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LT GENERAL BHOPINDER SINGH | 24 JUNE, 2016

Amjad Sabri's Assassination: Sabse Pak-Saaf Kaun?


CHANDIGARH: When Choudhry Rahmat Ali published his famous pamphlet, ‘Now or Never’ in 1933 – he cleverly juxtaposed the acronym PAKISTAN (from the first letter of the Muslim dominated regions of Punjab, Afghan region, Kashmir, Sindh and Baluchistan), which in its composite form also translated into a lofty concept, ‘The land of the pure’ with ‘Pak’ translating into ‘Pure’ in both Persian and Urdu.

Today, competitive-religiosity for ascertaining the ‘purest of the pure’ is consuming and combusting the nation with extreme strains of sectarianism and puritanism to establish the Tawhid (pure monotheistic worship).


The brazen gunning down of the famous Arifana Kalam (mystic poetry) Qawwal, Amjad Sabri in Karachi is the latest wound in Pakistan’s continued project of denial of factual history and the ongoing muzzle towards rewriting its genealogical narrative.

The new history sought is a marked departure from Jinnah’s syncretic instincts, when he urged Pakistanis in his famous constituent assembly speech in 1947 to feel free to “to go to your temples…mosques or any other places of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed-that has nothing to do with the business of the State".

Since then the Pakistani landscape has regressed into an angry and extremist society, aided earlier by General Zia-ul-Haq’s ‘Shariazation’, Af-Pak regions ‘Talibanisation’ and the aggressive pumping of petro-dollars from the Gulf sheikhdoms with Wahhabi or Salafist infusions to challenge the regions equilibrium, that was nuanced by the pacifist and mystical Sufist traditions, that are now on an accelerated retreat.

Invoking hadiths (questioned on authenticity by some scholars), the extreme elements declare music to be haram (forbidden) as, “those who listen to music and songs in this world, on the Day of Judgment molten lead will be poured into their ears” – thus justifying violent actions on qawwals, Sufi shrines and Urs festivals (over 30 terrorist attacks killing over 200 people, have occurred in the last 10 years).

Though, Amjad Sabri’s murder motive has not been conclusively established as yet, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakimullah Mehsud group has accepted the responsibility. Giving credence to this is the theory is the fact that in 2014, Amjad Sabri was slapped with blasphemy charges for playing qawwali in a morning TV show, making mention of some religious figures – a high-visibility opportunity to target a national cultural icon with taints of religious disrespect was ensured.

Ironically, Amjad Sabri was not a ‘heretic’, in the Salafist sense – he was a mainstream Sunni adherent and not belonging to the minority sects like the Shias, Ahmediyas, Ismailis etc.

The Sabri brothers were known to be more austere and conservative (the signature style of interspersing the qawwali with repeated usage of ‘Allah’, was uniquely, Sabri Brothers) – with strong adherence and reverence to Islamic principles, guarded avoidance of intoxicants and legendary rivalry of verse-play against the Shia theology inspired qawwals like Aziz Mian (Aziz Mian’s Main Sharabi was countered by Sabri Brother’s O Sharabi chor dey peena). But, in its increasingly virulent and extremist dimension, this form of Islamic adherence was still not considered good enough, and often invited censures by the growing clout of the Mullahs.

The political project of the 70’s and 80’s to tactically ‘Arabise’ the basic liberal culture of the land mutated into a hapless and freefall retrogression into the ‘Chaadar aur Char deewari’ (veiled behind high brick walls) dream of Zia-ul-Haq’s Pakistan. So, in a land where only 1% of the population spoke Arabic, the Article 31/2 (a) of the Pakistani Constitution, now states – ‘The State shall endeavor, as respects the Muslims of Pakistan to make the teaching of the Holy Quran and Islamiat compulsory, to encourage and facilitate the learning of Arabic language’, egging the replacement of the Indo-Persian influenced ‘Khuda Hafiz’ with ‘Allah Hafiz’. Codes and cultures of the Arabian Peninsula have been gleefully injected into the Pakistani mainstream to create an empirically false, but utopian narrative (the Hindu-Buddhist past is not even mentioned).

A similar incident in 2014, concerning the pop star-turned-televangelist, Junaid Jamshed, of the Tableeghi Jamaat order, who had to face blasphemy charges and publicly atone for his ignorance – a growing trend that often leads to vigilante justice (as in the case of the murder of the Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer by his bodyguard), or mob retribution (as in the case of Junaid Jamshed himself, who was assaulted in Islamabad airport in March this year, after onlookers discounted his earlier apology and called him Ghustkh-e-Rasool).

The providential sub-contracting of the cold war to Pakistan and the Gulf-sponsored madrassas often bear the sole brunt of the blame for the current societal breakdown as postured by the Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Lt Gen Asim Bajwa, who stated incredulously, “Pakistan has wiped out the roots of terrorists, planted by others, and we have fought the entire world’s war in this region. The world then abandoned Pakistan to handle, manage and face the terrorists in the region all by itself” – symptomatic of the prevailing martyr syndrome and a nation in systemic denial.

However Rubina Saigol, an educationalist has a more prescient and profound observation on the overall institutional failure of Pakistan, “Our state system is the biggest madrasa. We keep blaming madrasas for everything and, of course, they are doing a lot of things I would disagree with. But the state ideologies of hate and a violent, negative nationalism are getting out there where madrasas cannot hope to reach” – therein lies the curse of all that afflicts Pakistan today. A nation that is hell-bent of rewriting a false history and ultimately, paying the price of what that change actually entails.

The hypnotic, sonorous and soulful voice of Amjad Sabri has been muted forever, but the echoes of, ‘Hai mukhaalif zamaana kidhar jaaein ham. Haalat-e-bekasi kis ko dikhlaaein ham. Ham tumhaare bhikaari hain ya Mustafa. Kis ke aage bhala haath phailaaein ham. Bhar do jholi meri Sarkaar-e-Madeena …. (The times are against me, where should I go. To whom should I show my state of helplessness? I am your beggar, O Mustafa. In front of whom else shall I spread my hands. Fill my bag, Lord of Madinah………..), are a haunting and pertinent lament of the Pakistan’s tryst with itself.

(Lt General Bhopinder Singh, retired from the Army served as the Lt Governor of Andamans and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)

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