Ali’s Sword

On the eve of Pakistan’s war against India in 1965, some newspapers in the country reported that people in Karachi and Lahore had witnessed a startling phenomenon.

Quoting eyewitness accounts, the newspapers claimed that a bright light had appeared in the night sky that looked like ‘Ali’s Sword.’

According to Islamic tradition, Ali Abu Talib was the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law and was also famous for being a man of immense spiritual knowledge and bravery.

Tradition also speaks about a special double-headed sword that he used to carry on the battlefield called ‘Dhu Al-Fikar’ or the Zulfikar.

News about the supposed appearance of the celebrated sword was soon forgotten after the war ended in a stalemate the same year.

However, interestingly, six years later at the height of the 1971 war between Pakistan and India, many Urdu newspapers again began to report eyewitness accounts of the sword appearing in the night skies of Karachi and the Punjab.

Those who claimed to have witnessed the phenomenon claimed that it was ‘Ali’s Sword’ and a sign from the Almighty signalling a crushing victory for Pakistan.

But Pakistan lost the war and also its eastern wing that became Bangladesh. But even before the defeat some Pakistani scientists had already told newspapers that the so-called sword appeared not in the night sky but during early evening and was nothing more than fading sunlight breaking through a long and thin stretch of clouds.

Such sightings were never reported again in Pakistan.

Nawa-e-Waqt (3 August 1965)
Pakistan Times (4 August 1965)
Jassarat (10 December 1971)
Urdu Digest (December 1971)

The Furqan Battalion

The Ahmadi community were declared a non-Muslim minority by the government of Pakistan in 1974. But even before their relegation, it had faced severe criticism from a large section of the Islamic clergy of the region for its unconventional views on the orthodox beliefs and traditions of the faith.

Much has been written about how the community has been persecuted by the state of Pakistan after 1974.

Nevertheless, the fact that the community was considered non-Muslim 27 years after the creation of Pakistan proves that the state was initially unwilling to give in to the demand of the orthodox clergy of excommunicating the community.

Another much lesser known episode proves the same. An episode expunged from the memories of most Pakistanis.

As Pakistani forces entered Indian-administered Kashmir in October 1947 and triggered the first Indo-Pakistan war, the government also began to raise armed civilian militias for the conflict.

The largest such militia was made up of Pushtuns from the country’s tribal areas. But when the battle (that never evolved into an all-out war) stretched into January 1948, the government requested the leader of the country’s Ahmadi community, Mirza Mehmood, to form a trained battalion of young Ahmadi men.

Mehmood financed and raised a trained battalion of a few hundred Ahmadi men, arming them with latest British rifles. He then sent them into the Indian side of Kashimir.

The battalion directly engaged in gun battles with the Indian military and lost five men. It was led by Col. Muhammad Hayat Kaisrani and then by Col. Mubarik Ahmad.

An Ahmadi leader consults with the head of the Al-Furqan Battalion, Col. Mubarek Ahmed (1948).
An Ahmadi leader consults with the head of the Al-Furqan Battalion, Col. Mubarek Ahmed (1948).

The battle ended in mid-1948 but the government requested that the battalion be left standing and armed. However, two years later, in 1950, the government finally disbanded the unit.

Justice Munir’s Report on the anti-Ahmadi disturbances of 1953 in Lahore p.197
The Furqan Battalion (Kashmir Info/E-liberary)

Young Turks in Pakistan

‘Young Turks’ was a secular and reformist group formed in the early 20th Century to initiate constitutional reform in Turkey and clip the powers held by the Caliph of the Ottoman Empire.

The organisation was made up of some reform-minded military men and student activists. In 1908 a military battalion led by one of the Young Turk’s generals managed to force the Caliph to reverse his decision of suspending the Constitution. The Young Turks then made the Caliph restore the parliament.

Ironically, though the founder of Modern Turkey, Kamal Atta Turk, adopted the liberal, secular and reformist agenda of the Young Turks, he eventually suppressed the party after taking over power in 1923.

He abolished the Ottoman caliphate and completely secularised Turkish politics and society.

