The assassination of Salmaan Taseer does not just reveal the chilling extent to which religion-fuelled violence persists, it also reflects the increasing brutalisation of the psyche of the Pakistani people.
Killer of giants and
Seethingly calm at the surface and calmly violent at heart. Is this then the defining legacy of Rawalpindi?
By Adnan Rehmat
Sibling rivalry and fraternity is a human trait but the analogy of this relationship can lend itself interestingly to cities also. Indeed there is a school of thought among architects and even sociologists that regards cities as living things -- as joyous or cunning, and as alive or (relatively) dead as the people that make them up, based on which they strike up relationships with other cities.
There is no other intriguingly symbiotic relationship between two cities in Pakistan than that between its federal capital Islamabad and what’s called its "sister city" Rawalpindi. The title of sisterhood on Rawalpindi is usually made relative to the perception of Islamabad being the "brother city" or barra bhai (elder brother) in political parlance (much like what President Asif Zardari calls Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif).
And yet many of Pakistan’s expanding breed of hacks would swear the genders were the other way round really when it comes to these two cities. Consider: Rawalpindi is where Pakistan’s most powerful entity -- the army -- is based. Unabashedly flaunting its machismo, it will not be caught dead being referenced to the fairer sex. Indeed, the army being the final arbiter of political power in the country easily earns the mantle of being the Orwellian Big Brother (as opposed to, say sher ki khala).
Going back a long way
Islamabad on the other hand, being the only territory in the federal statehood that doesn’t think for, or looks after, its own, opts for a more archetypal Pakistani role of a sister who gushes at her brother who can, for her, do no wrong. Witness it being the federal seat of parliamentary democracy without an elected local government for itself! But Rawalpindi, on the other hand, not just rules itself -- it proxy-rules the whole of Pakistan.
Islamabad in 2010 celebrated its golden jubilee. That’s a puny 50 years. Rawalpindi, of course, goes back a long way -- 1,000BC, say the history books. Following the British invasion of the Indian subcontinent and their occupation of the city in 1849, Rawalpindi became a permanent garrison. The Pakistan Army made it its permanent home after Partition in 1947. Military ruler Ayub Khan created Islamabad to also establish the garrison as a permanent political base and Pakistan has never been the same ever since.
Rawalpindi, in time, has emerged as the fourth largest city of Pakistan after Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad with its population today at just over 3 million. In 1960, when construction of Islamabad began as the country’s new capital after Karachi, Rawalpindi had barely 200,000 people. Today nearly half a million Pindiites commute to Islamabad daily for work ranging from day-wage labourers to some federal ministers, without whom Islamabad would shut down quickly. Very few who are based in Islamabad come to Pindi, as Rawalpindi is called in daily parlance, for work.
If you can afford housing in Islamabad, they say here, you are rid of having to travel elsewhere. And certainly not to Pindi where getting from the Secretariat to Saddar by bus takes you up to 90 minutes and by your car up to an hour. Working in Islamabad, on the other hand, is a dream for every Pindiite for it means you have arrived. The most high-profile Pindi resident who goes to work in Islamabad is the guy who knows it all: the ISI chief. His inaccessible office has come to be known as Aab Para, where it’s based, once the very synonym for Islamabad.
There is no doubt that the most distinguished of Rawalpindi’s peculiar characteristic is that it’s a garrison, the seat of army headquarters, or the GHQ as it’s known. The most powerful people in the country live and work in Rawalpindi and they’re virtually all in khaki. From the army chief to the chief of general staff (without whom the famous coup-savvy triple-one brigade can’t move and who is the second most powerful man in the army), and from the more ceremonial but influential chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee to the big majority of Pakistan’s 29 lieutenant-generals -- all operate from here.
There are 11 corps in Pakistan and at least eight lieutenants-general command them outside Rawalpindi, across the country. However, they all congregate here regularly for the official "corps commander meetings" that somehow always excites the media. The media coverage of these meetings, whose minutes never make it to public, probably stem from the instincts it developed dating back to the days of when the army house and the presidency was one for a total of 20 years in the times of Generals Zia and Musharraf.
The media gives these "corps commander meetings" equal billing with federal cabinet meetings or even parliamentary sessions (tells you something about the ISPR being smarter than the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in many ways) in a setting that ranks arguably as the most manicured, organised and luxurious in Pakistan.
