January 17, 2013 § 1 Comment
It can be argued that the primary issue in the world today is terrorism. The most recent and relevant dealing with terrorism is “The War on Terror” (also known as the Global War on Terror and War on Terrorism), which is a term commonly applied to the international military campaign that began in 2001 by the United States and the United Kingdom, with support from other countries. The campaign’s official stated purpose was to eliminate al-Qaeda and other militant organizations.
More than a decade after the declaration of the War on Terror, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have killed at least 225,000 people, including men and women in uniform, contractors, and civilians – according to a new report by the Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. The report also estimated that the war will cost Americans between $3.2 and $4 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans, and that if the wars continue; they would be on track to require at least another $450 billion in Pentagon spending by 2020.
According to official releases, the George W. Bush administration defined the following objectives in the War on Terror:
- Defeat terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and destroy their organizations
- Identify, locate and destroy terrorists along with their organizations
- Deny sponsorship, support and sanctuary to terrorists
- End the state sponsorship of terrorism
- Establish and maintain an international standard of accountability with regard to combating terrorism
- Strengthen and sustain the international effort to fight terrorism
- Work with willing and able states
- Enable weak states
- Persuade reluctant states
- Compel unwilling states
- Interdict and disrupt material support for terrorists
- Eliminate terrorist sanctuaries and havens
- Diminish the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit
- Partner with the international community to strengthen weak states and prevent (re)emergence of terrorism
- Win the war of ideals
- Defend US citizens and interests at home and abroad
- Implement the National Strategy for Homeland Security
- Attain domain awareness
- Enhance measures to ensure the integrity, reliability, and availability of critical physical and information-based infrastructures at home and abroad
- Integrate measures to protect US citizens abroad
- Ensure an integrated incident management capability
The war initiated by the Bush Administration was in response to the September 11th attacks in which nearly 3000 people were killed. It can be seen above that the objectives of the war were to end terrorism and extremism, but 11 years later evidence suggests that the contrary was achieved. A New York Times article in 2006 titled ‘Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat’ reported:
A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks. The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.
This intelligence estimate was completed in April 2006 and was the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began. It represented a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. It was Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ and asserted that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, had metastasized and spread across the globe.
An important April 2005 Washington Post article, ‘U.S. Figures Show Sharp Global Rise in Terrorism’ also reiterated the counter-productivity of the War on Terror:
The number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled last year (2004), according to U.S. government figures, a sharp upswing in deadly attacks that the State Department has decided not to make public in its annual report on terrorism due to Congress this week.
Overall, the number of what the U.S. government considers “significant” attacks grew to about 655 last year, up from the record of around 175 in 2003, according to congressional aides who were briefed on statistics covering incidents including the bloody school seizure in Russia and violence related to the disputed Indian territory of Kashmir.
Terrorist incidents in Iraq also dramatically increased, from 22 attacks to 198, or nine times the previous year’s total — a sensitive subset of the tally, given the Bush administration’s assertion that the situation there had stabilized significantly after the U.S. handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government last summer.
The two articles, portions of which have been quoted above are among many over the last decade that attribute rising extremism to the very war that was meant to end it. The counter-productivity of the war on terror must mean that there is a flaw in the strategy. Critics of the War on Terror have often pointed out the prime reason for the failing of the war was a failure to tackle the root causes of terrorism. Renowned American sociologist Philip Slater discussed this in his op-ed in the Huffington Post on October 25th, 2006. “Everyone talks about ‘fighting terrorism’ at the roots”, says Slater, “But no one does anything about it”. He explains his point of view:
It’s much easier–and relieves more anxiety and frustration–to go bomb somebody. Making “war” on terrorism is a lot like taking a couple of drinks to cure a hangover–an enjoyable short-term solution and a disastrous long-term one. But long-term solutions have never played well in Washington, the land of the quick fix. Nor with the American public for that matter–our instant-gratification consumer society has a bevy of corporations competing to make that instant even shorter.
So what exactly are these root causes that Washington is so reluctant to tackle? Philip Slater links terrorism to hopelessness and inequality. He writes:
For of all capitalist enterprises, the extractive industries are probably the most deserving of the abuse heaped on them over the years. The possessors of the earth’s treasures believe, apparently, that the luck, wealth, or political corruption that allowed them to own land containing such riches is a sign of divine favor, while the poverty of those around them indicates celestial disgust.
Terrorists are people who have lost hope–hope for the possibility of peacefully creating a better world. They may be middle-class and educated, as many terrorist leaders are, but their despair is one of empathy for the plight of their people as a whole.
