I was twelve when my family moved into a freshly painted white bungalow in Phase four of Defence Housing Authority in Karachi. It was designed in the 1970s by a friend of my uncle’s and showcased modernist use of vertical and horizontal lines, glass and concrete. The architect had based the house on a series of rectangles. The rectangle of the boundary walls contained within a rectangular building. On the front, as you entered from the gate, was a courtyard with a hanging garden, and on the right a lawn. The left side of the house had a separate gate for a car and on that side the building was a mere five feet from the boundary wall. Inside, there were three bedrooms on one side of the house and on the other there a dining area and entertaining rooms going onto the lawn. At the back conner there was a kitchen. Farooq, a domestic worker who had come from our village of Bhiria in Naushahro Feroze district also lived in the house. But not on the inside.
His room was on the outside behind the car park area. I recall it as a small room of 10 feet by 12. It had one light bulb in the middle, a fan and a small plastic mirror hanging on the wall. Next to Farooq’s ‘servant quarter’ was ‘the servant toilet’. I never really saw it. But I recall it was dark and had a tap a foot or two from the floor. The floor and walls were cemented but not tiled. It had a desi (squat) toilet. Farooq was not allowed inside the house unless invited. The kitchen had an entrance from inside the house and one from outside. The outside was for him, and the triangle of the car park, quarter and kitchen was his world. My father held court in the lawn, and his world and that of Farooq, were physically demarcated – my father never went to the back of the house where Farooq lived and worked and Farooq only entered his side when conducting a task, such as, bringing a glass of water. For my father Farooq served only an instrumental purpose. If I spent too much time with Farooq I was reprimanded for ‘wasting time with servants’. My Karachi house, for all its aesthetically pleasing qualities, was in microcosm a colonial world. I am talking about 1992. The architect had designed the house with colonial principles of slave and master in mind. Farooq was the native who had to be quartered and my father the master. My father, as a high level banker had adopted many of the habits of former colonial masters. My then household merely reflected wider colonial patterns of Pakistan. As Fanon notes, ‘All that happened at independence is that the white master was replaced by the brown master’.
The essential aim of decolonial politics is to humanize both perpetrator and victim
Coloniality, I came to realise when studying Fanon, has nothing to do with formal independence – with the white masters leaving town, so to say. Rather, I want to use coloniality to describe those dehumanizing attitudes and practises that have a genealogical link to colonial modes of governance – either European or others. One element I have already noted above – that of compartmentalization of physical zones – the native quarter and that of the masters, held beautifully apart by check-posts, architecture and the injection of inferiority in the consciousness of the oppressed majority. Reading Fanon’s last three works helps us understand colonialiity as he outlines the possibility of a decolonial project. Of the four books he wrote, the first, Black Skin, White Mask, deals with the pyschological effects of colonialism, the last three, Towards an African Revolution, A Dying Colonialism, and The Wretched Of the Earth, while continuing the pyschological analysis add an economic, social and political analysis and also offer a method of sorts for decolonialization. It is the last three books that I wish to examine here, briefly, for what they can tell us about Pakistan today.
Having already published, Black Skin, White Mask, Fanon went on to complete a doctorate in psychiatry and soon after, around the age of 28, became director of Blida-Joinville hospital in Algiers. It was here in Algeria, in 1953, that he began to see anew the effects of colonization. The Algeria that Fanon arrived in was a colony of the French Empire, and he an employee of the colonial government. Two types of patients came to dictate this thoughts. The military officials who administered torture and the Algerian who was tortured. Both sought his solace and his expertise. The former came voluntarily and the latter were thrown to him after electrocution, drowning, beatings and sexual abuse. Fanon saw first hand how the system of colonialism debased both. He relates an instance of a French policemen who administered torture and an Algerian he had tortured accidentally meeting in his hospital grounds:
“He [the policeman] was leaning against a tree, looking overcome, trembling and drenched with sweat: in fact having an anxiety crisis. I took him into my car and drove him to my house. Once lying on the sofa he told me he had met in the hospital one of my patients (an Algerian patriot) who had been questioned in the police barracks. I then learnt that the policeman had taken an active part in inflicting torture on this man. I administered some sedatives which calmed his anxiety. After he had gone, I went to…the hospital where the patriot was being cared for…the patient could not be found. Finally we managed to discover him in a toilet where he was trying to commit suicide: he on his side had recognised the policeman and thought that he had come to look for him and take him aback again to the barracks.”
Allow me two asides. First, Fanon treated both and cared for each – the perpetrator of torture and the victim – such an act cannot be viewed as mere professionalism on his part, he was enacting a decolonial politics – his struggle with his patients was of reclaiming something human in both. This, then, is the essential aim of decolonial politics.
