[This file needs some cleaning up.]
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
January 15, 1999
Published as Portrait of a New City
Portrait of a City
Five feet behind the newly opened flower market lies the stinking nullah full of the city's refuse; in any other place they would have shown more respect for the flowers. But then, in any other place, the Capital Development Authority would have taken advantage of the natural waterway which once carried clear, life enriching water from the Margallahs to the dense green forest where now Pakistan's capital stands as a metaphor for all the contradictions inherent in the Islamic Republic's turbulent fifty years.
Divided into grid sectors, Islamabad is often described as a city located ten kilometers from Pakistan. It has also been derided as a city without character. But that is not true. Islamabad is just not lucky enough to have a Patras Bokhari who could immortalize the woes of a city rich in natural beauty, full of contradictions and possessing an irresistible charm of its own.
So what if the Capital Development Authority has not constructed beautiful pathways along both sides of the nullah which runs north-south from the Margallas through the heart of the city? One can use one's imagination to see the marvelous stone pathways on both sides of a manicured nullah with sidewalk cafés and shops amidst a riot of colours and fragrances from the incomparable Rat ki Rani, Chambeli and hundreds of varieties of roses.
That done, one can also revert to the real world of our times and look at the city as a metaphor for the stark realities of this ravaged country whose Prime Minister always finds urgent reasons to go to the holy land during the last days of the blessed month of Ramadan on state visits. Year after year, and prime minister after prime minister, the pattern remains the same; it seems that certain matters can only be discussed during these precious days.
But the city is more than a metaphor in one's imagination. It is a concrete and real being with its own characteristics. Like any other city, Islamabad is also a city which exists in minds and there are as many Islamabads as there are minds which conceive the city. There is the Islamabad of the boys who go through the garbage bins in all the sectors to find reusable plastic bottles, paper, clothes and all kinds of things. For them, the city exists in the refuse of its inhabitants. Their world is full of tales of mysterious finds in the bins. They are also conscious of the differences between the rich and the poor sectors. What they find in E-7 is unheard of in G-9. For them, Islamabad stands as a metaphor for perpetual poverty, a city in which they have lost their childhood.
Contrast this with the city in the mind of a seasonal politician who has built a luxurious house in the posh area of the city. He does not live in this palatial building but uses it as the center for his power politics. Hoping that one day he would gain official entrance to the Presidential or Prime Minister's house, the politician experiences Islamabad as a city full of intrigues; a place where political careers are made and destroyed. His palatial building lies in the heart of a sector where all houses are constructed on a scale reminiscent of the palaces of the Aad and the Thamud. But the house does not have enough water and there are frequent power breakdowns. The alleys of the sector are full of garbage. The residents have spent millions on their houses but no one has money to clean up the neighborhood where they live.
Most of the streets in the city are straight but they are not numbered in any particular order. Street five may follow seventy-three and street ten may be sandwiched between street thirty-nine and fifty. The numbering seems to have depended on the mood of the CDA staff. Most of the houses have guards and little guard houses, especially in more affluent sectors. Guards sit outside the big houses, watching vehicles and people. Their Islamabad is the Islamabad of a watcher who looks at a lot of people everyday.
Those who live in the katchi abadis of the city have another version of Islamabad. Located in the hollow between green belts, their makeshift "houses" are full of half-naked children, disease-ridden old women and the daily chores required to cope with the extreme cold and hot spells. During the rainy season, their locality becomes a hub of malaria and other diseases and the stinking smell from the nearby nullah adds to the nauseating smells which permeate their dwellings. Islamabad, for them, is a city just outside their Abadi which is not even recognized by any authority. They have no civic services and whatever they have managed to obtain costs them dearly for the connections are all illegal and they have to be maintained by constantly paying bribes.
The person driving a brand new mercedes with a yellow CD plate has another version of the city in his or her mind. Here on a posting for two or three years, the diplomat sees the city as one of the most charming capitals of the world albeit a dangerous one where the usual allowances are doubled for being a post in a distressing country. As long as the diplomat remains in that part of the city which is known as the diplomatic enclave, he or she is really in heaven. The breath-taking sight of the Margallas on a cloudy day, the cool fresh air, the sprawling gardens and the fragrance of local flowers along with the delicious fruits, fresh vegetables and the hundred and one delights of the cuisine are any one's dream. The city would be ideal except for the frustrations of having to work with a system which is thoroughly corrupt and where the usual moral and ethical codes do not apply.
Islamabad for the Afghan refugees, who came to the city during the eighties and nineties, is a place of refuge as well as opportunities. Those who were educated and aspired to go westward, found ways to obtain immigrant visas to the western countries. Others have settled here and are busy in various trade activities. For them, Islamabad is a city which comes to life on Sundays when they can sell their beautiful carpets, kilms and barjastas to foreigners in the weekly open air shops behind the Aabpara bazaar. Some of them have small rented rooms in the two Supermarkets of the city but most of their business is through the weekly bazaars.
There are hundreds of workers, government employees, traders, labourers and craftsmen who come to the city from neighbouring Rawalpindi. Situated within a few kilometers from their homes is a city which is only theirs' during the day. They come to the city every day on a public transport vehicle designed to humiliate the passengers. They can never claim Islamabad to be "their" city, though they spend their energies in maintaining the commerce and official business of the city. The capitla will always remaining a foreign city for them, nevertheless it possesses a certain charm which forces them to come to the city everyday. The city in their minds is a refuge from the unbearable old mohallas of Rawalpindi where noise, pollution and specters of poverty are the main elements of life.
Then there are the native Pakistanis who come to Islamabad from other cities. The first time visitor from a small city of the country is stunned by the graceful palatial buildings, clean air, roads without holes and by the locale of the city. Most of these visitors come to stand in lines outside the visa offices of the foreign countries. For them, Islamabad is already part of that foreign world to which they are seeking entrance. After their business is done, most of them go to the Faisal Masjid at the foot of the beautiful hills. On a day when clouds hang low on the hills, the white-marbled structure of the Mosque is a site worth beholding. The sheer magnificence of the building is matched by a sense of serenity which surrounds the whole area around the Mosque.
Over-crowded suzuki pickups which bring milkmen to the city from across the Margallas come from hardly discovered surrounding areas of the city. Anyone with city sickness can wander into the neighbouring hills and within half an hour he will be in a totally different world. Villages on the other side of Margallas are still full of natural beauty where water buffalos and sheep roam in the green fields and where women in mud houses cook their lentils and chapatis on fire. For the men and women who live in these beautifully serene villages, Islamabad is as much a foreign city as London or Paris. It is another matter that it lies just across the hills.
A city without original residents, without history, without a past to boast, Islamabad has, nevertheless, managed to gain loyalty from all those who have had the chance to live here for a while. The feelings toward the city are distinct. They are not the feelings one has about Paris, London or Buenos Aires. Rather, these are feelings of a place which exists out of context, even out of reality.
Jan.30, 1999 Eleven Reasons for Despair: A Rejoinder to Imran Khan's Misplaced Optimism
Published as Reasons for Despair
Dr. Muzaffar Iqal
"Eleven Reasons why I still believe in Pakistan" (The News, Jan. 17, 1999) would have been sufficient to revive a sense of hope twenty years ago. But not now. It is too late in the day to fool ourselves. Good wishes are mere good wishes and have nothing to do with reality. No matter how desperately one would like to believe in what Imran has wished, there is no objective basis for optimism. People have been burnt too many times and their confidence and trust has been violated so many times that new hopes can only flower if there are solid reasons for a change. Unfortunately reasons for Imran Khan's optimism are more a product of sincere wishes than a logical result of any reasonable analysis of the ground realities.
1. The first reason he cites for his optimism is based on the readiness of people for a change. While true in part, the fact remains that people of Pakistan have been "ready" for a change since 1947. It was this consciousness of a grand change which resulted in the creation of a country based on the desire of its populace that they want to live in a changed society, the one based on Islam. During the last fifty years, this desire has never been lost yet, "change" has always been for the worse. The reference to the Qur'anic verse at the end of his reason for optimism is totally out of context. The part of the Qur'anic verse (13: 11), from Surah Ar-Ra`ad, referred to in Imran's article actually reads: Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. The condition set forth by God is not merely a desire for change but actual transformation of the inner self. There is no sign that as a collective body, the Pakistani nation is going through any transformation at this stage of history.
2. Imran Khan's second reason for optimism is equally flawed. Those who have emigrated to the western world do not represent the potential of the nation. They are merely a small percentage of the population and they cannot be taken as a basis for drawing the conclusion he has drawn. Being the most educated and dynamic segment of the population, their success in a better system is but natural. The reasoning is flawed because the basis for drawing a general conclusion is not sufficiently borne out of facts. If five apples are brown in a sample of five million, then all apples are not brown.
3. His third and fourth reasons for optimism are, in fact, not reasons per se. They are statements about "how to" and are based on an assumption. The assumption here is: "if we have a government with integrity and determinism" then corruption and lawlessness can be rooted out. Like any "if-then" relationship, this is a true correspondence but it only exists in theory. The real problem of our country has been how to achieve the condition ("if"); of course the result "then" would have followed automatically. But the problem is in the mechanism of establishing a just government. That mechanism is no more present in Pakistan. It is like saying: "I would have produced one thousand necklaces if you had given me five pounds of gold." Corruption, lawlessness and increasing violence in our society are a result of and not reasons of absence of a just system.
4. His fifth reason for optimism is in fact a statement: "The root cause of our present economic crisis is our inability to collect enough tax revenues..."). It is surprising that Imran has come up with such a simplistic solution of multi-facet economic crisis which is a product of fifty years of corruption, mismanagement and deficiencies in the system. It not only shows his inability (or lack of willingness) to realize the true dimensions of our economic crises but is also a source of despair for all those who have placed their hopes in his leadership. Revenue collection is merely a minor source of income for the government. It is not the root cause of the economic crisis, merely one component of a complex mechanism. A country needs to have enough exportable goods and services to balance its imports. Pakistan simply lacks that balance. Whatever was available for export has been reducing due to population growth, loss of markets, lack of infrastructure and corruption. Even areas such as software export, which do not require heavy investment, have failed to yield simply because the connectivity is poor and the minions who are called the bosses in PTC simply do not understand the ABC of revolution in telecommunication. Loss of income from just call back connectivity is running into millions but there is no one in the government to understand the dynamics of a changed world.
5. The sixth reason for Imran Khan's optimism is more a reason for despair than optimism. The Parliament being what it is, the roots of a genuine democratic setup are simply absent in our society. Intolerance and an inability to resolve differences through any civilized mechanism has not taken roots in our soil. In the absence of an awareness about Islamic (logical/civil) methods of conflict resolution, raw violence is deemed to be the only mode of conflict resolution. How many countries has Imran Khan seen where street fights, violent clashes and even cold blooded murders are part of daily life? It is not a matter of enacting laws to separate legislature from the executive nor the size of the provinces (China has some of the largest provinces in the world) which produce real democracies. It is the spirit of democracy, respect for others, humility and acceptance of difference of opinion which produces stable political systems. Western democracies have evolved because the individual was allowed to have self-respect and dignity. Such conditions are simply lacking in today's Pakistan where tribal lords still chain human beings and bonded labour is a routine practice. There is simply no reason for optimism in this respect.
6. It is simply unbelievable that Imran Khan would base his optimism on the observation of a foreign expert that the Indus Basin has six feet of deep top soil compared to Australia's six inches. Canada has one of the largest agricultural bases in the world with vast land resources but the farmers there are unable to survive because the grain prices in the world do not even cover their expenses. Presence of fertile land is not a guarantee for economic prosperity. And the conditions he mentions (farm to market roads, lining of canals, line of credit) cannot be met without external financing and where is the money for that? In addition, isn't it what Nawaz Sharif has been clamouring about for months: farm to land roads, yellow tractors and all the rest.
7. The worst reason for Imran's optimism is his vision of a tourist boom bringing prosperity to the nation. No doubt the Northern Areas, the Cholistan Desert and the Salt Range are blessed with unmatchable beauty and grandeur, but a tourist boom envisioned by him is like building castle in the air. Hhave we not already destroyed the natural resources in these places? Has he ever tried to drink water in Hunza or Gilgit? Has he ever stood in lines to get an air ticket to Gilgit from PIA's northern office which refuses to use computers for bookings because then those who make their living out of this business will lose their ludicrous income? In addition, tourists do not go to a country where they do not feel safe. And suppose all the conditions are met, then would not tourism bring its own vices with it? Has he ever heard of what tourism has done to Thailand?
8. His ninth reason is once again an "if-then" relationship. If we could have developed a just system of governance, we would not have lost the valuable human resources in the first place. He is looking at the $60 billion annual GDP of the overseas Pakistanis (or twice as much of their savings) but he isn't it despairing to think that these four million overseas Pakistanis have been forced to abandon their homeland, their relatives and their ancestral cultural and religious moorings? The cost of this displacement is only known to those who have taken this step. Any optimism on this part seems self-delusion when one hears about the bitter experiences of those who have tried to return or invest in Pakistan.
9. No doubt our family system is intact and there is a great deal of strength in this blessing but in his zeal for optimism, Imran Khan has simply ignored the fact that this system has been intact for the last fifty years and it has not been able to check the constant erosion of values and downward slide of civic society. It has merely provided a cushion and a valuable support system against the disintegration. It is a great reservoir of strength against the atrocities of a brutal system but it has no potential to produce a new system.
10. Imran's last reason for optimism is based on his personal experiences. One can only hope and pray that his personal experiences remain a source of strength for him; but not everyone is lucky to have the resources, time and energy to fight against the custom officers who stop their wives from sending tiles to their mothers.
11. My final reason for despair is the fact that violence, fifty years of injustice and the deep-rooted feudalism has sucked up all vitality and creativity from our society. One does not even have a foothold to start the corrective process. Those who have tried and those who are still trying, are fighting a lost war. In Pakistan, approximately fifty people are dying every day in terrorist acts, police custody, armed robberies, hit and run road kills and violent disputes. These violent deaths are leaving terrible psychological suffering, anger and potential for more violence. That is fifty families a day; several thousand individuals per year. Isn't it a indicator to where we are heading? One only needs to look at the burning bodies of hopeless men to know the answer.
At best, Imran's optimism is misplaced, at worst a self-delusion. If the last fifty years have taught us any lesson, it is not to put our hopes where hope does not exist.
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
February 5, 1999
Why the Press Should be Silenced
Published as Why Silence the Press
Early morning a van drops five men at the corner of two not-so-busy roads in the Capital. They all wear police uniforms. One has a newspaper in hand. It is so cold that there breath can be seen in the air. They rub their hands, look around and stand under a tree where the slanting rays of morning sun provide a streak of warmth. This is the beginning of a long day for them.
After settling down, they divide the pages of the newspaper among them and read, exchanging occasional comments about the news items. They are all on duty. Their job is to keep an eye on the would-be terrorists. But they are human beings who have left their warm beds for the sake of a salary which will not even pay for the house rent and a career which will not take them anywhere. The pages make rounds among the five and when they have all read the main news items, the urgency of knowing what had happened during the previous day is gone and they start looking forward to a cup of tea which one of them would soon fetch from a corner kiosk.
Elsewhere, in hundreds of offices, shops and houses, millions of men, women and children wake up to the presence of large-size folded papers which hawkers had thrown in their offices or houses through small cracks. These pages are their morning window to news about the world they cohabit with millions of other men, women and children.
This daily routine is followed, day after day, throughout the world, by millions of human beings who have come to regard the institution of press as the most important development of the twentieth century. Habit, need and an established routine play such a decisive role that on days when there is no newspaper, one feels as if the day has not started. An almost subconscious need to confirm that the world had been going around in its own manner when one slept, the necessity of finding details about commodities and merchandise and the concern for one's safety combine to make the morning habit of reading newspaper the most pervading collective routine of millions of human beings.
All of this has given a tremendous potency to the Press. The inherent power of the written word together with the receptivity of minds just waking up from a night of refreshing sleep and the impact of receiving a news for the first time are the latent forces which work behind the unique role newspapers play in modern life.
Examples of the power of press abound in the history of the twentieth century. Creative journalism has brought down mighty dictators and powerful regimes have been brought to knees by the power of pen. Presidents, prime ministers and other elected and non-elected rulers have been humbled by the press and there are cases where a single phrase, a cartoon or a picture has broken the will of strong men.
It is because of this latent power of Press, that the present government of Mr. Sharif cannot stand the freedom of press in Pakistan. He knows that the policemen standing on the corner of two not-so-busy roads of the Capital start their day by reading the newspaper as do millions of other men, women and children. He knows that from government offices to private shops and from factories to roadside kiosks, the whole country wakes up to a routine of reading newspapers thus giving these papers a parallel power to his rule. He knows that he cannot change the habit of millions of people, but he also knows that newspapers are printed on newsprint and newsprint he can control.
One only has to look at the modus operandi of Mr. Sharif's public career to know why the Press must be silenced. No, I am not attempting a psychoanalysis of the man who has become the most "powerful" elected ruler of Pakistan in its 51 year history, I am simply pointing toward basic, well-known, facts.
Brought back to power rather abruptly due to a botched plan of Farooq Khan Leghari, Mr. Sharif lost no time in moving toward appropriation of power from all other institutions of the state. He had reasons. His experience had taught him that unless he had absolute power, he could not survive in a country where politics is based on raw force and money. He had had more than ten years of experience in the corridors of power during which he learned, first hand, from his mentor that in Pakistani politics one's loyalty has to be with the chair, not with the person who sits on it.
Thus he was quick to sidetrack the only gentleman prime minister this country had by getting a few dozen people who threw stones and forks on the poor man and despatched him to Sindhri to die as a broken man. He won his first battle rather quickly and gained the wide berth of Muslim League and the ticket to Islamabad. Next came the confrontation with the cold-blooded and seasoned dictator of sorts, Ghulam Ishaq Khan who succeeded in bruising him in return in a reckless fight of mutual extinction which destroyed much of the sanctity attached to certain institutions.
But these experiences were not useless for when Mr. Sharif returned to power through a mandate so heavy that he had no use of any heavyweights from downtown Rawalpindi, he clearly knew what to do. Of course the man from Choti had to be removed before anything could be done. If he could do what he did to his own party leader, nothing could be taken for granted. But that was no problem, a cool trip to Choti and the game was over for Mr. Leghari.
