Bhutto fell victim to a delusion, common to all tin pot dictators; he started taking his own bombast seriously and made a critical mistake. He called a conference of all the nuclear physicists of the country and demanded that they produce a workable nuclear device in the next four to five years. The nuclear scientists in Pakistan were, one and all, jaded bureaucrats living a comfortable life in cushy sinecures. Professor Salaam was among a few exceptions.1. The group of scientists humbly expressed their inability to deliver the goods, proffering the valid excuse of lack of equipment, infrastructure, technical staff, laboratories and supplies. Bhutto offered to get all the equipment they would need. They still demurred. He heaped obscene abuses on them and literally shouted them out of the hall. Tail between their legs, they slinked out.
A Pakistani metallurgist, A. Qadeer Khan, married to a Dutch lady, was employed as a translator in a nuclear reprocessing plant in Holland. He was trusted by his employers, and given the freedom of the plant. His work gave him unlimited access to all the records. He wrote to Bhutto that if he was given a personal audience, he could suggest a method of achieving the goal dearest to all their hearts. Bhutto was shown the letter and sent word to the man to present himself forthwith.
1. From a family of modest means, he was a scholarship student and obtained a master’s degree in physics from Punjab University in Lahore. He had won a scholarship for a PhD program at the Imperial college of Sciences in London and obtained a PhD in physics in a remarkably short period of time. The college offered him a job on its faculty, but he told his professor that he owed it to his country and himself to return and teach there. He was treated shabbily in the country and returned to England.
Qadeer brought photocopies of relevant documents and a complete list of supplies, equipment, and materiel. Bhutto ensconced him in a secure location, ordered that phony companies be set up to smuggle supplies in, and the man be given the highest priority in all he needed. 1. He was given extraordinary protection.2. Khan turned out to be true to his word. He produced the bomb in about five years, though due to the fear of international opprobrium the device could not be tested.
Kissinger saw red in Bhutto’s plans to develop an atomic bomb and flew to Pakistan to upbraid him. Bhutto blandly denied the whole affair. Kissinger, as arrogant as they come, was incensed. He told Bhutto that the latter was insulting his intelligence and that unless he ceased and desisted, “we would make a horrible example of you”. 3. Bhutto, a megalomaniac of equal caliber, handicapped though he was as the leader of an underdeveloped country, did manage to stand on his dignity. But the confrontation with Kissinger sealed his fate.
An opportunity to exact revenge, and make a horrible example of him, came soon enough. Elections were due in Pakistan. It was widely perceived that Bhutto and his PPP would win the elections hands down. There was no credible alternative to him. He announced the date of election with his usual theatrics. They thought that, bar the shouting, all was over.
But he had reckoned without the good old Almighty Dollar. The opposition, hitherto rather laid back, was suddenly energized and flush with spare cash. People in urban areas were particularly disaffected. In Karachi, the opposition candidate, a politically inept and colorless former chief of the country’s air force, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, drew huge crowds. The fates were finally looking kindly on Bhutto’s detractors.
Elections were held in due course. As polling results started trickling in, people looked at each other in dismay and disbelief. The final straw was the defeat of the Air Marshal in Karachi. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party “won” the requisite two-thirds majority which would enable it to amend the constitution or override a presidential veto.
There were howls of outrage. People would have accepted a simple majority for the party. But this was beyond the norm even of “Banana Republics.” The PPP had “won” even in the urban centers of Sindh dominated by Urdu-speaking immigrants, whom Bhutto had managed to alienate during his five-year rule.
The opposition took out mammoth processions in all the major cities of the country. The army, called in to assist the police, was only too willing to use force in Sindh and Balochistan. But they hesitated in suppressing the uprising when it came to the Punjab, and to a lesser extent in NWFP, the heartlands of the harvesting fields of the armed forces.
