floods and earthquakes. But the politics of disenfranchisement, of distress, of derision, of disparagement, of disdain can only divide society. And the hurt of division knows few cures. It feeds on its own agony. It compounds over time. And ultimately it blows back in ways more gruesome and ghastly than any that even nature can conjure up in all its fury.

As we remember Bhola and think about the shadows of 1971 on 2013, let us also remember that the worst calamities are nearly never natural, they are creatures of our own disconnect. All too often, they are political. If so, then the response must also be so.
First, let us extend our hand of friendship, greeting, and good wishes to our Bangladeshi friends. Next, let us raise our hands in prayer: may the memories we build together for our future be very different – much more pleasant – than the scars we carry from our past.

December 16 is a day of too many unstitched wounds, of too much unshared agony, of too many unspoken words, of too much unrepented hurt. The unstitched, the unshared, the unspoken and the unrepented continues to fester today as it had when Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote his poignant 1974 poem, On Return from Dhaka:

Dil tou cha’ha, par shakst-i-dil ney muhlet he na di

kuch gilley shikvey bhi ker laitey, munajaatouN ke baad

Unn se jou kehney ga’aye th’ay ‘Faiz’ jaaN sadqa ke’iye

ann-kahi he reh ga’ee voh baat sab baatouN ke baad

[And so crushed was the heart that though it wished, it found no chance/after the entreaties, after the despair – for us to quarrel once again as old friends.

Faiz, what you’d gone to say, ready to offer everything, Even your life/Those healing words remained unspoken after all else had been said

Translation: Agha Shahid Ali, The Rebel’s Silhouette]

As painful, and as dangerous, as the words that remain unspoken are, the lessons that remain unlearnt are even more so. The disfigurement we have inflicted on history has made our arguments of how we came upon December 16 turn putrid. There is little point, now, in mechanically rechurning the discredited dialectics of distrust. As Nelson Mandela has so passionately demonstrated to us, an honest attempt at justice for the past can emerge only when a shared desire for reconciliation in the future has already set in. The truth is that it has not set in yet.

Here, then, is what we know. After a quarter century of pained togetherness, the sense of alienation and disconnect in what was then East Pakistan had become so deep that the first ever national elections (held on December 7, 1970) threw up a result so stark that it was confounding in its clarity. Unadulterated by analysis, the unvarnished numbers speak for themselves.

In a National Assembly of 300, the Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman, won 160 seats and 39.2 percent of the votes cast (12,937,162 out of 33,004,065 votes). The Pakistan People’s Party, led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, won 81 seats with 18.6 percent of the votes (6,148,923). In East Pakistan, the Awami League won all but two of the province’s 162 seats (the remaining two were won by independents). In West Pakistan, the PPP won 81 seats out of the 138 allotted to the western half of the country (with no other party getting into two digits). The Awami League won no seat at all in West Pakistan and the PPP none in the East.

Scarcely ever in electoral politics do you get results as clear as this. Yet, what followed was chaos and confusion, a civil war, and ultimately the unnecessarily bloody dismemberment of what had always been an uneasy and untenable union.

However, it would be a historical folly to seek an explanation for December 16, 1971, in the election results of December 7, 1970. Rather, the election results were a reflection of the neglect and negligence of the two decades that preceded them. If a single date is to be found to personify the disaffection that had set in East Pakistan, that date may be November 12, 1970. The day Bhola landed in East Pakistan.

Bhola, of course, was Cyclone Bhola.

It wiped out villages. Destroyed crops. The lives of over 3.6 million people were devastated. Nearly 85 percent of the area it hit was decimated. It brought winds of an unbelievable 185 km/hr and a 10 meter (33 ft) high storm surge in the Ganges Delta. It left in its wake half a million Pakistanis dead. A New York Times headline described it as possibly ‘The Worst Catastrophe of the Century,’ meteorologists remember it as one of the most deadly natural disasters in history. Most Pakistanis today remember it not at all.

The one reference to this calamity that a few contemporary Pakistanis may be familiar with is in that heart warming national song (written by Asad Mohammad Khan and sung by Shahnaz Begum) Mauj barhey ya aandhi aa’ye, diya jala’ey rakhna hai/ghar ki khatir sau dukh jhaleiN, ghar tou aakhir apna hai. Bhola was the mauj (storm surge). Bhola was the aandhi (storm). East Pakistan was the ghar (home) that we were all implored to hold dear. How high were our ideals; how unmet our hopes!

