Lahore-nama - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 13 October 2012


By Ajai Shukla and Sonia Trikha Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Oct 12

Some cities, just a fortunate few, remain coloured by their history, visibly enriched by reminders of centuries gone by. Residents of Delhi like us routinely walk past 500-year old monuments with scarcely a thought for the shared past that they evoke. But on a visit to Lahore, in so many ways Delhi’s historical twin, we notice so much that we take for granted here, displayed as it is in a different, yet familiar, framework.

Bashir, our taxi-driver in Lahore, is a portly, loquacious, shalwar-clad 54-year-old with the energy and verve of someone half his age. Finding a taxi is never easy in Lahore since locals prefer auto-rickshaws, but we hit the jackpot when we chanced upon Bashir: he was a natural tourist guide. Asked to drive us around Lahore, Bashir shot back “which Lahore?” Seeing our bemused looks, he elaborated, “There is a Mughal Lahore, a British Lahore and a Pakistani Lahore”.

“Let’s start with British Lahore,” we said. It was close at hand both physically and in family consciousness; Sonia’s Lahori parents had brought her up on tales of the paradise that was their ancestral heritage. This deep-rooted Lahori pride (inexplicable to outsiders!) seems an ingrained feature of the city’s residents. When Bashir learned that Sonia’s family was from pre-partition Lahore we were adopted like prodigals. The conversation quickly switched from Urdu to Punjabi.

Driving down the leafy Mall Road, we felt the irritation ebb after our flight to Lahore the evening before. The ancient Pakistan Airlines 737-300 aircraft had developed engine trouble in Delhi, mercifully before take-off, and it had taken five hours and a component borrowed from Air India to get us to Lahore around midnight. The day before had been Youm-e-Ishq-e-Rasool (Day of Love for the Prophet), misguidedly declared by Pakistan’s government to prove that they were as good Muslims as the ones who were already rioting against Innocence of Muslims, a blasphemous film that had denigrated the Prophet. The government’s licence unleashed what was effectively state-sanctioned rioting, leading to the deaths of protesters after a large mob gathered at the US Consulate in Lahore. Washington and London, as well as others, had issued advisories against travel to Pakistan.

But today, it was sunny, pleasant and utterly normal, highlighting the astonishing ability of Pakistan and its citizens to oscillate between extremes.  Driving down Mall Road we admired the stately, whitewashed colonial-era buildings from the time when Lahore was the heart of “the north west”. From here the British administered vast swathes of the Punjab and the North West Frontier up to the Afghanistan border, the still-disputed Durand Line. Before them, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Lahore-centred empire had extended even further, well into Afghanistan.

Bashir pointed out the magnificent Dinga Singh Building, where one of Sonia’s grandfathers had worked and the National Bank building that had been the office of another. Passing Luxmi Chowk and the old High Court, we head towards the Anarkali Bazaar, the centuries-old market named after the legendary slave girl who was put to death by Emperor Akbar after Prince Salim (later Emperor Jehangir) was enraptured by her. Bashir, like us, has heard the story through the immortal film, Mughal-e-Azam, in which Dilip Kumar and Madhubala memorably played the tragic couple. Anarkali’s mausoleum is nearby, as is that of Qutb-ud-din Aibak, the Mamluk monarch who built the Qutb Minar in Delhi.

Next we come to the grand Lahore Museum, outside which stands the 14-foot-long Zamzama, the largest cannon cast in the subcontinent. Built for Afghanistan’s talismanic monarch, Ahmed Shah Durrani, legend has it that thousands of Lahori kitchen utensils were melted down for making the gun. Durrani employed the Zamzama in his destruction of the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat in 1761, the bloodiest battle ever fought till then. En route to Kabul after that victory, Durrani left the Zamzama with his governor in Lahore since he did not have a carriage strong enough to carry such a heavy gun back to Kabul. Later, it was fought over by assorted Sikh and Afghan chieftains who all believed it was a battle-winner. To this day, Afghans lewdly refer to their Casanovas as “Zamzama”.

Rudyard Kipling, who lived in Lahore from 1882 to 1887, found his earliest muse in the city, which he chronicled in The Civil and Military Gazette. Lahore figured in his magnificent tale, Kim, as the base for the young explorer’s travels across the subcontinent. The novel, in fact, opens at the Lahore Museum, with Kim perched “astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher --- the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum.”

