The formation of commissions to inquire into the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad and the abduction-torture-killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad has offered the government some protection against increasingly strident criticism of its policy of resisting inquiries into its functionaries’ conduct.

Yet there is no gainsaying the need for a commission to find out why the government does not like to set up commissions of inquiry and to release reports of commissions and take action on them, if such bodies are formed.

This is a case of gradual abandonment of one of the sound features of governance introduced by the British in the subcontinent. They employed commissions to suggest the direction and substance of constitutional advance (such as the Simon Commission), education reform (the Hunter Commission), army reorganisation (the Lee Commission), reform of health services (the Bhore Commission) et al. Commissions/ committees were also set up to probe the causes of public disturbance, from riots to the Moplah revolt to the 1857 uprising. A well-known instance was the Rowlatt Committee that was set up to probe a terrorist wave and which drafted the infamous Rowlatt Act. The reports of many of these commissions became books of reference for scholars doing research on patterns of governance.

One of the outstanding reports relating to Punjab was produced by the Punjab Committee for Inquiry into Unemployment (1937). Many of its recommendations — for instance collective farming, crop insurances, education in mother tongue — were many decades ahead of the time and are still relevant.

The state of Pakistan betrayed signs of its allergy to commissions whose work could expose its failings quite soon after independence. The Hari Committee report was suppressed; especially the note of dissent by Masud Khaddarposh, and the Press Commission report was largely ignored. While the British had interest in demolishing the vested interest that had grown before their arrival, the Pakistan governments perhaps did not wish to touch the social elite fostered by the British.

The Ayub regime had a great liking for the commission system and one reason could be that he preferred rule by experts (mostly in bureaucracy) to rule by people’s representatives. All this subject to a big caveat; reports of commissions were considered good only to the extent they were in accord with the dictator’s objectives (colonial legacy, perhaps). The reports of commissions on agriculture, laws, land reform, films were accepted in parts, the report of the constitution commission was not. The Yahya and Zia regimes followed the Ayub model. And Pakistan has a particularly bad record in relation to inquiries into law and order failures.

One of the most significant inquiries into a serious disorder was the one carried out by the Punjab Disturbances Court of Inquiry, set up under a special law, the Punjab Disturbances (Public Inquiry) Act, 1953 (Punjab Act II of 1954), to inquire into the anti-Ahmadi riots of 1953 and the imposition of martial law in Lahore. Presided over by Justice M. Munir, with Justice M. R. Kayani as its only other member, it was a court, and not a commission/committee. It held hearings and recorded evidence in an open court but its findings were in the nature of conclusions and not judicially enforceable orders.

The court’s terms of reference were: To determine 1. The circumstances leading to the declaration of martial law in Lahore on March 6, 1953. 2. The responsibility for the disturbances. 3. The adequacy or otherwise of the measures taken by the provincial civil authorities to prevent, and subsequently to deal with, the disturbances.

That the court did a thorough job is clear from its schedule of activities: 117 sittings of which 92 were devoted to the hearing and recording of evidence; hearing of arguments from February 1 to February 28, 1954; and five weeks for formulating conclusions and the writing of the report.

This inquiry acquired great importance because it laid bare the dangers the state had created for itself by legitimising exploitation of religion for political purpose.

The second most significant inquiry was conducted by the Hamoodur Rehman Commission set up to probe the 1971 war. The commission was set up under the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act of 1956 and consisted of the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court (Justice Hamoodur Rehman), the Lahore High Court (Justice Anwarul-Haq — who was soon elevated to the SC) and Sindh-Balochistan (Justice Tufail Ali Abdur Rahman).

The commission was asked to inquire into the circumstances in which the commander of the Eastern Command surrendered and the members of the armed forces of Pakistan under his command laid down their arms and a ceasefire was ordered along the borders of West Pakistan and India, and along the ceasefire line in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The commission tried to make its inquiry as comprehensive as possible. It had been asked to complete its task within three months from the day it first assembled but the hearings took longer than expected and there were breaks in proceedings caused by the members’ primary responsibilities and the chief justice’s foreign visits. The commission also extended its life when the POWs returned from India and it decided to interview some of them for a supplementary report. Its requests for extension of the inquiry time-limit were always accepted by the government, in one case by a month more than the commission had requested.

