What the Armistice Day Means 100 Years Later

Source: Irish Independent

Today is a big day. It is exactly 100 years since the Armistice was signed, silencing the guns across the Western Front and relieving fatigued, abused soldiers fighting the First World War. The leaders of France and Germany, hand in hand, walked up to the newly unveiled monument.

Leaders of the world were present in Paris to commemorate the occasion and observe remembrance of the fallen soldiers of probably the most traumatic battlefield experiences in history. The moment is celebrated around the world as two civilized nations reiterate the commitment to peace and promise to avoid war at all costs. People around the world aspire to moments such as these.

The European colonial powers have finally figured out how destructive war is and rightly so. The bitter experiences of centuries of war had reduced a very small continent to rubble. War has vanished from Europe, thank God. But has it from the world?

The Armistice Day 100 years later brings a message of hope and optimism. A message inspiring nations in conflict around the world to set aside their differences and settle issues with diplomacy. Even to nations like India and Pakistan and those in the Middle East.

More importantly, a message of caution was sent out by the French leader who recognized that the “old demons” were coming back to life again. He warned against “nationalism,” which like a century ago had become synonymous with fascism.

However, it also sends a message of disappointment to nations where many wars are actually being fueled, directly or indirectly, by the very nations that are commemorating the Armistice Day. The citizens of Libya, Yemen, and Syria might not appreciate this ode to European harmony too much. And not just out of plain envy.

Perhaps on this Armistice Day, the world is satisfied that the center of war and conflict has shifted outside Europe 100 years later.

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The Pashtun March and the Right Side of History

Source: Youtube

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Historic Day for the Kurdish People

Source: rudaw.net

For too long, I have neglected the issue of Kurdish self-determination in my personal political view and wrongly so. The early formative years of my liberal viewpoint had been under the influence of false idealism that discourages nationalism on the basis of ethnicities. This approach could not have been more wrong as this is precisely the basis of several modern nation states adhering to the most liberal and democratic of values. Consider Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain as examples, but if the colonial powers are not a good analogy, then Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Macedonia should suffice.

Of course, not every nation can be as perfect ideologically as the United States of America is, which is supposed to welcome every liberty seeking human being to its shores. However, this does not mean that lower pursuits such as seeking sovereignty on ethnic basis instead of some lofty ideology take away the right of self-determination. Even though a liberal democrat could possibly see these influences as discriminatory and undemocratic, if not fascistic. Considering the trouble that the Kurdish people have been facing while divided in three of the most authoritarian countries in the world: Iraq, Turkey, and Iran.

However, the 2003 Iraq War opened a new door of opportunities for the helpless Kurdish people `brutalized by the Arabization policies of Saddam Hussein. Resisting against such brutality and authoritarianism became the hallmark of the Kurdish minority in Iraq and elsewhere. Some groups even resorted to even more brutal measures themselves, with many of the Kurdish terrorist groups behind several bloody bombings in Turkish cities, some of which involved suicide bombers.

Since the fall of Saddam, the Kurdish people have been in control of a semi-autonomous region in the north of Iraq, their population stronghold which had been shattered by the Islamic State. As the Islamic State goes on the backfoot in northern Iraq, the Peshmerga has captured some additional territory other than the official autonomous zone rich in oil including the city of Kirkuk.

Currently only openly supported by Israel, the cause of the Kurdish independence has still a long way to go. The Iraqi government obviously rejects the referendum, and Iraq and Turkey have even carried out joint military exercises, reminding them of the consequences that they can face. Iran would not be happy with this either but we are talking about three countries who have been the primary oppressors of the Kurdish people.

However, this day of the referendum, with 92.7% already voting for independence, stands as a beacon of hope for the Kurdish people and all the liberty-seeking nations around the world. Perhaps, it is about time that some of other nations, particularly the United States, will join the right side of the camp and put their foot design especially if Turkey and Iraq threaten military action.

I wish them all the best for realizing their dream of independence.

