Last five years
Zahid Hussain’s latest book is a painful reminder of Pakistan’s recent history
By Huma Imtiaz
The Scorpion’s Tail:
The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in
By Zahid Hussain
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Price: Rs 1195
A day after Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in Islamabad by his police guard for voicing criticism of the blasphemy laws, senior journalist Zahid Hussain made a grim announcement at the launch of his second book, ‘The Scorpion’s Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan – And How It Threatens the World’ -- "Pakistan is drifting towards chaos and anarchy".
The event, held at a branch of the bookstore Liberty Books in Karachi, featured a discussion panel comprising journalist Ghazi Salahuddin, former Pakistani ambassador to the US Maleeha Lodhi, writer Asif Noorani and Hussain. Following an introduction by Noorani and Salahuddin, Lodhi expressed her views on ‘The Scorpion’s Tail’ and raised questions that have been swirling through the minds of many since the War on Terror began: "Why do people turn to violence? How do we deal with the facts that minds have been infected?" In Lodhi’s opinion, it is time to treat the underlying causes that breed violence, and not just the symptoms.
As the evening progressed, Hussain and Lodhi discussed topics such as the use of CIA-operated drones in Pakistan, the recent Af-Pak Review published by the US government and the futility of the current military strategy in Afghanistan. The war, according to the panellists, is unwinnable in Afghanistan, unless a political solution is reached in the war-torn country. Hussain recalled an incident that underlined the significance of the Pakistan Army in the political scenario. "I was told that the Foreign Ministry went to the Inter-Services Intelligence and asked them, what should be our (foreign) policy? The Foreign Minister is asking a military general what the country’s policy should be." Hussain decried the lack of policymaking by the current PPP-led government, "Have they come out publicly about national security? Do they have a vision of economic policy? People gave a vote for change."
Hussain’s book, published three years after his acclaimed debut Frontline Pakistan, is a chronology of the events that have shaped Pakistan in the last five years. It details how consecutive mistakes by the Pakistan government, the US administration and the military and the ruthlessness of the militants have led to Pakistan drifting into chaos and anarchy. As Hussain writes in ‘The Scorpion’s Tail’, "Pakistan has been a state in search of its identity and the struggle between Islamists and moderates has remained at the centre of that quest." In a Pakistan that has been left shaken by Taseer’s assassination, with moderates shocked at the public display of support for Malik Mumtaz Qadri, Hussain’s words ring true.
In his book, Hussain describes events such as the failed peace deals in Fata, and the brutal tactics employed by militants against the Pakistan Army that was taken by surprise at the ferocity of the atrocities, decapitated soldiers, a colonel begging for his life -- events that led to an eventual operation in South Waziristan, where the Pakistan Army is still waging a battle against a force that shows no sign of giving up. Hussain recalls the words of Nek Mohammad, a top militant commander, who was killed in a drone strike in June 2004. Prior to his death, Mohammad asked, "Why is this bird following me?" Hussain also describes the rise of Baitullah Mehsud, a man, who had only 4000 men in 2004 and later became the most wanted man in Pakistan.
‘The Scorpion’s Tail’ offers the readers a glimpse into the rise of the militants in the Swat Valley, and the state’s failure to nip the movement in the bud. It highlights how militants garnered favour with Swat’s residents after the state failed to provide them with basic facilities and implement reforms. Hussain recalls how Fazlullah, the leader of the militants in Swat, had 32 radio stations broadcasting his sermons. The unwritten question here is, why did the state let the status quo continue for as long as it did?
While Hussain’s book reads more like a chronology with less description of the cited events, the few details are remarkable: Faqir Mohammad, a wanted militant attends a meeting at a bureaucrat’s house in Swat, how the siege of the Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi unfolded and the names and descriptions of armymen who left the forces after Musharraf allied with the US following 9/11 to join the militants in their war against US forces in Afghanistan and then against the Pakistani state.
Towards the end, Hussain hastens to wrap up the book. Describing the latest efforts by President Karzai to placate Islamabad, and the Pakistan Army’s interference in talks with the Taliban, Hussain advocates that the military solution in Afghanistan is bound to fail. While highlighting the efficiency of the CIA-operated Predator drone strikes in Fata, Hussain points towards the death of civilians in numerous incidents of drone strikes, a controversial issue that has been discussed heatedly since drone strikes began in Pakistani territory. The author also highlights cases such as Faisal Shahzad’s, the failed Times Square bomber, and how the radicalisation of youth in the West may lead to future terrorist attacks with more devastating consequences.