Unlike the Munir court of inquiry, the Hamoodur Rehman Commission’s proceedings were held in camera, probably because military matters cannot be discussed in the open. Both probe bodies enjoyed great freedom in carrying out their assignment. The Munir court had the original law on its constitution (an ordinance) changed and the Hamoodur Rehman commission was free to follow its own procedure.

The reports of the two probe bodies, headed by the most eminent judicial authorities of the day, were ignored by the government. While the Munir Inquiry report was published by the government the Hamoodur Rehman report was withheld and only parts of it were released over two decades later.

Pakistan has paid heavily for its failure to act upon the findings of the two inquiries. On the one hand the rot exposed in these reports could not be arrested and it has continued to spread in the body politic, and on the other hand, the state functionaries have been emboldened to deny the inquiry commissions the respect they deserve.

The law on the subject, the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1956, is not wanting in essentials. It gives the federal government authority to appoint a Commission of Inquiry for inquiring into “any definite matter of public importance”, lay down its functions and fix the deadline for the completion of its work. The commission has the power to summon witnesses and record evidence. One of the improvements the law needs is the addition of a clause that a commission’s hearings shall be public and its report shall be promptly released unless cogent reasons are offered in writing for holding some hearings (never all of them) in camera and for withholding certain parts of its report (never the whole of it).

Over the recent past the government’s bona fides in relation to inquiries into disorder and abuse of power by law-enforcing agencies have been challenged on a number of occasions, such as the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti (2006), the events in Karachi on May 12, 2007, and the attacks on Ahmadi prayer houses (2010). The government has also come under severe criticism for withholding the report of the three-member commission of judges on disappearances of 2010 that was submitted in January this year.

The two commissions now set up should offer the government a good opportunity to reclaim some of the goodwill it has forfeited through its reckless acts of commission and omission. Both are headed by high judicial authorities — judges of the Supreme Court and both have a vast scope for inquiry.

The terms of reference for the bin Laden Commission are: 1. Ascertain the full facts regarding the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. 2. Investigate circumstances and facts regarding the US operation in Abbottabad onMay 2, 2011. 3. Determine the nature, background and cause of lapses of concerned authorities, if any. 4. Make consequential recommendations.

The terms of reference for the Saleem Shahzad commission appear a bit broader; 1. To inquire into the background and circumstances of abduction and subsequent murder of Saleem Shahzad. 2. to identify the culprits responsible for abduction and murder. 3. To recommend measures to prevent recurrence. 4. To probe matters of conduct that are in derogation of constitution’s Articles 4 (right to protection of law), 9 (security of person), 17 (freedom of association), 19 (freedom of expression), 19-A (right to information) and investigate in-depth such background facts.

The public has legitimate expectations that these terms of reference permit an urgently needed scrutiny of the power and mandate of security agencies, the laws under which they are supposed to work, the nature of over-sight and accountability mechanisms, and the substance of Pakistan’s contracts, pacts, and understanding with other countries in the areas of intelligence-sharing and joint operations. Indeed the findings of the commissions could be of considerable help in carrying out a much needed reorganisation of the government.



(From left to right) Unresolved: Saleem Shahzad, Justice Hamoodur Rehman with Z.A. Bhutto, Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, the attack on Garhi Shahu ibadatgah, Akbar Bugti.


Almost all artists, at one stage or the other of their lives, wonder about their future and what might lead them to become a successful professional.

In art schools, many students believe they must perform well during the course of their studies and pass all examinations with high grades in order to do so. Yet most of them fail as artists. Judging by the results of art institutions in the last decade or so, it is clear that majority of the distinction-wielding students are not part of the art world any more. The short-lived glory came to a close right after the final display. Some may have exhibited in one or two galleries but later turned irrelevant to the art scene.

