Eqbal Ahmad: An Ethic


It has been 20 years since Eqbal Ahmad bid farewell to this world.

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In 2011, in an article of his, the late Christopher Hitchens termed Pakistan “a land virtually barren of achievements.” I read it and I, a 16 year old, was outraged, seething with rage. It was then that I decided to write a blog to show that the Pakistani nation had produced its fair share of achievements, pride and glory in every field. And so I began to do a little research of my own.

It was during the course of that research that I came across the name Eqbal Ahmad, “a distinguished intellectual, prolific writer and journalist, widely consulted by revolutionaries, journalists, activist leaders and policymakers around the world.”

I was fascinated. And even more so to read that the great Edward Said had penned a moving obituary for him in 1999. He wrote, and I quote,

Eqbal Ahmad brought wisdom and integrity to the cause of oppressed peoples.”

Who was this man that the likes of Edward Said and Noam Chomsky praised lavishly? Why was it that I knew of Edward Said and not Eqbal Ahmad, despite him being one of our own? I began to read him and so began the chapter of my utmost admiration for him.

Eqbal, for me, was and is an ideal.

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Born in Bihar in either 1932 or 1933, Eqbal Ahmad migrated to Pakistan as a young boy during Partition and went on to study at the Forman Christian College. He then earned his PhD in the late 1960s from Princeton where he studied political science and Middle Eastern history. As part of his doctoral dissertation which focused on labour movements in North Africa, he travelled to Tunisia and Algeria.

It was in Algeria that he became involved in the Algerian Revolution, meeting and working with Fanon and also becoming a member of the Algerian Revolutionary Council. After the success of the revolution, he was even offered an opportunity to join the first independent Algerian government but he refused. According to Edward Said, Algeria was a turning point for Eqbal Ahmad’s life which formed “an almost instinctive attraction to liberation movements, movements of the oppressed and the persecuted, causes of people who were unfairly punished — whether they lived in the great metropolitan centres of Europe and America, or in the refugee camps, besieged cities, and bombed or disadvantaged villages of Bosnia, Chechnya, south Lebanon, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran and, of course, the Indian subcontinent.

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Eqbal Ahmad was a vocal advocate of the Palestinian cause (an advocacy that left him alienated and isolated; not one of his colleagues would sit with him during lunch at Cornell), and a prominent and vehement opponent of America’s intervention and policies in Vietnam and Cambodia. In fact, In 1971, he was part of a group of anti-war activists, the Harrisburg Seven, who were tried on the charges of a failed conspiracy to kidnap Henry Kissinger.

Eqbal Ahmad then went on to teach at Cornell University until 1968. In 1982, he joined the Hampshire College as a tenured professor where he taught until 1997. He befriended, influenced and collaborated with thinkers such as Chomsky, Said, Howard Zinn, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Richard Falk, Fredric Jameson and Daniel Berrigan.

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His knowledge, thinking, observations and experiences lent him a remarkable grasp on global developments, leading him to be “consulted by revolutionaries, journalists, activist leaders and policymakers around the world” and allowing him prophetic foresight which identified, among others, the disaster the American exploitation of Islamic fundamentalism against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan would bring, its terrible implications for Pakistan, and the the devastating consequences which would follow any military action to remove Saddam from Iraq.

In the 1990s, he began shuttling between Pakistan and the U.S and began writing for Dawn, while working to establish a liberal arts college named after Ibn Khaldun in Islamabad. The project, however, was wrecked by political realities in Pakistan:

“In the early 1990s, he was granted a parcel of land by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government to build an independent, alternative university, named Khaldunia. The land was later seized by Bhutto’s husband, Asif Zardari, reportedly to build a golf course and club.”

