Why Pakistan Must Stand Up Against ISIS

Source: ISPR/Dawn

Source: ISPR/Dawn

Just when you thought that the Obama administration is going to forsake the Middle East at the mercy of the menacingly destructive ISIS, there is finally a little ray of hope. According to a news report, the recent trip of the US National Security Advisor Susan Rice to Pakistan involved discussion of building an alliance against the Islamic State. In other words, the United States would be asking Pakistan’s help to deal with the situation, though it’s still wishful thinking.

Nevertheless, this offers Pakistan yet another opportunity to lead the world by example in fighting terrorism, as was the case in the global war against Islamist terrorism following 9/11. As a matter of fact, international military action against ISIS is far overdue. The silence of the UN Security Council on the matter has been shameful to say the least. Only Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan have retaliated weakly to the Islamic State, and that too, when their own borders and soldiers were threatened.

If Pakistan does respond to the call of the United States to join such a coalition, it would only be fulfilling its duty as a responsible member of the international community. No other country of the world should be an exception. As a matter of fact, all capable powers around the world should rise up to the challenge of ISIS.

There are a lot of people around the world who are blaming the Obama administration for being indirectly responsible for the current situation in Iraq and Syria. The Obama Administration with its half measures to depose Assad has helped turning Syria into a mass graveyard, and as the indirect consequence of which, ISIS has captured large parts of both Iraq and Syria, establishing its own state.

However, the most painful part of this story remains to be how the world has treated the Kurds. The 2003 Iraq War had finally given the Kurds an opportunity to found an independent state after decades of struggle and oppression by at least three major powers in the region. Even today, Kurds are still surrounded by enemies, with the worst of them all, ISIS, is barely being kept at bay by the Peshmarga. However, they cannot help but feel betrayed by their Western liberators, as their hopes of independence are in jeopardy again. Helping them, especially the Yazidi population, is almost a moral duty.

ISIS is slaughtering innocent civilians and is destroying the cultural heritage of the Middle East. It is simply a shame that not even a single nation in the world has decided to stand up to this challenge and tackle the growth of ISIS. As a matter of fact, the Iranians and the Syrians have been on the forefront to fight this menace. But this needs to change, if the world wants to see a substantial change in the current situation in the Middle East, which has given rise to probably the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

I know there are a lot of people who would warn against entering another of “America’s wars,” reminding of the wave of terrorist attacks that followed throughout the country. Wars are never without a cost, but staying out of one is not always the more peaceful and safest option. Taking action against ISIS is as important as it was to fight against the Nazi Third Reich. While we mourn the death of Aylan Kurdi, which in all seriousness may or may not have anything to do with the Syrian civil war directly, but it would be even better if we focus our attention to the elements that are destroying the homes of Syrian families, including their dictator Bashar Al-Assad.

The allies must ask themselves why Assad is still in power, and if he is to be tolerated in Damascus, then what is the point of continuing support for the Syrian opposition? And what is the point of fueling this fire from a distance when we know that Putin’s forces are now in Syria. Maybe, they could help offer some help against the IS militants after all.

Does this mean that the anti-Assad powers around the world had a part to play of depriving millions of Syrians of their homes? All this destruction for nothing? It would simply be irresponsible to leave the situation in its current state just because bad intervention had caused the deterioration. Faux doves must be resisted both in the West and in the Muslim majority countries.

But apart from the trouble that Syrian nationals have been facing, we must not forget that ISIS is a real threat to the Pakistani state as well. Evidence has been found of ISIS presence and influence within Pakistan, and the Foreign Office has recognized the group as a threat to the national security.

However, Pakistan is not unique in being threatened by the growth of ISIS. Pretty much every nation in the world that values freedom is feeling threatened by the existence of this group directly or indirectly, especially those close to the Middle East. Considering the inaction of the Sunni Arab states, it is also important to fight ISIS to avoid offering it the privilege and legitimacy of being the de facto force of Sunni resistance against the Iranian Shia political influence, especially in Iraq and Syria.

A lot of people in Pakistan and in other Muslim majority countries like to blame ISIS on the enemies of Islam, by which they are referring to the United States, the EU and the allies such as Israel. Even if that is true, it should give Muslim majority countries and Arab states all the more reason to come together and get rid of this dangerous group that has been effectively demonizing the faith that represents their identity. Of course, Israel must play its part in fighting the ISIS as well.

