At least thirty
people have lost their lives in eleven incidents of sectarian-related
terrorist attacks and targeted killings since July 20.
The August 16 killing of
mostly Shia passengers at Babusar Top Pass was the worst sectarian attack
carried out this year after a similar attack on Shia passengers in Kohistan
on February 27. The attack was claimed by Darra Adam Khel chapter of Tehrik-e-Taliban
Pakistan (TTP) which is notorious in sectarian killings.
The same day, three men
belonging to Hazara Shia community were shot dead in Quetta. A new group
Jaish-e-Islam accepted the responsibility for attack.
Six new groups have
claimed responsibility for different sectarian attacks carried out in 2012.
Does this indicate the emergence of new violent sectarian groups or merely
tactical use of new names by the same old groups?
It will take time to
ascertain the first probability. The use of tag names by the terrorists
however is not a recent trend. There have been many incidents in the past
where terrorists, belonging to the same or similar organisations, used tag
names merely for operational purposes.
The terrifying aspects of
recent spate of sectarian violence, however, are the sectarian groups’
ideological and operational transformations.
Sectarianism is not a new
phenomenon in Pakistan. It has time and again resulted in sectarian tensions
and violence. The country has two regular patterns of structural violence,
sectarian and ethno-political, which are major security irritants in
Both emerged in the 1980s
and claimed thousands of lives even before 9/11.
Initially, Karachi and
southern Punjab were the hotspots of ethno-political and sectarian violence,
respectively, but later they took several parts of the country into their
fold. Sectarian violence, however, was never supported by such a wide array
of arguments justifying violence as it is supported today. Neither were
sectarian groups so well connected to other actors of violence before the
Sectarian groups have
explored more profound grounds to justify sectarian killings ranging from
Islamisation discourse to regional and international political scenario.
There are two major reasons for their transformation.
First, after the sectarian
groups had joined the bigger alliance of al-Qaeda their targets changed, at
least for the time being. Kashmir-focused militant groups went through the
same situation as their many splinters had cut off ties with the parent
organisations declaring them puppets of state agencies and developed a
relationship with al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda not only
transformed sectarian groups’ operational capacities but as well as
broadened their sectarian view. Pro-al-Qaeda and Taliban groups believe that
the opponent sects, whether they are in minority or majority, are hurdles in
the way of establishing Islam according to their concepts. They mainly seek
support from their arguments while criticising religious rituals and
practices on shrines and religious congregations. Their literature is full
of these kinds of the rhetoric but one concerning aspect is that they see
opponents suspiciously and apply religious directives, which apply to spies
and enemies in the war.
Second, sectarian groups
detached themselves from the dominating religious discourse, whose main
emphasis was on Islamisation and sectarian supremacy through political means
and jihad against external forces (mainly other states) to safeguard
Pakistan’s ideological and geographical boundaries.
After these sectarian
groups detached themselves from their parent organisations, organisational
structures became irrelevant for them and even organisational tags lost
their attraction for them. A fluid organisational identity provided them
with more protection.
neo-sectarian terrorists have not only reactivated the traditional hot spots
of sectarian tensions but also found new grounds.
In 2010, more than 60 per
cent of the total casualties of sectarian violence in Pakistan were
concentrated in the cities of Karachi, Lahore and Quetta.
In 2011, the ratio of such
casualties in these cities stood at about 42 per cent of the overall
sectarian-related casualties in Pakistan. Furthermore, the total number of
people killed and injured in sectarian-related attacks and clashes in 2011
in Hangu and Nowshera districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Mastung district
in Balochistan and Khyber and Kurram tribal districts in FATA represented 38
per cent and 24 per cent of the dead and injured in sectarian violence in
In 2012, perpetrators of
sectarian violence look relatively more focused on Gilgat Baltistan region,
Quetta and Karachi.
sectarian tendencies seems to be a tough and long-term job, which will
require a collective response from state and society, mainly the religious
clergy. Curtailing and weakening their bond with al-Qaeda and Taliban is a
job of the security establishment.
In this context there is
need to review the countering approach both on conceptual and operational
level. It is imperative to abandon the compartmentalisation approach that
looks at and treats problem of sectarian violence differently from the
ongoing wave of militancy in the country.
At the same time, a clear
operational approach based on a distinction between the challenges of a
tribal insurgency and the pervasive terrorism in the country is required.
