Pandering to the Authoritarian Ally

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

In perhaps a not so unprecedented move, the Pakistani interior ministry has ordered the shutting down of Pak-Turk schools and the staff to leave the country by November 20.

It was not too long ago that the same Interior Minister ordered the Save the Children organization to shut down, only later to reverse the decision. But there are many ways this case is far worse.

In an utterly shameless manner, the Turkish President claims that the organization of his rival is a threat to Pakistan’s national security. The Turkish President accused Fatehullah Gulen to have orchestrated a failed military coup in July 2016, apparently all the way from Pennsylvania. This also resulted in a cruel purging of dissidents from government service and arrest of political workers.

The PTI had called for the boycott of the Turkish President’s address to the parliament out of spite for the Prime Minister, or perhaps because he is “disqualified” now. I would have had much more respect for them, or for any other Senator or MP, had they expressed their protest when such humiliating and unacceptable language was being used by the Turkish head of state. But more than that his pressures for banning the Pak-Turk schools should be condemned.

What is even more outrageous is his defiant behavior toward the Pakistani press rightfully criticizing the ban. Typical despotic behavior from him that has not been unheard of. While his government may not welcome the criticism from the Pakistani press, our press and our people supporting freedom should not welcome his comments and actions either.

The fact that the Sharif brothers would go to any degree to appease their personal allies is one problem. But what about Pakistan’s sovereignty? That would have already been invoked had the demander would have been the United States.

Just like we have done so many times before, we have ensured an authoritarian ally that no one is safe in our country as long as they are opposed to them. So, it is not just about Fatehullah Gulen, if you are Dalai Lama, you better not enter Pakistan or we could hand you over to China.

The question remains if we are to give up our sovereignty of offering safe shelter to the Turkish employees of the Pak-Turk schools, then what exactly is our argument with India? Why are we not listening to India about which terrorist group should be taken action against or not? And it appears that India’s problem with Hafiz Saeed holds a lot more weight, even if he happens to be a natural citizen.

If our moral compass really supersedes our political and territorial sovereignty, then what is the resistance to not listening to India, signing an extradition agreement and handing over the likes of Hafiz Saeed? If diplomatic relationships are everything and more important than the freedom of local and foreign citizens staying in the country,  then why not take this necessary step to put an end to the current diplomatic crisis with India? Purely because of their grievance with Hafiz Saeed. Other than the fact that Pakistan thinks that he has not done anything wrong.

This may be a false equivalence, but enough of an argument that would never work on deaf ears. Let us talk about our loyalty and devotion to the Turkish people instead, arguably the most loyal allies Pakistan would ever have.

It could be argued that the Pakistani government would not have a choice considering the diplomatic pressure from Turkey. However, at what cost are we strengthening our diplomatic relations?

The question is not even about political and territorial sovereignty. Again the problem remains to be our government’s insensitivity to the right of freedom of access. Not only have they deprived the Pakistani people of an independent service entity, but they have taken away an option for education, which violates the freedom of education. Especially in a country in which the government is not doing much about education anyway, despite passing the meaningless free education clause.ee

Our stance, as a nation and as a people, remains with the rule of democracy in Turkey, no matter who is elected.   For that reason alone, even the most liberal commentators would support the regime of President Erdogan and his party. However, we must never become a party to his partisan vendetta against his rivals.

Our loyalties in terms of alliance and friendship should remain with the people of Turkey regardless of their political and religious leanings. What is more important is that our loyalties must remain with all the Turkish people and not just those who are in power.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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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.

Why Pakistan Must Stand Up Against ISIS

Source: ISPR/Dawn

Source: ISPR/Dawn

Just when you thought that the Obama administration is going to forsake the Middle East at the mercy of the menacingly destructive ISIS, there is finally a little ray of hope. According to a news report, the recent trip of the US National Security Advisor Susan Rice to Pakistan involved discussion of building an alliance against the Islamic State. In other words, the United States would be asking Pakistan’s help to deal with the situation, though it’s still wishful thinking.