We should be proud that Pakistan has been the front line state in the war against terrorism after 9/11. We should continue this honorable tradition of eradicating terrorist groups. We have celebrated the valor and sacrifice of our servicemen and women on the Defense day. It is important that we prepare ourselves to take on the threats that are jeopardizing the survival of civilization in the region as we know it at the same time.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Why We Need More of Foreign Agenda

Source: APP/Dawn

Source: APP/Dawn

Recently the PML-N led federal government landed itself in yet another mess. The Interior Ministry ordered the closure of the prominent international NGO “Save the Children” and asking its staff to leave the country, but only to reverse the decision sooner than you know. The reason for banning the NGO temporarily was “the anti-state activities” they were allegedly involved in.

Now while the “Save the Children” matter has been taken care of, this just was not enough for the Interior Minister. He said that hundreds of NGOs are violating their charters in Islamabad and under the watch list. Someone else pointed out on TV that hundreds were unregistered.  There is no doubt that every NGO should be registered with the government. Makes perfect sense. But this incident also started a series of morally constipated nationalistic analyses on the national TV about how inherently evil the NGO business is. And how every NGO is absolutely corrupt and conspiring with world powers to destroy Pakistan and implement foreign agenda in the country.

Speaking of which, we should actually be thankful to the foreign NGOs for promoting foreign agenda in Pakistan, because clearly we could use more of it.

If helping children get a decent, rational secular education, better access to clean water and healthcare, and promoting democratic values mean foreign agenda, then certainly we could do with much more of it.

While the political parties and government in Pakistan, including the political party currently in power (since they have regained their monopoly over moral righteousness these days), make high claims about public welfare, they are clearly not touching areas that many of these “anti-state” NGOs are working on. If despite lofty claims, the government is not able to deliver education as a right, then do they blame foreign NGOs to take credit for promoting education in the society?

Why should we worry about the foreign agenda anyway when our own domestic agenda is so lethal.

OK, let me guess.

These foreign NGOs are dangerous because they are promoting education, free speech, and democracy. And that is probably anti-state, so that our children don’t get to learn that having a theocratic and discriminatory constitution is wrong. That could seriously disintegrate the almost perfectly homogeneous ignorance of our almost perfectly homogeneous society.

These foreign NGOs are particularly dangerous because they keep on talking about liberating women and helping them become financially independent. They are also a threat to the society because they keep on talking about legislating to punish violence against women. Because obviously that would shred our family values and honor to pieces.

If our constitution involves excommunicating religious communities, and our law supports provisions for capital punishment on blasphemy, then probably it’s foreign agenda alone that could come to salvage this hopeless mess.

But then again, when our local agenda involves hiding the most wanted terrorist in the world, there is not much to expect, is there?

That’s why we need more foreign NGOs to buy more local people with foreign money.

Let’s admit it as a nation, and there is nothing to be ashamed about it.

We need more of foreign agenda.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

CyberCrime Bill: What Blasphemy Law Feels Like

cyber-crime-bill-southasiamedia-net-2404201518503513

I just came across an apparently credible copy of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes bill that is reportedly passed by the standing committee on information technology, but had learned just enough from the outraging social media posts criticizing it that the Pakistani government is at its worst again. Searches without warrant and internet censorship.

From the looks of it, the bill seems to be a grim reminder why government should be out of our lives in as many aspects as possible. It is also a reminder of the terrible extent of power our democratic structure vests into the hand of the government agencies such as the PTA and how nobody sees that as a problem.

The trouble with liberals aspiring for greater government control in Pakistan is that they conveniently forget that the country is an Islamic Republic. This means that ideologically, Pakistan is just a few shots away from becoming societies such as Iran. This is why I have always been skeptical about policing the internet for hate speech. But still, laws must protect people from hacking, harassment and financial fraud. However, such laws, just like any laws, should remain confined to dispute resolution as opposed to mandatory guidelines for moral behavior.

However, what is encouraging is the public outrage at the bill in the Muslim majority country, at least online. Finally, my dream of seeing the likes of the Jamaat-e-Islami protesting on the streets to prevent a facebook ban could be near its realization perhaps. What is the world coming to?

