The enigmatic Pakhtun

Recently a Pakhtun friend of mine who is doing his doctorate in Anthropology from a European university emailed me the following: “Nothing has damaged us Pakhtuns more than certain myths about our character that were not constructed by us”.

We were exchanging views on how some self-proclaimed experts on Pakhtun history and character in Pakistan were actually using the stereotypical aspects of this character to deter the Pakistani state from undertaking an all-out military operation against religious extremists in the Pakhtun-dominated tribal areas of the country.

My friend (who originally hails from the Upper Dir District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) also made another interesting observation: “You know, these myths have been engrained so deep into the psyche of today’s Pakhtuns that if one starts to deconstruct them, he or she would first and foremost be admonished by today’s young Pakhtuns. They want to believe in these myths not knowing that, more often than not, these myths have reduced them to being conceived as some kind of brainless sub-humans who pick up a gun at the drop of a hat to defend things like honour, faith, tradition, etc.”

But in his emails he was particularly angry at certain leading non-Pakhtun political leaders, clerics and even a few intellectuals who he thought were whipping up stereotypical perceptions and myths about the Pakhtuns to rationalise the violence of extremist outfits like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that has a large Pakhtun membership.

He added that in the West as well, many of his European and American contemporaries in the academic world uncritically lap-up these perceptions and myths. He wrote: “They are surprised when they meet Pakhtun students here (in Europe), who are intelligent, rational, and humane and absolutely nothing like Genghis Khan”!

There have been a number of research papers and books written on the subject that convincingly debunk the myths attached to the social and cultural character of the Pakhtuns.

Almost all of them point an accusing finger at British Colonialists for being the pioneers of stereotyping the Pakhtuns.

Adil Khan in Pakhtun Ethnic Nationalism: From Separation to Integration writes that in 1849 when the British captured the southern part of Afghanistan, they faced stiff resistance from the Pakhtun tribes there. The British saw the tribes as the anti-thesis of what the British represented: civilisation and progress.

This is when the British started to explain the Pakhtuns as ‘noble savages’ — even though in the next few decades (especially during and after the 1857 Mutiny), the colonialists would face even more determined resistance from various non-Pakhtun Muslims and non-Muslims of the region.

From then onwards, British writers began to spin yarns of a romanticised and revivalist image of the Pakhtuns that also became popular among various South Asian historians.

Adil Khan complains that such an attempt to pigeonhole the Pakhtuns has obscured the economic and geographical conditions that have shaped the Pakhtun psyche. What’s more, the image of the unbeatable noble savage has been propagated in such a manner that many Pakhtuns now find it obligatory to live up and exhibit this image.

The myths associated with the Pakhtuns’ character have most recently been used to inform the narratives weaved by those who see religious militancy emerging from the Pakhtun-dominated areas in the north-west of Pakistan as a consequence of the state’s careless handling of the traditions of the ‘proud Pakhtun tribes’ (which may have triggered the ‘historical’ penchant of these tribes to inflict acts of revenge). Interestingly, the same myths were once also used by secular Pakhtun nationalists.

One of the most popular architects of Pakhtun nationalism, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, banked on the myth of Pakhtuns being unbeatable warriors to construct the anti-colonial aspect of his Pakhtun nationalist organisation, the Khudai Khidmatgar.

Earnest Gellner in Myths of Nation & Class in Mapping the Nation is of the view that though the Pakhtuns are an independent-minded people and take pride in many of their centuries-old traditions, they are largely an opportunistic and pragmatic people.

When Pakistan became an active participant in the United States’ proxy war against the Soviet forces that had entered Afghanistan, the Ziaul Haq dictatorship — to whip up support for the Afghan mujahideen — used state media and anti-Soviet intelligentsia to proliferate the idea that historically the Pakhtuns were an unbeatable race that had defeated all forces that had attempted to conquer them.

One still hears this, especially from those opposing the Pakistan state’s military action in the country’s tribal areas. But is there any historical accuracy in this proud proclamation?

Not quite. The truth is that the Pakhtuns have been beaten on a number of occasions. Alexander, Timur, Nadir Shah, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the British, were all able to defeat the Pakhtuns.

In the 2008 paper, Losing the Psy-war in Afghanistan, the author writes: ‘True, the British suffered the occasional setback but they eventually managed to subdue the Pakhtun tribes. Had the British wanted they would have also continued to rule Afghanistan, only they didn’t find it worth their while and preferred to let it remain a buffer between India and Russia. The Russians (in the 1980s) too would never have been defeated had the Soviet economy not collapsed — and it didn’t collapse because of the war in Afghanistan — and had the Americans not pumped in weapons and money to back the so-called Mujahideen.’

The paper adds: ‘… while Pakhtuns are terrific warriors for whom warfare is a way of life, they have always succumbed to superior force and superior tactics. The Pakhtuns have never been known to stand against a well-disciplined, well-equipped, motivated, and equally ruthless force.’

The 10 best Pakistani political/social parody songs … ever!

10: Saban-Waban Chor: Majid Jahangir and Ismail Tara (1978)


The passionate South Asian music genre of the Qawali reached a peak in popularity among urban Pakistanis in the mid and late 1970s.


Two of the most famous exponents of the genre were Aziz Mian Qawal and the Sabri Brothers.

Over a period of time a rivalry of sorts developed between Aziz Mian and the Sabri Brothers, and a time came when both began to record qawalis mocking each other with taunting lyrics.

Aziz Mian was the wild man of Pakistani Qawali. Long-haired, almost always sloshed on his favourite brand of whisky, and punctuating his qawalis with sudden spoken-word interludes that he would shout out as if he was having an argument with God and the conservative clergy.

Though the Sabri Brothers too came from the same Sufi-music background as Aziz Mian, they were more subdued and harmonious in their approach towards their music.

As crowds in Karachi, Lahore and other major cities of the country flocked to see Aziz Main and the Brothers, they loved their professional rivalry even more.

In 1977, the Brothers released a long Qawali, Peena Weena Chor: O’ Sharabi, Chor De Peena (hey, drunkard, stop drinking), that indirectly taunted Aziz Mian’s obsession with whisky.

Aziz Mian retaliated with an even longer and sarcastic Qawali, Aye Kambakht Tu Nein Pi Hi Nahi (O’ unfortunate soul, you never even drank).

In 1978 the year Pakistan’s state-owned TV channel, PTV, launched Fifty-Fifty – a weekly 30-minute show of comedy skits – one of the show’s initial skits parodied the rivalry between the Brothers and Aziz Mian.


Comedians Majid Jehangir and Sakhi Iqbal (who was still studying at the Karachi University at the time and was a member of a progressive students outfit) played the Sabri Brothers, and Ismail Tara played the long-haired and uninhabited Aziz Mian.


Aziz Mian and the Brothers had taunted each other by using high Sufi symbolism in their respective lyrics. But Jahangir, Sakhi and Tara not only parodied the Qawali styles of the Brothers and Aziz Mian, but also their words by replacing their lyrical Sufi symbolism with mundane issues such as indigestion, quality of soap and fried chicken.

The results were hilarious.

Video | Saban-Waban Chor (1978)



9: No Love and Yes Love: Doctor Aur Billa (1994 and 1995)


During the early and mid-1990s when the modern Pakistani pop scene had well and truly broken out of its ‘underground’ status and went mainstream, there emerged a quirky pop band (from the famous Lahore College of Arts), calledDoctor Aur Billa (Dr and Billa).


Led by Javad Bashir, the band at once began to parody the mainstream themes of the Pakistani pop music scene of the time.

Two of its most famous songs in this respect were 1994’s No Love and its 1995 sequel, Yes Love.

The band consisted of Javad Bashir and also included Faisal Qureshi, Adeel Hashmi, Ahsan Rahim and a number of other guys, all of whom would go on to become established TV comedians, actors, directors, VJs, etc.

At a time when famous pop and rock acts like the Vital Signs, Awaz, Strings, Junoon, Ali Haider, Sajjad Ali, Hadiqa Kayani and numerous others had begun to be courted and pampered by large multinational sponsors and put large sums of money in their videos, Dr. Aur Billa arrived on the scene consciously behaving like poppers but with an almost arrogant DIY attitude.

They self-financed the recording of their songs and made low-budget videos because no multinational sponsor would go near them.

Not that they were subversive in an overtly political sense, they were just impossible to pigeonhole even as funny guys. Because not only were they not behaving like ‘regular comedians’, they were dressing up like 1970s over-the-top hipsters.

In 1994 when a majority of popular Urdu pop songs/videos in the country were about Romeos chasing Juliets, Dr. Aur Billa came up with a song and video called No Love.

It turned the thematic tables by making a woman chase a man! When the video was played on the now defunct NTM (a semi-private TV channel), it became a sudden hit, taking everyone (even the band) by surprise.

When in 1995 some pop groups tried to add more ‘social substance’ into their songs and videos, Dr. Aur Billa perversely released Yes Love in which they turned the haughty and impersonal protagonist of No Love into a helpless, nervous romantic failingly trying to get the attention of the girl he had ignored. Macho had turned into mush.

Both the songs though based on minimalistic compositions, were extremely catchy.

What’s more, as famous pop acts began to hire equally famous fashion designers to update their images and looks, Dr. Aur Billa decided to appear in gaudy 1970s attire designed by the band members themselves from bits and pieces of contemporary shirts, trousers and even from worn-out women’s saris!

Video | No Love (1994)



Video | Yes Love (1995)



8: Chief Saab: Sajjad Ali (1994)


Sajjad Ali began his career as a young semi-classical crooner in the 1980s. But by the early 1990s, he had successfully established himself as a highly talented and famous pop vocalist.


He achieved this with his first pop album in 1993 (Babiya ’93), but it was his second album in 1994 that turned him into one of the biggest selling pop acts of Pakistan.

Though the album was studded with Ali’s trademark pop melodies about the birds and the bees, one song on it, Chief Saab, saw him completely depart from his usual style and lyrics.

The song is about a righteous and cool street toughie of Karachi mocking another (more villainous) toughie in typical Karachi street lingo and slang.

The tune has a hypnotic slow-burn groove and is paced with the Karachi cool dude attitude, but it became controversial when the video of the song hit the TV screens.

The video is cheaply shot at an apartment block in Karachi. Sajjad Ali plays the cool dude trying to cow down three hooligans with his macho and witty lyrics fattened with the city’s twisty street lingo.

Though long hair (on men) had gone out of fashion in the 1980s, for a while they came back into vogue (the world over) in the early 1990s. So, Ali grew his hair long as well and appears in the video with a full stock.

Two theories emerged about the song. The first was that Ali was parodying street hooligans and gangsters that had begun to infest the streets and colleges of Karachi from the 1980s onwards.

The second theory was that Ali was actually addressing a notorious member of the city’s gangster community that was supposedly being patronised by a political party.

Ali suggested that he was simply parodying men who act tough but were normal run-of-the-mill guys. The video would seem to suggest the same in which Ali and the hooligans are seen locked in a tense battle of tough postures only to break down and become ordinary guys who were just interested in making some dance moves in front of the camera.

However, Ali suddenly left Karachi and ended up in Lahore. Some newspapers reported that he had been threatened by the gangster. Ali again denied the news, even when his thick flock of hair suddenly end up alarmingly trimmed.

Video | Chief Saab (1994)



7: Dubai Janey Walley: Bushra Ansari and Majid Jahangir (1979)


In the mid-1970s a number of Pakistanis from working-class backgrounds for the first time began being able to travel to oil-rich Arab countries for work.


By the late 1970s the trend had considerably picked up and more and more Pakistanis were sending back or coming back with the kind of money and consumer goods that were once beyond their reach.

However, as more Pakistanis from small rural areas and the working-classes in the main urban centres tried to make it to cities in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, hundreds of fraudulent travel agencies and agents cropped up who would rob the hopeful travellers’ by running away with their savings after issuing them fake visas and passports.

In 1979 such crimes hit a peak and thousands of poor Pakistanis lost their savings in their desire to make big money in the Arab countries. The same year PTV’s comedy show, Fifty-Fifty, ran a song/video about the alarming phenomenon.


The song was sung by Bushra Ansari and Majid Jahangir. In the video, Bushra plays the wife of a lowly paid employee of Karachi’s municipal city government (Ismail Tara) who is walking around his small house (in a shanty town) with a puffed up chess because he has managed to get a visa for Dubai.


The wife sings to him the list of things he must send back for the poor family (TV, fridge, jewellery, etc.), from Dubai.

However, as the husband is strolling about and already acting like a king, his brother (played by Majid Jahangir) comes in. He laments that he (Tara) would not be going to Dubai because his travel agent had been arrested and his visa was a fake.

In the end, Tara suddenly loses his snooty and puffed up posture and complains that now he doesn’t even have his tiny government job.

The composition of the song is based on a famous Pashtu folk tune.

Video | Dubai Janey Wallay (1979)



6: Mr.Faudiay: Awaz (1995)


The 1990s were a time when democratic governments replaced the Zia dictatorship of the 1980s.


But as governments rotated between Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s IJI/PML-N, remnants of the Zia regime still exercised great influence and power within the country’s military, security agencies and the bureaucracy.

The culture of patronage and corruption and that of violence that had begun to develop during the Zia dictatorship mushroomed within Pakistan’s political and social scene of the 1990s.

It reached a peak on the eve of the dismissal of the second Benazir regime in 1996 (on corruption charges by her own President), and the controversial, ‘establishment-backed’ election of the second Nawaz government.

The nouveau-riche phenomenon that the situation generated was often populated by shady seths, politicians and businessmen, who had made quick money through drug and banking scams, fraudulent business deals and through their connections in political parties and military ventures.

Awaz, though a conventional ‘boy-band’, however, managed to successfully parody all this with a jazzy song and video (on their third and last album).

Video | Mr. Fraudiya (1995)



5: Taroo Maroo: Ali Gul Pir (2012)


‘Tarna’ in Urdu slang means lecherous staring and ‘Taroo’ is a guy who does this.


In 2012 entertainer, performing artiste and singer, Ali Gul Pir, decided to satirise the bothersome Taru with a funky hip-hop song and an irreverent video.

The song treats the Taroo as a social parasite with an obsession for staring at women.

He maybe a rickshaw driver, a college student, a restaurant waiter, a small-time hoodlum or a rich man’s son, who stares at women like they were objects deserving to be started at in the most lascivious manner.

The song then goes on to suggest that the Taroo is basically a sociopath who (if he can’t find a woman to stare at), would end up staring everything from aunties, uncles, buildings, babies and even bakris (goats)!

The song and the video hit all the right chords. The composition is carefully crafted and manages to immediately catch ones attention, whereas the video and the words sardonically capture the lecherous absurdities of the Taroos.

Though the song was an immediate hit across the social media, some criticised it for showing the Taroo (played by Ali Gul Pir) lewdly staring at a small girl.

They accused Pir of ‘encouraging paedophilia.’ Of course, this was a rather ridiculous accusation because in the context of the song and the video, he was mocking the starer as a sociopath who would stare at almost anything to meet his obsessed, unethical need to stare.

Video | Taroo Maroo (2012)



4: Soh Lakh Milien Gey: Bushra Ansari (1986)


Though even the top satirists struggled to comment on politics and government during the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s (without either being ‘blacklisted’ from state media or even jailed), writer Anwar Maqsood found unique ways to satirise and criticise the Zia government.


One way he used in this respect was to comment on the burgeoning materialism and (with it) the fake displays of piety that had begun to infiltrate deep inside the Pakistani society during the dictatorship.

It was a dictatorship propped up by millions of US dollars and Arab Riyals and Dirhams dished out to conduct the ‘anti-Soviet Afghan Jihad’.

Some of this money began to trickle down, and along with the rise of a ‘black economy’ that it triggered, the chaotic trickle-down also saw a number of Pakistanis suddenly become very rich, very fast (the nouveau-riche).

