My Impressions of a Living Sufi [3 of 3]


He has a spell in his personality that commands respect and obedience, yet gives you complete freedom, to think and to blink. There is friendliness and trust in the air. You discover all this at least after twelve hours before you  convince yoorself  that he is no ordinary palmist, who knows numerology.
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AHMAD RAFIQUE AKHTAR: NO PALMIST, NO NUMEROLOGIST BUT SUFI

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by Farah Karamat Raja

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He had a spell in his personality. That commanded respect and obedience yet gave the freedom, to think and to blink. There was friendliness and trust in the air. I discovered all this at least after twelve hours before that I was convincing myself he is some ordinary palmist, who knows numerology. (more…)

New provinces will break Pakistan


The 1973 Constitution is the only consensus document binding the federation. It neither recognizes nor foresees the further division of Pakistan into more provinces. The manifestos of the PPP and its ally, the Q-League, make no reference to new provinces. Thus, the call for more provinces is nothing but reckless desperation of a morally bankrupt political leadership which sees defeat written large in the next election.
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NEW PROVINCES WILL  BREAK PAKISTAN

FOR THOSE WHO WANT A BALKANISED PAKISTAN, SERAIKI PROVINCE IS NOT THE LAST THING.

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The 1973 Constitution is the only consensus document binding the federation. It neither recognises nor foresees the further division of Pakistan into more provinces. The manifestos of the PPP and its ally, the Q League, make no reference to new provinces. Thus, the call for more provinces is nothing but reckless desperation of a morally bankrupt political leadership which sees defeat written large in the next election. (more…)

What’s Wrong with Pakistan [2 of 2]


Today’s Pakistan is not what the father of the nation Qaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had envisioned. He imagined a federalized state in which the various ethnically based provinces retained a high degree of autonomy. With such freedom, the angst of domination by Punjabis — and by each other — would not have existed, allowing for a civil society to emerge and, with that, a state with vibrant institutional capacity.
Indeed, history shows that central authority can only be effective if it is strictly delimited.
Regrettably, Pakistan has been what 20th-century European scholars Ernest Gellner and Robert Montagne call a “segmentary” society. Hovering between centralization and anarchy, such a society, in Montagne’s words, is typified by a regime that “drains the life from a region,” even though, “because of its own fragility,” it fails to establish lasting institutions.
This is the byproduct of a landscape riven by mountains and desert, a place where tribes are strong and the central government is comparatively weak.
Put another way, Pakistan , as King’s College London scholar Anatol Lieven notes, is a weak state with strong societies.
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PAKISTAN: A WEAK STATE BUT STRONG TRIBAL SOCIETIES

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by Robert D. Kaplan

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PAKISTAN’S GEOGRAPHICAL COHERENCE, albeit subtle and problematic, is mirrored in its subtle and problematic linguistic coherence. Just as Hindi is associated with Hindus in northern India, Urdu is associated with Muslims in Pakistan. Urdu — from “horde,” the Turkic-Persian word for a military camp — is the ultimate frontier language. Reflecting its geographical links to the Middle East, Urdu is written in a Persianized Arabic script, even though its grammar is identical to Hindi and other Sanskritic languages.

It is often believed that Urdu came into existence through the interaction of Turkic, Persian, and indigenous Indian soldiers in Mughal army encampments, not just on the Indus frontier but in the medieval Gangetic cities of Agra, Delhi, and Lucknow. Thus, it is truly the language of al-Hind. (more…)

What’s Wrong with Pakistan? [1 of 2]


The core assumption about what ails Pakistan is false. Pakistan, which presents more nightmare scenarios for American policymakers than perhaps any other country, does have geographical logic. The vision of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in the 1940s did not constitute a mere power grab at the expense of India’s Hindu-dominated Congress party. There was much history and geography behind his drive to create a separate Muslim state anchored in the subcontinent’s northwest, abutting southern Central Asia.
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PAKISTAN: NOT A CARTOGRAPHIC PUZZLE, BUT REALITY – HISTORICALLY AS WELL AS GEOGRAPHICALLY

