Wednesday, January 1, 2020

What this blog is about

(Jan 12, 2011): Adding matters of Indian and Pakistani history to this blog.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Observing the Pakistani Urdu Press

The Naphtha plug-in for Google Chrome, and Google Translate work well, if one uses Urdu-to-Hindi instead of Urdu-to-English.

Example:
http://dailypakistan.com.pk/blog/29-Oct-2014/157752

देश में जारी धरनों पर बहस अभी कुछ सिमटी ही थी कि सिंध विधानसभा का सत्र बुलाने हो गया और पीपुल्स पार्टी की राज्य सरकार से एक बारफर 'जुदाई' विकल्प वाली संयुक्त राष्ट्रीय मूवमेंट ने सिंध के मुख्यमंत्री साईं स्थापित अली शाह को ताना दे मारा कि वे शहरी क्षेत्रों क्या रखेंगे उन्होंने तो इंटीरियर सिंध क्षेत्रों की सार्वजनिक भी अकाल के हाथों मरने के लिए रख छोड़ा है. यह बयान साईं दिल पर भारी गुजरा और उन्होंने जोश ख्ाबत में रूठ हुई एम क्यू एम को जवाब भी दे डाला.

सिंध विधानसभा की नई नवेली इमारत में विशेष तैयार सोफे पर विराजमान सैयद कायम अली शाह का कहना था कि सीमापार के क्षेत्र में होने वाली हाल मौतें 'अकाल' के कारण नहीं बल्कि गरीबी की वजह से हुई. अब साईं क्या जानें कि 'गरीबी' क्या बला है जो बच्चों को नगलती जा रही है और साईं इस पर कुछ भी नहीं पा रहे.

खैर इसी दौरान शाह साहब का कहना था कि सीमापार में अस्पतालों में दी जाने वाली सुविधाएं किसी भी कराची के अस्पतालों से कम नहीं हैं और केवल मुट्ठी शहर अस्पताल ही कराची सिविल हसपता लिमिटेड का मुकाबला कर सकता है लेकिन साईं को शायद यह मालूम ही नहीं है कि उनकी अपनी सरकार की जारी रिपोर्ट के अनुसार ही सीमापार के क्षेत्र में अप्रैल माह के बाद होने वाली 250 से अधिक मौतों में सबसे 175 से अधिक मौतें तो उसी अस्पताल में हुई हैं जहां न तो उनके बच्चों को देखने के लिए कोई डॉक्टर उपलब्ध था और न ही कोई उन्हें भोजन प्रदान करने वाला था. मगर साईं कहते हैं कि यह बच्चे कुपोषण 'से नहीं बल्कि' गरीबी 'से ही मरे हैं. और साईं तो साईं, साईं की नौकरशाही भी साईं के बराबर है, जो दिन मुट्ठी इसी अस्पताल में महीने अक्टूबर में 23 वां बच्चा मारे हुआ तो डीसी और मुट्ठी आसिफ जमील सिविल अस्पताल पहुंचे तो उनका कहना था कि 'यह कोई बड़ी बात नहीं. तब तो शायद बाबू साहब की बात को जाने दिया गया होता मगर साईं ने भी विधानसभा में खड़े होकर उन साहब की बात पर मुहर पुष्टि लगाते की तो मालूम हुआ कि यह वास्तव कोई बड़ी बात नहीं.

