Witnessing History in Korea

Source: AFP

Sometimes even a handshake is significant progress for peace.

Historic handshakes have a tendency to remain forever in the memories of people for many years to come. Today, such an event occurred with the historic handshake of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In. Something that many of us never thought we would live to see.

Of course, in the case of any peace summit between two rival entities, the results are always unspectacular and underwhelming. That is because you can’t resolve decades, sometimes centuries, of problems overnight. The same skepticism surrounded the detente policies of Nixon and Kissinger, as well as Reagan-Gorbachov talks. The same pessimism cast a dark shadow on the Sadat-Begin hug, and the Rabin-Arafat handshake in the White House lawn in 1993. The same disappointments met all the fuss around the Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh talks in India.

On this day, it is significant because the dictator described as the devil incarnate in the global media has made such a warm and peaceful gesture. The handshake was followed by a Summit declaring the end of the Korean War and the commencement of the peace regime. And as needed, the meeting will be followed up by President Moon Jae-In’s visit to North Korea later this year. This is a particularly interesting time as the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, is also a Korean.

Now there is a significant role of the United States and China behind this arrangement. Apparently, CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s talks with the North Korean leadership was about something. This will hopefully continue into the future and result in the ambitious denuclearization that it promises of the Korean peninsula. However, history suggests that the promises of denuclearization are seldom kept and dictators and democratic republicans alike will feel reluctant to let go of nuclear power. The Pandora’s Box has now been opened.

You cannot help but feel proud and optimistic at the state of the world at this moment. You feel optimistic about the future as the likelihood of conventional war becomes slimmer and slimmer with every passing day in such traditional conflict zones. Surely, this does not mean that all the remedies of the world will be resolved but at least some reduction in suffering is an improvement.

One way or the other, I believe that such symbolic gestures are very important, if only for the history books. Because moments such as these, the few that I have mentioned above, will serve to be living memories for the civilization to be inspired for peace. It will remain

This is why this handshake is more than an empty gesture.

 

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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.

America Finally Standing Up to Pakistan for Free Speech

Source: geo.tv

What perhaps separates, or should separate, America from the rest of the powers of the world is its moral leadership.

The United States might have ended up getting involved in, and sometimes started, some of the most violent and costliest of wars around the war but more often than not you will find that it had some sort of a moral intention behind it as opposed to naked expansionism. Whether that is true or not is up for debate, especially whether the United States has a monopoly over republican causes around the world.

However, one thing that can be said for certain is that no other nation of the world holds free speech more sacred and fundamental to liberty than the United States. This is because of the very ideology on which the United States was based. This was probably the reason why the first amendment passed to the Constitution by the founding fathers was to protect speech.

People in repressive and regressive countries such as Pakistan look up to at least the United States, if no other Western power, when it comes to protection from their own governments. These words seem to be stating the idiotic obvious but believe it or not, a vast number of people do not even consider curbs on free speech, theocratic rule, and Especially in countries with Muslim majority population and many in the West who think that Muslims need a break from hate, not aware they are doing them further harm by protecting theocratic authority.

It came as a rather pleasant surprise when the representative of the United States government, in agreement with that of the UK representative, urged Pakistan government to repeal its draconian blasphemy law at a UN forum. To their credit, the EU has also made similar demands from Pakistan before on a public forum. However, this reprimand was made in the presence of Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who was heading the Pakistani delegate at the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan’s human rights record at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Khwaja Asif also presented Pakistan’s report.

Either way, it is a welcome sign but it still is a long way from the United States getting seriously in addressing this matter. States seldom are but this remains to be one outside hope for the citizens of oppressive countries than a bloody, brutal civil revolution from within, which hardly ever brings about a humane, democratic transition.

Perhaps one way that the United States could disturb the comfort and self-indulgence of the ruling class of Pakistan by threatening or imposing economic sanctions for imposing undemocratic laws such as the blasphemy law and discriminatory laws against Ahmedis.

While this sounds like colluding with a foreign power against your own, it is not. You could argue that willingly enforcing discriminatory laws targeting your fellow citizens is treason instead.

In a society like Pakistan, where the majority of the people do not understand how theocratic laws are contradictory to democracy and human rights, there is no other option but to count on moral diplomacy. There is no option but to influence change through lobbying and with the help of a foreign entity. Since Pakistani leaders and diplomats are never going to have this sense of social fairness, you have to pray that the Americans and the rest of the Western powers should do that bit of moral leadership for them.

You can read the full US delegation statement here.

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.

The Brighter Side of President Trump’s First UN Speech

Source: CNBC/Getty Images

Of course, it is President Trump.

He is going to get under your skin and it is hard to ignore whatever he does. He is a foreign policy and public relations embarrassment and just referred to a country called “Nambia” in Africa. Of course, he clearly meant Namibia.

But forget his reckless personal style for a minute and let us focus if there was a brighter side to his speech, his first as the US President at the UN General Assembly.

