Thursday, August 9, 2018

U.S.-Pakistan Relations Under the Khan Administration

U.S.-Pakistan Relations Under the Khan Administration

Pakistan’s July 25 elections exemplified a new, energetic chapter in the country’s politics as voters chose longtime outsider politician Imran Khan as prime minister. In its position as an opposition party, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) faced consistent disparagement from the incumbent parties Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Both the PML-N and PPP have criticized the PTI (especially Khan himself) of being inexperienced with regards to political decision-making, governance, economic development and particularly in the realm of international politics.

Politics is no picnic in Pakistan. For months ahead of the elections, the PML-N and PPP could not run from their loss of public confidence fueled by corruption allegations, such as the charges that ousted former three-term prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Instead, they targeted Khan’s personal life and his recent marriage to a spiritual adviser and even promoted his former wife Reham Khan’s accusations of sexual and other misdeeds to call into question Khan’s character and morality.

The First 100 Days

Khan’s Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan) platform has promised a transparent government that will fight corruption and will be responsible for the protection and progress of the nation. Khan highlighted his own impressive contributions in establishing hospitals, new schools, and colleges during his party’s five-year rule in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and his anti-corruption drive targeting the police, parliamentary officials, and the incumbent PML-N.

But winning the election is just the first step; for Khan, governing will be the real challenge. Indeed, the new prime minister faces the immense challenges of Pakistan’s insecure position in regional and international geopolitics, a looming economic crisis, mangled and neglected infrastructure, a never-ending energy crisis, lack of opportunities for the youth, and a business climate that holds little allure for international investors.

Naya Pakistan will require a visionary manifesto that addresses all of Pakistan’s social, political and economic challenges and concrete changes. And for those changes to happen, the army — a constant factor in Pakistan’s domestic politics — will have to cooperate. Khan’s strategic diplomacy will be tested when he needs to work closely with Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa (and the other generals) while working toward his populist vision of anti-corruption and accountability. Whether it be trade, regional stability, or handling foreign policy issues among allies, Khan will need the military’s approval to move forward.

U.S.-Pakistani Bilateral Ties

On the foreign policy front, Khan has an arduous struggle ahead in creating a productive relationship with the United States; the White House’s opinion of him rests on sensationalist journalism alleging that he has sympathies for the Haqqani terrorist network and labeling him “Taliban Khan.”

The last two decades of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship has centered on a “transactional security” policy. Unfortunately, Washington views Pakistan solely as a tool to stabilize and secure Afghanistan, to counter terrorist groups in the region, and to mitigate Iran’s growing influence and China’s expansionary aspirations. Washington also seeks to minimize or eliminate the Pakistani ultra-conservative wing’s ambitions to threaten India’s economic progress. Khan has an opportunity to deal with these issues by resituating Pakistan’s long-term goals regionally and internationally.

The U.S. will also have to change its calculations regarding stability in Afghanistan in light of Khan’s ideas on counterterrorism. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Khan have already spoken on the phone to discuss bilateral issues and to “bury the past.” However, Khan has been an outspoken critic of the U.S. drone policy in Pakistan because he believed there were more civilian fatalities than deaths of suspected terrorists. Indirectly, and diplomatically, Khan was challenging the Pakistani army and intelligence sectors who were promulgating Islamabad’s position on Washington’s drone policy.

While strongly criticizing U.S./Afghan counterterrorism strategies, Khan insists that building up infrastructure, having a strong rule of law, providing access to education, alleviating poverty, and ensuring that civil society is an active partner in the government’s efforts can prevent extremist ideologies from taking root. The military kinetic approach to counterterrorism, he reasons, expends an incredible amount of human resources while providing few, if any, results. Khan’s vision of a national countering violent extremism policy that inoculates Pakistan from extremism will mean a shift in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. Rather than security-based transactional efforts, the countries can form a broader, substantial relationship in areas like strategic trade, political economy, and scientific research and development.

The U.S. National Defense Strategy (NDS), released in January 2018, emphasized that the “Great Power Competition” — namely with Russia and China — is using an authoritative model to assert revisionist ideas of power throughout the world. Secretary of Defense James Mattis claimed that the Russia-China “inter-state strategic competition is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” Pakistan cannot change the Pentagon’s security priorities, but Islamabad can reconfigure its function and role in the “Great Power Competition” strategy.

