Pakistan’s Iran Opportunity

Source: Al-Arabiya

Pakistan can be very creative in its foreign policy when it comes to Afghanistan. Pakistan has been so nervous about its Western border since the days of the Cold War, that it is running proxies in the shape of Afghan Taliban to this day, manipulating who holds control in Kabul. With such a history, drastic foreign policy moves are not beyond Pakistan.

Pakistan has had a troubled history with terrorism. And now even the United States has lost Pakistan over its support for the Afghan Taliban. This means all the hard work done by the Pakistan ISI and the military to undo the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has gone down the drain. This means that all the Pakistan efforts for the War Against Terror during Bush and Obama administrations amounted to nothing. This means that Pakistan is not the hero of the Cold War anymore. That’s a huge problem for a nation that heavily depends on lending its military service to political conflicts.

Pakistan is between a rock and a hard place as far as its financial survival is concerned. It can thank Allah for making Saudi Arabia so rich and powerful in the region so that it can bail it out every time, along with the United Arab Emirates. But with its flirtation with China’s Belt and Road, . Then again, is Pakistan the only country to have entered into China’s debt trap? I think the West can live with it. But can it live with Pakistan’s ongoing support for terrorism?

A week ago in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, an alleged Jaish-e-Muhammad suicide bomber, a local Kashmiri youth named Adil Ahmed Dar killed 44 CRPF troopers in a bus. Jaish-e-Muhammad reportedly accepted the responsibility of the attack. India immediately blamed Pakistan for the attack, as well as vowed to retaliate and to diplomatically isolate Pakistan. A day earlier, a bus of Iranian revolutionary guards was attacked killing 27 guards in Zahedan near the Baluchistan border. Iran blamed an alleged Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-ul-Adl for the attack and asked Pakistan to either take action or allow Iran to enter Pakistan to retaliate. Pakistan has dismissed both the complaints while assuring its action on terrorism.

In the wake of these events on the occasion of the state visit of the Saudi Crown Prince to Islamabad, a press conference was held by the Saudi and Pakistani foreign ministers was held. The Pakistani foreign minister was embarrassed by Adel Bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Foreign Minister for openly addressing Iran’s double standards on terrorism and commented that “it is very strange coming from the foreign minister of the chief sponsor of terrorism was calling out other nations for accusing others to be engaging in terrorism activities in Iran.” And then he went on to list Iran’s alleged contribution to global instability and terrorism.

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This perfectly elaborates how Saudi Arabia views Iran as far as terrorism is concerned. The United States, Israel, and most of the other Sunni countries are pretty much aligned with that viewpoint as well but should these states decide to surround and attack Iran, will Pakistan continue its stance of neutrality?

While nobody in Pakistan is excited at the thought of Iran being attacked, especially due to the way the Shias see Iran, it could still possibly be Pakistan’s “get-out-of-jail-free” card if it becomes a major player to take it down. Even though India has so far been unable to obtain a global consensus on Pakistan being recognized as the state sponsor of terrorism, such a development could further corner its progress. Ideally, Pakistan must do that while cracking down on the terrorists it is alleged to be supporting, but all things equal, this could be Pakistan’s redemption and the West may tolerate its irresponsible policies for one more good reason. This sounds far fetched but will probably not be too improbable especially if Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are reelected in their respective elections. Trump scrapping the Iran Nuclear Deal negotiated by the Obama administration and calling for the isolation of Iran are steps in that direction. And Iranian generals vowing the annihilation of Israel certainly doesn’t help either.

However, this strategy is not possible without bringing Israel into the equation with Pakistan. As a matter of fact, such a campaign will be the perfect time for Pakistan to establish its diplomatic relations with Israel openly and officially, even if it has to bypass Saudi Arabia’s approval. Though you could argue that if we reach a stage where Iran will undergo such a military siege, Saudi Arabia would arguably have become an open ally to Israel already, paving the path for the rest of the Sunni nations resisting this idea. Currently, Israel is offering unconditional support to India in its fight against terrorism, because frankly they have no motivation to take care of the interest of Pakistan since it has never reached out to them.