On the other hand, several students who may not have been that bright did manage to make their presence felt in the art world. And then there were those who never studied art formally like Sadequain and M.F. Husain. One can quote numerous examples which may be viewed as a testimony of the failure of art education, not just here but elsewhere in the world as well. This incapacity of art schools is exemplified in the case of Gavin Turk, a sculpture student, who failed his final examination at the Royal College of Art in 1991, but is one of the leading contemporary artists now. A class fellow of his, Ben Painting, who was awarded distinction and received a lot of press and praise for his degree-show sculptures, is virtually an unknown figure today. The talent triumphs despite the hostile academic environment, since this is what is essential for the success of an artist.

However, if one begins with this elementary observation and locates the powers and motives that ensure a person’s ascent to the art world, one comes across multiple factors which vary with time and place. In each epoch, the notions of art and artist are transformed, and so does the structure of society — all of which have an impact on the making of an artist. So conditions which were conducive to create artists such as Rembrandt, Gauguin and Van Gogh, may not bear the same result today.

In this global fast-paced world, the relationship of a culture (or an influential group) and the artist is changed enormously. Now artists do not depend on an art teacher, curator and critic in order to be visible or promoted since their work can be posted on innumerable places and sites, leading to actual exhibitions and purchases by buyers across the world.

But when it comes to the local market, a handful of people (shall we call it mafia) still has the privilege to make or eliminate an artist. Usually these people launch a new star hoping that the artist would remain obliged to them (although it does not always happen according to the script). The artist does get a few exhibitions, quite a few buyers, good reviews and so on but still there is no guarantee that his name would last long because ultimately it is Time that decides the true worth of an artist.

The business of Time is not a simple matter: in the world of art it is not a neutral force that announces its verdict on the merit of an artist. Actually, there are many individuals and groups who are trying to operate in the guise of ‘Time’. The whole issue of supporting some artists — women, gays, blacks and inhabitants of under-developed regions — who are left out of the mainstream art world and trying to reinstate them into the narrative of mainstream art is an attempt to function as ‘Time’ and correct the previously made mistakes. In our midst as well, there have been attempts to discover a name, which was left out due to various reasons, but which deserved a rightful mention in the story of art. For instance, the publication of a monograph on Esther Rahim or the posthumous exhibition of Rafi–uz–Zaman were efforts to recall those names who were forgotten or were never a part of the art scene to begin with.

Often these attempts to amend history are initiated soon after an artist leaves this world. The usual mode of operation is either to increase the price of the deceased artist or to promote him/her to a level that was never imagined by the artist. In both instances, these efforts serve not the artist but others including family, friends, collectors, galleries and the art world in general. Recently, there were two untimely deaths. Usman Ghouri after enjoying a considerable amount of recognition died of a sudden heart attack. Right after this tragic incident, his friends and colleagues organised an auction of his and his contemporaries’ works, so the family could be supported; but without proclaiming him as an extraordinary artist or exaggerating his creative capabilities.

The devastating suicide of Asim Butt also came as a shock. After that tragedy, a number of individuals are seeking to construct Butt as a significant artist, which may not necessarily benefit the family but will empower those who are discovering Asim Butt as a tormented, tarnished, turbulent and talented soul (in the same order!). Their effort to establish him as an important figure stands in contrast to the artist’s works, which comprise a painter’s experiments towards finding his vocabulary, along with exercises to improve his academic skills.

Some curators, critics and connoisseurs of art are firmly convinced about the genius of Asim Butt but tend to forget this genius dawned only after his suicide.  While trying to convert Asim Butt into this incredible artist of our age, they forget our reaction to his work if he had not ended his life by hanging himself or had left his art career. Would we respond to his art in the same manner if we knew that the painter has abandoned his profession? Certainly not. It is his suicide that has compelled us to perceive those painting in a different, rather sentimental, way. Were not those canvases painted before Butt suicide?

Since we have moved away from the understanding of the arts in general, and music in particular as it does not form part of our general education, everything relating to music is either considered an idiot’s tale, a fantastical rendering or magic and fails to form part of our everyday intelligible discourse. The musical terms and the names of the raags are considered to be totally unfamiliar and seen as part of some other culture or belonging to some other age.