The tendency also graced the cricket scene, especially in Sharjah where rich Arab sheikhs began pouring in huge sums of money into India-Pakistan games.

In 1986, during an India-Pakistan final in Sharjah when Pakistani batsman, Javed Miandad, hit a last-ball six to win the game, he was showered by millions of Dirhams and gifts by the sheikhs and the Pakistani government.


Anwar Maqsood penned a song satirising the event in which he said that though Miandad got millions of Dirhams, his partner, Tauseef Ahmed (who was on the non-striker’s end), just got eight Dirhams!


This was Maqsood’s tongue-in-cheek take of the lopsided economic prosperity witnessed during the Zia regime.

The song was sung by versatile actress, Bushra Ansari, in the style of famous vocalist and film star, Salma Agha.

It was reported that after the song was aired on state television, Tauseef suddenly realised that he too should get as much money for being there with Javed. He got none.

Video | Soh Lakh Milien Gey (1986)



3: Billo De Ghar: Abrarul Haq (1994); Waderey Ka Beta: Ali Gul Pir (2012)


At the peak of the country’s pop music scene in 1994-95, Abrarul Haq burst onto the scene with an idiosyncratic Punjabi pop tune, Billo De Ghar.


The song that told the tale of a young man hell-bent on meeting a girl (Billo) and in the process is harassed by the cops and assorted moralists, was an instant hit.

However, in late 1995, some Urdu newspapers began quoting a couple of mullahs from Lahore who claimed that the song was actually about a guy who fell in love with a prostitute and wanted to marry her.

Abrar did not respond to the accusations and continued to enjoy his new-found fame.

In 1997 when Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N defeated Benazir Bhutto’s PPP in that year’s election and formed a majority government at the centre, it immediately banned the song from being played on state-owned TV and radio channels.

The Sharif government’s Information Ministry described the song as ‘an attack on the social and moral traditions of the country.’

Interestingly, a group of prostitutes from Lahore’s (in)famous Heera Mandi area told newspapers that even if the song was about a prostitute, the hero of the song wanted to rescue the prostitute from poverty and marry her. ‘Would any mullah ever do that?’ One of the call girls was reported to have asked.

Abrar never clearly explained exactly who Billo really was.

Video | Billo de Ghar (1994)



In 2012, at a time when the once thriving and vibrant Pakistani pop scene had become a distant memory, and the country had slipped into one of its most awkward existentialist crises (due to the rise of extremist violence), emerged a young Sindhi lad with a deliciously funky little ditty called Waderey Ka Beta.


One is still not sure exactly what sort of a reception the song’s author and singer, Ali Gul Pir, was expecting, but it went viral (via YouTube) and soon debates were breaking out on social media about whom or what the song was satirising.


On the surface, the song is a clear parody of the lavish and spoilt lifestyle of the young sons of Sindh’s feudal lords; but on a sub-textual level it also satirises the kind of paranoid repulsion that the urban middle-classes usually feel towards those from semi-rural or rural backgrounds and cultures.

In the scene (in the video) where Pir is bouncing on a sofa between two young ‘Burger’ girls at a party is like him actually celebrating the outlandish behaviour of the feudal’s son at the expense of the city girls’ near-xenophobic horror.

After gaining quick popularity, Pir began being asked by the media to explain whether he was just talking about feudal lords and the antics of their sons or was there more to the song than what met the immediate eye.

Pir suggested that he had used the feudal lord’s son to symbolise a brash and autocratic mind-set that can be found across various sections of society including businessmen, seths and maulvies, and not just among the feudals of Sindh.

Video | Waderay Ka Beta (2012)



2: Laga Rai: Shahzad Roy (2007)


When General Pervaz Musharraf toppled the Nawaz regime and imposed Pakistan’s fourth Martial Law in 1999, his ideological antics actually fitted well with the convolutions of the post-‘96 generation of middle-class Pakistanis.


Musharraf was modern, authoritative, hated the politicians, harboured a contempt for the ‘illiterate masses,’ talked about ‘enlightened moderation’, and yet insisted on nurturing sectarian and Islamist militant organisations whom his military believed would be ‘strategic assets’ against India (in Kashmir), and against an anti-Pakistan government in Afghanistan.

During the early years of his rule many pop musicians happily dished out saccharine-laced and overtly romanticised odes to the armed forces – until Musharraf fired the Chief Justice of Pakistan in 2006 on corruption charges.

The consequential uprising (‘Lawyers Movement’) against the firing of a supposedly ‘clean’ Chief Justice by Musrarraf was like an exemplary chapter from the neo-Marxian ‘Critical Theory’.

One aspect of this theory suggests that the urban middle-classes usually ally themselves with authoritarian regimes.

But after such an alliance brings relative economic benefits to these classes, they then experience a political awakening of sorts in which they want to prosper politically as well.

Usually a demand for democracy becomes their cry.

If one is to understand the ‘Lawyers Movement’ in Pakistan through this theory, then one can suggest that the economic growth experienced by Pakistan’s urban middle-classes under the Musharraf dictatorship eventually turned against the authoritarian regime that had originally triggered it.

But democracy was not quite so cohesive a call by those who now wanted more political participation in the running of the country.

The movement was a hotchpotch of democrats, lawyers, non-militant Islamists, leftist fringe groups and emerging right-wing outfits.

One can say that the overall make-up of the movement was rightist in orientation and not exactly democratic, as such.

Amidst all the turmoil and confusion, emerged a fantastic song and video.

Written and performed by famous pop singer Shahzad Roy, it was called ‘Laga Rai’(Keep at it).

In an era of widespread electronic media and YouTube, it became an immediate hit.

The sharp satirical ditty takes to task the agitating lawyers who are shown involved more in protests and politics than in what they are actually paid to do.

However, taking in its stride the contradictory nature of the movement, the song then goes on to mock the lazy fatalistic nature of the Pakistani masses as well.

Maybe Roy was satirising the extremes that the Pakistani society and polity were displaying: i.e. of overt political agitation counterbalanced by numb political inactivity?

Social disgust and political cynicism expressed through wit and satirical imagery remained to be at the centre of the song and the video. Not bemoaned by Roy as such, but rather used as a weapon to mock the two above-mentioned extremes.

However, though the agitating lawyers, politicians, their supporters, the electronic media and the numb, fatalistic sections of the society were all taken to the cleaners, nowhere to be found in the song and the video was the military.

Yet again it was conveniently left out by a rolling urban middle-class pop protester, given the benevolent benefit of the doubt whereas civilians and their representatives were cynically ridiculed.

Whatever the case, the song turned Roy from being a popular pop tart into becoming a sardonic protest pop icon.

Video | Laga Rai (2007)



1: Aalu Anday: Beygairat Brigade (2011)


In 2011, just when one thought Pakistani pop music had eaten itself up and choked on its own self-indulgences, emerged a band called the‘Beygairat Brigade’ (the Dishonoured Brigade).


The name said it all: It was a tongue-in-cheek take on what is called the ‘gairat brigade’(honour brigade). The band sarcastically embraced a title that the peddlers of ‘qaumi gairat’ (national honour) spit at and/or at those who disagree with the gairat brigade’sconspiratorial rants and an almost xenophobic brand of ‘patriotism.’

In the wee hours of the 17th of October 2011, the Beygairat Brigade (BB) uploaded a video of a song called ‘Aalu Anday’ (Potatoes and Eggs) on YouTube.

It was not just another ‘funny song’ about a guy talking about his mom cooking some potatoes and eggs. Nor was it a ditty toeing the usual lopsided (anti-politics) line taken by the many political spoof shows and social parody songs that have been doing the rounds on popular TV news channels in Pakistan in the last decade or so.

For years one has come to expect everyone from talk show hosts, to their ‘expert guests’ all the way to mainstream pop stars and actors to (as if on cue) roll-out a now much worn-out and self-comforting narrative about the awkward political and social ills besieging Pakistan.

This is how it goes: Politicians are corrupt, America is evil, Indians want to break-up Pakistan, acts of terrorism are either being carried out by US/Indian/Israeli agents or by Pakistanis trained by these agents, or by non-Muslims posing as Muslims, or even if they were Muslims they are not Pakistani and if they are really Pakistanis then they are .. errm … not circumcised.

In other words, the whole wide world (except Saudi Arabia) wants to destroy Islam (and thus Pakistan, which is the ‘bastion of Islam’).

The song and video came down hard on the sacred cows fattened by the self-claimedGairatmands (the honourable patriots). The satirised cows in the song included military dictators, intelligence agencies and jihadists; as well as middle-class morality and right-wing parties like Imran Khan’s PTI, PML-N and Jamat-i-Islami.

With biting satirical irreverence and joyous cynicism, the song, sang the unspoken (or the strategically hidden).

But whereas the band experienced overnight success, it also faced the expected criticism: That they were from the ‘heretical’ Ahmadi sect; that they were on the payroll of foreign agencies; that they were anti-Islam, et al.

One needs to understand well the political discourse in Pakistan at the time to fully appreciate the lyrics that are largely studded with allusions.

It’s easy making fun of politicians (because most of them do not bite back), but the military’s top brass has been one of the sacred cows that the media cannot touch, let alone mock. But the song does that.

So, after lamenting the apathetic and confused state of the so-called ‘moderate’ right-wing politicians, and winking at Imran Khan’s desire to see the ‘chief’ (former ISI chief, Pasha) come in and light up Khan’s political career, the song then gets to what are perhaps the most loaded and boldest lyrics of the whole tune.

In a clean, unadulterated sweep the song wonders about a country where killers like Mumtaz Qadri (who assassinated former Punjab governor Salman Taseer after accusing him of committing blasphemy) are treated as royals; and where Ajmal Kasab (the Pakistani terrorist who took part in the attacks in Mumbai) is a hero; and wheremullahs escape after adorning women’s burqas (like the head cleric of the Lal Masjid); and how noone ever mentions men like the Nobel Prize winning Pakistani scientist Dr. Abdul Salam (just because he belonged to the outlawed Ahmadi sect).

As the song moves on, the singer can’t help but comment on yet another one of our favourite obsessions: the notorious Blackwater.

In a lyric that instead of absolving Blackwater’s many reported misdeeds in the world, the song instead suggests that we shouldn’t be worrying about Blackwater because the terrorist attacks taking place in our mosques, schools, shrines and markets are coming from within.

There is so much more here that doesn’t actually get sung but appears as placards in the video: ‘Nawaz Sharif bye, bye, papa Kiyani no likey you’ (alluding to the schism between the once pro-military Nawaz and the army); ‘Free Judiciary = Hanged PPP’(the so-called free judiciary’s lopsided bias against the Pakistan Peoples Party);‘Tehreek-i-Insaaf = A Good Looking Jamat-i-Islami’ (or how Imran Khan is just a more good-looking fundamentalist); ‘Your money + My pocket = We’re still enemies’ (a taunt at Pakistan posing to be anti-America after pocketing millions of dollars’ worth of aid from the US); ‘Mullah + Military = Ziaul Yuckee’ (the alliance between religious parties and the military that began strengthening during the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq).

Then halfway through the video, as if pre-empting what the ‘gairat brigade’ would be decrying about in this video, one of the band members is seen holding up a placard with the words, ‘This video is sponsored by Zionists.’

However, the joke in this respect turns darker still when at the end, the singer pulls up another placard with the words ‘If you want a bullet through my head, like this video,’scribbled on it.

The song and video attracted a record number of ‘likes’ and views on YouTube and Facebook and even managed to get aired on a number of conventional TV news channels!

The band led by Ali Aftab and Daniyal Aziz became an overnight sensation.

Though they have gone on to record and release three more songs (one of them was banned), they never could turn this success into a more financially satisfying arrangement, and for obvious reasons.

Though the band’s radical politics has continued to give it slots at literary festivals and at seminars, but no multinational sponsor or TV channel is willing to back them financially.

This means the band has to completely self-finance the recording and shooting of its songs and videos.

However, early this year the group finally did get some mainstream recognition (and some much deserved income), when the young chief of the left-liberal Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto, invited Ali Aftab to record a song for Bhutto’s lavish Sindh Festival.

The band was also invited to perform live at the Festival’s opening ceremony. This was the first time that the band managed to actually make some money.

Video | Aalu Anday (2011)



If then was now

In a cricketing career spanning almost 20 years (1971-92), Imran Khan graduated from becoming an average medium-pace bowler to becoming one of the most effective fast bowlers and all-rounders of the late 1970s and 1980s.

But what lifted him a notch above the other three top all-rounders of the period (Ian Botham, Richard Haddlee and Kapil Dev), was the fact that Khan was an equally good captain. Fearless, intelligent, leading from the front and always looking for a victory — especially against heavy odds.

Yes, that was Khan the cricketer. But the other day I was wondering what he would have been like as a cricketer if he’d played the game the way he plays his politics.

During the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in which Khan’s team defied the odds and fought its way into the finals (against England), Khan appeared in a T-shirt that had an illustrated image of a tiger on the front. He told former Australian captain Ian Chappell that the tiger represents his team’s fighting spirit and they will fight like ‘cornered tigers’.

Now imagine if that Khan was just like today’s Khan. This is what he would have told Chappell: “Well, Ian, I overheard a senior cricket official say that we only have 40 per cent chance of winning. That means 60pc chance of losing the game. So I told the boys let’s just go to the English dressing room for a chat and some tea and then go home. Well, actually, the boys go home and I go to London for the Royal ‘Save the Tibetan Pandas’ charity ball’.”

In 1982 Khan became one of the 10 players who rebelled against the captaincy of Javed Miandad. Khan said, his was a principled stand because he thought Miandad was still too young and inexperienced to be the captain of a team in which most of the players were a lot older than him.

Whatever the case, now imagine what he would have said had he been like what he is today: ‘Miandad is corrupt and incompetent! I have personally called a friend of mine in the British government and told him that Miandad should not be allowed to play county cricket in England. What’s more, thousands of my fans have been placing phone calls to the Scotland Yard and telling them to investigate Miandad’s activities in the English county circuit. I have also asked the anti-Miandad players to hold a sit-in in Miandad’s home town, Karachi. He must go! Go Miandad go! Go Miandad go!’

After Miandad resigned from captaincy, Imran was made the captain. He didn’t say much at the time but quietly lifted his game and led (by example) the team to a series of Test victories.

Had he been like what he is today, Khan would have said a lot: ‘Now that I am the captain, I will change the nature of the team and the board, and the fans and the grounds, and anything whatsoever to do with Pakistan cricket in 90 days! Yes, just 90 days!’

In 1976, a young Khan took 12 wickets in the third Test match in Sydney during Pakistan team’s 3-Test tour of Australia. Pakistan (captained by Mushtaq Mohammed) squared the series 1-1 after winning the Sydney Test.

Khan was the man of the match but it was his seniors, Mushtaq, Asif Iqbal and Majid Khan who did all the talking (to the press). But had Khan been like what he is today, he would have said this: ‘I won the team the match. I was the main bowler. I was the main catalyst. I as in me as in moi has single-handedly given the team its first Test victory in Australia. I! Not Mushtaq. He’s a corrupt captain. He drinks beer.’

During the speech he made soon after winning the 1992 World Cup, Khan forgot to thank the efforts of his team. After being criticised by the press, he was big enough to eventually apologise and suggest that he blundered because he was not much of a public speaker.

However, imagine if that Khan was like today’s Khan. This is how he would have reacted to the criticism he faced from the Pakistan media over his speech: ‘This is an outrage! This media is full of corrupt journalists who are on the payroll of the enemies of Pakistan cricket and are being paid millions of Australian dollars! I have proof which I will release at the right time. How can they criticise me? I am a good Muslim, inshahallah, mahshallah, and alhamdulillah a flawless patriot who prays five times a day. And I also save Tibetan Pandas.’

In 1988 Khan was pulled out of an early retirement to lead Pakistan against one the strongest sides in world cricket at the time, the West Indies. Pakistan was to tour the Caribbean islands and was expected to lose against a strong Windies team on fast pitches and in front of hostile crowds.

