Pakistan’s Screwed Up Priorities

You would think that Pakistan has learned its lesson after all these years. You would hope that finally, the custodians of this state have decided to put the prosperity of the people ahead of their egos and pretentious nationalism. But it seems we may never live to see that day.

Just when Pakistan is preaching to the world about peace, “Nazism,” and “averting nuclear war,” its military has chosen to send a message to India and the world. Probably anticipating war on the Kashmir front, they tested a nuclear ballistic missile with the sinister name of “Ghaznavi,” named after the Afghan Turkic warrior emperor Mahmud of Ghazni, who invaded several Hindu temples in India.

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Ironically, the government plans to send a very different the next day with observing its first-ever Kashmir Hour. Something that they want to model after the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel as a part of the rhetoric strategy of the government.

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The recent posts comparing Modi with Hitler and RSS with Nazi Party are evident of that notion.

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Many people supportive of this form of protest believe that it will project a positive image of the nation around the world. However, the appropriation of the Holocaust and Nazi rhetoric is far more problematic than PTI can imagine. But let’s ignore that factor for a second and let’s appreciate the non-violent line of protest Pakistan is taking.

Still, acts such as intimidating India with nuclear ballistic missile tests with this symbolism is not only disturbing but duplicitous. It does not add any confidence whatsoever in a nation which holds the reputation of not staying true to its word whether it comes to eradicating terrorism or supporting or financing terrorism from its soil.

Then again, the international community is not naive enough not to understand the state of democracy in Pakistan. They are aware of the dual narrative from the Pakistan military and the civilian government. But the Pakistani citizens satisfied by this line of rhetoric by the Prime Minister should really be disappointed by the recent missile test. Because there goes your image of being a peace dove in the region.

Stranger in Your Home

Source: flickr

I used to see it in films and read it in books. Looking over your shoulder around at every turn, being insecure, paranoid about the people around you. Perhaps I am not that concerned, or afraid, though I should be. I should be more concerned than I am and perhaps it is my confidence that is seeing me through accidents of disastrous proportions. Why am I coming out of them unnerved and carefree? It is a cause of concern indeed as I see it in the eyes of my loved ones.

What if your home is not home anymore? What if you are living in it like a stranger? What if that means that you should plan to move on. Move on not necessarily to where the grass is greener but where at least you are out of the reach of the hounds. Does such a place exist?

I don’t want to leave my home. My home is leaving me.

It is swallowing me out.

Stranded in the Land of the Free

Source: Time Magazine/Getty/Mashable

When people look up to America, they see a standard of freedom unparalleled anywhere in the world. This is still true. And there is only one reason for that. The liberal ideas that America has represented for more than 150 years as well as its Constitution. I was about to write law but the recently highlighted events, which may have gone on for a good number of years until DACA was put into action: Child separation from the detained migrants on the US-Mexico border. Thousands of little children from Central America and other parts of the world are stranded there among complete strangers, especially the ones who are brutal to them. The trauma is unimaginable. To many, the policy was escalated, if not initiated by the administration of President Trump by removing DACA, and worsened by the law enforcement headed by hardliner Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had the nerve to justify the policy with the Bible.

Only a day ago, President Trump has signed an executive order to end the separation policy, only to leave doubts about the possible indefinite detention of the migrant families. And especially about the status of families already separated by ICE. Why did Trump sign this executive order when he is playing to his base by toughening the immigration measures to a zero-tolerance policy? Just to make himself look good in front of the American people. Republican Senators like Lindsey Graham think that the administration did not think this policy through, which is most likely the case in reality, given the erratic track record of Trump’s administration.

Another idea that became a casualty of this administration is the idea of liberal free trade and globalization. President Trump’s refusal to sign the communique at the G7 Summit earlier this month, perhaps a victory for American Nationalism and isolationism in his eyes, was nothing short of a disaster for the liberal world. The President has already pulled out of Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The very ideas that the United States has championed since the fall of the Third Reich are being challenged in the most heartless manner, especially when it comes to migrants. Of course, there is no monopoly of ideas in a democracy and there is as much room for populism in public debate as there is for liberal globalization. However, the impact of such weakness among the ranks of liberal powers can be felt around the world, especially by the people who are striving and struggling to promote liberal ideas in their own backyards.

The rise of authoritarian conservative governments around the world is already a cause for concern. However, if you see a collapse of liberal ideas in a political entity such as the United States, then things seem even darker. While the Trump administration has also given a cause for optimism with the historic summit with North Korea, its unpredictable and hardline authoritarian and populist stances leave you more pessimistic about the future.

