America Finally Standing Up to Pakistan for Free Speech

Source: geo.tv

What perhaps separates, or should separate, America from the rest of the powers of the world is its moral leadership.

The United States might have ended up getting involved in, and sometimes started, some of the most violent and costliest of wars around the war but more often than not you will find that it had some sort of a moral intention behind it as opposed to naked expansionism. Whether that is true or not is up for debate, especially whether the United States has a monopoly over republican causes around the world.

However, one thing that can be said for certain is that no other nation of the world holds free speech more sacred and fundamental to liberty than the United States. This is because of the very ideology on which the United States was based. This was probably the reason why the first amendment passed to the Constitution by the founding fathers was to protect speech.

People in repressive and regressive countries such as Pakistan look up to at least the United States, if no other Western power, when it comes to protection from their own governments. These words seem to be stating the idiotic obvious but believe it or not, a vast number of people do not even consider curbs on free speech, theocratic rule, and Especially in countries with Muslim majority population and many in the West who think that Muslims need a break from hate, not aware they are doing them further harm by protecting theocratic authority.

It came as a rather pleasant surprise when the representative of the United States government, in agreement with that of the UK representative, urged Pakistan government to repeal its draconian blasphemy law at a UN forum. To their credit, the EU has also made similar demands from Pakistan before on a public forum. However, this reprimand was made in the presence of Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who was heading the Pakistani delegate at the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan’s human rights record at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Khwaja Asif also presented Pakistan’s report.

Either way, it is a welcome sign but it still is a long way from the United States getting seriously in addressing this matter. States seldom are but this remains to be one outside hope for the citizens of oppressive countries than a bloody, brutal civil revolution from within, which hardly ever brings about a humane, democratic transition.

Perhaps one way that the United States could disturb the comfort and self-indulgence of the ruling class of Pakistan by threatening or imposing economic sanctions for imposing undemocratic laws such as the blasphemy law and discriminatory laws against Ahmedis.

While this sounds like colluding with a foreign power against your own, it is not. You could argue that willingly enforcing discriminatory laws targeting your fellow citizens is treason instead.

In a society like Pakistan, where the majority of the people do not understand how theocratic laws are contradictory to democracy and human rights, there is no other option but to count on moral diplomacy. There is no option but to influence change through lobbying and with the help of a foreign entity. Since Pakistani leaders and diplomats are never going to have this sense of social fairness, you have to pray that the Americans and the rest of the Western powers should do that bit of moral leadership for them.

You can read the full US delegation statement here.

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A Foreign Minister With A Mind of His Own?

Source: Asia Society

I am not saying it has happened for the first time in Pakistani history, but it surely seems something out of the ordinary in the current political atmosphere in Pakistan. After the Pakistani military and bureaucratic establishment realized what a colossal error its favorite dictator General Pervez Musharraf had committed by permitting private TV channels, a regime of media control was brought about.

It was at least too late for Musharraf himself who erroneously started considering himself to be a democratic leader with a liberal economic vision who enjoys complete support by the people of Pakistan. He probably banked too much on his ridiculous referendum numbers and ended up resigning due to the resistance put up by civilians for a sacked judge.

The same political party which had been overthrown by the military bureaucracy returned 14 years later with another overwhelming mandate, only earlier paralleled in its volume by the Awami League in the 1970 election. The Awami League was,, of course, declared as an outlawed and traitorous party in a rebel country.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had his third term cut short by some dimension of the state bureaucracy earlier in July this year. Today, at this situation, it is refreshing to see that the Foreign Minister of the same political party who had delivered a fiery speech against the military establishment in the parliament embarrass it on an international forum. Especially when the current Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi looks like a zombie bullied by the drill sergeant at the Kakul Academy about “What to say at UN manual.”

Here is Khawaja Asif speaking at the Asia Society in New York.

Not only that, Khawaja Asif completely owned the label of a “more liberal foreign policy,” criticizing the opposition party to pandering to the “religious fringes.” Like most liberals of Pakistans, he also reminisced about the “old liberal, pluralistic, tolerant, and progressive Pakistan of the 50s and 60s,” which was taken away due to the Islamization in the wake of the Afghan Jihad. He also thought that Pakistan so openly joining the American camp during the Cold War years was a mistake. At least, it is refreshing to see such an approach taken by a Pakistan government official so openly in an international diplomatic forum.