It is also arguably the most visited non-American military headquarters for the most powerful generals in the world ranging from military leaders of such giants as America, Europe, UK, France, China and Nato. Probably the only powerful military leaders of major countries that haven’t made it to the Rawalpindi GHQ are Russia and India (General Petraeus would, perhaps, say it’s their loss).
Call to arms
The other characteristic that puts Rawalpindi in relief is its seamless religious adjunct to the martial history of the city that has developed over the past 30 years. The General Ayub and General Yahya administrations had a secular bent in policy and practice that was reflected in the unhurried nature of Pindi, with nary a Kalashnikov in sight nor did namazis then spill out of mosques as they do now here. In the 1960s and 70s, you could even eat at restaurants during Ramadan and see women in saris and bell bottoms in the bazaars. Burqas, beards and male ankles were a rare sight.
Under General Zia, Pindi turned religious as a base from where to force-Islamise the country. Madrassas sprouted, Kalashnikovs made an appearance and men grew ferocious beards and pulled up their shalwars. They were called mujahideen who espoused jihad. Military training camps sprouted and arms depots became so well stocked that one (‘Ojhri Camp’) blew up, raining death and destruction over the sibling cities. The 1980s, therefore, changed Pindi radically -- made it religious and jihad-minded and the city’s business classes became major contributors to develop Pindi as the jihad factory.
When the ‘jihad’ ended in Afghanistan and even greater horrors unfolded, in the 1990s the desi jihadis adopted Kashmir as their enterprise. This continued during the 1990s. And if you thought this was bad, the 2000s arrived with 9/11. That’s when, with a new general -- Musharraf -- at the helm, the jihadis went patricidal, morphed into their minder’s mind and went lock, stock and barrel after the same army and America that it partnered with in Afghanistan. Rawalpindi sustained the most suicide and other assorted terror attacks after tribal areas and Peshawar.
The state-christened jihadis-turned-terrorists even killed a lieutenant-general in Rawalpindi and twice nearly bumped off Musharraf himself. Even General Kiyani’s GHQ was stormed by the militant maulvis. This radicalisation has been brewing the likes of Mumtaz Qadri -- another in a long list of Rawalpindi’s macho men who draw power from the city’s growing intolerant character, and who almost claim entitlement to influencing the rest of the country. It is the same stream that keeps Nawaz Sharif’s right-of-centre Pakistan Muslim League-N on top politically in the region.
Theatre of war
But the most striking of Rawalpindi’s characteristic is its entitlement to being the theatre for the fight for the soul of Pakistan. This is the city from where at least three generals took over the country and forced their will on the nation bringing infamy and opprobrium to the military and stamping proof of Pakistan’s maverick, volatile instincts. And yet this is also the city where Pakistan’s elected leaders and democratic actors stage their last battles. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the country’s first democratic leader, went to the gallows here unbowing to a closet mullah of a military ruler. The military demolished the place where he was hanged and built an entertainment complex on the site.
This is also the city where another elected leader and symbol of democracy, Benazir Bhutto, was killed in the streets for daring to defy the establishment’s timetable of politics under the watch of another general-president, this time a whiskey-swilling one. With her death, Rawalpindi completed a bloody hat-trick -- starting with Liaquat Ali Khan -- of killing prime ministers; some even argue democracy itself.
No other city in the world has the dubious distinction of producing so many self-appointed military rulers and sending so many elected leaders six feet under. This, then, is the defining legacy of Rawalpindi: seethingly calm at the surface and calmly violent at heart.
The postmodernists may have demolished the idea of originality and replaced it with creativity but we are still on the lookout for imitative works
By Quddus Mirza
With the cold winds from Siberia bringing temperatures down in Lahore, it seems strange to talk about the concept of originality in art.
Lately, a number of critics, artists and students have been pointing out at artworks, mainly by contemporary artists, that are believed to be copies or replicas. Their concerns are pertinent since an artist must create original work.
The criticism is directed at some new media artists and sculptors who have recently shown in Karachi and Lahore. To understand the phenomenon fully, one needs to probe the idea and origin of originality. Our own past and the Western art history tell us that artists in the past were not required to produce original pieces. Traditionally, in visual arts as well as in music, new examples were required to improve upon the established, tried-out and classical compositions. Hence, the worth of an artist was judged not on his capability of being an inventor but on his capacity as an improviser.