Thus, Khan’s Naya Pakistan cannot be limited to domestic activities. Instead, starting a new chapter will require Khan to design a forward-thinking policy that reconfigures U.S.-Pakistan ties beyond a transactional relationship for short-term gains.

The U.S. suspension of aid to Pakistan earlier this year, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s criticism of Pakistan’s use of IMF funds to bail out on a $18 billion debt, will not advance U.S. interests in regional stability. Instead of arm-twisting tactics, Washington will benefit from persuading Islamabad to further align its security policy for Afghanistan with the United States’ and to open a progressive diplomatic relationship with India.

Dr. Qamar-ul Huda is Vice President of Development and Strategy at the Center for Global Policy (CGP). Prior to joining CGP, Dr. Huda was a Senior Policy Advisor to the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs. The views expressed herein are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of CGP.

A good call on Global Strategists about Pakistan

A good call on Global Strategists about Pakistan

As democracy takes root in Pakistan, a new world equilibrium will be birthing for Muslims. If Imran Khan does it right, it would be a shining example of Islamic Democracy and I hope he does not resort to dictating Islam, Islam is about free will. He needs to revoke the uncivilized laws passed by the dictator and the opportunists. He has to earn the respect among the community of nations as a nation that  respects the rights of minorities and the weak  and bring Pakistan to reflect the will of her people, who are moderate, caring and civilized. 

A majority of the Muslim-run nations have dictators or monarchs. They don't trust the people to govern among themselves.   

Redeeming Pakistan is one of the blogs I maintain among the Blogs about India, Israel-Palestine, and others. 

My focus remains on continually developing the Center for Pluralism, thanks to everyone, we have earned a big name on Pluralism in religion, politics, society, culture, and workplace with our work. Our think tank was established in 2001 and the research work continues there as my contribution to my religion.
Mike Ghouse
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A call from Bob Crane, former US Ambassador
Global strategists of the world unite!

       For anyone concerned about the future of human civilization, pasted below is the best writing on foreign policy and especially on Central Asia since Owen Lattimore's book, Pivot of Asia, which I practically memorized in 1947 in preparation for a trip as a manure-shoveler on a United Nations boat transporting cattle to a starving China.  

       This article, entitled "Pakistan Elections: May Be Good News for Pakistan, but Not for U.S", is by Graham Fuller, who used to be head of National Intelligence Estimates in the CIA when I was on loan from the State Department as Deputy Director of the new Office of Product Improvement more than forty years ago in the office of the Director of Central Intelligence, James Schlesinger.

       Graham has been an astute student of the global discord that has resulted from American support of European colonialism in Southwest and Central Asia after the Europeans essentially withdrew except as spectators, to be followed perhaps eventually by the Americans in pursuit of Donald Trump's electioneering promise in 2016 to abandon the catastrophic dream of "nation-building".  This militantly secularistic project has been designed to eliminate organic nations and maintain stability in the process through local dictators and whatever foreign military support may be necessary.  This, by the way, was the precise opposite of the policy essentially of con-federalism and national autonomy practiced successfully by the Ottoman Empire for many centuries.

       Now that Imran Khan has won in the peaceful shift in Pakistan's governing political parties, only the second one in 71 years, Central Asia is a new ballgame, including even the paradigmatic shift of Afghanistan from South Asia to Central Asia.  The new player, Pushtunistan, which the British in 1947 split between Pakistan and the artificial country of Afghanistan, is now acknowledged as a central player.  Indeed, it may offer the only hope for the end of the 17-year American war to ruthlessly subjugate the Pushtuns, who until today were known in American circles as the radical Taliban.  

