My Pakistani Person of the Year 2011: Ansar Burney

Source: Pakistan Today

In a country where finding problems is easier than breathing, Pakistan has its supply of useful people who are working for the better of humanity. As 2011 comes to a depressing end and we look forward to what 2012 might hold for us, it would be harsh to overlook the contribution that Ansar Burney made this year. Ansar Burney is my Pakistani of the year for 2011 for rescuing the Pakistani, Indian, Egyptian and Sri Lankan merchant seamen of MV Suez, abandoned by their governments, from Somali pirates by lobbying and privately raising money for their ransom in June 2011.

In a world obsessed with killing, there are people who are obsessed with saving people’s lives. Ansar Burney has proved to be one of those people. He has also been working to release Indian prisoners from Pakistani prisons and sending them back home despite criticism from fundamentalist nationalist circles and has also been advocating the release of Pakistani prisoners from Indian prisons. He apparently has no counterpart anywhere near that approach across the border, at least not one that I know of. We really need to see more of the common sense that he makes use of.

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There are many people who sell hope. There are very few who deal in its deliverance. So as the only highlight of the year 2011, which was full of wars, conflict, terrorist attacks, false hope, pessimism, cynicism and deaths, I simply fail to ignore one instance of life saving. It may seem insignificant compared to the mass murder going on in the region that appears to be more worth-discussing but as the Koran and the Talmud say, saving one life is like saving the entire humanity. Such actions must be acknowledged and, if possible, emulated.

I know how it feels to wait for a loved one in trouble, when you are uncertain about their lives and it can really be a tormenting experience for their families. In a time in which everyone is busy taking lives away, you can find very few people who are actually devoting themselves to giving it back to people.

Let’s hope to see more of that the next year.

Happy New Year.

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The World Needs a New Warsaw Pact

Original File Source: Wikipedia

Contrary to popular and prevalent beliefs, it seems that it is not the terrorist groups which are the greatest threat to the World Peace, but the very powers which claim to be its guardians themselves. This notion which has always been covered with the ice of the label of being a conspiracy theory is fast being exposed as it melts with the events that unfold everyday in front of our eyes. Although it hardly needs any elaboration that the post WW-II history of the world is full of neo-Imperialistic adventures with loss of life roughly reaching, if not greater to, the numbers of deaths in the Second Great War, but still we conveniently tend to forget those lessons as Islam(ism) emerges as the new enemy, replacing the Communist Soviet Union, as Communism is not completely dead, but the Soviet Union is.

The NATO or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed shortly after the Second World War partly in response to the Berlin Blockade from the Soviet Union, after which the relations between the Soviet Union and the United States only went downhill. The NATO was created in 1949 after the Treaty of Brussels in which the Western European countries such as Britain, France, Holland and Belgium saw the need to counter the rising Soviet threat to the balance of power in Europe and it led to the suggestion of a military alliance with the United States, the only power in the world that could challenge the Soviet military might. In response, the Soviets just did not sit idle. The Soviet Union concluded the Warsaw Pact in 1955 with the Eastern European countries with Soviet influence on “Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance”, which was concentrated on mutual defense against the NATO, later taking the shape of CSTO or Collective Security Treaty Organization after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

The situation of the world politics is not the same as it was right after the Second World War. While that is a blessing but it has its disadvantages as well. Right now, we have the NATO protecting its members from any external threat but there is no substantial international military alliance to counter it, if any at all. The NATO does fight the Islamist groups across the Middle East and occasionally takes action against dictators here and there, but is there any substantial entity that can possibly challenge its authority? Now, don’t tell me that we have the United Nations Security Council to avoid the abuse of any such power. The opposite of that is precisely what we have been witnessing since the creation of the Security Council and of late the United States has been manipulating the international forum for carrying out its military and strategic ambitions.

While there is no doubt that most of the threats that the NATO is concerned about are justified and serious, such as Islamist terrorists operating from Nigeria to Yemen and from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Indonesia, we have witnessed incidents in which the authorities have admitted mistakes and errors of judgment, read misguiding fabrication, when it comes to presenting the rationale for starting new wars. The Iraq War started in 2003 has been the greatest shock for people all around the world. The US Secretary of State at the time stated at the United Nations Security Council that Iraq had possessed weapons of mass destruction that could prove dangerous for the peace of the region. After the American invasion, it was admitted that no evidence was found to support that notion and it was dismissed as an intelligence error later on.