इस बात के बावजूद कि थार में मौत किस कारण हुई हैं, इस क्षेत्र में हत्याएं होना वास्तव कोई बड़ी बात नहीं है, अभी पिछले साल भी तो सैकड़ों बच्चे मारे गए थे और पीपुल्स पार्टी के वारिस श्री बिलावल भुट्टो जरदारी वहां से कुछ किलोमीटर की दूरी पर मवहनजूदोड़ो में 'सिंध महोत्सव' मनाने में व्यस्त थे. फैशन शो के रंगारंग समारोह और सिंधी ाजरक और सिंधी संस्कृति 'मशहूर' में बिलावल इतना व्यस्त थे कि उन्हें हटाइये समापन 'मवहनजू दोड़ो'में मारे गए बच्चों की मौत पर एक' ट्वीट 'भी करने का मौका न मिला, और वैसे भी तो यह कोई बड़ी बात नहीं थी, मौत तो अटल सत्य है और आज तक टाल ही कौन पाया है? लेकिन अब इन बच्चों की मौत का मातम खत्म भी नहीं हुआ था कि तत्कालीन राष्ट्रपति, बिलावल के पिता लिखे पीपुल्स पार्टी आत्मा रवांआसफ जरदारी नवनिर्वाचित प्रधानमंत्री मियां मोहम्मद शरीफ के साथ 'थार कोल परियोजना का उद्घाटन करने पहुंच गए.माहरीन का कहना है कि इस परियोजना के पूरा होने पर थार में कोयले से इतनी बिजली पैदा हो सकेगी कि पूरे पाकिस्तान में लोडशीडिंग खत्म हो जाएगी लेकिन जब आसिफ जरदारी और नवाज शरीफ थार के कोयले से बिजली बनाने पहुंचे तो उन्हें थर लोगों से मिलने या उनके मारे बच्चों पर अफसोस करने की फुर्सत नहीं मिली क्योंकि थर बच्चों का मरना कोई बड़ी बात नहीं. वैसे गुज़रे ज़माने में एक कहानी 'सोई' क्षेत्र से भी जिम्मेदार है जिसने पूरे देश को प्राकृतिक गैस प्रदान की और कुछ साल पहले तक वहां के निवासी ही इस गैस का उपयोग करने से वंचित थे, इसलिए कहा जा सकता है कि थार की 'गरीबी' भी यो रहेगी और हर साल यह 'गरीबी जिन' अपने बच्चों के जीवन सभी करता रहेगा.

सैयद कायम अली शाह शायद थरपारकर गरीबी पर बात करते हुए यह भूल गए थे कि पीपुल्स पार्टी दशकों से सिंध प्रांत में सत्तारूढ़ है और उनकी सरकार की मौजूदगी में ही थार में कनोउं की अल्प संख्या में पानी की किल्लत भी बढ़ हो चुका है और जब सिंध सरकार ने पीड़ितों को पानी भेजा भी तो 'अधिक ालसमझयाद. सरकारी गेहूं सरकारी गोदामों में पड़ी खराब हो गई लेकिन न तो साईं को और न ही साईं प्रशासन को थरपारकर के बेबस बच्चों की हालत पर तरस आया और जब साईं ने उदारता से गेहूं वितरण की घोषणा भी तो उन्होंने कहा कि 'पूरे 150 किलो गेहूं हर परिवार को प्रदान की जाएगी लेकिन इस गेहूं की आधी कीमत जनता को ही भुगतान करना होगा और फिर यह गेहूं तीन महीनों की किस्तों में उपलब्ध होगी. स्वास्थ्य विभाग की ओर से जब पीड़ित बच्चों के इलाज के लिए 'आवारा एस' (पेट की बीमारी के लिए दिया जाने वाला नमकोल) थरपाकर पहुंचाया तो यह भी अधिक ालसमझयाद था.ाोर जब भगवान खुद कर के मुख्यमंत्री कायम अली शाह थर पहुंचे भी तो नींद के मजे लेते रहे और प्रस्थान के समय एक बार फिर उन्होंने नदी दिल्ली का प्रदर्शन कर ही दिया और पूरे एक हजार रुपये के नोट थर पीड़ितों में से एक महिला के हाथ में थमा कर हातिम ताई की कब्र पर लात ही मार डाला. मगर इन सभी तथ्यों के बावजूद साईं स्थापित अली शाह ज़िद हैं कि यह मौत गरीबी ही कारण हुई हैं, वैसे शेष सिंध दुर्दशा भी सीमापार से कुछ बहुत अलग नहीं है और हर जगह गरीबी डेरे हैं.