Second, that torture, institutional and systematic – like enforced and ingrained compartmentalization – is the cornerstone of coloniality and also prevalent in Pakistan in colonial proportions. The victims, first and foremost, are the Baloch. 18,000 Baloch are missing. Many are young students. Most are picked up at check-points across Balochistan and the Supreme Court has made statements that suggest that it is the Army and various arms of the army that are responsible for their abduction.
However, it is the bodies of these young men after they have been ‘dumped’ that tells us all we need to know about colonial practises. Take the case of Sana Sangat Baloch, a student leader of a non-violent, though independence seeking Baloch Student Organisation-Azad (BSO-A). A friend of mine met him in 2008, a year before his abduction. He described him as being, and I quote,
‘Thin, with a shape nose, broad shoulders, dark skin, about six foot, short black hair, eyes…eyes of fire…,it was as though he had internalized all the violence against the Baloch, felt each blow and carried it with passion…I was scared to look into those eyes…there was too much pain there’
Sana had told him:
‘I will be caught soon enough, and tortured but it doesn’t matter, the fight will go on’. Sana knew the system he opposed too well to have doubts about his fate. He was in his twenties. A year later on 7th December, in Bolan district of Balochistan, as he was travelling back to Quetta after conducting a series of study circles in the area to raise awareness about issues facing Baloch students, he was abducted by Frontier Corps personal.
Rana’s body was found three years later in Kech district of Balochistan, on the side of the road in a pool of dust
Rana’s body was found three years later in Kech district of Balochistan, on the side of the road in a pool of dust. He had been savagely tortured, just like he foresaw; shot twenty-seven times in the chest, his arms and legs were broken and a hole had been drilled into his head going through to the skull. I saw a picture of his body – the eyes remained on fire. Speaking still and marked still with passion for freedom for the Baloch.
Sana is not the only body that speaks volumes of Pakistani coloniality. Take the case also of Qambar Chakar, a university student, who was abducted from his house near Turbat city on November 26, 2010. His body was found on a roadside in the same district from which he was abducted, on the 5th of January, 2011. His upper body had been ripped apart in two halves by bullets fired continuously at the same spot on one side of his chest. He also had a further 28 bullets in other parts of his body. Abduction, torture and murder of Baloch activists has historically been the Pakistanis state’s method of answering the Baloch question. The answer reeks of the method of colonizers.
Fanon found himself with the colonizers by way of his employment and that he could not do. He resigned from his office and joined the Algerian revolutionaries. He put his reasons in a public resignation letter in 1956, which made it clear that French colonialism was ‘non-viable’ and dehumanizing. He wrote:
“The function of a social structure is to set up institutions to serve man’s needs. A society that drives its members to desperate solutions is a non-viable society, a society to be replaced. It is the duty of the citizen to say this. No professional morality, no class solidarity, no desire to wash the family linen in private, can have a prior claim. No pseudo-national mystification can prevail against the requirement of reason.”
Reason required action on Fanon’s part to change the social structure that did not serve human needs. From this point on until his death in 1961 Fanon went underground and worked for the Algerian FLN (National Liberation Front). His last three books reflect his experiences in the movement for decolonialization with the FLN. These experiences in turn reflect three possibilities acted out by the colonizers, national elites (brown sahibs) and the colonized masses. Namely, the colonizers’ desire to hang on to the colony, the national elites’ (brown sahibs) desire of a formal independence but without the dismantling of colonial structures, and opposed to the two the colonized people’s desire for substantial decolonialization. Let me elaborate on these briefly.
Firstly, his articles collected in A Dying Colonialism and Towards an African Revolution note the desperate attempts of the colonizers to hang on to colonies or to forge altered methods of neo-colonial rule with the collaboration of the national elite. Fanon warns of the dangers of allowing neo-colonialism to enter through the back door of formal decolonialization. The assassination, by the CIA in 1961, of Patrice Lumumba, a friend of Fanon, hit him particularly hard but also alerted him to the danger of neo-colonial rule. Writing in the FLN organ El-Moudjahid, he seems alert of a new collaborator class, whose interests are linked to neo-colonialism. He writes:
“It is true that these Africans were directly interested in the murder of Lumumba. Chiefs of puppet governments, in the midst of a puppet independence, facing day after day the wholesale opposition of their peoples, it did not take them long to convince themselves that the real independence of the Congo would put them personally in danger.”
