Resolving The ISIS Crisis is All About Helping Syrian Refugees



One of the aspects about the ISIS and Syrian Civil War conflict that many liberal leaders in the West get absolutely right is responding to the plight of the Syrian refugees. We must never forget that the suffering of the local population of Northern Iraq and Syria is why ISIS has been revealed to be such a force of evil. While war seems almost never-ending around the world, we have not seen such a major and troubling refugee crisis in the recent years.

It is important to understand that making moral decisions in the wake of this war is clearly a political choice. Political entities may choose to make them or not, as they deem fit to serve the interests of their constituents. If anyone refuses refugees to enter their political jurisdiction, they have the right to do so, but it is just a question of asking if it is the right thing to do.

Probably the worst reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis in the wake of Paris attacks came from several Republican governors, disappointingly including Presidential hopefuls John Kasich and Chris Christie. The latter even refused to consider accepting even an orphan under the age of five answering a hypothetical question, which is shocking how such rhetoric is coming from those who are considered relatively moderate candidates. Apart from defying the founding values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, this rhetoric is not going to help America’s image is a leader for the liberty-seeking persecuted individuals around the world. As terrible an idea as it is, keep them in isolated camps if you must, but let them escape the certain death of a warzone and the dangers of hostile neighboring borders.

The conservative reactionaries, including the French’s late arrival to the war against ISIS, are all symptoms of the fact that most Western political entities see fighting ISIS only for defending their borders as opposed to intervening to prevent their atrocities. Sadly, the fearmongering of the conservative hawks that helps the war effort is a double-edged sword that harms the humanitarian cause of aiding the fleeing refugees as well. Though the same is true for the humane pacifism of the liberal doves in hurting the support for the much needed military campaign.

At least some of the conservative politicians in the United States have only advocated a halt in accepting refugees than completely denying them entry. While it may sound reasonable to some, such obstructions are not going to help the Syrian refugee cause at all, and would only prolong the misery of the affected families.

Many people are concerned that the Syrian refugees would not share the liberal values of the West. So what? Firstly, refugees are not necessarily immigrants, and even if they believe in Sharia, they do have a right to live in safety instead of a warzone. Furthermore, these refugees should be treated as individuals instead of stereotyping them as fundamentalists.

It is important to imagine how the lives of thousands of families and individuals in Syria have been destroyed forever by the devastation of war. They are certainly not alone in experiencing the misery in the recent times, as people in North Western tribal areas in Pakistan, South Sudan, Northern Iraq and Afghanistan have also seen mass displacement due to conflict. Nevertheless, war is not being crueler to the Syrian people than any other at the moment, and many of them need a second shot at life.

I believe that both the occupation by ground troops and accepting Syrian refugees are fundamental to defeating ISIS. Others may see only one of them as the right way to go. However, the most humane choices remain to be pushing for both a ground occupation eliminating the defacto rule of ISIS state and occupation for stability, as well as ensuring that peaceful Syrian civilians remain safe from the terrors of a warzone. Only professional military troops should handle the scenario and ensure the gradual transition to peace.

Just like taking military action against ISIS requires a global coalition, facilitating Syrian refugees is the responsibility of the entire global community as well. Ideally, each resourceful nation, including Pakistan and India, should play its part in some way.

Critics often point out how Gulf Arab states have not taken in enough, if any, refugees. These countries are not the only ones who have not offered their due, though you can hardly blame the Syrian refugees to be turning to Western democracies instead of the discriminatory dictatorships in the immediate neighborhood.

It is becoming abundantly clear that the world, especially the Middle East region, clearly lacks the necessary moral leadership, with the exception of the United States and the United Kingdom to counter ISIS effectively. Ironically, these indeed were the powers which led the disastrous Iraq War with supposedly righteous intentions. Nevertheless, the sort of moral leadership that President Obama has displayed championing support for the Syrian refugees is a beacon of hope for the downtrodden of the world. This is why liberty-seeking individuals around the world turn to the United States for doing the right thing.