दूसरी ओर पाकिस्तान पीपुल्स पार्टी के नेतृत्व में अध्यक्ष बिलावल भुट्टो जरदारी को देखा जाए तो सिंध धरती से संबंधित एक नारा उन्हें शायद कुछ ज्यादा ही भा गया है, यही कारण है कि वह सुबह और शाम 'मरसों मरसों सिंध न डेसों का ोरद क्या देखने और सिंध के विभाजन को धरती मां वितरण करार देते हैं. मगर उन्हें शायद यह पता नहीं है कि सिंध धरती के अस्तित्व वहाँ अत्यंत अस्तित्व में है और महज नारे लगाने और सामंती अंदाज में अपनी 'जागीर' एक ही हाथ में रखने से सिंध हरगिज़ बाकी नहीं बचेगा बल्कि उन्हें अपने कीमती समय से थोड़ा समय निकालकर थरपारकर जाना होगा (भले दुनिया भर के मीडिया को अपने साथ क्यों नहीं ले चलें) और 'साईं' बताना होगा कि सीमापार में मरने वाले बच्चों की मौत का कारण दरअसल वहां के लोगों गरीबी नहीं बल्कि उनकी सरकार की 'गरीबी' है. वैसे भी बिलावल आजकल राजनीति में बड़ा नाम पाने के लिए कश्मीर के महत्वपूर्ण मुद्दे पर भी फ्रंट फुट पर खेल रहे हैं और हरसाज्ी विरोधी भी लताड़ ही रहे हैं तो क्यों न थर पीड़ितों को गले लगाने की भी कोशिश कर ली जाए. और शायद जो कराची में मंदिर नेता न हो सका वह सीमापार की रेत पर कदम रखने से संभव हो.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

NFP on the 1946 elections

Nadeem Paracha has an article on the 1946 elections in Punjab in the Dawn. 
He writes, for instance:
To guarantee another AIML thrashing in the Punjab, the Congress Party’s ace strategist, Sardar Patel, and the party’s leading Muslim leader, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, immediately went about constructing an airtight anti-AIML scenario.
The sad truth is that, if we go by Sardar Patel's letters, he was at odds with Maulana Azad, who set the Punjab strategy;  but Patel deferred to Azad.

I'm quoting below excerpts from a few letters from "The Collected Works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel", Volume X, edited by P.N. Chopra.

On December 21, 1945, Sardar Patel wrote to Pandit Gobind Ballabh Pant, beginning "My Dear Pantji, I feel strongly that we have bungled in the Punjab and I am afraid if we continue to act in the same way in the matter of selection of candidates, we will suffer much."

Later in the letter, Sardar Patel wrote,  "There is another thing which irritates me and pains me also.  On the last day {of the Congress Working Committee meeting in Calcutta, Dec 7 - 11, 1945} I went to see Maulana and he told me that the help to be given to the Ahrars should be doubled...."

On the same day, Sardar Patel wrote to Maulana Azad, about sending him money,  "...but I am afraid we are wasting good money for nothing and the Congress reputation will in the end suffer badly.  I am enclosing herewith a Press cutting from which you will see what type of candidates are put by the Ahrar Party in the Punjab for whom they want our help.   From this cutting you will see that immediately the League candidates' nominations are declared invalid, the Ahrar candidates, who remained on the scene and whose nominations were declared valid, joined the Muslim League.  It is very sad that such candidates are chosen to oppose the League.   In any case it is very unwise that we should be mixed up with such a shady transaction.   I would still request you to reconsider the situation and withhold the help......"

Sardar Patel continued: "I am afraid we have mishandled the whole Punjab situation.  We have to fight the Akalis as there has been no settlement as was expected and we will not get more than 5 or 6 seats after a good deal of expense which could be easily avoided.   Please excuse me for bringing these facts to your notice but I have done so as I have been considerably oppressed by a feeling of failure in duty at a critical juncture in one of the most important provinces in these elections.   I do not wish to blame anybody but I do feel that if we continue to handle affairs in the same fashion, we will suffer a serious defeat in spite of such huge expenditure and good deal of time and energy being spent after it."

After the elections, in a letter dated March 6, 1946, Sardar Patel wrote to Maulana Azad regarding the decisions of the Congress Central Election Board: "You are certainly entitled to claim a generous attitude from us and I have done my best to do so, but you must also make allowance for an honest difference of opinion.  You cannot insist that your opinion is the only correct one.   In the Punjab we honestly held different opinions but you have never recognised that there is scope for such a difference of opinion in that matter and you have missed no opportunity to remind us about it."