Among the youth, it is really refreshing to see the passionate opposition, despite the fact that the bill apparently contains many things that the activist folks have been campaigning for years. Of course, that does not include protecting the head of the government, who happens to be a “natural person,” or the state from criticism, or allegedly defamation, but you could expect such provisions to creep into the penal code. Though that is a biased, out-of-the-way interpretation really of the most ambiguous, but pretty authoritatively liberal bill you have seen in a while. But in all honesty, I do not expect the current state regime to formulate any law without providing for the protection of the glory of Islam and the sanctity and security of the state.

This offers some remote idea to the liberal and conservative Muslim majority in the country of what the blasphemy law remotely feels like. The more informed of critics would obviously laugh away this comparison, as they should, but anyone can agree that you don’t see Pakistanis getting outraged at free speech curbs everyday. I would also like to apologize to the drafters of the bill for comparing it with something as terrible as the blasphemy law, but let me proceed with my argument anyway.

The insecurity that you just felt by learning about the Prevention of Electronic Crimes bill 2015 is what most citizens not belonging to a certain religion in Pakistan do every day because of the blasphemy law. I really hope that this occasion is used to extract some empathy for the people whose lives are jeopardized by the blasphemy law.

As for the cybercrime bill, it is important to stay vigilant before the state ends up killing the internet in the name of preserving its sanctity. We must openly and unapologetically oppose the blocking of websites on any ground, let alone religious, political or pornographic. We must oppose the notion of the state deciding moral right and wrong for us. Unless that is the case, we are always prone to lose our freedoms forever. I know it is way too early to freak out about this bill, but we could be headed down a dark alley where columns such as this one would never be seen again on a Pakistani website in the future.

We have had enough activism in this country calling for government intervention. It is time to call for the government to keep its hands off the internet. It is time that we start questioning if offending the glory of state and religion is a criminal offense at all. Thankfully, the Pakistani youth, at least the online bit, is reading the writing on the wall. Since there is not much you can do about the Islamic nature of the constitution of the country, at least you can try keeping government out of things like speech on internet as much as you can.

I still have good faith that our government and parliament will not pass this bill into a law, or at least not unanimously, but you never can tell in a country crazy enough to still have YouTube banned for apparently no sensible reason at all.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Bored Baby With the Dangerous Toy

Source: telecompk.net

Source: telecompk.net

While I did expect that it would happen one fine day, but just when I was done with an overdose of patriotism with the March 23 parade, I found out that my blog was not a safe surfing area for people living in Pakistan anymore.

Of course, I was not receiving any special treatment and it was wordpress.com which was blocked, and along with it hundreds of other Pakistani blogs. From what I read in the papers, it was because of national security. No confirmation from the PTA, but apparently it was just another of those switch on and off episodes. Nothing to worry about.

Perhaps the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority is either incompetent, or is being malicious on purpose.

The PTA has become an out-of-control psychotic. Or if that sounded too harsh, probably more like a bored baby with a dangerous toy in his hands, with rather juvenile and cute, but obnoxious antics, only with potentially dangerous consequences. The idle and overly concerned bureaucrats in this government body, which probably should not exist in the first place (at least the department of censorship), must invent new things to keep themselves occupied and feel purposeful about themselves.

We often hear political parties make big fuss about public infrastructure and welfare projects being a waste of money for partisan reasons, but no one ever bothers considering these bureaucratic agencies, not to mention completely useless organizations such as the Islamic Ideological Council, a burden on the poor taxpayer. They are just drawing salaries out of your tax money, and they need to be there because, well, they are a part of the government.

But there is an even more dangerous question to ask.

How far will our government go in curtailing our civil liberties and access to information in the name of national security?

Sadly this question remains as unanswered in advanced democracies such as the United States and the EU, as it is in countries with almost theocratic preoccupation. So why bother.

Despite the tendencies among the Pakistani people to accept every single state absurdity in the name of national security, they do come across as pretty freedom loving. So would they be willing to give up facebook one day in the name of national security, decency or for the protection of all things that are holy?

Or would that trigger a riot for the demands of their beloved social media platform one day, with the likes of the Jamaat-e-Islami leading it? Only time will tell.

I really do hope we live to see that day. Wishful thinking.

Though the question of the temporary blocking of wordpress.com should not go unanswered. We should demand a response from the PTA, who should explain to the Pakistani people why they take them for an intellectually challenged group.

Why do they believe that blocking words of dissent on one platform would prevent the people from its harmful effects?  And that if they are curious, they can always find ways to reach such information.

