A New Low for the Pakistani State Every Day

Source: rferl.org

Just when you thought that the Pakistani state could not stoop any lower, it surprised you with its latest achievement. Although you really shouldn’t be surprised and probably many were not when they learned about the arrest of human rights activist Gulalai Ismail. Gulalai is a young Pashtun woman who has been vocal about women’s digital rights and free speech and has been recognized for her contribution abroad as well.

The cause for Gulalai’s arrest was her support for the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) led by Manzoor Pashteen, who has largely been dubbed as a traitor by the Pakistani state establishment. Gulalai was arrested immediately on her arrival in Islamabad from her tour and her name was put on the Exit Control List, a blacklist supposed to prevent citizens from traveling outside Pakistan. While she has been released on interim bail, the case against her by the FIA stands as her home in Swabi was also raided for her arrest.

Gulalai is a well-respected figure not just in Pakistan but globally for her work in human rights. Founder of NGO Aware Girls, focused on women’s rights and leadership, she has received the Chirac Prize for conflict prevention in France and there was no wonder it wasn’t long before Amnesty International was calling for her release.

It only goes to show the impunity of the Pakistani state and their sheer disregard of not even sparing human rights activists of an international repute. You can only imagine how the authorities must be treating more obscure political dissenters and human rights activists. You can accuse people like Malala and Gulalai of privilege as compared to their fellow citizens, even though that would be unfair, but figures like them become symbols of resistance when the struggle of the common man goes unnoticed.

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The way the Pashtun population has been treated in recent years, especially since the recent Swat and Waziristan operations and the APS incident, has been a disgrace, to say the least. They are particularly discriminated against at military check posts and the way the Punjabi establishment has been painting non-violent grassroots leaders like Manzoor Pashteen as terrorists in their public broadcasts has been simply unacceptable. Such an ad has been airing of late and the embarrassed Punjab government was forced to pull it off.

The Pakistani state must seriously reconsider the way it treats its citizens and must put an end to its long history of undemocratic authoritarianism if it wants democracy to flourish. That clearly has not been the goal of the civil and military bureaucratic establishment in the country.

Pakistan must keep in mind before lecturing other countries on human rights.

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RIP John McCain: The Senate Just Lost the Maverick

Source: ABC World News Tonight

War hero, Prisoner of War, an unapologetic and fierce defender of freedom, and a voice of reason and sanity in the Senate, John McCain of Arizona has finally succumbed to cancer after a recent diagnosis. He did not go down without a fight as usual but even someone like him knows when to stop wasting your energy on a lost cause. You can’t win every battle and you are not meant to.

Take the 2008 election for an example. Who could have been a more obvious . He probably would have been a sensible choice, had Senator Leiberman decided not to sabotage his campaign by pulling out. A lot can be said of course about how he handled that campaign, particularly the disastrous choice of picking Sarah Palin as the running mate. Especially with the persepective that if the popular but divisive Obama Presidency could be avoided, you could argue that things would have been a lot different in Syria today. However, even the staunchest of Democrat will attest to the dignity with which he ran the campaign. Compared to more recent politics, McCain almost sounds like a saintly figure despite being a Republican hawk.

Much is being said about the heroics of the man but few are focusing on the gulf he is leaving in the US Senate. Not only in the Senate and the GOP, but in American politics, he is leaving very big shoes to be filled in. One of the most important qualities of John McCain’s political career was his independence of views despite whatever was popular in the party. He often did not care about the party line and voted his conscience and stood up for issues when people least expected. He took a stand against torture and waterboarding as an unAmerican and inhumane treatment of prisoners of war, probably inspired by the unspeakable torture he suffered in Vietnam’s most notorious detention camps.

Lately, he stood up to the madness of President Donald Trump when very few in his party such as Governor John Kasich, at least in the elected office, had the courage to do so. His latest act of defiance came when President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans made their only real effort for a “skinny repeal” of Obamacare or Affordable Healthcare Act put into place during the term of President Barack Obama.

Where the passing of John McCain is even more tragic is the state of politics in which he has left America. Aftter the loss of Hillary Clinton and the seat left vacant by his death, sensible centrist leaders are becoming a rarety in American politics. While you could argue that the majority of Democratic and Republican Senators and Congressmen and women are still centrist liberals, the shift toward more extreme right and left has been prominent in the recent years and it is only going to get worse. While the respective groups might have their own reasons for their ideological polarization, primarily being the deadlock of the Congress and the establishment status quo (even though they might miss the status quo when it’s gone), there are quite a few reasons why centrist liberalism in America is important.