The fact that we in today’s Pakistan have forgotten an event so cataclysmic in our own history is trivia. The real tragedy is that those who lived in the then West Pakistan also did not comprehend just what had hit them.

The military government of Gen Yahya Khan claimed that it would “spare no efforts” in relief but would never delay the forthcoming elections, but was severely criticised for a shoddy response and for never fully understanding the scale of the catastrophe. Military helicopters could not move from West to East Pakistan in time as the government in India refused to give them clearance. Operations were delayed. The citizen response in the West tepid.

By the time Gen Yahya arrived in Dhaka to take charge of the relief operations on November 24 (he had earlier aerially inspected the area on November 16) it was already too late. Ultimately, he himself conceded that his government had made “slips” and “mistakes”. By then, Bhola had become, in the East Pakistani sensibility, a metaphor and a validation of all that was and had been wrong in West Pakistan’s relationship with East Pakistan.

Bhola became an election rally for the Awami League. More proof of West Pakistani callousness. The result of the election would probably have been the same without Bhola. But the cyclone served to frame just how much had gone how terribly wrong in the relations between the two. Not just in terms of the government response, but in the essence of citizen connectedness.

Time has at least healed some of the physical hurt caused by Bhola, as those affected had no options but for life to move on. But the real lesson – unlearnt still – that Bhola has left us with is that the pain of neglect does not lessen with time. It compounds. It seethes. It festers. It reeks. That is a lesson that the Pakistan of 1970 had never understood. It is not clear that the Pakistani of 2013 has learnt it any better.

Even without global climate change, there are too many Bholas that lurk on our horizon. With climate change there are likely to be even more. The lesson here is to respect nature and its awesome forces, but also to recognise that, terrible as it can be, the wrath of nature is so much less terrible – and, ultimately, so much more manageable – than the wrath of history and a messed up polity.

Yes, natural calamities tear apart the very fabric of life. But, handled right, they can also bring together societies in common cause. We have seen some of that happening in recent floods and earthquakes. But the politics of disenfranchisement, of distress, of derision, of disparagement, of disdain can only divide society. And the hurt of division knows few cures. It feeds on its own agony. It compounds over time. And ultimately it blows back in ways more gruesome and ghastly than any that even nature can conjure up in all its fury.

As we remember Bhola and think about the shadows of 1971 on 2013, let us also remember that the worst calamities are nearly never natural, they are creatures of our own disconnect. All too often, they are political. If so, then the response must also be so.’s invasion of Sindh, despite its formal birth in 1947, had no place for non-violent politicians even if they were as devout Muslims as Bacha Khan because: a) they were secular and b) they were anti-colonial.Shahbaz’s Sharif’s meeting with Manmohan Singh in the Indian capital last Thursday was the second by a leading Pakistani official with the Indian prime minister in the three months that have passed since the New York meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries at the end of September. The last one was a ‘courtesy call’ by Sartaj Aziz on November 13 while on a visit to India for an ASEM foreign ministers’ conference.

Shahbaz was visiting India as chief minister of Punjab at the invitation of his counterpart from the Indian state of Punjab, but he met Manmohan effectively as a special envoy of Nawaz and in his informal capacity as the country’s de facto deputy prime minister. The diplomatic nature of Shahbaz’s mission was underlined by the fact that he was accompanied by Tariq Fatemi, the prime minister’s closest and most trusted foreign policy adviser. In addition, the presence of Minister of State for Commerce Khurram Dastagir at this meeting and Shahbaz’s discussions a day later with the Indian commerce minister signal the keenness of the Nawaz government to move forward on the trade issue.

At his meeting with Manmohan, Shahbaz delivered a message from Nawaz to the Indian prime minister reaffirming Pakistan’s desire for the resumption of the suspended bilateral dialogue, the resolution of disputes over Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and water issues and for the expansion of trade. Shahbaz also conveyed the prime minister’s wish that Manmohan Singh should visit Pakistan before next year’s parliamentary elections in India.

Not surprisingly, the Indian prime minister was noncommittal on a visit to Pakistan. Its chances have in fact been diminished further by the drubbing which the ruling Congress Party received at the hands of the BJP in four of the five state elections held during the past month. Following its rout in these four states, which lie at the heart of the all-important Hindi belt, the Manmohan government has become even more wary of making any diplomatic moves which could open it to the charge that it is ‘soft’ on the country’s ‘archenemy’.

