The Gaza Trap

Source: Flash90/TOI

In 2005, the Government of Israel took a decision that baffled people within and outside the country alike. Strongman Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the architect of the Lebanon War and a celebrated war hero, decided to withdraw forces, control, and settlements from Gaza Strip. A move of political genius, it would set the course for the security discourse in Israel in the decade to come.

Israelis were dragged out of their homes by the military and construction bulldozers demolished those buildings, right in the manner Israeli bulldozers level the houses of Palestinian militants to the ground. Israeli settlers were shouting slogans against their own government and leader and there was a sense of anger and belligerence among the more conservative Zionist factions within Israel.

Little did anyone knew this single decision will help solidify the political leadership of his conservative and hawkish Likud Party, following years of disappointment and failed efforts for peace between Labour administrations and Arafat, including those of Sharon’s own government. With separating the control in Gaza Strip, the Ariel Sharon administration clearly made the difference clear by the section fully controlled by Palestinians, soon to fall in the hands of the extremist militant group Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in contrast with the PLO administered West Bank where Israeli Defense Forces have control to this day.

From that year onward, Israel and the tiny Gaza Strip has had three major wars with no consequential result in any of them. The Israel-Gaza conflict has become the new normal in the Middle East. Whenever something significant is about to occur in Israel such as the Eurovision contest or if Israel takes a brutal security measure, the Hamas regime in Gaza fires its improvised explosive rockets into the Southern parts of Israel within its range in towns like Beer Sheba, Sderot, Ashdod, and Ashkelon.

Source: Israel Matzav Blog

There is no need to underestimate the threat of the rocket attacks from Gaza just because they are facing a naval blockade. Israel must be facing far worse attacks if this blockade is lifted since Hamas is not able to do a bad job of smuggling them in through tunnels from Egypt and with support from Jordan and West Bank too.

Not taking away anything from the evil of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Gaza controlled territory, in stark contrast to the IDF controlled West Bank, offers a clear and present threat to the Israeli population. You could argue that at the time Sharon was withdrawing from Gaza Strip, he knew such a security predicament would present itself to Israel in the coming years.

Gaza not only keeps Israelis effectively separated from the enemy but also keeps them in close proximity to a lethal threat. This significantly weakens the impact of liberals within Israel who have never won an election convincingly since then. Especially with the horrors of the Intifada fresh in the memory of Israeli citizens, the now disappeared threat of the terrorists and suicide bombers have uplifted the security situation in Israel significantly.

The contribution of right-wing Israeli governments led by Likud to the security of Israel is undisputed. But the rekindling of the conflict with Gaza every now and then not only reminds the Israeli people that a threat in the neighborhood will always loom on their head but will also show the world what Palestinians are capable of if left to their own device. This threat would have been not only worse but easily unacceptable and unsustainable if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank. This is why the idea of annexing the West Bank does not face as much resistance in Israel as it would have a few decades ago.

With Israel aiming to become the regional leader in technology and innovation, a safe, stable, and secure environment are imperative to its growth. The people of Israel do not seem to be in a mood for experimenting with their security and rely on the conservative coalition that has delivered relatively calm years in comparison except for the continual Gaza wars. This also keeps the pressure up on US Congress to increase funding for Iron Dome, which is of late seeing the inclusion of progressives like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alessandria Ocasio-Cortez who openly attack the idea of military aid to Israel.

The Israeli right wing and Hamas feed off each other in this conflict in terms of power and the end result is miserable living conditions for the people of Gaza and the people in Southern Israel. Of course, Israel would ideally not want this conflict to continue for a single more day, but it is simply not possible with an autonomous Gaza Strip under Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad which is continually supported by the likes of Iran and its allies in the Middle East.

Therefore, the Gaza Trap will keep the hardliners in power on both sides of the conflict. And we will continue to see the Gaza wars in the headlines every few months.

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The Fight for Democracy in Venezuela

Source: News Hub

As we speak, protests are underway on the streets of Caracas as pro-Guaido and pro-democracy opposition political activists and defecting soldiers are marching the streets against the draconian dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro. A potential coup is underway in Venezuela and the armed forces of Maduro are suppressing the uprising brutally. Tense for months now, this means that the conflict in the nation has finally reached the tipping point and images like these are making it clear which side is the fascist here.

