May 30, 2020
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Islamabad Diary

A new civil society is emerging in Pakistan in the form of vociferous column writers, artists, poets...

Islamabad Diary

The new ‘dargah’

The moment our IAF plane landed at the Benazir Bhutto airport and the seat belt signs went off, the ‘Jai Hind’ from the cockpit gave a different thrill. Magical tiny words. The road to Marriott Islamabad passed through Rawal lake. I wondered if the evening walkers would know it was named after Bappa Rawal, the founder of Rawalpindi. Next stop, Islamabad. The city of Islam is everything a western country can boast of. Modern buildings with a feeble whiff of ethnic touch, malls, luxury hotels, clubs, ostentatiously designed bungalows of army officers reminding one of the Soviet-era dachas and art galleries in the backdrop of the magnificent Margalla hills. However, between the president’s house and the Senate, the Supreme Court stands out more pronouncedly. As journalist and activist Marvi Sirmed says, this building has acquired more prominence in the Pakistani landscape than any other. And more than a dargah where one prays to the invisible, the court has become the last refuge to seek justice even for the families of armymen or former ISI operatives. Unconfirmed reports say some 3,000-4,000 majors and brigadiers have vanished without a trace while in the service of intelligence agencies. Now their families are demonstrating in front of the Senate and have sent pleas to the SC to trace their loved ones. Will they get justice?

The bewildered

A new civil society is emerging in Pakistan in the form of vociferous column writers, artists, young sportspersons and poets, which one can talk to. They love Pakistan and want it to be a civil land with a humane face. Their Islam is inclusive—Data saheb, Mohenjodaro, Nankana and Taxila are not forbidden places for them. For the first time, a Gandhi painting appeared in a Punjab University art calendar dedicated to peace. Women writers like Marvi Sirmed and Mariana Baabar have shaken up the conscience of the average Pakistani, who believes in a benevolent Islam but sees a brutalisation of his nation by flag-bearers of the faith. Kanwal Khalid, curator at Lahore museum, asks in an interview: “We’re descendants of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, why do we deny that?” Ali Dayan Hasan and Mariam Faruqi of Jinnah Institute ask: “The central question is, can you be a Pakistani and not a Muslim? Will the majority of Pakistanis continue to condone and collude in the discrimination and persecution of minorities?” Kathak, Indian classical music, Krishna miniatures and the grandeur of Taxila’s Buddha remain intact and are at delightful display whenever a foreign dignitary arrives. The undercurrents are unmistakably against the pluralism, though. Writers like Harris Khalique say it’s a hate phenomenon that engulfs all—if a temple in Peshawar is vandalised, so are the tombs of poets Rahman Baba and ‘Ajmal Khattak’. Harris says that writers like them and human rightists do face a danger to their lives.

Hate fest

Hate-driven zealots are killing everyone—Shias, Ahmadiyas, Kadiyanis, Hindus and Christians. The Wahabism has turned fratricidal. The day we left Islamabad for Lahore, 18 Shias were taken out of a bus in Peshawar and shot dead. Famous Pakistani scientist and Nobel laureate Abdul Salaam was refused a maulvi for his namaz-e-janaza because he was an Ahmadiya. Even the word ‘Muslim’ was erased from his epitaph (it initially read, “The first Muslim Nobel Laureate”) on the local magistrate’s orders. Mosques are bombed and namazis killed while praying. Lahore, once a city of temples, does not even have a cremation ground for Hindus; a few years back, a Hindu woman was buried in a Muslim graveyard. The famous speech of national assembly member Fozia Ejaz Khan in Parliament on the hatred and killings—“I’m ashamed to be a Pakistani”—drew applause from Pakistanis the world over. The common man is fed up of these killings; he has become especially vocal after the Osama hunt led to Abbottabad. If a taxi driver is a test to find out which way the wind is blowing in any city, our cabbie Ifthikar from PoK told us: “Hamein nahin chahiye nafraton wali dahshatgardi (we don’t want hate-driven terrorism).” Talking more to himself, he adds, “They’ve destroyed Pakistan, the poor suffer the most. Sab corrupt hain janab, sab paisa banate hain.” Of course, this insight could have come from a cabbie this side too.

Grandpa Godrej’s safe

Taxila is enchanted. Just a short drive from Islamabad, it’s a visiting card to the 1,000-year-old glory, damned sadly by a country born just about 65 years ago. Apart from the unbelievable variety of gold jewellery, exquisite sculptures and the solemn Buddha, luckily still preserved (one thinks of Bamiyan and shudders), the other rare antique is the Godrej iron chest still used to keep the valuables safe. Adi Godrej must give me a free safe for this precious piece of info.

My trip reminded me

Of Nehru’s words from all those years ago: “As far as Pakistan is concerned, she agreed to a
cultural and human approach as the basis of Partition but such an approach does not follow from the policy of a State which is Islamic in conception.”

Former editor of the Panchajanya, Tarun Vijay is a member of the Rajya Sabha; E-mail your diarist: tarunvijay2 AT

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