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Sunday, December 19, 1999
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Passage to Pakistan

Pakistan today presents a picture of prosperity and neglect, battered human emotions, conflicting cultural bonds, sectarian upsurge and scattered western influence,
Amardeep Bhattal

INDO-PAK relations witnessed a dramatic turnround in the spring of 1999. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s famous bus ride to Lahore was seen as a turning point in the history of the two nations. Visa relaxations, mutual exchanges and other sporting gestures were all pointers in this direction. Healthy contests in the arena of sports helped further cement the ties.

The old Panjab University building at LahoreHowever, the gains of the Lahore Declaration were put on hold by the Kargil conflict. As casualties mounted, the hate campaign was back and social ties were snapped. Now, after the army coup, Pakistan faces another spell of internal strife and uncertainty.

Ever since Partition, mutual distrust between successive governments hampered free flow of information. But one thing which was becoming increasingly clear over the years was that the younger generation was showing greater understanding of the problems, brushing aside bitter memories. Ustaad Daman’s couplet on the 1947 holocaust Akhiyan Di Lali Dasdi Hai, Roye Tusin Vi Si, Roye Asin Vi . . . rang in the ears of the new generation. Human suffering, after all, had been the same on either side, hadn’t it?

Pakistan today presents a picture of prosperity and neglect, battered human emotions, conflicting cultural bonds, sectarian upsurge and scattered western influence. The rich-poor gap seems to have widened, the trauma of Partition lingers; and sectarian violence in certain pockets has made life difficult.

Though strictly an Islamic state, Pakistan does have a lot in common with India. This is especially true in respect of the two Punjabs — West and East — which suffered the most during Partition. The country has a large number of religious converts as the Partition not only forced migration of population on religious grounds but also led to division of families. While some members of joint families preferred not to shift, other members of same households opted to cross over into Jinnah’s land.

Meet Liaqat Ali, a prosperous businessman of Lahore, who was actually born in a Sikh household in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. His grandfather was Budha Singh. At the time of Partition, he shifted his family to Lahore and assumed the new name of Budha Khan. His son became Mian Mohammed Sadiq, who was Liaqat Ali’s father.

It was a chance meeting outside the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore that brought us face to face. Having noticed a stockily-built man in Pathani suit waving at me, I stopped to inquire. Carrying a mobile phone, he covered the short distance at brisk pace to inquire where I was from. On being told that I was from India’s Punjab, a small sigh brought to the fore a peculiar feeling of sadness. "I too was born in a Sikh household, but now I am a devout Muslim. My name is Liaqat Ali," he said politely.

The Lahore Central Museum, preserves a rich collection of Gadharan sculpturesMy father-in-law’s father, Mr Anant Ram, was a Hindu who also served as a tehsildar in Lahore, he further explained. After enquiring about the purpose of my visit and getting to know that I was a journalist, he became more friendly. He informed me about his flourishing business, about his sons Mohammed Ali and Mohammed Omar who were students and about his residence in Gulshan Iqbal. Allah has been very kind. He has given me everything and we enjoy all comforts of life, but . . . "He heaved another sigh before continuing," my earnest desire is to visit my ancestral village in Gurdaspur and meet my kin, who, I believe, are Sikhs. My grandfather’s brothers and their families are still there. It is this feeling of separation which haunts me at times," Liaqat said while switching on his cell phone to inform his family about his delayed arrival. He then accompanied me to my hotel, stopping on the way at the historic Gurdwara Dera Sahib, the place where the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, was martyred.

Liaqat made it a point to accompany me inside the holy shrine with his head covered. Together with a sewadar who appeared to be a Peshawari Sikh, we also went to Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s samadhi located within the same complex. While returning, Liaqat ushered me into a wayside restaurant where he treated me to a Lahori dish, a speciality of the region.

Being a guest in Lahore is indeed a privilege. The historic city’s zindadili and mehman nawazi have to be experienced to be believed. Every strata of society, from the petty shopkeeper to the top bureaucrat is willing to accommodate you, especially if you are from Punjab. Tusin sade mehman ho. . is the most commonly used expression. Many a shopkeeper will not bargain; he will accept whatever is offered. There are others who are willing not to charge anything. At times even fellow customers budge in to remind them of the age-old tradition of honouring guests.