But Khan took up the challenge and led the team to square the hard-fought series.

He would have responded differently had he been like what he is today. When asked to return and lead the side against the formidable Windies side, he would have said: ‘Dekhein aap ko nahi pata, sub muj ko pata hai (listen, you don’t know but I do), the Windies are honourable cricketers but if you try to win against them, they will slaughter you. Instead of playing against them, we should hold a dialogue and a game of chess with them. Liberal fascists in the ICC want us to be thrashed by the Windies. It’s a conspiracy against Pakistan cricket. And me. As in I. As in me, as in moi.’

The science of farce

I still remember a conversation I once overheard between two cops standing just outside my grandfather’s office as a teenager in the early 1980s.


The conversation was in Punjabi and went something like this:

First cop: “Pakistan is about to make an atom bomb.”
Second cop: “No, I think we already have one.”
First cop: “Not yet, because I have heard we still do not have the atoms required to make the bomb.”
Second cop: “We do not have atoms?”
First cop: “No, they are on their way from China.”
Second cop: “Yes, China has a lot of atoms, that’s why America is against Pak-China friendship.”
First cop: “Yes, they do not want China to export atoms to Pakistan.”

These were simple police constables trying to talk nuclear physics.

God knows what they thought atoms looked like, but in all probability to them, atoms might have been steely ball bearings that are fitted in a big metallic shell which when dropped from a plane, explodes.

Nevertheless, even though their chatter conformed to the distinct political paranoia of the Cold War era, they remained simple, half-literate men, somewhat endearingly trying to make sense about what the whole ‘atom bum’ hoopla was all about.

However, what was funnier in this respect did not have to do with simple people, but so-called scientists.


Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy’s book, ‘Islam & Science: Religious Orthodoxy & Battle For Rationality’ (1991) lamented the unscientific thinking being encouraged in Muslim societies.
Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy’s book, ‘Islam & Science: Religious Orthodoxy & Battle For Rationality’ (1991) lamented the unscientific thinking being encouraged in Muslim societies.


The following episode might have dissolved into history had not Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy reminded us about it in his excellent first book, ‘Islam & Science: Religious orthodoxy and the battle for rationality’ (1990).

In one of the chapters of this lamenting commentary on the fall of ‘universal science’ and rational thought in the annals of scholarship in Muslim countries, Dr. Hoodbhoy tells us how in the mid-1980s millions of rupees were dished out by certain oil-rich Arab countries and the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in Pakistan, to hold lavish seminars in Islamabad dedicated to celebrate the validity of ‘Islamic science.’

Before the late 1970s, Islamic science usually meant the exemplary work produced in the fields of mathematics, geometry, astronomy, chemistry and philosophy by a number of noted Muslim academics and scholars between the eighth and 14th century CE. In other words, it was about universal science practiced by objective men who also happened to be Muslims.


Children climb the statue of famous 9th century Muslim mathematician, Musa Al-Khwarizmi, in the capital of Uzbekistan.
Children climb the statue of famous 9th century Muslim mathematician, Musa Al-Khwarizmi, in the capital of Uzbekistan.


By the late 1970s, however, the whole idea about Islamic science began to disintegrate into utter farce.

It largely began with a brain wave emitting from the oil-rich Saudi monarchy. Suspicious that Western education systems and models were producing free thinkers and secularists (or ideas that could threaten the theocratic basis of the monarchy’s power and hold); and repulsed and alarmed by the growth of revolutionary nationalism and socialism in the Muslim world (in the ’60s and ’70s), the Saudi government began pumping in ‘Petro-Dollars’ in projects designed to supposedly bring contemporary Islamic thought at par with western science.


The idea had a noble ring to it. But alas, it wasn’t put into motion by putting money into schools, colleges and universities in Muslim countries in an attempt to upgrade and modernise their curriculum and teaching standards.


Instead, the big Petro Dollars went into hiring ‘scientists’ whose job it was to generate evidence that ‘secular science and thought’ was inferior to ‘Islamic science.’

As a stream of handpicked Western, Pakistani and Arab scientists and doctors, lured by the promise of big bucks and perks, began making their way into the new-found institutions of ‘Islamic science’ in Saudi Arabia, nobody was quite sure exactly what ‘Islamic science’ really was or meant.

Renowned author and scientist, Ziauddin Sardar, was one of them. In his book ‘Desperately Seeking Paradise,’ Sardar writes he soon bailed out (from Saudi Arabia) after realising that all the Saudis really wanted were ‘cranks masquerading as scientists.’


Well-known scientist and author, Ziauddin Sardar, who was hired in the late 1970s/early 1980s by a Saudi university, but soon bailed out.
Well-known author, Ziauddin Sardar, who was hired in the late 1970s/early 1980s by a Saudi university, but soon bailed out.


The 1976 publication of Maurice Bucaille’s ‘The Bible, Quran and Science’ finally laid out exactly what the new concept of Islamic science would mean.

The book became a sensation in the Muslim world but at the same time left a number of Muslim scientists baffled by what Bucaille was suggesting.

The book is a fascinating read. It claims that various scientific phenomenon discovered by modern Western scientists had already been predicted and explained in the Quran. However, one would sit up and take a little more notice of the claims made by Bucaille had he been a scientist, but he wasn’t.

Maurice Bucaille was a French medical doctor, who in 1973 was appointed as the personal physician of Saudi monarch, King Faisal.

Bucaille’s claims were based not on empirical observation, but rather on his uncritical acceptance of certain musings of some of the most conservative and inflexible ancient Muslim jurists.


Maurice Bucaille.
Maurice Bucaille.

Bucaille faced stern criticism from both Western and Muslim scientists, especially Muslim scientists who accused him of misleading Muslim youth and encouraging them to shun the conventional study of modern sciences just because everything that they needed to know about physics, chemistry, astronomy and biology was supposedly in the Quran.


His critics also suggested that the Quran was primarily a moral guide that actually persuades people to understand God’s world around them, and this can only be done by studying the sciences and philosophy.

Though Bucaille’s book is shaky and on soft ground if and when put against the rigors of conventional empirical science, it set off a somewhat mind-altering change in the thinking of a majority of Muslims.

Impressed by the fantastical claims made by a French Christian doctor, very few Muslims were bothered by the fact that he was on the payroll of the Saudi monarchy, a regime trying to ward off the threat it had faced from various nationalist movements in the Muslim world, and the growing influence of secularism and socialism among the Muslims (between the 1950s and the 1970s).

The idea was that if politics could be ‘Islamised’ (Mauddudi, Qutab, and later, Khomeini), then so could science and (later), economics (banking).

Grudgingly recognising the economic and political advances made by the Jews after World War-II through education and economic initiatives, the Arab world tried to come up with their own notion of advancement.

But this advancement was not really about producing large numbers of highly educated and skilled Muslims, but rather, a populace fed on pulpy feel-good ‘scientific’ twaddle produced by overpaid groups of men calling themselves scientists and economists. And anyway, the new post-Bucaille Muslim mind-set also began labelling the universal sciences as ‘secular science’ invented by Jews to subjugate the Muslims.

Bucaille enthusiasts were also not bothered (rather not aware) about the entirely unoriginal make-up of his theory. Many still believe that proving scientific truths from Holy Books has been the exclusive domain of Muslims.

Before Muslims, certain Hindu and Christian theologians had already laid claim to the practice of claiming that their respective Holy Books held metaphoric prophecies of scientifically proven phenomenon.

They began doing so between the 18th and 19th centuries, whereas Muslims got into the act only in the 20th century.

Johannes Heinrich’s ‘Scientific vindication of Christianity (1887)’ is one example, while Mohan Roy’s ‘Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism’ is another way of observing how this thought has actually evolved from the fantastical claims of the followers of other faiths.



As quasi-secular/progressive ideas in Muslim countries began to wither in the event of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (1979), and the eruption of jihad in Afghanistan, the idea behind Islamic science being the celebration of the achievements of ancient and modern Muslim scientists was gradually replaced by unsubstantiated and fancy convolutions being defined as science.

So, it was only natural that Pakistan’s military dictator, General Ziaul Haq, heavily influenced and financed by the Saudis, would be the man to green light a seminar of Muslim ‘scientists’ who met in Islamabad in 1986 to unveil the wonders of Islamic science where so-called learned men actually set about discussing things like how to generate energy and electricity from djinns, how to calculate the ‘speed of heaven’, etc.

The seminars may as well have been Star Trek conventions, but were actually promoted as a ‘giant step in the advent of Islamic science.’

The message seemed to be, why read books of science, or enter a lab to understand the many workings of God’s creations – just read the Holy Book. Forget about all those great Muslim scientists of yore, or Abdus Salam, Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

Just get in touch with your friendly neighbourhood djinn for all your energy needs.

Such was the babble many Muslim governments in the 1980s were ‘investing’ their money and efforts in while continuing to struggle to up their literacy rates.

This practice sanctified myopia and an unscientific bend of mind in the Muslim world.



Rationalist Islamic scholars have been insisting throughout the 20th century that the Quran is less a book of laws or science, and more an elaborate moral guide for Muslims, in which God has given individuals the freewill to decide for him or herself through exerting their mental faculties and striving to gain more empirical knowledge.

Iranian writer, Vali Reza Nasr, is right to mourn the trend today in which most Muslims are quick to adopt the fruits of universal sciences but simply refuse to assume the rational scientific mind-set that is behind these sciences.

No wonder then, for example, most Pakistanis still don’t have a clue about what the country’s only Nobel Prize winning scientist, Dr Abdus Salam, got the award for, but many are quick to quote from books written by Harun Yahya and some others, explaining how things like the Big Bang and others are endorsed in the Holy Book.


Prolific Turkish author, Harun Yaya, who is also an active exponent of ‘Islamic science’, has a large readership in the Muslim world. Many scientists have accused his theories of having no grounding in empirical knowledge and in established scientifc principles.
Prolific Turkish author, Harun Yaya, who is also an active exponent of ‘Islamic science’, has a large readership in the Muslim world. Many scientists have accused his theories of having no grounding in empirical knowledge and in established scientifc principles.


Though such bosh is thankfully no more a part of the state’s agenda (at least not in Pakistan), one still does come across absurdities in which oddballs manage to use mainstream media and forums to define sheer drivel as science.

But not always are such folk mere cranks. Some ‘respected scientists’ have also been known to take the Bucailleian tradition and fuse it with some post-9/11 conspiratorial claptrap.

Apart from some TV channels actually running shows in which grown-up men go around with meters in their hands to record ‘energy signatures’ of djinns, more disconcerting is the fact that men placed in positions of authority in the higher echelons of the scientific and education community in the country have gone on record to furnish and endorse some bizarre theories in this context.

Critics in this respect suggest that such men actually make a mockery of faith with their claims because scientific truths are not doctrinal and fixed. They are highly evolutionary, mutable and prone to change.

For example, had some Muslim scientists of yore claimed that Newton’s Law of Gravity was already present in the scriptures; they’d have to change their stance after Einstein proved that Newton’s law was flawed.

Would that mean the scriptures were flawed as well?

Recently when a Vice Chancellor of a college in Lahore claimed that the Big Bang Theory was already mentioned in the Holy Book, he conveniently forgot that like most scientific theories, this theory too is not fixed and doctrinal and has been under the microscope of even those who do not reject it.

As scientists continue to dig deeper, the theory may as well collapse and be replaced with another one. What would the Vice Chancellor say then?

Muslim critics of this trend accuse those who claim scientific truths in the scriptures of discouraging Muslims to gain empirical knowledge by going out in the field or testing out their theories in the labs.

They lament that not only is the said trend doing a great disservice to science in the Muslim world, but to the faith as well.

Great Pakistan cricket captains (and then some)

Cricket is perhaps the only sport in which a captain actually does more than just play the game or wear an armband.

Apart from having good, consistent cricketing abilities, he has to also exhibit a penchant for the kind of leadership found in a military general or in a political leader.

Most good cricket captains have also been inspirational and innovative thinkers. In fact, sometimes this quality has taken precedence over cricketing ability, as was demonstrated by one of the finest captains the game has seen in the shape of Mike Brearley, who captained the England side between 1977 and 1979 and then again in 1981.

Brearley, who was at best a mediocre opening batsman, lifted the English side to become the world’s leading Test team between 1977 and 1979.

But this supremacy crumbled after his retirement, so much so that two years later, he was recalled to lead the team again (at the age of 43) half-way through the 1981 Ashes series against the Aussies.


Mike Brearley (left) tosses the ball to fast bowler Bob Willis during the 1981 Ashes series.
Mike Brearley (left) tosses the ball to fast bowler Bob Willis during the 1981 Ashes series.


England were 1-0 down in the series when Brearley was recalled. His presence turned the tables and England went on to win the series 3-1!

A cricket captain has to manoeuvre his men like pieces on a chessboard. This allows the whole idea of ‘mind games’ to play an important part in the game.

One of the finest practitioners in this regard was Australian skipper, Ian Chappell. When Chappell was made the Australian captain in 1971, he consciously went about changing the way a team was supposed to conduct itself on the field.

He asked his players to grow their hair long and get rid of the idea of wearing their cricketing whites as if they were about to attend a formal wedding reception.


Ian Chappell relaxing in the dressing room after leading Australia to a 5-1 series victory against West Indies in 1975. Chappell’s captaincy added a dash of flamboyance, ruggedness and controversy to Test cricket.
Ian Chappell relaxing in the dressing room after leading Australia to a 5-1 series victory against West Indies in 1975. Chappell’s captaincy added a dash of flamboyance, ruggedness and controversy to Test cricket.

It was also under him that the Australian team began to develop what soon became to be known as ‘sledging,’ in which the bowlers and the fielders would intimidate batsmen by cracking rude remarks and hurling abuses at them. 

Under Chappell, the Australian side became one of the most feared and intimidating teams in cricket. Its quick bowlers chugged beer in the dressing room and publicly declared that they liked watching batsmen bleed.

It was under him that the Australian side developed the kind of never-say-die attitude it is still famous for.

Sometimes cricket captains have had to quite literally play the role of statesmen. That’s exactly what another great captain, Clive Lloyd, found himself doing when he was handed the captaincy of an underachieving West Indian side.

Though he managed to lead the Windies into winning the first cricket World Cup in 1975, the same year the team was hammered in a Test series 5-1 by Ian Chappell’s Australians.


Nicknamed 'Supercat', Clive Lloyd led the revival and eventual supremacy of the West Indies cricket team. The team’s fortunes steadily began to decline after his retirement.
Nicknamed ‘Supercat’, Clive Lloyd led the revival and eventual supremacy of the West Indies cricket team. The team’s fortunes steadily began to decline after his retirement.
The West Indies team is made up of various independent Caribbean island states. In the 1970s most of them were facing political turmoil and their combined cricketing squad seemed disjointed and full of talented underachievers. 

Lloyd managed to gel them well and play as a fighting unit. Inspired by the radical black civil rights movement in the United States, Lloyd convinced the players that through cricket, the Caribbean nations could rise above their political problems and differences and make the West see that they were a lot more than just a bunch of happy-go-lucky ‘black entertainers.’

For the next 15 years, the Windies would go on to dominate the cricketing world as perhaps the best cricket team of the 20th century.

So, now keeping in mind all that makes a good cricket captain, who have been Pakistan’s finest in this respect?

One should remember that apart from being a skilful player and a good, innovative thinker, a Pakistani cricket captain also has to be a clever politician, considering the politicised and volatile state of the game in this part of the world.

Ever since Pakistan made its debut as an international Test playing nation in 1952, it has had 30 Test captains!

Out of these only eight’s captaincies have survived for five years or more, and that too in stints.

Experts and cricket historians all agree that captaining the Pakistan side is perhaps one of the most stressful tasks. A Pakistani cricket captain has to not only tackle the power games that are played in the country’s cricketing board, but he also has to face constant player rebellions, groupings and power tussles that Pakistan cricket teams are infamous for.