While Hussain offers little new to those who have been following his work for years, ‘The Scorpion’s Tail’ is a valuable addition to literature available on the modern history of Pakistan. One hopes that those in the corridors of power learn their lessons from the lessons of the past, but as things stand in Pakistan; this might remain an unfulfilled wish.
The Scorpion’s Tail is available at Liberty Books.
Huma Imtiaz works as a journalist in Pakistan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Impact on teaching
Sabiha Mansoor argues that FD programmes should be given more attention than they have been so far
By Dr Tariq Rahman
Maps for Lost Teachers:
A Faculty Development Strategy for Higher Education in Pakistan
By Sabiha Mansoor,
Publisher: Beaconhouse National
Pages: Not mentioned
Price: Not mentioned
Sabiha Mansoor is well-known for her pioneering work on attitudes towards Punjabi, Urdu, English languages among the students of Lahore, in ‘Pakistan Vanguard,’ (1993). Later she examined the role of English in the higher education system of Pakistan for her doctoral dissertation, ‘Language Planning in Higher Education’ ( OUP, 2005). In both of these works she used the survey method and presented a lot of data which is still useful for researchers on Pakistan.
‘Maps for Lost Teachers: A Faculty Development Strategy for Higher Education in Pakistan’ also uses the same quantitative methods of research using data from documents pertaining to higher education as well as fresh data from educational institutions and people playing prominent roles in higher education.
Her main contention is that Pakistani institutions of higher education do not have a Faculty Development strategy (FD) and that such programmes should be devised and implemented both in colleges and universities. The data about colleges is highly interesting as it reveals that there are almost no programmes of FD in most of them. This was well-known but has been documented here for the first time. The data about the universities is also a welcome addition as it is scattered in several sources and has been made more easily accessible here.
Sabiha Mansoor contends that very few faculty members in institutions of higher education are research scholars or scientists and that, therefore, research at the M.Phil level "should focus on Action Research so that research findings can impact faculty teaching practice."
While agreeing with the assumption that most faculty members-- almost all in our colleges-- are not researchers, I would contend that "action research" should not be encouraged. In almost all cases this is just another name for work which lack academic rigour of any kind. Moreover, I doubt that it improves actual teaching. There is, indeed, no need for diluting the M.Phil standards-- and they are abysmal anyway--by allowing "action research." It would be far better to make it compulsory for their promotions.
However, Sabiha Mansoor’s point that FD programme should be part of all college and university training is well taken. As for the paucity of research and the fact that the increase of salaries (under the TTS scheme) for research output has frustrated most members of university faculties, one may advance the idea that universities may be categorised as research universities, teaching universities and university colleges. A high research output, commensurate with high salaries, should only be expected in the research universities. Other universities should give lower salaries and promote people on the basis of examinations and some research or, in the case of colleges, only examinations. In all institutions, as Sabiha Mansoor rightly argues, it is imperative that FD programmes are given more attention than they have been so far.
Bifzi Bafzi Hulalemi
At a sit down banquet in Stratford-upon-Avon last summer I was seated next to a retired circuit judge. In between the starter and the main course he turned to me and said "Short name -- long bladder. Do you know what it means?"
"No" I said, "I don’t know what it means."
He leaned closer and said, "I have just found out that this obscure saying is apparently a reference to the peculiarly Icelandic male habit of writing your name in the snow as you spend a penny".
A glance at what is happening around us makes me feel that it would not be unfair to suggest that our politicians are constantly playing the Icelandic game.
The jingoistic discourse which is being bandied about in the press and over many television channels is so infectious that even the well-meaning and level-headed people have become indurate. Only yesterday I heard on television that the recent assassination of a high profile politico must not be looked as an act of religious fanaticism; rather it was the manifestation of one man’s deep and abiding love for his prophet. Kafka’s vision of the world as absurd, arbitrary and irrational was a highly realistic assessment.
