Best of Faiz
The Faiz centenary celebrations saw some of the best performances ever in Lahore
By Sarwat Ali
In various countries mushairas, paper reading, scholarly discourses, book launches, concerts, seminars and plays have been organised to celebrate the centenary celebrations of Faiz, while many more have been held in the various cities of the country in the past year. 



Mother of all cases?
The decade old Asghar Khan case which is finally going to be heard on Feb 29 is a comment on one of the darkest chapters of our political history and yet another proof of how intelligence agencies have damaged the political process in this country
by Mazhar Abbas

A testimony of the slim, short, veteran businessman-cum-banker, Yunus Habib, may come in handy when the Supreme Court starts hearing the almost decade-old petition of Air Marshal Asghar Khan on Feb 29, 2012. Habib hit the headlines in the 1990s for his key role in the release of Rs14 million (or maybe more) from his own Mehran Bank to defeat the Benazir Bhutto’s PPP in the next elections.

The affidavit submitted by the then ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, is the first ever confession by any official of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency of the role it played in pre-poll rigging and its direct involvement in political matters. But there is much more to it and all facts must come to the surface.

Though there was an unusual delay in the case being taken up for hearing, one hopes it will proceed as fast as other petitions like the ones dealing with NRO, NICL, the infamous Memo Case or the Haj scam.

Durrani’s affidavit is undoubtedly the most blatant admission of corruption and attempts to rig the polls through direct support of the country’s powerful troika comprising the president, the army chief and the interim president. It is a comment on one of the darkest chapters of our political history and yet another proof of how intelligence agencies have damaged the political process in this country.

In fact, two years before this scandal, the first election in eleven years in 1988 was also manipulated as confessed by the former ISI chief General (retd) Hameed Gul. Gul had the temerity to claim that the anti-PPP alliance Islami Jamoohri Ittehad (IJI) was his brainchild and defend his decision in the name of ‘national interest’ and ‘security’ of Pakistan.

Habib, now in his 70s, is the only person in the scandal who has been punished, though for reasons other than this. His Mehran Bank was closed during Benazir Bhutto’s second government and he was convicted for 10 years but got released in five years because of jail remission. “He has already suffered a lot. He is the only character in this case who has suffered, though he had only paid the money on instructions from powerful quarters. Can a businessman in his position dare to refuse such people?” asks a close friend of Habib.

A key figure in the case, Yonus Habib is the man on whose request money was deposited in the “cover accounts” of politicians and some media-persons too as mentioned in the affidavit of the then ISI chief Lt. General Asad Durrani. But will he tell the truth and nothing but the whole truth before the court as to why he gave the money and on whose directives? Habib is a businessman and still has lots of business interests at stake. It is difficult to expect him to take a position in this case.

It is important to recall that when Habib decided to launch his Mehran Bank during the government of late Chief Minister Jam Sadiq Ali, many politicians were present in the opening ceremony. Even in those days, a number of stories appeared in the newspapers about the way the bank’s permission was granted, but at no stage did anyone raise this possibility that the move might be a cover for the use of funds in the general elections.

The statement of former army chief General Aslam Beg, the only person alive from the troika, would be the most important as the money was distributed among the politicians and media persons on his directives. His statement may unearth the plan to rig the elections. There are some important people still alive who are witness to this shady business and it is important that the scope of this petition is expanded to at least four general elections after 1988.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government was sacked on charges of corruption by the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on August 6, 1990, and the same presidency in connivance with the relevant quarters used corruption as a weapon for getting the desired results in the next election. Ironic may seem like an understatement.

So, what a turn around as the case will be heard afresh by the Supreme Court; it was never reopened since the forced retirement of former chief justice of Pakistan Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui. “The case was reserved for judgment when there was enough evidence to confirm the money was distributed by the ISI and the authorities were fully involved,” he had told me in one of his tv interviews.

As in the case of formation of the IJI in 1988, the premier agency appeared to have been behind the making of the alliance Combined Opposition Parties (COP). The alleged plan was to make late G.M. Jatoi the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif would retain Punjab and would also be given a major share at the centre, Jam Sadiq would lead the anti-PPP forces and the MQM will share Sindh. Besides, the MQM will also be given more representation at the centre. The major understanding as per the plan was that Gen. Beg would be the next president, after relaxation of rules.

Sources said that several meetings were held in two different places in Defense Housing Society in Karachi. An election cell was established in the Presidency, which was allegedly looked after by none other than the country’s most seasoned but controversial bureaucrat Roedad Khan.