Architecturally grand as the Lahore Museum is --- like many old buildings in Lahore, was designed by the architect, Sir Ganga Ram --- its piece de resistance is the 2nd century, Kushan sculpture of Fasting Siddhartha in the dramatically realistic style of the Gandhara School of art. Depicting Siddhartha after six years of fasting, every rib and vein carved into his emaciated frame depicts the tribulations that led to his enlightenment.

Bashir is pleased at how thrilled we are when we emerge from the museum. A devout, beard-wearing Muslim, he is a very long way away from the Taliban’s antipathy to Buddhist sculpture. Fundamentalism may be gaining ground in Pakistan, but Lahori taxi-drivers have apparently not yet bought into it. Bashir reveals that his mother was from Dehra Dun and his father from Ambala.

A short drive from the museum is Shadman Chowk, where the British hanged Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev Singh in 1931. Pakistani civil society has long agitated for renaming the place Bhagat Singh Chowk. Soon after we returned to India we learned that the Punjab government had agreed to do so.

Despite the pleasing array of Gothic and Victorian style buildings from the British Raj, time has not stood still in Lahore. The famous Gawal Mandi, a pedestrians-only food street that served sumptuous, dhaba-style, Lahori food, has been pushed out of central Lahore by security concerns.

And the old Race Course, which dates back to 1924, now has a posh continental restaurant called The Polo Lounge, owned by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar along with a sister establishment in Islamabad that overlooks the Margala Hills. This top-of-the-line eatery that has just 30 seats is billed as “The only setting of its kind where you can enjoy gourmet cuisine while watching a game of Polo.”  

We dine at The Polo Lounge as part of an Indian delegation. The tables are done up thoughtfully with ribbons in a tricolour theme; each seat has a printed menu with the Indian and Pakistani flags. The guest list includes a former Pakistani army chief, a former navy chief, and Pakistan’s most successful businessman and only dollar billionaire, Mian Mansha. Like Punjabi businessmen on both sides of the border, he is pushing for better relations and freer trade. With the polo field providing a darkened backdrop through large windows, we dine on prawn soup, forest salad, and herbed and spiced grilled fish. By the time dessert --- chocolate puddle cake --- arrives, everyone is groaning.

Good eating is an essential component of Lahori culture, dovetailing quite naturally into late rising --- no shop opens before 11.30 a.m. or closes before 11 p.m. But, after another day of sightseeing with Bashir, we have no time for shopping. Instead, another interesting evening awaits us at the home of one of Pakistan’s super-rich. Like in many wealthy Delhi homes, a large Hussain greets us as we enter. Unlike Delhi’s wealthy, though, the home has a large library with a painting by Vincent van Gogh adorning the mantelpiece! Most of the Pakistani guests lament the fruitlessness of India-Pakistan hostility and how leaders on both sides should mend fences. There is little understanding in Pakistan, and this is true from milkman to millionaire, of how much India has been alienated by cross-border terrorism, particularly 26/11.

We start late the next morning; Lahore is insidiously seeping into our systems. But the lethargy vanishes when Bashir draws up at the Badshahi mosque, which Aurangzeb built between 1671-73. Sadly, the wall outside has been recently painted, but as we enter we are overwhelmed by the sense of space, one of the greatest features of Indo-Islamic mosque architecture. Once the world’s largest mosque, the Taj Mahal and its platform would fit comfortably inside the main courtyard that accommodates one lakh worshippers. A nikaah is finishing as we arrive, a simple ceremony with a shy bride. We are offered many rounds of mithai.

In the enclosed garden outside the mosque is the Hazuri Bagh, which Maharaja Ranjit Singh (who conquered Lahore in 1799) used as his baradari or court of audience. Nearby is a red stone colonial building, the grave of Allama Iqbal, one of Pakistan’s founding heroes along with Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Ironically, and to his lasting regret, he had earlier written the stirring song, Sare Jahaan se Achha Hindustan hamaara.

