The Right to Gambling and Online Paid Skilled Gaming

Source; profootballspot.com

Source; profootballspot.com

It is always a bad idea to invite the government into the areas of the internet where it is absent to prevent the abuse of regulation. However, avenues that are already eliminated by the government with decades-old theocratic legislation require a corrective intervention. Online gambling and skilled gaming are one such area.

If you are a fan of fantasy sports or are even fond of gambling your hard earned income every now and then, you would have a hard time pursuing such recreational activities in Pakistan. At least at a legal concern or on the internet, unless it happens to be a government sanctioned prize bond scheme or a race course.

Currently, The Prevention of Gambling Act 1977 governs and prohibits such activities in Pakistan with various penalties. The provincial versions of the law were enacted in 1978, while The Public Gambling Act of 1867 under the British law, which it was largely based on, was repealed in Islamabad and Punjab later.

Now there is a good reason why online gambling is banned in many countries. Gambling can be highly addictive and could expose citizens’ capital to great risk of loss.

Nevertheless, despite the risks and dangers involved, it is better to leave it to the citizens to decide about their morals and the disposal of their savings. The best trade-off between freedom and order remains in softening of the Gambling Act to decriminalize and legalize such activity.

There is no doubt that the government should protect citizens from fraudulent practices, eliminate money laundering and prevent organized crime to dominate such activities. This is why legalization of such activities not only offers safe and legal channels for citizens for such recreation due to regulation, but could also help generate considerable public revenue.

Just like every other “moral” issue in Pakistan, you cannot help but notice that the ban on gambling is not without its due share of contradictions, or even hypocrisy. Without going into the embarrassing reasons why, most of us are aware that horse racing is legally protected in Pakistan. Let’s just say that our bureaucracy and feudal class would always make an exception for their lifestyles.

However, thanks to the outdated laws governing anything remotely close to gambling within the boundaries of Pakistan, citizens indulging in the vice are not safe from harassment from the state. This also impacts the online space as betting websites would not open their operations to Pakistan, or even if they do, making transparent financial transactions to such entities would only land you in legal trouble.

Normally, I would hardly advocate the action of legislators as a much needed solution, but repealing is as much their job as enacting new laws. Especially in this case, when the laws in place are such terrible sweeping bans that take away the breathing space from the citizens. If law enforcement authorities were to target civilians, they would even charge citizens under the suspicion of gambling on the possession of dice and cards under the current draconian laws. Countries such as the United Kingdom have modernized their local gambling laws to provide for online gambling. It is about time the rest of the world followed suit.

Prohibiting gambling is one thing, since it is so evil. The taboo against it even sweeps skilled gaming involving financial transactions under the label. Even state attorneys in the United States are insisting on it in the wake of the latest controversies pertaining to insider trading among leading fantasy sports companies. However, bans in states such as New York sound more like prohibiting trading of a commodity due to an instance of financial fraud.

Any sports fan remotely familiar with the activity would know that fantasy sports, while dependent on actual results, rewards calculated risks and the knowledge of the sport. Fans not being able to participate in such paid skilled gaming due to local gambling bans is simply unfortunate.

Pakistani fans, like those in the rest of the civilized world, should be no exceptions when it comes to online skilled gaming. While local fans may not be enthusiastic about NFL or MBL odds, they sure take a keen interest in EPL and cricket related leagues. With the advent of Pakistan Super League, Pakistani cricket fans would be missing a legal means to put their money on their favorite franchises.

The bottom line is that there is no reason why an adult Pakistani should not have access to gambling and skilled gaming, online or offline, whenever they want to entertain themselves. The access to gambling and paid skilled gaming could possibly be considered as a right to the citizens, and when done responsibly can really prove to be a joyful activity.

We have a choice of being blindly morally uptight as usual, or actually make it safer and legal for the citizens to enjoy paid skilled gaming, if not gambling.

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

Saudi-Iran Conflict: Just the Sort of Diversion the Islamic State Needed

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Despite an almost unanimous agreement about the evil that the Islamic State embodies, the world is still having a hard time forming a military alliance to take substantial action against the group. From lamenting the consequences of unrelated past foreign military intervention to equating ISIL with other Arab states, there is no shortage of absurd political opinions making excuses for inaction.

