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.

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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.

Cuba: The Best of Obama’s Foreign Policy Legacy

Source: Fox Business

Source: Fox Business

President Barack Obama has just made history.

He just became the first President to land in Cuba since the 1959 communist revolution.

He is a historic President on many accounts, but he has been particularly instrumental in turning the US foreign policy from a century of proactive hawkish interventionism. Some would argue that he is betraying the legacy of the ideals of his party’s foreign policy giants in the past, while in the view of others, he is actually acting in their tradition.

So what if his vision has left the Middle East in a cesspool? You can’t possibly be right about everything.

People around the world have been upset at the aggressive US intervention in the affairs of other nations since World War II. Others have been horrified by the Bush doctrine of preemptive strike. But probably the most terrible part of the US foreign policy has been reinforcing the isolation of a country that has pretty much imposed that on itself. Cuba.

It would have made sense during the years of Cuban missile crisis. It does not make an iota of sense ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

President Obama may have something in common with President Ronald Reagan in this regard. He helped the Soviet Union cave in by talking to them, contrary to the apocalyptic expectations from him. President Obama believes in doing the same with his adversaries.

There is one thing the isolation and protectionism of socialist economics and communism abhor. Freedom.

See how India and China have blossomed since introducing their close, protected, suffocating markets to the possibilities of free trade. Now the world is finding hard to compete with them.

Which is what both the parties have been getting wrong for a long time about Cuba, while knowing it all along, especially and ironically, President Reagan during the Cold War years. But let’s call it the Fidel Castro effect. He had a knack of boiling American blood, but once he is out of the way, things have become much easier to proceed in this direction.

Because believing in the principle of freedom requires acting on it, not just making inflammatory statements in a largely inconsequential legislature, at least in this regard. Why should anyone among the conservatives blame President Obama for taking action? Especially on a principle they so strongly believe in. Economic liberalism.

Yes, President Obama is right on Cuba and expatriate Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are dead wrong pursuing the age old ignorant policy of the not-so-principled opposition to restoring relations with Cuba.

You beat obscurantism, protectionism and restrictions with more freedom, not responding with the same approach.

Let’s welcome Cuba to freedom again.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Thoughts on November Gaza Strikes and the Middle East Conflict

Source: AP/Washington Post

You can’t expect people to act rationally or logically when they are being bombed, Israeli or Palestinian. If you think they do, then you know very little about humans. Though there are people out there who are paid to do so.

That’s why I think it’d take really smart people to handle the fragile Middle East situation. This is why I am worried that the Israeli policies could actually harm the Jewish people, even though they are designed to protect them, or offer the perception of protecting them.

Using force as a deterrent is probably a necessity there, especially in the early years when the memory of antisemitic fascist regimes was still fresh. It is relevant even today, but considering that Gaza does not enjoy that luxury would make you very concerned about their security too.

I believe the people living on the both sides have the same fears and desires. But thinking again from the Israeli perspective, I would be very concerned as an Israeli citiizen or diplomat about the image of the nation around the world. I know a lot of Israelis would prefer better security over a better world image. Who wouldn’t? I would too. Anyone would.

But this is something for the leaders to think about because it concerns the future. Unless we are hellbent to enact the Biblical or Hadith Apocalypse.

People often mention the wounded and the killed Israeli and Palestinian children and the propaganda about them. It’s not a question of whether a Jewish child dies or an Arab child dies. The question to ask is whether we would want a child to live in such a hostile environment.

Seriously, I would do whatever I can to prevent a child from living in a warzone (ideally anyone but why add more misery by forcing new people to suffer by shoving them into this world, though true in any other situation too). But can I, or can we? No.

If the Hamas regime is irresponsible, which I am convinced that they are, to the point that their policies don’t really reflect any sympathy for the security of their own people (if you ignore the fact that they are badly repressed by the Israelis), then what could be better ways to deal with them?

To a cynic, maybe build global consensus before bombing Gaza City. To a more rational person, maybe Israel and the US should stop blocking full Palestinian membership in the UN like civilized nations and lift the Gaza blockade and grant their states completely autonomous status like soveirgn countries and maybe give them a chance to prove their civilty once again.

But still if Palestinians are sensible, they would know that the intifadas are largely a lost cause today because the rest of the Arab world would rather really support Israel over them any time. Then again, is it a coincidence that the Palestinian resistance looks towards Iran? The enemy of your enemy is your friend.