And then, of course, there is the knee-jerk media and an entirely emotional fan base that blows hot and cold at the drop of a hat.

Yet, not only has Pakistan continued to generate an impressive number of exciting and skilful cricketers, it has also produced its own batch of Brearleys, Chappells and Lloyds.

Below is a study of some of the best cricket captains of Pakistan. A position that usually rotates between men like the heads of state do in banana republics.

Abdul Hafeez Kardar


Haughty, authoritarian, and stubborn, the Oxford-educated Kardar was exactly what Pakistan’s first ever Test side needed.

Given the task to lead an almost entirely inexperienced bunch of talented young cricketers of a country whose first cricket board could not even fully pay for the players’ cricket kit and equipment, Kardar soon turned the team into a side that every Test playing nation of the world came to admire.

In Kardar’s six-year-reign as skipper (1952-58), Pakistan managed to win a Test against every Test side of the world, except, of course, South Africa, that at the time was under an apartheid regime and was boycotted by India, Pakistan and the West Indies.

Under Kardar, Pakistan played 23 Tests; it won 6 and lost 6 while drawing the rest – an impressive record for an underpaid team of young novices.

Despite his autocratic demeanour and average cricketing skills, Kardar was deeply respected by his teammates and was treated as a father figure by most of the team’s young players.

He almost always drew the playing strategies and plans on his own and expected his players to stick to what he had laid out in team meetings. Dissenting views and voices were discouraged.

Another thing Kardar managed to do was to strike friendships with influential political leaders who subsequently stayed away from meddling in the affairs of the board and the team.


Kardar (left) with Pakistani players Khan Muhammad and Mehmood Hussain during the team's first full tour of England in 1954. Pakistan dramatically squared the series 1-1.
Kardar (left) with Pakistani players Khan Muhammad and Mehmood Hussain during the team’s first full tour of England in 1954. Pakistan dramatically squared the series 1-1.

In fact, when Kardar retired from the game (at the age of 34) in 1958, the then President of the country, Iskander Mirza, requested him to stay on as captain. Kardar politely declined.


Since Kardar had led the young and cash-strapped team to victories against some of the top sides of the world, his almost dictatorial hold over the team and his overwhelming influence in selection matters were largely tolerated by the board.

But sometimes this did lead to him preferring friends over other more deserving candidates. For example, he kept the highly talented brother of the equally talented batsman, Hanif Mohammed, out of the squad just to make room for his buddy and drinking partner, Maqsood Ahmed.

Raees Mohamed was taken on tours but never given a chance because that would have meant dropping Maqsood, even though Maqsood too was a skilful batsman.

Kardar’s departure suddenly created a long-lasting leadership vacuum in Pakistan cricket.

As the fans and the media couldn’t stop comparing every new captain with Kardar, the team’s performances nose-dived and it saw the coming and going of seven captains between 1958 and 1975.

Captaincy Record (1952-58):
Tests: 6 won, 6 lost, 11 drawn.

Mushtaq Mohammed



From the year that Kardar retired (1958) till Mushtaq was appointed as captain (in 1976), Pakistan had played 48 Tests (under seven captains) out of which it could win only 5 and lose 15.

Kardar was made the chief of the Pakistan Cricket Board in 1972 and it was he who appointed the captain who would finally be able to beat his (Kardar’s) long-standing record of 6 victories. That man was Mushtaq Mohammed.

Unlike Kardar, Mushtaq wasn’t an Oxford graduate. In fact, he never attended any college. He was still in school and just 16 when he was selected to represent the Pakistan side in 1959.

Coming from Karachi’s famous cricketing family, the Mohammed brothers, Mushtaq had established himself as a solid middle-order batsman and a useful leg-break bowler in the team. He was 33 when he was made the captain in 1976.

There was one thing common between Kardar and Mushtaq, though. The latter was equally stubborn. It was this aspect of Mushtaq’s personality that almost cost him his captaincy during his very first Test series as captain.

No Pakistani captain before Mushtaq had ever demanded a pay raise for his players. But Mushtaq did exactly that during Pakistan’s home series against New Zealand in 1976.

The Kardar-led cricket board out-rightly refused the demand and in fact threatened to remove him as captain. Mushtaq responded by leading the team to win the New Zealand series 2-0.

With a huge win in the bag and support of the team’s top players, Mushtaq again asked for a pay raise for the team just before Pakistan’s long tour of Australia and the West Indies. Both were the top two sides in the world at the time.

The board again refused and finally dropped Mushtaq as captain. But just before Intikhab Alam was set to return as captain, the government stepped in and agreed to meet Mushtaq’s demands.

Mushtaq was reinstated as captain and led Pakistan to a gruelling 5-month tour of Australia and the West Indies that included eight Tests.

After being 1-0 down against the mighty Australians, Mushtaq regrouped his troops and managed to famously win the third Test to square the series 1-1.

It was during the Australian series that Mushtaq (inspired by the aggressive on-field tactics of the Australian side), adopted sledging and intimidation.

The turn-around came during the first Test when as a tradition some Australian players came into the Pakistan dressing room to share a few beers.

Mushtaq asked Australian tearaway fast bowler, Dennis Lillee, how can he expect the Pakistani players to share a drink with the Australians when the latter had abused and cursed them on the field?

Lillee laughed and replied: ‘Drink up, Mushy, what takes place on the field, stays on the field.’

From the second Test onwards, Mushtaq encouraged his players to abuse the Australians on the field, and during the third Test he gave his quick bowlers, Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz, a free hand to bowl as many bouncers as possible to the Australians.


Mushtaq arguing with the umpire during the third Test in Sydney. The umpire had warned Imran Khan for bowling a series of bouncers to Australian tail-enders. Khan is standing behind the umpire with his hands on his hips. He took 12 wickets in the match.
Mushtaq arguing with the umpire during the third Test in Sydney. The umpire had warned Imran Khan for bowling a series of bouncers to Australian tail-enders. Khan is standing behind the umpire with his hands on his hips. He took 12 wickets in the match.


Pakistan’s flamboyant opening batsman, Majid Khan, once related how, apart from what Mushtaq had learned from the Australians, he also had a great knack of correctly reading how a pitch would play.

Just before the third Test in Sydney, Mushtaq eyed and marked out a spot just short of good length on the pitch and asked Imran to keep hitting that mark.

Consequently, the Australians just could not understand how Khan and Sarfraz were getting so much pace and lift on a pitch on which Australian tearaway pacers were being taken to the cleaners by the likes of Asif Iqbal (who scored the only century of the match).


Pakistan came back strong in the third Test and squared the series 1-1 (Australia, 1976).
Pakistan came back strong in the third Test and squared the series 1-1 (Australia, 1976).


On the West Indies leg of the tour that included 5 Tests, the team showed exceptional fighting spirit against a belligerent West Indian side and hostile crowds, going down 2-1 in a hard-fought series.


Pakistan team lifts Mushtaq on the shoulders after defeating the West Indies in the fourth Test. (From Left): Iqbal Qasim, Mohsin Khan, Haroon Rasheed, Sarfraz Nawaz, Wasim Bari, Javed Miandad, Imran Khan, Mushtaq, Sadiq Mohammad, Asif Iqbal, Intikhab Alam, Zaheer Abbas, Saleem Altaf and Wasim Raja.
Pakistan team lifts Mushtaq on the shoulders after defeating the West Indies in the fourth Test. (From Left): Iqbal Qasim, Mohsin Khan, Haroon Rasheed, Sarfraz Nawaz, Wasim Bari, Javed Miandad, Imran Khan, Mushtaq, Sadiq Mohammad, Asif Iqbal, Intikhab Alam, Zaheer Abbas, Saleem Altaf and Wasim Raja.


Mushtaq lost the captaincy when he joined five other Pakistani players to play for Australian media tycoon, Kerry Packer’s renegade World Series Cricket (WSC), in Australia. The event destroyed a number of teams.

Mushtaq, thus, missed the two series against England in late 1977 and 1978. However, after Pakistan had lost the away series against England 2-0 (under Wasim Bari), the board lifted the ban on the five players.

Mushtaq was recalled as captain for India’s tour of Pakistan in late 1978. The series was won by Pakistan 2-0. In the third Test in Karachi, Pakistan was set a seemingly impossible target of chasing 164 runs in 25 overs on the fifth day.

Though one-up in the series, Mushtaq refused to close shop and decided that his team would attempt to win the Test. He promoted Asif Iqbal to open the batting with Majid Khan. He then sent in young Javed Mianad after Majid fell early.

In an era when ODI cricket was still new and the T20 format was decades away, Asif and Javed thrilled the huge crowd at Karachi’s National Stadium by scoring at almost 7-runs an over.

But Pakistan still needed 44 runs in four overs when Asif got out. Instead of sending in Zaheer Abbas, Mushtaq gambled again and sent in the young hard-hitting all-rounder Imran Khan.

Khan struck a quick-fire 31 and Pakistan reached the target with an over and a half to spare.

When Mushtaq led Pakistan to a 1-0 series victory against New Zealand (in New Zealand) in 1979, he surpassed Kardar’s record of 6 victories.

Pakistan then went on to level the series against Australia (1-1), before Mushtaq was replaced by Asif Iqbal as captain for Pakistan’s 1979 tour of India. He was 37 at the time.

Though Mushtaq lacked Kardar’s charisma and educational background, he was armed with a bagful of street-smart tricks he had gathered from playing on the roads and in the cricket clubs of Karachi. He also had a wealth of experience of playing county cricket in England.

It was under Mushtaq’s captaincy that Imran transformed into becoming a formidable fast bowler. Though not a harsh disciplinarian like Kardar, Mushtaq was a firm and empathetic man-manager. He got the best out of two of Pakistan cricket’s most volatile and eccentric players, Wasim Raja and Sarfraz Nawaz. And it was also under Mushtaq’s guidance that Imran transformed into becoming a formidable fast bowler.

He was asked to return as captain in 1980 when Asif Iqbal retired after losing to India 2-0. Mushtaq declined and instead suggested 23-year-old Javed Miandad for the job.

Captaincy Record (1976-77/1978-79):
Tests: 8 won, 4 lost, 7 drawn.
ODIs: 2 won, 2 lost.

Javed Miandad



During a discussion on great Pakistani cricket captains with some former Test players at a gathering a few years ago, I noticed that though Javed Miandad’s name kept coming up, it wasn’t always about his captaincy skills.

There is still unanimous agreement across the board about Miandad being perhaps the greatest batsman ever produced by Pakistan. But there is, however, no such agreement on him as a captain.

When Mushtaq Mohammad suggested his name to the cricket board in 1980, Miandad was just 23-years-old.

But the board’s new chief, Nur Khan, agreed with Mushtaq that the young batsman had a sharp cricketing brain and his batting exploits had already earned him the respect of his seniors.

Miandad won his first series 1-0 (against the visiting Australians), but went down 1-0 against the West Indies and then 2-1 against Australia in Australia.

Miandad exhibited his youth and inexperience by accusing the senior players for the team’s defeat in Australia. This did not go down well with the team and in early 1982, ten players, led by Majid Khan, refused to play under him. They demanded his removal.

Miandad refused to step down and was supported by Nur Khan. He led a brand new team against the visiting Sri Lankan side and won the first Test match easily.

Mohsin Khan, Wasim Raja and Iqbal Qasim broke ranks from the rebels and joined the team for the second Test. But when Pakistan narrowly escaped defeat against the inexperienced Lankans in the second Test, Miandad offered his resignation to Nur Khan.

Nur Khan encouraged Miandad to continue and soon Imran Khan, Mudassar Nazar, Sarfraz Nawaz and Wasim Bari too broke away from the rebellion.

It is believed that Miandad had asked the local employers of the rebelling players (banks and PIA), to terminate their playing and employment contracts. The only players who still refused to play under Javed were Majid and Sikander Bakht.

Nevertheless, Miandad stepped down after the Lankan series (that Pakistan won 2-0) and agreed to play under any captain except Majid or Zaheer. Imran Khan was appointed as the new captain.


Miandad speaking to radio commentators.
Miandad speaking to radio commentators.


Miandad returned as captain in 1985 when he replaced Zaheer Abbas (who in turn had replaced Imran after he got injured). Javed lost a series against New Zealand before making way for Imran’s return in 1986. Miandad became the vice captain.

Captaincy rotated between Imran and Miandad across the late 1980s. And even when Miandad led Pakistan to a 2-1 series victory against England in 1992 (after Imran’s retirement), he faced yet another rebellion when the team performed miserably in an ODI tournament in Australia in 1993-94.

This time the rebellion was led by the celebrated fast-bowling pair of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

This was Miandad’s last stint as captain.

So how can a captain who failed to retain his position for more than two years at a stretch and faced two players’ rebellions be considered great?

To begin with, out of the 34 Tests that he captained, he won 14 and lost just 6.

Miandad had one of the sharpest cricketing brains and understood the game like any good cricket captain would. But unlike a good captain, his man-management skills were a disaster.


Miandad arguing with the umpire during a Test match against New Zealand (in New Zealand) in 1985.
Miandad arguing with the umpire during a Test match against New Zealand (in New Zealand) in 1985.

He would recklessly confront his players openly (especially the seniors), and at times he wasn’t taken very seriously because he retained his ‘cheeky ways’ even when he became an established player.


He was a master at sledging and at ‘working up the opposition’ with his continuous chatter and insults. And though he used this as a tactic to disturb the opposition, it also got the team into unnecessary controversies.

But interestingly many experts believe that more than a captain, Miandad was the perfect vice-captain. Apart from captaining the side whenever Imran Khan was injured or unavailable, Miandad always willingly returned to being Imran’s deputy.

Former Australian skipper, Ian Chappell, and Pakistani cricket commentator, Chisti Mujahid, once described the Imran-Miandad combination as one of the most formidable think-tanks in the game.


Javed Miandad and Imran Khan on the plane during the 1989 ODI tournament in India that Pakistan won.
Javed Miandad and Imran Khan on the plane during the 1989 ODI tournament in India that Pakistan won.

This combination turned the Pakistan team into a strong side in the late 1980s, and both the players then played a leading role in helping Pakistan win the 1992 cricket World Cup.

During Pakistan’s 1987 tour of England, Pakistan, after being one-up in the series, was in danger of losing the fifth Test match when England needed 118 runs in about 20 overs.

Batting aggressively, England batsmen seemed to be well on their way when captain Imran and his deputy Miandad decided to halt the runs in a unique manner. Miandad martialed the field on the off side while Khan (who was also bowling most of the overs), looked after the field on the on-side.

Famous commentator, Richie Benuad, was fascinated by the tactic. Pakistan saved the game and won its first ever series against England.

Miandad was also instrumental in forcing Imran to drop an out-of-form Abdul Qadir and fly in left-arm spinner, Iqbal Qasim, for the last Test of the 1987 Pakistan tour of India.

Miandad convinced Imran that on a turning wicket, not only Qasim’s bowling will be effective, but since he was a left-handed batsman, he could neutralize India’s spin bowling attack. Pakistan won the game and the series.

Miandad retired from cricket in 1996.

Captaincy Record (1980-82/1985-86/1988/1992-3):
Tests: 14 won, 6 lost, 14 drawn.
ODIs: 26 won, 33 lost, 1 tied, 2 no result.

Imran Khan



The decision to make Imran Khan the captain of the Pakistan cricket team in 1982 took a lot of people by surprise.

Known more as a flamboyant fast-bowler/bowling all-rounder and ‘playboy,’ nobody quite expected him to ever lead the national cricket team. Not even Imran himself.

When Javed Miandad was ousted by a players’ rebellion, he was expected to be replaced by either Zaheer Abbas or Majid Khan.

But since Majid and Zaheer were the central figures in the rebellion against him, Miandad (after resigning from the captaincy), made it clear to the cricket board that he was not willing to play under either of the two aspirants.

The board came up with a compromise candidate in the shape of Imran Khan. Khan was reluctant. His close friends warned him that captaincy would destroy his career and form.