The root causes of terrorism are pathological inequalities in wealth–not just in Saudi Arabia but all over the Third World. Even in our own country Republican policies have in recent decades created inequalities so extreme that while a few have literally more money than they can possibly use, the vast majority are struggling to get by. A society that impoverishes most of its population in order to enrich a few neurotically greedy individuals is a sick society. As Jared Diamond has shown, societies in which a few plunder the environment at the expense of the many are headed for collapse. Fundamentalist religions and radical ideologies are the common refuge of people without hope. Christianity has played this role for centuries.
Slater claims that Islamic fundamentalism is the latest drug that is being offered to the poor and desperate and that it has the added appeal that you can not only get into heaven but also take vengeance at the same time. This incentive is an easier line to sell when a foreign power is bombing you. Militant organizations recruit people whose families have been killed as a result of collateral damage. These people are mentally traumatized and angry at the United States and its allies and turning towards the terrorists is a source of respite for them and an opportunity for revenge and martyrdom. This past September a very important and thorough report was released by the NYU and Stanford law schools Entitled “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan”. The report detailed the terrorizing effects of the Obama Administration’s drone assaults as well as the numerous, highly misleading statements from administration officials about the campaign. The study’s purpose was to conduct “independent investigations into whether, and to what extent, drone strikes in Pakistan conformed to international law and caused harm and/or injury to civilians”. According to The Guardian, the report was “based on over 130 detailed interviews with victims and witnesses of drone activity, their family members, current and former Pakistani government officials, representatives from five major Pakistani political parties, subject matter experts, lawyers, medical professionals, development and humanitarian workers, members of civil society, academics, and journalists.” The newspaper reports that witnesses “provided first-hand accounts of drone strikes, and provided testimony about a range of issues, including the missile strikes themselves, the strike sites, the victims’ bodies, or a family member or members killed or injured in the strike”.
Here are the powerful first three paragraphs of the report, summarizing its main findings:
From everything that has been presented so far it is undeniable that the efforts of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan have only succeeded in creating more terrorists and new extremism and radicalization. Something very important to ponder upon is how acts of terror are justified and what the reasons behind them are. After the 9/11 attacks Osama bin Laden cited American involvement in the Middle East and its support for Israel as the main motives for the attacks. Another example is the Pakistani American, Faisal Shahzad who was attempting to plant a car bomb in Manhattan a couple of years ago. At his sentencing hearing when the federal judge presiding over his case, asked him how he could possibly use violence that he knew would result in the deaths even of innocent children, Shahzad said, “well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It’s a war, and in war, they kill people. They’re killing all Muslims.”
We must now ask ourselves what terrorism really is. Most simply and commonly, terrorism is defined as the use of violent acts to incite fear within, or deliberately target non-combatants for ideological or political goals. Faisal Shahzad and Osama bin Laden do fit this definition, but then perhaps so does the United States of America as a nation. The combatant to civilian death ratio in the Iraq war was dismal, with death estimates between 100,000 to 1,000,000. The US drone strikes in Pakistan bomb villages, towns and other areas in attempts to eliminate ‘suspects’. The body of the target is often so devastated after the attack that he/she is impossible to identify. Drone strikes result in massive collateral damage and destruction of property, they traumatize the people who live in the surrounding area and give rise to more extremism. The United States went into the war on terror in retaliation of the September 11th attacks, Osama bin Laden ordered the September 11th attacks in retaliation for U.S involvement in the Middle East and oppression in Palestine.
Violence against innocents is wrong and should be severely condemned, but answering violence with more violence should not be the answer. The United States has responded to terrorism on its soil by attempting to eliminate militancy with pure force. Terrorism is an idea, and ideas are fought with ideas, not bombs. Instead of rushing into a war that has lasted more than 10 years with no meaningful accomplishment, the United States should have looked into why 9/11 happened, studied the root causes and tried to address them. George Bush called the War on Terror a war against radical Islam. This is a huge disservice to over 1.6 billion people, and perhaps a misunderstanding on the part of the Bush administration. The motives for 9/11 were political, not religious and were a result of American foreign policy. The way to deal with terrorism is to win the hearts and minds of people. By using the word ‘Islam’ and tying it with the war, the United States made it easier for the militants to recruit undereducated conservatives who see it as a war against their religion, and are willing to die for their faith.
Perhaps the United States needs to look back and see what might have caused an attack like 9/11. Perhaps it needs to change it foreign policy in a way that it does not anger a large portion of the Asian and Arab world. While the United States consider Osama bin Laden a terrorist, and groups like Hamas a terrorist organization, most of the Arab world today considers the United States and Israel as terrorist states. While obviously not justifiable, it may be safe to say that the 9/11 attacks were a result of U.S oppression and injustice in the Middle East. If so, then the only realistic way of eradicating terrorism is to establish a foreign policy that connects with the hearts and minds of the people of the Middle East. This would mean a looser relationship with Israel, less involvement in the internal matters of sovereign countries and an end to the war on terror.
