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.

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What Diplomatic Isolation Looks Like

Source: The News

There finally comes a time in the relationships between nations when you start seeing the end of the concessions given to a party.

Pakistan has been given the warning that many have talked about around the world and finally has been put into the terrorism funding watchlist by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), perhaps only a day or two after the Pakistani diplomats were boasting of evading the banking and economic sanction. This was probably because they had decided to formally do that in the next meeting in June 2018, when the term of the current elected government of PML-N will pretty much be completed and had not made the announcement earlier. The last time Pakistan was on the watchlist was 2012, until 2015 when it was removed from the list by the body.

While Khawaja Asif’s delegation had thought that Saudi Arabia and China had done just enough to keep them off the list, especially ahead of Pakistan sending a thousand troops to the Kingdom, probably for the Yemen campaign, it wasn’t to be. The United States had particularly lobbied following the US administration’s tough stance against Pakistan’s policy on fighting terrorism.

While the Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa made quite a few important comments in his speech at the Munich Security Conference, such as the premature withdrawal of military resources from Afghanistan by the US government, his overall case apparently failed to make an impression on the international community. Time and time again, the response of Pakistani military and diplomats have been pointing fingers back at the West for this failed policies. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has also brought up the US-Afghan Policy during the latter years of Cold War and has even gone far enough to say that it was a mistake to follow that path.

Listen to the speech of the Army Chief and you will get an impression as if the militant Jihad is some sort of a recent invention. He also probably does not realize that his speech really got weird for a foreign audience at a point when he said that a body of Islamic clerics from all sects had passed a decree that Jihad and suicide bombing were not permitted “until sanctioned by the state.” Yeah, right. That’s precisely what the security officials from around the world wanted to hear. I just hope I am wrong or he should fire his communications director.

Source: RFE/RL

But really our military establishment has more people’s performance to worry about than just their communications team. We can make it a national issue because of our bloated egos as in the case of the “Dawn leaks,” but the inaction of the security establishment to take. We are talking about a country where Hafiz Saeed, a certified terrorist in the eyes of India and the West and pretty much the rest of the world, has formed a political party which is contesting elections. And of course, anyone who claims that his Difa-e-Pakistan Council has no support from the military establishment is obviously living in a fool’s paradise.

Pakistan finally needs to decide whether it wants international acceptance or not. It is up to the Pakistani state to decide if we want to become Iran or North Korea in the world’s eyes or a progressive democratic nation. Pakistan is nowhere near going to be acceptable to the international community with the same course of action. The government and the military simply cannot keep on distracting and diverging when answered a simple question about taking action against terrorist elements within the country. The FATF restrictions are only going to make the people suffer from the horrific policies of their ruling state.

Yes, more is needed to be done indeed.

Shame on Pakistan

Source: AFP/geo.tv

It greatly pains me to write these words but I cannot help but express my disappointment in Pakistan in the harshest of words on this day.

You would probably live with this situation (as if we the citizens had a choice?) if things were a bit more balanced and saner at some level somewhere. On one hand, you have a nation content and proud of some of the most discriminatory provisions in the constitution taken as a fair social contract. On the other, you have a group of mullah bandits who have taken the entire nation hostage by emotionally blackmailing them in the name of faith and the love of the Prophet. When you are a Muslim, you are forced to believe their bigotry disguised as passion and love for the Prophet. If you don’t, you are an infidel. A Qadiani sympathizer.

In Pakistan, bigotry has become the highest standard of piety and religiosity.

How can someone with a slightly saner worldview find any hope in a place like this? In a place where perhaps the best strategy to fend off these ills and threats is to remain silent. The November 25 clash between the mullah protesters and the state, ironically two sides of the same coin, is a terrible instance of this fact. What was even worse is that in the face of this blatant religious bigotry, the state, which is supposed to protect the citizens, ends up punishing the citizens for the crimes of a few. In perhaps the first time in my living memory, I have seen the government block the social media, facebook, twitter and youtube, other than the private TV channels just to deal with a riot in Islamabad. This confirmed any misconception that we were living in a democracy of some kind. This needless information blackout is a great stain on the record of the new Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who is otherwise considered a very forward-looking politician.