Nevertheless, after some thought, Khan accepted. Quite the opposite happened to his career and form. Not only did he win 7 of the first 12 Tests that he captained, his form as all-rounder also reached a peak.

With his performances he was able to quickly gain the respect of his teammates and successfully weave a fragmented side into a tightly-knit unit. However, in 1983 he suffered a career-threatening stress fracture in one of his shins that prevented him from bowling.

He tried to hang on as a batsman and captain, but couldn’t help arrest the team’s sudden decline. He finally decided to take a break from the game and heal his fracture.

When he returned to the team in 1985, Miandad was once again the captain but he voluntarily handed over the captaincy to Khan.

Khan’s second stint as skipper was equally successful but at the same time a lot more controversial.

After reestablishing himself in the team as its premier all-rounder and captain, Khan began to exercise an almost dictatorial hold over the team and regularly clashed with the selectors and members of the board.

He claimed that since it was the captain’s head that lands on the chopping block when the team does not do well, the captain should have the most say in selecting the team.


A page from Khan’s 1986 interview in The Pakistan Cricketer.
A page from Khan’s 1986 interview in The Pakistan Cricketer.


Khan would often throw away and reject touring squads selected by the selectors, and refuse to play if his recommendations were not entertained in selection matters. This attitude bore both fruit and frustration.

For example, he fought hard with the board to get in players like Abdul Qadir (who would go on to become a world-class spinner). He also dotingly nurtured fast men like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed who went on to lead a fast-bowling revolution in Pakistan in the 1990s.


Khan with his three fast-bowling protégés: Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed (1989).
Khan with his three fast-bowling protégés: Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed (1989).


However, the attitude also saw him disastrously bet on some losing horses. He stuck with batsman, Mansoor Akhtar, at the expense of more deserving players in spite of the fact that Akhtar, albeit talented, clearly lacked temperament for international cricket.

He also gave an undeserving run to average fast bowler, Zakir Khan, just because Zakir had become a close buddy of his.

But the board could not do much about Khan’s tantrums as long as he had the backing of the team, was performing well as a player, and producing unprecedented victories.

For example, it was under Imran that the team notched its first ever Test series wins against England (in England) and against India (in India) – both in 1987.

No player, except his vice-captain, Javed Miandad, dared disagree with him, and the selectors and board officials mostly did what he told them to.

He would also often exhibit his anger on the field at players he thought weren’t giving their all, and the spectacle of Khan admonishing players with some choice Urdu and English abuses became a common sight.

Khan admonishing one of his players for a fielding lapse (1987).
Khan admonishing one of his players for a fielding lapse (1987).


No wonder then that one of Khan’s heroes was former Australian captain, Ian Chappell. Like Chappell, Khan regularly applied tactics involving mind games.

For example, when he managed to bring back Abdul Qadir from oblivion for the team’s 1982 tour of England, he told the British press that there has never been a trickier leg-spinner than Qadir. He then asked Qadir to grow a ‘wizard’s goatee’ so he would look like a mysterious magician.


Khan setting the field for his ‘wizard’ in England.
Khan setting the field for his ‘wizard’ in England.


During an ODI tournament in Australia in 1986, Khan advertised all-rounder, Manzoor Elahi, as being ‘perhaps the hardest hitter of the cricket ball in the world.’ Of course, he wasn’t.

In 1989, while playing an international ODI tournament in India (that Pakistan won), Khan (to distract the Indian team), told the press that the issue of Kashmir should be resolved and settled (between India and Pakistan), on the cricket field!


Imran was considered to be one of the most powerful cricket captains in Pakistan. This image was cleverly used by the makers of Power Cricket Shoes in their 1988 press ads.
Imran was considered to be one of the most powerful cricket captains in Pakistan. This image was cleverly used by the makers of Power Cricket Shoes in their 1988 press ads.


Players found him to be uncompromising and stern on the field, but also remember his captaincy to be a ‘very fun period’ in their careers.

Khan was famous for being a ‘party animal’ who encouraged his team to live it up, especially when it came to women.


Khan shares a joke with Aaqib Javed in India during the Nehru Cup (1989).
Khan shares a joke with Aaqib Javed in India during the Nehru Cup (1989).


However, his dictatorial on-field disposition and off-the-field antics did not always go down well with some players.

Qasim Omar, a dashing middle-order batsman, after he was admonished by Imran in the dressing room for getting out playing a rash stroke in Australia, returned to Pakistan and accused Khan and his team of being ‘compulsive hashish smokers’ and for ‘regularly bringing women into their hotel rooms.’


A famous Pepsi poster featuring Imran (1988).
A famous Pepsi poster featuring Imran (1988).


Younis Ahmed, whom Khan had brought back into the side in 1987, accused Khan of offering him a hashish-filled cigarette at a nightclub in India.

Khan finally wrapped up his career by leading Pakistan to win the 1992 World Cup in which his vice-captain, Javed Miandad, and he played pivotal roles.


The Pakistan team celeberate after winning the 1992 World Cup in Australia.
The Pakistan team celeberate after winning the 1992 World Cup in Australia.


Imran retired immediately after the World Cup, aged 41. After getting married, he entered politics as a ‘born-again Muslim.’

Captaincy Record (1982-84/1986-88/1989-92):
Tests: 14 won, 8 lost, 26 drawn.
ODIs: 75 won, 59 lost, 1 tied, 4 no result.

Wasim Akram



Ace fast bowler, Wasim Akram, made his debut in Test cricket at the age of 18 in 1985. He had been plucked by Javed Miandad to tour New Zealand, but it would be Imran Khan who would go on to nurture and train him into becoming one of the game’s finest left-arm fast bowlers.

With Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed, Akram unleashed a fast bowling revolution in Pakistan that also saw the emergence of genuine pace men like Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Zahid and Mohammad Sami.

Akram’s march towards captaincy, however, was controversial. When he was made captain in 1993, Javed Miandad, who had replaced Imran Khan as skipper in 1992, accused Imran of inciting Akram and his fast bowling partner, Waqar Younis, against his captaincy.

Akram’s first stint as captain ended in a disaster. After squaring a closely fought ODI series in the West Indies, Akram and at least three other Pakistani players were arrested from a beach in the Granada Island, for publically smoking marijuana.

The incident almost turned into a serious diplomatic row between the Pakistan and Granada governments till the players were finally released for the Test series which Pakistan promptly lost 2-0.


Akram with his bowling partner, Waqar Younis, during the ‘drugs incident’ in Granada (West Indies), 1993. Both the players, along with Aaqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed, were arrested for allegedly smoking marijuana at a beach.
Akram with his bowling partner, Waqar Younis, during the ‘drugs incident’ in Granada (West Indies), 1993. Both the players, along with Aaqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed, were arrested for allegedly smoking marijuana at a beach.

In spite of the incident, Akram was retained as captain. However, he soon faced a full-blown rebellion from ten players led by Waqar Younis and spinner Mushtaq Ahmed after the 1994 series against Zimbabwe.

The rebelling players accused Akram of being rude and abusive and exercising nepotism. Akram was ousted and replaced by Salim Malik.

After a few players turned whistle blowers and accused Malik of indulging in match-fixing, Malik was removed by the board and replaced with Ramiz Raja.

Raja soon gave way to Akram’s return as skipper in 1996.

His second stint as captain saw him leading a formidable team of batsmen, all-rounders and fast bowlers, and it was under Akram that Pakistan became one of the most powerful cricket teams of the 1990s.

Though Akram continued to perform well as a player and capably led the team, his dream of winning the World Cup never came true. He was captain during the 1996 as well as the 1999 World Cup events.

In 1996, after leading the team into the quarter-final of that year’s World Cup, Akram suddenly dropped himself from the squad due to a muscle injury. The match was against arch-rivals India (in India).

After Pakistan lost the game and was ousted from the tournament, Akram’s decision was severely criticized by the media and fans alike, and some even went to the extent of accusing him of throwing away the game for money.

Akram’s home in Lahore was also attacked by angry protesters.


Akram as captain was also infamous for throwing tantrums and loudly admonishing his teamates on the field.
Akram as captain was also infamous for throwing tantrums and loudly admonishing his teamates on the field.

Shaken by the reception, Akram decided to take a short respite from the game. His absence saw Ramiz return ever-so-briefly as captain, but by late 1997, Akram had been reinstalled as skipper by the board. 

But Akram’s third stint was extremely brief (but in which he led Pakistan to its first ever white-wash against the West Indies in a 3-Test series in Pakistan).

He soon decided to step down after accusations of match-fixing and nepotism continued to chase him. He was first replaced by Saeed Anwar and then by Aamir Sohail, both of whom did not last long.

In 1998-99, Akram was back for his fourth stint as skipper. He proved his growing maturity as a player and captain after leading Pakistan in a tense series against India (in India) when political hostilities between the two countries had reached a new peak.

Facing hostile crowds, threats from extremist Hindu groups, and a hawkish Indian media, Akram’s team won two of the three Tests that were played on the edgy tour.


Akram and Manager Javed Miandad in the dressing room during the first Test (India, 1998-99).
Akram and Manager Javed Miandad in the dressing room during the first Test (India, 1998-99).


During the 1999 World Cup Pakistan under Akram galloped its way to the final of the tournament where it was defeated by Australia.

In 2000, Akram relinquished the captaincy and in 2003 retired from the game.

Cricketers and experts around the world have continued to praise Akram as being perhaps the finest left-arm fast bowler the game has ever seen.

He (along with Waqar Younis), led one of the most feared and potent fast-bowling attacks in world cricket in the 1990s that included Aaqib Javed, and (from the late 1990s), Shoaib Akhtar and Muhammad Zahid, all capable of bowling deliveries over 90 mph.

But in spite of the fact that during his second and fourth stints as skipper he managed to largely realise and utilise the unprecedented talent available in Pakistan cricket in the 1990s, and convert it into becoming a powerhouse, many experts still hesitate to call him a great captain.

Akram led by example, but the accusations that he faced of match-fixing, gambling and throwing tantrums on the field against his players have sullied his reputation as a captain – even though the match-fixing allegations were never fully proven (as they had been against players like Salim Malik, Mohammad Azaruddin, Hansie Cronge and a few others).

Also, on many occasions, he would simply announce his unavailability to play in a Test series for Pakistan, opting instead to play county cricket in England.

His critics also point out that his job as captain was made easier by the fact that in the 1990s Pakistan cricket was regularly producing some outstanding batsmen, bowlers and all-rounders. However, the same talent was also available to stop-gap skippers like Ramiz, Anwar and Sohail, all of whom could not transform it into producing the kind of results Akram’s captaincy was able to.

Akram’s greatest achievement in this regard remains to be Pakistan’s tour of India in 1998-99, where Akram amicably led the team on a politically tense and somewhat hazardous tour.

Captaincy Record (1993-94/1996; 1997-98/1998-2000):
Tests: 12 won, 8 lost, 5 drawn.
ODIs: 66 won, 41 lost, 2 tied.




Purely as a batting talent, Inzamam is rightly placed alongside three of the greatest batsmen produced by Pakistan: Hanif Mohammed, Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad.

Just like Zaheer and Miandad, Inzamam too was a natural when it came to batting, something that cannot be said about him as a captain.

In fact, he was an unlikely candidate in this capacity, having an extremely laid-back personality and not much experience as a captain even across his local first-class career.

But certain events conspired to not only make him a more responsible and serious person, but also prompt the cricket board to actually hand over this once lazy, relaxed but highly talented batsman, the captaincy.

One of these events was the way he lost all form during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa and produced a series of low scores, as the Pakistan team crashed out of the tournament.

The (albeit erratic) powerhouse that the Pakistan team had become in the 1990s had clearly begun to crash, and by the time the team exited from the 2003 World Cup, it at once lost a number of players that had helped it become this powerhouse: Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Moin Khan, Saqlain Mushtaq, Saeed Anwar, Aamir Sohail, etc.

Inzamam’s position in the team also became doubtful and he, along with other remnants of that era, Rashid Latif and Shoaib Akhtar, seemed to be on their way out.

Though the selectors brought in a number of new players into the side, they also decided to stick with Rashid Latif (who was made the captain) and Inzamam. Later, Akhtar too was recalled.

Latif’s captaincy did not last long and the selectors decided that an experienced player like Inzamam should be handed over the captaincy because much of the new team was packed with youngsters.

Inzamam, who had made his Test debut under Imran Khan in 1990, had experienced the dizzying highs and sudden lows of the Pakistan cricket team across the 1990s and early 2000s. He had witnessed the emergence of outstanding talents (of which he was one), and the team pulling off some unbelievable victories in the 1990s.

At the same time he had also seen vicious power struggles between players over the issue of captaincy, angry player rebellions, accusations of match-fixing, drug taking, womanising and infighting.

He knew well the erratic, volatile and perplexingly flamboyant culture of Pakistan cricket when he was handed the captaincy to lead a team that was now mostly made-up of young players.

Inzamam did not have an urbane and aristocratic background that great captains like Kardar or Imran had; nor did he possess the street-smarts and sharpness of captains like Javed and Mushtaq Mohammed.

Also, though he was a contemporary of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, unlike them he did not readjust his petty-bourgeoisie disposition and turn himself into a more cosmopolitan entity.

He held on to his small-town moorings even though he was a willing participant in many of the team’s raunchy off-field activities (in the 1990s).

The question was how would this easy-going gentle giant face the rude, awkward challenges that the country’s cricket culture often throws at captains?

Instead of adjusting his demeanor to suit the ways of this culture, Inzamam decided to change the culture itself.

Cleverly, he decided to use religion as a tool, in spite of the fact that till he joined the large Islamic evangelist outfit, the Tableeghi Jamat (TJ), in early 2003, Inzamam had not been a very religious man.


Inzamam shares a joke with Rameez Raja (left) in India (1996-97). Rameez was captain of the Pakistan team during an international ODI tournament in India.
Inzamam shares a joke with Rameez Raja (left) in India (1996-97). Rameez was captain of the Pakistan team during an international ODI tournament in India.

But he became one in 2003, persuaded by his former colleagues, Saeed Anwar, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed, who had joined the outfit in 2001-2002. 

Though respected in the team as an outstanding batsman, Inzamam, initially, was not entirely accepted as a captain by the team. But backed by his Tableeghi colleagues and mentors, he went about constructing a whole new culture in the team that would be more suited to his new-found temperament and world-view.

The TJ as a movement, though apolitical, is highly exhibitionistic and ritualistic. It were these two aspects of the movement that Inzamam used as a way to instill discipline in the team and to also keep at bay dissent from the players.

Regular prayers and gatherings were organized and the players lectured by TJ men on the virtues of faith.

The young lot soon fell in line believing that failing to do so may isolate them in the squad or even cost them their place in the team.

Players were also encouraged to openly display their religiosity and many of them hailed the team’s new-found culture. But it wasn’t only the players that did that.

After the team under Inzamam began to settle down and produce impressive results, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the team’s South African coach, late Bob Woolmer, also began to praise Inzamam’s tactics.

They agreed that these tactics had not only changed the team’s culture for good, it had stabilised Pakistan cricket (after the 2003 World Cup debacle) and made the players more hard-working and disciplined.


Joint prayers on the ground became common under Inzamam.
Joint prayers on the ground became common under Inzamam.


Inzamam’s captaincy reached its peak when his team toppled the Ashes-winning English side 2-0 in 2005-6, and then went on to not only square the hard-fought Test series against India (in India), but pulverise the Indian side 5-1 in the following ODI series. Inzamam himself was in devastating form as a batsman during these series.

By 2006, however, Inzamam’s tactics had begun to wear thin. By then the team was regularly going on tours with an entourage of famous TJ members and preachers. As his insecurities as a captain grew, so did his demands for a show of religiosity from the players.

Some players began to react negatively. His vice-captain, Younis Khan, though a religious man (who kept his faith private), never fell in line with Inzamam’s demands.