At a time like this, it was probably not surprising that the usual suspects of the region were busy making matters even worse in the Middle East. Through some very deliberate measures, Saudi Arabia and Iran have chosen to strain their already tense diplomatic relations seriously.

Things started getting worse when Saudis executed dissenting Shia scholar Nimr Al-Nimr, sparking violent anti-Saudi protests in Tehran during which protestors set the Saudi embassy on fire. As a reaction, Saudi Arabia, followed by UAE and Bahrain, expelled Iranian missions to their respective countries. The region started worrying about a new conflict and Islamic State found just the sort of relief they needed.

Of course, whenever relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran suffer, you can expect increased pressure on Pakistan, both from the Saudi government and from the people at home. While the careful approach the Government of Pakistan has taken in this regard is the way to go, it must be warned to move a step forward in terms of its commitment to fight ISIL. In an ideal world, a military operation against ISIL with Pakistan’s participation should have been underway.

The Gulf states have been facing much criticism for their inaction against ISIL, which have been regularly resisted by Shia militia in Iraq. As a matter of fact, people have been speculating Saudi hand behind ISIL since the extremist group share the brand of Sunni Islam practiced in the kingdom. Now that they have made a military alliance, it is being condemned by some for being meant for exclusively targeting Iran and its sponsored militant groups.

While protesting the Saudi-led anti-terrorism alliance makes little sense, this is the expected consequence of choosing to join a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Probably for spiritual reasons, the local Sunni and Shia population have linked their religious fervor with the terrible political entities of Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively. This is why commentators with this concern have been calling for Pakistan to join a US-led alliance to fight the Islamic State.

So far we have seen a lot of talk about the anti-terrorist alliance but little action. Only substantial military action by the Saudi led alliance would put the conspiracy theories to rest. The lack of action is yet another reason for Pakistan to wonder if it is in the right camp. But then again, fighting ISIL proactively is hardly a priority for nations around the world, and Pakistan seems to be no exception.

This is where the United States and other Western powers would have to lead and work with Saudi Arabia and Iran to focus on eradicating the Islamic State. Unless a comprehensive global alliance is formed for the purpose under the leadership of the United States, it would be difficult to organize the much required military efforts.

We are at a point in history when extraordinary measures are required for the elimination of the evil Islamic State. Global and regional powers, which are otherwise adversaries, need to come together to get rid of this common threat to human civilization, but the local Muslim population is busy squabbling about the power struggle of Iran and Saudi Arabia instead.

This will severely hurt any possible military campaigns that had any chance to be initiated by Muslim majority countries in the Middle and adjoining regions because everyone would need to take a side in this conflict. I appreciate the passion of everyone who wants their countries to remain neutral in the Saudi-Iran conflict, but that would not be the case for long if the situation escalates further.

The recent episode only proves the irresponsibility and recklessness of Iran and Saudi Arabia as regional powers and goes to show that they should be the last countries leading other Muslim majority nations. While it is a good idea expressing solidarity with them and offering military aid for necessary defense and peacekeeping, it would be a disastrous mistake to follow their lead in shaping foreign policy.

This is why it is important for global powers to avoid the distraction of Saudi-Iran conflict and refocus their attention on the threat of ISIL by rallying a global alliance. Pakistan must also play its part as a responsible nation and must distinguish itself with significant participation.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Discrimination Against Ahmedis: Institutionalizing Hate in the Name of Love

Source: dunyanews.tv

Source: dunyanews.tv

The recent hateful protests by business owners demanding Ahmedi citizens to wear identification publicly have been a real eye-opener to anyone oblivious to intolerance in the Pakistani society. The protest was directed against Punjab police for removing hateful and derogatory signs from a shop warning Ahmedis to refrain from entering.

It is inconceivable to deduct that these people are calling for such measures out of sheer hate for humanity. It is clear that their hateful rhetoric is fueled by religious fervor. For the majority of Muslim citizens, these traders are only playing their due to defend the finality of the Prophethood and are doing so in the name of the love for the Prophet. The only problem is that such love has created a serious civil rights crisis.