Source: Hindustan Times

To add insult to injury, on the world news, the very next story following the sit-in protest crackdown was the US denunciation of the release of Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist leader wanted by India for Mumbai attacks. This was the world’s view of Pakistan on November 25. Even the high ministers and superiors in the echelons of the government are blind to what picture of the country is presented by this state of affairs to the world. Either that or there is nothing in the world that they can do. It is remarkable how they expect foreign entities to even visit Pakistan with this sort of air, let alone invest their capital in it.

Forget foreign investment and the global image, all of these are only more reasons to leave Pakistan for a humane country. All of these are more reasons to stop believing in Pakistan and to stop defending it, rooting for it or supporting it.

November 25 showed Pakistan’s true face to the world. A raving mad and bloodthirsty public infected with Islamic extremism and a draconian, undemocratic government misleading its citizens and enabling their viciousness.

Copy of the concluded compromise agreement

To further humiliate the government, the selectively just military of Pakistan refused to partake in the operation against the Barelvi protesters, terming them “our own people.” The terms on which this protest has ended on November 27 sound humiliating as well with the government succumbing to the demands of the sit-in protesters, which they have been resisting up till that point. Other than the resignation of the accused Law Minister Zahid Hamid, the compromise agreement called for an inquiry to penalize those who had made the amendment in the statement pertaining to the anti-Ahmedi oath. The Islamabad High Court has slammed the military’s role in this negotiation but we have a lot more to be alarmed about this. Wish our judiciary had too. This essentially means that even suggesting to propose an amendment to these draconian theocratic laws could possibly mean prison time if not death sentence, confirming Pakistan as a theocracy like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

November 25 will go down in history as a dark day for the people of Pakistan.

On this day, everyone should be ashamed to be a Pakistani citizen.

A Foreign Minister With A Mind of His Own?

Source: Asia Society

I am not saying it has happened for the first time in Pakistani history, but it surely seems something out of the ordinary in the current political atmosphere in Pakistan. After the Pakistani military and bureaucratic establishment realized what a colossal error its favorite dictator General Pervez Musharraf had committed by permitting private TV channels, a regime of media control was brought about.

It was at least too late for Musharraf himself who erroneously started considering himself to be a democratic leader with a liberal economic vision who enjoys complete support by the people of Pakistan. He probably banked too much on his ridiculous referendum numbers and ended up resigning due to the resistance put up by civilians for a sacked judge.

The same political party which had been overthrown by the military bureaucracy returned 14 years later with another overwhelming mandate, only earlier paralleled in its volume by the Awami League in the 1970 election. The Awami League was,, of course, declared as an outlawed and traitorous party in a rebel country.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had his third term cut short by some dimension of the state bureaucracy earlier in July this year. Today, at this situation, it is refreshing to see that the Foreign Minister of the same political party who had delivered a fiery speech against the military establishment in the parliament embarrass it on an international forum. Especially when the current Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi looks like a zombie bullied by the drill sergeant at the Kakul Academy about “What to say at UN manual.”

Here is Khawaja Asif speaking at the Asia Society in New York.

Not only that, Khawaja Asif completely owned the label of a “more liberal foreign policy,” criticizing the opposition party to pandering to the “religious fringes.” Like most liberals of Pakistans, he also reminisced about the “old liberal, pluralistic, tolerant, and progressive Pakistan of the 50s and 60s,” which was taken away due to the Islamization in the wake of the Afghan Jihad. He also thought that Pakistan so openly joining the American camp during the Cold War years was a mistake. At least, it is refreshing to see such an approach taken by a Pakistan government official so openly in an international diplomatic forum.

Khawaja Asif also remarkably admitted that Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and other terrorists like the Haqqani Group were liabilities for Pakistan and that Pakistan needed time to deal with them. He also stated that the dismissed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had put his career on stake in order to improve relations with India, which he considered necessary while also describing the struggle of the Kashmiri youth at the hands of the brutality of Indian military and government.

Khawaja Asif certainly has many flaws. He is an inarticulate loudmouth with a knack of saying inappropriate things every now and then, blame it on his Punjabi male chauvinistic upbringing.  Even was my Idiot of the year 2016. But once in a while, he also ends up doing something right. And to his credit, more often than the broken clock telling the time right. However, he is still the same man who threatened Israel over a piece of fake news when he was the Defense Minister. Read about the underlying antisemitism of his comment here.

