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.

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2015: Malala Yousafzai

Source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/NTB

Source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/NTB

Much to the chagrin of our nationalist critics, Malala Yousafzai keeps on achieving great things. And she is destined for even greater things.

If she is a foreign paid agent, then God knows we need thousands more like her, and would thank the generous foreign power for allocating such funds to a Pakistani girl. But if only the world were such a magical place.

2015 was the year in which Malala transcended the Pakistani nationality, and became what every human individual ought to be. A Citizen of the World. In the true sense of the expression.

Focusing on just one country does not even matter anymore, neither does justice to her vision for humanity.

On the turn of this year, Malala Yousafzai became the first ever Pakistani and Pashtun woman and the youngest ever person to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Malala Yousafzai is my Pakistani person of the year for showing Pakistan what the right to education really means and for teaching adults how to raise their children, especially girls. In many ways, she always will be because we would hardly see an individual as brave and as bright in any time to come.

Malala has earlier worked for the education for Nigerian girls, particularly those affected by Boko Haraam. She is now working for the education of Syrian refugee children, which are probably the most troubled individuals in this world. She is leading by example for not waiting for others to take action by founding the Malala Fund.

It is only ironical that Malala comes from a country where the lawmakers have declared education as a right of all citizens, without providing any plan for it, or even understanding what that means. Malala’s critics are not aware that she is only echoing the ideals of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Don’t worry too much if Malala Yousafzai is not working for Pakistan in your opinion.

She has beaten death to fight for her cause. Shrugging off these taunts and allegations are not going to bother her, though these words could be sharper than bullets and blades. But then again, demanding education for girls is a serious crime in a society that constantly laments about the lack of it rhetorically.

Your opinion judging her nationalistic loyalty does not even matter anymore.

She has moved on to do greater things.

Happy New Year.

Donate to the Malala Fund here.

Read about my Pakistani person of the last year here.

The Stain on the Peacemaker’s Legacy

Source: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images, Politico

Source: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Every one of us can recall the larger than life election campaign of President Obama in the 2008 Presidential elections. The campaign stirred so much hope for change, that it inspired the entire world. Apart from the fact that the first African American was about to be elected for President in American history, the world saw this refreshing liberal leader as a new beginning for world peace, progress, and prosperity.

To a great extent, he has delivered on many of his promises. To many others, he has been a terrible disappointment, which of course is going to be the case if you try reconciling his too-good-to-be-true campaign with the reality. He got rid of Osama Bin Laden in a heroic operation in Pakistan and eliminated several Islamist terrorist through targeted drone strikes. He had a major healthcare reform act passed, albeit highly partisan, and just recently designated new national reserve areas in three states.

But his role as an international peacemaker was sealed with the conferring of the Nobel Peace Prize on his election in 2009. He truly broke the ice with his historic decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, probably his greatest foreign policy legacy, and is trying his level best to conclude a civilized agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program at the cost of Israel’s satisfaction. If we ignore his aggressive drone warfare throughout Middle East and Southwest Asia, he certainly looks like an American President who has actually been a force for peace for a change.

But I wonder if many historians would count the rise of ISIS, or ISIL as he calls it, among his lasting legacies as well.

Despite the fact that many of his supporters and the Democratic leaders would dismiss the very mention of this notion and quickly transfer the blame to the policies of his predecessor, the explanation is far from enough.

Obviously, you cannot expect a President in the last year of his Presidency, when he is busy building his legacy, to start a war. That’s something for the next President to worry about. But it is a fair question to ask if he has done enough.

In my humble opinion, the answer is certainly no.

There is no doubt that America is war weary, and they certainly do not want to have anything to do with a war that does not concern them directly. They are right. They should not have been in Iraq in the first place. The sacrifice of thousands of US and allied veterans for their service must not be forgotten and must be appreciated. But at the same time, it should be kept in mind that the problem of ISIS would not have surfaced without the vacuum of power created by Western intervention in the region.