There really is no other argument for accepting refugee other than the humanitarian need to do so. As I said earlier, it’s just another choice that we have to make.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Proactive, Not Reactive, Military Action Needed Against ISIS



Some of the worst fears about ISIS were realized during the November 13 Paris attacks that involved a suicide bomber, who turned out to be a Syrian refugee, and three groups of terrorists shooting out at three different locations. More than a hundred people lost their lives that night and several were injured as the terrorists mercilessly slaughtered peace loving French citizens. ISIS has taken responsibility for the heinous attack.

The incident has shocked and saddened everyone around the world, but it is just a reminder of how dangerous ISIS has become and how urgently substantial action against it is required.

The French President stated that his country would unleash a “pitiless” war against the terrorist state as revenge for the attack. While cynical critics would find that the hawks and the right wing rejoicing at this incident for using it for gaining support for the war, the truth is that many would see this as acting too late, though at least doing the right thing at last.

No wonder this atrocity is sufficient to warrant adequate military action by any standards. You know things are different when Democratic candidates sound as hawkish as the Republicans in their debate the following night, which gives you even more faith in the US leadership regardless of the political affiliation.

However, I find something else wrong with the approach of France to attack ISIS. While I am glad that France is finally prepared to strike ISIS locations in Syria and that it has every right to avenge the death of its citizens, they should have known better than just carrying out reactive vengeful strikes.

The French approach is precisely what is generally wrong with the reaction of the Western powers in terms of countering ISIS. They see ISIS as a distant security threat, which they do not need to do anything about unless their homes are threatened, instead of proactively intervening to prevent a humanitarian crisis and to destroy a local threat in the Middle East. The French reaction also suggests that up until this time it was not at war with the entity and did not consider its atrocities worthy of an intervention, as it considered necessary in the case of secular Libya. Sadly, it is only now that the French seek a global coalition against Islamic State.



Europe apparently did not have a problem with the existence of ISIS, without being bothered by the massacre they have been committing in Iraq and Syria. Even Israel has not taken any active action against it, because probably ISIS has been working to weaken Bashar Al-Assad, one of their archenemies. Or probably because the main victims of ISIS have primarily been Muslims of the Middle East, but by that rationale, you would expect Arab countries of the region to act against them, the reaction of which has been terribly dishonest and irresponsible. Nevertheless, you cannot expect much from morally bankrupt regimes.

The United States is probably the only exception, and they had better be, due to the enormous responsibility they bear following the Iraq War and their intervention in the Syrian Civil War. And they have been fighting ISIS alone without any considerable help from any ally in the region. However, despite reassurances by President Obama, his strategy has fallen short of effectively reducing the threat. Furthermore, he completely rules out deploying ground troops despite demands from the Republican leaders.

Such a reactive and defensive approach is what has resulted in the strengthening of ISIS in the first place. This should surely offer fodder to moralist critics who would accuse the Western powers of valuing the loss of life in Europe but completely ignoring the bloodbath in Syria and Lebanon, and genocide and human slavery in Kurdish Iraq.

Instead of striking back at ISIS as a reaction to some terrorist attack, proactive military action should be carried out against its targets until the complete annihilation of the terrorist entity as a state. This would not be possible without ground forces and occupation of the area making up the terrorist state.

The United States should also reconsider its withdrawal from Iraq, which has resulted in the breakdown of the security of a weak state with a Shia leadership unpopular with the local Sunnis. While President Obama could blame the Iraq War in 2003 initiated by George W. Bush for the rise of ISIS, history could see it as more of an unfinished business of his administration, or even a part of his Middle East foreign policy legacy.

As a matter of fact, President Obama has a great and rare opportunity to achieve undisputed greatness as a statesman following his historic Cuba initiative and the Iran Nuclear Deal. When he was elected President with the slogans of hope and change, even his fiercest enemies would have expected him to be destined to do great things. With the peace of the world at peril, and the Pope talking about the signs of a Third World War, his leadership can restore peace to the world if only he is willing to do what is necessary.  It is up to him to execute a swift blow to the terror network or wait for the next President to replace him to get the job done.

