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Wherefore art thou, Pakistan? 19 September 2006

Posted by VARANGALI in History, Politics, VARANGALI.

There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

– Victor Hugo

Hassan Nasir, Secretary General of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), was tortured to death in a decrepit Pakistani prison in 1959, his mangled body hastily buried. Some twenty years later, a fellow CPP leader, Nazir Abbasi, would be similarly tortured to death by Pakistani authorities for trying to unionize Sindhi serfs. I wonder if either, in their last moments, finally questioned the power of the idea to which they had dedicated their lives.

The history of Pakistan is littered with such driven, yet failed, activists. And it is perhaps in respect to that incessant search for justice that my Pakistani elders bristle when my callous, consumerist generation asks so readily: was Pakistan really necessary? A couple of years ago, a Kashmiri family friend responded to the question with a non-answer: he shared the memory of hefting on his shoulders to carry away the charred bodies of three fellow Kashmiri students from a firebombed train at Allahabad University, victims of Partition violence.

Whether Pakistan’s creation was necessary or good is an earnest question, and I fear that Pakistan was born of an idea whose time never came. But as my Kashmiri family friend subtly suggested, I cannot begin to fathom the human cost to forging the nation’s identity. My peers who debate this are similarly de-contextualized; we stand in the shadow of giants, but are quick to pass judgment on their accomplishments.

I thought of Hassan Nasir and the CPP last month, when the Karachi newspaper “Dawn” carried a picture of a CPP women’s rally for Lebanon outside the US Embassy. To crib from Karl Marx, history does repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce: we have gone from Hassan Nasir and Nazir Abbasi to the CPP today – hijabi Marxists decrying Israel’s aggression by holding up posters of Che Guevara.



1. kyla - 19 September 2006

First, a quick query: I’d love to know your sources (I’m no traditionalist about what kind) on the CCP deaths you mentioned.

Second: an idea whose time never came. Yeah. I can see that. But, as in all such question, all such moments when someone asks the question “was it necessary”, I must answer, “well, it’s here, isn’t it?” I guess I’m a believer in the march of history, historical momentum causes things to occur and it’s a bit like asking if babboons or, less than babboons, if yellow wasps are necessary. They showed up, they’re around, I don’t know who they benefit and I’ve been stung a few times. I’m not about to say they should be exterminated.

Of course I realize that’s not what you’re saying. But Pakistan needs, perhaps, to be reimagined now, rather than questioned about its initial imagining. It’s here. An ending to Pakistan would cause more devastation, yet we neither move forward from the initial dream nor notice that the initial dream is moving further and further away in time and space and reality, regardless of how much we want to stand still. So I say let’s rework it all.

Excuse the verbosity. I teach Pakistan Studies in Lahore to art students.

2. Irving - 20 September 2006

Women in big funny hats struggled and suffered for years in the US. around the turn of the 19th Century to win the right for women to vote in this country. Many were imprisioned. Finally, the force-feeding and terrible conditions in their prisons leaked out and a public outcry ensued. Women got the right to vote in America in 1920. So don’t discount the women in hijab, even if they are Commie pinko athiests :)

Ya Haqq!

3. VARANGALI - 20 September 2006

Kyla, Irving – thanks for your comments.

Kyla – My sources for the CPP deaths are the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, the Pakistani journal Herald, and the Pakistani superstar, my father ;) A quick google search will also yield a few more sources (often of dubious quality).

Please don’t take my view that Pakistan was born of an idea whose time never came as an answer to the question “was Pakistan necessary.” The creation of Pakistan may have been necessary because the alternatives were perhaps worse. I just think that Pakistan was not a grand idea propelled forth by the force of history, as suggested by the party line toed by virtually all Pakistani politicians and taught in Pakistani schools. Nevertheless, the point I am trying to make is that I – and most of my generation – have not fully earned the right to answer the question “was Pakistan necessary?”

This question is important, for how else are we to learn from history unless we critically examine it first? And I agree that we should also consider the question, “what now?” with urgency.

Irving – you are right in that I am discounting the hijabi Marxists, and I do so because they are inconsistent in principle. The hijab suggests Islam, and atheism – as you note – is a core tenet of Marxism. That said, one can of course just adhere to the social justice aspects of Marxism that do not conflict with Islamic teachings, so perhaps I am being too harsh. Either way, holding up Che Guevara posters (admittedly a personal hero of mine) to protest the Lebanon war sealed it for me in terms of unintentional comedy.

Readers not well versed in Pakistani history – I do not mean to suggest that the CPP activists were pivotal in the formation of Pakistan, I simply use them as examples – of many – that died struggling for their grand vision of Pakistan.

4. Hassan Nasir - 4 March 2008

Well, I just want to add something to this very old discussion. The stories of Hassan Nasir and Nazir Abbasi and CCP are very true. I don’t know much about life of Hassan Nasir but I have been trying to know that. But I know a lot about Nazir Abbasi and his other CPP fellows, including his wife Hameeda and his daughter Zarka. My father, who was once himself part of CPP and still believes in still ideology; named me Hassan Nasir due his inspiration with Hassan Nasir’s efforts. I am still trying to know more about Hassan Nasir and have met many people who were than part of CPP; and they all respect him a lot.

5. azhar aslam - 26 September 2008

The question is not whether pakistan is an idea whose time never came. if it had not it would not have been. but ideas are not static beings. they need to born afresh and dreamt anew in the new eyes; they need to be lived again and again.

what are we doign about it ? are we dreaming and living our idea of Pakistan ? any one who wants to live it with me ?

6. Malik Rashid - 27 November 2008

We must try to answer those questions. 60 years on, if we cannot look back and observe the movements, we are either lazy or dumb(uncivilized) as some would like to think. Colonialists hired loyal, local lads, gave them guns, and gave them something to shoot at.

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