Mohammed Hanif’s Ten Myths About Pakistan

Posted on January 11, 2009
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Books, Foreign Relations, Politics, Society
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Adil Najam

Mohammed Hanif, the brilliant author of the engrossing book “The Case of Exploding Mangoes” (I have been planning to write about it ever since I first read it many months ago; and I will) – known to many for his stint at Herald before he joined BBC’s Urdu Service – has just written a most cogent and readable op-ed in The Times of India which is wroth reading; whether you agree with it or not. It is a good argument as well as a good read. And I say that even thought there are more than one points here that I might quibble with. But before we quibble, lets give Mohammed Hanif the floor – and a full and proper hearing. Here is the op-ed he wrote in The Times of India, in full:

Ten Myths About Pakistan

By Mohammed Hanif

Living in Pakistan and reading about it in the Indian press can sometimes be quite a disorienting experience: one wonders what place on earth they’re talking about? I wouldn’t be surprised if an Indian reader going through Pakistani papers has asked the same question in recent days. Here are some common assumptions about Pakistan and its citizens that I have come across in the Indian media.

1. Pakistan controls the jihadis: Or Pakistan’s government controls the jihadis.  Or Pakistan Army controls the jihadis. Or ISI controls the jihadis. Or some rogue elements from the ISI control the Jihadis.  Nobody knows the whole truth but increasingly it’s the tail that wags the dog.  We must remember that the ISI-Jihadi alliance was a marriage of convenience, which has broken down irrevocably. Pakistan army has lost more soldiers at the hands of these jihadis than it ever did fighting India.

2. Musharraf was in control, Zardari is not: Let’s not forget that General Musharraf seized power after he was fired from his job as the army chief by an elected prime minister. Musharraf first appeased jihadis, then bombed them, and then appeased them again. The country he left behind has become a very dangerous place, above all for its own citizens.  There is a latent hankering in sections of the Indian middle class for a strongman. Give Manmohan Singh a military uniform, put all the armed forces under his direct command, make his word the law of the land, and he too will go around thumping his chest saying that it’s his destiny to save India from Indians.  Zardari will never have the kind of control that Musharraf had. But Pakistanis do not want another Musharraf.

3. Pakistan, which Pakistan? For a small country, Pakistan is very diverse, not only ethnically but politically as well. General Musharraf’s government bombed Pashtuns in the north for being Islamists and close to the Taliban and at the same time it bombed Balochs in the South for NOT being Islamists and for subscribing to some kind of retro-socialist, anti Taliban ethos. You have probably heard the joke about other countries having armies but Pakistan’s army having a country. Nobody in Pakistan finds it funny.

4. Pakistan and its loose nukes: Pakistan’s nuclear programme is under a sophisticated command and control system, no more under threat than India or Israel’s nuclear assets are threatened by Hindu or Jewish extremists.  For a long time Pakistan’s security establishment’s other strategic asset was jihadi organisations, which in the last couple of years have become its biggest liability.

5. Pakistan is a failed state: If it is, then Pakistanis have not noticed. Or they have lived in it for such a long time that they have become used to its dysfunctional aspects. Trains are late but they turn up, there are more VJs, DJs, theatre festivals, melas, and fashion models than a failed state can accommodate. To borrow a phrase from President Zardari, there are lots of non-state actors like Abdul Sattar Edhi who provide emergency health services, orphanages and shelters for sick animals.

6. It is a deeply religious country: Every half-decent election in this country has proved otherwise.  Religious parties have never won more than a fraction of popular vote. Last year Pakistan witnessed the largest civil rights movements in the history of this region. It was spontaneous, secular and entirely peaceful. But since people weren’t raising anti-India or anti-America slogans, nobody outside Pakistan took much notice.

7. All Pakistanis hate India: Three out of four provinces in Pakistan – Sindh, Baluchistan, NWFP – have never had any popular anti-India sentiment ever. Punjabis who did impose India as enemy-in-chief on Pakistan are now more interested in selling potatoes to India than destroying it. There is a new breed of al-Qaida inspired jihadis who hate a woman walking on the streets of Karachi as much as they hate a woman driving a car on the streets of Delhi. In fact there is not much that they do not hate: they hate America, Denmark, China CDs, barbers, DVDs , television, even football.  Imran Khan recently said that these jihadis will never attack a cricket match but nobody takes him seriously.

8. Training camps: There are militant sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan but definitely not in Muzaffarabad or Muridke, two favourite targets for Indian journalists, probably because those are the cities they have ever been allowed to visit. After all how much training do you need if you are going to shoot at random civilians or blow yourself up in a crowded bazaar? So if anyone thinks a few missiles targeted at Muzaffarabad will teach anyone a lesson, they should switch off their TV and try to locate it on the map.

9. RAW would never do what ISI does: Both the agencies have had a brilliant record of creating mayhem in the neighbouring countries. Both have a dismal record when it comes to protecting their own people. There is a simple reason that ISI is a bigger, more notorious brand name: It was CIA’s franchise during the jihad against the Soviets. And now it’s busy doing jihad against those very jihadis.

