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What's in a name?

What's in a name?

Author: Rahimullah Yusufzai
Publication: The Jang
Date: February 24, 2006
URL: http://www.jang.com.pk/thenews/feb2006-daily/24-02-2006/oped/o4.htm

One never knows when the uneasy relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan will take a turn for the worse. Such is the uncertain state of their ties that points of disagreements crop up suddenly and from the least likely of sources. That is the only way to interpret the recent complaint coming from Kabul about the naming of Pakistani ballistic missiles after Afghan war heroes.

Afghanistan's information minister Makhdoom Raheen said a letter had been sent to Islamabad through the Afghan foreign ministry to complain about using the names of Afghan warrior-kings Mohammad Ghauri and Ahmad Shah Abdali for medium- and long-range nuclear-capable missiles manufactured by Pakistan. It seems he forgot to mention another legendary Afghan king, Mahmood Ghaznavi, who invaded undivided India 17 times and destroyed scores of Hindu temples including the most famous and revered one at Somnath. Pakistan has already made it known that the next generation of its expanding missile arsenal will be named after Ghaznavi.

The minister means business and that is why he has gone public with his complaint. He said Pakistan was welcome to use the names of Afghan heroes for peaceful things like monuments, conference rooms and historical places. But he is unhappy that weapons of mass destruction and other war equipment were being named after people occupying an exalted position in Afghan history.

Minister Makhdoom Raheen's complaint illustrates the testy nature of Pak-Afghan relations. The two neighbouring countries are forever watching each other and reacting to events that take place within their borders. Pakistan hasn't reacted to the complaint yet but government officials in Islamabad will no doubt be feeling embarrassed the way the Afghan minister has chosen to highlight the issue.

Makhdoom Raheen didn't say it but his publicly voiced complaint clearly showed that his government considers Ghauri, Abdali and Ghaznavi as exclusively Afghan heroes and gets touchy if other countries and nations start using their names out of pride to enhance the value of an achievement. In a way, it was to remind Islamabad that it should look for indigenous Pakistani heroes or subcontinental Muslim names while naming its lethal weaponry. It shows that we are short of heroes and have to borrow from across the border to overcome the shortage. It is a timely reminder for us to start searching for genuine heroes from our own history, which no doubt is interlinked with that of Afghanistan but has run into problems following the claims coming out of Kabul.

Makhdoom Raheen needs to be reminded that Ghauri, Abdali and Ghaznavi are very much part of Indian, and for that matter Pakistani, history due to their frequent forays into the subcontinent. Many Muslims in the subcontinent consider them their heroes for liberating them from Hindu and Sikh rule and establishing Muslim power. It is widely believed they were requested to invade India to rescue the Muslims. Though there are some modern Muslim historians and intellectuals who accuse Ghauri, Abdali and Ghaznavi of invading India for its riches and blame them for the death and destruction that their countless invasions inflicted on the people in the plains of the rivers Indus and Ganges, the majority differs with this view and considers them saviours.

It is no secret that Pakistan deliberately named its ballistic missiles after Afghan conquerors because they time and again defeated Hindu warriors and conquered India. Its India-specific missile arsenal, made to match similar Indian weaponry, bears the names of Ghauri, Abdali and Ghaznavi who sowed fear in the hearts of Indian people of yore through their destructive military campaigns.

Though all weapons of mass destruction ought to be banished from the face of the earth, naming them after warriors makes sense in this jingoistic world. After all, nuclear-capable missiles with a range of 1,500 kilometres cannot have trendy and innocuous names. Both Pakistan and India have chosen the names of warrior-kings for their formidable missiles and will continue doing so until the governments in Islamabad and New Delhi realise the futility of spending so much of their meagre resources on weapons and so little on meeting the basic needs of their people.

It is also unbelievable that an Afghan of all people is talking about using the names of warriors such as Ghauri, Abdali and Ghaznavi for peaceful things. Minister Makhdoom Raheen is an intellectual and well aware of the violent and turbulent Afghan history. The Afghans have been fighting all their life. It is said the only time they aren't fighting among themselves is when they are resisting invaders. Not long ago, the Afghans would conquer neighbouring countries and establish their colonies. For the last 28 years, Afghanistan has experienced wars and suffering. Twice the country was invaded, first by the former Soviet Union in December 1979 and then in October 2001 by the US. In between there have been civil wars, struggles for power and foreign interference. For a people so used to war, it is refreshing to hear an Afghan minister trying to open a new page in history by shunning the past and talking of peace. It can only be hoped that peace will endure and all those fighting Makhdoom Raheen's and President Hamid Karzai's government and its US-led western sponsors will be embraced in a spirit of national reconciliation and brought into the political mainstream.

Still it would look odd if a park, conference hall or a road was named after Ghauri, Abdali or Ghaznavi. Though Abdali was also a Pashto poet and Ghaznavi and Ghauri gave scholars pride of place in their courts, their main claim to fame was their prowess in the battlefield.

It would be more fitting if a military academy, a garrison or a new weapon was named after them. One hopes and prays that Afghanistan too is able to manufacture new weaponry that can be named after legendary Afghan heroes.

To start with, the Afghan government could name some of their old forts or upcoming garrisons and military academies after Ghauri, Abdali and Ghaznavi. It would be a lasting tribute to men who lived by their swords.

The writer is an executive editor of The News International based in Peshawar

Email: bbc@pes.comsats.net.pk

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