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I am already a part of politics, just not electoral politics: Hamza Ali Abbasi’s ‘politically incorrect’ interview with GVS

GVS sat down with Hamza Ali Abbasi for an interesting discussion on being politically incorrect, his suspicions on PTM, item numbers, his growing attachment to religion, and his social media activism.

electoral politics
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The man who could very well be described as the Jack of all trades. He was a police officer from Pakistan’s Central Superior Services, who left to become an actor in Pakistan’s film and TV industry, he has also turned his hand towards directing and is now anchoring a Current Affairs show on BOL TV.

GVS: Most actors are very politically correct, yet you seem to take a stand on everything. Why is that?

Hamza: I don’t blame any actors or actresses for being politically correct. The problem is that, when you are an actor or an actress and you take political sides, you end up losing brand endorsements. For example, at one point in time, I was representing about 6-7 brands, which is a very major source of income for actors and actresses. So, you end up losing that.

“When you are an actor or an actress and you take political sides, you end up losing brand endorsements”

Companies don’t care about our personal political choices, but they don’t want us to be so publically vocal about political issues. I don’t blame corporations either, because, for example, let’s take whatever I said about Altaf Hussain – so Karachi has a certain share of the market if I am representing a mobile company and if I talk about Altaf Hussain publicly, his followers and those of the MQM will want to throw me out and it may affect those brands I am endorsing.

Read more: New Islamabad Airport should be named after Edhi: Hamza Ali Abbasi

GVS: But it hasn’t influenced you. You haven’t toned down, you’ve just given up those brand endorsements.

Hamza: I would like to believe that there is a new depth in me, that I have discovered, with time. With that being said, I understood this spectacular verse by Iqbal, which says, ‘death is better than the livelihood that hinders your ascent’. So, I feel it as a personal insult for myself, I choose to say or not to say something, purely for money.

GVS: When you say that you have found a new depth within you, what brought that change where you feel that depth?

Hamza: I say it very openly, that it’s religion. I consider myself a reconvert. I was very far from religion and very skeptical about it but, then the closer I have come to religion, I feel that I can sense more depth in myself.

Read more: Hamza Ali Abbasi Asks the censor board to Grow Up

GVS: You have become closer to religion, what has driven that?

Hamza: Well, I have always asked myself existential questions: Why are we here? What is our purpose? What is the earth? What is the universe? I have always asked these questions. This led to me identifying myself as an agnostic back in my teenage years. But more recently, asking these questions and looking for their answers, has brought me back towards religion.

GVS: Is it the clear belief of right and wrong (that religion tells us), which makes you take these outright positions on certain issues?

Hamza: There are two things, when you do believe in a God, and I am not claiming to be a very good believer because I am not, but when you have a firm belief in the inevitability of certain things, I think it brings about certain behavioral changes in you. Number one, if I believe that I will, one day, stand accountable to this Supreme Being for everything and he asks, ‘When I gave you money, what did you do with it? And when I gave you fame, what did you do with it? People were influenced by you, what did you do with it?’, then that belief makes me think can be wrong too, I am not Socrates. Whenever I feel positive about something instinctively, I call it right and whenever I feel negative about something instinctively, I call it wrong. Whenever I stand corrected, I also revisit my own views, definitely.

“At one point in time, I used to love item numbers”

GVS: So, is it this new-found belief in God, the reason why you said that you don’t believe in item numbers?

Hamza: At one point in time, I used to love item numbers. I used to promote them. In fact, there was a time when I was making a small independent film, where I wanted to perform an item number myself. But yeah, you change. Then I realized that item numbers are a huge slander to women. When I talk about equality, I am an actor and I’m judged on my acting skills, but why is a woman only used for the contours of her body? I think it’s the lowest form of entertainment, even calling it an art is not right. What do you achieve with it? You make a woman sing and dance in a seductive way. What do you get with it? That isn’t art or creativity. This has always been happening, in the Greeks, Romans and Mughals times, throughout the world.

“Why is a woman only used for the contours of her body?”