Nevertheless, this offers Pakistan yet another opportunity to lead the world by example in fighting terrorism, as was the case in the global war against Islamist terrorism following 9/11. As a matter of fact, international military action against ISIS is far overdue. The silence of the UN Security Council on the matter has been shameful to say the least. Only Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan have retaliated weakly to the Islamic State, and that too, when their own borders and soldiers were threatened.

If Pakistan does respond to the call of the United States to join such a coalition, it would only be fulfilling its duty as a responsible member of the international community. No other country of the world should be an exception. As a matter of fact, all capable powers around the world should rise up to the challenge of ISIS.

There are a lot of people around the world who are blaming the Obama administration for being indirectly responsible for the current situation in Iraq and Syria. The Obama Administration with its half measures to depose Assad has helped turning Syria into a mass graveyard, and as the indirect consequence of which, ISIS has captured large parts of both Iraq and Syria, establishing its own state.

However, the most painful part of this story remains to be how the world has treated the Kurds. The 2003 Iraq War had finally given the Kurds an opportunity to found an independent state after decades of struggle and oppression by at least three major powers in the region. Even today, Kurds are still surrounded by enemies, with the worst of them all, ISIS, is barely being kept at bay by the Peshmarga. However, they cannot help but feel betrayed by their Western liberators, as their hopes of independence are in jeopardy again. Helping them, especially the Yazidi population, is almost a moral duty.

ISIS is slaughtering innocent civilians and is destroying the cultural heritage of the Middle East. It is simply a shame that not even a single nation in the world has decided to stand up to this challenge and tackle the growth of ISIS. As a matter of fact, the Iranians and the Syrians have been on the forefront to fight this menace. But this needs to change, if the world wants to see a substantial change in the current situation in the Middle East, which has given rise to probably the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

I know there are a lot of people who would warn against entering another of “America’s wars,” reminding of the wave of terrorist attacks that followed throughout the country. Wars are never without a cost, but staying out of one is not always the more peaceful and safest option. Taking action against ISIS is as important as it was to fight against the Nazi Third Reich. While we mourn the death of Aylan Kurdi, which in all seriousness may or may not have anything to do with the Syrian civil war directly, but it would be even better if we focus our attention to the elements that are destroying the homes of Syrian families, including their dictator Bashar Al-Assad.

The allies must ask themselves why Assad is still in power, and if he is to be tolerated in Damascus, then what is the point of continuing support for the Syrian opposition? And what is the point of fueling this fire from a distance when we know that Putin’s forces are now in Syria. Maybe, they could help offer some help against the IS militants after all.

Does this mean that the anti-Assad powers around the world had a part to play of depriving millions of Syrians of their homes? All this destruction for nothing? It would simply be irresponsible to leave the situation in its current state just because bad intervention had caused the deterioration. Faux doves must be resisted both in the West and in the Muslim majority countries.

But apart from the trouble that Syrian nationals have been facing, we must not forget that ISIS is a real threat to the Pakistani state as well. Evidence has been found of ISIS presence and influence within Pakistan, and the Foreign Office has recognized the group as a threat to the national security.

However, Pakistan is not unique in being threatened by the growth of ISIS. Pretty much every nation in the world that values freedom is feeling threatened by the existence of this group directly or indirectly, especially those close to the Middle East. Considering the inaction of the Sunni Arab states, it is also important to fight ISIS to avoid offering it the privilege and legitimacy of being the de facto force of Sunni resistance against the Iranian Shia political influence, especially in Iraq and Syria.

A lot of people in Pakistan and in other Muslim majority countries like to blame ISIS on the enemies of Islam, by which they are referring to the United States, the EU and the allies such as Israel. Even if that is true, it should give Muslim majority countries and Arab states all the more reason to come together and get rid of this dangerous group that has been effectively demonizing the faith that represents their identity. Of course, Israel must play its part in fighting the ISIS as well.

We should be proud that Pakistan has been the front line state in the war against terrorism after 9/11. We should continue this honorable tradition of eradicating terrorist groups. We have celebrated the valor and sacrifice of our servicemen and women on the Defense day. It is important that we prepare ourselves to take on the threats that are jeopardizing the survival of civilization in the region as we know it at the same time.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.