Resolving The ISIS Crisis is All About Helping Syrian Refugees



One of the aspects about the ISIS and Syrian Civil War conflict that many liberal leaders in the West get absolutely right is responding to the plight of the Syrian refugees. We must never forget that the suffering of the local population of Northern Iraq and Syria is why ISIS has been revealed to be such a force of evil. While war seems almost never-ending around the world, we have not seen such a major and troubling refugee crisis in the recent years.

It is important to understand that making moral decisions in the wake of this war is clearly a political choice. Political entities may choose to make them or not, as they deem fit to serve the interests of their constituents. If anyone refuses refugees to enter their political jurisdiction, they have the right to do so, but it is just a question of asking if it is the right thing to do.

Probably the worst reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis in the wake of Paris attacks came from several Republican governors, disappointingly including Presidential hopefuls John Kasich and Chris Christie. The latter even refused to consider accepting even an orphan under the age of five answering a hypothetical question, which is shocking how such rhetoric is coming from those who are considered relatively moderate candidates. Apart from defying the founding values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, this rhetoric is not going to help America’s image is a leader for the liberty-seeking persecuted individuals around the world. As terrible an idea as it is, keep them in isolated camps if you must, but let them escape the certain death of a warzone and the dangers of hostile neighboring borders.

The conservative reactionaries, including the French’s late arrival to the war against ISIS, are all symptoms of the fact that most Western political entities see fighting ISIS only for defending their borders as opposed to intervening to prevent their atrocities. Sadly, the fearmongering of the conservative hawks that helps the war effort is a double-edged sword that harms the humanitarian cause of aiding the fleeing refugees as well. Though the same is true for the humane pacifism of the liberal doves in hurting the support for the much needed military campaign.

At least some of the conservative politicians in the United States have only advocated a halt in accepting refugees than completely denying them entry. While it may sound reasonable to some, such obstructions are not going to help the Syrian refugee cause at all, and would only prolong the misery of the affected families.

Many people are concerned that the Syrian refugees would not share the liberal values of the West. So what? Firstly, refugees are not necessarily immigrants, and even if they believe in Sharia, they do have a right to live in safety instead of a warzone. Furthermore, these refugees should be treated as individuals instead of stereotyping them as fundamentalists.

It is important to imagine how the lives of thousands of families and individuals in Syria have been destroyed forever by the devastation of war. They are certainly not alone in experiencing the misery in the recent times, as people in North Western tribal areas in Pakistan, South Sudan, Northern Iraq and Afghanistan have also seen mass displacement due to conflict. Nevertheless, war is not being crueler to the Syrian people than any other at the moment, and many of them need a second shot at life.

I believe that both the occupation by ground troops and accepting Syrian refugees are fundamental to defeating ISIS. Others may see only one of them as the right way to go. However, the most humane choices remain to be pushing for both a ground occupation eliminating the defacto rule of ISIS state and occupation for stability, as well as ensuring that peaceful Syrian civilians remain safe from the terrors of a warzone. Only professional military troops should handle the scenario and ensure the gradual transition to peace.

Just like taking military action against ISIS requires a global coalition, facilitating Syrian refugees is the responsibility of the entire global community as well. Ideally, each resourceful nation, including Pakistan and India, should play its part in some way.

Critics often point out how Gulf Arab states have not taken in enough, if any, refugees. These countries are not the only ones who have not offered their due, though you can hardly blame the Syrian refugees to be turning to Western democracies instead of the discriminatory dictatorships in the immediate neighborhood.

It is becoming abundantly clear that the world, especially the Middle East region, clearly lacks the necessary moral leadership, with the exception of the United States and the United Kingdom to counter ISIS effectively. Ironically, these indeed were the powers which led the disastrous Iraq War with supposedly righteous intentions. Nevertheless, the sort of moral leadership that President Obama has displayed championing support for the Syrian refugees is a beacon of hope for the downtrodden of the world. This is why liberty-seeking individuals around the world turn to the United States for doing the right thing.