I think it’s a very instinctive low form of entertainment, which causes us harm. I understand that women should have the biggest issue with this, they want to be cast on the basis of their acting skills and talent. What justification do we give for showing an item number?  This is bad.

“I’ve been speaking against item numbers since the past four years, for which I have been branded a mullah, disco mullah and pseudomullah”

Today I am very happy – I’ve been speaking against item numbers since the past four years, for which I have been branded a mullah, disco mullah and pseudomullah, and today I feel joy, that even India is distancing itself from item numbers. There is Shabana Azmi, who took a big stand against this even though she, herself has been performing these in her time, and now, she is also, raising her voice against item numbers. There are various people who are now coming out against this. Films can perform well without item numbers. Was there an item number in PK? Was there one in Piku? In Bajrangi? Was there one in 3 Idiots? No. So, merely to show ourselves as being able to take our clothes off, I don’t think that’s a step forward, in fact it is a step backwards in the evolution of culture and art.

“Films can perform well without item numbers.”

GVS: You have said that you don’t want to work in films that have a western ideology or go against our culture. What do you think our culture is?

Hamza: Yeah, I say that Pakistan has two diseases. If we get rid of these, we will remain very happy. The first one consists of religious extremists and the other is liberal extremists. Both of these are cancerous for Pakistan’s culture and also, for its social fabric. Why do you have to choose an extreme? Either you perform item numbers and get naked or you just stop making films altogether? There’s a middle ground too. For example, how many Maulvis do you find in Iran? They are present in the government itself but, don’t they shoot films there? Their movies bag Academy awards, which we can’t even fathom.

“That’s why, we need to think outside the box that we have created; either you are Khadim Hussain Rizvi or you are a liberal extremist. We should step out of these boxes and see what comes to us naturally.”

That’s why, we need to think outside the box that we have created; either you are Khadim Hussain Rizvi or you are a liberal extremist. We should step out of these boxes and see what comes to us naturally. This is what religion tells you to be – natural. You can use different forms of art for either the wrong values or the right values.. My focus is on doing films that I can watch comfortably with my mother. If I can’t watch it with my family, I can’t do it.

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GVS: Are Pakistani movies able to generate the soft sell of Pakistan the way Bollywood manages to do for India?

Hamza: Yes, of course. 80% of the movies made, give a positive image of Pakistan.

GVS: Do you think ISPR-funded movies can achieve that soft sell?

Hamza: Yes they can. You see, the audience is different. I think the movies ISPR previously made, were for their own audience, not for the foreign audience. It was about what kind of war it is, what are we doing about it and even, about their own image and the great sacrifices made by the army. For sure, many sacrifices. People call me a bootlicker and I’m a very proud bootlicker. Had the army not been there, we would have been ripped into pieces by now. Current movies have a different approach, ISPR has a different audience. The other films Jawani Phir Nahin Aani, Namaloom Afraad and all these films. Motorcycle girl’s about to get released; Cake is a great example. All of these, perhaps, give a positive image. We have amazing directors in the film industry.

GVS: How did you end up in movies? Was this a natural desire you always had as a child?

Hamza: I love acting; it has always been a passion. I did a lot of theatre before movies. I was also in the Police as it was my mother’s wish, but even the people at the CSS believed that I won’t be able remain there for long. They were right – I completed my training and then I left. At that time my friend was making Waar. He was like ‘Man, you’re already in the police, this has a role for a policeman. You even have a uniform, just do it’. So, I took the role.

GVS: You have on social media, several million people following you; do you feel a sense of responsibility of what you say on Facebook?

Hamza: Yes, now I do. I used to be very raw with what I used to say, and I used to say whatever I felt – which made my comments very controversial as well. But now, I realize that whatever I try to say might not be transferred to the audience in the way I intend or the people who listen to me might not understand what I meant.

“They define heroes for us and they define villains for us”

GVS: Why has Facebook closed down your account several times? Was there a reason?

Hamza: Yeah. Because they define heroes for us and they define villains for us.

GVS: When you say ‘they’, who’s ‘they’?