In this climate of fear and fierce hatred I turn to the nonsense verse of Edward Lear. I do not know whether you are fond of this 19th century poet or not. I certain am. His Nonsense Botany has flowers like "Trickia Orologica" (with blossoms in the form of pocket watches) or "Shoebootia Utilis" (which grows boots and shoes). He also invented unheard of creatures who receive their existence from their names. Lear’s ‘Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo’ -- an adorable poem that I once knew by heart -- who inhabits the coast of Coromandel "where the early pumpkins blow," who proposes to Lady Jingly because "he is tired of living singly," is a magnificent creation of fantasy. Lady Jingly turns down Bonghy-Bo’s proposal because she is already committed to ‘Handel Jones Esquire and Co.’ Heartbroken, Yonghy Bonghy-Bo bids her farewell and goes away to his death through the silent roaring ocean. Lady Jingly stays on the coast of Coromandel and "on that heap of stones she mourns" for the Yonghy Bonghy-Bo.
Poetry and cruelty, tenderness and destructiveness are closely linked in the nonsense verse of Edward Lear, as in this limerick:
There was an old Person
Whose conduct grew
ruder and ruder
Till at last, with a
hammer they silenced his clamour
By smashing that
Person of Buda.
Our delight in nonsense has its roots in childhood when we string words together without having to bother about their meaning or implications. Akkar Bakkar Bumaby Bau: Assee Nabbay Pooray Sau. I remember chanting this line while running aimlessly when I was four. My father once told me the story of a man who was so lazy that when he was requested to ucchro (utter) something, he at last blurted, Ucchro Muchro Duchro. It delighted me no end. It was a perfect release from all constraints and rules. Why hadn’t I washed my hands? Why was I wrestling with the branch of a tree? The answer, of course, was Ucchro Muchro Duchro. It didn’t always prevent my ears from being boxed. I might add.
Literature -- and the theatre in particular -- has, in an increasing manner, given room to the liberation through nonsense which the grim, adult world would not admit in any guise. Nonsense verse gives a powerful release from the strictures of prudery and sanctimoniousness. It is not just children who sing it; adults, too, have been enchanted by it for many centuries. When you find you can no longer stomach pontifications of political pundits on current affairs programmes, what better way to react than to speak words created by Morgenstern:
Bifzi Bafzi, hulalemi,
quasti basti bo,
Lalu Lalu Lalu la.
The literature of verbal nonsense describes the human condition in language so rich and extravagant that it transcends the relative poverty of the real world.
Like to the mowing tones of unspoken speeches
Or like two lobsters clad
in logic breeches
Or like the grey fleece of
a crimson cat
Or like the moon calf in
a slipshod hat
Or like the shadow
when the sun is gone....
It is this desire to grasp the shadow when the "sun in gone," or to hear the tones of unspoken speeches of mankind that lies behind the impulse to speak nonsense. The real world is cruel; its inhabitants are crushed by accidents of birth or environment and they are unable to break the pattern which has been ordained for them. In the simplest language Lear says:
There was an old man of
Who wished he had
never been born
So he sat on a chair, till
he died of despair
That dolorous man of
It is not surprising that Lewis Carroll, one of the greatest exponents of nonsense verse and the author of those immortal ‘Alice’ books, was a logician. He was a man steeped in the world of syllogisms and equations, in which determinism of meaning could not be shaken off. Perhaps this is why he created characters who did:
"When I use a word" Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.
"The question is", said Alice, "Whether you can make words mean so many different things".
"The question is", said Humpty Dumpty, "which is master -- that’s all".
The field of nonsense poetry and prose is as large as it is fluid. Most of the works explore the mysteries of being and the self to the limits of anguish as well as absurdity. It portrays a sense of the senselessness of life, of the devaluation of ideals, purity and purpose and it strives to express the inadequacy of rational approach. In many ways nonsense poetry and prose is the direct antecedent of the Theatre of the Absurd.
The unending tirade of misused and overused words which are churned out day after day in the name of honour, valour and glory has a trite, hollow ring to it. I am reminded of that marvellous passage from the "Hunting of the Snack" by Lewis Carroll) and I quote a few lines not for those that they are aimed at (they never take any notice) but for those who have an ear for bathos:
"To the horror of all those
present that day
He uprose in full evening
And with senseless
What his tongue could no
Down he sank in his chair – ran his
hands through his hair –
And chanted in mimsiest
Words whose utter inanity,
proved his insanity
While he rattled a couple of