I Almost Hoisted the Indian Flag Too

Source: AFP/Indranil Mukherjee

Source: AFP/Indranil Mukherjee

A few weeks ago, a curious headline caught my eye. There is a good reason why I really related to the unfortunate individual caught in the whirlpool of insane politics of rivalry between neighbors India and Pakistan. Just like Umar Draz, the arrested fan in Okara is taken by the brilliant drives of Virat Kohli, the brilliant batting of Sachin Tendulkar mesmerized me throughout my teenage years.

However, when you are surrounded by bigots and compulsive nationalist haters, you would never be able to freely express yourself. But sports fans are a different breed. They are out of control. What’s the point in supporting a sports team or an athlete, if you are not showing off and challenging and trash-talking your opponents?

This is precisely what poor Umar Draz had done, and this is precisely what I almost did on a few occasions when Sachin Tendulkar played. Of course, I failed to share the jubilation with my fellow countrymen when Sachin missed his century in the 2003 World Cup game against Pakistan, or failed to steer his team to victory in the Chennai test, or even when Shoaib Akhtar knocked his middle stump out in the Eden Gardens. Alright, I must confess, I did take some pleasure in that memorable dismissal. But great players are even dismissed in a stylish manner.

Let us agree for the sake of argument that hoisting the Indian flag is a deeply immoral wrong. Just like waving the Pakistani flag is considered a crime in Indian occupied Kashmir. Even then, Umar Draz was merely waving the flag of the cricket team he was supporting, which happened to be India. The Kohli posters in his room prove that he is a genuine fan. I blame the format of international cricket for his innocuous act to be taken as one of rebellion and defiance of the state. If you are rooting for your favorite cricket team, you would look like rooting for another country, possibly an enemy.

However, Umar Draz is living in far more comfortable times than my days of following Sachin’s career. If he had given a thought to it, he could also have expressed himself by displaying the flags and colors of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, though the difficulty of accessing the franchise merchandise in Pakistan should also be taken into account.

During the 90s and 2000s, Sachin Tendulkar was not a part of any such team, and therefore I had no choice but to take pleasure in his many tons helping India cruise to victory. In Umar’s defense, he is free to choose to support India over the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Who knows? Maybe he hates the colors and the ridiculous commercialized franchise name.

Since then I have learned that playing cricket with India is a far more political affair than our sport-loving minds could comprehend. Of late, I have even discovered that probably it is not even worth the trouble. But does that prevent you from following the sport you love and express your love for your favorite players across the border? I still enjoy watching the IPL games every now and then.

And in my overzealousness, I almost hoisted the Indian flag for Sachin too. But thank God I didn’t. Though I should be able to whenever I want.

Considering the shocking case of the arrest of Umar Draz, I wonder what would have happened to me. Would I have seen the inside of a filthy cell like Umar Draz for such a harmless act and had my public record ruined for life? Where is our most basic sense of human decency?

Shame on us. Time to make a little change in the penal code.

Originally published in The Nation blogs.

Sharif and Netanyahu: One Handshake I Would Like to See Making News

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

I just came across a post from the Israeli Prime Minister on social media reporting on his interaction with the leaders of the world, including the Indian Prime Minister, in the recent Paris Climate Change Conference. Just imagine for a second the awkwardness of the Israeli and Pakistani leaders completely ignoring each other’s existence during the leader summit. Maybe it would take more than climate change to unite the nations of the world.

During the conference, two handshakes made news, only suggestive of how bad things are between those nations: The one between PM Nawaz Sharif and PM Narendra Modi, and the other involving PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. But one handshake that I would have liked to see making news would be between Pakistani Prime Minster Sharif and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

This only takes you to the idiotic foreign policy Pakistan, and a number of other Muslim majority countries, mostly Arab, have been maintaining toward Israel. There is hardly any doubt that Pakistan has been losing a tremendous opportunity for decades by not building its relations with Israel, despite being aligned with the Western alliance that both are part of, including the Gulf Arab states. Let it be issues like defense and security or trade and educational exchanges, the opportunities offered by the diplomatic relations would be unlimited. But only if the people of Pakistan open their minds to them and drop old prejudices for a while, if not for good.

