Our noxious nostalgia — I —Mehboob Qadir

The region became a great melting pot of races, ideas, civilisations and competing military campaigners

Like a delusive people, Muslims in general and we in Pakistan in particular are trapped in the numbing nostalgia of our past Muslim glory. Nostalgia helps one to reflect and reminisce, therefore by itself is not so debilitating but there are a few problems here. First, we tend to easily forget that history always has a context and is relevant to its time of occurrence; only its lessons last. Secondly, nostalgia-less, a matching will and means to re-perform is toxic and harmful. Without a proper understanding of these two imperatives, an urge to be highly regarded as before is dangerously flawed and can give way to undue bitterness. In order to understand this phenomenon we have to examine what kind of sentiment has been implanted in Pakistan.

Driven by our nostalgia, which has been eagerly fed by our romantic but somewhat falsifying historians, fantasising writers, educationists, politicians, self-serving mullahs and other story tellers, we go on glorifying our non-existent charm as the chosen followers of a great faith, members of a glorious race, descendents of ruling classes, future rulers of the world and what not. Unfortunately that track leads to nowhere. Folk stories are a good pastime but do not make communities, people or nations any greater. A longing that spurs effort to become greater is positive, but to merely slither around like an earth worm is a psychosis that leads to mental and moral debility.

One has been to North Africa, Italy, Greece, Iran, Turkey, Hijaz on the Red Sea, and a large number of European countries in addition to Malaysia, India, Thailand, US and UK. Our subcontinent, Italy, Greece and Iran had been the bastions of great civilisations, which held sway over vast territories and enjoyed magnificent power and prestige. Ukraine, Hijaz, Turkey, Thailand, Austria and Malaysia had been the honourable hosts for great civilisations and dutiful custodians of the passage. Nowhere did one hear a pining for the past glory more deafening than the neurotic chorus in India and Pakistan.

In Pakistan, our neurosis is manifold and is quite hopelessly mashed by the hooves of the frequent invaders who galloped down the passes of the Hindu Kush and Suleiman Mountains over the centuries. Why is it that we in Pakistan prefer to wallow in this thick, sticky stew of muddied history that is blinding us to the world around us and isolating us increasingly? We will see in a short while.

Pakistan is basically a River Indus-based geography, which evolved as an agrarian society over thousands of years and thrived in trading of surplus agricultural produce. The lands directly irrigated by the mighty river and its tributaries brought plenty, luxury and leisure in the lives of the people, created a sweeping sentiment of hospitality, opening vast social and economic spaces for others to take root and prosper. Arts and crafts, literature and knowledge flourished. A great ancient university like Taxila was set up, where students thronged from as far away as China. A great mix of Indus and Gangetic civilisations occurred here in olden times, followed by a thick coat of Iranian and Islamic civilisations in the last two millennia.

Thus the region became a great melting pot of races, ideas, civilisations and competing military campaigners. Fortuitously or maybe less so, the invaders’ straight run into the Indian heartland was broken by the Hindu Kush-Suleiman Mountains barrier, and later retarded by successive rivers cutting across their invasion routes. They were forced to change posture in the geographical zone called Pakistan on their way in and out of the Indian subcontinent. They would pour into the plains of Punjab and Sindh in their travel order, set up base and rearrange themselves into invasion columns, pick up their provisions, camp followers and irregular militias locally along with scouts and spies, in return for the promise of plunder and ready cash for services rendered. This mass of military service providers would benefit whether in victory or defeat, as they would be more or less unharmed, being peripheral or unworthy. Loaded with the riches of war, the invaders would return to their base back from the depths of the subcontinent. They would shed excess baggage and split into armed caravans, heading back home through the passes. Again the locals would benefit from the leftovers and a promise of re-employment next time around.

This kind of unprincipled behaviour was directly at odds with the residual values of the Indus Civilisation and produced an undesirable working culture of compromise, infidelity and falsehood. That is how we learnt and perfected the art of survival, serving time and siding with the dominant power without batting an eyelid. It is no wonder that not a single bullet was fired in anger during the great War of Independence in 1857 in our part of the region. More interestingly, Punjab and NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), which have always monopolised Pakistani nationalism after 1947, were ruled by non-Muslim League administrations at the time of Partition. Together they marginalised East Pakistan for their superb Muslim political activism (creation of the Muslim League in Dhaka) followed by Sindh for being the first ever province in undivided India to pass the Pakistan Resolution in 1943. This should show how deviousness is embedded into our mass psyche as a cumulative function of our history.

Worthy examples of loyalty, chivalry and character below the regional level are to be found in plenty but more as an exception rather than the rule. In history, it is the collective conduct that matters, individuals make up the folklore. Where terrain permitted, locals occupied mountain fastnesses and resorted to stealth and hit-and-run war fighting. However, their remote hideouts, dingy caves and tortuous terrain, along with well honed skills of survival, came handy during the Afghan war of resistance, and subsequently, for use by a hideous mix of terrorists and fugitives from all over the world including gruesome al Qaeda maniacs. They became a merry mix of psychopathic killers, strutting around in our tribal areas as the warriors of Islam and harbingers of the ‘Caliphate’. They were readily painted as Mujahideen by our strident mullah. There could be nothing more repulsive and preposterous than this ridiculous claim.

They are a horde of sub-human barbarians, who have been inflicted upon us in particular and the world at large. Reflection will show that the fountainhead of this black locust has been the starry eyed Egyptian religious scholars and fabulating writers who contaminated the minds of the Muslims around their country and as far as India, with their sick nostalgia of Muslim splendour, once again without a contemporaneous historical context. This deadly cloud was vigorously pushed by Saudi petro money and the Wahabist dogma. It is not without reason that the strongest yearning for the Caliphate rose from Palestine after the sacking of the Ottoman Empire, and that Osama bin Laden, a Saudi national originally, for long continued to champion the cause of Palestine. There were other sub-sets of this particularly noxious notion gumming the minds of Muslims in South Asia, Central Asia, Africa and the Middle and Far East, and not entirely for the sake of Muslim glory alone. In Sudan, it was the Mehdi Sudani zest, and in the Arabian Peninsula it was the quest for absolute power and rigid faith combining Saudis and Wahabists that drove these movements. What had gone on in undivided India (Deobandi cult), and now in Pakistan on this score is well known. However, they too sipped from the same poison cup.

(To be continued)

The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan army and can be reached at clay.potter@hotmail.com

Courtesy: Daily Times

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