I do think the Palestinian leaders could have done a lot more to ensure peace and are largely responsible for a lot of deaths over the years (Not because they should have as per their principles but because they lack political resources to fight Israel). But that’s politics. If only they were not obsessed with Jerusalem. Not that the Israelis are not.

The growing West Bank settlements and the policy of gradual Palestinian deprivation may have worked well for the Israeli occupation, but make a very poor case for Israeli peace efforts. In any case you would really want the violence to stop regardless of the political consequences. But in politics, land and power are more precious than life. Then again, there is liberty.

But the recent November strikes on Gaza have made an impact in some other way. The international community and media noticing the cruelty of the Israeli attack on Gaza this time for a change is significant. The image of the BBC photojournalist as posted above has shaken the West. Accussations of biased media coverage from both sides do not change the facts and the misery that both the affected people go through.

Therefore, both Israelis and Palestinians need to learn their lessons fast. Good luck to both of them for peace.

I know it almost sounds superficial, especially after these words echoing the conference halls on the conclusion of countless meaningless accords, but just in the memory of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, let us agree to stop the madness and say:

Shalom. Salaam. Peace.

Then again, it’s not important. Is it?

Farewell Tribute To Cameron Munter

Source: US State Department

While it sounds rather ridiculous for commoners to be interested in the office of diplomats, I mean what and who comes and goes, there are certain individuals that come across in this profession every now and then which are hard to ignore. One such person has been Ambassador Cameron Munter who has served in Islamabad from October 6, 2010 until he announced his early resignation on May 7, 2012 and left for the United States on July 24, 2012. Charge d’ affaires Richard Hoagland is performing stand-in duties for him.

Now I write this as a Pakistani national and someone who at least aspires to be if not is a citizen of the world. But even regardless of these viewpoints, I see the term of Ambassador Munter, a Californian who loves desi food, in Pakistan rather charming. I know it has been a while since he gave up his position, which happened in July 2012 actually, and this post has been overdue as I have been looking to write about it ever since.

I have observed Ambassador Munter to be by far the most interactive, publicly outreaching and friendly American ambassador in my living memory. The rest of them were either too dull or too cruel or too quiet in public. Of course, they all must have been heard loud and clear in the offices of Pakistani decision makers. Even if there were other ambassadors who had been as much active, certainly no one would have been so much outspoken and accessible to the media.

This is important because his term in Islamabad was marked by one of the most turbulent events in the history of Pakistan-US relations, especially due to the US Navy SEALs raid on Abottabad to assassinate Osama Bin Laden, the secret memo affair, the Raymond Davis killings and the continued drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have become a trademark of the Obama administration warfare.

Not to mention the NATO attack on Pakistan Army Salala checkpost on the Afghan border on November 26, 2011. I recall Munter appearing frequently in popular Pakistani talk shows and expressing his regret over the unfortunate incident while still not using the word “apologize”, which was clearly deliberate, with great emphasis. Tough job. We witnessed that thin line between being sorry and apologizing. Such is the nature of US-Pakistan diplomatic relations.

As a matter of fact, he handled affairs in one of the toughest conditions that a diplomat could ask for, when anti-American sentiment in Pakistan was on the rise. Similar difficulties were faced by his Pakistani counterpart Hussain Haqqani. Here is Munter’s last appearance on Pakistani TV.

Pakistani media had actually been hailing Munter for leaving his office for being disturbed at the continued drone strikes and avoiding an apology for Salala despite the public outrage in Pakistan, which is denied by the US Embassy in Islamabad as he is said to have stepped down for personal reasons, but there has been consistent rumor about that in the media throughout the latter part of his term. Even foreign media reported it, which really makes you wonder about its validity because usually you can safely consider what the State Department is telling you to be lies unless it is about attacking some country.

I am not sure how much a diplomat should be involved with his assignment emotionally, especially when it comes to the military objectives of a campaign, and we are not even sure if Munter was, but I can acknowledge that Munter was apparently more human and more humane of any of the US ambassadors that I have noticed. His public relations were at least, and that is what matters at the end of the day. The general public is least bothered about what goes on behind closed doors.