Pakistan can not only proactively offer its air bases to Israel and the United States for campaigns against Iran, it can even step up its role in the coalition against Yemen. Many like Kunwar Khuldune Shahid are arguing that Pakistan has already conceded that it is going to be a full Saudi Arabia client state by taking the expected deals worth $20 billion, which implies that it is going to fully become a part of the anti-Iran Sunni coalition despite its earlier reservations.

If that is indeed true then Pakistan is certainly not going to make Iran any happier and cannot change India’s arrangement with Iran. However, right now there is an illusion that Pakistan enjoys good relations with Iran. Such a naked policy will do away with even the comfort of that notion, while also putting to rest the delusion that Pakistan can play the role of a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Iran. So Pakistan can be lazy and wait for Saudi Arabia and China to keep on bailing it out on international forums for the foreseeable future or take a proactive step and reach out to the West again.

But there could even be another factor in Pakistan’s reluctance to call our Iran. Perhaps Pakistan does not want all the attention in the region focused on itself by the Western world for its irresponsibility and support of terrorism.

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A Moment of Silence for a Nation Without Conscience

Source: Sky News

The final verdict has finally been delivered on Asia Bibi case, or so we think. It has finally been established by the highest court of the land that the poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy around 8 years ago in an obscure Punjab village was innocent of any of the allegations. Interestingly enough, it was not Asia Bibi but the moral conscience of the entire nation which was on trial. All I can have is just a moment of silence for those who would have done anything to see her hang and are now silent in retreat. Just imagine if they would have been successful in hanging her.

We have seen some of the most disgusting and vile displays of brutality with which certain circles of the society have reacted to her case. While this case was far from the only instance where this trend has been observed, the case has effectively established how the cult of the Prophet in Pakistan has gone totally out of control. This case resulted in the murder of Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was the only politician in the country who had the courage to defend her publicly. He was gunned down by his Barelvi guard Mumtaz Qadri, who was widely celebrated by the followers of the cult of the Prophet. It was partially this case that actually became the basis of the rise of arguably one of the craziest political movements in the country. The extremist Barelvi party called Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah or Tehreek Labaik Pakistan.

Fully backed by the Pakistani deep state to put the then popular PML-N of Nawaz Sharif out of power, the recent law enforcement operation against it could lead you to believe that they are a fringe group. This catchy yet vile anthem of the political party offers an insight into the mindset of a Tehreek Labaik Pakistan voter. There are dozens of fan uploads in which you can see the noose next to Asia Bibi’s photograph.

As a matter of fact, the line in this song about hanging Asia Bibi was covered by dozens of young boys and girls for a mobile video sharing platform. These indeed are no extremist clerics but regular, fun-loving, otherwise peaceful Pakistani Muslims whose conscience bears no guilt over this vulgar display of religious righteousness.

Today, many liberal optimists in Pakistan are saying that justice has been served by the eventual Supreme Court ruling by Justice Khosa. But before making such rosy statements, it must be appreciated how Asia Bibi had been ordered to hang to death even by the high court and the lower courts and how the entire nation had been out of her blood on the streets. Even the expression mass hysteria does not capture the violence and evil in this case. But perhaps they are right, even this ruling by the Supreme Court is nothing short of a miracle.

These are shocking realities that the Pakistani people are not willing to face. Until they address the darkness in their hearts which is at the center of their religious beliefs, until they abolish the atrocious blasphemy law, and until they are not willing to adopt a Secular Constitution, cases like Asia Bibi will keep on surfacing.

All we can hope is for them to surface instead of swept under the carpet.

Minorities Gasp for Air in a More Undemocratic Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Seventy years since Muhammad Ali Jinnah made his famous August 11 speech about the freedom of religious minorities, Pakistan has become a much darker place than what its founders intended to be. His understanding of the logical consequence of founding Pakistan is astounding to anyone with even a remote understanding of the reasons for a separate state for the Muslim community. However, his words remain to be a beacon of inspiration for those who intend to make the social contract in Pakistan fair and humane, even though in reality it is nothing more than a speech.