Former PCB chief, Shahryar Khan, claims that Inzamam was never secure as a captain and was weary of Younis whom he thought was out to usurp his captaincy.

Khan also suggested (in a 2013 book), that Inzamam kept talented players like Misbah-ul-Haq and Saeed Ajmal out of the team. According to Khan, Inzamam thought that Misbah’s cosmopolitan, world-weary and liberal disposition might threaten his (Inzamam’s) regime based on a particular brand of the faith.

But it was tear-away fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, who reacted the most aggressively against Inzamam’s devices. Being a throwback of the more flamboyant and extroverted era of Pakistan cricket, Akhtar regularly clashed with Inzamam and refused to toe the new party line.


Shoaib Akhtar and Inzamam had a stormy relationship.
Shoaib Akhtar and Inzamam had a stormy relationship.

Even before Pakistan crashed out of the 2007 World Cup, the board had now begun to advise Inzamam to tone down the religious factor in the team. Some players had begun to grumble that they were being forced by the skipper to join the TJ.


Inzamam’s captaincy finally collapsed during the 2007 World Cup. Officials touring with the team complained that Inzimam and other players who had joined the TJ were putting more effort in trying to find fresh recruits for TJ than in playing cricket.

Inzamam retired from the game in 2007 and became a full-time preacher with the TJ.

The most remarkable thing about Inzamam’s captaincy was how seamlessly he managed to change the culture of the Pakistan team, smartly using religion and then actually succeeding in infusing a sense of stability and focus back into a fragmented, young squad.

However, apart from the fact that this tactic isolated some of the players, it eventually collapsed under its own weight.

In one of his many outbursts at the time, Akhtar had claimed that the exhibition of piety from most players was based on hypocrisy and only practiced by them to remain in the captain’s good books.

He seemed to have judged his colleagues correctly because Inzamam might have diverted players from drinking and womanising, the culture of piety that he constructed only managed to replace these ‘sins’ with more damaging ones.

After his retirement, the same players were exhibiting unabashed greed and some of them could not find anything wrong in getting money from bookmakers for spot-fixing.

Then the same players who would so willingly take part in Inzamam’s demonstrations of public piety began to conspire against each other for the captaincy slot.

Inzamam’s exit from the game was a sad affair. A brilliant stroke-maker and a surprisingly influential skipper had to exit with tears in his eyes and fend accusations of misusing religion to promote favoritism and nepotism.


Inzamam bows out, 2007.
Inzamam bows out, 2007.


Captaincy Record (2003-2007):
Tests: 11 won, 10 lost, 9 drawn.
ODIs: 55 won, 33 lost, 3 no result.
T20: 1 won.




As captain Misbah-ul-Haq is unique. Not only in the context of Pakistan cricket, but also world cricket. He might be the modern-day game’s first war-time captain.

Consider: When he was handed over the captaincy in 2011, Pakistan was already facing a terrible existentialist crisis. Religious extremists were bombing mosques, shrines and schools and slaughtering civilians, cops and soldiers.

Pakistan was on the brink of a civil war that today has become a forgone reality, as the government, the military and the country’s ravaged polity prepares for an all-out war with the extremist insurgents in the country’s mountains and cities.

Misbah’s captaincy is also unique because he has never led the Pakistan team in Pakistan. No foreign team has been willing to tour the country ever since extremists attacked the Sri Lankan squad in Lahore in 2009.

All of Misbah’s games as captain have been played, won, lost and drawn on foreign soil. Teams have to do well outside of their own countries, on foreign tours and in front of foreign crowds, to fully prove their prowess. That’s what the Pakistan team has been doing ever since 2009, especially after Misbah took up the captaincy in 2011.


A captain in exile.
A captain in exile.


When Misbah was handed over the captaincy, he was making his third comeback to the side (at the age of 36). He had made his debut for the national squad in 2001, but lost his place after losing form in 2002.

But in spite of the fact that he continued to perform well in the domestic circuit, he could not break back into the team till five years later when he was finally recalled in 2007. Though this time around he lasted longer and did well, he again lost form and his place in early 2011.

Between Inzamam’s retirement (in 2007) and Misbah’s elevation to the post of captain in late 2010-11, the team went through five captains! It could not play at home that kept plunging into extremist violence and political turmoil. The team was being torn from all sides by vicious infighting, multiple players’ rebellions and charges of spot-fixing.

What’s more, when a struggling, disoriented cricket board decided to hand over the captaincy to Misbah, he was in the process of making yet another comeback.

Asked to hold the fort till the board could come up with a more permanent candidate for captaincy, Misbah began to play his best cricket.

After consolidating his place in the team again, Misbah began to undo whatever that was left of the culture weaved by Inzamam.

Cricket alone became the devise to measure a player’s worth. Misbah also tried to subdue the team’s reputation of being highly unpredictable by promoting a more watchful and cautious approach towards the game.

He was vehemently criticized for this by some critics and fans, but quietly he managed to pull the team out of the doldrums and make it begin its slow march upwards in world rankings.

Misbah’s steady approach and tactics not only encouraged the curbing of flamboyant batting skills for the benefit of a more cautious attitude, it eventually (and consequentially), made the role of spinners become more prominent than that of the quick bowlers.

This was a clear break from the past in which for almost three decades the Pakistan team had largely banked on fast bowlers to win matches. Under Misbah, the spinners took precedence, and this precedence saw him introduce one of the finest and most innovative off-spinners in the game today: Saeed Ajmal.


Under Misbah, Ajmal has become the team’s main strike bowler.
Under Misbah, Ajmal has become the team’s main strike bowler.

Batsmen exhibiting patience and good technique were preferred and encouraged, even though, bulk of the batting load continues to be shared by Misbah and the team’s other old warhorse, Younis Khan.


Misbah’s tactics bore fruit ever so slowly but surely. However, on the way, he also managed to gather some highly vocal critics who seemed disturbed by his cautious attitude and the way he was dismantling the team culture designed by Inzamam and then by the short-term captains that followed him.

Nevertheless, within two years, Misbah had notched up more Test and ODI victories under his belt than most Pakistani captains. He was able to establish himself as a highly respected and liked skipper in the team by both the seniors and especially by the younger players, all of whom treat him like a father figure.


The younger players treat Misbah as a father figure.
The younger players treat Misbah as a father figure.


His batting average as a captain has remained to be over 50 and he has notched up more fifties and hundreds as a skipper than he was able to at any time in his career.

Teams under good and influential captains begin to reflect the personality of that captain. Mushtaq and Imran’s teams reflected the daredevil and flamboyant ways of their captains, and same can be said about the team under Akram.

Inzi’s team became as introverted and conservative as Inzamam had become. The current team under Misbah seems to be as down-to-earth, stoic and determined as the man himself. Also, like Misbah, the team does not wear its religion on its sleeves. Faith has once again become a strictly private matter in Pakistan cricket.

With a stoic, quiet but secretly ferocious determination, Misbah has managed to become one of the few great captains that Pakistan cricket has produced.

And it won’t be wrong to suggest that with his advancing age, the criticism that his tactics had to face, and especially, the kind of circumstances he as a Pakistani is faced with both at home and abroad (with all the violence and turmoil in his country), he had to beat mightier odds to become a great captain compared to his contemporaries in this elite group of cricketers.

Captaincy Record (2011-Current): Tests: 12 won, 7 lost, 8 drawn.
ODIs: 39 won, 27 lost, 2 ties, 1 no result.
T20: 6 won, 2 lost.


Where’s the beef?

I didn’t want to look, but I just couldn’t help it. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but my curiosity got the better of me. As I sat at a restaurant in Dubai having lunch, on the table next to me was a young Arab couple.

The guy was in a T-shirt and khaki shorts but the woman was covered in a head-to-toe black abaya. It was one of those that also cut across a woman’s face, leaving only her eyes visible. A niqab, I think, it’s called.

Though this wasn’t the first time I had seen a woman draped this way in Dubai because they are quite a common sight in the city, especially at malls, where they can be seen shopping at all the expensive designer outlets with their hubbies in toe.

Nor was this the first time I’d seen such a woman at a restaurant. But since I’ve always been curious to figure out exactly how such women have their food in public is what made me glance at this particular woman.

The couple had ordered beef burgers and two glasses of cola. As the guy put aside his glitzy mobile phone and almost immediately attacked his juicy burger, the woman slowly pulled her glass of cola right underneath her covered face.

She then slightly lifted her face mask from the chin area, just enough to let the straw sticking out from her glass of cola to reach her still covered mouth.

The whole exercise looked cumbersome, if not downright suffocating. Well, who was I to judge. It seemed to be her choice and the guy looked mighty pleased.

I kept glancing towards her. Because now the question was, how will she eat her fat burger, loaded with two beef patties, lots of cheese, tomatoes and lettuce. Surely she would, for a moment at least, release her mouth to take a clear bite of the delicious looking burger.

But, no, sir, this young Arab lady was no moral slouch like her more liberal non-Arab sisters. Instead of compromising her modesty (sans the exhibition of not -very-modest things like designer handbag, gold watch, etc.), she slid the burger underneath the loose black cloth covering her mouth and nose, and crunch!

I refused to look beyond this. But I do remember asking myself, this just cannot be a very normal thing to do. Was it?

A friend of mine who works as a journalist in Dubai told me that indeed this is quite the norm with many Arab women in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. But he added: ‘All of us (non-Arabs) working here try not to notice, even though we do talk about it. They are the privileged class here, we’re just the workforce’.

Well, one either has to be filthy rich and privileged to survive after indulging in such cumbersome displays of modesty and morality, or one has to be completely cuckoo.

But whose decision is it? Do these Arab women eat in public through their abayas and niqabs voluntarily, or are asked to do so by their men?

There are two theories. The more popular (and gossipy) one that I came across was that it is the well-to-do Arab women who do this as a way to repay their husband’s lavish spending on them.

So, in a manner of speaking, the men spend big on their women so they could please their idea of female modesty?

The second theory is less soap-operatic. Many Arab and non-Arab Muslim women authors who have written in detail on the rise of things like the hijab, the abaya and the niqab among upper and middle-class women in the Muslim world suggest that the rise in this respect is a continuation of an old tradition in which Islamic jurists (after the demise of the holy Prophet PBUH), began to dish out rules and laws keeping in mind only the tribal male point of view.

These authors suggest that Islam and its prophet had actually liberated women and raised their status in a tribal society, but after the prophet’s death, jurists (all of whom were male), mixed laws drawn from the Quran with pre-Islamic tribal customs and traditions.

These Muslim women authors believe that given the choice, most Arab women would reject the many restrictive customs enforced upon them. These writers are of the view that women in most Muslim societies have off and on rebelled against the men’s idea of morality, and if the quiet rebellion taking shape in Saudi Arabia — where women are breaking the law by driving cars — is anything to go by, then there is every likelihood that even the most conservative Arab women might again start questioning customs they believe are not of their making, nor directly linked to any particular Islamic decree.

I asked my friend whether those affluent and middle-class Pakistani women in Arab countries who have adopted certain conservative customs of the Arab women can also be seen chomping food through niqabs? Because I have yet to see one doing so in Pakistan.

He said it is true that many Pakistani women settled in oil-rich Arab countries have replaced their South Asian moorings with Arabic pretences, but he has yet to see one eating a burger from behind a niqab.

Imagine a working-class or even a middle-class woman having to do this in Pakistan. She would have to get her modesty masks washed over and over again, running up painfully high detergent and laundry bills; that is, if they didn’t die of malnutrition first.

Enter Bilawal

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the eldest son of late Benazir Bhutto and grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), has stormed his way into political prominence.
But unlike his grandfather and mother, Bilawal never went to jail for his political beliefs and actions.
His ‘street-cred’ – a vital badge to earn and keep by populist politicians in South Asian countries – was instead gained almost overnight by a fiery, rip-roaring speech that he delivered in the Bhutto family’s hometown, Larkana, on the sixth death anniversary of his mother (who was assassinated in December 2007).
Suddenly, the 25-year-old Bilawal, who till last November, was being seen to be nothing more than a harmless caricature of his family’s political legacy, roared his way into becoming the main news item on the evening of December 27, 2013, when during his speech in Larkana he pumped his fists, beat his chest and rolled up his sleeves (like his grandfather), and threw swinging sarcastic jibes at political opponents (like his mother), on his way to publically ‘declare (his) war against religious extremism.’
 His pumped-up declaration made him became one of the few mainstream politicians in the country to openly castigate extremist outfits that have been accused of slaughtering over 50,000 Pakistani civilians, cops, soldiers and politicians ever since 2002.
The move to unleash radical anti-extremist rhetoric during a huge public rally t was what Bilawal and his close aids believed would give him the opening he was looking for to become the Pakistan Peoples Party’s next big thing.
The opening was successfully created. It was done by cleverly placing Bilawal and the future of his party on that side of the political/ideological landscape in Pakistan that has remained vacant for more than a decade now.
Ever since the 1990s the left side of the Pakistani political divide that was once firmly occupied by outfits such as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the (now defunct) National Awami Party (NAP), had begun to be abandoned by most left and left-liberal parties that (after the collapse of the Cold War in 1991), began to move more to the centre, and even towards centre-right platforms.
Though ever since the 1980s conservatism and a surge in politics based on theological assumptions and pretentions were already a growing phenomenon in Muslim countries, in the last ten years or so (or after 9/11), the societal and political shift towards the rightest sides of politics in Muslim countries saw a two-fold growth.
When Imran Khan and his once tiny party, the Pakistan Thereek-i-Insaf (PTI), suddenly erupted into prominence (and size) after a series of successful rallies in 2011 (especially in the Punjab), the rightest side of the divide became immensely cluttered.
 On this side are not only the country’s two large centre-right parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and the PTI, but also mainstream religious parties such as the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami (JI), the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), and various smaller religious outfits.
On the other hand, the left-liberal parties such as the PPP and the Awami National Party (ANP), found themselves on shaky ground. They were not on the left side of the divide and certainly not on the right. They remained in a limbo of sorts.
PPP and ANP were coalition partners along with the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) during the last PPP-led government (2008-2013). They were also constant targets of religious extremists.
The third main party of the former coalition government, the MQM, also faced a series of brutal terrorist attacks by the extremists. But unlike the PPP, the attacks seemed to have pushed the MQM deeper into the left sides of the Pakistani political divide.
So what is this left side about? In the last decade or so, being on the left side of the political landscape in Pakistan has come down to mean holding left-liberal views on politics, economics and morality.
MQM has been placed here for quite a while now. So one cannot claim that this side was entirely empty before Bilwal decided to shift in.
But the MQM is a regional party, whereas the PPP is a federal-level party.
As terrorist attacks against civilians and military personnel continue to grow at an alarming rate, and the narrative of centre-right and religious parties begins to thin, the counter-narrative to this has started to find its way into the mainstream.
The centre-right and rightist narrative explains the attacks (by the extremists) as being the consequence of US drone strikes, Pakistan’s involvement in America’s War on Terror, or something being engineered by a ‘third force.’
The counter-narrative to this suggests that the proliferation of extremist thought and outfits in the country is mostly due to the follies of the Pakistani state/establishment, and of weak, appeasing politicians.
This counter-narrative first began to develop in the early 2000s on the fringes of the country’s intellectual circles.
The counter-narrative also seeks radical action from the military, the media and the government to depoliticize religion in the country and (if necessary) use force to eradicate the violent extremist and sectarian groups that have been emerging (many with state-backing) from the 1980s onwards.
 After the mid-2000s, the first mainstream party to adopt the counter-narrative was the MQM along with the Pushtun nationalist outfit, the ANP.
Though the PPP too agreed with certain sections of the counter-narrative, it opted not to use it to inform and design the policies it formed and followed during its last ruling tenure (2008-13).
The reason for this was that by the time the PPP, MQM and ANP managed to form a shaky coalition government at the centre in 2008, the centre-right/rightest narrative had been fully ingrained in the collective psyche of large sections of the country’s polity and society by the centre-right and religious parties (and also by the electronic media).
Some believe that the Pakistani electronic media has been a major player in facilitating the proliferation of right-wing narratives in (urban) Pakistan.
However, things in this respect began to mutate at a rapid pace when centre-right parties such as the PMLN and PTI (allied with the fundamentalist JI), managed to dislodge the PPP, MQM and ANP from the centre, Punjab, Balochistan and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), during the May 2013 national and provincial elections.
But the violent extremist activity did not halt with the coming into power of parties that are sometimes accused of being ‘apologists’ of the extremists.
On the contrary, there was actually a 40 per cent rise in attacks on military personnel, civilians and on members of non-Sunni sects as well as on some Sunni sub-sects and Christians by the banned extremist organizations.
 Alas, by the end of last year, parts of the counter-narrative began to even echo in and around the PMLN government.
The counter-narrative grew in strength in the armed forces as well where it had already been gaining acceptance and ground from 2012 onwards.
Though now under tremendous pressure to explain the recent unprecedented rise in militant and terrorist attacks, PMLN and PTI are still not sure how much currency does the counter-narrative holds in the mainstream.
Both the parties are still unsure about the outcome of them fully adopting the counter-narrative. They aren’t sure wether by adopting the counter-narrative they might anger their main middle and lower-middle-class constituencies (especially in the Punjab).
This is a worry that does not bother the MQM because the nature of its main electoral centres – the urban middle-class and lower-middle-classes in cities like Karachi and Hyderabad – are somewhat different in this respect compared to those of their class contemporaries in the Punjab.
The majority of Karachi and Hyderabad’s middle and lower middle-class polities are not as vehemently right-wing as those in the Punjab, so this gives the MQM enough room to wholeheartedly weave the counter-narrative into its overall appeal.
Same is the case with PPP’s large vote bank in Sindh. The PPP is still the only party with the ability to win seats in all the four provinces of the country; but it was routed by PMLN and PTI in the Punjab and KP during the 2013 election.
The defeat is what led to the factors that played a major role in helping Bilawal to formulate his strategy to enter mainstream politics and rejuvenate the PPP by pushing it back towards the left side of the divide.
The three factors influencing this push are: (1) The party’s cautious approach towards the counter-narrative had left it sounding ambiguous, and this, coupled with its shaky performance as a ruling party between 2008 and May 2013, made the party seem rudderless and ideologically void; (2) No federal-level party was willing to adopt the counter-narrative even when the narrative finally began to make its way into mainstream media and the military after the recent rise of extremist militancy; (3) The left sides of the political landscape have begun to attract the attention from various sections of the polity, but this polity found only regional parties there (MQM and ANP).
Consequently, Bilwal decided to launch himself and rejuvenate the party by storming into the left sides of the post-9/11 political landscape.
The gambit has largely paid off because by the time he wrapped up his speech in Larkana, he found a receptive audience that has been steadily growing on the left side of the country’s political landscape.
As the clutter on the right side of the divide rapidly turns into confusion, the PPP, MQM and ANP are replenishing themselves on the left side. A side once abandoned, but now attracting the attention and interest of a growing number of Pakistanis perturbed by the rising cases of extremist and sectarian violence, and by the gradual erosion and possible collapse of the once well-entrenched centre-right and rightist narrative.
Bilawal has understood this is the side to be on to be on the right side of history.