He also became an inspiration for many Muslim military men, some of whom began to create their own clandestine Young Turks groups.

Major-General Akbar Khan, who was behind the first ever coup attempt in Pakistan (in 1951), was one such man.

Born into a Pashtun family in Charsadah, a town in what today is the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan; Khan gained a commission in the army of British India.

He fought for the British Indian Army in World War II. He became a Brigadier in the Pakistan Army after the creation of the country in 1947. The very next year he was commanding regular and irregular troops against the Indian military in Kashmir.

Major-General Akbar Khan: Young Turk.
Major-General Akbar Khan: Young Turk.
All the while, Akbar Khan and his wife had become members of a clandestine group within the Pakistan Army that were influenced and inspired by the Young Turks revolution in Turkey in 1908 and by Kamal Atta Turk.

Khan had a falling out with Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, when the PM ordered that the hostilities against India in Kashmir be halted and the issue of disputed Kashmir resolved through the United Nations.

Akbar criticised the government of abandoning his troops. He and his wife then began to widen the scope and ambition of their Young Turks group by including more disgruntled officers and members of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) into the fold.

Though Khan was given a promotion and became a Major-General by Pakistan’s first Commander-in-Chief, General Douglas Gracey (an Englishmen), Akbar’s resentment against Gracey and Liaquat over their (allegedly) lacklustre attitude over the Kashmir issue grew.

Akbar began to plan a military coup against the Liaquat regime.

Gracey and future military dictator of Pakistan, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, were aware of Akbar’s Young Turks group. But it is only when the group began to recruit more officers and interact with the communists, that the government infiltrated the group with spies.

Pakistan’s first Commander-in-Chief, General Gracey. He was one of the first top military men in Pakistan to have alerted the government about a ‘dangerous Young Turks group’ (led by Akbar Khan) in the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan’s first Commander-in-Chief, General Gracey. He was one of the first top military men in Pakistan to have alerted the government about a ‘dangerous Young Turks group’ (led by Akbar Khan) in the Pakistan Army.

In 1951, the coup attempt was nipped in the bud and the plotters arrested. These included Akbar Khan, his wife, famous leftist poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and a leading member of the Communist Party of Pakistan, Sajjad Zaheer. A number of other leftist officers and civilians were also arrested.

They were given sentences ranging from four to 12 years, but were eventually pardoned after only a few years. The Young Turks group in the military was, however, obliterated.

Khan retired from the military and joined Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s left-liberal and populist Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that was formed in 1967. He was made the Chief of Security during the party’s first regime (1972-77).

After Bhutto’s fall in July 1977, Khan retreated into seclusion and died in obscurity in 1993 at the age of 81.

Lt. General Gul Hassan: Memoirs of Lt Gen Gul Hassan Khan. (Oxford University Press, 1993)
Kazi Anwarul Haque: Under Three Flags (University of Michigan, 1986)
Hassan Zaheer: The Times & Trials of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy, 1951 (Oxford University Press, 1998)

Double agents or double traitors?

In January 1971, two young men belonging to a Kashmiri liberation group in India hijacked an Indian Airways plane from Srinagar and ordered the pilot to land it at the Lahore Airport in Pakistan.

As the Pakistani authorities were busy negotiating with the hijackers for the release of the passengers, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, arrived on a PIA plane from Dhaka in East Pakistan.

Bhutto’s party had won the largest number of seats in West Pakistan. He had gone to Dhaka to hold talks with the chairman of the Bengali nationalist party, the Awami League, which had swept the polls in East Pakistan.

East Pakistan was on the brink of a civil war and the Pakistani government, then led by General Yahya Khan, had accused India of arming Bengali nationalists.

When Bhutto arrived in Lahore, he was greeted by a large number of his supporters. But as he was about to make his way out of the airport, some of his supporters demanded that he talk to the two hijackers and declare them as heroes.

Not knowing exactly who the two young Kashmiris were and exactly what was the Pakistan government’s stance on the hijacking, Bhutto was reluctant.