However, as the then interim premier G.M. Jatoi had disclosed in his last interview, weeks before his death, “there was an understanding that I will be the prime minister but because of some intrigues it was sabotaged.” Elaborating, he had said: “I was informed that I have to lead the COP rally from Peshawar to Karachi. When the procession reached Punjab, people started raising slogan Wazir-e-Azam Nawaz Sharif in one of the public meetings. I immediately told my ADC that I will be going to Karachi by plane. I left the rally which was then led by Nawaz Sharif.”

Later, some of the audio tapes, containing conversations regarding money distribution were also leaked, which resulted in the major “Breaking News.” When Mehran Bank scam was unearthed, questions were also raised about some of the reported corruption cases in the media which were made part of the charge-sheet against the PPP government; these cases were now seen as part of the same conspiracy.

Two days after her government was dismissed on August 6, 1990, former premier Benazir Bhutto had accused the intelligence agencies. “My government was dismissed through a conspiracy by the intelligence agencies after cases were cooked and stories were planted,” she had said.

The outcome of Asghar Khan’s case could vindicate BB’s accusation which, to some extent, has already been done after the submission of Gen. Durrani’s affidavit.

Mehran Bank scam was just a crude form of NRO to please the politicians in order to get the desired results. In both the cases, the central figure was the ‘Sipah-Salar’ of one of the world’s most disciplined armies — both Beg and Musharraf were out to fulfil their hidden ambitions.

Ishaq Khan is now dead but veteran bureaucrat Roedad Khan who is now over 90 can be asked to tell the whole truth in what looks like genuine ‘national interest’. General Aslam Beg’s reported statement that the ISI did it on instructions from the chief executive (by which he means Ishaq Khan) is an eye wash. He stated that the ISI provided the funds to the candidates but in the affidavit it was clearly mentioned that the fund was meant only for candidates belonging to the IJI. Secondly, if the directives did indeed come from the Election Cell of the presidency, the act itself was illegal as president is not the chief executive but the head of the State.

The Incharge of the so-called “Media Cell” should also be called to the court to explain why such a cell existed in the presidency in the first place. If Gen. Beg had filed such a statement in the Supreme Court, it would be a confession, a violation of the army code, an unconstitutional act that was committed without any lawful authority.

Former ISI chief Durrani should also be summoned and asked about the remaining amount of money which, he had stated in the affidavit, was “transferred to a special fund”. He should also inform the court about the money given to the media, while the journalists who are said to be involved should be called to the court to confirm or clear their names from the affidavit.

What is unfortunate is that this was not an isolated incident. All subsequent elections, with the exception of one in 2008, were manipulated in similar way — conspiracies were hatched to either block the PPP victory or a split was created in the party. Retd Maj. Gen. Ehtesham Zameer, who was the head of ISI’s political cell in the 2002 election and is currently a newspaper columnist, should also write about how the PPP-Patriot was created in 2002 and some elections results of Punjab were delayed. It was the PPP’s greatest blunder to agree on an NRO with Gen. Musharraf even if it was a move to force Musharraf to quit as army chief and hold elections.

If the Leader of the Opposition and PML-N legislator Chaudhry Nisar is sincere in his demand, and there is no reason to believe he is not, he should file an application in the Supreme Court with the plea to constitute a powerful judicial commission to fix the responsibility of how the intelligence agencies were used in the manipulation of elections, using corrupt practice to bribe the politicians and the media. The guilty politicians and generals should be punished. The commission should also set rules for the ISI and other agencies to keep away from politics.

And finally the commission should also recommend measures to do away with the secret funds of Ministry of Information and intelligence agencies for the media or at least they should be made transparent and submitted at least to the Public Accounts Committee.

The writer is a senior journalist and former secretary general of the PFUJ.


As cinemagoers all over the world become cinephiles (with a passionate interest in cinema, film theory and film criticism) for various reasons, it is important to remember that the French went through this — an intense phase of cinephilia — sixty years ago.

Social and political conditions conspired to inject in post-war French youth a new consciousness, a raw restlessness that a French magazine L’Express termed as La Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). Out of this wave arrived on the shores of film-criticism and filmmaking what in film history are referred to as the French New Wave’s young Turks: Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claud Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette. Before turning to filmmaking, they all wrote serious film criticism for perhaps the most influential film magazine, Cahiers du Cinema, which was founded by Andre Bazin and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze who, like the young Turks, wrote criticism and made films.

Most historians fix the high period of the wave from 1959-1962 and, in those four years, over 160 first-time directors made their films, leaving an indelible mark on the future of filmmaking.