But it was not over for Mr. Sharif and he knew it. Somewhere in his psyche, there is a driving force which demands that everything has to be done quickly. It is a imbalance of sorts which does not let him relax. His commands have to be fulfilled as soon as they are uttered. This unconscious (?) mode of behaviour amounts to assuming that unless he gets everything done instantaneously, it is worthless. Like a child who insists that he won't sleep until his favorite toy is brought to him in the dead of the night when all shops are closed, Mr. Sharif insists that courts have to decide cases within 72 hours, bureaucracy has to move instantaneously and parliament has to enact laws within hours.
Mr. Sharif knows well that he has appropriated more power than any other elected ruler of this country but he believes that he has a mission to accomplish. And rightly or wrongly, he is convinced that he can only accomplish his mission in haste and only if there are no independent voices in his way. He tasted the sweet fruits of his power when he quickly subdued state institutions one after the other. He appointed Saifs and Chaudhries, made and broke careers at his will and all of this produced a sense of movement and accomplishment. His appointees appropriated power in his name and the organs of state started the cleaning operation which silenced grumbling voices. Bureaucracy was humbled, opposition was virtually eliminated, a jungle of legal battles and dynamics of a family separated into husband, wife and children confined in three different spheres took care of BB. There was no one else left and in that glorious void, he had the freedom to plant the seeds of a new dynasty.
But it was not to be. There was a Chief Justice who had got some notions about the independence of judiciary, then there was an army chief who started to think aloud and worst of all, there were some newspapers who employed some journalists who insisted on using their own heads. Mr. Sharif knew how to manage the Chief Justice and the army chief and managed that part quickly. But the newspapers and the journalists were another story.
Journalists are, after all, men and women who live within the confines of a state which has been turned into private dynasty. How could they still insist that they have a brain which has certain rights and demands. This was simply intolerable in a state where no one has the right to use such dangerous organs. And now that he has removed all obstacles, he cannot let such little, insignificant irritants as the Press stand in his way. That is why the press has to be silenced. The Press has to be humbled simply because it is the last unsubdued force, the last dying voice of a collective amnesia, the intolerable babel of a few minds who refuse to submit to the glory of a rising dynasty.
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
February 19, 1999
Published as Small Steps to Build Hope
Water trickles into the empty underground tank on alternate days. A few phone calls lead to the water supply department. They promise to "look into the matter" but the man on the phone says, "there is not enough water to supply everyone, get a tanker." Luckily, the "tanker office" has a phone which is promptly picked up by some one who is ready to write the address of the house. After a few hours, a huge tanker actually arrives. One feels relieved; there is hope.
Hoses are hooked and a portable pump, fitted on the back of the tanker, starts with the push of a button; water starts to pour into the underground tank. But after two minutes, the pump is shut off. "That is the quota for each house," says one of the two men who had come with the tanker in a matter-of-fact manner, "one tank to three houses."
They zip off but the next day, one discovers that the neighbour had a different relationship with the water tanker; they actually emptied their whole tanker into his underground tank. The secret trick lies in the transfer of some printed paper which proudly displays the picture of the founder of Pakistan. But if you do not want to lower yourself to such an extent, you have to live with one third of a tanker!
But that is not all. Slowly but surely, one finds out the details of a huge underground water business in the Capital and hope starts to evaporate. The next day one discovers that the magic number which had brought the water tanker is no more responsive. A few inquiries lead to the small room where the dead, dial-less telephone sits on a desk. "It has been disconnected for lack of payment of bills," the man informs, "send your servant here early in the morning to stand in a queue and get a number."
This is just one of the several experiences of daily life which a non-VIP person has to go through. One is not complaining about the lack of adequate water supply (one learns to live with such things quickly!) but about the management of a crisis of our own making. Why do citizens have to go through this ordeal? Granted that there is not enough water in the reservoirs (because it has not rained, they say), granted that this is a situation beyond the control of Capital Devastation Authority (CDA), why can't its officials manage water a man-made water crisis? Why do citizens have to start their day by standing in a que for water tanker?
The answer may be simple. If there is a working system, then there will be no underground water business and if there is no underground water business, those who live on this ill-gotten money will have to revert back to their paltry salaries. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The real problem is much bigger. From the ever-busy 117 number of railway inquiry to the never-answering number of flight information, one finds a pathetic state of affairs which make everyday life an arduous task for those who do not believe in having "servants" (what a degrading word!). Solutions to most of these problems are rather simple. They would not cost more than a fraction of the money being spent on petrol by even one of the many ministers of the government. An answering machine with recorded messages of incoming and outgoing flights and trains, a working number for water supply and a direct deposit facility for utility bills would make life easier for thousands, perhaps millions of citizens.
But the real problem is the lack of willingness to acknowledge that our system is over loaded with unnecessary hurdles. It is a system which was devised for ruling over the natives and not for serving. Those who inherited this legacy, have found it convenient to keep it that way. But an elected government must know that it has been elected for a fix term and sooner or later, it will have to go back to the voters. The rulers must realize that at this time, the most important task at hand is rebuilding of hope.
Fortunately, rebuilding of hope does not involve millions of dollars. Hope can be built by small steps which show that the system is moving toward honouring the dignity of citizens. Hope can be built by simple mechanisms which would stop the misery of thousands of men who have to stand in queues to pay utility bills, by installing a few answering machines at the airports and railway stations and by making sure that the phone works at the tanker supply office.
Hope can be rebuilt by such small steps as the establishment of a corrective mechanism to check the malfunctioning of the public related departments of the federal and provincial governments. Hope can be rebuilt by making sure that the government officials show respect toward ordinary citizens when they come in contact with them; this would not cost a penny but will go a long way toward the reconstruction of a Civil society in Pakistan.
The reconstruction of Civil society in Pakistan will produce an atmosphere of tolerance. Once the citizens know that there are ears to hear their grievances, their level of tolerance will increase and they will find out civil ways of conflict resolution. Simple, every day civility in the society will add to the grace and refinement of its members and slowly the flowers of hope will bloom.
All that it will take to start the process of reconstruction is a decisive and clear realization that the system of public dealings needs a major overhauling. It has to move away from the mentality of ruling over the citizens to one of serving them. Government officials are being paid out of public taxes and they must serve, and not rule the citizens who are paying for their salaries.
We are not talking about revolutionary changes, merely about very small steps needed to sow seeds of hope. The Prime Minister does not have to listen to public complaints. What is needed is a multi-layered system designed to redress public grievances which would take care of most of the routine problems. What is needed is a well-trained team of professional managers who can look at the problems inherent in our system and devise corrective mechanisms.
But these mechanisms have to be institutionalized and not personalized. No individual should reap political benefits from such steps; it has to be a professional job, done by professionals trained in public administration.
Along with institutional reform, we need watch dogs for matters of public interest. In civilized societies, these independent watch dogs play a two-fold role: they serve as a counter balance against the excesses of the system and they act as a vent for public fury. Unfortunately, our society lacks such independent voices. One or two organizations which are present (Human Rights Commission) have done a tremendous job against heavy odds. But we need more, and diversified, watch dogs. Independent, non-governmental commissions for consumer protection, for rent control, for purity of consumer goods and for a host of other ills.
It is obvious that these independent institutions can not come into existence in our society unless they are planted with an active cooperation of the government. In established democracies, such corrective institutions spring from within the system because of an enhanced awareness of their utility for general good. But in our case, the government should come forward and establish these public institutions. A beginning, and an ill-motivated beginning, was made in the form of Khidmat Committees. But the real need was not addressed, hence those committees did not go anywhere.
What is needed is a realization at the highest political level that only the establishment of genuine public interest institutions will initiate a process of reconstruction of hope. Anything short of this will be merely one more step toward further erosion of hope.
Quantum Note March 3, 1999 ???TWENTY MILES FROM PAKISTAN, MAR3, 2000???
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
The Constitution Avenue
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
T. S. Elliot, The Waste Land
March, and not April, is the cruelest month in Islamabad. Bringing news of the approaching spring, the yellow jasmine bursts forth, carrying memories, desires and dreams. At such a time, an evening stroll on Pakistan's fabulous Constitution Avenue brings on memories out of the dead land of those who ruled over the country from the marble building called the Presidency.
Built on a scale which reminds one of the Mughal dynasties, medieval ages and grand empires, the Presidency recedes into the hills from its imposing front view at the intersection of the Constitution Avenue and the Jinnah Avenue. Seen from the outside, the building neither inspires admiration, nor awe; it is simply a marble structure with only the reminiscence of power and no character whatsoever.
Since that historic trip to Choti by a man who now faces an uncertain future, the Presidency has lost its pivotal position in the power play. The last man to enjoy and exercise the right of dismissing an elected government has also disappeared from the scene. His decision to pack the chess game of a thoroughly corrupt government had heralded a new era in Pakistan's turbulent history which gave an unprecedented parliamentary majority and almost absolute power to one man who could not handle it and ended up in a small jail in Karachi.
But the building stands and anyone strolling on the broad Avenue cannot help but look at this grand structure and feel a sense of helpless exasperation at the stature of men who have occupied this grandiose structure. Who were they? What brought them there? What did they do to the country? Where are they now?
But the Presidency is not the only building on the Constitution which evokes these feelings. The Avenue is full of such buildings. As one walks on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the Presidency and looks at the marble buildings across the road, they all seem to exist in a foreign land; they all seem to be out of place. The Parliament building is not visible from the road, only its iron gate and the guards can be seen. This is perhaps the only thing that is not out of place. The caged-in building is a good metaphor for Pakistan's political history.
Leaving aside the equally imposing marble structure of the Supreme Court, one comes to a truly palatial building which has yet to emerge as a real structure in the history of the country. This is the Prime Minister's Secretariat which has successfully dodged two successive prime ministers, though both have spent lavishly on its construction and furnishing. The Mughal-style Mihrabs, the turban-clad guards and the empty spaces between the white minarets all stand as metaphors of propensity of Pakistan's rulers who have a knack for empty rhetoric.
Next to the Prime Minister's Secretariat, but hidden behind it, is a building which deserved to be on the main boulevard but which has been tucked behind the imposing structures; only a sign stands at the Constitution Avenue, pointing to the presence of Pakistan's National Library. It has taken years for this building to become habitable but even after its completion, it stands aloof, hidden and is inhospitable. There is nothing warm about it. The cold and imposing structure has nothing inviting about it. As one stands facing its broad stairs, one neither sees scholars with loads of books going in and out of the building, nor students in search of knowledge. Only a few guards stand aimlessly.
The cul-de-sac to the library ends the "Pakistani" part of the Avenue on this side; from here to the end of the Avenue, there are only the foreign missions, the French School and empty spaces. But it is time to turn around and have a closer look at other side of the Avenue which has slowly emerged on the scene and is still in the process of asserting its meager being compared to the grand buildings which this side faces.
Walking north, one comes across two older buildings, the Foreign Office and Radio Pakistan before a series of newer buildings. The first of these is that of Pakistan Science Foundation. Established to provide a unifying umbrella to the country's numerous science institutions, Pakistan Science Foundation's new building is perhaps the only building on the whole Avenue with an aesthetic exterior to it. Its blue tiles, modest yet symmetrical exterior and quietness is in keeping with the traditional designs and historical structures which occupy the vast cultural landscape of Islam's greatest cities.
Next to the Science Foundation, there is a building which has remained under construction for more than a decade and has gained the characteristics of ruins even before its completion: This is supposed to be the building of The Election Commission of Pakistan. The construction history of this building is truly amazing.
I used to look at this humble structure when it was trying to raise itself above ground. At one time, it seemed that it would quickly soar high above the other buildings on this grand Avenue. Workers worked, machines churned out concrete and iron beams went up. But it was an illusion. That hyper activity must have been the result of a closing date for a cheque clearance for the contractor. Because after that short spell, nothing happened for months.
The building has been in the making for years. Does it need to be completed? With no elections on the horizon, there seems to be no need for its existence! But the unfinished cement blocks, the iron bars sticking out of the columns and beams, the empty holes for the windows and the characteristic odour of ruins are there for everyone to see.
Next to this building in ruins is a strange combination of two buildings. One of these used to be an unassuming simple structure with weeping walls, run down windows and unkept lawns with a small board which read: Pakistan Academy of Sciences. The other one was not there at all. In its place, there used to be just wild grass. But all of this has changed during the last two years.
The unassuming building in need of repairs has been given a new look with columns and arches and the tall grass has given way to a building which seems to come out of E-7, the posh residential area of the city. The old structure is still undergoing changes and one day it might become as pretentious as the buildings on the other side of the boulevard. The new structure, the guest house of the Academy of Sciences, is still to find its character.
Further north stand two more government buildings, both similar in their exterior to the building of the Pakistan Science Foundation. Occupied by those who control the financial strings of the country, these buildings with their blue and white colors add to the same sense of historicity as that of the Pakistan Science Foundation.
Perhaps the famous epithet about Islamabad--a city situated twenty miles from Pakistan--applies to the Constitution Avenue more than any other place in the country.
MARCH 8, 1999
Challenges of a brave new world
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
In a small town in the heart of rural America, in a relatively small laboratory, a micro organism is at work. Dr. Jeff has just observed reproduction of bone cells around a small piece of bio-degradable material which to the trained eye looks like a human arm. Cells are rapidly multiplying and within a few days, he hopes to see actual bone appear around the bio-degradable piece. He is excited. He returns to his computer, records his observations and then chats with fellow scientists across America and in Europe. The neuro cells in his brain move his fingers on the keyboard and the words travel across the continent and beyond in no time over an invisible path which criss crosses with hundreds of channels and millions of megabytes of electronic data.
Artificial human organs, gigabytes of electronic data on the go, internet chat and innumerable other phenomena are transforming images of a brave new world, ushering us into the 21st century. Whatever else the new century may bring for the human race, it is bound to produce a new global culture in which the defining factor will be speed. There seems be no limit to that which humans can aspire.
Each new microprocessor heralds us into a new era. From the clumsy, room-size computers of mere 50 years ago, we have come to the laptops (and now to knee tops) which weigh less than two kilogram and process data at speeds which were unthinkable even five years ago. Speed at which one can transplant human cells and ideas into the rapidly multiplying layers of human experience will be defined by the power of words and images as much as it will be by technological gadgets.
A brave new world-in-the-making promises speed and much more. It is the power of transforming patterns of human behaviour and emergence of a global economic and political map which is at the heart of the changing scenario. Ideas flash in the mind and within minutes reach out to millions of other human beings through the invisible waves, rapidly creating new thought patterns.
Like the previous century, a vast majority of human beings on this rapidly shrinking planet is going to remain on the receiving end of this new onslaught of technological imperialism. This vast majority lives in the south. The old east-west axis is being replaced by a new north-south axis in which the new imperial forces are disguised in the neat patterns of a microprocessor. But regardless of whether one sees it as an east-west or north-south axis, the defining thought behind the emergence of a new economic imperialism is, once again, speed.
The so-called developing world (which used to be called the third world) moves at a slow pace which has emerged through patterns of life which are as old as the human race. This slow speed is evident everywhere: from the movement of an ox-driven cart to the thinking patterns of the person who sits drowsily on the creaking old cart. Though rapidly disappearing from our midst, this old cart is an image of the old world which is under attack.
What is being replaced in much of the developing world is this slow pattern of life which has evolved over centuries. The north is on the go but it cannot go much further if the south does not move along. Hence the continuous transplantation of machines and ideas which will rapidly destroy the old (and low) patterns of life, ushering us all into an era where obsessive occupation with speed will eventually take us to the brinks of our endurance because each new machine plugged into an outlet produces a hysteria of its own kind. What does this brave new world look like? The brave new world in the making is a world defined by images of cyber trade. It offers faster, slimmer and cheaper computers which recognize the human voice as an effective means of transmission of data and video cameras capable of seeing the smallest speck of dust on the white cloth. A private firm in America has already announced its commercial space programme, which will enable anyone with enough money to send satellites in space. This is a new frontier that can be utilized to facilitate a wide range of commercial projects, from telecommunication to gravity-less scientific experiments.
This new venture is a bold beginning of yet another kind. Outer space is the arena of new human explorations in the next century. It is that vast, uncharted and limitless space which will help us all to move from an earth-focused worldview to a really universal view, that is, unless space, too, is colonized. For lost human beings, the sky remains the most ubiquitous unpossessed entity. But the economic war to colonize the sky is already on, as band widths are being bought and sold. After the plunder of the planet, we've turned to the skies. This new development will usher us into a new century where previous ways of living and thinking will hardly suffice. The virtual reality of being will undoubtedly be carried to new dimensions.
The new brave world of the 21st century will present to the Muslim world new challenges. New forms of cultural exchanges will take place. Most of the developing world will have to grapple with certain basic dilemmas: what are they going to do with the new forms of technological advances which will make inroads in their societies? Some of these will have to be met squarely. The challenge of science is the one which requires clear thinking and formulations of a new kind.
The old responses will not work. Those who announced that the arrival of man on moon was tantamount to intruding on sacred territory had completely missed the message of the Glorious Qur'an which calls to attention that believers are supposed to seek the secrets of the earth and the heavens.
New responses are needed. Science is here to stay and we cannot leave our religion., so what is needed is a constructive interface between the two which would give western science a spiritual basis and Islam a strong scientific base. An enlightened community of religiously committed and scientifically advanced scholars can make a huge difference in the nature of our responses to the challenges of the 21st century. At present, most of the science in the Muslim world is western science and western science is going through a major transformation because the west seems to have realized that they need to rebuild the spiritual foundation for their scientific enterprise. This realization is producing books upon books written by scientists and scholars as well as theologians and historians of science.
What is needed is establishment of a new connection with our intellectual history -- a connection which will give us a solid foundation with the past. Muslim theologians need to come to terms with the modern science. We can reconstruct a sound scientific foundation on the basis of our intellectual heritage. After all, some of the greatest names in Islam's intellectual heritage are names of scientists who were also theologians. There are enough Muslim scientists in the west who would be more than willing to come back to their communities to help regenerate a process of creative regeneration.
A clear vision for the next century, combined with the will to act resolutely will produce a new generation of Muslims ready to meet the challenges of a new millennium. It is a long journey and the beginning has to be made soon.
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
March 19, 1999
March 1940 Revisited
On March 22nd, 1940, at 2:25 pm, a man wearing a chooridar pajama and an achkan went up on the stage. He was followed by a woman who wore pale, ivory silk sari. As soon as they arrived, a group of guards, with glistening swords, surrounded them. Deafening shouts of "Zindabad" were heard throughout the jam packed crowd of more than 100,000 who had come from all over the subcontinent to hear their leader.
The tall and lean man was Muhammad Ali Jinnah, affectionately known as Quaid-e Azam (the greatest leader); the woman was his sister, Fatima. The venue was Minto (now Allama Iqbal) Park, Lahore.