While there is always the possibility of an intelligence error, such audacious estimates could prove really costly when it comes to the damage and loss of human lives. The actual purpose of the invasion of Iraq is another story though. Iraq War has just been declared as officially over by the US government and human rights groups are crying out for the great loss of civilian lives and incidents of abuse that took place in the eight year long period. The question is when there was such poor evidence for the basis of an invasion on Iraq, why did the major world powers like China, Russia, France and Germany allow it to happen? Many opposed the idea of an invasion as the powers unanimously agreed on continued weapon inspections but no practical steps were taken to block the military operation.

This is the willingness that the world is lacking which is encouraging the United States to go ahead with attacking almost any state that it considers a threat, or for attaining its regional security interests. This really makes the NATO and the United States the greatest threat to the World Peace. I am not implying that the NATO is not recognizing the threats correctly, but the point that I want to make here is that it is simply too free and unchecked to pursue any military campaigns around the world that it considers necessary. This has resulted into disastrous events such as the Iraq War and even the currently on-going Afghanistan War has proved to be largely inconclusive even after a decade. While the NATO itself, or at least the United States, has paid dearly for such campaigns, these wars could easily have been avoided had the powers of the world intended to do so.

If we consider the possibility of the United States and Israel putting pressure on the world powers to gather support for attacking Iran out of the fear that the Islamic Republic has developed nuclear weapons, then those world powers should be alarmed by the elimination of probably the greatest resistance to the American interests in the Middle East. It is not just that powers like Russia and even China, which enjoy considerable influence in Iran thanks to its unpopularity with the United States and the West, will be concerned about another market or strategic partner lost, but it would also mean war, further escalation of oil prices before things are stabilized again (which will be pretty unlikely for quite some time), destruction and a lot of complications if any one of other nations choose to jump into the conflict.

It would be incorrect to say that the major world powers other than the United States and the European Union have not been diplomatically active to counter the almost unilateral and uncompromising action of the NATO, but it would not be wrong to assert that those half-hearted efforts have not been good enough at all. As far as the required military alliance is concerned, some people may point out that the CSTO exists for the purpose. The problem is far beyond the reach of the CSTO and it is hardly something that comes even close to the diplomatic alliance required for a mutual defense strategy against the NATO. The SCO or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is one organization that comes close to the required strategic alliance to curtail the American influence in Asia Pacific, but it largely deals with economic affairs instead of military and strategic ones.

What the world really needs is that the members of both the CSTO and the SCO, extended to NATO members which could develop genuine differences with the organization, such as Turkey, to form a serious military alliance to curtail the influence of the NATO. Another Warsaw Pact, if you will. The alliance could include nations from Russia and China to the willing former-Soviet Central Asian and East European Republics and from Pakistan to Iran. Even North Korea could be a part of this alliance, at least unofficially. The exact specification of the member states for such an alliance does not really matter as long as there is an agreement to block the growth of US interests in the Middle East, as the fall of Iran and Pakistan would mean the absolute domination of the United States in the region and this is going to be the front in the future.

While countries like Turkey, India, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan could at least be convinced to work for maintaining the balance of power in the region, India would not really find joining such a defensive alliance in its interests. The strategic interests of India are aligned with the United States at the moment and the last thing it would want to do is joining a defensive alliance against the NATO. Even Turkey would not enter such an alliance being a member of the NATO itself, but at least these are the countries which can prove to be valuable diplomatic assets to such a treaty and with the diplomatic and strategic alliance of such a nature, the elements in the European Union skeptical of the US foreign policy could be convinced to block the fulfilment of US ambitions through the NATO forces.

While calling for such a military alliance sounds like inviting World War III, but it would at least be a deterrent for the powers in the world which usually have no hesitation in going ahead with any military campaigns they have in mind, whatever the purpose may be. While it may not prevent violence and wars altogether, it would reduce the possibility of many wars that could otherwise result as the aftermath of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars of the first decade of the 21st century. It is up to the major powers of the world that are concerned about the growing influence of the United States in the Middle East to come out of their shells and to take solid measures of blocking any more unnecessary military conflicts that the world can do without.

At least for maintaining the balance of power, if not for peace.

You See What Happens…

Source: cannabisculture.com

Everyone talks about changing the world.

Everybody talks about a revolution.

Everybody talks about telling everyone what they do.

Everybody talks about clearing up all the confusion.

Some even try to do all that.

Whether they fail or not is another story.

But those who do face the grim fate of  John Lennon.