Nevertheless, he was almost carried towards the hijacked plane by a dozen or so of his supporters.

Bhutto shook hands with the hijackers, exchanged a few smiles and hastily bid goodbye. The crowd cheered.

Bhutto beat a hasty retreat but the Pakistani authorities managed to get the hijackers to give themselves up and release the passengers.

But as the passengers (most of them Indians and a few foreign tourists) were being put on another flight back to India, the now empty hijacked plane went up in flames.

It was first reported that the plane had been blown up by the hijackers. However, late Khaled Hassan, a veteran journalist, claims that many years later, the former Head of The Indian Desk in the Pakistani government, Aftab Ahmed, told him (in London) that the plane was set on fire by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.

But just as newspapers were reporting that the two hijackers, Hashim and Ashraf Qureshi, were being hailed as heroes by the people of West Pakistan mainly due to Bhutto’s meeting with them, Bhutto insisted that he was forced into meeting them by an emotional crowd and that he had no clue who the two men were or what they wanted.

Hashim and Ashraf Qureshi peak out from the cockpit of the hijacked plane.
Hashim and Ashraf Qureshi peak out from the cockpit of the hijacked plane.

More irony ensued when the Indian government and press accused Pakistan of masterminding the hijacking, while the Pakistan government not only arrested the two hijackers but also a leading Kashmiri leader who had escaped India and was residing in Pakistan.

The Pakistan government on the other hand accused the Indian government of staging the hijacking to put Pakistan in a tight spot and create a negative image about the Kashmir issue. It declared both the hijackers as Indian agents, whereas the Indian government declared them to be Pakistani agents.

So in a way, the hijackers became villains in the eyes of both India and Pakistan. Both were tried for treason and spying by a Pakistani court and jailed.

After spending 10 years in Pakistani jails, they were released in 1980. Whereas, Ashraf decided to stay in Pakistan, Hashim flew out to Europe. However, after a few years there, he returned to India where he was immediately arrested by the Indian authorities who charged him for high treason and threw him in jail.

Ashraf led a quiet life in Pakistan, while Hashim who had spent 10 years in a Pakistani jail and then another 10 or so in an Indian jail was finally released in the early 2000s. He still resides in India and has become a pacifist.

Khaled Hassan: The Truth about Ganga (The Friday Times, April 2003)
Nitish K. Sengupta: Land of Two Rivers (Penguin Books, 2011)
DAWN (February 1 & 2, 1971)

What’s porn in Urdu?

The 1970s are remembered as a decade of cultural flamboyance in which lifestyle liberalism dominated the social narrative and expression across the world.

Pakistan was no exception. In 1970s Pakistan was being run by the populist government of Z A. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and it is during this period that the country’s tourism and film industries experienced a peak.

By 1975 cinemas and nightclubs in the country were reporting record profits, and tourists were thronging the streets of Karachi, Lahore, Gilgit and Swat.

The freewheeling and swinging times managed to somewhat overshadow the political and economic turmoil the country had found itself in after the 1971 war with India.

The country’s cultural scene also began to incorporate clients from classes that were below the so-called elite classes.

For example, in the 1970s, apart from the already established nightclubs like Oasis and Playboy (in Karachi), bars and clubs also sprang up in the city’s Saddar area and on Tariq Road that specifically catered to middle and lower middle-class clients.

A 1973 press ad for Karachi’s famous Oasis Club. (Taken from DAWN, February 1973).
A 1973 press ad for Karachi’s famous Oasis Club. (Taken from DAWN, February 1973).

When (in 1975) Pakistan’s first ‘For Adults Only’ (X-rated) film, Dhulan Aik Raat Ki became a massive hit, some Karachi-based journalists managed to get a license to publish Pakistan’s first ever Urdu ‘sex magazine.’

American ‘adult magazines’ like Playboy and Penthouse were only available from some booksellers who used to smuggle them into the country from the US and UK and sold them at a price that was only affordable to a limited number of Pakistanis.

The journalists decided to start publishing a Pakistani Playboy that would be in Urdu and cost only Rs. 3 a copy.