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It is true that any dictator would resort to brutal measures such as this to hold on to power. But it is important to stay on the right side of history at crossroads like this. While I do not get people who support Maduro, though it’s purely out of the hate of American imperialism, the situation in Venezuela has gone too bad for too long to be able to defend the corruption of Maduro, if you are to still attach some kind of righteous heroics with the late Hugo Chavez. If that is to be believed, Maduro has certainly betrayed his legacy. This VisualPolitik video sums it up perfectly.

Juan Guaido was declared the legitimate head of state by the parliament making his claim to power legitimate. Many Western governments including the United States and Canada have recognized his regime.

The defenders of Maduro from all the regressive powers from Russia and Cuba to the resource-greedy China are targeting the United States for its interference in the country’s affairs. Apart from these countries being enough to give you an idea which side of the debate is democratic, their own vested interests are at stake with the precarious and financially corrupt authoritarian socialist dictatorship.

Removing a dictator is never easy. I always like to analogize it with pulling out a rotten molar. You have to pull it out. All we can do as democracy and liberty-loving citizens of the world can wish the people of Venezuela good luck.

The New Face of the Islamic State

Source: Amag/CNN

After the disintegration of the physical Islamic State from Iraq and Syria, the organization has found refuge in Islamist pockets around the world. The ruthless Easter bombings, killing at least 359 and injuring scores more, shocked the entire world for the sheer damage it did to a peaceful community. This was a coordinated series of at least 8 bombings hitting both churches and a couple of luxury hotels. Right away, the thoughts of the remnants of the LTTE groups came to many a people’s minds but many were deliberately trying to avoid even suspecting a Muslim group.

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Many usual critics of Islamist groups, including Tarek Fatah, were suspecting the Islamic State or an affiliated local group right from the start. No other entity would have the motivation to pick Easter and target churches and hotels in such an organized and cold-blooded manner. It indeed turned out that the Islamic State finally took the responsibility for the heinous attacks which was carried out by perhaps the strangest of their allies.

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Source: Sebastian Church/CBCP News

All the suicide bombers were found to be Sri Lankan nationals and suspected to be a part of the local Islamist group National Tawheed Jamaat. This .group featured a number of well to do Sri Lankan Muslims who bought into the agenda of Islamism, which aspires to a pan-Islamic world implementing God’s will on the earth. They believed they were doing their bit in Sri Lanka after pledging their allegiance to the Islamic State and its caliph Abubakar Al-Baghdadi. Shockingly enough for many, one of the suicide bombers was Fatima Iqbal, a wife of a Sri Lankan millionaire, also involved in the attacks. Something which proves that poverty has nothing to do with what motivates these Islamist terrorists, a part of whose agenda is to attain paradise through “murderous martyrdom.”

This is what the challenge of the Islamic State has become now. While the horrors of the physical Caliphate have been pretty much addressed, something which had become a major global crisis around 2015-16, the activities of the group have now turned it into the second Al-Quaida. And other than their non-Muslim victims worldwide, the real cost of this crisis will be paid by the local Muslim community.

In the end, the onus will again fall on the peaceful and well-meaning Muslims all around the world. Because sadly, this virus is incubating among their brotherhood and has begun to eat not only the people outside but within it. Following the shocking Easter bombings in Colombo, the Muslim minority in the country is already feeling tightened scrutiny. But none of it should come as a surprise.

Just like the overwhelming response of solidarity from New Zealand following the Christchurch Mosque massacre, the Muslim community needs to reach out to the world too. Not just in their words, but with their actions, they must reject the cancer of the Islamic State and their allies propagating violent political Islam. Though what are you going to do when they actually do point out the problem as early as 2014 and those too eager to not hurt the community’s sentiment completely ignore these warnings. The signs for the Sri Lankan Easter bombing were coming for a very long time. But they need to keep vigilant.

There is no easy way of dealing with them.

The Asad Umer Debacle

Source: Public TV News

The PTI mandate on the election date as its voters saw it seems to be falling apart. Last Thursday, the Prime Minister asked the Foreign Minister, the main star of the team, Asad Umer to step down. Asad Umer was touted as the economic solution for the country for about the last 7 to 8 years by the party. The problems started to mount when people realized that the foreign minister of the populist communitarian party that had promised “the Medina welfare state” in the manner of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Islamic Socialism was too right-wing liberal for their liking. His changes, along with an aggressive anti-money laundering drive, resulted in a decline in economic growth, slow stock and real estate markets, and high inflation due to dollar appreciation.