What is even worse is that due to the diplomatic vacuum in the region for Israel, its partnership with India, Pakistan’s primary rival, has been strengthening manifold on the defense front. Pakistanis have the option to keep on whining about how the Jewish people are the sworn enemies of Muslims and are colluding with Hindus against them. Or they could try joining forces with Israel themselves. If the Israelis are being hostile, have the Pakistanis given them a chance to be friends? Even once? Actually, Pakistan’s defense interests are more aligned with Israel than ever with common threats in the region.

We need to understand that the diplomatic boycott of Israel is not just an expression of political hostility, it stems out of antisemitism. We certainly should know better than that. Now that even some Gulf states are opening new diplomatic avenues with Israel, and Arab League members proposing recognizing Israel in a peace plan, Pakistan certainly does not need to be bound by any obligation to them.

Furthermore, since Pakistan’s beef with Israel, as is the case with other Muslim majority countries, is the occupation of Jerusalem, diplomatic relations would put them in a far better position for negotiating peace. Besides, the priority of peace for the Middle East should be the independence and recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state and the protection of the rights of the people rather than pursuing a religious crusade.

Building relations with Israel would be a step forward to improving tolerance and acceptance among the people of Pakistan, who have been conditioned to riot at the very mention of Israel. Pakistan needs to expand its horizons for a brighter future and must not restrict itself with the false obligations of being a Muslim majority state. We need to interact in a saner manner with the global community and the current civilian leadership is capable of bringing about the required results.

It is time to break our shackles and embrace the policy of friendship and cooperation instead of insisting on bigotry, boycott and hate.

It is time to establish relations with Israel and recognize its right to exist.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Convenient Positions on Death Penalty

Source: newindianexpress.com

Source: newindianexpress.com

The recent execution of convicted Indian criminal or terrorist Yakub Memon for involvement in Mumbai bombings in 1993 has ignited a bit of a debate in India about the death penalty. It is healthy to see that at least people are debating this issue in the mainstream, which itself is reflective of how democracy is at a much healthier state in India, as compared to a society such as Pakistan. However, what is alarming is that apparently most of the Indians are as keen on hangings as Pakistanis and Iranians.

But even more troubling than the vicious righteous mobs thirsting for blood as justice is the convenient positions some politicians are taking about death penalty when it suits their agenda.  Of course, it’s not Shahshi Tharoor that I am talking about, whose views on the issue I absolutely endorse and support. The very opposition to his comments is reflective of how far they need to go in terms of fighting social conservatism in India, which has worsened ever since the BJP took power.

What I am really talking about Muslim religious conservatives and Islamist leaders complaining about the death penalty. While this could apply equally to Hindu right wing social conservatives, such inconsistency is more evident among their Muslim counterparts, especially because they otherwise support the most barbaric of punishments for insignificant offenses such as adultery.

The AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi refreshingly criticized the execution of Yakub Memon, saying that capital punishment is not the answer to terrorism. It sounds pretty nice until he brings up the Babri Mosque incident and talks about how there were no hangings for the “original sin.” He probably makes a valid remark about any lack of convictions for the Mumbai riots, but it is not because he actually opposed the death penalty as a matter of principle. He was just upset because he just didn’t want Memon hanged, one of his own tribe. Obviously his stance saw retaliation by your typical idiotic BJP nationalists, the rival tribe, and one of the ministers asked the critics of death penalty to “go to Pakistan.”

This has not happened for the first time. If you recall, Bangladesh has sentenced quite a few Jamaat-e-Islami leaders to death for treason. And then the Egyptians sentenced many Muslim Brotherhood members to death, including the deposed Prime Minister Mohammed Morsi. Considering the connection between the parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan passionately protested against the harsh and cruel death sentences.

Now I totally support the right of the Jamaat-e-Islami to protest, of course as long as they behave themselves, and I agree with them on the issue, but it is interesting how they would themselves call for similar penalties, or worse Shariah sanctioned punishment, for similar and other offenses. All the Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt and Bangladesh were tried and sentenced for anti-state activities and treason, which can be argued not to be crimes, but sadly they are considered to be. These entities themselves would support death for rebellion against religion, and would support putting apostates and blasphemers to death.

This is why supporting the abolition of capital punishment is so important.

Now secular liberals and libertarians who oppose authoritarianism and capital punishment would oppose the rulings made in Egypt and Bangladesh consistent with their ideology. They would agree with Jamaat-e-Islami on these issues, but not necessarily for the same reasons. The only converging reason could be that the charge is not worthy of such a penalty in the first place.