A day prior to my departure, I ventured out in search of the building which housed the office of The Tribune before Partition. The hotel receptionist had informed me about its location near Mayo Hospital. The driver who took me there was in fact an embodiment of Lahore’s zinda dili. Lame in one leg with the bitter struggle for existence showing upon his health, the illiterate Muneer Ahmed made brief stops to show me places of historical importance. On the way, he burst into lively Punjabi folk songs sung by Indian artistes like Hoya ki je kuri en toon Dilli shahar di, main vi Jatt Ludhiane da. . . " Making money, it seemed, was not the only concern of Ahmed.

Cultural bonds between East and West Punjab have withstood the test of times. The dholis and nagoza players across the border are the same as those in the Indian Punjab. People still take pride in singing the ageold bolis or folk songs. The language spoken is also the same except for minor variations. People belonging to the older generation have fond memories of their hearths and homes which they left behind in East Punjab. I remember having met Maula Baksh, a tall, stout-looking man in his late sixties, sitting behind the driving wheel of a Pepsi delivery van. Seeing me standing on the road in Liberty Market, he offered to drop me at the PIA office which I planned to visit. Sitting alongside was his boss to whom I was introduced before Maula Baksh started telling me about his short stint in West Asia as a driver with a multinational firm where he enjoyed the company of a few Punjabi colleagues from India. Later Maula Baksh was overwhelmed with joy on knowing that I belonged to the area where he had actually spent his childhood. Turning to his boss, he fondly recollected his visits to the ‘Roshni’fair at Jagraon in Ludhiana district with his parents before Partition. Overtaken by nostalgic feelings he broke into the traditional boliAari, Aari, Pind Jagrawan De Vich Lagdi Roshni Bhari, Bailiyan Da Katth Ho Gaya. . Despite his old age, Maula possessed a youthful spirit which his boss seemed to appreciate.

The building which housed the office of The Tribune before PartitionLike the older generation, which actually underwent the trauma in 1947, the youngsters are also aware of their roots in India. Social get-togethers provide them an opportunity to discuss about their ancestral homes and all that their ancestors left behind in India. A group of youngsters, who were mostly related to each other, met me at Imran Khan’s shopping plaza, Pace, and enquired about my home district. On learning that I was from Ludhiana, they were thrilled and informed me that their ancestral village was Barundi and expressed a keen desire to visit the village of their forefathers. Another young boy, Majid Khan, who sat through with me at the Lahore International Airport to give me company, was eager to know more about Jalandhar and the locality where his father lived. Mohammed Afzal, owner of a jewellery showroom in the posh Gulberg area of Lahore, who was born in Batala, fondly remembered the days when young boys would assemble for wrestling bouts in his village.

Due to strong cultural bonds and a common language, Indian films and music cassettes are in great demand in Lahore and elsewhere. Although Pakistani Punjabi pop star Abrar-ul-Haque, whose cassettes Majajani and Billo have been great hits, is very popular, yet Indian pop star Daler Mehdi is not far behind on the popularity chart. In fact a group of youngsters who accosted me near Qaddaffi Stadium urged me to convey their salaam to Daler whom they held in great esteem. Daler’s cassettes were played in different music shops to attract customers.

Although the Islamic republic of Pakistan became an independent state on August 14, 1947, the pace of industrialisation has remained rather sluggish. At the time of its birth Pakistan had very little industry. The light industry, including manufacture of sports goods, was confined to Lahore and Punjab while Montgomery and Lyallpur had some cotton-processing units.

Light engineering, port and steel industry was confined to Karachi. But on the whole, the industrial economy was largely dependent on processing of agricultural products.

