How Pakistan’s Generals turned the country into an international jihadi tourist resort. Mohammad Hanif in Open magazine. Mohammed Hanif is the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes (2008), his first novel, a satire on the death of General Zia ul Haq
What is the last thing you say to your best general when ordering him into a do-or-die mission? A prayer maybe, if you are religiously inclined. A short lecture, underlining the importance of the mission, if you want to keep it businesslike. Or maybe you’ll wish him good luck accompanied by a clicking of the heels and a final salute.
On the night of 5 July 1977 as Operation Fair Play, meant to topple Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s elected government, was about to commence, then Army Chief General Zia ul Haq took aside his right-hand man and Corps Commander of 10th Corps Lieutenant General Faiz Ali Chishti and whispered to him: “Murshid, marwa na daina.” (Guru, don’t get us killed.)
General Zia was indulging in two of his favourite pastimes: spreading his paranoia amongst those around him and sucking up to a junior officer he needed to do his dirty work. General Zia had a talent for that; he could make his juniors feel as if they were indispensable to the running of this world. And he could make his seniors feel like proper gods, as Bhutto found out to his cost.
General Faiz Ali Chishti’s troops didn’t face any resistance that night; not a single shot was fired, and like all military coups in Pakistan, this was also dubbed a ‘bloodless coup’. There was a lot of bloodshed, though, in the following years—in military-managed dungeons, as pro-democracy students were butchered at Thori gate in interior Sindh, hundreds of shoppers were blown up in Karachi’s Bohri Bazar, in Rawalpindi people didn’t even have to leave their houses to get killed as the Army’s ammunition depot blew up raining missiles on a whole city, and finally at Basti Laal Kamal near Bahawalpur, where a plane exploded killing General Zia and most of the Pakistan Army’s high command. General Faiz Ali Chishti had nothing to do with this, of course. General Zia had managed to force his murshid into retirement soon after coming to power. Chishti had started to take that term of endearment—murshid—a bit too seriously and dictators can’t stand anyone who thinks of himself as a kingmaker. More:
Stop looking for allies in Pakistan’s elite; they are just an India-obsessed military’s civilian cousins. Mohammed Hanif, the author of the novel “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” in The New York Times:
Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, has been accused of many bad things in its own country. It has been held responsible for rigging elections, sponsoring violent sectarian groups and running torture chambers for political dissidents. More recently, it has been accused of abducting Pakistanis and handing them over to the United States for cash.
But last week — after thousands of classified United States Army documents were released by WikiLeaks, and American and British officials and pundits accused the ISI of double-dealing in Afghanistan — the Pakistani news media were very vocal in their defense of their spies. On talk show after talk show, the ISI’s accusers in the West were criticized for short-sightedness and shifting the blame to Pakistan for their doomed campaign in Afghanistan.
Suddenly, the distinction between the state and the state within the state was blurred. It is our ISI that is being accused, we felt. How, we wondered, can the Americans have fallen for raw intelligence provided by paid informants and, in many cases, Afghan intelligence? And why shouldn’t Pakistan, asked the pundits, keep its options open for a post-American Afghanistan?
More generally, the WikiLeaks fallout brought back ugly memories, reminding Pakistanis what happens whenever we get involved with the Americans. In fact, one person at the center of the document dump is our primary object lesson for staying away from America’s foreign adventures. More:
Many thought he was crazy to swap London for one of the most dangerous countries in the world. But he’s happy to be home. From the Guardian:
After living and working in London for more than a decade, I moved back to Pakistan just over a year ago – and soon realised that the Pakistan I knew had migrated elsewhere. Mainly to the front covers of the sombre current affairs magazines you find in posh dentists’ waiting rooms. The world’s media had reached a consensus that I had boarded a sinking ship. Time, Newsweek and the Economist have all written an obituary of Pakistan, some twice over. The more caring ones are still holding a wake.
A couple of years ago when we decided to return, Pakistan wasn’t exactly the world’s safest destination. It was fighting its demons of poverty, the Taliban and a military dictatorship that fostered them. But it very much belonged in this world: a new bank was going up on every street corner and a new generation of media, telecom and property professionals was working overtime to sell bits of the country to each other. It seems that between us negotiating with the removal men and stocking up on jars of Marmite, the various editorial boards across the western world decided that the end of the world was nigh and it would all begin in Pakistan. Channan, my 11-year-old born-and-bred-in- London son, was so miffed by this that when he saw some white people at Karachi airport, he whispered furiously: “What are they doing here? Don’t they know it’s not a tourist country. They are always saying it’s a terrorist country.” More:
Saeed Shah in The Guardian:
Tales of religious extremism, class divides, dictators, war and love have come from writers who grew up largely in Pakistan and now move easily between London, Karachi, New York and Lahore. Since the publication of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist two years ago, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, a new wave of Pakistani fiction is earning critical acclaim at home and around the world.