How finally would an end to terrorism and radicalization be achieved? The answer is to isolate the hard core ideologists. Groups like Al-Qaeda need to recruit more people to their cause to sustain themselves. By changing foreign policy and how it interacts with other nations internationally, the United States can win the hearts and minds of the general population. By not calling it a War against some sort of radical ‘Islam’, the United States can end the ‘Jihad’ narrative that is used by groups like Al Qaeda to attract the religious but uneducated to fight for their faith. And finally, by disengaging from its war, the United States will cease to cause collateral damage and radicalize people who turn to the militant organizations for solace. Groups get radicalized when they are marginalized, so all outfits need to be brought to the mainstream and there needs to be political dialog. At the end of this the hard core violent ideological terrorists will be isolated who could easily be eliminated. What can’t continue though is more of the current strategy. The United States plan in the war has not changed, but rather become more violent since the election of Barack Obama and as discussed in this paper, this kind of policy will only further exasperate the problem. Indeed it does not seem wise to fight terrorism, with perhaps one’s own version of it.
“Brown University.” Estimated Cost of Post-9/11 Wars: 225,000 Lives, up to $4 Trillion. N.p., 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
Glasser, Susan B. “U.S. Figures Show Sharp Global Rise In Terrorism.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 27 Apr. 2005. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
Slater, Philip. “The Root Causes of Terrorism and Why No One Wants to End Them.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 Oct. 2006. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
Greenwald, Glenn. “New Stanford/NYU Study Documents the Civilian Terror from Obama’s Drones.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 25 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
November 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
Ever since the hanging of Bhutto, the political fortunes of Sindh have been confined solely to the party he founded, the PPPP, which came to power twice under the leadership of his daughter, the late Benazir Bhutto, and now under her husband, the infamous Asif Ali Zardari. Bhutto has now ironically become a brand, one that can be packaged and repackaged and sold to party loyalists or an affluent feudal or simply, to the highest bidder. Consider how Bilalwal, the son of Zardari, changed his name to include the remnants of his grandfather’s legacy, a move that has secured his political future for the foreseeable future. It is colossally ironic to witness how the PPP has withered into a family heirloom.
Cyril Almedia, writing in the Dawn, captures the gist of the problem:
Bhuttoism may have given the people, the ordinary people of interior Sindh, a sense of self-worth, but did it also brainwash them into supporting a party that no longer has — or may never have had — an interest in their material and social progress?
But it’s also true that Sindh is Bhutto and Bhutto is Sindh. The PPP dominates the political narrative here in a way that no party has or will in the foreseeable future.
So, travelling through Sindh, seeing a society held back, a people still suffering, a ruling class that is distant and aloof, you can’t help but wonder: could the people’s love for Bhuttoism be part of what’s holding them back?
The crucial question emerges: Is Bhuttoism part of the problem, a component of the feudal structure that holds Sindh back, binds it to traditionalism and backwardness, or is the legacy of Bhutto, one of empowerment and consciousness of the masses, of political awareness to hitherto benign and subjugated people. Some contend that Bhutto rules from his grave in Ghari Khuda Bakhsh, that his sacrifice, one of blood and life, has immortalized him in the Sindhi political sphere, in the imagination of the impoverished peasants and laborers. It took me some time to understand the complex and mulch-faceted(at times, contradictory) personality that Bhutto undoubtedly was, from his fiery speeches in the Security Council to his sycophancy and fawning of then dictator Ayub Khan, from his role in the breakup and eventful separation of East Pakistan(Idhar Hum, Idhar Tum) to his crucial role of uplifting a de-moralized West Pakistan after 1971 and bringing back the POWs, from his Oxford and Berkeley education and feudal background to his ease of interaction with the ordinary masses. While it is true that Bhutto became progressively authoritarian in his ways (consider the rigged election of 1977), the false murder charges leveled against him and his subsequent hanging remains a blot in the history of Pakistan, in that a democratically elected popular leader was unconstitutionally removed from office. The tragedy of his hanging remains afresh even today.
Bhutto was undoubtedly a complicated individual and so is the legacy he has bequeathed to the nation, and to his native province of Sindh, where politics, even today, revolves around him, his very name. The people still love him, after all these years; the man who promised them Roti, Kapra and Makan, the one who electrified a crowd of millions with his speeches and eloquence, who told the peasants and laborers that they too had dignity and rights. And yet if Sindh has to progress, it would have to detach itself from the memory of Bhutto, from his promises, his eloquence, his brilliance, as painful and difficult as that might be. The present generation of leaders are merely exploiting the name of Bhutto for their own bigoted political interests, to finance their exotic lifestyles, to plunder the exchequer. Politics in Sindh remains mired in an advanced state of stagnation and degeneration, owing to the emotionalism that is tied to Bhuttoism, as has been witnessed over the past three decades, with the PPP emerging victorious in spite of its dysfunctional and corrupt character. The complete absence of an alternative political voice for the Sindhi people accounts for the near monopoly enjoyed by the PPP in the political arena. Sindh would have to forget arguably it most favorite son and the populace would have to bury him finally in their collective imagination and do away with the slogan-Zinda Hai Bhutto Zinda Hai. Let him, for once, rest in peace.