Al-Qaeda, the TTP and sectarian groups in Pakistan have a nexus, but their
operational strategies and partnerships may differ to varying degrees.
Countermeasures at the security, political and ideological levels need to
factor in those differences and respond accordingly.
The sectarian violence
seems the part of urban terrorism strategy of al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
Police can contribute more in these areas to counter this threat. The
federal and provincial governments need to focus more on providing police
with better training and equipment.
There is a pressing need
to utilise the Special Investigation Group(SIG) effectively. Apart from
intelligence-sharing and coordination among the various agencies, a cohesive
legislative framework to deal with terrorism is indispensable. Parliament
needs to take up the issue immediately.
Legislation alone can
never be an effective tool to deal with terrorism until the capacity of the
legal system, including the judges, lawyers and the prosecution, is
enhanced. Apart from transparency and appointment of capable judges to
anti-terrorism courts (ATCs), the Supreme Court and the high courts should
monitor the functioning of ATCs in accordance with the Supreme Court’s
judgment in the 1999 Sheikh Liaquat Hussain case.
Enough hue and cry
was raised yet again about celebrating Eid on three different days in
Pakistan without pondering on why this happens. Eid is dependent upon the
sighting of moon that is not bound by any ‘national’ boundary. We, on
the other hand, are trying to impose national borders on a natural
phenomenon. In the absence of reliance on plain science, it is likely that
in one country diverse sections of population would celebrate Eid on more
than one days.
Yet, the state rejects and
condemns these happenings which defy its supremacy and order. Come to think
of it, the dispute on moon is as natural as the difference of time for the
breaking of fast in different parts of the country. If one accepts
variations in that, one must acknowledge the diversity in the other —
lunar movement. But, for a state, the logic behind asserting a uniform Eid
day is as crucial as maintaining one measure of time in its territory. Local
time of a country is another artificial arrangement; how can a village be
half an hour ahead from its neighbouring settlement which is a few furlongs
away but belongs to a separate state. Sun does not recognise man-made lines
between nations, so it sets at the same moment whether seen from a house on
the edge of Pakistani territory or a shop near that border in India.
So are languages, customs,
races and rituals which merge on these melting lines called borders across
the world. More than geographical locations, other forms of connections also
bring societies and their cultures close to each other. For instance,
historically the ritual of Eid did not originate in this soil. Like our
religion, it came from the Arabian Peninsula. Therefore, during Eid prayer
one may spot children and even grown-ups wearing Arabic attires; in old Eid
cards, scenes of desert with date trees, camels and Bedouins were popular
motifs. All signifying that even though we celebrate Eid as our own
festival, we associate it with distant lands. Today, this duality has become
so usual that it does not cause any conflict or pose any problem.
In the realm of visual
arts, the question of a singular nationality assumes a prime position; with
many advocating a national identity or national characteristics in art.
Without thinking that creative individuals can be citizens of a country, but
creative endeavours cannot be contained within the restriction of a
political map. So, if we survey the art of Pakistan in the last 65 years of
its existence, we come across works which do fall into one or the other
category but none of these embodies complete or ideal national
characteristics. Before the 1990s, there were examples of modern abstract
canvases, calligraphy, landscape paintings, figurative composition,
political and traditional art which did not represent any special national
feature. The concepts, concerns and techniques viewed in these works were
repeated in works from other places too; although each region, society and
school devised its own way to address those.
Therefore, one finds
common cultural practices among regions that are part of the same geography,
for example, US and Canada; Spain and Portugal; Australia and New Zealand;
and India and Pakistan. These countries share more than one artistic
expression with each other in spite of their independent sovereign
boundaries. This affinity is not confined to visual arts; often literature
and poetry also has some close connections. For instance, one of the
greatest contemporary prose writers of Urdu, Quratulain Hyder, was an Indian
but that does not stop us from reading her.
Like language, today most
of our contemporary art is linked to the outside world; to the extent that
it has been liberating itself from issues confined within national
boundaries or the ones concerning identity. It does question the position of
a human being in a place that is being affected by globalisation and
negotiates with the confusion and alienation in its aftermath.
But these concerns are not
unique to our situation; so not only the content in our contemporary art,
but the mode and the medium of expression have adapted an international
vocabulary. So much so that the modern miniature painters and artists
inspired from local popular transport art are also leaving the obvious
regional link and direct vernacular traces far behind. For instance, the new
works of Adeela Suleman, David Alesworth, Huma Mulji, Imran Qureshi, Aisha
Khalid, Mohammad Zeehsan and Hasnat Mehood are moving in a direction which
has more contemporary than local connotation.