But the important point here is that Islamists and social conservative Muslims need to examine their political positions pertaining to the death penalty. Because their convenient positions on the issue would qualify for something they despise and often accuse their opponents of. Hypocrisy. Now, while pretty much every political entity is guilty of cherry picking and double standards in one way or another, minimizing such positions is good for their own public image. They need to embrace comprehensive rejection of death penalty.

One of the most fundamental things to understand about opposing capital punishment on the basis of morality is that you don’t want the state to commit the crime it is convicting someone for, in addition to the idea why the state should not be resorting to such extreme measures in the first place. You don’t have to turn criminals and murderers to punish them. Digging further into the debate, liberals present the argument that there is no evidence to suggest that death penalty serves as an effective deterrent to crime.

Perhaps the only solid and worthwhile, though inhuman and heartless, argument that I have heard from conservatives against the death penalty is why they should be paying to keep the convicts alive. Though then someone can argue why keep prisoners alive at all. Why not burn everyone at stake at even the most minor of offenses, just because we should not bear the burden of convicted citizens. Alright don’t burn at stake, just shoot them, or the lethal injection would do.

Many of the liberals who have evolved their position on death penalty must have started from supporting capital punishment. Similarly, many liberals change their minds and end up supporting the capital punishment as they grow old as well.

What the critics of the opponents of death penalty need to understand is that the state does not set a good example when it resorts to the very actions that it is condemning its citizens for. Furthermore, putting someone to death does not necessarily help achieve the abstract state of “justice.” It does, however, fulfill the thirst for vengeance.

The post was originally published in the Nation blogs.

The Neglected Brat Fighting Back

Source: Dawn/Reuters

Source: Dawn/Reuters

Countries such as Pakistan, being peripheries in the larger theater of global politics, that have unusually large armies and unusually dangerous security concerns, tend to be paranoid. Strategically, they are always on the lookout of how the powers around them are responding to them. Of course, if you put the military leadership itself at the helm of foreign policy, the effect is manifold.

Considering how closely Pakistan has been to the United States in the Cold War years, being in the forefront of the war against Soviet Communism, had made its national security pretty much dependent on the American partnership. After years of dependable war partnership with Republican administrations, Pakistan is now apparently left alone by a fairly long but largely neglecting Democratic administration, pulling out troops, resorting to distant drone warfare, and one that does not give half as much priority to the Pakistani state as it does to India in its strategy for the region. Considering the growing Chinese influence, it only seems to make sense.

Where does this leave Pakistan? In an extremely precarious and insecure state, in terms of survival.

Peripheries are like surviving but perpetually underfed chicks in a jungle full of predators. You have to take care of them to make sure they grow up the way you want.

Pakistan’s recent shift to more authoritarian and undemocratic powers for its primary diplomatic partnerships is suggestive of the vacuum created by the democratic powers perceivably forsaking it. Sadly, with the weakening influence of the democratic powers, and under the influence of China and Saudi Arabia, you could find the already weak democratic values in Pakistan weakening even further. Especially when some people could argue an almost colonial influence of these countries growing in Pakistan, especially the religious influence of the Wahabi monarchy of Saudi Arabia. The recent religious decrees of the federal government and the recent visits of Saudi officials in the wake of the Yemen campaign are but a few signs.

The China Pakistan economic corridor sounds like an ingenious idea for its sheer simplicity, or complexity, and it is almost surprising that it didn’t already happen years ago considering how strong Pakistan China relations have been over decades. Of course, literally lending a good piece of land of your nation and its local opposition, considering the controversial nature of the province it is situated in, are sizable hurdles to the achievement of such an ambitious goal. Something that the Pakistani leadership finally decided to take on, with criticism more focused on provincial rights deprivation than the almost colonial nature of the deal.

There would surely be greater outcry if Pakistan were leasing out a port to a country such as India. But why would Pakistan be offering its port to a country such as India in the first place?

But what minimizes that realization is the tremendous business opportunity of a geographically disadvantaged power hiring you for improved trade efficiency. Even the harshest of critics, as well as the adversaries of the campaign, would not be able to ignore the economic possibilities of this deal. It’s mutually beneficial, right?

However, this step appears to be Pakistan’s own way of angrily reacting to the neglect that it perceived to have been a victim of, probably intended as a message to some powers. For a country that considered itself to be worthy of a civilian nuclear program deal instead of India, and which might have felt wounded getting its F-16s from Jordan than directly from the United States.