Musical training and understanding were limited in the past to either the hereditary musicians, or some loner who dared to break away from his respectable background to dedicate his life to music, and the nobility, which patronised music. The latter interacted with musicians and in the process picked up the finer aspects of the art form, some even arrogating upon themselves the mantle of being musicians or music scholars themselves.

The Muslim middle thrust riddled with prejudice in the medieval period was left out of this initiation process. This bias against the arts or ‘taoos-o-rabab’ was strengthened when the Muslims lost political power in the subcontinent. Somehow, it was perceived that overindulgence in the arts and the pursuit of pleasure had resulted in the weakening of the resolve to be militarily strong and dominant.

The colonial education (schools/universities), which supplanted the local ethos of the maktab, seemed to have strengthened this perception. The educated middle classes — the new ashraaf — were seen to be puritanical, upright and rational beings who had no truck with the ecstatic practices associated with music or musical activity, especially the one patronised by the various Sufi orders in the subcontinent. This “well-rounded education” produced civil servants, lawyers, doctors and engineers who were basically ignorant about music or the other performing arts.

In the last couple of decades, as the communication networks have exploded with exponential growth and as technological development has penetrated music creation and production, many youngsters have started to become practical musicians themselves. They have picked up the technical aspects from the various softwares and then reproduced it on the keyboard or the guitar. It is interesting that the entire vocabulary of music and the terms that they use are all western. They know about minor, major scales, the tonic C, D, G and the various chordal intervals but they do not know its equivalence in their own musical system.

This lack of rootedness has facilitated the grand wave of globalisation, though it would have been far better if this globalisation had a greater colouration of pluralism about it. Globalisation is inevitable and it is happening at great pace right in front of our eyes but this surge should be inclusive rather than heavily rolling in one dimension which leads to the death and elimination of the diversity so very important for an equitable sharing of our planet’s rich cultural resources.

All the traditional aspects about our culture are either dismissed or laughed at usually as a consequence of ignorance and lack of education. Usually when a raag is sung or played, some from the audiences inquire more out of derision whether by the end of the performance the clouds will gather and it will begin to pour. This reaction becomes overt during the seasons that are more pronounced like monsoons and spring.

This common perception about classical raags usually working out in a very literal sense is perceived in the context that the myths about the raags are actual act themselves. Accepted more in letter than in spirit the imposition of a banal realistic reading of myths is also a reflection of the distancing that has occurred over a period of time from our classical heritage.

It is more credulous when a poet uses imagery in words. Can flowers bloom in the gaze of the lover, the torches light up in the heart of the beloved phir nazar main phool mehke dil main phir shamain jaleen or does the entire desert get burnt down to nothingness with the very thought of the possessed Ik kheyal aaya tha wahshat ka key sahra jal gaya.

If so then rain can also come down heavily with the singing of raags megh and malhaars. But we know that verbal imagery is for expressing the uniqueness and richness of experience and not an actual transformation of man and nature in the purely physical sense. Then where does the difficulty lie in interpreting tonal imagery that evokes the ethos to celebrate the coming of the regenerative monsoon?

The modern world is basically fragmented and divided into self-sufficient wholes but the classical period had a wholesome relationship with the world as well as nature. Man lived in an integrated universe where the forces of nature were not indifferent to him. They could be hostile but the aspirations and the wishes of man in the world resonated in nature.

Nature with a capital N was seen as an awesome force, a potential that commanded submission. It was in the best interest of man to respect Nature and to learn to live with its potentiality. But, gradually, as man started to alienate himself from nature in the post renaissance Europe, he became an isolated figure and a lonely voice, a cry in the wilderness. Civilisation took man away from Nature and this distance has continued to increase and in the 21st century he is totally isolated and alone. He has abandoned the cardinal value of abiding by the potential of nature, rather has wanted to conquer it; not only to conquer it but also redesign it and improve upon it.


Come monsoons and the stage is set for singing and playing of the raags associated with rain

By Sarwat Ali

“Karkul defines us”
Bashir Ahmad Khan from Peshawar has not given up on
the craft of karkul-making that earned him
prestige and bread all his life
By Naeem Safi

Karakul hat, popularly known as Jinnah cap in Pakistan, was much in use, if not in vogue, till the late 1980s. It stood for ‘an image’ due to its symbolic association with the founder of Pakistan and was used by high officials and common citizens alike.