Ever since the Pakistan Industrial Development Board made capital available for investment, industrial activity has gained momentum. Encouragement of private enterprise by successive governments provided a further boost and today over 500, 000 workers are dependent on the manufacturing industry. The port city of Karachi dominates industrial activity in the south, with Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan being secondary centres. Nearly 40 per cent of jobs available are in the textile industry. The integrated steel mill at Pipri adds to Sind’s industrial importance.

Multinational investment in the fertiliser industry started in the sixties mainly from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. There are several big plants at Mianwali, Faisalabad, Multan and Sukkur. The national oil refinery at Karachi has a capacity of 5m tonne. Natural gas is by far the most important resource which not only meets growing energy needs but also provides raw material for the fertiliser industry.

Agriculture still plays a dominant role in Pakistan’s economy. Wheat accounts for more than half the 12 million ha of cultivated land. It is the staple crop, vital to a diet based on chappatis, naans and paranthas. Rice, particularly the basmati brand, is increasingly becoming an earner of foreign exchange. Pakistani cuisine has much in common with north Indian food. Kababs, koftas, tikkas, dals, and desserts like khir, kulfi and firni besides halwas and barfi are all familiar stuff. Boondu Khan, the famous eating joint in the posh Liberty area of Lahore serves all such delicacies steaming hot in traditional style although the city’s elite prefer to visit the MacDonald’s or Kentucky outlets.

Lahore as well as other major cities boast of some of the most modern shopping plazas. One particular plaza in Lahore is Imran Khan’s Pace where one can buy virtually anything under one roof. Fitted with elevators and all modern gadgets, Pace resembles any plaza of the west.

Lahore also has several places of historical importance, including the Badshahi Mosque built by Aurangzeb, the Lahore Fort where Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was feted, Gurdwara Dera Sahib adjoining the fort where Guru Arjan Dev was martyred, the Minar-e-Pakistan, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s samadhi, the Anarkali Bazar with its fascinating alleyways, the Lahore Central Museum with its rich collection of Gandharan sculptures, and the Shalimar Gardens.

In front of the Lahore Central Museum on The Mall, now known as the Shahrah-e-Qaid-e-Azam, stands the majestic Kim’s Canyon, popularly known as ‘Bhangiyan wali top’ which incidentally became a symbol of the Sikh Empire after Maharaja Ranjit Singh obtained it in 1802.

The gun was originally made in Kabul in 1757 AD and it was used by Ahmed Shah Abdali in the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761. Cast out of brass and copper, the gun was badly damaged in Multan before it was finally brought to Lahore where Rudyard Kipling , who lived and worked in the city, made it famous in his book Kim. It was after the Anglo-Sikh battle in Firuzshah in 1845 that the gun came into the possession of the British. When the Duke of Edinburgh visited Lahore in 1870, the gun was placed opposite the gate of the museum where it has remained ever since.

Lahore also preserves many landmarks of the pre-Partition era. Among these are Government College, Panjab University, and the King Edward Medical College. Government College, Lahore, with its Gothic structure at a raised level is easily the most important landmark. The only notable change on the campus after Partition has been the construction of a mosque near the old cycle stand. The old Panjab University campus with its arches and tall palm trees is also an attraction for visitors. The King Edward Medical College close to Anarkali Bazar still retains some of the old names like Patiala Block.

A number of old structures still exist on Nisbet Road. These include the Dyal Singh Library which incidentally happens to be the most important surviving landmark. A little further down is the old building which once housed the office of The Tribune near Mayo Hospital. A property of the National Press Trust, the building is now in disuse after having housed the office of the Pakistan Times after Partition.

Pakistan’s population, at present, is roughly 118 million and an overwhelming 97 per cent of the people are Muslims. The minorities, including Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus are only a small fraction. While the Christian community is scattered all over , the small Sikh population is largely concentrated in the North West Frontier Province, especially in its capital Peshawar, where a Khalsa school at Gurdwara Joga Singh has been successfully running for decades. The Peshawari Sikhs can also be seen at various Sikh shrines in Pakistan like Gurdwara Panja Sahib or Gurdwara Dera Sahib, where as employees of the Wakf Board, they are deployed as sewadars. A few Hindus are also employees of the Wakf Board. In Panja Sahib at Hasan Abdal, while two sewadars — Harinder Singh and Partap Singh are Sikhs, the third , Gopi Chand , is a Hindu. The head priest is Bhai Inder Singh.