Khawaja Asif also remarkably admitted that Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and other terrorists like the Haqqani Group were liabilities for Pakistan and that Pakistan needed time to deal with them. He also stated that the dismissed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had put his career on stake in order to improve relations with India, which he considered necessary while also describing the struggle of the Kashmiri youth at the hands of the brutality of Indian military and government.

Khawaja Asif certainly has many flaws. He is an inarticulate loudmouth with a knack of saying inappropriate things every now and then, blame it on his Punjabi male chauvinistic upbringing.  Even was my Idiot of the year 2016. But once in a while, he also ends up doing something right. And to his credit, more often than the broken clock telling the time right. However, he is still the same man who threatened Israel over a piece of fake news when he was the Defense Minister. Read about the underlying antisemitism of his comment here.

Of course, his statements have given indigestion to a lot of nationalist conservatives and military establishment loyalists including the PTI who are accusing him of treason as usual. However, all supporters of democracy and civilian supremacy should celebrate this rare moment in Pakistan foreign policy. State protected terrorist Hafiz Saeed s even suing Khawaja Asif for Rs. 100 million for defamation. Just to give you an idea how bad things are in Pakistan when it comes to the moral authority of the state. It would also not be beyond our deep state if we shortly see the resignation of the minister following the controversy he has stirred. In that case, the Pakistani people should stand by a diplomat that has, for once, truly represented them.

There has been Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the PPP government who chose to dissent but never like this. So a Foreign Minister finally having a mind of his own, or at least saying the right thing, has been rare in Pakistan.

Let’s celebrate that.

The Brighter Side of President Trump’s First UN Speech

Source: CNBC/Getty Images

Of course, it is President Trump.

He is going to get under your skin and it is hard to ignore whatever he does. He is a foreign policy and public relations embarrassment and just referred to a country called “Nambia” in Africa. Of course, he clearly meant Namibia.

But forget his reckless personal style for a minute and let us focus if there was a brighter side to his speech, his first as the US President at the UN General Assembly.

With the recent trends in American politics, the victory of President Donald Trump itself being the greatest sign, as well as the gains of progressive Senator Bernie Sanders in the Presidential election, isolationism seems to be on the rise. This threatened the American world order globally and also became a point of concern for people who care about freedom and democracy all over the world.

Granted that Trump’s leadership is far from what the world needs in the face of some of the gravest authoritarian threats since the fall of the Soviet Union, still, it could have been a lot worse. Given his campaign rhetoric, it is even a relief that he was there to address the world in the UN General Assembly. Though what he wouldn’t do for some attention?

While he is complaining that the world is not doing enough to repay America for its international duties. he is acknowledging that the world’s problems are his problems. While he is troublingly emphasizing too much on nationalism and sovereignty as the guiding principles for nation states, he is still acknowledging the investment the United States is willing to put in for world peace and prosperity.

He recklessly ended up threatening North Korea with annihilation, something he was condemning them for. Now that is an extreme, but in all his speech, he made one thing clear. His condemnation of Cuba and restoring the embargo could be the most disappointing aspect of his foreign policy legacy, a great achievement of the Obama years.

His speech meant that America still has not lost its internationalism, albeit at a cost of significant influence. His speech meant that Trump is still very much onboard the idea of America caring about its allies around the world. He tried making it clear that it was not about establishing the American Empire of the Bush family, reminding of no territorial gains in recent wars and rejecting the notion of nation-building. Yet he was very much on track of the Republican liberal policy than not.

His position on the Iran Nuclear Deal is pretty much the official position of the Republican Party and the sort of stance that Israel wants to take the United States. Whether this approach will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon or not is another matter but most certainly, this sends out a stern message to Iran that perhaps their diplomatic achievement was not one after all.

Iran might take a moral high ground after Trump’s speech but the fact remains that it continues to directly threaten b0th Israel and the United States. And Iran getting nuclear weapons will not only be an apocalyptic scenario for the Middle East but the greatest hurdle to regime change in the country, which is one of the most urgent need of the hour for the world and the Iranian people.

In the end, the noteworthy point was that Trump, guided by seasoned generals Mattis and Kelly in his cabinet, is pretty much an interventionist President.