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by Robert D. Kaplan

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Note for WoP readers: Robert D. Kaplan wrote an insightful article back in 2009. The article titled as Strategic Planning for Pakistan’s nukes….. is heavily relevant to what’s happening now in Pakistan and what might happen if our leaders did not take timely decisions on estranged US Pakistan relations. [Nayyar]

Perversity characterizes Pakistan. Only the worst African hellholes, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen, and Iraq rank higher on this year’s Failed States Index. The country is run by a military obsessed with — and, for decades, invested in — the conflict with India, and by a civilian elite that steals all it can and pays almost no taxes. But despite an overbearing military, tribes “defined by a near-universal male participation in organized violence,” as the late European anthropologist Ernest Gellner put it, dominate massive swaths of territory. The absence of the state makes for 20-hour daily electricity blackouts and an almost nonexistent education system in many areas. (more…)

Into Iran from Pakistan [2 of 2]


Yazd is the capital of Yazd province in Iran, and a centre of Zoroastrian culture. The city is located 270 km south east of Isfahan. Because of generations of adaptations to its desert surroundings, Yazd is architecturally a unique city. Its known for its high quality handicrafts, especially silk weaving and sweet shops. Its the driest major city in Iran, with an average annual rainfall of only 60 millimetres (2.4 in), and also the hottest one north of the Persian Gulf coast, with summer temperatures very frequently above 40 °C in blazing sunshine with no humidity.
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YAZD, THE DESERT CITY, ISFAHAN, NISF-E-JAHAN, QOM AND TEHRAN

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by Hafeez R. M.

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YAZD

I left Kerman on the night-bus. It had reclining seats. The desert was continuing and there would be nothing much to see. By early hours, the bus reached Yazd, 337 miles away in approximately 7 hours.

Zoroastrian Tower of Silence. Yazd being centre of Zoroastrian culture in Iran, too has its tower of silence, which is a circular building on a desert hill. Zoroastrians do not believe in polluting the elements, so these towers were devised in ancient times as a place for  dead bodies, which would be picked clean by the vultures.

Yazd turned out to be a medium sized town. It had many historical buildings like Alexander prison, large wind-bells and wall paintings. There was a high tower. Narrow and dark stairs led to the top. I went up resting in between to catch my breath.

Once there, I was spellbound by the magnificent view of the town and its suburbs. The new houses were built on old designs discarding European styles. Villages followed a rectangular pattern with high mud walls and flat roofs. I saw a lot of greenery all around. Among sand dunes, there were trees and bushes like tamarisk, poplar, date palm, acacia and willow.

I met many foreign tourists mostly from France. As per their advice, I decided to go by train to Esfahan hardly at a distance of 285 km.

TRAIN JOURNEY

The train passed through Desh-e Kavir, which mingles with Dasht-e Lut described earlier. US forces had landed in Kavir Desert in 1980 in an abortive mission to rescue hostages held at American Embassy in Tehran. Kavir was a rainless region and barren except for some oases irrigated by qanats (canals).

ISFAHAN

I reached Esfahan in the after noon. It was not as hot as Yazd but rather pleasant. I was out of the desert and into greener pasture. Esfahan was one time capital of Persia and designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. The famous rhyme Esfahan nesf-e-jahan (Esfahan is half the world) was coined in the 16th century to express the city grandeur.  

TRAIN JOURNEY

The train passed through Desh-e Kavir, which mingles with Dasht-e Lut described earlier. US forces had landed in Kavir Desert in 1980 in an abortive mission to rescue hostages held at American Embassy in Tehran. Kavir was a rainless region and barren except for some oases irrigated by qanats (canals).

Imam Mosque in Isfahan, Iran or the Masjed-e Imam stands on the south side of Naghsh-i-Jahan Square. Built during the Safavid period, it is an excellent example of Islamic architecture of Iran, and regarded as one of the master pieces of Persian architecture. Alongwith Naghsh-i- Jahan Square, the mosque is a UNESCO Heritage Site. The construction of the mosque began in 1611, and its splendor is mainly due to the beauty of its seven-color mosaic tiles and the calligraphic inscritions.

In the evening I had a walk. Most remarkable feature was a big square, roughly seven times larger than San Marco in Venice. Besides, Emam Mosque looked majestic with cool blue tiles. Within walking distance, I found more mosques, palaces, bridges and gardens. It was a city for getting lost in the bazaar and dozing in beautiful gardens.