Called Ishtraq (partnership), it appeared on the newsstands in January 1976. Though not published on glossy paper and only carrying black and white pictures, every month the magazine carried a few political articles, some steamy and quasi-explicit short stories, and images picked up from Playboy and Penthouse photo shoots. It also had a column on ‘sexual advice’ in which readers’ questions were answered by psychologists.

The inside flap of a 1976 issue of Ishtraq. (Picture provided by one of the publishers).
The inside flap of a 1976 issue of Ishtraq. (Picture provided by one of the publishers).

Ishtraq was an immediate hit, but only available in the big cities. By November 1976 its circulation had risen from 15,000 copies per month to almost 65,000, in spite of the fact that the publishers had jacked up its price in July 1976 from Rs.3 to Rs. 4.50.

The magazine was, however, banned and its licence revoked when opposition leaders forced a cornered Bhutto regime to close down nightclubs and bars in April 1977.

Interestingly, the magazine’s licence was renewed in late 1978 by the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship that had toppled the Bhutto regime in July 1977.

But the magazine was only allowed to function as a social lifestyle monthly. However, it was banned again in 1979 when it ran a completely apolitical story about a journalist’s experience of going to buy a goat for that year’s Eidul Azha.

The story mentioned how the journalist was made to check the goat’s teeth which Zia’s Information Ministry claimed was a taunt against Ziaul Haq’s teeth! It immediately cancelled the magazine’s licence again.

*The publisher has requested not to publish his name.

The vanishing

Pakistan is not exactly known for producing international tennis stars. But recently Aisam-ul-Haq has done well to represent the country as its most well-known tennis player.

But long before him Pakistan had managed to produce a tennis player who not only became one of the first Pakistanis to play at the prestigious Wimbledon tournament, but also played a number of matches against famous international tennis stars like Jimmy Corners and Arthur Ash.

It is thus sad that the name of this player has gone missing from the memories of a majority of Pakistanis. The truth is he too went missing. He suddenly vanished, as if into thin air.

His name was Haroon Rahim and for almost a decade he was one of the most respected and well known Pakistanis in the international tennis circuit.

He first entered the limelight when he represented Pakistan in the Davis Cup at the age of 15 (in 1967).

A tennis prodigy, Rahim rapidly rose to become Pakistan’s No: 1. At age 20 he was given a scholarship by the University of California (UCLA) where he became the captain of the university’s tennis team and led and partnered future World No:1 Jimmy Connors in many tournaments.

He remains to be the only Pakistani player to have made it to the quarterfinals of the highly competitive US Open (in 1975).

Haroon Rahim at the 1975 US Open.
Haroon Rahim at the 1975 US Open.
Rahim continued representing Pakistan and it was due to him that various famous tennis stars visited the country for matches in the 1970s. But his personal life wasn’t always that glorious.

Though coming from a highly educated and well-to-do family, Rahim was constantly rebelling against his family’s aristocratic background.

More and more he began to spend time in the United States. In 1978, while at the peak of his game, Rahim met and married an American woman. This did not go down well with his family who refused to acknowledge the union.

Angered by the reaction, he cut off all ties with the family. Not only did he do that, he also quit tennis and simply vanished. He was just 29 at the time.

Some believe that he joined a roving cult in California, sold all his possessions, changed his name and appearance and just disappeared. This is also the time when his family stopped their search for him.

He was never heard from (or found) again – even though his family believes he’s still living in the US (under a new name and identity).

Smoking gum

You must have seen or heard about ads of cigarette brands in the US that till the early 1950s actually claimed that smoking was good for health.

Of course, this was before a research was made public that for the first time proved that smoking caused serious health problems, particularly lung cancer.

Though this eventually forced the US government to order cigarette brands to put a health warning on their packs, cigarette advertising in the press and television continued till the early 1970s when the US and most Western countries finally banned cigarette brands from advertising on TV.

Before the early 1950s, cigarette manufacturers often used doctors in their ads.
Before the early 1950s, cigarette manufacturers often used doctors in their ads.