In that sense, the present
art of Pakistan is not bound by any physical, cultural, political or
psychological boundaries. But to define it as ‘contemporary Pakistani
art’ is also a false construct because it is not even produced in all
areas of the country. Thus what we consider (and what is regarded by
foreigners) as contemporary art from Pakistan in reality is created in
Karachi and Lahore. So Islamabad hardly gets an entry, Multan is never
mentioned, Quetta is conveniently ignored, and Peshawar is pushed far away
from the current narrative of Pakistani art.
We live in different
phases and places as far as contemporary art is concerned. So if some parts
of country do not follow the official, singular declaration of Eid it is
logical because, in art too, different ages exist simultaneously with
Peshawar being in a different time zone and too remote from the rest of
‘Hyde Park Kashan,
1862’: David Alesworth.
The urs of Bulleh
Shah and the barsi of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan coincidently observed within a
span of about a week was a reminder of the close association which the
gawaaiyas of the Punjab have had with his poetry. Bulleh Shah’s text when
composed as lyrics by the vocalists ranging from the roving minstrel to the
exponents of the kafi as it came to be sung by the middle of the nineteenth
century and the qawwali of the twentieth century have always drawn a huge
Bulleh Shah has been the
most popular poet of Punjabi. There have been quite a few outstanding poets
in Punjabi but the popularity which Bulleh Shah has enjoyed is quite
unprecedented. Probably the directness of his expression coupled with its
simplicity could be two virtues that have since struck a chord for the man
familiar with the oral tradition of Punjabi.
The years in which Bulleh
Shah lived were the beginning of the end of the Muslim rule in the
subcontinent. As the centre grew weaker and the invading armies from the
North West lay pillage to the empire, Punjab experienced its worst years in
terms of insecurity. The territory between the Indus and the Jamuna was
ravaged with people dispossessed and killed. The gradual rise of the Sikh
power in these years also caused a split between the Punjabis of various
denominations. Punjabi cultural unity was in for a divide which has not been
bridged since then.
This also seemed to be the
rise of religious righteousness for the main theme of Bulleh Shah’s kalam
is religious hypocrisy and deeds done in the name of some religious value.
The dichotomy between appearance and reality, formal and informal, form and
meaning have been the endemic theme of Sufi poets but it was approached with
vengeance by Bulleh Shah. Perhaps, he could see the entire edifice of Indo
Muslim civilization beginning to crack from within, due to lack of tolerance
for diversity and pluralism.
Perhaps the best example
of pluralism and diversity in our culture has been experienced in music.
Like a mighty river, it has been fed by many streams and the illusive
quality of the sur and its intangible quality has been the reason why it has
escaped divisive castigation. For this very reason, it has been condemned in
its totality but managed to dodge those with selective assessment of music
through lyrics. This superficial assessment negates that sur transcends the
word for its lack of designative connotation is its essential
characteristic. It is easier to label a word than to label a sur.
One wonders who composed
the kalaam of Bulleh Shah. Some names are taken of musicians who were close
to him but it is a riwayat and banks exclusively on oral sources. It is
possible that none of his poetry was composed and sung while he was alive
though that is more likely.
There are abundant
references in his poetry to music and it is also said that he himself danced
to assuage the anger of Shah Inayat “tere ishq nachaya kar thaiya thaiya”.
It is said that when Shah Inayat got infuriated and stopped communicating
with him, Bulleh Shah invented ways and means of placating his ustad. If he
danced and sang for him, it might work. But he knew no dancing and singing
and it is said that he became the shagird of a dancing woman and learnt the
art from her and then put it to creative expression by singing and dancing
for his ustad and quite successfully, too. Shah Inayat was himself a
connoisseur of music and Bulleh Shah knew it.
This dancer/singer has
remained unknown. In our society, poets have been more respectable figures
while the gawaiyaas, unless associated with the courts, have often been
taken for granted. It was a common practice in feudal society that musicians
were usually affiliated with famous personages like royalty, saints or
poets, especially if the latter owed allegiance to a particular order or a
shrine. Bulleh Shah’s popularity has been ensured by gawaiyaas, qawwals
and roving minstrels who, building upon the tradition of oral transmission,
have sung his kalam to a population that far exceeds the numbers that live
within the physical boundaries of his native province.