"The World is watching us," the man said in English after his introductory sentences spoken in Urdu, "so let me have my say in English."
True to his words, the world was really watching him that afternoon as he spoke. He was going to change the course of history. "The last session of the All-India Muslim League took place at Patna in December 1938," he opened his formal speech, "since then many developments have taken place."
The representatives of Associated Press International, Reuters and UPI were busy recording every single word of that historic address; before the end of the day, Jinnah's message was cabled the world over.
"His voice now deep and trenchant, now light and ironic," as the Times of India reported the next day, Jinnah went over various political developments since December 1938 and announced, "the Act of 1935 must go once for all. We do not believe in asking the British Government to make declarations. These declarations are really of no use."
Then he categorically spelled out the most fundamental basis for his demand for a separate homeland: "It has always been taken for granted mistakenly that the Musalmans are a minority, and of course we have got used to it for such a long time that these settled notions sometimes are very difficult to remove. The Musalmans are not a minority. The Musalmans are a nation by any definition."
On that glorious Friday afternoon, the Quaid spoke for two hours. He did not use the word Pakistan, nor did it appear in the forthcoming Lahore Resolution but there was a finality in his tone which was quickly perceived by all who listened (and later read) his address. It would take seven long years and thousands of martyrs to actually attain a separate homeland for a separate nation but for the Quaid, there was no turning back.
The next day, it took League's Subjects Committee a better part of the day to agree to the draft of what would be known as the historic Pakistan Resolution. When the second session started, Fazul Haq, who had earlier chaired the Subjects Committee, moved the resolution. He read out the resolution para by para. The third paragraph stated:
"That it is the considered view of this Session of the All-India Muslim League that no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Muslims unless it is designed on the following principles, viz., that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted, with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority, as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India, should be grouped to constitute Independent States in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign."
It was the headlines of Indian newspapers next day which called the Lahore Resolution "Pakistan Resolution" and so it has remained to this day. This is how the demand for a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent became the demand for Pakistan.
Seven long and torturous years followed. The demand for Pakistan gained momentum and the State was created in August 1947. The energies of a whole generation of Muslim intellectuals were consumed in defending the demand. They used the time-honoured historical reasoning to support their demand. The most fundamental rationale behind their argument was that the Muslims were a different nation in the Indian Subcontinent, hence they needed a separate country.
But were there not many "other nations" and did they not need separate countries? The argument here was that Muslims were "fundamentally" different from others because of their religion, customs, social rituals and ways of worship. The others were "locally bred" variations of Hinduism. Muslims, on the other hand, had a totally different concept of God. This was the most fundamental difference between them and others.
Pakistan came into existence on the basis of this fundamental difference with other "nations" of India. But the fulfillment of the demand produced a serious conceptual void. The two-nation theory only addressed one aspect of the political reality of the Indian Subcontinent: the reality of two nations: Muslims and non-Muslims.
The conceptual framework at work behind the two-nation theory did not take into account the presence of multi-racial, multi-cultural mosaic of Muslims within the proposed state. What would be the relationship between the various groups of Muslims who would share a common state? What kind of government would be the most suitable for the new state? How would it be run "differently" from the British style of government? What would happen to the rights and responsibilities of the citizens in the new state? These and many related issues were left unattended. And perhaps understandably so for the great historic tide had left no time for these reflections.
But the tragedy of Pakistan and its fundamental theoretical framework is that the void created by the fulfillment of the demand for a separated homeland has never been filled. Instead of a continuous process of evolution, the creation of a new country ended the creative process of conceptual formulation and instead of going on to a grand new conceptual framework for the new polity, idols were created and put on high pedestals. Iqbal and Jinnah, the two most important figures of the struggle for independence, were put on such high pedestals that no one was allowed to critically evaluate their contributions to the historical process which had begotten them; instead, they themselves came to be regarded as the embodiment of history.
As a result, no new polity was born with the creation of a new state. Old political forces (and personalities), old colonial institutions and old bureaucracy put on the new green and white robs and started to rule the teaming millions who had dreamt of a homeland where they would be treated with dignity and honour.
Our tragedy today is fundamentally rooted in the March 1940 Resolution which only stipulated a conceptual framework for the demand for a separate homeland and did not look beyond the fulfillment of that demand. During the last fifty years, the void created by this process has been filled with empty rhetoric. From the ill-conceived One Unit system to the malfunctioned Basic Democracy of Ayub Khan and from Bhutto's attempts to install the outdated Socialism to the self-perpetuating Islamization of General Zia-ul-Haq, every new embodiment of a conceptual framework has been basically an attempt to fill the gap at the very foundations of our statehood.
No one has the courage to openly and squarely spell out this void; no one is ready to admit that in the herculean task of achieving independence, the founding fathers of Pakistan did not look beyond the immediate demand. In today's suffocating intellectual atmosphere, no one in Pakistan dares admit that we need to revisit our own history and revisit our self-created myths. We need to have the courage to say that the founding fathers were humans and as humans they had limitations. They worked under great historic pressures and achieved what they could. The nation and history did not end with them. Let there be no cause for concern if we discover that certain things were lacking; this does not amount to treachery nor to disrespect.
The state of Pakistan is in a serious predicament. Under the apparent calm, there are storms brewing. Let March 1999 be the year of revisiting March 1940. A new and healthy tradition of constructive debate on the fundamental issues is urgently needed. The state and its institutions do not seem to have the will or ability to initiate such a debate. Perhaps the press can do this. Perhaps an intellectual forum can be created to look into the fundamental issues confronted but not acknowledged by us. The state of Pakistan needs a new conceptual framework which will resolve fundamental questions dealing with the rights and responsibilities of the constituting units. The provinces, the northern areas, the federally administrated units--all need to be recognized and honoured in their own rights. There is no fundamental danger to the State from this re-thinking. Those who have bred this phobia, should be dealt a deathblow; Pakistan is here to stay. We need to graduate from the stage of phobia and insecurity about our State to a mature process of serious thinking. The State was achieved on the basis of two-nation theory and that theory is still valid; hence there is no danger to the fundamental structure; it only needs to grow.
If there is any appropriate gift for the new generation of Pakistanis, it will be a new theory of state, of course constructed on the foundations of the two nation theory.
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
April 2, 1999
Two visions of America
Standing in the long line outside the US Embassy in Islamabad are young men whose only dream is to go to America. They are the representatives of a new generation who has grown up in a cultural tradition which draws its inspiration from the ideals and realities of American lifestyle. They are not alone.
All over the world, in places as far apart as Rio de Janeiro and Casablanca, there are millions of young men and women who aspire to go to America. They are not Columbus and there are no uncharted waters to the new world. In their quest to reach America they have to overcome the long chain of bureaucratic process which has learned to treat every applicant as a potential problem. But in spite of the hurdles and high visa fees, every year thousands of new men and women arrive in America to start new lives.
These men and women arrive in America and soon they are disillusioned. Yet, most of them remain in America and become part of that great melting pot which has produced a unique synthesis in the human history. Once blended into the fast moving pace of a society never at rest and never satisfied with what it has achieved, their individual lives are lost in the stream and they became metaphors for the grand unfolding of a civilizational drama which has captivated the world.
Today America stands alone as a dominant cultural force capable of reaching to the most inaccessible places on the inhabitable earth. The "American dream" may have started in a small rural town but its reach has become global. Just like the vertical penetration of dominant civilizations before the present era, American lifestyle, ideals and aspirations have a unique way of surfacing everywhere in the world: McDonalds in Makkah, Lahore, Mexico City, Cairo and Paris are not merely convenient outlets for fast food; they are testimony to the fact that America is the sole dominant force in the world which is affecting millions of lives around the globe.
What gives kinetic pressure to this force is its ability to touch the deepest levels of human aspirations and release the suppressed dreams and ambitions into a canvas which knows no bounds. The most dominant characteristic of this relief is freedom. Freedom in all its imaginable forms. America stands as a metaphor for freedom, for a place where one can anything. At least that is what conjures up in the minds of millions of aspirants who see America as a gateway to freedom from economic, political, religious and emotional suppression. Freedom--that priced commodity which remains illusive for millions of human beings in a world dominated by political forces which thrive on suppressing all forms of freedom--is believed to be available in abundance in America.
The vast plains and rocky terrain between the two oceans stretches and gives birth to new hopes. The land of opportunity with its inviting statue of liberty evokes images of biblical promised land for millions not because it really is a hallowed place but because it has managed to take hold of the imagination of men and women who yearn for freedom. It beckons them, tantalizes them and allures them into its labyrinths. The land and its resources, its people and institutions, its cultures and values--everything promises freedom. This dominant alluring factor is only matched by technological advances America has managed to make in a relatively short time.
America's ability to reach out to the far corners of the world is really based on a technological revolution which has no parallel in human history. The fact that this revolution has been the result of several generations of men and women in Western Europe is a forgotten matter of history. It is America which has been able to provide home to a vast scientific enterprise which first emerged in various countries of western Europe. It is America which was able to draw to herself men and women of exceptional intelligence, people like Albert Einstein who have defined the frontiers of knowledge in the twentieth century. This ability to draw a steady stream of highly intelligent men and women is simply not present in other cultures of the contemporary world.
America is not alone in this aspect. Baghdad, Samarkand, Cairo, Alexandria and Cordoba have had their day. The uniqueness of America rests in the fact that never before in human history we have seen such a sustained and broad phenomena. Other civilizations and cultures had their irresistible pull but not on such a global level and certainly not over such a vast number of human beings. This unique American characteristic of providing a home to diverse civilizational forces has imparted a two-fold enrichment: it has allowed the American culture to draw upon the strength and contributions of all past civilizations and it has produced a mosaic of multi-cultural and multi-racial society which thrives on diversity.
But this unique position of America in the contemporary world has also placed a high degree of responsibility on its leaders, a moral responsibility which seems to be beyond the comprehension of recent American leadership. No American president since the days of Kennedy has shown the wisdom, statesmanship and vision which has produced this unique civilization with a global reach.
Allured by short sighted gains and the glory of easy victories, successive American presidents have yielded to the temptation of bombing innocent citizens as far apart as Vietnam, Baghdad, Kosovo and Afghanistan. As a result, the America of Herman Melville's imagination has been obliterated from the annals of history. Instead, a punitive version of a grand dream seems to be encroaching upon the world which finds no relief from the narrow confines of a diminishing multiplier which would one day reduce a gigantic experiment in human history to the rubble of a self-destructive civilization.
This short sighted leadership has been able to tarnish the original vision of America by producing a barbaric double. This second vision of America is what Khomenie dubbed as the Great Satan--a caricature of the original which is capable of bringing forth images of Iraqi children dying from the effects of radio activity from bombs dipped in depleted uranium (DU). It is this second vision of America which is behind the violence heaped on its innocent citizens in places like Beirut, Nairobi and Karachi.
This second vision of America is dipped in DU with its infinitely long half-life of 3.5 million years. In this second vision, America stands as a metaphor for destruction like the one it produced in Iraq where in a five week long aerial bombing campaign 940,000 DU tipped shells were dropped from the air. This tragedy of epic proportions is begetting deformed children and tens of thousands of cases of lymphoma and leukemia, particularly in children. Seeped into the rich soil and water of Iraq, depleted Uranium is going to remain active for a long, long time to come.
In addition, there are powerful forces within America which are tearing at the very fabric of this grand synthesis of human cultures. These forces conjure up images of blowing steel and concrete from Oklahoma, shivering and hungry children living under bridges of the inner cities, millions of teen-age pregnancies and skin-headed youth, intoxicated by the newly emerged manhood, throwing homemade bombs on mosques.
America today is a battleground for men and women desperate to find spiritual solace, of ideologies and religions struggling to gain converts, of conflicting political interests fighting to gain an upper hand in a battle which Faulkner would have deemed unworthy of victory or defeat. New Age philosophies, Scientism, Positivism, Relativism and hundreds of other competing ideologies are trying to reach out to a populace already over saturated with information. Buried under this rubble are the good old American family values and practices which produced generations of stable families whose nourishing homes welcomed the weary children when they needed the warmth and comfort of a home.
It is possible that the current torrent will wipe out this unique exercise in human history. It may be that the inner tensions of the American society will reach such proportions that it will forget its ways of healing its wounds. It may be that one day history will remember only one version of America: a self-destructive civilization which came into existence and devoured itself.
That may be as it is. For now, America stands as the unique and dominant force in a world struggling to live with the two mutually exclusive visions: one filled with enchanting dreams of a land full of freedom, fulfillment and untold opportunities; the other dominated by a place where policy planners don't think twice about the effects of their strategic bombings and depleted uranium bombs on humans who might be living next door to them.
April 16, 1999
Death of a thinking man
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
"Go around the country and try to find someone who can still think," he had said during one of our last meetings, "you will have to look hard, but you will find one. Once you have found such a person, you would have found a miniature of hell."
I knew he had become a cynic, an ultimate pessimist who had given up on everything but equating the mind of a thinking man to hell was too strong a metaphor for me.
He lived near my house and, once in a while when he was not too depressed, he would stop by for a little chat. We had been neighbours for six years but I still did not know how he had come to such a sorry state. "You have just returned," he had told me in our first or second meeting, "you cannot even imagine what an agony it is for a thinking man to live in this country. Live here for a few years and you will find out."
His real name was something else, but everyone called him Manno jee. His sudden death was reported on the back pages of the national newspapers but no one has mourned it except his family and a few friends who knew how great his accomplishments were. He was certainly one of the most sensitive human beings I ever met in my life. Once I had seen tears in his eyes when a little kitten was run over by a Pajero in front of his house.
When I first went to see him at his house, I was impressed by his drawing room which was filled with mementos of a cherished past: in one picture he was standing with the head of the Oriental and Asian Studies Department of the University of Tashkent; in another, he was being presented the highest civil award of France; in the third, he was sitting cross legged with Louis Massignon--that French giant of the twentieth century whose work on al-Hallaj and struggle for the Algerians would always be remembered with admiration. Those were the days of another Manno jee, the one who was emerging as one of the finest synthesis of eastern and western thought in a country where writers and poets still dreamt and wrote inspiring pieces of grief-ridden verses.
"Go around the capital," he once said, "and see the lines outside the foreign missions. See the faces of those who stand under the burning son. These are the sons of this land, my previous students among them, who would find their way to the countries where they would not be degraded for thinking. Thinking has become the greatest sin in this country."
Manno jee was a professor. He was one of the founding fathers of an institute to which he devoted a decade of his life. But eventually he was replaced unceremoniously. At that time, he was on leave, teaching in a foreign university. The new person had the right connections in the right circles. And within a year, he destroyed the institute by hiring incompetent persons who made sure that the team of chosen individuals who had worked hard to make it one of the finest institutes of the country either resigned or fell in line. Manno jee never recovered from this calamity. He always tried to seek refuge in the memories he had when he taught at the Government College Lahore during the days when that fine institution was the centre of Lahore's literary and intellectual life. It was a solace of some sort but not a cure for the loss.
His students lived and worked all over the world. He had taught them his favourite languages: Persian, French and Arabic. But that was not all. He must have also taught them something more, for some of them revered him. Once he showed me a letter of one of his students who wanted to bequeath a large sum to him but he declined. "I know how he had made that money," Manno jee said. "I am ashamed of you," he had written to his former student.
But those were the days when he was holding on to a dim hope which took him from office to office with his curriculum vitae and folder of clippings of his publications in international journals. "They would give me tea," he later told me, "high flying words for all my achievements, promises to call me back and then forget all about it." By "they" he did not mean ordinary people. "They" were the ministers, heads of institutions with powers and perks no one can imagine, even a prime minister who wanted him to come to France with him as his official translator--an offer he rejected with scorn. "They want to make you small," he told me when he received the offer through a close aide of the prime minister, "they want to break you from within. But how can I let them kill something which I have cultivated for half a century! That is all I have."
He had gone to one of the oil rich countries for a job which paid well and gave him an opportunity to build a house in the capital. It was then that his leave had been cancelled and another person had been appointed in his position. When he returned, he tried to get his lost position back but could not. Then he spent the next three years fighting a court battle and by the time it was decided in his favour, he was above sixty; he could not return to his job. That put an end to his career.
"Sixty is the limit," he would say, "once you are sixty, you have no right to live anymore, at least not in this country. No matter how active your mind is, no matter how productive you are, you have no place unless you are well connected."
Ironically, it was after winning the court battle that he had started to lose hope. He had spent three agonising years and a lot of money but by the time the decision was made in his favour, he had crossed the official limit for retirement. "Have you ever seen any professor retire?" he would ask in despair. "Those societies where knowledge and thinking is respected create honourary chairs, special endowments for research positions to benefit from the long experience of professors. But here...."
This was also the beginning of the time when he started to leave his sentences unfinished. I noticed this change in him and was saddened. He never specifically said so, but I knew he was also facing economic crunch. "How long can your savings last?" he once said, "one day they will run out. Then what are you supposed to do? Crawl in a hole and die, I assume. In this country, it is a sin to live beyond sixty. Unless you have connections."
During the last few months of his life, his state deteriorated rapidly and he started to suffer physically as well. When I noticed the impact on his health, I proposed a daily evening walk. "Yes, let us do that," he readily agreed.
It was during those walks that I came to know him closely. He was an extraordinary human being with a gifted mind. During those walks I realised that in spite of everything he was suffering from, there were periods when his intellectual vigour and energy returned and then he would talk so passionately that he would forget walking. The range of his ideas covered areas ranging from linguistics to literature and from religion to Marxism. A renaissance man who knew his native land so minutely and so intensely that after half a century, he could still describe the contours of the hills and the shapes of rocks near his native village where he had spent a happy childhood.
Our walks took us to a park through some quiet streets where security guards stood outside large, palatial houses. "If you want to see where a country is going, see how its population is spending its time. One half of our population has been barred from contributing toward the national development. These are the people who have been locked up in houses, in jails, on large feudal farms, on roads in uniforms. A large number from the other serves in non-productive jobs: security guards standing outside palace-like houses, peons bringing tea to offices, drivers taking their sahibs to meetings and their begum sahibs to shopping malls, domestic servants standing in queues to pay utility bills--that is how we are spending our time."
But our walks did not last long. The lucidity of his mind cost him too much energy and he complained about being left drained after the walks. He lived alone in the lower portion of his house with renters upstairs. He had a devoted man who looked after him. His name was Rahmat. When the bell rang early one morning and I saw Rahmat standing at the door, sobbing. I knew what had happened. I went over to the house where Manno jee's body was lying in a room filled with books. Rahmat had not yet covered his face yet. There were no signs of death agony. He had died in his sleep.