There really is no other argument for accepting refugee other than the humanitarian need to do so. As I said earlier, it’s just another choice that we have to make.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Setting The Right Conditions



Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on a very successful tour to the United States. Earlier, the Army Chief has also met the US National Security Advisor. The United States is selling more F-16 jets to Pakistan, is looking to discuss a civilian nuclear deal, while also asking Pakistan to put the brakes on its growing nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, alongside the Prime Minister’s daughter, the American First Lady has also announced a program for education for girls. All these are very good signs for Pakistan’s future, not only economically, but in terms of defense as well.

As much as we criticize foreign aid, it’s a foreign relations tool that is not going to vanish any time soon enough. Probably countries such as Pakistan cannot do without it, but the United States must ensure that it serves its purpose of strengthening the alliance, and of promoting its interests.

The Jacobabad procession bombing is just a demonstration of how menacing the problem of domestic sectarian terrorism is, even when a massive operation has been conducted against anti-state Islamist terrorists. The Islamist terrorists who are not anti-state must be met with the same ruthlessness and vigor.

As a citizen of Pakistan, I would like to see the United States acknowledge Pakistan’s commitment and actions to fight against Islamist terrorism. But at the same time, as a concerned citizen of the world who would see the progress of secular values, I would also like to see the United States press Pakistan harder for taking actions against domestic terrorism. Not because the US government cares about human rights or dying minority sect citizens, but because such a country would be a threat to the national security of the United States and democratic values.

Lashkar-e-Jhangavi has again taken responsibility for the Jacobabad bombing and all we can do is to wait for the next Muharram for another one of these incidents. What is worse, these sectarian terrorists do not need an occasion or reason to attack the Shia, Ismaili, Hazara and Ahmadi population, as we have witnessed a plenty of times in the recent past.

All of us must commend the federal and provincial governments for all the hard work for protecting citizens and religious processions during the Ashura. However, it would be even better if they concentrate their efforts on proactively taking action against the roots of these sectarian groups, which are surely operating within the country. As much as it is a good thing that we are on the lookout for RAW agents, it would be helpful to pay attention to these immediate internal threats.

Fortunately, the armed forces also seem to be in the mood for taking on the challenge of extremism as well. The army chief has vowed that the military would do all in its power to protect Pakistan from the threat of ISIS.

It is important to recognize the growing religious intolerance in the society, especially when similar sentiment is prevalent in neighboring India, which is only going to make matters worse. But what the democratic and civilized world has in common is the commitment to fight religious extremism, which is a threat to freedom and democracy everywhere.

Just like the civil and military leadership has considered it vital to take action against miscreants in Karachi, it is probably even more important to protect the nation from the threat of sectarian terrorism. Not only are sectarian terrorists a threat to national unity, but they are a threat to freedom of religion and speech in this country.

I have complete faith in the civilian leadership and the commitment of the armed forces to fight terrorism. However, I wish that they would not require a nudge from a more authoritative entity to launch their pursuit.

Considering the relative inaction against sectarian terrorists, that surely seems to be the case.

But we know that wheels get moving when it comes to the bottom line.

So the US administration should set the right, strict conditions of action against religious extremism at home for military and civilian aid.

Not even that, they should make sure that the job is done properly.

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

The Politics of Perpetual Cynical Whining



The recent by-polls in the key Lahore constituency NA-122 that put the membership of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq on the line have resulted in his reelection with a narrow margin. PTI campaigned aggressively targeting the constituency due to rigging elections and have effectively made their mark in the PML-N stronghold.

However, the people’s verdict at the polls is never enough for the PTI leadership. In Imran Khan’s own words, he was happy with the NA-122 elections because of the presence of the military in officiating it. But that statement, other than the fact that it was heavily scrutinized by the media, seemed too good to be true for an election held in Pakistan. Nobody was surprised that briefly after conceding defeat as a moral victory, the PTI leadership was having second thoughts about the transparency of these polls too.