1. This was widely reported after his ring of export of nuclear technology was discovered.
2. Once, two Frenchmen were found loitering near his house. They were unceremoniously manhandled by the guards, their white skin notwithstanding. He “saved” Pakistan on another occasion. When India massed troops on Pakistan’s border in the mid- 1980s, he said during an interview with Indian journalist Kuldeep Nayyar that he could assemble an atomic bomb in a matter of hours. India withdrew from the border.
3. This was widely reported in the newspapers.
The Air Marshal gave a public call to the armed forces not to obey Government orders. This was seditious. But the Government was in no position to try him on the charges. The Government and the opposition held off and on negotiations. Bhutto offered to have polling held again in the disputed seats. The opposition wanted new elections held under the auspices of an all parties Government. The agitation continued.
From fawning sycophants, army officers and bureaucrats turned into neutral observers. Newspaper editors, trade union leaders, professional bodies, till lately perfect toadies, passed resolutions against the Government. Students were indifferent.
Bhutto resorted to strident, shrill and undignified speeches. Gone was the statesman-like posturing. Bhutto was reported to have finally agreed to cancel the results of the elections, and hold new ones under the auspices of an independent election commission, which would have opposition nominees too. The agreement was to be signed the following morning.
Ghulam Ishaq Khan, a grizzled bureaucrat in cahoots with the army was privy to all the negotiations, and had kept Zia well informed. 1.The Army struck the same night. They took Bhutto and all the ministers in “protective custody.” Zia declared martial law, suspended the constitution, dissolved the National assembly and promised new elections in ninety days.
People took a sigh of relief. The nation had stepped back from the edge of another precipice. The opposition was satisfied at the turn of events. Their demand for a whole new election had been accepted. No one was prepared to lead and organize another insurgency.
But the public had not forgotten the humiliation of the 1971 civil war in East Pakistan. They wanted the men in uniform back in the barracks expeditiously. The army went on a propaganda offensive. Pictures and statements of concentration camp detainees were given wide coverage in government-controlled media — radio, TV and newspapers. Other scandals were publicized. White papers were issued.
Zia, as yet unsure of his ground, called on Bhutto in his jail cell. Standing at attention before the prisoner, maintaining the façade of a humble man, he plaintively asked, “Sir, why did you have to do it?”. 2. He was perhaps giving Bhutto a false sense of security.
To test the waters and to see how much popularity the man retained, he released Bhutto soon afterwards. Prisons in South Asia are wonderful places for political rejuvenation. People started recalling Bhutto’s “good” deeds again. He had managed to get 90,000 prisoners of war released from India. He had given a measure of self-respect to the poor, the workers, the dispossessed, and the wretched. He had convened a grand conference of all Islamic heads of state. He was making atomic bombs. What if he drank a little alcohol and womanized a bit?
1. That he went on to serve as the Chairman of the senate and succeeded Zia as President would lend credibility to the conjectures.
2. That is rigged elections-Newsweek published a photo with Bhutto sitting in a chair and Zia standing at attention in front of him.
In any event he was given a wild, ecstatic, tumultuous and overwhelming reception in Lahore. Mass adulation went to his head. 1.He shouted defiance and vowed a colorful and sexually explicit vengeance. He denounced the political legitimacy, and cast doubt on birth antecedents of Zia. He would try him for treason. He was the savior of Pakistan. People loved him. He would smash the capitalists, make senior bureaucrats (he called them the progeny of pharaohs) — sweep the streets, and set the generals to cleaning latrines. He would force the mullahs to make an honest living. Property of all the feudal landowners, who had aided and abetted the army, would be confiscated and distributed to their peasants/tenants.
It was a rollicking show. People loved it. Zia was not too put out by the insults. He was thick skinned. But the threat to try him on charges of high treason was a real risk. Bhutto was vindictive. He was arrested again. There was surprisingly little public outcry. His supporters expected that after further deals, he would be released soon.
Zia broke his pledge and brazenly declared that elections would be held only after a “positive” result could be assured. The opposition, spear headed by obscurantist groups and the retired Air Marshal, did not mind. They would rather deal with the military than with a resurgent Bhutto. Bhutto used to ridicule the Air Marshal that he had spent too much time in low oxygen high altitude areas and that had affected the latter’s brain. The statement had received wide publicity.