At night I went to a traditional restaurant. There were singers, both professional and amateur. Though I did not understand a word of Farsi, I was bewitched when listening to poems in the local dialect.

Carpet weaving craft is widely practiced as a handicrafts industry, mostly in Muslim countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asian Republics. So the people in different Iranian provinces too pracce this particularly  in places like Yazd, Isfahan, Tabriz and Kashan etc. In the image above, masterly fingers of a carpet weaver blend the colors into wool fibers to weave a mosaic of beautiful patterns. No surprise then that Persian carpets fetch good prices in the local as wellas foreign markets.

Esfahan was famous for its carpets. There was a bazaar having carpets of various colours: the scarlet, green and yellow Kashan, the red-blood and black Turkoman. A shopkeeper, Agha Mossadegh, recalled the past: At one time, I had three hundred children making carpets with their delicate fingers. Now, child labour is banned. Adult are no match. Carpets are not as fancy as they used to be.

AIR SAFARI

By moving around, I found out that air-fares were very low. The catch was that you had to book far in advance. A footloose and fancy free traveler like me could not afford advance booking. Still when an opportunity came, I jumped on it. An airline agent of Kish Air offered me a ready seat on its 44-seater plane to my next destination, Qom. Flying at medium altitude, I get an exceptionally attractive view of Iran territory. I saw the colors of the desert and the striking profile of mountain ranges.

QOM

Hardly 125 miles away, touching Qom was just a hop-on, hop-off affair. Qom is a holy city of Shi’ite Muslims on the River. There are many religious schools dedicated to teaching of Islam. A large number of Students come to Qom from all corners of Iran.

Hazrat-e- Masumeh,Qom, the holy city lies 156kilometres (97 mi) by road south west of Tehran and is the capital of Qom Province. Qom is considered holy by Shia Muslims, as it is the site of the shrine of Fatima al Masumeh, the sisterof Imam Ali ibn Musa Rida (Persian Imam Reza, 789–816 AD).The city is th largest centre for Shia scholarship in theworld, and is a significant destination of pilgrimage. http://www.flickr.com/photos/lfphotos/1258284797/sizes/z/in/photostream/

It takes at least 20-30 years to master the Quran and Hadith to become an Ayatollah. Qom was the center of movement against Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi that ended up with toppling up his regime in 1979.

My feet were aching and legs quaking. I dived into a restaurant. The waiter greeted me by saying, Chelo kebab?
Anything else?

Chicken rice.
Chelo kebab would be OK.

Kheili khub! the waiter said happily, he meant Very good!

He went away and returned with a number of plates containing raw onion, yogurt, white rice and butter. Finally he brought a plate of kebab, about nine inches of grilled meat, pulled off the skewer but still sticking together. That was delicious indeed.

TEHRAN

From Qom, I boarded a bus reaching Tehran in about three hours covering 125 km. The bus station was quite out of town. An Iranian offered me a lift, in his private car, near to Ayub Bridge where I had a friendly family from Pakistan. Do you live there? I asked. Yes but I do it for money, he said curtly. He quoted a small price. Later, when we drove, I noticed that he was picking up passengers and dropping them off on the way to Ayub Bridge. He safely delivered to me to my friends. They had a small but well furnished flat in a four-storied plaza. In the evening, they took me to the roof-top. I was amazed to see snow-clad mountain, Alborz. It was a little hot on the roof top but quite cool inside flat because of a desert cooler. ( It just draws dry air and passes it through water to make it little cool ).

Azadi or Freedom Square is the largest square in Tehran and the second largest in Iran, being smaller than Naqsh-e- Jahan Square in Isfahan. The 50 m Azadi Tower is in the centre of the square. It was called Shahyad Square; literally meaning “Remebrance of the Shahs (Kings) before the Iranian Revolution, and was the site of many of the Revolution’s demonstrations leading up to overthrow of Shah Reza Pehlvi’s brutal regime [12 December 1979]. http://www.irangashttour.com/en/cities.htm

Tehran, the capital, is a modern city but has retained its past. It has several good museum and historical buildings. Tehran is a large city, cool and shady. Roads are overarched by trees like chenars and walnut. The safety and security is superb. I moved freely without any hassle. Many a times, I got lost but not for long. I just asked for a bus to Emam Khomeini Square. Once there, I could restart my sight-seeing. Buses were cheap. Tickets could be purchased in bulk. All buses had the same fare. (Just peel off a ticket and pass it on to the conductor, no question asked).

