Tariq Ali’s backhanded tribute to Salmaan Taseer – by Mahvish Afridi

Is Tariq Ali a reporter, a Marxist activist or an author of fluffy Islamist novels reminiscent of Nasim Hijazi? Or is he just an ideologue past his sell by date, cashing in on his Communist Cows.  Nonetheless, he clearly has his prejudices and his article “Salman Taseer Remembered” (London Review of Books) reveals some of them.

In what should have been a tribute to a childhood friend, Tariq Ali can’t help himself and resorts to his typical petty digs based on his own prejudices and neurosis. He remembers their childhood memories but cannot bring himself to appreciate the late Salman Taseer’s business success and political activism.  I suppose that is natural given that Tariq Ali comes from a privileged feudal background and ran off from Pakistan instead of facing any consequences for being part of the Left movement of the late 1960s. Tariq Ali’s grandfather Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan was a leader of the Unionist Muslim League, a feudalist political party formed to represent the interests of the landlords of Punjab. It is the same feudal lord about whom Allama Iqabl wrote: nigah-e-faqr mein shaan-e-sikandri kia hai

In Tariq Ali’s elitist lexicon, being a self made and highly successful businessman is far inferior to being a paid lecture circuit mouthpiece for Hamas and Taliban and their supporters that reside on the fringes of the Far Left.

His glossing over the incarceration that Taseer had to face for his political affiliation with the Pakistan Peoples Party and its leadership are probably an indication of his insecurity for running away to England at the first sign of trouble. Not unlike other members of Pakistan’s ‘fake civil society’, Tariq Ali hates the PPP and the Bhuttos because they deprived him and his likes of the imaginary revolution that Tariq Ali so much wanted to lead but never possessed the guts and heart to do so.

In his back handed tribute to Shaheed Taseer, Tariq Ali reveals more about himself and his prejudice than about the late Governor’s successful life.

“I asked him why he had decided to go into politics. Wasn’t being a businessman bad enough”

Unlike Tariq Ali, Salman Taseer did not come from the powerful, rich and connected feudal family of Sikandar Hayat but from a humble background.  Salman Taseer was a highly educated and qualified individual, a chartered accountant, whose vision and business acumen made him successful.  In fact, it was Salman Taseer’s pioneering work in the field of media and telecommunications in Pakistan in the 1990s that made him rich and not State patronage; another low blow by Tariq Ali.  This is hardly surprising though.

Most times, Tariq Ali’s “views” on Pakistan read like the ISI playbook.  His rabid and virulent anti-PPP hatred makes him an ideal candidate for the establishment’s propaganda against the PPP though he is a much better version of General Hameed Gul. Words like “creatures” and “minions” to describe the PPP are symptomatic of the deep hatred that elites like Tariq Ali have with the proletariat nature of PPP politics.

If Tariq Ali had any class, he would have appreciated the brave manner in which Shaheed Governor Taseer had faced down the media, judiciary and sectarian jihadis which lead to his death. Instead Tariq Ali uses Taseer’s death as a podium for his typical PPP bashing rants.

Throughout his “tribute” to Taseer, Tariq Ali positions the army as the only viable force. He critiques them gently (not unlike some other pro-establishment writers in Pakistani press) but his harshest criticism is reserved for the PPP and its leadership and his choice of words reveals a very bitter and petty mind.  His critique on the army is the typical propagandist spin and while he carefully does not back security establishment outright, he reinforces the same narratives that are found in the rabidly Pro-Taliban Pakistani media.

Tariq Ali willingly recycles the military establishment’s narrative that 98% of those killed in drone strikes over the last 5 years – estimated to be between 2,000-3,000 – were Pakistani civilians. This propagandist narrative has been effectively countered by researchers such as Farhat Taj and several others working on the drone statistics.

Tariq talks of corruption as a competition between the PPP elected government and the army; it is very easy to see which side he favours even as he falsely posits himself as neutral. In this regard, his sense of economics is as warped as his sense of history and politics:

“Were this to happen a military takeover of the country might be the only way for the army to counter dissent within its ranks by redirecting the flow of black money and bribes (currently a monopoly of politicians) into military coffers.”

This statement reveals the sheer dishonesty on the part of Tariq Ali.  The Pakistan army eats up 30% of the poor country’s annual budget which does NOT include perks such as the ISI secret funding, extra money for “fighting the war on terror”, pension funds, armaments expenditure.

For Tariq Ali to gloss over this is the typical manner of those who are part of the English-writing media but whose biases are as destructive as those from the rabid right wing Urdu press lead by the likes of Ansar Abbasi, Hamid Mir and Talat Hussain.

When Tariq Ali states:

“Even before this killing, Pakistan had been on the verge of yet another military takeover”

Is he simply stating that his dead friend was part of the problem of corruption or is this a part of his continuing rant against a dead man who unlike Tariq Ali, was NOT a connected feudal aristocrat but actually had to work for his living.