After several postponements, elections were put off indefinitely. The military regime started churning out propaganda again. Several more voluminous “white papers” on Bhutto’s “misdeeds” were published. Courts were moved that the publicity would prejudice Bhutto’s case. They agreed.
Zia piously proclaimed his intention to introduce laws according to Islamic Shariah-jurisprudence. 2. He co-opted religious and other disaffected and disenchanted anti Bhutto groups into the government. There was no shortage of turncoats from PPP either. He issued ordinances legitimizing his deeds, past, present and future through the legal framework order (LFO). The LFO was drafted by the presiding genius of such affairs, a prominent attorney, Sharifuddin Pirzada. 3.
In the ensuing months and years Zia had political opponents publicly flogged, jailed and tortured — in the name of Islam. Under the Hudood ordinance raped women were tried for adultery, unless they had four adult male practicing Muslims as witnesses to prove that the sexual act was not consensual. The rapist, for want of such evidence, would on most occasions go Scot-free. The victim, if she conceived, could not deny that she had had a sexual act. By implication, Zia legitimized Honor Killing, which is a tribal custom in which an aggrieved party whose honor was besmirched can kill the offending male or female or both and pay blood money with the agreement of the victims heirs. Hudood law made Honor Killing an offence against the family who could forgive the killer. In practice, the cover of Honor Killing is used to keep the girl’s share of land and property from going with the girl to her husband’s family. Another subterfuge is to marry women to the Koran. There is no provision for such an act in Islam, but the Koran does not ask for the girl’s share.
1. Alcohol is absolutely prohibited in Islam. He had once brandished a glass in a public meeting proclaiming that yes, he drank wine, not the blood of the poor. Womanizing is frowned upon, though it does not carry the stigma of alcohol. Islam has actually made extra-marital relations redundant. A man can have four wives simultaneously and keep on replacing them as long as he does not exceed the prescribed number. In July, 2008, a newspaper reported that a man had been arrested in Saudi Arabia for having six wives instead of the permissible four.
2. The so-called Hudood-restrictions-laws are supposed to be based on the Body of Islamic codes and jurisprudence.
3. He has advised all the dictators from Ayub down to Musharraf.
Bhutto had threatened to try Zia for treason. He would pose an unacceptable risk in exile. He could come back. A murder case was the only recourse. Some judges had to be replaced before Bhutto was put on trial. The presiding judge was the same person whom Bhutto had threatened with abduction of his daughter. 2.The death sentence, for allegedly ordering the execution of an opposition politician, was duly handed down by the Punjab High Court. A while later the Supreme Court confirmed the sentence.
Foreign observers, including a former highly regarded U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, stated categorically that proper procedures of Pakistan penal code had not been followed. Judges had acted with impropriety, openly favored the prosecution, and accepted dubious evidence.
I was on a visit to Pakistan when Bhutto was hanged. To keep people at home the government had closed all offices, schools and colleges and declared a public holiday. There were a few riots; one man torched himself publicly to death. The people had been thoroughly cowed. If Bhutto had not so callously betrayed the working class, they would have stood by him. In the end his support had dwindled to a narrow group of courtiers with no constituency of their own. His ambition and arrogance was overwhelming. He had no scruples either. All his political life he had let his mentors down. Once entrenched in power, he took on all the centers of power in the country and the US simultaneously. It was a tragic though perhaps a fitting end to a life of great promise.
After postponing elections several times, enacting discriminatory laws, and violating human rights, Zia became an international pariah. Bhutto’s legally contrived assassination drove his personal standing even lower. Harsh economic sanctions were imposed on the country. Once again it was on the brink of economic collapse. The whole rice crop had to be mortgaged to the Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI).1.