Hamza: The U.S. and the western corporations, they have different heroes. Burhan Wani Shaheed is a hero for me, but for Facebook, U.S, India and the West, he is a terrorist. So when I uploaded his pictures, after he got martyred in Kashmir, they deactivated my account thrice. Because, according to them I uploaded pictures of a terrorist.

“Burhan Wani Shaheed is a hero for me, but for Facebook, U.S, India and the West, he is a terrorist”

GVS: How did you get your account back? How did you fight them?

Hamza: The first time they suspended my account, they said that they’re doing it for a day, as a warning. So when I got my account back, I took a screenshot of the email and I put it up on Facebook to show their hypocrisy. This man is my hero, how can you stop me from posting?

Then, they shut it down further for three days, warning me to not repeat this or else they would delete it permanently. I repeated the whole thing again and they suspended my account for a week, threatening again, with permanent deletion. Then, I did it again and they stopped emailing me about this, neither did they close down my account. Maybe, they changed their mind or maybe they didn’t care anymore.

GVS: You have moved into current affairs, hosting a TV show, is this an expression of the political dimension in your life?

Hamza: I have always been very vocal because we live in a country like Pakistan. Had we been living in a country like Canada, Austria or Sweden, they don’t really have problems, and we just live your lives and focus on them. But when you live in a country like Pakistan, you have to focus on issues. It is our responsibility, for people like you and me.

I think speaking up about what you believe in is a responsibility of every Pakistani belonging to our class.”

A poor laborer, who hardly earns meals for twice a day, won’t talk about these problems, neither will he talk about social issues nor will he strive to raise awareness. People like us, who have been given so much money and time by Allah, can spare time to talk about these things and be vocal about these things; it is our duty. If we don’t play our role, then the society won’t change.

That is why; I think speaking up about what you believe in is a responsibility of every Pakistani belonging to our class. Unfortunately, we face a tragedy, which most of the Pakistanis from our class are unaware or they aren’t interested. ‘Let’s not talk about this. Let’s not talk about politics’. Even if they are interested, they don’t want to actively raise awareness about issues. So, that’s a big tragedy.

I joined Bol, because the opinions I used to share on social media, I found it better to take them to a mainstream TV platform. And one thing that was a condition for me at Bol, which they have respected, was that they would never tell me what to say. So, one thing I cherish about Bol is the complete and unconditional freedom.

“I am already a part of politics, just not electoral politics.”

GVS: Do you see yourself joining politics in the future?

Hamza: I am already a part of politics, just not electoral politics. I have a bigger impact doing what I’m doing. Electoral politics is very different. It has no principles. In that, even if you are one of the greatest people on earth, you see yourself losing votes from a whole neighborhood because you missed a funeral. So that’s a completely different ballgame. If I enter electoral politics, I will end up being stuck in that, going to weddings, funerals, and so on.

In addition, I consider myself a political activist and if I go into electoral politics, there will be a lot thing that I can’t say because I have to go with the popular opinion.

GVS: Imran Khan was a social activist and decided to join electoral politics because he thought that he would achieve more, do you think he is wrong?

Hamza: No, he’s not wrong, because he has a realistic chance of actually attaining power. You have to have power to change things. And now with a rock on his heart, he does a lot of things he doesn’t want to do. I know him personally, I know there are so many things he has to do, which he would never do if he wasn’t into electoral politics.

“I absolutely despised it when Amir Liaquat joined PTI”

Hamza: There are so many people who he has to sit and interact with, while keeping a smile on his face, which he would never do himself. I don’t think I want to or I have to do this.  I’ve seen Imran Khan, who I support with all my heart and soul just, because he isn’t corrupt. I absolutely despised it when Amir Liaquat joined PTI, I told him that and I publicly say it. A man like that, is doing a Shab-e-Miraj transmission on Bol. I judge Pakistani people on that actually, it’s not even Amir Liaquat’s fault- they are ones watching him.

“Make Multan a province, make Lahore a province, and make Karachi a province.”