May 31, 2012 § 2 Comments
Imran Khan and the PTI’s ‘Tsunami’ are ever present in today’s online, print and social media in Pakistan. Views however, vary greatly between groups but its two groups in particular I want to speak about. On one hand you have Pakistan’s regular columnists who heavily criticize the Tehreek-e-Insaf, and on the other hand you have the PTI Facebook fans and Twitterati; the newly politicized Urban Youth or famously titled ‘Burger-Baby Revolutionaries’ that support and defend the party.
I don’t want to generalize too much so to be clear when I say columnists it includes a newspaper regular who has criticized the PTI in some capacity, and when I say Burger-Baby, it includes the young, well-educated upper-class PTI supporter who isn’t a ‘troll’.
Getting back to the point then who seems to be winning the argument? Who seems to understand the PTI better? As a person who has been supporting the party for a good 6 years I feel like the columnists are a little off the mark.
In 2011 Mosharraf Zaidi criticized Imran Khan for not having a team and termed his political influence in Pakistan as barely anything. Later in the same year George Fulton criticized Imran Khan for not being able to attract any political talent and being an egoistic one man show. Yet before the very same year ended a headline in this newspaper read, “Imran’s Dream Team wows Karachi”.
In June last year Fasi Zaka complained that Khan was riding on anti-Americanism and was the only person that ‘treats the Taliban as a legitimate entity that has tangible demands that can be accommodated with negotiations.’ Imran Khan’s view is to talk to all groups to separate retaliating Pashtuns from real militants who would be then eliminated. He has repeatedly said that no militant group or any group that wants to impose a theocracy on the tip of sword will be allowed to operate in Pakistan under any condition. The tangible demands he says are of the tribal locals reacting against violence done to them initially by America and its allies. In the later All Party’s Conference regarding the war in the tribal areas all parties agreed to start negotiations with the tribal people and ‘give peace a chance’. The view is also somewhat shared by elements in Washington, many of whom have come out and said that they would not be against Imran becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Before the 30th October rally in Lahore a major criticism of the PTI was that the majority of its support was on facebook and from sit-on-the-couch ‘burger-babies’. Feisal Naqvi called Zohair Toru ignorant and said that any revolution depending on people of the likes of him would be a long time coming. Knowing Toru personally from our time in school together I can say he is far from ignorant, and most would agree that the ‘inqalaab’ he was talking about a has come a long way from the infamous ‘garmi mein kharaab’ video to now. He obviously had more faith in the party than the critics and columnists and they’ve had to eat their words.
I’ve been called a Burger-Baby many times myself. Before this year, in arguments I’ve been called a supporter of a ‘tanga party’, a supporter of an Imran fan club and even a religious fundamentalist – all for standing by the PTI. But what people don’t realize is that in their sweeping, over generalized judgments, they had closed their eyes. When the PTI woke the youth of the elite class up and politicized it, it wasn’t the party’s only step; it was the party’s last step. For the elite youngsters in Pakistan, the state of the country barely affects their living. To invoke a sense of responsibility, patriotism and revolutionary passion in this part of society was the real sign of victory. It is easier to reach out at the poor, and weak, who have been deep at the receiving end of the declining state of the country. Not easy – just easier. But if you have gone as far as to reach to the affluent Urban Youth, it can only mean the message you are carrying has something unique that strikes a chord.
Since 2007 I have been witnessing a movement of epic proportions. I have literally seen Pakistan change underneath my eyes. My driver in whose village the elders would hurt the youth that would not vote for the PPP today says the entire community is with the PTI. Rikshaw drivers, tailors, gardeners, laborers, lawyers, engineers, students, doctors, artists, overseas Pakistanis – I have interacted and spoken to people of all kinds because of the luxury I have to travel easily and the vast majority I have spoken to is in support of the PTI today.
In an article a couple of months ago something I had never witnessed before happened. Saroop Ijaz called Imran Khan a liar and questioned whether he was even genuine in his cause. This is where the critics lose. There was no argument to back up the premise, just realism. That it cannot be done, because it just can’t. And that’s where the difference is. Imran Khan through his life and his message taught us to be idealists and that’s why he is who he is today, and that’s why so many years of supporting the PTI is coming off today. The Tehreek-e-Insaf in the latest IRI survey was the most popular party in Pakistan.