When anti-smoking campaigns that began to make waves in the US and Europe in the 1970s reached Asian and African countries, cigarette manufacturers, anticipating similar bans in non-Western countries, began to devise unique ways to attract potential (young) consumers.

Though strict bans on cigarette advertising in most Asian countries would not come into effect till the late 1990s, ‘bubble gum cigarette’ appeared in the general stores and supermarkets of Thailand.

Pink bubble gum was rolled and wrapped in cigarette paper and sold to kids in packs of famous cigarette brands.

The product reached Pakistan as well some time in 1974 and was an instant hit with the kids.

Costing Rs.2 a pack, the local makers used Thai gum but began selling it in specially made boxes of local cigarette brands such as Gold Leaf, Capstan, Red & White and Victory.

Deadly pink: Bubble gum cigarettes.
Deadly pink: Bubble gum cigarettes.

My research did not confirm or was able to determine whether the actual manufacturers of these brands were behind the emergence of the bubble gum cigarette in Pakistan.

A former executive of the Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC) said that local cigarette manufacturers did not need to indulge in such gimmicks because smoking till the 1970s did not carry the kind of stigma it does today, nor were there any serious restrictions on cigarette advertising in Pakistan in those days.

Health warnings on cigarette packs only began appearing in Pakistan in the late 1980s and cigarette advertising in newspapers and TV was only banned after 2000.

The executive isn’t sure how much the bubble gum cigarette influenced young kids to start smoking but he said that the gum didn’t last for more than three years.

‘These bubble gum brands began to appear in 1973 or 1974 but were gone by 1978,’ he said.

First, the bubble gum used in them was of very low quality. Kids began to fall sick after chewing on these make-believe cigarettes. There were also reports of parents discovering small dead ants in the gum. But according to the executive the real reason was the paper that the gum was wrapped in.

‘It got wet and sticky and kids began to chew it along with the gum. There were some cases of choking and many cases of stomach ailments.’

Alas, the weird bubble gum cigarette vanished for good from Pakistan.

Howard Markel: Tracing the Cigarette Path (New York Times, March 20, 2007)
K. Nasir: Epidemiology of Cigarette Smoking in Pakistan (Wiley, 2001)
Conversation with a former executive of PTC.

Powder to the people

For decades Pakistan has had one of the largest numbers of heroin addicts. To many, this has always been the case. The truth, however, is that the rise in heroin addiction in Pakistan was quite a sudden phenomenon.

For example, a research was done in 1979 in Pakistan to study the state of drug usage in the country.

Though the research spoke of a large number of Pakistanis who were regular users of the (non-addictive) cannabis-based drugs, there were only two (reported) cases of heroin addiction.

This means that till 1979 very few people in Pakistan actually knew anything about heroin as such. It just wasn’t available, even though the report did mention cases of morphine addiction among some doctors.

But within the next five years, or by 1985, Pakistan suddenly had the second largest number of heroin addicts in the world (after the United States).

How did that happen?

Researchers and anti-drug NGOs working with the government suggest two main reasons. First was Pakistan’s entry into the so-called ‘anti-Soviet Afghan jihad’ in 1979. Pakistan opened its borders with Afghanistan and allowed thousands of Afghan refugees to pour in.

As most of these refugees began settling in Pakistan, they began to trade products in the cities that were once only available in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Poppy farms also sprang up in the border areas and the heroin made from the plant was used to further fund the ‘jihad’ that was otherwise already being bankrolled by the US and Saudi Arabia.

The poppy.
The poppy.
It was in 1980 that heroin for the first time became available from drug dealers in the country’s cities.

The second reason given is that a ban on alcohol (in April 1977) forced many alcoholics to take up heroin.

Though alcoholic beverages were available, their price shot up after the prohibition, leaving the less well-to-do drinkers to look for alternatives.

Nevertheless, by 1985, heroin usage and addiction was being reported from across the classes.

Some researchers also give a third reason for the sudden proliferation of the deadly drug. Though they have put their thoughts on paper, their claims have been largely rejected by most researchers and academics involved in studying heroin addiction in Pakistan.