The next day, newspapers carried a small item on the back pages announcing his death. A day later, condolence messages appeared in another back page news item and then Manno jee was forgotten. Nobody ever celebrated his anniversary.
April 30, 1999 Dictates of respite
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
In less than a year after India and Pakistan tested their nuclear devices, our world has gone a full circle.
From imposing sanctions to lifting them and from delivering sermons on disarmament to forgetting the
lethal weapons. This is by no means surprising.
Readers would recall that in the June 5, 1998 "Quantum Note", I had stated: "By conducting nuclear tests,
India took certain calculated risks. The tests were conducted with the clear realisation that they will be
condemned by the world community. But the Indian leadership knew very well that the furor over the
tests would soon vanish and though the sanctions will remain for a while, these too will not last long..."
One wishes that the same could be said for the Pakistani leadership. Pakistanis have paid a huge price for
the nuclear tests. Hundreds of families have suffered the consequences of the freezing of eleven billion
dollars by the government. A handful of people made millions during those days when the State Bank of
Pakistan was issuing notification after notification, each contradicting the previous one,and hundreds of
businesses have been uprooted, perhaps forever.
But the government has been the greatest beneficiary of the tests. On the economic front, it used the
pretext to devour a huge amount of money and, remaining totally callous about the suffering of
thousands of human beings, it was able to boost its reservoirs. The rest was done by the formal lifting of
sanctions and the recently concluded negotiations with the donor agencies.
On the political front, the last eleven months have favoured the ruling party like no other period. Karachi
is seemingly calmer though reported killing of more than three thousand people during the first three
months of the current year and an alarming number of rape cases is a chilling reminder that the wave of
terror has actually spread throughout the country. The opposition has been eliminated, discredited and
stands at the brink of total collapse following the recent court verdict and there are no dark shadows
lurking behind the scenes. It is safe to say that Nawaz Sharif has more power than any other ruler has ever
accumulated, including General Zia for the latter constantly had challenges to his credibility and struggled
to justify his rule.
As a result of all these factors, the government has earned respite. But like all temporary solutions, this
respite also comes with its own stern dictates. If the present situation is to be held for long, the economic
and political benefits of the respite have to be turned into long-term, real gains. This involves a series of
well-planned actions to strengthen the social fabric:
1. Institutional Reform: There is an urgent need to undertake institutional reforms to transform the
unproductive, uncompetitive state institutions into modern, efficient systems dedicated to a vision for the
next century. This involves,
(i) A clear understanding of the present malfunctions followed by time-honoured, tested remedial steps.
Nothing revolutionary is being suggested here. Rather, these are the most obvious reforms needed to
avoid a terrible collapse. The railways, for example, could turn into a productive and profitable institution
if it is run as a modern corporation dealing with transportation of people and goods. There are many
models to follow but each of these successful models is based on the premise that the railway provides a
service, that it is the privilege of the traveller to travel after he or she has paid and it is not the generosity
of a brown sahib to let a person travel. There is a conceptual difference between the two models: the one
now in operation in Pakistan is based on the British Raj's unstated premise that the natives may be allowed
to travel on the trains but it is not their right to do so. The same goes with other institutions which
2. Education: The single most important realisation that has dawned on the populace of Pakistan is
associated with education. The worker in the factory, clerks in the offices, peons, drivers, officers of the
federal and provincial bureaucracy, traders, manufacturers, peasants, landowners and the migrant workers
-- all have realised that they need to provide education to their children. This realisation has been
responsible for the creation of a new business which was hardly conceivable fifteen years ago. Institutions
which claim to provide education have mushroomed like no other institution. From vocational to medical
and from computer education to engineering, there are all kinds and all levels of private institutions which
have captured the needs and pockets of a huge population willing to invest in their children's future.
But the govt has remained a silent spectator to the growth of private educational institutions which range
from "Mohallah schools" to "chain schools" which operate in several cities. What is being taught in these
schools is producing a new generation of Pakistanis which is going to radically transform the social and
moral fabric of the nation in the years to come. Already there are increasing number of teenagers who
have graduated from these institutions who feel aliens in their own country. Young men and women who
can not even converse in their national language. Once this generation barges upon the social scene, there
will be serious consequences for the whole polity.
Unfortunately, no government has paid any attention to this "time bomb"; the conflict between a
generation coming out of institutions based on the premise that the west is best, and the one deprived of
this education is bound to produce a serious flash point which may take any form: from religiously
motivated hatred to uncontrollable social chaos.
No "new education policy" will correct this malady. The diversity and infusion of two opposing educational
worldviews has penetrated the society so deeply that only a radical reform can help to correct the
imbalance. What is needed is a serious undertaking which will define national goals and priorities, invest a
huge amount of effort into rebuilding a national curriculum for the next generation and allow quality
educational institutions to flourish within a broad ideological and conceptual framework.
3. Health: Like education, health care has had a tremendous growth during the last few years. But once
again, this has been an unregulated growth. As a consequence, Pakistan suffers from disproportionate
levels of health care for its growing population. The discrepancy between those who can afford to pay the
cost of professional health care and those who have to rely on dangerous practitioners is just
overwhelming. In a country with a growing ratio of young to old populace, this is hardly a healthy
indicator. Those young men and women who are going to see their parents suffer because of inadequate
health care will not be a healthy addition to the national work force. The state run hospitals are simply not
in line with modern practices. A bold, systematic and well-planned effort is needed to introduce a national
health care plan which provides a consistent pattern of health care for the majority of the population.
4. Infrastructure: A true and remarkable image of the present state of contemporary Pakistan is
Rawalpindi's Nullah Leh, a small and filthy nullah of a nuclear state whose civil engineers have not been
able to solve the simple problem of annual overflow of this sewage-cum-nullah which deposits its filth in
the houses and shops which have mushroomed on its banks. It is an indicator of the lack of investment in
the infrastructure by successive governments. As a result, we have cities which have become just impossible
to be managed, transport systems which are outdated, farms where half the produce is wasted, power
transmission systems where almost half the electricity remains unused or is stolen or lost; canals which are
filled with silt, rivers which pose serious threats during monsoon and remain half utilised during the rest
of the year and cities without adequate water supply or waste disposal systems.
With the resources we have, Pakistan could have turned into a modern state long time ago. Just imagine
the energy which can be produced by harnessing the solar radiation so abundantly available. This does not
require huge investment in research; solar power technology is available off the shelf and can be readily
put to use. Likewise the fast flowing rivers in the north are natural power source for water turbines. No
one has taken advantage of these natural gifts because no one had time to invest in building the
These four categories are merely broad indicators of what is required. Basic institutional reforms are
needed in all state run institutions: from the functioning of the police to the water and power department
and from the huge but un-productive Forestry Department to the institutions governing the Mining and
All of these problems require professional help. These cannot be solved by speeches made for instant
political gains, nor can these be wished away by slogans of entering into the twenty-first century. These
are also not unsurmountable problems. But they require professionals who understand what city planning
is all about and how a modern transport system runs.
What is needed is (i) a clear resolve to undertake broad institutional reforms, (ii) induction of a dedicated
team of professionals into the hierarchy of government and (iii) the will and capacity to acknowledge that
we are sitting on a time bomb.
The present respite may be the last chance for a country which has so much potential. The stern dictates
of this respite are not hard to discern. History will judge the present rulers on the basis of what they make
of this challenge.
Quantum Note may 14, 1999
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
A Requiem for the Dead
Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
He sat across the table and ate slowly as if the very act of eating was a ritual permeated with a hidden meaning. He preferred vegetables over meat and ate very little. Whenever a dish was passed to him, he would say in his own peculiar way: "Thank you. I have had enough." Upon insistence, he would take a small portion and relish every single bite. But it was obvious that more than the food, he liked the conversation.
We had never met before but that evening when he arrived at our house with Professor Nomanul Haq, it was as if we had known each other for a long time. Noman had come from the States where he teaches at Rutgers university. He and Eqbal Ahmad were members of the Advisory Board of an educational institution. Noman had come to participate in the annual Board meeting and that is where he had met Eqbal Ahmad for the first time.
"He saved me," Noman had told me on the phone, "it was so suffocating that if it were not for him, I would have died. Meeting him was worth the trip."
Gentle, unassuming and a bit slow in his movements, Eqbal Ahmad was a rare man in the sense that one could almost see his thinking process as he talked. It was in February of this year, just three months before his death on May 11. At that time, no one could think that he would die so soon though one could easily detect a sense of tragedy in his words. Or perhaps not so much as tragedy but a tragic understanding of life.
At the dinning table, we talked about his most recent interest: Fazalur Rahman. Why that giant of a man had to leave Pakistan? What were the exact conditions at that time? What was the role of various individuals in the whole affair? He had a few sketchy details and a lot of questions for Dr. Zafar Ishaq Ansari who now held the same position which Fazalur Rahman once held. Eqbal wanted details of the role played by every one: from president Ayub to an accounts officer at the Islamic Research Institute.
After dinner, we returned to the study and resumed our conversation. Eqbal Ahmad was thorough. Recalling his last meeting with Fazalur Rahman in Chicago, he said, "the man never recovered from the loss of leaving his country." Then he went on to discuss various social, psychological, political and personal aspects of uprooting of men like Fazalur Rahman and the effect of this process on the Pakistani society. Then Dr. Ansari left.
Late that night, somewhere between the words being spoken and heard, we three who had met for the first time in our earthly lives, felt that rare kinship of spirit which allows one to transcend barriers and establish a bond beyond the ephemeral realm of time.
Eqbal Ahmad was a man of substance. The one who knew that it was preferable to remain silent than speak words which carried no meaning. Extremely observant and interested in detail, he was an engaging conversationalist as well as a brilliant listener: one did not have to say too much for him to grasp what was being said.
The focus of the conversation was Pakistan--his abiding interest. And it was not difficult to deduce that the sense of tragedy one felt in his every act was intimately connected with the drift of Pakistani society. No matter what happens at the personal level, there is something in the very soil of this country that binds its children in an indissoluble bond.
"But tell me your story," Eqbal said repeatedly, "I am very interested to know the details." It was nothing special, I told him, it happens to every one who comes back to this country with dreams. But he insisted to know the details. Why did I resign? What was the role of certain individuals in the whole affair and once he had heard, he said, "you should not stay here, go back. See, for me, it does not matter. I have come back at the end of my life. But you should not stay here. You have many more years than me."
"But what is it that does not let the plants grow here? I asked. "What is lacking?"
"We cannot allow dissension," Eqbal said, "our psyche is such that we cannot allow independent voices. People who have different opinions are simply not patriotic. I think that is the root of everything."
Then the topic changed to his life time dream: the Khaldunia University. "It was an impossible dream," Eqbal said with a bit of irony in his voice, "now I would not even dream anything like this."
That was a tragic statement. But it was said so easily that there was not a single iota of cynicism in it. He had dreamed, worked and hoped for something and it had not come to bear fruit. He was sad about it but the difference between him and others was that where others would have considered it a personal failure of epic dimensions, he understood it to be the result of the historic forces which had shaped the society. He knew very clearly that what he wanted to do was just not possible at this time in the historic development of the society. And he had accepted it.
Eqbal Ahmad did not have many ambitions left. But he was obviously a man full of ideas. He was going to India in a couple of days to further the process of understanding between intellectuals of the two countries. "The politics of hate is the biggest curse upon the subcontinent," he said. "We have been promoting it for fifty years. What have we gained by it? Both countries have suffered tremendously. Both have diverted their limited resources to the pursuit of mutual destruction and both have produced a rich harvest of millions of wasted lives."
A keen observer of society and politics, Eqbal Ahmad had candid views about Pakistani rulers, both past and present. But they did not count much at this stage of his life. At 67, he was a man who had reached a certain tragic understanding of life and had accepted it with stoic resolve. Yes, it would have been much better if things were otherwise but the way they are is an outcome beyond our control; we only need to accept it.
But he was not fatalistic; far from it. He was a man who believed in doing his little bit. Where did he get his energy from? How could you keep going after the bitter experiences? That was not a concern for him. You can't help thinking, once you have started to think. It is just like breathing. And like every thinking man, he knew that it was most painful but a lifetime spent in the pursuit of understanding human nature and society could not be given up.
What did he think about the future of the country? He did not say anything too pointedly but his analysis was the work of a mind which was immersed in a historic consciousness. Education, he said, is the most important factor. What we are providing our students is not education. Education means to learn one thing: how to think. Everything else is secondary. And this is precisely what we are not teaching.
We talked about things which had disappeared: Lahore of his days, the city which had given him so much love and affection and comrades. We talked about the simple joy of sharing a thought with a stranger in some far off place. We discussed nuclear explosions which were very much on his mind. We discussed books and ideas and people and late that night, Eqbal Ahmad called his driver. "It is late," he said on the phone, "but would you mind to come and take me home?"
That polite conversation with his driver was the best I had ever heard between two people in such a relationship. A few minutes later, Eqbal Ahmad got up, saying his driver had come. We had not heard any car, nor the door bell but when we came downstairs, his driver was there, sitting in the car, patiently waiting. As if an invisible bond existed between the two.
Before saying goodbye, we made plans to meet again. He was going to India and I was going to the States but after that interlude, we were to meet again. Days passed. I went to the States and came back but the piece of paper on which he had written his address and phone number had disappeared. I knew I would have to dig it out from a pile of papers. I knew it was there, somewhere in that pile and it was one of those things which would be done in a day or two. Two weeks ago, that piece of paper on which he had written his address and phone number in his fine hand surfaced on the pile, as if by its own will.
I will call and go and see him, I thought. But again days passed. It was one of those things that you think you will do tomorrow. Only now there will be no such tomorrow.
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
May 28th, 1999
The Real Story Behind the Bomb
Published as the Making of the Bomb
"If India makes an atomic bomb, then we will also do so even if we have to eat grass, because we will be left with no alternative. [The threat of an] atomic bomb can only be answered by an atomic bomb." Everyone remembers this famous statement of ZA Bhutto after the 1965 war, but few know the price he had to pay for making that statement. Here is what actually happened.
On May 18, 1974 India tested her first nuclear device in Rajistan, throwing ZA Bhutto in a fix; he had no way to respond to the new threat from across the border. He went up and down the country making emotional speeches, he blasted India in the Parliament and in public meetings, he drew the attention of the world to this new danger, but he could not produce a bomb.
Since 1973, he had been negotiating with SGN of France to supply us a reprocessing plant. The government of France was a party to these complex negotiations which had been dogged by a series of delay tactics and demands that Pakistan accept all conditions imposed by France, the SGN and the International Atomic Energy Commission. Pakistan was also required to declare that the reprocessing plant would only be used for industrial purposes. Bhutto had no problems with this. His real plan was to acquire the plant and then build a replica which would be free from any international monitoring. The idea of the reprocessing plant had been suggested to him by Dr. Abdus Salam and Munir Ahmad Khan, his science advisors.
One of the major hurdles to this plan was the $300 million dollars needed to acquire the plant. However, Bhutto was not a man who would accept any obstacle to his plans once he had made up his mind. The price of oil was rising. He had personal relationships with many heads of states where their windfall had generated surplus funds and his quick visits produced results.
But then came the biggest blow to his dreams. Through a set of interesting events, he finally realized that his whole strategy had been flawed; that he had been advised to follow a torturous path which would take him nowhere closer to the atomic bomb. Even if he could somehow collect 300 million dollars required for the reprocessing plant, he would first have to have three other units before the reprocessing plant could start functioning: he needed a reactor which made plutonium, another reactor to make fuel and a third production plant for making heavy water. Only then he could set up the reprocessing plant, which in itself would take years to build.
So this is how it came to pass: Soon after India=s test in May, Bhutto received a letter from Holland written by one A.Q. Khan who had a degree in metallurgy and who was keen to come to Pakistan and join Karachi Steel Mill where he could render great services. But the top brass of Steel Mill was not responding to his offer. Bhutto could have easily forwarded that letter to the relevant ministry and forgotten about it, except that it mentioned that the writer also had expertise in enriching uranium. He was working with European scientists on a joint UK-Holland-German project, Urenoko, which was investigating the use of the centrifugal system to enrich uranium. Quick contacts were made and on a cold December day in 1974, A. Q. Khan was sitting in his office, explaining to him the long and torturous process which had to be followed to set up the reprocessing plant, which would thereafter be under international safeguards.
When ZA Bhutto realized the futility of the route he had taken he was really in a bind. He had already brought the negotiations with France and SGN to a point that if he backed out now, Pakistan would have to pay huge sums in damages. Thousands of dollars had been spent on foreign tours of the officials who carried out these torturous negotiations and now the reality of that white elephant was a nightmare.
Days passed. ZA Bhutto pondered over the new realities and then it dawned on him that he really had to break the contracts with France and get out of the deal. But these were difficult days. Floods had ravaged the country, rising oil prices had destroyed the economy, crops had failed and the opposition was making all kinds of demands. But being the man he was, by July 1976, he had A.Q. Khan working at the top secret Kahuta Plant which was to produce enriched uranium by centrifuge system.
But he still had to get out of the deal with France which he had signed on March 16, 1976. He was helped in this by the United States in a convoluted way. Carter had expressed his strong opposition to the sale of a reprocessing plant to Pakistan. When on August 8, 1976, Henry Kissinger arrived in Pakistan with the stern warning from Carter that if Bhutto persisted in his plans to acquire the reprocessing plant, Carter would "make him an example of the horrible end", Bhutto knew he had found the perfect scoop. His rich, complex and fertile mind quickly put together a complicated plan. He was going to flare up the Americans to the extent that they would eventually force France to cancel the deal.
These were critical days. Now Bhutto was going up and down the length and breadth of the country, taunting Americans and re-iterating his resolve to get the reprocessing plant. On June 2, 1977 Carter reacted by canceling the agreement to supply Pakistan with 110 fighter planes. But Bhutto was undaunted. He had set his mind on a goal and he knew that his hard-hitting speeches were serving him well: They focused world attention on the issue of the reprocessing plant, thus camouflaging the Kahuta Project, and his words antagonized Carter. He orchestrated this drama so successfully that the US administration failed to notice that when Bhutto's government presented its Budget in the Parliament on June 11, 1977, it only had a paltry sum of Rs. 400 million for the reprocessing plant.