The founder of the nation must have been shocked out of his senses seeing the covert military dictatorship that goes on behind democracy. The way the deep state has been censoring and manipulating the electronic media has been so astounding that even mainstream journalists could not resist raising their voices on alternative media sources. While the military and bureaucratic regime of the country has not yet considered social media such a threat, but as we have witnessed a couple of instances before, it is not beyond the Pakistani deep state to deprive its citizens of this modern but basic source of self-expression.

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It is an even greater disgrace, and perhaps a consequence of the authoritarian regime, that the current election was held as a virtual referendum on the discriminatory and undemocratic Second Amendment. The military and the theocratic mullah establishment clearly joined hands against one political party Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), which had taken a relatively secular turn of late. Some Sunni clerics even went so far as to declare voting for the party haraam or forbidden according to Sharia. The two million votes and two Sindh assembly seats for the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan are a testament to the fact.

This is the consequence of establishing a constitution that requires Pakistan to be an Islamic Republic. It is a travesty that in such a country people would even claim that the religious minority citizens have equal rights. And then to maintain that Islam offers the best alternative to secularism. It is because of these faux intellectuals and theocratic bigots that Pakistan is in such a dismal state of civil rights and individual freedom. Relatively more liberal and progressive parties such as the PPP continue to offer representatives from religious minority groups opportunities on general seats but all of this remains meaningless unless constitutional reforms are brought into place. Something that remains impossible due to more nationalist and populist elements coming to power.

People continue to be killed in the name of blasphemy. Forget the minority religions, even members of the majority religion are not safe either. Recently, a Sindhi artist Qutb Rind was pushed from a building in Lahore because of an alleged blasphemy. To my mind, artists such as Rind are indeed minorities in an obscurantist nation blinded by bigotry and religious hate.

I can only be ashamed of being a citizen of such a country where minority communities are treated with such brutality and hang my hand low in shame this independence day.

A Regime in Love with Terrorists

Source: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Sometimes you feel for the passionate, Pakistani nationalists who feel compelled to defend the country in all sorts of nonsense that it commits. To have an estimate of what sort of judges operate in Pakistan, you need to read the judgment on the disqualification of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi when his nomination papers were rejected on the basis of not being considered “Sadiq” (truthful) and “Amin” (honest) as per the Article 62 and 63, with the terms theologically used to describe the traits of the Holy Prophet.

Other than the fact that Prime Minister Abbasi’s disqualification was surprising, it was backed up by an utterly ridiculous, even laughable, judgment.

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This enviable example of judicial activism could only impress people of these secret superpowers disguised as judicial clerks but things don’t seem as bright when we see their love affair with the Islamist terrorists. The political party of Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist accused of being involved in the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2011, is already contesting elections as the Milli Muslim League. To many people, even this decision is enough to question the criterion of evaluating the “honesty” and “qualification” of candidates. Even the abrogator of Constitution, General Pervez Musharraf is being allowed to run for office. However, quite a few political candidates have been apparently put to a much stricter scrutiny.

On the recommendation of the Punjab Home Department, the (so-called) National Counter-Terrorism Authority cleared up the name of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) and proceeded to unfreeze its seized assets. He is also allowed to travel to a foreign country, unlike a number of politicians and even General Asad Durrani, after he co-wrote the Spy Chronicles. Six months ago, the FATF, a global terrorism financing watchdog had put Pakistan on a terrorism funding watchlist. In its latest meeting, it has again put Pakistan on the grey list and the state had to pledge to take serious measures against terrorist financing patterns. However, giving Ludhianvi his freedom of finance and movement certainly looked like a promising start for the cause.

The Islamist leaning elements in the bureaucracy and the judiciary find it perfectly safe and legal to unfreeze the assets of and legitimize the electoral candidacy of Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, whose organization ASWJ was declared terrorist due to its activities related to sectarian militancy. This organization is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Shia citizens.