Previously in Pakistan, his criticism of military and political actors and policies had irked powerful quarters. He was a fearless critic of authoritarianism, militarism, political corruption, nuclear arms and extremism, and an ardent advocate of democracy, peace, self-determination, social justice and egalitarianism.

output-f_large-e35f94bab0216ee21afad6c020f6a45aEqbal passed away in May 1999 from colon cancer. Upon his demise, “editorials and newspaper columns published around the world quickly paid homage to a unique and fearless thinker. Egypt’s Al-Ahram wrote “Palestine has lost a friend”, while the New York Times, whose Vietnam and Palestine policies Eqbal had forcefully criticized, admitted that he “woke up America’s conscience”. The Economist described him as “a revolutionary and intellectual who was the Ibn-Khaldun of modern times.

While we are unfortunate to not have him among us anymore, the possibility of turning to him still remains; because while the issues of our time may be slightly different from that of his, the ethic he embodied, espoused and exemplified beckons for us to adopt and cultivate it. This was an ethic of being a global citizen in times of myopia and division; of refusing binaries and bigotries; of fighting oppression, imperialism, injustice and employing scholarship in the service of these causes; and of speaking truth to power both at home and abroad. It is after all, a testament to his intellectual honesty and principles that during the Harrisburg 7 trial in the United States, he penned his famous Letter to a Pakistani Diplomat in 1971 which was a letter of protest and condemnation of the Pakistani government’s military operation in East Pakistan. In it, he wrote:

“I know that I shall be condemned for my position. For someone who is facing a serious trial in America, it is not easy to confront one’s own government. Yet it is not possible for me to oppose American crimes in Southeast Asia or Indian occupation of Kashmir while accepting the crimes that my government is committing against the people of East Pakistan. Although I mourn the death of Biharis by Bengali vigilantes and condemn the irresponsibilities of the Awami League, I am not willing to equate their actions with that of the government and the criminal acts of an organized, professional army.”

His was an ethic of truth, a truth that transcended boundaries and borders.

His advice and call to action for the younger generation was,

“Number one, read. Number two, intervene. For God’s sake, let us not be only consumers of information. Each person knows some truth – and I really think that almost anyone who is listening to you and to me right now has some knowledge, some truth, some understanding of the world, that is different from that of the dominant media institutions. The moment you find that your truth clashes with what is being peddled as their truth, intervene.”

His was an ethic of intervention, action and practice.

Eqbal was generous enough to leave behind an ethic, an ideal and an education for all to freely embrace, and which, in today’s global and local moment of confusion, censorship, suppression of ethnic movements for constitutionalism, the rise of the right wing, and clamour, is all the more important to revisit and learn from.

And at the end, it is up to us to honor this ethic and its legacy, and to recover its phenomenal promise, power and possibility.

So here’s hoping we turn to Eqbal Ahmad, for to turn to him is to turn to an ethic of supreme intellectual courage, intellectual integrity, intellectual responsibility, intellectual independence and imagination. To turn to Eqbal Ahmad is to engage with an ethic of love, empathy, solidarity, of thinking critically and of thinking fearlessly. And to turn to Eqbal Ahmad is to know that not only is this ethic possible but incumbent upon all of us.

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For those interested in learning about him, please do refer to the following resources:

  1. Confronting Empire; Eqbal Ahmad interviewed by David Barsamian
  2. The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad
  3. Between Past and Future: Selected Essays on South Asia
  4. Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age by Stuart Schaar
  5. The Eqbal Ahmad Center for Public Education
  6. The Transnational Institute
  7. Eqbal Ahmad Fan Page
  8. Google is your friend: search for Eqbal Ahmad and you’ll come across articles such as this and this here and there. Lots of fantastic speeches of his available on Youtube too.

 

-Hafsa Khawaja

Pakistan and America: Relations Wrought Taut


With both Admiral Mullen and Secretary of Defense Panetta upbraiding Pakistan, particularly the ISI for its ‘’veritable arm’’ the Haqqani Network, the relations between the two countries have plunged into a state of decline.

While Americans suggest scourges for Pakistan’s perfidy with Congressman Ted Poe introducing the “Pakistan Accountability Act” and Senator Lindsey Graham calling for ‘all options’ to be considered for the ‘deceitful country’ (and clearly, what one extracts from his statements by reading between the lines is that he desires for an attack on Pakistan) – the Pakistani Government and Army have been unapologetic and dismissive of the accusations.