Trump remains to be irresponsible on many global liberal fronts such as free trade and climate change, but perhaps he is not prepared to wash his hands off the world peace situation. If he does not ends up disturbing it himself, that is.

If he does not ends up disturbing it himself, that is.

Funny What Amounts to Treason in Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Pakistan is a strange country. Here people are more outraged about who helped catch the most wanted terrorist in the world than the fact that Osama Ben Laden was found hiding in the backyard of the country’s military academy.

Now whether the most wanted man in the world was a prisoner of ours or his presence there was a complete could be up for debate. However, there is no doubt in my mind that both the military and civilian leadership of the time were absolutely committed to fighting terrorism, including Al Qaida.

It is also not difficult to assert how Pakistan has been committed to its alliance with the United States for fighting terrorism, despite all the differences and suspicions. This is why it should really not be so shocking that Pakistan would do everything in its power to help the United States achieve its goals.

If that is the case, what is the big deal with certain Pakistani government officials helping the United States out to locate Osama Ben Laden? I personally disagree with killing Ben Laden instead of arresting him alive, but I am pretty sure that would have been the last resort.

There has been one constant theme since the Abbottabad raid in 2014. Outrage over the United States violating over sovereign air space, even though they were curiously not bothered even any step of the way except for the resistance at the terrorist compound.

Since then we have been trying our best to determine the traitors who tipped off the US authorities about the location of Osama Ben Laden so they could violate our sovereignty. And are absolutely not bothered about the people who kept Osama Ben Laden in the lion’s den for who knows how long.

There is absolutely no doubt that the matter about the Abbottabad incident should be clarified to the public. People deserve to know what really happened that day as opposed to the official narratives the reliability of which have been highly doubtful.

Ambassador Haqqani’s op-ed piece in Washington Post, as narcissistic it was, it failed to demonstrate the reason that everyone in Pakistan seems to be upset about. Though not sure if providing his own example offered any solace to the skeptical and angry American vote. That Ambassador Haqqani’s cockroach skills could survive a nuclear holocaust is not a recent revelation. However, what we are seeing in a new light are the incurably twisted priorities of the Pakistani nationalists.

I tried hard finding how the ambassador could have hurt Pakistan during his one-man crusade, duo if you count President Zardari, against Osama Ben Laden and failed to find any bad news. The gentleman, if we are to take his word for it, used his contacts to help out the US intelligence locate the position of Osama Ben Laden after 8 elusive years. And now that we finally got him, the Obama administration gets to take all the credit for the find. Of course, they get the credit for the kill entirely.

Opposition leader Khurshid Shah pounced at the news by declaring Mr. Haqqani a traitor after our bellicose defense minister raised the issue. A lot in the national media are apparently doing the same. After the habitual retaliatory statement, PPP succumbed to the pressure of national security like always, even though they are aware that their voters do not give a damn about the Haqqani affair.

If anything, this episode speaks volumes of the vision and intelligence of President Zardari for making such a bold diplomatic feat possible. Of course, it is not treason if the Prime Minister and President order something, if Haqqani’s account is true, that is. I only wish the names of the Pakistani civil and military officials would go down in history in the rightful spirit of their valuable contribution when it comes to the operation taking out Osama Ben Laden.

But this also tells us something about Obama administration abandoning its close allies in Pakistan since then, which you could argue could have done more to promote the democratic regime. Under the extreme pressure of military establishment and judicial activism, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had to resign to appease our anti-corruption witch hunters.

With the deal of the CPEC closed and the troops of Communist China parading in Pakistan for the first time in history, Pakistan is now under the thumb of the authoritarian Far Eastern power than ever before. No outrage over that either. Meanwhile, Washington is trying to abandon Pakistan as much as possible under the influence of an unpredictable President and crazy isolationist conservatives and left progressives.

But if we stop blaming others for our miserable situation for once, we better consider our national priorities for one second. I am not endorsing a foreign country violating Pakistani borders and air space. Of course, the Americans should have kept the Pakistani authorities in the loop (yeah right), but I am just confused by the lack of outrage at Osama Ben Laden living like a king in Pakistan. Please tell me what I am getting wrong here, or were our objectives in the war against terrorism contrary to that of the United States?