".....In the Punjab I have differed strongly from you in the matter of the election campaign on many points, including the question of financial help to be given to the Congress Party.   I was expected to help them only in the matter of Muslim constituencies.  In this they have lost all (along) the line and I knew they were going to lose.  They insisted on financial help being given for non-Muslim constituencies and tried to put pressure on me through you.   I have agreed without hesitation to whatever you suggested in this connection.  They have avoided all responsibility but as you were all working against heavy odds, I thought it my duty to accept your suggestions without question.  In the matter of selection of candidates in the Punjab also we had differences but we have endorsed everything that you have done without the slightest hesitation."

Sardar Patel mentions a number of issues, and concludes "Perhaps it may be that your approach to these questions is different from mine and therefore it is difficult for me to understand or appreciate it.   It would therefore be better to relieve me from this embarrassing position altogether, as early as possible." 

--------
My comments:
1. As to what really made Pakistan, it was really the events in Punjab of February-March 1947.

2. Congress is bashed for supporting the Ahrars, but it apparently is perfectly fine when the Ahrar candidates defected to the Muslim League.  I suppose suddenly they changed their colors.  Anyway, Sardar Patel is on the record as not wanting them.

PS: NFP concludes his article:
The results greatly accelerated the party’s demand for a separate Muslim nation-state, and after winning the provincial election in another Muslim-majority region, the NWFP (in early/mid-1947), the party finally managed to carve out Pakistan from the rest of India (August 1947).
The stuff about the NWFP is simply wrong.  The Congress under Dr. Khan Sahib won the 1946 elections, and there were no further elections in the NWFP till 1951.   The Khan ministry in the NWFP was dismissed by the Governor General Jinnah in September 1947.

PPPS: On twitter, @Mazdaki points out it that NFP probably means the referendum on the future of NWFP held July 6, 1947; not a provincial election.

PPS: Sho Kuwajima in his "Muslims, Nationalism and the Partition: 1946 Provincial Elections in India" notes:

"As noted earlier, Mian Iftikhar-ud-din left the Congress in September 1945. {Elsewhere Kuwajima notes that "When Mian Iftikhar-ud-din joined the Muslim League, Nehru wrote, "Iftikhar, middle-hearted man that he is, thinks he can reform the Muslim League from within-- a foolish idea, but he is foolish enough to do anything."  It is true that in his election campaign and in the post-independent history of Pakistan, Iftikhar-ud-din fought his isolated struggle for reform of the political system.   He was one of the few League leaders who warned against military-cum-bureaucratic rule in Pakistan.  The Viewpoint made its comment,  'if the art of politics lies in the ability to predict the course of events, then Mian Iftikhar-ud-din was a politician without peer in the land."}  It came as a big blow to the Punjab Congress, and particularly to the pro-Nehru faction to which Iftikhar-ud-din had belonged. Even before Iftikhar-ud-din left the Congress, it was ridden with factionalism, and Nehru and Patel were of the same view that it was in a deplorable condition".

"Already in the beginning of September 1945, Nehru wrote to Partap Singh Kairon (Chief Minister of the Punjab 1956-64), Secretary of the Punjab Congress, saying that if the public thought the Congressmen were split up into different parties, quarreling among themselves, their enthusiasm for the Congress would wane.   Nehru admitted that the Punjab Congress had been in the past a somewhat narrow organization without sufficient representation of important elements, especially rural."

"Amidst the election campaign in the Punjab, Patel regretted that the Punjab Congress had been divided into groups and factions of a very bitter type and hardly two men trusted each other.  Patel was distressed to find that even good Congressmen were not united in the Punjab.  He asked 'Can nothing be done to make Congress workers realize their sense of responsibility at this critical period?""

"In such a situation there was a serious rift between Azad and Patel.  They had different approaches to the election campaign and nominations of candidates.  Azad took a soft attitude towards the Ahrars and other Nationalist Muslims, while Patel thought that the Congress should send its candidates on the Congress tickets, not as Nationalist Muslims,  and did not lay his hope on the Ahrars who had some influence in the Punjab.  Relations between the two leaders were not smooth in their approach to the Akalis either....."