1. The British government, unwilling to alienate powerful interests, accepted the custom. They had, nevertheless, imposed stringent conditions. The act had to be witnessed and witnesses willing to testify. The aggrieved party must be an actual relation of the girl by blood or marriage. The act was made a crime against the state, and not just against a person or a family.
2. Justice Mushtaq Ahmad. Bhutto, a feudal lord, had the habit of threatening anyone who did not do his bidding with abduction of the female relatives.
The fates came to Zia’s rescue. The Soviet government decided to install their man in Kabul. “Invited” by the Afghans, Soviet forces removed the double agent masquerading as a communist loyalist, took over the capital and handed it over to loyal cadres headed by Babrak Karmil, who had fled the country in the wake of the massacre of the erstwhile Prime Minister and his faction. Karmil revoked all anti-religious orders. Things seemed to settle down, but Afghans remained suspicious. 1.
The Americans had not forgotten their humiliation in Vietnam. The image of senior officers scrambling to get on fleeing helicopters, stamping on the hands of women and children while trying to hold on to the boarding ramp of the planes, was indelibly printed on their conscious mind and thought. They had blamed the Soviet Union for the debacle. Now they had been given a chance for sweet vengeance on an old adversary. Led by Brezhnev, a man in his dotage, the Soviet Union answered its prayers. As a by-product of the superpower tussle, Zia from a pariah metamorphosed into a saintly defender of all Godly faiths. He was offered a few hundred million dollars by President Carter, which he contemptuously rejected as peanuts.
Zia offered Afghan rebels moral, political and material help. They needed it and gratefully accepted it. By waging a “holy” war on the infidel Soviets, he could also rehabilitate himself in the Muslim world and could get into the good books of the West as well. Officers in the hundreds were sent to the US for training in military academies. The British Commonwealth, a fossilized elephant that had removed Pakistan from its membership, invited Pakistan back as a member. 3. Zia was welcomed with open arms in the brotherhood of Muslim heads of state and was able to extract arms and financial support. 2.
1. A few communists backed by some army officers had overthrown the government. They fell out amongst themselves, the deputy Prime Minister killed the Prime Minister and started ordering people not to pray or announce call to prayers, women to shed their veils and schoolteachers to learn and then impart the knowledge of Marxist lore. Widespread riots broke out. Soviet government correctly surmised that the man was a reactionary agent provocateur. They should, nevertheless, have known that no one had been able to control Afghans for long.
2. The enterprise was the brainchild of a financial wizard Agha Hasan Abdi, who used Arab money to launch a major house of finance. It grew phenomenally, and was emerging as a robust rival to Western banking interests. It lured such luminaries as former Cabinet secretaries in the US and Europe, Arab Princes and Amirs on its board of directors. Agha Abdi co-chaired a charity with Jimmy Carter. He had a severe heart attack, and eventually had to have a heart transplant. Without Abdi at the helm, the bank was accused of money laundering, financing arm and drug deals, and giving billions in unsecured loans. Its advisors and employees were indicted. The number included several prominent corporate attorneys of the US, and Europe, and that eminent grise, advisor to several US presidents, former cabinet secretary Clark Clifford. Pakistan refused to extradite Abidi. Western countries did not twist Pakistan’s arms to get him. The likes of Carter would have to testify.
3. In the wake of the Bangladesh civil war, Bhutto had withdrawn from the club. The country’s membership was suspended when Musharraf arrested the Chief Justice and imposed emergency rule in 2007. After the March 2008 election, it was allowed back in.
Having established his Mujahid (holy warrior) status, he could also impose his vision of Islamic rule on Pakistan. With money and material to spare, he was successful in making the whole country one vast detention camp. Afghan rebels supported by elements of the Pakistani army, Al-Qaida and Taliban, had pinned down hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers, draining their resources and grinding the Soviet economy to a near halt. Pakistan’s military arsenal was overflowing.