Hungry and desperate for power, PTI promised just about everything under the sun to their voters ever since their antics during the 2014 sit-in protest. Burning power bills due to a hike in energy prices, it was no wonder that the people were not having anything from them when they applied the same policies. Always telling the people that the foreign debt was not the way to govern, PTI had little choice but to turn to the IMF for financing a bankrupt country.

Of course, PTI and Asad Umer did the right thing to turn to the IMF. They just had a hard time getting rid of a populist, anti-corruption narrative that they got elected on and which is still a big part of their campaigns targeting opposition leaders. Especially because they considered governance by foreign debt a part of corruption too. Many of their uncompromising fans, who were taught by them to be uncompromising, felt cheated.

You could argue that Asad Umer should be given the benefit of doubt. He was doing what he considered right as evident by his recent commentary. He said that PTI decided that they would not resort to populist politics and that the value of the Rupee was artificially appreciated by the PML-N foreign minister Ishaq Dar all this point. But as far as the inflation rate and fuel and power prices are concerned, people could only take so much and the deep state was not having it.

The problem is that as much the country has been right wing ever since the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, it has always been keen on subsidizing the “basic necessities” for the underprivileged. Even President Ayub’s popular term was challenged due to public protests over the increase in the price of sugar which eventually led to its downfall. With such a history, the bureaucratic state in Pakistan fears to go Marie Antoinette on the Pakistan people, since they accept other modes of repression happily like curbing freedom of speech. But most people agree that this cabinet change came at a very inappropriate time, particularly Asad Umer’s position.

But does Imran Khan really lack judgment to this extent? His critics who always doubted his intelligence are not surprised. But he did have a lot of flair and sense during the early part of his political career as evident by these old clips. He used to openly criticize the role of the military and the security agencies. But in Pakistan, things change when you get to govern. But is it really his government?

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However, some people are offering some other reason why the Thursday cabinet reshuffle occurred. Some are calling it a coup. Others pointing toward a possible transition to the (Islamic) Presidential System. It could be that the cabinet reshuffle came as the eventual shift that the alleged installers of a weak administration wanted on their terms. Or it could even be a power move to remind Imran Khan not to attempt to make too many powerful decisions. Whatever may be the case, it either shows an indecisive Prime Minister unsure of his vision of governance or a toothless executive following the narrative of the deep state.

Some would argue that abandoning his stubborn and morally constipated political stance has finally earned him the position of Prime Minister and that he is finally acting like a politician as his critics had earlier wanted him to. Whatever may be true, it is evident that General Bajwa enjoys undermining his position as far as their body language in joint appearances is concerned.

What is particularly embarrassing for Imran Khan is the appointment of Brig. (R) Ijaz Shah, who now takes over Imran Khan’s Portfolio of Federal Interior Minister. Shah, whose appointment as ambassador was refused by the Australian government due to alleged terrorist group connections, He is also alleged by some to be among those responsible for the death of Benazir Bhutto. With such appointments, making the cabinet almost the mirror image of the state establishment sanctioned PPP cabinet, and raises a lot of question marks about the credibility of PTI.

Not sure if Imran Khan will reflect on the gravity of the situation, but at least the youth voters of PTI have tasted the consequences of their ballot for the first time. It has left them shaken and has induced self-doubt, if not buyer’s remorse. It did indeed cause a division in the loyal nationalist fanbase of the party.

Let’s just hope they learn to differentiate between idiotic rhetoric and the real world to make a fresh start. And also that a change in ministries doesn’t matter if the problem lies in the leadership.

Keeping Mashaal Khan’s Mission Alive

Source: Dawn/Tanveer Shehzad/White Star

Secularism in Pakistan sounds like a hopeless cause. There are simply not enough people to give the movement any traction and nobody likes to openly express the cause save the leftist Awami Workers Party, which is sadly a fringe entity in Pakistani politics as much as they would like to tell themselves otherwise. But it is very important to show solidarity with them whenever they are out for the cause of countering fundamentalism and promoting democratic values, and all the allies who agree on the common cause of secularism and rejecting fundamentalism in Pakistan.

