What Independence Means After 70 Years

Source: BBC

Well, here is the 70th anniversary of the independence and we are supposed to be ecstatic.

Just imagine how it would be like on the 75th anniversary, or on the centennial, for that matter.

Well, I wish.

Because in my entire life, I have never felt more suffocated by Pakistan than on the 70th anniversary. I have never known Pakistan like I have on the 70th anniversary.

Never more disillusioned, nor more disappointed. It is like living in a prison with walls closing in that you would want to escape. But forget me. I feel for the 200 million others, most of who don’t even feel the suffocation that they are being subjected to.

It has been 70 years and still, there is no respect for a citizen of Pakistan.

It has been 70 years and still, there are people who are being harmed and abused by the state.

It has been 70 years and still, an elected leader has not completed their term, and one just got dismissed in a judicial coup.

It has been 70 years and still, Pakistan remains to be a theocracy.

The fact of the matter is that the minority religious groups are constantly jeopardized and marginalized by a hypocritical and morally

There are people in this country who will deny the rights to other communities for which they have claimed to win a separate country.

And in the same breath, they would complain about corruption and justice and transparency.

It is disappointing, to say the least.

The very root of this country is infected with a moral corruption that seems incurable at worst.

It is unfortunate that we still have people in this country who are not willing to give marginalized communities a chance in this country.

It is unfortunate that we still have people who would not agree to a fair social contract in this country.

Then there are people who say that freedom would remain to be an abstract, relative concept for every individual and group anyway?

So why celebrate the independence of a political regime after all?

But so much for being a contrarian.

So they tell us to celebrate 70 years.

70 years of independence from the British colonists? Yes.

70 years of independence from ignorance, tribalism, obscurantism, tyranny, and theocracy?

70 years of freedom of speech or freedom of political association?

NO.

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CPEC Marks the End of Free Speech in Pakistan

Source: par.com.pk

The latest provocative Dawn story about the CPEC might as well be a pack of lies but what about things unfolding right in front of our eyes. It is very hard, and almost feels immoral, to remain silent at the Interior Minister’s crusade against dissenting bloggers and social media activists. Since Zia’s period, we have not seen the Pakistani state practice such blunt and open crackdown against free speech and dissent in the countries. What are you to say of authorities who treat their own citizens, whose taxes pay for their livelihood, like the enemy?

It is deeply disappointing.

There is a reason why people are skeptical of China. The Chinese Road and Belt initiative does sound very good to the ears and who in their right mind would oppose economic cooperation beyond borders? But the reason why people find it hard to trust them is because of the political culture and ideology they practice in their country. They do not practice the freedom they have preached in this initiative. There are no Google and facebook in China and that is precisely why I am not too excited about the cross border optic fiber cable network from China border to Rawalpindi. The Chinese ideals are not shared by the Pakistani youth struggling for freedom of expression.

The Chinese cultural push in Pakistan also sounds more than just a rumor, with their political culture seems to be creeping into the country. You see, in Pakistan people like to dissent, even when it comes to the blasphemy law. They like to vote for other parties, speak ill of the people of other sects and ethnicities. And considering the totalitarian trends that are also creeping into Pakistani politics with unanimously passed constitutional amendments, it is important to remind that we are not a one party country and would never be no matter what happens. It is only sad to see that these values of the Pakistani people are not being shared by those cracking down on dissenters.

We can only beg our higher authorities to please think about the people of Pakistan above everything else and stop crackdown on dissenters.

Ever since the CPEC has started, the government has been responding very aggressively and reactively to any criticism, without trying to understand what the concerns might be. In good conscience, you cannot possibly support that, especially when the democratically elected officials stand behind such policies. China may genuinely have a very encouraging vision of the regional economy but the questions that the local Pakistani businessmen and cultural critics have are worth listening to.

The Pakistani dissenting bloggers may criticize or insult the Pakistani armed forces all they want, at least we knew that their higher echelons appreciated finer things in life. At least they valued some freedom for themselves, some of which trickled down to us mortals. But with an authoritarian influencer in the picture, are we even going to have the little freedom that we used to enjoy? The future looks uncertain and scary.

Also, please do not mistake these lines to be a contradiction to the title of this piece. The more frightening aspect is that now the Pakistani authorities do not even fear if their reputation gets affected by openly targeting dissent. And that is precisely the effect of the CPEC.

Consider this and all the pieces to come from hereon to be heavily self-censored.

