Jhelum district in Pakistan’s province of Punjab has been the home of the famed Janjua warriors and many other ‘martial’ denominations. This earned the place the moniker of the ‘land of warriors’. Its record of gallantry includes the first Victoria Cross awardee of the British Indian Army, Subedar Khuda Dad Khan, and the first-highest Pakistani military gallantry award (Nishan-e-Haider) recipient, Major Raja Muhammad Akram, as also the likes of the former Pakistani Military Chief and amongst the most professional soldiers, General Asif Nawaz Janjua.
Tucked in this land of soldering is the township of Dina, represented in the Pakistan National Assembly by a stoutly ‘un-martial’, rotund and very voluble, Fawad Chaudhry. His family boasts a long list of politicians, and like many in the domain, Fawad Chaudhry is a serial partyhopper with his rather short career trajectory brimming with a CV that includes significant positions with the former dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf’s All- Pakistan Muslim League, then a switch of loyalties to Pakistan People’s Party, to now in Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf.
The swift mover always managed cushy positions, first as a media coordinator (APML) and then as the special assistant to the Prime Minister for information and political affairs with the status of a minister of state (PPP), to Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting (PTI), to now as the Federal Minister for Science and Technology (PTI). This meteoric rise can be attributed to a deft mix of invoking familial equity, financial affluence, media roles and an uncanny ability to remain in the limelight with provocative statements. Having garnered only 161 votes in his first electoral attempt in the 2002 General Elections, he failed again in his second attempt in 2013, when he represented yet another political party, Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid faction).
In 2016 he lost for the third consecutive time and it was only in the 2018 elections, that the first time winner was able to impress Imran Khan to warrant a ministership, even though he had earlier sworn fidelity to all political parties inimical to Imran Khan himself. Part of his colourful political journey had included shocking statements like suggesting that a senior journalist like Sami Ibrahim would ‘lick his feet like a dog’ ~ a shocking allusion that was paid back with reciprocal indignity when Senator Mushahidullah Khan likened Fawad Khan to a pet dog in a recent National Assembly debate.
Such putrid exchanges and diatribes have been par for the course for Fawad Chaudhry’s brand of politics, and not one to let go of an burning issue. He had issued an unsolicited advice across the border when he tweeted ‘I appeal to all Punjabis in the Indian Army to refuse to be a part of injustice / zulm and deny duty in Kashmir’ While subcontinental politics is rife with cross-border drivel and vile language, with political classes on both sides of the divide making inflammatory remarks, this was an unprecedented low in the scale of ignorance in the ethos of the ‘Punjabis’ in India, and more specifically, of those ‘Punjabis’ in the uniform of the Indian armed forces.
Coming from a supposedly ‘new-age’ and educated Minister of Science and Technology, the suggested implication of his advice was neolithic and replete with the sensibilities of a ignoramus. The statement betrayed the valour of Punjabis per se, it also missed the characteristic trait of the Indian Army that is proudly apolitical, fiercely loyal and above narrow parochialism. The Indian armed forces have an embarrassment of riches in terms of gallantry and service to the nation by the ‘Punjabis’, who serve across the services with much aplomb, élan and dignity.
The region itself has the highest number of regiments that induct the bulk of their soldiers from the region, notably the Punjab Regiment, Sikh Regiment, Sikh Light Infantry, Dogras etc. The sociological- religious context of the term ‘Punjabi’ is also much more expansive than the understanding in Pakistan with an unmatched mix of societal diversity. If the Punjab Regiment claims to be the ‘senior most’, the Sikh Regiment the ‘most decorated’, the Dogras the ‘gentleman soldiers’, the Sikh Light Infantry to have given a two Chief ~ the list of achievements from the region is endless and unparalleled. Even the current Chief of two of the three Armed Force Services, are Punjabis.
More importantly in a uniquely Indian framework, the term ‘Punjabi’ itself has a regional connotation where a General Joginder Jaswant Singh is a ‘Maratha’ officer, whereas a Lt Gen VR Raghavan (retd) would always introduce himself as through-bred ‘Punjabi’ officer. But such secular facets, profundities and professional-attachments are at variance with the provincialism of the ‘Punjabi- Pathan’ stranglehold and cultural features of the Pakistani Military brass, let alone a comeuppance politician like Fawad Chaudhry.
In an unpartisan move, both the leaders of Punjab’s opposition party and Central Minister, Harsimrat Kaur, and the state’s Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who wears his military service as a badge of honour, jointly slammed the pettiness, impetuosity and ignorance of Fawad Chaudhry and his swipe at the Indian ‘Punjabis’. It is another matter that the man who was the face of tearing apart Pakistan into two nations in 1971, was a ‘Punjabi’ officer, Lt Gen JS Aurora ~ both in the narrow regional-cultural sense that the Pakistanis understand, and in the soldering sense that the Indians understand i.e. belonging to the Punjab Regiment.
Punjabis across the Line of Control have had a noble tradition that dates back to the Battle of Hydaspes that pitted Alexander with Porus, but sadly that is a tradition that is forgotten by those who to seek to poison the history with ignoble, inglorious and unheroic agendas likeFawad Chaudhry. In many ways his statement was reflective of the incorrigible duplicity that besets Pakistan, irrespective of the nomenclature ‘Naya Pakistan’. Professional soldiers fight fair and square, they do not indulge in politicking or imploring. That is the wont of desperate and reckless politician s who can easily trade loyalty and izzat (honour), like Fawad Chaudhry.
(The writer is Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)