However, I am not sure if it is necessarily a good thing for a diplomat. I guess in the ruthless and Machiavellian world of diplomacy, you need to focus on your interests and objectives and get the cold hearted kill and go on your own way. I do not doubt Munter’s abilities as a diplomat a bit, but then again there is no reason to believe that he succumbed to his emotions at any time.

But he was certainly sincere in making an attempt to reach out to the people of Pakistan, and to improve bilateral relations.

That is important.

I don’t care if he was fine with the drone strikes or not. I also don’t care if he agrees with Obama’s warfare or not.

But what I care about is his gestures of friendship and I think that must be reciprocated.

Ambassador Cameron Munter, you will be remembered.

I am sure you won’t forget Pakistan.

How to Stop a War?

Source: The Guardian

So what is the best way to end a war?

Pretty simple. Obliterate your enemy. Wipe every trace of life from their cities.

But is it really so?

Unfortunately, the people, who fight wars under the impression that they are saving humanity, forget that the people that they are fighting, who are not very dissimilar to themselves, have mostly absolutely no concern about what happens to the people that are fighting on their side. Or there would hardly ever be wars in the first place.

They are so blinded by the lustful glory of feasting on the spoils of war that they lose all connection with the pains and pleasures of flesh and bone that belonged to another soul. They are so absorbed in their greed for power and control that they have absolutely no regard for anyone outside their league. This is what they call the good life. Indeed.

You can talk about it incessantly, untiringly and repetitively like a record machine and yet that would have no effect. Your words will only fall on deaf ears.

It is often said that Hiroshima, Nagasaki and even Dresden were necessary. That they were used to hasten the end of the war.

That the Japanese were a very evil and wicked people during the Second World War.

If they were evil people and if it was necessary to subject them to one of the most horrifying military weapon experiments of all time, then wouldn’t those carrying it out would become evil and wicked themselves?

And wouldn’t they deserve the very same or even worse treatment themselves?

These are indeed tough questions to ask but all they do is to help us arrive to a simple conclusion. The following were the precise reasons for attacking Hiroshima, Nagasaki and even Dresden.

The Dead of Dresden – Source: whale.to

  1. These were perfectly justifiable acts of war.
  2.  In wars, you destroy and annihilate your enemy, without regard to human life on the other side, without attaching any emotions and sensitivity to the victims.
  3. To test the effects and consequences of a new monster weapon created by science to help empower man and to make him feel good about how much control he has over destroying the world, in other words, harnessing the power of the atom.
  4. To help establish that the attacking power is the strongest in the world and must not be challenged again.

All these reasons make perfectly good sense and will be appreciated and accepted by almost anyone, even the suffering parties. However, the problem begins when the attacking powers start to associate these atrocious and senselessly barbaric acts with moral righteousness and start preaching why carrying out these attacks were necessary for humanity.

That is complete nonsense. Just like no wars are necessary, so are no such atrocious acts of war.

Furthermore, you just don’t stop an already dying war by completely squeezing all humanity out of your cause and squeezing all life out of your enemy. You can even accomplish the feat with diplomacy and going to the extent of making substantial and reasonable threats to your enemy. The facts and the politics of the time stand in their own right, but the ostentatious vanity and the needless cruelty of these events are simply too obvious to be ignored and appreciated.

Source: Boston.com/US National Archives

My sympathy with those who do.

But then again, war crimes have always been justified with moral reasons that make good sense to the people of that age, and still are. It will all happen again.

I would prefer and appreciate if you would at least drop the hypocrisy of moral righteousness.

Pakistanis and Double Standards

Source: Express Tribune

Maybe it’s just not exclusive to Pakistanis. Of course, it isn’t. It would be most unfair to say that, but because I live in Pakistan, I cannot help but notice it with a greater sensitivity in its case as compared to other nations around the world. Although it can safely be said that more or less the entire species is suffering from this condition in one way or another, but let us be specific over here.

It’s the annoying double standards that I am talking about.

Actually, you could make a huge list of the things for which Pakistanis have double standards, but there are quite a few incidents that occurred recently, which has pushed me to write something about it.

However, I will make the list nevertheless for the benefit of those who are not aware of the following issues.