It is said that Ali Buksh
Jarnail and Fateh Ali Kernail were great kaafi singers as was Ali Buksh, the
father of Barre Ghulam Ali Khan and Barkat Ali Khan. Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan,
when he took time out of kheyal singing, has left his footprints in this
genre and both Ustads Barre Ghulam Ali Khan and Barkat Ali Khan were great
kaafi singers as indeed was Inayat Bai Dheerowali. So enamoured was Barre
Ghulam Ali Khan of her singing that he used to accompany her on the sarangi.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s
family belonged to Basti Sheikh in Jallandhar. His father and uncle Fateh
Ali Khan and Mubarak Ali Khan were very well-known qawwals of their times.
Another uncle Salamat Ali Khan was an outstanding harmonium player.
Besides the traditional
repertoire of Arabic and Persian kalaam, they incorporated the kalaam of the
Punjabi sufi poets and in the Punjab sang that to receptive audiences far
more than the kalaam in dialects like Brij Bhaasha, Khari and Poorbi more
popular in the Delhi, Ajmer and Lucknow region.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was
born in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), lived in Mohalla Lassori Shah where the
family had migrated from Jallandhar at partition, and got his training from
his father and uncle. As a child he accompanied them on their numerous
performances. His father Fateh Ali Khan was well-versed in raagdari — he
strengthened the melodic element in his qawwali while Mubarak Ali was a
laikaar. The combination worked well and that helped in placing the Punjabi
lyrics, mostly of Bulleh Shah, right at the centre of the form. Nusrat Fateh
Ali had a problem in taking the baton from them and charging ahead at full
In the last
century many of us enjoyed the Richard Ludlum books about the mysterious
Jason Bourne, the action man with a dodgy past he couldn’t recall, and
then we enjoyed the dishy Richard Chamberlain (cheekbones!) acting out the
part in the TV adaptation of ‘The Bourne Identity’. It was all great fun
but little did we know that the story would be Bourne-again in the 21st
century and capture the imagination of a generation whose imagination anyway
seems severely limited by the graphics and sound effects of violent video
Perhaps I am being a
little unkind, but that is probably because I recently had to sit through
the new Bourne offering, ‘The Bourne Legacy’. This is a Bourne film
without Jason Bourne. Without Matt Damon (yeah, right!). A film which
despite an impressive cast (which includes Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton),
is about as gripping or emotionally interesting as watching paint dry.
Matt Damon refused to be
in a new Bourne film unless it was directed by Paul Greengrass, the director
of the last two Bourne films. The producers refused and so this film is
directed by Tony Gilroy who wrote the last few Bourne films and who was
reportedly unhappy with what Greengrass had done with his scripts.
The result is a frenetic
film without Damon and referring to Bourne without actually being about him.
The plot revolves around the premise that Bourne was just ‘the tip of the
iceberg’ and that actually there were many such operatives in the field,
only more deadly and highly developed, and controlled through chemical
means. The film revolves around the decision to now eliminate both these
killing machines and anybody with any knowledge of the scientific programme
that created and managed them.
This leads to many, many
scientists being killed. But of course, the most beautiful of this group,
the Rachel Weisz character, survives the massacre of the white coats, only
to then be threatened and hunted by sinister security personnel. Of course
she has to go on the run, and of course who better to go on the run with
than with the sole surviving super agent (Jeremy Renner) whose spymasters
are now trying to eliminate him...
The movie is a cacophony
repeated umpteen times. This goes on for more than two and a half hours
(2:38), and by the end I really did not care what became of the beautiful
scientist or the super agent, or anybody else in this film.
‘The Bourne Legacy’ is
like a very long action game, but packaged a bit like a clever music video.
This is shallow stuff with very little interest in plot or character. The
writer tries to be clever and refer back to the ‘scientist and agent on
the run’ narrative from the first Ludlum book, which had been omitted from
the first Bourne film. But even that desperate attempt at authentication
adds little to its ‘Bourne credentials’.
If you enjoy
crash-boom-run-kill films without much of a plot, you will enjoy ‘The
Bourne Legacy’. But I, personally, can think of much better ways of
spending two and a half hours... Like watching any of the Bourne films with
Matt Damon for example. Or cleaning out my room. Or reading a book. Or even
watching paint dry.
But you never know, you
might actually find the film fun: Spouse and Last-born say they did. Myself,
I am trying hard to forget it. My efforts are Bourne of pain…