But apparently, it is something way deeper and darker than that. It also sends out a message of where the Pakistan’s allegiances would be in the next century. And it’s probably too late for the other interested parties. Perhaps, it is a brat spoiled by the United States itself.

But the bigger question to ask is this. Would the world be a better place with this deal? Would it open more strategic than mere economic opportunities for various parties?

Or maybe if these questions are so hard to ask, is that a side that Pakistan would really want to take for the next century.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Mystery of Openly Operating Banned Religious (Terrorist) Organizations in Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

What does the banning of a religious organization really mean?

What is the point of announcing their addition to the list of condemned organizations when there are hardly any curbs on their activities?

It is easy to criticize the Government of Pakistan in this regard, but hardly anyone accounts for the complex problems they have to deal with.

Even if we say that these problems are of their own making, it does not eliminate the need to consider the difficulty of the task at the hands of the government.

They simply just cannot take these banned organizations away from the public.

Or maybe they can.

But this goes to show the sheer force of the religious political groups prevalent, and growing, in Pakistan. A force that is so enormous that even the government of Pakistan and the military are afraid of it. Nobody wants a religious uprising to deal with.

This is what happens when you declare a war against an ideological enemy without convincing the people of your country against it.

It would be understandable to see the anger of the members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa if their political activities were to become illegal.

Furthermore, the likes of ASWJ would also be seen protesting on the roads if such a decree pertaining to their organization would come into effect.

Of course, we cannot even imagine the day when political parties such as the JI, JUI, ST and MWM are prevented from running in the elections.

But apart from that, it is hard to oppose organizations that you consider heroic.

This is why when it comes to narrative about the local Jihadist organizations, charity must begin at home.

But has there been any active effort to confront such narrative, which is only affirmed on occasions such as the Kashmir Solidarity Day? An otherwise seemingly harmless holiday observed to show moral support for the oppressed Kashmiri people, mixed with vows to liberate them from their oppressors.

Again, from a nationalistic viewpoint, attacking India for any such purposes sounds pretty fair. However, the sad part is that this narrative provides a lot of fodder for these banned militant outfits to feed on.

So probably the state should think twice before giving the narrative around this holiday its blessing. Surely, the holiday can be observed without any belligerent calls to Jihad.

But the general impression remains that a good number of masses in Pakistan views Islamist militant organizations positively and accept their active role in politics.

Merely playing to the galleries would not be sufficient for the federal and provincial governments. Simply adding these militant outfits to the list of “banned organizations” to create an impression on Western powers would not work.

An ideological awakening and education of the masses are required to ensure a gradual social change.

Or at least for the government to be able to enforce the bans that it proposes.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Jinnah, Secular Pakistan & False Heroes

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

Often September 11 is a day when you could find people having a debate about secularism in Pakistan here and there. It is also the 9/11 anniversary, but let’s keep the conversation to secularism.

The death anniversary of founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah is considered a moment for this debate, primarily due to a speech he delivered on August 11, 1947.

However, the proponents of Islamic Republic who claim he was not secular do have a point. Ah, Islamic Republic, what an oxymoron.

The day every single secular bone in Mr. Jinnah was dead when he decided to join the cause of the Muslim League.

Call it the bigotry of Hindu leaders or the failure of Indian National Congress to suck up to the unreasonable demands of separate electorate, but that act should sum it up for anyone, if not the disastrous partition of 1947.

Needless deaths. Needless riots. Needless stupidity which has now become synonymous to the Indian people.

The supposedly secular Jinnah, who reportedly got furious over someone calling him the King of Pakistan, was perfectly alright with the dangerous slogan “Pakistan ka matlab kya, La ilaha il Allah” or “What is the meaning of Pakistan? No god but Allah.”

But a lot of people even claim that such slogan was a later invention, and there is no wonder not many would believe them.

And what of the forsaken millions of oppressed Muslim left to suffer at the hands of “Hindu imperialists”, who certainly would be seeing this as an opportunity for revenge for over five centuries of Muslim rule?

At another instance, you find him saying that the state of Pakistan would be an Islamic State modeled after the City State of Medina established by Prophet Muhammad himself. He has also referred to Islam as democracy. I know a lot of people would defend this statement, but this calls for a serious reality check.

In other words, Jinnah was one of the liberal Muslims who deemed the sort of state as the Medina to be a perfectly safe constitution for the non-Muslim community. The sort of liberal Muslims who are under the delusion that Islam provides safety to the non-Muslim communities through its message of universal peace.