Long live Pakistan.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

What George Michael’s Music Meant to Me

Source: Rolling Stone

Source: Rolling Stone

It is hard to believe the news of the passing away of pop icon George Michael, who was anything but ashamed of this label. While 2016 has been cruel when it comes to taking away so many stars that we love, with Carrie Fisher being the latest, George Michael’s death has been truly unexpected and untimely. Perhaps, it is the opioids again. It is not as if I never expected to hear this news, but its timing came as a real shocker. And there is a reason why it came as a shock to someone of my generation.

Growing up in the 90s, George Michael’s music meant so much more than just songs on tape. It was way past the Wham! years and he was well established in his solo career. But most of all, George Michael was establishing himself as a rebel figure that became an icon for individual freedom and personal choices. A gay icon before being gay was even remotely acceptable, George Michael became the voice for millions of all gay, straight, bi and other orientations when he expressed his sexuality through his music.

Right from the very beginning, no idea ever appealed more to me than individualism. Nothing brought me greater inspiration than the ideals of individual freedom and the importance of each individual. This is where I saw his music as an inspiration, and as a constant soundtrack to my life, that lifted me up in my darkest of moments. His music was truly empowering and inspiring. I recall the time when nothing else made me feel better than his music and how I bonded with my siblings over his music.

Source: Columbia

The way George Michael defined Freedom may have been gibberish to the ears of many at the time. It defined a worldview to the rest of us. It became the anthem of the defiant. His songs boasting of sexual openness became a license to take liberties. He made having faith sound cool and spun the wheel of our curiosity. Just like Bowie and Madonna, he was truly a figure that changed the face of music.

So for these reasons alone, I could never forget George Michael, nor separate his work from my life. The words of his songs, as well as those tunes, became a part of the way I saw the world. At least at that time. And I cherished every single moment of it. And never regretted it for a second. For someone who could barely play a six string, George Michael proved to be someone with a genius for producing the most haunting music you would ever listen to, enabling him to sell millions of albums effortlessly.

Source: musicroom.it

Source: musicroom.it

Now that we learn that George Michael was a far more generous and gracious person than we thought, considering his crude, 90s figure, having arrested for lewd acts in a men’s restroom in the United States, inspiring his controversial Outside video. However, his charity figures would never have made any difference to his fans, who already saw him as an inspiration.

To a generation that was bogged down by too many rules, George Michael taught how to stand up to convention. Taught the importance of questioning convention. He most certainly was not alone in expressing himself like that among the pop and rock icons of the 1980s and 1990s, but he was most certainly one that I personally associated with more than anyone else. And who I admired more than anyone else, even those whose music I got to appreciate even more than his later in my life.

This certainly is an end of an era in music, and one that passes with a heavy sense of personal loss and a scar on the heart, just like at the start of this year with the deaths of David Bowie and Prince. And nothing is more heartbreaking than the news of his possible return in 2017.

Source: Virgin/MTV

RIP George Michael.

You  have been loved.

 

To Fidel Castro: Or The Disillusionment of Revolution

Source: USA Today/gannett-cdn.com

Source: USA Today/gannett-cdn.com

The legendary Cuban revolutionary, perhaps not so much as Che himself, Fidel Castro has finally passed at 90. Well, rest in peace. But as for all the mixed and divisive reactions are emerging, there really is no reason to be fighting over a dead man, even though the fight is really about the ideology that he represented. Communism.

I do not see why you cannot pay a tribute to a world leader just because you happen to be opposed to the world-view they represented. Fidel Castro should be no exception, as he is hardly the devil some people paint him to be. The Cuban diaspora in Miami reacted by celebrating, though even on the death of Osama Ben Laden, I did not see a reason to celebrate death. On the other hand, the Cuban people are in mourning too. A lot of former comrades have been paying towering tributes. Good for them.

However, on the other hand, I am not surprised that the worshipping adulations of the figure have drawn ire of the people aware of his decades-long tyranny in Cuba. I guess Justin Trudeau of Canada was treated a little harshly in his praise of the deceased leader. All he did was called Fidel Castro a remarkable leader. But then again, so were Hitler and Stalin. Of course, not equating Castro with the World War II tyrants. He was a more modern, probably more moderate tyrant in comparison with much softer, wallless gulags.

I thought President Obama’s reaction was probably the most balanced and appropriate, who heroically established relations with Cuba and lifted the embargo partially. This, in my opinion, would remain to be the greatest foreign policy legacy of the Obama years. Truly of historic proportions. Because when the criticism of the Cuban regime’s trade protectionism and closed markets are brought up, the cruel United States embargo should not go unmentioned.