GVS: Right now, the issue that, Pakistan needs more provinces is very much in the media. What is your take on it? Do you think they will break up the country?

Hamza: Provinces will not break up the country, but if you keep people deprived, that will break up the country. You should make smaller provinces and, simultaneously, raise awareness in people. What I believe is that they shouldn’t be made on ethnic basis. If it was in my hands, like I’ve told Khan Sahib and many other people, that the 32 or 34 divisions that we have, should be called the new provinces. There should be small provinces with small administrative units. Make Multan a province, make Lahore a province, and make Karachi a province.

GVS: How do you counteract the argument that it would lead to a multiplication of government’s administrative expenses?

Hamza: Look at how small a country Switzerland is, it’s hardly the size of Karachi maybe. It has 36 provinces – cantons. There is a very frail argument that expenses will increase, how will they increase? The province will generate the expenses itself. You make them economically independent and you give them jurisdiction on their resources, the rest will be handled by the province itself, its Chief Minister and its assembly.

It is a worldwide fact that the smaller a unit is, the better its governance will be. Punjab houses a population of 12 crore, had it been a country it would have been the fourth or fifth largest country of the world. You can’t have a province of 12 crore with just one Chief Minister, that results in deprivation of the people.

South Punjab politicians, rightly, removed themselves from the PML-N. They were promised to be given certain packages and development, in exchange of their support. But they saw nothing happen in five years. You go to South Punjab; Bakkar, Kabirwala, Jhang, Muzaffargarh and the whole of this belt, it is more devastated than interior Sindh. So, if you treat them in such a way, that is exactly what will happen, because they have to go back and answer their people. There are so many people, they came in on their own basis, and they came in on their own vote, they don’t need Noon League. How will they answer their people tomorrow? I don’t know if they even do anything for South Punjab, but they have to be answerable to their people.

GVS: What are your thoughts on the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement?

Hamza: The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement and FATA’s issues, is something that concerns all of us. PTI, PPP and social activists, all of us want things to happen. For example, the Senate recently passed a bill extending Peshawar’s Supreme and High court to FATA. All of us are asking for the FATA merger into KPK; a bill was passed, the army’s doing the same, Imran Khan has said that he will ensure the removal of FCR from the area and reduction of check-posts. These are matters that all of us are actively pressing on and discussing.

“The issue arises when Pashteen Sahib, all day long, curses the Pakistani army and calls them terrorists.”

The problem I have with the whole Pashtun Tahafuz Movement is that, sure you have grievances and you have issues which, you should talk about, because you have the right to, you should demand for your rights because you have the right to, and you should carry long marches because you have the right to but, this exists whether you are Pashtun, Sindhi, Punjabi, or Balochi. The issue arises when Pashteen Sahib, all day long, curses the Pakistani army and calls them terrorists. They claim that the Pakistani army makes terrorists and that is my concern. That’s when I find the movement and Pashteen Sahib suspicious. When Pashteen Sahib stands and uses slogans such as ‘Uniforms are behind terrorism and uniforms are behind violence’, I immediately react, thinking ‘No you don’t do that.’ In addition, videos have surfaced with his supporters standing en-masse, shouting ‘What do we want? ‘Freedom. Freedom from Bajwa’. If the movement has such sloganeering, I am forced to wonder, what is actually happening here?

“They claim that the Pakistani army makes terrorists and that is my concern. That’s when I find the movement and Pashteen Sahib suspicious.”

GVS: Can people not criticize the army?

Hamza: They can criticize, I criticize the army myself, but there is a way to do that. You can criticize your army and talk about what they’re doing wrong, but how can you call your army ‘terrorists’? Are we forgetting that Pakistan is escaping a brutal proxy war? We are winning, our enemies are losing – where is TTP now? Who reached up till the hills of Islamabad and who have been playing football with the heads of our slaughtered Pashtun brothers…

Everybody knows what the ‘Khooni Chawk’ in Swat was and it is public knowledge that the first suicide attack was done on the army in 2006. Has the army not been attacked enough times? So you are going through such a big proxy war, even other countries like Syria are barely surviving, that too, because Russia, China, and the Iranians are there, but even so, it is barely surviving. Did Iraq survive? No it didn’t. Did Afghanistan? No. Did Yemen? No.