Zia was averse to the risk of holding an election. His patrons in the West and public opinion at home forced his hands. He resorted to a time worn subterfuge. Harking back to the Islamic traditions that the rightly guided Caliphs were chosen by consensus, that candidates did not present themselves for office and that there were no political groups-parties in Islam, he hit upon the idea of referendum to choose a President. His was the only name on the ballot and the question was something like, “If you believe in the rule of Islamic Shariah, Zia ul Haq is the President.” No Muslim could deny Shariah, so there were hardly any negative votes.
I made a tour of polling stations in Karachi, the most politically savvy, aware and conscious city in the country. Few went to the polling booths. I found only the agents of the election commission lounging around in most of the polling stations. There were actually more armed policemen in the tents housing the ballot boxes than there were voters. Elsewhere in the country, police and other officials bussed and coerced people to vote. That could not be done in Karachi. Denizens of the city, veterans of numerous uprisings, are not easy to cow down. It has a concentration of foreign press too. According to neutral observers, less than 15% of the people voted. Zia got 99.9% of the votes cast.
Included on the ballot papers were names of candidates for membership of a Majlis e Shoora (consultative assembly). Candidates were barred from declaration of affiliation to a political party, though the restriction was honored more in breach than in compliance. Only second-rate time servers participated in the elections. The assembly was a motley crowd of rank outsiders and nobodies. After picking up a non-entity for the office of the Prime Minister, Zia even engineered deposition of the first speaker of his handpicked assembly, Fakhre Imam, head of a Pir house, who though an erstwhile disciple of Bhutto was a man of some integrity. Zia also created a senate. The Shoora elected some members of the senate, others were chosen by the President from different professions. Professional bodies of journalists, doctors, lawyers were asked to offer their choice, with the admonition that only compliant persons be designated. The first choice of the Pakistan Medical Association was rejected.1.
He was chosen to represent the Organization of Islamic States for an address to the UN General Assembly but Yasir Arafat shunned the session as Zia, as commander of the Pakistan army contingent, had been instrumental in massacring thousands of Palestinians, when King Hussein had asked for Bhutto’s help.
The Afghan Jihad, in addition to corrupting Pakistan with easy money, was to have serious and far-reaching deleterious consequences. The Soviet Union had lavished an enormous number of Kalashnikov assault rifles on the Afghans who, though second to none in loving combat, do not enjoy fighting for others. They, in any case, prefer a buck to a bullet. With touching impartiality, they sold the arms, Russian and American, to any who could pay. The arms ended up in Iran, Pakistan and in some Arab countries. Drug dealers, warlords, racketeers and smugglers also bought the arms. They could now outgun the police and militia and outclass the Pakistani coast guard. International arms dealers made profits beyond the dreams of avarice. The Pakistani army, the handlers of the traffic, kept a large portion for themselves.
Afghanistan’s main cash crop is poppy out of which opium is extracted. They had, hitherto, sold the low-tech product. Opium addiction, innocuous compared to that of its sophisticated end products morphine and worse still heroin, was fairly common in South Asia and China. 2. The Russians, in a calculated move, imparted the know-how and wherewithal for making heroin to the Afghans. Bulk heroin ended up in West Pakistan, now the transit territory, and this also spawned a large crop of drug dealers. From a minuscule number in the 1960’s, the count of addicts rose to a million by the time Zia died in 1988. In 2007 they were estimated at three million. Army generals supervised the traffic, provided safe logistic support, and raked in millions of dollars. A feudal lord of the frontier province of Pakistan, Nawab Hoti, with land holding larger than the area of many small countries, reportedly offered to exchange all his property for a general’s drug income in a month. Other entrepreneurs joined in. Many ventured abroad. Some were caught and are still languishing in European and American jails.
Benazir, released from jail on health grounds, went to England for treatment. She now had freedom to lobby foreign governments. Zia’s administration was riddled with scandals, financial and salacious. After using them in early years of his rule, he had ditched Mullahs. They were getting restive too. A combined front, Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD), was rigged. Past master at the game of divide and rule, Zia created an immigrant party, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) — and two second-string native ethnic groupings, the Punjabi-Pakhtoon Front and Jeay Sindh. The Punjabis and Pakhtoons were in direct economic competition with the Mohajirs, while the Sindhis, in denial of the reality that Mohajirs comprised at least forty-five percent of the population of the province and were the majority in all but a few urban centers, disdained any dialogue with the former.