Why is Pakistan trying so hard to become China?  I am not even sure if our other horrible ideal, Saudi Arabia, practices this much internet censorship.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs

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.

The Pul-e-Jawan Experience: The Pakistan Country Forum Event April 11-12, 2012

Introduction Brief (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

Pul-e-Jawan is a peace initiative and a discussion forum covering India, Pakistan and Afghanistan peace and security issues. I learned about an event of the forum being organized by Bytes 4 All, an organization dedicated to internet freedom and online privacy in Pakistan, and had a chance to participate. The event that was held on April 11 and April 12, 2012 in Islamabad, covered various aspects of regional peace and security through the participation and opinions of the analyst-turned-Foreign Office advisor Mosharraf Zaidi, analyst and scholar Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa and the representatives of the independent US institutions monitoring aid in Pakistan including Nadia Naviwala of the US Institute of Peace, Danny Cutherell of Center for Global Development and Pakistani-American entrepreneur Awais Khan of American Pakistan Foundation. Indu Nepal briefly joined on live stream from Afghanistan to explain what the Pul-e-Jawan forum was about.

In one of the sessions, Pakistan’s foreign policy strategy was discussed. The most important piece of information was the fact that Pakistan had started engaging with all the ethnic groups in Afghanistan instead of just Pashtuns. Some found it hard to believe but it nevertheless was something positive. Pakistan’s approach of increasing trade with India and other nations was also discussed. A journalist from Waziristan asked about the compensation for the “Pakistani citizens” becoming victims of the war campaigns in the tribal areas from the Pakistani government. It was found that Pakistani government was largely clueless about the idea, let alone the thought of considering those casualties Pakistani citizens. Criticism of the alleged Saudi petrodollars funding terrorism was a positive. We also learned that people of Pakistan did not vote for internet freedom in 2008, causing a momentary outrage but life went on.

Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa’s session was a candid discussion primarily about civil liberties and national security, also including the state of affairs of Pakistan vis-à-vis its neighbors and the war on terror. Most of the discussion revolved around the internal affairs of Pakistan, the role of the military establishment and religious extremism. She discussed how the perceived freedom of Pakistani media was an illusion and how the Pakistani political left has been eradicated out of existence. She talked about how she had been criticized for being anti-military and explained that criticizing military does not mean that you advocate putting it out of existence. The highest point of her talk was when she mentioned that she decided to return to Pakistan since the battle for better civil rights and democracy would be best fought from within the country. She considered the thinking ones a minority in the country and was not as enthusiastic about supporting civil liberties over national security as your average hawk would have thought.

To tell you the truth, I personally had very little interest in listening to the US officials because I am not really thrilled about the subject of aid anyway. It always sounds pretty meaningless to me in terms of politics, but if it can be of help for underprivileged people, great. Also because they would not have had answers to any of the questions that I wanted to ask from anyone coming with US aid proposals and it was therefore absolutely pointless to ask anything. However, a lot of participants were very interested in the discussion and contributed enthusiastically to it. I couldn’t help but observe a few things which I am sure would be making US aid officials and the US government in general sick to their stomachs. I have noticed that some of the participants were literally crucifying the US for the uselessness of the aid initiatives due to the corruption in the Pakistani society and government and yet were complaining that not enough aid was being sent and not utilized on better projects. Now isn’t that unreasonable? What the hell are they supposed to do?

A journalist from Waziristan was talking about the need for investment in the tribal areas as unemployment was turning young men to militancy and probably what we refer to as terrorism. Another friend asked them about the lack of US contribution to Baluchistan. While both the gentlemen were spot on and I cannot recall with certainty if the FATA journalist asked them this particular question, but to answer the general mindset, I cannot understand how aid in itself could end unemployment and create industries in the region, which was actually the aim of some of the questions put to those officials. Perhaps the gentleman from Waziristan was referring to direct foreign investment, so that is what he talked about, it only came as a feedback for the personnel on how aid was really changing their lives. I think this kind of demand should be forwarded to an official of the Government of Pakistan instead of aid monitoring officials. I think it is about time that Pakistanis should realize that it is economic growth instead of the US aid that could really get them anywhere, especially when it comes to earning respect among the nations of the world. At least it will keep their government from being obsessive-compulsive beggars.

