How Pakistan Observed the International Day of the Victims of Religious Violence

Source: Reuters/Hindustan Times

When the UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared August 22 as a new UN International Day for the victims of violence based on religion and faith, Pakistan was certainly a country that came to mind. It is an open secret that Pakistan holds a dismal record of offering all its citizens equal rights and the freedom to practice its religion. For years now, Pakistan has been on the list of countries of most concern by the United States State Department and there are good reasons behind it. Pakistan’s problems with its minority religious communities date back as early as 1953, if not earlier.

While you would expect the Government of Pakistan to introspect on this day and actually vow to start making amends with the minority citizens, they spent the day lecturing India instead. In continuation of its campaigns condemning the Indian administration and comparing it to the Nazi Party, the Prime Minister reminded of the “ethnic cleansing” in Kashmir.

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The Minister of Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, who should be the responsible office-holder for responding for the rights of the citizens that have been attacked on the basis of their faith.

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She instead was busy writing to the UNICEF complaining that actor Priyanka Chopra should be removed from her position as a Peace Ambassador for some imaginary offenses.

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This was a great opportunity for the Pakistani administration to concede all the wrongs done to the minority religious communities in Pakistan, especially the most frequently targeted Hindus and Christians. And mentioning

Pakistani American Ahmedi activist Kashif Chaudhary made sure to remind the government at least about the state of Ahmed

 

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He also mentioned the ridiculous notion of the President of an Islamic Republic, who would never dare to utter the word “secular” in connection with his country, worried about the decaying state of secularism in India. I agree with him.

 

 

While Pakistani nationalists were celebrating the meeting of President Trump with Prime Minister Imran Khan, the very same leader listened to someone these patriots would not stand. Trump met with an elderly Pakistani expatriate Abdul Shakoor, who represented the persecuted Ahmediyya community of Pakistan settled around the world. Shaan Taseer, human rights activist and the son of slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, accompanied him to translate his message to the President. The poor man was sentenced to five years in prison with a heavy fine for selling religious books. He informed the President that he could not identify as a Muslim in his native Pakistan but he can in the United States.

 

The current US administration is in particular interested in religious freedom around the world. Vice President Mike Pence has issued a statement during a religious freedom summit rebuking Pakistan for the state of its religious freedom and urged the government to release Professor Junaid Hafeez accused of blasphemy. However, it was a shame that President Trump did not publicly bring the religious persecution in Pakistan during his meeting with the Prime Minister.

Other than that, there is no count of the number of people abused and killed from the Hindu and Christian communities which are routinely targeted by the majority religious community. The forced conversion of Hindu and Christian girls is on the rise too and the local law enforcement is proving to be inadequate for either providing security or justice to the affected citizens, who are effectively second class citizens in Pakistan.

You can only hope that an administration that claims to be very tolerant toward the minority religious groups of Pakistan would know better than imaginary standards of social justice like “Riyasat-e-Medina” or the Medina State. You can only hope that they would have the sense to address the problem in their country first because that is the least what their citizens expect from them and lecture India on Nazism and fascism later. Otherwise, you can only hope that the United States should finally take a stand and threaten Pakistan with sanctions.

The Gaza Trap

Source: Flash90/TOI

In 2005, the Government of Israel took a decision that baffled people within and outside the country alike. Strongman Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the architect of the Lebanon War and a celebrated war hero, decided to withdraw forces, control, and settlements from Gaza Strip. A move of political genius, it would set the course for the security discourse in Israel in the decade to come.

Israelis were dragged out of their homes by the military and construction bulldozers demolished those buildings, right in the manner Israeli bulldozers level the houses of Palestinian militants to the ground. Israeli settlers were shouting slogans against their own government and leader and there was a sense of anger and belligerence among the more conservative Zionist factions within Israel.

Little did anyone knew this single decision will help solidify the political leadership of his conservative and hawkish Likud Party, following years of disappointment and failed efforts for peace between Labour administrations and Arafat, including those of Sharon’s own government. With separating the control in Gaza Strip, the Ariel Sharon administration clearly made the difference clear by the section fully controlled by Palestinians, soon to fall in the hands of the extremist militant group Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in contrast with the PLO administered West Bank where Israeli Defense Forces have control to this day.

From that year onward, Israel and the tiny Gaza Strip has had three major wars with no consequential result in any of them. The Israel-Gaza conflict has become the new normal in the Middle East. Whenever something significant is about to occur in Israel such as the Eurovision contest or if Israel takes a brutal security measure, the Hamas regime in Gaza fires its improvised explosive rockets into the Southern parts of Israel within its range in towns like Beer Sheba, Sderot, Ashdod, and Ashkelon.

Source: Israel Matzav Blog

There is no need to underestimate the threat of the rocket attacks from Gaza just because they are facing a naval blockade. Israel must be facing far worse attacks if this blockade is lifted since Hamas is not able to do a bad job of smuggling them in through tunnels from Egypt and with support from Jordan and West Bank too.