".....It can be said that this rift was basically caused by the absence of a mass Congress base in the Punjab, particularly in its rural areas.  The Congress had to find its allies among the Nationalist Muslims or the Akalis, to contain the Muslim League and the Communists."





Saturday, March 22, 2014

Glimpses of Sindh

Nadeem F. Paracha, in Dawn.

However, after some Hindu places of worship were attacked in Karachi in 1948, Hindu Sindhis began to leave in droves.

This is when Sindhi intellectuals and political thinkers like Ibrahim Joyo and GM Syed began to mould Sindh’s pluralistic history into a meta-narrative of Sindhi identity because to them the departing Hindus were first Sindhis, then Hindus and their departure would weaken Sindh’s demography and economy.

After the creation of Pakistan (and then death of its founder, Jinnah), the Pakistani state began in earnest its long-drawn project to cut through the country’s ethnic complexities by convoluting and imposing a monolithic meta-narrative of faith and Pakistani nationhood.

This attracted the scorn of the country’s various non-Punjabi ethnicities that dismissed and rejected the state’s idea of nationhood and Islam that they believed contradicted the notions of nationhood and faith enshrined in the historical DNA of their respective ethnicities.

Between 1958 and the early 1970s, GM Syed immersed himself in the study of the religious, social and political histories of Sindh. In 1966, he created Bazm-e-Sufian-e-Sindh, an intellectual initiative that also included a number of other Sindhi scholars.

Syed and these scholars would then go on to publish a number of important papers and books that helped form the doctrinal and ideological basis of modern Sindhi nationalism.

This nationalism explained the Sindhis to be descendents of the natives of the Indus Valley Civilization whose social, political and religious consciousness had evolved and was influenced by various religions and cultures that had arrived and established themselves in the region in the last five thousand years.

It added that this aspect of Sindh’s history, along with the large number of Muslim Sufi saints, who began to arrive and settle in Sindh after the 8th Century CE, helped shape the Sindhi society in becoming inherently tolerant and pluralistic and repulsed by those strands of the faith that eschewed tolerance to impose a more stringent and myopic view of Islam.

Syed’s works gave Sindhi identity a historical and religious context and anchor that also helped shield the Sindhi society from being affected by the disastrous sectarian and extremist fall-outs of the various religious experiments conducted by the state and governments of Pakistan.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Maulana Dawood/Daud Ghaznavi

Over on pakteahouse.net, the following claim is made:

Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam Hind was allied with Bacha Khan and the Congress. Maulana Daud Ghaznavi, the founder of the Majlis-e-Ahrar, was appointed the Chief of Congress in Punjab according to Raj Mohan Gandhi’s new book Punjab – A History from Aurangzaib to Mountbatten (See Page 333- Aleph Publication). Daud Ghaznavi remained the chief of the Congress in the Punjab till July 1947 when he left the Congress.  To say that Ahrar had broken off therefore from the Congress is a complete fabrication of history. It was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Congress Party as was Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind.
That Dawood (using the more common spelling) Ghaznavi remained the chief of the Congress in Punjab till July 1947 is what I dispute.  Just referring to one source, the Jinnah Papers (Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah Papers, edited by Z.H. Zaidi) it is possible to ascertain the following below.


A = Jinnah Papers, First Series, Volume I, Part I, 20 February - 2 June 1947.
B = Jinnah Papers, First Series, Volume III, 1 July - 25 July 1947

1. Maulana Dawood Ghaznavi joined the Muslim League sometime in July 1946 or earlier. [A, item VII.60, page 287]  He was indeed a previous president of the Punjab Provincial Congress Committee.

In late-January 1947, the Muslim League started an agitation to topple the Unionist government of Punjab.

