Witnessing History in Korea

Source: AFP

Sometimes even a handshake is significant progress for peace.

Historic handshakes have a tendency to remain forever in the memories of people for many years to come. Today, such an event occurred with the historic handshake of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In. Something that many of us never thought we would live to see.

Of course, in the case of any peace summit between two rival entities, the results are always unspectacular and underwhelming. That is because you can’t resolve decades, sometimes centuries, of problems overnight. The same skepticism surrounded the detente policies of Nixon and Kissinger, as well as Reagan-Gorbachov talks. The same pessimism cast a dark shadow on the Sadat-Begin hug, and the Rabin-Arafat handshake in the White House lawn in 1993. The same disappointments met all the fuss around the Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh talks in India.

On this day, it is significant because the dictator described as the devil incarnate in the global media has made such a warm and peaceful gesture. The handshake was followed by a Summit declaring the end of the Korean War and the commencement of the peace regime. And as needed, the meeting will be followed up by President Moon Jae-In’s visit to North Korea later this year. This is a particularly interesting time as the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, is also a Korean.

Now there is a significant role of the United States and China behind this arrangement. Apparently, CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s talks with the North Korean leadership was about something. This will hopefully continue into the future and result in the ambitious denuclearization that it promises of the Korean peninsula. However, history suggests that the promises of denuclearization are seldom kept and dictators and democratic republicans alike will feel reluctant to let go of nuclear power. The Pandora’s Box has now been opened.

You cannot help but feel proud and optimistic at the state of the world at this moment. You feel optimistic about the future as the likelihood of conventional war becomes slimmer and slimmer with every passing day in such traditional conflict zones. Surely, this does not mean that all the remedies of the world will be resolved but at least some reduction in suffering is an improvement.

One way or the other, I believe that such symbolic gestures are very important, if only for the history books. Because moments such as these, the few that I have mentioned above, will serve to be living memories for the civilization to be inspired for peace. It will remain

This is why this handshake is more than an empty gesture.

 

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The Pashtun March and the Right Side of History

Source: Youtube

A day ago, a massive procession took place in Peshawar of a movement that is being shunned by the mainstream media in Pakistan like the plague. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or the Protection of the Pashtuns Movement, spearheaded by young fearless activist Peshteen Manzoor.

The movement started with the extrajudicial killing of a charismatic young man Naqeeb Mehsud in Karachi. It was not long when the Pashtuns started to see a pattern in an almost national scale of profiling. It was not long before it was noticed that people of a certain ethnic and lingual persuasion were being stopped more frequently at the military checkposts.

Of course, there is some recent history to the predominantly Punjabi military being suspicious of rebellion among Pashtuns. The war on terror, the anti-state Islamist Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the attacks on high-ranking military personnel, and the latest friction between Islamabad and Kabul have all been a part of it.

Now with the recent xenophobia setting in about the Afghans, it would not be wrong to say that the Pashtuns have never felt more alienated. Traditionally, the Pashtuns have never really considered Afghan a hard border and it has been porous throughout the history of Pakistan. But with the recent military leaders putting stricter fences across it, and the way the military polices parts of the Pashtun majority Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the FATA considering the Mullah Fazlullah episode.

However, it has been an open secret that the military has been traditionally backing up the Islamist elements in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and has always considered the secular and leftist elements a threat, as in the rest of Pakistan. People even raise question marks about the way the military operation was carried out against the militants. This leaves the Pashtuns, with a good number far more progressive than the social conservative majority in Punjab, with absolutely no choice but to follow a very narrow path of nationalism that the military establishment approves of.

All of this becomes a disaster and an extrajudicial killing by the law enforcement in Karachi proves to be the last straw. Forget the Balochs, dozens of Pashtun families have coming out with their list of missing persons, which are in all likelihood have been abducted and detained by state security and military intelligence agencies. The state of the federation is not strong indeed.