What did the free world really do to invite Cuba to the free markets? Discourage it with embargos? Adopt policies that it is supposed to fight?

But enough of that as I am going to offer what I feel about him, beyond the abstract moral complexities of human rights. I find Fidel Castro inspirational in his emergence, his achievements, and his defiance. I strongly believe that he led his country down a dark alley. I believe he was more practical than the volatile and restless revolutionary Che Guevara, a facilitator of the Cuban revolution, for which I have always suspected Castro not to be a true believer in the cause of revolution and just saw it as an instrument of power.

In contrast, Che was a true revolutionary. One who had to move on and find new battlefields against the right wing imperialists. Not saying that Castro was not one. Of course, one who had to find revolutions to be a revolutionary. Castro just settled for a regime.

Fighting one superpower with puppets by being a puppet of another superpower.

What my friends on the left wing do not get about the socialist utopia created by Castro’s revolution is that it may deliver equality. It may even deliver a very good social medical system. But it deprives the citizens of freedom of action, expression, access, association, and movement in so many ways. Without freedom, isn’t social justice rendered redundant?

Source: youtube cap

Source: youtube cap

I was always impressed with the figure of the defiant Fidel Castro, but only because he was defiant. Even to the most illiterate mind in socialist propaganda, Castro’s visuals in Brian DePalma’s and Oliver Stone’s Scarface were awe-inspiring. Hey, someone who stood up to the gringos. I know many people who idolize him purely because he was anti-American, which is the perfectly wrong reason for admiring him. To others, that amount to fighting capitalism.

For that reason perhaps I should have also been impressed by Osama Ben Laden or Mullah Omer. But there is something about the David of Cuba versus the Goliath of America that you had to have a soft corner for the little guy. Besides, he was not exactly crashing planes into the World Trade Center towers.

Source: Universal Pictures

But even in my mild admiration of the dictator, a more dominant feeling was the disillusionment with revolution. I had one very clear idea about revolution. It was his revolution, the Iranian revolution of the Khoemini, and Lenin’s great Bolshevik revolution itself, that forever warned me of the ills and the dangers of this word. That getting rid of one despot could possibly lead to another, if you are flirting with the wrong, extreme ideas. Ideas such as hanging people in public squares. Ideas such as swift justice.

That a Shah would be replaced by a Khoemini. That a Batista would be replaced by a Castro. And I made up my mind of rejecting this notion whenever it presented itself as a resolution to problems. I particularly became conscious of how casually this very dangerous word behind a very dangerous idea was used. How we were better off without the valor and moral highhandedness of our revolutionary friends, shaming us to come on the streets. We are probably better off fighting the neo-liberal injustices that limit us in our own way. Without compromising our individuality and whatever private space we had.

The idea of revolution is romantic because human individuality and creativity thrive on rebellion as opposed to conformity. No one ever produced a great work of art for daring to be the same like everyone else. So there was no coincidence that El Comandante and his utopia appealed to so many great artists on the left wing, such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and so many more of my left wing friends, whose friendship I greatly value.

The only problem I have with their idea of utopia is that it forsakes the very treasure to which the . Of course, it is about social justice, equality, and brotherhood. But it is also about much more than that. It is about your individual freedom. Just like the idea of abolishing private property. What is left of any freedom if you are not able to secure your property?

So perhaps others might be upset with the dark, cynical, mechanical human condition that the right wing capitalist liberals and conservatives offer. Fighting the ills of the capitalism. And building a near-perfect social medicine system. Or did he? But saying that Cuba is a utopia away from ills of capitalism would nothing but gross exaggeration, it’s the aftertaste of the bitterness of the fall of the Soviet Union, the bastion of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Everyone has a different interpretation of revolution. Sometimes it is the means to the end of an apparently totalitarian but perceivably just social system. To others, it is a constant struggle to push the limits of the morality of a society. To others, it simply is a lifestyle that challenges them to test their own limits and to constantly seek new

Just like a socialist friend could accuse me of misunderstanding the concept of political revolution, at least that of Fidel Castro’s, I could counter the argument with their misunderstanding of what the word capitalism stands for. If capitalism is considered a holistic system of government, then sadly no such thing exists.

