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Shams-ul-Iqbal Shams: Pakistani Artist and Calligrapher

Last week was the second time in a year that I had the pleasure of visiting the old campus of International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI). On both these occasions, I was there for an academic conference, and while there was able to view the most exquisite work of Sham-ul-Islam Shams.

Originally from Saidu Sharif, Swat, Mr. Shams was born in 1958 and works as an assistant in the Swat revenue court. In his spare tome, however, he creates masterpieces of contemporary Islamic calligraphy. Mr. Shams comes from a distinguished Muslim family and his father, Fazl-ur-Rehman Faizan, was an author of over twenty-five books including Pashto translations of Sa’adi’s Gulistan and Bostan. All that I have learned is from “my father and the artist M. M. Sharif” says Mr. Shams, in his modest manner, when asked about the progression of his work.

An avid scholar himself, with an extensive collection of rare books in Pashto and other languages, Mr. Shams displays his art freely and has never sold his work for profit. He also has quite a few students in Kabul and usually bears the expenses of his exhibitions out-of-pocket.

Mr. Shams is an expert on all major Arabic scripts including Kufi, Nasta’aliq, Diwani, Shikasta and others and mostly uses natural media (leather, stone, leaves, bones etc.) to produce his works of calligraphy.

Besides his calligraphic art, Mr. Shams also writes poetry in Pashto and has  appeared in various public and televised poetry readings and poetry shows. He is influenced by the works of Rehman Baba and mostly writes Sufi poetry. His father was his firstt poetry teacher.

Mr. Shams is also teaching his art to his two children and hopes to establish a calligraphy institute in swat. “There is not a lot of work being done in this area and not many teachers are available” says Mr. Shams.

Let us hope that his work will be more widely recognized nationally and internationally and that he will be able to pass on his skills and vision to the next generation of Pakistan in general and swat valley in particular.


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US-Pakistan: Latest Accusations, Threats, and Counter-Threats

It was evident a few weeks ago, after the public accusation of Pakistan’s alleged involvements in the attacks on the US embassy in Kabul, that we are now entering a new phase of the unequal relationship between Pakistan and the United States.

The early signs of this change were clear when Admiral Mike Mullen declared that Pakistan was “exporting” terror to neighbouring Afghanistan.” The admiral’s these views, launched an entire array of counter proclamations from all Pakistani circles.

Looking at it in another way, one could easily state that Admiral Mike Mullen’s words, obviously cleared by the highest levels of United States government, are not just words of a frustrated commander whose mission in Afghanistan is seriously bogged down, but also the views of a skittish American establishment that has failed to conclude this long, unending war.

One must also keep in mind that the current situation in Afghanistan is a direct outcome of the way the invasion of Afghanistan was planned and executed (I had published an article to this effect in 2007 but, obviously, no one has ever read it). The ground offensive in the earlier stages of the war was led by US troops but most battles were fought by the foot soldiers of the Northern Alliance. Thus, from the outset, while Afghanistan was being “liberated” the seeds of a future ethnic divide, hatred, and mistrust were already being sown. Let us also not forget that the Northern Alliance did commit numerous recorded atrocities during their invasion of the south.

So, yes it seems that having reached a stalemate, the US is now turning on its own allies in order to apportion blame for their own failures of strategy and tactics. Pressuring Pakistan to launch an offensive against the Haqqani group is wrong strategy, wrong politics, and terrible tactics.

On the strategic level, it is an attempt to expand the current theater of war to Pakistani territories, which would certainly end up expanding the war to a larger area affecting a wider number of people. Tactically, this makes no sense. Why start a new theater of war? Why not stop the terrorists from operating in Pakistan but allow them to move into the theater of war to take them on where the war is. politically, to expect Pakistani government to buckle down and start a new war just because US wants it is based in a myopic policy driven by hubris.

As a further proof of political short-sightedness,  Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asserted that  the United States needs to leave “all options on the table” including a possible invasion in order to bring Pakistan in line with US policy. One other senator, whose name I do not care to remember, also suggested that US relations with Pakistan should be “transactional,” meaning that the US should only give aid to Pakistan in return for services rendered. Well, the honorable senator should know that the US relations with Pakistan have always been transactional and were mostly built by appeasing, establishing, and supporting military dictators, three of them in my lifetime. The US has never tried to build a people-to-people relationship with Pakistan.

So, let us assert once and for all. Pakistan is a sovereign state and is obligated to live by its international obligations but no one, least of all United States, should expect Pakistan to sacrifice its own national interests just to appease the United States.

It is also time that most US leaders took a crash course in humility and patience: thankfully we are still far from that moment in history where everyone lives to serve the mandates of US government and corporations.

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