Truffaut’s 400 Blows often gets credited as the beginning of the Wave as he took the film world by storm by winning the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival, which had banned him a year earlier for denouncing the festival and the general film culture of France in the 1950s. These critics-turned-filmmakers had referred to the French cinema of the 50s as le cinema du papa (the cinema’s father).

In May 1957 at a roundtable discussion, the critics at Cahiers likened the state of French cinema to that of British cinema devoid of intellectual integrity, artistic innovation and irrelevant to issues of the time. They titled the discussion as “Six character in search of auteurs.” Truffaut had said, in 1957, that “there are no works, there are only authors.” This particular way of thinking about cinema, privileging a filmmaker’s special relationship with his/her social and imaginative reality found a highly sophisticated expression in Bazin’s important essay, Ontology of the Photographic Image, written in 1945. Naomi Greene writes that the “essay revolves around an issue at the philosophical heart of the movement: the relationship of cinema to reality. Bazin was influenced, among other things, by Sartre’s concern with regards to how art captures and projects reality, and Andre Malraux, who said, “Cinema is nothing other than the most developed aspect of plastic realism that first appeared in the Renaissance.”

Malraux’s daughter married Alain Resnais, the director of another important film, Hiroshima Mon Amore that shook the Cannes festival along with 400 Blows in 1959. Though Alain Resnais, along with a few others, especially Agnes Warda who is sometimes addressed as the godmother of the New French Wave, and Chris Marker, is seen as a part of the wave, the trio is also seen as a distinct sub-group of the wave known as the Left Bank Group. While some consider this group to be a political, literary and avant-garde flank of the wave, a noted critic Clouzot, points out that the Left Bank Group “directors are to be seen as authors more than auteurs, as they were more concerned with responding to the traditions of literature and the nouveau roman (new novel), than with responding to the history of cinema: whereas the Right Bank-Cahiers directors are well-known for being primarily critics and cinéphiles, and for their work being a response to the prevailing tradition of French cinema…” This distinction between author and auteur is crucial to savouring the beauty that is French New Wave films.

Although it was Bazin who, in 1946, while reviewing Orson Welles’ film, introduced the idea of cinema of authors, according the American filmmaker the status of an author, it was in fact Alexandre Astruc who likened the camera to a pen in his quintessential article two years later: The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Camera Stylo. This essay is often treated as the manifesto of the New Wave. He was a founding member of an important film club, Objectif 49 and helped with the Cahiers du Cinema. He believes that film has a specific language and disagrees with the belief that the language is predominantly visual and reliant on montage. It is thanks to Astruc that the director became the real author of the film, instead of the screenwriter.

Soon after Astruc’s essay, one of the young Turks of the wave, Eric Rohmer, further expanded on the nature of cinematic language, which he elaborated in his essay titled: Cinema: the art of space. He too rejected the notion that editing or montage was central. Rohmer believed that cinema used space in unique ways. According to him, “The expressive value of the relationship of spatial dimensions or the movement of lines within the area of the screen can be the object of rigorous attention.”

Instead of narrative and editing, the New Wave directors were drawn to “a precise complex of people and decors, a network of relations, a moving architecture of relationships somehow suspended in space.” That’s how the last member of the quintet, Jacques Rivette described the most important element of the French New Wave filmmaking: Mise-en-scene. What sets these film critics apart, led by the young Turks, from other critics either in film or other fields of art, such as those associated with New Criticism, was that they considered film criticism as a form of filmmaking, and then they showed France and the world how to make them their way, the better way. Godard once said that he and his friends already saw themselves as future filmmakers. They were thinking cinema and thinking about cinema. To the enfant terrible of the French New Wave, between writing and filmmaking, there’s only quantitative, not a qualitative, difference.

But let’s not get ahead of the story. At least not too soon, not so fast. How did these first-time filmmakers got to make their films? Who financed them? What made it possible? Who’s more central to the New Wave? Brigette Bardot’s carefree sexuality or Jeanne Moreau’s stunning talent? Also, what relevance this article has to the history of Pakistani cinema? Did we ever produce an auteur? Was our filmmaking ever so slightly touched by the Wave? Can we think of Rangeela as an auteur? Part II will try to bring some of the remaining pieces of the puzzle closer, if not together.

(to be continued)


Reflections of a new consciousness.


Christian and Islamic calendars coincide when it comes to matters of love. The converging point for the two systems of dividing Time is number 14. In the lunar year, on the 14th of every month, the full moon apparently entices lovers and turns them ecstatic; whereas according to the Roman calendar, Feb 14 is observed as the date of love commonly known as the Valentine’s Day.

