By Agha Iqrar Haroon
French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy (26 July 1940 – 23 August 2021) said that “poetry makes the difficult, the absolutely difficult—easy”. This is the reason poetry had been used since ancient times as a successful resistance tool.
Emmanuel Folorunso Taiwo, the author of Poetics of Resistance in Roman Antiquity, believes that voices of dissent, whether verbal or written, have the historical background of being symptomatic of governments characterized by oppressive policies and brutal force. He writes that in both ancient and contemporary times, resistance poetry assumed different meanings in different creative contexts and academic disciplines.
In ancient times, poetry was considered “so dangerous” that is why it had no place in the ideal state of Plato who barred poets and comedians from being part of the city-state. History testifies that comedy and poetry had been two metaphysical brutal swords to fight against ruthless regimes. In his Republic Plato condemns the poets and exiles them from his idyllic city. The Republic is perhaps one of the greatest literary works of all time and a poem in its own right though written in prose. For Plato, everything is dangerous that has the potential to challenge the writ of the State therefore comedians and poets must be thrown away from the city (State).
A nazm (poem) written by Ahmed Faraz in 1982 when he was living abroad has become very popular in social media among followers of Imran Khan nowadays. Faraz’s poems and writings harshly disapproved of the military regimes of Gen Ayub Khan, Gen Ziaul Haq, and Gen Pervez Musharraf. His work cost him arrest, financial strangulation, and social purge while other poets standing on the other side of the divide, like Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi and Parveen Shakir, had been enjoying their exceptional rise under the patronage of the State. When Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Faraz, Famida Riaz, and Habib Jalib were writing against military dictatorship, Parveen Shakir was writing rejoinders to their anti-establishment poetry.
In response to the poetry of Ahmad Faraz and Famida Riaz that they were producing against Martial Law dictator Ziaul Haq while living abroad, Parveen Shakir who was the “literary face” of state-run PTV and state-run Radio was writing rejoinders like:
Tohmat laga ke maa pe, jo dushman se daad le..
Aise sukhan farosh ko mar jaana chahiye..
(Those orators who take appreciation from enemies by abusing their mother must die)
Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Faraz, Famida Riaz, and many more had to leave the country to avoid wrath of Ziaul Haq while Habib Jalib and many others had to stay in the country and kept battling subjugation of Ziaul Haq who during his speech at the National Writers’ conference on 25 November 1980, said that everybody from businessmen to teacher and from a professor to a writer had to do their work within the parameters and guidelines of the religious values and nothing else would be accepted and allowed.
Compare the political scene of Pakistan to a theatre. So-called democracy has been arriving on the power stage as a comedian performance or a chorus that arrives between the two main performances (acts) or at the time when there is a need to change the backdrop of the stage according to the demand of the forthcoming new scene. Let me add here that the poetry of resistance had always been a part of theatrical performances, mostly it was performed at the end of the main scene of political theatre.
Whosoever wanted to retain his position in society, like Ashfaq Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, Jamil Jalibi, and many more, well understood the message of General Zia and had no problem during and even after Zia’s regime while those who were deaf, had no reasonable place in society during his one-decade long regime.
If Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi can be considered the poet of the State, then we can call Ahmed Faraz a poet of Resistance. Qasmi had always been awarded by Martial Law rulers. He had been conferred with a Pride of Performance Award by the President of Pakistan Gen Ayub Khan in 1968, the Sitara-i-Imtiaz by the President of Pakistan Gen Ziaul Haq in 1980 and he enjoyed a lifelong government job in Majlis Taraqqi-e-Adab (July 1974-2006).
The post-independence resistance poetry in Pakistan was mostly written against the Martial Laws of Gen Ayub Khan, Gen Ziaul Haq, and Gen Parvez Musharraf. Some poems of Habib Jalib written under Ayub’s Martial Law once again became popular during Ziaul Haq Martial Law and even during Musharraf’s hybrid rule because their connotations and denotations represented the same subjugation that had been faced by the public under military dictators before General Musharraf.
I believe Musharraf’s Martial Law was the first practical test of a hybrid system when he coined the term of “Chief Executive of Pakistan” instead of Military dictator or military ruler or Chief Martial Law Administrator. Technically speaking, it was the first time Pakistan was officially proclaimed a corporate entity headed by a Chief Executive in uniform, and this experiment went on from the day Musharraf clamped Martial Law on 12 October 1999, till 2002. Have you ever read that a country is run by a “Chief Executive”? Yes, we know almost all private corporate sector entities have Chief Executives while countries are run by presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, or military dictators. By the time of Musharraf, resistance poetry was no more in the mainstream. Nevertheless, it never died and resistance poetry had been popular and had been produced in smaller cities and towns of Southern Punjab, as well as in Balochistan.
By 2007, Musharraf was losing ground for several international reasons. He was no more the only option for the US-led War on Terror that had a changed face by 2007. A resistance movement against Musharraf started at the beginning of the year 2007 and on 2 October 2007, Musharraf had to resign from Pakistan Army although he should have retired in 2002 or maximum in 2003 if he was not the one who had the power to decide who could stay in Army and who could not?
The resistance movement against Musharraf resulted in the rise of the importance of resistance poetry and several poems were produced during the lawyers’ movement against Musharraf. However, such poetry as was created for a specific movement or circumstance, did not survive and died out when the movement died out, and on 7 August 2008, President Musharraf was no more in power.
Now almost after 14 years, the alleged political role of the military is again under question and this time it is PTI that is targeting the military for its suspected intervention in politics, and the Haqeeqi Azadi March is against the military establishment of Pakistan led by former Prime Minister Imran Khan who himself was apparently a product and project of the military.
Pro-military writers always provide a point against politicians stating that almost all politicians rose to power through the military and were raised in the lap of the military dictators and then they became critical of the military establishment. My understanding is that there had been no place in Pakistan where politicians could rise because there had always been military rule and intelligent politicians made their ways under the patronage of the then dictators. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came back to Pakistan for serving his country, there was the military rule of Gen Ayub Khan so he had to join the band if he wanted to place himself in Pakistani politics. He revolted against the military the moment he got the opportunity and formed his political party. Mian Nawaz Sharif decided in the early 1980s to rise as a politician and that was the time of the Zia Martial Law, so he had to go through the corridors manned by the military ruler. Imran Khan decided to enter into politics in 1996 when there was no military rule but he had to join the band soon by supporting the Referendum of General Musharraf in 2002. So this is not the sin of politicians rising under military rulers, rather there had never been a free political arena available in Pakistan where there were no Martial Laws from the early 1950s till the end of the 20th century.
I compare the political scene of Pakistan to a theatre. So-called democracy has been arriving on the power stage as a comedian performance or a chorus that arrives between the two main performances (acts) or at the time when there is a need to change the backdrop of the stage according to the demand of the forthcoming new scene. Let me add here that the poetry of resistance had always been a part of theatrical performances, mostly it was performed at the end of the main scene of political theatre.
Will this theatre go on as before? I wait for an honest answer.
Note: The above article was originally published by Pakistan Today.