Feeling Sorry for Iran? Not Me

Source: abc.net.au/Saudi TV

There is very little doubt that the US-Arab Summit was a vulgar display of power and malice on the part of Saudi Arabia and the United States primarily. There is also very little doubt that the conference where Pakistan had to ensure its attendance was an openly anti-Iran in its agenda.

All of this does not sound right and I agree with the criticism.

There are a lot of folks who are criticizing Pakistan for even being in the conference. Other than the fact that Pakistan was humiliated by not getting an invitation to speak, despite its former army chief being the Commander of the new alliance. You get the criticism.

But not being in the conference would have been an even greater blunder. And siding with Iran diplomatically against the Arab-American coalition even more so.

But is it right for all the powers in the world to gather for its condemnation? It surely does sound bad.

But having said all that. Do I, unlike many others, feel sorry for Iran?

Absolutely not.

I take Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif’s cocky demeanor as an occupational necessity, considering he completely ignores the moralistic holes on his side of arguments. His criticism of the pompous US-Arab Summit and the massive $110 billion US-Saudi arms deal was absolutely spot on and strikes a never even if you are siding with the allies. However, the fact remains that Iran is living in a world it created for itself. And sadly, even President Obama’s nuclear deal cannot change that.

Nobody has ever pushed Iran to behave the way it has since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

So, the big question is this. What exactly is there to like about Iran?

Iran is probably the only country other than the terrorist organizations of Hamas and Hezbollah which openly vows to destroy Israel as a policy. Death to the United States is a regular rally chant approved by the Ayatollahs and they have particularly maintained an antisemitic stance on Israel.

Of course, this is where the civilized world draws a moral line when it comes to relations with Iran. Otherwise, there really is no reason for the entire world to go out of their way to isolate and target Iran. After all, the Bush administration almost handed over the entire country of Iraq to their proxies following the 2003 invasion. Something that only pushed Iraqi Sunnis to reveal their dark side in the Islamic State.

Especially there is no reason to favor the obviously regressive Saudis over a people who many deem culturally superior. But unfortunately, none of that culture has had any effect on softening Iran’s uncompromising collective nationalistic ego.

What is worse, Iran fully backs the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and has been one of the reasons why he is still hanging by a thread. They have also been allegedly backing militant activity in a few Arab states and has also been behind the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. The US State Department has already declared them the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, as reiterated by President Trump in the summit.

It’s not as if they have their women liberated if compared to the Saudi driving ban on women. However, the fact remains that Iran has significantly higher women participating in the workforce relatively speaking. Nevertheless, the dreaded veil in public remains to be the bane of the existence of women in both countries.

One way or the other, I am not surprised by this anti-Iran coalition and if Iran does not mend its ways, I am not sure if it deserves too much of our sympathy. In any case, its distant allies in the EU and India would dare not come for its help if this military alliance ever intends to target it. Especially if it comes remotely close to threatening a strike on Israel or Saudi Arabia.

But if there is any consolation for the pro-Iranian Saudi hater out there, here it is.

If there is a road to the downfall of the House of Al-Saud at all, it passes through the destruction of Tehran.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Keep on Mounting the Pressure on India Over Kashmir

Source: BBC/Getty Images

Source: BBC/Getty Images

The last thing an Indian nationalist wants to talk to you about is Kashmir. It’s because looking the other way when it comes to Kashmir has become the defining factor for the Indian nationalist. And it’s not just Kashmir. From Parveena Ahanger to Soni Sori and Irom Sharmila, there are many voices slapping the brutality of the Indian establishment that are discounted every day.

But don’t get me wrong. This does not imply by any means that the fire inside the Indian nationalist has died. They are ready to come at you harder than ever when the question is asked, especially now with an upper hand in the national politics, but their response would be anything but about Kashmir. It may be about Baluchistan, about radical Islam, about the treatment of minority groups in Pakistan, about what sort of hell Pakistan has become. But hardly ever about the subject under discussion.

Probably the only reason for that is that other than conscientious objectors in India, only the people and the government of Pakistan realize the moral responsibility to speak out about Kashmir for the most part. Despite the allegations and/or possible militant interference. Despite being a country “inspired by terrorism.”