But it is very important to think beyond the idea of Pakistan or the precarious federation that the nationalists so love to cling on to. It is important to give precedence to human rights over any brutal ideas of nationalism.

Your claims to support the dissenting minorities in governments you don’t like sound hypocritical if you are not sensitive about the rights of your own. And you can’t possibly claim to be a democracy if you are cornering dissenting voices like that. The same happened with Mama Qadeer, who was leading a dissenting movement for the rights of the missing Baloch people. All they want is a day in the court. But then again, the support for democracy, or even the understanding of the idea, is already scarce in a country where you find a great conservative nationalist majority rooting for the military rule.

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People like Zaid Hamid, a pro-military nationalist opinion leader, are already calling Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen a traitor and an agent of India’s RAW. That is the way to further alienate an already wounded community and to push a dissenting patriot out of the circle of debate, especially when he insists that his movement is non-violent and only looking for justice in the court of law. How are those unfair demands? Some say it was the movement that prompted Army Chief Bajwa to visit the slain Naqeeb Mehsud’s home, only five days ago, and the DG ISPR also had to acknowledge Pashteen in his press conference.

Often the idea of avoiding repeating another Bangladesh is brought up when it comes to the rights of the people of provinces other than Punjab, but the Pashtoon Tahafuz Movement is an opportunity for food for thought. Perhaps, there has been a greater disconnect with the Balochs but the Punjabis and Pashtoon live in such an intertwined society that a conflict between them will spell utter chaos. This is why it is important not to push a marginalized group further to the brink and to further escalate tensions by racial profiling, whether subtle or more explicit. It is sad if anyone has respect for a state which promotes such discrimination.

It is very important to stand on the right side of history today because even if you are a Punjabi that sides with Manzoor Pashteen, history might not judge you kindly in the future. This movement for the demands of just being treated fairly needs to reach beyond ethnic lines.

The Most Important Piece of Journalism of the Year

Source: The New York Times

News stories come and go every day but there are defining points which make a mark in history. The news story by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey about the revelations of sexual misconduct and even rape against Harvey Weinstein is probably the most important piece of journalism of the year.

It can be effectively argued that the story has produced conditions that have helped encourage the victims of abuse by powerful men in media to come forward. This was a moral check that was much needed after the Donald Trump tapes and his subsequent rise to the Presidency in spite of it.

Since the Weinstein exposé, more than a dozen prominent personalities from show business have been. Roger Ailes and Bill O’ Reilly went down before that but of course “they were not one of us” and “that’s who they (conservatives) are.” This was different. This time around, it was Dustin Hoffman, James Toback, Louis C.K., George Takei, and Kevin Spacey. And recently and very importantly, it was Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer. Matt Lauer you get, but Charlie fucking Rose?

If things are this worse in the world of liberals, you can imagine how tough it must be for conservatives, who might be more resistant to progressive legislation on harassment as many conservative men. Take President George H. W. Bush as an example, who I am sure slapped women’s butts because that was normal.

Another noticeable but seldom admitted nuance of this development has been the insight it has offered into the psyche of the male gender and perhaps even male sexuality regardless of sexual orientation.

This is not just a Hollywood problem. It is pervasive all over the world. Plainly speaking, we, men, are guilty of abuse and no, we are not likely to learn despite the insincere apologies. This is probably something inherent to male sexuality, and no that is not an excuse but a helpless attempt to understand a potentially criminal behavior.

I get it that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi thinks that the Presidency of Donald Trump helped pave way for this environment instead of Harvey Weinstein but let’s not take credit away from what’s due. This new story has been historic.

Cheers ladies and more power to you.

Yeah, men are pigs.

