If there is one thing that scares any authoritarian establishment it is the power of an idea: an idea can light the imagination of a people like nothing else and a taciturn, brittle, unimaginative institution does not know how to deal with it. So, it does what it can do: ban the idea.
Pakistan’s establishment paranoia about ideas is so strong that it extends to anything that is written – whether an opinion piece in a newspaper or a book. So, newspapers can be banned or not allowed to be distributed, news channels can be censored, and books can simply disappear from the shelves.
The recent hullaballoo about books and their authors has gone to crazy heights.
In 2006, when former ISI chief Lt Gen Mahmood Ahmed published a book ‘The Myth of 1965 victory’ GHQ had all 22, 000 copies of the book bought “fearing that its contents could malign its image.”
According to a news report “The book titled The Myth of 1965 Victory, which was published by the Oxford University Press, was found to be “too sensitive” by none other than the Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf. The sources said that General Mahmood Ahmed had submitted the manuscript of his book to the GHQ as per the rules in vogue. However, after going through the contents, the GHQ referred the manuscript to General Musharraf who noted on the file that Mahmood should review some sensitive parts of the book as well as the title especially use of the word myth in relation to the 1965 war. As General Mahmood was subsequently suggested some major deletions by the GHQ, he refused to oblige, saying that it was already in the printing stage. Under these circumstances, the sources said, the GHQ directed the Army Book Club to immediately buy all the 22,000 copies worth millions of rupees directly from the publishers to stop it from being marketed. When some leading distribution houses contacted the Oxford University Press, they were informed that the book has already been sold out. Even otherwise, the sources said, there was a binding on the publishers under a revised contract not to provide it for general distribution.”
Something similar happened to Amb Husain Haqqani’s books. FIRs were registered against former Amb Haqqani “or delivering hate speeches and writing books and articles against the armed forces and the ‘sovereignty of Pakistan’.” In response Haqqani stated “A constant hyper-patriotic media circus at home will not change the impact of my ideas all over the world. Books that are used as texts in universities around the world should be read and understood at home too instead of being made the subject of frivolous police proceedings.”
And now two new books are once again being described as anti-Pakistan- the book ‘Spy chronicles’ co-authored by former ISI chief Asad Durrani and former RAW chief AS Dulat and Nasim Zehra’s book on Kargil.
As per a tweet by DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, the former ISI chief Durrani has been “called in GHQ on 28th May 18. Will be asked to explain his position on views attributed to him in book ‘Spy Chronicles’. Attribution taken as violation of Military Code of Conduct applicable on all serving and retired military personnel.”
In her recently published book titled ‘From Kargil to the coup’ veteran journalist Nasim Zehra provides an in-depth analysis of Kargil. Instead of welcoming a book of this nature the reaction to within Pakistan’s establishment is why has such a book been published now? The book must be part of a foreign conspiracy to hurt Pakistan. A retired ISI brigadier’s statement on social media sums up the view “Kargil is 20 years old. Close chapter. What motives behind this controversial book? Why now? Who is/are sponsors?”
In a country where a certain set of institutions frame not only the narrative but what you hear in the news and ban or censor any news or newspaper or media house who does not fall in line, it is refreshing to read a piece that is brutally honest. In his latest piece for Dawn, columnist F. S. Aijazuddin undertakes a detailed examination of where Pakistan stands on the eve of the 2018 elections. He ominously predicts: “What will the Pakistan of 2023 be? Voters have been told to expect a ‘new Pakistan’. They should be prepared for the disappointment, similar to the one Francis Younghusband felt during his travels to Lahaul in the 1880s: “So I asked again how far Dadh was and the man said two miles. So I asked whether I could see the village, so he said yes, and showed me a village behind. Voters beware. Your ‘new’ Pakistan is behind you.”
Starting with the “dying parliament” Aijazuddin states: “It is dependent upon last-minute whiffs of oxygen, desperately resuscitating itself by passing insidious resolutions unanimously in a near-empty house. The most recent one will remain on our conscience for longer than it will stay on the statute books — the attempt to obliterate at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, the name of Dr Abdus Salam, our first Nobel laureate.”
Turning to Pakistan’s “toothless foreign policy” the columnist asserts: “After 70 years of cohabitation with the United States, we have decided that even a belated too little is more than enough. We have chosen to confront our long-term benefactor the US, this time over one of its Islamabad-based officials — Col Joseph Hall, defence and air attaché.”
On the economic front, Aijazuddin notes that “Our annual budget has been passed without a debate, without a glance. It has become yesterday’s rubbish, relegated to the grubby hands of those who buy waste by weight.”
Aijazuddin further points out that “The public is used to seeing lawyers punch each other in courtrooms. The paper-screen reputation of the judiciary has been perforated as now judges criticise each other. Over the years, many of the principles of British jurisprudence and legal canons were adopted by us. The only one left was to reincarnate another Judge Jeffries.”
He ends his column with these words about the 2018 elections: “Will the next National Assembly fulfil the expectations of 104,267,581 registered voters? Will it even matter? Or will it be no better than the committee of Richard Harkness’s definition: “a group of the unwilling, picked from the unfit, to do the unnecessary”.”
With charges against former dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, formally filed in an Islamabad court, the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto is once again the center of attention. While few doubt that Musharraf failed to provide sufficient security to the popular leader, her assassination was not just Musharraf’s doing. In a forthcoming book United Nations investigator Heraldo Munoz has pointed out that there is much more that needs both investigation and prosecution.