2. On February 12, 1947 (reported in the Dawn, February 15, 1947) Maulana Dawood Ghaznavi, MLA, was nominated Acting President of the Punjab Muslim League. [A, item VII.51, page 277]

3. Maulana Dawood Ghaznavi was the seventh President of the Punjab Muslim League. [A, item VII.60, page 287]

4. Pakistan Times, February 25, 1947, reported that Maulana Dawood Ghaznavi was the only Muslim League Committee of Action member who was a non-detenu.  That news-item has the Maulana flying from Lahore to Karachi to meet Jinnah, to consult him "regarding the terms of the peace offer made by the Punjab Government". [A, item VII.66, page 294]

5. The next day, the Pakistan Times reported that the Maulana returned to Lahore from Karachi, "carrying with him a three-paged typed letter from the Quaid-i-Azam addressed to the Khan of Mamdot".  He then promptly left for Kasur to meet with the jailed members of the Committee of Action. [A, item VII.67, page 295]

6. In [B, item 229, page 670-672] an extract from a letter, from Maulvi Abu Sulaiman to Z.A. Ansari is included, dated July 24, 1947 . It recommends some measures to fight the influence of the Fakir of Ipi.
To fight Pathanistan successfully, we must take some precautions.  We must not appoint to the Governorship of the Frontier any person belonging to this Province.   Some such person should be appointed Governor who can successfully fight the propaganda that the League is un-Islamic, agents of the English and centre of Qadianis, and that to fight it is the greatest service to Islam.   It would be proper if Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, Maulana Dawood Ghaznavi or Maulana Akram Khan are appointed to this post.  But the League High Command is in a better position to understand the interests of the country.  

PS: In "Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam Since 1850", by Ayesha Jalal, we are told that page 490, that Maulana Daud Ghaznavi, "president of the Punjab Congress and a member of the legislative assembly, defected to the Muslim League", around July 27, 1946. "Ghaznavi was facing an enquiry for his alleged embezzlement of Congress funds during the elections. (SPPAI, 27 July 1946, vol. lxviii, no. 29, p. 362)

Note: SPPAI = Secret Punjab Police Abstract of Intelligence.

PPS: Excerpt from letter from Sardar Patel to Bhim Sen Sachar, July 27, 1946 (from The Collected Works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Volume X, edited by P.N. Chopra)
I am sorry about the Punjab muddle, particularly the bungling in the Constituent Assembly elections by the Sikhs.  We expected three seats from the Unionist group, -- at least two-- but we only got one.  The Sikhs did not contest at all in spite of my efforts and I was surprised to hear that.  In spite of my instructions, you had contacted Pandit Nehru and conveyed a message to the Sikhs which has resulted in this unfortunate situation.  Its repercussions have been very serious.  It has given a plausible excuse to our friend Daud Ghaznavi to get out of the Congress at a critical moment.   You know how you pressed me to help him in his own election, as a special case, in addition to the usual share which was included in the budget.  I had my doubts about your judgement and that of Seth Sudarshan.  I was insistent on Dr. Gopichand's endorsement.  Unfortunately, I yielded and disregarded Dr. Gopichand's wise counsel.   You are on the spot and you could have warned us even subsequently about his unreliability.   If you did not know or suspect about this unreliability, you are certainly much too simple for Punjab politics.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Interview with Husain Haqqani

The Diplomat’s Sanjay Kumar speaks with former Pakistan ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani about his book Magnificent Delusions, the state of Pakistan, and its complex relations with India, Afghanistan, and the United States.
http://thediplomat.com/2014/02/husain-haqqani/

Some excerpts:

Can you conceive of Pakistan’s existence without the U.S.?

Pakistan will have to change direction. Its leaders will have to stop thinking in terms of seeking American aid forever in order to confront India. They will have to start building a series of relationship with their neighbors. Islamabad needs to think of its economy. It will have to think about rooting out terrorism completely and it should treat such non-state actors as the enemy. It cannot afford to think that some terrorists are good for Afghanistan and some are valuable for Kashmir and some are bad for Karachi and Lahore. Pakistan will have to realize terrorism does not have a color and its nature is to kill.
Pakistan is going through great political change. Do you look at the developments as a positive sign and a new chapter in Pakistan’s history?

