Biyyathil Mohyuddin Kutty | Majority of Pakistanis are tolerant people
New Delhi: Biyyathil Mohyuddin Kutty , former political secretary to the governor of Baluchistan, was born in Kerala’s Tirur town in 1930. He migrated to Pakistan in 1949, driven by a love of geography—not the usual reason that spurred more than a million people to migrate in 1947. Kutty’s six decades in Pakistan have seen him take part in many political movements. The high point of his career was his association with Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo, the governor of Baluchistan province in 1972. Kutty is in India to promote his book Sixty years in self exile: no regrets. He spoke about his journey and politics in Pakistan. Edited excerpts:
When you say ‘self exile’ what does that mean?
Actually, I was not the creator of this title. This title was suggested by Nirmala Deshpandewith whom I worked in the India-Pakistan peace movement. I did not consider myself a refugee because I haven’t been pushed out by anybody for political or economic reasons. I went on my own. I exiled myself. It doesn’t have any special meaning... But I don’t have any regrets, which means that this exile is very different from exile as such. I enjoyed life, lived my life fully as a political activist and a peace activist. Since 1994, I’ve been working very closely (with the) Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy and then the Pakistan Peace coalition—I’m the founder and secretary-general of that.
You went to Pakistan in 1949—a difficult period in history, the wounds of partition were still fresh. When you went there what was it like? Indians who migrated to Pakistan were known as ‘muhajirs’ and they weren’t quite accepted into Pakistani society.
No, that’s wrong. In the early years, when refugees came here, they were warmly received by the Sindhi people. And mostly they came to Sindh. Those who went from Punjab were Punjabis—Punjabi-speaking, similar culture. When they went to western Punjab from eastern Punjab, they didn’t have much difficulty in assimilating themselves with the local population. But in Sindh it was a bit difficult because Sindhis had a different language, a different culture, a different history.
But I was not a refugee and (did not) have any problem here. My idea at that time was that I’ll go right up to Lahore and come back. But that did not happen. We saw refugees were still coming to Pakistan via that border and the Sindhi local people were welcoming them. But later on, when they started coming in larger numbers or continuing their migration and when Sindhi people’s own economic situation was affected by the influx of refugees from India then that started the rift.
Were there a lot of people from Kerala who migrated?
No. Partition never brought any Keralites to Pakistan. “Malabaris", as they used to be called in Karachi, had migrated in 1920s. (In) 1921, there was the Moplah Rebellion (against British rule) in Malabar and there was martial law... Many of them migrated to Singapore. Quite a few of them went to Karachi. From 1921 to 1947, they had already settled there. They had established businesses, for example, tea shops... So much so that there was a building called Calicut Hotel, a two-storey building that belonged to a Malabari from Calicut. And then there were beedi workers. Almost all the beedi workers in Karachi were Malabari. So I went there and I had no difficulty because there were all these Malabaris. And then I wasn’t going to stay there with them. I wanted to go further on... to Lahore. And then I didn’t go away from Lahore.
What about Lahore changed your mind?
My taste was all for seeing the world. I had a great liking for Noor Jehan and Anarkali, the two ladies who figured in Mughal history and both buried in Lahore. (Mughal emperor) Jehangir was also buried in Lahore. So I went to Lahore and there I met a Kerala gentleman from Travancore. He got me a job at the India Coffee House in Lahore. In the meantime I got a much better job in a much better organization.
Political journey: Kutty says he did not consider himself a refugee because he hadn’t been pushed out by anybody for political or economic reasons. Photo Ramesh Pathania/mint
While in Lahore I got associated with the Communist Party and the People’s Publishing House, all the Leftist political workers and the political leaders of Lahore. Lahore had a very popular and influential and intellectual crowd there... After marriage, I did not desire to go back (to India). So that settled my life.
How do you look at the space for liberals in Pakistan getting constricted? Do you have regrets about how Pakistan has emerged?
Yes, there is a disappointment... The disappointment is about the fact that even after so many years we still have problems as they existed in the 1950s. Right in the beginning, Pakistan needed some basic reforms, political reforms. The Muslim League that created Pakistan was not clear what it would do after the establishment of Pakistan... A constitution should have been drafted and promulgated. India did it. By 1950, India had a constitution adopted and in 1951, they had the first general election... We could not frame a constitution till 1956.
Governments were being made and unmade every two years. We had so many prime ministers between 1947 and 1956 but there was only one commander-in-chief; he got himself re-appointed and they were manipulating the changes of government. One fundamental mistake our rulers made was that they did not worry about land reforms so there were huge landowning classes behaving as kings and they were having control over the assembly with indirect elections.
