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November 4, 2019

Literature, politics, and resistance: Part - I


November 4, 2019

As the readers of this page know, whenever possible my columns try to highlight something positive happening in this country. Mostly the focus has been intellectually stimulating conferences and discussions where established norms are challenged and unquestioned narratives are upended. One such recent event was the 21st Tareekh Conference held at the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi, organized by the Tareekh Foundation Trust.

The theme of the conference this year was ‘Resistance movements in Pakistan: A critical analysis’. With the keynote address by Dr Mubarak, the conference had some luminaries of journalism and intellectual scene in Pakistan from Prof Anees Zaidi on the teachers’ resistance movement and Mazhar Abbas on the unfinished struggle of journalists, to Dr Ghafir Shahzad on the demolition of historical sites, and Sohail Sangi on the political impact of peasants’ movement in Sindh. Other speakers included Sartaj Khan, Karamat Ali, Aslam Gurdaspuri, Ayub Malik, Hussain Naqi, Safia Bano, and Doctors Ayub Shaikh, Jaffar Ahmed, Hasan Javed and Anwar Shaheen.

Before discussing the paper that I presented there, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the people and organizations who made it possible for over a dozen speakers to share their ideas with a hall full of listeners. There were no sponsors, as in Pakistan the corporate sector is hardly interested in disciplines of social sciences, let alone history. The Arts Council of Pakistan in Karachi guided by its dynamic leader, Ahmed Shah with support from Dr Ayoub Shaikh, and the Tareekh Foundation with its chairman, Dr Mubarak Ali and Secretary Iqbal Alavi, were the moving force behind it.

Needless to say, they were supported by doctors Huma Ghaffar, Riaz Shaikh, and Tauseef Ahmed Khan. The Arts Council in Karachi has been pretty active thanks to the efforts of Ahmed Shah and Dr Ayub Shaikh, who have injected a new life into it. Karachi – a city that has been maligned much, and appreciated less – must be proud of the Arts Council which offers one event after another to its denizens. Ahmed Shah is never shy of accommodating requests for book launches, conferences and seminars. He facilitated the Tareekh Conference by not only offering it a new hall but also by arranging for lunch and teas.

Iqbal Alavi is almost 90-year-old comrade with a long history of progressive politics behind him. He played an instrumental role in the activation of the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences in the 1990s and 2000s, by organizing numerous conferences, lectures and seminars that provided a platform for cerebral stimulation. Iqbal Alavi’s second major contribution is to the Tareekh Foundation itself which works under the guidance of noted and respected historian, Dr Mubarak Ali. As mentioned earlier, the Tareekh Foundation’s unsung heroes also include Huma Ghaffar, Riaz Shaikh and Tauseef Ahmed, all of who deserve appreciation and praise.

The topic of my paper was ‘People’s movements in Pakistan and resistance literature’. In a series of columns, I will present the main points that I presented. In Pakistan, there is a dearth of good books and other material on people’s movements, mainly because not much has been written on them. The history being taught under the guise of Pakistan Studies mostly presents the narrative of the ruling elite and dominant forces, both economically and politically. In addition, we have some books that civil and military bureaucrats have written.

Such books hardly discuss any people’s movement or represent any public sentiments. From Dr Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi to Dr Safdar Mahmood, and from Qudratullah Shahab to Roedad Khan, almost all government employees have presented history with their preferred perspective. While Dr Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi was a victim of denominational myopia, Dr Safdar Mahmood reads like a staunch promoter of the ideology of Pakistan and the so-called two-nation theory. In their writings, there is no room for any people’s movements, and even if there is, they are presented with a nationalistic and religious tinge. The same applies to the representatives of the civil and military bureaucracy.

Most bureaucrats absolve themselves of all blame and crimes committed in the name of the ‘national interest’. If Qudratullah Shahab pretends to be honest in his duties, Roedad Khan puts on the cloak of a neat and clean officer. That’s one reason why we don’t get any details of people’s movements from these bureaucrats, though some intellectuals and popular leaders have indeed written about them. For example Aslam Khawaja’s book 'People’s Movements in Pakistan' is a brilliant work of research in which he has condensed within 650 pages the 70-year history of people’s movements.

He has summarized almost all major and minor movements: from the struggles in Balochistan to the civil disobedience movement against General Ziaul Haq; and from the peasants’ and workers’ struggles to movements in art and culture. Aslam Khawaja has painstakingly documented the details, mainly thanks to his own background in left-wing and progressive politics in Pakistan. He has been an activist, journalist and translator. We also find some details about people’s movements in several books penned by well-known politicians, though most of these books reflect their personal politics more.

Such examples include the books from Z A Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto to Kulsoom Nawaz, Javed Hashmi, Yousuf Raza Gilani, Sherbaz Mazari, Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo and Wali Khan. In addition, we also have books from some politico-religious leaders such as Maulana Kausar Niazi and Prof Ghafoor Ahmed. All of these writers present their eye-witness accounts of political movements with their own perspectives. Shaikh Mujib’s 'The Unfinished Memoirs', translated into Urdu as 'Adhuri Yadain'; and Jahan Ara Imam’s Bengali book that was translated into Urdu as 'Ikhattar ke wo din' (The days of seventy-one) edited by Ahmed Saleem, are good accounts of people’s struggle in East Pakistan.

These books provide substantial background material about the struggle and then separation of East Pakistan. Similarly, Jilani Chandpuri’s book 'Alamiya dar Alamiya' (Tragedy within tragedy) is an account of how East Pakistan became Bangladesh. About labour movements in Pakistan, Dr Jaffar Ahmed has compiled ‘Pakistan ki mazdoor tehreekein, nazari aur amali masail' (Pakistan’s labour movements: theoretical and practical issues). In this book we find articles and essays by labour leaders such as Nabi Ahmed and Karamat Ali and by intellectuals such Kamran Asdar Ali and Ahmed Saleem. It also contains the personal experiences and observations of Wahid Basheer and Ali Amjad, helping us understand the history of the labour movement in Pakistan.

Another good research book on the labour movement is by Zafar Shaheed, 'The Labour Movements in Pakistan', focusing on the leadership and organisation of the workers’ struggle in Karachi from the late 1960s to the early years of the 1970s. Kamran Asdar Ali's book, 'Surkh Salam', discusses the first 25 years of communist politics in Pakistan from 1947 to 1972; this is great research work. Similarly Taimur Rahman’s book, 'The Class structure of Pakistan', offers fairly useful material on Pakistan with a perspective of historical materialism.

Abdullah Malik wrote dozens of books, but his two books deserve a mention here. The first is 'Jail Yaatra', which is a detailed account of his days in prison during the repressive regime of General Zia, whereas the second is 'Fauj aur Pakistan' (The army and Pakistan); both books offer good material on our topic under discussion. About individual and public struggles against martial law regimes, Major Ishaq’s book 'Hasan Nasir ki Shahadat' (The martyrdom of Hasan Nasir) is a marvelous book. Similarly, Major Aftab’s book, 'Attock qiley se' (from Attock Fort), and Maulana Javed Nomani’s 'Jo mujh pe guzri (What I went through) are disturbing accounts of torture under arrest.

To be continued

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]