First of all, it is important to preserve the free market enterprise in the United States without making certain sections of the economy too heavily dependent on the government. Secondly, it is important to preserve the secular state of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which makes the United States of America such an exceptional democracy. Finally, it is important to keep the United States an interventionist power that establishes and exercises its political influence around the world and ensure to defend freedom of the citizens of the world where it is threatened.

Often accused of being a “warmonger,” Senator John McCain was the leader who was making a moral argument for the United States to take action when the Syrian Government was using chemical weapons against its own citizens. In fact, he was pushing for action against both the Assad regime and the Islamic State. All this time, President Obama chose to resist the idea of increased military conflict in the area, leading to massive losses suffered by the Kurds and Yazidis in the North and the failure of the Free Syrian Army to find any major breakthroughs. Obviously, it was not a priority for either President Obama or his Democratic base, or even the Republicans for that matter. Perhaps blame it on the lethargy caused by the two-term war-torn Bush Presidency and that was probably what also led to the comprehensive defeat of McCain in the 2008 election with Obama’s landmark campaign of Hope and Change.

Since President Obama’s term, and especially during the current scandal-infested term of President Donald Trump, American moral leadership around the world has significantly weakened. Unfortunately, even the American public has never been more unenthusiastic about the affairs around the globe and we have recently been seeing more isolationist turns taken in the popular politics. The rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are a part of this trend in a time when China and Russia are coming back strongly in terms of establishing their hegemony on a global level. This only tells of much darker times ahead with these totalitarian powers gaining greater political influence.

The problem is that there is no other leader in sight who could take up a stand like this again. There is no other leader who could defend the idea of the American Empire like this. And that is what we mourn today more than the death of a towering figure in not only American, but both liberal and conservative, politics.

Asma Jahangir: Mourning Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero

Source: refrl.org

What we had feared for long finally happened this dull Sunday afternoon.

I often used to wonder how in the world Asma Jahangir was alive and well in a country where bloggers are getting abducted for criticizing the establishment and where journalists are getting murdered and attacked in the light of the day. I often used to wonder how this brave lawyer woman can get away with how openly and aggressively she attacked the bureaucratic oligarchy ruling this country.

Perhaps she was a part of that privileged class too but at least she spoke out about those who lacked it. She successfully managed to separate from the filth of the complacent privileged classes (which most of us in Pakistan, at least from urban Punjab, are connected to in way or another) by calling them out on their hypocrisy. She did so by speaking out for the helpless and the unprivileged.

She genuinely spoke out for the cause of democracy and human rights and in the meantime, even confronted politicians from all parties and even judges when she had to. Her fairminded activism earned her the position of the United Nations Rapporteur for Human Rights Council on Iran which magnified her voice on a global scale. Of course, her diplomatic role for the UN which only made a good name for Pakistan was seen as a traitorous act. But enough of the international impact.

She always knew that the real battleground was back at home in Pakistan, where the state of human rights was as abysmal as anywhere in this world. Could have immigrated to a Western country any day.

As unimaginable her death was to her followers and admirers, it only brought to surface the venomous bigotry that she had been fighting her entire life. Widely hailed as the conscience of the nation by several obituaries following her passing, this was how a large section of our urban population was treating someone who stood up for their very rights. Of course, anyone who had a different idea of living their lives other than the prescribed bigoted and suffocating convention in Pakistan is considered an Indian, Israeli or American agent.

Another one of the reasons why she will be so badly missed and has been irreplaceable is that she could say unimaginably brave things and get away with it. But at least she led by example and showed that it could be done. The question really is not what would have happened to another person, it is that nobody else dared to go even close.

In the end, there have been several calls to offer her a state funeral, with the most prominent one made by the Chief Minister Sindh. While the idea sounds great in theory, just imagine for a minute. Wouldn’t it have been the greatest insult to her legacy? Why would a discriminatory state mar the honor of her funeral? Why should the national flag obscure her individuality and her singular message of freedom and human rights for all?

She never needed a certificate of patriotism from anyone.

Source: geo.tv

When you are a hero, even your funeral becomes a symbol of resistance against ignorance.