Dr.Rehan Abid who was one of the first doctors to set up a clinic in Pakistan to help heroin addicts (in 1980), says that the proliferation of heroin in Pakistan was done at the behest of the Ziaul Haq dictatorship.

‘No country has experienced such a fast growth of heroin addicts,’ he said. ‘I was a general physician at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital. We started to notice the pouring of young men addicted to a drug we had no knowledge of. We just couldn’t understand what was happening to these people. Within a year, I opened my own clinic after only barely understanding the dynamics of this new drug.’

Rehan’s friend Naveed who got addicted to heroin in early 1980 explained how the drug was first given to them for free: ‘It’s an expensive drug. Addicts cheat, lie, beg and even commit theft to get it. But in January 1980, when my friends and I visited the den of the guy who had been selling us hashish for years, he told us that he didn’t have any hashish but he does have meethi chars (sweet hashish).’

They were given the drug for free. It didn’t look like hashish because it was in powder form.

‘Most peddlers at the time began to give their customers this meethi chars,’ Naveed continued. ‘Of course no one was told how addictive this new drug was, even though nobody injected it in those days. It was mostly smoked in cigarettes. And only later did we come to know that it was actually called heroin. Within a matter of months, we were all addicted. Aching, vomiting, scratching ourselves. And that is when meethi chars stopped being handed to us for free. We now had to pay, or face the pain of withdrawal.’

‘Meethi chars.’
‘Meethi chars.’

Dr. Rehan says that this is not the first time a government can be accused of aiding the growth of a crippling drug to silence dissent. He said many black American activists had accused the FBI in the US of flooding the streets of New York and Chicago with heroin to get young blacks addicted and weaken the black liberation movement that was taking shape in the US in the late 1960s.

Yes, many American authors and activists have claimed this but most of them have been criticised for peddling conspiracy theories or theories without any substantial evidence.

When I told the same to Dr. Rehan he replied: ‘Then how does one explain the free distribution of an expensive drug like heroin to thousands of unsuspecting Pakistanis in 1980?’

I don’t know. Slick marketing tactics, I suppose?

Decades of Drug Use: Data from the 60s and 70s (Gallup International)
Alfred W. McCoy: Drug Fallout (St. Jose University, 1997)
M Gossop: The detoxification of high dosage of heroin in Pakistan (Elsevier, 1989)

From the forests of Eden

In 1983 a powerful and unprecedentedly potent strain of Bhang appeared in the interior of the Sindh province.

Bhang is prepared from the female buds of the cannabis plant and consumed as a beverage with water or milk.

Western scientists have explained its effects of being similar to those of powerful hallucinogenic drugs like LSD and Magic Mushrooms. It is not addictive but can induce hallucinations and an altered state of mind for upto 10 hours.

Bhang has been used as a recreational beverage in South Asia for centuries, especially in the arid and hot areas of India and Pakistan. It is said to have a cooling effect.

It is still popular in large parts rural and semi-rural area of the Sindh province.

A stall selling bhang during a festival outside a Sufi shrine in a Sindh town.
A stall selling bhang during a festival outside a Sufi shrine in a Sindh town.

The extraordinary strain of the drug that appeared in Sindh in 1983 was aptly nicknamed ‘Martial La’ (Martial Law).

According to Mehmood Qureshi who did his Masters from the Jamshoro University in 1981 and is a senior officer in a government department today, claims that Martial La was specially formulated by the dictatorship of General Zia to slow down the violent movement that had erupted in Sindh against his dictatorship (1983’s MRD Movement).

Uzair Kazi a former member of the Sindh Shagird Tehreek disagrees: ‘Martial La was consumed by many young men so that when they were arrested by the police, it helped them bear the torture that was inflicted on them.’

Whatever the case, many Bhang enthusiasts in Sindh claim that the emergence of Martial La was a natural occurrence. They suggest that it grew on its own in the wild of the forests that run across the towns of Dadu and Moro.