The United States is already tackling ISIS at his own pace, but in the words of Hillary Clinton, President Obama’s policy of “containment” of ISIS is not enough. President Obama tried calming the demands for more military action by using the very word just the night before ISIS attacked Paris and immediately came under fire. This incident seems to prove the last straw to wake the world up. The world must not rest until ISIS is destroyed. And since nobody else would even bother until the threat reaches their shores, United States remains the only moral leader in the world to take on the challenge.

However flawed the military strategy of Obama administration maybe, it still deserves greater respect for its principled action than the reactive measures France is going to take as revenge. If only a global coalition had been formed in a timely manner, the resources of ISIS could have been greatly reduced to carry out such attacks, though it would have required active pursuit of its presence in the continental Europe as well. But ISIS is feeding off the oil in the region and its supply lines must be destroyed.

ISIS has also threatened terrorist attacks in Washington D.C, and against any country that participates in bombings against them. The US intelligence believes they lack the resources to do so at the moment, but we must not let them grow strong enough to become capable of it, and must certainly stop underestimating the threat. The world still has time at its hands to prevent another tragedy like 11/13.

United States certainly does not need to bear this burden alone. The rest of the powers of the world have a chance to redeem their ignorance of the humanitarian crisis created by ISIS by joining a global coalition under US leadership. The United States, under the leadership of President Obama, is perfectly capable of rallying allied powers from around the world, not only from Europe and the Middle East, but from Asia Pacific as well to combat this threat together.

As long as the focus of the war becomes averting a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria instead of just defense of Western countries, the war should not feel like such a burden. However, I am not too sure if many in the West are still too concerned about the situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Trivializing The ISIS Threat



Regardless of the factors leading to the creation of the Islamic State or ISIS, there is little debate that it is a disturbing entity.

Even the most shameless Sunni apologists of the terrorist entity could feel some disturbance at their gruesome abuse of the local people in Iraq and Syria. Their treatment of the Yazidi women has particularly been the most chilling for the global conscience. To add insult to injury, they have been systematically wiping out the archeological treasures of the region, which should alarm anyone who treasures human civilization.

This is not an ordinary political and military force and is one that threatens human civilization as much as the more recent menaces in history such as the Nazi Germany, if not worse. This only necessitates forceful and meaningful military action against them involving boots on ground, without which the complete annihilation of ISIS is not possible. Unfortunately, neither President Obama nor any other global power seems to be interested in doing so, primarily because none of them is directly threatened by this terrorist state yet.

The unwillingness to take military action against ISIS is usually met by the resistance due to the fatigue from the several American military operations in the Middle East and around the world. The opponents of military intervention have a point, and for many years, I have held the same position. We should also recognize that many are being very consistent in their criticism of US military intervention over the years, and deserve respect for their intentions and ideological position.

The caucus of the anti-military constituents is significant in the United States and in most Western countries including UK and Canada, despite the widespread dislike for ISIS. The influence of such public opinion makes a possibility of action against the ISIS particularly difficult. But what is even worse, such political narrative often cynically trivializes the ever-growing threat of ISIS, when awareness for the support of more comprehensive action is badly needed.

Probably the main reason for the resistance to military intervention against ISIS among Western liberals is that North America and Europe have no direct threat from it. Fortunately, conservative politicians and voters in the United States are not only concerned about the ISIS threat but are also very much willing to support boots on ground.

Sadly, the opposition to comprehensive military action against ISIS has been simply reduced as a partisan election issue. The choice of not taking comprehensive military action against ISIS is a purely ideological and partisan position of liberal politicians, instead of a defensive strategy. However, President Obama certainly considers it the best way to go.