I got to spend 30mins at the 13th August 2011 Tehreek-e-Insaf rally in Islamabad which was a few hours before my flight to Chicago and during those moments I was convinced for good that change was inevitable. That rally was not on television. Maybe if it was the columnists would not have been shocked on October the 30th, because the burger babies certainly, were not.
Published in the Express Tribune Blogs on May 31st, 2012
November 17, 2011 § 1 Comment
Imran Khan has emerged as the Messiah for a nation long clamoring for the arrival of a noble soul, who would, with sincerity and clarity of vision, uplift millions from the abyss of poverty, despair and disrepair and propel Pakistan into the ranks of ‘developed’ nations. And his arrival on the political scene- termed as a “Tsunami” by the man himself- that has taken 15 years in the making, is indeed a welcome and timely development. And yet, those 15 years boiled down to a single moment, that protracted struggle could be captured in that one powerful image that floated around in social media websites, where a prominent Imran Khan, empowered by the thousands that had gathered around Minar-e-Pakistan, his hands raised in a show of defiance against the status-quo, announced his arrival in the arena of Pakistani politics, his fiery speech assailing the corruption and lethargy of rival political parties. Previously, he had been dismissed as indecisive, vacillating, even somewhat confused and thus a small fish floating anxiously in a big pond. All of it changed on October 30. Yes, the “youth quake” changed the landscape of Pakistani politics. But, one may ask, will this outburst of political energy translate into tangible change for the masses? And this, above all else, is the most vital question.
Given the harrowing conditions the nation is going through- load shedding, the incessant violence, the creeping inflation- anyone of reasonable pedigree can charm the masses and capture the public imagination. For now, Imran khan can berate and castigate the policies of the current regime, stockpiling the entire burden on their heads-not that they are not culpable- and gain mass support of the embattled masses. Pakistan- and I feel bad saying this- is a mess, a real bad one, with the economy barely afloat, sectarian tensions boiling up and the United States breathing down our necks in Afghanistan. To get out of this hole, we need to first recognize that we are entrapped in one. Despite the theme of change Imran Khan so readily endorses, we should, as informed citizens, recognize the rhetoric in his speeches. I don’t blame him for resorting to tall claims for in order to captivate the masses; one does have to show them big dreams, convince them that change is just around the corner. But then again, change won’t be easy, and it surely won’t be abrupt, if anything, it’s going to a long path towards recycling Pakistan. And Imran Khan needs to tell this to the people who deserve to know the truth, however painful and excruciating it might be.
Imran Khan stands for hope as our gullible youth are led to believe. Imran Khan stands for hope because we have no other alternative, as the Zardari’s and the Sharif’s have been tried and tested, one too many a time. When asked by my friend who I would rather vote for, I feel silent. I just could not think of one person, one political party who had my confidence, who had my vote. Such was the nature of my quandary. And then after a reflective 2-3 minutes, I blurted out” Imran Khan”. And then it struck me, as much I am sure it struck my friend, that I had no other viable option. So Imran it was.
In the end, politics is about, as it ought to be, about the welfare of the masses. We, as denizens of the land of the pure, are asking for real tangible change. While the rhetoric employed in political speeches can be terribly exciting, all of it comes to naught if the common man remains trapped in the tentacles of poverty. Promises have been made and broken in the past. Imran Khan needs to provide his party manifesto that details exactly the policies his party wishes to undertake to alleviate the suffering of the majority. If he does that, he has my vote.
I personally contend that Imran Khan is incorruptible, a rarity in a political culture that thrives on bribery and pilfering and among the others stands as the most articulate, gifted with charisma and a jocular nature. But, then again, giving fiery speeches or cracking anecdotes in front of throngs of impassioned followers, does not translate into real change. He needs to do much more to prove his credentials; he is considered mercurial and tentative in his policy making, and has more a reputation of a playboy than a politician, at least in the West. PTI, under the lingering shadow of IK, is a one man show, and as I recall, the party fared rather poorly in previous elections, garnering less than 1 percent of the total vote cast. The party does not have the stature or the expertise or the experience to battle Pakistan’s endemic problems. Consider the following excerpt taken from an article in Dawn:
The current PTI secretary general is Karachi-based Dr Arif Alvi, a dentist for the city’s elite who has pots of money and a techie son who lets go of no opportunity to promote his father’s political party through purportedly non-political ventures. The main policy advisor of the party is Dr Shireen Mazari, who for years ran a government-funded think tank in Islamabad before serving for a short period of time as the editor of the Lahore-based English daily The Nation. If she is known for anything, it is certainly not a non-jingoistic understanding of Pakistan’s foreign and security policies. The brain behind Mr Khan’s latest makeover as Pakistan’s savoir in the making — one more time after a failed earlier attempt — is Haroonur Rashid, a columnist with the daily Jang who once wrote the authorised and laudatory biography of Gen Akhtar Abdur Rehman, an intelligence czar under Gen Zia and one of the many architects of Pakistan-backed militancy in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Imran Khan may have mesmerized on the cricket pitch, anchoring Pakistan to cricketing glory, but this is, as we should all recognize, the real word of diplomacy and public policy. While I respect his leadership and oratory skills, I believe that he does not have the acumen to survive in the political arena, let alone carve out a distinct destiny for Pakistan in the community of nations. Don’t take me wrong, I am not an Imran basher, far from it; I was delighted when he managed a staggering 100,000 people in his historic Lahore rally. I feel a sense of pride welling up inside me when he takes a firm stand on the drone strikes that are infringing our sovereignty. I see hope in him, that four letter word wholly absent in the last two decades. But one must deal with the facts, not get carried away in the spur of the moment. We Pakistanis are an excitable bunch, to be painfully honest, and have clung on to Imran as if he embodies the Messiah we have been long waiting for. But is he the Messiah or a demagogue feigning to be one? Only time will tell.