Not taking away anything from the evil of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Gaza controlled territory, in stark contrast to the IDF controlled West Bank, offers a clear and present threat to the Israeli population. You could argue that at the time Sharon was withdrawing from Gaza Strip, he knew such a security predicament would present itself to Israel in the coming years.

Gaza not only keeps Israelis effectively separated from the enemy but also keeps them in close proximity to a lethal threat. This significantly weakens the impact of liberals within Israel who have never won an election convincingly since then. Especially with the horrors of the Intifada fresh in the memory of Israeli citizens, the now disappeared threat of the terrorists and suicide bombers have uplifted the security situation in Israel significantly.

The contribution of right-wing Israeli governments led by Likud to the security of Israel is undisputed. But the rekindling of the conflict with Gaza every now and then not only reminds the Israeli people that a threat in the neighborhood will always loom on their head but will also show the world what Palestinians are capable of if left to their own device. This threat would have been not only worse but easily unacceptable and unsustainable if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank. This is why the idea of annexing the West Bank does not face as much resistance in Israel as it would have a few decades ago.

With Israel aiming to become the regional leader in technology and innovation, a safe, stable, and secure environment are imperative to its growth. The people of Israel do not seem to be in a mood for experimenting with their security and rely on the conservative coalition that has delivered relatively calm years in comparison except for the continual Gaza wars. This also keeps the pressure up on US Congress to increase funding for Iron Dome, which is of late seeing the inclusion of progressives like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alessandria Ocasio-Cortez who openly attack the idea of military aid to Israel.

The Israeli right wing and Hamas feed off each other in this conflict in terms of power and the end result is miserable living conditions for the people of Gaza and the people in Southern Israel. Of course, Israel would ideally not want this conflict to continue for a single more day, but it is simply not possible with an autonomous Gaza Strip under Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad which is continually supported by the likes of Iran and its allies in the Middle East.

Therefore, the Gaza Trap will keep the hardliners in power on both sides of the conflict. And we will continue to see the Gaza wars in the headlines every few months.

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.

The American Moral Leader

Source: New York Times

George H. W. Bush, the 41st American President, was no ordinary politician or public servant. More than a surviving World War II veteran, Congressman, Ambassador, CIA Director, and Vice President, he was a man who knew the importance of doing the right thing, despite the odds. Whether it cost him political mileage and popularity, though at one time he enjoyed an approval rating of 84%, and whether it meant turning popular opinion against him, he stuck to what he believed was in the best interest of the American people, the American Empire, and, most importantly, democracy.

This is the reason why I think George H. W. Bush is one of the most important Presidents of our times and is surely one of my favorites. He took it upon himself despite strong opposition on Capitol Hill to initiate action against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and managed to build an international coalition. He also showed the world of the right way to do it through the Security Council and withdrew once Iraq surrendered in Kuwait, even though criticized for letting Saddam regime survive in Baghdad, probably unfinished business that his son would complete in 2003.

His realization to do the right thing also guided him to be open to bipartisanship, leading to a number of important pieces of legislation like the Clean Air Act and balanced budget deals despite his unrealistic campaign promise of no new taxes. He was not exactly a libertarian Republican out of touch with fiscal realities, after all, a hint many might get if they revisit his primary run against Ronald Reagan in 1980. He was also instrumental in negotiating the landmark North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, later to be concluded by President Bill Clinton.

While his approach to domestic issues can be considered rather vague, emotional, and hollow, with perhaps an exaggerated focus on “a thousand points of light,” one which a progressive Democrat could easily destroy as Clinton did in 1992, his vision for the world was unmistakably clear and resolute. Something that the opposition has barely had an answer to since Ronald Reagan. Carrying forward his legacy, George Bush knew what he was doing from the moment he took the oath.

In today’s America that is rapidly falling into the pit of isolationism and nationalism that borders on fascism, the words and actions of President George Bush remain as relevant as they were at the end of the Cold War. A great moment in history, albeit inevitable but one that he worked on in the Reagan administration. He had warned us about the threat of rising terrorism. He had warned us about the threat to liberal democracies. But most of all, he told us about the value of freedom, free speech, and free markets. The ideals of republicanism.

It is important to remember President George Bush because he was a great Republican leader. A party of great ideas that has descended today in petty populism and defending a disgraced Presidency. It is important to remember his stress on a gentler and kinder Republican party in which conservatism need not be synonymous with heartlessness. Today, people are reminded of his Presidency as a time of decency compared to the vicious circus of the Trump administration.

But most important of all, he took action when it mattered. One of the most underappreciated aspects of his leadership was his brilliant foreign policy and its continued legacy in terms of American leadership. He offered his internationalist vision of a new world order that aligned with American values and interests, something which appears to be fading since the end of his son’s term.