10. Pakistan is poor, India is rich: Pakistanis visiting India till the mid-eighties came back very smug. They told us about India’s slums, and that there was nothing to buy except handicrafts and saris. Then Pakistanis could say with justifiable pride that nobody slept hungry in their country.  But now, not only do people sleep hungry in both the countries, they also commit suicide because they see nothing but a lifetime of hunger ahead. A debt-ridden farmer contemplating suicide in Maharashtra and a mother who abandons her children in Karachi because she can’t feed them: this is what we have achieved in our mutual desire to teach each other a lesson.

So, quibble if you will. But do tell us what you think about the argument that Hanif is making.

163 responses to “Mohammed Hanif’s Ten Myths About Pakistan”

  1. Asif Fasihuddin says:

    Sridhar, thanks for focussing solely on just one aspect of my submission. It was only an observation. Indeed, you can have one man one vote, and 80% coverage of hindu ritual and worship on Star News (although, in more than 10 years, I’ve not seen any other religion have its customs, festivals or rituals covered on Star News – must be that by some stroke of misfortune I just kept missing the coverage meant for the 20% minorities).

    I remember when Indira Gandhi was assassinated. DoorDarshan had nothing but prayers for the 3 days of mourning, and there was a pretty equalish division between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim prayer and a slightly but conspicuously smaller portion for christian prayers. It is also true, that while DoorDarshan was doing this, thousands of sikhs were being targetted in the riots in Delhi and elsewhere. Now it is up to India and Indians of today to decide whether they wish to be satisified with or indeed insist on a strict democratic arithmetic or aspire to an even fuller, more noble democratic spirit. Should a non-hindu in India insist on his right to eat beef or gladly give up the right out of love and respect for his hindu compatriots? Let Kashmir remain divided, like Bengal, Punjab and India herself were, even though there aren’t the British around any longer to share the blame, or let them be united.. with the hindu refugees returning to the Valley. Let a mandir alone be made on Ram Janam Bhumi, or let a mosque, and why not a gurdwara and church too, to be made adjacent to the mandir and each other. After all, it is claimed that Indian secularism is not like Western secularism which denies religion but instead celeberates all religions. Should the cleberation be truly united or strictly by quota and numbers? Having dwelled on this one observation, do also give a thought to the points alluded to. Whether India wishes to address Gujarat and Modi, the welcoming of a nuclear holocaust by Mr Sudarshan of the RSS (see the link in Aqil Mushtaque’s comment), and what solution would it really apply to Pakistan that is struggling to wrench itself free from the military’s clutches (read the majority of Pakistani contributions here)? Is it enough for India to do better than Pakistan or than X, Y or Z.. or should she do what is right, noble, generous and highly civilised for its own sake? After all, only those who can dream can make them come true. I am sure you would like to respond to this, but I must apologise, in advance, for not wishing to carry on a digressing and expanding debate here. I pray for Pakistan and wish the best for India.

  2. bonobashi says:

    Four points – the first one is incidentally addressed to fellow-Indians who have commented earlier:

    1. About the importance of Mr. Sudarshan: I cannot agree with Gorki that we need to permit freedom of speech to Mr. Sudarshan, or, leading from that, that the fascists of the religious right should be left alone in the interests of democracy.

    They are too dangerous for that.

    While Sudarshan’s parent organisation was banned in India during our early years, we had relative peace on the communal front. This is reasonable to say although another major party was even at that moment playing very cynical vote-bank politics, and encouraging Muslims (for a moment, assuming that Muslim is a homogeneous category, which in India is not necessarily the case) to follow Mullahs to the poll-stations. We have had NO END of trouble ever since the communalists came to power, first in pockets of the country, then in UP during the Babri Masjid but then in Mumbai, then in Gujarat, in Orissa, and finally in Karnataka.

    We need to address this problem urgently. One thing that all Hindus need to understand is that the religious right has a frightening agenda even within the very broad and accommodating spread of what is defined as Hinduism; they are sectarians with no tolerance for others of similar belief. Think Sipah’ Sahaba.

    After they’ve cowed Muslims and Christians into quiescence (for political reasons, they think they have the Sikhs with them, since they have the Akalis with them), they’ll be coming for us moderate Hindus who don’t think strictly their narrow-minded way.

    I am sorry to say this next, Gorki, and it isn’t intended to hurt or to stir up old wounds, but the Congress is not much better.

    It is embarrassing that the only parties to come out with clean hands are the SP under Mulayam Singh, and the Communists, in Kerala and in West Bengal. The BSP under Mayawati sounds promising, but so did the AIADMK under Jayalalitha ; now if only these four parties that have been named were not so uniformly, numbingly corrupt (this is not to say that the Congress or the BJP are not, it is a matter of degree).

    Be that as it may, there is no room to let up vigilance against the religious right. Looking next door, both to left and right, should tell us why we shouldn’t, not for a minute.