Reminding the world that Haqqani was once the blue-eyed boy of the US, as is the case with most of the fighters in Afghanistan of the Soviet War that the US had ’abandoned’ and left to and for the use of Pakistan’s Establishment.

(USA hasn’t placed the Haqqani Network under the list of terrorist organizations)

The entire situation seems precarious and what it holds and will evince at the end is left to speculations that can only be made on the basis of facts; the most significant of which is that both the United States and Pakistan are, as of yet, mutually dependent upon each other. Albeit, not equally.

Both have a set of choices to select from.

If Pakistan refuses to shun its links with the Haqqani Network as part of its Strategic Depth Policy (that seeks to ensure an Afghanistan with a Pro-Pakistan Government for various reasons that are part of an entirely new subject) or if US-Pak relations further degenerate in the future – America can:

1. Reduce or cut the aid it channels to it.

2. Increase drone attacks.

3. With the All-American raid in Abbottabad for Osama, the potentiality of other unilateral strikes and actions inside Pakistan can not be ruled out.

4. Economically assail; The United States has become Pakistan’s largest trading partner (To reward Pakistan for being an ally?) and can reduce this position by closing its markets for Pakistani goods.

5. Expand and apply other pressure tactics.

In case of Option.3 being carried out, one might predict that a decisive decision will be taken by Pakistan which may be a turning-point for the entire relation.

Why may that be, the reasons being that the Pakistani Army and Intelligence came under great censure after the May Raid, losing credibility in the eyes of many. A newspaper editor aptly remarked that what they hadn’t faced in the past 64 years (due to their ‘Holy Cow‘ status‘), the faced after that single raid.

Thus it is derived that they can not afford to come under that fire once again, it would be a great blow to their institution and all that it claims to stand for.

Secondly, the current climate of Anti-Americanism (that has bloated since the country joined the ‘War On Terror’ which many believe is solely ‘America’s war’ and blame for their country’s national, economic and political nosedive that occured after Pakistan’s engagement in the WoT) brimming with bellicosity in the wake of the charges hurled will force those in power in Pakistan to either retaliate or finish all connections with the ‘Great Satan’.

In face of which, USA might impose sanctions on Pakistan.

Coming back, Pakistan’s position presently and the factors that can determine its course of action lest the USA takes an unfavourable step, are excellently described and elucidated by Ex-CIA Officer Bruce Riedel in his new article :

‘Reality is less important than image in this war. The Army leadership also feels it can weather any blowback from Washington. The generals assume U.S. military aid will be cut or eliminated by Congress sooner rather than later, and they are confident that the Saudis and Chinese will fill the gap.

They also know NATO’s logistical supply line to Kabul runs through Karachi (more than half of everything NATO eats, drinks, and shoots arrives via Karachi despite intense efforts to find alternatives). They have leverage and they know it. And of course, they have the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world with a developing tactical nuclear capability. They feel they hold a lot of aces, maybe more than they should. Cocky poker players are dangerous.’

Pakistan has also been extending its hand of friendship to Russia and especially Iran, which has manifestly irked the USA.

The importance of the NATO Supply Route that runs through Pakistan can be gauged from this:

Shifting supply lines elsewhere would substantially increase the cost of the war and make the United States more dependent on authoritarian countries in Central Asia,” reports Craig Whitlock for the Washington Post.

“With landlocked Afghanistan lacking seaports, and hostile Iran blocking access from the west, Pentagon logisticians have limited alternatives.” While Pakistan has not threatened closure, the shift in routes reflects deteriorating US-Pakistani relations: In 2009, about 90 percent of surface cargo passed through Pakistan; about half that has since been diverted through other countries to the north including Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

 Ammunition or weapons are prohibited; shipping by air costs 10 times more than using roads through Pakistan. For the US, the new routes through multiple nations present new complications in logistics, diplomacy and its human rights objectives.

The conclusion is, the relationship between both countries is uncomfortable at its best but hard to wriggle out from, particularly for America due to the necessity and indispensability it (the relation)commands today in view of the leverage Pakistan has that Riedel mentioned and as Admiral Mullen pointed out:

‘A flawed and difficult relationship [with Pakistan] is better than no relationship at all.’