Even the honorable Prime Minister of India, who is the true voice of his most avid followers, had similar answers to offer on Kashmir. Nothing substantial and a lot of embarrassment.

This only goes to show the moral state of the Indian nationalist mind. But more than that, it also gives you an insight into the priority that Kashmiris hold in India. It shows how much Indian nationalists care about the people of their inseparable part, and which worsens the feeling of isolation among Kashmiris.

Source: AP/Dawn

Source: AP/Dawn

There is no doubt that the Kashmiri freedom movement has had overwhelmingly Islamist tilt since the insurgency of the 1980s, backed by the Pakistani establishment. However, since its defeat, the Indian state has not had much to offer to the Kashmiris either. It has failed to win hearts and minds, like so many other border states where Pakistan was not a factor. It’s about time the Indian people realize that the brutality of their establishment is not always about retaliation to Pakistan’s interference.

A war of words on Kashmir, as long as it remains a war of words, is always going to be a losing battle for the Indians because there really is nothing to defend there. The way to hurt an Indian fundamentalist nationalist the most is to target where it hurts the most. Their nationalistic pride.

You cannot possibly defend shooting more than a million pellets aimed right in the eyes of your people. You cannot possibly defend killing dozens of those young protesters. But the plight of the Kashmiri people is far more than just the recent unrest.

Indian Occupied Kashmir is one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world, where thousands have been killed. According to independent observers such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, rape is used as effectively an instrument of war and domination in Kashmir, as well as the impunity with which the security forces act. You don’t have to be an expert to know that Kashmiris in the valley are treated as second class citizens.

Pakistani nationalists display a similar attitude toward Baluchistan, so Prime Minister Modi’s comments about it should be the least of Pakistan’s worries. Again, it is a matter of waking up to the human rights abuses going on in your own backyard. The recent disappearance of journalist Abdul Wahid Baloch is the latest of the unanswered question marks and a very serious one too.

But bringing up Baluchistan as a response to a question about Kashmir and vice versa is only indicative of the lack of interest in even addressing the issue at hand. Such arguments can be expected from twitter trolls, not from the leadership of a country. Though sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.

Source: Ahmad Kakar/new-pakistan.com

Source: Ahmad Kakar/new-pakistan.com

But it is bad news for the Pakistani dove who wants unconditional peace with India. Modi’s comment potentially offer legitimacy to the argument that Pakistani establishment and nationalists have been making for years. This is particularly counterproductive as the focus toward Taliban and Islamist militants could shift back to India as the primary enemy. But that is not India’s problem. It is Pakistan’s problem, and unfortunately, the warmongers on both sides enable each other.

What the Indian nationalist fails to understand is that not everyone is interested in Kashmir defecting to Pakistan. Not everyone is even interested in the independence of Kashmir, even though these suggestions may seem to be the only relief to the troubled Kashmiri people.

Despite the history, if the Indian government and military start treating Kashmiris with a little more respect, the entire rhetoric about the Kashmir issue could disappear. But the fact remains that neither Kashmiris, nor the rest of the Indians have a remote understanding of each other’s viewpoint and have little in common. The cultural divide between the two makes the problem even worse.

However, whenever the Pakistani stance would move forward to actively support militancy in Kashmir, particularly through Islamist militants, the entire moral side of the argument is sabotaged. It only takes the world’s attention away from India’s brutal treatment of who are supposed to be their own citizens. This is where the support and freedom given to the likes of Hafiz Saeed must be discontinued.

Let’s keep mounting pressure on India when it comes to Kashmir. But it would only work effectively when we officially remain confined to a war of words.

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

No Hope for the Citizens of Quetta This Independence Day

Source: AFP/Dawn

Source: AFP/Dawn

Nothing makes the idea of security from terrorist attacks more ironic than probably one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in terms of damage since 9/11 in Pakistan. The terrorists struck mercilessly in Quetta, the troubled capital of the troubled province of Baluchistan. Where the state’s strategic assets take precedence over the lives of the people, like the rest of the country, but where the distinction is more pronounced than anywhere else.