The painters or sculptors from Renaissance periods were not supposed to engage with new themes, characters or compositions. The real test of an artist was how he introduced fresh elements -- both formal and conceptual -- into a familiar vocabulary. This has a parallel in our traditional art practices also, particularly the Indian miniature painting and Japanese and Chinese paintings.
For centuries, this subtle, serious and continuous process of re-creation manifested itself in a visible and complete change, without a single artist’s urge to invent an art object or form. The advent of modernity instigated the desire to innovate new and original works. Thus the age of Modernity witnessed a range of experiments in every aspect of art -- all aiming at unique and often shocking pieces which affirmed the status of their maker as an independent artist. It is in this backdrop that all discourse about plagiarism, inspiration and influences take place; subsequently conferring the prestigious position of original artist to some while castigating others who are thought to have copied or were ‘inspired’ or ‘influenced’.
However, all these perceptions and pride about originality proved short-lived when Post-modernistic philosophy heralded the demise of ‘originality’. Beginning with writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Roberto Bolano and artists like Sherrie Levine and Mike Bidlo, the whole notion of the original and the unique went through a thorough transformation. These authors and artists introduced the concept of being creative without being original or innovative. The idea of appropriation, assimilation or just replication was extended to such limits that one was unable to distinguish between the real and its copy. For example texts from A Universal History of Infamy by Borges perplex a reader who is unable to decide whether these stories are actually written by the Argentine author or were derived from multiple sources as claimed by Borges -- till he realises the futility of this distinction.
Likewise, Sherrie Levine and Mike Bildo forge famous works of art in faithful copies which could be read as a comment upon our age which is constructed on the concept of simulacra (likeness, similarity). It is an age where an image is constantly repeated and reproduced in every sphere of life -- beginning from market, media and politics to other forms of cultural industry -- thus negating the notion of authorship, authenticity and originality. In this age, if two artists happen to make works of identical appearance, it is understandable because ideas float in the world and can be used by different people independent of each other.
Yet, in our midst, there is an exaggerated significance accorded to the original. Anyone having a link of any kind with another artist is immediately denounced, rejected and ridiculed. Usually references are collected in order to discredit an artist’s practice and notify him or her as an imitator -- of ideas, technique, imagery, material etc.
Perhaps this overt attention to originality is a reflection of our history and is connected to the way we as a nation have been subjugated by outside invaders. From the time of Muslim dynasties to the British colonial period, the people of subcontinent have been trying to adapt to the ways of their rulers who came from distant lands. The last transformation came in the time of the British colonists and this borrowing from the West, translated into the concept of imitation, turned into a touchy subject especially with respect to visual arts.
We have not dealt with the idea of assimilation and appropriation in a mature manner. Thus despite all influences on our diction, dress, food, system of education and means of communication, we seek to take pride on the purity of our culture, and originality of our art. In a way our works of art need to be original, because no other area of life can provide this us ‘pious’ position. In the absence of any significant contribution to the modern world (except perhaps paratha and biryani), our artists have to share the responsibility of being the real inventors. This may be one reason why we are always on the lookout for imitative works, forgetting that the notion of originality is a relative term.
This is a difficult proposition, also because we are trying to seek originality in art in a world that is constructed to be a series of repetitions, reproductions and reflections. As human beings, and members of a society, our names, physical features, words, expressions, gestures, all replicate others. Similarly the artworks may resemble other works, without the maker’s decision or awareness of that close connection; like every morning when we breathe we are not conscious that the air originates in a faraway part of Russia but we shudder in the cold describing it as ‘our’ freezing conditions.
In a world driven by social disruption and hence fickle taste, Mian Sheheryar merged the musical and poetic idea in his outstanding compositions
By Sarwat Ali
The contribution of Mian Sheheryar who died last week has largely remained unsung. Since his claim to fame has been his compositions including the famous Noor Jehan number Aey Watan Ke Sajeele Jawaano his talent, as a singer relegated into the background, was totally under-utilised.
A few years ago Sachal Foundation for the Arts had cut a CD of ten of his compositions in his own voice. Titled ‘Mian Sheheryar sings Poets of the Punjab’, eight kafis of classical poets including Khawaja Fareed, Bulleh Shah, and Shah Hussain, while two poems of Tahir Ikram and Mushtaq Soofi were rendered keeping the overt relevance of lyrics in mind. Though tending to be experimental, this retained its connections with the land and its people. This was particularly relevant as the arts in Pakistan are being swarmed by the onslaught of the still undigested influences from outside.