Forming the backdrop to the Hazuri Bagh is the imposing Lahore Fort, or Shahi Qila, which Akbar built between 1556 and 1605. The staff there insists that we pay for tickets at the local rate of Rs 10, rather than the Rs 200 rate that foreigners pay. He says we are hum zubaan (speakers of the same language). We had last seen the fort by night in 2003, when a spectacular official dinner hosted there had transported us back into the medieval era. With mashaals (fire torches) lighting the way and enormous doorkeepers in loose black shalwar kameez, that had been like a movie set.

That night we dine at Andaaz, a tony Mughlai restaurant in the red light area of Hira Mandi that overlooks the spectacularly lit Badshahi Mosque. Sadly, the mujras (dances) that Hira Mandi was famous for have given way to Islamic austerity, but restaurants like Andaaz and Kuku’s try to capture a flavour of the place. Also visible from our tables, as we bite into juicy tandoori prawns, is the Dera Sahib Gurudwara, where the 5th guru, Arjun Dev, obtained martyrdom in the river Ravi in 1606. Highlighting the duality of India-Pakistan relations, we learn that this is where General Zia-ul-Haq housed Khalistani terrorist leaders in the 1980s, when Punjab was aflame. Suddenly my prawn tastes a little less juicy.

We say goodbye to Lahore with some regret. Change is in the air in India-Pakistan relations; but there is never any telling when another dip happens, closing down, at least temporarily, the option of travelling there again.


  1. Delighted to read the blog. We have to repeat this trip again and again!

  2. Good article. Hope your next trip there when it becomes part of India.


    read this!it defines the state of Pakistan more better and more clearly.

  4. Ear their prawns, drink their bootleg whisky, smile....and keep your counsel. That is the only way to retaining your integrity. The Pakistan establishment is double-faced to the core. They will feed you and slit your throat, all in the same transaction.


  5. They can gladly indulge in 'jhappi-pappi' and backstab at the same time.. If you recall :
    (1) Zia's cricket diplomacy at the height of Punjab crisis
    (2) Benazir's summit with Rajiv at their Daman-e-Koh resort before Kashmir went up
    (3) Bhangras before Bus diplomacy before Kargil
    (4) Zardari's MFN trial ballooon as Messrs. Kasab were preparing...

    It's like saying the Germans from 19th century would bake excellent Apple strudel and brew great beer, so how can such a nation wage wars.

    Only time will tell over decades, how worthy their intentions are.

  6. Couple of examples, documented in India Today from the 80s..what to talk of common Pakistani, when someone like Imran Khan, even before he turned into his current 'Taliban Lite' avatar ..sorry rooh :
    - Even while he was feted by the Godrejs, and dined at Trishna in Mumbai, i.e. was not some 'jaahil' selling sabzi in Lahore - he would claim 'Pathans have been coming to India since ages to take away their women'.
    - Indian cricketers and movie stars raised tons of money for him when he was raising his Cancer hospital - but he never acknowledged it.
    - the JN Dixit dinner saga of a Pakistani child shouting 'Hindu kutta' when he went to their home for dinner only shows what contempt they hold for us.

    Lastly, we don't get mushy over neighbors who have, by and large done no harm to us e.g. Nepal, Sri Lanka, then why be so emotional over Pakistan..?

  7. With all due respect, till Mrs Shukla's generation (fed on stories of Lahore and Punjabiyat) becomes irrelevant, we will not be able to deal with a firm hand with Pakistan. Punjabis and UPites tend to get maudlin with sentimality whenever dealing with Pakistanis, and India pays the price, as and when the Pakistani establishment ditches the fake veneer of hospitality and resorts to the usual anti-Indian antics

  8. Hello Col. Shukla,

    Thanks a lot for this fine portrayal of Lahore.
    However, I shall like to make a small correction where you say that Zamzama is the biggest cannon forged in the sub-continent. I used to think that it is Jaivana which is housed at Jaigarh fort, near Jaipur. I think Zamzama may have the distinction of the biggest cannon used in any battle because Jaivana was fired only once.

  9. @ajai sir

    a small correction

    its Ahmed Shah Abdali and not Ahmed Shah Durrani


    Joydeep Ghosh

  10. Unka namak kha liya to apne watan se namak-harami mat karna. Too much blood has been spilled for us to forget who exactly we are dealing with.