Pakistan is at a crossroads. Jihadis have one narrative for Pakistan; democrats have their own. Among the democrats, there is a division among those who want to see Pakistan as a pluralistic state and those who want to adopt the old ideological paradigm of an Islamic state. The good thing is that the military has receded a little bit from politics but that doesn’t mean that they have given civilians complete freedom in decision making. How Pakistan gets through this stage of building democracy will determine its future. The most important thing for Pakistan is to overcome the ideological obsessions of the past.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pervez Hoodbhoy on Pakistan's water-powered car

Hoodbhoy:


The water car fraud

Published: August 2, 2012
Agha Waqar Ahmad deserves a medal from the people of Pakistan for his great service to the nation. In a few short days, he has exposed just how far Pakistan has fallen into the pit of ignorance and self-delusion. No practical joker could have demonstrated more dramatically the true nature of our country’s political leaders, popular TV anchors and famed scientists.
At first, it sounded like a joke: a self-styled engineer, trained in Khairpur’s polytechnic institute, claims to have invented a ‘water kit’ enabling any car to run on water alone. It didn’t matter that the rest of world couldn’t extract energy from water; he had done it. He promised a new Pakistan with limitless energy, no need for petrol or gas, and no more loadshedding. For an energy starved nation, it is a vision of paradise.
Agha Waqar Ahmad is now a national celebrity thanks to Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah. Federal ministers Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani and Qamar Zaman Kaira have added their commendations. President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed his delight. The cabinet has met three times to discuss the water vehicle, and a fourth meeting is scheduled. Reports suggest millions may be spent on the ‘water fuel kit project’.
The media has rushed in to celebrate the new national hero. For TV anchor Talat Husain, thanks to Agha Waqar Ahmad’s invention, Pakistan’s image can go from a country ravaged by terrorism to one of boundless possibilities. Anchor Hamid Mir and Senator Parvaiz Rasheed drove around Islamabad sitting next to the inventor, wondering how to protect the man’s life from Western oil companies. Anchor Arshad Sharif was euphoric about the $14 billion Pakistan would save on oil imports.

Pakistan’s most celebrated scientists were not far behind. Asked by Anchor Sharif whether a car could run only on water, nuclear hero Dr Samar Mubarakmand replied without hesitation: “jee haanbilkul ho sakta hai” (yes, absolutely possible). For his part, Hamid Mir asked Dr AQ Khan if there was any chance of this being a fraud. The response was clear: “Main nay apnay level per investigate kiya hai aur koi fraud waraud nahi kiya hai” (I have investigated the matter and there is no fraud involved). The head of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Dr Shaukat Parvaiz, went further: “hum nay bhi iss pay kam karaya tha” (we had some work done on this too).

So, what is the problem? It’s that the laws of physics, in particular a fundamental scientific principle known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, impose inviolable constraints. Every machine constructed anywhere uses the Second Law. This is something that I learned in my first year as a student at MIT and have taught for 40 years. No serious scientist would dream of challenging the Second Law. Agha Waqar Ahmad’s ‘water kit’, if one believes science to be right, simply cannot work. What the inventor, the ministers, the anchors and scientists claim on TV is wrong.
To his credit, the only person on TV that seemed to know this elementary principle was Dr Attaur Rahman, a chemist and a former HEC chairman. I have not agreed with all his actions and views in the past, but he alone rejected the claims about the new machine. Sadly, he was not able to hold back the tide of a nation desperate for any answer to its energy woes.

The water fraud will be exposed soon enough and, like a bad posterior smell, will go away. A simple experiment will make this happen faster. Here’s how: take an emergency electricity generator, of which there are thousands in Islamabad. Its engine is similar to that in a car. Remove the fuel tank and make sure the ‘water kit’ contains only water. Then ask the inventor to connect it up and run the generator. Let there be enough sharp-eyed witnesses of intelligence and integrity.

But this episode raises bigger questions. Scientific frauds exist in other countries, but what explains their spectacular success in Pakistan? Answer: our leaders are lost in the dark, fumbling desperately for a miracle; our media is chasing spectacle, not truth; and our great scientists care more about being important than about evidence. It is easy for them all to get away with this. As a nation, we have proven unwilling to do the hard work needed to learn to reason, to be sceptical, to demand proof, to understand even basic science. It is easier to believe the world is run by magic and conspiracies, to wish and wait for Aladin’s magic lamp. We live in the age of jahilliya.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2012.