Now Pakistani secularists, most of them with the center-left PPP and ANP have a dilemma. How to pitch secularism to an Islamic fundamentalist crowd, raised on admiring the merits of the Caliphate.

Perhaps in the world of cults and personality worshipers, what is missing in Pakistan for the failure of the secular movement is the lack of real heroes. Secular circles are usually seen hailing Jinnah and Bhutto as their leaders and heroes, while they should be the ones in the forefront to criticize them.

Source: ppp.org.pk

Source: ppp.org.pk

Why not openly endorse Jawaharlal Nehru as a secular leader rather than Jinnah, and why not discard an Islamic Socialist like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who signed the Second Amendment?

I know a lot of folks recognize atheist freedom fighter Bhagat Singh as a hero. I am all for choosing Benazir Bhutto as a relatively better secular and surely a liberal leader and I am glad that we have leaders such as Sherry Rehman and Bushra Gohar among us.

Though what is needed is a consensus on secularism. The left should not and must not have a monopoly over this issue. A secular right is badly needed in the sub continent.

But stick with the August 11, 1947 speech by all means to haunt Islamists. I actually respect the man’s acknowledgement of keeping religion separate from the state. However, his actions are hardly coherent with his words.

In any case, rest assured that Jinnah was no secular hero. Primarily, because of his politics under Muslim League as Muslims are not a nation or an ethnic group. It is a religious group and obtaining a state for it would mean giving up the secular cause and taking up a religious one.

As a matter of fact, the Indian Jamaat-e-Islami of the time would have offered some relative sanity if you were a Jinnah follower.

If only we would have the courage to admit that with such an artificially created religious demographic, Pakistan was wired to be an Islamic state from the very beginning. Little else would be expected from a political party thriving on the politics of discrimination and separate electorates.

While my opinion has changed about Muhammad Ali Jinnah over time, my view pertaining to secularism and logical political choices remains the same.

You don’t have to follow someone’s example to do the right thing. Jinnah was a politician, and therefore, his contradictions only make sense.

Just use your brain as secularism is the most reasonable, uncontroversial, universally acceptable and common sense social contract.

In the words of an acquaintance, former civil servant K. M. Cheema, the case for secularism must stand by itself.

Banning the Anti-State Cable Network

Source: The News

Source: The News

Politics of the Jang group is such a mixed bag.

At times, the news group is said to be in the pocket of the ruling Sharif brothers and at others, it is considered to have operatives in a hostile India.  Sometimes, it is serving as the bullhorn of the Chief Justice and sometimes it seems to be the voice of Islamist bigots.

At times, its channel is said to be the mouthpiece of the establishment. At others, it is apparently perceived to be accusing the ISI of all the ills in the world, especially shooting its senior anchor Hamid Mir, and asking its head to step down.

But everyone can agree that the channel Geo News is sensationalist at best.

We have a problem in Pakistan, which by the way, exists all over the world too. A problem that needs to go. We are ever prepared to penalize people for saying things.

Therefore, the currently ongoing silent censorship of the news channels of the Geo Network, which may or may not materialize into license cancellation. The backlash came after the ISPR decided to file a libel lawsuit for false accusations over Mir case, followed by the Defense Ministry forwarding an application to the PEMRA for its ban. (Really Khawaja Asif? Oh I get it.)

OK, so why is everyone quiet over it?

Because clearly they have crossed the line. Nobody likes it, neither do I even though I didn’t catch what is said to be the worst of it, and it is hideous. Typical Geo TV. And yes, an example must be set to teach the channels to report responsibly.

But how? And who would do it?

And why do bans need to be enforced for the same purpose?

The government can’t shut a channel up just because it had an unfavorable broadcast for a few hours. Then there is no free media if that is the case, and certainly no free speech.

Libel lawsuits are all good, so are penalties on violating code of conduct. But does this kind of reaction mean that anyone criticizing certain public institutions will be met with such a reaction from the government? What are we aspiring to become? Soviet Union or Nazi Germany?

In any case, the government must not penalize speech and any such law should be deemed unconstitutional. Surely, not the case in Pakistan.

I believe the right way to penalize an irresponsible channel is to impose a monetary fine instead of banning it altogether. Even though I would never support even a monetary fine for speech.

We need to stop shutting people up to feel secure. Not sure if that kind of security ever worked.

Or perhaps just let people change the channel.

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