The August 8 suicide bombing on the Quetta hospital targeting and wiping out almost an entire generation of lawyers should have shaken the conscience of the nation to the core. It should be considered an attack on our way of life. In a country under constant threat of dark forces constantly trying to implement Sharia which would bring Mullah Fazlullah-like courts operational, the attack is really significant. It irreversibly harmed the secular, legal system that is very unpopular among a rapidly radicalizing local population.

As usual, the attack was all about harming Pakistan’s strategic and economic plan and the CPEC Project. The Taliban and the Islamic State accepted responsibility, but the obvious culprits to the state remain to be RAW operatives. To other demented minds in the opposition, the blame fell almost exclusively on the Prime Minister. As if he enjoys enough influence over the various complex forces to cause terrorist attacks at will. Regardless of the fact, no one seems to be mourning enough about the fact that the top legal minds of a city are no more. Imagine had this happened in Lahore or Islamabad.

This brings us to the realization of priorities when it comes to national security. Imagine the security measures that our military goes through in order to protect the most sensitive and valuable of our military installations. But what good are these military installations if not for the protection of the intellectuals of the country. Even if that does not mean anything for some people, what good is a military if not for the protection of a country’s judicial system?

No matter what happens, our people would not face up the real threat that Islamist terrorism poses. We do not realize that the threat is to the very existence of human civilization as we know it, and Islamist extremists are not going to rest unless it is destroyed and transformed into a form they consider fit. It is an anti-intellectual cult of death and misery that needs to be fought. But that is only possible if we recognize it as a real threat.

In this mental struggle of countering the problem of organized and brutal terrorism, the people of Quetta must be feeling completely helpless. There is no doubt that you cannot possibly guard or police every single square inch of a country, and doing so could itself spark outrage from the citizens. Our security forces often face harsher than necessary criticism for it. However, no one can argue that tragedies such as the August 8 bombing are a failure of those in charge of intelligence.

We may declare people pointing toward this fact as traitors, but it is not going to solve the problem of terrorism. After an experience of fighting terrorism over the decade, we must also come to terms with the fact that there is only one factor that motivates suicide bombings in this region. Shying away from these facts only makes matter worse. The murder of Quetta lawyers is not going to derail the CPEC project a single bit at this stage, but it shows that we are devoting too much security to protect infrastructure and not enough for the most valuable of our citizens.

As the rest of the nation celebrate the Independence Day, there is no hope for the hundreds of families affected from the tragedy and thousands more who have suffered losses. They know nothing is going to change in terms of the protection of their legal institutions. There is no hope of realizing that we are not really independent unless our judiciary is safe and free.

There is no hope except for the same old resilience that has helped us endure tragedy after tragedy since the waves of terrorism since the 2003 Afghanistan War.

Happy Independence Day.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Secular Theocracy of Bangladesh

Source: EPA/npr.org

Source: EPA/npr.org

The future of democracy in Bangladesh is in serious jeopardy.

The machete attacks on secular, atheist and progressive bloggers and academics have become a norm.

Anyone speaking their mind about their worldview, as well as criticizing religious groups for their ignorance and obscurantism can consider themselves to be the next target.

It feels like just yesterday when I wrote about the brutal killing of Avijit Roy. Since then, dozens more have lost their lives including Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman, Niloy Neel, Nazimuddin Samad and more recently Professor Rezaul Kerim Siddique. The list goes on.

The latest occurrence was Bangladesh’s very own Charlie Hebdo, if you will. The killings of Xulhaz Mannan, Editor of Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine Roopban, and that of the openly gay actor Tanoy Mojumdar, only occurring within a week of Professor Siddique’s murder, are particularly significant.

Unlike earlier attacks, this killing has been claimed by the Islamic State itself for the “unIslamic” sexual orientation of the offenders.

This is probably the first sign of the presence of Islamic State in Bangladesh, which is no surprise considering there are no ideological boundaries to this group. The presence of Islamic State in Bangladesh is obviously being denied by the Bangladesh authorities, considering the terrible optics that it involves.