CNG Strike and the Troubled Pakistani Economy

Alright, it’s true that the GST on the CNG for vehicles and increased prices will be a burden on the people, but what about the fact that using this resource for vehicle deprives the country of sufficient natural gas supply in the winters? While I am all for welfare and controlling poverty, people simply take it as an excuse to cover up their own corruption. Yes, I am talking about the CNG filling station owners’ body APCNGA.

Of course, they are protesting for their profit cuts and their strikes are only adding to the troubles of the people, who have been spoiled by this inconveniently convenient fuel. Clearly goes to show that Pakistan’s people and businessmen are the part of the problem that is the troubled Pakistani economy. They criticize the government for having no money and no fuel, but gladly deprive it of any opportunity of collecting whatever money it can in order to operate and to sustain the hideous CNG network in the country.

So the government doesn’t have money, right. How can they when they subsidize fuel?

Let the people pay for fuel and let the government subsidize the staples and see to it that the private enterprises and government organizations inflation-adjust the income of the people.

The Case of the Son of the Chief Justice & the Media vis-a-vis the Corruption of the Politicians

It was really striking, though not as shocking, to see that the tone of the Pakistani media was entirely different than usual when it came to the case of alleged financial favors that the son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary took from a real estate tycoon. Of course, we know nothing about that. The reason why I found it a bit odd was that they always sound absolutely convinced when there are corruption allegations against politicians, such as the cases against the sons of Prime Minister Gillani.

Source: Express Tribune

There are several other factors for which double standards are practiced. Briefly.

Drone Strikes and PAF Strikes

Drone strikes on Islamists militants and FATA civilians are wrong because the United States carries them out, but certainly that would be fine if the technology is handed over to Pakistan and when Pakistan would make these strikes. Also, the PAF bombings are pretty cool.

Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban

But of course the Afghani Taliban are called freedom fighters because they are fighting for their domain that the United States and NATO captured, but the Pakistani Taliban are terrorists because they are fighting against the Pakistani state.

Taliban Separatists and Baluch Separatists 

Both Baluch separatists and Pakistani Taliban are fighting against the state. Baluch separatists are not a part of an Islamist movement. Therefore, Baluchs are separatists to one group of people while the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are terrorists and the other way around in other cases. However, both carry out bomb blasts, both harm state infrastructure, both are killed by military. Maybe the Baluch separatists are not idiotic enough or intellectual enough to carry out suicide bombings.

Though it can be argued that they are also widely different since the Pakistani Taliban do include people who are not natives of the land they are occupying.

But hey, I am only talking about separatists here.

Only speaking in objective, technical terms, not supporting or opposing anything.

Source: The Daily Telegraph

Blasphemors Outraging at Blasphemies

I know many righteous Pakistani Muslims, Sunnis in particular, who would gladly blaspheme against the Shias, the Hindu gods and even against Christians, who are supposedly in the same Abrahamic league, but would outrage when somebody blasphemes against the Koran or Prophet Muhammad.

Different Rules for Drinking Classes

Ameer piye to class. Ghareeb piye to cchaapa. 

The rich and the high can drink the prohibited liquor in peace. The poor either die of the poisonous spirit or the torture of police.

Different Rules for Men and Women

Men can practically have sex with as many women they want, can marry up to four. Kill women if they try to live like that or talk to someone or have sex with someone or even try to live like just another person, or even better, throw acid on face. But hey, that does not qualify for conflicting double standard, does it?

Sheltering Osama Ben Laden

Enraged by the violation of the sovereignty of the country by US Navy Seals yet many are not bothered by what the Most Wanted Terrorist in the World was doing in the lion’s den of the Pakistani military.

Misplaced Patriotism

Claim to be very patriotic, flag-waving, cricket-team-cheering, anthem-bowing, Quaid-saluting. Defy law in Pakistan, observe diligently abroad and do a lot of things that hurt the country’s economy such as tax evasion. Does that not hurt the country? While this is a common observation though sounds like a generalization, a lot of responsible Pakistanis in this category.

And finally the best of all.

Hate USA But Want Green Card

There is a widely spread misconception that Pakistanis hate the United States. They don’t.

They may burn the US flags all they want, but even the most fundamentalists of them would prefer US citizenship over the Pakistani any day.

Now of course don’t go on assuming that every Pakistani is like that but a lot of them do somehow think like that collectively.

In other words, Pakistan is a nation of double standards in many ways.

And it is suffering its consequences every single day.

Deal with it.