Flip-side of Imran Khan’s StatueDiplomacy

7/18/2019


The puppet prime minister, Imran Khan, and his Khaki mentors have gone berserk with their new found love for the Sikhs, though the miniscule minority has steadfastly refused to be assimilated into the mainstream of Pakistan society for the past seventy years.A manifestation of the fixation with the Sikhs is inauguration of the statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh inside the Lahore Fort. Statues are un-Islamic certainly in a nation that was createdas the home for the Muslims of the sub-continent, where even today, Muslim families refuse to share drinking water with non-Muslims. The Blasphemy case ofAasia Bibi, the Christian labourer, has brought out this truism clearly.

Ranjit Singh rule of Punjab from 1801-1839 was glorious for the Sikhs but not for the Muslims of Pakistan.The present outcry against the Ranjit Singh statue from Peshawar to Lahore and Karachi and in the distant Kashmir valley shows how horribly wrongis the sudden resurrection of Ranjit Singh to curry favour with the Khalistanis flush with the greenbacks.
The glorification of the Sikh ruler makes a mockery of two realities we know - one Ranjit Singh ran his empire “on ideas of moral legitimacy inspired by the Sikh gurus and their teachings”; twoAhmad Shah Abdalihad saved Muslims of Punjab from the excesses of Sikh and Maratha violence in the mid-18th century.
Prime Minister Imran Khanis the public face of the government of Pakistan; heshould have therefore checked with his aides before giving the formal go ahead for the statue.This he did not do and simply took the wishes of the GHQ Shura as his manna.

Someone from his circle could have told Imran that Ranjeet Singh's rise was one of the factors for the creation of Pakistan. Obviously none from Imran Khan’s inner circle had readthe book, “Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan”, published some eight years ago.

“Pakistan was a product of the fear of Muslims, who could not forget the glory of Mughals and 500 years of their rule over India. Muhammad Ali Jinnah worked on these very fears to realise the dream of Pakistan”, the author says and quotesa Taliban commander saying, 'Jihad is not very recent, we have been fighting for 200 years', indicating the regime of Ranjeet Singh that stretched up to Afghanistan.


Well, had Prime Minister Imran Khan consulted his Pakistan Tehreek- e-Insaf (PTI) colleagues in Multan,he could have realised what an act of blasphemy he was committing. They would have told him what the Pakistan Awami Seraiki Partydid last month. Led by their central leaders, the party workers took out a rally on Sunday, June 2, and set an effigy of Ranjit Singh on fire as a mark of their protest against Sikh invasion of Multan on that very day in 1818.Nawab Muzaffar Khan Sadozai, who is hero of Seraiki resistance and defender of Multan, embraced martyrdom on this day.

Children of present day Seraiki region are brought up on the diet of valour, the Multan boys had displayed in the war the Sikh ruler had waged against Nawab Muzaffar Khanin 1818. According to contemporary writings, “the expansion of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule from Lahore was brutal and it brought him into conflict with the ruler of Multan. The war that followed was violent, where Nawab Muzaffar Khan died fighting along with his sons”.

History has since been kind to Muzaffar Khan. In local folklore, he has become a ‘freedom fighter’ who resisted against the aggression of ‘Punjab’.

It is for this reason, and to rewrite Muslim history from Pakistan’s perspective, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh rule has been virtually blanked out of Pakistan’s school books. Prime Minister Imran Khan is sadly unaware of his country fact-file since he had mostly lived abroad till he decided to take the political plunge.

Clearly, he doesn’t know that Maharaja Ranjit Singh had used the iconic Badshahi Masjid,located west of Lahore Fort along the outskirts of the Walled City(of Lahore), was used as a stable. And that the Sikh ruler had spent a night on the minaret of Masjid Wazir Khan with his favourite consort, Moran Sarkar.

Imran Khan and his band of neo-zealots in the service of Pakistan today may not know that the Wazir Khan Mosque is a 17th century wonder that came up during the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Construction began in 1634 C.E., and was completed in 1641.

Pakistan has no dearth of liberals and secularists who are ever ready with the contention that our narrative is “selective” and “wrong”. They have many positive bytes on Ranjit Singh and historical quotes to argue that Sikhs were persecuted by the Moghul rulers.No issue with them; they belong to the rarefied world of sahibs dotting the seminar circuit; they make no difference to ordinary Pakistanis.
Strangely this class is rallying in support of Imran Khan’s ‘Statue’ decision, hailing it as ‘a wonderful step’ to‘move beyond the narrow conceptions of Muslim versus Sikh history to accommodate a more holistic history’. My foot!
How can you erase memories of centuries for the heck of a few dollars from Sikh religious tourism?
How can we not denounce the Sikh rule under Ranjit Singh as an era of darkness in which Muslims were persecuted and their sacred sites were vandalised.
Agreed, there is a great deal of Sikh heritage in and around Lahore Fort, including the Ranjit Singh samadhi, and a Sikh Gallery (inside Lahore Fort) as Kamran Lashari, Chairman of the Walled City of Lahore Authority,says.

Why Lahore alone; entire Punjab province, for that matter Pakistan itself, is dotted with sites connected directly or indirectly with various Sikh Gurus. The Sikh rule had stretched across Pakistan, along with Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakhwith its centre being in Punjab. The founder of the religion, Guru Nanak died at Kartarpur and the shrine that came up there is now the main draw for Sikh pilgrims from India and elsewhere.

We may not like to cherish the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq but it is worth the while to remember that the General himself became scared of the Khalistani gene he had created. It was because the Pakistan backed protagonists of Khalistan included in their gaze Pakistan’s Punjab as well.

Khalistan comprising India’s Punjab and its adjoining belt is ok since it makes India pay for its 1971 sin of creating Bangladesh out of East Pakistan.

But letting Pakistan Punjab to slip out would result in the second division of Pakistan – an idea that was not acceptable to Gen Zia-ul –Haq. Certainly for today’s generals at the GHQ headquarters in Rawalpindi and to their puppets in the Federal Capital in Islamabad.

So, Pakistan state and all its administrative, political, military and diplomatic wings will do well to take into calculation the political implications of present day rush to milch the Indian Sikhs and the Sikh diaspora.

There is a flip-side. It heralds the dangers of Punjabi nationalism in a country that has been in the grip of Punjabi elite and feudals right from Day One. Bulk, some 80 percent, of the Pakistani army is Punjabi.Yet, Punjab and its nationalists are going gaga.

“Punjabi nationalists in Pakistan have been jubilant as they see the installing of the statue a symbolic act of recognition from a state that, despite its domination by a Punjabi elite, has been oblivious to the history and language of Punjab,” says a media report.

True,Ranjit Singh’s rein was the only time in Indian history when Punjabis dominated northern India; it is only after his deaththat the British were able to conquer Punjab.

But can Pakistan afford the resurrection of Punjabi sense of nationhood at this juncture.

What about Islam-based identity of Pakistan with Urdu as its flagship?

Answers to these twin questions and the contours of officially promoted Sikh religious tourism will have a bearing on the future of Pakistan. Any doubt?