Yes, Imran does have the backing of the youth, but whether this ‘Face book’ following translates into real political capital remains to be seen. Will these same people turn up at Election Day-the all important day- to cast their votes? I have my doubts about him, were you to seek my opinion. For the sake of our country, for the millions living below the poverty line, I hope I am terribly, horribly, colossally wrong.
School of Foreign Service
November 3, 2011 § 8 Comments
In July I wrote a blog explaining why I would vote for the Pakistan Movement for Justice, or Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Opinions in the comments varied, but the most frequent hitch people had with Imran Khan’s party was their belief that it was politically insignificant, unelectable and more of a fan club. These arguments were presented to me numerous times before the post but I always disagreed, and after Sunday’s rally I feel many people have finally turned side.
The enormous turnout at Minaar-e-Pakistan was not a surprise to me, or my friends. Regardless of what we feel about policies, Khan still stands head and shoulders above his opponents in terms of financial transparency, honesty, statement consistency and has the cleanest criminal record. In addition to that he is one of the greatest living Pakistanis and is a national hero because of both sport and philanthropy. His credibility and honesty as a politician had been well established over the past few years during the wiki-leaks saga, and at the same time Pakistan reached new lows. What helped Khan was that almost every other major Political party was/is in power in some capacity, and hence could all be held accountable for the country’s dismal state in some manner.
Thanks to the free and independent media, nothing went unnoticed. Every error by the provincial and federal governments was highlighted and reported and soon the truth was in front of everyone. The country had become extremely politicized and when the likes of my friend Zohair Toru went to the streets is when I realized times in Pakistan had changed. For most people Khan, with his track record in social work for his country was incomparable to the likes of the status quo, under who’s rule people were facing unprecedented poverty, unemployment and injustice. Hence support for his party increased exponentially, while everyone else’s decreased.
With all this in mind, in the weeks before the rally I could not understand the countless columns I read and current affair shows I watched in which analysts and guests alike played the down the possibility of a successful rally in a place like Iqbal Park. None of the ‘experts’ gave PTI a chance, but myself and so much of the urban youth who are so often labeled as ‘naïve’ and ‘politically inept’ by the same experts, expected nothing less than the successful rally that took place. While so many have finally confessed to have underestimated the party’s strength, some analysts still hold the opinion that the rally was a failure with not more than 60,000 people present at the venue. I think it’s safe to say that any sane person would admit that estimating a crowd of the size of 60K present at the location is absurd. I have been to the Minaar-e-Pakistan, I have been to stadiums that hold 100,000 people and I have been to an open concert where 175,000 people have attended. The area in front of the Minaar-e-Pakistan for the attendants was roughly 1200x1200square feet, which should accommodate at capacity at the very least 300,000 people estimating a single person takes up over 4square feet. Pictures and reports suggest that the area mentioned was beyond filled and people were standing even by the roads. In all honesty I could not care less if 100,000 or 500,000 were present because the purpose was fulfilled, but math and logic (both of which I major in) tell you that at the extreme very least, the attendance to the PTI rally could not possibly have been less than 200,000.
Getting back on track, Imran Khan’s and other senior party member’s speeches at the rally focused on why my support is strongly with the PTI. Some of the usual rhetoric was avoided, and issues like women empowerment through an education emergency, peace in Baluchistan, religious tolerance and minority rights were promised. The party also stated that they would cooperate with the U.S as equals instead of slaves and help them in a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Somehow this ended up as anti-Americanism as were the stories about the rally in the international media. Nothing was discussed in too much detail, and I do concede that some personal remarks about opposition leaders could have been avoided.
