KARACHI: At a time when a political crisis is raging on in Pakistan, political discussions or references seem inevitable. But perhaps more so when a senior politician is around.As Dr Huma Baqai sat...
KARACHI: At a time when a political crisis is raging on in Pakistan, political discussions or references seem inevitable. But perhaps more so when a senior politician is around.
As Dr Huma Baqai sat down with senior Pakistan Peoples Party leader Aitzaz Ahsan for a discussion on his book, titled ‘The Indus Saga’, in a session of the fourth Adab Festival, she was mindful of the fact. “Let’s keep politics out of here. We’ll talk largely about the book,” she said.
In a brief introduction to the book, she said that it was first published in 1996, and since then has been translated into the Urdu and Sindhi languages.
“A famous figure across the border, Shashi Tharoor, wrote a similar book, and there was so much fuss over it. I can say with confidence that [The Indus Saga] is well-researched, culturally sensitive and a lot better than it, but there’s an issue with us that we can’t celebrate our people’s work,” she lamented.
Explaining how he, being a barrister, came to author a book on history, tracing the roots of the “Indus person”, as he calls himself, Ahsan said that there was paranoia about Pakistan’s survival as Tariq Ali’s book ‘Can Pakistan Survive’ came and several other books argued that the country was an unnatural state and had no roots.
He said Gen Ziaul Haq had sent him behind bars. “In those days of 1982 and 1983, there was a benefit of being a political prisoner, for you didn’t have to do any work in jail. You could do only three things: eat, exercise and write or read.”
He said he read 400 to 500 books. “How I got those books in prison is another story,” the former senator said. He, however, later explained that the books written before 1947 or those about the pre-partition period were allowed inside, so he decided to dig deep into the roots, rather than writing a book on contemporary politics.
“After reading those books, I realised that Pakistan didn’t just come into existence in 1947, but it was four to five thousand years old. Our Indus River and the Ganges on the other side of the border are like two slopes of a tin roof, as when a drop falls here it drains into the Arabian Sea and when it falls there it flows into the Bay of Bengal.”
Ahsan remarked that the people of both countries must have different identities but also have a lot in common, including similar languages. He said the Indus person he has talked about in his book was “the product of the plurality of races, bloodlines and cultures”.
“He’s unique in many ways. He’s an Indian but different from an Indian. He’s also a Central Asian and Persian who came here with the invasion of Nadir Shah, and some also migrated here. But he’s not an Arab. ‘Arabisation’ has grown among us since Ziaul Haq.”
Ahsan said the Indus person accepted and imbibed Persian and Central Asian influences, and was a mix of plural nationalities. He said he believes in plurality and diversity, and the necessity to tolerate plurality and diversity.
Replying to a question about how comfortable he was with the non-Muslim history, as the Indus person has his roots in the non-Muslim history, and how comfortable he was with talking about it, he said that it was becoming more and more difficult to discuss it.
“Almost impossible. There’s a prevailing culture where people are asked to accept whatever is in a closed fist without questioning, even if it’s empty, or else you’re liable to be punished with death.”