    Good that you are part of the 'Track 2' diplomacy otherwise we soon shall be celebrating Siachen as a 'Mountain of Peace'

  11. Lonley planet guide

  12. @ Joydeep Ghosh

    Ahmed Shah Abdali was Ahmed Shah Durrani. They are one and the same person.

    Read Wikipedia on "Durrani" please.

  13. @Broadsword
    seriously,how does it feel when all of the sudden all your audience turns against you for the piece of article you have written?

    seriously.....please...seriously,stop giving us false ideas or dreams.
    tis is a utter disgustful state on the planet.they can never have a civilized rational thought.i rather prefer going to some African states than to be in this failed Islamic state

  14. When it comes to dealing with Pakistan FORGET sentimentality and emotions.

    A guy like Afridi made his money from the IPL,earned goodwill in India.

    But one rebuff from us post Mumbai attacks leads him to declare,'hinduon(Indian for me)ka dil chota hota hai.'

    These guys will manufacture their own version of history,link their roots to Central Asia,try to be more Arab than Arabs themselves.

    N number of reasons will be given,why they are justified in continued animosity to us and how deceiving us(kafirs!!!!???) is permitted under Islam.

    FORGET good relations.
    Talk to them,but keep that weapon cocked,the bomb primed and the boilers running.


  15. Mr. Shukla,
    Excellent article, if one considers it just a travelogue. Perhaps you should consider spending a serious amount of time in Pakistan and write a book on it - a la Rory Stewart. Too much blood has been spilt and there's too much alienation for any Indian to believe any narrative recited by Pakistanis. But written by someone like you, resulting from actual on-the-ground experiences and reports - that's another matter. I would pay a decent amount to read something like that and I imagine others would as well. But I hope you keep it objective and provide context, rather than just play devil's advocate.

  16. Well, I am sure you would realise how treacherous these guys can be....having donned the battle greens ,I know you really wouldn't be mesmerised by the evil state that exists in our neighbourhood . Frankly did you ask the taxi driver about Mumbai? I would love to hear his thoughts
    On the events :)

  17. I was speaking to this firangi person about india-pakistan identity politics. He is well read on world history and ancient wars. In our discussion, he described the pakistani state as a "mamluk" formation with a mission. I googled what that word meant and my mind just exploded.

    Anyway, for others who don't know what a mamluk is:

  18. Shukla - aman ki asha, shirf asha hi rahegi, Kyo ki Pakistan ki neeyat kharab hai.

    You visited Lahore, should have got head of Hafeez Saeed instead of tasting Prawn soup. Those 160 souls did not deserve to die. Pakistan is revenge state. For Bangladesh we got Punjab, for Samjhauta Express we got 26/11. Recently, Police says that Pakistan duo are responsible for Zaveri Bazar and Pune blast.

    Shukla just because TOI is promoting this, why are you involved in this? This is non-military and outright pure silly.

  19. OCTOBER 26, 2012: "Indian, American navies carrying out joint drill : For the first time, navies of India and the US are carrying out joint drill to save sailors stuck in submarines during mid-sea mishaps off the coast of Mumbai in an exercise codenamed INDIAEX 2012 [PTI, October 26, 2012]".

    I had objected to the agreement for U.S. help for submarine rescue, on the grounds below, in the past which may have been responsible for the "huge delay in setting up the requisite infrastructure needed for it. [Times of India, October 26, 2012] "

    The essence of submarine operations is keeping their locations secret; the above "joint drill" gives ample opportunities to the Americans to get acoustic and other signatures of Indian submarines and put devices on them to be able to track them and this is the purpose of this "joint drill" -- to render Indian submarines worthless and subject to destruction by the Americans at any time and deprive India of any ability to use submarine-based nuclear weapons. The Indian army, air force and navy are already subject to being disabled and destroyed by the Americans in other ways I have described (such as in 'Indian Air Force Pilots' Murder' : IndianAirForcePilotsMurderDOTblogspotDOTcom ) and this adds another modality to it which will persist beyond the nuclear destruction of New Delhi and of RAW and the traitor army, air force and navy chiefs, etc. The coast-to-coast destruction of the United States that will follow the nuclear destruction of New Delhi, Washington and New York will require all the platforms India can bring to the task and the sabotage of these platforms will stop with the destruction of New Delhi, Washington and New York; till then the Indian and American governments will continue to race to destroy India's weapons platforms.

