Survival of the plural

A singular identity breeds violence — look at the proud tribal Pakhtun and the adaptable, giving Punjabi.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: May 30, 2014 12:09 am
Since the Taliban are Pakhtun, an imitative assumption of “single identity” is implied. Since the Taliban are Pakhtun, an imitative assumption of “single identity” is implied.

An article in a Lahore Urdu monthly, Naya Zamana, of May 2014 by a friendly writer, Ubaidullah Ubaid — using a naming technique of the Taliban when they threaten someone with assassination — has upbraided me for defaming the Pakhtun by calling them violent.

I had quoted Amartya Sen from his book Identity and Violence: the Illusion of Destiny (2006) to stereoty-pe the violent among the people of Pakistan. My ancestors hailed from Kaniguram in South Waziristan, the heartland of the tribal Pakhtun. I don’t know if my forefathers really were Pakhtun or became like them by living among them; but they certainly behaved like them. In Jalundhar, then in Lahore, my elders often complained of the “lack of honour” (baighairati) of the Punjabi man.

In civil service, I believed the Punjabi to be without real identity. He was able to mould into other identities, as if he had several. He was seen as a fellow-traveller with powerful Pakhtun coteries. In college, the Punjabi was not a good brawler. He shrank from violence; as a Pakhtun, I didn’t. I was proud; I found the Punjabi lacking in pride and guts. My friends were mostly Pakhtuns. I sensed charisma in them that I didn’t find in Punjabis.

I proudly proclaimed the Pakhtun were great warriors in history, never defeated, and greatly admired by their enemies for gallantry. Sadly, in the past quarter century, I have seen the proud Pakhtun as a crushed people, their women and children crawling after food in the refugee camps of Pakistan. They were repeatedly made to leave their homes to allow the brave Taliban to defeat the armies of many states. They die of disease, are blown up by IEDs, still looking beautiful. The shameless Punjabi flourishes; the proud Pakhtun is pulverised by violence.

Sen never stereotyped, but he did speak of “single identity” being productive of violence. He thought “multiple identities” within individuals cooled their innate violence. However, stereotyping was done first by Ibn Khaldun, who saw violence in asabiya (group feeling), which is stronger in tribes and weaker in settled populations, but very intense in food-scarce mountains and deserts.

In Muqaddimah, his theorising swings between the asabiya of badawa (nomads) and asabiya-less hazara (city-dwellers). Asabiya is the feeling that binds the family, binds the tribe and, beyond the tribe, binds the state. It also leads to violence towards those seen as “different”. In states, it leads to war with neighbours. Ibn Khaldun thought the Arab nomads called Bedouin had the worst asabiya or hyper-asabiya, as Akbar Ahmed would later write. To survive against asabiya, the freedom to be different must be legally protected.

Violence has been seen in certain “single identity” groups. In Moscow, I saw Russians secretly admire their forefathers, the Cossacks, for being “brave” and “warlike”. Like the British, who admired Pakhtuns, the Russians admired Chechen Muslims who, like Pakhtuns, are a crushed people today.

The Baloch man is different because his single-identity violence is curbed by his submission to the sardar. Pakhtuns accept no sardar. Sindhi has a syncretic or multiple identity because of the cult of the Sufi mystic who prefers wonderment (hairat) to certitude (yaqeen) and passes no judgement and therefore is no warrior.

The Punjabi in history had become “liminal” with Hindus and Sikhs and was tamed by invading hordes. After 1947, he was pushed back into “single identity” by his custodianship of the Pakistan Movement. The state of Pakistan, run by Punjabis with a Punjabi army, is to blame for perpetuating violence among Pakhtuns by using them as cannon-fodder in its foolhardy proxy wars. Conversely, the “warrior” Sikh was mellowed by the Granth Sahib, which is based on extremely syncretic anti-orthodox bhakti. The Bhindranwale episode was a throwback to Mughal times when Sikhs and Pakhtuns fought the same enemy.
The Arabs don’t like Ibn Khaldun, who was a Berber, for calling them violent. Allama Iqbal thought there was glory in the warrior carrying Shamsheer-o-Sanan (sword and javelin) and destroying the soft city-dwelling people who must perish because of civilisation (Taoos-o-Rubab). Today, the “decadent” West has invented drones on the basis of its “creativity”, while the “invincible” but non-creative Pakhtun warrior is helpless on the ground.

Hatred is an individual trait and may be justified. Intolerance is collective hatred and is not justified because it targets victims who have given no cause for it. Culture serves to cause multiple identities to inhabit a single individual. When this happens, it becomes possible for individuals of different identities to mingle in peace.