       The leadership of the Pushtun was educated by the Saudis as orphans from the war during the 1980s against the Soviets.  Today, when the younger generation of the Pushtun liberate new areas, the first thing they do is to open girls schools and invite United Nations NGOs to help them join the modern world while maintaining the best of their centuries-long heritage, best epitomized by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a non-violent soldier of Islam, whom Mahatma Gandhi said was his essential model and inspiration for the liberation of India from British occupation (see

       The only important point not mentioned by Graham Fuller in his think-piece below is the fact that President Bush violated all the laws of the "just war doctrine" when he refused the Taliban's offer to surrender Osama Bin Laden after 9/11 for trial in the third country of their mutual choice.  President Bush replied, "I want Osama bin Laden dead or alive".  

       Bush made his second most egregious error when he bombed Baghdad after the Pope sent his legate to advise President Bush in early March 2003, that under the existing circumstances an American invasion of Iraq would violate every one of the doctrine's seven conditions and constitute a war crime.

       The domestic and global repercussions of Imran Khan's dramatically populist victory in Pakistan's recent presidential election on July 26, 2018, are spelled out in detail by Graham Fuller below.  The latest development reportedly is that Washington yesterday put President Imran Khan's closest advisor, on the American "no-fly" list, perhaps in part because President Khan was born in the middle of Pushtunistan and accordingly has been a populist opponent of America's entire strategy against terrorism.  America's terrorist counter-terrorism has been a major cause of global terrorism, together with the growing wealth gap within and among countries caused by a defective system of money, credit, and banking, and may continue to do so in the decades ahead unless the militaristic paradigm of Neo-Con thought is replaced by what the brilliant Zbigniew Brzezinski, head of the National Security Council in the White House under President Jimmy Carter during the late Soviet Communist era, introduced successfully as "peaceful engagement". 

       For the best deep background perspective on a post-Neo-Con foreign policy, see the several books by Douglas M. Johnston, Jr., who once was Executive Director of the world's most powerful foreign policy think-tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  His latest book, published by Praeger in 2011, is entitled Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement, 283 pages.

       The key to ultimate success in policy-making is networking among like-minded people.  Such a networking strategy is the opposite of the common concept and practice among Muslims that too often has focused internally and negatively against others, following the model of Ibn Khaldun's bad asabiya, whereby one often derives one's own identity by looking down on others.  The opposite is pride in the best of one's own community as a source of identity and as an essential means to appreciate the good in other persons and communities, so that one can focus outwardly and constructively in cooperation with other communities and nations in everyone's best interests, in accordance with the Qur'an's emphasis on the good asabiyah.  

       The broader purpose of any networking project should be to help receptive members of these think-tanks cooperate in addressing the ultimate source of truth and purpose in every person's life (the discipline of ontology), in order to develop this epistemologically into a universal jurisprudence of responsibilities and derivative human rights, and then apply this axiologically to reform the world in practice, including its institutions, in pursuit of the wisdom in Mica 6:8 as the basis for compassionate justice:

What does
the Lord require
of you? but to do


and to love


and to walk
humbly with your

Pakistan Elections—Maybe Good News for Pakistan, But Not for U.S.