He did plenty of work both for radio and television and the reason for his anonymity should rest with these organisations. Somehow the vocalists are given great importance and their name is splashed all over the place, even the poets are mentioned and the famous poet mentioned loudly but the composer has never been eulogised.
Most of the times, the name of the composer is not even mentioned. The mindset that since the compositions are in-house, the credit should be laid at the door of the organisation (radio or television) has prevailed because the same fate befalls the musician.
Since they too are on the payrolls of the organisation, their names are hardly ever mentioned. It is seen as them performing their duty, rather than contributing in a creative effort where their talents needs to be appreciated and mentioned.
In the early film days, the names of the vocalists were also not mentioned on the 78rpms; instead the names of the characters on which the song was picturised were printed. It was rare that the names of the poets or the composers were mentioned and it took a real effort on the part of the vocalists to have their names on the record label. It was only then that the ordinary street person on the street became familiar with the names of Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi as they were purely playback singers and made no appearance on screen.
Born in 1927 to a family of non-musicians in Lahore, Mian Sheheryar went through the discipline of formal school and college education and did his masters from the Punjab University. But his real passion lay in music and though he started to sing on the radio in 1948 he worked on music compositions for HMV (His Masters Voice) from 1954 before moving on to the films and television. His passion for music took him to various well-known personalities like Sharif Ghaznavi, Niaz Hussain Shami, Firoze Nizami and Ustad Sardar Khan from whose company he benefited immensely.
His compositions exceeded 3,500 and he introduced singers of the calibre of Naseem Begum and Irin Parveen and helped in shaping the careers of Suraiya Khanum, Taranum Naz, Shabnam Majeed and Hadiqa Kiyani. Besides other music directors, a specially-constituted government committee asked him after the Rann of Katch dispute in 1965 to compose taranas and the result was Aey Watan Ke Sajeele Jawaano -- indeed an outstanding work.
Kafi can be sung in the classical ang, or with emphasis only on its compositional aspect. For the former the kafi are lyrics, which need more than a mere interpretation; rather the words are only a reference point for musical exploration. The musical idea and the poetic idea are thus made to merge at some higher meeting point during the course of singing. Sheheryar sang with full-throated ease point, emphasising to some extent on the improvisational aspect of musical exploration, as is the wont with classical musicians. Words were neither a limiting factor nor totally accidental, and by playing upon the strength of both he kept the autonomy of the musical form intact.
The Kafis in the CD released by Sachal Foundation of the Arts were Fareed’s Sawan Megh Malharaan, Which Rohi De Rehdiaan, Darsan Bin, Way Toon Sawalaan, Aa Mil Maro, Rohi Lagree. Shah Hussain’s Saara Jag Jaanda, Bulleh Shah’s Mil Lao, and Tahir Ikram’s Asaan Likh Likh with Mushtaq Soofi’s Rukh Patraan De Chup.
Most of the compositions were based on raags reminiscent of the modal structure that has made our music so distinct. The paucity of instrumentalists playing the original instruments is a reality now; the instruments are mostly electronic but used in a manner so as to minimise the difference between the two.
Though some of the compositions for the film Begunah in the voice of Naseem Begum became famous like Nainoon Main Jal Bhar Aae, Aaei Morakh Mun Tarpaye, Rooth Giya Mera Piyar, the bulk of the work that he did was for television. Programmes like ‘Khushboo’, ‘Des Pardes’, ‘Jaltarang’, ‘Sur Sangh’, ‘Goonj’, ‘Doongey Samandar’, ‘Takra and ‘Soch Lari’. When musicals were made on the folk tales by Kanwar Aftab Ahmed like ‘Mirza Sahiban’, ‘Heer Ranjha’, and ‘Sohni Mahinwal’ he was asked to compose music for them -- a task that he did full justice to.
Sheheryar’s name can be taken with the likes of Inayat Bai Dherowali, Zahida Parveen, Ali Baksh Zahoor, Tufail Niazi, Hamid Ali Bela, Pathaney Khan, Jumman and Abida Parveen, the outstanding kafi singers of the country.