If Manmohan has not made a trip to Pakistan so far, it is certainly not for any lack of importunateness on our part. All Pakistani leaders who have been in office since Manmohan became prime minister in 2004 – Musharraf, Zardari, Gilani, Parvaiz Ashraf and Nawaz – have been pressing him repeatedly and persistently to give them the honour of a visit.

With the exception of Nawaz, all of them also invited themselves to India on one pretext or the other. The favourite excuse used by our leaders is some sports event in India and, failing that, a visit to the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. This tradition was started by Ziaul Haq and has been continued by his successors. Following in his footsteps, Musharraf and Gilani undertook visits to witness Pakistan-India cricket matches, while Zardari and Ashraf used the pretext of a trip to Ajmer to pay respect at the shrine of the Sufi saint. Shahbaz has now chosen the ‘World Kabaddi Championship’ final in Ludhiana in Indian Punjab for the same purpose. There is a possibility that after the Indian elections, Nawaz might also follow this well-trodden path for a trip to India.

While our leaders have always responded with alacrity to any hint from the Indian side of a willingness to host their visit, India has been taking the position that a visit by their prime minister to Pakistan could only be considered if the ground has first been prepared for a substantive and significant outcome. What that means in plain language is that there must be a prior assurance of a tangible gain for India – a ‘deliverable’ in the language of Indian diplomacy – that serves to advance the country’s foreign policy and security interests. This is nothing unusual. Other countries also follow the same approach. It is only Pakistan that makes a high-level visit an end in itself.

There are three concrete concessions that India is seeking from Pakistan that could possibly tempt Manmohan Singh to pay a visit to Pakistan: the grant of MFN status; overland transit facilities for India to Afghanistan and Central Asia; and the reactivation of the dialogue on Kashmir started by Musharraf for an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution.

There is also possibly a fourth ‘deliverable’ that could prompt a visit by the Indian prime minister: an acceptance by Pakistan of the Indian offer to sell electricity and Qatari gas, which Delhi has for months been pressing Islamabad to agree to. This issue was brought up with Shahbaz by Sharma and the press release issued by the Indian commerce ministry on their meeting states that the two sides agreed on the need to “revitalise” the ongoing technical talks for an electricity transmission line and the export of power and gas from India to Pakistan.

As regards trade, the Zardari government made a commitment in 2011 to grant MFN status to India without taking into consideration its negative impact on Pakistan’s industry and without demanding from India that it should dismantle the massive non-tariff barriers (NTBs) which form an invisible wall to the export of Pakistani goods to India. While the Nawaz government strongly favours the expansion of trade with India, its public statements on the MFN status have been inconsistent.

Last Monday, Dastagir said that Pakistan had already given India 82 percent benefits attached to MFN status and that the remaining 18 percent benefits were not being granted because of “political differences”. Then, in reply to a question by the press last Thursday, Shahbaz said that Pakistan has proposed a non-discriminatory trade agreement which India has accepted. But the silence of the press release issued by the Indian commerce ministry’s on this proposal suggests that India intends to keep pressing its demand for MFN status without linking it to the removal of NTBs.

The plethora of contradictory statements by the government on the question of trade is a reflection of muddled thinking, lack of input in policymaking from state institutions and experts, and the whims of party leaders with a narrow or distorted vision. It is not of course confined to the MFN issue. It can be seen equally in the confusion in other areas of our India policy.

On the grant of transit rights to India, the PML-N election manifesto promises the opening of land routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran. Now that this party is ruling the country, this commitment has become official policy. Khurram Dastagir said last Monday that the grant to India of a trade passage to Afghanistan via the Wahgah border was under consideration. One day later, Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique, also declared that Pakistan is ready to offer its road and rail routes to all regional countries, including India. Amazingly, and shockingly, there has been no government or expert study as yet of the strategic, political and economic consequences of such a far-reaching concession to India.

Earlier this month, Sartaj Aziz pointed to the serious environmental and ecological consequences of Indian military deployment in Siachen and called for the withdrawal of its troops from the area. That demand was predictably and promptly rejected by India. If we are serious about this matter, we must forcefully bring it to the attention of the international community, backed by scientific data.

