Who is the most famous Pakistani today? You can have your own take, as for me, it is Tariq Ali, the one-time revolutionary and a life-long dissident. Yes, I knew him in a sort of way, though I haven’t met him. He was junior to me at Oxford, he came there much later. But Tariq Ali went on to create some piece of modern world history, I should say. He became a real street fighter he was at the centre of things when the students riots broke out in Paris in 1968.The rest are history.
Just now I viewed his You tube video, “Conversations with history” of one hour.
Yes, there is still much of the old fire in the man and his latest book gives a glimpse into his view of Pakistan as it is evolving.
Though much of what he says is controversial..I have this much to say. He severely criticises Asif Ali Zardari and praises India. Fine. But he also wrote a book on the Nehru dynasty and yet he decries Benazir Bhutto’s will to put her son as her heir while her husband should act as the regent. But then everyone in this part of the world does this sort of politics only.
May be this is the sort of feudal-military complex Tariq deplores about Pakistan.
But his language, much of his jargon is jarring to my ears.
He doesn’t seem to understand the modern world, I would say. Much of the globalised ,well-integrating world of economics, politics and the current rather relative world peace, free of world wars of the last century,
Anyway, here he is a well-versed authority on Pakistan. For me Tariq brings me my old memories of the revolutions of the Sixties and after. Though what we have now is a rather barbaric terrorism of a new kind and it is time India and Pakistan (under Zardari) bring about a new friendship and peace in his subcontinent.
Tariq Ali’s new book released on September 15
Asif Ali Zardari is the best hope for India
The Mumbai terrorist attacks had drawn worldwide attention. USA has acted swiftly. Pakistan government had arrested or held the masterminds in custody. This is a great development, a sort of first victory for India. Asif Ali Zardari has written an op-ed page article in the New York Times (which has been reproduced in the Indian media and that shows the earnestness of the Pakistani President.
The article is a frank statement of the reality in Pakistan. Zardari has been quite candid about what is the problem. He points out at the very outset that how in Karachi in Oct 2007 terrorists attacked during the homecoming rally for his dear wife, Benazir Bhutto 150 Pakistanis were killed and 450 injured. He lost his wife in the second attack two months later. So, he notes with utter candour that India and Pakistan share a common problem, that of the terrorists and he therefore pledges co-operation with India in arresting this menace.
He also notes further that Pakistan has 150,000 soldiers fighting Al-Qaeda and Taliban; far more troops than Nato have in Afghanistan.2, 000 Pakistanis lost their lives to terrorism this year alone.
Such figures are telling and he praises India’s democracy and our democratic contributions and pleads for a new joint effort to fight terrorism in both countries.
Now, we have to take Zardari’s words as the most sincere expression of a new comer and a very different person from the other, earlier dictators, military men and politicians.
Leaving other niceties of diplomatic speak and much else in the government establishments, mutual suspicions die hard and this also doesn’t give India any excuse not to take Zardari’s words seriously From the accounts coming from Pakistan it is clear that the two masterminds are under some restriction. Yet, we are also told the terrorist organisations, Let and Elm are well-established and of long standing and have enough funds and cadre and so it won’t be so easy to contain them in a short term. Pakistan has also promised India a joint interrogation and let us sees what comes of it and further developments depend upon a number of factors.
Now, Pakistan has no democratic government for long and the military there is very entrenched. This is the civilian government and it is only wise India has to build on this basis that is to cultivate and in the process strengthen the democratic government there and also keep up all the routine peace process and act more on other fronts.
Pakistani public psychology is fed by the successive governments on the fear or threat from India and that is how the military had gained supremacy over the civilian government there.
Any Indian initiative and it has to be a bold and creative initiative to succeed. in order to give a new momentum and a new meaning.
I am not sure how the mind of the Indian government, the minds of the PM and his foreign minister and the very foreign establishment in the government thinks. But I am sure of one thing. The initiative must come from some bold mind and the person, whoever he or she is, must have the good of India and peace in the Indian subcontinent in mind.
I am very confident that anyone of us can take up this initiative.
How to build the democratic institutions inside Pakistan successfully.
An invitation for Zardari to visit India and have heart-to-heart discussions to promote long-term peace between the two countries.
It is in this context, I was fascinated, yes, that is the right word, by a new book by the ever youthful maverick, though he must be now old enough to be a grandfather, I mean Tariq Ali.
Heard of Tariq Ali?
Oh, in my time at Oxford, in the late fifties, Tariq Ali was perhaps the most famous and most romantic of the youth heroes! In England and on the European continent.
Tariq Ali, by the way, is a Pakistani and he at Oxford had the distinction of getting elected as the Oxford Union Debating Society in 1965.Benazir Bhutto got this distinction in 1977.