Religion is opposed to culture because of religion’s tendency to keep purifying itself and excluding elements and communities that cross the boundaries of identity. Islamisation in Pakistan is actually a process of retribalisation; hence, the Punjabi Taliban. Since the Taliban are Pakhtun, an imitative assumption of “single identity” is implied.

Jinnah was for multiple identities within a single Pakistani man. You could be a Muslim, Christian or Hindu, but you were allowed to wear your original identities under the larger identity of Pakistani; and the state had nothing to do with this matter. Sen writes: “The descriptive weakness of choiceless singularity has the effect of momentously impoverishing the power and reach of our social and political reasoning.”

The violence of the Pakhtun was eulogised by the British Raj, most of whose officers were “tribal”, from Scotland and Ireland. But one great leader whom the Pakhtuns ultimately rejected, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, tried to “humanise” their identity. Tragically, it was a Pakhtun gang that dug up his grave in Jalalabad, and not Punjabis who hated him for championing Pakhtunistan.

The Pakhtun men of god, poets and mystics have inspired many generations but most of them were warriors too. Sana Haroon in her book Frontier of Faith: Islam in the Indo-Afghan Borderland (2007) writes that Baitullah Mehsud of Wana convened a big conference of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in Aurakzai Agency near the tomb of warrior saint Haji Turangzai to proclaim that his emirate had come to stay.

Mystic Pir Roshan Bayazid Ansari (1525-1560) united the Pakhtuns against the Mughals and remained true to the reputation of warrior mystics. The equally “warlike” Mujaddadis rejected Pir Roshan’s spiritual innovations, killed him and ended his Roshnai movement. (Former cricket captain Majid Khan’s son, cricketer Bazid Khan, is named after the Pir-e-Roshan.)
Just as I was told by my elders to mock the cowardice of the Punjabi man, the Taliban and their followers in Swat hated the “softness” of the people of Swat. Commerce had given them civilisation and culture, as reflected in the speech by Malala Yousafzai at the UN. She inspired hope around the world, coming from a melting pot of violence unleashed by a Pakhtun warlord, Mullah Fazlullah. Like the desecration of the grave of Bacha Khan, she was nearly killed by a fellow Pakhtun.

From a Pakhtun I have become a multiple-identity “shameless” Punjabi, with a strong bhakti colouration of non-violent Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah and Shah Husain, linking me to Eknath of Maharashtra, among others. I was “shameless” when I touched the foot of a Punjabi “non-state actor” chief of “sacred warriors” and pledged that I would never write critically of him. Being a “soft” Punjabi, he forgave me; Mangal Bagh of Khyber wouldn’t have.