Fire from above



From the late 1970s onwards the armed forces of Pakistan were systematically ‘Islamised’, especially by the dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq

Historians have hinted at Zia’s approbation of Islamic scholar and founder of the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami, Abul Ala Maududi, as the main inspiration behind his Islamization manoeuvres.

It is correct that Zia was an avid admirer of Maududi’s writings on political Islam, but it was not exactly on Maududi’s thesis that Zia initiated the Islamisation process in the country’s armed forces.

It was the theories of a relatively obscure figure upon which Zia mostly planned his ‘Islamic reformation of the Pakistan Army.’

His name was Brigadier-General S K. Malik. In 1975 at the height of Z A. Bhutto’s left-leaning populist regime, Malik quietly published a book called ‘The Quranic Concept of War.’

Malik had begun writing the book in 1974 as a reaction to the Pakistan military’s defeat against its Indian counterpart in 1971.

When he discussed his project with Zia (who was then a Major-General), the latter was highly impressed by Malik’s thesis. He encouraged him to publish them in form of a book.

One is not sure whether Bhutto (an avid reader) ever got to read Malik’s book, I have a feeling that he didn’t because Malik’s theory was squarely against any liberal or metaphorical interpretation of the Quran, especially of the verses that deal with the concept of jihad.

To Zia, such thinking was necessary to infuse a more prominent faith-based streak in the armed forces that he believed had been softened because the institution was steeped in the ideals of ‘Modernist Islam,’ and was too secular and ‘westernised’ in its social and political outlook.

Various economic and political factors contributed to the July 1977 military coup that Zia pulled off against the Bhutto regime. Zia rode in on a wave of protests by political parties that had been expressing urban middle-class frustrations and the interests of the trader and wealthy industrial classes that had been directly affected by Bhutto’s (albeit chaotic) socialist manoeuvres.

These classes had agreed to let the religious parties take the lead. But when in July 1977 Zia toppled Bhutto, he adopted the religious tenor of the anti-Bhutto protests.

In the second year of his dictatorship in 1979, Zia sanctioned the mainstream publication of Malik’s book and volunteered to write the book’s foreword.

Zia first used Malik’s thesis to ‘Islamise’ the Pakistani army and turn jihad into a national policy of the government and the military.

He then popularised the book among Afghan, Pakistani and Arab mujahideen who had all gathered on the Pakistan side of the Pak-Afghan border to lead guerrilla raids into Afghanistan against the Soviet forces.

He also made sure that the book was made available to all Pakistanis and thus, Urdu translations of the book were made available in bookstores.

By 1986, the book had also been translated into Arabic and Persian.

According to author and counter-terrorism expert, Patrick Poole, ‘General Zia embraced Malik’s expansive understanding of jihad as a duty extending to soldiers, as well as individual citizens.’

Zia accepted Malik’s redefinition of defensive jihad to include the removal of any obstacles and resistance to the spread of Islam. According to Malik, even passive resistance to the advance of Islam is legitimate grounds for attack.

Malik in his book suggests that war should dictate policy and not the other way round. Meaning that war or jihad should work as a pre-emptive tool against anti-Islam forces. It didn’t matter whether these (perceived enemies of faith) were hostile or not. According to Malik, Islam permits this.

It is this aspect of the book that is most popular with violent Islamist groups today who are said to have become avid students of Malik’s thesis, more than the Pakistani armed forces.

Malik completely rejects any allegorical or metaphorical understanding of the Quran, nor attempts to study it in a more contextual manner. He simply intellectualises the literalist reading of the Muslim scriptures in light of a standing army of an Islamic country that should always be ready to wage war (in the name of jihad) against hostile and passive, real or imagined enemies of the faith.

Malik then goes on to advocate that every Muslim citizen of an Islamic country should think like a ‘holy warrior.’

Thus, many experts believe that Zia used Malik’s thesis to also justify the alliances he made with violent sectarian and Islamist forces that sprang up during his regime.

Malik retired from the military to concentrate on becoming a scholar. Perturbed by the criticism the armed forces were being subjected to after the 1971 East Pakistan debacle he set out to answer the military’s critics but ended up constructing an entirely reactive and extreme response.

He first came up with his thesis in 1975 in a world in which Islamists, jihadists and religious extremists were still obscure characters that could only be found on the far fringes of society and politics.

Thus, he was largely delivering a cathartic outburst for a defeated army as a man deeply disturbed and depressed by what had taken place in 1971.

He didn’t seem to be a very ambitious man and never became a prominent member of Zia’s government or cabinet. He remained in the background.

My research did suggest that he was a moderate Muslim. But by 1975 he had become highly religious and sombre.

Such a private and unambitious character could not have been writing a highly volatile book consciously aiming to radicalise the military and the civilians and then foreseeing the emergence of sectarian and Islamist violence on a global scale. But that’s exactly what happened.

His was a reactive and angry tirade against what he thought were the premier enemies of his beloved armed forces. He went literal, rigid and myopic in his study of religious texts because to him the military’s supposedly lax and liberal approach towards faith had made it weak.

I do wonder though, what he would’ve thought about his work today in which quotes from his book regularly appear in ‘jihadi literature’ that not only advocates but boasts of committing terrible violence on civilian and military targets alike and then justifies it as something sanctioned by the scriptures?

Would he have been elated, or distraught by the ways his reactive discourse was first used by a manipulative military dictator to justify his illegitimate hold over power as a ‘soldier of Islam,’ and then cherry-picked by violent militants and their apologists to rationalise nihilist violence as something sectioned by faith?

Spacial anomalies

The ‘Islamisation’ debate in Pakistan should not only be about the implementation of various ‘Islamic laws’ by the state and governments of Pakistan.

It should also incorporate the study of the so-called Islamisation of public space, or space that was historically and inherently secular in nature.

One of the most prominent examples in this respect is the manifold growth in the number of mosques and madrassahs in the last 25 years, and this trend’s physical and symbolic extension into the secular spaces of society.

For example, ever since the early 1980s, there has been a visible augmentation in the formation of ‘praying areas’ in offices in both private and government institutions, and of the laxities allowed to employees at the workplace regarding prayer timings.

However, as can be observed from the findings of various academic and research-based studies (mainly on assorted criminal activity in the country in the last 25 years), the growth in the number of mosques, implementation of Islamic laws, and an increase in regular practice of faith among the populace ever since the 1980s has not helped make society any more law-abiding.

In fact, the rate of crime has increased dramatically.

This hasn’t prompted influential sections of the state, media and public at large to evaluate the failure of the ‘Islamisation’ initiatives.

On the contrary, the failure of these initiatives to generate a more morally sound society has ironically made its advocates actually accelerate their efforts.

For instance, beginning in the 1980s, there are now more religious programmes on television and radio than ever before. Also, more and more drawing-rooms are becoming venues for religious lectures and darrs. In fact, even in modern, posh shopping malls, the central sound system is used to broadcast the azaan.

Secular space is rapidly shrinking and the sociology of Pakistan today is strikingly different from what it was some thirty years ago.

Advocates of these trends would rightly suggest that social Islamisation could not have taken place without the consent of the majority of the people. True. But one need not be a professional sociologist to determine the resounding failure of this initiative to convert Pakistan into a morally sound community of people.

Social, cultural and economic indicators of the last 25 years suggest a society displaying a religiosity that is convolutedly trying to reach a forced synthesis with modern material wants and ambitions.

There is an inherent dichotomy between loud displays of moral piety and the desire to taste the fruits of amoral materialism.


Nevertheless, in Pakistan this dichotomy has been turned into a collective attempt to work it as a synthesis.

The apologist argument in this respect is that being pious doesn’t mean one can’t be materialistic as well. This apologia can be countered in a number of ways, especially when the piety that is being displayed is supposedly following the dictates of a dyed-in-wool brand of piety in which, for example, music may become ‘haram’, but getting paid to endorse a western brand of chips as ‘halaal,’ is fine.

Addressing such convolutions has become the work of televangelists and ‘modern sounding’ preachers.

Their role can be defined as helping mould a workable narrative that is constructed from certain select religious texts and then offered to their audiences as a theological rationale to survive in the modern material world as a practicing Muslim without feeling guilt or angst.

This dichotomy is then converted into a religiously rationalised normality.

But the question again arises, how productive has been such an arrangement? It has clearly not turned Pakistan into a better, more law-abiding society than what it was before the so-called Islamisation process kicked in (during the Ziaul Haq dictatorship).

As Ziaul Haq’s process failed to address the utopian expectations of the people for the ‘ideal Islamic state’ that he had promised; and as political and economic corruption further eroded Zia’s regime, various fundamentalist groups that had risen in the 1980s, decided to Islamise society from below.

The idea was to Islamise all aspects of society so that people will ‘turn from being just Muslims into becoming Islamic.’

Interestingly, the state and the governments even after Zia’s demise allowed this brand of social Islamization to continue, as long as it didn’t exhibit any overt political ambitions. But eventually it did.

The extremists and the fundamentalists were free to carry on Islamising social space, so much so that today it has become impossible to escape religious symbolism and rhetoric in even the most traditionally secular spaces and surroundings.

The socialising aspects of certain puritanical strains of the faith have been an all-encompassing event. Their symbols and rhetoric abound on billboards, in shopping malls, parks, on cars, in buses, drawing rooms, on TV screens, in offices and in even in everyday lingo.

It seems Pakistanis have lost the capability to separate the religious from the secular.

So what’s wrong with that, some might ask?

Well, for one thing, this trend has consequently moulded a mind-set that has become almost voluntarily vulnerable to the exploitative socio-political manoeuvres of the extremists.

This might answer why some sections of the society throw up their arms in disgust after a drone attack but remain awkwardly quiet every time a terrorist slaughters scores of common people, cops and soldiers in a suicide blast.

And perhaps that’s why the Pakistani society may have a ready-made consensus on, say, the dangers of alcohol abuse, but still can’t seem to reconcile to a common consensus on exactly who or what is an extremist.

Exclusive Interview: A captain in exile


“Most captains and cricketers improve their records at home, on grounds that they played their initial cricket on and in front of home crowds,” sighs the enigmatic Pakistan cricket captain, Misbah-ul-Haq.

He is talking to me in a secluded corner of the hotel where the Pakistan team was staying during the recently concluded Test match against Sri Lanka in Dubai.

The team is now getting ready to travel to Sharjah for the third and last Test of the series.

Misbah is rueing the fact that he hasn’t been able to captain the Pakistan side in a Test in Pakistan. No team has been willing to tour the country after the bizarre 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan side in Lahore.

Ever since he was made the captain in late 2011, Misbah has captained the side in 26 Tests, all on foreign soil. He’s won 11 of these and lost seven.

“More than half of my side has never played for Pakistan in Pakistan,” he laments. “We have continuously been playing abroad for years now. Apart from players like Younis, Hafeez and I, most of the players in the side today have no idea what it means to play international cricket at home.”

Though, ever since he got the captaincy he has continued to be Pakistan’s leading run-scorer, Misbah has also managed to gather a number of critics.

Most of them believe he is too defensive as a captain, and that he goes into a shell too often while batting. But interestingly, his record as a captain and batsman in the last three years actually contradicts such criticism.

“I do not mind constructive criticism,” he claims. “But it should remain within the boundaries of the ethics and values that I exhibit towards my critics. There is only so much one can tolerate.”


Talking to the skipper in Dubai. –Photo by Amber
Talking to the skipper in Dubai. 


A lot of criticism that has come his way is indeed misplaced, if not entirely wrong. He was made the captain when the team was in total disarray. After former captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq’s retirement in 2007, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had to change five captains until finally settling for Misbah.

Shoaib Malik replaced Inzamam but lost form and influence and was replaced by Mohammad Yousuf, who, though a stylish stroke-maker, was never captaincy material.

Solid middle-order batsman, Younis Khan, became the new skipper but resigned within a year, allegedly due to a players’ rebellion against him.

He was replaced by the temperamental all-rounder, Shahid Afridi, who retired from Test cricket after leading Pakistan in just a single Test. Opener, Salman Butt was made Pakistan’s fifth Test captain in a rocky span of just two years, but he was fired after being caught dealing with shady spot-fixers.


A young Misbah.
A young Misbah.

When Misbah was handed over the captaincy, not only was the team in a terrible flux, the country too, had been tumbling down the spiral of extremist violence and political turmoil. What is more, Misbah at the time was trying to make his third comeback after he was first selected to play for Pakistan in 2001.


Making his debut at the age of 26, Misbah soon lost his form and place in the side just before the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.

After the event, captain, Waqar Younis, along with his legendary fast bowling partner, Wasim Akram, retired from the game, and a number of established players were dropped due to the team’s horrendous performance in the tournament.