For those who are not aware, the government of Pakistan already requires its Muslim citizens to sign a declaration of not being an Ahmedi for the National ID card registration. Furthermore, the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan is also dedicated to declaring the religious sect or group non-Muslim.

The demand for Ahmedis to wear identification, which has been widely compared to the yellow Juden badge in the Nazi Germany by critics, would take the institutionalization of discrimination against them to the next level. Calls for such apartheid measures should be a great concern for anyone who is worried about the state of freedom and civil liberties in Pakistan. This should also be a great concern to people who claim that an Islamic society offers perfect protection to religious minorities.

Religious freedom can be a funny civil liberty. While there is apparently no hint of doubt that all religions preach peace and love, this unexpected exceptional case warrants enough liberties to one side to infringe on those of others. As a matter of fact, this almost always occurs in overwhelming religious majorities, but hardly truer in any case in modern times than that of the persecution of Ahmedis in Pakistan and apparently there is no social contract to keep such religious freedom in check.

What are you going to do when such a force of public sentiment influences provisions in the law and the Constitution? Some would even argue that improving the law would hardly prove to be of any effect, but there is no doubt that eliminating profiling would make a world of a difference, if not the Second Amendment.

Probably the answer to the question of reforming Islam lies in the belligerence against Ahmedis as well. There is a reason why Sunni Islam has survived over 14 centuries. The school so fiercely and often violently represses any deviation to its orthodoxy. The Sunni clerics ensure to establish a hostile environment for suppressing novel religious ideas, and possibly, with the rise of Khomeini in Iran, the Shiite branch has been establishing its own state orthodoxy as well.

In the case of Pakistan, eliminating the persecution of Ahmedis would probably prove to be even more difficult than reforming the blasphemy law. At least not as long as a fairer social contract is in place. Possibly in a reaction to the Ahmedi movement, local clerics have aggressively established the theological narrative to counter its supposed claims over the last century. While such firmly rooted beliefs insisting on the legal definition of Islam would sound fine as a theological position, the subsequent activism for their excommunication has led to the formulation of such dangerous laws.

Some would argue that the bureaucratic and political elite had surrendered to the theological pressure for discrimination the day they agreed to establish an Islamic Republic. However, it is imperative to remind the people of the problem by pointing out that such theocratic provisions are a serious violation of civil liberties and religious freedom.

Furthermore, the institutional and systematic persecution of Ahmedis is the greatest evidence that minority religious groups are not safe in a Muslim majority society. It also shows that theocracies cannot be trusted to ensure religious freedom to communities not following the state religion. The Pakistani lawmakers have very deliberately formulated the sort of laws that would physically threaten a certain group of Pakistanis and the clerics deem them perfectly according to the Koran and the Sunnah.

The theocratic Apartheid state is only a logical conclusion to such a foundation.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Direct Election Reforms Needed in Local Government Polls

Source: dawn.com

Finally, the much-promised local government elections have been held all over Pakistan. The result of these elections is important for pointing out a clear discrepancy in the electoral system. Everyone has been looking at the party tally as in the case of the general elections, but it is at this level that the irony of this system reveals itself so strongly. The citizens of Pakistan cannot even elect their mayors directly, and it is up to their Union Councilors to elect the candidate nominated by their party.

While this form of election is based on the model of the British parliamentary system, direct election reforms for local government have been introduced even in Great Britain. It only makes sense that people have a say in at least the immediate leadership of their town, instead of a majority party decision enforced on them like an insult.

People do deserve a chance to directly elect the person responsible for making executive decisions governing their political jurisdiction. I would go on to argue that the same should be true for the election of legislative representatives and the head of provinces and the federal government. This is why the Presidential system makes more sense in terms of electoral rules and division of power to some people.

However, on the other hand, many people argue that the indirect election makes the election of more intellectual members possible. For a country where the majority of voters agree on establishing an Islamic Republic and would actively oppose a secular movement, this would seem like a good choice. However, indirect election of the mayor does not even make any sense in the current scenario and it is certainly not good for democracy.