The writer is a consulting editor with ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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  1. I
    IndianWellWisher
    May 30, 2014 at 7:28 pm
    Jinnah, who was far from a normal muslim, sucbed to his political ambitions and the innocent muslims were lured into an impossible idea called stan. The result is unnecessary misery during parion and post parion too for the common man in stan - more than their share for the non-muslims unfortunately.
    Reply
    1. S
      Sadasiva Rao
      May 30, 2014 at 11:53 am
      I agree
      Reply
      1. A
        A S
        May 30, 2014 at 7:29 am
        Hindus by nature have multiple idenies. They pray several Gods all at the same time. And therefore have never been conquerers. They exported their religion to far off places like Indonesia Cambodia etc.
        Reply
        1. A
          avi
          May 31, 2014 at 3:17 am
          Thought provoking,well researched, balanced and well written. Need more sensible guys like him in stan !
          Reply
          1. B
            Babar
            Jun 7, 2014 at 10:22 am
            Long live Khaled Sahab. Please keep enlightening our minds with your valuable writings. There is no parallel to you, neither in the subcontinent nor in the world. You are the best of the bests.Babar for stan
            Reply
            1. C
              Chakra
              May 31, 2014 at 6:35 am
              A very well defined single eny is like a sheet of Gl. It is hard, admirable from distance, can cut easily. Even the fragments of Gl are quite dangerous.The plural ideny is like water. One can strike hard at it - it does not break. It comes back. It takes the shape and color of the surrounding.A monolithic religion or a very dominant culture/ language will destroy the surrounding. It may also cause violence of many types. A society which values pluralism survives. Look at India - with its diversity, it has survived the repeated attack of Islam. Only country left in the Crescent Islam rules from Morocco to Indonesia.
              Reply
              1. D
                DA
                May 30, 2014 at 5:41 am
                Amazing candour, but the analysis seems to arrive at somewhat far-fetched conclusions. Ideny can be a potent tool to mobilise for violence, but to see it as primary root cause for violence seems a bit too much.And let's not forget - it was Punjabis that wreaked havoc on Bengalis, not the Pakhtuns.
                Reply
                1. E
                  Eswar
                  May 31, 2014 at 3:54 am
                  This is the first article have read of this author. I will read every one he writes from now on. He is a truly original thinker.
                  Reply
                  1. G
                    Girish
                    May 30, 2014 at 7:43 am
                    quite racist actually, generalistically bing people in ortments.
                    Reply
                    1. G
                      George Cheriyan
                      May 30, 2014 at 11:11 am
                      this guy is great.
                      Reply
                      1. G
                        Ghulam Muhammed
                        May 30, 2014 at 3:10 pm
                        If Hinduism is not a religion, then according to Khalid Ahmed Hindu culture or Hinduvta has to be against religion, be that Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism.
                        Reply
                        1. G
                          Ghulam Muhammed
                          May 30, 2014 at 3:07 pm
                          Wonder how will Khalid Ahmed analyse the plurality of Indian people and how he will place Punjabis in Indian context as compared to how are they placed against Pakhtuns in stan.
                          Reply
                          1. K
                            Krate m
                            May 30, 2014 at 2:07 pm
                            The article is pure bull. It completely glosses over the pakjabi and british meddling of their culture. The british made it militarised by repeive attacks, The pakhtun are where they are because british gave them guns and the pakjabis tainted their pakhtunwali culture with heroin and drugs culture so that they can control them. They were not this violent and definitely not this intolerant, they had a far better appreciation of art and music than the pakjabis. A case in point is the survival of the Sikhs and Hindus in Peshawar which till recently was peaceful untill the talibanization of their culture.
                            Reply
                            1. M
                              mukesh kale
                              May 30, 2014 at 1:08 pm
                              Good except comment on Allama Iqbal.The warrior clans have to be uncompromising , nothing uncivilized in that or all the wars were civilized ?I do not see racism in this - plurality is unavoidable and what's wrong in blowing your own trumpet ?
                              Reply
                              1. F
                                Freddy
                                May 30, 2014 at 3:47 am
                                I admire this jurno. His analysis is very clinical, precise. A rare breed among stan thinkers.
                                Reply
                                1. P
                                  PS
                                  May 30, 2014 at 9:49 am
                                  What a truly appalling piece of writing,self-pitying,self-eulogising with a clearly racist undertone.The day the stani Punjabi realises that the Pakhtun is the cancer that has destro Punjab,stan and Punjab will have peace.The Pakhtun,however long he may live among the civilised cannot,and will not,be civilised.
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    raj
                                    May 31, 2014 at 2:06 am
                                    Excellent english. Far far betterbthan indian newspapers.
                                    Reply
                                    1. R
                                      Rajendra Prasad Avvaru
                                      May 31, 2014 at 2:07 pm
                                      One of the best articles that I have ever read in the recent times. Little wonder that Mr.Khaled Ahmed is considered as one of the best writers of our times from the sub-continent.
                                      Reply
                                      1. A
                                        anonymous
                                        May 31, 2014 at 11:56 am
                                        Hinduism itself is plural. The problem is that all other religions do not boast the same pluralism. the pluralism of hinduism is visible in its cosmological views, its acceptance of unlimited ways to reach god. its the most complicated religion for all the others because it is so vast and subsumes every human ism. It was Ram Krishna Paramhans who being a Hindu said 'All religions are true'. Is there a single man in all other religions of this world who could speak like this. Hinduism will never be a danger to pluralism..........
                                        Reply
                                        1. R
                                          Rajiv
                                          May 30, 2014 at 8:44 am
                                          Good article indicating why stan is the way it is today. Indeed one can attribute the pluralism in India to the inherent differences in the food, language, culture and way of life. As the Honourable Supreme Court points out, Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life. This includes several sects, traditions, atheism, monotheism, polytheism, all those have moulded our minds to accepting those "different" than ourselves.
                                          Reply
                                          1. P
                                            Punjabi
                                            Jun 1, 2014 at 2:29 am
                                            Completely misunderstands Sen. Primordial view of ethnicity at its worst. What has Pashtuns displaced by military operations got to do with their violent ethnic ideny? Are all Pashtuns tribal. After reading this article, I am wondering if Indian Express has any editorial quality control.
                                            Reply
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