The sad bit is that the religious conservative nationalists don’t see this as the problem. Their selective outrage on financial corruption completely disappears when it comes to the question of Islamist terrorism, the alleged existence of which they actually consider a Western conspiracy.

Let’s face it. The Pakistani regime has a history of love affairs with terrorist entities. They have openly supported the Taliban regime in the past, even helped install them. They have sponsored infiltration in Kashmir and have maintained Islamist militants for decades as assets. It is not a surprise how one of the most wanted international terrorists is head of a party contesting elections while a terrorist of national notoriety is allowed to freely move his money and location.

It is an open secret that the Pakistani judicial, civil, and military bureaucracy have been using financial corruption charges as a measure to keep the power of elected officials in check. But far worse than that is the selective morality of the general urban educated population. These nationalist social conservatives highly skeptical of democracy do not recognize moral corruption an issue but only recognize financial corruption as the only form of offense for which the term “corruption” is used.

The problem is that if they were to address moral corruption in politics, the very discriminatory basis on which the state of Pakistan is founded. Then they will have to address the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Then they will have to address the question of Islamist parties contesting elections in a democracy. Then they will have to address the systematic and institutionalized apartheid-like discrimination that non-Muslim citizens, homosexuals, transsexuals have to endure. Then they will have to address the financial corruption of the bureaucratic state and the military. Then they will have to address Pakistan’s unreasonable support for local terrorist outfits.

That sort of questioning is what we are not prepared for yet.

Another Victory for Islam in Pakistan

Source: @Ehzan

The religiosity of the devout Muslims in Pakistan is a remarkable phenomenon. On one hand, the religious conservative Muslims maintain that people of other faith cannot possibly have a safer abode than a Muslim society and yet they will insist on further cornering marginalized community. They will openly express their hate and while this must not be the case with fringe liberal Muslims,

To remind the bigotry of a regular orthodox conservative Muslim in the holy month of Ramadan, a mob in Sialkot destroyed an Ahmedi mosque, which according to Ahmedi pages was 150 years old. The video of the aftermath of destruction is shared by people whose posts are full of derogatory slurs against Ahmedis.

According to American Ahmedi activist, Kashif Chaudhary, the mob consisted of the members if the extremist Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah. While they are the usual suspects ideologically, the word on twitter, at least as per Rabwah Times, local PTI leader Hafiz Hamid Raza was also involved.

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The news will not be found anywhere in the mainstream Pakistani news media of course, which preaches faux tolerance when it is not spreading hate and bigotry or is calling people to report instances of blasphemy. A more substantial footage of the incident was shared by the Ahmedi page The Rabwah Times. It is immensely important to both report and record incidents such as these because most of the time you will find Pakistani social conservatives even denying their occurrence altogether.

In Pakistan, a lot of fuss is made about security, justice, and law and order. As evident from the speech of the leader of the mob, the members of the district administration were not only present at the site of this incident but were apparently supervising the demolition. But if the federal government accepted defeat on the very same issue to the goons of Labaik Tehreek Ya Rasool Allah after the sit-in protest about six months back in November 2017, this is a small violation in comparison. Ideologically, the Government of Pakistan and its law enforcement backs this religious bigotry.

It is important to point out that this incident is committed by a community that is outraged to this day by the demolition of an obscure Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in India. That incident was undoubtedly a clear example of Hindu extremists in India and resulted in their strained relations with the Muslim community. However, you would expect some level of understanding from the orthodox Muslim groups. Not the case in Sialkot.

But it is also liberal naïvety comparing it to Babri Mosque incident. You need to see the incidents from the eyes of Sunni Muslims too. The mosque belonged to a community which is not supposed to have a mosque according to the Pakistani law. They have only done justice in their eyes.

Again, in the proud history of justice in Pakistan, this incident will shine as yet another example of the exemplary state of civil rights in the country.

How could things possibly be wrong in an Islamic Republic?