Having inherited massive deficits from President Reagan, his fiscal pragmatism, despite his rather misleading rhetoric of “read my lips,” his bipartisan budget deals helped pave way for Clinton’s golden fiscal era of budget surpluses. His letter to President Clinton initiated a beautiful Presidential tradition, indicative of his bipartisanship and fair-mindedness. Many liberals praise him today, but his legacy is still as misunderstood as the more liberal side of conservatism is. That precious centrism is sadly evaporating from the American politics which is giving way to more vicious, albeit passionate, forces on both extreme left and right. What remains underappreciated is the commitment of centrists like him to find the most reasonable path to social harmony and economic prosperity. This talk from Council on Foreign Relations featuring Jon Meacham and John Sununu sheds light on areas often ignored about George Bush.

George Bush for all his qualities and an extremely qualified resume, remained flawed in his handling of domestic affairs, inappropriate in expressing empathy at times, failing to inspire when the economy was down, and being convincing enough to retain the Presidency. However, his name will always remain a shining beacon of a quality that America has been losing for the past decade.

America’s moral leadership.

RIP John McCain: The Senate Just Lost the Maverick

Source: ABC World News Tonight

War hero, Prisoner of War, an unapologetic and fierce defender of freedom, and a voice of reason and sanity in the Senate, John McCain of Arizona has finally succumbed to cancer after a recent diagnosis. He did not go down without a fight as usual but even someone like him knows when to stop wasting your energy on a lost cause. You can’t win every battle and you are not meant to.

Take the 2008 election for an example. Who could have been a more obvious . He probably would have been a sensible choice, had Senator Leiberman decided not to sabotage his campaign by pulling out. A lot can be said of course about how he handled that campaign, particularly the disastrous choice of picking Sarah Palin as the running mate. Especially with the persepective that if the popular but divisive Obama Presidency could be avoided, you could argue that things would have been a lot different in Syria today. However, even the staunchest of Democrat will attest to the dignity with which he ran the campaign. Compared to more recent politics, McCain almost sounds like a saintly figure despite being a Republican hawk.

Much is being said about the heroics of the man but few are focusing on the gulf he is leaving in the US Senate. Not only in the Senate and the GOP, but in American politics, he is leaving very big shoes to be filled in. One of the most important qualities of John McCain’s political career was his independence of views despite whatever was popular in the party. He often did not care about the party line and voted his conscience and stood up for issues when people least expected. He took a stand against torture and waterboarding as an unAmerican and inhumane treatment of prisoners of war, probably inspired by the unspeakable torture he suffered in Vietnam’s most notorious detention camps.

Lately, he stood up to the madness of President Donald Trump when very few in his party such as Governor John Kasich, at least in the elected office, had the courage to do so. His latest act of defiance came when President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans made their only real effort for a “skinny repeal” of Obamacare or Affordable Healthcare Act put into place during the term of President Barack Obama.

Where the passing of John McCain is even more tragic is the state of politics in which he has left America. Aftter the loss of Hillary Clinton and the seat left vacant by his death, sensible centrist leaders are becoming a rarety in American politics. While you could argue that the majority of Democratic and Republican Senators and Congressmen and women are still centrist liberals, the shift toward more extreme right and left has been prominent in the recent years and it is only going to get worse. While the respective groups might have their own reasons for their ideological polarization, primarily being the deadlock of the Congress and the establishment status quo (even though they might miss the status quo when it’s gone), there are quite a few reasons why centrist liberalism in America is important.

First of all, it is important to preserve the free market enterprise in the United States without making certain sections of the economy too heavily dependent on the government. Secondly, it is important to preserve the secular state of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which makes the United States of America such an exceptional democracy. Finally, it is important to keep the United States an interventionist power that establishes and exercises its political influence around the world and ensure to defend freedom of the citizens of the world where it is threatened.

Often accused of being a “warmonger,” Senator John McCain was the leader who was making a moral argument for the United States to take action when the Syrian Government was using chemical weapons against its own citizens. In fact, he was pushing for action against both the Assad regime and the Islamic State. All this time, President Obama chose to resist the idea of increased military conflict in the area, leading to massive losses suffered by the Kurds and Yazidis in the North and the failure of the Free Syrian Army to find any major breakthroughs. Obviously, it was not a priority for either President Obama or his Democratic base, or even the Republicans for that matter. Perhaps blame it on the lethargy caused by the two-term war-torn Bush Presidency and that was probably what also led to the comprehensive defeat of McCain in the 2008 election with Obama’s landmark campaign of Hope and Change.

Since President Obama’s term, and especially during the current scandal-infested term of President Donald Trump, American moral leadership around the world has significantly weakened. Unfortunately, even the American public has never been more unenthusiastic about the affairs around the globe and we have recently been seeing more isolationist turns taken in the popular politics. The rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are a part of this trend in a time when China and Russia are coming back strongly in terms of establishing their hegemony on a global level. This only tells of much darker times ahead with these totalitarian powers gaining greater political influence.