Will USA grant Pakistan a seat at the negotiating table in Kabul so that it is given a share of its stake and influence in Post-war Afghanistan for the purpose of which its Establishment pursues dubious strategies? Will Pakistan go after the Haqqani Network?

Or will some other deal between the two be sought? Only time can tell as relations between the two are wrought taut.

Hafsa Khawaja

Why Aisam Is The Real Winner


So Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi is the name being uttered about by almost every Pakistani these days. Though he has been playing since an early age all on his own without any financial support from the Government or other authorities and has tennis in his genes (having his maternal grandfather, Khawaja Iftikhar was the All-India champion before partition and his mother Nousheen Ihtesham had won the national women title for 10 years and also represented Pakistan in Fed Cup.) – but him becoming the first Pakistani in history to reach any Grand Slam event Final brought him to the light and attention he deserved long ago.

And though he and his partners lost both US Open Mixed Doubles’ Final and Mens’ Double Final to, Aisam turned out to be a hero. After him and his partner Rohan Bopanna were beaten by the Bryan Brother, he delivered a speech which was concise yet was, in short the voice of 180 million Pakistanis:

 

“Every time I come here, I feel there’s a very wrong perception of Pakistan as a terrorist country. I just want to say we are a friendly, caring and peace-loving country and we want peace as much as you all. God bless us all.”

 

 

 

As New York Daily News writes:

“As a Muslim from Pakistan playing in the U.S. Open doubles final, he said New York needed his words the most, as post-9/11 counsel. So the 30-year-old grabbed the microphone and addressed the estimated 15,000 at Arthur Ashe Stadium – probably the biggest crowd to watch a Grand Slam doubles final – and made sure the moment wasn’t lost.

Prize money and rankings were never a motivating factor, Qureshi said, only good news for his flood-stricken countrymen and a platform to express his message of American misunderstanding.

He also defended the decision to build a mosque near the World Trade Center site.

“For me, as a Muslim, that’s what makes America the greatest country in the world – freedom of religion, freedom of speech,” Qureshi said.

“If the mosque is built, I think it’s a huge gesture to all the Muslim community out there in the world. I would really appreciate it.”

Qureshi said he’s been stopped at airport immigration “every time” in New York – three hours at a time – including after his latest flight for the Open. And on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he wanted to defend his country’s masses.

“There are extremists in every religion, but just because of them you cannot judge the whole country as a terrorist nation. I just wanted to get this message across as a Pakistani.”

These simple yet bold words were spoken by him, made the hearts of Pakistanis swell with pride and joy for not only was their true representation done but they were lit up in a time crowded with despondency as the cricket-crazy nation feels ‘betrayed’ with their three top cricketers being embroiled in a shameful spot-fixing scandal and being immersed in floods while trying to fight internal cancers.

Also him, voicing his opinion about the Mosque being built near Ground Zero and his rational reasoning behind why he thinks that way, displays his level of maturity and political awareness.

The message he conveyed was one that hasn’t been given out by many of our so-called leaders and diplomats. He chose the moment to defend his country on American soil with billions, probably, as international audience all over the world. It was a silent declaration of his pure patriotism and love for Pakistan.

Years back in the World Super Junior Championships, he beat Andy Roddick and while Roddick was noticed bythe authorities in his country (despite his defeat) to polish, sponsor and prepare for bigger events , our player was ignored so this event provides us the chance to realize who we should honour and value as national heroes rather than the brazen-faced who lack a conscience when putting a price to their country’s pride.

 Aisam had been playing for ages yet he was never appreciated or encouraged as those in cricket. He made the flag of Pakistan flutter on the courts in a time when we are in an abyss of dim and darkness. He may have not won the matches but he surely won the respect, admiration, support, regardful ness and above all, the hearts and minds of the Pakistani nation.

Pakistan and the world need people like Aisam to bring people together and heal the world with their thoughts of peace.

Aisam, we are proud of you!

Surely you are the winner!

 

– Hafsa Khawaja