Friday, September 02, 1994
The liberal Ideals of A.S. Bokhari – I
With the appearance of the memorial volume on A.S. Bokhari, edited by Anwar (Shabnam) Dil, Pakistani (and Indian) readers have, for the first time perhaps, come across an ideological aspect of the man who has always been known more as a humorous conversationalist than as a politically and socially committed intellectual.
The book is entitled On this Earth Together - Ahmed S. Bukhari at UN, 1950-1958. It is published by Book Service, San Diego, California, and Islamabad, Karachi, Kuala Lumpur, a firm which specializes in Pakistani linguistic and allied studies. Compiled and edited by Anwar Dil, the book bears an introduction of Ralph T. Bunche, Nobel Laureate, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations.
At the inaugural ceremony of the book in Lahore (AI-Hamra, August 20), presided over by Mr Mohammad Hanif Ramay, all the speakers emphasized the role of A.S. Bukhari in the various positions he occupied in his life, as a liberal, humanistic, creative teacher and a propounder of cosmic consciousness.
Mr Hanif Ramay, one of those who had the privilege of being Bukhari's students, described Bukhari as an "original man", as a "complete man" and as a "Renaissance man". This has already been revealed in the man's work as teacher, litterateur, and organiser of Indian broadcasting before 1947. But it was in his capacity as a representative of Pakistan at the UN, and later as the head of the information department of the UN, that Bukhari showed how deeply he was committed to the ideas and ideals of social and political liberation of mankind and especially of the oppressed countries of the Third World.
Already in April 1952, as President of the Security Council, A.S. Bukhari had revealed the depth of his commitment to the liberation of colonial countries when he espoused the cause of the Tunisian people in their struggle against the French colonisers.
But in his briefing for interns at the UN headquarters, he summarised the basic meaning that the organisation of the UN had for him - and many leaders of public opinion in the Third World at that time, and even today.
He begins by talking about the original and chief purpose for which the UN was formed and how the East-West conflict, which had exploded as a worldwide phenomenon by then (August 1952), was driving all the nations in the organisation away from that supreme purpose, namely that there should be no major war in the world. The paradoxical nature of this trend was emphasised by him by pointing out that it was "the big five" - the great nations of the world - which had originally formed the United Nations with the purpose stated above.
Bukhari goes on to discuss how in the western world as a whole it had become a truism to believe that "had Mr Karl Marx and Mr Josef Stalin not been born everything would be easy. That is not so. I have no doubt that there are certain difficulties, and conflicts which have arisen because of the birth and the historical role played by these two gentlemen, but the problems created by their ideology loom so large that a large number of people too easily think, that is the main, the only, the real difficulty in the world. I assure you that that is not so."
And then he goes on to the basic problems of the post-war world as they appear to the Third World countries:
"There are two other sources of difficulties in the world. Two other sources which might lead, can lead, and have led to large-scale unrest, to the breach of peace, and general deterioration of international security, to a general questioning of international morality."
It is in defining the terms of the real source of international tensions and conflicts that Bukhari has laid down the fundamental problem of the entire so-called cold war period and the period that is still going on. These conflicts are related to the problems of world poverty, and especially the poverty of Third World countries.
"First of all," he says, "there is the economic backwardness of a large number of countries. And secondly, there is the question which is vaguely described by the term colonialism. "
Both these problems are related to the economic disabilities imposed by history on the underdeveloped countries. Given this state of under-development, these countries cannot fulfill their responsibilities in the United Nations, nor can they play their real role in a comity of independent, sovereign and equal nations. What are the difficulties in their way which prevent them from discharging their responsibilities?
This is how Bukhari spells it out. And from the terms in which he poses the problem it is easy to find out why he was called a "communist" in certain lobbies at the UN.
He said: “We have just, most of us, recently acquired independence after, in some cases, two to three centuries of foreign domination. What happened during these two centuries in countries like America and Europe? These two centuries were the very centuries in which the foundations were laid for what we now look upon as the industrial age in this world. These were the centuries in which new scientific discoveries were exploited, technologically for the forming of the new society. This society then, the people who belong to this society in Europe, more particularly in America, because of their great enterprise, exploited it fully, and became quite, deservedly one of the strongest, the most well-fed, the most prosperous nations in the world.
"It was exactly during these two centuries or so that most of the countries of which I speak were under foreign domination, with the minimum of progress that was permitted them. So that when these foreign rules terminated, the countries emerged into independence and they were told, 'Now you are free and independent and equal in all respects to the mightiest nations on earth.' But they found that their standard of living was what was left over after they (the dominators) had used all the resources for their own ends.