What was true to the Congo in the 60s is true in Pakistan today. Take, for example, the mechanism of governance in Gilgit-Baltistan – though, one could equally talk about Balochistan or FATA. When the British left and those in Gilgit revolted against the Maharaja of Kashmir, who ostensibly claimed sovereignty in the region, from the lowlands the Pakistani government sent a ‘political agent’ to replace the British agent. And so 60 years later a modified system of political agents still runs the place. The people of the area have no representatives in the National Assembly nor are they able to appeal to the Supreme Court. Instead, they are governed by bureaucrats of Islamabad in conjunction with the army. We all know that bureaucrats and higher ranks of the army are from Punjab. Unelected, and also non-representational of the local population, they hold sway on all major matters. The people of the region are in opposition to this apparatus of governance. Note, for example, the hundreds of thousands of people who held a ten day dharna across the region from Gilgit city to Skardu in April of 2014 led by the Gilgit Baltistan Awami Action Committee (G-B AAC). Their main demand was the instituting of a wheat subsidy but they also demanded changed methods of governance. Decolonialization of Gilgit-Balistan would see social, economic and political institutions controlled by those of the region. It would see them change from being citizens by way of colonization to citizens by way of exercising effective sovereignty. However, as Fanon notes, there are puppets, in whose interest it is to perpetuate draconian systems and like any good colonialists they use the law and bayonet to maintain their power. So much so that activists of the GB-AAC have been charged under the Anti-terrorism Act and in the case of Baba Jan, a member of the central committee of GB-AAC, sentenced to life imprisonment on trumped up charges.
The second theme in the last three works of Fanon is a call for unity of the oppressed peoples and nations. Here, he acts as a spokesperson for a Third World internationalism, that he shared with the likes of Che Guevara. In his last years he wrote of a ‘United States of Africa’ and the need for the continent to move together. Small nation states left alone, he argued, would be picked off by neo-colonialism. He also argued for Third World countries to support those still colonized.
An independent Algeria, though after Fanon’s death, under Ahmed Ben Bella was to do so. It hosted members of the Black Panthers who were so mercilessly pursued back home by the United States of America. They provided logistical support to Che Guevara in his attempts in support of Congo independence, and they also helped Angola gain independence, working with Cuban fighters and the Russians. Fanon saw such solidarity as the only possible way of breaking out of the global system of inequitable exchange that colonialism has set up. In this sense, Pakistan’s brown sahibs’ decision to join the Baghdad Pact in 1955, accept America tutelage and not follow a Third World path has cost us dearly. While Cuba, which followed Fanon’s advise, long ago eradicated poverty and has an excellent healthcare system, Pakistan has public debt of 59.5% of its GDP of which 21.2% is foreign debt. Our model of development aids more the economy of developed countries via debt servicing, consultant fees and exports then us. Likewise, we all know, despite the aesthetic quality of their brochures that western donors and NGOs, as a model, can not tackle issues of poverty and development. For Fanon, the unity of the formerly colonized could achieve development. History is proving him right. It is worth the readers’ time to look at the unity and development achieved in Latin America in the last twenty years or so.
The violence of resistance stems from the violence of the system that oppresses
Fanon’s last book, The Wretched of the Earth, while continuing the two themes mentioned above also explores the consciousness of the colonized at the moment of decolonialization. As debilitating social institutions fall away, as shackles give way, Fanon notes the contours of the new subject that is coming into being. Upright, alert, transformed from slumber through often violent struggle, the native in struggle loses ‘his inferiority complex’ and becomes ‘fearless’ and gains ‘self-respect’. He alerts us that a colonial system – such as we have – which is held up by bayonets – will die a violent death. The lesson is clear for us (in particularly, when we think of Balochistan): the violence of resistance stems from the violence of the system that oppresses. To answer with torture and more state violence is to merely repeat the cycle. The oppressed, to feel human would find counter-violence a cleansing force in a colonial situation, Fanon notes.
To conclude, then, the architecture of our houses and compartmentalized landscape, the body of Rana Sangat Baloch and Qambar Chakar Baloch, the structure of governance in Gilgit Baltistan and FATA begin to tell us of a Pakistani colonialism. What I have tried to do in these two articles exploring the work of Fanon is to make us aware of contemporary coloniality.
Fanon had complete faith in the oppressed to organise themselves and lead their struggle. The struggle of the Baloch and Sindhi nationalists, of Pakthuns and those of Gilgit-Balistan are struggles of decolonialization, of wanting control again of land and governance – which above all gives dignity to a people. He saw that the system creates its own grave diggers but he also warned the grave diggers not to imitate those they replaced. He asks the oppressed to transcend the dialectics of coloniality. His hope lay in the possibility of a changed consciousness through struggle that would ‘create and invent’ a humanized world.
Aime Cesaire, Fanon’s teacher, wrote in his obituary of Fanon that he was ‘The one who did not allow you to close your eyes and doze off to the hum of a tranquil conscience’. Indeed, Fanon tells us that we have to warm our bodies with indignation for what we have inherited and begin the struggle anew for substantial decolonialization.