The thing that I liked the most about the US officials session was their honesty about the aid process. They admitted that the government processes were slow on the both sides, referring to the Kerry-Lugar Bill, which is actually in jeopardy overPakistan’s shady role in the Osama Ben Laden episode, but maybe not due to the dual nature of Pakistan-America relations. Though I do wonder how the military aid gets processed so quickly. They explained that if an NGO receives too much aid, it is most likely to go corrupt. Cutherell stated that aid will never solve Pakistan’s issues and Pakistanis have to take control of the things themselves. Common sense will tell you that as well, but Pakistanis are hooked to any kind of aid anyway. Too lazy and incompetent to earn money themselves perhaps. Awais Khan was suggesting people to vote in a better way, at which point I was forced to unsuccessfully ask who we should vote for, since I really cannot make up my mind. That was the end of that.

On the second day, MP Bushra Gohar of the ANP spoke about the achievements of the women’s caucus of parliamentarians for better legislation for women’s rights and acting in a united manner beyond party lines. She started the presentation with an ode to the active social role played by Pakistani women in all fields of life with a sentimental montage repeatedly focusing on Benazir Bhutto’s arrival in Pakistan after her self-imposed exile in 2007. The Tina Sani song was instantly criticized for its rather patriarchal lyrics, referring to the Anchal or the Chador, by the witty Tazeen who was interviewing Gohar, since all women do not wear it. Gohar apparently was one step ahead instantly explaining that she had the same problem and that the lyricist had also taken the criticism in a positive light. I personally found the lyrics overly sentimental and somewhat touching, but that’s poetry. Maybe it was the montage. You can check the song and the video for yourself, not that it’s important.

She pointed out how women parliamentarians took an initiative when they were left out of the Constitutional Standing Committee. The rest of the time was spent on defending the position of the Awami National Party on various fronts. She was asked why the tribal areas have been neglected by the ANP Government to which she responded that the FATA has been included in the KP province in the ANP constitution, apparently unlike the Pakistani constitution. She was spot on when she said that FATA has been reduced to a strategic space and its people strategic assets by the Pakistani states and should take a stand for their rights. In my opinion, that is where the polarized Pakistani nation is at one. She also mentioned that she had received death threats and acid attack threats from the Taliban for her views and even for her appearance and attire. Had the pleasure of briefly meeting her, a very intelligent and articulate woman. She is the kind of representative you would want to vote for any day, without getting impressed by her party much.

MP Bushra Gohar at the Pul-e-Jawan event (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

To my delight, and of everyone else’s if I may take the liberty to say that, Nabiha Meher Sheikh took her time out to conduct an excellent workshop on Critical Thinking and Cognitive Biases. This was important because some of the participants were realizing what biases meant for the very first time, if I may not be considered too biased for stating that. After the initiation, the participants were divided in 5 groups, each required to present and justify a local example of Groupthink. A couple of groups gave the example of the 1971 war, one of the lawyers’ movement and my group gave the example of Pakistani nationalists’ criticism of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar winning documentary.

FATA Journalist Ihsan Dawar at the event (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

The stars of the show and the center of attention among participants remained to be two gentlemen from the beautiful tribal land of Waziristan, which has been abandoned by Pakistan ever since the independence. At least in my books. The radio journalists Ihsan Dawar and Umer Daraz Khan stole the show through their input about the situation in the tribal areas and bombarding all the speakers with stinging questions about the role of Pakistan in the tribal areas. They also gave a pretty hard time to the US officials and enjoyed a fair bit of preference as far as opportunities for questions were concerned, for which I admire the organizers. Gulalai Ismail was another prominent participant who gets my admiration for her Aware Girls project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Participation of activists from the Hazara community and the Sindhi Hindu community was also something worth noticing and the event encompassed the diversity in Pakistan pretty well.

Before taking my leave of the event, I and my group proposed a new social media campaign idea which would involve online petition messages from the citizens of Pakistan and India to their governments for withdrawing troops from the Siachen glacier in order to end a pointless and bloody conflict, which was causing more deaths due to the horrific living conditions instead of the battle. The campaign is meant to go beyond just being an online petition, as it would constantly pursue the Siachen conflict, as it is often easily forgotten, and would remind India and Pakistan of what they are doing to their people.

All in all, it was a great experience and learned quite a bit from it and made a few friends. Other than that, still trying to develop something a bit more meaningful and constructive out of the experience at the Pul-e-Jawan forum.