"When a nation is poor to begin with, its savings are very small. That is what a poor nation means, that it uses up all that it produces and even then they are not very well fed. But it has no savings. Could it increase its savings? Yes, it could. The USSR after the revolution did so. The people were poor, but it saved."
Bukhari goes on to discuss how for a revolutionary change as broad and sweeping as in the USSR a dictatorial form of the state had to be imposed. And that can be a very unpleasant process.
"We say, we hope that is not the only way - so we give up, think along other lines. There is no other way left, after that, except international aid from countries in parts of the world that can afford to do so."
Then Bukhari suggests the responsibility of countries like America. It is like taxing the rich to help the poor within a nation:
"In the beginning, when a rich man was taxed more than a poor man, he always thought that he was being called upon to be charitable for the sake of people who would not work and did not deserve any better. 'Why should I,' the rich man would have said, 'be taxed in order to help a Bowery Bum who does not work and whose morale is low? He should be made to work. And if he doesn't work, then he should get what's coming to him.' We do not think along these terms at all now. The world has progressed far enough for people to tax the rich, unquestioningly. We are supposed to live within a democratic formula, 'from each according to his power, to each according to his need'."
America can, in the opinion of Bukhari, set the pace: "We still think that if a great country like America gave away some of its' wealth, some of its knowledge, some of its technical information to other countries, the question would be what do they get for it? The answer is nothing. You merely get a better, healthier international picture. You get a more organised society. Isn't that worth having?...our view is that if such a reorganisation of the resources of the world is a responsibility of the United Nations it is a responsibility of its most powerful members."
But, points out Bukhari, the world is still infested with 'colonialism' or its evil effects, described above. And, along with 'colonialism' there are struggles against it in Africa and Asia and other regions. There are actual and incipient revolutions going on in various countries of the Third World.
The world is thus divided into two opposing trends: Well, there are large numbers of these incipient revolutions going on, revolutions against tyranny, revolutions against exploitation, revolutions against the vestiges of an outdated way of thinking. Naturally, those who are in power, that is, some of the colonial powers, think differently. And throughout the United Nations, you will find these two opposing camps, these two opposing views. On the one side you will find large countries covering more than half the population of the world, who have been recently liberated from domination (by recently I mean the last ten, twenty, thirty years) and who feel very strongly about other countries similarly situated which are not free yet. On the other side, are the countries with colonial interests who do not wish to let them go easily."
What Bukhari suggests in this world situation is for the United Nations, and the big five who founded it, to create a peaceful world, free of tension and free of conflicts, to voluntarily organise the revolutionary transformation of humanity. He poses the question squarely:
"If these revolutions, real, small, incipient, are taking place all over the world, I ask you is it not better that they should take place within the United Nations? Or is it better that they should take place outside the United Nations: Our answer undoubtedly is, within the United Nations. Let's bring them here so that the whole of the world can watch the revolution, can advise the two parties involved in the conflict, can guide them with collective wisdom... And after all, what is the United Nations for, if revolutions cannot be arranged here?"
Having brought his listeners to this seemingly shocking conclusion Bukhari takes them back to the "mother of revolution".
"Well, up to about the 17th century, everybody looked upon a revolutionist as a rebel: he was a criminal, he was guilty of treachery. He should be killed, shut up or cast away... Then came a day, I can give you the date, it was the 4th of July - there came a day when a very brave and strong people said, 'Revolution, if you are under a rule of tyranny, is our birthright. From hence, let no one look down upon revolution as a crime. It's man's cry for freedom and he has the right to make that cry.' And so the 'idea of revolution as a justified moral action against tyranny was accepted by the world. The French revolution came later on, then the Mexican revolution. Then the Russian revolution."
Bukhari concludes this paradoxical position in which he has involved his audience – and the American people as a whole – by declaring: “the United States of America…The one country in the world that invented, shall I say, the revolution.”
The Bukhari logic, as demonstrated here, is the old paradoxical way of putting things for which had been known all his life, as a teacher, as a humorist, as an intellectually progressive government official. Through this logic he had tried to put the burden of responsibility for the carrying out of the revolutionary tasks in the Third World on the shoulders of the United States. Some Americans and westerners, called it perverted logic. But with the movement of time the westerners as a whole have learnt to recognize the soundness of his mode of reasoning.