But Carter had his own plans and Bhutto's over-confidence and a host of other factors helped him. The rigging of elections in March 1977 provided a perfect backdrop for Bhutto's final demise. The opposition launched a concerted campaign and by May 1977, things had flared up to such an extent that the whole country was on fire. Bhutto was attacking the Americans, negotiating with the combined opposition which had become a formidable force. Streets were filled with riots and demonstrations and the law and order situation was deteriorating rapidly. Curfew had to be imposed in many places and the army was called to help the government.
While ZA Bhutto was fighting so many battles on so many fronts, Kahuta Laboratories was busy in acquiring necessary parts for the plant from all over the world through a network of front organizations. The centrifuge system it was going to use to enrich uranium was a new technology which had only been mastered by the Unites States in 1979 at its Portsmouth Plant. But A.Q. Khan, just like Bhutto, was also a single-minded person who had set up a mechanism which worked around the clock to assemble the plant.
On the night of May 31, 1977, following a meeting between Cyrus Vance and Aziz Ahmad, Bhutto played the first of his two trump cards. That night locks were broken in the offices of the Foreign Minister and Bhutto called Carter and expressed his anger over the American interference in Pakistan. (Later, ZA Bhutto would refer to this in his affidavit submitted to the Lahore High Court.) Eight days later, on Saturday, June 8, he played his second trump card: That day he suddenly left for Saudi Arabia with a select team including people like Aziz Ahmad, Agha Shahi, Afzal Saeed, Masud Nabi Noor, A. A. Farooq and Mehdi Masud which convinced everyone that this trip was to acquire funds for the reprocessing plant. He met King Fahd and left for Libya the same day. Libya was perceived as the oil-rich country most supportive of Pakistan's bid to acquire the reprocessing plant.
This worked. Carter got a confirmation from France that the agreement to supply the reprocessing plant would be revoked. On June 19, 1977, New York Times published the news that France had canceled its deal with Pakistan. Precisely at that time, (it was June 20th in this part of the world) Bhutto was in Abu Dhabi announcing on the local TV that Pakistan would acquire the reprocessing plant at all costs.
When he saw the news item in the New York Times, Bhutto was ecstatic.
It would take another year for the official announcement by France to cancel the agreement. (This was announced in June 1978). By then, Bhutto had been deposed. The great drama he had enacted had been successful, but at a cost he had not anticipated.
Kahuta Laboratories did what they had to do. By 1982, there was enough enriched uranium to test a weapon. And the rest is history.
[This narrative has been put together from published sources including Bhutto's biography by Wolport, Maulan Kausar Niazi's "Aur Line Cut Gai" and a number of reports from various newspapers.]
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
June 11th, 1999
Patterns of Cultural Dominance
The customs officer at the Islamabad International airport looks at my passport, asks what I did, where I was going and why. My answers provide him a mental picture of who I was and he stamps the passport. Next comes Mark, my Canadian friend. The same officer looks at his passport picture, then at his face and without a word, stamps his passport.
We pass through the narrow entrance but are stopped by two men in uniforms. I am bodily searched but Mark is ushered to the corridor leading to the airline desks with a courteous smile. "Why do they suspect you and not me?" Mark asks once we are through the security check. I have no answer.
This is not an isolated incident. In my own country, I have been stopped by peons, guards, clerks and private secretaries from entering into offices where a foreigner would have been ushered with great joy and pride. I have had similar experiences at airports as far apart from each other as London and Jeddah. At the airports in western countries, I could console myself for the strict security checks by blaming it on my beard. But in the Muslim countries and especially when travelling with foreigners, the humiliating treatment by fellow Muslims becomes unbearable not because of any personal reasons but because this treatment only confirms certain painful realities.
At a certain level, this and similar behaviours are symptoms of a deep rooted inferiority complex. These are outward signs of the cultural dominance by the West which must have its roots in the long period of colonization or even further back in history.
This deep rooted inferiority complex is confirmed by other signs: Expatriate friends complain of discrimination at the highest professional levels. When World Bank or UN projects are approved with the conditions of inviting experts from the West, Muslim governments prefer Americans or Canadians over their co-religionist expatriates. And if perchance an expatriate succeeds in coming back to his or her native country, he or she is never treated as the Westerners are treated in these positions.
This and hundreds of other behavioural patterns of a diverse and broad group of population, spread over a large geographical area, have certain common elements: They are all based on the premise that the West is best. They all confirm that the colonial rule has left an indelible mark on the psyche of people who were brutally ruled for anywhere between fifty to hundred and fifty years by Europeans. These behavioural patterns also show a total lack of appreciation for the rich cultures of the traditional Muslim lands--cultures which have evolved over a period of centuries and which have a unique transcendental spiritual element lacking in the contemporary western cultures.
This column is not a place for a sophisticated, scholarly analysis of the complex phenomenon of cultural dominance nor for a treatment of the problems inherent in mass psychology. Suffice it to say that the operative principle behind the functioning of a large number of people and institutions in the traditional Muslim lands is based on an unquestionable premise of the superiority of the West. But it is an appropriate forum for raising certain pertinent questions and seeking some soul searching answers.
Certain patterns of cultural dominance of the West can be easily traced to the mental makeup of Muslim leadership during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During this period, the Muslim world was perceived as backward, undeveloped and lacking the spirit of "modernity" which was considered to be the hallmark of progress. From Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in India to Mostafa Kemal in Turkey, one sees the same pattern. Muslim elite of that period saw the enormous technological advances of the West as signs of progress and persuaded their followers to become "modern" by acquiring Western education. In case of Sir Syed and certain other Muslim leaders, this effort was couched in "Islamic" terms and they tried to show that the Qur'an allowed for scientific progress. But in other cases, the fundamentals of Islam were considered to be an impediment to "modernity" which was synonymous with "progress".
This pattern is obvious throughout the leadership during the eighteenth and nineteenth century and even up to the middle of the present century. When movements for independence started in the Muslim lands, in most cases, they sought to get rid of the colonial rule, by using the techniques learned from the West: thus the right to self rule, democracy, freedom and the rest of the jargon of the western political thought became the roaring cries of the leadership and ultimately of the masses. By then, both had forgotten the traditional institutional patterns which had emerged in these lands over centuries.
Whatever was achieved by the leaders of independence movements was achieved from platforms which were a creation of the Western political tradition. Finally, when nation states were born in the Muslim world, they were babies born from the wombs which had a dominant Western genetic pattern.
Millions of people who sought independence from the colonial rule were hardly aware of what they were seeking beyond the vague concepts formed through political struggle. The leaders knew what they were seeking: they wanted to govern their own countries but beyond this concrete wish, they were not seeking independence from the chains which had strangled the older, time-tested and traditional forms of life. Most of them had studied in the West and their ideals and goals were shaped by western philosophical tradition.
They won what they sought for and as a result, new nation states emerged over a large area of the world which continued to be governed by institutions which had been planted by the colonial masters. As a result, there emerged a mismatch of several contradictory ideologies, traditions and concepts of reality. There were millions of uneducated and illiterate people who were supposed to make intelligent choices of leadership through democratic elections leading to parliaments which were supposed to work on the model of British Parliament; there appeared governments which were supposed to follow the governing patterns of the colonial rule and state institutions which were fashioned to govern responsible citizens who willingly paid taxes and obeyed laws.
In addition, there were anomalies which were typical legacies of the colonial rule which divided the population into categories. A large majority of "natives" was considered to be unworthy of certain liberties which were granted to individuals in the West; there were institutions which were supposed to function under the centralized rule in a hierarchy which placed the Viceroy at the apex; there existed a state establishment which was geared toward "ruling" rather than "serving" and there were educational institutions which were designed to produce obedient citizens, rather than free citizens.
Half a century later, these operative principles and institutions form the core of our collective lives. They beget behavioural patterns one observes at airports, government offices, educational institutions and during security checks. These institutions, paradigms and complex psychological patterns have produced millions of people who accord a high degree of respect, dignity and honour to the West but shun their own culture and fellow citizens. They go out of their way to help a Westerner but fail to provide common decency to their own brethren.
The most painful tragedy of these patterns of cultural dominance is the fact that the customs officers, the government functionaries, the security guards and hundreds of other men and women in important positions are not even conscious of what they are doing. Their discrimination against their own kith and kin is so deep rooted that it has become a second nature and operates without their own knowledge.
These patterns can only be uprooted from the psyche of masses if they become aware of the behavioural pattern. But the avenues through which one can gain such awareness are not open to most people. Regular channels for such awareness, such as the educational institutions, professional training and in-service experience are replete with the same mentality. Social norms sanction, even promote, these patterns of cultural dominance.
It seems that history has deposited a potent residue in the deep recesses of colonized people which affects their thinking patterns and behaviours in such a way that nothing short of a major revolutionary transformation can remove this residual force. It is a herculean task to "unlearn" these patterns and the tragic fact is that no one is even thinking of attempting such a task. Neither the five-year planners, nor the mega planners of Program 2010.
In the absence of a conscious effort to remove this humiliating pattern of behaviour, it is likely that our next generations would continue to live with a deep, almost unconscious, sense of inferiority compared to the West. And if this be the case, economic and political dependence is only a logical outcome.
Quantum Note June 25, 1999
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
The Education Fiasco
Renamed: Dangers of class-based education
“I do this only to earn enough to send my three children to school,” said Nadir, “I had to quit school in grade nine. My parents could not afford it. But I am determined to give my children a chance. Without education, there is no future for them.”
Nadir was driving his “double-seater” through the spectacular desert landscape between Taftan and Quetta. We had left the small border town just before evening and were now halfway through the journey. The desert had cooled down and millions of stars were traversing their path across the enormous sky. The newly built road between Quetta and Taftan could have transformed the economic condition of this sparsely populated area of the country but it has not made any major difference because of the lack of other infrastructure. “We have no water, no electricity, nothing,” Nadir continued in his brooding tone, “this road is our life line. But there is not enough business. I drive back and forth three times a week. If I am lucky I earn just enough to survive. But I will pay for their education even if I have to starve.”
Nadir is not alone. Millions of parents have reached the same realization. As a result, education has become the most important sector, growning beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Thousands of private schools have emerged during the last fifteen years in all parts of the country. These range from expensive, western-style institutions to small Mohallah schools run by individuals without any educational training. This unplanned growth of educational institutions has filled a need but it has also created a potential time bomb, which may cause an irrevocable damaged to our already fractured social fabric.
At present, there are several distinct classes of educational institutions in the country. There are the customary “government schools” which cater to the needs of those who cannot afford tuition fees. Then there are the “Madrassas” which are increasingly providing low quality secular education in addition to the traditional religious education. Then there is a whole range of private schools with various levels of tuition fees. In addition, we also have the old, British-style boarding schools, convents, schools run by various societies, Grammar schools and a small number of schools run by foreign missions.
These educational institutions not only provide different types of education, they also inculcate different worldviews in the minds of their students. Thus we have a whole generation of young Pakistanis which is alien to the linguistic, social and historical traditions of the country. These are the products of educational institutions which have been operating in the country as caricatures of American or British schools. The mental attitude, environment and textbooks taught in these schools have produced a generation that sees nothing worthwhile in their native culture.
On the other extreme are millions of poorly taught students of religious schools who have been groomed in an environment reminiscent of medieval ages. These are the children of one of the most devastating failures of our traditional educational institutions. Having failed to keep their moorings in the higher principles of traditional education, these religious schools have been deprived of the rich intellectual history of a tradition, which once produced Ibn-e Sina and Ghazali. Most of the children from these schools do not even know Arabic and Persian—two fundamental languages of religious thought in Islam. Their schooling is restricted to a few books of Tafsir, Hadith and Fiqh. Their “secular” education is below the level of the government schools.
Between these two extremes, there are all shades and levels of education. In addition to these primary level institutions, there are all kinds of “higher education” institutions, which have mushroomed during the last few years. Most of these institutions have some kind of western epithet attached to their names. Many boast of “affiliations” with the Western educational institutions. These are the places where children of more affluent parents learn their initial lessons in disenchantment with their country. Everything they learn comes from the west. They are least concerned with the tradition, history and culture of their land. Once they graduate from these expensive places, they head for the west where they are soon lost in the great melting pot.
Imagine Pakistan in the first two decades of the next century. We will have a country in which the “educated” section of the population would have come out of a diverse range of institutions. These young men and women will share a common job market. Under the present scenario, the students emerging from the western-style institutions will grab the reign of the country. These young men and women will hold highly influential positions. They will lead the country toward the ideals, which are being inculcated in the western-style educational institutions from where they have graduated. Their efforts to create a social and economic order reflective of their worldview will be opposed by those who are now being deprived of the opportunities to have similar education.
This clash of divergent ideologies and worldviews would create tremendous amount of resentment and confrontation. Exploited by the latent centripetal forces already at work in our society, the first two decades of the next century would create a violent movement, which will fracture Pakistani society from within.
This frightening scenario is not an imaginary situation. The violent mix is being brewed right now in thousands of buildings across the country. Various governments have come and gone. Many educational policies have been issued and dumped in the files of the Ministry of education. But no one has addressed the real problems. It seems that those in charge of over seeing the affairs of the country are totally blind to the potential danger that is lurking behind the scene.
Perhaps it is already too late to do anything about this dangerous situation. This assumption seems to hold substantial ground because we know that people like Eqbal Ahmad could not realize their dreams of setting up quality educational institutions in this country. Their failure is all the more painful because we know that anyone with enough money to rent a house with a skeleton staff to teach a curricula based on the western model has flourished.
This educational fiasco has not come into existence overnight and it will not go away in a short time. What is needed to correct the imbalance is a visionary approach and certain revolutionary steps. Soft-solutions can no longer prevent the looming catastrophe.
The first step in the corrective process is the development of national standard curricula, which must be taught in all schools across the country. This has to be modern, twenty-first century curricula designed to provide quality education, which will address major needs of the country in the decades to come. This basic curricula has to present a binding and broad mandate to be fulfilled by all educational institutions. Beyond meeting these mandatory standards, institutions can be left to devise their own supplementary courses.
This national curricula has to be a genuinely Pakistani curricula based on the traditions of our society and cognizant of the needs of the next century. The development of this curricula can only be achieved through a national program, envisioned in its totality by experts. The beaten track of formulation of a new educational policy will not work. What is needed is a grand effort on war footing. Unless the entire spectrum of our educational institutions is transformed through a revolutionary process, there is no hope that the first two decades of the next century will produce any improvement in the continuous process of decay, which has characterized our polity.
Any real effort to change the dangerous scenario, which looms over the society, has to be an inclusive approach, which will allow maximum freedom within the broad parameters of a national educational agenda. This effort has to start with a well-planned strategy involving teachers’ training, upgradation of existing infra-structure and transformation of thousands of Madrassas into centers of modern learning. The use of technological tools, such as computers, accessibility to information and new techniques of learning languages has to be an integral part of the strategy.
What is needed is a grand vision of the needs of the nation in 2020. These needs can then be linked to the development of appropriate curricula at various levels of education. This will ensure relevancy. Certain short cuts can be taken to train a large number of men and women who can provide technological support in certain key areas such as computer software, maintenance of hardware and scientific instruments.
But the first step is the recognition that we are sitting on a time bomb. This recognition has to be acknowledged at the highest level. Then there is a need to form a national body to address this multifaceted danger. Such a body has to be an independent body of experts with enough powers to implement a well-planned educational agenda. This is not possible through the ministry of education, which has never shown any vision. This has to be a super structure based on a grand vision and involving all segments of society. Unless revolutionary steps are taken, the educational fiasco is bound to produce a society which will collapse from within.
July 9th, 1999
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
Two Visions of Pakistan
In just one hundred and sixty days, Pakistan will enter the twenty-first Century. The next century holds two possible futures for the 134 million people of Pakistan. The first future is based upon the existing realities and assumes a continuation of the present policies; the second is a vision of a country which can emerge as a result of fundamental and revolutionary changes to the present institutional set up which has ruled the country since independence.
If left to its present institutional and governing structures, the year 2020 will see Pakistan's expected population of 268 million in a desperate situation. Its current debt, which consumes more than one half of the annual budget, would have tripled. The present work force would have multiplied by a factor of four without any substantial increase in employment opportunities and huge quantities wheat, rice, pulses, oil and other foods would have to be imported.
These are frightening statistical realities for a country which spends two-third of its annual budget on debt-servicing and defence. Without increasing an inch of its land and without any substantial increase in its natural resources, Pakistan in 2020 will be a country far below the poverty line.
The last census has furnished rich data which can be used to forecast possible futures for the country, but so far the statistical bureau has only released the most fundamental figures and no attempt is being made to initiate a national debate on these crucial facts which require urgent attention.
Living under the double threat of debt-bomb and population explosion, Pakistan will enter the next century with serious risks to its present social order. There is already a great deal of fragmentation but the new threats loom large at a totally different scale. Unless serious consideration is given to the development of new resources, the country is destined to fall into a vortex which will fracture its social fabric, generating a large number of young people living in perpetual poverty under the dark shadows of an even more hopeless future.
Perhaps it is already too late to do anything about this potential danger which has been brewing for the last ten to fifteen years. This assumption seems to hold ground because we know that people like Eqbal Ahmad could not realize their dreams of setting up quality educational institutions in this country. Their failure is all the more painful because we know that anyone with enough money to rent a house and a skeleton staff to teach a curricula based on the western model could flourish.
This failure is an indicator of the direction our society has taken. But a more convincing indicator can be found in the realm of arts and literature. A society with creative energy, dynamism and hopefulness generates a wealth of profound images through art, literature, poetry, music and other forms of imaginative activities. It produces young men and women who can dream of a future full of hope, energy and inventiveness--a future they would like to bequeath to their children. This creative flow was evident at the time of Partition.
Despite the heart-rending poem of Faiz which laments the birth of a dawn which was not the dream of the millions of people who struggled to create Pakistan, there was a large number of creative people who wrote memorable pieces of fiction, poetry, drama and whose artistic works ranked among the best at least in this part of the world. These were the writers and poets and artists who created works of art from the dreams and aspirations of a nation born out of a vision.
This generation of Pakistanis had a number of gifted individuals who witnessed the rapid demise of the dreams of millions of people and created powerful and sad images which were reminders to the nations that something has gone wrong. In addition to Faiz, N. M. Rashed and Meera Ji, there was Majeed Amjad. A tall, emaciated and solitary man with weak eyesight who was rooted deep in the land and people among whom he was born, he left behind a rich and evocative testimony of his times by creating poetry which is unique in its diction and form in the history of Urdu poetry. His startling, sad, dark and passionate images and metaphors remind us of a time in our history when poets could still dream and lament.
Then there was a whole generation of young and gifted writers and poets of the sixties who expressed the new consciousness of a growing malaise and rootlessness. Their works are like the dying voice of a society yearning to be reborn. But the call was unheeded and no one paid attention to the laments of a small group who saw the coming doom and forewarned.