As a liberal, do you feel scared about your future?
No, absolutely not. At least 90% of Pakistani people are tolerant people. This conservative element is a very small minority.
But this minority seems to be taking the upper hand these days. After Salman Taseer’s murder, even the lawyers were showering petals.
Yes it is. But do you know that gradually our press, our editorials are against them and calling these lawyers names. People are asking questions. I still don’t say that radicalism is over taking the people... It, again, did not develop inside Pakistan, from our soil. (In) the 1980s, when the Soviet Union appeared in Afghanistan, Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime was in power and they had begun with this slogan, ‘Nizam-e-Mustafa’—we will introduce Islamic regime and all. So that is where it started... When Soviet troops finally withdrew in 1988, Americans lost interest here. But those people (the Mujahideen) were there. What were they going to do? They captured Kabul.
Pakistan had a vested interest in this instability, of gaining influence in Afghanistan. This had been there since 1947. Pakistan always thought India is threatening us and, therefore, we must have at the back some space. So Pakistan’s ruling classes definitely had an interest in getting hold of some sort of influence in Afghanistan. This, they thought, was their chance. During this time, it was Benazir Bhutto’s government during which Taliban was actually developed. Benazir Bhutto’s government’s internal minister, Naseerullah Khan Babar, was the one who nursed them, nourished them and proudly said that ‘I am the creator of Taliban’.
How far do groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan threaten Pakistan?
Taliban threat is, of course, there because their aim now is to somehow take power through force in Pakistan. They are not interested in interfering anywhere else. There are not only Taliban, there are different groups, there are Tehreek-e-Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Laskhar-e-Janghvi, all sorts of riffraff... I will not say that the Taliban are going to just take over Pakistan and I don’t think they will be able to.
There is a struggle going on between the liberals and groups like Taliban.
But they are not a political party, operating as political party. They are armed gangs; they have a force but a force of guns. Poverty has also contributed to people being recruited easily to Talibanization. The other is the government’s misgovernance... In southern Punjab, these religious parties have a force. The leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Saeed, is almost patronized by the Muslim League just because Hafiz Saeed’s supporters are there in Punjab and they are voters of the Muslim League... So Punjab is now the fertile ground for these people to operate. Not that Muslim League is colluding with them but it’s not stopping them.
How far have the Pakistani army and the Inter-Services Intelligence contributed to Pakistan’s current problems?
The army, by seizing power twice or thrice, has caused damage to the cause of Pakistan itself because had we followed or gone through a democratic process for 60 years like India we would probably have stable democratic institutions. These institutions were never allowed to grow. Had the elections that were promised in 1959 taken place, Pakistan’s history would have been different... The rule of the army has damaged the cause of democracy in Pakistan, economically too.
Where exactly do you see the future of Baluchistan? There has been this long-running insurgency there.
I say Baluchistan’s future is in Pakistan, not out of Pakistan. The reason is not that they don’t have the resources; they have plenty of resources. It is the richest province of Pakistan’s east. They have all minerals—gold, copper, gas—and the population is not even 10% of Pakistan’s population. Still, they don’t have a future.
There are forces outside with coveting eyes. It has become a sort of a playground for international forces for their own vested interests; for their own strategic interests. The problem is Baluchistan cannot remain independent. If it has to be independent it has to be at an arrangement with the rest of Pakistan.
But this whole thing has been mishandled by whom?
By the ruling classes of Pakistan from Islamabad and then, of course, Punjab’s majority. Now there is a clear realization in Punjab that things have to change, this cannot go on.
What about the charge that there is Indian involvement in Baluchistan?
I don’t know because India has an influence in Afghanistan so it is always suspected that people are getting arms and that India may be involved in this. Some are directly accusing India of intervention. I can’t say whether India is intervening because nothing is authentic.
Your Malayalam is impeccable even today. How have you managed to keep it that way after so many decades out of Kerala?
I was very deeply attached to Malayalam. In school, Muslims used to take Arabic as the second language but I took Malayalam. Even in college, I took Malayalam literature… As long as Indian newspapers were available in Pakistan I used to get the Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi.
So, literally, there are no regrets?
No, not at all. Because I have so many friends there. If I leave Pakistan for two or three months, I don’t think I will be able to survive. Pakistani people do not believe in enmity with Indian people. But there is a certain limited group within political parties and religious groups and in the security agencies, such elements. They are definitely in a minority.