Since apparently nothing is left to blame on the polling officials, the PTI has come up with some obscure PML-N rigging measures that they could not anticipate, and others hardly even understand. Somehow the PML-N managed to throw the PTI votes out “at the last minute.” Because apparently at the last minute, PML-N started handling voter lists instead of the Election Commission.

There is nothing surprising about these allegations, because elections would never be fair until the PTI candidates are elected from all constituencies in the country, even if the voting machines are installed.

PTI has effectively become a political party that thrives on conspiracy theories and paranoia. Just like our nationalistic and Islamic fundamentalists, they would invent weird scenarios as long as their firm beliefs hold true.

It seems that the politics of Imran Khan is now centered on one point alone: electoral rigging. We vaguely remember that it used to be about electoral reform.

Well, PTI is controlling a provincial government. We all know that it is not the case. But this is what we get to hear from the PTI leadership about 9 times out of every 10 appearances they make. This makes you wonder if they are in politics just to keep on campaigning for elections, because it is fun apparently, or to do any serious legislative business.

Nevertheless, citizens must always strive to prevent totalitarian influences in a democracy. Considering the scarce and provincial choices available to the people of Pakistan, especially Punjab, it is of utmost importance to keep the ruling PML-N on their toes by offering the PTI a chance every now and then. It is probably time to stop giving PML-N such sweeping majorities, which they had abused back in the 90s to amend the constitution for the worse. Though, not really sure if that matters much, because lately we have witnessed the trend of people not voting for the legislation they don’t agree with, instead of voting against.

However, the greatest hurdle to a greater PTI victory is the leadership of the party itself. While many of the young voters and the unconditional haters of PML-N have much greater tolerance for such nonsense, the independent voters in the swing constituencies in Punjab would only cringe at the cynicism and constant whining of the PTI leader, to say the least.

Citizens concerned about democracy would only find relief in the PTI giving PML-N a greater challenge, and even such PML-N supporters should not mind seeing defeat in many constituencies. It is important to keep a check on every political party, and the best way to prevent them from becoming complacent is not to get married to them at the ballot.

But the PTI leadership seriously needs to move ahead from its boo-hoo-hooing kindergarten politics and offer the people of Pakistan something serious to consider. That is the “status quo” that needs to change so that any serious reform could be brought about in the legislature. Until that time, they would keep on wondering why they end up losing elections by substantial margins while showing off such large crowd at rallies and events.


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

This Day, Ten Years Ago

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

Exactly ten years ago, on October 8, we experienced probably the most devastating earthquake to have struck Northwestern parts of the subcontinent, or at least Kashmir, in centuries.

I have a clear recollection of the shocking 2005 Kashmir quake that rendered the entire AJK region upside down, killing over 86,000, injuring thousands more and displacing millions. It also deeply affected survivors like me in more distant locations such as Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

We realized that day that the federal capital of the nation was just about at as much risk as any other place prone to natural disasters. But disasters such as these remind us of how valuable life is, and how everything dear to us could be lost in a fraction of a second.

I still recall that fateful morning that changed the lives of millions for the worse. I recall how I rushed to take cover under my dining table and saw how close we were to completely losing everything around us. It was the scariest 9 minutes you would ever go through, though I bet it was not the worst by any means, at least not for my family and friends. But we had no idea what was unfolding just more than a few hundred miles from my home.

I still recall the compassion of the world and how everyone flocked to help the troubled people of Azad Kashmir. I still recall those US Army Chinooks flying over my house almost every day for their search and rescue missions. I wonder how many lives they saved along with the Pakistani soldiers.

I also recall the hundreds of aftershocks, which proved more nerve wracking than the major tremor, and which forced me to sleep outside my house in the car for a night or two. It might sound ridiculous, but it was a traumatizing experience, though from a relatively very safe distance.