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I think that there is certainly a number of motives involved here, the number one being the isolation of Pashtuns. Pakistanis vs. Pashtuns, the way they tried Pakistanis vs. Baloch. There was, also, a time with a Shia-Sunni divide, they worked in interior Sindh – ‘Jiye Sindh Mahaz, saying that Sindhis are separate and we don’t care about Pakistan. Now I think they’re hitting the Pashtuns.

The second thing that they’re trying to do, is spread resentment against the Pakistani Army, claiming that the army practices terrorism and Pakistanis support the TTP and that, even, Daesh supports the army. Oh for God’s sake, you do not say that. I have grievances, I want the army to reduce the check-posts there and bring stability through civil administration. I’m going to sit with Global Village Space and openly criticize the army, that they made a huge blunder and that they went and bombarded the place on the orders of America.

“I’m going to sit with Global Village Space and openly criticize the army, that they made a huge blunder and that they went and bombarded the place on the orders of America. I am criticizing the army but if I sit here and start screaming and claiming that the uniforms are behind terrorism, is there is a difference between me and them?”

I am criticizing the army but if I sit here and start screaming and claiming that the uniforms are behind terrorism, is there is a difference between me and them? You should criticize but when you shout such slogans that are dangerous for Pakistan, that are dangerous for the Pashtuns and that are slogans of our enemies, of India – India claims that the Pakistani army supports terrorism – then, it becomes my right to be suspicious. I will warn people and tell them that they are wrong. Your army, with all its mistakes, if you weaken it then, I can sign on it – I hope otherwise – that, no one will be able to save Pakistan from falling apart.

No one will be able to save us from becoming Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Yemen. Don’t politicians make mistakes? Don’t you and I make mistakes? Don’t journalists make mistakes? Hasn’t the bureaucracy ever made mistakes? Are army men angels? They made mistakes too. Musharraf ruined Pakistan. But, if on the basis of that, you decide to abandon the army, calling them terrorists and blaming them for all your problems, and then I will be suspicious of you.

Look who is supporting the claims; Hussain Haqqani is supporting it and Altaf Hussain is supporting it. They’re posting fake videos and pictures on their propaganda sites, saying ‘we are pro-peace and we are constitutional’. Is it constitutional to say that uniforms are behind terrorism? What sort of critique is that? So, I think that Pakistanis should be very suspicious of this, especially the Pashtuns.

“The army is full of Pashtuns, the bureaucracy is full of Pashtuns, we have Pashtun people like Afridi in our sports, so why do we have a new perspective that there is no space for Pashtuns in Pakistan?”

Some of us call them intellectuals or liberals; I don’t know what to call them. They think that the Pashtun Movement has become the world’s largest humanitarian movement. I tell them, for God’s sake, the whole of Pakistan, except for Noon League, Mahmood Khan Achakzai and Maulana Fazal ur Rehman, is demanding the same rights for the FATA people. The army is full of Pashtuns, the bureaucracy is full of Pashtuns, we have Pashtun people like Afridi in our sports, so why do have a new perspective that there is no space for Pashtuns in Pakistan? This is nonsense. It should be discouraged. I don’t know who Manzoor Pashteen supports, because I have no evidence about it, so I wouldn’t like to comment on it, but this entire thing is very suspicious.


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9 COMMENTS

  1. Mr Abassi is Pakistans hope for a better Future … He makes No excuses for his convictions , Honesty is his best Quality !!

  2. as far as naming the islamabad airport decision which is still in murky waters I ll request Hamza to make use of his presence at “bol” and get a public poll which will help out the decision makers…when khi can name terminal one and terminal 2…i think this can be applied for islambad as well…benazir 1 & benazir 2…

  3. This is no doubt such a long interview but definitely worth reading. His every statement is logical and to the point. I’ve got more respect for him from now on.

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