Pakistan Elections—Maybe Good News for Pakistan, But Not For US
Graham E. Fuller (
8 August 2018
A bold new political face has come to power in the recent Pakistani elections, possibly offering the US a new opportunity in that country. Sadly the opportunity will likely be squandered—again. There’s something about Pakistani and US interests that seem doomed to collision course—mainly because Pakistan’s national interests are rarely what the US thinks they should be. 
Pakistanis themselves can be pleased the country has just experienced for only the second time in its history a democratic electoral transition from one political party to another. Over long decades democratically-elected governments have been routinely dethroned by the all-powerful Pakistani military-dominated intelligence service ISI. 
A key problem is that American interests in Pakistan have had little to do with Pakistan itself, but have been the function of other American interests—China, fighting the Soviet Union, al-Qaeda, and trying to win an ongoing—and losing—17-year US war in Afghanistan. Once about eliminating al-Qaeda, Washington today hopes the war in Afghanistan will eliminate the often violent fundamentalist Pashtun movement (Taliban) and enable the US to impose its strategic agenda upon Afghanistan. And over decades the US has alternately cajoled but mostly threatened Pakistan to do US bidding in Afghanistan. (A former Deputy Secretary of the Pentagon, in the months after 9/11, threatened to “bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age” if it didn’t fully get on board and support the new US invasion of Afghanistan.)
In an earlier decade, after the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up a failing Afghan communist regime, the US had recruited the Pakistani government to take the lead in organizing a new anti-Soviet “jihad” through supporting new mujahedin groups in Afghanistan. It was a fateful moment: this anti-Soviet jihad represented the first time that Islamist warriors, recruited from around the world in a joint US-Saudi-Pakistani strategy, became a powerful battle-hardened jihadi force that would later go on to fight new wars in the Middle East—and against US interests. As one of the mujahideen told me at the time, they had “defeated a superpower”—the USSR—and driven Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. What would be the implications for the future? 
Then, after 9/11, the US invaded Afghanistan in order to overthrow the ruling Taliban—who had taken over the country and restored order after a devastating. nine-year Afghan civil war following the Soviet withdrawal. The Taliban actually represent a home-grown movement—they had no interest in international terrorism.  But they made one disastrous mistake: they allowed Osama Bin Laden to stay on in Afghanistan after he had played a small role in supporting the Taliban in achieving power in 1996. The US invasion ensued.
The thing to be remembered is that the Taliban are primarily a Pashtun movement; Pashtuns constitute the single largest ethnic group in multi-ethnic Afghanistan and have traditionally dominated national Afghan politics over several hundred years. While unquestionably following a kind of Wahhabi-style Islamic rule, they also represent a powerful Pashtun ethnic impulse. Many Afghan Pashtuns dislike the Taliban but they generally also wish to see Pashtuns maintain power in Afghanistan. This same ethnic issue matters a lot when it comes to Pakistan. 
The stated US agenda in Afghanistan now is to prevent the Taliban, who are conducting a fairly successful insurgency against the US-backed government in Kabul, from coming to power. Yet there is no way the Taliban can be decisively defeated, while the US may yet opt to move into its third decade of war there in trying to keep them out of power. While Taliban theology and policies are fairly Wahhabi in character, is it worth the longest war in American history to struggle on to keep them out? (There are a few encouraging signs that the US may be actually trying to reach some negotiated back-door deal with the Taliban for future power-sharing, but the Taliban may just decide to wait the US out.) What Washington doesn’t talk about is its long, strategic ambition to maintain military bases in Afghanistan, right in the heart of Central Asia in close proximity to Russia and China—very much out of the US Cold War playbook. But is it worth this costly and losing game?
Here’s where Pakistan comes in. In the Pak-Afghan border region there are twice as many Pashtuns living in Pakistan as there are in Afghanistan. They represent a powerful force in Pakistani politics—and that’s where Imran Khan, Pakistan’s new president from the heart of Pashtun territory, also comes in. 
Bottom line: the US has consistently attempted to enlist Pakistan into rescuing America’s losing war in Afghanistan; a key US demand has been for the Pakistanis to sever ties between Pakistani and Afghan Taliban movements and crush all radical Islamist groups in the border region. There is no doubt Pakistan has indeed helped the Afghan Taliban (Pashtuns) to fight on in Afghanistan. Pakistan has a deep interest, domestic and foreign, in keeping close ties with all Pashtuns, Taliban or not. (The Pakistani Taliban movement is more violent than the Afghan one but cannot be easily crushed —perhaps only tamed—even by the Pakistani government.)
And the power base of Pakistan’s new president Imran Khan lies precisely in this Pashtun region of the country. He will not likely agree to any policy pressures from the US to crush Taliban cross-border ties; he favors a strong Pashtun/Taliban presence in any Afghan government. Imran Khan has also been outspokenly critical of the US role in Pakistan and he will guard Pakistani sovereignty more jealously than his predecessors.
And then there are geopolitics with India. Already hugely outweighed and outgunned by a huge and powerful Indian state on Pakistan’s eastern border, Pakistan’s geopolitics dictate that it can never allow its geographically narrow state to be simultaneously threatened by a pro-Indian government on Pakistan’s western border in Afghanistan. Yet India has hugely invested—financially, politically and in terms of intelligence presence in Afghanistan with US blessing—perceived by Islamabad as deadly geopolitical threat. Pakistan will do all it can to ensure that Afghanistan does not fall under Indian political domination. That also means deep involvement in Afghan Pashtun politics (that include Taliban).
The US has consistently run roughshod over Pakistani sovereignty throughout its war in Afghanistan, thereby generating strong anti-US feelings in Pakistan. (My first novel: “Breaking Faith: An American’s Crisis of Conscience in Pakistan,” deals  heavily with these issues, including the CIA and American military presence in Pakistan, as well as the complicated range of Pakistani Islamist movements at the human level of a Pakistani family.)
And finally we  have the ever-growing China factor. Pakistan has long been China’s closest ally and considers Beijing to be an “all-weather friend”— in pointed distinction to perceived US opportunism in Pakistan. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are now integral elements in China’s sweeping new economic and infrastructural Eurasian development plan “One Bridge One Road.”  (Iran too, incidentally, is linked into the same Chinese vision.) There is no way Pakistan will ever choose close ties with Washington over ties with China, for a dozen good reasons, including shared mutual distrust of India. 
In short, Imran Khan may well bring some fresh air into Pakistani politics, including a declared willingness to clamp down on the country’s rampant corruption. The powerful Pakistan military also supports him. It is hard to imagine how the US will not continue to lose ever more traction in the Pakistan-Afghan morass short of undertaking a major US shift away from its military-driven foreign policy. That US policy and style seems to tally ever less with the interests of most states of the region.
Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is BEAR, a novel of the Great Bear Rainforest and Eco-Terrorism. (Amazon, Kindle)