Of course, his statements have given indigestion to a lot of nationalist conservatives and military establishment loyalists including the PTI who are accusing him of treason as usual. However, all supporters of democracy and civilian supremacy should celebrate this rare moment in Pakistan foreign policy. State protected terrorist Hafiz Saeed s even suing Khawaja Asif for Rs. 100 million for defamation. Just to give you an idea how bad things are in Pakistan when it comes to the moral authority of the state. It would also not be beyond our deep state if we shortly see the resignation of the minister following the controversy he has stirred. In that case, the Pakistani people should stand by a diplomat that has, for once, truly represented them.

There has been Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the PPP government who chose to dissent but never like this. So a Foreign Minister finally having a mind of his own, or at least saying the right thing, has been rare in Pakistan.

Let’s celebrate that.

Funny What Amounts to Treason in Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Pakistan is a strange country. Here people are more outraged about who helped catch the most wanted terrorist in the world than the fact that Osama Ben Laden was found hiding in the backyard of the country’s military academy.

Now whether the most wanted man in the world was a prisoner of ours or his presence there was a complete could be up for debate. However, there is no doubt in my mind that both the military and civilian leadership of the time were absolutely committed to fighting terrorism, including Al Qaida.

It is also not difficult to assert how Pakistan has been committed to its alliance with the United States for fighting terrorism, despite all the differences and suspicions. This is why it should really not be so shocking that Pakistan would do everything in its power to help the United States achieve its goals.

If that is the case, what is the big deal with certain Pakistani government officials helping the United States out to locate Osama Ben Laden? I personally disagree with killing Ben Laden instead of arresting him alive, but I am pretty sure that would have been the last resort.

There has been one constant theme since the Abbottabad raid in 2014. Outrage over the United States violating over sovereign air space, even though they were curiously not bothered even any step of the way except for the resistance at the terrorist compound.

Since then we have been trying our best to determine the traitors who tipped off the US authorities about the location of Osama Ben Laden so they could violate our sovereignty. And are absolutely not bothered about the people who kept Osama Ben Laden in the lion’s den for who knows how long.

There is absolutely no doubt that the matter about the Abbottabad incident should be clarified to the public. People deserve to know what really happened that day as opposed to the official narratives the reliability of which have been highly doubtful.

Ambassador Haqqani’s op-ed piece in Washington Post, as narcissistic it was, it failed to demonstrate the reason that everyone in Pakistan seems to be upset about. Though not sure if providing his own example offered any solace to the skeptical and angry American vote. That Ambassador Haqqani’s cockroach skills could survive a nuclear holocaust is not a recent revelation. However, what we are seeing in a new light are the incurably twisted priorities of the Pakistani nationalists.

I tried hard finding how the ambassador could have hurt Pakistan during his one-man crusade, duo if you count President Zardari, against Osama Ben Laden and failed to find any bad news. The gentleman, if we are to take his word for it, used his contacts to help out the US intelligence locate the position of Osama Ben Laden after 8 elusive years. And now that we finally got him, the Obama administration gets to take all the credit for the find. Of course, they get the credit for the kill entirely.

Opposition leader Khurshid Shah pounced at the news by declaring Mr. Haqqani a traitor after our bellicose defense minister raised the issue. A lot in the national media are apparently doing the same. After the habitual retaliatory statement, PPP succumbed to the pressure of national security like always, even though they are aware that their voters do not give a damn about the Haqqani affair.

If anything, this episode speaks volumes of the vision and intelligence of President Zardari for making such a bold diplomatic feat possible. Of course, it is not treason if the Prime Minister and President order something, if Haqqani’s account is true, that is. I only wish the names of the Pakistani civil and military officials would go down in history in the rightful spirit of their valuable contribution when it comes to the operation taking out Osama Ben Laden.

But this also tells us something about Obama administration abandoning its close allies in Pakistan since then, which you could argue could have done more to promote the democratic regime. Under the extreme pressure of military establishment and judicial activism, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had to resign to appease our anti-corruption witch hunters.

With the deal of the CPEC closed and the troops of Communist China parading in Pakistan for the first time in history, Pakistan is now under the thumb of the authoritarian Far Eastern power than ever before. No outrage over that either. Meanwhile, Washington is trying to abandon Pakistan as much as possible under the influence of an unpredictable President and crazy isolationist conservatives and left progressives.