1. Pakistan Medical Association, dominated by graduates from my alma mater Dow Medical College, is one of the very few progressive organizations in the country. It had nominated one of the godfathers Rahman Hashmi, a stalwart of the student movement in Pakistan.
2. Zia, as a part of his “reforms” cancelled the licenses of the native opium shops. That measure only sent them underground.
The “law and order” situation, as the governments are so fond of calling it, deteriorated and would lead to the birth of armed gangs. They would make daring daylight raids into businesses, banks and wedding receptions. 1. Kidnapping for ransom became a routine. The police, of course, gave backup support. In honor of the occasion they would exchange their official garb for civilian dress. The gangs recruited unemployed university graduates. They were invariably polite, respecting women, and considerate to children and elders and would shoot only when they had to, on meeting resistance. They always warned men folk, that they would not be harmed if they were sensible.
Russians, meeting more organized opposition in Afghanistan and in a desperate attempt to save vestiges of superpower status, were surreptitiously looking for a way out. They offered a deal to the Americans. The Americans knew that Zia was taking them for a ride. Their main clients were Osama bin Laden and Mullah Umar of Taliban fame. Though not able to foresee the grief the men would cause them, they wanted to disassociate with the likes of these people too.
The Soviet Union had a glamorous, articulate sophisticate in Gorbachev, who played skillfully on fears of the West. 2. He offered a deal to America to get his forces out of Afghanistan. Zia sent his Prime Minister Junejo to sit in on the parleys and look out for Pakistan’s interest. Going beyond his brief, he agreed to the Soviet/American agreement. Zia wanted no part of it. He had visions of restoring glory of Islam by annihilating the Soviet army in Afghanistan. He had made his opposition to any accommodation known all over. Fully aware of the reach of powers that be, he became jittery. Far from being unfailingly polite, he became rude and short tempered. He dismissed the Prime Minister, refused to call off his hounds, and vowed to ambush the retreating Soviets. 3.
But the Americans would not take lightly to their own poodle snapping at the heels of their new bosom buddy. An incident had to be contrived to get rid of Zia. He was scheduled to observe a test run of a tank America wanted to sell to Pakistan in a place called Bahawalpur, and invited a very reluctant U.S. military attaché and the ambassador to accompany him. He also took along a dozen senior Pakistani generals on the ride. On the return trip, Zia invited the vice chief of the army, who had flown in his own aircraft, to join him on the plane to discuss the merits of the tank. The man politely declined the honor on some pretext.
1. In the sub-continent women at all parties, but especially at wedding receptions, are laden with gold. Married for many years, they still dress up as brides.
2. In one of the summits he got Reagan to agree to total nuclear disarmament. After his advisors had told him in simple words what he had conceded to the Russian, Reagan had to retract.
3. The poor man was told of the shove when he landed at the Islamabad Airport, after what he thought, had been a notable achievement.
Zia’s plane C 147, transport workhorse of the US army, with a very high safety record, exploded a few minutes into the air, taking him and fellow generals into their cherished paradise. 1. It was rumored that just before the plane took off, a crate of choice mangoes, a gift of the sacked Prime Minister, had been taken aboard and had explosives tucked inside. 1
The vice chief, turned his plane around, landed at the airport, made sure Zia was good and dead, and flew to military headquarters to a hastily convened meeting of Lt generals, which decided to abide by the constitution and hand the presidency over to the chairman of the senate. The latter gentlemen appointed an interim Prime Minister and a cabinet. They, in their turn, rubber-stamped the US-Soviet agreement on Afghanistan.