Conservative US senators such as Lindsey Graham and John McCain make sense in their criticism of President Obama’s recent decision to deploy less than 50 special operations troopers because of the half-hearted nature of the measure. While it is encouraging that the President finally realized that the ISIS threat deserves some boots on grounds, especially to assist the Kurds who are putting up an active resistance, we are a long way from a meaningful remedy.

The possible involvement of ISIS in bombing down a Russian airliner over the Sinai desert, as suspected by US intelligence, is only reflective of how dangerous ISIS and its affiliates have become. It clearly shows that the ISIS, if allowed to grow stronger and more influential, is not far from harming Western interests directly, if the misery of the Kurds, Iraqis and Syrians is not enough to fight this fire. Incidents such as these only strengthen the case of building an international coalition to fight the group, which is the right way to deal with the crisis.

The half-hearted approach adopted by the current US administration to deal with the threat of ISIS is not helping the situation. With a departing President looking to build his legacy as a peacemaker, it is unlikely that the current administration is going to commit to any major campaign. There is not much to expect from a Defense Department that considers the Sharia-enforcing Afghan Taliban as a partner for reconciliation anyway, something for which Pakistani government has been blasted since the Soviets left Afghanistan.

But probably what is even worse is the contribution of liberal and faux pacifists to trivialize the threat of ISIS for partisan purposes in political discourse. While it would help them win an election, it is not going to help in building the necessary public support for taking on the crisis created by ISIS, as was in the case of the operation against Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. ISIS is far worse than both the Taliban and Al-Qaida and a Democratic President may very well require that support in 2016.

What the liberal and isolationist ISIS cynics don’t get is that whatever way we see the problem, there is no real solution but to deal with it through full throttle military action. Whether ISIS is created due to the actions of the wars started by Bush 43 or a by-product of President Obama’s military strategy in Syria, there is no choice but to deal with the crisis.

You cannot expect to have diplomatic negotiations with the Islamic State as in the case of Iran.

A version of the post was published in The Nation blogs.

Another Moment of Our Insignificance



It was that moment again. The moment that you would anxiously dread for your entire life. Just like dreading war in peace time. Just like anticipating an intruder without a gun.

It feels like staring at death. In sheer terror, you scramble to save your life, leaving behind all this dear to you, except your life. Something which you are condemned to carry with you.

Looking at everything you built, waiting for it to crumble down.

Thankfully, many of us escaped the ruthless blow of Nature, but many among us did not.

On October 26, that fateful day, the earth shook again, and almost swept everything away. And only those who live through the disaster, those who survive it, could tell you what it felt like.

And for those who could not make it, let’s keep them in our thoughts forever. For it so easily could have been us and our loved ones, as they are.

The Afghanistan quake was 7.5 strong on the scale. Some were calling it the worst earthquake in the history of Pakistan, but I knew they were wrong. It was nowhere near as devastating as the 2005 Kashmir quake, that I ironically wrote about just weeks ago. But it was pretty devastating nevertheless, especially for the people of KP, Northern Areas and Afghanistan.

And believe me, we can never understand the pain of those who lost their loved ones and homes.

But that’s not all what this week brought. It also .

In Rawalpindi and Islamabad, it had already been overcast and rainy for the past two days. And on the eastern dawnsky, Mars, Jupiter and Venus were converging in a magical astronomical display, only to be repeated after decades.

I missed it. Two days after the quake, I managed to find clear skies on the morning of the 28th. With what I had, I managed to take these.


Maybe, some of you could spot Mars if you look hard enough. If you have the time for it, that is.


Looking up at the sky at that moment was a different feeling altogether.

A feeling of significant insignificance.

Setting The Right Conditions



Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on a very successful tour to the United States. Earlier, the Army Chief has also met the US National Security Advisor. The United States is selling more F-16 jets to Pakistan, is looking to discuss a civilian nuclear deal, while also asking Pakistan to put the brakes on its growing nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, alongside the Prime Minister’s daughter, the American First Lady has also announced a program for education for girls. All these are very good signs for Pakistan’s future, not only economically, but in terms of defense as well.