Now its representation is left on the currency bills where a stereotypical Jinnah adorns it. In its heydays, there were more than 50 master craftsmen making various types of karakul hats in the Qissa Khawani and Ghanta Ghar bazaars of Peshawar. Today, against all odds, only a few are left seen preserving the craft.

Bashir Ahmad Khan, in his late 50s, is one of those few who haven’t given up on the craft that has earned him prestige and bread all his life. How he ended up in this trade is an interesting narrative and an inspiration for many.

Living in a small village in Dir, Bashir was only eight when he got a chance to go to Peshawar and with his elder brother, and ustad, Haji Anwar Khan.

“I remember the day when I left my village along with my elder brother. Those were the times when Dir was a princely state where the only public transport was a bus owned by the Nawab, and one’s leaving to the city would be quite an affair. My brother was leaving for Peshawar and I along with my parents were going to drop him,” says Bashir.

“I created a scene there demanding to go with him. He fell for it, and my mother immediately washed my clothes in the nearby stream and I boarded the bus in that single wet outfit and a pair of shoes.

“My brother was a master craftsman at Baghdad Cap House with Haji Sabzaali (father of Sen. Haji Ghulam Ali), but he got into a conflict with Haji for taking me along and we left Peshawar. We arrived in Karachi on a steam train and started working with a wholesale karakul hat-supplier on Bandar Road. For six years we worked for 50 paisas a day — eating daal-chappati and sleeping on a wooden bench outside the shop—before moving to Peshawar.

It was 1965 war days, and as a little boy from the mountains, I used to marvel at the red fireworks in the sky that my brother had explained were antiaircraft guns firing at the enemy planes.

“In Peshawar, I started my apprenticeship at Peshawar Cap House, with Habbibullah, running errands and learning the skill for around eight years. But it was with Haji Bashi — at Bukhari Cap House in Ghanta Ghar — where I mastered the karkul making, learning it from my brother who was employed there. Later he parted ways with him and opened his own store by the name of Sarhad Cap House.”

Suffering from arthritis and a plunge in sales, Bashir recalls how leaders like Z.A. Bhutto and Wali Khan had visited his humble store and that how almost all of the heads of the state wore his caps from Auyb Khan and Yahya Khan to Zia ul Haq, Naseerullah Babar, Aftab Sherpao, Nawaz Sharif and Qazi Hussain Ahmad. “Gen. Fazl e Haq was a great admirer of our work. And he would order around half a dozen caps every month for as long as he was the governor,” he says.

Unfortunately, none of Bashir’s three sons knows the skill and has a couple of learners running the business for him. “Nothing can match the experience, and respect that it earns for you. It is my advice to my children to master the skill of karakul-making despite other occupations, as this is something that defines us. It has earned a name and respect for my family and me. This is what made heads of the state, governors, and ministers visit our shop.”

Since ages, the fur of the karakul sheep is imported from northern Afghanistan into Peshawar. Karakul (or Qaraqul) is a breed of sheep raised mostly in Central Asian and some African states for their fur that is valued for its unique textures, patterns, and colours. The fetuses or the newborn lambs are slaughtered before the tight curls of their fur begin to unravel with time or the mother’s tongue.

Contrary to the popular notion that the fur is obtained from the aborted lamb fetuses, Bashir says that only the newborn male lambs are slaughtered and the females are left to mature for further propagation. The skins are plastered with hop flour for basic curing by the farmers in the mountains; however that makes the skins very brittle.

The price of these skins have soared ten times in the last decade or so due to their high demand in Europe, Japan, USA, and Canada. Jinnah version of the Karakul hat is the most liked one in Pakistan and the non-Pashtun Afghans, which has both ends peaked and is usually packed flat in a box. However, it is the Peshawari cap, also known as Ayub Cap that is more popular amongst Pashtuns on both sides of the border. It has only the front end peaked and the back side is round, hence packed in a round box and cannot be folded. The fully rounded version, Garda, is popular in certain parts of Afghanistan.


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