Why I support Imran Khan is because his party represents what I believe in most strongly, justice. I remember Imran Khan visiting Ahemdi victims in hospital after a violent attack on their mosque, I remember a wing of the PTI protesting against the killing of two innocent Christian brothers on charges of blasphemy and I remember when he sided with Salman Taseer on the case of Asia Bibi. Imran Khan has clearly stated that his party’s position is to repeal the Hudood Ordinance of rape and debate it in parliament and he strongly condemned the hero’s reception of Mumtaz Qadri. He even dared to speak about the intolerance of homosexuality in society. These kinds of gestures are what make my trust and belief in him and the party so strong, apart from other policies which I touched on in the last post.
To some the rally was a failure, the PTI is still a political minnow and a fringe party. To others Imran Khan is still a terrorist sympathizer and a Taliban stooge. As far as I’m concerned I don’t think anything can convince someone who is bent on not being convinced, but slowly, especially after the rally even the most pessimistic onlookers of the PTI’s progress have had a change of heart. Others display remarkable characteristics of madness and blindness. I guess critics search forever for the wrong word, which to their credit, they eventually find.
September 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
With the country facing major troubles from all bearings, we all have an opinion and a solution to offer. But the sine qua non of this matter is whether we’re with or against the current proceedings and the administration; our opinions are only justified, or should only be justified if we vote.
Today we live in a period in our history where the entire country is extremely politicized. Whether we’re in our villages, homes, on the street, at work or on Facebook and twitter, we’re discussing politics. This is irrespective of age, occupation or financial status. Opinions differ broadly, but I think we can substantiate that everyone wants the country to progress and prosper in peace.
That established, as responsible citizens of this country we should ask ourselves what we can do personally to help this cause. The answer to that question could be paying our taxes, donating to those less fortunate than ourselves in whatever capacity we can, and living our lives peacefully, justly and honestly. But In my opinion it should also be voting. I consider voting a duty, as opposed to a right. It is our way of showing what we believe in, and who we trust to accomplish it. We can talk forever about what we want Pakistan to be like, and who we want Pakistan to be represented by, but what is the point if we are going to sit at home when the day comes to turn our words into actions?
They say, “The public is wiser than the wisest critic”. People don’t realize the power they have. You can say what you want about its performance, but today the Judiciary is independent; something that has never happened before. The reinstatement of the judges happened despite counter revolutions. This is because it was inevitable. Once the people realize their power, they will always get what they want. Look at the Arab Spring of all examples.
If you had concerns about the electoral process before, then let’s deal with the coming elections with optimism. 37million bogus votes have finally been removed from the electoral lists by the Supreme Court thanks to a petition from the Pakistan Movement for Justice Party (Tehreek-e-Insaf), and 35million new votes are expected to be registered. The signs are increasing that elections will be fair and free.
It’s time to stop saying that no one will vote, and get out and vote ourselves. Find a political party that most closely matches our views and opinions, learn about their plans and manifestos, research their candidates and most importantly register and cast our vote. If there is any reason to choose not to vote, we should turn that into a reason to vote, take responsibility and be a part of the change that will fix the problem we had.
While all this may sound very idealistic, I believe it stays in the realms of realism. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. We don’t take these words seriously enough. Everything starts at a personal level. Every great revolution, discovery or invention comes from an idea. When something goes viral on Facebook it has to start somewhere. An ocean is basically just a collection of small drops of water. Do what you can for Pakistan personally, others will follow. Realize your power and the value of voting.
Scared and sacred are spelled with the same letters, awful proceeds from the same root word as awesome as with terrify and terrific. Every negative experience holds the seed of transformation – provided you have guidance to see you through it, and who that guidance comes from is chosen by us, the people. So vote for more of the same, or vote for change, but do vote because like I once read from George Bernard Shaw, “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”
*Posted On The Express Tribune Blog (edited) on October 4th, 2011
September 18, 2011 § 2 Comments
Allow me this opportunity to enlighten you of how my homeland, Pakistan, became part of a dual game where it is both right and wrong, criminal and victim, entrapped in the vicious cycle of blame game and counter accusations. Let me elucidate how an ally became an enemy, or rather how an enemy became an ally, blurring the lines between friendship and hostility and lending immense confusion to our mutual strategic relationship. Let me, in other words, reveal how Pakistan became the vital ally that you can neither trust nor abandon, embrace nor thrust aside.
You see, Mr. President, Pakistan was a land carved out of a once united India, whose bloody birth included the largest migration seen in the history of our race and the subsequent, systematic massacre of a million unsuspecting people. From the little history that I have retained from my school days, the American Revolution, as I recall, was largely a nonviolent and bloodless affair, in stark contrast to our own blood spattered conception. So, when I tell stories of how trains full of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs-all together- were burned and looted and the bodies left to rot, the terrible barbarity of these acts will strike you as appalling, even idiosyncratic of an uncivilized nation that celebrates anarchy and violence. But then, you would have to understand how our nation-compromising of the majority Hindus and the minority Muslims- was subjugated by the imperial British for over a century, during which our land was plundered, our rights trampled upon and our dignity mauled.