On the occasion of the second death anniversary of the brutally killed progressive student Mashaal Khan in Khan Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, the Progressive Student Collective organized short protest marches all across the major cities in Pakistan. In Islamabad, the speakers include civil rights advocate Tahira Abdullah, PTM activist Khan Zaman Kakar, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar and academic and analyst Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy.

Apart from remembering Mashaal Khan and the brutal conspiracy to kill him, which was very well exposed by his teacher Ziaullah Hamdard, more contemporary issues were highlighted to protest Pakistan’s current trajectory. Post-Pulwama developments and the possibility of the country being blacklisted by the FATF was brought to attention.

 

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Pervez Hoodbhoy spoke passionately about the unabated fundamentalism in Pakistan, which is easily distinguished from the Islamist militancy that the Pakistani military took action in. Unfortunately, this brand of fundamentalism has been intertwined with Pakistan nationalism observed by social conservatives and has also become inseparable with the idea of hating Hindus and India.

It is similar hate and religious bigotry that led to the killing of Salmaan Taseer, the killing of the English literature professor in Bahawalpur, the blasphemy accusation on Multan teacher Junaid Hafeez, and of course the cold-blooded murder of Mashaal Khan. Hoodbhoy also mentioned how Pakistan could be blacklisted by the FATF soon but if it happens, it would not be a surprise considering the country’s seriousness in taking action against Islamist militants groups which are pointed out by the US, EU and several other countries including India.

Other speakers also talked about the bans on student union, which as per Ammar Rashid, could have saved Mashaal’s life. Progressive voices are already scant on our academic platforms considering the dominance of IJT or Islami Jamiat Tulaba who impose their Salafi Islamist agenda which remains a carrier for the Islamic fundamentalism that the state has promoted.

The IJT is great in numbers and the progressives only handful, but if they continue to carry Mashaal’s mission forward in some form, the seeds of secularism may even spread in Pakistan too.

How Pakistan is Treating Its Hindus

Source: geo.tv

It is an open secret that the hate against the Hindu community and the larger idea of Hinduism are well ingrained into the hearts and minds of people all over Pakistan. This is particularly true for Punjab where the percentage of Hindu population is almost non-existent with the exception of a handful of prominent active temples. Even in the school textbooks, the tone used against Hindus in history mentioning ironically the time of the Arab and Turkic invasions is often antagonistic if not on the verge of being purely hateful. This upbringing indeed has its consequences.

This probably should not be the case when it comes to Sindh where the Hindus make a majority of the population. But you don’t have to be an expert on Sindh to know how the community is largely treated over there. But things enter a different, surreal zone when it enters the realm of the federal government expressing its views on this community. Earlier this month during the confrontation with India, such an incident occurred.

PTI Information and Culture Minister for Punjab Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan has developed a bit of a reputation of being a loudmouth. In his state of fury and emotions, he forgot to censor himself enough during a public speech and ended up spewing insults against Hindus that many Pakistani Muslims like him casually believe.

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Now he ironically himself is from Hindu ancestry, as are most people living on the eastern banks of the Indus river, if he is really from the family with that surname (Chauhan as shared by the Rajput warrior Prithvi Raj Chauhan). He represents the converted native Hindu people who have become self-haters and have started imagining themselves a part of an invader’s foreign culture.

Pakistan used to be a part of the larger Hindu culture of India and many important Hindu sites are located in the country. The land occupied by the Pakistani state has undeniable Hindu cultural roots. But ever since independence, it is safe to say that the community has been systematically cornered and driven out of the country. Only a few years ago, mass exodus of dozens of families to India occurred due to the trend of abductions and forced conversions that target teenage Hindu girls.

So when Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chauhan says something like this, it is the reflection of the mindset of a nation which is effectively eliminating a people who are supposed to be a part of it. Chohan later apologized and Imran Khan’s ruling party PTI momentarily did some firefighting by immediately sacking the minister. People appreciated the gesture across the board but like most PR shenanigans of the party, this one had a short-lived effect too. Recently, Chauhan has been reinstated as a Minister, this time for the Local Bodies. This move should have people wondering, especially the morally constipated followers of PTI, whether the party was wrong to sack him earlier or was it wrong to “promote” him, in columnist Marvi Sirmed’s words.