It dawned on many how fragile human life is and how vulnerable we are on this planet, even to those who were not affected as devastatingly as most families in Azad Kashmir.

I would not be surprised to learn that many families who lost their homes in the quake would still not have completely recovered, despite a decade passing since the tragic disaster occurred. What is even worse, some would still be searching for the loved ones they lost that day.

Natural disasters can ruin the lives of individuals and families beyond redemption, and only life remains to be the most precious gift at the end of the day. Because it could just have been anyone.

Nobody can possibly fight a 7.6 magnitude earthquake.

Let’s just hope we don’t have to do it again.

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

Misguided Sense of Entitlement



Last few weeks have seen people coming together and protesting against the oppression of the “private school mafia”, or as one newspaper puts it, cartel. While it sounds really good to save the middle class from the rising prices of private education, most of us have started mistaking these private institutions as government subsidized utilities.

Probably it’s not really the fault of a misguided population, which does not like paying any taxes and expects government regulation to subsidize or, worse, enforce a price ceiling. However, this does not take away the notion that the government has no business in regulating the tuition fee rates. Instead of trying to demand a service that they are not able to purchase, people should try sending their children to more affordable private schools. Even better, they are always welcome to try public schools, which are not as terrible as many would like you to believe in major cities.

But then again, we have recognized education as a right in the Article 25-A of the cherished 18th amendment, promising the provision of free education up to high school. I totally support the idea, as cruel the joke maybe on the people of Pakistan. And though it is easy to say that we pay enough taxes to fund that, pretty much everyone would agree that public education would need more funding to work. Even those who consider funding public education an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer.

However, who knew that the right to free education now means the government forcing schools to lower their tuition fee? This sort of false sense of entitlement is unhealthy and unreasonable.

The best thing about the private sector is that it offers you such multitude of options. You don’t need to remain confined to any one choice. You could always reject a private school for its pricing, but those whining why a certain educational institute charges this much to admit students have other goals in mind.

You could argue about the greater need of education funding, but that would only mean paying for public schools, unless the government collaborates with NGOs. Apart from the mismanagement and lack of willing workers in remote areas, the public school infrastructure itself is lacking, requiring greater state funding for improved performance.

However, complaints about private schools ripping people off are understandable when so many urban citizens rely on private schools for quality education. Now some troublemakers may cite that as an argument against public education, but this does not mean that the public schools are any less popular among people with lower income groups.

As a matter of fact, tuition fee subsidies for private school student do not sound like a very bad idea under the circumstances. Though more progressive of commentators would like to see a rather regressive transition of the society entirely to the public schools.

But do we need to shove a standard public school system down everyone’s throats?

Again, the notion of establishing such social justice and standardization sounds very good to the ears. But it is like enforcing a system and curriculum of education on millions of unwilling people, and is a violation of personal freedom, freedom of education, and arguably freedom of speech.

What we need are democratic leaders standing up to this sort of nonsense that populist parties have been feeding to the public, especially if the matter come up for debate in the parliament. However, I hardly expect it from any member of the legislature, though I would be pleasantly surprised if someone did.

What we certainly don’t need in the legislature are the sort of recommendations a recent editorial offered, that is, the mandatory requirement for legislators to send their children to public schools in the wake of response to the private educational institute “crisis.” Whether serious or a dark satire in this context, as citizens of a democracy, we need to fight such political ideas of absolutism and utopian mandate in order to preserve individual freedom.

But maybe the legislators should be forced to send their children to school to public schools, because they passed the 18th amendment without giving a second thought to what it actually meant apparently. Especially when the national budget allocated for education does not provide for the colossal task. Probably to them it is just a common recurring election promise for all the parties so that they can win people’s vote for its pursuit.

Nevertheless, demands for regulating or even nationalizing private educational institutes are everything wrong about Pakistani politics today. This is why people need every service subsidized without paying enough taxes to back the spending.

But with political leaders like these, can you blame them?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

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.