The enigmatic forests of Sindh. Birth of ‘Martial La?’
The enigmatic forests of Sindh. Birth of ‘Martial La?’

One enthusiast said that it grew there till about 1985 but vanished afterwards. He thinks the vanishing had more to do with the effects of deforestation and water pollution in the area than anything else.

Zia’s little green book

The armed forces of Pakistan were a secular lot till the 1970s. But from the late 1970s onwards they were systematically ‘Islamised’, especially by the dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq (July 1977 - August 1988).

Historians commenting on the phenomenon have pointed towards Zia’s admiration of famous Islamic scholar and founder of the Jamat-i-Islami, Abul Ala Maududi.

It is true that Zia was an avid fan of Maududi’s writings on political Islam, but it was not exactly on Maududi’s thesis that Zia initiated the Islamisation process in the country’s armed forces.

It was the thesis and theories of a relatively lesser known and obscure figure upon which Zia almost squarely designed his ‘Islamic reformation of the Pakistan Army.’

His name was Brigadier-General S K. Malik. In 1975 at the height of Z A. Bhutto’s populist regime, Malik quietly published a book called ‘The Quranic Concept of War.’

S K. Malik began writing it in 1974 as a reaction to the Pakistan military’s defeat against its Indian counterpart in 1971. When he discussed his project with Zia, the latter was highly impressed by Malik’s thesis. He encouraged him to publish them in form of a book.

One is not sure whether Bhutto (an avid reader) ever got to read Malik’s book that Zia had begun to distribute among the officers, I have a feeling that he didn’t because Malik’s theory was squarely against any liberal or metaphorical interpretation of the Quran, especially of the verses that deal with the concept of jihad.

To Zia, such thinking was necessary to infuse a more aggressive faith-based streak in the armed forces that he believed had been softened because the institution was steeped in the ideals of ‘Modernist Islam,’ and was too secular and ‘westernised’ in its social and political outlook.

Various economic and political factors contributed to the July 1977 military coup that Zia pulled off against the Bhutto regime. Zia rode in on a wave of protests by political parties that had been expressing urban middle-class frustrations and the interests of the trader and wealthy industrial classes that had been directly affected by Bhutto’s (albeit chaotic) socialist manoeuvres.

These classes had agreed to let the religious parties take the lead. But when in July 1977 Zia toppled Bhutto, he adopted the anti-Bhutto movement’s religious tenor.

As mentioned earlier, though most political historians have suggested that Zia planned out his coming ‘Islamic rule’ on the models of ‘Islamic governance’ theorised by Abul Ala Maududi, the truth is, his main inspiration in this context came from S K. Malik’s book.

Not surprisingly, in the second year of his dictatorship in 1979, he sanctioned the mainstream publication of the book and volunteered to write the book’s foreword.

Zia first used Malik’s thesis to ‘Islamise’ the Pakistani army and turn jihad into a national policy of the government and the military.

The cover of the 1979 edition of the book.
The cover of the 1979 edition of the book.
He then popularised the book among Afghan, Pakistani and Arab mujahideen who had all gathered on the Pakistan side of the Pak-Afghan border to lead guerrilla raids into Afghanistan against the Soviet forces.

He also made sure that the book was made available to all Pakistanis and thus Urdu translations of the book were made available in bookstores.

By 1986, the book had also been translated into Arabic and Persian.

According to author and counter-terrorism expert, Patrick Poole, ‘General Zia embraced Malik’s expansive understanding of jihad as a duty extending to soldiers, as well as individual citizens.’ He accepted Malik’s redefinition of defensive jihad to include the removal of any obstacles and resistance to the spread of Islam. According to Malik, even passive resistance to the advance of Islam is legitimate grounds for attack.

Malik in his book suggests that war should dictate policy and not the other way round. Meaning that war or jihad should work as a pre-emptive tool against anti-Islam forces. It didn’t matter whether these (perceived enemies of faith) were hostile or not. According to Malik, Islam permits this.

As Malik went to great lengths to prove this by dissecting various verses of the Quran, it is this aspect of the book that is most popular with violent Islamist groups today.

