Starting 1979 many progressive political activists, journalists, poets, artists and intellectuals moved to Western Europe and North America due to repression of Zia ul Haq’s regime. Pakistan at this point became an active state in the conflict between the two global superpowers unfolding in Afghanistan. Due to this reason resistance in Pakistan converged with the global conflict between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’. There was an absurd defence of positions taken by the ‘Free World’ in support of Zia. For example, President Reagan stated that General Zia ul Haq was one of the most democratic and humble men he had ever met. He also likened Afghan Mujahideen with the Founding Fathers of USA. During this period a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) was held in Islamabad to condemn the installation of a non-representative government in Kabul. It has been narrated that the Libyan delegate rose at this point and asked, which government under this roof is a representative government. There was complete silence. It showed close relevance of Orwellian ‘Animal Farm’ to both the ‘Free’ and ‘un-Free’ worlds. The key conflict of post 1979 years between Zia ul Haq and the resistance was on legitimizing or delegitimizing usurpation of power by unconstitutional means.
Pakistani progressives in exile and Western citizens of Pakistani origin joined hands to oppose Zia’s oppressive regime in a host of different ways. Notable progressive Pakistanis in exile included people like Afzal Bangash, Feroz Ahmad, Amin Mughal, Hamraz Ahsan; Abbas Ather who wrote the famous headline in daily Azad “ Udher Tum, Idhar Ham”; Salman Pirzada who acted in Jamil Dehlvi’s famous movie “Blood of Hussain”, Ahmad Faraz who wrote his famous poem against army rule, and many others. Then there were students, academics and activists including the renowned intellectuals Iqbal Ahmad and Hamza Alavi and political activists Aga Khalid Saeed, Manzur Ijaz, Nazeer Chaudhry, Sarwar Bari, Akram Dhareeja and many others. Two main forms of resistance emerged during this period; one group of people used to travel to recite poetry and give lectures and the other group started publication of journals and magazines. Nazeer Chaudhry started publishing Pakistan Commentary from West Germany, Bashir Hussain started publication of Pakistan Progressive from the USA and much later Manzur Ijaz started publication of Wichaar which played a distinct role in promoting the culture of resistance. It was a very difficult time for many of the newly arrived exiles to financially survive, get integrated into the host societies, create local communities of resistance and keep the hope alive. A strong sense of solidarity kept the flame of resistance alive during these dark times.
There were many students and academics who wanted to return to Pakistan to serve their country, to join their families or join the resistance. However, this was perhaps the first time when Pakistanis returning home were asked by their friends and families “why have you returned?”. This was due to a combination of factors; social, political and financial. I remember one such event narrated by Dr. Mahbub ul Haq during my stint at UNDP. Dr. Haq was invited for a talk at Boston by a large group of Pakistanis studying at Harvard, MIT and Boston University. After his lecture, a heated debate took place among the participants. Such debates almost instantly take place when Pakistanis meet in foreign lands. At the close of the session Dr. Haq asked the crowd of almost 400 students, “Howe many of you will go back?” According to Dr. Haq, only one student raised the hand. Surprised, he asked the rest why they would not want to return. According to Dr. Haq, they all gave one explanation, “We don’t expect to be treated fairly”. This provided the larger canvas for struggle in exile. In the ‘Free World’, the nature of the struggle had changed from upholding ‘the critique of arms’ to the ‘arms of critique’. This implied constructing and spreading the narrative of resistance. To the students like me, academic institutions provided ample opportunities in this regard. From 1981 to 1986 I was part of the academic world in North America. In the coming posts, I will describe some of the activities that I was connected with during my stay here.