Sartaj Aziz last week expressed the view that if there is to be any breakthrough in Pakistan-India relations, it will be after next year’s elections and the formation of a new government in India. That hope is unlikely to be fulfilled if Pakistan continues to rely exclusively on the bilateral approach or on its invitation diplomacy.

It is time to reverse the Musharraf era policy of not raising our disputes with India in international forums. That approach has failed and Pakistan must make use of all such forums and diplomatic channels to mobilise international support.

We were desperate to win Uncle Sam’s favours and were busy imagining a pure community of Muslims. Secularism and anti-imperialism spoiled these grand plans. Consequently, when Bacha Khan along with his fellow non-violent activists, such as G M Syed and Abdus Smad Achackzai, formed the Pakistan People’s Party espousing a secular and socialist programme, he was arrested and jailed.This is the third and final part of the prophecies made by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in an interview to Shorish Kashmiri in Delhi in 1946 about the creation of Pakistan.

“Muslims have every right to demand constitutional safeguards, but partition of India cannot promote their interests. The demand is the politically incorrect solution of a communal problem.

“In future, India will be faced with class problems, not communal disputes; the conflict will be between capital and labour. The communist and socialist movements are growing and it is not possible to ignore them. These movements will increasingly fight for the protection of the interests of the underclass.

“Muslim capitalists and the feudal classes are apprehensive of this impending threat. Now they have given this whole issue a communal colour and have turned the economic issue into a religious dispute. But Muslims alone are not responsible for this. This strategy was first adopted by the British government and then endorsed by the political minds of Aligarh. Later, Hindu short-sightedness made matters worse and now freedom has become contingent on the partition of Indian.

“Jinnah himself was an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. In one Congress session, Sarojini Naidu had commended him with this title. He was a disciple of Dadabhai Naoroji. He had refused to join the 1906 deputation of Muslims that initiated communal politics in India. In 1919 he stood firmly as a nationalist and opposed Muslim demands before the Joint Select Committee.

“On October 3, 1925, in a letter to the ‘Times of India’, he rubbished the suggestion that Congress is a Hindu outfit. In the All Parties Conferences of 1925 and 1928, he strongly favoured a joint electorate. While speaking at the National Assembly in 1925, he said: ‘I am a nationalist first and a nationalist last’ and he exhorted his colleagues, be they Hindus or Muslims, ‘not to raise communal issues in the House and help make the assembly a national institution in the truest sense of the term.’

“In 1928, Jinnah supported the Congress call to boycott the Simon Commission. Until 1937 he did not favour the demand to partition India. In his message to various student bodies he stressed the need to work for Hindu Muslim unity. But he felt aggrieved when the Congress formed governments in seven states and ignored the Muslim League. In 1940 he decided to pursue the partition demand to check Muslim political decline…

“Q: It is clear that Muslims are not going to turn away from their demand for Pakistan. Why have they become so impervious to all reason and logic of arguments?

“A: It is difficult, rather impossible, to fight against the misplaced enthusiasm of a mob, but to suppress one’s conscience is worse than death. Today Muslims are not walking, they are flowing. The problem is that Muslims have not learnt to walk steadily; they either run or flow with the tide. When a group of people lose confidence and self-respect, they are surrounded by imaginary doubts and dangers and fail to make a distinction between right and wrong…

“Q: But Hindus and Muslims are two different nations with different and disparate inclinations. How can unity between the two be achieved?

“A: This is an obsolete debate. I have seen the correspondence between Allama Iqbal and Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni on the subject. In the Quran the term ‘qaum’ has been used not only for the community of believers, but also for distinct human groupings generally. What do we wish to achieve by raising this debate about the etymological scope of terms like ‘millat’ (community), ‘qaum’ (nation) and ‘ummat’ (group)? In religious terms, India is home to many people – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, etc…..

Muslims must realise that they are bearers of a universal message. They are not a racial or regional grouping in whose territory others cannot enter. Strictly speaking, Muslims in India are not one community; they are divided among many well-entrenched sects. You can unite them by arousing their anti-Hindu sentiment, but you cannot unite them in the name of Islam. To them, Islam means undiluted loyalty to their own sect.

Apart from Wahhabi, Sunni and Shia, there are innumerable groups who owe allegiance to different saints and divines. Small issues like raising hands during prayer and saying ‘ameen’ loudly have created disputes that defy solution. The ulema have used the instrument of ‘takfeer’ (fatwas declaring someone an infidel) liberally. Earlier, they used to take Islam to the disbelievers; now they take away Islam from the believers….