As much as we criticize foreign aid, it’s a foreign relations tool that is not going to vanish any time soon enough. Probably countries such as Pakistan cannot do without it, but the United States must ensure that it serves its purpose of strengthening the alliance, and of promoting its interests.

The Jacobabad procession bombing is just a demonstration of how menacing the problem of domestic sectarian terrorism is, even when a massive operation has been conducted against anti-state Islamist terrorists. The Islamist terrorists who are not anti-state must be met with the same ruthlessness and vigor.

As a citizen of Pakistan, I would like to see the United States acknowledge Pakistan’s commitment and actions to fight against Islamist terrorism. But at the same time, as a concerned citizen of the world who would see the progress of secular values, I would also like to see the United States press Pakistan harder for taking actions against domestic terrorism. Not because the US government cares about human rights or dying minority sect citizens, but because such a country would be a threat to the national security of the United States and democratic values.

Lashkar-e-Jhangavi has again taken responsibility for the Jacobabad bombing and all we can do is to wait for the next Muharram for another one of these incidents. What is worse, these sectarian terrorists do not need an occasion or reason to attack the Shia, Ismaili, Hazara and Ahmadi population, as we have witnessed a plenty of times in the recent past.

All of us must commend the federal and provincial governments for all the hard work for protecting citizens and religious processions during the Ashura. However, it would be even better if they concentrate their efforts on proactively taking action against the roots of these sectarian groups, which are surely operating within the country. As much as it is a good thing that we are on the lookout for RAW agents, it would be helpful to pay attention to these immediate internal threats.

Fortunately, the armed forces also seem to be in the mood for taking on the challenge of extremism as well. The army chief has vowed that the military would do all in its power to protect Pakistan from the threat of ISIS.

It is important to recognize the growing religious intolerance in the society, especially when similar sentiment is prevalent in neighboring India, which is only going to make matters worse. But what the democratic and civilized world has in common is the commitment to fight religious extremism, which is a threat to freedom and democracy everywhere.

Just like the civil and military leadership has considered it vital to take action against miscreants in Karachi, it is probably even more important to protect the nation from the threat of sectarian terrorism. Not only are sectarian terrorists a threat to national unity, but they are a threat to freedom of religion and speech in this country.

I have complete faith in the civilian leadership and the commitment of the armed forces to fight terrorism. However, I wish that they would not require a nudge from a more authoritative entity to launch their pursuit.

Considering the relative inaction against sectarian terrorists, that surely seems to be the case.

But we know that wheels get moving when it comes to the bottom line.

So the US administration should set the right, strict conditions of action against religious extremism at home for military and civilian aid.

Not even that, they should make sure that the job is done properly.

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.

The Politics of Perpetual Cynical Whining



The recent by-polls in the key Lahore constituency NA-122 that put the membership of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq on the line have resulted in his reelection with a narrow margin. PTI campaigned aggressively targeting the constituency due to rigging elections and have effectively made their mark in the PML-N stronghold.

However, the people’s verdict at the polls is never enough for the PTI leadership. In Imran Khan’s own words, he was happy with the NA-122 elections because of the presence of the military in officiating it. But that statement, other than the fact that it was heavily scrutinized by the media, seemed too good to be true for an election held in Pakistan. Nobody was surprised that briefly after conceding defeat as a moral victory, the PTI leadership was having second thoughts about the transparency of these polls too.

Since apparently nothing is left to blame on the polling officials, the PTI has come up with some obscure PML-N rigging measures that they could not anticipate, and others hardly even understand. Somehow the PML-N managed to throw the PTI votes out “at the last minute.” Because apparently at the last minute, PML-N started handling voter lists instead of the Election Commission.

There is nothing surprising about these allegations, because elections would never be fair until the PTI candidates are elected from all constituencies in the country, even if the voting machines are installed.