 

The Lesson from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Fall

Source: geo.tv

There are several lessons that could be learned from the fall of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Poor leadership, terrible strategy, abandoning allies, pride, hubris, arrogance, narcissism, myopia, and having the little foresight of the inevitable. However, the most important lesson is meant more for the Pakistani people who seem to be repeating some of the mistakes of the ill-fated triple term Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was brought to prominence during the reign of the mighty General Zia-ul-Haq, arguably the worst military dictator in Pakistan’s history. A reluctant Nawaz Sharif was introduced as the Chief Minister of Punjab, who then rose to power as the leader of establishment-backed Islamic Democratic Alliance in the 1990s against the staunchly anti-establishment liberal visionary Benazir Bhutto.

As Prime Minister Sharif got comfortable in his Jihadi, Islamist social conservative cradle, he would soon attempt to declare himself the “Emir-ul-Momineen.” Who would have thought the one who almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen cannot even qualify as a Sadik and Amin now.

However, he probably never one at heart himself. The trader and entrepreneur in him was always more loyal to productivity and money than religious mirages and made him lean toward peace with India. The secular leader in him switched the national weekly holiday to Sunday from Friday amid protests of his Islamist allies. And perhaps went further to confront the military on counter-productive measures such as the 1998 nuclear tests and certainly the disastrous Kargil War.

Of course, Sharif crossed a lot of limits and does so habitually but you don’t have to do much to fall out of favor with the bureaucratic establishment. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself made the mistake of trusting them the third time around while living dangerously throughout his term, surviving rioting protests from PTI and PAT. Of course, you cannot say that he does not realize who his enemy is but you know there is only so much you can do to save yourself or please them.

While the people do not have the luxury to do much about them either, they also consistently make the mistake of taking their ruling bureaucratic tyrants as their saviors. They also consistently make the mistake of rejoicing over their assault on their right to vote. Many of them cannot wait to completely give up all their rights to their bureaucratic overlord whose meritocracy could not have been a fitter fit for the ignorant Pakistani masses who can’t think for themselves.

Nawaz Sharif may as well be history. But the people of Pakistan need to wonder if they can afford any more lapses in their democratic process. They need to wonder if they are willing to relinquish any more of their rights to the security state.

They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has not even bothered to promise to deliver free education as in the 18th amendment. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has looked the other way when it comes to a national health insurance program while paying their bills out of public money. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has systematically dismantled the honor of their own voice.

They need to do some serious soul searching.

Because the only ones that the bureaucratic machine cares for are themselves.

And that is the biggest lesson.

 

A version of this post was published in the Dunya blogs.

The Moral Complexities of Supporting the Armed Struggle in Kashmir

Source: Indian Express

Source: Indian Express

The mind of a modern, liberal, enlightened youth in Pakistan is boggled with the moral puzzle of the armed struggle in Kashmir. Should Pakistan stop backing the Jihad in Kashmir? Or should Pakistan provide support for the freedom movement in Kashmir? What a world of a difference do these words make.

In a world that is unforgivably anti-Jihad since 9/11, and very rightly so, backing Kashmiri Jihadi group sounds like a recipe for diplomatic suicide. This could possibly isolate Pakistan, cost valuable alliances with the West and jeopardize economic prosperity and trade partnerships in the future.

But suspending the lifeline of the Jihadi struggle in Kashmir also sounds like an unacceptable option to many, especially the Pakistani establishment. Other than their political designs, it would effectively mean that a Kashmiri would probably never be able to see the face of a military grade weapon again.

It would mean that all they would ever have to respond to the occupying force of way more than 500,000 strength military is sticks and stones. It would mean the death of the Kashmiri freedom struggle, which is somehow acknowledged as legitimate by people who condemn the Jihad in Kashmir at the same time. No other country in the world is going to come to support the supposedly peaceful Hurriyet leaders.

Which route is easier? Certainly the former. It would make Pakistan less unpopular and who knows India would grace us with a bilateral cricket series. It could improve Pakistan’s image as the state recovering from hiding Osama Ben Laden right next to its military academy. Why should a Pakistani go out of their way to help a Kashmiri anyway?

