Last month, a friend of mine invited me to the podium of the Pakistan Secular Forum’s Nowshera chapter on Dr Najeeb Ullah’s death anniversary. Dr Najeeb Ullah was meted out a brutal execution at the hands of Taliban after their first takeover of Kabul in the early 90s. He was dragged out of the UN building, despite the fact he had had a commitment from the UN for protection. He was hanged publicly and his corpse was humiliated, left hanging for many days. Najeeb Ullah’s overthrow witnessed the fall of the socialists’ era in Afghanistan.
Dr Najeeb Ullah, in his desperate efforts, tried to unite the Afghan. He miserably failed, partly because of internal political conflicts of the Afghan society and partly owing to the external forces; the neighbouring countries, who wanted to see Afghanistan as a religious domain to serve their own purpose.
It was my first ever visit to Nowshera. I was keen to visit the city as it had been a stronghold of the Pakistan People’s Party when the party enjoyed a massive public support till the sad demise of Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto. In the bygone days Nowshera was called a mini Larkana. Moreover, earlier the defunct National Awami Party, later Awami National Party, had inroads in the politics of the city. No doubt, it educated its workers politically and attracted the highly motivated educated lot of the city.
Nowshera has a thriving agricultural and horticulture sector as the Kabul River flows in the middle of the city. The city has a shining industrial sector also catering to cigarettes, textiles, beverages, ceramics, edible oil/ghee, and soaps/shampoo industries. Last, but not the least it is proud to have the PAF Academy Risalpur.
A heated debate followed the session on how to challenge the onslaught of religious extremism post US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The comrades are still cherishing the politics of the 60s
The purpose of this backdrop is to highlight the political landscape of the city that has peasants and industrial workers who were the motivated supporters of the two center left political parties, notwithstanding the fact it is the hometown of late Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the former JI Amir.
During my visit I also met Yousef Anwar, the district president of Mazdoor Kisan Party that highlighted the conglomerate of different progressive political parties in the city. During the session I accentuated that Noor Muhammad Taraki’s Saur (revolution of Afghanistan) was hasty and was launched without much of political upbringing of the cadre to support the revolution —Afghanistan had no industries to provide the urban proletariat and the peasants were reluctant to support the revolution. Interestingly, the peasants protested against the land reforms, as they had protested against the land reforms of Amir Aman Ullah Khan, since they were dependent on the malik to provide them seed and fertilisers.
The rural Pakhtun tribal society was a despicably ignored population since Afghanistan became a nation state, and the society followed the tradition of Pakhtunwali with the admixture of deep religious practices. It means the ground for socialist revolution was not leveled.
After the session I found the comrades still cherishing the politics of the early 60s. A heated debate followed the session on how to challenge the onslaught of religious extremism post US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The host came up with his suggestion to read the dialogues between Lenin and Bakunin to determine the tactics to face the coming wave of extremism. It suggested that left-oriented political workers had not done their homework to study the changing economic and political dynamics of the country that had changed drastically after Musharraf’s coup.
My visit was sufficient to illustrate our political landscape and found the past progressive political workers lost under the debris of the fallen Soviet Union
The director of the area study had some fantastic notions for a new social contract to dissolve the antagonist political scenario. When reminded of the 18th amendment its significance fell flat on him and he was adamant to have a new social contract. I inferred he was for the presidential system. He distributed a booklet as well to highlight his suggestions of the possible social contract in the torn society. I lost the booklet and couldn’t illuminate myself with his precious recommendations. But the session had no word on the poor educational policies of the government and none spoke against the newly introduced curriculum in the country. The newly introduced curriculum will be the harbinger of turning the society more volatile and extremist.
Later, in the evening, we visited the shrine of Must Baba. It has always been a riddle for me how the land of Sufis capitulated to the Islamic extremists. Peshawar valley and the then FATA had witnessed many Sufis struggling against the colonial rulers. Ipi Faqeer was one of the few.
On our arrival, the faqeers of the shrine of Must Baba invited us for a session of hash, which I regretted but others joined them. They squatted on the ground, around a pot placed on embers and puffed liquefied hash with straws that reminded me of opium dens of New York in the 30s. Then we had a musical epilogue mostly consisting of hymns.
My visit was sufficient to illustrate our political landscape and found the past progressive political workers lost under the debris of the fallen Soviet Union. They have no perspective, or the study, to counter the possible surge of extremism. No doubt, the state discouraged, and is still discouraging, the political process in the country, but our political parties can’t shun the responsibilities for not encouraging the homework, desperately required, to study the ever evolving socio-economics of the society. Our political parties have remained power mongrels while ignoring the hard facts on the ground. The same is, unfortunately, true of our social and political scientists.
The recent upheaval in Afghanistan triggered a debate among our intellectuals, pegging hope on the Sufis. Meanwhile, the Sufis are busy either in the riddles of metaphysics or smoking hash and singing hymns.