But if we stop blaming others for our miserable situation for once, we better consider our national priorities for one second. I am not endorsing a foreign country violating Pakistani borders and air space. Of course, the Americans should have kept the Pakistani authorities in the loop (yeah right), but I am just confused by the lack of outrage at Osama Ben Laden living like a king in Pakistan. Please tell me what I am getting wrong here, or were our objectives in the war against terrorism contrary to that of the United States?

This is supposed to be common sense, but since it is not, you would find people stating the obvious every now and then, which clearly is not so obvious.

Also, this is a good reason why the world has a hard time believing us.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Intolerance of the Cult of “True Islam”

Source: Hindustan Times

Source: Hindustan Times

The unfortunate and devastating bombing at the Sehwan Sharif shrine sheds a new light at the. The devotees of the shrine and those with a Sufi leaning in their faith reinforced their love for the spiritual rituals practiced over there.

The Islamic State accepted the responsibility for the Sehwan Sharif suicide bombing and sent a clear message to all who have deviated from the true practice of the faith.

Perhaps only a day or two after the bombing, classical dancer Sheema Kermani went up to the shrine and performed the iconic dhamaal to send her message that life must go on at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine. Now, this was supposed to be a beautiful, powerful moment of spirituality and love that should have brought the entire humanity together.

By good numbers, the dhamaal, or the ecstatic spiritual dance, was seen as a moral abomination. Something they would never imagine their mothers or sisters to be doing as opposed to the obscene dancer who defied the terrorist, other than the notion that it was pure heresy. Something which would have made the true founders of Islam turn in their graves.

Obviously, many of the urban upper class Deobandi/Wahabi kids had seen dhamaal for the first time in their lives, so their shock is understandable. But it is the rest of the crowd, who actively campaigns to condemn dissenting religious groups is where the intolerance begins a little too much to tolerate.

While their assertions of what was and was not done by the Prophet and his companions may well be true, their effect in the contemporary society goes far beyond that. What the Cult of True Islam cannot stomach is the fact that somehow Pakistan happens to be very pluralistic in its religious makeup at the grassroots, even with its seemingly very homogeneous official faith. What the Cult of True Islam cannot come to terms with is the possibility that Islam may have evolved a little over the last fourteen centuries and hundreds of regions.

The Islam of Pakistanis happens to be far from one at least, unlike the monolithic form of monotheism you see practiced by the Saudi Arabian regime. We do kiss and touch stones over here, prostrate at grave sites in reverence, and wear charms and amulets. Not surprisingly, we have sects within sects within sects in Pakistan and it is not necessarily a bad thing, the shock at it certainly is. Not only that, we have a rich Sufi tradition that has oftentimes been a result of marriage with the wisdom from Hindu ascetics. Nobody should be afraid to say that.

So just like the region of the Indus that today falls under the modern Pakistan republic is ethnically and lingually diverse, it is no surprise that it is as diverse in its religious affiliations. The Cult of True Islam has been at it to dismantle every aspect of its culture and turn it into Arabia. Too bad we still don’t see as many date trees around our neighborhoods than we ought to.

While we can manufacture several conspiracy theories about how the Islamic State emerged, what we hesitate to face is the foundation of our fatwa culture. It is basically the Islam purists among us who we dismiss playfully that are responsible for the culture of declaring “kafir.” While I have never had personally anything against the label (I used to think it was a compliment), I gradually realized what it meant for others.

The acceptance of this intolerance has been as commonplace as the occurrence of the word kafir and Shia in one sentence. It was only a matter of time that the larger practice of paying homage to the great Sufi saints that this region is known for started falling under that category.

The expression of “True Islam” remains to be an enigmatic paradox which apparently is grappled only by those who claim to be its proponents in whatever context it is thrown at you. If it is in the context of secularism, you know all its good qualities were already embodied in it. If it is in the context of who is a truer Muslim, then you know you certainly cannot win. I only wish the proponents of the True Islam were as flexible as the concept itself is.

It is not a problem to hold, observe and practice a certain belief system. Actually, that is precisely what I am arguing for. But how about you stop imposing their superior faith of you on others who are observing their own tradition. Perhaps, it is not going to happen in an atmosphere where intolerance is encouraged and where art and culture are seen as obscenities.