The arming of the Syrian opposition to intensify the Syrian civil war probably contributed as much to this development than the 2003 invasion of Iraq, if not more, though the Shia-leaning central government of Iraq and lack of political understanding in this regard by the Bush administrations are also cited as factors. But what if President Obama would have refrained from fulfilling his campaign promise of withdrawing troops from Iraq? It only would have been the right thing to do in this context.

But what is the use in bickering over the past, as well as the cause? Because either way, it’s the Western intervention that caused the problem, whether due to the actions of a Democratic President or a Republican.

The point to concentrate on is if we want to do something about this problem today, as most Republican leaders are urging, and rightly so.

If you really want some insight into President Obama’s mind and how he has approached the ISIS crisis, hear or read his statement at the Department of Defense press conference on the issue.

His comment about the ISIS problem conceded that “ideologies are not defeated with guns, but better ideas.” It is hard to disagree with his statement, but President Obama must realize that ISIS is not just an ideology. The ideology we are confronting here is militant Islamism. ISIS is a very real political group which is gaining ground every day, and which can only be defeated with military power, not just better ideas.

Nobody wants to look like President Jimmy Carter, who struggled with the Iran hostage crisis in the very last days of his Presidential term. Therefore, ISIS is at just about the safe distance to accord neglect of any remedial action, something to be taken on by the “next generation” in this long battle. The hints toward that direction are not hard to find in the statement, apart from a complete lack of sense of urgency to tackle the issue.

Besides, actively taking on ISIS would be against the Obama doctrine of no boots on ground and relying heavily on drone warfare and other airstrikes. This makes perfectly good sense, but if only it had been good enough to deal with the severity of the threat of ISIS. It calls for forming a global coalition as rallied by President George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks, hopefully under the United Nations, and with a permanent troop deployment. If US troops can still be stationed in Korea, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, why not in Iraq where they are needed the most?

But in his urge to be the great global peacemaker, to be the great American President who didn’t go to war, and the great liberal statesman who made the world a better place, not worse, is he leaving us with probably the worst entity imaginable just to undo most if not all of that good work?

Yet the very fact that President Obama is a force for peace in the world is a big question mark itself.

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

 

The Questions You Should Not Ask

Source: AP/HBO

Source: AP/HBO

In recent days, a clip from Real Time with Bill Maher has been circulating all over the social media, and even in news publications. The clip is about the confrontation between Academy Award winning actor and director Ben Affleck and atheist scholar and neuroscientist Sam Harris.

Well, no introduction to the clip needed.

                               Source: HBO

This brief confrontation led to a number of critiques, both on Ben Affleck and Maher and Harris. The primary criticism on the latter was about their Islamophobia and bigotry. In comparison, Affleck was attacked for not being thoughtful in the debate.

There is little doubt about the fact that Ben Affleck was emotional form the word go, and Sam Harris even claimed he was “gunning for him from the start.” But in short, Affleck lost his cool and should have acted in a saner manner.

But instead of wasting our time with Affleck calling Maher and  Harris “racist”, which they most probably are (who cares), let’s focus on the other side of the debate.

You could argue that both of them have been displaying behavior toward Muslims, which could be termed hostile by many. Despite their claims that they do not engage in Islamophobia.

What is noteworthy is that most of their critics completely ignore their objection on tolerance of cruel and illiberal fundamental beliefs among Muslims. And the questions they raise are:

  • What is the punishment for apostasy in Islam?
  • What is the punishment for adultery in Islam?
  • What is the punishment for blasphemy in Islam?

The answer to all three questions happen to be death, like it or not.

These are the questions that you should not ask.

Even the recent opinion article from religion apologist and scholar Reza Aslan, who claims the moral high ground by saying that both sides lacked sophistication.

Curiously, that eloquent article conveniently lacked any mention of those questions, which kills the criticism on Maher and Harris for someone who is familiar with their rhetoric.