This was just another victory for Islam in Pakistan.

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.

What Purpose Does the Blasphemy Law Actually Serve?

Source: The Nation

We all know that the blasphemy law is supposed to punish the offenders who desecrate the good name of God and the Prophet, or commit a similar offense against religion. And there is really no doubt that blaspheming against holy persons and entities is indicative of a lack of sensitivity and regard toward religious communities. However, people like to debate whether the offense warrants penalties as strict as death and life imprisonment or even any at all.

There is no debate possible in the country in its present climate whether the blasphemy law should be repealed or not. However, fortunately, many of the people, including some very smart mainstream religious scholars from both Sunni and Shia traditions agree that there are margins of improving the law. In other words, many people concede that the law is being abused or that there is a possibility of abusing it to settle personal scores. This is keeping the next-to-none debate of amending the law alive, where it is important to keep in mind that most people are not willing to compromise on the prescribed penalty.

That is still progress nevertheless. To the common religious conservative citizen, the law must be about penalizing the blasphemer and it becomes a matter of the “rule of law.” However, this is merely an instrument of asserting the political authority of a community. It is basically a reminder of who is in charge, or what is in charge, relevant in this case. There is a reason why blasphemers happen to only target Islam in a country of more than 200 million.

But even if you are in the “amend-not-repeal camp,” I wonder with these motives behind it, people who matter would actually be willing to even agree on any changes to the law. We all know how Senator Sherry Rehman was threatened when she tried proposing her amendments. Even if the majority agrees on such an amendment, the small but forceful minority would see to it that they have their way. There obviously is little hope but to try convincing people to improve the law. However, banking your hopes on that also points toward a fundamental misunderstanding of why the law exists in the first place.

So, if you missed the memo, initiating discussion of the misuse of the law also becomes an offense to the authoritarian religious conservative. That is a fine line to tread on as slips like the late Governor Taseer calling it a black law could cost you dearly. But even if you are super careful and respectful, you are still challenging the very authority that the blasphemy law formulated under Zia is designed to keep, instead of offering an equal opportunity of complaint to all.

While this may have prevented an average citizen from the fanaticism of the minority religious communities, it has made those communities very prone to damage. Especially the helpless individual citizens from those communities who always end up paying the highest cost. It is simply their misfortune that their fellow citizens want nothing to do with knowing their troubles.

The blasphemy law under Zia was passed under the threats of clerics and it is maintained by similar vows. It was a comprehensive push against the secular side of the state, which had since grown weaker by the day. And since the penalties are as per the prescription of the Sharia according to most scholars, amending how the law is enforced would be a push against the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic against secular entities, if not about upholding the word of God. After all, the JI Emir complains that Pakistan is not an Islamic State.

Even when common citizens or scholars agree on the problems with the law, the blame often goes to the secular law enforcement instead of the violence it is encouraging. Vigilantes are arrested alright, but this is seen unfavorably in general, thanks to legends like Ghazi Ilm Deen. However, the act of vigilante violence is disapproved by conservative elites who prefer the victims to hang after a trial. This is why we must have the blasphemy law. Even though they choose to ignore how free our judges are in terms of passing the verdict in such cases and how it encourages religious extremism.

While Mashaal Khan’s tragic killing has opened a window to start this conversation, it is not as if the other side is giving even an inch other than tolerating slightly dissenting comments and pieces in the media. That too, because let’s admit it, Mashaal’s death was too brutal for even most blasphemy law supporting religious conservatives in Pakistan. But the underlying problem remains the same and only time will tell if the ice would break.

We do make a lot of fuss about the blasphemy law and its abuse. While there has been a sharp rise in cases registered since the amendment under Zia, the secular judiciary has refrained from passing many harsh verdicts. Call that denying justice, it hardly matters as hate speech like “Off with the head of the blasphemer” dominate every town in Pakistan. It is almost an article of faith.

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We are at a point far from arguing or talking reason. Perhaps we would be if the intent were just to penalize the offenders.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.