Thank you

What do we do at the Center for Pluralism

Mike Ghouse
Center for Pluralism
Washington, DC
(214) 325-1916

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Pakistan's Most Wild and Beautiful Places

I have seen some of the most beautiful places on the earth in Pakistan, the rivers, the skies and the valleys and I am pleased to share this;

Qawwali Ki Raat 

Venue:  Washington DC, Saturday, June 16, 2018
Venue: Dallas, TX, Saturday, June 23, 2018

Most of you have enjoyed the Qawwalis, a South Asian tradition of group singing along with audience participation.  This unique program and will start out with the most popular Qawwalis, followed by Qawwals to reflect Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Christian, Muslim, and Secular traditions. We are finding the Qawwalis for other traditions as well.

Ticket and RSVP -

Mike Ghouse
Center for Pluralism
Washington, DC
(214) 325-1915

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Pakistan's Most Wild and Beautiful Places

The journey from the Arabian Sea to the ivory cones of the Himalayas.
Courtesy of National Geographic

From the precipitous peaks of the Karakoram range to the fertile Indus River plain, Pakistan is home to a diversity of stunning landscapes. While its rich cultural heritage, ancient Silk Road, and ruins of Mohenjo-darocontinue to enchant travelers, venture further afield and discover a lesser-known, wilder Pakistan.

Known as “Land of the Giants,” a backdrop of snow-dusted mountains rises from the alpine plateau of Deosai National Park. Each spring, the lush valley is swept by wildflowers and rare butterflies, earning the name “Summer’s Palace” by locals, who enjoy the wildlife after winter’s thaw. This biodiversity hot spot is home to the Tibetan wolf, Himalayan ibex, Tibetan red fox, and golden marmots, but the government granted the park protected status in 1993 with the goal of safeguarding the critically endangered Himalayan brown bear. The park was also nominated for World Heritage status in 2016. 

Northern Pakistan's picturesque Kaghan Valley is a place of fairytales. According to one version of a local legend, a prince of Persia fell in love with a fairy princess on the crystalline waters of Lake Saiful Muluk, pictured above. But a giant was also in love with the princess, and held her captive. One day, the prince escaped with her, and in his fury, the giant flooded the valley and created lakes with his tears. Today, visitors from around the world travel to Kaghan Valley for its alpine lakes, mountain scenery, and clear night skies.
The Makran Coastal Highway is a scenic drive along Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast. The route starts in Karachi and runs through Gwadar to the Iran border, and is considered a major infrastructural achievement. Unique, lunar rock formations line a section of the highway known as the Buzi Pass in Hingol National Park. Natural rock sculptures, like the sphinx-shaped “Lion of Balochistan,” can be found along the highway.
In the northern territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, icy peaks stretch above the Hunza River. Situated on the riverbank and surrounded by glaciers and gorges, the town of Hunza traditionally served as a resting place for travelers descending the Hindu Kush mountains into the Vale of Kashmir. The valley is home to snow leopards, markhors, ibexes, and red-striped foxes.