    2. About the electronic media: somebody commented that NDTV was soaked in Hindu polemic, which came as a shock.

    As an Indian, I am used to thinking of NDTV as clearly left-of-centre, secular and equidistant between religions – a stance derived from the antecedents of its movers and shakers. But that’s why we needed Hanif’s article, to remind ourselves to check our assumptions against reality from time to time, and that’s why we needed the comment referred to, to remind ourselves that the way others perceive us is part of this reality.

    Although Doordarshan was as inspiring and watchable as an electronic equivalent of Pravda and Isvestiya combined, at least it had the virtue of being secular; religion really had no space at that time.

    It is probably best to keep religion, ALL religion, strictly out of public affairs – I know my Muslim friends from both sides of the border will jump on me and tell me that this is impossible and undesirable, but surely bringing in specific religious precepts is not mandatory in a MIXED society – rather than take the other option of including ALL religions.

    Bringing one religious element in is the thin end of the wedge, and it never stops. Personally, some of my most tranquil moments have been spent in gurdwaras, but I object strongly to people carrying three-foot swords around in public on the grounds that their religion obliges them to do so.

    My personal take on this; don’t get mad. Back to the media.

    In general, there is a lot of irritation in India (which Pakistanis generally don’t seem to have spotted) with the electronic media – the vernacular channels in a very broad way, NDTV and Times Now specifically – especially regarding their recent and current behaviour, to the extent that the government has stepped in and proposed guidelines. The surprising thing is not that the Indian government seeks to regulate, but that it finds support for this move. A decade ago, there would have been a storm of opposition.

    The print media have been far more responsible and balanced, in my opinion.

    I think, if GEO and Dawn are representative, Pakistan seems well off; I nearly said ‘better off’, but refrained. We can do without the use of the comparative mode in our conversations.

    3. There was a perceptive comment on the Pakistani Army really being trained only for regular combat, typically with armour at the centre, on the plains of the Punjab.

    I am not entirely sure that this is true, although I agree with the conclusion, that it needs to re-orient itself, an understandably painful process that the Indian Army went through some decades ago, towards counter-insurgency.

    True, it does need to re-orient and re-train, and it is going to be a painful transition, not least because the generals don’t get the beautiful, big-ticket toys that they adore, but it seems necessary. It’s been a honeymoon all these years, and it seems to an amateur observer that it has almost become part of the battle doctrine of the PA that it uses irregulars as an adjunct, right from the earliest days of its existence, but now it has to figure out how to handle these irregulars turned hostile. I suspect that there’s an element of consternation within both the ISI and the regular Army command echelons.

    One final comment: if RAW is as hyperactive as it is claimed to be, something is badly wrong. I completely endorse intelligence operations and pinpointing terrorist camps for subsequent military action; BUT if RAW has been involved, even in a marginal way, in setting off bombs in public places, or in acts that kill civilians, there has to be an accounting to the Indian people – now. What is Parliament doing? Do people think that our remarkably silly Home Ministry can supervise such activities?

    We urgently need better mechanisms for supervising what these people are up to; I wouldn’t trust an unsupervised bureaucrat for a minute.

    I wouldn’t trust an unsupervised anyone for a minute.

    Finally, Gorki, I love your idea of Samosas for Peace (said with tongue parked firmly in cheek). I’m game to host similar sessions in Calcutta, anytime. :-)

  3. Sridhar says:


    Indian channels, in particular, private television stations often pander to the lowest common denominator in the search for ratings. Hence Doordarshan, which is not so focused on ratings and is subject to greater regulation, is much more balanced and secular in its news coverage and analysis, even if it is utterly boring. It is more progressive and less prone to the pandering to and promotion of superstitious practices. For instance, I have never seen any astrological predictions being a part of any in-house Doordarshan production. Many private channel, by contrast feature segments on astrological predictions. The channels may say that newspapers across the world do that too and they have a point. However, moving from Doordarshan to private channels has meant a backward movement in several respects.

    That said, the journalists in India are a heterogeneous lot. There are people of all stripes in the journalistic community, including on television. Communalists of all colors hues coexist with utterly secular folks. Nationalists, multi-nationalists, anti-nationals all share the stage. And so on. So it is hard to paint the Indian media in one color.

    As to documentaries on some aspect of Hindu worship, isn’t that natural in a country with 80% Hindus, and a thoroughly religious bunch of people? One sees similar reports on aspects of Muslim worship too, perhaps to a lesser extent. But this by itself is hardly reflective of a communal mindset and is not necessarily wrong. On television channels in the West, there is coverage of religion and disproportionately of Christian practices, since it is reflective of the population here. Why is that a problem?

  4. Waqas says:

    Mr.Sridhar, thanks for clarification

  5. Myth-ologist says:

    To all of those responding to Hanif’s article with cute myth-responses (having lists always does that), pls remember that myths are myths precisely because they are based on some partial truth which is then overblown. That is what Hanif is saying and you are proving – both by highlighting the partial truth and then demonstrating blowing it up!

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