A couple of interesting articles for Saturday

1. The Five Bridges of Waziristan:

When work began on the USAID road in the mid 1980s, nobody knew if the Soviets would ever be defeated in Afghanistan. So the planning was for the long war, down to the last Pashtun.
Thus the farm-to-market road the USAID was building in Wana was something unheard of in that part of Pakistan. It was nearly 15 meters wide and tough enough to weather the summer monsoon and occasional snow in the winter.
By late 1980s the nearly 20-kilometer-long road was complete and preparations were under way to build the five bridges, which were necessary to cross the perennial stream that traversed the road in many places. The stream would turn into a torrent whenever it rained in the Wana valley or the surrounding mountains. But the bridges weren’t built.
In the early 1990s, communism had been successfully defeated in neighboring Afghanistan, but it was replaced by anarchy and a fratricidal civil war. The U.S. foreign-policy establishment became less interested in a bloody civil war in a distant land. Politicians and strategists in Washington concluded that they had won “the war” — the Berlin Wall had fallen, and the Iron Curtain had come down.
And that is why the five bridges were never built. Warlords were left to fight it out to decide who was most suited to occupy Arg — the presidential palace in Kabul. Waziristan and the rest of the tribal agencies merged into the Afghan battle space and turned into laboratories for a new kind of warfare in the 21st century.

2. This diatribe against Sufism by an Oxford educated Pakistani physicist which is very relevant given the several articles pushing Sufism in Pakistan that have been in publications like The Economist, Smithsonian Magazine, etc, recently. Basically Mr. Sabieh Anwar is against any form of Islam that seeks parity (at a disadvantage) with the Western Imperialists. To him, mysticism is only useful insofar as it is a tool for seeking political power:

The difference between the “mystic” and the “prophetic” experiences is best exemplified in the Prophet’s (pbuh) Ascension, or mairaj. On that very night his mystic experience was of the highest calibre: seeing the Divine Presence unveiled. But this beatific effulgence was important for the Prophet (pbuh) in another respect as well.

The union did not teach him dissolution; rather it consolidated his mission. In his subsequent life, in addition to spiritually and morally cleansing the hearts of his peoples, the Prophet (pbuh) was to prepare the most disciplined nation of its times. Iqbal (d 1938) teaches us the same moral from the Ascension, that although the unitive experience is transient, it “leaves a deep sense of authority as it has passed away”. Mysticism can thus be used as a locked treasure to conquer matter as well as the spirit.

Compared to this, what use is mysticism that enraptures and intoxicates the soul but doesn’t affirm and consolidate it? The prophetic experience teaches us to not be satisfied with inner transformation. It is in the same vein, that we can understand Iqbal when he writes the following verse to the Sufi of his times.

Your vision sees only a world of miracles,
My vision however sees a spectacle of obstacles.
Agreed, the world of imagination is full of fancy,
But fancier is my stage of life and many deaths.
It is longing for your transforming gaze

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