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Meanwhile, the Hindus in Pakistan continue to be targeted by the majority Muslim community with forced conversions of young girls of the community. Recently, the case of Reena and Raveena will be the

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The sisters Reena and Raveena, who were allegedly abducted on Holi Day, appeared at the marriage with the men who had taken them. Apparently, it was a case of the girls eloping. Many of the social conservative and nationalist Muslims are saying that the conversion was voluntary. Nevertheless, people who have reported from the courts where they appeared and had the first contact with their parents have a different story to tell. But the problem remains that the girls are underage and their marriage remains inappropriate and legally dubious, to say the least.

But this was hardly a solitary case. Even since the Holi day, quite a few girls have been abducted for the same reasons too. And only teenage girls are targeted by Muslim boys. The Hindus of Pakistan have no choice but to find themselves at the mercy of the majority community and watch what happens next with frustration. And while people will invoke all the violence and intimidation the underprivileged Muslim population of India is facing these days in the Hindu Rashtra mania triggered by Modi’s administration, unlike the Muslims in India, there is no one to stand for them in Pakistan.

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The good that could possibly come from this situation is that the civil society and the Hindu community itself have decided to speak up and protest. They are pressuring the politicians to legislate a ban on forced conversions and underage marriage. They are letting Pakistanis know that they have had enough of the nonsense. So whether Pakistan moves to become a Secular State or start pursuing the mirage of the “Medina State,” the sort of mindset that has resulted in the culture of forced conversions, it needs to address the protection of the Hindu community. In an Islamic Republic, the Hindus will take any political deal they can get.

What is Killing Our Teachers

Source: TRT World

When we start losing our teachers so casually and commonly to the cancer of Islamic fundamentalism, it is time to do some serious soul searching as a nation. Even the most religiously and socially conservative of our society can agree that the unhinged murder of our educated intellectuals is wrong. Clearly, there are conditions to that position, as we have seen with the unending killings of Shia and Ahmedi intellectuals and educated professionals over the years. It is the same rationale that is behind the shocking killing of a Bahawalpur Associate Professor Khalid Hameed, who was stabbed to death by his own student.

The event occurred in the public institution called Sadiq Egerton College in Bahawalpur, a more religious conservative South Punjab district than usual. The video interview of the student Khateeb Hussain, a BS Student, who was taken into custody at the site of crime is chilling and gives a clear insight into the sort of mindset that enables students to act with such impunity. Viewer discretion is advised.

The student shows no remorse because according to him, the English literature Professor used to speak ill of Islam. That gave him enough reason to commit the crime but another reason that escalated the situation was the professor organizing a welcome party which was a mixed gender event. Pakistan is a society with significant gender segregation in public spaces, which is sanctioned more by religion than any social norms.

We also recall the time when Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) or the student wing of the Islamist Deobandi Jamaat-e-Islami held protest rallies in Quaid-e-Azam University against secular professor Pervez Hoodbhoy. It is a relief that he had been spared because the mindset that has been as caustic in those days as it has been today. However, the difference has been the public encouragement to vigilantism by the Tehreek Labaik Pakistan ever since the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer by Mumtaz Qadri. Furthermore, the possible debate on whether a Barelvi is more likely to take such action is also interesting. This post could be Exhibit A for the arguments for a Barelvi likelihood to commit a righteous kill.

Like always, there were posts like this on the social media that celebrated this great feat of bravery. The post above celebrates the murderer as well as his mother who gave birth to such a lionheart “Ghazi,” the Islamic term for surviving victor. There is a slight nod to Khadim Hussain Rizvi in the post as well. The post also features the trademark Barelvi slogan “Gustaakh-e-Rasool ki saza, sar tan se juda” or beheading is the only punishment for a blasphemer. It is not shocking that tragedies like these occur when such venomous theological venom goes unchecked.

One of my friends Shujaat Hussain, also an English literature Professor, was immigrating to a Western country. He must have his own reasons but in general, I used to feel sorry for the loss of the country for losing such brilliant, free-thinking minds. But when I see such fundamentalism plague our educational institutions, it is probably better for intellectual teachers like him to leave this society to its own devices.

Perhaps the Bahawalpur teacher should have immigrated to a foreign country too.