Unbelievably, her funeral even became an object of conspiracy when orthodox misogynist Muslims condemned those mourning her to mix genders at the funeral prayer. These sort of opinions and the sort she fought all her lives might sound absurd in a parallel universe. But sad enough, they are a fact of life and have undoubtedly outlived Asma Jahangir.

This is why we are mourning the departure of Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero as we celebrated her life.

May God have mercy on us.

The Bigger Butcher is the Bigger Patriot

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

We should have no illusions in our minds about the moral standards prevalent in Pakistan.

“Civil rights” is an expression hardly ever heard in public discourse in Pakistan. And those who try to somehow, unconsciously mention a reference to it, are forced to make an apology and elaborately explain how they never meant any harm. Or any good, that is. And we get reminders from time to time of the appalling state of our morals.

The election legislation pushed by the ruling PML-N has somehow raised alarms, led by McCarthyists such as Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed and his able patrons, who cried foul play with the country’s law regarding “The Finality of Prophethood.” Since then, officials such as Law Minister Zaid Hamid needs to recite the testimony to faith and the finality of Prophethood every time he makes a public appearance.

This has since started a renewed oath and reiteration of organized, institutionalized bigotry against Ahmedis, a relatively new sect of Islam of Punjabi origins which appears very reformist in its approach to many. Whatever their theology may be, the state of Pakistan has basically taken upon itself since the election of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to wage war on them. They had apparently “settled the Ahmedi question” by introducing the Second Amendment, formally excommunicating them from the faith of Islam by the decree of the Government of Pakistan.

Of course, the Pakistani public does not see it this way, but the Ahmedi population of the country and the diaspora considers this policy as discrimination of extreme proportions. It might be an exaggeration but some Ahmedi activists have even compared the national policy to Apartheid laws in South Africa. Others have compared it to the Nazi Germany, considering the tacit public approval of murdering Ahmedis, and how the state has singled out the community in the process of national identity registration.

And there is no way out of this vicious circle for them. The brilliant thing about the anti-Ahmedi Apartheid laws in Pakistan, which are also known as the “Namoos-e-Risalat” or the “Honor of the Prophethood” are that in order to prove yourself a supporter, you need to denounce Ahmedis and endorse the very basis of state persecution. Even blogging voices raising dissenting thoughts such as this one are only confined to very limited circles as openly questioning this policy implies treason and heresy.

So effectively, the bigger butcher is the bigger patriot. The harsher, more brutal you are in your hate toward the Ahmedis, the more loyal and moral you will be deemed in the Pakistani social and political world.

Take our Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif for an example, who had to explain how true a Muslim he was after he was accidentally photographed with an American Pakistani who happened to be an Ahmedi. He had no choice but to deconstruct and explain the situation in the show of a morally constipated anchor.

To makes matter even worse for the ruling party alleged to be sympathizing with Ahmedi, which they later proved that they are certainly not by calling for worsening the discriminatory laws, Captain Safdar spoke out in the parliament. The son-in-law of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for the ban of Ahmedis from the military service, oblivious of the proud history of the service of Ahmedis in the military, perhaps one institute which had not been as invasive in its discrimination toward the community. Hopefully, the move must have worked convincing a lot of bigots in PML-N voters of his innocence following the corruption charges on him.

However, even the record of the military cannot undo the Constitutional dilemma of discrimination and inequality in Pakistan. Something which is growing even worse considering the rhetoric and the affirmation from the DG ISPR that the military will remain to be the guardians of the Honor of the Prophethood. We all know what that means. The discriminatory constitutional amendment is going nowhere.

Even the military seems to be helpless in undoing the damage in terms of the civil rights for minority religious groups in Pakistan. Actually many will argue has been one of the political contributors, if not the source, to the mess along with orthodox mullahs.

What are you to do when the national ethos consists of isolating and even butchering fellow citizens who tend to have a different philosophy and viewpoint?

What are you to do when the bigger butcher is the bigger patriot?

 

The post was originally published in the Dunya blogs.

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.

What Is It Going to Take to See Assad for the Butcher He Is?

Source: abc news

I often ask myself this question and hardly get any reasonable answers.

Sometimes I wonder how people are still defending Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and any conspiracy theory that finds him innocent. But then again, in a world in which Nazism is alive and well, and in which you ironically and stupidly have “brown Islamist Nazis,” pretty much any political opinion is not a shocker.