Pakistan’s largest national park extends hundreds of miles along the Makran Coast. While Hingol National Park is renowned for its diverse wildlife—Sindh leopards, chinkaras, honey badgers, and Indian pangolins–it is perhaps best known for its cluster of active mud volcanoes. A mix of hot spring activity, gas, and water react chemically with the surrounding rocks to form a boiling mud. When the mud is expelled, it continuously rebuilds the cones, which are easily eroded. One of the most famous mud volcanoes is Chandragup, a sacred annual pilgrimage site for thousands of Hindus, along with the nearby Hinglaj temple.
In Pakistan’s eastern Karakoram, Baltoro Glacier is one of the world’s largest valley glaciers. Though difficult to access, it is one of the most highly trafficked regions in Pakistan because of mountaineering destinations like K2, Broad Peak, and the Gasherbrum peaks at its head. The area is not only known for its stunning scenery, but as a life source–a large portion northern Pakistan’s population depends on meltwater from the Karakoram glaciers.
In northern Azad Kashmir, the bow-shaped Neelum Valley is sandwiched between 13,000-foot peaks and blanketed by verdant forest and streamsThe small hilltop village of Arang Kel, pictured above, is known as the pearl of Neelum Valley.
Nestled in the Hunza Valley, Attabad Lake’s vibrant turquoise waters cut through the rocky terrain. Though beautiful, the serene landscape has a violent origin story. The lake was formed in January 2010, when a massive landslide at Attabad Village flooded nearby towns, blocked the flow of the Hunza River, and displaced thousands of people. Today, it's a popular stop for tourists who can take boats out on the water.

Gulnaz Khan is an editor at National Geographic covering travel and culture.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Pakistan's Sikh Legacy - Amardeep uses Pluralistic Language

I was moved by the language of this article, it is reconciliatory and bridge building in nature. I loved the description where he let the "mitti" slip from his hand for what it would remind him of, it went against his sentiments of watan ki mitti, but he did the right thing to let it go.

What happened during partition was sad. What is shameful is, those who endured the pain on all sides, continue to pass on that hatred to their offspring, do they really want to dump their misery onto their children? If we are 'sincere', I mean 'sincere' peace makers, we should give hope to the next generation and not mess them up with our problems.

When I read an occasional stray note from a Indian or a Pakistani about their hate for the other, it saddens me.  If they don't claim to be religious, it is fine, but when they call themselves Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs, they are betraying their own religion.  None of the religions teach you to hate, but the politicians and guardians of religions and a few hateful men mess up the lives of future generations.

The bottom line is we have to leave a better world for our kids, we have learn to understand the past but build the future where they can spend their time in finding means to enjoy rather than spend their time in ill-will towards the other.


I am organizing an interfaith conference in Karachi, if you have an interest to join or to speak, the speech will be checked by me before hand, it has to build bridges.  You can text me at (214) 325-1916 – The event will be in September, and we have every faith except Buddhism is represented, we are looking for Buddhist, connect us with on, particularly a Pakistani Buddhist, but any Buddhist for that matter. 