Alright, a lot of Kashmiris live in Pakistan. They are our next door neighbors, relatives by blood, friends, and colleagues. So what? Even the Pakistani Kashmiris apparently do not seem to be too bothered with what is going on across the Line of Control. Why do we need to replicate the misery of the Indian Kashmiris in our lives?

However, with every mutilated unarmed Kashmiri teenager, and every raped Kashmiri woman and wounded mother, something stirs the conscience of a nation that is notorious for ignoring everyday atrocities within its own borders. A nation which cherishes a law that is designed to make its religious minorities suffer in constant terror. All of a sudden morality becomes much more complex than sheer self-interest. Even though it should not. It does not make any sense.

So would a Pakistani support the armed struggle in Kashmir or not?

It’s a question with a rather simple answer. Either you do or you don’t. But if you do, then it’s important to embrace the cause and defend its moral grounds. There was a time when the Pakistani state used to openly embrace it. And since when have we stopped referring to Kashmiri militants as freedom fighters? But it was a different world. Still, hanging somewhere in the middle reminds the world of the policy Pakistan has been adopting from selectively targeting Taliban factions to continuing old partnerships with the likes of Ben Laden from the days of the Afghan Jihad and pretending that we are fighting terrorism. The Americans have moved on, but our security leadership has been having a very hard time.

Of course, it is perfectly legitimate to defend the Kashmiri armed struggle on moral grounds. Are the Kashmiri Jihadi freedom fighters terrorists just because they are Islamists? Does the secular character of a freedom struggle immediately makes the cause legitimate? Surely, you cannot expect the Kashmiri freedom movement to turn secular overnight, not that it would ever have any such intention. Is targeting soldiers, even if sleeping, an act of terrorism or an act of war? Especially when the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen is not exactly very friendly to the Indian State. But then there are Mumbai attacks, Parliament attacks, Hindu Pandits. Innocent lives. What to do?

With the exception of those who committed these atrocities, our intellectuals get played at the hands of the textbook Indian diplomatic rhetoric when they declare the Kashmiri freedom fighters terrorists. They end up endorsing foreign state propaganda in an effort to avoid the local one. Though they speak the truth in their own right. Pakistan has had enough of fighting other people’s wars and lying about it. Enough of freeing Afghans from the Soviets, or restoring Saudi custody of the Ka’aba, or sending pilots to fly Syrian planes or handing over bases to the United States. All for nothing but to make our generals richer, who, let’s face it, would have grown richer anyway. But we need to build our country. Who gives a damn anymore?

How do you harness an out of control Jihadi who is raised on hate? How do you expect that they would never hurt citizens? Does this effectively mean that supporting armed resistance in Kashmir is not any different to supporting and apologizing for terrorism? And India is surely justified in believing that any country that is supporting an armed movement in its borders is its enemy. Granted, but should Kashmiris be abandoned to their conditions of a whole state turned into almost an internment camp? Simply expressing solidarity will not get them anywhere.

India does not win the diplomatic battle for Kashmir out of any moral virtues or for having a clean human rights record, but simply because of the leverage it enjoys for being a sheer heavyweight. Anyone who does not recognize India as an emerging global power is sadly mistaken. At least, it’s the strongest military presence in the Asian continent after China, and not doing too bad in terms of economy either. So why pick a fight with India when we can avoid it?

But calling a Kashmiri freedom fighter a terrorist still is a resounding slap on the face of every Kashmiri who idiotically risks his life to needlessly wave a poorly sewn, incorrect Pakistani flag on some obscure building. It’s an insult to the desperate Kashmiri who shortens his misery by exposing himself to the pellets because he has to choose between a life of humiliation and a not-so-distant inevitable death. How is a Kashmiri to fight back? Does anyone bother answering this question? Are the Naxalites not fighting back?

The biggest moral problem is that if a Pakistani would not stand up for the plight of the Kashmiri, who else in the world will? Because the fellow countrymen of Kashmiris pretty much consider them expendable second class citizens and a distant border state with delicious produce and exotic vacation destinations. Still, it is a battle that would take anyone taking this road on a tough, treacherous ride.