Just like the right wing liberals have turned the term of socialism as a pariah, so have the left wing progressives to the term capitalism. Assuming that a humane society cannot be sustained in the brutal financial rat-race of a capitalist economy. Well, we already have plenty of social programs in countries with a stock, futures, and commodity exchange markets. Just like those ignoring social democracies always assume that socialism always means Stalin’s Soviet Union. But arguing that it gradually takes the society to a darker place is a debate for another time.

It is important to understand that while the rivalry of ideology continues, they do not necessarily have to be at war. An economically liberal United States can still work with a communist Cuba. Then again, who could hate Cuba with such divine cigars? Which were celebrated, instead of discarded, by Castro, to his credit. Just like communist China has started to embrace free trade, albeit in its own twisted ways. But it is progress nevertheless and would make the world a better place.

This is why reaching out to Cuba is by far the greatest foreign policy legacy of the term of President Barack Obama and let’s hope for an even brighter future. You could draw inspiration from Fidel Castro, while still not forgetting that far greater ideals lie 90 miles across the shores, for which countless Cubans risked their lives.

You could draw inspiration from Fidel Castro, while still not forgetting that far greater ideals lie 300 miles from its shores, across the sea, for which countless Cubans risked their lives. Let’s even call it the greed of money or a better future. Others were simply looking for.

Freedom.

I thought that is all revolutions come down to.

If you are not selling that, who is going to fight for your revolution?

Cuba: The Best of Obama’s Foreign Policy Legacy

Source: Fox Business

Source: Fox Business

President Barack Obama has just made history.

He just became the first President to land in Cuba since the 1959 communist revolution.

He is a historic President on many accounts, but he has been particularly instrumental in turning the US foreign policy from a century of proactive hawkish interventionism. Some would argue that he is betraying the legacy of the ideals of his party’s foreign policy giants in the past, while in the view of others, he is actually acting in their tradition.

So what if his vision has left the Middle East in a cesspool? You can’t possibly be right about everything.

People around the world have been upset at the aggressive US intervention in the affairs of other nations since World War II. Others have been horrified by the Bush doctrine of preemptive strike. But probably the most terrible part of the US foreign policy has been reinforcing the isolation of a country that has pretty much imposed that on itself. Cuba.

It would have made sense during the years of Cuban missile crisis. It does not make an iota of sense ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

President Obama may have something in common with President Ronald Reagan in this regard. He helped the Soviet Union cave in by talking to them, contrary to the apocalyptic expectations from him. President Obama believes in doing the same with his adversaries.

There is one thing the isolation and protectionism of socialist economics and communism abhor. Freedom.

See how India and China have blossomed since introducing their close, protected, suffocating markets to the possibilities of free trade. Now the world is finding hard to compete with them.

Which is what both the parties have been getting wrong for a long time about Cuba, while knowing it all along, especially and ironically, President Reagan during the Cold War years. But let’s call it the Fidel Castro effect. He had a knack of boiling American blood, but once he is out of the way, things have become much easier to proceed in this direction.

Because believing in the principle of freedom requires acting on it, not just making inflammatory statements in a largely inconsequential legislature, at least in this regard. Why should anyone among the conservatives blame President Obama for taking action? Especially on a principle they so strongly believe in. Economic liberalism.

Yes, President Obama is right on Cuba and expatriate Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are dead wrong pursuing the age old ignorant policy of the not-so-principled opposition to restoring relations with Cuba.

You beat obscurantism, protectionism and restrictions with more freedom, not responding with the same approach.

Let’s welcome Cuba to freedom again.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Setting The Right Conditions

Source: brecorder.com

Source: brecorder.com

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on a very successful tour to the United States. Earlier, the Army Chief has also met the US National Security Advisor. The United States is selling more F-16 jets to Pakistan, is looking to discuss a civilian nuclear deal, while also asking Pakistan to put the brakes on its growing nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, alongside the Prime Minister’s daughter, the American First Lady has also announced a program for education for girls. All these are very good signs for Pakistan’s future, not only economically, but in terms of defense as well.

As much as we criticize foreign aid, it’s a foreign relations tool that is not going to vanish any time soon enough. Probably countries such as Pakistan cannot do without it, but the United States must ensure that it serves its purpose of strengthening the alliance, and of promoting its interests.

The Jacobabad procession bombing is just a demonstration of how menacing the problem of domestic sectarian terrorism is, even when a massive operation has been conducted against anti-state Islamist terrorists. The Islamist terrorists who are not anti-state must be met with the same ruthlessness and vigor.