Let us just hope that the worst from the administration is not yet to come.

The Gaza Riot Killings and A New Hamas

Source: roseauinternational.net

Hamas has come a long way ever since it first emerged as a militant challenge to Israel. You could argue that it is no longer a knee-jerk extremist antisemitic party, at least for a public show, whose only priority is to eliminate the Jewish people and destroy Israel. The organization is already recognized by many around the world as a legitimate Palestinian representative regime, despite Israel’s insistence about its status as a terrorist organization as it is recognized by the United States government at least.

However, Hamas has probably figured for the first time that sending rockets into Israel is not working when it adopted the Gaza border encampment protests initiated by a popular independent civilian resistance movement in March 2018. They won the war of optics against Israel this time around.

Now, this kind of protest is not Hamas’ style, which has openly preached war and destruction of Israel with vividly anti-Semitic expression. However, it did manage to adopt and influence the non-partisan call of protests from Ahmed Abu Artema, the inspiration behind the Gaza border protests, a critic of borders such as the one between Gaza Strip and Israel, he is demanding the right of Palestinians to visit their ancestral territories now occupied by Israel.

On May 14, 2018, the Trump administration took special care to coincide the day of the inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem with the Independence Day of Israel. It is also curious that the very same day was the bloodiest in years for Palestinians, with more than fifty casualties at the border including an infant due to tear gas. However, it is important to note that such protests have never taken place between Gazan Palestinians and Israelis either.

Like the 1980s Intifada, Israel has always been clueless on how to deal with a homegrown riot. They knew how to deal with a foreign threatening army and have always pushed one back successfully, but have always made a mess when the threat came from home. That same confusion always raises its head when Israel deals with the protesters in West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yasser Arafat had figured it out after years of violent resistance and it seemed on this occasion, Hamas has figured it out too. They had the decency to figure that the occasion of the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital deserves better than rockets flying into Israel and making the state gather sympathy on a day when it was already a villain in the eyes of most people.

It is cruel to attribute the genuine grievances of the Palestinian people to a political ploy of Hamas. It is unfair to undermine the suffocation in the Gaza blockade as well as the humanitarian crisis the lack of access has brought about. However, it is also impossible to keep Hamas out of the picture, as it is impossible to keep tribal biases out fo the debate. With the resurgence of antisemitism around the world, especially Europe, Israel is more important and relevant than ever before.

Interestingly, Israel does not leisurely kill Gazan Palestinians every other day, that too, with such brutality and indiscriminately. But according to the Israeli side, a violent reaction was incited especially due to arson attempts by the protesters who had set fields on fire on the Israeli side through fire kites, Unlike the impression among Israeli nationalists, most of the world does not really care about their version of the story but fortunately for them, they barely care about the Palestinians either.

But where Israel has totally lost the respect of the International community and attracted condemnations in the United Nations when its action turned from brutal to criminal with the killings of Palestinian journalists. Even in the United States, very few people were actively defending the Israeli actions on this occasion, Israeli born actress Natalie Portman being a prominent critic who had declined a prize back home. Even in Tel Aviv, hundreds of protesters condemned the killings of protesters on the border despite the recent low tolerance for Palestinian security risks in recent years. The country’s top liberal publication Haaretz, which I take as the conscience of the nation, continuously criticized the extreme action taken by its government and pointed out how the Gaza withdrawal does not absolve Israel of its responsibility.

But it does not absolve Hamas of its reckless actions either.

Considering how tribal the Israel-Palestine conflict is, the defense will never be conditional by morality, only survival.

Just a day ago, Hamas fired a barrage of its trademark rockets into Israel, most of which were neutralized by the Iron Dome of course, but also ended up injuring a number of Israelis. So you think to yourself, has Hamas returned to their old ways? According to Israeli nationalists, they never left their ways and the protests were just a new twist to their violence. And if they returned to self-defense, then where was it when their people were getting killed at the border by the enemy?

But a sad reality that is apparently lost on both sides lusting for an old city is that humanity always becomes the casualty in the war between these two parties.

Can’t Gazan Palestinian not even protest the misery they have been enduring without rejected as Hamas by Israelis? And can’t they separate their identities from the extremism of Hamas leadership?

I wish we reach a time in the Middle East politics when for both sides the lives of their people become more important than Jerusalem.

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.

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.

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.