Pakistan’s Treatment of Intellectuals

Pakistan Link, USA
January 25, 2003

By Dr. Masood Haider, New Jersey

I have written admiringly about Professor Akbar Ahmed frequently in the Pakistan Link. Sometimes this has evoked a typically Pakistani reaction from some of the readers. Following one such article, I received a call from an unidentified lady who asked me several ‘pointed’ questions. ‘What kind of ‘Doctor’ are you? Where are you from? How do you know Professor Akbar? Are you a Pathan? Are you Urdu-speaking? And so on. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking which evaluates a person based on extraneous and irrelevant factors permeates the upper echelons of policy makers in Pakistan. It is the main reason why our country has such a sorry record of honoring our intellectuals. The treatment meted out to Professor Abdus Salam, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Professor Akbar, Ahmed Faraz, Qurat ul Ain Haider and many more was motivated by considerations which overshadowed their contributions to Pakistan. Among the many hopes that one has of a new Pakistan under the leadership of President Musharraf is a better treatment of its intellectual treasures. This is of paramount importance.

I had read some of Professor Akbar’s books, seen his six-part documentary ‘Living Islam’, had liked it immensely and was aware of his struggle for making the movie ‘Jinnah’. However, I met him in person for the first time, less than a year ago, at a showing of ‘Jinnah’ at Princeton University. Since then, I attended several of his talks and was most impressed by his views on Islam in the new Millennium and his vigorous advocacy of the ‘Jinnah Model’ as the salvation for not only Pakistan but also the entire Muslim world. I had heard some dark hints about the circumstances of his departure from the position of the High Commissioner of Pakistan in the UK. Some characterized it as ‘dismissal’ due to inappropriate activities and were convinced as well as about irregularities in financial matters relating to the production of the movie “Jinnah”. All this was long before my wife and I came to regard Professor Akbar and Mrs. Akbar as highly valued friends. However, even at that time, I intuitively knew all the allegations to be false and firmly believed in him as a man of integrity, honesty, scholarship, foresight and vision. It was hard to imagine that a man who had a blotless record of long public service and had been honored with Sitar-e-Imtiaz and Taghm-e-Pakistan will succumb to the temptation of the kind of indiscretion, which was bandied about him.

A few months ago Professor Akbar made public several important documents through ‘Q News’, London. These included a letter from Establishment Office ordering his transfer back to Islamabad, letter from Professor Akbar to the Division protesting the smear campaign against him and tending his resignation, an NOC from the Pakistani High Commissioner in London establishing that no monies were owed and a report from a reputable British chartered accounting firm testifying to lack of any irregularity in the financial affairs of the budget for the movie ‘Jinnah’.

Recently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released two documents, which will also appear in the next issue of the Gazette of Pakistan, to the press. One signed by Mr. Syed Junaid Akhlaq read ‘As per our records there is nothing outstanding against Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed pertaining to his tenure as Pakistan’s High Commissioner, London’. The second dated October 2001 signed by Raja Hasan Abbas, Deputy Secretary of the Government of Pakistan, stated, “Dr. Akbar S. Ahmad, a BS-20 officer of District Manager Group posted as Officer on Special Duty, Establishment Division shall stand retired from government service with immediate effect on his own request. The period from 3-7-2000 till to date shall be treated as extraordinary leave (without pay) ex-Pakistan to the officer’. This unequivocally establishes that Professor Akber chose to leave Pakistan rather than return to Islamabad in accordance with the orders of the Establishment Division in June, 2000 for which, as is the case in these matters, no reasons were given by the office.

The clue to the campaign of vilification against Dr. Akbar lies in the statement in the second letter. In the early days of his administration, President Musharaff picked the most distinguished and honest public servants from within as well as outside the country to serve on important positions. Shaukat Aziz , Moin Uddin Haider, Akbar Ahmad, Maleeha Lodhi and Ishrat Husain are some of the names. Since Dr. Akbar was on special duty to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, his appointment to such a powerful position was greatly resented by the ‘Babus’ of the ministry. If anyone doubts the power of this clique they have to only look at how its counterpart on the other side of border derailed an agreement, which Mr. Vajpayee had approved, on the Musharraf-Vajpayee Agra summit.

After the September 11 tragedy, the prophetic vision of Professor Akbar is finding resonance at the highest levels of government in Pakistan. President Musharraf has courageously turned away from the shameful legacy of the last several decades. Pakistan’s destiny lies in following the Quaid-i-Azam’s dream of being a tolerant, non-theocratic, progressive, dynamic and modern Islamic state. Professor Akbar is continuing to render his invaluable services not only to Pakistan but to the entire Muslim world, which he started in the US, first from one of the world’s most pre-eminent schools; Princeton University and now from his distinguished position as the prestigious Ibn-Khaldun chair. His book ‘Islam Today’ is looked upon as one of the best sources of information about Islam in the west and is selling briskly. He has appeared and continues to appear on a number of radio, and TV programs, such as Oprah Winfrey’s ‘Islam 101’ and he contributes to many newspapers. Professor Akbar stands tall and vindicated and many in the Western world turn to him to present the true face of Islam; an Islam which is not afraid of or in disharmony with the onward march of modernity.

I feel proud that during all the time that I have known him, I never for a moment doubted Professor Akbar’s integrity and veracity. As an American Muslim, I am glad that this distinguished scholar presents Islam to the Americans eloquently and positively.

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