So much for the British being the guardians of morality, the redeemer of democracy, entrusted with the crucial task of civilizing an unruly world. But that made Independence- hard fought and blood-spattered- all the more sweet.
The years after independence were especially arduous for Pakistan, partly because of intense acrimony with India and largely because the new state, which lost its founder to tuberculosis shortly after conception, faced an acute shortage of funds and resources, in general. But lets not get into all that, for Pakistan did survive the early phase with a doggedness it maintains to this day, even when labels of a “failed state” or a “nation teetering on the edge of anarchy” are frequently linked to it by the international media.
Mr. President, I don’t mean this as an affront, but do hear me out for you may not, I am afraid, concur with what I have to say. The United States is often charged of- and not without merit, as I shall explain here- subverting the democratic institutions of Pakistan by establishing military to military relations with the Army ever since the first visit of Ayub Khan in 1951, where he was greeted with such an incredible official display of protocol, that the General, the perceptive man he was, implicitly recognized that he was the most powerful man in the country. And that self image transmuted into reality, and over the decades the most important post in our country has not been that of the President or the Prime Minister, but that of the Chief of the Army Staff.
Ayub Khan was a faithful friend of the United States, no doubt on that, and after the coming of the more bold and audacious Bhutoo- considered by many American officials as intractable and incorrigible-relations took a downside, especially on the question of the nuclear bomb, which Bhutto in his brazen style had declared that Pakistan would build even if had to eat grass. That, was not acceptable to the United States which tacitly sanctioned and approved the military coup, under the auspices of the sly General Zia, and the defiant Bhutoo after a protracted judicial trial, was sent to the gallows on trumped up murder charges. Yes, Mr. Obama, your country did have its share of culpability in the hanging of a democratically elected popular leader of our nation. Sad, isn’t it?
And then fate smiled on the alienated Zia, when the Soviets made the blunder of attacking Afghanistan, and almost overnight, the burly dictator became the harbinger of hope for the Free World, commander in chief of a Frontline state, imperative to the American bid to stem the flow of communism. And as billions flowed to strengthen the Pakistani army, the Jihadists, many of whom would later regroup to form the dreaded Taliban faction, fought against the infidels- the Russians who had violated the sanctity of a Muslim nation. Meanwhile, a dangerous double game was being played. The Pakistan army kept the Taliban as a strategic wild card against India, to be used as an insurance policy if relations with India deteriorated to the point of active conflict.
You folks left as swiftly as you entered the scene and once the Soviets retreated, you packed your bags, leaving the brittle country literally at the mercy of the extremist groups like the Taliban. Fast forward ten years and following the Sept 11 attacks- the first direct infringing of American sovereignty since the Pearl Harbor offensive- the United States, along with its allies, poured billions of dollars and committed thousand of troops in eradicating the same terrorist elements it had helped designing in the first place. And now, after a decade of anarchy and senseless slaughter of innocent civilians, Osama has been found right under the noses of the military establishment, hiding in a compound in a garrison town frighteningly close to the military headquarters, and Pakistan, the one country having to pay the price of collusion in blood, is being labeled as a traitor, as a participant in a dangerous double game with both the Taliban and the Americans. How ironic is that, and now relations between the two allies have entered suspicious terrain, with trust in short supply, and either side wary of the intentions of the other. As I promised, at the outset, I have explained, as best as I possibly could, how our countries, have come to their present stalemate. Any suggestions to break the ice, Mr. President?
Allow me to provide a few words of advice- for you don’t seem inclined to talk much- which, you may as you find befitting, embrace or discard. If the United States is resolute in its bid to root out extremism, it should educate, educate and educate. All too often, American aid is spent on the army, which does little to strengthen the democratic foundations of the state. And not to forget the civilian government which apart from being listless is corrupt to the bone. The little money that does filter through a defunct system is too little to make an impact. The ordinary man remains illiterate and impoverished, engaged in a perpetual battle for survival while his country descend into chaos.
Let me also clarify why anti- American sentiment finds such a ready home in Pakistan. Its not because the Pakistanis have an inherent disliking for the United States. Not because the Pakistanis are all militants bent on aggression. While most foreigners will relegate the average Pakistani to the status of an extremist, I refuse to accept this naïve and possibly fallacious explanation.
I know, as many others, that the average Pakistani is not a terrorist, does not receive training in heavy artillery and does not harbor ambitions of destroying the Western civilization in the quest for a greater Islamic empire.
Let me tell you what the average Pakistani wants. All he wants is a permanent job, a house that he can call his own and the protection that comes with being a citizen of a sovereign country. Give me that and you can safely live in your country while we in ours.
Good day, Mr. President.
School of Foreign Service