Last year came Mohammad Hanif’s first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes – a dark comedy about the Islamic fundamentalist rule of General Zia ul Haq in the 1980s – and Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil, which is set in modern Afghanistan.
Two keenly anticipated works are due out in the UK in the coming weeks: Kamila Shamsie’s fifth, and reputedly finest, novel, Burnt Shadows, and a collection of short stories by Daniyal Mueenuddin, who was compared with Chekhov when some of the tales were previously published in the New Yorker.
Mohammad Hanif, author of the blackly humorous book, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, was in India for the Jaipur LitFest. He talks to Shoma Chaudhury of Tehelka about things despairing and hopeful in India and Pakistan.
You were part of the clash of civilizations debate. What was your dominant impression from it?
I have been to India only a couple of times for short periods, so I have seen Indian politics only played out on the media. This was my first experience of watching Indian intellectuals and ideologues live. It was quite fascinating. There was Tarun Vijay – the right wing Hindu ideologue who I have only heard of. When he made that rather extreme statement that there is no clash of civilizations in India because on one side there is Hindu civilization and on the other, there is no civilization, only barbarism, I was really heartened by the reaction of the school children sitting in the front row. You would expect audiences in a festival like this to be full of bleeding heart liberals, but going by the way the kids booed him, one can see there are many new liberals in the making.
And click here for a slideshow from the Jaipur Literature Festival:
When Mohammed Hanif left Pakistan in 1996, it was ruled by Benazir Bhutto and the Taliban were being touted as the saviours of Afghanistan. Now her widower has become president, and the Taliban want to save Pakistan too. From The National:
Protesters in Peshawar at a demonstration against military operations in Pakistan's tribal areas. AP photo
Two weeks ago, after 12 years in London, I moved back to Pakistan. The week I arrived, Asif Ali Zardari – who spent the last few years in a more involuntary exile, after eight years in Pakistani jails – was elected as the President of Pakistan.
As I drove out of Karachi airport, a banner strung across the road greeted me. At one end was a picture of Benazir Bhutto, taken moments after she returned to Pakistan last year: rose petals in her hair, hands raised in prayer. At the other end of the banner a smug-looking Zardari stared at me, his suppressed grin confirming the impression that he is probably the happiest widower in Pakistan. Each picture bore its own slogan: under Bhutto, a defiant chant that became popular after her assassination, “Zinda hai Bi Bi Zinda hai,” Benazir is alive. Under Zardari, something a bit more intriguing: “Respect to Asif Zardari’s intelligence.”
On my visits to Karachi in the past decade, I have seen some odd slogans on the city’s graffiti-covered walls. I have seen blood-curdling calls for martyrdom next to instant cures for impotence and promises of overnight job promotion. These days, you can read about hair-transplants-on-the-go or learn about how to make the world’s cheapest phone call.
[Mohammed Hanif’s first novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, was on the longlist for this year’s Man Booker prize and is longlisted for the Guardian First Book award.]
When novelist Mohammed Hanif told friends he was returning to Pakistan after 12 years in Britain, they were aghast. Why would he and his young family swap London for a city with daily power cuts and rampant gun crime? The answer proved surprisingly simple … From The Guardian:
Twelve years ago, I arrived in London from Karachi with eight suitcases, a new wife and a three-year job contract. Before leaving for London, we had put our books, furniture and even some of our kitchen utensils at our relatives’ houses. When I told my friends and family that we would be back after exactly three years, they gave us a knowing smile and encouraged us to sell that sofa instead of putting it in their store room.
Two months from now, we are planning to return to Karachi with a container full of furniture, more pots and pans than we left behind and a 10-year-old son. Friends and family in Pakistan are aghast. From London to Karachi? Why are you coming to Karachi? Do you know what happened to Sana’s friend the other day? Do you have any idea how you’ll live without electricity for 10 hours every day? And, by the way, have you discussed this with Channan? How does he feel about it?
Mohammed Hanif’s book, A Case of Exploding Mangoes is causing a stir in London. Here, blackly humorous, he writes of how he stumbled on books in a Pakistan military academy during General Zia’s regime. And escaped. [Excerpt in Tehelka]
Once upon a time, when I was 18, I found myself locked up in Pakistan’s military academy’s cell along with my friend and partner-in-crime Khalid. We had thought we were doing charity work but the Academy officers obviously didn’t share our ideals. We had been caught trying to help out another classmate pass his chemistry exam, something he had failed to do twice already and this was his last chance to save himself from being expelled. The logistics of our rescue effort involved a wireless set improvised in the Sunday Hobbies Club, a microphone concealed in a crepe bandage around the left elbow of our academically challenged friend, and a Sanyo FM radio receiver. We were running our operation from the rooftop of a building next to the examination hall. We were caught red-handed, whispering a reversible chemical equation into the transistor.