The funny thing is that the same people would make tall claims of how their faith would perfectly allow existence for anyone with a different belief system.

We may feel appalled by the Islamic State and dismiss and condemn them as “Kharijites,” but what about the apologies for the very philosophy that they are acting on? Are they not found all over Pakistan? Or sitting in the next cubicle at your workplace?

Religious zeal and puritanism sound like nice ideas but they need to understand that the fabric of the society cannot remain intact without the necessary tolerance for the faith of each other.

And yes, even the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan appears to promise that freedom that these purists want to see disappear.

So how about we keep the contract going that the locals of this region have had with each other for thousands of years?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Expectations from President Donald Trump

Source: abc.com

Source: abc.com

A few months ago when the Republican primaries started, I wrote that a Republican presidency was the best possible road for the situation in Iraq and Syria. The suggestion was more for a traditional Republican. Even though I did anticipate a Donald Trump presidency right from the start, it was never something that thrilled me. Of course, a conventional Republican such as Jeb Bush or John Kasich would have been a far better choice of leadership in these difficult and almost apocalyptic times in the Middle East.

While apparently handing the complete legislative control to the Republican Party, the American people seem to have reversed the effect in 2008 that made Obamacare possible, things matter more on the foreign front. On the issue of terrorism, President Trump overwhelmingly beat Secretary Clinton, and even had an edge over her on economy and immigration, embarrassingly.

Considering the situation in Iraq and Syria, President Obama’s sheer disregard of the crisis is an abomination and a moral disgrace. With the monotone narrative in the Democratic Party, there is no hope of finding a viable alternative there. Ironically, a President Hillary Clinton would by far have been the most sensible voice in a party with increasingly isolationist tendencies pertaining to Iraq and Syria.

Trump’s main litmus test is going to be economic, of course. One of his greatest campaign promises, and one of his greatest hurdles to pursue an aggressive military policy, and he is expected to hesitate unlike Bush 41 and 43. You cannot claim to know Donald Trump or what he believes in except his love for himself, but you can estimate that when it comes down to it, he is going to be more cautious than you would expect. Contrary to the image of a monster that has been constructed by media in the last quarter or so.

What is important to consider is that Trump’s electorate has not voted for him to take America to another war, even though that may be the need of the hour. President Trump has been elected to improve America’s economic growth, to add jobs, for protecting American traders from the risks of globalization, and to bring manufacturing factories back to the United States.

But if only the economy were the only hurdle in the way of a more responsible foreign and military American policy in Iraq and Syria. With the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad immediately reaching out, the signs for the future are not healthy indeed at all.

Besides, Donald Trump is hardly a traditional Republican conservative. His populist platform and trade protectionism are the residue of his past in the left, with perhaps the issue of abortion being the only one on which he may have appeared to evolve as a conservative. Who knows?

But he is not exactly a Rockefeller Republican either and probably you cannot expect him to respect free trade agreements. The outlook on his domestic policy is scary and his calls for registering Muslims sounds highly inappropriate. He is also likely to block more Syrian refugees from entering. However, it would be difficult to argue that he is not merely following up on his mandate anyway.

While the liberals of the world are mourning the loss of Hillary Clinton, who has the conscience to ask the question about Iraq and Syria? Where were the military forces of the free world when the Peshmerga were struggling to hold Mosul with the fierce battle raging against the Islamic State? Where was the outrage and mourning for the Iraqi Kurds and the Yazidis?

This is where regardless of his personal ideological beliefs, or lack thereof, Donald Trump must rise up to the challenge of dealing with the Middle East situation in a brave and urgent manner. He must do that at least for the sake of his party and even if that means going to war with the legislature. And he must do that without coming under the influence of Vladimir Putin.

 It is undoubtedly unfortunate that an intellectual such as President Barack Obama is leaving office with the situation in the Middle East worsened when he assumed it. It is sad that he has not been able to work to resolve the sectarian tensions in Iraq, which have spilled over into Syria to fuel the bitter civil war. It is sad that he has threatened but never followed up on his red line.

If liberal and responsible leaders are not going to do their job, you have no choice but to count on “demagogues” to bring the task to completion.

Good luck President Trump.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.