The indirect election is primarily an instrument of establishing the authority and control of the party leadership, which almost always dictates votes in the legislature. This form of legislative election kills the freedom of the individual legislator, and in the case of executive election, it becomes an extension of the control of the party leadership in dispensing and spending local government funds.

It is important to understand that executive positions are very individual-oriented. It is probably not very different to evaluating a candidate for a job position. I would argue the same is true for the legislators, but probably those positions could be compromised for the banner of the party ideology on the ballot. This is why at least an exception should have been expected in the case of the election of the mayor.

The local government structure clearly requires further reform, and as pointed out by the MPs of the MQM, warrants more authority and funding as well. Until the local government structure is improved, you cannot expect democracy to flourish at the grassroots and for people to solve their own problems instead of waiting for bureaucratic machinery in a distant capital.

One of the fundamental ways to establish the credibility of the democratic system is to empower people with choices. We need to have faith in the people and have respect for their vote.

The constitutional provision for the direct election of the mayor could go a long way in this regard.

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

Sharif and Netanyahu: One Handshake I Would Like to See Making News

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

I just came across a post from the Israeli Prime Minister on social media reporting on his interaction with the leaders of the world, including the Indian Prime Minister, in the recent Paris Climate Change Conference. Just imagine for a second the awkwardness of the Israeli and Pakistani leaders completely ignoring each other’s existence during the leader summit. Maybe it would take more than climate change to unite the nations of the world.

During the conference, two handshakes made news, only suggestive of how bad things are between those nations: The one between PM Nawaz Sharif and PM Narendra Modi, and the other involving PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. But one handshake that I would have liked to see making news would be between Pakistani Prime Minster Sharif and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

This only takes you to the idiotic foreign policy Pakistan, and a number of other Muslim majority countries, mostly Arab, have been maintaining toward Israel. There is hardly any doubt that Pakistan has been losing a tremendous opportunity for decades by not building its relations with Israel, despite being aligned with the Western alliance that both are part of, including the Gulf Arab states. Let it be issues like defense and security or trade and educational exchanges, the opportunities offered by the diplomatic relations would be unlimited. But only if the people of Pakistan open their minds to them and drop old prejudices for a while, if not for good.

What is even worse is that due to the diplomatic vacuum in the region for Israel, its partnership with India, Pakistan’s primary rival, has been strengthening manifold on the defense front. Pakistanis have the option to keep on whining about how the Jewish people are the sworn enemies of Muslims and are colluding with Hindus against them. Or they could try joining forces with Israel themselves. If the Israelis are being hostile, have the Pakistanis given them a chance to be friends? Even once? Actually, Pakistan’s defense interests are more aligned with Israel than ever with common threats in the region.

We need to understand that the diplomatic boycott of Israel is not just an expression of political hostility, it stems out of antisemitism. We certainly should know better than that. Now that even some Gulf states are opening new diplomatic avenues with Israel, and Arab League members proposing recognizing Israel in a peace plan, Pakistan certainly does not need to be bound by any obligation to them.

Furthermore, since Pakistan’s beef with Israel, as is the case with other Muslim majority countries, is the occupation of Jerusalem, diplomatic relations would put them in a far better position for negotiating peace. Besides, the priority of peace for the Middle East should be the independence and recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state and the protection of the rights of the people rather than pursuing a religious crusade.

Building relations with Israel would be a step forward to improving tolerance and acceptance among the people of Pakistan, who have been conditioned to riot at the very mention of Israel. Pakistan needs to expand its horizons for a brighter future and must not restrict itself with the false obligations of being a Muslim majority state. We need to interact in a saner manner with the global community and the current civilian leadership is capable of bringing about the required results.

It is time to break our shackles and embrace the policy of friendship and cooperation instead of insisting on bigotry, boycott and hate.

It is time to establish relations with Israel and recognize its right to exist.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pakistan Must Join the Global Coalition Against ISIS

Source: ipp-news.com

Source: ipp-news.com

In a recently reported statement, the representative of the Pakistan military has denied any intentions to send troops as a part of a global coalition for fighting ISIS. I hope I am reading it wrong but the statement is disappointing to say the least and would cast serious doubts about the nation’s commitment to fight terrorist threats around the world. This is only disappointing considering how the Pakistani military has been acknowledged by international leaders for its contribution in the war against terrorism.