The problem is that there is no other leader in sight who could take up a stand like this again. There is no other leader who could defend the idea of the American Empire like this. And that is what we mourn today more than the death of a towering figure in not only American, but both liberal and conservative, politics.

To Charles Krauthammer

Source: Steve Barrett/The Washington Post

Perhaps nobody gave more articulation and clarity to the expression of conservative thought, and in a way that liberals could respect, than Charles Krauthammer. At least not in America.

His sarcasm was mostly garbed in a patronizing yet frank tone which remained as intellectual as it spoke clearly to its reader. And while he took moralist stances from time to time, on art endowment and abortion, which I find completely misguided, and which by the way have no foolproof defense whether you are holding a liberal or a conservative opinion, his pokes at his political rival were mostly backed by the sophistication of an educated mind. Nobody wants to bother to revisit the history of his career, even though his death is a good excuse to go through “Things That Matter” but perhaps there must be very few occasions when he would have fallen from this high standard.

Charles Krauthammer knew of this delicate position that you could have speaking about bigotry when you have a Jewish background while challenging liberal axioms about it. His defense of the attacks on traditional celebrations of America was rooted in the ideals of liberty that people around the world had worked so hard to achieve after hundreds of years. His passionate defense of Israel’s precarious position as well as the nature of Gaza blockade was also a solid rebuttal to mostly emotional complaints about the situation following the flotilla incident.

Started out as a liberal and a part of the Carter administration, he spoke to liberals with an understanding of their viewpoint and spoke about conservatism that did not make it sound like something monstrous. To the delight of his liberal and Democratic readers, even during the last year of his life, he chose not to mince words when commenting on the disaster his Republican Party was embracing in the form of President Trump. It was to his misery, of course, and to many those who have guarded and celebrated the traditional conservatism of the party when Trump started leading the 2016 Republican primaries when he started proving every other pundit wrong. Krauthammer was one of the liberal pundits that Trump had managed to defeat with so many others.

A thing to be learned from Krauthammer is that you should know when to take leave. The columnist had a very good estimate of when his time was up and signed off with an uncharacteristically heartwarming farewell.

But most of all, he made the point of judging people according to their actions, at least when it comes to politics, than the assumptions you are making about their character. And I could not agree more. Rest in peace.

“Know thyself” is a highly overrated piece of wisdom.
As for knowing the self of others, forget it.
Know what they do and judge them by their works.

The Washington Post, October 15, 1999

Stranded in the Land of the Free

Source: Time Magazine/Getty/Mashable

When people look up to America, they see a standard of freedom unparalleled anywhere in the world. This is still true. And there is only one reason for that. The liberal ideas that America has represented for more than 150 years as well as its Constitution. I was about to write law but the recently highlighted events, which may have gone on for a good number of years until DACA was put into action: Child separation from the detained migrants on the US-Mexico border. Thousands of little children from Central America and other parts of the world are stranded there among complete strangers, especially the ones who are brutal to them. The trauma is unimaginable. To many, the policy was escalated, if not initiated by the administration of President Trump by removing DACA, and worsened by the law enforcement headed by hardliner Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had the nerve to justify the policy with the Bible.

Only a day ago, President Trump has signed an executive order to end the separation policy, only to leave doubts about the possible indefinite detention of the migrant families. And especially about the status of families already separated by ICE. Why did Trump sign this executive order when he is playing to his base by toughening the immigration measures to a zero-tolerance policy? Just to make himself look good in front of the American people. Republican Senators like Lindsey Graham think that the administration did not think this policy through, which is most likely the case in reality, given the erratic track record of Trump’s administration.

Another idea that became a casualty of this administration is the idea of liberal free trade and globalization. President Trump’s refusal to sign the communique at the G7 Summit earlier this month, perhaps a victory for American Nationalism and isolationism in his eyes, was nothing short of a disaster for the liberal world. The President has already pulled out of Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The very ideas that the United States has championed since the fall of the Third Reich are being challenged in the most heartless manner, especially when it comes to migrants. Of course, there is no monopoly of ideas in a democracy and there is as much room for populism in public debate as there is for liberal globalization. However, the impact of such weakness among the ranks of liberal powers can be felt around the world, especially by the people who are striving and struggling to promote liberal ideas in their own backyards.

The rise of authoritarian conservative governments around the world is already a cause for concern. However, if you see a collapse of liberal ideas in a political entity such as the United States, then things seem even darker. While the Trump administration has also given a cause for optimism with the historic summit with North Korea, its unpredictable and hardline authoritarian and populist stances leave you more pessimistic about the future.

Let us just hope that the worst from the administration is not yet to come.