He was a very modest man and never wore his achievements on his sleeve. He was always worried about the state of music and musicians, keeping the former vibrantly relevant by marrying the local sensibility with technological breakthrough in a world driven by social disruption and hence fickle taste.
Noted, stage, TV, in Lahore film artist Aliya Begum passed away on January 4 at the age of 92. In 1994, Aliya Begum had migrated to San Francisco to live with her son. As her health deteriorated, she moved back to Lahore, the city she loved, in 2007.
Aliya began acting in late 1950s. She acted in the earliest plays produced by the PTV from Lahore. She was one of the original cast members of the legendary stage play ‘Pag’ along with actor Iqbal Hasan, Tani, Qamar Chaudhery, Zaigham, and Nazir Hussaini, whom she considered as her teacher. One of her last roles she played was the mother of Major Aziz Bhatti, in the mid 1990s.
Some of the films she acted were the record-breaking ‘Aina’, ‘Bashira’, ‘Shareek-e Hayat’, ‘Pind di Kudi’, ‘Paristan’, ‘Lala Rukh’, and Sharif Naiyer’s ‘Shirin Farhad’. She also has the distinction of having acted in the few art movies produced in Pakistan such as the one produced by the noted fiction writer Ashfaq Ahmed’s ‘Dhoop aur Saaye’, Jamil Dehlavi’s ‘Blood of Husain’, and Feryal Gauhar’s ‘Paizwan’.
Aliya also produced a few plays. She was highly respected and loved by those she worked with. She is survived by a son and three daughters.
The assassination of Salmaan Taseer does not just reveal the chilling extent to which religion-fuelled violence persists, it also reflects the increasing brutalisation of the psyche of the Pakistani people.
Taseer is just the latest public figure to suffer because he had the courage to speak out against the militants and the religious right. Last year, the only son of the information minister of the troubled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was targeted -- as the ANP minister himself is on the terrorists’ hit list because of his repeated criticism of them. Last year a number of religious scholars who had criticised the Islamic militant activities were also gunned down.
Pakistani people are hostage to the religious right. Law enforcement officials in Pakistan say that it is possible to counter the forces of this fundamentalist-rightist lobby if there is sufficient will in the government, and a clearly defined line on what can or cannot be tolerated in terms of violence, incitement to violence and criminal activity. Yet successive regimes have, at some point or the other, given in to the demands of blackmailing mullah groups, which threaten to proclaim their opponents ‘apostates and non-Muslims’.
The brutality with which the religious right consolidates its power is used so that a small network of intolerant men with beards can consolidate their material and political interests and maintain fear in the people it wishes to manipulate. ‘Persecution of Muslims’ and ‘Defence of Islam’ are their main themes. But the chilling reality is: this message is not restricted to their parties but has seeped into the general mindset of Pakistan.
Many Pakistanis blame the West, the US in particular, for General Zia’s 11-year-dictatorship and the religious and sectarian violence that was the direct result of his policies. But the fact of the matter is that now the problem is not Western support or lack thereof, the problem is the people of Pakistan -- who are either unable to stand up to the religious bullies or who actually sympathise with what this group is preaching. Thus, you have large sections of the so-called educated people toeing the rightist line and rejecting any sort of logical discourse in favour of self-righteous outrage.
Marx described religion as the opiate of the people. In Pakistan it is the heroin of the people: it is a drug that entraps, ensnares, enrages and leaves you wanting for more. People need their fix of outrage, hatred and fatwa.
The frightening thing about this is how the most unexpected people have espoused the intolerant, inhuman ideology of the fundamentalists. Here’s an example: I heard our popular cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, our handsome, playboy Lahori, speak at a seminar a couple of years ago and was shocked to hear him say that the former military dictator Pervez Musharraf ‘deserved to meet the same fate as Saddam’. He went on to say that Musharraf should be ‘strung up’. Later on when I chided him for preaching this lynch mob rhetoric he was outraged by the criticism and insisted he was right to say such things -- and that he would continue doing so.
What kind of thinking is this? That vigilantism and violence is perfectly acceptable?
Yes, we are fighting a war against armed terrorists, but in Pakistan the enemy is also now within: within the minds of our beleaguered people.
Taseer was brave to take a stand for justice and progress. He was on the frontline of the war against the regressive forces of religious extremism. He was on the frontline of our war, and we need to stand up and continue the fight -- wherever in the world we may be.