On the other hand, Pakistan Army has already made statements vowing that the existence of ISIS would not be tolerated in Pakistan. While so far the officials have not acknowledged the presence of the terrorist group in Pakistan, critics have good reasons to question how the threat of ISIS in the region is being downplayed.

However, contributing to the global coalition against ISIS does not necessarily have anything to do with the threat in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is no doubt that increased security is required at home, but we also have a responsibility to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

We are not sure whether the Western leaders have really started to rally a serious coalition for ground forces in Iraq and Syria, but this early statement is not a healthy sign. Nevertheless, the need to build such a coalition as soon as possible, and one which many in the West are underestimating, if not undermining, at best.

While the efforts of the Pakistani military must be appreciated for fighting the terror bases in the North Western tribal areas, this does not mean that the war against terrorist threats is over. Pakistan must fulfill its global responsibilities, and the Pakistani civilian leadership should take a stand on the issue.

The war against ISIS is too important to be left to the lack of enthusiasm and reluctance of nations making up the allies. The United States and other leaders of the coalition should pressure Pakistan, among other countries around the world including India and Middle Eastern countries, to contribute their due share.

Pakistan has a proud tradition of assisting the United States in its campaigns against enemies of freedom around the world. From resisting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and being an inseparable part of the peacekeeping force to stop genocide in Bosnia, Somalia and Sierra Leone to the war against terrorism, Pakistan has been a responsible ally for the most part. It is time to act in that spirit again.

Muslim majority countries must lead the way to battle Islamist terrorist groups organizing themselves in tyrannical states and it is imperative that Pakistan be in the frontline. Pakistan would also be reluctant to take action on ISIS abroad due to its refusal to participate against the Iran-backed Yemeni rebels.

There has been a particular reluctance to fight ISIS both among Western powers and Sunni majority countries due to their anti-Shia inclination. However, saner political forces both in the West and in Sunni majority countries do not agree on this dangerous and counterproductive way of countering the Iranian influence.

Tolerating ISIS is also a terrible way to hope for the fall of the Assad regime. Probably a more morally and politically correct way would be to launch a mass invasion on Syria, in the manner of the 2003 Iraq War. Both the United States and the EU did not hesitate for a minute to get directly involved to overturn the Libyan regime. At least we can agree that Assad is far worse than Gaddafi. And if removing Assad is not that important, why even bother with that?

You know the world is dealing with a moral crisis when Russia is actively claiming to fight ISIS, and Turkey and other adjoining nations are just silent witnesses. And even worse, shooting down their planes.

There is no doubt that a ground force or any sort of political intervention is not going to resolve the Sunni-Shia rift in the region, and such a coalition should not aim to achieve any nonsensical goals in the first place. However, such a presence is required to ensure the elimination of the Islamic State and to prevent such organized threats from emerging.

Even today, the public opinion and many liberal politicians oppose deploying ground troops. And many of them are asking valid questions, like the UK opposition enquiring if the airstrikes proposed by Prime Minister Cameron would make any difference and what would be the next step.

The current leadership in the West is not thinking about the next step because of the horrors of the Iraq War campaign. Who are they going to help by bombing ISIS? Assad, Russia and pro-Iran forces? And would it be enough to help what is left of the Syrian Free Army that is currently being targeted by the Russians?

Those opposing substantial military action for the liberation of the ISIS occupied territory might as well not bother with the bombings either, apart from surgical drone strikes targeting ISIS leadership. Also, they should make up their minds about what to do about Assad.

Apparently, many people around the world still need to be convinced that ISIS is a threat worth proactively fighting against. Unfortunately, for political reasons or otherwise, the Pakistani military leadership appears to be among them.

It is important to understand that without a long-term occupying ground force in Iraq and ISIS occupied Syria, stability cannot be achieved.

Pakistan needs to be an inseparable part of this ground force.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Resolving The ISIS Crisis is All About Helping Syrian Refugees

Source: bbc.co.uk

Source: bbc.co.uk

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.
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