This is supposed to be common sense, but since it is not, you would find people stating the obvious every now and then, which clearly is not so obvious.

Also, this is a good reason why the world has a hard time believing us.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

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.

The Expectations from President Donald Trump

Source: abc.com

Source: abc.com

A few months ago when the Republican primaries started, I wrote that a Republican presidency was the best possible road for the situation in Iraq and Syria. The suggestion was more for a traditional Republican. Even though I did anticipate a Donald Trump presidency right from the start, it was never something that thrilled me. Of course, a conventional Republican such as Jeb Bush or John Kasich would have been a far better choice of leadership in these difficult and almost apocalyptic times in the Middle East.

While apparently handing the complete legislative control to the Republican Party, the American people seem to have reversed the effect in 2008 that made Obamacare possible, things matter more on the foreign front. On the issue of terrorism, President Trump overwhelmingly beat Secretary Clinton, and even had an edge over her on economy and immigration, embarrassingly.

Considering the situation in Iraq and Syria, President Obama’s sheer disregard of the crisis is an abomination and a moral disgrace. With the monotone narrative in the Democratic Party, there is no hope of finding a viable alternative there. Ironically, a President Hillary Clinton would by far have been the most sensible voice in a party with increasingly isolationist tendencies pertaining to Iraq and Syria.

Trump’s main litmus test is going to be economic, of course. One of his greatest campaign promises, and one of his greatest hurdles to pursue an aggressive military policy, and he is expected to hesitate unlike Bush 41 and 43. You cannot claim to know Donald Trump or what he believes in except his love for himself, but you can estimate that when it comes down to it, he is going to be more cautious than you would expect. Contrary to the image of a monster that has been constructed by media in the last quarter or so.

What is important to consider is that Trump’s electorate has not voted for him to take America to another war, even though that may be the need of the hour. President Trump has been elected to improve America’s economic growth, to add jobs, for protecting American traders from the risks of globalization, and to bring manufacturing factories back to the United States.

But if only the economy were the only hurdle in the way of a more responsible foreign and military American policy in Iraq and Syria. With the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad immediately reaching out, the signs for the future are not healthy indeed at all.

Besides, Donald Trump is hardly a traditional Republican conservative. His populist platform and trade protectionism are the residue of his past in the left, with perhaps the issue of abortion being the only one on which he may have appeared to evolve as a conservative. Who knows?

But he is not exactly a Rockefeller Republican either and probably you cannot expect him to respect free trade agreements. The outlook on his domestic policy is scary and his calls for registering Muslims sounds highly inappropriate. He is also likely to block more Syrian refugees from entering. However, it would be difficult to argue that he is not merely following up on his mandate anyway.

While the liberals of the world are mourning the loss of Hillary Clinton, who has the conscience to ask the question about Iraq and Syria? Where were the military forces of the free world when the Peshmerga were struggling to hold Mosul with the fierce battle raging against the Islamic State? Where was the outrage and mourning for the Iraqi Kurds and the Yazidis?

This is where regardless of his personal ideological beliefs, or lack thereof, Donald Trump must rise up to the challenge of dealing with the Middle East situation in a brave and urgent manner. He must do that at least for the sake of his party and even if that means going to war with the legislature. And he must do that without coming under the influence of Vladimir Putin.

 It is undoubtedly unfortunate that an intellectual such as President Barack Obama is leaving office with the situation in the Middle East worsened when he assumed it. It is sad that he has not been able to work to resolve the sectarian tensions in Iraq, which have spilled over into Syria to fuel the bitter civil war. It is sad that he has threatened but never followed up on his red line.

If liberal and responsible leaders are not going to do their job, you have no choice but to count on “demagogues” to bring the task to completion.

Good luck President Trump.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pakistan’s Turn to the Dark Side

Source: ARY News

Source: ARY News

If the recent foreign policy developments for Pakistan did not have you worried, then it is time for serious reflection. Ever since President George W. Bush left office, you can feel a distance between Washington and Islamabad. The differences between the two countries were particularly seen at their worst when Pakistan decided to carry out nuclear tests in 1998 during the term of the Clinton administration.

