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     Volume 6 Issue 25 | June 29, 2007 |

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Of Fathers, of Sons and Sins

Syed Badrul Ahsan

A couple of years ago, Ejazul Haq created a lot of stir and generated a good deal of anger in Pakistan when he suggested that the passports of Pakistanis mention the religious affiliation of their owners. Most Pakistanis, including journalists and politicians, took aim at Ejaz for what was beyond question an outrageous idea. He then hawed and he hummed and he tried convincing everyone that there was no evil intent in his suggestion. But anyone who knew of Ejaz's religious proclivities and his political background knew he had a motive, a pretty dark one, in mind. He was a puritan in the religious sense; and he was the son of the late dictator Ziaul Haq, a most notorious ruler in the modern history of the world. In Zia's and Ejaz's eyes, everything good in the world had to do with their version of Islam. And everything bad belonged to those who did not subscribe to the Muslim faith. That was the truth (and it remains that way for the son) for them.

In time, of course, Ejazul Haq's religion-based passport idea was shot down by Pakistanis. It was surely a good thing, for a country which had regularly fallen behind politically, had lost wars and had seen half of its territory rise in arms against it and defeat it to become a separate secular state now surely deserved something better than the likes of Ejazul Haq. But Ejaz, despite having to eat humble pie, went on being part of the army-dominated government. He has now floated the dangerous idea that Salman Rushdie's coming by a knighthood in Britain calls for a fresh campaign of violent threats to be mounted against him. Fanatics in Pakistan have taken the cue. They have made it clear that that they are offering a bounty on Rushdie's head, that anyone murdering the writer will be upholding the cause of the faith. But, of course, that is all so much nonsense. Ejazul Haq's father, in his time, propagated a convoluted interpretation of religion when in a referendum he made it clear that popular support for him would amount to preserving the sanctity of Islam in Pakistan. His son does not appear to have become a better person, though there are quite a few examples to suggest that bad fathers are sometimes succeeded by contrite, wiser sons.

To understand Ejazul Haq, you do not have to move out of the orbit of recent Pakistani history. Take Gauhar Ayub, the son of Pakistan's first military ruler Ayub Khan. In his youth, he and his brother Taher Ayub were regularly suspected of exercising undue influence over such issues as Gandhara Industries. There were whispers of an assorted kind about Gauhar's --- and Taher's --- shady dealings, but no one really spoke up because the Ayub Khan era was one of darkness where criticism of the crusty old dictator was tantamount to sedition or subversion. Gauhar Ayub did mount a few steps to respectability when years after the death of his father he became a politician, ending up as speaker of the national assembly and minister for foreign affairs. It is a pity that these days, because of the odd rule from Pervez Musharraf that no one who does not have a bachelor's degree in education can be in electoral politics, Gauhar Ayub has little better to do than go around popularising and peddling his late father's diaries, if they really are diaries. Gauhar's foray into politics, before his ejection from it, gave us little reason to suppose that he had learnt anything that could convince us he was in a league different from that of his father.

When you focus on Iskandar Mirza and his son Humayun, you cannot but notice how the sins of the father are so ardently passed off as really virtues by the son. Humayun Mirza has written a book on his father where two individuals, Mir Jafar of 1757 infamy and Iskandar Mirza come off as good men while everyone else around them is each an epitome of the dark and the sinister. Mir Jafar, says Humayun, lived on a high moral plane while Nawab Sirajuddoulah was really a lecher and a debauch. As for his father, Humayun thinks that the well-meaning Iskandar Mirza was actually done in by all those vicious people around him --- Ayub Khan, Azam Khan, K.M. Sheikh, W.A. Burki and even Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Humayun Mirza, a retired World Bank official, does not have the time or the willingness to understand that much of the conspiratorial that even today defines Pakistani politics had its roots in his father's penchant for intrigue.

The children of the disgraced Yahya Khan are not known to have come into prominence or notoriety, as the case might be, after the death of the man who presided over the murder of three million Bengalis in 1971. But at least one of them, a son, for quite some years pestered the venerable journalist Ardeshir Cowasjee over what he saw as a need to have the old dictator's journals published. Quite a few revelations sprout from the journals, one being Yahya's protestation that it was not he who wanted Sheikh Mujibur Rahman executed but Bhutto who pressed him, as the military leader prepared to travel to Tehran to attend the 2,500th anniversary of the Iranian monarchy in October 1971, to hang Mujib and get on with other things.

And so the tales of the sons and the fathers carry themselves along, in Pakistan and elsewhere, through varying degrees of belief, through all the layers of incredulity. The images reflect, as it were, stages of human nature we may already be familiar with. Perhaps.


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