Then came the seventies with their brute force which destroyed the original dream of a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent, fractured the society from within and shattered hopes of regeneration.
This devastating fragmentation of the country was not even mourned. Writers, poets, artists and thinkers just gave up. No one lamented, no one created verses of hope or despair. Here and there a few muffled voices were heard but by the end of the seventies, only a deep and dark silence was left. The creative imagination of a nation had exhausted itself.
By the early eighties, Pakistani society had been pushed into a situation which dramatically transformed the social fabric. The Afghan war, the military rule, the influx of refugees, rapid increase in drug addiction and huge amounts of foreign money brewed a dangerous mix which produced violence and waywardness and totally unhinged the society from its traditional foundations.
These new realities which have produced the contemporary society have never been analyzed. No one has paid attention to the direction in which Pakistani society has moved during the last decade. No one seems to have the willingness or competence to look deeper into the factors which have rapidly destroyed the social fabric. There has been no attempt at the national level to look into the great void which hovers over the country.
The future is born out of the present realities. This first vision of Pakistan's future is dark, painfully devoid of hope and promise. But realism has taught us to look deeper into the contemporary realities and imagine the possible future based on the direction in which the society is moving. And the most fundamental reality which emerges from the fifty years of history is the fact that Pakistan has been governed through institutions which are incapable of setting up a mechanism toward rapid progress. These nineteenth century institutions have built-in structural constraints which sap energies, create obstacles and dissipate creative initiatives.
Different rulers have come and gone but this institutional structure has remained intact. From banking to judiciary and from education to industry, Pakistan's present institutional structure is totally out of sync with the demands of the twenty-first century. These institutions were created to rule over the native population and their operating paradigm has remained unchanged.
These institutions have created bottlenecks and reams and reams of red tape which waste the time and energy of millions of people through mechanisms which are beyond correction. From the simple bank transaction to buying and selling of property and from setting up of a factory to getting a telephone or electricity connection, citizens have to spend incredible amounts of time and energy. Corruption, lack of work ethics, incompetence and lethargy rule. Walk into any government office and you will see the dissipation, waste and squander of national energies.
Every morning, thousands of employees of state institutions leave their homes to go to offices where they have no desire to work. They go out to spend a day without goals, without any conscious desire to serve and without any aspiration to make a difference. Their energies, which could have been used to build a future, are wasted in intrigues, gossip and frustrations of all kinds. Even the higher educational institutions are not free from this. Research output from our universities is an obvious indicator of the working environment and conditions of these institutions. Even in the humanities, where one does not require huge funds for scientific infrastructure, there are no brilliant spots. We have not produced a single historian of international fame, there are no economists of repute, no sociologists or psychologists.
If left to itself, the present situation is bound to produce a future which holds no hope. In order to regenerate hope, revolutionary steps are needed which will create a new institutional setup. The creation of this new institutional setup requires fundamental changes in the governing paradigms. In order to create a dynamic society with hopes and aspirations, we need to create institutions which promise hope and generate creative energy. Such institutions can only be born out of a grand vision for the future of the nation.
A vision which aspires to create a dynamic and fair society can only be born out of a deep soul-searching at the national level. Equitable distribution of national resources, creation of new mechanisms to enhance the quality of services and a totally new educational setup are imperative for any positive change. This grand vision of the future can only emerge if a conscious effort is made by the present rulers to evolve national consensus on key issues. These are not political issues. Rather, these are broad directives for institutions which can impart education and provide services commensurate with the dictates of the next century. The second future for Pakistan is based on this new vision.
(To be concluded)
July 23, 1999
Science and Muslims
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
Thirty years ago a man took a giant step and heralded a new era in human history. Neil Armstrong's arrival on the moon was watched by millions of people across the world. By landing on the moon, he brought a decade of space exploration to a successful conclusion. But this was not all. He also opened a new window for humanity to look at the universe and all that it contains.
One recalls with dismay the first reaction of the Muslim religious leadership. The idea of a man landing on the moon was condemned as sacrilegious, perhaps more so because the man who arrived there was not a Muslim. The West thus was bad and western science was worse. This mode of thinking was a product of the kind and level of scientific education in our madrassas. But having condemned the act of walking on the moon, the religious leadership in most of the Muslim world was quick to recognise their mistake and a tacit approval was granted to the western scientific enterprise.
In time, it has been recognised that the Muslim world was lagging behind the West because it was not doing enough science. This realisation made its way to the political leadership and those who were following in the footsteps of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his fascination with the western civilisation quickly joined the ruling elite to collect data which attempted to prove that as soon as the Muslim world invested a certain percentage of its GNP in scientific research, it would join the ranks of the western society. Of course most of the Muslim world could not invest that kind of percentage in scientific research but some countries could and did so.
The discovery of huge reservoirs of oil, high oil prices and surplus funds so generated helped to produce new institutions with scientific instruments which were the envy of many researchers in the western world. But this investment did not produce the desired results. Most of the institutions established in the Muslim world during the "oil-rush" of the seventies are stagnant, without hope of ever producing a notable scientist.
But in spite of this failure to artificially boost scientific research by pumping millions of dollars into equipment and buildings, a strong and powerful lobby of scientists-turned-bureaucrats is still clamouring for that magical percentage of GNP. It has become a common practice to urge the political leadership to "invest" a certain percentage in science in every public discussion related to science and technology. The political leadership promises to do so on the spot. After the function, everyone forgets about the promises and the country remains where it was before the grand event.
It is a classic example of the proverb in which the condition for Radha's dance is the availability of nine maunds of oil. But scientists-cum-bureaucrats keep repeating the same nauseating refrain. By now they have memorised enough numbers to repeat this refrain in variations which seem rather impressive: the amount of money invested in science by the Muslim world as a whole is x-times less than the United States of America, y-times less than France and England combined. There are several other variations on this argument but the underlying fact remains the same: they want more money before they can produce results.
It is assumed that the western science has achieved what it has achieved because a certain amount of money put into the scientific enterprise. This flawed assumption conveniently ignores many social, historical, political and religious factors which have gone into the making of western scientific enterprise. It also disregards the intellectual climate which gave birth to the scientific revolution in the West. This line of argument also looks upon the western science with awe and assumes it to be the miracle cure of all the ills present in the Muslim world.
These assumptions are actually a product of the pre-independence era. For most of the Muslim world, colonisation was a painful experience. During the time they were ruled by the West, their education system was changed. They were urged to learn the languages of the western civilisation and a new generation of "natives" was raised in the colonial institutions. This generation returned to their native lands and in time became leaders of a populace which had, by then, lost touch with centuries-old traditions of learning. Thousands of schools were implanted in the Muslim heartlands which taught modern education in languages which were alien to the local traditions. This produced a new era and a new worldview which looked down upon the traditional learning.
The most significant part of this new worldview was its relationship with science. But it was not the western science which had won the admiration of this new generation. It was, in fact, technology which had impressed them but only a few could distinguish between the two. In any case, the leaders of this new generation thought that the reason for the backwardness of their people was the lack of science.
The newly independent Muslim states came into existence under different circumstances but one thing was common: from Algeria to Indonesia and from Morocco to Pakistan, the political leadership was acutely aware of the importance of science and the lack of it in their countries. This awareness is reflected in the early resumption of ties with the colonising countries for training of manpower. Thus thousands of bright young men and women were dispatched to France, England and the United States on government scholarships for training. This was a windfall for the western scientific enterprise.
By the early sixties, western science had reached a stage where it needed thousands of researchers to spend millions of man-hours in collection of data which was needed to push the frontiers of scientific research into new areas. The influx of young men and women from the newly independent colonies fulfilled this need.
This was the beginning of a new era of slave labour. These young men and women arrived in the laboratories and worked on projects which had been neatly broken into small segments which were divided among scientists who could get handsome grands from NASA and other federal and provincial agencies as well as from industry which was in need of new products. The results were wonderful. Within two decades, Muslim countries were flooded with PhDs and the western science had reached new heights of achievements.
No one cared to determine the relevance of this science to the needs of the newly independent countries. But everyone assumed that once these newly trained scientists returned to their countries, magical results would be produced for those countries, just like it happened in the west.
This did not happen. And in time, these scientists became heads of newly created scientific institutions and saw themselves heading organisations which had barely enough funds to pay for the salaries of their staff. They assumed that once they had enough funds, they will produce enough science and that science will transform the fate of their countries. But they know and the governments know that when two-third of the annual budget is being spent on debt-servicing and defence, there is no chance of allocating the magic percentage of GNP to science. But this does not stop anyone from asking for the nine maunds of oil and promising Radha's dance.
Aug6, 1999 Quantum Note
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
Published as Do we take Islam Seriously?
Do we want Islam in Pakistan?
As soon as I entered Pakistan through the Taftan border, I was surrounded by a dozen or so people. One person wanted to sell me rupees for my Iranian Riyals, another wanted to carry my luggage. The third had a bus going to Quetta, the fourth was competing with the bus; his "double seater" would arrive in Quetta sooner than the bus. The others had their own reasons to be there.
Returning to Pakistan from abroad is always a shocking experience but to do so by road is even more shocking. At the Taftan border, you enter Pakistan through a narrow gate in a wall which separates Pakistan from Iran. The wall belongs to the Iranian border post. On this side of the wall, one finds a few mud buildings, mobile money-changers, porters, persons associated with buses and double-seaters and just onlookers who live in the small town of Taftan which survives on the basis of a few shops dealing with cross-border trade. But the most shocking thing of all is the filth, dust, ubiquitous plastic bags and the unwashed faces. This is all the more shocking when compared to the Iranian side where one does not find even a single person who does not have a purpose to be there and where everything is immaculately clean.
But the lack of cleanliness is not a phenomenon restricted to a border town. Go around your locality and you will find ample evidence that we are a nation which loves filth. Even in Islamabad, an otherwise clean city with wide boulevards and reasonable level of cleanliness in streets, all the back alleys stink. Garbage is dumped wherever it is most convenient and CDA's rickety disposal units literally overflow on most days. But outside Islamabad, things are worse.
Even the big cities, with hoards of municipal workers, are no exception. Mohallas of Rawalpindi, Lahore and even the so-called posh localities of Karachi are unbearably dirty. The same is true for most public places where one can never find a washroom worth its name, nor a park which can be called clean in the remotest sense. And this is not a failure which can be ascribed to the government; it is the way we live. Cleanliness is a word which is simply absent from our public discourse. And there goes half the faith.
Now even a child knows that when the Prophet of Islam said cleanliness is half the faith, he was by no means overemphasizing the importance of cleanliness. He meant it in the strictest literal sense. Unless the body and the environs are clean, there is no possibility of cleaning the inner being. Unless the place of worship is clean, worship itself has little meaning.
"God is Beautiful and He loves beauty," says a famous Hadith. Beauty, radiance, cleanliness and purification are the adjectives which are associated with pristine Islam. With its emphasis on inner purification, exaltation of human spirit and one's journey from the lower stations of the spirit to the higher, cleaner and more radiant stations, Islam is obviously a religion which places a very high degree of importance on cleanliness. But when we look around, we find exactly the opposite. Why is it so that? The answer is simple: we simply do not practice Islam in the manner in which it needs to be practiced.
Unfortunately, the phrase "implementation of Islam" has been accorded such negative connotations that one dreads to use it in any positive sense. Right from the beginning, this phrase has been associated with political agitation, unwarranted harshness and with a few, highly complex issues, such as Riba and criminal law. This inauspicious beginning has gradually eclipsed a whole range of areas where the implementation of Islam does not require constitutional changes or government intervention.
Those who have agitated for Nizam-e Mustafa knew very well that they have a hidden agenda but those who were sincere in the cause of implementation of Islam, should know that the process of implementation of Islam is not restricted to the passing of a few laws by the Parliament and the Senate of the country. The real implementation means a transformation in the lives of people who profess to be Muslims. And this transformation does not require laws, at least not in most situations which deal with everyday living.
One does not require a law to keep one's house and environs clean. One does not require a law to stop adulterating milk and other food items, one does not need a law to be honest in one's daily transactions. But all around us, we see our society full of practices which are exactly the opposite of what Islam teaches. Today one cannot carry on a simple business transaction which does not involve bribery, fraud, cheating or other unethical things which are totally abhorrent to Islam. One cannot buy milk which is pure. One cannot go to a public park where one can offer a prayer without fearing that the place is impure.
Anyone seeing our public life is forced to ask: Do we really want Islam? The obvious answer would be a categorical no. But when squarely confronted with this question, most Pakistanis are likely to vehemently argue that they do want Islam. But beyond this emotional outburst, there will be no logical proof of this assertion.
There are complex reasons for this schizophrenic behaviour but the most obvious reason for this dichotomy is the fact somehow we have restricted Islam to a few practices and rituals. Islam has never been perceived in our society as a way of life; rather it has been seen as a collection of certain rituals dealing with Eid and Friday prayers, nikkahs, burial ceremony and Qul on the third day. This gross caricature of a religion which implies a total transformation of one's life is catastrophic. Pakistan may have become an Islamic republic through the simple change of the name of the state in the constitution, it has never been a Muslim country.
Right from the beginning, the country had the unfortunate burden of a religious leadership which was more interested in permits and perks than educating Muslims about their religion. The pre-Partition era was dominated by secular leadership and the participation of religious leadership was restricted to a few ceremonial roles. But after the Partition, religious leadership has steadily claimed more and more domain but it has obviously failed in performing its legitimate role in our public life. Even now, there is no movement to implement Islam at the public level where no interference from the government is involved.
Why, one may ask, has the religious leadership remained ineffective in playing its due role in public life? Why has the role of religious leadership in Pakistan been limited to Friday sermons and wedding and burial ceremonies? Why is the ethical and moral code of Islam not really an operative norm in Islamic Republic of Pakistan? Why do we lack a comprehensive view of Islam involving all aspects of life? And finally, do we really want Islam?
These are soul searching questions but they do not involve setting up of a judicial commission; they are relatively simple to answer. The answers are, however, not pleasant. But I believe we have parried enough in these waters and enough time has been wasted in slogan mongering. If Pakistanis really want Islam, there is no government which can block its way. There may be a few laws requiring amendments, there may be a few hitches in the implementation of certain economic aspects of Islamic Law, but let me state it in uncompromising words: Pakistanis do not really want Islam as a daily code of ethics and as a way of life. And one does not have to go far to realize this. Just walk out of your house into the side alley and look at the stinking heap of garbage.
Friday, August 20, 1999 -- Jamadi-ul-Awwal 7, 1420 A.H.
The cost of war
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
Every time an air force plane flies from its air base, a child loses five years of education. Every time a plane is shot down, more than fifty children are deprived of education and healthcare facilities for their entire childhood. The recent clashes between India and Pakistan have a human dimension which has been suppressed by both sides.
This human dimension is the immense price being paid by people who are in a no-win situation. In addition to the actual casualties, there is an economic price which both countries are paying in this war without winners. In the present charged atmosphere, it may be considered "unpatriotic" to draw attention to the colossal cost of modern warfare, but anyone with an iota of understanding of the complexity of this most dangerous of human pursuits knows that such clashes lead to a no win situation; the fate of Kashmir is not going to be decided through these skirmishes. Then what is the rationale behind such colossal human and economic losses? "Internationalization of the Kashmir cause," we are told.
But anyone with an old 14.4 modem and access to the Internet can read the "international" press and see for him or herself that the so-called "internationalization of the cause is merely restricted to a back page, one-column news report about the downing of our airplane and most of the international media has not given a hoot to the valiant fight on the heights of snow-clad peaks. No, the world has not paid any attention to these clashes.
What is meant by internationalization of the cause is basically restricted to a small segment of world opinion: small pockets of Western Europe, UK and the United States of America. Huge regions like Africa and South America do not fall within the geographic domain of our "internationalization" and we are totally oblivious to Australia, New Zealand and the whole range of Caribbean islands. Our internationalization, in fact, means a handful of newspapers and even a smaller number of politicians in the West.
And to be sure, even this narrow definition of internationalization of the cause does not fit the bill. Whatever their worth, the newspaper reports about the recent clashes have not brought us an inch closer to solving the problem. If anything, it only betrays our poor understanding of the complex mechanism of modern diplomacy. If, we think that by following the street mentality of inner Lahore, which dictates that if you raise enough noise, neighbours would eventually come out and rescue your from the clutches of the hooligans, we can solve the Kashmir issue, then we are surely living in a fools' paradise.
This is 1999. We are about to enter the twenty-first century and we have lived through successive chimerical rules. People cannot be fooled anymore. Everyone knows that the real cost of bad diplomacy and bad politics is eventually borne by people. And the facts about the real situation in such cases never remain hidden. Remember 1965! Remember 1971! When people were getting ready to board the next bus to go to Delhi, our rulers were desperately trying to find ways to sign a piece of paper which would get us out of that no-win war with some degree of grace.
And in 1971, when a drunken voice was assuring the nation that we would fight in the factories, in the fields, in every niche and corner of the country, Lieutenant General Arora was actually getting ready to triumphantly arrive in Dhaka. These experiences may not have taught our rulers anything, but people have certainly learned a thing or two. First, everyone knows that wars are not what they appear to be. Second, war cost money, huge sums of money. Third, wars bring destruction, immense human suffering and huge costs of rebuilding. Fourth, wars do not solve any problem.
No modern war, since the wars of independence, has brought conclusive results. Neither the Arab-Israeli wars, our own three wars with India, nor the countless wars in Africa have produced lasting results. The phase of history where huge armies marched out to conquer enormous range of territories and people is decisively over. Modern warfare is an altogether different affair. It can produce results only if one has the ability to conduct it according to its own dictates. Two recent examples: the Gulf War and the NATO attacks in Kosovo. In these wars, so much destruction was caused from the air that the ground realities changed and the hard hit side simply buckled under the threat of total annihilation.
And there is an immense price attached to this kind of warfare. If anyone needs further proof, read the Ramzey Report on Baghdad: "Problems and statistics pour from everywhere to tell one horrifying fact. Even with the sanctions lifted, Iraq's problems will not find easy resolve any time soon... the (problems caused by) depleted uranium, which was used by the US and allies' armies, (and) which has a lifespan of 4.5 million years, require more than a few years to resolve. Most of the studies conducted by both governmental and nongovernmental organizations show that the number of children who die every day as a direct result of the sanctions is about 250, most of them under the age of five."