The War Against Islamist Terrorism is Alive



Just when we started to forget the problem even existed, after a great period of silence from our passionate religious zealots, we finally saw an attack on a major government official.

Following threats to his life, Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzaada, along with several others, was killed in a suicide bomb in his native Attock village. The interior minister was a vocal critic of sectarian terrorism and had taken up the responsibility to take action against illegal seminaries, clerics guilty of free speech, and abuse of the “loudspeaker” for religious purposes. He was also undoubtedly a national hero.

This is a grim reminder that the enemy we are confronting is right here among us, instead of taking refuge across a distant border. It is also an absolute shame that we have the need to say these things over and over again, especially due to the fact that many people are simply not ready to accept that. Especially when you would find people who would even find an excuse for sectarian militancy and terrorism, such as the absence of enough religious laws.

The recent sad passing of Gen. Hameed Gul, only reminds people of his role during the regime of President Zia-ul-Haq, a man widely held responsible for the spread of Islamic militancy in the region to this degree. The problem is still very much alive after three decades. But is the problem really worsening?

We often complain about the lack of firmness from the law enforcement authorities, especially the political governments in order to combat Islamist extremism and sectarian terrorism.

With the likes of Shuja Khanzada, Salmaan Taseer, Mian Iftikhar, and Pervez Rasheed in our government bodies, and with the ongoing military operation against Islamist terrorists, there is always hope for improvement.

PML-N government has been consistently under fire for allegations of harboring sectarian extremists, especially those known to target the Shia community. It is commendable that the federal and provincial government tried to redeem itself of the allegations, whether mere partisan attacks or not, by taking steps to counter Islamist militancy and appointing the likes of Shuja Khanzada to take on such elements. The civil government and military desperately need to come together to keep up such measures.

Despite the forceful Zarb-e-Azab military operation, attacks such as the one on Khanzada are reflective of the fact that the enemy does not just reside in the tribal areas, or on the Afghan border. The enemy is not just the rebellious Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The Islamist parties with pervasive presence all over Pakistan, fighting for unchecked and unregulated madrassahs are the part of the problem. It is their defense of their dangerous ideology is what we need to fight at the same time.

It is not just one rebel group that we need to take out, but the adherents of the dangerous ideology of Islamism. It is time to start curbing this so-called religious freedom which is constantly at work to jeopardize the lives and liberty of the citizens of this country.

What we need right now is developing a national consensus to counter the underestimated and largely ignored risk of Islamist militancy, which cannot be separated from the madrassahs, whether we like to face it or not. Unless we do so, we cannot do justice to the sacrifices made by brave leaders such as Shuja Khanzada, Salman Taseer and Mian Iftikhar.

Our religious and nationalist conservatives can’t stop talking about the foreign hand behind the terrorism in the country. But watching the footage of the collapsed house of Shuja Khanzada, I could not help but wonder for a minute why someone in their right mind would do something like that. Blowing yourself up is not easy, if you come to think of it for a minute. Money simply does not explain it.

The answer is clear. It is the death cult of Islamism which is brainwashing young and old to act this way, all in hope for redemption in the afterlife. It is ironic that the fear of death drives these lunatics to death itself. But while the foot soldiers of Islamism keep on getting wasted, it sadly only fuels the fervor of many more potential recruits looking to rid themselves of the worldly body of filth and to embrace an afterlife of pleasures.

Islamist terrorism is still strong, make no mistake about it. It will remain to be, unless this dangerous and cancerous ideology is not countered, because they are simply not giving up. It is just not an option for them, and frankly countering it should not be one for us. We need to recognize that it is the greatest threat to freedom and the civilized way of life in Pakistan, and around the world.

It is time we stop underestimating this threat.

It is time we support the government and the military to fight it, for the war against Islamist terrorism is still alive.

The suicide attack on Shuja Khanzada is a reminder that Islamist terrorists follow up on their threats.

It is time that we follow up on ours.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

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