Now this could put some serious questions in the minds of someone who would actually want to disagree with them.

But yet another problem with this is that those who have already picked a side would not be prepared to change their minds. However, from my own experience, I know it is not true for everyone.

What Maher and Harris mean is that we probably have a big problem when that many Muslims actually believe in fundamental beliefs that have no room in a modern Western civilization. And which are simply unacceptable by any standard but their own.

And especially because their population makes up such a significant portion of the world population. So why not talk about it and take a step toward sorting this issue.

However, asking these very questions have become unacceptable in the unwritten rules of the Western progressive liberals. While they accuse people like Sam Harris to be indulging in bigotry and Islamophobia in the guise of criticizing religion, they could be accused of tolerating illiberal and even dangerously brutal beliefs in their eagerness to avoid being xenophobes as well.

So what is the solution?

How are you going to confront most Muslims for their irresponsible beliefs that they would gladly defend?

Should you just shut up because that’s racist?

The Pragmatist’s Resolution to the Gaza Conflict

Source: Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images/Vox.com

Source: Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images/Vox.com

If you are sick to your stomach of the recurrent, and I repeat recurrent, Gaza conflict, well you are not alone. The episodes of this conflict are bound to occur after a small period and the tragedies will only grow worse with time.

The Hamas control of Gaza Strip and the consequent blockade is not a point of equilibrium and is unsustainable. This is why the conflict keeps on escalating every two years, or so it seems.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ends the conflict now, and if you are realistic, it would only mean one thing. We are going to see another Gaza episode two years from now, and maybe sooner.

Did more than 60 Israeli soldiers die for a nothing campaign?

I am sure Israelis are sick of it, and you can be very sure that it is a matter of survival for the people of Gaza.

The most dreadful thing about the nature of this conflict is that neither Hamas nor the Israeli leadership will care for the human tragedy. They say they would, but we all know what to expect. And probably this war is one that has made so many civilians vulnerable more than any conflict zone in recent history.

This is why there are very strong arguments for relieving Gaza of Hamas control. And to me, this is the pragmatist’s resolution to the current Gaza conflict. It is not a permanent solution, far from it, but it is a start toward a better life.

In a way, Israel has been presenting this proposition, which is evident by the way the conflict has escalated. The world seems to be largely OK with it. Therefore, the American, the European and Egyptian sanctions on the Gaza Strip. Nobody wants to see Hamas in Gaza Strip.

The problem is that most pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protesters simply do not find Hamas a problem. Good for their moral high ground, bad for the pursuit of any resolution.

So what would kicking out Hamas of Gaza mean? Better lives, open borders, no embargoes and no war. There would still be Israeli occupation, which means that there would be no freedom, but it surely could mean no war.

Or alternatively, handing over the administrative control to the Palestinian authority, while the IDF remains in charge of border security. Well, because we know as a plain fact that the Palestinian Authority is simply incapable of it. That’s why Hamas occupied Gaza in the first place.

And there is a reason why Hamas is not an acceptable party to peace. The kind of freedom that Hamas wants, that is to end the occupation of land where Israel currently exists & of Jerusalem, is not acceptable. Moreover, their charter is pretty much about the annihilation of Israel and the Jews, so case closed.

This is why the Gaza Palestinians who are not insistent on a two state solution that some in Israeli right are blocking are a part of the problem. Not seeking compromise under the given circumstances is what blocks peace in the Middle East and intensifies the tribalism of the conflict.

And we know that this conflict is all about moral dilemmas and not as much about logic, as explained in this article.

Then again, Palestinians who want freedom would never favor Israeli occupation of Gaza. They’d rather become martyrs to present their case. And the politics never ends and neither do the killings. While I sympathize with their cause, I wonder if the Hamas way is the best way.

But the greatest tragedy of Gaza, as in any war, is the individual. Someone who should not have suffered due to a political conflict.

But nationalism is blind to the individual. It always has been.