I wonder what went on in the minds of the slain as they were witnessing the murder of fellow citizens who stood for free speech. I wonder what is going on in the minds of those who are alive and standing up for free speech in Bangladesh, as they see this menace get out of hand.

Using the word martyr is cheap. But these people were really brave and resisted life-threatening odds. Who knew what was going on around them, but instead of shutting up, they stuck to their positions. Walked the walk.

It’s easy to talk about freedom of speech, it’s an entirely different matter to live it. It surely is not easy. Especially in a world where it is easy and acceptable to use violence to silence people.

Secular bloggers and journalists in Pakistan have been enjoying relative safety considering the carnage in Bangladesh. Probably because they largely stick to the English language as a medium and preach to the choir, like myself. If confronted with a threat, most of us are not just likely to shut up, but to hide away for good.

Such a possibility is not entirely remote. Islamists are known for engaging in brotherly behavior, and they might very easily replicate the actions of their Bangladeshi brethren before you would expect.

With their repeated attacks on people who offend Islam, the Islamists have found an effective way to silence dissenters, apostates and critics. They have been carrying out these attacks with impunity, from Paris to Bangladesh, because they know that they will eventually get off the hook. Most commentators would gladly blame such groups for distorting their ideology than addressing the venom in the ideology itself.

In Pakistan, the liberal elements have always believed that the separation of Bangladesh was on a principled stance which included the demands of a secular constitution. Also, as a reaction to rights usurpation, a stolen election and injustices at the hands of the West Pakistan establishment.

However, despite escaping the theocratic leanings of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is disheartening to see Bangladesh lose its way in terms of building a more tolerant, free and open society. Probably becoming even worse than Pakistan.

And the incumbent Bangladeshi government, which sadly borders more on the lines of authoritarianism and fascist nationalism instead of being a liberal regime, is not exactly helping the cause.

Not only are liberal circles outraged at the inaction of the government to counter the attacks, the recent statements of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina criticizing the bloggers for attacking Islam have only added insult to injury. While I do not doubt the government’s commitment to purge Bangladesh of extremism and recognize the challenges to take the necessary action, these are surely not encouraging signs.

The Islamist groups, the traditional nemeses of the secular leader, have ironically welcomed her statement against antithetical and faithless elements. While her statement seems like the product of the pragmatism of any politician in a Muslim majority country, it apologizes nauseatingly for the murderers and blames the victim. Basically, the same old reason why Islamists get off the hook every time.

The situation does not make the secular and liberal elements in Bangladesh too hopeful about their government, which apparently seemed tough on Islamists with all the JI death sentences but is not willing to protect freedom of speech. When it comes to apostasy and blasphemy, even Sheikh Hasina would not dare confront the Islamists. Perhaps wisely so, or it could possibly make the religiously conservative population go out of control.

But some of her critics have other problems with the history of the government of the ruling Awami League.

Considering the violence that erupted after the calls of the boycott of the polls by the opposition Bangladesh National Party, they have been blaming deaths such as that of Avijit Roy on the rival party so instead of the Islamist terrorists. The Prime Minister is still maintaining that stance. Not that the leading opposition party has any better thoughts to offer on the killings, being an ally of Islamist parties itself, citing “absence of justice” as the age-old reason.

Just like the rest of the subcontinent, violence and intimidation are not unheard of in Bangladeshi politics. The last elections were a clear instance to prove that point. Some bloggers have even reported to be threatened for criticizing the government, which probably gives you some insight into how deep this problem runs.

There is no wonder why citizens with secular and liberal are growing more frustrated by their government for not blaming and cracking down on the Islamist militants for the killings.

Whether the threats to bloggers and journalists originate from Islamist extremists or secular political groups, the only losers are freedom of speech, democracy and the people of Bangladesh.

However, the Bangladeshi government should at least admit the presence of Islamist groups in the country and must take decisive action against theocratic activity. When it comes to Islamist groups, proactive action is justified in order to control more attacks on non-violent political commentators and journalists.

1971 worked. Perhaps secular Bangladesh should consider starting another movement for liberation from authoritarianism and theocracy.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.