It only takes a hypocritical Pakistani to realize the plight and it only takes a brainwashed Jihadi to fight this fight. And well, there is plenty of hypocrisy to go around. Neither our generals nor our Jihad backing secular liberals would have the gut to fight for anything, let alone Kashmir. So you can only count on Islamist fanatics. It’s just stupid.

Though as far as the right of an oppressed people’s armed struggle is concerned, it would be a betrayal of history not to recognize it. Just pray that you are not in their way. And the inherent, incurable hypocrisy of Pakistanis should not sabotage this right of the battered citizens of Kashmiris.

Let it be the humiliated Yazidis, the frustrated Palestinians, the courageous Kurds or the brutalized Balochs, it is almost insensitive to ask them to become Gandhi at the face of continual aggression. Walk up to the gas chambers in obedience. However, how they make their point tells a lot about a people. You would be judged differently when you blow up a civilian building instead of retaliating against an army camp.

Every liberty seeking individual should welcome India’s new stance to support the freedom movement in Baluchistan, even though more out of animosity with Pakistan than the love for the Baloch, and should welcome them to the club of “terrorist states” or “backers of terrorism.” Just like the United States and allies are backing the Syrian rebel army to overthrow the despotic Assad regime. Just like the British backed the Arabs to bring the Ottoman Empire down to its knees. Perhaps Pakistan’s role in Kashmir is not too odd after all.

Sometimes, you have no choice but to be a “backer of terrorists” to fight oppressive tyrants.

You get no extra bonus points for turning the other cheek anyway. All it does is get you crucified.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Civilization: The Biggest Casualty of ISIS

Source: Marc DeVille -Gamma Rapho -GettyImages / NBC News

Source: Marc DeVille -Gamma Rapho -GettyImages / NBC News

Conservative Muslims often lament about the unspeakable destruction and atrocities wrecked by the barbarian hordes of the Mongol warrior Helugu Khan on the Islamic Caliphate. The siege of Baghdad by Helugu led to the destruction of the Grand Library of the city, which arguably kept the most important and valuable knowledge at the time. Apart from slaughtering hundreds of thousands, he went on to invade Syria and cause great cultural damage.

It is only ironic that the political institution that represented civilization then, and suffered at the hands of cultural terrorism, is now at war with civilization itself. Critics may not even consider the Islamic State as a valid Caliphate, and surely you can hardly establish equivalence between the cultured Abbasids and the morally crude ISIS. Yet, this is what the forces claiming to establish a true Islamic State have become. It would not be incorrect to say that surviving centuries of hardship and chaos, the manifold cultural heritage of Mesopotamia and Syria had remained pretty much intact.

Until the modern Syrian civil war, a destructive and unproductive campaign backed by the most civilized nations of the modern age.

From destruction of Nimrod to the fall of Palmyra, Islamic State has been deliberately waging war against the cultural heritage of the land.

The most recent painful occurrence has been the brutal murder of Khaled Al-Asaad, Syrian archeologist and the Head of Antiquities for the ancient ruins of Palmyra, who had served for over 40 years. It is reported that he refused to guide the ISIS warriors to a hidden treasure, on which they beheaded him. A local archeology pioneer leading discovery of several precious artifacts, Khaled Al-Asaad insisted on staying in Palmyra, despite ISIS entering the city, and was blamed to be a supporter of the Assad regime on capture.

It is simply a sad state of affairs that the ISIS has become a largely acceptable face of the Sunni resistance in Iraq and Syria to the central pro-Shia regimes. It is disappointing what the ground forces have come down to in the region, and how their strategy is making it hard to counter them with every passing day.

When you secure sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra, it becomes almost impossible for a liberating force to retake it without damaging the irreplaceable structures. We witnessed that when the Syrian opposition took over the ancient district of Aleppo, which was largely destroyed by shelling from Assad’s forces. Recently, ISIS has even threatened to blow up the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. While the very idea sounds insane due to the sheer size of the Pyramids, it offers some insight into the minds of the Islamic State. It shows you what they are thinking about the ancient heritage of the region.