With the recent trends in American politics, the victory of President Donald Trump itself being the greatest sign, as well as the gains of progressive Senator Bernie Sanders in the Presidential election, isolationism seems to be on the rise. This threatened the American world order globally and also became a point of concern for people who care about freedom and democracy all over the world.

Granted that Trump’s leadership is far from what the world needs in the face of some of the gravest authoritarian threats since the fall of the Soviet Union, still, it could have been a lot worse. Given his campaign rhetoric, it is even a relief that he was there to address the world in the UN General Assembly. Though what he wouldn’t do for some attention?

While he is complaining that the world is not doing enough to repay America for its international duties. he is acknowledging that the world’s problems are his problems. While he is troublingly emphasizing too much on nationalism and sovereignty as the guiding principles for nation states, he is still acknowledging the investment the United States is willing to put in for world peace and prosperity.

He recklessly ended up threatening North Korea with annihilation, something he was condemning them for. Now that is an extreme, but in all his speech, he made one thing clear. His condemnation of Cuba and restoring the embargo could be the most disappointing aspect of his foreign policy legacy, a great achievement of the Obama years.

His speech meant that America still has not lost its internationalism, albeit at a cost of significant influence. His speech meant that Trump is still very much onboard the idea of America caring about its allies around the world. He tried making it clear that it was not about establishing the American Empire of the Bush family, reminding of no territorial gains in recent wars and rejecting the notion of nation-building. Yet he was very much on track of the Republican liberal policy than not.

His position on the Iran Nuclear Deal is pretty much the official position of the Republican Party and the sort of stance that Israel wants to take the United States. Whether this approach will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon or not is another matter but most certainly, this sends out a stern message to Iran that perhaps their diplomatic achievement was not one after all.

Iran might take a moral high ground after Trump’s speech but the fact remains that it continues to directly threaten b0th Israel and the United States. And Iran getting nuclear weapons will not only be an apocalyptic scenario for the Middle East but the greatest hurdle to regime change in the country, which is one of the most urgent need of the hour for the world and the Iranian people.

In the end, the noteworthy point was that Trump, guided by seasoned generals Mattis and Kelly in his cabinet, is pretty much an interventionist President.

Trump remains to be irresponsible on many global liberal fronts such as free trade and climate change, but perhaps he is not prepared to wash his hands off the world peace situation. If he does not ends up disturbing it himself, that is.

If he does not ends up disturbing it himself, that is.

The Most Important Decision by President Trump to Date

Source: The New York Times

More than a year ago, I had written how important it was for a Republican to win this election. There was only one reason behind it. The foreign and military policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, I did not want someone like Donald Trump to make it to the top.

Even though there are plenty of sane Democrats on that subject around as well and Hillary Clinton could easily be one of them. However, since the charismatic victory of President Barack Obama, elected with a massive anti-war mandate, and the pressure from Bernie Sanders progressives, who knew what direction policy would have taken. After President Obama turning the direction of the hands-on American Empire created by the Bush family and growing threats from China and Russia, American influence is only likely to fall in the coming years.

There has been plenty of areas where Trump has displayed how out of touch he is with American people, as well as how inappropriate his response could be to certain tragedies such as the Charlottesville rally. However, in foreign policy, he stuck to the conventional military wisdom of the Republican leadership.

Sure, he has deviated from the intellectualism of furthering the American Empire that has been the legacy of Bush 41 and Bush 43. This solidifies the notion that President Trump is a part of the same sentiment that got President Obama elected, as different both of them may be to each other. But where both agree is that America should not have invested heavily in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that America should not be nation-building, a Bush era policy widely condemned as neo-colonialism.

But when I indeed wrote about a Republican winning, the precise person that I had in mind was Jeb Bush. Because he would have continued where Bush 41 and Bush 43 left office. While the execution of the military campaigns was flawed, even criminal, under Bush 43, you could say the intention and idea behind it were noble and well-meaning. But then again, you could not possibly ignore factors like business interests affiliated with the military industrial complex. And then there was all the corruption in the Bush 43 administration.

Of course, lacking in detail, but this speech by President Trump is greatly symbolic. And one that even his nemesis in Senate, Senator John McCain would be proud of, as such a policy speech means that the hard work of the latter has been paid off. At least there is assurance that Afghanistan is not going to prove another Vietnam as the enemies and critics of America so frequently like to quote.

President Trump not only reassured that America is going to maintain its presence in Afghanistan, at least there will be no “hasty withdrawals” as in the case of Iraq, he also addressed irresponsible allies. While Pakistanis have been complaining about his tough talk pushing Pakistan to do more, nobody focused that he also pressed India to play its due contribution. Because like China, you would always find India conveniently shunning its due international affairs responsibilities from the war on terror to relations with Iran. Such brutal clarity from American leadership was much needed after eight years of intellectual ambiguity from President Obama.

