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Daily Times

Published Date: Jun 19, 2012


Manto is as astonishingly prescient today as he was in his own times. It is necessary to rescue and revive the authentic Manto today to challenge the historic and postmodern caricatures of his work in the context of patron-client Pak-US relationship, said Beaconhouse National University (BNU) lecturer and literary critic Raza Naeem while speaking at the seminar “Manto’s Uncle Sam in his time, and in ours”. It was organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Monday.

Renowned writer and senior SDPI adviser Ahmad Salim chaired the proceedings. Civil-military relations analyst and Adviser to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman Dr Ayesha Siddiqa also spoke on the occasion.

Raza said the year 2012 marks the centennial anniversary of the birth of the great Pakistani writer and social critic, Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-55). He said Manto was the only writer who saw the US policy of arming fundamentalism against communism across the globe and faced the threat of religious fundamentalism and imperialist Uncle Sam simultaneously.

He said Manto wrote these letters when the contours of the Pakistani foreign policy were shaping by un-elected representatives. “His nine letters are remarkable documents of history, politics, and literature which are relevant not only in the Pak-US context but also in the global context of American imperialism,” he added. He said Manto and his work never enjoyed state patronage in contrast to other icons of Pakistani literary establishment like Mirza Ghalib, Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Faiz Ahmad Faiz. He said Manto could not be marginalised completely, despite being prosecuted with the trumped-up charges relating to ‘obscenity and immorality’. He said state’s response to Manto is marked with apathy and Pakistan’s literary establishment, at times, accepted him as a progressive as well as a prude. This attitude continues to the present day, he added.

Talking of Manto’s life and legacy, he said Manto has been unfairly bracketed merely as a short story writer, despite the fact that he had a rich humanistic, progressive and anti-imperialistic vision, which strongly comes out in works like “Letters to Uncle Sam” and his earliest collections of stories and essays. “Manto’s deep sympathy with Karl Marx and communism is also insufficiently appreciated by literary critics,” he said and added that one eminent literary critic has recently even labeled him as a cultural plank of Pakistan ideology or “Pakistaniat”.

Salim said Manto wrote the precious letters when Pakistan was going to decide its fortunes under its foreign policy-making process during the 1950s. He said the country joined the American bloc by signing different pacts amid supporting the right world while opposing the left wing.

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa said it was sad that such a great and rich writer could not get recognition and remembrance in Pakistan. She said Manto’s letters beautifully reflect the early development of politics and foreign policy in Pakistan and its relevance with today’s Pak-US “client-patron relationship”. She was of the view that Manto, through his letters, criticised and assessed American foreign policy and its strong hegemony over Pakistan through the instrument of aid and its nexus with Pakistani ruling elites. Dr Ayesha lamented that Pakistan never re-assessed its foreign policy choices to make the country economically sovereign through self-reliance instead the policy-makers especially the military dictators reinforced country’s dependency on foreign support and reliance.

“Are we ready to genuinely re-assess our foreign policy options today or are we searching for another form of deep-rooted patron-client relationship with the US which Manto challenged through his letters,” she questioned.