Malik completely rejects any allegorical or metaphorical understanding of the Quran, nor attempts to study it in a more contextual manner. He simply intellectualises the literalist reading of the Muslim scriptures in light of a standing army of an Islamic country that should always be ready to wage war (in the name of jihad) against hostile and passive, real or imagined enemies of Islam.

Malik then goes on to advocate that every Muslim citizen of an Islamic country should think like a ‘holy warrior.’

Thus, many experts believe that Zia used Malik’s thesis to also justify the alliances he made with violent sectarian and Islamist forces that sprang up during his regime.

But what about the author himself?

Malik retired from the military to concentrate on becoming a scholar. Perturbed by the criticism the armed forces were being subjected to after the 1971 East Pakistan debacle he set out to answer the military’s critics but ended up constructing an entirely reactive and extreme response.

He first came up with his thesis in 1975 in a world in which Islamists, jihadists and religious extremists were still obscure characters that could only be found on the far fringes of society and politics.

Thus, he was largely writing a cathartic tirade for a defeated army as a man deeply disturbed and depressed by what had taken place in 1971.

He didn’t seem to be a very ambitious man and never gave any interviews or ever became a prominent member of Zia’s government or cabinet. He remained in the background.

My research did suggest that he was a moderate-to-liberal Muslim, and that by 1975 he had become highly religious and sombre, but that’s about it. When or where was he born and when did he die, noone seems to know.

Such a private and unambitious character could not have been writing a highly volatile book consciously aiming to radicalise the military and the civilians and then foreseeing the emergence of sectarian and Islamist violence on a global scale.

His was a reactive and angry tirade against what he thought were the premier enemies of his beloved armed forces. He went literal, rigid and myopic in his study of religious texts because to him the military’s supposedly lax and liberal approach towards faith had made it weak.

I do wonder though, what he would’ve thought about his work today in which quotes from his book regularly appear in ‘jihadi literature’ that not only advocates but boasts of committing terrible violence on civilian and military targets alike and then justifies it as something sanctioned by the scriptures?

Would he have been elated, or distraught by the way his reactive diatribe that he moulded and presented as a scholarly study was first used by a manipulative military dictator to justify his illegitimate hold over power as a ‘soldier of Islam,’ and then cherry-picked by violent militants and their apologists to rationalise nihilist violence as something sectioned by faith?

Patrick Poole, Mark Hannah: Analysis of the Quranic Concept of War (Wolfpenglos Files)
Joseph Morrison: Political Islam – From Maududi to Ahmadinejad (Abc-CLIO, 2009)

Smashing pumpkins

In 1985, police in Karachi was alarmed by an increasing number of murders committed in a similar manner. Though the murders took place in different areas of the city, all of them included street urchins and beggars (as victims) all of whom were killed by a single hard blow of a hammer to their heads.

In late 1985 when the total number of such murders rose to seven, the police theorised that the killings were being done by a single person.

The single person then became a group after a victim survived the blow. A beggar sleeping on a footpath of Karachi’s Burns Road area reported that he went to sleep at about 2 am but was woken up by a screech of a white Suzuki FX car.

He said before he could fully awake himself, he saw at least four men in white clothes and black masks approaching him. One of them hit him on the head with a heavy hammer and he passed out, almost bleeding to death.

When newspapers reported the beggar’s story, the supposed group began to be known as the ‘Hathora Group’ (Hammar Group) by the police and the press.

The killings subsided for a while but came back in mid-1986 to haunt those who spent their nights on footpaths.

No arrests were ever made. Some right-wing Urdu newspapers alluded that the group was actually KGB or Afghan agents, while some scribes suggested that it was the handiwork of the Zia dictatorship to spread fear.

A December 1985 newspaper report on a survey conducted by Gallup on the Hathora Group.
A December 1985 newspaper report on a survey conducted by Gallup on the Hathora Group.

One English magazine wondered if the group was actually made up of members of some satanic cult or a death squad out to clean the streets of drug addicts, beggars, runaway children and homeless men.

The last known case of the group was reported in May 1986.



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