As a citizen of Pakistan, I would like to see the United States acknowledge Pakistan’s commitment and actions to fight against Islamist terrorism. But at the same time, as a concerned citizen of the world who would see the progress of secular values, I would also like to see the United States press Pakistan harder for taking actions against domestic terrorism. Not because the US government cares about human rights or dying minority sect citizens, but because such a country would be a threat to the national security of the United States and democratic values.

Lashkar-e-Jhangavi has again taken responsibility for the Jacobabad bombing and all we can do is to wait for the next Muharram for another one of these incidents. What is worse, these sectarian terrorists do not need an occasion or reason to attack the Shia, Ismaili, Hazara and Ahmadi population, as we have witnessed a plenty of times in the recent past.

All of us must commend the federal and provincial governments for all the hard work for protecting citizens and religious processions during the Ashura. However, it would be even better if they concentrate their efforts on proactively taking action against the roots of these sectarian groups, which are surely operating within the country. As much as it is a good thing that we are on the lookout for RAW agents, it would be helpful to pay attention to these immediate internal threats.

Fortunately, the armed forces also seem to be in the mood for taking on the challenge of extremism as well. The army chief has vowed that the military would do all in its power to protect Pakistan from the threat of ISIS.

It is important to recognize the growing religious intolerance in the society, especially when similar sentiment is prevalent in neighboring India, which is only going to make matters worse. But what the democratic and civilized world has in common is the commitment to fight religious extremism, which is a threat to freedom and democracy everywhere.

Just like the civil and military leadership has considered it vital to take action against miscreants in Karachi, it is probably even more important to protect the nation from the threat of sectarian terrorism. Not only are sectarian terrorists a threat to national unity, but they are a threat to freedom of religion and speech in this country.

I have complete faith in the civilian leadership and the commitment of the armed forces to fight terrorism. However, I wish that they would not require a nudge from a more authoritative entity to launch their pursuit.

Considering the relative inaction against sectarian terrorists, that surely seems to be the case.

But we know that wheels get moving when it comes to the bottom line.

So the US administration should set the right, strict conditions of action against religious extremism at home for military and civilian aid.

Not even that, they should make sure that the job is done properly.

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

The Monster of Free Speech

Is your defense of free speech often met by sarcasm? If yes, you are not the only one.

But it is not always the mullah, the fundamentalist religious fanatic or the nationalist social conservative raising eyebrows when such an idea is brought up. Even apologetic liberals and educated religious moderates are at the forefront of attacking freedom of speech.

You know you have a tough battle at your hands when the lawmakers in your country protest against the right of a publication to publish something, instead of an attack on it. Or when the President of the United States sounds apologetic about the First Amendment, probably explaining his sheer helplessness to the world about this miserable part of the constitution.

It is about time that we stop acting surprised each time we see someone irked at the mention of free speech and getting bombarded with caveats in return. Actually, many of them are pretty sick of the very mention of the expression. Because this idea threatens their worldview dictated by selective morality, which they want followed by everyone.

Still, those of us who consider themselves to be proponents of this idea must not jump to judgments, and should try to understand and appreciate their predicament instead.

They are the ones carrying the heavy burden of defending precarious political positions, so it is not an easy fight. They are the ones brave enough to undertake the Herculean task of either protecting theological stances or justifying ridiculously inconsistent liberal laws that are as dangerous as the evil they are supposed to avert.

Therefore, instead of ridicule and admonishment, these brave individuals and groups deserve our applause and appreciation. Their resolve for building bridges and avoiding conflict is truly inspirational and praiseworthy.

It would not only be unfair, but criminal, if their intentions are deemed as malicious. If someone is so keen to speak ill of somebody, they should focus on their actions instead. But then again, attacking their actions in this case is necessary indeed.

Not only is it a necessity to oppose their actions, but it is a duty. Or their well-meaning zeal to establish everlasting harmony in the world might destroy its calm for good. For their phobia of the expression free speech could destroy the very cornerstone of freedom and democracy.

There is no real necessity to tolerate the preachers of protecting the liberties of intolerant theocratic and undemocratic positions. But what really is needed is to call out their cherry picking of what can and cannot be allowed, and what is and is not moral. What is really needed is to remind them that not all criticism is tantamount to bigotry and violating religious freedom. And that not all religious freedom is for the good of humanity.

So next time, don’t be surprised at all if you see someone getting offended at the idea of free speech. Just realize where they are coming from.

They just deserve your sympathy. Help them out.

To them, free speech is nothing more than a monster hiding under their bed.

They think it doesn’t really exist. But they sure are afraid of it.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.