In this review, Tariq Ali represents the epitome of what is rotten in the state of the English media in Pakistan.  Much of the chatter in this elite segment of the media regarding the tragic murder of Governor Taseer revolves around the following themes some of which are present in Tariq Ali’s backhanded tribute to a slain friend:

1)     Rabid anti-PPP sentiment as a marker of being part of a self-labelled “civil society”

2)     A soft corner for the military establishment where even a soft critique of the establishment is couched in virulent PPP bashing

3)     Disdain for the sub-nationalist narrative of the Baloch and the Pushtun

4)     A reactionary, opportunistic and self serving anti Americanism that feels as if it has been dictated by a serving colonel of the ISI and which covers the following themes:

i)                An utterly one-sided narrative of the drones where the Taliban and foreign       mercenaries are counted as civilians and where the views of the Pushtuns are casually dismissed and instead the Taliban are falsely represented as an “indigenous Pushtun movement”

ii)              The extremism in Pakistan is falsely linked to the UN sanctioned NATO presence in Afghanistan and the entire issue of extremism and the massacre of minorities is linked to this presence.  It is NOT linked to the Islamist policies of the establishment and their channelling of the Saudi billions into the social experiment that views Pakistan as a laboratory experiment for imported medieval practices.

iii)            Inherent in this false narrative is also present a pronounced anti-Shia bias.  When Tariq Ali writes:

“The Shia sects and some of their more esoteric beliefs have little to do with Islamic theology.”

Clearly, Tariq Ali is not qualitatively any different from a frothing and foaming sectarian mullah from the Sipah-e-Sahaba.  When the negative and weird characters in his historical novels, which evoke more Nasim Hijazi than Steinbeck, are Shia and when one of the main protagonists is named Yazeed, then the blatant sectarian prejudice in Tariq Ali’s historic fiction cannot be ignored.

Even the attempts to portray these novels as anti-colonial are contradictory to the notion that Islamism itself is a colonial force and much of the matter in Tariq Ali’s novels is the typical Islamist “mythology that is uncritically recycled” in his shallow novels with very predictable plots and character arcs.

I suppose even self-declared atheists cannot contain their sectarian prejudices.

Tariq Ali shamelessly parades the security establishment point of view on the Taliban and thankfully this is beautifully deconstructed by Naeem Wardeg in “Tariq Ali, Pashtun Nationalism, and Taliban”.

“Nevertheless, Mr. Tariq Ali lumps everything under imperialism and anti-imperialism and finds a link between anti-imperialism, Pashtun nationalism, and Taliban movement. This highly reductionist approach may be based on his understanding of the issue or, more likely, catering to the needs of his own nationality but this also unfortunately conceals more fundamental causes of the problem”

This is further reinforced by Imtiaz Baloch’s column on similar biases of Tariq Ali:

“In general, Tariq Ali’s attitude and behaviour towards Pakistan’s nationalities question sounded like an echo coming from Islamabad’s corridors of power representing the voice of a dominant nationality that has colonized Baluchistan for 60 years, yet whose intelligentsia, including the Left is woefully oblivious of their own role as accomplices.

There seemed a pattern emerging from the speech and the discussion that completed the picture. The old Left and the neo-Taliban have bonded into a new friendship with a common cause – Bush-bashing, for which, Islamic populist sentimentalism, state and strong army have become important tools of the trade. Today, it is not surprising to see former Marxists collude with Jihadis, but to see Tariq Ali in that role was a huge let down”

Suddenly it all made sense, for Tariq Ali. For him, the world had shrunk to the two opposite poles – America on one sides and the global Islamic militancy. Anything anti-American would do, regardless of its nature being oppressive, anti-progressive, anti-democratic and anti-human.

What Tariq Ali said that evening would make Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed and former Director General ISI Hameed Gul (godfather of the Taliban) applaud and dance with joy.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of the story. He also managed to present one dramatized case of forcible disappearance of a Pakistani citizen Aafia Siddiqui now in US custody for alleged links with Al-Qaida.

He spent considerable time talking about Aafia Siddiqi, painting a picture of a victim of American atrocities, but he did not utter a single word about the thousands of Sindhi and Baloch political activists who were disappeared by the ISI under Musharraf’s military rule and ended up in the torture cells.

It is in light of these biases that Tariq Ali’s so called “tribute” to his “friend” must be carefully examined.

Unfortunately, such rubbish is not just limited to Tariq Ali but is also found amongst prominent members of Pakistan’s English media and blogs.  When Mosharraf Zaidi and Imran Khan can both link Salman Taseer’s murder and extremism in Pakistani society to the NATO presence in Afghanistan, one should not ignore the trends.

In order to evaluate Tariq Ali’s pro-Establishment, anti-PPP, pro-Taliban , anti-Pushtun, anti-Baloch and anti-Shia views, one only has to see how he treats the memory of a dead friend.



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