Scrutinising the changing trends in our society, one realises that Feb 14 is celebrated more fervently than Aug 14 or some other religious festivals. The abundance of signs of love put up for purchase at shops that sell cards, gifts and toys makes your head swirl. This is unusual in an environment where people are reluctant to reveal their desire for the opposite sex. There is no exact equivalent in our language to express one’s love except the phrase in English “I love you”.

A clear announcement of love is considered unsophisticated or banal in a society where nothing is said directly. Even in daily newspapers, you have to decode the terms — the ‘law enforcing agencies’ mean police and rangers, ‘sensitive institutions’ signify the army or its intelligence agencies, and the ‘neighbouring country’ is always meant for India.

This habit of hiding our feelings is a baggage that we carry from our imperial past. The region has been ruled by rulers from outside, so the attitude of people must have been shaped by reasons of state and safety; hence their use of loaded language. This structure or style must have been necessary in an autocratic rule or court, and was later picked by our religious leaders, satire writers and stage-performers. This does come in handy to avoid the unpleasant reaction from the state or hostile opponents.

A feat that is performed in art, too, since it is a means of transforming the immediate substance into a remote ‘message’. Often, that metamorphosis serves as a therapeutic process for artists who deal with their personal and private demons through art. Examples such as Vincent Van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Ahmed Pervaiz signify how artists transmuted their passions for women or unrequited love into canvases of great merit. Perhaps, poetry is also a vehicle to vent one’s sentiments for the lover which could not be communicated otherwise (Interestingly the generic name for poetry in our language was reekhta, which literally means talking to women).

Hence, art becomes an instrument of transmitting an individual’s emotions of all sorts but mainly of amorous nature. One is not sure what the artists do when they fall in love but, even when not in love, they do select love as their aesthetic concern. A popular theme, it is both simple and challenging and therefore keeps inspiring creative people.

If analysed, the history of art is basically a documentation of multiple forms of love that a maker showed for various characters. Whether it is love for one’s family, the Creator, gods, tribe, nation, faith or females, art has been about expressing a strong desire — for an unattainable entity. Ditto for poetry and music which is also about the beloved or lover who is away or unreachable; the unconsummated or unsuccessful relationship is the basis of our creative sojourns.

In a simplified way, all art is about portraying a man’s love in an implicit manner. Explicit references may be found in literature but, in visual arts, it is difficult to determine the true subject or addressee of an art work. Usually, artists get inspiration from a situation and then modify their sentiments in an indirect content — composition of lines, colours, textures and materials. Unlike a piece of literature that operates in a domain, language, which is common and shared by many and can be conveyed without much physical effort, making art is an act that requires space, tools, materials and then a place to exhibit and communicate with the public. Thus in art, the subject may remain love but it leads to diverse and wider interpretation. So, no matter if it is a devotional painting or a romantic canvas, it deviates from its original and prescribed content and survives for other reasons —formal, technical, historical and contextual.

In that sense, Pakistani artists have been evasive about love. Of course, there are hundreds of canvases with frustrated (and frustrating) imagery ranging from Saeed Akhtar to Moazzam Ali (with latter’s skimpily dressed nomadic damsels), but it is not usual to find works explicitly referring to the idea of love. It was not like this in the early art of Pakistan, when artist made works on romantic themes, occasionally trespassing the domain of sexual subjects. For instance, some paintings by Sadeqauin from the seventies were shown and, unfortunately, burnt at the Free Mason Hall in Lahore.

In contemporary times, it is rare to come across love as the main or the predominant subject. There could be diverse factors for this absence. Mainly, it is the situation of our society that engages or forces an artist to focus on more ‘serious’ issues such as war, destructions, terrorism etc. More than that, it is the idea associated with love that does not offer anything new to our creative personalities and has thus hindered them.

Therefore love, because of its fathomable nature and predictable responses, ends up being a redundant matter unless one approaches it from a new angle, as indicated by Umberto Eco: “I think of the post modern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows he cannot say to her, “I love you madly”, because he knows that she knows (and that she knows that he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say, “As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly.”



Best of Faiz
The Faiz centenary celebrations saw some of the best performances ever in Lahore
By Sarwat Ali

In various countries mushairas, paper reading, scholarly discourses, book launches, concerts, seminars and plays have been organised to celebrate the centenary celebrations of Faiz, while many more have been held in the various cities of the country in the past year.

But, since Lahore has pre-emptive rights over Faiz, the events hosted here have always assumed an air of added poignancy.