These were great honours for the former colonies, Sri Lankan young men, like Lalithe Athulathmudali and Lashman Kadirkamar were also Union Presidents. I knew these two though now I forget the details of the discussions we often had with each other. I had many Sri Lankan friends, the Sinhala students, like those from Pakistan, used to came from feudal and affluent family background unlike Indians who often came from the old ICS families or those who came from the princely families.
By the time I went up to Oxford, there wasn’t much of a change in the profile of the Indian students there. Most came on scholarships (like Dr.Manmohan Singh, a contemporary of mine) and they were mostly research students, they went back and got into the bureaucracy and disappeared from public view.
But Tariq Ali was in a class of his own. He became a Marxist and a student revolutionary. I read very much later in his autobiography called provocatively, “Street Fighting Days”, how he took up revolution always whenever or wherever it happed and it became, if I can say so with no offence, his full-time preoccupation. The famous Paris student’s riots of 1968 saw Tariq Ali in the front row and in the front rank. Perhaps that was his moment of glory.
In fact, there were so many parallels in my life too. I of course didn’t opt for full-time revolution; I became committed in my mind for full-time politics back in India.
Also, Tariq Ali became a playwright and he cultivated some of the famous actors and actresses of the time. I was interested in theatre but only as an avid visitor to plays, both modern and classics like Shakespeare. I was glad to study how Tariq Ali was a close friend of one of the greatest actresses of her time, namely, Vanessa Redgrave, my own favourite Shakespearean actress. Oh, how many days I waited for long hours in the queue at Stratford Upon Avon to buy tickets just because Vanessa Redgrave was acting that evening!
So, Tariq Ali brings back to me many memories than just what he has got to say on the latest situation in Pakistan.
His new book, “The Duel: Pakistan on the flight path of American power”, 2008, released on September 15, is now the best-seller in Pakistan and has come at a timely moment.
Here is his most powerful statement on the current Pakistani scenario. He knows Pakistan as well as he was almost a contemporary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, so also his daughter, Benazri Bhutto as many other leaders so closely and know the minds of the current rulers as well.
Pakistan, says Ali, is in tight embrance of America. This is wrong, he says. US-Pakistan alliance was never popular, he says.
Of course, Tariq Ali is a radical and a romantic revolutionary. So, we have to take his analysis of what is wrong with Pakistan and he has in his latest book hasn’t given much hope for the future of his country.
He has some damaging things to say about every other leader in Pakistan including the founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. As for the current President, Zardari, he says in the book and also in the Guardian article dated September 7, 2008, that it is fate that singled out Benazir Bhutto’s heir and successor!
Says Tariq in the article: “The transference of power is from a moth-eaten general to a worm-eaten politician”.
The party has become a family heirloom, to be bequeathed to her son, with husband as the regent till the boy come of age”.
What would be the reaction in India to this charge, when in India too we witness, of course in a vastly grown up democracy, a similar play of politics, warming the seat with a nominee Prime Minister till the “price charming” comes of age or gets ready for the job!
Of course Tariq Ali has some harsh words for Benazir as well. Says he: “She was never one to regard politics alone as the consuming passion of her life and always envied the lifestyle and social behaviour of the very rich”
Today, says Ali, Zardari is the second richest person in the country. So on and on!
Of course, we consider what Tariq Ali says about Pakistan’s future, its “sustainable economic development” and emerging as a stable democratic order” is a mere wishful thinking.
His own prescriptions, doing away with the military-landlord nexus is not so easy and needs much deeper study and policy changes.
Also, Ali is not also helpful how democracy can be sustained with his own criticism of Zardari as being corrupt etc.
The good thing about Pakistan today is there is here a President elected by the democratic process. That is what matter. Now, Zardari, in the case of putting an end to the terrorist menace, he is willing to co-operate with India.
India should seize this opportunity and must become pro-active and show lot of foresight and statesmanship and reach out to Zardari and build a measure of mutual trust.
There is no other way.
India must speak out to the Pakistani people and say repeatedly, if needed, about India not being a threat at all to Pakistan’s existence.
The best security for India is India’s democratic traditions. The best security for Pakistan comes from a democratic India and not from an unpredictable autocratic government as in China.
So, let us build bridges of mutual trust and more open borders and people to people friendships and trade across the Kashmir borders.
As for the actual process of arrest and trial of the terrorists, may be we have to take the matter to the UN security Council and even to the international courts.
In the modern world, given the current international relations, with USA and Israel and even Russia being friendly to India and Pakistan, India has to exert pressure in international forums to bring the guilty to speedy trial and justice sought.

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