PTI has effectively become a political party that thrives on conspiracy theories and paranoia. Just like our nationalistic and Islamic fundamentalists, they would invent weird scenarios as long as their firm beliefs hold true.

It seems that the politics of Imran Khan is now centered on one point alone: electoral rigging. We vaguely remember that it used to be about electoral reform.

Well, PTI is controlling a provincial government. We all know that it is not the case. But this is what we get to hear from the PTI leadership about 9 times out of every 10 appearances they make. This makes you wonder if they are in politics just to keep on campaigning for elections, because it is fun apparently, or to do any serious legislative business.

Nevertheless, citizens must always strive to prevent totalitarian influences in a democracy. Considering the scarce and provincial choices available to the people of Pakistan, especially Punjab, it is of utmost importance to keep the ruling PML-N on their toes by offering the PTI a chance every now and then. It is probably time to stop giving PML-N such sweeping majorities, which they had abused back in the 90s to amend the constitution for the worse. Though, not really sure if that matters much, because lately we have witnessed the trend of people not voting for the legislation they don’t agree with, instead of voting against.

However, the greatest hurdle to a greater PTI victory is the leadership of the party itself. While many of the young voters and the unconditional haters of PML-N have much greater tolerance for such nonsense, the independent voters in the swing constituencies in Punjab would only cringe at the cynicism and constant whining of the PTI leader, to say the least.

Citizens concerned about democracy would only find relief in the PTI giving PML-N a greater challenge, and even such PML-N supporters should not mind seeing defeat in many constituencies. It is important to keep a check on every political party, and the best way to prevent them from becoming complacent is not to get married to them at the ballot.

But the PTI leadership seriously needs to move ahead from its boo-hoo-hooing kindergarten politics and offer the people of Pakistan something serious to consider. That is the “status quo” that needs to change so that any serious reform could be brought about in the legislature. Until that time, they would keep on wondering why they end up losing elections by substantial margins while showing off such large crowd at rallies and events.


A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.

This Day, Ten Years Ago

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

Exactly ten years ago, on October 8, we experienced probably the most devastating earthquake to have struck Northwestern parts of the subcontinent, or at least Kashmir, in centuries.

I have a clear recollection of the shocking 2005 Kashmir quake that rendered the entire AJK region upside down, killing over 86,000, injuring thousands more and displacing millions. It also deeply affected survivors like me in more distant locations such as Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

We realized that day that the federal capital of the nation was just about at as much risk as any other place prone to natural disasters. But disasters such as these remind us of how valuable life is, and how everything dear to us could be lost in a fraction of a second.

I still recall that fateful morning that changed the lives of millions for the worse. I recall how I rushed to take cover under my dining table and saw how close we were to completely losing everything around us. It was the scariest 9 minutes you would ever go through, though I bet it was not the worst by any means, at least not for my family and friends. But we had no idea what was unfolding just more than a few hundred miles from my home.

I still recall the compassion of the world and how everyone flocked to help the troubled people of Azad Kashmir. I still recall those US Army Chinooks flying over my house almost every day for their search and rescue missions. I wonder how many lives they saved along with the Pakistani soldiers.

I also recall the hundreds of aftershocks, which proved more nerve wracking than the major tremor, and which forced me to sleep outside my house in the car for a night or two. It might sound ridiculous, but it was a traumatizing experience, though from a relatively very safe distance.

It dawned on many how fragile human life is and how vulnerable we are on this planet, even to those who were not affected as devastatingly as most families in Azad Kashmir.

I would not be surprised to learn that many families who lost their homes in the quake would still not have completely recovered, despite a decade passing since the tragic disaster occurred. What is even worse, some would still be searching for the loved ones they lost that day.

Natural disasters can ruin the lives of individuals and families beyond redemption, and only life remains to be the most precious gift at the end of the day. Because it could just have been anyone.

Nobody can possibly fight a 7.6 magnitude earthquake.

Let’s just hope we don’t have to do it again.

A version of the post was published in The Nation blogs.

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