While Pakistan and China have always had very strong ties since the 1970s, but nothing like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has ever been seen before. It promises great prosperity for the future, but skeptics see it as yet another neo-colonial scheme in the region which could bring more harm than good. Not to mention the control it could possibly offer to the Chinese authorities in Gwadar.

Of course, the irony is not lost on the Pakistani left progressives and former communists who have been struggling against the military establishment since the 1950s. They recall how Afghan Jihad was mobilized by Pakistani military and masterminded by American National Security experts, out of fears of Soviets reaching the shores of the Persian Gulf. They also recall the harsh bans they had to endure during the Cold War years.

But let’s face it. The CPEC is too grand to be said no to. The magnitude of the project is so grand that even India would have agreed to it, had it been a primary beneficiary. The fact that Pakistan is turning to partners other than the United States and Great Britain for its economic and trade development sounds perfectly fine. Though you can’t help but wonder if the economic development comes at the cost of military alliances and other illegible footnotes.

Especially since the killing of Osama Ben Laden at the hands of US Navy Seals in Abbottabad, a humiliating episode for the Pakistani state, Pakistan’s position in the Western alliance has never been more precarious. The difference of interest between Washington and Islamabad on military action against certain militant groups in Afghanistan and within Pakistan have even worsened the tensions in the Obama years.

With the gulf of military cooperation apparently widening with a more disinterested US administration, Pakistan is apparently seeking new avenues with more sinister powers. On the surface, it was a welcome development that President Zardari paid a rare visit to Moscow in 2011 and that for the very first time, the Russian military participated in joint military exercises with Pakistan on Pakistani soil. Such an occurrence would have been unimaginable in the 1980s.

There is only one problem. Vladimir Putin and his open intimidation of the Western world. Not only that, his close association with Iran and the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. At a time when Aleppo has become the greatest battlefield for the conscience of the world, it may not be the best time to favor Russia over the Western world. So let’s just hope the military exercise is just a harmless affair of two old rivals on the road to friendship.

Probably it has been a long while that Pakistani nationalist commentators have been dreaming of Pakistani statesmen standing up to the US authorities on an equal standing. Even though we have had a tradition of strong diplomatic figures from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Abdullah Hussain Haroon. So you could expect that Senator Mushahid Hussein Syed’s recent comment at a Washington think tank about the United States no longer being the superpower of the world would see much appreciation.

The only problem is that the statement of the Prime Minister’s envoy could be tantamount to an needless provocation. It could work all very well in terms of harnessing diplomatic leverage and probably it would be unwise not to make soft threats, but if behavior such as this is overdone, it could surely affect Pakistan’s future with the Western world.

Furthermore, it is important to choose your words. Not sure how calling the United States “a declining power” is so flattering, no matter what your objectives are. It has only been a slight sign of Pakistan drifting away from and slipping into the Chinese and Russian camp, other than the usual cockiness of Senator Mushahid Hussain, who is free to get carried away after retirement as much as he wants. It is just that the China-Russia camp does not offer the best of values in human civilization.

It is only a fair point to make that it takes two to tango. Perhaps the United States does not require the partnership of Pakistan as it used to during the twentieth century or perhaps it is sick and tired of nurturing the Pakistani military without the satisfactory fulfillment of its objectives. However, the United States still favors Pakistan enough with its more traditional and liberal politicians largely refraining from supporting a Liberty Caucus resolution in the Congress to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Even though the situation is far from being apocalyptic, the direction Pakistan is heading is certainly not that bright. There is nothing wrong in stating that we are living in a multi-polar world today, neither is there any harm in pursuing trade and commerce ties with the likes of China and Russia. But it would be wise not to burn bridges with long-time allies, whose values and humanitarian record we need to identify with more than authoritarian powers.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s greatest strategic concern India has been significantly improving its diplomatic standing in the West, even reaching out to Israel, since the fall of the Soviet Union. At the same time, India has not been alienating rival China and old ally Russia in its pursuit toward a freer and more vibrant economy and strong defense. Pakistan surely needs to take its diplomatic lessons from its bitter rival, despite India’s petulant insistence to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. At least the missed diplomatic opportunity with Israel cannot be emphasized enough.

As citizens, we can only hope for Pakistan to pursue more liberal and democratic policies and to stand with global forces representing such values than otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.