An undercurrent of messianic zeal is never far from the surface in Muslim societies. It goes back to the Prophet’s time. The prophet, however, tempered his message with due consideration for human frailties and preferred persuasion to coercion. On the occasion of the signature ceremony on the peace treaty document (Sulah-e-Hudaibiya) between Muslims and the Quraish of Mecca, the latter objected to his title “Messenger of God” under his signature. 2. He scratched out the title when he signed the document, rather than forego the obvious advantages of the treaty. He was to capture Mecca the following year without firing a shot, or in his case, without launching an arrow. He did not seek revenge from the leaders of Mecca, forgiving even the woman Hinda of the Umayyad clan who had, after the defeat of Muslims in the second battle against the Quraish, chewed the raw liver of his favorite uncle Hamza.
The Prophet was gradualist and tolerated affronts to his person with a smile. He forbade alcohol in stages, first asking the believers to abstain from it before the congregational prayers. At the height of his power a Jewish woman on a street in Madina verbally assaulted him. His devotees wanted to lynch the woman. He restrained them and listened to her patiently. He left the Quran as his legacy and specifically forbade documentation of his sayings, lest they be equated with the holy book. His immediate disciples honored his instructions, but later ones started documenting his sayings based on oral tradition, about a century after his demise.
1. See Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins for how fruit baskets were used to assassinate heads of state in Latin America.
2. Muslims were not allowed to visit Kaaba. After having inflicted several defeats on his opponents, the Prophet asked that his followers be allowed to make the pilgrimage. He agreed to leave all arms outside the city of Mecca. In the second battle against the dominant section of his tribe called Uhad, Muslims had suffered a bad reverse. The Prophet was actually left for dead. Most of his followers were drunk. It was pre-alcohol prohibition time.
I have gone to some length in describing the Prophet’s sagacity to emphasize the fact that his followers, soon after his demise, cast aside his open minded and judicious approach to problems. After him Umar, who was to be the second caliph, imposed the first Caliph Abu Bakr on the populace. About a hundred and fifty years after the prophet, Abbasids who took over the caliphate, which was by then a full-fledged hereditary office. They got the clerics and jurists to meddle with the traditions of the prophet. In the process all the sayings which emphasized tolerance, compromise, free will in adoption of any creed, proscription of coercion in conversion, near equal status of women, fair treatment of minorities, pursuit of education, etc., were eradicated from the texts. A noted scholar Imam Bokhari found only about six hundred fifty credible traditions, among the seventeen thousand then extant. 1. One scholar Ibn-e-Tamiyya in the early Abbasid period promoted an intolerant version of Islam, as propounded by one of early jurists of the creed Imam Ibne Hanbal. 2. Another disservice the scholars did to the religion was to proscribe Ijtehad — research, innovation and critical thought, thus closing the gates of rational analysis, leaving only blind belief instead. The name of Imam Ghazali, an eminent jurist of his time, springs to mind. His influence was overwhelming. His stated intent was to discourage dissension in the ranks. Fortunately for the faith, the intolerant version did not take root; that is till the eighteenth century, when a mediocre Arab cleric by the name of Abdul Wahab 3 revived it. 3. He was not very successful either, till he made a compact with an ambitious chieftain, the founder of the House of Saud. Wahabi beliefs were largely confined to what is Saudi Arabia now, though a tiny percentage of Muslims did follow the system in other countries. Mainstream Sunnis in India shunned them before independence.
The Wahhabi sect was given a tremendous boost by the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia. Erstwhile minor tribal Chiefs wanted to live it up. The Mullahs objected. The Chiefs palmed them off with funds for madrassas, seminaries outside their own country. Literally thousands were established in Pakistan and other Muslim countries. The countries suffered from grinding poverty and an abysmally low literacy rate. If anyone offered food, clothes and shelter, millions would swamp him. The seminaries offered religious education too; it was actually memorizing the Quran and indoctrination in fantasy of wine, women and dance in the after world. A cadre of hypnotized youth was thus created. When unleashed, they went around targeting and attacking non-Muslims, and even Muslims who did not agree with their handlers.