    OCTOBER 19, 2012: Niggers of the Indian media, such as NDTV, are covering the U.S. presidential debates as if it is the president of India who is being elected. Uninterrupted coverage of the one and a half hour long debate plus an hour before the start of the debate and an hour after the debate ended and the whole performance repeated over and over with endless analyses of the minutiae of the issues and styles and likes and dislikes and what not -- boy, these niggers really know who their masters are but shouldn't they be covering the Indian who is going to carry out the coast-to-coast destruction of this number one enemy country, instead (see below)? Well, they wouldn't be nigger slaves -- millions of whom will be killed in the nuclear destruction of New Delhi -- if they had this much sense. As I have said below, India's media, government and citizenry at large are willing participants in CIA-RAW's crimes against me and against India and deserve to be killed in their billions. IndiasTraitorGovtAndMediaDOTblogspotDOTcom

    Satish Chandra

  20. Dear Colonel Shukla,

    That is a very nice article.

    Predictably the proposal has been poorly received in India. I fear that the Kejriwal culture that holds sway is making it dfficult for even sane voices to articulate the criticism properly.

    While some people are reacting (imo over-reacting) to the presumptuous wording - "nonwithstanding the claims of either country" - I think the bulk of the opposition to the proposal is essentially rooted in a belief that the Pakistan Army is not serious about delineating the AGPL and that it is using this track II process to buy time until it can recover from the destruction at Ghyari.

    As I see it - Pakistani thinking in Saltoro range - is constrained heavily by three things.

    Firstly, the operational limitations of the PAF in Skardu, specifically:

    - the inability of mount close air support from Skardu without a/a refueling - the runway is not long enough for a fully loaded combat craft to take flight and have a usable patrol radius.

    - the inability to maintain such operations in adverse weather conditions.

    - the small numbers of cargo craft that can be detailed at short notice to logistical operations.

    Secondly, the delay in reliable deployment of a long range howitzer platform in the region. This is is due in part to the fact that the Panter and the Norinco SH1 systems were not designed to operate at high altitude and also because it is not easy to drag these things up there without incurring significant costs.

    Thirdly, the unexpected loss of Ghyari. Unless this lost capability can be re-established, there is a very high likelihood that the Pakistani posture in the middle of Saltoro range is completely unsustainable.

    Neither of these issues can resolve easily or quickly.

    It is natural at this point that the Pakistan Army push the pause button and hope that they buy enough time to come up with something that can somehow contain this steady bleeding.

    I know that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is genuine in his desire for peace in the region. I do not know whether any architecture of peace will survive contact with the culture of command irresponsibility that pervades FCNA.

  21. Col.Shukla,
    The idea of changing relations between India and Pakistan (on the face of it) seems to be great. But that is a path that one must tread very carefully in fact.
    Please do not lose sight of the fact that Gen.Kiyani and GHQ are under intense pressure from many quarters now, Ghiyari was just a very small part of that. Shuja Nawaz will be able to attest to that as well. So, all said and done; Kiyani needs some forward movement on Siachen to douse some of the heat below his "sitting apparatus".
    Should India oblige? Not just yet; the time is not right now. Maybe one would be better advised to wait out some time: since major changes are due in the neighborhood to the west. A (possible) change of Govt., Kiyani's handing over of his baton and the pull-out from Afghanistan- all of them are impending and will impact the scenario.
    As a frequent visitor to Pakistan in the 1990s, i can see a lot of changes until now. Its very important that India plays it cool, 'chai-biskoot meetings' along with hearty helpings of biryani is good enough.
    Better to stick to "Lahore-Nama" for now; a while yet for any "Akhir-Nama" to be written.

  22. Friedship of India and Pakistan is a faveriot dream of "Aman ke Asha" by both countries it may countinue with zeal and patriotic Passion all delegation are welcomed with open heart and Houses gates are also unlocked for thier satisfactory stay in Places peace and comfort.


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