Unicef's statistics show that one out of each four children in Iraq is malnourished. "For those who don't die or become very ill, their ability to learn and function properly is impaired, and their capacity to reach their full potential is in great danger." Others lack the strength to face diseases, because their immune systems don't function properly. According to a Unicef report, a child's chances of dying from measles are 400 times greater if he is malnourished. This is only one example of the horrific nature of modern warfare. A whole generation of Vietnamese have paid the price of carpet bombing during their war of independence.
There are literally scores of African countries which are locked in never-ending border wars which have been forgotten by the rest of the world but which are draining their resources. The worst hit are the children. This is not to disregard the value of individual heroism and valour. The point being raised is simple: war is a costly affair and no one should embark upon such a path until all the consequences have been thoroughly studied and strategies have been worked out. And most of all, there has to be a definite goal in sight. Those who have pulled a religious veil over the recent clashes are just playing with the sentiments of people. Islam does not sanction aimless killings or sacrifices.
In all the battles of the Prophet of Islam, we see a definite purpose. Except for the wars imposed on the nascent Islamic state, every battle was fought with a clear goal. Whether it was the expedition to Tabuk or Khayber, there was always a clear goal. And when the war was imposed, it was fought with clarity; the battles of Badr, Uhud and Khandaq can be studied to see that lucid thought processes and clear defensive strategies were employed. But there is another side to the recent clashes which have captivated the whole nation. The way they gripped our national life is part of a pattern. If one studies this pattern, it is not difficult to discern that we love to live in hype.
Our national life is marked by a series of hypes with only a few days when the headlines do not scream. And this way of life has become so commonplace that on the days when one does not wake up to screaming headlines, one feels that there is something unusual. But that is a subject for another column. To be sure, between this and the next column, we would have lived through another series of hypes.
Friday, September 17, 1999 -- Jamadi-us-Sani 6, 1420 A.H.
What ails our rulers
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
I need to go, I don't care who he is, I just have to go," the young man at PIA's international counter was genuinely angry. He must have his reasons. But the man behind the counter had equally genuine reasons for being unable to honour the commitment to provide a seat to the young man. A "powerful man" from the government had shown up at the last minute and some passengers had to be refused; it was a routine matter.
Later I was told that if the young man had not left in helpless exasperation, there were other time-tested ways of blocking his way to the plane: the short distance from the check-in counter to the immigration desk was strewn with thorns which could be pricked into the flesh of anyone at will.
This injustice was merely one of thousands of inequitable actions which made up our national life on that August day when we had just celebrated our 52nd birthday as an independent nation. The fact that the young man had no recourse to justice after suffering humiliation at the hands of his fellow compatriots and the fact that the man behind the counter went home with a sense of power, or guilt (if he was a conscientious man who was forced to behave in that manner), are the outward intermediary consequences of a cancer-like process which has permeated our national life right from the beginning. The roots of this disease are so deeply imbedded in everyday life that we have even forgotten to recognise the malady.
One result of events of this nature is the tragic lack of stability of our political system. After a certain threshold, this and hundreds of other events like this culminate in an unspoken verdict: the government must go. Then, almost imperceptibly, thousands of people come out on the streets, slogans are shouted, tires are burned, traffic lights are smashed, blood is shed and familiar and tiring faces on the television screen are replaced with a new bunch. They come with promises and fanfare but within a short span of time, depart, leaving behind ineffaceable scars on the national life.
This is now an obvious pattern of our chaotic national existence. A successful government is a foreign phrase as far as our country is concerned. During the last 52 years, we have had everything but a successful government. But the tragic reality is made more tragic by the lack of any serious study which can tell us why governments fail in Pakistan.
The pattern is so obvious and so repetitive that any political analyst with a grain of honesty should be able to extricate a series of convincing reasons as well as corrective measures. But, like the governments, our educational institutions are bereft of introspective processes which alone can yield such results.
One thing is clear: governments in Pakistan have traditionally rested on the popularity of an individual. Regardless of the nature of the political system (parliamentary or presidential) we have always had a person at the helm of affairs who acted as a demigod and everything gravitated to his or her being. This lack of broad-based, institutionalised government means that the credit and blame rest on a person, not on institutions. This lack of institutional development is perhaps the single most important cause of the failure of governments in Pakistan.
Unlike developed democracies where governments come and go while state institutions continue to function according to their set patterns, thus providing stability and continuity, our national life is rife with turbulent events which shake the whole setup as soon as a change in government occurs. This has to do with the lack of solid foundations for a democratic setup.
One fundamental ingredient of stability is the availability of multiple levels of corrective measures available to citizens. These may be in the form of 'watchdogs', religious bodies, community organisations or local committees. They evolve in a healthy system with representative voices and are recognised and honoured by those in government because it is understood that no system is without its limitations and pitfalls.
These corrective measures not only provide means to quick justice in situations like the one faced by that young man at the airport but they are also important safety vents which prevent accumulation of pent-up anger and frustration. At all levels of corrective measures, the basic factor behind their success is the importance given to these non-formal institutions by those who hold the reigns.
Another aspect of successful governance is the process of reflection and analysis. This is also lacking in our society. We have had several rapid transitions but apart from rhetoric, no-one seems to be interested in finding out why a particular government failed. Politicians exist in the hope of ruling forever. But sooner rather than later, they end up losing control of the situation and their inevitable fall takes them back to the streets.
After the fall of the government, it would be natural for a mature politician to spend some months in reflecting on his or her failures and learn from the tragedy. Unfortunately, our politicians blame others for their 'misfortune' and their self-righteousness does not let them see their own follies. This may be related to the lack of a sense of future.
Our political culture has successfully eroded the notion of having a future from our national life. No government in Pakistan has ever planned for the future. Everything is desired to be done instantaneously. This lack of vision is perhaps rooted in a deeply entrenched fear and uncertainty which works against the national interests as well as against the person holding the reigns. Because there is no point in thinking about long-term goals, there arises a perpetual need to gain short-term, visible and highly publicised "achievements" which can be bragged about to give a boost to the image of the leader. But this catch-22 situation inevitably leads to disastrous results because after a while the general public gets tired of showbiz and then nothing works--neither the inauguration ceremonies of projects, nor the Ramadan relief for the poor.
This leads to the final phase of the collapse. In this phase, the leader at the centre of the setup starts living and believing in a fabricated reality created by sycophants who surround them. We have documented evidence of the existence of this imaginary life for all rulers, from Ayub Khan to ZA Bhutto to General Zia-ul-Haq, and for Benazir and Nawaz Sharif.
In this final phase, the central figure in the ruling party basks in the 'glory' of his or her achievements as the cronies and sycophants sing praises of glamorous triumphs. Repeated over and over, these so-called achievements start to take on unreal characteristics and the ruler truly believes that these are indeed great achievements. This is the most dangerous state in the process of fall.
As the distance between the realities of every man's life and the fabricated reality of the ruling elite increases, so does the speed of the inevitable decline. But unfortunately, now it is too late for the 'great' leader to come out of the shimmering delights of greatness. Ayub Khan was shocked to see a dog with his name on the collar; ZA Bhutto never believed that a day like that fateful 5th of July would ever enter his life; Leghari was comfortably enjoying the delights of his hometown when the fatal call came and Benazir was shocked to find out that her rule had 'suddenly' ended.
These are concrete realities of our national life. As we gravitate, one more time, towards the final phase of yet another government, perhaps it is time to set up a process of some kind of self-analysis which can lead to insights and corrective measures. If nothing else, it would be an instructive study for those of us who still hope for a fundamental change in the patterns of national life rather than mere change in the names of those who cause young men to shout in exasperation at airline counters.
Friday, October 1, 1999 -- Jamadi-us-Sani 20, 1420 A.H.
In search of dreamers
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
When I used to drive in Islamabad, I would always hesitate to go on the green light until after a few seconds; I could never trust that the speedy Pajero coming from the other side would actually stop at the red light. This was a habit developed by my reflex system. In the final analysis, it was a matter of trust. Small things like this add to form the matrix of our national life. Woven into this complex matrix are the actual experiences of a lifetime of betrayals and shattered dreams.
These dreams had sprung forth, quite naturally, from the idealist youthful years which yearned to see the name of the country fly high in the community of nations. But those were other times. Then one could recite Munir Niazi's haunting couplet, iss mulk pay asaib ka saya hay kay kaya hay/ kah harkat tez tar hai aur safar ahista ahista (Is there a sinister, occult shadow over this country or what? The movement grows in speed but not the journey is slow as ever). But now, neither Munir nor any other poet dare write such haunting verses which would not leave one's memory for years.
Those who mulled over such memorable hopes are no more. Only the cynics are left. And one aught to give them credit for their survival. Survival is the name of the game now. Survival, mere survival.
Those who had dreams, those who wanted to go beyond the ritualistic survival and do something, are no more. They have been crushed, killed, jailed or forced to leave the country. Remember Miraj Muhammad Khan of ZA Bhutto era and JA Rahim, both dared to dream, both were mercilessly beaten and discarded. After the humiliating treatment, they did what they could to survive, but they could dream no more.
Dreams are the stuff nations are made of. It was, after all, a dream that turned into reality in the form of our country. The dream was born in the minds and hearts of millions of Muslims of the subcontinent. It was articulated by a few, including the best of articulators of his times, our dear Iqbal. But what did we do with him? We hoisted him up, high on a pedestal, beyond the reach of any mortal and mummified him. The blood and flesh human being, the most loveable of all our poets and the most revered of all our dreamers has been pushed out of reach of us mortals.
Inspite of annual, ritual celebrations, the new generation of Pakistanis is hardly interested in Iqbal. Just 60 years ago, he could draw thousands to Anjuman-e-Himayate Islam's annual gatherings and move them to ecstatic states they had never known. The flesh and blood Iqbal who could stand in front of a crowd and recite his powerful poetry and make the crowd literally weep for hours is no more accessible to the new generation. And part of the reason is the grand pedestal we have set up for him. Once raised to such heights, Iqbal, the actual human being who lived a simple life in Lahore during the last days of his life, goes out of reach.
This has been the fate of many sources of inspiration in our national life. What we have done is, indeed, strange and mysterious. We have no living heroes left. All those who could ignite the imagination of youth, who could instil dreams and ideals, have been either mummified, or debased or made into inaccessible idols. Iqbal is just one example. Of course there are others in our historic past who once stirred the imagination of generations of Muslims in the subcontinent: the roots of creative imagination go deep into the rich and fertile soil of Islamic civilisation.
But all those sources have become inaccessible now. What is left are gross caricatures or an all pervasive disillusionment and shallow slogans. The political culture has stifled the creative imagination and we are left with a wasteland. This is our national landscape. Not the physical landscape of concrete boundaries but the imaginative landscape from where the creative energy draws inspiration and gives birth to dreams.
Ask a 19-year old college or university student what he or she would like to do in life. You will not hear of any dreams, of any grand designs, of anything worth gaining or losing. There will merely be goals of mediocre nature. We have succeeded in destroying all dreams for our youth.
But what is left is still worth the effort. We have land which is still promising, a country bestowed with unspeakable beauty and an historic past which can still provide creative energy to a new Iqbal. What we don't have is the mental space, the capacity to connect to the living springs of our historic past, the ability to regain grace. The path of regeneration is still open but it requires systematic and creative efforts to go back to the ever-living springs of grace. Rumi can still be our companion and we can still draw courage from the heroic journey of Hallaj but everything has to be recreated, our journey has to be retraced--step by step.
This recreation needs a huge conscious effort by those who still hope to do something. A single-minded visionary effort with full intellectual and spiritual resources can still produce results. In one more generation, it will be too late. But we can still reconnect with the living springs of our historic past if an effort is made in earnest.
There are ways to do this. The most important is the educational system. Eqbal Ahmad died without succeeding. But his dream has not died. The idea survives the man. What is needed is a new educational setup, from kindergarten to university, based upon a totally new vision and a new methodology of teaching. A new curriculum which should spring forth from the creative interface of modern sciences and the traditional Islamic curriculum and, of course, with a new teaching methodology which infuses love of learning rather than rote learning.
This new enterprise needs to be grounded in the hard realities of our times but at the same time, it has to be independent enough to create that mental and spiritual space which allows the dreams to emerge. It has to be less structured, less regimental and less goal-oriented. The system should not be directed towards producing job-grabbing young men and women but toward producing a generation of idealists and dreamers, albeit the ones who have their feet on the ground.
This creative interface between the present and the past requires a small team of dynamic, creative and dedicated persons who share a vision, a dream and a common goal. Such a team can only be created at a nongovernmental level. This dream can be fulfilled without spending millions of dollars but it does require adequate resources.
All it takes is one visionary with enough material resources. Is there one--only one--such person in our midst today?
Friday, October 15, 1999 -- Rajab 5, 1420 A.H.
Cultivating a science culture
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
In 1975, a young man dropped out of Harvard to write software for a kit computer, the Altair 8800. That same year, he founded a small company, Microsoft. Today, Microsoft is a $430 billion market cap company. Bill Gates' success is more than a usual rags to riches story. He symbolises a new approach to technology: convergence. As the new century approaches, our understanding of science and what it has begotten, namely technology, is also going through a rapid transformation.
New sophisticated digital technologies and the promise of exploding bandwidth are combining to create a new convergence--one that will change our lives more dramatically than anything we've seen so far. It aims at delivering the power of the information age into the hands of everyone, anytime, anywhere.
This new revolutionary concept is going to bypass a whole phase of development in those countries which are ready for the new age. Voice, data, and video which are just bits--ones and zeros--will be pushed down the broadest pipe or around the most accommodating slice of spectrum. These ubiquitous bits are going to reach a village in the Hunza valley as easily as they will arrive at the laptop of a Harvard dropout. What they carry is a new kind of empowering, a new kind of hybridisation which will operate multi-functional devices such as modern PCs, WebTV, cable modems, and smart phones. But this is only the start.
When this digital technology is combined with advanced software, smaller and more powerful microprocessors, and exponential growth in fiber and wireless bandwidth, the new revolution promises to bring into millions of homes an unprecedented number of opportunities for tapping on to educational, financial and commercial resources.
This new revolution has important implications for the future of science in Pakistan. So far our scientific setup has been operating on the nineteenth century viva operandi established by the colonial rulers. The worth of a scientist is determined by the weight of his publications rather than the quality and relevance of research. Those who have managed to rise up the ladder, occupy chairs which gravitate sycophants who would gladly add the name of the occupant of the chair to their papers. Hence, as soon as they are able to sit on that magic chair, most heads of institutions manage to swell the list of their publications in no time.
This list then begets honours and laurels which multiply as one rises on the ladder. This colonial attitude to science has created serious problems for genuine creativity in science and technology. As a result, those who can think and act creatively find it impossible to work within the Pakistani science establishment and leave the country.
One finds an astonishing number of accomplished scientists in the West who are of Pakistani origin. In their new environment, these scientists have been able to rise and shine, but an unfulfilled part in their personalities yearns to do something for the country of their origin.
There have been several failed schemes to benefit from the expertise of these scientists. The failure of these schemes is, once again, a result of the same science culture which dominates Pakistan's science establishment. Just look at the amazing number of institutions which have been created in the name of science. Within a radius of two kilometers on Constitution Avenue lies the grand new buildings of Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF), the not so old offices of PCST, offices of two agriculture research organisations and the offices of one engineering council. This proliferation of institutions has thinly spread the sparse resources devoted to science and technology.
As a result, the Ministry of Science and Technology has never been able to go beyond keeping its head above water. Its annual budgetary resources are barely enough to pay the salaries of the huge number of employees who in turn have no funding for scientific research. And within the constraints of routine budgetary allowances, this vicious circle can never be broken. The result: science will not flourish in Pakistan.
There is yet another amazing side of this picture. In spite of the scant resources devoted to science, Pakistan's scientific elite lives in royal splendour. The small number of "high profile" scientists who have managed to raise themselves above other mortals began to enjoy perks during the seventies and since then, most of them have attained the status of VIPs who silently walk out of VIP sections of airports into their chauffeur-driven cars and speed to their airconditioned offices. This "top brass" of scientists consume most of the budget allocated to their establishments. The percentage of budget consumed by a handful of scientist-bureaucrats remains a closely guarded secret of these institutions but one thing is clear: Pakistan's science institutions work for their heads, rather than for certain projects.
Given this culture, it seems hopeless to write anything about the future of science in Pakistan. But winds of change are in the air and one feels hopeful, despite the signs to the contrary, and ventures to suggest the following:
Without further delay, a national science agenda should be established with an aim to create a new "science culture" in which the role of scientist-bureaucrat should be eliminated. All bureaucratic scientific institutions should be abolished and all science-related institutions should be governed from one central place. This centralisation of governance will create a unified vision and distribute research among various organs according to their capacity.
The national science agenda should be based on the present and future needs of the country. Since 1947, most of scientific research at the master's and PhD level has been "dead research". The new agenda should change this approach. Research at the university level should be divided into areas of specialisation and only a certain number of departments should be allocated funding for a certain type of research. This consolidation would eliminate wasteful duplication and produce true centers of excellence.
This new national agenda should enroll 50,000 of the brightest grade ten students in a crash science programme. This programme should bypass the usual course of studies in schools and colleges and launch these brilliant students into new, cutting-edge technological development programmes which are geared toward the establishment of new industries which do not require high initial investment. It is an established fact that science in the western countries has been able to flourish because of its close ties with technological innovation and the capital gains from these ventures. The same pattern can yield new sources of income for science establishment in Pakistan.
We know that every important technological invention of the last century has been at the nexus of numerous prior inventions. These inventions also become the grist for the next wave of inventions. For example, the electromechanical switch led to the vacuum tube which led to, among other things, the transistor, which begot the integrated circuit, which in turn evolved into the microprocessor.
The next century is going to witness a new wave of technological evolution which will be the era of integration and improvement. Most modern technologies are easy to command. The new national agenda should focus on creating manpower capable of harnessing these technologies and then creating new links and new integrations which could then be used in creative approaches to our problems.
This new national science agenda should focus on the identification of national problems in health, energy, agriculture and other fields which require specific scientific solutions. After this identification, teams of scientists should be given specific tasks to be accomplished in specific time periods. One reason for the success of The Kahuta project is the fact that there was a clear-cut and well-defined goal. Most of science research in Pakistan is without such clarity of final goals.
It is only through revolutionary and innovative new steps that the Pakistani science establishment can be brought to meet the needs of the next century. Left to the traditional cosmetic approaches, science in Pakistan will continue to wander on its aimless path.