“But today the situation is worse than ever. Muslims have become firm in their communalism; they prefer politics to religion and follow their worldly ambitions as commands of religion. History bears testimony to the fact that, in every age, we ridiculed those who pursued the good with consistency, snuffed out the brilliant examples of sacrifice and tore the flags of selfless service. Who are we, the ordinary mortals; even high ranking Prophets were not spared by these custodians of tradition.

“Q: You closed down your journal Al-Hilal a long time ago. Was it due to your disappointment with the Muslims who were wallowing in intellectual desolation, or did you feel it was like proclaiming azan (call to prayer) in a barren desert?

“A: I did not abandon Al-Hilal because I had lost faith in its truth. This journal created great awareness among a large section of Muslims. They renewed their faith in Islam, in human freedom and in consistent pursuit of righteous goals. In fact, my own life was greatly enriched by this experience and I felt like those who had the privilege of learning under the companionship of the Messenger of God.

“My own voice entranced me and under its impact I burnt out like a phoenix. Al-Hilal had served its purpose and a new age was dawning. Based on my experiences, I made a reappraisal of the situation and decided to devote all my time and energy for the attainment of our national freedom. I was firm in my belief that freedom of Asia and Africa largely depended on India’s freedom and Hindu-Muslim unity is the key to India’s freedom.

“Even before the First World War, I had realised that India was destined to attain freedom, and no power on earth would be able to deny it. I was also clear in my mind about the role of Muslims. I ardently wished that Muslims would learn to walk together with their countrymen and not give an opportunity to history to say that, when Indians were fighting for their independence, Muslims were looking on as spectators.

“Let nobody say that, instead of fighting the waves, they were standing on the banks and showing mirth on the drowning of boats carrying the freedom fighters.”

(Taken from ‘Maulana Abul Kalam Azad – The Man Who Knew the Future of Pakistan Before Its Creation’, courtesy Covert Magazine)

Ever heard about the Bhabra massacre? As a warning shot, a PPP meeting at Bhabra (in Charsadda) was fired upon, leaving scores dead. This is how the non-violent PPP was violently nipped in the bud.

But Bacha Khan was too big to be shot dead by tiny bullets. Hence, apartheid decided to break his spirit through rigorous jail terms. For the next ten or so years he was mostly behind bars. When released on health reasons in 1964, he went to Afghanistan in exile. He did not return until the National Awami Party (NAP), a party he co-founded, formed the Frontier government in 1972.

On his return, he was welcomed by a ‘million-man rally’, according to current standards. The mass mobilisation scared Bhutto who saw a rival in Bacha Khan’s charisma. A year later, Bacha Khan had landed in Bhutto’s jail.

When it comes to domestic Mandelas, rulers – whether khaki or civilian – have behaved in a similar fashion. When Bacha Khan died in 1987, he was under house arrest because he was campaigning against water apartheid in the name of the Kalabagh dam.

What about Mirza Ibrahim? When he died in 1999, at the age of 94, Mirza Ibrahim had spent almost a quarter of his life either in British colonial jails or puritan Pakistani dungeons. His crime was fighting against the class apartheid.

A committed communist and a revered trade unionist, Mirza Ibrahim was mobilised by the Khilafat Movement and landed in jail for the first time at the age of 16. Considered the father of trade unionism in Pakistan, Mirza was elected as president of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF) when Faiz Ahmed Faiz was elected as the federation’s vice president.

In 1950, he contested elections to the Punjab Assembly from a Lahore constituency. He won but the government’s candidate was fraudulently declared victorious. It was election rigging in his constituency that assigned currency to the term jhurloo (rigging) in Punjab. In 1951, he was implicated in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case and was tortured at the notorious Lahore Fort. From then on, he was jailed a number of times until Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship came to its end in 1988.

Abdus Samad Achackzai (‘Baloch Gandhi’), Sain G M Sayyed, Ghus Bux Bizenjo, Mian Iftikhar-ud-Din, Haider Bux Jatoi and many others – all non-violent – did exactly what Nelson Mandela was doing in South Africa. They all organised the wretched of the earth against apartheid of one form or the other.

And what did we do to them? When they were alive we jailed them, vilified them, and when possible tortured them to death – Hasan Nasir and Fazal Rahu, for instance. Lest they should posthumously spoil our youth, we have discreetly hidden them in closet. We want Mandelas only for others.