Marrying foreigners is a modern trend in Pakistan. While some prefer matrimonial alliances with Europeans to enhance business interests, for others it is simply a matter of the heart. For instance, Tanvir Ahmed, who owns a flourishing business in Lahore, is married to a German and the couple frequently shuttles between Lahore and Stuttgart in connection with their business.

Similarly, at Rawalpindi, I met a Belgian citizen who had married a Pakistani girl.

Successive Pakistan rulers have left behind important landmarks which attract worldwide attention. While the late General Zia-ul-Haq is credited with having got the Shah Faisal Mosque constructed at Islamabad during his reign with active assistance from the Saudi Arabian King, Shah Faisal, deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif got the famous Rawalpindi-Lahore motorway completed with assistance from Daewoo.

The Shah Faisal Mosque is an architectural wonder. With the terraced garden of Daman-e-Koh on the Margalla Hills forming the backdrop, the white mosque designed by a Turkish is one of the largest in the world. It can accommodate 100, 000 worshippers at one time. The main prayer hall is a tent-like structure with eight faces rising to 40 metres. There is no pillar to support the ceiling and the complete structure was lifted by cranes and placed at the present site. The minarets, which are 88 metres in height, resemble rockets. At night when the lights within are switched on , the minarets present a unique spectacle. Behind the mosque is a grove of pine trees which add to the serenity of the surroundings. The Islamic Research Centre, a library, restaurant, museum, Press Centre, and lecture hall are part of the sprawling complex.

Being a city of bureaucrats, Islamabad is well maintained. The roads are smooth and clean and the markets attractive. Some of the shops with brilliantly illuminated neon signboards remain open till midnight. The adjoining city of Rawalpindi being a cantonment also presents a neat look. The vast expanse of greenery at the Ayub Park, which incidentally is the largest park in Pakistan, attracts people from far. Among other important landmarks are the Rawalpindi Polo Club and St. Paul’s Church on The Mall.

The Rawalpindi-Lahore motorway is the brainchild of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Built by the Korean firm Daewoo, in collaboration with the Pakistan Highway Authority at an estimated cost of Rs 390 billion, the motorway is the pride of the nation. It was thrown open to traffic last year. The motorway is double tracked for up and down traffic and each track comprises three lanes. The entire stretch of 365 k. m. is fenced on either side to keep away wild animals and cattle. The speed limit being 100 km per hour, vehicle owners prefer this route although the distance via the national highway is only 285 km. Stopping on the motorway is prohibited, except in emergencies. Jumping the fence is also punishable but to facilitate movement of villagers from one side to the other, overhead bridges have been constructed at regular intervals.

Work on the motorway had come to a standstill during Benazir Bhutto’s reign. Nawaz Sharif, who got the project completed, had also chalked out plans for more such motorways but with his ouster, the schemes may remain in limbo.

Although Pakistan has a total area of 796, 000 sq km, only 30 per cent of the population lives in urban areas. It is this segment which has reaped the benefits of development. As such the urban-rural gap has widened. While imported cars like Toyotas are a common sight in posh urban localities, the average farmer still plies the bullock-cart on dusty village paths, although the more affluent also possess tractors. In certain areas like the arid hills of the west , the traditional karez system of irrigation is still in vogue.

The lopsided development, together with related issues like corruption have always remained dominant factors in Pakistan’s politics. Successive regimes have been unable to gain firm control as discontentment keeps simmering in different regions. Be it Benazir or Sharif, none of the former duly-elected rulers could claim to have provided fair governance to the satisfaction of all provinces. Charges of corruption against government servants, money-laundering by high-ranking politicians and misutilisation of funds played a major role in erosion of public trust in successive regimes. Hence the low key reaction within to Nawaz Sharif’s ouster came as no surprise. Back

This feature was published on November 14, 1999

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