The programme organised by Faiz Foundation and Faiz Ghar at Alhamra started with a couple of dance numbers by the girls of the junior and senior branches of the Lahore Grammar School based on the two poems ‘Aaeye Hath Uthain Hum’ and ‘Hum Dehkain Gay’. The private schools in the country should be felicitated for introducing Faiz and other poets of Urdu and Punjabi to their students whose work otherwise does not form part of the curriculum for a variety of reasons.

Tina Sani sang Faiz as she has being doing for many years now. To be precise, as she herself confessed, it has been a journey that has lasted almost 24 years.

The basic problem with singing of poetry is how to save it from becoming illustrative. The musical structure should not land up on a collision course with the poetical structures. On the one side, there is the effort on the part of the singer to avoid his/her rendition from merely becoming illustrative, and on the other, is the effort that the words should not become merely incidental, as is the case with the higher musical forms.

Faiz has been sung extensively by well-known singers, not-so-good singers and by the average. His stature is such that for a newcomer merely singing him can be a source of gaining popularity or seeking legitimacy, while for an established singer it is a challenge to musical creativity. Singing Faiz would really be an endeavour to break new ground in his or her musical quest.

A much-improved Tina Sani sang for over an hour-and-a-half some of the compositions which she has been singing in the past and some other compositions which have been famous for a while, having been sung by some of the great singers of the land. She is a now a much better singer than in the past when she had started to sing Faiz. Her sur is more in tune and she has the confidence to sing within oneself without stretching or wanting to do something terribly new and creative. And she also sang the numbers which have become very famous like ‘Mujh Say Phehli Si Mohabat Meray Mehboob Na Maang’, ‘Aa Ke Wabasta Hain Us Husn Ki Yadain Tujh Sey’, ‘Sham e Firaq Ab Na Pooch’, ‘Dasht-e-Tanhai Main’, ‘Hum Dekhain Gay’, ‘ Gulaon Main Rang Bhare’, ‘Aaye Kuch Abr Kuch Sharab Aye’ — and ‘Aaj Bazaar Main Pa Bajolaan Chalo’ as a tribute to these great singers like Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hasan, Fareeda Khanum, Iqbal Bano and Nayyara Noor which carries with it a tinge of nostalgia about it. As if to establish a connection of the two Urdu poets from Punjab, she also sang Iqbal’s Shikwah interspersed with reading by Adeel Hashmi.

These musical numbers were preceded by selected readings from the letters of Faiz Ahmed Faiz by Adeel Hashmi. The musical accompaniment was provided on the piano by talented Asad Anis. He learnt the art of playing in Russia in his childhood days. He plays the compositions of the European maestros with great proficiency and has been in search of a serious audience of piano in his country. Asad may have had a few takers for his playing one of the instruments in an orchestral arrangement but has found none for his solo recitals, which is always the test of the true mantle of a musician. During the intervals, he played the compositions of maestros like Chopin, Beethoven and Strauss.

Ajoka too staged a play, ‘Rozan-e Zindaan Se’, based on the letters of Faiz and Alys Faiz during the days of his imprisonment. Naeem Tahir and Yasmin Tahir read these letters with great intensity.

Some plays have revolved around letter readings. For example, ‘Gurney’s Love Letters’ — a hugely successful play that was adapted in India by Javed Siddiqui and directed by Feroz Abbas Khan as ‘Tumhari Amrita’. This play based on epistolary readings, was performed initially by Farooq Sheikh and Shabana Azmi to much acclaim.

There is also an epistolary form in novel writing, which capitalises on the virtues of the first person narrative.

In the past, probably fifteen years ago, one can recall one particular masterly reading of Faiz’s letters, other prose works and the poems by Zia Mohyeddin. By combining the letters and the prose works of Faiz with selections from his poetical works, Zia’s session was one of the best readings even by his own high standard. There have been other attempts also of combining the two and presenting them on stage for a more complete picture of the poet. But, one wonders, whether there has been a better production than by Zia Mohyeddin in Lahore. But the readings by Yasmin and Naeem Tahir were also impressive, and sound and movement in adequate dosage backed them as well. Nighat Chaudhry and Wahab Shah also performed on numbers choreographed on the life and works of Faiz.

The most popular event was the Faiz Aman Mela which retains for the people the manner and spirit of a true mela. This year too, it was revived and participated in by a large section of the population. It included a number of musical numbers composed on the poetry of Faiz. Adeel Burki, Jawad Ahmed, Nida Faiz and Lal Group added to the festive occasion.

Faiz, like Iqbal and other the Punjabi classical poets, is forming the repertoire of the bands. They have been composing Faiz’s poetry, singing to the accompaniment of the guitar and drums to much younger audiences.

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