But you do feel disappointed and low when you see a lack of inclination to face facts among otherwise liberal and reasonable folks.

Sadly, sometimes the guilt of our liberals living in a fundamentalist society, regardless of Shia or Sunni background, and their contempt of Saudi Arabia can make them rather root for Iran or turn a blind eye to its sinister influence in the world. But it goes well beyond reasonable politics to keep on apologizing for and insisting on supporting a despot whose record speaks volumes of his atrocities.

I know that some of my liberal friends see the expansion of the influence of Iran as a solution for the Saudis, of course not giving a second’s thought to what it might hold in the future for Israel. But I see that as much of a problem as the unchecked Saudi influence. Or perhaps the growing Chinese and Russian influence.

This is why the decline of the American influence on international affairs has been devastating. We have seen two very contrasting versions of American liberalism with both President George W. Bush and President Obama. An invasion of Iraq and then complete withdrawal. If one action made matters worse, the other certainly did not help. And that is a pretty objective observation unless you are a Democrat.

Bashar Al-Assad is the latest of the many brutal butchers and psychopaths who has taken up the mantle of torturing and murdering their own people. Not a democratic leader by any means and someone who is extremely cynical in his perception of reality, if you ever hear him speak. After carrying out several chemical weapons attacks on his people before, his regime is thought to have struck again with his latest sarin gas attack. With accounts of eye witnesses and activists, as well as evidence from the US military, clearly disputing the narrative of Assad’s military denying involvement like always. Now being skeptical is fair but Assad sympathizers such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) thinks she would take Assad as a war criminal if proved to be responsible for this attack, clearly unaware of his history of earlier actions. It is really convenient how Democrats accept and condemn their Russian propaganda.

The strongman argument is often given to justify his regime. That Assad keeps the extremists at bay and is a secular but distant dictator. However, with the irreversible damage caused by the Syrian Civil War, this argument has lapsed for Assad and is not true anymore. He is not the great stabilizer anymore. You could instead argue that Putin is instead. And since with President Obama’s half-hearted intervention, Syria has almost been completely destroyed. So, what are we keeping Assad in for now, knowing that he carries out chemical attacks on his own people? But to acknowledge this argument, during the early years of the Syrian civil war, I used to believe Assad should stay too.

Of course, it has been explained to me that American intervention has only made matters worse in the Middle East. But with Islamists and humanitarian crises around in the region, the argument of nonintervention is absolutely nonsensical. That is why the long-term military occupation of Syria remains to be the only viable solution. And of course, it is very unreasonable to expect of Americans to give that sacrifice for the world. The key is to make other nations pay their due share, including Pakistan of course, whether as a part of the Saudi or the American coalition. But preferably the latter.

Policy and tactics for the future aside, I think at least it is time for the deniers of Assad’s atrocities to simply face facts. How many chemical attacks has the Assad regime carried out on its people? And how many more would it take to finally say that enough is enough?

I commend President Trump for at least recognizing the great moral problem at hand and acting at least in some capacity with his limited missile attack to make his intentions clear to the Assad regime. But unfortunately, this action is nearly not close to what is needed. While I support it, if I were to disagree with it, it would be for that reason. The faux liberal outrage you are seeing at the attack is more from isolationists defending their favorite dictator than bleeding heart anti-war activists.

The world must not stop short of anything less than comprehensive military action to depose Assad and end his illegitimate reign. And if it does indeed risk starting the third world war, it only speaks volumes of the evil of Russia and Iran as states for protecting a despot like Assad in this day and age. Sadly, many among our ranks stand for their insistence to be on the wrong side of history despite their commitment to democracy and liberty.

I wonder how many more chemical attacks would it take.

Sadly, given the apathy of the majority in the world toward the atrocities of both the Islamic State and the Assad regime, it helps us understand what happened during the reign of the Third Reich. While I am aware that the world was horrified to learn the troubling reality of the concentration camps after the Second World War, I doubt it would have changed anything. I doubt if they would have done anything substantial to prevent the atrocity had they learned about it earlier. At least, the world we live in today would not have bothered to take any action.

We are clearly not bothered about what the Syrian people are going through.

Even if that is untrue, we clearly do not seem bothered about what Assad is up to.

And it is so bad that we would manufacture things out of our behinds to apologize for his despotic rule.

 

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.