It is hard to tell what the future holds for the free world in problem areas such as Afghanistan. However, at least the direction has been set right.

Nevertheless, let us not be too excited to proclaim this as a sign of furthering the American Empire.

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An Opportunity for Globalist Centrist Liberalism

Source: National Review

The world may appear to be sharply divided among the far left and the far right on the social media, and even on the mainstream media these days. However, you could make the case that with the election of Emmanuel Macron as the French President, some hope has been revived in centrism and globalist liberalism. Because the polls in late April were nothing less than a scare with Marine Le Pen ending up neck-a-neck.

One of the features of the shifts to far left and far right camps in public discourse has been the cynicism toward centrism and pragmatism. Candidates such as Hillary Clinton have been condemned as “neo-liberal” by progressive and leftist activists, who could have prevented the Trump Presidency by turning out in greater numbers for her favor. The shift toward absolutism might sound romantic to some in a twisted way, but it has given us politicians such as Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and perhaps even Trump on the right and Jeremy Corbyn and Tulsi Gabbard on the left. Of course, each honest in their own dangerous way. I am deliberately not mentioning Bernie Sanders in this list, whose proposals of single payer healthcare is anything but an extreme view for a centrist liberal, but he has a rather unhealthy obsession with the Wall Street.

While still both the left and right in the West are variants of liberalism, relatively speaking, but both have seemed to lose the essence of its ideals of late. The left continues to demonize the idea of private property while the right frequently compromises the liberties of people who either look different or are less fortunate. And another group simply refuses to pay for just about anything. Did I mention Ron Paul in the list?

Since when have these ideas become abominations to the people?

There is no wonder even today a majority of the population might agree on centrist ideas and fortunately that is still what a lot of voting pattern around the world follows. Though that voting pattern has been consistently shifting rightward, evident in Turkey, India, and Israel. Common sense, yes, you hear this expression very frequently in the campaigns of more conservative politicians in the West. But actually, you would rather associate this term with more centrist and pragmatic liberals beyond party lines.

The disillusionment and cynicism of the recent years have particularly been on the rise as a “people’s awakening” of sorts. This has been generally true for the attitude toward the United Nations but the precarious unity of the EU has particularly brought it into light. Blame it on the operational and bureaucratic flaws of these globalist bodies but there is no reason why the ideals behind them should be targeted without anyone putting up a reasonable defense for them.

On the other hand, there is really nothing about centrism or economic liberalism that necessitates apathy toward those who are less fortunate in the society. This ideological direction does not necessarily eliminate a social democracy. It is not as if most of the moderate British conservatives would be effectively killing the NHS, despite their fiscal conservatism. Certainly, not the Liberal Democrats. I guess centrist liberals would only be more respectful of private property and freedom for businesses than obsessing over bringing the budget into surplus too much.

Most moderate Republicans would not dare criticize late night host Jimmy Kimmel making a case for healthcare safety nets by bringing up his sick child. It is precisely the mindset that attacked him for it that a centrist liberal would discourage. Long story short, centrist liberals are more likely to side with a pragmatic, practical direction, keeping a balance between the bleeding heart and the facts of the world. Most of them would at least entertain the idea of a single payer healthcare approach while respecting private caregivers for humanitarian reasons, despite the controversy around its ideological correctness.

Another reason why globalist and centrist liberals are important is their interventionism, another point that gets under the skin of people on both extreme left and right. While there is no point getting behind a warmonger, an isolationist progressive or libertarian would be as caustic to world peace as a relentless hawk.

As much as we would like to hate President Bill Clinton and President George H. W. Bush, their timely humanitarian action in Bosnia and Kuwait goes unappreciated. It is amazing how the critics of American imperialism completely fail to recognize how the intervention has saved the freedom for the people of South Korea and West Germany. Furthermore, globalist liberals would be all for aid and accepting refugees and intervening to prevent a genocide, while an isolationist nationalist or an apathetic progressive could prove to be a humanitarian disaster. But enough of what they might mean for a government.

Despite the apparent lack of enthusiasm, the ideological polarity itself ironically presents an opportunity to the third way liberalism to bring people from left and right together. At least as a practical electoral alliance holding your nose. In a way, the rise of Donald Trump represents that possibility as opposed to someone like Sen. Ted Cruz who could become the President too. Although some could argue the same about Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

The person of Donald Trump has always appeared to be pragmatic and centrist, even liberal, in his approach to things but it is unfortunate that he relied on more far right policies and people to run his campaign. Perhaps that was the only way he could win this election. The policies he is enacting are not any more encouraging either. But who knows, that might change with time as he is beginning to figure out the realities of the political world and governance. And say, if Jared and Ivanka do not stay too far. Hanging on to a thread, are we not?

But don’t get too depressed. The world may still give sanity a chance.

It’s not too late.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.