Quantum Note for Friday, November 26, 1999
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
TECHNOLOGY NOT SCIENCE , NOV. 26, 1999
Science, Technology and Development
"Need for knowledge is an obligation of every Muslim", reads a faded banner
on one of the central avenues of the Capital. The occasion: the ninth
meeting of COMSTECH, an organization set up in 1981 to jump-start the
process of scientific research and development in the Muslim world. These
biannual meetings are hosted by Pakistan's Ministry of Science and
Technology. The meeting summons a number of "distinguished guests" who
"deliberate" for two days, pass resolutions, and leave, only to return two
years later to repeat the same thing.
Several years ago, I attended a meeting in which the participants were asked
to find verses of the Qur'an which mention science and technology.
They were to be written on huge banners and the city was to be adorned with
them for yet another science moot.
This and hundreds of other functional routines of the government machinery
are relics of a system which was designed on the basis of a scheme produced
by sycophants and carried on by successive rulers. Deeply entrenched (engraved,
one should say) in the official mentality, these routines are based on
empty pomp and flourish on the strength of their media management. They take
the nation nowhere.
The case of COMSTECH is a good example of this blurred vision of
development through science and technology. The slogan of science and
technology has been around for at least two decades now. The basic argument is this: we lack in science and technology and once we acquire knowledge of these two, we will join the ranks of advanced countries.
But in order to join the ranks of the advanced, we must first spend "x" percentage of our GNP on science and technology. This is the bottom line. There are various versions of this argument. In one version, our present investment in science and technology is compared with India, in another, the total spending of the Muslim world on science and technology is compared with France or Japan. And in still another version, the same is compared with Europe.
These various versions add little to the argument, but try to hide the basic
flaw in a catch-22 situation: Pakistan, and for that matter no Muslim
country, can possibly spend that magic "x" percentage on science and
technology. A simple look at the budget is enough to reveal this basic
information. With a 1,226 billion rupee domestic debt and 32 billion dollar foreign debt, Pakistan spends 60% of its gross domestic production on debt servicing; the rest goes to defence and whatever meager amounts are left, are consumed by a state bureaucracy which loves pomp.
One wonders at the level of comprehension of those who have been advocating
this argument for the last twenty years. Isn't it plain to them that this
strategy is doomed? It is the modern version of asking for nine maunds of
oil for Radha's dance. They know that the magical percentage is never going
to be available for science and technology, therefore they never go beyond
the demand and look into other possibilities.
No one has ever looked into the process which has generated an enormous
number of so-called “science” institutions in the country with identical
mandates, but with no money to carry them out. The noise of more money for science and technology, and a false assumption that it will cure all ills, has
produced such an uproar that no one seems to question the underlying
paradigm of this approach. There has been no independent evaluation of
COMSTECH during the last eighteen years. The same is true of almost all
national science bodies.
There are science institutions in the country which have barely enough in their
budgets to pay the salaries of their staff; there are others where most of the
instruments are out of order and there are still others whose very existence
has been forgotten by everyone. For instance, does anyone remember the
formation of the National Standards Laboratory?
What has plagued the science infrastructure of Pakistan is none other than a
total lack of understanding about modern scientific enterprise. A vague but
pervasive slogan that science is good and more science is better, is the
operating principle which has survived all governments.
There are serious issues beyond this slogan. There is no doubt that enormous
advances can be made by using science and technology for development. But at
this stage of our history, we have neither stable institutions nor resources
to contribute to basic science. We also do not have any clear vision of the
way modern science is operating. In fact, it is technology, and not science,
that can provide solutions to most of our problems.
It does not require a genius to understand this simple fact. Technological
solutions to specific problems are not only readily available, they are
cheap and can be put in practice within a very short span of time. Whether
it is building of roads, transport, or communication, modern technological
solutions are available at an affordable price. But because of the vague
slogans, no one is interested in looking at the concrete solutions to
There was a time when quoting the example of Malaysia was in vogue. What
Malaysia has done is very simple: it has been able to raise the standard of
living of its people by generating enormous amounts of revenue through the
manufacturing of consumer goods. China is also doing just that.
These countries are producing enormous amounts of consumer goods ranging
from hundreds of varieties of clocks to communication hardware. This
activity is based on simple circuits etched on green wafers. It is being
done in thousands of crowded streets and alleys of Singapore and in
one-room apartments in Hong Kong. In these "factories", workers are busy producing products such as mother boards and memory modules on readily available, low-cost machines. These components are exported to the industrialized world and the revenue generated through this has transformed the economic condition of a whole generation.
The economic boom of these countries is based on certain simple pragmatic
parameters. First of all, they have realized the importance of quick
solutions readily available through cheap, low grade technology. Second,
they have re-invested a large amount of the newly generated revenue into
education and health systems. This is visible all over the Far East, but
perhaps Malaysia is the best example of the success of this approach.
What we don't have in Pakistan is a down-to-earth attitude toward science
and technology. The vague and impractical approach has produced clichés and
slogans but nothing else. And it is a measure of the hold of the outdated
modes of operative norms and the strength of entrenched interests that these
clichés have survived successive governments.
A modern pragmatic approach to science and technology for development is the
most urgent need of the nation. The starting point should be a severe
accountability of the present science and technology infra-structure,
followed by a massive goal-oriented restructuring of the state institutions.
The age of making science policies is really over. What is needed now is not
another commission nor another policy, but quick practical steps to generate
a new infra-structure geared towards development of various sectors.
A good strategy will be to establish short-term goals for developmental
solutions available through technology. The computer industry, for example,
provides a convenient starting point. It does not involve huge investments.
The technology is readily available and there is an abundance of expertise in
the country which currently is acting merely as a modern form of slave labour, writing software codes for western firms.
There is also an urgent need to revise government regulations in many
fields. One case in point is information technology. The allure of H-10
visas to the United States has produced hundreds of institutions in the
country in the name of Information Technology. But the backbone of this
technology, regulations which control the ultimate uplink facilities, were
produced in an era which has vanished. But the "bosses" in PTC neither
understand nor want to understand the new realities.
One final word about science and technology related development: no one
should think that these solutions will come without a price. The enormous
cultural dislocation, new lifestyles complete with their social and moral
problems, and hundreds of other ills of technologically-oriented societies are
going to produce challenges of another kind. But these moral and ethical
problems, however, are already here. The internet’s pervasive reach has already opened paths to a vast uncharted territory and no one can stop this flow. All we
can hope to do is to channel this energy toward a vision of vastly improved society within the next ten years.
Friday, December 24, 1999
Between hope and despair
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
"Come and sit in my office for just one day," said Akbar, "then I will see if you would ever talk about your Quixotic versions of the future again." I had gone to visit him after a few years. He was one of those whom one admired for their honesty, diligence and upright character. These were the family values which he cherished. But my admiration was based on something more: He was a man of unfailing hope.
But this time I was really shocked. He had become a cynic. He had gone up the ladder and was now comfortably housed in a spacious office of a very powerful department of the federal government. But his job must have been tough. Since I last saw him, his hair had turned white.
"I admire Don Quixote," I told him, more to gain time and recover from my shock. He laughed and picked up the phone which had been ringing for a while.
But that is true. Among all the characters in world literature, this man from down south is one of the most admirable; he literally lives on hope, one element which is sadly lacking in contemporary Pakistan. What we have are short-lived bubbles of hope which burst as soon as they come in contact with reality. This lack of hope has produced a general feeling of cynicism and despair which eats away energies and intentions of doing something.
A society without hope is a society at the brink of disaster. In such a society, the last word, with a shrug of the shoulders, is: "What can you do? This is Pakistan." How many of us have heard this sentence over and over. This is merely one of the indications of what lies deeply buried in the psyche of our people.
"Hope," Akbar murmured after putting the receiver back, "you know I used to cherish that word. But now I have forgotten its meaning." "But why?" I asked, "why?" He sensed the anguish in my tone and said, "because it is chimeric. At fifty, one does not have time to live in utopias." But I had gone to see him with an agenda. I wanted to know his opinion about the performance of the new government.
It took a while to get him talking but he did warm up to the idea and once he was in it, there was no stopping him; he was, once again, the man I had known in my youth. A man full of bright ideas and visions.
"I think there is too much on the CE's plate," he said frankly. "What is needed is a very clear methodology to deal with the issues." Now he was talking in that wonderful tone which I remembered from our youth. But now it was the voice of a man who had thought a lot during the past twenty-five years. "It is the same recurrent problem of every new ruler. You come with a lot of determination, hope and energy, but soon you are bogged down in details. Then the old structure starts to re-emerge: summaries appear on your desk, you are required to look at files, sign papers, go on foreign tours, attend various state organized functions and the whole gambit. Then one day you realise that you have lost touch with people and you make desperate efforts to put things right again but in vain. People have lost hope, once more. Then it is just a survival game."
He was eloquent but as he finished his sentence, I could see his cynicism returning. "What can be done?" I asked quickly. "Remember your favourite poem by TS Eliot?" he asked in a lighter vein. "Make committees and committees and committees!" "But isn't it too early to judge?" I asked.
"I am not passing a judgement," he said, "but the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. What we are witnessing is the re-assertion of the old structures and routines. What is needed and what was hoped was a total break from the old patterns of governing."
"How would you go about doing it?" "Remember Pakistan 2010 and all the hullabaloo associated with it. Where are the architects of that doomed plan? If the National Reconstruction Bureau has to be a bird of a different kind, it needs to operate on totally different paradigms." "But how?" "A simpler, much simpler approach is needed. A simple setup in conception. By a simple setup I mean, simple to the core. What we have is a set of problems which require very technical solutions. Look carefully at the demography. Look carefully at the health and education indicators and you will get to the core of the problem. And you will find out why we are heading toward a disaster."
"A government which is not motivated by political considerations can break the existing patterns, if it wills. First of all, an understanding of the devastating patterns of failures is required. Then we need practical solutions to a certain set of problems. These solutions are produced by people who understand problems.
"What I am saying is that the only hope left now is a government which comes with non-traditional solutions to the problems and we are seeing that approach. Consider this: At the turn of the century, we will have a certain number of boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 10. We take all of them into a special educational programme, call it "Rebuild Pakistan Programme", if you will. We set up a huge educational programme to train these boys and girls for a period of 15 to 20 years in a very special programme.
"What I am suggesting here is a complete break from the present educational setup. I want to leave room for the possibility that the experiment may fail, therefore I am suggesting that we do so over and above the present system. Let the system run as it is but make it clear that the new system is going to be a premium system which will produce the next generation of leaders and government officers who would run the country around 2025."
"How would you finance it?" I asked. "Financing is merely a secondary headache. The first problem is to visualise the whole setup in concrete terms and in concrete form. The goal is to produce a generation of Pakistani men and women who are not infected with the main disease of our society: hopelessness and who are, at the same time, capable of looking at the problems of the country in an objective manner. They need to be endowed with the ability for analytic reasoning and analysis. Just education is not the solution. The solution lies in producing a generation of men and women who have vision, hope and who know how to achieve their goals.
"In order to do so, we need to provide these children certain means and tools which allow human beings to live a life geared toward certain goals. And that is my second main point. Goals. What we lack, at the national level, is goals. There are no goals left. When I come to this office, I do not have any goals. I used to make them but not anymore."
"But who defines these goals?" I intercepted him, afraid that he was going to plunge into his dark despair again. "The need. Our national need. What we need to realize is that we are heading toward an abyss and unless we stop this process, unless we, as a nation, look at the situation clearly, we are doomed. What has happened so far is that at certain critical times in our national life, one individual has been able to formulate the voice of masses. Iqbal did this in 1930; Jinnah did this in the '40s and Bhutto did it in the late sixties. At such times, we had a driving force which moved events. Now, there is no driving force at the national level."
"But how can such a force emerge?" "That is where despair comes in," he said, "we have stifled all channels. Successive governments have exterminated the very process through which such force could have emerged. Now we need to create it consciously, it will not happen automatically."
"But who will create such a force and how?"
"I do not know," he said in despair, "I do not know. But perhaps we do not need to wait for another charismatic leader to appear. We have had enough of those and they have always betrayed us. Perhaps it will emerge by involving a lot of ordinary people in small reconstruction projects which would benefit them immediately. Perhaps small beginnings at the local levels, roads, sewerage systems, clean, potable water supplies...I do not know, but I know this much: a driving force is needed at the national level which would move us toward certain collective goals. Education is certainly a good starting point. Somewhere, there must be a small group of people who can come and set up a huge educational network all over the country and produce a generation of men and women who would lead us out of this despair."
"Yes," I thought, "somewhere, there must be a little seed which hopes to grow into a tree."
Quantum Note December 30, 1999 NOT PUBLISHED VERSION
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
Pakistan’s Dying Arts and Crafts
The eye-catching plate was set at a slight angle. Slanting rays of winter sun focused on the central part of the wooden plate where an intricate geometric design in cobalt blue, deep green and white colours produced a circular pattern. The over all effect of the central motif reached to the outer edges of the plate in a mysterious way and held the attention of every one who passed by the booth. The place was none other than Islamabad’s sprawling Sharkpurian and the occasion was one of those rare cultural treats: an international exhibition of crafts and works of artisans from seven different countries.
The booth belonged to Ali Bukhsh Soomro from Kashmor. His Chitarkali work was the focus of attention. Reflected through several layers of paint, the intricate designed Ali etched had been handed down to him through a family tradition that goes back to the medieval times when guilds and crafts were part of a larger Islamic civilization. These arts and crafts have emerged in the subcontinent through centuries of interaction with the Arab, Persian, Indian and Central Asian crafts.
Ali’s art is unique and like so many other unique things, on the verge of disappearance. The last time I saw him, he had all but given up on the fine art of etching through layers of paint. The work is extremely taxing; it does not pay enough, there is no patronage and no one is really concerned about arts and crafts in a country where the ruling patterns of life come from news paper headlines, cheap western imitations of factory produced consumer goods and sensational stories of corruption and moral decay.
Arts and crafts are the defining parameters. The patterns and motifs of traditional arts say more about a people than the modern factors, such as GNP, which are readily used to define a nation’s position in the world. These geometric patterns, combination of colours and shapes evolve over centuries and represent the inner life of a community.
If one were to judge contemporary Pakistani society from its cultural output, whether literary or in crafts, one would be dismayed by the absence of any significant contributions. There are definite economic reasons for this state but more than that, the dismal picture reflect the absence of a refinement in the society which is simply appalling.
A country so rich in historical artistic heritage and so unique in its geographical location has been rendered into a cultural wasteland in just fifty years. Pakistan’s arts and crafts are dying and unless a concerted and well planned strategy is evolved, they will disappear, leaving nothing but fading memories. Ali Bukhsh Soomro is not alone. He is also not one person; he is a metaphor for a dying culture.
The irony of the situation is that with a little state patronage, these artisans and craftsmen can not only become ambassadors of country’s rich cultural past, they can also earn foreign exchange and certainly pull hundreds villages out of poverty, disease and deprivation. Though very few Pakistanis would care for a traditional décor in their homes, there are millions of people elsewhere who would gladly part with dollars to buy a plate, a lamp, a brass piece, a beautifully stuffed camel.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization is opening a new exhibition of Indian arts and crafts next May. Called “India: the Living Arts”, it will include the works of jewelers, textile artists, potters, carvers, painters and others. The museum has also planned a year-long performing arts series, featuring South Asian artists and musicians. This is only one of thousands of international events which are routinely planned in the West. Pakistan is almost always absent from these events.
What we have is a proliferation of state institutions which were supposed to promote these arts and crafts but which have become dysfunctional. The Lok Virsa, Pakistan Handicrafts, small Industries Corporation and God knows how many other state institutions have come into existence to save the dying arts and crafts. But none have the vision, resources or the competence. This is a self-evident truth. One does not have to constitute a commission to know Pakistan’s arts and crafts are dying.
What can be done? Is there still time to do something? Can the new government do anything to revive traditions which are all but extinct? The answer is an emphatic yes. There is urgent need to take some very bold steps to save Pakistan’s dying arts and crafts.
Since the ministries entrusted with the task of promoting arts and crafts and all the institutions established for the purpose have failed to provide any substantial support to the cause, one cannot hope to implement anything through these channels. Whatever will work, will work if it is designed to operate at a totally different operational level.
One time-tested method is to establish Artisans’ Colonies. These have to be modern, well-equipped, well-designed colonies with schools, hospitals, telephones and all the necessary infrastructure. These colonies can be located in the traditional areas of different crafts. Artisans and craftsmen would have to be provided with proper outlets for their works. Once these colonies have been established, artisans and craftsmen would need to have national and international avenues for exhibiting their works.
The international market is the best starting point for its value-added, regenerative gains.
A special cell in the ministry of foreign affairs can be established with the express purpose of coordinating with various international organizations through Pakistani embassies. Opportunities like the Canadian Exhibition mentioned above, are the best chances for our artists and craftsmen to attract international attention. These are almost always lost in the bureaucratic red tape. The special cell should be designed to bypass these hurdles. A mechanism has to be in place to avail these opportunities as a routine.
To give a visible boost to the whole effort, a well-coordinated and well-planned series of exhibitions should be arranged in various cultural centers around the world. This can coincide with the “Travel Pakistan Year” (2001) and provide a harmonious support to the efforts to bring more visitors to Pakistan. But these efforts need a continuous and consistence operative mechanism.
The range and diversity of Pakistani Artisans and craftsmen is so broad and our traditional arts and crafts are so rich in their cultural content that a well-planned effort for international exhibitions and sales will be a self-supporting venture. All that it requires is operational and logistic support at the state level.
This and other efforts of this nature have to be non-political, professional endeavours. Those who are entrusted the task have to be honest and competent persons who are genuinely committed with the cause. Because one is dealing with crafts and arts, and not with commercial commodities, a certain level of cultural sensitivity and appreciation is involved. It is not every section officer’s forte to reach out to Ali Bukhsh Soomro and bring into existence a beautiful piece of Chitarkali work. Nor can this be done if the state officers are merely fulfilling their duties. What is involved is more than a simple and routine procedure.
Perhaps Pakistan’s cultural institutions have failed because those who are running these institutions are neither artists nor connoisseurs of arts; they are “officers” who are interested in “ruling” rather than guiding. If the new mechanism is to work, it will have to be established on totally different operating principles.
The need is there, the resources required to save and promote Pakistan’s rich cultural heritage and traditional crafts is miniscule. What is absent is a vision of such endeavour, a working mechanism and a guiding force. With a little bit of interest at the highest level, these missing elements can be put in place quickly and we can launch into a new era in which Ali Bukhsh Soomro would not have to give up his traditional gifts, an era which will open vast opportunities for thousands of men and women in remote corners of the country.