1. There are three generally accepted books of the prophet’s sayings-Bokhari, Muslim and Tirmizi named after the respective compilers.
2. The four main schools of Sunni thought named after the jurists are Hanafi- followed by about eighty percent of Sunnis-Shafai, Maliki and Hanbali. Shias, who constitute approximately twenty percent of Muslims, follow Imam Jafar, a descendant of the prophet who was also Imam Abu Hanifa’s mentor.
3. For a detailed analysis of the role of Britain, France, USSR and the US in promoting Islamic fundamentalism please refer to Devil’s Game by Robert Dreyfuss.
In historical terms, recent setbacks like the establishment of Israel, the debacle of the 1967 Six Day War, the 1971 civil war in East Pakistan, the total reversal after early successes in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Afghan jihad and post Gulf War II demolition of Iraq, have driven Muslims further away from the path of development, sciences and enlightenment.
Students at the seminaries, many of whom were actually from Afghanistan, now popularly known as the Taliban, did not need much persuasion to cross over to the country to wage the jihad against the infidel. They got a new patron with messianic zeal, Osama bin Laden, who was worth $600 million. All sections and ethnicities of Afghans fought the war against the Soviets. The Taliban were the best organized, financed and led. The Soviet retreat left something of a vacuum in a part of the world of immense strategic interest to all the great powers. The Taliban eliminated other factions in short order and committed atrocities, especially on the minority Shias and women. 1. They closed girls’ schools and sent all female workers, doctors, teachers, and office workers home. Incessant warfare over two decades had left innumerable widows and orphans with no means of support. No longer allowed to work, many resorted to begging and prostitution. The Taliban imposed “religious” courts where destitute women and other disenfranchised populace were summarily tried without the benefit of defense, witnesses or even prosecuting attorneys. Fanatical clerics handed down judgments after a few minutes’ deliberation. The punishment could be public beatings, amputation of a hand or foot or stoning to death. Thousands in Kabul’s main sports stadium watched the spectacle.
On the streets, religious police caned women who were found not covered from head to foot, or wearing high heels. Men were subject to measurement of beards, which had to be regulation length, and the more zealous security guards would check the pubic area to see if it was properly shaved. Men had to wear ankle-length pants to play soccer. Members of one Pakistani soccer team had their heads shaved because they wore shorts.
The virus spread to Pakistan where at the time a common slogan used to be, “Who will save Pakistan? Taliban, Taliban.” Sectarian violence increased. Members of the “other” sect were murdered for the greater “glory of Islam.” In Karachi alone, scores of young Shia physicians were killed in cold blood. Mosques were torched, clerics butchered, and kidnapped. Christians and Hindus were not spared either.
Things have actually been getting worse. The political wing of the extremist parties actually won elections in two provinces in Pakistan. Despite the intervention of the US government after 9/11, the deadly virus of Taliban apparently would have engulfed Pakistan in an epidemic of extremism. It may still do so.
1. The recent book Kite Runner by Afghan expatriate Khaled Hosseini, now made into a movie, describes it well.
I was born in Dewa Sharif, UP, India in 1939.
I went to school from the fourth to eighth class in Gonda, UP and the 9th grade in Jhansi, UP, India.
We moved to Quetta, Pakistan and went to school for the 10th grade and intermediate college in the same town.
I was in Karachi University 1954-57, then Dow Medical College 1957-62. I Was in the National Students Federation from 1954 to 1962, trained in surgery in the Civil Hospital Karachi 1962-65, proceeded to England 1965 and trained in General surgery and orthopedic surgery till 73, when I left for Canada 1973-74, USA 1974-83, back to Karachi 1983 and built a hospital and went back to the USA in 1991, been in the USA since.
I retired from surgery in 2005.
I have worked in various HR and Socialist groups in the USA.
I have Published two books ,:”A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents,” and ,”God, Government and Globalization”, and am working on the third one, “An Analysis of the Sources and Derivation of Religions”