This is a good piece worth reading

Mike Ghouse
All about me at 

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Pakistan's Sikh Legacy -  

Courtesy - Times of India 

“If you could visit any place in Pakistan, where would you go?” asks Amardeep Singh whenever he gives a talk to introduce his recently published travelogue Lost Heritage – The Sikh Legacy In Pakistan.
The question, aimed primarily at Sikh members of the audience, invariably elicits two answers: Sikh holy places. Their ancestral village.
It was the same in Boston on June 18, 2016 at the E-5 Center where Amardeep Singh gave his 42nd such talk. He understands the response all too well. After all, he too once had the same “myopic” reasons, as he says, for wanting to go to Pakistan, which he considers his “homeland”, being the land of his ancestors and also where Sikhdom’s holiest sites are located, like Nanankana Sahib, birth place of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru.
But when Singh did finally fulfill his dream to visit the country in October 2014, he had an epiphany halfway through his solitary trip that changed the meaning of his travels. It also changed the course of his life. He realised that reducing Pakistan to religion was doing a disservice to the country, its people and the larger cause of humanity.
The process may have begun earlier, when Singh applied for a visa at the Pakistan embassy in Singapore, where he has lived for the past 16 years. When the visa officer handed him back his passport, Singh refused to take it.
“I am going to my homeland for the first time,” said Singh, who was born in Gorakhpur, India, in 1966. “And you want to restrict me to ten days?”
The officer laughed and said he would increase the visa duration to 30 days. Emboldened, Singh pushed further. He wanted a visa for the entire country, not just two or three cities, and he wanted it to include “Pakistan Administered Kashmir” – the term that he prefers to use rather than the loaded “Pakistan occupied Kashmir” or “Azad Kashmir”. He suggests using such neutral language, also for “Indian Administered Kashmir” in an attempt to convey an acceptance of the reality that Pakistan or India manage the region, plus “it allows us to balance and focus on the core message of the book”.
Singh is “deeply grateful” to the Pakistan government for granting him a 30-day, non-police reporting country (rather than city-specific) visa – facilities normally denied most Indian / and Indian-origin travellers and vice versa.
But perhaps the story of the metamorphosis of a corporate banker into a photographer/travel writer starts even earlier. Singh was never a “corporate junkie”, even while working with American Express first in Hong Kong and then Singapore as head of revenue management.
He undertook many solitary trekking holidays in remote, far flung areas in India, Tibet and other places throughout his 25-year banking career. Then there was his love for history and travel that led him to devour travelogues like British era explorers like William Mooncroft (1819) and Alexander Burns (1831), and later accounts like Alice Albania’s ‘Empires of the Indus’.
Those experiences — travel with no access to the outside world, reading historical accounts and travelogues, photography, writing — he feels, were “God’s way” of preparing him. The dots joined organically. The Pakistan ‘pilgrimage’ that he initially started with, his life’s pursuit, became not the culmination of a dream but the starting point of another journey powered by secular, universal ideals.
Historical traumas like the cataclysmic 1947 Partition of India with its ensuing bloodshed produces a first generation that doesn’t talk, observes Amardeep. The second is lost. The third, to which he belongs, goes in pursuit of the stories.
His father was born in Muzaffarabad, in the western-most frontier of the former princely state of Kashmir that both India and Pakistan lay claim to and which in turn claims independence. Amardeep turned up to try and find his roots in Pakistan in 2013 like a wanderer on a pilgrimage, carrying three pairs of clothes, his camera, and the contacts of a couple of Facebook friends. “A madman in love” is how one audience member describes him.
In Pakistan, Singh says that he met and connected with 14 Pakistanis who were on a similar pursuit, to discover their common heritage. And all of them were Muslim. Singh realized that the legacy that they shared could not be easily compartmentalised into “Muslim” or “Sikh”.
The “Sikh Empire” touted in the history narrated by the British colonists and their successors, was actually deeply secular. The distortion of history has meant other, more dangerous falsehoods being perpetrated, like the basis-less rumour that Sikhs converted the Badshahi mosque in Lahore into a stable for horses. On the contrary, Ranjit Singh in fact gave financial grants to the Badshahi Masjid.
In the pre-partition era, Sikhs had invested heavily in creating the Khalsa schools and colleges, which imparted excellent education to students of all faiths. Abandoned by the departed community, these today operate as Islamia schools and colleges.
He also came across many non turban-wearing followers of the Sikh Guru Nanak in Pakistan, all of Pashtun origin and from the Khyber area.