Wicketkeeper, Rashid Latif replaced Waqar as captain but was soon replaced by the dashing stroke-maker, Inzamam-ul-Haq.

New spots and positions opened up and the selectors began to look for replacements. But, in spite of performing well in the domestic circuit, Misbah just couldn’t find his way back onto the side.

Misbah finally returned to the team in 2007 after spending four years in seclusion, at the age of 33.

Former Chairman of the PCB and diplomat, Shaharyar Khan, wrote in his most recent book that Misbah’s return to the squad was blocked by Inzamam.

According to Khan, Misbah was far more educated than Inzamam and had a better cricketing brain. This threatened Inzamam who was very insecure about his captaincy.

Then, early last year a leading Urdu daily alleged that Inzamam, who was trying to change the culture of the team by infusing a particular brand of Islam into the squad, kept Misbah out because he knew Misbah would never have toed the new line.

I asked Misbah about his sudden disappearance from the scene and whether Shaharyar Khan was correct in stating what he did (in his book).

“It’s a matter of perceptions,” he answered, guardedly. “I personally want to believe that politics or whatever is not what kept me out of Inzamam’s team. I don’t think any captain would like to keep out a player he thinks would be good for the team. I think with Younis, Yousuf and Inzamam so well established in the middle-order, it was always tough for a middle-order batsman like me to break my way back into the team. Then, all-rounders like Shoaib Malik, Afridi and Razzaq were also part of the Test and ODI squads in those days.”

Misbah’s diplomacy in the matter is understandable. He’s still the captain of a volatile cricket team of an equally volatile country. But I did ask him what made Shaharyar Khan, a highly respected diplomat and cricket insider; say what he did about his (Misbah’s) exclusion from Inzamam’s team.

“As I said, it’s a matter of perceptions,” he repeated. “That is how Shaharyar Sahib saw things. That’s his perception. Inzamam, I am sure, he has his (perception) about the issue, and I have mine. But I would like to believe that it wasn’t politics that kept me out.”


A bitter-sweet return. Misbah returned to the squad for the 2007 T20 World Cup and became Pakistan’s leading scorer in the tournament. However, after helping the team pull-off an almost miraculous victory against India in the final, he got out in the last over of the game, playing an unorthodox shot.
A bitter-sweet return. Misbah returned to the squad for the 2007 T20 World Cup and became Pakistan’s leading scorer in the tournament. However, after helping the team pull-off an almost miraculous victory against India in the final, he got out in the last over of the game, playing an unorthodox shot.


Sensing his hesitation to commit himself any further to the topic, I return to talk about his present-day critics.

During the Dubai Test, most of which I saw from the general stands, I noticed a genuine respect and admiration for Misbah by all sorts of folks who came to watch the game: Labourers, taxi drivers, young school kids.

It wasn’t the kind of raunchy, passionate reception players like Afridi get in this part of the world, it was something more subtle.

As the crowd saw Misbah yet again stand firm and try to stem the fall of wickets that usually stumble like nine pins around him, shouts of “Well done, Misbah,” “Jammahrai, Misbah” (stay there, Misbah), continued to echo around the stadium, even when he would just dab the ball for a single or two.

As he has gone on to accumulate big scores in Tests and ODIs, his fans have increased as well. In fact, he has also managed to attract some of his most vehement critics on to his side.

Former Pakistan captains and famous commentators, Ramiz Raja and Waqar Younis, both of whom had been critical of his captaincy in the past, were recently heard praising Misbah not only as a captain and batsman, but as a person as well.

Ramiz praised him for keeping things from spinning out of control with his calm and reserved disposition, whereas Waqar described him as being a thorough gentleman.

But, there still remain to be some former players who are not convinced. I asked Misbah that isn’t it strange that some former players, who understood the pressures of captaining a team like Pakistan, have continued to criticise him, considering the circumstances he was given the captaincy in?

“I always welcome criticism. I’m not afraid of being criticised. But sometimes when it becomes criticism for the sake of criticism, I begin to ignore it,” he explained.

What about his family, how do they cope with it?

Misbah breaks into a slight smile: “It’s tough for them.” But the smile slowly begins to fade as he continues: “My family members had actually suffered health issues due to the kind of things they sometimes have to hear about me. I have learned to ignore certain things, and I can escape all the talk by being on tours, but my family doesn’t always travel with me. They are sometimes hurt by what they hear on TV back home. They are a lot more sensitive to negative criticism than I am.”


Misbah with wife.
Misbah with wife.


Misbah is famous for absorbing all kinds of pressures on and off the field. Though known to be a very private, quiet and stoic man, he is also liked in the team for his dry sense of humour and subtle wit. Does this help him in handling pressure?

The smile returns: “I’ve always been this way. My love for the game has kept me going. I try never to quit. Thrice I lost my place in the side and thrice I came back, stronger than ever. One just needs to focus on the goals he or she has set for themselves, the rest takes its own course.”

So he keeps his wits about him?

“I have to. I have to make sure the team and I continue to enjoy playing the game.”

A year ago, Misbah lost the captaincy of Pakistan’s T20 side. He also lost his place in the T20 squad. The selectors believed that Misbah, now 39, was too old for the hectic pace of this format of the game.

And yet, he was the highest and fastest scoring batsman in the 2013 national T20 tournament. He was also in crackling form when he took his domestic T20 side, the Faisalabad Wolves, to India for the IPL, where he smashed 13 sixes in just two games. So, does he think he’s too old for T20?

“I believe I can still play all formats of the game,” he insists. “I enjoy playing T20 as much as I do Tests and ODIs. But when the selectors told me that my being in the T20 squad might be blocking the entry of some younger players, I stepped aside myself. I did it for the youngsters. But I am still available for the T20 format if the selectors believe I have a role to play there.”

Misbah was replaced by Mohammad Hafeez as the T20 captain. Hafeez has been Misbah’s vice captain in Tests and ODIs.

Last year when Pakistan was being taken to the cleaners by the South Africans in South Africa, media reports began to emerge about a possible rift between Misbah and Hafeez.

The charismatic former Australian captain and commentator, Ian Chappell, once said that behind every successful cricket captain, is a good vice captain.

There have been many examples of this in international cricket, and in Pakistan cricket too, some of the strongest captains have had solid (and loyal) vice captains.

Mushtaq Mohammad had Asif Iqbal; Imran Khan had Javed Miandad; Wasim Akram first had Waqar Younis and then the dependable, Moin Khan. Inzamam-ul-Haq had Younis Khan.

However, in most cases, these firm and successful partnerships ended in animosity between the skippers and their once loyal deputies.

At the end of his career, Mushtaq accused Asif Iqbal of underhandedly usurping the captaincy away from him (in 1979), whereas after Miandad finally replaced Imran as skipper in 1992, he accused the ex-captain of encouraging Wasim Akram to lead a players’ rebellion against him in 1993.

Akram himself was toppled in a players’ rebellion led by his vice captain, Waqar Younis, even though one of the rebelling players, Basit Ali, recently told cricket expert, Dr. Nauman Niaz, that the rebellion was mostly masterminded by leg-spinner, Mushtaq Ahmed.

When Inzamam retired, it was said that his vice captain, Younis Khan, had had a falling out with Inzamam during the latter’s twilight years as skipper.

Misbah has now become a deserving candidate for joining the ranks of other renowned Pakistani cricket captains such as Hafeez Kardar, Mushtaq Mohammad, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram. And in Mohammad Hafeez, Misbah has found an able deputy, with a sharp cricketing brain.

But was the media right in pointing out that the pair was starting to experience the dreaded captain and vice captain fall-out?

“The whole episode was dreamt up in the minds of some journalists,” says Misbah, dismissively.

“There has always been very good understanding between Hafeez and myself. Even when we played domestic cricket together, we used to willingly let go of the captaincy for the benefit of the other. The media made Hafeez look like a man who was hungry for the captaincy and was willing to do anything to get it,” Misbah softly chuckled.

Wasn’t he?

“Absolutely not!” says Misbah, his usually stable and steady stare getting a tad intense. “He never ran after captaincy and neither have I. We just like playing cricket. If, for example, tomorrow the selectors select me in the T20 squad, I will have no problem playing under his captaincy.”


The captain with his trusted deputy, Mohammad Hafeez.
The captain with his trusted deputy, Mohammad Hafeez.


As media reports about the rift began to become the main topic of sports shows on local TV channels, Misbah and Hafeez decided to hold a joint press conference to quash the rumours. They were largely successful and the rumour gradually faded away.

We now come back to how Misbah’s team has been forced to play all of their matches on foreign soil. I asked that though the UAE is said to have become a home away from home for the Pakistan cricket team, does the team feel the same way?

“Not really,” says Misbah. “I mean, we get good crowds of Pakistanis supporting us at the stadiums here, but it’s still another country. None of us can go to our real homes after the day’s play. We all have to go back to a hotel.”


Pakistani cricket fans at an ODI in the UAE.
Pakistani cricket fans at an ODI in the UAE.


What about the pitches? Does he have as much say in their preparation here as he would have had in Pakistan?

Misbah slowly shakes his head: “Unfortunately not. In Pakistan, a captain would personally know a groundsman and vice versa, and it would be easier for him to get the kind of a pitch that would truly help him gain what is called, the home advantage.

Here (in the UAE) sometimes I’m not even sure who is going to prepare the pitches. For example, I didn’t get the kind of pitches I was looking for against the South Africans and the Sri Lankans. Back home, the groundsman would fully understand the strengths of our bowling line-up and prepare pitches according to this understanding. Here, somehow, something gets lost in communication. For example, for the first and second Tests against the Lankans, I had asked for hard and bouncy pitches that would help our quick bowlers who hit the deck hard. These kind of pitches then go on to help spinners like Saeed (Ajmal) in the latter stages of the Test. Instead, we got pitches that had grass and seamed on the first day, but then totally flattened out. In the second Test, the Lankans won a crucial toss and bowled well on a seaming wicket.”

After going quiet for a bit, he added: “Maybe it was the uncharacteristic weather. It was colder and wetter than usual in the UAE this year. Conditions were good for swing and seam bowling. Our bowlers rely more on pace and bounce.”


Misbah with one of his main strike bowlers, Saeed Ajmal in a hotel room. Ajmal, who today is considered to be one of best off-spinners in the world, was discovered by Misbah in early 2000s. Ajmal and Hafeez are considered to be Misbah’s closest colleagues in the team.
Misbah with one of his main strike bowlers, Saeed Ajmal in a hotel room. Ajmal, who today is considered to be one of best off-spinners in the world, was discovered by Misbah in early 2000s. Ajmal and Hafeez are considered to be Misbah’s closest colleagues in the team.


At least twice, young Pakistani cricket fans tried to interrupt and asked Misbah for an autograph. He politely declined saying he was doing an interview.

Then one of the four main lifts in the hotel lobby opened and out came the team’s Australian coach, Dav Whatmore. With him were his wife, the team’s fielding coach, and physio.

After glancing at Misbah, they sat down on a nearby cluster of sofas, ready to leave for Sharjah. Moin came back through the front door with Misbah’s wife and they joined Whatmore and company.

But Misbah did not flinch even once. He stared at me again, waiting for another round of questions.

“All set for Sharjah?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders: “Yes. We are leaving today.”

As he said this, left-arm spinner, Abdur Rehman, and young opener, Shan Masood, arrived with their luggage as well. Both are expected to get their first games in the Test series in Sharjah.

I asked how the atmosphere in the team was these days. It had been highly volatile when he took over as captain, with infighting and the team tarnished by cases of spot-fixing.

“Things are settling,” he said. “But the team is quickly evolving. Lots of young players are coming in.”

Before Inzamam took over as captain in 2003, the Pakistan cricket teams were known for their flamboyant ways both on and off the field. Players were extremely outgoing and loved their bit of partying.

Things began to change in this respect under Inzamam. Introversion and inertia crept in and the players’ interaction with the other teams and with the cultures of the countries they were touring reduced drastically.

Things got even worse when Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were hurled up and kicked out for spot-fixing.

When Misbah took over, he was given a team harassed by the media, suspected by the ICC, and asked by the PCB to keep a low profile at all times.

Misbah agrees: “It was very tough. We would go straight to the hotel from the stadium, and stay there.”

What about now?

“It’s much better. We’ve given some good performances and a lot of youngsters have come in. Their presence has infused a lot of new energy into the team’s culture,” he smiles.


Misbah says today the Pakistan cricket team is a happier and more outgoing side than what it was a couple of years ago.
Misbah says today the Pakistan cricket team is a happier and more outgoing side than what it was a couple of years ago.


He also praises Moin Khan for this: “Ever since Moin’s appointment as Manager, we have become more outgoing. He comes from that era of Pakistan cricket when cricket was much more than just being about batting, bowling and fielding. He encourages the boys to interact more with other teams and go out for dinners and to events outside of cricket.”


With manager, Moin Khan in Dubai. Khan is being tipped to become the next coach after the departure of Dav Whatmore.
With manager, Moin Khan in Dubai. Khan is being tipped to become the next coach after the departure of Dav Whatmore.


Moin was made the Manager by PCB’s caretaker chief, Najam Sethi. Sethi, a well-known liberal journalist and TV anchor, was asked to head the PCB by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last year.

But his powers were seriously curtailed by the Islamabad High Court. This meant his decision to name Moin as the new chief selector was reversed by the court. Sethi responded by making him the manager.

As Sethi waits to see whether he would be allowed more powers, Misbah does not appreciate the instability created by the court’s decision: “These sorts of things affect the team. You strike up a good working relationship with the management only to see it being neutralised.”

He seems to have struck a good relationship with Sethi and Moin. And he hopes things don’t take a drastic turn at the board level.

“A stable team requires a stable management,” he quips.

(Editor’s note: On January 15, Sethi was removed as PCB Chief by the Islamabad High Court. The Court reinstated Zaka Ashraf as PCB chairman, even though it had been the same court that had removed Ashraf).


Misbah being interviewed by Najam Sethi and Muneeb Farooq on Sethi’s popular talk show, ‘Aapas Ki Baat.’
Misbah being interviewed by Najam Sethi and Muneeb Farooq on Sethi’s popular talk show, ‘Aapas Ki Baat.’


Seeing the players slowly gathering in the lobby, I asked Misbah whether he’s had any players who have been tough to handle.

Captains in the past struggled to reign in highly talented but temperamental players such as the late Wasim Raja and Sarfraz Nawaz. Inzamam had no clue how to handle firebrands like Shoaib Akhtar.

“Not as such,” Misbah says. “The seniors are very professional and most of the team is still very young.”

I tell him how during an interview of his when he was captain; Imran had said that a captain has to get along with even those players he may detest as people, as long as the players were beneficial to the team’s cause.

“Exactly,” Misbah responded. “But I see it slightly differently. I see teams like being large, extended families with all kinds of people. They play, work and rejoice together, but they may also develop differences, just like in any family. But a family knows that it has to stick together to survive, and survive successfully. That’s how I see my team. We are a family of different individuals but with similar goals.”

It is quite apparent that Misbah has successfully won the loyalty and respect of the team.

He has a quiet but strong presence that demands a lot of physical and mental space around him, because no player or official attempted to even come close to the area where I was interviewing him.

It was only after he got up, shook my hand and bid farewell that the players who were there began to gravitate towards him.

The team and its captain may be in perpetual exile, but home seems to be the foremost thing on their minds. And each one of them knows, that though they have done relatively well abroad, their individual records and that of the team’s could have been twice as good had they also been playing on home grounds, in front of home crowds.


Playing out of a suitcase. A section of the team’s luggage in their Dubai hotel. –Photo by Amber
Playing out of a suitcase. A section of the team’s luggage in their Dubai hotel.


But till that comes about, Misbah will take whatever life throws at him as he grows into becoming Pakistan’s senior most cricketing statesman in a world that would not come to Pakistan.


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