Source: alarabiya.net

Source: alarabiya.net

The objective of ISIS is clear. To wipe out the ancient history of the Middle East to bring it in accordance with their faith. They do not want to see images carved on walls in the form of bas relief and mosaic art and will have them removed. They do not want to see the images of false gods anywhere on the land that falls under their domain. In the manner of the Taliban destroying the Bamiyan Buddha statues, they would rather blow up these irreplaceable and precious artifacts and buildings.

This is why the entire ISIS campaign has been such a massive loss for civilization and humanity in general. Most of the damage that they are doing, which only compounds the misery of the human tragedy of their atrocities.

We probably cannot help undo the damage done by ISIS, because we were too busy standing by and witnessing the destruction of civilization, and were content by simply reporting the disaster. But this aspect of the war that ISIS is waging on humanity is a race against the clock as well. We only have so much time to prevent them from doing further damage.

Heroes such as Khaled Al-Assad have fallen protecting the ancient heritage of Syria, and of human civilization, but is anyone else willing to offer the sacrifice?

I still recall the horrifying images of the looting at the National Museum when Baghdad fell to the United States troops in 2003. People were running around with artifacts, almost on the watch of the guards from the US Marines, who preferred safeguarding the oil ministry building instead. Already warned about the significance of the museum, it would hardly be an exaggeration to blame the US administration and military commanders of the time for the loss.

The same apathetic indifference of the leaders and the largest military force of the civilized world, deflecting the obvious solutions with direction-less intellectual political analysis, is staggering to those who mourn the loss of a civilization at the hands of Islamic State.

Now that the National Museum of Baghdad has been opened again with some recovered artifacts, the risk from the threat of ISIS has never been greater. UNESCO had actually called for an emergency meeting to discuss how to protect it, and the United Nations called for stopping ISIS from taking Palmyra. But who is listening anyway?

While the world stands by silently and watches one of the most barbaric militant groups in history blast the greatest artifacts of human civilization to dust, you can only wonder about the possible solution.

Unless there is a sizeable allied ground force in Iraq and Syria, which can effectively counter the influence and advance of ISIS, we will never be able to save the heritage of mankind from complete annihilation. But would they be careful enough to leave the delicate heritage sites untouched?

Whether it is just the US troops, or ideally a UN international peacekeeping coalition led by it, we need to make a decision fast.

The clock is ticking.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Made for Intolerance

Source: Wikimedia Commons

A lot of people outrage at the thought that there is so much discrimination and intolerance in the Paksitani society.

After all, Pakistani society is made up of such brilliant individuals and forward looking political and social groups. There are intellectuals in this country with ideas and works that are as brilliant as they would have anywhere.

So why is Pakistan stuck with elementary issues, such as religious and social discrimination and intolerance?

Well, Pakistan is not just like any other country in the world. Its creation involved one of the most unique events ever. Arguably, the biggest mass migration in modern, if not recorded, human history.

When you are artificially creating a homogeneous demographic and forcefully rejecting any variation, at least discouraging them to flourish, if not just expelling them out of communities, then you can expect resistance to accept what is different.

This is why Pakistan was always bound to be intolerant as a society, with the demographics not being the only factor for the aggravation of the intolerance.

Arguably the only other country that rivals it in this unique characteristic is Israel.

This is only a subjective opinion, but I have a feeling that it is a scientific fact. The resistance to strange ideas must be stronger in a more homogenous society.

Because over time, the Muslim population has increased exponentially in Pakistan and the non-Muslim population has declined. And as this trend continues, we have only seen lesser tolerance to communities with ideas alien to Pakistani and Islamic nationalism, and more tolerance toward religious rioting.

So why are people complaining? This is what we have always wanted.

Pakistan was made for intolerance.