Apart from the conspiracy theories, John Lennon’s murder, which is one of the many murders like these, is a loud and clear message to anyone who tries to become a Working Class Hero or tries to challenge the world establishment and the governments and whoever talks about giving the people their rights, freedom of speech and the basic right to live or the usual revolutionary crap.  Yeah, it’s that bad.

So if you are thinking about becoming a revolutionary, consider John Lennon’s murder a death threat to you.

You have been warned.

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Happy Birthday Allan B. Calhamer

Source: Chicago Mag (Megan Lovejoy)

Today is a special day. It is the 80th birthday of Allan B. Calhamer.

But who in the world is he?

Calhamer is the creator of one of the most successful and challenging strategy board games in history, fittingly called Diplomacy. Although people may shrug off Diplomacy as just another board game, but it can be safely said that in terms of effectiveness in strategic gameplay, it is the only one which comes even close to Chess and even surpassing it when it comes to resemblance with actual diplomacy, emulation of broad military geo-strategy and human interaction.

Actually it is the very human interaction and interrelation of players which earn Diplomacy a spot in world history and in the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design Hall of Fame. Calhamer started the idea while he studied at Harvard in the late 1950s, completing his majors in history when he started toying with old maps and books discussing the origins of the Great War in Europe, as the game itself is set in the Pre-WWI Europe. His earliest typed draft of the rules of Diplomacy is still available on the internet to whoever wants to take a look at it. A lot of Diplomacy players are traditionalists and like to preserve things as much as possible. After all, Diplomacy is a game of records and statistics as much as it concerns geo-strategy, politics and negotiations. Just like life.

For someone who doesn’t play Diplomacy and does not feel strongly about it, all what has just been written about it is a mere exaggeration. However, Diplomacy enthusiasts would like to think otherwise. You can trivialize any given game but if played in its correct spirit and with understanding, it can offer one of the most delightful and rewarding experiences that a board game could offer. But as Diplomacy is also played online and has also been played through mail, its scope reaches way beyond just a board game.

Diplomacy gained instant success after its publication in 1959 with hundreds of thousands of copies sold. Calhamer eventually sold the rights to Avalon Hill, which publishes the game to this day, offering a small fragment of sales proceed as royalties to him. But the best thing is that you don’t really need to own the copy of the board game to play the game today. Of course the game evolved to Postal Diplomacy through fanzines in no time, which was more out of necessity, as you can’t always find seven interested players all the time. Web Diplomacy sites such as PlayDiplomacy.com, WebDiplomacy.net and Stabbeurfou.org have made life even easier for Diplomacy players and is played either on interactive maps or on discussion forum websites.

Originally called RealPolitik, it is no surprise at all that Diplomacy is the favorite game of Henry Kissinger, the most famous diplomat of our times, and also that of President John F. Kennedy. No wonder any regular player of Diplomacy can find him or herself practicing more or less the same skill that the American diplomat employed during his actual diplomatic career, depending on how good you are at the game. Diplomacy had been quite a frequent visitor of the White House during the 1960s and 1970s. However, we don’t hear about that any more, if it is played there these days at all, that is. But history classes in American schools are often considered incomplete by teachers without the introduction of Diplomacy to their young students. It is then when you either fall in love with it or hate it forever.

Allan Calhamer probably never achieved a lot of fame, apart from inventing a board game, but he should be appreciated as an inspiration to all of us. He continues to inspire thousands of Diplomacy players around the world with the fascinating game that he has created, which so closely emulates real world politics, alliances, deception and backstabbing. No player can progress without another’s help. There is no dice, as in Risk, which frankly is a child’s version of a World Diplomacy variant and is far less intriguing.  Although one problem with Diplomacy is the number of players required, which is 7 in the Standard version, but there even are scenarios for lesser number of players.

Calhamer is an inspiration for his creativity and shows us that all of us can create something fascinating even when it is something as simple as a board game. Of course, it was his original invention that triggered a flood of hundreds of variants of Diplomacy created by several people. You can find a record of all those variants at the Variant Bank. He has been places as well, trying his hand at foreign service and serving briefly in Africa and has also enjoyed a fair bit of popularity at the State Department. He has settled down in his hometown of La Grange Park, Illinois, with his wife Hilda and happily works at the local post office as per the last reports. Seemingly an oblivious and quiet job he has, but he surely has created enough waves to imprint his footstep on history.

Allan B. Calhamer, you will always be remembered for Diplomacy. Thank you.