One day, I went upto Shaheed Motahari Mosque with its eight towering minarets. It was a good place to view the city. Albroz mountains were in North and a tall Telephone Office in South, both being landmarks of Tehran.

Of all the places, I enjoyed an easy stroll in Tehran Bazaar. An endless maze of alleys, a criss cross of narrow passages. Light filtered down from the openings at the top. Everything from fine carpets to silver wares to aromatic spices could be found here. There was a separate section for each trade. Skilled workers were busy in weaving capets or making copper work, a la viva live display of craftsmanship. There were rows and rows of art and antique-dealers. They were offering, at throw-away prices, pictures of Shah Abbas ( the great king), of Leila and Majnun (the great lovers) and of Rustom (the great hero).

THE MOUNTAIN TRAIN

Having spent more days in Tehran, I wanted to rush to Turkey. But the border was about 910 km away and nearest town was still ahead. This dampened my enthusiasm. I decided to have a break at Tabriz, about 650 km away. The route was mountainous and winding. Elborz Mountains rose steeply, west of Tehran along Iraqi and Turkish borders. Unless I sit on front seat, I always had a headache. So I decided to take a train though it had a longer route at 736 km or 86 km more than the road. It was a lovely journey and offered panoramic view of the terrain.

TABRIZ

When the train neared Tabriz, the landscape turned awesome with shady roads, parks and lakes. One could see a large red cliff overlooking the valley of the Tailkel river which ran through Tabriz. There was an old village, Kandovan, with the houses dug into the rocks at high altitude. The rocks looked like pyramids.

Interior of Tabriz Bazaar http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/jimsim/1/1248693404/interior-of-tabriz-bazaar.jpg/tpod.html

Since I had a small pack, I swiftly went out of the station. As many as dozen taxi drivers raided me. I submitted to one of them and the rest started a brawl over loss of business. The taxi took me to a private guesthouse which turned to be a best ever backpacker in Iran.

Tabriz is reputed as a center of Oriental culture. It produces high quality ceramics and carpets containing birds, floral and hunting scenes. Population of Tabriz is rather mixed: Armenians, Turkomans and Kurds. They work on the roads, side by side wearing long leather boots, woollen headgear, and multi-colored fabrics. The Blue Mosque of Tabriz is a sight. The central dome of the mosque is 16 meters in diameter and decorated with finest mosaic with golden inscriptions. Pious Muslims in their turbans, robes and Turkish Slippers moved in large number on the call of each prayer.

BAZARGAON

Another 260 kms travel would take me out of Iran and into Turkey. The roads passed through the mountains were quite hazardous. At long last, I entered Turkey and found myself in more friendly atmosphere. Turkey and Pakistan have long historical ties and are close allies in soico-economic and political fields.
Continue to Part 3

Contd…

Next: Into Iran from Pakistan [1 of 2]

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More Posts from Hafeez R. M. on Wonders of Pakistan

1. Footloose in East Africa – [in three parts] 2. Escape for a while   3. The Shrine of Hazrat Ayub Ansari in Istanbul 4. Sacred Crocodiles 5. Shalimar Gardens, Lahore 6. Gorakh Hills, A pleasant surprise 7. The tomb of Hazrat Abdullah Shah Ghazi 8. Thar coal – hope or despair [in three parts]
Note: This is an old yet interesting travellogue [as you might have also noticed], hence the prices and costs of staying at different places mentioned by the writer may be much higher than the ones prevailing at the time he undertook this journey.
Hafeezur Rahman Malik is an ex-Bank Executive. As says Hafeez, he now whiles away his time in teaching and traveling. Each year in summer and winter holidays, he goes on a footloose and fancy-free safari to a new country or to a new area of a large country like USA. His travel tales are published by various websites specially www.hubpages.com & www.cstn.org . He lives in Karachi, Pakistan, with wife and a cat.Email: hafeezr@bigfoot.com
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Published in: on 26/06/2012 at 4:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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