These realisations – about the secular or syncretic nature of what he had assumed was a “Sikh” heritage — pushed Singh beyond his original limited goal of taking a fistful of earth back from Muzaffarbad as a momento for his family. It stopped him in his tracks as he picked up some riverbank soil at the site of a bloody massacre of Sikhs soon after Partition.
The place is known as “Domel”, where the Jhelum River meets the Neelum River. (“We even ascribe religion to our natural resources,” comments Singh, referring to the Muslim name, Neelum, for the waters known as Kishan Ganga on the Indian-administered side).
On October 21, 1947, a war cry arose over the hills that the local non-Muslims were ill-prepared to counter: Loot the Hindus, behead the Sikhs. Armed marauders herded some 300 Sikhs to the bridge on “Domel”. Shots rang out. Among the bodies that toppled into the river were the grandparents (Nana and Nani) of Amardeep Singh’s wife.
Also killed were both parents of five-year old Jaswanti. A Muslim neighbour the next morning found the little girl scrambling along the riverbank looking for her father and mother. He took her into his own home, renamed her Noori, and brought her up as his daughter.
Jaswanti/ Noor is Amardeep’s distant “bua” (aunt) related to his father. In his book he relates the stranger-than-fiction story of how she was found in 1998 and connected to her to the Sikh side of her family. At 73 years, today she continues to live in Pakistan as a Muslim.
Amardeep recounts how, looking at the bridge over the river, he let the soil fall back to the earth from his hands at “Domel”. It was what he had come for. But he realised that the lesson he wanted to impart to his children was different. This souvenir could remind them forever of hatred and bloodshed.
“I went to get soil but came back with a book,” he says. The soil would have been just for his daughters. The book however is a reference for coming generations of future traveler and history lovers.
In the two weeks he had spent so far in Pakistan, Amardeep had realised that the “Sikh legacy” of this land went far beyond gurudwaras and ancestral homes, and was in fact not limited to adherents of the Sikh faith. The legacy lived on in human interactions, experiences, memories, music, poetry, spirituality and other aspects of a shared history that belongs not just to Sikhs but also to Hindus, Muslims, Christians and others. For example, others too lay claim to rituals, poetry and music that Sikhs consider to be “theirs” This legacy, he stresses, is secular in nature.
Throughout his journey, Amardeep used the lens, not of a pilgrim, but of a traveler chronicling socio-historical aspects.
An important aspect of this lens is to place the contemporary reality of gurudwaras and havelis built and owned by Sikhs into a historical context without blame or judgment. Many of these buildings are being used as police stations, libraries or people’s homes. The mass cross-border exodus left these buildings abandoned, and those who came to this land were bound to fill the vacuum for their own survival.
Putting things in context also means being able to see the positive aspects, like the fact that the Pakistan government has since 1980s been looking after the holy places of non-Muslims. With the mass exodus of an entire community, the government can’t possibly maintain every aspect of the heritage but clearly the intent is there, as Amardeep stresses. The number of functional gurudwaras in the Punjab has increased from one to twenty-three over the past decades. Several Hindu temples has also been revived. People of all faiths must support and encourage these moves even though they may be, as Singh “the tip of the iceberg” given the magnitude of the issue.
Amardeep also holds responsible for the neglect those who have kept silent rather than being vocal in demanding that this heritage be preserved. Sikhs who visit Pakistan don’t even ask to visit the Lahore Museum, he observes. Due to the lack of demand the Museum’s Sikh Gallery has been closed as Amardeep discovered when he tried to see it.
Pakistani Sikhs, he observes, are in general too poor and focused on their own survival to pay attention to such higher pursuits. It is up to the diaspora — increasing numbers of whom now visit Pakistan for religious reasons — to push for these demands beyond religion.
After Partition, practically the only Sikhs left in Pakistan were those living in the Pashtun areas bordering Afghanistan. Post 9/11 Taliban inroads into the region, accompanied by attacks on religious minorities forced large numbers to flee to the Punjab. Many Sikhs took refuge in the Gurdwara Punja Sahib at Hassan Abdal, says Singh. He notes that Pakistan has for years been combating militancy while also reviving the historical religious sites belonging to religious minorities.
All in all, Amardeep Singh’s message is clearly not limited to Sikhs and Punjab or Pakistan. It is about the need to go beyond surface identities and labels to an interconnected, secular past, and universal values. This is not just about the past but the way to a more harmonious way forward.
This article was first published in Himal Southasian. Amardeep Singh’s “Lost Heritage – The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan” is a monumental 504-page book, weighing 3 kg, with 507 photos complementing the story line. It can be ordered here.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.